2011: an ‘epic’ year for marriage equality

Gay marriage advocates saw some setbacks, but progress, especially in opinion polls, is encouraging

Wolfson.Evan

Evan Wolfson

Dana Rudolph  |  Keen News Service
lisakeen@mac.com

One leading advocate has called 2011 an “epic” year for marriage equality. But was it really?

While only one state — New York — enacted full marriage rights for same-sex couples, it was the most populous state to have done so thus far.

Five other states also moved closer to marriage equality than ever before. Public opinion shifted dramatically toward supporting equality. And the Obama administration announced that it no longer considers a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act constitutional.

On the negative side, however, three states failed to pass marriage equality bills that had been introduced in their legislatures, and two states passed bills to put measures on their ballots in 2012 that will seek to ban marriage for same-sex couples under their state constitutions.

Despite the negatives, Evan Wolfson, president of the national Freedom to Marry group, said in an interview that 2011 was “an epic year of real transformation.”

Successes
On the federal level, Attorney General Eric Holder wrote a letter to Congress in February, stating that the administration believes Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional and that the federal Justice Department will no longer defend the law in court.

Section 3 of DOMA states that the federal government will not, for any federal purposes, recognize the marriages of same-sex couples.

Holder’s letter said the administration believes laws disfavoring persons based on sexual orientation should have to pass the most stringent judicial review — heightened scrutiny. And he said the administration would argue so in two cases challenging DOMA in the 2nd Circuit.

LGBT legal advocacy group Lambda Legal, in its December “State of the Law 2011” report, called Holder’s letter “game changing.” Wolfson said it represented “an immense historical shift.”

Another sign of this shift, Wolfson said, was the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the military’s ban on openly gay servicemembers. DADT repeal will help fuel the marriage equality effort, Wolfson said, “because Americans are now going to see the women and men serving our country as openly gay members of couples and openly gay members of families.”

On the state level, the biggest win in 2011 came in New York, where lawmakers passed a marriage equality bill in June. When Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Dem., signed the bill, he doubled the percentage of same-sex couples living in states that allow them to marry.

New York is also the only state to have passed marriage equality through a Republican-led legislative chamber, its state Senate.

Cuomo.Andrew

Andrew Cuomo

Cuomo, by adding his vocal support to the bill, “put his political capital on the line,” Wolfson said. His success prompted Politico.com to call him a “national contender” and leader of the Democratic Party’s progressive base.

The Washington Post said his triumph made him “a first among equals when it comes to the jockeying for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.”
Wolfson said, “The freedom to marry went from being a perceived and presumed ‘third rail’ that politicians ran from to now being a pathway to political gain.”

Five other states came closer to marriage equality than ever before. Maryland for the first time passed a marriage equality bill out of a legislative chamber, its Senate, although the measure fell short of winning in the House. And Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois and Rhode Island each passed civil union legislation.

Setbacks
But there were disappointments, too.

In Colorado, a civil unions bill was killed on a party-line vote in the Republican-led House  Judiciary Committee, after passing the Democrat-controlled Senate.

And in Rhode Island, the civil unions bill disappointed many because a bill for full marriage equality had been on the legislature’s agenda. It was dropped after it failed to gain enough support, despite large Democratic majorities in both chambers and  Independent Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s promise to sign it.

LGBT groups were also disappointed with a provision in Rhode Island’s civil unions bill providing extensive exemptions on religious grounds for those who don’t wish to recognize those unions. Chafee himself said the civil unions law “fails to fully achieve” the goal of providing same-sex couples with equal rights.

In the courts
Two states saw progress in lawsuits that could lead to marriage equality. In New Jersey, marriage equality advocates have sued the state, claiming that the state’s existing civil unions laws do not provide them with full equality — an equality the state Supreme Court said in October 2006 is guaranteed by the state Constitution.

In California, a three-judge panel of the federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments Dec. 8 on procedural matters related to the case to determine the constitutionality of Proposition 8, the state’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples. Regardless of the outcome, the case will almost certainly be appealed to the full 9th Circuit court and/or the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ups and downs in states
Three states successfully played defense in 2011.

Iowa, New Mexico and Wyoming held firm against attempts to pass bills for ballot measures that sought to ban marriage for same-sex couples under their state constitutions. If passed, Iowa’s bill would have taken away the right to marry that same-sex couples gained in 2009.

But there were some clear setbacks in 2011 as well.

