New HUD rule called ‘truly historic’

In a speech before a national LGBT conference on Saturday (January 28), U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan said President Obama views the fight for LGBT equality “not as an issue, but as a priority.”

John Trasviña

In a speech before a national LGBT conference on Saturday (January 28), U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan said President Obama views the fight for LGBT equality “not as an issue, but as a priority” and that the president and administration “believe the LGBT community deserves a place at the table.”

This is an election year, and a veteran political observer might note that the emissaries of incumbents who seek to be re-elected are prone to saying things like this. But HUD has established a record of commitment to the LGBT community from the very start of the Obama administration, and on Saturday, Secretary Donovan added to its already impressive list of deliveries on its commitment.

Donovan announced, at the annual Creating Change conference of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, that HUD will publish a “new regulation” in the Federal Register this week to ensure that any HUD-assisted housing program does not discriminate based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status. It is expected to apply to more than four million units of housing.

The announcement triggered a flood of supportive statements from LGBT groups around the country—from the Human Rights Campaign to the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Maya Rupert, the federal policy director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, called it a “truly historic” development for the LGBT community.

“The impact it will have on all our lives,” she said, “cannot be overstated…LGBT people and their families will now enjoy critical protections from housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Rea Carey, executive director of NGLTF, said the new rule “will literally save lives.”

“These housing protections will reduce homelessness and increase economic security for LGBT people, which helps break the cycle of poverty that many families experience due to discrimination.”

In a conference call with reporters Monday afternoon, Assistant Secretary John Trasviña said the new rule had been in the works for about a year, would be published in the Federal Register this week, and would go into effect at the beginning of March. He said it prohibits discrimination in housing by those who own and operate the housing as well as those who lend money for housing at projects that receive HUD assistance. It also clarifies that the definition of “family” as including an LGBT individual, or individual in an LGBT relationship or be perceived to be such an individual or in such relationship.

The new rule amends Title 24 (regarding HUD) of the Code of Federal Regulations, specifically Part 5, which spells out “General HUD Program Requirements.” The rule also prohibits “inquiries regarding sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The final rule can be viewed at the HUD Web site.

HUD originally proposed the new rule in January 2011 and solicited public comment, as required by law.

Trasviña said the HUD program rule will be enforced by HUD offices around the country and that HUD would be training those staff during the next 30 days to prepare for the new rule going into effect.

In his speech to NGLTF, Secretary Donovan said the new rule will “clearly and unequivocally” protect the right of LGBT individuals and couples “to live where they choose.”

In that address, Donovan made note of the fact that he was the first sitting cabinet member to speak to an NGLTF conference.

In July 2010, HUD issued a clarification of existing policy regarding the Fair Housing Act, a federal law that prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status. The clarification indicated that sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination might be covered under the other categories, for instance, sex discrimination. Within months, the number of LGBT-related housing discrimination complaints filed with HUD increased—from only three between the years 2009 and 2010 to 47 between July 2010 and March 2011.

Last April, HUD launched a national media campaign, “Live Free,” to promote equal access to housing regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Last May, HUD announced more than $9 million in grants to address the housing needs of people with HIV who have low incomes. The funding will last for three years and include a report to encourage communities to attend to the housing needs of people with HIV, as well as their medical needs.

And last November, HUD Secretary Donovan became the first U.S. cabinet secretary to address a transgender group’s event, making the keynote speech at an annual meeting of the National Center for Transgender Equality.

President Obama has made seven appointments of openly LGBT people to leadership positions at HUD, including two assistant secretaries— Raphael Bostic, Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research, who is overseeing a HUD LGBT discrimination study, and Mercedes Marquez, Assistant Secretary for Community Planning and Development.

Appeals court hears HIV ‘direct threat’ case

Lambda Legal Defense argued before the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Wednesday, January 25, that the Atlanta Police Department violated the rights of a man with HIV who applied to join the force. Lambda HIV Project Director Scott Schoettes, who argued on behalf of the anonymous plaintiff before a three-judge panel January 25, said Roe v. Atlanta tests under what circumstances HIV can be considered a “direct threat” and who has the burden of proving it—the employer or the employee.

Lambda Legal Defense argued before the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Wednesday, January 25, that the Atlanta Police Department violated the rights of a man with HIV who applied to join the force.            Lambda HIV Project Director Scott Schoettes, who argued on behalf of the anonymous plaintiff before a three-judge panel January 25, said Roe v. Atlanta tests under what circumstances HIV can be considered a “direct threat” and who has the burden of proving it—the employer or the employee.

The Atlanta Police Department refused to hire “Richard Roe,” a 40-year-old Georgia man as a police officer in 2006 after a pre-employment medical exam indicated that Roe tested positive for HIV infection. Two federal laws prohibit such discrimination—the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act.

Initially, said Schoettes, the city defended itself by saying that HIV infection was not a disqualifying criteria for all police department. But in court, it argued that Roe could not prove that his HIV status did not present a direct threat to the health and safety of others.

While the ADA and Rehab Act prohibit discrimination based on disability, they do allow an employer to require that an employee “not pose a direct threat to the health or safety of other individuals in the workplace.” The question, said Schoettes, was who had to prove the presence or absence of a direct threat in this case.

The federal district judge ruled for Atlanta, saying Roe had failed to establish that his HIV status was not a direct threat.

Schoettes said he argued that the city was trying to argue two sides—that HIV was not a disqualifying factor and that it posed a direct threat. And he said the lower court erred by ruling that it was Roe’s burden to prove his HIV status as a police officer would not be a direct threat to others.

Schoettes said the case is one potentially ripe for consideration at the U.S. Supreme Court level because there is a conflict among several circuit courts of appeal on the issue of who has the burden to prove direct threat.

According to court documents, Roe had “passed” a battery of other police officer tests before the city sent him to a contract medical clinic for a medical examination. It was only after that examination indicated he had HIV that the city said it would not hire Roe as a police officer. Lambda also noted that the medical clinic doctor who examined Roe told him that the city had a policy of not hiring police officers with HIV. And Lambda noted that the doctor told the city Roe had “failed” his medical exam due to testing positive for HIV infection.

Maine marriage ballot measure submitted

Equality Maine and its supporters announced Thursday (January 26) that they will submit more than 105,000 signatures to the Secretary of State to put on the ballot in November a measure seeking to establish marriage equality for same-sex couples.

Equality Maine and its supporters announced Thursday (January 26) that they will submit more than 105,000 signatures to the Secretary of State to put on the ballot in November a measure seeking to establish marriage equality for same-sex couples.

The group had collected the signatures more than a month ago, according to a spokesman, but were deliberating over the decision of whether to seek the “Citizens Initiative” this year.

In a press release Thursday, Equality Maine said its polling showed that 54 percent of those surveyed support for same-sex marriage in Maine.

“Many Mainers have changed their minds and want a chance to bring equality and fairness to our state,” said Betsy Smith, executive director of Equality Maine. Maine voters in 2009 narrowly approved a measure to ban a marriage equality law approved by the legislature.

According to Equality Maine, the title of this year’s measure will be “An Act to Allow Marriage Licenses for Same-Sex Couples and Protect Religious Freedom.” The group proposed for the wording of the ballot measure to read: “Do you favor a law allowing marriage licenses for same-sex couples, and that protects religious freedom by ensuring that no religion or clergy be required to perform such a marriage in violation of their religious beliefs?” That wording will have to be approved by the Secretary of State.

Ben Dudley, executive director of Engage Maine, noted that his group, Equality Maine, and several other organizations working on the measure collected more than twice the 57,000 required to reach the ballot.

White House Twitter session: no news

There was no breaking news on Thursday morning’s “White House Chat” with the LGBT community, but the questions posed were probably a good barometer of what many in the community believe President Obama should be doing in 2012.

There was no breaking news on Thursday morning’s “White House Chat” with the LGBT community, but the questions posed were probably a good barometer of what many in the community believe President Obama should be doing in 2012.

The White House’s openly gay Associate Director of Public Engagement Gautam Raghavan and Senior Policy Advisor Miriam Vogel hosted the one-hour online event on Twitter. They responded to seven questions from people and groups—out of about a dozen questions submitted.

The LGBT activist protest organization GetEQUAL asked, “What steps will [the president] take to ensure LGBT Americans are fully equal under the law? And please don’t pivot to [Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell].”

Vogel and Raghavan responded that “POTUS is for DOMA repeal, inclusive ENDA and his administration has taken many steps to protect LGBT Americans.”

GetEQUAL pushed back, tweeting “That’s great—what is he planning to get done in 2012? Being ‘for’ those things doesn’t actually make us more equal.”

Vogel and Raghavan did not respond, a luxury of White House access through Twitter.

Nor did they respond to political blogger Joe Sudbay’s question, “When can we expect the President to finally evolve on marriage equality?” He noted that it has been 15 months since the president first indicated that he thinks his personal discomfort with the idea of same-sex marriage is “evolving.” Obama made that initial statement in a group interview with Sudbay and other political bloggers.

Immigration Equality asked about immigration reform to allow the partners of gay citizens to achieve legal residency the same as the spouses of straight citizens. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force asked about the administration’s willingness to support non-discrimination policies for federal contractors.

The full LGBT session can be viewed at whitehouse.gov or storify.com/whitehouse.

Religious bias cases at high court

The battle lines between the constitutional right to free exercise of religion and laws prohibiting discrimination are seeing some action at the U.S. Supreme Court these days.

Chief Justice John Roberts (Photo credit: Steve Petteway, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States)

The battle lines between the constitutional right to free exercise of religion and laws prohibiting discrimination are seeing some action at the U.S. Supreme Court these days.

A decision this month by the Supreme Court shot holes in the government’s ability to insist that church-based employers obey laws prohibiting discrimination based on disability. Such laws have been important to many in the LGBT community because they have prohibited discrimination against people with HIV infection, breast cancer, and in some cases, gender identity disorder.

Meanwhile, for the second time in two years, a student religious group is hoping to assert its First Amendment right to exclude students who don’t embrace its religious beliefs. In 2010, the high court upheld the right of the University of California-San Francisco’s Hastings College of Law to deny official campus group status to a Christian student group, Christian Legal Society (CLS). But the decision seemed to signal the conservatives’ willingness to rule differently with another set of circumstances and this new case could do just that.

In Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, a unanimous Supreme Court ruled January 11 that the First Amendment bars lawsuits on behalf of “ministers” against their “churches.” Supreme Court coverage veteran Lyle Denniston characterized the opinion as allowing a “ministerial exception” to “federal, state, and local laws against virtually all forms of discrimination on the job.”

But Lambda Legal did not offer a brief in the case, and Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders called the decision “probably right.”

“We let churches govern themselves without government interference, and it is really part of that fundamental principle that the government should not force a religion to retain a ‘minister’… that the religion does not want,” explained Gary Buseck, GLAD’s legal director. “Chief Justice Roberts seemed to try to make this case about as narrow as possible in that the decision is limited to employment discrimination claims and expressly says it is not addressing other types of claims that might be brought.”

