To many Americans, Friday’s 5-4 Supreme Court ruling which legalized
gay marriage nationwide signifies much needed societal advancement and
provides a long awaited and much anticipated legitimacy for relationships,
families, and modern American life. Justice Kennedy’s opinion eloquently
addressed the quest for equal dignity under the law for same sex couples. At the
Buckley Law Firm, we applaud the Supreme Court’s decision and congratulate our friends,
coworkers, and families who previously did not enjoy the freedom to marry.
With new-found freedom, we are still concerned that certain fundamental
protections are missing. Equal dignity under the law has not yet provided
equal protection under the law. More action is needed.
Even though gay marriage is now legal in all states, not all people embrace
these relationships and families. In fact, our gay colleagues have never
experienced a society that allows them to openly acknowledge relationships
in the workplace without fear of backlash, harassment or termination.
What can it mean to be a gay worker or to be perceived as being gay by
work colleagues? It still can mean hiding one’s identity and keeping
personal relationships from others. It can mean worrying about termination
or harassment for being who you are. It can mean denying oneself and one’s
life partner the legitimacy and respect each party – and the relationship
– deserves, for a paycheck.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act aims to protect the LGBT community
from workplace discrimination. This legislation has been pending in Congress for over
twenty years. With only one exception, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act has been
proposed each and every term since 1994.
The current bill, S.815 –
Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2013, sponsored by Oregon
Senator Jeff Merkley, passed the Senate in November 2013. This bill “Prohibits covered
entities (employers, employment agencies, labor organizations, or joint
labor-management committees) from engaging in employment discrimination
on the basis of an individual’s actual or perceived sexual orientation
or gender identity.” Yet this proposed law has languished in the
House of Representatives, with the last action being referred to a subcommittee
in January 2014.
Congress needs to act now to provide equal protection under the law as
most states do not provide any protection to LGBT employees. The fact
is, in 2015, in more than half of the United States, there are few legal
avenues LGBT employees can take in order to protect their jobs.
In Georgia, LGBT employees must rely on local ordinances, where they exist,
to protect their workplace rights, and few municipalities have implemented
such protections. Progressive cities like Decatur and Pine Lake have laws
which to some extent protect government employees. The city of Atlanta’s
regulations provide some protection based on gender identity. Throughout
most of Georgia though, gay and transgender employees have no legal protection.
In fact, no state-governed protection exists in
any southern state.
American Civil Liberties Union website features a
map of the 23 U.S. states which have protected the rights of its populations
against sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination in the workplace.
We applaud these states, and hope that in the near future everyone in
this country can go to work without fear. The time has come to pass national
legislation to protect our colleagues, our friends, and our family members
so they can enjoy the equal dignity they deserve.
What can we do as constituents? We can make our voices heard. Find out
who your politicians are (House of Representatives and
Senate) and let them know your thoughts. And if you are employed by a company
like Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, and Whole Foods who so proudly unveiled
their rainbow logos this past weekend, speak with senior leadership. Encourage
your employer to act. Corporate America and its workforce must work together
to lobby Congress for equal protection of our LGBT colleagues. Now is
the time, and America is listening.