By now, I’m sure all of you readers are aware of the Supreme Court’s repeal of California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which allows people to marry in California and eliminates the federal definition of a marriage as a union between a man and a woman, respectively.
This is undoubtedly a big step in the fight for gay rights. However, it is only one of the first in a series of many steps before America can claim to treat people of all sexual preference equally.
The repeal of DOMA now allows for federal benefits to flow to married same-sex couples. But this is only relevant to those living in states that currently recognize same-sex marriage. While the repeal of Proposition 8 adds the nation’s largest state and its approximately 98,000 same-sex couples to the list of gay-friendly states, it is still only one of 13 statesin the United States to recognize and grant same sex marriages.
Clearly this leaves a huge portion of the U.S. population that remains untouched by the effects of the gay rights movement.
What options remain to be utilized? There is no longer a national act such as DOMA that defines marriage as strictly heterosexual; thus, there is no longer much risk of an outright federal ban on same-sex marriage. Thus, the possibility is open that each and every state could pass their own statutes that would gradually grant same-sex marriage to the residents of their own states.
However, this would likely take a long time. Many states, such as Maryland or Maine, have had at least some of their gay rights granted through public ballot rather than through legislative action. However, many of the states that currently refuse to recognize same-sex marriage, such as Pennsylvania, rarely allow issues to be decided by direct public vote, thus eliminating this as a valid option.
Furthermore, the culture of some states may be characteristically unfriendly to gay rights. A public survey by Public Policy Polling showed that only 13 percent of respondents in Mississippi supported the idea of same-sex marriage. In addition to this, Marco McMillan, a gay mayoral candidate for Clarksville, Miss., was killed in a murder that may be due to a hate crime.
In states like this, it is unlikely that gay rights would ever be granted due to the state’s own actions, due to the possible prejudices of both elected politicians and the general public. Many states’ public ballots, such as Colorado’s, have resulted in public votes that have banned, rather than recognized gay marriage. It should also be noted that California’s Proposition 8 originally existed as a result of the California populace’s efforts to vote yes on the banning of gay marriage.
The better option, rather than relying on gradual state action, is for the federal government to grant national laws that overturn individual state laws and grant nationwide gay rights.
Federal laws regarding gay rights should also go further than just granting gay marriage; there are a number of gay rights issues that go further than the right to marry. For example, 29 states currently lack laws that prevent workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.
A good next stepping point in the fight for gay rights would be for the federal government to pass the proposed Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would prevent workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Federal gay rights laws would also need to address some of the social issues that cause discrimination against gays. As stated earlier, there is a wide cultural rejection of gays in some areas. In a number of ways, this results in very tangible effects. A survey of homeless youthshows that over 40 percent of homeless youth nationwide identify as LGBT, a disproportionate number that is often a result of abuse and rejection of gay youth within the household.
With issues like these, it is less clear what exact step to take. But what is clear is that some type of additional action must be made by the government.
Some people would shy against any federal laws that protect and promote gay rights. Currently, we live in a political environment in which federal actions have been characterized as overbearing and where states’ rights are often seen as being threatened.
However, the issue of gay rights may be an issue that is important enough to warrant federally-backed action. It should be remembered that the last major rights campaign, the African-American Civil Rights Movement, largely succeeded not because of state action, but because of controversial federal actions ranging from the forced integration of the school system of Little Rock, Ark. to the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
It is time for the federal government to restart this tradition of activism. The Supreme Court’s repeal of DOMA and Proposition 8 goes a long way in the fight for gay rights. However, there are still many actions that remain to be done before America can claim “mission accomplished” in the fight for true LGBT equality.