May 12, 2010
Posted by: Chris
Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who resigned in disgrace after spending tens of thousands on prostitutes, on whether Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan is gay or not:
“I did not go out with her, but other guys did. I don't think it is my place to say more.”
Spitzer and Kagan apparently ran in the same social circles during their collegiate days at Princeton.
March 31, 2010
Posted by: Chris
Though I wouldn't put it anywhere near the top of the Gay Agenda, the movement to "Queer the Census" to make sure single gay folks are counted makes good sense. After all, the Census is designed to get an accurate count of the demographic sweep of this great nation, and this year marks the first time that gay couples are being permitted to mark themselves as "married."
Even though these same-sex do not specfically have a "gay" box to check, the fact that they mark themselves as having the same gender will make that clear for them. Gay couples who are unmarried but cohabitating are also indirectly counted the same way -- by marking their gender as the same and indicating they are unmarried partners. But there's no way for gay and bisexual Americans to be counted as part of the survey.
Enter the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, which in somewhat typical fashion takes a good idea and decreases its appeal and effectiveness. First of all, they chose to call their effort "Queering the Census," choosing a word that many gay folk would never use to describe themselves.
Second, rather than ask that the Census ask a question about sexual orientation that determines whether each person is straight, bisexual or gay, the Task Force opted to give another option: "lesbian." Maybe this was just the way they're marketing their queer effort, but wouldn't this make more sense:
- Lesbian or Gay
I also wonder where exactly the "gender identity" question would fit in -- including it as a third option after male and female would be offensive to many -- though not all -- transgender Americans. But it doesn't fit with a question about sexual orientation either, since gender identity is an entirely different concept -- something the good folks at the Task Force regularly forget in lumping us together as "LGBT persons."
Perhaps all this could be worked out by the bureaucrats at the Census Bureau, but it seems to me a pretty queer way to ask that you be taken seriously if you haven't thought through such basic questions. The closest the Task Force comes to offering an answer is to offer an apology that, wait for it, "queer" isn't being pushed as a choice:
With the huge bureaucracy that is the federal government, progress comes one small step at a time. The language on our stickers was very specifically chosen because it has been tested in other survey settings and has accurately collected data. This is the exact language we are advocating as part of the Census (minus "straight ally"). Some of our members don't like it and are writing in Queer on their stickers! It's a write-in on a write-in campaign. We encourage everyone to self-report in a manner that feels best for them. This is the case with all Census questions; it's about how you choose to identify yourself!
March 15, 2010
Posted by: Chris
Stop me if you've heard this before. Once again, Democrats in Congress are blaming President Obama for putting the brakes on Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal, as if the White House introduces legislation that the House and Senate can then vote on.
This time around, the finger-pointer is none other than Barney Frank, he that refuses to co-sponsor repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, in an interview with The Advocate's Kerry Eleveld:
But just as the White House has pushed other legislation into the forefront only to back away and watch the congressional fireworks from afar, so it seems to be with ending the military’s gay ban. As Rep. Barney Frank told me Friday, “I’m disappointed with the administration talking about delaying legislation for a year. But I’m working with Patrick Murphy [the lead sponsor of the House repeal bill] on it and I’m hoping we can push ahead.”
Frank has pinpointed the National Defense Authorization Act as “the only vehicle” for overturning the ban legislatively. When I noted that the White House has failed to designate the defense authorization bill over a stand-alone bill as its preferred method for repealing the policy, Frank responded, “That’s because they don’t want it done this year, not because they want it done separately.”
Yes, it's frustrating and disappointing that the president hasn't continued to push DADT repeal as companion legislation for the just-launched Pentagon review of the gays in the military issue. And yes, that Pentagon review could have been been launched a year ago.
But why does Barney Frank, of all people, need leadership from the White House to get the ball rolling on including DADT repeal in the Defense Authorization bill. Is this the same openly congressman who controls the fate of financial reform legislation from his post as chairman of the House Financial Services Committee?
Barney and Andrew Tobias and the gay Democratic elite have been telling us for years that if they controlled Congress, gay rights bills would receive a big push. When they won control in 2006, they said the big push would have to wait until a Democrat won the White House.
Enough with the waiting, and enough with the finger-pointing. Show some leadership, Barney. It's your civil rights at issue here, not Barack Obama's. We are the ones we have been waiting for.
February 16, 2010
Posted by: Chris
Apparently I'm not the only one to notice that for an inside-the-Beltway organization, the Human Rights Campaign appears out of the loop when it comes to pushing for repeal this year of Don't Ask Don't Tell.
The Advocate's Kerry Eleveld put together an excellent report that asks whether HRC under Joe Solmonese is producing anything like the results that could be expected for the amount of resources that "the nation's largest gay political group" siphons from our community. And today, a number of gay progressive bloggers have launched a "blog swarm" targeting HRC.
Eleveld's video report -- anchored by Thomas Roberts, formerly of CNN Headline News, who it's great to see here -- offers Solmonese and longtime behind-the-scenes string-puller Hilary Rosen the opportunity to make the case for HRC's effectiveness, and… well… lets just say that hopefully they do a better of job of advocacy for our rights.
"HRC needs to be as strategic as possible, as accountable as possible, to every member of our community to be laser-focused on what I call closing these very important deals." — Joe Solmonese, HRC president
"I think they are focused on their mission, I think they work for LGBT equality, I think they work for the movement and I think they feel that responsibility really strongly. At the same time I don't think it's an indictment that somebody wants to strategize with them behind closed doors. That to me is something we should be a proud of." — Hilary Rosen, lobbyist and former HRC chair
What those substance-free defenses fail to mask is what's obvious to many: The entire premise for HRC, formerly the Human Rights Campaign Fund, is that our movement needed an organization run by insiders who know how to leverage our community's small size into big results, to play the good cop to the street activists' bad cop, to play ball with the politicians, even as the rest of the movement protests outside the ballpark.
What happened is that Hilary Rosen's ex-wife, longtime HRC executive director Elizabeth Birch, grew HRC into the org that ate the movement, and we were left with only a good cop playing ball with the pols, and not particularly effectively at that. Only in the last several years, with the rise of the blogosphere, the net roots and a new generation of activists has the movement revitalized as something more than a black-tie dinner that relied on its checkbook to buy its equality.
Solmonese, who has headed up the organization since 2005, represents the culmination of the HRC model, a designer label lobbyist whose primary qualification for running the gay rights movement was that he sitteth at the right hand of Rosen, Birch and Emily's List founder Ellen Malcolm. Alongside David Smith, who has been running HRC "strategery" since before most bloggers were born, Solmonese and company have sucked millions from the movement and managed to botch the very tasks they were supposedly so suited to handle.
These consummate lobbyists gave us the legislative debacle back in 2008 over including, then not including, then promising to include, then jettisoning, transgender rights in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. They backed the wrong horse -- that other HRC whose husband gave us DADT and DOMA -- in the Democratic primary, and despite the Democrats historic grip on D.C., they have failed to either mobilize the community or leverage their resources on Capital Hill, to get anything more than hate crimes enacted into law.
So yes, the blog swarm makes good sense, though its sponsors make their own strategic miscues. Their aim is for HRC to "publicly demand that President Obama take the lead in getting DADT repealed this year," meaning:
1. That means the president needs to state publicly that he wants Congress to repeal DADT this year; and
2. The president needs to take the lead in working with Congress to make sure the repeal happens.
As goals go, these should induce more head-scratching that game-changing. All this effort to get the leading gay rights to make a public demand that the president say something he already said, complete with timetable, in his very first State of the Union address.
More broadly, it repeats the very mistake HRC has been making since even before Barack Obama's inauguration, focusing attention on the wrong end of Pennsylvania Avenue. The president made his public commitment and dispatched his leading Defense Department deputies to make his case to Congress.
Now it's time for the Democratic leadership of the House and Senate, which has been demanding our allegiance and our dollars for almost as long as HRC, to get repeal done, making a moratorium and repeal itself a part of the defense budget now working its way through Congress.
I strongly encourage readers of this blog to join in making calls to HRC, but to make a point of focusing their attention on Congress as well as the president, and demanding a DADT moratorium and repeal be included as part of the Defense Department budgetary legislation.
But even as we make these calls or send these emails, let's remember that we cannot simply sit back and expect HRC to do all the heavy lifting for us. That's why John Aravosis over at AmericaBlog claims, "You've done your job. Now it's time for the President, Congress and HRC to do theirs," even as he's telling his readers it's their job to call HRC. Our work -- all of our work -- remains unfinished.
Ultimately, our equality is all our responsibility, and it's up to each and every one of us to keep the pressure on all the key players -- within our movement and our government -- to dispense with business as usual in Washington and end the gross injustice done to gay men and lesbians putting their lives on the line for our freedom.
February 12, 2010
Posted by: Chris
THREE UPDATES: at the end of the post.
Nate Silver notes that opposition among Republicans to repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell has stiffened, even as overall public opinion remains strongly in favor of President Obama's pledge made in the State of the Union Address. His graph shows the percentage of Republicans only in favor of allowing gays to serve openly in the military.
Silver attributes most of the difference in the results to question wording and polling methodology, and certainly on those points we have to defer to his judgment.
But I also bet that at least some portion of the decrease in GOP support for repealing DADT springs from nothing other than President Obama's public pledge to do away with the policy. For way too many Republicans, backing by Obama is all they need to know to join his opposition.
UPDATE: A CBS News/New York Times survey confirms broad support for repealing DADT. The margin favoring allowing gays to serve in the military is 70% to 19%. Among that 70%, the percentage backing service by openly gay soldiers and sailors stands at 58% to 9%.
UPDATE: Politico's Ben Smith points out that even within the CBS News/New York Times, there is substantial disparity, based in large part on whether the DADT question was asked concerning "homosexuals" or "gay men and lesbians." Not surprisingly, "gay men and lesbians" polls better, adding to the total that "strongly favor" allowing gays to serve openly:
UPDATE: A Washington Post/ABC News poll shows even stronger support -- 75% of Americans -- for repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell. Not surprisingly, men, the elderly and conservatives are less supportive, as is knowing someone who is gay:
The percentage of Americans who say they support gays openly serving is … far above the 44 percent who said so in May 1993. In the new poll, majorities across party lines favor such a policy, with support among Democrats (82 percent) and independents (77 percent) higher than among Republicans (64 percent).
The poll also reveals several sharp demographic divides. Men (65 percent) and seniors (69 percent) are far less likely than are women (84 percent) and young adults (81 percent under age 30) to say that gays should be allowed to serve if they have disclosed their sexual orientation. Knowing a gay person makes a big difference: Among those who say they have a gay friend or family member, 81 percent support allowing gay people to serve openly, compared with 66 percent who say they do not know someone who is gay.
February 11, 2010
Posted by: Chris
After three years in exile followed by eight months apart from my partner due to this country's discriminatory immigration and marriage laws, and not particularly caring for the current White House Chief of Staff (and I'm not particularly alone in that view), this GOP valentine just about summed up my sentiments.
I'm not saying Rahm's the R-word or anything, but his Clintonian brand of political arrogance and screw-the-base triangulation is everything Barack Obama ran against in the primaries and does not serve his presidency well.
February 04, 2010
Posted by: Chris
On the subject of the Q&A that President Obama had with House Republicans in Baltimore last week, and with Senate Democrats yesterday, there is a movement afoot to institutionalize something like the weekly Question Time the British prime minister has with members of the opposition in Parliament. You can sign an online petition at DemandQuestionTime.com.
The White House is already signaling resistance to the idea -- no doubt Rahm Emmanuel's handiwork -- and Harry Reid proved just how quickly a great idea can be spoiled by gamesmanship. Yesterday's Q&A with Senate Democrats just so happened to feature moderates facing re-election this year, each of whom asked tough questions of the president that they can now use in campaign commercials back home.
Am I the only one hoping very much that the Republicans unseat Reid this year so we can take our chances with Dick Durbin at the Senate helm?
If you missed last week's at times remarkable exchange, I strongly encourage you to view the video below. As someone strongly sympathetic to the president, I thought he made mincemeat of his critics, but whatever your politics, the largely respectful and meaningful exchange is the type that has been so sorely lacking in Washington for years now.
(Top: House Republican leaders John Boehner of Ohio, Eric Cantor of Virginia and Mike Pence of Indiana watch President Obama address their caucus last week in Baltimore, via New York Times).
Posted by: Chris
In a historic question-and-answer session with House Republicans last week, President Obama chided his audience for painting themselves into a political corner by so demonizing the change agenda of the White House and Democrats that they had no wiggle room to compromise on issues where the two parties share common ground.
You can already see that dynamic at work in the newly resurgent debate over Don't Ask Don't Tell. With all the cover being offered on the issue by a Defense secretary and Joint Chiefs chairman first appointed George W. Bush, you would think that at least some moderate Republicans would position themselves as open-minded on the issue.
But instead, we were treated to pathetic displays of fear-mongering by senators with Southern accents, principally Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Roger Wicker of MIssissippi and Jeff Sessions of Alabama. As someone who has lived in or near those three states for much of my life, let me tell you that their representatives in government ought to show greater self-restraint before once again staining their history by taking the wrong side on yet another civil rights battle.
They're not the only ones. Gay Republicans are trying to muster some excitement about open-minded members of their own party by pointing to Orrin Hatch, the venerable Mormon from Utah, who according to D.C. Big Pappa, a black gay Republican blogger (yes Virginia, there is a black gay Republican) said, "he’s open to repealing DADT, a key signal that the repeal might get true bipartisan support."
Except that it took less than one 24-hour-news-cycle for Hatch to walk back that open-mindendess, blasting "left-leaning media" for "misconstruing" his comments."I certainly do not support repealing this policy," Hatch said in a statementthat slammed "activists" for "misconstruing my position."
You can forgive "left-leaning" types like LaSalvia, and yes I'm being sarcastic, for their misconstruction. Here was the exchange between Mitchell and Hatch:
"I can put you down as being open to it?" Mitchell asked.
"I am," Hatch replied.
Should we now look forward to D.C. Big Pappa's next post, blasting left-leaning blogs and activists for misconstruing his first post for suggesting anything other than Hatch's principled opposition to repealing this important national security policy?
February 03, 2010
Posted by: Kevin
And it was when everyone's cards were put on the table. What we saw in each player's hand was perhaps the most dramatic political moment for us since the Democrats returned to power in Congress in 2006, and added the White House to their column in 2008.