Key questions in the deliberation were whether employee-plaintiff Cheryl Perich was, in fact, a “minister” and how willing the courts would be to let church employers decide for themselves if and when an employee is “ministerial.”

Perich brought a lawsuit against her employer, the Lutheran-run Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School. She sought help from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in pressing her claim that the school had violated the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when it refused to give her back her job after she had been on leave for a disability (narcolepsy) for a few months.

The ADA prohibits employment discrimination based on disability, and the EEOC filed suit on her behalf. But the church school argued that the First Amendment guarantee of free exercise of religion bars government intervention against a church in its relationship with a minister.

A federal district court in Michigan agreed with the school; but the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals sided with the EEOC and Perich, stating that Perich’s duties as a “minister” were identical to those when she had as a lay teacher.

The unanimous Supreme Court, however, considered Perich to be “one of the group’s ministers.”

The First Amendment and prior high court rulings, noted Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the opinion, have confirmed that it is “impermissible for the government to contradict a church’s determination of who can act as its ministers.”

“Until today,” noted Roberts, “we have not had occasion to consider whether this freedom of a religious organization to select its ministers is implicated by a suit alleging discrimination in employment.”

There were a couple of interesting political ironies in the Roberts’ opinion. First, he did not apply a “strict constructionist” view of the constitution in which a conflict is to be examined against the explicit original text of the constitution.

In his opinion, Roberts stated that the First Amendment gives “special solicitude to the rights of religious organizations.”

“We cannot accept the remarkable view that the Religion Clauses have nothing to say about a religious organization’s freedom to select its own ministers,” wrote Roberts.

But the constitution does not say anything explicitly about the selection of ministers. It says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Second, Roberts cited foreign law—something conservatives routinely rail against—to illustrate a point. He said the clash between church and state over “religious offices is hardly new.” And, he discussed how the Magna Carta of 1215 promised the King of England would not impair the rights of the English church.”

But it is hard to squabble with the statement that the conflict between church laws and state laws has been a long-standing battle. And the conflict between those who wish to discriminate against others and claim a free exercise right to violate laws prohibiting discrimination—in particular, laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity—is escalating.

 

Obama: ‘Leaving no one behind’

While there was only one direct reference to anything gay in President Obama’s third State of the Union address, the speech and a large number of White House activities surrounding it were inclusive of gays.

President Obama

While there was only one direct reference to anything gay in President Obama’s third State of the Union address, the speech and a large number of White House activities surrounding it were inclusive of gays.

President Obama’s opening remarks Tuesday night held out the military as a good example of people working together, adding that service members “don’t obsess over their differences,” a comment that could certainly serve as a reference to how well the military has adapted to the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the ban on gays.

And his closing remarks returned to that theme.

“When you put on that uniform, it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white; Asian or Latino; conservative or liberal; rich or poor; gay or straight,” said the president. “When you’re marching into battle, you look out for the person next to you, or the mission fails. When you’re in the thick of the fight, you rise or fall as one unit, serving one Nation, leaving no one behind.”

Some media reports had speculated before the speech that President Obama might use the speech to call for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) or to say that his personal attitude about same-sex marriage had evolved to one of support. There were no statements from the White House to substantiate those reports, but Human Rights Campaign media relations director Michael Cole-Schwartz acknowledged that HRC had been “in touch with the White House to express our desire to see LGBT people and issues included in the president’s speech.”

“Not only does the President have a record of accomplishment to tout,” said Cole-Schwartz, “including issues important to our community can also be a powerful tool toward further progress.  We understand that there are many competing demands on a state of the union address and we hope our community will be given due consideration.”

Asked what, specifically, HRC asked for, Cole-Schwartz said, “We made the case for why several issues could and should be included in the address, particularly how the need for workplace protections for LGBT people dovetails with the President’s likely messages about jobs.”

In his first State of the Union address, President Obama called for repeal of the federal law barring openly gay people from serving in the military. And last year, just a month after signing into law the bill that repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the president used his State of the Union address to urge universities that had been barring military recruiters over the gay ban to start allowing recruiters back on campus.

This year, President Obama brought an indirect spotlight on gays in the military by inviting one openly gay service member to sit with the First Lady in her special gallery seats in the House chamber to watch the speech.

Aubrey Sarvis, head of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), called the gesture “a clear victory in the fight to achieve full equality for service members.”

The service member was Colonel Ginger Wallace, an openly lesbian intelligence officer in the U.S. Air Force. Also included among 28 guests was a second openly gay guest, Lorelei Kilker. Kilker, an environmental chemist, filed a lawsuit that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission used to secure equal pay for women at a Colorado company.

Wallace, of McLean, Virginia, and Kilker of Brighton, Colorado, were guests at a reception at the White House and then traveled to the Capitol with the First Lady. Their partners watched the speech at the White House at a special event.

The National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce sent out a press release Tuesday, noting that its communications director, Laura Berry, would also be at the White House during the speech for a “social media watch party” that was to be followed by “a life Q & A with top Obama advisers.”

The Republican Party had its response to President Obama’s State of the Union address, via Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels. And Log Cabin Republican leader R. Clarke Cooper issued a press statement Tuesday morning criticizing Democrats for “telling a thousand and one stories to distract the American voter, but even Queen Scheherazade couldn’t spin her way out of a thousand days without passing a budget.”

“American families, gay and straight, all know that the first step to regaining fiscal health is writing a budget that clearly sets out priorities and limits spending to what you can afford,” said Cooper. “Senate Democrats have engaged in an unprecedented dereliction of duty.  There is nothing President Obama can say in the State of the Union address tonight to hide their failure from the American people. Just more words will not alleviate voters’ discontent. Log Cabin Republicans look forward to electing a Republican Senate majority this November that is ready to get down to business.”

White House officials are taking time to answer questions related to the State of the Union via Twitter for the next several days. On Thursday, it will hold “community-focused discussions with policy advisors,” including a specific time slot to address LGBT questions. That conversation, with White House Senior Policy Advisor Miriam Vogel and openly gay White House Associate Director for Public Engagement Gautam Raghavan, will take place at 11 a.m. People can pose questions on Twitter by using the hashtag #WHChat. People can follow the questions and answers on Twitter at #WHLive. And anyone who cannot follow the discussion live, can access it later at whitehouse.gov.

And on Monday, President Obama will participate in a Google+Hangout event from the West Wing of the White House to answer questions that have been submitted. People wishing to propose a question can go to youtube.com/whitehouse.

For more details and a complete schedule of events, see the White House Blog.

Two lesbians to be recognized at SOTU

Colonel Ginger Wallace, an openly lesbian intelligence officer in the U.S. Air Force, will be one of two openly gay people in the First Lady’s gallery seats tonight, when President Obama delivers his State of the Union address for 2012.

The second openly gay guest is Lorelei Kilker, an environmental chemist who was part of the government’s class action suit to secure equal wages for women.

Colonel Ginger Wallace, an openly lesbian intelligence officer in the U.S. Air Force, will be one of two openly gay people in the First Lady’s gallery seats tonight, when President Obama delivers his State of the Union address for 2012.

The second openly gay guest is Lorelei Kilker, an environmental chemist who was part of the government’s class action suit to secure equal wages for women.

Wallace, of McLean, Virginia, and Kilker of Brighton, Colorado, will be guests at a reception at the White House and then travel to the Capitol with the First Lady to sit in a special section of the House balcony to hear the president’s speech.

Wallace, reached by phone Tuesday morning, said her partner of 11 years, Kathy Knopf, will be with her at the White House reception and then will watch the speech with other spouses at the White House.

Wallace, 43, said the White House asked Servicemembers United leader Alex Nicholson for names of openly gay service members to consider to be honored with the invitation. In addition, Wallace had been the subject of an article in the Washington, D.C. gay newspaper, the Washington Blade, in early December. The article noted that Knopf would be participating in Wallace’s promotion ceremony. Then, that article was quoted a few weeks later by White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett in a Huffington Post piece on the anniversary of President Obama’s signing of the bill to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“I could not be more honored or proud,” said Wallace, Tuesday morning. “I’m representing thousands and thousands who have served or are serving…. But it’s truly not about us. It’s about all the gays and lesbians who have served, and those who served and we’re not as fortunate as I to have full careers, and those who will serve in the future. And it is about our families and partners.”

Wallace is currently in training for deployment to Afghanistan this spring to serve as an adviser to senior officials in the Afghan government and military.

Lorelei Kilker could not be reached at deadline today, but a White House advisory notes that she is an analytical chemist for an environmental lab.

“In October of 2011,” notes the advisory, “Ms. Kilker was one of a class of women who benefitted from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) investigation of alleged systematic sex discrimination at her former employer that resulted in the award of back wages and significant remedial relief, arrangements that were achieved through a cooperative process between the employer and EEOC.”

An EEOC press release October 3, 2011, identified Kilker as having been an employee of Western Sugar Cooperative when she brought to the EEOC’s attention practices by the company that resulted in female employees being denied the same training, desirable work assignments, and promotions as its male employees. Kilker filed a lawsuit on behalf of herself and other women at the company and, with the intervention of EEOC, Western Sugar agreed to make “significant remedial relief.”

The advisory notes that Kilker has a domestic partner and two children and the couple lives in Brighton.

South Carolina gives Gingrich a boost

Three different contests, three different winners, and none of the remaining four major candidates for the Republican presidential nomination has a record of supporting equal rights for gays.

But the candidate who described laws banning sexual orientation discrimination as “religious bigotry”—Newt Gingrich—won Saturday’s South Carolina primary. Now, he must slug it out in Florida against Iowa caucus winner Rick Santorum and New Hampshire primary winner Mitt Romney.

Three different contests, three different winners, and none of the remaining four major candidates for the Republican presidential nomination has a record of supporting equal rights for gays.

But the candidate who described laws banning sexual orientation discrimination as “religious bigotry”—Newt Gingrich—won Saturday’s South Carolina primary. Now, he must slug it out in Florida against Iowa caucus winner Rick Santorum and New Hampshire primary winner Mitt Romney.

Gingrich won 40 percent of the vote in South Carolina’s primary, a primary in which 65 percent of voters identified themselves as evangelicals or born-again Christians. Romney took second place with 28 percent of the vote, followed by Santorum with 17 percent, Ron Paul with 13 percent. Two percent went to other candidates.

In his victory speech Saturday night, Gingrich hammered home his contention that “elites” and activist judges are threatening America with “religious bigotry.” He belittled President Obama’s opposition to a pipeline through the mid-section of the U.S. as “taking care of his extremist, left-wing friends in San Francisco.”

Many political analysts are attributing Gingrich’s success in South Carolina to his pugilistic performance in debates, his having served as a member of Congress from neighboring Georgia, and the fact that Romney has been stubbornly reluctant to release his tax returns to the public for scrutiny. And exit polling has shown that 65 percent of Republicans voting Saturday said the debates were an important factor in making their decisions. Of those who said that, 50 percent voted for Gingrich.

