Progress in the United States
2009 has arguably been the most important year in gay rights to date, at least in our country. Many great things happened this year. There were also some not-so-great things, but the positives vastly outweigh the negatives.
By far the most significant gay rights story that took place in 2009 (or perhaps even the decade), at least in my opinion, was the passage of the Matthew Shepard Act. The significance of the first federal-level law in the history of this country to treat gay and transgendered people fairly cannot be overrated. Not only does this law bring us one step closer to being treated equally, but future efforts to gain our rights in other areas can now use this as a solid foundation to show that we are legitimate minority group worthy of protection and equal treatment under the law. This is just a fantastic milestone.
The other major gay rights story of the year was the legalization of same-sex marriage in several states across the country. Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine all got marriage equality through one means or another in 2009, making significant strides ahead by more than doubling the number of states where same-sex couples can marry. Unfortunately, there were also some setbacks on this issue as well. The citizens of Maine voted to repeal the law their state legislature passed earlier in the year, New York’s legislature voted to not legalize same-sex marriage, and the success of the bill that is currently under consideration by the New Jersey Senate seems questionable at best. However, it is important to note that none of these events actually banned or will ban same-sex marriage. The state of marriage in all three of these states is no different than it was at the beginning of the year. None of them represented a step backward without having previously taken a step forward of equal magnitude, so they have really just maintained the status quo. That’s certainly not something to celebrate, but it’s also not something to complain too much about. Overall, the net effect of all the same-sex marriage-related stories from this year is definitely positive. Three positives and three neutrals yields a positive result.
On top of that, there were a number of smaller gay rights victories throughout the country in 2009. Delaware banned discrimination based on sexual orientation in decisions regarding employment. Washington state citizens voted to give same-sex couples in civil unions the same benefits as heterosexual married couples, just without the word “marriage.” The District of Columbia not only voted to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions earlier in the year, but the city council also eventually voted to legalize same-sex marriages of its own. The Coquille, a Native American tribe in Oregon, also passed a same-sex marriage law. They can do so because they are federally recognized as a sovereign nation, however the marriages are only valid within the tribe. Residents of Kalamazoo, Michigan, voted to pass a new law that prohibits discrimination against gay and transgendered people in employment, housing and public accommodation. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America voted in favor of allowing sexually active gay people to join the clergy. The city of Houston, Texas has become the largest American city with a gay mayor (since Ed Koch still refuses to accept or deny all of the rumors that he is). Several smaller towns across the country (for example, Chapel Hill, North Carolina) also elected openly gay mayors. And the list of gay rights achieved and accomplishments made this year goes on…
It also seems that 2009 had a lot more support in favor of gay rights than in the past, or at least people seem to be more vocal and active about it. There was the National Equality March in Washington DC in October. Many people seem to be making more of an effort to boycott anti-gay companies and shop at gay-friendly stores, and some heterosexual couples have even decided not to get married until their gay friends can get married. Gay rights organizations in general also started getting more organized and efficient after the whole Proposition 8 loss in November of 2008. On top of that, the arguments used by the anti-gay side seem to have gotten a lot more ridiculous. While their scare tactics may be effective to a certain (perhaps even large) extent, the inanity of much of what they say is starting to become apparent to a lot of people, who then realize that these people are crazy extremists and not worth paying attention to… and hopefully worth fighting, or at least voting, against. Things are getting better.
What can we expect in 2010?
At the federal level, two of the three openly gay members of Congress, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Jared Polis of Colorado, seem to suggest that 2010 will be the year in which the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy will be repealed, finally allowing gay soldiers to serve the country openly. Then again, this time last year those same people probably would have said that 2009 was the year that would happen, and it wasn’t. Opposition to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has only grown, though, and there is supposedly a long-term investigation into the policy currently taking place, so hopefully 2010 will in fact be the year this antiquated policy gets eliminated. If it does happen, it’s likely to be a part of the next military spending bill.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act will also likely be voted on (and more than likely get passed) sometime in 2010, possibly even early in the year. This would protect gay people from being discriminated against in employment-related decisions throughout the country, rather than just in the certain states and municipalities that have elected to do so on their own. Such a law would also be the second federal-level law that affects gay people positively rather than negatively, and would provide even more fundamental protections than the first. Along similar lines, it was also suggested that Congress may vote on a domestic partner benefits bill by the end of 2010, which would provide things like employer health benefits to the domestic partners of same-sex couples. Hopefully, all three of these proposed bills will be introduced and passed by the end of 2010 because the results of November’s congressional elections could affect the ability of these bills to get passed.
