House GOP shoot down effort to insert LGBT protections in VAWA

In a strict party line vote, Republicans on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee rejected three attempts Tuesday (May 7) to add protections for LGBT victims of domestic abuse in a bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.

Sandra Adams

In a strict party line vote, Republicans on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee rejected three attempts Tuesday (May 7) to add protections for LGBT victims of domestic abuse in a bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.

The fierceness of the partisan fight was apparent from the very start of the Committee hearing.

“I assure you that you will not get the vote of the Democratic side of the committee [for this bill] because it’s a step backward,” said U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), ranking minority member of the House Judiciary Committee. Among other things, noted Conyers in his opening statement, the House bill “totally omits” protections for “vulnerable groups” included in the Senate version and “eliminates language that would help LGBT victims.”

And no Democrats did vote for the House bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The committee voted 17 to 15 to recommend to the full House a bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Sandy Adams (R-Fla.). (One of the no votes came from Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas)

The bill (HR 4970) is essentially identical to one introduced by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) as a substitute for a bipartisan VAWA bill in the Senate. Like Hutchison, Adams has removed all language regarding sexual orientation and gender identity from the original bill. The Hutchison substitute failed in the Democratic-controlled Senate April 26, and the version including protections for LGBT people passed.

During debate in the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday, Conyers offered his own substitute measure, modeled on the approved Senate bill.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) raised a point of order objection against the Conyers proposal. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the committee, sustained the objection, ruled that Conyers’ substitute was not germane, and refused to allow a vote on it.

When Smith then went on to allow Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) to offer an amendment, Conyers immediately registered his plan to raise a point of order against it. He later withdrew it.

During committee debate, two Democrats joined Conyers in noting the importance of keeping the language that would address LGBT victims.

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va) noted that one in four women and one in seven men experience severe physical violence from an intimate partner. And Rep. Sheilah Jackson-Lee (D-Texas) expressed dismay over the Adams’ bill exclusion of LGBT people.

“Lesbian women—are they any less women?” asked Jackson-Lee. “… Why, then, are they not covered?”

Jackson-Lee said the tradition of the House on the VAWA bill has been to include people, not exclude them.

Adams defended herself against Jackson-Lee’s claim that she was trying to eliminate any victims from the benefits of the legislation, saying the bill was “for all victims, non-gender specific.”

Openly gay Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) offered an amendment to add back language concerning sexual orientation and gender identity to the law’s non-discrimination provision. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) spoke in opposition to the amendment, saying sexual orientation and gender identity are “self-professed qualifications” that “cannot be independently verified.” King also said nothing in the House bill prevented LGBT people from accessing services.

Polis replied that religion might be considered a “self-identified” category, too, and that sexual orientation and gender identity are immutable characteristics. But King responded that he knows of no way to verify the sexual orientation or gender identity.

Rep. Jackson-Lee challenged King to present his evidence that sexual orientation or gender identity is self-professed.

The Polis amendment was rejected on a 14 to 18 vote.

Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) introduced an amendment to insert sexual orientation and gender identity to the bill’s provisions to help “underserved populations.” The Senate bill includes help for groups underserved because of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Quigley called the provision “vital,” noting that some domestic violence organizations turn away transgender people and gay men and that LGBT people are in “desperate need” of services.

Chairman Smith opposed the amendment, saying it is a “significant change in focus” for VAWA and that there is nothing in current law to prevent LGBT from accessing services and that there is no “meaningful evidence of a problem.”

The amendment failed, 16 nays to 13 ayes.

Rep. Nadler also introduced an amendment, with Polis, to ensure funding would be available for groups serving LGBT victims of domestic violence. Adams opposed the amendment, saying the funding is designated to help women.

“Women can be lesbian, can be transgender, can be all kinds of things,” said Nadler. He noted that gender neutral language would not ensure that funds could get to LGBT groups to serve victims.

The amendment failed on a vote of 12 ayes to 15 nays.

It’s not clear when the bill will reach the floor of the House. But, assuming the Adams bill passes the full House, action will then move to a Senate-House conference committee. There, a final version will have to be agreed upon. And during that meeting, it’s always possible that horse-trading will lead to elimination of language including LGBT people.

The version of the VAWA reauthorization bill approved by the Senate includes language specifying that VAWA-funded programs cannot discriminate based on the sexual orientation or gender identity of a victim. It includes funding for “underserved” populations “who face barriers in accessing and using victim services because of various reasons, including because of sexual orientation and gender identity.” And it provides that certain grants under the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act can be used for “developing, enlarging, or strengthening programs and projects to provide services and responses targeting male and female victims of domestic violence… whose ability to access traditional services and responses is affected by their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence strongly supported the Senate bill and opposed the Adams bill (HR 4970).

The reauthorization bill has become a battleground over women voters, too —with Democrats charging that Republicans are showing no respect for women by trying to take away rights and Republicans charging that Democrats are trying to add language to make the VAWA unsupportable by Republicans.

VAWA has been a popular piece of legislation with both political parties since 1994, when it was first passed. But this year, it has become a lightning rod for partisan conflict. Democrats see it as a means of increasing protections for victims of domestic abuse; Republicans see it as an excuse to funnel federal funds to progressive groups, such as LGBT health clinics. Both see it as an important tool in attracting support from women voters.

The bill provides $650 million annually for programs to prevent domestic abuse, to train law enforcement personnel on how to handle incidents, and provide shelter and other services to victims.

Obama: ‘I think same-sex couples should be able to marry’

President Obama said in a White House-arranged interview Wednesday afternoon that “same-sex couples should be able to get married.”

President Obama

President Obama said in a White House-arranged interview Wednesday afternoon that “same-sex couples should be able to get married.”

The statement, in an interview with ABC, marks a significant and long expected “evolution” for President Obama in his political position concerning same-sex marriage.

“I’ve always been adamant that gay and lesbian Americans should be treated fairly and equally,” said Obama. ““…I had hesitated on gay marriage, in part because I thought civil unions would be sufficient.” But after talking to friends and family, neighbors and staff, he said, “I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.”

The president’s remarks can be viewed here.

Reaction was dramatic.

Evan Wolfson, head of the national Freedom to Marry group, said, “The President’s support marks a historic turning point for the freedom to marry movement.

Incoming Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said Obama’s remarks today would be “celebrated by generations to come.”

“For the millions of young gay and lesbian Americans across this nation, President Obama’s words provide genuine hope that they will be the first generation to grow up with the freedom to fully pursue the American dream,” said Griffin. “…As President Obama recognized today, the fight to secure marriage equality is the defining element of our generation’s search for greater freedom.”

MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews called it “earthshaking” and predicted right-wing conservatives “will use everything they can to exploit this” politically in the November campaign.

Ted Olson, lead attorney for the same-sex couples challenging California’s Proposition 8 ban, said, “Today is a proud day for all Americans.”

“The bedrock American principles of freedom and human dignity are

central to the political and legal convictions of Republicans, Democrats,

liberals, and conservatives alike,” said Olson. “President Obama’s words remind us that marriage and equality are universal values that unite us all. They remind us that we are all—as a People and a Nation—striving to form a more perfect Union.”

The interview, according to numerous media reports, was pre-arranged by the White House to take place with ABC Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts of Good Morning America. The media speculated the interview was set up hastily and deliberately to quell the political conflagration that erupted Sunday, when Vice President Joe Biden told NBC Meet the Press that he is “absolutely comfortable” with gay couples marrying and that he believes they should have the “exact same rights” as straight couples to do so.

Prior to Wednesday, President Obama has not previously expressed pro-active legal support for same-sex marriage equality. In October 2010, he told gay political blogger Joe Sudbay that he was “unwilling to sign onto same-sex marriage primarily” because of his “understandings of the traditional definitions of marriage.” He said “attitudes” about same-sex marriage “evolve, including mine.” And he reiterated that position two months later, in an interview with The Advocate’s Kerry Eleveld, saying, “My attitudes are evolving on?this.”

Numerous times since then, Obama and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney have been asked whether the president’s position had yet evolved. With the Republican presidential race settling onto Mitt Romney, one national poll indicated the public didn’t see much difference between Obama and Romney on same-sex marriage.

The ABC-Washington Post poll, conducted in early April, found 46 percent of 1,103 adults nationwide thought President Obama would “do a better job” at “dealing with social issues such as abortion and gay marriages,” and 38 percent said Romney would. But the margin of error was 3.5 points, making the difference as small as 4.5 points.

Although there were many big news stories erupting at the same time—including news that the CIA had stopped a plot to blow up a plane—the mainstream media swarmed all over the Biden story. CNN media commentator Howard Kurtz wrote, in a DailyBeast.com blog, “There is absolutely no question that Biden’s response was cleared by the White House. Vice presidents are not allowed to freelance on talk shows, especially on such a sensitive issue. So Obama was sending out Biden to further mollify the gay community without having to actually take a stand himself.” MSNBC’s news anchor Chuck Todd said the White House was being especially “sensitive” about the remarks because “gay money, in this election, has replaced Wall Street money.”

Interest in Obama’s position on same-sex marriage was in the news, even prior to Biden’s remarks. The Obama re-election campaign had issued a statement in March, opposing the North Carolina Amendment One, which bans legal recognition of any same-sex relationship. The statement said: “While the President does not weigh in on every single ballot measure in every state, the record is clear that the President has long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same sex couples.  That’s what the North Carolina ballot initiative would do – it would single out and discriminate against committed gay and lesbian couples – and that’s why the President does not support it.” The campaign sent out a similar statement April 9 in opposition to a similar ballot measure before voters in Minnesota in November.

Asked about same-sex marriage on the campaign trail, Republican Mitt Romney said Wednesday he supports neither same-sex marriage nor civil unions.

NC approves constitutional ban: 61 to 39

For those in the LGBT community who have watched state after state pass constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage, the results in North Carolina were expected: Voters approved the ban by a margin of roughly 61 percent to 39 percent, as of late Tuesday night.

For those in the LGBT community who have watched state after state pass constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage, the results in North Carolina were expected: Voters approved the ban by a margin of roughly 61 percent to 39 percent, as of late Tuesday night.

Passage makes North Carolina the 31st state to pass a state constitutional amendment to block legal recognition of same-sex marriage. And North Carolina’s ban goes even farther—banning recognition for any relationship other than a male-female marriage.

Local papers reported record turnouts for the vote Tuesday, even though some had anticipated a lighter turnout due to the lack of a contest in the Republican presidential primary vote.

But interest was apparently high—spurred in part, perhaps, by robo-calls from former President Clinton (against the amendment) and other advertisements from the Rev. Billy Graham (for it). The Obama campaign issued a statement in March, saying, “While the President does not weigh in on every single ballot measure in every state, the record is clear that the President has long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same sex couples.  That’s what the North Carolina ballot initiative would do—it would single out and discriminate against committed gay and lesbian couples—and that’s why the President does not support it.”

Also lining up against the amendment were the state’s governor, the state NAACP, U.S. Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC), and many of the state’s big city mayors.

One of the state’s most popular native sons, Rev. Billy Graham, 93, issued a statement in support of Amendment One that appeared in many of the state’s daily newspapers Sunday. Graham said, “The Bible is clear—God’s definition of marriage is between a man and a woman. I want to urge my fellow North Carolinians to vote for the marriage amendment.”

In a television ad, Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, told viewers that Amendment One “is an unprecedented opportunity for the church to bring the will of god, the righteousness of god, the teachings of scripture to bear on the political process.”

Amendment One was on the ballot Tuesday by virtue of approval by the state legislature last September.

The latest campaign finance reports available through the state elections division showed the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage had contributed more than $100,000 for Amendment One support by the end of March. But the News Observer of Raleigh-Durham said the organization contributed more than $400,000 by the end of the campaign. The paper said the Human Rights Campaign “and its affiliates” had contributed $500,000 to defeat the measure.

An election finance report filed by the Vote for Marriage coalition pushing the initiative showed it raised $1.2 million by April 30. The Coalition to Protect NC Families raised $2 million by April 30, according to state records.

HRC tried to look at the bright side of Tuesday’s numbers, noting that, in 2004, similar ballot measures passed by margins of 71 percent to 29 percent, and noted that the average for southern states has been 75 percent to 25 percent.

As late as April 24, Public Policy Polling reported that momentum was turning against Amendment One. The poll, taken April 20 to 22, showed 54 percent said they would vote for the ban while 40 percent said they would vote against. Six percent said they were unsure. When PPP first polled on Amendment One, in October 2011, 61 percent of respondents said they would vote for it, 34 percent against.

Polls in Minnesota, where a similar constitutional ban will be on the ballot in November, currently show a much closer contest. A PPP poll in January showed 48 percent for and 44 percent against, with eight percent unsure.

A PPP poll in Maine, where a pro-active measure seeking to establish a statutory law allowing same-sex couples to marry, reported that 54 percent of respondents were in favor of allowing gays to marry and 41 percent opposed, as of March.

Opponents of a same-sex marriage law passed in February by the Maryland legislature have until June 30 to collect more than 55,000 signatures. And opponents of a newly passed marriage equality law in Washington State have until June 6 to turn in more than 121,000 signatures to put Referendum 74 on the ballot there, seeking to prevent the new law from taking effect.

On the ballot, Amendment One stated: “Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state.”

A second sentence, which did not appear on the ballot, stated “This section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts.”

According to the Independent Weekly newspaper of Chapel Hill, many voters did not understand that Amendment One will affect heterosexual couples, as well as same-sex ones.

“Local governments, including those in Durham and Orange counties, would be forced to drop health insurance and other benefits now offered to the domestic partners of unmarried employees, gay or straight. Other local governments would be precluded from offering these benefits.”

Jeremy Kennedy, campaign manager for Protect All NC Families, issued a statement late Tuesday night saying the group was, naturally, “disappointed” in the results but vowed “our fight for fairness is not over.”

“This fight was about more than marriage,” said Kennedy. “Amendment One was overreaching and will have unintended consequences for families, children, women, and seniors in North Carolina. We will continue to work with our partners across the state to ensure fairness, equality, and common sense prevail.”

GOP to grill Holder over DOMA defense

The head of the House Judiciary Committee is planning recently released a report, charging that the U.S. Attorney General has repeatedly disregarded the Constitution and the rule of law, and calling for a hearing to question him about decisions regarding the Defense of Marriage Act and other matters.

The head of the House Judiciary Committee is planning grill the U.S. Attorney General over the Obama administration’s decision to stop defending DOMA as constitutional in court. In a recently released report, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the committee, charges that the U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has repeatedly disregarded the Constitution and the rule of law. In a separate April 30 press release, he announced he is calling Holder to appear at a hearing to question him about decisions regarding the Defense of Marriage Act and other matters.

The report, issued April 30, identifies six areas where the Department of Justice has failed to meet its obligations, one of which is “refusing to defend the Defense of Marriage Act.”

“Rather than fulfilling the Attorney General’s oath to ‘support and defend the Constitution of the United States’ and the President’s Constitutional responsibility to ‘take care that the laws be faithfully executed,’ the Justice Department in the Obama Administration, under the leadership of Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr., has repeatedly put its partisan agenda ahead of its Constitutional duties,” states the report. “The pattern of pushing partisan ideology rather than neutrally enforcing the law began nearly as soon as the Administration took office and has continued unabated since.”

Among the examples the report complains about is that DOJ has “blocked” Congressional inquiries into what role Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan played in preparing to defend the Affordable Care Act, when she was solicitor general. It says the administration was challenging voter ID laws, thus interfering with state sovereignty.

On DOMA, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the committee, says DOJ “has refused to defend a valid federal law,” by refusing to argue for DOMA’s constitutionality.

In releasing the report, Smith said he has called Attorney General Holder to testify before his committee on June 7, “to answer for the Administration’s actions.”

Iowa justices explain why they didn’t campaign to retain seats

BOSTON—Three Iowa state supreme court justices ousted by voters in 2010 for ruling that same-sex couples were due the same rights as other couples under the state constitution were honored May 7 with the prestigious JFK Profiles in Courage Award.

Caroline Kennedy presents JFK Profiles in Courage Award to former Iowa Supreme Court Justice Michael Streit. Photo credit: Chuck Colbert

BOSTON—Three Iowa state supreme court justices ousted by voters in 2010 for ruling that same-sex couples were due the same rights as other couples under the state constitution were honored May 7 with the prestigious JFK Profiles in Courage Award.
Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy, presented the awards to the justices in a ceremony at the JFK Library in Boston. In doing so, she noted, “There are few things in life more important than being able to marry and build a family with the person you love. This fundamental right should be available to all Americans, including gay and lesbian couples.”

Ms Kennedy said the three former justices—Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Justices David Baker and Michael Streit—were selected for the award because “they were aware they might pay a price” for rendering the decision they did, “but they did not waiver.”

“They will say they were just doing their job,” said Kennedy. But in their case, she said, “just doing their job required a special kind of courage.”

The ruling came in 2009 in Varnum v. Brien, a lawsuit filed by Lambda Legal Defense on behalf of six same-sex couples who had been denied marriage licenses.

“The decision,” noted the JFK Library, “was the first unanimous high court opinion on marriage for same-sex couples, and it made Iowa the third state to legalize same-sex marriage. The justices were aware that their opinion might not enjoy support from a majority of the public, but the Court stressed in its opinion that its responsibility was ‘to protect constitutional rights of individuals from legislative enactments that have denied those rights, even when the rights have not yet been broadly accepted, were at one time unimagined, or challenge a deeply ingrained practice or law viewed to be impervious to the passage of time.’”

The decision triggered a fierce political pushback from right-wing conservatives in the state and attracted Republican presidential hopefuls, such as Rick Santorum, to actively campaign for the ouster of the justices when an otherwise routine vote came up for renewal of the tenure on the bench, in November 2010. The result of that vote was the ouster of the three justices and a victory for those opposing equal rights for gays.

In accepting his award, Justice Streit noted that, five days after the court issued the Varnum decision, it received a letter from a former U.S. soldier, a veteran of World War II. The veteran said the decision convinced him that he had fought on the wrong side during World War II. And, in a sentence that provoked a gasp from the audience, the letter said, “Hitler treated homosexuals they way they should have been treated—in the gas chambers.”

The letter, said Streit, “satisfied me we were right” in the Varnum decision.

Justice Baker, the first to receive the award, told the audience that elected justices in some other states told him that they believed the court’s decision in Varnum was legally correct, “but that they could never have voted that way because they would lose their re-elections.”

Baker also explained why the three justices did not mount political campaigns during the retention vote to try and explain their decision and hold onto their seats. He said the three justices chose not to defend themselves because to do so would have politicized the judiciary.

“We were not going to endorse such a system for Iowa,” said Baker. Baker said he knew the retention vote was also aimed, not just at those three justices.

“It was meant to intimidate judges in courts across the nation,” said Baker.

Ternus echoed Baker’s remark that the justices knew before they issued the decision that they knew they could lose their jobs over it.

“But our only allegiance,” she said, “was a commitment to the rule of law.”

She expressed dismay about the trend toward “demonizing” of judges over various political issue.

“Calling judges ‘activists’ or ‘elite,’” she said, amounts to “bullying” and “adds nothing substantive to the debate about the important concerns of our time.”

Ternus, Baker, and Streit joined in the unanimous decision of the seven-member bench in April 2009, ruling that the Iowa constitution’s guarantee of equal protection applied to same-sex couples seeking marriage licenses. In the audience Monday were three of the other four justices who joined in the Varnum decision: Current Chief Justice Mark Cady and Justices David Wiggins and Daryl Hecht.

In an interview following the ceremony, Justice Streit said the justices received “a pretty good share” of hate mail after issuing the Varnum decision and the court removed personal information about the justices from the court’s website for their protection.

Chuck Colbert contributed to this report.

Biden: Pressuring Obama, or paving the way?

Responding earnestly to a question, Vice President Joe Biden has hoisted personal and legal support for same-sex marriages back into the presidential campaign.

Joe Biden

Responding earnestly to a question, Vice President Joe Biden has hoisted personal and legal support for same-sex marriages back into the presidential campaign.

Biden told a nationally televised news show Sunday (May 6) that he is “absolutely comfortable” with the existence of same-sex marriage, adding that “men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual men and women marrying one another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties.”

The comment drew quick praise from LGBT leaders, who uniformly also expressed their desire to hear President Obama make similar remarks. And it turned a metaphorical spotlight back on President Obama’s tightrope walk between support for repealing the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and support for full legal marriage equality. While President Obama has vigorously supported the repeal of DOMA and has spoken in opposition to bans on same-sex marriage in California and North Carolina, he and his administration have not made any explicit statements in support of legal marriage equality in the states. And, the president has eschewed opportunities to share what his personal comfort level is with same-sex marriage. And his hesitancy on these latter two points has become a lingering rough spot between the president and the LGBT community, despite a record that clearly outshines all other presidents.

By Monday morning, many political talking heads were weighing in on when they thought President Obama would make a statement of comfort with the idea of same-sex partners marrying, most speculating it would not come until after the November presidential election.

On one of those Monday morning news shows, Obama’s Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, was asked —not whether he was comfortable with same-sex marriages but— whether he thinks same-sex couples should be able to marry as a matter of law. Duncan responded, “Yes, I do,” taking essentially the same position as Biden.

Joe Scarborough, host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, and Mark Halperin, a frequent commentator, speculated the president is hesitating to announce support for marriage equality or comfort with same-sex marriage. They, and others, think Obama needs to stay silent on those matters in order to hold onto his tenuous support in some important southern states, such as Virginia and North Carolina, as well as big electoral states, such as Ohio.

Following Biden’s remarks in response to a question on NBC’s Meet the Press program Sunday, the mainstream media immediately began trying to determine whether Biden was paving the way for more supportive statements on marriage from President Obama or whether Biden was simply “veering off script” (as NBC speculated).

CNN media commentator Howard Kurtz wrote, in a DailyBeast.com blog, “There is absolutely no question that Biden’s response was cleared by the White House. Vice presidents are not allowed to freelance on talk shows, especially on such a sensitive issue. So Obama was sending out Biden to further mollify the gay community without having to actually take a stand himself.”

But the New York Daily News suggested that, “Gaffe-prone Vice President Joe Biden may have struck again by saying he was “absolutely comfortable” with gay marriage, a position his boss has not publicly supported.”

The New York Times pointed out that the White House scrambled “to clarify that Mr. Biden was not articulating an official change in policy, a reaction that highlighted the administration’s unease over the subject.” But it also noted that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had called the rights of gays “human rights” and that President Obama then later “enthusiastically endorsed” that idea. Biden’s statement on Sunday, said the Times, is “raising the possibility that Mr. Obama is relying on aides to telegraph his intentions to avoid the political consequences of articulating them himself.”

The Times noted that “The White House denied that Mr. Biden was acting as a surrogate for the president on Sunday, saying that Mr. Biden’s views, influenced by gay friends and fund-raisers, had changed and that, with characteristic candor, he was willing to volunteer them at length.”

The vice president’s office issued a statement following Biden’s remarks Sunday that did almost nothing to really clear the confusion.

“The vice president was saying what the president has said previously—that committed and loving same-sex couples deserve the same rights and protections enjoyed by all Americans, and that we oppose any effort to roll back those rights,” said the statement.

But in fact, President Obama has not previously expressed pro-active legal support for same-sex marriage equality. Gay legal experts Mary Bonauto, Kate Kendell, and Jon Davidson said he and his administration have made no such statements in person or in court documents. Evan Wolfson of the Freedom to Marry group said Obama and his administration have made “not explicitly” stated support for marriage equality. But Wolfson said the administration’s “refutation of the opposition’s proffered rationales for DOMA; acknowledging the existence, strengths, and needs of same-sex couples and their families, etc.—certainly also makes the case for the freedom to marry.”

And it’s worth noting that, although President Obama has famously held that his personal feelings on same-sex marriage were “evolving,” he has stood up for equal treatment of LGBT people under the law.

The latest political dust up began on Meet the Press, when host David Gregory noted the President Obama “has said his views on gay marriage, on same-sex marriage, have evolved, but he’s opposed to it. You’re opposed to it. Have your views evolved?”

Biden voted for DOMA when he was in the U.S. Senate in 1996, but during his brief presidential campaign in 2008, his website indicated he supported same-sex marriages.

“Look,” said Biden, “I just think that the good news is that, as more and more Americans have come to understand, that what this is is a simple proposition: Who do you love? Who do you love? And will you be loyal to the person you love? And that’s what people are finding out that all marriages at their root are all about. Whether they are marriages of lesbians, or gay men, or heterosexuals.”

