Nonprofit Voice | After Love Won: Georgia Equality celebrates victory and gets back to work

August 12, 2015
| by Guest Contributor |

"No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family… It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves…They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right." – US Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy

The day that the US Supreme Court announced their decision recognizing the constitutional right of same-sex couples to marry—June 26, 2015—was a very good day, both personally and professionally.

Personally, it was the moment I was able to take part in a victory I had been working towards since 1996, when the Georgia General Assembly passed legislation forbidding the state from issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. The heartbreak of loss after loss was healed in a moment, when I received this text from my husband of 26 years: “We’re now legal everywhere!”

Professionally, Georgia Equality spent the day working to our full capacity: Helping celebrate and implement change all across the state by coordinating commemorative events in seven cities, including at the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta—which brought together hundreds of supporters, religious leaders, and elected officials—and working with organizers and officials to ensure that all 159 Georgia counties were issuing marriage licenses the day the decision was announced (and that a couple in Fulton County became the first couple in the nation to marry after the ruling). And we planned it all without knowing what date the decision would come down until the morning it happened.

Many friends and colleagues have asked me, Now that the battle for marriage is over, what is left to do?

I tell them that a marriage license does not protect against the very real threat of being denied services, evicted from housing, workplace harassment, or being denied a job. Georgia is one of 29 states that lack laws protecting people against discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations due to their sexual orientation, and one of 33 states who also deny those protections to transgender Americans. The Williams Institute estimates the number of Georgia adults who identify as LGBT to be nearly 270,000; accounting for youth coming to terms with their sexual orientation and gender identity, the total number quickly climbs over 300,000.

Many friends and colleagues have asked me, Now that the battle for marriage is over, what is left to do?  I tell them that a marriage license does not protect against the very real threat of being denied services, evicted from housing, workplace harassment, or being denied a job.

Marriage equality also does nothing to create safer learning environments for LGBT youth. While there has been some progress, the most recent National School Climate survey reported that 90 percent of LGBT students regularly heard “gay” used negatively, or other homophobic remarks, at school. More than one in four had heard anti-LGBT language from school staff. Eighty percent experienced verbal harassment based on sexual orientation, and 56 percent based on gender expression; half faced physical assault or harassment for sexual orientation, and a full third for gender expression.

Georgia also ranks third in the number of African-American LGBT households, who face the additional challenges of racism and a higher incidence of poverty. More than a third of African-American same-sex couples are raising children, and their median household income is $15,000 lower than comparable African-American different-sex couples. Almost one third of children being raised by African-American male gay couples live in poverty. In addition, African-American female couples report household incomes $20,000 lower than African-American male couples.

A marriage license is important for those who choose to get married, but it is only one aspect of the work needed to ensure that LGBT people can participate fully in society. Nondiscrimination protections, safe and supportive schools, and the realization that the lens of sexual orientation and gender identity magnifies many of our other social challenges: these are the issues that we must tackle as an organization, and as a citizenry, if we are to live up to our mission of advancing fairness, safety, and opportunity for LGBT Georgians.

Love won on June 26th, but the work continues.

Jeff Graham is Executive Director of Georgia Equality, which works to advance fairness, safety, and opportunity for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities.


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