Column: Just What Is Equality Anyway?

It seems that every time we have another significant event in the movement for same-sex marriage, we hear the same things, the same well-used terms thrown around in the media as if they accurately represent the facts. Do they really, though?

“Marriage equality” is what our media likes to call it when same-sex marriage becomes legal in yet another jurisdiction or five, but “equality” is a term with a very specific and well-defined meaning. Oxford defines it this way:

equality

[ iˈkwälitē ] 

noun

  1. the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, and opportunities:

"an organization aiming to promote racial equality"

synonyms: fairness · equal rights · equal opportunities · equity · 

More

  1. a symbolic expression of the fact that two quantities are equal; an equation.

Since we’re not talking about mathematics here, let’s focus on the first definition: “the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, and opportunities”.

Certainly there are areas of our country that may meet this definition, but is it credible to use that term to describe the legal situations of LGBT couples in states like Oklahoma, Indiana, and Virginia, as well as other states where same-sex couples can legally marry but can also be denied housing, employment, and access to public spaces for no other reason than because they’re known to be LGBT? Is that really what we’re calling “equality” these days?

Common sense tells us that same-sex couples who can legally marry just like straight people but unlike straight people can be legally discriminated against for doing so are inherently unequal, yet the media and our activists describe this as “marriage equality” on a regular basis. Incredibly, we’re not only trying to sell this radical redefinition of a clearly-defined term to straight America, we’re even trying to sell it to ourselves.

How many times have we heard it reported that New York and New Hampshire have “marriage equality”? And how many of those reporters mention or even bother to factor into their reporting if the trans people living in those states feel their own marriages are equal to those of fully cisgender couples?

Is it really “marriage equality” when you can get a license to marry but your boss can still legally fire you for it? When your landlord can legally throw you out of your home for nothing more than legally marrying a person of the same sex? When you can be denied a hotel room, a drink in a bar, or a meal in a restaurant just because you’re an LGBT person?

Has our definition of what we should have the right to expect as American citizens sunk so low, are we willing to accept so little basic human respect, so little true equality, that this is what we’re comfortable calling “equality” now?

Personally, I’ll stick with Oxford’s definition. To do less would mean potentially misinforming and misleading LGBT people about how their “marriage equality” can and often will play out in the real world.

Ultimately, it’s not about having the legal right to marry, it’s about the families formed as the result of those marriages. It’s about what happens when the guests have gone home, the honeymoon is over, and those couples begin their lives together in earnest.

Until real equality is just as present in actual married life as it is in the legal recognition of those marriages, you can’t accurately call it “marriage equality”. That means full equality in not only recognition but also in respect, and laws which reflect both of those truths.

No means no, equal means equal, and “marriage equality” means an LGBT marriage and the partners comprising it are no more or less protected under the law than any other. Those who truly believe in that ideal should be willing to settle for nothing less, nor should we tolerate those who would try to claim we’re already there.

Rebecca Juro is a nationally-published freelance journalist and radio talk show host who is the Media Correspondent for The Advocate website. Rebecca lives in central New Jersey and shares her life with a somewhat antisocial cat. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Twitter: @beckyjuro


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