Obama on LGBT equality: ‘Stay vigilant and keep working at it’

President Obama said this month he thinks the progress made on LGBT equality is “here to stay” despite pushback from some quarters of the country.

President Obama said this month he thinks the LGBT movement will “keep moving in the right direction, as long as we stay vigilant and keep working on it.”

He made his comment in response to a question from Ingrid Nilsen, one of three popular YouTube “creators” chosen to ask the president questions in conjunction with his State of the Union address on January 12.

Nilsen, who came out as a lesbian on her YouTube channel last June, asked President Obama whether it might be possible that some recent progress toward LGBT equality is “not here to stay in certain states.”

Her question was prompted, she said, by the recent announcement by the Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice that that state’s ban remains in “full force and effect” until the state supreme court can weigh in on what effect the U.S. Supreme Court decision to strike down state bans on marriage for same-sex couples has on the Alabama ban.

“No, no, no, it’s here to stay,” said President Obama, who was being interviewed in the East Room of the White House January 15. “Understand that the Supreme Court has ruled that, under the constitution, everybody in all 50 states has the right to marry the person they love. So that’s now the law of the land.

“The fact that an Alabama judge is resisting is just a temporary gesture by a judge which will be rapidly overturned because it violates what’s called the Supremacy Clause,” said the president. “When the federal constitution speaks, then everybody has to abide by it and state laws and state judges can’t overturn it. So, you shouldn’t be worried about that.

“I think that the process of changing people’s attitudes, the process of people treating the LGBT community with full equality and respect, making sure they’re not discriminated on the job or in housing or things like that –those are areas where we’ve still got some significant work to do,” continued President Obama. “And, for young people, making sure they’re not bullied — that requires the participation of all of us.

“So, we’re not there yet. On the other hand, I got to tell you that, to watch the amazing strides we’ve made over the last five years, ten years, twenty years and all of this is a result of the incredible courage of people who had the courage to come and say, ‘Here’s who I am’ but who did it 20, 30 years ago when it was incredibly tough. It was because of their courage and their activism that we’ve seen the changes we’ve made, and I’m confident we’ll keep on making them.

“The thing that makes me most hopeful about this,” he added, “is when I talk to Malia and Sasha and young people your generation, their attitudes are so different. The notion that you discriminate against someone because of sexual orientation is so out of sync with how most young people think –including young Republicans, young Democrats. I mean, I think it’s across some of the usual political lines. This is an issue that’s going to keep moving in the right direction, as long as we stay vigilant and keep working on it.”

Ironically, this year’s State of the Union address was one of the few in which President Obama did not lay out a specific goal to accomplish for the LGBT community.

In his first official State of the Union address, in 2010, President Obama said he would work with Congress and the military to repeal the ban on openly gay Americans serving. Reaction in the LGBT community was mixed: Some applauded the statement; others said the time for promises was over and that the president should create a plan to make it happen. By December that year, Congress agreed to a plan that the policy would end as soon as the president, the Secretary of Defense, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff certified that repeal would not jeopardize military readiness. They so certified and the policy was repealed in September 2011.

In January 2011, President Obama disappointed many LGBT activists when he did not call for repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. Instead, he called on college campuses to “open their doors to our military recruiters.”             President Obama’s 2012 address made passing mention of “gay or straight” members of the military.

In 2013, the president again talked about members of the military “gay and straight,” and made a pitch for ensuring that all people can “get ahead no matter where you come from, what you look like, or who you love.” In June of that year, with the support of the Obama administration, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act.

President Obama got a little more specific in January 2014, when he spoke about “marriage equality” and the “inherent dignity and equality of every human being, regardless of race or religion, creed or sexual orientation.” In a separate “supplemental” statement to the State of the Union, President Obama stated that “It’s time to add sexual orientation and gender identity to [the] list” of types of discrimination prohibited by federal law. And he explicitly endorsed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which sought to provide job security for LGBT people. Of course, in June 2015, with the full support of the Obama administration, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down bans to marriage for same-sex couples in every state.

During last year’s State of the Union address, President Obama talked about LGBT people in the context of preserving American values and respecting human dignity.

“That’s why we defend free speech and advocate for political prisoners and condemn the persecution of women or religious minorities or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender,” said the president. “We do these things not only because they are the right thing to do but because, ultimately, they will make us safer.”

Human Rights Campaign spokesman Stephen Peters said the president’s explicit mention of transgender people last year was historic. Peters said HRC hoped the president this year would address the community’s remaining challenges, including the “need to pass the Equality Act for full federal LGBT equality, HIV/AIDS funding, the current Department of Defense review of the outdated regulations preventing transgender service members from serving authentically, and a host of other areas.”

Iowa poll finds LGBT issue important In deciding who to support in caucuses

LGBT issues have come up relatively little in the current presidential primary campaigns, but a poll out of Iowa last week says such issues do have an important influence in who likely caucus goers will choose to support.

The first crucial voting begins February 1 in the Iowa caucuses, followed by February 9 in the New Hampshire primary.

According to a poll published January 14 by Bloomberg Politics and the Des Moines Register, support among likely Democratic caucus participants in Iowa is basically split between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Clinton has 42 percent, Sanders 40 percent, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley has four percent, and the margin of error is plus-or-minus 4.4 points. Importantly, the other 14 percent are undecided.

The Register survey of likely Republican caucus goers found 25 percent prepared to support U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, 22 percent behind real estate mogul Donald Trump, 12 percent for U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, and 11 percent for neurosurgeon Ben Carson. Twenty points are spread out in low single digits among the rest of the Republican field: U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, former Governors Jeb Bush of Florida and Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, Governors Chris Christie of New Jersey and John Kasich of Ohio, Hewlett Packard former executive Carly Fiorina. Former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore is still in the race but has not polled even one percent from the beginning of his campaign.

The Register’s survey, taken January 7-10, asked 503 “likely Democratic caucus goers how important “social issues like abortion and gay marriage” are to their decision about which candidate to support: 81 percent said they were either “extremely important” or “important.” While strong, the influence of these social issues was smaller than every other issue the Register asked about: “The economy” (99 percent), “National security” (96 percent), “Civil rights” (95 percent), “The gap between rich and poor” (94 percent), and “Taxes” (90 percent).

The answers of 500 Republican likely caucus goers were similar on “abortion and gay marriage”: 80 percent said the issues were “extremely important” or “important” to their choice of candidate. The influence of other issues was somewhat similar with one exception: “The economy” and “National security” (both 99 percent) were the top influencers, “Taxes” (94 percent), and “Civil rights” (86 percent). “The gap between rich and poor” trailed far behind (55 percent).

The Register included data on Iowa frontrunner Cruz specifically, showing that 78 percent of likely Republican caucus goers find it “attractive” that Cruz is “guided by Christian values in opposing abortion and gay marriage.” Only 18 percent found his position “mostly unattractive” or “very unattractive.” Ninety-four percent said they found it “attractive” that Cruz “could be counted on to base his decisions on the U.S. Constitution.”

The position of the candidates on “gay marriage” or other LGBT-related concerns has come up relatively few times during the several nationally televised debates. Most times, the reference is just in passing: such as during Sunday’s Democratic debate when Clinton, talking about young voters, said that there has been an “assault” by Republicans on the rights of gays and lesbians. Cruz, during last Thursday’s GOP debate, tried to diss Trump by saying his opponent represented “New York values.”

“Everybody understands that the values in New York City are socially liberal and pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage,” said Cruz.

In less publicized moments, some candidates have elaborated on their well-known positions on marriage for same-sex couples: Republicans against and Democrats for. USA Today pointed out in November that Rubio was making confusing statements on the issue in Iowa. In one interview, he suggested it was right for Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis to disobey the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking state bans on marriage for same-sex couples. Later, at an event for religious leaders, he said “civil disobedience would be Biblically justified” if “we are no longer able to change the systems and the laws we have in place.”

Whatever the muddle might mean, Rubio’s polling in Iowa is roughly the same as it is nationally: about 12 percent and in third place.

