Climate Change

Congress and the White House are looking at gay rights issues in a whole new light.

In 1969, a federal appeals court issued a landmark decision in the case Norton v. Macy, ruling that the Civil Service Commission could not allow the practice of firing federal employees solely on the grounds they were gay.

"The notion that it could be an appropriate function of the federal bureaucracy to enforce the majority's conventional codes of conduct in the private lives of its employees is at war with the elementary concepts of liberty, privacy and diversity," wrote the court's chief judge, David Bazelon.

The decision marked a major personal victory for Frank Kameny, who had been terminated from his Defense Department position in 1957 because he was outed as a homosexual, and since then had dedicated himself to fighting for the rights of gay federal employees. It was, in fact, one in a series of victories leading to the ultimate decision to overturn the federal ban on hiring gays and lesbians.

Fast-forward four decades. On April 3, John Berry became the first openly gay official confirmed to head the Civil Service Commission's successor agency, the Office of Personnel Management. And when Berry was formally sworn in, Kameny was invited to be one of his guests.

"I feel truly vindicated beyond anything I might ever have expected or imagined," Kameny wrote to Jonathan Rauch, a columnist at Government Executive's sister publication, National Journal, who wrote about the exchange for Independent Gay Forum. "It's like the perfect, contrived happy ending to a fictional fairy tale. It's too perfect to be true in reality. But there it is."

Much has changed in the past 40 years for gays and lesbians in government. And more change could be on the way. As Alyssa Rosenberg reports in our cover story this month, when it comes to gay-rights issues, the climate in Washington is much different than it was just a few months ago. Not only was Berry appointed as a result of Barack Obama's election, but two federal judges have recently issued orders directing the Administrative Office of the United States Courts to process benefits applications for the same-sex partners of two court employees.

OPM officials said earlier this year that the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program isn't in a position to process such benefits. But FEHBP officials might need to get ready to do so. Democrats in Congress, having solidified their hold on the House and Senate, are prepared to take up a bill known as the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act, which would extend federal benefits to same-sex partners of employees.

That piece of legislation has been kicking around Capitol Hill for more than a decade without making much progress. But as Frank Kameny knows, things can change.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.