June 1 marks the beginning of National LGBT Pride Month – a time to highlight, celebrate, and remember the advancements and sacrifices of the LGBT community. Over the past 60 years, we have made meaningful strides toward a more inclusive country. Hard-fought civil cases, brought by groups and leaders in the LGBT community, have led to some of the most significant advancements in LGBT rights. (See here, here, here.) We thought this might be a good time to tell you about a few of them.
One, Inc. v. Olesen (1958)
In 1954, the FBI and the U.S. Post Office deemed One: The Homosexual Magazine obscene and refused to deliver the publication through the mail. In response, the magazine’s owners sued, claiming that the magazine deserved protection under the First Amendment. After both a federal district court and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected their claim, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari and ruled unanimously for the magazine, allowing it and other LGBT publications to be sent through the mail. This case was the first U.S. Supreme Court case to deal with homosexuality and the first to address free speech rights for the LGBT community.
Romer v. Evans (1996)
In 1992, the state of Colorado passed a law “prohibiting all branches of state government in Colorado from passing legislation or adopting policies prohibiting discrimination against lesbians, gay men or bisexuals based on their sexual orientation.” In response to this pro-discrimination law, several residents and municipalities claimed unconstitutional discrimination and filed a lawsuit. In a 6-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court found that these types of laws lacked a rational basis and, therefore, violated principals of equal protection. The decision in Romer set the stage for future landmark LGBT civil rights cases.
Collins v. United States (2010)
The Department of Defense established a policy that entitled military personnel who were forcibly discharged for homosexuality (before the end of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”) to only half the separation pay guaranteed to honorably discharged soldiers. With help from the ACLU, Richard Collins, a decorated former staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, brought a class action lawsuit claiming that the DOD’s policy was discriminatory and unconstitutional. As a result of the suit, the DOD changed its policy and all affected service members (with in the statute of limitations) received 100 percent of the separation pay they would have received if discharged honorably.
United States v. Windsor (2013)
U.S. residents Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer were legally married in Canada, but when Thea died, the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) barred Edie from taking advantage of the federal estate tax exemption for spouses. The IRS forced her to pay over $363,000 in taxes. Edie brought a civil suit maintaining the law was unconstitutional. Ultimately, the Supreme Court agreed, finding DOMA violated due process and equal protection under the Fifth Amendment.
Obergefell v. Hodges (2015)
Several couples filed individual discrimination suits after learning that their states would not issue marriage licenses or recognize out of state marriages of same-sex couples. In a 5-4 decision that consolidated their cases, the Supreme Court held that the fundamental right to marry should also be guaranteed to same-sex couples. The Court found that the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment require all states and U.S. territories to license same-sex marriages and recognize those performed in other states.
V.L. v. E.L. (2016)
The Alabama Supreme Court invalidated a Georgia adoption agreement giving parental rights to both partners in their same sex marriage. In the Alabama court’s view, the adoption should have never been granted by a Georgia court in the first place. V.L. filed suit to have the agreement reinstated. On March 7, 2016 the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the Alabama court erred by supplanting its judgment and not granting full faith and credit to the Georgia court’s decision. V.L.’s full and equal parental rights were restored as a result.
According to GLAD, one of many organizations that uses legal action to establish and protect LGBT rights, civil lawsuits have been used as a tool to fight discrimination in health care, education, employment, club membership, housing, protections from outing in criminal trials, and on other fronts.
Civil justice for Pride. Pride for civil justice.