Record number of Texas voters back legal recognition for gay couples

A University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll this week showed nearly 70 percent of Texans support legal recognition for same-sex couples – the highest percentage since polls began asking the questions in 2009.

The Tribune’s poll showed 36 percent support same-sex marriage and 33 percent support civil unions, for a total of 69 percent in favor of relationship recognition. Although with 25 percent against marriage or civil unions, the data could be interrupted as 58 percent against same-sex marriage.

Still, the findings in support of relationship recognition are 6 points higher than the second-highest result in February 2010, when a Tribune poll found 63 percent of Texans supported relationship recognition, with 28 percent in favor of marriage and 35 percent supporting civil unions.

The new poll is also 9 points higher than a Tribune poll from this February, which showed 31 percent supporting marriage and 29 percent favoring unions, totaling 60 percent in favor.

Erin Moore, who serves as co-chair of National Stonewall Democrats Leadership Council and was a member of the national Platform Committee, said polls are not a good basis for argument, but help get conversations started.

“I think it’s a great gauge of attitude, but I don’t think we should use it as ammunition for a basis for any sort of argument,” she said.

Moore said she questions the new poll because the percentage for marriage equality and civil unions were equal, as it has been in past years. She said she worries if people are against relationship recognition but choose civil unions to not appear bigoted.

“I wonder how much of that is support and how much of that is let me pick the non-bigoted answer but still not say I’m in favor of marriage,” she said.

As for the 9-point jump in support from February and the highest percentage in favor of marriage equality, Moore said that high a jump is a “significant shift” and that President Barack Obama’s public support for same-sex marriage and local efforts have helped the movement.

“What I attribute it to is that we’re continuing to do our work and get out into communities and to let people know that separate but equal doesn’t work in that we are full-fledged citizens who deserve rights that everybody else has, and that word is getting out,” she said.

In May 2011, a Tribune poll found 61 percent of Texans supported gay relationships with the support split between 30 percent backing  marriage and 31 percent favoring civil unions.

A Texas Lyceum poll in October 2010 found that Texans supported gay relationships by 52 percent. More than half at 28 percent supported marriage equality and 24 percent supported civil unions.

An Equality Texas poll released in December 2010 asked Texans 12 questions related to LGBT equality. The survey didn’t give an either/or option, but rather asked each question separately, resulting in 43 percent supporting gay marriage and 63 percent favoring civil unions.

In 2009, a Texas Politics Poll found 61 percent of people supported relationship recognition, with 29 percent for marriage equality and 32 percent for civil unions. A Texas Lyceum poll the same year found 57 percent in support, with 25 percent for marriage and 32 percent for civil unions.

—  Dallasvoice

Dallas County Clerk John Warren says he won’t issue any same-sex marriage licenses tomorrow

Dallas County Clerk John Warren, right, greeted Blake Wilkinson of Queer LiberAction when same-sex couples requested marriage licenses in 2009. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

In Friday’s Voice we mentioned that same-sex couples will be requesting marriage licenses at the Dallas County Clerk’s Office on Tuesday in a Valentine’s Day demonstration organized by GetEQUAL TX and other groups. But don’t expect County Clerk John Warren to issue the licenses. Warren told Instant Tea today that issuing one to a same-sex couple would likely result in a petition to have him removed from the office he’s held since 2006.

“When I took my oath, I raised my hand to uphold the law,” Warren said. “Regardless of what John Warren’s feelings are, that’s what I have to do, because that’s what my position requires.

“If the law changes that I can issue same-sex marriage licenses, I will issue same-sex marriage licenses,” Warren added. “More than any other cause, my main cause is my 13-year-old son and providing for him and my wife — and my dog.”

Asked about his personal position on the issue, Warren said his religious beliefs dictate that he opposes same-sex marriage. Warren is a deacon in his Baptist church, which he said teaches what the Bible teaches, which is “to love everybody.”

