One of the more interesting developments in the latest push for comprehensive immigration reform has been the split developing between conservative anti-immigrant groups who are committed to mass deportation at all costs and some right-wing evangelical leaders who have come out in favor of a compassionate and realistic approach to immigration reform.
In May, a coalition of conservative evangelical leaders announced their intention to gather support for “a just assimilation immigration policy.” Soon afterwards, of course, they made it clear that their definition of “just” does not include justice for LGBT couples.
On Wednesday, a number of those leaders spoke to the House Judiciary Committee on their support for ethical immigration reform—and its limits.
In the hearing on the Ethical Imperative for Reform of our Immigration System , immigration reform was discussed in the context of ethics and morals, and the committee heard testimonies from three religious leaders and one scholar about the problems and possible solutions for immigration reform in America.
Nobody at the hearing denied that the current immigration system is broken and untenable. Rev. Gerald Kicanas, Bishop of the Archdiocese of Tucson, contextualized immigration as a humanitarian issue with moral implications, underlining that our immigration system fails to protect basic human rights and dignity. He voiced his support for comprehensive immigration reform that would encompass features such as paying a fine, paying taxes, learning English, and waiting behind those who already applied legally to eventually gain citizenship, and argued that CIR would fulfill our moral obligation to protect immigrants under rule of law.
Richard Land, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, echoed those sentiments, stating that when looking at the issue of immigration through a faith-based lens, individuals had a biblical mandate to care for others and act mercifully.
Both speakers advocated an earned path to citizenship, recognizing that deporting over 11 million immigrants was not only unfeasible, but immoral and inconsistent with the rule of law.
It’s troubling that the compassion Kicanas and Land are advocating stops at the equal treatment of gay people. Both are right that too often, pivotal issues like immigration reform become mired in politics and party-line ideology, and it’s important for leaders from different faith backgrounds to step up and have a conversation on the detrimental effects of our broken system of immigration on millions of families. But that discussion should include all families.
Yesterday I joined fellow advocates and members of Congress for a press conference to support LGBT equality and comprehensive immigration reform.
We are pushing for the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) to be included in all reform proposals. Incorporating UAFA would be a meaningful step taken toward providing equality to same-sex couples and keeping their families together. UAFA allows many same-sex partners to begin the immigration process more quickly and efficiently, and with fewer limitations. Gay men and lesbians whose partners are US citizens or legal permanent residents could apply for family-based visas and green cards.
Representative Nadler (D-NY8), UAFA’s lead sponsor in the House, laid out our demands.
As the urgency for comprehensive immigration reform increases nationally, and the debate in Washington widens, it is essential to ensure that the LGBT community is included in the reforms we propose and pass.
Representative Gutierrez (D-IL4) described the plight of the LGBT community.
Right now, too many same-sex, binational couples face an impossible choice: to live apart or to break the law to be with their partners, families, and children. That's not good for them and it is not good for the rest of us either.
Representative Polis (D-CO2) emphasized why equality is important not only for them but for us all.
We are a nation of immigrants and, as a result, our diversity is our greatest strength . . . Unfortunately, our out-dated immigration system contains laws that discriminate against LGBT families and hinder our economy, our diversity, and our status as a beacon of hope and liberty to people across the world. To be truly comprehensive and achieve real, long-lasting reform, we must provide all domestic partners and married couples the same rights and obligations in any immigration legislation.
As my fellow advocates and I stood in solidarity behind these champions of LGBT equality and comprehensive immigration reform, I was struck by the words of Erwin de Leon.
We are not asking for special rights. We are only asking for equal rights.
Erwin works hard at his job and his education and does what he can to help the community. He has been in a committed relationship for 12 years. He and his partner are married in DC. Yet his partner cannot sponsor him for residency. Their family will be torn apart if Erwin is forced to leave the country after completing his PhD.
Not only did Tuesday’s primaries fail to bring about the wave of anti-gay sentiment that some conservatives had hoped for…it was a banner day for openly LGBT candidates. Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, a PAC that endorses “qualified, committed LGBT candidates,” backed 21 candidates in Tuesday’s elections—and 17 of them won.