In debate Thursday night, Gingrich berated CNN moderator John King for asking Gingrich if he wanted to address his ex-wife’s widely publicized accusation that Gingrich had asked her to either agree to let him have a mistress or a divorce. While a highly conservative audience might normally be expected to scrutinize an allegation that a thrice-married candidate may not respect the “sanctity” of marriage, it, instead, seemed to embrace Gingrich’s attack against the “media elite.”

LGBT voters were likely more interested in examining the allegation against Gingrich because Gingrich has been opposed to marriages of same-sex couples. He told a debate audience in New Hampshire January 8 that he did not support allowing same-sex couples to marry because it was “a huge jump from being understanding and considerate” of the pains of discrimination against same-sex couples and “saying we’re therefore going to institute the sacrament of marriage as though it has no basis.” Marriage, said Gingrich, was “between a man and a woman.”

 

 

Coming out of South Carolina, Gingrich now has 23 delegates toward the GOP nomination, which requires 1,144 to secure. Romney has 19 delegates, Santorum has 12, Ron Paul has 3, and Jon Huntsman (who pulled out of the race Monday) has 2.

Gingrich has already been campaigning in Florida, which holds its primary January 31 and 50 delegates to offer. While in Miami campaigning this month, Gingrich claimed that Romney appointed the judges who delivered the decision that led to same-sex couples obtaining marriage licenses in Massachusetts. Romney did not. Three of the four justices who voted with the majority in that decision were appointed by other Republican governors; the fourth justice was a Democratic appointee.

It’s not clear how big an issue same-sex marriage, adoption, or other civil rights issues for LGBT people might be in Florida, but the Sunshine State —unlike the previous three states—has a significant gay Republican presence. There are Log Cabin Republican chapters in Miami, Broward County, and Tampa Bay. And gay-related issues have been in the news regularly in Florida.

There will be two debates prior to the Florida primary. The first comes Monday night on NBC, sponsored by a number of news outlets. The second comes Thursday on CNN, sponsored by the Republican Party and the Hispanic Leadership Network.

Religious leaders see bigotry in marriage equality

A group of nearly 40 conservative religious leaders released an open letter this month (January 12) that seeks to reframe the battle over same-sex civil marriage as a threat to their freedom of religion.

A group of nearly 40 conservative religious leaders released an open letter this month (January 12) that seeks to reframe the battle over same-sex civil marriage as a threat to their freedom of religion.

And in a new tactical twist, the signatories, say their concern is not that their ministers will be forced to preside at same-sex weddings. Rather, they say, allowing gays to wed would end up “forcing or pressuring both individuals and religious organizations — throughout their operations, well beyond religious ceremonies — to treat same-sex sexual conduct as the moral equivalence of marital sexual conduct.”

The signatories include New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, president of the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, H. David Burton, presiding bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; and Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals. It also includes the Bishop of Oakland, California,  the Most Rev. Salvatore  J. Cordileone.

“There is no doubt that many people and groups whose moral and religious convictions forbid same-sex sexual conduct will resist the compulsion of the law and church and state conflicts will result,” the leaders caution, in the letter, entitled “Marriage and Religious Freedom:  Fundamental Goods That Stand or Fall Together.”

The signatories say that faith-based adoption agencies would be required to place children with civilly married same-sex couples and that religious employers would be required to extend medical health care benefits same-sex spouses.

The letter, posted on the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, holds out marriage between heterosexual couples as the “true definition” that “must be protected for its own sake and for the good of society.”

The religious leaders also assert that, in opposing same-sex marriage, they and their followers have been “marked” as “bigots, subjecting them to the full arsenal of government punishments and pressures reserved for racists.”

Nationwide, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church has been at the forefront advocating against equal civil-marriage rights for gay couples. One leading opponent is Archbishop Dolan, whom the pope will elevate to cardinal next month.

Days before conservative religious leaders released their letter, Pope Benedict said same-sex marriage posed a threat to “humanity” adding, “Pride of place goes the family, based on the marriage of a man and a woman.”

“This is not a simple social convention, but rather the fundamental cell of every society,” he said. “Consequently, the policies which undermine the family threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself.”

Catholic advocates for LGBT equality reacted swiftly to the Pope’s harsh words and the open letter.

“The pope has it wrong, but this time he has it diametrically wrong,” said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of Mount Rainier, Md.-based New Ways Ministry, a gay positive ministry of outreach with LGBT Catholics, their families, and friends.

“The threat to ‘human dignity and the future of humanity’ comes not from marriage equality but in opposition to it,” he added in a New Ways Ministry blog posting.

In e-mail correspondence, DeBernardo said, the open letters’ threat of “compulsion is a fantasy that exists in the conservative religious leaders’ heads.”

“No one is going to be compelled to do anything,” he said. “If religious organizations do not follow government regulations, they will simply not receive government funding,” he said.

“We are not going to see bishops going to jail over this,” DeBernardo said.

Interestingly, DeBernardo said, “At least for the Catholic bishops who signed this statement, there was never any uproar over providing benefits to divorced, remarried, but not annulled people. The same Catholic principles of marriage apply in that case. Why is there only an uproar when gay and lesbian people are involved?”

Phil Attey, executive of Catholics for Equality, said the Catholic bishops are recasting themselves from “bullies” to “victims.”

“Politically, it’s imperative for the bishops to change the narrative, he said. “And the best way to do this is to fabricate injustices against them. Ergo, we have their new ‘religious liberties’ campaign.”

Catholics for Equality is a national LGBT advocacy organization.

The use of public funds by faith-based organizations is a key, say advocates and legal experts, not religious freedom. Privately funded, religious-based, charitable and social services programs are exempt from non-discrimination laws. But such taxpayer-funded faith-based programs are required to comply with state non-discrimination laws.

“Religious freedom does not include a right to special exemptions from the laws that bind all citizens,” said professor Tobias Wolff at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. “Neither does religious freedom include a right to avoid criticism for one’s beliefs. Adherents to religions that preach discrimination against LGBT people have a right to explore their beliefs. They do not have a right to turn those beliefs into law, and they do not have a right to pursue their beliefs free from the disapproval of their fellow citizens.”

Gingrich deflects tough question

Newt Gingrich’s combativeness at a debate in South Carolina Thursday night worked the live audience into a frenzy of standing ovations at the very start of the two-hour event. The audience cheered wildly and stood several times as Gingrich ripped into CNN moderator John King for doing something Gingrich said he found “as despicable as anything I can imagine.”

What did John King do?

Newt Gingrich’s combativeness at a debate in South Carolina Thursday night worked the live audience into a frenzy of standing ovations at the very start of the two-hour event. The audience cheered wildly and stood several times as Gingrich ripped into CNN moderator John King for doing something Gingrich said he found “as despicable as anything I can imagine.”

What did John King do?

He asked Gingrich if he would like to take some time to respond to a “character attack” that was receiving widespread attention from the media and through the internet. The attack came in the form of interviews an ex-wife gave to ABC and the Washington Post. In those interviews, the Marianne Gingrich claimed that, while married to her, Gingrich had an affair and asked her to agree to an open marriage or a divorce.

“I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate with a topic like that,” said Gingrich. The audience cheered and many could be seen rising to their feet to give the former Speaker of the House a standing ovation.

Gingrich might have had a point; Republican voters and audiences in South Carolina and elsewhere have made it fairly clear through the questions they are posing that they are primarily interested in jobs and making President Obama a one-termer.

But Gingrich has been willing to talk about other people’s marriages during presidential debates. He told a debate audience in New Hampshire January 8 that he did not support allowing same-sex couples to marry because it was “a huge jump from being understanding and considerate” of the pains of discrimination against same-sex couples and “saying we’re therefore going to institute the sacrament of marriage as though it has no basis.” Marriage, said Gingrich, was “between a man and a woman.”

He did sign a right-wing “Marriage Vow” just last month in which he agreed to “uphold the institution of marriage through personal fidelity to my spouse and respect for the marital bonds of others.”

And he did criticize President Clinton in 1998, soon after the scandal broke about Clinton’s relationship with a White House intern, for having no “moral authority.”

With all this relevant background, it might seem reasonable to expect Gingrich would be eager to reassure voters that his ex-wife’s allegation was false.

But Gingrich then pointed to the audience and remarked that “every person in here” has known “personal pain” or had someone close to them “go through painful things.”

“To take an ex-wife and make it, two days before the primary, a significant question in the presidential campaign is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine,” said Gingrich.

When King reminded him that the story was being talked about widely, Gingrich interrupted to harangue King for choosing to start this debate with “trash like that.”

Gingrich did eventually respond briefly to the question, saying “the story is false” and that “every personal friend I have who knew us during that period says the story was false,” though he did not offer an explanation for how those friends would have independently known “the story” was false. If there had been such an exchange between Gingrich and then-wife Marianne, it seems quite unlikely that either would have recorded it so their friends would be able to confirm that it never happened.

Gingrich ranted on, saying King’s asking the question was an example of “the elite media is protecting Barack Obama by attacking Republicans.”

The audience roared its approval, and Gingrich had effectively deflected the inquiry into his character and his fidelity to the “sacrament of marriage” through a kind of smoke-and-mirrors counter-attack that he has perfected.

Gingrich’s polling in South Carolina was on the rise prior to the debate in Charleston Thursday night. According to an average of various polls, Gingrich was in a virtual tie with Mitt Romney, who won the New Hampshire primary and has widely been considered the frontrunner. But that frontrunner status has been shaken. A newly finalized tally of the Iowa caucuses straw poll has moved that contest into Rick Santorum’s win-column. And since the departure of Jon Huntsman from the field on Monday and the departure of Rick Perry on Thursday morning, the South Carolina primary has become a toss-up between Romney and Gingrich for first and second place, and Santorum and Ron Paul for third and fourth.

GOP field slugging it out in SC

The South Carolina primary has distinguished itself in the past by bringing out the worst in campaign tactics. So it is no surprise that this week, some Republican contenders accused supporters of Rick Santorum of rigging a consensus vote by evangelical leaders.

The South Carolina primary has distinguished itself in the past by bringing out the worst in campaign tactics. So it is no surprise that this week, some Republican contenders accused supporters of Rick Santorum of rigging a consensus vote by evangelical leaders. No surprise that Newt Gingrich misstated Mitt Romney’s role in the historic 2003 same-sex marriage decision in Massachusetts. And no surprise that somebody was distributing a flyer outside last Saturday’s debate in Charleston that portrayed Romney as a largely pro-gay candidate.

But there have been some surprises in the South Carolina campaign, including who was behind that flyer and the withdrawal of the field’s most progressive candidate, Jon Huntsman.

