Saturday, June 30, 2007

Civil union Laws Don't Ensure Benefits

Civil Union Laws Don't Ensure Benefits
Same-Sex N.J. Couples Find That Employers Can Get Around New Rules

By Anthony Faiola
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 30, 2007; A03

When New Jersey became the first state outside liberal New England to approve same-sex civil unions, Craig Ross and Richard Cash were among the hundreds of couples who hurried to get their licenses. With Cash unemployed and his private health insurance costing $480 a month, the couple hoped the new law would be their financial white knight -- compelling Ross's employer to give his partner the same spousal benefits as heterosexual married couples.

But more than four months after New Jersey's civil union law went into effect, Ross, 46 and Cash, 54, are among the many same-sex couples severely disillusioned with their prospects for legal equality. Citing federal regulations that allow many employers to effectively ignore state laws regarding corporate benefits, the Fortune 500 company where Ross has worked as a computer specialist for 21 years denied the couple's request for joint coverage.

"I feel beaten up and deflated," said Ross, who asked that his company's name be withheld out of concern for his job. "Everyone celebrated when this thing passed because we thought it would be equal to marriage, that the only thing different would be that we called it 'civil unions.' But civil unions aren't giving us the legal rights we hoped for."

Since the movement to win legal recognition for gay and lesbian couples began in earnest more than a decade ago, states have sought to use new designations -- including "civil union" and "domestic partnership" -- to define the legal status of same-sex couples. But some activists now fear that the problems in New Jersey may signal that the movement to win equal marital rights for same-sex couples nationwide will be harder fought than many had thought.

A recent study by Garden State Equality, New Jersey's leading gay advocacy group, indicated that as many as one in eight of the 1,092 same-sex couples who have registered for civil unions there have been denied all or part of the benefits they hoped to gain from the law. That is particularly significant because New Jersey, as the first state outside New England to approve civil unions, was seen as a bellwether in gauging how they would take root outside the bluest of the blue states.

"The supporters of this law hoped this measure would be implemented and enforced without any major difficulties or consequences," Rep. Joseph J. Roberts Jr., speaker of the New Jersey General Assembly, wrote in a letter to the state banking and insurance commission. "Regrettably, this apparently has not been the case."

Most vexing for gay couples in New Jersey is that they have little legal recourse. Smaller companies that buy private health insurance plans for their employees are compelled to offer them to same-sex couples under the state's civil union laws. But most legal experts agree that federal regulations give companies with self-funded insurance plans -- a group covering 55 percent of the country 105 million working-age employees -- the power to ignore state laws regarding corporate benefits.

And when companies choose to follow federal laws, they often cite the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a union between a man and woman as a reason to deny coverage to same-sex couples. New Jersey officials estimate that almost 90 percent of the reports of noncompliance to date have been linked to companies covered by these federal laws.

"If a company believes it is covered by federal law, our answer when we are asked whether they have to provide coverage to civil union couples is "we don't know yet,' " said J. Frank Vespa-Papaleo, director of the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights. "It's a lawyer's answer that people don't want to hear, but we're talking about uncharted territory because the law is just not clear on this."

Experience has shown that further measures can persuade companies to provide benefits. California, for instance, passed a domestic partnership law in 1999. But after running into some resistance from corporations claiming to be protected by federal law, California passed follow-up legislation mandating that any company doing business with the state also guarantee domestic partnership coverage to same-sex couples.

That law compelled many large corporations such as Federal Express, which is not offering benefits to couples joined in civil unions in New Jersey, to do so in California, according to a company spokeswoman. In New Jersey, however, many couples have not been as lucky.

After Bruce Moskovitz, 54, and John Fellin, 59 -- who work at the same major pharmaceutical company in New Jersey -- registered their civil union on April 1, they were told by their employer that they could name each other as beneficiaries of their pensions. But while married spouses receive 50 percent of their deceased partner's corporate retirement pensions for life, the two men together for 24 years were informed that the their surviving partner would be granted similar payments for only 60 months.

The couple said they feel a gain in some areas -- next year they can file joint state tax returns, and they now have the power to make medical decisions if their partner becomes incapacitated. But they nevertheless feel disappointed.

"I'm not saying I don't feel we made some progress, but we've also set up a double standard at the same time," said Moskovitz, who also requested the name of his company be withheld. "The reality is that civil unions are not being treated as marriage -- they're clearly seen as something less."

The denial rate in New Jersey may turn around. In the only other two states with civil unions -- Connecticut and Vermont (New Hampshire is set to begin offering them in January) -- initial confusion about the bill also resulted in rough starts. But officials and activists in both states are quick to point out that while some couples continue to be denied benefits by companies citing federal laws, most have provided them because of the region's liberal corporate culture.

Although companies with self-funded insurance programs in Massachusetts also have the right to ignore the state's gay marriage law, activists and state officials call the withholding of benefits uncommon.

That is partly, they say, because companies denying coverage to same-sex married partners appear to present a more direct bias. "You're basically forcing a company to come out and say -- look, it's not because you're not married, it's because you're gay," said Mary Bonauto, civil rights attorney with Boston-based Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders. "The discrimination becomes that much more obvious; it's a line companies aren't so eager to cross."

But advocates concede that the experience in liberal Massachusetts may not translate in other states. Some employers who initially declined to extend marriage benefits to gay couples there came under immediate and intense public pressure to comply.

For instance, shortly before gay marriage was approved there in 2004, an official with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers made a statement to reporters saying the 6,000-member union would not extend benefits to same-sex married couples. It immediately became headline news.

"We had news trucks parked outside all day, and there was a huge outcry. We had [Rep.] Barney Frank calling us along with everyone else. We were all over the television as the bad guys," said Richard Gambino, the union's trust fund administrator.

"Then our board met to actually discuss it, and we decided to go ahead and offer those benefits," he said. "Did we do it because of the pressure? People will think what they want to think. But I think we just did the right thing."

Debate Over Same-Sex Benefits Heats Up

Debate Over Same-Sex Benefits Heats Up
2008 presidential contenders at odds over federal benefits for same-sex partners
June 29, 2007 —

A 1996 law signed by former President Bill Clinton blocks same-sex couples married under the laws of the state in which they live from receiving federal spousal benefits.

While running for the Senate in 2000, Hillary Clinton said she supported that law. But more recently, she reversed course and promised a gay rights group that she would undo part of that law as president.

A leading Republican presidential candidate who used to be the governor of the only state in the country which currently recognizes same-sex marriage -- former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney -- will take issue with Clinton's position when he speaks Saturday at a presidential candidates' forum being co-sponsored by the Iowa Christian Alliance.

"Governor Romney would uphold current law that does not make same-sex couples eligible for federal spousal benefits," Romney spokesman Kevin Madden told ABC News. Romney also supports a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Romney's position is at odds with Clinton.

Clinton Supports Same-Sex Benefits
The former first lady recently told the Human Rights Campaign that she supports repealing the part of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages for any purpose, even if it was recognized by one of the states.

"I support repealing the provision of DOMA that may prohibit the federal government from providing benefits to people in states that recognize same sex marriage," wrote Clinton in her Human Rights Campaign questionnaire. "I strongly support ensuring people in stable, long-term same sex relationships have full equality of benefits, rights, and responsibility."

Federal benefits currently blocked from same-sex couples in state-recognized marriages include filing joint tax returns, receiving Social Security survivorship benefits, and utilizing the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Clinton also promised the Human Rights Campaign that she would "examine the feasibility" of extending federal benefits to gay couples in relationships that "meet certain standards" but that do not necessarily enjoy state recognition.

"When she is president," Clinton spokesman Phil Singer told ABC News, "she will work with the LGBT community to figure out how best to achieve equality benefits."

"I support full equality of benefits, rights, and responsibilities for individuals in loving, stable, same sex relationships," wrote Clinton in her questionnaire, "and in principle, I would like to see federal benefits extended to same sex couples that meet certain standards."

Democrats at Odds With Portions of 'Defense of Marriage Act'
Clinton is not the only Democratic presidential candidate at odds with a law signed by the last Democrat to occupy the White House.

While running for the U.S. Senate in 2004, Barack Obama told a gay newspaper in Chicago that DOMA was "abhorrent," adding that those members of Congress who voted for its passage were "only interested in perpetuating division and affirming a wedge issue."

Another leading Democratic presidential candidate -- former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards -- also told the Human Rights Campaign that he wants DOMA altered.

"I support the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act provision that prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex relationships," wrote Edwards in his 2008 Human Rights Campaign questionnaire.

Clinton and her leading rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination continue to support the portion of DOMA which exempts one state from having to recognize a same-sex marriage performed in another state.

"Senator Clinton believes that each state should make its own decisions regarding marriage but once states decide to legally recognize a same-sex relationship, those relationships should be treated equally," said Singer.

Republicans to Discuss Gay Marriage at Saturday Forum
Romney is not the only Republican presidential candidate who will offer his views on whether the federal government should end its practice of blocking federal spousal benefits from flowing to state-recognized same-sex marriages or civil unions.

Joining him at the forum will be Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., former Govs. Tommy Thompson, R-Wis., and Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., as well as Reps. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., and Duncan Hunter, R-Calif.

Not participating in the Saturday forum will be the two best-known Republicans in the race: former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Both candidates have had uneven relationships with religious conservatives. McCain has voted against a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage as a member of the Senate and Giuliani approved domestic partnerships for gay couples in New York.

Each candidate participating in Saturday's forum will have 20-minutes to address six questions which were presented to them in advance. One of those questions covers DOMA. The others touch on tax increases, spending control, stem-cell research, border security, and a progressive retail sales tax.

