Box Turtle Bulletin

Box Turtle BulletinNews, analysis and fact-checking of anti-gay rhetoric
“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 November, 2013

US Senate Passes ENDA

Jim Burroway

November 7th, 2013

In a landmark 64-32 bipartisan vote, U.S. Senate gave its approval to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).

Fifty-four Democrats were joined by ten Republicans to support the measure: Sens. Kelly Ayotte (NH), Susan Collins (ME, cosponsor), Jeff Flake (AZ), Orrin Hatch (UT), Dean Heller (NV), Mark Kirk (IL, cosponsor), John McCain (AZ), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Rob Portman (OH), and Pat Toomey (PA). Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) was absent due to family reasons.

ENDA now includes a significantly broad set of religious exemptions. As The New York Times pointed out in its criticism of the bill last weekend:

The Employment Nondiscrimination Act, however, has a significant flaw — a terribly broad religious exemption. The exemption would extend beyond churches and other houses of worship to any religiously affiliated institution, like hospitals and universities, and would allow those institutions to discriminate against people in jobs with no religious function, like billing clerks, cafeteria workers and medical personnel.

The exemption — which was inserted to appease some opponents who say the act threatens religious freedom — is a departure from the approach of earlier civil rights laws. And though the law would protect millions of workers from bias, the exemption would give a stamp of legitimacy to the very sort of discrimination the act is meant to end.

The Times said that “Any attempt to further enlarge the exemption should be rejected,” but an amendment yesterday offered by Sens. Portman and Ayotte (with McCain co-sponsoring) did just that. Their amendment reads:

A religious employer’s exemption under this Act shall not result in any action by a Federal government agency, or any state or local government agency that receives Federal funding or financial assistance, to penalize or withhold licenses, permits, certifications, accreditation, contracts, grants, guarantees, tax-exempt status, or any benefits or exemptions from that employer, or to prohibit the employer’s participation in programs or activities sponsored by that Federal, state, or local government agency. Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to invalidate any other federal, state, or local law or regulation that otherwise applies to an employer exempt under this section.”

That amendment was approved yesterday. Today, the Senate rejected another amendment by Sen. Tooley that would have expanded the scope of employers exempted from the Act.

The bill now goes to the House, where House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has already said that he opposes the law, making it unlikely that he will bring it to a vote. Many observers believe that if it did come to a vote, there would be enough bipartisan support to ensure its passage.

Sen. Mark Kirk’s Floor Speech for ENDA

Jim Burroway

November 5th, 2013

Nearly two years ago, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) suffered a serious stroke. He remained hospitalized for three months and went through rehabilitation for the rest of the year before returning to the Senate in January of this year. But until yesterday, he hasn’t made a floor speech since his return. He broke his silence yesterday when he spoke in favor of cloture for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA):

 

ENDA Passes Senate Cloture

Jim Burroway

November 4th, 2013

The Senate has voted 61-30 to invoke cloture on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), setting up what appears to be its assured passage for a final Senate vote on Wednesday. Seven Republicans joined 54 Democrats in voting for cloture. The seven GOP ayes were: Sens. Kelly Ayotte (NH), Mark Kirk (IL), Susan Collins (ME), Orin Hatch (UT), Dean Heller (NV), Rob Portman (OH), and Pat Toomey (PA). Sens. Kirk and Collins were co-sponsors. Heller announced his support earlier today. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (AK) had voiced her support for ENDA but didn’t cast a vote today. Sens. Ayotte and Portman were a last-minute additions. Portman’s son was particularly happy to see his dad’s vote:

Update: Sen. Kirk, who suffered a stroke in January 2012, broke his silence for his first Senate Floor Speech since returning:

“I have been silent for the past two years due to a stroke,” Kirk said. “I’ve risen to speak because I believe so passionately in… ENDA.”

 

Sen. Mark Kirk Becomes Second GOP Senator to Support Marriage Equality

Jim Burroway

April 2nd, 2013

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) today has become the second sitting Republican Senator to announce his support for marriage equality, in a statement released by his office:

When I climbed the Capitol steps in January, I promised myself that I would return to the Senate with an open mind and greater respect for others.

Same-sex couples should have the right to civil marriage. Our time on this Earth is limited, I know that better than most.  Life comes down to who you love and who loves you back– government has no place in the middle.

In January 2012, Kirk suffered a serious stroke at the relatively young age of 52. It took him a full year of recovery before he was able to return to the Senate this year.