Matt Coles at the ACLU has written an interesting blog post outlining some major reasons why the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is so important. One of his points especially resonated after last week’s firestorm around Republican Senatorial Candidate Rand Paul:
Second, we need to get rid of DADT because it is a blot on the Constitution. DADT enshrines in federal law a principle which had been rejected in most other contexts: that discrimination could be justified by the prejudice of others. In the 60s, businesses in the South said that the prejudice their customers had against black people ought to give them an exemption from discrimination laws. Congress and the courts disagreed. In the 80s, government agencies actually defended discrimination on the basis that neighbors (or others) had strong negative feelings about disabled people, "hippies" and even older people (in Miami of all places). Again, the courts disagreed. But in the Congress that passed it, the single justification for Don't Ask, Don't Tell was not that gay members of the Armed Forces couldn't do their jobs. It was rather that heterosexual service members would be so unnerved by the mere presence of gay people that they would be unable to perform theirs. As long as DADT endures, the idea that your rights can't be taken away just because someone else doesn't like you is hardly secure.
Last week, Rand Paul struggled to defend his view that the government should allow private enterprises to discriminate against people based on race, gender, or sexual orientation. He was forced to backtrack on his position after his statements were shot down by civil rights groups, the media, and members of his own party. His reasoning essentially amounted to the idea that the government has more of a duty to protect the right to discriminate than to protect those who are discriminated against. Sound familiar?
That’s a false and outdated interpretation of the Constitution—one that didn’t hold water in 1964, and doesn’t today.
(And, as a sidenote, check out the American Prospect’s takedown of another one of Paul’s perversions of the Constitution).
People For the American Way and African American Ministers in Action wrote to Congress today urging repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Votes are imminent in both the House and Senate.
According to PFAW’s Michael B. Keegan and Marge Baker:
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell runs counter to the honesty and integrity we associate with the armed forces, not to mention the values of equality and freedom of expression espoused by our Constitution. Repeal is necessary to restore these values. Until then, LGBT soldiers will have to lie and hide their true identity on a daily basis. Those who live openly and share information about their spouses, significant others, or dating life risk investigation and involuntary expulsion. Any statement that one is gay – to anyone, at any time, before or after enlistment – can be reason for discharge. Your life is a constant liability to your career when you are gay in the military.
AAMIA’s Reverend Timothy McDonald, III and Reverend Dr. Robert P. Shine further explored the ideas of equality and open service.
The faith community will continue in faithful dialogue to address the questions of LGBT equality and recognition of same-sex relationships. However, one thing people of faith should and do recognize is the need to protect constitutional and civil rights of all Americans, especially those who are discriminated against because of who they are. LGBT individuals are ready and willing to step up, and have stood up to the challenge of military service. They share in the sacrifices made by their family, friends, and neighbors. They deserve to serve honestly and openly with dignity.
People For the American Way and African American Ministers in Action wrote to the House of Representatives today urging swift passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act – as a clean bill with no harmful amendments or motions to recommit. This follows last month’s joint statement by over 200 organizations demanding immediate action.
According to PFAW’s Michael B. Keegan and Marge Baker:
American principles of fairness and equal opportunity should be extended to all in the workplace. Passage of ENDA would be a major step in the right direction.
AAMIA’s Reverend Timothy McDonald further explored the idea of shared values.
If we’re going to build the beloved community that Dr. King spoke of, we must be conscious of discrimination, no matter where it rears its ugly head. As African American ministers, we know what it takes to stand up against systemic oppression. It is in solidarity and love that we recognize the plight of others and support this struggle for the same protections.
We believe a committee vote is imminent, with a House floor vote not far behind. Please write or call your Representative now and tell him or her that you support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
Before I go, a special shout out to our friends at the National Center for Transgender Equality for their recent action calling on transpeople to seek employment at congressional offices as a way to demonstrate that transpeople need jobs and are determined to get them.
