Suzanne Goldberg, one of the country’s foremost experts on gender and sexuality law and a leading advocate for the LGBTQ community, spoke about the history of marriage equality around the world and gave practical steps for engaging people to enact social change at a talk at Rutgers Law School.
Goldberg, a former senior staff attorney at Lambda Legal, spoke at the invitation of the Transnational Legal Initiative, overseen by Professor Jorge Contesse, in partnership with the Center for Gender, Sexuality, Law and Policy, whose director is Professor Suzanne Kim.
She took a look at the history of the gay rights movement in the 1970s and 1980s that led to decades of activism. By 1993, Hawaii had become the first state to recognize gay marriage and also in the 1990s, Vermont and California created domestic partnerships and civil unions. European countries also began to extend protections to gay couples in the 1990s and the first country to recognize same-sex marriage was the Netherlands in 2000.
More recently, Goldberg explained that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that States must allow same-sex marriage. Currently, 19 other countries allow it, including Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay, the United States, and Canada.
“That number is going to grow exponentially,” she said.
However, Goldberg added, more than 70 countries still consider it criminal to have same-sex relations and people in those countries face discrimination and violence, “We’ve had a lot of wins and a lot of losses.”
Goldberg said she drew on public health and socioeconomic models for advocacy, and said to effect change, there needs to be a shift in attitude by the individual, through interpersonal connections, communities, organizations, and finally, policy and institutional changes.
“Advocacy requires a behavior change,” she said, adding that allies must have the capacity to see what’s wrong and be motivated to go further.
She explained that people must be allowed to identify as gay because it is essential to their sense of self and others must be aggrieved by a denial to allow that to happen. Goldberg challenged that advocates must think of all ways to “engage in the conversation” including media outlets, social media, television shows, the educational system, including reaching people who are too young to vote and reaching decision makers.
“It’s incremental, it takes time,” she said. Asked about how advocates can address pushback from conservative groups and governments, Goldberg observed that advocates should not be surprised: “resistance happens after advancements are made.”
Goldberg also encouraged people to take heart and noted that before there was gay marriage, “There was a sense the world would come crashing to an end and it would be the decline of civilization.” However, she pointed out, once the Netherlands approved it, and California and New York, others started to see what was possible. “It starts the momentum and illuminates the weaknesses in the arguments of exclusion.”