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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Will Next Year Top 2013?

Clearly significant progress was made in 2013 for many in the LGBT communities.  There were some surprises in the mix that added more shine to an already glossy year.  Coming out revelations, the first openly gay candidate elected to the U.S. Senate, increased popular support for marriage equality, and even a Super Bowl trophy for our beloved Baltimore Ravens were part of this intriguing year.
Immediately after midnight on New Year’s Eve, the tone for the rest of 2013 was already set.  Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, already a proven advocate and supporter for LGBT issues, officiated the first legal same-sex marriage ceremony in Baltimore and was among the first in the state where dozens celebrated their nuptials on that glorious day.

Following that historic occasion, hundreds of other couples in Maryland tied the knot throughout the year, and marriage equality, unfathomable just three years ago, became almost routine.  During Pride, the Mayor officiated the first mass same-sex weddings to loud cheers by hundreds of family members, friends and onlookers.  This joy of marriage equality spread across the country as the year closed with 18 states and D.C. legalizing same-sex marriages.

We also celebrated the announced retirement of state delegate Emmett C. Burns, Jr. and the political ruination of fellow homophobe delegate Donald H. Dwyer, Jr. who did little during their terms other than attempt to block progress on LGBT rights.
While delivering the State of the Union Address in January, President Obama became the first president in U.S. history who called for equal rights for gays.  That indicated we had clearly turned the corner in the debate over LGBT rights.  This was followed by a parade of elected and other officials across the country publicly favoring marriage equality.

The biggest news on the marriage front was the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in June that struck down Section 3 of DOMA.  By doing so the Court paved the way for the federal government to recognize legally wed same-sex couples, which would, among a plethora of rights and benefits, entitle couples to file taxes jointly and receive such federal benefits as Social Security and veterans pensions.
The U.S. Senate made history with its bipartisan vote on a trans-inclusive ENDA—the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act.  President Obama already said he would immediately sign the bill into law if the House approves it.

Of course, not everything was so rosy.  By a vote of 6-5, the Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee struck down SB 449—a measure that would have provided protections in employment, housing and public accommodations on the basis of gender identity or expression—thus killing the bill for the 2013 legislative session.

All things considered and recognizing there is a ton of work to do in the way of HIV/AIDS prevention, LGBT homelessness, transgender non-discrimination at the state level, bullying, hate crimes and other issues, this was a very good year—particularly for gays and lesbians. 
But will 2014 offer reasons for jubilation?  Sadly, no.

We all like to view any New Year through the lens of unfiltered optimism.  I sure do.  But there is that pesky thing called reality that manages to be the skunk at the picnic.  Some years are better than others, but there is little cause for unbridled optimism in 2014.
On the positive side, we will see several new states join in the marriage equality parade.  New Mexico, Oregon even Pennsylvania and Ohio could legalize same-sex marriage through various means.  Certainly, the Supreme Court ruling has provided clarity and precedence for future discrimination cases brought before lower courts.  This could be a major story.

On the other side of the ledger ENDA most assuredly will not be brought up during 2014, not with elections taking place in November and Republican incumbents fear of being “primaried” for not being more like the Tea Party voters. Still kowtowing to that faction, Speaker John Boehner said he will not allow a vote (even though head counters say it would pass) because there is “no basis or need” for federal employment nondiscrimination protections.
At the state level, transgender non-discrimination legislation is not likely either given that it’s an election year.  This looks like it would have to wait until 2015 when the chances for passage would seem brighter.  With a shift in the make-up of the Judicial Proceedings Committee by Senate President Miller or one of the members changing his/her mind, the bill could get through and pass in both chambers.  A targeted strategy directed towards the JPR and/or Miller is really what’s needed to make the bill a law.  But again, being an election year complicates matters.

The upcoming year should not be totally dismal for LGBT folks because so much could happen either way.  Nonetheless, progress on key issues will be stalled.  There were surprises in 2013 and we could see some more—good or bad—this time around.
One thing I believe will occur is that there will be interesting developments in at least one major LGBT organization in 2014.  Stay tuned, and have a Happy New Year.

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