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“Now you must raise your children up in a world where that union of man and box turtle is on the same legal footing as man and wife…”
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Posts for July, 2012

Democratic Platform To Include Support for Marriage Equality

Jim Burroway

July 30th, 2012

Outgoing Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), who sits on a Democratic National Committee 15-member Platform Drafting Committee, told The Washington Blade that the committee has unanimously adopted a plank endorsing marriage equality:

“I was part of a unanimous decision to include it,” Frank said. “There was a unanimous decision in the drafting committee to include it in the platform, which I supported, but everybody was for it.”

Frank emphasized that support for marriage equality is a position that has been established for the Democratic Party, from the president, who endorsed marriage equality in May, to House Democratic lawmakers who voted to reject an amendment reaffirming the Defense of Marriage Act earlier this month.

Another staffer reportedly confirmed the development and added that the draft platform also rejects the Defense of Marriage Act and supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. The final draft will go before the full Platform Commitee from August 10 to 12 where it may undergo further revision.

Barney Frank: ENDA Vote May Come In April

Jim Burroway

March 24th, 2010

That’s what Lisa Keen says:

Frank said passage of the health care reform package by the House now clears the way for that chamber to take up ENDA. He said the vote could come as early as this week but would more likely come right after the spring recess, March 29-April 9.

That sounds like an impossibly fast track for what is likely to be a contentious vote, if you ask me.

ENDA Sit-ins Result in Arrests in DC and San Francisco

Jim Burroway

March 19th, 2010
DC Sit-in (Omar Clarke, GetEqual.org, via Pam's House Blend)

DC Sit-in (Omar Clarke, GetEqual.org, via Pam's House Blend)

In Washington, DC, eight activists arrived for a meeting with the staff of House speaker Nancy Pelosi, demanding that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) be brought to a vote. They then barred the doors and staged a classic, old-fashioned sit-in augmented with modern-day Tweets. After about four hours, police were able to get into the offices and arrest four lesbians for unlawful entry. They were taken to DC Central Cellblock — the same location where Daniel Choi  and Jim Pietrangelo were taken following his arrest at the White House –  and released without bail. Their court date is April 6. Choi and Pietrangelo were held overnight.

While the protest in Pelosi’s DC office was taking place, another seven or eight protesters occupied her district office in San Francisco. Arrests also took place there. Both events were coordinated by GetEqual.org.

Anchorage AK Mayor Dan Sullivan Endorses Anti-Gay Discrimination

Timothy Kincaid

August 17th, 2009

Of course the mayor of Anchorage, Alaska, has not formally announced that he supports and encourages anti-gay discrimination. But he might as well have.

Non-discrimination policies are hardly new, controversial, or unexpected. Currently 21 states, 85% of Fortune 500 companies, and dozens more cities and municipalities protect their gay and lesbian residents from discrimination in employment and housing. It is expected that Congress will pass with bi-partisan support, and the president will sign, a Employment Non-Discrimination Act into law.

So why then would Mayor Dan Sullivan veto a provision passed by the Anchorage assembly on a 7 to 4 vote?

“My review shows that there is clearly a lack of quantifiable evidence necessitating this ordinance,” the mayor said. “My review also shows that the vast majority of those who communicated their position on the ordinance are in opposition.”

In other words, the citizens want to discriminate against gay people… but gay people don’t need protection from this discrimination. Maybe it’s just the Monday blues, but I’m finding it difficult to fathom an interpretation of this statement that isn’t an unstated endorsement of anti-gay discrimination.

Delaware Passes Non-Discrimination Bill

Timothy Kincaid

June 25th, 2009

Delaware Online:

Gays and lesbians in Delaware will have legal protection from discrimination under a bill that passed the General Assembly late Wednesday night, more than a decade after supporters started fighting for it.

The House chamber erupted in applause, cheers and hugs when representatives passed the measure shortly after 8:30 p.m. An hour earlier, the Senate — where previous versions of the legislation always were killed — passed the same bill after a three-hour debate.

The bill now goes to Gov. Jack Markell for his signature. Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, who helped push the bill through the House, said Markell has expressed support for it.

Discrimination based on sexual orientation is now banned in housing, employment, public works contracting, public accommodations and insurance. The bill passed both houses by large margins with strong bi-partisan support.

Remember when this would have been national front page news? It is still a very important step and good news for Delaware citizens. And we still have many states in which blatant discrimination against gay persons is completely legal.

But it is a measure of how far we have come that these benefits seem ordinary rather than astonishing.

