NEW YORK — Even as same-sex marriage edges closer to becoming legal nationwide, gay-rights advocates face other challenges in 2015 that may not bring quick victories.
In Congress, for example, liberal Democrats plan to introduce civil-rights bills in the House and Senate that would outlaw a broad range of discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people. However, Republicans will control both chambers in the new Congress, and there is no sign that GOP leaders will help the bills advance.
Absent such a federal law, activists will seek to pass more nondiscrimination laws at the state and local levels, but some efforts are meeting resistance. A conservative-led coalition in Houston is trying to overturn a gay-rights ordinance approved by the City Council in May, while a similar ordinance passed in August by the City Council in Fayetteville, Ark., was repealed by voters Dec. 10.
The Fayetteville vote was close — the repeal side got 52 percent of the votes — and the issue is expected to resurface.
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“Both sides have reason to continue on,” said Mayor Lioneld Jordan, who supported the ordinance. “What we have to do is pull everybody together and see what can be worked out.”
Another issue is the ban on transgender people serving in the military. Departing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has suggested the policy be reviewed but gave no timetable, and advocacy groups are increasingly vocal.
“There is no valid reason that our transgender troops should continue to be prohibited from serving openly and honestly,” said Ashley Broadway of the American Military Partner Association, which represents partners, spouses and families of LGBT service members.
Friction over transgender rights also is surfacing in school policies, as evidenced by a controversy in Gloucester, Va. Officials at Gloucester’s high school allowed a transgender boy, who was born female, to use the boys’ restroom, sparking complaints that led the county school board to reverse the decision.
The board adopted a policy Dec. 9 that restricts male and female restrooms to students with “corresponding biological genders” and says transgender students could use an “alternative private facility.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a complaint with the departments of Justice and Education, alleging that the new policy is discriminatory and violates federal law.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal-advocacy group, commended the Gloucester school board and circulated a proposed “model policy” for other districts that would restrict transgender students’ use of communal restrooms.
School sports teams also are a source of contention. In Minnesota, Republican Rep. Joyce Peppin suggested closer legislative oversight of the Minnesota State High School League after its approval in early December of a policy letting transgender athletes play on teams that best align with their gender identities. Several other states have adopted similar policies.
The developments are unfolding amid fast-paced changes related to same-sex marriage, which is now legal in 35 states, including Washington. Several cases from states that still ban same-sex marriage have advanced to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could decide during a Jan. 9 conference to hear one or more of them this term.
Given the possibility of a high-court ruling taking marriage equality nationwide, some conservatives are pushing to enact state-level “religious-freedom” bills designed to give more legal protections to people who might be accused of discrimination for actions they took in accordance with religious beliefs. A bill recently introduced in South Carolina says no court employee could be required to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple if that would violate a “sincerely held religious belief.”
In Florida on Thursday, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled that the state’s county-court clerks have a legal duty to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but stopped short of ordering them to do so.
His ruling was in response to requests to clarify his previous order that Florida’s same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional. He said that while his order doesn’t require a clerk to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, “the Constitution requires the clerk to issue such licenses.”