Late Friday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen urgedCongress to hold off on repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell until the Pentagon completes its policy review. This was followed by a White House statement (cited by Washington Post and other media outlets) deferring to Secretary Gates.
Alexander Nicholson, a former Army interrogator discharged under Don't Ask, Don't Tell and current Executive Director of Servicemembers United, believes that the push for repeal is not the real problem.
This letter from Secretary Gates is a significant cause for concern for those who truly respect and support the gay military community.
PFAW agrees that careful thought must be given to a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. But like Alexander Nicholson, we believe just as strongly that legislative action does not depend on the actions of the DOD Working Group. The Working Group was commissioned to study how to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – not whether it should be repealed. That’s the point on which Congress wants to act. They could do so as early as this month when work begins on the DOD Authorization bill. Congress should proceed now so that we are ready for implementation by December 1 – the deadline for completion of the Working Group report.
Aubrey Sarvis, Army veteran and Executive Director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, described this “fierce urgency of now” in his response.
As a result of the Commander in Chief's decision to defer to Secretary Gates' wishes and timeline, gay service members will continue to be treated as second class citizens, and any sense of fairness may well have been delayed for yet another year, perhaps for another decade.
Joe Solmonese, President of the Human Rights Campaign, continues.
[F]ailure to act this year will, without a doubt, continue to send the message to the thousands of gay and lesbian Americans serving their country in silence that their views and concerns, and the impact on them and their families, do not matter to the military leadership, including their Commander-in-Chief.
Advocates will not rest in their push for an end to LGBT discrimination and muzzled military service. In fact, we’re just one week away from the National Veterans Lobby Day. Hundreds of veterans will come to Capitol Hill to stand up and speak out for the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
Senate Democrats made news this week with the release of their framework for moving forward on immigration reform. It is by no means perfect, and there is much work left to be done. However, these Senators should be commended for the framework’s attention to family unity and its inclusion of LGBT families. Page 22 stands strong on behalf of keeping LGBT families together in the US.
[The proposal] will eliminate discrimination in the immigration laws by permitting permanent partners of United States citizens and lawful permanent residents to obtain lawful permanent resident status.
This language speaks to the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) and lays the foundation for fully incorporating UAFA into whatever legislation results from the framework. Incorporating UAFA would be a meaningful step taken toward providing equality to same-sex couples and keeping their families together. UAFA allows many same-sex partners to begin the immigration process more quickly and efficiently, and with fewer limitations. Gay men and lesbians whose partners are US citizens or legal permanent residents could apply for family-based visas and green cards.
Last month, PFAW urged the Senate to take action on comprehensive immigration reform (CIR). We believe this issue is critical to the welfare of our country.
Today, we thank Senators Schumer (NY), Reid (NV), Menendez (NJ), Durbin (IL), Feinstein (CA), and Leahy (VT) for recognizing that addressing immigration fairly and effectively means addressing the needs of ALL people.
The Washington Post reported today that Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has sent a letter to the Commonwealth’s public colleges and universities asking them to rescind policies that ban discrimination against LGBT people, stating:
"It is my advice that the law and public policy of the Commonwealth of Virginia prohibit a college or university from including 'sexual orientation,' 'gender identity,' 'gender expression,' or like classification as a protected class within its non-discrimination policy absent specific authorization from the General Assembly."
Colleges that have included such language in their policies -- which include all of Virginia's leading schools -- have done so "without proper authority" and should "take appropriate actions to bring their policies in conformance with the law and public policy of Virginia," Cuccinelli wrote.
I posted last week on the new Virginia Governor's assault on LGBT Virginians, in his rush to carry out the agenda of the Religious Right. Clearly it's not just Gov. Bob McDonnell who poses a threat to Virginians’ rights. The Religious Right has spread its tentacles throughout the upper echelons of Virginia’s state government, and with its grip firmly on the levers of power, Virginians have a lot to be worried about.
More brutal evidence of the fact that elections matter... Progressives will have a lot of work to do fighting back the policies of McDonnell, Cuccinelli and right-wing state legislators in Virginia.
