Evolving Landscape of LGBT Rights in the United States
LGBT History in America
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) people have remained silent and unnoticed in the United States until after World War 2. Before the war, many gay and lesbian Americans hid their sexual orientation out of fear and shame. Gay men who lived in cities used to form close social networks with other gay men and managed to remain a part of a hidden subculture.
During 1940-1950, LGBT Americans were able to practice their sexual orientation more freely, something that they were not able to do so previously. The LGBT community’s existence was a little bit more “tolerated” but was not widely accepted. Discrimination against LGBT individuals started to grow during the mid-1950s. Both LGBT men and women were fired from their jobs or dismissed from the military because of their sexual orientation. American society became less tolerant of homosexuality in the 1950s and 1960s.
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The homosexual “lifestyle” was portrayed as a threat to American security, and police began to harass gay and lesbian individuals by raiding their bars and nightclubs. On June 28, 1969, there were a series of violent actions by the gay community against a police raid at The Stonewall. It was known as the Stonewall Riots. This riot was a turning point in the gay rights movement. The LGBT community had gotten inspired by the women’s movement and the civil rights movement, so LGBT Americans began to put their rights into motion politically. The LGBT community has gained much more acceptance in American culture since the 1970s, but they continue to struggle.
Recent Advances and Challenges
In recent years the lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community have gained visibility and have had some remarkable successes. The number of countries that prohibited same-sex acts, including marriages, is significantly decreasing. Also, we cannot forget how the number of recognizing same-sex marriages and adoptions, prohibiting employment discrimination, and punishing hate crimes are increasing. In the United States, hate crimes against LGBTQ people can be prosecuted under federal law. Many states have added sexuality to anti-discrimination laws that protect fundamental civil rights such as equal housing, public accommodation, and employment.
Although it looks like things are looking up, things haven’t been very progressive in recent years. On June 2016, there was a killing of forty-nine people in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. There was an immediate response from mayors, police and FBI authorities, local and national politicians, and the President of the United States, who reached out to express outrage and concern. This demonstrates the enormous shift toward acceptance and public support for the LGBT community. This event has dramatically shown that violence against the LGBTQ community continues today despite the legal and political agendas. It’s clear that the struggle for gender and diversity is far from over.
Legal Landmarks for LGBTQ Rights
According to Mary Bernstein, the Hollingsworth v. Perry case had a significant impact on LGBTQ activism. She used the multi-institutional politics (MIP) approach to assess the effects of Perry on the LGBTQ movement. Bernstein believes that this approach acknowledges that society is comprised of multiple institutions that exert power in different ways. As an example, Bernstein states that the institution of psychiatry has been historically important in providing a reason to deny LGBTQ rights.
‘Until 1973, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) defined homosexuality as a mental disorder, which had limited the progress the LGBTQ movement could make.’ He claims that once the APA removed homosexuality from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), the movement was able to make progress in areas such as immigration policy and public health regulations. Bernstein believes that psychiatry is one of the multiple institutions that exert power and influence over the lives of the LGBTQ community.
Another critical case that leads the LGBTQ community further to their rights is the Lawrence v. Texas case. In this specific case, the Supreme Court overturned Texas’ consensual sodomy law in a prosecution that involved two men who were having sex in their own homes. The Supreme Court held that Texas did not have the constitutional power to criminalize consensual homosexual sodomy that takes place in a home.
Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion in Lawrence v. Texas insisted that lesbian and gay Americans are ordinary citizens and deserve to be treated with respect. Justice Kennedy’s opinion demanded that states defending laws that govern sexual conduct with evidence would be causing harm to other people. Publicly showcasing distaste and moral criticism isn’t enough to justify regulation.
The Virginia Supreme Court also applied Lawrence to take down a state law making it a crime for consenting men and women to have intercourse outside of marriage. (Schwartz, 2002) Lawrence v. Texas has made the country more tolerant of the LGBTQ community. Justice Kennedy’s opinion stated that lesbian and gay Americans productively participate in their communities, join in committed relationships, and raise children.
Since Lawrence, school districts have prevented from discriminating against gay teachers and students, more employers allow gay, lesbian, and queer employees, more states allow two people of the same gender to have parental rights to the children they are bringing up together, and lastly, more police departments are protecting gay and transgender citizens against hate crimes rather than harassing them.
The most massive anti-gay campaign in the United States was Proposition 8, which was a ballot initiative in California that only recognized marriage between a man and a woman in 2008. This sparked outrage across the United States among the LGBTQ community and activists. The LGBTQ movement assembled almost 50,000 volunteers and raised over $38 million. LGBTQ organizations became less mobilized around marriage when the fate of same-sex marriage was in the hands of the court in California.
Bernstein states that this is not the same thing as entirely demobilizing. She believes that the socio-legal literature has paid little attention to the fact that social movements, such as the LGBTQ movement, can remain active even while a case is going slowly through its way through the courts.
The LGBTQ movement is an example of legal support strategies in action. During the Perry trial, some LGBTQ activists showed up outside the courthouse in large groups to showcase their support for the movement and ensure the media were seeing them. Also, LGBTQ organizations have adopted several other legal support tactics by playing a pivotal role in analyzing what is happening with the case. They are also keeping people notified of new advancements. These events required LGBTQ activists to always stay updated and administer information to their allies. LGBTQ activists have also issued press releases related to the Perry case. Finally, LGBTQ organizations have helped frame how the media portrays the case.
