On June 26th, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor that states cannot ban same-sex marriage. This was an incredible win in terms of equality legislation.
Yet, even with those amazing strides, more still needs to be done. Because contrary to popular belief, same-sex marriage still isn’t legal in all 50 states across the U.S.
That’s right, in 2020, we still have strides to make and a far ways to go when it comes to marriage equality.
Same-sex marriage is still illegal in the following 13 states: Arkansas, Louisiana, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Delaware, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Texas, Ohio, and Tennessee. Globally, only 29 countries have legalized same-sex marriage, with the Netherlands being the first to do so on April 1st, 2001.
At the turn of the century, the question used to be what state would be the first to legalize gay marriage. Massachusetts won that race back in 2003. Other states soon followed, with Alabama most recently passing legislation to allow same-sex couples to marry in 2015. So now, who will be the last?
There are plenty of state legislatures who still try to block legalizing same-sex marriage by using the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman—at least federally. This effectively allowed other states to use this federal act to halt the legalization of same-sex marriages at the state level. However, this act is no longer deemed enforceable due to wins in two court cases: United States v. Windsor (2013) and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015).
“Today, for the first time, any couple — straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender — may obtain a marriage license and make their commitments public and legal in all 50 states. America has taken one more step toward the promise of equality enshrined in our Constitution, and I’m humbled to be part of that.” wrote Obergefell.
The Obergefell v. Hodges case was a civil rights landmark, and effectively ruled that the right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples, through both the Due Process Clause (“..nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”) and Equal Protection Clause (“or shall any State […] deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws”) of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States’ Constitution. Basically, it argued that our founding fathers gave us the right to marry whoever the F we want.
“I can finally relax knowing that Ohio can never erase our marriage from John’s death certificate, and my husband can now truly rest in peace,” wrote Obergefell. “Today is a momentous day in our history. It’s a day when the Supreme Court of the United States lived up to the words inscribed above the front entrance of the courthouse: Equal Justice Under Law.”
Temporarily, Obergefell had issues with the Baker v. Nelson case, which claimed that denying same-sex marriage licenses to a couple “does not offend” the Constitution. This would be overturned on June 26th, 2015, which would establish same-sex marriage throughout the United States. This ruling was an amazing win for the LGBTQIA+ community, and just in the last year, there’s been some incredible progress made towards equality legislation, both in the states and worldwide.
In January, a New Hampshire law would allow for a third-gender option on driver’s licenses, while in Northern Ireland, same-sex marriage legislation went into full effect. Utah also banned conversion therapy for minors, becoming the 19th state to do so. Other states that currently have pending legislation towards banning conversion therapy are Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania.
“Now more than ever, we must unite against all forms of hate, show compassion for one another, and redouble our commitment to equal justice. We are a diverse community, and we recognize this diversity makes Virginia such a place to live, work, visit, and raise a family,” tweeted Gov. Ralph Northam in honor of #PrideMonth.
In March, Virginia would become the first southern state to ban conversion therapy, additionally creating a law that protects the LGBTQIA+ community from discrimination. Gender identity and sexual orientation are now protected under these anti-discriminatory statutes, so a business or individual can no longer refuse service, credit, employment, or housing to members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Now Virginia can really, proudly say that Virginia is for lovers!
Even with all these recent positive strides towards equality, there are still constant legislative threats to LGBTQIA+ civil rights. In June, the Department of Health and Services rolled back an order which protected transgender individuals from healthcare discrimination. This means that transgender individuals can now legally face discrimination in healthcare and healthcare insurance based solely because they identify as trans.
With every step back, we may take one step forward. Three days after this order, the Supreme Court would rule 6-3 that LGBTQIA+ individuals cannot be discriminated against in the workforce due to the R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Bostock v. Clay landmark cases, which determined that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects individuals from discrimination based on their gender and/or sexual identity.
“We’re going back to the plain meaning of those terms, which is based on biological sex,” says Roger Servino, who is the Director of the Office for Civil Rights at the United States Department of Health and Human Services.
The fight for equality is nowhere near over. With the recent removal of transgender legal rights in healthcare, the LGBTQIA+ community and its allies must further stand united and continue to tell our representatives in Congress that discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated in the court of law, or the court of public opinion. It’s important to recognize and celebrate the progress that’s been made, but there’s still so much work to do in terms of equality legislation. We need to keep fighting, keep advocating, and keep our representatives in check. None of us are truly free until everyone is free.