When Kirk, then as Congressman, voted against repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2010, activist Mike Rogers outed Kirk as gay, an outing that the unmarried then-recently divorced and currently unmarried Senator has never acknowledged. That same year, Kirk announced his support for civil unions, and when the Senate took up DADT repeal at the end of the year, the newly sworn-in Sen. Kirk switched his vote to “yes.” More recently he has backed Illinois GOP chairman Pat Brady against a failed recall attempt after Brady announced his support for a marriage equality bill in the Illinois state legislature.

Kirk’s announcement comes three weeks after Ohio Sen. Rob Portman became the first sitting Republican Senator to back marriage equality. Since then, eight Democratic Senators have announced their support for same-sex marriage. With Kirk’s announcement, there are an even fifty Senators who are now on the right side of history.

Update: The penultimate paragraph was updated to more accurately reflect Kirk’s marital status and his votes on DADT repeal.

Sen Kirk backs pro-gay Illinois GOP Chairman

Timothy Kincaid

January 10th, 2013

Confirmed bachelor, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Illinois) has weighed in on the brouhaha resulting from Illinois GOP State Chairman’s support for marriage equality. (WBEZ)

“Senator Kirk has full confidence in Pat Brady’s leadership as chairman of the Illinois Republican Party and looks forward to working with him to elect Republicans in 2014,” Lance Trover, a Kirk spokesman, said in a statement.

Sen. Mark Kirk Suffers Stroke

Jim Burroway

January 23rd, 2012

He’s only 52. He checked himself in at Chicago’s Lake Forest Hospital on Saturday before transferring to Northwest Memorial. Doctors say he underwent “successful” surgery to reduce the swelling in his brain as a result of the stroke. Doctors say they expect a full recovery.

UPDATE: Sen. Kirk’s condition appears to be more serious than first reports indicated. The Chicago Tribune reports that while chances for a full mental recovery are good, prospects for a physical recovery are “not great.” He may not recover full use of his left arm. Rehabilitation will takes weeks or months.

Sen. Mark Kirk: Let’s “Agree To Be More Civil”

Jim Burroway

January 11th, 2011

Newly elected Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) convened a townhall meeting yesterday evening in the aftermath of Saturday’s massacre, and called for toning down the rhetoric:

Kirk said it would serve the nation well to tone down the level of rhetoric being thrown about the political arena: to choose language that is “a little more genteel,” he said.

“This is an opportunity for us, not to agree, but agree to be more civil,” he said.

Not all of his constituents are on board. Peter LaBarbera, for example, expresses his regrets.

The ethics and etiquette of outing

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

Timothy Kincaid

June 1st, 2010

I have not been a fan of outing.

Most of us have, at some point, lived in the closet. And we know the trauma and upheaval that can come from a public acknowledgment (or disclosure) of one’s sexual orientation in a world that does not treat gay people equally. Choosing to publicly identify as gay is to choose to be subjected to disapproval and animus by some and to be treated as an oddity or eccentric by others.

And because every person’s circumstance, family dynamic, social network, and financial situation are different, I generally favor allowing each person to decide on their own when is best for them to take the step towards honesty and disclosure.

On the other hand, the closet is debilitating and oppressive. Virtually everyone who has left the closet, whether voluntarily or though embarrassing scandal, agrees that life is much better in the light. The constant worry about who knows and what might happen should you be discovered is a heavy burden, and when it is lifted you feel free.

Take, for example, CA Sen. Roy Ashburn who sort of outed himself by means of a DUI on the way home from a gay bar (with the help of others who blogged about the event). Held hostage to fear, Ashburn’s closet life was limiting and his new found freedom was exhilarating.

“I would not have been speaking on a measure dealing with sexual orientation ever prior to the events that have transpired in my life over the last three months,” Ashburn told his colleagues. “However, I am no longer willing or able to remain silent on issues that affect sexual orientation and the rights of individuals. And so I am doing something that is quite different and foreign to me, and it’s highly emotional.”

And things have improved over the years. Support is available, and with each passing year the cost of being honest is lower.

There is no question that leaving the closet is the right decision, almost without exception. But less certain is who is entitled to pick the timing and the circumstances under which the closet door comes down.

One argument for outing is that it is appropriate when a politician or person in a position of power is using their authority in ways that actively harm the community. And there is a certain amount of logic to that criterion; the purpose is not to punish, but rather to stop the harm.

But the problem is in how we define “harm”.

For some, being registered as a Republican would be adequate cause for outing in as humiliating a way as possible. But this is based more in a desire to punish them for the “sin of being Republican” than it is in any real effort to protect the community.

For others, a voting pattern that is not 100% in alignment with the stated position of our various organizations deems one to be an enemy. But I find this to be a bit too much like extortion for my taste. And, frankly, I find many of the bills that our community organizations support to be ridiculous partisan posturing which has little actual value or meaning. Is someone “anti-gay” or doing harm to our community if they think that a Harvey Milk Day is a pointless waste of scarce resources?

And beyond questions about the definition of harm is the inherent assumption within the concept of outing that being gay is something that is shameful or shock-worthy. Outings that are designed so as to deliver maximum damage to the party being outed rely on the ill will of the public and not only validate homophobia but encourage it.

Which is why I am troubled by Mike Rogers’ outing of Illinois Republican congressman Mark Kirk.

Many Washington insiders, including Rogers, have known for years about Kirk’s same-sex attraction. Republican party insiders in Illinois have no illusions about Kirk, either.

In fact, in a blatant appeal to homophobia, a primary opponent tried to out Mark Kirk just this past December. This effort that resulted in the obligatory (and vague) denial by the candidate and condemnation of the bigot by the party structure.

And like a number of politicians across the nation, both Democratic and Republican, Kirk has kept his closet intact by having a relatively supportive record on gay issues. Rogers notes this as his reason for not outing Kirk earlier.

Until now, Mark Kirk elected not to play the typical Washington game. Instead of supporting his party’s dismal record on gay rights, Kirk received Human Rights Campaign ratings of 67% in 2002, 88% in 2004, 76% in 2006 and 85% in 2008. That’s more impressive than a lot of Democrats.

Rogers knows that in the long run a usually-supportive Republican can be even more effective than a reliable Democrat because he can provide the oh-so-necessary bipartisan vote. And Kirk, a military reservist who recently served in Afghanistan and is on the record as supporting DADT, has not changed his position.

But Mike Rogers has decided that today is the right time to reveal Kirk’s same-sex attraction. Here is the reason he gives:

Now, for the first time in his congressional career, Mark Kirk really had the chance to stand up and do what is right with the power of a vote. When I heard that five GOPers voted to lift the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell ban I instinctively though Kirk would be one of them. What a disappointment when he wasn’t.

Rogers would have us believe that this vote was the impetus, the motivation, the single action that compelled Mike to act. And I might find that vote to be an adequate reason, if I believed him.

But I don’t.

You see, the timing is just a bit too convenient. Although he has been running slightly ahead of his Democratic opponent for US Senate, Alexi Giannoulias and Kirk now appear to be very close in the polls. This may have been just too opportune of a moment for Rogers to pass.

Had Mike Rogers made an appointment with Kirk, expressed his intention in reporting the claims of his witnesses, allowed Kirk to respond or plan his own revelation, I might doubt my instinct. Had Rogers waited until after November, had the vote gone the other way, had it not been bipartisan, any of these might lend him credibility.

But the gotcha nature of the report negates any possibility that Rogers was simply seeking to reduce harm to our community. No, his primary goal was to embarrass, humiliate, and damage Mark Kirk.

And if my suspicions needed confirmation, Rogers adds another element. He references another potential scandal/criticism of Kirk, one that has nothing to do with his sexual orientation. This piling on makes it apparent to me that Rogers’ outing of Kirk is based less on his disappointment with Kirk’s vote and more on his desire to influence the outcome of the election.

No doubt many readers will find the advancement of a Democratic candidate to be an absolutely acceptable reason to out Mark Kirk. They may believe that we are in battle and that anything that lowers the chances of a Republican majority in the Senate is fair game. Some may argue that anything which hurts any Republican candidate at any time is a tool to be employed without question.

I do not.

Because while it is possible that Rogers has hurt Mark Kirk, it is absolutely certain that he has also hurt the gay community.

Because by introducing Kirk’s sexual orientation into the senate race, Rogers is reinforcing homophobia. By giving anti-gay voters a “reason” to vote against Kirk, he is validating bigotry.

And Rogers has now justified the actions of Kirk’s bigoted primary opponent. He’s confirmed that appealing to homophobia is a valid tactic to be used in politics and sexual orientation is a weapon to be wielded against those who are gay.

UPDATE:

Mark Kirk was not one of the five Republicans who voted to include the compromise amendment in the Defense Authorization Bill. Those were Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL), Charles Djou (HI), Judy Biggert (IL), Joseph Cao (LA), and Ron Paul (TX).

But he was among the five Republicans who joined them to vote for the Defense Authorization Bill which included the repeal. Those were Charlie Dent (PA), Mike Castle (DE), Mark Kirk (IL), Mary Bono Mack (CA), and Dave Reichert (WA).

Ron Paul voted for the amendment but not for the bill.

