2011: an “epic” year for marriage equality

One leading advocate called 2011 an “epic” year for marriage equality. Was it? While only one state — New York — enacted full marriage rights for same-sex couples, it was the most populous state to do so. Five other states also moved closer to marriage equality than ever before.

Evan Wolfson

One leading advocate called 2011 an “epic” year for marriage equality. Was it?

While only one state—New York—enacted full marriage rights for same-sex couples, it was the most populous state to do so. Five other states also moved closer to marriage equality than ever before. Public opinion shifted dramatically towards supporting equality. And the Obama administration announced that it no longer considers a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act constitutional.

On the negative side, however, three states failed to pass marriage equality bills that had been introduced in their legislatures, and two states passed bills to put measures on their ballots in 2012 that will seek to ban marriage for same-sex couples under their state constitutions.

Despite the negatives, Evan Wolfson, president of the national Freedom to Marry group, said in an interview that 2011 was “an epic year of real transformation.”

On the federal level, Attorney General Eric Holder wrote a letter to Congress in February, stating that the administration believes Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional and would no longer defend it.

Section 3 of DOMA states that the federal government will not, for any federal purposes, recognize the marriages of same-sex couples.

Holder’s letter said the administration believes laws disfavoring persons based on sexual orientation should have to pass the most stringent judicial review—heightened scrutiny. And it said the administration would argue so in two cases challenging DOMA in the 2nd Circuit.

LGBT legal advocacy group Lambda Legal, in its December “State of the Law 2011” report, called Holder’s letter “game changing.”

Wolfson said it represented “an immense historical shift.”

Another sign of this shift, he said, was the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the military’s ban on openly gay servicemembers. This will help fuel the marriage equality effort, Wolfson said, “because Americans are now going to see the women and men serving our country as openly gay members of couples and openly gay members of families.”

On the state level, the biggest win in 2011 was in New York, where the legislature passed a marriage equality bill in June. When Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) signed the bill, he doubled the percentage of same-sex couples living in states that allow them to marry. New York is also the only state to have passed marriage equality through a Republican-led legislative chamber, its state Senate.

Governor Cuomo, by adding his vocal support to the bill, “put his political capital on the line,” Wolfson said. His success prompted politico.com to call him a “national contender” and leader of the Democratic Party’s progressive base. The Washington Post said his triumph made him “a first among equals when it comes to the jockeying for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.”

“The freedom to marry went from being a perceived and presumed ‘third rail’ that politicians ran from, to now being a pathway to political gain,” said Wolfson.

Five other states came closer to marriage equality than ever before. Maryland for the first time passed a marriage equality bill out of a legislative chamber, its Senate, although the measure fell short of winning in the House.

And Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, and Rhode Island each passed civil union legislation.

But there were disappointments. In Colorado, a civil union bill was killed on a party-line vote in the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee, after passing the Democrat-controlled Senate.

And in Rhode Island, the civil union bill disappointed many because a bill for full marriage equality had been on the legislature’s agenda. It was dropped after it failed to gain enough support, despite large Democratic majorities in both chambers and Governor Lincoln Chafee’s (I) promise to sign it.

LGBT groups were also disappointed with a provision in Rhode Island’s civil union bill providing extensive exemptions on religious grounds for those who don’t wish to recognize those unions. Chafee himself said the civil union law “fails to fully achieve” the goal of providing same-sex couples with equal rights.

Two states saw progress in lawsuits that could lead to marriage equality. In New Jersey, marriage equality advocates have sued the state, claiming that the state’s existing civil union laws do not provide them with full equality—an equality the state Supreme Court said, in October 2006, is guaranteed by the state constitution.

In California, a three-judge panel of the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments December 8 on procedural matters related to the case to determine the constitutionality of Proposition 8, the state’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples. Regardless of the outcome, the case will almost certainly be appealed to the full 9th Circuit court and/or the U.S. Supreme Court.

Three states successfully played defense in 2011.

Iowa, New Mexico, and Wyoming held firm against attempts to pass bills for ballot measures that sought to ban marriage for same-sex couples under their state constitutions. If passed, Iowa’s bill would have taken away the right to marry that same-sex couples gained in 2009.

But there were some clear setbacks in 2011 as well.

North Carolina and Minnesota passed bills for ballot measures in 2012 that seek to ban marriage for same-sex couples under the state constitutions. And Indiana and Pennsylvania started the process for such ballot measures, which could see further action in 2012.

In Maine, however, LGBT advocates gained enough signatures to place a measure in favor of marriage equality before voters on the 2012 ballot—although advocates in California and Oregon decided to postpone such attempts and continue to build support.

These ballot measures could be impacted by what was perhaps the most significant win in 2011: a shift in public opinion towards support for marriage equality.

Support for marriage equality nationwide rose about one percent per year between 1996 and 2009, but jumped to a rate of five percent per year in 2010 and 2011, according to a July analysis of over a decade’s worth of polling data by Joel Benenson, President Barack Obama’s lead pollster, and Dr. Jan van Lohuizen, President George W. Bush’s lead pollster. Freedom to Marry commissioned the study.

The average level of support for marriage equality was 41 percent in 2009, but 51 percent in 2011, based on four leading national polls—CNN-ORC International, Gallup, Pew, and Washington Post-ABC News.

This change is driven in part by “overwhelming generational momentum,” Wolfson explained, with almost 70 percent of voters under 40 supporting marriage equality.

But the analysis also concluded that since 2006, support has risen 15 percent among seniors, 13 percent among Independents, and 8 percent among Republicans.

Additionally, it found that marriage equality supporters now hold their views as strongly as opponents, which was not the case in the past.

“The politics of the freedom to marry have changed dramatically, as has public support,” said Wolfson.

All told, he said, the events of 2011 mean that “We now have real wind in our sails as we go forward.”

2011’s ever-entertaining GOP presidential race to the bottom

Few in the GOP field could rival President Obama with their records on LGBT issues, and yet, the outcome of the Republican presidential race riveted the attention of LGBT people in 2012. Many of the contenders were notoriously anti-gay. They were often asked about, or were inclined to share, their positions on gay-related issues. And, historically, no matter how much better the Democratic candidate has been than the Republican one, about 25 to 30 percent of LGBT voters vote for the Republican presidential candidate.

Few in the GOP field could rival President Obama with their records on LGBT issues, and yet, the outcome of the Republican presidential race riveted the attention of LGBT people in 2012. Many of the contenders were notoriously anti-gay. They were often asked about, or were inclined to share, their positions on gay-related issues. And, historically, no matter how much better the Democratic candidate has been than the Republican one, about 25 to 30 percent of LGBT voters vote for the Republican presidential candidate.

The campaign got underway this year with the large field of Republicans jockeying for position. Many of them became frontrunners, and just as many dropped far behind over a sex scandal, a memory lapse, or some other form of political lameness.

Fred Karger, an activist from California, made history by being the first openly gay presidential candidate to make a formal bid for the Republican nomination. But Karger’s campaign was hobbled from the beginning because he identified himself as a gay candidate for the nomination. Politically, that dinged him as a one-issue candidate. And, except for an occasional profile of Karger as an oddity in the race, the mainstream media essentially ignored him. His name was often left out of polls, and he was never allowed to participate in the many nationally televised debates.

The few other Republicans who had relatively moderate positions on LGBT-related matters were down in the low one-digit percentile with Karger. Both were former governors –Gary Johnson of New Mexico and Jon Huntsman of Utah. And neither could be called liberal. Huntsman said he supports civil unions; Johnson said he couldn’t find any legitimate reason to oppose marriage for same-sex couples. But, unfortunately, Johnson rarely registered even one percent, and Huntsman hovered around 2 or 3 percent, nationally, though recent polling in New Hampshire has him at almost 12.

Then there’s Ron Paul. Paul isn’t for allowing same-sex couples to marry, but he’s for equality. His answer is to get government out of the business of deciding who can marry. Paul has held onto a steady third place nationally, but is leading in Iowa and improving in New Hampshire. This has brought him more scrutiny in a race where nobody can seem to hold onto first-place. And that scrutiny brought with it news in late December that Paul had sent out a direct mail solicitation letter in the 1990s, warning people to prepare for race wars and a “federal-homosexual cover-up on AIDS.” Paul told reporters he didn’t write the letters and disavows their content. But Paul’s real handicap –though largely undiscussed— appears to be age. He’s 76 –older than was Ronald Reagan when he won his second term.

The rest of the GOP field is in the rabid red zone on LGBT issues –and none worse than former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. Santorum denounces marriage equality for same-sex couples every chance he gets. He brags about his personal efforts in Iowa last year to oust three justices who were part of the ruling that the state constitution required treating gay couples equally. He promised that, if elected president, he would travel the country to try and repeal state laws that allow marriage equality –even in states where voters want to keep those laws. He wants to reinstate the ban on gays in the military and said nothing, during a debate this year, in defense of a gay soldier being booed. Instead, Santorum characterized the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as “tragic” and giving gays a “special privilege.” Santorum has never gone above the single-digits in polling.

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota is not much better on LGBT issues or in the polling. She had a brush with frontrunner status with the Iowa straw poll in August, but straw polls are easily skewed by a candidate’s money or campaign organization. She’s worked to ban marriage equality in Minnesota and wants a federal constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. The odd thing was that, way back in June, during the first nationally televised GOP debate, Bachmann almost sounded ready to temper her views a little. The debate was held in New Hampshire and one of the local reporters asked the candidates if they were elected president would they try to repeal New Hampshire’s new marriage equality law. To the surprise of many, Bachmann said no. But then she later backed off that position and emphasized her support for a federal constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in all states.

A Bachmann compatriot, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, whose positions on LGBT issues were also fairly hostile, came in third in the Iowa straw poll in August and dropped out the next day.

Herman Cain, former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, did worse –he came in fifth in the Iowa straw poll, but stuck around and gained ground as other candidates began to fall. Like Bachmann, Cain initially said marriage equality was a state’s rights issue. He even said he would not want a federal constitutional amendment. Then, once he became a frontrunner, he changed his position, saying there should be a federal law “protecting” marriage as one man and one woman. The irony, of course, was that his campaign fell apart over allegations that Cain was married to one woman while having an affair with another and perhaps sexually harassing several more. He announced in early December that he was “suspending” his campaign.

Texas Governor Rick Perry came into the race after the Iowa straw poll and immediately jumped to frontrunner status. Initially, Perry also sounded like he might try to moderate his views on gays a little, suggesting maybe the marriage issue should be left to the states. He was never a moderate on gay issues, and his recent ad in Iowa—pitting gays in the military as an opposite to children celebrating Christmas—established that point. But Perry’s campaign self-destructed in the debates, where he proved himself stunningly inarticulate and unable to recall his own positions.

As all the other candidates sank by their own weight, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich rose to frontrunner status in December, and prematurely declared himself the nominee apparent. On gay-related positions, he’s essentially the same as the other GOP contenders, but Gingrich added one unique shocker this month: He said that, as president, he might ignore a court ruling that supported marriage equality for same-sex couples. This speak-before-you-think tendency has damaged his already history-ravaged credibility, and he’s been sliding down the polls.

Finally, there’s former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Romney is the candidate who is considered by most political pundits as the most viable challenger to President Obama. He’s been an elected official, founded an investment firm, funded the start-up of many businesses (read: “job creator”), managed the international Olympic Games, and appears to be a happily married man and devoted father. But polls indicate Republican voters just haven’t warmed up to him, and many pundits believe it’s because voters don’t trust Romney to be as conservative as he talks.

Romney was challenged on this perception during the last debate of the year. Fox News reporter Chris Wallace noted that, while Romney opposes same-sex marriage now, he promised, while running against Ted Kennedy for the U.S. Senate in 1994, to be an “effective leader” in the fight for “full equality” for gay and lesbian Americans. Romney said his position had not changed – that he still doesn’t believe in discriminating against people based on their sexual orientation, and that he has always opposed same-sex marriage, something voters in Massachusetts can confirm.

But while LGBT voters might buy that Romney isn’t a flip-flopper on LGBT issues, they’re likely to see in his positions a tendency toward self-contradiction: He’s opposed to discriminating based on sexual orientation, but he’s for denying equal treatment to gay couples obtaining marriage licenses.

Among LGBT Republican and conservative voters, there appears to be a split. Log Cabin Republicans recently criticized Romney for suggesting that, if a federal constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage was enacted, he’d support allowing existing marriage licenses to same-sex couples remain valid, but not future ones. Three days later, GOProud, a conservative gay group, praised Romney for his positions on “free markets and free enterprise.”

Romney is second in the national polling for the Republican nomination, second in Iowa polling, and has a significant lead in New Hampshire. In polling against a potential race with President Obama, Romney has consistently been just three points behind the incumbent, and, with a roughly three-point margin of error, that’s a very close race. Among voters in general, he’s a contender. And in a close general election, the LGBT vote—including the one in four who are likely to vote Republican—can make enough of a difference that neither candidate can write this constituency off.

But it’s too soon to start counting those votes. Presidential campaigns are unpredictable. Just Saturday (December 24), news emerged that both Gingrich and Perry failed to garner enough signatures to qualify for the Virginia Republican primary—an embarrassing and potentially consequential failure. Associated Press called it a “major setback” for Gingrich, who is in a head-to-head battle with Romney in the polling.

And presidential campaigns are entertaining. On Thursday (December 22), a man dressed in a silver robot suit showed up at a Bachmann event in Iowa to deliver his message against her hostile positions on gay-related issues.

“Michele Bachmann, I will not rest until you support equal rights for human and robot gay people.

“You are a homophobe, you are a robo-phobe,” said the man, according to a video of the interaction. A very crowded restaurant booed the man soundly and told him to “get out of here.”

“I was programmed to do this. I cannot help myself. I am gay,” said the gay robot, to which someone seemed to yell out, “Stay in the closet.”

A woman’s voice can be heard saying, “Just let him go, let him go peacefully” and a woman at the door, as he’s passing through, pats him on the back and says, “Good work, thanks.”

 

Perry, Gingrich playing to Iowa’s evangelicals

The television ad of Republican presidential long-shot Rick Perry, that pits gays in the military as the ideological foil to children celebrating Christmas, earned the candidate some tense moments on the campaign trail last week, from both gays and straights alike.

The ad, entitled “Strong,” began airing on Iowa television stations in early December and showed a casually dressed Perry walking along a rural setting, saying, “I’m not ashamed that a I’m a Christian.”

Rick Perry

The television ad of Republican presidential long-shot Rick Perry, that pits gays in the military as the ideological foil to children celebrating Christmas, earned the candidate some tense moments on the campaign trail last week, from both gays and straights alike.

The ad, entitled “Strong,” began airing on Iowa television stations in early December and showed a casually dressed Perry walking along a rural setting, saying, “I’m not ashamed that a I’m a Christian.”

No one ever said he was ashamed, but that was, nevertheless, his starting point, maybe because an estimated 60 percent of Iowa caucus-goers identify themselves as evangelicals.

Then, Perry veers sharply off the point, saying, “You don’t need to be in the pew every Sunday to know there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school. As president,” he says, “I’ll end Obama’s war on religion, and I’ll fight against liberal attacks on our religious heritage.”

Washington Post columnist Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite called Perry’s ad “the gift that keeps on giving,” for both parodists and critics.

One particularly festive parody is “Jesus Responds to Rick Perry’s ‘Strong’ Ad,” where an actor portraying Jesus says, “You don’t need to be in the pews every Sunday to know there’s something wrong in this country when Rick Perry is running for president.”

“What have gays in the military done to Rick Perry besides keeping him safe while he executed the mentally retarded,” says the Jesus character.

Another parody, viewable at YouTube, is entitled “SuperParody: Rick Perry ‘Strong’”, which has the candidate expressing his incredulity that “even gay people have the right to vote.”

But the hands-down best video parodies make fun of the fact that, in his ad, Perry wears a jacket identical to that of one of the lead characters in gay buddy movie hit Brokeback Mountain. In one, called “Jacket,” viewable on YouTube, he opens with, “I’m not ashamed to admit I’m ignorant.”

A lot of people are going to miss Rick Perry when he “suspends” his campaign, probably after the South Carolina primary in January. But that won’t mean he’s gone. Somebody’s going to win the GOP nomination and the party will need a strong right-wing man or woman to woo its conservative case to the polls in November. Perry is one of several who could do that, though none have more than six to eight percent of support from Republican voters right now.

Politico.com’s Maggie Haberman said Perry’s anti-gay hit has become a “staple” of his campaign to evangelicals in Iowa. And with evangelicals playing such a large part of the January 3, it is no surprise that current frontrunner Newt Gingrich finally signed an intensely anti-gay “Marriage Vow” circulated by the National Organization for Marriage. In a conference call with reporters Saturday, December 17, he added that he might ignore a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said the constitution requires that same-sex couples have a right to marriage licenses.

Interestingly, a group of evangelical pastors in Iowa, Iowans for Christian Leaders in Government, apparently are having trouble seeing any difference, biblically speaking, between Gingrich and gays, when it comes to marriage. They say both adultery and homosexuality are proscribed in the bible, and they sent a letter to the head of another anti-gay Iowa group, the Family Leader, urging it not to endorse Gingrich. The Christian Leaders say their reading of the bible concludes that Gingrich, twice divorced and married for the third time, is committing adultery. (They cite Matthew 19:9 which says, “anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”)

Gingrich’s half-sister, Candace Gingrich-Jones, who is gay and married to a woman, told MSNBC she’ll be voting for President Obama.

Speaking of family relations, it was the daughter of ultra-conservative operative Ed Rollins who helped nix Rollins’ involvement as Michele Bachmann’s campaign manager. And the issue there was also civil rights concerns for gays.

That’s what a new “mini-book” from Politico.com says.

Playbook 2012: The Right Fights Back says Rollins’ 16-year-old daughter let her dad know she was “uncomfortable with Bachmann’s stance on gay rights.”

Rollins told Politico that his daughter was getting “little notes” from hundreds of people on Facebook, asking “about who your daddy is working for.”

That’s not the reason the Bachmann campaign gave other media in September, when Rollins stepped down. The Washington Post reported that Bachmann’s campaign said Rollins, 68, was stepping down for health reasons. The campaign said Rollins would stay on in an advisory role. And, in fact, Politico.com itself reported in September that Rollins was leaving for health reasons, related to a stroke.

Maybe associating with people full of hate is bad for one’s health.

Meanwhile, President Obama, who is running for a second term in 2012, repeatedly lists the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in his routine campaign speeches touting his accomplishments.

At a campaign stop in New York City November 30, he said, “Change is the fact that for the first time in history, you don’t have to hide who you love in order to serve the country that you love—ending “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

And at a December 13 fundraiser in Washington, D.C., he listed it right behind “rescue the economy and rescue the auto industry, and end the war in Iraq and end “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Court: OK to require LGBT training for counselor

A three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled this month that a university could require a student seeking a degree in counseling, as part of her curriculum, to take courses on how to work with LGBT populations. The student had objected, saying such courses violated her religious beliefs.

A three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled this month that a university could require a student seeking a degree in counseling, as part of her curriculum, to take courses on how to work with LGBT populations. The student had objected, saying such courses violated her religious beliefs.

The case, Keeton v. Anderson-Wiley, was brought by Jennifer Keeton, who said that the Augusta State University’s requirement that she take LGBT counseling coursework violated her First Amendment right to free speech and free exercise of religion.

Keeton was a graduate student in Counselor Education Program. And, according to the court’s decision, she considers herself to be a Christian “committed to the truth of the Bible.”

“She holds several beliefs about homosexuality,” noted the decision, including the belief that being gay is a disorder, which does not square with professional standards. She told a professor that, if she were counseling a gay student, she would tell them it is not okay to be gay, that it is morally wrong, and that she would try to change the client’s behavior, including through the use of conversion therapy.

University officials perceived her to be deficient in the “ability to be a multiculturally competent counselor, particularly with regard to working with gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (GLBTQ) populations.” The school would not allow Keeton to proceed with her degree’s required experience in one-on-one counseling until she completed the LGBT coursework.

Keeton initially agreed to do the additional coursework, but then changed her mind and filed the lawsuit, with the help of the Alliance Defense Fund, a national conservative legal group which has filed many cases seeking the right to discriminate against LGBT people based on a freedom to religion argument.

In making its ruling December 16, the court noted that Augusta State University is not a public forum and, therefore, university officials “may impose restrictions on speech that are reasonable and viewpoint neutral.”

“The crucial or ultimate fact that will determine Keeton’s viewpoint discrimination claim, then,” said the panel, “is ASU’s motivation” for imposing the additional coursework. In this case, the panel said, it could not find any evidence that the university imposed the additional coursework “because of her views on homosexuality.”

“Rather, as the district court found,” said the panel, “the evidence shows that the [additional coursework] was imposed because she expressed an intent to impose her personal religious views on her clients, in violation of [counseling professional code of ethics] and that the objective of the [additional coursework] was to teach her how to effectively counsel GLBTQ clients in accordance with” the professional counseling code of ethics.

The panel said it found that Augusta State “has a legitimate pedagogical concern in teaching its students to comply with the” American Counseling Association Code of Ethics.

Lambda Legal Defense, which filed a brief in the case in support of the university’s position, applauded the decision.

“Augusta State University had legitimate concerns to require Ms. Keeton to complete a remediation program after expressing her desire to subject LGBTQ youth to dangerous conversion therapy,” said Greg Nevins, supervising attorney in Lambda’s Atlanta office. “If a counselor cannot respect the dignity and promote the welfare of her LGBTQ clients and uphold the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics, she is not a competent counselor.”

The Alliance has filed similar cases elsewhere and is likely to appeal one or more to the U.S. Supreme Court.

DOJ sends top attorney to DOMA challenge

The Department of Justice sent its top civil rights attorney, Tony West, to argue against the Defense of Marriage Act in a federal district court in San Francisco Friday.

The Department of Justice sent one of its top civil rights attorneys, Tony West, to argue against the Defense of Marriage Act in a federal district court in San Francisco Friday.

The presence of West, assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s Civil Division, represented both political and ironic aspects of the case, Golinski versus Office of Personnel Management.

It was West, head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, who filed a brief less than a year ago that a federal court should uphold DOMA in order to avoid “administrative difficulties.”

But West argued Friday that federal district court Judge Jeffrey White should ignore the law banning federal recognition of same-sex marriages and grant federal employee Karen Golinski health coverage for her same-sex spouse.

Golinski is an attorney with the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals and one of the ironies of the case is that it was the federal Office of Personnel Management that instructed the court to reject Golinski’s request. OPM is headed up by the highest openly gay appointee in the Obama administration, John Berry.

Lambda Legal attorney Tara Borelli, who is heading up Golinski’s challenge, said Judge White thanked the DOJ in court for sending West to convey its arguments against DOMA in the two-hour proceeding.

Borelli said Judge White also seemed to chastise the attorney representing the U.S. House Republican leadership, Conor Dugan, for having submitted a law review article into evidence that discussed such stereotypes as gay male promiscuity.

Full story to come when transcript is made available.

Karen Golinski: Marriage equality’s inadvertent champion

Karen Golinski never meant to become one of the headline names in the fight to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). All she wanted to do was to secure health care coverage for her legal spouse.

Karen Golinski and Amy Cunninghis (Photo credit: Amos Mac)

Karen Golinski never meant to become one of the headline names in the fight to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). All she wanted to do was to secure health care coverage for her legal spouse.

That was three years ago. Today, Golinski is preparing for a December 16 hearing before the federal district court for Northern California in one of the key cases challenging the constitutionality of DOMA.

“I had honestly no idea [the case] would become what it became over the last three years,” Golinski told this reporter in a recent interview.

Golinski v. U.S. Office of Personnel Management is considered important enough to draw participation from the U.S. House’s Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) and could well end up before the U.S. Supreme Court, even if other important DOMA challenges fail.

DOMA, enacted in 1996, prohibits any federal entity from recognizing a marriage license granted to a same-sex couple.

An attorney herself, Golinski, 49, has worked for the United States 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals for 19 years.

She grew up in New York State and went to college and law school there, before moving to California in 1988. In 1989, she met Amy Cunninghis, another East Coast transplant, who had grown up in New Jersey and gone to college in Connecticut before heading west.

The two began a committed relationship shortly after they met, and established home in San Francisco. They married in August 2008, during the brief window when same-sex couples could legally obtain marriage licenses in California. At the time, the two had been together for 18 years and had a five-year-old son. Their son was put on Golinski’s health plan.

Cunninghis is a contract employee with a non-profit group and does not get health benefits through her employer. The family has had to pay out of pocket for Cunninghis’ coverage—coverage “inferior” to the Blue Cross/Blue Shield group plan that Golinski and their son have, Golinski said.

But Golinski assumed that, once she and Cunninghis were married, Cunninghis could obtain health coverage through Golinski’s employer—a benefit routinely provided to the spouses of heterosexual married employees of the court.

But the court’s administrative office rejected Golinski’s application to get health coverage for her spouse, saying that DOMA prevented the court from recognizing them as married.

“Everybody wants to be able to protect their family members. That’s what this is about,” Golinski explained. “It’s about equal treatment. I’m not different than any other person who’s married.”

Golinski filed an internal complaint with the court, which has an employment dispute resolution policy that prohibits discrimination based on both sex and sexual orientation. She remembers saying to her attorney at the time (Jennifer Pizer at Lambda Legal), “This is just going to be a little private complaint within the court. It’s never going to see the light of day.”

Golinski recalls Pizer laughed and replied, “These things have a way of taking on a life of their own.”

And so it did.

First, 9th Circuit Chief Justice Alex Kozinski, as head of administration for the circuit, ruled in January 2009 that the court’s administrative office should reverse its original decision. But then, in a stroke of irony, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, headed by openly gay appointee John Berry, instructed Blue Cross/Blue Shield to deny Golinski’s claim. Despite what various Republican presidential hopefuls have been claiming—that President Obama refuses to enforce DOMA—the administration signaled its intent to continue enforcing DOMA until such time as it is declared unconstitutional or repealed.

Kozinski, a well-known defender of civil rights, ordered OPM to stop interfering “in any way” with Golinski’s ability to obtain coverage for her spouse. But OPM pushed back and reiterated, through a press release, that DOMA prevented the agency from heeding Kozinski’s order.

And thus Golinski, with the help of Lambda, found herself filing a lawsuit to seek a preliminary injunction to force OPM to heed Kozinski’s order.

That lawsuit failed. Judge Jeffrey White, of the federal district court for Northern California, denied the injunction request in March 2011, saying that OPM had a procedural duty to enforce DOMA that trumped the 9th Circuit’s agreement to provide benefits to Golinski.

At the same time, however, he stated that DOMA was not directly implicated in this specific phase of the case and that Golinski “has a clear right to relief.”

So Golinski and Lambda filed an amended lawsuit to add claims challenging DOMA’s constitutionality.

By then, the Obama administration had made clear that, while it would enforce DOMA, it would not defend DOMA in court because the administration considers DOMA to be unconstitutional.

And that’s when the House’s Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) filed a motion to intervene in the case and defend DOMA by seeking to have the lawsuit dismissed.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder filed a brief in July opposing BLAG’s motion to dismiss Golinski’s case. He stated that the administration believes Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional, and he reiterated that the administration would no longer defend it.

Section 3 states that the federal government will not, for any federal purposes, recognize any marriage of a same-sex couple.

“That was really huge,” Golinski said. “The federal government was weighing in for the first time on my side as opposed to fighting me.”

But the case has been “a big, long roller coaster ride” for her and her family.

“I think the hardest thing has been the ups and downs along the way,” Golinski said.

People have congratulated them when there has been a positive ruling, she said, “and I have to tell them, ‘That’s very kind, but . . . Amy still doesn’t have benefits.’”

Golinski said she feels “incredibly fortunate” to have a “dream team” of legal representation from both Lambda Legal and the San Francisco law firm Morrison and Foerster.

Being an attorney herself, though, has helped her better understand her case, even if it “adds another cook to the pot.”

“I feel like I get the easy part,” Golinski said. “I just get to participate, without having to put all the sweat into having to come up with the beautiful work that [my attorneys] have done for me.”

But the case has still taken up a lot of her and Cunninghis’ time and energy, she said. When a brief is due to be filed, she will spend lunch hours or evenings reviewing it.

“My son’s heard a lot of ‘I’m working on my case’ for the last few years, as I tuck him in,” she explained.

She also said that press coverage about the case has been “a little bit overwhelming, because we’re pretty private people.”

Still, she asserted, “It’s really important, so we’re also proud that we can help educate people around the discrimination.”

And both co-workers and neighbors have been “unconditionally supportive,” she said.

Neighbors, she said, have told them, “You’re the quintessential family—and it’s really unfair that Amy’s not being covered.”

On December 16, Judge White will hear both BLAG’s motion to dismiss the case and Golinski’s motion for summary judgment on the constitutionality of DOMA.

Even if the judge rules in her favor after the hearing, Golinski said she expects BLAG will appeal further.

“No matter what the result,” she said, “I feel we did the right thing by trying to fight this.

“Again, it’s just basic fairness. I just want to be treated like all my other colleagues. And they want me to be treated the same way, too.”

All arguments now in on Prop 8 appeal; challengers expect decision could come quickly

There was some drama in the courtroom as attorneys litigating Proposition 8 in a San Francisco federal appeals court Thursday took their last swings.

The normally staid somewhat flustered Charles Cooper, lead attorney for the Yes on 8 team, delivered an unusually passionate plea in his final minutes before the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals panel.

Cooper was trying to convince the panel to vacate the landmark ruling by U.S. District Court Chief Judge Vaughn Walker –a ruling in which Walker declared California’s ban on same-sex marriage to be in violation of the federal constitution. According to Cooper, Walker should have revealed to attorneys and the public that he had been in a relationship with a man for ten years and given attorneys a chance to challenge his fitness to preside over the case.

Ted Olson
Ted Olson

There was some drama in the courtroom as attorneys litigating Proposition 8 in a San Francisco federal appeals court Thursday took their last swings.

The normally staid somewhat flustered Charles Cooper, lead attorney for the Yes on 8 team, delivered an unusually passionate plea in his final minutes before the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals panel.

Cooper was trying to convince the panel to vacate the landmark ruling by U.S. District Court Chief Judge Vaughn Walker—a ruling in which Walker declared California’s ban on same-sex marriage to be in violation of the federal constitution. According to Cooper, Walker should have revealed to attorneys and the public that he had been in a relationship with a man for ten years and given attorneys a chance to challenge his fitness to preside over the case.

“There would be no problem for Judge Walker to sit on a case about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell even though he’s gay. He would have no interest in the outcome of the case,” said Cooper, his voice gaining in volume and swelling with emotion. “But if Judge Walker was ruling that he has a constitutional right to get married to his ten-year-long partner — as soon as that ruling is affirmed…this will be a signal and dark day in American jurisprudence.”

Attorneys often get more passionate as the clock ticks down their last seconds. And Thursday’s argument was two hours –twice as long as most appeals arguments. Cooper had taken a beating, too, from the three-judge panel. The judges –who seemed to warm up to of the Yes on 8 team’s arguments for keeping a videotape of the Proposition 8 trial sealed— bombarded Cooper with a relentless stream of doubts about his arguments to vacate Judge Walker’s decision.

Cooper said Walker “was obligated to disclose whether he wanted to marry” his same-sex partner before the start of the trial because “a reasonable person” would question his ability to be impartial in that trial, Perry v. Schwarzenegger (now known as Perry v. Brown).

At the same time Cooper tried to argue that Judge Walker’s personal intentions concerning marriage were critical to his ability to render an impartial decision in the Perry case, he said the ability of same-sex couples to marry does not threaten heterosexual marriages. It was a head-spinning performance of footwork in the judicial ring, but the judges’ questions landed hard punches.

What, they asked, should be made of the fact that Judge Walker and his partner did not marry during the six-month period in which same-sex couples could marry in California, in 2008? What if a gay judge was not in a relationship. Should he or she have to disclose his or her intentions to marry? Would a straight judge have to reveal his or her intentions for marriage? Would a married judge have to recuse himself from presiding over a divorce case? What if a straight judge had a desire to maintain the definition of marriage as one man-one woman, would he or she have to disclose that?

When Cooper said gay marriages don’t threaten individual heterosexual marriages but do threaten the “institution of marriage,” one judge remarked, “I have a hard time understanding: If the institution of marriage is affected, doesn’t that affect the people who are married?”

The question of whether to vacate Judge Walker’s ruling was one of two issues before the panel December 8. The other –a much less consequential procedural issue—was whether the court should release to the public a videotape of the Perry trial proceeding from January 2010.

In that trial, Walker presided over three weeks of historic and widely publicized testimony. The lawsuit, organized by the American Foundation for Equal Rights, challenged Proposition 8, California’s same-sex marriage ban, on behalf of two same-sex couples, including plaintiff Kristin Perry.

Judge Walker ruled that the initiative violates the guarantee of the U.S. Constitution to equal protection under the law, but supporters of the initiative immediately filed their appeal of that decision to the 9th Circuit.

A few months after issuing that decision and two months after retiring from the bench, Walker played an excerpt from the videotape in a public lecture and, in a separate setting and time, acknowledged to a group of reporters that he has been in a relationship with a man for the past 10 years.

Yes on 8 attorneys moved to have the videotape sequestered, noting that the U.S. Supreme Court had ordered Walker not to “broadcast” the trial. And they filed a motion to vacate Walker’s ruling, saying that he presided over a case in which he had the potential to secure a gain for himself –the right to marry.

Concerning the videotape, Yes on 8 attorney David Thompson claimed there were four potential injuries to allowing the videotape to be “broadcast” to the public today. (He contends that even posting the videotape on the court’s website constitutes “broadcast.”) The only argument the judges seemed interested in was one claiming that release of the videotapes would diminish judicial credibility. Walker, said Thompson, assured Yes on 8 attorneys he was videotaping the trial for his own use in chamber in preparing his decision. Releasing the tapes to the public contradicts that assurance.

But Ted Olson, the high-profile conservative attorney who helped stage the challenge to Proposition 8, argued that Walker also told attorneys he would include the videotapes in the trial record –a public record—and that Yes on 8 attorneys did not object.

Olson’s partner in leading the team challenging Proposition 8, high-profile liberal attorney David Boies, argued against the motion to vacate. Boies said a judge’s intentions concerning marriage are irrelevant and “if something is irrelevant, you don’t have to disclose it.” Suggesting that a gay judge would have to reveal his intention or “non-intention” to get married, said Boies, “creates a double-standard for a minority judge.”

The panel Thursday included the same three judges who heard arguments last December on Yes on 8’s appeal of Judge Walker’s decision: Stephen Reinhardt, Randy Smith, and Michael Daly Hawkins.

Enrique Monagas, an openly gay attorney serving on the Olson-Boies legal team, said the panel has moved “very fast” on the case since November, when the California Supreme Court issued its opinion that Yes on 8 has the right to represent voters in an appeal of Walker’s decision in the federal appeals court. (State officials had declined to make the appeal.)

“We think it went well. We’re optimistic for a favorable ruling,” said Monagas. He noted that all arguments and briefs have been submitted now on all issues in the case –the question of constitutionality, standing, and the motion to vacate, as well as the release of the trial videotape. Monagas said the court would likely handle the first three –and major—issues in one ruling, and the videotape ruling separately.

Concerning Thursday’s arguments, Lambda Legal attorney Peter Renn said, “The Court raked the lawyer for Prop 8’s proponents over the coals for their argument that gay judges alone have special obligations to prove their impartiality that no other judge must bear.”

Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said, “We expect and believe the Ninth Circuit will see these moves by the Prop 8 proponents for what they are: a desperate attempt to divert attention from their utter failure to offer any good reason to uphold this blatantly discriminatory ballot initiative. Judge Walker was scrupulously fair during the trial, giving the proponents every opportunity to present evidence justifying their position, but they had nothing to offer. For them to now claim that the judge could not have been fair because he is in a relationship with a man is not only outrageous and offensive, it is an attack on the integrity of judges everywhere.”

Whatever the court’s decision on any of these issues, the losing legal team is expected to appeal –either to the full 9th Circuit or directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Cautionary notes on LGBT foreign initiative

Republican presidential long-shot Rick Perry was one of the first to criticize the Obama administration’s newly announced initiative to push for the human rights of LGBT people around the world. But there were some cautionary notes from the LGBT international community, too.

Republican presidential long-shot Rick Perry was one of the first to criticize the Obama administration’s newly announced initiative to push for the human rights of LGBT people around the world.

Perry said such an initiative was “not in America’s interest” and that it was, in fact, “the most recent example” of Obama’s “war with people of faith in this country.”

Another GOP long-shot, former Senator Rick Santorum, said the Obama initiative is part of the president’s gay agenda– “not just in the military, not just in our society, but now around the world with taxpayer dollars.”

But at least three gay activists involved with international efforts issued cautionary notes.

Scott Long, former LGBT leader at Human Rights Watch, said the U.S. embracing gay equality could be “the kiss of death” for the gay movement in some countries.

Jessica Stern of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission said she thinks U.S. financial assistance for gay groups could be helpful but she said the U.S. should not condition its financial aid to various governments on the country’s gay rights records. To do so, she said, could turn gays into scapegoats when countries lose U.S. foreign aid.

But most LGBT leaders seemed profoundly moved and impressed by the administration’s new initiative. And former NLGTF leader Urvashi Vaid called it a “breakthrough moment.”

Obama adviser meets Gaga re new project

Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to President Obama, met Tuesday, December 6, with pop icon Lady Gaga to discuss Gaga’s new Born This Way Foundation.

Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to President Obama, met Tuesday, December 6, with pop icon Lady Gaga to discuss Gaga’s new Born This Way Foundation.

The Foundation, named after one of her recent hits, “Born This Way,” is a project Gaga will launch next year, with the help of some heavy hitters – the MacArthur Foundation, the California Endowment, and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. The project plans to use digital mobilization to help combat bullying and to help young people develop self-confidence and a sense of well-being.

In a posting on the White House Blog, Jarrett said she and Gaga “discussed ways we could work together to make sure that no child comes under attack, regardless of his or her race, sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other factor.”

Finances at ‘turning point’ for groups

How well the LGBT groups are doing financially may well depend on whether one sees a glass as “half empty” or “half full,” but a new report, released Tuesday (December 6) by an independent think tank, certainly provides some facts to ponder.

Ineke Mushovic

How well the LGBT groups are doing financially may well depend on whether one sees a glass as “half empty” or “half full,” but a new report, released Tuesday (December 6) by an independent think tank, certainly provides some facts to ponder.

Fewer than three percent of LGBT adults make contributions to national LGBT organizations, and the number of individuals giving to LGBT groups dropped 12 percent between 2009 and 2010, a trend that has been in play for the past five years.

The nation’s 40 largest and most important LGBT groups increased their combined revenue (cash and in-kind) by one percent between 2009 and 2010 from $163 million to $164 million, and they spent all but $4.6 million of that. But the top 10 anti-gay groups spent “almost three times as much” as the 40 “major” pro-LGBT groups in 2010.

On average, national LGBT groups spend about 79 percent of their revenue on programs, 10 percent on management and administration, and 11 percent on fundraising.

While there are many harsh realities there, the Movement Advancement Project (MAP), an independent think tank devoted to studying how best to marshal the LGBT movement’s resources to “speed advancement of equality for LGBT people,” thinks the movement may be at a “turning point” financially.

“While [LGBT organizations] continued to cut expenses in 2010, organizations saw a slight increase in 2010 revenue, and are projecting expense budget increases for 2011,” said MAP in its 2011 National LGBT Movement Report. “This,” says MAP, “suggests the LGBT movement may be at a turning point, or at least stabilizing, after seeing large drops in expenses and revenue over the last three years, mostly related to the economic downturn.”

MAP concludes that the “downward trend” in expenditures by the groups, a trend “precipitated by the economic downturn, may be at or nearing an end.” The evidence, it says, is the fact that national LGBT groups’ projected expense budgets are 13 percent higher this year than last while their debt is smaller.

The report also reflects what economists and politicos have been discussing for a long time about the trend of wealth accumulating among corporations and a few individuals. The average LGBT group, says MAP, receives 45 percent of its revenue from its 10 largest contributors. At the same time, organizations are increasingly getting their revenue from “corporations, bequests, in-kind contributions, fundraising events, and other sources of income.”

“Of particular concern,” said the MAP report, “contributions from individual donors dropped sharply (a 14% drop, or $9.3 million) between 2009 and 2010. This revenue drop was mostly offset by revenue increases from corporations (41% increase, or $1.8 million),

bequests (30% increase, or $1.6 million), fundraising events (6% increase, or $1.1 million) and other income (126% increase, or $3.2 million).”

MAP made its analysis using financial data from 40 LGBT groups, 27 of which had annual budgets of more than $1 million and 13 additional organizations whose missions are considered “critical” to the LGBT movement. The groups included such well-known national organizations as the Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal, and the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, as well as state groups, including MassEquality, the Empire State Pride Agenda, and Equality California.

MAP Executive Director Ineke Mushovic said MAP used audited financial data for each group. Where an organization, such as the Human Rights Campaign, has a tax-deductible entity (501c3), a non-tax-deductible entity (501c4), and/or a political action committee, MAP combined the data and showed it all under one group name. Mushovic said MAP agreed with participants not to release financial data on individual groups.

But Mushovic said the top 10 groups, in terms of revenue, are Equality California, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, Gay, and Straight Education Network, the Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Out & Equal, the Point Foundation, Senior Action in a Gay Environment, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

MAP said the 40 LGBT groups represent 71 percent of all money spent by LGBT advocacy groups. It calculated this by analyzing 990 forms filed with the Internal Revenue Service by LGBT groups reporting more than $25,000 in revenue.

The five-year-old MAP organization issued a report last August, showing that the LGBT movement is making progress but is being dramatically outspent by its opponents. That report, too, noted that only 3.4 percent of LGBT people made a contribution to national LGBT groups in 2009.

The 2010 report noted that, while 550 LGBT non-profit groups collected a total of $574 million in contributions during 2009, most of that money ($299 million or 52 percent) went to providing health services and community center programs. About $192 million (33 percent) was spent on advocacy, and about $35 million (6 percent) on legal challenges. Arts and recreation accounted for about $36 million (6 percent). Only $13 million (2 percent) is spent on public education. The current study was funded by 14 foundations that provide funding to LGBT groups, including the foundations started by well-known gay philanthropists such as David Bohnett, David Geffen, Tim Gill, Jim Hormel, and Jon Stryker.

Obama steps up global push on LGBT rights

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton today (Tuesday, December 6) called on the governments of all nations to ensure that their LGBT citizens are treated with respect and dignity. In doing so, she also announced that President Obama was issuing a memorandum directing the State Department to lead an interagency group to provide a “swift and meaningful response” by the U.S. government to “serious incidents that threaten the human rights of LGBT persons abroad.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton today (Tuesday, December 6) called on the governments of all nations to ensure that their LGBT citizens are treated with respect and dignity. In doing so, she also announced that President Obama was issuing a memorandum directing the State Department to lead an interagency group to provide a “swift and meaningful response” by the U.S. government to “serious incidents that threaten the human rights of LGBT persons abroad.”

The memorandum and speech represent a dramatic escalation in the Obama administration’s support for the human rights and respectful treatment of LGBT people worldwide. And a State Department official said it was a follow-up to a statement signed in March by the United States and 85 other countries, calling for an end to violence and persecution against LGBT people.

President Obama’s memorandum directs federal agencies involved with dispensing aid and assistance to foreign countries to “enhance their ongoing efforts to ensure regular Federal Government engagement with governments, citizens, civil society, and the private sector in order to build respect for the human rights of LGBT persons.”

It also directs federal agencies to ensure that LGBT people seeking asylum or status as refugees have “equal access” to protections. And it calls on agencies engaged in activities in other countries to “strengthen existing efforts to effectively combat the criminalization by foreign governments of LGBT status or conduct and to expand efforts to combat discrimination, homophobia, and intolerance on the basis of LGBT status or conduct.”

A senior State Department official, who spoke to reporters on the condition that he or she was not identified, told a group of reporters en route to Geneva Tuesday that the administration had “instructed ambassadors to challenge laws that criminalize LGBT status or conduct.”

“We’re putting some money into it,” said the official, of the memorandum’s aim. “We’re setting up a global equality fund, $3 million, to support [non-governmental organizational] activists working on this subject.”

The State Department released a transcript of the press briefing, including a question from a reporter who asked, “How does the Administration reconcile the fact that the President won’t explicitly endorse marriage for gay couples at home, but here you are touting human rights, of which marriage is one?”

The State Department official responded that Clinton’s speech in Geneva and the administration’s global policy on civil rights for LGBT people are “dealing with the first iteration of questions.”

“You don’t attack, you don’t commit a violent act, against somebody because of their sexual orientation. You don’t criminalize conduct,” said the official. “And so, we’re here, trying to, again, broadly speaking, identify a human right, a global human right, which starts with those fundamental principles and which is consistent with everything we’re doing across the board.”

The State Department official characterized the President’s memorandum and Clinton’s speech as “the most expansive articulation of what has…been a policy of the Administration from the get-go.”

The State Department official said the speech was being delivered at the Palais at United Nations headquarters in Geneva to an audience of invited members of “the diplomatic community and nongovernmental community and others….”

The speech was delivered in recognition of the 63rd anniversary of Human Rights Day, December 10, the date when the United Nations adopted a “Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” It was webstreamed live at noon EDT Tuesday and appeared to take place before a relatively young and mostly white audience of about 500 people in a large auditorium. The audience gave Clinton and her speech a prolonged and warm reception.

But Clinton made clear she knew she was speaking to a tougher audience.

“Raising this issue, I know, is sensitive for many people,” said Clinton, “and that the obstacles standing in the way of protecting the human rights of LGBT people rest on deeply held person, political, cultural and religious beliefs. So, I come here before you with respect, understanding, and humility.”

She acknowledged that “my own country’s record on human rights for gay people is far from perfect,” noting that, “until 2003, it was still a crime in parts of our country.”

She even seemed to make an elliptical reference to President Obama’s famous statement that his opinion about same-sex marriages is “evolving.”

“Opinions are still evolving” on the issue of rights for LGBT people, said Clinton, but she said she is hopeful that “opinion will converge once again with the inevitable truth –all persons are created equal.”

Clinton said she understands “some believe homosexuality is a western phenomenon,” but that it is not.

She said that the “perhaps most challenging” argument against treating LGBT people with respect “arises when people cite religious or cultural values as a reason to violate, or not to protect, the human rights of LGBT citizens.” She likened such justifications to ones used against women and other minorities.

“Some people still defend those practices as part of a cultural tradition,” said Clinton, who had just rattled off such practices as genital mutilation and widow burning, used against women in some countries. “But violence toward women isn’t cultural, it’s criminal.” Slavery, once justified as “sanctioned by god,” said Clinton, “is now properly reviled as an unconscionable violation of human rights.”

She closed her speech, saying to LGBT people, “you are not alone.”

“People around the globe are working hard to support you and to bring an end to the injustices and dangers that you face…. You have an ally in the United States of America.”

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said the actions today “make clear that the United States will not turn a blind eye when governments commit or allow abuses to the human rights of LGBT people.”

But some conservative commentators suggested the U.S. will have a hard time enforcing its plan in some countries, including ones that are strategically important to U.S. interests.

One advocate for “protecting marriage” departs

It was one week after Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain told The Hill newspaper, “I think marriage should be protected at the federal level,” that allegations began emerging to suggest Cain himself had not been protecting marriage at the personal level.

Cain “suspended” his presidential campaign Saturday (December 4), following the latest allegation of sexual improprieties with women other than his wife. His support had dropped precipitously in the polls–from frontrunner with 25 percent or more to back-of-the-pack with only 8 percent in the latest Iowa polling.

Herman Cain

It was one week after Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain told The Hill newspaper, “I think marriage should be protected at the federal level,” that allegations began emerging to suggest Cain himself had not been protecting marriage at the personal level.

Cain “suspended” his presidential campaign Saturday (December 4), following the latest allegation of sexual improprieties with women other than his wife. His support had dropped precipitously in the polls—from frontrunner with 25 percent or more to back-of-the-pack with only 8 percent in the latest Iowa polling.

The Des Moines Register reported Saturday that Rep. Ron Paul has now moved up to second place in polls of likely participants in next month’s Republican caucuses. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich continues leading the field, with 25 percent; Paul has 18 percent; and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has 16 percent.

Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, who has yet to register even one percent in any poll, told an online LGBT Republican forum December 1 that he “simply cannot find a legitimate justification” for the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and that marriage should be defined by “religions and individuals, not government.” He also said he thinks denying marriage rights and benefits to same-sex couples is “discrimination, plain and simple.”

Republican hopeful Michele Bachmann did not know what a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) was when a high school student attending a town hall meeting in Waverly, Iowa, November 30 identified herself to ask a question. The student, Jane Schmidt of Waverly-Shell Rock High School, asked what Bachmann would do “to protect GSAs in high schools and support the LGBT community?” Bachmann did not answer that question but said “there shouldn’t be any special rights…based on people’s preferences,” a comment that some people attending the event applauded. Bachmann then stuck the microphone back in front of Schmidt’s face. Schmidt used the opportunity to ask why same-sex couples can’t get married. Bachmann said “they can, but they abide by the same law as everyone else,” which Bachmann said means “they can marry a man if they’re a woman or they can marry a woman if they’re a man.”

Iowa Pastor Cary Gordon, an evangelical leader who helped lead the ouster of three state supreme court justices because they ruled the state constitution requires treating same-sex couples the same as straight couples when it comes to marriage licenses, endorsed Republican long-shot presidential hopeful Rick Santorum December 2. Gordon said he was torn between Santorum and Michele Bachmann but is endorsing Santorum because Santorum has said he would include Bachmann in his administration.

Meanwhile, President Obama, who is running for a second term in 2012, used the occasion of World AIDS Day, December 1, to urge the nation to “do more” to help “young black gay men” believe “their lives matter.” In at speech at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., Obama noted that the rate of HIV infections among some populations continues to rise dramatically.

“There are communities in this country being devastated by this disease,” said the president. “When new infections among young, black, gay men increase by nearly fifty percent in three years, we need to do more to show them that their lives matter. When Latinos are dying sooner than other groups; when black women feel forgotten even though they account for most of the new cases among women, we need to do more.”

President Obama also issued a statement November 28, in reaction to news that Rep. Barney Frank would retire at the end of his current term. The president called Frank “a fierce advocate” for his constituents in Massachusetts, as well as “Americans everywhere who needed a voice.”

“He has stood up for the rights of LGBT Americans,” said the statement, “and fought to end discrimination against them.”

Senate includes watered-down amendment

The U.S. Senate passed a defense spending bill on Thursday (December 1) with only a much watered-down amendment seeking to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act against same-sex marriages.

The U.S. Senate passed a defense spending bill on Thursday (December 1) with only a much watered-down amendment seeking to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act against same-sex marriages.

The bill is the National Defense Authorization Act for 2012, an annual measure to authorize spending by the Department of Defense. Funding bills can, and often do, include language of a political nature, and the House, in May, passed its defense authorization bill with three anti-gay amendments.

One House amendment sought to delay repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; but, the law repealing the ban on openly gay people in the military went into effect in September, as scheduled.

The other two House anti-gay amendments sought to prevent the military from allowing same-sex marriage ceremonies to take place on base facilities and from using military chaplains.

The Senate approved language concerning only military chaplains. The amendment, offered by Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), never mentions same-sex marriages specifically.

Entitled the “Freedom of Conscience of Military Chaplains With Respect to the Performance of Marriages” amendment, it simply states that a military chaplain, “who, as a matter of conscience or moral principle, does not wish to perform a marriage may not be required to do so.”

“The Wicker amendment does nothing new as it relates to the rights of chaplains,” said Aubrey Sarvis, head of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN). “Indeed, the new Senate language is a restatement of the protections and guarantees that have always been there.”

