On Feb. 24, 2004, then-President George W. Bush announced that he supported a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, declaring it was the only way to protect the status of marriage between man and woman, which he called “the most fundamental institution of civilization.”
“The voice of the people must be heard,” Bush said in a brief White House speech that then-Sen. John F. Kerry called an attempt to find “a wedge issue to divide the American people.” The prospects for the constitutional amendment passing were by no means clear because, like now, it was introduced at a time when many Washington lawmakers, along with their state counterparts, had to run for re-election.
Well, close to 14 years later, LGBT issues are being used as a wedge issue yet again, but this time for good instead of evil. Later this month, Democrats in Congress, despite facing a conservative majority that’s been generally hostile toward the issue, are expected to reintroduce the Equality Act.
The Equality Act would amend existing civil-rights laws to add protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in workplaces, housing and public spaces. The bill would clarify that transgender students can use single-sex facilities in schools in accordance with their gender identity.
It’s called a “wedge issue” because Democrats are introducing the bill knowing that it has zero chance of passing, but progressives hope inaction by Republicans will illustrate a chasm between the major political parties as we approach the 2018 midterm election — and, as a result, turn several states blue again. This is an opportunity for all Americans to find out exactly where their representative falls on the issue of full equality.
The last time this bill was introduced was 2015 and it had some support from Republicans but ultimately dwindled and failed — and that was during an Obama administration. The argument now is that opponents of the bill will pay a political price next year.
We are at a point in history, especially after Trump became president, that an elected leader who wants to use his or her position to discriminate has to explain why. Recent polls around this issue show that 69 percent of voters support the Equality Act, and that includes 55 percent of people who voted for Trump. Also, when it was introduced previously, the Equality Act always garnered huge support from corporations that have been negatively impacted by the patch-quilt and piecemeal way in which LGBT individuals have won equality. A statement from Apple said: “At Apple we believe in equal treatment for everyone, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, how they worship or who they love. We fully support the expansion of legal protections as a matter of basic human dignity.”
The introduction of the Equality Act is also symbolically important. President Trump has said several times that he’s friendly to LGBT issues. But his words and actions and those of his administration are silently eviscerating progress towards full equality. As a master of spin and “alternative facts,” Trump says he’s friendly to the LGBT community but then practically on day one of his administration, all mention of “LGBT” is erased from the White House website, Trump reversed Obama’s guidelines protecting transgender kids in schools, revoked Obama’s executive order protecting LGBT employees of federal contractors from discrimination, hired and appointed people with staunchly anti-LGBT views and, in 2020, the census won’t count us, as if we don’t exist. But truly, there’s nothing to see here!
Reintroducing this bill has the effect of saying to politicians that we are still here and that we aren’t going anywhere. What’s more, the vast majority of U.S. citizens is behind us and supports our right to be counted as full citizens, with full equality. While it may not always feel like it, the political landscape has shifted on its axis in a little over a decade and we are on top.