Friday, August 31, 2007

Iowa Gay Marriages Abruptly Halted

Iowa Gay Marriages Abruptly Halted
by The Associated Press

Posted: August 31, 2007 - 12:00 pm ET
Updated 1:30 pm ET

(Des Moines, Iowa) Two men were married outside a minister's home in the state's first legal same-sex wedding Friday morning, less than 24 hours after a judge threw out Iowa's ban on gay marriage.

It was narrow window of opportunity.

At 11 a.m., after about 20 gay couples had applied for marriage licenses, the Polk County Recorder announced that she had been instructed to stop accepting their applications.

Recorder Julie Haggerty said the instruction came from the county attorney's office after Judge Robert Hanson, the same judge who threw out the ban on Thursday, verbally issued a stay of his ruling at the county's request. Hanson was expected to file the written ruling later in the day, his clerk said.

Haggerty said she is not permitted to accept any more marriage applications from gay couples until the Iowa Supreme Court rules on the county's appeal.

© 2007

Gay Couples Begin Applying for Marriage Licenses in Iowa

Gay Couples Begin Applying For Marriage Licenses In Iowa
by The Associated Press

Posted: August 31, 2007 - 11:00 am ET

(Des Moines, Iowa) Same-sex couples have begun applying for marriage licenses in Des Moines, following yesterday's ruling by a county judge striking down Iowa's decade-old gay marriage ban.

Less than two hours after the the ruling two Des Moines men applied for a marriage license.

A steady stream of same-sex couples followed Friday morning.

"I started to cry because we so badly want to be able to be protected if something happens to one of us," said David Curtis Rethmeier, 29, who was listed as the bride on that first marriage form, with Gary Allen Seronko, 51, as his groom.

Polk County Judge Robert Hanson cleared the way for the two men on Thursday when he ruled that a state law allowing marriage only between a man and woman violated the constitutional rights of due process and equal protection. (story)

The judge ordered local officials to process marriage licenses for the six gay couples who sued. With the ruling, gay couples across the state can now apply for a marriage license in the central-Iowa county.

County attorney John Sarcone said the county would appeal to the state Supreme Court, and he immediately sought a stay from Hanson that would prevent gay couples from seeking a marriage license until the appeal is resolved.

A hearing on the stay motion is likely next week, said Camilla Taylor, an attorney with Lambda Legal, a New York-based gay rights organization.

In the meantime, Deputy County Recorder Trish Umthun is taking calls from gay couples, five of them in the first hours after the judge filed his ruling Thursday afternoon.

The office's web site explaining how to apply for a marriage license still began with the words, "Marriages in Iowa are between a male and a female ...," on Friday morning, but Umthun expected a rush of applications through the day. The marriage license approval process takes three business days.

Republican House Minority Leader Christopher Rants, said the ruling illustrates the need for a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

"I can't believe this is happening in Iowa," Rants said. "I guarantee you there will be a vote on this issue come January," when the Legislature convenes.

Gay marriage is legal in Massachusetts, and nine other states have approved spousal rights in some form for same-sex couples. Nearly all states have defined marriage as being solely between a man and a woman, and 27 states have such wording in their constitutions, according the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Dennis Johnson, the lawyer for the six gay couples who sued in 2005 after they were denied marriage licenses, had argued that Iowa has a long history of aggressively protecting civil rights in cases of race and gender.

The Defense of Marriage Act, which the Legislature passed in 1998 declaring marriage to be between one man and one woman, contradicts previous rulings regarding civil rights and is simply "mean spirited," he said.

Roger J. Kuhle, an assistant Polk County attorney, argued that the issue is not for a judge to decide.

© 2007

Israeli Same-sex Couples May Be Denied Rights

Israeli Same-Sex Couples May Be Denied Rights
by Newscenter Staff

Posted: August 30 2007 - 5:00 pm ET

(Jerusalem) Under pressure from religious parties in the Knesset, Israel's Justice Minister has reportedly revised a draft law on inheritance law for cohabitating unmarried couples to specifically exclude gay and lesbian couples.

Haaretz newspaper reports that Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann made the change in the draft bill this week following a meeting with the ultra-Orthodox Shas party.

The original draft was gender neutral and approved by the cabinet.

The bill now defines a couple as "a man and a woman who lead a family life in a joint household," Haaretz reports.

Friedmann's revision ignores the recommendations of a government commission that recommended partners in same-sex relationships have the same rights to inheritance as married couples when one partner dies without a will.

The revised bill is expected to be introduced in the Knesset during the winter session which begins in November.

The changes have angered LGBT rights groups.

"Since the beginning of his miserable term, the Justice Minister has been committed to setting Israel back 30 years," said Mike Hamel, chair of the Israel GLBT Association.

A poll released last month found that despite a vocal opposition to gays by orthodox religious groups the majority of Israeli's believe same-sex couples should have rights similar to those of married couples.

The survey, by the German-based Friedrich Naumann Foundation, asked adult Israelis whether gay and lesbian couples should be afforded pension and survivorship rights.

Fifty-sex percent said it is either good or necessary. Twenty-three percent said it is a "very good" idea, 22 percent said it is "somewhat good" and 11 percent said it was "not good but necessary. Thirty-sex percent of those polled said it was "not good" with 9 percent unsure.

Same-sex couples have been slowly gaining recognition in Israel. In 2005 Israel's Family Court for the first time recognized a same-sex couple as the joint parents of their children. (story)

Last November the Supreme Court ordered the government to register the marriages of same-sex couples married abroad in countries that recognize such unions. (story)

The high court ruling only directs the government to record the marriages for the purpose of collecting statistics. It does not require that the marriage receive official recognition or that the couples receive any of the rights of marriage.

Marriage under Israeli law is the monopoly of rabbis. There is no civil marriage in Israel.

For the past two years members of an extreme Orthodox sect, the haredi, have rioted in advance of gay pride celebrations in Jerusalem.

Same-sex marriage is currently legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada and South Africa. At least 18 other countries offer some form of legal recognition to same sex unions.

© 2007

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Maine High Court OK's Same-Sex Couple Adoptions

Maine High Court OKs Same-Sex Couple Adoptions
by Newscenter Staff

Posted: August 30, 2007 - 3:00 pm ET

(Portland, Maine) Maine’s highest court, the Law Court, Thursday issued a ruling allowing a lesbian couple to jointly adopt two siblings currently in foster care.

The unanimous ruling opens the door in Maine for other co-parent adoptions by same-sex couples.

The case began in 2001 when children were removed from their home after their biological parents were no longer able to care for them.

The children were placed with Ann Courtney, an attorney, and Marilyn Kirby, a counselor.

The children, identified in court documents only as M who is now 10 and R who is six, had multiple emotional, learning, and developmental problems.

The couple applied to adopt M and R in 2002, and filed adoption petitions in Cumberland County Probate Court in May 2006.

The judge denied their petition, interpreting current Maine adoption law to allow only one unmarried person or a married couple to adopt.

While either of the women could have adopted the children the couple decided they wanted the children to be adopted jointly and appealed.

The appeal reached the Law Court last September and was officially considered in February 2007.

The court issued its ruling on Thursday.

“A joint adoption assures that in the event of either adoptive parent’s death, the children’s continued relationship with the surviving parent is fixed and certain,” the Court said in its written decision.

“A joint adoption also enables the children to be eligible for a variety of public and private benefits…Most importantly, a joint adoption affords the adopted children the love, nurturing, and support of not one, but two parents."

Their petition was supported by professional organizations including the American Psychological Association, the Child Welfare League of America, and the Maine Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Attorney General Steven Rowe also filed a friend of the court brief, arguing that prohibiting this adoption would be counter to the letter and purposes of Maine’s Adoption Act, which seeks to protect the best interest of each adoptive child.

“We’re ecstatic,” said Courtney. “We love these kids, and their well-being means everything to us. Our daughter and son can now know that we are a family, and we’ll always be a family.”

Attorney Mary Bonauto of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, who represented the couple, said in a statement: “This decision is in the best interest of the children, who have flourished under Ann and Marilyn’s care. The court wisely listened to the experts who knew this family well – everyone from the state’s adoption workers to the children’s guardian to the social worker who completed the home study.”

Maine currently has 2,286 children in foster care, according to the Central Office Adoption Manager at the Department of Health and Human Services. At least 530 of those children have a goal of adoption.

Co-adoptions are are expressly permitted in a dozen other states, including the New England states of Connecticut, Vermont, and Massachusetts.

© 2007

Iowa Gay Marriage Ban Overturned

Iowa Gay Marriage Ban Overturned
by Newscenter Staff

Posted: August 30, 2007 - 5:00 pm ET

(Des Moines, Iowa) A Des Moines judge late Thursday afternoon stuck down the state's law that prevents same-sex couples from marrying.

Judge Robert B. Hanson ruled that the state's so-called Defense of Marriage Act violates the Iowa state constitution.

In his decision, Hanson said, "Couples, such as Plaintiffs, who are otherwise qualified to marry one another may not be denied licenses to marry or certificates of marriage or in any other way prevented from entering into a civil marriage pursuant to Iowa Code Chapter 595 by reason of the fact that both persons compromising such a couple are of the same sex."

The case began in December 2005 when six same-sex couples were denied marriage licenses.

The couples are represented by Lambda Legal and former Iowa Solicitor General Dennis Johnson who is now in private practice.

"I have faith that once my fellow Iowans see the inherent injustice in leaving these families without the protections of marriage, they will support allowing these couples to marry," said Johnson outside the court when arguments were made in the case in May.

Johnson and Lambda argued that under the equal protection and due process guarantees in the Iowa State Constitution it is unlawful to bar same-sex couples from marrying.

Papers filed with the court included affidavits from the same-sex couples in the lawsuit explaining first-hand to the court why they want to marry and the harms they suffer from being denied this right.

