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Posts for May, 2012

On Smoking and Not Inhaling

A commentary

Jim Burroway

May 7th, 2012

When then-Governor Bill Clinton was running for President in 1992, someone asked if he had ever smoked pot. His answer came to crystalize his much-discussed “triangularization” of contentious issues — he tried it once, but he didn’t inhale. Supposedly that answer would appeal to hip, young pot smokers (along with many fellow baby-boomers) and he, also supposedly, would avoid offending those who opposed marijuana use. We all know how well that worked out. Nobody believed him, but he was allowed to keep that charade going as long as everyone winked (or smirked) whenever they repeated his answer.

Fast-forward twenty years, and President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are answering questions about their support for marriage equality with a variation on the smoking-but-not-inhaling theme. But yesterday, in an appearance on Meet the Press, Biden came pretty close to taking an honest-to-god drag from the matrimonial reefer:

BIDEN: The good news is that as more and more Americans come to understand what this is all about is a simple proposition. Who do you love? Who do you love and will you be loyal to the person you love? And that’s what people are finding out is what all marriages at their root are about. Whether they’re marriages of lesbians or gay men or heterosexuals.

DAVID GREGORY: Is that what you believe now?

BIDEN: That’s what I believe.

GREGORY: And you’re comfortable with same-sex marriage now?

BIDEN: Look, I am vice president of the United States of America. The president sets the policy. I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual men and women marrying one another are entitled to the same exact rights. All the civil rights, all the civil liberties. And quite frankly, I don’t see much of a distinction beyond that.

The rest of the day was spent carefully parsing Biden’s words: did he or didn’t he endorse marriage equality? In my reading, I’d say he did, but he set an important caveat: he’s just the vice president; the President sets policy. But to be honest, my reading is no more and no less valid than anyone else’s. David Axelrod, Obama’s chief campaign strategist, tried to slap the smoke from out of Biden’s lungs when he quickly tweeted, “What VP said — that all married couples should have exactly the same legal rights — is precisely POTUS’s position.”

And literally speaking, Axelrod’s right. Obama’s official position is that he wants to repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, his Justice Department is declining to defend DOMA in federal courts, his Homeland Security office is granting green cards to foreign partners of married same-sex couples, and his administration had provided an array of domestic partner benefits to large numbers of federal employees. Plus, his campaign has released statements against North Carolina’s Amendment 1 and a proposed anti-marriage amendment in Minnesota. And the last time anyone was able to ask Obama about his personal stance on same-sex marriage, he said that he supported equal rights for same-sex couples and he supported the rights of states to grant marriage equality, but that on the subject of marriage itself he was personally still “evolving” on the issue.

The conventional wisdom now goes that Obama is pretending not to support marriage equality and Americans are pretending to believe him. Except conventional wisdom is wrong because they’re not. Those who vigorously oppose marriage equality — and they are now a shrinking minority in this country at about 43% — already don’t believe him and aren’t giving him any credit for his presumably stalled evolutionary state. And those who do support marriage equality believes that he does too, and they’re just waiting for him and everyone else in his administration to just finally say so. Just like Mark Halperin on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, who says he will ask every cabinet secretary who appears on the program whether they support marriage equality. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was the first to answer the Morning Joe question this morning. “I do,” he said, sounding a lot like someone who has just taken a solemn vow before adding, “I don’t know that I’ve ever been asked publicly.”

All of this makes Obama’s charade of “evolving” look increasingly ridiculous. Just as the whole point of smoking pot is inhaling (and, Mr. Clinton notwithstanding, more than 100 million Americans have inhaled at least once), the whole point of doing all of the things that the Obama Administration is doing is to bring about a de-facto federal recognition of marriage to as many people as legally possible. There are still huge gaps — the IRS code, military spousal benefits, Social Security survivorship, inheritance taxes — which are still awaiting action. But if Obama doesn’t secretly believe in marriage equality, he’s sure behaving like someone who has taken a nice, long toke at the betrothal bong. And I’d say you’d have to be smoking something pretty powerful yourself to believe otherwise.

Obama Opposes NC Amendment 1

Jim Burroway

March 16th, 2012

President Barack Obama today came out against North Carolina’s proposed Amendment 1, which would ban same-sex marriage. According to multiple sources, the Obama campaign issued this statement:

“While the president does not weigh in on every single ballot measure in every state, the record is clear that the president has long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same sex couples. That’s what the North Carolina ballot initiative would do — it would single out and discriminate against committed gay and lesbian couples — and that’s why the president does not support it.”

North Carolinians will vote on the measure during the May 8 primary.

Presidential Candidates React

Jim Burroway

February 7th, 2012

Mitt Romney does it old school, via a press relase:

“Today, unelected judges cast aside the will of the people of California who voted to protect traditional marriage. This decision does not end this fight, and I expect it to go to the Supreme Court. That prospect underscores the vital importance of this election and the movement to preserve our values. I believe marriage is between a man and a woman and, as president, I will protect traditional marriage and appoint judges who interpret the Constitution as it is written and not according to their own politics and prejudices.”