“I don’t see an issue with civil unions,” Warren said, adding that he also strongly supported the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Warren is close friends with fellow Democrat and openly gay District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons. The pair has worked closely on a digital courts initiative among other projects, and they refer to themselves as “running mates” during election season.

“I love Gary like a brother,” Warren said.

Asked whether he would support Fitzsimmons’ right to get married, Warren said he was unaware that Fitzsimmons has any desire to do so but would be open to discussing the issue with him. Warren added that he may or may not greet the protesters on Tuesday — as he has in previous years — because Commissioners Court will be in session.

Read GetEQUAL TX’s full press release about Tuesday’s demonstration — which begins at 10 a.m. and is one of many across the state and nation — after the jump.

—  John Wright

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings won’t sign pledge in support of same-sex marriage

Mayor Mike Rawlings speaks during an LGBT Pride Month Reception at City Hall in June.

Dallas’ Mike Rawlings won’t join more than 70 mayors from across the country who’ve signed a pledge in support of same-sex marriage during this week’s U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Washington, D.C.

“The mayor does not plan to publicly support any social issues but would rather focus on the policy issues that impact Dallas,” Rawlings’ chief of staff, Paula Blackmon, said in an email to Dallas Voice today. “Also know we have not signed onto other similar requests.”

Mayors who’ve signed the pledge sponsored by the group Freedom to Marry include Michael Bloomberg of New York, Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, Annise Parker of Houston, Jerry Sanders of San Diego, Thomas Menino of Boston and Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles.

Jackie Yodashkin, a spokeswoman for Freedom to Marry, said the full list of mayors who’ve signed the pledge will be revealed during a press conference Friday morning to kick off the campaign, called Mayors for the Freedom to Marry.

However, Yodashkin told Dallas Voice today that Houston’s Parker is the only mayor from Texas who’s signed the pledge thus far. About 20 mayors from Texas pre-registered for the Winter Meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, according to the website.

During his campaign last year, Rawlings said he voted against Proposition 2, Texas’ 2005 constitutional amendment that banned both same-sex marriage and civil unions. When asked directly whether he supports marriage equality, Rawlings said: “I think it’s one of the most irrelevant issues for the world. I think we should get beyond it and let people do what they want to do. Some of my best friends have been married, and I’m pleased that they have been, and so I’m really happy for them. I’ve supported their marriage, but its’ not the mayor’s job to say, ‘We need to do this.’”

Read Freedom to Marry’s full press release about the campaign below.

—  John Wright

New year adds two new civil union states

Gov. Neil Abercrombie

Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed the civil union law in Hawaii in February

The new year begins with two new states offering civil unions.

On Jan. 1, Hawaii and Delaware join the growing number of states offering some form of relationship recognition for same-sex couples.

Currently, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and Washington, D.C. have marriage equality.

New Jersey, Illinois and Rhode Island offer civil unions that are equal to marriage by law but have been fraught with complaints about unequal treatment.

California, Colorado, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, Washington state and Wisconsin have a variety of domestic partnership laws that offer some recognition and benefits.

New York, Illinois and Rhode Island were 2011 additions.

The Republican-controlled legislature in New Hampshire has a pending bill to repeal marriage equality in that state, but the governor has promised to veto it, if passed.

The new year also brings a new law in California that recognizes LGBT contributions along with those of other groups in the state’s education curriculum.

And although Prop. 8 stopped same-sex marriage in the state, California will begin granting divorces to couples who were married in the state but cannot divorce elsewhere.

—  David Taffet

Marriage battle heating up again in Hawaii

Hawaii's civil unions law, signed last February by Gov. Neil Abercrombie, is set to take effect Jan. 1. But a lesbian couple in Hawaii filed a federal suit this week demanding the right to be legally married in the state.

When most people think about legal same-sex marriages in the United States, they probably think first of Massachusetts, the state that in 2003 became the first to legalize same-sex marriage after the state Supreme Court ruled, in the case Goodridge v. The Department of Public Health, that the state had “no constitutionally adequate reasoning for denying marriage to same-sex couples.” The majority opinion in that case, written by Chief Justice Margaret Marshall, also declared that marriage “is not a privilege conferred by the state but a fundamental right that is protected against state interference.”