Also included were friend of the court briefs by faith leaders and religious groups from across the state which support of the right for same-sex couples to marry.

In one amicus brief Dr. Michael Lamb, a world-renowned child developmental psychologist said that "children raised by gay and lesbian parents are as likely to be well-adjusted as children raised by heterosexual parents."

The Iowa Civil Liberties Union also filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the couples on behalf of Iowa law professors and historians.

It is expected the case will be appealed and eventually go to the Iowa Supreme Court.

© 2007

Anti-Gay Activists in California Seek to Restrict Family Rights, Protections

Anti-Gay Activists in California Seek to Restrict Family Rights, Protections
by Kilian Melloy
EDGE Boston Contributor
Wednesday Aug 29, 2007

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor of California, submitted a brief to the state Supreme Court in which he indicated that the word "marriage" may be outmoded, given that domestic partnerships grant many of the same rights and responsibilities.

The Court had sought comment from Schwarzenegger and his Attorney General, former Governor Jerry Brown, according to World Net

California’s Supreme Court is deliberating over a lawsuit that may change how gay and lesbian couples are legally viewed in California.

A spokesman for, an anti-gay family equality organization dedicated to barring marriage from same-sex couples, was quoted in the World Net Daily story as saying, "by this time next year there’s going to be homosexual marriages occurring all over California" unless anti-gay organizations such as amend the state’s constitutional amendment barring gay marriage.

At the heart of the issue, according to the World Net Daily story, is the word "marriage," versus the rights and responsibilities that the word is commonly understood to involve.

The constitutional amendment that was approved by California voters in 2000, Proposition 22, states that, "Only marriage
between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."

But in their briefs to the court, Schwarzenegger and Brown appear to say that California laws regarding domestic partnership have made most, if not all, of the over one thousand discreet protections and legal obligations involved with marriage available to same-sex couples.

That is a state of affairs that anti-gay family activists evidently cannot tolerate.

In 2005, a California court found that Proposition 22 restricted the word marriage to heterosexual couples, but not necessarily the legal protections and obligations that anti-gay family activists say should be kept away from any but mixed-gender couples.

The court’s finding stated that, "Because the plain, unambiguous language of Proposition 22 is concerned only with who is entitled to obtain the status of marriage, and not with the rights and obligations associated with marriage," a contested state law "does not add to, or take away from, Proposition 22," according to the World Net Daily article.

In his brief, Gov. Schwarzenegger said that a "use of the words ’marry’ and ’marriage’ is not required by the California Constitution [in the granting of protections to gay families]. Thus, the name of the legal relationship now known as ’marriage’ could be changed."

The brief went on, "Except for the ability to choose and declare one’s life partner in a reciprocal commitment of mutual support, any of the statutory rights and obligations that are afforded to married couples in California could be abrogated or eliminated by the Legislature or the electorate for any rational legislative purpose."

Anti-gay family activists view the ability of gay families to secure rights and responsibilities on par with mixed-gender marriage to be abhorrent. Rallying cries against "liberals" and "activist judges" were sent up by Vote Yes Marriage’s Thomassen, who exclaimed, "This is proof positive that the initiative, which will prevent marriage from being abolished and prevent marriage rights from being eliminated, is absolutely needed to protect the sacred institution of marriage from activist judges and liberal politicians."

Thomasson continued with an appeal for money, saying, "In order to protect future generations and give them the gift and opportunity of marriage, and to protect America from California, people of means who believe in marriage and family need to give generously to," despite the fact that aims to strip rights away from gay families and lock gays and lesbians out of any possibility of claiming the "gift of marriage."

Exclaimed Thomasson, "Protecting the word ’marriage’ in the state constitution is useless if the politicians can still get rid of marriage and marriage rights for a man and a woman. Clearly, the amendment, which will override the judges and politicians and preserve everything about marriage for one man and one woman, is the only way to protect this special institution for future generations to respect and enjoy."

Those generations to come, in this vision of the future world order, would presumably all be heterosexual.

Jerry brown’s brief to the Court appeared to concur with Schwarzsenegger’s, stating, "The State is not aware of any differences between the legal rights and benefits and the legal obligations and duties affecting registered domestic partners under California law and the rights, benefits, duties and obligations given to married couples," as quoted in the World Net Daily story.

Brown’s brief also said, "To the extent that civil marriage might, in earlier times, have been required to enjoy conjugal and family relationships then regarded as the exclusive prerogative of married couples--such as cohabitation and lawful sexual intimacy, mutual lifelong care and support, legitimate procreation, or rearing of children--such state authorization is no longer needed."

In other words, couples and families know better than the state what their needs, and the means to attain fulfillment of those needs, are.

But anti-gay family activists wish to see the power of the state over the lives of individuals and their loved ones intensified.

Larry Bowler, a former Assemblyman associated with, pointed to California laws extending some measure of protection to gay families as "clear and convincing evidence why we must fully and permanently protect marriage in the state constitution, far above the reach of politicians and judges," according to the World Net Daily article.

Beyond, that is, the deliberations of law and the redress of justice.

Kilian Melloy reviews media, conducts interviews, and writes commentary for EDGEBoston, where he also serves as Assistant Arts Editor.

Why Marriage (still) matters

Why marriage (still) matters
tamara Gorzalka /

Gay marriage may seem like a dead issue to the average Canadian. After its legalization and the Conservative minority government’s failure to re-start debate on the issue, opposition to same-sex marriage has moved on or at least (mostly) shut up about it, so I really had no intention of writing an article about same-sex marriage any time soon.

I am, however, occasionally reminded of the importance that a marriage certificate holds, but I didn’t expect inspiration for my renewed interest in gay marriage to come from ex-convicts in Philadelphia.

Steven Roberts and Daniel Mangini have been a couple for more than two decades. A few years ago the pair went to jail for dealing drugs and have since emerged clean of the meth addiction that held them both. Eager to serve their five-year paroles and resume life together, they left prison one and two years ago, respectively. But less than a week before Roberts was released, the couple was told the law limited them to one 12-hour visit and two phone calls a week for at least 6 months, as federal policy forbids parolees from associating with other felons unless they are spouses or relatives. The American Civil Liberties Union took on the men’s case and the US District Court decided Roberts and Mangini have the same rights as a heterosexual married couple, and they now see each other every other day. But while this case had a happy ending, many aren’t so lucky.

Hopes for improvement in same-sex couple benefits were dashed in Australia last week when conservative legislators managed to a delay a bill providing limited rights to queer partners. The cabinet eventually chose to leave it up to Prime Minister John Howard, who’s made it very clear he will not consider legalizing marriage or civil unions. Howard’s government passed legislation three years ago specifically limiting marriage exclusively to opposite sex-couples.

A group wedding of eight gay couples occurred in Manchester over the weekend, reminding us that even in the UK queers can’t actually get married—they’re only ‘civil partners’ under the law. Vermont legalized civil unions seven years ago but just this month started organizing a commission towards legislating same-sex marriage; it’ll be at least two years before the bill makes it onto a ballot. Next year a civil union law—the usual ‘all the same rights, just not the same name’—goes into effect in New Hampshire.
It’s hard for me to mount an argument in support of same-sex marriage. It’s sort of like asking me if puppies are cute. There is no discussion necessary. Some things simply are, and if you don’t get it, there’s no explaining why.
Oh, I’ve heard arguments. We all have. Society will crumble. Polygamy, pedophilia and bestiality will run rampant. It’s nearly impossible to engage in such a baseless debate, so for now I’ll just assume that anyone intelligent enough to be reading this doesn’t need me to explain why the marriage of willing grown-ups isn’t the same thing as marrying a dog, a baby, a tree, an office building, a lizard and so on. When you get down to it, the suggestion is actually pretty offensive. I hope I don’t piss off any lizard-lovers here, but comparing queer love to the aforementioned aberrations is really pretty repulsive. Yet we’re forced to field this ludicrous argument on a far too frequent basis.

Some say it is dramatic to compare our struggles to the uprisings of race and religion that came before us—but in this case, the parallel is apt. Denying marriage to same-sex partners is as crazy as rejecting it on the basis of skin colour, class, denomination or any other arbitrary distinction. I’ll be the first to admit that our world is full of things that are much more important than marriage, but at some point, same-sex unions became a flagship issue bearing the brunt of ignorance and hatred. The debate brings out hidden homophobia from the shadows of average citizens who mostly let us do our own thing. The idea that a pair of loving adults could be a danger to one’s family or marriage is pretty ridiculous. Again, such a suggestion can’t really be refuted because it’s too laughable to comment on.

This is not even a religious issue. Despite the hard fought efforts of many so-called ‘spiritual leaders’ across the world, more and more places of worship continue to open up their congregations to all types of diversity. As long as marriage certificates continue to be bestowed by the government, this is a legal issue about granting the same rights and privileges as anyone else.

And this whole ‘sanctity of marriage’ thing doesn’t fly with me either. Not when a pregnant Nicole Richie becomes engaged to Hilary Duff’s mall-punk ex-boyfriend on the heels of her coke-fuelled DUI. Or when Katie Holmes marries her couch-hopping teen idol. (Of course, tying the knot with Tom Cruise might qualify as a gay wedding, but still.)

One less outlandish argument is the idea that straight marriage should be upheld for the sake of tradition. Societal changes can appear scary, but equal rights benefit everyone. Our nations are built upon struggles to enact change. Otherwise we’d be living in caves and wearing a lot of fur. I’m no fan of animal pelts, nor do I enjoy being clubbed over the head (not unless there’s a good reason, anyway). Societies evolve and nothing’s ever gotten better by standing still, except maybe whiskey.

