The 2012 election may not be decided by gay soccer dads and lesbian Costco moms but their quality of life will be defined by those occupying the White House and Congress in 2013 and beyond.
While much of the conversation surrounding lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people of late has concerned the issue of marriage equality, there is much more to be said about the way our government treats LGBT Americans.
Over the past few decades great progress has been made in the fight for LGBT legal equality but I'm guessing many straight Americans -- even those with close friends and family who happen to be gay -- would be surprised to learn just how much is left to be done.
Gays and lesbians can be fired in 29 states based simply on who they love and not the quality of their work. On that score, the number of states sanctioning discrimination is even worse for transgender people. Stable, law abiding same-sex couples in 32 states are forbidden from jointly adopting children and denied the right to adopt the sons and daughters of their partner in an equally unfortunate number of states. Students who identify as, or are perceived to be LGBT remain vulnerable to state-sanctioned discrimination by their teachers and public schools in 36 states while 33 members of our "more perfect union" have no statewide programs protecting them from bullying. When it comes to renting a home, lesbians and gay men can be denied a lease simply for being gay in 29 states and again, the numbers are even worse for the transgender community. While hospitals accepting Medicare and Medicaid are currently barred from denying visitation to same-sex partners as a result of a mandate issued by President Obama, 26 states have no laws guaranteeing such simple human dignity should the edict be rescinded by a future president.
It has been 15 years since Ellen DeGeneres came out on national television and while our culture has moved miles towards LGBT acceptance and inclusion, our laws have moved mere inches.
The presidential debates between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will largely focus on the continuing economic anxiety of everyday Americans. To that end, debate moderators should consider how such economic worries are intensified for the nearly 10 million Americans who are confronted by these and countless other forms of government endorsed bigotry.
We know President Obama's record on LGBT equality thus far. To highlight only a few of his most notable accomplishments, he signed the hate crimes bill into law, repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," appointed a record number of openly LGBT people to his administration, and came out in support of marriage equality. But what can we expect from his second term? Does he remain committed to the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would forbid employers from firing someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity? If so, how can he expect to see such legislation reach his desk with anti-gay zealots controlling the House of Representatives and a GOP Senate minority hooked on the filibuster? Will he skip Congress and sign an Executive Order barring government contractors from discrimination?
In 1994, Romney famously told a New England newspaper, "I am more convinced than ever before that as we seek to establish full equality for America's gay and lesbian citizens, I will provide more effective leadership than my opponent." His "opponent" was Ted Kennedy, a champion for LGBT equality. Since then, Romney has dropped his attempts to one-up Kennedy on the rights of LGBT people by opposing ENDA and calling such employment protections a "burden" on business. Furthermore, his opposition to same-sex relationship recognition is even more extreme than George W. Bush's notorious effort to pass a constitutional amendment banning marriage equality. At least Bush supported civil unions for same-sex couples. Romney supports the constitutional amendment Bush championed, opposes civil unions, and would allow states to ban even basic domestic partnership agreements. He claims that LGBT individuals should be shown respect but how would he show such deference as president if he believes it is okay for these citizens to be fired because of who they are and that their relationships are inferior to those of their straight friends, family, and neighbors?
These are only a few of the specific questions that moderators should ask Romney and Obama during debates regarding our economic future and they should require the same specificity from the candidates in their answers.
Regardless of what happens in the race for the White House, there are signs that this election could very well be a watershed moment for LGBT equality across the country.
In 2012 at least eight states -- Delaware, Florida, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, North Dakota, Texas, South Dakota, and West Virginia -- are poised for removal from the list of states without openly LGBT state legislators. A significant step when you consider the fact that no state has passed protections for LGBT residents without having an openly LGBT state lawmaker.
The same holds true for Congress. In November, we could elect the nation's first openly LGBT U.S. Senator in Wisconsin's Tammy Baldwin and could see the delegation of openly LGBT Congresspersons increase from its current membership of four to seven including a lone Republican and two firsts: a bisexual and a person of color.
At the ballot box, voters in Maine, Maryland, and Washington will likely approve marriage equality initiatives becoming the first states to do so at the polls while Minnesota could very well defeat efforts to add a ban on same-sex unions to the state constitution.
With so much at stake for LGBT people and numerous historic electoral wins on the horizon this fall, shouldn't President Obama and Mitt Romney have a frank discussion about issues important to LGBT Americans and their families?
Gay folks aren't all that different from anyone else. We worry about our families, our jobs, our friends, and the future of our country too. We might even worry just a little bit more.
Karl Frisch is a syndicated columnist and Democratic strategist at Bullfight Strategies in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at KarlFrisch.com. You can also follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Pinterest, and YouTube, or sign up to receive his columns and updates by email.
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