Equality For All

President Obama supports the Respect for Marriage Act

The day before last week's historic hearing on repealing the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), President Obama reiterated his commitment to fighting for LGBT equality. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney read a brief but important statement expressing the president’s support for the Respect for Marriage Act.

   

President Obama understands that the Respect for Marriage Act is about ensuring that all families are treated equally and with the dignity and respect they deserve.

The bill currently has 120 and 27 cosponsors in the House and Senate, respectively. Please contact your senators and representative and ask them to join the President in fighting to repeal DOMA and fulfilling the promise of equality for all.

PFAW

U.S. Senators to LGBT Youth: “We’re making it better”

Thirteen members of the Senate are the latest voices in the It Gets Better Project. In this five-minute long video, senators from across the country speak out to send a message of hope and support for LGBT youth and a call to action for all Americans. Check it out: 

Through its efforts and mission the It Gets Better Project sends a positive message to LGBT youth, but I applaud the senators for taking the message one step further by saying: “we’re making it better”. Going beyond the simple, yet powerful, message of “it gets better,” these senators show us that taking action—and not passively waiting—will result in significant advances and great victories for LGBT rights.

Pointing out their support for repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the Defense of Marriage Act, and some even speaking out in support of marriage equality, these senators show their commitment to fighting for the LGBT community.

“It’s going to get better. Believe in it, let’s fight for it.”  - Senator Udall (CO)

It is disappointing, however, that we only hear from the voices of Democrats. Speaking out against harassment and discrimination of any form, against any group should transcend partisan politics and be countered with action from both sides of the aisle.

In talking about the importance and necessity of working together, Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut put it best:

“Our nation has always done better when all of us, no matter where we’re from, what we look like, or whom we love, work together.”

Making it better to ensure that it gets better requires courage, commitment, and hard work on the part of both our leaders and individuals. I am so pleased to see a handful of senators coming out in support of LGBT rights and fighting to fulfill the promise of equality for all.

Special thanks to the following senators for speaking out in support of LGBT rights and continuing the fight for equality: Sen. Richard Blumenthal (CT), Sen. Sherrod Brown (OH), Sen. Maria Cantwell (WA.), Sen. Dick Durbin (IL.), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (CA), Sen. Al Franken (MN), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Sen. Chuck Schumer (NY), Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Sen. Mark Udall (CO), Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), and Sen. Ron Wyden (OR).

And I would like to extend a very special thank you to Senator Chris Coons (DE), who believes “equality is a question of morality,” for leading this important and inspiring effort.

It is my hope that we will soon hear from more members of Congress—Democrats and Republicans alike—with a similar message of making it better for LGBT youth.

PFAW

DADT repeal on track but not unchallenged, need for vigilance remains

Prior to President Obama’s December 22, 2010 signing of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act, then House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD5) had this to say about the American promise of equality for all.

Nearly six months later, Minority Leader Hoyer’s message about fundamental rights being “self-evident, but not self-executing” rings true. Even as military leaders are working hard to train the troops for repeal implementation, and reporting back success:

Repeal opponents want to disrupt the mission through the FY12 Defense Authorization bill.

  • Section 533 – Slow down repeal by adding the service chiefs to the certification process. A thoughtful process is already in place. Repeal must be certified by the President, the Defense Secretary, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in order for it to go into effect, and even then there is 60-day waiting period prior to the full policy change. These Administration officials are the men tasked with setting military policy. The services chiefs will advise as appropriate, but are ultimately tasked with executing the policies set at the Administration level.
  • Section 534 – Enshrine DOMA within the military and the DOD civilian corps. DOMA is unconstitutional. The courts agree. So do President Obama and the Attorney General. With DOMA’s future, at the very least, up for review, if not wholly in doubt, it would be foolish to reaffirm it now.
  • Section 535 – Restrict the right of chaplains and other military and civilian personnel, and the use of DOD property, to perform marriage ceremonies. When DADT repeal takes effect, even if DOMA remains in place, there is no reason why these personnel and facilities shouldn’t be available to same-sex couples whose marriages are recognized at the state level. We wouldn’t force individual chaplains to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, but we also shouldn’t restrict their ability if they wish to do so.

