Kerry Eleveld takes on the false choice between ENDA and marriage

Very thoughtful piece from Kerry taking on the idea that we can’t move forward on ENDA and marriage at that same time:

A potentially divisive debate is emerging among some LGBT activists that sets up a false choice between pushing for employment nondiscrimination protections or marriage equality at the federal level. I roundly reject the notion that this is an either-or proposition. As a community, we can and should work on both issues over the next two years. But it’s fair to say that while I personally believe these two issues are equally as important, they are not equally situated, and therefore the strategies we must employ to advance them are distinctly different.

She also addresses a key point. We still don’t know really know why there wasn’t even a vote in committee on ENDA:

Of course, some discussions are beginning to happen now, but I don’t believe we have really illuminated the problem yet. I have heard people suggest that we had enough votes to pass the legislation in the House but never got that vote because the clock ran out. Some have also hypothesized that DADT repeal and health care sucked up too much time in the schedule to leave room for ENDA.

From my perspective, this cannot possibly be the whole story. If we truly had the votes in the House and yet failed to move the bill through committee to the floor, then that was a serious strategic misstep even if it would have stalled in the Senate. Bills live and die by momentum. They get a chief sponsor and then more sponsors and then a committee vote and then a floor vote. And maybe they don’t pass both chambers one Congress, but if they make it through one, they are better poised to pass through both next time around.

So if we did have the votes and our advocates (lawmakers and groups included) didn’t press the issue, that was a critical error. And the idea that there just wasn’t room in the calendar because of DADT and health care seems like a red herring as well. Health care was completed in the House in March of 2010. Attaching “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal to the Defense authorization bill took place two months later in May, but that was it — the House had the votes and was ready to go, they were mostly waiting on the Senate Armed Services Committee to line up the votes. So something doesn’t add up.

Rather than pointing fingers here, I am simply pointing out that we are miles away from having the full story about ENDA’s demise and I don’t see how we can possibly expect to develop a strategy around an issue that we can’t seem to discuss in full candor.

Something went wrong. Our so-called advocates aren’t being frank.

It is completely realistic — even for those sophisticated advocates who are “realistic” — to move forward on both ENDA and marriage. We have to — and can. Both ENDA and marriage equality are needed to make sure we are truly equal.




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—  David Taffet

Guest column by Kerry Eleveld – The False Choice: ENDA v. Marriage Equality

I asked Kerry Eleveld, editor at Equality Matters, if I could repost this excellent piece because it’s chock full of tasty and timely points for us to chat about in the coffeehouse, so many thanks to EM’s Richard Socarides for letting me share it here.  –Pam

The False Choice: ENDA v. Marriage Equality

By Kerry Eleveld

A potentially divisive debate is emerging among some LGBT activists that sets up a false choice between pushing for employment nondiscrimination protections or marriage equality at the federal level. I roundly reject the notion that this is an either-or proposition. As a community, we can and should work on both issues over the next two years. But it’s fair to say that while I personally believe these two issues are equally as important, they are not equally situated, and therefore the strategies we must employ to advance them are distinctly different.

Let’s start with a brief overview of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) — which would prohibit employers from firing people on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity — from my perspective as a reporter who covered the issue closely over the last two years.

First, regardless of why we failed to pass ENDA in the 111th Congress, the fact is that we didn’t even get a committee vote in either chamber on the bill in one of the most heavily weighted Democratic Congresses in recent memory. Many people underestimate just how devastating that looks to legislative operatives and lawmakers outside our community. They don’t care about the panoply of explanations for why the vote didn’t happen, they only know that it didn’t and that means that either we couldn’t muster the votes or the Democratic leadership did not want to see this bill debated on the floor.

Second, although I have asked a good number of questions about ENDA and its prospects for a vote, I still can’t tell you why it never happened. Meanwhile, I can recall with decent clarity nearly every twist and turn of the battle to pass “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) repeal. This is not due to a bias on my part, but is rather indicative of the fact that no one seemed willing to talk with any specificity about what was or wasn’t happening with ENDA.

