Thursday, March 31, 2011

Good News on Marriage Equality Fronts

Everyone who follows LGBT issues knows that there are some really great days for equality, and some really lousy ones.  That past couple of days have been good for marriage equality, with three states making moves towards full recognition of gay couples.

In Delaware, the state Senate Administrative Services Committee passed a civil unions bill, which would grant full legal rights to gay couples; the bill now goes to the Senate floor for debate.  The bill supposedly has "more than two dozen cosponsors," which I have to admit confuses me since the Delaware Senate only has 21 members.  Interestingly, the Republicans on the committee didn't vote for or against the bill.

Importantly, the bill would only grant full equal rights to gay couples under state law - because of the Defense of Marriage Act, gay couples are not entitled to legal rights under federal law (not that Delaware couples would be eligible for these anyway, since they are "civil unioned" and not married).

In Washington, the state legislature has passed a bill, which will now go to Gov. Chris Gregoire's desk, that will recognize out-of-state gay marriages.  The bills passed by large margins in both chambers, mostly (but not solely) on party lines.  Washington joins Rhode Island, New York and Maryland in recognizing gay marriages but not actually performing them.

It strikes me as odd that these states recognize gay marriages performed elsewhere - giving them the same rights under the state as straight marriages - but don't actually allow their own residents to get married and enjoy these same rights.  But I also don't think it's any coincidence that Rhode Island, New York, and Maryland (well, up until recently) have been considered three of the states most likely to begin performing gay marriages within the next year or so.

And in Illinois, equality proponents in the state senate have killed a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman.  How did they kill the bill?  By assigning it to the Subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments... which has no members.

Says Bernard Cherkasov, executive director of Equality Illinois: "Year after year, angry right-wing extremists in the Illinois General Assembly bring up the same anti-marriage-equality Constitutional amendment. The proposal is deeply unpopular with Illinoisans, who overwhelmingly support equal treatment for same-sex couples."

My State Rep. Supports HB6599 - Does Yours?

I wrote earlier about the importance of passing HB6599 - "An Act Concerning Discrimination" - so that transgender people in Connecticut can be protected against discrimination in employment, education, housing, public accommodations and credit.

I wrote an email to my state representative, Jonathan Steinberg, saying as much.  He wrote back to me, expressing his support for the bill:

I agree with you that we must address this gap in our anti-discrimination laws. Transgender individuals deserve the same rights as any other citizen of the state. I'm hopeful that this bill will pass during this session.

I am happy to see that my elected legislator supports enacting legal protections for transgender people.  However, we need more Connecticut lawmakers to support this bill: the State House Judiciary Committee is postponing action on the bill until it gains more supporters, and they say they will take it up again by the committee deadline of April 15.

If you live in Connecticut, please contact your state representative TODAY and tell him or her to support HB6599.  Our friends in the transgender community need our help.  Find out who represents you in the Connecticut State House here.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

ENDA Will Not be Introduced Today

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) has announced that he will hold off on re-introducing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to the House until the bill has more cosponsors.  Frank was previously going to introduce ENDA with Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) today.

The text of the bill is exactly as the same as it was as introduced to the 111th Congress: it would bar discrimination in employment (both public and private sector, with some exceptions) based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  Currently, 29 states allow workplace discrimination against gay people, and 38 allow discrimination against transgender people.

It is unlikely, due to Republican control of the House, that ENDA will pass in this Congress.  Frank confirms that "there are not 218 members at this point ready to support it. We have an overwhelming number of Democrats, but not all, and a number of Republicans.”

Still, Frank adds that the re-introduction of ENDA presents the LGBT community with "a chance to continue — not begin, but continue — a lobbying effort that I am convinced will be successful, frankly, next time the Democrats take back the House of Representatives."

Given that the re-introduction of the bill is solely a lobbying tactic, I am not really sure what the point of delaying any further is; after all, many LGBT groups were caught completely off-guard by the sudden change, and had released statements praising Frank before they'd discovered ENDA wouldn't be introduced today.  I say, let's introduce the bill and, once it is introduced, work on lobbying our members of Congress - Democrat and Republican - to support the bill, so that the next time Democrats control the House, the pathway to passing the bill will be all the easier.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Connecticut Considers Gender Identity Protections Bill

The Connecticut House Judiciary Committee is currently considering HB 6599, "An Act Concerning Discrimination," which would add "gender identity or expression" to the state's anti-discrimination statute, protecting them from discrimination in employment, education, housing, public accommodations and credit.  This statute already includes protections for gay people.