Newt Gingrich, via Twitter:

“Court of Appeals overturning CA’s Prop 8 another example of an out of control judiciary. Let’s end judicial supremacy”

Rick Santorum, also via Twitter:

“7M Californians had their rights stripped away today by activist 9th Circuit judges. As president I will work to protect marriage.”

Ron Paul:

Press Secretary Jay Carney on behalf of President Obama:

“I’m not going to comment on litigation particularly as here where we are not party to it, but the president’s positions on these issues writ large are well known, and he’s long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny right and benefits to same-sex couples.”

On the flip side, former GOP Presidentical candidate, current Libertarian Party Presidentical candidate and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson tweeted:

“Prop 8 – Sometimes a Court gets it right”

US Pushes Hard on LGBT Rights Around the World

Jim Burroway

December 6th, 2011

The Obama administration has issued a flurry of documents and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a groundbreaking speech on the need for protecting the human rights of LGBT people around the world. It began this morning with the White House memorandum directing American international agencies to take action in countries where LGBT abuses are taking place. That was followed by fact sheets from the White House and the State Department outlining the new policies as well as past accomplishments. Of particular interest is the State Department’s description of its engagement in Uganda over concerns about the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill:

Alongside Ugandan civil society’s strong and sustained outreach to parliamentarians and the Uganda Human Rights Commission, and advocacy of other governments, U.S. Government advocacy against Uganda’s proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill established a precedent for the United States, the international donor community and civil society to collaborate to counter efforts to criminalize same-sex conduct. [Emphasis mine]

While activities in Uganda are mentioned, Africa was not alone in receiving the State Department’s attention over the past few years. Also mentioned are Jamaica, Slovakia, Indonesia, Guinea, Serbia, and India. Meanwhile, Secretary Clinton gave what has been described as a groundbreaking speech in Geneva in advance of Human Rights Day this Saturday. I wasn’t able to see the speech and hope to have the transcript as soon as possible. (Update: It’s here, and it’s a doozy.)

It remains to be seen how the actions today will be reported in the popular media and what the response will be in countries which stand to be affected by today’s announcements. But past events does give us a clue as to how today’s developments are likely to be received in world capitals where LGBT persecution is either official policy or the social norm. Russia had earlier denounced American diplomatic protests over a proposed bill in St. Petersburg which would prohibit LGBT advocacy in public, and Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak followed that with a suggestion that the St. Petersburg proposal could be made a federal law. In Africa, following comments from British Prime Minister David Cameron warning that countries which prosecute LGBT people could see their foreign aid cut (a warning that was later modified to say that the aid would be redirected to NGO’s instead), African leaders, including those who oppose LGBT oppression, warned that the statement could backfire on efforts to head off legislation which would severely increase penalties against LGBT people. African LGBT advocates also warn that if changes in foreign funding force cutbacks in governmental services, the local LGBT communities would feel the brunt of the blame, making the work of LGBT advocacy much more difficult in countries where the prevailing belief is that homosexuality is a Western import.

None of that is to say that these pronouncements from the US and IK aren’t unwarranted or improper. But every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and as they say in Africa, when elephants fight, the grass suffers. Since Cameron’s announcement in October, there has been a measurable uptick on African newspaper articles mentioning homosexuality popping up through November and December in my Google Alerts for the continent, and those articles are rarely positive. The Ugandan Parliament revived the Anti-Homosexuality Bill by the end of October, and the Nigerian Senate greatly increased the penalties in a bill which makes same-sex unions a felony in November.

Now to be clear, neither action was a response to Britain’s announcement; both events almost certainly have occurred anyway. But if anyone had been inclined to speak out against those two bills before, the current politics now makes that all but impossible. No African politician has ever lost influence by standing up to “meddling” by foreign and (especially) colonial powers. And no politician anywhere in the world — east, west, north or south — has survived the taint of being accused of colluding with foreign governments, no  matter how manifestly untrue, unjust, or an irrelevant distraction those accusations may be.

In the short term, these announcements are likely to exacerbate the situation. That is just a simple fact of life, but pointing that out isn’t to say that this is not a good change in direction. It is merely to say that we will need to be forewarned and prepared for the inevitable reaction which will come of it. Fasten your seat belts.

Obama Orders Government Action on International LGBT Abuses

Jim Burroway

December 6th, 2011

President Barack Obama issued a memorandum today directing “all agencies engaged abroad to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons.” The memorandum requires agencies to work on fighting criminalization of LGBT people and sets up protections for LGBT people seeking asylum. The memo also directs agencies which engage in international efforts to report back within 180 days and every year afterwards a status report on their progress toward these efforts.

The memo does not specify specific actions that individual agencies are to take in pursuing the goals, nor does it specify specific sanction, remedies, or diplomatic initiatives to be undertaken to protect the human rights of LGBT people internationally. Instead, it directs the State Department to set up a standing group “with appropriate interagency representation, to help ensure the Federal Government’s swift and meaningful response to serious incidents that threaten the human rights of LGBT persons abroad.” It appears that this standing group is intended to direct a coordinated response among several U.S. government to situations as they arise.

