Is marriage only a union between one man and one woman?
This may become the most debated question in 2013, since last month, the U.S. Supreme Court made the historic decision to tackle the issue during its upcoming session in March.
What will be in question is the constitutionality of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage as the “union between one man and one woman.” This has become one of the most controversial issues in the country, intensifying the positions of various conservative and religious groups, which oppose any other type of union.
But for the gay community, legal recognition of marriage is mainly a civil rights issue— because they understand that as citizens, they have the same right to legal protections as all Americans.
It is precisely the perception that this is an issue of “equality” what led President Barack Obama to publicly declare in 2012 that he supports same-sex couples being able to marry. And the president’s position is gaining supporters nationwide: 53% of Americans agree that same-sex marriages should be legalized, according to a poll published last month by USA Today.
The clearest example of the change in mentality among Americans in favor of gay marriage was the result of the November elections, in which voters in three states supported these unions. Washington, Maine and Maryland became the first states in the nation to approve gay marriage through referendums. They join New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, Iowa and the District of Columbia, where these unions are already legal.
Although without a doubt, the right to marry has become the main objective of the gay community in its search for acceptance and equal treatment, this group faces other big social issues. A majority of these involve discriminatory practices and policies, and will also be part of the community’s struggle in 2013.
These are some of the pending issues:
Put a stop to hate crimes: Although a federal law known as the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was passed in 2012, the reality is that there are still numerous violent crimes based on sexual orientation, or based on perpetrators perceiving that the victims look different. The gay community will continue the struggle in 2013 for legislation at the state level against hate crimes, in order to reinforce federal laws.
Put an end to bullying in schools: Gay teenagers, in addition to confronting the tough reality of having to “come out of the closet” to family and friends, are often victims of discrimination and abuse in school. This situation has reached such unacceptable levels, that in the past three years, there has been an increase in suicide cases because of the phenomenon known as “bullying.” Given this sad reality, activist groups have created campaigns like “It Gets Better,” which involved celebrities like Lady Gaga, to call on the authorities to approve specific laws that punish the use of force and psychological torture to intimidate others because of their appearance or sexual orientation. They are also asking to expand prevention and psychological counseling programs in schools, so that those affected can seek help instead of making the drastic decision to take their own lives.
Put an end to discriminatory policies, especially in the workplace: Activists are promoting federal and state laws that prohibit the denial of employment benefits to workers and their partners. They are also encouraging acceptance of all people in the workplace. If last year, the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law that prevented gay people who revealed their sexual orientation from being part of the armed forces was repealed, it is reasonable to think that equality in employment rights is achievable.
Guarantee the right to adopt and protect families with gay parents: Although the number of gay couples, married or not, who adopt children continues to increase nationwide, there are still no laws that protect these families against discrimination. This is more evident in children’s schools, where many fathers and mothers are not treated with respect and some rules do not allow them to fully participate in their children’s education. But perhaps some of the biggest challenges in the next year will be advocating for the repeal in many states of laws that do not allow gay people to adopt children, and transforming perceptions about families.
Improve laws that guarantee the right to health care: The discrimination that many gay people suffer when seeking health care has prevented some of them from going to hospitals and doctors, which has harmful effects on their health. Activist organizations will continue pressing for laws that forbid discrimination against gay patients. They say that even in 2013, many patients are treated disrespectfully only because of their sexual orientation. Some are even denied service because of the mistaken perception that they are potential carriers of HIV, just for being part of the LGBT community.