North Carolina and Minnesota passed bills for ballot measures in 2012 that seek to ban marriage for same-sex couples under the state constitutions. And Indiana and Pennsylvania started the process for such ballot measures, which could see further action in 2012.

In Maine, however, LGBT advocates gained enough signatures to place a measure in favor of marriage equality before voters on the 2012 ballot — although advocates in California and Oregon decided to postpone such attempts and continue to build support.

These ballot measures could be impacted by what was perhaps the most significant win in 2011: a shift in public opinion towards support for marriage equality.

The polls
Support for marriage equality nationwide rose about 1 percent per year between 1996 and 2009, but jumped to a rate of 5 percent per year in 2010 and 2011, according to a July analysis of over a decade’s worth of polling data by Joel Benenson, President Barack Obama’s lead pollster, and  Jan van Lohuizen, President George W. Bush’s lead pollster.

Freedom to Marry commissioned the study.

The average level of support for marriage equality was 41 percent in 2009, but 51 percent in 2011, based on four leading national polls — CNN-ORC International, Gallup, Pew and Washington Post-ABC News.

This change is driven in part by “overwhelming generational momentum,” Wolfson explained, with almost 70 percent of voters under 40 supporting marriage equality.

But the analysis also concluded that since 2006, support has risen 15 percent among seniors, 13 percent among Independents and 8 percent among Republicans.

Additionally, it found that marriage equality supporters now hold their views as strongly as opponents, which was not the case in the past.

“The politics of the freedom to marry have changed dramatically, as has public support,” said Wolfson.
All told, he said, the events of 2011 mean that “We now have real wind in our sails as we go forward.”

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Applause: Let Love Out Has Texas Ties

LLO-RedCarl Priolo isn’t gay himself, but as a resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, he was personally appalled by the hatred that kept gay men and lesbians from enjoying full social equality, including marriage rights. That’s when the jewelry designer and his son launched the Let Love Out campaign this past spring.

“I wanted to do something to honor the memory of my brother Chris, who died of AIDS in 1989,” Priolo says. “He was a gifted, passionate teacher and composer who never felt safe enough to come out to the world as a gay man.”

But the campaign has local relevance as well: Priolo’s son, Lucas — who joined in launching the campaign — is principal dancer with the Texas Ballet Theater.

The website, LetLoveOut.com, allows visitors to leave messages, but also to buy jewelry with an interlocking heart and infinity symbol,pictured,  rerpresents love, support and solidatiry.  Ten percent of profits will be donated to HIV/AIDS awareness.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 26, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Dueling Iowa protests staged over gay marriage

A DIRE WARNING | Gay marriage supporters, left, look on as former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore speaks during an anti gay-marriage rally sponsored by The Family Leader March 15 at the Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa. Moore warned that gay marriage would result in child abuse and more divorces. (Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

Former Alabama  justice ousted over 10 Commandments monument claims gay marriage would increase child abuse, divorce

Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa — About 500 people rallied Tuesday, March 15, at the Iowa Capitol, urging legislators to send a constitutional amendment to voters that would ban same-sex marriage.

The rally featured former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore, who said gay marriage will result in child abuse and divorce. He asked opponents to set an example.

“What happens in Iowa, the rest of the nation watches,” Moore said.

About an hour after Moore’s rally, dozens of supporters of gay marriage rights held their own counter-rally.

Moore made national headlines in 2003 when he refused to abide by a federal court order to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from the state judicial building. He was later removed from office.

Moore praised Iowa residents for voting in November to oust three Iowa Supreme Court justices who supported a unanimous 2009 decision that found a state law limiting marriage to heterosexual couples violated the Iowa Constitution.

“I’m proud to say that the people of Iowa stood up to the justices on the Supreme Court and voted them out of office,” Moore said.

Also addressing the crowd was the Rev. Keith Ratliff, pastor at Maple Street Missionary Baptist Church in Des Moines, who charged that the gay community is hijacking the civil rights movement for its own purposes.

“In my humble opinion there is no parallel,” Ratliff said. “What an insult to the civil rights movement.”

Troy Price, the political director of One Iowa, the state’s largest gay rights organization, said Ratliff is wrong.

“There are thousands of gays and lesbians across the state that recognize this is an issue of rights, the right to be with the person you love,” Price said.

Price said supporters of same-sex marriage have been working to tell legislators, especially Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, that there is wide support for the court’s decision.

