By Congressman Gary Peters
Since first being elected to Congress in 2008, I have fought for a better future for the people of Michigan and for the principles I believe in. I fought to save our auto industry, help small businesses get the loans they need to grow and create jobs, reform Wall Street, and cut wasteful spending. Besides being good policy, I believe backing these causes was simply the right thing to do.
This is the same approach I bring to LGBT equality. We have made historic progress in this fight. I have had the honor to work with my colleagues to enact legislation extending hate crimes protections to LGBT Americans and repealing the misguided “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) law which prevented LGBT soldiers from serving openly in our military.
The repeal of DADT was of deep, personal significance to me. As a former Lieutenant Commander in the United States Navy Reserve, I served with many brave, patriotic, and dedicated men and women. I was never concerned about their sexual orientation, just their ability to serve the United States honorably.
We must allow our military to recruit and retain any qualified, patriotic, and courageous American who wants to serve our nation. I am proud that our Armed Forces implemented the repeal of DADT efficiently and professionally; I expected no less.
We have also seen action from the Obama Administration. Federal regulations now allow hospital patients to decide who has visitation rights and who can make medical decisions on their behalf, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or family makeup.
Despite these significant advancements, there is still much work to do in the fight for equality. First and foremost, we need to roll back the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). While President Obama and Attorney General Holder have formally recognized that DOMA is unconstitutional and decided not to defend DOMA in court, the federal government has continued enforcement by denying federal benefits to the spouses of Americans in valid same-sex marriages.
Unfortunately, the Republican majority in the House opposes repeal, effectively blocking legislative action at this time. Republican leadership even appointed a legal team to defend DOMA in court in place of the Department of Justice. This has cost upwards of $3 million in legal bills at a time when Congress should be focused on creating jobs and putting our country on a sustainable fiscal path.
We are all waiting to see how the Supreme Court rules on the matter of DOMA’s constitutionality – likely in late June. I am proud to have joined more than 200 of my colleagues in the House and Senate in filing an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief, arguing that the Supreme Court should strike down the law.
While the future of DOMA currently resides in the Supreme Court, I believe there are opportunities for bipartisan, legislative cooperation on equality. All students deserve to feel safe at school, regardless of ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Unfortunately, students who are, or are perceived to be LGBT are subjected to higher rates of discrimination, including bullying, intimidation, violence, and harassment. Surveys show that upwards of 90 percent of LGBT students have been bullied. This is harmful to both students and our educational system.
This is why I helped introduce the bipartisan Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA), which establishes a federal prohibition of discrimination in public schools based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, and provides victims with effective remedies modeled on Title IX. This legislation would also protect the friends and allies of LGBT students, who are frequently targeted for harassment themselves. Hate has no place in our schools. LGBT students should be able to attend school and get a quality education without fearing of harassment and intimidation.
We cannot rest in the wake of our progress toward equality. We must keep working to get rid of DOMA, enact SNDA, and achieve true equality. Throughout our nation’s history, Americans from all walks of life came together to stand up for our own rights and those of our friends, neighbors, and loved ones. The work ahead of us will not be easy – but it is a necessary fight and one I know we will win. Our Constitution guarantees equal protection under law, and as a Member of Congress, I firmly believe it is my duty to defend the rights of all Americans. It is simply the right thing to do.