As a nation, we have all witnessed a historic tragedy in Orlando, the largest mass shooting in American history. In the midst of a month in which we celebrate the progress that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans have made, this was a horrific attack on the freedoms we all hold dear.
We can never forget that the LGBT community was targeted by this act of terror. We also need to stand united as a country in the fight against the hate, intolerance and discrimination that so many continue to face.
While the tragedy in Orlando is a reminder of how far we have to go as a country, we must also take the opportunity to recognize and celebrate just how far we have come. The month of June, and June 26 in particular, holds special significance to our ongoing struggle to realize the promise of full equality for LGBT Americans.
Today, we commemorate the anniversary of three monumental victories for equality and justice — overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, invalidating the criminalization of same-sex relationships, and upholding marriage equality for all loving couples.
Each of these milestones helped move our country toward a more perfect union. And each was achieved through a U.S. Supreme Court decision handed down on June 26.
That’s why we have sponsored legislation in Congress designating today as LGBT Equality Day, so each year our nation can reflect on the incredible progress we have made — and to honor the lives and contributions of those who fought and sacrificed to make that progress possible. It seems unimaginable today, but just 13 years ago, more than a dozen states in America still criminalized the private conduct of loving, committed LGBT couples. Just three years ago, the federal government was still forced to deny more than a thousand rights, benefits, and protections to legally married same-sex couples and their children. And one year ago, more than 30 percent of Americans lived in states that still refused to issue marriage licenses to LGBT couples.
But in rulings on the 26th of June in 2003, 2013, and 2015, our nation’s highest court put an end to this discrimination and moved America toward a country that is more equal, not less.
Our country has made incredible progress. We saw the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell." We watched President Obama sign inclusive hate-crimes protections into law. We witnessed the Senate confirm an openly gay man as secretary of the Army. And last month, we saw the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice issue landmark guidance helping to ensure transgender students are afforded equal opportunity in our schools.
Pausing to observe LGBT Equality Day can provide an important opportunity to reflect on just how far we’ve come. But even as we celebrate these triumphs, we cannot forget how far we have to go, when the LGBT community continues to face hate, violence, and harmful, discriminatory policies.
In North Carolina and Mississippi, for example, there have been efforts to legalize and institutionalize discrimination against the LGBT community at work, in schools, and throughout their communities. And additional state legislatures are considering similar measures. At the federal level, some are even working on dangerous legislation that would turn our back on the ideal that all Americans are created equal under the law and everyone deserves the freedom to live their lives free of discrimination.
These shameful attacks are not only wrong, they pose real danger to the safety and well-being of LGBT Americans. That’s why LGBT Equality Day must be about more than a celebration. We can never mistake our progress for victory.
Today, in a majority of states, LGBT Americans do not have the freedom of full equality. It is simply wrong that an LGBT couple could be married in the morning and risk being fired from their jobs or evicted from their apartment in the afternoon. That is why in Congress, we will continue to press leaders for a vote on the Equality Act, a comprehensive nondiscrimination bill to ensure LGBT Americans are treated fairly in all aspects of their life, including in employment, housing, credit, education, and public accommodations.
While our nation and the LGBT community continue to heal after the horror in Orlando, there is clearly more work to be done – and we remain steadfast in our belief that America is ready to take the next step forward. So today, on June 26, we invite all Americans to stand with us on the right side of history.
Together we can continue to break down barriers and work to fulfill the uniquely American promise of liberty and justice for all.
TAMMY BALDWIN is a Democratic U.S. senator representing Wisconsin. SUZAN DELBENE is a Democratic U.S. congresswoman representing Washington State's First Congressional District.