Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Pentagon Study Recommends Repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

The Department of Defense has released the long-awaited findings of its study on how best to implement repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."  You can view the findings of the study here and all of the study-related news here, but here are the most important bits:

Fast Facts:
  • The study received survey responses from 115,052 servicemembers and 44,266 military spouses, and another 72,384 online comments from servicemembers and their families. The 68-member working group held 95 in-person forums with 24,000 servicemembers at 51 military installations, and held 140 smaller focus groups.
  • 70% of servicemembers said repeal would have a positive, mixed, or no effect on unit cohesion and readiness.  A "significant majority" of 30% expressed negative views or concerns with regards to repeal
  • 69% of servicemembers said they believed they had worked with someone who is gay. Of those who knew they had worked with a gay person, 92 percent said their experience was very good, good, or neither good nor poor.
  • 74% of spouses said repeal would have no bearing on whether they wanted their spouse to stay in the military; 12% who said they would want their spouse to leave sooner.

From the Executive Summary:
"Our assessment is that, when coupled with the prompt implementation of the recommendations we offer below, the risk of repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell to overall military effectiveness is low. We conclude that, while a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will likely, in the short term, bring about some limited and isolated disruption to unit cohesion and retention, we do not believe this disruption will be widespread or long-lasting, and can be adequately addressed by the recommendations we offer below. Longer term, with a continued and sustained commitment to core values of leadership, professionalism, and respect for all, we are convinced that the U.S. military can adjust and accommodate this change, just as it has others in history."
Recommendations for Repeal:

Courtesy of the Huffington Post:
  • Repeal needs to have "strong leadership, a clear message, and proactive education." Commanders in the field need to be equipped with the proper education and training tools to educate the force on the changes.
  • Military does not need to establish an extensive set of new standards of conduct for repeal, but does need to issue guidance making clear that all standards of conduct apply uniformly, without regard to sexual orientation.
  • A large number of servicemembers expressed religious and moral objections to homosexuality. While the report's co-authors noted that these concerns should not be dismissed, members of the U.S. military already serve alongside people of different faiths and values. An important message of repeal needs to be servicemembers "will not be required to change their personal views and religious beliefs; they must, however, continue to respect and serve with others who hold different views and beliefs."
  • Certain benefits should be accorded to same-sex partners and families of gay servicemembers, although full benefits cannot be legally extended because of the Defense of Marriage Act. For ones that are not barred by this law, the report's co-authors recommend "the benefit be refashioned to become a member-designated one -- in other words, to give the Service member, gay or straight, the discretion to designate whomever he or she wants as beneficiary."
  • Servicemembers who have been discharged under DADT should be allowed to apply for re-entry.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Marriage: Just a Word?

A lot of people think that gay couples should be happy with civil unions or domestic partnerships and stop complaining that they aren't allowed to call their relationship a "marriage" (these are, by the way, the same people who don't think we should have civil unions in the first place).  They argue that since in some cases (such as Washington state) these domestic partnerships give full legal rights to those couples (which is in itself a fallacy thanks to the Defense of Marriage Act), there is no reason to demand marriage equality.

But marriage is more than a word with a dictionary definition.  Marriage has legal and cultural implications that get intentionally ignored by opponents of gay marriage.  To illustrate the point, let me ask my straight readers: how would you feel if you were married, and someone suddenly told you that you could no longer refer to your marriage as such, or to your husband or wife as such?  Would you not feel that something special was being taken away from you, like your relationship was somehow being deligitimized?

Civil Unions: A Love Story, recently posted by Ben Smith over at Politico, illustrates perfectly how deeply marriage is engrained in our society.  The idea, essentially, is that you never hear a little girl talking about how much she wants to be unionized civilly, or an old couple talking about the trials and tribulations of civil unionization.  And lest we forget our favorite movie, "My Big Fat Greek Civil Union."

Yes, marriage is more than just a word, much more.  We need to let all people, regardless of sexual orientation, partake in the joys of marriage, and the legal and cultural recognition that comes with it.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Who We Must Lobby for DADT Repeal

A few days ago, I wrote a post explaining which senators we must target our lobbying efforts at, based on which senators will be most important in determining whether “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal succeeds or fails. Those senators were Lincoln and Pryor of Arkansas, Manchin of West Virginia, Levin of Michigan, and Reid (Majority Leader) of Nevada. A lot has happened in the past few days, so I figured I should update what our strategy needs to be.

