2013: An Historic Year For LGBT Progress

2013 will no doubt be remembered as a truly historic year for LGBT equality. Both in terms of visibility and access to government services, people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or any other label under the queer community’s umbrella saw a huge expansion of their freedoms and protection under the law. Here’s a look back at some of this year’s many milestones:

The End Of Marriage’s “Defense”

No victory was as monumental as the Supreme Court’s ruling overturning Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act in United States v. Windsor. In an instant, all same-sex couples in the country had their marriages upgraded, allowing them to claim federal benefits even if they live in states that still do not recognize their unions as valid. Though various departments are still working out the kinks, benefits such as filing taxes jointly, claiming a spouse for immigration purposes, Social Security spousal benefits, and other protections are available to married same-sex couples for the first time.

The decision has already had ripple effects. Though it did not automatically establish marriage equality throughout the entire country, Windsor certainly set the stage for that eventuality. Indeed, 2013 is ending on a cliffhanger , with landmark decisions in both Utah and Ohio taking the next legal steps toward nationwide marriage equality. In a narrow ruling Monday, Judge Timothy Black declared that Ohio must recognize same-sex marriages solemnized in other states for the purposes of death certificates just as it does other marriages that would not have been valid if performed in Ohio. In a broader decision Friday, Judge Robert Shelby declared Utah’s law and constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage unconstitutional, opening a window for same-sex couples to begin marrying, at least until the Tenth Circuit imposes a stay on the decision. Both cases directly cited Windsor, and with multiple lawsuits advancing in other states, one is bound to arrive back at the Supreme Court sometime soon.

Windsor also had significant political implications outside the courtroom. As the Supreme Court was mulling their decision, many Senate Democrats spoke out for marriage equality for the first time ever. In fact, there is actually now a 54-vote majority in the Senate in favor of allowing same-sex couples to legally marry.

At the center of the case, of course, was Edie Windsor, whose poignant story, loveable personality, and fierce determination led to the victory that will forever bear her name. A rightful finalist for Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, Edie Windsor has secured a monumental place in the history of LGBT equality.

The United States Of Marriage Equality

Neil Abercrombie Signing Marriage Law

While significant advances were taking place at the national level, a cascade of marriage equality was also unfolding across the country, with the number of states welcoming same-sex couples to marry nearly doubling.

The year began with marriage equality taking effect in Maine (technically December 29, 2012) and Maryland, both of which successfully approved of their laws through a 2012 referendum, along with Washington. From there, legislatures and courts in eight more states would legalize same-sex marriage before the year was out:

  • Though the Colorado constitution prohibits the recognition of same-sex marriage, that didn’t stop the state from finally advancing civil unions instead. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) signed the bill on March 22, and it took effect May 1.
  • Putting an end to its unsuccessful watered-down civil unions, the Rhode Island legislature finalized its marriage equality legislation on May 2.
  • Delaware followed suit with the same upgrade just days later, becoming the 12th state to legalize same-sex marriage on May 7. During the debate, Sen. Karen Peterson (D) came out publicly for the first time and declared, “If my happiness somehow demeans or diminishes your marriage, you need to work on your marriage.”
  • 2012 had been a significant year in Minnesota, with voters not only defeating a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, but also electing a Democratic majority to the legislature. Lawmakers took advantage of the new legal landscape and passed marriage equality on May 13, and Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) signed it into law a day later.
  • After DOMA was overturned, it became quite clear that New Jersey was no longer providing equality to same-sex couples with civil unions. In September, a state judge agreed, declaring that New Jersey was “harming same-sex couples” by not allowing them to marry. The state Supreme Court opted not to intervene, and marriages began taking place on October 21.
  • Though opponents waged what some called a “citizens’ filibuster” by testifying for days on end, and despite an openly gay legislator voting against her own rights for the first time on record, marriage equality prevailed in the Hawaii legislature. After an epic-long debate and many frivolous amendments, the House finalized passage of the bill on November 9, and Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) signed it into law on November 13.
  • Some had been discouraged that the Illinois legislature failed to take up a vote on marriage equality before recessing in June, but they made up for it during a special session in November. Gov. Pat Quinn (D) signed the bill into law on November 20, and it’ll take effect June 1, 2014. In the meantime, several same-sex couples who are facing terminal illness have been granted permission to marry ahead of time.
  • New Mexico, unlike any other state, had never stipulated whether same-sex marriages were banned or legal. As of September, eight counties in the state were offering licenses while the rest were not. On December 19, the New Mexico Supreme Court weighed in on the question and ruled that the LGBT community is entitled to equal protection under the law, establishing it as the 17th marriage equality state.
  • As noted above, the year ended with significant court victories in Ohio and Utah. Couples cannot yet marry in Ohio, and the window may soon close in Utah if the Tenth Circuit imposes a stay. Both rulings lay the groundwork for future victories across the country.

