With friends like Mike, who needs enemies?

As Rawlings continues to dig in his heels on marriage pledge, Prop 8 ruling serves as reminder of the impact one mayor can have

Viewpoints-1

NOT GOING AWAY | LGBT protesters gathered outiside Dallas City Hall on Jan. 27 to call on Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings to sign a pledge in support of same-sex marriage. This week LGBT advocates went inside City Hall, with five people speaking during public comments at the council's regular meeting. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

 

With all the jubilation this week surrounding the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision to strike down Proposition 8, I couldn’t help but take a look back at how far things have progressed in California.

Given recent events in Dallas, my thoughts tend to settle on a moment four years before Prop 8 made its way to the ballot. I think of the moment the marriage battle in California began to make national headlines.

It was 2004 when a mayor, realizing that tens of thousands of his citizens were officially discriminated against under California law, ordered the San Francisco County Clerk’s Office to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

While Mayor Gavin Newsom had no means to directly influence the law and while these marriages were eventually annulled by the state, his bold action created the environment necessary for real dialogue about equality.

What’s more, it taught our community the difference between elected leaders saying they support us and showing us their support.

Perhaps that is why Dallas’ Mike Rawlings’ refusal to join the mayors of almost every major U.S. city in signing a pledge in support of marriage equality, despite claiming to personally support it, continues to go over like a fart in a space suit.

If Rawlings were a Rick “Frothy Mix” Santorum or of similar ilk, his not signing the pledge would come as no surprise and we would have long since moved on.

But, this is a man who is supposed to be our friend. This is a man who campaigned hard for the Dallas LGBT vote. This is a man who has hosted a Pride reception at City Hall and tossed beads like an overgrown flower girl at last year’s Pride parade. For a man who claims to be so focused on making Dallas a “world class city,” signing the pledge just seems like a no-brainer.

Even more puzzling has been the way Rawlings has continued to defend his position — at first explaining that civil rights were a “partisan issue” that didn’t matter to the “lion’s share” of Dallas citizens, until that backfired magnificently, and now claiming that maintaining a position of neutrality has transformed him into some kind of weird ambassador for the queer community to the conservative religious communities of Dallas.

Apparently no one ever told Mayor Rawlings that when it comes to issues of civil rights, there is no such thing as a neutral position. To quote the Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “If you remain neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

This is where our true frustration is coming from. Mayor Rawlings claims to understand marriage as a civil rights issue. He claims to understand that our community is discriminated against in thousands of state and federal laws, creating economic, educational, familial and health hardships for thousands of people in his city. Yet he chooses a position that serves only to validate those who would strip us of our humanity.

Perhaps he could have gotten away with this a few years ago, but in today’s world the majority of Americans now support equality and the LGBT community is no longer satisfied with neutrality, compromises or indefinite waiting. We are seeing evidence of this at every level of government, from City Hall to the White House where President Barack Obama stands to lose a significant percentage of the LGBT vote amid his prolonged “evolution” on marriage equality.

We understand that there is still much work to be done before full recognition of our equality becomes a reality. We know it will take time, resources and leadership to get us there. We don’t need our mayor to be as controversial as Gavin Newsom, but there is a way he can take a simple and powerful stand starting today.

It won’t cost the taxpayers a single penny. It won’t disrupt the business of the city for even a moment. It won’t even force people to change what they believe. It will, however, send a message to our state Legislature and to Congress that the people who live and work in Dallas, Texas, deserve equal treatment under the law.

It will tell 17,440 children in the state of Texas that their mommies and daddies are the same as the mommies and daddies of their peers. It will tell more than 14,000 individuals in our city who live in committed loving relationships that they will grow old with their partners in a city that respects them and values their contributions.

All our mayor has to do is pick up a pen and sign the pledge.

Daniel Cates is North Texas regional coordinator for GetEQUAL.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 10, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Rawlings won’t budge on marriage pledge

Dallas mayor says decision not to sign document puts him in position to advocate for LGBT equality among religious conservatives

STANDOFF  | A pro-LGBT protester, left, squares off with an anti-gay counterprotester during a “Sign the Pledge” rally organized by GetEQUAL outside Dallas City Hall on Jan. 27. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

JOHN WRIGHT  |  Senior Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said this week that he has no plans to sign a pledge in support of same-sex marriage anytime soon.

But Rawlings added that he believes his decision not to sign the pledge puts him in a position to advocate on behalf of LGBT civil rights among religious conservatives in Dallas.