Barney Frank Was Against The DOMA Brief Before He Was For It

Jim Burroway

June 18th, 2009

There are three openly gay representatives in the U.S. Congress. As of Tuesday, we saw statements from two of the three — Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) condemning the Justice Department’s brief defending the “Defense of Marriage Act,” and we wondered when Barney Frank (D-MA) was going to issue an official statement.

Yesterday, it appeared that Frank was going to add his voice in condemnation to the brief as well. He told the Boston Herald:

“I think the administration made a big mistake. The wording they used was inappropriate,” Frank (D-Newton) said of a brief filed by Obama’s Department of Justice that supported the Defense of Marriage Act. … “I’ve been in touch with the White House and I’m hoping the president will make clear these were not his views,” Frank said.

But by the time Frank got around to releasing an official statement, he had a change of heart:

“When I was called by a newspaper reporter for reaction to the administration’s brief defending the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, I made the mistake of relying on other people’s oral descriptions to me of what had been in the brief, rather than reading it first.  It is a lesson to me that I should not give in to press insistence that I comment before I have had a chance fully to inform myself on the subject at hand.”

“Now that I have read the brief, I believe that the administration made a conscientious and largely successful effort to avoid inappropriate rhetoric.  There are some cases where I wish they had been more explicit in disavowing their view that certain arguments were correct, and to make it clear that they were talking not about their own views of these issues, but rather what was appropriate in a constitutional case with a rational basis standard – which is the one that now prevails in the federal courts, although I think it should be upgraded.”

This, of course, is the same brief which suggests that DOMA doesn’t discriminate against gay people because gay people are free to marry anyone they want, as long as its someone of the opposite sex. And besides, the brief continues, if it did discriminate, that’s okay too. Maybe Congress just wanted to save a few bucks in Social Security benefits, and that’s a good enough reason right there — never mind that we pay the same taxes into the fund just like everyone else.

But then, Barny Frank also doesn’t want anyone to spoil the DNC fundraiser for next week. “There are a lot of people who aren’t boycotting. I think it’s a mistake to deny money to the DNC,” he told the Boston Herald.

But Frank does point to another lawsuit filed by Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders in Boston’s Federal District Court behalf of eight married couples and three surviving spouses from Massachusetts who have been denied federal legal protections available to spouses. That GLAD lawsuit, Gill v. Office of Personnel Management challenges only Section Three of DOMA, the section which bars the federal government from recongizing same-sex marriages or providing benefits to same-sex couples

Gill v. OPM is considered a much stronger suit than Smelt v. United States, which the recent DOJ brief addresssed. The Justice Department is required to answer GLAD’s lawsuit by June 29. We’ll be watching that one very closely.

Meanwhile, Frank, along with three other Democrats and four Republicans will introduce a revised Employment Non-Discrimination Act next week in Congress. Unlike last year’s bill, this one includes transgender people in its coverage.

LGBT State Org Betrays ENDA, Carries Anti-Gay Talking Points

Jim Burroway

June 17th, 2009

In a stunning backstabbing move, the egregiously misnamed group “Indiana Equality” has issued a statement carrying the talking points of anti-gay groups and have decided to oppose the Employment Non-Discrimination Act: Here’s a statement from IE’s chair, Jon Keep:

Indiana Equality believes that the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities should be engaged in a national dialog about the need for full inclusion in the federal Civil Rights code. There is a window of opportunity now that may not come for another generation. If we push for less than full inclusion, it may be more difficult to motivate public support for full civil right protections. We should not ask for less than we need.

Anything less than full inclusion is unacceptable. Accordingly, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (END) as currently proposed, cannot be accepted, supported or promoted by Indiana Equality.

It has become evident that adding LGBT persons to local and state civil rights laws is not only possible but crucial. Adding only the right to employment at the Federal level will do little to protect the civil rights of all citizens.

Adding LGBT persons to local and state civil rights laws is crucial. But that doesn’t preclude going ahead with laws that address employment issues on a national level. ENDA does not — as Indiana Equality and other anti-gay groups claim — produces a new level of segregation. The act simply bans employment based on sexual orientation, and gender identity and expression regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. Which means that straight people are protected from discrimination by their gay employers.

If that’s not inclusion, then I don’t know what is.

This is extremely important legislation. People really are being fired and encountering other forms of employment discrimination solely because of their sexual orientation. Transgender people are believed to need these protections more than anyone else. This is real legislation aimed at solving a real problem.

