Politics

Gay Rights Movement Sees Historic Gains in Many States

A new report details state legislation that impacted the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. While much of the report strikes a hopeful note, it also anticipates more political battles ahead.
by | March 6, 2014
Cynthia Wallace, left, and soon-to-be-spouse Julie Fein spin a few dance steps as they prepare to take their wedding vows in the early morning hours in the courtroom of Judge Mary Yu in Washington state's King County Courthouse, Dec. 9, 2012. Associated Press/Elaine Thompson

Last year marked historic gains for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) movement, as highlighted by a new report on state legislation by the Human Rights Campaign, a civil rights organization.

U.S. Supreme Court decisions in 2013 struck down the federal law defining marriage as between a man and a woman and granted states discretion on whether to allow same-sex marriage. That same year five states passed laws recognizing same-sex marriage and another two granted same-sex marriage via state court decisions.

Last year state legislatures considered 849 bills related to LGBT rights.* Of those, about 16 percent dealt with same-sex marriage. Less than a decade ago, some legislatures conferred quasi-marital status for same-sex couples through so-called “domestic partnerships” and “civil unions.” Now more and more state lawmakers and governors appear comfortable skipping those partial solutions, said Sarah Warbelow, the state legislative director for Human Rights Campaign.

“I think all of us are shocked by how rapidly we were able to move from alternative definitions of relationships to marriage,” she said. “It just took a short period of time to say [civil unions and domestic partnerships] really aren’t working.”

NOTE: Please zoom out to view Alaska and Hawaii

State Legislation
 
Same-sex marriage legalized
 
Civil unions or domestic partnerships
 
Constitutional or statutory provisions prohibiting same-sex marriage

While same-sex marriage was the most high-profile LGBT issue of the year, it was not the subject of the most bills. With 346 bills, schools legislation was. The report details each of these school-related bills, which dealt with cyber bullying, sex education curriculum and transgender youth access to programs and facilities. Some efforts actually marked defeats for LGBT rights. For instance, bills signed by former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam forced universities to recognize and to fund religious student groups that want to deny membership based on sexual orientation.

The report also looks at anti-discrimination bills, such as a proposal in Wyoming that would have protected residents from discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation for a range of activities, such as jury selection, employment applications and enrollment in public schools. The bill fell two votes short of passing the state senate. One map from the report (pictured below) shows the 17 states and the District of Columbia that already offer such legal protections (shaded in light gray). States in black prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, but not gender identity.

“We get closer every year,” said Wyoming Rep. Cathy Connolly, a Democrat, who has worked on both anti-discrimination and same-sex marriage proposals for much of the past six years. Legislation against discrimination appeals to some Republicans because it would make Wyoming a friendlier business environment for companies with LGBT employees, she said.

While much of the campaign's report strikes a hopeful note, one section on "pushback" anticipates more political battles ahead. The report notes that several states are likely to enact new laws that define marriage as between a man and a woman -- as 33 already have. The report also predicts that some legislatures will look at religious exemptions for business and government that have the practical effect of discriminating against LGBT residents. In fact, Arizona received national attention in February for passing a bill -- vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer -- that would have enabled businesses to refuse gay and lesbian customers on the basis of religious freedom. Similar bills are pending in several other states, such as Oklahoma and Mississippi.

The table below shows the number of bills introduced and passed last year across five categories tracked by the Human Rights Campaign: marriage, anti-discrimination, hate crimes, parenting and schools. The group labeled bills "good" or "bad" based on their perceived impact on the LGBT community.

Type "Good" bills introduced "Good" bills passed "Bad" bills introduced "Bad" bills passed
Marriage 83 9 50 4
Anti-Discrimination 110 4 13 1
Hate Crimes 19 1 0 0
Parenting 38 4 8 0
Schools 279 17 67 3
Source: Human Rights Campaign

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of the story included an incorrect tally of the total number of bills introduced. We regret the error.

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