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The frightening truth about Same-Sex Marriage in America

June 6th, 2011 · Editorials

Every LGBT person in America should understand where we stand on Same-Sex Marriage, because we’re not as close to full equality as most assume.

The genesis of this post was the assumption by someone on Twitter who said that “Obama should just legalize gay marriage!” So, let’s get this out of the way first: Obama has no specific power over same-sex marriage in the United States. He can push the agenda for Congress to find a solution, he can use his bully pulpit, but he does not have the power to enact same-sex marriage.

The “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) is a federal law that allows states an “exemption” from the agreement (“Full Faith and Credit Clause” of the Constitution) to honor marriages performed in other states. For example, if you are heterosexual and marry in Indiana, your marriage, per the Full Faith and Credit Clause, is also recognized by the state of Florida. DOMA allows states to ignore that, so that even if Massachusetts allows same-sex marriage (which it does), Indiana does not have to recognize it. This law was passed by Congress, and must be repealed by Congress.

DOMA also stops the Federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages for Federal benefits. So, same-sex couples can’t file as partners on their Federal taxes. This is really one of the biggest issues — there are over 1,000 rights and responsibilities of marriage in the United States, at the Federal level.

Even if we were to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (which President Obama has said he wants Congress to do), there is still another problem. Over 35 states have laws and state-Constitution amendments barring the recognition of same-sex marriage in their state. Even though Federal law overrides state law, there is no guarantee that states would recognize same-sex marriages from other states, because of these laws and amendments.

That being said, getting all of the Defense of Marriage Act repealed is really the first step in this process, because it will at least allow the Federal government to provide the vast benefits and responsibilities necessary to protect LGBT couples and their families.

Once that is accomplished, there are only three ways of ensuring that same-sex couples have all the rights and responsibilities of marriage in ALL of the United States of America. Here’s where it gets really scary:

  1. The Supreme Court rules that state-level laws barring the recognition of same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. If this were to happen, all states would have to recognize same-sex marriages performed in any state in the US. This possibility is “in the pipeline” because of the case to repeal Proposition 8 (Perry v. Schwarzenegger), backed by the American Foundation for Equal Rights. You can find out more about where that case is right now on the AFER website. The down-side to this case is that, If we lose at the Supreme Court, Proposition 8 and other laws like it will stand, and our marriage movement will be set back 20 years or more.
  2. We repeal each law or constitutional amendment in each state where they exist. This would require 30+ legislative and proposition battles, millions of dollars fighting the battles, and likely 10-15 years.
  3. We pass an amendment to the United States Constitution requiring that LGBT people are treated equally and that same-sex marriage must be allowed in all states and recognized in every state. This is a difficult route, but the route that ensures equality on our terms. While a Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage would ensure that we can marry throughout the United States, it would do nothing about employment discrimination or a host of other LGBT legal issues. A Constitutional amendment protecting our rights could be crafted in such a way to sweeps every type of LGBT discrimination off the table. The best way to accomplish this would be to ally ourselves proponents of the (failed) Equal Rights Amendment, and other minority groups, to create a “super ERA,” protecting each minority group by name.

If you liked this post, you might also like: “Our civil rights

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Analysis on “Back to the Ballot” meeting

May 23rd, 2011 · Prop 8 Repeal Organizing

Yesterday, I attended Equality California’s “Back to the Ballot” Town Hall meeting in West Hollywood and live tweeted the event. This is the second in a series of Town Halls to take place across California to ask the California LGBT community their opinion on returning to the ballot to repeal Proposition 8.

I’m not going to go into the details of the event, because you can find most of them out by reading our live tweeting session linked-to above. Also, Patrick Connors has a good run-down on the San Francisco event on his site, UppityFag. The scheduled content was mostly the same at both events, so his account is similar to our own. Be sure to follow him @UppityFag, as well. Michael Petrelis also has an account of the San Francisco event, in which he recounts some worrying similarities between the LA and SF event, including panelists reluctant to respond clearly to questions, no written agenda or clear understanding of why we were there, and an event that started late. (LA’s event started over 20 minutes past the scheduled time. EQCA staff member Andrea Shorter blamed a non-functioning drop-down screen onto which they were planning on projecting polling results.)