Meanwhile, the polls of party voters nationally have been somewhat volatile. According to one poll, Clinton led Sanders by 20 points last month, but she holds only a seven-point lead as of January 10. In another poll, her lead has increased from 19 points in December to 25 points now.

After leading U.S. Senator Ted Cruz by only five points last month, in surveys of Republican primary voters nationwide, real estate mogul Donald Trump now leads by 13 points.

Gay political data analyst Nate Silver’s website, fivethirtyeight.com, says a careful analysis of 55 polls of Iowa Democratic caucuses, suggests Clinton has a “65 percent chance to win” in Iowa. It says Sanders’ chances are 34 percent.

A similar analysis of 65 polls of Iowa Republicans finds Trump has a 43 percent chance of winning Iowa; Cruz 42 percent, Rubio 8 percent, and Carson 4 percent.

Fivethirtyeight analysis currently forecasts Trump has a 56 percent chance of winning the New Hampshire primary, Rubio 12 percent, Cruz 9 percent, Kasich 8 percent, Christie 7 percent, Bush 5 percent, and Paul 1 percent.

Fivethiryeight’s analysis of the New Hampshire Democrats gives Sanders a whopping 71 percent chance of winning there. Clinton has a 29 percent chance, and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley has less than a one percent chance.

Obama’s last State of the Union: Religion, coming out, Sally Ride, and no promises

In his eighth and final State of the Union address, President Obama on Tuesday seemed intent on both acknowledging the nation’s rifts and binding together those disparate parts with a “common creed” devoted to democracy. Unlike in some previous addresses, President Obama did not call for specific actions to promote equality for LGBT people, but he did pay tribute to both large and small victories of the movement.

In his eighth and final State of the Union address, President Obama on Tuesday seemed intent on both acknowledging the nation’s rifts and binding together those disparate parts with a “common creed” devoted to democracy.

Unlike in some previous addresses, President Obama did not call for specific actions to promote equality for LGBT people, but he did pay tribute to both large and small victories of the movement. He referred to marriage equality once, uttered the word “gay” once, and urged Americans to appreciate and celebrate the nation’s “diversity” and “commitment to the rule of law.” And he included lesbian astronaut Sally Ride in his short list of American historical legends.

“[W]hen I no longer hold this office, I’ll be right there with you as a citizen, inspired by those voices of fairness and vision … voices that help us see ourselves not first and foremost as black or white or Asian or Latino, not as gay or straight, immigrant or native born; not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans first, bound by a common creed,” said President Obama. “I see it in the soldier who gives almost everything to save his brothers, the nurse who tends to him ‘til he can run a marathon, and the community that lines up to cheer him on. It’s the son who finds the courage to come out as who he is, and the father whose love for that son overrides everything he’s been taught.”

Lorri Jean, chief executive officer of the nation’s largest LGBT community and health center, the Los Angeles LGBT Center, called it “Obama at his best.”

“I can remember hearing Presidents give speeches that included a line or two that was more historic or that moved me more strongly,” said Jean, “like when [President Bill] Clinton mentioned gay and lesbian people from the capitol steps in Arkansas the night he first won the Presidential election. Or, in last year’s State of the Union, when Obama mentioned transgender people. But I do not remember any previous State of the Union address that has seemed as aspirational and optimistic–that represented the kind of clear-eyed leadership that our nation so desperately needs.”

“From an LGBT perspective, I was happy to hear him highlight the fact that ending HIV/AIDS is within our grasp.  I liked that he mentioned Sally Ride.  And, I was really touched by his use of a coming out metaphor as an example that epitomizes what makes America great,” said Jean. “Plus, I loved his concept of unarmed truth and unconditional love having the final word.  Anytime that happens, our community benefits.”

Rea Carey, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, said President Obama’s speech “denounced the politics of hatred and divisiveness” and “reminded all of us of our core American values of dignity and mutual respect in what is a fiercely divisive political climate.”

Both President Obama’s address and the Republican Party’s response, delivered by South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, spoke against conflicts that target religions.

President Obama said he opposes “politics that targets people because of race or religion,” but he said nothing of those who use religion to target people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Haley said that, if Republicans held the White House, “We would respect differences in modern families,” an apparent reference to same-sex couples marrying. But she said Republicans would “insist on respect for religious liberty as a cornerstone of our democracy.” She said nothing of the constitution’s equal protection clause and attempts by some to claim that personal religious beliefs trump that clause.

“I was far more impressed by Governor Nikki Haley and her call to ‘respect differences in modern families’ while at the same time balancing that respect with a concern for religious liberty — a position Log Cabin Republicans has long advocated,” said national Log Cabin Republicans President Gregory Angelo. “It was refreshing to see a Republican explicitly acknowledge that on a major national stage.”

Unlike in previous addresses, President Obama did not point to special White House guests in the gallery to illustrate issues he talked about in his speech. Two gay men were among the 23 guests seated with First Lady Michelle Obama in the Congressional gallery during the State of the Union. One was Jim Obergefell, a lead plaintiff in one of four cases that successfully challenged state bans on marriage for same-sex couples. The other was Ryan Reyes, whose partner Daniel Kaufman was killed during the December 2 terrorist attack in San Bernardino.

A White House press release characterized Obergefell, who hails from Cincinnati as an “accidental activist,” who challenged Ohio’s refusal to recognize his marriage to John Arthur on Arthur’s death certificate. The couple, who had been together for 20 years, became the focus of national attention in 2013 when they had to rent a private jet to enable Arthur, who was bed-ridden and near death from ALS, to travel to Maryland so they could obtain a marriage license.

The press release identified Reyes as an “activist” who spoke out to discourage hostility toward Muslims after Kaufman’s death at the hands of two Muslim terrorists.

Another LGBT activist in the Congressional gallery Tuesday night was 32-year-old Alicia Garza, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter, an organization to respond to anti-black racism in American society. Garza attended as a guest of her member of the House, U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.).

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin attended as a guest of U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), sponsor of the Equality Act.

Anti-gay activist Kim Davis was also in the House chamber for the State of the Union, seated on the back row. Davis is the county clerk in Kentucky who refused to enforce the U.S. Supreme Court decision that said state bans on marriage for same-sex couples are unconstitutional. She claimed it would violate her religion to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Her attorney, Mathew Staver, would not identify which member of Congress invited Davis to the event. (Each member of the House and Senate can bring one guest. Some can invite two, if they secure an unused ticket from a colleague.)

Guests of LGBT caucus members

U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) invited a University of Wisconsin communications major, Britney Woods, to be her guest at the State of the Union address Tuesday night. According to a Wisconsin newspaper, Woods met Baldwin at a roundtable discussion on college affordability.

Guests of other members of the LGBT Congressional Caucus included:

  • 12-year-old Boulder student Kyla Bursiek who is lobbying Nintendo to include characters with disabilities in its videogames. Bursiek was the guest of Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.).
  • The parents of U.S. Army Special Forces Sgt. Andrew McKenna Jr., a Rhode Island veteran who was killed in Afghanistan last August, attended as guests of Rep. David Cicilline (D-RIs.).
  • The wife of San Bernardino shooting victim Damian Meins was guest of Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.).
  • Madison, Wisconsin, Alderman Samba Baldeh, a Muslim immigrant from Gambia, was guest of Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.).
  • Two high school students, Rida and Salwa Hajaig, were guests of Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.). Rida is Desert Vista High School’s senior class president, and Salwa, a sophomore, is an honors student.
  • The office of Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) did not respond to a query to identify his guest.

On Friday, 26-year-old lesbian Ingrid Nilsen, who has a YouTube channel with 3.8 million subscribers, will be one of three YouTube “creators” to “host a live YouTube interview” with President Obama. Nilsen says she has questions concerning LGBT issues and other matters that she hopes to ask the president. And she’s soliciting questions from her viewers.