First off, the unassailable position of Admiral Mullen, and his obvious lack of discomfort or reluctance to speak in favor of lifting the ban, is a testament to the long, intense, patient and capable work of Professor Aaron Belkin of the Palm Center, a think-tank at the University of California at Santa Barbara which had put out reams and reams of peer-reviewed research for the better part of a decade dismantling every aspect of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy's effectiveness, and maneuvering among the military scholar community and the highly influential constituencies of current and retired generals and officers. This transformational moment (even more neat in how it was captured on Admiral Mullen's Twitter account, to drive the point of modernization even further home) would not have happened without Belkin and the Palm Center. (Full disclosure: I had the Palm Center as a consulting client from 2002 to 2006, serving as their Washington representative. But Belkin and his band of brilliant scholars, like Dr. Nathaniel Frank, author of "Unfriendly Fire", the definitive book on the policy, were the ones who did all the real work.) I'm not saying that Belkin was directly responsible for Mullen's position, but the work that he did all these years had a great deal to do with the atmosphere among military leaders that resulted in Mullen's position before the Senate.
It also showed the very strong hand of President Obama himself. I have raised a great deal of criticism of this president, from the moment he was elected, and I know that before this week happened I was not alone among many, many gay Americans of every political persuasion. I was simply demanding results from the promises we got. Well, in that moment in the Senate, we got results. This would not be happening were it not for the determination and the seriousness of President Obama and his White House to deliver on this promise, even though he cannot deliver on it alone. He deserves credit and praise for that, and our support in moving it forward.
It also gave retired General Colin Powell the chance to lay his cards on the table. He was quick to join in supporting Mullen, Gates and President Obama in this effort. "[A]ttitudes and circumstances have changed," Powell said in a statement. “I fully support the new approach presented to the Senate Armed Services Committee this week by Secretary of Defense Gates and Admiral Mullen.” This from the man who was Joint Chiefs chairman when the policy was enacted. Yet another score in our favor, perhaps later than it should have been, but Powell also deserves praise for speaking out after years of silence when all private reports in GOP circles was that he has felt this way for a long time.
Finally, another set of cards were laid on the table, and they were infuriating and heart-breaking. Senator John McCain, who told me to my face and to a group of other Log Cabin leaders in his office in 1999, that "the day Colin Powell comes up here and says it's time to change the policy, that's the day we should change the policy" basically showed himself to be a liar. Instead of absorbing the reality of Gates' and Mullen's testimony, and what it represents in terms of active military brass and their desire to move forward, he chided them about usurping Congress' role in the matter. WTF? That's something you'd expect from a haughty, disrespectful cow like Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), not from a war veteran and a man I have always seen as highly honorable. It was a surreal moment for many of us who'd backed and loved John McCain over the years, and it was perhaps the most discouraging and sickening moments I've ever experienced in politics.
However, this was just the first serious round of poker in this effort. A lot of other hands must now be forced, almost entirely within the Democratic ranks of the House and Senate -- the people who will decide whether this policy stays or goes before they lose their majorities (whenever that happens). And that is where all the scholarly work, all the patience of convincing military leaders, where all the lobbying of the White House must take a back seat to the pure, activist politics of holding the feet of Congress to the fire. That means Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. It means the senior Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee: Chairman Ike Skelton of Missouri, John Spratt of South Carolina, Solomon Ortiz of Texas and Gene Taylor of Mississippi (all of whom have been in the basement of the Human Rights Campaign's ratings system for a long time). It also means Carl Levin, who has been a friend before, but also former Klansman Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who has not been one. That's the next gang of characters that must be frontally engaged with every bit of leverage, persuasion, pressure, carrots and sticks alike, by the so-called gay and lesbian leaders at HRC and other elements of the gay Democratic establishment who have been promising and promising and promising and promising in fundraising letter after fundraising letter after fundraising letter for decades now that THEY will be the smartest, the strongest, the "most muscular" lobby imaginable to deliver when the time comes.
Indeed. We'll see.
February 02, 2010
Posted by: Chris
I wrote my first column about gay rights back in 1996 -- now buried somewhere in the archives of Southern Voice newspaper -- about the glaring contraditions in the life and accomplishments of Colin Powell. It seemed irreconciable to me that someone who had benefited so much from President Truman's courageous order to integrate the U.S. armed forces along racial lines, Gen. Powell nonetheless stood in the proverbial schoolhouse door as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and blocked President Clinton in 1993 from ending the ban on gays in the military.
The occasion then was Powell's 1996 autobiography, "An American Journey," and even then the first African American to serve in the nation's top uniformed military post hinted he knew that he would ultimately wind up on the wrong side of history on this issue. It didn't take that long for history to prove him correct.
Today in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Adm. Mike Mullen, the current Joint Chiefs chairman, threw his full support behind President Obama's pledge to repeal the infamous Don't Ask Don't Tell compromise and allow gays to serve openly in the military:
“No matter how I look at the issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens,” Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. He said it was his personal belief that “allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do.”
This wasn't just a military man and his civilian boss, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, following marching orders from the president. Their testimony would have looked very different, focusing entirely on the logistics of removing the ban on servive by openly gay soldiers and sailors.
Instead, conservatives in Congress who slammed Clinton for not listening to the Pentagon on this issue were forced like John McCain today to switch sides themselves and whine about how the military brass was acting like it knew better than the politicians.
“I’m deeply disappointed with your statement, Secretary Gates,” McCain said. … “Your statement obviously is one that is clearly biased without the view of Congress being taken into consideration. … I’m happy to say that we still have a Congress of the United States to repeal 'don’t ask don’t tell,' despite your efforts to repeal it in many respects by fiat.”
This was the same John McCain, just four years ago, promising to defer to the military brass:
[T]he day that the leadership of the military comes to me and says, Senator, we ought to change the policy, then I think we ought to consider seriously changing it because those leaders in the military are the ones we give the responsibility to.
If congressional Democrats can summon a minimum of backbone, still something of an open question, than McCain and his ilk will be consigned to the same dustbin of bigotry as those who opposed racial integration of the military.
(Does anyone in politics today more personify the angry old man grousing at anyone and everyone, already on the wrong side of history even within their own lifetime? If the current leadership of Log Cabin wishes to maintain even a modicum of self-respect among the rest of us, they need to redeem their endorsement of McCain for president by bringing a full court press against Susan Collins and other moderate Republicans to overcome the inevitable GOP filibuster.)
You don't have to be a bigot to back Don't Ask Don't Tell, certainly, but you do have to cater to the bigotry of those who would only serve alongside a gay service member if they don't know their sexual orientation.
"Unit cohesion" has always been the dressed up name for such cowardly conduct, which Admiral Mullen confirmed again today is unbecoming of our military.
(Photo of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen via Washington Post)
January 30, 2010
Posted by: Chris
The Pentagon had been expected to announce its "plan" to implement repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell early next week, but now it appears that the plan is the announcement itself (I've highlighted the most depressing bits):
The Defense Department starts the clock next week on what is expected to be a several-year process in lifting its ban on gays from serving openly in the military.
A special investigation into how the ban can be repealed without hurting the morale or readiness of the troops was expected to be announced Tuesday by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
While the review is likely to take the better part of this year to complete, and even more time to implement, its initiation will advance President Barack Obama's goal of repealing the ban and bring a divisive issue for the military back to the fore.
At the White House, officials continued reviewing options to repeal the Clinton-era policy that the president vowed to repeal. The administration still believes that any repeal should start in Congress and have the backing of top military leaders.
To that end, Obama and Gates planned a meeting next week to discuss, among other topics, ending "don't ask, don't tell" policies. The president was also likely to speak with Mullen, who has signaled he would carry out a repeal if ordered by Obama and Congress.
So a full year after Washington welcomed a president and two houses of Congress in the hands of the "gay-friendly" Democrats committed to repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell, itself signed into law by a Democratic president, we learn that nothing -- absolutely nothing -- has been done to the lay the groundwork for its repeal.
The "big announcement" next week is the formation of a "special investigation" that will take more than a year to complete. So what is there to specially investigate?
Can a soldier be forced to room with someone who is openly gay if they are the same sex? Would the military recognize civil unions and how much would it cost to extend benefits to a service member's partner? Would quotas be imposed to ensure openly gay service members aren't passed over for promotions?
These are the difficult questions? The second and third questions aren't even real issues. The federal government does not recognize gay relationships for any purposes right now, and no one -- no one -- is seriously suggesting that the mliitary has to take the lead in that regard at the same time they allow gays to begin serving openly. Quotas on out gay promotions? Really? This is a far-right, fear-mongering talking point that, again, no one -- no one -- is seriously suggesting.
The first question does raise privacy issues that are worthy of being thought through, but it is flatly ridiculous to suggest that doing so would take weeks, much less months, to sort through.
Keep in mind, for those worried about privacy for hetero soldiers and sailors, that Don't Ask Don't Tell is far more invasive of their privacy. Why? Right now, gays are guaranteed the right to serve and straight service members are prevented by law from knowing which of their comrades is homo. So if there's peeking going on in bunkers and barracks, they're far easier when no one knows who's gay.
Meanwhile, according to the Washington Post, "Democrats in Congress are unlikely to press the issue until after this fall's midterm elections." Of course they aren't, and why should they when no one is really holding their feet to the fire. The bottom-down, buttoned-down management of Gay Rights, Inc., almost all of whom are disgruntled Hillary-backers, have blamed the president for everything and let congressional Democrats almost untouched.
No Excuses? More like No Excuses Necessary.
(Top photo: Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Adm. Mike Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, prior to last week's State of the Union address. Photo via Washington Post; No Excuses tee shirt via Human Rights Campaign)
January 28, 2010
Posted by: ChrisUPDATE: At the end of this post.
You knew Barack Obama's townhall meeting today in Tampa might not go well when he started off by giving a shoutout to that "model individual" Tony Dungy, the former Indianapolis Colts coach who made headlines in 2007 when he inserted himself into whether Indiana should pass a state constitutional amendment banning gays from marriage, even accepting an award from an anti-gay group for his efforts.
It went a bit downhill from there, when the president pretty thoroughly sidestepped a question for a college student about how he plans to follow through on his pledge in last night's State of the Union address:
As someone who has repeatedly defended the president against criticism that he, rather than Congress, is to blame for the lack of progress on DADT repeal and other gay rights advances, I thought the question was completely fair and Obama should have given more than a general answer that pretty much avoided the question entirely.
What is the plan, Mr. President? Do you support including Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal in the Defense Department appropriations bill, just as DADT was when President Clinton signed it into law in 1993? If not, what is the strategy for bypassing intransigent opposition by House Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) and getting this thing done?
UPDATE: Some good news, albeit vague, reported by the AP:
The Pentagon said Thursday it will work to carry out the president’s wishes [concerning the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell]. Top military leaders are working on a plan for how repeal of the law would be implemented in the Defense Department, said Navy Capt. John Kirby, spokesman for Adm. Mike Mullen. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“The chairman and the (service) chiefs understand perfectly the president’s intent, and they look forward to being able to provide their best military advice about the implementation of repeal,” Kirby said of Obama’s statement.
Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates were expected to address the topic in congressional budget hearings next week.
Posted by: Chris
As some gay progressives and longtime Clinton allies take potshots at President Obama for not having repealed Don't Ask Don't Tell, the real culprits escape scot-free. Consider Ike Skelton, the leading House Democrat on setting military policy:
Seventeen years ago, Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) played a major role in crafting the controversial law known as "Don't Ask Don't Tell." When President Bill Clinton wanted to lift the ban preventing gay people from joining the military, Skelton opposed the move. The end result was a compromise under which gay service members would conceal their sexual orientation.
Now, after President Barack Obama pledged during his campaign and first year in office to repeal the law, Skelton finds himself on the opposite side once again.
"I am personally not for changing the law," he said during a C-SPAN "Newsmakers" interview that will air Sunday. … He said the full House Armed Services Committee won't hold a hearing on the repeal of the law. Rather, the Personnel subcommittee will hold the hearing at some point this year.
It's unclear we have the votes to get DADT through Skelton's committee and to the House floor for a vote, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) doesn't appear spoiling for a fight on this (or any other gay rights) issue.
As a result, the best chance of actually repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell and allowing gays to serve openly in the military is to include it in the Defense Department budget appropriation, as Skelton and Congress did way back in 1993 when they adopted DADT in the first place. There's where we need to apply our pressure, not on nitpicking President Obama's very public commitment in last night's State of the Union address.
Posted by: Chris
At the same time that craven and immoral statement by Log Cabin Republicans slammed President Obama for the mortal sin of committing in his State of the Union address to the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell this year, we still await remarks by the gay GOP group in response to the very public pronouncements in favor of the policy by the man they endorsed for president in 2008:
“In his State of the Union address, President Obama asked Congress to repeal the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy. I am immensely proud of, and thankful for, every American who wears the uniform of our country, especially at a time of war, and I believe it would be a mistake to repeal the policy.
“This successful policy has been in effect for over fifteen years, and it is well understood and predominantly supported by our military at all levels. We have the best trained, best equipped, and most professional force in the history of our country, and the men and women in uniform are performing heroically in two wars. At a time when our Armed Forces are fighting and sacrificing on the battlefield, now is not the time to abandon the policy.”
If, as Log Cabin ludicrously suggests, President Obama favors the rights of foreign terrorists over hard-working, life-sacrificing gay Americans, then by that measure John McCain must himself be a member of Al Qaeda, targetting flag-waving queers for all sort of murder and mayhem.
Yes, that analogy is completely over the top, offensive, and ridiculous, but no more so than Log Cabin's shameful attack on the president.
P.S. It goes without saying that McCain is flat wrong in his assertion that Don't Ask Don't Tell, which requires gay soldiers and sailors to lie to their comrades, their superiors and their families and friends about who they are, is "predominantly supported by our military at all levels."
A December 2006 Zogby poll of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan found that 73 percent of soldiers reported being “comfortable … in the presence of gays,” and only 37 percent opposed repealing DADT. In July 2008, a Washington Post/ABC poll found that even 50 percent of veterans supported open service by lesbians and gays.
Posted by: Kevin
And he finally -- FINALLY -- made a concrete promise to the gay and lesbian community that really matters. He promised "to work with Congress and the military" in 2010 to end the outrageous "don't ask, don't tell" ban on gays serving in the military. For me, this was a great moment and a long-overdue correction of a nearly 20-year old policy that must be overturned.
As a very skeptical viewer, I have to say that the rhetoric was too gentle and not inspiring in the least. The speech was so long and so full of items that I imagine the average angry voter out there was not satiated if he sat through the whole thing. He was too gentle with his fellow Democrats. They've done more than just "head for the hills" - they've abandoned all principle and sense of decency largely because they don't believe in anything but re-election. All this aside, though, Obama's political bullet points on balance were encouraging, even if many of his policy statements were, to me and other center-right-inclined folks, wrong-headed.