IE says they are doing this because they want a more comprehensive civil rights bill. Fine. Let’s begin laying the groundwork for a more comprehensive bill now and maybe we’ll get one in the next five or ten years. But let’s not, in the meantime, cap the knees on an important piece of legislation that lawmakers are prepared to vote on this year!

But Indiana Equality has put itself fully in league with Focus On the Family, Family Research Councils, and all other anti-gay groups who will latch onto IE’s statement and run with it. See? Even gay groups don’t want this. IE’s game is a complete betrayal on one of the more important pieces of pro-equality legislation to enter Congress.

[Hat tip: Bil Browning]

Update: IE’s link appears to have moved. I’ve updated the post to re-link to IE’s statement again. It does not, however appear to be a permanent link. Therefore I’m copying the statement below.

Click here to read Indiana Equality’s statement

LGBT Insurrection Against The Democratic Party

Jim Burroway

June 15th, 2009

[Update: Three more LGBT advocates have declined to attend the DNC fundraiser in Washington next week. See below.]

President Barack Obama has repeatedly said that he won’t make a move to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the ban on LGBT people serving openly in the military, because ultimately it is up to Congress to change the law. His spokespeople have repeated this in answer to questions about why he hasn’t issued a stop loss order in order to halt the ongoing discharges of qualified gays and lesbians from the armed forces. They have, in effect, thrown the ball completely into the Congress’ court.

Now we have word from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that the reason the repeal of DADT has gone no where in the Senate is because no one has sponsored the legislation in the Senate. What’s more, he threw the hot potato right back into the President’s hands:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid speaking at a press conference Monday said he has no plans to introduce a bill to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the Senate.

“I haven’t identified any sponsors,” he said. “My hope is that it can be done administratively.”

A Democratic aide later clarified that Reid was speaking about the possibility of using an executive order to suspend discharges or perhaps halting enforcement of the policy by changing departmental regulations within the Department of Defense.

Which, of course, won’t happen because the President is waiting on Congress, which in turn is waiting on the President.

This shouldn’t be that hard. This isn’t 1993, when DADT was signed into law by a Democratic Congress and a Democratic President. It is now 2009, when 69% of the American public believes that DADT should be repealed. When’s the last time two-thirds of Americans were united on anything else? What’s more, even 58% of Republicans and 60% of weekly churchgoers thing it’s time for DADT to go.

With public support like this, the age old question — If now now, when? — becomes less of a rallying cry and more of a taunt. Seriously, if not now, when?  We don’t need a “fierce advocate” for this one. All we need is for someone to grow a pair — and they don’t have to be very big ones.

But that’s not likely to happen. John Berry, the White House director of the Office of Personnel Management and the highest ranking gay official in the Obama administration, spoke with the Advocate’s Kerry Eleveld about progress on LGBT rights. He predicted that the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes bill would pass the Senate sometime this week. But what about repealing DADT and DOMA, or enacting a fully inclusive Employment Non-Description Act? Well, he says, they want to do it sometime “before the sun sets on this administration.”

This nebulous timetable is meaningless. If it doesn’t happen well before the 2010 mid-term elections, then we will be dependent on Obama winning a second term. After all, the next Presidential campaign will effectively begin in 2011. And there’s no guarantee that Obama will win that second term.

Which means either it happens now, or the Democratic party will essentially hold LGBT rights hostage for 2012.

DNC Fundraiser announcement. Click to enlarge

DNC Fundraiser announcement. Click to enlarge

With that news, coupled with the recent Department of Justice brief defending the Defense of Marriage Act which insults the integrity and intelligence of LGBT people everywhere, leading LGBT Democratic political veterans are beginning to register their disgust with the Democratic Party. Heck, even the Human Rights Campaign, often derided for its soft touch with political leaders, sent a sternly worded letter to Obama concerning the DOMA brief.

Meanwile, the DNC will hold a fundraiser next week in Washington, dubbed the LGBT Leadership Council Dinner. The featured speaker at the fundraiser will be Vice President Joe Biden. Openly gay Congressional representatives Barney Frank, Tammy Baldwin, and Jared Polis will be in attendance.

