Bills to repeal DOMA introduced in House, Senate

Legislation seeking to overturn 1996 law has little chance of passage, but it arrives to a changing climate on same-sex marriage

LISA KEEN | Keen News Service

When U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-NY, introduced the Respect for Marriage Act in 2009, he conceded there was little chance for passage in the 111th Congress. Absent from the 102 co-sponsors that year was Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., the most veteran and influential of the three openly gay members of Congress. He said the bill had “zero” chance of passage. Also missing was then-House Speaker Nancy Peolsi, D-Calif., and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) as co-sponsors, and there was no companion bill in the Senate.

Clearly, something’s changed.

When Nadler reintroduced his bill to the 112th Congress this morning, Frank, Pelosi, and Hoyer were among its 108 co-sponsors.

And the Nadler bill this year is joined by a first-ever companion bill in the Senate, introduced today by Democratic Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Dianne Feinstein of California, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Christopher Coons of Delaware, and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

What has not changed is the content of the legislation. The new Respect for Marriage Act is “precisely the same” as the last one, noted Nadler spokesman Ilan Kayatsky.

The measures seek to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. DOMA, enacted in 1996, prohibits the federal government from recognizing the legally secured marriages of same-sex couples and provides for states to ignore those marriages as well.

And there is still little likelihood of passage — at least in the Republican-controlled House.

But the legislation arrives to a political climate concerning same-sex marriage that is clearly changing.

The latest independent poll, completed March 1 and involving 1,504 adults nationally, shows –once again— a new high in support for allowing gays to marry. While 46 percent told the Pew Research Center they oppose allowing gays to marry, 45 percent said they favor doing so –a two-point jump in the space of six months. (Nine percent said they were unsure. The margin of error was plus or minus three points.)

A poll sponsored last week by the Human Rights Campaign found that 51 percent oppose DOMA, 34 percent favor it, and 15 percent had no opinion. When asked whether legally married gay couples should be able to obtain specific federal benefits provided to straight couples, 60 percent supported gay spouses being able to obtain Social Security benefits and 58 percent supported health coverage for federal employees’ same-sex spouses.

The HRC poll gave its respondents — 800 registered voters nationwide — two statements and asked which came closer to their point of view about the House decision to defend DOMA in federal court. One choice was: the move diverts taxpayer money to a divisive issue at a time Congress should be focusing on creating jobs and cutting the deficit. The other choice was that Congress was forced to defend the law after President Obama’s administration “failed to do so.” Fifty-four percent chose the former, and 32 percent chose the latter. (The remainder said Neither, Both, or did not respond.)

In a related development, bills were introduced to both chambers last Thursday, March 10, seeking to enable coverage for domestic partners under COBRA.

COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) is the federal law that requires group insurance plans to enable employees and their families to continue paying for their health coverage for a period of time following the loss or change in employment status.

In the Senate, the Equal Access to COBRA Act (S. 563) was re-introduced by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and has no co-sponsors; in the House, HR 1028 was introduced for the first time, by Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-NY, with 45 co-sponsors.

“Current federal laws related to COBRA coverage do not apply to domestic partners or same-sex spouses — even at companies that offer health coverage to domestic partners of employees,” according to a press statement from Boxer’s office. The proposed law, said the statement, would apply to companies that already offer health coverage to domestic partners and their children.

© 2011 Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

—  John Wright

Query • 11.05.10

How will Tuesday’s elections affect the LGBT community?

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Karen McCrocklin — “Now, more then ever, we need to make progress personal. Changing hearts and minds is the most effective on a one-to-one basis. Whatever the political climate, we can continue to create change by living openly, authentically and unapologetically.”

Jade Esteban Estrada — “Many LGBT community members will step up and see how easy it is to lose our recent gains and will become more passionate in their leadership, visibility and activism. I believe it will stir the pot and get them more involved.”

Wendy North — “It will make people either move to Canada or get working to effect change. Write opinions to the paper, social media or tell everyone you know how you feel. Change happens slowly. Start now!”

Terry Loftis — “Nationally things will move forward albeit probably at a slower pace than before. I don’t think the American public see our efforts as the big threat.”

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This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 5, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Sly Foxy

From famous bedmates as a ’70s icon to her gay awakening on ‘The L Word,’ Pam Grier is still one foxy mama

MARK LOWRY  | Special Contributor marklowry@theaterjones.com

Pam Grier
STRAIGHT NOT NARROW It took ‘The L Word’ to open Pam Grier’s eyes to gay issues — now she’s a tireless advocate for LGBT rights.

Leaders for Literary Luncheon
at Fort Worth Events Center
2100 Evans Ave., Fort Worth. July 30, Noon.

The Dock Bookstop
6637 Meadowbrook Drive,
Fort Worth. July 30, 7–9 p.m.

South Dallas Cultural Center
3400 Fitzhugh Ave.
July 31, Noon–2 p.m.

She might have kicked some drug-dealer booty as the title character in each of three iconic blaxploitation films of the 1970s — Coffy, Foxy Brown and Sheba, Baby — but Pam Grier wonders what might have happened had she picked a different career path.

