New York marriage equality spurs on other states

Just as the Stonewall Riots in New York City in 1969 gave a lift to the nascent movement for equal rights for gays across the country, marriage equality in the Empire State appears to be giving a boost to marriage equality efforts outside its borders.

Andrew Cuomo

Hundreds of same-sex couples married in New York on Sunday (July 24), the first day they could legally do so. And just as the Stonewall Riots in New York City in 1969 gave a lift to the nascent movement for equal rights for gays across the country, marriage equality in the Empire State appears to be giving a boost to marriage equality efforts outside its borders.

Activists in at least two states (Maine and Colorado) are pushing for 2012 ballot measures to seek marriage equality there, a lawsuit has been launched in New Jersey for full marriage rights, and in Maryland, a Democratic governor is prepared to follow the example of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) in leading the state legislature to marriage equality.

With the addition of New York, the percentage of same-sex couples living in states that allow them to marry has now more than doubled—from 6.9 percent to 14.3 percent, according to an analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2009 American Community Survey by the Williams Institute of UCLA.

And the percentage of the U.S. population living in a state that allows same-sex couples to marry has more than doubled, from 5.1 to 11.4 percent, according to Census 2010 and the Williams Institute.

“Having New York end marriage discrimination is a turning point for the country,” said Evan Wolfson, executive director of the national Freedom to Marry group, in an essay on the group’s Web site June 27, three days after New York Governor Cuomo signed a marriage equality bill into law. “The world watches New York, and, as New Yorkers say, if we can make it here, we’ll make it anywhere.”

Wolfson noted that passage of the bill in New York was the first time a legislative chamber with a Republican majority—the state Senate—had “voted to advance a bill to end marriage discrimination, and Republican senators provided the winning margin.” He called the bipartisan vote “a major shift in the national political calculus for both parties” that “points the way to more victories.”

The New York legislature was also the first to pass a marriage bill without first passing civil unions or domestic partnerships, Wolfson said.

In New Jersey, which allows same-sex couples to enter civil unions, but not marriages, Steven Goldstein, the chair of the LGBT advocacy organization Garden State Equality, said in a statement June 24 that “the victory in New York, and its choice of marriage equality over civil union inequality, set the stage for our continuing fight for marriage for same-sex couples in New York’s sister state just a mile away.”

Four days after the New York bill became law, Garden State Equality and Lambda Legal, a national LGBT legal group, filed a lawsuit in a New Jersey Superior Court in Trenton on behalf of seven same-sex couples. They argue that the state’s existing civil union laws do not provide the couples with full equality—an equality the state Supreme Court said, in October 2006, is guaranteed by the state constitution.

Garden State Equality also held a rally on July 24, the first day of the New York marriages, at a New Jersey park closest to New York, with a view of the Manhattan skyline across the Hudson River.

In Maryland, where a marriage equality bill passed the state House but failed to pass the Senate in March, Governor Martin O’Malley (D) seems now to be following the example of New York Governor Cuomo, saying he will take a more active role in pushing for marriage equality next session.

Cuomo, whom Freedom to Marry’s Wolfson called the “indispensable champion” of the New York bill, had worked closely with marriage equality advocates and sent the initial version of the marriage bill to the legislature. He then met with legislative leaders to work out a final version of the bill that addressed some lawmakers’ concerns about additional protections for religious groups and the charities and educational institutions they operate.

Maryland’s O’Malley announced July 22 that he would sponsor marriage equality legislation in the 2012 legislative session. He tasked his director of legislative affairs, Joseph Bryce, with coordinating efforts among a broad coalition of LGBT, civil rights, and faith-based groups, as well as people across the state.

O’Malley said at a press conference that the law provides equal protection and the free exercise of religion to all, adding “Other states have found a way to protect both of these fundamental beliefs.”

And in Maine, the executive director of Equality Maine, Betsy Smith, said in a statement June 28 that the “victory in New York generates wind in the sails of the national movement to win marriage, and more specifically, of our efforts here in Maine.”

EqualityMaine and Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) announced June 30 that they are taking steps to place a citizen’s initiative on the November 2012 ballot, asking Maine voters to approve a law giving same-sex couples the right to marry. The move comes after a referendum in November 2009 overturned a marriage equality law passed by the legislature and signed by Governor John Baldacci (D) in May 2009.

Colorado may also see a question on its 2012 ballot to approve marriage equality. The state Title Board on July 20 approved language for such a question. Supporters of marriage equality must now collect 86,105 signatures in order to place it on the ballot.

Similar measures could also appear in California and Oregon.

An exception to the trend comes in Minnesota, where the legislature has approved a ballot question that seeks to ban marriage of same-sex couples under the state constitution. It is already banned under state law. The same could happen in North Carolina, where the legislature is considering bills for such a ballot measure.

Cuomo, in a press conference after he signed the marriage equality bill, called New York “a beacon for social justice,” noting that the movements for equally for women, for protection of workers, for preservation of the environment, and for equality of gays each have roots in New York.

“New York,” he said, “made a powerful statement, not just for the people of New York, but the people all across this nation.”

Triad certifies military ready to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

President Obama, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen signed and submitted a one-page written certification to Congress Friday afternoon (July 22) that the military is ready to implement repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

President Obama

President Obama, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen signed and submitted a one-page written certification to Congress Friday afternoon (July 22) that the military is ready to implement repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Following the required 60-day waiting period stipulated by the bill enacted by Congress last December, repeal of the federal law that banned openly gay people from military service for 18 years becomes a reality on September 20.

“Today, we have taken the final major step toward ending the discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law that undermines our military readiness and violates American principles of fairness and equality,” said President Obama, in a statement. “In accordance with the legislation that I signed into law last December, I have certified and notified Congress that the requirements for repeal have been met.  ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ will end, once and for all, in 60 days—on September 20, 2011.”

The president signed the statement after receiving written confirmation by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen on Thursday night that all conditions of the DADT repeal bill passed by Congress last December had been met.

During a press briefing at the Pentagon Friday afternoon, Clifford Stanley, Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, noted that almost two million troops had received training in preparation for repeal of DADT.

“It remains the policy of the Department of Defense that sexual orientation is a personal and private matter, to treat all members with dignity and respect and to ensure maintenance of good order and discipline,” said Stanley. “There will be zero tolerance for harassment, violence or discrimination of any kind.”

U.S. Marine Corps Major General Steven Hummer, head of the Repeal Implementation Team, said that eligibility for benefits “remain the same” as before passage of the repeal measure. He noted that servicemembers are able to choose their beneficiary for many benefits but that the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal law banning federal recognition of same-sex marriages, prohibits “extension of many military benefits to same-sex couples,” including health care and allowances for housing and transportation.

“The department will continue to study existing benefits to determine those, if any, that should be reviewed based on policy, fiscal, legal and feasibility considerations, to give the service member the discretion to designate persons of their own choosing as beneficiaries,” said Hummer.

Jeh Johnson, the Defense Department’s general counsel, said the administration on Friday also submitted a brief to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which recently allowed for a temporary stay of an order to stop implementation of DADT. Johnson said the brief argues that, once repeal takes place, the existing legal challenge to DADT—Log Cabin Republicans v. U.S.—becomes moot.

Hummer also noted that there have been no reports of compromises in unit cohesion since Congress passed the repeal measure and that the response of the military has been “very, very positive.”

Approximately 14,000 servicemembers were discharged under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Rep. Barney Frank issued a statement Friday saying that “it will soon be clear that there was never any basis for this discriminatory policy in the first place other than prejudice, and the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender servicemembers will soon demonstrate that there never was a good reason to keep them from serving our country.”

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was adopted by Congress and signed by President Clinton in 1996 as a compromise, but it was really an early political loss for the Clinton administration. Candidate Clinton had won much support from the LGBT community during his campaign, in part for his promise to end the military’s discriminatory policy against gays.

But a growing acceptance of openly gay people, coupled with the escalating strain on the military’s troops fighting multiple wars, moved the political climate toward allowing gays to serve openly. Candidate Obama also promised to repeal the law and, when elected, was under strong pressure from the LGBT community to do so. But the Obama administration appeared acutely aware of the missteps of the Clinton White House and President Obama directed a deliberate strategy of careful cooperation with Pentagon officials and Congress to forge a joint resolve to repeal the law.

In his statement Friday, President Obama commended Congress and the Pentagon for their “moving forward in the careful and deliberate manner that this change requires, especially with our nation at war.“ And he thanked servicemembers, “including those who are gay or lesbian,” for their “professionalism and patriotism during this transition.”

“Every American can be proud that our extraordinary troops and their families, like earlier generations that have adapted to other changes, will only grow stronger and remain the best fighting force in the world,” said Obama, “and a reflection of the values of justice and equality that the define us as Americans.”

Aubrey Sarvis, head of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network group that worked vigorously for repeal, said Service members “celebrate this historic announcement, and they are ready for this change.”

DADT certifications expected Friday

The Los Angeles Times and other media reported late Thursday that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen would announced Friday that the two can certify military readiness to Congress –one of the stipulations for enacting repeal of the federal law banning openly gay people from service.