Huntsman, the only major Republican presidential hopeful who expressed support for civil unions (though not same-sex marriage), surprised some on Monday when he withdrew from the race just six days after touting his third place showing in the New Hampshire primary. But polls were indicating he’d be back at the bottom of the heap in the South Carolina and Florida this month. The Wall Street Journal blamed Huntsman’s failure to catch on with most Republicans on “some of his policy positions, such as his support for civil unions for gay couples….” In announcing his departure from the campaign, Huntsman endorsed Romney.

While that might have been a boost of sorts for Romney, there were many barbs, too. One such barb was an independent political action committee that describes itself as “progressive” distributing a flyer highlighting pro-gay remarks by Romney by juxtaposing them next to similar comments from well-known gays, such as Barney Frank, Harvey Milk, and Audre Lorde.

The PAC, American Bridge to the 21st Century, describes itself as “Democratic-allied” and distributed the flyers on car windshields outside Saturday’s Fox News debate in Charleston. ABC News reported the group has indicated it plans to continue distributing the flyers this week, prior to the Saturday, January 21 primary.

Chris Harris, a spokesman for the group, said the flyer is an effort “to highlight the fact that Mr. Romney has no core and will do or say anything to get elected.” Asked whether the group was concerned Romney might try to make use of his past pro-gay statements to woo LGBT voters in the general election, Harris said no.

“Romney is as conservative on gay rights issues as George W. Bush was in 2004,” said Harris. “We’d love it [if] Romney would flip back to his pre-flop flip after the primary, but we don’t see that happening.”

For his part, Romney, during Saturday’s debate, repeated his defense on the charge that he has repeatedly flip-flopped on some issues, such as civil rights for gays. Romney said he has always been opposed to discrimination against gays and has always been against marriage for same-sex couples.

But former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who makes frequent reference to himself as a historian, stuck another barb against Romney that was patently void of facts. Gingrich, campaigning in Florida, claimed that Romney appointed the judges who delivered the decision that led to same-sex couples obtaining marriage licenses in Massachusetts.

In fact, Romney did not appoint a single state supreme court justice who participated in the famous Goodridge v. Commonwealth case. Six of the seven justices were Republican appointees, but each was appointed by Republican governors William Weld and Paul Cellucci. The seventh justice, who provided the winning margin in the 4 to 3 decision, was appointed by Democratic Governor Michael Dukakis.

Rick Santorum got in his barbs, too. Although he continues to play down his fierce opposition to civil rights for gays, he now does so using code words.  The new code word is “social issues.” In a new 30-second ad that began airing in South Carolina Monday, Santorum notes similarities between Romney and President Obama, claiming that Romney said he was “more liberal than Ted Kennedy on social issues.” The claim is apparently based on a very loose translation of comments Romney made in 1994, in an interview with the Boston gay newspaper Bay Windows. In that interview, Romney, who was running against incumbent Ted Kennedy for the Senate, argued that, because he is a “moderate,” his voice would have greater credibility in Congress on gay civil rights issues than the voice of the “extremist” Kennedy. The newspaper itself interpreted that remark as, “Romney said one reason why he is a better candidate for Senate than opponent Sen. Edward Kennedy is because his voice would carry more weight on lesbian and gay issues than Kennedy’s.”

Santorum had to do his own damage control this week, for what may turn out to be a self-inflicted injury to his credibility. Just days after Family Research Council President Tony Perkins told reporters that 150 evangelical leaders had formed a “clear majority” behind Santorum, news emerged that many of the people attending the “vote” now believe it was rigged for Santorum. The January 14 meeting in Houston, and Perkins’ subsequent statement, received considerable media attention. But according to a report on Monday from the Washington Times, a conservative newspaper in Washington, D.C., Santorum supporters organized the closed-door event and Santorum was declared the consensus candidate after a third ballot taken “after many people had left to catch flights back home….”

The most recent polls in South Carolina suggests Santorum got little to no bump after the news that the evangelical gathering was urging conservatives to unite behind him. A Rasmussen poll on January 12 showed him with 16 percent, and a Rasmussen poll on January 16 showed him with 16 percent.

Romney leads in four different polls with between 28 percent and 33 percent. Gingrich appears to be heading for a second-place finish with between 21 percent and 25 percent. Santorum’s numbers put him in contention with U.S. Rep. Ron Paul for third place. And Texas Governor Rick Perry is set to finish last in single digits.

Marriage equality: A busy 2012 is off and running

Pro-active efforts got underway this month to establish marriage equality in at least three more states. After a 2011 that saw marriage equality become reality in the most populous state yet and the Obama administration issuing a major statement against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), 2012 could do even better.

Pro-active efforts got underway this month to establish marriage equality in at least three more states.

Democratic leaders in the New Jersey Senate and Assembly on January 9 announced their intention to introduce a marriage equality bill. Washington Governor Chris Gregoire (D), a long-time supporter of rights for same-sex couples, announced January 4 that she will introduce such a bill in her state. And in Maryland, where a marriage equality bill passed the state Senate but not the House in March 2011, Governor Martin O’Malley (D) has said he will sponsor marriage equality legislation in 2012 and will take an active role in moving the bill forward this year. And Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr. (D-Calvert) has indicated his chamber will shortly take action on such a measure.

After a 2011 that saw marriage equality become reality in the most populous state yet and the Obama administration issuing a major statement against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), 2012 could do even better.

Evan Wolfson, president of the national Freedom to Marry group, said progress towards marriage equality in 2012 will be “fueled by the extraordinary, transformative wins we racked up in 2011.”

At the same time, he said, “We definitely have our big challenges in 2012 and we’re not going to win every battle.”

On the positive side, the three states above could see legislative success toward achieving marriage equality in 2012.

Both Governors O’Malley and Gregoire seem to be following the example of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D), who was actively involved in successfully pushing through marriage equality in his state’s legislature in 2011.

But the road will be much harder in New Jersey, where Republican Governor Chris Christie has said he would veto any marriage equality legislation passed in his state. Supporters will have to gain enough votes to override that veto.

Other states may not get that far. West Virginia Delegate John Doyle (D-Jefferson County) told WEPM Radio News December 22 that a marriage equality bill has “no chance” of passing his state’s legislature. But Doyle said he would introduce a civil union bill.

Colorado State Senator Pat Steadman (D-Denver) introduced a civil union bill in the Colorado legislature January 11. The bill is expected to pass the Democrat-controlled Senate but will face a tougher path in the House, which the Republicans control by one vote.

One state could lose marriage equality this year. The New Hampshire House will likely vote this month on a bill to repeal marriage equality in the state. If it passes, the bill would then go to the state Senate, which under normal procedure would not vote on it until at least April. Governor John Lynch (D) has said he would veto the bills, allowing marriage equality to remain, although the legislature could override the veto.

Wolfson noted that marriage equality advocates “continue to be vigilant” in Iowa, where same-sex couples gained the right to marry in 2009. The state House last year passed a bill that would have started the process of putting an anti-marriage equality measure on the ballot, but Democratic leadership blocked the bill in the Senate.

Two other states—North Carolina and Minnesota—will be turning the matter over to voters in 2012. The legislatures passed bills in 2011 for ballot measures that seek to ban marriage for same-sex couples under the state constitutions.

Minnesota’s ballot measure will appear in November. North Carolina’s, however, will appear on the May 2012 primary ballot – not in November as originally planned–a move that may make it more likely to pass.

House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg) told a press conference that the date change was made to “remove politics.” Some Democrats had accused Republicans of using the bill to draw conservative voters to the polls in November. But the major contested primaries in May will be the Republican ones for president and governor, meaning the spring turnout to vote on the marriage measure will likely be largely Republican.

Elsewhere, Indiana and Pennsylvania started the process in 2011 for anti-marriage equality ballot measures, and those could see further action in 2012. Both states require two legislative sessions to pass ballot measures that would amend the state constitutions.

In Maine, LGBT advocates collected enough signatures to place a measure in favor of marriage equality before voters on the 2012 ballot. A spokesperson for the effort, Ian Grady, said the advocates have not yet decided whether to submit the signatures and proceed with the effort. Their deadline is the end of January.

Some marriage equality advocates also believe 2012 could see progress at the federal level.

Richard Socarides, a longtime Democratic activist and former White House aide under President Clinton, wrote in the New Yorker December 19 that he foresees “a strategically timed (if low-key) pre-election announcement” of the President’s support for marriage equality.

Socarides said he believes two federal cases seeking to secure marriage equality —Gill v. Office of Personnel Management (the DOMA challenge) in the 1st Circuit and Perry v. Brown (the equal protection challenge) in the 9th Circuit—will be decided this year in favor of marriage equality. If so, he says, they will put pressure on President Obama to announce his support.

“Having a Democratic President, an African American at that, on the ‘wrong’ side of federal-appeals-court rulings on civil rights is an untenable situation,” he wrote.

But the cases are being decided by three-judge panels in each circuit, and could be appealed further to the full circuit courts or directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Wolfson made no predictions about the president’s stance but said Freedom to Marry will call on the president “to follow through on the really important and great steps he’s taken” in 2011—especially Attorney General Eric Holder’s letter to Congress stating that the administration believes Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional and would no longer defend it.

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

Both Wolfson and Socarides agree that supporting marriage equality is no longer the political suicide it once was.

“The remarkable new reality for Obama in this election,” said Socarides, “is that supporting marriage equality is smart politics.”

Wolfson noted that a July analysis of over a decade of polling data by Joel Benenson, President Barack Obama’s lead pollster, and Dr. Jan van Lohuizen, President George W. Bush’s lead pollster, showed that support for marriage equality nationwide rose about one percent per year between 1996 and 2009, but jumped to five percent per year in 2010 and 2011.

The analysis also concluded that, since 2006, support has risen 8 percent among Republicans and 13 percent among Independents. The study was commissioned by Freedom to Marry.

Wolfson said his organization has been delivering that information to both Democratic and Republican elected officials and party operatives “to propel that momentum and have the political types stop acting as if this were 1996. The politics of the freedom to marry have changed dramatically, as has public support.”

But Freedom to Marry is also working in communities to spread the message about “why marriage matters and who gay families are” and “painting real pictures through stories and conversations,” said Wolfson.

That, he said, “is how you build the support that creates the climate for political and judicial change.”

Assessing GOP endorsements

Endorsements can work two ways: They can draw support to a candidate or repel it. In the GOP primary campaigns, there are both.

 

Endorsements can work two ways: They can draw support to a candidate or repel it. In the GOP primary campaigns, there are both.

Rick Santorum announced Tuesday that his candidacy has received the endorsement of Florida anti-gay activist John Stemberg and national right-wing activist Richard Viguerie. He’s also recently received the endorsement of anti-gay activist Maggie Gallagher, former board chairman of the National Organization for Marriage, American Values president Gary Bauer, and Focus on the Family founder James Dobson.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has earned the endorsement of American Family Association founder Don Wildmon, Concerned Women for America founder Beverly LaHaye, Liberty Counsel chairman Matt Staver, and pro-Proposition 8 activist Jim Garlow.

