Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are values enshrined in our Declaration of Independence as inalienable rights of every American. Yet the LGBT community is still not equal in the eyes of the law, nor does it enjoy the breadth of freedoms that other Americans enjoy. This is not acceptable.
Generation after generation, people have fought to rid our country of the “except for’s”: except for blacks, except for women, and so forth. Today, we are challenged by the latest prejudice to rear its ugly head and seek to repudiate the fundamental American dedication to freedom and equality for all. The idea that there should be God-given life, liberty and pursuit of happiness “except for gays” is unworthy of our national character.
For many people, getting married is one of the most important things they will ever do in the pursuit of happiness. Currently, 17 states and the District of Columbia allow for same-sex marriage, and 34 states (including Utah for now) have a constitutional or legislative ban on same-sex marriage. I strongly support the current legislation calling for a repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996. Known as The Respect for Marriage Act, this current bill calls for the federal government to recognize the validity of same-sex marriages.
The 1964 Civil Rights Act was not just about equality in one sphere of life. It was about full equality in the eyes of the law. In recent years, marriage equality has made important strides, but it has become the cornerstone of the equality movement, rather than an organic consequence of a full equality movement. There are other spheres of inequality that continue to exist to which we must no longer turn a blind eye.
Pursuing a livelihood free from discrimination is one such sphere that we as a country have not fully addressed for the LGBT community. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), approved in the Senate but not yet on the floor of the House, seeks to prohibit discrimination in hiring and employment on the basis of sexual orientation or identity. While the objectives underlying ENDA are to be commended, I have concerns about ENDA in its current form. It does not apply to members of the armed forces, companies with fewer than 15 employees, and most importantly, it contains a sweeping exemption for any religiously affiliated organizations, a category of employers that extends far beyond houses of worship.
It is time to recognize that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, in the Constitution that suggests that any one group of people has the right to limit another group in any way. The LGBT community should be able to get married, pursue a livelihood free from discrimination and have all of the rights afforded under the US Constitution, not because of their sexual orientation, but because they are American. It is as simple as that.