What I want to discuss, however, is the merit of returning to the ballot one way or another.

First, full disclosure: the author of this post, Jordan, was heavily involved in the effort to return to the ballot in 2010. I helped organize two of the leadership summits that resulted in the formation of Restore Equality 2010, and was elected to the Interim Administrative Group (IAG) of the campaign.

That said, let’s start by at least mentioning what the mood in the room was at this event. From the quick straw poll at the end of the Los Angeles event, 21 people wanted to return to the ballot to repeal in 2012, 16 did not want to return to the ballot for repeal, and 8 were undecided. So, at least in Los Angeles, it’s a toss-up as to what folks want to do.

A whole cadre of the Restore Equality 2010 folks were there in force, including: Jane Wishon, the powerhouse straight ally who was also on the Restore Equality 2010 IAG and is now the LA chapter leader for Marriage Equality USA; John Henning, the (former?) Love Honor Cherish leader who eventually took over leadership of the Restore Equality 2010 Campaign; Tom Watson, another founder and leader of Love Honor Cherish who was pivotal in pushing for a return to the ballot in 2010; Lester Aponte, ditto; and a half-dozen LHC/Restore Equality 2010 supporters who were heavily involved in collecting signatures and trying to ignite the effort to return to the ballot in 2010.

Notable anti-2010’ers (“Prepare to Prevail” signers/supporters) were few and far between, from what I could see. The two most notable attendees were Roland Palencia (newly chosen leader of Equality California and anti-2010’er), and Ron Buckmire (VERY anti-2010’er and leader at the Jordan/Rustin Coalition).

Nonetheless, the proceedings were very cordial and I did not note a great deal of contention — the past is the past, I guess, and anti-2010’ers were keeping their opinion close to the chest if they still believe returning the to the ballot is a bad idea. In contrast, the Restore Equality 2010 folks were definitely using pointed questions to push discussion in the direction of returning to the ballot. Equality California staff and panelists kept their opinions silent on returning to the ballot, and kept repeating that these Town Halls were to get the community’s opinion, and that they had not yet made their mind up, as an organization, as to what to do.

A very compelling case was made at this event to at least begin the process of returning to the ballot. As Lester Aponte mentioned at least once during the event, there is a long laundry-list of items we must check-off to even get the ball rolling. This includes discussing which ballot language to submit, raising money for signature gathering, filing dates for the proposition, and so-forth. So, regardless of what may eventually be decided (the argument goes) we should at least start heading in the direction of a ballot proposition because preparations will take a while.

And, to the credit of this argument, I remember how difficult this process was in 2009 when we were preparing for a 2010 vote. The ballot language is very contentious, and coming to a consensus will be difficult, especially with more players involved this time. There’s the question of who will be the signers of the proposition, which requires attempting to make the most diverse slate possible. And, of course, much more. I totally recognize, then, that it would be smart to work on these items and assume that we’ll probably go back.

But now, as self-serving as this may be, I’m going to circle back to the opinion I stated at the event, which wasn’t taken very seriously by the panelists, and apparently was not taken kindly by the former Restore Equality 2010 members. (A few that had chatted me up before-hand were definitely chilly toward me after the event.) The discussion of returning to the ballot is well and good, but let’s remember that the last ballot proposition cost us over $40m to fight. This proposition would cost, let’s be conservative considering a recession, $30m. If we have the power to raise this kind of money, why are we going to spend it on a ballot proposition for ONE state?

The panelists reminded us repeatedly that voters have NEVER voted in our favor on a ballot measure. So even if we do win this incredibly difficult proposition battle, are we really ready for this same fight in 30+ more states with similar laws and Constitutional amendments? And how much will that cost our community at large?

