As we embark on a new decade, it is easy to become discouraged by the current climate in the gay rights movement. Marriage equality has been stolen away in Maine and California, anti-gay military policy is still in place and there is still no federal employment non-discrimination legislation inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity. However, when put under the lens of where this movement has been and where it is going, it appears that the movement is at least on the right track.
When this decade began in 2000, not one U.S. state offered legal recognition of gay and lesbian couples. There were a handful of cities offering domestic partnership registries, but marriage equality wasn’t even a blip on the radar screen in most states. In July 2000, Vermont enacted a legendary civil unions law, which was hailed as a landmark moment in this movement’s history. Over the past 10 years, a lot has happened on the relationship recognition front and now we are to a point where that previously heroic civil unions legislation is now seen as separate, unequal and unacceptable.
The last decade has taught us that a lot can happen in 10 years, so let's do the time warp to Dec. 2019 and take a look at what is possible in the next decade.
Commencing Time Warp to 2019…
The first major victory of the decade was in 2010, when the federal Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) was signed into law by President Obama. The law is inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity and it is now illegal everywhere in the country to fire someone simply because they are gay or transgender. Another major legislative victory came when the removal of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" was attached to the 2011 defense authorization bill. America has now joined every other industrialized nation in allowing LGBT servicemembers to serve openly and honestly.
2012 was a major year for marriage equality. Since all of the New York Democratic state senators who voted against marriage in 2009 were ousted, the New York legislature was able to easily pass full marriage equality. New York was joined by California and Maine, which both mounted persuasive campaigns to convince voters of the harms caused by unequal marriage laws. This marked the first time that marriage won at the ballot box.
The NFL’s newest team, the Los Angeles Smog, moved into its new stadium in 2013 and the team welcomed an announcement from their star quarterback that he is gay. The quarterback was able to weather the storm of anti-gay sentiment and he is now happily married to one of the many professional athletes who have came out and followed his lead. Also in 2013, the new Governors of New Jersey and Pennsylvania both signed full marriage equality into law.
The big news out of 2014 was that David Cicilline was elected Governor of Rhode Island, becoming the first openly gay governor (excluding Jim McGreevey) after years of service as mayor of Providence. Between 2014 and 2015, national polls showed support for marriage equality around 55-60 percent, which prompted Oregon, Washington, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin to all enact marriage equality.
The top-grossing movie of 2015 featured a lesbian leading lady and her wife, but their relationship was not a central tenant in the movie.
Congresswoman Linda Sanchez (D-CA) won a heated battle to succeed Barack Obama as President in 2016. As she took office, pressure began to mount to look at federal marriage equality legislation. With gay and lesbian couples getting married in 20 states, a windfall of states passed marriage at the ballot box in 2016, bringing the total to 29 states.
In 2017, lesbian Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), was sworn in as Speaker of the House. She and President Sanchez spent the next few years removing all barriers to gay adoption and immigration for bi-national gay couples, while also strengthening transgender laws.
California became the second state to elect an openly gay Governor in 2018, when John Pérez took the reins –- Pérez was widely credited with solving California’s financial crisis earlier in the decade.
With most rights secured in the U.S., much of the LGBT rights movement turned it’s attention to eradicating anti-gay laws in Africa and the Middle-East in 2019.
As 2020 approaches, President Sanchez is facing a tough Republican challenger, but gay issues are not dividing the campaign, as both candidates support federal marriage legislation that is expected to become law within the next year.
Looking ahead, both Tammy Baldwin and openly gay Secretary of Education Jared Polis are considered early contenders for the 2024 presidency.