Pat Robertson's man in the Virginia State House, Governor Bob McDonnell, has been in office less than a month and is already delivering on the Religious Right's agenda ... at the expense of Virginians' civil rights.
A February 5 executive order from the 'Gov stripped gay and lesbian state workers of protections against job discrimination. It was that simple: signing an order that prohibits discrimination based on nearly every category except sexual orientation (which had been included under McDonnell's predecessor, Gov. Tim Kaine). The move has already been praised by Radical Right groups like Tony Perkins' Family Research Council.
This is a painful, cringe-inducing "I told you so" moment that brings no satisfaction to anyone and certainly no desire to gloat. It's a sad reminder that when we snooze, we lose -- in this case, progressive voters snoozing has led to LGBT Virginians losing, but rest assured, there will be more to come and enough misery to go around.
Bob McDonnell's opponent in the gubernatorial race was Creigh Deeds, who failed to inspire his progressive base. Deeds campaign ran away from progressive values instead of embracing and fighting for them, and the Democratic ticket paid the price on Election Day. Deeds got the Democratic nomination in the first place because of dreadful turnout, particularly among progressives, in that party's primary election.
The other lesson we must take away is that we must EXPOSE right-wing candidates for what they are. This need makes organizations like PFAW and blogs like RightWingWatch very important. McDonnell is an undoubtedly intelligent and charismatic politician. He seems like a very nice guy, a good family man and emanates a sincerity that might be genuine. But this persona belies his radical beliefs.
McDonnell could rightly be called a "wolf in sheep's clothing" for running a campaign that avoided the polarizing issues on which his Religious Right agenda is focused. But the evidence was there all along. He was elected, in part, due to progressives' and Democrats' failure to expose his true radical right-wing inclinations despite a wealth of evidence.
His master's thesis (at Pat Robertson's Regent University, which itself should have been portrayed as a bigger red flag to VA voters) espoused extremely radical views. It became a major campaign issue for his opponent Deeds but somehow McDonnell was able to diffuse it by saying those were the views of a younger, less lived and learned version of himself. He was 34 YEARS OLD when he wrote the thesis, though, and hardly some naïve kid. McDonnell's record as Attorney General and statements he had made in the past, as well as his close connection to Pat Robertson, should have been additional red flags.
But here we find ourselves, with LGBT Virginians taking the first of what will likely be many blows to their basic rights throughout Gov. McDonnell's tenure. And it's not only Virginians who are going to suffer.
McDonnell has been unleashed onto the national political scene too. Americans already have enough fear from hatemongers like Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum and others who threaten America with their potential candidacy for president. Now, we have Bob McDonnell (Pat Robertson's protégé!!!) who is clearly being groomed to be a national leader of the Republican Party after he gave the GOP response to President Obama's State of the Union Address -- a response that was very well executed and positioned the articulate family man McDonnell as what one would imagine to be a Tea Party activist's ideal alternative to our current president. (The fact that McDonnell is white is sadly of central importance in the GOP's ploy, but that's a topic that deserves further dissection in another post).
It's been said that we get the government we deserve, based on who we vote for or whether or not we choose to vote at all. But no one deserves a governor like Bob McDonnell. And the likes of Pat Robertson and Tony Perkins certainly do not deserve to have their errand boy serving them up one wish list item at a time wrapped all pretty with a bow on it.
Progressives stay at home on Election Day at all of our peril. And that goes for the primaries especially. The progressive "base" can't just be the voters whose turnout makes the difference for Democrats in general elections (young voters, low-income voters, etc.). People who truly embrace what it means to be progressive need get out there and stand up for our values within the political party structure. If there's one thing this current crop of Democratic members of Congress has made all too clear, it's that no one else is going to assert those values (the same ones that made and continue to make America great, I might add) if we don't do it in the voting booth.
We must do better.
In the meantime, we need to keep an eye on Governor Bob McDonnell, lest he follow the path of another perceived "every man" who was strong on "family values" and played the part of a "uniter, not a divider." That "every man," George W. Bush, served up the most radical right-wing policies of any modern president and was quick to empty the nation's treasury into the pockets of war profiteers and his other corporate sponsors. Let's learn from the past.
