President Obama issues memorandum on protecting LGBTs abroad

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Four days in advance of  Human Rights Day on Saturday, Dec. 10,  President Barack Obama today issued a presidential memorandum “to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons,” according to a statement just released by the White House press office.

The statement sent out by the White House includes these comments by the president:

“The struggle to end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons is a global challenge, and one that is central to the United States commitment to promoting human rights.  I am deeply concerned by the violence and discrimination targeting LGBT persons around the world — whether it is passing laws that criminalize LGBT status, beating citizens simply for joining peaceful LGBT pride celebrations, or killing men, women, and children for their perceived sexual orientation.  That is why I declared before heads of state gathered at the United Nations, “no country should deny people their rights because of who they love, which is why we must stand up for the rights of gays and lesbians everywhere.”  Under my Administration, agencies engaged abroad have already begun taking action to promote the fundamental human rights of LGBT persons everywhere.  Our deep commitment to advancing the human rights of all people is strengthened when we as the United States bring our tools to bear to vigorously advance this goal.”

The memorandum from Obama directs agencies to combat the criminalization of LGBT status or conduct abroad; protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers; leverage foreign assistance to protect human rights and advance nondiscrimination; ensure swift and meaningful U.S. responses to human rights abuses of LGBT persons abroad; engage international organizations in the fight against LGBT discrimination, and report on progress.

I give the president credit for issuing the memorandum at the same time he’s gearing up for what will likely be a tough re-election campaign during which opponents will no doubt use his stance and actions on LGBT issues against him. But I still have to point out that we as LGBT people still face discrimination and inequality right here in the good old U.S.-of-A:

• Our marriages are legally recognized at the federal level and they aren’t recognized in the VAST majority of state and local jurisdictions. We want the Defense of Marriage Act repealed and local and state ordinances and constitutional amendments prohibiting recognition of our relationships need to be overturned.

• There is still no federal protection against workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and/gender expression and gender identity. Congress needs to pass — the president needs to sign — the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

• Even though there is now a federal hate crimes law that includes LGBT people, as well as similar laws at many state and local levels, those laws are not well enforced.

Anti-LGBT bullying remains a deadly problem in our schools and our workplaces and on the Internet. We’ve made progress in combating such bullying, but not nearly enough. Dedicate the resources necessary to address the issue effectively.

So let’s applaud our president for the steps he has — and is — taking. There’s no doubt Obama has been more open than any other president about addressing LGBT issues and we have seen great strides forward toward equality during his administration. But there’s a long way to go yet, and we need to make sure that the president — and all our elected officials — know they can’t just rest on their laurels.

—  admin

DOMA ruled unconstitutional by bankruptcy court

A federal bankruptcy court in California on Monday ruled that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional.

The U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California in Los Angeles ruled that it is discriminatory to prevent a legally married same-sex couple from filing for joint bankruptcy.

The couple, Gene Balas and Carlos Morales, filed a joint chapter 13 petition. They were married in 2008 in California and remain legally married.

In his ruling, the judge wrote: “This case is about equality, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, for two people who filed for protection under Title 11 of the United States Code (Bankruptcy Code).”

It is “undisputed that the Debtors are a lawfully married California couple,” the judge wrote, adding that the couple came to the court to restructure and repay their debt following extended illnesses and long periods of unemployment.

The U.S. trustee for the case filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds that two men cannot file jointly for bankruptcy. The judge ruled the trustee did not ask for dismissal based on one of the 11 causes listed in bankruptcy law to dismiss, but simply because the couple are two men.

The judge said the trustee filed no relevant case law supporting his position and said the couple should not be singled out for discriminatory treatment. He cited the Obama administration’s position that DOMA is unconstitutional and ruled that, indeed it is.

—  David Taffet

No marriage vote in Maryland House today; Maryland delegate comes out as gay

Although some had expected the Maryland House of Delegates to vote today on a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in that state, The Washington Blade is reporting that the vote won’t be happening today. However, a committee hearing on a measure to prohibit discrimination in employment and housing based on gender identity is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. today.

According to the Blade, the House has adjourned for the day, but not before supporters of the measure were able to kill four hostile amendments that would have weakened the bill or killed it outright.

One of the amendments would have allowed religious institutions to refuse to allow same-sex parents to adopt (defeated by those who pointed out it had nothing to do with marriage), while a second would have renamed the bill the Same-Sex Marriage Act.

A third amendment would have changed the measure into a constitutional amendment, thus forcing it back into committee where it would have died; and the fourth amendment would have allowed parents to take their children out of public school health classes including information on same-sex marriage and would have allowed teachers in public schools to refuse to include such information in their classroom curricula.

The House is set to reconvene at 10 a.m. Thursday morning.

Del. Peter Murphy of Maryland, left, and former Texas state Rep. Glen Maxey

In other news out of the Maryland House, also from the Blade, Democratic Delegate Peter Murphy on Tuesday night publicly acknowledged that he is gay. Murphy, a divorced father of two with grandchildren, said that his family and colleagues have known he is gay for years, and that he has never denied his sexuality orientation. “I just presumed people knew,” he told the Washington LGBT paper.

Murphy’s announcement brings the total of openly LGBT Maryland delegates to seven. The state also has one openly gay senator.

Texas, by the way, has had only one openly LGBT state lawmaker, and that was Glen Maxey who has been out of office since 2003. Maxey was first elected in 1991 to represent the Austin-area district that had previously been represented by Lena Guerrero. Before running for the House, Maxey was the first executive director of the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas (now known as Equality Texas), and since leaving public office, he has worked as a lobbyist and campaign consultant. He ran for Travis County tax assessor-collector in 2007, but lost the Democratic Primary to incumbent Nelda Wells Spears.

—  admin

New attempt to legalize gay marriage in Chile

Chilean flag

While civil unions in Uruguay and marriage in Argentina were approved by legislatures — and civil unions in Ecuador were approved by voters under a new constitution — the Chilean Supreme Court may approve same-sex marriage in that country.

According to the Santiago newspaper El Mercurio, three couples have filed a lawsuit, and the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case.

An attorney for the couples, Jaime Silva, argues that two provisions of the Marriage Act are unconstitutional. The first states that marriage is a solemn contract in which a man and woman come together. The second recognizes that a marriage concluded abroad will be recognized in Chile provided it is between a man and a woman.

Those provisions, Silva argues, violate Article 1 and other provisions in the constitution. Article 1 begins, “Men are born free and equal, in dignity and rights.”

Last summer we reported several South American countries were considering recognizing same-sex relationships.

In Chile, a civil union bill got bogged down in the legislature. Meanwhile, no movement has been reported on the issue in Bolivia, where President Evo Morales and Vice President Álvaro García Linera live together in the presidential palace.

P.S.: That is a Chilean flag. The blue stripe extends to the bottom on the Texas flag.

—  David Taffet