Love Isn’t All You Need: Michigan Woman Assaulted After Her Same-Sex Wedding

A Michigan woman married her partner on March 22, the only day courts performed marriages between when a federal court struck Michigan’s down marriage ban and when a judge stayed the ruling. She and her partner made the news as they celebrated their union on the momentous day.

Nine days later, three men attacked the woman at a bus stop. They hollered slurs and asked if she was the one they had seen on TV. The attack left her with swelling and bruising on her arm, torso and face, CNN reports. The Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office continues to look for the men who attacked her. She has asked to remain anonymous.

Gay Marriage Michigan

Photo credit David Coates/Detroit News/AP

Her marriage, like those of the more than 300 gay and lesbian couples who wed that day, will be recognized by federal law. Michigan is one of five states with marriage equality rulings currently tied up in federal courts, along with Texas, Virginia, Utah and Oklahoma. It’s also one of 18 states where an attack like the one this woman experienced wouldn’t qualify for hate crimes status because hate crimes laws don’t include sexual orientation. Twenty-two states don’t include gender identity in hate crime statutes. And statewide LGBT rights efforts have largely moved on from pushing for hate crimes legislation at the state level since it became part of federal law in 2009. But federal law without corresponding state law often leaves local law enforcement impotent, and federal investigators simply can’t take on every relevant case.

Expanding hate crimes protections may not be the answer. Studies have found that the harsher sentences for hate crimes do not necessarily prevent violence against minority groups. Plus, given the current state of the prison industrial complex, putting more people in prison for a longer time is more likely to increase systemic violence than reduce it.

But when something like this happens, when a woman is brutally attacked by strangers because they saw her committing to love with another woman, politicians and society must recognize that attacking a queer person for being queer is different than mugging a random person with a nice backpack. Public opinion is shifting rapidly to favor expanded rights and protections for queer people, and many advocates are hanging up their boxing gloves. This case serves as a reminder that many people still deeply hate queer people. There must be legal, structural and educational efforts to address and eliminate that hate.

The attack of this woman just nine days after she made her girlfriend her wife in the eyes of the law brings into sharp relief the problem with the LGBT movement focusing so intensely on marriage. Groups like the Human Rights Campaign and American Civil Liberties Union have spent tens of millions of dollars working for marriage equality. The progress shown when 300 Michigan couples married on March 22 is marred by the fact that the majority of LGBT people can still be kicked out housing, fired from jobs, harassed in public, and abused by their partners with limited legal recourse. For example, more than half of LGBT Americans live in a state where it is not illegal to discriminate against someone for employment based on their sexual or gender identity. Only 23% of LGBT Americans live in a state with laws that support their right to adopt and foster children. Equality Michigan notes that Michigan is behind many other states on expanding legal protections for LGBT people:

In Michigan today it is perfectly legal to fire, refuse to hire, or refuse to promote someone — because an employer thinks they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. There are numerous documented incidents of individuals being fired for this reason, regardless of job performance. Once fired, these individuals are left with no legal recourse.

It’s also legal to deny LGBT people rental housing or to refuse to serve them in stores, restaurants, and other public accommodations. As is the case with job discrimination, LGBT individuals are offered no protection under state law, and thus have few options when facing discriminatory practices in housing or services.

Marriage equality is on its way to being a given, but that won’t improve life for many queer people, just as it didn’t protect this woman from violence. It will take local, state and national efforts to reduce attacks like this one and meaningfully improve the quality of life, safety and opportunities for LGBT Americans.

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Audrey is a Texan living in Managua, Nicaragua. She loves journalism, country dancing and talking to strangers. Follow her on Twitter @audreywhitetx.

Audrey has written 31 articles for us.

12 Comments

  1. Thumb up 1

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    These type of incidents has become such a commonplace and the norm with lgbt people that i don’t feel surprised whenever it occurs. I just bite my lip and take it all in. This is also why my heart has no sympathy for a guy like brendan eich.

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    This case is a reminder that people deeply hate same-sex marriage since this woman was attacked not just because she was queer, but because people recognised her from tv as someone who had recently gotten married to her partner. This article makes me incredibly uncomfortable because it seems full of victim blame. This woman is clearly a very big and visible supporter of same-sex marriage and you’re essentially blaming people like her for her assault. You’re saying is that if she didn’t want to be assaulted she should’ve been doing other kinds of activism instead of trying to get married…..

    Maybe take a moment to think about whether it’s really appropriate to devote half an article about a woman who was assaulted because she married her partner to how misguided wanting same-sex marriage to be legal is. Is this really the place to have that discussion ?