If the forum's co-sponsors -- the Iowa Christian Alliance and Iowans for Tax Relief -- are not satisfied with the candidates' responses, they will be granted 10 extra minutes to clarify themselves.

According to Iowa Christian Alliance president Steve Scheffler, social conservatives have been let down by President Bush on the issue of defending traditional marriage.

"Bush makes a nice little speech once a year talking about the need for a federal amendment," Scheffler told ABC News, "but he doesn't expend any political energy for it."

ABC News' A'Melody Lee contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2007 ABC News Internet Ventures

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Former leaders of ex-gay ministry Aplolgize

Former leaders of ex-gay ministry in U.S. apologize for "bringing harm"

The Associated Press
Thursday, June 28, 2007
LOS ANGELES: Three former leaders of an international ministry that counsels gays to change their sexual orientation apologized for their efforts, saying that though they acted sincerely, their message had caused isolation, shame and fear.

The former leaders of the interdenominational Christian organization Exodus International said Wednesday they had all, over time, become disillusioned with the group's ideas and concerned about what they described as the wrenching human toll of such gay conversion efforts.

"Some who heard our message were compelled to try to change an integral part of themselves, bringing harm to themselves and their families," the three, including former Exodus co-founder Michael Bussee, said in a joint written statement presented at a news conference in Hollywood. "Although we acted in good faith, we have since witnessed the isolation, shame, fear and loss of faith that this message creates."

The news conference was held in a courtyard outside an office of the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center. It was timed to coincide with the opening of Exodus' annual conference, which is being held this week at Concordia University in Irvine and expected to draw about 1,000 people.

Exodus' president, Alan Chambers, said he disagreed with its critics and the ministry's methods have helped many people, including him.

"Exodus is here for people who want an alternative to homosexuality," Chambers said by phone. "There are thousands of people like me who have overcome this. I think there's room for more than one opinion on this subject, and giving people options isn't dangerous."

Bussee left Exodus in 1979 after he fell in love with a man who was a fellow ex-gay counselor with the group. He speaks out frequently against ex-gay therapies.

The others speaking at the news conference included Jeremy Marks, former president of Exodus International Europe, and Darlene Bogle, the founder and former director of Paraklete Ministries, an Exodus referral agency based in Hayward, California.

Chambers, who is married and has children, said he and other current Exodus officials are careful to warn those who seek help that such a path is not easy.

Sexual orientation, he said, "isn't a light switch that you can switch on and off."

Founded in 1976, the Orlando, Florida-based Exodus has grown to include more than 120 local ministries in the United States and Canada and over 150 ministries in 17 other countries. The group has monthly newsletters, annual conferences, speaking engagements and Web services. It promotes "freedom from homosexuality" through prayer, counseling and group therapy.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Canadian Anglicans reject blessing same-sex unions

Canadian Anglicans reject blessing same-sex unions
Sun Jun 24, 2007 7:32 PM EDT

By Roberta Rampton

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada narrowly overruled clergy and laypeople on Sunday to defeat a proposal to give churches the option of blessing same-sex unions.

The issue has threatened to split both the Canadian church and the 77-million member Worldwide Anglican Communion, a loose federation of national churches around the world whose members do not agree on how the 450-year-old church should minister to homosexuals.

The Canadian bishops voted 21 opposed to 19 in favor of giving churches the option of blessing same-sex unions. Clergy and laity voted in favor by larger margins, but the proposal had to pass in all three orders to be implemented.

The blessing is not a marriage ceremony but rather a ritual by a priest recognizing the relationship. It is sometimes performed for heterosexuals as well and offers prayers for the couple's future.

"There will probably be some measure of pleasure (in the Anglican Communion) in that we have not moved ahead," said Bishop Fred Hiltz, who will be installed as the new primate or leader of the 640,000-member Canadian church on Monday.


Earlier on Sunday, the church's general synod, its highest decision-making body, agreed that blessing same-sex unions is not in conflict with core doctrine -- a result that disturbed the conservative wing of the church.

Orthodox Anglicans believe sex outside of heterosexual marriage is contrary to Biblical teachings. But liberal Anglicans believe in a broader reading of scripture.

"There's no question there will be considerable disappointment on the part of many, and a lot of pain, and there will be some people who will be saying, 'How long, oh Lord, how long must this conversation continue?"' said Hiltz, 53, who voted in favor of same-sex blessings.

Canada is one of the few countries in the world that has legalized gay marriage, although churches are not compelled to perform the ceremonies.

One British Columbia diocese has allowed blessings of same-sex unions, and it will argue on Monday that it should be allowed to continue. Same-sex unions include civilly married gays or lesbians, or those in a lifelong committed monogamous relationship.

A Toronto parish has said it will continue to bless same-sex couples, no matter what the synod's decision.

The Anglican Communion, which is dominated by the more conservative "Global South" of Africa, Asia and Latin America, gave the U.S. Episcopal Church a September deadline to stop blessing same-sex unions and to declare a moratorium on consecrating openly gay bishops.

Religious Groups Take Lead for Gay Pride

Religious Groups Take Lead for Gay Pride

Associated Press Writer
Jun 24, 11:15 PM EDT

NEW YORK (AP) -- Religious groups led the city's gay pride parade on Sunday, lending gravity to an often outrageous event that also featured a jumble of drag queens in feather boas, marching bands, motorcycle-riding lesbians, rugby players and samba dancers.

"We stand for a progressive religious voice," said Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of New York City's Congregation Beth Simchat Torah. "Those who use religion to advocate an anti-gay agenda, I believe, are blaspheming God's name."

The annual parade, one of dozens around the world, commemorates the 1969 Stonewall riots in which patrons at a Greenwich Village gay bar fought back against a police raid.

At San Francisco's festival, the wife of Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards marked the occasion by splitting with her husband over support for legalized gay marriage.

"I don't know why someone else's marriage has anything to do with me," Elizabeth Edwards said at a news conference before the parade. "I'm completely comfortable with gay marriage."

Kleinbaum, who heads the world's largest predominantly gay synagogue, and the Rev. Troy Perry, founder of the Metropolitan Community Church, were the New York parade's grand marshals, waving from hers-and-his convertibles.

The march took place days after the New York State Assembly passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, which Gov. Eliot Spitzer supports. Although the bill is unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled state Senate anytime soon, parade-goers said they were cheered by the Assembly's action.

"This is one very important step toward full equality for all New Yorkers," Kleinbaum said.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, one of the nation's most prominent openly gay elected officials, said she could not predict when the Senate might approve same-sex marriage.

"All conventional wisdom in New York state on gay marriage is out the window," she said. "I think we are really doing better than anyone would ever have thought we could be doing on this."

As in past years, exhibitionists were also on display as the parade inched down Fifth Avenue and into Greenwich Village. Some revelers gyrated in bikini briefs and pranced in spike heels.

But the placement of the Christian, Jewish and Buddhist religious organizations near the head of the march - ahead of AIDS service groups and political advocacy groups - gave them unaccustomed prominence.

A Buddhist group carried signs that said "Construct Dignity in Your Heart" and "Don't Block Your Buddha."

"We're all Buddhas," said Hortense De Castro, a teacher from Manhattan. "It's just a matter of letting it come out."

The gay Catholic group Dignity had a float and a giant rainbow flag. Jeff Stone, secretary of the New York chapter, said he was hopeful the church would someday change its stance opposing homosexuality.

"We see that the opinion of ordinary Catholics is changing," he said. "Eventually what happens at the grass roots percolates up in the church."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg marched with Quinn and other elected officials, including Lt. Gov. David Paterson.

Toni Cinanni of Perth, Australia, said she was surprised at the prominence of the church groups.

"I thought the religious groups had hijacked the parade," she said. "I couldn't put it together, religion and sexuality."

New York's parade featured contingents of gay police officers and firefighters, as well as ethnic gay groups including South Asians, Haitians and American Indians. An Argentinian and Uruguayan group featured an Eva Peron impersonator in a flowing gown.

Tens of thousands of people attended the march. Spectators lining Fifth Avenue included gay people sporting rainbow flags and curious tourists.

Andrew Stanley of Shrewsbury, England, said the march was "very colorful."

"I've never seen one before," he said, "but I think it's a good idea."


Associated Press writer Paul Elias in San Francisco contributed to this report

Elizabeth Edwards Supports same-sex marriage

Elizabeth Edwards supports same-sex marriage
Carla Marinucci, Chronicle Political Writer

Sunday, June 24, 2007

(06-24) 11:26 PDT SAN FRANCISCO -- Elizabeth Edwards, starring at the kickoff event of San Francisco's signature Gay Pride Parade, came out in support of legalized gay marriage today -- taking a position which she acknowledged is at odds with her husband, presidential candidate John Edwards.

"I don't know why somebody else's marriage has anything to do with me,'' she said. "I'm completely comfortable with gay marriage.''

Edwards comments came after her keynote address before a standing room only breakfast of 300 at the Alice B. Toklas Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Democratic Club, an organization which is central to the powerful gay political base in San Francisco.

The breakfast appearance by the candidate's wife -- witnessed by a score of politicians, including Mayor Gavin Newsom, District Attorney Kamala Harris, and City Attorney Dennis Herrera -- was hailed as a milestone in the 30 year history of the Gay Pride event, which had never been visited by a major presidential candidate or spouse.

But Edwards went one step further in a speaking to reporters after the event, and became the first major Democratic candidate or spouse to openly support gay marriage.

But that position differs markedly from her husband, the former North Carolina Senator. Edwards said her husband, though having a '"deeply held belief against any form of discrimination,'' supports gay civil unions, but does not support gay marriage.