US Reps, Malawi Law Society Call For Prisoners’ Release

Jim Burroway

May 13th, 2010

Sometimes news originating closer to home comes to us from half a world away, and in this case this is an especially good sign. It means that the main newspapers in Malawi are paying close attention to possible repercussions from abroad which stem from the ongoing prosecution of Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza, who have been held in deplorable conditions in a prison since late December on charges of buggery and “gross indecency” following a traditional engagement ceremony.

BNL Times and Nyasa Times are both reporting that a resolution is making its way through the US House Foreign Affairs Committee calling on the Malawi government to immediately release Chimbalanga and Monjeza “law and on humanitarian grounds.” Monjeza has reportedly been seriously ill and has been denied decent food and medical treatment.

The resolution further calls on the Malawi government to “urgently address the pervasive violation of human rights in Malawi and the criminalization of conduct by consenting adults” and directs Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to monitor human rights abuses based on sexual orientation in Malawi.

The resolution, introduced on May 6, was sponsored by Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and cosponsored by Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Edward Markey (D-MA). The Nyasa Times adds that “The representatives aim to pass the resolution next week in order to help the couple before their final verdict slated on May 18 at the Blantyre magistrate court.” The couple face a maximum fourteen years imprisonment under harsh conditions.

In related news, the Nyasa Times also reports that the Malawi Law Society has also called for the couple’s immediate release, saying the society does not pose a danger to them and vice versa. Stephen and Tiwonge, who identifies as a woman, were denied bail ostensibly  “for their own safety.”

Illinois Republican Party disavows Martin

Timothy Kincaid

December 28th, 2009

From the Chicago Sun-Times

Illinois Republican Party Chairman Patrick Brady blasted Martin and the ad, saying, “The Illinois Republican Party disavows the statements made today by Mr. Andrew Martin in his statewide radio advertisements. His statements today are consistent with his history of bizarre behavior and often times hate-filled speech which has no place in the Illinois Republican Party. Mr. Martin will no longer be recognized as a legitimate Republican candidate by the Illinois Republican Party.”

I am particularly pleased that the Party used language recognizing that Martin’s speech was hate-filled.

So far the ad has been condemned by at least one other opponent. The primary election is February 2.

As of December 14,

Among Republicans, Kirk had the support of 41 percent of likely voters. No one else in the GOP primary topped 3 percent, but 46 percent of voters were still undecided.

Illinois campaign comprised of pure homophobia

Timothy Kincaid

December 28th, 2009

markkirkThere are currently a handful of candidates for the Republican nomination to the US Senate seat in Illinois vacated by Barack Obama and currently held by Roland Burris. Two are in the news today.

Congressman Mark Kirk is a moderate Republican who has voted favorably on issues before Congress which would impact the gay community. He has been supportive on ENDA and hate crimes legislation and voted against amending the US Constitution to ban same-sex marriage. He is involved in Republican groups that are seeking to make the party less about social issues and return its focus to fiscal conservatism and small government.

He also has been the subject of rumors relating to his sexual orientation.

Andy Martin, on the other hand, is a colorful character primarily known for creating and disseminating conspiracy theories (e.g. Obama is a closet Muslim), filing lawsuits, and for his flagrant Antisemitism. In short, he’s pretty much a complete loon.

But Martin has developed a strategy to get attention and, perhaps, hurt Kirk: repeat rumors in hopes of stirring up homophobia. He ran the following radio ad:

I’m Andy Martin, Republican candidate for United States Senator. I approved this message because Illinois Republicans deserve the truth about their candidates.

I have over forty years of experience and integrity fighting corruption, and fighting for the truth in politics.

I helped expose many of Barack Obama’s lies in 2008.

Today, I am fighting for the facts about Mark Kirk. Illinois Republican leader Jack Roeser says there is a, “solid rumor that Kirk is a homosexual.” Roeser suggests that Kirk is part of a Republican Party homosexual club. Lake County Illinois Republican leader Ray True says Kirk has surrounded himself with homosexuals.

Mark Kirk should tell Republican voters the truth.

I’m Andy Martin a Republican you can trust for U.S. Senator.

Please vote for Andy Martin.

Paid for by Illinois Republicans for Andy Martin.

Now, I don’t know anything about Mark Kirk’s sexual orientation. But I also know that as an active Navy reservist, he’s not going to announce that he’s gay any time soon. And as he is not a enemy to our community, accusations of “hypocrisy” sound hollow.

As for Martin, he again proves my contention that haters are often inclusive. Martin is bigoted towards both Jews and gays (at least).

And his campaign is pure unvarnished bald-faced homophobia. Let’s hope it backfires.