It’s hard to legislate acceptance. You can’t make really make a policy that legislates toleration or criminalization of homophobia because you can’t police thought. But you can legalize rights and protect against discrimination. Marriage is a label that bundles thousands of opportunities. A spouse opens up the chance to adopt, inherit, share, visit and decide in every facet of a person and their partner’s life.

Outside of the western world, the debate about marriage probably seems absurd compared to countries where being gay will still get you jailed or worse. The danger in these places can’t be ignored and the fight to protect LGBT people across the planet is something we must all engage in, but that doesn’t negate our lesser struggles here. V

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Are Homosexual Civil Unions a 600 year old tradition

Are Homosexual Civil Unions A 600-year-old Tradition?

Science Daily — A compelling new study from the September issue of the Journal of Modern History reviews historical evidence, including documents and gravesites, suggesting that homosexual civil unions may have existed six centuries ago in France. The article is the latest from the ongoing "Contemporary Issues in Historical Perspective" series, which explores the intersection between historical knowledge and current affairs.

Commonly used rationales in support of gay marriage and gay civil unions avoid historical arguments. However, as Allan A. Tulchin (Shippensburg University) reveals in his forthcoming article, a strong historical precedent exists for homosexual civil unions.

Opponents of gay marriage in the United States today have tended to assume that nuclear families have always been the standard household form. However, as Tulchin writes, "Western family structures have been much more varied than many people today seem to realize, and Western legal systems have in the past made provisions for a variety of household structures."

For example, in late medieval France, the term affrèrement -- roughly translated as brotherment -- was used to refer to a certain type of legal contract, which also existed elsewhere in Mediterranean Europe. These documents provided the foundation for non-nuclear households of many types and shared many characteristics with marriage contracts, as legal writers at the time were well aware, according to Tulchin.

The new "brothers" pledged to live together sharing 'un pain, un vin, et une bourse' -- one bread, one wine, and one purse. As Tulchin notes, "The model for these household arrangements is that of two or more brothers who have inherited the family home on an equal basis from their parents and who will continue to live together, just as they did when they were children." But at the same time, "the affrèrement was not only for brothers," since many other people, including relatives and non-relatives, used it.

The effects of entering into an affrèrement were profound. As Tulchin explains: "All of their goods usually became the joint property of both parties, and each commonly became the other's legal heir. They also frequently testified that they entered into the contract because of their affection for one another. As with all contracts, affrèrements had to be sworn before a notary and required witnesses, commonly the friends of the affrèrés."

Tulchin argues that in cases where the affrèrés were single unrelated men, these contracts provide "considerable evidence that the affrèrés were using affrèrements to formalize same-sex loving relationships. . . . I suspect that some of these relationships were sexual, while others may not have been. It is impossible to prove either way and probably also somewhat irrelevant to understanding their way of thinking. They loved each other, and the community accepted that. What followed did not produce any documents."

He concludes: "The very existence of affrèrements shows that there was a radical shift in attitudes between the sixteenth century and the rise of modern antihomosexual legislation in the twentieth."

Reference: Allan Tulchin, "Same-Sex Couples Creating Households in Old Regime France: The Uses of the Affrèrement." Journal of Modern History: September 2007.

Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by University of Chicago Press Journals.

Atty Gen Jerry Brown: Marriage is "an insignificant label"

Attorney General Jerry Brown: Marriage is an “insignificant label”

"The Attorney General fails to explain why ... the state and its allies are working so hard to ensure that lesbians and gay men remain excluded from it,” counters San Francisco city attorney.

[[jerrybrownmarinsig.jpg]]Do homosexual couples suffer any "constitutional injury" from being legally ineligible to obtain marriage licenses?

California Attorney General Jerry Brown, in briefs filed with the state Supreme Court on Aug. 17, argues that marriage is a "constitutionally insignificant label" because, he says, same-sex domestic partners do not “lack” any benefit which would be supplied by legal marriage.

Same-sex marriage advocate Geoff Kors of Equality California indicated to the Aug. 23 Bay Area Reporter that such objections are remarkably weak and obviously conflict with the state's stance in another court case. "The state and attorney general took the position in the AB 205 legislation that domestic partnership and marriage are significantly different," said Kors.

And if the notion of "marriage as a constitutionally insignificant label" were indeed true, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera argued that "the Attorney General fails to explain why ... the state and its allies are working so hard to ensure that lesbians and gay men remain excluded from it.”

The case, known as In re Marriage, emerges from the situation which arose in February 2004 when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom directed city officials to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Later that year, the state Supreme Court invalidated the licenses, but without addressing whether it was legal for the state to define marriage as a union of a man and a woman in the first place. The court instructed the city to file a new lawsuit to raise just that question.

Now Attorney General Brown has asserted that "the California Constitution does not contain a specifically enumerated right to marry," arguing likewise that there’s nothing in the California Constitution that would prevent the state from withdrawing all benefits from marriage -- which would leave “marriage” so legally insignificant that “domestic partnership” would be the only form of spousal or quasi-spousal union actually honored by the state.

As governor, Brown signed legislation in 1975 that repealed criminal penalties for adultery, oral sex, and sodomy between consenting adults, a landmark in statewide homosexual rights.

"That was one of the most courageous things anyone has ever done. He made all consensual sex acts legal. You won't find anyone else from the 1970s making those kinds of courageous decisions," Brown’s spokesman, Ace Smith, told the Bay Area Reporter. "He has one of the most courageous pioneering record in GLBT rights anywhere in the country."

Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), the author of the California gay marriage bill, which passed the state assembly in June, explained, "This is now a core Democratic moral value. We've brought it center stage. The party passed a resolution in support of marriage equality at its convention last April, and it won't be very long before every Democrat with credibility could not run in this state without supporting a woman's right to choose and supporting marriage equality."

The state Supreme Court will not consider Brown’s and other arguments until later this fall, or in early 2008.

© California Catholic Daily 2007. All Rights Reserved.
Article URL:

Monday, August 27, 2007

Married Couple Split up due to Immigration

Reunite this family

August 27, 2007

TIM COCO, 46, runs a successful advertising agency in Haverhill. Six years ago he met Genesio Januario Oliveira, who was visiting Boston on vacation from his home in Brazil. The two fell in love and in 2005, under rights protected by the Massachusetts Constitution, they were married. Since then, they have lived happily and quietly in a Boston suburb with their dog, Q-Tip.

Except that two weeks ago Oliveira was forced to return to Brazil under orders from the US Board of Immigration Appeals, which denied his application for the asylum status he hoped would allow him to stay in the United States with his husband. The couple needed to pursue the asylum route because their same-sex marriage is not recognized by the federal government, and federal laws supersede states' when it comes to immigration.

According to the 2000 US Census, some 35,000 same-sex couples who list themselves as "unmarried partners" similarly include one person who is a US citizen and one person who is not. They do not all try to follow the law as dutifully as Coco and Oliveira. Indeed, Oliveira is probably rare among immigrants for complying with the BIA's June order to "voluntarily depart" within 60 days or risk deportation, fines, and a 10-year bar from applying for another US visa. When he arrived at the US consulate in Sao Paulo to certify he had left within the 60 days, his visa was canceled. "I guess you don't get any points for playing by the rules," says Tim.

Because Congress passed -- and former President Clinton signed -- the mean-spirited Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, no federal rights extend to the roughly 9,000 married same-sex couples in Massachusetts. There are more than 1,000 different benefits -- from filing joint income taxes to receiving Social Security benefits -- that are denied to same-sex couples everywhere in the country, whether they live in a state that recognizes their marriage or civil union status or not. The ability of a US citizen to sponsor a husband or wife for immigration to the United States, called a form I-130, is just one of them. "Same-sex couples are utterly shut out of that process," says Mary Bonauto, the lawyer who argued the Goodridge case before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court that led to legalized gay marriage in the state.

Oliveira's application for asylum was first denied by an immigration judge in March 2006. The ruling said that any mistreatment he experienced in Brazil on account of his homosexuality, or his fear of future violence, "does not rise to a level of persecution." Asylum cases are difficult to win, but it's fair to say a partner in a gay marriage would have reason to fear intimidation and harm in Brazil, where the ministry of health reported 180 killings of homosexuals in 2004.

Among the many ironies of this case is that Brazil, despite its record of serious hate crimes against gays, is one of only 16 countries whose government does recognize same-sex partnerships for immigration purposes. So Oliveira can sponsor Tim's application to emigrate to Brazil, but not the other way around.

Another irony, of course, is that the Immigration and Nationality Act, this country's last word on immigration, still defines a "preference" for family unification.

Yet another heartbreaking Catch-22: Since the couple's various appeals describe their lawful wedded status in Massachusetts, Oliveira has essentially declared his interest in remaining in the United States. Any other visa that might be available to him -- student, employment, or tourist -- requires that he certify his stay will only be temporary and that he intends to return to Brazil.

What have these two men done to deserve such treatment from the US government? They are indistinguishable from immigrants who routinely qualify for permanent residence status due to their marriage, except that they are not heterosexual.

Relief for Coco and Oliveira will not come easily. Asking the US Supreme Court to find the Defense of Marriage Act an unconstitutional violation of civil rights is a long shot at best. Building support in Congress to revisit the Defense of Marriage Act is a better strategy, but one that still could take several years. The most promising solution now probably is a bill in Congress that would establish "permanent partnership" status for unmarried couples so that a US citizen could sponsor a foreign-born partner for immigration.

Introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont and US Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, the "Uniting American Families Act" doesn't guarantee that every applicant will be granted entry, and it doesn't force Congress to "recognize" gay marriage. It simply provides an avenue for couples who are over 18, in "a lifelong commitment" with each other and "unable to contract . . . a marriage cognizable under this Act" to petition for immigration status. The Leahy-Nadler bill would eliminate the discriminatory box that shuts same-sex couples out of the immigration laws of the country.

Great strides toward equality for gays have been made in this country, but the woeful fate of Tim Coco and Genesio Oliveira shows that thousands of same-sex couples, even in Massachusetts, still aren't really full citizens.
© Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

Same-sex and Worried about Retirement

Same-Sex And Worried About Retirement

By Martha M. Hamilton
Sunday, August 26, 2007; F01

Ken Hausman and his partner, Deane Bergsrud, have been together for 27 years, and like many couples their age, they're thinking ahead to retirement. They both have 401(k) plans at work and individual retirement accounts, and Hausman has a pension.

Nonetheless, "we worry a great deal about the future," Hausman said.

One of their worries is whether the surviving partner will be adequately protected when the other dies -- because of their unmarried status.

Unmarried couples lack the automatic legal protections that kick in when one member of a married couple dies. And they lack other advantages in planning for financial security in retirement that are taken for granted by most couples.

But marriage is a solution that is unavailable to Hausman and Bergsrud. They live in Virginia, where marriage is prohibited for same-sex couples, as it is in most of the United States.

Together they make a decent income that has allowed them to save for retirement, and they have little debt. But they worry whether they have done everything they need to do to ensure that one won't be left with too few assets after the other dies. Compounding their worries is a Virginia law that prohibits civil unions or other marriage-like contracts between same-sex partners.

The law is being challenged, but as long as it's on the books Hausman says he worries that the wills and powers of attorney, and other measures they have taken to protect each other, could be ruled null and void.

"There's no substitute for being married when it comes down to it," he said.

In terms of their 401(k)s and IRAs, the two think they are in good shape. Each has named the other as the beneficiary of the savings accounts. But Hausman, associate editor of Psychiatric News, also has a traditional pension. Normally workers with traditional pensions can choose at retirement whether to take the full monthly payments or a reduced amount each month in order for those benefits to continue for a spouse's lifetime, should the pension beneficiary die first.

It's a benefit considered so important for the surviving spouse that he or she has to sign a waiver for the worker receiving the pension to qualify for the higher benefits. But pensioners in same-sex couples can't leave survivor benefits to their partners.

Legal experts from the gay and lesbian community say that is just one of many ways in which financial planning for retirement is complicated for same-sex couples. Other examples were given by Susan Sommer, senior counsel for Lambda Legal; Joan M. Burda, who wrote "Estate Planning for Same-Sex Couples"; and Michael Adams, executive director of Senior Action in a Gay Environment:

* Social Security. There are no survivor's benefits available to members of a same-sex couple, nor can a low-earning member of a same-sex couple get the boost in benefits available to a married couple when both of them are alive. If one member of a married couple is receiving less from Social Security than his or her spouse, the survivor can draw 100 percent of the dead spouse's benefit, if he or she is old enough to draw full Social Security benefits. This is true for ex-spouses, too, if the marriage lasted 10 years or longer.

Members of married couples also receive a one-time death benefit of $255 after their spouses die.

Also, if one member of a married couple has never worked or has low earnings, that spouse can be entitled to as much as half of the full retirement benefit produced by the higher-earning spouse's record.

* Property ownership. Married couples can own property as tenants and can automatically pass it on to the surviving spouse without the expense and hassle of probate. A certain amount of personal property, such as furniture or artwork, also automatically transfers. Sure, an unmarried couple may will each other property, but that makes it potentially subject to the estate tax, although that's currently not a problem for most people because it kicks in for only high-income families. A married person also may shift assets to a spouse without it being considered a gift and potentially subject to tax.

Another concern about wills is that they can be, and often are, challenged by hostile family members. "There's the lack of ease of the safety net that comes with automatic inheritance," Adams said. He also noted that "the vast majority of Americans don't have wills. The vast majority of gay and lesbian couples don't."

* Long-term care. To qualify for long-term care under Medicaid, individuals need to demonstrate that they have few assets. A married couple isn't forced to sell the house to cover expenses as long as one member still lives in it. Unmarried couples don't have that protection. This is a concern for Hausman and Bergsrud, since Alzheimer's disease runs in Bergsrud's family. One possible solution, according to Burda, is to buy a long-term-care insurance policy that covers five years' care. When determining whether someone qualifies for Medicaid coverage, states look back five years at an applicant's assets. With the five-year long-term care policy, the member of the couple requiring care could transfer his or her share of the home to the other partner, be covered for five years by the policy and then qualify for Medicaid coverage.

* Health insurance. Some companies provide health insurance coverage to domestic partners, although it's treated as taxable income. In some states, only one member of a same-sex couple is allowed to be the legal parent of the couple's child or children. Only that parent will be able to cover a child under employer-provided health insurance. Often that means that the insured parent will feel he or she can't retire or change jobs because it would result in the loss of dependent health insurance, Susan Sommer said.

And so it goes. Same-sex couples also may need to save more for retirement because of other expenses. They often don't qualify for discounts routinely available to married couples, ranging from lower rates for a gym or a swimming pool association or for auto insurance, for instance. Hausman and Bergsrud have one car and pay for more expensive business auto insurance so they can have both names on the policy.

They should shop around, said Burda, who added that Liberty Mutual and some other companies don't discriminate against unmarried couples. And there are ways to work around many of the other problems that such couples confront, she and others said. But obtaining what comes routinely to married couples may involve lawyers and financial planners and more money out of pocket.

And less money for retirement.

If you have subjects you would like to see addressed in future columns, please

Church Sites Minister Over Gay Marriages

Church Cites Minister Over Gay Marriages
By JORDAN ROBERTSON 08.24.07, 7:20 PM ET

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A Presbyterian minister was found guilty of violating church law for officiating at the weddings of two lesbian couples but given the lightest possible punishment, church and defense lawyers said Friday.

A regional judicial committee of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) ruled 6-2 that while the Rev. Jane Spahr of San Rafael "acted with conscience and conviction," her actions were still at odds with the church's constitution, her defense team said in a news release.

The court gave Spahr the mildest penalty it could have - a rebuke - which amounts to a warning not to repeat the violation. She could have been removed from ministry.

The ruling, delivered late Thursday to lawyers for Spahr and the denomination, reversed a lower church court's decision in March 2006 that found Spahr acted within her rights as an ordained minister when she married the couples in 2004 and 2005.

Spahr was the first minister of her denomination to be tried for officiating at the weddings of gay couples. The top Presbyterian Court ruled in 2000 that ministers can bless same-sex unions as long as the ceremonies are not called a marriage and don't mimic traditional weddings.

Spahr, who will retire at the end of this month, plans to appeal.

"My gut reaction was, 'Oh no, no,'" said Spahr, who came out as a lesbian three decades ago. She said she wants the church "not to tolerate us, but to accept us."

The initial complaint was brought by a minister from Bellevue, Wash., in the Presbytery of the Redwoods, which oversees 52 Pacific Coast churches from Marin County to the Oregon border.

The Rev. Robert Conover, head of the Redwoods Presbytery, said the ruling underscores the disunity within the church on the issue of same-sex marriage.

"This in no way can be characterized as a victory," said Conover, "but simply as an ongoing display of the deep difference of opinion on matters of faith and practice."

Many Protestant denominations are divided over how they should interpret what the Bible says about homosexuality. In the Presbyterian Church, several theologically conservative congregations have announced plans

nj voters back gay marriage

N.J. voters back gay marriage, poll says
By Matt Friedman - August 15, 2007 - 6:42pm
Tags: Steven Goldstein, Rick Shaftan,

The majority of New Jersey voters say that they would not be upset if the state legalized gay marriage, according to a Zogby Poll commissioned by Garden State Equality, a gay advocacy group.

63% of those polled said that they would have no problem if “public officials in New Jersey come to the conclusion that civil unions for gay couples have not worked to provide equality under the law” and granted gay couples the right to marry.

“Here’s the bottom line, the people of New Jersey are ready right now to change the failing civil unions law to real marriage equality,” said Steven Goldstein, President of Garden State Equality.

A much smaller majority, 48.1%, agreed with the statement that “New Jersey should give gay couples the same freedom to marry as heterosexual couples.” 44.6% disagreed.

But when the same question was phrased differently, a small majority of respondents were against gay marriage by a margin of 49.1% to 47.5%. Of that majority, 29.6 % said they were in favor of civil unions but not marriage, while another 19.5 % said they were opposed to both. But Goldstein said those numbers aren’t troubling.

“Wherever you might stand for marriage equality, for or against, you’re overwhelmingly likely to be ready for the legislature to change the law for marriage equality,” said Goldstein.

Regardless of personal opinion, however, the vast majority of those polled expected gay marriage to become legal in New Jersey with the next couple years, 61.2% to 28.3%, and only 20.8% thought that legislators would be in any danger of losing an election of they voted to allow same sex marriage.

Conservative strategist Rick Shaftan thought that the poll was intended to dissuade Republicans from using gay marriage as a campaign issue. In some districts, Shaftan said, Democratic legislators would not want to be confronted about their stances on the issue.

“You’re not going to see Democrats campaigning on it. It’s not going to show up in their literature,” said Shaftan. “This poll is designed to do one thing: intimidate the Republicans into not campaigning on this issue. And it will probably work, because there is no more spineless group than the Republican leadership in New Jersey.”

Marriage Lawsuit Advances to California Supreme Court

Marriage Lawsuit Advances to California Supreme Court (8/17/2007)

Briefs Argue Marriage Ban Is Unconstitutional


SAN FRANCISCO -- In briefs filed today with the California Supreme Court, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and Lambda Legal argue that California violates its own constitution by denying same-sex couples the freedom to marry.

“When two people fall in love and decide to get married, they are saying to the world, ‘this is my family; this is my dream for the future,’” said Tamara Lange, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU. “We think the court will see that same-sex couples fall in love just like everyone else and shouldn’t be denied the ability to fulfill their dreams through marriage.”