But some key gay activists are beginning to turn down their invitations to this event. Confirmed now-shows so far include political strategist David Mixner and blogger Andy Towle. [Update: Additional withdrawals include Alan Van Capelle, Executive Director of the Empire State Pride Agenda and Foundation, former top Clinton administration aide Richard Socarides, and HRC National Field Director Marty Rouse] Michelangelo Signorile has suggested that we “cut off the money flow.” Sean Bugg agrees, while Mike Rogers (a.k.a. “the most feared man in Washington”) puts an even finer point on it:

As long as tens of millions are being spent by the Pentagon to enforce Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, gays should say to politicians “you have our money, go get it back from Secretary Gates.”

White House Changes LGBT Civil Rights Commitments On Web Site

Jim Burroway

April 30th, 2009

Several readers contacted us to point out that there was a radical change to the White House’s page of Civil Rights commitments for LGBT people. Where once there was a detailed eight-point commitment to improving LGBT rights in America, there is now only this three paragraph statement:

CIVIL RIGHTS
Progress

  • The President signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, restoring basic protections against pay discrimination for women and other workers.

President Obama recognizes that our civil rights laws and principles are at the core of our nation. He has spent much of his career fighting to strengthen civil rights – as a community organizer, civil rights lawyer, Illinois State Senator, U.S. Senator, and now as President. He knows that our country grows stronger when all Americans have access to opportunity and are able to participate fully in our economy.

Strengthen Anti-Discrimination Laws
On January 29, 2009, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act to ensure that all Americans receive equal pay for equal work. The President is committed to expanding funding for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to ensure that voting rights are protected and Americans do not suffer from increased discrimination during a time of economic distress. President Obama also continues to support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and believes that our anti-discrimination employment laws should be expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity. He supports full civil unions and federal rights for LGBT couples and opposes a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. He supports changing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in a sensible way that strengthens our armed forces and our national security, and also believes that we must ensure adoption rights for all couples and individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation.

Lead Criminal Justice Reform
The President will lead the fight to build a more fair and equitable criminal justice system. He will seek to strengthen federal hate crime legislation and will work to ensure that federal law enforcement agencies do not resort to racial profiling. He supports funding for drug courts, giving first-time, non-violent offenders a chance to serve their sentence, if appropriate, in drug rehabilitation programs that have proven to work better than prison terms in changing behavior. President Obama will also improve ex-offender employment and job retention strategies, substance abuse treatment, and mental health counseling so ex-offenders can successfully re-join society.

On Inauguration Day, we were pleasantly surprised to see a much more comprehensive list of objectives. The latest updates represent a deep dissapointment. Missing from the new page is any mention of promoting meaningful AIDS prevention and the enactment of the Microbicides Development Act to empower women to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. The latter, strictly speaking, isn’t necessarily an LGBT issue. But given all that we’ve been through the past quarter century, I think it’s safe to say that the LGBT community is very sensitive to how HIV/AIDS affects everyone. And given the neglect from many previous administrations to domestic HIV/AIDS initiatives, many in the LGBT community look at commitments like this as a possible bellwether.

Also gone from the web page is Obama’s campaign promise to repeal the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act.” This was one area in which then-Sen. Obama set himself apart from Sen. Hillary Clinton during the race to capture the Democratic nomination. Obama was among the few who called for the full repeal of DOMA. Sen. Clinton, for example, only advocated a partial repeal. Seeing DOMA missing altogether from the re-vamped web site is particularly disturbing.

And then there’s the mention of “changing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in a sensible way.” That looks like a clear backtrack from his earlier promise to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” This critical change only serves to reinforce growing suspicions that the administration is backing away from this important, high-profile promise. [Update: The line has now been changed to "He supports repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in a sensible way..."]

It’s unclear how much of this represents a genuine policy shift, or just a reshuffling of the web site’s focus. A letter sent to Joe.My.God suggests the latter. But whatever the case may be, we will continue to hold the Obama administration accountable to the promises he made throughout his campaign and confirmed on Inauguration Day. In case there’s any confusion as to what was originally promised, I’ve reproduced those original commitments below.

Support for the LGBT Community

“While we have come a long way since the Stonewall riots in 1969, we still have a lot of work to do. Too often, the issue of LGBT rights is exploited by those seeking to divide us. But at its core, this issue is about who we are as Americans. It’s about whether this nation is going to live up to its founding promise of equality by treating all its citizens with dignity and respect.”

– Barack Obama, June 1, 2007

Expand Hate Crimes Statutes: In 2004, crimes against LGBT Americans constituted the third-highest category of hate crime reported and made up more than 15 percent of such crimes. President Obama cosponsored legislation that would expand federal jurisdiction to include violent hate crimes perpetrated because of race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or physical disability. As a state senator, President Obama passed tough legislation that made hate crimes and conspiracy to commit them against the law.

