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Posts for June, 2010

Anti-gay petition names made public

Timothy Kincaid

June 24th, 2010

Within the past few years there has been a push to publicize the names of those who sign anti-gay petitions. This does not sit well with anti-gay activists who count on anonymity to collect signatures and get propositions on ballots.

People are less likely to add their name if they think that their neighbor, the lady who bags their groceries, or the guy who mows their law will know that they did so. It is far easier to harm those around you if can do so secretly.

So when the state of Washington was ready to release the names of the signatories for Referndum 71, a petition to block domestic partnership rights, anti-gay activists sued. They claimed that they have a first amendment right to free speech and that they have the right to make this speech anonymously. The state countered that they need transparency in elections and that those who seek to legislate laws must be visible and accountable.

Much of the argument on the part of anti-gays was that the identities of those who signed the petition must be kept secret to shield them from the ookie-spookie gays who are hostile and violent. They claimed that they might lose customers if those customers learned that they wanted to deny them equality or that they might face disapproval from neighbors or others who learned of their efforts to enshrine discrimination.

It now appears, however, that the US Supreme Court did not find that argument convincing. (SeattlePI)

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the names of people who signed petitions in an attempt to overturn a new gay rights law in Washington must be made public, a victory for state officials who said the case was a test of open government laws.

So soon the names will be available. Use them responsibly and with restraint.

Update (Jim Burroway): If I read the decision correctly (PDF: 383KB/67 pages), it looks like the Supreme Court only ruled on whether the requirement for disclosure violates the first amendment:

But the question before the Court at this stage of the litigation is whether disclosure of referendum petitions in general violates the First Amendment. Faced with the State’s unrebutted arguments that only modest burdens attend thedisclosure of a typical petition, plaintiffs’ broad challenge to the PRA (the Washington Public Records Act) must be rejected. But upholding the PRA against a broad-based challenge does not foreclose success on plaintiffs’ narrower challenge inCount II, which is pending before the District Court.

According to the Supreme Court Opinion, “Count II of the complaint alleges that ‘[t]he Public Records Act is unconstitutional as applied to the Referendum 71 petition because there is a reasonable probability that the signatories of the Referendum 71 petition will be subjected to threats,harassment, and reprisals.’” That challenge appears to still be working its way through the lower courts.

Congratulations Kissimmee

Timothy Kincaid

March 10th, 2010

kissimmeeLast night the City Commission in Kissimmee, FL, became the latest US municipality to recognize domestic partnerships. (Watermark)

In a 4-1 vote, the Kissimmee City Commission approved health and dental benefits for domestic partners of city employees, whether they’re the same sex or opposite sex.

This adds another 60,894 people (2007 estimate) to the total 27,269,114 estimated Americans who live in a community which – though in an unfriendly state – has offered some measure of recognition to same-sex relationships.

The new rules let employees purchase the benefits for their partners.

“It will also give domestic partners the same benefits as spouses as it relates to sick leave and one of the other items is that we have a policy that [city employees] cannot supervise [their] spouse and this will apply to domestic partners as well,” says Grieb.

Employees can also take advantage of sick leave if the children of their domestic partners become ill.

The measure cannot provide full compensation equality because of federal and state law. The State of Florida will not allow the children of partners to be covered by insurance unless they are formally adopted – which the state also bans (so much for “protecting the children”). And due to the Federal Government considering coverage of non-heterosexual spouses to be taxable income, Kissimmee will not offer the $10 per paycheck spousal coverage stipend they offer married employees.

There was a protest in late February led by a local pastor, but it did not appear to be well attended. (oscnewsgazette)

kissimmee protest

Initially, [Iglesia Christiana Renuevo assistant pastor Modesto] Vega’s group was against any domestic partner benefits, as he stated in his request for a permit to hold the protest, dated Feb. 9. However, the signs protesters held Tuesday stated that the group was only against such benefits to a same-sex partner.

The dozen and a half or so protesters, who were organized by an association of 35 to 40 local pastors, said they were motivated by religious beliefs. Vega told Grieb that domestic partnership benefits could be the beginning of tolerance that could lead to Florida allowing gay marriage.

No one spoke against the proposal at the meeting, and more than 300 business owners in Kissimmee had signed a petition to back the decision.

DP Benefits for Federal Employes Advance to Senate

Jim Burroway

December 16th, 2009

The Senate’s Homeland Scurity and Governmental Affairs Committee today approved a domestic partnerships bill for federal employees by a vote of 8-1. The lone vote against the bill was Sen. Robert Bennett (R-UT). Committe Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Susan Collins (R-ME) criticized the U.S. Office of Personel Management for failing to provide information on how to offset the cost of the estimated $63 million a year program. The committee decided to go forward, noting that the price tag for DP benefits was dwarfed by the $277 billion the government spends on the federal workforce each year. That means that DP benefits will make up about 0.02% of the federal outlays in wages and benefits.