“Is that what you believe now?” asked Gregory.

“That’s what I believe.”

“And you’re comfortable with same-sex marriage now?”

“Look, I am vice president of the United States of America. The president sets the policy. I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties. And quite frankly, I don’t see much of a distinction—beyond that.”

“In a second term, will this administration come out behind same-sex marriage—the institution of marriage?” asked Gregory.

Well, I can’t speak to that,” said Biden. “I don’t know the answer to that. But I can tell you…”

Gregory interrupted, “It sounds like you’d like to see it happen if the president gets—”

“The president continues to fight,” interrupted Biden, “whether it’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell or whether it is making sure across the board that you cannot discriminate. Look at the executive orders he’s put in place. Any hospital that gets federal funding, which is almost all of them, they can’t deny a partner from being able to have access to their partner’s who’s ill, or making a call on whether or not they, you know—this is evolving.

(Biden mischaracterized a memorandum President Obama signed to prohibit federally funded hospitals from denying visitation to gay partners. It was not an executive order.)

“And by the way,” continued Biden, “my measure, David, and I take a look at when things really begin to change, is when the social culture changes. I think Will & Grace probably did more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody’s ever done so far. And I think people fear that which is different. Now, they’re beginning to understand, they’re beginning to understand that this, at it’s base….

Biden then jumped to an anecdote.

“I was speaking to a group of gay leaders in Los Angeles two weeks ago and one gentleman looked at me in the question period, and said, ‘Let me ask you: How do you feel about us?’ And I had just walked in the back door of this gay couple and their two adopted children. And I turned to the man who owned the house, and I said, ‘What did I do when I walked in?’ He said, ‘You walked right to my children, they were seven and five, giving you flowers…And I said I wish every American could see the look in those  eyes and they wouldn’t have any doubt what this is about.”

Chad Griffin, who becomes president of the Human Rights Campaign next month, told the Washington Post that it was he who posed the question to Biden in Los Angeles.

Current HRC President Joe Solmonese said his group is encouraged by Biden’s remarks, but added, “Now is the time for President Obama to speak out for full marriage equality for same-sex couples.”

Jerame Davis, head of National Stonewall Democrats, suggested Biden’s remarks were “not a direct endorsement of marriage equality” but said they were “promising.”

“What we really need now,” said Davis, “is for President Obama to take a stand in support of the freedom to marry and bring to bear the full weight of his Administration to make it reality.”

Freedom to Marry’s Wolfson, who interned for Biden in the Senate in 1976, said, “The personal and thoughtful way he has spoken about his coming to support the freedom to marry reflects the same journey that a majority of Americans have now made as they’ve gotten to know gay families, opened their hearts and changed their minds.”

“President Obama,” said Wolfson, “should join the Vice President, former Presidents Clinton and Carter, former Vice Presidents Gore and Cheney, Laura Bush, and so many others in forthright support for the freedom to marry.”

Grenell: Uncharacteristic surrender

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s openly gay advisor on foreign policy resigned Tuesday (May 1), just two weeks after the campaign announced his role.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s openly gay advisor on foreign policy resigned Tuesday (May 1), just two weeks after the campaign announced his role.

According to the Washington Post, which broke the story, Richard Grenell “resigned in the wake of a full-court press by anti-gay conservatives.” But Grenell, in a statement to the Post, said only that his ability to “speak clearly and forcefully on the issues has been greatly diminished by the hyper-partisan discussion of personal issues that sometimes comes from a presidential campaign.” Grenell’s statement also thanked Romney for his confidence in Grenell’s ability to serve the campaign on national security and foreign policy issues and for Romney’s “clear message to me that being openly gay was a non-issue for him and his team.”

The Post quoted Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades as saying the campaign is “disappointed that Ric decided to resign from the campaign for his own personal reasons.”

“We wanted him to stay,” said Rhoades, “because he had superior qualifications for the position he was hired to fill.”

Most gay activists see Grenell as a victim of the Republican Party’s strong right-wing base.

R. Clarke Cooper, head of Log Cabin Repubicans, echoing Grenell’s statement, blamed Grenell’s departure on “hyper-partisan discussion of issues unrelated to” Grenell’s national security qualifications. Cooper said Grenell “was essentially hounded by the far right and far left.”

Stonewall Democrats’ national executive director Jerame Davis said Grenell was “mercilessly hounded by religious conservatives.” To Davis, Romney’s appointment of Grenell was never serious, but just a “crassly cynical political move by Romney to fool LGBT voters into believing he’s not as anti-gay as his statements would have you believe.”

Davis criticized Romney for “silently [letting] the bigoted wing of his party control his personnel choices.”

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese also criticized Romney for his silence.

“The fact that Grenell is gone so quickly after a right-wing uproar,” said Solmonese, “is a troubling harbinger of the kind of power that anti-gay forces would have in a Romney White House. ”

Jimmy LaSalvia, head of the national gay conservative group GOProud, said, “I still can’t believe that in 2012 there are still people like Bryan Fischer and Tony Perkins, who would rather keep a gay person from having a job on a presidential campaign than have Mitt Romney assemble the best foreign policy team possible,” said . “On a day when foreign affairs and national security are at the forefront, it’s too bad that Governor Romney doesn’t have the best spokesman possible speaking on his behalf.”

Bryan Fischer, a policy official with the American Family Association, criticized Grenell’s appointment, characterizing Grenell as a “gay activist” and suggesting he would be trying to promote a “homosexual agenda.” Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, noted that Grenell publicly criticized President Bush for opposing the U.S. endorsement of a pro-gay statement by the United Nations.

Another right-wing anti-gay activist, Gary Bauer, criticized the appointment of Grenell, saying that it showed unwillingness by the Romney campaign to reassure conservatives in the Republican Party.

“Conservative pro-family leaders,” said Bauer, in an April 25 email to supporters of his current organization, Campaign for Working Families, “are disappointed because Grenell has been an outspoken advocate of redefining normal marriage.” He noted that Grenell “once caused a controversy by trying to have his partner listed as his spouse when he worked at the U.N.” Grenell asked to have his partner listed, the same as the spouses of other U.S. delegation employees, in a United Nations directory.

But Bauer’s criticism of Grenell’s appointment was somewhat tempered by his acknowledgement that “homosexuals” worked in the administrations of President Reagan and the two Bush presidents.

And Grenell’s own cryptic explanation —citing “hyperpartisan discussion of personal issues that sometimes comes from a presidential campaign”—left room for uncertainty about what was really behind his abrupt resignation.

Grenell, 45, lives in Los Angeles and was due to start work at Romney’s national headquarters in Boston on Tuesday. Such a move would enable Grenell to marry his longtime partner, Matthew Lashey.

Personal issues were also a focus of early criticism of Grenell’s appointment, as media reports gave considerable attention to Grenell’s Twitter posts making unflattering observations about GOP presidential long-shot Newt Gingrich’s current wife, Callista, openly gay Pulitzer Prize winning commentator Jonathan Capehart, and MSNBC’s openly gay political commentator Rachel Maddow, among others. Those posts came to light just as the clamor was subsiding over a remark from openly gay Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen that Romney’s wife, Ann, had “never worked a day in her life.”

Grenell’s qualifications to serve as a national security and foreign policy advisor to Romney seemed unquestioned. Grenell served the administration of President George W. Bush, as a spokesman for the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. He was also appointed by Ambassador John Danforth in 2004 to serve as an alternative representative of the United States to the U.N. Security Council. And he served numerous other prominent Republicans, including New York Governor George Pataki, former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, and San Diego Mayor Susan Golding.

The Romney campaign’s willingness to appoint an openly gay man to such a prominent position also seemed to indicate that the campaign was prepared to go after the one in four gay voters who tend to vote Republican. Grenell’s departure could make that task more difficult.

Senate defeats effort to drop LGBT protections from domestic abuse bill

A casual listener to U.S. Senate debate Thursday (April 26) would not have heard the skirmish over protections for LGBT victims of domestic abuse.

Charles Grassley

A casual listener to U.S. Senate debate Thursday (April 26) would not have heard the skirmish over protections for LGBT victims of domestic abuse. Despite reports that Republicans were upset over new language in the Violence Against Women Act that would protect LGBT people, Republicans never said so on the floor of the Senate.

But Republicans led an effort to replace the original VAWA reauthorization bill with a substitute bill that would have eliminated all protections for LGBT victims of domestic abuse.

That Republican substitute bill was defeated Thursday on a vote of 37 yes to 63 no.

The Senate then went on to approve the original VAWA reauthorization bill by a vote of 68 yes to 31 no.

The votes seemed to usher in a new era of Democratic support for including protections and benefits for LGBT in legislation, as well as a quieter yet more menacing tactic by Republicans to stop such protections by pitting them against children.

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), who introduced and co-authored the substitute bill with Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), couched the Republican substitute as one that kept the “most important” parts of the original legislation while strengthening protections for children against sexual predators.

The Hutchison-Grassley substitute form of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) removed the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” from throughout the original VAWA reauthorization bill. Hutchison argued that the substitute still protected same-sex couples by “neutralizing” language referring to victims. She referred to “men who have been gang raped” as an example of such violence.

The original version of this year’s VAWA reauthorization bill, approved only by Democrats on the Judiciary Committee and passed by the Senate Thursday, includes language specifying that VAWA-funded programs not discriminate based on the sexual orientation or gender identity of a victim.

It also includes funding for “underserved” populations “who face barriers in accessing and using victim services because of geographic location, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, underserved racial and ethnic populations, populations underserved because of special needs (such as language barriers, disabilities, alienage status, or age), and any other population determined to be underserved by the Attorney General or by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, as appropriate.”

And it provides that certain grants under the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act can be used for “developing, enlarging, or strengthening programs and projects to provide services and responses targeting male and female victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking, whose ability to access traditional services and responses is affected by their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The Hutchison-Grassley substitute bill’s provision concerning non-discrimination included all categories of the original bill except for sexual orientation and gender identity. It defined “underserved populations” the same as the original bill except that it eliminated those who face barriers due to religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity. And it gutted a section concerning grants by deleting language concerning “male and female victims…whose ability to access traditional services and responses is affected by their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, criticized the Republican substitute as undermining the “core principles” of the original bill. He said it “strips out key provisions to protect all victims…including victims in same-sex relationships.”

Leahy was one of only a few Democratic senators to talk about specifically about LGBT victims of domestic violence. Many others—including those with large LGBT constituencies—did not.

Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) complained about the Republican substitute bill for taking out the word “women” and using the word “victim.” Doing so, he noted, amounts to abolishing VAWA and starting a whole new program.

“No one here would argue that all violent crimes, all domestic crimes are tragic and serious, but this so-called substitute negates centuries of women’s experience that proves that violence against women—especially from spouses, partners and family members—is a uniquely pernicious and entrenched practice.”

Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) mentioned “sexual orientation” but only in the context of noting that all people can be victims of high-tech stalking, such as placing hidden cameras in hotel rooms.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid described two roadblocks to reauthorization of the VAWA as “non-discrimination protection for all victims, regardless of what they look like or where they’re from.”

And Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) criticized Republicans for wanting to “exclude people” from protection, but her three examples of victims did not include an LGBT person.

But Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) did speak out strongly in support of language including LGBT victims of domestic abuse.

“Clearly, there’s a real need to improve access and availability of services for this vulnerable population,” said Blumenthal Thursday, “and I support measures in this act that ensure victims of domestic and sexual violence, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, can access those services they need.”

Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he doesn’t believe any of the “points of controversy” on the bill were important enough to vote against reauthorization of the law. He specifically mentioned protection should be available to all victims “regardless of gender.”

The Violence Against Women Act (S. 1925) has been a popular piece of legislation since 1994, when it was first passed. But this year, it has become a battleground for the votes of women in the 2012 presidential campaign and a battle over protections for LGBT people, Native Americans, and immigrant women without documentation to be in this country.

Rita Smith, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said the Coalition “cannot support any bill that does not include language to protect vulnerable and under resources populations of victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking.”

“It is imperative that Native women, immigrant women, and the LGBTQ communities all have access to resources and support and S. 1925 includes critical services for these populations. No other bill or amendment addresses these necessary changes to provide services for all victims.”

