Love won last week — Virginia’s lesbian and gay couples can now marry the person they love in the place they call home. Couples across Virginia are overjoyed, and we know that the ability to marry is just the beginning.
Marriage equality brings with it all the rights and responsibilities of marriage, including legally adopting the child you have raised for years, accessing your spouse’s medical benefits, and filing taxes jointly with your spouse. Beyond all of these important practical implications, marriage means something much deeper. There is no substitute for marriage, and as of Oct. 6, 2014, the commitment that Virginia’s married same-sex couples have long made to one another is validated under the law.
For the first time in their lives, many Virginians have gotten a glimpse of what equality really means; however, while we have secured the freedom to marry, true equality for Virginia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender residents remains unfulfilled. Unfortunately, if you are an LGBT Virginian, you can still be fired from your job, denied housing, or turned away in a restaurant or other business — just for being who you are. If you are a transgender Virginian, you can still be denied necessary medical care — just for being who you are. This is not what true equality looks like.
The good news is that a clear majority of Virginians believe in fairness and equality, and most Virginia residents favor a state law that protects LGBT people from employment discrimination. The business community largely supports workplace non-discrimination because it makes good business sense, improves Virginia’s national reputation, and keeps Virginia competitive. But, despite overwhelming popular support, the majority of Virginia lawmakers continue to favor laws and policies that discriminate against Virginia’s LGBT residents.
While some lawmakers mistakenly say that discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity simply “doesn’t happen,” reality paints a different picture. On a national level, an estimated 8-17 percent of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people have reported being denied employment or unfairly fired. That number increases drastically for transgender individuals. Virginia is one of a handful of states where you can marry your same-sex partner, but can then be fired when your boss notices your wedding photo on your desk. As the country moves toward the freedom to marry, we must continue fighting for true equality in the commonwealth.
Even as the majority of businesses have made steps to protect their LGBT employees and believe that LGBT people must be treated with the same respect and dignity as all others, there are still some who think that they should have the so-called “right” to fire somebody, or to refuse service to somebody, based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. There is a word for that: discrimination. No Virginian should be treated differently because of who they are or who they love. It’s our job to make sure that ideal becomes reality.
Equality Virginia is working together with the clear majority of Virginians to bring full equality to the commonwealth. Gaining marriage equality is a tremendous victory and a huge step forward. Couples, families and allies across Virginia have worked hard for years to achieve this. However, until each and every LGBT individual and family in Virginia is treated with respect and dignity in the home, the workplace, the marketplace, and the doctor’s office, our work at Equality Virginia will not be complete.
James Parrish is executive director of Equality Virginia.