Monday, September 26, 2011

Does ENDA Stand a Chance in the Senate?


The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is an extremely important bill. It would prohibit businesses from discriminating in their hiring practices based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Despite overwhelming support among the electorate for a non-discrimination statute, Congress has yet to pass ENDA.

The Human Rights Campaign announced today that Sen. Kay Hagan (D-Va.) will cosponsor ENDA in the Senate.   This means that the Senate HELP Committee now has majority support for ENDA and could pass the bill out of committee.

But what then?  Hagan's announcement brings up the tally to 41 cosponsors in the Senate, including three Republicans (Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.)).  But these days, you need 60 votes to get anything done in the Senate, as the Republican minority has been all too happy to filibuster any bill it has even a slight problem with. 

In the last Senate, ENDA had 44 cosponsors (Thomas.gov says 45, but it's counting both Ted Kennedy and Paul Kirk, who replaced Kennedy after his death); of them, Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.) have yet to cosponsor ENDA in the current Congress.  If you live in Louisiana or Wisconsin, click on those links to contact your senator and urge him or her to cosponsor ENDA again.  I have no doubt they will if enough of their constituents ask them to do so.

That would bring us up to 43 cosponsors; we would need 17 more to pass ENDA in the Senate.  Is this possible?  Below is my list of potential "yea" votes:

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.)
Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.)
Sen. Thomas Carper (D-Del.)
Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.)
Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.)
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)
Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.)
Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.)
Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.)
Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.)
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.)
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.)

Essentially, this list includes the rest of the Democratic Caucus, and two more of the eight Republicans who voted for "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal last year.  I did not include Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), because I really can't see him voting for ENDA.  Some of these might seem like a longshot, but keep in mind they don't need to throw their whole weight behind the bill by cosponsoring it - they just need to vote in the affirmative when push comes to shove.

This list comprises 13 senators, which would bring us up to 56 ENDA supporters - four short of cloture.  It's possible that four Republicans would vote for cloture but not for the bill, but I'm not sure I see it given their caucus' behavior so far this Congress; the only Republicans I could imagine doing that are already on this list.

So is ENDA DOA in the Senate this Congress?  It seems like it.  And with both chambers focusing on jobs and the deficit for at least the next few months, I can't imagine ENDA would even come up in conversation until at least next year, and by then we'll already be thinking about the election, and then the bill's prospects for the next Congress.  And it goes without saying that even if the Senate did manage to pass ENDA, the GOP-controlled House would not do so.

But the fact that the bill won't make President Obama's desk this Congress doesn't mean we shouldn't still push for the bill.  It would make a powerful symbolic statement to rack up more and more cosponsors for this very important legislation, just as we've celebrated several DOMA repeal milestones this month.  If you live in one of the states represented by one of the senators listed above, click on their name to contact them and tell them to get onboard as a cosponsors of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. 

ENDA may be out of the question this Congress, but we can still push for equality, and starting the battle now will make it all the easier to win next time around.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The First Republican to Cosponsor DOMA Repeal


The Advocate is reporting that the "Respect for Marriage Act" - which would repeal the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act" - has officially picked up its first Republican cosponsor: Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida.

“I voted against the constitutional amendment defining marriage [in 2006] so I’m pleased to cosponsor the repeal of DOMA and work with my colleagues on marriage equality,” said Ros-Lehtinen, who represents Florida’s 18th district, which includes South Beach, most sections of Miami, and the Florida Keys.
Ros-Lehtinen is also the only Republican member of the LGBT Equality Caucus and, according to the Advocate, has cosponsored many equal rights bills.

With Ros-Lehtinen's cosponsorship, DOMA repeal now has 125 cosponsors in the House, breaking another new record.  The same bill has a record 30 Senate cosponsors, as well.

It's very encouraging to see a Republican cosponsor the repeal of a form of institutionalized discrimination that most of the GOP has been all too happy to defend.  I hope that more Republicans will break away from their leadership and understand the importance of standing up for all people.  Equal rights is not a partisan issue, and Ros-Lehtinen's support for LGBT equality is proof of that.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Fair Housing Legislation Introduced in House and Senate


The Advocate is reporting that legislation has been introduced to the House of Representatives and Senate which would prohibit discrimination against LGBT people on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts has introduced federal legislation to expressly prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination in housing.