The organizations filed the briefs in the coordinated marriage cases now before the California Supreme Court. They respond to arguments presented by the state of California, which is defending the discriminatory law, and to four supplemental questions asked by the California Supreme Court on June 20. NCLR, Lambda Legal, the ACLU, Heller Ehrman LLP, and the Law Office of David C. Codell represent 15 same-sex couples, Equality California, and Our Family Coalition.

“Everyone knows marriage has no substitute,” said Shannon Minter, Legal Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “Marriage is the way loving couples express their commitment and love, and this is true for lesbian and gay couples as well, who long for the opportunity to marry. The time has come to bring this unconstitutional discrimination to an end.”

The California Supreme Court agreed to hear the case last year after the California Court of Appeal reversed a decision by San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard A. Kramer finding that barring same-sex couples from marriage unconstitutionally discriminates on the basis of sex and violates the fundamental right to marry.

“Anything less than marriage leaves lesbian and gay couples in a confusing and discriminatory twilight zone,” said Lambda Legal Senior Counsel Jennifer C. Pizer. “We know this because we answer the distress calls every day—calls that began with the first statewide domestic partner bill in 1999 and haven’t slowed as the law broadened over the years. To the contrary, the distress calls have increased as more couples register, hoping to shield their families, and encounter inconsistent, incomplete protections. We’ve welcomed the Supreme Court’s invitation to explain how far domestic partnerships fall short of full marriage.”

On September 17, more than 250 religious and civil rights organizations, including the California NAACP, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, California Council of Churches, Asian Pacific American Legal Center, and National Black Justice Coalition, will file friend-of-the-court amicus briefs in support of marriage for same-sex couples. The briefing process concludes with responses to amicus briefs, which are due October. The court will set oral arguments at the conclusion of the briefing.

The 15 represented couples have made life-long commitments to each other. Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin have been together more than 50 years. Karen Shane and Judy Sokolower have been together more than 30 years. The couples come from across the state and from all walks of life, with some working in business, some in education, and others in health professions. Many are raising children together. Others are retired.

“Marriage validates relationships and strengthens California families by honoring the commitments of every loving couple,” said EQCA Executive Director Geoff Kors. “We have already learned that domestic partnerships and civil unions cannot replace the critical legal protections, universal recognition and dignity that marriage affords. Excluding same-sex couples from marriage denies countless couples legal recognition of the love they share.”

The Supreme Court is considering six marriage cases under the title In re Marriage Cases. The briefs field today and other information about the case are available at;, and at


The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education. NCLR is lead counsel in In re Marriage Cases.

Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.

The American Civil Liberties Union is America’s foremost advocate of individual rights. It fights discrimination and moves public opinion on LGBT rights through the courts, legislatures and public education.

Equality California is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, grassroots-based, statewide advocacy organization whose mission is to achieve equality and civil rights for all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Californians.


Conservative groups fights lesbian divorce

Conservative group fights lesbian 'divorce'
By Cheryl Wetzstein | Published Aug/16/2007 | Family and Society , North America | Rating:
Back-door entrance to recognition of same sex 'marriage'

By Cheryl Wetzstein
The Washington Times

WASHINGTON -- The Rhode Island Supreme Court should rule that a lesbian couple who "married" in Massachusetts can't get "divorced" in Rhode Island because such an act would legalize same-sex "marriage" in the state, say court papers filed by a conservative legal defense organization.

"Rhode Island should not allow same-sex 'divorce' to become a back-door entrance to the recognition of same sex 'marriage,' " said Austin Nimocks, an attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief this month in the case of Margaret Chambers and Cassandra Ormiston.

The federal Defense of Marriage Act says states don't have to recognize out-of-state same-sex "marriages," and a policy of "comity," in which state courts respect one another's acts, "is not mandatory," Mr. Nimocks said in the brief, filed on behalf of the Family Research Council and the Rev. Lyle Mook of Rhode Island.

In separate briefs, Rhode Island Gov. Donald L. Carcieri, a Republican, and Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch, a Democrat, agreed that courts can grant a divorce even if a marriage is "void" or "voidable by law." Mr. Carcieri said state marriage law clearly refers to unions of a man and a woman and any change must be decided by voters or lawmakers. Mr. Lynch, however, said Rhode Island should recognize same-sex "marriages" conducted in Massachusetts because of Rhode Island's nondiscrimination law and state comity.

The American Civil Liberties Union, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, Marriage Law Foundation, the Most Rev. Thomas J. Tobin, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, and Becket Fund for Religious Liberty also filed briefs in preparation for an October court hearing.

In May 2004, Miss Chambers and Miss Ormiston, who live in Providence, R.I., joined hundreds of other homosexual couples seeking marriage licenses in Massachusetts. In October last year, the couple filed for "divorce."

Chief Judge Jeremiah S. Jeremiah Jr. of the Rhode Island Family Court asked the high court to determine whether he had the authority to hear the case. The high court responded by asking for facts about the women's "marriage" and whether the Family Court could "properly recognize" it "for the purpose of entertaining a divorce petition."

Questions remain about the legality of the women's "marriage." In 2004, Massachusetts officials disallowed any same-sex "marriage" of out-out-state residents, citing a law enacted in 1913 that prohibits Massachusetts from marrying out-of-state couples if that marriage is illegal in their home state. Last year, the 1913 law was upheld and interpreted to mean that homosexual couples from states that expressly forbid same-sex "marriage" can't "marry" in Massachusetts. But last year, a Massachusetts judge ruled that Rhode Island law didn't have such a prohibition.

The Chambers-Ormiston case marks the first time Rhode Island judges are addressing the issue.

Monday, August 13, 2007

VT commission members all support same-sex marriage

Commission members all support same-sex marriage

By Terri Hallenbeck
Free Press Staff Writer

August 12, 2007
Amid criticism that a new commission formed to study whether Vermont should have same-sex marriage is stacked with those who favor marriage, the search is on for an additional member who may not.

All 10 members appointed last month to the commission say they support access to marriage for gay and lesbian couples.

"I think it's a legitimate concern," said House Speaker Gaye Symington, D-Jericho.

Late last week, Symington asked former Republican Sen. John Bloomer Jr. of Rutland, who voted against civil unions in 2000, if he'd join the commission for more geographic and philosophical balance. He was considering the request, she said Friday.

In announcing creation of the commission Symington and Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin said people's opinions about same-sex marriage were not a consideration for selection. However, all 10 appointees said in interviews with the Free Press that they ideally would like to see marriage available to same-sex couples.

The Rev. Craig Benson, who opposes same-sex marriage, called the panel a "kangaroo commission" and said the makeup suggests the outcome is predetermined.

Symington said such critics misunderstand the purpose of the commission. "I don't see the outcome of this commission as a vote up or down. I'm trying to pull out of the commission a better opportunity to think through these issues," she said.

The appointees say that despite their personal opinions, they go into the process willing to listen to Vermonters, perhaps even recommend against gay marriage if that turns out to be the overwhelming sentiment of residents.

"If it comes across as an advocacy piece for gay marriage we will have failed," said Tom Little, a lawyer and former Republican state representative from Shelburne who will head the commission.

Other commission members said if anyone can make this commission a success, it's Little. He was chairman of the House Judiciary Committee that crafted Vermont's first-in-the-nation civil unions law in 2000. Little was widely hailed for bringing diverse people's opinions together under difficult circumstances.

"I have worked with a lot of people in my 64 years. I've never worked with anyone better," said Mike Vinton, a retired trooper and former state representative from East Charleston who was on that legislative committee in 2000 and will serve on the new commission.
Forming commission

The last two years, lawmakers have introduced same-sex marriage legislation. Both times, they were rebuffed by legislative leaders who were leery of the time and energy the contentious issue would take up. The 2000 civil union debate was so divisive it cost Democrats control of the House at election time that year, something they are loath to see happen again.

Still, same-sex marriage advocates pressed the issue, arguing that although civil unions allow for many of the rights of marriage, they are still different, and different is not equal.

The compromise was to create a commission outside of the Legislature that would hear how Vermonters feel about same-sex marriage and study the legal issues surrounding marriage.

"It seemed like a reasonable way of moving the issue forward without diverting the Legislature from a challenging agenda," Symington said.

Beth Robinson, chairwoman of the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force and one of the lawyers who won the court case that led to civil unions, supported the commission. "We absolutely have been advocating for something like this," she said. "I do believe more conversation is better for us."

When considering who would serve on the commission, Robinson joined Symington and Shumlin on a conference call to suggest names. Symington said some names came from advocates, but others did not.

"We were looking for people who listen well," Symington said.

Bloomer's name was on the list, but he was never called. Symington said she doesn't know how that happened. "Looking back, maybe I should have spent more time making those calls myself," she said.

After hearing criticism about the panel's make-up, Symington asked Bloomer to become the 11th member.

Symington said appointing anyone firmly opposed to same-sex marriage was not considered, because that would have been counterproductive. The Catholic bishop, for example, cannot by the nature of his position have an open mind about the issue. "That would be an impossible position to put the bishop in," Symington said.

Of those appointed, she said, she didn't realize they all supported same-sex marriage. "I wouldn't have known that would be Mike Vinton's response," she said, although Vinton voted for civil union in 2000.

Vinton said he will be listening to Vermonters, but opponents have yet to make the argument that would dissuade him from believing that same-sex couples deserve the same rights as heterosexual couples. "I don't think that's there," he said. "They just don't make their case."

That was a tone many of the commission members struck.

"I think it should be 'Let's do marriage if possible,'" said Mary Ann Carlson, a former state senator from Arlington who conducts marriages and civil unions as a justice of the peace. "I just think separate is not equal."