Democrats see the bill as a means of increasing protections for victims of domestic abuse; Republicans see it as an excuse to funnel federal funds to progressive groups, such as LGBT health clinics. They also claim the new provisions this year were added to make it hard for Republicans to support. Grassley said the tactic was pure politics and meant to deflect attention away from “health care reform, unemployment or high gas prices.”

A study by the National Coalition indicated that, in 2010, programs serving LGBT people who were abused by their domestic partners or other intimate partners recorded 5,052 reports of such abuse. Almost 45 percent of these victims reported being turned away by other groups helping domestic violence victims.

The National Coalition includes a large number of groups working to prevent domestic violence and help its victims, including the Community United Against Violence (San Francisco), the Center on Halstead (Chicago), the Resource Center Dallas, the Broward (Florida) LGBT Domestic Violence Coalition, the San Diego LGBT Center, the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, the Fenway Community Health Violence Recovery Program (Boston), Wingspan (Arizona), United4Safety (Atlanta), and GLOV (D.C.).

Human Rights Campaign official David Stacy said the Hutchison-Grassley substitute was “not a serious attempt” to find a resolution and would jeopardize important funding to groups that do serve LGBT victims.

Supporters of VAWA had 61 senators going into the debate this week, including both senators from Illinois, California, and Massachusetts, as well as Bill Nelson of Florida, Carl Levin of Michigan, and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania. Neither of Texas’ Republican senators co-sponsored the legislation.

A spokeswoman for Republican presidential nominee-apparent Mitt Romney said last week that Romney supports the bill but did not clarify whether he objects to the new language prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The VAWA in the House (HR 4271) has 52 co-sponsors, including openly gay Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass) and. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) but not openly gay Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and David Cicciline (D-RIs.). Debate in the House is also expected to be contentious, with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor reportedly pushing for a Republican version of the reauthorization measure there.

R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, issued a statement Tuesday, saying, “Nobody should be able to get away with domestic abuse just because their victim is gay, transgender, an immigrant or Native American, and nobody should be denied help in recovering from abuse. Standing in the way of passing this legislation is unconscionable. Log Cabin Republicans are proud of our allies in the Senate who have cosponsored this bill, including Mike Crapo (R-ID), who introduced the bill, and Senators Ayotte (R-NH), Brown (R-MA), Collins (R-ME), Heller (R-NV), Kirk (R-IL), Murkowski (R-AK) and Snowe (R-ME). Passage of S. 1925 should move forward swiftly, and any effort to water down the Violence Against Women Act should be roundly condemned.”

Republicans wrestle against including LGBT in law to prevent domestic violence

The U.S. Senate will try again this week to consider reauthorization of a law to prevent domestic abuse, but for weeks now, the routine, non-controversial law has been tied up in partisan disputes over new provisions, including one to eliminate discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Charles Grassley

The U.S. Senate will try again this week to consider reauthorization of a law to prevent domestic abuse, but for weeks now, the routine, non-controversial law has been tied up in partisan disputes over new provisions, including one to eliminate discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Violence Against Women Act (S. 1925) has been a popular piece of legislation since 1994, when it was first passed. But this year, it become a lightning rod for partisan conflict, including the 2012 presidential campaign. Democrats see it as a means of increasing protections for victims of domestic abuse; Republicans see it as an excuse to funnel federal funds to progressive groups, such as LGBT health clinics.

The LGBT community sees it as a resource for LGBT victims of domestic abuse. In 2010, programs serving LGBT people who were abused by their domestic partners or other intimate partners recorded 5,052 reports of such abuse. Almost 45 percent of these victims reported being turned away by other groups helping domestic violence victims.

Yet new language seeking to prohibit domestic violence groups from turning away LGBT people is one of the three provisions Republicans in Congress are reportedly objecting to in this year’s reauthorization bill. The Republican leadership in the Senate complained that the new iteration of the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is expanding the law to help gay men, lesbians, and immigrants. They say the expansion is essentially a cash cow for women’s and gay groups to obtain federal grants toserve their constituents.

Senator Charles Grassley, the ranking minority leader on the Senate Judiciary Committee, told reporters April 18 that Republicans would not block a vote on the reauthorization as long as the Democratic leadership allows a vote on a Republican alternative to the bill. On the floor of the Senate April 19, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid suggested that Democrats and Republicans were working to find a way to proceed on the measure, as well as another one involving the postal service.

The original reauthorization bill passed out of the Judiciary Committee on a straight party line vote. Grassley’s remark last week may have been influenced in part by a press conference saying supporters of the original bill have 61 senators in support of the bill. It takes 60 votes to force a bill to the floor if any senator attempts to filibuster against it.

A spokeswoman for Romney said last week that Romney does support the bill, but the spokesperson gave no hint of whether he objects to the new language prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs issued a report, partially funded by the Arcus Foundation, recommending increased funding—both federal and private—for LGBT-specific programs providing domestic violence services and specific earmarks of those funds for LGBT services. It also recommended language in the reauthorization bill to specify the law’s application to LGBT people and to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The National Coalition includes a large number of groups working to prevent domestic violence and help its victims, including the Community United Against Violence (San Francisco), the Center on Halstead (Chicago), the Resource Center Dallas, the Broward (Florida) LGBT Domestic Violence Coalition, the San Diego LGBT Center, the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, the Fenway Community Health Violence Recovery Program (Boston), Wingspan (Arizona), United4Safety (Atlanta), and GLOV (D.C.).

The updated language of this year’s VAWA reauthorization bill includes the National Coalition’s recommended language on sexual orientation and gender identity, and it adds “intimate partner” to the list of relationships that are eligible for support under the law.

According to the National Coalition’s 2010 report on LGBT “Intimate Partner Violence,” almost 45 percent of LGBT people and people with HIV who sought help from domestic violence shelters in 2010 were turned away because of “institutionalized anti-LGBTQH discrimination.”

The report indicated it had received 5,052 reports of “intimate partner violence” in 2010, representing a 38 percent increase over 2009. The report noted that much of this increase was due to the LA Gay & Lesbian Center receiving funding for its program against domestic violence.

Forty-six percent of the LGBT intimate partner violence reports came from women, 37 percent from men, and 4 percent from transgender individuals. Eleven percent of those reporting to a National Coalition center did not identify their gender or gender identity and two percent fit other categories.

Thirty-two percent identified as gay, 28 percent as lesbian, 9 percent as bisexual, and 8 percent as heterosexual. The remaining 23 percent did not identify their sexual orientation or chose other categories.

Only seven percent of the victims, male and female, called for police support, a dramatic drop from 2009, when nearly 22 percent called for police support. Nearly 55 percent of LGBT victims who sought a court order of protection were denied.

Up until this year, VAWA has been non-controversial, but the last reauthorization of the bill, in 2005, did not include any stipulation that services should not be denied based on “sexual orientation” or “gender identity.” The current reauthorization bill (S. 1925) does. It notes that “underserved populations” include populations underserved because of sexual orientation and gender identity. This year, the controversy has threatened to derail reauthorization, but the partisan tug-of-war over women voters may well pressure both sides to ensure the legislation is reauthorized.

VAWA this year was introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt) and co-sponsored by 60 others, including both senators from Illinois, California, and Massachusetts, as well as Bill Nelson of Florida, Carl Levin of Michigan, and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania. Neither of Texas’ Republican senators co-sponsored the legislation.

The VAWA in the House (HR 4271) has 52 co-sponsors, including openly gay Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass) and. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) but not openly gay Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and David Cicciline (D-RIs.).

Related to the VAWA, President Obama issued a memorandum Wednesday (April 18) directing federal agencies to “prevent domestic violence and address its effects on the Federal workplace.” The memorandum makes no mention of sexual orientation or gender identity.

But Stacey Long, public policy and governmental affairs director for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said, “Nothing in the memorandum prevents LGBT federal employees from getting the services they need.” And the Human Rights Campaign agrees.

“We do not believe that the lack of mention of sexual orientation and gender identity means that these policies would not be inclusive of LGBT employees who have experienced domestic violence,” said Michael Cole-Schwartz, an HRC spokesman. “The President has, in prior memorandum, already directed federal agencies to ensure that their policies and benefits are as inclusive of LGBT people as possible under current law. We have no reason to believe that this directive would not apply to these policies regarding domestic violence, and will remind the Office of Personnel Management and other agencies tasked with developing these policies of that fact.”

Cole-Schwartz added that the Obama administration referenced domestic violence against LGBT people in 2009, through an advisory opinion from the Department of Justice, “clarifying that the Violence Against Women Act’s criminal provisions on interstate stalking and domestic violence apply equally to same-sex perpetrators.”

Romney names gay to foreign affairs team

Republican presidential nominee apparent Mitt Romney has begun his run toward the political middle, and one aspect of that shift appears to have been the choosing an openly gay man to his team of campaign advisors.

Richard Grenell appearing on Fox News

Republican presidential nominee apparent Mitt Romney has begun his run toward the political middle, and one aspect of that shift appears to have been the choosing an openly gay man to his team of campaign advisors.

The advisor is Richard Grenell, 45, who also served the administration of President George W. Bush, as a spokesman for the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. He was also appointed by Ambassador John Danforth in 2004 to serve as an alternative representative of the United States to the U.N. Security Council.

The campaign’s announcement last Thursday (April 19) did not identify Grenell as gay, only that he was joining the campaign to serve as its spokesman on national security and foreign policy issues.

Grenell has served a long line of prominent Republicans in various capacities, including New York Governor George Pataki, former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, and San Diego Mayor Susan Golding.

The fact that the Romney campaign announced Grenell’s appointment suggests the campaign intends to go after those one in four gay voters who tend to vote Republican.

But one blogger —Doug Wead, a senior adviser to the Ron Paul campaign— notes that the Romney campaign also announced, on that same day, Romney’s plan to speak at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. He called the same-day announcements “a clumsy attempt to show respect to both the evangelical and gay communities.”

“Instead,” wrote Wead in his blog dougwead.com, “it shows that the Romney campaign understands neither one.”

But Grenell may turn out to be a little too abrasive to attract any but the hardcore Republicans in the LGBT community. Just last month, he penned an op-ed piece for the Washington Blade that derided gay Pulitzer Prize winner Jonathan Capehart for defending President Obama’s evolving position on same-sex marriage.

MetroWeekly in Washington, D.C. reported that Grenell and his longtime partner live in California. Other media reported Grenell is expected to be working out of Romney headquarters in Boston.

Grenell is a member of Log Cabin Republicans, the national gay Republican group, and spoke about foreign policy issues at its national conference last year.

Jimmy LaSalvia, head of the national gay conserviative group GOProud, said he feels sure Grenell “will be an outstanding addition” to Romney’s foreign policy and national security team.

“Mitt Romney has a record, throughout his entire career, of assembling top notch teams to execute the tasks at hand,” said LaSalvia, “and I think this choice shows that he’ll attract the top talent to help him bring America back. And that’s good for all Americans – gay or straight.”

Politico.com columnist Alexander Burns reported Friday on Grenell’s passion for Tweeting, especially crass observations about GOP presidential long-shot Newt Gingrich’s current wife, Callista. According to Burns, Grenell has Tweeted cutting remarks about Mrs. Gingrich’s hair, her quiet demeanor, and the fact that she is Gingrich’s third wife.

Presumably, that sort of Tweeting will stop, given that the Romney campaign, just one week ago, criticized lesbian Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen for commenting on the fact that Ann Romney has not held a paying job while raising her five sons.

The Advocate magazine reported in September 2008 that Grenell, while at the U.N., sought to have the name of his partner, Matthew Lashey, listed in the U.N. directory that lists diplomatic personnel and their spouses. Grenell said that he and Lashey considered themselves married even though, at the time, it was not possible for them to obtain a marriage license in New York. A U.S. State Department official said the Defense of Marriage Act precluded the U.S. from submitting Lashey’s name for inclusion.

Grenell is currently a partner with a communication and public relations firm, Capitol Media Partners, based in Los Angeles. Grenell’s biography on the firm’s website indicates Grenell served as a delegate to a wide variety of U.N. conferences, including the “High Level Event on HIV/AIDS” in May 2006. The bio notes that Grenell teaches at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication and is a regular commentator for Al-Jazeera TV.

