Labor Department to release final rule on FMLA Wednesday

FMLAThe U.S. Department of Labor announced today (Monday, Feb. 23) it will release the final rule change extending the current definition of “spouse” to include same-sex spouses in the Family and Medical Leave Act Wednesday, Feb. 25 .

The change will go into effect on March 27.

Under the FMLA, according to the Labor Department, eligible employees of covered employers can take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons. The new rule change would change the language from recognizing marriages based on “state of residence” to recognize marriages based on “place of celebration.”

A “place of celebration” rule allows all legally married couples, whether opposite-sex or same-sex, or married under common law, to have consistent federal family leave rights regardless of where they live.

The rule change comes as the battle for nation-wide recognition of same-sex marriage. The Supreme Court will hear four marriage cases in April and release their opinion in June. Until then a rule change like the FMLA is pertinent for same-sex couples who live in states that do not recognize marriage equality, including Texas.

 

—  James Russell

Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth top Texas cities in HRC Municipal Equality Index

MEI-2014-map-650x375The Human Rights Campaign released its third annual Municipal Equality Index today (Wednesday, Nov. 12) assessing LGBT equality in 353 cities across the nation, including 22 in Texas, according to a press release from HRC.

The MEI, the only nationwide rating system of LGBT inclusion in municipal law and policy, assesses cities on a one to 100 scale.

The average score for the 22 Texas cities is 28 out of 100 points, far below the national average of 59. Only Austin achieved a perfect 100 score. Dallas came in second with 91 points and Fort Worth third with 83 points.

San Antonio, El Paso and Houston earned scores of 72, 52 and 54 respectively, the only other cities to score more than 50 points.

Other surveyed Texas cities included Amarillo: 14,  Brownsville: 20, Corpus Christi: 16, Killeen: 10, Laredo: 2, Lubbock: 0, McAllen: 0, Pasadena: 10, Waco: 24.

The MEI rates cities based on 47 criteria falling under six broad categories: Non-discrimination laws, relationship recognition, employment policies, including transgender-inclusive insurance coverage, contracting non-discrimination requirements, and other policies relating to equal treatment of LGBT city employees, inclusiveness of city services, fair law enforcement practices and leadership on matters of equality.

Check out the full list here and this week’s edition of the Voice for comments from local leaders.

—  James Russell

U.S. Customs taking broader view of families than most other agencies

CustomsU.S. Customs and Border Protection sent a rule to the Federal Register to broaden the definition of “members of a family residing in one household.” The expansion includes long-term same-sex couples and other domestic relationships which would allow more returning U.S. citizens, residents and international visitors who may file a joint customs declaration for items acquired abroad.

The rule will apply to U.S. citizens, residents and international visitors traveling together as a family and takes effect 30 days from its filing on Dec. 13.

The new definition of family will make it easier for parents traveling with children when only one of those parents has legal custody.

While other agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service ruled same-sex couples who were legally married in a marriage equality state may file joint taxes no matter where they live, Customs is calling a family any couple in a committed relationship “including, but not limited to, long-term companions and couples in civil unions or domestic partnerships where the partners share financial assets and obligations, and are not married to, or a partner of, anyone else.” The rule does not apply to two people traveling together who are roommates.

The change creates less paperwork and less confusion.

In 1990, I was traveling in Asia for several weeks with my partner and returned to the U.S. through Hawaii. Because of how much we bought in Hong Kong, we purchased an extra suitcase. All of our new clothing and other household items were packed in the one suitcase, but when we got to the Customs line, the agent insisted we go through separately.

My partner went first and had the extra bag, but I had all of the receipts.

“How much was this?” the agent asked.

“I don’t know,” my partner said. “He has the receipts.”

She kept asking, and he kept answering the same thing. She grew more and more frustrated. He remained calm but firm. We had the receipts. I just happened to have them, and at her insistence, I remained behind the line, but within earshot. So I pulled out some of the receipts and flashed them at her, which made her more frustrated.

