Same-sex marriage returns to political spotlight

Issue could appear on ballot in as many as 6 states this year

NEW YORK — Same-sex marriage is back in the political spotlight and likely to remain there through Election Day in November as a half-dozen states face potentially wrenching votes on the issue.

In New Hampshire, Republicans who now control the legislature are mulling whether to repeal the 2009 law legalizing same-sex marriage. Their state is one of six with such laws, along with Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York and Vermont, as well as the capital district of Washington.

In Maryland, New Jersey and Washington state, bills to legalize same-sex marriage have high-powered support and good chances of passage in the legislature. Gay-marriage opponents in Maryland and Washington would likely react by seeking referendums in November to overturn those laws, while New Jersey’s Republican governor, Chris Christie, says he’ll veto the bill if it reaches him and prefers that lawmakers OK a referendum so voters can decide.

In all three states, polls suggest voters are closely divided on whether gays should have the right to marry, so there’s a chance one could emerge as the first state to support same-sex marriage in a statewide vote.

Three of the remaining Republican presidential contenders, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, have signed a National Organization for Marriage pledge opposing same-sex marriage and endorsing a federal constitutional amendment to ban it. But it’s not among the topics prominent in the stump speeches of Romney or Newt Gingrich, the two front-runners.

On the Democratic side, President Barack Obama has taken several steps during his first term that have pleased gay-rights advocates, but says he is still “evolving” in regard to same-sex marriage and isn’t ready to endorse it. Some activists hope he will do so before the election, though there’s been no strong hint of that from the White House.

“Obama will get asked about it, and you can’t straddle both sides of this forever,” said Richard Socarides, a former Clinton White House adviser on gay rights. “Clearly he’s not going to retreat, so he only has one place to go, and I think he will do it before the election.”

Maine voters also may have an opportunity to vote for same-sex marriage in November; gay-rights activists announced Thursday they are moving forward with a ballot-measure campaign, submitting more than 105,000 signatures to the Secretary of State. Proposed amendments for constitutional bans on gay marriage will be on the ballots in North Carolina on May 8 and in Minnesota on Nov. 6.

Added together, the state-level showdowns will likely raise the prominence of the marriage issue in the presidential campaign, even though it’s not a topic that the leading candidates tend to broach proactively.

Another potential factor: Judgments could be issued during the campaign in one or more of several pending federal court cases about same-sex marriage. Appeals could result in the issue heading toward the Supreme Court, and the presidential candidates would be expected to comment on any major development.

In all the showdown states, national advocacy groups are expected to be active on both sides. The Human Rights Campaign, for example, has promised to provide funding, strategic advice and field staff for the various campaigns supporting same-sex marriage.

On the other side, the National Organization for Marriage is vowing a multistate effort, including promises of financial support in the primaries to defeat any Republican lawmakers who support gay marriage in Washington.

Though several major national polls now show that a slight majority of Americans support same-sex marriage, National Organization for Marriage president Brian Brown predicts his side will continue its winning streak and prevail in any state referendums that are held this November.

“There’s a myth that history is on a trajectory moving toward same-sex marriage,” Brown said. “There is no such momentum.”

—  John Wright

Log Cabin calls for immediate end to DADT, says keeping policy in place during repeal is ‘absurd’

Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — Gay rights advocates on Monday filed a challenge to a request by the Obama administration to keep the repealed “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in place while the Pentagon prepares for an end to the ban on allowing gays to serve openly in the military.

In a brief filed in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, lawyers for gay political group Log Cabin Republicans said keeping the policy in place was “absurd.”

At issue is the constitutionality of Congress allowing the policy to stay in effect to give the Pentagon time to train troops and take other steps outlined in December when lawmakers repealed the 1993 law that put the ban in place. Under the new policy, the restrictions remain until the Pentagon certifies that the change won’t damage combat readiness.

The repeal came several months after a federal district judge issued an injunction barring enforcement of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” declaring in September that the policy was unconstitutional.

The Obama administration request to keep the policy in place was made in its brief challenging the injunction. Dan Woods, who is representing the Log Cabin Republicans, replied in the brief filed Monday.

“Even though a judge found this to be unconstitutional and the administration is not disagreeing with that, they are still investigating and able to discharge people,” he said.

Earlier this year, the administration said it would no longer defend the 1996 federal law that prohibits recognition of same-sex marriages.

