Sweeping Federal LGBT Rights Bill Will Be Introduced Today

The Equality Act would include protections in public accommodations, public education, employment, housing, federal funding, jury service, legal protections, and credit.
merkley400x300.jpg
Legislation will be introduced in Congress today to amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other federal laws to protect LGBT people from discrimination, The Advocate has learned.

Democrats Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Cory Booker of New Jersey are the lead sponsors in the Senate; David Cicilline of Rhode Island, also a Democrat, will be the lead sponsor in the House.

A copy of the proposed legislation, widely circulated among LGBT and other progressive organizations and obtained by The Advocate, show that the Equality Act would include protections in public accommodations, public education, employment, housing, federal funding, jury service, legal protections, and credit. The bill would also clarify that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act cannot be used to defend discrimination against LGBT people.

The legislation also clarifies that sex-segregated facilities must admit individuals in accordance to their gender identity, and that it applies to anyone discriminated against because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity or association with a protected class.

Rep. Cicilline and Sen. Merkley will hold a news conference at noon today to announce the legislation’s introduction. Sen. Baldwin and Congressman Cicilline are both out legislators while Merkley and Booker are forceful allies for LGBT rights.

The measure has been in the works for months, as The Advocate reported in April. It was first announced by Merkley in December. The codirectors of GetEQUAL, Heather Cronk and Angela Peoples, wrote in an Advocate op-ed last month that they saw the legislation as “dangerous,” fearing right-wing lawmakers would not only strip the bill of its intended protections with amendments, but also gut the civil rights laws being amended.

The Human Rights Campaign applauded the initiative. “No one in our community should be at risk of being fired, evicted from their home, or denied services because of who they are or whom they love,” said HRC president Chad Griffin.

“There is an unacceptable patchwork of state-level protections for LGBT people, and more than half of LGBT Americans live in a state that lacks fully-inclusive non-discrimination laws. The time has come in this country for full, federal equality, and nothing less.  A federal non-discrimination bill would create permanent and clear protections to ensure that all employees are hired, fired or promoted based on their performance. All LGBT Americans deserve a fair chance to earn a living and provide for their families.”

In a “Dear Colleague” letter sent to other legislators seeking cosponsors, Rep. Cicilline explained the need for the legislation following the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of marriage equality. Cicilline warns lawmakers that the fight for LGBT rights isn’t over; instead, it’s just begun.

“Every day, millions of LGBT Americans face the danger of real discrimination and sometimes even violence because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Cicilline writes. “In most states, a same-sex couple can get married on Saturday, post pictures on Facebook on Sunday, and then risk being fired from their job or kicked out of their apartment on Monday.”

The Equality Act would make sweeping changes to federal civil rights law. One of the most notable, and likely controversial, sections would expand the list of businesses listed as public accommodations to include banks, retail stores, and companies that provide transportation and health care services — covering nearly every business that provides goods or services.

Republicans in Congress have been rushing to the defense of businesses like florists and bakers who’ve refused to provide services for same-sex couples getting married. They argue that the business owners’ religious freedom is being violated and have introduced federal legislation that would allow them to discriminate. The first committee hearing on the Republican bill will coincide with the introduction of the Equality Act. Similar laws in Indiana and Arkansas have drawn fire in the past year as opponents characterized it as legalized discrimination against LGBT people.

The Equality Act would also amend Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include employment protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Religious beliefs, race, sex, color, and national origin are already protected characteristics. The bill would not change existing religious exemptions for religious corporations, schools, and associations to make hiring decisions based on religious beliefs if the employee will be performing work connected with their religious activities.

It would pertain to any public or private businesses with more than 15 employees as well as labor organizations. This is the same standard currently in place in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The bill would also update the Government Employees Rights Act of 1991 and the Civil Service Reform Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity protections for federal and District of Columbia government employees.

Other areas covered in the sweeping legislation include nondiscrimination protections for those seeking child welfare, public education, student loans, healthcare or nutrition assistance. LGBT people would also be protected from discrimination in any aspect of purchasing or renting a house.

The Equal Credit Opportunity Act and the Jury Service and Selection Act would also be amended to include sexual orientation and gender identity protections and would update the terms “husband” and “wife” to the more inclusive designation of “spouse.”

