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.)
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.
Sunday, October 11, 2009 marked Coming Out Day and the National Equality March in Washington DC. The sun was shining but it wasn’t too hot. There was a large crowd of tens of thousands of people who came from near and far to attend the march. There were lots of college students who came from all over the country to march. The area was well guarded with police officers on segways and on foot. The atmosphere was peaceful and upbeat.
I only encountered a few protesters saying that gay people are going to hell and that they are here to save us. These protesters also had anti-choice posters with pictures of aborted fetuses. Although I am not sure how gay rights and abortion are related, my guess is these right wingers just wanted to lump all the liberally minded causes together.
Most of the homemade signs addressed the Defense of Marriage Act and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. One favorite sign: “Obama—let mommy marry momma!” and the chant “Hey-hey! Ho-ho! Homophobia has got to go!” I carried my handmade sign reading “Pass a trans-inclusive ENDA” while a friend I marched with carried their sign reading “Equali(t)y—the T is not silent!” although there were very few other signs addressing ENDA or other gender identity-specific sentiments. Our chant of “Hey-hey! Ho-ho! Transphobia has got to go!” caught on for a while but didn’t seem to gain as much momentum as some of the other chants.
With the combination of perfect weather, good company, and an excellent cause, I left the march feeling excited about how many young people were at the march and the energy that we—as young activists—have towards LGBT issues. And even as we push to repeal DOMA and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, it’s important that we make sure that the ENDA gets the grassroots support it deserves.
DC Councilman David Catania introduced a bill on Tuesday that will end discrimination against same sex couples who wish to marry in the nation's capital. The District already recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions, but the new proposal will allow the nuptials to take place in the city.
The bill is expected to pass the 13-member city council, and it is supported by DC Mayor Adrian Fenty. In spite of this strong support in the city, outsiders will once again focus on denying marriage equality to DC residents.
Harry Jackson, Bishop of the Hope Christian Church in Maryland, is once again vowing to bring the issue to the ballot. As PFAW has reported, Jackson is an ardent supporter of homophobic ballot initiatives; this time he has the support of the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, Colorado-based Focus on the Family, and the National Organization for Marriage.
In addition, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who failed at derailing the marriage recognition bill from over the summer, has expressed interest in overturning DC law again, though he admits it is unlikely that Congressional Republicans will be able to muster enough support to do so.
By not recognizing marriages between two men or two women, our federal and state governments treat these couples as legal strangers. The authors of the article calculated the financial burden that results from this discrimination.
We looked at benefits that routinely go to married heterosexual couples but not to gay couples, like certain Social Security payments. We plotted out the cost of health insurance for couples whose employers don't offer it to domestic partners. Even tax preparation can cost more, since gay couples have to file two sets of returns. Still, many couples may come out ahead in one area: they owe less in income taxes because they're not hit with the so-called marriage penalty.
Our goal was to create a hypothetical gay couple whose situation would be similar to a heterosexual couple's. So we gave the couple two children and assumed that one partner would stay home for five years to take care of them. We also considered the taxes in the three states that have the highest estimated gay populations — New York, California and Florida. We gave our couple an income of $140,000, which is about the average income in those three states for unmarried same-sex partners who are college-educated, 30 to 40 years old and raising children under the age of 18.
And what was the result?
In our worst case, the couple’s lifetime cost of being gay was $467,562. But the number fell to $41,196 in the best case for a couple with significantly better health insurance, plus lower taxes and other costs.
Of course, as far as Bob McDonnell is concerned, the government is only doing what it’s supposed to do: punishing homosexuality.
It's hard to believe that 9-11 was eight years ago.
My partner Dan had just moved from Chicago to DC a month before. After watching the buildings fall from the PFAW conference room, and hearing rumors about a truck bomb at the State Department, where one of my best friends had just started working, I walked several blocks and grabbed a bus filled with stunned-into-silence passengers. I traveled a few miles to Wesley Seminary, where Dan was supposed to be having a meeting. We went home and tried to imagine what it would feel like to live in D.C. under a now far more real threat of terrorist attacks.
The next day, home from work, we painted walls, bringing a little change and beauty to our tiny corner of the planet.