And here is where our community’s analysis must begin — we need to have an honest conversation about our inability to discuss ENDA and transgender issues. Last year, when I asked people in our advocacy groups, staffers on the Hill, and lawmakers about the prospects for passing ENDA, I most commonly got no information or misinformation.  As the bill continued to languish and the House committee vote was continually delayed, my questions were increasingly met with indignation and wholesale assurances that all was going according to plan. But ultimately, all I found was a brick wall when it came to identifying the hurdles.

Meanwhile, many in our activist community leveled hostility at any entity that relayed bad news about the legislation’s progress. When the Washington Blade reported a story in January 2010 entitled “Filibuster Threat Makes ENDA Unlikely In 2010″ in which several anonymous sources sounded the alarm bells about ENDA’s chances, it immediately drew shoot-the-messenger recriminations from people who criticized the story for using unnamed sources. This illustrates just what a lighting-rod issue this has become for LGBT activists — instead of holding the powerbrokers in charge of the legislation accountable, activists were vilifying reporters who were trying to disseminate intelligence about the bill’s state of play. And this is precisely why journalists were often forced to use anonymous sources on the topic — no one seemed willing to speak on the record with any real candor about the topic.

More below the fold.

This has grave implications for our ability to develop a strategy around ENDA and successfully move the bill. If members of the LGBT community are incapable of having a forthright conversation about the obstacles to passing this bill, what does that mean for lawmakers and their ability to discuss the issue?

This is a problem, folks. Not just for our elected officials, not just for our groups, but for our community as a whole. We all have a stake in ENDA — it would provide critical protections for the full breadth of the queer community — but the battle over transgender inclusion in 2007 has left us with so many scars that people are afraid to speak up for fear of the backlash.

Of course, some discussions are beginning to happen now, but I don’t believe we have really illuminated the problem yet. I have heard people suggest that we had enough votes to pass the legislation in the House but never got that vote because the clock ran out. Some have also hypothesized that DADT repeal and health care sucked up too much time in the schedule to leave room for ENDA.

From my perspective, this cannot possibly be the whole story. If we truly had the votes in the House and yet failed to move the bill through committee to the floor, then that was a serious strategic misstep even if it would have stalled in the Senate. Bills live and die by momentum. They get a chief sponsor and then more sponsors and then a committee vote and then a floor vote. And maybe they don’t pass both chambers one Congress, but if they make it through one, they are better poised to pass through both next time around.

So if we did have the votes and our advocates (lawmakers and groups included) didn’t press the issue, that was a critical error. And the idea that there just wasn’t room in the calendar because of DADT and health care seems like a red herring as well. Health care was completed in the House in March of 2010. Attaching “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal to the Defense authorization bill took place two months later in May, but that was it — the House had the votes and was ready to go, they were mostly waiting on the Senate Armed Services Committee to line up the votes. So something doesn’t add up.

Rather than pointing fingers here, I am simply pointing out that we are miles away from having the full story about ENDA’s demise and I don’t see how we can possibly expect to develop a strategy around an issue that we can’t seem to discuss in full candor.

I said at the outset of this piece that ENDA and marriage equality were not equally situated. Though both issues are about creating safety nets for people who need to protect themselves and their families, they are not as equally ingrained in the public consciousness. Similar to the issue of DADT, same-sex marriage has been percolating as part of a national debate since the early ’90s when a Hawaii court ruled that gay couples might have the right to marry. Marriage is a concept everyone understands and the American public has watched the marriage equality battle rip through nearly every state in the country — some fights being more high-profile than others.

If you asked the vast majority of Americans right now whether same-sex couples can get married, most of them would have a frame of reference for the question, regardless of whether they answered the question correctly. But if you asked them whether LGBT people can be legally fired, my guess is that few of them would have ever even considered the question. My own personal experience of talking to reasonably well-informed straight allies is that many have no idea people can still be fired on the basis of their sexual orientation in 29 states or that transgender individuals can be fired in 38 states.