Given the political dynamic in Washington, observers say passage of the legislation is unlikely in this Congress. No Republican cosponsors have been announced so far. Instead, conservatives have focused on measures that would prevent the federal government from revoking tax exemptions or fining businesses that discriminate against same-sex couples.

Source:  The Advocate, “Sweeping Federal LGBT Rights Bill Will Be Introduced Today,” By Bil Browning, July 21 2015 9:05 AM ET

Colorado ballot measure seeks to limit gay marriages as civil unions

DENVER, CO - JUNE 26: Stephanie Santorico, left, and her wife, Diane Santorico celebrate moments after they married on the west steps of the Colorado State Capitol during a rally celebrating the Supreme Court's ruling giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. June 26, 2015. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

DENVER, CO – JUNE 26: Stephanie Santorico, left, and her wife, Diane Santorico celebrate moments after they married on the west steps of the Colorado State Capitol during a rally celebrating the Supreme Court’s ruling giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. June 26, 2015. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

A proposed ballot initiative filed Thursday would redefine same-sex marriages in Colorado as civil unions. A second initiative would allow wedding-related businesses opposed to gay marriage to hire a contractor to serve the couples.

Keeping gay marriage out of Colorado could be difficult, if not impossible, since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on June 26 that same-sex couples have a right to marry nationwide.

Dave Montez, the executive director of One Colorado, the state’s largest advocacy group for gay rights, said the initiatives are an attempt to undo the Supreme Court decision.

“This initiative is an unnecessary attempt to radically redefine all marriages in Colorado in order to undermine the Supreme Court’s recent decision,” he said. “Even before last week’s Supreme Court decision, the 37 states that already had marriage equality had proven that when loving, committed, gay couples share in the freedom to marry, families are helped and no one is hurt.”

He added, “The freedom to marry is a precious, fundamental right that belongs to all.”

The Colorado legislature approved civil unions in 2013, seven years after the state’s voters approved Amendment 43, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman, with 56 percent in support.

Both ballot questions were filed by Gene Straub and D’Arcy Straub, both of Littleton. D’Arcy Straub is a lawyer. He could not be reached Friday, and his voice message said he was on a mountain-climbing trip. Gene Straub did not immediately return a phone call.

Each measure would need at least 98,492 verified signatures from registered voters to get on the ballot.

State Rep. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, said the point of the gay marriage amendment is moot.

“I think this is more of a political statement than anything,” said Moreno, who serves on the Colorado House Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Caucus. “You can’t override the Supreme Court, especially at the state level.”

Montez called the proposal “mean-spirited, vague and poorly written.”

“Allowing business owners to refuse service to customers whom they dislike, or disapprove, will open a can of worms and make it more difficult to enforce Colorado’s laws that ensure businesses are open to everyone,” he said.

The proposed constitutional amendment states, “A marriage is recognized as a form of religious expression of the people of Colorado that shall not be abridged through the state prescribing or recognizing any law that implicitly or explicitly defines a marriage in opposition or agreement with any particular religious belief.”

Any same-sex couple married before the proposed amendment takes effect or in another state would have their relationship redefined as a civil union, which carries some but not all of the legal rights of marriage.

The proposed change to state law on weddings would require the state to maintain a list of businesses willing to provide services to LGBT couples, so that those opposed could contract with them.

“That doesn’t change anything,” Moreno said. “You’re still treating people differently based on who they are.”

Legislation that resulted from two Denver-area bakers refusing to make cakes — a refusal by a baker to make cake for a gay couple, and another baker who refused to make an anti-gay cake — prompted a bill in the last legislative session to allow bakers or others to refuse service if the request violated their religious values.

The Straubs are scheduled to meet with the state Legislative Council staff on July 16 at the state Capitol to review the language of the proposals.

Source: Denver Post, “Colorado ballot measure seeks to limit gay marriages as civil unions” by Joey Bunch, POSTED:   07/03/2015 06:08:30 PM MDT | UPDATED: 1 DAY AGO

Why ‘Gay Marriage’ Is Dead but the Battle Just Became Much Bigger

“Gay marriage,” as a term, is dead, and we should all stop using it. Ditto for “same-sex marriage.” As of Friday, June 26, with the majority decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court ruled that marriage is a right for all Americans and there aren’t two different kinds. Generations will grow up calling marriage, whether between two men, two women or a man and a woman, the same thing: marriage. That’s a great and amazing effect of the ruling, and the implications are enormous for young people, who won’t see any delineation in the future.