Regarding how the same-sex marriage battle will pan out this coming year, it doesn’t look like there will be as much progress as there was in 2009. The only item on the federal level that might come up is the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, but that seems to be a little more difficult than the other federal efforts and may have to wait a while longer. On the state level, it doesn’t look like we will make much progress in 2010. The only major talk about a state gaining marriage equality has been a consideration to put a repeal of Proposition 8 on the ballot in California during the 2010 election and bringing gay marriage back to the state, but many people seem to believe that it will be postponed until 2012 when there is a better chance of getting it passed. Still, others may make it an issue in 2010 anyway. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens with that one.
The reason we probably won’t see as much progress towards marriage equality in 2010 as we did in 2009 is simply because most of the states who support it enough to pass it either already have it or have recently been denied it by their (out of touch) legislators. The few states that fall into that latter category technically could try to legalize same-sex marriage again in 2010, but they all seem mostly unlikely to succeed for one reason or another. First, New Jersey won’t have a chance of getting marriage equality for at least four years if it doesn’t get passed in the next few weeks because the new governor will veto it once he takes office. And, at this point, it doesn’t look like it will get through, I’m sorry to say. Second, New York probably won’t make any progress, either. Not only did their legislature just vote against it, but it also looks like their governor David Patterson is going to experience the same kind of situation that Jon Corzine faced this year in New Jersey. Patterson, a Democrat, suffers from a very low approval rating in a year in which New York is going to have a gubernatorial election. He doesn’t stand much of a chance of being reelected, and will most likely be replaced in November’s election by a Republican who would also veto any same-sex marriage bill that came to his or her desk. The situation doesn’t look good. At this point, if I were a betting man, I would bet a state supreme court decision will legalize same-sex marriage before the legislature does in both of those states, and I would keep that bet open for 4 to 5 years.
A little more than a hundred miles East, there will almost certainly be another effort to legalize same-sex marriage in Rhode Island again. And it will almost certainly be denied by the excessively-Catholic, out of touch congress and/or governor again, even though the state has the second-highest rate of public support for it. The only other state I can think of that might try legalizing same-sex marriage anytime soon and actually have a chance of passing it is Hawaii, since the current Republican governor leaves office in December 2010. However, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for that, either, if only because it’s not likely to be something any new governor does in their first few weeks of holding office, even if they do support it. Any movement on that issue would likely be in 2011.
(One thing I failed to mention here is the fact that Rhode Island will be electing a new governor this coming November. Their current governor, the Republican Don Carcieri, does not support gay marriage, which is one of the reasons it hasn’t been able to pass in the state. However, he has reached the end of his term limits, so it is very possible that a gay rights-supporting candidate will win the election. In that case, Rhode Island may actually be able to get same-sex marriage passed finally. It would be 2011 by the time the new governor would take office, which means that this doesn’t really have any effect on what I said about Rhode Island for 2010, but I think it’s still worth mentioning. -edit added Jan 6th, 2010)
The only other thing we have to keep our eye on, as far as can be determined at this point, is a possible effort to repeal New Hampshire’s recently-passed same-sex marriage law. It doesn’t appear to have enough support to actually get repealed, but if we can learn anything from the history of the gay rights movement, it’s that you can never be sure what’s going to happen until it has happened. But that’s about it when it comes to marriage.
