07/18/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Our Moral Imperative

"Equality is a moral imperative."

Those words could have come from that diverse and brave group who made their stand at the Stonewall Inn that Friday night in June 1969, a stand for dignity and equality.

But they didn't.

Or these words: We must "build an America that lives up to its founding promise."

Again, words not from that night 40 years ago that gave rise to the modern lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) movement, but rather words from our president, Barack Obama.

And that's why last week's Department of Justice brief defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was not merely disappointing, it was a public abrogation of the promise of equality the president himself embraced as a candidate.

It was not just a step backward for this administration, it was a step backward for our country. To issue this morally indefensible brief days before the Stonewall anniversary was an insulting rejection of those who have dedicated their lives to encouraging our nation to live up to what it has always valued most, what it has represented to the world -- equality.

And so now the LGBT community, on this 40th anniversary of the date when our community stood up and shouted "No!" is challenged to once again take a stand.

Like so many others who believed our country could do better, could do more, the LGBT community worked for change. And now, we wonder if that change so many worked so hard for is going to include us in ways that fully reflect our lives.

Our movement has come a long way, but the Justice Department's brief defending DOMA showed us that our country still has a long way to go.

And while "LGBT issues" have come to be seen as four primary legislative priorities -- the overturning of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and DOMA, and the passage of hate crime legislation and an inclusive employment nondiscrimination act -- those bills will never reflect the full scope or complexity of the issues that concern our community.

For some of us, our first priority may be protection from employment discrimination or the ability to freely serve in the military. But for others, our first concern may be protecting our families or health coverage for our partners. Or it is the threat of families being torn apart at our borders because one parent is not a child's biological parent or because of one partner's HIV status.

That's why our work will always be broader than specific pieces of legislation; why it will always be about improving the lives of LGBT people, ending discrimination embedded in federal policies and ensuring that not a single one of us should live in fear of prosecution or persecution for who we are and whom we love.

Why it will always be about "equality as a moral imperative."

Now, we're not naive about the complexities of making federal policy. We know there are scores of key vacancies throughout the federal bureaucracy awaiting Senate confirmation. And yes, there is a lengthy list of big issues facing the nation and the world, and that lawmaking takes time. And those issues, like the economy and health care, also directly affect the lives of LGBT people.

And that's why, as Congress considers the LGBT community's legislative priorities, we call on the administration to take the dozens of steps it can take on its own, right now, to start fulfilling its vision of change and equality. The president just announced he would extend some protections to same-sex couples if a partner is a federal employee. That's a first step. And there is more he can do:

  • The administration can reverse the standing policy of the U.S. Census Bureau to manually un-marry any same-sex couple who lawfully states they are married on the 2010 census.
  • The administration can better ensure the health and safety of youth by funding LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying, suicide prevention and runaway and homeless youth programs.
  • The president can extend employment protections to federal employees based on gender identity.
  • Through executive order or by other means, the president can ensure military service members are allowed to serve their country without fear of being discharged until "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is repealed.
  • The administration can reverse the regulations that continue to throw roadblocks in the way of HIV-positive individuals who want to travel to this country.

And these are just a few of the dozens of policies that the president can change with his directive -- and without congressional action -- that will have a positive impact on our health, our livelihoods and our families' safety.

If there is to ever be equality, real equality, then this is the time for us to make a stand. We will work with this administration to create the change that will improve the lives of LGBT people. We will advocate, we will push, we will cajole -- and we won't walk away. Forty years after Stonewall, we will honor those who took a stand for dignity by continuing to fight for equality. After all, equality is a moral imperative.