2012 is sure to be remembered as a pivotal year for the LGBT civil rights movement, and 2013 is guaranteed to be even more exciting as the Supreme Court gears up to hear two landmark cases bound to turn the traditional definition of marriage on its head.
To be honest, government has no business in marriage. Consenting adults should by natural right be free to make their own choices as to whom they love and commit their life to. But, I digress — we’ll be going by their playbook for now.
What I find really positive, actually more so than pro-gay politics, is the growing numbers of Americans embracing fairness for gay people — including 86% of Christians polled who believe that their faith dictates legal equality for LGBT individuals. Through awareness and activism the fibers of our culture are changing. Marriage is so much more than a legal right, and acceptance and inclusion in your community can make a world of difference in the strength and happiness of both your family, and your community.
There is much to celebrate, but this chapter in LGBT liberty has just begun, and there are many more chapters ahead that will face opposition with the turn of every page. I give you here, a sampling of that opposition. While a number of other states may be more commonly known as more, or less, hostile toward gays, these five stood out for me as perfect specimen states of shame for 2012.
1) Virginia is for "Lovers": The Commonwealth has a number of laws regulating lovers, including lewd and lascivious cohabitation, fornication, and crimes against nature — which is still maintained as a class 6 felony despite SCOTUS’ Lawrence v. Texas ruling. Indeed, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli gives law enforcement a green light to arrest gays under Virginia's statute, stating he believes it's appropriate to formulate public policy on the premise that homosexuals engage in behavior that is intrinsically wrong and offensive to natural law. As well, Cuccinelli advised Virginia universities to remove LGBT-specific provisions from their non-discrimination policies. Cuccinelli is running for Governor next term.
Virginia operates under Dillon’s Rule, which holds that municipalities may not offer more protections that the Commonwealth has decided to extend. This is unfortunate for LGBT constituents since same-sex relations of any kind are banned constitutionally and legislatively in Virginia, and there are virtually no discrimination or hate crime protections extended to LGBT individuals under the penal code. Even though the vigilance of Equality Virginia and some municipalities have made headway enacting equal rights measures at local levels, Dillon’s Rule greatly hinders their efforts.
2) Tennessee: Home of the Grand Ole Opry, Elvis, Jack Daniels, Beale Street blues, and the worst state legislature in America. Soon after stepping into office in 2011, Governor Bill Haslam signed an anti-gay bill prohibiting local non-discrimination statutes, thus overturning the Nashville ordinance because the state statute neglects to include protections for gender identity and sexual orientation. Ever since voters passed a constitutional ban on same sex marriage in 2006, the legislature began ramping up their anti-gay agenda, merrily focusing on legislation such as "Don’t Say Gay" (in the midst of two gay teens committing suicide), or changes to Tennessee's anti-bullying law to allow students to speak against gays for…religious reasons, or this gem — the transphobic bathroom bill.
If that's not enough to keep LGBT families on edge, the Tennessee Democrat Party, after reigning for the past 147 years, now has so few seats in the General Assembly that they're basically irrelevant. Party chairman Chip Forrester, after overseeing the dismantling of his party, announced his exit — 12 days before the election. In contrast, nine county GOP chapters condemned Governor Haslam for hiring gays, Democrats, and Muslims. Community acceptance ain't no duck walk either; hate crime, bigotry, and discrimination set the stage. The coming year could leave many singing the blues.
3) Michigan: Not only is Michigan the only state in which surrogacy is completely illegal, it is one of few states that explicitly prohibit adoption by same-sex couples. A lesbian couple, who are raising three special needs children, is suing for the state's adoption ban and has expanded their case to include challenging the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and civil unions passed by voters in 2004. In another case, four same-sex couples are suing the governor and state for legislation prohibiting public employers from extending benefits to domestic partners.
Hate crime seems all more troublesome than norm in Michigan, especially at the hands of their former Attorney General, who stands accused of stalking and defaming a gay former student government leader at the University of Michigan. The FBI says hate crimes are down nationally, but up in Michgan and Alternate Luxury Travel by Bruvian found Detroit to be the most dangerous U.S. city for gays.
Brrr. Snow isn’t the only thing cold in Michigan.
4) M-i-s-s-i-s-s-i-p-p-i: Not all too surprising, Mississippi remains one of the most socially backwards states in the country when it comes to gay marriage: only 13% of voters think it should be legal. Even among Democrats there's only 19% support for it. Jackson, the state’s capital and most populous city, scores a whopping 8 out of 100 in the 2012 Human Rights Campaign's Municipal Equality Index. It's tough for the few courageous souls who do venture to take a stand, when they are denied freedom to even exercise the First Amendment. You're not likely to find a warm welcoming rainbow if you come out of the closet in this neck of the woods, nor will you find legal protection of your liberties. And don't look for changes to come any time soon in Mississippi. If Nate Silver is right, it'll be at least another decade.
5) California: November's election was a watershed moment for the gay marriage movement. Voters in three states voted to legalize it, and a fourth state voted against a proposed ban. Cue California. California? Oh yes that's right, voters in California — the poster child for progressivism — chose to ban same-sex marriage in 2008 via Proposition 8. The battle for same-sex marriage in the state has been an on again, off again affair ever since San Francisco first allowed same sex unions just before Valentine's Day, 2004. However, blame doesn't all fall on voters and legislators. The courts have had their hand in it too, as in blocking the law that bans therapy aimed at turning gay minors straight.
California claims it leads the nation in gay rights, and that may have been true at one time, but the Golden State has been left behind in recent years in spite of its abundance of protective laws already in existence. Perhaps this goes to show that you can only legislate so much, or maybe too much, and that you can't simply legislate away how a state’s population feels about homosexuality. California's attorney general did report a slight decline in hate crimes in 2011 which is a good sign, but California's rate of hate crime and violent crime in general still just pars average among the states. It may be time for Cali LGBT Americans to consider ending their love-hate relationship and move away to friendlier pastures.