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  • March 04, 2010

    Rising tide of gay relationship recognition

    Posted by: Chris

    Us map gay relationship recognition
    The Washington Post editorial page had it right yesterday when they wrote, "the tide of history is moving … toward a recognition that gays and lesbians, no less than heterosexuals, are entitled to sanctify their love in marriage, and that society will be better off when that right is universally extended." I wouldn't use the word "sanctify," since it conflates civil and religious marriage, but the tide, she is a-rising.

    A new analysis of existing laws by Timothy Kincaid at Box Turtle Bulletin shows that nearly half of all Americans live where there is at least some form of relationship recognition for same-sex couples. Some 140 million Americans (46% of the total U.S. population) live where gay couples can either marry or enter into civil unions or domestic partnerships:

    • 5.1% (15.5 million) live in jurisdictions with same-sex marriage: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and (as of yesterday) the District of Columbia.
    • 19.2% (58.4 million) live in states with either civil unions or their domestic partnerships equivalent, offering basically all the rights and responsibilities of marriage without the name: California, New Jersey, Oregon, Nevada, and Washington.
    • 8.3% (25.2 million) live in states that recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere: New York and Maryland.
    • 4.7% (14.2 million) live in states that offer domestic partnerships with limited, itemized rights: Hawaii, Colorado, Wisconsin, Maine and Rhode Island.
    • 4.7% (14.2 million) live in dozens more counties and cities with some form of limited local recognition and benefits: Salt Lake City, UT; Phoeniz AZ; Tuscon AZ; Duluth, MN; Minneapolis, MN; St. Paul, MN; Lawrence, KS; Columbia, MO; Kansas City, MO; St. Louis, MO; Ann Arbor, MI; Cook County, IL (Chicago); Urbana, IL; Cleveland, OH; Cleveland Heights, OH; Toledo, OH; Philadelphia, PA; Pittsburgh, PA; Harrisburg, PA; El Paso, TX; Travis County, TX (Austin); Eureka Springs, AR; New Orleans, LA; Carrboro, NC; Chapel Hill, NC; Clarke County, GA (Athens); Fulton County, GA (Atlanta); Broward County, FL (Fort Lauderdale); Key West, FL; Miami-Dade County, FL; and West Palm Beach, FL.

    Add up the first three categories and fully one-third (32.6%) of the U.S. population is located in jurisdictions where gay couples can either marry or have their marriage recognized or enter into civil unions or domestic partnerships with basically all the same rights and responsibilities of marriage without the name. That's still inversely related to public opinion surveys, which repeatedly show that two-thirds of Americans support marriage or civil unions for gay couples, but it's impressive nonetheless.

    Still, let's not forget in all the excitement one more important statistic:  0%

    That's the percentage of Americans who live in places where the federal government offers any form of recognition whatsoever for gay couples who are married or have entered into civil unions or domestic partnership. That final statistic is why repealing the Defense of Marriage Act and enacting federal civil unions ought to be at the very top of "the gay agenda" in Washington.

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    February 19, 2010

    That quiet alarm you hear ringing...

    Posted by: Chris

    PACS ...is from the real extant threat against the traditional institution of marriage, and it isn't coming from the gays.

    A heterosexual couple in Austria is fighting for the right to enter into a registered civil partnership - introduced for homosexual couples in January 2010. Under current law the couple will be denied that right - but they have vowed to take the case to the country's constitutional court to overturn what they says is a discriminatory legislation.

    Austria introduced civil unions for gay couples on January 1, affording them some of the rights enjoyed by their heterosexual counterparts. The new legislation, passed after weeks of wrangling between the ruling Social Democrats and their conservative coalition partner in government, gives same-sex couples a status similar to traditional marriage but different in a number of respects. For instance, there are less strict rules in the event of a divorce.

    The heterosexual couple in question argues that this is a more modern form of union - which simply suits them better than a traditional marriage. And if it's offered to gay couples, why shouldn't it be an option for them as well? The issue at stake, they argue, is standing up against discrimination.

