NJ Marriage Equality: Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems

Originally posted in the GW Discourse blog.

Garden State Equality, New Jersey’s largest civil rights group, announced today that they will no longer make contributions to political parties, and they are urging their members to follow suit.

This controversial move is in response to New Jersey’s failure to pass same-sex marriage through the legislature.

“No political party has a record good enough on LGBT civil rights that it can rightfully claim to be entitled to our money on a party-wide basis… No longer will we let any political party take our money and volunteers with one hand, and slap us in the face with the other when we seek full equality.” – Steven Goldstein, chair of Garden State Equality.

Garden State Equality will now only contribute money to individual candidates and organizations that support LGBT rights. But who really suffers from this – the parties, or NJ’s equality movement?

It is certainly understandable that groups like GSE are angered with NJ Democrats for voting against marriage equality. And the Democratic party is by no means the party of LGBT rights; it’s simply the best option the LGBT community has. But if the Democrats strengthen their support for recognition of same-sex relationships, and vote to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act, it’ll be Garden State Equality that loses. They’ll have more money to spend on their preferred candidates, but they’ll lose their voice if they stop donating to the Democratic party. Contributions to individual candidates can only go so far. At the end of the day, most legislators (especially newer members) need to remain loyal to the party in order to succeed. And if that party is shunned by GSE, why should those legislators take GSE’s views into account?

It’s important to stand by your principles, and support only those who support you. But GSE is playing a risky game, and they’ve got a lot more to lose from this deal than the Democrats do. I honor their intentions, but I’m not sure this is the best way to affect change.

Prop 8: A Comedy (Part 1)

Everyone is blogging about the Prop 8 proceedings, and they are all very serious about the rightness/wrongness/timeliness/untimeliness/support/opposition to same-sex marriage. Well, fuck that. I’d like to focus solely on the hilarity that ensues when people are bitterly fighting over the American Constitution. And no, I have not watched/read any political satire/humor programs/blogs in the making of this post.

A brief intro: California’s Proposition 8, which outlawed same-sex marriage in the state, is currently being challenged in the courts in a case called Perry v. Schwarzenegger. The plaintiffs are trying to overturn Prop 8 and therefore re-legalize same-sex marriage in the state; the defendants are fighting in support of Prop 8, to keep same-sex marriage illegal. Today was the third day of the proceedings, and they will continue tomorrow. Let’s dive in.

Day 1

  • Kristin Perry, who comprises one half of one of the couples who brought this case against Prop 8, refers to her partner as “the sparkliest person I’d ever met.” On or off the witness stand, who the hell has ever used sparkly as an adjective for the person they love?
  • The plaintiff’s attorney Theodore Olson, who is famous for fighting and winning Bush v. Gore in favor of Bush back in 2000, asked his client, “What does it mean to be a lesbian?” Okay, I respect that he’s trying to go for a personal angle here, but still, the idea of someone being asked this in front of a bunch of old white dudes in robes sounds like a low-budget porn that I definitely don’t want to see.

Day 2

  • Professor Nancy Cott of Harvard unleashed the following delicious tidbit about our founding father:

“George Washington, the father of our country, was known to be sterile, which was considered an advantage because he could not create a dynasty.”

Day 3

  • “Will and Grace” and Brokeback Mountain were cited by defense attorney David Thompson as proof of changing attitudes in favor of gay rights. Um, whatever happened to citing Gallup public opinion polls? I’m not sure that this is the way to win an argument on constitutionality, buddy.
  • Okay, so Thompson did also cite a Gallup poll from 2002, stating that 86% of Americans believed homosexuals should have equal rights. Obviously I agree, but there is no way that this poll is relevant. If you poll Americans specifically about same-sex marriage, the numbers are completely different. (This isn’t a funny tidbit, I’ve just taken too many classes with Professor John Sides to take polls at face value.)
  • William Tam, defendant of Prop 8, claims that he found proof of a gay agenda through a Google search. Well, I just Googled “do vampires exist,” and I found proof that they do! And it was the first website that came up, so you know it’s true!

I think we’ll stop there for tonight. Check back here soon for updates, because nothing is funnier than civil rights.

Same-Sex Marriage: The Inevitability Problem

Originally posted by me in the GW Discourse blog.

There is an argument that is continuously reappearing in arguments over same-sex marriage and, to a lesser extent, other LGBT rights. For many, this issue is not solely about love, equality, or the protection of marriage. It is also a question of inevitability.

Gay rights advocates at the National Equality March

At first glance, the debate is simple. Those in favor of same-sex marriage say it’s inevitable. Those against it say it’s not. But who really benefits from arguing for or against inevitability?

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, claims that same-sex marriage has “always been inevitable.” This seems true, based on opinion polls that show young people to be much more in favor of gay rights than older generations. But does it help their cause to make this claim? I believe that emphasizing inevitability sends the message that LGBT rights will come eventually – and why should we fight tooth and nail for something we believe will happen no matter what? Gay rights advocates are still losing battles in liberal bastions like New Jersey and New York. And claiming that gay marriage is inevitable won’t make people fight any harder to achieve these rights now, in full, across the nation.

Perhaps when more states legalize gay marriage, it will be wise for groups like the HRC to emphasize the inevitability factor. They’ll have more proof for it, and they won’t have as much to lose as they do now. But at present time, only five states allow gay marriage, and four liberal-leaning states have rejected it in the last two years. Now is the time for the same-sex marriage movement to emphasize how far they still have to go and how hard they must fight, and put the inevitability issue to rest.

Obama Appoints Transgender Woman to Commerce Dept

Originally posted by me in the GW Discourse blog.

On Tuesday, January 5th, Amanda Simpson began her work as a Senior Technical Advisor to the US Commerce Department. Ms. Simpson is the first known transgender presidential appointee.

The backlash was immediate. Peter LaBarbera of Americans for Truth, an antigay group, released the following statement:

Is there going to be a transgender quota now in the Obama administration? How far does this politics of gay and transgender activism go? Clearly this is an administration that is pandering to the gay lobby.

The White House website currently shows 643 appointments and nominations made by President Obama. Apparently, 1 out of 643 represents a quota to groups like Americans for Truth, who are so panicked by Simpson’s appointment that they are ignoring her qualifications and claiming that this is a political maneuver by the president.

Simpson worked as the deputy director in Advanced Technology Development at Raytheon Missile Systems. She is a flight instructor and a test pilot, and with thirty years in the industry and degrees in physics, engineering, and business administration under her belt, she’s already proven more than worthy of the job. Her high qualifications only highlight the absurdity of claims by Focus on the Family that this appointment is just Obama’s “payback to his far-left base for their political support.”

If this is supposed to be payback to the LGBT community for their support, it’s too little, too late. The President is far too intelligent to believe that one appointment would make the LGBT community forgive him for his lack of progress on repealing the Defense of Marriage Act and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It’s clear that groups like Focus on the Family either have no idea what the LGBT community’s priorities are, or they are just trying to instigate media attention with their radical messages.

Amanda Simpson represents a milestone in our nation’s history, and it is important to recognize what she has done for the transgender community. But we should remember that she was appointed because of her unique skills and qualifications, not because Obama wanted to use her to “pay back” the LGBT community.

Let us hope that this appointment ushers in an era not of quotas and political pandering, but of equality and opportunity for all.

LGBT Rights in 2009: The Battle in DC

Originally posted by me in the GW Discourse blog.

God’s war has just started. Shame on them. We’re going to get to the ballot box through either the courts or the Congress. So tell everyone: Don’t let the marriage licenses start flowing.” – Bob King, community activist against same-sex marriage in DC, as quoted in the Washington Post.

After a year of debate in the DC City Council, Mayor Fenty signed DC’s same-sex marriage bill on December 18, 2009. The bill needs to pass a 30-day Congressional review period before becoming law, but despite strong opposition from the religious community, the bill is expected to survive the review period and legalize same-sex marriage in DC in the coming months.

The biggest threat to this bill originally came from the Catholic Church. The Archdiocese of Washington announced on November 11 that they would refuse to continue their social service programs in the District if this bill passed. Although DC’s marriage bill does not require religious organizations to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, it would require religious groups to follow DC’s anti-discrimination laws. In a highly controversial move, the Archdiocese argued that they would rather pull Catholic Charities from DC than pay employee benefits to same-sex spouses.