The White House will stream the YouTube interview live on youtube and at whitehouse.gov’s special State of the Union page. The event will begin at 2:15 p.m. ET. People can also submit questions for consideration at #YouTubeAsksObama.

Strength and longevity of legal gains may change in 2016 politics and lawsuits

Coming off another high achievement year, the LGBT community can relax and take it easy for a while now, right? This is the LGBT Golden Age, right? That may depend on whether LGBT people seek 24 karat gold equality or something less pure, and the length of that Golden Age, however pure it might be, may be short-lived, depending on how certain lawsuits and presidential campaigns turn out this year.

Coming off another high achievement year, the LGBT community can relax and take it easy for a while now, right?

The federal Defense of Marriage Act is gone. Same-sex couples can obtain marriage licenses and recognition in all 50 states. LGBT people can serve in the military. LGBT people working for the federal government can file employmentrings_thumb discrimination claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Those working for companies that contract with the federal government now have protection under a presidential executive order. Those visiting a same-sex spouse in the hospital are also protected by a presidential executive order. And, perhaps most importantly, the current presidential administration has made clear, through actions and words, that it will stand up for the civil rights of LGBT people.

This is the LGBT Golden Age, right?

That may depend on whether LGBT people seek 24 karat gold equality or something less pure, and the length of that Golden Age, however pure it might be, may be short-lived, depending on how certain lawsuits and presidential campaigns turn out this year.

In terms of the quality of LGBT equality, under federal and state laws, Americans are protected from private job discrimination based on race, sex, religion, and national origin. But there is no federal law prohibiting private job discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. And of the 50 state laws prohibiting discrimination in private employment, only 22 prohibit sexual orientation discrimination and only 19 prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

This is why so many legal activists were quick to note, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision (Obergefell v. Hughes) striking down state bans on marriage for same-sex couples, that LGBT people “can be married on Saturday and fired on Monday.”

There is also a looming threat to LGBT equality under “Religious Freedom Restoration” laws.

Twenty-one states already have such laws, giving persons and businesses a path to circumvent non-discrimination laws by claiming their religious beliefs require discriminating against LGBT people. And, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 12 more states will consider adopting such legislation this year.

Opponents of equal rights for LGBT people have been trying this religious exemption argument for years, but following last June’s marriage decision, those efforts increased. Florists, bakers, wedding vendors, and others have tried to use such laws to avoid doing business with same-sex couples getting married. And there’s concern others might use them to deny LGBT people jobs, housing, and service in restaurants and hotels.

The U.S. Supreme Court has yet to take a case to test the constitutionality of such laws in the LGBT context. It refused to hear a wedding photographer’s appeal in 2014, but more lawsuits are coming through the system and the argument is evolving to include the First Amendment right to freedom of expression. Just last month (December 16), a Massachusetts judge ruled that –despite an exemption for religious institutions to the state’s human rights law– a Catholic school did not have constitutional protection to violate a state law when it rescinded a job offer to a food services employee “because he was a spouse in a same-sex marriage.” The school had argued it had a First Amendment freedom of expression right to deny employment to a man married to a man. But the judge agreed with Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, who sued the school on behalf of the gay employee. GLAD expects the school to appeal. And because the case involves a federal constitutional issue, it could end up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

In another case, the Lexington-Fayette Urban Human Rights Commission is suing a commercial printing company for using that same freedom of expression argument to refuse to print tee shirts for a gay pride event.

“If that argument were sufficient to allow [the company] Hands On Originals—a for-profit business that markets its services to the public at large—to violate the antidiscrimination laws, a host of other businesses would be able to engage in illegal discrimination as well,” argued a December 28 friend-of-the-court brief from Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Several county clerks –most notoriously Kim Davis in Kentucky—have tried to cite their personal religious beliefs as justification for refusing to enforce the Obergefell ruling’s requirement that same-sex couples be treated as other couples in obtaining marriage licenses. The ACLU is representing several same-sex couples in a lawsuit against Davis that is now pending before the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Oral argument on that appeal could come as early as this month.

Jon Davidson, national legal director for Lambda Legal, noted that some states are trying to avoid recognizing marriages of same-sex couples who married before the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell. One of Lambda’s lawsuits, filed last month in a federal court, challenges North Carolina’s refusal to issue corrected birth certificates for two children born to a lesbian couple who married in Canada in 2003.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights has one of the more important post-Obergefell cases, pending now at the U.S. Supreme Court level. It is challenging a decision by the Alabama Supreme Court to refuse to recognize in Alabama a lesbian’s adoption of children she raised from birth with the children’s biological mother. The adoption took place in Georgia in 2007 and, since the women’s relationship broke up, the biological mother has sought to block the other mother from visitation. NCLR legal director Shannon Minter says NCLR hopes the Supreme Court will agree to review the case. As the group’s brief notes, “all families who obtained adoption judgments in [other] states may now have a parent whom Alabama courts may hold to be a legal stranger to her children in Alabama.” On December 14, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay of the Alabama Supreme Court decision until the full court can decide whether to take the appeal this year.

And some efforts to thwart full equality for LGBT people are using a combination of legal arguments and political tactics.

“Plan A was stopping LGBT equality. Plan B is using [religious] exemptions,” said ACLU LGBT Project Director James Esseks in a recent telephone conference with reporters. “Plan C” appears to tie scare tactics in political messaging to misrepresent the impact of non-discrimination laws.

In the upcoming state legislative sessions, said Esseks, many predict a “tremendous wave of anti-trans bills” prompted in large part by the vote in Houston in November. In that vote, citizens repealed a new law prohibiting discrimination based on a wide variety of characteristics. Their votes seemed largely persuaded by a campaign from opponents who claimed the prohibition of gender identity discrimination would lead to sexual predators attacking young girls and women in public restrooms.

The anti-trans trend is longstanding. When the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990, it explicitly excluded from protection “transsexualism…[and] gender identity disorders not resulting from physical impairments.” Last month, a case GLAD is involved in challenged that exclusion in a hearing before a federal judge in Pennsylvania, said GLAD Executive Director Janson Wu. The U.S. Department of Justice also submitted a brief that argued that gender dysphoria should not be excluded from ADA’s definition of disability, and a decision is expected this year.

There are other political influences on legal rights for LGBT people this year: One is a serious effort to denigrate the authority of the judicial branch to declare which laws are constitutional and which are not. Nearly all of the Republican presidential hopefuls have loudly proclaimed they think the Supreme Court exceeded its authority by declaring state bans on marriage for same-sex couples to be unconstitutional. U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, who is currently leading the large field of candidates in Iowa, called the decision in Obergefell v. Hodges “lawless” and likened the five justices who supported it to “jackboots” in Nazi Germany.

Obviously, there will be much at stake legally for LGBT people in who is elected president in November.

Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton issued a FactSheet on December 17, detailing how, as president, she would attempt to “fight for full federal equality for LGBT Americans.” Among other things, she says she would “work with Congress to pass” a federal law prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation in “employment, housing, schools, access to credit, public education, jury service, and public accommodations.” And she says she would also support efforts by the courts to interpret existing federal law prohibitions on sex discrimination to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Donald Trump, who is leading the Republican field in New Hampshire and in nationally based polling of Republican voters, is “one of the best, if not the best, pro-gay Republican candidates to ever run for the presidency,” according to the Gregory Angelo, head of the national gay Republican group, Log Cabin Republicans. Trump, he added, opposes an amendment to the federal constitution that would ban marriage for same-sex couples, and he supports amending the Civil Rights Act to include a prohibition against sexual orientation discrimination. But Trump has also said that, while he acknowledges the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell as the law of the land, he does not support “gay marriage.” And he hasn’t been pinned down on other issues relating to the LGBT community specifically.

