Top Fights For Gay Rights
Right now, Congress and the states are debating important pieces of legislation that affect LGBT rights, including a recently introduced bill seeking to repeal the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act. Get involved in the process—you can make a difference.
The following bills are making their way through Congress and could affect the rights of every LGBT American. Contact your U.S. Senators and Representatives and ask them to support this legislation.
Respect for Marriage Act (HR 3567)
On September 15, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and 91 co-sponsors in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced the Respect for Marriage Act (RMA), an effort to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the 1996 law that denies same-sex couples the rights and responsibilities of marriage. The proposed legislation would leave marriage recognition to individual states, but would ensure that all valid marriages are honored under federal law. Many civil rights organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign, urged Congress to introduce this legislation, which they say is a direct response to President Barack Obama’s promise to repeal a law he recently described as “discriminatory” and interfering with states’ rights.
Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act/Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act (S 909, HR 1913)
The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (LLEHCPA)/Matthew Shepard Act gives the Department of Justice the power to assist or lead investigations and prosecutions of bias-motivated violent crimes resulting in serious injury or death. The legislation also makes grants available to train law enforcement officers and combat violent crimes committed by juveniles. Polls consistently show support for this legislation—a 2007 Gallup poll revealed that 68 percent of Americans favored expanding hate crimes laws to protect gays. The Matthew Shepard Act has been endorsed by more than 280 law enforcement, civil rights, civic and religious organizations, and President Obama has said he is committed to increasing hate crime protection for LGBT Americans.
The LLEHCPA was introduced in the 111th Congress by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) in the House. The late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) introduced the Matthew Shepard Act in the Senate. The legislation passed in the House of Representatives, and in the Senate as an amendment to the Department of Defense authorization bill. The bill should reach the President’s desk soon, after the two versions are reconciled in
The Military Readiness Enhancement Act (HR 1283)
Support for the repeal of the Department of Defense’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue, Don’t Harass” (DADT) policy, which prohibits lesbians and gays from serving openly in the U.S. Armed Forces, is gaining momentum. The Military Readiness Enhancement Act (MREA) would repeal DADT and prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. It also permits those discharged under DADT to seek re-entry into the military. Support for gays in the military has grown since this legislation was introduced over 10 years ago; polls show three out of four Americans believe gays and lesbians should be able to serve. More than 100 retired military leaders have also called for the repeal of DADT.
MREA was introduced in the 111th Congress by Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA) in the House; Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-PA) is now the lead sponsor. There no Senate version of the bill yet. Although President Obama has not prioritized the repeal of DADT, critics have taken Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen to task for sidestepping the sole question about this issue at his September 15 Senate confirmation hearing. The Human Rights Campaign is planning to launch a national veteran’s tour to drum up support.
Uniting American Families Act (S 424, HR 1024)
U.S. citizens and permanent residents may sponsor their spouses for immigration—unless those spouses are of the same sex. The Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) would allow U.S. citizens to sponsor same-sex “permanent partners” for immigration, provided they intend to share a lifelong commitment, are financially interdependent, and are not married or in another permanent partnership. Like all others, same-sex couples must provide proof of their relationship, and are subject to harsh penalties for fraud. Currently, 19 other countries recognize same-sex couples for immigration purposes.
Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy introduced UAFA to the Senate while Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) introduced it in the House. In addition, Congressman Mike Honda (D-CA) introduced the Reuniting Families Act (HR 2709), which includes UAFA as a provision.
Employment Nondiscrimination Act (S 1584, HR 3017)
There is no federal protection preventing LGBT citizens from being denied job opportunities or discriminated against in the workplace—and such discrimination is explicitly legal in 29 states. ENDA would add sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to the current federal law. The law exempts small businesses, religious organizations and the military, but applies to Congress and employees of the federal, state and local government.
ENDA was introduced in Congress by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) and in the House by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). It was brought to the Senate by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). President Obama supports the legislation, as do majorities in both the House and Senate.
New York is among the 21 states prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, but not among the 12 that prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and expression—Empire State Pride Agenda, the statewide LGBT rights organization, continues its work to pass the Gender Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) in Albany. Hundreds of companies, including 85% of the Fortune 500, have implemented policies barring discrimination based on sexual orientation.
When polls open this election season, voters in three states and the District of Columbia will be asked to weigh in on LGBT rights—and in some cases, whether they want to strike down gay rights laws already in place, from marriage benefits to anti-discrimination regulations. If you live in these states, get out and vote!
