No, we’re not all set here in Massachusetts on LGBTQ issues, including marriage equality. A decade after Goodridge, MassEquality’s Executive Director, Kara Suffredini, is still working a set of big bills.
She came on over at Left Ahead today to touch on some of the work to be done. Sure, we’re up there with 9 states and D.C. in permitting same-sex marriage, but that’s not the end. Of course, federal laws, benefits and tax codes still “unmarry” homosexual spouses often to devastating effects. Moreover, even here the legislature has lots of cleaning up to do to provide true equality here.
Consider for one, we have pretty solid gay-rights laws, eh? Well, not so fast for gender identity in public accommodations. Everything from coffee shops to supermarkets to the T to nursing homes to retail stores is not covered. Suffredini described how our laws here require a chain to treat transgender employees equally, fairly, but say nothing about serving LGBTQ customers. Thus, MassEquality is working bills in our House and Senate to correct that.
She talked about how very few intractable lawmakers dislike LGBTQ citizens, but how the realities of the legislative process still intrude. For example, even if a bill passes committees with favorable comments, it may not become law. In our two-year legislative sessions, the bill competes with many others. If it never gets a vote, all the favorable reviews don’t keep it from dying for that session. Suffredini said an important part of her job is getting and keeping MassEquality bills in legislators’ minds, or “making sure we rank.”
She did deal with federal issues, such as DOMA. Essentially legally married spouses here are “essentially unmarried” by the federal government come tax times, inheritance and Social Security moments. That issue may go away shortly if the SCOTUS shows some gumption, but won’t remove the comity problems. If another state refuses to recognize made-in-Massachusetts same-sex marriages, spouses from Iowa, or New York as well as here lose their rights when they cross state borders.
Suffredini got into some other pervasive issues here, at either end of the age spectrum. For one example, gay and transgender seniors can face discrimination and bullying from care providers. For another, a shocking percentage (40%) of unaccompanied homeless youth are LGBTQ. There is a commission in the works to find out more about homeless youth. Anecdotal evidence is that families simply toss out the teens and young 20s youth, who may end up sleeping in elevators or on rooftops with no safety net at all. She describes bills and commissions to help both seniors and youth.
For the groups for whom MassEquality advocates, a key question is where are the best places to make interventions. That can be the combination of legislation and study. An example is An Act to Create a Special Commission on LGBT Aging. While the legislature here is pretty supportive, lawmakers want some facts and figures. Such work so far also led to awareness training for those who provide services to LGBT seniors. This in turn leads to specific study on how to train to eliminate such discrimination. Suffredini noted that many states still deal with raw job discrimination and are not at our point of fine-tuning post gay-rights and post marriage equality.
She made it plain that while we’re ahead of many states here, it is sobering how much we still have to do. She remains optimistic, particularly noting how supportive most of our lawmakers and citizens are to MassEquality efforts. Beyond Massachusetts too, she has been buoyed by leaderhip she’s seen recently. For a big example, President Obama supporting marriage equality, and the occasional Republican in Congress joining in on that, “gives other people permission to change their minds too.”