But this is also where things get very complicated and even dangerous, and where we have to pay attention more than ever. When anti-equality conservatives can’t blatantly use bigotry or even name a group they’re targeting because of a profound cultural shift in favor of acceptance, they resort to the dog whistle. And we’ve seen this time and again around issues of race and gender as voting rights, affirmative action, and pay equity are attacked using coded language, while the more naked bigotry still plays out on the streets in the form of violence that coded language and symbols often still embolden.

“Religious liberty” is one term we’ve seen enemies of equality trotting out as code for the supposed threat of LGBT rights. I watched them testing it out over the past several years at gatherings like the Conservative Political Action Conference and the Values Voters Summit. It will be a mantra moving forward, and they’ll surely come up with more.

I’ve seen too many self-assured articles in recent days claiming that the battles over abortion rights and even gun rights can’t be compared to the battle over gay marriage in discussing how things will proceed. Marriage as a right for gays, these arguments contend, will end as a debate, because opponents can’t claim that a right of another is infringed upon by it, or that there’s any harm to anyone else, as they do with abortion (pointing to the fetus or the woman herself) or gun rights (pointing to gun owners).

But I’ve found these arguments to be naïve and, more so, apples-and-oranges comparisons, particularly when they imply that the battle over LGBT rights and acceptance itself is finished while the battle over women’s rights continues. Yes, marriage as a right itself cannot be chipped away at or restricted in the way abortion has been. That’s true even though we’re seeing judges and clerks resisting marriage equality in these first days after the ruling. Every couple — gay, lesbian, bisexual or straight — must be able to marry after the high court’s ruling, and this will work its way out. States and localities that have resisted are already falling in line.

But just because gays and lesbians have the right to marry, does that mean that a particular county clerk or judge must perform it if it offends his or her religious convictions, and if that couple could go to some other clerk who would officiate over their wedding? A few weeks ago North Carolina legislators said “no” and passed a billoverriding the governor’s veto, allowing public officials to opt out of performing certain marriages based on their religious beliefs. The law doesn’t mention gays or gay marriage, but it allows discrimination based on “sincerely held religious objection.” Sure, this can’t apply to federally and state-protected groups, such as people of certain faiths or races, but LGBT people are not a protected group, federally or in the state of North Carolina, so the question is open. On the same day Michigan’s GOP governor signed a law allowing state-funded adoption agencies to turn away gay couples — who now have the right to marry in the state — based on the agencies’ religious beliefs. Again, the law doesn’t name gays and lesbians as a group, but clearly it was meant to apply to them, especially since it can’t apply to other protected groups, and gays and lesbians aren’t protected in Michigan.

And how do gays and lesbians actually get those protections in the 29 states where they don’t have them, even in pro-gay localities in those states where they might find support, since there are no federal protections? Well, Arkansas, for one, made that pretty difficult, passing a law last spring that anti-gay forces saw as a model, a law that doesn’t allow cities or towns to pass anti-discrimination ordinances protecting any group that doesn’t already have statewide protections. Again, the law doesn’t single out gays as a group; it uses wording that could allow it to stand up in court. These are the ways that anti-gay conservatives will continue to attempt to inhibit or restrict LGBT rights. And I’m sure they’re crafting others right now.

Justice Kennedy’s powerfully written majority decision in Obergefell, like those decisions he’s written in the past that support gay rights, doesn’t make it clear just how far-reaching the marriage decision is with regard to other rights, even as it talks much about dignity and equal protection under the law. As constitutional scholar Adam Winkler and others have noted, the court did not use “heightened scrutiny,” the highest standard with regard to discrimination, in its decision, though doing so would have done much to insure that cases that seek to sanction anti-LGBT discrimination aren’t even brought to court. Kennedy’s decision will likely be interpreted in a variety of ways by lower court judges, including those who want to allow for discrimination in the name of “religious liberty.”

The Hobby Lobby decision, which Kennedy joined, should give us all pause, as the court is far from abandoning the notion that discrimination based on religion is allowable. As Paul Waldman noted, Kennedy, in his marriage equality decision, referenced religious liberty, again with words that are open to interpretation:

[I]t must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.

