Progress And The Road Ahead

By Eric Rader
Originally printed 12/19/2013 (Issue 2151 - Between The Lines News)

The fight for LGBT equality has gained a lot of positive momentum recently, and we can be guardedly optimistic as we look to the future. In just the last year, 10 states have legalized same-sex marriage, raising the total number of states with marriage equality to 16, plus Washington, D.C. In June of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the discriminatory "Defense of Marriage Act" (DOMA), ruling that the law's prohibition on federal recognition of same-sex unions was unconstitutional. This decision paved the way for lesbian and gay married couples to file joint tax returns and receive the federal benefits that straight couples have long enjoyed.

While this has been a time of LGBT progress, change has not happened quickly enough in other areas. For almost 20 years, the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) has languished in successive sessions of Congress. LGBT workers can be, and too often are, fired because of their real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. Polls show that overwhelming majorities of Americans, including people who don't support equal marriage rights, are in favor of workplace protections for LGBT workers. The Senate has now passed ENDA, but the House so far refuses to take action on this important piece of legislation. Groups that oppose extending workplace protections to LGBT workers often argue that such a law would infringe on the religious beliefs of some employers. In fact, the legislation includes religious exemptions and would limit the religious freedoms of no organization.

Though the Supreme Court's decision on DOMA this year was welcome news to LGBTs and our allies, equal marriage rights are still limited to about one third of the country. Michigan and a number of other states have constitutional prohibitions against recognizing legally-married same-sex couples. April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse of Washtenaw County have brought a federal civil rights lawsuit challenging the state ban on gay marriages in our state. Last month, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman was expected to rule on their challenge, but instead ordered a trial, to begin Feb. 25, 2014. This case has the potential to legalize same sex marriages in our state, and if it reaches the U.S. Supreme Court, the entire nation. While the Supreme Court punted last year on a California case that challenged that state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, the court will have no choice but to decide the issue in the next year or two. As increasing numbers of Americans come to support equal marriage rights, and as the federal government provides tax and inheritance benefits to legally married same-sex couples, it becomes more obvious than ever that LGBT couples deserve equal marriage rights, and the legal right to adopt children, in every state.

Movement on issues of equality can often be frustrating and slow, and patience can be very difficult to maintain. African Americans endured 250 years of slavery and 100 years of Jim Crow before the Supreme Court and the elected branches of government finally recognized their right to genuine equality under the law. Even with this progress, there are still societal barriers to equality for racial and ethnic minorities, as well as women. Just as the historic election of the first African American president in 2008 did not mean that our society was suddenly equal with regard to race, the passage of marriage equality in 16 states and the District of Columbia is only one important step in the march toward full equality for LGBTs. Indeed, marriage is only one of a number of areas where LGBT Americans are denied equal and fair treatment. When LGBTs can be bullied in school, fired because of sexual orientation and gender identity, and prohibited from giving a loving home to children who desperately want security, then we still haven't achieved equality.

LGBT Americans and our allies have much to celebrate in light of the successes of recent years. At the same time, future advances in equality will require diligence and hard work. This means that all of us need to stay involved in the political arena. In 2014, voters in Michigan will be choosing a governor, lieutenant governor, and other statewide offices, and the Michigan Legislature. Voters nationwide, including here in Michigan, will be determining the composition of Congress for the final two years of President Obama's term in office. Many progressive voters stayed away from the polls in 2010, and the result was a chief executive and state legislature that are hostile to the equal rights of LGBTs in Michigan, and a reactionary, Tea-Party-dominated U.S. House of Representatives. Increasing majorities of Michiganders support genuine equality for LGBTs, and we must ensure that a hostile minority does not continue to block the march to equal rights for all people in this state and across the country.

HRC info on ENDA passage by the U.S. Senate:

Contact your House member and urge him/her to push for a vote on ENDA:

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