Nel's New Day

February 27, 2014

LGBT Rights v. Religion

For an entire week, the nation’s media was obsessed about Arizona’s bill that would let everyone in the state do anything they wanted as long as they said it was because of religion. The bill went to Gov. Jan Brewer on Monday, and many Republicans—including three legislators who voted in favor of it—asked her to veto it. Last night she did. According to her speech about the veto, she didn’t want to divide the state so she denied the right-wing groups their wish.

Using political-speak rather than reason, she said her veto was to stop a divide. And of course, the wacko right got very divided–against Brewer:

Fox network Tucker Carlson maintained that requiring people to provide service to everyone is “fascism.” [For those lacking a dictionary, fascism is an authoritarian nationalism that has a veneration of the state and devotion to a strong leader and invokes the primacy of the state.]

Another Fox network host, Todd Starnes, tweeted: “AZ Gov. Jan Brewer makes Christians in her state second-class citizens.”

 A tweet from Rich Lowry of the National Review: “The Brewer veto shows that poorly informed hysteria works.” He skipped the fact that the loudest protests against the bill came from the business community, usually allied with conservatives.

President of Tea Party Nation, Judson Phillips: “Tyranny is on the march!” And my favorite, the veto means that bakers will be forced to sell cakes with “a giant phallic symbol on it” or cakes with another “shape of genitalia.”

Michele Bachmann claimed that Brewer “eviscerated free speech.”

According to Brewer’s speech, she is comfortable that Arizona law protects religious people from discrimination. There was no mention of the state’s discrimination against LGBT people in employment, housing, hospital visitation, education, health care, marriage. While claiming that people in her state didn’t suffer from religious discrimination, she still managed to figuratively shake her finger at President Obama by blaming him for the concerns in the state.

Logic tells us that protecting LGBT people had no relationship to Brewer’s decision: it was purely business.



The NFL threatened to pull the 2015 Super Bowl in Glendale (AZ), and a number of large companies had said that they would either not expand or even come to the state with SB1062. Even now, Arizona may take a hit as Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton suggested. He said, “The negative national and international publicity that our state has already received — it sends a message that our state is not a warm, welcoming place.” The Hispanic National Bar Assocation has already pulled its 2015 national convention.

Another reason for Brewer to veto the bill is highly personal. She became governor after then-governor Janet Napolitano was tapped for the director of the Department of Homeland Security. Her win a year later seemed unlikely until she signed into law the discriminatory anti-immigrant profiling bill. Her GOP opposition dissipated, and she defeated long-time Democratic icon AG Terry Goddard. The state constitution limits governors to two terms, but Brewer has always maintained that she has served only one term. Thus far, eight GOP gubernatorial candidates have signed up for the primary. Some believe that her vetoing the bill indicates she won’t be running, yet her action has gained her support from some of the most powerful GOP leaders both inside and outside Arizona.

Although Arizona got massive publicity from passing its bill in the legislature,  a similar bill was already passed in the Mississippi Senate—with no hoop-la. After the Arizona debacle, Democrats are backing off, such as Sen. David Blount who said he didn’t know that the bill to change the state seal included discrimination. The 2.5-page bill clearly stated that the religious right would discriminate; the following one-page provision added “In God We Trust” to the state seal. Blount added that no one else knew the bill was discriminatory. The debate on the floor did concern issues such as people “praying facing Mecca” and religious liberty for “devil worshipping” and “voodoo.”

The bill has moved to the Judiciary B Committee. Its chair, Rep. Andy Gipson, once invoked a biblical passage asking for the death penalty for gays. If the bill passes the House, it moves to the governor, Phil Bryant, who has violated a federal order by denying spousal benefits to same-sex National Guard spouses.

Then there’s Georgia, another state that wants to get in on the discrimination action with a similar bill. The Preservation of Religious Freedoms Act would erase a law in Atlanta that protects LGBT people in lodging, housing, and employment. The shotgun approach is like that of the Arizona bill: any person or business can discriminate against anyone. Based in Atlanta, Delta Airlines is one company that has spoken out against the bill.

Georgia has tabled its “freedom act,” taking it off the calendar. Mississippi is considering a re-wording of its “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” perhaps because the state’s chamber of commerce, the Mississippi Economic Council, has issued a statement against discrimination by businesses.

The lead author of a similar bill in Oklahoma said he will re-write it, and Ohio has withdrawn its anti-LGBT legislation. Idaho Deputy AG Brian Kane told legislators that their proposed “religious freedom” bills would have constitutional problems. Kansas withdrew its bill after it passed the state House but before the Arizona bill was passed. In Maine, both legislative chambers voted down a bill similar to that in Arizona. Tennessee’s bill suffered serious backlash from the business community and disappeared, as did one in South Dakota. A state representative has filed an Arizona bill in Missouri. In all, 13 states have introduced so-called religious anti-LGBT bills in less than two months.

Oregon is unique in the discrimination game. Instead of a legislative bill, the proposed measure for the 2014 ballot comes from a religious group that claims it only wants to protect businesses from having to provide services at a same-sex wedding or commitment ceremony. In order for the initiative to be on the ballot, the group must collect 116,284 valid signatures by July 5, and signature-gatherers can’t begin until the state AG determines a 15-word title for the ballot. A measure to overturn the constitutional ban on marriage equality in Oregon has already obtained over 160,000 signatures.

Many people in Oregon think that the initiatives attempting to discriminate against LGBT people in the state actually benefited the community. Threatened by the far-right in the 1990s, lesbians and gays came out of the closet to fight the measures, created alliances, and increased support by becoming visible. One of the men who pushed anti-LGBT laws in Oregon, Scott Lively, left the state and moved his mission to other countries, including Russia and Uganda where LGBT people can be physically abused and sent to prison with the sanction of the government.

The large number of big businesses that opposed the Arizona bill is also a positive affirmation of LGBT people. A solar company fired Jack Burkman as its lobbyist after he said he would push for legislation to stop the NFL from having gay players. Meanwhile, federal courts continue to rule in favor of marriage equality, the most recent Texas. This map shows the status of marriage equality in separate states—at least today! 

map of states marriage equalityUsing religion to justify bigotry is not new. Segregationists used the same argument, often in the U.S. Congress. As late as the 1970s, Bob Jones University excluded blacks and then let them enroll if they were married. When they allowed unmarried blacks to attend the religious school, they prohibited interracial relationships, trying to keep federal subsidies by claiming that their racism came from religious beliefs. The Supreme Court finally struck down the argument of using religious beliefs for racial discrimination. As the court decided, religious liberty is important, but it should not be allowed to eradicate the rights of others. 


December 6, 2013

The Tragic Costs of Same-Sex Divorce

Today I chatted with two women while getting another pair of distance glasses for driving. It all happened because my partner of 44 years didn’t realize that they were prescription glasses—but that’s another story. We talked about same-sex marriage, and I said that we had gotten married in early October. One of them asked if we wed in Oregon, and I explained that it had to be in Washington because it wasn’t legal. The other woman was more savvy: she said that she had already signed the petition for the ballot initiative. Both, however, were very supportive of marriage equality.

What the discussion made me think about is how I tend to ask any wedded same-sex couple where they were married. I never ask straight people this–at least until after we’ve covered other details. At a recent fundraiser for a marriage equality ballot initiative, four lesbian couples were married and a fifth planned their wedding on Thanksgiving. The longest legally-married couple went to Canada ten years ago, another couple married in Massachusetts, and the other two, who married after the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalized federal marriage equality for some couples went to  Washington. The Thanksgiving couple went to California. All of us are ecstatic about our nuptials.

What about those married same-sex couples who didn’t remain happy? Especially when these couples live in a state that refuses to recognize marriage equality? Lauren Beth Czekala-Chatham and Dana Ann Melancon are one of these couples. Married in California five years ago, the federal government recognizes their legal relationship, but their state of residence, Mississippi, does not. The problem is that they want a divorce.