This is where I part company with many of my compatriots on the right, including many gay conservatives. I don't agree with Obama on most of his policy positions in general. I don't trust the Democratic Party one bit, and think of its Congressional caucus as a pack of lying slimebags who care only about themselves (with a few notable exceptions too few to influence anything). I vote accordingly, and as readers of this blog know, I pontificate accordingly. But I do not want President Obama to fail in delivering on his promises to the gay and lesbian community, nor do I want his presidency to collapse, as it would mean the country will fall deeper into chaos and dissension.
I want the policies I disagree with to fail, yes. I don't want the massive government-run health care hurricane massing off shore to become law and plow over the already hopelessly indebted Treasury. I don't want populism to overwhelm an already tottering financial system, which would not only affect Main Street, U.S.A., but most of the developing world as well. I think a spending freeze that doesn't include entitlements is a waste of time and will make some very important programs suffer while upper middle class, golf-playing retirees collect Social Security checks that they don't need. We can win those fights honestly, and frontally, with the power of better ideas and with courage. (Too bad the Republicans in Congress seem to possess neither.)
But I don't want a President of the United States to fail entirely. I think it reeks of selfish provincialism and borders on a lack of patriotism to cheer rapturously as a President of the United States sinks into political oblivion in his first year in office. The institution of the presidency isn't a football team. It has an importance far beyond the person in that chair, and it affects nearly everything in the global economic and political fabric. If he has committed some sort of crime and must be removed, like Richard Nixon, then fine -- we must carry forward with his nominal defeat if he refuses to go. But weakening the institution (from without or within) for minor playing field gains in the political realm is the stuff of moth-eaten banana republics like Argentina, Ecuador or Bolivia. Not the United States of America.
So, I applaud his promise to "work with Congress and the military" in 2010 to overturn one of the most vicious anti-gay policies ever adopted in American history. It has sapped our nation's security, ruined tens of thousands of lives, fomented a level of hate and anxiety in one of the proudest and most able institutions of our Republic, and worst of all, it never worked as it was intended to. It is a giant moral stain on our country.
The real challenge now, as with nearly every other issue Obama outlined last night, will be the Democratic Congress. And on that, we must be absolutely relentless from this day forward.
If the gay community, starting with the Human Rights Campaign and the rest of the national political groups, does not mobilize with an intensity not seen in more than a decade, and use every single tool of pressure on the Democrats in Congress to follow through on this promise in 2010, I assure you it will fail. And its failure will be a political catastrophe, bigger than Proposition 8. There will be no room left for political courage on gay issues in national government, and we will be cast aside like a piece of trash for another decade.
If we don't use threats, if we don't hold campaign money over their heads, if we don't get written, signed pledges and public statements, and set deadlines and hold rallies against the waverers -- if we don't send legions of constituents into district and Capitol Hill offices -- if we don't get the national media to report almost a decade of unrivaled peer-reviewed research from the Palm Center that proves how bad the policy is from almost every possible angle -- then even with effort from the White House, the Democratic Congress will not follow through.
Yes, we must also pressure the Republicans. Those who have promised to be with us in the past cannot be allowed to change their position, and should face our united wrath if they do. Those who hurl tired, anti-gay rhetoric and try to whip up hatred within the military ranks should be condemned loudly, and they, too, must be made to suffer whatever consequence we can affect. But let's also be honest -- we can do a hell of a lot more damage to a Democrat in almost any district or state in the country than we can do to a Republican senator from Oklahoma or Alabama. The real firefight has to be with the cowards and the waverers, because they will decide our fate.
I want to thank President Obama for getting up off the mat last night, albeit too gently. Let's hope from now on we'll see some fierce activism from him, as well as from our own ranks.
Posted by: Chris
The initial reaction from Gay Rights Inc. are in to the president calling on Congress to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell in the State of the Union address. Not surprisingly, most groups (including the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, Lambda Legal and the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network) give Congress a complete pass, acting as if Obama alone can repeal DADT. The Human Rights Campaign mentions Congress but only in passing.
And then there's this despicable statement from Log Cabin Republicans, a group I have defended for years but don't even recognize anymore:
“President Obama is more concerned about protecting the rights of terrorists than he is about the rights of gay and lesbian Americans who are putting their lives on the line every day fighting to preserve peace and democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan and operate small businesses that are the backbone of the American economy.” — Charles Moran, a spokesperson for Log Cabin Republicans
Never in more than a decade of covering the gay rights movement have I seen a public pronouncement by a gay political group that is more offensive, more over the top and more worthy of universal condemnation.
Put aside, for the moment, the conflating of gays in the military with the completely unrelated decision by Attorney General Eric Holder (independent of President Obama) to try some Guantanamo prisoners in Article III courts (as the Bush administration did) rather than in front of military commissions. Put aside even, the gay Republican group's indefensible silence in response to condemnation of the president's promise by leading Republicans, especially sore loser John McCain.
This president favors the entire range of gay rights legislation put forward by our movement, up to and including civil unions if not marriage in terms of relationship recognition. He is more supportive by far than any previous president and is a complete and total foil for both McCain and the last Republican president, who favored federal or state constitutional amendments making those same gay Americans second-class citizens.
I don't know who is running Log Cabin these days, and why they are even trying to outflank the GOP apologists over at the oxymornic GOProud, but outrageous and offensive statements like this one convince no one of the rightness of our cause, including the anti-gay Republican leadership, which Log Cabin so cravenly seeks to ingratiate.
Posted by: Chris
Richard Socarides, who was apologist-in-chief for the disastrous two terms of Bill Clinton for gay civil rights, attempts to rewrite that history even as he takes a swipe at the current Democrat in the White House:
"In 1999, Bill Clinton became the first president ever to talk about gay rights in a State of the Union address. Eleven years later, not much has changed. [Talking again about ending the policy] without a moratorium on the witch hunts and expulsions and without even a plan for future action, just won't cut it. Look, we are not second-class citizens and our rights are not second-term problems."
Not much has changed? Let's see. Bill Clinton abandoned his gays in the military pledge like a hot potato in the first months of his first year of his first term, and by 1995 had signed both Don't Ask Don't Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act into law.
If Socarides really wants to talk about empty rhetoric, let's look at Bill Clinton's coded support for gay rights in his 1999 SOTU address:
Discrimination or violence because of race or religion, ancestry or gender, disability or sexual orientation is wrong and it ought to be illegal. Therefore, I ask Congress to make the Employment Nondiscrimination Act and the Hate Crimes Prevention Act the law of the land.
No mention of the dreaded "G word" and a tepid request of Congress to back two inoccuous pieces of legislation that -- nudge nudge, wink wink -- only the gays knew were for our benefit. Clinton's throwaway reference contained no time commitment and one of those two bills still languishes in Congress, despite a supermajority in both chambers.
I'm all for keeping the Democrats feet to the fire on gay issues, but rather than whine about a president who actually did something meaningful, let's hear from Socarides and other FOB/H's about the MIA congressional leadership.
(Pictured with then-President Bill Clinton: "awkward old maid" Janet Reno (far left) and gay liaison Richard Socarides (holding red notebook)).
January 27, 2010
Posted by: Chris
As expected, President Obama recounted passage of the hate crimes (without mentioning Matthew Shepard) and committed himself to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell this year:
This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are. It's the right thing to do.
You don't get higher profile than the State of the Union and it took political courage to take his on in an election year where Democrats look in trouble. This was not a throwaway gay mention in a run of the mill speech. It was a public commitment complete with a deadline in the speech where Obama set his highest priorities for what will be a difficult election year. That is not nothing.
Some no doubt expect more from President Obama on this issue, including an executive order staying prosecutions under the policy. That expects too much, and would set a dangerous precedent if he even attempted it. Only Congress can repeal DADT; an executive order attempting a de facto repeal would be patently illegal. We had more than enough of this sort of abuse of presidential power in the last administration.
Even if he could halt DADT by executive fiat, I do not think he should. That wasn't his campaign promise, and it would set off an entire side debate on executive authority and interference with the military, not to mention separation of powers. We don't need to risk moderate and independent support this way, especially with clear and historic Democratic majorities in both houses.
It's way too easy to focus all our impatience on the president. The fact remains that it's up to Congress to pass DADT repeal, and it's up to groups like the Human Rights Campaign and Stonewall Democrats to hold their feet to the fire until they do. And it's long past time for Log Cabin Republicans and GOProud to bring more public pressure to bear on the minority party not to block this and other gay rights bills by use of the anti-democratic filibuster in the Senate.
Enough talk, it's time for action. Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal is only one item on a list of promises candidate Obama made in 2008 and the Democratic Party has made for years. Success on that single issue doesn't even correct the reversals in gay civil rights from the last time Democrats controlled Washington -- that would require repealing the Defense of Marriage Act as well.
Now it's time for Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi to step up and act.
Posted by: Kevin
The country is in a state of boiling anger that no one person or political party can either take credit for, be blamed for entirely, or truly ride as a wave to unfettered power. Joel Achenbach in the Post said it best when crunching the poll numbers: "The state of the union is obstreperous. Dyspepsia is the new equilibrium. All the passion in American politics is oppositional. The American people know what they don't like, which is: everything."
Frankly, it's easy to figure out where all this started. The U.S. economy is in the toilet. It's as bad or worse as the most agonizing period of my lifetime, which was the 1990-92 recession, which hit just as I graduated college and saw as many as half of my friends fail to find decent employment for months on end. The stories of wholesale collapse of businesses, careers, housing situations, marriages and even a few lives have piled up in the past few years, and I haven't escaped the dark news from friends and family even from 5,000 miles and a completely different economy away.
When Americans feel a sense of hopelessness setting in, they don't go quiet. They get anxious, for good reason. And when they open a newspaper or turn on the news every day and see their government (which sends them a regular tax bill, only adding to the anxiety for many) not paying attention to what they say are their priorities, that anxiety turns to anger. And when the leaders in government have the nerve to push back, to hector them about what their priorities should be instead, that anger turns white hot, and it blows up in the voting booth.
And to use my native New York bluntness, when things are this bad in everyone's lives, they don't wanna hear whose fucking fault it is -- they wanna know what the hell you're gonna do about it.
It's not rocket science. The voters gave a mandate to the current government in 2008 on a wave of hope, the almighty Hope. It was a hope based in the feeling that their concerns were not being addressed by the previous President, that he had been arrogant, wrong-headed, lost in a fog and incapable of humility in the face of countless disasters and mismanagement. They were, indeed, sold a package of hope that things would be different, very different. And immediately.
Well - say what you will about this government, but the anger boiling out in the country across the whole political spectrum for everyone in power right now is the political equivalent to Rome on fire. Too many Democratic hacks and pundits are basically fiddling to it -- blaming Fox News, blaming the Republicans, blaming Wall Street and even blaming the American people themselves for not being smart enough to realize what is good for them (which is, of course, what those same hacks and pundits say is good for them.)
From the narrow perspective of the gay community, the anger is also there. I don't know of any gay person who has a mild opinion. They're either fuming mad at the Democrats or they're furiously trying to defend them. (That's always telling.) But the bottom line is that the Democrats said they needed the White House and 60 votes and they would enact our agenda. They lied. Indeed, they now are trying to claim that it was somehow a ridiculous notion that 60 votes meant anything. Jeff Zeleny got this version of "I meant to do that!" from Vice President Joe Biden: "When we had 60 votes, there was the expectation left, right and center that we could do everything we wanted to do, which was never realistic. Never.”
Oh really? Then how is it that the Republican Congressional majority from 1995 to 2006 got almost everything they ever wanted, whether they had the White House or not, and never had 60 votes? Indeed, remember George W. Bush and his tie-breaking Vice President in the Senate? They exercised unrelenting power with a whisker's margin. This gang of idiots couldn't get anything done with a supermajority. (And that, my friends, angers a whole lot of Democrats. So Biden's comment served no purpose other than to raise ire even further.)
It's particularly galling that so much was promised and so little action has been taken. Gay Americans have grown so weary of sweet words (lest I remind you, the Clinton presidency began almost 20 years ago), and patience is very thin for good reason. The staggering lack of courage on display in the Democratic supermajority, and the blaming of others even then (!), was just too outrageous to be spun favorably. As we say in Brazil, the Democrats "queimou o filme" - or 'exposed the film', which is to say, the damage is done and something very concrete and serious has to happen or the mood will not improve for gay Americans.
It was also the Democrats' choice of priorities that sent a lot of Americans scattering to the barricades, not for ideological reasons, but out of sheer desperation. When unemployment was hitting double-digits and the nation's fiscal deficit was plunging towards Hades, the Democrats chose two battlefields to die on: climate change and a massive health care reform bill. And as of today, barring some incredible turn of political events, both initiatives appear dead in the water despite the gynormous majorities they continue to enjoy in the Congress.
At the end of the day, the idiots of both parties in that chamber are not the focus of tonight's event. They are just the peanut gallery, which will elicit plenty of angry scorn hurled at TV sets across the nation. No, the one this all revolves around is someone about whom many of us are wondering - where did he go? Where is that galvanizing figure who presides from atop a bully pulpit, with a clear, undisputed mandate to lead?
Indeed, where is the President of the United States? Where is the leader amidst this spiraling disaster of unfocused time-wasting in the government?
In that sea of loathsome characters filling the House chamber tonight, he should be easy to spot. It would take so little lift to soar above their heads in the public eye. The mood is so low, so sour, that should Obama manage to seriously reconnect with that anxious, fearful public out there - not only with promises, but with accountability, humility, determination and details - and even manage to inspire, it could set our hair aloft with its electricity. But given the crater he'll be speaking from, it's a high hurdle to jump.
If he blows it entirely tonight, it will be as if Ronald Reagan, in the nadir of the 1982 recession, gave a speech about malaise rather than spoke confidently of a morning in America, a shining city on a hill, all the things he sold the country when they embraced him in 1980. Had he veered off that road, Reagan's presidency would have largely ended in one term, deservedly so. As might Obama's.
Mr. President - where are you? Or better yet, where the hell have you been? Here's hoping we find out tonight.
Posted by: Chris
5. Even in the throes of a grave economic crisis, Democrats in Congress could not resist converting the stimulus into an orgy of pork barrel spending that targeted neither job growth nor speedy infusion into the economy. How can you make the case for the capability of government to solve intractable problems when your own leaders are incapable of any fiscal self-restraint?
4. President Obama and the Democrats run so scared of GOP charges of being "weak on defense" that they double down on nation-building in Afghanistan masquerading as war, even though neither project ranks high enough in our national interest to justify the additional lives to be lost, much less the outrageous sums to be spent.