On his Senate website, Wicker made clear his amendment was prompted by a decision by DOD in September to allow military chaplains to conduct marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples, in accordance with the relevant state law.

His co-sponsors, all Republicans, included James Inhofe of Oklahoma, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Pat Roberts of Kansas.

Wicker introduced the amendment November 16, and on November 30, Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that amendment and more than 30 others, were “cleared” by him and Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), the ranking Republican on the committee. The amendments were then agreed to by the Senate through unanimous consent, without debate.

A Senate-House conference committee must now agree upon one version of the defense authorization bill, and the Human Rights Campaign would like to see all the same-sex marriage language left out.

“We want to see the NDAA signed into law without any language that would harm LGBT service members or restrict the religious liberties of chaplains,” said Michael Cole-Schwartz, HRC’s director of communications. “ We’ll be working with our allies on the conference committee toward that outcome.”

The most intense controversy facing that conference committee appears to be a dispute over whether American citizens suspected of supporting terrorist activities can be tried in military tribunals, instead of criminal courts.

The Senate bill authorizes the Defense Department to spend $662 billion in Fiscal Year 2012. The House version calls for $690 billion.

Frank: Leaving the arena but not the fight

Something changed for U.S. Rep. Barney Frank between February and November of this year. In February, he announced he would seek re-election in 2012, to a 17th term in office. And on Monday, November 28, he announced this current term would be his last.

Barney Frank

Something changed for U.S. Rep. Barney Frank between February and November of this year. In February, he announced he would seek re-election in 2012, to a 17th term in office. And on Monday, November 28, he announced this current term would be his last.

The announcement was big political news on the front pages of most media outlets this week, but it is than just front page news for the LGBT community. It is the loss of the community’s most powerful player in the national political arena. Frank is not only one of just four openly gay members of Congress; he is the most senior, the one with the most legislative know-how, and the one with the greatest chance of getting pro-LGBT measures passed.

It was Frank who made the critical deal that led to passage of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in 1993—a compromise that was unpopular with the community but far better than the complete ban on gays that many in Congress sought. And it was Frank who helped lead the charge with Rep. Patrick Murphy in repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) through a bill passed last year. It was Frank who decided to send through the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) without gender identity in 2007 and saw it passed by the House. And it was Frank who agreed to add gender identity to the bill during the last term even though he knows it won’t pass the Republican-controlled House.

Frank acknowledged in a press conference Tuesday that he doesn’t believe ENDA will pass unless Democrats control both houses of Congress and the White House. But even more important may be the absence of Frank himself.

In explaining his decision to retire at the end of this term, Frank said he does not have the energy or capacity to wage a full-time campaign for re-election, now that his Congressional district has been redrawn to include more than 300,000 new constituents in some geographic areas of Massachusetts that he is not familiar to or with. He said he had “always” planned to retire before he turned 75 and that addressing the concerns of these new constituents “requires a time commitment longer than the next two years.”

That would certainly be true of ENDA, too. Though the bill has been tossed around in Congress—in one form or another—for 38 years, its inclusion of gender identity is a relatively new wrinkle that will likely require several more years to see any advancement.

Frank said this week he intends to continue working on some issues as a private citizen, but his main focus seemed to be on financial reform and defense spending. He did suggest a willingness to provide some pro bono work on “gay rights,” but was not specific about where, when, or what. At the Washington, D.C., press conference on Tuesday, Frank offered that he thinks ENDA might do well to follow the example of a recently passed bill in Massachusetts. That bill prohibited discrimination based on gender identity in employment, but left out the issue of public accommodation (an issue that has been effectively thwarted by opponents who have characterized it as a threat to children in public restrooms).

Even so, Frank acknowledged—albeit indirectly—the impact of his absence, saying it is “important” to have openly LGBT in Congress to drive home the reality of discrimination.

“The best antidote to prejudice is reality,” said Frank, in the Newton, Massachusetts, press conference Monday. Frank said he was “proud” to have “voluntarily” acknowledge publicly that he was gay in 1987.

Frank’s acknowledging he was gay did not cost him the support of voters, but voter support began to erode over the past few re-elections and, in 2010, he won re-election with only 54 percent of the vote—well below his previous low of 68 percent.

It seemed inevitable that Frank would begin contemplating retirement, not just because of the tough campaign, but because he was 71—an age when most people long to retire from constant work demands.

Frank also acknowledged in February that he had had some “concerns” about his cardiac health and cataracts on his eyes. He had required a quintuple bypass in 1999 but, he said in February that his doctors were telling him no surgery was in his near future and the cataracts were an easy fix.

Frank said he had made a tentative decision in July 2010 to retire at the end of the current term. He had just watched President Obama sign a landmark piece of legislation—often referred to as the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill—that was aimed at preventing such “too big to fail” companies as Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, and Merrill Lynch from putting the nation’s economy in peril.

“I spent a very busy and somewhat stressful four years with the financial crisis,” said Frank, “…I then had, as is appropriate, a very spirited campaign for re-election” and Republican conservatives took over the House. The Republican takeover, he said, prompted him to reconsider his tentative decision because he was afraid the announcement would “weaken my influence” in protecting some of the gains he had helped achieve.

That, coupled with the loss of a Congressional seat in Massachusetts due to redistricting, put pressure on Frank to announce early –in February 2011—that he would seek re-election in 2012. But Frank said he was “ambivalent” about that decision to run again because “there are other things in my life I’d like to do,” such as “writing, teaching, and lecturing.” He also hinted he might consider some pro bono appearances on “gay rights.”

Ultimately, said Frank, it was the final outcome of the Congressional re-districting –re-districting that “substantially changed” his district—that changed his mind about 2012. But age was a factor, too.

“It was always clear I’d be retiring after the next term,” said Frank. “I would be a couple months short of my 75th birthday after the conclusion of the next Congress. And I have always said that I would not be serving in elected office at that age. Some people can do it. I know my own capacities and energy level, and it would have been a mistake.”

Frank said nothing about his health at the two press conferences this week but it seemed clear that the physical stress of a campaign was not something he felt up to.

“I think I would have won,” said Frank, when asked whether his decision to retire was based on his increasingly tough re-election votes, “but I do know this… it would have been a tough campaign.”

Frank sounded tired and somewhat reluctant about his announcement at first, but he seemed to warm up to the idea during the first 40-minute news conference Monday as he began talking about the prospects of being able to speak freely as a private citizen. One idea that seemed particularly interesting to him was do such things as debate Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich on the Defense of Marriage Act.

“I think he is an ideal opponent for us when we talk about just who it is who is threatening the sanctity of marriage,” said Frank, an obvious reference to Gingrich being on his third marriage. It was a sign that, while Frank is leaving the political arena, he is still a political animal.

HUD secretary first cabinet member to address transgender event

U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan became the first United States cabinet secretary to address a transgender event when he gave the keynote speech at the eighth anniversary celebration of the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE).

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan

U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Shaun Donovan became the first United States cabinet secretary to address a transgender event when he gave the keynote speech November 15 at the eighth anniversary celebration of the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE).

Mara Keisling, executive director of NCTE, told Keen News Service, “Having Secretary Donovan keynote our event is an important symbolic and historic advance for transgender Americans.”

Keisling said that having a cabinet member address the group, “really shows tremendous societal movement.” She attributes this progress to “all the great education that transgender people and allies are doing all over the country.”

“It’s added up to a lot more visibility and understanding,” said Keisling.

Prior to Donovan’s appearance, the highest federal official to address NCTE was Kathy Greenlee, Assistant Secretary for Aging at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Greenlee spoke at the organization’s policy conference in March. And Lynn Rosenthal, the White House Advisor on Violence Against Women, met with NCTE staff and other transgender advocates November 16 to discuss violence against transgender people.

But Donovan’s speech, at the historic Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., garnered almost no attention in the mainstream press.

HUD included a copy of his speech on its Web site. And, following his speech, Donovan spoke to a reporter from a Washington, D.C., gay newspaper, Metro Weekly. When asked whether he supports marriage equality, Donovan replied “absolutely.” He also agreed with the reporter’s suggestion that marriage equality should be the subject of “more work” in a second Obama administration.

But, at NCTE’s annual event, Donovan spoke of the Obama administration’s accomplishments towards equality for transgender people.

He said the administration is the first to view the fight for transgender equality “not as an issue—but as a priority.”

Quoting figures from a February 2011 study by NCTE and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Donovan said an estimated one in five transgender Americans have been refused a home or apartment, and more than one in ten have been evicted because of their gender identity or expression.

There are currently no explicit federal protections that ban housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Only 15 states plus the District of Columbia have protections specific to gender identity. (Massachusetts will become the 16th when Governor Deval Patrick (D) signs a bill just passed by its legislature, as he is expected to do.) Approximately 150 cities, towns, and counties have LGBT protections as well, according to HUD.

Such protections are needed, Donovan said, because of experiences such as that of Mitch and Michelle DeShane. When Michelle wanted to add her partner Mitch, a transgender man, to her housing voucher, the local housing authority refused because the couple did not meet its definition of “family.” It referred them to a neighboring housing authority, which, they said, “accepts everyone—even Martians.”

Donovan asserted, “That’s just wrong.”

Donovan said “the most significant step” HUD has taken to address this type of discrimination has been by proposing new regulations to “ensure transgender individuals and couples can be eligible for our public housing and Housing Choice Voucher programs that collectively serve 5.5 million people.”

The proposed rule would prohibit owners and operators of HUD-assisted or -financed housing from inquiring about applicants’ sexual orientation or gender identity, and prevent them from excluding otherwise eligible families if one or more members is or is perceived to be LGBT. It would also prevent lenders from using sexual orientation or gender identity of an applicant as a basis to determine eligibility for Federal Housing Administration (FHA) mortgages, which represent one-third of all new mortgages in the country.

Donovan said that HUD is still reviewing comments before final publication of the rule.

A HUD spokesperson said that the agency cannot say exactly when the final rule will be published, since it must also be reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget.

Donovan noted that HUD has provided its staff with guidance that they can pursue cases of housing discrimination when a person’s identity or expression doesn’t conform with gender stereotypes, because such discrimination violates the Fair Housing Act’s ban on sex-based discrimination.

The Act is a pivotal civil rights act that prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status—but does not specifically cover sexual orientation- or gender identity-based discrimination.

Since that guidance was issued in July 2010, Donovan said, the number of complaints from LGBT individuals to HUD about housing discrimination has increased 15 times compared to the same date range the previous year, according to HUD.

Donovan also said that HUD is working to better understand the challenges that transgender people face. It included a session on gender identity- and sexual orientation-based housing discrimination in its annual National Fair Housing Policy Conference this year, and launched the first-ever national study of LGBT housing discrimination.

A HUD spokesperson said the target date for publication of the study is late 2012.

Donovan also spoke of accomplishments by the broader Obama administration, where, he said, “the LGBT community has had a seat at the table since day one.”

He cited the administration’s “record number of LGBT appointments,” including openly transgender appointees; the Office of Personnel Management’s prohibition of discrimination on the basis of gender identity in federal employment; the Veterans Administration’s directive for non-discriminatory care for transgender veterans; the State Department’s efforts “to ensure greater dignity and privacy” for transgender passport applicants; and the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention law.

NCTE’s Keisling said, “Secretary Donovan’s presence echoes what we at NCTE have long known about HUD and the rest of the Obama Administration, and that is that transgender people matter. We are a priority for the Administration, and it shows in the policies that we are winning.”

Gingrich would cut funding over adoption issue

Newt Gingrich, the current Republican presidential frontrunner, used a right-wing Christian forum Saturday afternoon to claim “the left” is trying to “drive out the existence of traditional religions…and use the government to repress the American people against their own values.”

Newt Gingrich (Photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

Newt Gingrich, the current Republican presidential frontrunner, used a right-wing Christian forum Saturday afternoon to claim “the left” is trying to “drive out the existence of traditional religions…and use the government to repress the American people against their own values.”

He made the comment in the context of a discussion about whether religious-oriented adoption agencies should be allowed to refuse adoptions to same-sex couples. Some states, such as Massachusetts, have cut off government funding to adoption groups that refuse to obey state laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Without referring to gay groups or the LGBT community specifically, Gingrich lashed out against a movement that, since the 1960s, has gone from “a request for tolerance to an imposition of intolerance…[and] closing down those with traditional values.”

Gingrich said he would support a law that would cut off “all federal funding to any jurisdiction that discriminates against religious beliefs in that format.”

The forum was the “Iowa Thanksgiving Family Forum,” sponsored by the Family Leader group of Iowa, as well as the National Organization for Marriage and Focus on the Family. Its format was an around-the-family-table like conversation with Gingrich and five other Republican presidential hopefuls, including Ron Paul, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, and Rick Perry. (Mitt Romney, who has been eschewing most Iowa events, declined an invitation.)

The candidates responded to questions from a moderator and from several representatives of the host groups, including Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage. The topics centered around such broad themes as values, morality, and liberty, with a strong bent toward the view that the country is divided into conservatives, who are all happy, god-loving citizens, and liberals, who are all sad and out to destroy religious freedom.

As has become his routine, Santorum boasted about his superiority in the GOP field when it comes to opposing marriage between same-sex couples. Same-sex marriage, he said, “radically changes the entire moral fabric of our country.”

“Gay marriage is wrong,” said Santorum. “As Abraham Lincoln said, the states do not have the right to do wrong. …America is an ideal. It’s not just a Constitution.”

But only Cain spoke up when Brown solicited responses for what each candidate would do, as president, if the U.S. Supreme Court should overturn the Defense of Marriage Act. Cain said he would “lead the charge to overturn the Supreme Court.” After some prodding from the moderator, Gingrich did offer up that he thought it important to “make DOMA not appealable” in the courts.

Brown’s questions came near the end of the two-hour event, held at the First Federated Church in Des Moines. His first, directed to Rep. Paul, was whether he would support an amendment to the federal constitution to ban same-sex marriage. It was an odd question, given that Paul has for years been on record publicly as opposing such an amendment and voted against it in 2004.

Paul reiterated his opposition, noting that he believes generally that the issue should be left to the states or—preferably to individual churches and families. But Paul added that he does support DOMA.

Brown then asked other candidates to explain why they believe a federal marriage amendment is necessary. Santorum jumped in with a recap of his strategy to “stop this problem” through battles state by state. Bachmann touted her own leadership against same-sex marriage in Minnesota.

The forum was marked by dramatically emotional moments in which the candidates share personal stories related to their faith. Santorum acknowledged having decided to keep an emotional distance from his infant daughter who he believed would soon die in order to avoid the pain of the potential loss. Herman Cain talked about what it was like to hear that he had fourth stage cancer. Michele Bachmann recalled what it was like, as a child, to watch her mother sell the families dishes and other possessions after she divorced Bachmann’s father.

The moderator, Fox News contributor Frank Luntz, and news reports indicated 3,000 people were in attendance at the forum. The chief sponsor, The Family Leader, helped organize last year’s ousting of three Iowa Supreme Court justices who voted with the unanimous court to say the state constitution required equal treatment of same-sex and heterosexual couples under marriage laws.

Gay-straight alliances help LGBT youth, young adults

Gay-straight alliance clubs in middle schools and high schools help youth not only while they are in school, but also later in life, according to a new study.

Caitlin Ryan

Gay-straight alliance clubs in middle schools and high schools help youth not only while they are in school, but also later in life, according to a new study.

LGBT young adults who attended a school with a GSA had better mental health as young adults, were less likely to drop out of high school, and more likely to attend college, according to researchers Russell B. Toomey, Caitlin Ryan, Rafael M. Diaz, and Stephen T. Russell. Their results were published in the November issue of the peer-reviewed journal Applied Developmental Science.

“This study adds to the mounting evidence that youth-led clubs are important for healthy development—especially for youth at risk,” Russell said in a statement. “For LGBT youth, high school gay-straight alliances make a significant positive difference.”

Although previous studies have shown GSAs to have positive effects on LGBT youth while in school, the current study is the first to look at the impact of GSAs on students as they grow into young adults.

The research is part of Ryan’s Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University, a research, intervention, education, and policy initiative that works to decrease health risks for LGBT youth.

The study covered 245 young adults (ages 21-25) in the San Francisco Bay Area who self-identified as LGBT and came from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. Approximately 47 percent identified as male, 45 percent as female, and 9 percent as transgender. Approximately 70 percent identified as lesbian or gay, 13 percent as bisexual, and 17 percent as other (e.g., queer, dyke, homosexual). About half (51 percent) were Latino and half (49 percent) were white and non-Latino. (Numbers do not add up to exactly 100 percent because of rounding.)

Of the 245 participants, 86 (35 percent) said their schools had a GSA or similar club. Of those, 55 (64 percent) said they participated in the GSA.

But the mere presence of a GSA at the school was more relevant to students’ well-being than their actual participation in it, the study found. The researchers suggest this may be because “schools with GSAs likely have safer school climates overall.”

They also found that participants who perceived their GSAs to be more effective in promoting safe school climates reported lower levels of LGBT-specific school victimization.

Participation in a GSA did seem to buffer the impact of school victimization related to being LGBT. Students who experienced victimization at a low level and participated in a GSA had lower levels of depression as young adults and fewer lifetime suicide attempts.

But students who experienced higher levels of victimization did not enjoy the same protective effect of having a GSA at their school. This, said researchers, suggests that GSAs “cannot be accepted by schools as the only solution for creating safer school climates for LGBT youth,” and GSAs “may not be sufficient to alter the system-level heterosexism and homophobia that continues to exist in schools.”

Based on previous research by themselves and others, the researchers recommend that schools take other steps to protect LGBT students, such as enacting anti-bullying policies that specifically prohibit anti-LGBT bullying, training teachers on how to address with LGBT issues, providing an LGBT-inclusive curriculum, and having LGBT-inclusive and accessible support for students.

“Our findings,” said Toomey, “document that other LGBT-positive supports need to be implemented in schools for LGBT students to thrive.”

The researchers cautioned that the study had a limited sample size and urged future efforts that use larger samples to further explore the associations between GSAs, levels of GSA participation, and outcomes for young adults.

The research adds to the picture developed by previous studies, which have shown the positive effects of GSAs on LGBT high school and middle school students. In the May 2011 issue of Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr. Mark Hatzenbuehler of Columbia University found a positive social environment, including the presence of GSAs, led to a 20 percent reduction in the risk of attempting suicide for LGBT youth.

And according to the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network’s (GLSEN’s) 2009 National School Climate Survey, LGBT students in schools with GSAs heard fewer homophobic remarks, were more likely to report that educators intervened when they heard such remarks, experienced less victimization related to their sexual orientation and gender expression, and were less likely to feel unsafe. They also felt a greater sense of connectedness to their school community.

There are over 4,000 GSAs in the country, according to GLSEN, and nearly 45 percent of LGBT students attend a school that has one.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan cited the GLSEN survey in a “Dear Colleague” letter to educators this past June, in which he reminded them that based on the Equal Access Act of 1984, schools receiving federal funds must provide equal access to school resources for all student groups, including GSAs.

Many schools still try to prohibit GSAs. In recent years, Okeechobee and Yulee high schools in Florida, Flour Bluff High School in Corpus Christi, Texas, and West Bend High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, have attempted to bar GSAs.

Federal lawsuits were brought against the schools in Florida and Wisconsin, and the ACLU sent a notice letter to the school in Texas, reminding them of their legal obligation to allow the groups. In all of the cases, the parties settled out of court or judges ruled in favor of allowing the GSA.

California court says Prop 8 proponents have standing in fed court

In what amounts to a bump in the road for opponents of Proposition 8, a unanimous California Supreme Court told a federal appeals court November 17 that California law “authorizes” the proponents of the initiative to defend it in federal court even though state elected officials decided not to.

Tani Cantil-Sakauye

In what amounts to a bump in the road for opponents of Proposition 8, a unanimous California Supreme Court told a federal appeals court Thursday, November 17, that California law “authorizes” the proponents of the initiative to defend it in federal court even though state elected officials decided not to.

The ruling, which will almost certainly be accepted by the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals panel, means the three-judge panel of will now rule on the constitutionality of Proposition 8.

The question before the California Supreme Court was whether Yes on 8, the proponents of the state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage ban passed by California voters in November 2008, has a legal right to defend that ban in a federal appeals court. California officials elected to defend state laws decided not to defend the ban further, after a federal district court ruled Proposition 8 to be a violation of the federal constitution.

Proponents of the ban said they were trying to protect the power of the people to amend their constitution; opponents argued they were trying to protect the power of the people to elect and empower state officers to perform their constitutional duties to make such decisions.

“The ruling addresses only a procedural legal question,” said Jon Davidson, legal director for Lambda Legal. “The key question underlying this case is whether the U.S. Constitution permits a state electorate to treat one group of people unequally to everyone else by depriving them of what the state’s high court has held to be a fundamental right. A federal court has already ruled that it may not.  We look forward to seeing that decision upheld so that same-sex couples in California may once again enjoy the freedom to marry.”

