Two female sailors become the first same-sex couple to share the traditional "first kiss" after a US Navy ship returns. Photo by Brian J. Clark/AP
2011 has been a banner year for the advancement of LGBT equality at the national, state, and local levels. Following are some of the highlights. While much work remains, these last few days of 2011 would be a good time to take a moment to celebrate these truly wonderful progressive victories that have brought our country closer to the ideal of equality for all.
DADT Repealed – On September 20, the discriminatory Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy, which excluded openly gay and lesbian Americans from serving their country in the military, officially ended. The official end of that policy followed a certification by military leaders and President Obama that ending the ban on LGBT Americans serving their country in the military would not jeopardize military readiness. Such certification requirement was established in legislation passed by the Democratic House and Senate in December 2010 that started the repeal process.
Challenging DOMA – In February 2011, the Obama Administration and Attorney General Eric Holder announced that they would no longer defend the “Defense Of Marriage Act” in court because they concluded that the Act is unconstitutional. In July, the Obama DOJ filed a brief supporting a federal court lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of DOMA, and earlier this month the DOJ sent one of its top civil rights attorneys to argue in federal district court against DOMA.
Supporting Repeal of DOMA – President Obama announced his support for the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal the indefensible DOMA. The Respect for Marriage Act has been introduced in the Senate by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and in the House by Representative Jerry Nadler (D-NY).
Promoting LGBT Rights Abroad – In December, the Obama Administration issued a memorandum announcing its intent to use foreign diplomacy, including foreign aid, to promote LGBT rights around the world. That announcement was accompanied by a speech in favor of LGBT riInghts given by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at United Nations Human Rights Council.
First Openly Gay Federal Judge – In July, the first openly gay federal judge, J. Paul Oetken, was confirmed by the US Senate by an 80-13 vote after being nominated by President Obama and recommended by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY).
Hospital Visitation Rights – On January 17, Department of Health and Human Services regulations requiring any hospital that receives Medicare or Medicaid funding to guarantee equal visitation rights for LGBT patients went into effect. The rules were promulgated at the direction of President Obama, who had issued a Presidential Memorandum calling for equal visitation rights.
Public Support for Marriage Equality – For the first time in nearly a decade of polling, the majority of respondents (53%) stated they were in favor of marriage equality. 44% were opposed.
US Senate Support for Marriage Equality – the number of Senators who have publicly declared their support for marriage equality is now up to at least 20 (all of them Democrats), after Senators John Kerry, Mark Udall, and Robert Menedez all announced their support in 2011.
New York - July 23, 2011 was the first day in which same-sex marriages were legally authorized in New York, thanks to legislation that was recently passed with the strong support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg.
California - California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful (“FAIR”) Education Act, which requires that the economic, social, and political contributions of LGBT Californians be included in the school curriculum in that state.
Connecticut – In July, Connecticut became the 15th state in the country to ban discrimination based on gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, and other areas of the law.
Delaware - In May, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell signed legislation making his state the 8th in the nation to recognize same-sex civil unions. The law is scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2012.
Florida – The Miami-Dade County School District, which is the fourth largest in the nation, added sexual orientation and gender identity to their anti-bullying and harassment policy.
Hawaii - In February, Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed legislation recognizing same-sex civil unions.
Maryland – Supporters of equality suffered a setback last spring when marriage equality legislation that had passed the state Senate was narrowly defeated in the state House of Delegates. A large progressive coalition, however, is back to get the legislation passed next year, and Maryland’s Governor Martin O’Malley announced last week that he has made the legislation one of his administration’s handful of top legislative priorities. If you’d like to support this effort, “like” Equality Maryland’s Facebook page.
Massachusetts – In November, Massachusetts became the 16th state to ban discrimination in housing, employment, insurance, and other areas based on gender identity.
Washington – in Washington State, Democratic Congressman and candidate for Governor Jay Inslee publicly announced his support for marriage equality a few days before launching his gubernatorial campaign. If you’d like to learn more about Inslee and his campaign, here is his campaign Facebook page and website.
Utah – the state Democratic Party elected Utah’s first openly gay major political party leader by choosing Jim Dabakis. Dabakis is a co-founder of the Utah Pride Center and Equality Utah.