LGBT rights in the United States
|LGBT rights in the United States|
|Same-sex sexual activity legal?||Legal nationwide since 2003
(Lawrence v. Texas)
|Gender identity/expression||Laws vary by jurisdiction|
Yes, openly (for lesbian, gay, and bisexual members); "Don't ask, don't tell" policy repealed in September 2011Yes: Transgender people are allowed to serve openly as of June 2016
(United States v. Windsor).
|Adoption||Legal in 50 states since 2015, legal in Mississippi since March 2016, not legal in American Samoa, and some tribal jurisdictions|
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights in the United States vary on a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction basis. Since June 26, 2003, sexual activity between consenting adults of the same sex as well as same-sex adolescents of a close age has been legal nationwide, pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Lawrence v. Texas. As of June 26, 2015, all states license and recognize marriage between same-sex couples on account of the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. However, the United States still lacks a federal law outlawing discrimination nationwide, leaving many states without any protections from discrimination, other than from federal executive orders which are more limited in scope than from protections through federal legislation.
The strongest expansions in LGBT rights in the United States have come from the United States Supreme Court. In four landmark rulings between the years 1996 and 2015, the Supreme Court invalidated a state law banning protected class recognition based upon homosexuality, struck down sodomy laws nationwide, struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, and made same-sex marriage legal nationwide.
LGBT rights-related laws regarding family and anti-discrimination still vary by state. The age of consent in each jurisdiction varies from age 16 to 18, with some jurisdictions maintaining different ages of consent for males/females or for same-sex/opposite-sex relations.
Twenty-two states plus Washington, D.C and Puerto Rico outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, and twenty states plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico outlaw discrimination based on gender identity or expression. Hate crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity are also punishable by federal law under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009. In 2012 the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not allow gender identity-based employment discrimination because it is a form of sex discrimination. In 2015, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission concluded that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not allow sexual orientation discrimination in employment because it is a form of sex discrimination.
Adoption of children by same-sex married couples is legal nationwide since June 2015, though Mississippi did not have its same-sex adoption ban struck down by a federal court until March 2016. Policies regarding adoption vary greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Some states allow adoption by all couples, while others ban all unmarried couples from adoption.
Civil rights for LGBT people in the United States are advocated by a variety of organizations at all levels and concentrations of political and legal life, including the Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
LGBT pride month that has been celebrated ever since June 1970 comes from the anniversary of the riots that occurred in 1969 at The Stonewall Inn in New York City in where predominantly trans women of color experienced police violence at an LGBTQ bar. Although LGBT activism began before this, much of the movement rose out of the outrage of this incident.
- 1 LGBT Rights and State and Federal Law
- 2 Transgender rights in the United States
- 3 Recognition of marriage and adoption for same-sex families
- 4 United States Supreme Court decisions
- 5 Early US presidents
- 6 Early 20th century presidents
- 7 Presidents after Stonewall
- 7.1 Richard Nixon
- 7.2 Gerald Ford
- 7.3 Jimmy Carter
- 7.4 Ronald Reagan
- 7.5 George H. W. Bush
- 7.6 Bill Clinton
- 7.7 George W. Bush
- 7.8 Barack Obama
- 8 U.S. Political Parties
- 9 Summary table of LGBT rights in the United States
- 10 Comprehensive summary table of LGBT rights in the United States
- 11 See also
- 12 Bibliography
- 13 References
- 14 External links
- 15 Further reading
LGBT Rights and State and Federal Law
On April 14, 2010, President Barack Obama issued an Executive Order to the Department of Health and Human Services to draft new rules for all hospitals accepting Medicare or Medicaid funds. They would require facilities to grant visitation and medical decision-making rights to gay and lesbian partners, as well as designees of others such as widows and widowers. Such rights are not protected by law in many states. Obama said he was inspired by the case of a Florida family, where one of the mothers died while her partner and four children were denied visitation by the hospital.
The Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) is an agency within the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. FHEO is responsible for administering and enforcing federal fair housing laws and establishing policies that make sure all Americans have equal access to the housing of their choice. Housing discrimination refers to discrimination against potential or current tenants by landlords. In the United States, there is no federal law against such discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, but at least twenty-two states and many major cities have enacted laws prohibiting it. See, for example, Washington House Bill 2661.
In 2012, The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity issued a regulation to prohibit LGBT discrimination in federally-assisted housing programs. The new regulations ensure that the Department's core housing programs are open to all eligible persons, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity is responsible for enforcing a variety of fair housing laws, which prohibit discrimination in both privately owned and publicly assisted housing including:
- The Fair Housing Act
- Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
- Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
- Section 109 of Title 1 of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974
- Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
- Architectural Barriers Act of 1968
- Age Discrimination Act of 1975
- Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972
There is no federal statute addressing employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Protections at the national level are limited. Some regulations protect government employees but do not extend their protections to the private sector. Twenty-two states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and over 140 cities and counties have enacted bans on discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or sexual identity. Employment discrimination refers to discriminatory employment practices such as bias in hiring, promotion, job assignment, termination, and compensation, and various types of harassment. In the United States there is "very little statutory, common law, and case law establishing employment discrimination based upon sexual orientation as a legal wrong."
Presidents have established certain protections for some employees of the federal government by executive order. In 1995, President Bill Clinton's Executive Order 12968 establishing criteria for the issuance of security clearances included sexual orientation for the first time in its non-discrimination language: "The United States Government does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or sexual orientation in granting access to classified information." It also said that "no inference" about suitability for access to classified information "may be raised solely on the basis of the sexual orientation of the employee." Clinton's Executive Order 13087 in 1998 prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation in the competitive service of the federal civilian workforce. It applied to the large majority of federal employees, but not to the excepted services such as the military.
At the start of 2010, the Obama administration included gender identity among the classes protected against discrimination under the authority of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In 2012 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not allow gender identity-based employment discrimination because it is a form of sex discrimination. In 2015, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission concluded that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not allow sexual orientation discrimination in employment because it is a form of sex discrimination.
On July 21, 2014, President Obama signed Executive Order 13672, adding "gender identity" to the categories protected against discrimination in hiring in the federal civilian workforce and both "sexual orientation" and gender identity" to the categories protected against discrimination in hiring and employment on the part of federal government contractors and sub-contractors.
Hate crime laws
Hate crime laws (also known as bias crimes laws) protect against crimes motivated by feelings of enmity against a protected class. Until 2009, a 1969 federal law defined hate crimes committed on the basis of a person's race, color, religion, or nation origin when engaging in a federally protected activity. In October 2009, Congress passed the Matthew Shepard Act, which expanded the definition of hate crimes to include gender, sexual orientation, gender-identity, and disability. It removed the requirement that the victim of a hate crime be engaged in a federally protected activity. President Obama signed the legislation on October 28, 2009.
Two statutes, the Hate Crime Statistics Act (1990) and the Campus Hate Crimes Right to Know Act (1997), require the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as college/university campus security authorities, to collect and publish hate crime statistics.
Forty-five states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have statutes criminalizing various types of bias-motivated violence or intimidation (the exceptions are AR, GA, IN, SC, and WY). Each of these statutes covers bias on the basis of race, religion, and ethnicity; 32 cover disability; 32 of them cover sexual orientation; 28 cover gender; 13 cover age; 18 cover gender identity; 5 cover political affiliation. 31 states and the District of Columbia have statutes creating a civil cause of action, in addition to the criminal penalty, for similar acts. 27 states and the District of Columbia have statutes requiring the state to collect hate crime statistics; 16 of these cover sexual orientation.
In Wisconsin v. Mitchell (1993) the Supreme Court unanimously held that state penalty-enhancement laws for hate crimes were constitutional and did not violate First Amendment rights to freedom of thought and expression.