Hence, my point: if we believe we can raise that kind of money for a ballot proposition in California, why aren’t we considering raising that kind of money for a national campaign to demand FULL EQUALITY LEGISLATION? We could effectively end legislative discrimination and enact fully equal status for LGBT people by the end of a second Obama term with a unified strategy and a national campaign to build a movement.

Equality Network has been beating this drum for a while now, and even wrote a detailed proposal for such a campaign, based on historical examples of the best practices of previous civil rights movements. While numerous “movement elders” reviewed and praised it, the response from all (and one representative of a national funder) was “It’s too big.” God forbid we consider a real strategy and full solution to our inequality, as opposed to a piecemeal legislative approach and a never-ending serious of state-by-state ballot proposition battles, right? God forbid we stop playing into the hands of our opponents, who want us to be tied up in emotionally-draining and financially ruinous election-season campaigning with money that could go to anyone in the Democratic party. God forbid we have a truly inspirational plan for our civil rights, and that we seek to solve inequity for all of our family, instead of leaving those in poor and uneducated states to suffer under homophobic state-level lawmakers.

So my bottom line is this: yes, start the process of returning to the ballot so that we can be proactive and not let another opportunity slip by. Show our opponents that we are ready to do whatever it takes — court cases, ballot propositions, beating down the door of every anti-gay legislator in the state — to protect ourselves and our families. After all, something could change in the next few months that might make victory in a ballot repeal of Proposition 8 inevitable. It is important to use our time building a network of supporters and preparing for whatever might be thrown at us, and there’s no shame in using our opponent’s tactics against them when we can win.

But we must stop committing to these ridiculous state battles that tie up monetary and personnel resources for minute gains that are nowhere near assured a victory. We must create and solidfy a full equality strategy that has a time-horizon beyond the next election (and the next election, and the next election…) and prepares for a full-scale movement of LGBT people and their allies to finally sweep discriminatory legislation out of our lives completely. Anything less is just short-sighted and a waste of precious time and effort.

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WeHo “Back to the Ballot” Town Hall

May 22nd, 2011 · Prop 8 Repeal Organizing

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Combat Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill TODAY

May 10th, 2011 · Community alerts

Many thanks to our member, David Fleck, who sent out the following plea to his Facebook friends:

The Ugandan Parliament is currently debating the Kill The Gays Bill, which would literally execute LGBT Ugandans and imprison their friends, families, doctors, priests/pastors, etc. They are trying to pass it in the NEXT DAY OR TWO.

We need to let Uganda know that they cannot write the genocide of its LGBT citizens into law under the cover of darkness. The whole world is watching, the whole world is justifiably outraged, and the whole world will hold them accountable for their actions.

We need your help to apply pressure NOW. Please call, write and fax the Ugandan Ambassador to the United States:

His Excellency Professor Perezi K. Kamunanwire
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
Tel: (202) 726 4758
Fax: (202) 726 1727
Email: pkamunanwire

Call, write or fax ANY TIME beginning RIGHT NOW and continuing until you hear that the bill has been dropped! Tell the Ambassador that the United States and the world are watching the developments in his country, and will not sit idly by while Uganda commits genocide against its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens and their families, friends, and supporters. Tell him you don’t know how America could possibly justify maintaining diplomatic relations or providing any aid whatsoever to a country intent upon murdering its own LGBT citizens. Remind him that civilized people all around the world will shun any country that threatens to put to death its LGBT citizens.


  • AVAAZ.org: over half a million have signed worldwide as I write this.
  • ALL OUT.org: Over 200,000 at this hour.



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Grassroots vs. Institutional Paradigms

May 7th, 2011 · Editorials

Grassroots activists remain uneducated in the ways of leadership, and generally refuse to work collectively to gather resources. Institutional Organizations expect that, when they call, the grassroots will respond with money and manpower. Somewhere in the middle is a powerful new paradigm that will create success: a coordinated campaign that not only fires the enthusiasm of the grassroots, but also provides the power, stability, and resources of the Institutional Organization model.