Very recently, four Republican senators have indicated that they are likely to support repeal. These senators are Ensign of Nevada, Murkowski of Alaska, Collins of Maine and Lugar of Indiana. Ensign and Murkowski are awaiting the Pentagon study, while Collins and Lugar are asking there be debate time so that Republicans can introduce amendments to the Defense Authorization bill.

I am very confident that Ensign and Murkowski will vote for repeal when the time comes given their previous statements. However, that would still leave us one vote short of cloture (we were three votes short last time). To further complicate matters, we will have an additional deficit of two votes because we don’t know how Kirk of Illinois and Manchin are going to vote: both of their predecessors' votes went to supporting cloture last time. That means we need three more votes. Therefore, we also need to target Manchin, Lincoln, and Pryor to make sure every Democrat votes for cloture. To be safe, we should also make sure Collins and Lugar are on board by ensuring that Reid allows time for debate. Therefore, our primary target for lobbying needs to be Reid: if we get Reid to allow debate, that’s two more votes, and if we can keep Manchin’s vote and/or move Lincoln and/or Pryor to the ‘yea’ column, that’s enough to put us over the top and them some.

In sum, we have four key senators: Reid, Lincoln, Pryor, and Manchin. And as always, we should be calling the White House to make sure Obama has a major role in this process; his advocacy could help some of those Dems switch sides.. Manchin doesn’t yet have a number, but below are the numbers for the other senators you should call. And please do call: if we demonstrate to these senators that voting for repeal will increase their support and not decrease it, we can shift the tally in our favor.

White House Comment Line: 202-456-1111
Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev.): 202-224-3542
Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark): 202-224-4843
Senator Mark Pryor (D-Ark): 202-224-2353

EXTRA (Republicans who may support repeal)
Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine): 202-224-2523
Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.): 202-224-4814
Senator John Ensign (R-Nev.): 202-224-6244
Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska): 202-224-6665
Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine): 202-224-5344
Senator George Voinovich (R-Ohio): 202-224-3353

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

How DADT Repeal Can Be Won

Edit 3: Four Republicans - Collins, Lugar, Murkowski, and Ensign - have now expressed that they will vote in favor of a repeal-inclusive NDAA, so long as proper debate time is allotted.  Therefore, it is crucial that we call Reid to make sure hew gives it to them: with four Republicans on our side, we won't need Lincoln, Pryor, OR Manchin.

Edit 2: Kerry Eleveld reports that Levin has asked Reid to schedule a vote on a repeal-inclusive NDAA after Thanksgiving recess, which Reid will do.  Therefore, I am taking Levin off the list of key senators (who had been there after indicating he may strip NDAA of DADT repeal), bringing it down to four.   

Edit: We've just learned that Reid will bring the Defense Auth bill, with DADT repeal, up for a vote in December, after the Pentagon study comes out.  What this means is that we will have one more Republican (Mark Kirk) and one less Democrat (Roland Burris) in the Senate, so we will need two Republicans (I point out below that this is most likely Collins and Lugar) on board, making it all the more important that we make these phone calls.  Please call the numbers listed below - we can repeal DADT, this year, but we all need to chip in.

A few days ago, I wrote a post, both on here and over at Pam’s House Blend, urging people not to give up on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal. I outlined five key Senators who hold the fate of lame-duck repeal in their hands. I will now go into further detail as to why I selected these senators, and how they can be persuaded to vote for repeal (or at least cloture). Phone numbers to call are at the bottom in case you want to scroll past all of this.

The first key senator, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, wasn’t in the Senate back in September when the cloture vote failed. The substitute for Robert Byrd voted for cloture, but we don’t really know whether Manchin supports repeal. Manchin has been distancing himself from Obama and congressional Democrats (or at least he was when he was worried he might lose his election), so his vote should not be taken for granted. I believe he can be persuaded to support repeal if we make a strong case: here, a call from Defense Secretary Robert Gates could make a difference, especially since Gates himself is a Republican who supports repeal. Manchin is also from a more conservative state, and the fact that repeal is being channeled through the Defense Authorization bill might make him more likely to support cloture. All this is to say we may be able to get him on our side, and frankly we need to just to be back to where we were in September (three votes short), so it’s important we lobby him and make sure he votes with the Democrats.

Key senators two and three are also Democrats, who were in the Senate in September but who did not vote for cloture: those are Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor of Arkansas. Their ‘nay’ votes came as a surprise to many, particularly myself, given that one of Lincoln’s aides told me she would vote for repeal. The circumstances under which Lincoln and Pryor voted against cloture are still enigmatic. My belief is that Lincoln voted against cloture in a last-ditch effort to shore up votes in a race that was heavily favoring the Republican: she may have asked Pryor to do the same. We really don’t know. It is within the realm of possibility that Pryor and Lincoln could switch their votes now that the election is over. If there is a chance of this happening, let’s not waste it: let’s call them up and make our voices heard, tell them that if they want to win an election, they have to give their supporters what they promise. My belief is that if we get one, we can probably get the other, but let’s play it safe and lobby them both.