In 1997, Mississippi lawmakers amended the law to say that the state would not recognize same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions, and in 2004, 86 percent of residents voted to ban same-sex marriage in the state’s constitution. Although the couple may be the first to try for a divorce in Mississippi, couples in Texas and Kentucky have hit the same dead end because of state law.

An easy solution would be to fly back to California to get a divorce. But many states and countries, including Canada, have residency requirements for divorce. Same-sex couples can get married in these states on the same day that they arrive, but they have to live there six months or longer to get divorced. Canada’s residency requirement is two years. Fortunately, California has removed its residency requirement for divorce.

The Texas Supreme Court is currently considering the cases of the couples who want their out-of-state marriages legally dissolved in a challenge on the constitutional ban against marriage equality approved by 1.7 million voters in 2005. Attorney General Greg Abbott, leading Republican candidate for governor, stopped a court from finalizing a divorce to a Dallas gay couple and appealed an Austin judge’s decision to grant a lesbian divorce.

Wyoming, which bans marriage equality, set a precedent when the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex divorces. Over a year ago before Maryland legalized marriage equality, the state Supreme Court ruled that a lesbian couple could get divorced despite the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. AG Abbott did admit that the U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing federal same-sex marriages could overturn Texas’ constitutional provision.

“If the attorney general is so against gay marriage, why is he trying to keep these guys married?” said Peter Schulte, a lawyer in one of the cases. Abbott’s spokesman Jerry Strickland said that same-sex marriages should be “voided,” a legal method for ending what he calls an “invalid” relationship.

Some couples have gone to extremes to get their divorces. In Oklahoma, a lesbian couple  used only initials in divorce proceedings; the divorce was granted and then later declared void. In trying to get a divorce in Rhode Island, which now recognizes same-sex marriage, a women considered having sexual reassignment surgery in California so that she could have the sex on her birth certificate changed to male, making a divorce legal outside Massachusetts where they married.

In Missouri, attorney Christine Kiefer wants to divorce her lesbian partner after they married in Iowa. To do so, one of them would have to establish residency in a state that recognizes their marriage: Iowa takes a year, but Illinois only requires 90 days. At this time the two of them are seeking an annulment but don’t expect much success in their endeavor. Kiefer’s main hope is that a liberal judge will rule that their marriage never existed because Missouri doesn’t recognize marriage equality. Iowa, however, might disagree.

Ron Paul (not the presidential candidate) and his partner have the same problem. After an 18-year relationship, they went from Virginia to Massachusetts four years ago to marry. Now they want a divorce, but Virginia won’t give them one. Paul can’t take the time off from his business to move to Massachusetts and wants to marry someone else.

Kentucky residents Alysha Romero and Rebecca Sue Romero also married in Massachusetts. They filed for divorce on October 25, 2013, but everyone seems to agree that the court has to dismiss the petition because Kentucky’s anti-marriage equality amendment bans not only same-sex marriage but also the recognition of such marriages performed elsewhere. Twenty states have that ban on recognition of same-sex marriages performed in any other state, and Georgia goes farther, explicitly banning same-sex divorce.

The Romero lawyer’s strategy is to appeal the dismissal and request that the state Supreme Court throw out the marriage amendment on the grounds that it violates equal protection of law guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution.

Children make the entire divorce issue even messier. New York residents Mercedes Counihan and Molly Bishop married in Connecticut in 2009. Bishop was the biological mother of a son in 2010 before the state’s marriage equality was approved in 2011; both women signed documents for the in vitro process. Following their divorce, Counihan had no visitation rights for their son because the judge ruled there was no indication that Counihan had any parental rights. He ignored the facts that Counihan was listed as the second mother on the birth certificate and the child’s name was hyphenated with both mother’s name. The decision was reversed, Counihan has visitation rights, and the case is still wandering the courts.

The inconsistency of judicial decisions in the same state can be very frustrating for same-sex couples. Ohio has a constitutional amendment against marriage equality, but a Columbus judge granted two men a divorce last year. Yet in the same court, another judge refused a divorce to a lesbian couple, using the state’s constitutional ban on marriage equality as the justification.

Same-sex couples usually pay twice as much for divorces as heterosexual counterparts. The cost is triple if children are involved. Lawyers familiar with same-sex divorce will charge more because of additional documents, and same-sex couples are more likely to have divorce applications rejected, requiring expensive appeals. Divorced gay and lesbian couples may have had to pay federal gift tax in the past because the federal government didn’t recognize these marriages until last summer. Courts also delay the divorce because they don’t know how to handle the situation.

Because same-sex marriage in the United States has a history of only one decade, there is little information about the divorce rate for gays and lesbians. Michael Rosenfeld, a sociology professor at Stanford University, concluded that the breakup rate between same-sex and opposite-sex couples is about the same after assessing 3,000 couples since 2009. Another study from the Williams Institute, a Los Angeles think tank that studies legal issues related to sexual orientation, indicates that same-sex couples divorce at about half the rate of opposite-sex couples. No matter which is right, the problems for all divorcing couples are the same: division of property, spousal benefits, child custody, health coverage for a spouse, the ability to get remarried without bigamy charges.

A huge difference between same-sex and opposite-sex couples, however, is the fact that many gays and lesbians have been coupled to the person who they marry for decades before the ceremony because the law prevented them from marrying. During the time that they live as married couples, they merge assets and raise children together. This was the experience of Rabbi Margaret Wenig when the court ignored the 17 years she was with her partner before the legal marriage.

In addition to Oregon, four other states—Colorado, Michigan, Nevada, and Ohio—have mobilized campaigns to legalize marriage equality. Texas has no such plans, but Dallas City Council members are taking up a resolution supporting same-sex marriage.

Ultimately, however, same-sex divorce, not marriage, may overturn the ban on same-sex marriage throughout the United States. Meanwhile, states that legalize marriage equality can make a great deal of money by waiving the residency requirement for same-sex couples married in any other state.

November 27, 2013

A Wish List for Thanksgiving

In browsing the Internet I found Bernie Sander’s wish list from nine years ago to make the country better. Thanksgiving is a time to dream about a better nation. Let’s see how we have done in nine years:

Campaign Finance and Election Reform: The wealthy and large corporations cannot be allowed to continue to buy political parties and candidates. We must move to full public funding of elections. Same-day registration will encourage low-income people to vote, and stop the United States from having the lowest voter turnout of any industrialized nation on earth. Since that time: The U.S. Supreme Court decided in favor of Citizens United to turn the corporations and wealthy loose and allowed voter suppression by overturning part of the Voters’ Rights Act.

Protect and Expand the Safety Net: We must beat back the efforts to destroy Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and public education, and the attacks on children and the poor. This country is wealthy enough so that every man, woman and child should be able to live in dignity and security. Since that time: The extremist GOP has worked to cut back food and housing for the poor increasing the number of homeless and hungry after the recession.

Revise Our National Priorities: We should eliminate funding for wasteful and duplicative weapons systems and the $125 billion we currently spend on corporate welfare. We should increase funding for job-creating improvements in our physical and human infrastructure, as well as the needs of our elderly and children. Since that time: The last two Congresses have completely ignored any help for the growing unemployment problem, and the military gets more and more money.

Reform the Tax System to Make It Fair: Over the last 20 years, the federal tax system has lowered taxes for the wealthy and large corporations, and raised taxes for the middle class and working families. In a nation which currently has the most unfair distribution of wealth and income in the industrialized world, we must fight for a tax system which is progressive and fair. Since that time: The inequality of income in the United States has become the worst in almost a century.

