Beyond Marriage: The Case for Full LGBT Equality
This article by Evan Wolfson was originally published on September 3, 2015 in The Desert Sun. Read the full article here.
Over the past few years, a long-sought and hard-fought transformation has begun to take hold for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in America. From the end of the military's discrimination against gay service members (soon to extend to transgender personnel) and the gutting of the federal so-called Defense of Marriage Act to the recent elimination of the Boy Scouts' ban on gay members and leaders and, most powerfully, winning the freedom to marry nationwide, we are seeing real and profound change in the law and in LGBT people's lives.
But, of course, the work is not done. Much needs to change, both in eliminating remaining legal barriers and lack of protection and in improving the day-to-day lived experience of all our people, no matter where they live. The change still needed depends on all of us harnessing our momentum to the work ahead.
A top priority for our movement is to pass a federal civil rights law and explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Along the way, we must work to secure more state and local nondiscrimination measures while strategically pursuing litigation to win many of the needed protections under existing law.
It is unacceptable that employers refuse to hire applicants just because they are openly gay or transgender, and problematic that the absence of explicit statutory protections in federal law leaves businesses without clear guidelines and individuals without security that promotes better performance. In the absence of clear prohibitions, homeowners and landlords can falsely state that there are no rooms available for gay renters, because of who they are or who they love. Real estate agents can discourage lesbians from the truth about which neighborhoods are safest and most welcoming. And transgender and gay people can be denied services or even humiliated at restaurants, malls, and other public spaces. This discrimination is painful and un-American, and affects the core of a person's dignity. It's time to make clear that it is impermissible under law.
As we've learned through civil rights history, including our own, victory will not come without hard work. The newly introduced Equality Act is a good start, but now comes the work of building bipartisan support and getting a law passed and signed. A 70 percent supermajority of Americans — including 65 percent of Republicans — already supports nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people, but a staggeringly large number of them don't realize that these protections are not already in place. We need to turn support into action, and action into law.
Happily, we do live in a now transformed landscape, with the freedom to marry shining brightly across the land and with LGBT people in a stronger legal place than ever before. We must harness the momentum that we've earned by enabling same-sex couples to exchange vows and build their lives together in every corner of the country. A new campaign, Freedom for All Americans, led by Matt McTighe, the successful campaign manager in our 2012 Maine marriage ballot-measure win, is expressly working to replicate the Freedom to Marry model and drive the campaign to win nondiscrimination nationwide. Freedom for All Americans is lifting from the Freedom to Marry playbook, with plans for:
- bipartisan initiatives and working across the aisle to move the Equality Act or similar legislation forward in Congress
- national and local outreach to enlist and deploy allies in the business community and show that nondiscrimination laws are good for business and good for the economy
- earned and paid media campaigns to create a drumbeat of personal stories of LGBT Americans harmed by discrimination, as well as others who have a stake in getting the country where it needs to be.
We've won the freedom to marry in law throughout the land — but the marriage conversation has just arrived in key parts of the country where the power of our stories can continue moving hearts and minds. We can connect the empathy and understanding the marriage conversation brings to the work of winning non-discrimination protections in every crucial arena of civil rights law, and making every corner of the country more welcoming, more supportive and freer.
The epic transformation and triumph of winning the freedom to marry shows we can do it. America is ready, and our movement must step up to the moment.
Evan Wolfson is the founder of Freedom to Marry, which he happily shuttered after the Supreme Court legalized marriage equality in June. His advocacy for equality continues.