Key senator four, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, wouldn’t normally be a lobbying target, but lobbying him would actually help us get two Republicans on board. See, Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Richard Lugar of Indiana have both stated they would support repeal if Reid allowed for debate, which he did not allow for back in September. Levin has also asked him to allow debate, knowing that it would help shore up support if Republicans were allowed to try to add amendments to NDAA.  Were Reid to allow debate, we would get Collins and Lugar on board, without having to lobby them. Lobby Reid, get Collins and Lugar.  Both Collins and Lugar will be necessary in getting 60 votes, as Senator Mark Kirk takes Roland Burris’ Illinois seat after Thanksgiving. So call Reid and tell him to allow debate, putting us over the top for cloture.

While we’re at it, let’s call the White House – tell Obama to make some phone calls. We’ve received word that he did so today, calling Levin and advising him to keep repeal in the Defense Auth bill. That’s really important – the President is one of the most powerful lobbyists there is – but he needs to continue to show strong support for repeal if we’re going to make this happen. And to do that, he needs to know we are on his side and are expecting him to keep his campaign promise of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which he can’t do after the new Congress comes in.

So here are the numbers. There are four (I haven’t been able to find a number for Manchin yet – all the more reason to call Obama and make sure he’s lobbying the Democrats that need persuading), eight if you count the moderate Republicans who may switch their cloture votes. You could call all of them in less than 15 minutes. Please do so. While we don’t know for sure that it is possible to change these senators’ minds, there is no good reason not to try.

White House Comment Line: 202-456-1111
Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev.): 202-224-3542
Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark): 202-224-4843
Senator Mark Pryor (D-Ark): 202-224-2353

EXTRA (Republicans who may support repeal)
Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine): 202-224-2523
Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.): 202-224-4814
Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine): 202-224-5344
Senator George Voinovich (R-Ohio): 202-224-3353

Friday, November 12, 2010

"Homophobia Kills" Die-In Held in Hartford

This afternoon, LGBT activists held a die-in at the steps of the Capitol Building in Hartford, the capitol of my home state. The “Homophobia Kills” demonstration was meant to raise awareness of LGBT youth suicide and demand three things:
  • Safe Spaces/Housing - Publicly-funded safe housing specifically for runaway, abused, and homeless queer youth.
  • Self-Defense - The right to protect ourselves and each other from abuse without repercussions. This includes intellectual, emotional, social, and physical self-defense.
  • Equal Access to Education - Comprehensive programs in all public schools on LGBT/Queer people/practices in history, art, science, religion, and literature; Honest sexual education that is inclusive of all genders and sexual identities; Access to informed counseling services.
From the press release:
We know that suicide is epidemic among LGBTQ youth. Queer adolescents are 4-8 times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual peers. 90% of queer students report feeling unsafe at school. 1 in 3 completed youth suicides are carried out by a queer-identified person, and for every 1 suicide completed, 100-200 more are attempted, according to data released by the Trevor Project. Furthermore, we know that rates of drug abuse, self-injury, and depression are epidemic among young LGBTQ people.

We need to demonstrate that homophobia and transphobia are the driving forces behind the deaths of LGBTQ adolescents, and that as long as people continue to gay- or trans-bash, lives will be lost. We need to honor the valuable, meaningful lives that our community has lost.

The demonstration accrued a host of endorsements, including the Connecticut Green Party, Uconn Students United for Reproductive Justice, the CCSU Woman’s Center, People of Faith CT, and GetEQUAL.
I will post photos/video here as it is made available to me.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Lame-Duck ENDA Vote?

Interesting.  POLITICO's Ben Martin writes that House Speaker (and House Minority Leader hopeful) Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is hoping to bring the Employment Non-Discrimination Act up for a vote in the House at some point during the lame-duck session.  Of course, he doesn't link to an article or statement about it so we just kinda have to take his word for it, but I wouldn't be surprised if Pelosi had this on her mind.

However, even if the House did vote on it (I think it would pass by a slim margin, like most of the Dems' major bills this Congress), I'm not sure it would be scheduled for a Senate vote, let alone overcome a GOP filibuster.  Act on Principles' grassroots whip count (which I have to say I've lost a certain amount of faith in since the debacle with Sen. Blanche Lincoln telling us she'd vote for DADT repeal and then... not) shows ENDA receiving (if we include Leaning Yes's) 234 votes in the House and 60 in the Senate - that would technically be enough to pass both chambers (I have no doubt Obama would sign the bill if it came across his desk, but highly doubt he would lobby for it).  I'm not entirely sure the votes are really there in the Senate, but it's entirely possible given that Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) are both cosponsors.