Raise the Minimum Wage: In 1996, against tremendous opposition, Congress raised the minimum wage from $4.25 an hour to $5.15. We must do better. The purchasing power of the minimum wage today is much lower than it was 20 years ago. Every American worker who works 40 hours a week must earn enough to live above the poverty line. That’s why I have introduced legislation which would raise the minimum wage to a living wage. Since that time: The federal minimum wage has been increased to $7.25 but still fails to match what people were paid 50 years ago.

A Fair Trade Policy: We are losing millions of well-paying manufacturing and information technology jobs as corporations “outsource” to China, Mexico, and India where workers are paid substantially lower wages. We need a new trade policy which protects the middle class of this country, and not the CEOs of large companies. Legislation that I have offered would radically alter our role in the global economy – protecting the workers of this country and the developing world. Since that time: The president is working to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership which would give most of the control to corporations and stopping Congress from protecting workers. Individual states controlled by GOP governors and legislatures have consistently destroyed unions to give money to corporations and the wealthy.

Protect Civil Rights for All: Against enormous and well-funded opposition, we must redouble our efforts to protect a woman’s right to choose, support affirmative action, and end discrimination against minorities and gay people. Since that time: The GOP has barraged women with restrictions on reproductive rights, and the U.S. Supreme Court is reducing affirmative action. Good News! Sixteen states and the federal government have legalized same-sex marriage, and ENDA, the bill to stop job discrimination for LGBT people, was passed in the Senate with ten Republicans voting in favor of it.

National Health Care: The health care crisis is getting worse, not better. More and more American lack health insurance; Medicare and Medicaid are under savage assault and millions of people are being forced into “managed care.” Despite all this, the United States continues to have the most costly and wasteful health care system in the world. We must continue our fight for a single-payer national health care system which guarantees health care for all Americans. We must also take on the pharmaceutical industry which is ripping off American consumers and charging us the highest drug prices in the world. Since that time: The Affordable Care Act has passed, although it’s under tremendous attack by the GOP. It lacks the single-payer provision that would help, and 25 states refuse to provide Medicaid at an acceptable level, thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. But it’s a start. Sanders’ state has passed the single-payer health care system which will be fully operational by 2017.

People who live in the United States want to think that the country is exceptional. Below are ways to make this come true:

Raising the Minimum Wage: Seventy-one percent of people in the United States support raising the minimum wage to $9.00.  Doing this would still not make it equal to the minimum wage in the 1960s, but it would be a start.

Universal Background Checks for Gun Purchases: Most people in the country support laws to start keeping  guns out of the hands of terrorists, felons, and mentally disabled.

Balanced Deficit Reduction: The country needs a balanced approach to reduce the debt, according to 76 percent of the nation’s voters.  Balanced means, to explain it to the GOP, both spending cuts and additional tax revenues. 

Job-Creating Infrastructure Investments: An investment in repairing and replacing the nation’s deteriorating infrastructure—roads, bridges, airports, etc.—would create hundreds of thousands of jobs. A majority of people support this, despite the continued opposition from federal GOP legislators who want to give more money to wealthy and corporate special interests such as the oil industry.

Pathway to Earned Citizenship: The 11 million immigrants without legal papers in the country contribute to the economy and work at jobs that others refuse to do. A majority of Republicans and 70 percent of all people in nation support the Senate bill that House GOP members refuse to vote on.

Expanding the Medicaid Program: Two-thirds of Americans favor the part of ObamaCare that calls for expanding the Medicaid program. All that stops health care across the United States are GOP governors and state legislators.

Marriage Equality: Marriage equality is now legal on a federal basis, but many states still refuse to legalize same-sex marriage, continuing the second-class situation for many of LGBT people across the nation. A study now shows that opposition to this equality is concentrated “among a few narrow demographic groups.”

Ending Job Discrimination for LGBT People: Transgender people can be discriminated against in 33 states and lesbians/gays in 29 states. Federal law needs to stop that.

Universal Access to Birth Control: ObamaCare requires health insurers to offer birth control at no additional cost, a policy supported by 70 percent of Americans. This policy is also supported by a majority of Catholics despite continuing opposition by Catholic bishops. Studies show that free contraception drastically reduces the number of abortions in the country, a goal for all

Expanded Early Childhood Education: Two-thirds of people in the country support universal pre-kindergarten for all four-year-olds and an expansion of other early childhood education programs. Without these and other education reforms, we have fallen far behind many other developed countries. And add higher education to reform by drastically reducing costs for public higher education.

Single-payer Health Care: Traditional Medicare administrative costs are 1 percent, costs for a combination of traditional and private insurer Medicare is 6 percent, and administrative costs for private insurers for the rest of the people is 20 percent—sometimes more. The solution to saving money is “Medicare for all.”

Environmental Protections: Industrial expansion and growth of cities are causing land resources to dwindle, factory waste is polluting water sources, poisonous gas is polluting the air, and deserts are spreading. Resources on this planet are finite, and humans need to make the Earth sustainable for future generations.

Equal Rights for Men and Women: Alice Paul wrote the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in 1923; it passed both chambers of Congress in 1972 but failed to get the necessary 28 number of ratifications by the deadline a decade later. The amendment very simply stated, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Twenty-one states have a version of the ERA in their constitutions.

Also think about the rest of Bernie Sanders’ agenda: Voting Rights, Cuts in Defense Spending, Public Funding of Campaigns for Elected Officials, Increased Social Security Benefits, Tax Reform to Reverse Income Inequity, Reproductive Rights (which helps both men and women), and Unemployment Reform. 

Happy Thanksgiving!


November 9, 2013

November Moves LGBT Rights Forward

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 9:08 PM
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The month of November is not even one-third gone, and the news of LGBT acceptance across the country has been amazing:

  • Rep. Mike Michaud (D-ME), candidate for the state’s governor, came out as gay after his opposition started a “whisper” smear campaign about his sexual orientation.
  • Across the country, 54 LGBT candidates won, including the candidates for mayors of Houston and Seattle.
  • Shortly after his Tuesday win for Virginia governor, Terry McAuliffe pledged to ban discrimination against LGBT state employees.
  • A federal judge upheld New Jersey’s law banning gay conversion therapy for minors, and Washington, D.C. is working on a similar law.

Around the world, Ireland is making a move toward marriage equality, and the First Lady of Zambia called for an end to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The most publicized movement toward LGBT rights in the past week was the Senate passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) for the first time in 17 years. The late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) first introduced ENDA in the Senate two years earlier. Before he died in 2009, he asked Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR)—one of my senators!—to continue the effort.

Thirty-two GOP senators opposed the bill that could end employment discrimination in the 60 percent of the states that can legally discriminate against LGBT workers. Ten other Republicans voted in favor of the proposed law, and three GOP senators failed to vote. ENDA adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the job-protected categories of age, disability, gender, race, and religion.

Some House Republicans such as Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) are smart enough to know that the GOP needs to show more tolerance. He would be willing to support the law, but House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has promised to keep the bill from a vote in that chamber.

“No one should face discrimination in the workforce,” Boehner claimed in April when he asserted that LGBT people are already protected in their jobs:

“There are ample laws already in place to deal with this. Having been the chairman of the Education & Workforce Committee, I’m quite familiar with employment law.”

The majority of voters support legislation that protects LGBT workers from discrimination. Polls also show that many people wrongly believe that laws protect LGBT people on the job. No federal law or regulation prevents employers from firing LGBT workers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Firing or discriminating against LGBT people is legal in 29 states; firing or discriminating against transgender people is legal in 33 states. You can look at your state laws here. Below is a map showing support for a law that Boehner refuses to take to the House.


Jonathan Pacheco and his boyfriend couldn’t even shop at Walmart in Chickasha (OK). An employee, identified as a janitor, told them, “It is Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” before telling the two men that they weren’t allowed to be in the store.

Pundits have made very strange objections to ENDA:

ENDA is unprincipled and confers special rights. So wrote Ryan T. Anderson in a National Review op-ed that rambled through bigoted excuses ending with the problem of bathrooms, used a half century ago when discussing the Equal Rights Amendment.

