In just a few weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hand down its decision in two landmark cases on marriage equality. The cases, one challenging Proposition 8 in California and the other challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act, mark the first time the high court has taken on the issue of marriage for same-sex couples. No matter their decision, it will be historic.
The political climate on marriage and other LGBT equality issues has shifted vastly since the court first heard oral arguments in the cases in March.
In just one month, three states —Rhode Island, Delaware and Minnesota — approved marriage for same-sex couples. They did so not by order of a court, but, rather, through a vote of their duly-elected legislatures. Other states are advancing on the issue, as well. Illinois stands ready to hear similar proposals. A marriage equality bill was approved by a Nevada Assembly committee in mid-May. In New Mexico, where state law does not specifically ban marriage between two people of the same-sex, city leaders in Santa Fe have taken an official stand in favor of equality.
Other nations around the globe are moving on this issue. France, our oldest ally which helped give birth to our own nation, approved marriage equality in April. In so doing, they became the 14th nation worldwide to recognize same-sex nuptials.
All around us, the world is changing. Progress once thought impossible is now a commonplace occurrence. The America of which we’ve all dreamed is becoming a reality, as we take more steps into our continuing experiment in democracy, liberty and justice.
With these series of historic advancements on marriage, it would seem the time was right to also move forward on an issue many in our community feel has been forgotten.
For nearly 20 consecutive sessions of Congress, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) has been introduced and stalled. Transgender people, whose risk of employment insecurity is many times higher than LGB people, have been pushing for a renewed focus on ENDA and other employment non-discrimination measures at state and local levels.
Here in North Carolina, the story is the same. Session after session, bills to extend employment protections to LGBT public workers go nowhere. Neither Democratic nor Republican leaders have advanced the proposal.
I get why marriage is important. I understand why, like straight couples, gay couples can also benefit. Much more than tax breaks or other financial or legal benefits, marriage is the fundamental bedrock upon which we build our lives with the people we love and in which we create our families and raise our children. Marriage provides stability to gay families, just as it does to straight families.
But, employment security also provides stability that is just as important. The ability to work for a fair and livable wage underpins our ability to care for our families.
Employment protections and marriage equality have more intersecting commonalities than differences. The two issues are complementary. We should be pushing as hard for one as we are the other.
This summer, we will know the fate of our future movement on marriage. The momentum is strong. The positive emotion is palpable. The stunning successes we’ve seen in moving the conversation forward, in changing hearts and minds, can be used to create better working environments for our community.
It is time we widen our focus. Let’s continue our good work on marriage equality while expending more financial and organizational resources on employment security for all our citizens, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. : :