On Tuesday afternoon, the Illinois state House began debating a bill to legalize gay marriage, and it has a good chance of passing. Illinois is racing Hawaii to become the 15th state to allow same-sex marriage, after New Jersey became the 14th state to do so in October. 2013 has been "the gayest year in gay history," Fred Sainz at the Human Rights Campaign tells the Associated Press. And it has certainly been historic — the Supreme Court overturned DOMA, for one. The court also dismissed an appeal on Prop 8, allowing gay marriages to resume in California. West Point hosted a gay wedding over the weekend. And the Employee Non-Discrimination Act got 61 votes in the Senate on Monday, which moves it the final passage stage. Seven of those votes came from Republicans.
But House Speaker John Boehner opposes ENDA and says he won't bring it up for a vote in the House, even though ENDA has majority support in each state. While public opinion has shifted in favor of gay rights, still 43 percent of Americans would vote to make gay marriage illegal across the country. It's been a great year in gay history, but there is still a long, complicated fight for full equality ahead.
ENDA last came up for a vote in the Senate in 1996, which Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin called a "dark day." The measure failed by one vote. Harkin insists that attitudes about gay rights have "changed dramatically" since then, and he's right. Twenty-one states have basic workplace protections for gay Americans. But unless Boehner has a come-to-Jesus moment, ENDA will not become law this year. Likewise, a gay marriage law has opposition in Illinois, too. "You can't put glitter on it, you can't dress it up, you can't do anything to make something that is wrong to make it right," said state Rep. Dwight Kay, a Republican, according to BuzzFeed's Chris Geidner.
But overall, Congress is getting more progressive when it comes to gay issues. That is due in part to the fact members of Congress now feel more comfortable being out. Tammy Baldwin became the first openly gay non-incumbent to be elected to the Senate in 2012. Just yesterday, Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud came out, and he's running for governor in Maine. As Brandy Zadrozny at The Daily Beast chronicles, things have gotten a lot better for gay public officials since the 1970s.
So what will it take for the House to come around on ENDA? Richard Socarides, a former Clinton White House adviser on gay issues, sums up the current state of play:
It’s poignant for me that it’s taken 17 years to get another vote on something as basic as workplace discrimination. Even though we’re making rapid progress on marriage equality, and the entire movement seems unstoppable, there are still big pockets of resistance.
Socarides says it's just going to take more money and time. "It’s going to cost a lot of money and require a lot of work to get us to where anti-gay discrimination no longer exists."