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Archives – May, 2012

Anti-bullying bill in Illinois defeated again, but could still pass before session ends

By Scottie Thomaston

The Illinois Family Institute, a hate group based in Illinois, has been pushing ‘concerns’ about the proposed anti-bullying bill in the state. The bill is not a “LGBT bill” – it doesn’t have any pro-LGBT provisions, and there are already LGBT protections within other laws in the state. It is a standard bill focused on anti-bullying efforts:

[The bill] Provides that, on or before January 1, 2013, the State Board of Education shall develop a template for a model bullying prevention policy and sets forth requirements concerning the template.

Although it’s an uncontroversial anti-bullying bill, the concerns raised by the Institute are almost solely based on fears of gay people:

Sen. Kyle McCarter (R) appears to be the leading opponent of the bill, but his talking points parrot the Illinois Family Institute, a fringe spin-off of the American Family Association that has been declared an anti-gay hate group in its own right. McCarter and the IFI insist that the bill should include an “opt-out” provision for any students who don’t want their anti-gay religious beliefs challenged with basic knowledge about the nature of sexual orientation:

MCCARTER: There are anti-bullying programs that have an agenda, to only protect one class of individuals. Some of these programs are very good. They indeed encourage kids not to bully. But there are programs throughout the United States, used in some high schools and universities, that really have just a pro-homosexual agenda, and nothing but that.

McCarter seems to believe that this policy would be a step toward mandating programs about homosexuality, though nothing in its text lends itself to this claim.

Conservatives in Illinois killed the bill last week, and then yesterday another vote was attempted. The bill was killed again:

The legislation fell one vote short of passage amid concerns raised by anti-gay lobbyists that it could be used to promote acceptance of homosexuality.

An equality group in the state had a rather pointed statement about the bill’s second death:

“The Senate vote was a win for bullying, both in the classroom and in the capitol building,” said Shannon Sullivan, Executive Director of the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance. “Senators were blindsided by issues that weren’t even on the table, pressured by radical lobbyists that have no problem threatening the wellbeing of Illinois youth for their own personal gain and out-of-touch agenda.”

Legislators in the state are saying the bill isn’t dead yet, however:

State Sen. Heather Steans postponed a vote, saving the legislation from defeat. The bill is headed back to the General Assembly before it returns to the Senate.

Cassidy believes the bill is still likely to pass by the end of the week. It was rejected by just one vote, and two supportive senators were not present for the vote, said Cassidy.

“But it’s a weird time of year,” she said. “Anything can happen.”

We’ll see if the bill can get the required votes for passage before the end of the session.

May 30, 2012

Maryland’s anti-gay groups submit enough signatures to put marriage equality on the ballot in November

By Scottie Thomaston

In Maryland, it’s inevitable that their recently-passed marriage equality bill will be on the ballot in November awaiting voter approval before it becomes law in the state. Right-wing churches, for the most part, led organizing efforts to gather signatures and mobilize voters for the upcoming vote, under the name Maryland Marriage Alliance. This week, the right-wing anti-gay groups are required to submit 18,579 signatures for the initiative. That number of signatures was due this upcoming Thursday. Yesterday, the groups submitted more than twice the amount of signatures that are due this week:

Opponents of Maryland’s same-sex marriage law have delivered more than twice the number of signatures needed to put a referendum on the law on November’s ballot.

Activists say they submitted 113,000 signatures on petitions on Tuesday — double the 55,736 needed to put the issue on the ballot. The state has 20 days to verify signatures.

The large number of signatures virtually guarantees there will be enough valid ones to meet the requirements:

The signatures must be verified by the State Board of Elections, but the surplus of names against gay nuptials all but ensures it will go before voters in the fall — adding even more significance to a presidential election in which social issues received greater prominence after President Obama publicly endorsed same-sex matrimony.

And O’Malley, with national political aspirations of his own, banked much of his political clout on delivering results to liberal supporters on the social issue.

“There’s still more work to be done and we are not taking anything for granted,” said O’Malley spokeswoman Raquel Guillory. “Recent poll numbers indicate that more and more Marylanders support marriage equality and religious freedom.”

