Marriage equality is inevitable. It might take a little longer to get to Utah, but there will be marriage equality here within the decade, if not sooner. As the chief goal of the gay rights movement since the early 2000s reaches completion, the question becomes: what next? Is this the end of gay rights?
The Equality Utah Allies Dinner earlier this week gives us some clue as to where gay rights should be heading: The future of gay rights is the history of gay rights. And the eloquent standard bearer for this course is Troy Williams, one of three winners of the Allies for Equality Award.
I mean two things by the claim that the future of gay rights is its history: First, the future of gay rights (if it is to maintain any viability after marriage equality becomes the law of the land) will be a return to its historical roots. That history focused on making life better for workers (who were gay), parents (who were gay), the homeless (who were gay), and voters (who were gay). Which leads me to my second point, that accomplishing the movement’s goals for gay people meant achieving fairness and equality for everyone.
The continued success of gay rights depends upon moving beyond its current single issue focus on rights that are considered exclusively gay–really only marriage equality occupies that category, and perhaps not even–to a multi-issue focus on labor, the environment, women’s rights, and voting rights. Theoretically, and technically, this is queer rights–and it’s how gay rights got its start. Which means if the fight for gay rights is going to successfully evolve, its focus is going to have to grow to include multiple issues. And it’s why Troy William’s speech at the Allies Dinner was so important.
Williams gets that these issues are interconnected. It doesn’t matter if, as gay people, we can marry our significant others and adopt our spouse’s children but at the end of day, there aren’t good public schools to send our children to, or robust workplace protections so that we can actually see our spouses, or progressive voting laws so we can keep voting for people who will continue to support marriage equality.
The battle for marriage equality is nearly over. Its now time to move on (and back) to multi-issue organizing. Fair housing and labor practices, access to the polls, attention to conserving the planet, and public education for all people will necessarily make those very things better and safer for gay people, too. But unlike the fight for marriage equality, this is a fight that we have to keep fighting.