After about 10 minutes of getting no answers from him and seeing the receipts she so desired just outside of her grasp, she relented and put us through Customs together. In 1990. She even combined our $400 per person maximum allowance to the $800 a couple received then. What she found in the bag was about $792 worth of purchases, and we made it through without owing a penny in duty. And were treated as a couple. And the sky didn’t fall.

—  David Taffet

Same-sex marriage breaks color barrier

Gay folks measure victories incrementally: The first time the New York Times acknowledged “longtime companions” in their obits of gay men; the time Ellen came out on TV and the cover of Time; the first time — recently — that broadcasters casually referred to the partner of a gay celeb as his or her spouse, husband or wife.

Well, add to those media milestones Jet magazine.

The 51-year-old lifestyle magazine targeting the African-American community has long featured a weddings section called Jet Love, and in the Dec. 10 print edition, it features for the first time a gay couple, as reported by The Advocate. Among the photos of tuxedo-and-gown-clad duos shoving cake in each others’ faces and tossing bouquets is the happy (and handsome) couple of Ravi Perry and and Paris Prince, who were wed in Worcester, Mass.

Congratulations to the couple … to the gay community … and to Jet for taking an important step.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Conservative Jews angry that same-sex couples are equal — to each other

In June, the Conservative Jewish movement approved same-sex weddings. Now that the ceremonies are commonly being performed in Conservative synagogues, heterosexual couples are complaining that same-sex marriages are more equal than opposite-sex marriages, according to the NY Post.

While Jews don’t believe in marriage as it’s existed since Biblical times, some traditions continue. In the Torah, marriage happens when a man rapes a woman, as long as the man is Jewish or at least converts. That is, as long as the brothers don’t murder him, as in the story in Genesis of Dinah.

Marriage also may happen when a man acquires his wife for the right price. And then he’s trusting that he’s given the right bride, as in the story of Jacob, also in Genesis, where he is given Rachel instead of Leah. But no problem: He later married Leah, too.

But what is the same in Conservative Judaism is that the husband still acquires the wife. And a religious divorce, called a Get, may only be initiated by the man. After all, how can property initiate something like a divorce that’s reserved for people, like men? Reform, the largest branch of Judaism in the U.S., and Reconstructionist Jews threw a lot of that crap out years ago.

—  David Taffet

Hours after being vetoed in N.J., same-sex marriage advances in Maryland

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie

LISA KEEN  |  Keen News Service

The Maryland House of Delegates passed a marriage equality bill Friday evening with a bare minimum of 71 votes to 67. But it did so under the threat of a referendum, and it did so just hours after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie followed through on his promise to veto a marriage equality bill passed by that state’s Legislature on Thursday.

Visitors crowded into the Maryland House erupted into a loud and sustained cheer as the House clerk noted that 71 delegates had voted for the bill.

The vote came after hours of emotional debate that sounded, at times, like a series of sermons — with delegates declaring what they said God has ordained as marriage and warning that same-sex marriage would open the door to polygamy and marriages with children and that it would encourage children to become gay.

Delegate Kathy Afzali, a Republican, said a Democrat in the House begged her to vote against the bill because “it has caused so many churches to split and fracture.” And Republican Michael Smeigiel urged a “no” vote, saying the marriage equality bill would be divisive and that the Legislature should give same-sex couples civil unions.

The Maryland Senate, which passed the bill last year and is likely to do so again this year, is expected to vote in the near future. The bill was sponsored by Maryland’s Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley.

A key vote appeared to be that of Delegate Tiffany Alston, a Democrat from suburban Washington, D.C. Alston said she supported the bill last year but that her constituents opposed it so she voted against it. She said she was supporting and voting for the bill this year because the House adopted her amendment to enable a referendum on the issue.

The Alston amendment delays implementation of the new law until any litigation surrounding a possible referendum is resolved and states that, if any part of the law is “held invalid for any reason in a court of competent jurisdiction,” the entire law shall be made null and void.