In the United States, four states permit conjugal visits to prisoners: California, Connecticut, New York and Washington, all of these US states have legalized same-sex marriage in June 2015. In June 2007, California, following the enactment in 2005 of a state law requiring state agencies to provide the same rights to domestic partners as to married couples, became the first US state to allow same-sex conjugal visits. The new rules allowed for visits only by registered same-sex married couples or domestic partners, provided that the same-sex marriage or domestic partnership was established before the prisoner was incarcerated. In New York prior to the vote on same-sex visits, this state allowed 27 out of its 60 facilities to allow same-sex conjugal visits, but this law was not enforced state wide until April 2011. In 2014, both New Mexico and Mississippi banned conjugal visits.
Prior to 1993, lesbian and gay people were not permitted to serve in the US military. Under the "Don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) policy enacted that year, they were permitted to do so only if they did not disclose their sexual orientation. The Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010 permitted homosexual men and women to serve openly in the armed forces following once designated government officials certified that the military was prepared for the repeal. Since September 20, 2011, gays, lesbians, and bisexuals have been able to serve openly. Transgender women and other individuals that are assigned male at birth are still required to sign-up for the Selective Service. On July 13, 2015, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said that the current regulations banning transgender individuals from serving were outdated, and announced a six-month study to determine if lifting the ban would have any impact on the military's effectiveness. On June 30, 2016, Carter announced that the ban on transgender troops from openly serving had been lifted. The policy went into effect on October 1, 2016 and on October 24, 10 soldiers in the United States Army became the first to openly petition for a sex change since the ban on transgenders from serving was lifted. Transgender training will then go into effect on November 1 and the transition must be complete by July, 2017.
Blood and tissue donation
In the US, the current guidance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is to defer from donating blood for 12 months from the most recent contact a man who has had sex with another man during the past 12 months. Furthermore, the FDA recommends to blood establishments that in the context of the donor history questionnaire, male or female gender should be self-identified and self-reported for the purpose of blood donation.
Transgender rights in the United States
If a person identifies as transgender, this typically means they identify with a gender different than the sex they were assigned at birth. Some transgender people have binary gender identities (male or female) and some transgender people have nonbinary gender identities (genderqueer, agender, pangender, culturally-specific third gender identities, and more).
Discrimination rates are very high for the transgender community and especially for transgender people of color. Some frequent examples of discrimination and other forms of oppression faced by the transgender community are violence and hate crimes, homelessness, poverty, sexual assault, housing discrimination, employment discrimination, harassment, bullying, disproportionate rates of arrest and incarceration, prison and immigration violence and mistreatment, airport security humiliation, HIV+/AIDS and health disparities, governmental/bureaucratic barriers to transitioning (documents and surgery requirements), economic and societal barriers to transitioning (the high costs of medical care and the frequent denial of care,) to name only a few. Some (but not all), who experience exclusion from the workforce, turn to survival crimes, such as sex work, in order to have an income as a direct result of economic oppression and discrimination.
Frequently, the media, and politicians (and as a result, society) sensationalize transgender identities and oppression is reinforced. Aware of this trend, in 2016, a coalition of over 250 anti-sexual assault and domestic violence organizations have released a joint letter decrying the trend of portraying transgender people in restrooms as sexual predators as untrue and harmful. Likewise, GLAAD has released a media guide for reporters covering restroom usage in relation to the transgender community.
Many transgender advocates also advocate for converting single-occupant, gender-segregated restrooms into single-occupant, all-gender restrooms by simply changing the signs due to the high rates of harassment and even violence faced by the transgender community when accessing gender-segregated restrooms according to their gender expression. All-Gender/Gender-Neutral restrooms are also beneficial to nursing mothers, parents with different-sex children, and people with disabilities. Transgender advocates affirm all-gender restrooms as well as access to gendered restrooms as a matter of choice, safety, privacy, and dignity.
Recognition of marriage and adoption for same-sex families
The movement to obtain civil marriage rights and benefits for same-sex couples in the United States began in the 1970s but remained unsuccessful for over forty years. On May 17, 2004, Massachusetts became the first U.S. state and the sixth jurisdiction in the world to legalize same-sex marriage following the Supreme Judicial Court's decision six months earlier. Before nationwide legalization, same-sex marriage became legal in 36 states; 24 states by court order, 9 by legislative action, and 3 by referendum. Some states had legalized same-sex marriage by more than one of the three actions.
On June 26, 2015 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that states must license and recognize same-sex marriages. Consequently, same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, U.S. Virgin Islands and Northern Mariana Islands. Officials in American Samoa are discussing whether the ruling applies to the territory; currently same-sex marriages are neither licensed nor recognized there.
- Legislative history of same-sex marriage
Fourteen state and the District of Columbia legislators have passed same-sex marriage bills in their states, of which four were vetoed by the governors with Vermont overriding its governor's veto. In total ten states legalized same-sex marriage through legislation without judicial order.
- Legislative history of civil unions and domestic partnerships
Prior to nationwide same-sex marriage, fifteen U.S. states had civil unions or domestic partnerships. Many of those state retain those laws as a continued choice for same-sex couples, and opposite couples in certain states.
Initiative and referendum history
Thirty-three states had initiatives to vote on same sex marriage and all but one passed a ban on same-sex marriage and/or civil union laws. In the 2012 November elections, Washington, Maryland, and Maine all had referendums to vote on same sex marriage. In this same election, Minnesota had an initiative to add a constitutional ban on same sex marriage. Following the results of this election, Maryland, Maine, and Washington became the first states to allow same-sex marriage through popular vote. while in turn Minnesota voters rejected the proposed ban.
Various other states had initiatives on banning LGBT individuals from certain positions or allowing certain anti-discrimination laws.
- Defense of Marriage Act
The events of the Hawaii Supreme Court prompted the United States Congress to enact the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996, which forbade the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages and relieved states of the requirement that they recognize same-sex unions performed in other jurisdictions.
On June 26, 2013, Section 3 of DOMA was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor.
- Former State constitutional amendments
There was a backlash after Massachusetts legalized same sex marriage during the 2004 election cycle where fourteen states amended their constitution to ban recognition of same-sex marriages and many banning civil unions as well.
In all twenty-eight states passed state constitutional amendments that banned same-sex marriage to be legalized by judicial or legislative action: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin.
All state constitutional bans have been declared unconstitutional in June 2015 in Obergefell.
- State statutes
After the passage of the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 many state legislators enacted state statutes, nicknamed mini-DOMA's, that ban same sex marriage. Beginning in 1972 with Maryland, all states but New Mexico passed a statute banning same-sex marriage prior to nationwide legalization in Obergefell in June 2015.
State adoption laws
Same-sex couples are allowed to adopt in states and territories following the ruling in Obergefell legalizing same-sex marriage. Prior to Obergefell, various states by legislative and judicial action had allowed joint adoption by same-sex couples.
A March 2014 public opinion poll by Washington Post/ABC News showed support for same-sex marriage at 59% among Americans, and a February 2014 New York Times/CBS News opinion poll showed 56% support for same-sex marriage. A November 2012 Gallup poll indicated 61% support for gays and lesbians being allowed to adopt children.
The main supporters of gay rights in the U.S. have generally been political liberals and libertarians. Regionally, support for the gay rights movement has been strongest in the areas of the North and the West coast, and in other states with large urban populations. The national Republican Party has held the official platform opposing most initiatives in the early 21st century for LGBT rights, groups advocating for LGBT issues inside the party include the Log Cabin Republicans, GOProud, Young Conservatives For The Freedom To Marry, and College Republicans of the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University. A poll in March 2014 found that 40% of Republicans support same-sex marriage. In 2013, 52% of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents between the age of 18–49 years old supported same-sex marriage in a joint Washington Post-ABC News poll. A 2014 Pew Forum Poll showed that American Muslims are more likely than Evangelicals to support same-sex marriage 42% to 28%.
The main opponents of gay rights in the U.S. have generally been political and religious conservatives. Conservatives cite various Bible passages from the Old and New Testaments as their justification for opposing gay rights. Regionally, opposition to the gay rights movement has been strongest in the South and in other states with a large rural and conservative population.
As the movement for same-sex marriage has developed, many national and/or international organizations have opposed that movement. Those organizations include the American Family Association, the Christian Coalition, Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, Save Our Children, NARTH, the national Republican Party, the Roman Catholic Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), the Southern Baptist Convention, Alliance for Marriage, Alliance Defense Fund, Liberty Counsel, and the National Organization for Marriage. A number of these groups have been named as anti-gay hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
United States Supreme Court decisions
In March 1956, a Federal District Court ruled that ONE: The Homosexual Magazine, was obscene under the Federal Comstock laws and thus could not be sent through the United States Postal Service. This ruling was upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, but in 1958, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a landmark ruling in One, Inc. v. Olesen, 355 U.S. 371, which overturned the previous rulings under a new legal precedent that had been established by the landmark case, Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476 (1957). As a result, gay newspapers, magazines and other publications could be lawfully distributed through the public mail service. On May 22, 1967, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, which among other things banned homosexuals, as constitutional. This ban remained in effect until 1991.
In 1972, a Tacoma, Washington teacher of twelve years with a perfect record was terminated after a former student outed him to the vice-principal. The Washington Supreme Court found that homosexuality was immoral and impaired his efficiency as a teacher. The court supported its conclusion in various ways, including the definition of homosexuality in the New Catholic Encyclopedia, the criminal nature of homosexual conduct, and finding that an "immoral" person could not be trusted to instruct students as his presence would be inherently disruptive. On October 3, 1977, the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari, although Justices Brennan and Marshall would have granted cert. This was the first homosexual discrimination decision to be aired on national network news. In fact, it was simultaneously aired on all three national network evening news shows, reaching approximately 60 million viewers.
In 1985, the Supreme Court heard Board of Education v. National Gay Task Force, which concerned First and Fourteenth Amendment challenges against a law that allowed schools to fire teachers for public homosexual conduct. The Court affirmed the lower court by an equally divided vote 4-4 allowing the Tenth Circuit's ruling that partially struck down the law to stand without setting precedent.
Also in 1985, the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of Gay Student Services v. Texas A&M University, letting stand an appellate ruling ordering the university to provide official recognition of a student organization for homosexual students.
On June 30, 1986, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Bowers v. Hardwick, that same-sex intimate conduct was not protected under the right to privacy established under the Fourteenth Amendment.
On May 20, 1996, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Romer v. Evans against an amendment to the Colorado state constitution that would have prevented any city, town or county in the state from taking any legislative, executive, or judicial action to protect homosexual or bisexual citizens from discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation.
On March 4, 1998, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services that federal laws banning on-the-job sexual harassment also applied when both parties are the same sex. The lower courts, however, have reached differing conclusions about whether this ruling applies to harassment motivated by anti-gay animus.
On June 28, 2000, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale that the Boy Scouts of America had a First Amendment right to exclude people from its organization on the basis of sexual orientation, irrespective of any applicable civil rights laws.
Lawrence v. Texas and laws regarding same-sex sexual activity
On June 26, 2003, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Lawrence v. Texas that intimate consensual sexual conduct is part of the liberty protected by substantive due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. The majority opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, explicitly overruled Bowers v. Hardwick. Despite this ruling, some states have not repealed their sodomy laws and local law enforcement officers have used these statutes to harass or arrest gay people.
Prior to the 2003 Supreme Court ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, same-sex sexual activity was illegal in fourteen US states, Puerto Rico, and the US military.
By that time, twenty-nine states, the District of Columbia, and five territories had repealed their state's sodomy laws by legislative action. After the repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell," the US Congress repealed sodomy laws in the US military. Twelve states have had state Supreme Court or state Appeals courts rule that their state's sodomy laws were unconstitutional. Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Virginia have all had their state sodomy laws struck down by the courts, but the legislatures have not repealed those laws. On April 18, 2013, the governor of Montana signed a bill repealing that state's sodomy law; it had previously been nullified by the Montana Supreme Court.
Rulings supporting marriage for same-sex couples
Ten years after the Lawrence decision, the Supreme Court ruled on June 26, 2013 by a 5-4 vote in United States v. Windsor that section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, that forbade the federal government from recognizing lawfully performed same-sex marriages, was found to violate the Fifth Amendment. The federal government then began to recognize lawfully performed same-sex marriages, and provide federal rights, privileges and benefits.
On June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that same-sex marriage cannot be prohibited by a state. Consequently, same-sex marriages are licensed and recognized as valid and enforced in all states and areas subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S. Constitution.
Early US presidents
Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army
To train the new American Army in the latest military drills and tactics, General George Washington brought in Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben (1730–94), who had been an officer on the German General staff. Von Steuben escaped Germany where he was threatened with prosecution for homosexuality. He joined Washington's army at Valley Forge in February 1778 accompanied by two young aides. Steuben became an American general, and a senior advisor to Washington. Despite rumors about sexual behavior at his parties, there never was an investigation of Steuben, and he received a Congressional pension after the war.
The first evidence of antipathy to homosexuals serving in the United States military dates from March 11, 1778, when Lieutenant Frederick Gotthold Enslin was brought to trial before a court-martial. According to General Washington's report: "...Lieutt. Enslin of Colo. Malcolm's Regiment tried for attempting to commit sodomy ..." Washington's secretary described the results of the trial: "His Excellency the Commander in Chief approves the sentence and with Abhorrence & Detestation of such Infamous Crimes orders Lieut. Enslin to be drummed out of Camp tomorrow morning...."
In 1801, Congress enacted the District of Columbia Organic Act of 1801 that continued all criminal laws of Maryland and Virginia in the now formally structured District, with those of Maryland applying to that portion of the District ceded from Maryland, and those of Virginia applying to that portion ceded from Virginia. At the time, Maryland had a sodomy law applicable only to free males with a punishment of "labour for any time, in their discretion, not exceeding seven years for the same crime, on the public roads of the said county, or in making, repairing or cleaning the streets or bason [sic] of Baltimore-town;" it imposed the death penalty for slaves committing sodomy. Similarly, Virginia had a penalty of 1–10 years for free persons committing sodomy, but imposed the death penalty for slaves committing sodomy. The law went into effect on February 27, 1801.
Governor of Virginia
In 1779, Thomas Jefferson wrote a law in Virginia which contained a punishment of castration for men who engaged in sodomy. However, what was intended by Jefferson as a liberalization of the sodomy laws in Virginia at that time was rejected by the Virginia Legislature, which continued to prescribe death as the maximum penalty for the crime of sodomy in that state.
In 1831, Congress established penalties in the District of Columbia for a number of crimes, but not for sodomy. It specified that "every other felony, misdemeanor, or offence not provided for by this act, may and shall be punished as heretofore[.]" At the time, Maryland and Virginia had a penalty of 1–10 years for committing sodomy. It went into effect in March 2, 1831.
William Henry Harrison
Governor of the Indiana Territory
In 1807, William Henry Harrison signed into law a comprehensive criminal code that included the first sodomy law for the Indiana Territory that eliminated the gender-specifics, reduced the penalty for a maximum of 1 to 5 years in prison, a fine of $100 to $500, up to 500 lashes on the back, and a permanent loss of civil rights.
In 1892, Congress passed a law for the District of Columbia that states that "for the preservation of the public peace and the protection of property within the District of Columbia." Labeled in the law as vagrants were "all public prostitutes, and all such persons who lead a notoriously lewd or lascivious course of life[.]" All offenders had to post bond of up to $200 for good behavior for a period of six months. The law went into effect on July 29, 1892.
Early 20th century presidents
In 1898, Congress deleted the word "notoriously" from the provision concerning a lewd or lascivious course of life, thereby allowing prosecution of persons without the condition of notoriety. The bond for good behavior was raised to $500, and the law was made gender-neutral. The law went into effect on July 8, 1898.
In 1901, Congress adopted a new code for the District of Columbia that expressly recognized common-law crimes, with a penalty for them of up to five years and/or a $1,000 fine. The law went into effect on March 3, 1901.
On December 14, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson vetoed the Immigration Act of 1917, excluded individuals from entering the United States who were found "mentally defective" or who had a "constitutional psychopathic inferiority." A similar Public Health Service definition of homosexuals was used simultaneously by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to reinforce the language of the Immigration Act of 1917 and effectively ban all homosexual immigrants who disclosed their sexual minority status. On February 5, 1917, the Congress overrode Wilson's veto, implementing the Immigration Act of 1917 into law.
On March 1, 1917, the Articles of War of 1916 are implemented. This included a revision of the Articles of War of 1806, the new regulations detail statutes governing U.S. military discipline and justice. Under the category Miscellaneous Crimes and Offences, Article 93 states that any person subject to military law who commits "assault with intent to commit sodomy" shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.
On June 4, 1920, Congress modified Article 93 of the Articles of War of 1916. It was changed to make the act of sodomy itself a crime, separate from the offense of assault with intent to commit sodomy. It went into effect on February 4, 1921.
In 1919, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt requests an investigation into "vice and depravity" in the sea services, which launches a sting operation in which undercover operatives attempt to seduce sailors suspected of being homosexual. At least 17 sailors are jailed and court-martialed before public outcry prompts the Senate to condemn the operation.
In 1935, Congress passed a law for the District of Columbia that made it a crime for "any person to invite, entice, persuade, or to address for the purpose of inviting, enticing, or persuading any person or persons...to accompany, to go with, to follow him or her to his or her residence, or to any other house or building, inclosure, or other place, for the purpose of prostitution, or any other immoral or lewd purpose." It imposed a fine of up to $100, up to 90 days in jail, and courts were permitted to "impose conditions" on anyone convicted under this law, including "medical and mental examination, diagnosis and treatment by proper public health and welfare authorities, and such other terms and conditions as the court may deem best for the protection of the community and the punishment, control, and rehabilitation of the defendant." The law went into effect on August 14, 1935.
In 1941, Congress enacted a new solicitation law for the District of Columbia that labeled a "vagrant" any person who "engages in or commits acts of fornication or perversion for hire." The law went into effect on December 17, 1941.
In 1948, Congress enacted the first sodomy law in the District of Columbia, which established a penalty of up to 10 years in prison or a fine of up to $1,000 for sodomy. Also included with this sodomy law was a psychopathic offender law and a law "to provide for the treatment of sexual psychopaths in the District of Columbia, and for other purposes." The law went into effect on June 9, 1948.
On May 5, 1950, the Uniform Code of Military Justice was passed by Congress and was signed into law by President Harry S. Truman, and became effective on May 31, 1951. Article 125 forbids sodomy among all military personnel, defining it as "any person subject to this chapter who engages in unnatural carnal copulation with another person of the same or opposite sex or with an animal is guilty of sodomy. Penetration, however slight, is sufficient to complete the offence."
On June 25, 1952, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 was vetoed by President Truman because he regarded the bill as "un-American" and discriminatory. The bill prohibits "aliens afflicted with a psychopathic personality, epilepsy, or a mental defect" from entry into the United States. Congress would later override his veto and implemented the act into law.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
On April 27, 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10450 which prohibits Federal employees from being members of a group or organization considered subversive. The order lists "sexual perversion" as a security risk constituting grounds for termination or denial of employment. The order went into effect on May 27, 1953.
Without explicitly referring to homosexuality, the executive order responded to several years of charges that the presence of homosexual employees in the State Department posed blackmail risks. Attorney General Herbert Brownell Jr. explained that the new order was designed to encompass both loyalty and security risks and he differentiated between the two: "Employees could be a security risk and still not be disloyal or have any traitorous thoughts, but it may be that their personal habits are such that they might be subject to blackmail by people who seek to destroy the safety of our country."
The press recognized the revolutionary nature of the new executive order. The Washington Post said that it established not a loyalty test but a "suitability test." Some in government referred to their new "integrity-security" program. Some of those the press expected to be excluded from federal employment included "a person who drinks too much," "an incorrigible gossip," "homosexuals," and "neurotics."
In 1953, Congress changed the solicitation law in the District of Columbia so that the jail term of up to 90 days was retained, but the maximum fine was raised to $250, and the reference to the power of judges to "impose conditions" on the defendant was removed. The law went into effect on June 29, 1953.
Lyndon B. Johnson
Senator of Texas
On October 19, 1964, Walter Jenkins, a longtime top aide to President Johnson, had been arrested by District of Columbia Police in a YMCA restroom. He and another man were booked on a disorderly conduct charge.
- The private life and inclinations of a citizen, Government employee or not, does not necessarily have any bearing on his capacities, usefulness, and sense of responsibility in his occupation. The fact that an individual is homosexual, as has been strongly implied in the case of Mr. Jenkins, does not per se make him more unstable and more a security risk than any heterosexual person.
After reelection during his second term on October 3, 1965, Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which added "sexual deviation" as a medical ground for denying prospective immigrants entry into the United States. The bill went into effect on June 30, 1968.
Presidents after Stonewall
On May 13, 1971, in a conversation with John D. Ehrlichman and H. R. Haldeman, Nixon went on to discuss negative perception of homosexuality. He made the assertion that it led to the fall of Ancient Greece, referring to the promotion of same-sex relations in Ancient Greece. He also related homosexuality with areas of San Francisco known for a large gay male population, saying he would not shake hands with persons there.
In 1972, San Francisco's Gay Activists Alliance disbanded and formed the Gay Voter's League, a group that campaigned for the reelection of President Richard Nixon. In October 1972, representative of the Committee to Re-elect the President addressed gay voters on behalf of Richard M. Nixon's campaign in San Francisco. The event was organized by the Gay Voters League of San Francisco.
House Minority Leader and Representative of Michigan's 5th congressional district
On March 5, 1976, when asked about the issue of gay rights, with respect to hiring, employment, and housing, Gerald Ford said "I recognize that this is a very new and serious problem in our society. I have always tried to be an understanding person as far as people are concerned who are different than myself. That doesn't mean that I agree with or would concur in what is done by them or their position in society. I think this is a problem we have to face up to, and I can't give you a pat answer tonight. I just would be dishonest to say that there is a pat answer under these very difficult circumstances".
In 1976, during that year's presidential campaign, President Gerald Ford was "zapped" by activists in Ann Arbor, Michigan over federal immigration rules. The protests forced President Ford to admit that he was not aware that homosexuality was used as a basis for exclusion in immigration rulings.
Gerald Ford, as former president, formally opposed the Briggs Initiative in 1977, which sought to ban homosexuals from teaching in public school. In October 2001, he broke with conservative members of the Republican party by stating that gay and lesbian couples "ought to be treated equally. Period." He became the highest ranking Republican to embrace full equality for gays and lesbians, stating his belief that there should be a federal amendment outlawing anti-gay job discrimination and expressing his hope that the Republican Party would reach out to gay and lesbian voters. He also was a member of the Republican Unity Coalition, which The New York Times described as "a group of prominent Republicans, including former President Gerald R. Ford, dedicated to making sexual orientation a non-issue in the Republican Party".
Post governorship of Georgia
In February 1976, Carter said he opposed discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but in June 1976 he withdrew his support of a gay rights plank in the Democratic Party platform.
In 1977, under the guidance of Jimmy Carter, a policy was removed which barred employment of gays from employment in the foreign service and Internal Revenue Service ended its policy that forced LGBT education and charity groups to publicly state that homosexuality is a "sickness, disturbance, or diseased pathology." That same year, fourteen gay and lesbian activists were invited to the White House for the first official visit ever. Jimmy Carter publicly opposed the Briggs Initiative. However, in March 1980, Carter issued a formal statement indicating he would not issue an executive order banning anti-gay discrimination in the US federal government and that he would not support including a gay rights plank in the Democratic Party platform.
In 2004, Carter came out for civil unions and stated that he "opposes all forms of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and believes there should be equal protection under the law for people who differ in sexual orientation". In 2007, he called for ending the ban on gays in the military. In March 2012, Jimmy Carter came out in favor of same sex marriage.
Post governorship of California
The first chapter of what would become the national Log Cabin Republicans (LCR) formed in 1978 to fight California's Briggs Initiative, a ballot initiative that would have banned homosexuals from teaching in public schools. The chapter worked diligently and successfully convinced Governor Reagan to publicly oppose the measure. Reagan penned an op-ed against the Briggs Initiative in which he wrote, "Whatever else it is, homosexuality is not a contagious disease like the measles. Prevailing scientific opinion is that an individual's sexuality is determined at a very early age and that a child's teachers do not really influence this."
On the 1980 campaign trail, he spoke of the gay civil rights movement:
My criticism is that [the gay movement] isn't just asking for civil rights; it's asking for recognition and acceptance of an alternative lifestyle which I do not believe society can condone, nor can I.
No civil rights legislation for LGBT individuals passed during Reagan's tenure. Additionally, Reagan has been criticized by some LGBT groups for allegedly ignoring (by failing to adequately address or fund) the growing AIDS epidemic, even as it took thousands of lives in the 1980s. Reagan's Surgeon General from 1982-1989, Dr. C. Everett Koop, claims that his attempts to address the issue were shut out by the Reagan Administration. According to Koop, the prevailing view of the Reagan Administration was that "transmission of AIDS was understood to be primarily in the homosexual population and in those who abused intravenous drugs" and therefore that people dying from AIDS were "only getting what they justly deserve."
On August 18, 1984, President Regan issued a statement on the issue of same-sex marriage that read:
Society has always regarded marital love as a sacred expression of the bond between a man and a woman. It is the means by which families are created and society itself is extended into the future. In the Judeo-Christian tradition it is the means by which husband and wife participate with God in the creation of a new human life. It is for these reasons, among others, that our society has always sought to protect this unique relationship. In part the erosion of these values has given way to a celebration of forms of expression most reject. We will resist the efforts of some to obtain government endorsement of homosexuality.
Mr. Reagan made the comment in response to a questionnaire from the conservative publishers of the Presidential Biblical Scoreboard, a magazine-type compilation of past statements and voting records of national candidates.
In 1981, during Nancy Reagan's 60th birthday party, White House interior decorator, Ted Graber, spent a night in the Reagans' private White House quarters with his male lover, Archie Case.
George H. W. Bush
As President, George H. W. Bush signed legislation that extended gay rights. On April 23, 1990, George H. W. Bush signed the Hate Crime Statistics Act, which requires the Attorney General to collect data on crimes committed because of the victim's race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. It was the first federal statute to "recognize and name gay, lesbian and bisexual people." On July 26, 1990, George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. On November 29, 1990, Bush signed the Immigration Act of 1990, which withdrew the phrase "sexual deviation" from the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) so that it could no longer be used as a basis for barring entry of immigration to the U.S. for homosexuals.
In a television interview, Bush said if he found out his grandchild was gay, he would "love his child", but tell him homosexuality was not normal and discourage him from working for gay rights. In February 1992, the chairman of the Bush-Quayle campaign met with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. In May 1992, he appointed Anne-Imelda Radice to serve as the Acting Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. Losing ground in the 1992 Republican president primary to President Bush's far-right challenger, Pat Buchanan, the Bush campaign turned to the right, and President Bush publicly denounced same-sex marriage. The 1992 Log Cabin Republican convention was held in Spring, Texas, a Houston exurb. The main issue discussed was whether or not LCR would endorse the re-election of President George H. W. Bush. The group voted to deny that endorsement because Bush did not denounce anti-gay rhetoric at the 1992 Republican National Convention. Many in the gay community believed President Bush had not done enough on the issue of AIDS. Urvashi Vaid argues that Bush's anti-gay rhetoric "motivated conservative gay Democrats and loyal gay Republicans, who had helped defeat Dukakis in 1988, to throw their support behind Clinton."
In 1992, the City Council passed the "The Health Benefits Expansion Act", which was signed into law by the Mayor of Washington, D.C. The bill, which established domestic partnerships in the District of Columbia, became law on June 11, 1992. Every year from 1992 to 2000, the Republican leadership of the U.S. Congress added a rider to the District of Columbia appropriations bill that prohibited the use of federal or local funds to implement the Health Care Benefits Expansion Act. On October 5, 1992, Bush signed the H.R. 6056 into law, which included the Republican rider to the appropriations bill.
In 2013, former President George H. W. Bush served as a witness at a same-sex wedding of Bonnie Clement and Helen Thorgalsen, who own a general store together in Maine. In 2015 the Boston Globe reported that Bush "offered to perform the ceremony but had a scheduling conflict."
Governorship of Arkansas
In 1992, Governor Bill Clinton, as a candidate for President, issued a public statement of support for repeal of Arkansas's sodomy law. Also in 1992, the Human Rights Campaign, American's largest LGBT rights organization, issued its first presidential endorsement in 1992 to Bill Clinton.
Bill Clinton's legacy on gay rights is a matter of controversy. LGBT rights activist Richard Socarides credits Clinton as the first President to publicly champion gay rights, but Clinton's signing of DOMA and DADT have led critics like Andrew Sullivan to argue Clinton was a detriment to rather than an ally for the LGBT rights movement.
In December 1993, Clinton implemented a Department of Defense directive known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", which allowed gay men and women to serve in the armed services provided they kept their sexuality a secret, and forbade the military from inquiring about an individual's sexual orientation. The policy was developed as a compromise after Clinton's proposal to allow gays to serve openly in the military met with staunch opposition from prominent Congressional Republicans and Democrats, including Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Sam Nunn (D-GA). According to David Mixner, Clinton's support for the compromise led to a heated dispute with Vice President Al Gore, who felt that "the President should lift the ban ... even though [his executive order] was sure to be overriden by the Congress". Some gay-rights advocates criticized Clinton for not going far enough and accused him of making his campaign promise to get votes and contributions. Their position was that Clinton should have integrated the military by executive order, noting that President Harry Truman used executive order to racially desegregate the armed forces. Clinton's defenders argue that an executive order might have prompted the Senate to write the exclusion of gays into law, potentially making it harder to integrate the military in the future. Later in his presidency, in 1999, Clinton criticized the way the policy was implemented, saying he did not think any serious person could say it was not "out of whack".
On September 21, 1996, Clinton signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage for federal purposes as the legal union of one man and one woman, allowing individual states to refuse to recognize gay marriages performed in other states. Paul Yandura, speaking for the White House gay and lesbian liaison office, said that Clinton's signing of DOMA "was a political decision that they made at the time of a re-election." In defense of his actions, Clinton has said that DOMA was an attempt to "head off an attempt to send a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage to the states", a possibility he described as highly likely in the context of a "very reactionary Congress." Administration spokesman Richard Socarides said, "... the alternatives we knew were going to be far worse, and it was time to move on and get the president re-elected." Others were more critical. The veteran gay rights and gay marriage activist Evan Wolfson has called these claims "historic revisionism". In a July 2, 2011 editorial The New York Times opined, "The Defense of Marriage Act was enacted in 1996 as an election-year wedge issue, signed by President Bill Clinton in one of his worst policy moments."
Despite DOMA, Clinton, who was the first President to select openly gay persons for Administration positions, is generally credited as the first President to publicly champion gay rights. During his Presidency, Clinton controversially issued two substantial executive orders on behalf of gay rights, the first was in 1995 that lifted the ban on security clearances for LGBT federal employees and the second was in 1998 that outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation in the federal civilian workforce. Under President Clinton's leadership, federal funding for HIV/AIDS research, prevention and treatment more than doubled. And Clinton also pushed for passing hate crimes laws for gays and for the private sector Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which, buoyed by his lobbying, failed to pass the Senate by a single vote in 1996. Advocacy for these issues, paired with the politically unpopular nature of the gay rights movement at the time, led to enthusiastic support for Clinton's reelection in 1996 by the Human Rights Campaign.
Clinton was the first President to select openly gay persons for Administration positions, appointing over 150 LGBT appointees. The first openly gay US ambassador, James Hormel, received a recess appointment from the President after the Senate failed to confirm the nomination.
In 2008, Clinton publicly opposed the passage of California's Proposition 8 and recorded robocalls urging Californians to vote against it. In July 2009, he came out in favor of same-sex marriage. On March 7, 2013, Clinton called for the overturn of the Defense of Marriage Act by the US Supreme Court.
George W. Bush
In 1994, Bush pledged to veto any effort to repeal Texas's sodomy law, calling it "a symbolic gesture of traditional values."
Governor of Texas
In 1997, Governor Bush signed into law a bill adding "A license may not be issued for the marriage of persons of the same sex" into the Texas Family Code.
In a 1998 Texas Gubernatorial election political awareness test, he answered no to the questions of whether Texas government should include sexual orientation in Texas' anti-discrimination laws and whether he supports Texas recognizing same-sex marriage.
In 1999, the Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act, which would have increased punishment for criminals motivated by hatred of a victim's gender, religion, ethnic background or sexual orientation, was killed in committee by Texas Senate Republicans. Governor Bush was criticized for letting the hate crimes bill die in a Texas Senate committee. Bush spokesman Sullivan said the governor never took a position on the bill. According to Louvon Harris, sister of James Byrd, said that Bush's opposition to the bill reportedly revolved around the fact that it would cover gays and lesbians. The governor's office "contacted the family and asked if we would consider taking sexual orientation out of the bill, and our answer was no, because the bill is for everybody. Everybody should be protected by the law." said Harris. In a 2000 presidential debate, Al Gore would attack Bush for allowing the bill to die in committee, with Bush responding Texas already had a hate crimes statute, and nothing more was needed. George W. Bush also stated his opposition New Jersey Supreme Court ruling that said the Boy Scouts of America must accept gays in their organization. "I believe the Boy Scouts is a private organization and they should be able to set the standards that they choose to set," Bush said. Bush would also express his support for bans on gay foster parenting and adoption.
During the 2000 campaign he did not endorse a single piece of gay rights legislation. In a 2000 Republican presidential debate, George W. Bush, said he opposes same-sex marriage, but supports states' rights when it came to the issue of same-sex marriage. During the campaign he had refused to comment on Vermont's civil unions law. On April 13, 2000, Governor Bush became first presumptive GOP presidential nominee ever to meet publicly with gay Republicans in Austin, Texas. On August 4, 2000, Bush received the endorsement of the Log Cabin Republicans, the GOP's largest gay group, for president. He also received the endorsement of the newly formed Republican Unity Coalition. In a 2000 presidential debate with Al Gore, Bush stated he supported the Defense of Marriage Act and the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy. However, he stated that he opposed sodomy laws, a reversal of his position as governor of Texas.
George W. Bush was either neutral toward or opposed gay rights as president. In his eight years of office, Bush's views on gay rights were often difficult to ascertain, but many experts feel that the Bush White House wanted to avoid bad publicity without alienating evangelical conservative Christian voters. Thus, he did not repeal President Clinton's Executive Order banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the federal civilian government, but Bush's critics felt as if he failed to enforce the executive order. He retained Clinton's Office of National AIDS Policy and was the first Republican president to appoint an openly gay man to serve in his administration, Scott Evertz as director of the Office of National AIDS Policy. Bush also became the second President, after President Clinton, to select openly gay appointees to his administration. Bush's nominee as ambassador to Romania, Michael E. Guest, became the second openly gay man U.S. Ambassador and the first to be confirmed by the Senate. He did not repeal any of the spousal benefits that Clinton had introduced for same-sex federal employees. He did not attempt to repeal Don't ask, don't tell, nor make an effort to change it.
In April 2002, White House officials held an unannounced briefing in April for the Log Cabin Republicans. On June 27, 2002, President Bush has signed a bill allowing death benefits to be paid to domestic partners of firefighters and police officers who die in the line of duty, permanently extending a federal death benefit to same-sex couples for the first time.
In 2003, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Lawrence v. Texas that sodomy laws against consenting adults was unconstitutional. President Bush's press secretary Ari Fleischer refused to comment on the decision, noting only that the administration had not filed a brief in the case. In 2004, Bush said "What they do in the privacy of their house, consenting adults should be able to do,"
Previously Bush said he supports states' rights when it came to marriage, however, after Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, on February 24, 2004, Bush announced his support for an amendment to the US Constitution banning same-sex marriage. Due to his support of the Federal Marriage Amendment, the Log Cabin Republicans declined to endorse the reelection of George W. Bush in 2004. Bush's defense of the FMA led the group to vote 22 to 2 against an endorsement of his reelection. The Palm Beach County chapter in Florida did endorse him, resulting in the revocation of their charter. On September 22, 2004, the Abe Lincoln Black Republican Caucus (ALBRC), a group of young urban Black gay Republicans, voted in a special call meeting in Dallas, Texas, to endorse President Bush for re-election. In an October president debate, Bush said he did not know whether homosexuality is a choice or not. In October 2004, Bush said that he supported civil unions of same-sex couples.
In 2007, Bush threatened to veto the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007, which would have included sexual orientation in hate crimes, and Employment Nondiscrimination Act of 2007.
In December 2008, the Bush administration refused to support the U.N. declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity at the United Nations that condemns the use of violence, harassment, discrimination, exclusion, stigmatization, and prejudice based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Illinois state senator
Obama supported legalizing same-sex marriage when he first ran for the Illinois State Senate in 1996. When he ran for re-election to the Illinois Senate in 1998, he was undecided about legalizing same-sex marriage and supported including sexual orientation to the state's non-discrimination laws. During his time as a state senator he cosponsored a bill amending the Illinois Human Rights Act to include protections for LGBT people which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace, housing, and all public places and supported Illinois gender violence act.
US Senator from Illinois
Obama supported civil unions, but opposed same-sex marriage when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2004 and for U.S. President in 2008. He supported civil unions that would carry equal legal standing to that of marriage for same-sex couples, but believed that decisions about the title of marriage should be left to the states.
During his time as senator, Obama co-sponsored the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, Tax Equity for Domestic Partner and Health Plan Beneficiaries Act, and Early Treatment for HIV Act.
In 2007, Senator Obama said he opposed the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and the Don't ask, don't tell policy when it passed and supported repealing it. He also said that homosexuality is not a choice, he supported adoption rights for same-sex couples, and he would work as president to extend the 1,000 federal rights granted to marriage couples to couples in civil unions. He also voted for Kennedy Amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 that would expand federal jurisdiction to reach serious, violent hate crimes perpetrated because of the victim's sexual orientation and gender identity and the Tom Lantos and Henry J. Hyde United States Global Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Reauthorization Act.
In the 2008 presidential election, he expressed his opposition to state constitutional bans on same-sex marriage in California, and Florida on the November ballot, but stated in a 2008 interview that he personally believes that marriage is "between a man and a woman" and that he is "not in favor of gay marriage." In the 110th United States Congress, Obama received a score of 94% by the Human Rights Campaign. In the 2008 election, Obama received the endorsement of the following gay rights organizations: Houston GLBT Political Caucus, Human Rights Campaign, and the National Stonewall Democrats.
President Barack Obama has taken many definitive pro-LGBT rights stances. In 2009, his administration reversed Bush administration policy and signed the U.N. declaration that calls for the decriminalization of homosexuality. In June 2009, Obama became the first president to declare the month of June to be LGBT pride month; President Clinton had declared June Gay and Lesbian Pride Month. Obama did so again in June 2010, June 2011, June 2012, June 2013, June 2014, and June 2015.
On June 17, 2009, President Obama signed a presidential memorandum allowing same-sex partners of federal employees to receive certain benefits. The memorandum does not cover full health coverage. On October 28, 2009, Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which added gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability to the federal hate crimes law.
On January 4, 2010, he appointed Amanda Simpson the Senior Technical Advisor to the Department of Commerce, making her the first openly transgender person appointed to a government post by a U.S. President. He has appointed the most U.S. gay and lesbian officials of any U.S. president.
At the start of 2010, the Obama administration included gender identity among the classes protected against discrimination under the authority of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). On April 15, 2010, Obama issued an executive order to the Department of Health and Human Services that required medical facilities to grant visitation and medical decision-making rights to same-sex couples. In June 2010, he expanded the Family Medical Leave Act to cover employees taking unpaid leave to care for the children of same-sex partners. On December 22, 2010, Obama signed the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010 into law.
On February 23, 2011, President Obama instructed the Justice Department to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court.
In March 2011, the U.S. issued a nonbinding declaration in favor of gay rights that gained the support of more than 80 countries at the U.N. In June 2011, the U.N. endorsed the rights of gay, lesbian, and transgender people for the first time, by passing a resolution that was backed by the U.S., among other countries.
On August 18, 2011, the Obama administration announced that it would suspend deportation proceedings against many illegal immigrants who pose no threat to national security or public safety, with the White House interpreting the term "family" to include partners of lesbian, gay and bisexual people.
On September 30, 2011, the Defense Department issued new guidelines that allow military chaplains to officiate at same-sex weddings, on or off military installations, in states where such weddings are allowed.
On December 5, 2011, the Obama administration announced the United States would use all the tools of American diplomacy, including the potent enticement of foreign aid, to promote LGBT rights around the world.
On May 9, 2012, Obama publicly supported same-sex marriage, the first sitting U.S. President to do so. Obama told an interviewer that:
over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or Marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don't Ask Don't Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I've just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.
In the 2012 election, Obama received the endorsement of the following gay rights organizations: Equal Rights Washington, Fair Wisconsin, Gay-Straight Alliance, Human Rights Campaign, and the National Stonewall Democrats. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) gave Obama a score of 100% on the issue of gays and lesbians in the US military and a score of 75% on the issue of freedom to marry for gay people.
Obama also called for full equality during his second inaugural address on January 21, 2013: "Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law—for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well." It was the first mention of rights for gays and lesbians or use of the word gay in an inaugural address.
On March 1, 2013, Obama, speaking about Hollingsworth v. Perry, the U.S. Supreme Court case about Proposition 8, said "When the Supreme Court asks do you think that the California law, which doesn't provide any rationale for discriminating against same-sex couples other than just the notion that, well, they're same-sex couples—if the Supreme Court asks me or my attorney general or solicitor general, 'Do we think that meets constitutional muster?' I felt it was important for us to answer that question honestly. And the answer is no." The administration took the position that the Supreme Court should apply "heightened scrutiny" to California's ban—a standard under which legal experts say no state ban could survive.
On August 8, 2013, Obama criticized Russia's anti-gay law.
On December 26, 2013, President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 into law, which repealed the ban on consensual sodomy in the UCMJ.
On February 16, 2014, Obama criticized Uganda's anti-gay law.
Obama included openly gay athletes in the February 2014 Olympic delegation, namely Brian Boitano and Billie Jean King (who was replaced by Caitlin Cahow, who was also openly gay.)  This was done in criticism of Russia's anti-gay law.
On July 21, 2014, President Obama signed Executive Order 13672, adding "gender identity" to the categories protected against discrimination in hiring in the federal civilian workforce and both "sexual orientation" and gender identity" to the categories protected against discrimination in hiring and employment on the part of federal government contractors and sub-contractors.
On February 10, 2015, David Axelrod's Believer: My Forty Years in Politics was published. In the book, Axelrod revealed that President Barack Obama lied about his opposition to same-sex marriage for religious reasons in 2008 United States presidential election. "I'm just not very good at bullshitting," Obama told Axelrod, after an event where he stated his opposition to same-sex marriage, according to the book.
Also in 2015 the Obama administration announced it had opened a gender-neutral bathroom within the White House complex; the bathroom is in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next door to the West Wing.
Also in 2015, when President Obama declared May to be National Foster Care Month, he included words never before included in a White House proclamation about adoption, stating in part, "With so many children waiting for loving homes, it is important to ensure all qualified caregivers have the opportunity to serve as foster or adoptive parents, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status. That is why we are working to break down the barriers that exist and investing in efforts to recruit more qualified parents for children in foster care." Thus it appears he is the first president to explicitly say gender identity should not prevent anyone from adopting or becoming a foster parent.
In June 2016, President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden met with victims of and families of those who lost their loved ones in the Orlando Pulse massacre. President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden laid 49 white bouquets of roses to memorialize the spirits of the 49 people killed in this tragedy impacting the LGBTQ community.
On October 20, President Obama endorsed Kate Brown as Governor of Oregon. On November 8, Kate Brown became the United States' first openly LGBT person elected Governor. Kate Brown is a bisexual woman and has come out as a sexual assault survivor. She assumed office in 2015 due to a resignation. During her tenure as Governor before her election, she signed legislation to ban conversion therapy on minors.
U.S. Political Parties
Democratic Party (2012)
The Democratic Party's 2012 national platform opposed the Defense of Marriage Act and supports "equal responsibility, benefits, and protections" for same-sex couples, and explicitly supports same-sex marriage.
The Democratic Party's 2016 Platform
 Supports the Supreme Court Marriage Equality decision, Supports comprehensive federal nondiscrimination policies for LGBT Americans in [housing, employment, public accommodations, credit, jury service, education, and federal funding], Supports including LGBT people under sex discrimination laws, Opposes anti-LGBT state laws including anti-transgender legislation, Supports combatting youth homelessness, Supporting policies to improve school climates for LGBT students, Supporting LGBT elders, Supporting access to trans healthcare, Ending violence against LGBT people including the crisis of anti-transgender violence, Supporting mental health, "Insuring fair treatment for LGBT veterans, including by proactively reviewing and upgrading discharge records for veterans who were discharged because of their sexual orientation."
"Democrats believe that LGBT rights are human rights and that American foreign policy should advance the ability of all persons to live with dignity, security, and respect, regardless of who they are or who they love."
2016 Democratic Platform section on HIV/AIDS.
"Democrats believe an AIDS-free generation is within our grasp. But today far too many Americans living with HIV are without access to quality care and too many new infections occur each year. That is why we will implement the National HIV and AIDS Strategy; increase research funding for the National Institutes of Health; cap pharmaceutical expenses for people living with HIV and AIDS; reform HIV criminalization laws; and expand access for harm reduction programs and HIV prevention medications, particularly for the populations most at risk of infection. Abroad, we will continue our commitment to the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and increase global funding for HIV and AIDS prevention and treatment. Democrats will always protect those living with HIV and AIDS from stigma and discrimination."
Republican Party (2012)
The Republican Party's 2012 platform opposes any legal recognition of same sex couples, supports a ban on same-sex marriage through a federal constitutional amendment, along with state constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage and the Defense of Marriage Act. However, Fred Karger's unsuccessful run for the 2012 Republican nomination for President made him America's first openly gay Republican presidential candidate.
The Republican Party's 2016 Platform
Opposes same-sex marriage, Opposes banning conversion therapy on minors, Opposes transgender rights, Opposes covering LGBT people under discrimination policies, Supports legislation that allows discrimination against LGBT people ("First Amendment Defense Act"/"Religious Freedom" laws)
The Libertarian Party has endorsed libertarian perspectives on LGBT rights by supporting "religious freedom" and promoting marriage equality since it was created in 1971. The Libertarian Party also wished to lift the bans on same-sex marriage, but with the ultimate goal of marriage privatization.
The Green Party has in favor of sweeping LGBT rights and protections since the party's inaugural platform in 2000.
The more informal coalition of State Green Parties that existed in America, 1983 -2000, also backed LGBT rights.
The Constitution Party (United States) is strongly opposed to LGBT rights, and supports criminal laws against homosexuality and cross-dressing.
The party is very conservative and has ties to Christian Reconstructionism, a far-right, political movement within conservative Christian churches.
Other political parties
While many American socialist and communist political parties initially preferred to ignore the issue, most now support gay rights causes. Socialist groups generally integrate a stronger approach to gender identity issues than mainstream parties.
- Lavender Greens
While many American socialist and communist political parties initially preferred to ignore the issue, most now support gay rights causes. The Socialist Party USA nominated an openly gay man, David McReynolds, as its Presidential candidate in 1980. Socialist groups generally integrate a stronger approach to gender identity issues than mainstream parties.
Summary table of LGBT rights in the United States
This is simplified for international comparison with other Wikipedia LGBT rights articles.
|Same-sex sexual activity legal||(Since 2003 nationwide) |
|Equal age of consent||/|
|Anti-discrimination laws in employment only||/(See above)|
|Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services||/|
|Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech)||(The United States does not have anti-hate speech laws)|
|Same-sex marriages||(Since 2015 nationwide, except American Samoa)|
|Recognition of same-sex couples||(Since 2015 nationwide, except American Samoa) (Recognized with marriage as stated above)|
|Step-child adoption by same-sex couples|
|Joint adoption by same-sex couples||(Since 2015 nationwide, except American Samoa)|
|Gays and lesbians allowed to serve openly in the military||(Since 2011) |
|Right to change legal gender||/ 18 States, DC, and 1 territory do not require surgery or sterilization to update birth certificates (ideal policy); 28 States and 2? territories require surgery or sterilization to transition legal documents; 4 States and 1? territory have a complete ban on updating sex designation on birth certificates (See upper map on this external link)|
|Access to IVF for lesbians|
|Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples|
|MSMs allowed to donate blood||(one year deferral)|
Comprehensive summary table of LGBT rights in the United States
|Same-sex sexual activity legal||(Since 2003 nationwide) |
|Homosexuality declassified as an illness||(Since 1973)|
|Equal age of consent for same-sex couples as for heterosexual couples||/|
|Transgender declassified as an illness||(since 2012)|
|Gender confirmation surgery, puberty blockers, hormone replacement therapy and other transition-related healthcare for transgender people required to be covered under health insurance||/|
|Right to change legal gender without forcible sterilization or requirement of surgery||/ 18 States, DC, and 1 territory do not require surgery or sterilization to update birth certificates (ideal policy); 28 States and 2? territories require surgery or sterilization to transition legal documents; 4 States and 1? territory have a complete ban on updating sex designation on birth certificates (See upper map on this external link)|
|Federal hate-crime law includes crimes motivated by a victim's actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity||(Since 2009) |
|Ban on police profiling on the basis of both perceived and/or actual gender expression, gender identity, and sexual orientation||/|
|Sexual orientation allowed as grounds for asylum||(Since 1994) |
|Gender identity allowed as grounds for asylum||/|
|Same-sex marriage||(Since 2015 nationwide, except American Samoa)|
|Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples|
|Access to artificial insemination/IVF for lesbian couples|
|Joint adoption by same-sex couples||(Since 2015 nationwide, except American Samoa)|
|Step-child adoption by same-sex couples|
|Cisgender gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals allowed to serve openly in the military||(Since 2011) |
|Transgender people allowed to serve openly in the military||(Since June 2016)|
|Abolition of detention for LGBTQ immigrants||While transgender women make up 1 in 500 immigrants in detention facilities, one out of every five sexual assaults that are reported in detention facilities victimize the transgender community.|
|Conjugal visits allowed for same-sex couples||/|
|Conversion therapy banned by law||/|
|Gay panic and trans panic defenses banned by law||/|
|Paid family leave for same-sex parents and couples||/|
|LGBT anti-bullying law in public schools and public colleges||/|
|LGBT anti-discrimination law in adoption, custody, and visitation rights||/|
|LGBT anti-discrimination law in employment||/(See above)|
|LGBT anti-discrimination law in health insurance||In 2012, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's ban on sex-based discrimination, which took effect by January 2014, "extends to claims of discrimination based on gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity and femininity." There is no comparable ban for sexual orientation discrimination.|
|LGBT anti-discrimination law in homeless shelters||/|
|LGBT anti-discrimination law in housing||/(See above)|
|LGBT anti-discrimination law in prisons, juvenile halls, and immigration detention centers, including but not limited to transgender people required to be housed according to their gender identity and coverage of transition care||/|
|LGBT anti-discrimination law in provision of goods and services||/|
|LGBT anti-discrimination law in public accommodations, public facilities, and public transportation||/|
|LGBT anti-discrimination law in public hospitals and in first responders/ ambulance care||/|
|LGBT anti-discrimination law in public schools and public colleges||/|
|LGBT-inclusive sex education required to be taught in public schools||/|
|Transgender-disenfranchising photo-ID voting laws repealed/absent||/|
|Transgender people allowed to use restrooms and other gender-segregated spaces that correspond to their gender identity||/|
|Single-person restrooms with gender-segregated signage (and a lock) are given new signs saying "All-Gender Restroom" (by policy/ law)||/
The State of California, effective March 1, 2017 Cities with ordinances currently in effect include: New York City; Cathedral City, CA; Philadelphia, PA; Austin, TX; West Hollywood, CA; Washington, DC; Seattle, WA; Santa Fe, NM; Denver, CO as of 2016, being phased in during 2017. No federal laws. Multiple places (like colleges) have made such a change voluntarily) To locate one in a place without an ordinance, see Refuge Restrooms – A user-compiled, edited, and evaluatable All-Gender Restroom locator (with a disability access feature)
|Prohibition of deportations of LGBTQ immigrants back to countries with the death penalty for homosexuality|
|LGBTQ Muslims allowed to enter the United States||Currently|
|Abolition of gender-based dress codes (ending forced double-standards for gender expression)||// Known cities with such a policy include New York City|
|Removal of gender labels on children's products (toys, games, costumes and party supplies, school supplies, beauty and fashion supplies, etc.)||/|
|Do airport security systems no longer classify bodies by (assumed/profiled) sex designation, and do not flag trans bodies as "alarm" or "anomaly" when they do not match normative constructions of sex designation?||
Body Scanning machines test to see if bodies fit within a binary M/F framework. Sometimes machines also flag binders. Can lead to social humiliation, forced outing of trans status, and sometimes patdowns.
|Trans-affirming healthcare training required by law for medical professionals|
|Romeo and Juliet laws apply equally to same-sex couples as to opposite-sex couples||/|
|Discrimination against non-binary persons is interpreted to be a violation of anti-discrimination laws when gender identity and/or sex is enumerated as a protected class|
|Legal gender recognition of nonbinary people in the United States||/
In 2016, Oregon and California judges approved a legal gender changes to nonbinary. The scope and legal/bureaucratic implications are not fully clear yet. In the same year, New York City approved a birth certificate stating Intersex as a sex marker; press coverage also disclosed that Ohio issued a birth certificate with a sex marker of 'hermaphrodite' in 2012. (See also Intersex rights by country#United States and Legal recognition of intersex people)
|Endorsable visas for immigrants and travelers who are legally recognized as non-binary* in their country of origin
|United States census counts number of lesbian, gay male, bisexual, and transgender people and recognizes a non-binary gender option|
|MSMs allowed to donate blood and tissues not considered lifesaving||(one year deferral)|
United States topics
Global LGBT topics
- LGBT rights by country or territory
- Intersex rights by country
- Intersex human rights
- Legal recognition of intersex people
- History of bisexuality
- History of lesbianism
- Gay pride
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to LGBT rights in the United States.|
- WhiteHouse.gov: Civil Rights — includes section on LGBT rights
- A Look at the State of the Gay Rights Movement – video report by Democracy Now!
- Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity
- Human Rights Campaign – official website
- Refuge Restrooms – A user-compiled, edited, and evaluatable All-Gender Restroom locator (with disability access feature)
Dietrich, John W. “The U.S. Human Rights Policy in the Post-Cold War Era.” Political Science Quarterly 121, no. 2 (2006): 269-94.
Lax, Jeffrey R., and Justin H. Phillips. “Gay Rights in the States: Public Opinion and Policy Responsiveness.” The American Political Science Review 103, no. 3 (2009): 367-86.
Robinson, John M. “The LGBT Movement Springs from the Stonewall Riots.” State Magazine June 2011: 9. (retrieved October 12, 2016).
Robinson, John M. “Moving Forward in the Fight for LGBT Equality.” State Magazine June 2013: 8. (retrieved October 12, 2016).
Tilcsik, András. “Pride and Prejudice: Employment Discrimination against Openly Gay Men in the United States.” American Journal of Sociology 117, no. 2 (2011): 586-626.