Last week the Supreme Court of the United States of America cleared the way for same-sex marriages to resume in the state of California. Unfortunately, for my girlfriend and I, we still can’t get married.
Even though we’re both natives of California and call the Golden State home, I am in Los Angeles while she’s living 2,400 miles away in Whittier, Alaska after giving up all hope of ever finding a job here.
Of African-American and Latino descent and fluent in three languages—English, Spanish, and American Sign Language—my girlfriend has past criminal convictions that make it practically impossible for her to find a job in California. For a time she would work sporadically after failing to check the box indicating that she’d been convicted of a felony crime, but in the end after companies completed their background check, she’d always be dismissed for failing to do so. I finally told her to just be truthful upfront and then the job offers stopped all together because no one was willing to give her a chance to prove herself changed.
So when she received a call back from a seafood processing company in Whittier, Alaska eager to hire people for labor-intensive jobs that consist of 16 hour days at minimum wage during the state’s busy salmon season, for a woman whose pride is directly connected to her ability to hold her own, the decision to leave for her was a no-brainer.
The day I dropped her off at the airport, neither one of us sure when we would see the other again, we could not have predicted what the SCOTUS was going to do in regards to Prop. 8. Even if we’d had a crystal ball and knew the outcome, it wouldn’t have stopped my girlfriend from leaving because the ability to get married doesn’t mean more to her than being able to pay her share of the bills — which is a state of mind shared by a lot of Blacks.
And that’s what the white gay community has ignored.
The white gay community fighting for same-sex marriage has been banging its head against the glass ceiling of a room called equality, believing that a breakthrough on marriage will bestow on them parity with heterosexuals — because in all other areas – employment, housing, access to education, healthcare, etc. they are already equal with their heterosexual counterparts.
The same generalization cannot be made for Black and brown people in same-sex relationships who unlike their white counterparts are much more affected by issues like unemployment and see the victory around marriage as being half the battle. The other half of that battle is having a home to live in, a job to pay the bills, affordable healthcare, and the access to the type of education to make all of the above happen. All of which are issues that traditionally the white gay community has snubbed because it doesn’t affect the majority of them who are working, own their own homes, and have healthcare for themselves and their spouses.
And while we’ll probably never a see a poll on this, I think the white gay community would be shocked at the number of Black and brown same-sex couples in Los Angeles County alone, where at least one partner is receiving financial assistance from AFDC, General Relief, Food Stamps, or unemployment benefits (I’d suggest a field trip to Adams and Grand).
Add to that, white gay men and women don’t get pulled over for driving while Black, white gay men and women are not disproportionately affected by California’s criminal justice system, and white gay men and women are not often passed over for jobs for someone of color—in fact it’s the other way around.
So while the festivities commence in West Hollywood and beyond with activists and politicians alike patting themselves on the back for a job well done, for the oftentimes ignored and forgotten section of gay America that intersects with Black America, it’s business as usual for the rest of us. This would include my girlfriend being 2,400 miles away in Alaska, one of the 37 states that still doesn’t recognize same-sex relationships. Because getting married is one thing, but for my girlfriend and a lot of African-Americans in same-sex relationships, having a job and feeling worthy of marrying is another.