June 26, 2016:
One year of nationwide marriage equality
On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have the same constitutional right to marry that different-sex couples do. Same-sex couples can move or travel from place to place without worry that their relationships have been legally nullified by stepping over a state border. Our vigilance didn't end overnight, of course...a number of Christian political bigots like Kim Davis of Kentucky and Sam Brownshirt—er, Brownback—of Kansas took it upon themselves in the weeks afterward to ignore the law...but they had been finally deprived of their last shred of legal foundation in doing so. The Republican Party discovered that it no longer had unilateral control of America's social discourse, and its 22-year crusade of DOMA acts and heterosupremacist constitutional amendments was reduced to naught. One year on, the notion of same-sex marriage has been normalized in most places, and I couldn't be happier about that.
Marriage isn't the end-all and be-all of equality
Of course, our work towards achieving a just world with equality of outcomes isn't over. DAMN it's not over, because there is so much more to LGBT civil rights than just marriage alone.
= LGBT people may live without fear of legal employment or housing discrimination.
= Cis LGB people may live without fear of discrimination; trans people do not.
= LGBT people may be legally discriminated against.
Employment and housing discrimination affects a larger subset of people than marriage prohibitions, but the current legal situation is absolutely embarrassing. In over half the states in the country...28 if you're cis, 30 if you're trans...it is completely legal to be deprived of a job or a home if your supervisor or landlord thinks that gay sex makes baby Jesus cry. Or any reason at all. You can get married on Sunday (thanks to the courts) and fired on Monday. And unless you're lucky enough to live in a city or county with an overriding protection, there's not a thing you can do about this.
How is this not an outrage?
The ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act) has been tabled in some form or another since 1994, and it would almost certainly be law now if the Christian-nationalist Republican Party didn't seize an artificial legislative majority through gerrymandering and voter suppression.
Unfortunately, there seems to be a large contingent of insufferable, ignorant straight people who assume that anti-LGBT employment or housing discrimination is already illegal, and that legislation like ENDA is unnecessary. Thanks to crap like this and a surgical dose of anti-trans Christian bigotry, an anti-discrimination ordinance was repealed in Houston, Texas (the fourth-largest city in the U.S.) last year. More on that in a minute.
The next frontier of action
A tidbit of wisdom that ought to be repeated is that we can't always choose our own battles. If LGBT people had the privilege of planning their own moves in the equal-rights game, it's plausible that nationwide housing and employment protections would have been achieved decades ago while marriage would have been scooted further down on the priority list. But our adversaries forced our hand; they made the prospect of marriage the focus of their animus, and they set the stage for the battle that we eventually won.
What have our adversaries done in the year since their last humiliating sting of defeat? In a move that shows no shame, they've targeted trans people.
Transgender people are diverse, and they have wants, needs, desires, and experiences as ordinary or extraordinary as those of you and me. The only difference is that their gender identity and expression don't fit into neat little cis boxes tied to their body parts. As with other portions of the LGBT "alphabet soup," who they are and what they are harms absolutely no one. Yet, transgender people in many a place are forced from sight and consigned to the fringes of society. The suicide rates among transgender people hover at almost 1 out of 2.
In no place has this been made more apparent than in North Carolina, home of the awful new "Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act," tabled as the HB2 bill. The HB2 bill directly torpedoed a trans-inclusive anti-discrimination ordinance in Charlotte, the largest city in the state. It also...
- Limits the use of public restrooms to members of a given "biological sex," enforced by birth certificate. (Presumably, we can now look forward to cops and guards asking for certificates at the door.)
- Prohibits cities from establishing higher minimum wages (not relating specifically to LGBT people, but affecting them and punishing Charlotte in the bargain).
- Specifically excludes gender as a basis for nondiscrimination protections, while highlighting "biological sex" with an underline.
- Contains a "severability" clause proclaiming that the rest of the bill will stand even if (and when) parts of it are struck down in court.
- Was pushed through in a single day and signed into law by Republican governor Pat McCrory, riding high on a wave of reactionary sentiment to put the state's increasingly liberal complexion down.