Grenell has a master’s in public administration from the Harvard John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Countdown to North Carolina: How Santorum is helping

Less than three weeks before voters in North Carolina go to the polls to cast a vote on same-sex marriage early voting has begun, an embarrassing sex scandal involving the state Democratic Party has burst into the national media.

Jen Jones

Less than three weeks before voters in North Carolina go to the polls to cast a vote on same-sex marriage early voting has begun, an embarrassing sex scandal involving the state Democratic Party has burst into the national media, and groups supporting a ban on same-sex marriage are launching a series of television ads to rally support for the ban.

But The Coalition to Protect All N.C. Families, a coalition organizing opposition to the ban, Amendment One, is hopeful: The likelihood of a large Republican turnout has been diminished, a get-out-the-vote campaign on the state’s numerous college campuses is underway, and polls indicate that if voters understand the breadth of Amendment One, they’ll probably vote against it.

Starting Thursday, April 19, registered voters could obtain a ballot and submit it to state election offices around North Carolina. Also on the ballot is a spirited three-way race for the Democratic nomination for governor. And drawing considerably less attention is the Republican presidential primary, since challenger Rick Santorum dropped out April 10, essentially conceding the nomination to frontrunner Mitt Romney.

All these things could play into how the vote on Amendment One, a proposed state constitutional ban on legal recognition of any form of same-sex relationship, turns out.

The latest poll, released by Public Policy Polling (PPP) on April 13, indicated that 45 percent of 975 voters believe same-sex marriage will be legal in North Carolina within 20 years, compared to 41 percent who believe it will still be illegal and 14 percent who are not sure. (Margin of error is 3 points.) The question was asked after the State Speaker of the House Thom Tillis, a Tea Party Republican who supported the ban, said he thinks marriage will be legal in North Carolina in 20 years.

A poll in late March by Elon University showed that 67 percent of the 534 residents polled said they would support same-sex couples having either civil unions, domestic partnerships, or marriage rights. Only 29 percent were opposed to “any legal recognition for same-sex couples”—and that was down six percent from September. Asked if they would support or oppose an amendment to the state constitution that would “prevent any same sex marriages, domestic partnerships, or civil unions,” 61.2 percent said either “strongly oppose” or “oppose.”

“We’re as hopeful as we’ve been all along,” said Jen Jones, communications director for the Protect All N.C. Families, in a phone interview Thursday. Jones said the coalition has received some important endorsements from conservatives in the state, including Tea Party Republican U.S. Rep. Rene Ellmers.

Jones said the coalition has a get-out-the-vote campaign underway on college campuses to get student voters to vote and has also been helped by a strong statement in opposition to Amendment One from retiring Democratic Governor Bev Perdue.

“It was a pretty powerful statement from a southern governor,” said Jones. “It was incredibly important.”

In their final debate, Wednesday (April 18), the three Democratic candidates hoping to succeed Perdue did not indicate strong differences in their positions on the issue, and they did not stand strongly against Amendment One.

According to a report from the local NBC News affiliate, state Rep. Bill Faison said that, while he said he thinks the state should “take a look at” civil unions, “the legislature has spoken” on marriage and “people in this on the whole believe marriage is between a man and a woman.” Lieutenant Governor Walter Dalton expressed support for civil unions, too, and said he doesn’t think Amendment One should be on the ballot, but he stopped short of opposing the measure. And former U.S. Rep. Bill Etheridge dodged the question, saying the focus should be on the economy.

The spirited Democratic gubernatorial primary, said Jones, coupled with the decision of Republican presidential hopeful Santorum to drop out of the Republican primary, is another reason for hope.

“With the Republican primary pretty much settled,” said Jones, “we hope to see more progressive voters at the polls.”

As for the sex scandal, Jones says it’s of limited interest to most voters.

But it has gained national attention and the potential to embarrass the Democratic Party, scheduled to hold its national convention in North Carolina in August.

The scandal involves an accusation from a state Democratic Party employee against the party executive director. The staffer, Adriadn Ortega, sent a letter to North Carolina Democratic Party Executive Director Jay Parmley on December 8, saying he had been fired from his job on November 21 in retaliation for complaining about being sexually harassed by “the Executive Director.” The letter notes that on October 1, Ortega met with Parmley “to address the sexual harassment I was receiving in the office.” Awkwardly, the letter to Parmley details examples of sexual harassment Ortega experienced from “the Executive Director,” but does not name Parmley.

The News & Observer newspaper of the Raleigh-Durham area said Parmley denied harassing any employee but resigned Sunday, citing “political reasons.” Pressure began building immediately for the resignation, too, of the state party chairman, David Parker. Governor Perdue is among those pushing for Parker’s resignation, said the News & Observer, but MSNBC showed footage of Perdue refusing to discuss that with reporters.

A copy of the “Charge of Discrimination” form that Ortega submitted to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)—made available to this reporter by the News & Observer— identified Parmley as a “Homosexual” and claimed Ortega was discriminated against based on sex and disability in violation of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Pam Spaulding, a lesbian political blogger based in North Carolina, said the state party needs to take the allegations seriously, but she said she doesn’t think it has the potential to affect the vote on Amendment One.

“This is a distraction that has nothing to do with the lack of merits of this constitutional amendment on the ballot or the hard work county party chairs are doing to get out the vote against the amendment,” said Spaulding, in an email response to this reporter. “The fact is that North Carolinians need to understand why adding discrimination to our constitution is not only wrong, but counterproductive to the growth of the state, [and] that leaders of every political persuasion have publicly come out against Amendment One—conservatives, libertarians, and progressives.”

Poll: few see big difference between Obama, Romney on marriage

A recent poll suggests that most Americans “trust” President Obama over Mitt Romney to “do a better job” at “dealing with social issues such as abortion and gay marriages,” but it’s not a big difference.

A recent poll suggests that most Americans “trust” President Obama over Mitt Romney to “do a better job” at “dealing with social issues such as abortion and gay marriages,” but it’s not a big difference.

The poll included a telephone survey of 1,103 adults nationwide between April 5 and 8 by ABC News and The Washington Post.

Forty-six percent said they trusted President Obama to do a better job; 38 percent said Romney; five percent said neither; one percent said neither; and 10 percent were unsure or didn’t answer.

Factor in the margin of error —3.5 points— and the eight-point difference between Obama and Romney grows to 11.5 or shrinks to 4.5, suggesting that, on these two issues, voters don’t see a great deal of difference.

Much greater differences between the two were seen on “women’s issues” (53 percent said Obama would be better, 34 percent said Romney would), international affairs (Obama 53, Romney 36), and “better understands people’s economic problems (Obama 49, Romney 37).

The most recent head-to-head poll between the two shows 53 percent said they would vote “today” for Obama, 41 percent said they would vote for Romney, one percent for both, five percent for neither, and one percent for “unsure.” That poll was conducted of 1,015 adults nationwide by CNN between April 13 and 15 and has a margin of error of plus or minus three points.

Rejecting an executive order: Is it the DADT repeal strategy or a campaign decision?

The Obama administration revealed a political calculation last week: Now is not a good time to sign an executive order prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people who work for federal contractors.

There has been more than the usual expression of “disappointment” from various quarters, but not much more. The general tenor of comments reacting to the news on various gay and gay friendly news sites has been been “no one really gets everything they want,” “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” and “the President will probably have the same position as Mr. Romney.”

Valerie Jarrett

The Obama administration revealed a political calculation last week: Now is not a good time to sign an executive order prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people who work for federal contractors.

There has been more than the usual expression of “disappointment” from various quarters, but not much more. The general tenor of comments reacting to the news on various gay and gay friendly news sites has been been “no one really gets everything they want,” “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” and “the President will probably have the same position as Mr. Romney.”

All four openly gay members of Congress signed a letter to the president April 3, urging him sign an executive order, but they made no fuss when White House officials announced he would not do so. The only one to issue a statement, Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), essentially stood behind the decision, saying, “President Obama has advanced protections for the LGBT community significantly, but there’s no substitute for having a bill for the President to sign.  We have to focus on the importance of passing an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in Congress.”

That was the White House’s message last Wednesday (April 11) when senior Obama administration officials informed five LGBT leaders that the president would not sign an executive order “at this time” and, instead, wants to work on a strategy to pass ENDA through Congress.

ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, is more comprehensive than the proposed executive order. ENDA would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in both public and private employment. The sought after executive order would prohibit such discrimination for people employed by federal contractors.

But the executive order could be activated with a signature from President Obama and ENDA requires approval of both chambers of Congress, one of which is currently controlled by Republicans who will not allow the bill to advance. And, in 2009 and 2010, when President Obama was in the White House and both chambers of Congress were run by Democrats, ENDA still didn’t move.

There was consternation over the no executive order announcement. Rea Carey, head of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said she was “extremely disappointed” and that NGLBT members “strongly disagree” with President Obama’s strategy. Tico Almeida, head of a group dedicated to fighting discrimination against LGBT people in the workplace, Freedom to Work, said the administration gave not “one single valid reason” for not signing an executive order. Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, issued a statement saying HRC was “extremely disappointed.” And former HRC official Winnie Stachelberg, now with the Center for American Progress, said the executive order was the “best chance” of ending workplace discrimination and she was “disappointed” the White House has a different timetable for seeing it done. Former counsel to Rep. Frank, Robert Raben, was the fifth LGBT leader at the meeting but could not be reached by deadline for comment.

“The reality,” said Stachelberg, “is we’ve been working  on ENDA for 18 years and only in two of those years was there what I would calla pro-ENDA Congress and we still couldn’t get it done. It’s an enormous challenge to pass any kind of civil rights legislation, so our best chance is to have an executive order first…. Suggesting that an executive order needs to wait for passage of a piece of legislation is not a good strategy.”

Stachelberg and the others promised to keep pressing for an executive order despite the White House’s decision.

But few expressed surprise at the decision.

Obama is running for re-election this year. Everything he says and does will be used against him in a court of public opinion. And anything LGBT seems inherently vulnerable to manipulation in the political arena in ways. Efforts to prohibit discrimination based on transgender identity are routinely characterized as threats to women and children in public restrooms. Opposition to same-sex couples obtaining marriage licenses is often stoked by the fear that children will easily cast off hard-wired genetics and decide to become gay.

And given the media frenzy that erupted this month around lesbian CNN commentator Hilary Rosen’s barb that Ann Romney “actually never worked a day in her life,” it’s not hard to imagine the campaign of Republican nominee-apparent Mitt Romney attacking an LGBT executive order as another burden on businesses struggling to recover in a still rocky economy.

It’s also interesting to note that the White House staff—senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, openly gay OPM directir John Berry, and others—who met with LGBT leaders April 11 to deliver the bad news made clear that the president’s “I’m not going to sign” message included a “not at this time” qualifier. That’s not a promise to sign later, but according to accounts from several attending that meeting, the phrase was used repeatedly. And that’s at least as meaningful as the president’s overheard comment to the Russians that he’ll have “more flexibility” after the election to negotiate their disagreements over a European missile shield.

It’s easy to see how such “not at this time” comments, while frustrating for those on the waiting end, could come back to haunt the president. One of the chief weaknesses of his apparent GOP opponent, Mitt Romney, is that Romney has often seemed to say what his audience wants to hear. The Romney camp will almost certainly try to argue that the president does the same thing. And given that Romney has stated explicitly that he is against discrimination against gays, Obama’s “no” on the executive order will give Romney some power to hang onto the one in four gay votes that went to the Republican presidential candidate in 2008.

So, there are consequences for President Obama’s decision to decline, or defer, the LGBT executive order on federal contractors. And his campaign has, no doubt, done the math and figured either that they have no chance of persuading those gay Republican voters to vote for Obama or that their numbers are too small to offset the potential fallout an executive order would cause.

The unanswered question for the LGBT community is whether President Obama will sign an executive order after the election (assuming he wins) or whether he really intends, as some reports have suggested, to require such protection to come through Congress.