"John has been pretty clear about it, that he is very conflicted,'' she said. "That's up against his being raised in the 1950's in a rural southern town. I think honestly he's on a road with a lot of people in this country are on....They're struggling with this. Most of the gay and lesbian people I know... have seen their friends and family walking down that same road.

"It's frustrating, I know,'' she added, "but it's a long distance from where we are now to the pews of a Southern Baptist church. So, John's been as honest as he can about that.''

She said that she has come to the conclusion that the marriage of another couple "makes no difference to me,'' just as it would make no difference in her views of a neighbor if he painted his house a different color.

"If he's pleasant to me on the street, if his children don't throw things in my yard, then I'm happy,'' she said. "It seems to me we're making issues of things that honestly... don't matter.''

Many at the breakfast, where Edwards was enthusiastically received, noted that there are stark differences between Democrats and Republican presidential candidates on issues that matter to gay and lesbian voters.

All Democratic candidate support the overturn of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, while none of the Republican presidential candidate said they would support such a change.

All Democrats also support a measure recently passed in New Hampshire which allows civil unions. But among major presidential candidates -- Edwards, New York Senator Hillary Clinton and Illinois Senator Barack Obama, the Democrats remain opposed to same sex marriage.

Only Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, Ohio, and former Sen. Mike Gravel, Alaska support such an issue, but as long shots, they are considered to have virtually no chance of taking the Democratic nomination.

E-mail Carla Marinucci at

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Gay Marriage Bill is new reason to celebrate Pride

Gay marriage bill is new reason to celebrate gay pride as parade approaches

By Karen Matthews

3:51 a.m. June 23, 2007

NEW YORK – New York's gay pride parade is traditionally a mix of politics and campy pageantry, and the state Assembly's move toward legalizing same-sex marriage has heightened the atmosphere this year.
But parade organizers are smarting over the city's rejection of a request to hold a street fair in an area with the city's heaviest concentration of gay-oriented businesses.

The parade, set for Sunday on Fifth Avenue, is one of dozens that take place annually around the world. It commemorates the 1969 Stonewall uprising, in which patrons of a Greenwich Village gay bar resisted a police raid.

Dennis Spafford, a spokesman for parade organizers Heritage of Pride, said he expects a million marchers and spectators at this year's parade, which comes five days after the Democratic-controlled Assembly passed the gay marriage bill, 85-61.

Democratic Gov. Eliot Spitzer supports the measure, but the Republican-led state Senate is not expected to act on it any time soon. Massachusetts is the only U.S. state that has legalized same-sex marriage so far.

“We are now more sure than ever that New York will do the equal and just thing,” said Cathy Marino-Thomas, co-executive director of Marriage Equality New York, a group that promotes legalizing gay marriage.

For the past 14 years, the gay pride parade has been followed by Pridefest, a West Village street fair with hundreds of vendors. But it became increasingly difficult to accommodate tens of thousands of marchers spilling into the Village's narrow streets and lingering for the fair.

Heritage of Pride applied for a permit to hold this year's Pridefest on Saturday on Eighth Avenue in Chelsea, a neighborhood known for its gay-oriented businesses. City officials said there was a freeze on new street fair applications.

“We understand there's a moratorium on new events,” Spafford said. “This isn't a new event.”

Rather than keep the festival in the Village, organizers decided not to hold it at all.

The parade starts in Midtown and proceeds down Fifth Avenue to the Village, featuring a jumble of drag queens in feather boas, marching bands, motorcycle-riding lesbians and contingents of gay police officers, law students, rugby players and samba dancers.

Contingents from more than a dozen churches and religious organizations will march near the head of the parade.


Saturday, June 23, 2007

Democarts Cautious on Gay Rights Issues

Democrats Cautious on Gay Rights Issues
But Candidates Have Taken Positions Exceeding Mainstream of a Few Years Ago

By Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 24, 2007; A04

After Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, publicly declared in March that homosexuality was immoral, gay supporters of Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York were furious when neither presidential candidate was very critical of Pace.

They let both campaigns know it, and the next day Clinton and Obama said they do not consider homosexuality immoral.

The tentative reactions suggest the caution with which the two leading Democratic contenders approach gay rights issues when they are publicly debated. "The antenna goes up," acknowledges Ethan Geto, an informal adviser to Clinton on gay rights issues. "It's a measure of how volatile gay rights issues are in national politics."

Yet, however skittish they can sometimes be -- especially on same-sex marriage -- Democratic candidates as a group have taken stances in the 2008 campaign that only a few years ago would have been far out of the party's mainstream.

On two major issues, Clinton has rejected two policies of her husband, former president Bill Clinton: the "don't ask, don't tell" approach to gay people in the military and a provision in the Defense of Marriage Act, which could prevent the federal government from offering equal benefits to same-sex couples.

Other Democratic candidates have adopted the same positions and have looked for ways for the government to offer gay couples in civil unions the same tax benefits that married men and women receive.

They have also backed adoption rights for gay couples.

These issues highlight one of the starkest differences between the two parties. While every Democratic candidate wants to overturn the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, no Republican presidential candidate has said he plans to do the same. Several of the GOP candidates opposed a measure recently enacted by New Hampshire -- site of the first presidential primary -- allowing civil unions, which the Democrats supported.

The one issue that almost all Republican and Democratic contenders -- except for long-shots Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (Ohio) and former senator Mike Gravel (Alaska) -- agree on is same-sex marriage: They're opposed to it. For Democrats, this is a particularly tricky issue, given the increasingly powerful gay constituency within the party. Exit polls in 2004 showed that only 4 percent of voters were gay, but 77 percent voted for Democrats.

Former senator John Edwards's careful positioning is typical. "I haven't yet got across that bridge," he says about same-sex marriage. But the North Carolina Democrat likes to say that his daughter Cate, a 25 year-old-law student, supports it. And, like other candidates, he courts support from gays -- his wife, Elizabeth, will speak today to the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club in San Francisco.

The caution on same-sex marriage is understandable, with polls showing that a big majority of Americans oppose it.

Bans on same-sex marriage passed in 13 states in 2004. And though Democratic strategists have rejected the idea that people specifically turned out to vote for those initiatives in states such as Ohio, tipping the election to President Bush, the issue remains a complicated one for Democrats.

Black voters are heavily Democratic, but exit polls in last year's elections found that only 46 percent of African Americans favored allowing same-sex marriage or civil unions, compared with 61 percent of the overall population who did, a figure that included Republicans.

In 2004, aides to Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), the Democratic presidential nominee, were so worried about black voters' feelings about same-sex marriage that they put Bill Clinton on a conference call with 3,000 black pastors so the former president could reassure the pastors that Kerry truly did oppose same-sex marriage.

In 2006, eight more states passed same-sex marriage bans, and one could be on the ballot next year in Florida, likely to be a key swing state again.

According to several gay rights activists, Hillary Clinton and Obama give largely similar statements in private meetings on their opposition to same-sex marriage, citing religious concerns and the fact that older generations of Americans view the term "marriage" as a commitment between a man and a woman.

The activists say they trust the candidates' opposition as heartfelt, while at the same time acknowledging that the candidates' staffers have told them that taking a stand in favor of same-sex marriage is too risky politically. Few national political figures support same-sex marriage, although that could change if New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who has long said he supports it, decides to run for president as an independent.

Activists are more divided about whether the Democratic candidates' opposition is appropriate.

"I don't think the majority of the GLBT community thinks that gay marriage will or should be an issue in the next presidential election," Washington-based consultant Peter Rosenstein said, referring to gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people.

But Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, disagrees.

"We think every candidate should and is morally compelled to support marriage," he said. "I think there's a very mistaken notion that supporting same-sex marriage is some kind of third rail in American politics. It's a myth."

Kids raised by Gay Parents?

What happens to kids raised by gay parents?

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
2007-06-24 00:00:00

Rebecca Meiksin, 22, is white, middle-class, college-educated, with plans to earn a graduate degree in public health.

Terrance McGeorge, 20, is black, has a high-school degree and works in an AmeriCorps service program at Beginning With Books, an early-literacy organization.

Despite their differences, both of these young people have something in common with the new grandson of the vice president of the United States, who was born to Mary Cheney and her partner, Heather Poe, on May 23: They have a gay parent.

And both of them believe they have turned out just fine -- in no small way because of how they were raised.

"My dad has been my best friend since I was a kid," said McGeorge, a tall, friendly young man who wants to pursue a career in theater and fashion. "He always encouraged me and was there for me, for whatever it was, graduations, performances, he was there, immediately."

McGeorge, like his father, is gay. That might provoke an "Aha!" moment for those who warn that children of gays are more likely to adopt their parents' lifestyle, but he says his father had nothing to do with it, except, possibly, providing DNA.

"I've always known I was that way, since I was 3 or 4 years old, when I started getting crushes on other boys. My father didn't come out until I was 6," he said.

McGeorge's father declined to be interviewed for this story.

Meiksin, born to a single lesbian mother who moved in with a partner when Meiksin was 12, is heterosexual.

"Um, I'm going to spend the month of June with my boyfriend," she says with a shy laugh. Asked if her lesbian mother encouraged her to follow in her footsteps, she rolls her eyes.

"I never felt any pressure to be gay," she said. "Although I did take my boyfriend to a gay-pride parade once, which was a real trip for him."

Her mother declined to be interviewed for this story.

Meiksin represents part of a first wave of babies intentionally conceived or adopted by gay parents in the 1980s as the gay-pride movement took off. McGeorge, on the other hand, is part of a different group of children -- many from minority and low-income communities -- born of a heterosexual union that dissolved when one parent came out as gay.

