While 2014 brought many successes nationally for the LGBT community, here in Michigan there were very few successes. On a national level, 36 states and the District of Columbia and more than 10 tribal nations recognize gay marriages. Nationally, the United States Department of Labor issued a rule to protect employees of federal contractors from discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. The Department of Education issued also a ruling that stated that under Title IX a school “must treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity in all aspects of the planning, implementation, enrollment, operation, and evaluation of single-sex classes.”
For the LGBT community in Michigan, 2014 was a difficult year. Over three hundred marriages performed legally here during the window of opportunity created by a federal court’s overturning of the Michigan Marriage Amendment currently remain in limbo. Michigan refuses to recognize all legitimate out-of-state gay marriages and refuses not only to recognize the children conceived of those marriages but also all other children of that marriage. Michigan’s ultimate stain as a state, is that this blue state was included with the 13 remaining red states that ban gay marriage. Michigan ranked right there with the States from the deep south and the reddest states of the union: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas. Unfortunately this past fall’s 6th Circuit decision upheld bans on same-sex marriage in all four states in its region (Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee). The 6th Circuit was the first and only Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold the gay marriage ban. On the state civil rights front, once again the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act was not amended. Lawmakers in Lansing sought to divide the LGBT community by throwing a bone to gays and lesbians and leaving transgender people out in the cold by implying that they would pass the bill for sexual orientation but not gender identity. Portions of the state’s business community however lined up in support of the Amendment citing the loss of talent to the state because of the state’s bigoted stance. Michigan’s Medicaid and health exchange plans still have discriminatory transgender exclusions.
SEA OF CHANGE THE HARBINGER OF THINGS TO COME
All eyes are on the U.S. Supreme Court to see how they will decide the gay marriage cases before it. It is expected that both the 5th and Sixth Circuit cases will be argued before the court as early as April 2015 however my prediction is that a decision will not be likely until the end of the June 2015 term. What is forgotten from the marriage debate is that women were deprived of equal access in marriage for centuries, slaves were prohibited from contracting legal marriages, and blacks and whites could not marry each other until 1967 when the U.S. Supreme Court decided on the interracial marriage case, “Loving v. Virginia.”
Even when gay marriage is allowed in all 50 states, the road on LGBT issues will still be treacherous. In 2015, we might see a narrowing of rights and a rise of religious exemptions. We have already seen a rise of proposed conscience or religious exemptions. These exemptions have gained ground after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby Ruling, which held that the arts and crafts chain and other closely-held private businesses could opt out of providing employees the free contraceptive coverage required by the Affordable Care Act. We will also see a rise of hate crimes. We will see a rise of bullying not only for LGBT individuals but also their children and those perceived as LGBT. We will see a rise of homophobia, transgender discrimination, and bisexual invisibility unless we all change the landscape together.
The time has come where we can no longer stand by idly and watch the face of injustice as we see and live it each day. The time has come to put an end to the harsh realities gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender people face in one of the most powerful countries in the world. The time has come to end the tyranny of bigotry. The time has come to hold the promises under the U.S. Constitution and not the amended constitutions of States that support bigotry. The time has come to lift America up to its ideals by our Constitution’s own words: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” The time has come for this perfect union to include all the citizens of the United States of America.
Although the U.S. Constitution clearly separates church and state, religious leaders and their thoughts heavily influence every aspect of its laws and of society’s moral decision making. When a state like Michigan, through its laws or the intentional absence thereof, intentionally deprives a group of LGBT people their rights, it not only discriminates against LGBT people but it also contributes and perpetuates state-sanctioned homophobia, a second-class status, and has effectively created a “social homophobia” situation where some may fear that being identified as gay would be morally wrong.
All people should be allowed to marry, have a family, be able to protect their family, hold a job, rent a home, and live and love whom we choose without discrimination or legal obstacles. LGBT inclusion is not just employment, housing, and public accommodation discrimination protections but must also include protections under hate crime statutes, and allow the ability for a same-sex couple to both be adoptive parents to a child, and the ability to have a same-sex partner covered on health and other insurance policies, and it should allow transgender individuals the ability to be able to live authentically their lives full-time in the gender role that is consistent with their gender identity.
Let’s be frank—many of our laws make no sense. Why do we need a gender marker on our driver’s licenses? Does one’s sex impede the ability to drive? Why do we need gender markers on our legal documents? Why can’t a child have two moms or two dads? Why are we surprised at the high rate teenagers committing suicide because they were gay or believed to be gay by their peers? What the schools were doing to protect these kids? In many places in America, schools are actually legally forbidden from providing gay and transgender kids with the support they need to be empowered enough to accept their sexuality and deal with bullying.
LET US BE THE CATALYST OF CHANGE
Discrimination impacts families. Discrimination impacts communities. Discrimination impacts Michigan’s economy. Many people have already left Michigan to raise their children and to feel safer and equal.
Let us Gay, Straight, Bisexual, Transgender, Two Spirit, Black, White, Native American, Latino, Asian, Homeless, all refuse be marginalized or allow others to be marginalized and live in the shadows. Let us refuse to live in the shadow of fear and doubt. Let us refuse to believe in or be relegated to a caste system where we are second-class citizens, where employers can fire or refuse to hire people, landlords can deny housing, and business owners can refuse restaurant service based on an individual’s actual or perceived protected classes including sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. Let us refuse to believe and live in a world where we are told there are no means of legal redress. Let us refuse to be told where I can live in this great nation we call “America land of the free and home of the brave”.
Let us not be complicit in our silence. I am reminded in these times of the words of Friedrich Niemoller:
“In Germany, they came first for the Socialists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist….Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionist. ….Then they came for the Jew, and I didn’t speak out because I was not a Jew….When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.”