    This is what irrational fear over same-sex marriage have wrought. Across Europe, and in many U.S. jurisdictions, government have adopted forms of "marriage lite" because they aren't ready to allow gay couples full marriage equality.

    Whether called "domestic partnerships," "civil partnerships," "civil unions," "PACS" or some other name, they have evolved from the halfway measures toward marriages they were originally intended to be. Instead, these weigh stations on the road to equality have become a loosy-goosy alternative for gay and straight couples alike that represents a serious challenge to traditional marriage, especially in Europe.

    In this week's Cato Institute panel (video now available here or after the jump for this post), Maggie Gallagher warned gays that they would have a difficult time finding a place among conservatives when they insist on remaking such a fundamental institution. What she can't or won't see is that gays do not want to remake the institution, they want to join it because they believe in it. They revere it, as Andrew Sullivan said in response.

    Rather than become more uppity, as Gallagher implied, the gay movement has become remarkably more conservative. From its beginnings in sexual liberation and radical counterculturalism, the movement has sharpened its focus on what the vast majority of gay Americans want -- to participate as equals in the fundamental, conservative institutions they grew up believing in: marriage, the family, the Boy Scouts, the church, the military, and so on.

    The question becomes how much Gallagher's social conservative allies are willing to tear away at those institution just to keep us out.

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    February 12, 2010

    Momentum for marriage and civil unions

    Posted by: Chris

    Simpsons gay marriage
    More very encouraging results from a new ABC News/Washington Post poll released today showing the public is evenly divided on whether gay couples should be able to marry, with 47% in favor and 50% opposed.

    That statistic is remarkable most for how much it contrasts with the nation's elected officials, from the president on down, who overwhelmingly oppose marriage equality. I would venture to say that less than half the percentage of Democratic politicians back gay marriage as do their partisan supporters.

    Also striking is the degree to which the South stands as a bulwark against our basic equality. Without my home region living up to its long and ugly history of civil rights intransigence, support for gay marriage would be overwhelming -- not that overwhelming support on a gay rights issue necessarily translates into political action by Democrats and Republican moderates.

    Fortunately, the dustbin destination of hetero-only marriage laws is every bit as certain as it was for Jim Crow segregation. Two-thirds of adults under 30 support marriage for gays and -- for the first time ever -- a majority "strongly favor" our full equality.

    Let's be clear about what this means: it should be clearer than ever that our civil rights movement is not over whether we win but how soon; it is inconceivable that Congress would pass, or the states would adopt, a federal constitutional amendment banning gays from marrying when two-thirds of young people are with us, and half the population overall.

    So enough with the pussyfooting in Congress and the White House. Barney Frank needs to sign on today as a co-sponsor of DOMA repeal (the Respect for Marriage Act), and we need clear backing from the House and Senate leadership, as well as the White House.

    Wapo gay marriage stats
    The new ABC News/WaPo poll also shows support for civil unions reaching historic new levels, a full two-thirds of the public now believes we are at least entitled to all the same legal rights as heterosexual couples. In addition to DOMA repeal, which would still leave gays in most states with no federal recognition of their relationships, the Congress needs to take up federal civil unions legislation, ensuring equal recognition without regard to bias at the state level.

    Wapo civil union support
    Finally, the Post offered some detail on the marriage numbers, which suggest that on marriage as on Don't Ask Don't Tell, a small percentage is more supportive of our civil rights when we are described as "gay and lesbian" as opposed to "homosexual." Not coincidentally, gays have for decades now preferred the former over the latter designation.

    Wapo gay marriage support detail 

    Freedomtomarrylogo If you haven't already, I'd also encourage you to sign the Freedom to Marry Pledge announced this week by Evan Wolfson's FreedomToMarry.org and its new online coordinator Michael Crawford, who did a great job spearheading the marriage movement here in Washington, D.C.

