Is marriage equality coming to Mississippi?

The opinion page in one newspaper called February the gayest month in history. Its writer, Patrick Young, a graduate student in public policy and administration, said it best:

Whitney, a Madonna Superbowl, Mardi Gras, the return of “American Idol” and “The Voice.” Don’t forget the addition of another musical TV show, “Smash.” The Oscars, Grammys and about 2,304 other award shows made it to the airwaves.

Throw in any Adele song (What did radio ever play before we had her?) and that Kelly Clarkson car commercial that plays non-stop.

Is it safe to say February 2012 may have been the gayest month ever for the U.S.?

But that’s not why he believes that this month was the gayest month ever. He notes that three states passed marriage equality. He celebrates that his uncle and his partner who live in Maryland and have been together 40 years might soon get married.

What’s surprising about this editorial is that it appeared in the The Reflector — “the official online grind of Mississippi State University.”

He argues, “More people from both sides of the political spectrum are beginning to see marriage between two consenting adults has little effect on anyone but those involved in the nuptials.”

And he asks, “Is traditional marriage becoming queer? Yes. And it’s about damn time, Mississippi.”

—  David Taffet

Marriage equality advances in Washington state; Senate floor vote scheduled for Wednesday

On Monday, the Washington state House Judiciary Committee voted 7–6 along party lines to send a marriage-equality bill to the floorfor a vote. A Senate committee voted similarly last week, according to the Seattle Post Intelligencer.

gregoire.chris

Gov. Chris Gregoire

The Senate has scheduled a floor vote for Wednesday, and a majority have already announced they’ll vote for the bill. Supporters say House passage is also assured. Gov. Christine Gregoire supports equality.

Washington is a referendum state so once the bill passes and the governor signs, the opposition will have until June to collect 120,557 valid signatures to put the issue on the November ballot.

If marriage equality becomes law, Washington will be the seventh state to perform same-sex marriages. The state already has domestic partnerships.

Two additional states — Maine and California — passed marriage equality before voters rescinded it.

—  David Taffet

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

With AIDS funding at risk, Boehner triples budget to defend DOMA

Today I got an “action alert” email from AIDS United and AIDS Interfaith Network, urging me to call my senators and representatives today and urge them to vote against any legislation that would create drastic cuts in federal funds for “essential programs” for people with HIV/AIDS.

House Speaker John Boehner

The email noted that a special congressional committee is working right now on a plan to reduce the deficit, and that cuts to programs like Medicaid, Medicare, Ryan White CARE Act, food stamp programs and unemployment benefits could be on the chopping block. “Cutting these programs will make things worse, not better. People will be hurt and access to life-saving HIV care will be lost,” the email said.

I found the email in the inbox about the same time I found an email from the National Minority AIDS Council pointing out that less than a week after the House Appropriations Committee proposed slashing funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention‘s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention by $32.7 million, and cutting the Prevention and Public Health Fund by an amazing $1 billion, Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner has tripled the House’s budget for defending the Defense of Marriage Act, legislation that prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, even though performed in jurisdictions that do legally recognize them.

Back in March, Boehner decided that the House of Representatives, under Republican control, would hire a law firm to defend DOMA in court, originally budgeting President Obama had announced in February that he was instructing the Justice Department to no longer defend the law in court, because at least part of DOMA — the part which denies legal federal recognition and benefits to same-sex couples who have been married in jurisdictions with gay marriage is legally recognized — is unconstitutional under the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

That decision came after federal district judges had declared DOMA unconstitutional in two separate lawsuits.

It’s bad enough that Boehner and the Republicans in the House feel the need to spend up to $750,000, as per the initial agreement, to hire someone to defend such an unjust law in the first place. Doing so while at the same time threatening to force the country to default on its debts instead raising the debt ceiling was unconscionable. And now, as thebudget crunch continues and Tea Party Republicans continue to complain about the country’s debt and refuse to consider revenue increases, Boehner and his merry band have decided to up the limit they will pay Kircher to defend DOMA to $1.5 million.

Daniel C. Montoya, deputy executive director of the National Minority AIDS Council, said: “I urge Speaker Boehner to reconsider his decision. 56,000 Americans are infected with HIV each year. More than half of those were among gay and bisexual men. Spending taxpayer money to delegitimize relationships that have been shown to promote healthier lifestyles is antithetical to American values, contrary to the conservative belief in limited government and detrimental to public health. In this time of fiscal and economic strife, certainly the Speaker and his colleagues can find better ways to spend this money.”