A resolution calling for a statewide vote on whether to amend the Iowa Constitution to ban gay marriages passed the Republican-controlled House in February with overwhelming support and headed to the Senate, where Democrats are in the majority and leaders have vowed to block debate.

The resolution would have to be approved by the current Legislature and the one to be elected next year to get onto the ballot.
Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, has the authority to decide which issues are debated in the full Senate, and has said he will not allow a vote on the resolution.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 18, 2011.

—  John Wright

NC poll: Most support rights for same-sex couples

MIKE BAKER | Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. — More than half of North Carolina residents now support legal recognition of same-sex couples, and more than one-quarter believe they should have full marriage rights, according to a poll released Monday, Feb. 28.

The Elon University survey found that 29 percent of respondents in the state support civil unions or partnerships for gay couples but not full marriage rights. About 28 percent of people support full marriage rights.

Meanwhile, only 35 percent of respondents opposed all legal recognition for same-sex partners, down from 44 percent when the question was asked two years ago.

“That’s a substantial move,” said Elon Poll Director Hunter Bacot. “We’re seeing people becoming more comfortable with the issue.”

About two dozen Republican senators in North Carolina have proposed a constitutional amendment to ban gay unions. Similar measures have previously been filed in the General Assembly but gone nowhere, but Republicans now control both chambers of the Legislature for the first time in more than a century.

The Human Rights Campaign, a national gay-rights group, has given money to a North Carolina group opposing the constitutional change.

The Elon poll was conducted last week and surveyed 467 North Carolina adults. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.6 percentage points.

—  John Wright

More good news: Maryland Senate approves marriage equality bill in preliminary vote

The Washington Blade reports:

The Maryland Senate voted 25-22 in favor of marriage rights for same-sex couples today. It was a preliminary vote that followed debate over amendments. Final passage of the bill in the chamber could come Thursday.

—  John Wright

Maryland senator does a 180 on gay marriage

Sen. Jim Brochin

Maryland State Sen. Jim Brochin, a Democrat, used to say that while he supported civil unions for same-sex couples, he did not support full marriage rights for those couples. This week, he changed his mind and said he will vote for legislation giving full marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Why? Because he listened.

First of all, Brochin listened to the stories of same-sex couples when they testified during public hearings in favor of the proposed Religious Marriage and Civil Marriage Protection Act. But most importantly, he listened to those who testified against the bill. And he was appalled by what he heard.

“The people who are against the bill, all they did was demonize homosexuality, call them pedophiles, androids, and I just, I can’t oppose the bill and be on the same side as people who would do that,” Brochin told AM 630 WMAL radio in explaining his change of heart. “It’s destructive, it’s insulting to the same-sex families who are trying to raise their kids.”

The bill needs 24 votes to pass the Maryland Senate and 29 to avoid any debate. Brochin’s decision makes him the 21st senator to publicly pledge support, and he said this week he believes the bill has a good chance of passing.

—  admin

Top 10: As Prop 8, DOMA cases proceeded, Texas made its own marriage news

Marriage
LANDMARK RULING | Marriage equality supporters celebrate outside San Francisco City Hall after Judge Vaughn Walker’s August ruling declaring Prop 8 unconstitutional. (Rick Gerharter)

No. 4:

View all of the Top 10

As the year began, all eyes were on California, where conservative superstar Ted Olson and liberal luminary David Bois joined forces to challenge the state’s voter-approved constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. The case is Perry v. Schwarzenegger, but both Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown declined to defend Prop 8. As a result, ProtectMarriage.com, the main group behind the initiative, filed to intervene and defend it in court. On Aug. 4, six months after the trial began, Judge Vaughn Walker issued his ruling striking down the ban as unconstitutional, prompting celebrations across the country. The state refused to appeal, but the amendment’s supporters did. In December, a three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit convened to hear oral arguments in the Prop 8 case. The judges grilled attorneys on both sides, but marriage equality advocates said they were encouraged by the hearing. A ruling is expected next year, but the case likely will end up at the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, two lawsuits challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act went to trial in Massachusetts this year, and in both cases, DOMA came out the loser. Those cases are also now on appeal.

In Texas, Attorney General Greg Abbott continued his crusade against same-sex divorce. In a Dallas case, Abbott’s office won a victory in May when a state appeals court overturned a judge’s decision to grant a same-sex divorce. Abbott’s appeal of another divorce in Austin is pending.