In last night's State of the Union Address, President Obama pledged to work with Congress and the military to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" this year.
Thousands of activists joined People For the American Way in urging the President to include the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in the defense budget proposal he sends to Congress early next month.
While it's not yet clear what the vehicle is going to be for repeal, the President's strong statement last night is an indication that he's getting the message. Now, it's up to the Obama administration to deliver on last night's pledge and it's up to all of us to make sure that it does.
We can't slack up in our fight to make sure that the administration and Congress advance pro-equality reforms this year. Anti-LGBT discrimination in the military, the workplace and, yes, in the institution of civil marriage must be addressed by this president and this Congress without delay.
Think Progress points out that the Department of Justice is intervening in an LGBT rights case for the first time in a decade.
The case centers on an openly gay 14-year old student named Jacob in Mowhawk, New York* who sued his school district for failing to appropriately respond to the repeated harassment he suffered at school. Now the DOJ, citing Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, is intervening in the suit, arguing that “the law also covers discrimination based on gender stereotypes.”
According to the Utica Observer-Dispatch, the school district claims that it’s close to a settlement. It also contains an apt summation of the case from Jacob’s father: “He has the right to go to school and feel safe.”
We’re glad that the Justice Department feels the same way.
* - Side Note: Can we all agree on how awesome it is that Mowhawk, New York has an openly gay 14 year old willing to stand up for his rights? Jacob – When you get to college, give us a call. I know some people you should meet.
Today, there was a panel at the Religious Action Center discussing the role of religious communities in debates over judicial nominees. Joi Orr, program assistant with People for the American Way’s African American Religious Affairs department spoke about the role of the religious vote and what People for the American Way is currently doing around judicial nominations.
Other panelists included: Nancy Zirkin from the Leadership Conference on civil rights, Jim Wimkler from the general board of the United Methodist Church, Holly Hollman from the general counsel of the Baptist joint committee, Sammie Moshenberg from the National Council of Jewish Women, Rick Foltin from the American Jewish Committee and Mark Pelavin from the Religious Action Center.
Panelists briefly discussed how their organizations reach various faith communities, and reiterated the importance of having strong judicial candidates for these lifetime position. Joi summarized the work that the African American Religious Affairs department is accomplishing with regards to judicial nominations.
The ministers programs were founded to act out of the prophetic vein of the Black Church. So I will say, that we do not claim to speak on behalf of the entire black church, because it is not a homogeneous group. We particularly advocate and represent the marginalized, disenfranchised, and outcast. So like the prophet Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we advocate with a liberal reading of the Bible in one hand and the Constitution in the other. That’s what the prophetic black church has done throughout history. We rejected the “slaves obey your masters” rhetoric of the New Testament, while embracing the nation’s sacred documents that purport to stand for liberty and justice for all. And I want to underscore the word all. Because the truly prophetic black church is inclusive in its advocacy. That’s why MLK was an integrationist. That’s why as an organization we work on fair public education for all of our children, fair comprehensive immigration reform, and LGBT rights, because injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
The Washington Post published a one-sided piece on Bishop Harry Jackson that neglected to mention his ties to right-wing political figures such as James Dobson, Lou Sheldon, Tony Perkins and the Family Research Council.
Bishop Harry Jackson has enthusiastically opposed equality and basic civil rights for gays and lesbians couples, and has worked overtime to make discrimination the law of our land. He has dedicated his life’s work to denying gay and lesbian couples important legal protections that could determine whether couples can be kept apart when one person is sick, or forced out of a home when one dies. The government should not put obstacles in the path of those who are trying to care for their loved ones with a lifetime commitment, and neither should Bishop Harry Jackson.
Nor has Bishop Jackson limited his right-wing activism to opposing rights for LGBT people. Bishop Jackson opposed Barack Obama’s presidential bid, saying during the campaign that an ongoing ‘march of darkness’ would overtake the country if ‘we don’t do the right thing in this campaign.’ In an ad, Jackson argued that if Obama was elected president, the nation would not have ‘chosen God’s best.’ Jackson has worked hard to oppose important initiatives that will help all people, especially the poor – from affordable and accessible health care to quality public education to sensible immigration policies.”
People For the American Way released an in depth report on Bishop Harry Jackson earlier this year, “Point Man for the Wedge Strategy.” Click here to view the report.
Will Phillips, a 10 year old boy in Arkansas, recently refused to stand and recite the pledge of allegiance. His reason? He said he could not pledge allegiance to a country that continues to deny equality to the LGBT community.
Will's teacher tried to reprimand him for not participating in the pledge, despite his constitutional right to do so. His principal acknowledges that students cannot be forced to recite the pledge, but is refusing to apologize to the 10 year old.
While some classmates are supportive of Will's stand for equality, others have taunted him with homophobic remarks. His mother commented that, "It's really frustrating to him that people are being so immature." When asked what it means to be an American, Will said, "Freedom of speech. The freedom to disagree. That's what I think pretty much being an American represents."
In many ways it was a very good week for anyone interested in LGBT equality. Marriage equality legislation took a big step forward in the District of Columbia, federal hate crimes legislation was signed into law after a decade long fight, and today the President reauthorized the Ryan White Act and announced that he would take the final steps to rescind the HIV travel ban. So it’s too bad that the week ended on a disappointing note.
In a brief filed today in federal court, the DOJ moved to dismiss the challenge against DOMA lodged by the state of Massachusetts on behalf of the legally married same-sex couples in the state who are nevertheless being denied federal benefits.
To be clear: Massachusetts is right in this case and the DOJ is wrong. DOMA is unconstitutional and should be struck down.
But the brief (much like most of the other briefs we’ve seen) took pains to point out that the President is defending the law not because he likes it, but because he’s compelled to. In fact, the brief points out, the President is opposed to DOMA and supports its repeal.
Great. Let’s do that.
It’s time for the President to make clear that repealing DOMA is a priority, and that his support is more than lip service. No one expects repeal to be immediate, but it won’t happen without Presidential leadership.
Then we can have good weeks, that are just plain old good weeks.
(If you want to push the process forward, don’t forget to sign our Dump DOMA petition.)
Today marks an historic step forward in the fight for equality. With the signing of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, President Obama sent loud and clear the message that freedom from violence is a right all Americans should enjoy.
As I watched the President put pen to paper, I couldn't help but reflect on my own memories of the tragedies that befell Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. in 1998. How gripped the country was by each man's story. How years later I saw a stage production of Moisés Kaufman's The Laramie Project. I'll never forget the emotion that overcame one of my friends in the audience. He was struck by the fact that Laramie wasn't so different from his hometown. What happened to Matthew could have happened in his backyard. It could happen just about anywhere without people and a government willing to stand up to fear and hate. Today we stood up.
Enactment of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act is all the more remarkable for affirming a positive protection for gender identity - a first in federal law. In showing how far we've come, this action also shows how far we have yet to go. Just two years ago, a battle was fought over whether to include gender identity protections in employment discrimination legislation. ENDA's enactment with gender identity intact will hopefully be the next great achievement for the LGBT community, and for us all.
As the late Senator Kennedy so famously said, "For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die."
Click here for today's statement from Reverend Timothy McDonald of African American Ministers in Action and Michael B. Keegan of People For the American Way.
Almost 100 people testified on Monday, October 26 in a 7 ½ hour hearing on marriage equality legislation moving in the District of Columbia council. Another 169 people who signed up will testify on Monday, November 2. After that, marriage equality will move from committee to the full council and should be passed into law by the end of the year.
The hearing was inspiring and invigorating. I testified in support of the bill on behalf of People For the American Way and as a DC resident hoping to get married next year. I was at the halfway point of the hearing but stayed until almost 11 p.m. to hear everyone speak.