Montoya also suggested that Boehner’s decision raises “serious questions about his purported commitment to fiscal responsibility.” Yeah, ya think? If you agree and want to express your opinion to your representatives in Congress, you can call, toll free, 1-888-907- 1485.

—  admin

A decade of remembrance

RIDERLESS CARRIAGE | Ten years after 9/11, the American landscape looks far different — for gay rights as well.

What a difference a decade makes. In September of 2001, days after the loss of lives on 9/11 scarred America, the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade had a first: Instead of a grand marshal riding in the parade, a horse-drawn carriage remained empty, save for a sign reading “Dedicated to the victims lost in the tragedy of Sept. 11.”

Dallas Tavern Guild’s Michael Doughman remembers that moment as clearly as if it were yesterday, but for him, the carriage was a symbol beyond its intentions. Or at least, it became one.

“It was a sobering but very powerful moment when that carriage went by,” he recalls. “I’ve often thought about it and when I reflect that it’s been 10 years, I give thought to the progress that we’ve made as a country.”

That progress transcends into the LGBT community, as hot-button issues like “don’t ask, don’t tell” and same-sex marriages have developed in positive ways since 9/11 — whether directly or not. The empty carriage symbolized not only the loss of that fateful day, but also those lost in other battles.

“I saw that empty carriage and thought all the people that I had lost to AIDS, to cancer,” Doughman says. “I think it also represented a loss and absence in general. It was significant of more loss in other arenas, whether it was illness, or hate crimes or something else.”

Doughman say there are plans for a 9/11 acknowledgement at the beginning of this year’s parade. While details have not been finalized, he doesn’t want what happened then to disappear into history books. As time passes, he says, it serves as much more than just a memory.

“We’re aware that even 10 years later, commemorating helps us to keep vigilant,” he says, “for our rights, for everyone and for this country.”

— Rich Lopez

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

—  Michael Stephens

What’s Brewing: Census figures show Dallas has highest percentage of same-sex couples in Texas

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. Dallas has the highest percentage of same-sex households of any city in Texas, according to an analysis of 2010 Census figures by the Williams Institute at UCLA’s School of Law. Overall, same-sex couples account for 0.76 percent of households in Texas — or 67,413, the analysis shows. But in the city of Dallas, the rate is twice as high at 1.5 percent — for a total of 6,876 same-sex households. Galveston has the second-highest rate of same-sex households in the state at 1.47 percent, followed by Austin at 1.44 percent. Download the Williams Institute’s snapshot here, and stay tuned for more on the 2010 Census figures that were released this morning.

2. Almost three weeks after same-sex marriages began in New York, a solid majority of the state’s residents are comfortable with the new law, according to a poll released Wednesday. The poll found that 55 percent of New Yorkers back same-sex marriage, while 63 percent say they don’t want the law overturned. Forty-four percent said they are more likely to vote for a state senator who supported marriage equality, while only 30 percent are less likely to do so. Looks like the National Organization for Marriage is facing an uphill battle.

3. Despite widespread rioting and looting in the city this week, Manchester Pride will go on this weekend.

—  John Wright

FAMILY LIFE: Crossing your T’s and dotting your legal I’s

Without benefit of legal marriage, same-sex couples in Texas have to take extra steps to protect themselves and their children

DRACONIS VON TRAPP | Staff Writer
intern@dallasvoice.com

Even as the LGBT community around the country celebrated this weekend with same-sex couples who were able to legally marry in New York state for the first time, and even though six states plus the District of Columbia now legally recognize same-sex marriage, the battle for equality is still a long way from over.

When American opposite-gender couples legally marry anywhere, they automatically receive a long list of rights, benefits and responsibilities. But same-sex couples, even those married in a jurisdiction where such marriages are legal, still have to jump through any number of legal hoops to ensure that their unions — and their families — are legally protected.

Same-sex couples

On July 20, Ron Wallen of California lost his partner of 58 years — and almost everything else at the same time.

The two had been legally married for almost three years when Wallen’s partner, Tom Carrollo, passed away, leaving Wallen with no monthly pension, no Social Security benefits and no home — all because of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA for short.

Signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996, DOMA, according to the Human Rights Campaign, requires that, “Regardless of the Social Security Administration’s position, the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996…established the legal definition of ‘marriage’ as only a legal union between one man and one woman…”

The law is currently under appeal.

Section 3 of DOMA, which prevents the federal government from recognizing the validity of same-sex marriages, has been found unconstitutional in two Massachusetts court cases. The Department of Justice, under President Obama’s administration, has even declined to defend the law in court because the DOJ has said that at least parts of DOMA are unconstitutional.

And in many states — including Texas — not only is same-sex marriage not legally recognized, such legal recognition has been expressly prohibited through statute or constitutional amendment.

“We have no rights in Texas,” said Dallas attorney Rebecca Covell. “[LGBT couples] are single in the eyes of the laws of Texas, so you have to create your rights by contract.”

In order to imitate the same rights a legally married opposite-sex couple gets with a marriage license, Covell said, same-sex couples need six documents: A medical power of attorney, a statutory durable power of attorney, a declaration of guardianship, a directive to physicians, an appointment of agent to control disposition of remains and a will.

Covell said Texas has one of the easiest probate systems in the country, and the “easy track” for same-sex couples here is to make with a will. It is, she said, possibly one of the most important documents a same-sex couple needs.

“If you don’t have a will, the state of Texas makes all the decisions for you, and everything goes to your next of kin,” Covell said. “What you can do with a will includes designating who the beneficiary is; designating who you leave in charge; making special provisions if you have children, someone with a special need, things of that nature; and designating when certain people will receive assets.

“None of that happens if you don’t take the time and trouble of doing a valid Texas will,” she reiterated. “The state of Texas will make all those decisions for you — and Texas is not a gay-friendly state.”

“We have been written out of the laws in Texas,” says Covell. “That’s why having these documents is imperative for non-traditional couples.”

Even with all these documents in place, same-sex couples are still denied certain benefits and advantages — such as Social Security survivor benefits, tax benefits and an unlimited marital deduction in your will — thanks to DOMA. Some 1,138 federal rights are attached to a marriage license, and it’s impossible to mimic all of these rights otherwise.

Though a gay couple can’t get Social Security benefits from their partner, they can still appoint their partner as a beneficiary for a 401K plan or an IRA.

With pensions, it is a case-by-case basis. If one partner works for a corporation outside Texas whose company policy would recognize the other partner for spousal benefits, you might be in luck. It does, however, depend on the company policy, and this is not consistent among all out-of-state businesses.

“We get no automatic protections under the laws,” Covell says in closing, “and you owe it to yourself and your partner to protect your relationship.”

Same-sex couples with children

When children are involved, the stakes can be higher. If one of the partners in a same-sex relationship dies, keeping children with their surviving parent entails a lot of paperwork.

Attorney Stephanie Hall says that same-sex couples have three options for protecting the custodial rights of the non-biological parent — or, in legal terms, the non-parent — assuming there’s not a second biological parent outside the same-sex relationship: a joint managing conservatorship; a same-sex, second-parent adoption, and a will with a declaration of guardianship.

With a joint managing conservatorship, non-married straight couples and same-sex couples can, for about $1,200, avail themselves of some of the same statutory laws that apply to married couples when it comes to child custody, such as the right to consent to medical treatment, the right to make educational decisions and right to represent a child in legal proceedings.

In a same-sex, second-parent adoption, which costs around about $3,500, non-biological parents can become the legal second parent to their children. Due to a law in the Health and Safety Code, the birth certificate can’t be reprinted with the same-sex parent’s name on it due to the “one male, one female parent” requirement, but adoptive parents do get a few more benefits than those with just a joint managing conservatorship, such as tax return exemptions.

“Same-sex, second-parent adoptions are done by agreement between the parent and the non-parent,” says Attorney at Law Michelle May O’Neil.

With adoption, there is a very small chance of the adoption being considered void, though this almost never happens, O’Neil said.

Hall said that many of her clients have chosen to do both a joint managing conservatorship and a legal adoption to make sure their children are protected.

There is “no distinction” between an adoptive and biological parent, according to O’Neil.

A will is once again supremely important, as it designates who gets custody of any child or children, and the children’s estate, in the event of a parent’s death.

In an advance declaration of guardianship, Hall said, a biological parent designates, in advance of any illness or injury, who will be guardian of their child.

