marriage equality

In Albany, hey, you never know

by: Adam Bink

Tue Dec 21, 2010 at 15:00

Last week, our friends at Freedom to Marry published their "top 10 moments" for marriage in 2010. It's a healthy list. All told, there were some strides forward.

I've been thinking, too, about strides backwards. I would count losing control of the Minnesota legislature to anti-equality Republicans while electing (narrowly) Mark Dayton as governor. We had a real shot at making Minnesota one of the next states to move on this issue.

The one that comes up the most, and the one I want to write about, is the New York State Senate. I had worked on the fight to pass a marriage bill through the State Senate in December 2009, a fight we lost for a variety of reasons. I'd count losing Democratic, pro-equality control of the New York State Senate this year as a step backward. But as I engage in conversations with colleagues in our movement, as well as friends loosely observing the process, I've noticed a resignation that marriage is off the table for the next two years.

Boy, has that death been exaggerated.

Some simple reasons why:

  • Despite losing three Democratic incumbents who voted for the marriage bill, we actually knocked off several incumbents who voted against it through a combination of winning primaries, open seats and close general elections. All told, five new pro-equality members (all Democrats), who either have voted for the bill while in the Assembly or stated they will support it during the campaign, will enter the chamber. Which means a net pick up of two, bringing the number of publicly pro-equality members from 24 to 26 (it takes 32 to pass a bill). We'll need to  hold a few of them to their words, but it was a small, positive step forward.

  • Winning 6 more is a tough slog, but it ain't unheard of. It's no secret there are a few Republicans and at least on Democrat who privately pledged to support the bill if it got the requisite number to pass, some of whom are still in the chamber. And as time has shown, some people just come around naturally on their own. The campaign to persuade these members to come out publicly begins now, but we're not talking about changing the minds of six people- we're talking about changing the minds of a few, and instilling some courage in others. Again, that ain't easy in politics, but it isn't impossible.

  • It also helps that our community, through the work of community activists, HRC, Fight Back NY and Empire State Pride Agenda, targeted several folks who voted against the marriage bill for defeat and made headlines. Our efforts definitely weren't the turning point in a race like Monserrate's (best known for slashing his girlfriend's face), who was already on his way out, but in a place like my home turf of Buffalo, where Tim Kennedy was elected in a tough race over Assemblyman Jack Quinn III, the money and mobilization made a difference.

  • I don't buy the "Republicans now control the chamber, all is lost" argument. After the 2006 election, Governor-elect Eliot Spitzer faced a Republican State Senate with 34 Republican-held seats and 28 Democratic-held seats (32 are needed for majority control). In January, just around the time he took office, he got Republican State  Senator Michael Balboni from Nassau County to take a position as Deputy Secretary for Public Safety in his administration, then campaigned hard for the Democrat running to replace him, Nassau County legislator Craig Johnson. Johnson won. Now there were 29 Democratic-held seats. Later that year, Republican State Senator Jim Wright from the North County region of the state decided to resign to become a lobbyist. A special election was held in February 2008, which Democratic Assemblyman Darrel Aubertine won. 30 Democratic seats, and the Republicans started to sweat over their majority. Sure, Aubertine ended up voting against the marriage bill (and lost his seat last month), but the point is that Democrats came very close to obtaining a majority and therefore control over the agenda.

  • Another case in point: last year, the infamous "coup", in which four Democrats decided to switch parties in exchange for more power under Republican leadership- and ended up shutting down the chamber as the battle raged in court for over a month- nearly handed over control of a 32-30 Democratic State Senate to the Republicans.

  • Republican State Senator Thomas Morahan from Rockland County died of leukemia on July 12, 2010, during a chamber that was closely divided, 32-30. Had he been a Democrat and a quick special election occurred that ended up with a Republican being elected, it might have thrown control of the chamber back into question.

The point is that nothing is said and done in a state where State Senators get appointed to state offices and have their seats taken by pro-equality Democrats; others resign or die in office; power-hungry Senators engineer a coup; and other wily moments. So I'm not with all the naysayers who believe the issue is off the table- not only will some State Senators move our way simply because of time and pressure, but control may actually flip. And though I'm skeptical, incoming Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos did promise a vote on this issue. I'm not painting a rosy picture here- it remains an uphill battle, but in Albany, as the motto of the New York State Lotto goes, hey, you never know.
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Time is running out, Mr. President

by: Adam Bink

Thu Oct 28, 2010 at 18:00

Here's John Edwards over 3 years ago on the freedom to marry for same-sex couples:

It is [a hard issue] ... because I'm 53 years old. I grew up in a small town in the rural south. I was raised in the Southern Baptist church and so I have a belief system that arises from that. It's part of who I am. I can't make it disappear. ... I personally feel great conflict about that. I don't know the answer. I wish I did. I think from my perspective it's very easy for me to say, gay civil unions, yes, partnership benefits, yes, but it is something that I struggle with. Do I believe they should have the right to marry? I'm just not there yet."

I noticed a strikingly similar response from President Obama yesterday. Here's Joe Sudbay asking the President about his position on the same issue:

Q So I have another gay question. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: It's okay, man. (Laughter.)

