In the simplest and most basic terms, gay rights are human rights. Unbelievably, the basic human rights of millions of gay men, lesbians, and other sexual minorities are routinely and often legally ignored across the United States. While some progress has been made in some States towards the recognition of gay marriage and other gay and lesbian issues, gay men and women continue to have less than full citizenship in America.
History, however, offers some hope that gay men and lesbians will eventually be recognized as full citizens of the United States and will have the same rights and privileges as any other group. Until that time, gay men and women and the straight men and women who care about fulfilling the American ideal of equality and social justice for all must continue to work. BACKGROUND Discrimination against gay men and lesbians occurs in several ways, including subtle discrimination at a personal level and more obvious discrimination that occurs to gay men and lesbians as a group.
Much of this discrimination is based on religious beliefs that define homosexuality as a sin. However, as the Supreme Court observed in a case regarding the rights of a homosexual couple to engage in consensual sex within their own home, the purpose of a court is “to define the liberty of all, not to mandate its own moral code” (Supreme Court of the United States, 2003). The Supreme Court has also struck down laws which impose unequal legal status on gay men and lesbians (Supreme Court of the United States, 1996).
Despite these rulings, discrimination against gay men and lesbians continues to be a problem in the United States. How Discrimination Occurs Discrimination in Employment Gay men and lesbians do not have the same rights to work as other job applicants or employees. While some States have passed laws that prohibit employers from discriminating against job applicants or employees based on their sexual orientation, there is currently no federal law protecting gay men and lesbians against discrimination.
A bill that would have created such a law, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, was killed by the threat of presidential veto after it passed the House of Representatives in October 2007 (Executive Office of the President, 2007). The lack of any federal law has resulted an assortment of State laws pertaining to the employment of gay men and lesbians.
Discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identification is currently illegal in 13 States (California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington) and the District of Columbia; another 7 States (Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, and Wisconsin) have made it illegal to discriminate against employees and job applicants on the basis of sexual orientation but not on the basis of gender identification.
The remaining 30 States do not provide include sexual orientation as part of their antidiscrimination laws (National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Foundation, 2008, ” Non-discrimination laws map”). Opponents of gay rights argue that employers have the right to choose who will work for their organization. However, Article 23 of the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes that “Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment” (United Nations, 1948, Article 23).
In the United States, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin”. Subsequent federal legislation has made it illegal for employers to discriminate based on age and disability. Yet despite this wider recognition for the rights of these groups, gay and lesbians continue to have no antidiscrimination protection at the federal level. Gay men and lesbians who live in one of the 30 States in which there are no antidiscrimination laws may be fired or denied employment at any time based solely on their sexual orientation.
Discrimination in Marriage Gay men and women do not have the right to marry a partner of their choosing. At the federal level, the Defense of Marriage Act, a law that was passed by Congress in 1996, specifically defined “marriage” as “a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife” and the word “spouse” as referring “only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife” (104th Congress, 1996). Despite this federal law, some States have taken action to allow same-sex couples to enjoy the legal and social benefits of marriage.
Same-sex couples marriages are legal in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Vermont, California, New Jersey, and New Hampshire have created legal unions that provide the same property rights and other legal characteristics of marriage. Maine, Hawaii, the District of Columbia, Oregon and Washington have created legal unions with varying degrees of rights for same-sex couples (National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Foundation, 2008, “Anti-Gay Marriage Measures in the U. S. “). On November 4, 2008, California voters chose to approve Proposition 8 and to make California the most recent State to outlaw gay marriage (Derysh).
In doing so, Californians nullified the California Supreme Court’s ruling of May, 2008, in which the California Supreme Court declared that California’s ban on same-sex marriages was unconstitutional. Marriage is also a basic human right. Article 16 of the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) states, “Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. ” Around the world, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Spain recognize same-sex marriages.