So how are they doing, now that they've reached young adulthood?

Some critics have suggested these children -- along with Samuel David Cheney, Mary Cheney's infant son -- are doomed to a life of struggle compared with those raised in a more traditional, Ozzie-and-Harriet-model family, with a mother and a father.

But most studies have found that outcomes for children of gay and lesbian parents are no better -- and no worse -- than for other children, whether the measures involve peer-group relationships, self-esteem, behavioral difficulties, academic achievement or warmth and quality of family relationships.

No one knows precisely how many children in the United States have at least one parent who is lesbian or gay. Estimates range all the way from 1 million to 9 million.

For many of these young people, though, growing up in what census researchers call a "same-sex-parent household" doesn't have to be a big deal -- except that, these days, it is.

"With all due respect to Cheney and her partner," James Dobson of the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family, wrote in Time magazine in December, "the majority of more than 30 years of social-science evidence indicates that children do best on every measure of well-being when raised by their married mother and father."

Some liberals chimed in, too, notably Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Leonard Pitts, who cited "a growing body of research that tells us the child raised without his or her biological father is significantly more likely to live in poverty, do poorly in school, drop out altogether, become a teen parent, exhibit behavioral problems, smoke, drink, use drugs or wind up in jail."

The problem with the research cited by both Dobson and Pitts is that it compares children of heterosexual couples only with those of single parents and not with children of same-sex-parent families, said Gary Gates, a senior research fellow at the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law and an expert on census data involving gay and lesbian households.

"There are virtually no studies that make a direct comparison with same-sex parents," he said, noting census data show that one in four same-sex couples are raising a child under the age of 18.

A number of professional medical organizations -- including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychiatric Association -- have issued statements claiming that a parent's sexual orientation is irrelevant to his or her ability to raise a child.

For the most part, the organizations are relying on a relatively small but conclusive body of research -- approximately 67 studies -- looking at children of gay parents and compiled by the American Psychological Association. In study after study, children in same-sex-parent families turned out the same, for better or for worse, as children in heterosexual families.

Moreover, a 2001 meta-analysis of those studies found that the sexual orientation of a parent is irrelevant to the development of a child's mental health and social development and to the quality of a parent-child relationship.

The problem with these studies, Gates says, is that most of the children are from "intentional" same-sex-parent families, where the parents tend to be better educated, more affluent and more open about their sexual orientation, and who deliberately conceive or adopt children with the intention of raising them in a same-sex-parent family.

"My research suggests that's not the typical gay-parent household," Gates said.

In fact, only 6 percent of same-sex parents have an adopted child, and a sizable number appear to be living in some kind of step-family arrangement, in which parents "come out later and have children from an earlier heterosexual marriage or relationship," he said.

While white couples of relatively high income have been the focus of most studies, census figures show that about 45 percent of same-sex parents are either black or Latino. And most of those same-sex couples with children have household incomes below that of their different-sex married counterparts.

Gates speculates that the omission of children from minority and low-income communities may be because the children have been pressured by their parents not to talk since "there may be higher levels of stigmatization in minority communities regarding homosexuality."

(Mackenzie Carpenter can be reached at mcarpenter(at)

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Australian PM says no to same-sex marriage

Australian PM says no to same-sex marriage
Posted on Thursday, June 21, 2007 (EST)
Australian Prime Minister John Howard Thursday ruled out legalising same-sex marriages despite a new survey showing that most Australians support giving homosexuals the right to tie the knot.

© AFP/File William West
SYDNEY (AFP) - "There's no possibility of our attitude in relation to gay marriage changing," the conservative leader told a radio interviewer.

Howard's remarks came as national opinion poll found that 57 percent of Australians support same-sex marriage.

The Galaxy survey of 1,100 Australians also found that 71 percent believe same-sex de facto couples should be entitled to the same legal rights as their heterosexual counterparts.

The leader of the Australian Greens party, who is gay, said the poll illustrated that the government and the main opposition Labor Party lagged behind voters in their attitudes.

"It shows how out of touch both the government and the opposition are with Australians wanting to get rid of discrimination against same-sex couples," Senator Bob Brown told reporters.

Attitudes to homosexuality had changed dramatically over the past 50 years, Brown said, but there was still a long way to go.

"We're talking about the 21st century here, not last century: same sex couples should have the same rights as other couples and the Australian public want it that way," he said.

A report by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Community on entitlements for same sex couples is expected to be released Friday.


Gay Marriage, Touchy Issue, Touches Legislators Emotions

Gay Marriage, a Touchy Issue, Touches Legislators’ Emotions
ALBANY, June 20 — Teresa R. Sayward did not hesitate when she rose from her seat on Tuesday night to address her colleagues in the State Assembly. An observant Catholic from a small, conservative upstate town, she had rarely shared the story of her son, Glenn, 42, and his struggle to come to terms with his gay identity decades ago.

But she said the occasion — a chance to make New York the second state in the country to pass a bill legalizing same-sex marriage — called for a highly personal approach.

“We would spend long nights crying together and talking,” she told a full house of hushed lawmakers. “And one night I said to him, ‘You have to be what you are; you can’t be what people think you should be.’ ”

Ms. Sayward received resounding applause, and the bill later passed, 85-61. But in the Senate, where Joseph L. Bruno, the majority leader, opposes the bill, it is not expected to come to the floor.

Supporters of the bill had no illusions about its ultimate fate. But the Assembly chamber, usually abuzz with the white noise of Statehouse gossip and last-minute deal-making, stood silent on Tuesday night as members embarked on a three-hour debate that included tearful tales of family struggles and a gay-marriage proposal via cellphone.

The session, legislators said, was one of the most emotional in recent memory.

Assemblywoman Deborah J. Glick, the first openly lesbian member of the Assembly, who is known for her toughness behind the scenes, found herself choking up. “I love my partner and I want to know that if anything happens to me that she is protected,” Ms. Glick, a Manhattan Democrat who co-sponsored the bill, said, her voice breaking slightly.

The tone ranged from the reverent to the comical. Assemblyman Dov Hikind, a Brooklyn Democrat and an observant Jew who said he opposed gay marriage on religious grounds, said he would not vote for the bill “unless God sends a message to me during the next two hours of the debate.” Moments later, thunder from a passing storm resonated in the chamber as lightning flashed outside.

Mr. Hikind chuckled when he was asked about the incident yesterday. “I was going to get up and say, ‘Hey guys, you get it? This is a message for you,’ ” he said.

As the debate ended, Assemblyman Matthew J. Titone, a Staten Island Democrat who is also gay, held up his cellphone and announced that his partner had just proposed. “Now everyone’s asking, ‘So when’s the wedding?’ ” Mr. Titone said yesterday, “and my response is, ‘We’ll have to ask Joe Bruno when it will be.’ ”

On the floor of the Assembly yesterday, having returned to more mundane matters of governance, Ms. Sayward said in an interview that she had not prepared her speech beforehand.

“I’m the mother. I just told my story,” she said, looking out on the chamber from her back-row perch. The speech was “difficult” to deliver, she said, only because of the reaction she expected from her heavily Catholic district, around Willsboro, near Lake Champlain.

“I have received some indications that I may not have the votes that I had the last time,” Ms. Sayward said.

Ms. Glick said she had not expected the debate to be so emotionally exhausting. “I also hadn’t realized how tense I was, and it was an enormous sense of relief,” she said.

She celebrated the vote with a small crowd of Democratic lawmakers at a restaurant. The soundtrack? Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” Ms. Glick reported with a smile. “Most appropriate.”

Strategic Split in the gay marriage movement.

A Strategic Split In the Gay Marriage Movement
Associated Press
Thursday Jun 21, 2007

As gay marriage advocates battle through the courts for the legal right to wed, a split has emerged over the best strategy to win.

Two gay California men plan to ask a federal appeals court this week to declare they have a right to marry under the U.S. Constitution, but heavyweights in the fight for same-sex marriage are sitting this one out because they think the legal tactic is misguided.

"We have been very active in trying to win the freedom to marry for same-sex couples," said Jon Davidson, legal director for the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. "We think there is a smart way to do that and a less smart way to do that."

Lambda, the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups are waging their campaigns in state courts in California, Iowa, Washington, New Jersey, New York and elsewhere, seeking similar rulings to the one that led to legal gay marriages in Massachusetts.

The groups are withholding funding and other support for this case, saying a U.S. Supreme Court ruling is a likely loser given the national consensus against gay marriage, and it would to set bad precedent.

The lawyer for a California couple whose case will be heard Tuesday by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals scoffs at the groups’ tactics.

"You fight for your rights when your rights are being denied," Richard Gilbert said. "When the building is on fire, you don’t stand by and let the building burn down and say we’ll fight the fire another day."

His clients, Arthur Smelt and Christopher Hammer, are arguing in federal court that the U.S. Constitution’s equal rights guarantee forbids laws against same-sex marriage. The two men, both in their 40s, declined comment.

The lawsuit is one stop short of the Supreme Court - meaning the case could prompt a definitive ruling by the justices as early as next year on whether the 49 states that don’t permit same-sex marriage are violating the Constitution.

Many same-sex marriage advocates believe gays and lesbians must win the right to marry in several states before bringing the case to the Supreme Court.

That approach is failing, Gilbert said.

Despite recent polls showing Americans are increasingly accepting of same-sex marriage, the movement has seen a backlash in the two years since Massachusetts started issuing marriage licenses and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s short-lived and illegal move to allow gays and lesbians to marry at City Hall.

