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Topics In the News
Top Ten GLBTQ News Stories of 2013
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 12/27/13
Last updated on: 12/28/13
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Number 1: Windsor v. U.S.A.

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. For glbtq people, 2013 was a year of substantial progress, both in the United States and abroad. Marriage equality, which continues to be the most significant barometer of glbtq acceptance, spread into additional American states, including one of the most unlikely, Utah, and advanced in both Europe and Latin America. At the same time, however, homophobia surfaced in its most virulent forms in Africa and Eastern Europe, including Russia.

Our top ten GLBTQ News Stories of 2013 actually include many more than ten discrete stories since the list comprises developments that sometime include many related stories.

The number one glbtq news story of 2013 is the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark ruling in Windsor v. U.S.A.

In a 5-4 decision released on June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court of the United States struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), finding it unconstitutional on equal protection grounds. The decision vindicated the sense of injustice Edie Windsor felt when she received a $360,000 tax bill when her wife Thea Spyer died, a tax bill that would not have been forthcoming had they been a heterosexual couple.

Describing DOMA's principal effect as to "identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal," the Court declared that DOMA was enacted simply to injure same-sex couples. "DOMA's unusual deviation from the usual tradition of recognizing and accepting state definitions of marriage here operates to deprive same-sex couples of the benefits and responsibilities that come with the federal recognition of their marriages. This is strong evidence of a law having the purpose and effect of disapproval of that class. The avowed purpose and practical effect of the law here in question are to impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the States."

The law, the majority declared, "undermines both the public and private significance of state-sanctioned same-sex marriages; for it tells those couples, and all the world, that their otherwise valid marriages are unworthy of federal recognition. This places same-sex couples in an unstable position of being in a second-tier marriage. The differentiation demeans the couple, whose moral and sexual choices the Constitution protects, . . . and whose relationship the State has sought to dignify.

Moreover, Justice Kennedy added, DOMA also "humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples. The law in question makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives."

Although the opinion is a narrow one from a bitterly divided Court, it had immediate beneficial consequences and will be influential in furthering equal rights for gay couples throughout the country.

The number two glbtq news story of 2013 is the Obama administration's swift implementation of equal rights as a result of the Windsor decision and the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

With the removal of DOMA and the repeal of DADT, the Obama administration quickly made federal benefits available to married same-sex couples, most of them based on the place where the marriage was performed rather than the state in which the couple lives.

The Pentagon and the Office of Personnel Management acted quickly to rewrite regulations to make certain that same-sex and opposite-sex married couples are treated equally in the armed services and the federal work force. New regulations were promulgated by the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Health and Human Services to assure that same-sex couples have the same options that married opposite-sex couples have in filing taxes and receiving medicare benefits.

This rapid response assured that the DOMA and DADT developments will affect gay people in all fifty states rather than in simply those states that have achieved marriage equality. Military benefits and immigration regulations, for example, were extended to all married couples whether they live in Mississippi or Massachusetts. Secretary of Defense Hagel's insistence that all married couples in the military be treated equally, including those in the national guards of homophobic states, led to a confrontation with the governors of nine states in which the governors soon blinked. There is no question that had the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney been elected in November 2012, the federal government would have resisted equal rights rather than advanced them.

The number three glbtq news story of 2013 is the achievement of marriage equality in France, Great Britain, New Zealand, Uruguay, Brazil, and Mexico.

In 2013, France, New Zealand, and Uruguay achieved marriage equality as a result of parliamentary action.

Although France's National Assembly decisively passed marriage equality legislation with a 331-225 vote on April 23, 2013, the debate in France was ugly. The historic vote came in the midst of heightened tension and escalating violence on the part of anti-gay opponents of equal rights. Nevertheless, France became the 14th nation to extend marriage rights to all of its same-sex couples.

Court rulings in Brazil extended marriage equality throughout the nation, while additional states in Mexico achieved marriage equality as a result of judicial decisions.