Britain, recognizes same-sex registered partnerships which have rights that are similar to those of married couples for pensions, property, social security, and housing (BBC, 2005). Marriage is an important issue for several reasons. First and foremost, the recognition of same-sex marriages by the Federal government or by the various State governments would represent another step towards the larger issue of social acceptance of gay men and lesbians in the United States. This would include the acknowledgement that a same-sex couple is just as legitimate, just as committed to one another, and just as valuable as a heterosexual couple.
Marriage also carries with it several important legal implications, including the availability of healthcare for spouses, property rights, inheritance rights, and the right to make medical decisions on behalf of a loved one. Discrimination in military service In 2004, it was estimated that 36,000 gay men and lesbians were serving in active military duty in one of the armed services, with an additional 29,000 serving in the National Guard and the military reserves, representing an estimated total of 2.
5 percent of all military personnel who were serving at that time (Gates, 2004). Due to the military’s policy on homosexual conduct and the need for military personnel to protect their privacy, the actual number of gay men and lesbians in the military may be even higher. Under the current policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, these brave members of the United States military are not allowed to serve if they are exposed as or discovered to be homosexual. Official military policy is to discharge any person who is a known homosexual.
Consequently, while gay men and lesbians have the right to die for their country, they do not have the right to be open and honest about their sexuality or their relationships. Conclusion Gay rights are often compared to the civil rights movements for other minorities. If this is the case, then the United States may eventually enact legislation that will recognize the right of gay men and lesbians to hold any job for which they are qualified, to marry whomever they choose, to serve in the military, and to enjoy the other basic human rights that other Americans take for granted.
In fact, some progress has already been made towards this goal. Along with this progress, however, has come setbacks, including the recent vote on Proposition 8 in California. If the Civil Rights movement is a model, then advocates for gay rights should expect such setbacks. Over 40 years passed between the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the election of America’s first black president. It is tragically ironic, however, that a country that was founded on religious freedom should pass laws that impose the religious views of some on the lives of others.
It is also ironic that State and federal governments would choose to deny anyone the right of a couple to formalize their commitment to one another through marriage at a time when American politicians and conservative social commentators bemoan the demise of the family. Finally, it is simply foolish to reject qualified military personnel who are willing to risk their lives in war at a time when American troops are serving multiple tours of duty in Iraq.
If Americans truly believe in the importance of basic human rights, then America should set the example by extending those rights to its gay and lesbian citizens. References 104th Congress. (1996). Defense of Marriage Act. Retrieved November 16, 2008, from http://thomas. loc. gov/cgi-bin/query/D? c104:1:. /temp/~c104ZvQCuR:: BBC (2005). Gay marriage around the globe. Retrieved November 16, 2008, from http://news. bbc. co. uk/2/hi/americas/4081999. stm Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII. Retrieved November 16, 2008, from http://www. eeoc.
gov/policy/vii. html Derysh, I. (2008). Lessons unlearned. Examiner (November 15, 2008). Retrieved November 16, 2008, from http://www. examiner. com/x-558-Politics-Examiner~y2008m11d15-Lessons-Unlearned Executive Office of the President (2007). Statement of Administration Policy. H. R. 3685 – The Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Retrieved November 16, 2008, from http://www. whitehouse. gov/omb/legislative/sap/110-1/hr3685sap-r. pdf Gates, G. (2004). Gay Men and Lesbians in the U. S. Military: Estimates from Census 2000. The Urban Institute.
Retrieved November 16, 2008, from http://www. urban. org/UploadedPDF/411069_GayLesbianMilitary. pdf National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Foundation (2008). Adoption Laws in the U. S. Retrieved November 16, 2008, from http://www. thetaskforce. org/downloads/reports/issue_maps/adoption_laws_11_08. pdf National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Foundation (2008). Anti-gay Marriage Measures in the U. S. Retrieved November 16, 2008, from http://www. thetaskforce. org/downloads/reports/issue_maps/GayMarriage_11_04_08_CA_AZ_FL. pdf National Gay and Lesbian