Q And this one is on the issue of marriage. Since you've become President, a lot has changed. More states have passed marriage equality laws. This summer a federal judge declared DOMA unconstitutional in two different cases. A judge in San Francisco declared Prop 8 was unconstitutional. And I know during the campaign you often said you thought marriage was the union between a man and a woman, and there -- like I said, when you look at public opinion polling, it's heading in the right direction. We've actually got Republicans like Ted Olson and even Ken Mehlman on our side now. So I just really want to know what is your position on same-sex marriage?

THE PRESIDENT: Joe, I do not intend to make big news sitting here with the five of you, as wonderful as you guys are. (Laughter.) But I'll say this --

Q I just want to say, I would be remiss if I didn't ask you this question.

THE PRESIDENT: Of course.

Q People in our community are really desperate to know.

THE PRESIDENT: I think it's a fair question to ask. I think that -- I am a strong supporter of civil unions. As you say, I have been to this point unwilling to sign on to same-sex marriage primarily because of my understandings of the traditional definitions of marriage.

But I also think you're right that attitudes evolve, including mine. And I think that it is an issue that I wrestle with and think about because I have a whole host of friends who are in gay partnerships. I have staff members who are in committed, monogamous relationships, who are raising children, who are wonderful parents.

And I care about them deeply. And so while I'm not prepared to reverse myself here, sitting in the Roosevelt Room at 3:30 in the afternoon, I think it's fair to say that it's something that I think a lot about. That's probably the best you'll do out of me today. (Laughter.)

Q It is an important issue, and I think that --

THE PRESIDENT: I think it's an entirely fair question to ask.

Q And part of it is that you can't be equal in this country if the very core of who you are as a person and the love -- the person you love is not -- if that relationship isn't the same as everybody else's, then we're not equal. And I think that a lot of -- particularly in the wake of the California election on Prop 8, a lot of gay people realized we're not equal. And I think that that's -- that's been part of the change in the --

THE PRESIDENT: Prop 8, which I opposed.

Q Right. I remember you did. You sent the letter and that was great. I think that the level of intensity in the LGBT community changed after we lost rights in that election. And I think that's a lot of where the community is right now.

THE PRESIDENT: The one thing I will say today is I think it's pretty clear where the trendlines are going.

Q The arc of history.

THE PRESIDENT: The arc of history.

At the time when Edwards made his statement, I was disappointed and angry that a candidate for President basically admitting he may be on the wrong side of good judgment and history, blaming his religion for his feelings, and other poor reasoning.

I got some of that with the President yesterday, who's clearly setting himself up to come out in support (a position, ahem, he was already in during his 1996 run for State Senate). On the one hand, he clearly doesn't want to make this an issue just before the midterms, which I can appreciate. And I also appreciate the subtle hints he's dropping. I think his heart is in the right place (and let me also say that I appreciate the White House taking the time to meet with five independent, often strongly critical, smart bloggers, and I hope they do it again).

On the other hand, I can tell him that he will find it harder and harder to ask for support from the LGBT and allied community in 2012 if he continues to be on the wrong side of this issue- whether or not Prop 8 or DOMA rulings go our way. I've seen candidate after candidate this cycle- Republican and Democrat- use the person who calls himself our "fierce advocate" as a shield on this issue by saying "my position on [gay] marriage is the same as President Obama's!", something that makes me wince every time I hear it.

So I think that for me and many of my friends and colleagues, time- and patience- is running out, Mr. President.

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The top races for LGBT equality this November

by: Adam Bink

Wed Oct 20, 2010 at 17:00

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars

Because (as many of you know) I did some work on the 3 LGBT-specific ballot initiative campaigns last November in Maine, Washington State, and Kalamazoo, MI, some of my friends and colleagues have been asking what's on the ballot this fall that directly impacts LGBT people. I checked around and fortunately, there's little in the way of domestic partnership ordinances, constitutional amendments, non-discrimination ordinances, and so forth (with the exception of this inclusive non-discrmination ordinance in Bowling Green, OH).

But I've been meaning to do a piece on what is at stake, because there is a lot in terms of candidates that affect the trajectory of LGBT rights. There are multiple important contests, but from where I stand, key races include:

  • Steve Pougnet, who I've written about a great deal here before- the Mayor of Palm Springs, California, who besides being a strong progressive, would be the first openly gay married dad elected to Congress (he and his partner have two adorable young children). He's also running against the odious Mary Bono Mack, whose veneer of moderation was finally shredded by her vote against DADT repeal, refusal to take a stance on Prop 8, refusal to co-sponsor or commit to voting for repeal of DOMA and passage of ENDA.

  • Russ Feingold and Barbara Boxer, as I've written about (for some background) here and here at C&L, were one of just 14 Senators to oppose DOMA and are outspoken advocates on LGBT rights generally, going back to Boxer's work on HIV/AIDS funding in the early 1980s when few in Congress would touch what was then called "gay cancer".

  • New York State Senate races, where in my home state we fell 8 votes short of enshrining equality for same-sex couples last winter. Among the 8 "no" votes, two have fallen in Democratic primaries to pro-equality Assemblymen, and there are multiple other general election races coming up where we would pick up pro-equality votes or defend them. My colleague Paul at Gay City News has a great summary here.