In the United Kingdom, the long debate about the bill that will extend marriage equality to England and Wales in early 2014 came to a triumphant conclusion with a stunning victory in the House of Lords on June 4, 2013, where it was passed by a lopsided 390 to 148 vote. It had earlier been passed in the House of Commons by a coalition of Labour, Liberal Democrat, and Conservative parliamentarians.

The number four glbtq news story of 2013 is the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Hollingsworth that returned marriage equality to California.

By ruling that the proponents of Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California, lacked standing to appeal Judge Vaughn Walker's historic 2010 decision declaring the ban unconstitutional, the Court restored marriage equality to our largest and most influential state.

The litigation over Proposition 8 did not lead to the broad ruling that marriage equality advocates had hoped. It did not establish a fundamental constitutional right to same-sex marriage. However, Chief Justice Roberts' ruling did validate a point that activists have made over and over again: allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry harms no one. Even the most ardent opponents of same-sex marriage sustain no real injury when gay and lesbian couples are allowed to marry.

Moreover, the long battle against Proposition 8 served the important purpose of educating the public about marriage equality generally. The exhaustive trial conducted by Judge Walker demonstrated clearly the harm caused by the discriminatory proposition and also the irrationality of the discrimination. The proponents of Proposition 8 could not find a rational basis to justify the exclusion of gay and lesbian couples from civil marriage.

Most importantly, the litigation succeeded in nullifying the discriminatory Proposition. As a result of the prolonged legal battle, same-sex marriage returned to California after almost five long years of the ban imposed by Proposition 8.

Shortly after the Supreme Court ruling was announced, Governor Jerry Brown declared that "the district court's injunction against Proposition 8 applies statewide and that all county clerks and county registrar/recorders must comply with it" and Attorney General Kamala Harris moved swiftly to ask the Court of Appeals to lift the stay on Judge Walker's decision. On June 28, 2013, marriage equality returned to California.

The number five glbtq news story of 2013 is expansion of marriage equality to additional U.S. states.

Continuing the momentum established by the historic election of November 2012 in which voters in Maryland, Maine, and Washington approved same-sex marriage at the polls, additional U.S. states won marriage equality victories either legislatively or judicially, bringing the total number of states in which same-sex couples can marry at the end of the 2013 to 18.

In 2013 legislative victories advancing marriage equality were achieved in Delaware, Rhode Island, Minnesota, Hawaii, and Illinois.

In addition, state courts established marriage equality in New Jersey and New Mexico, while federal courts returned same-sex marriage to California and established it in Utah. The stunning decision from Utah was the first federal ruling after the Windsor decision and bodes well for the eventual achievement of marriage equality nation-wide.

The number six glbtq news story is the advance of transgender rights in the United States.

This year brought numerous advances for transgender rights in the United States.

Perhaps the most important single event was the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's historic decision in Macy v. Holder, which clarified that transgender status is protected from discrimination by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

In addition, the Social Security Administration revised regulations to make it easier for transgender people to update their gender status.

On August 12, 2013, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill that requires public schools in California to allow transgender students access to sports teams, locker rooms, and bathrooms based on their gender identity regardless of their birth gender. Predictably, conservative groups immediately launched a drive to overturn the legislation via a referendum. However, it appears that the groups failed to collect sufficient valid signatures to qualify for the ballot and the law will go into effect on January 1, 2014.

The number seven glbtq news story of 2013 is the anti-gay pogrom underway in Russia.

In 2013, following the passage of several anti-gay laws, including one prohibiting "homosexual propaganda," Russia launched a pogrom against its gay citizens. The new laws ostensibly ban the promotion of "non-traditional sexual relations" among minors, but their effect has been to license homophobic vigilantism, including violence directed at individuals, businesses, and community centers. Moreover, the government has encouraged the reporting to the police of neighbors who are believed to be glbtq.

In response to the growing violence against gay people in Russia, activists have urged boycotts against Russian imports, such as vodka, and against the Winter Olympic Games scheduled for Sochi in 2014. Although the threat of boycotts had little effect on the International Olympic Committee, several heads of state, including President Obama, announced that they will not attend the Games. Indeed, President Obama sent a clear message of disapproval by selecting a delegation to represent the United States at the opening and closing ceremonies of the Games that includes no high-ranking government officials, but does include three openly gay athletes.