Here is the complete memo:

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release

December 6, 2011

MEMORANDUM FOR THE HEADS OF EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES

SUBJECT: International Initiatives to Advance the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Persons

The struggle to end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons is a global challenge, and one that is central to the United States commitment to promoting human rights. I am deeply concerned by the violence and discrimination targeting LGBT persons around the world — whether it is passing laws that criminalize LGBT status, beating citizens simply for joining peaceful LGBT pride celebrations, or killing men, women, and children for their perceived sexual orientation. That is why I declared before heads of state gathered at the United Nations, “no country should deny people their rights because of who they love, which is why we must stand up for the rights of gays and lesbians everywhere.” Under my Administration, agencies engaged abroad have already begun taking action to promote the fundamental human rights of LGBT persons everywhere. Our deep commitment to advancing the human rights of all people is strengthened when we as the United States bring our tools to bear to vigorously advance this goal.

By this memorandum I am directing all agencies engaged abroad to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons. Specifically, I direct the following actions, consistent with applicable law:

Section 1. Combating Criminalization of LGBT Status or Conduct Abroad. Agencies engaged abroad are directed to strengthen existing efforts to effectively combat the criminalization by foreign governments of LGBT status or conduct and to expand efforts to combat discrimination, homophobia, and intolerance on the basis of LGBT status or conduct.

Sec. 2. Protecting Vulnerable LGBT Refugees and Asylum Seekers. Those LGBT persons who seek refuge from violence and persecution face daunting challenges. In order to improve protection for LGBT refugees and asylum seekers at all stages of displacement, the Departments of State and Homeland Security shall enhance their ongoing efforts to ensure that LGBT refugees and asylum seekers have equal access to protection and assistance, particularly in countries of first asylum. In addition, the Departments of State, Justice, and Homeland Security shall ensure appropriate training is in place so that relevant Federal Government personnel and key partners can effectively address the protection of LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, including by providing to them adequate assistance and ensuring that the Federal Government has the ability to identify and expedite resettlement of highly vulnerable persons with urgent protection needs.

Sec. 3. Foreign Assistance to Protect Human Rights and Advance Nondiscrimination. Agencies involved with foreign aid, assistance, and development shall enhance their ongoing efforts to ensure regular Federal Government engagement with governments, citizens, civil society, and the private sector in order to build respect for the human rights of LGBT persons.

Sec. 4. Swift and Meaningful U.S. Responses to Human Rights Abuses of LGBT Persons Abroad.The Department of State shall lead a standing group, with appropriate interagency representation, to help ensure the Federal Government’s swift and meaningful response to serious incidents that threaten the human rights of LGBT persons abroad.

Sec. 5. Engaging International Organizations in the Fight Against LGBT Discrimination. Multilateral fora and international organizations are key vehicles to promote respect for the human rights of LGBT persons and to bring global attention to LGBT issues. Building on the State Department’s leadership in this area, agencies engaged abroad should strengthen the work they have begun and initiate additional efforts in these multilateral fora and organizations to: counter discrimination on the basis of LGBT status; broaden the number of countries willing to support and defend LGBT issues in the multilateral arena; strengthen the role of civil society advocates on behalf of LGBT issues within and through multilateral fora; and strengthen the policies and programming of multilateral institutions on LGBT issues.

Sec. 6. Reporting on Progress. All agencies engaged abroad shall prepare a report within 180 days of the date of this memorandum, and annually thereafter, on their progress toward advancing these initiatives. All such agencies shall submit their reports to the Department of State, which will compile a report on the Federal Government’s progress in advancing these initiatives for transmittal to the President.

Sec. 7. Definitions. (a) For the purposes of this memorandum, agencies engaged abroad include the Departments of State, the Treasury, Defense, Justice, Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the Export-Import Bank, the United States Trade Representative, and such other agencies as the President may designate.

(b) For the purposes of this memorandum, agencies involved with foreign aid, assistance, and development include the Departments of State, the Treasury, Defense, Justice, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security, the USAID, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the Export-Import Bank, the United States Trade Representative, and such other agencies as the President may designate.

This memorandum is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

The Secretary of State is hereby authorized and directed to publish this memorandum in the Federal Register.

BARACK OBAMA

# #

Obama Blasts GOP For Failure To “Stand Up For the Men and Women Who Wear The Uniform”

Jim Burroway

October 2nd, 2011

In remarks before a gathering of the Human Rights Campaign, President Barack Obama blasted Republicans for standing silently on stage while audience members booed a gay American soldier during a GOP debate last week. Six candidates — Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, pizza magnate Herman Cain, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — have maintained their silence for more than a week. Obama called them out:

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We don’t believe in a small America. We don’t believe in the kind of smallness that says its okay for a stage full of political leaders, one of whom could end up being the President of the United States, being silent when an American soldier is booed. We don’t believe in that. We don’t believe in standing silent when that happens. We don’t believe in them being silent since.