The bill now goes to the full Senate. The House has also received a similar bill from the Oversight and Government Relations Committee last month. Nether chamber has scheduled a vote.

Federal Domestic Partnership Bill Scheduled for Markup

Jim Burroway

December 11th, 2009

With the demise of the Washington Blade, we were left with the threat of the country’s most important beat going uncovered. That’s why the rise of the DCAgenda by former Blade reports is so vital. How else would we learn important developments like this:

A Senate committee has set Wednesday as the day it will markup legislation that would provide benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees, DC Agenda has learned.

The Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee will consider the bill — known as the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act — during a business meeting starting at 10 am. Dec. 16. The markup will occur in Room 342 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

The House Oversight and Givernment Relations Committee approved its own version of the bill last month. That bill, with 138 co-sponsors, has not yet been scheduled for a house vote.

Lambda Legal Sues Arizona To Block Elimination of Domestic Partner Benefits.

Jim Burroway

November 17th, 2009

During last year’s battle to place a ban on same-sex marriage into Arizona’s constitution, proponents for Proposition 102 argued that their efforts had nothing to do with Domestic Partner Benefits. Nope. Not one bit. Except that the ink was barely dry on the election results when the same lawmakers who put the proposition on the ballot turned right around and moved to strip domestic partner benefits from gay and lesbian state employees.

Today, Lambda Legal has announced a lawsuit in Federal Court in Tucson on behalf of ten state employees seeking to block the elimination of DP benefits. According to a press release from Lambda Legal (no link yet):

“This is an issue of equal pay for equal work,” said Tara Borelli, staff attorney for Lambda Legal. “By stripping away these vital benefits from loyal state employees, the state isn’t just paying them less for the same work than their heterosexual colleagues — it’s pulling away a vital lifeline that all workers need. This is simply cruel and saves the state next to nothing.”

…”This discriminatory elimination of vital health benefits denies equal pay for equal work to a small, politically vulnerable group of dedicated public workers who perform valuable services and pay equal taxes. By stripping gay and lesbian state employees of health coverage for a domestic partner, the new law unfairly and unconstitutionally inflicts severe hardship upon a targeted group of Arizona families,” added Borelli.

Rhode Island Governor Says He’s Open To Domestic Partnership Law

Jim Burroway

November 13th, 2009
Gov. Carcieri speaking at the Massachusetts Family Institute banquet

Gov. Carcieri speaking at the Massachusetts Family Institute banquet

Last Tuesday, Rhode Island Governor Don Carcieri (R) vetoed a bill that would have added domestic partners to the list of people who are allowed to make funeral arrangements for each other. Now the Providence Journal reports that “a conciliatory” Governor Carcieri told a gay-rights group that he is willing to consider an “almost anything but marriage” domestic partnership law. Carcieri reportedly said this after meeting privately yesterday for more than an hour in his office with a representatives of Queer Action of Rhode Island. Carcieri reportedly cited the domestic partnerships law that won voter approval in Washington as a possible model:

“I don’t know enough, yet. All I am saying is I understand the circumstances. I understand the difficulties” that can arise for same-sex couples and others — such as widows living with widowers, and widows with other widows — outside the legal framework of a traditional marriage.

“Let’s see if we can find a way to solve that without discreet [pieces] of legislation every time something comes up. I just don’t think that is the right way to deal with it,” he said.

Following Carcieri’s veto, Queer Action issued a statement calling him a bigot and said that his repeated claims “that he does not discriminate against gay people” was proven to be a lie by his veto. Susan Heroux, spokesperson for Queer Action, said, “First, the governor raises money for an anti-gay hate group in another state, and now he proves that he is motivated more by bigotry than caring for his fellow citizens with this veto action.” Carcieri was the keynote speaker at a banquet for the Massachusetts Family Institute on October 15.

Heroux was pleased with the yesterday’s meeting with Gov. Carcieri. Also present at the meeting was Mark Goldberg, whose five-week battle with the Rhode Island Health Department to claim the body of his partner of 17 years from the state morgue, had sparked the legislation. The state refused to release the body despite all of the legal paperwork — wills, living wills, power of attorney and a marriage certificate from Massachusetts — that Goldberg had provided. Carcieri said he could not understand the Health Department’s handling of the case, and would ask his staff to look into it.

