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Archives – March, 2012

Marriage equality supporters in Ohio resubmit petition to repeal constitutional amendment

By Jacob Combs

Early this month, a group called the Freedom to Marry Coalition collected and filed over 1700 signatures with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office to place a measure on the November ballot that would repeal the state’s 2004 constitutional ban on marriage equality.  A week later, Attorney General Mike DeWine, an opponent of marriage equality, rejected the group’s petition, writing that he was “unable to certify the summary as a fair and truthful statement of the proposed constitutional amendment for three reasons.”

Yesterday, the Freedom to Marry Coalition resubmitted their petition, this time with almost 2400 signatures.  In an email to The Gay People’s Chronicle, Ian James of the Freedom to Marry coalition wrote, “We expected the AG rejection and drafted a revised summary petition.  The issue of brevity, Title 31 and the individual recognition have been addressed.”

Should DeWine accept the revised proposal, the group would have to collect around 385,000 signatures to put the measure on the ballot.  Equality Ohio, the state’s largest LGBT advocacy organization, has not yet come out in support of the effort, and any path to repealing the constitutional amendment rmains uncertain.

5 Comments March 28, 2012

Reminder: NOM dropped $50,000 into the North Carolina anti-gay campaign

By Scottie ThomastonGoal Thermometer

Today’s revelations about the National Organization for Marriage’s attempts to encourage a war between the races and hurt oppressed minority communities are a reminder of the kinds of tactics anti-gay organizations are forced to resort to in order to secure their ever decreasing victories. They come into our communities and spread race-baiting, homophobic rhetoric all around and then back out before the fallout begins. But it’s important to remember their heavy-handedness in these statewide campaigns.

Last week, Jeremy Hooper at Good As You pointed out NOM’s campaign expenditure in North Carolina: a $50,000 donation to fight against gay couples and the families they are trying to raise.

As he notes, there will likely be more to come before the May 8th election. NOM thrives on driving wedges between our communities, and this type of rhetoric is already being spread in North Carolina.

We need everyone to fight back. They’re willing to keep throwing money at their cause, and we can fight back and help our side.

3 Comments March 27, 2012

Supreme Court denies review of Seventh Circuit decision striking down anti-transgender law

By Scottie Thomaston

Wisconsin passed the “Inmate Sex-Change Prevention Act”, a law that maliciously targeted people who are transgender to deprive them of necessary life-saving and life-affirming medical care. Three people who were serving prison time sued for prisoner access to this medical care, for prisoners to continue receiving prescribed hormones and care from qualified doctors who would monitor their hormone treatment. The Act was challenged in federal court on the grounds that it violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment as well as the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. The plaintiffs won in District Court and again at the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Supreme Court denied review today, meaning that their victory at the court of appeals will stand and the law is struck down.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported:

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear Wisconsin’s appeal of a ruling that struck down the state’s effort to ban all hormone treatment and sex-change surgery for transgender prison inmates.

Three such inmates challenged the law in 2006, and a federal judge in Milwaukee granted a preliminary injunction to allow their hormone treatments to continue, then heard a full trial in 2007 before ruling in 2010 that Wisconsin’s 2005 Sex  Change Prevention Act was unconstitutional on several grounds.

Chief U.S. District Judge Charles N. Clevert found that the law amounts to “deliberate indifference to the plaintiffs’ serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment,” because it denies hormone therapy without regard to those needs or doctors’ judgments. He found the law unconstitutional on its face and also in violation of the inmates’ rights to equal protection.

The statute reads:

The [Wisconsin Department of Corrections] may not authorize the payment of any funds or the use of any resources of this state or the payment of any federal funds passing through the state treasury to provide or to facilitate the provision of hormonal therapy or sexual reassignment surgery.

The Seventh Circuit’s opinion, which was upheld today, begins by recalling the findings of fact made by the District Court below. One of the first things the judges note is that experts testified that gender dysphoria is incredibly serious and requires the type of medical care denied to these patients under the Wisconsin law:

These experts explained that GID can cause an acute sense that a person’s body does not match his or her gender identity. Even before seeking treatment and from an early age, patients will experience this dysphoria and may attempt to conform their appearance and behavior to the gender with winch they identify.

The feelings of dysphoria can vary in intensity. Some patients are able to manage the discomfort, while others become unable to function without taking steps to correct the disorder. A person with GID often experiences severe anxiety, depression, and other psychological disorders. Those with GID may attempt to commit suicide or to mutilate their own genitals.