  • Four gubernatorial races, the first being in California, as the winner there may serious impact in terms of whether the case has "standing" at the 9th Circuit- an issue that could bring the whole case down. The other three are states where it is very likely that equality supporters have the votes to enact major legislation- the freedom to marry for same-sex couples in Rhode Island and Minnesota, and the recently-vetoed civil unions law in Hawaii. The latter two are where especially strong progressives Mark Dayton and Neil Abercrombie are the Democratic nominees.

    Update: One state I've missed was Maine, where Libby Mitchell is the Democratic nominee and the opponent most likely to win if anyone but her does is terrible on LGBT equality. Since a new marriage bill would need to re-pass the Legislature and be signed again by the governor in light of last November's election, Libby's race is just as crucial.

  • And finally is Kamala Harris (who I especially want to highlight), who is running for Attorney General of California and, along with Eric Schneiderman in my home state of New York, is one of two extremely strong, die-hard progressive Attorney General candidates to run this year.

Aside from hearing excellent things about Kamala from folks I trust over at Calitics and in various California progressive circles, I first was introduced to and wrote about Kamala over at Prop 8 Trial Tracker, a blog I sometimes guest on, when she and Stephanie Miller appeared in a CNN debate on same-sex marriage around the Prop 8 decision news (videos can be found in this post). What impressed me so much is how Kamala gets it as a straight ally- understands how to talk about equality, fundamental fairness, and what the law really says. She came at it like a seasoned pro who had been doing LGBT advocacy for years. There are a million people who could have taken her spot in that debate, and there are few I would have traded for Kamala.

Brave New Films, in partnership with PowerPAC, put together this great video below summarizing Kamala's commitment to equality and why her race is so important. Check it out.

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NOM sent a messsage- just the wrong kind

by: Adam Bink

Thu Sep 16, 2010 at 15:30

I did a lot of writing on it before the election, but haven't done very much post-game on the District of Columbia municipal elections. Suffice to say my gut feeling is that ultimately voters thought Fenty was too much of a jerk (and he is a jerk) and Gray would get just as much done, but make people feel better about it. Oh, and that many voters feel he paid too much attention to upper and middle-class wards. For my part, for the first time in my life, I was an undecided voter until less than a week before Election Day, when I walked in and pulled the lever jabbed at the touch-screen for Fenty. But the good part is, I only feel about 7% less utility with Gray set to be the next Mayor. That's the nice part about having two fairly good candidates from which to choose, I guess.

What I have been far more interested in talking about is the effect of DC's marriage equality legislation on our municipal elections. And the effect was... minimal. Sorry to disappoint.

After doing some math yesterday, I found that there were seven different candidates who (a) voted for marriage equality twice as DC Councilmembers less than a year ago (Gray, K. Brown, Mendelson, Wells, Thomas Jr., Cheh, Graham) and (b) were on the ballot this cycle.

Every single one of them were re-elected. In two cases- Gray being elected Mayor and Kwame Brown, an At-Large member, being kicked upstairs to be Chairman of the Council- marriage supporters were elected to an even higher office.

This is no small deal. Many of you may think is this a cosmopolitan LGBT paradise, but it's not (I mean that- aside from many parts of this city not being safe to walk down the streets hand in hand with your SO, there have been numerous anti-LGBT hate crimes over the past few years even in the most pro-LGBT parts of the city). Like I wrote in criticizing the "Democrats from NYC" moniker, there are no "Democrats from DC" in terms of automatically being pro-LGBT. The case in point I want to point to is Harry Thomas, Jr., who voted for equality, and who represents Ward 5, which at the 2000 was 88% African-American. In Thomas Jr.'s own words while speaking to Metro Weekly journalist Chris Geidner, Ward 5 has

a large African-American population, a large Catholic community, a large Baptist and religious community.

In other words, what conventional wisdom would tell us spells sure defeat for a candidate who supports same-sex marriage. In fact, National Organization for Marriage and their ally, local homophobe majordomo Bishop Harry Jackson, thought so.

Here's Jackson as quoted in The American Prospect, following the DC Council votes:

"In future races, religious people are going to start going after people's political careers," Jackson, the head of Stand4MarriageDC, told U.S. News and World Report. "You're going to see a bloodletting that is going to mark a new style of engagement for people who are against same-sex marriage."

NOM and Jackson found a candidate in Delano Hunter, a local activist, to take up their banner of "preserving traditional marriage". NOM dropped $140,000 worth of contributions, direct mail, and automated calls- no small amount- towards getting Hunter elected.

Here's an example:

He attended their final rally at the Capitol on their epic failure of a bus tour, which I covered at NOMTourTracker.com. He even conned the Washington Post editorial board into muddling his homophobia while endorsing him, which I documented here. NOM's president, Brian Brown, said:

"If we defeat Harry Thomas," Brown said, "the lie that you can vote for same-sex marriage and there won't be consequences will be done away with."

Hunter was their guy and they went all in for him in a district that many considered to be tailor-made for such a stand. They made it a front-line issue.

Hunter got just 19.33% of the vote. Harry Thomas, Jr. was re-elected with 61.61% of the vote.

