The ongoing fight for LGBTQ equality

In a time when equality for the LGBTQ-plus community is a distant dream, a few U.S. lawmakers are pushing legislation that aims to prove America is willing to fight not only for LGBTQ equality but also for LGBTQ lives around the world.  The introduction of two new bills — Promoting Respect for Individuals Dignity and Equality Act (“PRIDE Act”), which would act as a form of reparations for the financial harm unjust tax laws caused prior to marriage equality and Greater Leadership Overseas for the Benefit of Equality Act  (“GLOBE Act”), which would protect LGBTQ individuals from discrimination internationally — look to bring the U.S. and the world closer to equality for LGBTQ individuals.

The American family is changing.  The U.S. tax code has long given married couples tax breaks, incentive to file taxes jointly and the right to keep a little more of their hard-earned money.  But with the passing of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996, the federal government legally defined marriage as “a union between one man and one woman as husband and wife,” leaving same-sex couples not only paying more in taxes every year but also concretizing in law that their unions and families were not recognized as true marriages and families.

Since the repeal of DOMA and the legalization of same-sex marriage, same-sex couples have enjoyed equal treatment under the U.S. tax code but what about all those years we paid much more than our heterosexual counterparts?  When we won marriage equality, the IRS allowed married couples to jointly file taxes retroactively for up to three years where they had previously filed as individuals.  However, the Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that same-sex couples who were married in the 10 states prior to federal recognition were unable to claim approximately $67 million in tax refunds charged for which they were ineligible due to unjust tax laws.  Sixty-seven million dollars only captures the harm suffered by people in the 10 states recognizing marriage equality prior to federal recognition; I wonder what would the amount would be if they were able to calculate the tax refunds not collected in the other 40 states where marriage equality was not legal, like the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania?    

The PRIDE Act aims to right this wrong.  The act, introduced by California Rep. Judy Chu and Michigan Rep. Andy Levin, would give same-sex couples the right to refile previous years’ taxes and lay claim to moneys that they were forced to pay because their marriages were not recognized by the U.S. government.  “This bill corrects injustices in our laws that failed to recognize the reality of same-sex marriage in our country,” Rep. Chu said in a statement.

The PRIDE Act also gives a facelift to the long-outdated tax code written to represent all American families.  The act changes the wording of the law, eliminating words like “husband” and “wife” and replacing them with more inclusive language like “spouse”, “they” and “married couple.” This simple change acknowledges same-sex couples, making them part of the rule instead of the exception.

The bill, which was passed unanimously by the House of Representatives, now heads to the Republican-led Senate.  Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi urged the Senate to pass the bill quickly: “Advancing the PRIDE Act is a critical step in bringing our nation closer to fulfilling its founding promise that all are created equal.  As we celebrate this important success, House Democrats will continue to drive progress for all Americans, making clear that liberty, justice and equality are America’s guiding principles — not bigotry or discrimination.”

The PRIDE Act follows another pro-equality bill introduced late last year.  The GLOBE Act seeks to put the U.S. at the forefront of the fight against discrimination on a larger level by protecting LGBTQ individuals from intolerance and violence and punishing those responsible for it around the world.

Introduced by Rep. Dina Titus of Nevada, the GLOBE Act would protect individuals who are victims of unjust treatment and cruelty because of their sexual orientation and punish those who inflict such atrocities.  This includes ensuring victims have access to asylum and refugee programs and imposing sanctions on those responsible for acts of hate.

In a time wheb being gay is punishable by the death penalty in several countries and LGBTQQ activists are hunted and murdered, some in the U.S. are taking a stand.  According to the chair of the Council for Global Equality Mark Bromley, the GLOBE Act “[a]ffirms that countries that persecute their LGBTQI citizens share neither our values nor the commitment to democratic principles that is in our country’s strategic interests…”

For far too long and in far too many ways, the U.S. has failed to protect the rights of LGBTQQ people at home and abroad, under the Trump Administration.  This bill, in relevant part, will include the following in an effort to reverse the impact the Trump Administration has had on our rights: 

• Permanent creation of a special envoy for LGBTQ human rights at the U.S. State Department;

• Establishment of an interagency group within the U.S. government tasked with responding to attacks on LGBTQ people outside the U.S.;

• Authorization of sanctions against those who commit anti-LGBTQ human rights violations abroad and a requirement that the U.S. State Department must report on those violations in its annual human rights report;

• A nondiscrimination policy codified in all U.S. foreign assistance programs to ensure inclusion of LGBTQ people in all U.S. funded programs; and

• Permanent establishment of LGBTQ identities as a “social group” for the purposes of claiming asylum in the U.S.

Titus’ bill has support from 52 cosponsors and many civil rights organizations.

While the introduction PRIDE Act and the GLOBE Act are small steps, and potentially politically motivated given the upcoming elections, they play a significant role in our fight for equality. It shows that the new wave of politicians are attempting to honor this country’s diversity and provide long-overdue justice to countless same-sex couples across the country who have been denied benefits and privileges during a time when this country shamefully denied our existence as well as reinstituting the United States as a country that not only cares about human rights but is willing to act to protect the rule of law. 

If nothing else, the simple act of introducing these two bills show that (some) legislators are taking the fight for equality seriously. 

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