Friday, February 25, 2011

Poll: Ireland Supports Marriage Equality

According to a new Irish Independent poll, 61% of Irish citizens support marriage equality, which would allow gay couples to marry just as straight couples can.  Only 27% opposed the idea.

This majority includes 3/4 of Labour supporters, 69% of women, and 2/3 of Dublin residents. (The Advocate's coverage of this poll says that 3/4 of people aged 18-24 support marriage equality, but the article it references doesn't give such a number.)

Last year, Irish President Mary McAleese signed a civil partnerships bill into law, much like the civil partnerships available in the UK; this law just went into effect last month.

Given that civil partnerships are already available to gay couples in Ireland, and that a vast majority of Irish people support gay marriage, it is time for Ireland to take the obvious next step: full marriage equality.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Maryland State Senate Passes Marriage Bill

The state of Maryland has taken another step closer to LGBT equality, with the state senate approving a marriage equality bill 25-21.  The bill now goes to the House of Delegates; if it passes there, Gov. Martin O'Malley has pledged to sign the bill into law.

This is terrific news: the institution of marriage is yet another aspect of daily life in which gay people are discriminated against: this bill would take Marylanders closer than ever to equality, although the "Defense of Marriage Act" would have to be repealed before gay couples in that state could get full benefits under federal law.

Still, though, marriage opponents are going to wage a rough battle against equality, and it is likely that they will gain enough petition signatures to put marriage on the ballot in Maryland.  As I've said in the past, let's not wait to see if that becomes a reality: let's start the grassroots organizing today so that we will be ready for NOM and their kind when they rear their ugly, hateful heads in Maryland.

But for now, congratulations to the 24 Democrats and 1 Republican who stood up for equal rights and LGBT families in today's vote.  Next stop: the House of Delegates.

DOMA Repeal to be Introduced in Both Chambers of Congress

Courtesy of the Huffington Post, it appears that the DOJ's announcement yesterday that it will no longer defend Section 3 of the "Defense of Marriage Act" has created some momentum in the favor of gay marriage advocates, with Democrats in both the House and Senate pledging to introduce the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal DOMA.

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) have both said they will introduce DOMA repeal (which we'll probably keep calling it since RFMA isn't too accessible an acronym) to their respective chambers, although a timetable was not given.

"The president's move [to no longer defend DOMA in court] is another step in the increasing realization that there is no conceivable justification for DOMA, that it is motivated, was motivated, purely by irrational considerations and fear and that there is no rational basis that will stand up to a constitutional challenge," Nadler told the Huffington Post. "Hopefully, that will make it somewhat easier to pass legislation in Congress."

"As a Member of the Judiciary Committee, it is my intention to introduce legislation that will once and for all repeal the Defense of Marriage Act," Feinstein said in a prepared statement. "My own belief is that when two people love each other and enter the contract of marriage, the Federal government should honor that. I opposed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. It was the wrong law then; it is the wrong law now; and it should be repealed."

It is an uphill battle, however, as the House is currently controlled by Republicans and the Senate has only a narrow Democrat majority: in both chambers, bipartisan support will be required (as well as extensive lobbying by the White House, gay rights organizations, and grassroots citizens) to make much legislative progress on repeal.

Last Congress, Act on Principles' public whip count found that DOMA repeal in the House - also introduced by Nadler - had an estimated 189 supports for repeal, about 30 votes shy of a majority.  There was no public whip count for the bill in the Senate.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Gov. Abercrombie Signs Hawaii Civil Unions Bill

After the Hawaii state Senate passed a civil unions bill 18-5 last week, Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) has signed the bill into law.  Civil unions will be available to gay couples from the start of 2012.

"This signing today of this measure says to all in the world that all are welcome," said Gov. Abercrombie, "that everyone is a brother and a sister in paradise."

The LGBT community welcomes Hawaii on its grand step towards full marriage equality, although make no mistake: the work is not over, as gay couples still cannot get married in the state and even if they could, DOMA Section 3 (which the DOJ is no longer defending in court) prevents those gay couples from receiving federal rights.