The following day, back at work, my colleagues and I were stunned to hear Jerry Falwell blaming gays, liberals, feminists, church-state supporters, and People For the American Way, among others, for the attack, and to see Pat Robertson enthusiastically agreeing with him. It was breathtaking even for those of us accustomed to the televangelists' harsh rhetoric for all who disagreed with them.
PFAW moved quickly to put video of that exchange on Robertson's TV show into the hands of national news organizations and helped the world understand more clearly the cruelty at the heart of the Religious Right political movement.
That mean-spiritedness is again on public display, with Religious Right leaders energetically peddling false charges about supporters of marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples and portraying their political opponents, including President Obama, as bent on the destruction of liberty in America. I wonder what sort of patriotic platitudes we'll hear from today from the leaders of a movement that has tried for decades to claim ownership of patriotism and the flag and smear as un-American all those who don't share their vision of an America in which some are more equal than others.
Will they even bother to pause from their ongoing efforts to destroy the president, denigrate their opponents, and rile enough fear and hatred to push their way back into power?
From the right to choose to gay marriage, TV in the courtroom to yes, the inevitable “wise Latina” comment, Judge Sotomayor held her own, remaining composed and eloquent.
What happens next? The Judiciary Committee continues this evening to hear panels of experts from both sides on Judge Sotomayor’s qualifications for the highest court in the land. And then? A Tuesday committee vote and on to the full Senate.
AAMIA Members Revs. Frank Dunn and Joseph Smith attended yesterday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 (S.909), where Committee Chair Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) acknowledged the work of AAMIA toward passage of this critical legislation. Witnesses included Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr., Author Janet Langhart Cohen, University of Dubuque Theological Seminary Professor Dr. Mark Achtemeier, US Commission on Civil Rights Commissioner Gail Heriot, The Heritage Foundation’s Brian W. Walsh, and the Anti-Defamation League Washington Counsel Michael Lieberman. You can view the webcast of the hearing here.
AAMIA and PFAW have submitted lettersin support of the legislation, along with a fact sheet on the legislation, and myths and facts about hate crimes protections. AAMIA and PFAW have been out in front combating the lies from the right wing that this bill will silence pastors who speak out against homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
While they were at the hearing AAMIA staff and Rev. Joseph Smith caught up with author, playwright and producer Janet Langhart Cohen, a witness before the committee, and learned more about her Anne & Emmett Project, a play about a beyond-the-grave conversation between Anne Frank and Emmett Till. The play was scheduled to premiere at the US Holocaust Museum the week of the unfortunate tragedy at the museum where Officer Stephen Johns was killed in the line of duty by an avowed white supremacist.
A broad group of current and former Mormons, non-Mormoms, gays, and heterosexuals united to call on leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to end their anti-gay policies and their involvement with anti-gay politics (California’s Prop. 8) and fundraising. Through their website, the coalition has launched a petition to “earnestly seek to create a climate for reconciliation between the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and gays and lesbians who have been affected by the policies, practices and politics of the Church.” More from the petition:
We recognize that issues surrounding sexuality and gender orientation are complex; that understanding of these matters has evolved, especially over the past several decades, and are continuing to evolve as scientists, therapists, theologians and others continue to explore and ponder their meaning and significance; We believe that people of good will may have differing views about homosexuality, while maintaining amicable relationships.
True reconciliation requires that parties on both sides of this issue be willing to honestly examine their attitudes, behaviors (including past behaviors), policies and practices—and be open to understanding, forgiveness (both asking for and accepting), and apology.
The site includes links to the church’s historical involvement in gay marriage legislation, personal testimonies from gay and lesbian Mormons and a list of gay and lesbian Mormons who have committed suicide.
Pres. Obama and the White House are now looking at ways to include same-sex marriages, unions and partnerships in 2010 Census data – another small step of what we hope will be a larger agenda toward equal justice under the law for gays and lesbians in America. Last year, PFAW launched a petition drive urging the Census Bureau to reverse its policy of ‘editing’ the data from same-sex couples who accurately report that they are legally married, and re-classifying them as “unmarried partners.” From the Wall Street Journal:
The White House said Thursday it was seeking ways to include same-sex marriages, unions and partnerships in 2010 Census data, the second time in a week the administration has signaled a policy change of interest to the gay community.