Fight Workplace Discrimination: President Obama supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and believes that our anti-discrimination employment laws should be expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity. While an increasing number of employers have extended benefits to their employees’ domestic partners, discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace occurs with no federal legal remedy. The President also sponsored legislation in the Illinois State Senate that would ban employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Support Full Civil Unions and Federal Rights for LGBT Couples: President Obama supports full civil unions that give same-sex couples legal rights and privileges equal to those of married couples. Obama also believes we need to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and enact legislation that would ensure that the 1,100+ federal legal rights and benefits currently provided on the basis of marital status are extended to same-sex couples in civil unions and other legally-recognized unions. These rights and benefits include the right to assist a loved one in times of emergency, the right to equal health insurance and other employment benefits, and property rights.

Oppose a Constitutional Ban on Same-Sex Marriage: President Obama voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2006 which would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman and prevented judicial extension of marriage-like rights to same-sex or other unmarried couples.

Repeal Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell: President Obama agrees with former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili and other military experts that we need to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The key test for military service should be patriotism, a sense of duty, and a willingness to serve. Discrimination should be prohibited. The U.S. government has spent millions of dollars replacing troops kicked out of the military because of their sexual orientation. Additionally, more than 300 language experts have been fired under this policy, including more than 50 who are fluent in Arabic. The President will work with military leaders to repeal the current policy and ensure it helps accomplish our national defense goals.

Expand Adoption Rights: President Obama believes that we must ensure adoption rights for all couples and individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation. He thinks that a child will benefit from a healthy and loving home, whether the parents are gay or not.

Promote AIDS Prevention: In the first year of his presidency, President Obama will develop and begin to implement a comprehensive national HIV/AIDS strategy that includes all federal agencies. The strategy will be designed to reduce HIV infections, increase access to care and reduce HIV-related health disparities. The President will support common sense approaches including age-appropriate sex education that includes information about contraception, combating infection within our prison population through education and contraception, and distributing contraceptives through our public health system. The President also supports lifting the federal ban on needle exchange, which could dramatically reduce rates of infection among drug users. President Obama has also been willing to confront the stigma — too often tied to homophobia — that continues to surround HIV/AIDS.

Empower Women to Prevent HIV/AIDS: In the United States, the percentage of women diagnosed with AIDS has quadrupled over the last 20 years. Today, women account for more than one quarter of all new HIV/AIDS diagnoses. President Obama introduced the Microbicide Development Act, which will accelerate the development of products that empower women in the battle against AIDS. Microbicides are a class of products currently under development that women apply topically to prevent transmission of HIV and other infections.

Prognosis for LGBT Civil Rights Agenda

Jim Burroway

January 24th, 2009

Barack Obama's LGBT Civil Rights ScorecardThe Washington Blade has reported on a prognosis of Barack Obama’s LGBT Civil Rights Agenda. House and Senate figures believe that a Hate Crimes Bill could be on President Obama’s desk by this summer, and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act could be ready for his signature by the fall.

The timetable for repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is less certain. Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA) intends to introduce legislation for its repeal in the next few weeks, with many expecting it to be repealed sometime this year. However, Barney Frank recently suggested that its repeal may have to wait until U.S. troops are out of Iraq.

As for the rest of the civil rights agenda, things are much murkier. Granting Civil Union-like federal rights probably won’t happen this year, and lawmakers agree that the votes to repeal DOMA aren’t there.

No More Dog Whistles: Introducing the Obama LGBT Scorecoard:

This commentary is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect those of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin.

Jim Burroway

January 22nd, 2009

We’ve had eight years of listening for dog whistles. We learned quickly that whenever President Bush or members of Congress spoke, we had to dissect every utterance, split every infinitive, and scoop every dangling participle to try to discern the secret message that was being sent to the base. For all of his assaults on English, President Bush was particularly adept at speaking that unique language which only his base could understand without raising the ire of moderates.

Along the way, we learned that the Dred Scott decision somehow related to abortion and that God prefers commas over periods. We analyzed every message, the way the CIA dissects audio tapes from Osama bin Ladin in case there might be a secret message for a far-flung branch of Al Qaida — which, coincidentally, just happens to be Arabic for “the base.”

And I think that affected to how we approached statements from erstwhile allies as well. Was that a flinch we saw when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” came up? Why won’t she come straight out against “DOMA”? Why can’t he come out more forcefully against Prop 8? Every statement became a possible clue, and every omission appeared to boom louder than words.

