Last Saturday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the federal government would mandate that additional marriage benefits be accessible to same-sex couples who are legally married, regardless of whether their marriage is recognized in their home state. Granting new legal protections to same-sex couples is a profound and commendable development in the gay rights movement. However, LGBTQ citizens face many other serious obstacles that don’t garner nearly as much attention as marriage equality. Many LBGTQ youths and adults alike are faced with serious issues such as bullying, inclusion and depression on a daily basis. In order to fully support its LGBTQ students and faculty, the University must promote awareness and take concrete action from relief of these inequalities.

The new policy — revealed during a Human Rights Campaign event in New York — ensures that same-sex couples will be allowed equal rights concerning legal matters such as filing for bankruptcy, prisoner visitation and federal benefit programs. These programs will include death and educational benefits to the spouses of police officers and firefighters killed in action. Holder’s announcement mirrors a growing trend in the United States in support of marriage equality. Same-sex marriage is now legal in 17 states and just last year the Defense of Marriage Act was deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. These actions taken by the Obama administration and states throughout the country are highly admirable.

Ironically, the Department of Justice’s extension of benefits to same-sex couples is technically illegal in the 31 states that constitutionally prohibit gay marriage, including Michigan. However, in the 2012 State of the State survey, 56 percent of respondents indicated that they supported same-sex marriage. Since the majority of Michiganders are in favor, and the Obama administration is mandating that federal benefits be given to married same-sex couples, it’s illogical for Michigan to continue opposing gay marriage. The ban needs to be overturned and same-sex marriage legalized in the state.

The University has done much to support its LGBTQ community, but could improve its efforts. Organizations, like the Office of Institutional Equity, were created in order to protect students and faculty from discrimination. Family housing is available to married same-sex couples and domestic partnerships. The University also offers gender-neutral housing in its undergraduate dormitories through the Gender Inclusive Living Experience learning-community, created for students who do not identify with restrictive gender roles. But gender-neutral housing is only available to those in GILE, and should be further expanded. Only having 12 spots is not enough, and not only should the number of spots increase, but their location as well. Integrating gender-neutral housing in other dormitories would provide more opportunities for students to join the many other learning communities housing offers. To address serious issues that LGBTQ individuals face, more programs should be offered through CAPS and the Spectrum center. Currently, there are relatively few psychological help services for LGBTQ members, and those that do exist are not advertised well. The University needs to raise further awareness of the inequalities that affect LGBTQ students and faculty, and fortify the advocacy programs that already exist.

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