Hall said it is a “very strong document” that is a parent’s way of saying, in effect, “Hey judge, if anyone starts to fight over custody of my kid after I’m dead, while I’m competent, here’s my first choice, my second choice, my third choice. …”

In a same-sex family, if there is another living biological parent outside of the relationship — such as, in the case of a divorce — the non-biological parent’s only means of protection are to have a same-sex, second-parent adoption.

“There is no automatic assumption that the other parent has any legal relationship with the child,” says attorney Susan McKay.

In the event that the non-biological parent dies, it is essential that person have a will citing what their partner and children will receive. Otherwise, everything goes to the deceased partner’s next of kin.

Compare that to a legally recognized marriage where, if the deceased didn’t leave a will, everything automatically goes to the legal spouse.

“If a straight person dies without a will, it’s set up that way by default,” said Hall. “For an LGBT person, you have to take that precaution” of making a will and designating who gets what.

“The safest thing to do would be for the non-parent to adopt the children and have a will,” said O’Neil. “Short of having a will, then the non-parent needs to basically adopt the children and become a parent. I can’t stress enough to people in the community that having that legal document relationship is essential to secure the relationship of the non-parent and the children.”

Due to the lack of legal standing a gay couple has in the eyes of the law, there isn’t a whole lot that can be done in terms of child custody if a gay couple decides to separate.

If no other precautions have been taken, such as a joint managing conservatorship, then the non-biological parent has 90 days from the day they were living with and sharing “care, control and possession” of the child to file a suit, assuming they had been caring for that child for at least six months prior to their separation.

Hall noted that the exact meaning of “care, control and possession” has been debated in the courts in several recent court cases — involving grandparents, longtime boy/girlfriends in opposite-sex relationships and same-sex relationships — and results so far have been inconsistent.

O’Neil and her law firm recently litigated such a case involving a lesbian couple, and although O’Neil’s client did win the right to sue for custody following several appeals, the client eventually chose not to start over in trial court with the actual custody case to avoid putting the child through the trauma of an even-more extended legal battle.

If a couple has a joint managing conservatorship already in place, then legally there should be a level playing field in the battle over custody of the children if a same-sex couple splits.

However, if the non-biological parent didn’t adopt the children or get a conservatorship, then aside from asking for periods of possession, the non-biological parent is likely to end up with limited rights and have less time with the child than the biological parent. The judge would still, however, determine what was in the best interest of the child and either parent could end up with primary custody.

Senior same-sex couples

With a heterosexual marriage, couples only have to be married 10 years for one to get a deceased partner’s Social Security benefits as a spouse. In an LGBT relationship, surviving partners get nothing.

Retirement isn’t the only problem facing older same-sex couples. In a nursing home or assisted living situation, some same-sex couples are faced with prejudice at their most vulnerable and are forced to go “back in the closet.”

According to the website for SAGE, a national organization providing programs and services for older LGBT people, LGBT older adults may be as much as five times less likely to access needed health and social services because of their fear of discrimination from the very people who should be helping them.

Older LGBT adults are twice as likely to live alone as heterosexual older adults and more than four times as likely to have no children. Because of that, the informal caregiving support system people assume is in place for older adults may not be there for LGBT elders.

According to the “We Give a Damn” campaign’s website, older LGBT people are at greater risk for depression, substance abuse, mental and physical health complications, unnecessary institutionalization and premature death.

Ultimately, 1 in 5 say they would have no one to call in a crisis, a rate 10 times greater than for the rest of the senior population, the website notes.

According to one survey of agencies serving seniors in the U.S., half of all respondents reported that if the sexual orientation of gay older adults were known, they would not be welcomed at senior centers. Even when providers mean well, they often lack the training to offer culturally sensitive services that meet the needs of gay and transgender older adults, the survey said.

“…Even when providers are supportive, fear of discrimination keeps many LGBT elders in the closet and prevents them from seeking the care they need,” said Michael Adams, executive director of SAGE.

While legal resources and options for addressing these issues are relatively scarce, advocates said older LGBT people, whether they are single or part of a couple, need to take advantage of as many options as they can to plan ahead and hopefully avoid future problems.

For same-sex couples in their retirement years, planning is paramount.

In Texas, the law does not default to protect LGBT couples. Since a gay marriage isn’t federally recognized and Social Security benefits cannot be passed onto a same-sex spouse, it is once again urgent to for same-sex couples to have a will designating their partner as their heir. Without it, again, the deceased partner’s legal next of kin gets everything.