You want to be commander in chief? You can start by standing up for the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States, even when it’s not politically convenient.

We don’t believe in a small America. We believe in a big American, a tolerant America, a just America, an equal America that values the service of every patriot. We believe in an America where we’re all in it together and we see the good in one another. And we live up to a creed that is as old as our founding, “E Pluribus Unum” — out of many, one. And that includes everybody. That’s what we believe. That’s what we’re going to be fighting for. I am confident that’s what the American people believe in. I’m confident because of the changes we’ve achieved these two and a half years, the progress that some folks said was impossible.

Obama recounted his accomplishments since taking office: the passage of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act, the lifting of the HIV travel ban, the enactment of regulations requiring hospitals to allow gay partners to see and make decisions for their loved ones, and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He also reiterated his support for repealing the Defense of Marriage Act:

I vowed to keep up the fight against the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. There’s a bill to repeal this discriminatory law in Congress, and I want to see that passed. But until we reach that day, my administration is no longer defending DOMA in the courts. I believe the law runs counter to the Constitution, and it’s time for it to end once and for all. It should join “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the history books.

Obama Calls On UN To Protect Gay Rights

Jim Burroway

September 21st, 2011

President Barack Obama spoke at the United Nations General Assembly today, where he called on member states to protect the human rights of gays and lesbians:

And to make sure our societies reach their potential, we must allow our citizens to reach theirs. No country can afford the corruption that plagues the world like a cancer. Together, we must harness the power of open societies and open economies. That’s why we’ve partnered with countries from across the globe to launch a new partnership on open government that helps ensure accountability and helps to empower citizens. No country should deny people their rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion, but also no country should deny people their rights because of who they love, which is why we must stand up for the rights of gays and lesbians everywhere.

According to the White House, this is the first time that a sitting U.S. President affirmed the rights of gays and lesbians before the U.N. General Assembly.

DADT Certification Is Done!

Jim Burroway

July 22nd, 2011

The certification letter signed by President Obama, Defense Secretary Panetta, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mullen

The military ban on gay servicemembers serving openly known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will officially pass into history on September 20, 2011. President Barack Obama signed the certification stating that the U.S. military is now fully prepared to end the policy with no harm to military readiness. The certification, which is required by the repeal law passed last December, starts a sixty day clock to final repeal.

The White House released the following statement from President Obama:

Today, we have taken the final major step toward ending the discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law that undermines our military readiness and violates American principles of fairness and equality.  In accordance with the legislation that I signed into law last December, I have certified and notified Congress that the requirements for repeal have been met.  ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ will end, once and for all, in 60 days—on September 20, 2011.

As Commander in Chief, I have always been confident that our dedicated men and women in uniform would transition to a new policy in an orderly manner that preserves unit cohesion, recruitment, retention and military effectiveness.  Today’s action follows extensive training of our military personnel and certification by Secretary Panetta and Admiral Mullen that our military is ready for repeal.  As of September 20th, service members will no longer be forced to hide who they are in order to serve our country. Our military will no longer be deprived of the talents and skills of patriotic Americans just because they happen to be gay or lesbian.

I want to commend our civilian and military leadership for moving forward in the careful and deliberate manner that this change requires, especially with our nation at war.  I want to thank all our men and women in uniform, including those who are gay or lesbian, for their professionalism and patriotism during this transition.  Every American can be proud that our extraordinary troops and their families, like earlier generations that have adapted to other changes, will only grow stronger and remain the best fighting force in the world and a reflection of the values of justice and equality that the define us as Americans.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen signed the certification letter yesterday and presented it to the President this afternoon.

According to Chris Geidner at Metro Weekly:

In a news conference at the Pentagon, Maj. Gen. Steven A. Hummer said that the military had completed ”the necessary policies and regulations to implement repeal,” praised the work of the Repeal Implementation Team, and said, ”This thoughtful and steady approach…has laid the groundwork for a smooth and orderly transition.”

…Hummer said the military expects all training of active duty servicemembers and reserves will be completed by Aug. 15.

Hummer said that the repeal implementation Team has conducted a thorough review of regulations and policies, made the necessary revisions, and stated that those changes will be effective upon the date of repeal. Some of the main policies addressed relate to separations of servicemembers under DADT. Such servicemembers, when discharged fully under DADT, will be able to re-apply after repeal, said Hummer.

There are still some issues related to DADT’s repeal which are yet to be addressed:

”Perhaps the largest piece of this is benefits,” said Hummer.

Although Hummer said that certain benefits in which servicemembers can select a beneficiary of their own choosing will be open to gay, lesbian and bisexual servicemembers who wish to name a same-sex partner, he noted that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and ”the existing definition of ‘dependent’ in some laws” will prohibit extending benefits such as health care and housing allowances to the same-sex partners of servicemembers.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), whose refusal to let DADT repeal die when all hope appeared lost, praised today’s development:

America is now one giant step closer to joining at least 28 of our closest allies in welcoming the service of any qualified individual who is willing and capable of serving our country.  I am delighted to have helped lead the effort to begin repeal of this law because it is the right thing to do for our military and for our country.