President Obama is scheduled to meet with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen Friday afternoon (July 22) and reports are circulating that the meeting could be to discuss certification of military readiness to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

The Los Angeles Times and other media reported late Thursday that two Pentagon officials said Panetta and Mullen would announced Friday that the two can certify military readiness to Congress –one of the stipulations for enacting repeal of the federal law banning openly gay people from service. The repeal law passed in December also requires the president to submit written certification to Congress of military readiness.

After all three submit their certifications, a 60-day clock must tick down before repeal is actually implemented.

The Washington Post noted that Panetta is to be sworn in as Defense secretary, replacing retired Secretary Robert Gates, on Friday at the Pentagon in northern Virginia. ABC News reported that the certification announcement will take place at the Pentagon shortly after Panetta is sworn in.

The White House official schedules indicate that Vice President Joe Biden will swear in Panetta at 11 a.m. and that President Obama will meet with Panetta and Mullen at 2:45 p.m. EDT.

The White House schedule does not indicate the topic of the afternoon meeting and notes the meeting is closed to the press.

Hearing on repeal of DOMA: It’s not just the economy

U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a legendary civil rights activist, led off Wednesday’s historic hearing to discuss repealing the Defense of Marriage Act, likening it to laws decades ago that requires separate water fountains and restrooms for “whites” and “coloreds.”

John Lewis

U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a legendary civil rights activist, led off Wednesday’s historic hearing to discuss repealing the Defense of Marriage Act, likening it to laws decades ago that requires separate water fountains and restrooms for “whites” and “coloreds.”

“I find it unbelievable in the year 2011,” said Lewis, “that there is still a need to hold hearings and debates about whether a human being should be able to marry the person they love.”

But there was a hearing, and there was debate. There was strong emotion.

Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa and the ranking minority member on the Senate Judiciary Committee came well prepared to do battle, bringing in a full complement of his allowed witness, minus one whom he said was afraid to testify against repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) for fear of being harassed.

But no other Republican senator showed up to ask questions and Democratic senators in support of the Respect of Marriage Act (SB 598) were also well-prepared to do battle.

Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) called DOMA an “immoral and discriminatory” law and he challenged Grassley’s chief witness, an official with the mammoth Focus on Family group. The witness, Thomas Minnery, had claimed a federal study found that children raised by a male-female married couple are happier and healthier than children raised by other families.

“I checked the study out,” said Franken, referring to a 2010 study published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “It doesn’t say what you said it does,” said Franken. The hearing room erupted in laughter. “It says ‘nuclear family,’ not opposite sex married families, are associated with those outcomes.”

Minnery said he understood “nuclear family” to mean heterosexual.

“It doesn’t,” said Franken, bluntly. “It says ‘two parents who are married to one another and are the adopted or biological’ parents of their children. I don’t know how we can trust the rest of your testimony if you are reading studies these ways.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) opened the hearing by saying he called the hearing to “assess the impact” of the law on American families. He said the 1996 law “goes well beyond the harm to a family’s dignity,” harming it economically, health-wise, and in other ways.

Several of Leahy’s seven witnesses provided personal, often dramatic, stories to illustrate those harms. Ron Wallen, a 77-year-old man from Indio, California, said his life was thrown into “financial chaos” after his life partner for 58 years succumbed after a long illness. Because he was not eligible to receive his same-sex spouse’s Social Security benefits and pension, said Wallen, his household income dropped from $3,050 per month to $900 per month.

Susan Murray, an attorney who help usher in Vermont’s landmark civil union law and who represents numerous same-sex couples, said many people simply did not understand what a civil union was. And she said she has found that many corporations believe DOMA prevents them from providing equal benefits to their employees.

“Companies think the law allows them to discriminate,” said Murray.

Andrew Sorbo, a history teacher in Catholic schools in Connecticut, talked about “always having to use the pronoun ‘I’” in his classroom.

“I could not say ‘we are going on vacation because the next question would be ‘Who is the other person’,” noted Sorbo, “and would lead to lots of other problems.”

“DOMA,” he said, is an insult to our dignity and our sense of equality.” He said he was “appalled and baffled” by those in Congress who oppose same-sex marriages “can’t understand how they are the philosophical descendants of those who defended slavery, who defended the laws against mixed race couples, and who defended the laws that allowed the separate but equal statutes that Rep. Lewis spoke of.”

The mainstream media gave some attention this week to a statement by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, during a routine briefing on Tuesday, that President Obama supports the Respect for Marriage Act.

Carney, in response to a question, said Obama “has long called for a legislative repeal” of DOMA.

“He is proud to support the Respect for Marriage Act… which would take DOMA off the books once and for all,” said Carney.

Numerous LGBT groups issued statements, applauding the statement from Carney that the president supports the Respect of Marriage Act. They consider Obama’s support for the repeal measure specifically to be a significant step forward in his position.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, a spokesman for Obama said he had supported the repeal of DOMA—both sections—since 2004. But after he became president, his Department of Justice initially mounted a vigorous defense of the law in courts, arguing, among other things, “DOMA does not discriminate against homosexuals in the provision of federal benefits.”

After considerable outrage from the LGBT community, the DOJ softened its arguments in court briefs. And then, in a dramatic announcement in February of this year, Attorney General Eric Holder said that he and President Obama believe DOMA is unconstitutional and that laws disfavoring LGBT people should have to pass the strictest form of judicial scrutiny.

Rep. Lewis seemed to have been referring to President Obama when, in his remarks, he chastised those who are “comfortable sitting on the sidelines” and called on “elected officials…to lead, to be the headlights, not taillights.”

Ranking minority member Grassley was the only Republican senator to comment and ask questions during the hearing, saying –at times with the vigor of a preacher—that DOMA is “not an expression of dislike for gay and lesbian people.” He and other opponents of the bill pointed out that many of the Democrats on the Committee—including Chairman Leahy and Senators Dick Durbin of Illinois and Charles Schumer of New York—voted for DOMA in 1996. The fact that they voted for DOMA, said Ed Whelan of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, “refutes the empty revisionist claim that DOMA embodies an irrational bigotry against same-sex couples.”

Whelan said it is “a profound confusion to believe that the values of federalism somehow require the federal government to defer to or incorporate the marriage laws of the various states in determining what marriage means in the provision of federal benefits.”

Whelan also said that repealing DOMA would “have the federal government validate” same-sex marriage and “require taxpayers to subsidize the provisions of benefits. And, he said, repealing DOMA would “pave the way” for polygamists and other polyamorous unions to be recognized under federal law.

Bill sponsor Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who chaired the committee for a portion of the hearing, said DOMA denies rights and benefits to legally married same-sex couples. And she vowed that, “However long it takes” to repeal DOMA, “we will achieve it.”

The hearing was covered live by C-SPAN and will be rebroadcast from time to time.

Senate confirms first openly gay man to federal bench

The U.S. Senate Monday evening (July 18) approved the confirmation of openly gay attorney J. Paul Oetken to serve as a U.S. district court judge.

The U.S. Senate Monday evening (July 18) approved the confirmation of openly gay attorney J. Paul Oetken to serve as a U.S. district court judge.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) called Oetken a “superbly” qualified candidate and noted his nomination was historic in that he is the first openly gay man to be nominated a federal district court judge.

The vote was 80 to 13, with seven senators not voting.

Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking minority leader of the Senate Judiciary Committee, made clear from the beginning of his remarks on the floor that the Senate would “move forward” with another nomination to the federal court and that he would vote for Oetken.

Obama nominated Oetken to become one of 44 judges serving on the U.S. District Court for Southern District of New York, the federal district court that encompasses Manhattan. With his confirmation, he becomes the second openly gay judge in that federal district –along with Deborah Batts. He becomes the third openly gay federal judge in the country —along with Emily Hewitt of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. Batts and Hewitt were both appointed by President Clinton.

Oetken is not President Obama’s first openly gay nominee to the federal bench. In April of last year, Obama nominated Edward DuMont to a position on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal District. If approved, DuMont would be the first openly gay appointee to a federal appeals court. But DuMont’s nomination—along with that of many others—has been tied up by Republican opposition in the U.S. Senate.

But in his remarks on the Senate floor Monday, Grassley denied that Republicans are attempting to block Obama’s nominees to the federal court. He noted that the Committee has advanced the nominations of 62 of 86 nominees. But he did not mention that just last week, Grassley himself voted to advance the nomination of openly lesbian attorney Alison Nathan, saying it would give the full Senate another opportunity to scrutinize her qualifications. Republican colleague, Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) submitted a statement saying he would oppose Nathan’s nomination.

Oetken was rated as qualified by a unanimous vote of the American Bar Association committee that provides to the Senate its recommendations concerning judicial nominees. Nathan received a “qualified” rating from a majority of the ABA committee, but an “unqualified” rating from a minority.

