More bad news from Election Night: 3 Iowa judges who backed marriage equality are defeated

Tena Callahan

Among the Democrats in Dallas County who hung on to their seats on Tuesday was State District Family Court Judge Tena Callahan, who in 2009 boldly declared Texas’ bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. Callahan defeated Republican opponent Julie Reedy by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent, and her landmark decision didn’t appear to have hurt her at all at the polls.

However, the news was not so good for three Supreme Court judges in Iowa who ruled in favor of marriage equality in 2009. The three were all defeated in retention elections on Tuesday, after being targeted by the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage.

NOM spent $600,000 on TV ads and a 45-county bus tour targeting the Iowa justices. Despite their defeat, though, LGBT groups noted that same-sex marriage remains legal in Iowa.

“By their own admission, NOM’s Iowa strategy was about sending a warning shot to judges nationwide,” Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said in a statement. “NOM and its secret donors will continue to target judges around the country if they rule in favor of marriage equality and will foster an anti-gay, hostile environment in the process.”

Lambda Legal, which brought the lawsuit that resulted in the Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, had this to say about the result:

“Let’s be clear about what happened in Iowa and what didn’t happen: Three skilled jurists lost their jobs, but the Court’s ruling in the case allowing same-sex couples to marry is still the law of the land, enshrined in the Iowa Constitution. Same-sex couples continue to marry in Iowa. Antigay groups have lost on the big issue — equality — and they are attacking our courts for protecting it.

“This spiteful campaign is a wake-up call to future voters who must resist attempts to politicize the courts. It is the responsibility of us all to protect the system of checks and balances that defines our democracy, and it continues to be our responsibility at Lambda Legal to make our case for equality, not just before judges, but in the court of public opinion.

“We are angry, but we also take the long view: The Iowa Supreme Court delivered justice that will outlast this political fight by upholding the Iowa Constitution’s guarantee of equality for all Iowans. Seven jurists were posed a question by people who had been denied basic fairness guaranteed by the state constitution. The judges did their jobs with integrity – as they must.

“But the result in Iowa shines a light on a dangerous agenda to undermine the democratic system of checks and balances that has served us well for over 200 years. If an embattled judiciary were to lose its ability to protect our laws and constitution with impartiality, that would be a tragic loss for our country. We can’t let that happen.”

—  John Wright

NATIONAL: 13 races LGBT community should worry about

Races around the country could have significant impact on climate, landscape for LGBT equality

Lisa Keen  |  Keen News Service lisakeen@mac.com

For hard-core political junkies in the LGBT community, there’s a lot to worry about in the Nov. 2 voting — and not just because there’s the possibility of Republicans taking over the U.S. House and Senate.

A number of races around the country could have significant impact on both the climate and the landscape for LGBT civil rights nationally.

This report identifies 13 of the most important outcomes to keep an eye on next Tuesday and weighs their outcomes to reflect how much impact they could have on the LGBT community efforts to achieve equal rights.

A cumulative score of 100 means the political landscape and climate remain relatively favorable for LGBT civil rights concerns. A zero would signal a significantly unfavorable change.

The current status would rank a score of 80; but the latest poll predictions signal a drop to 60.

1. Control of the U.S. House: Democrats currently hold 255 of the 435 House seats. It takes 218 or more to hold the majority. As of last week, the New York Times-FiveThirtyEight number cruncher was forecasting Republicans would take the majority with 230 seats, leaving Democrats with only 205. Loss of Democratic control in the House means many things: Pro-gay measures have no chance of passage; anti-gay measures do.

2. Control of the U.S. Senate: Democrats currently hold 57 of 100 seats and need 50 to retain the majority (with Democratic Vice President Joe Biden as Senate president).

As of last week, the New York Times-FiveThirtyEight number cruncher was forecasting Democrats would retain the Senate with 51 or 52 seats, to the Republicans 48 or 49. That’s still not a large enough majority for Democrats to break filibusters, but at least it cuts off the ability of Republicans to press for passage of anti-gay measures.

3.
Democrats keep New Hampshire House and Senate: This bellwether state enacted a marriage equality law just this year and already three bills have been filed seeking repeal in 2011. Meanwhile, the Democratic majority in both the state House and Senate are in peril

Nov. 2, says Rep. Jim Splaine, the openly gay state legislator who authored the marriage bill in the House.

Only two of seven Republicans who supported marriage equality were defeated in the primary, but the margins of victory on the marriage equality bill in 2009 were razor thin, and Splaine himself is retiring at the end of this year. If Republicans do take back the majority in the legislature, a repeal bill has a strong chance of succeeding. Polls indicate the results Tuesday are simply unpredictable.

4. New Hampshire retains Democratic governor: Now, imagine the New Hampshire legislature passes a bill to repeal its one-year-old marriage equality law and sends it to the governor’s desk. If incumbent Democrat John Lynch is there, it’s very likely that he’ll veto it. But if Republican challenger John Stephen is there, he’s promised to sign it. Polls give Lynch a good chance of hanging onto the job.

5. California elects Democratic governor: Republican Meg Whitman unabashedly opposes same-sex marriage and voted for Proposition 8. (She favors civil unions.) Democrat Jerry Brown, the state’s attorney general, supports same-sex marriage and has refused to defend California’s same-sex marriage ban — Proposition 8 — in the landmark lawsuit now before the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Whitman has criticized Brown for his position, and some speculate she could — if elected — intervene to enhance the appeal against Judge Vaughn Walker’s ruling that the measure is unconstitutional.

The team challenging Proposition 8 says it is not concerned about that and, truth be told, the 9th Circuit will have heard the appeal long before the next governor takes office. But the position of the next governor could have some influence if and when the full 9th Circuit and/or the U.S. Supreme Court hear the case. And, legal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky notes that, if the 9th Circuit should dismiss the appeal for lack of standing by the current appellants, Whitman “could make a motion in federal court to have the judgment set aside.” Polls call this a toss-up with Brown having a slight edge.

6. California elects Democratic attorney general: Republican Steve Cooley has also criticized Attorney General Brown for refusing to defend Proposition 8 in court. If elected, he, too, could ask to have a 9th Circuit decision set aside, should it rule that proponents of Proposition 8 lack standing. Cooley could also play a pivotal role in the approval of a future initiative should No on 8 activists need to overturn the anti-gay marriage law by ballot measure. Cooley says he would go to bat for Proposition 8; his Democratic opponent, San Francisco district attorney Kamala Harris, says that, because Proposition 8 has been declared unconstitutional, the attorney general should not appeal it.

Cooley has a slight lead in the latest polls.

7. Iowa retains three justices: One of the smallest races in the country is getting big attention: the re-election campaigns of three Iowa Supreme Court justices. All three were on the seven-member bench that unanimously ruled in 2009 that the state constitution requires gay couples be treated the same as straight couples when it comes to marriage licensing.

Justices in Iowa are appointed by the governor but must stand for “retention” at the end of their first year and the end of each eight-year term.

Groups unhappy with the 2009 ruling have turned the retention election for Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Justices David Baker and Michael Streit into a referendum on same-sex marriage. Those groups including the anti-gay American Family Association, the Family Research Council, and the National Organization for Marriage (NOM). The Des Moines Register reported last week that NOM has spent $200,000 in television ads to oppose the justices’ retention.

Meanwhile, another coalition — a bipartisan one — has been formed to support the justices’ retention. It is headed up by Republican former Gov. Robert Ray and Democratic former Iowa First Lady Christie Vilsack.

As of Oct. 4, reports the Register, the contests are a toss-up, with 44 percent of 550 likely voters saying they’ll vote for retention, 40 percent against, and 16 percent saying they’ll retain “some.”

8. Cicilline wins U.S. House seat for Rhode Island’s 1st: David Cicilline, the openly gay mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, is given a 91 percent chance of winning the four-way race to represent Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District. For the LGBT community, it would mean a fourth openly gay member of Congress.

9. Pougnet wins U.S. House seat for California’s 45th: Steve Pougnet, the openly gay mayor of Palm Springs, Calif., is given less than a 3 percent chance of unseating incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Mary Bono Mack. But Pougnet has raised significant money and interest in his first run for Congress and Mack’s popularity has been waning since 2002.

10. Frank re-elected with 65 percent or more: Barney Frank is the Congress’ most veteran openly gay member — in seniority, experience and age. He’s now 70.

Massachusetts politicos who hope to take over his reign in Massachusetts’ 4th Congressional district are already starting to stage their practice runs. That includes Republican Sean Bielat, whose campaign slogan — “Retire Barney”— seeks to capitalize on the notion that Frank is old enough to retire. The polls don’t give him much of a chance to “retire” Frank this year — the New York Times-FiveThirtyEight number cruncher says Frank’s prospects for re-election are at 96 percent.

But it forecasts Frank will win only about 56 percent of the vote, and that’s down dramatically from previous re-election runs in the mid-terms, when he’s won re-election with 99 and 98 percent. In the presidential election years, Frank won with 78 percent in 2004 and 68 percent in 2008.

So, if Frank slips much below 68 percent this year, political pundits and potential challengers will almost certainly smell blood in the water, whether it’s there or not.

11. Maine elects Democratic governor: Equality Maine, the state LGBT civil rights group, says Tea Party Republican candidate Paul LePage would not only veto a marriage equality bill if one came to his desk, but “supports gutting the Maine Human Rights Act,” which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Democratic candidate Libby Mitchell is the polar opposite: According to Maine Public Radio, she would “restore the gay marriage law that was repealed by Maine voters last fall.” Independent candidate Eliot Cutler supports same-sex marriage, too. But guess who’s at the top of the latest poll? LePage. According to the Portland Press Herald on Oct. 22, a poll of 600 registered voters has LePage at 32 percent, Mitchell at 20 percent, and Cutler at 19. Twenty-one percent are undecided and the rest are promised to minor party candidates.

