Tag: Equality

Equality Act hangs in the balance as Democrats falter in Senate races

Equality Act hangs in the balance as Democrats falter in

Can Biden convince enough Republicans to back the federal LGBTQ+ protections he promised?

Kate Sosin

Originally published by The 19th

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On May 14, 1974, Rep. Bella Abzug, a feminist icon in women’s rights movement, introduced one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation ever ignored. It had just one co-sponsor.

The 10-page bill never moved out of committee. Had it passed, it would have amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. It was called the Equality Act.

The bill’s modern iteration moved closer to passage with Joe Biden’s projected win on November 7. But maybe not close enough.

Biden has vowed to pass the Equality Act within his first 100 days in office, an unexpected commitment as the country battles the coronavirus pandemic.  To do that, however, he will need the backing of a sharply partisan Senate. The bill easily cleared the Democrat-dominated House last year. Its chances of surviving the Senate, where it looks like Republicans will maintain control, is questionable.

Kierra Johnson, incoming executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, said that LGBTQ+ policy has long lagged behind cultural acceptance for LGBTQ+ people.

“Unfortunately, I think because of that, we have not passed the Equality Act yet,” Johnson said. “I think people take for granted that there are gay people on TV and queer people running for office and TV shows about trans women, that somehow we have broken the ceiling.”

On October 29, LGBTQ+ media organization GLAAD released new findings showing that 89 percent of straight cisgender Americans falsely believe it illegal to evict someone because they are LGBTQ+. Seventy-nine percent of LGBTQ+ people are under the same impression. Eighty percent of straight cisgender respondents also mistakenly believed that it’s illegal to deny service to LGBTQ+ people in restaurants and bars.

“People tend to think that things they think are wrong are also illegal,” explained David Stacy, government affairs director for the Human Rights Campaign.

The Public Religion Research Institute reports that nationally, about 70 percent of Americans support passing LGBTQ+ nondiscrimination protections.

But just 22 states and Washington, D.C., have housing protections on the books that cover gender identity and sexual orientation, and 21 states and D.C. have LGBTQ+ public accommodation laws. The Movement Advancement Project, an LGBTQ+ group that tracks protections nationwide, estimates that just under half of LGBTQ+ Americans live in states that shield them from being denied service in restaurants, bars and hotels.

The latest iteration of the Equality Act would change that. It bars discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, public accommodations, education and employment, among other things.

“It cuts off the need to continue to litigate, whether all federal sex discrimination laws provide protections to LGBTQ people,” said Sarah Warbelow, legal director at the Human Rights Campaign.

For years, any significant gains for LGBTQ+ rights have been through the courts.

Democratic control of both the White House and Congress is seen as the most friendly scenario for the Equality Act. But in 2009 and 2010, when Democrats held a supermajority in Congress and Barack Obama was in the White House, there were still no legislation passed granting civil rights to LGBTQ+ people.

There were small steps. Congress repealed the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of dismissing openly LGBTQ+ service members in 2010. Congress failed to pass federal job protections, however, and President Donald Trump’s transgender military took effect in 2018. Congress also green lit the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009, a law that many LGBTQ+ rights groups have since abandoned as faith in the criminal legal system wanes.

Christian and Clifton's intimate hometown Ohio wedding at Jeffrey Mansion Photo by Starling Studio Featured on Equally Wed, the world's leading LGBTQ+ wedding magazine

But the overturning of sodomy laws, the passage of marriage equality, nationwide employment protections — all came through the courts.

Jenny Pizer, law and policy director for Lambda Legal, said there is a reason why LGBTQ+ advocates invested so heavily in advancing equality through litigation.

“Movements about the rights of a minority group, at least in the past, have depended in particular ways on court action,” she said. “The courts are supposed to be enforcers of minority rights and other constitutional rights, including free speech, freedom of assembly and other freedoms guaranteed to us.”

That includes a person’s rights against their own government, she added.

The 1970s, which saw the introduction of the Equality Act, were not easy for LGBTQ+ people. Throughout the decade, more than half of states still had sodomy laws on the books, the last of which were overturned in 2003 by the Supreme Court.

Still, LGBTQ+ advocates gained ground on other issues with a pace that other movement leaders marveled at. The Stonewall Rebellion — a riot against police brutality and homophobia in New York in 1969 — marked the start of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement. In 1982, Wisconsin became the first state to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. In 2015, the Supreme Court granted couples of all genders the right to marry. In courts across the country since, transgender students like Gavin Grimm have fought and won for the right to use a restroom that aligns with their gender. This June, the Supreme Court ruled LGBTQ+ people are protected against workplace discrimination.

None of those gains would match the significance of a modern-day Equality Act, advocates say, not because they aren’t important, but because the act rolls a patchwork of court wins into one federal law.