A month later, the Church seemed less willing to take such an extreme position. Recently, the Archdiocese’s officials have announced that they will be continuing their social service contracts in the nation’s capital. It is unclear in what capacity Catholic Charities will remain in the District, and whether they intend to abide by anti-discrimination laws. Some claim this announcement is merely a political maneuver, and that the Church will keep charities in DC in order to ignore anti-discrimination laws and be challenged by the DC City Council. This way, removal of Catholic Charities will be blamed on the government instead of on the church.

The other major concern is whether this bill could survive a ballot initiative. Opponents of the bill have sued the city in order to get a ban on same-sex marriage on the ballot, but city lawyers and officials are urging judges to throw out this case. According to the Washington Post, lawyers in the District believe a ballot initiative would be illegal, violating DC’s Human Rights Act by discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. Proponents of same-sex marriage are fearful of this bill reaching the ballot, since attempts to pass marriage via ballot initiative have failed 31 out of 31 times. Whether or not this debate ends up on the ballot, religious groups in Washington will certainly continue their standoff against the government in order to prevent same-sex marriage.

LGBT Rights 2009: Maine

Originally posted by me in the GW Discourse blog.

Earlier this year, Maine’s legislature passed same-sex marriage, and the law was signed by Governor Baldacci. Six months later, Maine’s ballot initiative (Prop 1) banning same-sex marriage was approved by 53% of voters.

Attempting to legalize same-sex marriage through public vote is essentially fighting a losing battle. 31 out of 31 states that have put this issue the ballot have succeeded in banning same-sex marriage. But, to put it simply, Maine was supposed to be different. Maine is a libertarian state, geographically close to states that have legalized same-sex marriage through their legislatures. More importantly, proponents of same-sex marriage fought an excellent fight. They learned from the mistakes they made last year, when California passed Prop 8, and invested an incredible amount of money, time, and effort into the Maine campaign.

Maggie Gallagher, president of the National Organization for Marriage,the leading conservative Christian group against same-sex marriage, released the following comments about Maine:

Maine is one of the most secular states in the nation. It’s socially liberal. They had a three-year head start to build their organization, and they outspent us two to one. If they can’t win there, it really does tell you the majority of Americans are not on board with this gay marriage thing.

Gallagher has a point. If the LGBT community lost the battle in a place like Maine, how can they hope to win anywhere?

But the failure in Maine may not be as telling as it seems. First of all, voter turnout in Maine for this election was nearly 50%. This was extraordinarily high for a non-presidential election, but it still means that the views less than half of Maine’s electorate were accounted for. More importantly, only the views of certain groups were accounted for.

As young, politically minded individuals, we are unhappily aware of the fact that our fellow young people are highly unlikely to vote. A Gallup poll from May 2009 shows that the 18-29 age group is by far the most likely to support same-sex marriage. 59% of America’s youth believe in recognizing same-sex marriage. This is the only age group that has majority support for same-sex marriage, and it is the least represented in the government. Perhaps if youth voter turnout was higher, same-sex marriage would have a shot at passing. But until we can convince our peers to participate in politics, same-sex marriage doesn’t have much of a chance of winning over the public vote.

LGBT Rights: Hate Crimes and Transgender Law

(Originally posted by me in the GW Discourse blog.)

Ever since Matthew Shepard was brutally murdered in Wyoming in 1998 because of his homosexuality, LGBT rights groups have worked towards passing a federal Hate Crimes Prevention Act. 2009 saw the passage of this groundbreaking piece of legislation, named for Shepard and James Byrd, an African-American man who was murdered in 2005 because of his race. The Hate Crimes Prevention Act allows the federal government to provide money and resources to states that are not equipped to adequately prosecute hate crimes. It also allows the Department of Justice and the FBI to take over hate crimes investigations if states refuse to prosecute these crimes. Sexual orientation and gender identity (in addition to many other classes, such as race and gender) are both protected by this act.

This was a long-awaited achievement for the LGBT community, but there are problems that this law does not solve. First of all, states still need to be influenced to strengthen their own hate crimes legislation. Regardless of federal law, police officers in states with weak enforcement of state hate crime laws may refuse to report incidents as hate crimes due to their own prejudices, thereby minimizing the punishment that the attacker could receive.

