Last week marked the one year anniversary since the Supreme Court decisions on same-sex marriages were made from the Edie Windsor case. In just on year so much has already happened and yet, there is much more to come! Take a listen to my discussion on America Weekend for Read more…
The fight for marriage equality has entered into a new phase garnering a different perspective with respect to legal strategy. Pennsylvania joined the ranks (becoming the 19th state) on May 20 when U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III of the Middle District of Pennsylvania declared that Pennsylvania’s version of the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional, ruling in favor of the plaintiffs in Whitewood v. Wolf, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 68937 (May 20, 2014). The elation was palpable in Philadelphia, as hundreds of LGBT individuals and their allies gathered on the steps of City Hall to celebrate no longer being second-class citizens in Pennsylvania, alongside the American Civil Liberties Union, the Whitewood legal team of Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller and several of the plaintiffs.
Of the same-sex marriage rulings that occurred in other states so far this year—Utah, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, Michigan, Oregon, Arkansas and Idaho—seven (except for Oregon) had their rulings stayed pending appeal, and thus those cases have been kicked up to their respective circuit courts. Unlike most other marriage equality cases, Pennsylvania’s decision was not appealed.
The fight for marriage equality in Pennsylvania may finally be coming to an end. There are multiple same-sex marriage cases that have been filed in Pennsylvania, but the American Civil Liberties Union and Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller’s Whitewood v. Wolf, No. 13-1861-JEJ, filed a motion for summary judgment April 21 that was not contested. The case was brought on behalf of 21 plaintiffs (10 couples and one child) alleging that Pennsylvania’s state Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and argues that the law substantially effects the fundamental right to marry and discriminates based on sex and sexual orientation. Originally set to be heard in June, we could have a ruling from U.S. District Judge John E. Jones of the Middle District of Pennsylvania as early as today.
The legal landscape for LGBT people today is quickly changing and hard to predict, but the trend over the last few years has been overwhelmingly positive—from the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning the federal Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 being ruled unconstitutional, to the growing legion of states that have come to recognize same-sex marriage either by legislation or litigation. However, the work is far from done and marriage equality is only one front of the war—and potentially not even the most important.
What is truly at the center of the LGBT human-rights movement is the effort to advance state and federal legislation protecting people from workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The effort has crystallized around the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which has been introduced in every session of Congress since 1994 except one. If, after 20 years of congressional limbo, it’s signed into law, ENDA would bar employers from firing or not hiring someone because of their “actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Will 2014 be the year when opponents of progress will finally stand alone on the wrong side of history? The forecast looks cloudy, at best. But as I look back at 2013—the battles we’ve won and the battles we’ve lost—I see tremendous potential for advances in LGBT equality in the New Year.
It is always difficult to quantify progress in struggles for increased basic human rights. Looking at 2013 cumulatively, though, there is no doubt that the United States is picking up momentum and moving toward LGBT equality faster than ever.