The good news is that pro-equality speakers, and pro-equality clergy, vastly outnumbered opponents. Included were other professional advocates from the Human Rights Campaign and the ACLU; a dozen pro-equality religious leaders, men and women representing many faiths, races, and ethnicities, among them Rev. Dennis Wiley of Covenant Baptist Church and Rev. Robert Hardies of All Souls Church, Unitarian, leaders of DC Clergy United for Marriage; pro-equality leaders from the local Democratic and Republican political parties; and a long list of DC residents, LGBT and not, testifying on behalf of themselves, their partners, their families and friends, and their children.
There were many moving moments: a young gay couple, one of them a vet, tightly holding hands and fighting back tears to testify; a heterosexual married man who testified with his seven-year old daughter at his side, because she already understands that it's wrong that the gay people in her life, including the parents of her best friends, aren't treated equally under the law; dozens of women and men speaking the truth about their lives, their eagerness to protect their loved ones, and their desire to be treated equally in the city that is their home.
Opposing the measure were Bishop Harry Jackson, who leads the city's anti-equality forces, a handful of local civic activists, and a group of officials from the Catholic archdiocese of Washington and Catholic Charities. The most interesting back-and-forth of the night took place between the panel of Catholic leaders and Councilmembers David Catania and Tommy Wells over the scope of the religious liberty protections in the bill. Councilmember Catania had said earlier in the day that he was willing to consider changes to those provisions, but he and Wells were deeply skeptical of demands that Catholic Charities be given carte blanche to discriminate against same-sex couples in provision of services and treatment of its employees when 75 percent of its revenues are from public funds. Notably, a few panels earlier, Professor Joseph Palacios from Georgetown University had testified in favor of the legislation, citing recent research showing strong support for marriage equality among lay Catholics nationally and even stronger support in the District of Columbia.
The legislation is assured of passage: it was co-sponsored by nine of the 12 councilmembers, and another councilmember announced his support at the hearing. DC Mayor Adrian Fenty has pledged to sign it. Activists are working with congressional leaders to make sure that the legislation survives the legislative review period that DC's laws are subjected to. The council's overwhelming support for the measure was a source of frustration to some of the anti-equality speakers, who angrily denounced the hearing as a sham and demanded that the issue be put to a public vote. Earlier in the day, Jackson and other anti-equality speakers urged the District's Board of Elections to allow them to put marriage equality before the voters, even though the board had ruled earlier this year that doing so would violate DC law against putting human rights protections on the ballot.
Changing Hearts and Minds. That was the focus this past weekend at two panel discussions I moderated at the California NAACP State Conference on the topic of Homophobia in the Black Church. From my vantage point it’s clear that these real in-person talks truly help people understand the dangers of homophobia. After the panel, a few people testified that their views about homophobia and even LGBT equality have changed completely. It’s remarkable the change that we can effect through honest, respectful conversation.
I waned to share just a few highlights from the panel:
Rev. Kenneth Samuel (Vice Chair - African American Ministers Leadership Council of PFAWF and Pastor of Victory for the World Church in Stone Mountain, GA) spoke passionately about the health risks to the Black community from Heterosexism and Homophobia. Forcing people to live closeted or secret down low lives, leads to risky behavior. This in turn can lead to grave consequences as it relates to STDs.
Dr. Sylvia Rhue (Director- Religious Affairs of the National Black Justice Coalition) reminded us that the LGBT Equality movement is comprised of fights for several basic civil rights, and that speaking out against homophobia is a continuation of the civil rights movement.
Rev. Deborah Johnson (Founder- Inner Light Ministries) spoke out about the dangers of Homophobic behavior. He explained how it has led to a history of violence against LGBT people of color throughout history, even at the hands of black brothers and sisters.
Rev. Byron Williams (Pastor- Resurrection Church in Oakland, CA and member of the AAMLC of PFAWF) dared all of us not to compare “black” oppression to “LGBT” oppression, but to recognize that oppression is just that, and it goes against the Christian ethic of Love thy Neighbor.
As moderator of the discussions the common ground was clear to me - we must LOVE one another and speak out against homophobic behavior.