I've seen candidates with no website who didn't knock on a single door get a higher percentage. It's what you get for breathing. Actually, it's what you get for not breathing too, since there are dead candidates who do better.

And it's not just DC. In Maine legislative elections, we nearly all of our supporters who voted for the marriage bill and were on the ballot. The same is Massachusetts among those who refused to support putting the issue to the ballot. And equally important is that people just don't care all that much. In Iowa, a majority of the public surveyed said they were more focused on the economy and jobs. As Adam notes in this piece, black voters may be more likely to oppose marriage. But in some of the wards in this city, particularly on the east side of the Anacostia with double-digit unemployment, devastatingly high HIV infection rates, and crumbling, failing schools- they also just don't care that much. NOM sure sent a message- just the wrong kind.

The solid record of marriage supporters being re-elected continues. I hope elected officials and candidates other places like New York State take note, and have the conviction to do the right thing.

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Muddying the waters on equality

by: Adam Bink

Thu Sep 02, 2010 at 15:00

Here's the Washington Post editorial board in making an endorsement in this year's Ward 5 Council race in DC:

In Ward 5, first-term council member Harry Thomas Jr. is facing challenges from Kenyan McDuffie, Delano Hunter  and Tracey D. Turner. With the notable exception of the courage he showed in voting for marriage equality, Mr. Thomas has been a major disappointment. He pretty much defined his role as trying to stop anything -- no matter how sensible -- sought by the mayor. He led the effort to prevent school facilities chief Allen Y. Lew from overseeing park projects and has been the union's main champion in trying to thwart needed reforms in the schools and government workforce. Particularly distasteful was how he allowed racial demagoguery to derail the nomination of Ximena Hartsock as parks director.

Both Mr. Hunter, a community organizer with Brookland Manor, and Mr. McDuffie, a lawyer who worked in the Justice Department civil rights division, are better alternatives. We give the edge to Mr. Hunter, an engaging newcomer who is running a grass-roots campaign. He has an intimate knowledge of the needs of the ward and has smart ideas on how to tackle issues such as truancy and joblessness. Mr. Hunter is not a supporter of marriage equality, but he is not the homophobe his critics make him out to be, but rather someone who thinks there is a way to provide equality for gays while respecting the beliefs of religious groups. He said he would not seek to change the law.

Two things. First, the Post ed board has steadily supported marriage equality in the past. That's why it makes no sense to laud Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr. for courage in voting for the marriage bill, then go on to laud Hunter for being "someone who thinks there is a way to provide equality for gays while respecting the beliefs of religious groups." Well gee, doesn't that sound all common-sense, can't we all get along-like.

In truth, if the ed board recalls, the marriage bill itself was titled the Religious Freedom And Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act 2009 for a good reason: it did not require religious institutions to perform marriages in violation of their doctrine. So using their definition of "courage" and their past support of the bill, Hunter should have voted for the damn measure. But we know he wouldn't have, because also in truth, as Chris Geidner documents, Hunter is a fan of, and supported by, the extremely homophobic National Organization for Marriage. If memory serves, he was also the only DC candidate to show up at their rally a few weeks ago at the Capitol, too. Chris:

Hunter attended the National Organization for Marriage's "Summer for Marriage" D.C. final tour stop at the U.S. Capitol grounds on August 15. As noted by Bob Summersgill at the GLAA Forum, NOM then sent a mailer out in support of Hunter. He earlier received NOM support from fliers produced by NOM in opposition to D.C. marriage equality supporters, including Thomas.

Here's one of their mailers talking about "homosexual activists" (h/t Right Wing Watch):

This is the company Hunter keeps- and embraces by going to their rally. Of course, the ed board realizes this and how controversial it is, or they wouldn't have taken pains to try and muddy Hunter's position.

Which brings me to the other point, which is how rapidly the old "I support equality for gays and lesbians because I support civil unions, just don't call it marriage" position, or whatever nonsense is spouted about marriage being a religious institution, is running out of steam. It's running out of steam with traditional organizations like Equality California, whose PAC no longer endorses candidates unless they support marriage equality. It's running out of steam with activists, donors and voters. You can't say "I support equality" and then say you oppose the freedom to marry for same-sex couples, and I could go on all day about why. So it's dishonest to pretend like Hunter is just a fair-minded fellow who wants equality for the LGBT community, just as long as no one calls it "marriage"- not only because he doesn't, but because even if he did, he's still not worth going out of anyone's way to support. And that's something, by the way, that I think Obama will find that out in 2012 if he stays where he is.

Update: Jeffrey Richardson of the local Stein club is right. The LGBT community can decide for itself what defines homophobia.

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What NOM can't spin

by: Adam Bink

Fri Aug 27, 2010 at 10:30

I haven't been around as much the last few weeks because I've been guest-blogging at NOM Tour Tracker, a project of Courage Campaign Institute's Prop 8 Trial Tracker. NOM Tour Tracker was founded to cover anti-equality National Organization for Marriage and their "Summer for low turnout in empty parking lots with crazy Christian right supporters Marriage" tour across 17 states and DC from mid-July through mid-August. The tour was meant to scare elected officials into anti-equality positions, and convince voters that those who don't support the freedom to marry for same-sex couples were on the attack from vicious, God-hating homosexuals.

