Where does the United States stand on gay rights compared to other countries? Today, same- sex marriage is legal in eleven countries including Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, and Sweden (Wyatt-Nichol 2014). In the U.S., same sex marriage has not been nationalized. Currently, gay rights vary by state. The focus of this article is on the inclusion of LGBT individuals and the passage of non-discrimination laws, which to date, has been left up to the state to act as well.
Political Climate in the U.S.
The current U.S. political climate is quite diverse. The most LGBT-friendly states are scattered throughout the country. Vocativ, a global media organization, set out to answer this question with their “Queer Index” where they began with this premise: “What’s life really like for the queer community?” (Nichols, 2014). This study concentrated on the community’s passions, concerns, and daily realities (Nichols, 2014). According to the Huffington Post, the top three cities include Los Angeles, California, New York, New York, and San Francisco, California; two cities from California, three cities from New York, as well one city each in in Iowa, Illinois, Washington, Wisconsin, and Colorado are in the top ten (Nichols, 2014).
Top Ten Most LGBT-Friendly States
1. Los Angeles, California
2. New York, New York
3. San Francisco, California
4. Des Moines, Iowa
5. Chicago, Illinois
6. Seattle, Washington
7. Albany, New York
8. Rochester, New York
9. Denver, Colorado
10. Madison, Wisconsin
(Source: Nichols, James. “America's Most LGBT-Friendly Cities Ranked By Vocativ's 'Queer Index'.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 11 June 2014. Web. 1 Oct. 2014. <.">http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/11/most-lgbt-friendly-cities_n_5480806.html>.
Some states and localities around the U.S. are following the lead of these trailblazing cities. As of this year, 17 states and 151 localities provide domestic partner benefits (Wyatt-Nichol, 2014). Some localities have gone a step further. Twelve of the 151 localities adopted equal benefits ordinances (Wyatt-Nichol, 2014). Nevertheless, there are still wide variations across states and localities regarding non-discrimination and domestic partner benefits. For example, the ordinance in San Francisco also requires city contractors to provide domestic partner benefits to their employees (Wyatt-Nichol, 2014). Despite the current social change at the state and local level, there is still a lot of ground to gain. Currently, there are 29 states who do not provide protection to the LGBT community against discrimination (Wyatt-Nichol, 2014).
Michigan’s Stance on Non-discrimination
First, Michigan’s political climate and legislative action is identified. In 2007, the Michigan Fair Housing Centers conducted an investigation into housing discrimination against LGBT people (Equality Michigan, 2014). In this investigation, 120 paired individuals posing as same-sex couples to attempt to rent housing throughout the state (Equality Michigan, 2014). The findings show that discrimination against same-sex couples was "widespread," even after controlling for factors like race, education, and economic status (Equality Michigan, 2014). Is workplace discrimination common in Michigan? Recently, there has been initial legislative action in the Michigan. The Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act of 1976 is an act to “define civil rights; to prohibit discriminatory practices, policies, and customs in the exercise of those rights based upon religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status, or marital status” (House Bill 5804, 2014). Under new, proposed legislation, the Civil Rights Act of 1976 would be amended to include protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals, adding the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression” to the existing classes of religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status and marital status currently protected by law (HB 5804, 2014). On September 10, 2014, State Representatives Sam Singh (D-East Lansing), Adam F. Zemke (D-Ann Arbor), and Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor), along with the House Democratic Caucus, introduced legislation that would amend the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, known as HB 5804 (2014). House Bill 5804 was referred to House Standing Judiciary committee and waiting for a hearing. A similar Senate version of this legislation, SB 1053, was introduced by Senator Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor) on September 11, 2014 (SB 1053, 2014). SB 1053 is awaiting a hearing before the Senate Government Operations Committee. The 2014 legislative term will expire at the end of the year. Therefore, this bill(s) will either go before the legislature and/or will have to be reintroduced in the next 2015-2016 legislative term.
Michigan vs. California
Next, California’s political climate and legislative action is measured. Initial legislative action in California occurred on August 3, 2003 when Governor Davis of California signed a bill to prohibit housing and workplace discrimination based on gender characteristics, entitled the Assembly Bill (AB) 196 (Equality California, 2014). When AB 196, written by Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) passed, it made California the 4th state to ban such discrimination (Equality, California, 2014). California’s record of inclusion can also be viewed, for example, from 1999 – 2012. California passed 91 pieces of pro-LGBT legislation, 78 of which became state law (Equality California, 2014). In addition, only 15 pro-LGBT pieces of legislation were vetoed and only two pieces of pro-LGBT legislation died in committee (Equality California, 2014). In sum, most sections of California law prohibit discrimination based on a long list of protected classes, including sexual orientation, gender and gender identity. LGBT Californians are protected from discrimination in securing employment and housing, accessing government services, participating in state-funded activities, in addition to their protection under the state’s hate crime law (Equality California, 2014).