Regardless, today is a good day for Hawaii, for the LGBT community, and for all Americans.  We should celebrate this progress, and prepare for the next step: full marriage equality for all Hawaiians.

DOMA Section 3 and Beyond: What the Future May Hold

With the DOJ announcing it will no longer defend Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act in court, many are wondering about the implications in terms of gay marriage. There are several cases targeting Section 3 which are currently working their way through the court systems, including two new cases in the 2nd Circuit (which is what catalyzed the Attorney General’s statement), so it’s likely that the Supreme Court will hear a case on Section 3 of DOMA, unless the Appellate Courts rule in favor of the LGBT activists and nobody is willing to appeal the decision. Basically, the likelihood of Section 3 being struck down seems to have just increased substantially.

All of that will be forecasted by many people more savvy on the law than myself, so instead, I’m going to look very far ahead into the future: what if Section 3 is struck down for good?

Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act is the section that defines marriage, for the purposes of the federal government, as an institution between one man and one woman. Here’s an excerpt (which is almost the entire section; it’s a very short law):

In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word `marriage' means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word `spouse' refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.

There are over 1,000 federal laws relating to marriages and spouses (social security, veterans benefits, tax laws, etc.), so this is the biggest part of the law. If Section 3 is struck down (or, less likely, repealed by Congress first), then couples who are legally-married in the states (plus DC) which allow it will technically be treated equally under federal law: they will be eligible for the 1,000+ rights that straight couples are currently entitled to.

But that’s not the only section of the bill. Section 1 just concerns the title, so that doesn’t have any real legal implications, but Section 2 would still be standing. Section 2 is the section allowing other states not to recognize gay marriages performed in the states that allow them:

No State, territory, or possession of the United States, or Indian tribe, shall be required to give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other State, territory, possession, or tribe respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other State, territory, possession, or tribe, or a right or claim arising from such relationship.

Because of this section, any state is allowed to say that a couple married legally in, for instance, Connecticut, is not legally married in their state. So while eliminating Section 3 will go a long way in procuring equal rights for legally-wedded gay couples, those couples are still only limited, in terms of rights endowed by the state (such as getting a divorce, state taxes, or adoption laws), to the states that perform and recognize gay marriage.  Essentially, we will not have full marriage equality nationwide until Section 2 is eliminated as well.

(Side note: That will probably be argued on the basis of the Full Faith and Credit Clause (Article IV, Section I of the US Constitution), which states that "Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State."  That seems to contradict the idea that one state does not have to recognize other states' marriage laws.  Again, this is coming from someone who only has a college student's understanding of the law.)

What I want people to know is that this DOJ announcement does not cover all of DOMA, and even if Section 3 were eliminated today, we’re still not at full marriage equality – we won’t be there until every single state recognizes and provides gay marriage. The DOJ’s announcement is a good thing, there is no doubt. But it is only one additional step on a road that will require a much longer journey.

Obama Admin Will No Longer Defend DOMA Section 3 in Court

Here's the release from the Attorney General's office (emphasis added):
Statement of the Attorney General on Litigation Involving the Defense of Marriage Act

WASHINGTON – The Attorney General made the following statement today about the Department’s course of action in two lawsuits, Pedersen v. OPM and Windsor v. United States, challenging Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage for federal purposes as only between a man and a woman:

In the two years since this Administration took office, the Department of Justice has defended Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act on several occasions in federal court. Each of those cases evaluating Section 3 was considered in jurisdictions in which binding circuit court precedents hold that laws singling out people based on sexual orientation, as DOMA does, are constitutional if there is a rational basis for their enactment. While the President opposes DOMA and believes it should be repealed, the Department has defended it in court because we were able to advance reasonable arguments under that rational basis standard.

Section 3 of DOMA has now been challenged in the Second Circuit, however, which has no established or binding standard for how laws concerning sexual orientation should be treated. In these cases, the Administration faces for the first time the question of whether laws regarding sexual orientation are subject to the more permissive standard of review or whether a more rigorous standard, under which laws targeting minority groups with a history of discrimination are viewed with suspicion by the courts, should apply.