Meanwhile, transgender issues and LGBT marriage rights collided in July as Houston trans woman Nikki Araguz found herself going up against her in-laws, following the death of her husband, volunteer firefighter Thomas Araguz. Araguz’s family and former wife claimed his marriage to Nikki was invalid because she was born a biological male, and that all his benefits legally should go to them instead of Nikki. The case is awaiting trial.

And Texas would make big marriage news again in November, when a gay couple from Dallas announced they’d been legally married without leaving the state. Mark Reed-Walkup and Dante Walkup held their wedding ceremony at the W-Dallas hotel, but it was officiated via Skype from Washington, D.C., where same-sex marriage is legal. A few weeks later, D.C. officials declared the marriage invalid. The couple later physically traveled to D.C. and got married again. They’ve also renewed a complaint against The Dallas Morning News for refusing to publish their wedding announcement.

Elsewhere, Illinois became the sixth state to approve civil unions. In Hawaii, the legislature approved a bill allowing same-sex civil unions, but Republican Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed it. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed a bill that would have given same-sex partners control over the dispensation of their partners’ remains after death, because he supports “traditional marriage.”

Wisconsin’s Supreme Court upheld that state’s gay marriage ban.

Internationally, Portuguese President Anabel Cavaco Silva signed into law legislation that allows same-sex marriage. Argentina’s legislature approved a bill legalizing gay marriage, and President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner quickly signed it into law.

— Tammye Nash

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 31, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Judges that will hear Prop 8 case called ‘a very good panel’ for gay marriage supporters

Backers of anti-gay California initiative say development means case even more likely to be decided by Supreme Court

LISA LEFF | Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — Two judges appointed by Democratic presidents and one named by a Republican will decide if a San Francisco trial judge improperly struck down California’s same-sex marriage ban, a federal appeals court announced Monday, Nov. 29.

Judges Michael Hawkins, Stephen Reinhardt and N. Randy Smith of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals were randomly assigned the landmark case from the court’s pool of 27 active judges.

The panel is scheduled to hear arguments next week over the constitutionality of the voter-approved ban, known as Proposition 8.

Reinhardt, a 79-year-old Los Angeles resident, was appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1980 and is regarded as one of the 9th Circuit’s most liberal jurists. Hawkins, a 65-year-old Arizonan, was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1994.

Smith, 61, was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2007 and keeps his chambers in his native Idaho.

Proposition 8′s sponsors are appealing Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker’s August ruling that overturned the 2008 law as a violation of gay and lesbian Californians’ civil rights. They argue that Walker ignored a U.S. Supreme Court precedent from 1973 that held the U.S. Constitution does not recognize marriage rights for gays.

Observers predicted the panel’s makeup makes it less likely Walker would be reversed.

“Anyone who follows the 9th Circuit closely would say that this a very good panel for the Prop 8 opponents and a very bad panel for its defenders,” said Arthur Hellman, a University of Pittsburgh School of Law professor who is an expert on the court. “I expect a 2-1 decision, with Reinhardt and Hawkins outvoting Smith.”

Proposition 8′s supporters had the same interpretation, and reiterated their plan to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary.

“Judge Reinhardt’s inclusion on the 9th Circuit panel adds more weight to what the Prop 8 Legal Defense team has said since this case was filed in federal court: We fully expect that it will ultimately be decided by the highest court in the land,” the California Family Council, which was part of the coalition of religious and conservative groups that backed the 2008 measure, said in a statement.

When they meet in San Francisco on Dec. 6, one of the issues the judges will consider is whether the ban’s backers had the authority to bring the appeal after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown decided not to challenge the lower court ruling.

Officials from conservative Imperial County have asked the 9th Circuit to allow them to represent the state’s interests if the panel decides that Proposition 8′s sponsors lack standing.

—  John Wright

True political courage: Argentina’s president speaks out in support of gay marriage

Argentina’s Chamber of Deputies voted back in May to grant full marriage rights to same-sex couples, and right now we are waiting on word of how the country’s Senate voted on the measure. That vote is supposed to happen sometime today.

Although polls show that about 70 percent of Argentinians support gay marriage, debate over the issue has been heated, with the Roman Catholic Church there doing its best to defeat the gay marriage bill. In fact, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, on Sunday called the effort to legalize gay marriage it a “destructive attack on God’s plan” (from a report in The Times of India).

But if the measure passes the Senate, Argentina President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has already said she will sign it into law. And on Monday, the president made statements that put her head and shoulders above any other national leader when it comes to public support for same-sex marriage. Watch this video and see what true political courage looks like.

—  admin