In a rare moment of being prepared to answer a gay-related question during a routine White House briefing, Press Secretary Jay Carney said Thursday, April 12: “The President is dedicated to securing equal rights for all LGBT Americans. And that is why he has long supported an inclusive [ENDA] which would prohibit employers across the country from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The President is committed to lasting and comprehensive non-discrimination protections, and we plan to pursue a number of strategies to attain that goal. Our hope is these efforts will result in the passage of ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which is a legislative solution to LGBT employment discrimination. ?And I would make the comparison here that pursuing that strategy, the passage of ENDA, is very similar to the approach the President took for the legislative repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

This administration doesn’t say anything on gay issues that isn’t highly scripted ahead of time, and Carney’s statement was not an off-the-cuff ramble. It said the president plans to pursue “a number of strategies” to attain “lasting and comprehensive” protection; and remember “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

The LGBT community clamored for an executive order to dismiss DADT, but President Obama didn’t sign one. Instead, his administration brought together all interested parties—including opponents of DADT repeal—and constructed a legislative repeal measure that opponents could not say no to without voicing blatant bigotry. Even so, it was a nail-biter that required three cloture votes in the Senate to get to the floor and six moderate Republicans to abandon their party’s line. And it passed in the House largely because it was attached to a defense spending bill, which Congress had to approve.

The LGBT community is, thus, left hoping for three other things: that Obama is re-elected, that the House will be won back by Democrats, and that the Senate remain in Democratic hands.

Romney is against discrimination against gays, but he’s a fierce advocate for business. It seems unlikely that, if elected president, he would push Congress to approve ENDA.

In the House, DADT repeal was approved largely because it was attached to a defense spending measure. ENDA won’t have that advantage. There is no equivalent spending bill that Republicans will feel compelled to approve.

And, in the Senate, DADT repeal could not have happened in the Democratic-controlled Senate without those six moderate Republicans. Two-thirds of the Senate seats up for re-election this year are Democratic seats. Democrats have a tough fight on their hands to hang onto the Senate majority this year.

Rosen in the hot seat over barb against Romney’s attitude toward women

Longtime Democratic and lesbian activist Hilary Rosen was in the proverbial political hotseat this week over a critique she offered Wednesday night regarding Republican presidential nominee-apparent Mitt Romney.

Hilary Rosen (screen shot of Rosen on CNN)

Longtime Democratic and lesbian activist Hilary Rosen was in the proverbial political hotseat this week over a critique she offered Wednesday night regarding Republican presidential nominee-apparent Mitt Romney.

Rosen was appearing on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 and discussing Romney’s recent remarks aimed at winning female support by claiming that President Obama’s economic policies have been harder on women.

Rosen said Romney was right to put the focus on economic issues when it comes to female voters, but she then tried to explain why she thinks Romney is “old-fashioned when it comes to women” and doesn’t see women as equals.”

“What you have is Mitt Romney running around the country and saying, ‘Well, you know, my wife tells me that what women really care about are economic issues, and when I listen to my wife, that’s what I’m hearing.’

“Guess what,” said Rosen, “his wife has never actually worked a day in her life. She’s never really dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of women in this country are facing in terms of how do we feed our kids, how do we send them to school, and how we worry about their future.”

Rosen said more, but that one phrase—that Ann Romney’s “never actually worked a day in her life”— is all it took to trigger a counterattack from the Romney campaign and a massive pile on from the media and even the White House itself.

First, Ann Romney launched a Twitter account (@AnnDRomney) on Wednesday night, just to respond to Rosen’s barb. Her first Tweet, at approximately 10 p.m., was, “I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys Believe me it was hard work.” Her second Tweet, at about 9 a.m Thursday morning: “I’ll be with @marthamaccallum this morning at 10:40 discussing Hilary Rosen’s comments. All moms are entitled to choose their path.”

Rosen, a mom with a job outside the home, tried to make clear that she didn’t mean to attack Ann Romney but rather to comment on candidate Romney’s recent remark: “My wife has the occasion, as you know, to campaign on her own and also with me, and she reports to me regularly that the issue women care about most is the economy.”

On the Cooper show, Rosen said that comment makes Romney seem “old-fashioned when it comes to women and I think that comes across and I think that’s going to hurt him over the long run because he doesn’t really see us as equals.”

But the heat from her “never actually worked a day in her life” barb had already ignited the political flash fire. Rosen was quickly under heavy attack —especially from high places in the Obama camp.

Prominent Obama adviser David Axelrod posted a Tweet right after the Cooper program, saying “Also Disappointed in Hilary Rosen’s comments about Ann Romney. They were inappropriate and offensive.” And Obama campaign manager Jim Messina added his own Tweet: “I could not disagree with Hilary Rosen any more strongly. Her comments were wrong and family should be off limits. She should apologize.” DNC Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz Tweeted: “Disappointed in @hilaryr’s comments. As a mother of 3 there’s no doubt that raising children is work.”

On Thursday at noon, First Lady Michelle Obama jumped in with a Tweet, “Every mother works hard, and every woman deserves to be respected. –MO”

Then came responses to Michelle Obama’s Tweet, such as “Hard work managing those 24 servants of yours, MO??”

Conservative Fox News political anchor Greta Van Susteren said Rosen’s comments were being “weaponized by her political opponents.”

“That IS part of Washington,” said Van Susteren.  “Everything you say can become a WMD.   Both parties do it to each other.  It can be wicked.”

“I did not read Hilary’s comments to in anyway take away from the hard chore of raising children or staying at home and raising them and not working outside the family,” blogged Van Susteren. “I read it to mean that raising children without financial pressure is easier than having financial pressure.”

Republican Rep. Cathy Rodgers of Washington State went on MSNBC to attack Rosen. She said Rosen’s comment was the Democratic Party’s “manufactured war on women” going “too far.”

But even Ann Romney felt the heat. One person remarked on her Twitter site that “Far too many of us did NOT get to choose our path & even fewer w/have that option in the world your husband wants to recreate.” Another posted “not all moms find themselves in the same economic circumstance to make the same choices as you did.”

By Thursday evening, just 24 hours later, Rosen issued a formal apology: “I apologize to Ann Romney and anyone else who was offended. Let’s declare peace in this phony war [on women] and go back to focus on the substance.”

It’s hard to say how the Rosen comment will affect her own career as a progressive political commentator; certainly, many conservative pundits gain greater attention by making controversial remarks and few apologize for any offense they might inflict. But the fact that Democratic Party officials, including President Obama, postured themselves so quickly and strongly against Rosen’s remark could cut into Rosen’s influence inside the party.

Axelrod, on CNN with John King Thursday night, sounded like Rosen’s apology had resolved the “contretemps” and he took a jab at the Romney campaign for having “jumped on it like a raft in the deep blue sea because they were drowning under the weight of their own problems.”

King pressed Axelrod why he and other Obama colleagues jumped “so fast to trash somebody who is a trusted ally of this White House who has been out there defending the president quite a bit.” Axelrod tried to deflect the question in part by noting that Rosen was an employee of CNN, “not ours” but he did acknowledge Rosen as a supporter of the president.

“We have an obligation to speak out not just when people say things that are inappropriate who they’re on the other side of the aisle, but when people who are on our side of the aisle, our friends, speak out. And Hilary herself has acknowledged that she misspoke and she said something that she regretted saying in the way that she said it, and I accept that.”

Santorum drops out

Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum was one of the most virulently anti-gay candidates in the large field of Republican presidential wannabes who started out last year. And most political observers said early on and often that Santorum’s harsh positions against gays and same-sex marriage were dooming his chances to carry the GOP mantle into the general election where moderation wins votes.

Santorum stayed in the race, even as more viable Republican candidates dropped out and threw their support to the more moderate former Governor Mitt Romney.

But Santorum announced at a press conference Tuesday in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, that he was suspending his campaign. And in doing so, he gave a subtle nod to Romney.

Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum was one of the most virulently anti-gay candidates in the large field of Republican presidential wannabes who started out last year. And most political observers said early on and often that Santorum’s harsh positions against gays and same-sex marriage were dooming his chances to carry the GOP mantle into the general election where moderation wins votes.

Santorum stayed in the race, even as more viable Republican candidates dropped out and threw their support to the more moderate former Governor Mitt Romney.

But Santorum announced at a press conference Tuesday in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, that he was suspending his campaign. And in doing so, he gave a subtle nod to Romney.

“While this presidential race for us is over for me and we will suspend our campaign effective today, we are not done fighting,” said Santorum. He pledged his support for defeating President Obama’s re-election, for keeping Republicans in control of the House, and to help Republicans assume control of the Senate.

R. Clarke Cooper, head of the national Log Cabin Republicans, said he thinks Santorum’s dropping out will mean a bigger role for more moderate Republicans.

“The time is now,” he said, “for the Republican Party to capitalize by presenting an inclusive, united front focused on economic growth, exploration of natural resources and defending national interests abroad.”

Ironically, especially to LGBT people listening to Santorum’s remarks Tuesday, Santorum counted among his supporters, “people who are overlooked by society or don’t seem to be as valuable as others in society.”

Santorum repeatedly made statements during nationally televised debates and elsewhere on the campaign that undermined LGBT citizens.

He said he wanted to reinstate the ban on gays in the military and said nothing, during one debate, in defense of a gay soldier being booed. Instead, Santorum characterized the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as “tragic” and said it gave gays a “special privilege.” He also boasted of his active campaign to oust three Iowa state supreme court justices who had ruled that the state constitution guaranteed gay couples the same rights as heterosexual couples seeking marriage licenses. And Santorum promised that, if elected president, he would travel the country to try and repeal state laws that allow marriage equality –even in states where voters want to keep those laws.             Santorum’s departure now enables Romney to take a great more latitude in playing for voters in the vast middle of the political spectrum, a place that should mean a lot less prominence for positions such as Republican opposition to marriage equality.

Santorum noted that his daughter Bella was hospitalized over the weekend and that she is doing “exceptionally well” now, but he acknowledged that her illness “did cause us to pause and think” about her well-being.

Santorum said his campaign started out as being an effort, as a good parent, to ensure that the “American dream” was possible for all children.

But Santorum or his supporters often tried to exploit hostility towards LGBT people and their families. One group of supporters sent out robo-calls and emails saying that Romney “promoted homosexuality in our elementary schools, and unconstitutionally ordered state officials to make Massachusetts America’s first same-sex marriage state.” A woman on the recording claimed Romney supported “open homosexuality in the military, the appointment of homosexual judges, and the ENDA law, making it illegal to fire a man who wears a dress and high heels to work, even if he’s your kid’s teacher.”

Straw polls and informal surveys and interviews with gay Republicans indicated that most were supporting Romney and none were supporting Santorum during the party’s primaries and caucuses in the early states.

The quiet drama behind the DOMA argument

The seventh-floor courtroom of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston was packed to capacity. An overflow room equipped with closed circuit TV was provided for those not arriving early enough—shortly after 8 a.m.—for seating in the En Banc Hearing Room at the John Joseph Moakley U.S. Courthouse on the Boston waterfront.

Chief Judge Sandra Lynch

By Lisa Keen and Chuck Colbert

The seventh-floor courtroom of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston was packed to capacity. An overflow room equipped with closed circuit TV was provided for those not arriving early enough—shortly after 8 a.m.—for seating in the En Banc Hearing Room at the John Joseph Moakley U.S. Courthouse on the Boston waterfront.

The audience, most dressed in the dark business suits one normally associates with attorneys, was there to witness an historic event: The first argument against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in a federal appeals court. It was the case everybody knows is heading to the U.S. Supreme Court and, perhaps, for the history books, along with the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas which struck down laws against same-sex sexual relations.

Three of the four attorneys to argue that day were openly gay; and all three were arguing that DOMA should be struck down. The lone straight attorney before the bench would Paul Clement, a Republican legal celebrity, fresh off his high-profile challenge of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act before the U.S. Supreme Court the week before.

The gathering had to sit, first, through a one-hour argument in an unrelated case, and when it was done, at 10 a.m., Chief Judge Sandra Lynch announced a brief recess to allow attorneys for the next case to move into place.

Clement, bespectacled and dressed in a gray suit, sat on the far left side of the attorneys’ table, with one or two other associates.

To Clement’s right was openly gay attorney Stuart Delery, recently promoted at the U.S. Department of Justice to Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division—a step up after two years as senior counselor to Attorney General Eric Holder.

Legal gay icon Mary Bonauto of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, the group which championed the historic case that led to same-sex marriages in the United States being legally recognized for the first-time ever, in Massachusetts, sat near the center, in a dark navy business pantsuit. Bonauto sported fashionable reading glasses.