Since then, five more states — Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and New York — plus the District of Columbia, the Coquille Indian Tribe in Oregon and the Suquamish Indian Tribe in Washington State — have legalized same-sex marriage as well, either through a legislative vote or judicial ruling. Of course, the federal government still refuses to recognize same-sex marriage thanks to the Defense of Marriage Act, and 28 states — including Texas — have constitutional amendments banning recognition of same-sex marriage.

And most people know all about the battle over marriage equality in California: First the California Supreme Court said banning gay marriage was unconstitutional. Then months later the voters approved a constitutional amendment — Proposition 8 — banning gay marriage. Then a federal district court said Prop 8 violates the U.S. Constitution, and now that ruling is on appeal to the 9th Circuit Court, with a ruling there possibly coming down at any time now.

Most people know all that.

But what a lot of people might not remember — maybe they never knew — is that the battle over marriage equality began in Hawaii way, way back in 1993, after some same-sex couples sued the state when they were refused marriage licenses, and the Hawaii State Supreme Court ruled that the state was discriminating by refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Voters passed a constitutional amendment in 1998 allowing legislators to limit marriage to opposite-sex couples, and marriage equality supporters spent the next 13 years trying to get civil unions legalized. That finally happened in February of this year when Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed a civil unions bill into law.

That law is set to take effect on Jan. 1.

Now this week, the battle heats up again: Natasha N. Jackson and Janin Kleid on Wednesday, Dec. 7, filed suit in U.S. District Court against Abercrombie, a Democrat, and the Hawaii Department of Health, after the state refused to grant them a marriage license, according to this story by On Top Magazine.

The two women said in their suit that by denying their marriage license application on Nov. 18, the state had violated their 14th Amendment rights to due process and equal protection.

Abercrombie said that if the two want to “pursue that through legal channels, that’s fine. But I work through the legislative channels.” The governor also said he believes most people in the state are “very, very happy” with the civil union law taking effect next month, and that “I am very pleased with where we are, where we’re going and where we’re headed.”

—  admin

NY marriage a success; RI civil unions not so much

Speaker of Rhode Island House of Representatives Gordon D. Fox

In Dallas and cities across Texas, marriage equality marches and demonstrations will be held this weekend. The Dallas march takes place at 4:30 p.m. at Founder’s Square outside the County Records Building in Downtown Dallas.

This year one state — New York — has legalized same-sex marriage and two — Rhode Island and Illinois — have legalized civil unions.

Marriage in New York has been a success. Since the law began effective in July, one in five marriages — 20 percent — have been gay or lesbian couples.

The civil union laws? Not so much. In Illinois, 1,600 couples have taken advantage of civil unions since it went into effect on June 1. In Rhode Island, just 14 couples.

A number of reasons for the lack of enthusiasm for civil unions in Rhode Island include the proximity to states with full marriage and disappointment that the openly gay Speaker of the state House of Representatives, Gordon Fox, couldn’t deliver marriage equality.

Nowhere in the state is anyone more than 20 miles from either Connecticut or Massachusetts, both marriage equality states. And Vermont, New Hampshire and New York are short drives. So why settle for second class?

Even given Rhode Island’s small population, the rate is 10 times lower than other states that began offering civil unions. And the Illinois law does not have the number of exemptions where the civil unions can be disregarded as the Rhode Island law.

The Rhode Island law puts those who married elsewhere into the same position as Texans who marry elsewhere. The civil union law prohibits divorce. So while the state won’t recognize their marriages, it insists that couples who split remain married.

—  David Taffet

Bill aims to repeal gay marriage in N.H.

Gov. John Lynch

According to the Nashua (N.H.) Union Leader, a bill that would repeal marriage equality is working its way through the Republican-controlled Legislature.

The bill would allow civil unions for gay or straight couples and would not affect same-sex marriages that have already occurred in the state. But civil unions would have little meaning because any business, individual, school or association could decide not to recognize them.

