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Archives – January, 2012

Other LGBT news from the week so far

By Jacob Combs

This week has, for the most part, been dominated by the landmark news coming out of Washington and New Jersey.  Here’s a look a two other stories that were less noticed, but no less notable.

First, the good news.  On Tuesday, the Maine legislature’s Education Committee unanimously passed a new anti-bullying bill.  The bill, sponsored by openly gay Rep. Terry Morrison, was scheduled to be taken up during the last legislative session (and was expected to pass with strong bipartisan support), but was carried over to the current abbreviated session instead.  It is unclear whether the state’s Republican governor, Paul LePage, will support the bill.

And now the bad news.  Yesterday, New Mexico Rep. David Chavez introduced a bill providing for a mini-DOMA that would amend the state constitution to recognize marriage as valid only between a man and a woman.  New Mexico does not allow gay marriage, but an opinion issued by the attorney general last year held that marriages performed elsewhere were likely valid under state law.  You can sign Equality New Mexico’s petition against the bill here.

Finally, AFER’s Matt Baume did an interview this week with Daniel Wein, a Washington, D.C. college student who came up with the idea of bringing the powerful Australian marriage equality ad “It’s Time” to the United States.  You can watch Matt’s full interview with Wein below, in which he talks about his plan to get the ad on TV and how he convinced media professionals to help him do so.

3 Comments January 26, 2012

The Maryland marriage bill, religious exemptions and a possible shift in attitude

By Jacob Combs

Three nights ago, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley introduced a marriage equality bill in his state’s legislature.  On Tuesday, he held a press conference with LGBT advocates and religious leaders, among them the Rev. Delman Coates, an unlikely supporter of marriage equality.

Rev. Coates does not personally support gay marriage.  His church, Mt. Ennon Baptist in Prince George’s County, will probably not be the site of a gay wedding for quite some time.   Yet Coates stood next to Gov. O’Malley on Tuesday and announced that he supports Maryland’s marriage equality bill and is confident his church will not be asked to solemnize a union it does not recognize.  “I think everyone is protected here,” he said. “You don’t have to agree with same-sex marriage as a matter of personal religious choice.”

This kind of support may be absolutely critical if Maryland’s bill is going to make any headway this session.  The unexpected failure of a marriage equality measure in the Maryland House of Delegates last year was due in part to lawmakers who withdrew or withheld their support for the bill because of pressure from religious institutions in their communities.

As the Baltimore Sun reports, this year’s bill has four significant changes from last year’s:

It is now stated that religious leaders, as well as their institutions, are protected from lawsuits; that the state can’t withhold funds to penalize a religious institution that does not recognize same-sex marriages; and that the state can’t dictate religious doctrine. There also is an attempt to clarify that some programs run by religious institutions can exclude same-sex couples.

Passage in the House this year is still uncertain, and it is likely that the issue will be passed on to a voter referendum if the bill does pass.  Still, Rev. Coates’s position is significant and, I hope, may be part of a trend in the attitudes of those who are uncomfortable with gay marriage.  When Washington Senator Mary Margaret Haugen announced that she would support Washington’s marriage equality bill, she said in a statement that her personal faith-based opposition to gay marriage had not changed, but that she had decided that she could not cite her personal views in denying others the right to their own views.  “My beliefs dictate who I am and how I live,” Haugen said, “but I don’t see where my believing marriage is between a man and a woman gives me the right to decide that for everyone else.”

I certainly don’t mean to say that we shouldn’t continue to strive to change the hearts and minds of those who oppose gay marriage.  But in this case, the distinction between the terms ‘gay marriage’ and ‘marriage equality’ is important.  We can be clear that while we wish to show that same-sex unions are just as important and valid as heterosexual ones, we also affirm that marriage equality is fundamentally about the right to have access to marriage and to have the choice of marrying.  If we frame marriage equality as a battle to provide equal rights and access to all individuals to enter into the marriages they choose, we can work to gain the support of more people like Rev. Coates and Sen. Haugen, who may not personally support gay marriage but will stand up so that gay couples can have their relationships fully recognized.  If we do so, marriage equality can and should be a big tent issue.

10 Comments January 26, 2012

OutServe Capital Summit planned for May 14-15 in Washington, D.C.