The accepted standards of care dictate a gradual approach to treatment beginning with psychotherapy and real life experience [*554] living as the opposite gender. For some number of patients, this treatment will be effective in controlling feelings of dysphoria. When the condition is more severe, a doctor can prescribe hormones, which have the effect of relieving the psychological distress.

The defendant’s argument is a familiar refrain:

Defendants do not challenge the district court’s holding that GID is a serious medical condition. They contend that Act 105 is constitutional because the state legislature has the power to prohibit certain medical treatments when other treatment options are available. And defendants argue that Act 105 is justified by a legitimate need to ensure security in state prisons.

In other words, defendants argue that medical treatment should be given or denied based on legislative judgment, not a doctor’s considered expert judgment after that doctor reviews a patient’s case file. If legislators don’t think certain groups of people deserve certain care, whether or not it’s deemed medically necessary, those legislators should be able to ban it.

(More analysis below in the extended entry)


12 Comments March 27, 2012

Top BoA exec: NC’s Amendment One “a direct challenge to our ability to compete nationally for jobs and economic growth”

h/t to Sagesse in Quick Hits

By Adam BinkGoal Thermometer

Anyone who knows anything about North Carolina knows Bank of America is a huge presence there. The 60-story Bank of America Corporate Center in Charlotte is their global headquarters. Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers play at Bank of America Stadium. Thousands and thousands of North Carolinians work at Bank of America, more than in any other state in the country, such that Charlotte is actually the nation’s largest banking center, after NYC.

So when North Carolina’s top Bank of America executive and former chair of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce comes out against Amendment One, it’s a BFD. Here’s Cathy Bessant:

Charlotte Business Journal further explains:

Cathy Bessant says a North Carolina constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in the Tar Heel State would be harmful to business and economic development in the state.

Bessant, a well-known corporate figure in Charlotte and a former Charlotte Chamber    chair, is the global technology and operations executive for Charlotte-based Bank of America. Her division has more employees than any other and is responsible for almost all the technology and related support staff that works behind the scene for the nation’s second-largest bank.

Bessant says a ban on gay marriage would have a “disastrous effect on our ability to attract talent and retain talent.” She mentioned technology, biotech and related fields as those especially at risk.

In a YouTube video posted on the website, Bessant says the amendment to ban gay marriage in North Carolina would send the message that the state has a “backward-looking economy.” While she doesn’t reference Bank of America, her title and affiliation with BofA is noted on the video. And she says the law would harm large corporations.

Amendment One “is a direct challenge to our ability to compete nationally for jobs and economic growth,” Bessant says in the two-minute recording. “Large corporations hate this kind of controversy. They deal with diverse work force populations for whom issues like this aren’t just important in terms of where it is they live, but are important indicators of the diversity and meritocracy of the companies where they want to work.”

A commenter yesterday noted one of the pro-equality messagse in North Carolina has to be how the amendment will affect “you” the voter, meaning “not gay and lesbian couples, but the overwhelmingly heterosexual electorate.” This is an important way to do it: Amendment One will put Bank of America — perhaps North Carolina’s largest employer and the most LGBT-friendly bank in the country, according to HRC’s Corporate Equality Index– at a competitive disadvantage and hurt jobs. Maybe even yours.

Now we just need to get the campaign those resources to push that message in every mailbox, on every radio station and on TV all over the state of North Carolina.

7 Comments March 27, 2012

NOM’s long-term strategy revealed in memos: “Drive a wedge between blacks and gays”

By Scottie Thomaston

The National Organization for Marriage has been ostensibly fighting to preserve marriage between a man and a woman for years now, waging campaigns and devoting time and money to promote anti-gay initiatives and defeat ones aimed at strengthening gay relationships and affirming the humanity of gays. The Washington Post once ran a profile of NOM’S Brian Brown telling its readers that he is someone to watch, because he is a sane, likeable, nice guy and they run a “reasonable” campaign.

Brown is confident that if people hear his message, they will believe it. “People already believe it,” he says, “but the issue is so deep-seated that they’ve never had to create an argument for it. Now we have to give people the language to do that.” Create talking points. Help them see.

NOM was put on a hate group watch list when the Southern Poverty Law Center named several anti-gay organizations as hate groups, because of their rhetoric and tactics.