When Oetken went before the Judiciary Committee in March, he received no questions from Republican senators and no questions about anything gay-related. Grassley did submit a question to Oetken in writing, asking him about a brief he wrote for the National Gay and Lesbian Bar Association. The brief, submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court, supported the overturning of laws prohibiting same-sex sexual relations. The case was Lawrence v. Texas and, in 2003, a majority of the Supreme Court did overturn such laws. Oetken’s brief argued that the courts should use the strictest form of scrutiny when examining laws that treat gay people differently.

“Do you personally believe that government classifications based on sexual orientation deserve a heightened level of scrutiny?” asked Grassley.

Oetken responded that he had “not expressed a personal view on this subject” and that the “arguments in the amicus brief that I co-authored in Lawrence v. Texas were arguments made on behalf of clients.”

“Although I believed that there was a good faith basis in Supreme Court precedent for making those arguments [in the brief], they do not necessarily reflect how I would approach these issues as a district judge,” wrote Oetken.

“The Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas did not decide that case under the Equal Protection Clause but rather under the Due Process Clause,” continued Oetken, “and it therefore did not decide the issues addressed in my amicus brief in that case.”

Oetken, 46, was born in Kentucky and grew up in Iowa. He graduated from the University of Iowa and Yale Law School. He served as associate counsel to the President in the Clinton White House and served as an attorney-advisor with the Clinton Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. He currently works as senior vice president and associate general counsel for Cablevisions Systems Corporation. Oetkin served as a clerk for former Justice Harry Blackmun, one of the U.S. Supreme Court’s more liberal justices.

Retired U.S. District Court Chief Judge Vaughn Walker recently revealed that he has been in a relationship with a man for the past 10 years. He retired from the bench in February of this year after serving 22 years and presiding over one of the most highly publicized gay-related trials in history, over California’s same-sex marriage ban. Walker did not publicly confirm his sexual orientation until after he retired, in response to a question from reporters.

The 13 no votes were all Republicans, as were six of the seven senators who did not cast a vote on the nomination. Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison initially voted aye, but then came back a few minutes later and changed her vote to no.

Among the Republican Senators voting for Oetken were Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Mark Kirk of Illinois, John Cornyn of Texas, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Rob Portman of Ohio, and Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine.

Another California ballot battle brewing

There is another anti-gay ballot measure brewing in California–this one, for 2012, seeks to repeal a recently passed state law that requires social studies curricula in California public schools to include information about the contributions of LGBT people.

There is another anti-gay ballot measure brewing in California—this one, for 2012, seeks to repeal a recently passed state law that requires social studies curricula in California public schools to include information about the contributions of LGBT people.

Paulo Sibaja, communications director for a conservative family advocacy group in California, submitted a letter to the California Attorney General, Kamala Harris, on July 15. The letter asks the attorney general to prepare a title and summary for a referendum to repeal Senate Bill 48.

Senate Bill 48, signed was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown on July 14, is the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful (FAIR) Education Act. It remedies a deficiency in previously existing law that required that public school curricula in the social sciences acknowledge the contributions of various specific minorities, such as African Americans, American Indians, and Asian Americans.

The FAIR Education Act simply adds LGBT people as a specific minority and prohibits instruction or any school activity “that promotes a discriminatory bias on the basis of sexual orientation.

Openly gay State Senator Mark Leno introduced the measure, and it was approved by the State Senate on a 23 to 14 vote in April and approved by the Assembly on a 49 to 25 vote on July 6.

Under California law, opponents of a law have 90 days from the enactment of a bill to request a title and summary of a referendum from the state Attorney General, circulate petitions, and gather 504,760 valid signatures.

SaveCalifornia.com, a web-based organization opposed to the law sent out an “Urgent Alert,” suggesting parents remove their children from public schools. The website warns that the law “means children as young as kindergarten in California K-12 government schools will be forced to admire ‘gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Americans’ as their personal role models.” The group suggests parents put their children into church schools or school them at home.

In his letter to the attorney general, Sibaja identifies himself only as the “Proponent” of the ballot measure and includes no mention of his affiliation with the Capital Resource Institute, a nonprofit group that advocates conservative positions on family issues. A profile of Sibaja on a California Republican website, redcounty.com, indicates he has worked as a substitute teacher in San Bernardino County, volunteered for Republican presidential candidates Mike Huckabee, and John McCain, and is a member of various conservative Republican groups.

LGBT groups fought hard for passage of the FAIR Education Act.

Kate Kendell, head of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, called the bill “historic” and said it “reverses decades of censorship and discrimination against LGBT people in public school classrooms.”

Equality California Executive Director Roland Palencia called passage of the bill “a monumental victory for the LGBT civil rights movement,” saying it would usher in a “more welcoming learning environment” for LGBT youth.

Equality California has been sponsoring town hall meetings around the state to discuss the merits of putting its own initiative on the ballot in 2012–one to repeal the current state constitution’s ban on same-sex marriage. That language was added through Proposition 8 in November 2008.

Baldwin ‘steaming toward’ 2012 Senate bid

Her campaign stationary says “Tammy Baldwin 2012.” But the text of the July 13 press release walks the U.S. House’s only openly lesbian member one step closer to an historic bid for a U.S. Senate seat:

“She is a likely candidate for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI).”

Her campaign stationery says “Tammy Baldwin 2012.” But the text of the July 13 press release walks the U.S. House’s only openly lesbian member one step closer to an historic bid for a U.S. Senate seat:

“She is a likely candidate for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI).”

That statement echoed a comment she made to the Capital Times newspaper in Madison July 2: “I think I am likely to run.”

If she does enter the race, Baldwin will become the first open lesbian to make a run for the U.S. Senate. (Ed Flanagan was the first openly gay person to run, losing to incumbent Senator Jim Jeffords in Vermont in 2000.) And clearly, Baldwin’s supporters are urging a bid.

According to the press release, Baldwin raised more than $435,000 in the month of June, the month after the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund reported sources close to Baldwin as saying she was eyeing the seat.

Kohl announced May 13 that he would retire, rather than run for re-election in 2012. Newspapers in Wisconsin immediately began identifying a list of potential candidates that included Baldwin. Others mentioned, on the Democratic side, include former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, who lost his re-election bid only last year to newcomer Republican Ron Johnson.

Feingold would be considered the Democrats’ strongest candidate because of his name recognition and long-time service in the Senate. A Public Policy Polling survey in May of 784 likely Democratic primary voters in Wisconsin found 70 percent supported Feingold for the seat; Baldwin came in second with 12 percent. Six other Democrats earned between one and five percent each.

“Remove Feingold from consideration,” said a Public Policy Polling press release May 27, “and the race becomes considerably more wide open, but Baldwin would start out with 30%….” Her closest competitors, according to the survey, would be former U.S. Rep. Steve Kagen with 17 percent and current Rep. Ron Kind with 16 percent.

Capital Times Executive Editor Paul Fanlund said, in a July 5 article, that Baldwin is “steaming toward a 2012 candidacy” for the Senate seat and “it almost seems the only person who could alter her course is former senator Russ Feingold….”

Feingold has said he would make an announcement of his intentions in September. But he urged other Democrats considering a bid to go ahead with their plans and not wait for his decision.

Baldwin told the Capital Times she thinks she would have to raise between $15 million and $20 million for a Senate race.

Her July 13 press release indicates that her July 15 quarterly report to the Federal Elections Commission shows she has raised $502,485 “for the second quarter” of the 2011-2012 election cycle. For the same second quarter in the previous election cycle (2009-2010), she reported raising $107,533.

At her July 15 quarterly in 2009, she had $561,563 cash-on-hand in her campaign coffers. Her press release this month says she has $1.1 million.

New York Census shows 40 percent jump in same-sex couples

U.S. Census data released Thursday (July 14) shows a 40 percent jump in the number of same-sex couples in New York State between 2000 and 2010. And having released data now from a total of 18 states, the Census data indicates that the number of same-sex couples nationwide jumped 47 percent between 2000 and 2010.

U.S. Census data released Thursday (July 14) shows a 40 percent jump in the number of same-sex couples in New York State between 2000 and 2010. And having released data now from a total of 18 states, the Census data indicates that the number of same-sex couples nationwide jumped 47 percent between 2000 and 2010.

The Census Bureau has been rolling out data from the 2010 decennial survey on a state-by-state basis since mid-June. The latest data, from New York and five other states, was released at 12:01 a.m. EDT Thursday.

In New York, the 2010 Census counted 65,303 same-sex couples—18,813 more than the 46,490 counted in 2000. Twenty percent are raising children. Statewide, there are 8.9 same-sex couples per 1,000 households. Not surprisingly, the county of New York (Manhattan) is the county with the highest density of same-sex couples, with 19.32 per 1,000 households. The census tract of Northwest Harbor on Long Island has the highest density of same-sex couples, with 48.15 per 1,000 households.

In the first week of rollout, data from Alabama and Hawaii hinted at a dramatic increase in the number of same-sex couples identifying themselves on the 2010 Census compared to 2000. Hawaii showed a 78 percent uptick; Alabama a 39 percent increase.

In the second week, data from California and four other states continued the trend. California showed a 36 percent increase, Delaware a 79 percent increase, Pennsylvania 59 percent, Kansas 55 percent, and Wyoming 42 percent.

