Nel's New Day

April 6, 2012

One Heart at a Time: LGBT Rights Progress

The Gay Politics Report comes into my email box a couple of times each week. Usually it has one or two articles that seem to move LGBT rights ahead with the majority providing discouraging news for equality. Somehow this edition was encouraging enough to make me search for even more good news for the LGBT community.

Lesbian chef Mirella Salemi has been awarded $1.6 million from restaurateur Edward Globokar after he held employee prayer meetings at his TriBeCa Mexican eatery, Mary Ann’s, to cure her of her “sexuality.” She worked there for six years before she quit in 2007. Globokar discriminated against employees in his six Manhattan restaurants, telling them they faced eternal damnation unless they went to church.

Joe Abell, an assistant school principal in Fullerton (CA), apologized to student Kearian Giertz after interrupting his speech for the annual Mr. Fullerton competition, walking him off the stage, and telling him he was disqualified. Giertz explained how he received Abell’s ire: “I said, ‘Hopefully, in 10 years time, I’ll be winning Emmys, Oscars and Tonys’–just, you know, the typical answer–and, then, I added, ‘But, more importantly, I’d really, really like to sit on the couch with the person that I love and say I’m married to them. In my case, that would be a male. And, I hope that, in 10 years time, that would be legal.’” Good for you, Kearian. Other students objected to this treatment.

After suing a southwest Ohio school district for not allowing him to wear a t-shirt with the statement “Jesus Is Not a Homophobe,” 16-year-old Maverick Couch will be permitted to wear the shirt for just one day—the Day of Silence that the school commemorates on April 20. That isn’t stopping Couch from continuing his lawsuit against Waynesville High School and the Wayne Local School District for violating his freedom of expression rights. School officials said the shirt was “sexual in nature,” indecent, and inappropriate at school. Couch said he wanted to wear the shirt to “promote respect for all students, gay or straight.” Couch’s attorney, Christopher Clark, said, “A student’s First Amendment rights are not restricted to one day of the year.”

U.S. Chief Judge Michael J. Davis has ruled that a marriage between a man and a transgender woman is legal under Minnesota law and that a health insurance plan could not drop the woman from her husband’s health benefits. The judge said that because one person is male and the other legally transitioned to female, the couple qualifies as legally married under the state’s Defense of Marriage Act. Davis is bucking the past trend of ruling the opposite way. A Texas judge voided a marriage last summer because a firefighter’s widow was born male. Kansas and Florida have had similar rulings based on the states’ Defense of Marriage Acts or state constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage.

The rating for the film Bully has been changed from “R” to PG-13 because three expletives were edited out of the documentary. Bully was released on March 30 with no rating; a re-release with the new rating is scheduled for April 13. The film about school bullying follows five young people for a year. The monthlong rating dispute between The Weinstein Co. that released the film and the MPAA that gives ratings was made more public across the nation after 17-year-old Katy Butler of Ann Arbor (MI) started an online petition calling for a rating that would allow more young people to see it. The “R” rating for Bully for three expletives has been compared to the PG-13 rating for The Hunger Games in which ten teenagers are violently killed.

Four former DNC Chairs–Howard Dean, Donald Fowler, Steve Grossman and David Wilhelm—have joined Freedom to Marry’s Democrats: Say I Do campaign to secure a freedom-to-marry plank in the 2012 Democratic Party platform. The former chairs issued the following statement: ”We are proud that the Democratic Party fights for working families, economic justice, and equal opportunity for all.  Times change but our principles must always remain strong.  That is why, as former chairs of the Democratic National Committee, we stand with Freedom to Marry, 22 Democratic senators, Leader Nancy Pelosi, and more than 35,000 Americans in urging the Party to include a freedom to marry plank in the platform that is ratified at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte this September.”

Robert “Bob” Kabel and Jill Homan have been elected to the posts of Republican national committeeman and committeewoman for the District of Columbia, making it the only jurisdiction with openly gay GOP committee members. Robert “Bob” Kabel and Jill Homan will officially take their positions in September at the conclusion of the 2012 Republican Convention.