3. Conservative Democrats in the U.S. Senate (and a Connecticut independent bought and paid for by the insurance industry) may well have killed historic health care reform by their willingness to join with Republicans in the rank abuse of the filibuster so as to grease their own parochial pockets.
2. The party's congressional leadership appears prepared to throw universal health coverage under the bus to satisfy labor unions and abortion rights absolutists.
1. Despite controlling the White House and commanding supermajorities in the House and Senate, Democrats have almost completely failed to deliver tangible progress toward basic equality for gay and lesbian Americans. This government, firmly in control of the gay-friendly party, still refuses even to correct the horrors of the last Democratic high tide -- "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the Defense of Marriage Act.
January 26, 2010
Posted by: Chris
Word is that President Obama will specifically address repealing the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy on gays in the military in his State of the Union speech tomorrow night:
The Obama administration has asked the Senate Armed Services Committee to delay hearings on the fate of the military’s controversial “con’t ask, don’t tell” policy, because the president expects to discuss it in Wednesday’s address to Congress, the committee chairman said today.
Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat and chairman of the committee, told reporters that senior Pentagon officials asked him to postpone the hearings, because they do not want to be put in the position of discussing or defending a policy that the White House might abandon.
While there are way too many qualifiers packed into those two short paragraphs, if true this could mean (another qualifier) that the president is finally read to stake some political capital on gay civil rights, something so many of us expected long before now.
Let's be clear about a few things, however, the DNC and gay groups pressed for pink money waaay back in 2006 on the premise that a Democratic-controlled Congress would move on hate crimes, employment non-discrimination and repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell. So passage (not hearings, not votes in one house but not the other, but passage) of the remaining two of three of these low-hanging fruit is the absolute minimum we should expect from Obama and a Congress controlled by a super-majority of Dems.
There's something painfully ironic about the administration telling Congress to go-slow on DADT repeal, even if only for a day or two, considering that our "allies" on the Hill has moved in microscopic ministeps toward any meaningful form of gay rights legislation. (No, I don't count the almost entirely symbolic hate crime bill.)
We await our president to reawaken our faith that our trust in him (in the primaries and general election) was not misplaced.
January 17, 2010
Posted by: Chris
Ever since Ted Olson and David Boies, who were on opposite sides of the infamous Bush vs. Gore case, announced they were marshaling forces to challenge the federal constitutionality of Proposition 8, I've been mightily encouraged by their prospects of success. It's so effective and utterly refreshing to see two straight men, one of them with unquestionable credentials as a conservative, who "get it" so completely.
Take for example this exchange from an entertaining profile of the two men penned by Maureen Dowd for today's New York Times:
I asked the lawyers if they were disappointed that the president who had once raised such hope in the gay community now seemed behind the curve.
“Damned right,” Boies snapped. “I hope my Democratic president will catch up to my conservative Republican co-counsel.”
Olson added: “I’m not talking about Obama, but that’s what’s so bad about politicians. They say, ‘I must hasten to follow them, for I am their leader.’”
Yes you were, Ted, along with Hillary Clinton and Harry Reid and dozens and dozens of others.
July 16, 2009
Posted by: Andoni
From President Obama's address today at the 100th anniversary of the NAACP (National Association of Colored People): On the 45th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, discrimination must not stand. Not on account of color or gender; how you worship or who you love. Prejudice has no place in the United States of America." An interesting clause in Obama's recounting the history of the Civil Rights Movement, was, "and presidents had to be pressured into action...." He has told our community this very thing about our rights, as well. Let's not forget it. You can also view the full speech here.
"But make no mistake: the pain of discrimination is still felt in America. By African-American women paid less for doing the same work as colleagues of a different color and gender. By Latinos made to feel unwelcome in their own country. By Muslim Americans viewed with suspicion for simply kneeling down to pray. By our gay brothers and sisters, still taunted, still attacked, still denied their rights.
On the 45th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, discrimination must not stand. Not on account of color or gender; how you worship or who you love. Prejudice has no place in the United States of America."
An interesting clause in Obama's recounting the history of the Civil Rights Movement, was, "and presidents had to be pressured into action...."
He has told our community this very thing about our rights, as well. Let's not forget it.
You can also view the full speech here.
July 08, 2009
Posted by: Andoni
Steve Hildebrand may be the closest gay person to Barack Obama. He was deputy national campaign director for Obama's presidential campaign last year. In a remarkable interview with Hildebrand, Rex Wockner gets to the bottom of some of the issues LGBT Americans have been worried about vis a vis President Obama of late. After the the Department of Justice brief defending DOMA, Hildebrand went to the White House and spoke one on one with the president about the anger in the our community, LGBT issues in general and the DOJ brief in particular.
Two items of particular note in Wockner's interview with Hildebrand are:
2. "(President Obama) did not read the ... pathetic (marriage) brief in advance but he subsequently has read the brief and was not happy at all with both the direction as well as the language that was used." --Steve Hildebrand
So all the brouhaha the LGBT community created following that "pathetic" brief was appropriate and most likely brought some results. The president thinks pressure is a good thing and apparently repsonds to it. I for one don't believe the White House cocktail party to celebrate Stonewall had been on the books for a long time. I really think the noise we made as a community had results and if we continue the pressure we will get more results. But as Hildebrand notes, we need more pressure on Congress. The president will sign all LGBT legislation that comes to his desk. But as Chris reminds us Congress initiates and passes the laws, not the president.
Finally, Steve Hildebrand thinks that we gays are not doing as much as we could be doing to advance our cause. That will be a topic of a post in the next few days.
In the meantime, read the Wockner interview.
June 16, 2009
Posted by: Andoni
Before you get too excited, this hasn't happened yet. When I was sitting on the island of Symi, Greece I was getting despondent over the inaction in Congress on LGBT rights. Remembering the president's promises during the campaign, I thought the answer was a major address to the nation by President Obama on LGBT rights -- to jump start things in Congress.
The president has a great way of explaining issues. Just think of his speech in Philadelphia on race and the one in Cairo on Muslim relations with America. When people listen to his well reasoned speeches, a lot more people nod their heads in agreement after the speech. Do I think LGBT rights warrants a major address by the president? Yes, I do. It is the civil rights issue of our time and should be one of the major issues of this presidency.
I began writing a post suggesting a major speech by Obama on LGBT rights sometime in the early fall, but couldn't quite get the words right on paper. Juan and Ken Ahonen-Jover, however, have done me one better. They wrote the speech the president should give. Juan and Ken are the founders of EqualityGiving an organization of major LGBT donors and activists. The link to the speech is here. And at the risk of eating up too much server space (sorry, Chirs), I copy it in its entirety below.
This is the LGBT speech Obama should give. The bold print are his actual words from this year's Pride proclamation.
"Forty years ago, patrons and supporters of the Stonewall
Inn in New York City resisted police harassment that had become all too
common for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender
(LGBT) community. Out of this resistance, the LGBT rights movement in
America was born.
"LGBT Americans have made, and continue to make, great and lasting contributions that continue to strengthen the fabric of American society. There are many well-respected LGBT leaders in all professional fields, including the arts and business communities. LGBT Americans also mobilized the Nation to respond to the domestic HIV/AIDS epidemic and have played a vital role in broadening this country's response to the HIV pandemic.
"I am proud to be the first President to appoint openly LGBT candidates to Senate-confirmed positions in the first 100 days of an Administration.
"The LGBT rights movement has achieved great progress, but there is more work to be done. In the last four decades legislation has been enacted in many states to ensure that we hold our most dear American Promise: that we are all equal under the law. However, no state provides full legal equality to guarantee that each person is treated equally independently of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.
"Other states fall far behind in what most Americans believe to be fair and just.
"Congress has not passed a single piece of legislation in the four decades since Stonewall to ensure that Americans who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender are treated equally under the law. So, millions of Americans remain denied this American Promise.
"In these same four decades, Congress has passed two pieces of legislation that do the exact opposite and that actually openly discriminate against those Americans. As I said in my campaign, I support repeal of the Don't Ask Don't Tell legislation, as well as the repeal of the entire Defense of Marriage Act.
"I am here to tell you that yes, we can end discrimination. And that yes, the time for this is now.
"Many will argue that while equality is a worthwhile goal, civil rights have been given incrementally. They will also tell you that we have other important priorities.
"But I ask: Where is our moral compass when we knowingly continue to allow members of our society to be unequal under the law? Where is our moral compass when we have laws that openly discriminate against some members of our society?
"How do you tell a parent that the daughters and sons they love so much will not be treated equally under the law? That one will be able to serve his country, while the other will be fired for doing the same thing? That one will be able to marry and raise a family with all the protection that the law affords, and the other will not?
"We may not agree with every person. But we have to respect them. And the law has to apply equally to every person in the same way.
"Many of the problems that we face require solutions that are complex. Many of these problems have different solutions, which some uncertainty about which solution might be best.
"For instance, Congress already analyzed and enacted legislation on one of our most important and difficult problems: the economic crisis. Work is underway now on healthcare reform.
"But inequality under the law is not a difficult problem to fix. We just have to ensure that all citizens are covered by our existing laws in the same way. No more and no less. We also need to repeal two laws which fly in the face of equal protection under the law: the Defense of Marriage Act, which not only acts against the rights of the States, but also religions, and the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy that acts against the national security of our nation because it deprives our armed forces of personnel we need.
"There is never an ideal time to enact legislation for equal rights. Yet every moment that passes, and we don't act, injustice continues. There are always reasons to delay. But ensuring that we live to our highest promise of equality needs to happen now. It is our moral imperative, since delays just end up denying the rights and protections to those who do not deserve to be left out.
"First, I want to commend the House of Representatives for approving the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009. As a senator, I was a co-sponsor of this legislation, and I am asking the Senate to act swiftly to approve it.
"Some say that a crime is a crime and there is no need to distinguish crimes motivated by prejudice against a minority. The reality is that our judicial system considers, as it should, the intention of the criminal. The punishment is not the same, and it should not be, if somebody kills a person by accident versus somebody killing a person with predetermination.
"Hate has no place in our society. Respect for each individual is the glue that keep us together.
"Today, we already have hate crimes laws for those who are victims of crimes based on their race, color, religion and national origin. It is important to add gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability to those laws." Rest assured that adding this language to our existing laws in no way gives special rights to homosexuals, since hate crimes against someone for being a heterosexual would be also included in this law.
"Most Americans are very familiar with several pieces of civil rights legislation that protect Americans against discrimination. Most people naturally assume that those protections also cover lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals.
"They do not.
"The first legislation covering LGBT individuals was introduced 35 years ago. I am asking Congress today to introduce an expansion of the civil rights legislation to cover non-discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodation, public facilities, credit, and federally funded programs and activities."
DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL
"My most important responsibility as President is to protect our country. Because our national security is at stake, we cannot continue to fire personnel from the military, just because of their sexual orientation. All of our dedicated service members are vital to our national security, and we have spent large sums of money and time training them.
"Since the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy has been in effect, more than 12,000 service members have been discharged to the detriment to our national security, just for who they are, and not because of their actions or performance.
"I am thinking of service members like Sergeant Eric Alva, a marine, who was awarded a purple heart and was the first American soldier wounded in Iraq. He was discharged for being gay; and Lieutenant Daniel Choi, a West Point graduate and an Arab linguist, also discharged just for being gay.
"Therefore, today I am signing an executive order asking for a temporary suspension of investigations and discharges of service members because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Of course, behavioral problems will continue to be aggressively investigated and prosecuted.
"I am also asking Congress to pass without delay the Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2009.
"Effectiveness and cohesion of our military forces is based on trust. Each service member needs to trust each other with their own lives. Critical to this trust is integrity and the ability of our service members not to have to hide who they are and whom they love.
"As when the military was integrated with female service members, we know that our troops are professional and capable of interacting appropriately. We know that our allies, such as Great Britain, Israel, Canada, and Australia have successfully integrated gays and lesbians into their militaries. I believe that our armed services personnel are capable of acting professionally.
"I have also asked Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to modify regulations within the next 60 days to ensure that all service members are treated equally and that inappropriate behavior is punished whether it is between a members of the same gender or of different genders.
"Our country is very divided on the issue of same gender marriage. I have expressed my own opinion on the subject before.
"Yes, marriage has a religious component.
"Some religions do allow same gender couples to marry, others don't. It is not the role of the government to interfere with religion or favor one religion over another. For example, most religions do not allow divorce. However, led by Ronald Reagan while he was Governor of California, no fault divorce has been adopted by all states.
"Let me say this, in no uncertain terms, to all Americans: the government does not currently, and will not, tell your church whom they can or cannot marry.
"In addition, the rights of the States need to be protected: civil marriage licenses have been and should continue to be the prerogatives of each state. When the Defense of Marriage Act was approved by Congress in 1996, no state allowed same gender couples to marry. Today, six States do, while several others allow either civil unions or domestic partnerships. Other states have their own Defense of Marriage Acts or constitutional bans against same gender marriage.
"The principle at stake is that the federal government does not, and will not, issue marriage licenses. However, the federal government needs to honor all the licenses issued by the States, not just those of opposite gender couples. Therefore, I am asking Congress to repeal the Federal Defense of Marriage Act without delay and to ensure that all the 1,138 federal benefits, such as social security, immigration, and hospital visitation, that apply to opposite gender married couples are applied without discrimination to all couples legally married or otherwise joined by a civil union or domestic partnership legally recognized by a State.
"Today I am proud to say that I signed an executive order providing domestic partners of federal employees many of the benefits of married spouses."
"One of my main priorities is education. This is a requisite for our country to be competitive in the 21st Century. Our hearts were broken when in the space of two weeks in April, two young people committed suicide after being repeatedly bullied because of a perception that they were gay. One was a middle schooler. The other was in elementary school. Our thoughts and prayers go to their families.
"I want to send a clear message to all children: in America you can be free to express who you are. Bullying should not be part of our vocabulary. Every child should grow up in a society that respects their differences.
"Youth should feel safe to learn without the fear of harassment. One of the critical components of learning is to have a safe environment for children to develop to their full potential. This means, among other measures, schools free of drugs and free of bullying. Bullies target other children based on their race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression and others. I am asking Congress to immediately pass the Safe Schools Improvement Act of 2009, which has bipartisan support.
THE TIME TO ACT IS NOW
"These issues affect not only the LGBT community, but also our entire Nation. As long as the promise of equality for all remains unfulfilled, all Americans are affected. If we can work together to advance the principles upon which our Nation was founded, every American will benefit. During LGBT Pride Month, I call upon the LGBT community, the Congress, and the American people to work together to promote equal rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
"Some people will argue that we cannot do so much, so fast, while the country is dealing with an economic crises, is engaged in two wars, desperately needs healthcare reform, needs education reform, and needs to address the problems with the environment.
