While Good News Looks Likely On Marriage Equality, The Fight For Equal Rights Continues
Every week, it seems like we’re getting closer and closer to nationwide marriage equality. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court got out of the way of a federal court ruling impacting Alabama, paving the way for same-sex couples to marry in that state. Despite significant local resistance, this latest ruling makes Alabama the 37th state (and the District of Columbia) with legal marriage equality. Some court watchers believe that this is a signal from the Court that they will rule this summer to make marriage equality the law of the land. While progress in the last year has been truly stunning, it is too early to celebrate the advancement of LGBT rights across the 50 states. In 16 states, same-sex couples can get legally married, and then get legally fired for being married, on the same day. Continued vigilance is necessary to make sure that LGBT Americans receive explicit and comprehensive legal rights. That number is set to increase to 31 states if the Supreme Court rules in favor of a constitutional right to marry for same-sex couples. As President Obama said earlier this week, all LGBT Americans “are deserving of equal treatment under the law,” which, as CAP has noted, includes explicit protections against discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, credit, and education.
As the 37th state where marriage equality is the law of the land, news coverage from Alabama should be all about how same-sex Alabama couples can finally experience the joy of marriage. Sadly, this is not the case. Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore has called on state judges to defy federal law and refuse to marry same-sex couples. Unfortunately for many LGBT Alabamians, many of Moore’s judges have gone along with his instruction. This ugly episode is part of an uglier history of Alabama officials refusing to acknowledge the rights of their fellow citizens. Despite this news, the law is on the side of ordinary Alabamians whose only wish is to be married, and it’s only a matter of time before Alabama continues to follow all of the laws, rather than picking and choosing.
But Alabama’s resistance is part of a larger context where a number of states, within the last week alone, are refusing to create a legal system where the rights of the LGBT community are secured. In a number of states, legislators are moving to take anti-discrimination rights away:
- Kansas: Republican Governor Sam Brownback recently rescinded an executive order from 2007 that explicitly granted state employees protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
- Indiana: An Indiana Senate panel granted a hearing for a “religious freedom” bill that would likely allow businesses to discriminate against LGBT Indianans.
- Arkansas: The Arkansas Senate passed legislation that would ban cities from making their own anti-discrimination policies, such as the ordinance Fayetteville adopted last summer, which was unfortunately repealed by the ballot box in December.
- Florida: A member of the Florida house introduced a bill that would fine any transgender person $1,000 for using public bathrooms.
However, while some state lawmakers are trying to take some rights away, other states are beating back these challenges and even expanding explicit protections for LGBT Americans:
- Colorado: A bill that would similarly target transgender people for using public facilities failed in committee last week.
- Michigan: Republican Governor Rick Snyder declined to appeal a federal same-sex marriage case, which meant that more than 300 same-sex marriages would finally be recognized by the state.
- Virginia: The Virginia Senate passed a bill that would make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity when hiring state employees.
- Wyoming: A bill is successfully moving through the Wyoming Senate that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to existing state anti-discrimination law.
BOTTOM LINE: All fifty states must recognize that continued discrimination against same-sex couples harms not only those affected, but the whole country. Corporate America is starting to recognize this, as companies like General Electrichave realized that explicit non-discrimination protections for their LGBT workers are both the right thing to do and good for the bottom line. As Apple CEO Tim Cook, the most prominent Alabamian in recent times and an out gay man, said in a moving speech late last year, “We can’t change the past, but we can learn from it. And we can create a different future.”
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