Home Social Justice For LGBT community, marriage equality is only the beginning

For LGBT community, marriage equality is only the beginning

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The U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings on the two same-sex marriage cases they heard last week could make history. However, for the LGBT community, the legalization of same-sex marriage will just be one step in a long journey toward full equality.

Many Americans don’t realize that although gay and lesbian couples are getting closer and closer to marriage equality, many states still have laws that discriminate based on sexual orientation. For example, there is no federal law that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in the private sector, which could make the workplace an uncomfortable or even unsafe place for some employees.

Mark Chaney, a social work major at Ohio University, said that although he has never personally faced discrimination at a job due to his sexual orientation, a friend of his lost her job once her sexual orientation was discovered. He believes that full equality for the LGBT community is even more important than the right to marry.

“Marriage is important and should be fought for, but personally I worry about job security and hate crimes more than I do marriage,” Chaney said.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, 29 states do not have laws that protect LGBT employees in the workplace. Additionally, although the federal Fair Housing Act does offer protection to LGBT individuals in certain situations, it still does not extend unlimited protection from housing discrimination.

The federal government has made a relatively fruitless effort to end some of these practices. For example, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace, has been introduced in almost every session of Congress since 1994 without success.

Conservative opponents to ENDA, including Ed Vitagliano of the American Family Association (AFA), have expressed concern about the possible effects of the act on religious organizations. Vitagliano wrote that he thinks there is “no real problem of discrimination against homosexuals” in the workplace due to the fact that, according to many consumer surveys, individuals who identify as gay tend to have higher incomes.

President Obama, who historically announced his support of marriage equality last year, supports the passage of ENDA. In fact, his support for gay rights even led Jonathan Rauch of New Republic to write, “The history books may remember Obama for doing for gays what Lyndon Johnson did for African Americans: Leading his party across a bridge to an irrevocable position on civil rights.”

The Obama administration has made several strides toward equality for the LGBT community. Although Obama initially opposed same-sex marriage back in 2008, he later said that his views on the subject were “evolving.” In 2010, the president successfully pushed for repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

However, some members of the LGBT community do not think that the president has done enough, specifically citing his refusal to sign an executive order which, similar to ENDA, would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

With same-sex marriage being contested at the federal level in the Supreme Court, it is very possible that this could lead to even more rights for LGBT individuals, but it is unclear just what other progress will be made if same-sex marriage is legalized.

“Personally I believe marriage is a step in the right direction. There are a bundle of rights that come with marriage, as well as being able to marry people we are committed to, just like any other couple,” Chaney said. “These are all steps that would lead us toward more equality and acceptance, but there is still a great deal of work to be done.”

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