By CHAD GRIFFIN
It was just under two years ago that congressional midterm elections brought a wave of new anti-equality elected officials to Capitol Hill. Last week’s release of the Human Rights Campaign’s Congressional Scorecard illustrates how this one outcome has slowed the progress of pro-equality legislation ever since. According to the report, which rates members of Congress based on their LGBT-relevant votes and co-sponsorships, today’s House of Representatives contains 219 members who are dead-set against any legislative advancement for LGBT people — one more vote than is necessary to stop a bill in its tracks.
These new anti-LGBT members have dragged down the average score, which now stands at 40 percent on the House side and 35 percent for the Senate. Compared to the previous session of Congress, where pro-LGBT majorities led to the successful repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, Congress now lags behind President Barack Obama, state governments and the American people in its support for equality.
Of course, we still have incredible allies in both chambers. On the Senate side, the Judiciary Committee approved the Respect for Marriage Act, a bill that would repeal the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act, for the very first time. And a bill eliminating the unequal tax treatment of Domestic Partnership benefits advanced through another Senate committee.
Yet we can’t stop urging Congress — even our allies — to do more. That’s why this year’s Congressional Scorecard took into account individual members’ position on marriage equality for the first time. After all, it was congressional action on the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004 that threatened to enshrine marriage discrimination into the United States Constitution. Today, just over one third of Congress supports marriage equality, a level of support that still lags behind the general public.
When LGBT voters go to the polls in less than two weeks, it is incumbent upon us to stand up for elected officials who will fight for full equality. We can’t forget that the composition of the House and Senate are important for reasons beyond just the bills that get passed. The people we send to Washington as our representatives say something about our values as a country. Even as LGBT people make progress in statehouses and courtrooms around the country — and even if we are successful in sending President Barack Obama back to the White House — the road to a more equal future still runs through the halls of Congress.
Take the time to look at the Scorecard, read up on your representatives, and make sure they are truly standing up for you. That way, when you step into the voting booth on Election Day, you’ll be able to vote for equality all the way to the bottom of the ballot.
Chad Griffin is president of the Human Rights Campaign. Reach him via hrc.org.