LGBT issues

  • July 22, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Remington A. Gregg, Legislative Counsel, Human Rights Campaign

    *Noting the 50th anniversaries of Freedom Summer and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, ACSblog is hosting a symposium including posts and interviews from some of the nation’s leading scholars and civil rights activists.

    As we pause to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, one of the most important pieces of legislation ever passed into law, it is a perfect time to look at the many ways it paved the way for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.  Not only did passage pave the way for additional pieces of civil rights legislation, including Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, but it marked a sizeable shift in the use of the commerce clause.  To LGBT movement, however, the Civil Rights Act marked the beginning of the LGBT community’s own fight for equality. 

    The long march toward LGBT equality gained momentum with Romer v. Evans in 1996, where the Supreme Court held that an amendment to the Colorado state constitution that would forbid the state or its subdivisions from extending legal protections to LGB people violated the Equal Protection Clause.  In 2003, in Lawrence v. Texas, the Supreme Court ruled affirmatively for the first time on a due process claim brought by gay claimants that LGBT people “are entitled to respect for their private lives.  The state cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime.  Their right to liberty under the Due Process Clause gives them the full right to engage in their conduct without intervention of the government.”  And last year’s critical decision in United States v. Windsor changed the whole landscape in the LGBT community’s access to important federal benefits.   The Court held that Section 3 of the “Defense of Marriage Act,” which defined marriage as a “union between one man and one woman as husband and wife” for federal purposes, was an unconstitutional infringement on equal protection as applied to the federal government under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.  Now, LGBT couples have access to more than 1,100 rights, benefits, and obligations previously denied to them.

    Each of these cases has served as a vital building block in the fight for equality. These successes have been paralleled with incredible legislative and administrative victories, including the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, and an LGBT-inclusive Violence Against Women’s Act re-authorization. And yesterday, President Barack Obama signed an important executive order.  First, it prohibits federal contractors from discriminating in employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.  Second, it protects federal employees from discrimination on the basis of gender identity.  (President Bill Clinton signed an executive order that provided protections with regard to sexual orientation.)

  • July 21, 2014

    by Ellery Weil

    Amy Lieberman at Slate writes on mounting protests against immigration checkpoints in Arizona..

    In  The Atlantic, Molly Ball argues that Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. is a major setback for both the political left and the gay rights movement.

    The Human Rights Campaign Blog discusses President Obama’s historic executive order, signed this morning, barring employment discrimination against the LGBT community.

    At Public Justice, Adrian Alvarez discusses the upcoming Supreme Court case of Young v. United Parcel Services, and what it means for the future of pregnancy discrimination laws.

    ACS sends its deepest condolences to the family of Florida State University School of Law Professor, and founder of PrawfsBlog, Dan Markel, who was shot and killed Friday morning.

  • July 21, 2014

    by Paul Guequierre

    LGBT federal employees and employees of federal contractors can breathe a sigh of relief today, as President Obama signed an executive order barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity by companies that contract with the federal government and adding gender identity to the existing executive order banning discrimination based on sexual orientation for federal employees. According to the Human Rights Campaign, in the executive order he signed, President Obama explicitly protects transgender federal employees from workplace discrimination by amending an order issued by President Bill Clinton banning sexual orientation discrimination within the federal workforce. In a second order, President Obama will set strong new standards for federal contractors, which employ 20 percent of the American workforce. In so doing, the Obama administration has guaranteed that 14 million more American workers will be protected from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

    During his campaign President Obama vowed to sign the executive order, but has spent much of the past few years instead pushing for Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would make it illegal for all employers to fire or refuse to hire someone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. In a historic vote, the United States Senate passed ENDA, but its chances of success in the house are slim with an anti-equality leadership.

    Currently only a handful of states offer anti-discrimination protections for LGBT workers. In 29 states a worker can be fired for the sole reason of being gay or bisexual. In 32 states, there is no explicit law banning discrimination based on gender identity.

    Of note, today’s executive order does not include new religious exemption language, relieving the concern of LGBT rights advocates. Last week, 54 law professors from across the country, including several ACS members and contributors penned a letter to President Obama urging him not to cave under pressure from anti-equality conservatives by including religious exemption language in any executive order providing nondiscrimination guarantees for LGBT employees of federal contractors.

    President Obama’s signing of the executive order adds to the long list of victories for equality that the LGBT community has been celebrating over the last several years, and in particular since last year’s landmark Supreme Court decisions striking down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and putting an end to California’s Prop. 8.

  • July 17, 2014

    by Paul Guequierre

    In another victory for equality, Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage was invalidated this afternoon. Monroe County Circuit Judge Luis Garcia overturned Florida’s 2008 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and ordered that two Key West residents be allowed to wed, but not before Tuesday.

    According to the Miami Herald, Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones, who met at a gay pride celebration and have been a couple for 11 years, sued Monroe County Clerk Amy Heavilin in April for a marriage license. There is a similar suit pending in Miami-Dade County, in which six same-sex couples and LGBT advocacy group Equality Florida Institute sued County Clerk Harvey Ruvin for the right to marry.

    In both cases, Florida Assistant Attorney General Adam Tanenbaum argued that Garcia and Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel should not dismiss Florida’s constitutional gay marriage ban, which passed in 2008 with the support of 62 percent of voters.

    LGBT rights advocates continue to ride a wave of success since last year’s landmark Supreme Court decisions striking down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and putting an end to California’s Prop. 8. Just last week a judge struck down Kentucky’s marriage ban. Earlier this month, Justice Samuel Alito, Jr. rejected a county official's bid to suspend a ruling that overturned Pennsylvania's same-sex marriage ban. In Colorado, a District Court judge declared the state’s ban on same-sex marriages unconstitutional and the Utah attorney general announced he would appeal a court decision in favor of marriage equality in the state to the U.S. Supreme Court. In Wisconsin, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen appealed a federal judge's ruling from June striking down the state's ban on same-sex marriages. The case now heads to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

    According to the Human Rights Campaign, there are over 70 court cases challenging discriminatory marriage bans across the country in 30 of the 31 states where such a ban exists, plus Puerto Rico. Cases from twelve states are currently pending before six federal appeals courts. The Sixth Circuit holds the distinction of being the only federal appeals court to date that will consider marriage cases from all states within its jurisdiction.  In total, 33 states either have marriage equality or have seen state marriage bans struck down as unconstitutional in court.  Since the Supreme Court’s historic marriage rulings last year, there have been 16 consecutive federal court decisions that bans on marriage equality are unconstitutional.  These rulings have come from judges appointed by both Democrat and Republican presidents.

  • July 17, 2014

    by Paul Guequierre

    Fifty-four law professors from across the country, including several ACS members and contributors penned a letter to President Obama this week urging him not to cave under pressure from anti-equality conservatives by including religious exemption language in any executive order providing nondiscrimination guarantees for LGBT employees of federal contractors.

    The letter comes on the heels of the Supreme Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby, which gave closely held corporations the freedom to discriminate by invoking religious beliefs and not offering contraceptive care to female employees, despite the fact that such coverage is mandated under the Affordable Care Act. The law professors emphasize that the Supreme Court’s opinion in Hobby Lobby and order in Wheaton College do not compel in any way the inclusion of religious exemptions language in an executive order, and that both actions were predicated on the Court’s belief that the government could fully realize its compelling goals of furthering women’s health and equality through other means.

    The signatories also note the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in no way affects the promulgation of an executive order that establishes the conditions under with taxpayer dollars can be expended to subsidize the work of a private organization and that the federal government is free to require that government contractors adhere to government standards.   

    Read the full letter here.