Cruz, the Iowa frontrunner in the Republican presidential field, said in his first 100 days he would fight for the “First Amendment Defense Act,” which seeks to circumvent laws prohibiting discrimination against same-sex couples by urging that such discrimination is a product of a person’s free exercise of religion. It also seeks to prohibit the federal government from taking any adverse action against a person who “acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman.” Cruz is one of two Republicans still in the race (the other is Ben Carson) who signed the National Organization for Marriage’s pledge, promising to “work to overturn” the right of same-sex couples to marry and to change all “regulatory, administrative and executive actions” to “be consistent with the proper understanding of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”

The outcome of that presidential race is far from predictable at this point. But one thing does seem clear: Whatever “golden” moment the LGBT community might be enjoying now, the line ups in the courtroom and political arena this year will almost certainly have a significant impact on how lasting and solid that moment will be.

Judge: church-school can’t fire food director because he’s married to a man

In a first of its kind decision, a Massachusetts judge ruled December 16 that a Catholic school did not have constitutional protection to violate a state law when it rescinded a job offer to a food services employee “because he was a spouse in a same-sex marriage.”

In a first of its kind decision, a Massachusetts judge ruled Wednesday (December 16) that a Catholic school did not have constitutional protection to violate a state law when it rescinded a job offer to a food services employee “because he was a spouse in a same-sex marriage.”

The case, Barrett v. Fontbonne, is one of several across the country testing the ability of state laws against sexual orientation discrimination to withstand challenges from businesses and institutions that argue they have First Amendment right to discriminate.

Like many states, Massachusetts has a law prohibits employers from taking negative action against an employee or potential employee “because of the…sex…[or] sexual orientation” of that person.

Fontbonne Academy, a Catholic-affiliated secondary school for girls, hired Matthew Barrett to be its director of food services. The Academy learned Barrett was in a same-sex marriage when he filled out routine paperwork upon being hired. The form asked Barrett to identify whom the Academy should contact in the case of an emergency. Barrett indicated the school should contact his “husband, Ed Suplee.”

At a preliminary argument before Norfolk County Superior Court Judge Douglas Wilkins December 1, John Bagley, an attorney for Fontbonne, said employing a man married to another man would cause the school to convey a message of acceptance of same-sex marriage.

Just last October, a Vatican summit approved a statement reiterating its opposition to same-sex couples marrying, saying there is “no foundation whatsoever to assimilate or establish analogies, even remotely, between homosexual unions and God’s design for marriage and the family.”

Bagley claimed that, if Barrett and his spouse showed up at a school-wide party or event, students might assume the school is conveying an implicit message that same-sex marriage is acceptable to the church. Forcing Fontbonne to retain Barrett, he said, violates the school’s federal constitutional right to freedom of expression.

But Judge Wilkins, in his 20-page decision, said there is “little risk that Fontbonne’s involuntary compliance with civil law will be mistaken for endorsement of same-sex marriage.”

He noted, among other things, that Fontbonne “has a policy of non-discrimination with respect to sexual orientation” and that it “encourages debate, including on issues of same-sex marriage,” among its students. While the school did tell Barrett that it expects all employees to “model Catholic values,” that expectation, said Wilkins, “has at least enough flexibility to allow employment by those who adhere to and practice other religions and those who are in marriage between persons not baptized as Catholics.”

“As an educational institution, Fontbonne retains control over its mission and message,” wrote Wilkins. “It is not forced to allow Barrett to dilute that message, where he will not be a teacher, minister or spokesperson for Fontbonne and has not engaged in public advocacy of same-sex marriage.”

Judge Wilkins said that, although the school cites a “religious motivation” for withdrawing its job offer to Barrett, its action still violates the state’s law against sexual orientation discrimination and sex discrimination. He said the school did not qualify for an exemption available to religious organizations under state law because it accepted students of all faiths, not just Catholics.

Massachusetts law specifies that to qualify for the religious exemption the school would have to limit its student population to members of the same faith.

Ben Klein, an attorney with Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders that represented Barrett, called the decision “very important” and a “first of its kind in the country.”

“We have seen across the country, since the advent of marriage equality…religious employers, particularly schools, firing employees –whether they are custodians or coaches—because of same-sex marriage,” said Klein. “This is the first court decision to rule that termination because a person is married to a person of the same sex is not justified under constitutional principles.”

“Obeying civil law does not require an employer to accept the concept of marriage for same-sex couples,” said Klein. “…A religious employer does not get a free pass to discriminate when an employee’s duties have nothing to do with religion. …A religious employer does not have a greater constitutional right to discriminate based on sexual orientation than it does to discriminate on the basis of race or sex.”

Fontbonne attorney Bagley’s office said he was not available to comment on the case and he did not return a reporter’s phone or email messages.

2015: Triumphs and tribulations

There were some rain clouds –Houston, Kim Davis, the Catholic Church, and GOP candidates. But the political weather was mostly sunny: the Boy Scouts evolved, Jenner transitioned, Irish voters approved, the EEOC included, and the Supreme Court axed.

To be the “best year” ever in LGBT history, 2015 had to do better than 2013. That was the year the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the key section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act and allowed a decision to stand that enabled same-sex couples in California to marry; the U.S. Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act for the first time and got its first openly gay member; five state legislatures passed marriage equality laws, and President Obama’s inaugural speech prominently endorsed the LGBT struggle for equality.

Did 2015 do better? These 10 “top stories” make a strong case for “yes.”

No. 10: Boy Scouts of America ends more of its discriminatory policy. The executive board of the national Boy Scouts of America organization voted on July 27 to end the group’s national policy of barring openly gay adults as troop leaders and employees. Two years earlier, the BSA National Council voted to end its policy of barring youth from membership based on their sexual orientation. While the organization’s policy continued to evolve toward equality this year, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin criticized the change as not going far enough. The BSA board still left it up to local troops to decide whether to allow openly gay people as volunteer leaders.

No. 9: Olympic legend comes out publicly as transgender. Bruce Jenner, the United States’ 1976 Olympic gold medalist in the decathlon and a paragon of male athleticism, acknowledged in a Rolling Stone interview and nationally broadcast television discussion in April, that he has always felt he had “the soul of a female.” But despite his reluctance to “disappoint” others, Jenner said that, going forward, he would live his life as a woman and take the name Caitlin Jenner. The resulting publicity prompted a flood of discussions publicly and nationally about transgender people: their prevalence, their needs, their fears, and their medical and legal challenges. While violence and discrimination against transgender people continued, Jenner’s openness undoubtedly advanced the American public’s understanding.

No. 8: Houston repeals city’s anti-discrimination law. Houston voters on November 3 voted overwhelmingly to repeal a year-old non-discrimination ordinance –a repeal that appeared to be largely driven by a campaign that claimed the law would enable sexual predators to enter women’s restrooms to assault young girls. The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance had been passed the City Council in May 2014 as an effort to prohibit discrimination based on numerous factors –including race, ethnicity, and religion. But opponents of prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity convinced voters that HERO amounted to a “Bathroom Ordinance.”

No. 7: GOP candidates flaunt their hostility toward LGBT people. Many candidates for the Republican presidential nomination for 2016 have worn their hostility for equal rights for LGBT people on their sleeves. U.S. Senator Rand Paul said LGBT people wouldn’t need non-discrimination laws if they would just stay in the closet. Neurosurgeon Ben Carson said allowing same-sex couples to marry is equivalent to tossing the “word of God …into the garbage.” U.S. Senator Ted Cruz said he wanted a new ban on LGBT people in the military. Meanwhile, all three Democratic presidential hopefuls have expressed strong support for equal rights for LGBT people.

No. 6: EEOC says Title VII prohibits LGBT discrimination. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled in July that existing federal law prohibits employment discrimination against federal workers based on sexual orientation. The five-member commission said that the prohibition of sex discrimination in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “means that employers may not ‘rely upon sex-based considerations’ or take gender into account when making employment decisions….This applies equally in claims brought by lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals under Title VII….Title VII similarly prohibits employers from treating an employee or applicant differently than other employees or applicants based on the fact that such individuals are in a same-sex marriage or because the employee has a personal association with someone of a particular sex.”