Berton Frye, a quarry owner and excavator in West Danville, said he wants to hear from Vermonters and learn more about how Massachusetts' same-sex marriage law works, but he sees no reason same-sex couples should not have the rights of other couples. "I support anything that gives anybody equal rights," he said. "I do not picture anything that would make me believe we shouldn't have gay marriage. It would need to be a real majority of voices."

The Rev. Nancy Vogele, an Episcopal minister in White River Junction, is apparently the only gay member of the commission. She said she has a civil union and would like marriage herself, but emphasized that the commission's work is not about her. "I think we're here to listen to what Vermonters have to say."

Sen. John Campbell, D-Windsor, who sponsored a same-sex marriage bill last session and will serve on the commission, said members should not be judged by their opinions. "Even though I am for the extension of marriage, that does not preclude me from listening to opposing points of view. I know I have the responsibility to report back to the Legislature what I hear, even if that testimony goes against my personal opinion."

Several commissioners said they think what they'll hear is that more Vermonters are comfortable with same-sex marriage after seeing civil unions in place for seven years.

"I would never want to see us go through the anger of last time," said Rep. Johanna Donovan, D-Burlington. "I don't think we're going to have to."
Commission's mission

Little said the first order of business when the commission meets Aug. 23 will be for members to get to know each other. The panel is made up of a smattering of legislators, former legislators and others, some of whom Little doesn't know.

From there, he expects to examine the differences between civil unions for same-sex couples and marriage for heterosexual couples, and listen to Vermonters' opinions.

"The worst thing a committee or commission can do to damage its credibility is not allow people to have their say," Little said.

The commission is expected to hold six public hearings, but Little said he hopes some of them will not be the traditional, microphone-in-front-of-the-room hearings. He'd like more of a discussion than those allow.

The structure of the final report -- due to the Legislature in April -- remains to be seen, he said. Little said the commission's role is to provide information and analysis that will allow the Legislature to make an informed decision.

Symington said despite criticism about the make-up of the commission, she thinks the members are thoughtful. "This is a good group of people," she said. "They are good listeners."
Contact Terri Hallenbeck at 651-4887 or Commission meeting WHAT: The 10-member "Commission on Family Recognition and Protection," created to study whether Vermonters are ready for same-sex marriage, is preparing to hold its first meeting, which is open to the public.
WHEN: 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Aug. 23
WHERE: Statehouse Commission members
The 10 members appointed by legislative leaders to serve on a commission studying same-sex marriage:
Tom Little, former Republican state representative, Shelburne, chairs the committee
Sen. John Campbell, D-Windsor
Mary Ann Carlson, former Democratic state senator, Arlington
Rep. Johanna Donovan, D-Burlington
Berton R. Frye, owner of Frye's Quarry in West Danville
Former Gov. Philip Hoff of Burlington
Barbara Murphy, president of Johnson State College
Helen Riehle, former Republican state senator, South Burlington
Michael Vinton, former Democratic state representative, East Charleston
Nancy Vogele, Episcopal minister in White River Junction

Aussie Hundreds march to protest gay marriage ban

Hundreds march to protest gay marriage ban
August 12, 2007 04:28pm
Article from: AAPFont size: + -
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HUNDREDS of people marched on Sydney's Town Hall today calling for the Federal Government to legalise same-sex marriages.

Greens senator Kerry Nettle said today's rally, which began at Taylor Square in Sydney's east, marked three years since the Howard government decided against legalising gay marriages.

A colourful, noisy crowd marched down Oxford Street after Senator Nettle condemned the Federal Government's proposal to ban gay couples from adopting children from overseas.

"We saw the ban on same sex marriage happen just before the federal election and three years later we hear the Prime Minister talking about trying to impose a ban on same sex adoptions from overseas, just before a federal election,'' Senator Nettle told the rally.

"It's a clear pattern about the Prime Minister trying to garner votes from the conservative religious fundamentalists within the community and in doing so seeking to scapegoat a particular section within out community.''

The Senate chamber was a "horrendous place to be'' when the government passed legislation banning gay marriage three years ago, Senator Nettle said.

''(We heard) really hateful and archaic attitudes being put forward from MPs from across the political spectrum.''

Five countries had already passed laws guaranteeing people's right to marriage, regardless of their sexuality or gender identity, Senator Nettle said.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Candidates stop short on same-sex marriage

Candidates stop short on same-sex marriage
At milestone forum highlighting gay issues, other Democrat hopefuls pledge their support for gay rights; all GOP hopefuls declined invite

August 10, 2007

Melissa Etheridge confronted Hillary Rodham Clinton about her husband's gay rights record, accusing Bill Clinton of throwing gay and lesbian supporters "under the bus" by pushing for the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy and the Defense of Marriage Act.

The Democrats' top three candidates, including Clinton, pledged support for gay rights at the first-ever nationally televised same-sex issues presidential forum - but they and other Democratic candidates attending refused to back gay and lesbian marriages.

Facing successive 15-minute interviews by gay rights advocates in Los Angeles last night, Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards all vowed to battle for gay, lesbian and transgender rights. But they stopped short of endorsing gay marriage - a hot-button culture-war issue that could alienate millions of independents and religious conservatives.

Etheridge, who announced she was a lesbian shortly after Bill Clinton was inaugurated in 1993, expressed bitterness at his inability to pass gay rights measures he promised during the campaign.

"It was a very hopeful time," she said. "But in the years that followed, our hearts were broken, we were thrown under the bus, we were pushed aside. All of those great promises ... were broken."

Clinton, who had been warmly received by the studio audience, seemed surprised by Etheridge's comments.

"Obviously, Melissa, I didn't see it quite the way you describe it," she said. " ... We didn't get as much done as I would have liked, but I believe there was a lot of honest effort going on."

The candidates appeared in the order they accepted the invitation from the LOGO cable network and Human Rights Campaign, with Obama first - and Clinton last.

"This forum is a real measure of how far we've come as a community, but there are many of us in our community who'd like to see the candidates come farther on gay marriage," said Fred Hochberg, dean of the Milano urban policy institute at New School University, one of Clinton's highest-profile gay supporters.

Suffolk Legis. Jon Cooper, a supporter of Obama who attended the forum, echoed those sentiments, saying, "Although I would love them to come out in support of same sex civil marriage, it's not going to happen right now ... "

The forum underscored the gay paradox in the Democratic Party: The candidates support gay rights but are wary of alienating party conservatives and religious blacks in the South.

Earlier this year, Clinton and Obama angered Human Rights Campaign leaders by refusing to immediately and forcefully rebuke a general's claim that homosexuality was "immoral." They later released statements indicating their disagreement.

Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich and former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel were the only Democrats who have expressed support for gay marriage. Sens. Joseph Biden and Christopher Dodd, who oppose same-sex marriage, declined the invitation, as did all Republican candidates, including Rudy Giuliani, who supports some gay rights.

All the Democrats in attendance pledged to back broad new anti-discrimination statutes, want to scrap Bill Clinton's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy for the military, and believe in civil unions that allow same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples.

"I'm going to be more sympathetic not because I'm black, I'm going to be more sympathetic because this is the cause of my life," Obama said.

Panelist Jonathan Capehart challenged Obama on his opposition to gay marriage, saying his position was "old school." Obama used the remark to point out he'd been the first candidate to accept LOGO's invitation. "There's a reason why I was here first," he said.

Etheridge challenged John Edwards on his recent comments suggesting he was opposed to same-sex marriage based on his religious convictions.

"I have heard in the past that you felt uncomfortable among gay people," she said. Edwards denied her assertion but offered an apology for linking gay issues and Christianity.

"I shouldn't have said that," he said. "I believe to my core in equality ... I will not impose my faith belief on the American people."

Gay activists react

"I was thinking 'When will they get it that equal means equal?' Senator Obama was talking about how he wanted to extend all rights of marriage to people through civil union. But laws are defined by marriage. Laws are not defined by civil union. We've learned that through New Jersey."

- David Kilmnick, executive director of Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth

"I appreciated John Edwards speaking about the homeless teenagers in the L.A. community center. That was something that people didn't talk about yet and it's very important - people getting thrown out of the house because they're gay."

- Lauren Van Kirk, treasurer of the Stonewall Democrats of Suffolk County

"My family comes from the South, so I understand where he's [Obama's] coming from. But between him and Edwards, both of them fall short. They still fall short of calling it marriage. ... Civil union: it's second-class citizenship."

- Sheila Marino-Thomas, data entry worker for Marriage Equality New York, who has been with her partner for 14 years

"It sounded like she [Clinton] was handing the responsibility for moving the ball forward - fighting - and she said 'well, you guys in the human rights campaign are doing the right thing,' as if to say we can't be doing that in the political realm. It's an easier thing to say, rather than saying I'm going to take up that struggle."

- Terry Boggis, director of Center Kids, the family program for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center

Copyright © 2007, Newsday Inc

Oregon Pension Plan Ties Hands Of Gays

Oregon Pension Plan Ties Hands Of Gays
by Newscenter Staff

Posted: August 7, 2007 - 5:00 pm ET

(Salem, Oregon) Because a domestic partnership is not a marriage gays and lesbians who are covered by Oregon's Public Employees Retirement System cannot remove their ex-partners as beneficiaries to their pension plans.

Barbara Pinkerton and Katharine English signed up their same-sex partners as beneficiaries while they were employed by the state - Pinkerton as a teacher and English as a juvenile court referee.

But both relationships soured and the Pinkerton and English are now retired.

To their surprise both found they could not remove their partners as beneficiaries. The reason: the Public Employees Retirement System, or PERS, has a regulation that only married couples are allowed to remove a beneficiary from their state pension, and then only after a formal divorce.

Since same-sex couples are unable to marry they are unable to legally divorce, the PERS board ruled.

The ruling means that both women will receive lower monthly pension payouts.

Both women appealed the decision and were turned down. The case is now before the Oregon Court of Appeals.