They put out this promo video today, which is so bad both in terms of rhetoric and production quality that it makes my head hurt (and, as Rick says, a perfect opportunity for a spoof):

What NOM didn't tell is a couple of things:

1. Their tour turned out to be a failure of epic proportions in terms of turnout. I published a summary of the statistics here, but to recap: they were outnumbered by pro-equality supporters, both LGBT and straight allies, at nearly every single stop- sometimes by factors of 3-1 (Indianapolis, IN) or 8-1 (Madison, WI). They held three separate sparsely-attended "rallies" in parking lots- you read that right, parking lots. The overall counts were 3,419 equality supporters to 1,275 NOM supporters.

2. The crazies became the ugly face of NOM, such as Larry Adams with his "The solution to gay marriage=[noose]" sign:

or the one from the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property arguing that a family without a mother and a father is no family at all:

or this man in Harrisburg obsessed with female/female sex and closing down porn shops:

or the woman in Raleigh who spouted incredibly offensive stereotypes about black communities, and that children of same-sex parents were unhappy children:

They came along with the speakers NOM had at it rallies, like Mary Forrester, who spouted debunked "research" like the life span of an average "homosexual" is some 40 years younger than a straight male (research so debunked that the Christian Action League actually pulled it from their website):

3. The nation actually moved towards supporting equality, as the now-famous CNN poll demonstrated that a majority believes same-sex marriage should be a Constitutional right.

And no amount of bad video teleprompter reading by Brian or ugly rhetoric and production quality can spin what their tour amounted to: an epic #FAIL.

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New Rhode Island marriage poll, NOM's ads in Minnesota, and what's on the ballot this year

by: Adam Bink

Thu Aug 19, 2010 at 14:15

Cross-posted at Prop 8 Trial Tracker

NOMprovidence3
Equality supporters on the steps of the Rhode Island State Capitol

Providence was one of the more controversial stops on the NOM's "Summer for Marriage" tour, the scene of some tense confrontations: equality supporters shouting at Brown, two men praying in tongues, Brown spinning wildly regarding attendance, etc.

However, a new poll out this morning shows the issue being debated- marriage equality- isn't too controversial at all. The Rhode Island Marriage Coalition released a new poll conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner showing that 59% of Rhode Island voters support the freedom to marry for same-sex couples- a 10% increase from the last poll conducted in 2008. When individuals are told it would not impinge on a church's right to marry who they chose- which is part of the recently enacted law here in DC- support increases to a remarkable 66%.

Some of the poll's major findings:

  • The new pro-equality majority is demographically diverse. It includes Catholics (57 percent), women over 50 (56 percent), independent voters (58 percent) and parents (64 percent).

  • Support increases further with First Amendment reassurance. When told that marriage equality would not infringe on a church's right to marry whom they choose, support increases to 66 percent overall and 63 percent among Catholics.

  • Politically, this is a net positive vote for state lawmakers. Asked about the impact of a vote for equality on their support for, 27 percent say they would be more inclined to support a candidate, 24 percent are less inclined, and nearly half (46 percent) say it would make no difference. Just 13 percent are much less likely to support a pro-equality candidate.

  • In Rhode Island, the LGBT community is the mainstream.  Overall, 79 percent of voters here know a gay or lesbian person and 45 percent describe their feeling toward gay and lesbian people as favorable, while just 18 percent are critical. Seventy-five percent believe "homosexuality is a way of life that should be accepted by society."

It's a big step forward.

On the politics of it, Gov. Carcieri, a horrible anti-LGBT elected official who even vetoed a bill to extend the right to make burial decisions of a loved one to same-sex couples, along with a bill to expand the definition of hate crimes to include gender identity/expression, is thankfully term-limited. Both leading contenders to replace him- State Treasurer Frank Caprio, a Democrat, and former Sen. Lincoln Chafee, an Independent- have said they would sign a bill legalizing the freedom to marry for same-sex couples. The Rhode Island State House Speaker, Gordon Fox, is openly gay, and it's expected equality supporters are very likely to have the votes in the State Legislature.

That brings me to another issue, which is the importance of gubernatorial races this year. A lot of anger poured out after Hawaii Gov. Lingle's veto of a civil unions bill recently, including calls for a boycott. She is also leaving office, and now-former Rep. and Democratic candidate Neil Abercrombie is the only candidate who has said he will sign the bill and does not want to put the issue to the ballot. In Minnesota, where NOM just launched new radio ads attacking the Democratic and Independent candidates for governor over their support for the freedom to marry and lack of support for a constitutional amendment, we have another pivotal race, as the person who sits in the governor's chair could be the one to sign or veto a bill legalizing same-sex marriage. The same could be true in Rhode Island.

The point is that while it is (thankfully) a year free of anti-equality ballot initiatives like Maine's Proposition 1 or California's Proposition 8, this is not a "bye week" for our movement out in the states. There are still key gubernatorial elections that could decide the fate of marriage equality and civil unions in states, and it's critical to keep an eye on them.

