Following the institutional discrimination that Congress enacted under the Clinton administration in the 1990s, George W. Bush landed a consecutive and debilitating blow against the LGBT community during his 8 long, painful years in office, halting any hopes of progress and equality.
Barack Obama, whose campaign cornered the ‘change’ market, offered a ray of hope. Despite Obama’s “evolving” stance on gay marriage and accusations that he has dragged his feet in regards to a community who helped elect him President, real progress has been made. It may not have happened overnight, and there have been plenty of roadblocks along the way. Yet the momentum has irreversibly shifted. Under Obama, hospital visitation rights have been extended to same sex couples, his administration has appointed a record number of LGBT White House staffers, and in December, against all odds and in the eleventh hour, the Senate finally repealed the appalling Don’t Ask Don’t Tell legislation. The media blitz that resulted from this momentous occasion was followed by a celebratory signing ceremony, where an emotional Obama noted, “this is a good day.” He went on to praise the LGBT community, saying “it is time to recognize that sacrifice, valor and integrity are no more defined by sexual orientation than they are by race or gender, religion or creed.”
Though further LGBT progress was left in doubt after Republicans took control of the House in November elections, President Obama and his administration today said they will no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act banning the federal recognition of same-sex marriage.
Attorney General Eric Holder, whose Department of Justice has defended the legislation during its 15-year lifespan, wrote in a letter to Speaker Boehner that “after careful consideration, including a review of my recommendation, the President has concluded that given a number of factors, including a documented history of discrimination, classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to a heightened standard of scrutiny. The President has also concluded that Section 3 of DOMA, as applied to legally married same-sex couples, fails to meet that standard and is therefore unconstitutional… I concur in this determination.”
Holder goes on to say, “while sexual orientation carries no visible badge, a growing scientific consensus accepts that sexual orientation is a characteristic that is immutable… it is undoubtedly unfair to require sexual orientation to be hidden from view to avoid discrimination.
Finally, there is a growing acknowledgment that sexual orientation “bears no relation to ability to perform or contribute to society. Recent evolutions in legislation… and in social science regarding sexual orientation all make clear that sexual orientation is not a characteristic that generally bears on legitimate policy objectives.”
The Defense of Marriage Act will remain law “unless and until Congress repeals Section 3 or the judicial branch renders a definitive verdict against the law’s constitutionality… This is the rare case where the proper course is to forgo the defense of this statute.
…The Supreme Court has ruled that laws criminalizing homosexual conduct are unconstitutional.”
The law has lost its biggest defender in court, and the clock is ticking. This is a historic shift, and it now stands as the most profound gay rights victory under the Obama administration. By deeming the Defense of Marriage Act to be unconstitutional, the President of the United States has laid the groundwork for all discrimination based on sexual orientation to one day fall (sooner rather than later, we hope).
“Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
This is a good day.
Read Eric Holder’s full letter here.
In what appears to be a momentous progressive step, Facebook has added ‘civil union’ and ‘domestic partnership’ to its relationship status options, contributing to its uniquely positioned relationship with the LGBT community.
Richard Socarides, president of Equality Matters and an advisor in the Clinton administration, described this moment in an email to Huffington Post. “Facebook has always been an empowering place for gay people–it’s a place you can be yourself in relative safety. This is a natural progression of that. In most places, gay Americans can’t yet marry but they may be able to formalize their relationship short of marriage. This change reflects that reality.”
Individuals have for years been turning to the transparency of Facebook to come out. The extension of the public sphere online has allowed the nature of public discourse to expand indefinitely. And Facebook, Mike Zuckerberg’s multi-billion dollar venture, has become a game-changer.
In her TIME Magazine exposé, Caryn Brooks describes how Facebook has changed the LGBT community and help make it more mainstream. “Coming out used to be an exhausting process. You had to come out again and again and again to all your friends at different times. Nowadays, even with social networking, gays still have to come out, but one of the key differences between our pre-profile selves and our new online presentations is that now (finally!) the burden is also on our friends to discover and digest our identities.”
Has Facebook become the final frontier for the gay community? Or is this simply the beginning of a new digitial age? Facebook provides a certain veil of discretion that allows for a surprising level of honesty and openness that you may be less than willing to expose face-to-face. “I didn’t have to have the same conversation a thousand times,” says one bi-sexual man about Facebook. “Plus, there’s a radical empowerment that comes from declaring your identity in the public sphere.”
For now, Facebook remains a tool the worldwide LGBT community embraces and utilizes in spreading tolerance and recruiting support. And Facebook, in rewarding the loyalty of the community, has made a great social statement in return.
Same-sex couples nationwide took a stand this Valentine’s Day in the name of marriage equality. Couples planned to request marriage licenses from their local governments on Monday, fully anticipating their rejection but not passing up a chance to bring further attention to a national issue.
“Marriage is a civil right, not a heterosexual privilege,” said Tiffani Bishop, an LGBT advocate in Austin, Texas.
Meanwhile, Hawaii on Wednesday became only the seventh state to grant equal rights to same-sex couples. Following a 69% approval rating from Hawaii’s voters, strong support from Governor Neil Abercrombie, and a 1993 state Supreme Court ruling that nearly legalized gay marriage ten years before Massachusetts did, Hawaii’s Senate voted to pass a civil unions bill into law by an 18-5 vote. Abercrombie called it the end of an “emtional process”, and said Wednesday’s vote “represents equal rights for all the people of Hawaii”.
Finally, Representative Steve King of Iowa, whose state Republicans are in the midst of an attempt to roll back marriage equality, has proudly proclaimed his opposition against the “screaming, profane gays.” King, who came up on the short end of the stick in Iowa’s landmark 2009 Supreme Court ruling which legalized gay marriage, said that his state would become a “gay marriage Mecca” as a result of the decision, and says children raised by same-sex couples would be similar to those “raised in warehouses”.
Keep it classy, Steve.