Sen. Collins was the only Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee to vote to include DADT’s repeal in the Defense Authorization bill.  In December, she was the only Republican in the Senate to vote to proceed to the Defense Authorization bill which included repeal language. When that vot failed, Sens. Collins and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) then introduced a standalone bill which passed the Senate on December 18, 2010 by a vote of 65-31.

Sen. Lieberman also praised DADT’s imminent demise:

“Our strongest in the world military is even stronger today with the certification that its readiness and effectiveness will not be diminished by the open service of gay and lesbian servicemembers. I thank our military leaders for their efforts over the past several months to implement this policy. Justice has been served, and we should all be grateful that patriots stand guard every day around the world protecting our precious freedoms.”

Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) also reacted to the news:

Given Leon Panetta’s lifelong record of opposition to unfair discrimination, I knew when the President appointed him to be the Secretary of Defense that he would act promptly to implement last December’s legislation to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

I have a prediction: just as we have seen in those states where same-sex marriage has occurred with none of the negative consequences predicted, it will soon be clear that there was never any basis for this discriminatory policy in the first place other than prejudice, and the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender servicemembers will soon demonstrate that there never was a good reason to keep them from serving our country.

DADT receives death certificate

Timothy Kincaid

July 22nd, 2011

In accordance with the terms set out in the legislation terminating the Military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy, the President of the United States, the Secretary of the Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have now certified that the Department of Defense has now prepared the necessary policies and regulations and that such policies and regulations are consistent with the standards of military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention of the Armed Forces.

It’s official. While the change will not go into effect for another 60 days, the policy restricting the open service of gays and lesbians in the military has been certified dead.

Many people and organizations played an role in this change. And many deserve credit. And you will receive emails from several today claiming that credit and asking you for money.

But one organization which has, in my opinion, contributed far beyond most will probably get scant recognition elsewhere in our community, so I’ll give them the opportunity to brag a bit.

Today, on July 22, 2011, the President, Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs took the next step, certifying that the military is ready to end the ban on open service. It is a proud day to be an American, and a proud day to be a Log Cabin Republican.

Log Cabin Republicans fought this archaic policy on many fronts, from working with the Pentagon’s Comprehensive Working Group which showed servicemembers were unopposed to the change, to securing the needed Republican votes in Congress for repeal, to bringing the federal lawsuit Log Cabin Republicans v. United States which declared ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ unconstitutional. It has been a long campaign, and the fight is not yet over, but victory is in sight at last.

Thanks guys. Considering the vote count and the pressure that the lawsuit applied, I honestly don’t think we could have accomplished this at this time without you.

Obama Issues Pride Month Proclamation

Jim Burroway

June 1st, 2011

President Barack Obama issued a proclamation last night declaring the month of June the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month:

The story of America’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community is the story of our fathers and sons, our mothers and daughters, and our friends and neighbors who continue the task of making our country a more perfect Union. It is a story about the struggle to realize the great American promise that all people can live with dignity and fairness under the law. Each June, we commemorate the courageous individuals who have fought to achieve this promise for LGBT Americans, and we rededicate ourselves to the pursuit of equal rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

…Every generation of Americans has brought our Nation closer to fulfilling its promise of equality. While progress has taken time, our achievements in advancing the rights of LGBT Americans remind us that history is on our side, and that the American people will never stop striving toward liberty and justice for all.

President Obama’s declaration also notes that this June marks the 30th anniversary of the known AIDS epidemic (we now know that AIDS had already been killing people for many decades before it was reported by the CDC in 1981), and urges a recommitment to AIDS awareness. “This landmark anniversary is an opportunity for the LGBT community and allies to recommit to raising awareness about HIV/AIDS and continuing the fight against this deadly pandemic.”

Obamas Speak Out Against Bullying

Jim Burroway

March 9th, 2011
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President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle will host an anti-bullying conference at the Whte House tomorrow which will be streamed live at WhiteHouse.gov. The conference includes teachers, students, and community leaders, and will include online live chats. In preparation for the conference, the President and First Lady recorded this Facebook message.

You can submit questions here, and you can RSVP for a “Facebook live” chat here. There’s also more information at StopBullying.gov.

Last October, President Obama released a video for the “It Gets Better” campaign, aimed at stemming the epidemic of youth suicides brought on by bullying.

DOMA: recap, summary, and analysis

Timothy Kincaid

February 24th, 2011

It has been a day since Attorney General Holder announced the Obama Administration’s position on the constitutionality of Section 3 of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, and we are beginning to get a sense of how this will impact individuals in various states. Some of this is consistent with early assumptions and thinking, some is different from my earlier thoughts, and some is as yet unclear.

DOMA

Before we discuss the impact, let’s revisit the law. DOMA had three sections and, to better understand the issue, here is the law as it is on the books:

Section 1 named the act: “This Act may be cited as the `Defense of Marriage Act’.”