There was some very moving testimony given at a recent hearing on the bill, particularly by Jennifer Ann Paradis of Columbia, Conn., whose friend at a state school in CT dropped out because of harrassment by her peers, which could not be stopped because CT law does not protect transgender people from discrimination.

"The principle behind adding gender identity and gender expression to Connecticut's non-discrimination laws could not be clearer," said Paradis.  "These are our family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors and loved ones who are targets of discrimination in many areas of their lives and this marginalization exposes them to social and economic insecurity.  The fact is protecting these citizens through our anti-discrimination laws is a no-cost way to close a gap in our state's non-discrimination statutes ensuring that all hard-working people have the chance to earn a living and provide for themselves and their families."

Of course, not everybody supports the law; the usual anti-LGBT folks used their scare tactics during their testimony, conjuring up imagery of men dressed as women sexually assaulting little girls in the women's bathrooms; Connecticut lawmakers were unamused.

Gov. Dan Malloy (D) supports the legislation; similar bills had passed the state Senate but had failed in the state House.

I support HB 6599, and I strongly urge all Connecticut lawmakers to vote for this bill; I wrote an email to my state representative, Jonathan Steinberg, saying as much.  It is time to recognize transgender people as equals, by ensuring they are treated equally under the law and can have an opportunity to make an honest living without fear of being ostracized or fired because of who they are.  Connecticut can be a leader in full LGBT equality: this bill will bring us closer than ever before to truly being an LGBT-friendly state.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Maryland House Passes Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Bill

The Maryland State House has passed the Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Bill, which would protect transgender people from many forms of discrimination, 86-52.  The bill now moves to the State Senate.

If passed by the Senate, the bill could become the first state-wide legislation since 2007 to extend gender identity-based protections.

The bill would add gender identity protections to state antidiscrimination laws on employment, housing and credit, according to The Advocate.

"All hardworking people in our state, including transgender people, should have a chance to earn a living and provide for themselves and their families," said Equality Maryland executive director Morgan Meneses-Sheets. "Nobody should have to live in fear that they can be legally fired for reasons that have nothing to do with their job performance."

This bill is certainly a step in the right direction for LGBT people in the state of Maryland.  Transgender people are discriminated against in many ways, and the Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Bill will help level the playing field for our transgender friends and neighbors.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Non-Violent Direct Actors: Heroes, or Extremists?

In class earlier this week, we watched a documentary called “The Last Mountain” (check out my review here). “The Last Mountain” tells the story of a small town in West Virginia that rises up against Big Coal to fight the mountaintop removal that is polluting their town and killing their children.

Among many other tactics, the townspeople – particularly a group called Climate Ground Zero – utilizes non-violent civil disobedience. Such direct actions included protesting on Big Coal’s property, occupying the governor’s mansion, and chaining themselves to trees and mining equipment. All of these actions resulted in arrests.

Does any of that, by the way, sound familiar to you? GetEQUAL utilizes similar tactics, holding protests, occupying congressional offices, chaining themselves to the White House fence, shutting down roadways with large banners, etc. These actions are arrestable and make a strong, compelling statement: that LGBT people will do what they need to do to bring attention to their discrimination and to fix it.

Well, while we were discussing the documentary in class, one student referred to these people as “environmental extremists.” A bit of a push by our professor resulted in his walking-back of the statement, but this struck me as extremely odd. Are people who resort to non-violent (and let’s remind ourselves that these actions are non-violent) civil disobedience really “extremists?” Was Martin Luther King, Jr., an extremist for organizing one of the most effective boycotts in history? Was SNCC an extremist organization for holding its lunch counter sit-ins? Were the women who chained themselves to the White House fence to demand the right to vote extremists? Were the labor unions – including teachers, police officers, and firefighters – who flooded statehouses in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Ohio to protect their rights extremists?

In “The Last Mountain,” the director refers to these people, as a matter of fact, as “heroes of American democracy.” I consider this to be the more accurate depiction. There is nothing extreme about expecting, and demanding, your rights from your government. The people of this little town in West Virginia are being mined out of house and home; they are literally unable to continue living there, as their homes get flooded from misdirected streams, their children succumb to cancer and autism, and their air and well water get polluted. Just as people deserve the right to vote and to work, so too do people deserve the right to live where they so choose, without fear of disease and pollution. And when those rights are not being given to them, they have the responsibility – the obligation – to demand them of their government.

As Martin Luther King said, "An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law." There is nothing “extreme” about utilizing non-violent direct action to demand your rights. Those who do – whether they be the women of the 1920’s, the African Americans of the 1960’s, or the LGBT people, the labor unions, or the environmentalists of the 2000’s – are heroes of our democracy. Their sacrifice is admirable, heroic, and anything but extreme.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

US Will Introduce UN Resolution Condemning LGBT Discrimination

According to the Associated Press, the US, under President Obama, will soon introduce a resolution to the United Nations condemning discrimination against LGBT people in all nations, and calling for states' treatment of LGBT people to be monitored by the UN.

Specifically, the non-binding resolution calls for all nations to end criminal punishment against people who are gay, who have same-sex relationships, or who demonstrate for LGBT rights.  So far, the resolution has the support of over 80 countries.

Under the Bush administration, the US did not join a similar resolution, introduced by the French.  With the US's newfound support come Thailand, Rwanda, El Salvador, Honduras and the Dominican Republic.

While the resolution is non-binding, advocates are hoping that such a resolution - particularly if it is passed with large support - will create a legal "norm" protecting LGBT people, such as that which condemns the persecution of women and religious groups.
It is, of course, a good thing to see the Obama administration and our UN delegation pushing for LGBT protections.  However, in many countries where gay people are not overtly persecuted, we still face discrimination and inequality.  The United States is one of those countries.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Majority of Americans Support Equal Marriage: Poll

A majority of Americans - 53% - support the freedom to marry for gay couples, according to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll.  44% oppose marriage equality.

The demographic breakdown: 68% of people under 30 support marriage equality, 65% of people in their 30's, 52% in their 40's, and 33% of people 50 and older.  An equal number of men and women (53%) support marriage. 58% of independents and 63% of moderates support marriage as well.  Along racial lines, an equal number of whites (53%) and non-whites (54%) support marriage equality (although the poll notes that the sample size in various race groups is insufficient to be a representative sample).  63% of white Catholics support marriage equality, as do 57% of non-Evangelical Protestants.

The methodology, unlike that of some polls conducted by anti-gay groups, is legitimate: they used telephone sampling that included land-lines and cell numbers, allowing all groups (particularly younger people who use only cell phones) to be included in the sample.

The poll confirms what marriage supporters have known for a long time: that marriage equality is accepted by a majority of Americans, across many demographics.  Those who oppose marriage equality are in the minority.  Politicians who skirt the issue or refuse to be open about their support for marriage equality do so at their own electoral risk.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Democrats Introduce DOMA Repeal in Both Chambers

According to the Huffington Post, congressional Democrats have introduced to both chambers today the Respect for Marriage Act, a bill that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act in its entirety.
The bill, coined the Respect for Marriage Act, would end DOMA, the 1996 law that banned the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage even if a couple has been married under state law. The legislation comes on the heels of a February announcement from the Obama administration that the Department of Justice will no longer defend DOMA in court.

Reps. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.) partnered with the four openly gay members of Congress, Reps. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.), plus more than 100 cosponsors on the legislation, which is slated for formal introduction Wednesday afternoon.

In the Senate, the DOMA repeal effort will be led by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), with about 20 cosponsors signaling support.
As I wrote earlier this week, I believe it is highly unlikely that DOMA will be repealed this congress, as Republicans have a majority in the House and have already pushed to defend DOMA in the Justice Departments' stead.  However, there is no question that support for DOMA is dwindling: it is only a matter of time before the law is repealed.

Call your congressman and tell him or her to support the Respect for Marriage Act, or click here to fill out an easy form that will send a letter to your rep on your behalf.

Monday, March 14, 2011

DOMA Repeal to be Introduced This Week

The Advocate reports that the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal the "Defense of Marriage Act," will be introduced in the House on Wednesday by Reps. Jerrold Nadler, John Conyers, Barney Frank, Tammy Baldwin, Jared Polis, and David Cicilline (the last four of which being the four openly gay members of the House).

Sens. Dianne Feinstein, Patrick Leahy and Kirsten Gillibrand plan to introduce a similar bill to the Senate, although no timetable is yet known for that bill.

The House bill already has 105 co-sponsors, putting it at about the halfway point to passage (218 of the 435 representatives are needed to pass a bill).  But given the fact that the House is currently under Republican control, with Republican leadership planning on defending DOMA in court in the absence of Department of Justice defense, there is essentially no chance of the bill's passage in the House.  The Senate has a narrow Democrat majority, but I would say it is about equally unlikely of the bill's passage in the upper chamber, as 60 Senators would have to join together to overcome a Republican filibuster.