Data from five more states was made available during the third week, showing North Carolina with a 68 percent increase, Nebraska with a 61 percent increase, Colorado 60 percent, Alaska 57 percent, and Connecticut 46 percent.

So far, the state with the highest density of same-sex couples is Vermont, with 10.9 same-sex couple households for every 1,000 households. California is second with 9.98 per 1,000 households.

The city or town with the highest density, thus far, is Palm Springs, California, with 115.21 same-sex couples per 1,000 households.

The majority of same-sex couple households are female couples, accounting for an average of about 64 percent of the total number of same-sex couples. An average of 23 percent of all the same-sex couples are raising children, according to analysis of the Census data by the Williams Institute, a nationally respected public policy research organization focused on issues related to sexual orientation.

The Census data reports all same-sex couple households who identified themselves as such on the Census, regardless of whether they identified their relationship as “husband or wife” or “unmarried partner.” The Census Bureau is expected to release a national count of same-sex couples for 2010 later this year. But it is already clear that the 2010 data will identify many more couples than in previous years. The count so far, with only 18 states reported, totals 359,574. The total for those same 18 states in 2000 was 244,274.

In 1990, when the Census Bureau first began separating out data of same-sex couples from heterosexual couples who identified as unmarried partners, only 145,130 same-sex unmarried partners were identified in all 50 states. In 2000, 594,391 same-sex couples nationwide identified as unmarried partners. In addition to New York, data released this week came from:

  • Arizona, where the 2010 Census counted 20,948 same-sex couples—a 70 percent increase over the 12,332 reported in 2000. Twenty-two percent are raising children. Statewide, there are 8.8 same-sex couples per 1,000 households. The city of Bisbee has the highest density of same-sex couples, with 20.91 per 1,000 households.
  • Minnesota, where the 2010 Census counted 13,718 same-sex couples—a 50 percent increase over the 9,147 reported in 2000. Seventeen percent are raising children. Statewide, there are 6.6 same-sex couples per 1,000 households. The city of Golden Valley, just west of Minneapolis, has the highest density of same-sex couples, with 23.98 per 1,000 households.
  • Montana, where the 2010 Census counted 2,295 same-sex couples—an 88 percent increase over the 1,218 reported in 2000. Twenty-six percent are raising children. Statewide, there are 5.6 same-sex couples per 1,000 households. The city of Missoula, home of the University of Montana, has the highest density of same-sex couples, with 8.42 per 1,000 households.
  • Oklahoma, where the 2010 Census counted 9,802 same-sex couples—a 70 percent increase over the 5,763 reported in 2000. Twenty-six percent are raising children. Statewide, there are 6.7 same-sex couples per 1,000 households. The City of The Village, outside Oklahoma City, has the highest density of same-sex couples, with 15.67 per 1,000 households.
  • Vermont, where the 2010 Census counted 2,798 same-sex couples—a 45 percent increase over the 1,933 reported in 2000. Twenty percent are raising children. Statewide, there are 10.9 same-sex couples per 1,000 households. The city of Burlington has the highest density of same-sex couples, with 15.92 per 1,000 households.

Data during the third week came from five other states:

  • Alaska, where the 2010 Census counted 1,851 same-sex couples—a 57 percent increase over the 1,180 reported in 2000. Twenty-eight percent are raising children. Statewide, there are 7.17 same-sex couples per 1,000 households. The city of Juneau has the highest density of same-sex couples, with 11.85 per 1,000 households.
  • Colorado, where the 2010 Census counted 16,114 same-sex couples—a 60 percent increase over the 10,045 reported in 2000. Nineteen percent are raising children. Statewide, there are 8.17 same-sex couples per 1,000 households. Denver is the city with the highest density of same-sex couples, with 17.19 per 1,000 households.
  • Connecticut, where the 2010 Census counted 10,747 same-sex couples—a 46 percent increase over the 7,386 reported in 2000. Twenty percent are raising children. Statewide, there are 7.84 same-sex couples per 1,000 households. The town of New London has the highest density of same-sex couples, with 12.58 per 1,000 households.
  • Nebraska, where the 2010 Census counted 3,749 same-sex couples—a 61 percent increase over the 2,332 reported in 2000. Twenty percent are raising children. Statewide, there are 5.2 same-sex couples per 1,000 households. Omaha is the city with the highest density of same-sex couples, with 7.81 per 1,000 households. And,
  • North Carolina, where the 2010 Census counted 27,250 same-sex couples—a 68 percent increase over the 16,198 reported in 2000. Twenty-three percent are raising children. Statewide, there are 7.28 same-sex couples per 1,000 households. The town of Asheville has the highest density of same-sex couples, with 19.72 per 1,000 households.

9th Circuit: DADT in place but no investigations or discharges

The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals granted an emergency order Friday night (July 15) temporarily reinstating its original stay of an order that had prohibited the government from enforcing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals granted an emergency order Friday night (July 15) temporarily reinstating its original stay of an order that had prohibited the government from enforcing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. But the three-judge panel, led by 9th Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, prohibited the government from “investigating, penalizing, or discharging anyone from the military pursuant to the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy” and indicated it would rule later this month on whether to extend the stay.

The temporary re-instatement of the stay continues the extraordinary state of flux in the status of the federal law banning openly gay people from the military.

Last September, a federal district court judge ruled Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) to be unconstitutional and ordered the government to stop enforcement of the law immediately and worldwide. The 9th Circuit granted a stay of that order on November 1. Congress, in December, passed a law providing for DADT to be repealed—but only after an indefinite period of training, written certification by the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a 60-day delay. Then, July 6, in a move that Lambda Legal Defense characterized as “stunning,” the 9th Circuit issued an order lifting its stay. The Pentagon said it would comply, but then, on July 11, the 9th Circuit gave the government 10 days to “show cause” why the court should not dismiss as moot an appeal seeking to defend “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

U.S. Assistant Attorney General Tony West filed the DOJ’s response July 14 (and a slightly amended version July 15), asking for an emergency order to reinstate the original stay “and permit the orderly process for repealing [DADT] to resume.” In doing so, DOJ essentially reiterated the 9th Circuit’s own reasoning in granting the original stay. DOJ said “an abrupt, court-ordered end to [DADT] would undermine carefully crafted efforts of the political Branches to bring about an orderly transition in policy.”

But DOJ also provided new information that appears to have made a difference to the 9th Circuit panel. It submitted a statement from Major General Steven A. Hummer, Chief of Staff of the Repeal Implementation Team of the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. The statement, among other things, said the military expects certification “will be presented for decision” to the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff “in late July or early August.”

“In the meantime,” said the amended request, “a new, more rigorous process was put in place for evaluating discharges under [DADT].” And it noted that, since the DADT repeal measure was passed, “one Service member has been discharged under [DADT] and that individual requested an expedited discharge.”

DOJ also responded July 14 to the 9th Circuit July 11 order that it “show cause” why the court should not dismiss as moot the government’s appeal in Log Cabin Republicans v. U.S.

The government argued that the 9th Circuit should not find the appeal moot “because a live controversy remains regarding the constitutionality of the statute as it now exists.”

“But even that controversy will become moot once repeal of [DADT] becomes effective 60 days following the President’s certification; and,” said DOJ, “once this case becomes moot, under the Court’s established practice it would vacate the district court’s judgment and global injunction, and remand with instructions for the district court to dismiss the complaint.”

 

GOP: lesbian would be ‘activist judge’

U.S. Senator Tom Coburn says lesbian federal court nominee Alison Nathan sounds like an “activist judge” to him, but he’s voting against her, he says, because she has lacks “substantial litigation experience.”

U.S. Senator Tom Coburn says lesbian federal court nominee Alison Nathan sounds like an “activist judge” to him, but he’s voting against her, he says, because she has lacks “substantial litigation experience.”

Coburn was one of four Republican senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee to vote against advancing Nathan’s nomination to the U.S. District Court for Southern New York to the full Senate. In doing so, he submitted a written statement detailing his objections.

The statement mentions nothing about Nathan’s sexual orientation or the fact that she is one of only three openly gay federal court nominees put forth by the Obama administration.

Coburn’s objections, like those of Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking Republican on the committee, focus on Nathan’s “lack of experience,” her willingness to take notice of “foreign law,” and her support for the fair treatment of foreigners detained on suspicion of terrorism.

“Looking to foreign law,” wrote Coburn, in his statement, “is a tool of activist judges who seek to reach the outcomes they desire, based on their personal sympathies and prejudices, rather than on the law. These judges cannot find a basis for their decisions in American law and tradition so they look to the laws and norms of foreign countries to justify their decisions.”

“….Perhaps if Ms. Nathan had more substantial litigation experience, she would have a record by which I could determine that she would not be a judicial activist,” concluded Coburn. “However, without such a record and with so little legal experience, I will vote against her nomination.”