That means the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people beyond marriage will continue to be fought in the courts — including back at the Supreme Court, where we hope Justice Kennedy, if he hasn’t been replaced by a more conservative justice appointed by a Republican president, will be clearer on the issue, and in the state legislatures and Congress.

And we’ve got to stop the apples-and-oranges comparisons between abortion rights and LGBT rights. Abortion is just one among many rights that women have obtained, but one that is and has been in contention for a long time, as is pay equity, rape culture and others. But issues like suffrage or anti-discrimination protections for women are not. It’s unlikely that we’ll see any attempt to take away the vote for women anytime soon, just as it’s unlikely that marriage equality will ever go away now that it’s here. The fact is that women and minorities have secured some rights that are here to stay — different for each group — while other rights are still elusive or being stripped away. There is always a backlash to equality, and it could last a very long time, as bigotry doesn’t die easily. Like every group, LGBT people have to remain vigilant.

Michelangelo Signorile’s new book, It’s Not Over: Getting Beyond Tolerance, Defeating Homophobia, and Winning True Equality, is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Source: The Huffington Post Blog, “Why ‘Gay Marriage’ Is Dead but the Battle Just Became Much Bigger,” by , Gay Voices Editor-at-Large, Posted: 07/07/2015 12:47 pm EDT | Updated: 2 hours ago

Gay Marriage Backers Win Supreme Court Victory

Pooja Mandagere, left, and Natalie Thompson outside the Supreme Court following the 5-4 ruling by the court Friday. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

Pooja Mandagere, left, and Natalie Thompson outside the Supreme Court following the 5-4 ruling by the court Friday. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — In a long-sought victory for the gay rights movement, the Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote the majority opinion in the 5 to 4 decision. He was joined by the court’s four more liberal justices.

The decision, the culmination of decades of litigation and activism, came against the backdrop of fast-moving changes in public opinion, with polls indicating that most Americans now approve of same-sex marriage.

Justice Kennedy said gay and lesbian couples had a fundamental right to marry.

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family,” he wrote. “In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.”

“It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage,” Justice Kennedy said of the couples challenging state bans on same-sex marriage. “Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., in a dissent joined by Justice Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, said the Constitution had nothing to say on the subject.

“If you are among the many Americans — of whatever sexual orientation — who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote. “Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits. But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.”

In a second dissent, Justice Scalia mocked Justice Kennedy’s soaring language.

“The opinion is couched in a style that is as pretentious as its content is egotistic,” Justice Scalia wrote of his colleague’s work. “Of course the opinion’s showy profundities are often profoundly incoherent.”

As Justice Kennedy finished announcing his opinion, several attendees seated in the bar section of the court’s gallery wiped away tears, while others grinned and exchanged embraces.

Justice John Paul Stevens, who retired in 2010, was on hand for the decision and many of the justices’ clerks took seats in the chamber, which was nearly full as the ruling was announced.

Supporters of same-sex marriage gathered outside the Supreme Court on Friday. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

Supporters of same-sex marriage gathered outside the Supreme Court on Friday. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

As in earlier civil rights cases, the Supreme Court had moved cautiously and methodically, laying careful judicial groundwork for a transformative decision.

As late as October, the justices ducked the issue, refusing to hear appeals from rulings allowing same-sex marriage in five states. That decision delivered a tacit victory for gay rights, immediately expanding the number of states with same-sex marriage to 24, along with the District of Columbia, up from 19.

Largely as a consequence of the Supreme Court’s decision not to act, the number of states allowing same-sex marriage has since grown to 36, and more than 70 percent of Americans live in places where gay couples can marry.

The court did not agree to resolve the issue for the rest of the nation until January, in cases filed by gay and lesbian couples in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. The court heard extended arguments in April, and the justices seemed sharply divided over what the Constitution has to say about same-sex marriage.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs said their clients had a fundamental right to marry and to equal protection, adding that the bans they challenged demeaned their dignity, imposed countless practical difficulties and inflicted particular harm on their children.

The Obama administration, which had gradually come to embrace the cause of same-sex marriage, was unequivocal in urging the justices to rule for the plaintiffs.

  Source:  The New York Times, “Gay Marriage Backers Win Supreme Court Victory.” by Adam Liptak, June 26, 2015