Gay Friendliest States

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from MSNBC,

LGBT equality took a massive step forward in 2014, primarily due to the fact that same-sex couples won the right to marry in 35 states, plus the District of Columbia – nearly double the number that allowed marriage equality at this time last year. Some of those states are in surprising parts of the U.S., like the Deep South and Midwest, still the worst geographic areas in the country for LGBT Americans.

With only 15 states to go, marriage equality’s takeover won’t ever have another year as successful as 2014, which saw a record 17 bans on same-sex nuptials collapse. But LGBT advocates are still pushing for that long-awaited Supreme Court ruling on whether gay and lesbian couples have a constitutional right to wed. That day now looks to be closer than ever, with four federal appeals courts having ruled in favor of marriage equality, and one – the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals – having ruled against it. Legal experts believe it’s highly unlikely the high court would allow that so-called “circuit split” to go unresolved, and anticipate the justices could agree to hear a marriage equality case after their January conference in the new year.

With same-sex couples winning the right to marry and receive spousal benefits in more states, gay and lesbian parents are also getting a boost. However, some states still make it quite difficult for same-sex couples to raise children. In four states, same-sex couples face legal restrictions when petitioning for joint adoption. Fifteen states don’t allow people to adopt their same-sex partners’ biological children – a process known as stepparent adoption – because they’re only available to legal spouses. And in seven states, same-sex couples are unable to adopt each other’s adopted children, which is known as second-parent adoption. These restrictions often end up leaving gay and lesbian parents with no legal rights to the children they are raising.

As marriage equality continues its historic march, LGBT advocates are beginning to turn their attention to new fronts in their fight for equality. Twenty-nine states still lack nondiscrimination laws based on sexual orientation, and a further three have no statewide protections for transgender people. Without those explicit laws on the books, advocates stress, members of the LGBT community remain vulnerable to discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations – virtually every aspect of a person’s life.

Even if more states do expand nondiscrimination laws to include protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity, LGBT advocates foresee new struggles on the horizon with the rise of so-called “religious freedom” measures. Nineteen states have enacted Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRAs,) which require the government to prove a law that violates someone’s sincerely held beliefs – such as a marriage equality or nondiscrimination law – serves a compelling interest and accomplishes that goal using the least restrictive means possible. Critics argue that these religious freedom measures could become a license to discriminate against LGBT people as they win hard-fought marriage rights and other legal protections.

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