A same-sex partner can be designated as beneficiaries in 401K plan as well as IRAs. Since a 401K is provided by an employer, it’s more structured. IRAs are designed for those without 401Ks, so they’re a bit less structured.

The key to retiring with a same-sex partner is planning, said attorney Christopher Farish.

But, Farish added, “Failure to plan is not only an issue in the LGBT community. Failure to plan for retirement or death of a spouse is universal. Still, failure to plan in an LGBT relationship can be catastrophic.”

—  John Wright

THE NOONER: Midland paper promotes ‘ex-gay’ ministry; Perry says we’ve ‘turned away from God’

Gov. Rick Perry

Your lunchtime quickie from Instant Tea:

• Midland newspaper highlights so-called “ex-gay” ministry. “‘We’re not professional counselors. We just want to be helpful and supportive to those who have unwanted same-sex attraction.’”

• GOPProud’s Jimmy LaSalvia says gays need guns, not hate crimes legislation. And the Tyler Morning Telegraph agrees.

• Rick Perry says America has turned away from God.

• Poll finds that more than half of Americans favor national recognition for same-sex marriages: “According to the latest survey conducted by Harris Interactive, more than half (53%) of all U.S. adults agreed that regardless of their own personal views, ‘a same-sex marriage legally granted in one state should be recognized as a legal marriage in all other states in the same way generally that heterosexual marriages are recognized across state lines.’”

• H&M to open second Texas store in Plano.

—  John Wright

Military gay couples won’t enjoy benefits

Even after DADT repeal is complete, DOMA will create discrepancy

JULIE WATSON  |  Associated Press

SAN DIEGO — Gay service members from Army soldiers to Air Force officers are planning to celebrate the official end of the military’s 17-year policy that forced them to hide their sexual orientation with another official act — marriage.

A 27-year-old Air Force officer from Ohio said he can’t wait to wed his partner of two years and slip on a ring that he won’t have to take off or lie about when he goes to work each day once “don’t ask, don’t tell” is repealed. He plans to wed his boyfriend, a federal employee, in Washington D.C. where same-sex marriages are legal.

He asked not to be identified, following the advice of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a national organization representing gay troops, including the Air Force officer, that has cautioned those on active duty from coming out until the ban is off the books.

“I owe it to him and myself,” the officer said of getting married. “I don’t want to do it in the dark. I think that taints what it’s supposed to be about — which is us, our families, and our government.”

But in the eyes of the military the marriage will not be recognized and the couple will still be denied most of the benefits the Defense Department gives to heterosexual couples to ease the costs of medical care, travel, housing and other living expenses.

The Pentagon says the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act — which defines marriage for federal program purposes as a legal union between a man and woman — prohibits the Defense Department from extending those benefits to gay couples, even if they are married legally in certain states.

That means housing allowances and off-base living space for gay service members with partners could be decided as if they were living alone. Base transfers would not take into account their spouses. If two gay service members are married to each other they may be transferred to two different states or regions of the world. For heterosexual couples, the military tries to avoid that from happening.

Gay activists and even some commanders say the discrepancy will create a two-tier system in an institution built on uniformity.

“It’s not going to work,” said Army Reserve Capt. R. Clarke Cooper, who heads up the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay rights group that sued the Justice Department to stop the enforcement of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. “Taking care of our soldiers is necessary to ensure morale and unit cohesion. This creates a glaring stratification in the disbursement of support services and benefits.”

Cooper said he also plans to marry his boyfriend, a former Navy officer, in a post-repeal era.

Pentagon officials have said they believe the ban could be fully lifted soon. The military for now is not discharging anyone under the policy to comply with a federal appeals court ruling July 6 that ordered the government to immediately cease its enforcement. The Department of Justice has filed an emergency motion asking the court to reconsider its order, saying ending the ban now would pre-empt the “orderly process” for rolling back the policy as outlined in the law passed and signed by the president in December.

The military’s staunchly traditional, tight-knit society, meanwhile, has been quickly adapting to the social revolution: Many gay officers say they have already come out to their commanders and fellow troops, and now discuss their weekend plans without a worry.