Although the marriage issue has been painted by some as an elitist concern pushed by wealthy donors, a New York Times article last month revealed new Census Bureau data showing that cities like San Antonio, TX and Jacksonville, FL have the highest concentration of gay couples raising children in the country. Demographers also found that black or Latino gay couples were twice as likely as whites to be raising children. While we cannot definitively say all those couples want to get married, it is undeniably true that they and their families could benefit significantly from the protections provided by marriage.

And they could also benefit from the protections provided by ENDA.

This is exactly why we must work on both issues simultaneously. But ENDA requires a serious two-year lobbying strategy at the very least. My sense from talking to Hill staffers and, in some cases, members of Congress is that many lawmakers still don’t know how to broach transgender issues and, quite frankly, have more questions than answers on the matter. The House is undoubtedly further along than the Senate, but work is badly needed in both chambers.

Meanwhile, high profile court cases regarding both the Defense of Marriage Act and the Constitutional right of same-sex couples to marry will continue to provide opportunities for advocates to advance the conversation around equal marriage rights. It would be an absolute mistake for our community not to capitalize on stories that will already be making mainstream headlines in order to sway public opinion and push our political allies. We must strive to frame this issue to our advantage because antigay forces are already redoubling their efforts against us.

ENDA and marriage equality are simply not an either-or proposition. Fortunately, the resources required to advance each of these issues at the federal level share similarities but don’t infringe on each other. And choosing between them is not an option.

Kerry Eleveld is editor at Equality Matters, a campaign for full LGBT equality. Eleveld previously served as Washington Correspondent for The Advocate for the first two years of the Obama Administration.
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Johnny Weir Would’ve Picked Heterosexual If He Had A Choice

Guess what stupid celebrity meme I long ago tired of, and so did you? The whole "Johnny Weir came out in his book" headline, which the figure skater himself says is preposterous, because he was never in, even though he never acknowledged it. And if he talks about how he doesn't celebrate being BORN WHITE AND MALE one more time, Jesus, I'm going to triple Salchow up in here. We get it, Johnny. You don't want to be an activist. Now go back to shopping and being capital-F fabulous, OKTHXBI.

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Rosie O’Donnell’s Choice Of Birth Control For Her Kids: MTV’s Teen Mom

Teen Mom, the controversial MTV series that advertisers aren't feeling from, still scores its share of criticism from folks who think it glamorizes teen pregnancy. (It doesn't. It makes teen pregnancy look awful. But these girls do get paid to be on camera.) Who's coming to the show's defense? Ms. Rosie O'Donnell, who thinks the series will keep her own teenage daughter from getting knocked up.

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Alaska Senate Candidate Joe Miller: Gays Must Decide If Homosexuality Is A Choice

Alaskan Republican Senate candidate Joe Miller — who was just outed for lying about using government computers for political activity, and whose one-time advisor Terry Moffitt runs the "gay cure" website Hope For Homosexuals — finally granted Rachel Maddow the interview she's been looking for. Granted, it was a Law & Order-style on-the-move chat in his home state, but Maddow did get Miller to discuss The Gays. It was a nightmare.

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Valerie ‘Lifestyle Choice’ Jarrett falsely claims DOJ required to defend all laws; says critics don’t ‘actually understand’ process

Senior  Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett also appears to take a swipe at those of you aren’t happy with the President’s less-than-fierce advocacy on this issue. Apparently, you just don’t understand the way things work.  (Oh trust me, I think we’re beginning to.)  From Igor Volsky in The Wonk Room.

JARRETT: Until Congress repeals it, the Justice Department is doing what it is required to do, and that is to defend the laws of the land. But I want to be very clear, the President thinks that it is time for the policy to end and that is what he intends to ask Congress to do.

You know what, c. Believe me, we wish that it were another way because the President has been so clear. And I think there are many members of the gay community who actually understand this, and who are working with us to try to put pressure on Congress to repeal it. It’s clear that vast majority of American people think that it should not be the law. And we are determined to have Congress revoke it. But we have to go through that orderly process.

I think it’s time someone got Valerie Jarrett a new set of misinformation talking points, because the current ones have already been debunked, embarrassingly so.

