It's been a week of mixed emotions for those of us who care about civil rights. There was the elation today when the Supreme Court overturned the so-called Defense of Marriage Act -- the discriminatory law that has hurt so many Americans in its nearly 17 years of existence -- and let marriage equality return to California. There was the anger when the Court twisted the law to make it harder for workers and consumers to take on big corporations. And there was the disbelief and outrage when the Court declared that a key part of the Voting Rights Act that was so important and had worked so well was now somehow no longer constitutional.
But throughout the week, I have been reminded of one thing: how grateful I am that Mitt Romney will not be picking the next Supreme Court justice.
It remains true that this Supreme Court is one of the most right-leaning in American history. The majority's head-in-the-sand decision on the Voting Rights Act -- declaring that the VRA isn't needed anymore because it's working so well -- was a stark reminder of why we need to elect presidents who will nominate Supreme Court justices who understand both the text and history of the Constitution and the way it affects real people's lives.
We were reminded of this again today when all the conservative justices except for Anthony Kennedy stood behind the clearly unconstitutional DOMA. Justice Antonin Scalia -- no stranger to anti-gay rhetoric -- wrote an apoplectic rant of a dissent denying the Court's clear role in preserving equal protection. If there had been one more far-right justice on the court, Scalia's dissent could have been the majority opinion.
Just think of how different this week would have been if Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan were not on the court and if John McCain had picked two justices instead. We almost certainly wouldn't have a strong affirmation of LGBT equality. Efforts to strip people of color of their voting rights would likely have stood with fewer justices in dissent. And the rights of workers and consumers could be in even greater peril.
As the Republican party moves further and further to the right, it is trying to take the courts with it. This week, we saw what that means in practice. As we move forward to urge Congress to fix the Voting Rights Act and reinforce protections for workers and consumers, and work to make sure that marriage equality is recognized in all states, we must always remember the courts. Elections have real consequences. These Supreme Court decisions had less to do with evolving legal theory than with who appointed the justices. Whether historically good or disastrous, all these decisions were decided by just one vote. In 2016, let's not forget what happened this week.
The Supreme Court today ruled that the core section of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act violates the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. DOMA’s Section 3, which the Court vacated, prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in the states, thereby hitting legally married gay and lesbian couples with extra taxes and depriving them of a slew of federal protections.
People For the American Way Foundation president Michael Keegan said of the Supreme Court’s ruling: “Today’s DOMA ruling is a profound step forward for loving, committed same-sex couples across the country. The decision is premised on the plain fact that there is no good reason for the government to recognize some legally married couples while discriminating against others.”
PFAW launched a campaign to “Dump DOMA” in 2008. Since then, our petition calling on Congress to repeal the discriminatory law has gathered 230,000 signatures.
But the effort to overturn DOMA is not over. While Section 3 was the law’s most damaging provision, DOMA’s Section 2, which says that states don’t have to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, still stands. We will continue to work to overturn the remainder of DOMA and ensure that all gay and lesbian Americans have the right to marriage, no matter which state they make their home.
While our work continues, today’s decision represents a historic turning point for equality. DOMA will no longer tear apart binational couples. It will no longer impose a “gay tax” on legally married same-sex couples. It will no longer deny benefits to same-sex spouses of federal employees. It will no longer deny gay and lesbian veterans benefits for their spouses.
The story of Edith Windsor, the plaintiff who brought DOMA to the Supreme Court, and Thea Spyer, her late wife and partner of 40 years, illustrates what this decision will mean to so many Americans:
Last Tuesday Delaware Governor Jack Markell wrote that in his state, it is high time “our laws reflect our values.” The bill in question was the Gender Identity Nondiscrimination Act of 2013, which adds gender identity to the state’s hate crime prevention and non-discrimination laws. As Gov. Markell pointed out,
“Under our State's laws, it is currently legal to fire someone, deny them housing, or throw them out of a restaurant simply because they are transgender. This is simply not the Delaware way…”
And it’s not the American way. With bipartisan support in the state House and Senate, the bill passed the Delaware legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Markell Wednesday evening, making Delaware the 17th state with an employment non-discrimination law covering gender identity in addition to sexual orientation.
This is a profound victory for transgender Delawareans like Jay Campbell, who has so far felt unable to come out in his workplace. Campbell told the News Journal of Wilmington earlier this month,
“Without basic protection from discrimination, I can’t afford to tell my employer. I can’t obtain health coverage for the fear I’ll be outed and fired.”
Campbell shares this concern with other transgender – as well as lesbian, gay, and bisexual – people across the country. In the majority of U.S. states, it remains legal to fire someone for being LGBT. This means that far too many people find themselves forced to choose between risking their livelihoods and undertaking the painful work of hiding who they are, day after day.
Today’s victory in Delaware underscores the need for employment protections for LGBT workers in every state through the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. This common-sense solution would help ensure that employees like Campbell are judged by how well they do their job, not by who they are or who they love.
Yesterday afternoon the Delaware Senate passed a historic civil rights bill adding gender identity to the state’s hate crime prevention and non-discrimination laws. Despite damaging lies about transgender Americans pushed by organizations like Focus on the Family and the Delaware Family Policy Council, the state Senate approved the bill in an 11-7 vote.