Mitt Romney, on Monday, announced that his candidacy has been endorsed by Jay Sekulow of the conservative American Center for Law and Justice. And on Saturday, he won the endorsement of former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman as Huntsman announced his own resignation from the Republican presidential field.

One Romney endorser who drew particular ire this month was Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. The Human Rights Campaign sent out a statement January 11, criticizing Romney for accepting the endorsement of the virulently anti-gay state official.            According to HRC, Kobach made a statement in 2004 characterizing HRC and other groups that work for the civil rights of LGBT people as promoting “homosexual pedophilia.”

And HRC President Joe Solmonese criticized Romney for trying to have it “both ways.”

“He can’t tell an audience in New Hampshire that he has a strong record of opposing discrimination against LGBT Americans and then tell people in South Carolina the next day that he stands proudly with someone who equates being gay with pedophilia.”

“Romney has a long track record of wild flip-flops on LGBT issues,” said Solmonese, in his statement.  “This is perhaps the most glaring example to date that he is a dangerous candidate who will say whatever it takes to get elected.”

Canada DOJ triggers same-sex marriage scare

The Canadian Department of Justice told a court in Ontario this week that a lesbian couple from the U.S. and England who obtained a marriage license there in 2005 should not be granted a divorce now because they were not legally married in Canada.

The Canadian Department of Justice told a court in Ontario this week that a lesbian couple from the U.S. and England who obtained a marriage license there in 2005 should not be granted a divorce now because they were not legally married in Canada.

The argument triggered a flood of news inquiries, aimed at determining whether the administration of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who opposes same-sex marriage, might be trying to invalidate same-sex marriages through the courts.

But five of the U.S.’s top LGBT legal groups issued a statement Thursday evening saying they are not worried.

“No one’s marriage has been invalidated or is likely to be invalidated,” said the groups. “The position taken by one government lawyer in a divorce is not itself precedential. No court has accepted this view and there is no reason to believe that either Canada’s courts or its Parliament would agree with this position, which no one has asserted before during the eight years that same-sex couples have had the freedom to marry in Canada.”

Not everyone seems as confident.

Canadian Member of Parliament Olivia Chow told the Canadian Broadcast Company (CBC) that she thinks Prime Minister Harper “is hiding behind the law and using a back-door way” to invalidate same-sex marriages.

Another MP, Justin Trudeau, told CBC, “This is what we have been worried about with the Conservative majority for a long time, we’re going to see the erosion of gains….”

Liberal Party leader Bob Rae suggested Harper might be trying to defeat same-sex marriage through the courts now.

“I understand Mr. Harper said he didn’t know about [DOJ argument in the divorce case] and he doesn’t see every legal brief that goes before the courts,” Rae told reporters Thursday. But he added, “Of all the people in Canada who could actually make that argument, it’s a little hard for him to make the argument because my sense of that government is that he controls everything.”

At a press conference on Thursday morning, Prime Minister Harper said he was unfamiliar with the divorce case in question and that he had “no intention of further re-opening or opening this issue.”

The divorce case in question involves a woman who resided in Florida and one who resided in England at the time they acquired a marriage license in Canada in 2005. Their names have not been released. But according to the National Post, a newspaper in Ontario, the women sought a divorce in 2009, but were told Canadian law requires that at least one of them live a year in Canada to obtain the divorce. The women challenged the residency requirement, but in court, the Canadian DOJ pulled out a new twist. It argued that he women could not obtain a divorce because they were never legally married in Canada.

“The government is arguing that since Florida and the U.K.—the home jurisdictions of the estranged couple—don’t recognize gay marriages, a gay marriage licence issued in Canada isn’t legally valid,” reported the National Post. “People living in Canada, Canadian or otherwise, would have no problem, because Canada does recognize same-sex unions. But if your home country or state doesn’t, then the government has argued that a Canadian marriage has no standing in law.”

Six states in the United States recognize same-sex marriages, but the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prohibits the federal government from doing so.

The reaction in the U.S. and Canada has been fierce.

“The notion that Canadian law should be dependent on the local laws of every single other jurisdiction on the planet is asinine,” said National Post columnist Matt Gurney. “A government that has made so much of standing up for Canada’s values on the world stage has no business declaring our own laws subservient to any other land’s. We might not have the hard- or soft-power to give our laws much weight abroad, but we can at least honour them in our own country.”

But, in fact, many jurisdictions do have this requirement. When Massachusetts began issuing marriage licenses in 2004, the state supreme court ruled that only couples from states that did not bar same-sex marriage could obtain licenses in Massachusetts. And Vermont, after it passed its historic civil union law, required that to dissolve a civil union, a couple had to reside in Vermont for at least a year.

Same-sex couples began obtaining marriage licenses in some provinces of Canada in 2003, and, in 2004 under Prime Minister Paul Martin, same-sex couples could marry anywhere in the country. When Stephen Harper became prime minister in 2005, he initially tried to overturn that marriage equality law but failed.

According to CBC television, about 5,000 couples have come from other countries to marry in Canada.

Peter Freiberg, a U.S. journalist who married his same-sex partner, legal activist Joe Tom Easley, in Toronto in 2003, said he was “very surprised” at the news.

“The parliament voted and [Harper] just dropped the issue,” said Freiberg. Frieberg said he and Easley did consider obtaining an additional marriage license in California in 2008, when it was possible to do so.

“But Lambda advises against that,” said Freiberg. “They advised very strongly against it because, if anything should ever come up in court, it looks frivolous to go around and get married in different places, and the Canadian license is as good as any other license.”

In its statement Thursday night, Lambda and the four other groups noted that “Canada’s Parliament codified the equal right to marry for same-sex couples in 2005.”

“The message for same-sex couples married in Canada remains the same as it is for same-sex couples validly married here in the United States: take every precaution you can to protect your relationship with legal documents such as powers of attorney and adoptions, as you may travel to jurisdictions that don’t respect your legal relationship,” said the statement. “There is no reason to suggest that Canadian marriages of same-sex couples are in jeopardy, or to advocate that people try to marry again elsewhere, as that could cause these couples unnecessary complications, anxiety, and expense.”

The statement was issued by Lambda Legal, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, the Freedom to Marry, and the ACLU.

Evan Wolfson, head of the national Freedom to Marry group, noted that Canada’s Minister of Justice, Rob Nicholson, seemed to be “back-pedaling” already on the divorce case argument. In a statement released Thursday, Nicholson said, “I want to be very clear that the Government has no intention of reopening the debate on the definition of marriage. This case today involved the fact that, under current law, some marriages performed in Canada could not be dissolved in Canada. I will be looking at options to clarify the law so that marriages performed in Canada can be undone in Canada.”

NH takes Santorum down; Romney up

The New Hampshire primary results took anti-gay Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum down several notches Tuesday night and boosted the more progressive Jon Huntsman up a few.

Many pundits are now all but assuming Mitt Romney —who came out on top in Iowa and New Hampshire— will be the Republican nominee to challenge President Obama in the general election. But Republican voter support still seems dramatically split among several candidates, a trend that could easily continue in the next primaries, South Carolina on January 21, and Florida on January 31.

The New Hampshire primary results took anti-gay Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum down several notches Tuesday night and boosted the more progressive Jon Huntsman up a few.

Many pundits are now all but assuming Mitt Romney —who came out on top in Iowa and New Hampshire— will be the Republican nominee to challenge President Obama in the general election. But Republican voter support still seems dramatically split among several candidates, a trend that could easily continue in the next primaries, South Carolina on January 21, and Florida on January 31.

Romney had earned 38 percent of the Granite State vote, Ron Paul had 23 percent, and Huntsman 17 percent. Newt Gingrich got 10 percent, Rick Santorum got nine percent, Rick Perry received one percent, and 24 other Republican candidates earned one percent collectively.

Mo Baxley, head of the New Hampshire Freedom to Marry group and a long-time activist in New Hampshire, predicted Santorum’s opposition to same-sex marriage would not play well there. She noted that a survey in December showed that the idea of repealing the state’s marriage equality law resonated with only 25 percent of voters.

Interestingly, the CNN exit polls with 2,760 voters found that 25 percent of New Hampshire Republican primary voters identified as “very conservative.” Santorum got only one in four of those votes. Romney won the greatest share of support from voters who identified as “born again, evangelical” –30 percent to Santorum’s 23 percent. Though Santorum is Catholic, he won only 8 percent of voters who identified as Catholic, compared to Romney winning 45 percent.

Baxley said there are no LGBT Republican groups or even a chapter of Log Cabin Republicans in New Hampshire and that most gays in the state are “very much assimilated and a part” of the general community. It’s because of that, she said, that Romney got a big surprise in December when he tried to solicit the vote of an older man in a flannel hunting shirt and Vietnam Veteran’s cap at a local diner. The man turned out to be gay and unhappy with Romney’s opposition to same-sex marriage.

“Republicans don’t want the issue to come up,” said Baxley, in an interview in Concord before the primary.

That appeared to be true. No one candidate initiated a discussion of same-sex marriage. Santorum was “silent” on same-sex marriage in New Hampshire, said Baxley, because he realizes that, while Republicans in the state may be fiscal conservatives, most are not social conservatives. And candidates “don’t want to get pigeon-holed” on the same-sex marriage issue, and “they’re running away from it,” she said.

CNN commentator Roland Martin faulted Rick Santorum for having gotten into an “argument” with a college student over same-sex marriage.

“He didn’t understand, look, the economy is the number one issue,” said Martin on CNN’s political analysis panel Tuesday night.

But it wasn’t Santorum who brought up the issue in New Hampshire. Members of the audience at an event and reporters at two nationally televised debates last weekend brought it up. Santorum pulled out his polygamy argument against a college student at one event, but on the televised debates, he toned down his language considerably.

In his speech Tuesday night, Santorum referred to the New Hampshire results as a “temporary setback” and said he would be carrying his campaign on to South Carolina. He said that true conservatism requires protecting certain institutions, such as family. But he eschewed the harsh rhetoric from early in his campaign, in Iowa, when he emphasized his opposition to same-sex marriage by deriding it with comparisons to adultery, polygamy, and incest.

R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the national Log Cabin Republicans group said he thinks Ron Paul’s second place finish “underscores New Hampshire’s commitment to the libertarian principles he has consistently championed, which include his votes against the anti-family Federal Marriage Amendment and for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“Log Cabin Republicans are also pleased with the strong performance of Governor Jon Huntsman, a solid supporter of civil unions for same-sex couples and a candidate who frequently talked about the need for Americans to do more for gay rights,” said Cooper. “As the nomination process moves forward, Log Cabin Republicans suggest all the candidates recognize the lesson learned from New Hampshire; that inclusion wins.”

As the nomination process moves forward, the Obama campaign seems already focused on Romney as their likely opponent. A recent email from the Obama campaign points out that, “In 2002, Mitt’s campaign printed a flier advocating for gay rights in Massachusetts. Now? His campaign is denying it.”