The term “activist judge” is a creation of conservatives, initially intended to point out how some judges read a great deal of meaning into specific words in the constitution, compared to “originalist” judges who read only the specific word in the text with its 1789 definition unchanged. But nowadays, the term “activist judge” is employed so frequently it has become more of a political slur thrown at judges who render decisions with which the critic disagrees.

Meanwhile, the Senate is scheduled to debate and vote on the nomination of openly gay attorney Paul Oetken to serve on the same U.S. District Court (Southern New York) to which Nathan is also nominated. The floor scheduled published by Democrats indicates the nomination will come up at 5 p.m. EDT and that 30 minutes of debate has been allotted.

Grassley hints at trouble ahead for lesbian judicial nominee

There was a hint of trouble ahead for the nomination of lesbian attorney Alison Nathan to the U.S. District Court for Southern New York.

Charles Grassley

There was a hint of trouble ahead for the nomination of lesbian attorney Alison Nathan to the U.S. District Court for Southern New York. The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee voted 14 to 4 Thursday (July 14) to advance her nomination, but Senator Charles Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Committee, said he was voting to advance the nomination only because there was a “second opportunity to fully examine” her record, and that of one other nominee.

Grassley said he was “concerned” about Nathan’s view of the death penalty, her reliance on foreign law, and her handling of terrorism cases. Neither he nor any other senator on the Committee spoke about her being one of only three openly gay nominees put forward by the Obama administration.

In written questions to the candidate, Grassley noted that Nathan has been “very critical of the lethal injection method” in carrying out death sentences. Nathan has written that the three-drug protocol inflicts “severe pain,” violating the 8th Amendment’s guarantee that the federal government will not inflict “cruel or unusual punishment.”

Nathan responded, in writing, that she would follow Chief Justice John Roberts’ majority opinion in Baze v. Rees. The opinion, from 2008, held that two men seeking to avoid the three-drug protocol had failed to show that “the risk of pain from maladministration of a concededly humane lethal injection protocol, and the failure to adopt untried and untested alternatives, constitute cruel and unusual punishment.” To qualify as violating the 8th Amendment, said Roberts, the method would have to present a risk that was ‘sure or very likely to cause serious illness and needless suffering,’ and give rise to ‘sufficiently imminent dangers.’”

Concerning foreign law, Grassley noted, in writing, that she seemed to support the use of “foreign law sources” in Supreme Court decisions and asked her when she believes it is relevant to interpreting the U.S. Constitution. Nathan said foreign law would have “no relevance to my interpretation of the U.S. Constitution.” But she acknowledged that there is “an important debate” on “what role the Supreme Court’s reference to foreign law is playing in the Court’s decision….”

“If confirmed,” responded Nathan, “I would follow binding Supreme Court precedent in this and all areas.”

The four votes against Nathan’s nomination came from Republicans only. Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) asked to submit a written statement concerning his vote against Nathan. His office could not provide a copy of that statement before deadline.

At Thursday’s committee meeting, Grassley asked for roll call votes only for Nathan and Susan Hickey, a nominee to the U.S. District Court for Western Arkansas. He said they both “failed to meet” the American Bar Association’s proposed standards for qualification to the federal bench. Grassley noted during Nathan’s hearing in June and again Thursday that the ABA suggests “at least 12 years’ experience in the practice of law” and “substantial courtroom and trial experience.”

“I’m not sure I can get 12 years of legal and judicial experience” out of Nathan’s resume,” said Grassley.

And Grassley admonished President Obama to “refrain from sending us nominees who have limited experience or who fail to meet the ABA guidelines.”

In fact, the majority of ABA members who provide guidance to the Senate concerning nominees characterized Nathan as “qualified,” but a minority said she was “not qualified.” And the ABA standards also note that there is merit in “experience that is similar to in-court trial work—such as appearing before or serving on administrative agencies or arbitration boards, or teaching trial advocacy or other clinical law school courses….” This similar experience, say the ABA guidelines, “may compensate for a prospective nominee’s lack of substantial courtroom experience.”

Nathan obtained her law degree from Cornell Law School in 2000 and was admitted to the bar of New York in 2003 and the bar of Washington, D.C. in 2004. She served as Associate White House Counsel from January 2009 to July 2010 and as special counsel to the New York State Solicitor General since September 2010. She was also a visiting assistant professor of law at Fordham University Law School from 2006 to 2008.

In April, the Committee voted to advance the nomination of openly gay attorney Paul Oetken and three other federal district court nominees by unanimous voice vote. The full Senate has yet to take up those nomination.

Meanwhile, there continues to be no movement at all on the nomination of openly gay attorney Edward DuMont. DuMont was nominated to the Federal Circuit appeals court bench in April 2010. He has not yet received a confirmation hearing.

Lambda takes family case to the U.S. Supreme Court

Lambda Legal Defense is taking its fight for same-sex families to the U.S. Supreme Court. The case, Adar v. Darlene Smith, involves a gay male couple–Oren Adar and Mickey Ray Smith–who sought an amended birth certificate for the boy they adopted in the state of New York.

Ken Upton

Lambda Legal Defense is taking its fight for same-sex families to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The case, Adar v. Darlene Smith, involves a gay male couple—Oren Adar and Mickey Ray Smith—who sought an amended birth certificate for the boy they adopted in the state of New York. The boy was born in 2005 in Louisiana, so the couple had to seek an amended birth certificate from the state of Louisiana. Revised birth certificates identifying a child’s adoptive parents are often needed to verify family relationships to schools, medical providers, insurers, and even law enforcement officials.

Although Louisiana has a statute that entitles an adopted child to receive a revised birth certificate with the names of their adoptive parents, the state’s registrar and director of vital records, Darlene Smith, refused to issue one for the gay couple’s son. Registrar Smith said she could not do so because the state also has a law prohibiting unmarried couples from adopting.

The 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals agreed with the state, ruling that the U.S. Constitution’s “full faith and credit” clause does not require a state official to accept the legitimacy of an adoption granted in another state.

The legal question is whether a state’s “public policy”—in this case, a public policy against allowing unmarried couples to adopt—trumps the U.S. Constitution’s “full faith and credit clause.” In its petition to the Supreme Court, Lambda also urges that Louisiana’s treatment of the Adar-Smith family violates the equal protection clause.

Gay legal activists have long expected the issue of the “full faith and credit” clause to come up in a gay-related case before the U.S. Supreme Court, but most probably expected it would be on a case involving one state’s refusal to recognize a marriage license granted by another state.

Instead, notes Lambda, the issue is coming before the court in a case involving the rights of a child.

“Louisiana may not treat adopted children themselves differently based on the marital status of their legal parents,” said Ken Upton, the Lambda attorney representing the couple out of Lambda’s South Central Regional office in Dallas. “We have long since abandoned the notion that the government can punish children to express disapproval of their parents or their families.”

In its petition to the Supreme Court, filed July 11, Lambda says non-judicial officials of a state should not be able to deny rights to a child by selectively disregarding court judgments issued in other states “based on policy assessments about the merits of those judgments.” And it said the 5th Circuit majority was wrong to say that only state courts—not state officials—owe full faith and credit to court rulings in other states.

Lambda also argues that the 5th Circuit majority “plainly analyzed the wrong statute” in rendering its decision. Adar v. Smith, it says, was not a challenge to Louisiana’s law barring adoption by unmarried couples. It was a challenge to the state’s law concerning vital records.

“The two are not the same,” writes Upton in the petition. “Louisiana’s goals of promoting its view of stable parental relationships in deciding who can adopt in the state is irrelevant because Petitioners are already the adoptive parents and Louisiana cannot change that.”

Republican field splinters on anti-gay marriage pledge

The campaign of Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney and four other GOP presidential candidates said this week they would not sign the bizarre pledge that at least two other GOP competitors did sign–a pledge that promises the candidate will vigorously oppose even “court-imposed recognition” of same-sex marriage.

Gary Johnson

The campaign of Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney and four other GOP presidential candidates said this week they would not sign the bizarre pledge that at least two other GOP competitors did sign—a pledge that promises the candidate will vigorously oppose even “court-imposed recognition” of same-sex marriage.

The refusal of Romney and the other candidates does not signal a change in their opposition to same-sex marriage but does appear to suggest the GOP field may be re-evaluating how far it is willing to go to appease the party’s far right wing.

The pledge, called “The Marriage Vow,” is being circulated by a Christian-oriented political advocacy group—The Family Leader—that organized the successful recall of three Iowa Supreme Court justices because they ruled in favor of marriage equality.

The rambling two-page pledge, which includes two additional pages of footnotes, calls on candidates for state and federal offices to “vow” that they will not receive any campaign support “from any of us without first affirming this Marriage Vow,” that they will “uphold and advance the natural Institution of Marriage,” and remain faithful to their own spouses.

Among the 14 specific positions called for in the Marriage Vow is an “Earnest, bona fide legal advocacy for the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) at the federal and state levels.” The 1996 federal law bans federal recognition of same-sex marriages and asserts that individual states can ignore marriage licenses issued by other states to same-sex couples. The Marriage Vow also requires candidates to give a “steadfast embrace” to a proposed amendment to the federal constitution to ban same-sex marriages nationally.