ENDA is unnecessary and unpopular. So wrote Ralph Reed in USA Today when he talked about the bill “violating an employee’s right to privacy.” He concluded, “The number of discrimination actions in states that prohibit hiring decisions based on sexual preference is miniscule [sic], suggesting it doesn’t require federal policing.” Actually, between 15 and 43 percent of LGB people have experienced workplace discrimination or harassment, and between 8 and 17 percent have been hired or fired due to their sexual orientation. Up to 41 percent of LGB employees have experienced anti-gay harassment or abuse in the workplace. That number soars up to 90 percent for trans people.

ENDA will make gay people boring. So wrote Patrick Howley in the Daily Caller after he described his own possible homosexuality in a several hundred words. He then sneered at LGBT people and described ENDA as “another anti-business piece of legislation that allows self-identified cultural victims to sue their employers after they get fired.”

The newest right is approaching in Hawaii. Despite far-right protests, the Senate passed a marriage equality bill. An amended bill passed in the House will return to the Senate. If the Senate passes the amended bill, the governor has promised to sign it. Ironically, the possibility of Hawaii legalizing same-sex marriage 20 years ago goaded Congress into passing DOMA, which was the law of the land for 17 years until the U.S. Supreme Court overturned part of it last June. Hawaii’s governor Neil Abercrombie used the SCOTUS decision to make marriage equality in the state a priority to give same-sex couples federal rights.

The Senate opened up its hearing to over 1,000 public comments.Over 5,000 people signed up to address the bill in the House, many of them to delay the vote. IDs were required after people testified on behalf of others and used fake names to get more than one turn. Some people tried to use proxies in an attempt to make the testimony against the bill overwhelming, causing the House to make new rules. Only people with a valid registration number and ID can speak to a bill.

Hawaii police union president Tenari Maafala, an active duty officer, told legislators they would have to “kill” him before he would ever enforce same-sex marriage. He added that denying gay couples the right to marry is not discrimination if it’s against one’s beliefs.

Some Hawaiians tearfully claimed that legalized same-sex marriages would destroy their culture. Historians, however, said that the island did not have the modern marriage before European settlement and that the native people then accepted homosexuality.

The House considered 29 amendments showing such fears about marriage equality as these:

  • Tourists might stop coming from Asia.
  • Sex ed curricula might include same-sex couples or even say that heterosexual relationships are not healthy.
  • People might have to provide lodging to same-sex couples—a requirement already in law.
  • Churches might not be able to discriminate against the LGBT community.

Hawaii-Rep.-Jo-JordanIn a first, openly lesbian Rep. Jo Jordan (D) voted against the bill. No other openly LGBT lawmaker has voted against marriage equality, according to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund. In her district, 75 percent of voters support marriage equality. Jordan said, however, that she had to represent the entire state. A statewide polling shows a 55-percent majority support for legalized same-sex marriage.

Almost 1,000 people spoke before the House passed the bill by 30-19.

A lawsuit has already been filed to slow the ability of same-sex couples to marry even if it becomes law. The people voted for a constitutional amendment asking if legislature could reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples. The state government and attorney general agree that the legislature can then legalize marriage equality. State Rep. Bob McDermott is going to the state circuit courts with the theory that people didn’t understand what their vote meant. His position is opposite from anti-marriage equality supporters in California who argued that the will of the people was absolute.

McDermott also worries that marriage equality will force Dick and Jane books to show Dick and Dick or Jane and Jane. Rep. Gene Ward (R) worried about “mama bears” threatened by a penis entering an anus. (What is with this GOP preoccupation with sex!?)  

Marriage equality in Hawaii has had a long 20-year journey since the state Supreme Court ruled that refusing a marriage license to Ninia Aehr and Genora Dancel was discriminatory and illegal. The Senate plans to finish the journey on Tuesday when it takes up the House’s amended bill. If the bill is passed and marriage equality is not blocked in the courts, same-sex marriages can begin December 2 of this year, and Hawaii becomes the 16th state in the union to recognize marriage equality.

Yesterday during the debate in the House, a rainbow appeared over the state capitol building.

rainbow hawaii

October 11, 2013

Day Eleven of the GOP Government Shutdown: Coming Out Day, No Movement

The perfectly natural national obsession with the government shutdown has eclipsed most other events, including the fact that today is the 25th anniversary of National Coming Out Day, an annual celebration to publicly disclose being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. According to the Human Rights Campaign, “Every person who speaks up changes more hearts and minds, and creates new advocates for equality.” This year’s theme is “Coming Out Still Matters.”

The last decade has shown the rapidly increasing acceptance of LGBT people partly because heterosexuals have learned that co-workers, friends, and members of their family are LGBT. The result of this education is a growing understanding that everyone deserves equal rights. Polling data show that many people who changed their minds and now back gay marriage made this decision because they have a friend, acquaintance or relative who is gay.

Last March high-profile conservative Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) reversed his position on marriage equality, approving of it two years after his son came out as gay. Former vice-president Dick Cheney had earlier expressed LGBT support because his second daughter, Mary, is an openly married lesbian with two children. Portman was followed in his support of marriage equality two months later by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who said that knowing a lesbian couple had formed her positive opinion about same-sex marriage.

Wendy and Tom Montgomery are two more people who changed their mind about marriage equality because their 15-year-old son. Five years ago, the couple campaigned for the passage of California’s anti-LGBT Proposition 8, since overturned because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June. Now Wendy Montgomery is leading a movement among her fellow Mormons to push The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to teach that homosexuality isn’t a sin.

Eighteen months ago, Montgomery read her son’s journal and discovered that he is gay. “It made me question everything,” she said. “I’m looking at this 13-year-old boy who is totally innocent and pure and an amazing kid and I think, ‘Either everything I know about homosexuality is wrong, or my son is not really gay. And, he’s obviously gay.’ I kind of had to unlearn everything I had learned.”

A documentary made by the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University follows their story. The organization works with conservative religious families to help them navigate their doctrines while also accepting their gay children. Jordan Montgomery says in the documentary he had suicidal thoughts and was mortified of his parents disowning him.

October represents the 20th LGBT History Month. I personally celebrated the month by marrying my partner of 44 years. After the U.S. Supreme Court gave some benefits to those who marry in a state that recognizes marriage equality, we decided to travel to a state where we could legally marry. Because Oregon doesn’t not recognize LGBT marriage, we could not be married in our hometown where our friends could attend the ceremony. Instead we drove almost 600 miles to gain the same legal benefits that opposite-sex couples have readily available to them.

The ceremony was a wonderful event because it was in the presence of highly supportive people. Yet we always wonder if some people around us are disapproving, a distinct difference from people who enjoy opposite-sex marriages. I’m sure that none of them thinks about the possibility that someone might disapprove of their getting married on the basis of personal beliefs.

We are fortunate to live in a state adjacent to one that recognizes legal marriage equality: this is not true for people living in half the states of this country. And even with marriage equality in 14 states, New Jersey being the most recent because of a judicial decision, more LGBT people suffer from the danger of being fired from their jobs because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. Only 21 states outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, and even fewer, 17, based on gender identity or expression. Also tragic are the LGBT people living in more than half the states who cannot legally adopt their partners’ children. Wikipedia has a superb, up-to-date view of LGBT rights—and lack of rights.

Judge Mary C. Jacobson of the New Jersey State Superior Court defined the problem of keeping rights from LGBT people:

“There is no ‘public interest’ in depriving a class of New Jersey residents their constitutional rights while appellate review is pursued. On the contrary, granting a stay would simply allow the State to continue to violate the equal protection rights of New Jersey same-sex couples, which can hardly be considered a public interest.”

Even with her ruling, same-sex couples married in New Jersey, permissible starting on October 24, are ineligible for federal tax and retirement benefits and for spousal coverage under Medicare. In addition, a person cannot sponsor a New Jersey spouse for noncitizen’s residency.