“If I hadn’t done some nude scenes, I’d be running for president,” she said in a phone interview from her Colorado home. “And my black ass would win.”

She’s not kidding. Well, not that much. By the end of our hour-long conversation, which of course covered the films that made her a ‘70s icon, and her experience with the Showtime series The L Word, Grier is talking about sustainable farming, Wall Street corruption, Nietzsche, political analyst Fareed Zakaria, recently ousted Agriculture Department staffer Shirley Sherrod and her love of Thomas L. Friedman’s Hot, Flat and Crowded.

In talking about America’s political climate, her passion is evident. “People ask me, ‘How do you know this stuff?’“ she says. “Because I read. I want to improve myself so I can vote better.”

She’s also hoping that in encouraging others to read, that their material includes her new memoir, Foxy: My Life in Three Acts. She’ll make three appearances in North Texas this weekend to sign and read excerpts from it, beginning with a speech at the Leaders for Literacy Luncheon in Fort Worth.

Grier has also become a fierce advocate for LGBT equality, thanks to her full run in the six seasons of The L Word, which she considers one of two major life-changing events in her life; the other was surviving cervical cancer.

“I loved doing that show,” she says. “It could have gone another two years, because we were just getting into the juicy meat of humanity.”

In her memoir, the chapter on The L Word discusses how the drama opened her eyes and heart to a community that she never knew much about, mainly because she didn’t have any gay people in her circle of friends or family. Although she, like Kit, her character on the show, is straight (she talks about her relationships with men, famous and not, in the book), she now sees the world through rainbow-colored glasses.

“I don’t gamble but I bet you the gay population in this world is one-third. OK? And in America, if there’s 300 million people, then it’s at least 100 million,” she says, no waver in her voice. “I’m not kidding. They might be in the closet or people who are out. When you see gay Pride week in San Francisco, and half a million people show up, that’s incredible.”

That she was never exposed to the gay community in this way is a bit of a surprise, considering that Foxy Brown is, by now, a gay heroine. In that role, as well as Coffy and Sheba, she karate-kicked her high-heeled gams through clusters of bad guys — and to a memorable backdrop of funk and soul music. She was, indeed, “a chick with drive who don’t take no jive!”

She also performed all of her own stunts (“I have the wounds and broken bones to prove it”), having always been a thrill-seeker. “They were surprised I could handle a gun. All the women in my family can shoot and bring home supper. We’re from Wyoming and Colorado — we have to. And you have to be able to change tires and get the tractor going, or you die.”

Grier is now acutely aware and appreciative of her gay following, who love her for that sexy, black and powerful vibe she sends out to the universe. “I love the emergence of the wonderful drag queens who look better than I did, who come to my book signings. When I see them I’m always like, ‘Wow, who does your hair, who does your makeup?’ It’s fabulous.”

But her book isn’t all about her time as a seminal ‘70s film star or her “comeback” as the title character in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown (although she never stopped acting, in film and TV). In the memoir, she’s confessional, revisiting secrets in her life that took her years to face.

When she was 6, Grier was gang-raped by a cousin and his friends, and was rescued by a telephone repairman who just happened to show up at the right time. It caused her to be a shy kid with a stutter. She didn’t talk about that incident until the memoir.

“It took to me four years to come to the determination to write about it,” she says, “but I knew it would be very healing for my family and friends to know that there were certain things about me that weren’t just a phase. I see people passing on their abuse and dysfunction in their families from generation to generation, when it can be addressed. Now, because I talk about it around the country, men and women come forth and talk about their encounters and issues. They don’t feel alone, when there’s this strong, vibrant icon before them who’s not swimming so deeply in despair.”

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the book is that in the ‘70s and ‘80s, as she had this bitchin’ Hollywood career and dated men with drug habits, including Richard Pryor, she never became involved in all those things that drag so many celebrities down.

“I was a good girl because I couldn’t afford to be a bad girl,” she says, laughing. “It costs to be a bad girl, to have expensive cars and wreck them, to go to jail. I had family to support, my mom was ill, I had relatives who needed water heaters and tires. I worked.”

Indeed, Pam Grier knows how to work and work it. If she ever appears on a political ballot, she has our vote.

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The Tell-All Word

Foxy: My Life in Three Acts, by Pam Grier with Andrea Cagan (Springboard Press, 2010), $24.99

Pam Grier’s memoir is a breezy read, unfolding in short chapters that follow the chronology of Grier’s amazing career, beginning with surviving a car crash when she was only three weeks old. She doesn’t remember that, naturally, but considers it the reason she was able to do her own stunts.

Grier also discusses her romances with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (his conversion to Islam, with its treatment of women, was the reason that ended) and comic greats Freddy Prinze Sr. and Richard Pryor, and to a few not-famous men whom she wishes she could have held on to. The book is a fascinating look at black Hollywood in the ’70s and the blaxploitation movement, but more importantly, her search for love and her journey of self-discovery as a strong, black, woman.

Mark Lowry

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 30, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas