Quantum Leap for the Gay Movement – by Dr. Julia Wai-Yin So

After one of my lectures on the institution of family in the US in the fall of 2012, a student asked, “Do you think it will get better (the controversy over the legalization of same-sex marriage) or worse?” My answer: “better; but slow.” That fall, only seven states had legalized same-sex marriage. Fourteen months, that number has more than doubled to eighteen. How did this come about? Late in 2012 three states—Washington, Maine, and Maryland— legalized same-sex marriage by popular vote. The year 2013 began with the nervous anticipation of how the Supreme Court would rule on two major cases: Hollingsworth v. Perry that challenges the constitutionality of California’s ban on same-sex marriage (Prop 8), and U.S. v. Windsor. Windsor sought to address the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)—a 1996 federal law that defines marriage as the union between one man and one woman.

Because of DOMA, 83-year-old Edie Windsor of New York had to pay $363,000 in federal estate taxes to the IRS when her legally married spouse Thea Spyer died in 2009. Windsor filed suit in the federal court seeking a tax refund and to have Section (3) of DOMA declared unconstitutional because it treated Windsor’s marriage to Spyer differently from that of a heterosexual marriage.  The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Windsor and dismissed the Prop 8 case on the grounds that as private parties, the plaintiffs had no legal standing. Since then, eight more states have legalized same-sex marriage: California, Delaware, Minnesota, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Illinois, Hawaii, and New Mexico. In 2009, the State Department had increased the benefits of all LGBT members of the Foreign Service to equate them with those of heterosexual couples.

Two years later, President Obama and the Department of Defense announced that they would not defend the constitutionality of DOMA. In the spring of 2013, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta signed a memorandum that extended benefits to same-sex partners of all military service members. Seventeen years after Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) and 15 years after DOMA, not only has the most gendered institution in the country—the military—accepted same-sex couples, it finally treats them equally as their heterosexual peers. By the same token, in 2013, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) released its Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V).

The updated manual removed “Gender Identity Disorder” from its list, and replaced it with Gender Dysphoria. The APA argues that gender dysphoria is not an inherent disorder; therefore one can be mentally healthy with or without gender dysphoria. This is a paradigm shift for the association as well as for the medical practice of mental health professionals.  Additionally, 10 of the 11 national public opinion polls conducted between January and September of 2013 found more people supported gay marriage than otherwise, as shown in The PollingReport.com.

The most important factor that has expedited these monumental changes has been gay activism in support of legislation. The Matthew Shepherd and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (also known as the Matthew Shepherd Act) was signed into law in 2009. It was the first federal law to extend legal protections to transgender individuals. The following year, the DADT Repeal Act was signed into law. It removed sexual orientation as grounds for military discharge. However, it does not protect a LGBT service member from being discriminated against because of his or her sexual orientation.

Emblematic of this, for the fist time in 2010 the Bureau of Census collects identifying information on same-sex couple households.  In the following year, it published “Same-Sex Couples Households” which indicated that one-fifth of same-sex households in the country were raising children. There are six million adults and children living with their LGBT parents. How do these children fare relative to their counterparts living with heterosexual parents? Results from several scholarly studies 2009 to 2013 suggested that they fare equally well as their peers in heterosexual parent households. In the last five years, the LGBT movement has gained strides both in social acceptance and legislative protection.

The next significant federal bill to watch is ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act) which passed the Senate in November of 2013; but was blocked at the House. At present, in 38 states, LGBT employees legally can be fired when their sexual orientation becomes known to their employers.  The United States prides itself on the legal equality of its citizens. It seems inevitable that we will continue this progress, though for some, the velocity of change has been surprising. To my students, I am cautious and would still say, “Better, but slow.”

Julia Wai-Yin So Garcia

University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus: Chair, Social Sciences. Teaches INTRO to Sociology; Deviance; Dynamics in Difference, Power, & Discrimination; and Introduction to Women Studies.
So García Associates, LLC: Workshops in pedagogy & cultural proficiency. Mediator on court mandated cases. Please visit www.sogarcia.us

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