New Facebook statuses applauded by gay users

Civil union, domestic partnership added to relationship options

JOCELYN NOVECK  |  Associated Press

NEW YORK — Jay Lassiter is no longer “in a relationship.”

Let’s clarify that: Lassiter, a media adviser for political campaigns who lives in Cherry Hill, N.J., is still with his partner of nearly eight years, Greg Lehmkuho. But since Thursday, when Facebook expanded its romantic-status options, Lassiter’s profile there echoes his relationship’s legal status: “Domestic partnership.”

It may not be a life-altering change. After all, you can call yourself anything you want on a social network. And Facebook is merely that.

But, Lassiter notes: “I’m no different from all those other Facebook users whose identity is tied up with their Facebook pages, for better or for worse.”

And so, he says: “It’s high time. It’s an affirming gesture. It’s sort of one tiny step for gays, but a giant leap for gay rights.”

Facebook’s addition of civil unions and domestic partnerships to the list of relationships its users can pick from came after talks with gay rights organizations, including GLAAD, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

The social network has “sent a clear message in support of gay and lesbian couples to users across the globe,” said GLAAD’s president, Jarrett Barrios. “By acknowledging the relationships of countless loving and committed same-sex couples in the U.S. and abroad, Facebook has set a new standard of inclusion for social media.”

He added that the new status options, available to Facebook users in the U.S., Canada, Britain, France and Australia, will serve as an important reminder that legal marriage is not an option for gay couples in most states.

Only Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Washington, D.C. allow same-sex marriages. This week Hawaii becomes the seventh state to permit civil unions or similar legal recognition for gay couples.

Of course, there’s also a Facebook option to say “It’s complicated” — and that’s exactly how some users felt about the new changes. Because, for people both gay and straight, more options mean more decisions to make: What exactly is my relationship, and what should I call it?

“You go into a store and there are 27 kinds of soda, and sometimes it would be easier if there were just Coke and Pepsi,” explains Erik Rueter, who works in marketing at an educational nonprofit institution in Pittsburgh.

To Rueter, the essence of his relationship is crystal clear: He and his partner, Robb, will be together forever. “We complete each other’s sentences,” he says. “We’ll be sitting there in the nursing home, gumming up each other’s food, chasing each other in our wheelchairs.”

Two years ago, Rueter, 34, proposed to his partner on bended knee, despite the fact that in Pennsylvania they cannot marry. They’ve been engaged ever since, and that’s been his Facebook status — until Thursday, when he changed it to domestic partnership.

But Rueter is conflicted about the change.

“Part of me wants to go back to ‘engaged’ — because I still am,” he says. “Part of me wants to say ‘married,’ as in, ‘I don’t care what the law says.’ And part of me says, ‘It’s just Facebook!”’

And then ANOTHER part of Rueter tells him just how powerful and influential Facebook is, with well over 500 million users across the globe. “Just having the option to say, ‘This is what my relationship is’ is a really good thing,” he says.

It can be a good thing for some straight Facebook users, as well. Michael Stimson, a Scot who lives in Marseille, France, is not married to his partner, Izzy (short for Isabelle), but they live together and have a young son. He’s just changed his status from blank to domestic partnership.

For Stimson, it helps to clarify to other users with whom he’s chatting that he is not, well, available. “People do flirt with you on the Internet,” he says. “I like to put them in the picture a wee bit, so there’s no confusion.”

Izzy approves of his decision. “Most people that you speak with on Facebook are people you don’t know,” she says, speaking in French from home in Marseille. “This makes things more clear.”

Of course, there are no political overtones to the couple’s change in status. In the United States, though, there is a passionate debate over gay marriage. Lassiter, the campaign adviser from New Jersey, changed his status from “in a relationship” to “married” last year in an act of political defiance, he says, when the state legislature rejected a bid to recognize gay marriage.

But it just didn’t feel right, and he changed it back to “in a relationship” months later. Besides the fact that “married” wasn’t accurate, “I’m not really the marrying type,” he says. “Me and my partner have an equilibrium as things are.”

But “in a relationship” made it sound like a high-school relationship, rather than one that’s lasted a number of years.

