I don’t frequently watch John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight because I don’t particularly enjoy receiving a sneering, self-righteous lecture about something I already understand. But Sunday’s episode—which delved into LGBT rights across America—was startlingly great, in large part because Oliver toned down the snarky indignation and focused on a vital legal issue: the need for a federal LGBT civil rights law.
Oliver’s spiel is doubly impressive because he nails both the law and the underlying morality of the Equality Act, which would guarantee civil rights for every LGBT person in America. Conservatives often seize on confusing legal distinctions to obfuscate the necessity of such a law. But Oliver cogently walks us through the logic here. Does federal law already protect LGBT people from discrimination? Probably not. Do most states? No. Are “religious freedom” measures actually designed to nullify LGBT nondiscrimination laws in progressive cities? Yes. Is the Republican Party still vehemently devoted to depriving gay people of basic rights? Yes: Not a single GOP congressperson has endorsed the Equality Act.
But more important than these legal and political questions are the real human stories of degradation and humiliation that lie beneath every instance of discrimination. Oliver profiles the gay couple who was legally ejected from a Texas restaurant and told “we don’t serve fags here.” He discusses two lesbian moms in Michigan whose doctor legally refused to treat their baby because her moms are gay. And he describes the Colorado baker who refused to serve a gay couple because of their orientation.
The costs of discrimination are high. To be demeaned and debased—and see the law of your country condone that debasement—wounds your dignity and implies a second-class status. The Equality Act would go a long way toward redressing the anti-LGBT discrimination that occurs in America every day. Good for Oliver for bringing it the spotlight it deserves.