June 23, 2016 at 6:09 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
Lawmakers renew push to honor June 26 as ‘Equality Day’
Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) (Photo public domain)

Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) (Photo public domain)

With days remaining before June 26, lawmakers are renewing a push to designate that date in honor of milestone U.S. Supreme Court decision affirming LGBT rights.

Sunday will mark the one-year anniversary of the Obergefell v. Hodges decision overturning state bans on same-sex marriage and extending marriage equality nationwide.

But it’s also the three-year anniversary of the 2013 decision of Windsor v. United States against the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act and the ruling in Perry v. Hollingsworth restoring marriage equality to California after Proposition 8.

The day will also mark the 13th anniversary of the 2013 decision in Lawrence v. Texas overturning state laws criminalizing same-sex relations.

Leading the effort in Congress to honor June 26 in remembrance of those decisions is Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash..), who introduced a resolution in December to designate that date as Equality Day.

In a phone interview Thursday with the Washington Blade, DelBene said she envisions Equality Day would recognize the milestone Supreme Court rulings and “acknowledge how much work remains to be done.”

“I think this is a day where we formally honor LGBT equality just as we do right now with Pride and continue to talk about the great strides that have been made, the work that remains to be done, but really a day of celebration of equality,” DelBene said.

Although the resolution had 93 original co-sponsors upon its introduction, that list has now grown to 145 — all Democrats — as result of a swell of support of nearly 40 lawmakers in the last month.

On Thursday, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), the only out lesbian in Congress, is set to introduce a companion resolution with at least 31 co-sponsors who are also all members of the Democratic caucus.

Baldwin said in a statement to the Washington Blade the resolution would recognize victories as LGBT advocates continue to advance LGBT rights.

“America should celebrate the progress we have made to pass on to the next generation a country that is more equal, not less equal,” Baldwin said. “But we cannot mistake our progress for victory. We have more work to do in the march for fairness, freedom and full equality for the LGBT community. I believe America is ready to take the next steps forward and together we will break down barriers so that every American has an equal opportunity to dream the same dreams, chase the same ambitions and have the same shot at success.”

The text of the resolution acknowledges the need to enact federal non-discrimination legislation “on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, including in employment, housing, public accommodations, education, federal funding, credit, and jury service.” That’s the substance of the Equality Act, legislation pending before Congress introduced Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) in the House and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) in the Senate.

DelBene said she “definitely” thinks the designation of June 26 as Equality Day would contribute to efforts to pass the Equality Act.

“Like I said, part of the goal is to acknowledge the work that remains to be done, and one of those pieces of work that remains to be done is passing the Equality Act,” DelBene said. “And so there is strong effort there and something we want to be sure we have a loud voice about so we continue to build support to have an opportunity to move that legislation forward.”

LGBT advocates expressed support for designating June 26 as Equality Day as they acknowledged work remains to advance LGBT rights.

Russell Roybal, deputy executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, struck a balanced tone when asked about designating Equality Act and emphasized the need to extend protections to LGBT people under federal civil rights law.

“Our victories are worth celebrating,” Roybal said. “However, we are far from full freedom, justice and equality for LGBTQ people. We still don’t have a comprehensive federal nondiscrimination law, or immigration reform and much more has to be done to end violence against LGBTQ people.”

Jay Brown, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, said the designation of Equality Day would serve as a reminder of the achievements for LGBT rights and the work that remains.

“For decades, loving and committed same-sex couples struggled for basic recognition and for the equal benefits and protections afforded to all other families,” Brown said. “Observing Equality Day would be a wonderful way to not only celebrate that historic victory in Obergefell — and the momentous rulings in Lawrence and Windsor that helped pave the way — but also to remind the world how much father we have left to go in our fight to secure full equality. As far as we have come, we know that LGBTQ people are still too often victims of hate violence, discrimination and bullying, and are not protected under the law from being fired, evicted or denied services in most states.”

Jim Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit that brought marriage equality nationwide, said in an interview with the Washington Blade earlier this month it’s “hard not to think” of marking June 26 as Equality Act because of the “three vitally important rulings” handed down on that date.

The resolution stops short of formally designating as June 26 as “Equality Day” and instead supports the recognition of that date through additional action. Congress has the authority to designate federal holidays, which it started in 1870 with the designation of New Years Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

But President Obama also has the capacity to designate a public holiday less formally through public proclamation. That’s the case with World AIDS Day on December 1, World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15 as well as Pride Month in June.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday he was unaware of the anniversaries of three milestone court rulings for LGBT rights on June 26 when asked about any plans to designate it as a federal holiday.

“I was not aware of that coincidence at this point, and so I’m not aware of any consideration of making that day a federal holiday,” Earnest said. “But obviously after the Supreme Court decision was announced last year, the president went out of his way to acknowledge the historic nature of that decision and the significant impact, positive impact, it would have all across the country. So it’s obviously is a day that, whether it’s federal holiday or not, is one that the president will long remember.”

Asked how Obama will observe the anniversary, Earnest replied, “I don’t know if there will any formal observance on the part of the president this year.”

DelBene said Obama “definitely” could designate Equality Day on his own accord, but she intends to push a resolution through Congress to make it happen.

“One of the reasons we felt like doing a resolution and bringing up it in the Congress is that it would really show the strong support that we have by having a piece of legislation passed in the House and the Senate,” DelBene said. “That would be a very, very strong statement.”

DelBene acknowledged challenges in moving the resolution forward in a Republican-controlled Congress, but was hopeful and said “we’re going to continue to build support.”

“I don’t have to tell you know that it’s a challenging time in Congress,” DelBene said. “We have these couple weeks in July, and then we’ll be out for about six weeks because of the normal August break and also the conventions, so we will continue working hard to push this legislation and see if we can get something moving in September when we’re back or even at the end of the year both in the House and in the Senate.”

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

  • Brooks Austin

    I’d much rather they spend more time doing something useful like trying to get the Equality Act passed than some meaningless symbolic act that does nothing to further LGBT equality.

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