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You should vote on May 17th to combat a bigot

April 27th, 2011 · Political action

By all accounts, the complete waste-of-money May 17th election was something most people probably thought they could ignore when they got their “Official Sample” ballot in the mail, as it’s only one question: elect “Seat No. 5” on the Board of Trustees for the Los Angeles Community College. (Yes, this is the same LACC that the LA Times wrote a huge series about recently, regarding wasted money.) But it turns out that the choice is between a “Yes on 8” Tea Party candidate, and a progressive, non-homophobe.

Lydia Guitierrez is a Tea Party-backed, Yes on 8 supporter who ran in 2008 for State Senator. LezGetReal reported on her efforts to put up Yes on 8 signs during that race.

According to “Jim” of the “arcadia-protest” e-mail list:

Her endorsers are the same louts from Pepperdine and Palmdale who put Prop 8 on the ballot, and I’m guessing they’re trying to get her some credibility so they can run her for Senator again (and in the meantime ram evolution into the classrooms and make tenure conditional on “strong moral values”).

The WeHo Daily also has more coverage.

The other candidate is Scott Svonkin, a long-time progressive Democratic politician and activist. He is endorsed by the Stonewall Young Democrats, and Stonewall Democratic Club (and just about every Democratic politician and official in the state of CA).

We have to admit that we’re more than a little turned-off by this LA Weekly hit-piece about Scott, but the fact that it spoke nothing of his qualifications or stance says that it’s probably not much more than the work of a small group of conservatives looking to discredit a progressive.

If you did not receive it, you probably aren’t registered to vote, and should do so before the registration deadline on May 2nd. Just click the image below to register!

Set yourself a reminder, and go vote on May 17th!

Thanks to Jane Wishon for alerting us about this.

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Are trans activists “showing up” enough?

April 4th, 2011 · Editorials

I just finished reading “Marriage equality or bust?“, an editorial by a trans writer asking if the marriage equality agenda is basically another change for major LGBT orgs to push trans equality to a later date. A number of questions come to mind as I read this:

  • Is the fact that LGB activists are actually trying to be out, while trans individuals are seeking to integrate, create an inherent tension in the fight for equality?
  • Do LGB people’s issues get pushed faster because they represent a larger constituency, or because they are more vocal than trans activists? Does the squeaky wheel get the grease?
  • Decisions are made by those who show up. We know from a recent report that only 22 out of 37 national LGBT organizations have transgender board members. Is that because these organizations are having a hard time finding qualified individuals to participate, or because they’re just not looking? Are transgender activists making enough of a stink about this? Is there any group of transgender activists who are seeking to help place members on these boards by providing qualified referrals to organizations lacking representation? If not, why?
  • How much of a burden of responsibility falls on LGBT organizations to “fight for” trans equality? We know that the trans population is quite a bit smaller than the LGB community. Obviously, they’re going to represent a smaller force when it comes to manpower. Does the broader LGB community bear the responsibility of pushing trans equality if that constituency isn’t fully engaged?

Let’s be clear that the following is not up for debate: transgender people deserve the same full equality treatment that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people do, and on a timeline not any less urgent than their peers. We have been staunch supporters of legislation that includes all members of our community, and seek to educate our readers about trans issues at every opportunity. The questions we’re posing involve the current state of trans integration in the broader equality fight.

Sound off in the comments! Creative and constructive solutions always welcome!

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Our civil rights

March 24th, 2011 · Editorials

Don’t ever let someone tell you that we haven’t “paid” for our civil rights, or that we haven’t “suffered enough.” Those who believe such things don’t know our history. They don’t know that we have been an oppressed people in cultures all over the world, in some way or another, since the dawn of Christianity.