Section 2 revised chapter 115 of the United States Code, which deals in part with the full faith and credit aspects of states’ interaction, and gave permission to the states to ignore any marriage laws of other states that relate to same-sex couples:

No State, territory, or possession of the United States, or Indian tribe, shall be required to give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other State, territory, possession, or tribe respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other State, territory, possession, or tribe, or a right or claim arising from such relationship.

Section 3 revised Title 1, Chapter 1 of the United States Code to define “marriage” and “spouse.” Prior to DOMA, these terms were defined by the states and not by the federal government. It is significant and telling that DOMA’s third section was placed in such a prominent position in the US Code; it says that for all of our social contract, our form of government, our protections and requirements and obligations and rights, before we consider anything else, we shall exclude same-sex couples from consideration:

In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word “marriage” means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word “spouse” refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.

The challenges and the Administration’s postion:

The challenges to DOMA to date are as follows:

Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. United States Department of Health and Human Services (1:09-cv-11156-JLT) – Massachusetts has defined its marriage laws according to its community standards as, since the inception of the nation, states have been allowed to do. However, upon Massachusetts’ recognition of marriage between same-sex couples the federal government ignored the state’s issuance, recording and recognition, instead choosing to implement Congress’ definition of marriage. Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley sued the Department of Health and Human Services to defend the state’s rights and the case was heard by Federal First Circuit Court Judge Joseph Tauro.

Gill v. the Office of Personnel Management (1:09-cv-10309-JLT) – Nancy Gill and Marcelle Letourneau, along with other same-sex couples married under the laws of the commonwealth of Massachusetts, argued that Section 3 of DOMA violated the equal protections provisions of the US Constitution. They were represented by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) and the case was consolidated with others (see above) and argued before Judge Joseph Tauro in conjuction with Commonwealth.

On July 8, 2010, Tauro found that Congress had exceeded its authority by seeking to assume powers that were reserved to the states (Commonwealth). Separately, he found that there was not even a rational basis for unequal treatments between legally married heterosexual couples and legally married homosexual couples (Gill).

My observations at that time were

These cases do not discuss whether states may deny marriage equality, only whether the federal government may do so. If it is constitutionally permissible to discriminate against gay people in matters of marriage, only states may enact that discrimination.

Taken together, it seems clear that Tauro finds that a distinction based on marriage is permissible. But one that is based on sexual orientation is not. This would seem to suggest that because states can determine marriage laws (Commonwealth), it can either allow or refuse same-sex marriage (until otherwise restricted). So those legally married same-sex couples in Massachusetts, Iowa, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Washington DC, New York and Maryland and some 18,000 couples in California would be married in the eyes of the federal government while those in civil unions or domestic partnerships would not.

The Justice Department appealed Tauro’s decision on October 12, 2010 and filed a brief on January 14, 2011 defending DOMA.

Dragovich v US Dept. of Treasury (4:10-cv-01564-CW) – The Legal Aid Society sued on behalf of California public employees who were not allowed to include their spouses in CalPERS’ long-term care plan due to federal restrictions on the state program’s recognition of marriages and spouses.

On January 18, 2011, Ninth Circuit Federal Judge Claudia Wilkin refused the government’s motion to dismiss in a response that strongly indicated that Wilkin would find that Section 3 of DOMA violated both the due process and equal protection provisions of the US Constitution.

Pedersen et al. v. Office of Personnel Management (3:10-cv-01750-VLB) – Following on their success in Gill, GLAD filed in the Second Circuit Court on behalf of Joanne Pedersen & Ann Meitzen, a legally married couple under Connecticut law along with couples married in Vermont and New Hampshire.

Pedersen
was filed on November 9, 2010, and the first round of filings are due on March 31. At that time the Department of Justice can file for dismissal and GLAD can file for summary judgment.

Windsor v. United States (1:10-cv-08435-BSJ)- This case, filed by the ACLU, has a unique fact pattern. Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer married in Canada in 2007 and their marriage was recognized by their home state of New York (which does not currently grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples). When Spyer died, her estate was taxed with no consideration to their marriage status.

Windsor was filed on November 9, 2010, concurrent with Pederson, and the date for the defense to file a motion to dismiss is March 31, 2011. (Holder’s letter places this date at March 11, but the docket states March 31. In either case, it is quite soon)

To recap, Commonweath deals with the rights of states to define marriage. Gill, Dragovich, Pedersen, and Windsor all deal with the rights of individuals to due process and equal access. None of these cases challenge Section 2 of DOMA or question whether one state must recognize same-sex marriages conducted in another.

What the Administration announced:

In his letter to Speaker of the House Boehner, the attorney general laid out a legal determination and a consequential plan of action. The legal determination was two-fold.

First, Holder recognized that in those court districts in which the appropriate level of scrutiny for anti-gay discrimination had no precedent, the defendants would be required to argue for such a level. And the Department of Justice found itself unable to make a cogent argument that only rational basis be applied.