In an apparent reference to the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the Marriage Vow has a candidate promise support for “safeguards” for military personnel from “intrusively intimate commingling among attracteds (restrooms, showers, barracks, tents, etc.).” And one footnote contends there is no “empirical proof” that same-sex “inclinations are genetically determined, irresistible and akin to innate traits like race, gender and eye color…”

The Marriage Vow does not limit itself to gay-related issues. It also calls for candidates to say “robust childbearing and reproduction is beneficial to U.S. demographic, economic, strategic and actuarial health and security,” to support the “downsizing” of government, and to support the protection of women from “sexual slavery, seduction into promiscuity, and all forms of pornography and prostitution, infanticide, abortion and other types of coercion or stolen innocence.”

A spokesperson for the Romney campaign told the Wall Street Journal, in an article published July 13, that Romney “felt this pledge contained references and provisions that were undignified and inappropriate for a presidential campaign.”

Jimmy LaSalvia, head of GOProud, a national conservative gay group, said Romney “should be praised for those comments, and for keeping his campaign focused on the issues that the American people care about the most – jobs and the economy.”

R. Clarke Cooper, head of Log Cabin Republicans, the national gay Republican group, said the pledge is “outside the scope of mainstream views.”

“Republican presidential candidates seriously seeking to win the general election are wise to avoid such an extreme position,” said Cooper. “Divisive and sometimes off the wall rhetoric on social issues will obscure a solid conservative fiscal message. Americans will not vote for somebody who has demonized their family, friends, neighbors and colleagues.”

Other Republican presidential candidates who have, thus far, balked at signing the pledge are former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, and for Utah Governor Jon Huntsman.

Johnson issued a statement calling the Marriage Vow “offensive to the principles of liberty and freedom on which this country was founded.” His website includes a video urging that it is un-American to discriminate against others “for the way they were born” or to use the federal government to “override the decisions of the states.”

Pawlenty posted a statement July 13 on his campaign’s website July 13, saying that, if elected president, “I would vigorously oppose any effort to redefine marriage as anything other than between one man and one woman.” But while he said he “deeply respects” the Family Leader commitment regarding marriage, he would “prefer to choose my own words” concerning marriage and would “respectfully decline” to sign the pledge.

Gingrich, in an appearance before the Family Leader July 11, reportedly said he would offer some edits to “sharpen” the pledge. The Des Moines Register said Gingrich said he wanted to review the document and was “working out some details.”

The only two Republicans to have signed the pledge – Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania – came under heavy scrutiny for having done so.

Bachmann and Santorum both had to address criticism for signing the Marriage Vow because the pledge originally included a sentence implying that African-American children were better off during slavery times than they are now, under the administration of the first African-American president. According to the Huffington Post, the pledge originally included this sentence: “Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African-American President.”

Huffington Post noted that the sentence has since been removed, and Bachmann told Fox News on July 12 that the sentence “was not on a document that I signed.”

“I just want to make it absolutely clear,” Bachmann told Fox News, “I abhor slavery. Slavery was a terrible part of our nation’s history. It’s good that we no longer have slavery. And under no circumstances would any child be better off growing up under slavery that that isn’t what I signed. That isn’t what I believe. What I signed was a statement that affirmed marriage as an important part of our nation. And I agree with that.”

The Human Rights Campaign issued a statement July 12 calling Bachmann’s signing of the pledge “a dangerous level of extremism.”

Bachmann, Santorum, and four other Republican presidential hopefuls have also signed the “Pro-Life Citizen’s Pledge,” promising that their nominees to the federal courts will be committed to “not legislating from the bench,” that their executive branch appointees (such as Cabinet positions) will be “pro-life,” and that they will “advance pro-life legislation to permanently end all taxpayer funding of abortion.” The other four candidates include Gingrich, Pawlenty, and Reps. Ron Paul of Texas and Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan.

All but McCotter, who just recently announced his candidacy for the nomination, spoke before the Family Leader’s “Presidential Lecture Series,” as did candidate Herman Cain. Romney did not.

The head of the Family Leader organization, Bob Vander Plaats, was the organizer of the successful campaign last year to oust three Iowa Supreme Court justices who were part of the unanimous decision that the state constitution requires that same-sex couples be treated the same as heterosexual couples in the issuance of marriage licenses.

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Campaign posted its own petition for GOP candidates July 12, asking HRC supporters to sign a statement urging GOP presidential candidates to speak out publicly against therapy that alleges to change gays into straights.

Senate hearing on DOMA repeal: July 20

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee has set Wednesday, July 20, at 10 a.m. to hear testimony on a bill to repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee has set Wednesday, July 20, at 10 a.m. to hear testimony on a bill to repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

The specific bill in question is the “Respect for Marriage Act” (S. 598), introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) for herself and Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, announced last week he would hold a hearing on the bill –the first Congressional hearing on a proposal to repeal DOMA.

The Respect for Marriage Act would also stipulate that, “for the purposes of any Federal law in which marital status is a factor, an individual shall be considered married if that individual’s marriage is valid in the State where the marriage was entered into….” It also calls for recognition of marriages licensed in other countries.

The bill currently has 27 co-sponsors, including Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), and John Kerry (D-Mass.). No Republicans have yet co-sponsored the bill.

Live webcasts of Senate Judiciary Committee hearings can be viewed at the committee’s website: judiciary.senate.gov.

 

Church supports rights of LGBT parents and their children

The United Church of Christ (UCC), the denomination to which President Obama belonged for two decades, resoundingly approved two resolutions support of civil rights for LGBT people–including the first-ever resolution by a major Christian denomination affirming the right of LGBT parents to adopt and raise children.

Bob Bauer, executive director emeritus of Evangelical Children's Home in St. Louis, speaks in favor of a resolution titled "The Right of LBGT Parents to Adopt and Raise Children" at the United Church of Christ's 28th General Synod held in Tampa, Fla., July 1-5, 2011. Photo Dan Hazard/United Church News.

The United Church of Christ (UCC), the denomination to which President Obama belonged for two decades, resoundingly approved two resolutions on July 5 in support of civil rights for LGBT people—including the first-ever resolution by a major Christian denomination affirming the right of LGBT parents to adopt and raise children.

Some say the UCC’s actions could have a significant impact in widening support for LGBT equality in other denominations and among legislators.

The parenting measure passed in a rare unanimous vote by representative delegates to the UCC’s biannual General Synod, said Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer, UCC Executive for Health and Wholeness Advocacy, making it “about as strong a statement as you can get from a church body.”

The resolution says care of children is “a moral responsibility for families, the church and the community.” It calls on the church “to defend the rights of all children to have loving parents without regard to sexual orientation or gender expression, and to recognize a family to be any loving, nurturing, ethical relationship between a child and one or more parents.”

In addition, it calls on all states “to evaluate prospective adoptive parents solely on the basis of their individual character and ability to parent, not on their sexual orientation or gender identity, and to grant second-parent or joint adoptions when it is in the child’s best interests.”

More than 460,000 children in the United States live in group or foster homes, nearly one quarter of them wait five years or more before being adopted, and nearly 20,000 turn 18 each year without ever having had an adoptive home, the resolution notes.

The resolution also observes that many states do not permit same-sex couples to adopt, either as a couple or as individuals, even though 65,500 adopted children are already living in LGBT households nationwide, and several major medical associations support the right of LGBT couples to adopt.

The resolution requests the church’s Justice and Witness Ministries “communicate this resolution to local, state and national legislators.”

Local UCC congregations are largely autonomous and are not required to follow resolutions of the General Synod. But Schuenemeyer said, “That doesn’t mean it’s not paid attention to” and “doesn’t mean there isn’t a strong consensus in the life of the church that supports the right of LGBT people to adopt,” as evidenced by the unanimous approval of the measure. He said he expects church leaders will speak out as needed at the state and federal levels about LGBT parenting rights as they have done for marriage equality in Maine, Maryland, Vermont, and elsewhere.

A second resolution passed the same day also calls for the UCC to advocate at all levels of government for the application of human rights principles to prevent “international instances of systematic discrimination, violence and abuse targeting persons based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.” That resolution passed with a 98 percent favorable vote.

While other denominations, such as the Episcopal Church, have issued statements similar to the human rights resolution, no other mainstream Christian denomination has approved a resolution similar to that of the UCC on adoption and parenting by LGBT people. In 1993, however, the Union for Reform Judaism (then called the Union of American Hebrew Congregations) approved a more limited resolution stating that “individual lesbian or gay parents have been adjudged unfit to raise their own children because they are lesbian or gay” and calling on all levels of government to enact legislation to stop such judicial bias.

Sharon Groves, director of the Religion and Faith Program of the Human Rights Campaign, said it is “absolutely huge” for legislators who are LGBT allies to have religious backing like the UCC’s resolutions. Legislators are “regularly bombarded by the religious right,” who have “used religion consistently as a way to oppose us. It’s really critical for our legislators to both feel the support and understand that no one owns religion.”

For anti-LGBT legislators, she added, religious support of LGBT equality is “a wake-up call that they can’t just assume that the religious community is a monolith against LGBT issues.”