The bill also won the support of a key Republican, Delegate A. Wade Kach of Baltimore, who backed the bill after getting approval of an amendment moving the effective date of the bill back from Oct. 1 to Jan. 1. Kach said he wanted to ensure that the bill did not have any impact on the November elections.

The House rejected numerous other amendments, including one that would have enabled parents to opt out their children from receiving any sex education that mentioned same-sex marriages; one that prohibited a minor from marrying a person of the same sex; one that sought to require a constitutional amendment allowing same-sex partners to marry; and one that sought to allow for civil unions only.

The vote in the Maryland House of Delegates had been expected on Thursday, Feb. 16, but a flood of amendments and the sudden hospitalization of one of the bill’s supporters pushed that back until Friday. The chamber, which has 141 delegates, needed 71 to pass the bill.

Many opponents of the measure warned during debate that they would seek a referendum on the measure, if passed. Referenda law in Maryland requires that opponents of laws enacted by the Legislature and signed by the governor file 55,736 valid signatures by May 31.

In New Jersey, Christie issued a “conditional veto” against the marriage equality bill there, saying he would create an “Ombudsman for Civil Unions” to “ensure equal treatment under the law.”

Supporters of the marriage bill said they would begin the process to seek votes to overturn Christie’s veto. They will need 27 in the Senate (where the bill passed with 24 votes) and 54 in the Assembly (where it passed with 42). But the Legislature can take two years to overturn that veto.

There is little expectation that supporters of the marriage equality law will seek a referendum in New Jersey, as Christie suggested.
Christie, in his veto statement, said “an issue of this magnitude and importance … requires a constitutional amendment [and] should be left to the people of New Jersey to decide.”

“I continue to encourage the Legislature to trust the people of New Jersey and seek their input by allowing our citizens to vote on a question that represents a profoundly significant societal change,” said Christie. “This is the only path to amend our State Constitution and the best way to resolve the issue of same-sex marriage in our state.”

Unexpectedly, Christie also emphasized his commitment to non-discrimination through his veto statement.

“I have been just as adamant that same-sex couples in a civil union deserve the very same rights and benefits enjoyed by married couples — as well as the strict enforcement of those rights and benefits,” said Christie. “Discrimination should not be tolerated and any complaint alleging a violation of a citizen’s right should be investigated and, if appropriate, remedied. To that end, I include in my conditional veto the creation of a strong Ombudsman for Civil Unions to carry on New Jersey’s strong tradition of tolerance and fairness. The Ombudsman will be charged with increasing awareness of the law regarding civil unions, will provide a clear point of contact for those who have questions or concerns and will be required to report any evidence of the law being violated. In this way, we can ensure equal treatment under the law.”

Lambda Legal Defense still has a lawsuit pending in state court, challenging the validity of the existing civil unions law.

© 2012 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

—  John Wright

Special delivery


BE MY VALENTINE  | 
Paula Blackmon, right, chief of staff for Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, accepts a bag containing more than 400 Valentine’s Day cards addressed to Rawlings from Daniel Cates, left, North Texas regional coordinator for GetEQUAL. Cates delivered the cards written by community members to Rawlings, who has refused to sign a pledge in support of same-sex marriage, as part of GetEQUAL’s Valentine’s Day actions, which also included  same-sex couples requesting marriage licenses at clerk’s offices in Dallas and Fort Worth. For more coverage, go to DallasVoice.com/Category/Instant-Tea. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

 

—  Michael Stephens

WATCH: Activists across Texas stage marriage equality demonstrations on Valentine’s Day

In his post about Tuesday’s Valentine’s Day marriage equality demonstration in Dallas, David Taffet mentioned that three activists were arrested Tuesday during a similar action in Austin. Daniel Cates, a GetEQUAL organizer from Dallas, sent over the below video of the Austin activists singing a rousing rendition of “I’m gonna stand at the marriage counter …” while seated on the floor of the clerk’s office prior to their arrests. Raw Story has a full report.

In Fort Worth, WFAA reports that a lesbian couple was denied a marriage license on Tuesday afternoon.