No. 5: A state clerk tries to mount campaign against Supreme Court. A county clerk in Kentucky, Kim Davis, captured national headlines for weeks as she attempted to circumvent a U.S. Supreme Court decision that found state bans against marriage for same-sex couples to be unconstitutional. Davis and her supporters couched her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples as an exercise of her religious beliefs, but others –including a few Republican presidential candidates—said she was violating her oath of office to carry out the law. In August, the full U.S. Supreme Court denied an emergency request to stop enforcement of a federal district court order that Davis resume issuing marriage licenses. A federal appeals court has rejected her appeals, but litigation continues and the state’s incoming Republican governor is expected to issue an order removing the names of county clerks from marriage licenses. And last month, members of the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church staged a protest against her, saying that “God hates oath breakers.”

No. 4: Pope Francis denies he offered support to outlaw clerk: Pope Francis stunned LGBT people when it was revealed that he secretly accepted a visit from Kentucky clerk Kim Davis during his wildly popular visit to the U.S. Davis and her attorney characterized the visit, which took place at the Vatican’s embassy in Washington, D.C., as an expression of the pope’s support for her defiance of the Supreme Court’s ruling that bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional. But in short order, the Vatican issued a statement saying the pope did not know about or support Davis’ efforts to subvert the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage and noted, instead, that the only audience the pope gave while in the U.S. was to a gay friend and his partner.

No. 3: Catholic leaders maintain opposition to same-sex marriage. At a three-week-long global summit, Catholic bishops in October rejected efforts to soften the church’s policies against homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Instead, the document approved by 86 percent of more than 258 bishops gathered in Rome said that “every person, independently of their sexual tendency, must be respected in their dignity and welcomed with respect.” But it also stated that there was “no foundation whatsoever to assimilate or establish analogies, even remotely, between homosexual unions and God’s design for marriage and the family.”

No. 2: Ireland approves same-sex marriage, and more. In the world’s first-ever national referendum on giving legal recognition to marriages of same-sex couples, Irish voters in May weighed in 2 to 1 for legalization. More than 60 percent of the country’s voters turned out to have their say. And by December 2, the legislature had approved a bill that prohibits Catholic-run schools from discriminating against teachers based on their sexual orientation. The legislation repeals an existing law, known as Section 37, that allows discrimination against employees based on their sexual orientation. The bill now goes to President Michael Higgins, who signed the marriage equality law, for his signature.

No. 1: U.S. Supreme Court strikes state bans on same-sex marriage: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 26 that state bans on marriage for same-sex couples are unconstitutional and that states must recognize marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples from other states. The 5 to 4 decision, in Obergefell v. Hodges, ended bans enforced by 13 states and secured lower court decisions that struck down bans in nine other states. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, stated that “the right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty….The Court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry. No longer may this liberty be denied to them.”

‘Sexual orientation is not a message,’ GLAD tells court in religion case

A new case is underway in the ongoing and escalating conflict between laws protecting religious freedom and laws prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination. And this one has the potential to either strengthen or cripple laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation across the nation.

A new case is underway in the ongoing and escalating conflict between laws protecting religious freedom and laws prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination. And this one has the potential to either strengthen or cripple laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation across the nation.

The case, Matthew Barrett v. Fontbonne Academy, has been brought by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), the organization that won the right to marry for same-sex couples in Massachusetts. GLAD also led the way to strike down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and state bans on marriage for same-sex couples in all 50 states.

Barrett is one of many cases around the country that are testing the right of various employers to circumvent laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. In most of these cases, the lawsuits have been filed against employers who claim their discrimination is a necessary part of their free exercise of religion. And in most, the conflict has been played out between individual businesses in the public realm –bakers, florists, wedding vendors— refusing service to same-sex couples getting married.

In this case, however, the employer also claims a First Amendment right to “expressive association,” an argument that could have far-reaching implications.

“The expressive association argument could be used by non-religiously affiliated institutions” to justify discrimination based on sex or sexual orientation, explained Bennett Klein, a long-time attorney for GLAD. Klein is representing Matthew Barrett, who lost his new job with Fontbonne Academy in Massachusetts after he filled out some paperwork indicating that, in an emergency, his employer should contact his husband, Ed Suplee.

Fontbonne, a Catholic-affiliated secondary school for girls, had hired Barrett to be its director of food services. The school’s student population includes non-Catholics, and the food services director has no explicit duties to instruct any of the students in religious tenets.

But at a preliminary argument December 1, an attorney for Fontbonne, John Bagley, said Barrett’s being married to a man would interfere with the school’s Catholic-oriented message.

“How can [the school] credibly talk to kids about the Catholic faith if somebody who’s an employee is involved in activity inconsistent with the message of the school?” said Bagley. As an example, he noted that, if Barrett and his spouse show up at a school-wide party or event, the students might assume the school is conveying an implicit message that same-sex marriage is acceptable to the church.

To buttress his argument, Bagley pointed to the 1995 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the St. Patrick’s Day parade lawsuit, Hurley v. Irish-American Gay. That decision held the right to expressive association permitted the private organizers of Boston’s annual parade to bar a gay group from participating in the parade behind a banner which identifyied them as gay. Bagley’s brief also argued that a 2000 Supreme Court decision in Boy Scouts v. Dale held that a private organization had an expressive association right to bar a gay man from a leadership position in the group.

Klein argued December 1 that Barrett, by being married to a man, is not attempting to convey a message, like the Irish-Gay parade contingent, and that Barrett is not assuming a role as advocate, as gay scout leader James Dale did.

“Sexual orientation is not a message, and there’s no distinction between sexual orientation and being married to a person of the same sex,” said Klein in court. Fontbonne’s decision to withdraw its job offer “was based on [Barrett’s] status …not based on him doing anything [or] saying anything.”

Neither of Fontbonne’s attorneys, John Bagley nor Jeffrey O’Connor, were available to take this reporter’s call, and Bagley begged off reporters’ questions following the hearing.

Bagley also argued December 1 that he believes there are some facts in dispute. If Norfolk County Superior Court Judge Douglas Wilkins agrees, he could schedule the matter for a jury trial. If he disagrees, he could rule on the merits of the case. Whenever the lawsuit is resolved, it will almost certainly be appealed to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and, eventually, the U.S. Supreme Court.

GLAD founder John Ward, who argued the Hurley case in the Supreme Court, said he considers the Fontbonne case to be “hugely important” because, for gay people, “the issue around the country is: You can get married on Sunday and fired on Monday.”

Ward said he thinks this case could help decide the current conflict over the use of religion to justify discrimination based on sexual orientation.

“There’s been this trend in U.S. Supreme Court cases that hasn’t been real helpful,” said Ward, referring to recent decisions. Last year, in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the high court ruled that a federal law can not require a closely held commercial employer to provide health insurance coverage for contraception if that employer claims that to do so violates his or her personal religious beliefs. Prior to that, in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment bars lawsuits on behalf of “ministers” against their “churches,” holding that it is “impermissible for the government to contradict a church’s determination of who can act as its ministers.”

LGBT victories in Utah and Indiana but gay-baiting tactics in SC and NY

Two-thirds of openly LGBT candidates Tuesday won election or re-election, including to become the first openly gay mayor of Salt Lake City.

There were anti-gay smear campaigns and surprise victories in conservative strongholds, as 30 of 48 openly LGBT candidates won election Tuesday night.

In Salt Lake City, Utah, Jackie Biskupski appears to have become the first openly gay person to be elected mayor of the Mormon conservative stronghold, taking 52 percent of the vote. Incumbent Mayor Ralph Becker has refused to concede the race so far, even though Biskupski also beat him soundly during the primary in August. The Salt Lake City Tribune endorsed Biskupski, citing her 13 years in the state legislature and current work in the sheriff’s office. She proudly included her work for LGBTQ citizens in her campaign material. Many of her supporters and campaign workers wore long, curly blond wigs in an affectionate mocking of Biskupski’s wildly curly mop.

Also in Salt Lake City, Derek Kitchen, one of the plaintiffs in that state’s lawsuit seeking the right to marry, appears to have won his bid to join the city council, with 52 percent of the vote.

And in South Bend, Indiana, incumbent Mayor Pete Buttigieg won 80 percent of the vote for a second term Tuesday, less than five months after coming out as gay. But Associated Press said there was only “scant discussion” of his sexual orientation by his opponent during the campaign.

And in Indianapolis, the city’s first openly gay city councilmember, Zach Adamson, won re-election Tuesday. Since his first election, Adamson garnered considerable media attention when he and his partner traveled to Washington, D.C., to marry because they couldn’t get a license in Indiana. And earlier this year, Adamson joined the Council majority in urging the state legislature to repeal its law allowing discrimination against LGBT people by claiming a religious motivation.

Other hopes of “firsts” in conservative areas were denied Tuesday. Jocelyn Pritchett, a Democrat from Jackson, Mississippi, was the first openly LGBT candidate for a statewide position in that state. She ran against incumbent Republican Stacey Pickering for the job of State Auditor. According to campaign finance reports, Pritchett raised more than $146,000 in her bid, compared to Pickering’s $300,000. But she won the endorsement of the Clarion-Ledger newspaper, which made noted that the incumbent was under federal investigation for his management of state contracts and his campaign finances. Pritchett, noted the paper, was a “credible” candidate with 25 years working with state and federal contracts. It did not mention that she has the endorsement of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund. Prichett took only 36 percent of the vote to Pickering’s 63 percent.

And in neighboring North Carolina, three-term incumbent gay Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt lost his re-election campaign in Chapel Hill. Kleinschmidt, only the third openly gay elected official in the state, won only 45 percent of the vote. His challenger described herself as a “moderate Democrat” and seemed to capitalize on an anti-incumbent trend. Chapel Hill’s openly gay Councilmember Lee Storrow also lost his re-election bid, garnering only 10 percent of the vote.

Incumbent openly gay Houston Councilmember Lane Lewis lost his seat Tuesday night, coming in sixth out of eight candidates for one at-large office. But fellow gay councilmembers Mike Laster and Robert Gallegos came in first for their districts.

Anti-incumbency was not the mood in Charlotte, North Carolina, where two openly gay councilmembers easily won re-election. Lesbian LaWana Mayfield secured a third term with 76 percent of the vote. Her fellow gay councilmember, Al Austin, won re-election with 79 percent.

During his campaign, Austin was asked by the Charlotte Observer, whether he would support expansion of the city’s non-discrimination ordinance, “including a provision that would allow transgender residents to use the bathroom of their choice.” Austin said yes and added, “There are many more incidents of members of the transgender community who experience assault and battery when they are not allowed to use the bathroom with which they self-identify.”

Ginny Deerin, one of six candidates for mayor of Charleston, South Carolina, was hit with a much more direct anti-gay campaign. The founder of an after school program for kids from families with low incomes, Deerin was also the former campaign manager for the city’s popular retiring mayor and in good position to win. But one week before voting, someone mailed out postcards that informed voters that Deerin was gay, according to the Charleston City Paper. The rainbow-colored card purported to come from “The Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Association” –an organization that does not exist in Charleston or South Carolina. Deerin’s campaign called it a “vile last-minute personal attack from an anonymous group.” And Deerin received only 17 percent of votes, coming in third overall.

Anti-gay tactics may have been in play in another campaign, in New York, but to no avail. Steve Napier became the first openly gay elected official in Cohoes, New York, taking 49 percent of the vote in a three-way race. Democrat Napier won a seat on the town’s Common Council despite his opponent’s decision to note on a campaign flyer that she was married to a man named Dave and has two sons, while Napier was married to a man named Jeremy and had no children. The local newspaper, the Times Union, called candidate Sharon Gariepy out on her attempt to highlight Napier’s sexual orientation for her own personal gain. “At worst,” said the paper, “it’s a deliberate attempt to suggest that Napier’s marriage is inferior, or to warn voters …that [Napier’ is married to another man.” Gariepy said she supports marriage for gay couples and didn’t see intend any negative intent from including that on her campaign flyer.

Palm Springs Councilmember Ginny Foat raised more campaign money than any of the other seven candidates for mayor but came in second in her bid to become mayor. But both openly gay candidates for the Palm Springs City Council won: gay activist Geoff Kors and former Sausalito Mayor J.R. Roberts. Foat and Kors were endorsed by the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund.

One gay Republican won Tuesday: Michael Esteve became the first openly gay Republican to win an elected office in Maryland, winning a seat on the Bowie City Council. (Note: an earlier version of this story identified Reed Gusciora as a Republican; he is a Democrat, and won his Assembly seat in New Jersey.)

According to the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, there were 472 openly LGBT elected officials going into Tuesday’s voting. Most of those, 286, are local elected officials. Another 179 hold statewide offices, and seven are members of Congress.

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Houston rejects non-discrimination law; HRC predicts ‘tough battles ahead’

Sixty-one percent of Houston voters cast their ballots against the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance Tuesday. Mayor Annise Parker said opponents of the ordinance ran a “calculated campaign of lies designed to demonize a little understood minority.” But opponents said it was a pushback by the church to “stand up” in the “a Christian nation” and shows that supporters, like Hillary Clinton, are “out of touch with America.”

In a tough blow to LGBT people everywhere, Houston voters on Tuesday repealed a year-old non-discrimination ordinance –a repeal that appeared to be largely driven by fears that it would enable sexual predators to enter women’s restrooms to assault young girls.

The vote was 39 percent for and 61 percent against Proposition 1, asking whether voters wanted to retain the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). The law, passed by City Council in May of last year, prohibited discrimination against a wide range of minorities in a city where more than 50 percent of the population is a racial minority.

But opponents of the measure, the Campaign for Houston, portrayed the ordinance as “The Bathroom Bill” and pounded the airwaves with an ad showing a man following a young girl into a public bathroom stall. The voiceover warned that a vote for HERO would mean “any man at any time could enter a woman’s bathroom by simply by claiming to be a woman that day.”

“Even registered sex offenders could follow women or young girls into the bathroom and, if a business tried to stop them, they’d be fined,” said the ad.

Supporters of the ordinance tried to counter the message with their own ad, showing a retired Houston police officer and “father of four girls” saying, “It’s already illegal for men to go into women’s restrooms to harm someone.” They also warned that, if Houston repealed the ordinance, it would likely mean a loss of major employers for the city and the loss of such high profile events as the Super Bowl.

Houston’s three-term Mayor Annise Parker, the first openly gay mayor of any major city in the country, championed the ordinance from the beginning and blamed its rejection on “a campaign of fear-mongering and deliberate lies.” She also made clear during the campaign that she felt the effort to repeal the ordinance was an attack on her and Tuesday’s vote was a particularly stinging loss for Parker, who is finishing up her term-limited third term as mayor.

At a gathering of “Vote Yes on Prop 1” supporters Tuesday night, Parker reiterated those feelings, noting that, during her 40 years as a political activist, she has watched the city vote four times to deny equal rights to lesbians and gays.

“No one’s rights should be subject to a popular vote,” said Parker. “It is insulting, it is demeaning, and it is just wrong.” She said opponents of the ordinance ran a “calculated campaign of lies designed to demonize a little understood minority.”

Parker said opponents—whom she characterized as “right-wing ideologues and religious right”– “just kept spewing an ugly wad of lies from our TV screens and from pulpits.”

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick portrayed the repeal effort as a pushback by the church to “stand up” in the “a Christian nation.” And he sought to extend the political implications of the vote. Speaking to opponents of the ordinance at their victory rally Tuesday night, Patrick the vote was a message to “those who supported this, including Hillary Clinton who wants to be the next president, that you’re out of touch with America, you’re out of touch with your own party, you’re out of touch with common sense, you’re out of touch with common decency.”

Echoing a buzz phrase often used by Republican presidential frontrunner Ben Carson, Patrick applauded Houston voters for leading the effort to “end this constant political correctness attack on what we know in our heart and our gut as Americans is not right.”