LGBT civil rights activists in the state say that the case shows the pressing need for full marriage in Oregon.

In May Gov. Ted Kulongoski signed legislation same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples unable to marry to form legally recognized partnerships. (story) It takes effect next January.

The Family Fairness Act was intended to grant rights, responsibilities and protections afforded to other Oregon couples and their families currently only available through a marriage contract in Oregon.

The state has a constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage and the partnership legislation was carefully worded to avoid legal challenges that it was trying to circumvent the terms of the amendment.

It grants bereavement or sick leave to care for a partner or a partner's child, allow a person to choose a final resting place for a deceased partner, transfer property and assets from a deceased partner to his or her surviving partner if the deceased had no valid will, obtain joint insurance, enter joint rental agreements and get an equitable division of property in a partnership dissolution or annulment.

Nevertheless the dissolution or annulment provision does not satisfy the state's own pension plan requirements.

In addition, a conservative group is gathering signatures for a second constitutional amendment to nullify the domestic partner law.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Dem Party Head Seeks Gay Donors

Dean Does Fire Island: Party Head Seeks Gay Donors for ’08
by Michael K. Lavers
EDGE New York City Contributor
Thursday Aug 9, 2007

With the 2008 presidential campaign heating up faster than the east Coast weather this summer, Howard Dean made his sixth annual Fire Island Pines pilgrimage on Sunday, Aug. 5. The head of the Democratic National Committee has been coming to the Pines since running for president. He most recently headlined a DNC fundraiser at philanthropist Brandon Fradd’s bayside home.

The reason for coming to Fire Island Pines is the answer Willie Sutton famously gave for why he robbed banks: It’s where the money is. The Pines, along with Provincetown and Palm Springs, offers the greatest concentration of monied gay men and lesbians of any community in the nation. And the Pines has a history of activism. It is the summer home of, among others, Andy Tobias, the treasurer of the DNC.

(Unfortunately, Dean’s staff chose to bar this reporter, despite allowing the community columnist for the Fire Island Tide, a local biweekly newspaper; and Michael Musto, the gossip columnist for the Village Voice, who happened to be on the island that weekend. In previous years, staffers allowed this reporter, who covered the event for the Fire Island News, access. In his column, Musto admitted, "I was told that press attendees couldn’t write up the event.")

At the meeting, according to various sources, Dean reiterated his party’s support of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the repeal of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" in the military, and other LGBT-specific legislation. More than 75 people paid $250 to hear Dean give the party line on gay issues.

The former Vermont governor, who unsuccessfully ran for president in 2004, said that Democrats need to talk about equality and other so-called universal values he concluded would resonate with straight voters. "We’re developing a core message that we can run on anywhere in the country based on our core values of fairness, toughness and fiscal responsibility," Dean told EDGE in a pre-fundraiser interview.

Dean used this platform to further highlight the DNC’s 50 State Strategy. The plan seeks to help Democrats win local and statewide elections during this election cycle. Dean also applauded Democratic presidential candidates who continue to support LGBT rights in comparison to their Republican counterparts.

"They are putting into action our party’s commitment to promoting equal rights and protections for every Americans," he said. "You don’t see that kind of leadership from Republicans in Washington or many other places."

Dean further blasted President Bush and the majority of GOP candidates for his continued support of the Federal Marriage Amendment despite Congressional inaction on the proposal last June. The DNC’s platform explicitly opposes the FMA but calls upon each state to define marriage.

Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich and former U.S. Sen. Mike Gravel of Alaska remain the only two candidates in the Democratic presidential field who have publicly endorsed marriage for same-sex couples. Alan Van Capelle, the executive director of New York State’s major gay-rights political action group, and other LGBT activists have criticized U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York and other Democratic frontrunners’ perceived failure to support gay and lesbian nuptials.

’We don’t have to wait until after the election for a candidate to deliver’ on LGBT issues.National Gay & Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Matt Foreman opined in a blog earlier this month that Clinton, along with U.S. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and former U.S. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, remain largely silent on marriage and other specific LGBT issues. Dean, however, chose not to respond directly to these criticisms.

Instead, he again pointed to how Democratic presidential hopefuls continue to uphold the DNC’s platform on the campaign trail. "The fact is every single Democrat running for president supports expanding real, specific rights for LGBT people," Dean said.

The DNC’s Pines fundraiser is the latest indication of the party’s active courtship of LGBT donors at this relatively early stage of the campaign. The Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary are more than four months away, but many politicians, such as Christine Quinn, the New York City Council Speaker and probable 2009 mayoral candidate (and one of the most prominent lesbian politicians in the nation) and dozens her LGBT political counterparts across the country have already made their allegiances known.

Foreman conceded that Democratic presidential candidates support LGBT issues more than the majority of those from across the aisle. He further added that a fundraiser in the Pines allowed Dean to connect with a historical constituency within the Democratic Party.

Foreman concluded, however, that LGBT donors have a special responsibility to hold the candidates’ feet to the fire to make them state their positions clearly and adhere to them once they do. "They can look them in the eye and tell them what they expect," he said. "We don’t have to wait until after the election for a candidate to deliver."

New York gay political activist Dirk McCall agreed. He applauded Dean’s efforts to reach out to LGBT Democrats since the former White House hopeful’s February 2005 election to helm the DNC. McCall concluded Democratic White House hopefuls need to take stronger positions in support of marriage for gay and lesbian couples and other issues if they hope to further expand their support among pink voters and potential donors.

"They really can’t be wishy washy on our issues," he said. "We deserve better than that. They need to stand 100 percent with us."

Dean maintained his core messages of equality, fairness and change as he once again highlighted his party’s overall support of LGBT issues. He concluded Pines residents, LGBT Americans and others around the country will continue to play a pivotal role in this current election cycle as the DNC seeks to return a Democrat to the White House in 2008.

He put the issue bluntly, as, "We are raising money to elect a Democratic president."

Bay area gay groups prepare to fight anti-marriage initiatives

Gay group quietly preparing for initiative fight
by Heather Cassell

Equality for All members say they have been preparing for an eventual fight against anti-gay marriage initiatives, but the LGBT community wouldn't necessarily know it because of an outdated Web site and seemingly very little activity.

Equality for All is a collaboration of seven LGBT and allied civil rights groups that organized in 2005 and defeated an attempt that year by two anti-gay groups to put similar initiatives on the ballot. Executive committee members and other leaders told the Bay Area Reporter that they have been gearing up for a potential battle for months.

"What you are seeing is a lack of bubbles on the surface," said Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights and an Equality for All member. "But that doesn't mean there isn't incredible activity underneath, it just needs to be more obvious."

According to Kendell, organization leaders started meeting in January after sensing a pending threat of one or more constitutional amendments being placed on the ballot in 2008. Yet three months after the first initiative was submitted to state Attorney General Jerry Brown's office, Equality for All's Web site hasn't been updated. The Web site is stuck in 2006.

"Since now we know there is a serious effort, now we know these initiatives are circulating, now we know that some very big donors are ponying up for signature gathering," said Eric Bauman, chair of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, "they best better get that information updated, because ordinary, everyday gay people and our allies who are going to start to hear about this in the news, read it in the media, and read about it in the gay press, are going to need to go to a place to get information."

Kendell agreed. "We knew the possibility of facing something was real, a lot of stuff has gone on, and we just haven't done a very good job of communicating it and we can do a better job of doing that."

Kendell told the B.A.R. that Equality for All was going to make updating the Web site a top priority and that NCLR's Web site would have a special page for people to go to for information within the next week.

After the B.A.R. inquired about the outdated information on Equality for All's Web site as well as coalition organizations' Web sites, Equality California posted updated information about the proposed anti-gay initiatives on the front page of its Web site on Monday.

There are five proposed constitutional amendments being floated by two anti-gay groups. Vote Yes Marriage has three, all of which ban same-sex marriage and domestic partnerships. Another group, Protect Marriage, has two proposed initiatives that only bar same-sex marriage; one of them explicitly states that it will not affect domestic partnership laws.

Four of the measures have been cleared for signature gathering by the secretary of state's office.

Vote Yes Marriage is supported by Randy Thomasson, president of the Campaign for Children and Families, and former Republican Assemblyman Larry Bowler. Two of its proposed initiatives also define a man and a woman as "a man is an adult male human being who possesses at least one inherited Y chromosome, and a woman is an adult female human being who does not possess an inherited Y chromosome."

Protect Marriage is backed by Gail Knight, the widow of the late state Senator Pete Knight, who authored Proposition 22, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman in the family code.

As reported in the B.A.R. in May, Equality for All submitted letters of appeal to the attorney general's office to assign each initiative with a correct title and to write an accurate summary. The attorney general's office agreed and titled Vote Yes Marriage's initiatives "Marriage. Elimination of Domestic Partnership Rights. Constitutional Amendment." Protect Marriage's initiatives are titled "Limit on Marriage. Constitutional Amendment."

The holy dollar

In July, Vote Yes Marriage reportedly starting running radio advertisements on three Christian radio stations in 12 markets and on its Web site, In an appeal to "financially blessed" Christians, Bowler tells donors that they have the "means to save marriage" and asks for their assistance to raise $2.5 million for its "rock solid marriage amendment for the ballot."

According to campaign consultants, this strategy won't garner Vote Yes Marriage very much money and it will end up spending more money through these ads.

Marriage equality and civil rights leaders are taking the ads seriously, without giving it more attention than necessary. Instead they are continuing to focus on their public education campaigns while simultaneously preparing for an eventual ballot fight.

As of June 30, according to the secretary of state's first quarter report, Vote Yes Marriage raised $4,970.99 leaving it with a total of $115,651 in the bank.

Protect Marriage's initiatives, as reported in the B.A.R. in July, are being backed by anti-gay groups Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council, which combined with their political action groups, have over $140 million between them, said Geoffrey Kors, executive director of Equality California and an executive committee member of Equality for All.