The bill to allow domestic partners to make funeral arrangements for each other passed the state house on a 63-1 vote, and passed the Senate unanimously. House and Senate leaders are considering an override of the governor’s veto.

Wisconsin to Keep Domestic Partnerships

Timothy Kincaid

November 4th, 2009

On this day that we mourn the loss of equality in one state, we can rejoice that another has had a victory in its efforts to provide some measure of protection to its gay citizens.

In 2006, Wisconsin voters passed a constitutional amendment by 59%-41% which banned both same-sex marriage and “legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage”. And anti-gay activists rejoiced, believing that this ensured that lifelong committed gay couples would be denied any and all rights that were given willy-nilly to any six times divorced, drunken Vegas chapel, heterosexual couple.

But in June, the governor signed a budget which included the authorization of a registry for domestic partners and which granted a very limited number of specific rights.

Determined that gay couples should not be allowed to enjoy hospital visitation rights, inheritance rights, joint tenancy rights, and the ability to take Family Medical Leave (FMLA) to care for a sick/injured partner or non-biological/non-adopted child, anti-gay activists sued claiming that such a registry violated the “no rights for gay people” clause of the state constitution.

And they appealed directly to the state supreme court, hoping that such protections could be denied promptly. The Wisconsin Supreme Court did not grant their wish. (KSTP)

The state Supreme Court has rejected a lawsuit challenging Wisconsin’s domestic partner registry.

The court offered no explanation in an order issued Tuesday.

But while this is a victory for decency and equality, it is not settled. They can still go through the process of trial court and appeals.

Gov. Schwarzenegger Signs 2 Pro-LGBT Bills

Jim Burroway

October 12th, 2009

Everyone’s excited about Harvey Milk finally getting his day, but the bigger news is this: California will now recognize marriages, civil unions and domestic partnerships performed in other states, and treat them as Domestic Partnerships under state law. From The Sacramento Bee:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed two gay rights bills, one honoring late activist Harvey Milk and another recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states.

…In a signing message, Schwarzenegger said California will not recognize the couples as married but will “provide the same legal protections that would otherwise be available to couples that enter into civil unions or domestic partnerships out-of-state. In short, this measure honors the will of the People in enacting Proposition 8 while providing important protections to those unions legally entered into in other states.”

May 22 will now be a state day of recognition for Harvey Milk. Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar bill last year.

Update: Gov Schwarzenegger also vetoed two bills: AB 1185 which would allow “better access to birth certificates for transgender people,” and AB 382, which would provide protections for LGBT prisoners.

Arizona Cancels Health Care For Thousands

Jim Burroway

September 8th, 2009

It was just last year when proponents of Prop 102, Arizona’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage promised — pretty please promised — that unlike their earlier unsuccessful effort in 2006, this time they learned their lesson and have no intention of going after domestic partnership benefits in order to get the gays fully discriminated in the state constitution. Crossed their heart and hoped to die, in fact.

Well Arizona’s new budget is in, and it proves the lie. Gov. Jan Brewer (R) has signed the budget bill that strips health insurance from the families of approximately 800 Arizona state employees, along with other domestic partnership benefits. Now how’s that for pro-family politics?

Wisconsin Gets Domestic Partnerships

Jim Burroway

June 29th, 2009

Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle signed the state budget into law today. That budget includes provisions for a Domestic Partnership registry to provide protections for same-sex couples as well as insurance rights for State employees. Protections include hospital visitation rights, inheritance rights, joint tenancy rights, and the ability to take Family Medical Leave (FMLA) to care for a sick/injured partner or non-biological/non-adopted child.

Wisconsin’s Domestic Partnerships

Timothy Kincaid

June 18th, 2009

In 2006, voters in Wisconsin passed the following amendment to their state constitution:

Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state.

The second part of that amendment effectively bans the creation of civil unions or of domestic partnership agreements that are “identical or substantially similar to that of marriage”. However, as part of the budget process, the State Senate and Assembly have passed language (pdf 1,743 pages), at the request of the Governor, that establishes domestic partnerships within the state.

The domestic partnerships are dissimilar to marriage in that while marriage requires a license and the performance of a specific ceremony, domestic partnerships are recognized by means of a registry:

Under the bill, a domestic partnership may be formed by two individuals who are at least 18 years old, are not married or in another domestic partnership, share a common residence, are not nearer of kin than second cousins, and are members of the same sex.

To form a domestic partnership, the individuals apply for a declaration of domestic partnership to the county clerk of the county in which at least one of them has resided for at least 30 days. Each applicant must submit identification and a certified copy of his or her birth certificate, as well as any other document affecting the domestic partnership status, such as a death certificate or a certificate of termination of domestic partnership. The clerk must then issue a declaration of domestic partnership, which the parties must complete and submit to the register of deeds of the county in which they reside. The register of deeds must record the declaration and send the original to the state registrar of vital statistics.