Still, it is encouraging to see that 1/4 of our elected representatives in the House support eliminating the discriminatory DOMA.  It is not enough to pass the bill, but it is a start.

Call your congressman and tell him or her to support the Respect for Marriage Act, or click here to fill out an easy form that will send a letter to your rep on your behalf.  Even if we cannot gain a majority, we can make a symbolic statement about nationwide rising support for LGBT rights.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Maryland House of Delegates Recommits Marriage Bill

Del. Vallario of the Maryland House of Delegates recommitted the Civil Marriage Protection Act back to the Judiciary Committee today.

The move most likely means, according to the early analysis I'm seeing on Facebook and Twitter, that the bill will not come back up for a vote this year; were this to be the case, marriage equality in the state of Maryland would not happen this year.  Gay Politics is saying it's possible supporters of the bill knew they didn't have the votes, and are shelving it until they are confident they can win.

As GetEQUAL tweeted after the news broke, "we have no public record of who's with/against us," as the bill was recommitted on a voice vote.  It will be difficult, then, to hold accountable those who are responsible for this failure.

The state senate had earlier passed the bill by a vote of 25 to 21.  Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) has pledged to sign the bill, and even made an appearance with other marriage supporters at the statehouse earlier today.

Today's vote was expected to be a nail-biter, with the Baltimore Sun reporting earlier that "supporters and opponents alike believe the 141-member House is nearly evenly divided. Del. Maggie McIntosh, the senior openly gay legislator, said this week that ‘a healthy handful’ of delegates had yet to disclose their voting plans."

Initially, many had believed that marriage equality would have an easier time in the House than in the Senate, as it is typically the more liberal chamber, but it encountered unexpected difficulties as various delegates, most notably Del. Sam Arora, flip-flopped on the issue just ahead of a committee vote.

An amendment to change the bill to a civil unions bill failed on a voice vote.

Civil Unions Pass Second Colorado Senate Committee

Courtesy of PRIDE in Utah (which is always so on top of things), the Colorado Senate Finance Committee has passed a bill that would allow gay couples to enter into civil unions, giving them some - but not all - of the rights that straight, married couples are given in the state of Colorado.  The bill was passed 5-4 along party lines.

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the same bill 6-3 on Tuesday; it now goes to the full State Senate for a floor vote.  It is expected to pass the State Senate given the Democrat majority, but passage of the bill in the State House, where Republicans have a one-seat majority, is much less certain.

The civil unions allowed for in this legislation do not equal full marriage, as gay marriage was banned by constitutional amendment in Colorado several years ago.  However, this is progress, and Colorado should pass this bill and allow gay couples to get at least some of the rights afforded to straight couples.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

House Leadership Votes to Defend DOMA

Republicans in the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group have voted 3-2 to direct the House General Counsel to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, which the Department of Justice will no longer be defending.

The three votes in support of defending the law came from Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Ky.) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).  The two votes against came from former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

Here is Pelosi's statement on the vote:

President Obama took a bold step forward for civil rights when he announced that the federal government would no longer argue to uphold the Defense of Marriage Act in court.  DOMA is discriminatory; it's unfair and indefensible; and it betrays our nation's long-held – and long-cherished – value of equality for all.

Since its proposal and passage, this legislation has raised constitutional questions and has been viewed as a violation of the equal protection clause. The House should not be in the business of defending an unconstitutional statute that is neither rational nor serves any governmental interest.  DOMA actually discriminates against American families.

Given the complexity and number of cases, this legal challenge would sap hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars, if not more, during a time of limited fiscal resources.

Pursuing this legal challenge distracts from our core challenges: creating jobs, strengthening the middle class, and responsibly reducing the deficit.  And that is why I voted against this action today.
Interestingly, at a House subcommittee hearing a few weeks ago, a congressman (facetiously) asked Attorney General Eric Holder how much money the DOJ would save by not defending DOMA in court.  Holder gave the obvious answer, that being that the lawyers working for DOJ are salaried career lawyers who get paid the same amount regardless of which laws they are defending on what day.  So I would pose a similar question to Speaker Boehner: how much money will the House be wasting by wracking up all these legal bills defending a law most people no longer support?  Can we really take your calls for deficit reduction seriously when you're willing to waste taxpayer dollars on this litigation?