This continued after the election. I was certainly part of it. Why Rick Warren? Why not Gene Robinson? And why was Gene Robinson’s invocation omitted from the broadcast? Why didn’t Obama give us a shout-out in his Inaugural address?

Well, we can stop listening for dog whistles. We can stop jumping up and down in excitement whenever he mentions gays, and we can stop pouting when he doesn’t. Because when the WhiteHouse.gov web site switched hands at 12:01 Tuesday afternoon, a very important document appeared: an LGBT civil rights agenda.

I said then that it looks like a very good scorecard on which we can judge the Obama administration. In fact, the more I look at it, the more I’ve concluded that no gay rights organization could have created a better scorecard in their wildest dreams.

That’s why I decided to condense it into a simple checklist form. And here it is: Barack Obama’s LGBT Civil Rights Scorecard. It’s the one he himself signed up to. And it’s one that I intend to refer to often over the next four years.

I doubt there will be immediate action on any of these items. After all, I can see how a crashing economy and a war in Iraq might be something of a distraction, to say the least. With people losing their jobs, homes, and health care, there’s a lot that needs to be done.

But I have to admit that I labor under the possibly mistaken impression that our elected representatives can walk and chew gum. They should be able to squeeze in a few of these promises in due course amongst the other things that need to be done. But even I know that we can’t sit back and assume that all of those wonderful politicians who made so many swell promises will actually get right on all those promises they made. I mean, c’mon — they’re politicians.

Besides when we’re talking about civil rights, the door has never opened because someone pulled the door open from the inside. It’s always been opened by a strong push from that outside.

That’s where we come in. They signed up for an impressive checklist. But it’s up to us to hold them to it.

An LGBT Scorecard From The Obama Administration

Jim Burroway

January 20th, 2009

At 12:01 p.m. EST, several things happened simultaneously. The Secret Service agent standing behind President Bush shifted places and took his place behind President Obama. And President Obama, even though he hadn’t yet taken the oath of office, became the official, constitutional President of the United States.

And something else happened. The Switch was flipped on the official White House website. And what a switch it is. There’s a lot there for LGBT Americans to look forward to under the heading of “Civil Rights.” Highlights include:

  • Expand Hate Crime Statutes to cover sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Enact a fully inclusive Employment Non-Descrimination Act (ENDA), to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Support Full Civil Unions and Federal Rights for LGBT Couples, and repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
  • Repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”
  • Expand adoption rights, regardless of sexual orientation. (I’m not entirely sure that the federal government has much of a role to play here.)
  • Promote AIDS Pevention: Incluiding age-approrpriate sex education which includes talk about condoms, and distributing contraceptives through the public health system.

You might want to bookmark this post. This represents a good scorecard on which to grade the Obama administration in the months and years to come.

Click here to see the entire Civil Rights agenda for LGBT people

Obama’s LGBT Civil Rights Agenda

Jim Burroway

November 18th, 2008

The website for President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team has posted a fairly comprehensive list of policy objectives for the LGBT community, including fully inclusive employment non-discrimination protections, hate crime protections, repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” expanded adoption rights and “full civil unions and federal rights for LGBT couples.”

So while I’m happy to see the president-elect sign on to a very comprehensive LGBT civil rights agenda, I would be very surprised to see White House leadership on these issues. I expect that Obama will have his hands full with the economy and pressing issues in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo. Besides, the ball will always be Congress’s court anyway. After all, that’s where all legislation originates, and it will be up to congressional leaders to draft the legislation and place them on the calendar for a vote.

Nevertheless, it is a great thing to see. And who knew that a gay agenda would come from a straight man?

Click here to read Obama’s civil rights plan for the LGBT community

The Homosexual Agenda: What’s Next?

This commentary is the opinion of the author and may not necessarily reflect those of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin

Jim Burroway

November 6th, 2008

So we have a new Congress and a new President, with both branches of government held by Democrats. For some of us, this is a dream come true. After eight years of a hostile administration and more than a decade of a hostile Congress, it would appear that this is our best chance to advance several issues which are important to the LGBT community.

Of course, this setup has disappointed us before. A similar arrangement in 1993 brought us Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

But things just might be different this time. During this presidential campaign, President-elect Barack Obama included four specific LGBT issues among his campaign promises:

  • Full repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)
  • Passage of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act
  • Passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA)
  • Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), the ban on gays serving in the military.