The administration has directed the Census Bureau to determine changes needed in tabulation software to allow for same-sex marriage data to be released early in 2011 with other detailed demographic information from the decennial count. The bureau historically hasn't released same-sex marriage data.
The gay community strongly supported President Barack Obama during the 2008 election. But some gay activists say they have been frustrated by what they see as his slow approach to rolling back discriminatory policies.
White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said "the administration continues to make progress on the president's longstanding commitment to promoting equality for [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] Americans."
This is a positive step forward although there’s no word on an actual policy proposal yet. In the meantime, People For the American Way is helping activists tell President Obama and Congressional leaders to “Dump DOMA.” You can find the petition here.
Since taking office, the American people have seen a flurry of activity from the Obama administration, ranging from increased diplomatic efforts abroad to fixing the economic crisis at home. There is one area, however, where we've seen far too little movement―gay rights.
Over the past several months, the Director of the Office of Personnel Management and the Secretary of State have conducted internal reviews to determine whether the benefits they administer may be extended to the same-sex partners of federal employees within the confines of existing laws and statutes. Both identified a number of such benefits.
For civil service employees, domestic partners of federal employees can be added to the long-term care insurance program; supervisors can also be required to allow employees to use their sick leave to take care of domestic partners and non-biological, non-adopted children.
For foreign service employees, a number of benefits were identified, including the use of medical facilities at posts abroad, medical evacuation from posts abroad, and inclusion in family size for housing allocations.
While it is a small step in the right direction, it is hardly the action that Senator Obama spoke of so often on the campaign trail:
I support the complete repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)– a position I have held since before arriving in the U.S. Senate. While some say we should repeal only part of the law, I believe we should get rid of that statute altogether. Federal law should not discriminate in any way against gay and lesbian couples, which is precisely what DOMA does.
It seems that rather than take real action to repeal DOMA, the administration is offering a gesture to the LGBT community, a gesture without much weight behind it.
President Obama promised all of us that he would push to end the discrimination caused by DOMA; Let your voice be heard and tell the Obama administration that you want it repealed. Sign our petition to end DOMA now!
Not that this comes as a surprise to anyone, but Bishop Harry Jackson and other opponents of same-sex marriage have filed a lawsuit here in DC hoping to get a referendum on the ballot on whether to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.
The civil suit against the District's Board of Elections and Ethics asks Judge Judith E. Retchin to overturn an election board ruling Monday that blocked a proposal to put the issue before the voters. Citing a District election law prohibiting votes on matters covered under the 1977 Human Rights Act, which outlaws discrimination against gay men, lesbians and other minority groups, the board said that a referendum would "authorize discrimination."
The plaintiffs asked for an expedited hearing. If the court or Congress does not intervene, recognition of same-sex marriages performed elsewhere will become law early next month, at the end of the required congressional review period.
"We are not going to sit by and allow an unelected board of bureaucrats to deny voters their rightful say on this issue and, by their action, allow the institution of marriage and the entire structure of our society to be radically redefined," said Bishop Harry Jackson, senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville and one of seven District residents who are plaintiffs in the suit.
Bishop Harry Jackson is touted in the Washington Post’s article as “one of seven District residents who are plaintiffs in the suit,” but Lou Chibbarro of The Washington Blade has found evidence that suggests otherwise.
For more information about Jackson’s crusade across the country to strip LGBT people of the equal protection under the law, see People For the American Way Foundation’s report Point Man for the Wedge Strategy.
Today, President Obama’s Justice Department, in a motion to dismiss a lawsuit against the Defense of Marriage Act, argued that DOMA is constitutional. The Administration argues that DOMA “does not impinge upon rights that have been recognized as fundamental.”
I remember the thrill I felt when candidate Obama condemned DOMA and promised to eliminate it. He even put that promise on the White House website. But several weeks ago, in lieu of eliminating DOMA, he instead eliminated the promise from the website.
And today, he argues that DOMA does not discriminate against gays and lesbians (or, to use the Administration’s language, homosexuals):
“DOMA does not discriminate against homosexuals in the provision of federal benefits. … DOMA does not distinguish among persons of different sexual orientations, but rather it limits federal benefits to those who have entered into the traditional form of marriage.” (motion to dismiss, page 30)
The Administration’s reasoning is as illogical as that used by segregationists to defend laws prohibiting interracial marriage. So it’s ironic that the brief was filed today, on the 42nd anniversary of the Loving v. Virginia decision striking down laws that would have barred President Obama’s own parents from marrying.
