Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Trump and the Promise of LGBTQ Equality

I’ve always got my head in the clouds
Hope that I could find
One of them that’s silver-lined

As I write, it appears that Donald J. Trump will take office as the forty-fifth President of the United States.  Some (many?) people, myself included, deeply feared this and are anxious or worse about the prospect.  So, in an effort to help myself confront this new reality, I offer this brief exploration of one possible way to deal with it.

“As your president, I will do everything in my power to protect LGBTQ citizens,” Trump promised in his nomination acceptance speech to the Republican National Convention in July 2016.  Americans should hold him to that promise.  It doesn’t mean, as Trump seemed to think, we should embrace blatantly unconstitutional anti-Muslim immigration policies.  But it could and should mean a great deal.

(Reuters/Carlo Allegri)

Trump’s promise to protect LGBTQ persons – and, yes, I’m deliberately overlooking his rhetoric extending solicitude to citizens, since the Constitution guarantees equal protection of the laws to persons, not just citizens – means he should support the Equality Act and use the power of the presidency to help it become part of the law of the land.  In 2000 he publicly supported amending the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to ban sexual orientation discrimination (see his interview with The Advocate here); the Equality Act would accomplish much the same, but in a more comprehensive matter that would also protect against anti-transgender discrimination and that leaders on these issues in Congress believe would be most effective.

Trump’s promise to protect LGBTQ persons means he should abandon his intention to nominate Supreme Court Justices who would overrule the Court’s 2015 Obergefell decision, which held that the Constitution forbade government to exclude same-sex couples from legal marriage (aka “civil marriage”) on the same terms and conditions civil marriage is offered to different-sex couples.  The interaction of civil marriage and the U.S. legal order generally may be criticized on various grounds – why should any of us have to count on employment benefits that may or may not be offered in order to secure a basic right such as healthcare for us and our marital partners and children?  But so long as that is how the U.S. system is structured, LGBTQ people and our families will not be protected, and certainly not be protected equally with heterosexually identified persons, if we are denied access to or recognition of our marriages.

Trump’s promise to protect LGBTQ persons also means he should reject efforts to exempt us from the benefits of our state, local, and national antidiscrimination laws.  He should not repeal executive orders that forbid sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, which would expose us to the harms of the discrimination those orders are designed to prevent.  He should not support the so-called First Amendment Defense Act, which would grant a government sanctioned right to discriminate to people who disapprove of the marriages or other relationships of LGBTQ persons.  Such targeting of us is the opposite of protection.

There is much, much more that Donald Trump would have to do as President to live up to his promise to “do everything in my power” to protect LGBTQ persons.  Let us hope that he does.  And more than that, let us insist that he does.  Let us never let him forget his words.  Some of Trump’s campaign pledges were unjust; some were unconstitutional.  But the pledge to protect LGBTQ persons to his utmost extent is in itself noble, worthy of our constitutional order.  We all need to press our representatives in government to hold Donald Trump to this promise of equality.

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