December 30, 2015 at 8:00 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
Top 10 national stories of 2015
Obergefell v. Hodges, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade, Vin Testa, David Baker, Samuel Knode, John Becker

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

It was another historic year of progress for the LGBT community. Below are the Blade’s staff picks for the top 10 stories of the year.

#10 Episcopal, Presbyterian churches take step forward on marriage

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Church of the Pilgrims Presbyterian with rainbow ‘ALL ARE WELCOME’ sign displayed. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Major Christian denominations in the United States followed up on the Supreme Court ruling on marriage this year by enacting new policies on same-sex couples.

The Episcopal and Presbyterian churches changed doctrine to enable clergy to perform same-sex marriages. The Presbyterian Church adoption a resolution saying marriage is a commitment between “traditionally a man and a woman,” while the Episcopal Church omitted references to gender entirely.

Meanwhile, the Mormon Church took the opposite approach and issued a policy prohibiting the baptism of children raised by same-sex parents. Thousands of members of the church resigned in protest.

#9 Pentagon lays groundwork for lifting trans ban

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Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said the Pentagon would begin a six-month review of the trans ban in July. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Transgender people remain barred from open service in the U.S. military despite “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, but the Pentagon took initial steps this year to change the policy.

Efforts to undo the medical regulation barring trans people from military service seemed to have stalled out at the beginning of the year. They picked up steam when newly confirmed Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said during his town hall meeting in Afghanistan “suitability for service” should be the only factor in determining whether a transgender person can enlist in the armed forces.

In July, Carter announced the Pentagon would begin a six-month review of the policy with the intention of allowing transgender people to serve openly.

A Pentagon spokesperson told the Washington Blade the department is on track to produce initial review findings in January. According to a report in USA Today, the department aims to lift the ban on trans service May 27.

#8 Lawmakers introduce Equality Act

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Sen. Tammy Baldwin speaks at a press conference announcing the Equality Act on July 23. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

After failing to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act since 1994, lawmakers raised the bar this year for LGBT federal non-discrimination protections by introducing the Equality Act. The legislation, introduced by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) in the U.S. House and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) in the Senate, would expand the Civil Rights Act and Fair Housing Act to include protections based on sexual orientation, gender identity and sex.

No Republicans are co-sponsors of the Equality Act in either the House or Senate, which makes passage significantly more difficult as long as the GOP controls Congress. Each of the 170 co-sponsors in the House and the 39 co-sponsors in the Senate are Democrats. The bill has a number of corporate sponsors, such as Amazon, American Airlines, Apple, Facebook, General Electric, General Mills, Google, IBM, Microsoft and Nike.

#7 Record number of anti-trans murders

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A Black Trans Lives Matter rally was held in D.C. in August. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A record number of at least 21 transgender people were killed in the United States this year, raising concerns about the dangers transgender people continue to face.

Many of the transgender people murdered were women of color. One of the victims Zella Ziona, 21, was shot multiple times in the head and body behind a shopping center in Gaithersburg, Md., allegedly by her boyfriend Rico Hector LeBlond.

Another victim, 66-year-old K.C. Haggard, was killed in Fresno, Calif., after someone driving a vehicle beckoned her over and shot her dead.

In response to the violence, members of Congress formed a nine-member bipartisan Transgender Equality Task Force. Chairing the group is Rep. Mike Honda, who has a transgender granddaughter.

The task force kicked off with a congressional forum in which transgender advocates testified about the need for greater police sensitivity to transgender issues, data collection on transgender murders and a federal prohibition on anti-trans discrimination.

#6 Religious freedom bills defeated in Indiana, elsewhere

Likely in anticipation of the Supreme Court ruling for same-sex marriage, anti-LGBT lawmakers in state legislatures throughout the country this year sought to push so-called “religious freedom” legislation to undermine the ruling.

Many of the bills, known as Religious Freedom Restoration Acts, would have prohibited the government from penalizing individuals who engage in anti-LGBT discrimination based on religious beliefs, such as by refusing wedding services to same-sex couples.

The highest profile of the measures came in Indiana and was signed into law by Gov. Mike Pence. Following an outcry from LGBT advocates and the business community, Pence signed a fix into law significantly limiting the scope of the law’s religious carve-out.

Of the 78 religious freedom bills introduced this year, six became law and two of those measures were scaled back. Among those that became law were bills in Michigan allowing child placement agencies to refuse services based on religious beliefs and a bill in North Carolina granting magistrates the option of opting out of performing marriages for a six-month period.

#5 Houston defeat jolts LGBT movement

Following a years-long string of victories, the LGBT community experienced an unexpected setback this year when Houston voters rejected at the polls an LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance. The measure, known as the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance and backed by lesbian Mayor Annise Parker, would have instituted citywide protections in the nation’s fourth largest city on the basis of 15 categories, including sexual orientation and gender identity.

Although initial polls indicated the ordinance would pass, it was defeated by a lopsided 61-39 margin. LGBT rights supporters blamed the loss on anti-trans TV ads aimed at stoking fears about transgender people using the restroom consistent with their gender identity. One ad featured a young girl entering a restroom stall only for a menacing-looking man to follow and slam the door behind them.

#4 Kim Davis refuses to marry gay couples

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Kim Davis was widely mocked for her refusal to marry gay couples in Kentucky. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

After the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, one Kentucky clerk made national headlines this year for refusing to comply with the decision on religious grounds.

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, an Apostolic Christian, closed down marriage operations in her office, refusing marriage licenses to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. Couples filed a lawsuit against her, resulting in a district court ordering her to issue licenses. Neither a federal appeals court, nor the Supreme Court, would lift the order upon her request for a stay pending appeal.

But Davis continued to deny licenses. One of the plaintiff same-sex couples came to her office seeking a marriage license, but she refused to give one to them, citing “God’s authority.” U.S. District Judge David Bunning found her in contempt of court and placed her in jail for several days.

Upon her release, she appeared at a rally with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and other supporters who celebrated her defiance. The anti-LGBT Family Research Council awarded Davis its “Cost of Discipleship” award during the annual Values Voter Summit in D.C.

#3 LGBT rights surface as 2016 race kicks off

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Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump spent 2015 as the frontrunners for their respective party nominations. (Washington Blade file photo of Clinton by Damien Salas; photo of Trump by Michael Key)

As the 2016 race for the White House kicked off this year, the issue of LGBT rights distinctly separated Democratic candidates from Republican contenders.

The Democratic hopefuls boiled down to Hillary Clinton as the front-running candidate followed by Bernard Sanders and Martin O’Malley. The Republicans had a more sizable group, ending the year with 13 candidates and Donald Trump making headlines for inflammatory statements about immigrants, women, Black Lives Matter activists and Muslims.

When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled for same-sex marriage, each of the Democratic candidates embraced it, but all Republicans remained opposed to same-sex marriage, although they had slightly differing takes on the decision.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich said the time has come to move on, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush called for protections of religious freedom, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker before he exited the race sought a U.S. constitutional amendment against the decision, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said it should be ignored entirely and Sen. Marco Rubio said he’d appoint justices that would reverse the decision.

Republicans also made outrageous claims about LGBT people. Ben Carson said prison proves being gay is a choice and Sen. Ted Cruz said the Planned Parenthood shooter may be a “transgendered leftist activist.”

Meanwhile, each of the Democratic candidates endorsed the Equality Act and pledged to make LGBT rights of a component of their campaigns and administrations.

#2 Caitlyn Jenner comes out as trans

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Caitlyn Jenner came out as trans in an interview with Diane Sawyer. (Photo courtesy NBC Media Village)

Amid rising transgender visibility, TV personality and Olympic decathlon gold medalist Caitlyn Jenner publicly transitioned and became the most high-profile transgender figure in the country.

For months, media reports and paparazzi photos raised questions about whether Jenner was transitioning. Jenner confirmed that was her intent during an interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer as she maintained male pronouns and her former name, Bruce Jenner.

Jenner revealed herself under her new name in a cover spread for Vanity Fair, which was captioned “Call Me Caitlyn.” Upon receipt of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at ESPN’s annual ESPYS dinner, Jenner said she could take the ridicule aimed at her, but transgender youth may not be as strong.

She also began to star in the reality TV series “I Am Cait,” which focused on her transition and placed her among other rising transgender stars like Laverne Cox of “Orange Is the New Black” and Jamie Clayton of “Sense8.”

Although Jenner has sought to draw attention to issues facing the transgender community, she remains controversial because she’s a Republican, is seen as too affluent to represent transgender people and made controversial remarks for which she later apologized about transgender women making people uncomfortable if they look like a “man in a dress.”

#1 Supreme Court rules for marriage equality

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LGBT rights supporters celebrated on the steps of the Supreme Court in June. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A decades-long struggle for the LGBT community culminated this year at the U.S. Supreme Court when justices ruled in favor of marriage rights for same-sex couples across the nation.

In the 5-4 decision written by U.S. Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court determined state prohibitions on same-sex marriage violate the right to due process and equal protection under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The court accepted the litigation after the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld bans on same-sex marriage in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee, creating a split among other circuit courts that struck down similar prohibitions in other states.

On the day of oral arguments, one of the attorneys arguing in favor of marriage rights for same-sex couples was Mary Bonauto, a lesbian attorney who successfully argued for marriage equality in Massachusetts in 2003, making the Bay State the first in the country with same-sex marriage.

The court delivered its historic decision on June 26, the same date 12 years ago when it issued its decision against state sodomy bans and two years ago when it issued the ruling against Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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