• July 13th, 2024
  • Saturday, 12:23:47 AM

Senate Same-Sex Marriage Vote Still a Step On Long Road Toward Full Justice


John L. Micek


It’s difficult to overstate the importance of last week’s U.S. Senate vote codifying protections for same-sex and interracial marriage as both a triumph of bipartisanship and fundamental decency.


It’s also difficult to overstate, sadly, how much further we have to go to ensure full equality for LGBTQ Americans.

First, the good news.


On Nov. 29, 61 lawmakers in the 100-member chamber, including 12 Republicans, voted to approve the bill, which came in response to fears that a U.S. Supreme Court, perfectly content to topple abortion rights, might next come for marriage equality as well, the Capital-Star’s Washington Bureau reported.


As the Washington Post reported last week, the vote was the product of months of work by U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., who began building support for the proposal in July, after the House voted 267-157 in July to approve the original bill, with the support of 47 Republicans.


“We could do this,” Baldwin told several Republican colleagues, she recalled to the Post, setting into motion the talks that led to the Nov. 29  historic vote. The bill must still go back to the U.S. House which, for now, remains in Democratic hands.


The moral arc of the universe, as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King famously remarked, is long, but always bends toward justice.


It was just a decade ago, in 2012, that former President Barack Obama historically announced that he’d shifted his position to support same-sex marriage. And seven years have elapsed since a very different high court granted same-sex marriage rights in the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges ruling.


That is a pretty significant bending toward justice. But as the deadly rampage at Colorado’s Club Q last month vividly reminds us, the ongoing journey towards full justice for millions of our fellow citizens remains a long one.


It’s also difficult to overstate, sadly, how much further we have to go to ensure full equality for LGBTQ Americans.


As long as sitting members of Congress can hurl the most vile of slurs against LGBTQ Americans, as long as a former president of United States can sit down to dinner with an antisemite and his white supremacist sidekick and still not face total ostracization by his own party, there will remain work to do.


The bill the Senate passed also is far from perfect, as the editorial board of the York Dispatch noted this week, because it requires the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages where they are legal. Thirty-five states, including Pennsylvania, still have same-sex marriage bans on their books. That exposes LGBTQ citizens to harm if the high court ever moves toward tossing Obergefell, the board observed, as it called for broader nondiscrimination protections.


That possibility is all the more jarring given how out of step the court appears to be with the majority of Americans. Support for same-sex marriage rights remains widespread – reaching a historic high of 71 percent in June, according to Gallup.


But that still means that 3 in 10 Americans remain opposed. Some of that may be on the basis of concerns about religious liberty. There also is no denying that too much of it is based on nothing more than hate — hate that can turn deadly, and be legitimized at the highest levels of power.


The truth is in the data.


As of last month, at least 32 transgender and gender nonconforming people had lost their lives in 2022, according to the Human Rights Campaign.


In 2020, the FBI recorded 1,051 victims of hate who were targeted because of their sexual orientation (13.5 percent of all hate crimes reported that year) and 236 people who were targeted because of their gender identity (3 percent of all hate crimes reported that year), according to GLAAD data.


The instance of suicidal ideation among LGBTQ youth remains alarmingly high, with nearly half saying they seriously considered suicide in the past year, NPR reported last month, citing data compiled by the Trevor Project.


That’s just one reason why we can never speak too loudly about the victories among those tragedies.


Openly LGBTQ Americans are rightfully taking their place as elected leaders, such as Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey, who is the first woman, and first openly gay person, to serve as the Bay State’s first chief executive. In Pennsylvania, lawmakers such as Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Philadelphia, and Jessica Benham, D-Allegheny, are among the out lawmakers serving in the General Assembly.


LGBTQ Americans are becoming ever-more visible on television and in film. And the Colorado shooting has reinforced the urgency of telling LGBTQ-centered stories, Will Graham, the show-runner for A League of Our Own, which streams on Amazon Prime, told Forbes.


“I think for so many of us, queer spaces are just an integral part of how we found ourselves and found our community and really understood who we were. We need those safe spaces and the idea that they are being targeted is heartbreaking,” Graham said. “My heart goes out to those people who were there and the community around that space. We’re seeing very clearly that things don’t always move forward and that our lives and our stories are being politicized more than they were a few years ago and that has consequences like these.”


So while it is imperfect, let’s talk about and celebrate this historic vote. Government does much that is blundering, blind and borderline incompetent. But in those instances where it moves to protect the health, welfare, and security of millions of our fellow citizens, and to ensure the same equality we all enjoy, those are moments to be lifted up and noted.


It takes on an added importance when families and friends are mourning the loss of their loved ones, not just in Colorado, but across the country. It becomes a duty when a young person is considering taking their own life because they fear they will be shunned instead of embraced and celebrated.


We can never say often enough that we love them, that we hold them close, and that we will vow to keep them safe. Not just in times of tragedy. But every day. And always.


(If you are considering suicide, or know someone who is, there always is help. Call the national Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.)   


John L. Micek is the editor-in-chief of Pennsylvania Capital-Star.


This commentary originally appeared in the Pennsylvania Capital-Star.


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