Earlier today, the Supreme Court handed down a 5-4 decision which will effectively legalize same-sex marriage across the nation; with Obergefell v. Hodges, the court ruled state bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. While this decision will not mean an overnight end to state bans on same-sex marriage (some states such as Texas have announced plans to fight the ruling), the issue is on the way out and has led activists on both sides of the issue to wonder– what’s next?
As an example of what marriage equality foes fear will come next after marriage equality, I could link to statements by Bryan Fischer or other bigots at the American Family Association and their warnings of polygamy, bestiality, etc., but I think we should also step back and laugh look at some of the predictions from one of the Evangelical right’s token young people. In an article posted to Breitbart News, Ben Shapiro proclaimed that after same-sex marriage, the next steps would be “targeting” churches and universities, shutting down religious schools, and even forcing acceptance of same-sex marriage onto individuals.
I would classify all of those answers not as “what is next?”, but rather “what could be next?” considering same-sex marriage has been legal in Massachusetts for over a decade now and none of the predictions have come true in the slightest manner. Additionally, I would be willing to bet that most LGBT people, like myself, really wouldn’t care what the Evangelical right thinks of our marriages, which makes the fourth prediction somewhat laughable.
More seriously, the likely answer can be found both in the liberal-leaning publication The Atlantic and a Washington Post article by the conservative contributor Jennifer Rubin: non-discrimination laws. While non-discrimination laws are nothing new (most of them were passed in the 1990s and early 2000s), they do provide a promising and important avenue for the expansion of LGBT rights. Currently, a majority of states do not have laws which protect private sector employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity, and even fewer states have laws which protect LGBT individuals from discrimination in housing and other areas. This astounding lack of protection, coupled with huge public support for non-discrimination laws, hints at non-discrimination laws becoming the forefront of LGBT activism.
But even this answer is not satisfactory– while same-sex marriage is an important issue, especially as a marker for progress, it only applies to a narrow range of LGBT people. Additionally, while anti-discrimination laws apply to a much broader sect of the LGBT community, they do not provide the community with the freedom and rights required for full inclusion. Having answered “What could but is highly unlikely to be next?” and “What is next?”, we should examine a question which is much more applicable to LGBT activism– What should be next?
The answer to this question is quite extensive and includes issues which most straight people probably haven’t even thought about. Each year, an increasing amount of LGBT people have been murdered; 2015 has already seen a record number of LGBT homicides. Yet, surprisingly, many states lack legal protections (in the form of hate crime laws) for LGBT individuals; only 32 states have penalty-enhancement laws for hate crimes committed against individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation (45 states have such laws for race, religion, and ethnicity) and only 18 states extend these laws to transgender individuals. Even in states where these laws are in place, hate crime convictions are not always sought out when they are warranted, which provides an important area of progress.
Gay conversion therapy, has been shown to be ineffective, has been compared to torture, and has even been ruled consumer fraud by a judge and jury in NJ. Even though this practice is politically unpopular, few states have taken action against the practice. At the moment, only three states (California, New Jersey, and Oregon) along with Washington, D.C., outlaw the practice and very few additional states are exploring legislation to join the list.
While gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals have been allowed to serve openly in the military since the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in 2011, transgender service members still face an uncertain future if they decide to openly admit to being transgender. In fact, it wasn’t until recently that anyone in the Obama Administration even acknowledged a desire to change this legal minefield for transgender individuals; Obama himself has yet to speak on the matter. Additionally, intersex individuals are not allowed to serve openly in the military and virtually no one has spoken on their right to do so.
Currently, the United States has a mixed record of granting asylum to transgender individuals, even if they face deportation to countries which impose harsh penalties, up to death, for being transgender. Additionally, transgender people, depending on the state, must undergo sexual reassignment surgery in order to ensure their birth certificate and other vital documents reflect their true gender identity.
While LGBT people make up 5% to 10% of the population in the United States, they make up 40% of all homeless youth in the country, and a majority of those youth are subject to hate crimes and sexual assault. And even for the youth who aren’t homeless, life can be challenging as only 18 states have passed laws prohibiting bullying on the basis of sexual orientation (and only 13 have done so on the basis of gender identity).
Commercial Surrogacy, or the practice of “hiring” a woman to carry and give birth to a child for a same-sex couple faces another legal patchwork across the country. While some states enforce surrogacy contracts, some states refuse to recognize them and some even penalize their creation. This patchwork of laws is what led many individuals, such as Sherri Shephard, to face undue complications in the realm of surrogacy. Admittedly, Shephard’s case isn’t directly related to LGBT rights; however, this in and of itself highlights another phenomenon of the struggle for LGBT equality: Our struggle is not solitary; we share the fight with other marginalized groups.
Just to reiterate: We should absolutely praise the pro-equality ruling from the Supreme Court; however, we need to evaluate the long-standing injustices which the LGBT community still faces and develop comprehensive strategies to counteract these lapses in justice and equality.
(Title image via).