OutServe, a nonprofit organization that represents active duty LGBT military personnel, announced today that it will be holding its first OutServe Capital Summit on May 14-15 in Washington, D.C.  Courage Campaign is one of the co-sponsors of the summit, as well as the Human Rights Campaign and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

OutServe’s theme for its summit will be “Our Families Matter,” and will feature a day of panels and discussions between active duty soldiers of all sexual orientations and advocacy experts about the rights of gay and lesbian military partners under DOMA.  Despite the repeal of DADT, same-sex military partners are not eligible for all of the rights that heterosexual military families enjoy, including healthcare, base housing, and other privileges.

The Capital Summit is an exciting idea because it will bring together members of this community who have not necessarily had a chance to discuss the changes in their lives that DADT repeal has brought and provide a space for discussing how DOMA continues to negatively impact LGBT service members and their partners.  In addition, the summit will look at what can get done in the future: SLDN, HRC and Courage will lead a discussion about how to elicit congressional action to help LGBT service members, and the second day of the summit will be dedicated to outreach on Capitol Hill.

Registration for the summit opens today at OutServe’s website.  Check out the full schedule below!

 

Monday (May 14th)

8am: Registration

9am-4pm: Our Families Matter Workshops/Presentations

6:30pm: OutServe National Military Families Dinner (tickets sold seperately)

Tuesday (May 15th)

8am:  Breakfast/ Morning Briefing

9am: Load Bus

9:30am-3pm: Capitol Hill

January 26, 2012

Breaking: EqualityMaine to put marriage equality question on 2012 ballot

By Jacob Combs

EqualityMaine announced that it would deliver over 105,000 signatures to the Maine Secretary of State today supporting the inclusion of a marriage equality measure on the 2012 ballot.  The group needed 57,000 signatures for the measure to qualify.

In a press call this morning, GLAD and EqualityMaine said that a late December poll showed 54 percent of Mainers support the right of same-sex couples to legally marry, with 42 percent opposed.  That poll reinforces the findings of two other polls in February and May of 2011, both of which showed 53 percent support for marriage equality.  EqualityMaine plans to spend the rest of the year continuing to build support for the measure before it goes to voters in 2012.

Once the Secretary of State has received the signatures, there is a 30-day public comment period on the measure.  After that, unless changes are proposed, the ballot measure would move forward.

The Citizens Initiative that will be on the 2012 ballot is called “An Act to Allow Marriage Licenses for Same-Sex Couples and Protect Religious Freedom.”  The proposed ballot language, which was submitted to the Secretary of State in June, reads as follows:

Do you favor a law allowing marriage licenses for same-sex couples, and that protects religious freedom by ensuring that no religion or clergy be required to perform such a marriage in violation of their religious beliefs?

Over the last year, EqualityMaine’s Field Director, Amy Mello, has conducted a campaign throughout the state to change the hearts and minds of Mainers through conversations about marriage equality.  That campaign has had a success rate of over 20 percent.

We’ve written here at P8TT before against putting the rights of minorities up to a popular vote.  Maine’s unique political system, however, makes a popular vote on the issue a practical necessity.  The Citizens Initiative power in the state is used liberally, and it is important to note that marriage equality already went through Maine’s legislative process and was signed into law.  At this point, the final say on the matter must come from the people.

I asked Betsy Smith, EqualityMaine’s Executive Director, about the possibility of the Tea Party-controlled legislature putting a competing ballot measure (for example, one that proposed civil unions) on the ballot in order to split the vote and cause a marriage equality provision to fail.  In her eyes, it is highly unlikely the legislature could so.  A competing bill would need majority support in the legislature, and would clearly be opposed by both pro-marriage advocates and those members who are against even allowing same-sex couples to enter into civil unions.  EqualityMaine has been working to ensure that their measure is the only marriage-related question on the November ballot.

Because 2012 is an election year, it’s likely there will be a significant voter turnout in Maine, a state that is remarkably consistent in the number of voters who come out for presidential elections with some of the highest turnout in the nation.  A marriage equality measure has a better chance of success with this year’s electorate than it did in 2009, an off-election year.  Still, there are specific demographics EqualityMaine is targeting to build support for the measure, among them the parents of young children, young men in particular, independents and rural voters.

With this exciting announcement, Maine joins the group of states that are making 2012 an exciting year for marriage equality.  We’ll have more here at P8TT on marriage equality in Maine as the campaign moves forward!