No, Valerie, DOJ is not required to defend, or appeal, or enforce every law.  That’s a lie.  Newsweek did the best summation of the options the President has here, but to quote from their story, “Most experts in constitutional and military law say [President Obama] has other options” than simply appealing, defending and enforcing the law.

Don’t believe me?  How about Ted Olsen, George W. Bush’s solicitor general:

As Ted Olson — former Solicitor General under President George W. Bush — explains, “it happens every once in awhile at the federal level when the solicitor general, on behalf of the U.S., will confess error or decline to defend a law.”

“I don’t know what is going through the [Obama] administration’s thought process on ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’” Olson said. “It would be appropriate for them to say ‘the law has been deemed unconstitutional, we are not going to seek further review of that.’”

Guess you’re wrong, Valerie.

Not to mention, if Valerie Jarrett is so sure that “the Justice Department is required to defend the law of the land,” then why has the Obama administration refused to enforce lots of other laws since they came into office?  We’ve enumerated them before.  Let me share with you a bit of that post:

A) Last October the Obama administration outright ignored federal law regarding marijuana because it was at odd’s with the administration’s policy preferences with regards to medical marijuana.

B) Then there is President Obama’s use of signing statements to simply ignore laws passed by Congress.

C) Then there’s this from the NYT just two months ago:

T]he approach will make it harder to keep track of which statutes the White House believes it can disregard….

[T]he administration will consider itself free to disregard new laws it considers unconstitutional….

Mr. Obama nevertheless challenged dozens of provisions early last year. The last time was in June, when his claim that he could disobey a new law requiring officials to push the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to adopt certain policies angered Congress….

Last year the Obama administration disregarded a statute that forbid State Department officials to attend United Nations meetings led by nations deemed state sponsors of terrorism. Congress has included that restriction in several recent bills.

D) Then there was the time that the Obama administration refused to enforce immigration laws because they didn’t comport with the administration’s policy preferences.

Need I go on?

I’d like to think that a senior White House official, who just spoke at the HRC dinner, isn’t lying to our community about the state of play with regards to DOJ and the law.  I’d like to think that she’s simply seriously ignorant of how all of this works.  But this isn’t the first time the Obama administration has tried to mislead the gay community on this issue.  They do it a lot.  And it’s always the same false talking points about how they have no other option than to defend the law.

And it’s a lie.

Finally, with all due respect to Valerie Jarrett, why is the White House using someone who thinks being gay is a “lifestyle choice” to be their top spokesperson on gay issues?  Regardless of whether it was a simple slip of the tongue for Jarrett’s to use the phrase to recently describe a now-dead gay bullying victim, her use of the anachronistic and supremely offensive language shows that she is not intimately familiar with our community and our issues.  No gay spokesperson would use that phrase, ever.  But it seems there aren’t any senior White House advisers who are openly gay (or Cabinet secretaries, or Supreme Court nominees), and the only gay spokespeople they have are unfortunately relatively low level.  So we have to rely – the President has to rely when getting advice on our issues – on someone who thinks the state of play in the gay community is offensive religious right talking points from twenty years ago.

The Obama administration has done this much damage to the gay community’s decades-long relationship with the Democrat party in only 19 months.  Imagine how bad it’s going to be at the end of four years.




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Teabagger Senate Candidate Ken Buck: Gayness Is A Choice, Like Alcoholism

Today on Meet The Press, teabagger Senate candidate Ken Buck declared that being gay is a choice. Except when it’s not, like for alcoholics. Or something. Via Talking Points Memo:

Colorado Senate candidates Ken Buck (R) and incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet (D) met for a debate on Meet The Press this morning and sparred on the budget, the Tea Party and flip-flops. But the most controversial moment came when host David Gregory asked Buck if he believes that being gay is a choice. Buck responded that he thought it was a choice, but allowed that “birth has an influence over it, like alcoholism and some other things.” The comments came at the end of the debate, when Gregory asked Buck to expand on some recent comments he’d made about “lifestyle choices” when expressing his support for the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Buck said he believed being gay is a choice, and Gregory asked him: “based on what?” “Based on what?” Buck said. “I guess you could choose who your partner is.” “I think that birth has an influence over it, like alcoholism and some other things,” Buck continued. “But I think that, basically, you have a choice.”

