Kennedy Op/Ed: Our unfinished march toward equality for LGBT Americans
Today, for the first time in our nation’s history, all Americans can marry the person they love. Regardless of the state you call home, when you and your spouse decide you want to spend the rest of your life together, your country can no longer stand in the way.
In a nation where just over a decade ago gay marriage was banned in every single state, that is amazing progress. An achievement to be celebrated, cherished and commemorated but also one that serves as a stark reminder of work still unfinished; of the challenges that remain until every LGBT American is guaranteed the same rights and protections as all other Americans.
As the gates to marriage opened and photos of loving newlyweds graced the front pages of almost every newspaper in America, few stories were written about what happens to those couples after their honeymoons. That if their employers were to stumble across their wedding photos on social media or even on one of those front pages, they would be lawfully allowed to fire them both on their first days back at work.
Or when they looked to buy their first home, the realtor or building manager could reject them when they detail their relationship on the application.
Or that they could even be turned away from a movie theater on a Friday night because they held hands as they walked in the door.
It is these simple, oftentimes overlooked, moments in life that define the American experience. They are everyday interactions that so many of us take for granted; that no one should be denied.
With that in mind, we introduced the Equality Act in Congress last month to ensure our neighbors, colleagues and loved ones can experience not just legal equality, but lived equality. It would add sexual orientation and gender identity to protected classes under the Civil Rights Act and update other existing protections under the law.
The Equality Act, which is co-sponsored by more than 200 of our colleagues in Congress, would fill in the gaps of our nation’s patchwork system of protections, which have left the LGBT community facing fear and uncertainty in employment, housing, education, credit, public accommodations and much more. It would protect anyone from ever being told if you want to keep your job or apply for credit, you should move to a state where your love - or your identity — is allowed and accepted.
Even in Massachusetts, where this country’s march to marriage equality began, continued failure to extend public accommodations protections has kept open the door to harassment and discrimination for transgender individuals. While transgender employees at a coffee shop are safe from unfair termination due to workplace protections, they can still be denied service at that same shop when they’re no longer in uniform.
It is the injustice of that fear and uncertainty that inspired this legislation. And today the renewed urgency to end the enduring threat of judgement and rejection will lead to its passage.
It will ensure public accommodation protections are in place so that our friends can walk into a gas station without being denied service because of their gender identity. It will extend workplace safeguards so that showing your new wedding band to your colleagues will never cost you your job. And it will prove that in this country we choose love over hate, equality over prejudice and progress over stagnation.
U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., represents Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District. U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy, D-Mass., III represents Massachusetts’ 4th Congressional District