In 2004, 13 states approved constitutional bans on same-sex marriage. Texas and Kansas followed the next year. All told, 19 states have amended their constitution to outlaw gay marriage, and voters in six or more states could be asked to amend theirs similarly this year.

Even Gilbert suspects his case might lose at the Supreme Court or be dismissed on procedural grounds without a definitive ruling.

"Once there is a great stain like that on the courts, there will be a greater movement toward correcting the problem," he said.

Matthew Coles, director of the ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, said there is no "magic number" of states that need to approve same-sex marriage before the issue should go before the Supreme Court.

"We think, strategically, bringing a federal claim for marriage now is not a wise idea," Coles said. "The Supreme Court is the country’s institutional conscience, and if you lose there, I think that sets you back."

Gilbert, however, likened his case to the 1857 Dred Scott decision, when the Supreme Court ruled that black men could be "treated as an ordinary article of merchandise."

The nation eventually overcame that decision with the Civil War and banned slavery. The ACLU and Lambda, Gilbert said, "would have told Dred Scott, ’Don’t bring your case."’

Lambda’s Davidson said history is siding with his position.

In 1986, when many states had laws banning sodomy, the Supreme Court upheld a Georgia sodomy law. Then, in 2003, in what was then seen as the most important legal advance for gays, the justices struck down a Texas sodomy law in a decision that nullified the nation’s remaining 13 state sodomy laws.

"What we’ve learned was: You’re more likely to win at the Supreme Court if you’ve done your homework, if you have victories in state courts," Davidson said. "He (Gilbert) thinks he knows better and that we have somehow sold out, and I find that quite offensive."

Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

CA court asks questions in Same-sex marriage cases

06/20/07 6:40 PDT

The California Supreme Court today asked lawyers on both sides of a same-sex marriage dispute to answer four more questions about the legal rights and constitutional significance of marriage.

The high court posed the questions in an unusual order issued after its weekly conference in San Francisco. The order asks for supplemental briefs responding to the queries by July 18.

The panel has already received most briefs in an appeal it is considering but has not yet scheduled a hearing. It will issue a written opinion three months after the future hearing.

Lawyers in the appeal didn't agree on the impact of the questions, which include queries about the differences between domestic partnerships and marriage and the significance of the term "marriage" under the state constitution.

Shannon Minter, a National Center for Lesbian Rights attorney representing 11 same-sex couples, said, "The order is another indication the justices are very focused on this case and treating it with great seriousness."

Minter said, "The questions don't indicate one way or the other the court's leaning on the case."

Glen Lavy, a lawyer for the Proposition 22 Legal Defense and Education Fund, said, "This shows the court is asking the right questions about the case.

"It shows the court is thinking about just what the right to marriage means in prior case law and under the California constitution," Lavy said.

The attorney said he believes some of the questions stemmed from his client's argument that the concept of marriage as a union of a man and a woman was embedded in the state constitution in 1849.

Proposition 22, an initiative passed by voters in 2000, is one of several state laws requiring marriage to be between a man and a woman.

Gareth Lacy, a spokesman for California Attorney General Jerry Brown, said, "We appreciate the court's questions and we look forward to presenting our response."

Brown's office is defending the state laws.

The court itself cautioned in the order that its request "does not necessarily signify that the court will address these points in its opinion."

The panel is considering a total of six cases disputing whether same-sex couples have a right to marry under the California constitution.

Four of the lawsuits were filed by the city of San Francisco and a total of 19 gay and lesbian couples seeking the right to marry. The other two were filed by the Proposition 22 fund and the Campaign for California Families, both opposing same-sex marriage.

A San Francisco Superior Court judge ruled in 2005 that California same-sex couples do have a constitutional right to marry, but a state appeals court in San Francisco overturned that decision last year.

The court's first question asked the attorneys to list the differences in the legal rights and duties of domestic partnerships and marriage under California law.

Next, the court asked what, if any, marriage rights are embodied in the state constitution and thus can be changed only by constitutional amendment and not by the Legislature or a voter initiative.

Third, the court asked, "Do the terms 'marriage' or 'marry' themselves have constitutional significance under the California constitution?"

The final question was whether Proposition 22 means only that California can't recognize same-sex marriages from other states or whether it prohibits California same-sex marriages as well.

The voter-approved law says simply, "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."

The order signed by Chief Justice Ronald George requires the supplemental briefs to be filed by July 18 and replies by Aug. 1.

Court spokeswoman Lynn Holton said the panel would schedule a hearing date after reviewing the briefs.

Minter estimated the hearing might take place either late this year or early next year.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

NY State Assembly approves gay marriage bill

New York's state Assembly approves gay marriage bill

The Associated Press
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
ALBANY, New York: New York's state Assembly approved legislation to legalize same-sex marriage after an emotional three-hour debate, but the bill is not expected to be acted on any time soon in the Republican-led state Senate.

The legislation, sponsored by Democrat Daniel O'Donnell, the gay brother of entertainer Rosie O'Donnell and backed by Gov. Eliot Spitzer, was approved Tuesday 85-61 in the Democratic Assembly.

O'Donnell told his colleagues that civil unions were not an adequate substitute for full marriage.

"It will not provide equality for people like me," he said.

But Republican Assemblyman Brian Kolb, taking note of "the nuns who taught me in grammar school" and his marriage in the Catholic Church, said he could not support the move.

"I do feel threatened. I do feel harmed," he said. "It's a direct challenge to me and how I was brought up."

Same-sex marriage is legal only in Massachusetts. The California Legislature approved a measure to allow gay marriage in 2005, but it was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. A handful of U.S. states allow civil unions or similar arrangements.

New York state does not currently allow civil unions.

"We not doing gay marriage by Thursday that's for sure, or this year," Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno declared Tuesday morning as lawmakers wound down their annual legislative session, which is due to wrap up on Thursday. The bill would also need to be approved by the Senate to become law.

New Yorkers are split over the gay marriage issues. A statewide poll out Tuesday from the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute found 35 percent of registered voters supported gay marriage while another 35 percent supported civil unions but not same-sex marriage. Twenty-two percent of voters said there should be no legal recognition of same-sex unions.

As the voting ended on Tuesay, openly gay Democrat Matthew Titone rose with his cell phone in his hand.

"I have my partner here on the phone and he just asked me to marry him," Titone told the chamber.

"My answer, Madam Speaker, is yes," said Titone to a round of applause.

O'Donnell said that he had high hopes the Senate, and Bruno, would eventually come around.

"I'm hopeful he can be educated," the assemblyman said.

O'Donnell said he and his partner of 26 years, John Banta, director of special events for the American Ballet Theatre, were looking forward to the day when the measure might be signed into law.

"We would get married tomorrow, if we could," O'Donnell said.

As the Assembly prepared to debate the measure, New York's Roman Catholic bishops issued a statement in opposition.

"The Catholic Church teaches that we treat our homosexual sisters and brothers with dignity and love ... However, marriage is not some political term of art that can be re-imagined or redefined according to the whims of popular culture," said a statement issued by the New York State Catholic Conference, the church's lobbying arm.

State Commission Begins Examining N.J. Gay Union 'Inequities'

State Commission Begins Examining N.J. Gay Union 'Inequities'
by Newscenter Staff

Posted: June 19, 2007 - 11:00 am ET

(Trenton, New Jersey) A commission created when New Jersey legalized civil unions to examine its effectiveness has been told the law is a failure.

Last October the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled same-sex couples must have all the rights of marriage.

The Court gave the New Jersey State Legislature 180 days to act on the decision to grant same-sex couples the rights and benefits enjoyed by different-sex married couples but left it up to the legislators to decide whether to call it marriage or civil unions. (story)

The legislature opted for civil unions but the bill also mandated the establishment of a commission to report every six months on whether the law was meeting the requirements of the court ruling.

The law creating civil unions went into effect Feb. 19. Since then more than 1,000 same-sex couples have applied for civil union licenses.

At its first meeting on Monday the Civil Union Review Commission elected as its chair J. Frank Vespa-Papaleo, the director of New Jersey's Division on Civil Rights, as as its vice-chair, longtime gay activist Steven Goldstein the head of Garden State Equality.

Vespa-Papaleo told the 12 other commissioners that the Division on Civil Rights has had about 360 inquiries, but only one official complaint - from a medical assistant who said the two firms he works for had both refused to provide health benefits for his civil union partner that are available to married spouses.

In his complaint Robert S. Kleid said he had been turned down by the New York City-based Tri-State Professional Employment Organization and by Minimed Care of Chester, N.J..

Goldstein said that despite only one official complaint to the Division his organization has had nearly 150 complaints of companies not abiding by the law and said the legislation is flawed and not working.

Although the civil unions law gives same-sex couples the same rights and responsibilities as marriage it is not recognized by a growing number of companies - all with federally regulated benefit plans.

Under the federal so-called Defense of Marriage Act the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriage. The law allows those insurers to reject same-sex couples.

Nearly one in eight couples who have had civil unions have been turned down for company benefits Goldstein said.

Garden State Equality wants the civil union law amended to be called marriage - something he said would force businesses to comply.

A number of state lawmakers, including the Speaker of the Assembly, Joseph J. Roberts, Jr. (D) appear to share Goldstein's concerns.

Roberts has sent letters to state agencies, business groups and insurers reminding them of the provisions and intent of the law.

"The civil union law was not enacted to be a symbolic gesture," Roberts wrote in the letters. "It was passed with the expectation that its various provisions would be complied with and respected."

When completed the commission will deliver its report to the Legislature. It is generally expected the report will call for the legalization of same-sex marriage in New Jersey.

