The United States Supreme Court decisions about gay marriage this week warrant great rejoicing—and admiration for the remarkable speed (though surely it seemed a snail's pace to many) with which those who have fought for these victories have brought us to this point.

I ask that, while rejoicing for those decisions, we not ignore the chasm between the image of the United States as a country where there is true equality for all and the realities reflected by other decisions the Supreme Court made this week.

President Barack Obama has said, "When all Americans are treated as equal, no matter who they are or whom they love, we are all more free." Even those whose sexual orientation is other than strictly heterosexual have come close to equality this week only with respect to marriage and related rules and laws. But they, like many other Americans, have been kicked in the stomach by the decisions about:

  • Voting rights: Regardless of your sexual orientation, you are less likely now than before to be allowed to vote in some states if you are Black or Latina/o than if you are white.
  • If you are a victim of harassment at work or are discriminated against on the basis of your race/ethnicity, the Court has rendered you less protected than before.
  • If you are not a white, heterosexual male, you learned this week that the Court failed to grab the opportunity to redress centuries of historical oppression of many groups when it could and ought to have taken a strong stand in support of affirmative action.

Beyond this week's Supreme Court decisions, unlike Canada, our allegedly pro-equality nation still has no Equal Rights Amendment to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex; resistance to equal pay legislation remains strong; and both poverty and violence against women children, and men remain rampant.

So as Independence Day approaches, I ask you to consider the question: What is it in this country that has made gay marriage possible but left in place or even raised them higher all these other barriers to equality? This is the time to look unsparingly at the real state of equality in the United States. American equality has always been a beautiful ideal. It brings tears to our eyes just to think of it. What keeps us from moving toward it in other important ways as speedily as we have moved to legitimize gay marriage?

©copyright 2013 by Paula J. Caplan                                 All rights reserved

About the Author

Paula J. Caplan, Ph.D.

Paula J. Caplan, Ph.D., a clinical and research psychologist, is an associate at Harvard University's DuBois Institute and former fellow in Harvard Kennedy School's Women and Public Policy Program.

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