The Good News: After seventeen years it appears that ENDA (the Employment Non-Discrimination Act) that prohibits employment discrimination based on orientation and gender expression is finally going to pass the Senate.
The Reality Check: House Speaker John Boehner has made it clear that he is not going to allow the bill to be voted on in the House of Representatives.
The Outlook: While it may not get to the House this session the momentum keeps building for queer rights. Slowly and steadily, but we do keep moving forward. Wisconsin passed the nation’s first gay rights law which banned discrimination against lesbians and gays in housing, employment, and public accommodations. The bill was introduced by David Clarenbach all the way back in 1982, which means it has been more than thirty years from the first law outlawing discrimination against queer people and we’re still not there. It’s coming, but we’re not there yet.
The Good News: For the first time ever a poll in Wisconsin by Marquette University Law School on October 29 showed a majority of the state (53%) favoring gay marriage.
The Reality Check: Wisconsin passed one of the nation’s most regressive Constitutional amendments prohibiting same-sex marriage (or anything substantially similar) back in 2006.
The Outlook: Wisconsin could be one of the last states to okay marriage equality, but it will eventually happen. Unless the United States Supreme Court overturns one of the state’s laws and forces Wisconsin to abandon its amendment it will take two consecutive legislative sessions to overturn the current amendment and then the people of the state have to vote to overturn it as well (and the wording must be exact in both sessions). That means it will likely be years before marriage equality comes to Wisconsin. Still, all the polls nationwide and now in Wisconsin show the population growing more and more accepting of the idea. It will come to pass.
The Good News: The military is accepting its queer soldiers in ways it never has before. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was abandoned, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in the last week spoke out sharply against states that are not following Pentagon guidelines on supplying identification to partners of military personnel, and this past weekend two West Point graduates became the first gay couple to be married at the prestigious military academy.
The Reality Check: There is still a lot of resistance against gays in the military and some likely face homophobic attacks despite the military’s new-found acceptance of its lesbian and gay soldiers.
The Outlook: There was resistance half a century ago when the military was integrated, but eventually it became a non-issue. Soldiers are taught to follow orders and if the high command says that LGBT soldiers must not only be tolerated, but accepted and treated as equals then eventually the men and women on the front lines will have to accept the reality.
The Good News: The Illinois House and Senate today both passed a marriage equality bill, which just needs to be signed by the Governor to become law. Governor Pat Quinn has already said he will sign the bill–in fact he encouraged its passage–so the bill is destined to become law with same-sex marriages taking place as early as June of 2014. Illinois will be the 15th state, along with the District of Columbia, to allow same-sex marriages.
The Reality Check: If fifteen states have marriage equality that means thirty-five of them still don’t. There is confusion about what happens with marriage from state to state and some states even have laws that could punish their citizens for going to another state to marry and then returning and trying to claim joint filing status for taxes.
The Outlook: As noted before all polling indicates a huge shift in public sentiment on the issue. It is clear that sooner or later marriage equality will be reality nationwide, as it is in quite a few countries around the world. However, other countries, such as Uganda, keep trying to pass bills that would criminalize homosexuality and allow for capital punishment of those found guilty of homosexual behavior. Russia recently passed a bill that is chilling in its effect that makes it a crime for anyone to promote homosexuality to minors, so anyone advocating for queer rights publicly could be said to be promoting it to minors and arrested.
While there is much happening that is good for queer America there are still hateful people out there pushing to deny us rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Although much progress has been made we are not in a post-homophobic America any more than we are in a post-racial America. Anyone who believes we are is delusional. Those of us who have been fighting for years for equality for all can revel in the progress, but we must stay alert and continue fighting if we expect that progress to last. We have come far just in my lifetime, but my life will likely not be long enough to witness true equality. Still, I will fight to the end for just that, and it can be incredible to see the milestones being created as we march toward that goal.