The sponsor of the bill could find no reason to repeal marriage equality so his excuse was that even if it’s not evident now, it will harm society over time.

Another supporter of the bill claimed that the bill doesn’t discriminate against anyone since everyone can take advantage of heterosexual marriage. Is that like banning some religions since everyone can take advantage of going to a Christian church?

A vote on the bill cannot come to the floor of the Legislature until 2012.

Gov. John Lynch, who signed the marriage equality bill, said he would veto the repeal. However, Lynch is up for re-election in 2012 and announced that he won’t seek a fifth term in office.

—  David Taffet

Groups hope couples, lawyers will take the parenting pledge

New guidelines for same-sex parenting and custody aimed at stopping LGBTs from denying parental rights to ex-partners

Mary-Bonauto
GLAD’S MARY BONAUTO | (Photo courtesy InfinityPortraitDesign.com)

Dana Rudolph  |  Keen News Service
lisakeen@me.com

Some of the most contentious lawsuits involving the rights of LGBT people have occurred when the biological parent of a child uses anti-LGBT laws to try and deny the child’s non-biological parent custody or visitation.

But several LGBT legal organizations have published a revised set of standards aimed at stopping such behavior, and they’re hoping parents and attorneys will take a pledge to abide by them.

The publication is “Protecting Families: Standards for LGBT Families,” produced by Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and NCLR’s National Family Law Advisory Council. It encourages lawyers to support and respect LGBT parents even when legal rights do not, and advises parents and lawyers to honor children’s relationships with both parents, seek custody resolutions that minimize conflict, and use litigation only as a last resort.

Mary Bonauto, the director of GLAD’s Civil Rights Project, authored the original version of the standards in 1999. She said the intent of the document is to urge same-sex parents to use whatever parental protections are available in their states, “for the sake of your children.”

These protections may assist with issues such as medical decision-making, but may also help maintain both parents’ relationships with the children when the couple breaks up.

The revised document is updated to reflect new laws in several states recognizing the relationships of same-sex couples, whether through marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships. But it cautions that same-sex parents should not rely on such laws to protect their parental relationships with their children.

“[W]e still have a huge architecture of discrimination against same-sex relationships,” said Bonauto. Many states do not recognize them at all or may not treat them in the same way as opposite-sex relationships. This may jeopardize the relationships of non-biological, non-adoptive parents to their children.

Even in Massachusetts, the first state to allow same-sex couples to marry, courts may not look favorably upon a non-biological parent who has not also done a “second-parent adoption” of a spouse’s biological child, she said.

“There are still very parent-specific protections you should try to avail yourself of,” said Bonauto.

Some protections may be available even in states that have constitutional bans against marriage for same-sex couples.

If parents do break up, Bonauto said, going to court is damaging financially and emotionally. And it can destroy the couple’s ability to work together as parents.

There have been a number of recent cases across the country in which a biological or adoptive parent has tried to claim the other parent has no parental rights. Best known among them is the case of Janet Jenkins and Lisa Miller, which has grabbed headlines nationally.

Miller, the biological mother, asked courts in both Virginia and Vermont to deny Jenkins visitation and custody, and has taken issues to the U.S. Supreme Court five times, without success each time.

Miller was eventually ruled in contempt of court for defying a Vermont court order that she allow Jenkins visitation. The court then granted legal custody to Jenkins.

But Miller went into hiding with the girl at the end of 2009, and a man accused of helping her leave the U.S. was arraigned in a federal court last April.

Many similar cases exist, and the outcomes have been mixed.

The Delaware Supreme Court issued a ruling in March upholding the right of a woman to be identified as a de facto parent of a child she had been raising with her former same-sex partner — a child the partner adopted but that the woman herself did not.

The Nebraska Supreme Court in August ruled that a non-biological mom has a right, under the doctrine of in loco parentis — which recognizes a person who acts as a parent — to a custody and visitation hearing regarding the child she and her former partner were raising together.