“The UCC has been the leader in the Christian faith world around LGBT issues,” Groves said. “They have had enormous impact politically in terms of changing what’s happened in other denominations.” For example, she said the phrase “open and affirming,” meaning a church that welcomes LGBT people, was a concept developed by the UCC that has been taken up by other denominations.

The UCC was the first mainline Protestant denomination to ordain an openly gay minister (in 1972); an openly lesbian minister (in 1977); and to approve a resolution supporting marriage for same-sex couples (in 2005).

In its latest resolutions, Grove said, the UCC is “again leading the way and providing a kind of vocabulary and an urgency of concern that will have an impact in other denominations.”

The UCC has nearly 5,300 member churches and over a million members, according to the National Council of Churches’ 2011 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches.

President Obama was a member of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago from 1988 until 2008, when inflammatory political comments by the minister, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Jr., caused him to choose to leave the congregation.

In related news, a measure took effect in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on July 10, allowing non-celibate, openly gay men and lesbians to be ordained as clergy, one of the few denominations—including the UCC and the Episcopal Church—to do so.

9th Circuit gives DOJ 10 days to step aside on DADT

The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals issued yet another order this month, this time giving the federal government 10 days to “show cause” why the court should not dismiss as moot an appeal seeking to defend “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals issued yet another order this month, this time giving the federal government 10 days to “show cause” why the court should not dismiss as moot an appeal seeking to defend “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

The court’s order, issued July 11, gives the federal government, the House of Representatives, and other parties 10 days to submit their arguments.

The order came just five days after a 9th Circuit panel ordered the Department of Defense to stop enforcement of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), the federal law banning openly gay people from serving in the military.

“Today’s order forces the government to state, once and for all, its position on the constitutionality of DADT,” said Dan Woods, attorney representing Log Cabin Republicans in Log Cabin Republicans v. U.S. In that lawsuit, a federal district court in California ruled last September that DADT is unconstitutional and ordered the government to stop enforcing the law. The Department of Justice appealed that ruling to the 9th Circuit and asked the appeals court to delay the district court’s order that the Department of Defense stop enforcing DADT.

The 9th Circuit granted to request to delay enforcement of the district court’s order, but, on July 6, reversed that stay.

All this comes against a political backdrop in which Congress has passed and President Obama has signed a law repealing DADT but the law remains in force until 60 days after the president, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff submit written certification that the military is ready to implement repeal without detriment to military readiness.

“In our view,” said Woods, “the government has been evading that important issue for too long and today’s order forces the government to ‘fish or cut bait’.”

The order was not signed by any specific 9th Circuit judges but ordered the government to advise the court as to whether it intends to notify Congress that it will not defend the constitutionality of DADT. If the government does not defend DADT, said the court, the court “may allow” some third party to do so.

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network issued a statement saying it hopes DOJ and DOD “will not continue” to defend DADT “and we will soon have finality with certification and repeal.”

Meanwhile, in a mostly symbolic gesture, the Republican-led House of Representatives voted 236 to 184 on July 8 to prohibit military chaplains from performing marriage ceremonies between same-sex partners on military bases. DADT repeal.

“Repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was supposed to be about allowing people in the military to serve openly,” said the amendment’s author, Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kansas), “not about promoting same-sex marriages in contravention of the Defense of Marriage Act.”

Echoing a phrase that has been in use recently by Republican opponents of same-sex marriage, Huelskamp also said the amendment would promote “consistency” of marriage laws around the country.

The language was approved as an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2012 appropriations bill for the DOD.

 

 

 

9th Circuit orders end to DADT enforcement

A 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals panel on Wednesday issued an order that the Defense Department stop enforcing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and the Pentagon quickly announced that it will comply.

A 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals panel on Wednesday issued an order that the Defense Department stop enforcing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and the Pentagon quickly announced that it will comply.

Lambda Legal Defense called it a “stunning development.” The Human Rights Campaign said it puts Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell “on its last legs.” And nearly everyone congratulated the group that made it happen: Log Cabin Republicans.

The order came in Log Cabin Republicans v. U.S., a class action lawsuit challenging Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, (DADT), the federal law banning openly gay people from serving in the military.

Log Cabin won the lawsuit last September when U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Phillips in California ruled that DADT violated both First and Fifth amendments of the federal constitution. She then ordered the Defense Department immediately to stop enforcing the ban. But the 9th Circuit granted the Department of Justice’s request to stay the judge’s order until the merits of her decision could be appealed to the 9th Circuit.

Log Cabin asked the 9th Circuit to lift its stay of the judge’s order and, on July 6, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit agreed to do so.

The panel, led by 9th Circuit Chief Justice Alex Kozinski, noted that much had changed in the eight months since it initially granted the stay of Judge Phillips’ order.

Congress passed a law last December to overturn the law, but the repeal measure will not take effect until the president, the Defense secretary, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff submit written certification that the military is ready to implement repeal. Then, following a 60-day wait, repeal takes place.

But the panel also noted that the Obama administration, in February, indicated it believes that laws treating LGBT people differently should be given the strongest level of scrutiny by the courts. And earlier this month, the DOJ –in a Defense of Marriage Act challenge, Golinski v. OPM— repeated that argument.

The panel also noted that “the process of repealing” DADT “is well underway… and the preponderance of the armed forces are expected to have been trained by mid-summer.”

Because the “circumstances and balance of hardships have changed,” said the panel, the government “can no longer satisfy the demanding standard for issuance of a stay.”

“This is a stunning development,” said Jon Davidson, legal director for Lambda Legal Defense, which filed a brief in the case. “It shows how important it is that the Department of Justice now recognizes that sexual orientation discrimination should be presumed to be unconstitutional and that courts should examine such discrimination carefully.” Lambda represents attorney Karen Golinski in the Golinski v. OPM case the 9th Circuit panel referred to in its order.

Davidson urged caution, saying the DOJ could ask the full 9th Circuit to reimpose the stay until the repeal of DADT is certified and through its 60-day waiting period.

“While it is yet to be determined whether the final decision will be made by the courts or the Congressionally-mandated certification process, the end of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is close at hand,” said Aaron Belkin, director of The Palm Center, a part of the UCLA Williams Institute.

“We congratulate the Log Cabin Republicans who have never given up fighting to make sure that DADT is finally ended,” said Davidson.

The court noted that the government’s appeal of the lower court decision is still slated for oral argument before the 9th Circuit August 29 in Pasadena.

DOJ comes out swinging against DOMA

The Department of Justice on July 1 recommended a federal appeals court in California dismiss a motion promoted by the House of Representatives to dismiss a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

The Department of Justice on July 1 recommended a federal appeals court in California dismiss a motion promoted by the House of Representatives to dismiss a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

The argument came Golinski v. Office of Personnel Management, a case filed by Lambda Legal Defense in which the DOJ initially tried to dismiss the case itself.

Williams Institute Legal Director Jenny Pizer, a former Lambda attorney, noted that, “while this step is fully consistent with the position taken back in February, it was not at all assumed that the Administration would participate actively in the pending DOMA cases.”

Attorney General Eric Holder, on February 23, sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, alerting him that the administration considers Section 3 of DOMA to be unconstitutional. Section 3 states that the federal government will not, for any federal purposes, recognize any same-sex marriage. Holder’s letter said the administration would not defend it beyond the First Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. (The First Circuit, noted Holder, has said that laws treating people differently on the basis of sexual orientation should be examined using the lowest level of judicial scrutiny—rational basis—under which almost any reason can pass muster.)

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.

The Golinski case is in the 9th Circuit. And though the DOJ acknowledges that the 9th Circuit, like the First, has previously held that rational basis review is appropriate for sexual orientation, “we respectfully submit that this decision no longer withstands scrutiny.”

To justify its argument, the DOJ notes that, in 2003 with Lawrence v. Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down laws prohibiting private consensual sex between same-sex partners. And it says “gay and lesbian individuals” fit the bill as a long-oppressed minority—or suspect class. It has been frequently targeted by discrimination, it is a class with limited political power, and it is a class defined by an immutable trait that bears no relationship to the individuals’ ability to contribute to and participate in society.

The brief argues that there is no justification for DOMA’s treating same-sex couples differently and that the record surrounding the law “evidences the kind of animus and stereotype-based type thinking that the Equal Protection Clause is designed to guard against.”

“The Obama Administration is putting very welcome additional flesh on the important bones of Attorney General Holder’s February letter to John Boehner explaining why the Administration won’t defend DOMA any longer,” said Pizer.

Signing the July 1 DOJ brief were Michael Hertz, a deputy assistant attorney general; Melinda Haag, a U.S. attorney; and Arthur Goldberg, assistant branch director.

Pizer said the Hertz brief “gives a detailed and immensely persuasive examination of why antigay laws should be subjected to rigorous constitutional review, including with a very substantial documenting of the systematic mistreatment of gay people by government, the religious and other legally improper reasons for that mistreatment, and further reinforcement of the point that the needs of children are served by equal treatment of all married parents, rather than federal discrimination against some of them.”