34 Comments January 26, 2012

Garden State Equality Chair Steven Goldstein reflects on this week’s developments

By Jacob Combs

Steven Goldstein, the Chair of Garden State Equality, posted a reflection today on the organization’s website about the developments that have taken place in New Jersey in the last two days.  On Monday, Gov. Christie nominated the first LGBT Supreme Court justice in the state’s history.  Yesterday, he reaffirmed his promise to veto the marriage equality bill and instead called for a voter referendum on the issue.

Goldstein’s piece gives a great look into the behind-the-scenes action to make marriage equality a reality.  In particular, he praises Senate President Steve Sweeney, who voted against the 2009 measure to legalize gay marriage but is a major proponent of the new bill.  When the news of Christie’s veto promise was announced yesterday during a Senate committee hearing on the bill, Goldstein writes, Sweeney “interrupted the proceedings right in their tracks and said: You have your answer now. It’s not going to happen. We don’t vote on people’s civil rights.”  As Goldstein points out, the last time that happened in the state was 1915, when a ballot referendum asked if women should have the right to vote.  A majority of the state’s voters said no.

As we know now, it was premature to read Christie’s statements on the marriage equality bill in the last few weeks as changes in his previous anti-gay marriage stance.  Looking forward, Goldstein makes two main points:

First, we have got to pass the bill.  Let’s not get ahead of ourselves – we’re working for 21 votes in the Senate and 41 votes in the Assembly.  We’re optimistic, but we cannot be complacent.  The talk of an override, frankly, is meshuga when we must focus on passing the bill first.  Stay focused.

Secondly, we will have all the time we need to methodically achieve an override.  After a veto, there is no time limit in New Jersey on how long the legislature has to override a veto, other than the end of the legislative session.  The current legislative session, which began only this month, will end in January 2014.  Look how the world has changed – and how you helped to change it – since the last vote.  Our support in the legislature has increased dramatically.  Stunningly.   We’ll get that override with time and careful work.  But right now, friends, it’s about passing the bill and getting it to the Governor’s desk.

The second point is the intriguing one.  If the legislature passes the marriage equality bill, Christie will only have 45 days to veto the bill or it becomes law.  Under even a conservative time frame where it took the legislature until this summer to pass the bill, that would leave a year and a half before the end of the legislative session in January 2014 to build support, garner votes and override the veto.  The Democratic leadership in the legislature has made it clear they want to move quickly on the bill.  Like Goldstein says, our first priority is making sure it passes.  But then, if it is vetoed, there is plenty of time for our side to make an override a reality.

17 Comments January 25, 2012

Canadian Marriages Might be in Danger After All

By Matt Baume

UPDATED: This video was scheduled for January 23, but didn’t get posted until today.  As some have asked in the comments, there are indeed a full 25 votes for marriage equality in Washington state.  Also, Gov. Chris Christie has pledged to veto the marriage equality bill in consideration in New Jersey.

Canadian marriages may not be so safe after all, with an author of the country’s marriage equality law raising the possibility of an anti-gay attack. Here in the US, nearly a hundred mayors come out for marriage equality, including one who testified during the Prop 8 trial. We’re just one vote away from passing marriage equality Washington state Senate, but time’s quickly running out. And remember that cute Australian ad with the first-person courtship? I’ll talk to the American college student who’s raising funds to bring that ad to the states.

We’re still on the edge of our seats for a Prop 8 ruling — it could come at any moment. You can be the first to find out when it comes. Visit AFER.org to sign up for a breaking news alert. You can either get an email or text alert. Meanwhile more cast members have been announced for the LA premiere of “8,” Dustin Lance Black’s play based on the transcripts of the Prop 8 trial. Joining the March 3 reading are George Clooney, Martin Sheen, Jane Lynch, Matthew Morrison, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Christine Lahti, George Takei, and Book of Mormon’s Rory O’Malley.

Marriage equality got a huge nationwide boost this week from eighty US mayors. The group includes Seattle, Denver, Austin, St. Louis, Bloomington, Newark, and a whole host of cities in states that have marriage or civil union legislation in the works. One of the leaders of the group is Jerry Sanders, the Republican Mayor of San Diego whose testimony at the Prop 8 trial was instrumental. On Day 6 of the trial, Sanders said, “if government tolerates discrimination against anyone for any reason, it becomes an excuse for the public to do exactly the same thing.”