12. New York elects Democratic governor: Tea Party Republican Carl Paladino has turned this race into an interesting one. He is opposed to equal marriage rights for gay couples, doesn’t want his children to think being gay is “an equally valid and successful option” to being straight, and called gay pride parades “disgusting.” But the New York Daily News reported last week that he used to collect rent from gay clubs in Buffalo. As of Oct. 22, Democrat Andrew Cuomo has a 23-point lead over Paladino. And Cuomo would make a much different governor for LGBT New Yorkers. To put it in his own words, “I want to be the governor who signs the law that makes equality a reality in the state of New York.” Polls indicate an easy Democratic win.

13. Minnesota elects Democratic governor: LGBT interest in this race really began to escalate after the Target and Best Buy discount chains donated big money to a group called MN Forward, and MN Forward ran ads in support of Republican candidate Ted Emmer. Emmer’s website makes clear he opposes equal rights to marriage for gay couples and he led an effort in the state legislature to adopt a constitutional amendment to ban them. By contrast, Democrat Mark Dayton supports equal rights for LGBT people and his website includes a prominent and thorough discussion of that support. Polls indicate Dayton will be the likely winner.

© 2010 Keen News Service

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 29, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas

HRC releases statement on Asher Brown’s suicide; bullied gay teen in California dies

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese issued the following statement Wednesday morning on the suicide of Asher Brown, the 13-year-old from Houston who took his life after enduring months of anti-gay bullying at his middle school:

“We feel for Asher’s family during this sad time. This young man had a wonderful life ahead of him, but he was ‘bullied to death’ because he was gay. This tragedy was preventable. School officials must act when kids are tormented and bullied. All students deserve to be treated with dignity and respect which is why HRC urges school districts and state legislatures everywhere to implement enumerated anti-bullying policies and laws that that protect all students.”

Equality Texas has issued an action alert calling on people to contact their state legislators and urge them to pass safe schools legislation that protects LGBT youth. Also, Change.org has posted a petition addressed to officials in the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District.

Also, a gay 13-year-old in California has died after nine days on life support, after attempting suicide in response to years of anti-gay bullying. Seth Walsh, 13, who hung himself from a tree in his back yard on Sept. 19, died Tuesday afternoon. No charges have been filed.

—  John Wright

Target refuses to make nice with the gays

Expect to see more protests like the one above in West Hollywood.

Just hours after we posted this story from the Associated Press about conservatives pressuring Target not to make a donation in support of LGBT equality, the Human Rights Campaign announced Monday afternoon that the company has decided it will take “no corrective actions to repair the harm that it caused by contributing $150,000 to an organization supporting a vehemently anti-gay candidate closely associated with a Christian rock band that advocates death and violence to gay people.”

In a press release, HRC said the company’s decision came after two weeks of discussions and two tentative agreements.

“All fair-minded Americans will now rightly question Target’s commitment to equality. If their initial contribution was a slap in the face, their refusal to make it right is a punch in the gut and that’s not something that we will soon forget,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “However, with full marriage equality hanging in the balance in Minnesota, regardless of Target, it’s important that we as a community send a message that we will work tirelessly to elect pro-equality candidates.”

HRC goes on to say that it will devote $150,000 of its own resources to help elect pro-equality candidates in Minnesota. HRC is still awaiting a response from Best Buy, which also contributed money to MN Forward, the group supporting anti-gay Republican Tim Emmer in the governor’s race.

“Target and Best Buy have — and no doubt will continue to have — model employment policies for LGBT people. We will continue to support those efforts. But before they can regain that exalted status among their consumers, they need to make things right in Minnesota,” said Solmonese. “The nation’s LGBT community has shown these two companies enormous customer loyalty. Now it’s time for that faithfulness to be returned.”

Going back to the AP story, it sounds like Target was ultimately more faithful to the almighty dollar:

Conservatives are watching to see whether Target bends to the pressure, said Kelly O’Keefe, a brand expert at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va.

“They’re likely to raise the ire of a different constituency of customers and get themselves in a never-ending cycle of alienating people,” he said. “A better thing is for them to swear off any future investment in elections.”

The full HRC press release is after the jump.

UPDATE: For your further viewing pleasure, check out this inspiring in-store flash mob protest:

—  John Wright

HRC calls on RNC’s Steele to repudiate anti-gay language in Texas GOP platform

Well the original story may not have been news, but the fact that it’s making such big news is arguably news, and the fact that people are trying to do something about it is definitely news. Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese sent out an e-mail earlier today asking people to sign a petition calling on Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele to repudiate anti-gay language in the Texas GOP platform. Here’s what the petition says:

Chairman Steele, I urge you to publicly reject the anti-LGBT language in the Texas Republican Party Platform. This kind of hateful rhetoric has no place in our political discourse. Unless the RNC endorses the Texas GOP’s positions, it is up to you to repudiate them.

The other news here, of course, is that HRC sent out a mass e-mail that appears to be accurate.

Read DV columnist Hardy Haberman’s piece on the GOP platform from tomorrow’s paper by going here.

—  Dallasvoice