3 New Gay Rights Moves: What Do They Mean?

This year has seen states working out same-sex marriage rights on an individual basis, slowly but surely making headway. It’s also seen Hillary Clinton address her thoughts on LGBTQ rights and gay marriage in an NPR interview — albeit a little late and a little less progressively minded than some would wish.

But there have been two recent changes in government and one upcoming court case that will have far more overarching effects; some of those results could have strongly unfavorable impacts on LGBTQ rights. Here’s a look at three big items on the radar and what they could mean going forward.

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1. Executive order on equality in the workplace

The first item on our list, and the most recent, is perhaps the most obvious for what it means. As with all executive orders, the scope of the Obama administration’s efforts is somewhat limited. As with so much of the recent activity coming out of the Oval Office — or in this case, the East Room — and the president’s pen, federal employees and those working for federal contractors will be the only ones affected after he signed the order Monday.

Federal contractors are prohibited from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and while federal employees were already protected from sexual orientation discrimination, the order will expand this to include gender identity.

“Millions of our fellow citizens wake up and go to work with the awareness that they could lose their job, not because of anything they do or fail to do, but because of who they are — lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender,” said Obama in a speech just prior to signing the order. “We’re here to do what we can to make it right — to bend that arc of justice just a little bit in a better direction.”

While it’s arguable that the arc of justice could use more than just a little bit of bending, Obama is correct in pointing out that state, local, and business level practices are also changing. Many Fortune 500 companies are highly progressive when it comes to equal rights, and while not a complete and perfect solution, the executive order was a step in the right direction.

“This is one of the most important actions ever taken by a president to eradicate LGBT discrimination from America’s workplaces. By signing this order, President Obama is building on a bipartisan tradition, dating back over 70 years, of barring discrimination without exception when taxpayer dollars are involved,” said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, of the action.

2. Colorado federal court case

Tuesday saw six gay couples in front of a federal judge in Denver in efforts to have Colorado’s same-sex marriage ban struck down as unconstitutional. While this is not the first time that a gay marriage case has made it to the federal level, the case is notable in that Colorado Attorney General John Suthers (R) has asked that if the federal judge chooses to go forward with an injunction to the marriage ban that the outcome be temporarily frozen until the Supreme Court is able to step in and settle the issue.

Mari Newman, attorney to the six couples, told the Associated Press that her clients object to the pause in enforcing the federal ruling. “Plaintiffs vehemently oppose the state’s continuing effort to deny their fundamental constitutional right to marry,” said Newman.

The matter of timing and delay is one that many states have dealt with, some arguing that allowing marriage licenses to be given creates confusing legal limbo when appeals are brought, while others argue that immediate enforcement is the only logical way to prevent a never-ending wait for rights. 

3. Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case

There has been a great deal of discussion over just what the SCOTUS ruling on Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. is about. Some argue that it’s anti-women, and others that it’s not even anti-birth control except in specific cases; still others say that it’s anti-abortion.

It’s also argued that the real topic is freedom of religion, freedom of businesses and their owners to decide their own principles and support their own beliefs, and freedom from overbearing government. Ultimately, the case is about all of these things. Regardless of intent or subject matter, Supreme Court rulings are as vital as they are because they create precedents.

This is true in principle, and it’s why the Hobby Lobby ruling is also problematic for gay rights, at least to an extent. The argument in favor of religious freedom for private businesses ultimately allowed them to refuse certain medical coverage.

This brings up risks that religious beliefs — not well known for their fair view of the LGBTQ community — could ultimately be used to refuse service or employment in a highly discriminatory way. This particular Supreme Court ruling was also general enough to leave room for a great deal of interpretation in places, leaving space for a great deal of concern going forward.

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