Sarah McBride of Equality Delaware said,
“The Senate vote today inspired a lot of hope in me and I’m sure that’s true for many other transgender people across Delaware. It was inspiring to see a majority of the Senators stand up for a group that has seen disproportionate levels of discrimination and violence.”
If enacted, Delaware will become the 17th state with an employment non-discrimination law that covers gender identity in addition to sexual orientation.
Our society is one which remains afflicted by institutionalized discrimination. Although most Americans believe protections already exist, it is still perfectly legal to fire someone for being lesbian, gay, or bisexual in 29 states, and for being transgender in 34.
Indeed, a new report released Tuesday by the Movement Advancement Project, the Center for American Progress, the Human Rights Campaign, and others provides a comprehensive synthesis of the wealth of evidence documenting the inequalities faced by LGBT workers. Titled “A Broken Bargain: Discrimination, Fewer Benefits and More Taxes for LGBT Workers,” the report presents extensive documentation of bias in the recruitment process, of hostile work environments, of persistent wage disparities as compared to non-LGBT employees, and of dramatically reduced access to health insurance, family and medical leave, retirement benefits, and disability and survivor benefits – despite paying higher taxes due to the inability of LGBT households to file jointly.
The impact on families is devastating. According to the report, inequality when looking for jobs, inequality on the job, and inequality in benefits received from jobs combine to make LGBT parents twice as likely to live near the poverty line when compared to non-LGBT counterparts.
Left to right, seated at panel: Bill Hendrix, Nicole G. Berner, Dorian Warren,Sam Hall, Mia Macy, T.J. Maloney. Photo of release event at Center for American Progress.
While the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently found that existing Title VII law covers gender identity, courts are not required to give any deference to its legal interpretations, so legislation is required. Such a bill to guarantee much-needed federal employment protections for LGBT people was recently introduced in the 113th Congress. Known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), the bill has been introduced in nearly every Congressional session since 1994, and the fight for basic workplace equality continues to the present day.
Further, corporate America knows that ENDA is good for business. As Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) said Tuesday morning at the release event for the report,
“When we asked employers about this, many of them said, ‘well, isn’t it already illegal’? … In our Fortune 500 companies, over 400 have policies addressing LGBT discrimination, and well over half have addressed gender identity. In the 21 state laboratories in which this has been implemented, there has been no concern over [costs to business caused by] additional lawsuits … they are a small percentage of all lawsuits to do with gender, religion, and race. This is a non-issue.”
Passing ENDA, then, would not only help alleviate discrimination faced by LGBT workers, but would also help businesses attract the best qualified employees possible. As Bill Hendrix from Dow Chemical said at the event,
“It’s hard enough already to find good people to fill jobs. Why would you begin by excluding parts of the population?”
“I stopped going to school four months before graduation because I couldn’t handle the bullying anymore. I will not get to attend my senior prom, and…throw my graduation cap in the air.”
Harassment and bullying in schools are widely understood to be pervasive nationwide problems. But as the above quote from an LGBT student highlights, for LGBT young people the situation can be especially severe. Yesterday the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA), which would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression in public schools, was both reintroduced in the Senate by Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) and included in Sen. Tom Harkin’s (D-IA) proposed education bill updating the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
Studies show that this kind of legislation is sorely needed. The most recent Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network National School Climate Survey found that in the past year alone, more than eight in ten LGBT students had been verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation and more than six in ten because of their gender expression. The majority of students who were harassed did not report it to school staff, believing that nothing would happen if they did – or that the situation could get even worse.
As one student shared,
“Bullying in our school is mostly verbal, but it hurts just as much as any physical pain… Teachers rarely do anything about it.”
Those who were harassed frequently had lower GPAs and were less likely to say they planned to go on to college or other post-secondary education. Many LGBT students reported missing class because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable, with nearly one in three LGBT students missing at least one full school day in the past month.
When harassment at school is associated with missed classes, lowered grades, shifted educational ambitions, or even depression, it can have long term implications for the wellbeing of LGBT youth. No student should face this kind of hostility at school because of who they are or who others perceive them to be.
Today, for the fourteenth time, Exxon Mobil shareholders voted down a resolution supporting an LGBT-inclusive equal employment opportunity statement. With 94% of the largest companies in America already prohibiting sexual orientation-based discrimination and 78% prohibiting gender identity-based discrimination, Exxon Mobil is way behind. Exxon has even gone out of its way to avoid implementing this type of policy. Though Mobil Oil had non-discrimination policies in place protecting workers on the basis of sexual orientation, Exxon rescinded them over a decade ago when they bought the company.
Exxon Mobil’s refusal to change their outdated policy underscores the need for employment non-discrimination laws that protect LGBT workers. Though most Americans believe that LGBT employees are already protected, in much of our country employers can still fire someone because of who they are or who they love.
PFAW Communications Director Drew Courtney recently pointed out that on the question of whether it’s okay to fire someone for being LGBT,
“few Americans still think that’s a live question. Overwhelming majorities of Americans support the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would make it illegal to fire someone for being gay or transgender.”