We have paid for our freedom in the state-sanctioned murder of men committing “buggery,” in the blood that dripped from the backs of men lashed for “attempted buggery,” from the prison time for “lewd acts,” to the public shame stamped in Courier-font newsclippings listing the names of men and women caught in gay bars raided by police thugs bent on drawing blood.

We have paid for our unalienable rights in the young and old lost to astounding and cruel acts of violence, driven by the basest instincts to maim, torture, beat, and kill us simply because we look too gay, talk too butch, walk too funny, or glance too long.

We have paid for our dignity by holding the hands of our brothers, our fathers, our sons, and our lovers as they wither away from AIDS, while our government cruelly ignored our pleas and cries for help, for compassion, and for a modicum of human decency in the face of slow, terrifying death.

We have paid for our righteous anger in the tears we have shed for the bullied teens, alone, hanging themselves because they had no one to tell them that they are beautiful and loved and bound for better; and we know that we too came just that close to the same fate in our darkest moments.

We have paid for our liberty in the loss of family ties, as the people who gave us life shunned us simply because religion and society has taught them to be shamed by our presence, and afraid of our influence.

We will not be told that we haven’t suffered enough for our equality. We will not be told that the blisters on our feet are the pains of an immoral path. No, we will not back away from our civil rights, because that term is leased, not owned, by the people who carry the noble torch that devours the dark and brings a light that outshines every bigotry.

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Further analysis on DOMA repeal

March 18th, 2011 · Editorials

Yesterday’s editorial on this blog, “Respect for Marriage Act” only goes half-way, discussed the issues with a movement that relies on legislators’ whims to introduce legislation that works in our favor.

A commenter on that article ascertained that we were wrong about the Respect for Marriage Act and its reach, in that it does repeal all three sections of DOMA. After careful consideration, we agree that it does, indeed, fully repeal DOMA. However, as this Advocate article states, the effect of repealing DOMA still doesn’t go far enough:

Although the bill fully repeals DOMA, it would not compel states that are hostile to same-sex marriage to recognize marriages performed in other states.

“States would have to apply the normal principles of comity, which dictate when you recognize the actions of another state,” explained Nadler. “Under the full faith and credit clause of the constitution, the conclusion might be that in some cases they recognize it and in some cases, they don’t.”

Tobias Wolff, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Pennsylvania, agrees.

“While repealing the ‘full faith and credit’ portions of the Defense of Marriage Act is very important for a number of reasons, it will not have the dramatic and far-reaching effect of ‘imposing’ same-sex marriage upon other states, as many on both sides of the debate often assume,” writes Wolff. “If DOMA were repealed in its entirety tomorrow, States would possess the same power that they have always had to refuse to recognize out-of-state marriages on public-policy grounds.”

To that end, the effect is essentially the same: if the Respect for Marriage Act passes, and DOMA is then repealed, the LGBT citizens in 29 states with constitutional provisions and the 12 others with laws “restricting marriage to one man and one woman” will still have no state-level protections for their property and families. Widespread media coverage of the repeal would lead, as it often does, to continued confusion among our supporters about whether or not LGBT people can marry throughout the United States. In turn, state-level laws would become more entrenched as, again, we must either undergo prolonged legal battles or ballot initiatives to repeal anti-gay marriage laws.

This puts us in a difficult situation. On one hand, the repeal of DOMA would be our greatest victory yet in the history of the LGBT movement to date. Discrimination at the federal level would fall and the livelihood of LGBT people would be more secure in knowing that they had access to joint tax filings, Social Security benefits, and other federal-level protections.

But on the other hand, this huge, amazing victory would do exactly as we mention yesterday by diluting both the righteous anger, and the public consciousness on LGBT issues. Would the Employment Non-Discrimination Act ever pass? What would be the fate of the Uniting American Families Act? Would the majority of LGBT people see the need to donate money to LGBT activist organizations or fight for further protections?