Two women trying to get married in their home state of North Carolina are 79-year-olds Carole Kaiser and Mary Burson (below), who raised eight children and had 13 grandchildren during their 40 years together. Their reverend and approximately 70 other supporters accompanied them to the Henderson County Register of Deeds officer where they were refused a marriage license.

Old lesbians

Many same-sex couples talk about how they feel differently after they are legally married. My partner and I also discussed this issue. After an interesting discussion, we came to the conclusion that we now feel that the law cannot separate us or damage us because of our relationship, as it might have done before. We LGBT people need the same certainty of non-discrimination in every part of our lives.

One small caveat about coming out. This is not for every LGBT person, as Preston Mitchum pointed out in The Atlantic. A person’s demographics—racial, geographic, financial, etc.—can make a declaration of gender identity and sexual orientation dangerous. I largely concealed my lesbianism for 23 years because I feared losing my job; my partner did so for longer than that. Coming out can result in workplace discrimination, family rejection, physical violence, and unfair criminalization. We always need to remember that staying in the proverbial closet may be more difficult than coming out.

A fellow blogger occasionally writes about heroes. My hero for this Coming Out Day is Joe Bell, Jadin Bell’s father, who started a cross-country journey after bullying caused his gay son to commit suicide. After Bell left La Grande (OR) last spring, his planned two-year walk to New York became an inspiration as he raised awareness about LGBT youth with many individuals and groups.

Jadin Bell

Bell’s journey abruptly ended two nights ago after he was struck and killed by a semi-truck in the Colorado plains. “I didn’t want Jadin’s death to be in vain,” Bell had said. “We need to look at people for who they are and not who we think they should be.” Hopefully, Bell’s message will help make that change. As the last post on his Facebook page stated, “Making headway, one step at a time.”

Today is also International Day of the Girl! Go to their website for an awesome graphic of their declaration.


Last night, the House GOP leadership offered to vote as early as today to extend the debt ceiling for six weeks and negotiate to end the 11-day government shutdown. The House also plans to meet tomorrow morning. So maybe raise the debt ceiling for a few days but still hold the country hostage.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) gave the best assessment of the GOP offer: “I was surprised that the House decided to deal only with the debt limit and not with the continued closure of government. I think that we have to deal with both issues, and we need to do so quickly.”

Today Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told Fox network that the GOP is to blame for the ongoing debacle: “We … shut down the government on a fool’s errand that we were not going to accomplish.” His comments were made shortly after Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) spoke at the conservative Values Voter where he referred to protesters as “Obama’s paid political operatives.” A recent poll shows Cruz at a 14-percent favorability rating.

After a meetiing with President Obama today, some Republican comments show that GOP leaders are tired of the blame and may find a way to open the government without too much embarrassment for their bad behavior. Collins, however, said that it was a “good exchange” but “an inconclusive exchange.” We’ll have to wait and see.

Meanwhile members of the Congress are still being paid and still using their taxpayer-funded gym.

June 26, 2013

SCOTUS Awards LGBT Rights; Davis Fights for Women’s Rights

Forty years ago, homosexuals were mentally ill. Ten years ago gays and lesbians were criminals. Today LGBT people can legally marry the people they love. Yesterday was the day that my partner and I celebrate as our anniversary because marriage equality is illegal in Oregon. It was our 44th anniversary. Without the same Social Security benefits that legally married people receive, my partner has lost well over $100,000. We don’t know how much we have lost in other benefits because of the discrimination against same-sex couples.

The Stonewall riots, hailed as the dawning of the gay rights movement, started in New York’s Greenwich Village on June 29, 1963, also 44 years ago. But today is a new day because the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1996 federal statute defining marriage as between one woman and one man.

Listening to the U.S. Supreme Court as they dribbled out their rulings for the past session was exactly like riding a rollercoaster: yesterday, they destroyed the voting rights of almost half the people in the country, and today they gave federal rights to all married same-sex couples. They also refused to allow standing of those protesting marriage equality in California so that same-sex couples there might have the right to marry. If that is true, one-third of people in the U.S. will live in a jurisdiction that has legalized marriage equality.

In its traditional 5-4 vote, SCOTUS ruled that, for federal purposes, marriage as defined as being between one man and one woman is unconstitutional. This ruling was in response to a case about Edie Windsor, who was charged federal estate taxes after Thea Spyer, her partner of 44 years, died. Yet they let stand Section 2 of DOMA permitting each state its own definition of marriage. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the 26-page opinion, and dissenters Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia, mostly joined by Clarence Thomas, wrote another 47 pages.

Kennedy wrote that DOMA “violates basic due process and equal protection principles applicable to the federal government” and intrudes on the states’ traditional role in defining marriage. His opinion also stated that the law “instructs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriages of others.”

Confusion will undoubtedly reign after the ruling because Kennedy also wrote, “This opinion and its holding are confined to those lawful marriages,” possibly just those authorized by the state of New York. Yet he also said, “The federal statute [DOMA] is invalid.” This is a very broad ruling, which is why Scalia, in particular, was apoplectic.

Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas opined that the court should not have taken the case because the House of Representatives had no right to appeal lower court decisions after President Obama stopped defending DOMA. Justice Samuel Alito disagreed, saying Congress did have that power. Whether or not it had any right to appeal, the House spent $2.3 of taxpayers’ money to support DOMA in the courts.

The majority did rule on the lack of standing in the case about California’s Prop. 8, stating that the private proponents of the measure, many of them living outside California, lacked the legal right to defend the proposition in federal courts. Supposedly, this ruling from SCOTUS did not change the district judge’s ruling that Prop 8 is unconstitutional. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals also declared Prop 8 unconstitutional. Dissenters in SCOTUS on the Prop 8 case were an odd mix: liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor joined Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito in disagreeing with the majority that included the ultra-conservative Scalia.

Although there may be more litigation regarding Prop 8, the governor told clerks that they would start issuing marriage licenses after the 9th Circuit Court takes care of its paperwork by lifting a year-long order that stopped the ban from going into effect until the Supreme Court reviewed the case. There might be a question about whether District Court Judge Vaughn Walker had the right to overturn Prop 8 for the entire state or for just his jurisdiction. The only definite conclusion is that the two couples in the Prop 8 case before SCOTUS will receive marriage licenses from the Clerks of Alameda and Los Angeles Counties.

How people would vote today in California, no one knows, polls show a movement toward majority acceptance of marriage equality; many people voted in favor of Prop 8 because of the lies from supporters about effects of marriage equality; and the Mormon Church, that paid as much as 70 percent of the campaign funds to support Prop 8, may not be as generous another time around.

With California now considered to accept marriage equality, 13 states and a few other jurisdictions, including Washington, D.C. and Native American reservations, have legalized same-sex marriage. This is one of the best maps describing the different same-sex couple laws across the U.S.

The hope is that same-sex couples may now start having rights in the military and in immigration that were prevented before this ruling. As Kennedy said in his ruling, “Under DOMA, same-sex married couples have their lives burdened, by reason of government decree, in visible and public ways…from the mundane to the profound. He mentioned healthcare, tax preparation, Social Security, and other benefits—even a person’s child can legally be kidnapped by an unmarried spouse.

A New York City immigration judge immediately stopped the deportation proceedings of Steven, a Colombian man legally married to Sean Brooks. The Center for American Progress has 14 fact sheets showing federal benefits that legally married same-sex couples will now have.

One expects crackpot responses to SCOTUS, but Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) may have achieved the strangest one in a performance on the Glenn Beck when the presidential wannabe asked of marriage, “Does it have to be humans?” (I’ll have another batch of crazy comments in my upcoming Sunday “religion” blog.)