The Senate version of the bill is expected to be taken up by the Senate Armed Services Committee this week. Please help us make clear to the subcommittee and full committee that we want to keep repeal on track and free of harmful amendments.

Before I go, a special shout out to our friends at the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network for demonstrating that servicemembers are still waiting. We’re all still waiting. We need swift certification and effectuation of DADT repeal.

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The House GOP's Aboogaboogaboogabooga Constitution

For the past few decades, Republicans have aggressively and notoriously acted as if only they love the flag, only they appreciate families, only they are religious, and only they care about national defense. In the past couple of years, inspired by the Tea Party, they've added a new object to which they falsely lay sole claim: the United States Constitution.

Of course, for many of them, it's little more than a fetish. After all, the Republican Party's Constitution has long denied the right to abortion (and, in many cases, the right to privacy altogether), denied church-state separation, denied the right to vote, and denied equality under the law for LGBT people. The Tea Party's version of the Constitution is even more removed from the real thing, as analyzed in a recent PFAW report, Corporate Infusion: What the Tea Party's Really Serving America.

So it's no surprise that House Republicans' latest effort to lay claim to the Constitution – requiring bill sponsors to submit statements specifying the constitutional authority for their legislation – has turned out to be meaningless. As reported by Congressional Quarterly (subscription required):

During a Feb. 11 subcommittee markup on a bill (HR 358) offered by Joe Pitts, R-Pa., to prohibit federal funds from being used to pay for health insurance that covers abortion, New York Democrat Anthony Weiner offered a point of order against the legislation on grounds that its "statement of constitutional authority" does not point to any specific authority for Congress to take such action.

The bill's statement says: "The Protect Life Act would overturn an unconstitutional mandate regarding abortion in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act," last year's health care overhaul.

The markup soon became chaotic as lawmakers clashed for nearly an hour over whether the statement passed muster, and whether the Republicans were flouting their own rule. "The rules are the rules, and the Constitution is the Constitution," Weiner exclaimed.

Eventually, Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., consulted the Rules Committee, which in January issued a handy guide to complying with the new rule. The Rules Committee provided guidance on how statements of constitutional authority might be phrased, but said the only requirement is that a statement be submitted.

"The question of whether the statement is sufficient is a matter for debate and a factor that a member may consider when deciding whether to support the measure," Upton said.

The committee's top Democrat, Henry A. Waxman of California, called that “a mockery” of the rules. "The ruling is that it doesn't make any difference what you say,” he said. “You could say, 'Aboogaboogaboogabooga!' and that's enough to justify the constitutionality of the proposal."

The Constitution that established a careful separation of powers, an independent court system, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the eradication of slavery, and equality for all is far too precious a document to become just a symbol in meaningless political posturing. Shame on the House Republicans.

PFAW

Speaker Pelosi sends DADT repeal to President Obama

People For the American Way attended today’s enrollment ceremony for the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal bill. Representatives and Senators stood alongside those discharged under this discriminatory policy to formally send the bill to President Obama for his signing. Each should be commended for their dedication to this cause, especially Representative Patrick Murphy (D-PA8), a veteran himself and the lead House sponsor of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010. From CNN:

Earlier, Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania told the gathering of an e-mail he received from a company commander in Afghanistan, who mentioned how he often had to counsel soldiers who received divorce papers or "Dear John" letters from spouses or opposite-sex partners.

Murphy continued: "This young company commander, this captain, on his fourth deployment, wrote in that e-mail saying, 'I never thought I'd see the day when I got one of those letters myself. And I'm sitting here at three o'clock in the morning in Kabul, Afghanistan, and I have no where to go because I happen to be gay, and I can't walk to the chaplain, and I can't go to a battle buddy, and I can't walk to my commander's office, so I'm sitting here cradling my 9 mm pistol thinking about blowing my brains out. But I read this article about this Iraq war veteran named Patrick Murphy from Pennsylvania that's fighting for me, and it gives me hope.'"

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD5) had this to say about the American promise of equality for all.

Perhaps the most memorable sound bites came from, as they often do, Representative Barney Frank (D-MA4).

This one, in particular.