Let’s be clear: we don’t oppose the Respect for Marriage Act. But we are greatly concerned about crossing the marriage finish line before we’ve even started the race when it comes to the myriad of other protections that we would still not have if this bill passes. LGBT people would still be unequal in 40+ states, without a clear strategy on how to fix that problem. Once we can get married, will anyone care if we can still get fired for putting up a picture of our husband or wife in our cubicle?

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“Respect for Marriage Act” only goes half-way

March 17th, 2011 · Editorials

On Wednesday, March 16th, members of both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate introduced bills called the “Respect for Marriage Act” that would allegedly “repeal the Defense of Marriage Act” (“DOMA”). This is the discriminatory law, put into place during the Clinton administration, which bars the federal government from recognizing state-level same-sex marriage benefits, and allows states to ignore same-sex marriages performed in other states, effectively overriding the part of the Constitution commonly referred to as the “Full Faith and Credit Clause.”

While we applaud our allies in Congress, and President Obama for his recent gesture regarding DOMA, this new push will end up hurting LGBT people in the long-term because it only repeals parts of DOMA, and does nothing about the numerous anti-gay marriage laws throughout the United States.

The complete Defense of Marriage Act has two main parts. The first, mentioned above, allows states to ignore same-sex marriages performed in other states. So if you get married in Massachusetts (which recognizes same-same marriage), and then move to Texas (which does not recognize them), you would not be treated as a couple for things like state or local taxes. LGBT couples would still be required to jump through legal hoops to ensure that local and state governments would recognize their property and rights as a couple.

The second part of DOMA forces all parts of the federal government to ignore same-sex marriages performed in any state. This obviously has far-reaching consequences when it comes to taxes, Social Security benefits, and other such federal recognition. It’s this part of DOMA that is now on the chopping block.

The problems with this approach are far-reaching. Let’s start with the fact that most who are now following these developments assume that DOMA, in its entirety, is going to be repealed. As the first provision of DOMA (allowing states to ignore same-sex marriages performed in other states) isn’t going anywhere, we’re technically still going to have DOMA even if the Respect for Marriage Act passes. This type of public misconception about our rights is incredibly damaging, in the same way that many heterosexual people believe that LGBT people are already protected by anti-discrimination laws in employment. We’re not, yet this public misconception allows otherwise supportive people to turn a blind eye to LGBT activism on this matter.

But in a larger context, because the Respect for Marriage Act does nothing to force states to recognize marriages performed in other states, people in the 29 states with constitutional provisions and the 12 others with laws “restricting marriage to one man and one woman” will still have no state-level protections for their property and families. And this, in particular, becomes a long-term issue as public support for LGBT activism to remove these discriminatory laws begins to wane. It will be difficult to garner broad public (or even LGBT) support and funding to abolish these state-level laws as public confusion on the matter clouds the current status in each locality. Even if support can be gathered, are we to go state-by-state to repeal these laws, in costly and emotionally-draining ballot initiative battles?

Does this mean that we should ask our advocates in Congress to stop? No, of course not. Progress marches forward. But it is clear to us that there is no cohesive strategy from LGBT people, or our organizations, to roll back 15 years of discriminatory laws enacted throughout the country. Indeed, the new non-strategy seems to be grabbing for low-hanging fruit and completely ignoring the larger overarching need for a comprehensive plan to not only abolish federal-level discrimination laws, but also state-level laws of a similar nature. This “piecemeal” approach to equality makes for slow progress, and will force us to live as second-class citizens, drowning in a myriad of competing legislation, for years to come.

The only answer is a new strategy. A new strategy that is understood and accepted by all of our advocacy organizations, and allies in congress, which treats inequality as nothing less than an anathema to our democracy. This new strategy must seek total, full equality in legislation at all levels of government for LGBT people. Anything less is an appreciated, but mis-guided effort that chips away at the righteous anger that is critical to our eventual success.

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