By Sen. Jeff Merkley
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Forty-five years have passed since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. uttered those now-famous words, but this Pride month, they ring as true as ever. In the realm of LGBT rights, the arc is being bent every day, inch by inch, with changes that are making America a fairer and a more equal place to live.
The past four years have been an unprecedented period in our history for LGBT equality. The passage of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act means that finally it is no longer any less a crime to attack someone on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity than for their religion or the color of their skin. The repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell brought an end to an unfair era that asked our men and women in uniform to hide who they are to serve the country they love. And the extension of marriage equality to the residents of five new states and the District of Columbia has given thousands more couples the power to express their commitment and love under the law.
The momentum has stayed strong this year with the passage of marriage equality in two state legislatures and a watershed moment in American history: the first public endorsement of marriage equality by our president. But there is no doubt that we have more work to do.
An appeals court recently ruled that the so-called Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. This is a great step forward, but the law is still on our books. Instead of waiting for the Supreme Court to act, we should repeal that legislation now. Similarly, marriage equality is being challenged on the ballot in the two states where it recently passed, requiring us to fight back harder than ever.
Meanwhile, it is simply unthinkable that in 2012 it is legal to fire or refuse to hire someone on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity — yet this is still the case in the majority of states.
One of my proudest accomplishments as the Speaker of the Oregon House was passing Oregon’s version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which outlawed this form of discrimination in Oregon. Now, I am working in the U.S. Senate as the co-sponsor of a law that will protect LGBT Americans across all 50 states. I am thrilled that this month we are holding a Senate hearing to address this issue of fundamental fairness. And this hearing will make history again in its own small way: it will be the first ENDA hearing in Senate history to include a transgender witness.
There is one other Dr. King quote that, though less famous, bears directly on the challenge before us: “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” When looking back at the struggles and the triumphs of history, whether the last 40 years or the last four years, it is important to remember how far we have come — and how much of it is thanks to individuals like you.
I will keep fighting until we have full equality under the law for all LGBT Americans, and I am proud and honored to have you by my side. Happy Pride.
A son of a millwright, Jeff Merkley was born in Myrtle Creek, Oregon. Jeff began his career in public service as an intern with Oregon’s former Senator Mark Hatfield. Jeff Merkley was a five-term member of the Oregon Legislature and served as the speaker of the Oregon Legislature beginning in 2006. In 2008, he was elected to the same Senate seat once held by Mark Hatfield. To learn more or to contact Sen. Merkley, visit http://merkley.senate.gov.