The Last Five Years: Marriage Equality, Other Milestones, and The Ones We Have Yet to Pass

By Shane Stahl • June 26, 2020 • 10:06 am

June 26, 2015.

Throngs of people anxiously awaited 10:00 AM—the time when the U.S. Supreme Court would release a list of decisions in cases they had heard throughout the 2014-2015 term. One decision in particular had yet to be handed down—Obergefell v. Hodges, where the Court’s ruling would determine whether same-sex couples could marry nationwide.

“We gathered at 9:30 every decision day and just waited,” recalled FFAA’s Senior Director of External Communications Angela Dallara, then a staff member at Freedom to Marry, the national coalition working to enact marriage equality throughout the United States. “Our staff was scattered throughout the country from Portland to New York City to Rhode Island to D.C. By June 26, we were pretty tired of waiting.”

This day, the waiting would come to an end. In a 5-4 decision, the Justices ruled that the U.S constitution guaranteed same-sex couples the freedom to marry . Although 36 states as well as Washington D.C. and Guam already had marriage equality, now all LGBTQ Americans would be able to marry the person they loved.

Amy Mello, FFAA Vice President of Campaigns, began working in the marriage equality movement in the early 2000s, and her expertise in organizing led to many calling her the movement’s “secret weapon.”

“It was incredible to see how far and fast the country moved, both legally and in terms of public opinion, to secure equal marriage rights in 2015,” she said. “The Court decision was really the summation of so much hard work by advocates over many decades—legal experts, campaign professionals, elected leaders, the many, many same-sex couples, their family and friends who took the time to share their stories and who changed the hearts and minds of Americans across the country.”

Obergefell stood on the shoulders of several important previous Supreme Court decisions that impacted the LGBTQ community; cases like PriceWaterhouse v. Hopkins, which determined that sex stereotyping was a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights At of 1964, and Windsor v. United States, where the Justices struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), ensuring the legal marriages of same-sex couples would be recognized by both state and federal governments.

“My Facebook post from five years ago sums up how I felt that day: ‘Still feeling the glow. I need to remember this feeling. I wish I could bottle it.'” — FFAA Chief Counsel Jon Davidson

FFAA Creative Director Jorge Gutierrez served as lead graphic designer for the Freedom to Marry campaign. “It was an honor to have played a role in winning marriage equality nationwide. I feel proud to have been able to use my skills as a way to influence change in our communities. Having the freedom to marry means every young LGBTQ person can now dream of having a happily ever after because love is and will always be the law.”

Since the historic decision, the LGBTQ movement has made significant progress continuing its decades-long effort to protect LGBTQ Americans from other forms of discrimination, including in the workplace, in housing, and in public spaces. Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Virginia all passed statewide laws in the past five years to protect their LGBTQ residents from discrimination, bringing the current number of states with comprehensive protections today to 21.

These victories include several notable national firsts: the first statewide nondiscrimination law passed in a Republican-controlled state (New Hampshire); the first standalone statewide transgender public accomodations law passed into law (Massachusetts); the first statewide nondiscrimination law passed in the South (Virginia); and the first popular votes exclusively on transgender protections (Anchorage, Alaska and Massachusetts), both overwhelmingly upheld at the ballot box.

Additionally, cities and towns from Alaska to Florida have passed their own local ordinances. And, in May 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives passed comprehensive LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections for the first time in U.S. history, in the form of the Equality Act. But there is much more to do to ensure all LGBTQ Americans, no matter where they live or who they love, are protected from discrimination in all areas of daily life. More states need to pass comprehensive protections and, ultimately, both the U.S. House and Senate must pass federal protections, and the President must sign them into law.

“It was incredible to see how far and fast the country moved, both legally and in terms of public opinion, to secure equal marriage rights.”—FFAA Vice President of Campaigns Amy Mello

The Supreme Court has continued to play a central role in determining whether LGBTQ people can live equally, free from discrimation, with dignity and respect. Just this month, in another watershed LGBTQ decision, conservative Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing a 6-3 opinion for the conservative-majority Court, affirmed that federal law prohibits discrimination against LGBTQ people in the workplace.

Next term, the Court will review whether a religious foster care agency that receives taxpayer funding can discriminate against prospective LGBTQ foster parents, violating government nondiscrimination requirements. The agency seeks to deny children who are in dire need of loving homes placement with prospective LGBTQ parents. The outcome of the case could have a far-reaching impact on the enforcement of nondiscrimination laws.

Fifty-one years since the Stonewall Uprising, which, built on many efforts before it, people credit as the beginning of the modern push for nationwide nondiscrimination protections, and 5 years since the historic Obergefell decision, we’ve made significant progress in ensuring all LGBTQ people are treated with dignity and respect. But we have much more to do, and must work as quickly as we can, to ensure that all members of the community are protected in all areas of their lives—including necessities like employment, housing, health care, and public spaces—no matter where they live or who they love.

“Having the freedom to marry means every young LGBTQ person can now dream of having a happily ever after because love is and will always be the law.” —FFAA Creative Director Jorge Gutierrez

No one should have to endure years of litigation to have fair access to basic fundamental needs like housing or health care, and everyone should be able to go about their daily lives—purchase items at a store, check in to a hotel, eat at a restaurant—without fear of harassment or discrimination simply because of who they are.

The bottom line: We can’t let our foot off the gas. So, today we celebrate, and tomorrow, we press on. Our Chief Counsel, Jon Davidson, sums up perfectly the watershed moment we celebrate:

“Working as co-counsel in the Obergefell case with some of the best legal advocates in the country was one of the pinnacles of my career. It’s a remarkable feeling to be able to use your training and skills to bring justice to your own community. As a result of that victory, same-sex couples nationwide were finally able to have our relationships treated with equal humanity and dignity by our government and no longer were denied access to the rights and benefits that all married couples enjoy. My Facebook post from five years ago sums up how I felt that day: ‘Still feeling the glow. I need to remember this feeling. I wish I could bottle it.'”


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