Equality Matters' Rachel Perclay appeared on Huffington Post Live's Queerview to discuss this issue:
In the wake of the Supreme Court's historic marriage equality ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, media outlets have a chance to break new ground in their coverage of the fight for LGBT equality. In the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, journalists should be asking questions that advance the national conversation about LGBT equality while avoiding the pitfalls that plagued coverage of the debate over marriage equality.
For the past several years, media questions about LGBT equality during presidential election seasons have largely focused on where candidates stand on same-sex marriage. These questions typically elicit rehearsed and uninformative sound bite responses; candidates appeal to religion and tradition, which tends to end the discussion about LGBT issues before it even begins.
Now that the Supreme Court has effectively rendered the legal debate over marriage equality moot, news outlets should be prepared to ask the 2016 presidential candidates smarter, tougher questions about the fight for LGBT equality:
Go Beyond Marriage
- “Religious Freedom” Laws. Several states across the country are considering “religious freedom” laws like the ones in Indiana and Arkansas, which aim to provide a legal defense for individuals and business owners who cite their religious beliefs as a justification to discriminate against LGBT people. Several candidates have already struggled to explain their positions on these laws, which are part of a growing national campaign led by anti-LGBT groups.
- Non-Discrimination Protections. Contrary to public opinion, federal law still doesn't prohibit discrimination against LGBT people in housing, employment, public accommodations, and a host of other areas. LGBT groups are gearing up to push for an omnibus non-discrimination bill at the federal level. Meanwhile, conservative lawmakers are pushing for laws that would deny transgender people access to appropriate public restrooms. Asking about non-discrimination protections, which enjoy broad public support, is an easy way to explore a candidate's position LGBT equality.
- Reparative Therapy. “Ex-gay” or reparative therapy is a harmful and discredited practice that attempts to alter someone's sexual orientation or gender identity. California, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington D.C. have outlawed reparative therapy for minors, and 20 other states are considering similar legislation. In April, President Obama officially announced support for banning the “ex-gay” practice for minors. Though it's not often discussed by major media outlets, a candidate's position on “ex-gay” therapy says a lot about how beholden they are to the socially-conservative fringe.
The list of important LGBT issues doesn't end there: transgender military service, LGBT youth homelessness, detention of LGBT immigrants, etc. These issues raise important questions about a candidate's support or disdain for the LGBT community without devolving into predictable tropes about tradition and religion.
Don't Settle For The Faith Excuse
Political candidates often cite their religious beliefs as a means to avoid being branded as homophobic or transphobic when they hold anti-LGBT policy positions. But citing faith as a way to sidestep tough questions about LGBT equality should be a non-starter; most religious people actually support LGBT equality. Given that media outlets have historically had trouble separating anti-LGBT animus from sincere, mainstream religious beliefs, journalists should be prepared to press candidates who cite religion as their reasons for opposing LGBT equality. What exactly about a candidate's faith motivates him or her to oppose protections for LGBT people, and why does the candidate disagree with the majority of religious Americans?
Rely On Evidence
Candidates who oppose legal protections for LGBT people typically cite concerns about religious liberty or a reluctance to bestow “special rights,” among other popular conservative talking points. These concerns have been debunked time and time again, contradicted by the experiences of states and cities that have had similar protections in place for years. Rather than letting candidates get away with their anti-LGBT talking points, journalists should be prepared to ask follow-up questions that force candidates to provide evidence or examples of their horror stories.
In the post-Obergefell media landscape, the fight for LGBT equality will turn its focus to the broader issue of discrimination against LGBT people. Journalists who want to advance the story and avoid rehashing tired debates about same-sex marriage have an unprecedented opportunity to ask smart questions that cut through polished talking points and get to the heart of candidates' positions on LGBT equality.
Photo via Flickr.com user Tony Webster