The DOMA and Prop 8 rulings overshadowed a mind-blowing event in Texas. State Sen. Wendy Davis (D-TX) filibustered an unbelievable vicious, evil woman-hating anti-abortion in the state’s Senate. The bill stops abortions at 20 weeks as well as closes 37 clinics, leaving only five clinics that provide abortions throughout a state that is 773 miles wide and 790 miles long. Some of the 26 million people would have to drive 600 miles in order to have the opportunity to comply with a federal law.

The term “filibuster” has gained a benign connotation because of the U.S. Senate rules that allows one senator to call from his comfortable couch to say “I filibuster” and then return to the sports channel. Filibuster in this case means that Davis stood–with no support, no leaning, no bathroom breaks, no food, no liquid, no nothing—for almost 12 hours and talked about the bill and nothing else. She even got one violation for talking about sonograms although that’s part of the anti-abortion game in Texas.

Davis had to last until midnight to keep the chamber from voting before the deadline of the special session. Her third “violation,” another being when a colleague touched her when fascinating her a back brace, came before midnight, but hundreds of protesters disrupted the vote, shouting “Let her speak,” so that the vote could not be started until after the deadline.

At this time, events become even more bizarre. The vote on the bill wasn’t finished until a few minutes after midnight. In their eagerness to terrorize women, however, Republican senators changed the time stamp to before midnight, thinking that this would pass the bill.

After images of both the before and after images of the stamp change were posted on the Texas Tribune’s live blog showing the accurate time stamp of 12:02 am, the Senate went into a closed-door caucus. At 3:00 am, they said that the bill did not pass because Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst didn’t have time to sign it before midnight. Nothing about changing the time stamp.

In an ironic twist, Davis could be redistricted from her Fort Worth area after SCOTUS ruled yesterday that Texas can do gerrymandering districts. The state failed earlier because of the now-overturned Voting Rights Act.

More than 150,000 people watched the livestreamed session. Even President Obama tweeted his support for Davis. Gov. Rick Perry has declared a 30-day special session starting on July 1 to “address” the anti-abortion bill because the legislature needs to maintain “decency.” Nothing about the “decency” of illegally changing the timestamp for the vote.

It’s the GOP strategy: vote; if it fails, cheat; if that fails, hold another vote. The House has done it 37 times on Obamacare.

December 8, 2012

NOW Comes to Town, Part 3

The first two blogs about NOW issues discussed women’s reproductive rights, violence against women, and racism. Following are additional issues regarding the current inequality of women.

Lesbian Rights: Currently the GOP is spending our taxpayer money, by now over $1.5 million, to continue the ban on marriage equality. Inability to be married discriminates against same-sex couples in more than 1000 federal laws, many of them costing a great deal of money. Although lesbians and gays are now permitted to openly serve in the military, their partners lack the same rights as married partners, refusing them housing and other benefits. People complain about the possibility of paying taxes on health benefits from their employers, but gays and lesbians are already forced to do this if their employers insure their partners.

During its current term, the U.S. Supreme Court will determine whether LGBT people will continue to endure these inequities.

Economic Justice: During the fall campaign, conservatives kept claiming that women cared far less about reproductive rights than they did in the economy. They refused to recognize that reproductive rights influence women’s economic status: if women cannot plan their families, they have less chance to meet their economic needs. In addition to reproductive rights, NOW addresses a wide range of women’s economic justice issues including welfare reform, livable wages, job discrimination, pay equity, housing, social security, and pension reform.

The GOP denies the fact that women are paid over 20 percent less than men for the same types of jobs. Conservatives also want to reduce Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid payments which many women desperate need because of their lower pay. Over a lifetime, women will receive almost $500,000 on average less than men during a 40-year career, which then figures into less savings and Social Security benefits. More than twice as many women seniors live in poverty than male seniors.

The poverty rate for women is almost 40 percent higher than for men; 14.5 percent of all women lived in poverty in 2010. More than 17 million women live in poverty compared to 12.6 million men. A greater number of Hispanic women, 25 percent, live in poverty, and 25.6 percent of black women are at or below the poverty level. More than 40 percent of single mothers now live in poverty. The GOP solution is marriage, but conservatives ignore problems of domestic abuse and the poverty of men who would become their husbands. 

When women banded together to fight these economic inequities, the Supreme Court struck them down. Twelve years ago, a lawsuit, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, exposed the company’s discrimination against women in pay and promotions, but SCOTUS said that women could not file a class-action suit because the group was too large to share “common claims.”

After the court reinforced the practice of discrimination, Congress introduced the Equal Employment Opportunity Restoration Act (EEORA). The majority of GOP representatives resulting from conservative state legislators’ gerrymandering will surely keep this act from passing the House. The Senate has already failed to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act because the GOP filibustered it, requiring 60 votes to move forward, eight votes more than it had—a majority of the Senate.

The most recent accomplishment for women’s economy was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first bill that President Obama signed into law. The law overturned SCOTUS’s ruling that complaints have to filed within the first six months after receiving a pay check whether the employee knows if there is any discrimination. Fortunately, Mitt Romney was not elected president because he would never say whether he would try to overturn the Ledbetter Act.

Most of the public is aware that women are paid less than men. Not as many people know that women are charged more than men for goods and services. And there’s no federal law against this discrimination. People would never accept a difference in charges on the basis of race, but they seem to accept that one gender has to pay more than another for the same thing.

 Insurance companies charge women $1 billion more than men for the same coverage, according to a recent report from the National Women’s Law Center. The reason isn’t maternity care; almost one-third of plans without this provision have higher charges for women of at least 30 percent or more. This inequity will stop as part of Obamacare at the beginning of 2014 unless conservatives overturn this law.

Cleaners charge more for “blouses” than men’s “shirts.” Women’s deodorant costs 30 cents more than men’s. Hair cuts are more expensive for women even if they get the same service. Men’s sneakers are taxed at 8.5 percent, while women’s sneakers are taxed at 10 percent.

In 2006, the Consumer Federation of America reported that women were 32 percent more likely than men to get saddled with costly, high-interest subprime loans–even in cases in which their credit ratings and credit histories were better than the men’s. As a result, women have been forced to pay thousands more in interest.

Twenty years ago, Ayres published a landmark study proving that women consistently paid more for cars than men did. Studies since then have shown that women continue to pay more. Black women suffered the most in extra charges when purchasing cars, an average of $400 more than men.

Equal Rights Amendment: Over 90 years ago,   Alice Paul, who was sometimes imprisoned for her activism in the women’s suffrage movement, wrote the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The text was a simple sentence: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

Introduced to Congress for the first time in 1923 and every year until it finally passed 40 years ago in 1972, the ERA was given only 7 years to gain ratification by three-fourths of the states. Richard Nixon endorsed the ERA after its passage in 1972, and 30 states ratified the ERA within the first year. The impetus slowed, however, and some states rescinded the ratification leaving the ERA with only 35 of 38 states required for becoming an amendment. Failing this, the ERA continues to be introduced and continues to fail every year since 1972.

Winning this equality continues to be one of NOW’s top priorities. For more NOW issues concerned with equality for all women, go to NOW’s website. And find a NOW chapter near you.

September 29, 2012

Edie Windsor Fights for LGBT Rights

Last week I had the opportunity to see Edie and Thea: A Very Long Engagement and meet one of the subjects of the film, Edith Windsor. Now 83, Edie met her beloved Thea Spyer in 1965. They got engaged in 1967 and lived together in Greenwich Village until Thea’s death in 2009. The film shows them through the best of times and the most difficult. Thea was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1977, and Edie spent much of the next 30 years caring for her as her health deteriorated.

When Thea was told in 2007 that she might have only a year to live, the couple decided to stop waiting for legalized marriage in New York and settling on a Canadian civil ceremony. Filmmakers Susan Muska and Greta Olafsdottir directed this intimate documentary about two women who stayed in love and maintained their relationship despite legal, societal, and health barriers.