The U.S. House of Representatives continues to use LGBT money to defend the Defense of Marriage Act preventing equality of marriage, this time before the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston. Paul Clement defended the discriminatory law, claiming that Congress had a rational basis for passing the law because, in 1996, Hawaii might become the first state in the nation to legalize gay marriage and opponents worried that other states would be forced to recognize such marriages. He also said that Congress wanted to preserve a traditional and uniform definition of marriage and argued that Congress has the power to define the terms used in federal statutes to distribute federal benefits, the first time they would do since the adoption of the Constitution over 200 years ago.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Stuart Delery told the court that the Department of Justice would not be defending the constitutionality of the 1996 law regardless of the level of scrutiny the court found appropriate in the case. He supported that statement with President Obama’s February 2011 decision that Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional because such laws should be subjected to heightened scrutiny and that, accordingly, DOJ would stop defending DOMA in court. He also argued that a law that denies same-sex couples a large number of federal benefits given to heterosexual couples amounts to “across-the-board disrespect.” Assistant Attorney General Maura Healey said “DOMA …. is really a rule of exclusion.” Mary Bonauto, an attorney for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), said Congress passed the law out of “moral disapproval.”

Clement also tried to make the case that DOMA isn’t an anti-gay law. Although DOJ, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and GLAD argued that DOMA was motivated by “animus”—anti-gay sentiment—Clement used the argument that the impact of DOMA was not all bad. “In some cases,” he said, “it’s a net financial benefit to the same-sex couple; in some, it’s not.” Delery quoted from Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion in Lawrence v. Texas, striking down sodomy laws, when Kennedy held that “times can blind us to certain truths and later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress. As the Constitution endures, persons in every generation can invoke its principles in their own search for greater freedom.”

The House of Representatives is appealing a judgment in Massachusetts that declared the heart of the law unconstitutional in 2010. Judge Joseph Tauro found that the law interferes with the right of a state to define marriage and denies married gay couples federal benefits given to heterosexual married couples, including the ability to file joint tax returns. Mary and Dorene Bowe-Shulman, of Acton, plaintiffs in the GLAD lawsuit, said they resent having to check the “single” box on their tax returns because they’ve been legally married in Massachusetts since 2004. “It’s humiliating to have to declare to the federal government once a year that we’re not married when we are married,” Mary Bowe-Shulman said.

Another heated court case may come from the supposed failure of Anchorage’s Proposition 5 that would have included gay and transgender citizens in the anti-discrimination Municipal Code that already protects others based on race, gender, age, marital status and other traits.  Voting was so high that polling places ran out of ballots, thousands of questioned ballots were cast, and some voters may have been illegally turned away from the polls.

Adding to the confusion—and illegality—was the statement from the opposition’s Facebook page from its administrator Jim Minnery: “Attention Young People or First Time Voters – YOU CAN REGISTER AND VOTE AT THE SAME LOCATION TODAY !! It is super easy. Take a few minutes TODAY and stop by a polling station, register to vote (all you need is your AK driver’s license) and cast a NO Vote on Prop. 5. We really need you to vote. Tell at least 3 of your friends how easy it is.” Even when reminded that Alaska requires voters to register 30 days before an election, Minnery didn’t take down his statement.

Meanwhile the Catholic Church in Washington state has declared war on marriage equality. Archbishop J. Peter Sartain and Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo are deploying parishes to collect signatures for Referendum 74, a measure that would overturn marriage equality in the state. Their letter denies Gov. Christine Gregoire’s statement that refusing marriage to same-sex couples equates to discrimination.

“Treating different things differently is not unjust discrimination,” the bishops claim. The Catholic leaders deny that same-sex couples can achieve “the reality of the unique, fruitful, lifelong union.” Showing their sensitivity, the authors of the letter asked that signatures not be gathered on Easter. Both Gregoire and State Sen. Ed Murray, sponsor of the marriage equality bill, are Catholic.

With all the progress, it’s one heart at a time. One conservative mother had her heart changed when she found out that her son is gay. Every anti-LGBT person should read her narrative.


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