So, what’s really on tap for 2009?

We’ve been focused so much on marriage amendments the past several months that the DOMA is probably topmost in our minds right now. Timothy offered some possibilities and alternatives for repealing all or parts of the DOMA. As he pointed out, all of those options are problematic.

I personally don’t see DOMA going away anytime soon. Just because it’s foremost in our thoughts right at the moment doesn’t mean it will necessarily be the top of the “agenda” in January.

But we have seen considerable momentum building on the other issues. In the past two years, we saw movement on the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act and the ENDA. Unfortunately, that ENDA was the non-inclusive variety, and the resulting dissention among LGBT advocates ultimately doomed ENDA’s passage.

We also saw Congressional hearings on repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, although that hasn’t translated yet into legislative action. Nevertheless, the groundwork has been laid for DADT going the way of the dodo bird and polar icecaps.

The top LGBT priorities for 2009 will be driven by what is politically possible. In the current climate, I think Hate Crimes and repealing DADT are doable. ENDA is achievable as well, but only if we get our own act together and get behind a fully inclusive one. Otherwise, we’ll suffer the same division and acrimony as we did the last go-round, with the same result.

Besides those three items, there are some other opportunities as well. The new administration will almost certainly lift the HIV traveler’s ban after Congress repealed the 1993 law which mandated it. That law was one of Sen. Jesse Helms’s great legacies. The Bush administration signed the repeal, but it has so far failed to follow up by actually rescinding the ban. That unfinished business will be left for the next administration

We might also realize other important gains as well, like support for honest reality-based HIV prevention programs that rely on something more realistic than abstinence until marriage — especially when marriage continues to be pushed out of reach for so many gays and lesbians.

And that brings us back to DOMA. And unfortunately, DOMA is probably off the table. With the passage of three new marriage amendments in Florida, Arizona and California, there will be few legislators on Capital Hill willing to put much effort into something their own constituents voted against back home. In a stretch, we might be able to add some domestic partnership benefits for federal employees, but I’m afraid DOMA itself will probably be around for quite some time to come.

Tuesday was Super Duper for Gay Americans

An Opinion

Timothy Kincaid

February 6th, 2008

At the conclusion of “America’s Primary”, the presidential primaries remain exciting. Senators Clinton and Obama are very close in delegate count and no one can know for certain whom will bear the Democrat banner.

Senator McCain is significantly ahead in delegate count and barring some unexpected event is likely to be the nominee. While there is still some life in the Republican primary and peculiar things do happen in politics, at the moment we will assume that McCain will be running against either Senator Clinton or Senator Obama.

But what does that mean to gay Americans?

Quite a bit, actually. Below I will explore where the candidates stand on a few issues that are of particular importance to our community.

Marriage

None of the three support marriage equality. Yet none of the three candidates are in favor of a constitutional amendment barring states from instituting or recognizing marriage between gay couples.

Interestingly, John McCain may have the most invested in opposing such an amendment. Citing his federalist ideals, McCain argued passionately on the floor of the Senate against the passage of the amendment.

However, this does not mean that McCain is in favor of gay marriage. Although he has expressed in the past that he is in favor of some recognition of gay couples, he campaigned for a constitutional amendment banning both marriage and any other form of recognition in his own state. It lost.

But in any case, with McCain as the Republican nominee, this election cycle is unlikely to have banning gay marriage as any central theme.

It is uncertain to what extent any candidate would champion rights for gay couples.

Both Senators Clinton and Obama have expressed approval of overturning the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), or at least that portion of it that defines federal recognition of marriage as being only between a man and a woman.

Senator McCain is very much in favor of that part of DOMA that releases states from recognizing gay marriages performed in other states. Senator Clinton also seems to favor keeping that restriction in place. From a pragmatic point of view, I too want this upheld for some time as I think that without it a federal marriage ban would have much more support.

There is some question as to whether McCain could support the federal recognition of marriage as defined by the various states (overturning that half of DOMA), especially those which do so by means of positive legislative action. His federalist philosophy may well override his personal affinity to an opposite sex definition of marriage if the appropriate argument was presented.

Ultimately, the decision to overturn DOMA is up to Congress. And while a vote for Clinton or Obama could be argued to be a mandate to overturn the bill, a McCain election would probably not be construed to be a mandate to keep it in place.

The most significant impact that the new President will have on the lives of gay persons in relationships will be on appointments to Department heads. On that level, it is likely that gay couples will fare better overall under Democrats than Republicans. However, it is also likely that McCain’s appointments will be far more centrist and moderate than those of some other Republicans.