© 2007

NY Assembly Set to Approve Gay Marriage

Assembly Set To Approve Gay Marriage
BY JACOB GERSHMAN - Staff Reporter of the Sun
June 19, 2007

ALBANY — After much debate and wrangling, the Democrat-led Assembly as early as today is set to approve legislation legalizing same-sex marriage, handing gay rights advocates in the Empire State a major symbolic victory.

The speaker of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver, who represents a district in Lower Manhattan, agreed to put the bill up for a floor vote this week after his staff concluded that it had more the minimum 76 votes to pass the chamber. Still, some lawmakers said they expected some lawmakers to change their mind.

It would be the first time that a legislative chamber in New York has approved gay marriage and the second time that a legislative body in America has passed such a law.

With Governor Spitzer supporting the legislation, the Republican-led Senate remains the one source of powerful opposition against gay marriage. Advocates say they are preparing for a long lobbying battle, and it may take years before New York joins Massachusetts in allowing same-sex couples to wed.

Gay rights advocates are counting on the Assembly's action to set in motion a debate in the Senate. "What the Senate does is wait for the Assembly to move, and sometimes they wait for years, but the catalyst is the passage in the Assembly," the bill's sponsor in the Assembly, Daniel O'Donnell, who is openly gay, said.

"The Assembly has always been the vanguard of civil rights legislation," the executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, Alan Van Capelle, said. Mr. Capelle, who made dozens of trips to Albany to buttonhole Assembly members who were opposed or undecided, said his organization would focus all of its attention on the Senate next year.

Mr. Silver has not taken a position but is expected to vote for the measure. While Assembly Democrats have been traditionally supportive of gay rights legislation, they have been reluctant to wade into the gay marriage debate and risk retribution from voters.

June 19, 2007 Edition >

Monday, June 18, 2007

Gay couples lobby NYS Legislators

NY Gay Couples Prod Legislature On Marriage
by Newscenter Staff

Posted: June 15, 2007 - 3:00 pm ET

(New York City) The plaintiffs in a failed lawsuit seeking marriage for same-sex couples in New York have begun an intensive lobbying effort to prod the legislature to pass a marriage equality bill.

Last July, the New York Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, ruled that same-sex couples do not have a constitutional right to marry. (story) It said that the issue, however, could be taken up by the Legislature.

In April, Gov. Eliot Spitzer became the first governor in the country to introduce same-sex marriage legislation. (story)

The bill is currently before the New York Assembly:

"Without the protections offered by this bill, gay and lesbian New Yorkers remain second-class citizens, unequal under the law," the couples - Mary Jo Kennedy and Jo-Ann Shain, Daniel Reyes and Curtis Woolbright, Lauren Abrams and Donna Freeman-Tweed, Michael Elsasser and Doug Robinson, Daniel Hernandez and Nevin Cohen - say in an open letter to lawmakers..

"New York State is home to tens of thousands of committed same-sex couples. Every day, we contribute to the economic health of the state by living, working and investing in our communities. Many of us are raising children, for whom we have high hopes and dreams. Our families strengthen the social fabric of our neighborhoods. And yet, New York's same-sex couples and their families are denied the vital legal protections and responsibilities, and societal recognition provided by legal marriage."

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D) has avoided taking a position on gay marriage - saying he will leave it up to the party caucus.

Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno (R), the most powerful Republican in the state is vehemently opposed to same-sex marriage and has vowed not to let the bill come to a vote.

Earlier this month New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr. issued a report saying that if the state legalized same-sex marriage it would boost the economy by $184 million statewide with $142 million going into the city. (story)

The report, Love Counts: The Economic Benefits of Marriage Equality for New York, looked specifically at the economic impact over the first three years if the legislature approved the marriage bill.

In 2005, there were 50,854 same-sex couples living together and residing in New York State who can be identified as partners - about half of them living in New York City - according to the Census Bureau.

© 2007

Mass: Open Marriage to ALL??

Next Battle In Massachusetts: Open Gay Marriage To All
by The Associated Press

Posted: June 15, 2007 - 4:30 pm ET

(Boston, Massachusetts) Fresh off the success of defending gay marriage from its latest attack, advocates say they have one more fight in Massachusetts: Repealing a 1913 law that bars same-sex couples in most other states from coming here to get married.

Some say the law - which says couples cannot be married here unless their unions would be legal in their home states - has its roots in the effort to block interracial marriage, and plan soon to strategize for its repeal.

Opponents of gay marriage, including the former governor and now Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, have said repealing the law would make Massachusetts the "Las Vegas of gay marriage."

"This radical social experiment will be exported to the other 49 states," Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, said Friday.

A day earlier, lawmakers killed an effort to let voters decide on a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. The defeat for gay marriage opponents - after more than three years of debate - makes the successful mounting of a future challenge even more unlikely.

Now attention turns to the state's 1913 law, which, if repealed, would mean gay couples from other states could legally marry in Massachusetts.

The possible impact of the marriages in other states is unknown. Most states prohibit gay marriage, but a Massachusetts certificate could provide the foundation for legal challenges. A court challenge was the basis of Massachusetts legalizing same-sex marriage, after gay couples were denied marriage licenses.

Opponents of the 1913 law say it was originally approved as part of a deal with states that barred interracial marriages and didn't want couples fleeing to Massachusetts to marry. Others say there's little evidence to support that claim.

After gay marriage became legal in May 2004, hundreds of couples from other states came to Massachusetts to wed. But then-Gov. Romney directed municipal clerks not to give licenses to out-of-state couples, citing the 1913 law.

So far, only Rhode Island allows its gay couples to wed in Massachusetts. More than 170 marriages of gay couples from New York who wed in Massachusetts before July 2006 have also been deemed valid, because New York had not explicitly banned same-sex marriages until then.

The courts might not be as helpful to those who want to strike down the 1913 law.

The Supreme Judicial Court, which legalized gay marriage, upheld the 1913 law last year, ruling that Massachusetts "has a significant interest in not meddling in matters in which another state, the one where a couple actually resides, has a paramount interest."

Mineau seconded that sentiment Friday.

"It will open the floodgates for Massachusetts to become the Mecca for same-sex marriage," he said. "Their goal is to strike down the marriage restrictions in every state. Their launching pad will be Massachusetts."

Arline Isaacson, co-chair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, said "no one is rushing" to push for the repeal but she's confident it will happen.

"In the short term, we want everyone to rest, breathe and appreciate the incredible victory that took place," she said.

Marc Solomon, campaign director of MassEquality, said he expects to set up meetings with legislative leaders and the governor sometime soon to discuss moving a bill to repeal the law.

The state's top three political leaders - Gov. Deval Patrick, House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi and Senate President Therese Murray - are all strong supporters of gay marriage who indicted they would support repeal of the law.

David Guarino, a spokesman for DiMasi said Friday: "As a strong supporter of gay marriage rights, the Speaker believes the so-called 1913 law is outdated and unfair. He believes it should be repealed."

Senate president believes it is "an antiquated law" and supports its repeal, said Murray spokeswoman Samantha Dallaire. The Senate voted to repeal the law in 2004, but it didn't get further, she said.

Patrick's office declined to comment Friday, but the governor in April said: "I know that the 1913 law has sort of smelly origins. I think it's outdated. If it passes the Legislature and comes to my desk, I'll sign it."

© 2007

Columbia Gives Gay Couples Same Rights as Marriage

Colombia Gives Gay Couples Same Rights As Marriage
by Newscenter Staff

Posted: June 15, 2007 - 4:30 pm ET

(Bogota) Colombia's Congress has passed legislation giving same-sex couples most of the same rights as opposite-sex married couples.

President Alvaro Uribe has said he will sign the bill into law.

Under the legislation same-sex couples would have to register as partners. They would have to have lived together for more than two years and be of legal age.

In return they will receive the same social security and inheritance rights as married couples.

Supporters of the bill had tried four times since 1999 to pass the legislation, but each time it failed after opposition from the Roman Catholic Church.

Its success this time is attributed to a February Constitutional Court ruling that gay and lesbian couples must have the same property rights as opposite-sex couples.

The court struck down the definition of cohabitating couples as "men and women" in a 1990 law that allowed unmarried couples property rights including joint ownership of land and rights when one partner died.

The court said the law must be gender neutral.

Under the law same-sex couples who wanted to share their property had had to create a business, put the property in the company name, and list the domestic partners as joint shareholders in the company. But, even that did not always guarantee that in the case of death of one of the partners the shared possessions would go to the surviving one.

In its ruling the court carefully noted the decision did not automatically permit civil unions. That issue it said was up to the Congress. But the ruling clearing indicated for the first time that the court favored gull recognition of same-sex relationships.

"This makes Colombia a more democratic, more open place," LGBT activist Virgilio Barco told the Reuters news service.

"It marks the first time that legislation like this has passed at a national level in Latin America," Barco said.

© 2007

Friday, June 15, 2007

1,324 Reasons for Marriage Equality in NY

1,324 Reasons for Marriage Equality
Pride Agenda report lists benefits of same-sex nups

Friday, June 15, 2007

’Til death do us part. In sickness and in health. If you leave me, I will take half. The fight for marriage equality is not only about love and devotion, but also about the legal rights of individuals who bind themselves to each other.

There are 1,324 laws in New York State that validate the need for marriage equality. These include rights, responsibilities and protection that opposite-sex couples often take for granted, according to a report released by the Empire State Pride Agenda and the Association of the Bar of the City of New York (ABCNY).

Along with the 1,138 federal rights provided through marriage, there are 2,462 rights and responsibilities given to someone married in New York State, according to Allen A. Drexel, Co-Chair of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Rights Committee of ABCNY.

