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Op-ed: Even Though It’s Legal, I Still Can’t Marry My Girlfriend

By Jasmyne A Cannick

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 lives 2,400 miles away in Whittier, Alaska after giving up all hope of ever finding a job here.

My girlfriend is of African-American and Latino descent and fluent in three languages—English, Spanish, and American Sign Language—but past criminal convictions 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, but the job offers stopped altogether. No one was willing to give her a chance to prove that she had 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 provide for her family, the decision to leave 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 how the Supreme Court would rule regarding Proposition 8. Even if we’d had a crystal ball and knew the outcome, it wouldn’t have stopped my girlfriend from leaving.  Her ability to get married doesn’t outweigh her being able to pay her share of the rent and bills while putting food on the table — which is the same mentality for a lot of black and brown same-sex couples.

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 most other areas — employment, housing, access to education, health care, etc.—they are already equal with their heterosexual counterparts, at least at face value.

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 health care, 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 health care for themselves and their spouses.

In fact, I think the white gay community would probably 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 Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), General Relief, food stamps, or unemployment benefits.

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, having a job and being worthy of marrying is another.
 
JASMYNE A. CANNICK is a former press secretary in the House of Representatives, and a Los Angeles native who writes about the intersection of race, class, and politics. She was chosen as one of Essence magazine’s 25 Women Shaping the World. Follow her on Twitter @jasmyne, Facebook, or jasmyneonline.com.

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