In San Antonio, same -sex couples participated in a midnight mass wedding conducted annually by Baptist minister Joe Sullivan at the Bexar County Courthouse, despite Sullivan’s warning that they would face “acts of vengeance.” QSanAntonio quotes activist Julie Pousson, who attended the event: “Minister Joe Sullivan said that our couples were there ‘solely to be repulsive,’ and he threatened them with acts of vengeance on the part of God if they did not leave the courthouse steps. Our beautiful couples stood their ground for more than five minutes of hate speech and contradictory logic from the good minister before he finally relented and performed the wedding.”

And in Houston, after being denied marriage licenses at the clerk’s office, a group of roughly 30 activists marched to City Hall, where openly gay Mayor Annise Parker delivered a proclamation honoring Freedom to Marry Day. KPRC has video, and the Houston Chronicle reports:

—  John Wright

Valentine’s Day spotlight: Longtime local gay couple shares secrets to lasting love

Mark Hefner, left, and Gregory Motsch

To mark Valentine’s Day this year, Dallas Voice reached out to some longtime local same-sex couples to talk about the secrets to a lasting relationship. Among the couples that responded was Mark Hefner and Gregory Motsch of Arlington, who’ll celebrate their 25th anniversary on Oct. 31. Below are their answers to our questions. Happy Valentine’s Day!

DV: Where, when and how did you meet?
Mark and Gregory: We met in Ohio the spring of 1986 on a double date to our high school prom my senior year. Greg had graduated the previous year, but we had never really known each other before that night. I took my girlfriend, and Greg took a mutual friend of ours, Melissa. Coincidentally, she also now lives in the Metroplex with her husband who also went to our high school; they met later that that same year. (Apparently there’s something in the water up in Ohio that spawns long-term relationships!)

DV: Was it love at first sight? Please explain.
MG: Well, not sure either of us knew what it was at the time, but there were definitely sparks! (He looks damn good in a tux.) There certainly was enough there to keep a couple confused teenagers interested all summer until we finally hooked up that fall when we started going to college together. By Halloween we were officially in love, and that’s the day we chose as our anniversary date.

—  John Wright

Dallas County Clerk John Warren says he won’t issue any same-sex marriage licenses tomorrow

Dallas County Clerk John Warren, right, greeted Blake Wilkinson of Queer LiberAction when same-sex couples requested marriage licenses in 2009. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

In Friday’s Voice we mentioned that same-sex couples will be requesting marriage licenses at the Dallas County Clerk’s Office on Tuesday in a Valentine’s Day demonstration organized by GetEQUAL TX and other groups. But don’t expect County Clerk John Warren to issue the licenses. Warren told Instant Tea today that issuing one to a same-sex couple would likely result in a petition to have him removed from the office he’s held since 2006.

“When I took my oath, I raised my hand to uphold the law,” Warren said. “Regardless of what John Warren’s feelings are, that’s what I have to do, because that’s what my position requires.

“If the law changes that I can issue same-sex marriage licenses, I will issue same-sex marriage licenses,” Warren added. “More than any other cause, my main cause is my 13-year-old son and providing for him and my wife — and my dog.”

Asked about his personal position on the issue, Warren said his religious beliefs dictate that he opposes same-sex marriage. Warren is a deacon in his Baptist church, which he said teaches what the Bible teaches, which is “to love everybody.”

“I don’t see an issue with civil unions,” Warren said, adding that he also strongly supported the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Warren is close friends with fellow Democrat and openly gay District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons. The pair has worked closely on a digital courts initiative among other projects, and they refer to themselves as “running mates” during election season.

“I love Gary like a brother,” Warren said.

Asked whether he would support Fitzsimmons’ right to get married, Warren said he was unaware that Fitzsimmons has any desire to do so but would be open to discussing the issue with him. Warren added that he may or may not greet the protesters on Tuesday — as he has in previous years — because Commissioners Court will be in session.

Read GetEQUAL TX’s full press release about Tuesday’s demonstration — which begins at 10 a.m. and is one of many across the state and nation — after the jump.

—  John Wright