The Study of U.S. Public Opinion
At the present time, there are 36 local governments in Michigan that have passed non-discrimination ordinances including protections for the LGBT community (Equality Michigan). However, Michigan has yet to pass a non-discrimination state law. A study by Lax and Phillips consider the public opinion of such LGBT policies. More specifically, they “study the effects of policy-specific public opinion on states’ adoption of policies affecting gays and lesbians, and the factors that condition this relationship” (Lax, 307, 2014). By using national surveys and advances in opinion estimation, Lax and Phillis create new estimates of state-level support for eight policies, including civil unions and non-discrimination laws, in which they control for interest group pressure, the ideology of voters, and elected officials (Lax, 383, 2014). The findings show that there is a high degree of overall responsiveness. Lax and Phillis explain that this high responsiveness stems from policy salience which strongly increases the influence of policy-specific opinion (directly and relative to general voter ideology) (Lax, 383, 2014). Furthermore, they also see that there is a surprising amount of non –congruence for some policies, but when non-congruent, policy tends to be more conservative than desired by voters; that is, there is little pro-gay policy bias (Lax, 383, 2014). Moreover, most of the non-congruence is conservative. The study shows that “the majority will is not trumped by pro-gay elites, but rather opinions and policy are disconnected in a way that works against the interests of gays and lesbians” (Lax, 383, 2014). So, the study finds little to no evidence that state political institutions affect policy responsiveness or congruence (Lax, 383, 2014). This means that state political structures, if liberal, deliver more liberal policies and, if conservative, deliver more conservative policies. Overall, there is legitimate public opinion, recognition, and response to LGBT policies in the United States. However, it begs the question of how, and when public opinion will create social change in the state of Michigan by establishing a non-discrimination law. Thus far, such laws has been left up to the states to decide. When considering both Michigan and California’s public opinion, it is evident that public opinion tends to be more inclusive within the United States, but the state political climate is the ultimate indicator for social change.
What is the economic impact of inclusion? (Fidas, 3, 201). Nationally, employee engagement suffers by up to 30 percent due to such unwelcoming environments (Fidas 22, 2014). There are significant rewards for an inclusive environment for LGBT employees. The retention data shows one in four employees reporting staying in a job specifically because the environment was inclusive (Fidas, 23, 2014). Moreover, 89% of the nation's Fortune 500 employers, including General Motors, Ford, AT&T and Hewlett-Packard, have non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation (Fidas, 6, 2014). If the Fortune 500 companies provide inclusion, what does this say about individual states? Employers like these companies seek to attract and retain a diverse workforce in states where all people are treated fairly under the law (Fidas, 23, 2014). Inclusion is also advantageous for the business community's bottom line. The National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce reported that, as of 2007, the buying power of the LGBT community stood at $712 billion (Fidas 23, 2014). With the political climate put aside, potential economic stability is another benefit that may help individual states thrive.
The Big Picture/Conclusion
The Human Right’s Campaign Foundation, the educational arm of one of the nation’s largest civil rights organizations, issued a 2014 report entitled The Cost of the Closet and the Rewards of Inclusion, surveying over 800 LGBT workers across the country and included an added survey of non-LGBT workers (Fidas, 2, 2014). This report comes shortly after a report by the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), which finds the policy on workplace discrimination for federal employees based on sexual orientation has not been interpreted uniformly, despite being the government’s policy since 1980 (Fidas, 2, 2014). As a follow up to their 2009 study, the Human Right’s Campaign Foundation report has several findings. It identifies that, “despite a changing social and legal landscape for LGBT people, still over half (53 percent) of LGBT workers nationwide hide who they are at work” (Fidas, 5, 2014). Moreover, 35% of LGBT employees still feel compelled to hide who they are at work (Fidas, 3, 2014).
It is evident that the United States has made many strides at the state and local level, depending on what state you live in, for LGBT equality. The comparative analysis of Michigan and California shows that individual states vary when it comes to LGBT policies, including non-discrimination law. At this point in time, when considering public opinion and the responsiveness nationwide, Michigan’s support for inclusion is to be determined. The state of Michigan has yet to pass a non-discrimination law.
Equality California. “2013 Legislation.” Equality California. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Oct. 2014. <.">http://www.eqca.org/site/pp.asp?c=kuLRJ9MRKrH&b=9019591>.
Equality Michigan. “Discrimination.” Equality Michigan. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Oct. 2014. <https://www.equalitymi.org/issues/discrimation/
Fidas, Deena, and Liz Cooper. “The Cost of the Closet and the Rewards of Inclusion Why the Workplace Environment for LGBT People: Matters to Employers.” Human Rights Campaign Foundation-Resources. N.p., 14 May 2014. Web. 1 Oct. 2014. <http://hrc-assets.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com//files/assets/resources/Cos.
“House Bill 5804 (2014).” Michigan Legislature. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Oct. 2014. <http://www.legislature.mi.gov/(S(twawhb45ja0amy55saowj1vr))/mileg.aspx?page=getobject&objectname=2014-HB-5804&query=on>.
Lax, Jeffrey R. and Justin H. Phillips. “Gay Rights in the States: Public Opinion and Policy Responsiveness.” American Political Science Review 103.3 (2009): 367-386. Columbia University. Web. 30 Sept. 2014.
Nichols, James. “America's Most LGBT-Friendly Cities Ranked By Vocativ's 'Queer Index'.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 11 June 2014. Web. 1 Oct. 2014. <.">http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/11/most-lgbt-friendly-cities_n_5480806.html>.
“Senate Bill 1053 (2014).” Michigan Legislature. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Oct. 2014. <http://www.legislature.mi.gov/(S(5o1sg0nyt3ihvzqlljimcp45))/mileg.aspx?page=getObject&objectName=2014-SB-1053>.
Wyatt-Nichol, Heather, and Lorenda Ann Taylor. “The Policy Landscape of Sexual Orientation.” University of Baltimore. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Oct. 2014. <.">http://oied.ncsu.edu/selc/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Policy-Landscape-of-Sexual-Orientation.pdf>.