Advocates and members of Congress gather to support LGBT equality and comprehensive immigration reform

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.

Appearing with Representatives Nadler, Gutierrez, and Polis were Representatives Honda (D-CA15) and Quigley (D-IL5), as well as Rachel Tiven, Executive Director of Immigration Equality Action Fund, and Karen Narasaki, President and Executive Director of the Asian American Justice Center.

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.

For more information, please visit Immigration Equality Action Fund.

PFAW

Reproductive rights for military women

Yesterday the Senate Armed Services Committee voted 18-10 to approve the Defense authorization bill. This legislation, which includes conditional repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, also takes an important step toward equality in reproductive rights for military women.

Existing law prohibits, in most circumstances, military hospitals from providing abortion care. The ban treats women who have chosen to serve their country, as well as military wives and daughters, as second-class citizens by limiting their constitutionally protected right to choose. And it endangers their health. These women rely on military hospitals for medical care and are often stationed in areas where alternative local medical facilities are inadequate or unavailable. A woman facing an unintended pregnancy may be forced to risk her life by seeking an unsafe abortion or delaying an abortion until she can travel to a location where adequate medical care is available.

The Committee sent a clear message that endangering the health of military women is unacceptable. Should it become law, the new language would allow military women to use their own funds for abortion care at military hospitals.

For more information, please visit NARAL Pro-Choice America Foundation and Planned Parenthood.

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PFAW and AAMIA tell Congress: Repeal DADT

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.

Please write or call your Representative now and tell him or her that you support repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Share the same message with your Senators if they are on the Armed Services Committee.

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Give the gift of equal pay on Mother’s Day

As we mark Mother’s Day this Sunday, think about taking action to support women’s rights. Ask your Senators to support the Paycheck Fairness Act. Be sure to thank them if they’re already cosponsors.

Equal pay in America needed to be put back on track after the devastating Ledbetter ruling, and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act answered that call – but it wasn’t the last word. The Paycheck Fairness Act would move us even further forward by providing the tools necessary to enforce equity in the workplace and prevent further disturbing incidents like the one that befell Lilly Ledbetter. It ensures that employers would not have the incentive to continue to discriminate against workers like Lilly Ledbetter, and in doing so actually increases employer incentives for pay equity. It would also prohibit retaliation against workers who ask about employers’ wage practices and increase educational outreach to employers and employees about proper pay practices.

National Women’s Law Center, the American Association of University Women, and the American Civil Liberties Union are among the many good resources for information and action. I would also encourage you to check out the National Committee on Pay Equity.

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PFAW and AAMIA tell House: Pass ENDA now

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.

PFAW

DOD puts breaks on DADT repeal, veterans to lobby Congress

Late Friday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen urged Congress 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.

PFAW

LGBT families included in immigration reform framework

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.

For more information, please visit Immigration Equality.

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Justice delayed is justice denied

I recently reported that an agreement had been reached to move forward on the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act. Four days later came word that this was no longer the case. The fight is not over, but DC’s centuries-long wait to have a voting voice in Congress will continue.

The right-wing forced an agreement with which nobody was happy. And in the end it turns out to have not been an agreement at all but a way for the right-wing to delay their inevitable counterpunch. DC can’t keep fighting these intrusions without a meaningful way to say “aye” or “no” when those infamous bells ring calling members to the House floor.

I cannot speak for Dorothy Height on the events of the last week. But I want to honor her for her commitment to DC voting rights. I remember her arrival at a hearing on a previous iteration of the bill. Without saying a word, her entry alone commanded respect.

I’m not sure if this photo was taken that same day, but Life noted one such occasion on which Dr. Height visited the Hill to champion our cause.

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DC voting rights bill expected to move next week

DC has waited over 200 years to have a voting voice in Congress. Today the nation’s capital may be as close as it’s ever come to making that dream a reality.

On Wednesday afternoon came the breaking news that an agreement had been reached to move forward on the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act, which would give DC a full Representative with the same voting power as other House members. Just this morning, I joined a room full of concerned citizens and activists for a briefing lead by DC Vote and DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. We then took to the halls of Congress in support of the Delegate’s tireless efforts on this issue.

Nobody is happy that this agreement comes at the price of right-wing interference in local affairs. But to go any longer without voting rights is an even higher price to pay. DC can’t keep fighting these intrusions without a meaningful way to say “aye” or “no” when those infamous bells ring calling members to the House floor. As Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights put it:

The civil rights community recognizes that it must be prepared to accept some setbacks in the name of long-term progress. Virtually every major piece of civil rights legislation, from 1957 onwards, has involved difficult and often painful tradeoffs. In this case, given the fundamental importance of gaining a vote in Congress, we are prepared to move forward with the voting rights bill.

People For the American Way believes that the right-wing should stay away from this bill. But we also believe it’s a tragedy that our Democracy has allowed DC residents to live without voting representation for over 200 years. Any citizen who pays taxes, and is otherwise legally eligible to vote, should be able to vote. And certainly no member of the armed services should be robbed of the right to vote simply because of where they live.

The fight will not be over even when DC can cast a House vote. It is high time the nation’s capital be given both House and Senate representation, with voting power in both chambers.

PFAW

Senators Dodd and Udall call for a constitutional amendment

Yesterday, Senators Christopher Dodd and Tom Udall introduced a constitutional amendment to correct the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. According to Senator Dodd:

Ultimately, we must cut through the underbrush and go directly to the heart of the problem, and that is why I am proposing this constitutional amendment: because constitutional questions need constitutional answers.

People for the American Way applauds Senators Dodd and Udall, Senator John Kerry, and House members like Donna Edwards, John Conyers, and Leonard Boswell, for pushing constitutional amendments. We believe that this is the only complete remedy for the grave threat posed to our democracy by the Roberts Court and its equation of corporations with individuals – a perversion of the First Amendment.

While legislation is a crucial part of the effort to repair this decision, it should be only a part of our response. Constitutional amendments are warranted in only the most extreme circumstances. This is one of them.

You can join People For the American Way’s call for a constitutional amendment by signing our petition at http://www.pfaw.org/Amend.

PFAW