"I say: we cannot afford to NOT take care now of these blights on our American Family to ensure that we live to our highest value: That we were all created Equal.
"The time has come to live to our highest aspirations. To send the message that while we may not agree with each other all the time, we all share the aspiration of living in a society in which none of our members faces discrimination. And a reminder that we were all created equal.
"I call upon the people of the United States to turn back discrimination and prejudice everywhere it exists.
"Because if some of us are not equal, none of us are equal."
June 15, 2009
Posted by: Chris
... of the Defense of Marriage Act. OK not really. But at the risk of being labeled (once again) as an Obama apologist, I want to add a bit more context to the excellent analysis done by Andoni and others of the DOJ's brief defending DOMA.
Like most of you, I was profoundly disappointed by the filing, and my heart sank even further when I read some of the arguments used by the Obama Justice Department in favor of DOMA's constitutionality. The analogy to incest, in particular, was completely beyond the pale. Although (once again) it's not fair to say the brief directly compared same-sex relationships to incestuous relationships, it is ludicrous and insulting to suggest there is no meaningful legal distinction between laws that don't exclude gays from marrying and laws that permit an uncle to wed his niece.
It was also patently irrational to argue that DOMA doesn't discriminate against gay Americans because we, too, can enter into "traditional marriages." Its unfathomable that lawyers for a president who is the product of an interracial marriage would use an argument that was rejected some four decades ago in Loving v. Virginia. In that case, the Supreme Court rejected the state's argument that anti-miscegenation laws weren't racist because both whites and blacks were equally restricted to marrying within their own race.
Even so, once my blood pressure came under control, I cannot join those who see the DOMA brief as a "betrayal" by President Obama or even as a sign that his administration will be "throwing us under the bus" like the last Democrat occupant of the White House did. Here's why:
First and foremost, candidate Obama did not make any commitment that I'm aware of to refuse to defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. That would have been an extraordinary promise for any presidential candidate to make about any piece of duly adopted legislation, and yet I don't know of a single time the question was even put to Obama or his competitors, or where he was even asked the more general question of whether DOMA is unconstitutional.
There's obviously a big difference between believing a law is wrongheaded or unfair or even discriminatory, on the one hand, and believing it is unconstitutional, on the other. Since Hillary Clinton defended her husband's decision to sign DOMA into law, and only favored half-repeal, it's fair to conclude she agrees with the Obama DOJ that DOMA's deficiency is a matter of policy, not constitutionality. Ditto the Human Rights Campaign, since "the nation's largest gay rights group" chose only to score the candidates on whether they support DOMA's half-repeal -- thereby equating Clinton's views with Obama's.
If this question of DOMA's constitutionality is so crucial and fundamental, then why did everyone -- all of us -- fail to raise it during the eons-long presidential campaign? We thought about DOMA enough to make a big deal -- or not -- about half-repeal vs. full repeal, and others questioned Obama about the positions the DOJ might take in defending Don't Ask, Don't Tell in court. So why didn't we ask for a commitment about refusing to defend DOMA as well? And if we didn't, maybe we should take a deep breath before accusing Obama of treason for how his lawyers ultimately answered our unasked question -- in a lawsuit that most gay legal experts wish had never been brought and hopefully will get dismissed.
A spokesperson has explained the DOJ brief saying that, "As it generally does with existing statutes, the Justice Department is defending the law on the books in court." John Aravosis makes a good point by digging up examples of the DOJ under previous presidents declining to defend the constitutionality of certain statutes in court, but rather than proving the Obama administration is "lying," he accomplished the opposite. Four examples out of thousands hardly disproves the claim that "generally" the DOJ defends laws passed by Congress and signed by the president.
Let's also pause long enough to consider whether we want to advocate the politicization of the Justice Department. Let us recall from the debate over the Bush administration's "enhanced interrogation techniques" that the DOJ has an independent obligation to weigh questions of legality and constitutionality. Those decisions ought to be made on the basis of the law, not politics. It's not fair for us to switch sides on that argument when it suits our cause, however worthy.
Please, please don't take away from these observations any hesitation on my part about the constitutionality of DOMA. As someone whose entire life has been torn apart for years now because of this single federal law, I know its destructive force, and for years counted myself among those who see DOMA as a gross affront to the Constitution. Nonetheless, I think it's a bit too easy to condemn President Obama for failing to anticipate a complicated legal question that our own advocates either also failed to anticipate or decided was unworthy of raising during the presidential campaign.
Speaking of our own advocates, I will say it was refreshing to see Joe Solmonese at HRC actually speak out on the issue, even if he ultimately cops out by attempting to evade any institutional or personal responsibility for the mess we find ourselves in. Solmonese's impassioned letter to Obama calls on the president to "put your principles into action and send legislation repealing DOMA to Congress."
Is that the way Washington works, Joe? Are we really to believe that this consumate lobbyist -- who couldn't resist bragging about his own White House access in the same self-serving letter -- completely missed that "Schoolhouse Rock" episode on how a bill becomes a law?
Solmonese and his Beltway minions know damn well the president doesn't "send" legislation to Congress. Even on top administration priorities like the stimulus package and health care reform, the bills are drafted by legislators -- hence the name -- with public and private input from the White House throughout the process, including what importance the president puts on passage.
If pressure is to be brought to bear, and indeed it should, then it ought to focus first on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. So when the mayors of San Francisco and Los Angeles raised a public ruckus with the president over DOMA this weekend, HRC should passionately remind them that not one of the Democrats in Congress from these two gay meccas, including a certain Speaker of the House, has introduced, much less given priority to, a bill to repeal DOMA.
Why is it, then, that in the 13 years since passage of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act that HRC and its friends in Congress have failed to "put principles into action" and draft repeal legislation, identify House and Senate sponsors and co-sponsors, pressure for hearings or otherwise shepherd the bill through the legislative process?
I will answer my own question. Because anyone with even a passing familiarity with gay politics in our nation's capital knows that HRC long ago agreed with its cronies in the DNC and on the Hill not to even begin pressing for DOMA repeal until a whole laundry list of other (far less important and less controversial) legislation is adopted.
With all of this context in mind, I would humbly suggest that we take each of Andoni's five examples of direct action and aim them also (not instead) at your member of Congress, the Democratic leaders in both the House and the Senate, and our dear friends at the Human Rights Campaign. Has either Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid even committed publicly to repealing DOMA, or half-repealing it?
Let's demand that HRC publicly release draft language for repealing DOMA and point us to members of Congress we should lobby to take on leadership roles in sponsorship. (And how about federal civil unions legislation while they're at it!) With those pieces in place, pressure on the White House can be much more concrete, and all this righteous anger might move the ball forward toward relationship equality.
June 08, 2009
Posted by: Chris
I understand that you should put the question, but frankly, do you think people are just waiting to see us hand-in-hand sitting here looking into one another’s eyes? Of course not.
French President Nicholas Sarkozy, at a joint press avail with President Obama in Colleville-Sur-Mer, France, in response to continuing questions about whether the American president had snubbed his French counterpart by not accepting his dinner invitation over the weekend. (Wall Street Journal, June 6)
June 05, 2009
Posted by: Chris
Me thinks they doth protest too much, our friends at the Human Rights Campaign. Trevor Thomas has fired off an angry response by Blackberry to Jason Bellini's Daily Beast report alleging HRC cut a deal to delay pressing for the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell until next year. Wrote Thomas:
This story is not only an outright lie, it is recklessly irresponsible. HRC never made such a deal and continues to work with congress and the administration on a full range of equality issues including a swift end to the military's shameful ban on gay servicemembers.
Considering that Bellini's claim to a go-slow deal on DADT was (a) sourced to New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, and (b) confirmed on camera by Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, thereby (c) confirming what Beltway gays have known for months, it appears that (d): HRC's Thomas, while using his Blackberry, was in fact talking out of a much lower extremity.
June 03, 2009
Posted by: Chris
It was a bit of a head-turner this week when Dick Cheney, the former vice president and conservative attack dog, took time out from his blistering critique of Barack Obama to disagree with the president from the left on the issue of same-sex marriage.
“I think people ought to be free to enter into any kind of union they wish — any kind of arrangement they wish,” Cheney said during a question-and-answer session that followed his harsh assessment of how the current occupant of the White House is handling the economy and national security.
“The question of whether or not there ought to be a federal statute to protect this, I don’t support. I do believe that historically the way marriage has been regulated is at the state level. … But I don’t have any problem with that. People ought to get a shot at that,” he added.
Instant analysis from the blogosphere took pleasure in the obvious irony that such an iconic figure from the Republican right now appeared better on the issue than the Democratic president who despite opposing marriage equality has promised to be a “fierce advocate” for gay rights.
Not so fast. Careful observers like Denis Dison, who blogs for the Victory Fund at GayPolitics.com, noted that Cheney stopped just short of saying he actually supports marriage for gays, referring as he has in the past to gay couples entering into “any kind of union they wish.” We are dealing here, after all, with a politician who knows how to parse his words, re-branding waterboarding and other forms of torture as “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
More concretely, Cheney’s opposition to “a federal statute to protect this,” while also vague, could either be referring to a law banning states from marrying gays or a law that extends marriage rights nationwide.
In that sense, Obama still comes up better than Cheney on marriage friendliness, since the president supports full repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the heinous federal statute that allows states to ignore same-sex marriages elsewhere, as well as blocking federal recognition.
A “federal statute” repealing DOMA could decide things nationwide as a practical matter, since even couples in states that ban gay marriage would be able to travel to places like Massachusetts or Iowa, get married, and demand legal recognition back home.
Even if Obama remains better on paper, it is certainly fair to complain that he’s done nothing concrete thus far toward ridding us of DOMA — much less been a “fierce advocate.” Then again, no Democrat in Congress has introduced repeal legislation either.
All in all, Dick Cheney’s supportive comments tell us less about the president than they do about gay marriage as an issue and how a personal connection can be so critical in winning over even hardened hearts and minds.
As we all know, the former veep’s younger daughter Mary is gay, and she and her long-time partner have a young son. By all accounts father and daughter are very close, personally and politically; so much so that Mary managed her father’s re-election campaign in 2004. From that close-in vantage point, Dick Cheney understands full well that her desire to marry — or “union”-ize — is a basic human need that poses no threat to the “traditional family.”
A Gallup poll out last week confirmed the importance of that personal touch. Among Americans who said they don’t know personally know anyone who is gay or lesbian, opposition to same-sex marriage runs almost three to one. Among those with who do, slightly more support marriage equality than oppose it.
Marriage isn’t the only hot-button controversy impacted this way. Nancy Reagan became such a "fierce advocate" for stem cell research, parting ways with the religious conservatives who are her husband’s greatest admirers, because she saw firsthand the devastating effect of Alzheimer’s.
There is a word to describe this ability to look beyond politics and even religious teachings to see how an abstract issue has real impact in real lives, whether among loved ones or strangers. It’s called empathy.
It’s the quality that President Obama said he was looking for in a Supreme Court nominee, and it’s the reason Sonia Sotomayor may well be right that, on average, “a wise old Latina” ought to make a better judge than “a wise old white man.”
It’s the reason your's truly is no longer the conservative Republican I once was, because seeing bigotry and grossly unequal treatment up close has given me greater empathy than I had before for the struggles of others.
And it’s empathy that will ultimately be responsible for President Obama eventually finding the political courage to lend his support for full marriage equality.
May 28, 2009
Posted by: Chris
One of the first stories I posted on Gay News Watch, back in February 2007, concerned reports that the Iraqi government was lending its official endorsement to Shiite militias responsible for killing gay men. After two more years of American occupation and a change in U.S. administrations, the story hasn't changed and the horrific killings continue:
Two gay men were killed in Baghdad's Sadr City slum, and police confirmed they found the bodies of four more men, all killed during a 10-day period after an unknown Shiite militia group urged a crackdown on homosexuals in the country.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs believes as many as 30 people have been killed during the last three months because they were -- or were perceived to be -- gay.
Homosexuality is prohibited almost everywhere in the Middle East, but conditions have become especially dangerous in recent years for gays and lesbians, as religious militias have become more powerful since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
But an Iraqi military source claimed the recent killings were linked to tribal violence, not militias, and his characterization of the killings hints at how deep homophobia runs in Iraqi society.
"Two young men were killed Thursday. They were sexual deviants. Their tribes killed them to restore their family honor," an Iraqi army member who did not want to give his name told ABC News.
The army source said the bodies of four gay men were unearthed in Sadr City March 25, each bearing signs reading "pervert" in Arabic on their chests. All the bodies found bore signs of torture and were found fixed to poles when they were killed. The Iraqi army source also said two of the men found dead were wearing diapers and women's lingerie.
Two gay men were found elsewhere in Sadr City, alive but bearing the scars of severe torture. They were beaten, their chests showed signs of cigarette burns, and when police found them they were rushed to the hospital. They had been sodomized with iron bars, sources said. Other men said they had had their chests slashed and their nipples cut off.
The Bush and Obama administrations have been justifiably proud about the improved status, safety and opportunity for women as a result of the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. But where is the concerted action to put an end to these unspeakable acts of violence?
May 26, 2009
Posted by: Chris
Little to none of the initial reaction to President Obama's nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court has focused on gay rights issues, largely because her own judicial record is apparently void on the subject. That said, there are aspects to her selection that speak to the limits of identity politics, both for the GLBT left and, in opposition, on the conservative right.
Since the resignation announcement by Justice David Souter -- himself a lifelong bachelor long rumored to be gay -- some gay rights advocates have voiced their hopes that the president would pick the first-ever openly gay nominee to the high court. But if news accounts have been accurate, neither of two lesbian Stanford law professors -- Kathleen Sullivan and Pamela Karlan -- made Obama's list of top four possibilities.
For many of the same reasons that the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund advocates for openly gay legislators, cabinet secretaries and the like, there would no doubt be enormous symbolism to an openly gay or lesbian justice, in addition to the inclusion of that person's unique life experiences into the mix of judicial viewpoints. But the room for influence from gay or lesbian life experiences on a jurist is a good deal more limited than for the more actively political and policy-making branches of government.
And why I don't know much about Karlan -- except that her record had a number of political minefields -- I'm not convinced that Sullivan is the ideal "openly gay" candidate. Sullivan, a former Stanford Law dean and Harvard law prof, was deeply closeted during my years in school -- which overlapped as well with President Obama's years there.
Despite her participation on the brief in the (failed) attempt to overturn Georgia's sodomy law, Sullivan said nothing helpful or otherwise about her own life during a time of energetic campus activism around "faculty diversity" and the absence of a single openly gay professor. All in all, it's not greatly disappointing and certainly unsurprising, that the president did not select an openly gay nominee.