The Houston Chronicle reported that voter turnout Tuesday broke all records since 2003, drawing nearly 27 percent of voters to the polls.

As of the last filing deadline, Campaign for Houston, the group that wants to repeal the ordinance, reported raising only $62,000 and spending $88,000. Houston Unites Against Discrimination, the group supporting the ordinance, had received $1.7 million in contributions and $1.3 million in expenditures.

According to city campaign finance records, the Human Rights Campaign contributed more than $400,000 to pro-ordinance campaign, Houston Unites Against Discrimination. HRC spokesman Stephen Peters said the group also contributed more than $300,000 through in-kind resources, “like staff time working on the campaign, phone banks, and mail and phones to mobilize Houston voters.”

“HRC has deployed 34 staff members to Texas, the largest amount we’ve deployed for a single campaign,” said Peters.

HRC President Chad Griffin issued a statement Tuesday night saying it was “almost unbelievable that this could happen in a city like Houston.” He predicted “tough battles ahead” on matters where the church opposes equal rights for LGBT people.

The pro-gay national conservative social welfare group American Unity Fund gave $250,000 to Yes on Prop 1. A political action committee called the Annise Parker Campaign gave $95,000.

Houston is the fourth most populous city in the nation and the only one that lacks a comprehensive non-discrimination ordinance. It is also an old, bloody battleground for gays. In 1985, 28 percent of registered voters rejected two laws –one to prohibit sexual orientation discrimination in city employment and another to records about city hiring based on sexual orientation. Both were defeated with 82 percent of the vote. In 2001, 52 percent of Houston voters approved a chance to the city charter to prohibit any “privilege” based on sexual orientation and to deny domestic partners of city employees the benefits provided to the spouses of married city employees.

Prop 1: Houston bracing for another bloody ballot fight Tuesday

Houston, the fourth most populous city in the nation, is an old, bloody battleground for gays, something that has only intensified since it thrice elected lesbian Democrat Annise Parker as its mayor. But even as voters prepare to elect Parker’s successor November 3, the battle continues. This time over a human rights ordinance that protects many minorities from discrimination but which opponents have dubbed “The Bathroom Ordinance.”

Houston, the fourth most populous city in the nation, is an old, bloody battleground for gays, something that has only intensified since it thrice elected lesbian Democrat Annise Parker as its mayor. But even as voters prepare to elect Parker’s successor November 3, the battle continues. And that’s why a comprehensive human rights ordinance to prohibit discrimination against a wide range of minorities in a wide range of places is focused squarely on its application to LGBT people and public bathrooms.

A “Yes” vote on Proposition 1 retains the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO); a “No” vote repeals it. Local television station KHOU reported Monday that “early voting” (allowed from October 19-30) has already seen heavy turnouts, nothing that between 17 percent and 20 percent “are not regular voters.” A KPRC 2 News poll October 12-14 found 45 percent would vote “Yes,” 36 percent “No,” 20 percent undecided, with a margin of error of plus-or-minus 4.5 percent. Most of those undecided voters, said a local university political science professor, will likely vote “No.”

In some ways, a close vote –even one that repeals the ordinance– could be seen as an improvement for Houston. In 1985, city voters rejected an effort to prohibit sexual orientation discrimination by a margin of four to one. And that ballot measure didn’t include the word “gay” and covered only city employment. In 2001, 52 percent of Houston voters amended the city charter to prohibit any “privilege” based on sexual orientation and to deny domestic partners of city employees the benefits provided to the spouses of married city employees.

Things changed dramatically two years later, when Houston elected a long-time lesbian Democratic activist, Annise Parker, as mayor, then re-elected her twice. After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in U.S. v. Windsor that the federal government could not deny recognition to marriage licenses obtained by same-sex couples, Mayor Parker implemented a policy of providing equal benefits to Houston city employees who had gone to other states and obtained marriage licenses with their same-sex partners.

But opposition quickly mounted, and Parker responded by persuading the city council to hold public hearings. Ultimately, in May 2014, the Council passed a much more comprehensive law –the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO)— to prohibit discrimination in both the public and private sector employment, housing, and public accommodations based on “sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity, or pregnancy.”

For opponents, it’s all about gender identity and public accommodations:

The Campaign for Houston website calls HERO “The Bathroom Ordinance” and warns it will enable men to claim to be women to enter ladies’ restrooms. And its latest ad, in grainy black and white, shows a young girl going into a women’s restroom and entering a stall. As she does, a man dressed in men’s clothing, exits the stall next to hers and steps inside the stall where the girl is standing.

Supporters of the ordinance have tackled the bathroom argument head-on. One video ad shows a retired Houston police officer “and father of four girls” telling viewers, “It’s already illegal for men to go into women’s restrooms to harass or harm someone.” Plus, they’ve come up with their own powerful argument: If Houston repeals this ordinance, the city could lose opportunities to attract major employers and host big events, like the Super Bowl.

A vice president for the Dow Chemical Company, which employs 13,000 people in the Houston area, wrote an editorial saying the HERO ordinance is “necessary to keep attracting top-notch talent….”

Even the White House has gotten involved. White House spokesman Jeff Tiller issued a statement Thursday saying, “the President and Vice President have been strong supporters of state and local efforts to protect Americans from being discriminated against based on who they are and who they love. We’re confident that the citizens of Houston will vote in favor of fairness and equality.”

Ben Carson: “constitution protects everybody,” except in marriage

The Republican presidential field’s current frontrunner Ben Carson said Wednesday night he is not a homophobe and believes “our constitution protects everybody regardless of their sexual orientation.”

The Republican presidential field’s current frontrunner Ben Carson said Wednesday night he is not a homophobe and believes “our constitution protects everybody regardless of their sexual orientation.”

Carson made his remark in response to a question from a CNBC debate questioner Wednesday night, during the third Republican presidential debate. CNBC moderator Carl Quintanilla noted that the national warehouse chain CostCo has been identified as one of the most gay friendly employers in the country. Until May of this year, when he announced his campaign for president, Carson served on the Costco board of directors for more than 16 years.

Quintanilla asked Carson whether his being on the Costco board ran counter to his views on homosexuality.

“Well, obviously, you don’t understand my views on homosexuality,” said Carson. “I believe our constitution protects everybody, regardless of their sexual orientation or any other aspect. I also believe that marriage is between one man and one woman. And there is no reason you can’t be perfectly fair to the gay community. They shouldn’t automatically assume that because you believe marriage is one man and one woman that that you are a homophobe. This is one of the myths that the left perpetuates on our society. This is how they frighten people and get people to shut up. That’s what the PC culture is all about. And it’s destroying this nation. The fact of the matter is we the American people are not each other’s enemies. It’s those people who are trying to divide us that are the enemies.”

Rich Tafel, a longtime Republican gay activist and former head of the national Log Cabin Republican group, said he thinks Carson’s response “might mark the end of the culture war against gays in politics.”

“Given the opportunity to distance himself from a COSTCO or corporations that have been champions for gay rights, he mumbled that he believed that marriage is between a man and women, but then went onto an impassioned defense of gay people deserving freedom and that he’s not a homophobe,” said Tafel. “When you consider he’s probably the most far right candidate on social issues who early in the campaign made a comment about gay being a choice (prison as proof) he’s come a long way. Essentially, it marks the moment where in a race for everyone to get to the far right, gay issues aren’t the ones you grab onto (unlike the 1990s). Also, the fact that he shares the lead with Trump who has gone out of his way to be gay supportive despite running a populist campaign. Bottom line, we win!”

Current Log Cabin Executive Director Gregory Angelo characterized Carson’s comments as “shrewd,” noting that, while he was on the board at COSTCO, the company enacted a non-discrimination policy protecting gay employees.

The question to Carson was the only question of the evening that touched on any LGBT-specific issue. The rest of the prime-time debate and an earlier debate with low-polling candidates were focused on a wide range of issues and to exploring the viability of certain candidates and their comments against each other.