The film touched me even more, perhaps, because my partner and I have been together over 43 years, meeting and beginning our relationship just two years after Edie and Thea did. We experienced discrimination and struggles throughout the same four decades until the more liberal times of the 21st century that still refuses us legalized federal marriage benefits.

Receiving little attention from the world outside the LGBT community, the film might not have gained greater visibility if the U.S. government had not taxed Edie a whopping $363,000 in estate taxes after Thea’s death. The amount of taxes makes the couple sound wealthy; they weren’t. In the 1960s they bought a home in Manhattan and a cottage in the Hamptons, the latter for only $35,000. Inflation increased the value of Edie’s home, drastically increasing the “death tax.” The only reason that she had to pay this federal estate tax is that she and Thea weren’t married in the United States; they couldn’t get married because federal law didn’t allow them to marry. Legally married husbands and wives would not have to pay any of this money.

So Edie sued. In June, a federal district judge in New York decided in Edie’s favor, ruling that section three of DOMA unconstitutionally discriminates against married same-sex couples. Over 18 months ago, President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder had determined that DOMA was unconstitutional and that they would no longer defend this misguided Congressional act in court. Yet Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) begs to differ; under his guidance, a House committee with a Republican majority has used tax-payer money to employed Paul Clement for a minimum of $1.5 million to defend DOMA and prevent marriage equality.

Two days ago the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in the case. In his opening statements, Clement admitted that he didn’t have a good argument: “There’s no way to preserve the definition of marriage [as one man and one woman] other than by preserving the definition. It becomes somewhat circular.”

Clement tried to support DOMA with 1972’s Baker v. Nelson, in which two men tried to strike down Minnesota’s ban on same-sex marriage. In this case, the Supreme Court let stand a state law that limited marriage to different sexes, and Clement argued that the appeals court should abide by that precedent in upholding DOMA. Baker was a summary decision without written briefs and oral argument and contained no explanation other than that the constitutional claim of Baker and McConnell did not raise a “substantial federal question.”

Clement acknowledged that times may have changed during the past 40 years but added, “The only thing that hasn’t changed is this court’s obligation to follow Supreme Court precedent.” There is precedent for overturning past Supreme Court decisions during that time. For example, during the 40 years since Baker, 1986’s Bowers v. Hardwick ruling that upheld laws against sodomy was overturned in 2003 by Lawrence v. Texas. Also the Roberts court does not have a reputation “to follow Supreme Court precedent.”

In his rebuttal at the end of the oral arguments, Clements said that saving money is a good reason to preserve DOMA and Congress was “preserving the scope of the benefits programs the way they’ve always been.” He also went back to 1885’s Murphy v. Ramsay that required Utah to declare marriage between a man and a woman as a provision of statehood.

In its 1885 ruling, the Supreme Court wrote that “no legislation can be supposed more wholesome and necessary in the founding of a free, self-governing commonwealth … than that which seeks to establish it on the basis of the idea of the family [is] consisting in and springing from the union for life of one man and one woman in the holy estate of matrimony.” That definition of marriage is “the sure foundation of all that is stable and noble in our civilization; the best guaranty of that reverent morality which is the source of all beneficent progress in social and political improvement.”

Murphy relied on the Dred Scott case, that decided in 1857 that slaves are not citizens of the United States, to reference the “traditional understanding” of marriage.

To summarize Clement’s arguments to preserve DOMA:

  • Supreme Court rulings should not be overturned, no matter how times change;
  • The definition of marriage comes from rulings that prevented polygamy and ensured slavery;
  • All matrimony is “holy” and not civil;
  • Saving money is a good reason to deny rights to LGBT people.

Louisiana’s governor Bobby Jindal has an even stronger reason for opposing marriage equality. He thinks that legalizing same-sex marriage will overturn the Second Amendment: “The reality is today we’re talking about redefining marriage. If the court is allowed to impose and write their own laws and their own views, and overturn those that are done by our duly-elected representatives, what’s to stop today’s [indistinguishable]. Tomorrow it may be property rights, maybe it’s Second Amendment rights. We have got to take a stand against judicial activism.”

While the government can’t prove that it will lose money if marriage equality is legalized, LGBT people can prove that they lose money without it. After a gay, lesbian or bisexual senior dies, the surviving partner is denied Social Security survivor benefits, taxed heavily on any retirement plans inherited from their partners that legal husbands or wives don’t pay, and charged estate tax on inheriting a home even if it is jointly owned.

Surviving partners will probably be forced out of their homes if their names are not on the title, a situation that would not occur if they were legally married. The same thing happens if partners enter nursing homes: federal Medicaid law permits a married spouse to remain in the couple’s home when a husband or wife enters a nursing home but does not grant unmarried couples the same right. These are only a few of the 1000+ federal laws that discriminate against the LGBT community.

Despite a serious heart condition and her grief after the loss of Thea, Edie exudes a positive attitude, displaying an amazing joy for life and enthusiasm for people. Meeting her will continue to be one of the highlights of my life. Thank you for fighting for our rights, Edie!

August 1, 2012

Chick-fil-A and Health Care Day, Ironic Combination

Today was Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day. At least that’s what Mike Huckabee wanted. After the president, Dan Cathy, came out with his anti-LGBT statements on the Biblical Recorder, Jim Henson Co. pulled its toys as giveaways in the stores and gave the money already received from the company to GLAAD. At least two mayors (Boston and Chicago) have said that the franchises are not welcome there, throwing fuel on the Chick-fil-A Wars.

Huckabee, who lost 105 pounds before he gained some back, invited the people of the United States to gain weight at Chick-fil-A. He called on people to honor “the godly values we espouse by simply showing up and eating at Chick-fil-A” today. It was estimated that 600,000 people showed up, gaining about 300,000 pounds if they each ate the Deluxe chicken Sandwich meal and the brownie sundae.

The arguments against protesting against Chick-fil-A is that people who own companies should be able to have their own opinions and we should all be tolerant. Lawsuits, however, show that the company walks its bigoted talk.  Houston resident Aziz Latif, 25, was praised as a “great manager” a week before he was fired in 2000 after four years with the company. His lawsuit against Chick-fil-A in 2002 claimed that he was fired the day after he refused to pray to Jesus during a training session. Latif also charged that the company refused to pay his medical bills and expenses while he was a participant in Chick-fil-A’s employee benefit plan. The case has been settled on undisclosed terms.

More recently, Brenda Honeycutt, is also suing the company for gender discrimination. Jeff Howard, the owner and operator of a Duluth (GA) Chick-fil-A, fired Honeycutt on June 27, 2011, so she could be a “stay home mother.” According to court documents, Howard held meetings without Honeycutt present and eventually replaced her with a male employee. Before her firing, Honeycutt’s performance had been “satisfactory-to-above satisfactory.”

Religious guru Kevin Swanson displayed his ignorance on two fronts when he joked about muppets being sodomites and wondered if they supported NAMBLA, the North American Man-Boy Love Association which normalizes pedophilia. It’s probably impossible to teach Swanson that homosexuality and pedophilia are not the same. He’s also unaware that the muppets were sold to Disney years ago. No muppets were ever provided to—or removed from—Chick-fil-A.

The debate about the homophobia that Chick-fil-A’s president displayed,  isn’t helping the company. Market research firm YouGov reports that Chick-fil-A’s BrandIndex score had fallen 40 percent nationally since Dan Cathy’s anti-LGBT announcement. The BrandIndex score averages other measurements, including “quality, impression, value, reputation, satisfaction and willingness to recommend.” On July 19, 2012, Chick-fil-A’s score was 65, one of the highest in the industry; less than one week later it was at 39. The score in the South fell from 80 to 44, and the brand went from 76 to 35 in the Northeast.