On the other hand, conservatives are already in a lather about Sotomayor as "judicial activist" who they claim will "legislate from the bench." In support they cite not to her actual record as an appeals court judge on the Second Circuit, but to a YouTube moment where she jokes offhandedly at a law school symposium about whether federal appellate judges "make policy":
Outside the political arena, anyone half-serious as a lawyer or judicial observer will acknowledge that the circuit courts -- which are more often than the U.S. Supreme Court the venue of last resort for litigants -- unavoidably "make law" as they intepret the vagueries of legislative statutes and judicial precedents. (Sotomayor also followed up her remarks by saying she was not "promoting" or "advocating" policy-making from the bench.)
A second example lighting up the right is a bit more troubling on its face. In prepared remarks at Berkeley, Judge Sotomayor suggested that the unique life experiences of a Latina female jurist would result in "better conclusions"
[O]ur gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Justice O'Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am not so sure Justice O'Connor is the author of that line since Professor Resnik attributes that line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement.
First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life.
On the one hand, Sotomayor's suggestion that ethnicity and gender are somehow determinative of the "richness of life experiences" represents the tired, ugly side of identity politics, which forgets the rhetorical commitments to equality in favor of elevating the lives of minorities in importance (or "richness") over those in the majority.
On the other hand, conservatives actually have little to complain about here. Those of us paying attention to the debate over gay rights, both in the legislature and the judiciary, have heard ad nauseum about how private religious values are absolutely relevant to making and interpreting law. Beyond that particular hypocrisy, Sotomayor's comments are aimed in the right direction, at least to the extent that a diversity of life experiences on any court, much less the nation's highest court, can only add to the decision-making process.
Doubters should recall the difference between Justice Byron White, who suggested for the court's majority in Bowers vs. Hardwick that it was "facetious at best" to compare gay relationships to heterosexual-led families, with the contrary language of Justice Anthony Kennedy in Lawrence vs. Texas, which overruled Bowers and struck down the nation's sodomy laws. Reading Justice White's opinion, it was abundantly clear that he had no personal relationships with same-sex couples. The swing vote in that 5-4 decision, Justice Lewis Powell, said later that the Bowers vote was his biggest regret, and one of Powell's law clerks was closeted. Kennedy's familiarity with the lives of gay people and same-sex relationships similarly came through in his Lawrence opinion.
We will no doubt all be learning more about Judge Sotomayor in the days and weeks to come, including the context of her most incendiary comments, and whether they are in fact reflected in her actual judicial philosophy, the votes she has cast from the bench, and the opinions she has authored. In the meantime, she appears to be an impressive selection destined for confirmation.
March 15, 2009
Posted by: Andoni
History repeats itself. That is the theme in Frank Rich's wonderful Op Ed The Culture Warriors Get Laid Off in today's New York Times.
According to Rich, we are entering a new period where the public has again tired of the anti-science, let me impose my values on you crowd. After the major economic downturn we have experienced over the past year, the culture wars are a luxury we can no longer afford. The same sort of cultural reversal happened in 1933 during The Great Depression.
In the period leading up to the Depression fundamentalists pushed for Prohibition and anti-evolution legislation - succeeding on both counts. The Depression ended all that nonsense. In the period leading up to today's great recession, the fundamentalists peddled an anti-gay, anti-stem cell research agenda and also succeeded broadly.
Now history is repeating itself. Anti-stem cell research was reversed last week by President Obama with only a whimper from the religious right and public opinion is showing majority support on most of the crucial gay rights issues - employment, the military, and our relationships.
We need to take advantage of this moment in history. FDR demonstrated that a president can lead a nation to reform on cultural issues when the country's mood changes. Obama should follow that example. As the saying goes - it is his moment, it is his time.
March 13, 2009
Posted by: Andoni
The New York Times says President Barack Obama is in a tough spot with regard to whether he should allow the federal government to provide health insurance benefits to partners of same sex couples as two California federal appeals court judges ruled yesterday.
The Office of Personnel Management has instructed insurers not to obey the judges' order because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). And of course religious conservatives such as Gary Bauer, president of American Values, are threatening (in an almost gleeful manner) that if Obama provides these benefits it will reinvigorate the conservative coalition. To complicate all this further is the fact that Obama's designated, but unconfirmed, new director of the Office of Personnel Management is M. John Berry, a gay man.
The judges' ruling was not the result of of a lawsuit but as part of a ruling as employers resolving employee grievances.
I don't think Obama is in as tough a position as the Times says he is. He should simply say this is not about marriage, it's about equal pay for equal work. The partner benefits are part of the pay package for federal employees and the federal government cannot and will not be part of discrimination that pays some employees less than others for the exact same work. He can even say, "Let me be clear about this" so we know he means business.
There really is no other way to provide equality, because the insurance package is more than just the money involved to pay for the partner's insurance; a major benefit is the access to that insurance as well. In most instances the partner would not be able to buy this good insurance on their own.
Unfortunately, the IRS will tax this insurance benefit as income, which is patently unfair, but that's a different matter that is best left to fight about on another day.
February 27, 2009
Posted by: Andoni
There is consternation in some quarters this morning because President Obama's budget proposes to raise the top income tax bracket on people who make more than $250,000 per year to 39.6% from the current 35% . I'm not one of the worried ones.
I'm old enough to remember the 1950's when the top income tax bracket was 90%. Yes, 90%. It got reduced to 70% in the 1960's. During both these periods, between 1950 to 1970, the economic growth for the country and individuals, rich and middle class alike, was excellent.
Since WWII, the top bracket has gone from 92 to 77 to 70 to 50 to 33 to 28 to 31 to 39.6 (Bill Clinton) to 35 (George W. Bush). When graphed, this sort of looks like an oscillating curve trying to find its proper equilibrium. Clearly the trend has been downward, but in trying to achieve the right top tax rate for growth but also for government responsibility in being able to pay for things, maybe we have gone to far -- overshot.
Obama is simply proposing to go back to the Clinton tax rate, and the Clinton years were some of the best economic years this country has ever seen. In trying to find the sweet spot between what will stimulate growth, but not be irresponsible, maybe 39.6% or somewhere near there is a good place to be. Certainly 35% didn't turn out that well, did it?
Time, of course, will tell where the best spot is. But right now, count me as not worried about Obama's tax increase.
February 24, 2009
Posted by: Andoni
Something that the far right realizes that seems to be outside of the grasp of many our leaders in the gay community is that once you have a national civil unions law, it is only a matter of time before you get marriage equality. Separate but equal is not a sustainable position in this country. It will be easier to go from civil unions to marriage than from nothing to marriage. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, gets it. In responding to a compromise national civil unions Op Ed in last Sunday's New York Times, co-authored by a fellow leader of the religious right, Perkins warns that "once a civil unions law is in place, denial of marital status would be almost impossible to defend."
The right realizes this, our leaders don't.
Many proposals have been made advocating ways to achieve civil unions nationally, especially since it is President Obama's official position to have full civil unions for gay people. Federally recognized civil unions would mean civil unions in all 50 states. All couples would have to do is go to a state that offers civil unions to get hitched, then return to their home state. Federal couples' benefits in all 50 states is a big deal. These would include things like social security survival benefits, joint tax returns, partner immigration rights.. over 1100+ very substantial rights and benefits.
Civil unions can be accomplished because 75% of the public supports the idea.
In private emails from leaders in our community, I have been told that I have it all wrong, that the best way forward is to hold out for marriage equality. I strongly disagree.
Right now it's like standing on the side of the road waiting for a bus and the bus keeps passing me by. The bus won't stop to let me on. If one day the bus stops and tells me that I can get on but I have to agree to sit in the back, I would gladly do it. Once on the bus I know I will be able to fight my way forward until I get a seat in the front. It's much harder to get a seat in the front of the bus if you're not on the bus at all. If I'm still standing on the side of the road, I seriously doubt that the bus will one day stop and offer me a seat in the front of the bus. It didn't happen that way for the African Americans; what makes us think it's going to happen for us?
From a public relations (selling the public) point of view (as well as I believe in court), it's much easier to argue that a national separate but equal institution for gays is un-American-- both historically and constitutionally. Separate but equal has been stigmatized in the US and the public will get it after a very few years. However, trying to convince people or the court that we should be allowed to marry when the starting point is having nothing (no recognition at all) is be a tougher sell.
This is a no-brainer folks, and I'm starting to get angry at our leaders who won't pick up on Obama's civil union idea. Obama clearly sees the way forward and is trying to lead us to that next step, but our leaders seem oblivious to it.
h/t Andrew Sullivan
February 22, 2009
Posted by: Andoni
Both Chris and I have each elucidated on ways to take take advantage of President Barack Obama's explicitly stated support for full civil unions on the White House web page to score a giant leap forward for gay rights. Chris' post on this topic is here and mine here .
The Washington Blade also did a story exploring how Obama's civil union proposal might be implemented.
So far, however, no such bill to recognize civil unions is on the radar screen at HRC (Human Rights Campaign) or the offices of any of our three openly gay elected Representatives, Barney Frank, Tammy Baldwin or Jared Polis.
But the civil unions idea keeps rolling along. In today's New York Times, David Blankenhorn, a religious conservative, and Jonathon Rauch, a gay marriage advocate, have teamed up in an Op Ed to make a specific proposal on how to move gay marriage forward -- in the form of civil unions. The key to passage of this bill which recognizes gay marriages as civil unions is a compromise with the religious community exempting it from having to recognize these unions and also giving them a wide exemption from any anti-discrimination laws based on sexual orientation. Just as Chris and I proposed, it defines civil unions as any same sex marriage or civil union legally performed by a state.
It is heartening to see the mainstream media picking up on Obama's civil unions and coming to the same conclusions Chris and I have. Also, since the proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) already gives religious institutions an exception (this bill would broaden it), I can live with the proposal in today's New York Times.
There are several issues that must be considered before this bill is introduced. The main one is that if this is the compromise position, it would have to introduced with enough co-sponsors (or counted votes) in the Senate and the House that it passes as is, without amendment. Normally, such a bill would start out as a marriage equality bill, and end up like this after the compromise. If we start with this bill and work it through the normal channels of the House and Senate, the compromise wouldn't be worth too much.
My second main concern is that we would have to get our own left wing on board. There are people in our community that are for "marriage or nothing" and would try to kill this, even though it moves us 3/4 of the way to the prize and would recognize gay marriages from MA and CT.
I'm encouraged that Obama's willingness to support full civil unions is generating ideas on how to take advantage of this and move gay rights forward.
Now I have to ask, where are Barney, Tammy, and Jared.....and, of course, HRC. Being the leaders of our community bears some responsiblity to ..... well, actually lead.
February 09, 2009
Posted by: Andoni
"And to choose a felon over a combat-proven veteran on the basis of sexuality is defeatist. Ask any squad leader," counsels Owen West, a straight veteran in an Op Ed in today's New York Times. His piece lays out one of the best lines of reasoning I have seen on repealing the 'don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) policy enacted by Congress in 1993.
He advises Obama not to make repealing DADT into an argument about civil rights and equality, as President Clinton tried to do in 1993, but rather concentrate on helping the military and advance a line of evidence that repealing DADT is what's best for the military. He cites the example of after the integration of the military in 1948, during war time (the Korean War) even the generals acknowledged that recruiting across America's socio-economic specturm produced the best force.
I hope the White House reads this piece. Maybe we should send it to them.
February 06, 2009
Posted by: Andoni
Immigration Equality has just announced that the Uniting American Families Act of 2009 (UAFA) will be introduced into the House of Representatives by lead sponsor Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) on February 13. Because it's a new Congress this legislation must be re-introduced anew.
Last year this bill had 118 co-sponsors. The goal is to get all those co-sponsors back and then some, to make a good showing when the bill is introduced. So action is necessary. Please find out the name of your Congressperson, then call them by going through the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224- 3121 and ask your representative to co-sponsor this legislation. If your Congressperson was a co-sponsor last year, ask them to become an original co-sponsor this time by calling Congressman Nadler's office by February 12 to add their name.
Here's the spiel when you talk to your representative:
"The US government discriminates against gay and lesbian binational couples by not allowing us to sponsor our foreign-born life partner for immigration. Because of this, we face the terrible choice of separating from the person we love or leaving our country. As Americans, we should not have to choose between family and country. Please co-sponsor the Uniting American Families Act of 2009 before February 12. Thank you."
It was very encouraging to see Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese reference UAFA in today's Washington Blade as one of the legislative priorities they hoped to work with President Obama on and see passed in the near future.
January 27, 2009
Posted by: Andoni
Remember the battle last year when the trans members of our community were excluded from the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) --- resulting in activists and most LGBT organizations exploding in protest? They argued that it was not right to move forward with federal rights and benefits for some in the community while others are left out. We have resolved this bitter policy argument by committing that this year when we move forward with employment protections, we will do so only if all members of our community can receive these benefits.
We face a parallel situation again today -- leaving many in our community behind-- in our quest for federal marriage rights. If we pursue marriage as the sole vehicle to achieve the 1100+ federal rights and benefits for our relationships (the ones that come with opposite sex marriage), we will effectively be throwing gay couples who live in the 30 states with constitutional amendments prohibiting same sex marriage overboard. When everyone else gets marriage benefits, gay people who live in these 30 states will be left behind and get absolutely nothing. They will also have no hope of getting these benefits or protections for their relationships for a very, very long time.
Repealing the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) will bring the 1100+ federal rights and benefits only to couples who live in states that perform same sex marriage (MA, CT) or recognize same sex marriage (NY, RI). Repealing DOMA also gives hope for gay couples in the 16 states that have the possibility of same sex marriage sometime in the future. However, gays in the 30 other states will be completely shut out and left behind.
This poses a huge problem. If we choose to go forward with a marriage only strategy at the federal level, we are actively choosing to pursue a strategy that excludes a segment of our community-- just as we did to the trans community when we left them behind over ENDA.
There is a simple and fair solution to this dilemma and that is to pursue a strategy of moving forward with both MARRIAGE and CIVIL UNIONS simultaneously. Pursuing this path is not only fairer, but would result in achieving couples' rights and benefits in all 50 states, not just 20. We would be taking care of our entire community and leave no one behind.
This solution permits us to pursue the strategy that Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry wants as well as the strategy that President Obama outlines for LGBT civil rights on the White House webpage -- at the same time. If we were investing in securities this strategy would be called diversification; it has the benefit of maximizing our protections and minimizing our risks.
If we pursue marriage and marriage only, here's what it would take to get federal couples rights and benefits to gays in all 50 states:
1. DOMA must be repealed (or declared unconstitutional) which would result in gay couples in four states getting the federal rights and benefits of marriage, with another 16 possible after some long and hard work in each state. For gays in those 30 states that have inoculated themselves against same sex marriage with constitutional amendments, nothing happens and much, much more would have to happen before they have a chance to see couples' rights.
2. Next, using the "full faith and credit" clause of the US Constitution, some gay couples will have to get married in (let's say) MA and then go back to (let's say) GA and sue to try to have their marriages recognized there. After many years this would end up in the US Supreme Court and then if we win (a very big if), those 30 states will have to recognize our marriages. This may take 10 years or more. But even after that victory, those 30 states still will not have to perform same sex marriages.
3. Finally, another lawsuit will have to be filed challenging those state constitutional amendments on the federal "equal protection" clause, to compel those states to perform same sex marriages. This may also take 10 or more years.
Add this all up and it becomes a generational wait for the unfortunate gay people in those 30 states.
By SIMULTANEOUSLY going full steam ahead with marriage-- trying to repeal DOMA and get marriage rights state by state in the18 states where it's possible, AND pursuing a federal level civil union strategy as President Obama wants, we can end up with couples rights in all 50 states much quicker; 20 can have marriage and the other 30 who have no hope for marriage, can have civil unions while waiting for the courts or Congress to do the right thing. Another reason we can't forget gays in these 30 states (such as SC, GA, AL, MS, , TX, NV, etc.) is they are the ones who really need some gay rights, arguably more than the people in MA and CT -- although I know that no one group deserves rights more than another. The point is that EVERYONE deserves rights and we shouldn't neglect any subset of our community as we move forward.
At this point some clever person might say, but Don, being trans is not a choice, while living in GA is. If the person living in GA wants couples' rights and benefits, they should move to MA. Well that same argument was made about trans people and ENDA last year. Cynics suggested that any trans person who wanted employment protection should move to a state such as NJ or OR where they could have these protections. However, most commentators shouted this argument down saying a person should not be forced to make a geographical move in order to obtain basic rights. So for this discussion I'm going to stipulate that moving is not a valid solution for couples' rights either.
Finally, I would like to remind you of a really smart move right out of Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign playbook. Obama pursued a "50 state strategy" to win. If we go forward only with marriage, we are pursuing a "20 state strategy" because there are only 20 states currently "in play" for marriage. However, if we pursue both marriage and civil unions, we are using a "50 state strategy," putting all 50 states "in play."
For gay rights, a "50 state" strategy is far superior to a "20 state strategy.
I firmly believe that true equality comes only after we have same sex marriage coast to coast. That is our ultimate goal, and I am a supporter of marriage equality both politically and financially.
However the question today is how to get to that ultimate goal fastest while also being fair to ALL members of our community, not just some.The answer is that pursuing both marriage and civil unions simultaneously is the smartest strategy moving forward.
January 25, 2009
Posted by: Andoni
The St. Petersburg Times has determined that Barack Obama made over 500 promises during the course of his presidential campaign....and they are keeping track of them. They've established a webpage called The Obameter: Tracking Obama's Campaign Promises.
On this webpage you can see all the promises Obama made, sort them by subject, see the ones he's completed already, or the ones he's started on. I guess they are planning on keeping this page going for four years because they also have a category called broken promises.
The promises to the LGBT community are numbers 290 through 294 ----- and in case you haven't been paying attention, none of them are checked off yet.
In case you are wondering, according to the St. Petersburg Times, Obama has completed five of his promises already.
January 22, 2009
Posted by: Chris
Remember Equal Rep, the Facebook-based lobby group that campaigned for an openly gay cabinet appointment by President-elect Barack Obama? They took considerable issue with my suggestion that they were effectively pushing affirmative action for gay politicos -- not to mention distracting from much more important issues for the movement.
Having failed to succeed with Obama's selections to existing cabinet posts, they've come up with an entirely new suggestion:
Equal Rep is now putting on a follow-up national campaign to strongly urge President-elect Obama to create a new cabinet position, Secretary of GLBT Affairs. All participants are asked to phone and email President Obama’s White House comment line and email daily from Jan. 26-30. …
Equal Rep founder, Paul Sousa, said, “And on top of that, gay Americans are the only minority group to have never been appointed to the Presidential Cabinet in the history of the United States. We’re asking President Obama to give this community the attention it needs and the representation it deserves.”
There are other Cabinet positions that represent minorities such as the Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs and Equal Rep is asking President Obama to create another position similarly for the GLBT community. It is commonplace for Presidents to create Cabinet positions due to community needs such as the creation of the Secretary of Homeland Security position in 2001.
What to say, what to say, what to say… I think I'll just second the remarks of Matt Comer at InterstateQ:
I don’t think Sousa really understands what his proposal means. The U.S. Department of GLBT Affairs?
Never. Will. Happen. Ever. If African-Americans, after suffering centuries of bondage, rape and murder, didn’t get a representative U.S. department, neither will we.
There’s no need for minority departments. The U.S. Justice Department, if operated correctly and with tools given to them by the president or Congress, is the office in charge of protecting the civil rights of Americans. And, let’s just face it, the LGBT community hasn’t yet gotten any federal civil rights legislation. That’s just a simple fact of life. If we can’t get a simple bill passed, what makes him think his proposal for a Gay Secretary is going to be taken seriously.
There were better ways to address our representation in Obama’s administration and the government, and I’m sure the Victory Fund and others are working diligently away to find it. One way to address equal representation is supporting LGBT people who run for elected office. The more out elected officials we have, the bigger a pool there is for a president or governor to appoint from. Hell, even taking the initiative to run yourself, if no one else is running, is a solution. You might not win, but you make it possible for someone else to win down the road.
But, the reality is that a Gay Secretary isn’t possible and isn’t the answer. And, no, the Secretary for Veterans’ Affairs is not similar to any idea for a Gay Secretary. Sorry.
Whether or not the kids at Equal Rep intend an entire department or just the position of cabinet secretary, it's so far beyond the pale, not to mention a smack in the face of other minority groups. Why is the important work that would actually benefit the lives of LGBT Americans of such little interest to so many?
Posted by: Andoni
It was the best party I had ever attended. Everyone was my friend, yet I went there knowing no one. I talked to perfect strangers and felt as if I had known them all my life.
It was the highest high of my life, but there was no alcohol or drugs served.
And when Barack Obama said that there is a
"God given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness"
I was ecstatic. He was talking directly to me. In my mind he was laying the groundwork for my emancipation which will come later in his administration. It could have been Harvey Milk up there talking to me.
I knew then that Barack Obama was going to fulfill his campaign promises. In fact seeing how quickly he is moving with executive orders on his promises, I am sure this guy is serious about gay rights. He does what he says.
And my high is still present, two days later. Maybe this is what if felt like to be in Times Square at the end of World War II.
I met so many interesting people who became immediate soul mates. The photo above was taken on the Metro on the way to the festivities.
Inauguration Day began early for me getting up at 4:30 am to catch the 7:30 am flight to Reagan National. I was going up and back on the same day.
My plane arrived in DC at 9:08 am and I was in line at the check point for Purple ticket holders (the intersection of Louisiana and First Street) around 10, finally to be admitted just before Barack was introduced.
When I got off the plane, I quickly made my way to the Metro, but when I got to the platform, a train was pulling away and there were still about 1000 people on the platform. I asked someone what happened and he said that it was the third train that passed them by because it was full. I immediately turned around, went back down the escalators and up to the other platform for trains going south. An empty yellow train came immediately and I got on, took a seat and went 4 stops in the wrong direction to Huntington, where the train immediately turned around and began going north to DC. When we got to the Reagan National Airport stop again, the train was full and very few people were able to squeeze on. Meanwhile, I was comfortably seated. If I had not learned this trick from all my years on public transportation I would have missed the inauguration as many others did. (Why didn't the Metro folks only open certain cars at each station so everyone had a shot to get into the train everywhere along the route?)
I waited in line at my check point for over an hour inching along because of the inefficiency of the ticket checkers. I made friends with everyone around me. The mood was joyous. This type of really bad line management under any other circumstances would have resulted in a riot. I could go on and on with what they did wrong, but suffice it to say, it was very bad at the Purple check point.
In any case, I got in just before Barack was introduced. I was one of the last people to get in before they closed the Purple gate. The area was fairly packed, and I could not get to where I had planned to stand. Just as I was about to choose my spot, I noticed that some people were removing a waist high fence surrounding one of the monuments, and they began entering that verboten zone, climbing the monument for a better view. There were at least 6 police officers right there, so I waited to see how they would react to this. After a moment it became clear that the police chose not to make an issue out of this, so I joined the young people climbing the monument to get a better view. (Picture below) It should be noted that the monument was surrounded by freshly planted ornamental cabbages as part of the landscaping. I was worried for the plants. On my way out after the ceremonies I could not find one cabbage plant that had been trampled by the 100 people or so who had made the circle around this monument their home for an hour during the inauguration. This was definitely a well behaved crowd.
I would say I was within 300 yards or so of the stage. It was one of those indelible moments in life such as the lunar landing or the Kennedy assassination, only this time I was there in person instead of simply watching on TV. One million, two million, who knows how many people.... but in spite the tremendous crowds, people were happy, polite, and patient in the face of the tremendous obstacles by security in getting to your allotted spot. Sadly to say, some people with Purple tickets behind me, did not get in. The reason for this is unclear and the Presidential Inauguration Committee has begun an investigation to see what happened.
In general there were 3 groups of really good tickets. They were on the actual Capitol grounds. The first group was up on stage with Obama and these were the Senators and Congressmen, former presidents, and very, very important people. The next group was seated at a lower level in front of Obama and they were anywhere from 50 yards to 250 yards or so away. These were government officials from around the country, Hollywood stars, and people who paid $5000 or $10,000 for a weekend package to all events. (I had declined this opportunity.)
Finally in my group, we stood behind these people and were between 250 to 400 yards away....about midway between the stage and the large Capitol reflecting pool. The people on the Mall behind me were anywhere from a half mile away to to two to three miles away. However, neither they nor I could could see the features of Obama's face and we both had to rely on the Jumbotrons, so in a sense our positions were equal.
The over-riding mood of the day was happiness, people being nice to people, and a real patriotic feeling. The only thing comparable for me was the Bicentennial celebration I attended in Boston with over a million people at the Esplanade along the Charles with Arthur Fiedler playing the 1812 Overture just as the canon and fireworks started. Both events were wonderful, but the Obama inauguration was definitely more wonderful.
January 21, 2009
Posted by: Andoni
".... and enact legislation that would ensure that the 1,100+ federal legal rights and benefits currently provided on the basis of marital status are extended to same-sex couples in civil unions and other legally-recognized unions."
More properly, the title of this post should have been "Federal recognition of our relationships as civil unions: so simple."
Of all President Barack Obama's proposals for the LGBT community on the official White House webpage , I believe this one is the best and most powerful. It will achieve more rights and benefits for gay people than all the others combined. It's beautifully simple yet simultaneously brilliant. If done properly, it will bring gay rights to couples in Mississippi and Alabama as well as Massachusetts.
Repealing the Defense of Marriage Act will take many more years because marriage is still such a third rail issue, whereas benefits for civil unions is not. And when DOMA falls, only Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York couples will gain those 1100+ rights.
This is how you do it. The bill would not have to be complicated and could be as simple as this:
THE PURPOSE of this legislation is to extend to same sex couples the exact same rights and benefits from the federal government that married opposite sex couples receive from the federal government
THE LEGISLATION: All federal statutes, codes, rules and regulations are hereby amended so that wherever the word "marriage" appears, that word is replaced with the phrase "marriage or civil union." Additionally, when other forms of the word "marriage" are used, the appropriate form of "civil union" is used. (Example: "married" is amended to read "married or civil unioned.")
DEFINITIONS: For the purposes of this legislation "civil union" is defined as any same sex union legally created by a state government where such a union has the exact same or substantially the same definition, obligations and rights as a marriage in the state.
RESTRICTIONS: This legislation applies for federal rights and benefits only. There is nothing in this legislation to mandate state recognition of these relationships, or to compel the various states to grant similar rights and benefits to same sex couples. Such matters are left entirely to the states under the Tenth Amendment.
Here are some important things our community needs to understand about this proposal:
The federal government doesn't create marriages or other unions, it merely recognizes marriages legally performed by one of the states. This would be the same arrangements for "civil unions." The federal government would recognize a same sex union legally performed in one of the states and it would be called a "civil union."
This legislation does not require DOMA to be repealed. Only if the federal government wants to call these unions "marriages" does DOMA have to be repealed.
The federal government would acknowledge same sex couples in all 50 states, as long as the union was created legally by one of the states, which is what they do for marriage. It doesn't matter where you live, it matters that your union was created or performed legally -- which would mean in a state that performs these same sex uinons. A couple can go from a state that has no recognition of same sex couples to a state were same sex relationships are legally created. They can get hitched legally there and the federal government will acknowledge that relationship even if the couple returns to their home state where they get no recognition and no state rights and benefits.
Because of DOMA, the federal government cannot recognize same sex marriages (from CT and MA) as marriages, but under this legislation, those same sex marriages would be defined as civil unions (see definition above) at the federal level. Domestic partnerships from CA and civil unions from VT or NJ would also be called civil unions at the federal level. Should a future state decide to call a same sex union something new, such as a "civil partnership," this law would cover that too -- as a "civil union."
When DOMA is repealed, then same sex marriages from MA and CT (and any future same sex marriage state) will be recognized as marriage by the federal government. DOMA is the only thing preventing that now.
The fight for marriage can and will continue in the states. When new states choose to call our relationships marriage, people will receive the 1100+ federal benefits as civil unions. When DOMA is repealed, they will receive those same 1100+ benefits under a new name, marriage. Maybe then someone will propose to expand the federal definition of civil unions to include opposite sex couples as well, so they too can choose to have a marriage or a civil union, getting our country further along the road of separation of church and state.
You may ask, how can the federal government grant rights at the federal level, when the state government where the couple resides may not do the same.
There is a parallel situation. Just like marriage licenses, the federal government does not issue doctors' licenses either -- states do. So how does the federal government recognize doctors who can practice in the federal medical system (the Veterans Administration, the military, the public health system, etc.)? It recognizes the state licenses. To practice medicine in the federal system and receive all the rights and benefits granted to a physician by that license, you must hold a license legally obtained from one of the 50 states. Your license may be from MA, but the federal government will recognize you as a doctor in the federal system in Alabama (for example at the VA hospital) even though the state of Alabama will not recognize that license and will not allow you the rights and benefits to practice in their state outside of the VA system. Alabama will not recognize your license to practice medicine from MA even if the federal government does. So just as the state of Alabama does not recognize a same sex marriage license from MA, or a doctors license from MA, the federal government does recognize the doctors license and could do the same with the other license. The federal system and the state system are two separate and independent systems. This is at the heart of federalism that some Republicans like Bob Barr strongly support.