The domestic partnerships receive certain specific rights which are similar to those granted by marriage:

  • Inheritance Rights:
    • Inherit if intestate or if the will was written before registration
    • Full property interest the decedent had in a home
    • Inherit partner’s interest in a boat
    • The rights to probate court and summary procedures
    • Exemptions for certain personal items and for limited exemptions from the estate’s creditors
    • Inherit wages due from an employer
  • Wrongful death actions and death benefits under workers compensation
  • The right to bar former partners from testifying about private communications
  • Employment Benefits:
    • The right to family leave to care for a domestic partner
    • Pension benefits provided to public employees
    • Fraternal benefit society may provide insurance coverage to domestic partners
    • Local governments may provide health and life insurance for domestic partners
    • Protection in state government employment from arbitrary discrimination based on domestic partner status.
  • Joint tenancy rights in property

While these are far fewer rights than come with marriage, they will not be of insignificant benefit to same-sex Wisconsin couples. The budget has differences between the House and Senate versions which will be hammered out but domestic partnerships are likely to survive and to be signed by Governor Doyle.

Wisconsin Senate Approves Domestic Partnerships

Jim Burroway

June 17th, 2009

The Wisconsin Senate approved this year’s controversial budget by a very tight vote of 17-16. Tucked in that budget was a provision to provide for a Domestic Partnership registry. Among the very limited benefits of Domestic Partnerships include provisions for jointly owning property, hospital visitation rights and inheritance. Domestic partners of state employees would also be eligible to receive the same state retirement and health insurance benefits as spouses.

The State Assembly passed the budget last week with the same Domestic Partnership provisions by a vote of 50-48. There, the registry endured a separate 50-48 vote to remain a part of the budget. The budget now goes to a conference committee to iron out differences before final approval in both houses and the governor’s signature.

If domestic partnerships become law, Wisconsin would be the first state with an existing constitutional amendment banning both same-sex marriage and civil unions to provide domestic partnership protections for same-sex couples.

Mainstream Press Noticing LGBT Anger At Obama

Jim Burroway

June 17th, 2009

It’s very rare to see any the squabbles and controversies that play out on LGBT blogs and news organizations show up beyond our little playground. Huge events and debates can rage in the blogosphere with virtually no notice from the mainstream press. Not this time. Many of the majors are noticing the anger that many LGBT people feel over the Justice Department’s DOMA brief, as well as the cynical attempts by the Obama administration to try to change the subject. More importantly, the mainstream press is noticing that those attempts aren’t working. We already noted editorials from the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. Here’s CNN:

President Obama’s decision to grant some benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees is seen by some as his attempt to extend an olive branch to the gay and lesbian community, but critics say it’s “too little, too late.”

“It seems to me at least to be a nice gesture, but a disappointment,” said Richard Kim, a senior editor at The Nation magazine.

…The rancor threatens to disrupt a big Democratic National Committee gay fundraiser in Washington next week. Vice President Biden is the guest at next Thursday’s DNC’s LBGT Leadership Council 10th Annual Dinner in Washington. Critics are calling for Frank and other gay congressional leaders to boycott the dinner, for which tickets go for $1,000 to $30,000 a plate. Activist David Mixner and blogger Andy Towle, two well-known gay rights advocates, announced that they were pulling out, citing disappointment with the DOMA brief.

The Associated Press has gotten into the act as well

President Barack Obama signaled to gay rights activists Wednesday that he’s listening to their priorities by extending some benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees. But he didn’t give them even close to everything they want, bringing growing anger against the president to the surface.

Obama aides urged gays and lesbians to have patience with the new White House’s slow-and-steady approach to the politically charged topic. But his critics — and there were many — saw Wednesday’s incremental move to expand gay rights as little more than pandering to a reliably Democratic voting bloc, with the primary aim not of making policy more fair but of cutting short a fundraising boycott.

“When a president tells you he’s going to be different, you believe him,” said John Aravosis, a Washington-based gay activist. “It’s not that he didn’t follow through on his promises, he stabbed us in the back.”

Here’s USA Today’s blog, The Oval:

Response from gay rights groups to President Obama’s offer of some federal benefits to same-sex partners of government employees: The sound of one hand clapping.