Buck currently leads incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet by four to seven points in the polls.

UPDATE: The Human Rights Campaign responds via press release.

“Mr. Buck’s ill-informed views are not only factually inaccurate, but they are extremely dangerous,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “In the past six weeks a number of teenagers have taken their own lives after being the victims of anti-gay bullying and harassment. When public figures like Mr. Buck make statements like he did today, kids struggling with their identities question their self-worth and other kids justify bullying. Ken Buck must correct his remarks now.” “This is yet another in a long line of examples showing that Ken Buck is out of touch with the majority of Coloradans,” said One Colorado Executive Director Brad Clark. “Instead of focusing on common values of respect for all people, Buck is spewing divisive, extreme rhetoric. His claim that homosexuality is a choice is yet another example of his extreme views falling out of step with everyday Coloradans.”

Joe. My. God.

—  John Wright

Obama Discusses Bullying, ‘DADT’, Whether Being Gay is a Choice, at MTV Town Hall

Obamamtv

At an MTV Town Hall with young people this afternoon, Obama faced a number of questions on LGBT issues.

One question dealt with online harassment, and bullying (transcript via the White House): 

Q    Hello, my name is Allie Vonparis (ph).  I’m a junior at University of Maryland in College Park and also — this is more of a personal question — but I’m also a victim of anonymous, hurtful, degrading harassment over the Internet.  Police and university officials have been unable to help put a stop to it.  My question to you is, what can you do, if anything, to put a stop to these vicious attacks over the Internet while preserving our rights to freedom of speech?  I also ask this in light of the recent — the tragic deaths recently on the news of young people who are bullied and harassed online.  Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, it’s a great question.  And obviously our heart breaks when we read about what happened at Rutgers, when we read about some of these other young people who are doing nothing to deserve the kind of harassment and bullying that just completely gets out of hand. 

 And so we actually, the Department of Education, has initiated a — we had a summit a couple of weeks ago just to talk about this issue:  How can we help local and state officials set up structures where young people feel safe, where there’s a trigger that goes off when this kind of bullying starts taking place so that immediately school officials can nip it at the bud?  So there are a range of cooperative efforts that we can initiate.

Now, in terms of the Internet, you’re right, it is a challenging thing because the Internet — part of the power of the Internet is, is that information flows out there and it’s generally not censored and it’s generally not controlled by any single authority.

But at your school, for example, I think there is nothing wrong with instituting policies that say that harassment of any form, whether it comes through the Internet or whether it happens to you face to face, is unacceptable; that we’ve got zero tolerance when it comes to sexual harassment, we have zero tolerance when it comes to harassing people because of their sexual orientation, because of their race, because of their ethnicity.

And I think that making sure that every institution, whether it’s our schools, our government, our places of work, take these issues seriously and know that in some cases there are laws against this kind of harassment and that prosecutions will take place when somebody violates those laws.  Sending that message of seriousness is something that I think we all have to do.

 Now, the last point I would make is that the law is a powerful thing but the law doesn’t always change what’s in people’s hearts.  And so all of us have an obligation to think about how we’re treating other people.  And what we may think is funny or cute may end up being powerfully hurtful.  And I’ve got two daughters, 12 and nine, and Michelle and I spend a lot of time talking to them about putting themselves in other people’s shoes and seeing through other people’s eyes.  And if somebody is different from you, that’s not something you criticize, that’s something that you appreciate.

And so I think there’s also a values component to this that all of us have to be in a serious conversation about.  Because ultimately peer pressure can lead people to bully, but peer pressure can also say bullying is not acceptable.

Another question, via Twitter, asked "Dear President Obama, do you think being gay or trans is a choice?"

Obama answered: 

"I am not obviously — I don't profess to be an expert. This is a layperson's opinion. But I don't think it's a choice. I think people are born with a certain makeup, and we're all children of God. We don't make determinations about who we love. And that's why I think that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is wrong."

