Discrimination in the United States

The big focus in the United States and across the world, honestly, has been the topic of same-sex marriage. The sides are clear, and the fight for equality in marriage will hit an all-time high come July, when the United States Supreme Court makes a ruling on California’s Prop 8 and the federal government’s DOMA, our brilliant Defense of Marriage Act. 

However, that’s just part of our fight for equality. And I feel that our focus, while with good intent, may be in the wrong area. Because after all, how fantastic is marriage equality, if you can’t find a place to live or keep a job?

I’ve done a good amount of research into this, and I think I’ve found the most current data regarding the United States and protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This is one of those posts where I’ll need your help to verify the information posted.

The latest poll regarding same-sex marriage approval shows that nationwide, 53% of those polled support same-sex marriage. Breaking it down state by state shows some interesting information:

Approval

While equality in marriage is definitely important, what about our other rights? Like job and housing equality? Adoption? Hate crimes?

Here’s a breakdown of figures:

Hate Crimes:

  • 20 states have no specific provisions regarding hate crimes and sexual orientation or gender identity – out of those 20 states, 2 actually recognize sexual orientation, but only for collecting data regarding hate crimes.
  • 16 states only recognize sexual orientation in state hate crime laws
  • 14 states recognize both sexual orientation and gender identity

Same-Sex Adoption

  • 15 states have no laws or ambiguous laws regarding adoption
  • 3 states have declared joint adoption and stepparent adoption illegal
  • 3 states have declared joint adoption illegal
  • 3 states have declared stepparent adoption illegal
  • 19 states have declared joint and stepparent adoptions as legal
  • 2 states have declared stepparent adoption legal

Employment

  • 20 states have no provisions protecting sexual orientation or gender identity in employment
  • 6 states only recognize sexual orientation, and only at the state level
  • 3 recognize only sexual orientation in public and private employment, but recognize both orientation and identity at the state level
  • 4 recognize both at the state level only
  • 14 states recognize sexual orientation and gender identity as protected status against discrimination in employment in both public and private sectors

Housing

  • 29 states have absolutely no provision or protection 
  • 5 states protect sexual orientation
  • 16 states protect both orientation and identity

But what’s even more interesting is when you look at approval ratings by state versus laws regarding housing and employment.

10 states have no protection for sexual orientation or gender identity at the state level: Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, North and South Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming

Other states, like Michigan, show a majority of voters supporting same-sex marriage, but have no protection when it comes to hate crimes, housing, adoption, and employment. And when you look at the states that have been approving same-sex marriage into law, you’ll find that the majority of them have already had laws in place treating sexual orientation and gender identity as protected statuses.

Granted, many of the studies were simply looking at figures at a state level, and I know in Michigan much power is granted to city and municipal governments when it comes to certain laws. But the fact that there is no legal recourse we can take against discrimination in those states is completely abhorrent.

Two things bother me the most.

First, the contradictory behavior of those states. My home state, Michigan, has a knack for backwards practices. Did you know that you can use your marriage certificate to change your name in the state of Michigan? This isn’t that strange, but what boggles my mind is that Michigan banned same-sex marriage by changing their Constitution and will not recognize same-sex marriage from other states, but they will accept the marriage certificate of a same-sex marriage to validate a name change.

Times change. People’s viewpoints on issues obviously jump from one side to the other. In May 2012, same-sex marriage approval was at 42%. In one year, it climbed up to over half of the United States supporting it. Archaic laws should be challenged and changed on a regular basis. Michigan’s Prop 2 should be revisited often, as public opinion changes. But our politicians don’t. They don’t bring these issues to the table. We need to petition our politicians to revisit these issues. Not only are our politicians failing us, but so are we.

I’ve been fired from a job for the assumption that I was a lesbian. Yes, the assumption. I hadn’t revealed to anyone that I was homosexual. It was simply assumed, and I was fired. No recourse. No ability to take any action against my former employer. It was the most hopeless feeling I’d ever experienced in my life. That shouldn’t be allowed to happen. Ever.

The second issue that bothers me is the idea that we are potentially focusing our energy on equality in the wrong areas. In the ‘gay-friendly’ states, the ones that have the laws and marriage and approval – they already had protections in place prior to same-sex marriage being passed. Should we be focusing our energies more on employment and housing than marriage?

I look at it as if I’m getting into a tub full of really hot water. I put my feet in first, and let them get used to the water, then my legs, and so forth. What is the epitome of our struggle? Our ultimate goal is complete equality, but what falls below that? And in what order?

This is what we need to consider. By pursuing same-sex marriage so fervently, are we putting the cart in front of the horse in some states? Would it be easier to focus on issues like employment and housing first, and then move towards marriage approval?

I’m completely all for same-sex marriage, but if I get married and then can’t find housing or a decent job, what’s the point?

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