So who knows.  If it gets scheduled for a vote, it's possible, given the current whip counts, that ENDA could become law during the lame-duck session.  But this is all based on one blog post by someone who doesn't have a source to cite, so let's not get too excited.  And if it was really just this easy and the votes were already there, why hasn't it already been voted on?

Stay tuned for updates.

GLAD Files Second DOMA Suit

The Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) has opened up a second judicial front in the fight to bring down the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act" (DOMA), filing a suit with the Connecticut Federal District Court that challenges Section 3 of DOMA, which states that the federal government must only respect marriages between a man and a woman.  Section 3 was previously found to be unconstitutional in the Massachusetts Federal District Court ruling of Gill et al. v. Office of Personnel Management.

From GLAD's press release:

In Pedersen et al. v. Office of Personnel Management, GLAD represents five married same-sex couples and a widower [from Connecticut, Vermont, and New Hampshire] who have all been denied federal rights and protections simply because they are married to a person of the same sex.

"DOMA must fall. In 1996, when Congress passed DOMA, the stated goal was to harm gay people and same-sex families with this law, and sadly, it has succeeded. Married gay and lesbian couples fall through the federal safety nets that exist for other married people," said Mary L. Bonauto, Civil Rights Project Director for GLAD. "We have to keep the pressure on and get DOMA off the books before it does even more harm."

Filed today in Federal District Court in Connecticut, this suit addresses DOMA’s denial of marriages in connection with federal employees and retirees benefits programs, Social Security benefits, survivor benefits under federal pension laws, work leave to care for a spouse under the Family Medical Leave Act, and state retiree health insurance benefits that are controlled by federal tax law. Several plaintiffs who have paid additional federal income taxes because they cannot file a joint federal tax return as a married couple will join the suit once they are officially turned down for refunds from the IRS.

All three states represented in the case support marriage equality, and my prediction is that the CT Federal District Court is going to rule much in the same way that the MA court did: by coming to the obvious conclusion that DOMA Section 3 violates gay people's right to equal protection under the law.

Hats off to GLAD for its continued hard work on this issue: because of their efforts, it is only a matter of time before DOMA Section 3 becomes obsolete.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Connecticut Voter Guide

Today is Election Day, and it is important that you vote in order to have a say in who runs our government, at the state and national levels.  If you are from Connecticut, here is a handy guide on who to vote for for the various positions currently up for election.  You can also find information on all of the candidates, and where to vote, here.

US Senate: I personally voted for Richard Blumenthal.  He has been our attorney general for years and has done good work for Connecticut.  Connecticut is one of the “upset states” – states in which a surprise victory for the Republican is somewhat possible and would result in a GOP majority in the Senate – so definitely consider voting for him if you want to maintain a Democrat majority.

US Congress (District 4): Jim Himes, the incumbent, is a Democrat who is socially progressive (supporting LGBT rights and a woman’s right to choose) but fiscally responsible – he and a few other Democrats have formed a working group to figure out how to best cut government spending in smart and manageable ways.  He deserves your vote; he has mine.

Governor: I was thrilled when Dan Malloy beat Ned Lamont in the Dem primary.  Malloy is another progressive who has good experience from his time as mayor of Stamford.  Malloy would be good for Hartford and would bring much-needed attention to the problems that the people of Fairfield County face (e.g. our horrible infrastructure problems) while also making sure the rest of Connecticut gets what it needs as well.

State Representative (Westport): For those of you living in Westport, I strongly urge you to vote for Jon Steinberg for State Rep.  Nitzy Cohen, a perennial candidate in Westport politics, has proven that she is too stubborn to work across party lines in Hartford – and as a Republican in Connecticut, you NEED to be able to do that.  Steinberg has more experience and is more knowledgeable on the issues.

State Comptroller: Normally this isn’t that important a position in terms of electoral politics, but here we have the opportunity to elect an openly-gay candidate, the Victory Fund-endorsed Kevin Lembo.  It’s time LGBT people were better-represented in Connecticut politics.

As you can see, I’m pretty much suggesting you vote for the Democrats.  I think the Democrats provided much stronger candidates this election cycle, and we need to maintain a Democrat majority in Congress and in Hartford if we want to get anything done over the next two years.  So please, join me in supporting these candidates today.  Now, go vote!