The Air Force officer says he has dropped the code words “Red Solo Cups” — the red plastic cups used at parties — that he slipped into conversations for years to tell his partner he loved him when troops were within earshot. He now feels comfortable saying “I love you” on the phone, no longer fearful he will be interrogated by peers.

One male soldier, who also asked not to be identified, said after Congress approved repealing the law, he listed his boyfriend on his Army forms as his emergency contact and primary beneficiary of his military life insurance in case he dies in Afghanistan.

He said when he was transferred to South Korea, he and his partner had to pay for his partner’s move.

“But we were able to stay together,” the soldier wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press from Afghanistan. “During the move, I realized I needed to make sure my partner in life was taken care of if something, the worst, ever happened to me, especially knowing I was about to deploy.”

The soldier said when he added his boyfriend’s name to the paperwork as a primary beneficiary and identified him as a friend, the non-commissioned officer in charge shut his office door and told him: “Unlike the inherent benefits to being married in the Army, such as housing and sustenance allowances, our life insurance and will don’t discriminate.”

Same-sex partners can be listed as the person to be notified in case a service member is killed, injured, or missing, but current regulations prevent anyone other than immediate family — not same-sex spouses — from learning the details of the death. Same-sex spouses also will not be eligible for travel allowances to attend repatriation ceremonies if their military spouses are killed in action.

Gay partners and spouses also will be denied military ID cards, which means they will not be allowed on base unless they are accompanied by a service member and they cannot shop at commissaries or exchanges that have reduced prices for groceries and clothing, nor can they be treated at a military medical facility. They also will be excluded from base programs providing recreation and other such kinds of support.

Military officials say some hardship cases may be handled on an individual basis. Activists warn such an approach will create an administrative nightmare and leave the military vulnerable to accusations of making inconsistent decisions that favor some and not others.

Military families enjoy assistance from the Defense Department to compensate for the hardship of having a mother or father or both deployed to war zones and moved frequently.

“It strains a relationship when you’re gone for over a year,” said Navy medical corpsman Andrew James, 27, who lived two years apart from his same-sex partner, who could not afford to move with him when he was transferred from San Diego to Washington. “But straight couples have support so their spouses are able to be taken care of, with financial issues, and also they are able to talk to the chain of command, whereas gays can’t. They don’t have any support at all financially or emotionally, and that is really devastating.”

He said he was lucky that his relationship survived and now that he is in the Reserves, they are together again in San Diego.

The benefits issue came up repeatedly during training sessions to prepare troops for the policy change.

“There are inconsistencies,” Maj. Daryl Desimone told a class of Marines at Camp Pendleton, north of San Diego, after being asked about benefits for gay military personnel. “Anyone who looks at it logically will see there are some things that need to be worked out in the future.”

—  John Wright

Republican presidential candidates split over right-wing ‘Marriage Vow’

Tim Pawlenty

But candidates’ refusal to sign pledge not an indication of a shift in views on gay marriage

LISA KEEN | Keen News Service
lisakeen@me.com

The campaigns of Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney and four other GOP presidential candidates said this week they would not sign the bizarre pledge that at least two other GOP competitors did sign — a pledge that promises the candidate will vigorously oppose even “court-imposed recognition” of same-sex marriage.

The refusal of Romney and the other candidates does not signal a change in their opposition to same-sex marriage, but does appear to suggest the GOP field may be re-evaluating how far it is willing to go to appease the party’s far right wing.

The pledge, called “The Marriage Vow,” is being circulated by a Christian-oriented political advocacy group — The Family Leader — that organized the successful recall of three Iowa Supreme Court justices because they ruled in favor of marriage equality.

The rambling two-page pledge, which includes two additional pages of footnotes, calls on candidates for state and federal offices to “vow” that they will not receive any campaign support “from any of us without first affirming this Marriage Vow,” that they will “uphold and advance the natural Institution of Marriage,” and remain faithful to their own spouses.

Among the 14 specific positions called for in the Marriage Vow is an “Earnest, bona fide legal advocacy for the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) at the federal and state levels.” The 1996 federal law bans federal recognition of same-sex marriages and asserts that individual states can ignore marriage licenses issued by other states to same-sex couples.

The Marriage Vow also requires candidates to give a “steadfast embrace” to a proposed amendment to the federal Constitution to ban same-sex marriages nationally.

In an apparent reference to the repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, the Marriage Vow has a candidate promise support for “safeguards” for military personnel from “intrusively intimate commingling among attracteds (restrooms, showers, barracks, tents, etc.).”

