Let’s Keep Winning
In the past three weeks, three new states have been added to the marriage equality list. We can hardly catch our breath.
Just last week alone, the Illinois legislature enacted a marriage equality bill; the U.S. Senate voted in favor of an inclusive ENDA; Houston re-elected their openly lesbian mayor and Seattle elected an openly gay mayor; and the Hawai'i House of Representatives voted in favor of marriage, setting the stage for the bill to be signed into law just yesterday. Only one week earlier, we won marriage equality in New Jersey at the end of an 11-year legal fight and two Lambda Legal lawsuits.
One could conclude that our progress is happening suddenly and all the big battles have been won. But that wouldn’t be true: It’s amazing and exciting, but it didn’t happen overnight, and it’s far from over.
Hawai'i, for example, is the state where our shared struggle for the freedom to marry first blossomed a full 20 years ago. In 1993, the Supreme Court of Hawai'i ruled that denying civil marriage licenses to same-sex couples appeared to be sex discrimination. It sent the case back to the trial court to determine whether the State could justify this unequal treatment. Lambda Legal joined as counsel and, in 1996, won the first marriage trial in the country.
While the state appealed that victory, antigay forces spent millions of dollars seeking to rewrite the Hawai'i Constitution to block our success, which voters approved in 1998. That was a huge setback, but none of us gave up – not in Hawai'i nor anywhere else.
Antigay groups have not given up either, and that’s why Lambda Legal went to the Wisconsin Supreme Court a few weeks ago to defend the state’s Domestic Partnership Law against attack by so-called Wisconsin Family Action. As long as antigay groups keep trying to roll back our rights, we’ll be there to defend our community.
And while we celebrate these victories in states across the country, we know that LGBT people in the majority of states have neither the freedom to marry nor basic protections against discrimination on the job or in school. Victories are exciting – but our job is to turn excitement from each victory into energy and resources for the next fight to bring protections and equality to people living in states where legal rights are few and living in safety and dignity is still a daily struggle.
At Lambda Legal, we have marriage equality litigation pending in Nevada, Virginia and West Virginia. We are advocating for transgender people to have equal access to health care and to be treated with dignity if they are hospitalized. We are representing a child who was bullied at school in Georgia. We are fighting for state employees denied equal benefits in Arizona. We are defending a man living with HIV who was unfairly convicted of a crime for having protected, consensual adult sex in Iowa. In fact, Lambda Legal has about 85 open cases, advocacy and education taking place around the country.
Celebration, energy, action. Let’s keep moving equality forward.