Saturday, March 21, 2015

196.1 - Good News: progress on LGBT rights

Good News: progress on LGBT rights

Well, let's start with some Good News.

First up, the Obama administration has filed a brief expressing its view on the case before the Supreme Court on same-sex marriage. The brief urges the Court to find such bans "incompatible with the Constitution" and says that state bans on same-sex marriage, quoting,
impose concrete harms on same-sex couples and send the inescapable message that same-sex couples and their children are second-class families, unworthy of the recognition and benefits that opposite-sex couples take for granted.
Now it's good that the White House has done that. And hopefully it will have some good impact on the Court's consideration of the case. But even though I have focused on that a lot, there is more to this than marriage.

In line with that, I have to say that while in the whole world of affairs and issues I suppose this next thing is a rather small thing, but still it has some meaning; itstands as an indication of progress that in many ways may be more important that how Barack Obama has "evolved" on marriage.

For the first time in its 114-year history, the Boston St. Patrick's Day parade included gay and lesbian groups. OutVets, a service group for gay and lesbian military veterans, and the rights group Boston Pride were among the roughly 100 organizations taking part in the annual parade through Southie.

It is a dramatic turnaround by the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council, the organizers of the event. Back in 1995 they went all the way to the Supreme Court to successfully defend their right as a supposedly "private" event to exclude anyone they wanted - which, in practice, meant gay- and lesbian-rights groups.

But 20 years is more than a lifetime on this particular topic, and this year the Council voted 5-4 to allow OutVets and Boston Pride to take part, with the Council's commander, Brian Mahoney, saying "Who am I to judge?" when asked about sexual orientation.

Meanwhile, the state of Utah, of all places, the state ranked the second most Republican and fourth most conservative in the country, has passed a compromise bill that bars discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender individuals in employment and housing while carving out accommodations for individuals and institutions with what they claim are conscience-based objections.

The bill has shortcomings: For one practical thing, while it bans discrimination in employment and housing, it does not address public accommodations: stores, restaurants, hotels and motels, entertainment venues, and so on. For another, carve-outs from civil rights protections are always objectionable; giving certain people what amounts to a license to discriminate in their economic activities is never justified. What's more, extending the carve-out to individuals, as was done here, rather than to just organizations and institutions, could prove to be a huge loophole that would render the whole enterprise essentially meaningless.

Why, despite all that, is this a sign of progress? Because it was Utah - and because the bill came with the full support of the Mormon Church, which initiated the discussions with LGBT rights groups in the state that lead to the compromise bill.

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, said the bill was something "no one thought was possible." And just a few years ago, it wouldn't have been.

Nor would the White House have been calling for an end to state bans on same-sex marriage. Nor would OutVets and Boston Pride have been marching in the St. Pat's Day parade. So yes, this is all Good News.

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