Rawlings, who claims he personally supports legalizing same-sex marriage, has come under fire from the LGBT community for refusing to sign the pledge from the national group Freedom to Marry.

Rawlings has argued that the pledge — which now bears more than 100 signatures from mayors across the country — creates a divisive and partisan social issue that falls outside the mayor’s scope.

“I’m not going to sign it at this point, and part of it is because of the reaction that I’ve gotten throughout the whole community, and I realize whether people appreciate it or not, that I’m in a very interesting position where I can convene a lot of great dialogue because of the position that I’ve taken,” Rawlings told Dallas Voice during an exclusive interview in his office on Tuesday, Jan. 31. “After thinking about it, it’s probably the best thing that I kind of stick by my position here, but also do what I said in that meeting, which is work hard to figure out how I can best help this [the LGBT] community to gain the civil rights they need.”

Rawlings was referring to a meeting last Saturday, Jan. 28, which he attended with about 25 LGBT leaders at Resource Center Dallas, in response to his refusal to sign the pledge.

The meeting included several longtime local same-sex couples, including Jack Evans and George Harris, and Louise Young and Vivienne Armstrong.

Over the nearly two-hour meeting, which was at times heated and emotional, the couples and other LGBT leaders told Rawlings their stories and made their case as to why they feel the mayor should sign the pledge.

Outside the Resource Center following the meeting — which came the morning after about 100 LGBT protesters had gathered at City Hall — Rawlings wouldn’t rule out the possibility that he would change his mind. But 72 hours later, he hadn’t budged.

“I don’t see myself changing in the short-term,” Rawlings said Tuesday. “I think if there was another movement that I could understand what it was going to accomplish better, I might join that entity. It’s not like I’m going to be anti-public on this issue, but I think this pledge itself is something that has allowed me to be a broker of discussions now in the city of Dallas. There’s some silver lining in this cloud.”

MEETING WITH LGBT LEADERS | Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings greets gay couple Jack Evans, left, and George Harris, who've been together more than 50 years, before Saturday's meeting at Resource Center Dallas. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

Rawlings said he’s spoken to as many people who support his position as oppose it. But he acknowledged that when it comes to emails and messages on Facebook and Twitter, the vast majority have been in support of signing the pledge. Rawlings’ chief of staff, Paula Blackmon, said his office has received thousands of emails in the last two weeks.

“The other night [someone] said, ‘Thank you for not getting caught up in the hype of this thing, but I see you support marriage equality,’” Rawlings said. “And I said, ‘Yes, tell me about your position.’ And I realize there are so many people out there who really support what the LGBT community is trying to accomplish, but they are not interested in getting caught up into a polarizing movement.

“I’m very excited about the ability now to have this conversation,” he added. “I’m tired of talking about the pledge, but I think we’re just at the front end of having a conversation about LGBT civil rights.”

Rawlings has also said he wants to focus on substantive things he can accomplish as mayor to support LGBT civil rights.

But as of Tuesday, he said he hadn’t identified what those things will be. He said he plans to set up another meeting with Cece Cox, executive director and CEO of Resource Center Dallas, and others LGBT leaders to discuss specifics.

“There’s no question I’m a little ambivalent about my role now with the LGBT community, because I think that many people feel that I have sold them down the river, and I don’t want for political purposes to act like, ‘Oh, but I love you,’” Rawlings said. “I don’t want it to be disingenuous. I want to earn my respect in that community by putting my actions where my speech is on this.”

Rawlings said he thinks that for religious conservatives, civil marriage is secondary to the sacrament of religious marriage.

He said as mayor he wants to focus on “starting to de-mystify this for the faith-based community, and making sure we separate sacraments from civil rights.”

“If we ever are going to get to a better place, we’ve got to have room for people’s civil rights and personal religious beliefs in the same city,” he said.

“I’m a believer. I understand that tradition. I understand why that’s important. Some great conversations are starting to take place that I didn’t think I could ever have.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 3, 2012.

—  Michael Stephens

HUD adds LGBTs to housing rules

At the Creating Change Conference held in Baltimore Jan. 25–29, Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan announced a new policy to fight discrimination. The new rules will be published this week and go into effect 30 days later.

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan

“Today, I am proud to announce a new Equal Access to Housing Rule that says clearly and unequivocally that LGBT individuals and couples have the right to live where they choose. This is an idea whose time has come,” he said.