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said the brief “represents real leadership from the Obama administration and further hastens the day in which we will leave this odious law in the dustbin of history.”

The brief, which typically takes weeks, if not months, to complete, was filed as President Obama was coming under increasing pressure from the LGBT community and the media to speak out in favor of same-sex marriages and marriage equality laws.

In Golinski v. OPM, an employee of the 9th Circuit federal appeals court, is suing to obtain health coverage for her spouse. The federal court provides such benefits to the spouses of straight employees and was prepared to offer them to Golinski. But the Office of Personnel Management, headed by openly gay appointee John Berry, instructed the court’s insurance company, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, to deny the claim, citing DOMA.

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

In March, a federal district court judge granted the DOJ’s initial request that Golinski’s lawsuit be dismissed, agreeing that OPM had a duty to enforce DOMA that trumped the 9th Circuit’s agreement to provide benefits to Golinski.

Lambda has filed an amended complaint and the DOJ brief was submitted to that pending litigation in the U.S. District Court for Northern California. The House’s Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) has filed a motion to intervene in the Golinski case to defend DOMA.

 

Governor signs Rhode Island civil union law, but pleases no one

Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee (I) signed a civil union bill into law on Saturday, July 2–but LGBT civil rights advocates are not happy with his decision to do so. And Chafee himself said the bill “fails to fully achieve” the goal of providing same-sex couples with equal rights.

Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee (I) signed a civil union bill into law on Saturday, July 2—but LGBT civil rights advocates are not happy with his decision to do so. And Chafee himself said the bill “fails to fully achieve” the goal of providing same-sex couples with equal rights.

The bill, passed by the state Senate June 29 and the House in May, states that it gives same-sex couples the same rights, benefits, and responsibilities as married opposite-sex couples. But LGBT groups say an amendment providing extensive exemptions on religious grounds “legalizes discrimination against the very status and protections it creates.”

Marriage Equality Rhode Island and several leading LGBT advocacy organizations sent a letter to Chafee June 28, asking him to veto the civil union legislation if it included the amendment. They said the amendment would allow religiously-affiliated “hospitals, day care centers, schools or cemeteries to openly and intentionally discriminate against civil union spouses.” Hospitals, they say, “could refuse to allow a spouse to visit their dying partner or make medical decisions in an emergency situation.”

Fourteen state representatives sent a similar letter to Chafee the day before.

Chafee, in a signing statement, called the bill “a step forward,” but added that it “fails to extend full marriage equality to all Rhode Islanders, a civil right that I strongly support and urged the general assembly to enact.” He added that he believes one of the bill’s religious exemptions is too broad.

The civil union bill has been a disappointment to many LGBT advocates from the start because a bill for full marriage equality was on the legislature’s agenda. It was dropped in April after it failed to gain enough support, even though Democrats hold large majorities in both chambers and Chafee, a long-time supporter of LGBT equality, said he would back it.

But one of the marriage equality bill’s sponsors, openly gay House Speaker Gordon Fox (D), announced in April that “there is no realistic chance for passage of the bill in the Senate,” where Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed (D-Newport) opposed it. Fox said he would not move forward with a vote in the House.

The Providence Journal newspaper also reported that Fox said he did not have the votes to pass the bill even in the House, where Democrats hold 65 seats to Republicans’ 10.

Fox instead sponsored the bill for civil unions, a decision that did not go over well with LGBT groups, even before the religious exemption amendment. Marriage Equality Rhode Island (MERI) held a rally at the State House to protest Fox’s decision to drop the marriage equality bill. Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders and other groups issued statements criticizing Fox’s decision and calling it “completely unacceptable.”

But the civil union bill went to the House floor on May 19, where Rep. Arthur Corvese (D-North Providence) introduced the amendment regarding religious exemptions.

The amendment exempts religious organizations, religiously affiliated charitable or educational organizations, and their employees, from solemnizing civil unions and from providing related services, facilities, or accommodations.

Religious exemptions were included in New York’s recently passed marriage equality bill, but the Rhode Island amendment goes further and exempts the organizations and individuals from treating civil unions as valid in any way, if to do so goes against their “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Chafee called that language “a religious exemption of unparalleled and alarming scope” that “eviscerates the important rights that enacting a civil union law was meant to guarantee for same sex couples in the first place.”

At the same time, he said, the bill “brings tangible rights and benefits to thousands of Rhode Islanders” and “provides a foundation from which we will continue to fight for full marriage equality.”

Martha Holt, board chair of Marriage Equality Rhode Island, said in a statement that her organization is “remarkably disappointed” that the governor signed the bill, and hopes that he “will soon return” to his commitment to push for marriage equality.

Interestingly, even opponents of marriage equality oppose the civil union bill, albeit for different reasons. Chris Plante, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage chapter in Rhode Island, issued a statement, saying that civil unions were “a clear threat to the definition of marriage” and to religious liberties.

On June 29, the same day that the civil union bill passed the final legislative hurdle in Rhode Island, Lambda Legal and Garden State Equality, New Jersey’s leading LGBT political group, filed a lawsuit in New Jersey Superior Court on behalf of seven same-sex couples, claiming that the state’s existing civil union laws do not provide them with full equality.

Two other states—Connecticut and Vermont—also won marriage equality after their highest courts ruled that civil unions were insufficient in providing equal rights and benefits.

Maine seeks to regain marriage equality

For the first time in history, LGBT activists are initiating a ballot measure to win marriage equality. EqualityMaine and Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) announced that they are taking steps to place a citizen’s initiative on the November 2012 ballot.

For the first time in history, LGBT activists are initiating a ballot measure to win marriage equality.

EqualityMaine and Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) announced Thursday, June 30, that they are taking steps to place a citizen’s initiative on the November 2012 ballot. The measure will ask Maine voters to approve a law giving same-sex couples the right to marry.

The move comes a year and a half after a referendum in November 2009 overturned a law passed by the legislature and signed by Governor John Baldacci (D) in May 2009. Because repeal activists immediately began petitioning for a “People’s Veto” against the law, the law was put on hold and ballot Question 1 asked voters if they would like to repeal that law.

Fifty-three percent of voters cast ballots in favor of repeal, with forty-seven percent against.

But LGBT advocates say they have been working since that time—canvassing, phone banking, and more—to change people’s attitudes. Betsy Smith, executive director of EqualityMaine, said, “We have been going door to door talking to them and hearing their journey towards support.”

They seem to be succeeding. Two recent polls show 53 percent of likely 2012 voters now say they support marriage equality.

To begin the initiative process, GLAD and EqualityMaine submitted an application to the Maine Secretary of State, Charles Summers Jr., on June 30. Once he approves the wording of the initiative, EqualityMaine will begin collecting the more than 57,000 signatures currently required to put it on the November 2012 ballot.

The proposed language of the ballot question reads, “Do you favor a law allowing marriage licenses for same-sex couples that protects religious freedom by ensuring no religion or clergy be required to perform such a marriage in violation of their religious beliefs?”

EqualityMaine and GLAD will also be ramping up their public education efforts in the coming months, tailored by findings of research they have been conducting to test various persuasive messages.

This summer, they will continue going door to door throughout the state to have one-on-one conversations with voters. Amy Mello, field director of EqualityMaine, said at a press briefing that they believe “this is the most effective and strategic way to change minds.”

They have also launched a new Web site, whymarriagemattersmaine.com, that includes created videos of Mainers—LGBT and straight—telling their personal stories of what marriage equality means to them.

“In the coming months, we’re going to continue to help same-sex couples, their family members, and their friends share their stories and talk about why marriage matters to them,” said Matt McTighe, Maine director of public education for GLAD, in a statement. “We know that, as more people come to understand the love and commitment that gay and lesbian couples share, we will continue to change hearts and minds.”

A leading face of the campaign will be United Methodist Pastor Michael Gray of Old Orchard Beach, Maine. Gray said he used to hold “a very traditional view of what marriage meant,” but after meeting same-sex couples in his parish and beyond, he said, “I now realize that the love and commitment in their relationships is as strong as the love and commitment my wife and I share, and I support their right to marry if they are lucky enough to find someone they love.”

McTighe said at a press briefing that the purpose of the new pro-equality campaigns was not only to build support, but to “inoculate against” opponents’ attacks and be prepared to respond to them.

In the earlier campaign to rescind marriage equality for same-sex couples, opponents launched a heavy barrage of television and radio ads warning that approval of same-sex marriage would lead to public schools teaching children about gay marriage.

Equality Maine field director Mello said the door-to-door campaigners are taking on some of the “hard subjects,” such as what children will learn in school, and why marriages are better than civil unions. They will be discussing these topics even with supporters, “to ensure they really are with us and that we can count on their support.”

Demographics may also play a role in the outcome of the initiative. Presidential election years garner a larger portion of voters under age 40 than in off-year elections such as 2009, according to Goodwin Simon Strategic Research, one of the firms that conducted a poll for EqualityMaine. And younger voters are much more likely to support marriage equality than the oldest voting cohort.