Like Victory, Freedom is always One for All

Cries of “Victory for love!” are sounding throughout America as the country celebrates the legalization of same-sex marriage.

And this is, of course, a victory. For a great many people, the US Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage represents a recognition of dignity, a protection from discrimination, and a triumph in the fight for equality.

And for LGBT foreigners, this is their long-awaited chance to legalize not just their relationships, but also their status in the country, since until now their marriages (recognized by various states) did not allow them to remain in the United States officially as legal members of American families.

I would like to sincerely congratulate my friends who can now become Americans. This means that they no longer have to fear the threat of being separated from the people they love, from their spouses, because for many foreigners, the country’s refusal to recognize their relationships as marriages meant that they would not be able to live legally in America. It also meant that they would not be able to live in another country (the immigrant’s country of citizenship), since these countries frequently do not recognize LGBT rights. Meanwhile, countries that do recognize these rights (EU countries, for example) are completely closed to people who want to settle in them without any special, official reason (this also applies to US citizens).

It seems to me that an understanding of the positive practical consequences of the legalization of same-sex marriage is the best response to adherents of “radical freedom” who have spoken out against the right of gays and lesbians to marry officially. These freedom lovers say, We are against any sort of marriage, while these people are trying to secure the right to enter into marriages! They want to enslave themselves with these formalities! But the fact is that most of these radicals live freely in well-off countries, where they can marry or not as they choose and where there is no threat to their relationships in the form of forcible deportation of their loved one with a ban on entry, the impossibility of living together openly, the denial of housing, or the inability to raise a child together…

The right to enter into marriage is not a “victory of love”—it is of course possible to love outside of a marriage. Instead, it is a victory of freedom. The freedom to exercise the right to live together and the right to the judicial protection of certain practical necessities of life like housing or work. It is a victory for the freedom to be oneself, to choose to be with the person one wants.

Marriage is, after all, a legal institution, nothing more and nothing less. Exclusion from this institution signifies not just discrimination and indignity, but also inevitable restrictions on human liberties. This mainly and primarily concerns restrictions on our rights and freedoms.

And freedom—real freedom—is never ours or someone else’s. It is always one for all. And this why increasing LGBTI freedoms expands the space of our overall freedom. People who are fighting for this expansion are fighting for us all, regardless of our sexual orientation, ethnicity, native language, civil status, and so forth.

The space of freedom cannot be expanded through simple voting. Just think about it: five of the nine Supreme Court justices voted to allow same-sex marriage. In other words, the voice of just one judge could have decided the matter of the freedom of hundreds of thousands (and, looking to the future, millions) of people…. It is astounding that, in a country which, in word at least, fosters all possible freedoms, opinions tainted by prejudice are given such vast power…

People who know the value of rights, freedoms, and dignity spent decades fighting, protesting, making speeches, and taking daring risks in order for these five judges to vote for freedom, so that hundreds of thousands of people desiring to marry could realize their right to do so.

And it is not just LGBTI individuals, minorities facing discrimination throughout the world, and Americans who can breathe more freely; we all can.

I have long wanted to somehow join the discussion about the “appropriateness” of the actions LGBTI individuals take for their own rights. This is a fairly delicate topic. Therefore, although it has always been clear to me that actions taken against discrimination must be welcomed always and everywhere, in the case of Ukraine, we heard arguments from several opponents of the Kiev gay pride celebration that were too sad and serious to be simply brushed aside with the usual accusation of homophobia.

I recall how one friend of mine criticized the Saint Petersburg based Gay-Straight Alliance for Equal Rights. She said, We are surrounded by so much disaster. Our elections are rigged, the opposition is facing a crackdown, there are political repressions, and here we are talking about gay rights, even though that is not appropriate or important right now. Then she changed her opinion. She started calling activists in the alliance and said: “I was wrong. Everything is always appropriate and important. You were fighting for all of us!”

Of course, though, it was not a manifestation of elementary conservatism when people in Kiev opposed the gay pride march. They said that minority rights are unquestionably important, but that people were dying in the eastern part of the country, that a war was in progress, and that there was no need to hold a festival celebrating sexual freedom.

But in our day and in our reality, gay pride is not a holiday of carnival costumes. It is generally a political demonstration demanding recognition of equal rights and freedoms for all. It is a step towards expanding the space of freedom. (We will not get into a discussion here about the correctness of the name; pride or not, it makes no difference.) Gay pride is also a test of how well a country can stand on its own in matters of democracy. Despite the complicated nature of the situation, Kiev withstood this test: its police officers paid a dear price for their loyalty to the notion of freedom with their wounds and injuries. Even though the mayor of Kiev and the chief of police were opposed to the gay pride parade, the police protected the fearless people who came out onto the streets to expand freedom. Even though they were reluctant, they allowed people to speak and protected them from violence. This is a success not just for the LGBTI community in Kiev, but for everyone.

Gay pride events are planned for Saint Petersburg on July 25. Even though an attempt to hold LGBT actions in this specific place at this specific time is a form of desperate struggle against bigotry and the absence of freedom, no one will have any freedom at all without this struggle.

Stephania Kulaeva