Anti-gay groups in New Hampshire have been struggling even more than usual lately. A small group of politicians is working to undo the state’s marriage equality law, but their colleagues have repeatedly delayed action on the proposal. A tentatively scheduled vote this week has been pushed at the last minute to February. It wasn’t long ago that marriage for LGBTs was a wedge issue that anti-gay politicians could use to their advantage. But these days, only 27% of New Hampshire adults support repeal of the state’s marriage law, so the wedge has clearly flipped.

Meanwhile in North Carolina, an anti-gay constitutional amendment has dipped slightly in the polls, but retains majority support. Although momentum is slowly building to block the law, it may not be enough in time for the vote in May. It’s important to note just how extreme and draconian this measure is. It wouldn’t just ban marriage — North Carolina already does that. This law would ban all protections for LGBT families, and even unmarried straight couples. In Ohio, a similar measure allowed multiple domestic abusers to go free, simply because they weren’t married to their victims.

One North Carolina group is fighting back with two new videos this week, featuring a collection of talking heads. Ads like these were once commonplace, but have fallen out of favor as we’ve found that emotional appeals are more effective than appeals to logic. That’s why the internet’s responded so strongly to “It’s Time,” the ad from Australia, featuring a first-person courtship of what turns out to be a gay couple. You’ve probably seen the ad already on Facebook, but soon you may see it on television. This week I spoke to Daniel Wein, a Washington DC college student who’s managed to acquire rights and raise thousands for a stateside airing of “It’s Time.” Stay tuned for our full conversation later this week — for now, here are some highlights from our interview. I asked Daniel why he was motivated to get the ad on television, and how he’s making that happen.

“I was back home for Thanksgiving break when I was just sitting on my couch and I came across this “It’s Time” ad from GetUp Australia, and I was really just deeply deeply moved. And I started to get a team together to see what we can do about getting this on TV. Luckily I was able to find — I actually had two people reach out to me who are digital strategists, one based in DC and one based in New York, who are both taking on this project pro bono. And then soon after that, we were able to locate who has a background in the same kind of nonprofit work. He was able to consult with us. There’s a think tank in DC called Third Way that conducted some very preliminary study, and they found that this ad tested very well in the United States. Given the opportunity to play to a just larger audience in the United States beyond just YouTube, I think that it could definitely make a big impact.”

New Jersey will hear testimony on Tuesday of this week concerning a proposed marriage equality bill. Governor Chris Christie has so far avoided making a firm commitment on signing or vetoing the bill, and some legislators claim that they can reach a veto-proof majority. That may be wishful thinking, but public support for the bill continues to rise. A survey this week shows that 52% support the bill, with only 42% opposed.

We’re agonizing over every vote in Washington State, where legislators are just one vote shy from passing a marriage equality bill. The bill enjoys bi-partisan support, including Republican Attorney General candidate Reagan Dunn. And this week some of the state’s largest employers, including Microsoft and Nike, signed a letter of support. But five senators still have not stated their position. In order to reach the governor this session, the bill will need to pass either the House or Senate before February 14.

Internationally, there’s good news from Cuba, where officials have pledged to consider enacting civil unions.

But turmoil has continued in Canada. Last week a government lawyer argued that Americans who have traveled to Canada to marry aren’t really married. That was quickly followed by a clarification from the government that tourist marriages are, in fact, legal in that country, even if they aren’t recognized in the tourists’ home country. Some politicians have promised to amend the law to clarify those couples’ legal standing. But this week one of the lawyers who worked on the original law, Kathleen Lahey, has pointed out that the law doesn’t really need any amendment — it’s already perfectly clear. This has sparked fears that the so-called clarifications could actually be a sneaky attempt to weaken the law and create exemptions that would deny equal protections to some LGBTs. We’ll be following that situation closely as it develops.

Those are the headlines, head over to AFER.org for more on the federal fight to overturn Proposition 8 and win full nationwide marriage equality. And visit MarriageNewsWatch.com for breaking news headlines throughout the day. I’m Matt Baume at the American Foundation for Equal Rights. We’ll see you next week.

9 Comments January 25, 2012

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