Only four states remain that do not have constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage: Indiana, Wyoming, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. The other 29 states have such amendments, meaning only the federal courts or a new amendment could change the law. Oregon is pursuing such a referendum in 2014, and Ohio may as well. Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers in Indiana are hoping to pass an amendment banning same-sex marriage, which could make it the last state ever to do so. Lawsuits advancing in most of the remaining states could create a situation similar to Utah, with judges in Michigan and Pennsylvania set to hear arguments in the new year, but ultimately, the Supreme Court will have to weigh in again before there is marriage equality in all 50 states.

A Transition To Less Discrimination

Coy Mathis

Though marriage stole the spotlight, 2013 also offered many important developments for protecting LGBT people from other forms of discrimination, including some policies that had never been seen before.

For the first time in the legislation’s 20-year history, the Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in an historic 64-32 vote in early November. Unfortunately, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) refuses to allow a vote in the House because he believes the bill isn’t necessary. In reality, it remains legal for people to be fired for their sexual orientation in 29 states and for their gender identity in 34 states. The new movement on ENDA has helped others appreciate this reality, including Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R).

There were previously 35 states where it was legal to fire transgender people for their identities, but Delaware stepped up and narrowed that gap this year. In Delaware, it is now illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, public works, contracting, and insurance. Expressing his support for the bill, Gov. Jack Markell (D) hoped to create a Delaware that is a “safe and welcoming state for all to live, work, and raise a family.”

Groundbreaking new protections for transgender people also expanded in California through a new law that ensures transgender students have equal access to school facilities and activities. Conservatives have responded with a referendum effort to overturn the law and a media campaign to vilify transgender students. Even if a referendum delays (or prevents) the bill’s implementation, trans students have also found protection through the courts, such as Damian Garcia in California and Coy Mathis in Colorado.

Young people also got a boost in the form of laws that prevent minors from being subjected to ex-gay therapy. California’s law, which passed in 2012, was upheld in court, and New Jersey passed its own law, which has also been upheld in court. Though profiteers of the harmful, ineffective treatment continue to advocate on its behalf, a new survey of ex-gay survivors revealed this year that 92 percent experienced harm, and many were guilted into the therapy by friends, family, or their community.

Discrimination against LGBT people very much still occurs, and 2013 provided numerous examples — the most visible being bakeries and other artisans refusing to provide services to same-sex couples in relation to a a commitment ceremony. In many of these cases, marriage equality is not even legal in the state, but the refusal of service is still a violation of the state’s nondiscrimination laws. A bakery in Oregon, for example, refused to bake a cake for a same-sex couple’s wedding, while a florist in Washington refused to provide flowers. Despite conservatives’ claims that “religious liberty” is at stake, the courts have been ruling in favor of protecting LGBT people. Most notably, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled unanimously that a photographer broke the law when she refused to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony, and a Colorado judge similarly ruled against a baker that did not want his cakes used to celebrate a same-sex marriage. There are more tests to come, but justice seems to be favoring equal treatment throughout society.

Steps Forward And Backward Abroad


Internationally, there was incredible progress for LGBT equality as well, though there were also some setbacks.

Several countries legalized same-sex marriage, including Uruguay, France, New Zealand, Brazil, and the United Kingdom. When the law takes effect in England and Wales in 2014, it will bring the total to 16 countries that allow same-sex couples to marry. The fight in France this year was particularly hostile, with anti-gay groups — encouraged by U.S. groups — rioting in the streets. Some members of Parliament even received death threats, but ultimately, equality prevailed.

