2015: Triumphs and tribulations
To be the “best year” ever in LGBT history, 2015 had to do better than 2013. That was the year the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the key section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act and allowed a decision to stand that enabled same-sex couples in California to marry; the U.S. Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act for the first time and got its first openly gay member; five state legislatures passed marriage equality laws, and President Obama’s inaugural speech prominently endorsed the LGBT struggle for equality.
Did 2015 do better? These 10 “top stories” make a strong case for “yes.”
No. 10: Boy Scouts of America ends more of its discriminatory policy. The executive board of the national Boy Scouts of America organization voted on July 27 to end the group’s national policy of barring openly gay adults as troop leaders and employees. Two years earlier, the BSA National Council voted to end its policy of barring youth from membership based on their sexual orientation. While the organization’s policy continued to evolve toward equality this year, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin criticized the change as not going far enough. The BSA board still left it up to local troops to decide whether to allow openly gay people as volunteer leaders.
No. 9: Olympic legend comes out publicly as transgender. Bruce Jenner, the United States’ 1976 Olympic gold medalist in the decathlon and a paragon of male athleticism, acknowledged in a Rolling Stone interview and nationally broadcast television discussion in April, that he has always felt he had “the soul of a female.” But despite his reluctance to “disappoint” others, Jenner said that, going forward, he would live his life as a woman and take the name Caitlin Jenner. The resulting publicity prompted a flood of discussions publicly and nationally about transgender people: their prevalence, their needs, their fears, and their medical and legal challenges. While violence and discrimination against transgender people continued, Jenner’s openness undoubtedly advanced the American public’s understanding.
No. 8: Houston repeals city’s anti-discrimination law. Houston voters on November 3 voted overwhelmingly to repeal a year-old non-discrimination ordinance –a repeal that appeared to be largely driven by a campaign that claimed the law would enable sexual predators to enter women’s restrooms to assault young girls. The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance had been passed the City Council in May 2014 as an effort to prohibit discrimination based on numerous factors –including race, ethnicity, and religion. But opponents of prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity convinced voters that HERO amounted to a “Bathroom Ordinance.”
No. 7: GOP candidates flaunt their hostility toward LGBT people. Many candidates for the Republican presidential nomination for 2016 have worn their hostility for equal rights for LGBT people on their sleeves. U.S. Senator Rand Paul said LGBT people wouldn’t need non-discrimination laws if they would just stay in the closet. Neurosurgeon Ben Carson said allowing same-sex couples to marry is equivalent to tossing the “word of God …into the garbage.” U.S. Senator Ted Cruz said he wanted a new ban on LGBT people in the military. Meanwhile, all three Democratic presidential hopefuls have expressed strong support for equal rights for LGBT people.
No. 6: EEOC says Title VII prohibits LGBT discrimination. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled in July that existing federal law prohibits employment discrimination against federal workers based on sexual orientation. The five-member commission said that the prohibition of sex discrimination in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “means that employers may not ‘rely upon sex-based considerations’ or take gender into account when making employment decisions….This applies equally in claims brought by lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals under Title VII….Title VII similarly prohibits employers from treating an employee or applicant differently than other employees or applicants based on the fact that such individuals are in a same-sex marriage or because the employee has a personal association with someone of a particular sex.”
No. 5: A state clerk tries to mount campaign against Supreme Court. A county clerk in Kentucky, Kim Davis, captured national headlines for weeks as she attempted to circumvent a U.S. Supreme Court decision that found state bans against marriage for same-sex couples to be unconstitutional. Davis and her supporters couched her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples as an exercise of her religious beliefs, but others –including a few Republican presidential candidates—said she was violating her oath of office to carry out the law. In August, the full U.S. Supreme Court denied an emergency request to stop enforcement of a federal district court order that Davis resume issuing marriage licenses. A federal appeals court has rejected her appeals, but litigation continues and the state’s incoming Republican governor is expected to issue an order removing the names of county clerks from marriage licenses. And last month, members of the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church staged a protest against her, saying that “God hates oath breakers.”
No. 4: Pope Francis denies he offered support to outlaw clerk: Pope Francis stunned LGBT people when it was revealed that he secretly accepted a visit from Kentucky clerk Kim Davis during his wildly popular visit to the U.S. Davis and her attorney characterized the visit, which took place at the Vatican’s embassy in Washington, D.C., as an expression of the pope’s support for her defiance of the Supreme Court’s ruling that bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional. But in short order, the Vatican issued a statement saying the pope did not know about or support Davis’ efforts to subvert the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage and noted, instead, that the only audience the pope gave while in the U.S. was to a gay friend and his partner.
No. 3: Catholic leaders maintain opposition to same-sex marriage. At a three-week-long global summit, Catholic bishops in October rejected efforts to soften the church’s policies against homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Instead, the document approved by 86 percent of more than 258 bishops gathered in Rome said that “every person, independently of their sexual tendency, must be respected in their dignity and welcomed with respect.” But it also stated that there was “no foundation whatsoever to assimilate or establish analogies, even remotely, between homosexual unions and God’s design for marriage and the family.”
No. 2: Ireland approves same-sex marriage, and more. In the world’s first-ever national referendum on giving legal recognition to marriages of same-sex couples, Irish voters in May weighed in 2 to 1 for legalization. More than 60 percent of the country’s voters turned out to have their say. And by December 2, the legislature had approved a bill that prohibits Catholic-run schools from discriminating against teachers based on their sexual orientation. The legislation repeals an existing law, known as Section 37, that allows discrimination against employees based on their sexual orientation. The bill now goes to President Michael Higgins, who signed the marriage equality law, for his signature.
No. 1: U.S. Supreme Court strikes state bans on same-sex marriage: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 26 that state bans on marriage for same-sex couples are unconstitutional and that states must recognize marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples from other states. The 5 to 4 decision, in Obergefell v. Hodges, ended bans enforced by 13 states and secured lower court decisions that struck down bans in nine other states. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, stated that “the right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty….The Court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry. No longer may this liberty be denied to them.”