“Marriage permeates state law and, in many ways, defines the day-to-day experience of married couples in New York,” Drexel said.

The report explores the statutes and regulations that provide benefits or responsibilities through marriage. Examples include the reassurance that one spouse may not disinherit the other and that the child of a married couple is theirs, even if the baby was conceived through artificial insemination. A married person is also protected from having to testify in court regarding marital communications.

New York State law also ensures that spousal support can be received in the event of a divorce, elected officials may file financial statements about themselves and their spouses and spouses of convicted criminals may not apply for some types of licenses.

In banning same-sex marriage, legislation is denying LGBT individuals the rights and protections of certain laws. According to the report, “Married couples and their children can predict with relative confidence how they will be treated in each of the situations implicated,” but same sex couples cannot.
Same-sex couples are held in a “legal limbo” with uncertainty as to their health, inheritance and custody claims. The report asserts that “New York’s protection for same-sex couples and their children have until now developed on a case-by-case, law-by-law, and sometimes family-by-family basis.”

Although some New York government entities and cities have claimed that they will honor same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, the report shows many of the 1,324 listed rights and responsibilities can only be achieved by through marriage equality in New York.

Vital Data Overlooked in Fight for Equality

Vital Data Overlooked in Fight for Equality

Friday, June 15, 2007

Greater advances will be made for the LGBT community if legislators, activists and policy-makers use scientific research and data to back their ideas, according to a new think tank.

“All of the currently active court cases and legislative hearings concerning same-sex marriage and same-sex parenting rights depend heavily on well-conducted and fresh research,” said Dr. Robert-Jay Green, executive director of the Rockway Institute, a San Francisco-based organization that hosted a panel discussion Thursday, June 7, at The New School to discuss the critical role research plays in policy decisions.

“Our goal is to educate the American public about LGBT issues on a scale that has never been attempted before,” said Dr. Green about Rockway Institute. The nonpartisan think aims to get scientific findings and research data about LGBT issues to legislators, courts and the media. A main priority at Rockway is combating what Green calls, “anti-gay, right-wing organizations that have inundated the media and government with misleading and flawed research doubting the fitness of lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual people to marry and raise families.”

In addition to Dr. Green, last Thursday’s press conference featured Dr. Ellen Perrin of Tufts-New England Medical Center, who spoke about the development of children raised by same-sex parents; Dr. David Greenan from Columbia University, who spoke about the psychological importance of marriage to same-sex couples; and Jo-Ann Shain, who is fighting for marriage equality with her partner of 25 years.

Misinformation often guides politicians’ decision-making, as Dr. Green illustrated by repeating a 2005 quote in the New York Times by President George W. Bush. When asked whether he agreed with a Florida law barring gays from adopting children, President Bush responded, “Children can receive love from gay couples, but studies have shown that the ideal is where a child is raised in a married family with a man and a woman.”

Dr. Green refuted the President’s comment: “There is not a single study showing that a child does better with a heterosexual couple than with a gay couple.”

Dr. Perrin, who specializes in pediatrics, asserts that constant nurturing from at least one parent is necessary for healthy childhood development. “Gender and sexual orientation don’t figure into that statement,” Dr. Perrin said. “No matter what gender their parents are, children need constant nurturing.”
However, Dr. Perrin explained, single-parent families are less likely to be successful than two-parent families, regardless of the level of nurturing. “Because most single-parent homes are run by mothers,” Dr. Perrin cautioned, “Right-wing propaganda groups have used that information to say that lesbian couples aren’t as fit [parents] without a man. It’s a distortion of data.”

Dr. David Greenan, adjunct faculty member at Teachers College-Columbia University and practicing psychotherapist, said all families, regardless of sexual orientation, struggle with creating a family identity. But, gay couples, Dr. Greenan said, generally have less societal support than heterosexuals, which may strain their relationships. “Families that are marginalized are at a very high risk for enormous stress and tension,” he said.

Panelist Jo-Ann Shain shared how her inability to marry her partner of 25 years has made her feel marginalized. The two live in Brooklyn with their 18-year-old daughter. With encouragement from their daughter, Shain and her partner entered a joint lawsuit with four other couples demanding the right to be married in New York.

When the state Supreme Court ruled against Shain and the other plaintiffs, her daughter wrote a never-published letter, which was read at Thursday’s press conference. In it, Shain’s daughter professed, “Being raised by lesbian parents is a blessing. The healthy and loving home I’ve been raised in should be celebrated.”

The Rockway Institute’s Dr. Green believes scientific studies will lend significant credence to the personal accounts of individuals such Shain as the LGBT community fights for equality. “We urgently need studies of the psychological effects of being excluded from marriage,” Dr. Green said. “Such data would be useful immediately in court cases and legislative decisions concerning same-sex marriage bans.”

The Rockway Institute also sponsored an event last Thursday at the New School titled “Lesbian and Gay Relationships: Fighting the False Science of Antigay Groups.” The lecture and discussion focused on propaganda distributed by antigay groups about same-sex couples, gay parenting, and “ex-gay” therapies. The latter, Dr. Green said, has side effects such as depression and is rarely successful. “When conversion therapists say they are successful, it is almost always at the behavioral level. But if someone stops having same-sex sex and is still attracted to the same sex, would you say that is a success?”
Dr. Green anticipates having at least 100 experts in LGBT issues located in all fifty states within the next year. Their hope is that when legislation relative to the LGBT community comes up in each state, a local expert can testify with scientific evidence and research

NYS Marriage Ambassadors Represent the Faces of Marriage

Ambassadors are representing the face of marriage

By Chris Lombardi

Edith Windsor has vivid memories of a rally at the Lesbian and Gay Center on Feb. 7, 2005. It was three days after a judge had ruled, in Hernandez v. Robles, that New York City was violating the state’s constitution by refusing to marry same-sex couples. Mayor Bloomberg had then instructed the city to appeal the decision, instead of issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, like the 100 or so that filled the room at the Center.

The crowd was chanting angrily. Windsor, a 77-year-old retired computer programmer who lives in Greenwich Village, remembers thinking, “We are running out of time.”

By “we” Windsor meant herself and her love of 40 years, Thea Spyer. In the years since 1965, when Spyer, a psychologist, proposed to Windsor on bended knee, Spyer, now 75, contracted multiple sclerosis and become a quadriplegic.

The couple lived a full life in their home at One Fifth Avenue, Windsor serving on the board of SAGE (Senior Action in a Gay Environment) and Spyer continuing her private practice despite her limitations. But the question of their legal status still rankled. For New York City to challenge a judicial order that might have allowed them to marry just seemed wrong.

So Windsor became one of the first “Marriage Ambassadors” trained by Empire State Pride Agenda, a Chelsea-based gay rights political action committee. Along with 100 others, she began to tell her story, and Spyer’s, to community groups, churches and the media, along with publishing a few key talking points about civil marriage for same-sex couples.

ESPA’s Marriage Ambassador program was founded in early 2005 to educate the public, as the decision on Hernandez v. Robles was moving up the court system, about the realities of life for lesbian and gay families. At first, the campaign’s 100 volunteers spoke chiefly in nonpolitical contexts, such as churches, living rooms and schools. But ever since July 2006, when the New York State Court of Appeals ruled against the plaintiffs in Hernandez, the Ambassadors have become political organizers — turning up in Albany for ESPA’s May 1 Lobby Day, and organizing others to keep up the pressure.

The Ambassadors, now 324 strong, have already seen their efforts bear some fruit: May 2007 saw ESPA’s largest Lobby Day ever, while some legislators have found themselves persuaded to sign onto the new gay-marriage bill sponsored by Governor Eliot Spitzer, State Senator Tom Duane and Assemblymember Richard Gottfried.

ESPA, founded in 1990 as a merger of two L.G.B.T. legislative-action groups in the state, had long been promoting legislation to protect same-sex couples, along with its successful campaigns on hate crimes legislation and employment discrimination. But after 2004, when equal-marriage lawsuits were filed in New York, ESPA’s leaders saw a need for a greater dialogue.

Nora Yates, ESPA’s field director, told The Villager that her group originally created the Marriage Ambassadors project to create a new narrative, countering those offered by right-wing radio and churches.

“We knew the [Hernandez] decision was coming,” said Yates. “We needed to have a chorus of voices around the state, talking about their lives to friends and family, their church….” So ESPA began to enlist sympathetic pastors, in its Pride in the Pulpit initiative, and trained its first Ambassadors at houses of worship, including the Upper West Side synagogue B’nai Jeshurun.

The first group of Ambassadors, including Windsor, then fanned out to families, churches and the media with one simple message: that gay and lesbians have families like anyone else. In addition to gay couples like Windsor and Spyer, the corps includes single gays and numerous straight allies, such as Linda Hellman of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or PFLAG. A longtime activist in civil rights and antiwar protests, Hellman told The Villager that she joined PFLAG 10 years ago, when her son John came out. She added that at first, she went to meetings for the support; but the more she learned, the more she felt the old activist energy coming back.

“I thought, how do I tell my son, ‘I’m sorry, you don’t have the same rights as your brother and sister?’ ”

That question took on greater urgency after July 2006, when the New York State Court of Appeals rejected Daniel Hernandez, along with dozens of other plaintiffs in three separate lawsuits. The decision listed numerous possible grounds for a denial of equal marriage to same-sex couples, and refused to open that door.

“After the decision, some of the air went out,” confirmed PFLAG’s Hellman.

Agreeing, “That was a dark time,” ESPA’s Yates said that nonetheless, many of the Marriage Ambassadors spoke that day at rallies around the state, from Buffalo and Rochester to Greenwich Village. And then they dusted themselves off and began to organize.

Hellman, for one, was prepared to begin to exert pressure on Albany.

“Either way, it was going to the Legislature,” she said. “We’ve been to Albany three times, and each time it gets a little better.”

Windsor was similarly galvanized.

“At times I’ve spent something like 24 hours on the phone,” urging people to contact their elected officials, she said. “And the day of the [May 19 Wedding March] across the Brooklyn Bridge, I even tried to give a flier, with phone numbers to call, to [Councilmember] Rosie Mendez!”

Windsor also contributed highlights of her and Spyer’s 42 years together to a Marriage Ambassadors “Family Album.”

“I couldn’t make it to Albany this year,” she said, “but people called me and said they were looking at the photos, and crying.”

Hundreds of others did make it to ESPA’s 2007 Lobby Day on May 1, including most of the Ambassadors and many pastors from Pride in the Pulpit. Hellman said she spoke to legislators “parent to parent,” as did many PFLAG members who came with her.

“When we were up in Albany, I [explained] to the politicians — ‘Our kids came out, now we’ve got to come out,’” Hellman said. “It’s not enough [for parents] not to kick your kids out. Now we have to fight for their civil rights.”

Over all, said ESPA’s Yates, it is not easy to quantify the effects of her Ambassadors. But one key legislator, she said, has admitted that meeting with gay families and with Pride in the Pulpit pastors made a real difference.

Ron Canestrari, a moderate Democrat representing Albany and Saratoga, didn’t receive ESPA’s endorsement in 2006, despite his support for many of ESPA’s initiatives, because he had said he would not advocate equal marriage rights. But, Yates said, “He met with some of our same-sex families, looked at our photo albums, and talked to some ministers, and he changed his position. He was on the Albany N.P.R. affiliate, talking about it!”

Still, with less than a week left in the state legislative session, all involved told The Villager that the task before the Ambassadors was not going to be easy. Yates said that her program, which will include in the fall three new organizers co-sponsored by the New York Civil Liberties Union, has few illusions that equal marriage will be achieved this year.

“Now, our Ambassadors are heading up Local Marriage Action Teams,” Yates said. “They know we have a lot of work to do.”

Edith Windsor keeps working the phones. But this spring, she and Spyer decided that they couldn’t wait any longer. With the help of three of Spyer’s home-care attendants, the couple flew to Toronto on Memorial Day weekend.

The judge who married them, Windsor told the Toronto Globe and Mail, said that “we had married for all the people who died before same-sex weddings were possible.” Telling the story to The Villager, Windsor’s voice was gentle, as she spoke of New York’s slow path.

“When California was the first state to drop the miscegenation [laws against interracial marriages in 1947], it took 20 years until the Supreme Court did the same,” she said. “It might be the same now.”

Marriage Rights Are Not Optional

OUR VIEW: Marriage rights are not optional
Editorial Southcoast Today
June 15, 2007 6:00 AM
What courage. Massachusetts senators and representatives stood up bravely for civil rights yesterday when they voted against a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

The vote to kill the amendment before sending it to the voters recognizes that civil rights should not be subject to the vagaries of public opinion. The Supreme Judicial Court made its ruling on the basis of equal treatment under the law, and the Legislature affirmed the court's bold decision.

We, too, affirm that discrimination should not be written into the state Constitution.

The SJC and the Legislature have learned from history about the importance of courts in protecting civil rights. If the Supreme Court had not ruled against school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, forced segregation might still be the law in the South, especially given the news this spring that a public high school in Georgia was holding an integrated prom for the first time.

Times like these show American government at its best and remind us why the founders of our country wisely gave us a representative, not popular, democracy.

We understand that many opponents of gay marriage are thoughtful people who object on religious grounds. Religious communities still have the freedom to decide which marriages will get their blessing, but civil marriage must follow the rule of law. And the law bans sex discrimination, which is all that remains when one subtracts politics from a debate over who can marry whom.

We wholeheartedly commend every legislator who voted against the amendment, especially those from the SouthCoast delegation: Sens. Joan M. Menard, D-Fall River; Mark C.W. Montigny, D-New Bedford; and Marc R. Pacheco, D-Taunton; and Reps. Antonio F.D. Cabral, D-New Bedford; Stephen R. Canessa, D-New Bedford; Robert M. Koczera, D-New Bedford; John F. Quinn, D-Dartmouth; William M. Strauss, D-Mattapoisett; and David B. Sullivan, D-Fall River.

Some observers will say that politics won the day, as powerful Democrats brought their influence to bear. U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reportedly called state legislators to ask them to vote against the amendment, and Gov. Deval Patrick has voiced strong support for gay marriage.

Those and other changes, such as the election of Sen. Therese Murray as Senate president and the departure of her predecessor, gay-marriage opponent Sen. Robert E. Travaglini, played a role.

Lawmakers were no doubt influenced by the more than 8,500 same-sex couples who have joyfully wed since the SJC decision took effect in 2004. As gay-marriage supporters are fond of saying, the sky has not fallen. Nothing bad has happened as a result of gay marriage.

Rather, thousands of couples have taken advantage of the legal protections of marriage, as well as the personal satisfaction that comes with declaring their commitment in front of family and friends.

Not all will choose to marry, just as some opposite-sex couples choose not to marry. But those who want to marry will no longer feel like second-class citizens among their married neighbors, at least with regard to state law. Federal law still blocks same-sex couples from equal treatment for federal legal and financial benefits, including Social Security. More work lies ahead.

On the state level, now that the Constitutional Convention is behind us, any threat to equal marriage should be nothing more than a fruitless Statehouse lobby.

Today, Massachusetts should be proud. Who wouldn't want to be the first to end slavery, or segregation, or the denial of voting rights? History will remember that we were the first to end generations of private suffering among same-sex couples who were denied the right to marry.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Conservatives present faulty argument against same-sex marriage

Conservatives present faulty argument against same-sex marriage

By Heather and David Knowlton
Wednesday, June 13, 2007 8:51 AM CDT

Part one of two.

We believe that the same-sex marriage debate has lured conservatives into taking a non-defensible position - one that is inherently contradictory and wrong-headed.

Lest liberals who are reading this article begin loudly grunting their approval at our opening statement, we probably should clarify: This is not an endorsement for same-sex marriage. To be fair, it also is not a repudiation of same-sex marriage.

Rather, the following is meant to chastise conservatives for putting forth an argument that, in fact, undermines principles of conservatism. Let's examine some of the assumptions that underlie conservative arguments that the state should not grant same-sex marriages.

First, one common argument that conservatives - particularly Evangelical Christian conservatives - regularly present is that homosexual relationships are contrary to God's law. Thus, America, as a Christian nation, should not endorse a breaking of God's law.

The reality is that America was founded on a doctrine of religious freedom. In fact, the founders of this country went to great lengths to separate our government from any specific religion. It can well be argued that some of the founders were men of God. But the founders never suggested that a specific religion should be a basis for deciding law.

We'd argue that the separation of church and state is the exact factor that has allowed Christianity to flourish in this nation. After all, can you name many ventures where the government's involvement and endorsement has created a stronger and more substantive state of affairs? We urge our Christian brothers and sisters to recognize that we jeopardize that flourishing by asking the state to support a view on the grounds that it is a Christian view.

Second, conservatives tend to argue that the government allowing same-sex marriages will ultimately weaken the institution of marriage.

To begin with, we'd suggest that the divorce rate among heterosexual couples (including divorce rates among conservatives) shows that private citizens are doing just fine in weakening the power of marriage without the state's help. In pointing to divorce rates in this country, we are not necessarily criticizing those who are divorced; indeed, we believe that legitimate reasons for divorce exist. Our point, however, is that for conservatives to suggest that same-sex marriages undermine the institution of marriage is disingenuous. Divorce rates suggest that even those who have the state's blessing on their marriage don't take marriage very seriously.

More importantly, when conservatives argue that a state decision to allow same-sex marriages will undermine the institution of marriage, they inherently give the state a powerful role in determining the value of private relationships. Is that what conservatives believe - as the state goes, so the value of private relationships comes?

By virtue of their position, conservatives seem to be suggesting that a state-issued license serves as a meaningful confirmation and blessing of marriage. As a happily married Christian couple, we feel that the state's blessing, in itself, undermines the love, commitment, and spiritual meaning that we find within our marriage. Our marriage is, in fact, sanctified because it has the blessing of our church. Our marriage was consecrated in a ceremony during which our spiritual leaders, friends, and family blessed our intentions toward each other. The fact that the great state of Tennessee also endorsed our relationship, frankly, takes away some of the spiritual significance of our marriage. The state's intrusion into our private lives secularizes us as a married couple.

We do define ourselves as both conservatives and Christians. Yet, as we have said, the arguments that most Christians and conservatives make against same-sex marriage are counterproductive and undermine conservative fundamentals. After all, if conservatives ultimately prevail and the almighty state does not grant marriage rights to same-sex partners, then conservatives have supported the state's role in whimsically supporting a popular religious perspective and validating relationships between private individuals. What an odd place for conservatives to find themselves!

So, what's the good conservative to do?

Next week we will offer practical advice to conservatives for strengthening the bonds of marriage and retaining marriage's rightful role as a spiritual bond between two private citizens. While some will see our advice as blasphemy, we argue that it is far more consistent with conservative principles than the position being held by most conservatives today.

Heather Knowlton teaches English composition at Lewis

and Clark Community College. David Knowlton is a faculty member in the School of Education at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville