What a week in Washington!

President’s progressive agenda moves full steam ahead in his newly found fearlessness!

By Gary Cox

OBamaIn a recent Los Angeles radio interview, President Obama declared, “I am fearless.” This liberating pronouncement came ahead of a week of sweeping victories in the courts and in Congress. At the beginning of the week, the U.S. Supreme Court handed the President major victories on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Fair Housing. In a 6-3 decision, the High Court gave a “conservative” interpretation of the ACA by looking at what Congress intended in the overall legislation. Chief Justice Roberts wrote, “Congress did not mean for health insurance markets to work in some states and not work in others!”Chief Justice Roberts reaffirmed Congress’s intent and let stand insurance tax credit subsidies for residents whose state, like Georgia, does not have a state operated insurance exchange. This was a major victory which will assure that access to insurance and healthcare remains a basic fundamental right.

The High Court also upheld the Fair Housing Act of 1968, noting in the case of Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Community Project, “disparate impact” is an integral part of the Fair Housing Act and can be taken into account whether or not the discrimination was unintended or deliberate. In the 5-4 decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, “. . . disparate impact under the FHA has played a key role in promoting racial equality in housing and fighting discrimination,” This ruling holds intact the basic premise of the Fair Housing Act which is to end discrimination in the sale, financing or rental of housing based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

Lastly, as predicted by Blogging While Blue when the Supreme Court refused to issue a stay to prevent same-sex marriages in Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned state constitutional bands on same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges(Ohio). Jim Obergefell married his terminally ill partner in Maryland and wanted to be listed as the surviving spouse on his husband’s death certificate. He won, but the State of Ohio appealed and the lower court decision was overturned – which led to the U.S. Supreme Court challenge. Obergefell stated he never intended to be the face of gay marriage, but Ohio forced his hand. With this victory came Georgia’s first gay couple to be married Emma Foulkes and Petrina Bloodworth of Atlanta. They were married by Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jane Morrison, who is openly gay.

With President Obama at the helm, progressive policies and ideas are in the forefront of social change. Healthcare is a basic human right, fair housing opportunities are a basic civil right and marriage equality, now the law of the land, has come full circle since 2004 when many of the state constitutional bans against same-sex marriage were enacted. Progressive ideas that were once considered “radical thought” are now mainstream law. Yet, the battle is not over. The attainment of civil and human rights is an “evolutionary process” and not a “revolutionary” one.

The National Center for Civil and Human Rights Celebrates its First Year

AndrewThomasLeeIf the question is can we, all of us, play a role in promoting peace, understanding and justice in America and around the world- in Baltimore, Atlanta, Nigeria and Nepal then the answer is yes and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights offers lessons and spaces for dialogue and debate about what we can all do to make this a better world. Tonight, the Center will celebrate the contributions of five human rights advocates – each having taken a stand and made a difference in the lives of hundreds of people. The include:

Estela Barnes de Carlotto, an Argentine human rights activist and leader of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo. She is one of the human rights icons whose portrait, painted by Atlanta fine artist Ross Rossin, is featured in The Center’s Defenders exhibit. Senora Carlotto dedicated her life to reuniting more than 100 missing children with their families. After a 34-year search, she found her own grandson in 2014.

Vernon Jordan, the NCCHR Chairman Emeritus, a well-known business executive and civil rights activist.

Kerry Kennedy, the daughter of Robert and Ethel Kennedy, is a human rights activist, writer and currently the president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights.

Ada Lee and Pete Correll are well-known Atlanta philanthropists. Pete is chairman of the Grady Hospital Corporation and Atlanta Equity and is chairman emeritus of Georgia Pacific Corporation. Ada Lee Correll , a dedicated community volunteer, has led efforts supporting youth development, youth in the arts and access to health care.

The Center is part history and part current events embracing the lessons learned from the Civil Rights Movement in the American South to the current ticker tape reports on human rights violations and challenges facing millions of people worldwide. In his guest column in the Atlanta Business Chronicle below Doug Shipman captures the significance of the moment.



Will Georgia issue a “license to discriminate?”

Governor Nathan Deal says he will sign religious liberty legislation

GACareBy Gary S. Cox

Back in July 2014, in Blogging While Blue I “prophesied” that Senator Josh McKoon was going to once again introduce his “license to discriminate” legislation also known as Preservation of Religious Freedom Act based on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Sebelius vs. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Kyle Wingfield published an editorial from an interview with the good Senator in light of the High Court ruling. Unfortunately, in this case we are dismayed our predications of last summer have come to fruition.

This week, Senate Bill 129 took a “hard right turn” in the Georgia House of Representatives, when the House Judiciary Committee rejected amendments that would have clearly prohibited discrimination against minorities and LGBT Georgians. Now, the “wing nuts” of the Republican Party have shown their cards. Speaker Ralston stated in a recent speech to the Atlanta Press Club that he wanted to understand the “motivation” behind the legislation, “Before we move forward, we have to understand what the impact of this legislation will be on the rule of law in this state. We need to know if this legislation opens the door to unintended consequences of any type, that some may try to exploit.” He went further by stating, “Closing the door to anyone is closing the door to all …”

Well, Mr. Speaker, here it is in black and white, the purpose and motivation behind the religious freedom legislation is to grant some the right to discriminate against the LGBT community. Anyone who has been following the struggle of the LGBT community’s freedom to marry court battles knows, when the Supreme Court decided not to interview in Appeals Court rulings in Alabama, Idaho and other states, the inevitability of same-sex marriage was upon us as a society. The High Court allowed same-sex marriages to take place in states where their state constitutional bans were struck down. Among political savvy court watchers, the money is on the High Court overturning all state constitutional bans against same-sex marriage – and that includes Georgia. Some Georgia conservatives want the right to refuse to marry same-sex couples. Some conservatives want the right to refuse service to LGBT couples from wedding cakes to providing medical care to the children of same-sex couples. Simply put, the religious conservative wing of the Republican Party wants to say, “It is against my faith,” and discrimination in Georgia will once again become lawful as an “act of faith.”

Moreover, the unintended consequences that Speaker Ralston fears may be a national boycott against the state of Georgia. Hateful legislation has consequences – take a look at the backlash taking place in Indiana! Within hours of Governor Mike Pence (R) signing the legislation, the NCAA is talking about moving their basketball tournaments. Apple Computers, MailChimp, the mayors of Seattle and San Francisco are all talking about boycotting the state of Indiana. Here in Georgia MailChimp spoke out against Georgia’s RFRA. We could be subject to losing basketball tournaments and even the 2019 Super Bowl. Speaker Ralston and Governor Deal would be wise to look at Indiana before allowing our version of this hateful legislation to become law – it is the Speaker’s worst fears – the law of unintended consequences.

Why President Obama and Georgia Need the LBGTQ Community in November. Will your vote count?

Shirley FranklinIn a tongue-in-cheek, but pointed article, Newsweek Magazine nicknamed President Obama as “the first gay President.” This was an editorial comment on President Obama’s firm support of same-sex marriage, employment non-discrimination, HIV/AIDS funding and tthe Departments of Justice and Defense efforts to grant LBGTQ citizens, servicemen and servicewoman “full citizenship” in their interactions with the Federal Government. Many are not aware that President Obama is also the first President to invite transgendered children to the annual White House Easter Egg Roll. The invitation did not cause a “flap” in the press and was a non-issue because it is a well-known fact the President practices the “politics of inclusion”.

Here in Georgia, the campaign for inclusion has yet to be realized for minority communities. This includes Hispanics, Asians, Africa Americans and the LBGTQ community. Georgia ranks dead last with the highest unemployment rate in the nation with some 380,000 plus Georgians out of work. The majority of Georgia’s unemployed are minorities. In education we rank 35th in per student spending. We have cut teachers’ pay and have 6,500 fewer teachers in Georgia’s classrooms. We have refused to expand Medicaid to grant healthcare to the working poor, which has an adverse impact on Grady Memorial Hospital as well as our rural health system – resulting in hospital closings in some rural communities. And to add insult to injury Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp is stonewalling efforts to register more than 600,000 minority voters. He is holding up approximately 51,000 registration applications under the pretense of “voter fraud”. The Republican effort to suppress minority voters and the Democratic vote in Georgia is reminiscent of literacy tests that were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. As Atlantans celebrated Pride this past weekend, LBGTQ residents in Georgia LBGTQ cannot marry, cannot file joint state taxes, are unprotected in the workplace against employment discrimination and generally confess to not feeling “safe” outside major urban areas. Here in Georgia, there is still work to be done before President Obama’s vision of an “Equal America” is realized.

If President Obama is going to continue his efforts to level the playing field of minority participation, Democrats need to maintain control of the U.S. Senate. A vote for Michelle Nunn, who is endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign, a national LBGTQ lobby, is a vote to maintain Democratic control of the U.S. Senate. Control of the House and the Senate are important to the President; it is the difference between success and failure. The Democratic-controlled Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in as a bipartisan measure. However, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) announced immediately after the Senate vote that ENDA was “dead on arrival” in the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives. It is no secret the Republicans have tried consistently to derail the President’s federal non-discrimination agenda. In November, it is important to send a strong message that Georgia isn’t the presumptive “Red State” that Republicans thought it was … your vote can make a difference in all the state-wide contests from the U.S. Senate, the Governor’s Office and the State School Superintendent’s race.

In Georgia, if we want to improve and reform our educational system, if we want to expand Medicaid and strengthen our healthcare system, if we want to fairly register all voters, if we are tired of being dead last in healthcare, education and employment, if we want to pass State Representative Karla Drenner’s Fair Employment Practices Act in the Georgia General Assembly to protect LBGTQ state employees, and if we want a better quality of life for our husbands, our wives, our friends and our families, we need Jason Carter as Governor. It will take strong leadership to change Georgia’s direction. President Obama needs a Governor who will work with him. The President does not need a Governor who jousts at windmills and accuses the President’s Administration of “manipulating” Georgia’s unemployment rate to change the outcome of an election.

President Obama needs LBGTQ Georgians to register, to vote and to be a part of the statewide coalition to retain control of the U.S. Senate and to right the ship of the state of Georgia. President Obama needs Michelle Nunn and Jason Carter.

AG continues to fiddle while Rome burns!



Georgia’s continued defense of same-sex marriage ban a colossal waste of taxpayer money. 

BY: Gary S. Cox

Earlier in the year, U. S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in a speech in Minneapolis told an audience to watch the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is comprised of Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. If the 6th circuit ruled to uphold the state constitutional bans against same-sex marriage, then there would be some urgency for the court to hear the issue on appeal. She noted if the 6th Circuit Court strikes down the bans, then there would be no sense of urgency for the court to enter the fray. The 6th Circuit Court decision is still pending.

The decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to decline hearing the petitions of 5 states where the appellate courts struck down their constitutional bans against same sex marriage in effect legalizes same-sex marriage in 30 states. Even a lay person can read the proverbial hand writing on the wall and know, as Ginsburg predicted, the High Court will only enter the fray if there are conflicting appellate court rulings. It is readily apparent how the Supreme Court is leaning on the issue. Remember, it takes 4 Justices to say “Yes” to have a case heard before the court. The votes to reverse the appellate court decisions to strike down state constitutional marriage bans are most likely not there. The same 5-4 split in the “Defense Against Marriage Act” ruling is the most probable outcome predicted by seasoned court watchers, if the court does take up the issue of same-sex marriage.

Now comes the state of Georgia, in a recent article in The Atlanta-Journal Constitution the Attorney General’s office announced the state of Georgia will proceed with its court fight to save the state constitution’s ban on same-sex marriage, the AG’s spokesperson noted. Marriages will begin taking place in the 30 states impacted by the High Court’s decision not to hear any same-sex marriage cases. It is unlikely the High Court will knowingly allow such marriages to take place, then annul those marriages at some future date. Even our Southern neighbors – Virginia, West Virginia, South and North Carolina now have same sex marriage as a direct result of the Supreme Court’s decision. In North Carolina, Governor Pat McCrory grudgingly noted the “acceptance of the inevitability” of same-sex marriage becoming legal in his state. The fight to ban same-sex marriage is over. Yet Georgia’s AG continues to waste taxpayer money in a battle he is predictably to lose. Even Utah’s Governor Gary Herbert, who adamantly opposed same-sex marriage, stated in response to the High Court decision, ” “. . . ultimately we are a nation of laws, and we here in Utah will uphold the law.” The state AG’s office should drop it’s case, as did the AG of North Carolina, and accept the consensus of the American people.

Will the Georgia State Legislature revisit religious freedom bills? Hobby Lobby ruling just may have opened a new door …

By Gary S. Cox

“Hobby Lobby stones gay employee to death,” read the recent headline on The Daily Currant, a self-described “global satirical newspaper.” Now that we virtueonlinehave your attention, of course, the headline isn’t true though it zinged around the web on social media as if it were a true story. Nonetheless, the point of the satire was that recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Sebelius vs. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., best characterizes the “slippery slope” we are now on when it comes to practicing one’s faith in the workplace under the Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The satire was emphasizing the fact that a “corporation” has the right to practice religious freedom. If this argument is taken to the extreme, then, could the company invoke Leviticus 20:13 which states, “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood is on their own heads.” By claiming to be a Christian corporation that abides by Christian principles, how far can a privately held corporation take their religious beliefs? Could they refuse to hire or give service to gay people? Where is the bottom of the slope? No one really knows yet.

With the Federal government losing the Hobby Lobby challenge to mandated birth control coverage, Georgia’s extreme right political pundits are hailing the victory as an opportunity to have the General Assembly pass the previously failed Preservation of Religious Freedom Act. The prevailing argument is the ruling gives “political cover” to Senator Josh McKoon (R-Columbus, and State Representative Sam Teasley (R-Marietta) to re-introduce the legislation in 2015. Senator McKoon, in light of the ruling, is actively and openly courting support for his legislation. In a recent right-leaning editorial column in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, McKoon was quoted as saying, “The protection of people of faith, it’s a foundational reason that America exists … Yes, religious freedom is a priority in Georgia.” What does he mean by these comments? In reading Senate Bill 377 we know his priorities, according to the Credo-Mobilize website, “ … would authorize any business to refuse services and goods based on religious convictions. This would open a Pandora’s box of possible discrimination and anti-civil behavior targeting gays and lesbians, women, racial minorities and certain religious groups.” Senator McKoon’s editorial comments make it sound like re-introduction of his failed Senate Bill 377 is a foregone conclusion. Would it fail again post Hobby Lobby? The level of uncertainty is too great that we must call attention to the issue now, before the legislative session starts in 2015!

As a reminder, the Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) does not apply to state laws. This was determined in the City of Boerne vs. Flores – RFRA was struck down in 1997 as it applies to states, but left intact Congress’s authority to make it apply to the Federal government. In reaction to the 1997 ruling, a new tool, such as the McKoon legislative initiative, emerged to impose “religious protections” at the state level. Versions of RFRA have been passed in Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Texas. Thus-far-to-date, none of these states have legislation as broad as McKoon’s bill which was defeated in 2014 because of the backlash from Georgia’s corporate Fortune 500 giants.

Even though the U.S. Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to extent protections to the LBGT community in the workplace, Speaker Boehner announced the legislation was “dead on arrival” in the U.S. House of Representatives. Under current law members of the LBGT community may legally be discriminated against in the private sector workplace with no legal avenue available to them to redress of their grievances of possible workplace discrimination. In Georgia at the state level, the LBBT community does not enjoy a status as a “protected class.” The fallout of Sebelius vs. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., here in Georgia may very well be the re-introduction and ultimate passage of House Bill 1023 and Senate Bill 377. Those oft cited examples of signs in restaurant windows of “No Gays Allowed” could very well become true in less progressive areas of our great state.

Those of us in the progressive community will need to be ever watchful in the upcoming 2015 legislative session and call upon our friends in the business community and on civic leaders to speak out for equality and justice for all our citizens regardless of race, creed, ethnicity, gender, religious affiliation or sexual orientation.


Oh what a difference a decade makes … (in politics). “No Gays Allowed” – Religious Freedom legislation dies in the state House and Senate

By Gary S. Cox

Governor Roy Barnes once told a small group of political confidants that the hardest part of being Governor of Georgia was “. . . trying to keep GACareGeorgia (and the Georgia General Assembly) off the front pages of the New York Times in a bad light …” Well, it seems the Georgia General Assembly is failing miserably at, on first blush, what should be a simple task. House Bill 1023 and Senate Bill 377 both put Georgia squarely in the national limelight (along with Arizona, Kansas, Mississippi, and Oklahoma and Tennessee) in a very negative way.  The introduction of the House and Senate companion bills (The Preservation of Religious Freedom Act) would have exempted people, government employees and businesses from any legal proceeding if they invoke personal religious beliefs to break laws that serve the “common good.” This expansion of religious freedom was simply not needed, was unwarranted and was unprecedented in its depth and scope – it would have created a potential hodgepodge of unintended consequences – it is simply mind boggling.

The laws, if it had been enacted and signed by Governor Deal, could potentially nullify laws intended to protect individuals from discrimination and violate both public safety and state health laws. Passage of the legislation would adopt a new defense of “religious belief” into civil and criminal cases. For example, the law could protect a nurse who refused to administer a doctor ordered blood transfusion if giving the blood transfusion were against her religious convictions – the state Nursing Board would be powerless to sanction the nurse. Business owners would have been able to legally post a sign “No Gays Allowed” in their restaurant or business – as long as they claimed that serving the LBGTQ community violated their religious beliefs. This example is the real crux of the legislation – the bill was designed by the conservative religious right as a method for religious conservatives to thumb their nose at society in our growing acceptance and public demand for equality for our LBGTQ citizens. Does this scenario sound familiar? It should – this is the same attitude found under the Gold Dome in 1956 that gave us the Confederate Battle flag on the state flag in the wake of the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

In moving forward as a society, we now have elected officials State Representatives Simone Bell and Karla Drenner who spoke forcefully and vocally against the House and Senate bills. Georgia Equality, with Jeff Graham at the helm, and former Council President Cathy Woolard leading the charge to get vocal opponents “en mass” at the state capital to defeat this legislation.
Further, the religious right didn’t count on hometown Fortune 500 companies like Delta Airlines and Home Depot state the legislation violated their “core values” as employers. Nationally, American Airlines, the NFL and Star Bucks weighed in on similar legislation in Arizona – and their collective voices were heard. The pressure from the business community was so great that this legislation has died for this session.

Suffice it to say it was collective effort spear-headed by a newly invigorated gay community winning court battle after court battle on the marriage issue that defeated this legislation … and just 10 years ago, the same Republican controlled legislature was successful in getting a constitutional amendment on the ballot and passed banning same-sex marriage in Georgia. Shades of purple and turning blue may be in Georgia’s future after all.

Cheney Family Debate Takes Place Every Day In America: The right to marry can be a divisive family issue

 By: Gary S. Cox

If there is a “silver lining” to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which many would take offense to this assertion, the onslaught of AIDS in America forced family usnewsCheneydiscussions on sexuality and sexual orientation at the American dinner table in the 1980’s as it did in my own family. Families not only learned their sons were dying of an incurable disease, they were faced with the double-whammy that their child was also homosexual, queer or gay –whatever the first derogatory term for being gay came to mind at the time. Yes, the conversation of being gay, having a gay son or daughter started taking place one family at a time – and continues to this day.

Now, some thirty years later, the debate continues and has in some cases evolved into dialogue on the right to marry, the status of committed relationships for LBGT citizens, and the right to work without fear of being fired for one’s sexual orientation. Therefore, it is no surprise that the very public split in the Cheney family over the right of LBGT persons to marry garners national attention. The status of the Cheney family in right wing American political circles and daughter Liz Cheney’s Senate bid made the Cheney family differences politically relevant. The family differences only reflect similar differences and conversations taking place at dinner tables as we all sit down with our families during the holidays. Some American families, especially in the American South, are as deeply divided over LBGT civil rights issues as are the former Vice President’s family. According to the Pew Research Center, the southern United States still remains the bastion of opposition to same-sex marriage. This is unlikely to change it the immediate future without court challenges or legislative changes to force the issue.

Chief Justice Warren Roberts noted during oral arguments on the Defense of Marriage Act that public debate is the bedrock of any democracy. However, what is often overlooked in the “metamorphosis” of public opinion on the right of LBGT citizens to marry is this change came about as our families had similar dinner table discussions as have the Cheney family. As opinions changed, what families “valued” as a social unit, changed as well. According the latest ABC-Washington Post poll, 58% of Americans believe that LBGT couples should be allowed to marry. This shift in family values is due to the debate all of us are having within our friends and families. Even though the former Vice President went “public” on his personal opinion about the right to marry to shore up his daughter’s Senatorial bid, his family’s open debate forces our society to discuss this basic human right. Chief Justice Roberts is correct, public discourse is the mechanism for change in American society. Debate leads to discussions, discussions lead to understanding and understanding leads to change.


Ending Workplace Discrimination-Boehner on the wrong side of history

By Gary S. Cox

nbcpoliticsWorkplace discrimination against gay men, lesbians and transgendered people exists in today’s workforce and especially here in Georgia. In 2010, Vandiver Elizabeth Glenn sued her employer, the Georgia State Legislature, when she was wrongfully terminated from her job as an editor and proofreader for legislation when she announced she was going to make the transition from a man to a woman. The 11th Circuit District Court in Atlanta ruled that her employer had indeed wrongfully terminated her. What is interesting in this case is Ms. Glenn won on a “Motion for Summary Judgment” which means that there was enough evidence that she had been discriminated against based on sex discrimination law in the pre-trial filings by both the plaintiff and defendant. Her employer agreed in the pre-trial motions they had indeed fired her and could legally do so without repercussion because Mr. Glenn, the male employee originally hired, enjoyed no “special protections.” The Federal court disagreed and ruled on the summary judgment in favor of Ms. Glenn – without a trial.

To address this issue, State Representative Karla Drenner (D-DeKalb) is to be commended for her attempts to end employment and workplace discrimination by the state of Georgia.  She has introduced legislation to amend the Fair Employment Practices Act of 1978 to end discrimination based on sexual orientation in hiring and the workplace for state employees. As Georgia’s first openly gay state legislator, she knows firsthand the discrimination and open hostility she encountered when first elected.

According to House Speaker John Boehner, such real-life discrimination against LBGT employees would “create frivolous lawsuits and would hurt small business.” Ask Vandy Beth Glenn if her very courageous lawsuit against the very institution of legislative authority here in Georgia determining such matters as ending workplace discrimination was “frivolous?”  I have every confidence she would disagree with the Speaker’s assertion.

On November 7, 2013, the U.S. Senate passed the Employment Non-discrimination Act (ENDA) on a 64 to 32 vote. Ten Republicans joined in the majority vote – including past presidential candidate Senator John McCain (R-AZ). Speaker Boehner, however, promptly announced that the bill was basically dead on arrival in the House. Upon passage of the legislation by the Senate, his office released a statement that ENDA “would not come up for a vote” this session. This puts the Speaker on the wrong side of history when it comes to extending workplace protections for LBGT employees. The Speaker is either out-of-touch with the “sea change” in public opinion regarding the right to marry and workplace discrimination or more to the truth of the matter, his leadership is held hostage by the conservative right wing of his party.  Unfortunately, the Speaker’s inaction on this most important legislation puts him and the House Republicans on the wrong side of history.

We’ve Got that “Loving” Feeling

Many conservative and progressive “court watchers” are expecting the Fall 2012 term to be as eventful and unpredictable as the June Session when Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the liberal justices to uphold The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). This session, all bets are off, but most pundits expect the Chief Justice to return to the conservative fold and help decide 34 (plus) cases from affirmative action (Fisher v. the University of Texas), voting rights (Shelby County v. Holder, Nix v. Holder, and Texas v. Holder), civil liberties (Clapper v. Amnesty International) and a challenge to the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) (Massachusetts v. U.S. Health & Human Services).

Earlier this year, the U.S. Courts of Appeals for both the First (Massachusetts) and Ninth (California) Circuits ruled that Congress and California acted unreasonably in making their respective judgments on their definition of marriage. Because the First Circuit in Massachusetts v. HHS held an act of Congress (the Defense of Marriage Act) unconstitutional, the Supreme Court is expected to review the First Circuit decision. The Court also could decide to review the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Hollingsworth v. Perry together with the First Circuit’s decision which challenges the constitutionality of Proposition 8 (enshrining a version of the Federal DOMA into the California constitution.) Thus, the stage is set for heated oral arguments and a ruling as significant for the LGBT community as Loving v. Virginia was to desegregation and the civil rights movement.  Loving v. Virginia was a 1967 landmark civil rights case in which the United States Supreme Court unanimously declared Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statute unconstitutional making it legal for interracial couples to marry in the United States.

The legalization of gay marriage, through overturning DOMA would put “equality” front and center as a human rights landmark decision. Today, six states and the District of Columbia allow same sex marriage. The United States Supreme Court has consistently ruled that marriage is one of the most fundamental rights of all Americans. There has been a quantum shift in public opinion on the issue of gay marriage. Most polls, such as Pew Research, show that 54% of Americans approve of gay marriage, 42% do not and the remainder offered no opinion. While not a legal argument, the Court could come down on the wrong side of history if it decides DOMA is constitutional.

Without specific “protection” extended by the Supreme Court, same-sex couples in the six states that allow gay marriage cannot participate as a married couple in Social Security, or reap the Federal tax benefits of filing jointly, or apply for numerous Federal benefits. Other states and the Federal government have created “institutionalized discrimination” through the enactment and enforcement of DOMA laws and constitutional amendments. As argued by the state of Massachusetts before the First Circuit Court, “The central question is what federal interest is served in singling out only same-sex marriages as invalid.” This is the question the Supreme Court must answer for our nation’s LBGT community.