Furthermore, even though gender identity is included in the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the transgender community still does not have adequate protection, particularly in prisons. When trans-women (persons born male who have transitioned, via hormones, surgery, or both, to female) are placed into male prison facilities, they are obviously at high risk for sexual assault and other types of attacks because of their female appearance. Modern prison systems struggle with how to deal with the trans issue. The government is uncomfortable with recognizing transgendered persons as their “new” gender, as it complicates their normative view of gender as dichotomous and unchanging. But today, trans-women with female genitalia are still legally allowed to be placed in cells with male convicted rapists, and other felons with a history of sexual assault. Some prisons “solve” this problem by isolating trans prisoners, but this is just a different kind of discrimination on the basis of gender identity. Until the prison systems accept transgender persons as the gender they choose to present as, the transgender community will continue to suffer.

But the question still remains: Where should prisons place people who are still in the process of transitioning from one gender to another? If a person has breast implants, female hormones, and male genitalia, should they be placed in a male or female facility, or isolated from their peers? How can we better protect them, and the rest of the transgender community, from vicious hate crimes?

LGBT Rights Round-up, 2009: Iowa

(Originally posted by me in the GW Discourse blog, http://www.gwdiscourse.com).

I’d like to take an in-depth look at what the LGBT community has seen this year, what promises have been fulfilled, what’s gone wrong, and what’s to come in the future. Today I’ll begin with Iowa, but keep your eyes on our blog and look out for more posts on what we’ve seen regarding LGBT rights in 2009. Future posts to come on New York and New Jersey, and other LGBT issues such as hate crimes and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

It’s not completely shocking when socially liberal strongholds like Massachusetts and Vermont legalize same-sex marriage. But in April of 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court surprised America by allowing gays and lesbians in the American Heartland the right to marry.

The question is, how did the LGBT community win the unanimous support of a court with several self-proclaimed conservatives and Republicans, especially on this issue? Lambda Legal argued on behalf of same-sex marriage in Varnum v. Brien (the case which granted marriage in Iowa). Their legal team spent nine years prepping for this case, and chose their plaintiffs carefully. They defended six same-sex couples, three of whom had children, and all of whom were in lengthy, committed relationships. Couples with children can make all the difference in cases like this. It’s much easier to show that same-sex marriage does not destroy families and children, but actually supports them, when the plaintiffs have families. They also mollified conservative fears by including a religious accommodations clause, which stated that religious institutions are not legally required to perform or recognize Iowa’s same-sex marriages.

And although we think of Iowa as a typical midwestern state, it historically has never behaved quite like the rest of the heartland. Iowa was one of the first states to allow women’s suffrage and interracial marriage. Interracial marriage cases are often referenced in same-sex marriage cases, so perhaps it is not so surprising that this year’s biggest same-sex marriage victory took place in Iowa. It has a unique history of civil rights liberalism that should not be ignored.

Will this decision last? Some states, like California and Hawaii, passed same-sex marriage in the courts, but then rescinded it through ballot initiatives or the legislature. Luckily for the gay and lesbian community, this is unlikely to happen in Iowa. Citizens cannot initiate a change in the Iowa constitution. In order to remove same-sex marriage, the Iowa legislature would have to vote for it in two consecutive legislative sessions, and then it would be voted upon by the public. It looks as if Varnum v. Brien is here to stay.

What can we learn from Iowa? First of all, don’t underestimate the importance of the image couples you are representing. Bringing forward families instead of couples speaks volumes to the courts. Second, we need to take another look at social liberalism in this country and figure out where LGBT support really lies. Most of us would never have believed that Iowa would have same-sex marriage while California does not. (We’ll delve further into this issue when we take a look at Maine, NY, and NJ). Finally, although this case is under the Iowa Supreme Court, and therefore other state Supreme Courts are not required to follow this precedent, the Varnum court determined that laws prohibiting same-sex marriage failed at the intermediate scrutiny level. They found that the law was not substantially related to an important government interest, and therefore it violated the Iowa Constitution. Again, other courts are not forced to uphold this, but it will be interesting to see how this precedent affects other courts and challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act.

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