After careful consideration, including a review of my recommendation, the President has concluded that given a number of factors, including a documented history of discrimination, classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to a more heightened standard of scrutiny. The President has also concluded that Section 3 of DOMA, as applied to legally married same-sex couples, fails to meet that standard and is therefore unconstitutional. Given that conclusion, the President has instructed the Department not to defend the statute in such cases. I fully concur with the President’s determination.

Consequently, the Department will not defend the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA as applied to same-sex married couples in the two cases filed in the Second Circuit. We will, however, remain parties to the cases and continue to represent the interests of the United States throughout the litigation. I have informed Members of Congress of this decision, so Members who wish to defend the statute may pursue that option. The Department will also work closely with the courts to ensure that Congress has a full and fair opportunity to participate in pending litigation.

Furthermore, pursuant to the President's instructions, and upon further notification to Congress, I will instruct Department attorneys to advise courts in other pending DOMA litigation of the President's and my conclusions that a heightened standard should apply, that Section 3 is unconstitutional under that standard and that the Department will cease defense of Section 3.

The Department has a longstanding practice of defending the constitutionality of duly-enacted statutes if reasonable arguments can be made in their defense. At the same time, the Department in the past has declined to defend statutes despite the availability of professionally responsible arguments, in part because – as here – the Department does not consider every such argument to be a “reasonable” one. Moreover, the Department has declined to defend a statute in cases, like this one, where the President has concluded that the statute is unconstitutional.

Much of the legal landscape has changed in the 15 years since Congress passed DOMA. The Supreme Court has ruled that laws criminalizing homosexual conduct are unconstitutional. Congress has repealed the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. Several lower courts have ruled DOMA itself to be unconstitutional. Section 3 of DOMA will continue to remain in effect unless Congress repeals it or there is a final judicial finding that strikes it down, and the President has informed me that the Executive Branch will continue to enforce the law. But while both the wisdom and the legality of Section 3 of DOMA will continue to be the subject of both extensive litigation and public debate, this Administration will no longer assert its constitutionality in court.

All this means is that the Obama Administration, through the DOJ, will no longer defend DOMA Section 3 in court; this does NOT mean that the cases are dropped or otherwise over, and it does NOT mean that DOMA (even just Section 3) is gone.  There is a long road ahead yet.

As a gay American I am happy to see that Obama has come to the conclusion, like several judges have, that DOMA is indefensible, unfair, and wrong.  I hope that all of DOMA, not just Section 3, will soon be gone so that legally-married couples can get the federal rights that they deserve.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Why NOM's Gay Marriage Poll is Bunk

The National Organization for Marriage (NOM), an anti-gay group that has fought against gay rights in almost every state, has released a poll stating that 54% of Maryland voters oppose gay marriage, and that 78% of them believe the issue of same-sex marriage should be decided by the people (via referendum) and not the legislature.  This contrasts from an earlier poll, which showed Maryland voters favoring gay marriage 51-44%.

Given that the poll was released by NOM and conducted by an unknown Mormon polling organization, LGBT rights supporters are trying to figure out how this poll is biased, if it is.  After quickly scanning the Methodology section of the report, I was able to quickly ascertain exactly where the bias comes from.

The key is in this sentence: "Lawrence Research based in Orange County, California conducted this poll using random digit dialing to reach and complete interviews with 600 self-identified registered voters."  Random digit dialing is a way for polling organizations to quickly and randomly select people to poll over the telephone; it is a common tactic used by many polling organizations to conduct polls by phone.

The problem, though, is that it is illegal to include cell phone numbers in random digit dialing lists under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.  And given that over 1/3 of people under the age of 35 (including 1/2 of people between the ages of 25 and 29) use only a mobile phone and not a landline, polls utilizing random digit dialing are, by default, automatically going to be biased towards older respondents.

It is no secret that younger people favor marriage equality more than older people. That means that NOM's poll specifically left out a large segment of the Maryland population which supports gay marriage: young people.  The other poll, conducted by Gonzales Research and Marketing Strategies, also polled by phone, but did not use random digit dialing. 

Furthermore, Gonzales' poll had a larger sample size and a typical margin of error of only 3.5%, whereas NOM's poll had a margin of error of 4%, much higher than normal and indicative of a sample that was not truly representative of the population.