The message is an apparent reference to news that Eric Fehrstrom, chief spokesperson for Romney’s presidential campaign, told the Huffington Post that the campaign for Romney when he was running for governor of Massachusetts in 2002 did not authorize a flyer distributed to Gay Pride participants in Boston. The flyer welcomed gay pride participants with the message that, “All citizens deserve equal rights, regardless of their sexual preference.”

The Obama campaign message to the LGBT community seems to indicate some concern on the president’s re-election team that Romney might moderate his views on LGBT issues during the general election.

It’s hard to see Romney doing that, given the risk of stoking criticism that he changes his views to win votes. Romney seems to have clearly staked out his general election position on gay-related issues: He’s against same-sex marriage and against discrimination based on sexual orientation. President Obama is “evolving” on same-sex marriage and is against discrimination based on sexual orientation. But it seems unlikely Romney would attempt to portray himself as a better champion for LGBT people than President Obama.

Nevertheless, some LGBT groups are already worrying whether Santorum might be a vice presidential pick for Romney. The Human Rights Campaign sent out a fundraising plea on Monday, saying Santorum could “very well become Mitt Romney’s running mate.”

“A Romney-Santorum White House,” said the HRC message, “could set back our progress for years – especially on the repeal of DOMA.”

Meanwhile, the Republican contest’s openly gay candidate, Fred Karger, failed to gain any traction in New Hampshire despite a strong effort to turn out young supporters in such college towns as Hanover. A Twitter message from the Karger campaign late Tuesday night said Karger had one percent in his “strength areas” and was leading over Michelle Bachmann by four votes. Bachmann withdrew from the contest following the Iowa caucuses.

But Karger still has hope of gaining some attention eventually.

In an interview at a local Republican event in Nashua January 6, Karger said he hopes to hang in as a candidate after other candidates drop out. Karger was one of 30 Republican candidates in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary –a slot he gained by simply paying a $1,000 filing fee. But he decided not to participate in the Iowa caucuses and said party officials in South Carolina and Florida blocked him from the ballot there.

Karger said Michigan party officials have been more welcoming, so, after Tuesday, Karger was headed to that state to wage his long-shot campaign as the first openly gay candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.

Following Iowa and New Hampshire voting, Romney now has 23 delegates toward the Republican presidential nomination, compared to 10 for Paul, 8 for Santorum, Perry with 4, Gingrich with 3, and 2 for Huntsman.

GOP candidates try to look moderate

After spending eight minutes discussing gay-related issues Saturday night, the six remaining major candidates for the Republican presidential nomination were asked about the issues once again Sunday morning. Frontrunner Mitt Romney said he would not suggest that gays don’t have “full rights” but continued to oppose allowing gays to obtain a marriage license. Challenger Rick Santorum said he would be “a voice in speaking out for making sure that every person in America, gay or straight, is treated with respect and dignity and has equality of opportunity.” And second-place contender Ron Paul urged candidates to stop referring to “gay rights,” as if such a thing exists separate and different from civil rights generally.

After spending eight minutes discussing gay-related issues Saturday night, the six remaining major candidates for the Republican presidential nomination were asked about the issues once again Sunday morning. Frontrunner Mitt Romney said he would not suggest that gays don’t have “full rights” but continued to oppose allowing gays to obtain a marriage license. Challenger Rick Santorum said he would be “a voice in speaking out for making sure that every person in America, gay or straight, is treated with respect and dignity and has equality of opportunity.” And second-place contender Ron Paul urged candidates to stop referring to “gay rights,” as if such a thing exists separate and different from civil rights generally.

“Governor Romney and Senator Santorum today provided thoughtful and constructive answers to the questions they were asked about gay Americans,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “If only they had been that thoughtful when they crafted their various policy positions.”

The January 8 event was a nationally televised debate hosted by NBC’s Meet the Press with the same six candidates who participated in ABC’s nationally televised debate January 7. Both debates were staged before an audience in New Hampshire. The gay-related discussion took up about five minutes of the 90-minute program.

Rick Santorum, who has been virtually silent about his anti-gay positions since his surprise success in Iowa, was the first to bring the issue up Sunday morning, in the first few minutes of the event. He referred to frontrunner Mitt Romney’s support for equal rights for gays when Romney ran against incumbent Senator Ted Kennedy for the U.S. Senate in 1994.

The question to Santorum, from Meet the Press host David Gregory, was, “Why shouldn’t Governor Romney be the nominee? What’s disqualifying in your judgment?”

Santorum first criticized Romney for bailing out as governor of Massachusetts after only one term. Then, he criticized Romney for, in 1994, losing by almost 20 points to Kennedy in the Senate race.

“Why? Because at the end of that campaign,” said Santorum, “he wouldn’t stand up for conservative principles, he ran from Ronald Reagan, and he said he was going to be to the left of Ted Kennedy on gay rights, on abortion, on a whole host of other issues. We want someone that, when the time gets tough– and it will in this election – we want someone who’s going to stand up and fight for the conservative principles, not bail out and not run, and not run to the left of Ted Kennedy.”

Later in the debate, NBC Boston reporter Andy Hiller tried to tackle Romney on his 1994 statement during the Senate campaign. He read Romney’s quote to Bay Windows, a Boston gay newspaper, in which he said, “I think the gay community needs more support from the Republican party, and I would be a voice in the Republican party to foster anti-discrimination efforts.”

“How have you stood up for gay rights,” asked Hiller, “and when have you used your voice to influence Republicans on this issue?”

“Andy, as you know, I don’t discriminate,” said Romney, “and the appointments that I made as governor of Massachusetts, a member of my cabinet was gay. I appointed people to the bench, regardless of their sexual orientation, made it very clear that we should not discriminate in hiring policies, in legal policies. At the same time, from the very beginning, in 1994, I said to the gay community, ‘I do not favor same-sex marriage. I oppose same-sex marriage,’ and that has been my view. But, if people are looking for someone who will discriminate against gays or will in any way suggest that people who have different sexual orientation don’t have full rights in this country, they won’t find that in me.”

“When’s the last time you stood up and spoke out for increasing gay rights,” said Hiller.

“Right now,” said Romney. The audience laughed and applauded.

They laughed again when Hiller turned his question to Santorum.

“Senator Santorum, would you be a voice for gay rights in the party?” asked Hiller.

“I would be a voice in speaking out for making sure that every person in America, gay or straight, is treated with respect and dignity and has equality of opportunity,” said Santorum. “That does not mean that I would agree with certain things that the gay community would like to do to change laws with respect to marriage, with respect to adoption, and things like that. So, you can be respectful –this is the beautiful thing about this country. James Madison called the First Amendment …the perfect remedy –and that is that people of all different backgrounds –diversity, opinions, faith –can come into the public square and can be heard. And can be heard in a way that’s respectful of everybody else. But just because you don’t agree with someone’s desire to change the law doesn’t mean you don’t like them, or hate them, or that you want to discriminate against them, but you’re trying to promote things that you think are best for society. And I do so, and I think that if you watched the town hall meetings that I’ve been doing all over New Hampshire, I do so in a respectful tone, I listen to the other side, I let them make their arguments, and then we do so in a very respectful way. And you know what, we may not agree. That’s why we leave it open to the public to be able to elect members of Congress and the Senate and the President who support their ideas.”

“What if you had a son who came to you and said he was gay?” asked Hiller.

Without hesitation, Santorum, who has four sons, the oldest of whom is 18, said, “I would love him as much as the second before he said it. And I would try to do everything I can to be as good a father to him as possible.”

The audience applauded.

“Both candidates say they oppose discrimination yet they’re also opposed to laws that would be make it illegal to fire LGBT people,” said HRC President Solmonese. “Both candidates profess inclusion, yet they also want to deny patriotic Americans the right to defend their country. You can’t say one thing simply because it sounds good but yet continue to act in a manner that is completely at odds with that rhetoric.”

Santorum’s comments begged a number of questions. For instance, would a “good father” deride a gay child’s desire to serve in the military as being a “tragic social experiment.” Is it “respectful” of gay citizens to equate their desire to marry with incest, adultery, and polygamy, as Santorum has done repeatedly?

Interestingly, Santorum’s comments Sunday sounded very much like comments Romney made in that 1994 interview with Bay Windows. In that interview, Romney said, “…our society should allow people the freedom to make their own choices and live by their own beliefs. People of integrity don’t force their beliefs on others, they make sure that others can live by different beliefs they may have. That’s the great thing about this country: it was founded to allow people to follow beliefs of their own conscience. I will work and have worked to fight discrimination and to assure to each American equal opportunity.”

Later in Sunday’s debate, second-place challenger Ron Paul said, in a discussion of entitlements, interjected that he doesn’t like to use the term “gay rights,” as had been used by Romney and Santorum.

“I don’t like to use those terms –gay rights, women’s rights, minority rights, religious rights,” said Paul. “There’s only one type of right. It’s your right to your liberty. And I think it causes divisiveness when we see people in groups. Because for too long, we punish groups, so the answer then was, ‘Well, let’s relieve them by giving them affirmative action.’ So, I think both are wrong, if you think in terms of individuals and protect every single individual.”

Jon Huntsman, too, chastised candidates for playing “the blame game” in referring to gays and unions.

“Everybody’s got something nasty to say,” said Huntsman. “You know what the people of this country are waiting for…they want a leader who is going to unify, who’s going to bring us together. Because, at the end of the day, that’s what leadership is all about. It’s not about taking on different groups and vilifying them for whatever reason. It’s about projecting a vision for a more hopeful tomorrow.”

Candidates defend views on marriage

The audience in New Hampshire listening to Saturday night’s debate grew noisily restless with reporters’ questions about the right to privacy as it regards contraception. But when the topic became same-sex marriage, they seemed to be listening more quietly –at least until Newt Gingrich claimed that questions about gay marriage belie the news media’s bias against religions.

The audience in New Hampshire listening to Saturday night’s debate grew noisily restless with reporters’ questions about the right to privacy as it regards contraception. But when the topic became same-sex marriage, they seemed to be listening more quietly –at least until Newt Gingrich claimed that questions about gay marriage belie the news media’s bias against religions.

A question about same-sex marriage seemed inevitable. The debate took place in New Hampshire –one of only six states with marriage equality. And the most anti-gay candidate among the major GOP hopefuls –Rick Santorum– had been making significant gains in some polls, making him seem a more viable contender than before.

ABC reporter Diane Sawyer started the discussion, asking candidates to imagine they were sitting in their living room talking to a gay couple. And then she read a question sent in to the debate forum via Yahoo.com from a 30-year-old man named Phil in Virginia. The man’s question was this: “Given that you oppose gay marriage, what do you want gay people to do who want to form loving, committed, long-term relationships? What is your solution?”

“What would you say personally sitting in your living rooms to people who ask questions like this?” said Sawyer. She directed the question first to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

“I think what I would say is that we want to make it possible to have those things that are most intimately human between friends occur. For example, you’re in a hospital, if there are visitation hours, should you be allowed to stay, there ought to be ways to designate that. You want to have somebody in your will, there ought to be ways to designate that. But it is a huge jump from being understanding and considerate and concerned –which we should be – to saying we’re therefore going to institute the sacrament of marriage as though it has no basis. The sacrament of marriage was based on a man and a woman; has been for 3,000 years, is at the core of our civilization, and is something worth protecting and upholding. And I think that protecting and upholding that doesn’t mean you have to go out and make life miserable for others, but it does mean you have to make a distinction between a historic sacrament of enormous importance in our civilization and simply deciding it applies everywhere and it’s just a civil right. It’s not. It is a part of how we define ourselves and I think that a marriage between a man and a woman is part of that definition.”

The audience was silent.

Sawyer moved immediately to former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, noting that he had “talked about civil unions.”

“How do you disagree with others on this stage?” asked Sawyer.

“Well, personally, I think civil unions are fair. I support them. I think there’s such a thing as equality under the law,” said Huntsman. “I’m a married man. I’ve been married for 28 years. I have seven kids….and I don’t feel my relationship is at all threatened by civil unions. On marriage, I’m a traditionalist. I think that ought to be saved for one man and one woman. But I believe that civil unions are fair, and I think it brings a level of dignity to relationships. And I believe in reciprocal beneficiary rights. I think they should be part of civil union rights as well.”

Local ABC reporter Josh McElveen then directed the discussion to Rick Santorum, noting that 1,800 same-sex couples have obtained marriage licenses in New Hampshire under that state’s two-year-old law, “and they’re trying to start families, some of them.” Noting that Santorum is for “traditional families,” McElveen asked, “Are you going to tell someone that they belong as a ward of the state or in foster care rather than have two parents who want them?”

“Well, this isn’t a federal issue, it’s a state issue,” said Santorum. “The states can make that determination, and New Hampshire –my feeling is is that this is an issue that –I believe that the issue of marriage itself is a federal issue, that we can’t have different laws with respect to marriage, we have to have one law. Marriage is, as Newt said, a foundational institution of our country and we have to have a singular law with respect to that. We can’t have somebody married in one state and not married in another. If we’re successful in establishing that, then this issue becomes moot.”

He did not explain how the issue of same-sex couples adopting children becomes moot should same-sex couples be banned from marriage.

“If we don’t have a federal law [banning marriage], I’m certainly not going to have a federal law that bans adoption for gay couples when there are only gay couples in certain states. So, this is a state issue, not a federal issue.”

Again, the audience was quiet. No reaction.

McElveen followed up. What would happen to the marriages of the 1,800 New Hampshire gay couples if a federal ban on same-sex marriage is instituted.

Santorum responded as he has when asked the question in other forums.

“If the constitution says marriage is between a man and a woman,” said Santorum, “then marriage is between a man and a woman. And, therefore, that’s what marriage is and would be in this country and those who are not men and women who are married would not be married. That’s what the constitution would say.”

Again, no audience reaction.

Sawyer jumped back in, asking Mitt Romney to explain what he would say in his living room to a gay couple “who would say, ‘We simply want the right to,’ as the person who wrote the e-mail said, ‘we want gay people to form loving, committed, long-term relationships.’ In human terms, what would you say to them?”

“The answer is, ‘That’s a wonderful thing to do, and that there’s every right for people in this country to form long-term committed relationships with one another. That doesn’t mean that they have to call it marriage, or that they have to receive the approval of the state and a marriage license and so forth for that to occur. There can be domestic partnership benefits or contractual relationships between two people, which would include, as Speaker Gingrich indicated, hospital visitation rights and the like. We can decide what kinds of benefits we might associate with people who form those kinds of relationships, state by state. But to say that marriage is other than the relationship between a man and a woman, I think is a mistake. And the reason for that is not that we want to discriminate against people or to suggest that gay couples are not just as loving and can’t also raise children. But it’s instead a recognition that society as whole –the nation will presumably be better off if children are raised in a setting where there’s a male and female. And there are many cases where that’s not possible –divorce, death, single parents, gay parents and so forth. But, for society to say we want to encourage, through the benefits that we associate with marriage, people to form partnerships between men and women and then raise children, which we think that will be the ideal setting for them to be raised.”

The discussion had gone on for about six minutes. Then, Gingrich apparently signaled that he wanted to speak, and Sawyer gave him the floor.

“I just want to say, since we spent this much time on these issues –I just want to raise a point about the news media bias. You don’t hear the opposite question asked,” said Gingrich. “Should the Catholic Church be forced to close its adoption services in Massachusetts because it won’t accept gay couples –which is exactly what the state has done.”

“Should the Catholic Church be driven out of providing charitable services in the District of Columbia because it won’t give in to secular bigotry? Should the Catholic Church find itself discriminated against by the Obama administration on key delivery of services because of the bias and the bigotry of the administration?

“The bigotry question goes both ways and there is a lot more anti-Christian bigotry today than there is concern on the other side, and none of it gets covered by the news media,” said Gingrich, as the audience began applauding.

“As you can tell, the people in this room feel that Speaker Gingrich is absolutely right,” said Romney, “and I do, too. And I was in a state where the supreme court stepped in and said marriage is a relationship required under the constitution for people of the same sex to be able to marry. And John Adams, who wrote the constitution, would be surprised. And it did exactly as Speaker Gingrich indicated. What happened was Catholic Charities, that placed almost half all the adopted children in our state, was forced to step out of being able to provide adoptive services. And the state tried to find other places to help children –We have to recognize that this decision about what we call marriage has consequence which goes far beyond a loving couple wanting to form a long-term relationship –that they can do within the law now. Calling it marriage creates a whole host of problems for families, for the law, for the practice of religion, for education. Let me say this, 3,000 years of human history shouldn’t be discarded so quickly.”

Actually, though none of the reporters mentioned this –perhaps because they did not know– the state of Massachusetts did not “forced” the Catholic Church to close its adoption services. The state required that Catholic Charities, if it wished to receive state funding for its provision of adoption services, had to obey the state’s human rights law, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. Catholic Charities chose to stop receiving state funds, instead.

ABC News host George Stephanoupoulous moved the discussion on to whether the candidates might attempt a third-party run for the White House if they failed to get the nomination. But when Texas Governor Rick Perry was asked, he turned the question back to “gay marriage” and to Gingrich’s applause-garnering claim that it is really religion that’s suffering discrimination.

“I am for a constitutional amendment that says that marriage is between a man and woman, at the federal level,” said Perry. “But this administration’s war on religion is what bothers me greatly. When we see an administration that will not defend the Defense of Marriage Act, that gives their Justice Department clear instructions to go take the ministerial exception away from our churches where that’s never happened before, when we see this administration not giving money to Catholic charities for sexually trafficked individuals because they don’t agree with the Catholic Church on abortion –that is a war against religion and it’s going to stop under a Perry administration.”

The audience gave brief applause.

Santorum’s not the worst on gay issues

Republican Rick Santorum is not the most anti-gay candidate running in the presidential primary in the New Hampshire Tuesday. A candidate on the Democratic side is.

Republican Rick Santorum is not the most anti-gay candidate running in the presidential primary in the New Hampshire Tuesday. A candidate on the Democratic side is.

The “Democrat” is Randall Terry, the notorious right-wing founder of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue. Terry is one of 44 candidates running in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary. Most of the 44 are barely known private citizens who were willing to pay a $1,000 fee to get their names on the ballot. There are 30 running for the Republican nomination and 14 for the Democratic nomination.

Terry’s true colors showed through last month at an aptly named “Lesser-Known Presidential Candidates Forum” in Manchester. One of the panelists posing questions asked Terry if he believes in state’s rights and, related to that, whether he  believes states’ rights should control on the issue of same-sex marriage. Here’s how Terry responded:

“The founders gave us the 10th Amendment,” said Terry, “to keep the federal government from micro-managing the vast majority of details that would affect us as a country. However, they could never have conceived of a moment in which we would become so debauched that we would elevate homosexual marriage or civil unions to the level of marriage, which has been with us since the dawn of time. Take it out of this debate and put it into child killing by abortion or slavery. Did the states have a right to have laws that protected slaveholders? The answer is no. There are some things that are fundamentally evil, like slavery. And there is no state right to own another human being, there is no state right to kill your offspring, and there is no state right to have homosexual marriage.”

Terry’s remarks went largely unreported but not unrewarded. He was subjected to a heavy glitter-attack from another of the Democratic candidates –Vermin Supreme, who easily wins as Tuesday’s most colorful candidate.

Supreme (yes, Vermin Supreme is his legally adopted name) is fairly well known and welcomed as a perennial presidential candidate-performance activist in New Hampshire. He dresses in colorful attire that includes a gigantic boot on his head and promises to give every American a pony and to promote good dental hygiene.

After taking a question at the December 19 forum, Supreme announced that “Jesus told me to make Randall Terry gay” and he doused Terry, who was sitting next to him on stage, with a heavy dose of glitter. (Terry, who has perhaps been subjected to this treatment before, sat still throughout the dousing and showed no reaction.)

Supreme campaigns to Republican crowds, too. He showed up Friday, January 6, to a town hall meeting hosted by Santorum in Manchester. The forum, at a family restaurant in a relatively low-income area of town, was so crowded that a fire marshal forced its organizers to move the event to the parking lot outside. Without a sound system, the crowd had trouble hearing, so Supreme offered up use of his bullhorn. The person introducing Santorum accepted Supreme’s offer even though the bullhorn was marked, in very large letters, “Vermon Supreme.” Santorum scrutinized the device and declined.

Santorum’s fondness for speaking out against same-sex marriage has definitely quieted since he tied for first in the Iowa caucuses. He made no mention of the issue at his Manchester town hall meeting. But that didn’t prevent the issue from coming up. Someone in the crowd of about 300 people who stood out in the cold parking lot for the one-hour gathering repeatedly shouted out challenges to Santorum concerning his position on gay-related issues.

When Santorum talked about “respect for life,” the man shouted out that Santorum had “no respect for the rights of gay people.” When Santorum said he wanted economic policies that are “fair,” the man shouted, “What’s fair about you going into our bedrooms?” And when Santorum complained that the Obama administration is “not allowing people to make decisions for themselves” concerning healthcare, the man shouted, “some people are not allowed to make personal decisions for themselves” concerning who to marry.

The New Hampshire crowd responded with a reaction typical in the Granite State: Occasionally, someone called out to “Let the senator speak” but it mostly ignored the man. But the resistance to Santorum’s well-known opposition to same-sex marriage still hung in the air –quite literally. One sign hovering above the heads of the gathering –held by a man— said “Marry Me, Rick.”