The Supreme Court has established a three part test to determine whether rational basis or a stricter level of scrutiny be considered: a history of discrimination, immutable characteristics comprising a discrete group, and political powerless minority subject to majority whim. On all three of these, the DOJ found itself incapable of arguing for rational basis and thus found that only strict scrutiny could be applied to sexual-orientation based discrimination.

Secondly, Holder acknowledged that his office was incapable of presenting any argument in favor of anti-gay discrimination that could stand up to strict scrutiny. While theoretically rational basis arguments can be pie in the sky (though they must at least be rational), strict scrutiny required tangible real and compelling reasons for the discrimination that were tied to the legislature’s actual reasoning and there just wasn’t anything to present.

It is important to understand that the Administration did not say that it was refusing on unwilling to defend the law but rather that it was incapable of defending the law. There simply were no arguments to present to the court.

Those who claim that the Administration is “choosing which laws to defend” are either confused or dishonest. Those who say that this will “nationalize” same-sex marriage and impose it on unwilling states are either confused or dishonest. Those who go on TV and spout completely false information about this decision are either irresponsible or dishonest. I’m inclined to suspect ‘dishonest.’

In consequence, the DOJ announced that it would not present arguments to the judges in Pedersen and Windsor that these cases should be tried under rational basis. Should the judges independently determine that no stricter scrutiny than rational basis would be considered, the DOJ was capable of defending DOMA on rational basis pie in the sky notions.

But unless the judges independently determined that rational basis was the standard, the Department of Justice would not attempt to justify DOMA under stricter scrutiny because they had no arguments to present.

What does this mean?

Immediately, nothing. The law remains on the books, the Administration will continue to administer the law, and gay couples have no more federal recognition than two random roommates living in a dorm.

However, it is a very short time before this could all change. The House of Representatives has a small window in which to decide whether to defend DOMA in court. Should they fail to do so, then in March the courts will be presented with a motion for summary judgment (a request for a trial-less determination) which argues that DOMA Section 3 is unconstitutional, and in response the DOJ will say, “I got nothing.”

Presented with only one side, it is extremely probable that the judges will find for the plaintiffs and order the federal government to recognize their marriages. This could be limited to specific circumstances for individual plaintiffs or applied broadly against the United States and applicable to all same-sex marriages. However, without appeal to the US Supreme Court, then these decisions will only apply to same-sex married couples in Second Circuit states (Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York).

Should the House intervene, a not-unlikely possibility, then the House will be allowed to present arguments that only rational basis be applied and that DOMA’s discrimination achieves a governmental function. However, they will do so with the additional burden or explaining why not only the plaintiffs but the Department of Justice are incorrect in their interpretation of the Constitution.

Meanwhile the Massachusetts and California cases continue. It is difficult to know exactly how the Administration’s decision will play into these cases. Having announced that you believe DOMA Section 3 to violate the US Constitution, courts are less likely to believe the sincerity of arguments otherwise.

While GLAD has no certainty about how Gill is impacted, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley (at least publicly) believes that the DOJ will drop their appeal of Commonwealth (Globe).

“We assume they will withdraw their briefs. Unless we hear otherwise, we believe the Department of Justice’s intention is not to defend any of these cases,” said Coakley, whose suit contended that the federal law unfairly created two classes of married people.

Should the government withdraw its appeal in Gill and Commonwealth, then Judge Tauro will order the United States to recognize Massachusetts’ same-sex marriages. It is unclear whether the House would have any standing to appeal this DOMA decision.

But unless the federal government opts not to appeal to the Supreme Court and the House opts not to intervene, this issue will eventually end up before the Supreme Court (as it could through Dragovich or Perry). And there are a few ways the court could go.

Should they decide to hear Commonweath first, that could make all of the other cases moot. They could determine that states have, as they always have had, the right to define marriage. Doing so could avoid or delay any requirement to determine whether in such definition a state can distinguish between same-sex and opposite-sex marriages as Commonwealth does not address that issue.

Should they decide that the federal government has a newly found right to establish family law, then they would have to deal with the various other cases which deal with discrimination against individuals. This could be an interesting direction.

Although these cases are federal cases and speak only to what the federal government can do, should the SCOTUS find that federal anti-gay marriage law violates the constitutional rights of individuals, it is difficult to see how that would not also be true of the states. While we have assumed that Ted Olson and David Boies would be the ones to argue the unconstitutionality of banning same-sex marriage, it is possible that due to timing (delays or expedition) it could be GLAD or the ACLU.

President Obama on David Kato’s Killing: “LGBT Rights Are Not Special Rights; They Are Human Rights.”

Jim Burroway

January 27th, 2011

From the White House:

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release January 27, 2011

Statement by the President on the Killing of David Kato
I am deeply saddened to learn of the murder of David Kato. In Uganda, David showed tremendous courage in speaking out against hate. He was a powerful advocate for fairness and freedom. The United States mourns his murder, and we recommit ourselves to David’s work.

At home and around the world, LGBT persons continue to be subjected to unconscionable bullying, discrimination, and hate. In the weeks preceding David Kato’s murder in Uganda, five members of the LGBT community in Honduras were also murdered. It is essential that the Governments of Uganda and Honduras investigate these killings and hold the perpetrators accountable.

