It’s difficult to overstate the importance of this week’s U.S. Senate vote codifying protections for same-sex and interracial marriage as both a triumph of bipartisanship and fundamental decency.
It’s also difficult to overstate, sadly, how much further we have to go to ensure full equality for LGBTQ Americans.
First, the good news.
On Tuesday, 61 lawmakers – including 12 Republicans – voted to approve the bill, which came in response to fears that a U.S. Supreme Court, perfectly content to topple abortion rights, might next come for marriage equality as well. The bill must still go back to the U.S. House which, for now, remains in Democratic hands.
The moral arc of the universe, as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King famously remarked, is long, but always bends toward justice.
It was just a decade ago, in 2012, that former President Barack Obama historically announced that he’d shifted his position to support same-sex marriage. And seven years have elapsed since a very different high court granted same-sex marriage rights in the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges ruling.
That is a pretty significant bending toward justice. But as the deadly rampage at Colorado’s Club Q last month vividly reminds us, the ongoing journey towards full justice for millions of our fellow citizens remains a long one.
As long as sitting members of Congress can hurl the most vile of slurs against LGBTQ Americans, as long as a former president of United States can sit down to dinner with an antisemite and his white supremacist sidekick and still not face total ostracization by his own party, there will remain work to do.
The bill the Senate passed also is far from perfect, because it requires the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages where they are legal. Thirty-five states, including Pennsylvania, still have same-sex marriage bans on their books. That exposes LGBTQ citizens to harm if the high court ever moves toward tossing Obergefell.
That possibility is all the more jarring given how out of step the court appears to be with the majority of Americans. Support for same-sex marriage rights remains widespread – reaching a historic high of 71 percent in June, according to Gallup.
But that still means that three in 10 Americans remain opposed. Some of that may be on the basis of concerns about religious liberty. There also is no denying that too much of it is based on nothing more than hate – hate that can turn deadly, and be legitimized at the highest levels of power.
The truth is in the data.
As of last month, at least 32 transgender and gender nonconforming people had lost their lives in 2022, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
In 2020, the FBI recorded 1,051 victims of hate who were targeted because of their sexual orientation (13.5 percent of all hate crimes reported that year) and 236 people who were targeted because of their gender identity (3 percent of all hate crimes reported that year), according to GLAAD data.
The instance of suicidal ideation among LGBTQ youth remains alarmingly high, with nearly half saying they seriously considered suicide in the past year, NPR reported last month, citing data compiled by the Trevor Project.
That’s just one reason why we can never speak too loudly about the victories among those tragedies.
So while it is imperfect, let’s talk about and celebrate this historic vote. Government does much that is blundering, blind and borderline incompetent. But in those instances where it moves to protect the health, welfare, and security of millions of our fellow citizens, and to ensure the same equality we all enjoy, those are moments to be lifted up and noted.
It takes on an added importance when families and friends are mourning the loss of their loved ones, not just in Colorado, but across the country. It becomes a duty when a young person is considering taking their own life because they fear they will be shunned instead of embraced and celebrated.
We can never say often enough that we love them, that we hold them close, and that we will vow to keep them safe. Not just in times of tragedy. But every day. And always.
An award-winning political journalist, John L. Micek is Editor-in-Chief of The Pennsylvania Capital-Star in Harrisburg, Pa. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek.