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    April 30, 2009

    Gay press back in the White House

    Posted by: Andoni

    The good news is that after many years of being excluded during the Bush administration, the LGBT press is again being invited to White House press conferences. Last night, Chris Johnson of the Washington Blade was there. At the presser before, Lou Chibbaro of the Blade was in attendance. I'm told they will be alternating attendance at the press conferences.

    I can't wait until one of them is called upon. I hope they don't waste their opportunity with a question on ENDA or Hate Crimes. We already know what the president will do with those bills.

    I think they should go for a general mulit-part question that asks Obama what his roadmap for achieving LGBT equality is and also for a timeline. They should specifically cite equality in the workplace, the military, couples recognition, and immigration. Last night the president proved he can handle (and even relish in) such multi-part questions when he had to write down the various components of the New York Times reporter's question, then ticked off the answers over the next 5 minutes. That's what I would like for our "gay" question.

    Even though Deb Price was called on by President Obama last night, she did not ask an LGBT question. I only know Deb by her LGBT column and assumed that was her main area of interest. I didn't realize that her main duty was as a mainstream reporter for the Detroit Free Press. Thus her question was about the auto industry. Within a few seconds I was very excited, then rapidly let down when she started her question.

    I think we will have better luck with Chibarro or Johnson.

    April 27, 2009

    Beware: latest scam from banks

    Posted by: Andoni


    I've been reading about this scam now for two years, but it's the first time it has happened to me. Although I did not see it once in the UK countryside, it was present at almost every turn in London.

    The way the scam works is that when you are overseas and you purchase something with a credit or debit card, the merchant informs you that "for your convenience" you can pay in US dollars (USD) instead of the local currency (in this case Great Britain pounds - GBP).

    Note: when outside the US, never pay in USD, always pay in the local currency.

    Under most countries' laws, only its own currency can legally be used for transactions within that country. That means that in the US, only USD can be used and in Britain only GBP can be used. So if you choose to pay in USD in England, the merchant must use a middleman currency trader who is willing to do the transaction. It's all done internally behind the scenes on the computer - and you never see what's happening. But once that middleman gets involved the exchange rate goes from the pre-set international banking exchange rate of less than 1% (plus 1 to 3% that your card company may tack on) to 10% or more that these private middlemen may charge. That's an extra 3 to 10% profit that is probably split between the merchant and the behind the scenes private currency exchange banker just to see dollars on your receipt.

    The problem now is that many merchants in London aren't even giving you the choice of GBP or USD. When they see a US credit, debit or ATM card, they simply put the charge through as USD, raking in an extra 10%.

    The first time it happened to me was at an ATM machine upon arrival at Heathrow Airport. The only thing that tipped me off as to what happened was the receipt which read like a legal document. It said that I had been given the choice to do the cash withdrawal (from my own checking account back in the US) in USD or GBP and that I chose dollars. It then said that the transaction is final and cannot be disputed or changed.

    That was a blatantly false statement, but there was no one to protest to. I called my bank in the US, but the money was already gone.......at a 10% premium over what my banker (a friend, actually) told me was the international exchange rate for that day. I paid an extra $46 to get 300 GBP out of an ATM because of this ripoff.

    Upon returning my car to Heathrow Airport, Hertz gave me a choice of paying in GBP or USD and I chose pounds. At Harrod's on our first visit, my partner fell for the gimmick and chose dollars when asked, and he ended up paying an extra $4 on a 20 GBP purchase.

    On the last night of our stay in London, I paid our hotel bill and the charge came out in dollars. I objected, but the night clerk said that was the only way the machine would allow with a US credit card. I ended up waiting for the manager to arrive the next morning and insisted on being charged in pounds. After it was done, by paying in pounds, my bill was $50 less than it had been the night before.

    As Paul Krugman points out in today's column, many of today's money people know only how to make money on unnecessary paper transactions that makes money for them but doesn't do anything for anyone else or for the economy in general. Even though I'm an experienced traveler and a savvy buyer, I got taken. The only way to stop this sort of thing is that if everyone is informed and super cautious.

    April 24, 2009

    UAFA: the cartoon

    Posted by: Andoni

    You know a movement has momentum when it starts making cartoons to advance its cause. Bi-national same sex couples who want the law changed so that a US citizen can sponsor his/her same sex foreign born partner just as heterosexual couples can, have made this cartoon to help their cause.

    The legislation is called UAFA (the Uniting Americans Families Act) and is H.R. 1024 and S. 424. It's closing in on 100 co-sponsors in the House. So if you want to help out, call your US Senators and Congressperson and ask them to co-sponsor this legislation. And oh, also tell them that any Comprehensive Immigration Reform legislation isn't really comprehensive uless it includes gay and lesbian families in it.

    h/t SeaMex

    April 19, 2009

    Frank Rich prods CA Supreme Court

    Posted by: Andoni

    No matter where I am in the world, the first thing I do on Sunday morning is read Frank Rich's column in the NYTimes. It's a sad day for me when he is off.

    As you know I am of the opinion that the California Supreme Court should void Proposition 8. You can read my reasoning in Dred Scott and the CA Supreme Court and in Marriage decision in Iowa - UNANIMOUS. Evan Wolfson's argument to void Prop 8 is here.

    In today's NYTimes, Frank Rich (to my mind) reminds the California Supreme Court Justices of their role. After citing Brown v Board of Education, Rich asserts:

    "But the judiciary has long played a leading role in sticking up for the civil rights of minorities so they’re not held hostage to a majority vote."

    This is exactly the situation that we have in California. The majority (a very slim one at that) is holding a minority hostage and the Supreme Court has to speak out loudly and clearly to remedy this situation and lay a precedent so that it cannot happen again. There is no clear precedent to deal with this exact situation in California. The Court should set a precedent for this situation. They should declare loudly and clearly that a simple majority cannot strip away the rights of minority the way they did.

    Should they decide the other way, this will be their Dred Scott decision and they will go down in history as the court that repeated that infamous mistake.

    A 50 state solution

    Posted by: Andoni

    A recent Advocate article reports that LGBT Congressional supporters are working on a bill to partially repeal DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act). The elements of their legislation are remarkably similar to the one I made in a post the day after President Obama's inauguration.

    In my proposal I didn't actively seek to repeal DOMA because I thought it would be politically too difficult at this time, but I effectively repealed it through definitions. The difference between my proposal and the current one being debated by gay leaders is that with theirs, marriages from MA, CT, IA, and VT will be able to be called marriages at the federal level instead of civil unions. Theirs is the better solution, but politically more difficult to do. Repealing DOMA, even only section 3 will be a hard task. But it is also the cleaner solution.

    One current aspect of their legislation that is still under discussion is whether and how to open up the 1138 federal benefits of marriage to people in all 50 states. They seem to be leaning in the direction to do this. The legislation would have to be written so that it is triggered when a couple enters into a legally recognized same sex relationship in a state that creates same sex unions. It should not depend on where the couple resides, but rather that it was a legally sanctioned union when it occurred and that it continues to be legal in that jurisdiction. This would allow a couple from GA which has a constitutional amendment against recognizing same sex unions to go to MA to get hitched and then return to GA to receive the federal benefits (filing income taxes jointly, social security survival benefits, etc), even though the state of GA would not recognize them as married and they would receive no benefits from GA.

    This is very important. For instance what happens if a couple is married in MA, lives there for a few years receiving both state and federal benefits and then the company transfers them to GA? Why should the federal benefits cease upon crossing a state line? It's the same federal government, it's the same couple and it's the same country. Of course, their state benefits would cease in GA, but I believe that their federal benefits should not. And if someone suggests that they should have to live in MA for a certain period of time before their federal benefits can be portable, what is the proper time? Six months? A year?

    Another logical question is what if the couple remains in MA their whole life but move to FL (a non marriage state) to retire and one spouse dies the next day? Should no Social Security survival benefits be paid after all those years and a legal marriage in MA? What if the couple is in MA when one spouse dies, and the surviving spouse starts receiving Social Security survival benefits but then decides to retire to FL. Should the benefits stop when she moves to FL? These are all real life questions.

    I argue, that the law should be written so that once you are in the federal system, triggered by a legal marriage, you stay in the system with respect to the federal government unless that marriage is legally dissolved.

    But as I argued in my previous post:

    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 at least one parallel situation - probably more.

    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.

    Another point made by Mark in the discussion part of my prior blog is whether it is too much to ask a poor gay couple to have to travel to one of the coasts to get a civil union or marriage to receive those 1138 federal benefits? Now that Iowa has gay marriage, the people writing this legislation believe there is no need to consider how to get benefits to these people. (That would have required the federal government to create unions -- something that it is not in the business of doing.)

    These are exciting times and I am anxious to see what the final legislation looks like. But I think that it is very important that it is written so that people in all 50 states can participate in federal benefits.

    April 17, 2009

    No pirates in Penzance

    Posted by: Andoni


    As I mentioned last week, we are doing some heavy duty traveling over the next 3 months and that's why my posts have been sporadic and short.

    We just left Penzance, England - and just for the record, there weren't any pirates there. Maybe all the pirates left and moved to the horn of Africa. (Sorry, I couldn't resist saying that.)

    I've been to England many times before, but this is the first time I've visited what they call "The Southwest," or the Cornish Peninsula. Driving down here, we passed Plymouth, Falmouth, and Truro. I think I also saw signs for Weymouth and Tewksbury. Considering the flat sandy terrain, heavy traffic and the wind sculpted scrub brush, it was reminiscent of driving to Provincetown on Cape Cod. Now it's obvious why our early settlers called it New England.

    It's also interesting that the southern side of this Cornwall Peninsula as well as the southern side of our Cape Cod are both bathed by the same warm waters of the Gulf Stream which results in more moderate climates compared to the respective mainlands.

    One thing that surprises me on this visit is how friendly all the countryside B & B's have been to a gay couple so far. We've been to Bath, the Cothswolds, Dartmoor, and now Penzance. Urban London is still to come. Such gay friendliness was not there 10 years ago. Also, I can't image the same gay friendliness in rural America. Opps, considering the recent events in Iowa and Vermont, I had better visit there before making this statement so definitive.

    In Cornwall, there is so much ancestral pride that everything was "Cornish." The Cornish flag flew everywhere. Signs, menus and shops had Cornish hens, Cornish cheese, Cornish ice, Cornish clotted cream, even Cornish Ice cream. Most of these commodities is EU protected, so if you say it's Cornish, you have to prove it (somewhat like Champagne or Roquefort cheese).

    By law, Cornish clotted cream has to be at least 55% butterfat, and I swear Cornish ice cream is the frozen version of their clotted cream. Real Cornish ice cream makes Haagen-Dazs tastes like the cheap supermarket brand.

    April 12, 2009

    Rick Warren cancels interview

    Posted by: Andoni

    What's going on with Rick Warren? Yesterday , I wondered if he was changing his view on gay marriage, trying to rewrite history, or what.

    Today, Warren was scheduled to be interviewed on This Week With George Stephanopoulos, but canceled just moments before the interview. It was a sure bet that Stephanopoulos would have asked him to clarify his position on gay marriage.

    This is getting interesting.

    April 11, 2009

    Has Rick Warren changed his view on gay marriage?

    Posted by: Andoni

    Evangelical preacher Rick Warren claimed on Larry King Live earlier this week that he was not a proponent of Prop 8. This has stunned fellow evangelical leaders. Warren's words seem at odds with a video he sent to his parishioners just before the November election asking them to vote for Prop 8.

    So what's going on here? Is Warren in denial over what he exactly said and did back in November? Or is he now ashamed of his actions and is trying to distance himself from those actions? Or has he changed his position?

    If Warren is actually transitioning his position on gay marriage, then this is another example of Obama knowing exactly what he was doing when he invited Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration.

    I would vote (again) for the fact view that Barack Obama knew exactly what he was doing by inviting Warren to the inauguration, and when the time comes Warren will be more of an ally for gay rights legislation than we ever dreamed. 

    April 10, 2009

    Immigration poll

    Posted by: Andoni

    The Orlando Sentinel has a great story on two couples each in a relationship with a foreign born partner. One couple is gay and one couple is straight. Of course the straight US citizen can sponsor their partner to live in the United States, the gay one cannot.

    Here is the story as well as the poll asking your opinion of the matter.

    The politics of marriage

    Posted by: Andoni

    Following the victories in Iowa and Vermont this past week, Matt Coles, Head of the ACLU LGBT and AIDS Project sent out an email analyzing the future of our continuing battle for marriage equality. With his permission I post his comments here:

    "Iowa and Vermont: The Politics of It

    Some week.  The Vermont legislature voted to let same-sex couples marry, and the Iowa Supreme Court decided that it is unconstitutional not to let same-sex couples marry.  Together, these two events are a much needed shot in the arm for marriage.
    Iowa is the first win in a flat state without an ocean view.  And the decision was unanimous.  Vermont is the first time a state legislature (as opposed to a court) has opened marriage, and it did it by a stunning veto override.
    Iowa and Vermont don’t erase the damage from losing Proposition 8 in California.  They don’t have either the cultural or economic influence that the Golden State has.  Still, there’s nothing like winning big to put the wind back in your sails. 
    Where the marriage movement heads now, though, is complicated.  Iowa and Vermont will not be the start of same-sex marriage all over the country because that simply isn’t possible. 
    Winning marriage in four states has been politically expensive; in getting it, we also got amendments to state constitutions that block marriage in 29 states.  There are just two ways to get marriage now in those 29 states.  First, you could go to the voters to get the amendments repealed.  That’s a very costly process, and one not likely to work in many of the states with amendments (like Alabama and Mississippi).
    You could instead go to the federal courts, and ask them to rule that the state constitutional amendments violate the federal constitution.  But that’s not a very good bet.  A few years ago, the ACLU and Lambda Legal sued to set aside the most egregious amendment, Nebraska’s (it bans every form of relationship recognition for same-sex couples, and none for heterosexuals).  We lost, in a moderate federal appeals court. 
    Moreover, any federal case in which we win will surely wind up in the Supreme Court.  Winning there is a long shot anytime soon.  Losing could prevent us from winning state cases and might even hurt us in cases about parenting, schools and jobs.  (I explained this in greater detail in Don’t Just Sue the Bastards). 
    That means that the landscape for change right now is 21 states, not 50.  Four of those of course already have marriage.  Six more are states, like Pennsylvania and Indiana, which don’t even have civil rights laws banning sexual orientation discrimination.  They’re unlikely to move to marriage anytime soon.  In a couple—like Wyoming and North Carolina—any progress on marriage seems a long way off.  So the immediate playing field is more like 11 states.
    Some of those 11 states are ready for marriage, or could be soon. We should have several additional marriage states, some by the end of this year, some over the next few years.  At some point though, if we are going to get marriage in America, we’re going to need to do something about those state constitutional amendments.  There are three things we can do. 
    First, in a couple of states like California and Oregon, we probably can get the voters to repeal constitutional amendments in a few years.  But we have to be careful, particularly in California.  A second loss there would be very damaging to the movement, both in terms of the resources it would consume and the extent to which it would discourage our community and our allies.  We should go back to the ballot when we can win.
    Second, in some of the other amendment states we can lay the groundwork for future repeal by getting either civil unions or domestic partnerships now.  But in most of the amendment states, even that isn’t possible.  Of the 29 constitutional amendments, 19 also ban anything similar to marriage; some ban any recognition.  Outright repeal isn’t likely in this third group of states in the near term.  In some, we could probably get partial repeal, allowing civil unions.  But doing a repeal that doesn’t allow marriage may be deeply unsatisfactory to many in our own community.
    It would be nice if there were an easy way to get rid of these amendments, or if we could get marriage despite them.  But there isn’t.  Our work is going to have to include some repeals, some fights for domestic partnership and civil union instead of marriage, and likely some fights for partial repeal. 
    Iowa and Vermont make this prospect a little less daunting than it was just a few days ago.  Most Americans believe that marriage for same-sex couples will come some day, and deep in their hearts, know that it really is a simple matter of fairness and equal treatment.  Because both Vermont and Iowa are so politically eloquent—such strong wins—they give us the opportunity to tap into those feelings.
    In the states that are ready for marriage, we should take the opportunity these two wins have given us to press ahead and press hard.  In the other states, this is the moment to lay the groundwork. 
    The hardest thing about laying that groundwork is the truth about the best way to do it.  The best way to change people’s minds is to talk to them about gay people.  The best way is to talk not about abstract issues, but about the ordinary lives of gay people, and the way being gay makes life more challenging.  (Click here for “Tell 3,” a website that explains why individual conversations are our best chance to make change, and how to go about having them.)
    That’s frustrating because it isn’t easy to have conversations like that.  But the Iowa and Vermont give us all a pretty fabulous conversational hook.  And if the bad news is that no outside force is going to do this for us quickly, the good news is that to a great extent, we have the power to make it happen ourselves."

    Matt Coles

    April 03, 2009

    Marriage in Iowa - UNANIMOUS

    Posted by: Andoni

    The Iowa Supreme Court ruled unanimously today that gay couples have the same right to marry in Iowa as straight couples.

    Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and House Speaker Pat Murphy, they issued the following remarkable joint statement following the decision:

    "Thanks to today's decision, Iowa continues to be a leader in guaranteeing all of our citizens' equal rights.

    "The court has ruled today that when two Iowans promise to share their lives together, state law will respect that commitment, regardless of whether the couple is gay or straight.

    "When all is said and done, we believe the only lasting question about today's events will be why it took us so long.  It is a tough question to answer because treating everyone fairly is really a matter of Iowa common sense and Iowa common decency.

    "Today, the Iowa Supreme Court has reaffirmed those Iowa values by ruling that gay and lesbian Iowans have all the same rights and responsibilities of citizenship as any other Iowan.

    "Iowa has always been a leader in the area of civil rights. In 1839, the Iowa Supreme Court rejected slavery in a decision that found that a slave named Ralph became free when he stepped on Iowa soil, 26 years before the end of the Civil War decided the issue.

    "In 1868, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that racially segregated "separate but equal" schools had no place in Iowa, 85 years before the U.S. Supreme Court reached the same decision.

    "In 1873, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled against racial discrimination in public accommodations, 91 years before the U.S. Supreme Court reached the same decision.

    "In 1869, Iowa became the first state in the union to admit women to the practice of law.

    "In the case of recognizing loving relationships between two adults, the Iowa Supreme Court is once again taking a leadership position on civil rights.

    "Today, we congratulate the thousands of Iowans who now can express their love for each other and have it recognized by our laws."

    Iowa is indeed a remarkable state. What a great decision and reaction from their political leaders!

    I will update this post as I can. I'm beginning 3 months of intensive today, so my posts will be infrequent.

    UPDATE: If you wish to read a summary of the decision from the Iowa Supreme Court, you can do it here, with the full decision here.

    I am hoping that the justices from the California Supreme take note and read this decision. It just might help them develop the backbone to void Prop 8. They got it right in May in their landmark decision. To uphold Prop 8 at this point will not look good for them in history......and they should realize that.


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