Not only did the Perry case create opportunities for the LGBTQ movement to engage in legal support tactics, but it also provided a time of reflection for the movement on the issue of getting their message sent across. It has always been an essential aspect of LGBTQ politics. Until 2012, the LGBTQ movement didn’t know how to persuade voters to support same-sex marriage at the ballot box positively. Despite successfully convincing voters to defeat measures that secured the legal protection of LGBTQ people from bigotry.
Activists were able to establish new and updated ways of framing marriage so that they don’t repeat the casualties of Proposition 8 and other anti-same-sex marriage votes. Mobilization of the LGBTQ movement declined after Perry was filed, and the litigation did not create attempts to create social change. Instead, LGBTQ activists got involved in a number of legal support tactics.
Ongoing Struggles and the Future
The controversy which surrounds gay marriage is complicated because of everybody’s beliefs and how they express the topic. Some people’s opinion is that gay marriage should not have been legalized nationally, while others feel that gay marriage should not have been sanctioned. The different views that are expressed by society’s attitudes toward gay marriage continue to cause considerable controversy throughout the nation and should come to a halt when gay marriage is legalized.
Marriage is all about sharing vows with the person that you love so that it is eternal. Surprisingly, many individuals feel that those vows should only be shared between a man and a woman. Those individuals believe that if homosexuals are allowed to exchange vows with each other, then it will take away the true meaning and importance of marriage. Recognition of same-sex marriage has been an explicit goal of many in the gay rights movement for at least twenty-five years.
Advocates have filed more than a dozen lawsuits claiming a right to marry; however, there was a lawsuit in 1990 presented in Hawaii that caused a national outrage because it was becoming clear that the Hawaii Supreme Court was on the verge of sanctioning same-sex marriage. In response to this possibility, Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The Defense of Marriage Act became law in 1996, which declared that marriages between gay or lesbian couples would not be recognized by the federal government. This meant that those couples would not receive basic things that straight married couples receive, such as legal benefits like Social Security and health insurance.
However, in 2013 the Supreme Court administered DOMA to be unconstitutional, which meant same-sex couples married in their states could receive those federal benefits. The Supreme Court decided that Congress would be interfering with the rights of states which define what marriage is and ultimately would be violating the rights of Windsor and other couples to Equal Protection if DOMA gets passed.
DOMA contains a definition of “marriage” and “spouse” for purposes of federal law, affirming that both apply exclusively to relationships between persons of the opposite sex. It states that “In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife”
On June 2015, the US Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges, which I believe to be the most important case, that the Constitution guaranteed all same-sex couples the right to marry, making marriage equality available throughout the country. It’s secured by both the Due Process Clause, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the United States Constitution. There’s a ruling called the 5-4, which requires all fifty states to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples the same way we recognize the marriage of opposite-sex couples.
The legal and social climate that has to do with marriage equality in the United States has changed dramatically. The US Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that Windsor v. United States federal government was obligated to recognize states sanctioned marriages of same-sex couples. There was national recognition that provided access to some significant advantages even if married same-sex couples lived in states that did not recognize their marriage.
There was research conducted that analyzed data from the American Community Survey (ACS) and the Gallup Daily Tracking survey to show the effect that the Windsor and Obergefell rulings had on the number of marriages among couples of the same sex. It stated that in 2013, there was an estimated 230,000 same-sex couples were married, 21% of all same-sex couples. This all occurred the same year that the Windsor ruling was issued. When June 2015 came around, this is when Obergefell was decided. An estimated 390,000 same-sex couples were married, and 38% of all same-sex couples. As of October 2015, 486,000 same-sex couples were married, or 45% of all same-sex couples.
The LGBTQ movement in the United States has made several gains in political equality in recent years. Gay and Lesbians are allowed to marry, LGBTQ people can serve in the military, and anti-sodomy laws are no longer constitutional. Violent acts against the LGBTQ community could now be classified as a hate crime under federal law. The most profound effect of this cultural shift is on LGBTQ youth. Although there is a significant push for change in our modernized American society, there are still people who do not want to accept a more progressive way of thinking. With the controversial issue of gay marriage, there are always going to be people and organizations that are opposed to supporting it.
- Bonnie J. Morris, “American Psychological Association”
- Bernstein, Mary “Same-Sex Marriage and the Assimilationist Dilemma.” Same-Sex Marriage and the Assimilationist Dilemma
- Brettschneider, Marla, “LGBTQ Politics a Critical Reader.” New York University Press, 2017
- Brown, Taylor N.T and Gates, Gary J. “Marriage and Same-Sex Couples after Obergefell”
- Freeman, Pamela A. Clarkson “The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA): Its Impact on Those Seeking Same-Sex Marriages.”
- Schwartz, and Martin A. “Lawrence v. Texas: The Decision and Its Implications for the Future.” 2 May 2014
- Eskridge Jr, William N. “The Marriage Equality Cases and Constitutional Theory”
- Wolf, Sherry “Issues.” Stonewall: The Birth of Gay Power | International Socialist Review
- “6 Pros and Cons of Freedom of Religion.” Bible Study, 8 Jan. 2016, biblestudyfoundation.org/6-pros-and-cons-of-freedom-of-religion.
- Brooks, Chad. “The Second Amendment & the Right to Bear Arms.” LiveScience, Purch, 28 June 2017, www.livescience.com/26485-second-amendment.html.