For those who are worried about the radial homosexual agenda, let me put them on notice – two down, two to go.

Representative Frank’s message is simple.

LGBT equality advocates aren’t working some nefarious plot. What the Right labels as radical isn’t radical at all. It’s about fairness, freedom, and the Constitution. It’s about core values and fundamental rights that all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, hold dear and should enjoy.

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Hate Crimes Legislation Passes the House

Last night, the House passed the Department of Defense Authorization bill in a 281 to 146 vote. Attached to the legislation was the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which will expand current hate crimes law to cover acts of violence motivated by a victim's sexual orientation, gender, disability or gender identity.

The bill passed despite Republican opposition to the hate crimes provision and accusations that it would prosecute "thought crimes." People For the American Way President Michael B. Keegan said in a statement:

Last night's vote was an important step towards finally enacting these hate crimes protections into law. This bill will help ensure that fewer Americans will become victims of violence simply because of who they are, while at the same time providing strong First Amendment protections. Limited hate crimes protections have existed for years on the basis of race and religion. It's long past time to expand this to include other targeted groups. I'm especially proud that this bill includes protections based on gender identity-the first time gender identity will receive positive protection in federal law.

The Byrd/Shepard Act is expected to pass in the Senate next week, the same week as the anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard, the University of Wyoming student murdered in 1998 because he was gay.

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Does the Anti-Gay Movement in DC think that Congress should run the District?

As a supporter of marriage equality for all people, I'm thrilled at the almost-unanimous vote of the DC City Council to recognize marriages of same-sex couples performed elsewhere.

As a supporter of marriage equality for all people and voting rights for the residents of DC (myself included,) I'm a little concerned about the response from the anti-marriage forces on the right.

Another protester, C.T. Riley, added: "This is not over. We are going to the Hill with this issue."

. . .

Bishop Harry Jackson, senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, who opposes gay marriage, said opponents are developing a "political and legal strategy" to block same-sex marriage in the District.

Does this imply that right wing activists are going to attempt to ignore the decision of the elected representatives of the District of Columbia by asking a body in which District residents have no representation to overrule the decision?

I look forward to discovering how this jives with the right's opposition to pro-gay rulings from "unelected judges" and allegations that it's the pro-gay rights community which is "usurping" the legacy of civil rights movement.

PFAW

Springtime of Marriage Equality

Spring 2009 continues to be a historic season of equality. Earlier today, the New Hampshire Senate passed a marriage equality bill. The House passed the bill last month. However, because of a small amendment made by the Senate, the bill has to go back to the House.

According to the Manchester Union Leader:

A bill legalizing same-sex marriage in New Hampshire passed the Senate today on a 13-11 vote.

The bill, amended on the Senate floor, draws a distinction between civil and religious marriage, and says that any two individuals have a right to join together in a civil marriage.

Last week Senate Judiciary Committee chair Sen. Deborah Reynolds, D-Reynolds, opposed the bill and voted with a committee majority that it should be killed. She said voters in her district told her they favor the legislation, and urged the Senate to vote for an amendment that was drawn up Tuesday night.

She said the wording “gives everyone in the state the right to seek a civil marriage … This is a compromise that is respectful to both sides in this debate and meets our shared goals of equality in state laws for all the people of New Hampshire. The people of this sate share the core values of equality for all, tolerance and acceptance regardless of our differences”

In neither the House nor the Senate did the bill pass with anything approaching a veto-proof majority. So what will the governor do once the bill reaches his desk?

It’s not clear how Gov. John Lynch will handle the bill. He has he said thinks the word marriage should be reserved for a traditional heterosexual relationship. He has argued that the state’s civil unions law already protects the rights of gay and lesbian couples.

Nothing requires Lynch to sign the bill into law. He can let it take effect without his signature once it arrives on his desk.

If the governor is watching the polls to see what the electorate wants him to do, he should know that most support marriage equality. According to the Advocate:

The New Hampshire Freedom to Marry Coalition has released a poll showing that 55% of New Hampshire voters support marriage for lesbian and gay couples, while 39% are opposed. ...

The poll also found that 63% of Independent and 34% of Republican voters in New Hampshire support marriage for lesbian and gay couples. Only 32% responded yes to a question asking if they would be “bothered” if same-sex couples could get a marriage license.

This comes one day after marriage equality legislation in Maine won a key joint committee vote. The bill now advances to the full House and Senate, which may vote on it as soon as next week.

The history of America is one of constant improvement, as each generation reaches out to some who have been treated as a threatening “other” and at last recognizes “them” as part of “us.” It’s a beautiful thing.

PFAW

Lift the Ban

Repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) is a prime issue for LGBT lobbyists and activists nationwide--including here at People For. Freedom from discrimination is a basic right that all Americans should enjoy. Repealing DADT is necessary for our nation to restore its core values, especially the principle of equality for all.

On Friday, March 13th, 2009, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) hosted a lobby day and a "Freedom to Serve Rally" on Capitol Hill, and I was pleased to be able to join them. Lobby groups targeted Representatives and Senators who currently oppose the repeal.

As a supporter of repeal, it was difficult for me to understand how Representatives and Senators could refuse to support ending DADT. It was shocking for me to see how many Congress members were completely uninterested in hearing from our group--even those of us who had served in uniform for our country.

Later, I could not hold back the tears when some of our discharged service members, some after even 25 years of service, shared their stories during the Freedom to Serve Rally. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) was a standout among an impressive lineup of speakers. Rep. Norton declared: "I'm done asking! And I'm telling!" We're not asking for repeal any longer, we're telling Congress and President Obama that the time for repeal is now. And this isn't just about fairness and job discrimination, Rep. Norton noted, but it is also about the strength of our military.

Lifting the ban on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is not only necessary for retaining equality, but it's necessary for ensuring that our armed forces remain the best in the world. It is imperative that we join together to make sure that all Americans can serve honestly and openly in our armed forces. Together, we can and we will lift the ban!

PFAW

Remembering Barbara Jordan

Every February, People For the American Way, along with the rest of the country, celebrates Black History Month. And this year, more than ever, it's humbling to see just how far our nation has moved. And how far we still have to go.

I'm proud that People For the American Way can point to its own history to demonstrate why Black History Month is relevant to people of all backgrounds. Barbara Jordan was the first African American woman to serve in the Texas State Senate, the first African American woman to represent a southern state in Congress, and one of the founders of People For the American Way.

In 1981, when U.S. Representative Barbara Jordan joined Norman Lear to form People For the American Way, they understood that the promise of our nation, that all men (and women) are created equal, was not just unrealized, but was under active attack. But instead of focusing on what was wrong with our country, they used their powerful, utterly unique voices to speak for America's highest ideals and to push forward towards a better America.

Rep. Jordan was an energetic advocate of our Constitution's core values of fairness and equality under law. She continues to be an inspiration in our work, and it's not an exaggeration to say that it's because of leaders like Barbara Jordan that we were all able to celebrate the inauguration of President Barack Obama last month.

But still, there are those who are intent on dragging us backwards. While the inauguration was still fresh in our minds, People For was forced to lead an aggressive campaign to help confirm President Obama's Attorney General nominee, Eric Holder -- the first African American to hold the position. After eight years spent undermining the crucial work of the Department of Justice, the Right is fighting hard to prevent the new administration from truly restoring justice at the DOJ. This is why Attorney General Holder's comments about the racism in America ring true to so many of us in this constant battle against those who would turn back the clock on civil rights. And just last week we all got an ugly reminder of this pervasive racism and racial insensitivity in America when the New York Post published an offensive cartoon depicting President Obama as a chimp getting shot by two white police officers. The cartoon literally included several layers of tastelessness: the comparison of our first African American president to an ape, what could be construed as an invitation for violence against the president AND the stirring up of racial issues with law enforcement in a city that has particularly sensitive recent history in that area.

Many have pointed out that the lack of diversity in senior management and on the editorial staff of the Post was a major contributing factor to how a cartoon like that could get published in the first place. That's why I'm proud that People For and our affiliate foundation have taken so seriously our mission to help promote diversity. It can be seen very clearly in People For the American Way Foundation's leadership development programs, the Young Elected Officials Network and Young People For, which are among the most diverse programs of their kind -- ever. And it can be seen in our groundbreaking efforts to promote equality for all, like with People For Foundation's work with African American ministers to combat homophobia in the Black Church.

We're working hard to make sure that civil rights remain a top priority for this administration, and fighting against those who are intent on erecting barriers to the ballot, not to mention advocating for a more just Supreme Court, organizing for marriage equality for all and defending religious liberty by maintaining the separation between church and state.

Barbara Jordan made clear that there are certain principles that are not negotiable, values she called "indigenous to the American idea." Opportunity. Fairness. Equality under law. Those are still the values that bind our community together, and every day we're moving closer to that nation that she envisioned.

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Rumors of their death...

Even before November's election, gallons of ink were being spilled to report the demise of the Religious Right. But, as Mark Twain might have said, rumors of the Right's death have been greatly exaggerated.

A small incident that was mostly ignored by the media gives a glimpse of the Radical Right's continued pull on Capitol Hill. Last week, People For's Right Wing Watch blog documented the evolution of a right-wing lie, starting with complaints by Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice that a provision in the stimulus bill discriminated against people of faith (and was, specifically, anti-Christian). In fact the provision in the bill was standard language that barred the use of federal funds to construct buildings designed for religious worship or sectarian instruction and had no bearing at all on campus prayer.  Nevertheless, ACLJ's complaints bubbled up through the right-wing echo chamber and eventually became an amendment, offered by Senator DeMint of South Carolina, to strip the provision. The amendment was ultimately defeated, although by a less-than-comfortable margin. In the end, 43 senators, including some Democrats, voted with DeMint ... on an amendment that was based on nothing but the paranoid demagoguery of a fringe right-wing organization.

The right-wing message machine is firing on all cylinders too: aggressively targeting the Obama administration. It has already weighed in heavily on the economic stimulus plan, ensuring that there was no Republican support for the Obama plan during the House vote (and little more in the Senate), and Religious Right leaders are moving quickly to increase their influence within the Republican Party and at the state and local level.

Perhaps most dauntingly, the Right is laying the groundwork for future battles over judicial nominations. Some Right Wing leaders, including Family Research Counsel President Tony Perkins, have been very explicit about linking their current attacks on DOJ nominees to future obstruction of Obama judges. And if the current attacks are any indication, they'll throw everything they've got at the President's nominees to the bench. Deputy Attorney General-nominee David Ogden, for instance, represented groups defending the First Amendment (including the American Library Association and the American Booksellers Association), and is now being smeared as a "porn lawyer" for his efforts. Dawn Johnsen, President Obama's choice to head the Office of Legal Counsel, is being aggressively targeted because of her outspoken opposition to the Bush administration's support of torture, rendition, and warrentless spying -- to say nothing of her time on staff at NARAL Pro-Choice America.

People For the American Way and People For the American Way Foundation are out there every day -- pushing back on the Right's unyielding efforts. We're digging in our heels for 2009, ready to:

  • research, educate about and counter extreme claims of the Radical Right;
  • uphold and advocate for a progressive vision of the Constitution;
  • support the confirmation of progressive jurists and promote progressive legal theories while taking part in strategic litigation;
  • fight for equality for all, especially through the Foundation's work to combat homophobia in the Black Church; and
  • invest in progressive leadership.

You can help with these efforts by helping to expose the Radical Right in your community, and by staying abreast of right-wing trends by reading the Right Wing Watch blog (and signing up for regular Best of the Blog e-mail updates).

By standing with People For the American Way, you are standing against the undeserved influence of right-wing extremists in our politics and our culture. And I thank you for it.

PFAW

Brown v. Board of Education: a 54th Anniversary Reminder of the Importance of the Supreme Court

As George Orwell might put it, all Supreme Court decisions are important, but some are more important than others. And in the history of our country, there can be little doubt that one of the Court’s most important decisions was its unanimous ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, decided 54 years ago this May 17th. Overturning the shameful “separate but equal” doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson and striking down school segregation laws, the ruling in Brown gave substance to the Constitution’s promise of equality for all. Without question, May 17, 1954 saw the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, at its very best.

PFAW