Equality For All

Why the Defeat of Arizona’s “Right to Discriminate” Bill Matters

Ryan Hurst is the membership services program coordinator for affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network.

Last week, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed SB 1062, a bill that would have made it legal for businesses and employers to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people if it was due to a “deeply held religious belief.” Many Arizonans and national leaders on both sides of the aisle vehemently opposed it, including members of affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials (YEO) Network.  US Representative Kyrsten Sinema (AZ-09) and Arizona State Senate Democratic Leader Anna Tovar spoke out on MSNBC. Tovar also said in a statement:

SB 1062 permits discrimination under the guise of religious freedom. With the express consent of Republicans in this legislature, many Arizonans will find themselves members of a separate and unequal class under this law because of their sexual orientation.

Supporters of SB 1062 and legislation like it have argued that it is necessary to protect the “right” of business owners to deny services to LGBT Americans. Why does fighting this flawed assumption matter? Why would LGBT Americans want to patronize a business that is trying to discriminate against them?

It matters because our values define who we are as a people.  Do we want to be an America that permits discrimination because we disagree with someone? An America that legislates away the dignity of a group of our fellow citizens? The desire to have and feel dignity is something that reaches into our very core. It is why African American students refused to get up from lunch counters during the civil rights movement. Though the circumstances behind those heroic acts were different, at least one of the core motivating factors is the same – the desire to have dignity and be valued as a human being.

We as a nation decided to set precedent as a result of the civil rights movement, that we would not allow ourselves to be defined by hate and ignorance, and that discrimination based on race, gender, disability, national origin, and religion would not be tolerated. Why would we hold love to a different standard? Like religion, it is deeply personal and central to who we are, and our freedom regarding that area of our lives is recognized as basic to the very concept of liberty. And we can no more change who we love than change our race, sex, or national origin.

Unfortunately Arizona was not alone in proposing a bill that would allow businesses to deny services to LGBT Americans. In all, 12 states had similar bills simultaneously working their way through their state legislatures. In the fallout from SB 1062, most of these states quietly killed these bills with little fanfare. But a few states like Idaho, Mississippi, and South Dakota are still considering similar legislation, and Oregon is even considering a ballot initiative.

It is time for us as a country to be bold and unapologetic about our rejection of discrimination. It is important for us to have conversations about why our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, and neighbors and friends deserve dignity and equality. We must not be afraid to speak out in opposition to these bills if they are introduced in our state, and we must exercise our right to vote by removing elected officials from office that choose to support legislation that diminishes the dignity of others.
 

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Texas Ban on Same-Sex Marriage Struck Down

In another win for the marriage equality movement, today U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia struck down Texas’ ban on marriage for same-sex couples.  The judge wrote that "Texas' current marriage laws deny homosexual couples the right to marry, and in doing so, demean their dignity for no legitimate reason.”

The Washington Post reports:

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia did not say gay marriages could be performed immediately. Instead, he stayed the decision, citing a likely appeal.

"Without a rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose, state-imposed inequality can find no refuge in our United States Constitution," Garcia wrote in his decision. "These Texas laws deny Plaintiffs access to the institution of marriage and its numerous rights, privileges, and responsibilities for the sole reason that Plaintiffs wish to be married to a person of the same sex."

Similar bans have been struck down in states across the country – most recently in Virginia less than two weeks ago. Today’s victory in a state with a whopping 26 million residents brings us one important step closer to nationwide marriage equality.

PFAW Foundation

Pressure Mounts for Brewer to Veto Anti-Gay Law

Ever since Arizona’s legislature passed a bill that would allow business owners to refuse service to gay and lesbian customers, pressure has been mounting on Governor Jan Brewer to veto the law.

The bill has drawn sharp criticism from LGBT and human rights groups (in addition to quick witted pizza shop owners and crewmembers of the Starship Enterprise) and now GOP politicians are lining up to call for it to be blocked. Last week, the state’s junior senator, Jeff Flake, tweeted his opposition to the law. This morning he was joined by the state's senior senator, John McCain. As if that weren't enough, TPM reports that state senator Steve Pierce, who voted for the legislation, is reversing himself and calling on Brewer to issue a veto.