NOM's poll should not be regarded as a legitimate or accurate depiction of Maryland residents' feelings towards same-sex marriage.  Gonzales' poll is far more indicative of Marylanders' true support for marriage equality.

Facebook Expands Relationship Options

Facebook has started allowing people to list themselves as being in a domestic partnership or civil union, which will allow gay couples to more accurately label their relationships on Facebook.  The two new labels join single, in a relationship, married, engaged, it's complicated, in an open relationship, widowed, separated, and divorced.

Of course, if we had full federal equality in the realm of marriage, such a move would not be necessary.  Regardless, this is a step in the right direction, towards allowing LGBT people to feel comfortable, accepted, and respected on America's largest social networking website.

It is, I have to add, a bit odd that Facebook waited so long to make these changes, seeing as how one of the site's co-founders is gay and in a relationship with a gay rights activist.  Perhaps they were motivated by all of the recent gay marriage news making headlines in the past couple of weeks, including Wyoming passing an anti-gay marriage bill, Hawaii passing civil unions legislation, and Rhode Island and Maryland looking more and more likely to pass marriage equality bills.

UK Taking Steps Towards Marriage Equality

The Guardian reports that the equalities minister, Lynne Featherstone (whom I believe is from the Liberal Democrat side of the Con-Lib coalition currently in government) is announcing that the government will begin looking at reforming the inequalities between civil partnerships (the UK's version of civil unions) and civil marriage, allowing straight couples to enter into civil partnerships and gay couples to enter into civil marriages.

No information has been given on how long this process will take or when gay couples will start being able to marry, but it seems quite clear that the UK government - as well as its people and many of the religious institutions - are more than ready for marriage equality.  UK, then, would become the 11th country to allow full marriage rights for gay couples, after Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain and Sweden.

Of course, anybody with a good understanding of the British political system should not be terribly surprised by this development.  Their system has two major parties (Labour and Conservatives) and a large minor party (the Liberal Democrats), and both the Labs and the Libs support marriage equality, and the Tories said going into the 2010 election that they supported civil partnerships and would "consider" gay marriage.  The parties of the United Kingdom are much more similar to one another, ideologically, than those of the US, in which there are profound differences with regards to gay rights. 

In fact, while studying in London last semester I wrote a 20-page paper on these differences, which was reviewed kindly by Robert Hazell, the head of the politics department at University College and head of the Constitution Unit, which has been advising the government on constitutional reform.  Incidentally, I'm currently shopping around for any publications who would be interested in looking at my thesis, so if anybody is reading this who is interested/knows someone who might be, please do let me know.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Civil Unions Set to Become Law in Hawaii

The Hawaii state senate has approved a measure which will allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions.  As the state house had already approved the same bill, it now moves to Gov. Neil Abercrombie's desk for his signature (he has already stated that he will sign the bill within 10 days).  Civil unions will go into effect at the beginning of 2012.

The state legislature had already passed a civil unions bill last year, but it was killed by then-governor Linda Lingle's veto.  This will be Ms. Lingle's legacy: a mere roadblock on the ceaseless path towards equal rights.

I applaud Hawaii's legislature's overwhelmingly popular decision to grant same-sex couples the same rights that married couples are allowed under state law.  However, until marriage equality comes to Hawaii and the Defense of Marriage Act is repealed, those same-sex couples will still be treated as second class, prevented from receiving the rights and privileges afforded to straight couples under federal law.

Monday, February 14, 2011

On Valentine's Day, NYTimes Urges DOMA Repeal

Valentine's Day is a holiday that is often bittersweet for committed LGBT couples who can express their love for one another like any other couple, but who are unable to solidify this commitment in a real marriage, with federal benefits and all.

It was heartening to open up the New York Times this morning and see the Grey Lady's editorial page take this opportunity to, once again, press the Obama administration on repealing the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act."  Take a look:

The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act is indefensible — officially sanctioned discrimination against one group of Americans imposed during an election year. President Obama seems to know that, or at least he has called on Congress to repeal it. So why do his government’s lawyers continue to defend the act in court?

The law, signed by President Bill Clinton, denies married same-sex couples the federal benefits granted to other married couples, including Social Security survivor payments and the right to file joint tax returns. When December’s repeal of the noxious “don’t ask, don’t tell” law goes into effect, gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans will be able to serve openly in the military but may not be entitled to on-base housing or a spouse’s burial in a national cemetery.

By now, such blatant discrimination should be presumed to be unconstitutional, and the Justice Department should finally say so. If conservatives in Congress want to enter the case to argue otherwise, so be it.
Reinforcing the notion that LGBT couples are not treated the same as straight couples is GetEQUAL, which is running a whole host of actions across the country to demand marriage equality, including "marriage counter" sit-ins, wherein gay couples will demand marriage certificates at their town halls and refuse to leave until they are granted their requests, or arrested.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

New Hampshire Wants Marriage Equality

Two polls put out this week - one by the New Hampshire Freedom to Marry Coalition and one by the University of New Hampshire - both show that New Hampshire strongly opposes repealing marriage equality legislation, and strongly supports the freedom to marry.

The Coalition's poll shows that 63% of New Hampshire residents oppose repealing marriage equality, while only 29% support repeal; additionally, 59% support marriage equality, while 34% do not.  UNH's poll is consistent with the Coalition's, with 62% opposing repeal - including 88% of Democrats, 66% of Independents, and 57% of Republicans - and 29% supporting it.  Additionally, 92% said they wanted lawmakers to focus on fiscal issues over social issues, and 30% would be less likely to vote for a lawmaker who voted for repeal (compared to 19% who would be more likely).

The facts could not be made any more clear: the good people of New Hampshire support marriage equality; they do not want their lawmakers to waste their time on social issues that have already been discussed and decided upon, nor will they vote for those who choose to do so.  Any New Hampshire lawmaker who makes repealing marriage equality in the Granite State a priority risks losing his seat in the legislature for blatantly violating the will of the people and reaching beyond his mandate.

What you are going to see in New Hampshire is out-of-state anti-gay organizations, such as the infamous National Organization for Marriage, storming into New Hampshire to stubbornly and venemously testify for repeal; they will be representing not the will of New Hampshire residents, but that of a diminishing group in this nation - those who would continue to tyrannize the minority by treating LGBT citizens as second-class.  Lawmakers would be wise to ignore this sound and fury and instead focus on the important fiscal issues which are so much more pressing in the state of New Hampshire.

New Hampshire supports marriage equality: it wants all of its citizens to be treated equally.  Don't allow the Conservative Few to overrule the majority.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Activist to Cross America for LGBT Rights

Editor's Note: This is mostly a press release; I take no credit for this work, but I wanted to post this information because I think it's a really interesting action.  We'll see how it plays out.

On March 12, 2011 at 10 a.m., longtime LGBT activist Richard Noble will begin a 3500 mile journey across the nation.  His purpose: to raise awareness and support for an LGBT Civil Rights Omnibus bill.

The cross-continental walk will begin with a press conference and assembling of the Rainbow Flag at Harvey Milk's store on the Castro, before heading to the ferry where Noble will head across the bay, and begin a 9 month walk across America. He will literally march the Rainbow Flag, the international symbol for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer people, from the Golden Gates in San Francisco to the Statue of Liberty in New York.

This will be the first time in history the Rainbow Flag, the pride of gay America, will be walked across America by an openly gay man all by himself.

The walk will take Noble to such cities as Salt Lake City, Laramie, Denver, Topeka, Philadelphia, and New York City, and will culminate with a celebration rally and dinner in Washington, DC, where he will be joined by other civil rights activists. LGBTQI community centers across the nation are invited to meet Noble along the national route. Supporters are encouraged to contact Noble to offer much needed resources, supplies, and fiscal support for the walk.

"How many suicides will it take for LGBTQI Americans to be treated with full equality?" says Noble. "It will take nearly a year of my life to complete this walk. I am walking especially for the youth. I am walking for those who feel they have no hope. I am walking for my fellow Americans to wake up and do what is right! This coast to coast walk is a call to action against discrimination, bullies, and injustice. And I will continue to walk until there is full equality for all."