Just weeks ago, I sat next to Jim Obergefell as he heard the news that the fight that he and dozens of loving and committed couples led so bravely had resulted in nationwide marriage equality. We were joined by people from big cities and small towns who stood outside the Court, holding flags and signs, waiting for news. And we were also joined by millions of Americans — same-sex couples, LGBT people, allies and friends, people who recognized that equality is paramount and that justice is not a special right, it’s woven into the fabric of this country.
History was made that day. And as we celebrated, we took stock and recognized not just how far we’ve come, but how much farther we still have to go. LGBT people were once banned from serving our government and our country, barred from jobs and industries, told by those we loved most that if we were ourselves, we would never be accepted. Because of thousands of advocates who fought tooth and nail to be treated with dignity and respect just as they were, we now are more free than ever before.
But make no mistake — we are not equal. Not yet. Not when we are at risk of losing our jobs because we marry or transition, or because we are out. Not when we are at risk of being denied housing, kicked out of our apartments, or treated with outright hostility because our landlord sees us holding hands with the person we love. Not when LGBT young people are at risk of being harmed by fellow students or teachers and have nowhere to turn for help. Not when we can be denied service at a restaurant or a grocery store because of who we are. Not when, even with marriage in all 50 states, LGBT people are still at risk of being fired and removed from their homes because they posted their wedding photos on Facebook.
The problems come up over and over again in the 31 states that don’t have clear, fully-inclusive LGBT non-discrimination laws. There’s the teacher who was fired after her principal found out she was planning to have a child with her partner. There’s the lesbian couple asked to leave a park while shooting maternity photos. And the transgender woman shamefully denied housing at a shelter. Despite the incredible progress on issues from marriage to military service, these stories are far too common.
Photo right: Jami Contreras, her wife Krista, and their nine-month-old daughter Bay attend the Equality Act news conference
Today, we saw the introduction of the Equality Act, a comprehensive federal non-discrimination bill that will ensure that LGBT Americans have explicit, permanent protections in employment, housing, public accommodations, education, federal funding, and credit. With support from both sides of the political aisle and from corporate leaders nationwide, today’s introduction is a giant step forward in the long battle for full, federal equality, to be seen and heard and valued as Americans, full stop.
The idea behind this bill is simple: all of us deserve a fair chance to earn a living and provide for our families. People should be hired, fired and promoted based on their performance, not their sexual orientation or gender identity. People should be able to feel safe and live free from fear at home, at school, at a park or in a grocery store.
This fight for full federal equality will be our biggest yet. But we’ve seen the monumental progress we can accomplish together. And we know that for those couples who stood at the Supreme Court a month ago, for LGBT youth who are terrified someone will discover their secret, for transgender Americans who served in their country’s military but are still subject to discrimination at home — this fight is imperative. This fight means that our marriages matter. It means that our jobs, our hopes and dreams, our families and communities matter.
The only solution is full federal equality, and non-discrimination protections that will protect us and our families. That is our battle, and this is our opportunity. For justice and equality, for safety and security. For a better future, for all of us.