OpEd: Yay For Same-Sex Marriage, But ...

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(CNN) -- There's plenty of gay-rights news to celebrate this week:

-- On Monday, a federal judge threw out Oregon's ban on same-sex marriages, writing that his decision was one in support of "families committed to the common purpose of love, devotion and service to the greater community."

-- On Tuesday, the same thing, more or less, happened in Pennsylvania, with a judge in that case writing that "we are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history." (I mean, wow, right?)

-- And, for those would might say "activist judges" are behind all of this progress, please note that Gallup on Wednesday released data showing 55% of Americans -- a greater percentage than ever shown in that group's polling -- support same-sex marriage rights.

So, in summary: The era of same-sex marriage is upon us; even those who grimaced at NFL player Michael Sam's boyfriend kiss probably can see that; and, therefore, all's well that ends well.

Well, not so much.

In the march toward marriage equality, the United States skipped over other rights that are more fundamental and perhaps more essential for LGBT people.

Consider three facts:

1. It's legal for employers to fire gay and lesbian people because of their sexual orientation in not one or two fringe states but in 29 of them, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights advocacy group that tracks these things. That's a majority of states where it's legal to fire someone simply for being gay. "It's important to note that, while same-sex couples can legally marry today in Pennsylvania, they can actually be fired from their jobs for talking about their new spouses at work," Charlie Joughin, spokesman for HRC, wrote in an e-mail to me.

2. Related to that, there also are 29 states where it's legal for landlords to evict gay and lesbian residents simply because of their sexual orientation. That's true not just of places such as Mississippi but also states with more progressive reputations, such as Pennsylvania and Michigan.

3. Some states make it onerously difficult, if not impossible, for transgender people to legally change their names and update the gender that's listed on their state ID or driver's license. Maybe that sounds inconsequential, but consider going to the airport with an ID that doesn't match who you are and having to explain your gender identity to a TSA agent. "There are 15 (states) that we would give an F" on these issues, said Harper Jean Tobin, director of policy at the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Progress is coming but much too slowly in some cases.

The first employment nondiscrimination laws were passed in East Lansing and Ann Arbor, Michigan, according to Michael Bronski's "A Queer History of the United States." The year was 1972. A range of cities and corporations have come up with their own nondiscrimination policies and rules in the decades since, but state and federal movement has been sluggish. The Employment Nondiscrimination Act passed the U.S. Senate last year but has been a nonstarter in House, thanks to Speaker John Boehner.

To be fair, there are campaigns from LGBT rights groups to put in place these basic protections. The Human Rights Campaign, for instance, started Project One America to "dramatically expand LGBT equality in the South," including freedom from discrimination, which is rampant in that region. But it's clear marriage equality has been the primary focus, for the public, activists and for the news media.

There are some reasonable explanations for that. Some would argue, for instance, that campaigns for marriage equality have helped people realize gay and lesbian people are loving and family-oriented -- and that greater protections will follow that awakening.

I hope that's right, but it's no sure thing.

We're starting to see ourselves in America as a beacon of progressiveness and opportunity for LGBT people. But we also need to acknowledge the reality -- which is that this also is a country where basic protections remain worryingly absent.

Editor's note: John D. Sutter is a columnist for CNN Opinion and creator of CNN's Change the List project. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+. E-mail him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.


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