When North Carolina's HB1 bill was signed into law, crisis calls to the Trans Lifeline nearly doubled. A similarly insidious bill passed in Mississippi days later, and other anti-trans bills simmered in over a dozen other states. For a moment, it seemed that we were on the verge of a massive rollback of civil rights in every state in which the Christian-nationalist Republican Party had lockstep control; much like the anti-gay amendments of 2004 and 2006. Blogger Benny Vimes described this as a "sensation of helplessness."
Compounding this was a complete lack of subtlety: The laws took aim at the most marginalized sexual minorities and legislated away their very ability to partake in society. When Houston's HERO act was repealed, one bigot took it upon himself to describe transgender people as "perverts, the mentally ill, liars, and others who want to get in to opposite sex bathrooms"...and this is what we're up against. Their hatred is so proud, so naked, that it makes me scream.
The only good that's come out of this has been a backlash.
- PayPal withdrew its plans for expanding in Charlotte, while Deutsche Bank similarly withdrew plans for expanding in Cary.
- The High Point Market furniture expo reported that "hundreds and perhaps thousands" of customers were shying away.
- The American Institute of Architects cancelled a conference in North Carolina.
- The U.S. Justice Department informed North Carolina that its law violated the federal Civil Rights Act.
- Numerous musical performers, including Bruce Springsteen, have cancelled gigs in North Carolina and Mississippi.
- Several states (including Minnesota and New York) and numerous local governments barred official government employee travel to North Carolina and Mississippi.
- Pressure from the state's successful film-production industry helped kill the imminent anti-LGBT law in Georgia.
- U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch has sued North Carolina to stop its implementation of the bill...a heartening expression of solidarity with transgender individuals that would have been unthinkable under Bush.
- By various accounts, the economic fallout from HB2 meant that Pat McCrory flushed between 77 and 201 million dollars down the drain.
In a world where money exerts more influence on politics than words, these boycotts and business reactions have been heartening. But most have been focused exclusively on North Carolina: Mississippi is a state with minimal economic significance to make a difference, while Houston's ordinance repeal has inexplicably evaded a meaningful backlash. It's frustrating. Meanwhile, NC's HB2 remains on the books...
= Marriage equality
Starting in 2015, all fifty U.S. states and the District of Columbia recognize and permit same-sex marriages as a matter of civil law. Although the rapid political progress on this front is new, the issue is but a manifestation of a larger gay-rights puzzle that has simmered for many decades; a constant cat and mouse game pitting legal roadblocks and reactionary sentiments against the inevitable tide of humanistic social progress.
Jack Baker and Michael McConnell of Minnesota attempted to gain a marriage application in May 1970. At the time, there were few laws in force either permitting or prohibiting such arrangements. Several states reacted by explicitly banning same-sex marriages in statutes through the course of the 1970s and early 1980s, but the issue attracted little attention through the end of the Reagan era...sidelined by the AIDS crisis and the LGBT community's constant struggle at the time to simply exist.
The genesis of the modern marriage-equality movement is often cited as Baehr v. Miike, a lawsuit filed by three same-sex couples in Hawaii in 1991. Denied the right to marry, the couples brought their case to court...and on May 5, 1993, the Supreme Court of Hawaii ruled in their favor, noting that they were discriminated against. The political backlash that resulted was immense. The court's decision was immediately remanded and stayed before same-sex marriages could come into effect, and an anti-gay statute promptly wrote the matter out of contention. In 1996 the national "Defense of Marriage Act" was reflexively rammed into law, prohibiting the federal government from recognizing any same-sex marriage (even though none were yet possible) and alleviating states from recognizing other states' marriages.