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      Absolutely agree. The focus really should not be on whether wanting marriage is misguided or not, that’s an entirely different discussion. Activism can take so many forms, and we shouldn’t be judging one activism for another, when they’re working essentially towards the same idea, creating more visibility, and more support for the queer community.

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      “You’re saying is that if she didn’t want to be assaulted she should’ve been doing other kinds of activism instead of trying to get married…”

      I really, really didn’t get it that way. I went back to the article to read it a second time after reading your comment (and Heidi’s, who understood it just like you did), and I still got from that reading that the author advocates that fighting for same-sex marriage simply isn’t enough and needs to be seen as only one of the essential steps (as opposed to this ultimate solution to many, if not all, problems queers can face, as it sometimes might seem to be perceived), not that it is misguided. It really didn’t instill into me any feeling that the victim was blamed in any way… The mention that she was recognized by her attackers I saw as a mere part of the list of facts that compose the story.

      What made you see it the way you did, Andreea and Heidi ? (This is a real question, I genuinely would like to know and have a more comprehensive assessment of the way this was handled.)

      • Thumb up 6

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        Howdy all, my point is definitely not that this woman was wrong to get married or even that gay marriage is a bad thing to want! I don’t believe either of those things are true. As Whicolom touched on, I AM critical of the mainstream LGBT movement (the ones with the money, visibility, and power) for putting such an intense emphasis on marriage with its funding and activism that other important issues get largely ignored — and that in a way contributes to horrible incidents like this (obviously her attackers shoulder the bulk of the responsibility, but I doubt they read autostraddle). My point with that section of the story isn’t NOT marriage, it’s YES these other really important things so that queer people like this woman and her wife can actually be safe and have better quality of life. I hope that makes sense!

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    Thanks for not simply framing this as a call for more hate crimes legislation. By the time hate crimes laws come into action, it’s already too late for victims, and increasing the power of the legal system and the prison system hurts queer people. As you said, the answer to the marginalization and violence against queer people is systemic change and cultural revolution, not simply or only marriage equality (how many straight friends haven’t believed me that I get verbally assaulted for appearing butch because “gay marriage passed in our state”?!?).

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    I can’t figure out why it seems so hard to use marriage equality as a gateway issue to the extent that’s needed. Yes, it’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to issues facing queer people, but BECAUSE it’s become so sympathetic and mainstream-acceptable you would think it would be building up legions of activists for all the other stuff. And sometimes it does (marriage equality was actually the first queer issue I took substantial political action on, 10 years ago, before I even understood that I was queer)! But apparently not enough. What can we do to get these people who have been mobilized by marriage also working on ENDA, working on queer homelessness and poverty, working on fighting the criminalization of queer communities, etc?

    The NGLTF (aka the Task Force) is an example of a mainstream queer organization that does both marriage equality work and very strong work on other queer issues. So are the big impact litigation firms – GLAD (which has done pioneering work for trans adolescents and prisoners), the National Center for Lesbian Rights (which has done pioneering work on a bunch of things including same-sex couple family law and bi rights), and Lambda Legal (which has recently produced amazing work on mistreatment of queer people by police, courts, and other government officials and agencies). More like that, please!

    I wouldn’t really include the ACLU as a mainstream queer organization – they’re pretty strong allies, but they aren’t queer-focused, and are only likely to work on queer issues that intersect with their focus.

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    Late comment that no one’s going to see, but: okay, this article is well-written and thoughtful. Which is why I hate to use it to vent my spleen, but it definitely exemplifies a trend on Autostraddle that, as a big fan of the site, is starting to grate.

    First, regarding the article itself, I think the analysis is flawed. This woman was attacked becausewe’re winning. This is backlash, pure and simple. We’re going to see more backlash as we secure more and more rights.

    Moving on: Autostraddle, are you reformist liberals (it’s okay if you are, by the way, I am and I’m certainly not ashamed of it) or are you radical queers that want to smash the state? Because in one breath, it’s, “We won a thing! Yay marriage equality!” and in the next, it’s, “Here’s me implying that marriage is homonormative and also implying prison abolition and we should be focusing on completely different things as a movement.” Are you a site with a house style and a certain vision, or are you a group blog with contributors that have wildly different opinions? Hell, there are ways to be both, but when in one breath you’re all, “Radical conceptions of social justice, boo to liberal reform, yeah!” and in the other you’re telling people to go buy clothes when the apparel industry is currently one of the industries most antithetical to social justice as we know it, it’s a little schizophrenic.

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