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    February 24, 2009

    Civil unions WILL lead to marriage

    Posted by: Andoni

    Aaa see no

    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.

    Federally recognized civil union proposals have been elucidated here, here and here.

    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

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    February 22, 2009

    Another civil unions proposal

    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.

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    February 15, 2009

    In France, more straights opting for civil unions over marriage

    Posted by: Andoni


    Well here's a twist. In France more and more straight couples are opting for civil unions instead of marriage. And in France, when you say marriage, you are talking about an institution that is a civil marriage by the government, not the religious entities that most marriages have become in the US. So in France, your choices are civil marriage or civil unions.

    France's civil union law was created in 1999 because gays were not allowed to marry, and they didn't want gays to be able to marry. However, in crafting the new law, which was understood to be for gays, the legislators left the language vague about gender. (Maybe this was because of the strong European Union rules requiring gender neutral and sexual orientation neutral language in new legislation -- they didn't want to trigger any challenges.)

    Now, after 10 years, one third of all straight couples getting "hitched" in France, opt for civil unions instead of marriage. The number of civil unions has grown annually from 6000 in the first year of the law, to 140,000 in 2008 --- with 92% of the civil unions last year involving straight couples.

    The main reason seems to be that a civil union offers about the same rights and benefits of marriage, but is easier to get out of than a marriage.

    A few weeks ago I proposed that the gay community in this country should move forward aggressively, pursuing both marriage equality where possible and civil unions every place else, so as to cover as many gay couples with rights and benefits as fast as possible -- in all 50 states. With tongue in cheek, I added that after a while, straights might want the law expanded to include them too, especially the ones who advocated of the separation of church and state. Little did I know that the trend of straight couples toward civil unions had already started in France.

    The most important point I would like to make is that it is terribly humorous and ironic that the French created civil unions to protect the institution of marriage..... and now civil unions are undermining marriage because people are opting for them instead of marriage. Talk about the law of unintended consequences.

    So possibly the lesson for our country is that the best way to protect the institution of marriage is not to deny people marriage by creating a separate but equal system, but to allow gays to marry.

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    January 27, 2009

    Throw some gays overboard, again?

    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.

    Both Chris and I have blogged on ways to achieve civil unions that would work well for all 50 states, not depend on DOMA being repealed and complement the state by state fight for marriage.

    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.

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    January 23, 2009

    A switch in time saves Gillibrand?

    Posted by: Chris

    UPDATES: At the end of the post.


    However you felt about Caroline Kennedy's precocious non-campaign campaign to be the new junior senator from New York, she would have represented improvement over Hillary Clinton on marriage equality. For whatever reason, Kennedy made support for marriage equality one of the few controversial issues on which she took a specific stand. Hillary, of course, insists she's not there yet -- in public or in her heart of hearts.

    Now that we know New York Gov. David Paterson has selected Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand, it appears that all the time that he took to make the decision did not result in a better gay rights outcome. Gillibrand aligns with Hillary against marriage, though she does back federal civil unions.

    In an interview with the gay-sounding non-gay publication Inside Out Hudson Valley, she elaborated:

    What I’d like to do legislatively, on the federal level—and I think we’ll be able to do this with the new president—is actually make civil unions legal in all 50 states, make it the law of the land. Because what you want to fundamentally do is protect the rights and privileges of committed couples, so that they can have Medicare benefits, visit in the hospitals, have adoption rights.

    All [the] things that we give to married couples, committed gay couples should be eligible for. And then the question of whether you call it a marriage or not, what you label it, that can be left to the states to decide.

    [It’s] so culturally oriented. My mom’s generation, they want their gay friends to have every right and privilege that they should be eligible for as a married couple, but they feel uncomfortable calling it marriage. To them, a marriage is a religious word that they learned from the Catholic Church: It’s a covenant between a man, a woman, and God. So they feel uncomfortable with the word. But they don’t feel uncomfortable with the rights and privileges.

    I think the way you win this issue is you focus on getting the rights and privileges protected throughout the entire country, and then you do the state-by-state advocacy for having the title.

    You can roll your eyes right along with me on why we are deprived a basic human right because the senior generation is "uncomfortable" with us exercising it, but Gillibrand is right that the issue is largely one to be decided at the federal level anyway.

    There are other areas of concern about Gillibrand. She missed the mark on 4 of the 11 issues on which the Human Rights Campaign scored her first term in Congress, scoring an 80 out of 100 (yeah, I don't get the math either).

    She got three checkmarks for ENDA -- voting twice for the compromise version and co-sponsoring the trans-inclusive version -- another two for the hate crimes bill, one for backing needle exchange in the District of Columbia and one for an obscure vote against an amendment to the Head Start program.

    But Gillibrand failed to sign on as a sponsor for four important measures:

    1. Repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell (146 Democrats sponsoring)
    2. Uniting American Families Act: equal immigration rights (118 Democrats sponsoring)
    3. Equal tax treatment for D.P. benefits (116 Democrats sponsoring)
    4. Medicaid funding people with HIV (140 Democrats sponsoring)

    Hillary had been a co-sponsor of the Senate versions of those last two, and committed to supporting UAFA and repealing DADT though she had not signed on to sponsor.

    Perhaps Gillibrand just needed more than her first two years in office to warm up to UAFA and DADT, and perhaps she'll be more ready to sign on now that she represents the whole state and not just upstate New York. Either way, her support for federal civil unions makes the glass at least half full, and is an excellent place to start.

    UPDATE #1:

    It appears Governor Paterson may have insisted on a commitment on marriage equality from Gillibrand before giving her the nod. So says the Empire State Pride Agenda:

    Last night likely Senate pick Kirsten Gillibrand spoke to Empire State Pride Agenda Executive Director Alan Van Capelle about issues important to New York's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

    "After talking to Kirsten Gillibrand, I am very happy to say that New York is poised to have its first U.S. Senator who supports marriage equality for same-sex couples," said Van Capelle. "She also supports the full repeal of the federal DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) law, repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) and passage of legislation outlawing discrimination against transgender people. While we had a productive discussion about a whole range of LGBT concerns, I was particularly happy to hear where she stands on these issues."

    None of this explains why she fell so short of the mark before now, but it's still great news. We'll have to see whether the "whole range of LGBT concerns" included equal immigration rights, equal taxes on D.P. benefits, and early treatment of HIV.

    UPDATE #2:

    HRC has also chimed in with its own "clarification" of Gillibrand's gay rights views, claiming she supported repeal of DOMA and DADT, even if she didn't co-sponsor, begging the questions: (1) why didn't she co-sponsor? and (2) why doesn't HRC release this kind of information more generally? The reason for both, no doubt, is that members from moderate and conservative districts often will promise only quiet support, wanting to avoid controversy until such time as an actual vote occurs (if ever).

    However understandable politically, it hardly engenders much confidence in a politician like Gillibrand's courage under fire. And to claim she supported marriage equality runs directly contrary to what she herself said publicly.

    Here's the HRC "clarification":

    "There has been some discussion about the record of Kirsten Gillibrand, New York Governor David Paterson’s pick to replace Hillary Clinton, regarding her stance on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and additional LGBT issues. In particular, we’d like to clarify references to the Human Rights Campaign Scorecard for the 110th Congress. Although Kirsten Gillibrand did not co-sponsor legislation to repeal DADT, non-cosponsorship does not mean support for the policy or opposition to repeal. In fact, in conversations with her office the Human Rights Campaign has confirmed Gillibrand is in favor of repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and supports full marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples."