“Unfortunately, I feel like we shortcut ourselves when we talk about marriage, because it’s all of the things that come with marriage,” said Johnson. “What was underneath marriage was all the ways that LGBTQ people were actually not considered a part of family because of how family is defined by marriage, particularly in this country.”

While the Supreme Court ruled in favor of LGBTQ+ workplace protections in the Bostock v. Clayton County case in June, the Trump administration has shown few signs of enforcing the law. The ruling, delivered by conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch, also came with a caveat: some employers sincerely object to hiring LGBTQ+ people, he said. That statement signals that the court is eager to take up the issue of religious exemptions on LGBTQ+ protections, possibly rendering the ruling substantially less effective.

It’s that very issue, the suggestion that equality for gay and trans people in public life threatens religious freedom, that LGBTQ+ rights advocates have been unable to overcome in securing congressional support for the Equality Act, said Johnson.

“I don’t know, somehow we became the anti-Christ,” Johnson said, laughing. “But I think it becomes really powerful to have progressive or even moderate religious leaders who can speak to the importance of civil rights for queer people and talk about this as not just [something] they believe despite their faith, but because of their faith.”

Data increasingly shows that Republican voters back LGBTQ+ equality. The Human Rights Campaign polled voters in swing states and found that even among Trump voters, the majority of Americans backed transgender access to health care. Still, many Republican lawmakers who say they back equality for marginalized groups see LGBTQ+ rights in particular as inevitably at odds with religious liberty.

As long as that’s the case, the votes for the bill just don’t add up to the 60 it needs to pass.

“We feel like if we brought the bill to the floor, even in the current senate, we could get the votes to get to 51,” said Stacy. “Whether we can get 60 is a different question.”

Photos by Starling Studio via Christian and Clifton’s intimate hometown Ohio wedding at Jeffrey Mansion, featured on Equally Wed, the world’s leading LGBTQ+ wedding magazine

Fearing the end of marriage equality, one couple rushes to the altar before an historic election is called

Fearing the end of marriage equality, one couple rushes to

Following the appointment of conservative Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, Jason Melcher and Johnnie Wonders worried that their right to marry as a gay couple could be revoked. An historic election day that could further impact their fate was just around the corner, so the pair rushed to the altar, planning their special event in just under two days.

The couple lives in the swing state of Pennsylvania in an area that Jason refers to as Trump territory. Multiple neighbors flaunt yard signs that promote the incumbent, and even larger, more prominent displays can be seen a few miles down the road. Johnnie says, “I wish they could realize how their unwavering faith in this president affects us,” adding that Trump’s bigotry and problematic perspectives impact the lives and mental health of marginalized people in ways that his supporters don’t seem to understand.

Johnnie says, “We might do things they wouldn’t do with their own lives, but it doesn’t mean that we’re not like them when it comes to our relationships and how we love one another.” Jason explains that one reason to get married so quickly was to guarantee protections the couple could otherwise be denied. He cites the importance of hospital visitation, sharing health insurance, the right to make decisions for each other in an emergency, and other rights that could be important during a pandemic.

He adds, “It’s literally just a piece of paper but it means so much more in the political sense. It’s a giant middle finger to the current president and Amy Coney Barrett or anyone else who isn’t sure we should be married.”

photo by Lorena Melcher
It was difficult to find time for the ceremony because both men are working two jobs, but they ultimately invited guests to a late-night affair in the early hours of Halloween. The wedding day was also a work day for Jason, who went straight from his full-time job at a local, queer-centered nonprofit to an evening shift at McDonald’s. Jason didn’t return home until after midnight, leaving just enough time to shower and change clothes before walking down the stairs of the couple’s home with his groom at 1 a.m.

The pair was joined in person by Jason’s parents and twin as well as two of their close friends in addition to Jason’s older brother who connected via live-stream. They gathered in front of their fireplace mantle which Johnnie decorated with sparkling lights and festive garlands hours before the event. A Progress Pride flag hung on a nearby wall in the living room as they exchanged vows in matching Renaissance garb.

Both men wore black harem pants and matching boots paired with similarly styled vests that had pointed shoulders and chain details. A gold collar, lapel and cuffs accented Jason’s burgundy, leather vest, which he paired with a black, long-sleeved v-neck. Wonders donned similar attire, but his vest was black with purple embellishments, and he carried a decorative knife. Guests dressed in the theme with outfits they’d typically sport at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire.

Their original wedding date was scheduled for a Renaissance Faire weekend, an event both men feel deeply connected to after growing up visiting the destination and eventually developing a strong community there. Jason isn’t too disappointed that his original wedding plans didn’t come to fruition because the pair hopes to renew their vows in a ceremony that will match his dreams. The new date of October 31 is significant for Johnnie who is Wiccan, and the couple incorporated a Pagan handfasting ritual into the ceremony. The couple didn’t exchange rings, but they tied a braided embroidery thread into a knot around their shared clasp to signify their union. 