The new rules increase protection against housing discrimination by:

• prohibiting owners and operators of HUD-assisted or HUD-insured housing from discriminating against an applicant or occupant of a residence based on sexual orientation or gender identity;

• prohibiting all lenders offering Federal Housing Administration-insured mortgages from considering sexual orientation or gender identity in determining a borrower’s eligibility; and

• clarifying the definition of “family” to ensure that otherwise eligible participants in any HUD programs will not be excluded based on marital status, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

“I’m here this afternoon because our president and his administration believe the LGBT community deserves a place at the table — and also a place to call home. Each of us here knows that rights most folks take for granted are routinely violated against LGBT people,” Donovan said. “That’s why I’m proud to stand before you this afternoon and say HUD has been a leader in the fight — your fight and my fight — for equality. Over the last three years, we have worked to ensure that our housing programs are open. Not to some. Not to most. But open to all.”

The new regulations result from HUD under Donovan collecting data to better understand how same-sex couples suffer housing discrimination. His department has already worked to protect LGBT people under the Fair Housing Act.

Donovan is the first sitting cabinet secretary to address Creating Change.

This was the 24th Creating Change, the country’s largest annual gathering of LGBT rights advocates, staged annually by National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Video of Donovan’s speech follows the jump:

—  David Taffet

North Texas GLBT Chamber ‘disappointed’ by Rawlings’ refusal to sign marriage pledge

Lorie Burch

Lorie Burch

Over on the main page you’ll find my story for Friday’s print edition about Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings — who’ll be the target of an LGBT protest at City Hall on Friday night before meeting with LGBT leaders on Saturday. I also wanted to share the below statement that came across today from Lorie Burch, chairwoman of the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce:

As chair of the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce, I am disappointed by Mayor Mike Rawlings’ refusal to endorse the “freedom to marry” resolution. After all, as more than 100 American mayors (and six Texas mayors) know, marriage equality is a shot in the arm for business as well as for many business leaders and families like mine.

The vibrant gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community drives business here and benefits all. Our chamber and our partners work hard to show that Dallas is truly a welcoming and inclusive city. Consider in the past two years, two national GLBT conferences held in Dallas earned an estimated $14 million for our local economy. Aren’t we competing with Houston and San Antonio for these dollars?

Our chamber members know that successful businesses have an unquenchable appetite for strong talent and performance. It’s no surprise that some of our top companies actively recruit and reward their openly LGBT workers and place them in key roles.

Few GLBT professionals eagerly await employment transfer with spouses and children to states and cities that deny equal legal protections, respect and stability. Same-sex couples will align their best interests to choose to live and work in places that show them full respect and equal treatment under the law they need for their families.

Our mayor has the chance to be a leader and portray Dallas as a city where all are welcome. In addition to top corporations, consider that our city is hard wired for entrepreneurs and small businesses that add so much to the economy. Many small business owners are part of the GLBT community; their families and livelihoods are directly hurt by the lack of marriage equality and the 1,100 protective federal laws that they are denied. We know marriage offers equal rights and responsibilities by assuring better health care access for spouses and children, benefits and insurance coverage, tax breaks and incentives. Most of all, this brings our community a stronger cultural fabric that does not discriminate nor honor inequality.

Mayor Rawlings is the leader of one of the top cities in the world. As his constituents, we rely on him to make decisions that are best for our businesses, our community, and our families. This is not about politics.  It is about fundamental fairness and equality and any leader today should be proud to sign that pledge. Dallas deserves that kind of leadership, and so do the members of Texas’ largest GLBT business group.

Lorie L. Burch

Board Chair

North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce

Law Office of Lorie L. Burch, PC

—  John Wright

Here’s the pledge in support of same-sex marriage that Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings refuses to sign

Houston Mayor Annise Parker is among the co-chairs of Mayors for the Freedom to Marry.

Jackie Yodashkin at Freedom to Marry sends along word that the group has now posted a list of 74 of the mayors who’ve signed its pledge in support of same-sex marriage, as well as the text of the pledge itself.

As many of us are painfully aware by now, the list doesn’t include Dallas’ Mike Rawlings, who says he “personally” supports same-sex marriage but doesn’t sign things related to social issues that don’t directly impact city affairs. Read our latest story here. (It’s worth noting that since we broke this story Wednesday, it’s been picked up by both the Dallas Morning News, which ran it on the front page of the Metro section today, and the Dallas Observer.)