The bill, known as the Housing Opportunities Made Equal Act, or HOME Act, would amend the 1968 Fair Housing Act to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, as well as amend the Equal Credit Opportunity Act to prevent such discrimination in lending (the bill would also bar discrimination based on source of income and marital status). A House version of the bill will be introduced later today by Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York.
So far, the bill has seven cosponsors in the Senate, all of whom are Democrats.  According to a press release sent out by Kerry's office, the HOME Act will accomplish five things:

  • Amend the Fair Housing Act to prohibit housing discrimination and intimidation on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, or source of income.
  • Amend the Equal Credit Opportunity Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in access to credit.
  • Outlaw housing discrimination both before and after a housing unit is acquired.
  • Strengthen anti-discrimination protections for handicapped individuals and LGBT parents with custody of a child.
  • Provide the Attorney General with appropriate pre-litigation investigative power to enforce the law.
I think it's terrific that fair housing legislation has been introduced to both chambers of Congress.  But with various LGBT-related bills (ENDA, UAFA, DOMA, etc.) targeting various forms of discrimination, one wonders if it would be more worthwhile to introduce one gigantic omnibus bill that would immediately make LGBT people equal in all realms.  We've heard noise that Rep. Jared Polis is drafting a bill - with the help of LGBT activists - that would cover all of these areas.  Doubtlessly, the bill will be going nowhere for a while, but I'm starting to think it might be smart to introduce one package we can all rally around, as opposed to splitting all of our issues up into different bills and risking spreading ourselves too thin.

It's certainly something to consider.  Until then, though, it is great to see more equal rights legislation introduced, and I look forward to seeing the bill pick up more and more cosponsors in both chambers.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ding-Dong, DADT is Dead


Today marks the official end of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the discriminatory law that barred gay men and women from serving openly in the US military.

It's amazing and very surreal to speak of DADT in the past tense - for even once Congress voted for repeal and the President signed it into law, there was still a very lengthy process (to the tune of half a year or so) which finally culminated in today's official death of discrimination in the form of DADT.  But at last, we can say that this bigoted remnant of the Clinton Administration is gone for good.

Today's good news comes as the result of hard work of thousands upon thousands of people who called their congressmen, wrote letters to the editor, risked arrest and, yes, blogged for repeal.  I still remember organizing a Facebook event that mobilized over 1,000 people to call the offices of key Senators and urge them to support repeal.  Many people worked very hard over the course of many months to see DADT gone, and we should be proud of ourselves for our accomplishment on this day.

Today is a day of celebration, for we are that much closer to a world in which LGBT people are truly treated equally.  Gay servicemembers are coming out; those who could not serve openly are marrying their loved ones; lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are saying"good riddance" to DADT; the President released this statement on repeal:


As of today, patriotic Americans in uniform will no longer have to lie about who they are in order to serve the country they love. As of today, our armed forces will no longer lose the extraordinary skills and combat experience of so many gay and lesbian service members. And today, as Commander in Chief, I want those who were discharged under this law to know that your country deeply values your service.

If you live in Connecticut, you can attend a rally this Saturday hosted by Congressman Jim Himes (CT-04) and the Human Rights Campaign celebrating repeal and discussing the next steps towards ensuring full LGBT equality.

Repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is a resounding success for the LGBT community; a law that institutionalized discrimination within our federal government is no more.  But make no mistake: we still have a long way to go in procuring equality for LGBT servicemembers.  Transgender servicemembers are still not allowed to serve openly, and there is nothing stopping LGBT servicemembers from being discriminated against in the military.  LGBT military and veterans spouses are also not treated fairly because of the "Defense of Marriage Act."  We have a long way to go yet in ensuring equality for our men and women in uniform, and for ourselves.

GetEQUAL has mobilized its forces for full federal equality in the wake of DADT repeal, emphasizing the need for equality in various other realms.  Check out the Day of Discontent map to see if there are any events in your area.

Today, we celebrate the death of a discriminatory law that has kept patriotic men and women from serving in the armed forces.  Tomorrow, we continue the fight for full equality.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Why gay marriage had (next to) nothing to do with NY-9

In the wake of Democrat David Weprin's shocking electoral defeat by Republican Bob Turner in the race to replace embattled former Congressman Anthony Weiner, many on the political right are insisting that it was Weprin's support for gay marriage that sealed his fate.  The high population of Orthodox Jews in the Brooklyn-Queens district, they say, voted against Weprin's support for equal marriage, putting Turner over the top in what should have been an easy victory for the Democrats.