Other countries took steps to better respect and recognize people who are transgender. Both Sweden and The Netherlands updated their laws so that trans people no longer have to undergo sex reassignment surgery (SRS) in order to obtain legal recognition as their identified gender. This was a significant step for Sweden, which has an infamous history of forcing sterilization upon citizens during the middle of the 20th Century. Given that SRS comes at the price of one’s reproductive ability, the new law ended the requirement that trans people be sterilized in order to finally be recognized as full citizens.

LGBT equality was under watch by European Courts as well. The European Court of Justice ruled that gays and lesbians who live in African countries with laws that punish homosexuality may seek legal asylum in Europe. It also asserted that same-sex couples in civil partnerships deserve the same benefits as married couples, ensuring that international contracts don’t cause some couples to be treated differently. Similar to the rulings in the United States, the European Court of Human Rights found that religion does not justify discrimination against the LGBT community, a sentiment also expressed this year by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.

But internationally, there were also some setbacks. The people of Croatia voted to ban same-sex marriage in their constitution, though lawmakers may now consider civil unions. India’s Supreme Court reinstated a colonial-era law criminalizing same-sex relations, a decision the government hopes the Court will review. And both Uganda and Nigeria have passed bills criminalizing homosexuality and imposing extreme punishments.

And of course, there was Russia, which took multiple steps to roll back civil rights for LGBT people — and it isn’t done yet. One of its most draconian actions was passing a law censoring anything that could be considered “gay propaganda” — imposing a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” invisibility upon the country’s entire LGBT community. With the help of anti-gay influence from the U.S., Russia also passed a law prohibiting the adoption of Russian children by couples living in countries with marriage equality. As a result of this and other restrictions, Italy is now the only country in the world where families can adopt Russian children. Two other bills have been proposed that will be debated in 2014, one that would disqualify gay and lesbian individuals from being granted custody of their own children and one that would ban same-sex surrogacy. One lawmaker actually said that he believes children are better off in an orphanage than being raised by a gay parent.

On a more hopeful note, Russia’s efforts to stigmatize and silence its LGBT community have provoked a global conversation about LGBT issues because of the impending Olympic Games in Sochi. Some world leaders are openly boycotting the Games because of Russia’s poor human rights record, and President Obama is sending a delegation with several openly gay athletes that will force visibility to the issue. Though Russia may symbolize the antithesis of the U.S.’s momentum toward LGBT equality, the international awareness raised by the Winter Games could result in a net positive worldwide.

Coming Out On The Court

Jason Collins

Coming out of the closet is a phenomenon not likely to go away anytime soon, and 2013 had a number of notable coming out moments, including various lawmakers, high school students, and of course, celebrities. But this year will no doubt be most remembered for the incredible new visibility for LGBT people in athletics. In fact, Outsports has already declared 2013 “the year of the out athlete.”

Robbie Rogers told a poignant story about the way he had to hide his identity, then returned to the soccer field with the Los Angeles Galaxy to become the first openly gay male to play on a professional American team sports.

Jason Collins became the first player in one of the four major American professional sports leagues to utter the words, “I’m gay.” No team in the NBA has signed him this year, but his visibility has nevertheless made a lasting impact on the culture of the league.

Brittney Griner’s coming out was not only a monumental moment for the WNBA, but also an illuminating look at the homophobia still present in college athletics. Griner shared how conservative Baylor University allowed her to play, but urged her to keep her identity secret.

Olympic athletes have also helped create LGBT visibility in the world of athletics, including snowboarder Belle Brockhoff, speed skater Anastasia Bucsis, and of course, diver Tom Daley. Some individuals without worldwide notoriety made an important impact as well, like Gabrielle Ludwig, a transgender college basketball player, and transgender high school coach Stephen Alexander, both of whom helped pave the way for other gender nonconforming individuals to find a place in athletic competition.

These stories have by no means erased homophobia in sports, but 2013 has at least significantly dented it. With new programs underway like the NFL’s new partnership with the You Can Play Project, that momentum is sure to continue in the years to come.

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