Rawlings.Mike

Mike Rawlings

Rawlings has also posted a statement on his Facebook page further explaining his position: “Upon taking office, I made a conscious decision to focus on issues that create a healthy, viable city and not on those that are partisan and social in nature. I was asked to pledge my support to ‘Mayors for the Freedom to Marry’ in an effort to pressure state and federal entities to legalize marriage for same-sex couples. I decided not to sign onto that letter because that is inconsistent with my view of the duties of the office of the mayor. To be a world class city, we must be inclusive towards all citizens, including the LGBT community. Personally, I support the LGBT movement and its efforts for equal rights that they deserve.”

Judging by the 63 comments on Rawlings Facebook post, the LGBT community isn’t satisfied. As of this morning, 173 people had signed a Change.org petition calling for Rawlings to sign the pledge. There’s also a Facebook page where you can find contact information for the mayor’s office.

Yodashkin also said that Houston Mayor Annise Parker is now a co-chair of the campaign, called Mayors for the Freedom to Marry. And while Austin’s Lee Leffingwell hadn’t been added to the published list, Yodashkin told me Thursday that Leffingwell had signed the pledge. Yodashkin also mentioned that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg will speak at a press conference at 9:45 Eastern time this morning to formally unveil the campaign. Is it possible that Rawlings will have a change of heart and show up, pen in hand? We’ll find out, but for now the full text of the pledge is below.

—  John Wright

Canadian justice department moves to invalidate same-sex marriages for U.S. citizens

An attorney in the Canadian justice department has moved to invalidate marriages performed in Canada for same-sex couples that live in places that do not recognize same-sex marriages. The government attorney made the argument in a divorce case filed in Toronto by a lesbian couple — one from Florida and one from England.

After the controversy gained international attention today, The Toronto Globe and Mail quoted a member of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government as saying they will consider amending the law to allow foreign couples who married in Canada to divorce in the country.

Lambda Legal issued a statement that said that Canadian marriages of same-sex couples are not in jeopardy. They wrote:

The position taken by one government lawyer in a divorce is not itself precedential.  No court has accepted this view and there is no reason to believe that either Canada’s courts or its Parliament would agree with this position, which no one has asserted before during the eight years that same-sex couples have had the freedom to marry in Canada.

The country’s Justice Department maintained the position, however, that thousands of foreign couples who married in Canada are not married.

So I decided to play their nasty little game and I called the Canadian Consulate in Dallas, which could not answer my questions. I told them my story would center on the fate of the marriage of two couples in my office who were married in Canada. They forwarded my request to an information office. I’m waiting to hear from them.

Here’s what I want to know:

How will the affected couples be notified? One of the Dallas Voice couples was married in Toronto in 2003 and moved years ago. The marriage bureau there has no way of notifying them. Certainly this marriage cannot be invalidated without proper notification.

Will license fees be refunded? Certainly Canadian municipalities don’t want to be charged with fraudulently accepting fees for invalid licenses.

Will all travel expenses be refunded? Beyond being charged with fraudulently issuing these licenses, Canada has enjoyed a windfall of tourism. But if those trips were based on fraudulent promises, will gay and lesbian couples have to sue to be refunded for all travel expenses related to the scam the Canadian government perpetrated on American couples?

Further questions about your Canadian marriage can be answered by a local Canadian consulate or the embassy in Washington which can be found here. They’re anxiously awaiting your call.

—  David Taffet

What’s on tap for 2012?

Court cases on both coasts will impact marriage equality, while November elections could mean continued progress legislatively — or a time of backsliding

Inside-Cover

WAITING GAME | Members of the anti-Prop 8 legal team, from left, Therese Stewart, Chad Griffin, David Boies, Ted Butros and Ted Olson, speak during a news conference after a hearing in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Dec. 6, 2010, in San Francisco. Thirteen months later, the 9th Circuit judges are expected to issue opinions any day now on whether Prop 8 proponents have legal standing to appeal the trial court ruling, and whether Judge Vaughn Walker was correct in declaring the anti-gay-marriage amendment unconstitutional. (Eric Risberg/Associated Press)

Lisa Keen  | Keen News Service
lisakeen@mac.com
Significant events are crowding the calendar for 2012, and each promises considerable drama and suspense for the LGBT community.
Here are the 10 most important, from a national perspective, to keep an eye on:

• The next decisions on Proposition 8: A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals could release its opinions any day now. That’s “opinions,” plural.
Before the panel can rule on the constitutionality of California’s law banning marriage for same-sex couples, it must decide whether the Yes on 8 coalition has legal standing to appeal the federal court ruling that Prop 8 is unconstitutional, and it must decide whether there is any justification for Yes on 8’s request that the lower court decision be vacated.
The list of possible outcomes in Perry v. Brown — the case brought by the American Foundation for Equal Rights with famed attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies leading the charge — is mind-boggling. Whatever the results, any or all aspects could be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court immediately or they could be appealed to a full 9th Circuit bench and then to the Supreme Court.
But the panel’s decision will almost certainly have political impact, too. Not only will it affect the momentum of the marriage equality movement, it will almost certainly become fodder in the presidential campaigns.