President Barack Obama had concluded that any law that treats gay people differently is unconstitutional unless it serves a compelling governmental interest, Attorney General Eric Holder said when discussing the administration’s reasoning for that decision.

—  John Wright

Is Obama the ‘MLK for the gays’?

As you’ve probably heard, the Justice Department filed another brief in support of the Defense of Marriage Act on Thursday, prompting criticism from gay rights advocates who say the Obama administration should allow the law to be struck down instead of defending it. Indeed, less than a month after signing a bill to repeal  “don’t ask, don’t tell,” Obama again finds himself under fire from the LGBT community. With the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday coming Monday, Equality Matters President Richard Socarides drew this analogy in The Huffington Post:

“The repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ was a breathtaking accomplishment. President Obama will get credit. But from this point forward he has a choice. If he builds on it, he could become the MLK for the gays. But if he continues to allow the Justice Department to file these briefs opposing full equality, he will squander an historic opportunity.”

—  John Wright

Fla. governor says it’s OK to discriminate based on sexual orientation, age, handicap, religion

Rick Scott

New Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican and teabagger, has issued a non-discrimination order for state employees that not only fails to include sexual orientation and gender identity, but also leaves out some categories that are already protected under state law.

The South Florida Gay News reports that Scott’s nondiscrimination order includes only “race, gender, creed, color and national origin.” The Florida Civil Rights Act – which is state law and trumps Scott’s order — includes “race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, handicap, or marital status.”

Gay-rights advocates had lobbied Scott to include sexual orientation and gender identity in his nondiscrimination order. Needless to say, they are disappointed:

“Governor Scott’s limited view of diversity is very discouraging,” said Rand Hoch, president of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council. “Governor Scott did not even include all of the classifications listed in the Florida Civil Rights Act — let alone sexual orientation and gender identity.”

More on Scott from the Wonk Room:

Scott positioned himself as a social conservative during his election campaign, although he rarely addressed equality issues on the stump. He reiterating his support for the state’s now defunct anti-gay adoption law, saying he opposed to “single sex adoption” and insisting that “Children should be raised in a home with a married man and a woman.” His campaign website also says that marriage should be between one man and one woman. During his well publicized brawl with primary challenger and former Attorney General Bill McCollum, Scott attacked McCollum for endorsing the “pro-homosexual rights candidate Rudy Giuliani for president in 2008.″

—  John Wright

Will civil unions delay gay marriage in Illinois?

As state Legislature sends bill to governor’s desk, some wonder whether new legal status will make it harder to achieve full equality

CHRISTOPHER WILLS and CARLA K. JOHNSON  |  Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD, Illinois — Gay rights advocates celebrated Wednesday, Dec. 1 as the state Legislature voted to legalize civil unions, although some wondered whether the measure that the governor is expected to sign will make it easier or harder to someday win approval of same-sex marriage.

The state Senate approved the legislation 32-24, sending it to Gov. Pat Quinn. It passed despite complaints from some senators that civil unions threaten the sanctity of marriage or increase the cost of doing business in Illinois.

After Quinn signs the measure, gay and lesbian couples will be able to get official recognition from the state and gain many of the rights that accompany marriage — the power to decide medical treatment for an ailing partner, for instance. Illinois law will continue to limit marriage to one man and woman, and the federal government won’t recognize the civil unions at all.

Five states already allow civil unions or their equivalent, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Five other states and Washington, D.C., let gay couples marry outright.

Some supporters of civil unions in Illinois hope they’ll be a step toward full marriage.

“The ultimate goal is not to be separate but equal,” said Jacob Meister, president of The Civil Rights Agenda, a gay rights organization. Meister said civil unions are a necessary compromise because they will provide important protections for gay couples.

But even advocates acknowledge it’s possible that by accepting civil unions now, they may be delaying movement toward being able to marry. The compromise could weaken any arguments that gay people are being treated unfairly by not being allowed to marry.

The sponsors of the civil unions bill said Wednesday they don’t plan to push for legalizing same-sex marriages, which have limited support in the Legislature.

“As soon as the governor signs it, it’s the law of the state of Illinois and that’s what we’re going to live with and going to make work,” said state Sen. David Koehler.

The executive director of a gay community center in Chicago said he welcomes civil unions but worries the legislation may stall ultimate approval of same-sex marriage. Modesto Valle of the Center on Halsted said it will take “tremendous work” to turn civil unions into “a platform to move toward marriage equality” in Illinois.