This summer, Maine voters passed a law legalizing same-sex marriage. Opponents of that law managed to obtain the thousands of signatures necessary to place a referendum on this November’s ballot: Question 1 asks voters if they “want to reject the new law that lets same-sex couples marry and allows individuals and religious groups to refuse to perform these marriages.” LGBT couples were supposed to be allowed to register for marriage beginning September 12, but the process has been put on hold pending the results of the election. The initiative has prompted a fierce campaign called “No On 1,” aimed at upholding same-gender couples’ right to marry in the state.
“In Maine, we’re proud of every family and child, regardless of who their parents are. That’s the Maine way, but outsiders are trying to harm our kids and make them feel ashamed by making false claims about what’s taught in Maine classrooms. It won’t work,” a “No on 1” ad says.
Voters will have a chance to weigh in on November 3; a “No” on 1 will uphold marriage equality in Maine.
In Washington, Referendum 71 is an initiative that would, if passed, expand the state’s current domestic partnership law to give registered domestic partners the same rights married couples have. Protect Marriage Washington, the anti-gay group spearheading the opposition to the referendum, collected enough signatures to force the voter referendum and are urging voters to reject the initiative. A “Yes” on 71 would expand gay rights laws in the state.
In Kalamazoo, the city council passed Ordinance 1856 to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The law was supposed to take effect July 9, but enforcement was suspended when opponents, as they did in Maine and Washington, gathered enough signatures to force a public vote next month. A “Yes” vote on the ballot will uphold the non-discrimination law.
District of Columbia
Earlier this year, the D.C. City Council voted to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, in addition to the domestic partnership registrations it has offered since 1992. Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl has mobilized the Catholic Church and a cadre of Baptist, primarily African-American ministers against marriage equality, while Bishop Henry Jackson (who ministers in Maryland) filed a request with the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics requesting a ballot initiative that defines marriage as between and man and a woman. The Board must first rule on whether the request violates D.C.’s Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination against LGBT people. The earliest the initiative could appear would be in next year’s election.
KEY RACES ACROSS THE NATION
From Texas to Idaho, LGBT candidates are stepping up to serve their communities. The following candidates are involved in key races that, if won, would provide major inroads for gay political visibility. You may not be able to vote for these candidates, but you can still lend your support and cash.
Annise Parker: Candidate for Mayor of Houston, TX
Parker, now City Controller, served as City Councilmember for three terms beginning in 1997. She helped manage finances for Houston’s massive housing program for Hurricane Katrina evacuees, created the city’s $20 million Rainy Day Fund, and developed a civic arts program and tighter regulations for inner city development. Parker has fought the repeal of the city’s non-discrimination policy, and campaigned against the state’s anti-marriage equality amendment. Although Parker is currently considered the frontrunner in this nonpartisan election, she faces three Democrats and one Republican in the city’s November 3 general election; the runoff is December 12.
Charles Pugh: Candidate for Detroit City Council
This former reporter and FOX 2 News anchor would be the first openly gay elected official in Detroit. Pugh is a Detroit native who earned a journalism degree on a scholarship to University of Missouri, and launched a 10-year career as a reporter and community activist. Pugh is vying against 18 opponents for one of nine open Council seats. According to his press office, he finished first in the primaries by about 10,000 votes, and recent polls show he remains in the lead. Elections will be held November 3.
Simone Bell: Candidate forGeorgia State Assembly
If chosen via special election to fill the General Assembly seat left vacant by the resignation of Georgia’s current state House representative, Bell could be the first openly lesbian African-American to serve in the legislature. A longtime community organizer and social justice advocate, this Detroit native has been an Atlanta resident for 20 years, during which time she has worked on a broad range of policy and legislative issues including workplace equality, affordable healthcare, fighting HIV/AIDS stigma, safe schools, youth empowerment, LGBT rights, and women’s issues. Bell faces four opponents in the November 3 election.
Melissa Sue Robinson: Candidate for Mayor of Nampa, ID
Transgender candidate Robinson faces an uphill battle as a progressive challenging a two-term incumbent in this conservative Idaho city. Robinson, a formerly Republican owner of a construction company, ran as a Democrat for Michigan state legislature in 2004 and for mayor of Lansing in 2003. Although her gender status is surprisingly a non-issue in this race, her chances of winning in this ultra-red county are slim. Still, the race received media attention after Robinson threatened legal action against Twitter for allowing someone to set up a fake account under her name and send lewd comments to a reporter. Robinson, who founded the National Association for the Advancement of Transgendered People, says she plans to increase Nampa’s city council representation, pass an LGBT rights ordinance, improve transportation, develop Nampa’s downtown area, and televise city meetings. The nonpartisan elections take place on November 3.
The following organizations are advocating on our behalf. Please support them generously with your time and contributions.
Human Rights Campaign
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
Empire State Pride Agenda
Equality Across America