The number eight glbtq news story of 2013 is the increasing anti-gay animus in Africa.

Even as glbtq people enjoy greater rights and security in the Western democracies, Africa remains a stubborn bastion of homophobia, often with the encouragement of anti-gay activists from the United States.

In 2013, anti-gay bills were promulgated throughout the continent, and in December the notorious "kill the gays" bill from Uganda resurfaced as a "put gays in prison for life" bill, which now awaits the signature of the president. Other countries, including those with laws that already imprison people for engaging in homosexual sex, added prohibitions for advocating equal rights or marrying same-sex lovers.

American anti-gay activists, who are largely failing in the United States, have enjoyed greater success in Africa, where their hatred has found an eager market.

However, an incident that occurred in 2013 may indicate that the promotion of anti-gay animus may have a cost, at least for those who aspire to international careers. On August 15, 2013, Dartmouth College rescinded the appointment of the Anglican Bishop of Southern Malawi James Tengatenga as Dean of the William Jewell Tucker Foundation, a campus institution that focuses on furthering the moral, spiritual, and social justice work of the college. The appointment of Tengatenga had become controversial as his history of homophobic statements and actions came to light.

The number nine glbtq news story is the discrediting of reparative therapy and the judicial testing of laws in California and New Jersey that prohibit therapies that attempt to change the sexual orientation of minors.

In 2012, the California legislature passed and Governor Brown signed into law a bill that prohibits the practice of therapy that attempts to change a minor's sexual orientation. The bill declared that "being lesbian, gay, or bisexual is not a disease, disorder, illness, deficiency, or shortcoming" that requires curing. The law was immediately challenged in federal court as an abridgment of free speech rights.

On August 29, 2013, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit unanimously upheld the law. The panel concluded that it "does not violate the free speech rights of practitioners or minor patients, is neither vague nor overbroad, and does not violate parents' fundamental rights."

On August 19, 2013, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed into law a similar bill banning reparative therapy for minors, thus making New Jersey the second state to prohibit such therapies for minors. As with the California law, the New Jersey law was quickly challenged in court.

On November 8, 2013, U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson dismissed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the ban. Judge Wolfson rejected arguments that the law infringes free speech or the exercise of religion or the rights of minors to self-determination or the right of parents to direct the upbringing of their children.

The number ten glbtq news story is the increasing acceptance of homosexuality within religious communities.

Polls in 2013 have shown that a majority of Americans now believe that homosexuality is not per se immoral. Consequently, greater acceptance of homosexuality has been evident within religious communities, even among younger Evangelical Christians.

Following the famous statement of Pope Francis in regard to gay priests, "Who am I to judge?," there has been a noticeable softening of rhetoric by the American Catholic bishops, if as yet not much change in their opposition to same-sex marriage or in their acceptance of openly gay employees, many of whom are routinely fired if their marriage to a same-sex partner becomes public knowledge.

Moreover, 2013 saw a corresponding softening in the rhetoric of the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who seems to have taken the overwhelming approval of same-sex marriage in U.K.'s parliament to heart. Although the Anglican bishops opposed the marriage bill, their rhetoric was much less strident than it had been and the Archbishop apologized for the Church's mistreatment of glbtq members.

Most of the mainline Protestant denominations in the U.S. now at least permit the ordination of openly gay and partnered ministers, though same-sex marriage remains a sticking point for some. Despite official policies against performing same-sex marriage, however, Lutheran and Presybterian ministers are marrying same-sex couples without the kind of controversy that such actions would have caused just a year or two ago.

The mainline Protestant denomination that is currently embroiled in the most bitter battle over gay rights is the United Methodist Church. The denomination is likely to split over the issue as conservatives insist on church trials of clergy, such as the Rev. Frank Schaefer, who conduct same-sex weddings in defiance of the denominations Book of Discipline.

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