Hagel vows to push for equal benefits for gay and lesbian military families

Chuck Hagel

Two LGBT groups, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and the Family Equality Council, are praising Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel after he wrote a letter to Sen. Barbara Boxer addressing concerns about his appointment. Boxer endorsed the Hagel nomination on Monday. She had withheld support citing his positions on Israel, women’s and LGBT issues.

With regard to “don’t ask, don’t tell,” Hagel wrote:

“I fully support the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010 and value the service of all those who fight for our country. I know firsthand the profound sacrifice our service members and their families make, and if confirmed as Secretary of Defense, I will do everything possible to the extent permissible under current law to provide equal benefits to the families of all our service members.”

In the U.S. Senate, Hagel received a 0 percent rating with Human Rights Campaign and voted in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act. He was not in the Senate for the enactment or repeal of DADT.

“This commitment is a big step forward for military families with lesbian and gay parents,” said Emily Hecht-McGowan, director of public policy for Family Equality Council. “The Department of Defense has a lot of work to do to ensure that all military families have access to the benefits they’ve earned through service to their country. We look forward to working with the Administration to make sure that all military families, including those with lesbian and gay servicemembers, are protected and respected.”

“Senator Hagel’s commitment is a turning point for our gay and lesbian military families,” said SLDN Executive Director Allyson Robinson. “His promise to grant these service members the family benefits they have earned demonstrates his deepening grasp of the injustice currently being done to them.”

In its press release, SLDN referred to a 2011 letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta demanding a list of benefits available to straight military and denied to gay and lesbian military because of DOMA. That list includes issuance of military ID cards for a non-military spouse and access to military hospitals to visit a sick child by the non-military parent. Without a military ID card, a spouse cannot get on a base to visit the child.

While far right wing members of the Senate continue to oppose Hagel’s nomination, Jewish members are beginning to support him. In addition to Boxer, Chuck Schumer of New York expressed support today.

—  David Taffet

Senate hearing on DOMA repeal is set

‘Respect for Marriage Act’ has 27 co-sponsors so far, all Democrats

LISA KEEN | Keen News Service
lisakeen@me.com

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled Wednesday, July 20, at 10 a.m. to hear testimony on a bill to repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

The specific bill in question is the “Respect for Marriage Act” (S. 598), introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., for herself and Sens. Kirstein Gillibrand, D-NY, and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, announced last week he would hold a hearing on the bill — the first Congressional hearing on a proposal to repeal DOMA.

The Respect for Marriage Act would also stipulate that, “for the purposes of any federal law in which marital status is a factor, an individual shall be considered married if that individual’s marriage is valid in the State where the marriage was entered into. …”

It also calls for recognition of marriages licensed in other countries.

The bill currently has 27 co-sponsors, including Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Richard Durbin, D-Ill and John Kerry, D-Mass.

No Republicans have yet co-sponsored the bill.

Live webcasts of Senate Judiciary Committee hearings can be viewed at the committee’s website: judiciary.senate.gov.

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

—  John Wright

Obama to gay-rights protesters who disrupted his speech: 'I don't know why you're hollering'

Gay-rights activists demanding a repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” twice interrupted President Barack Obama’s speech at a Los Angeles fundraiser for Democratic California Sen. Barbara Boxer on Monday night. The activists were from GetEQUAL, the same group that staged sit-ins at offices of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a month ago.

Shortly after Obama took the stage Monday, the activists began chanting things like, “What about ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’?” Obama halted his speech before saying, “I agree, I agree, I agree. What the young man was talking about was, we need to repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ which I agree with, and which we have begun to do, but let me say this: When you”ve got an ally like Barbara Boxer, and you’ve got an ally like me who are fighting for the same thing, then I don’t know exactly why you’ve got to holler, because we already hear you. It would make more sense to holler that at the people who oppose it.”

A few minutes later, when the activists began chanting again, Obama said: “I’m sorry, do you want to come up here? Because can I just say once again, Barbara and I are supportive of repealing ‘don’t ask don’t tell,’ so I don’t know why you’re hollering.”

Obama then walked over to Boxer before returning to the podium. “I just wanted to confirm,” he said. “I just checked with Barbara, so if anybody else is thinking about starting a chant, Barbara didn’t even vote for ‘don’ t ask, don’t tell’ in the first place, so you know she’s going to be in favor of repealing ‘don’t ask don’t tell.’”

Watch video of the disruption by going here.

—  John Wright

Early LGBT ally Midge Costanza dies

Midge Costanza
Midge Costanza

Midge Costanza died of cancer on Tuesday.

As an assistant to President Jimmy Carter, Costanza arranged the first meeting between a gay and lesbian group and the White House. The historic meeting between the presidential assistant and Jean O’Leary and Bruce Voeller, the co-executive directors of the National Gay Task Force (now NGLTF),  took place on March 26, 1977. The meeting was followed by right-wing calls for her resignation.

At another controversial event, she gathered 30 women to a White House meeting to protest Carter’s opposition to providing federal money to poor women seeking abortions.

Constanza was the first woman in history to hold the title Assistant to the President. More recently she has worked for California Sen. Barbara Boxer and California Gov. Grey Davis.

More about this pioneering ally to the LGBT community in her New York Times obituary.

—  David Taffet