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June 28, 2013

One Giant Step Forward Towards Full Equality for the LGBT Community – What’s Next?

There is much to celebrate in the Supreme Court marriage equality decisions. The Anti-Defamation League filed amicus briefs in both U.S. v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry on behalf of a broad, diverse group of religious organizations, emphasizing that there are many different religious views on marriage and that no one religious understanding should be used to define marriage recognition and rights under civil law.

Your rights should not depend on your ZIP code.

Your rights should not depend on your ZIP code.

ADL’s brief in the Windsor case began with the assertion that religious definitions of marriage vary, including perspectives over whether or not gay and lesbian couples may marry. Our brief then set out two arguments: (1) the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) violated the establishment clause because it was enacted with a religious purpose, based on a particular religious understanding of marriage; and (2) DOMA violated equal protection under the Fifth Amendment because it was motivated by moral disapproval of gay and lesbian people without any legitimate government purpose.

Our Perry brief urged the Court to reject the religious and moral justifications expressed by Proposition 8 proponents.  It demonstrated how, over the past quarter century, the Supreme Court has rejected laws disfavoring minority groups based on moral or religious disapproval alone – with one, now discredited, exception, Bowers v. Hardwick. The brief looked back over time and showed how laws like slavery, segregation, prohibitions on interracial marriage, and laws discriminating against women – laws that were justified on moral and religious grounds – had ultimately been rejected by the Court.

ADL hailed the Court’s two decisions, while recognizing that much work remains to be done to promote LGBT equality.  Now that DOMA has been ruled unconstitutional, legal analysts – and government officials – will be sorting out the range of federal benefits that can now be accorded to legally-married same-sex couples.  Same-sex couples in California can prepare for full recognition and rights in their state. It is clear, however, that, for now, the full range of benefits, privileges, and responsibilities of marriage will continue to be denied couples in 37 other states.

Moreover, at a time when it is still legal to fire employees solely because they are lesbian, gay, or bisexual in 29 states – and in 33 states it is legal to fire someone solely for being transgender — it is necessary to complement this week’s forward progress with workplace discrimination protections, initiatives to prevent bias-motivated violence, and programs to promote safe learning environments for LGBT students.

To these ends, ADL supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would expand existing federal employment discrimination coverage to include protection for those who are discriminated against based on their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.  ADL is a national leader in confronting hate violence, having played a lead role in coalition work to enact and implement the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA). And the League has also been in the forefront of efforts to ensure safe school environments for all students, regardless of their religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity, through the development of education and training programs  and bullying prevention initiatives.

While we celebrate the great step forward in marriage equality, we must not lose sight of the fact that   our nation has suffered a major setback to civil rights when the Supreme Court struck down a critical part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, In this, ADL’s  100th anniversary year, we rededicate ourselves to securing, in the words of our founding Charter, “justice and fair treatment for all.”

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