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Civil Unions Advance in Colorado

With all of the excitement surrounding gay marriage legislation in Maryland and Rhode Island, it is important to remember that other states are making progress in equality for gay couples, even if to a lesser extent.

The Colorado State Senate Judiciary Committee passed a civil unions bill 6-3 today, with one Republican joining the Democrats in supporting the legislation.  The bill now goes to the Finance Committee, and then to a full vote; it is expected to pass the State Senate given the Democrat majority, but passage of the bill in the State House, where Republicans have a one-seat majority, is much less certain.

The civil unions allowed for in this legislation do not equal full marriage, as gay marriage was banned by constitutional amendment in Colorado several years ago.  However, this is progress, and Colorado should pass this bill and allow gay couples to get at least some of the rights afforded to straight couples.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Maryland House Committee Passes Marriage Bill

Courtesy of the Washington Post, the Maryland House of Delegates Judiciary Committee has passed the marriage equality bill, 12-10.

Del. Jill Carter (D-Baltimore) voted for the bill after stalling earlier in the week; Del. Tiffany Alston (D-Prince George's) voted against the bill after offering an amendment to turn it into a civil unions bill, which was rejected 10-10.

The bill will now go to the full House, and unless I am mistaken I believe it is expected to pass (now that Del. Sam Arora has pledged to vote for equality).  If passed, Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) will sign it, although it is very possible that the question of marriage equality will end up on the ballot, as opponents of equality can petition to do so.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Polling Consensus: Growing Support for Marriage Equality

Different polls provide different outlooks on Americans' support for marriage equality.  The newest poll on the subject, conducted by Pew Research Center, finds that support for gay marriage runs statistically even (within the 3% margin of error) with the opposition, at 45% to 46%.  This was their highest measured support for marriage equality since they started tracking the issue in 1996.
Other polls have confirmed that support for gay marriage - and particularly for equal rights for gay couples beyond marriage itself - has been on the rise in recent years.  Take a look at these numbers, compiled by the Huffington Post through

  • CBS News asked a three-way question in August 2010, and found that 40% support allowing same-sex marriage, 30% support civil unions, and 25% do not support any legal recognition of gay marriage. Support for allowing gay marriage was up from 30% in 2008 and 22% since they began asking the question in 2004.

  • An AP-National Constitution Center poll found that 52% of adults supported same-sex marriage, up from 46% in 2009. In addition, the poll found that 58% think couples of the same sex should be entitled to the same government benefits as opposite-sex couples.

  • Fox News asked a three-way question in August of 2010 and found that 37 percent of registered voters supported legal marriage, 29 percent supported some other form of legal partnership, and 28 percent favored no legal recognition. Support for marriage was up from 33 percent in 2009 and from 20 percent since Fox began asking the question in 2004.

  • A CNN poll in August 2010 found that 49 percent of adults thought gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to get married legally, up from 45 percent in 2009. In addition, 52 percent said they thought gays and lesbians should have that right under the Constitution.

  • A Gallup poll in May of 2010 found that 44 percent said gay marriage should be legally recognized, up from 40 percent in 2008 and 2009, though one Gallup poll in 2007 found 46 percent of adults supported that measure.

  • The facts speak for themselves: all polling organizations have found increased support for gay marriage over the past few years.  The tide is moving away from the anti-gay forces who would keep us as second class citizens, towards those of us who understand the importance of marriage equality.  It is not a stretch at all to project majority support for marriage equality, across all unbiased polling firms, within the next few years.  Let's make sure our elected officials are recognizing this trend and taking note.

    Wednesday, March 02, 2011

    Maryland Marriage Supporters, Call Your Delegates!

    We are closer to having marriage equality in Maryland than ever before: the Maryland state Senate has passed the bill, the House of Delegates is looking at it now, and Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) has pledged to sign the bill.

    However, we cannot rest on our laurels, as apparently passage of the bill in the House is not certain: in fact, it is essential that we lobby and lobby hard if we want to make sure marriage equality comes to Maryland.

    If you live in Maryland, please contact your delegate and tell them they need to support all of their constituents by voting for the marriage equality bill. (At that website, all you have to do is type in your zip code and it will give you the contact information for your delegate). Specifically, Del. Jill Carter (contact info here), who represents the 41st district (Baltimore City), has said she won’t vote for the bill until budget issues are addressed (doesn’t that remind you of Senate Republicans saying the same thing about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?”), so if she represents you, make sure your voice is heard!

    With your help, we can make Maryland the next state to support equal marriage.