As of June 30, Equality for All reported $69,586.25 to the secretary of state's office, but much more money would need to be raised to fight the initiatives.

Kors told the B.A.R. that he has been in conversations with key donors and that currently Equality for All is looking for a fundraising consultant. It also hired a "top notch" campaign consultant, Steve Smith of Dewey Square Group, who was behind "No on 85," a parental notification measure that was defeated last year. Smith was hired on a preliminary basis and is guiding the organization through revamping and revising its plans in preparation for an eventual campaign. Equality for All is negotiating the next phase of Smith's contract, Kors said.

The problem with raising funds for a campaign right now is that there is "no there, there," according to Kendell. Organization and campaign consultant experts told the B.A.R. that until there are signs that signatures are being gathered to put these initiatives on the ballot there is no ammunition for donors because there is no direction in which to aim.

According to Kendell, Kors, and Molly McKay of Marriage Equality USA, the direction Vote Yes Marriage and Protect Marriage will take is unclear, very similar to two years ago when the attempt was made to place anti-gay initiatives on the ballot. That effort fizzled when the anti-gay groups weren't able to raise enough money to gather signatures needed to qualify for the ballot.

This time around, according the Kendell, Kors, and McKay, they are way ahead of the game with educational outreach, networks, and donors. But rather than fatigue resources they are preparing, donors aren't pledging money, but they aren't saying no, either.

"We have absolutely had donors say to us, '�call me back when they've gathered these signatures,'" said Kendell. "They said, 'call me back when you see real evidence that they are gathering the signatures' and we don't see that yet."

Equality for All and its partner organizations have been watching very closely to see if there has been any signature gathering taking place. But it is going to take the LGBT community, allied communities, and people who normally are not involved in the political process to participate – so they are watching, waiting, and educating.

"We have folks in unlikely places watching for signs that this effort is serious, but we are assuming it is and we are acting as if it is," said Kendell.

McKay agreed. "We have the ability to pretty much be anywhere in a 15-20 minute time period. Wherever these guys try to have their protect marriage rallies ... every place they show up, historically, we've been able to be there in larger numbers than they produce."

The Capitol Weekly reported July 26 that the LGBT community and its allies are ahead. Marriage equality, civil rights, and political experts agreed. They told the B.A.R. that they have built the foundation and the infrastructure to respond to any threat.

"I believe that we can pull off a California miracle," said Kendell. "If we defeat an amendment in California, I believe the whole effort around constitutional amendments will lose steam and the inevitability of lesbian and gay relationships having full protection and security and all the others that we care about health care, employment, youth – all issues will benefit, but California is going to be as it often has been a harbinger and a lynch pin � it is impossible to overestimate the importance of defeating an amendment here."

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Bush vows to veto hate-crime expansion for gays

Bush vows to veto hate-crime expansion for gays

August 7, 2007

By Jon Ward - President Bush is committed to vetoing the latest effort to expand federal "hate crimes" laws to include sexual orientation, even if it means sending a defense authorization bill back to Congress, the White House said.

"The qualifications [in the bill] are so broad that virtually any crime involving a homosexual individual has potential to have hate crimes elements," said White House spokesman Tony Fratto.

"The proposals they're talking about are not sufficiently narrow."

The veto threat adds another twist to the high-stakes battle between the Democrat-led Congress and Mr. Bush over the Iraq war.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, attached the crime measure to the defense authorization bill, which Democrats are expected to use as a vehicle to try to alter war policy.

A coalition of religious leaders, many of them black Christian pastors, have lobbied the White House to reject the amendment, saying it could lead to suppression of free speech and religious expression.

"The bill is not about crime prevention or even civil rights. It's about outlawing peaceful speech — speech that asserts that homosexual behavior is morally wrong," said Chuck Colson, a former aide to President Nixon who now runs a Christian ministry to prisoners.

The legislation would make it easier for federal law enforcement to become involved in crimes against people based on their "sexual orientation" and "gender identity."

Bishop Harry Jackson of Hope Christian Church in Lanham is leading the High Impact Leadership Coalition, a group of Christian pastors lobbying against the bill. The coalition is working with Tim Goeglein, deputy director of the White House Office of Public Liaison.

"He seems very receptive," Mr. Jackson said.

Mr. Kennedy's office says the bill "punishes violence, not speech."

"It covers only violent acts that result in death or bodily injury. It does not prohibit or punish speech, expression or association in any way — even hate speech," said a Kennedy aide.

"Nothing in the act will prohibit the lawful expression of anyone's religious or political beliefs. People will always be free to speak their mind about issues."

Mr. Fratto said the president, who has pushed for quick approval of spending for U.S. troops, would send the defense bill back to Capitol Hill if the hate-crime amendment remains attached.

The White House stopped short of saying it was opposed to the language because of concerns about religious freedom.

Mr. Jackson agreed with the White House's assessment that the measure's language is too broad. His coalition ran a full-page ad in USA Today last month that said: "Don't muzzle our pulpits!"

"We believe prosecutors and anti-Christian groups will use loopholes to muzzle the church from speaking out on biblical standards of morality which are shared by most Americans."

House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, a South Carolinian who leads the House Democratic Faith Working Group, called that sentiment "grossly inaccurate and highly prejudicial."

"Absolutely nothing in the [bill] in any way constrains the freedom of expression or religion and I — who was born and raised in the parsonage of a fundamentalist Christian church — believe it is wrong to attempt to defeat civil rights legislation based on such a false claim."

The House in May passed the hate crimes bill — which the homosexual lobbying group Human Rights Campaign called "historic" — by a vote of 237-180.

This Weeks Gay Debate: A Prime Time Opportunity for Straigth Talk on Marriage

Evan Wolfson
This Week's Gay Debate: A Prime-Time Opportunity for Straight Talk on Marriage
Posted August 8, 2007 | 11:49 AM (EST)


Thursday night the country will get the opportunity to hear Democratic presidential candidates discuss the lives and needs of gay and lesbian Americans during the forum hosted by Human Rights Campaign and Logo. The forum comes in the midst of a year that has seen record advances for gay rights, and early in an election cycle that has already seen Democratic candidates showing increasing comfort in addressing the need to end discrimination and exclusion that harm couples and their kids. One longtime gay advocate put it this way:

"In 1992, we were begging Bill to say the word 'gay' at the convention, and that was considered a major victory," said David Mixner. "Here we have every candidate for the Democratic nomination showing up to the debate, all supporting civil unions, two of them (Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich and former Sen. Mike Gravel) supporting marriage, and all of them trying to figure out how they can support marriage and get away with it."

The good news for the candidates is that they can, indeed, "get away" with supporting marriage; in fact, they will do better by taking the position that most Americans believe they already have, given their professed support for gay rights and dance around marriage itself. As I wrote in a previous post, there is growing evidence from elections around the country that candidates who vote right on marriage do just fine.

Here are some further guidelines for candidates seeking to stand up for their values (love, commitment, fairness, freedom, equal treatment). By answering the inevitable question this way, they can cogently make the case for marriage in a way that finally enables them to move on and throw the challenge back at opponents. If the presidential aspirants follow these guidelines and remain true to their professed commitment to equality and fairness, they will not only gain the unwavering support of the gay voting bloc [PDF]and Americans who care about justice, but they will also win the respect of the vast majority who can certainly live with a candidate they may disagree with on a question that for most is not a top priority.

Asked whether they support ending same-sex couples' exclusion from marriage, candidates should reply:

I recognize and value the dignity and worth of all families. I believe in marriage and the good it offers society, and respect those who accept the commitment, protections, and responsibilities of marriage. Allowing same-sex couples to share that commitment does nothing to diminish my marriage with my (wife/husband).

Freedom of religion means that churches, synagogues, mosques, and other religious institutions may decide whether to marry any particular couple. But a democratic and constitutional government should not discriminate as to which couples get a marriage license. Government should not be putting obstacles in the path of people seeking to care for their loved ones, nor should government create unequal classes of citizens.

America is strongest when we support all our people equally and build strong communities. Because I believe in fairness for all American families, I support the responsibilities and security of marriage for same-sex couples willing to take on that commitment.

I disagree with those who would use this question to divide the American people. The majority of Americans believe in equal rights and protections for their fellow citizens, and so do I.

A clear, principled answer like this will not cost a candidate support, and will enable him or her to move on to other questions the campaign would rather spend more time addressing, questions that voters consistently say are the ones that make the most difference in their choice of a president.

Candidates seeking to explain their position further should talk about real couples, real kids, and real emotions and values, such as treating people the way you'd want to be treated. They should move beyond abstractions and buzzwords to concrete examples [PDF] of the protections and responsibilities that come with marriage that are being wrongfully withheld from taxpaying citizens. They should describe how marriage protects families and children, protections that gay and lesbian Americans, in our common humanity, need too.

There are ample resources available [PDF] to assist candidates in refuting the tired and tinny "gloom and doom" claims made by opponents, and to arm them in making the case for marriage equality.

By following these guidelines, candidates should now be able to get beyond saying they are for equality while still falling short [PDF] of actually supporting equality because they are stuck at "civil unions" or other unequal legal mechanisms. Having gotten the "what" -- equality -- right, candidates can now move to get it right on the "how" -- ending exclusion from marriage.

The audience for Thursday's debate, and every subsequent presidential debate, is looking for our nation's leader. A clear, credible, and coherent answer in favor of the freedom to marry during this prime-time opportunity will permit candidates to show leadership, win respect, and move on to the most central questions of war, national security, health care, education, the economy and increasing wealth gap that all gay and non-gay Americans need to tackle together to get our nation back on track. And their support for marriage equality will not cost the candidates any support they would have gotten anyway, even as it helps couples, kids, and the country, a win/win.