And one footnote contends there is no “empirical proof” that same-sex “inclinations are genetically determined, irresistible and akin to innate traits like race, gender and eye color . …”

The Marriage Vow does not limit itself to gay-related issues. It also calls for candidates to say “robust childbearing and reproduction is beneficial to U.S. demographic, economic, strategic and actuarial health and security,” to support the “downsizing” of government, and to support the protection of women from “sexual slavery, seduction into promiscuity, and all forms of pornography and prostitution, infanticide, abortion and other types of coercion or stolen innocence.”

A spokesperson for the Romney campaign told the Wall Street Journal, in an article published July 13, that Romney “felt this pledge contained references and provisions that were undignified and inappropriate for a presidential campaign.”

Jimmy LaSalvia, head of GOProud, a national conservative gay group, said Romney “should be praised for those comments, and for keeping his campaign focused on the issues that the American people care about the most: jobs and the economy.”

R. Clarke Cooper, head of Log Cabin Republicans, the national gay Republican group, said the pledge is “outside the scope of mainstream views.”

“Republican presidential candidates seriously seeking to win the general election are wise to avoid such an extreme position,” said Cooper. “Divisive and sometimes off-the-wall rhetoric on social issues will obscure a solid conservative fiscal message. Americans will not vote for somebody who has demonized their family, friends, neighbors and colleagues.”

Other Republican presidential candidates who have, thus far, balked at signing the pledge are former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman.

Johnson issued a statement calling the Marriage Vow “offensive to the principles of liberty and freedom on which this country was founded.” His website includes a video urging that it is un-American to discriminate against others “for the way they were born” or to use the federal government to “override the decisions of the states.”

Pawlenty posted a statement July 13 on his campaign’s website July 13, saying that, if elected president, “I would vigorously oppose any effort to redefine marriage as anything other than between one man and one woman.” But while he said he “deeply respects” the Family Leader’s commitment regarding marriage, he would “prefer to choose my own words” concerning marriage and would “respectfully decline” to sign the pledge.

Gingrich, in an appearance before the Family Leader July 11, reportedly said he would offer some edits to “sharpen” the pledge. The Des Moines Register said Gingrich said he wanted to review the document and was “working out some details.”

The only two Republicans to have signed the pledge — Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania — came under heavy scrutiny for having done so.

Bachmann and Santorum both had to address criticism for signing the Marriage Vow because the pledge originally included a sentence implying that African-American children were better off during slavery times than they are now, under the administration of the first African-American president.

According to the Huffington Post, the pledge originally included this sentence: “Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African-American President.”

Huffington Post noted that the sentence has since been removed, and Bachmann told Fox News on July 12 that the sentence “was not on a document that I signed.”

“I just want to make it absolutely clear,” Bachmann told Fox News, “I abhor slavery. Slavery was a terrible part of our nation’s history. It’s good that we no longer have slavery. And under no circumstances would any child be better off growing up under slavery. That isn’t what I signed. That isn’t what I believe. What I signed was a statement that affirmed marriage as an important part of our nation. And I agree with that.”

The Human Rights Campaign issued a statement July 12 calling Bachmann’s signing of the pledge “a dangerous level of extremism.”

Bachmann, Santorum, and four other Republican presidential hopefuls have also signed the “Pro-Life Citizen’s Pledge,” promising that their nominees to the federal courts will be committed to “not legislating from the bench,” that their executive branch appointees — such as Cabinet positions — will be “pro-life,” and that they will “advance pro-life legislation to permanently end all taxpayer funding of abortion.”

The other four candidates include Gingrich, Pawlenty, and Reps. Ron Paul of Texas and Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan.

All but McCotter, who just recently announced his candidacy for the nomination, spoke before the Family Leader’s “Presidential Lecture Series,” as did candidate Herman Cain. Romney did not.

The head of the Family Leader organization, Bob Vander Plaats, was the organizer of the successful campaign last year to oust three Iowa Supreme Court justices who were part of the unanimous decision that the state constitution requires that same-sex couples be treated the same as heterosexual couples in the issuance of marriage licenses.

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Campaign posted its own petition for GOP candidates July 12, asking HRC supporters to sign a statement urging GOP presidential candidates to speak out publicly against therapy that alleges to change gays into straights.

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

—  John Wright