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    November 11, 2008

    Obama, free the gays!

    Posted by: Andoni

    I can't tell you how down I still am over the passage of Prop 8 in California repealing the right of gays to marry.

    As they say, when one door closes sometimes another opens. The surprising thing for me in the aftermath of Prop 8 is the number of phone calls I have gotten from relatives (I have a lot of religious conservative relatives) to discuss the Prop 8 result. Most go along the lines of "You know I'm not against you gays or gay rights, it's just that marriage is so sacred that I can't support it for two men. Civil unions would be OK, but sorry I can't support marriage." There is almost a tinge of guilt in their voices. I think I am getting these calls because these people realize on some level that what the voters did in California was wrong.

    I believe that the people who voted to strip gays of their right to marry fall into two categories: those who are not anti-gay but have a bona fide belief that the word marriage should only apply to heterosexual marriages and those who are definitely anti-gay and don't want gays to have anything, nothing, nada.

    I would bet that this latter group is definitely a minority. That would make the sum of the people who favor gay marriage (voted no on Prop 8) and those who only quibble over the word "marriage" for us and don't mind us being recognized with rights in some other manner --- a fairly big majority, a working majority -- if we can get them all on the same page.

    I think the time is ripe to put this majority to work, right now while people remember how we were screwed on marriage. Contrary to what our more conservative national leaders and organizations may tell you, I believe this is a good time to propose federal legislation recognizing civil unions and granting federal benefits for these unions. Marriage is the lightning rod issue, civil unions is not. We should take advantage of this fact to move our cause forward in a dramatic way at this time.

    Federal civil unions would be in keeping with Barack Obama's campaign promises. He believes in civil unions for us, not marriage. Going with the flow at this time means getting on the civil union track, not the marriage track.

    There is a lot of guilt out there about what happened in California and it will put people on the spot to the test themselves whether they are just paying us lip service that they aren't really anti-gay -- only anti-gay marriage. This doesn't mean we stop fighting for marriage, but it will take much more time for that. Who are we as a people to think we can get 100% in one leap when African Americans had to settle for separate but equal before they got equal. Have we run a better campaign than they did? Have we fought harder? I don't think so. They were willing to get bloodied in the streets and arrested for their cause. I don't see similar motivations or sacrifices being made on our part, so it's hard to argue that we deserve an easier, faster path than they got. Separate but equal is fine by me for a while, but we need to get some federal recognition of our relationships on the books and there is an opening at the moment. Civil unions would be a giant leap forward and because we will have a president who has said this is what he believes in, this is where we should put our energy. It would be crazy to try to do an end run for marriage, and only marriage. Marriage or bust is not a good strategy.

    It doesn't take a Doris Kearns Goodwin to see that Barack Obama can go down in history as the president who brought gay rights to this country. He is in a position to pass ENDA and hate crime legislation, repeal DOMA, repeal DADT, and establish federal rights for our unions. 

    In summary, Barack Obama has the potential to be the Abraham Lincoln for gay people. Just as Lincoln freed the slaves, Obama (more or less a beneficiary of Lincoln's actions) is in the unique position to become known as the president who freed the gays.



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    1. Chris on Nov 11, 2008 6:50:13 PM:

      It's an interesting idea, Don, but you'd have to spell out what you mean. Do you mean that federal government recognition of same-sex couples would be limited to civil unions -- leaving DOMA in place? Why would we punish those states extending full marriage equality? If so, a federal civil unions law would be a very powerful law AGAINST full marriage equality -- more than 1,100 federal rights/benefits would be at stake!

      Would a federal civil union law limit recognition to those fortunate enough to live in places like Vermont, New Jersey, California, Washington, etc. with civil union-type laws -- or do they have residency requirements?

      What kind of recognition would civil unions receive from the federal government -- equivalent to marriage? Don't forget the promise made by Joe Biden in the vice-presidential debate: "In an Obama-Biden administration, there will be absolutely no distinction from a constitutional standpoint or a legal standpoint between a same-sex and a heterosexual couple."

      Since even a half-repeal of DOMA would have a much broader impact, shouldn't that be our top relationship recognition goal?

      And finally, I have to ask: Where are our so-called advocacy groups on this stuff? Note how we've received ZERO leadership on anything relating to relationship recognition -- not just since the election but for years...

    1. Andoni on Nov 11, 2008 7:22:19 PM:

      Left purposely vague, Chris. Simply wanted to introduce the new direction.

      But if you insist, here's more specific language: the federal government will recognize any same sex relationship that was legally performed in a state that recognizes same sex relationships and it will be called a civil union. Civil unions will confer on those couples the exact same federal benefits as marriages.

      I'm not a lawyer....and I'm sure a lawyer can make my language more legal. But the idea is that if a state recognizes a same sex relationship (they can choose to call it a marriage or a civil union --- it is left up to the states), then it will be called a civil union by the federal government and there will no distinction between a same-sex and a heterosexual couple a la Biden doctrine.

      Note that this idea does not require one to remain in the state that the ceremony was performed in. Federal benefits would follow you anywhere in the United States. After all they would be federal benefits, not state benefits.

      BTW, as for our national organizations and leadership, I was privy to a conversation between 3 influential members of HRC who were conniving to advise Obama to only do ENDA and Hate Crimes before the 2010 elections. I had a fit, but they wouldn't listen to me.