Bonauto sat next to Paul Smith, the tall, red-headed openly gay attorney who argued and won the landmark 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Lawrence v. Texas. Smith had served as cooperating counsel with GLAD for the plaintiffs in the case. Smith is also working on a similar lawsuit with GLAD in the federal district court of Connecticut.

To Smith’s right sat Maura Healey, an assistant attorney general for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Healey, like Bonauto, had argued against DOMA at the district court level, in the same courthouse on different days just 11 months earlier. And Healey had just been promoted, from chief of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Civil Rights Division to chief of the AG’s Bureau of Public Protection and Advocacy, which oversees Civil Rights, Health Care, Antitrust, Environmental Protection, Consumer Protection, and Insurance and Financial Services.

To Healey’s right was her successor as chief of the state civil rights division, Jonathan Miller, whose wife gave birth to their first child just a few months ago.

On the bench were the First Circuit’s three most senior judges: 66-year-old Chief Judge Lynch in the center, 78-year-old Judge Juan Torruella, to the left, and 72-year-old Michael Boudin, to the right.

Reporters were not permitted to bring tape recorders, laptops, cell phones, or any other electronic devices inside the courtroom, and many were kevetching with mock horror that they would have to be relying on pen and paper to take notes for the historic event. Courtroom artist Jane F. Collins was employing her pastels and paper in a remarkably accurate rendering of the three justices and the backs of Clement and Healey for the New England Cable News channel.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley was in the front row of the public section, behind Clement and in an animated discussion with people nearby. She was much in the news that day and the day before for indicting the former state treasurer on misuse of state resources. She would be back in front of microphones after this argument, explaining the state’s opposition to DOMA to the public. Also in the public section was former state Supreme Judicial Court Justice Judith Cowin. Cowin, generally seen as a conservative, voted with the majority in 2003, saying the state constitution guarantee same-sex couples the right to marry.

The one-hour argument was divided up: Clement and Delery would each get 20 minutes and Bonauto and Healey would each get 10.

A few minutes into Clement’s 20 minutes, a court staffer walked from the back of the courtroom up to the bench and spoke quietly with Chief Judge Lynch while Clement continued responding to a question from Torruella. Boudin leaned in and listened, too. It is quite rare for court staff to interrupt a judge hearing oral arguments. Lynch made no comment about the interruption during the rest of the proceeding, but it was apparently news that the court’s audio equipment was malfunctioning. The first 18 minutes of the one-hour argument were not recorded, the recording begins a few minutes into Delery’s presentation, and what was recorded was somewhat low quality.

Chief Judge Lynch had two questions for Delery and one question for each of the other attorneys; Torruella had about a dozen for Clement and half that for Delery; Boudin asked Clement and Delery a couple of questions each.

Of the three judges, Lynch has had the most experience with gay-related cases. In 2008, she penned a panel decision (Parker v. Hurley) that upheld a district court dismissal of a lawsuit by parents who sought to exempt their children from being in classrooms that discussed books that mentioned same-sex couples. Six months later, she became the first female Chief Justice of the circuit.

She asked Clement to expand upon his argument that it was perfectly rational for Congress to pass DOMA in order to wait for the consequences of recognizing same-sex marriages to “play out” first in the various states. She asked Delery whether DOJ’s argument that laws disfavoring gays should be held as legally suspect (and thus have to meet a more difficult judicial review) requires showing both that the laws express animus toward gays and that gays are targeted by the laws. And during a discussion of what cases DOJ was relying on to justify heightened scrutiny, Lynch interrupted Delery to ask, “Are you relying on Romer? Are you relying on Lawrence?”

Lawrence is the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down state laws banning same-sex sexual relations. Romer v. Evans is the 1996 U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down a Colorado initiative that sought to bar laws prohibiting discrimination against gays.

When a very hoarse Bonauto argued that Congress jettisoned its historic neutrality around the definition of marriage when it passed DOMA in 1996, Lynch asked her to address Clement’s claim that the federal government did so because the Hawaii Supreme Court found, in January 1996, that its state constitutions required marriage equality.

And, finally, Lynch asked Healey to respond to Clement’s argument that Section 2 of DOMA “preserves the right of Massachusetts to define marriage as it chooses to do and ensures there will be full faith and credit, and that the question is whether the Massachusetts decision can drive the federal government’s decision about its benefits … sort of reverse the way you are articulating this.”

Section 2, which is not challenged by the litigation here, stipulates that no state shall be required to given legal recognition to “a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other State….”

Outside the courthouse following the argument, reporters pressed Bonauto, Healey, Attorney General Coakley, and plaintiff couples.

Coakley voiced confidence in the “legal arguments” against DOMA and their “common sense emotional appeal” to “fairness.”

“This is about fairness, about what Massachusetts had already decided to good effect about families, keeping kids safe and giving kids opportunities,” she explained.  “As the arguments made very clear, all this statute does is discriminate against same-sex couples and their children and everyone else in Massachusetts who decided this should be the law.” The federal government, she added, “has no business creating two sets of citizens, no good reason for it and plenty of illegal and unfair reasons.  It’s time for it to go.”

Bonauto told reporters the lawsuit “is about equal treatment under the law and not singling out this one group of people to make them unequal to everyone else, which is what DOMA does.”

“For more than 200 years the federal government [has] accepted states’ definition of marriage and sometimes that has been controversial,” said Bonauto, reiterating the very point Lynch had zeroed in on. “Nonetheless, every single time a state marries somebody, it has been accepted for federal purposes. The one and only exception ever made from that equal rule was for same-sex couples.”

At a press availability following the argument, three sets of plaintiff couples spelled out details of how DOMA penalizes them in joint tax filing and social security spousal benefits.

Married for nearly eight years, Melba Abreu and Beatrice Hernandez cannot submit federal tax returns as married filing jointly. Between 2004 and 2008, Hernandez said, “DOMA has resulted in our paying more than $25,000 in excess federal taxes.”

Marlin Nabors and Jonathan Knight are similarly situated.  Married for five years, the couple moved to Boston from the Midwest.

“We had no idea how getting married would impact our financial situation,” said Nabors, referring to the inability to file joint federal tax returns. “Over the last couple of years, we have paid an additional $1,000, enough to make a difference.”

“In our day to day lives, we go about our business,” said Knight. “We live in a very accepting world here in Massachusetts and Boston, with employers, friends, and families. We don’t feel [the effect of DOMA] day to day, just once a year at tax time.”

For plaintiff couple Bette Jo Green and Jo Ann Whitehead, social security spousal benefits are at issue.  Green and Whitefield are retired but DOMA prevents Whitehead from receiving the higher spousal payment under the standard formula that would result in higher payments to the lower earning spouse.

“I was a labor delivery nurse,” explained Green. “She was an educator.”

The couple said DOMA costs them $3,600 year. “It adds up,” said Whitehead. But, “beyond the financial issue,” said Whitehead, “is the fairness one.”

First circuit drills down on DOMA

BOSTON — A three-judge panel in Boston heard oral arguments Wednesday (April 4) in the first challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to reach a federal appeals court.

Paul Clement
Paul Clement

BOSTON — A three-judge panel in Boston heard oral arguments Wednesday (April 4) in the first challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to reach a federal appeals court. And the challenges to counsel representing the Republican leadership of the U.S. House, which is defending the statute, came fast and furious, particularly from the panel’s one ethnic minority member.

Isn’t DOMA “forcing states to change their [marriage] laws to comply?” asked Judge Juan Torruella of Paul Clement, the counsel hired by the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG), headed by House Speaker John Boehner. Torruella, who came to the First Circuit from the District Court for Puerto Rico. And if states don’t comply, asked Torruella, don’t they lose all sorts of benefits downstream? What if DOMA said the federal government would not recognize marriages between different races, said Torruella. And could Clement really argue that a First Circuit ruling in a case concerning the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law—that it could be justified on a simple rational basis alone—be considered binding in this case, given the “different standards” for courts reviewing military matters?

Judge Michael Boudin pressed Clement to explain Congress’s reasons for passing DOMA. When Clement responded that Congress sought to “preserve” prior legislative understandings of what marriage means, Boudin pushed back, asking him, “What, beyond the status quo?”

Chief Judge Sandra Lynch asked Clement to “expand” on his argument that Congress passed DOMA to provide for a “waiting period” to see how the same-sex marriage issue would play out in the states.

They were not extraordinary questions and they cannot be seen as providing any real reading of how the judges might rule. But the judges had few questions for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’s representative in court,  Maura Healey, and even fewer for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders’ attorney Mary Bonauto.

The focus was squarely on Clement, fresh off his challenge to the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act last week in the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Obama administration’s representative, Department of Justice’s recently promoted Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division, Stuart Delery.

The case before the panel was a consolidation of three cases, generally known as Gill v. Office of Personnel Management. U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Tauro ruled in July 2010 that Section 3 of DOMA violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection, its Spending Clause, and the Tenth Amendment right of states to sovereignty. Section 3 of the federal law, passed in 1996, states that, for federal government purposes, “the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.” None of the First Circuit lawsuits challenged the section of DOMA that enables any state to ignore valid marriage licenses issued to a same-sex couple in other states.

The DOJ filed the initial appeal to the First Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals and filed a brief laying out various rational basis arguments to justify DOMA. But one month later, in February 2011, the U.S. Attorney General announced that the Obama administration considers DOMA unconstitutional and would not defend it in most cases.

In court Wednesday, Clement tried to bolster his own rational basis arguments by pointing out that DOJ’s initial brief had proffered reasons it considered legitimate for DOMA.

“DOJ can change its position,” said Clement, “but the prior submission doesn’t go away.”

DOJ’s Delery told the panel the president and the DOJ now believe the court should hold DOMA to a “heightened” standard of scrutiny, much more difficult to satisfy than identifying a mere “rational” reason for the law putting same-sex couples at a disadvantage.

“Rational basis,” said Delery, “would permit the court to disregard what actually motivated” Congress to pass DOMA: animus toward same-sex couples. But, he added, “I’m not here to defend it on any standard.”

However, Delery did defend DOMA against the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ argument that DOMA violates the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution.

The Tenth Amendment provides that “powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people’.”

Maura T. Healey, chief of the Massachusetts Attorney General Office’s Bureau of Public Protection and Advocacy, told the panel that DOMA amounted to a “revolutionary” act by Congress to take from the states their long-standing power to define marriage within their own borders.

“Congress doesn’t like that gay people are getting married” and has taken the “extraordinary” step of encroaching on a “matter of core state sovereignty,” said Healey. Healey said DOMA interferes with Massachusetts’ authority to have a uniform marriage code that requires the state to treat same-sex couples differently. She challenged Clement’s claim that DOMA sought uniformity for the purpose of federal regulations, noting that Congress had not taken any steps to create uniformity in the acceptable age for marriage—a requirement that differs from state to state.

DOMA, she said, is “really a rule of exclusion” aimed at gays.

In the current case, the DOJ and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts have argued that DOMA is a violation of the Spending Clause. The Spending Clause says Congress has the power to collect taxes and pay debts to promote the “general welfare” of the country. Massachusetts says DOMA violates the Spending Clause by conditioning federal funding on invidious State discrimination against its own citizens.

Healey and GLAD’s Bonauto had only 10 minutes each to state their positions, even though GLAD and Massachusetts brought the lawsuits that led to the district court ruling that struck DOMA Section 3. But both were emphatic in their denouncement of DOMA as targeting gays for no purpose other than animus.

Bonauto, whose voice seemed a little hoarse, reiterated GLAD’s claim that DOMA violates the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection for same-sex couples. The law deserves heightened scrutiny, she said, “but it fails even the rational test.” When Judge Lynch asked her to respond to Clement’s claim that Congress was merely trying, with DOMA, to respond to a changing legal landscape brought on when Hawaii first considered a same-sex marriage lawsuit, Bonauto replied that marriage laws have frequently changed throughout history. But what changed with DOMA, she said, was Congress’s deference to the states. Even during the time that some states banned interracial marriage, said Bonauto, Congress deferred to each state’s definition of marriage.

“There’s no problem that’s being solved by DOMA,” said Bonauto. Section 3 of DOMA, she added, puts up a sign that says, “No married gays need apply” and it “is inflicting a broad range of harms.”