Courtney Reid, 48, of Chicago said she and her partner of 12 years have decided they won’t pursue a civil union, preferring to wait until same-sex marriage is recognized by federal law and homosexual couples get all the tax benefits and other rights available to heterosexual couples.

“It’s a stand on principle for us,” Reid said.

Supporters presented the civil unions legislation as a matter of basic fairness for all Illinois residents. With civil unions, state law will treat gay and lesbian couples as if they were married. They would inherit property when a partner dies, for instance.

“It’s time for us to look history in the eye and not flinch,” said Sen. Jeffrey Schoenberg, D-Evanston.

Opponents argued it moves Illinois closer to legalizing same-sex marriages. They said civil unions are basically marriage by another name and that they could give the courts a reason to step in and order Illinois to allow full marriage to everyone.

Some senators also criticized the time being spent on civil unions at a time when the state faces a massive budget crisis.

“Here we are, forced to debate an issue that may be political payback to a small but very politically powerful special interest group,” said state Sen. Chris Lauzen. He called gay sexual activities dangerous and questioned whether the state has a role in regulating relationships that don’t produce children.

State Sen. Rickey Hendon accused some opponents of hypocrisy.

“I hear adulterers and womanizers and folks cheating on their wives and down-low brothers saying they’re going to vote against this bill. It turns my stomach,” he said. “We know what you do at night, and you know too.”

The Illinois Family Institute said legislators failed to examine the legislation clearly.

“Proponents engaged in embarrassing and maudlin displays of sentimentality intended to emotionally manipulate rather than intellectually persuade their colleagues,” said executive director David E. Smith.

Cardinal Francis George and other Catholic leaders fought civil unions vigorously. Conservative groups also lobbied to block the measure. They argued it could hurt religious institutions.

The measure wouldn’t require churches to recognize civil unions or perform any kind of ceremony, opponents acknowledge, but critics fear it would lead to other requirements, such as including same-sex couples in adoption programs run by religious groups or granting benefits to employees’ partners.

The law won’t take effect until June 1, assuming Quinn signs it. Having it take effect immediately would have required approval by three-fifths of legislators.

Some religious leaders welcomed the legislation. In Chicago, Rabbi Larry Edwards said he’s looking forward to planning celebrations for couples in his Jewish congregation who may decide to form civil unions under Illinois law.

“To those who say it’s a slippery slope and eventually will lead to marriage, I say, ‘I hope so,”’ said Edwards of Or Chadash synagogue. “I would like to be on a slippery slope that slides in the direction of justice.”

The Rev. Vernice Thorn, associate pastor of Broadway United Methodist Church in Chicago said she considers the vote a hopeful sign. “Same-sex legalized marriage is going to happen. It’s just a matter of when.”

——————————————————————————————————————-

Illinois lawmakers have approved civil unions for gay and lesbian couples, and Gov. Pat Quinn says he’ll sign the measure into law. Civil unions would provide many of the benefits of marriage but not all of them. The chief difference is that the federal government doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages or civil unions, so federal programs treat gay partners as if they are completely unrelated.

Here are some examples of how different types of couples would generally be treated under the law, based on interviews with the Illinois chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal, a gay rights group.

Ability to visit partner in the hospital and make medical decisions

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: Yes

• Civil Unions: Yes

Joint filing of federal taxes

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: No

• Civil Unions: No

Joint filing of state taxes

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: Varies

• Civil Unions: Not in Illinois (But Illinois’ flat-rate tax removes any advantage of joint filing.)

Right to sue over partner’s death

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: Yes

• Civil Unions: Yes

Receive Social Security payments upon partner’s death

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: No

• Civil Unions: No

Immigration rights for foreign partner

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: No

• Civil Unions: No

Inherit partner’s property without paying federal estate taxes

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: No

• Civil Unions: No

Employer provides health insurance to worker’s partner

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: Yes

• Civil Unions: Unclear

Right to live together in nursing homes

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: Yes

• Civil Unions: Yes

Religious institution required to recognize relationship

• Heterosexual marriage: No

• Same-sex marriage: No

• Civil Unions: No

Right to officially dissolve relationship in court

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: Yes

• Civil Unions: Yes

Pension benefits for surviving partner

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: Yes

• Civil unions: Yes

Federal benefits for partner of military veteran

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: No

• Civil unions: No

State benefits for partner of military veteran

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: Yes

• Civil unions: Yes

Both partners automatically considered legal parents of children in the relationship

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: Yes

• Civil unions: Yes

Other states automatically recognize relationship as official

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: No

• Civil unions: No

—  John Wright

2 arrested in anti-gay beating at famed gay bar

JENNIFER PELTZ  |  Associated Press

NEW YORK — A patron at the Stonewall Inn, a powerful symbol of the gay rights movement since protests over a 1969 police raid there, was tackled to the floor and beaten in an anti-gay bias attack over the weekend, authorities said Monday, Oct. 4.