The standing issue was punted to the California Supreme Court by the 9th Circuit panel after it heard arguments concerning both standing and the constitutionality of Proposition 8.

In its ruling on the standing issue, the California Supreme Court said proponents of Proposition 8 are the  “most obvious and logical persons to assert the state’s interest in the initiative’s validity on behalf of the voters who enacted the measure….”

“[W]e conclude that… it would clearly constitute an abuse of discretion for a court to deny the official proponents of an initiative the opportunity to participate as formal parties in the proceeding, either as interveners or as real parties in interest, in order to assert the people’s and hence the state’s interest in the validity of the measure and to appeal a judgment invalidating the measure,” wrote Chief Justice Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye.

The 61-page opinion said the court’s finding “assures voters who supported the measure and enacted it into law that any residual hostility or indifference of current public officials to the substance of the initiative measure will not prevent a full and robust defense of the measure to be mounted in court on the people’s behalf… [and] ensures a court faced with the responsibility of reviewing and resolving a legal challenge to an initiative measure that it is aware of and addresses the full range of legal arguments that reasonably may be proffered in the measure’s defense.”

Ted Olson, the famed conservative attorney who has been leading the legal team to overturn Proposition 8, said “the standing issue is still in the case” and could be brought up to the U.S. Supreme Court when the case is ultimately on appeal there.

But he said the 9th Circuit panel indicated it would accept the California court’s determination and he now expects “the 9th Circuit will proceed promptly to a decision on the merits” without further briefing or argument, though an additional argument could be scheduled.

Olson, arguing before the California Supreme Court in September, had argued that there was “nothing” in California law that would authorize any group to press an appeal that elected officials had decided to drop.

In finding that California law authorizes Yes on 8 to represent the people on appeal, the court noted that “Article II, section 1 of the California Constitution proclaims: ‘All political power is inherent in the people.’ Government is instituted for their protection, security, and benefit, and they have the right to alter or reform it when the public good may require.”

Charles Cooper, the well-known conservative attorney leading the pro-Proposition 8 defense, had argued that the official supporters of ballot initiatives in California have “never” been barred from defending a measure. And he argued that the state’s attorney general does not have the authority to refuse to represent the state’s interest in the validity of initiatives that voters pass.

Cooper’s team took the Proposition 8 case to the 9th Circuit after U.S. District Court Chief Judge Vaughn Walker ruled in August 2010 that Proposition 8 violates the federal constitution’s guarantee of equal protection of the law.

The same-sex marriage controversy started before the California Supreme Court in May 2008, when a 4 to 3 majority ruled that the state constitution prohibited the state from establishing a “statutory scheme” in which both opposite sex and same-sex couples are legally recognized relationships, but only opposite sex couples are designated as married. Three of the seven justices at the time dissented, saying such a “profound change” needed to be made by either the people or their elected representatives, not the courts.

Now that the 9th Circuit has heard from the California Supreme Court, it is expected to soon issue its opinion concerning both standing and the constitutionality of Proposition 8. Regardless of the outcome, both issues will almost certainly be appealed to the full 9th Circuit court and/or the U.S. Supreme Court.

Williams Institute legal scholar Jenny Pizer said she expects the 9th Circuit panel might rule before the end of the year, but that the case will likely be heard by the full 9th Circuit before going to the U.S. Supreme Court. Pizer and National Center for Lesbian Rights attorney Shannon Minter agreed the case is not likely to move quickly enough to put the case before the U.S. Supreme Court during its current 2011-12 session.

Minter was very disappointed with the standing ruling from the California Supreme Court.

“This is a terrible decision in terms of its impact on California law,” said Minter. “The court has given initiative proponents unprecedented and virtually unlimited power, and the people of California will be living with the dangerous consequences of that decision for years to come.”

Both Minter and others, however, expressed relief that the case can now move forward.

“In the bigger picture,” said Minter, “this is good news for same-sex couples in California. Prop 8 is blatantly unconstitutional for many reasons—not only because it deprives same-sex couples of a basic right, but because it was enacted for the sole purpose of targeting a particular group in order to deny them equal protection of the laws.”

Chad Griffin, head of the American Foundation for Equal Rights that has spearheaded the litigation against Proposition 8, said the “good news” with the California court ruling is that the case, Perry v. Brown, is now back before the federal court now and can proceed.

“We’re thrilled,” said Griffin, “to be back on that fast track and headed quickly to a place where these two [plaintiff] couples can have the freedom to marry and ultimately around the country.”

Washington, Oregon, take different paths to marriage

LGBT activists in the neighboring states of Oregon and Washington have reached two different conclusions in the past week about strategies for marriage equality. Those in Washington State will attempt to gain it in 2012, but those in Oregon will use 2012 to continue to build support.

LGBT activists in the neighboring states of Oregon and Washington have reached two different conclusions in the past week about strategies for marriage equality. Those in Washington State will attempt to gain it in 2012, but those in Oregon will use 2012 to continue to build support.

LGBT advocates in Washington on Monday, November 14, launched a drive to achieve marriage equality through the state legislature in 2012. They announced the creation of Washington United for Marriage, a coalition of 37 local and national LGBT and civil rights organizations, congregations and religious associations, unions, and business groups, as the first step in that campaign.

But in neighboring Oregon, the board of Basic Rights Oregon voted unanimously Friday, November 9, not to pursue a ballot measure for marriage equality in 2012. The board said, in a statement, that “several factors, including the expense of waging a statewide political campaign in the midst of an economic crisis, led us to conclude that we are better off extending our education campaign and building momentum for a later election.”

Washington state Rep. Jim Moeller (D-Vancouver) told The Columbian newspaper November 11 that he would introduce marriage equality legislation in 2012. He and state Senator Ed Murray (D-Seattle) introduced such legislation during the last session, but it failed to come up for a vote in either chamber.

The announcements come a little more than a month after Equality California announced it would not push for a ballot measure on marriage equality next year in the Golden State, instead opting for a public education campaign.

Both Oregon and Washington already allow same-sex couples to enter into broad-ranging domestic partnerships. Both states passed their initial domestic partnership legislation in 2007, with a limited set of rights, and expanded them in subsequent years to encompass all the state rights and responsibilities of marriage in everything but name.

Oregon prohibits same-sex couples from marriage via a state constitutional amendment that passed via voter referendum in 2004.

In Washington, however, LGBT advocates scored a referendum victory in 2009 when state voters rejected an attempt to repeal the domestic partnership legislation.

The Washington legislature is controlled by Democrats, who hold a 27 to 22 edge in the Senate and a 56 to 42 edge in the House. And Democratic Governor Christine Gregoire (D) has signed all of the domestic partnership bills. But a legislative win in Washington State is far from certain because there’s no guarantee a vote on marriage equality will fall strictly along party lines. Three Senate Democrats have voted with Republicans against each of the three bills that extended or expanded domestic partnerships: Jim Hargrove (D-Hoquiam), Brian Hatfield (D-Raymond), and Tim Sheldon (D-Potlatch). Another three have voted against at least one of the domestic partnership bills: Jim Kastama (D-Puyallup), Marilyn Rasmussen (D-Eatonville), and Paull Shin (D-Edmonds).

All but Rasmussen are still in the Senate.

Conversely, three Republicans have voted in favor of domestic partnership legislation: Dale Brandland (R-Bellingham), Curtis King (R-Yakima), and Cheryl Pflug (R-Maple Valley). King and Pflug remain in the Senate.

Even if a marriage equality bill passes, however, opponents of equality may try to repeal it via voter referendum.

But the latest polling data indicates they might not succeed. Washington Poll, a non-partisan survey from the University of Washington, asked voters in October how they would vote in a hypothetical referendum.

A total of 55 percent said they would vote “yes” to keep a marriage equality law, and 38 percent said they would vote against the law. Seven percent were undecided.

In addition to possibility of a ballot measure in Washington, three other states are expected to have voters weigh in on same-sex marriage in 2012: Maine, Minnesota, and North Carolina.

Activists in Maine turned in enough signatures last week to put their pro-active measure on the ballot, asking voters to approve a law in favor of marriage equality. But voters in Minnesota and North Carolina will be asked to approve state constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage. North Carolina’s measure would also ban civil unions and domestic partnerships as well. Both states already have statutory bans on marriage for same-sex couples.

Gay appeals court nominee withdraws

The White House sent out notice Thursday night that it was withdrawing the nomination of openly gay attorney Edward DuMont to serve on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee blocked DuMont’s nomination from the start, when President Obama nominated him in April 2010.

In DuMont’s place, President Obama has nominated an attorney with strong Republican ties.

The White House sent out notice Thursday night that it was withdrawing the nomination of openly gay attorney Edward DuMont to serve on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee blocked DuMont’s nomination from the start, when President Obama nominated him in April 2010.

In DuMont’s place, President Obama has nominated an attorney with strong Republican ties.

In a separate announcement Thursday evening, the White House announced that President Obama is nominating attorney Richard Taranto, a former law clerk for failed Supreme Court nominee and right-wing conservative Robert Bork, as well as Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

Taranto also served three years as an Assistant to the Solicitor General in the Office of the Solicitor General of the United States Department of Justice.

DuMont was out of the country and could not be reached immediately for comment. But the National Law Journal published a November 4 letter DuMont sent to President Obama, saying he understood his nomination was being held up by “one or more” Republicans on the Judiciary Committee.

“Under the circumstances,” wrote DuMont, “drawing the process out further does not seem either sensible for me or fair to the Federal Circuit….”

DuMont was the first openly gay person to be nominated to a federal appeals court. In his responses to the Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire, DuMont had something to please senators on both sides of the aisle, and he was very forthcoming about his involvement in and support for gay legal groups. He indicated that he is a member of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Attorneys of Washington (GAYLAW) and a former member of the National LGBT Bar Association. He worked for the Department of Justice under President Clinton and was a member of DOJ Pride, the GLBT employee organization, serving as its vice president between 1994 and 1996. He is also a member of Yale GALA.

But DuMont’s responses to the Committee’s questionnaire also indicated that he signed onto a letter of support for one of President George W. Bush’s controversial conservative appeals court nominee, Miguel Estrada, and clerked for an appointee of President Reagan, 7th Circuit Court Judge Richard Posner.

DuMont earned the highest rating from the American Bar Association—unanimously well qualified.

The full Senate has approved the confirmations of two openly gay nominees to federal district court seats – Alison Nathan and Paul Oetken, both to the U.S. District Court in Manhattan. But Nathan’s confirmation was contested by Republicans and was approved by a 48 to 44 vote, along strict party lines. A third nominee was reported out of committee on a voice vote November 3.