In 1999, a similar lawsuit in Vermont led to the establishment of civil unions...arrangements that provided same-sex couples with some of the civil and financial benefits of marriage without the trappings. In 2003, the legal train made its way one state south...and on May 17, 2004, Massachusetts became the first state with marriage equality in the country. Sadly, the national reaction continued to be virulent. Our president of the time (George W. Bush) verbally endorsed a Federal Marriage Amendment that would prohibit any state from recognizing a same-sex marriage...ever. Karl Rove promptly turned the issue into a weapon to drive up Christian fundagelical voter turnout; a successful ploy to keep Bush in office at the expense of real peoples' lives. No fewer than thirteen states placed anti-gay constitutional amendments on their ballots in 2004, followed by nine more in 2006. All were attempts to codify bigotry by the most concrete letter of law imaginable, and all were magnets for voters with the enlightenment of a lynch mob. In every state but one, the propositions (and bigots) won.
But slowly, the course started to change. Arizona in 2006 became the first state to reject an anti-gay constitutional amendment at the polls...although they went ahead and passed a slightly less-draconian version of the same thing two years later. California and Connecticut became the second and third states with marriage equality in 2008...although the initial California victory was bittersweet as much as it was short-lived. Marriage equality first passed a state legislature in April 2009, thanks once again to the lead of Vermont. Equal rights hit the massive state of New York two years later, and national public support started hitting the magic 50% mark around the same time. Finally in November 2012, marriage equality won at the ballot box with simultaneous referendums in three states: Maryland, Washington, and Maine.
However, what about the states where equality wasn't legal; where the toxic combination of religious demographics and Rovian tactics resulted in same-sex marriages being banned under terms of constitutional law? Until 2010, I would have predicted through past precedent and reputation that Wisconsin would be one of the first states to repeal such a measure. Thanks to the actions of my own neighbors and family, that was no longer possible. Oregon and Nevada were left as the most likely candidates for this course of action, while social progress in the Badger State got sidelined indefinitely by a gerrymandered legislature pandering to the worst elements of Christian idiocy and a psychopathic governor who was convinced that he had divine guidance and acted out the wills of his god.
Depressingly, similar scenarios existed in dozens of other states nationwide. Although Section 3 of DOMA was struck down, Section 2 (and myriad state-level prohibitions) remained in effect...meaning that even if they had the right to exist at home, married same-sex couples would have had their marriages instantly dissolved any time they stepped beyond the state line. And thanks to a complete absence of federal-level protections, it is still completely legal in twenty-eight states to be fired from a job or evicted from housing solely for being gay.
It is impossible to separate anti-gay animus from the religion from which it spawns, and both have been impossible to separate from one of America's two major political parties since the ascendancy of the Christian Right more than 30 years ago. Since 2007 organized opposition to marriage equality became monopolized by the newspeak-named National Organization for Marriage (NOM), a disclosure-adverse money-laundering organization led by Robert George and Brian Brown and bankrolled by the Roman Catholic Church. California's Proposition 8 in 2008 was funded by a laundry list of Catholic, evangelical Protestant, and Mormon benefactors and organizations. So was North Carolina's Amendment 1, Maine's Question 1, and every other anti-gay voter proposition that has ever existed.
There is not a single scrap or shred of anti-gay animosity in existence that is not religious in origin. You can easily defend anti-gay prejudice using the Bible; citing Leviticus, Corinthians, Jude, Deuteronomy, or any other chapter and verse that floats your boat. You can also defend genocide, slavery, misogyny, willful ignorance, genital mutilation, literal incineration, attempted murder, and raping and pillaging the world and being a total jerk so long as you pull the right strings to go to heaven anyway, just by citing words in those pages. Just about the only thing that can't be defended is the objective logic of using a corrupt, unethical, medieval book like the Bible as a moral guide to begin with.
If every person used empirical evidence and critical thinking as a basis for making decisions instead, every single roadblock to civil equality would have been tossed aside, repealed, and condemned decades ago. It's no secret that the states with the least-religious societal complexions were among the first states to legalize marriage equality, and there's no doubt that the most-religious states (culminating with Mississippi) would be the last if not for the courts.
I'm proud to say that even in the long-gone days of the 1990s...when marriage equality seemed like a pipe dream that would never happen...I never accepted why gay and lesbian couples who loved each other ought to be denied the same legal and financial benefits that heterosexual folks enjoyed.