It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of 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.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s words sealed the deal on what turned out to be the LGBT story of the year.
On June 26, Kennedy and four of his colleagues on the bench managed to win majority vote to legalize same-sex marriage across the nation.
Joining Kennedy in the historic vote were Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
The remaining justices — John G. Roberts Jr., Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. — dissented.
The watershed moment in the nation’s history came in June, which President Barack Obama had declared only four weeks earlier — ironically enough — to be LGBT Pride Month.
Since the Supreme Court ruling, select communities across the country have been struggling to come to grips with the idea that two people of the same gender now have the same legal right to marry as do one man and one woman.
Many who oppose same-sex marriage say that it’s against their religious beliefs.
Some of the more vocal dissenters are invoking the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of religion to justify colorful acts of civil disobedience in the wake of the ruling.
And no one can argue who the most colorful of these characters turned out to be, long bushy hair, wire-rimmed glasses, thick Southern dialect and all.
In July, Rowan County (Kentucky) Clerk Kim Davis ignored the Supreme Court ruling and refused marriage licenses to several same-sex couples.
Two months later, Davis found herself in jail for not honoring the oath to uphold the law of the land that she took after she was elected to her post.
On Sept. 8, Davis emerged from jail after several days to live her 15 minutes of fame.
Mike Huckabee, Republican presidential candidate and outspoken opponent of the court’s ruling, took Davis’s hand as she stepped onto the dais before a huge crowd of cheering sympathizers outside the prison and raised it above her head in a show of…victory?
Questions surrounding the right to refuse service to same-sex couples on grounds that it violates the religious freedoms of those offering the service were also raised this year.
In March, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Within a week, family-owned Memories Pizza in Wakerton, Ind., announced that it refused to cater a same-sex wedding on grounds that it would violate the owners’ religious freedoms.
In July, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback issued an executive order prohibiting state government from taking action against clergy members or religious organizations that deny services to same-sex couples based on religious beliefs. One Topeka paper reported that, among other things, the order allows organizations that provide adoption services for the state to refuse to place children with gay couples if doing so conflicts with the organization’s beliefs.
Also in July, Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian ordered the owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa to pay $135,000 in damages to a lesbian couple on grounds that refusing to bake them a wedding cake violated the women’s civil rights. The bakers said they refused service based on their Christian beliefs against same-sex marriage.
And in November, Houston Mayor Annise Parker, the city’s first lesbian mayor, decried the defeat of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance at the polls, declaring “no one’s rights should be subject to a popular vote.” Passage of HERO would have prevented discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation when it comes to city employment and city services, city contracts, public accommodations, private employment and housing.
Houses of worship across the nation tried to figure out how to react to the same-sex marriage ruling and other advances on the LGBT rights front.
For some, it was easy: The U.S. Presbyterian Church simply reworded its constitution to acknowledge same-sex marriage in March, while U.S. Reform Jews adopted a transgender policy in November.
For others, it has been a much bigger challenge.
In November, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka, the Mormon Church) declared married same-sex couples outcasts and their children ineligible for baptism. Mormons began resigning from the church almost immediately after the announcement was made. Also in November, Jackie Biskupski became the first LGBT person to be elected mayor of Salt Lake City, where the Mormon Church is headquartered.
Pope Francis’s tour of the U.S. in late September also generated headlines.
On Sept. 23, shortly before his private meeting with President Obama, Francis participated in a 15,000-strong reception at the White House that included a number of gay Catholics and LGBT advocates, an openly gay Episcopal bishop and a nun who’s a prominent social justice activist.
For some, it was history in the making; for others, Francis’s public appearances with LGBT activists rang hollow.
Four days later, as he was about to leave the U.S., Francis granted an audience with gay rights defeatist Kim Davis. (LGBT Catholics were surprised that Davis was granted an audience with Francis when their repeated requests to meet with him were denied.)
And as Michelangelo Signorile, gay voices editor-at-large for The Huffington Post, pointed out on line, Francis said nothing about the issue of same-sex marriage or the historic U.S. Supreme Court decision that was handed down just three months earlier.
“It’s astonishing how silent Francis is on the issue,” Signorile wrote.
’T’riumph and ’T’rouble
The transgender movement shared more face time with the American public in 2015 than ever before, with at least two new role models popping up on TV screens.
In February, Zoey “Chopper Bud” Tur became the first openly transgender TV reporter in the U.S. She has since appeared on “Inside Edition,” CNN, TMZ and HLN.
Two months later, Bruce Jenner revealed to the world in a TV interview that he identified as a woman. The former Olympian then launched “I Am Cait,” a reality TV show that tracked his transformation into Caitlyn Jenner. Jenner appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair in June and was recognized at Glamour magazine’s Women of the Year Awards in November.
Even as the transgender movement continued to carve its own niche, however, some in the “LGB” community were calling for disassociation from the “T” community.
A petition headlined “Drop the T” appeared on change.org in November, calling for disassociation on grounds that the transgender ideology revolves around gender identity, while the LGB ideology revolves around sexual orientation. Authors of the petition also write that the transgender ideology is “ultimately regressive and actually hostile to the goals of women and gay men.”
LGBT rights groups rejected the petition, with GLAAD describing the idea of disassociation as “outrageous and destructive” and Human Rights Campaign declaring it “unequivocally wrong.”
While great strides were made on the LGBT rights front in this country in 2015, brothers and sisters around the world were making some pretty amazing headlines of their own.
Thailand (January): Officials agree to change the nation’s constitution to recognize a “third gender” to help ensure all sexual identities are protected under the law.
India (January): The central Indian community of Raigarh elects Madhu Kinnar as the nation’s first transgender mayor.
United Nations (February): U.S. State Department names Randy Berry first-ever LGBT human rights envoy.
Slovenia (March): Same-sex marriage and adoption legalized.
Cuba (May): LGBT activists stage mass same-sex symbolic wedding in Havana.
Ireland (May): Same-sex marriage legalized.
Ireland (July): Law recognizing transgender people enacted.
Sweden (September): First LGBT retirement home opens.
Chile (October): Same-sex marriage legalized.
Japan (November): Hiroko Masuhara and Koyuki Higashi receive the first same-sex partnership certificates to be issued in Japan.