If your loved one was lying in a hospital in need of a blood transfusion, would you care about the sexual orientation of the donor whose blood is going to be given to your loved one? Chances are your biggest concern would be that the blood donor is healthy, not their sexual orientation. Yet, despite the fact that someone in the United States needs blood every two seconds, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration discriminates against men who have sex with men (MSM). In 1983, the FDA instituted a policy which bans all men who have had sex with another man at any time since 1977 from donating blood. In addition, the FDA states that men who have had sex with a man in the past five years should be ruled ineligible to donate certain tissues.
After decades of fighting for the rights of same-sex couples to marry, supporters of marriage equality experienced an amazing summer, full of numerous victories in courts throughout the country.
Since the beginning of June 2014, the one year anniversary of United States v. Windsor, courts ruled or upheld rulings that same-sex couples have a right to marry and that marriages performed in other states must be recognized in the following states: Colorado (state and federal courts), Florida (federal court), Indiana (federal & Seventh Circuit courts), Oklahoma (Tenth Circuit Court), Utah (Tenth Circuit), and Wisconsin (federal & Seventh Circuit courts). In a separate court case than the one mentioned above before the federal and Seventh Circuit, a federal court also ruled that marriages performed in other states must be recognized in Indiana.
“DOMA’s principal effect is to identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal…for it tells those couples, and all the world, that their otherwise valid marriages are unworthy of federal recognition.” – Justice Robert Kennedy, Majority Opinion in U.S. v. Windsor
On June 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in this landmark case, declaring Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act – which defined a spouse as someone of the opposite sex and marriage as a union between one man and one woman – unconstitutional. Following this decision, there was a surge in the fight for marriage equality all over the country. There are currently 19 states along with the District of Columbia that have removed bans on same-sex marriage. Recently, states have been overturning bans on same-sex marriage every other week. It seems that the movement for marriage equality and LGBT rights is at its highest and most successful point. But it’s not.
Today is our last day as legislative assistants at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. None of us imagined on August 20, 2013 – our very first day – that this year would have gone by so fast. It is has been an incredible honor to serve and represent our vibrant, passionate Movement in Washington, D.C.; one that we will cherish always.
In 1974, two members of the House of Representatives, Reps. Bella Abzug (D-NY) and Ed Koch (D-NY), introduced a bill entitled the “Equality Act of 1974″. This bill would ban discrimination against gays and lesbians in employment on a national level. This was the first of its kind. In 1994, this effort morphed into a bill known as ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. At first, this legislation would have made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of a person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation. For some, this wasn’t enough, as the 1994 bill did not include gender identity or expression until 2007 when actual or perceived gender identity/expression was added under what constituted illegal discrimination in the bill. Support for ENDA continued to grow, and in fact, this past November the Senate passed ENDA with sexual orientation and gender identity/expression included.
Amidst the suffering and conflict occurring in too many parts of the world, the White House delivered good news and something to celebrate today. Rabbi David Saperstein and I were privileged to be in the East Room of the White House this morning to watch President Obama sign an Executive Order prohibiting all companies that receive a contract from the federal government from discriminating against LGBT employees and adding gender identity to federal government’s current prohibition of employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. Read more…
Recent headlines about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) have been reminiscent of those from nearly seven years ago, when ENDA passed the House of Representatives. In the 110th Congress, then-Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) introduced the first trans-inclusive version of ENDA. However, after a preliminary vote proved the bill had no chance of passing, Rep. Frank stripped ENDA of its gender identity language and introduced a sexual orientation-only version of the bill, which passed the House of Representatives in November 2007.
This controversial decision divided the LGBT rights advocacy community. Some organizations withdrew support for the legislation, feeling that the exclusion of the transgender community significantly diminished the efficacy of the bill. Others, including the RAC, the Humans Rights Campaign, and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, felt that piecemeal protection was better than no protection at all. We remained vocal, however, about our belief that protection only on the basis of sexual orientation was not enough. Judaism teaches love of humanity and respect for the divinity in all people. Guided by those ideals, the Reform Jewish Movement continues to maintain ardent support for legislation that advances civil and human rights.
Yet again, the LGBT rights advocacy community is split in the fight for ENDA. On July 8, a few prominent LGBT and civil rights organizations, including the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the ACLU, formally dropped their support for the bill in light of the recent Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case.
The court decided in the case that Hobby Lobby and other closely-held, secular for-profit corporations do not have to cover for their employees the contraceptive care to which they object on religious grounds. The LGBT advocacy organizations that have withdrawn their support of ENDA are concerned that this ruling could affect the interpretation of ENDA’s current religious exemption.
Regardless of the implications posed by the Hobby Lobby case, there is no denying that an inclusive, federal workplace non-discrimination law is long overdue. Since ENDA was introduced more than a year and a half ago, the RAC and its allies in the LGBT rights community have tirelessly fought for this essential piece of legislation, pushing passage in the Senate and securing a record number of bipartisan co-sponsors in the House. We cannot ignore the urgent need for a law, backed by bipartisan support, that would advance the rights of the LGBT community and ensure that tens of millions of LGBT people are protected in the workplace.
This past month, people throughout the country and around the world participated in LGBT Pride. In San Francisco, for the first time, 14 Reform Jewish congregations in the greater Bay Area marched together with 75 participants from URJ Camp Newman behind a Union for Reform Judaism banner. Inspired by the Jewish teachings about the equality and dignity of every human being, approximately 200 Jewish individuals came together for this momentous occasion and this public display of support. Check out the JWeekly article for more details. Read more…