Leaders of the gay community are making it clear that the president’s action, expected at a White House signing ceremony later this afternoon, doesn’t make up for the administration’s refusal to abandon the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law prohibiting federal recognition of marriages between same sex couples. As we reported earlier this morning, gay rights groups are incensed over a legal brief that the Justice Department filed last week in defense of the law.

Newsweek’s blog, The Gaggle, asks, “Can Obama win back the gay community?”

[L]ast week the Obama Justice Department filed a legal brief in federal court defending DOMA against a lawsuit that claims the act is unconstitutional. In fact, in legal terms, the Obama aides equated same sex marriage to incest, a move that horrified gay rights groups including the Human Rights Campaign. Coupled with Obama’s silence on another campaign promise—his pledge to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the military—several high-profile gay activists announced they would boycott a DNC fundraiser scheduled for next week featuring Vice President Joe Biden and several gay and lesbian members of Congress, including Barney Frank and Tammy Baldwin. All the bad publicity prompted the White House to schedule Obama’s announcement today, though an administration official insisted to Newsweek that the “memo” had been in the works all along.

The reaction to Obama’s “memo” has been pretty lukewarm so far. HRC, in a statement, described it merely as a “first brick.” But everybody is watching very closely to see what Obama will actually say. Will he repeat his vow to repeal DOMA in spite of last week’s legal brief? That’s one rumor going around today, though White House aides won’t comment. Meanwhile, David Mixner, a prominent gay rights activist who campaigned for Obama, says he’s still boycotting the fundraiser next week—unless he hears Obama say something amazing today. “I feel betrayed,” he told Newsweek in an interview this morning. “People are really angry.” He said it’s not enough for Obama and his aides to hint that they’ll do more for the gay community in the future. “We heard that during the Clinton years,” Mixner said. “Too many pressing issues? That’s code for never.”

Unfortunately, not all of the reporting has been accurate. Most MSM news reports omit the fact that health benefits aren’t part of the President’s latest memorandum. In fact, the Los Angeles Times erroneously hailed the President’s move“to extend healthcare and other benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees.” But the Times did note the anger which led to the President’s latest move:

Nothing, however, matches the outrage provoked by last week’s court filing in Santa Ana supporting the Defense of Marriage Act. The fact that the brief was filed during Gay Pride Month, which Obama saluted with a formal proclamation, only compounded the sense of insult.

“You have some appointments that have been good and a proclamation,” said [Ken] Sherrill, who has written extensively on the history of the gay rights movement. “And then two tangible areas where the administration has done something wrongheaded and offensive. Doing nothing at all would have been a helluva lot better.”

Aravosis Not Impressed by “Benefits”

Timothy Kincaid

June 17th, 2009

In a Salon article, John Aravosis expressed his dissatisfaction with President Obama’s planned announcement of federal employee benefits.

Tonight, President Fierce will try to make amends by signing either a memorandum, a directive, or an executive order, directing some federal agencies, but not others, to provide some benefits, but not others, to some gay federal employees, but not others, at some undisclosed time in the future. (And the benefits may reportedly go away when Obama leaves office.)

First problem, federal agencies already have the right to provide these benefits to gay employees — and several, including at least one DOD agency, do. Second problem, the administration can’t tell us exactly which benefits they’re talking about and for which employees. That’s because this was all hastily thrown together after the incestuous and pedophilic gays nearly brought down a Democratic National Committee gay pride fundraiser scheduled for next week. A gay blogger got hold of the event’s guest list and published it, and once Washington, D.C.’s gay paper, the Washington Blade, announced that it would be staking out the entrance to the event with camera and video, the $1,000 a head attendees started dropping like flies.

Jennifer Vanusco at the Huffington Post gives details of the rather uninformative statements by John Berry:

Berry also said that a memo would be sent out to all Federal departments asking them to look for additional benefits they could extend, and instructing them that making employment decisions on the basis of anything other than job performance – including sexual orientation and gender identity – is not acceptable.

but she reminds us

this guidance was already extended by Bill Clinton and was followed by George W. Bush. And the “benefits” are already provided by many supervisors at their discretion.

About Those “New” Federal Benefits for Gay Employees…

Jim Burroway

June 17th, 2009

…They’re not so new. I already noted that the announced benefits pertaining to the foreign service had already been announced last month. John Aravosis confirmed that the rest aren’t new either:

I just asked OPM Director John Berry, on a White House media conference call, whether in fact federal agencies already have the right to give these benefits to gay employees. The answer, “yes.” So what’s new about tonight? Obama is going to “tell” the agencies to give the benefits — as if any agency in the Obama administration would dare tell a gay employee no to a request for time off to attend their partner’s funeral?

Need any more confirmation that all Obama wanted to do was salvage the DNC fundraiser?

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