It’s clear that the issue isn’t going away soon. Despite the already embarrassing attention that Arizona has received since the law was passed, Governor Brewer still has the opportunity to avoid adding another black mark on her state’s recent history. Millions of Americans are watching closely.

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New Mexicans unite for marriage

Today the state said no to dismantling an earlier court ruling when its legislative session ended without any consideration of a proposed constitutional amendment. With bipartisan support, SJR 6 is dead, and New Mexico still represents the seventeenth state (plus DC) to have legalized marriage for same-sex couples.
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Virginia Ban on Same-Sex Marriage Struck Down

On Thursday evening a federal judge ruled that Virginia’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples is unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen stayed the decision pending appeal, meaning that while the ban has been struck down, the ruling will not immediately take effect.

Close on the heels of a federal judge’s decision earlier this week directing Kentucky to recognize same-sex marriages from other states, Judge Wright Allen’s decision makes Virginia the first state in the South where a statewide ban has been entirely struck down.

In the South and across the country, it’s clear that Americans increasingly believe it is wrong to block committed couples from the protections and responsibilities that only marriage can provide. As Judge Wright Allen wrote in her decision:

Our nation's uneven but dogged journey toward truer and more meaningful freedoms for our citizens has brought us continually to a deeper understanding of the first three words in our Constitution: we the people. "We the People" have become a broader, more diverse family than once imagined.

PFAW Foundation

Globalizing Homophobia: PFAW Member Telebriefing on the Far Right

As the world’s eyes turned to Russia for the Sochi Olympics, and for the increasingly anti-gay policies of the Putin government, People For the American Way Senior Fellow Peter Montgomery spoke with PFAW supporters on an activist teleconference about the destructive export of homophobia by American Religious Right groups and political leaders.
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PFAW Members Join Largest Civil Rights March in the South Since Selma

People from all walks of life marched together - from students and activists to lawyers, healthcare professionals, and teachers.
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Inaction on Immigration Reform Leaves Families Hanging by a Thread

The following is a guest post by Cairo Mendes, a 2013 Fellow of affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For (YP4) program.

When I came to the U.S. in 2002, I remember being told on the way home from the airport that I was undocumented. I was told that if anyone knew this, our whole family would be deported and we would lose out on the “American Dream.” That was over ten years ago, but as I write this I cannot help but hold back emotions – a mixture of anger, sadness, and confusion. I feel this way because ten years later, millions of people in our country – including my mother – continue to live in limbo, in the shadows. We continue to be treated as second class citizens.

When I recently received a call informing me that I would be covered under President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) process, I was working at a factory, recycling wire. I remember the joy and relief I felt at that moment. For the first time I would be able to have a social security card and a work permit. I felt like maybe, just maybe, I too could be “normal” and get a driver’s license. Yet later that day, my happiness became bittersweet. My mom – my strong, heroic, single mother – would not be able to receive those same benefits. Still, when I got home later that day I realized how happy she was for me. It was then that I told her, looking straight into her eyes: “Mom, we will figure a way out of this. We will fight, we will march, and we will organize – we are going to figure out a way.”

When President Obama won reelection in 2012 after receiving 71 percent of the Latino vote (compared to Romney’s 27 percent), I felt for the first time that we were on the offensive. From the rhetoric coming from Washington to the energy within the immigrant rights movement in the weeks following the elections, immigration reform was finally a real possibility. But it has not been an easy road. Even though we were able to push the Senate to pass an immigration reform bill through our lobbying, organizing, and advocacy efforts, House leadership has – until very recently – been closed off to the calls for reforms, ignoring the cries of families throughout the country.

As a result, we ended 2013 with no bill delivered. The extreme right – small but loud faction of the Republican Party – managed to derail any efforts involving citizenship, and Speaker Boehner avoided putting the Senate bill up for a vote. His inaction could cost the Republican Party in the 2016 elections, since immigration reform is a top issue for Latino voters.

The Senate immigration reform bill is not perfect, but as families struggle to live day by day, comprehensive immigration reform is still a light at the end of the tunnel. It will make legalization – and hopefully citizenship – possible for many who have lived in the shadows until now, like my family.

This debate goes beyond stats about how many billions of dollars could be added to the economy as a result of reform. This is a moral issue. And it’s one that – if not resolved soon – will result in more deportations and more family separations that damage individual lives and diminish our country as a whole.

Because of Congress’ inaction, mothers and fathers are still being separated from their children and loved ones as 2014 begins.  We cannot wait – our communities need relief now.
 

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GOP: Sensitivity Training in Animal House

When we learned last month that John Boehner was providing "sensitivity training" to his male Republican colleagues, I knew we would be in for a treat.
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Windsor's Ripples of Equality

Citing Windsor, a 9th Circuit panel rules that government classifications based on sexual orientation are subject to heightened scrutiny.
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Breaking: Federal Judge Rules Same-Sex Marriage Ban in Oklahoma Unconstitutional

Today a federal judge found Oklahoma’s ban on marriages for same-sex couples to be unconstitutional. While this is great news, same-sex couples are not yet able to marry in the state because the decision is stayed – in other words, on hold – pending appeal.

As victories for marriage equality continue to stack up across the country, it is increasingly clear that the march toward full equality nationwide cannot be halted. Congratulations, Oklahoma!
 

PFAW Foundation

PFAW Foundation Staffer Reacts to Utah Marriage Battle in CNN Op-Ed

It has been a roller-coaster few weeks for marriage equality in Utah, where a legal battle over the state’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples continues and more than a thousand marriages are caught in limbo.

On Friday People For the American Way Foundation Major Gifts Associate Tyler Hatch reacted to the struggle in Utah, and his op-ed was featured by CNN.

Hatch writes:

Regardless of the ultimate outcome of Kitchen v. Loving (Utah’s marriage equality case currently under review by the 10th Circuit) the issue of marriage equality is once again before the Mormon or LDS church.

I was raised LDS and went to church nearly every Sunday until I was 18. I participated in weekly youth meetings, attended Boy Scout outings, and was a leader within my church. By all accounts I appeared to be the model youth, however inside I was dejected. Severe depression, suicidal thoughts, and extreme self-loathing plagued my adolescent and teen years due to an overwhelming sense of guilt regarding my sexuality.

….Whether it is in the halls of elementary schools, the wedding chapel, or feeling secure and safe in the workplace there is much work to be done. LGBT equality is an issue that will surely grip our generation for years to come. As society becomes more accepting of LGBT individuals I remain optimistic that progress will be made, at least within civil society.

….There are no easy answers for the countless number of LGBT individuals with conservative religious backgrounds and the struggle to find an identity within that intersection is a fight that will continue throughout our lives.

PFAW Foundation

Coming Out, Wherever You Are

The following is a guest post by South Dakota State Senator Angie Buhl O’Donnell, a member of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network.

Harvey Milk’s words inspired audiences throughout his life, but his most enduring words may have been the simple push to “come out, come out wherever you are.”

To me, that’s the most important legacy of the political leader we lost 35 years ago this week – his insistence on the far-reaching impact of the very personal act of coming out. Despite the potential downsides, despite the fact that it can feel easier not to come out, Harvey Milk knew that our community must be visible in order to make legal and social equality a reality.

While Milk spent much of his life in urban centers, I believe the urgency to make ourselves visible is even greater in places like South Dakota, where I live.  It’s 2013, but some people still think LGBT people only exist in New York or San Francisco. As researcher Mary Gray has written, popular representations of rural LGBT people paint us as “out of place” in states like South Dakota – as people who need to “seek out belonging in an urban elsewhere to find happiness.” But LGBT people are in every part of our country, and we are increasingly visible in the political landscape.

Milk’s legacy has been a personal inspiration for me, as an openly bisexual elected official. Earlier this year, I became a Harvey Milk Champion of Change. While I was honored to be recognized by the White House with an award bearing his name, I actually had some hesitation about accepting. As a bisexual woman married to a man, I was worried about people thinking I didn’t really “deserve” it. But I realized that line of reasoning was not what Harvey Milk would have embraced. His legacy is about sharing your own identity, your own truth in whatever form that might take.  Besides, there’s a “B” in “LGBT” for a reason. 

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Harvey Milk’s Legacy

The following is a guest post by Campbell, California Mayor Evan Low, a member of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network.

In 2009, I became the youngest openly gay mayor as well as the youngest Asian-American mayor in the country. Some journalists wrote about how I was making history, but I like to point out that I was preceded by a number of other courageous “firsts.”

I became mayor 35 years after Kathy Kozachenko was the first openly LGBT person elected to public office, and 32 years after Harvey Milk – affectionately known as “the mayor of Castro Street” – was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in the same state I serve today.

This week marks the anniversary of the tragic end of Milk’s short time in office, when he and Mayor George Moscone were shot and killed by Supervisor Dan White. But the legacy of Harvey Milk and other LGBT trailblazers is very much alive. Today there are more than 500 openly LGBT elected or appointed officials serving our country. Through their service and that of public officials representing other marginalized communities, it is clear that our democracy works best when our lawmakers reflect the nation’s diversity.

That’s not to say that things are always easy for LGBT elected officials. Like Milk, I have received my share of hate mail, with messages like: “We don’t want the homosexual agenda in our community.” As I have told reporters before, I don’t know what is on that so-called agenda, other than basic equality for all people.

One issue that’s certainly on my agenda is the end of the FDA’s ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men. In a petition that now has more than 62,000 supporters, I wrote:

…recently, I hosted a blood drive on city property, but was banned from donating blood myself.

As the mayor of Campbell, providing for the welfare of the general public is a top priority. As a gay man, however, I am conflicted in my advocacy for blood drives. Under current U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines, a man who has sex with another man is deferred for life from donating blood.  The ban was imposed in 1983 when there were no reliable tests for screening blood for HIV/AIDS.  It was also made during a time of mass medical confusion and cultural homophobia associated with HIV/AIDS.  The current FDA ban is wildly outdated and perpetuates unfair labels against gay and bisexual men that live on through decades of discrimination.

These kinds of stereotypes are not unlike the ones Harvey Milk was fighting nearly four decades ago, and why he, like I do today, encouraged LGBT people to come out whenever possible – to dispel the harmful lies about our community with the truth.  Stuart Milk, nephew of Harvey Milk and founder of the Harvey Milk Foundation, continues his uncle's legacy, and we are so fortunate to have Stuart carry the torch. 

In a tape Milk recorded before his death, he said, “I have never considered myself a candidate. I have always considered myself part of a movement.” I think he would be proud of the movement that lives on in his spirit today.
 

PFAW Foundation

Hawaii to Become Marriage Equality State

At the beginning of last year, freedom to marry for same-sex couples was the law of the land in only six states and DC. Now, in less than a two-week span, Illinois and Hawaii have become the 15th and 16th states set to join a fast-growing list.

State senators in Hawaii today gave final approval to a marriage equality bill, and Gov. Neil Abercrombie has said he will sign it into law. Following his signature, same-sex couples will be able to marry in Hawaii beginning Dec. 2. Civil unions have been available since January of last year, and The Advocate reports that it will be possible to convert those unions into marriages online if couples so choose.

Today’s news is not only a major victory for committed couples in Hawaii, but also an exciting step in the march toward equality nationwide.
 

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Our ENDA mission started with Senator Kennedy

Eighteen years later, five after his passing, we are still working to complete the mission that Senator Kennedy laid before the nation. We are keeping the pressure on all of Congress to pass ENDA. The time is now!
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