ENDA

Both Clinton and Obama back non-discrimination in housing and employment.

It appears that McCain does not favor ENDA. It is unknown whether his opposition rises to the level of a veto should Congress pass the legislation.

DADT

Both Clinton and Obama have expressed interest in overturning DADT.

McCain has hedged his bets a bit. He claims that senior military officers claim that the policy is working. This leaves him open to change in policy should “senior military officers” tell him that the policy is no longer a necessity.

Judicial Nominees

This is a subject that is raised as being of paramount importance for the advancement of any faction’s social agenda. But it is also the least easy to predict.

Conservative Republicans have nominated judges for the bench, and even the Supreme Court that have championed causes that conservatives find abhorrent. And Democrats have appointed judges whose decisions were decidedly conservative.

Ironically, many of the decisions decried as the actions of “liberal activist judges” were made by conservative judges taking positions that were strictly constructed rather than simply parroting the platitudes of their political friends. It is my personal opinion that those judges who are most exact in their interpretation of law will eventually be those judges that establish equality for gay persons – and on such terms that their decisions will be difficult to fault. Equality under the law is, at its heart, a conservative ideal.

We can assume that to some extent Democrats will appoint judges that are somewhat more approachable on gay issues than will a Republican. But McCain is no usual Republican when it comes to judicial appointments.

In 2005, Senator McCain was part of the “gang of 14”, a group of moderate Senators of both parties that stood in the way of filibuster efforts to force controversial and highly partisan judges through approval. While McCain has promised to appoint “strict constructionist judges”, it is unlikely that he would make appointments based on partisan ideals or conservative ideology that did not have bipartisan respect. An adamantly anti-gay judge is unlikely to make McCain’s list.

Overall Comfort and Access

The candidate with the most comfort and ease with gay people, Rudy Giuliani, has been eliminated from the running. But all of the remaining credible candidates have demonstrated that they are more-or-less approachable to our community.

Hillary Clinton will probably continue in the vein of her husband and her Senate career. She will probably not be closely aligned to our community and will likely place us lower in priority if she needs to broker a deal, but she has been known to have some gay friends – at least in the past. She is likely to give access to gay groups and perhaps appoint a gay liaison.

Barack Obama is more difficult to measure. His religious community has a strong social justice history and is officially favorable to gay equality. But his campaign has shown insensitivity to the community by pushing forward some within the black community that have a history of homophobia and support for the ex-gay movement. However, he has strong gay support and has spoken out against homophobia. It is likely that Obama will provide access to gay groups.

John McCain is a social conservative, but this seems to be tempered by a federalist streak. Further, I have watched McCain for many years and have yet to see an overtly hostile attitude towards gay people. I recall many years ago when Lon Mabon’s anti-gay group, the Oregon Citizen Alliance, invited him to speak, McCain came and gave them a little lecture about being tolerant of others with whom they disagree.

Some have expressed alarm over robo-calls made by McCain’s campaign that discussed “special rights”, but the candidate did pull the calls immediately upon being informed of their content. It’s difficult to know to what extent McCain approved the calls, but the content seemed inconsistent with his history.

The jury is still out on McCain, but I don’t anticipate anti-gay activism to be a part of his campaign or his administration. Further, as the more homophobic elements of the Republican Party have been openly attacking him, McCain may not feel that he owes anything to them if elected. I am cautiously optimistic that McCain would give access and a fair hearing on gay issues.

Conclusion

Gay people should be encouraged with the current state of the elections.

While true gay champions such as Kucinich or Gravel have been eliminated as possible nominees, the two remaining Democrat candidates support gay equality, if to a somewhat lesser degree. While I personally don’t see much conviction in their support, we can be sure that gay people will not be treated with hostility by either administration.

Further, gay people should be overjoyed that Huckabee’s theocratic campaign has been all-but-eliminated from any chance of winning. A Huckabee administration would prioritize anti-gay discrimination as part of a Kingdom of God in America agenda.

In the upcoming national election I anticipate that the differences between the two candidates (whomever they turn out to be) on gay issues will have little resonance or impact on the election. We will not have to spend the rest of the year hearing about how marriage needs to be “protected”. Nor will we hear about “San Francisco Values” or an “attack on the family”.

And I anticipate that the next President, regardless of party, will not be overtly hostile to gay people or gay couples and may indeed be open to arguments about equality under the law.

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