Not all Chick-fil-A franchises are anti-LGBT. The only one in New Hampshire, owned by Anthony Picolia, is a major sponsor of NH Pridefest to be held in Manchester on August 11 this year. Picolia said, “In both my personal and professional life, I have had and continue to have positive relationships with family, friends, customers and employees in the LGBT community. It would make me sad if someone felt that they were not openly welcomed into my life or restaurant based on their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender.”

The money from the franchises, however, has made billionaires out of the owners Dan Cathy, 59, and Donald Cathy , known as Bubba, the two sons of Chick-fil-A’s founder, Samuel Truett Cathy. The money that feeds to the corporation goes not only to the millions that Dan Cathy has personally donated but also to the $19.5 million that the corporation has also given anti-LGBT organizations. Each of the company’s 1,615 locations averaged gross sales $2.9 million in 2011, $400,000 more than runner-up McDonalds. The company also operates restaurants under the names Truett’s Grill and Dwarf House.

August 1 is also a day of real celebration for 47 million women in the United States. It’s the first day that all new and renewing health plans must cover a number of health services—free!  This is the day that insurers have to provide women free contraception, saving everyone who wants it about $50 per month. Women who use contraceptives consistently and correctly will have only five percent of all unintended pregnancies. Also free are well woman visits; mammograms; pap tests; screening for gestational diabetes; domestic violence screening and counseling; breastfeeding support, supplies, and counseling; HPV testing; screening for sexually transmitted infections and counseling for sexually-active women; HIV screening and counseling; and DNA testing for high-risk strains of HPV.

If we can keep the Republicans from overturning the Affordable Care Act, 2014 is the year that insurance companies can’t charge women more than men for the same health plans. At that time no one can be denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions.

The Affordable Care Act is making Republicans more and more incensed, causing them to scale up their egregious statements. In decrying this day of celebration for women, Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA) said, “I know in your mind you can think of times when America was attacked. One is December 7th, that’s Pearl Harbor day. The other is September 11th, and that’s the day of the terrorist attack. I want you to remember August the 1st, 2012, the attack on our religious freedom. That is a day that will live in infamy, along with those other dates.”

Kelly’s objection is apparently to the loss of freedom because women will now receive contraception. Almost 5,000 women die of pregnancy-related causes each year in the United States. Almost 40,000 women die of breast cancer each year. Another 4,000+ women die of cervical cancer, almost entirely caused by HPV, each year. Infant mortality in the United States is 5.28 per 1,000 live births; 25 other countries have a lower mortality rate. As Krauthammer said about Romney, I have no adjectives to describe these men who think that women don’t deserve contraception.

It’s ironic that conservatives define “freedom” as keeping women from getting adequate health care just as Dan Cathy may define freedom as taking away rights from LGBT people. Today I celebrated by feeling joyful that millions of women in this country will have a better life because of President Obama’s health care act.  Someday I’ll celebrate the day that LGBT people gain their freedom.

If you missed Chick-fil-A today, you might want to support LGBT-rights activists when they gather Friday outside Chick-fil-A locations for National Same-Sex Kiss Day. They plan to embrace in kiss-ins to draw attention to the company’s donations to anti-marriage-equality groups.

Note: Just as I was posting the above blog, I received this from friend Christie Gibrich, a wonderful youth librarian in Texas, of all places. It’s worth reading. Thanks for writing this, Christie!

May 9, 2012

Today – An ‘Historic Day’!

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 9:01 PM
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The day started with non-stop news about a thwarted plot to plant a high-explosive bomb on an airplane and finished with an all-consuming focus on President Obama’s announcement that he has personally accepted the concept of civil marriage equality. For the first issue, Fox News accused the president of either using this for political fodder or being stupid to let this news leak. Curiously enough the conservative news channel started with the marriage equality news that Obama had started a “war on marriage” but soon erased that statement by changing it to just a flip-flop situation. Shepard Smith even declared that Obama is “in the 21st century” while Republicans are “on the wrong side of history.”

To be perfectly clear, the president didn’t say that he would fight to change policy in this area. His statement referred only to his personal viewpoints. As always, he’s easing himself into the water of politics on this issue. But he’s gone farther than just his big toe—maybe even up to the knees by now. But, as Rachel Maddow pointed out in her description of past presidents’ attitude toward marriage equality, he has gone far, far beyond what any earlier president has done to create equality in many areas of LGBT life.

Repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: When President Obama signed the bill that repealed this discriminatory law, gays and lesbians were able to openly serve in the military in the same way that heterosexuals can. (September 20, 2011)

Ending the Legal Defense of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA): President Obama and the Attorney General announced that the Department of Justice would not defend Section 3 of DOMA because preventing marriage equality is unconstitutional. (February 2011)

Supporting the Respect of Marriage Act: The White House announced it would support this bill, introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Jerrold Nadler, to repeal DOMA and provide equal federal and other legal protections for gay and lesbian couples who marry. (July 2011)

Signing Historic Hate Crimes Legislation: President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law, which extends the coverage of federal hate crimes law to include attacks based on the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill took ten years to pass. (October 28, 2009)

Ensuring Hospital Visitation Rights for LGBT Patients and Their Loved Ones: Following a directive from the President, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) now requires all hospitals receiving Medicare or Medicaid funds—almost every hospital in America–to allow visitation rights for LGBT patients. The President also directed HHS to ensure that medical decision-making rights of LGBT patients are respected. (January 19, 2011)

Preventing Bullying Against LGBT Students: President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, the Department of Education, and the Department of Health and Human Services convened students, parents, and teachers, in addition to non-profit leaders, advocates, and policymakers, for the first White House Conference on Bullying Prevention. (March 2011)

Developing and Implementing a National HIV/AIDS Strategy: President Obama developed and released the United States’ first comprehensive plan for responding to the domestic HIV epidemic. (December 1, 2011) He also signed legislation reauthorizing the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program for four years to provide critical health services to uninsured and underinsured people living with HIV. (October 30, 2009) The Administration has also prioritized funding increases for HIV prevention, care, and research in each successive President’s budget.

Expanding Access to Health Coverage: Because of the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies will no longer be able to discriminate against anyone due to a pre-existing condition after 2014, and insurers can no longer turn someone away just because the person is lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. Through increased research and data collection on health disparities, policymakers will have the knowledge and tools they need to continue to address the health needs and concerns of the LGBT community. In addition, the federal website,, designed to help all consumers find the health insurance best suited to their needs, makes it easy to locate health insurers that cover domestic partners. (March 23, 2010)

Taking Steps to Ensure LGBT Equality in Housing and Crime Prevention: After the first national study of discrimination in housing against LGBT persons, the White House issued a final rule to ensure that the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s core housing programs are open to all persons regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Justice Department also issued guidance stating that Federal prosecutors should enforce criminal provisions in the Violence against Women Act in cases involving same-sex relationships. (January 2012)

Reversing Bush policy to Reject U.N. Human Rights Statement: The White House joined 66 other U.N. member states condemning human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity. (March 18, 2009)

Extending Benefits to Partners of LGBT Federal Employees: President Barack Obama signed the Presidential Memorandum on Federal Benefits and Non-Discrimination giving some benefits, including visitation and dependent-care rights to same-sex partners of LGBT federal employees. extending benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees. Department of State also gave the full range of legally available benefits and allowances to same-sex domestic partners of members of the Foreign Service sent to serve abroad. (June 18, 2009)

Lifting the Travel Ban for People with HIV/AIDS: President Obama published a rule that allowed people with HIV/AIDS to freely travel into the United States. (November 2009)

I could go on and on, including the large number of LGBT people who President Obama has appointed for his administration. One website gives 225 names but does not list a date; there may be more. eQuality lists more of President Obama’s achievements, and Rachel Maddow has devoted much of her May 9, 2012 program to the difference between President Obama and past presidents regarding the LGBT issues.

Suffice it to say, however, today is an historic day for everyone in the United States who believes in equality.

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