• The decision, on appeal, in DOMA: A three-judge panel of the 1st Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments, perhaps as soon as early February, in a powerful challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act’s denial of federal benefits to same-sex married couples.
The challenge, referred to most often as Gill v. OPM, is actually three consolidated cases, two brought by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) and one by the state of Massachusetts.
While there are other challenges under way to DOMA, this is the “big guns” challenge and the one most likely to reach the U.S. Supreme Court first. And while there is no deadline by which the panel must render its decision, it is likely to turn out one by year’s end.
Then, as with Proposition 8, the case could go to the full circuit court on appeal or straight to the Supreme Court. And, if the appeals court decision is rendered before the November elections, it will almost certainly provoke debate on the presidential campaign trail.

• Tammy Baldwin’s historic Senate bid: U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin is not the first openly gay person to run for U.S. Senate, but she’s the first who has a real chance of winning.
The daily Capital Times is already referring to her as the “likely” Democratic nominee to fill the seat being vacated by Democrat Herb Kohl. She doesn’t have a challenger for the nomination. But she will have a very tough battle against whomever the Republicans put on the ballot.
That’s because the battle will be for more than just one seat in the powerful U.S. Senate, which currently has a breakdown of 53 in the Democratic Caucus and 47 in the Republican. It will be part of a multi-state slugfest between the parties over control of the chamber, the Congress and the nation’s laws.

• The fight for the Senate: Polls at the moment indicate voters are inclined to vote for Democrats over Republicans next November. But that sentiment is not providing a large margin — one or two points —  and it’s too soon to guess who the voters will blame for what 11 months from now.
But some Senate races — in addition to Tammy Baldwin’s — could have big consequences for LGBT voters.
In Virginia, a pro-gay former governor, Tim Kaine, will likely be pitted against an anti-gay former senator, George Allen. In Massachusetts, a pro-gay challenger, Elizabeth Warren, will almost certainly be the Democrat facing incumbent Scott Brown, whose attitude toward the community has been much less friendly.
And at least seven other states are expected to have competitive races for the Senate.

• Counting the “Gay Caucus”: U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., will be starting his 40th year in Congress when the House reconvenes Jan. 17. And it will be his last.
Frank announced last year that he is retiring at the end of his term. When he does, the clique of four openly gay members of Congress — Frank, Baldwin and Reps. Jared Polis and David Cicilline — will shrink by one. If Baldwin fails to win a Senate seat, it could shrink by half.
But there are prospects for adding members. Openly gay Wisconsin Democratic Assemblymember Mark Pacon is running for Baldwin’s U.S. House seat. And there are three other openly LGBT candidates for the U.S. House this November: Marko Liias from Seattle, Mark Takano from Riverside, Calif., and Kyrsten Sinema from Phoenix.
So, the number of openly gay members of Congress could go from four to as low as two (though zero is, technically, possible) to as high as seven. But no one will have the seniority and clout that Frank has had — and has used — to advance pro-gay measures.

• On hold, and on defense, in Congress: Pro-LGBT bills — such as efforts to repeal DOMA and pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — are not likely to see much action in 2012. But anti-gay measures might.
Why? Because it’s an election year and Republicans still control the House. And supportive Democrats will not be inclined to push controversial legislation during an election year, because it can detract from the focus on jobs and the economy, where most voters want focus right now.
Republicans, on the other hand, have often used hostile measures aimed at gays during election years as a way of putting Democrats on the spot with voters generally and gays specifically.