    Additionally, HRC confirmed with Gillibran’s staff additional points regarding her LGBT record:

    • Supports marriage equality
    • Co-sponsored and voted in favor of the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act
    • Co-sponsored inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and supports enactment of inclusive bill
    • Voted in favor of ENDA
    • Supports repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
    • Supports repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act
    • Supports equal tax treatment of employer provided domestic partnership benefits
    • Voted against allowing discrimination in hiring for the Head Start program
    • Voted in favor of allowing Washington, DC to fund needle exchange programs with local funds
    • Voted against procedural attempts to derail ENDA and hate crimes
    • Endorsed by HRC PAC in 2008
    • Supports the Early Treatment of HIV/AIDS Act (ETHA) to allow states to provide Medicaid coverage for HIV-positive persons

    (Photo of Kirsten Gillibrand and Hillary Clinton circa 2006 via New York Times)

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    January 21, 2009

    Federal civil unions: so simple

    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.

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    January 02, 2009

    Change I hope I can believe in

    Posted by: Chris

    Letmypartnerstay Thanks in part to you, the readers of this blog, equal immigration rights for same-sex couples finished in 2nd place among all immigration-related proposals in voting on Change.org:

    1. Pass the DREAM Act: 2,219 votes
    2. Equal immigration rights for same-sex couples: 1,011 votes
    3. Citizenship route through marriage for undocumented immigrants: 850 votes

    It's especially heartening to see this modest proposal compete effectively outside the area of gay rights, which was a separate category on the website, which is unaffiliated with Barack Obama's official transition site, Change.gov.

    As I explained in an earlier post, the top three ideas in each category now go into a second round of voting, and the top 10 ideas from that round will be presented to the president after the inauguration and the website's affiliated groups have vowed to lobby for their enactment.

    In the area of gay rights, these three ideas move on to the second round:

    1. Pass marriage equality rights for LGBT couples nationwide: 2,889 votes
    2. Pass the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act: 877 votes
    3. Repeal the Defense of Marriage Act: 852 votes

    The new Congress is expected to quickly enact the hate crimes bill, which already passed both houses last year. It's noteworthy how much more important relationship recognition was to the voters, dwarfing all other categories. (Enacting a trans-inclusive ENDA came in fourth place, at 779 votes, and does not go on to the second round.)

    Of course the new president and Congress can't simply "pass marriage equality rights," and Obama does not support gay marriage anyway. But they can either repeal DOMA (idea #3) or they can enact federal civil unions, extending all the rights and benefits of marriage under federal law to gay couples who enter into marriages, civil unions and domestic partnerships.

    Stay tuned for the second round of voting, which will begin on Jan. 5.

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    December 15, 2008

    Ridiculously lame excuse no. 5,234...

    Posted by: Chris

    Blagojevichmarriage... given by Democrats for why the gays must wait for basic legal equality:

    A proposal to allow civil unions in Illinois between same-sex couples has been stalled in the state legislature and seems likely to stay that way. First proposed in 2007 and running out of time before the current legislature expires, the Illinois Religious Freedom and Civil Unions Act would grant same-sex couples many of the rights given to opposite-sex married couples.

    There are two remaining legislative days on lawmakers' calendar, but … it seemed less likely to be called after FBI agents arrested Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on federal corruption charges Tuesday, casting state leadership into disarray.

    "Everything has been trumped by what happened," said state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), the measure's sponsor in the House.

    So a civil unions bill pending for almost two years gets tanked, and we're to believe it's not because the Democrats are shafting us by prioritizing pretty much everything over our civil rights. Oh no. It's because on the last week of the (year-round!) legislative session, the governor got arrested.

    Here are the Democrats in a nutshell: Blagojevich sells a Senate seat, and the gays pay the price.

    And the salt in the wound is that the stalled civil unions bill would only advance us from third to second-class citizenship, since full (marriage) equality isn't even on the table (and is opposed by the soon-to-be-felon and soon-to-be-ex-governor).

    And remember, my friends, this lame defense is from the bill's sponsor, presumably one of our closest allies. With "friends" like this, who needs the Mormons?

