Congressional Lawmakers Ready Measures to Advance LGBT Equality

April 23, 2013

by Jeremy Leaming

Marriage equality as significant as it is should hardly be viewed as the crown jewel of the movement for LGBT equality.

Nevertheless with the coverage given to the two cases before the U.S. Supreme Court -- both centering on marriage equality concerns -- one might be lulled into thinking that if and when government recognizes same-sex marriages in the same way it does opposite-sex marriages the nation will be so much closer to its lofty promise of equal rights. But such thinking would be as lazy as it is delusional.

As noted here last year, Kate Redburn in a post for Jacobin’s blog blasted the obsession over marriage equality as being “designed to distract liberal consciences and give Democrats political cover to gut social services.” And then she went onto to note examples, such as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decision last year to gut funding for homeless shelters, noting that in NYC 40 percent of the homeless are LGBT youth. Redburn also remarked that only “the most privileged among us could possibly see the fight for the right to party [a wedding celebration] as a movement for social justice.”

Besides, as this blog has noted, it is far from certain the Supreme Court controlled by right-wing justices will grant a sweeping victory for marriage equality anyway. (Instead it is possible the high court will toss Hollingsworth v. Perry, the challenge to California’s Proposition 8, on standing, and rule in U.S. v. Windsor  a major provision of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act encroaches on states’ rights or federalism grounds. Thus it is very likely the conservative Supreme Court won’t get near the question of whether laws that celebrate heterosexual marriages and denigrate same-sex relationships violate equal rights).

But as money, time and energy are funneled into marriage equality, other groups and lawmakers are striving to move forward on other fronts for equality. For example, earlier this year, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) introduced legislation intended to ensure LGBT military families are treated in similar fashion to their straight counterparts.

And later this week, congressional lawmakers will introduce other measures aimed at advancing equality, such as another effort to outlaw workplace discrimination against people because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. At the moment a little more than a dozen states ban employers from hiring and firing people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Reporting for the Washington Blade, Chris Johnson says members of both chambers will later this week introduce, once again, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act or ENDA. The bill was first introduced in 1994 and has languished in every Congress it was introduced. The measure if enacted would prohibit employers from hiring and firing people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. As Johnson, reports, however, the bill has been a work in progress and could still use some tweaks to block employers, including religious ones, from discriminating against the LGBT community in the workforce.

Also this week, the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SDNA) will be introduced in Congress. The measure, as the ACLU’s Ian S. Thompson reports is similar to Title IX in that it “would create a comprehensive prohibition against discrimination of LGBT students in our nation’s public schools.” Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits education programs receiving federal dollars from discriminating against women in their athletic programs. But SDNA, Johnson writes “would require schools to take LGBT harassment and bullying seriously when parents or students tell them about it, and provides LGBT students and their families with appropriate legal remedies against discriminatory treatment (e.g. refusing to allow a student to bring a same-sex date to prom).”

Given that the House of Representatives is controlled by leadership seemingly beholden to Tea Party zealots it appears likely both equality measures once again face an arduous road in Washington. But achieving equality has been more than an uphill battle for minorities in this country – for many, such as African Americans and Native Americans it has been a devastatingly fatal battle. But it is not enough for our country to bandy about lofty proclamations on liberty and equality, when the LGBT community continues to suffer oppressive and unequal treatment.

When same-sex marriage is fully recognized from coast to coast that will be a milestone, but hardly the finish line.