So the new status feels better, says Lassiter. And he’s been encouraged by the positive feedback he’s gotten on just the first day from Facebook friends — including people from as far back as high school — giving him a thumbs-up.

Lassiter also thinks the change is most important for gay people — especially younger ones — living in areas of the country where their sexual orientation is less accepted than in the liberal Northeast.

“For those people, it legitimizes being in a gay relationship,” he says.

And so, maybe a social network can be something of an agent of social change.

After all, Lassiter says, “As Facebook goes, so goes the world.”

—  John Wright

A look at the past can help us appreciate the progress we’ve made in the struggle for equality

Every day, the fight for LGBT equality continues. We have made some huge strides forward — DADT repealed, the hate crimes law passed, legal marriage in some jurisdictions — but we have also had some huge setbacks. Sometimes, it’s really easy to get frustrated at our snail-like progress. And sometimes, it’s really difficult not to get depressed and disheartened when you see the hate and outright ignorance from some people. (Read some of the comments from some folks here on Instant Tea if you want to see what I mean.)

So sometimes, we need a little perspective.

A friend of mine e-mailed me the link to the video below, and I found it so touching that I decided to share it here with our Instant Tea readers. As you watch, remember to never give up the fight. Remember how far we still have to go. But also remember how far we have already come.

—  admin

Wyo. lawmakers say gay divorce case highlights need to define marriage

BEN NEARY  |  Associated Press

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Some top Wyoming lawmakers said Friday, Jan. 14 that a same-sex divorce case pending in the state Supreme Court underscores the need to clarify what constitutes legal marriage in the state.

District Judge Keith Kautz of Niobrara County in November dismissed a case in which two women who were married in Canada in 2008 were seeking a divorce in Wyoming. Kautz said state law didn’t give him jurisdiction over ending the marriage. One of the women appealed.

Senate President Jim Anderson, R-Glenrock, and House Speaker Ed Buchanan, R-Torrington, both said in interviews Friday that the Niobrara County case shows that the Legislature needs to clarify state law. Attempts to reach lawyers representing the divorcing couple were unsuccessful.

One provision of Wyoming law says marriage can exist only between one man and one woman. But another provision says the state will recognize valid marriages performed elsewhere.

Currently, performing a same-sex marriage is legal in only a handful of states, mostly in the Northeast.

A proposal pending in the Wyoming Senate would let voters decide whether to amend the state constitution to specify that the state would recognize only marriages between a man and a woman. The Senate on Friday sent the measure, Senate Joint Resolution 5, to the Judiciary Committee.

Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, a lesbian, has pushed for increased rights for gays and lesbians in the state. She introduced a competing bill Friday, House Bill 143, that would recognize same-sex marriages.

Another House bill would ban same-sex marriages and specify that Wyoming courts wouldn’t have jurisdiction over same-sex marriages.

The House last year voted down a bill that would have allowed voters to decide whether to amend the state constitution to deny recognition of same-sex marriages.

“So often, what we hear from the media and others is that this is a waste of time, and this is not necessary,” Anderson said of addressing the same-sex marriage issue. “I think it deserves a certain amount of time because I think the people of Wyoming want this issue debated. And for the most part, I think the people of Wyoming want an opportunity to vote on that issue.”

Buchanan said the existing state statutes are in conflict.

“Too bad this wasn’t done a year ago,” Buchanan said, adding that would have given the Supreme Court clear direction on how to handle the divorce case.

Buchanan said he believes some state lawmakers want to forbid same-sex marriages in Wyoming because they disagree with the practice.

“I think folks want to protect the traditional notion of what marriage is, and that is a relationship between a man and a woman,” Buchanan said. “But also, they just want this issue to be decided one way or another. So I think it’s just kind of twofold.”

Sen. Curt Meier, R-La Grange, is the main sponsor of the joint resolution that would put the question of whether to deny recognition of same-sex marriages performed elsewhere before Wyoming voters. He said Friday that the pending same-sex divorce case isn’t driving his bill.

“I’m doing this because over the last several years there have been several polls, and the voters of the state of Wyoming have expressed a sincere interest that that’s an issue that they want to vote on, and this will give them an opportunity to do that,” Meier said.

