Marriage Equality Is Everyone's Issue

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August 7, 2013
Lambda Legal Transgender Rights Project Director M. Dru Levasseur

As we mark 40 years here at Lambda Legal, we have many achievements to be proud of and much to be excited for as we look ahead. Conversations within the LGBT community surrounding the Supreme Court decisions concerning marriage equality are often tense. Some people within our community feel that collective movement resources and attention are disproportionately directed towards marriage equality, perhaps at the expense of transgender rights, immigrant rights or poor people’s rights—all communities that fall under our LGBT umbrella. 

When approaching our work at Lambda Legal, we view potential matters through an intersectionality lens that examines how policy outcomes or legal decisions may affect different segments of the LGBT community. When analyzing marriage equality in this way, we can see that the issue is not exclusive to one segment of our community. It is important for all members of our community to be aware of how issues affect all of us and not just some of us. And it is equally important that we recognize struggles and challenges that are particular to certain members of our community.Though it may seem obvious, not all people realize that transgender people are often lesbian, gay or bisexual as well. Indeed, according to a recent national survey of 6,368 transgender people, only 21 percent identified as heterosexual. Gender identity and sexual orientation are two separate concepts. Gender identity describes one’s inner sense of being male or female. For cisgender people, gender identity matches the sex assigned or presumed at birth; for transgender people, it does not. Sexual orientation, on the other hand, refers to one’s romantic or sexual attraction. 

Transgender people, whether in same-sex or different-sex relationships, are particularly vulnerable to legal challenges to the validity of their marriages because the rules out there are so inconsistent. Some states recognize a person’s gender transition for purposes of marriage; others don’t. Some states allow same-sex couples to marry; others don’t. Until the freedom to marry for same-sex couples is the law of the land and gender is irrelevant on wedding licenses (and therefore also irrelevant to all of the state and federal responsibilities, rights and benefits that go along with being married), Lambda Legal is working to ensure that transgender people’s gender identity is respected for purposes of marriage. Marriage equality is a transgender issue. 

As we look ahead to the coming months and envision the work that lies ahead, let us remember that there is a seat for everyone at the table of progress, and all of our voices, concerns and issues are important and must be heard. None of our battles is exclusive of one to the other and we should constantly be questioning the ways in which our work affects us all. The better we do this, the better we can expand our umbrella and promote community inclusion. Marriage equality is everyone’s issue.  

For more information on transgender people and marriage laws, please see Lambda Legal’s Know Your Rights: Transgender.  

For more information on immigration and marriage laws, please see our fact sheet “After DOMA: Immigration.”

For more information on low-income families and marriage laws, please see our fact sheet “After DOMA: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).”