White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett apologized earlier today for language she used in a Washington Post interview which referred to being gay as a "lifestyle choice".

A third LGBT-related question dealt with "Don't Ask, Don't Tell:"

Q    I voted for you in the last elections based on your alleged commitment to equality for all Americans, gay and straight, and I wanted to know where you stood on “don’t ask, don’t tell.”  I know that you’ve mentioned that you want the Senate to repeal it before you do it yourself.  My question is you as the President can sort of have an executive order that ends it once and for all, as Harry — as Truman did for the integration of the military in ‘48.  So I wonder why don’t you do that if this is a policy that you’re committed to ending.

THE PRESIDENT:  First of all, I haven’t “mentioned” that I’m against “don’t ask, don’t ask” — I have said very clearly, including in a State of the Union address, that I’m against “don’t ask, don’t tell” and that we’re going to end this policy.  That’s point number one.

Point number two, the difference between my position right now and Harry Truman’s was that Congress explicitly passed a law that took away the power of the executive branch to end this policy unilaterally.  So this is not a situation in which with a stroke of a pen I can simply end the policy. 

Now, having said that, what I have been able to do is for the first time get the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen, to say he thinks the policy should end.  The Secretary of Defense has said he recognizes that the policy needs to change.  And we, I believe, have enough votes in the Senate to go ahead and remove this constraint on me, as the House has already done, so that I can go ahead and end it.

Now, we recently had a Supreme Court — a district court case that said, “don’t ask, don’t tell” is unconstitutional.  I agree with the basic principle that anybody who wants to serve in our armed forces and make sacrifices on our behalf, on behalf of our national security, anybody should be able to serve.  And they shouldn’t have to lie about who they are in order to serve.

And so we are moving in the direction of ending this policy.  It has to be done in a way that is orderly, because we are involved in a war right now.  But this is not a question of whether the policy will end.  This policy will end and it will end on my watch.  But I do have an obligation to make sure that I am following some of the rules.  I can’t simply ignore laws that are out there.  I’ve got to work to make sure that they are changed.

Video on DADT question, AFTER THE JUMP



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—  John Wright

Obama: ‘I’m A Christian By Choice’

6a00d8341c730253ef0134864f8847970c-800wi President Obama's opponents enjoy taking aim at his religion, and have worked overtime to paint him as Muslim, which to many conservatives is worse than practicing no faith at all.

Though the Commander-in-Chief has tried and tried to convince people he's Christian, his efforts often fall flat: almost 20% of voters still think he practices Islam. Perhaps the President's unscripted reply in Albuquerque, New Mexico, will quiet some of his religious critics.

"Why are you a Christian?" asked a woman today, leading Obama, who's traveling around four Republican-leaning states, to answer, “I’m a Christian by choice."

He went on to explain, "I came to my Christian faith later in life and it was because the precepts of Jesus Christ spoke to me in terms of the kind of life that I would want to lead. Being my brothers and sisters’ keeper, treating others as they would treat me, and I think also understanding that Jesus Christ dying for my sins spoke to the humility we all have to have as human beings."

Of course, skeptics and cynics will likely suggest the White House planted this woman there to ask that very question. Because, you know, the administration doesn't have anything else to worry about…

Read Obama's entire reply, AFTER THE JUMP.

I’m a Christian by choice. My family, frankly, they weren’t folks who went to church every week. My mother was one of the most spiritual people I knew but she didn’t raise me in the church, so I came to my Christian faith later in life and it was because the precepts of Jesus Christ spoke to me in terms of the kind of life that I would want to lead.

Being my brothers and sisters’ keeper, treating others as they would treat me, and I think also understanding that Jesus Christ dying for my sins spoke to the humility we all have to have as human beings, that we’re sinful and we’re flawed and we make mistakes and we achieve salvation through the grace of God.

But what we can do, as flawed as we are, is still see God in other people, and do our best to help them find their own grace. That’s what I strive to do, that’s what I pray to do every day.


Towleroad News #gay

—  John Wright