But the North Carolina Supreme Court in December 2010 voided a lesbian mother’s second-parent adoption. The majority on the court said state statutes permit adoptions only if the existing parent gives up all parental rights or is married to the person seeking to adopt, as in the case of a stepparent.

Other cases with biological mothers trying to deny parental rights to non-biological mothers have reached the appellate or state supreme court levels in the past few years in states including Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin — again with mixed results.

In several of these cases, notably Miller v. Jenkins, attorneys from conservative legal organizations such as Liberty Counsel and the Alliance Defense Fund have represented the biological mothers.

“They are making an industry of it,” Bonauto noted of the groups. But many individual, private attorneys, including ones in the LGBT community, are also representing biological mothers against non-biological mothers in such cases.

GLAD will soon be launching an online pledge where attorneys can promise not to take these cases and to endorse the revised standards. Parents, too, can pledge to uphold them.

New Jersey attorney William Singer, a member of the Family Law Advisory Council, said he hopes attorneys will discuss the standards with parents, not just at the time of breakups, but also at the time of family creation, “to try and impress upon both parents why it’s so important to maintain continuity of relationships for their children.”

The standards are available via GLAD’s Web site, GLAD.org.

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

What’s Brewing: Anti-gay lawmaker resigns amid Grindr scandal; Santorum accuses gays of ‘jihad’

Sen. Roberto Arango on Grindr

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. An anti-gay Puerto Rico lawmaker has resigned after he was caught posting nude pics on Grindr. In what has to be one of the worst defenses ever, Republican Sen. Roberto Arango initially tried to claim that he took the photos — which included one taken from behind with him on all fours — to document his recent weight loss. Not surprisingly, Arango has opposed both same-sex marriage and civil unions in Puerto Rico, and he once mocked a political opponent with an anti-gay epithet.

2. Not to be outdone by Texas Gov. Rick Perry — who signed an anti-gay marriage pledge on Friday and has raised eyebrows for comparing homosexuality to alcoholism in one of his books — GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum is accusing the gays of conducting a “jihad” against him.

3. Lady Gaga performed as drag persona/male alter ego Jo Calderone to open MTV’s Video Music Awards on Sunday night. Gaga also took home the Best Video With A Message Award for “Born This Way.” Gaga even tried to kiss Britney Spears, who wasn’t having it. Watch Gaga perform “You and I” as Calderone below.

 

Get More: 2011 VMA, Music, Lady Gaga

—  John Wright

NATIONAL BRIEFS: Lesbian couple says Vt. resort barred them; 831 civil unions in Cook County

Lesbian couple says Vermont resort barred them

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Two New York women say a Vermont inn refused to host their wedding reception because of the owners’ anti-gay bias. The couple is now suing, alleging discrimination under the state’s public accommodations law.

Kate Baker and Ming Linsley say they were turned away by the Wildflower Inn, a 24-room inn in Lyndonville, when they told the inn the wedding would have two brides but no groom.

A woman who answered the telephone at the Wildflower Inn said the owners weren’t taking calls on the case.

The American Civil Liberties Union’s Vermont chapter filed the lawsuit Tuesday in Caledonia Superior Court. It says the inn violated the state Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Act, which bars public accommodations from denying services to people based on sexual orientation.

831 civil unions in Cook County in June

CHICAGO (AP) — Cook County couples rushed to use Illinois’ new civil union law.

The county clerk’s office says 831 civil licenses were issued in June. That was the first month couples could get them.

A civil union gives gay couples in Illinois many of the same rights and legal benefits as heterosexual couples. Unmarried heterosexual couples also are eligible.

Cook County Clerk David Orr’s office says more female couples — about 51.5 percent — applied for licenses compared to male partners, who made up about 43 percent of the licenses. About 5.5 percent of the couples who applied were heterosexual.

Most of the civil union licenses — about 65 percent — were granted to people who live in Chicago.

The office says licenses and other fees generated about $37,000 in revenue.

—  John Wright