In addition to the federal level gay rights laws mentioned before, there will probably be some states that pass laws that are less publicized but affect more fundamental rights than marriage laws do. Namely, issues like anti-discrimination bills and healthcare benefits for same-sex partnerships are likely to be main focus of the gay rights movement in the coming year. These are also the issues that have the best chance of actually going from just an idea to being passed into law this year. Battles to legalize civil unions may also be an issue in some states, but they will be secondary to these other issues overall.
Anti-discrimination laws are the most publically popular yet under-enacted measures protecting the rights of gay people. Average polling from 2009 shows a majority of popular support in all states for housing anti-discrimination laws, but 30 states still do not have respective laws on the books. Polls also show a majority of support in all but 2 states for job anti-discrimination laws, but again (the exact same) 30 states still do not have respective laws. The states with the highest public support for both housing and job anti-discrimination laws that do not already have them are Delaware, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, Arizona and Florida, not necessarily in that order. Making the (not necessarily correct but seemingly reasonable enough) assumption that the states that have the highest public support are the ones most likely to pass laws the soonest, those are the 7 states I would watch in 2010 for the introduction of (and hopefully the passage of) these laws.
It is also worth noting that housing anti-discrimination laws are universally more popular than job anti-discrimination laws, so housing laws may pass more easily than job ones do. Housing and job anti-discrimination laws are almost always the first and third (respectively) most publically supported gay rights laws according to polls. The second most supported gay rights policy was a hate crimes law that included gay people. It had a majority of support in every state despite 19 states still not having a hate crimes law on the books. However, Congress’s passage of the Matthew Shepard Act earlier this year means that all states are now covered, so further discussion of this particular issue is a moot point for the purposes of this review.
The next most popularly supported gay rights law involves extending employer health benefits to the other member in same-sex domestic partnerships. Currently, only 14 states have such a law. The states most likely to pass this law that do not already have it are Maryland, New Hampshire, Delaware, Hawaii, Florida, Nevada and Arizona. Using the same assumption as before, these are the states I would keep my eye on for the introduction of a this law. A note here as well: States do not necessarily have to have legal same-sex marriage or civil unions in order to have this health benefits law in effect. There are a handful of states that have this law already but not civil unions, and 2 that have civil unions or marriage but no health benefits law for them.
Speaking of civil unions, the two states with the highest public support for civil unions that currently do not have them are Rhode Island and New York. Both of these states support civil unions by margins of about 8 points above the level of support of the next state that lacks them. Both of these states have also been fighting for marriage equality before they even have civil unions. While I understand and certainly agree with the point that gay people should be allowed to get married regardless of whether or not they can get a civil union, it would certainly be a lot easier (and still a victory) to grab the low hanging fruit and go one step at a time. Especially when support for same-sex marriage in both of these states is more than 10 points behind the level of support they have for civil unions. Anyway… The other states with a majority of public support for civil unions are Colorado, Maryland, Arizona, Delaware, New Mexico, Illinois, Montana, Pennsylvania, Florida, Minnesota and Alaska. I would say the first few have the best chance of passing civil unions.
Finally, we come to the last, least-supported non-marriage gay right, second parent adoption for same-sex couples. Interestingly, despite being supported by the majority of people in only 10 states, there are twice as many states that have such laws. Because of the seemingly contradictory status of the existence of these laws and their public support, and the fact that all of the states that do support a gay adoption law already have them, it is pretty hard to predict which states might legalize it next. In any case, the states that support this policy the most that don’t already have it are Delaware, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Whether they or any other state allows second parent adoption for same-sex couples, though, seems to be the wildcard of the bunch.
It is possible that Congress could pass civil unions for the whole country in 2011. One can come to this conclusion by making the (again, not necessarily correct but reasonable enough) assumption that the country is likely to pass gay civil rights in the same sequence that individual states usually do. At the state level, hate crimes laws are/were the most plentiful law affecting gay rights, and the Matthew Shepard Act just passed at the federal level. As previously indicated, certain members of Congress seem to suggest that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act will likely be introduced and probably passed in 2010, possibly early in the year, which is usually the next major gay right that states pass. They also said that a law extending employer health benefits to same-sex partnerships could be introduced later on in the year, which again is next in the sequence at the state level. The next gay rights issue that usually comes up in a state is the legalization of civil unions. So, if both of those federal level issues are introduced and are successful in 2010, a civil union bill could be introduced in Congress in 2011.