At 6-foot-6, Jason was the tallest person present—standing just inches below the ceiling and 14 inches higher than Johnnie who is only 5-foot-4. “Every aspect of our relationship is opposites attract,” Jason says as he begins to list their differences. He describes himself as a lap dog who needs a lot of cuddling and Johnnie as someone who prefers more space. He notes that they approach finances and the perceptions of the world from a different lens because of the ways they grew up. Johnnie, 43, was raised by his grandfather in rural Pennsylvania, going to high school across the parking lot from a cow field, and developing his sense of self in a space where being gay isn’t always affirmed. In contrast, Jason, 26, grew up in suburbs that border Philadelphia, immersed in a younger generation of queer people and is around those who embody more diverse aspects of identity, such as nonbinary and agender descriptors.

Johnnie is a homebody whereas Jason likes to go out—but Jason notes, “He gives me a valid reason to stay home and relax—to spend time with him rather than go, go, go. I do the opposite for him, so we offer balance to each other—where he reminds me to rest and I remind him to live a little more.” Johnnie underlines that each of their differences is a positive attribute in their relationship that helps them grow and feel grounded together.

The pair met four years ago at a leather and fetish event and proudly embraces a dominant-submissive dynamic, but most people make the wrong assumptions about who’s who. Johnnie explains, “Everyone thinks Jason is the more dominant one because he’s so much bigger, but we defy stereotypes.” Johnnie says that he’s learned there just isn’t a specific concept for norms regarding relationships anymore. He underlined, “And in that way, our relationship is no different than anyone else’s.”

Johnnie mailed his ballot the day of their wedding and both men are trying to practice self-care, enjoy virtual time with friends, and pour themselves into work while awaiting results—which experts say might take until Friday to finalize in Pennsylvania. When explaining how he hopes those in leadership will view queer and marginalized people over the next four years, Johnnie says, “I want the world to realize that there’s only one thing that should matter. It’s just love. Plain and simple. Just love.”

Photo credit: Lorena Melcher


After decades of progress, LGBTQ equality is under attack again. Let’s fix that. / LGBTQ Nation

Senator Kamala Harris at the 2019 San Francisco Pride Parade

Senator Kamala Harris at the 2019 San Francisco Pride ParadePhoto: Scot Tucker/SFBay.ca

More than 50 years ago, a group of LGBTQ+ people at the Stonewall Inn did what so many Americans have done throughout our history—they stood up for equality. It was a turning point in a movement that would continue to march, organize, and vote for the rights of LGBTQ+ Americans.

And it’s because of those efforts, through the decades, that, in 2013, Kris Perry and Sandy Stier were united in California’s first same-sex marriage after Proposition 8 was struck down by the courts—a wedding I had the honor of officiating.

Related: Voting deadlines, registration & what’s at stake for LGBTQ voters in 2020

But today, after decades of progress, LGBTQ+ equality is once again under attack.

President Donald Trump, Vice President Pence, and Senate Republicans jammed through a Supreme Court nominee who poses a threat to LGBTQ+ equality—just weeks after two other justices suggested reconsidering the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges decision that made marriage equality the law of the land.

The Trump administration banned transgender Americans willing to risk their lives for our country from serving in the military. They’ve rolled back protections put in place by the Obama-Biden administration against employment discrimination for LGBTQ+ workers. And they opened the door to allowing health care workers to refuse treatment to patients based on their gender identity.

At a time when our country is experiencing the worst public health crisis in a century, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, a reckoning on racial injustice, and a changing climate that’s battering our coastlines and setting the West on fire, it’s devastating that LGBTQ+ Americans must also worry about their human rights.

Here’s the good news: we can vote to put an end to the Trump-Pence era of discrimination and fear—and send the most pro-equality administration in history to the White House.

Joe Biden and I believe that every human being should be treated with dignity and respect and be able to live without fear, no matter who they are or who they love. We will reverse the attacks the Trump-Pence administration has made on the LGBTQ+ community. And we won’t stop there—we will advance equality through long-overdue changes.

Right now, half of all LGBTQ+ Americans live in states where their civil rights can be violated. They face discrimination in nearly every aspect of their lives, from housing to starting a family to obtaining a driver’s license with their correct gender on it.

Joe and I will make enacting the Equality Act a top legislative priority in our first 100 days in office. Passing this law will guarantee that LGBTQ+ Americans are protected under existing federal civil rights laws.

We’ll work to protect LGBTQ+ individuals from violence, prioritize the prosecution of hate crimes, and work to end the epidemic of assault against the transgender community, particularly transgender women of color. We’ll do everything in our power to make sure LGBTQ+ youth are safe from bullying, harassment, and sexual assault.

