The quiet power of the American system of government is its capacity to create significant, even historic, legal changes that give hope to millions. Under our Constitution, you don’t need a bloody revolt to create a better future; you don’t need a revolution to revolutionize people’s lives. In fact, all that is required is for people of good faith to come together, as representatives in government, to debate, to consider new realities present throughout American life, and finally to break from the past and choose a more hopeful path instead.
That same key moment is long overdue for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. After all, LGBT people still lack fundamental, enduring and explicit federal legal protections in this country.
Don’t be confused by the progress that we have made — and it is massive progress. While gay and lesbian couples may now have the right to marry in 35 states and counting, in many of those states same couples risk being fired, evicted, or denied service at a store simply because of who they are or who they love. There are no federal protections to safeguard LGBT Americans in public places. There are no consistent, explicit federal laws to protect LGBT Americans at work or in schools. Despite years of progress, LGBT people and their families are still deeply unequal under the law.
That’s why, next year, the nation’s leading advocates for equality both inside and outside of Congress — Democrats and Republicans alike — will introduce and fight for a truly essential piece of legislation. For the first time in decades, Congress will consider a wide-ranging federal LGBT nondiscrimination protections bill.
A new report by the Human Rights Campaign explains why, at this moment in history, the LGBT community has an opportunity to achieve these fundamental building blocks of equality. It is time that sexual orientation and gender identity enjoy similar treatment as religion, national origin, and race do in federal law — guaranteeing nondiscrimination protections in employment, in housing, in public accommodations, education, federal funding, and other categories.
There’s nothing unusual about guaranteeing these sorts of protections. A significant number of states already have laws that do so — laws passed with bipartisan votes in many instances. At the federal level, Congress has passed legislation protecting LGBT people in the past, also with both parties standing together to do the right thing.
As the next session of Congress begins, and as this critical legislation is introduced, there’s no good reason why fair-minded people on both sides of the aisle cannot come together to get this essential legislation passed. After all, our very system of government is built to empower the people of this country to achieve legal equality as a matter of basic justice. For the LGBT community, the time has come in this country for true federal equality, nothing more, nothing less. Together, we will fight for that goal, harder than we have ever fought before. And together, at long last, we will win.
CHAD GRIFFIN is the president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights organization.