But Exxon Mobil hasn’t yet gotten that memo.
"I am one imperfect man saved by God's grace," Mark Sanford proclaimed yesterday as he declared victory in a special election for South Carolina's open House seat. "Until you experience human grace as a reflection of God's grace, I don't think you really get it," he said. "And I didn't get it before."
Sanford's victory wasn't a big surprise. He won as a Republican in a district that favored Mitt Romney by 18 points last year.
What would be a surprise, and what I would love to see, is if Sanford applied his new personal understanding of "human grace as a reflection of God's grace" to his new role in government.
He could, for instance, apply some of that grace to women facing often wrenching decisions about abortion, allowing them to make their own decisions rather than pre-judging them with burdensome regulations designed to humiliate them and severely restrict their choices.
He could apply some of that grace to gay and lesbian couples,who, like him, are simply trying to share their lives openly with the one they love. While many public figures have "evolved" on gay rights without even having to be "saved by grace," Mark Sanford just recently reminded us that he hasn't moved an inch.
He could perhaps share some grace with his fellow Americans who are struggling to raise children while working multiple low-paying jobs. Maybe with his newfound empathy, he will understand that pre-K education, health care and food assistance can help those struggling to get by keep themselves afloat in an unforgiving economy.
Maybe he will have some grace left over for undocumented immigrants who are trying to support their families and give back to the country they call home.
Perhaps he could convince his party, which claims to be in the market for a makeover, that a little grace and understanding would do it some good.
Maybe this will happen. But it seems more likely that Sanford's idea of grace, choice and personal freedom apply exclusively to people like him.
This week, NBA center Jason Collins made history when he became the first active player in a major men’s pro sports league to come out as gay. In an interview with George Stephanopoulos aired yesterday on Good Morning America, Collins reflected that “when you finally get to that point of acceptance, there’s nothing more beautiful.” Collins has demonstrated his commitment to being open about who he is – and in doing so, has become a role model to all who are struggling to accept themselves.
Today People For the American Way President Michael B. Keegan sent Collins a letter of congratulations and support:
Becoming the first active player in a major men’s pro sports league to come out as gay could not have been an easy decision. You said yourself that if you had your way, “someone else would have already done this” – but you were the one to take this step, and we’re grateful for your courage.
The majority of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender young people report experiencing harassment at school because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and the need for supportive LGBT role models has never been greater. At this moment, no one can know the full effects of your decision to come out, but what I do know is that it will change the lives of so many others who are struggling to accept who they are.
On behalf of People For the American Way’s staff, board, and members all across the country, congratulations. We are with you.
With best regards,
Michael B. Keegan
President, People For the American Way
In much of our country, employers can legally fire someone simply because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. It’s something most Americans don’t realize. It’s also something most Americans believe is wrong.
Today a bill designed to address that kind of discrimination, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), is expected to be reintroduced in both the House and the Senate. This important civil rights legislation would expand current federal employment protections against discrimination – such as those based on race, religion, gender, national origin, age, and disability – to include sexual orientation and gender identity. It is a common-sense measure that would help ensure that employees are judged by their qualifications and work performance rather than their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Hardworking Americans should not be kept from supporting their families and making a positive contribution to the economic life of our nation because of characteristics that have no bearing whatsoever on their ability to do a job…Only 21 states’ laws prohibit discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation, and only 16 also do so based on gender identity, meaning that it is legal to fire members of the LGBT community in 29 and 34 states, respectively. ENDA prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in most workplaces. The time has long since come to end this injustice for LGBT Americans and pass ENDA.”
Today People For the American Way joined with more than eighty other national and state organizations in sending a letter to all members of Congress asking for support of the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA). SNDA, which was reintroduced in the House today by Reps. Jared Polis (D-CO) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), would prohibit discrimination and harassment based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity in public schools.
As the letter notes, the need for this type of legislation is profound:
“A 2011 study of more than 8,500 LGBT middle and high school students across the US found that eight out of ten reported experiencing harassment at their school within the past year based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, and three-fifths said they felt unsafe at school because of who they are. Nearly three in ten skipped at least one day of school within the previous month because of concerns for their safety. Most tragically, LGBT youth face significantly increased risks for suicide related to mental health issues that often arise from poor treatment and discrimination in schools.”
Today a Florida eighth grader named Bayli put a face on these alarming numbers, telling the Huffington Post that her friends regularly face bullying because of their sexual orientation:
“Watching it tear apart my friends is what scared me the most. It's not right, I don't like it, and I don't [like seeing] my friends going through it.”
PFAW has long spoken out on the pervasive problem of bullying, including tracking the work of right wing anti-anti-bullying activists. With the majority of LGBT young people reporting that they do not feel safe in their own schools, the need for action only continues to grow. Discrimination and harassment of LGBT youth has no place in our nation’s classrooms.
People For the American Way’s Right Wing Watch has been closely following the Right Wing’s reaction to this week’s marriage equality arguments at the Supreme Court – which ranges from awkward homophobic discussions to outright threats of revolution.
Last night, our director of communications, Drew Courtney, went on PoliticsNation with Al Sharpton to discuss the Right’s reaction to the marriage cases. Watch it here: