A new pattern continues to emerge as courts, as well as local, state, and federal legislatures, spurred by cultural and political changes across the country: applying the principles of equality to sexual orientation. Just as acceptance of the LGBT community has moved from the fringe closer to the mainstream of American culture in recent years, the battle for equal rights for gays and lesbians has become a flourishing area of the law.
Proceeding in fits and starts, positive changes in how the law treats gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals has been less the result of a single court ruling or piece of legislation than collective response to the shift in public attitudes about homosexuality. Polls show an increased acceptance of gays nationwide – movies and television programs now portray more gay characters in an increasingly positive fashion and advertisers have begun appealing specifically and directly to gay customers.
Despite these gains, discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals is alive and well in America. Gaps in current federal law omit an entire segment of the population from a variety of laws protecting against a number of different arenas in which discrimination occurs: employment, health insurance, marriage, adoption, the justice system, and others. Simply put, LGBT Americans are still treated under law as second-class citizens.
Changes in laws affecting LGBT people have largely responded to the shift in public attitudes rather than driven them. For example, despite major attitude shifts in areas such as employment, custody, and domestic partnership, there have been few legislative gains. The prevailing national sentiment, it appears, remains one of tolerance toward sexual variation, but opposition to anything that could be viewed as promoting homosexuality.
As time goes on, we find LGBT issues attracting more and more attention. During the 2004 elections, issues affecting the LGBT community moved to the forefront of national debate when 11 states passed anti-gay constitutional amendments and political pundits debated the meaning of “moral values.” 2008 also saw severe backward steps taken for equality. Three states (Arizona, California, and Florida) all passed marriage amendments denying civil marriage equality to same-sex couples. Additionally, Arkansas passed a ban denying adoption rights to same-sex couples.
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