By U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley
A decade ago, in 2007, I stood in the Oregon House chamber with scores of people looking down from the galleries. The room reverberated with excitement as Oregon made history.
As Speaker of the Oregon State House, I was proud to partner with Basic Rights Oregon to spearhead the effort behind two landmark state laws: One created domestic partnerships for LGBTQ couples. The other, the Oregon Equality Act, banned discrimination against people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing and access to public accommodations.
In the 10 years since, we’ve continued to make progress toward a vision of opportunity and equality for all.
In 2009, Senator Ted Kennedy asked me to carry the torch forward on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. It took a few years to build momentum behind the bill, but in 2013, I took it to the floor of the Senate and we passed it with a bipartisan 64-32 majority. That was the first time that a house of Congress put down the marker that no one should be fired for who they are or whom they love.
We also passed the Matthew Shepherd Hate Crimes Act, and we ended the dehumanizing and discriminatory practice of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which had forced the military to cast aside thousands of worthy service members — and today, our Armed Services are stronger than ever before. Finally, the Supreme Court recognized same-sex marriage, ensuring all Americans are afforded that fundamental right.
There’s no question we’ve made strides since that exciting day at the statehouse.
There’s also no question that we have a long way to go.
It is outrageous that even today, in 2017, LGBTQ discrimination is not explicitly prohibited in 30 states. It is just plain wrong that people are thrown out of their rental housing or denied entry to a movie theater because of their LGBTQ status. It is just plain wrong that a gay couple or a transgender woman could be denied a mortgage because a bank decides not to serve LGBTQ customers. It is just plain wrong every time a gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender worker is denied a promotion or fired from a job because of who they are or whom they love. Every American deserves to live free from the fear that the door of discrimination will be slammed in their face.
That’s why — one week before the tenth anniversary of Oregon’s history-making day — I introduced the Equality Act, historic legislation to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, education, jury selection, and financial transactions. This bill places non-discrimination for LGBTQ Americans on the solid foundation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
I was proud to help lead the movement with Basic Rights Oregon to pass these strong protections against discrimination in Oregon. But it’s way past time to establish these protections for every American.
The Equality Act is a great step forward for LGBTQ equality. I won’t stop pushing until non-discrimination is the law of the land in America — and I know Basic Rights Oregon will be a powerful force in that fight. There is nothing more fundamental to what it means to be American than striving towards a more just and equitable society, and to fully realize our founders’ vision of equality and opportunity for all.