In 2004, the city of San Francisco began marrying same-sex couples in an open challenge to state law. Eleven years later, the U.S. Supreme Court made same-sex marriages legal in all 50 states. While state laws varied at the time, the city’s action is notable because, according to the Center for American Progress, mayors, county executives, and other leaders who manage local jurisdictions have the power to take action and make a difference in the lives of LGBTQ people and families. Local action creates a snowball effect that can translate to changes at the state and federal levels.
Inclusivity drives economic growth—so everyone benefits when a city is committed to equality through laws and policies that protect everyone, including LGBTQ people. That's according to the Human Rights Campaign, which created a nationwide evaluation of municipal law related to LGBTQ rights in 506 municipalities .
Inclusive non-discrimination laws give cities a competitive edge to attract residents and businesses, and cities continue to lead the way for progress by advancing protections for LGBTQ residents and visitors, according to the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index.
The cities rated in the index include: the 50 state capitals, the 200 largest cities in the U.S., the five largest cities or municipalities in each state, the cities home to each state’s two largest public universities, 75 cities and municipalities that have high proportions of same- sex couples, and 98 cities selected by HRC and Equality Federation state groups members and supporters.
Cities are rated on a scale of 0-100, based on the city’s laws, policies, benefits, and services. There are 100 standard points and 22 flex points, which are awarded for items which apply to some but not all cities. (A city could score 100 plus additional flex points, but the index’s highest scored applied is 100.)
The five categories scored in the index are:
- Non-Discrimination Laws: This category evaluates whether discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is prohibited by the city, county, or state in areas of employment, housing, and public accommodations.
- Municipality as Employer: Does the city offer equivalent benefits and protections to LGBTQ employees, award contracts to fair-minded businesses, and take steps to ensure an inclusive workplace?
- Municipal Services: Assesses the efforts of the city to ensure LGBTQ constituents are included in city services and programs.
- Law Enforcement: Fair enforcement of the law, including responsible reporting of hate crimes and engaging with the LGBTQ community, such as having a liaison.
- Leadership on LGBTQ Equality: This category measures the city leadership’s commitment to fully include the LGBTQ community and to advocate for full equality.
This is how the 30 largest cities in the U.S. scored in the Municipal Equality Index, in order of largest to smallest. Populations are from the U.S. Census Bureau. We’ve highlighted some of the strong and weak points notable in each city. In some cases, the existence of LGBTQ-friendly state laws boost a city’s score.