Why Marriage Equality Is Good For Women (of All Sexual Orientations)

Actual hope for true equality for all — lessons from the long fight in Pa.


Hope. After President Obama’s ubiquitous 2008 campaign, the word has felt a little cheesy, a little too much like the brainchild of a marketing pro.

But it’s the only word I can use to describe how I felt on Tuesday night.

By the time I started my evening commute, I’d already heard the glorious news that U.S. District Judge John Jones III overturned Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriage. After work, I detoured from my usual route to see the rally in front of City Hall. I’d expected to feel happiness and — no pun intended — a lot of pride. But then that familiar feeling of hope crept up on me.

Last week, Jill Abramson, the first female editor of the New York Times, was unceremoniously dumped from the paper’s masthead. It was a crushing moment for feminists, who wondered about the larger implications of Abramson’s firing. Was it because she was too brusque? Or because she had started asking questions about whether she was paid comparably to her male peers?

“Whether or not Abramson was difficult for a boss or whether she was difficult for a woman is probably a question that even she’s struggling to answer,” wrote Ann Friedman for New York magazine.

We know now that  Abramson made dishonest managerial errors that lead to her dismissal, but this fact doesn’t diminish the possibility that she may have been treated differently because of her gender.

I’ve written before that I didn’t become a feminist until after college when I started seeing discrimination in action. The older I get, the more I can acknowledge other women being quietly pushed down in the workplace. It’s a hiring manager choosing young men so the company won’t have to pay for maternity leave. It’s at the company where men who leave early for their kid’s t-ball game are labeled “great fathers” and women who do the same are perceived as slacking off. It happens when young men are mentored by senior staffers while young women are expected to quietly navigate corporate culture on their own. The inequality is subtle, but it is real. (And that’s without getting into the much-less-subtle wage gap.)

Of course, the fight for gay marriage rights is not the same as the fight for workplace equality. Modern women don’t have to scale the legal mountain that the gay community is climbing every day. After all, according to United States law, equality already exists for women in the workplace. (And yet, that wage gap is very real.)

Though the issues are not parallel, it is important for women (of all sexual orientations) to recognize what we should learn from Pennsylvania’s legalization of gay marriage.

Achieving equality of any kind does not come from victory in a single battle — or a single state, in the case of gay marriage. Rather, it comes from getting up every day and doing the best you can to move the needle for your cause, whatever it may be. Sticking it to The Man involves many emotions — rage, sadness, and fear, to name a few. It takes persistence and adrenaline. It can be exhausting and at times, demoralizing.

What feminists should glean from the legalization of gay marriage is that equality is possible. We are leaning in and banning bossy and all of it is going to matter one day in the not-too-distant future.

I walked past City Hall on Tuesday evening and saw the crowd of LGBT Philadelphians and their allies celebrating. I heard the Philadelphia Freedom Band playing “Happy.” Will there ever be equality for all? In that moment, I was able to hope the answer was yes.

Follow @errrica on Twitter.