We’ve made progress toward gay equality in the U.S., John Oliver says in his latest Last Week Tonight report. But that doesn’t mean we’ve come far enough. The host cites a “genuinely encouraging sign” from the recent Republican presidential debate, where the idea of attending a gay wedding earned applause from the audience. But these symbolic steps mean nothing when the reality doesn’t match. “While the idea of a gay wedding is increasingly widely accepted,” Oliver says, “it’s worth nothing there are still a number of surprising ways to ruin a gay honeymoon.
“Discriminating against gay people is surprisingly legal in much of the country,” he continues. “The fact is, in 31 states, people are at risk of being fired, evicted or refused service just because they’re gay. So while federal law may guarantee a gay couple’s right to get married, it offers exactly zero guarantees about their rights to do the things that follow that.”
Oliver cites examples from recent years where gay couples were denied service because of their sexual orientation. Texas couple Collin Dewberry and Kelly Williams were asked to leave restaurant Big Earl’s after a waitress told them, “We don’t serve fags here.” Casey Stegall, a children’s social services worker in Texas, was fired after being visited by his fiancé on the job. One Michigan pediatrician refused to treat a lesbian couple’s baby.
LGBT discrimination should be eviscerated at the federal level, Oliver argues, because “states have a checkered history when it comes to civil rights.” Right now, Arkansas has an anti-anti-discrimination ordinance that “prevents any city or country from extending civil rights protections to gay people.” “This is not about special rights,” the host says. “We’re not creating Lesbians Only sections on airplanes or putting up signs at Six Flags saying, ‘You Must Be This Gay to Go on This Ride.'”
Confusing the legality of these issues, 21 states have Religious Freedom Restoration Acts. However, “courts have already decided there are limits on religious freedom,” Oliver says. “For example, they found that you can’t discriminate on race based on your religious beliefs. And there are limits on free speech – you can’t yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theater. The constitution isn’t the star in Super Mario Brothers – it doesn’t make you invincible so you can just do whatever the fuck you want.”
Oliver ends his segment by urging Congress to pass the “Equality Act,” which “adds LGBT protections to the Civil Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act and several others.” The bill has over 200 co-sponsors in the House and Senate – none of whom are Republican. “This bill represents the bare minimum of not being discriminated against,” Oliver says. “And this should be what represents the threshold of true gay tolerance – not whether you’d consider attending a gay wedding.”