Two men were arrested in the early Sunday beating, which came little more than a day after a group of male friends bidding an affectionate good night to each other were attacked in another anti-gay assault elsewhere in Manhattan, prosecutors said.

The attacks came amid heightened attention to anti-gay bullying following a string of suicides attributed to it last month, including a New Jersey college student’s Sept. 22 plunge off the George Washington Bridge after his sexual encounter with a man in his dorm room was secretly streamed online.

But the attack prosecutors described at the Stonewall Inn especially galled and saddened gay rights advocates, some of whom wondered whether a place known for a defining moment in the history of gay rights might spur a new push for tolerance.

For the Stonewall’s owners, the episode was a sharp and upsetting contrast to its legacy.

“We at the Stonewall Inn are exceedingly troubled that hate crimes like this can and do still occur in this day and age. Obviously the impact of these men’s violent actions is even deeper given that it occurred on the premises of the Stonewall Inn,” an owner, Bill Morgan, wrote in an e-mail.

The victim was using a restroom at the Greenwich Village bar around 2 a.m. local time Sunday when a man at the next urinal, Matthew Francis, asked what kind of an establishment it was, prosecutors said. On being told it was a gay bar, Francis used an anti-gay slur and told the victim to get away from him, assistant district attorney Kiran Singh said.

“I don’t like gay people. Don’t pee next to me,” Francis added, according to the prosecutor.

Francis, 21, then demanded money, punched the victim in the face and continued beating him after a co-defendant blocked the door, tackled the victim and held him down, Singh said. The victim was treated at a hospital and was released, she said.

Francis said nothing at his arraignment Monday. A defense lawyer said that Francis wasn’t the aggressor and that the episode wasn’t motivated by bias.

“Mr. Francis is not a violent person. Nor did he try to rob anyone,” said the attorney, Angel Soto. “There may have been a fight, but it certainly wasn’t a hate crime.”

Francis was held on $10,000 bond. His co-defendant was awaiting arraignment.

Just before midnight Friday, Oct. 1 several male friends hugging and kissing each other good night in Manhattan’s gay-friendly Chelsea neighborhood were confronted by a group of more than five people who used an anti-gay epithet and told them to go home because “this is our neighborhood,” according to a court document filed by prosecutors. Two other men lashed out with fists as Andrew Jackson hurled a metal garbage can into one victim’s head, prosecutors said.

Jackson, 20, was arraigned over the weekend on hate crime assault and other charges. His lawyer, Anne Costanzo, declined to comment Monday.

The Stonewall Inn became a rallying point for gay rights in June 1969, when a police raid sparked an uprising in an era when gay men and women were often in the shadows. Stonewall patrons fought with officers, and several days of demonstrations followed, in an outpouring that became a formative moment in the gay rights movement.

“The riots at Stonewall gave way to protests, and protests gave way to a movement, and the movement gave way to a transformation that continues to this day,” President Barack Obama said at a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month reception at the White House in June 2009.

The Stonewall riots’ influence also is reflected in the names of some gay resource organizations, including student groups at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa.

For the New York City Anti-Violence Project, which works to combat attacks on gays and others, assaults like this weekend’s remain all too common problems. But the attack at the Stonewall Inn reverberates with a particularly disturbing resonance, executive director Sharon Stapel said.

“Even in a bar like the Stonewall Inn, which started a huge part of the gay rights movement — even the Stonewall Inn is not immune to this sort of violence, despite all of the work that they do to create a safe and tolerant atmosphere,” Stapel said. “It’s incredibly sad.”

But she said she hoped the incident and the atmosphere of concern about anti-gay harassment would spark new conversations about how to respond.

The Stonewall Inn has raised money for the Anti-Violence Project and other groups, and managers strive to make the bar inclusive, Morgan said.

“We do our best to run a nice, welcoming establishment where anyone can and should feel safe,” he said.

—  John Wright