The best part of this is that it is such a powerful tool. Literally hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of gays in all 50 states will have the ability to access these 1100+ federal benefits even if their own state doesn't recognize that relationship.
Finally, I realize that the screams from our own left will say "marriage or nothing." Here's a counter argument. By setting up such a clearly "separate but equal system" (there is no debate on this, rigtht?), that separate but equal system, as a half step, will be successfully challenged more quickly (either through public education or in the courts) and become full marriage equality sooner, than the purer route of going from nothing at the federal level to full marriage equality in one step. Anyone who thinks that going from nothing to full marriage equality at the federal level all in one step is coming soon is fooling themselves. That is a much harder, bigger, and more time consuming route.
I wish I could say my thinking is original on this, but it is based on my discussions with a prominent LGBT Obama campaign official and a prominent ACLU attorney neither of whom wishes to go on record at this time.
January 20, 2009
Posted by: Chris
CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin sounded a sour note a few hours ago on Barack Obama's inaugural address, criticizing it for lacking a coherent theme or any memorable phrase or idea. I would actually agree.
The speech surprised by being less memorable or powerful than his race speech,
his acceptance speech in Denver or on election night in Chicago -- not
to mention his 2004 keynote at the Democratic convention. Though with four warm-ups like that and all the world attention, it was probably impossible for Obama to live up to expectations today.
If a central goal of his presidency -- and the inauguration -- is to u nify the country, the speech itself probably hit a sour note. I can only imagine how President Bush and Republicans reacted to hearing about "a sapping of confidence across our land -- a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable." We usually hear these sorts of broadsides from Republicans after Democratic control in Washington. Can't you imagine Ronald Reagan saying the same thing after four years of Jimmy Carner?
Not to mention how John McCain and his supporters probably felt about Obama proclaiming, "We have chosen hope over fear, unity
of purpose over conflict and discord," or "or that in national defense, "we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals."
I agree on each and every point, but that's not my point. I wonder whether
such direct attacks on Bush and the GOP, especially on such a day, will undermine
the goodwill Obama has built and set the country on a more divisive course.
On the other hand, polls show Americans overwhelmingly agree that
the Bush presidency was a failure and the nation is headed in the wrong
direction. Even arch-conservative Bill Bennett called the speech "muscular,"
and though he was talking about its few chest-thumping passage, he is
right. Obama set a clear new course for the country.
Forget talk of a transition, this was a clean break. This was change. That's what the people want, after all.
(Photo via Washington Post)
Posted by: Chris
What a difference one minute can make!
The new official site WhiteHouse.gov went live at 12:01 p.m., when the Constitution provides that Barack Obama became president even though he didn't take office for a few more minutes. In the section on "Civil Rights," there is an entire subsection entitled "Support for the LGBT Community" -- the only subsection on the civil rights page.
There you'll find commitments to support hate crime and workplace discrimination laws -- both including sexual orientation and gender identity -- as well as repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell and opposition to a marriage amendment. But most dramatically, in my view, is discussion of relationship recognition:
Support Full Civil Unions and Federal Rights for LGBT Couples: President Obama supports full civil unions that give same-sex couples legal rights and privileges equal to those of married couples. Obama also believes we need to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and enact legislation that would ensure that the 1,100+ federal legal rights and benefits currently provided on the basis of marital status are extended to same-sex couples in civil unions and other legally-recognized unions. These rights and benefits include the right to assist a loved one in times of emergency, the right to equal health insurance and other employment benefits, and property rights.
You don't get much better than that except for outright support for marriage equality, which is actually a non-issue at the federal level. And not to read too much into it, the support for federal civil union rights and repeal of DOMA is listed just below hate crimes and ENDA, which are the first and second pieces of legislation expected to pass Congress.
It is disappointing that there is no specific mention of equal immigration rights for GLB Americans or the Uniting American Families Act, either in the civil rights page or the page on immigration. Obama has repeatedly expressed support for UAFA, although he did not sign on a sponsor in the Senate and has expressed some reservations about the potential for fraud.
But then again, either repealing DOMA or adopting federal civil unions would automatically extend pretty much the same rights as UAFA.
Talk about change we can believe in! Can we officially stop caring or talking about Rick Warren now?
Yes, they're "only words" but to put the commitment right out there, so prominently, is to give us a standard by which to measure the administration's success on civil rights. Even more importantly, we must now respond to this dramatic change of fortunes in Washington by doing our part to lobby Congress to move forward on these issues.
The full text on LGBT rights is below:
- Expand Hate Crimes Statutes: In 2004, crimes against LGBT Americans constituted the third-highest category of hate crime reported and made up more than 15 percent of such crimes. President Obama cosponsored legislation that would expand federal jurisdiction to include violent hate crimes perpetrated because of race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or physical disability. As a state senator, President Obama passed tough legislation that made hate crimes and conspiracy to commit them against the law.
- Fight Workplace Discrimination: President Obama supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and believes that our anti-discrimination employment laws should be expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity. While an increasing number of employers have extended benefits to their employees' domestic partners, discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace occurs with no federal legal remedy. The President also sponsored legislation in the Illinois State Senate that would ban employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
- Support Full Civil Unions and Federal Rights for LGBT Couples: President Obama supports full civil unions that give same-sex couples legal rights and privileges equal to those of married couples. Obama also believes we need to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and enact legislation that would ensure that the 1,100+ federal legal rights and benefits currently provided on the basis of marital status are extended to same-sex couples in civil unions and other legally-recognized unions. These rights and benefits include the right to assist a loved one in times of emergency, the right to equal health insurance and other employment benefits, and property rights.
- Oppose a Constitutional Ban on Same-Sex Marriage: President Obama voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2006 which would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman and prevented judicial extension of marriage-like rights to same-sex or other unmarried couples.
- Repeal Don't Ask-Don't Tell: President Obama agrees with former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili and other military experts that we need to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. The key test for military service should be patriotism, a sense of duty, and a willingness to serve. Discrimination should be prohibited. The U.S. government has spent millions of dollars replacing troops kicked out of the military because of their sexual orientation. Additionally, more than 300 language experts have been fired under this policy, including more than 50 who are fluent in Arabic. The President will work with military leaders to repeal the current policy and ensure it helps accomplish our national defense goals.
- Expand Adoption Rights: President Obama believes that we must ensure adoption rights for all couples and individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation. He thinks that a child will benefit from a healthy and loving home, whether the parents are gay or not.
- Promote AIDS Prevention: In the first year of his presidency, President Obama will develop and begin to implement a comprehensive national HIV/AIDS strategy that includes all federal agencies. The strategy will be designed to reduce HIV infections, increase access to care and reduce HIV-related health disparities. The President will support common sense approaches including age-appropriate sex education that includes information about contraception, combating infection within our prison population through education and contraception, and distributing contraceptives through our public health system. The President also supports lifting the federal ban on needle exchange, which could dramatically reduce rates of infection among drug users. President Obama has also been willing to confront the stigma -- too often tied to homophobia -- that continues to surround HIV/AIDS.
- Empower Women to Prevent HIV/AIDS: In the United States, the percentage of women diagnosed with AIDS has quadrupled over the last 20 years. Today, women account for more than one quarter of all new HIV/AIDS diagnoses. President Obama introduced the Microbicide Development Act, which will accelerate the development of products that empower women in the battle against AIDS. Microbicides are a class of products currently under development that women apply topically to prevent transmission of HIV and other infections.
Posted by: Chris
It was an inaugural speech of sharp distinctions and change more than idealistic unity or the marking of a historical first. I'm not sure how I would feel if I were a supporter of George W. Bush or John McCain, but President Obama -- ahh, that feels good writing! -- certainly did not disappoint those of us yearning for a clean break.
For a politician often accused of overly lofty rhetoric, it was a down and dirty and direct address. For those of us committed to equality and civil rights for gay Americans, there was this powerful statement:
On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.
On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.
We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.
The words are general enough to provide inspiration and hope to any number of groups, and no doubt fell short for those waiting in hopes for "the G word." But after eight years of wedge politics and opposition to basic civil rights and equality, they were powerful words indeed.
Posted by: Chris
With all the hoopla about the two-minute prayer that Rick Warren will offer during today's inauguration of Barack Obama, I am surprised to have heard nothing about (self-proclaimed) Bishop T.D. Jakes giving the sermon at this morning's inaugural church service.
Back in 2005, black gay activist Keith Boykin included Jakes among a series of black church pastors with anti-gay views who he believes are closet homosexuals:
Jakes is even more conservative than [George W.] Bush. Unlike Bush, who has hired gays and lesbians in the federal government, Jakes has called homosexuality a "brokenness" and said he would not hire a sexually active gay person.
And Jakes has also adopted another part of the presidential philosphy: his lifestyle. Jakes and his congregation refer to his wife Serita as "the first lady," and they live in a $1.7 million mansion on Dallas's scenic White Rock Lake next to a building once owned by oil magnate H.L. Hunt. As Time magazine explained, "He flies on charter planes or in first-class seats, sups with a coterie in a room known as 'the king's table,' sports a large diamond ring and dresses like the multimillionaire he is."
I don't believe that black preachers have a duty to be poor, but I do believe they should not make their millions off the backs of their struggling kin. It's one thing to create your wealth as a preacher. It's another thing to create your wealth with a message of sexism, heterosexism and homophobia directed against some of the hardest hit people in your own community.
Jakes has endorsed the so-called Truth for Youth campaign, which is distributing specially-made anti-gay Bibles to high school students all across the country.
"To date, I have not seen scriptural authority that allows me to stand on behalf of God and say I now pronounce you husband and husband, and wife and wife," Jakes told USA Today. "This is an issue the government is undecided about. The Bible is not," he said. But if Jakes still believes in the separation of church and state, it's not clear from his political activity. In fact, Jakes publicly endorsed the anti-gay Federal Marriage Amendment, which would have been the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution to legalize discrimination against a group of citizens.
As Time magazine put it, "gay Americans would have no reason at all to consider Jakes their preacher."
Ultimately Boykin's proof on Jakes' anti-gay past is much stronger than the rumors that Jakes may be a closet case. (A former male staffer went public with charges that Jakes repeatedly propositioned him for sex.) Regardless, it will be interesting to see whether activists take note of Jakes' high profile role.
My own view, of course, is that Obama is fulfilling his promise to unite the country -- and making a shrewd political move -- by including the likes of Jakes and Warren, along with openly gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson, and pro-gay ministers Joseph Lowery and Sharon Watkins, in inauguration ceremonies.
Posted by: Chris
For all those who suspected some grand conspiracy between the Obama transition team and HBO to exclude openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson from the broadcast of the (ironically named) "We Are One" event, rest easy:
The cable network said that it had not been advised about what would go where in the two-hour live telecast. … The omission caused a pile of headaches for HBO and the Presidential Inaugural Committee, which received an estimated $2 million to give HBO the exclusive rights to the concert.
Whew. And even double whew:
HBO said late Monday that it will include an opening prayer from an openly gay pastor in subsequent telecasts of the "We Are One" inaugural concert, whose original live telecast began after the pastor's invocation.
No doubt gay activists will be watching like hawks to make sure HBO follows through on its promise. Will they watch with the same level of scrutiny to make sure Obama and Congress move forwarrd on legislation to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and Don't Ask Don't Tell, or enact federal civil unions?
January 19, 2009
Posted by: Chris
A transcript of the prayer by gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson at yesterday's opening inaugural event is now available, as is the video:
It's a challenging prayer, no doubt something of a downer for an event that is supposed to celebrate Barack Obama's historic election. Perhaps the event's producers excluded it from the HBO broadcast for that reason. Reverend Robinson's glass is not just half-empty; it's mostly evaporated.
Still, it will no doubt please its intended audience, the progressive left that revels so much in victimology that it is loathe to ever recognize the "progress" from which it gets its name.
Here's the Robinson transcript:
Welcome to Washington! The fun is about to begin, but first, please join me in pausing for a moment, to ask God’s blessing upon our nation and our next president.
O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will…
Bless us with tears – for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.
Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
Bless us with discomfort – at the easy, simplistic “answers” we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.
Bless us with patience – and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be “fixed” anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.
Bless us with humility – open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world.
Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance – replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger.
Bless us with compassion and generosity – remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable in the human community, whether across town or across the world.
And God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.
Give him wisdom beyond his years, and inspire him with Lincoln’s reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy’s ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King’s dream of a nation for ALL the people.
Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain in these times.
Give him stirring words, for we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.
Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.
Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.
Give him the strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods.
And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking FAR too much of this one. We know the risk he and his wife are taking for all of us, and we implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand – that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace.
(Video h/t to our pal Jeremy at G.A.Y.)
Posted by: Chris
I was encouraged to read a piece by the Advocate's Sean Kennedy for New York Magazine that suggests that our activists are finally looking beyond the giant distraction of Warren-gate and on to the serious issues that lie ahead. (Unfortunately, HBO's failure to broadcast the inaugural event prayer yesterday by gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson will undoubtedly prolong the kvetching.)
But at least Kennedy's report suggests that the Human Rights Campaign hasn't forgotten to set their eyes on a prize bigger than who gives a two-minute prayer at the inauguration:
[T]here were those who believed it was a genuine act of inclusiveness, in keeping with the post-swearing-in benediction by the Reverend Joseph Lowery, who supports gay rights (but not marriage), and the Reverend Sharon Watkins's leading of the national prayer service Wednesday morning, the first woman to do so.
"Unless we believe it's pure political bull, Obama's been talking the whole time about bringing people together across the ideological spectrum," says gay-media veteran Chris Crain, adding: "Why is it a bad thing that someone who's anti-gay wants to support the most pro-gay president we've had?"
But Crain is an outlier; for the most part, the rancor is unabated: "The Warren choice was universally disappointing," says Harry Knox, director of the Human Rights Campaign's Religion and Faith program. "But both grayheads like me and young people are wise enough to see that we can't expect perfection from our leaders. We have to be vigilant about getting the work done that it will take to get this legislation passed."
He's referring to major policy items, like "don't ask, don't tell" and the Defense of Marriage Act, both of which Obama says he wants to repeal.
That's actually the first time I've seen anyone from HRC talk about being "vigilant" about "major policy items" like repeal of DADT and DOMA. Up till now, all they've talked about are low-hanging fruit like hate crime and employmnet non-discrimination laws, which while important are largely symbolic by comparison.