But the facts are not on their side.  In fact, recent polling in New York's ninth district confirms that there were many factors at play, and that gay marriage was only a small part of a variety of issues voters weighed in deciding who to vote for.

Public Policy Polling gathered the opinions of NY-9ers just days before the election, and their data demonstrate that gay marriage was not what ushered in Congressman Bob Turner; rather, it was the district's disillusionment with President Obama, particularly his stance on Israel, that turned voters away from the Democrats this year.

According to PPP, 56% of voters in the district disapprove of President Obama, compared with only 31% who approve of him.  Compare that to Mitt Romney's 33%-33% split, and the fact that voters said they would vote for Romney over Obama 46% to 42%, and it is clear that Obama's decline in popularity had a significant effect on voters' views of the Democrat in this congressional race; the electorate was just not on Democrats' sides.  Obama has even received flak from within his own party for Weprin's loss.

Specifically on Israel, 54% of voters disapprove of Obama's handling of the issue, while only 30% approve.  The salience of this issue was very high, with 69% saying it was very or somewhat important in deciding who to vote for, while only 29% called it not that important.

On the question of gay marriage, the numbers are almost even, with 45% supporting and 41% opposing.  Given the poll's margin of error of 3.8%, that is virtually a statistical tie.  Furthermore, 55% said this issue was very or somewhat important in their decision on who to vote for, while 44% said it was not that important.  Given the fact that public opinion on gay marriage is split, the fact that the issue was relatively salient (though certainly not as much as Israel) does not immediately point to the issue being a boon for Turner.  In other words, given that opinion is virtually even, it's just as possible that Weprin's support for gay marriage led some voters to want to vote for Weprin, just as much as it led some to not want to vote for him.  The numbers do not support gay marriage opponents' assertions that Weprin's defeat was a direct result of his views on gay marriage.

Not only does reliable polling show that the issue of gay marriage did not play the role that organizations like the National Organization for Marriage is saying it did, but it has even been reported that both candidates sought to downplay the issue, since in New York gay marriage is already legal.

Even among those who did disagree with Weprin's views on gay marriage, the real problem was not so much his mere support for gay marriage, but the fact that he used his religion as an Orthodox Jew as a reason to support it, which many Orthodox Jews found offensive.  Again, the issue of marriage is trumped by other matters.

Bottom line: Those who say Weprin lost the election because of his support for gay marriage have no proof of this.  In fact, statistical evidence points to Obama's unpopularity and his handling of Israel being the major factors at play.  Once again, the anti-equality forces are trying to make political hay out of a race that had very little to do with marriage, but the facts clearly say otherwise.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

DOMA Repeal Reaches Milestone in House

Given the huge losses House Democrats suffered in the 2010 elections, one might assume that the 112th Congress would have fewer cosponsors than the 111th for the "Defense of Marriage Act," the law that bars gay couples from receiving the same rights straight couples receive.

But not so: Amanda Terkel for the Huffington Post reports that the "Respect for Marriage Act" - the law that would repeal DOMA - now has 124 cosponsors, up from last Congress's 120.  The latest cosponsor apparently made his decision in response to the push for a state constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage in his home state of North Carolina:

Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.) has decided to fight for federal marriage equality because of the Republican push to ban it in North Carolina. He told the Advocate on Wednesday that he would become a cosponsor of the federal legislation to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage for federal purposes as between one man and one woman.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the ranking member of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, will announce the addition of both Miller and Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, as cosponsors to the Respect for Marriage Act on Thursday, according to the congressman's spokesman Ilan Kayatsky. On Tuesday, Reps. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) and Tim Walz (D-Minn.) were added as cosponsors.
The announcement comes just days after the Senate reached a milestone itself, with a record 30 Senators supporting DOMA repeal.

That a GOP-controlled House would have more co-sponsors than the House before is just confirmation of what we already knew: that DOMA is on its way out and that the American people are tired of government-backed discrimination.  A poll commissioned by the Human Rights Campaign shows that a plurality of Americans oppose DOMA.

Graph courtesy of the Human Rights Campaign

While DOMA will surely be around so long as the House is controlled by the GOP, there is no denying that support for repeal is at an all-time high, both in Congress and across the country.  It is only a matter of time - perhaps just a few years - before DOMA is gone for good.

