Marriage Equality Still Needs to Be Protected, Especially From Religious Exemptions

"The milk didn't curdle in Massachusetts all of a sudden [when same-sex marriage was passed in 2004], that this was great for families and great for their children and provided security and stability," Bonauto said. "That began to change hearts and minds."

Though far from ideal, it's clear that the perception of LGBTQ people and their right to marry in the U.S. has changed for the better. In fact, a 2019 Pew Research Center poll shows that 60 percent of Americans favor LGBTQ marriage equality, compared to 30 percent who oppose it. What makes this statistic even more promising is that in 2004, those numbers were flipped. Still, despite this positive push forward and the fact that the legal right for LGBTQ couples to marry has been secured, it's vital to stay aware of legal pushes and organizations working to dismantle those protections across the country.

Moves Against Marriage Equality
Last year, Tennessee Republicans Sen. Mark Pody and Rep. Jerry Sexton reintroduced the 2016 Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act that would prohibit government officials from facilitating same-sex marriages in the state. In an MSNBC article covering the story, Human Rights Campaign Press Secretary Nick Morrow called this move "disappointing" and called on the Tennessee government to think not only of the couples affected by a legal pushes like these, but local commerce, too.
"Marriage equality is settled law, and if Tennessee wants to continue to be a welcoming destination for businesses, tourists and transplants alike, our representatives need to join us in the year 2019," he said.
Beyond legislation, it's important to be aware of organizations that push legal arguments against equality like the Massachusetts Family Institute. This lobbyist group bills itself as a "non-partisan public policy organization dedicated to strengthening families in Massachusetts," and it has actively worked against LGBTQ marriage equality since it was passed in the state in 2004, women's reproductive rights and the rights of transgender and nonbinary people to access public services. Though now retired, Evelyn Reilly was a lobbyist for the Institute, and she still strongly opposes marriage equality.
"If we do not reverse this through the constitutional amendment, this country is going to be in dire straits in the next generation," she was quoted as saying in an NPR report by Gabrielle Emanuel.
The report went on to say that because of the over 100 lifetime appointment of conservative judges across the U.S. by the Trump administration, Reilly feels more confident in its potential reversal.
Another group to be aware of is Alliance Defending Freedom. This conservative Christian nonprofit has been classed as an LGBTQ hate group by The Southern Poverty Law Center and has worked to dismantle religious freedom and sexual orientation gender identity laws or SOGIs.
"Religious liberty is a founding principle of our country, but SOGIs all too often trample this right. In the following three instances, SOGIs demand ideological conformity with the new sexual ethic, which results in Christians being punished for their beliefs and the actions they take based on those beliefs," read an ADF press release.
Notably, ADF has also worked on behalf of the baker who refused a same-sex couple in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis, along with other critics of the group, have called the push for religious exemptions a veiled attempt at dismantling equality.
"With their involvement with Masterpiece Cakeshop, the ADF is attempting to roll back our nation's progress by pushing discriminatory religious exemptions into law," Ellis said. "The twisted narrative they masterminded is part of an insidious strategy that has been pushed by the ADF for decades with the goal of unraveling hard-fought non-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ community."

Positive Developments
Still, despite these actors, there are advocates working to maintain the hard-fought improvements in the lives of LGBTQ people. GLAD Civil Rights Project Director Mary Bonauto is a lawyer who was instrumental in securing the 2015 marriage equality ruling. In Emanuel's report, she said she remains optimistic that marriage equality will remain intact.
"The milk didn't curdle in Massachusetts all of a sudden [when same-sex marriage was passed in 2004], that this was great for families and great for their children and provided security and stability," Bonauto said. "That began to change hearts and minds."
In the same report, Bonauto said that the focus of those looking to preserve the Supreme Court marriage ruling should look to equally expanding statewide protections for LGBTQ people across the country in employment, housing and more.
"It's great to be able to marry, and it's not a great thing to feel super vulnerable about what this means for your jobs, your housing or whether you can get health care for your child," she said.
Locally, the coalition Fair and Equal Michigan is working to put those rights into the hands of voters by taking LGBTQ non-discrimination rights to the ballot. So far, the group has collected 100,000 signatures and is one-third of the way there.
"This grassroots effort of Michigan citizens is now 100,000 people strong as we encourage the Legislature to prohibit discrimination of LGBTQ people. In just five weeks, we've scaled from zero to 628 fully trained volunteers along with a 145-person paid field team that led to our 100,000th signature collected. With broad support across the state, our effort continues to be on time, on budget and at signature quality. After 37 years of attempts, it is time for the Legislature to give all Michiganders a fair and equal chance to succeed," said Fair and Equal Michigan Co-Chair Trevor Thomas.