    (Photo from Chicago Gay Pride 2005 of Governor Blagojevich, who does not support gay marriage, via Gay Liberation Network)

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    December 14, 2008

    Our leaders aim too low

    Posted by: Andoni

    Obama_gay_rightsThe Advocate just published 26 open letters to Barack Obama from prominent LGBT Americans advising him on the important issues we face as a community and making suggestions on how he should address them. These letters are fascinating to read.

    Some are from leaders of single issue organizations and they concentrate mainly on their own issue. Others simply repeat the list of narrow items that have been on HRC's agenda for what seems like forever, you know, Hate Crimes, ENDA, etc. A few push Obama beyond what he has volunteered to give us, such as Evan Wolfson's appeal for full marriage equality.

    My favorite four letters cite the inequities in U.S. immigration laws for gay and lesbian citizens, a subject dear to my heart, and specifically ask Obama to remedy this situation by ushering through Congress the Uniting American Families Act or recognizing our relationships for immigration. These letters are from Rachel Tiven, Vestal McIntyre, Jim Buzinski, and Lorri Jean.  

    But what struck me most about these letters was how timid the ones from the people we consider our national leaders are. In particular, Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin simply asks for Hate Crimes legislation, a T inclusive ENDA, domestic partnership for federal employees (for federal workers only and only a very few of those 1200 federal benefits), and repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." No great vision.

    Joe Solmonese , President of the Human Rights Campaign doesn't suggest anything, he simply offers that HRC will work with the president.

    And none of these leaders picks up on a monumental issue Barack Obama has put in writing that he would like to give us.....it's right there in his Agenda items under Civil Rights on his webpage and is called the The Obama-Biden Plan. Barack says that we need to

    ...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.

    This is powerful stuff folks. If we pass this legislation, it would bring more gays rights to more Americans than all the other items on HRC's list combined. This legislation means that if a gay couple has a legally-recognzied union (any couple can go to VT to get civil unioned or MA to get married - both legally recognized unions), the federal goverment would then grant you those 1200 federal benefits that married opposite sex couples have. This is seismic. And recognition of our relationships has an approval rating of 55-66% as long as you don't call it marriage. This could be easier to pass than the controversial T inclusive ENDA.

    Barack Obama is proposing one great piece of legislation here, yet none of our leaders seems to have noticed. None of our national organizations have picked up on this item on his agenda to begin working on it with him; none of our Congressional leaders are writing such a bill that the president would welcome.

    It's time to stop thinking about getting our rights one small sliver at a time. It's time to start thinking bigger and grander than most of our leaders and national organizations are doing.

    It's mind boggling that none of our leaders in Congress or our national organizations seem to have realized the full potential of what Obama is proposing. If passed this legislation would bring more equality, more happiness to more LGB Americans than any other piece of legislation I can think of.

    The letters in the Advocate indicate to me that most of our leaders are aiming too low and aren't fully listening to Obama to take advantage of all that he is offering.

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    November 28, 2008

    Will Obama follow Rudd's example?

    Posted by: Chris

    Kevinrudd In case you've forgotten what it looks like for a politician to actually fulfill his campaign commitments, there's Australian Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd:

    The Rudd government has finished its one-year anniversary by honouring an election commitment to remove discrimination against same-sex couples from a wide-range of federal laws.

    The federal parliament today approved changes to superannuation laws that allow same-sex couples to leave entitlements to their partner or children upon death. The Senate also agreed to a bill to extend the meaning of de-facto to include same-sex relationships.

    The legislation brings long-awaited equality to same sex-couples in areas including tax, social security, health, aged care and employment. They are part of an election commitment to act on the recommendations of a 2007 landmark report by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

    Like Barack Obama, Rudd came to office after many years of conservative government control. Like Obama, Rudd opposes equal marriage rights for gay couples. Unlike Obama, Rudd even opposes civil unions, and in fact any form of civil ceremony for same-sex couples.

    Nonetheless, Rudd's government has delivered in its first 12 months in office, on equal treatment for gay couples under federal law. Since Rudd opposes civil unions, the federal government recognition is not based on whether the relationship is recognized under state law. But Rudd's success illustrates how incremental approaches, however distasteful they may seem, can bring real change to real lives, on the road to full equality.

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    November 26, 2008

    ENDA vs civil unions

    Posted by: Andoni

    EuropeIt's been two weeks since I first noticed and reported that we have a tremendous opportunity to take a giant leap forward in civil rights by passing a federal recognition of civil unions law. Chris has elaborated on this proposal here and here.

    I was prompted to think about this by all my religious conservative relatives who called me after the repeal of same sex marriage in California (Prop 8). They said they could not support marriage for us, but certainly believe our relationships should be honored equally and that they could support civil unions. These are strong religious folks supporting civil unions. They are (sort of) fair minded people, but hung up on the "M" word. Unfortunately, that's the reality of what's holding us back. No amount of education is going to change these people's minds. We have to wait a generation until they die before we get a strong majority in this country supporting same sex marriage. That's 10 to 20 years.

    Whereas now we have about 48% percent of the population who support marriage for us and 50% who oppose it. But of the 50% who oppose, 30% are homophobic and oppose most gay rights, whereas 20% are only hung up on the word marriage. That makes a very convincing majority that would support recognition of our relationships as civil unions -- right now. This 68% support corresponds with the 66% support Chris cites. That's about the same percentage of support HRC claims for a non inclusive ENDA, in its questionable best case scenario poll. Of note is that the House of Representatives passed the non inclusve ENDA with only a 56% support level --- which is probably a more realistic number for support of the non inclusvie ENDA. For the trans inclusive ENDA, the percentage falls to below 50%. They could not get a majority of the House to pass a T inclusive ENDA last year.

    So here is the problem with our current strategy. Our national organizations such as HRC and our political leaders such as Cong. Barney Frank and Tammy Baldwin have made it clear that the next time the only version of ENDA will be the T inclusive ENDA (the one that has less than 50% support). Furthermore, I've been told that Hate Crimes and a T inclusive ENDA will be the first two bills we bring up. And to make matters worse, many leaders are telling me that these will be the ONLY two gay bills brought up before the 2010 midterm elections. Duh?

    So a T inclusive ENDA has less popular support than a civil unions bill, yet our leaders are hell bent on ENDA. Our leaders are so fixated on ENDA, that they cannot see when there is clear sailing in front of us in another possible direction where we can make huge gains. You know we are making progress on recognition of our relationships when a key member of the religious right, Michael Medved,  says he supports civil unions for us. A civil union recognition bill (just don't call it marriage) is an easy sell to members of Congress as well. I bumped into Congressman Hank Johnson two days ago and described such a bill and it only took him two seconds to ask who was sponsoring it because he wanted to be a co-sponsor. Our leaders have been perseverating on ENDA since 1994, regardless of other more fertile opportunities that may be at hand.

    We are so asleep at the switch that there isn't even a federal  recognition of civil unions bill being written to be introduced, even though President-elect Obama says this is one of his civil rights priorities.

    My suggestion, introduce both a T inclusive ENDA and a civil union recognition bill and see which gets the most co-sponsors. Do polling and see which has the most popular support. Pass Hate Crimes first and then decide on a whether a T inclusive ENDA or civil unions goes next. Choose whichever one can get through. But for heavens sake don't allow ENDA to hang up all other legislation. If it doesn't have the votes, move it aside and go for another bill that has support. Don't block the path for all other bills because ENDA is stuck.

    Let's become smarter and more creative with our legislation. We should not use the same thinking that we've been using for 15 years that has gotten us nowhere.

    The above map details all the European governments that recognize same sex relationships in one way or another. Here is the key. Below is the the map and key for all the states that honor same sex relationships. Federal recognition of civil unions could change the lower map to one of light blue from coast to coast. And I would bet that this is easier to do than a trans inclusive ENDA at the moment.


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