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Parsing NOM's polling chatter

by: Adam Bink

Wed Aug 18, 2010 at 15:00

Cross-posted at Courage Campaign Institute's Prop 8 Trial Tracker/NOM Tour Tracker, where I've been guesting the last few weeks

National Organization for Marriage is all a-Twitter (pun intended) about two polls (here and here) that they say shows nowhere near a majority of Americans support the freedom to marry. They point to one poll from FOX News showing 37% of Americans support the freedom to marry, and another from the Chicago Tribune of Chicago-area residents showing 42% support the freedom to marry.

A coupla things:

1. It's FOX News. I wouldn't even trust FOX to truthfully tell me if it was raining outside or not. Contrast this with the recent poll from CNN/Opinion Research recently showing a majority of Americans believe gays and lesbians should have the constitutional right to marry, or the respected Field Poll showing last month that a majority of Californians supports allowing same-sex couples to marry.

2. The broader point is the wording of the question. Notice that FOX's question is not "do you support gay marriage or not", or anything like it. It's:

Do you believe gays and lesbians should be: SCALE: 1. Allowed to get legally married, 2. Allowed a legal partnership similar to but not called marriage, or 3. Should there be no legal recognition given to gay and lesbian relationships? 4. (Don't know)

I'm no polling expert, but that is a much different question in terms of giving many people the way out they are looking for to demonstrate that they support equality, but "just don't call it marriage". You've probably encountered many of those people who, if pushed, support full marriage equality, but if given a way to show they support rights and all of that, just under a different name, they'll do so. In fact, the Field Poll, in the same survey with the result of a majority of Californians supporting same-sex marriage, words the question a similar way and gets similar results:

In a statewide survey completed earlier this month, The Field Poll updated its trend measurements of how California viewed the issue of same-sex marriage. The results show that by a 51% to 42% margin, the overall California electorate supports allowing same-sex couples to marry and having regular marriage laws apply to them.

However, when voters are offered three alternatives - allowing same-sex couples to marry, allowing civil unions but not same-sex marriage or granting no legal recognition to same-sex relationships - slightly less than half of voters (44%) favor the marriage alternative. In this setting, a significant portion (34%) of California voters opt for allowing civil unions but not marriage for same-sex couples. Just 19% believe that there should be no legal recognition of gay couples.

And that's also why I question the Tribune poll, which asks individuals if they support civil unions- if that question is asked first in the  polling, that may skew the results of how many support full marriage  equality- particularly given the latest buzz and how civil unions have, for some people, become forgotten. So it's not surprising to me that FOX gets this result. I'm not saying FOX is necessarily doing this, but it's a clever (and probably common) tactic in polling to word questions and responses to avoid certain aggregate responses you may not want. Polling that has the more simple up-or-down question has demonstrated that majorities of people both in California and in the country as a whole support the freedom to marry, and when NOM finds unbiased polling surveys with identical wording without questions on lesser forms of equality that show different results, then we'll have something to talk about.

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Civil unions and their place

by: Adam Bink

Tue Jul 20, 2010 at 17:00

As you may have seen via Freedom to Marry's coverage here at OpenLeft (you can see their posts so far here and here), National Organization for Marriage is taking their "Summer for Homophobia Marriage" tour nationwide. Today, they were in New Jersey, and as part of their response, Garden State Equality put together this video demonstrating how civil unions haven't worked in New Jersey:

One person commented to me that if civil unions aren't working, then why is the LGBT community supporting them (and for my part, why am I doing things like blogging on the Hawaii civil unions law that Gov. Lingle just vetoed, or asking folks to help approve Referendum 71 in Washington State last fall, which would protect the state's same-sex domestic partnership law?)? In other words, why work for "half-measures"?

The answer is two-fold. First, what happens in New Jersey is not the same as what happens in Washington State, or what may happen in Hawaii. In fact, what doesn't work in one part of New Jersey may not even be the same as what works in another part, e.g. a hospital administrator accepting civil union papers in one county while an employer rejects them in another. That's not to say what Garden State Equality is saying- that civil unions aren't working for New Jersey couples and families- isn't true. It is, and I said that when I was blogging about the marriage equality legislation moving through the New Jersey legislature last winter. We still need marriage equality to protect all couples, so couples in allcounties are equally protected. The point here is that civil unions aren't working for New Jersey right now.

The second issue is that if you ask couples in Hawaii if they'd rather have civil unions and the rights that come with them tomorrow or marriage equality in a few years, many would take civil unions, even with its problems. When I think about whether or not to engage in these kinds of campaigns, for me in the end, it all comes down to what would be best for those who are most affected by a law. Give-and-take over whether to reject civil unions and hold out for marriage are always important, but at the end of the day, we're still talking about people's medical rights, health insurance, burial rights, and more. If that's what's best for same-sex couples in Hawaii and it's the best move to make strategically, then half-measure or not, that's what works for me.

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Our first stop on the Summer for Marriage tour

by: Freedom To Marry

Fri Jul 16, 2010 at 13:00

If you didn't see Freedom to Marry's introductory post this morning on their summer tour, you can read it here.-Adam

Earlier this week, Freedom to Marry teamed up with local and state equality groups to launch Summer for Marriage, a cross-country series of events about the importance of marriage to gay and lesbian couples. The tour also counters the anti-gay bus tour being sponsored by the National Organization for Marriage (NOM). NOM is headed by Brian Brown who recently called for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution banning same-sex couples from marrying.