Obviously there has to be more evidence to support the possible passage of a law other than just the presumption that it’s the next thing that’s going to happen. And there are indeed 3 main factors that support this possibility. First, Democrats are not expected to and hopefully won’t lose their majority in Congress. They may lose some seats, but civil unions are not necessarily a partisan issue, either. We would probably even have Dick Cheney on our side to help gain some Republican support, as one of his daughters is a lesbian. Hell, Newt Gingrich’s half-sister is a lesbian, too, so who knows what might happen. Second, the third year is probably a good time to do something controversial like this for the president. It is far enough away where all of these “bigger” health and economic issues will be done with (hopefully), yet still far enough in advance of November 2012 that it wouldn’t be fresh on peoples’ minds for the next presidential election. It would sort of fall into a spot of his presidency that is least likely to cause a problem. Third, the legalization of civil unions does not require the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. DOMA is arguably the most controversial gay rights issue, but it is also probably one of the most difficult to repeal. There is a lot of support for it still. Luckily, (in an admittedly ironic use of the word luck) it only affects marriages. Civil unions could still be passed without a problem. (Honestly, I am almost tempted to say that civil unions should be passed before addressing DOMA so that they can be used as an argument against it, but we won’t get into that right now.) It could happen.
2009 around the world
Just like in the United States, there has been both victory and defeat on gay rights issues in other countries around the world. Also similar, the range of gay rights issues was diverse, and the wins seemed to outweigh the losses in 2009.
Europe is well known for being fairly liberal, so naturally a lot of good news came from there. Iceland elected a lesbian prime minister, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, earlier this year. (She is often considered to be the first openly gay person to be the head of government of a modern country, however Per-Kristian Foss was technically the first as he served as the interim prime minister of Norway for a short period in 2002.) Austria approved civil unions not even a month ago. Sweden legalized same-sex marriage in the Spring. Following that event, the Church of Sweden also voted to permit its priests to perform same-sex marriages. Also perhaps of note, Norway’s same-sex marriage law, which was passed last year, went into effect this year.
One important action taken this year was British prime minister Gordon Brown’s issuance of a posthumous apology for his country’s terrible treatment of Alan Turing because of his sexuality, which sadly occurred despite the fact that Winston Churchill credited Turing with making the single biggest contribution to the Allied victory in World War Two. The apology may not have changed anything now, but it shows you just how far we have changed over the decades.
Some of the most significant progress on gay rights issues this year actually came from smaller, often overlooked countries like Peru, whose national court recently ruled that gay people may serve openly in the country’s police and military forces. Argentina also lifted their ban on gays in the military back in March. Spain eliminated an unusual law that disallowed men without penises from serving in the military, which essentially allows transgendered people to serve now. India made a step forward when it decriminalized gay sex. They also introduced a third gender option on voter forms for intersex and transgendered people. Serbia passed an antidiscrimination law early in the year. In addition to all of those things, gay rights protests and rallies continued to take place in countries where such actions are considered unheard of like Lebanon, China and Russia. The realization that gay people can and should be treated fairly is clearly spreading to every part of the world. It is not likely to be stopped, especially in this age of instant information and communication.
And finally, to end on a lighter note, there were even some interesting news stories about gay animals this year. First, there was the gay penguin couple who adopted an egg and hatched a chick at a zoo in Germany. Then, there were stories about a gay elephant in Poland. And more recently, there have been reports of lesbian albatrosses in New Zealand. Proof, once more, that same-sex attraction is as natural as can be.
Tags: 2009, 2010, california, civil unions, defense of marriage act, employment antidiscrimination, gay animals, gay marriage, gay rights, housing antidiscrimination, iowa, maine, matthew shepard act, new hampshire, new jersey, new york, prop 8, rhode island, vermont, washington dc