Now, The Human Rights Campaign has obtained a lot of documents marked “confidential” that reveal what we have known – and what the media has refused to call out – all along. Their strategy for long-term gains in the fight to keep gay relationships from being legally recognized, marked December 15, 2009 and called the “National Strategy For Winning The Marriage Battle”, is available to read.

In their quest to deny legal recognition to the long-term, loving relationships of same-sex couples, NOM goes disturbingly far off into the fringe. The most jarring and horrific document shows that they created a project called the “Not A Civil Right” Project, aimed at the heart of coalition building between the LGBT community and racial minorities:

The strategic goal…is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks—two key Democratic constituencies. Find, equip, energize and connect African American spokespeople for marriage; develop a media campaign around their objections to gay marriage as a civil right; provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing these spokesmen and women as bigots…

I find their mention of a “media campaign” quite interesting; at the very least it seems like it’s been effective, even if they didn’t directly push all these things into the spotlight. There have always been stories of a divide between the black and LGBT communities, but it is increasingly more prevalent. Stories are coming up left and right. In North Carolina, there are fears of “black pastors” (but not white ones) coming after gay people. In Maryland, it’s “black pastors along with black politicians” coming after gay people. And there’s the constant stream of media focus on the president’s stance on marriage equality and how, supposedly, he “can’t” come out in support of marriage for gays and lesbians “because he might lose the black vote.”

NOM says:

Fanning the hostility raised in the wake of Prop 8 is key to raising the cost of pushing gay marriage to its advocates and persauding the movement’s allies that advocates are unacceptably overreaching on this issue. Consider pushing a marriage amendment in Washington D.C.; find attractive young black Democrats to challenge white gay marriage advocates electorally.”

Perhaps this was all just a setup. The media already gives platforms to these people. They’re already allowed to say whatever they want and largely go unquestioned. News networks have these groups on TV to talk “nicely” about how gay people are a serious threat to the country and to the family structure and to people’s children; they are often named as Christian or Family spokespeople. So since they are already getting positive attention, it’s not a surprise that the media might be willing to discuss this. It’s not that no people who are black are ever in opposition to gay rights, but it’s the specific focus on that racial minority at the expense of nuance and discussions of the role whites, and white Republicans, play in voting no and remaining opposed to human rights for LGBT people. The media is content with provoking controversy and getting page views and TV viewers and not thinking about the wider repercussions this might have on communities that are already struggling and hurting.

We are still in a place in this country where someone can get shot for walking down the street carrying Skittles because they are black. We’re still in a place where people can go to a popular movie and complain that there are black actors playing black characters in that movie.

We’re still in a place where people can be abused, kicked out of their homes, dragged into fields and beaten to death because they’re gay or transgender. We’re in a place where they can be fired from their jobs for appearing too ‘gay’ or not conforming to their perceived gender enough for employers to feel comfortable.

Both communities are still dealing with police violence and injustice in the legal system on a daily basis.

We are not privileged, as NOM’s messaging would suggest:

“Democratic power bosses are increasingly inclined to privilege the concerns of gay rights groups over the values of African Americans. A strategic goal of this project is to amplify the voice and power of the black Americans within the Democratic Party.”

We are trying to build friendships because we are all in this together and we’re all fighting for the same human rights.

In this context, you have to wonder why NOM would want to exacerbate the issues that come with these institutional problems. None of us are particularly well-off or free from even government harassment and life is enough of a struggle. Bonding between communities who can understand each other in some ways, but maybe not in all ways, is really necessary for survival in this climate, when anti-black and anti-Latino racial ‘fears’ and homophobia and transphobia are constantly used in national and state campaigns and those campaigns turn the populace against our people, our families, our friends.

And not content with ruining relationships and solidarity between two oppressed communities who are often preyed upon and targeted by white heterosexuals with institutional power in government and police forces, NOM also wants to go after Latinos and turn us against each other as well:

The Latino vote in America is a key swing vote, and will be so even more so in the future, both because of demographic growth and inherent uncertainty: Will the process of assimilation to the dominant Anglo culture lead Hispanics to abandon traditional family values? We must interrupt this process of assimilation by making support for marriage a key badge of Latino identity – a symbol of resistance to inappropriate assimilation.

It’s the same here. This is no longer just about gay people and NOM trying to destroy us. NOM is showing reckless disregard for minority communities and callousness in pitting us against each other in a battle that will inevitably leave some people hurt and some people dead. They are gleefully celebrating our sad and unnecessary confrontations and completely ignoring that there is any semblance of a bigger picture to which they are contributing lasting unnecessary pain and suffering.

The effects of this have been, and will be, long-term. The damage has been done and we’re left picking up the pieces and trying to rebuild alliances and gain trust back that has been lost. I can’t possibly stress how big these documents are: in the context of the blatant racism and fear mongering campaigns and tactics that are engrained in our politics, their strategy is a direct attack on all minorities alike. This isn’t simply ‘divide and conquer’, because there’s too much at stake. Racism and homophobia are dangerous and devastating and actively trying to provoke the worst in people and roll back the progress we have all fought so hard to make is utterly sick.

61 Comments March 27, 2012

DOMA trials: updates from the First and Ninth Circuits

By Jacob Combs

A sincere thank you to Kathleen for bringing news of all of these developments to us via Quick Hits.

Yesterday, the Justice Department filed two briefs with the Ninth Circuit regarding the appeal of Golinski v. OPM.  In its first filing, the government petitioned the Ninth Circuit for an “initial hearing en banc,” and requested that the en banc petition as well as the overall appeal be expedited.  As you may remember from the Prop 8 trial, an appeal in the Ninth Circuit goes first to a 3-judge panel, and can then proceed to a larger 11-judge en banc panel.  In its filing, the Justice Department called DOMA “a constitutional question of exceptional importance and urgency,” and specifically cited the need for a determination on whether classifications based on sexual orientation should be examined under heightened scrutiny or rational basis scrutiny.

I wrote recently about how the district court’s decision in Golinski v. OPM, looking specifically at the significance of Judge Jeffrey White’s determination to strike down DOMA on heightened scrutiny grounds.  The Ninth Circuit’s 1990 decision in a case called High Tech Gays ruled that gays and lesbians were not a suspect class (and therefore not deserving of heightened scrutiny).  As Judge White noted in his ruling, however, High Tech Gays was based on the Supreme Court’s decision in Bowers v. Hardwick, which was specifically overturned by the 2003 ruling in Lawrence v. Texas.  High Tech Gays, then, is based on outdated law, and Judge White noted that the Ninth Circuit can and should make a new determintion on the scrunity question.  In its brief, the government argues that a Ninth Circuit panel would have to determine whether High Tech Gays still binds panels in the appellate court, while an en banc court could look at the question of heightened scrutiny anew.

The Justice Department’s position is a big deal, because it recognizes just how important the scrutiny issue is to the determination of DOMA’s constitutionality, and essentially argues for skipping the panel step and going straight to the en banc review that would almost certainly be required for such an important precedential consideration.  In addition, the government also filed a separate motion to consolidate and expedite both BLAG and the Justice Department’s appeals, writing that “ongoing litigation creates uncertainty for Ms. Golinski and countless others who are harmed by DOMA, given its extraordinary scope.”

Also yesterday, the First Circuit announced the names of the three judges who will make up the appeals panel for in the companion cases of Gill v. OPM and Massachusetts v. HHS.  The three judges are Chief Judge Sandra L. Lynch, Judge Juan R. Torruella and Judge Michael Boudin, who are Clinton, Reagan and George H.W. Bush appointees, respectively, and the most senior active justices in the First Circuit.  In terms of pertinent decisions in the judges’ past, Judge Boudin last year upheld the right of transgender prisoners to receive hormone therapy.  P8TT will continue to look into the judges’ background for any information as to how they might rule in the Massachusetts cases.  The First Circuit will hear arguments in the two DOMA cases in Boston on April 4 beginning at 10 a.m.  BLAG and the Justice Department will each receive 20 minutes to speak, while attorneys for Gill and Massachusetts will each receive 10.

One interesting aspect of the First Circuit hearings is the attorneys who will be making the government’s arguments on both sides.  In some ways, the face-off will be a meeting of the greats: Paul Clement, a former U.S. Solicitor General who left his previous law firm after it withdrew from defending DOMA, will be representing BLAG in Boston, while the Justice Department will be represented by Stuart Delery, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Decision.  Delery was recently assigned to the case to replace another government attorney, and his appointment is significant because he is both a high-ranking member of the Justice Department and because he is openly gay.

With these developments in the First and Ninth Circuits, we have a lot to look forward to as DOMA continues to be examined and, hopefully, struck down by more appellate courts on its way to its eventual consideration by the U.S. Supreme Court.

21 Comments March 27, 2012

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