We’ll reverse President Trump’s discriminatory ban on transgender Americans serving in the military, and ensure that every American who is qualified to serve can do so regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. We’ll make sure transgender service members receive the health care they deserve. And we will work to ensure LGBTQ+ individuals have full access to all appropriate health care treatments and resources, including care related to transitioning, such as gender confirmation surgery.

You can trust that Joe will work to support the LGBTQ+ community every single day as president—because that’s what he’s done for years. He supported marriage equality well before most major politicians. He worked with President Obama to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” And he knows how much work there is left to do.

As the great civil rights lawyer Pauli Murray once said, “The lesson of American history [is] that human rights are indivisible.” They cannot be advanced for some and ignored for others.

Now is the time to build a country that embraces that truth—a country where every American is treated with dignity and respect, and where equality and justice truly are for all.

Related: Voting deadlines, registration & what’s at stake for LGBTQ voters in 2020

Supreme Court justices set stage to end marriage equality

Supreme Court justices set stage to end marriage equality

Supreme Court justices set stage to end marriage equality – Equally Wed, modern LGBTQ+ weddings + LGBTQ-inclusive wedding pros

Five Years of Marriage Equality, Brought to You in Large Part by Parents

Five Years of Marriage Equality, Brought to You in Large

Five years ago today, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that marriage should be open to all couples, no matter their gender—and one of the strongest arguments in the case was the best interests of children. Yet even five years after marriage equality, we are still struggling towards full equality for our families.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion of Obergefell v. Hodges, the case that won marriage equality nationwide:

Without the recognition, stability, and predictability marriage offers, children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser. They also suffer the significant material costs of being raised by unmarried parents, relegated to a more difficult and uncertain family life. The marriage laws at issue thus harm and humiliate the children of same-sex couples. This does not mean that the right to marry is less meaningful for those who do not or cannot have children. Precedent protects the right of a married couple not to procreate, so the right to marry cannot be conditioned on the capacity or commitment to procreate.

Marriage equality advocates had worked hard to transform “think of the children” from an argument against marriage for same-sex couples into one for it. Back in 2008, during the Proposition 8 battle in California, marriage equality opponents tried to scare people by saying that marriage equality would require that students learn about homosexuality in schools (as if that were a bad thing). Prop 8 passed, and same-sex couples were blocked from marriage. By 2013, however, the U.S. Supreme Court wrote in Windsor, the case that tore down part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA): “[DOMA] humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples…. [and] makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives.” Variations of that argument were then used to win every other federal decision on marriage equality, except for the one in the 6th Circuit, which ruled against marriage equality and thus precipitated its hearing before the Supreme Court in Obergefell.

Most of the plaintiffs in Obergefell were parents (though not lead plaintiff Jim Obergefell), as I detailed here. Additionally, many children of same-sex parents contributed to the Voices of Children amicus (“friend of the court”) brief in Obergefell, organized by Family Equality Council, COLAGE, and Kentucky youth Kinsey Morrison. Many others spoke out in public forums, in their classrooms, or on the playground to stand up for their families. (The most well-known of these is perhaps Zach Wahls, who in 2011 spoke at an Iowa House hearing about a bill to ban marriage for same-sex couples, and is now an Iowa state senator himself.)

Marriage is an important institution for both practical and symbolic reasons, and the impact of Obergefell was positive and resounding. Marital rights and parental rights have a complicated and not coterminous relationship, though, and nonbiological mothers have had to bring lawsuits in many states, even after Obergefell, in order to gain legal rights to their children and be put on their birth certificates. (A short and probably incomplete list: Arkansas and Arizona, Hawaii, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and Indiana.) And just last week, as I recently wrote, Indiana has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to deny the right of married nonbiological mothers in same-sex couples to be put on their children’s birth certificates without second-parent adoptions, thus denying the children the security of having two legal parents from birth. (The Supreme Court has yet to say whether it will take the case.)

Additionally, the U.S. State Department is continuing to deny some children of married same-sex couples equal rights to citizenship—although a federal court last week said they were wrong to do so in one instance.

Furthermore, marriage is not the solution to all of our inequalities. The Supreme Court ruled last week that people cannot be fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, which is another huge milestone; yet the Trump administration has also finalized a rule that says health care anti-discrimination protections don’t cover discrimination based on LGBTQ identities. More and more states and the federal government are permitting religiously based discrimination in adoption and foster care. And transgender people continue to face discrimination in many other areas, including military service.

Many LGBTQ rights organizations are pushing for the passage of the Equality Act, which would offer broad protections to LGBTQ people and our children throughout our daily lives. That seems a good idea, but will likely depend heavily on the results of the November election. Even as we look back with pride on the progress we’ve made over the past five years, then, let us also recommit to the work we still need to be doing.

marriage equality celebrates five years as a federal right

marriage equality celebrates five years as a federal right

Dignity and respect for all: marriage equality celebrates five years as a federal right