Marylanders for Marriage Equality released a statement via press release:

“Given the low bar for petitioning a law to the ballot in Maryland, we’ve always expected same-sex marriage opponents to meet that threshold and then some—up to their stated target of 150,000.

“But don’t confuse meeting the legal requirement with intensity or measure of support. It’s clear those opposed to marriage equality are losing ground. Our PPP poll last week showed 57% would vote to uphold the law – with 37% voting against – if the election were held today. A surge in support among African American voters (to 55%) in the wake of endorsements by President Obama and the NAACP are key factors in that change. As we open two new campaign offices and build out a robust field operation to offer information, register, and mobilize voters this summer and fall, we will be looking to maintain this record-level of support for marriage equality in Maryland.

“Beyond polling and politics, let’s keep in mind what the likely referendum is all about: building stronger families and protecting every child under Maryland law. Only marriage provides such legal protections to children. Every family deserves dignity, just as every church deserves its freedom and liberty to marry who they want. Religious liberty is cherished and protected.”

It seems as though the marriage equality law could pass and Maryland could be the first state to keep a law affording marriage equality to gays and lesbians on the books after the voters have their say. Last week, a poll from Public Policy Polling showed that 57% of Marylanders say they are likely to vote for marriage equality when it’s up this November. We’re still six months out from the election and polls continue to trend in a positive direction.

15 Comments May 30, 2012

Marriage equality lawsuit filed in Illinois

By Jacob Combs

Today, Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Illinois will each file a lawsuit contending that the state’s refusal to grant marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples violates the equal protection and due process rights of those couples under the state’s constitution.  Activists in the state, who successfully shepherded a civil unions bill into law last year, had been pursuing a legislative strategy, but a House bill that was introduced earlier this year was removed from consideration in the middle of the session.  While there are no plans to abandon their legislative push, marriage equality advocates in the state believe that a more feasible path to marriage rights in the state might be through the judicial system.

“We feel like we’re at a tipping point,” said Camilla Taylor, a Lambda Legal attorney who headed up a similar case that led to the legalization of gay marriage in Iowa. “You reach a point where you can no longer tell these families that they should hold off. You lack the justification when we reach a national moment, when it’s clear that our time is now.”  After President Barack Obama announced his support for marriage equality earlier this month, Illinis Gov. Pat Quinn announced his endorsement as well.

The two suits will be filed on behalf of 25 couples from across Illinois, all of whom attempted to obtain a marriage license from the Cook County clerk’s office and were denied due to an Illinois law that states, “A marriage between 2 individuals of the same sex is contrary to the public policy of this State.”  Intriguingly, the office of David Orr, the Cook County Clerk, released a statement today that read: “The time is long past due for the state of Illinois to allow county clerks to issue marriage license to couples who want to make their commitment. I hope these lawsuits are the last hurdle to achieving equal marriage rights for all.”

The two Illinois lawsuits resemble In re Marriage Cases, the series of consolidated lawsuits that were filed in California after the state enacted a domestic partnership law.  In that case’s landmark ruling, the California Supreme Court held that marriage is a fundamental right under the state constitution and that withholding only the title of ‘marriage’ from gay couples while providing them all of the rights and privileges accorded to married couples violated their equal protection rights.  That ruling would lead to the passage of Proposition 8, followed by the Prop 8 trial.

It is unclear at this point whether or not Gov. Quinn will defend Illinois’s mini-DOMA in court.  As with the other marriage equality cases being argued throughout the country, will have more news and analysis of the new Illinois lawsuits as they progress through the courts.

9 Comments May 30, 2012

A Record Low for Anti-Gay Groups

By Matt Baume

President Obama’s leadership on marriage equality is proving to have a major impact, form national organizations and local polling. Anti-equality forces set a record, but it’s probably not one they wanted. And DOMA is ruled unconstitutional in a fifth federal case.

There’ve been more high-profile endorsements for marriage equality, starting with the NAACP. NAACP President and CEO Ben Jealous told reporters, “The NAACP’s support for marriage equality is deeply rooted in the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution and equal protection of all people.”

Within days of that announcement, former Secretary of State Colin Powell stated his support President Obama’s endorsement of marriage equality. Powell told CNN that this “it seems to me is the way we should be moving in this country.”

