Legal Justice vs. Social Justice: Keep Pushing Forward

On June 26th, the United States’ LGBT+ community and its allies celebrated a monumental victory when same-sex marriage was deemed a constitutional right in all 50 states. Across the country, streets filled with rainbow flags and celebratory chants that could be heard for miles. While this is certainly a time for celebration, I hope allies of the LGBT+ community are not too quick to move on to another hot-button social issue and call this one a success.

Social justice is a difficult topic to tackle with certain people. Social justice, or tikkun olam” (repairing the world), is, in short, the equal opportunity to accomplish something, whether it’s employment or education, or to simply walk home safely at night. People who have never had to face oppression head-on sometimes have difficulty accepting a need for social justice on top of criminal or legal justice. But in a country founded largely on the idea of equal opportunity for all, social justice is necessary to fill in where the legal system falls short.

Laws can only do so much. They can make crimes illegal, but they cannot directly outlaw the hatred which motivates them. That’s where social justice comes in. A person or organization working toward social justice does so through education and advocacy to shed light on the oppressed in an attempt to create a community of love and acceptance.

This brings us back to the celebration of marriage equality. The SCOTUS decision is huge. It shows a massive shift in the national attitude toward LGBT+ rights, and eliminates a portion of the systematic oppression that same-sex couples face throughout the country, like being forced to file taxes as “single,” being denied visitation rights when a partner is hospitalized, etc. While this is a step in the right direction, I hope the celebration of this victory does not overshadow the work still ahead.

A law like this allows same-sex couples to be legally married, but not necessarily religiously. Separation of church and state prohibits state legislature to dictate whether or not a religious establishment recognizes a marriage or performs a ceremony. This separation is necessary in a country that does not have a religious affiliation, but that means religious LGBT+ people rely on social justice work to help them obtain this right. Luckily, though, this means that Keshet, and organizations like it, can continue inclusion work within synagogues across the country to make this a reality.

But even so, a law like this also does not change that 40% of the U.S. homeless population is LGBT+ youth, and 68% were kicked out of their homes for their gender or sexuality identity. LGBT+ people ages 10-24 are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide, and 25% of transgender people in this age range reportedly already have. People can be fired for identifying as LGBQ in 29 states, and for being transgender in 33. Unemployment rates for transgender people are double those of cisgender people, and 90% have experienced workplace harassment due to their gender identity. These statistics are even more terrifying for LGBT+ people of color.

These are circumstances that cannot be regulated by law. The government cannot instruct someone on how to be a parent, they cannot force schools to teach tolerance as part of their anti-bullying campaigns, and they can pass equal employment legislation as much as they want but truly hateful people will always find a loophole. This is more than just a legislative issue; this is a social justice issue. This is a fight to change the national attitude toward all LGBT+ identifying individuals who want equal opportunity in all aspects of life, not only cisgender same-sex couples who want to get married.

So yes, this is absolutely a time for celebration, but there are still massive groups of people who need a push for social justice now more than ever.

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