There was considerable time given to Clement’s argument that the First Circuit can apply only a rational basis test to DOMA, and not the more difficult heightened scrutiny review. That argument emerges out of a First Circuit decision in 2008 in Cook v. Gates. The First Circuit upheld the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and, in doing so, said that its review required only a rational justification for DADT.

GLAD and the Department of Justice sought to skip the three-judge panel review and go straight to the full First Circuit to hear the appeal, in hopes of addressing the Cook question, but the First Circuit denied that request.

Clement argued that, because the First Circuit used only rational basis review in the Cook case, it was bound to use only rational review in this case. He offered a number of “rational” reasons for DOMA, in court and in his written briefs, the desire for “uniformity,” the potential for unknown consequences of recognizing same-sex marriages, and “fiscal prudence.” In his written brief, Clement even argued that “scientific opinion” should not be permitted to “invade the policy realm” reserved to Congress and that Congress doesn’t really even need a reason, just a “belief” to justify the law. He did not express these latter two points in court Wednesday.

Clement also argued in court, and in written briefs, that the U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled on same-sex marriage. He cited the now infamous petition Baker v. Nelson, in which a gay couple in Minnesota appealed a ruling of their state’s supreme court that held the state could deny them a marriage license. The U.S. Supreme Court, in 1972, dismissed the couple’s appeal.

Dismissing an appeal has more significance than simply refusing to hear to hear an appeal. But, in dismissing Baker, the high court explained it was doing so because there was no “substantial federal question” presented by the case.

The three-judge panel had no questions for Clement concerning this argument. But GLAD, DOJ, and Massachusetts spent considerable time in their written briefs refuting that notion.

GLAD, for instance, noted that the U.S. Supreme Court’s dismissal of Baker—in 1972—“is no longer good law,” given the Supreme Court’s 2003 ruling in Lawrence v. Texas. In that decision, the Supreme Court ruled that states could not ban private consensual sexual activities of same-sex adults.

The three consolidated cases are Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, Hara v. OPM, and Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The first two cases were brought by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders; the latter by the state.

The plaintiffs in the three consolidated lawsuits include the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, seven same-sex married couples, and three widowers who had same-sex spouses. The lead plaintiff named in one case is Nancy Gill, a U.S. Postal Service worker. The sole plaintiff in the second, more narrow, case is Dean Hara, the widow of the late U.S. Rep. Gerry Studds.

There are at least four other lawsuits currently underway challenging DOMA, but, with one exception, the others are in district court.

Two of the four cases are in the Second Circuit states. GLAD has filed a similar challenge to DOMA, Pedersen v. OPM, in the U.S. District Court of Connecticut. Briefing in that case is completed and GLAD’s website indicates the group is now awaiting a decision. The ACLU’s National LGBT Project filed a DOMA challenge, Windsor v. U.S. in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Decisions in both of these cases would likely be appealed to the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

The other two DOMA cases are in California, a Ninth Circuit state. In Golinski v. OPM, a district court judge ruled in February that DOMA violates the equal protection rights of same-sex couples. That decision has now been appealed to the Ninth Circuit. And Dragovich v. U.S., a case brought the Legal Aid Society, in the U.S. District Court in Oakland. Legal Aid and the House both filed motions March 22 seeking a summary judgment in the case.

The audio of the one-hour argument is available on the First Circuit’s website; however, due to a technical issue, the first ten minutes or so of the proceeding were not captured.

Anchorage rejects anti-bias measure

Voters in Anchorage, Alaska, overwhelmingly rejected a ballot measure Tuesday that sought to add “sexual orientation” and “transgender identity” to the city’s human rights law.

With 102 of 121 precincts counted late last night, the vote on the measure, Proposition 5, was 58 percent to 42 percent, according to the city elections division.

Voters in Anchorage, Alaska, overwhelmingly rejected a ballot measure Tuesday that sought to add “sexual orientation” and “transgender identity” to the city’s human rights law.

With 102 of 121 precincts counted late last night, the vote on the measure, Proposition 5, was 58 percent to 42 percent, according to the city elections division.

Turnout Tuesday set records, with so many voters showing up that some precincts ran out of ballots. The Anchorage Daily News reported that the head of “Protect Your Rights,” a group organizing opposition to the ballot measure, sent out an email Monday and Tuesday telling “thousands” that they could register to vote at the polls on Tuesday, but he was wrong. The email said nothing about the topic of Proposition 5; it said only “Protect Your Rights. Vote No.”

KTUU Television reported Tuesday night that precincts were allowing voters to go ahead and fill out “questioned” ballots. And the city’s election clerk told the station that she believed some voters were coming from jurisdictions outside Anchorage to cast votes.

Supporters of Proposition 5 were upset last week by a political ad put on the television airwaves in Anchorage, characterizing the potential beneficiaries of the measure as burly men wearing women’s clothing, trying to get jobs at day care centers and access to women’s locker rooms. One ad claimed that a day care center would be forced to hire a “transvestite who wants to work with toddlers” if the amendment to its human rights law passed. The other ad claimed a local fitness gym would have to “open the women’s locker room to anyone who claims a female identity.”

The ads were produced by “Protect Your Rights.”

Yes on 5-One Anchorage, a coalition supporting the ballot measure, called the ads “highly offensive” and an effort to “dehumanize and demean our transgender friends, family and neighbors.”

The “Protect Your Rights” group said the ads were intended to point out a “shocking flaw” of the proposed amendment: it didn’t define “transgender.”

Proposition 5 sought to add “sexual orientation” and “transgender identity” to the existing non-discrimination law that applies in matters of the sale or rental of property, finance, employment, public accommodations, education, and “practices of the municipality.” The measure does define “sexual orientation” as “an individual’s heterosexuality, homosexuality, or bisexuality.” But did not define “transgender identity.”

Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Alaska, said the definition for “sexual orientation” was necessary because of opponents’ attempts to claim that it would prohibit discrimination based on pedophilia, necrophilia, and other sexual disorders. But “transgender identity,” he said, is something the courts are “well aware of.”

Lawyers arguing DOMA appeal Wednesday

When a panel of three judges on a federal appeals court hears arguments against the federal Defense of Marriage Act, three openly gay lawyers will argue the law is unconstitutional. Opposing them, one straight attorney.

Mary Bonauto

When a panel of three judges on a federal appeals court hears arguments against the federal Defense of Marriage Act, three openly gay lawyers will argue the law is unconstitutional. Opposing them, one straight attorney.

Legal gay icon Mary Bonauto will once again make a case for equal marriage, arguing on behalf of seven gay couples and three widowers, all married in Massachusetts after the 2003 Goodridge v. Department of Public Health decision.

While the state affords them all the rights, benefits, protections, and responsibilities of legal wedlock, the federal government, under DOMA, denies them more than 1,000 federal programs, benefits and legal protections afforded to opposite-sex couples.

Perhaps best known for winning the 2003 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling in Goodridge, Bonauto is Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders’ civil rights project director.

Goodridge was the first state Supreme Court victory for advocates of the freedom to marry for gay and lesbian couples.

Before Goodridge, Bonauto and two other attorneys won an important 1999 decision in Baker v. State of Vermont, a ruling that prompted lawmakers there to adopt what was then the ground-breaking option of civil unions. Civil unions afforded same-sex couples all the rights, benefits, and responsibilities of marriage, but not the word marriage.  In 2009, Vermont lawmakers made same-sex marriage legal.

A May 2004 New York Times Magazine profile on Bonauto likened her to the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who, before becoming a judge, argued before the high court in the historic case of Brown v. Board of Education, which ended racial segregation in public education.

A native of Newburgh, N.Y., Bonauto is a graduate of Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., and holds a law degree from Northeastern University, located in Boston.

Bonauto and her wife Jennifer Wriggins reside in Portland, Maine, where they are raising twin daughters.

Just as GLAD won a favorable same-sex marriage ruling in the federal district court in Boston in July 2010, so did and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

In a suit brought by the state’s attorney general, Maura T. Healey, chief of the Massachusetts Attorney General Office’s Bureau of Public Protection and Advocacy, argued that DOMA infringed on Massachusetts sovereignty, trespassing on the state’s ability to determine eligibility for issuing marriage licenses.

During oral arguments, attorney Healey led a full-court press. In strong words, she told the U.S. District Court judge that DOMA “forces Massachusetts to engage in a kind of invidious discrimination.”

How? By denying same-sex married couples of the same benefits received by opposite-sex couples—or risk losing federal aid.

Even worse, DOMA is “animus-based national marriage law,” said Healey. She contended that the law infringes on Massachusetts sovereign authority and “forces the state to discriminate against its own citizens.”

Like Bonauto, Healey is no stranger to high profile gay litigation. Prior to joining the Attorney General’s Office, Healey was an attorney at the Boston office of WilmerHale, a prestigious law firm. There, she provided counsel to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) in a 2006 case, Cook v. Rumsfeld, that challenged the constitutionality of the armed forces’ ban on openly gay service, a federal law and military policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Before law school, Healey, a New Hampshire native, played women’s basketball for Harvard College. There, as point guard, she captained the school to an Ivy League championship. Afterwards, Healey went on to play professional ball in Europe. She is a 2006 inductee into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame.  She holds a law degree from Northeastern.

For the April 4 arguments, GLAD’s and the attorney general’s lawsuits have been consolidated. They are referred to as Gill v. Office of Personnel Management.

When the cases were first heard in U.S. District Court, the Obama Department of Justice was still defending DOMA. But last year, DOJ said it would no longer argue the law is unconstitutional.

This time, the Department of Justice will be arguing against DOMA. And it will do so in the person of openly gay attorney Stuart Delery, promoted recently to serve as DOJ’s Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division.

Like Bonauto and Healey, Delery has experience with high profile gay litigation. While a partner at WilmerHale in Washington, D.C., he was pro bono counsel of record for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network’s unsuccessful lawsuit in the First Circuit that challenged the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

A graduate of the University of Virginia, Delery earned a law degree at Yale. He clerked for Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Byron R. White.

Delery and his longtime partner, Richard Gervase, are fathers of two sons, according to the gay newspaper Metro Weekly of Washington, D.C.. Both parents are active in Rainbow Families DC, a non-profit organization for LGBT parents and prospective parents in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.

DOJ is no longer defending DOMA, but the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) of the U.S. House hired attorney Paul Clement, former Solicitor General for President George W. Bush, to do so.

At that time, Clement was a partner at the law firm of King & Spaulding. When the law firm withdrew from the DOMA case, Clement resigned and joined another smaller firm, saying, “Representation should not be abandoned because the client’s legal positioning is extremely unpopular in certain quarters.”

“Defending unpopular positions is what lawyers do,” said Clement, to Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart. “The adversary system of justice depends on it, especially in cases where passions run high. Efforts to delegitimize any representation for one side of a legal controversy are a profound threat to the rule of law.”

A Wisconsin native, Clement, a graduate of Georgetown University, holds a law degree from Harvard. He clerked for Associate Justice Antonin Scalia of the U.S. Supreme Court.

When Clement arrives in Boston to defend DOMA, he will be fresh off an appearance this past week before the U.S. Supreme Court in landmark litigation seeking to overturn the Affordable Care Act. Clement will also be defending DOMA in other cases.

NC ban confusing but likely to pass

North Carolina will vote on a proposed marriage ban May 8, when they go to the polls for the Republican and Democratic presidential primaries. And a recent survey indicates that most are likely to approve a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. But that survey also shows that two-thirds of those people don’t really understand what they’re voting for.

North Carolina will vote on a proposed marriage ban May 8, when they go to the polls for the Republican and Democratic presidential primaries. And a recent survey indicates that most are likely to approve a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. But that survey also shows that two-thirds of those people don’t really understand what they’re voting for.

The measure, which some refer to as Amendment One, states that it provides “that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.” That is interpreted by many as including a ban on civil unions and domestic partnerships.

The poll of more than eleven-hundred people, conducted by Public Policy Polling between March 23rd and 25th, shows 58 percent of likely primary voters will vote for the constitutional ban and 38 percent will vote against it.

Public Policy found that 28 percent of voters think the ballot measure bans only same-sex marriage. And when they were told it also bans civil unions and domestic partnerships, the vote flipped —42 percent opposed and 41 percent favored.

The ballot measure originated in the state’s Republican-dominated legislature which scheduled it for the May primary –a primary that will likely draw many more Republicans than Democrats. Public Policy found Republicans overwhelmingly favor of the measure, while Democrats were split.