• Ballot battles abound: There will be important LGBT-related ballot measures before voters in several states this year.
North Carolina and Minnesota will vote on whether to ban same-sex marriage through amendments to their state constitutions. Voters in Maine will decide whether to strike down their existing ban on same-sex marriage.
LGBT activists in Washington State are gathering signatures to put a measure on that state’s ballot to gain marriage equality. A small group in California has until May 15 to gather more than 800,000 signatures to put a measure on the ballot there to repeal Proposition 8.
And the California Attorney General is expected to announce by Jan. 9 whether opponents of a new bill to include information about LGBT figures in history as part of the public school curriculum can begin circulating petitions to get a repeal measure on the ballot there.
All of these have the potential to be big, expensive and consequential battles.

• Fight for freedom of religion: The right-wing Alliance Defense Fund and others have a concerted effort under way in the courts to undermine laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Their strategy is to argue that people who discriminate against LGBT people do so because their religious beliefs require them to do so. Their question to the court is, “What rules? The First Amendment guarantee of free exercise of religion or the equal protection clause that says all citizens should be treated equally under the law?”
One case has already reached the U.S. Supreme Court and failed, but other cases — many other cases — are winding their way through nearly every circuit in the country. And their outcomes have the potential to chip away at the strength of the nation’s legal mandate that all people be treated equally.

Tammy-and-Obama

U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, left, President Barack Obama, right

• A fight for the White House: The difference for LGBT people between having President Barack Obama in the White House and President George W. Bush has been stark. So the consequences of November’s presidential election will also be profound.
Either Obama stays, and things continue to improve — in law and in society’s attitudes — or a new president is elected from a field of Republicans who seem, at times, to be vying for the mantle of most gay-hostile candidate.
In the latter case, LGBT people can expect progress to halt or backslide.

• Ah, the unpredictable: One of the bigger LGBT stories of 2011 happened in February, and it was one nobody expected: The Obama administration announced it considered DOMA unconstitutional and would not argue for its defense in most cases.
Another big story that no one expected: The Obama administration announced a major new diplomatic mission to push for protection of human rights for LGBT people around the world.

And given that Rep. Frank said in January 2011 he’d run for re-election in 2012, it was a surprise, in November, when he announced that he would not. As Frank pointed out, circumstances change.

Circumstances change, things change, people change. And often, they change each other.

But history marches on through time, and only in retrospect can any trajectory be certain as to where it’s going.

© 2012 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 6, 2012.

 

—  Kevin Thomas

New year adds two new civil union states

Gov. Neil Abercrombie

Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed the civil union law in Hawaii in February

The new year begins with two new states offering civil unions.

On Jan. 1, Hawaii and Delaware join the growing number of states offering some form of relationship recognition for same-sex couples.

Currently, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and Washington, D.C. have marriage equality.

New Jersey, Illinois and Rhode Island offer civil unions that are equal to marriage by law but have been fraught with complaints about unequal treatment.

California, Colorado, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, Washington state and Wisconsin have a variety of domestic partnership laws that offer some recognition and benefits.

New York, Illinois and Rhode Island were 2011 additions.

The Republican-controlled legislature in New Hampshire has a pending bill to repeal marriage equality in that state, but the governor has promised to veto it, if passed.

The new year also brings a new law in California that recognizes LGBT contributions along with those of other groups in the state’s education curriculum.

And although Prop. 8 stopped same-sex marriage in the state, California will begin granting divorces to couples who were married in the state but cannot divorce elsewhere.

—  David Taffet

Proposed divorce law could make D.C. the marriage destination of choice for gay Texans

Mrs. Barry Herridge

The straights have a new poster child for traditional marriage.

Sinead O’Connor ended her marriage to therapist Barry Herridge after 16 days. She said she knew the marriage was doomed just three hours after the ceremony.

But she still made it to 16 days. Maybe she needs to see a therapist. Oh wait … maybe she just needs to blame it on the gays.

But at least she will be able to end her marriage — no matter where she lives.

The Washington D.C. city council will take up a same-sex divorce ordinance in January, according to the Washington Post. The bill has the support of eight out of 13 city council members.

The problem, according to the city’s leaders, is that anyone can marry in D.C., but only residents can file for divorce there.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has done his part to deny marriage to same-sex couples by preventing them from getting divorced. One case in which he intervened involves a Dallas couple that was married in Massachusetts. Currently all 50 states and D.C. have a residency requirement for divorce.

With the attorney general’s intervention, the Dallas couple remains married, three years after beginning the process of divorce.

Should the D.C. law pass, couples married in that city will be able to divorce there, no matter where they live. Abbott will be unable to prevent Texas couples married there from divorcing there.

But O’Connor will be able to get divorced wherever she lives. And her 16-day marriage will be considered “traditional.”

—  David Taffet

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