Call your congressmen and tell them you oppose the discriminatory "Defense of Marriage Act" and want them to co-sponsor the "Respect for Marriage Act."

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Debate of Hate

Photo courtesy of John Waiblinger.

As Republicans met at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., last night in one of many presidential primary debates, there was also another group gathered just outside the library, one that was conspicuously absent from the discussion taking place inside.

GetEQUAL, a national direct action LGBT rights organization, organized a protest outside the Republican Debate to oppose the “hostile environment” the candidates have contributed to for the LGBT community.

The rally included a memorial for several LGBT youth who have fallen victim to hatred, either taking their own lives or being murdered by homophobic assailants. These victims include Marcellus Andrews, 19, of Waterloo, Iowa (Michele Bachmann’s birthplace); Lawrence King, 15, of Oxnard Calif.; Seth Walsh, 13, of Tahachapi, Calif.; and Justin Aaberg, 15, of Anoka, Minn.

Here are some quotes from a release sent out by GetEQUAL prior to the protest:

“While the GOP candidates jockey for position at the front of the political pack, our youth are taking their own lives in record numbers,” said Robin McGehee, Director of GetEQUAL. “It’s time for these candidates to lead, rather than to follow the bigoted and discriminatory philosophies of fringe, right-wing activists who insist on demonizing fellow Americans for political gain.”

Dan Fotou, GetEQUAL activist, states, “Republican candidates need to be reminded that they have the power to make a difference. Their party platform has, time and again, used the LGBT community for political theater to maintain their bigotry. What they fail to realize is the real impact their words carry – words that can result in death.”

“Every Presidential candidate, regardless of party affiliation, is responsible for the safety and care of Americans,” GetEQUAL activist Michael McKeon says. “It’s shameful that Governor Rick Perry refused to sign the Texas anti-bullying bill into law until all references to LGBT youth were removed – including the name of the young man, Asher Brown, for whom the law was to be named. In a state in which he and the GOP platform are calling for the criminalization of homosexuality, it’s no wonder that the safety of our community is at great risk.”

It comes as no great surprise that the protest – along with the LGBT children it honored – went unacknowledged inside the Reagan library; the Republicans jockeying for the nomination are among some of the most conservative, anti-gay lawmakers our country has known in recent politics. Rick Santorum, for instance, has compared homosexuality with pedophilia and bestiality, and Michele Bachmann has insinuated that gay families are not real families. Rick Perry supports criminalizing gay sex, and Newt Gingrich thinks President Obama should be impeached for opposing the "Defense of Marriage Act." The track record for all of the candidates – perhaps with the exception of Ron Paul, whose supporters interestingly dotted the group of 20 - is mediocre at best, horrifying at worst.

I applaud GetEQUAL for taking the Republican presidential candidates to task for their unsavory political views. If we want to put pressure on presidential candidates – including Obama – to support LGBT rights in exchange for our electoral support, it is vital that we have a strong and conspicuous presence throughout the electoral process. We cannot be silent while candidates either ignore our interests or actively seek to work against them. I hope that there will be similar protests in the future, including at the sites of the 2012 Democratic and Republican National Conventions.

DOMA Repeal Now Has 30 Senate Co-Sponsors, 120 in House

Freedom to Marry is reporting that Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., will co-sponsor the "Respect for Marriage Act," a bill that would repeal the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act" (DOMA).  DOMA bars legally-wedded gay couples from receiving over 1,000 federal benefits which married straight couples receive.

Mikulski's announcement comes just days after 3,000 petition signatures were delivered to her office - proof that grassroots campaigning can make the difference.

Mikulski becomes the 30th cosponsor for the "Respect for Marriage Act" - an impressive showing, but still only half the number of yea votes needed to pass repeal of the discriminatory law.  Additionally, 120 congressmen have cosponsored the House version of the bill, just over half the necessary yea votes for that chamber.

While DOMA will surely not be repealed by a GOP-controlled House, the more cosponsors we get for this important civil rights legislation, the stronger statement we make against institutionalized discrimination.  DOMA perpetuates a second-class citizenship for gay couples by telling them that their federal government does not recognize their relationship.

It is clear that DOMA has got to go: take a moment to call your congressmen and tell them to support the "Respect for Marriage Act" - and, if they do, to thank them for doing so.