 

 

10 big stories for 2012

Significant events are crowding the calendar for 2012, and each promises considerable drama and suspense for the LGBT community. Here are the ten most important to keep an eye on:

Tammy Baldwin

Significant events are crowding the calendar for 2012, and each promises considerable drama and suspense for the LGBT community. Here are the ten most important to keep an eye on:

  1. The next decisions on Proposition 8: A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals could release its opinions any day now. That’s “opinions,” plural. Before the panel can rule on the constitutionality of California’s law banning marriage for same-sex couples, it must decide whether the Yes on 8 coalition has legal standing to appeal the federal court ruling that Prop 8 is unconstitutional, and it must decide whether there is any justification for Yes on 8’s request that the lower court decision be vacated. The list of possible outcomes in Perry v. Brown—the case brought by the American Foundation for Equal Rights with famed attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies leading the charge—is mind-boggling. Whatever the results, any or all aspects could be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court immediately or they could be appealed to a full 9th Circuit bench and then to the Supreme Court. But the panel’s decision will almost certainly have political impact, too. Not only will it affect the momentum of the marriage equality movement, it will almost certainly become fodder in the presidential campaigns.
  2.  The decision, on appeal, in DOMA: A three-judge panel of the 1st Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments, perhaps as soon as early February, in a powerful challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act denial of federal benefits to same-sex married couples. The challenge, referred to most often as Gill v. OPM, is actually three consolidated cases, two brought by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) and one by the state of Massachusetts. While there are other challenges underway to DOMA, this is the “big guns” challenge and the one most likely to reach the U.S. Supreme Court first. And while there is no deadline by which the panel must render its decision, it is likely to turn out one by year’s end. Then, as with Proposition 8, the case could go to the full circuit court for appeal or straight to the Supreme Court. And, if the appeals court decision is rendered before the November elections, it will almost certainly provoke debate on the presidential campaign trail.
  3. Tammy Baldwin’s historic bid: U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin is not the first openly gay person to run for U.S. Senate, but she’s the first who has a real chance of winning. The daily Capital Times is already referring to her as the “likely” Democratic nominee to fill the seat being vacated by Democrat Herb Kohl. She doesn’t have a challenger for the nomination. But she will have a very tough battle against whomever the Republicans put on the ballot. That’s because the battle will be for more than just one seat in the powerful U.S. Senate, which currently has a breakdown of 53 in the Democratic Caucus and 47 in the Republican. It will be part of a multi-state slugfest between the parties over control of the chamber, the Congress, and the nation’s laws.
  4. The fight for the Senate: Polls at the moment indicate voters are inclined to vote for Democrats over Republicans next November. But that sentiment is not providing a large margin (one or two points), and it’s too soon to guess who the voters will blame for what 11 months from now. But some Senate races –in addition to Baldwin’s—could have big consequences for LGBT voters. In Virginia, a pro-gay former governor, Tim Kaine, will likely be pitted against an anti-gay former senator, George Allen. In Massachusetts, a pro-gay challenger, Elizabeth Warren, will almost certainly be the Democrat facing incumbent Scott Brown, whose attitude toward the community has been much less friendly. And at least seven other states are expected to have competitive races for the Senate.
  5. Counting the “Gay Caucus”: U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) will be starting his 40th year in Congress when the House reconvenes January 17. And it will be his last. He announced last year that he would retire. When he does, the clique of four openly gay members of Congress—Frank, Baldwin, and Reps. Jared Polis and David Cicilline—will shrink by one. If Baldwin fails to win a Senate seat, it could shrink by half. But there are prospects for adding members. Openly gay Wisconsin Democratic Assemblymember Mark Pacon is running for Baldwin’s U.S. House seat. And there are two other openly gay candidates for the U.S. House this November: Marko Liias from Seattle, Washington, and Mark Takano from Riverside, California. So, the number of openly gay members of Congress could go from four to as low as two (though zero is, technically, possible) to as high as six. But no one will have the seniority and clout that Frank has had and used to advance pro-gay measures.
  6. On hold, and on defense, in Congress: Pro-LGBT bills—such as efforts to repeal DOMA and pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA)—are not likely to see much action in 2012. Anti-gay measures might. Why? Because it’s an election year and Republicans still control the House. Supportive Democrats will not be inclined to push controversial legislation during an election year, because it can detract from the focus on jobs and the economy, where most voters want focus right now. Republicans, on the other hand, have often used hostile measures aimed at gays during election year as a way of putting Democrats on the spot with voters generally and gays specifically.
  7. Ballot battles abound: There will be important LGBT-related ballot measures before voters in several states this year: North Carolina and Minnesota will vote on whether to ban same-sex marriage through an amendment to their state constitutions. Voters in Maine will decide whether to strike down their existing ban on same-sex marriage. LGBT activists in Washington State are gathering signatures to put a measure on that state’s ballot to gain marriage equality. A small group in California has until May 15 to gather more than 800,000 signatures to put a measure on the ballot there to repeal Proposition 8. And the California Attorney General is expected to announce by January 9 whether opponents of a new bill to include information about LGBT figures in history as part of the public school curriculum can begin circulating petitions to get a repeal measure on the ballot there. All of these have the potential to be big, expensive, and consequential battles.
  8. Fight for freedom of religion: The right-wing Alliance Defense Fund and others have a concerted effort underway in the courts to undermine laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Their strategy is to argue that people who discriminate against LGBT people do so because their religious beliefs require them to do so. Their question to the court is, “What rules? The First Amendment guarantee of free exercise of religion or the equal protection clause that says all citizens should be treated equally under the law?” One case has already reached the U.S. Supreme Court and failed, but other cases—many other cases—are winding their ways through nearly every circuit in the country. And their outcomes have the potential to chip away at the strength of the nation’s legal mandate that all people be treated equally.
  9. A fight for the White House: The difference for LGBT people between having President Obama in the White House and President George W. Bush has been stark. So the consequences of November’s presidential election will also be profound. Either Obama stays, and things continue to improve—in law and in society’s attitudes—or a new president is elected from a field of Republicans who seem, at times, to be vying for the mantle of most gay hostile candidate. In the latter case, LGBT people can expect progress to halt or backslide.

10. Ah, the unpredictable: One of the bigger LGBT stories of 2011 happened in February, and it was one nobody expected: The Obama administration announced it considered DOMA unconstitutional and would not argue for its defense in most cases. Another big story that no one expected: The Obama announced a major new diplomatic mission to push for protection of human rights for LGBT people around the world. And given that Rep. Frank said in January 2011 he’d run for re-election in 2012, it was a surprise, in November, when he announced that he would not. As Frank pointed out, circumstances change.

Circumstances change, things change, people change. And often, they change each other. But history marches on through time, and only in retrospect can any trajectory be certain as to where it’s going.

Santorum challenged on gay issues

Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum is being challenged more frequently now about his anti-gay positions, including by conservative media.

In a live interview Wednesday, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly warned Santorum that he would be “demonized” nationally because “some of your positions are extreme, according to the polls.” And, in front of a college-age audience Thursday, he appeared frustrated by the resistance to his ideas on same-sex marriage.

Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum is being challenged more frequently now about his anti-gay positions, including by conservative media.

In a live interview Wednesday, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly warned Santorum that he would be “demonized” nationally because “some of your positions are extreme, according to the polls.” O’Reilly noted that Santorum wants states to be able to ban some contraception while “98 percent of Americans” think it should be available.

“They’re gonna come after you on gays in the military, that you want to rescind that,” said O’Reilly. “They’re gonna come after you on gay marriage, that you would have the federal government rescind marriage licenses already given….This is going to be put on you–that you’re an extremist, out of the mainstream. How are you going to reply to that?”

Santorum dodged.

“Well, I don’t think that being for marriage between a man and a woman is that extreme, Bill” said Santorum.

“Rescind licenses already given?” asked O’Reilly, interrupting, and shaking his head. “That’s a big deal.”

Santorum’s forehead furrowed and he looked strained.

“Uh, the federal government would have to pass a constitutional amendment and if the constitution says that marriage is between a man and a woman,” said Santorum, “then things that are inconsistent with that would be inconsistent with the constitution.”

“Would you be doing that, if you were elected president?” asked O’Reilly. “Would you be, you know, campaigning for a constitutional amendment in that way?”

Santorum hesitated, then started to answer, “Well, if you passed a constitutional amendment…” but O’Reilly cut him off again.

“But would that be in the forefront of your administration?” asked O’Reilly.

“As you know, Bill, if you’ve been following me out on the trail, I haven’t been talking a lot about this…”

“No,” said O’Reilly.

“…though I strongly believe in it.” Santorum said he’s been talking about the economy, his grandfather, faith, and family.

When asked about his statements that he’d want to abolish the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, Santorum said he meant that he would want to split up the 9th Circuit states into two different circuits. He said he’d put California and Hawaii in one circuit, and the other states in another circuit.

The next day, Santorum was asked again to explain his position in opposition to same-sex marriage.

The event was a “College Convention,” a gathering every four years of hundreds of college and high school students focused on learning about democracy. This year’s event was held in Concord. According to the New York Times, a member of the audience asked Santorum to explain his opposition to same-sex marriage.

“How about the idea that all men are created equal,” said the student, according to the videotape posted by the Times. (The two-and-a-half-minute video was provided by ThinkProgress.org and is identified by the organization as a “compilation.”)

“So, are we saying that everyone should have the right to marry?” responded Santorum. Several voices in the audience call back, “Yes!”

“OK,” said Santorum, “…so anybody can marry several people.” Someone called out something and Santorum, waved his hands and beckoned the audience to “Wait a minute. Stop. This is not participa– we are not going to do this. I’m going to ask the questions. If people want to respond, I’ll be happy to call on you….

“Everybody has the right to be happy, and so if you’re not going to be happy unless you’re married to five other people, is that ok?” Someone in the audience responded, but, again, Santorum waved them off, saying he was posing the question to the woman who originally asked about same-sex marriage. The compilation video was a bit choppy, but it seems to indicate the woman responded that two men should have the same right to marry as a man and a woman.

“Well, what about three men?” asked Santorum. A number of people in the audience responded simultaneously.

“Stop!” said Santorum, who said he was going to “give people one more chance” to answer his question.

“If it makes three people happy to get married,” said Santorum, directing his question to the young questioner, “based on what you just said, what makes that wrong, and what you said right?”

“How do you justify your beliefs based on these high morals about all men being created equal when two men who want to marry–“

“But what about three men?” said Santorum, interrupting.

“That’s not what I’m talking about,” said the woman.

Santorum looks away, shaking his head and grinning.

“It’s important if we’re going to have a discussion based on rational, reasoned thought,” said Santorum, “that we employ reason. OK? And reason says that, if you think it’s OK for two, then you have to differentiate with me as to why it’s not OK for three.”

An independent news poll of likely Republican voters in New Hampshire on January 3 (the day of the Iowa caucuses) and January 4 showed Mitt Romney with 41 percent, Ron Paul with 18 percent, Sanorum with eight percent, and Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman with seven percent each. (Margin of error: 4.4)