These attitudes are becoming increasingly commonplace. A new poll shows Americans support marriage equality by a margin of 53 to 39 percent. That puts anti-equality forces at their lowest ever recorded levels.

Those national numbers are consistent with new numbers coming out of individual states. In Maryland, marriage is likely to be on the ballot this fall. And a new survey shows voters upholding equality by 57 to 37 percent.

Among Maryland’s African Americans, 55 percent say they’ll vote for the marriage equality law, with 36 percent opposed. That’s a complete reversal from two months ago, when the measure was losing by 39 to 56.

A federal district court in California has ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act violates the United States Constitution. Judge Claudia Wilken’s ruling was based heavily on AFER’s victories in the case against Proposition 8. As multiple judges have now found with Prop 8, Wilken ruled that DOMA does not advance a “legitimate government interest.” This is now the fifth federal case in which a court has ruled against DOMA.


15 Comments May 29, 2012

Equality news round-up: new PPP poll in Michigan shows 16 point shift on marriage equality, and more

By Scottie Thomaston

– SCOTUSBlog’s Lyle Denniston writes about DOMA and marriage equality cases, and suggests that the longer it takes the Ninth Circuit to decide whether to hear the Prop 8 case en banc, the more likely it is that rehearing will be denied:

The Proposition 8 case (Perry v. Brown, Circuit docket 10-16696) is likely headed to the Supreme Court, and, if en banc review is denied in the Circuit Court, could reach the Justices as early as this summer. No action on it would be likely before the new Term, starting October 1.

(The longer the time lapse since en banc review was sought in that case, the more likely it seems that such reconsideration will be denied, with some judges on the full bench writing dissents from such a denial.)

– From documents at the Reagan library, a memo on Judge [now Justice] Anthony Kennedy from 1986 before his confirmation to the Supreme Court noted that he “spoke very favorably of constitutional ‘privacy rights'” and “grudgingly” upheld the military’s gay ban.

– Good news from Michigan:

– Anti-gay activists in Ohio tried to block repeal of the marriage amendment in the state from going on the ballot in 2013, and the challenge failed.

– The Maine Education Association endorsed marriage equality in the state and Maine’s governor is unhappy.

– In Maryland, the first set of signatures to place marriage equality on the ballot are being submitted.

– It’s getting a little easier to be gay in Alabama.

– A business in North Carolina opposed Amendment 1, and it’s facing a backlash.

– Brazil is close to passing civil unions.

Frank Kameny’s house was sold to a private bidder for $725K.

3 Comments May 29, 2012

Life at the U.S. Naval Academy after DADT

By Jacob Combs

In timing befitting yesterday’s holiday, the Baltimore Sun last week published an article on post-Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell life at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.  DADT, the policy instated by President Clinton that essentially forced gay and lesbian service members into the closet for fear of losing their careers in the military, was repealed last September, and members of the nation’s various military academies describe a low-key but significant shift in the schools’ cultures, including the Naval Academy’s:

Gay midshipmen are seeking recognition for a student club. Last month, for the first time, faculty members and staff attended an off-campus dinner that had been organized secretly every year by and for gay midshipmen.

Fabian Ortiz, a 2009 graduate of the academy who kept to himself during his years there for fear of being outed, told the Sun that he was “kind of jealous” of midshipmen who will know be able to attend school openly.  During his final year, Ortiz planned a private and highly secret dinner for gay students and alums.  These dinners became a tradition, but a guarded one, with only a few dozen attendees.  This year, the event was held publicly for the first time since the repeal of DADT, and almost 100 guests arrived, including faculty, students and alumni.

When the repeal of DADT came up for a vote in Congress at the end of 2010, supporters of the policy railed against the detrimental effect ended it would have on the military.  But as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said earlier this month, DADT repeal is “going very well.”  “It’s not impacting on morale,” he told reporters. “It’s not impacting on unit cohesion. It’s not impacting on readiness.”

Now that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is history, it’s easy to forget just how damaging it was to so many service members and their families.  How lucky we are to live in a country now where on Memorial Day we can honor all our service members openly and equally, no matter who they love.

6 Comments May 29, 2012

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