    1. mike/ on Nov 11, 2008 7:25:54 PM:

      when i told my straight friends about Mr. Obama's saying that discrimination should not be written into the California Constitution, aka Proposition 8, but in the same breath said that he was "against" same-sex marriage, they almost all had he same response - "That's against his message!" these friends actively worked for Obamas' campaign and strongly supported him.

      my amazement first came from the fact that i had been telling them this all along and wondered what could i have said differently. it seems that with the failure of defeating Prop 8 it suddenly hit them. maybe they thought it was a done deal? maybe they didn't know he had actually said it? i'm not sure.

      in disclosure, they knew that i would not actively join them in campaigning for Mr. Obama but that i would support him in the election. they also knew the reason. from personal prior experience i have observed Mr. Obama's "non-commitment technique" in his political career. though others think that he is going to have a "great" presidency, i have the other perspective.

      so as far as "Obama, free the gays!", i won't hold my breath. maybe in 2012 AFTER he wins reelection for a second term there might be some concessions, but not until then, if at all...

    1. Tim Z on Nov 11, 2008 7:27:14 PM:

      Since the religious riech is so stuck on marriage being between a man and a woman let them have the word. Change federal law to move the current marriage rights and responsibilites to civil unions for an couple who wants to be recognized by the federal government. Then the churches could continue to marry people but to get recognized by the government you would also have to have a civil union.

      It really has to be one way for everyone. Separate but equal is not equal at all.

    1. Andoni on Nov 11, 2008 7:57:54 PM:

      P.S. I would take repealing DOMA in a millisecond. But I think that this is a third rail and will be for at least 5 more years. When my religious relatives tell me civil unions are OK with them now, that tells me a moment of opportunity has arrived. We should do polling to see how extensive this view is.

    1. Keith on Nov 11, 2008 9:09:49 PM:

      Andoni, this is pretty much what I think needs to happen, too. Here in Florida there have been constant postings on newspaper sites with comments from right wing quacks arguing with pro-gay posters. One particular person who was for the Amendment 2 (so he was against extending marriage rights to gays) indicated that he had no problem with civil unions and all the trappings. But there was no way he would support 'gay marriage'. This is a real problem with these people. They do NOT want the word 'gay' and 'marriage' to be in the same room. But when it gets down to the matter of fairness and extending the 1000+ benefits of marriages to gays--they will listen to you if you call it civil unions or anything other than marriage. Throw in some language which says that no church or faith shall be required to bless or bestow their sacraments upon the civil union and even more go along. They don't want their church to have to marry gays. Period. Then the issue of gays having children gets thrown into the argument. "Protect the Children!" Of course there are plenty of just plain nasty anti-gay people that are not going to listen to anything to do with giving gays anything but the death penalty (if in doubt on this, read some of Roy Moore's quotes or read some southern newspapers). But if you avoid the marriage word and structure it intelligently, I think you get a good majority of people supporting gays.

      What are the chances that the Obama administration and congress would stick their little toes in the water though. Read Chris' comments after your comments regarding the new Chief of Staff and you'll get a whiff of this stink bomb. And if the progress we want/expect does not happen during the next 2 years then the window for action decreases. Really, if whatever progress we are wanting/expecting does not happen by the end of the 1st year the chances decrease. For me, hate crimes and ENDA are not going to do anything. That's fluffing a pig at this point. I am hopeful that the gay community is incensed enough over this election that we are going to expect real results. Not pretend stuff.

    1. Shane on Nov 11, 2008 10:48:11 PM:

      We've seen a pretty ugly, racist reaction by gay Californians because of the passage of the constitutional amendment. Democrats will not stand publicly for same-sex marriage until it's politically safe to do so. I can only hope that they try to force it in the house and senate, us Republicans could use the help...

    1. Jeff on Nov 11, 2008 11:58:01 PM:

      We should take those Obama-promised federal rights -- all the same as for married couples -- and let the straights keep their precious/sacred "marriage" word. It would be like a giant domestic partnership registry on a federal level, including those in state civil unions or marriages or registered domestic partnerships, and those married in Canada or elsewhere, and anyone else who wants to register directly with the feds even if their state offers no protections.

      But we should insist that our newly recognized relationships be called "Separate But Equal Unions" for the purposes of federal law. This country should be forced to be honest about what's going on.

    1. Chris on Nov 12, 2008 11:42:37 AM:

      I like this idea MUCH more now that you've fleshed it out, Don. It would extend federal marriage-like recognition to same-sex relationships recognized by states as marriages, civil unions or domestic partners (broad or limited). Because it includes marriages, gay couples can go to places like MA or CT and get married and achieve federal civil union recognition. That also alleviates my concern about disincentivizing states from choosing marriage over civil unions.

      I also think this fleshed-out version gets around DOMA, which says only that the federal government can't treat gay marriages as marriages -- it doesn't say they can't be treated as something else (i.e., civil unions with the same rights as marriages).

      The biggest problem, as you identify it, is who would advocate for it. HRC is fully co-opted by the Dems and neither will touch relationship recognition except MAYBE D.P. benefits for federal employees before at least 2010. The Task Force is co-opted by trans and social justice activists and is only interested in expanding a trans-inclusive ENDA to a long, drawn out fight for housing and public accommodation rights via amending Title VII, Civil Rights Act.

      Who does that leave? The Gill Foundation maybe?

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