If you watch the 6 o’clock news, read the newspaper or interact with other human beings, you’ve probably heard the talk about the growing number of states that are recognizing same-sex marriage. Hell, you’d have to be in a coma not to know that more than half the country (36 states with more on the way) supports marriage equality. Whether you’re for it or not, the trend seems to definitively go one-way rather than the other.
That’s great. Millions of Americans are finally able to marry their loved ones and reap the sweet, sweet benefits that come pre-loaded with a marriage license, like tax benefits and adoption rights. Picture it: all those couples are engaged and planning their weddings right now. They’ve booked the venues, hired the caterers and sent out initiations.
But hold on, one of those gay wedding invitations made it to somebody’s boss. If the happy couple lives in one of the 29 states without anti-LGBT discrimination laws in place, that dream wedding they were planning might not be so dreamy. That’s because one bride or groom was fired for their sexuality. Weddings cost money. No job means no money, which means no more wedding.
It is astonishing just how backwards that sounds but that’s the law, even here in Michigan. So yeah, it’s great that the country is slowly moving towards total marriage equality. However, there seems to be a bigger problem that not many people are talking about.
In fact, while marriage equality activists were busy pushing for that right, our own state lawmakers were busy with their own so-called “rights crusade.”
Religious rights, that is. Specifically, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The bill, which would make it legal for anyone from teachers to EMTs to refuse service to LGBT individuals based on their religious beliefs, was first introduced in the state House last year and had a similar counterpart introduced in the Senate late last month. Critics of the bill have labeled it a “right to discriminate.”
LGBT Michiganders are facing discrimination like this at home even though Michigan’s marriage equality laws are currently going to the Supreme Court in a decision that could possibly overturn all same-sex marriage bans across the country.
So why aren’t more people up in arms over this like they are about marriage equality? For one, same-sex marriage might be an easier issue to support. Sure, let LGBT people do whatever they want in their homes. But when it comes to the workplace, it’s a different story. It’s also harder for straight allies to back anti-discrimination laws when their jobs are on the line as well.
The argument that the fight for equality should be taken one step at a time gets thrown around a lot too. But how long should LGBT people be expected to wait before they don’t have to live in fear of losing their jobs, financial security and way of life. Yeah, being married is great, but it’s not so great when you’re homeless with no source of income. This issue can’t sit on the back burner much longer.
Some companies in Michigan are ahead of the curve when it comes to workplace discrimination. Companies like Ford, who recently fired a contractor for anti-LGBT remarks, have protections in place for their LGBT employees. It’s only a matter of time before others come around to support this issue. Once the honeymoon phase of marriage equality has worn off, this issue will surely get the attention it so badly deserves.
Tim Carroll is the editor-in-chief of The South End and a member of both the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and WSU's Journalism Institute for Media Diversity. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.