—  John Wright

Court says Texas AG can’t block gay divorce

Angelique Naylor

Associated Press

AUSTIN — The Texas attorney general can’t block a divorce granted to two women who were legally married elsewhere, an appeals court ruled Friday, Jan. 7.

A judge in Austin granted a divorce last February to Angelique Naylor and Sabina Daly, who were married in Massachusetts in 2004 and then returned home to Texas.

A day after the divorce was granted, Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott filed a motion to intervene in the case, arguing the judge didn’t have the jurisdiction to grant the divorce because Texas has a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. The judge ruled that the attorney general’s motion wasn’t timely, a decision Abbott then appealed.

In Friday’s ruling, a three-judge panel of 3rd Texas Court of Appeals in Austin said the state was not a party of record in the divorce case and Abbott therefore did not have standing to appeal.

The ruling, however, does not settle the debate over whether same-sex couples should be allowed to divorce in Texas, where a different appeals court has ruled against a gay couple seeking a divorce in the state.

The 5th Texas Court of Appeals in Dallas ruled in August that gay couples legally married in other states can’t get a divorce in Texas. In that case, Abbott had appealed after a Dallas judge said she did have jurisdiction to grant a divorce — though had not yet granted one — and dismissed the state’s attempt to intervene.

The ruling by the Dallas appeals court’s three-judge panel also affirmed the state’s same-sex marriage ban was constitutional. Texas voters in 2005 passed, by a 3-to-1 margin, a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage even though state law already prohibited it.

Austin attorney Jody Scheske, who handled the appeals in both divorce cases, acknowledged the divergent rulings far from settle the issue of gay couples seeking a divorce in Texas.

“It’s complicated and to some extent remains unsettled and that’s unfortunate,” he said. “If you have a legal marriage you should have the same equal right to divorce as all other married people have.”

But for his client in the Austin case, the Friday ruling means she will remain divorced, Scheske said.

“For the larger issue, what it means is the state of Texas can’t intervene in private lawsuits just because it doesn’t like one of the trial court’s rulings,” he said. “The state was not a party, so they couldn’t intervene after the fact.”

The attorney general can choose to ask the entire Austin appeals court to hear the case there or can appeal the Friday ruling to the Texas Supreme Court.

Abbott spokeswoman Lauren Bean said their office “will weigh all options to ensure that the will of Texas voters and their elected representatives is upheld.”

“The Texas Constitution and statutes are clear: only the union of a man and a woman can be treated as a marriage in Texas. The court’s decision undermines unambiguous Texas law,” Bean said.

Unlike the Dallas case, the Austin case did not examine whether the judge had jurisdiction to grant the divorce. Ken Upton, a staff attorney for Lambda Legal, a national legal organization that promotes equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, noted the Austin appeals court decision was in fact quite narrow.

“Basically, the only rule that comes out of it is that (Abbott) waited too long,” he said.

He said the predicament of gay couples seeking divorce in Texas highlights what happens when states adopt “such different views about marriage and relationships.”

“The more we have this patchwork of marriage laws, the more difficult it is for people who don’t have access to the same orderly dissolution,” he said.

—  John Wright

Lambda Legal DOMA case heard in California

After the “don’t ask, don’t tell” win this week, mainstream media immediately looked for what we’d be after next. An ABC affiliate in California picked up on partner benefits.

A Lambda Legal case, Golinski v. US Office of Personnel Management, was heard before a district court judge in Northern California on Dec. 17.

“Here it’s very difficult for the government to justify giving unequal health insurance to employees that are doing equal work,” said Lambda Legal Marriage Project Director Jennifer Pizer.

The government’s case is based on the Defense of Marriage Act, which they claim is the basis for denying an employee’s partner health benefits.

In this case, Karen Golinski is an attorney who worked for the San Francisco Federal Appeals Court. She has been a federal employee for 19 years. In 2008, she married her partner. They have a 7-year-old son. Denying her wife benefits given other employees is discriminatory, she claims.

As in other recent cases, this one puts the Obama administration in the position of saying it supports the repeal of DOMA, then sending an attorney to defend the law. If Golinski wins, the ruling probably will apply only to her case.

—  David Taffet