LGBT rights are not special rights; they are human rights. My Administration will continue to strongly support human rights and assistance work on behalf of LGBT persons abroad. We do this because we recognize the threat faced by leaders like David Kato, and we share their commitment to advancing freedom, fairness, and equality for all.

Memorial And Rally? Very Well: A Memorial and Rally

Jim Burroway

January 13th, 2011
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The memorial was nothing short of magnificent, and it was exactly what this city needed. It was, at turns, somber and celebratory. Tucsonans have been in a severely depressed funk, dazed and stunned that something like this could happen here.

I hear some small-minded grumbling that the event was somehow too “raucous” or a “rally.” Well you know what? A rally is just what we needed. Those who sit in judgment in their comfortable offices and studios on the coasts tut-tutting last night’s memorial haven’t had to drive by the still-closed Safeway every morning and every evening to and from work. They haven’t been within a thousand miles of the nightly vigils at UMC and at Gabrielle Giffords’s congressional office. They haven’t turned on television to see their own neighbors grieving in wall-to-wall coverage. They haven’t picked up their local newspapers to read the dozens of stories about the tragedy and then turn the page, thinking perhaps that they were finished with those heartbreaking stories, only to be confronted by the same familiar names and photos in the obituaries. They haven’t made plans to attend some of the funerals which begin today. They won’t pull over to the side of the road as the funeral processions pass on the way to the cemetery. They haven’t seen their beloved town turned into something unrecognizable. When they have experienced all of this, maybe then they can legitimately criticize our desire last night to tentatively shake off our sack cloths and wash away the ashes, if only for a moment. But not until then.

Tucsonans have undergone a stunned mourning for five solid days now. It’s about time we also celebrate, and yes, cheer, our community’s coming together and move toward the future. It is time to rally our wounded community, and to resolve to build a better, kinder, and more civilized world.

When tragedies like this strike, we expect the President to come grieve among the people. And yet, Tucsonans appeared genuinely surprised and touched when the President announced he was coming here. I had wanted to take a half-day off work and get in line for the memorial, but when I got up yesterday morning I learned that a long line had already formed the night before. By noon it was already clear that there was no way anyone who wasn’t already there would get into the McKale Center. So my partner and I saw it on television at home. I don’t know how the major networks carried the event. We chose to watch it on local TV, which simply carried the live feed and ditched the voiceovers, pundits and real-time crawls.

I thought Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s address was splendid. She was kind, wonderfully gracious, and very generous. The blessing at the beginning was touching, given by someone whose ancestry in Tchuk Shoon predates the arrival of “Americans” and reminds us of the timelessness of this valley that has drawn so many to the Old Pueblo, as we like to call our city. We celebrated our heros who ran toward the gunfire, and we learned for the first time that Gabby Giffords had opened her eyes. And with that, it is my hope that President Barack Obama’s exceptional speech opens all of our eyes, so that we, too, can build a society worthy of Christina Taylor-Green’s spirit.

Click here to read a transcript of President Obama’s speech

AZ Lawmakers Move to Limit Westboro Baptist Protests at Funerals

Jim Burroway

January 11th, 2011

Soon after Saturday’s heinous massacre of six Tucsonans and the injuring of fourteen others including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Westboro Baptist’s Fred Phelps announced via video that the shooter, Jared Loughner, was appointed by Phelps’s god to do the evil deed and that the Westboro clan would protest the funerals. Arizona state Sen. Kirsten Sinema (D-Phoenix) swung into action:

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has signed into law emergency legislation to head off picketing by a Topeka, Kan., church near the funeral service for a 9-year-old girl who was killed during Saturday’s shooting in Tucson. Unanimous votes by the House and Senate on Tuesday sent the bill to Brewer. It took effect immediately with her signature Tuesday night. The new law prohibits protests within 300 feet of a funeral or burial service.

…Arizona State Representative Kyrsten Sinema said when she heard of the plans, she got downright angry and decided to take action.  Sinema sponsored Senate Bill 1101 and got some help from fellow legislators.  “We patterned legislation after Ohio’s law which is constitutional, it’s been upheld in court, and I got permission from the speaker and the senate president to wave the rules,” Sinema said.

…”The bill requires them to be at least 300 feet away from the funeral from an hour before the funeral starts to an hour after it ends and that way people can grieve and love in peace,” Sinema said.

The bill passed the Arizona House and Senate in record time, and was signed into law at 3:00pm by Governor Brewer. The first funerals will take place on Thursday. The Boston-based Phelps-A-Thon has pledged to make a donation to Wingspan’s Anti-Violence Project of Southern Arizona for every funeral the Phelps clan protests. Wingspan is the LGBT community center for Tucson and southern Arizona. You can also donate directly to Wingspan here.

Meanwhile President Barack Obama has announced that he will speak at a community memorial service scheduled for tomorrow evening. The memorial begins at 6:00pm MST at the McKale Center on the University of Arizona campus.

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