The first stop on the equality tour was in Augusta, Maine. Marriage supporters were joined by Gov. John Baldacci who called the marriage movement "It was one of the most passionate, committed causes that I've been a part of, and proud to be a part of." Gov. Baldacci signed the marriage bill into law in 2009 that was overturned by votes in a ballot fight partially financed by NOM. Adam provided great on-the-ground coverage of the Maine ballot campaign here.

A coalition of groups led by Equality Maine is working together to win back marriage for gay and lesbian couples. The coalition held a press conference on Wednesday attended by rough 100 marriage supporters and featuring same-sex couples and elected officials who support marriage equality.

More on what happened in the extended entry.

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Freedom to Marry and partners launch "Summer for Marriage"

by: Freedom To Marry

Fri Jul 16, 2010 at 06:00

Pleased to announce Freedom to Marry will be blogging on OpenLeft for the next month from their tour across the country -Adam

Last month the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage (NOM), has announced it's "Summer for Marriage 2010 Tour" which will feature a series of "one man, one woman" rallies promoting the exclusion of gay and lesbian couples from marriage. NOM was one of the forces behind the passage of Prop 8 which stripped away marriage from gay couples in California.

In NOM's call to discrimination, they declared "this is an urgent time for marriage," that "a strong marriage...makes a strong family," and that "groups of these strong families make strong neighborhoods" and "strong towns, cities, and states."  We at Freedom to Marry, the campaign to win marriage for same-sex couples nationwide, couldn't agree more, that's why we are teaming up with local, state, and national equality groups on a series of pro-marriage events across the country in July and August.

We're honored to partner with OpenLeft to provide on-the-ground coverage of our tour over the next month or so. Also called "Summer for Marriage", the pro-equality tour will have events in 16 states and the District of Columbia. We'll have video, photos and all the action from the ground as we and committed same-sex couples from around the country confront the right-wing.
 

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Primaries Are Not Over: Swett Opposes Marriage Equality in NH

by: Levana Layendecker

Thu Jul 15, 2010 at 16:30

In her interview with the Nashua Telegraph, conservadem Katrina Swett said a couple of interesting things. Once you get past this gem: (Seriously, if Democrats think this is the best way to win--they are sorely mistaken.)

"Swett said she would have supported retiring Sen. Judd Gregg's legislation for a deficit commission to create mandatory plans that would have had to be voted up or down to erase the deficit. This would have included future restrictions on entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare."

You can't help but notice this little tidbit:

" . . . not in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide."

H/T to DownWithTyranny for tweeting this today, and pointing out that,

"On January 1, 2010 same sex marriage replaced civil unions in that state, the fifth to do so in the U.S. Most New Hampshire voters approve, despite divisiveness on the political right. Although 63% of Independents approve, only about a third of Republicans do. Democrats, of course, are overwhelmingly in favor."

So in spite of her state's, and specifically Democrats in her state, support for marriage equality, she still opposes it. I wonder how Democrats in NH feel about Social Security? Democrats will win when they act like Democrats, and we don't want to elect people who don't represent our values.

Ann McLane-Kuster, the real Democrat in the race, on the other hand, said this in response to Swett's statements(via DownWithTyranny):

"I was a vocal supporter for passing marriage equality here in New Hampshire," she told us, "and I'll continue to support marriage equality in Washington. We should have less government interference in our personal lives, at both the state and federal levels."

These primaries really do matter for the future of our party, and our country. We need progressive leaders like Ann McLane-Kuster in Congress. She can win it with your help. Chip in $5, $10, or $15 today.

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DC Court of Appeals upholds decision to not allow ballot vote on same-sex marriage

by: Adam Bink

Thu Jul 15, 2010 at 10:30

This morning, in a 5-4 decision, the DC Court of Appeals upheld the decision by the Board of Elections and Ethics to not allow a ballot initiative on the recently enacted same-sex marriage law here in the city. Local homophobe majordomo Bishop Harry Jackson and his cohorts filed a lawsuit arguing the matter should be put to a vote, but courtesy of a 1977 law, the Human Rights Act, banning civil rights from being put to a majority public vote, the measure stayed off (would it were that every state in the union had such a law).

From Metro Weekly, key text of the judgment:

[W]e ... affirm the Superior Court's rulings that the Council acted lawfully in imposing the Human Rights Act safeguard and that the Board correctly determined that the safeguard required it to reject the proposed initiative.  As we go on to explain, we reach this result because (1) resolution of this appeal turns on what legislative authority the Council intended to share with the people of the District of Columbia when it passed the Charter Amendments Act (the "CAA"); (2) the Human Rights Act safeguard is not inconsistent with the Council's intent as conveyed by the language of the CAA; (3) this court owes substantial deference to the Council's legislative interpretation that the Human Rights Act safeguard carries out the intent of the CAA; (4) the relevant history convinces us that the Council could not have intended to authorize, as a proper subject of initiative, any initiative that would have the effect of authorizing discrimination prohibited by the Human Rights Act; (5) the Home Rule Act gave the Council authority to direct the Board, through the legislation that the Council passed to implement the CAA, to refuse to accept an initiative that would authorize prohibited discrimination;  and (6) the Board correctly determined that the proposed initiative would have the effect of authorizing such discrimination.  On the last of these points, our court is unanimous.

Although a 5-4 decision, the last two sentences are notable. Full text of the decision can be found here.

I'm on and off throughout the day, but will update with next steps, if any, as it becomes available.

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On A Pair Of Victories, Part Two, Or, DOMA Ruled Unconstitutionally Irrational

by: fake consultant

Tue Jul 13, 2010 at 01:57

We are back, just a bit late, to wrap up the discussion we began about the pair of rulings issued in Boston by Federal District Judge Joseph Tauro this week that declare the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional.

In the first half of the conversation, we examined the ruling in Commonwealth of Massachusetts v Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), today we examine the companion case, Gill v Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

I don't usually tell you the end of the story at the beginning, but this time I will: there are a lot of happy Plaintiffs this week, and the Federal Government, as Defendant (whom I will refer to as "the Feds" from time to time), is not so happy at the moment.

As with last time, there's a lot of ground to cover, and the sooner we get to it, the better.

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What makes up our side in Perry v. Schwarzenegger

by: Adam Bink

Tue Jul 06, 2010 at 13:00

Jonathan Capehart worries about the effects of the Perry v. Schwarzenegger case regarding Prop 8:

Yes, there has been progress, much of it within the last 10 years. Same-sex couples are able to legally wed in five states (Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, and New Hampshire) and, most recently, the District of Columbia. Maryland, Rhode Island and New York legally recognize marriages performed in other jurisdictions. But in that same period, 30 states passed constitutional amendments or statutes that define marriage as being between one man and one woman. In fact, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled unanimously on June 30 to uphold that state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions. Remember what Kagan said about the court recognizing the limits on itself and respecting "the choices made by the American people"? Given the current landscape, it would be astounding if the court overturned the will of the people as expressed through state constitutions, acts of the legislature and at the ballot box.

Here's something else to consider. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling that ushered in marriage equality there in 2004 also kicked off a push to enshrine discrimination in the Constitution through an amendment banning same-sex marriage. It went nowhere then. I'm not so sure today. Two-thirds of the states -- 38 -- are needed to amend the U.S. Constitution. As I just mentioned 30 states have already done it on their own. Or look at it this way, 45 of the 50 states currently do not permit same-sex marriage.

Legally speaking, the kindling is there for a controlled blaze confined to California or an inferno that could stop the national march toward marriage equality in its tracks possibly for decades either through a constitutional amendment (extremely difficult, but not impossible) or, as Rauch put it, through an "aggressively dismissive ruling" from the Supreme Court. All that's needed is a spark. Right now, Judge Walker is the man holding the matches.

Capehart is incorrect about the chances for a federal Constitutional amendment- it must be proposed by a 2/3 vote in both houses of Congress, or by a convention called by 2/3 of the states, and then ratified by either 3/4 of the states of 3/4 of conventions. So I'm not as worried as him, for that and a variety of other reasons. But on the merits of taking up the case and worrying that a hostile Supreme Court will go against us, there has always been a vigorous debate about whether or not to take file cases arguing bans on same-sex marriage violate state constitutions, or the U.S. Constitution. My view is that if there is a chance of winning on this one, it's worth going for.

I say that because it's not just Perry v. Schwarzenegger that the SCOTUS will consider. Every year there is more progress on marriage equality, both in the states and internationally. Capehart takes the view of where states are now. Call it glass half empty versus full, but I take the view of where they are going. Any SCOTUS scholar will tell you that what happens in the states makes a difference between now and whenever the SCOTUS may take up Perry v. Schwarzenegger. People forget that before Prop 8, the California legislature voted to legalize marriage equality- twice- before Schwarzenegger vetoed. Since then, 5 other states and DC have enshrined the freedom to marry in law, either legislatively or judicially- and we've come within a hair's breadth in other states like Maine and (arguably) New York. In other states like Iowa and New Hampshire this year, the legislature voted against, or declined to through other means, taking up efforts to repeal, or constitutional amendments to ban, marriage equality after it became law. Public opinion has also moved steadily our way and will continue to do so. Efforts like like this one to get candidates for Attorney General in New York State to pledge to join the DOMA lawsuit are helpful to that end, as are Courage Campaign's Equality on Trial project and Freedom to Marry's videos of political voices for equality. As Capehart cites, Lawrence v. Texas came about in part because Kennedy et al recognized where states had moved- and states are moving, albeit slowly, in our direction on marriage equality. As one colleague put it to me, we are creating the climate and momentum for a win, and must continue to do so.

So I'm not sure those in our legal system will necessarily focus on the 30 states (and in the great majority of which our side were under-resourced or did not run a good campaign, if one at all). They may instead, take stock of where the public is moving on this, which is, without a doubt, forward on this issue. And it's not just the case on its merits- it's everything our side does to support the cases out in the states, that make up our side's fight.

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