We need to remind President Obama of his promises. It’s long past time to Dump DOMA.
As you may know, Governor John Lynch of New Hampshire signed a marriage equality bill into law yesterday. Previously, Gov. Lynch had supported civil unions, but not not same-sex marriage. In a statement released yesterday, the governor made clear that his feelings on the matter had shifted course, thanks to the case made by activists, same-sex couples, and the general public:
"Two years ago in this room, I signed civil unions into law. That law gave same-sex couples in New Hampshire the rights and protections of marriage. And while civil unions was recognized as a step forward, many same-sex couples made compelling arguments that a separate system is not an equal system.
They argued that what might appear to be a minor difference in wording to some, lessened the dignity and legitimacy of their families."
New Hampshire joins the growing list of states that have passed laws supporting full marriage equality: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and Maine, along with Iowa.
The governor signed the bill amid cheers of praise, as he was joined in the Executive Council Chamber by lawmakers and activists who had fought so hard to make marriage equality a reality.
Bishop V. Gene Robinson, an openly gay religious leader who heads the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire, spoke at a celebratory rally. He "told supporters to savor the moment so they can tell their children and grandchildren 'you were here and you made it happen.' "
We’re all waiting to see how the California Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of Proposition 8. Equality advocates argue that stripping lesbian and gay people of the right to marry was what California law calls a revision: a constitutional change so fundamental that it should not have been allowed on the ballot without first being approved by a constitutional convention or a legislative supermajority.
In contrast, Proposition 8’s far right supporters claim it was a constitutional amendment: a non-fundamental change that properly went directly to the voters. Supporters of Prop 8 have also loudly condemned equality advocates for going to court after the election, saying that such a move is illegitimate because the people have already spoken.
Today, Maine became the latest state to affirm the freedom to marry for same-sex couples, joining Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, and Vermont when Gov. John Baldacci signed into law LD 1020, An Act to End Discrimination in Civil Marriage and Affirm Religious Freedom. People For the American Way applauds Gov. Baldacci for recognizing that this is about fairness and equal protection under the law for all citizens of Maine. In a public statement, Gov. Baldacci said:
“In the past, I opposed gay marriage while supporting the idea of civil unions. I have come to believe that this is a question of fairness and of equal protection under the law, and that a civil union is not equal to civil marriage.
“Article I in the Maine Constitution states that ‘no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor be denied the equal protection of the laws, nor be denied the enjoyment of that person’s civil rights or be discriminated against.’
“This new law does not force any religion to recognize a marriage that falls outside of its beliefs. It does not require the church to perform any ceremony with which it disagrees. Instead, it reaffirms the separation of Church and State.
“It guarantees that Maine citizens will be treated equally under Maine’s civil marriage laws, and that is the responsibility of government.”
This news comes a day after the D.C. Council voted 12-1 to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. Congratulations to the Maine Legislature and all those who are working hard to make fairness and equality for same-sex couples in Maine a reality.
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.
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.
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.
What these dictator-judges do not seem to understand is that their authority extends only as far as people choose to obey them.
How long before married people answer the dictators thus: Regardless of law, marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down, so it can be replaced with a government that will respect and support marriage, and help me raise my children in a society where they will expect to marry in their turn.
Biological imperatives trump laws. American government cannot fight against marriage and hope to endure. If the Constitution is defined in such a way as to destroy the privileged position of marriage, it is that insane Constitution, not marriage, that will die.
One would like to believe that even NOM realizes that this kind of rhetoric is beyond the pale. If so, they should be coming out with a statement disavowing Card’s views any minute now. Or do they agree with him?
As we hope you’ve already heard, champagne corks are popping in Vermont where both houses of the state legislature successfully overrode the Governor’s veto of same-sex marriage legislation. And for those of us in DC, marriage equality is a step closer now that the District’s City Council enacted legislation to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.
We’re exceptionally proud of the fact that the legislation granting marriage equality in Vermont was co-sponsored by a member of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network, Representative David Zuckerman.
And he’s just one of the YEOs doing great work for LGBT rights nationwide. You can read about other members working hard for equal rights for all in the most recent YEO Newsletter.