Carson has in recent days begun polling in first place in at least some polls asking how Republican primary votes nationwide are leaning. A CBS/New York Times poll taken October 21-25 found 26 percent of 575 Republican primary voters support Carson, 22 percent support Donald Trump, and single-digits support the other 13 GOP candidates still hoping to win the nomination. At the beginning of October, Trump was in the lead with 27 percent, followed by Carson with 21.

Over the years, Carson has made a number of statements that question his commitment to fairness for the gay community. He has equated marriage for same-sex couples with bestiality, said prison proves sexual orientation is a choice, and said he believes allowing same-sex couples to marry is equivalent to tossing the “word of God …into the garbage.”

In his closing remarks, Carson reiterated this theme of rejecting “political correctness,” a buzzword Carson uses to refer to criticisms of candidates who oppose equal protection for LGBT people and other minorities.

Then Comes Marriage: A rare glimpse into conflict civil rights attorneys are loath to acknowledge

A new book provides a rare glimpse into something LGBT civil rights attorneys are loathe to talk about: How much they bicker behind-the-scenes. And the personal journey Roberta Kaplan lays to bare –evolving from a painfully closeted conservative to a headline-making lesbian attorney activist— is a riveting drama that is, in and of itself, worthy of the read.

A new book provides a rare glimpse into something LGBT civil rights attorneys are loath to talk about: How much they bicker behind-the-scenes.

The book is Then Comes Marriage, about the high-profile litigation to end the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which denied federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples. In the book, New York attorney Roberta Kaplan acknowledges bluntly how her effort to represent an elderly client, Edie Windsor, ran up against the effort of Boston-based Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) to press two of its own cases.

One of GLAD’s cases was in Massachusetts, which comes under the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, but the second case was in Connecticut, which comes under the Second Circuit. Kaplan’s case in Manhattan also fell under the Second Circuit. Once both cases got to the appeals level, she points out, they would be “in direct competition as to which case would get decided first.”

Publicly, attorneys for all the DOMA lawsuits maintained a veneer of camaraderie: It didn’t matter who got to the U.S. Supreme Court first as long as one of them got there and DOMA was struck down.

That veneer cracked in May 2009, just as Kaplan was putting her lawsuit together. GLAD and other national LGBT groups signed onto a press release warning, “Most lawsuits will likely set us all back.” At the time, most observers believed the press release was aimed at Ted Olson and David Boies and their federal lawsuit against the California state ban on marriage for same-sex couples. But Kaplan felt it was aimed at her, too.

“[I]f the major gay rights organizations had had their way, we never would have filed Edie’s lawsuit in the first place,” wrote Kaplan in Then Comes Marriage: United States v. Windsor and the Defeat of DOMA. In fact, the nation’s oldest and best-known LGBT litigation group, Lambda Legal Defense, declined to help Windsor. And the ACLU, which ultimately joined Kaplan, was hesitant at first, citing fear of stepping on the toes of the well-respected GLAD civil rights director Mary Bonauto. After leading the fight that propelled Massachusetts into becoming the first state to allow same-sex couples to marry in 2004, Bonauto had become a national marriage equality champion.

Kaplan said she decided not even to consult with Bonauto about her lawsuit.

“My fear was that Mary and I would get into an argument that might make the relationship difficult going forward,” wrote Kaplan. But to appease the ACLU, Kaplan did agree to delay filing her case in New York until GLAD was ready to file its case in Connecticut.

There were other political concerns behind-the-scenes, too. Kaplan had become sensitive to a growing discomfort among judges that some lawsuits –such as GLAD’s– were not simply advocating for one aggrieved client’s legal rights. They were carefully selecting a group of clients to advance a social and political agenda. And Second Circuit Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs was one of those judges.

With an eye on this attitude, Kaplan was determined to keep the focus of her lawsuit on “Edie Windsor and her tax payment –nothing more and nothing less.”

That was easier said than done.

First, Kaplan was suing the United States government for forcing Windsor to pay estate taxes on property Windsor shared with her late spouse, Thea Spyer. Under the law, women who survived their male spouses didn’t have to pay estate taxes. But because Windsor’s spouse had been a woman, the Internal Revenue Service demanded Windsor pay $363,000 in estate taxes. To help “Edie Windsor and her tax payment,” Kaplan would have to take down DOMA, a highly controversial and politically volatile law. And if DOMA was struck down, then the possibility of striking down state bans on marriage for same-sex couples around the country would become much more likely. The consequences of the lawsuit went far beyond Edie Windsor’s tax bill.

Second, as charming, attractive, and likeable as Edie Windsor was and is, “she was not shy” about speaking the truth in public about why her and Spyer’s relationship had endured more than 40 years: “Keep it hot.” Kaplan worried that kind of candor would have political consequences beyond the tax bill, too.

“As innocuous as that…phrase might seem,” wrote Kaplan, “I wanted the judges (and potentially Supreme Court justices) to see Edie and Thea’s relationship for its qualities of commitment and love, not for anything having remotely to do with their sex life. It just seemed safer that way.”

Meanwhile, the ACLU, worried Windsor’s image as a “privileged rich lady” was “not a story that’s going to move people.” The ACLU urged Kaplan to keep the $363,000 figure out of the press.

But Kaplan disagreed. Windsor’s wealth was modest by Manhattan standards. Plus, figured Kaplan, “What do conservative right-wingers dislike even more than gay marriage? Taxes.”

Both Kaplan and GLAD’s cases reached the Supreme Court at the same time, along with GLAD’s case from the First Circuit and another DOMA challenge from the Ninth Circuit. Both of GLAD’s cases involved groups of carefully selected clients and, newly minted Justice Elena Kagan had –while serving as Solicitor General– been involved in discussions about the GLAD case from the First Circuit. The California case, Golinski v. Office of Personnel Management, had not yet gone through the full appeal process.

Thus, it was Kaplan’s case the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear in March 2013. Many attorneys rushed to offer Kaplan advice on how to present her argument to the court. One even suggested she “de-gay” the case –advice she dismissed as “absurd.”

Kaplan also acknowledges that part of her argument before the Supreme Court “irked some in the LGBT rights community.” She told the justices that Edie Windsor should not have to pay the estate tax because New York recognized marriages of same-sex couples at that time. If Spyer had died in North Carolina or some other state that prohibited recognition of marriages between same-sex spouses, Kaplan conceded, then Windsor would have to pay the estate taxes.

“My job was to win Edie’s case,” explains Kaplan, “…not to make broader arguments about what position the Obama administration would or should take with respect to states like North Carolina that did not then have marriage equality….”

In the end, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down DOMA, and two years later, Kaplan sat in the Supreme Court as Bonauto argued the case to strike down state bans on marriage for same-sex couples.

Kaplan rightly accepts some of the credit for the fall of DOMA and the rise of marriage equality for herself and Edie Windsor. And she fairly acknowledges the contributions of so many others –legal activists, judges, plaintiffs, and family members– toward her success and the movement’s ultimate victory. Her willingness to write about the internal tensions within the LGBT legal community during one of its most historic struggles is both refreshing and instructive. Her decision to provide anonymity to most of her annoying critics is both noble and wise. Her ability to translate complex legal issues into the language of a non-attorney reader is impressive (and due at least in part to her “ghost writer” Lisa Dickey). And the personal journey she lays to bare –evolving from a painfully closeted conservative to a headline-making lesbian attorney activist— is a riveting drama that is, in and of itself, worthy of the read.

GOP field: Moderates polling downward, while hostile conservatives holding on

The third Republican presidential debate is Wednesday, October 28, and here’s a look at what’s been learned about the candidates on LGBT issues since the second debate.

 

Now comes the third Republican presidential debate for the 2016 campaign season, and what do LGBT people know now that they didn’t know after the first two debates?

They know Rand Paul thinks LGBT people wouldn’t need non-discrimination laws if they would just stay in the closet. They hear Ben Carson says, “I have nothing against gay people whatsoever” but believes allowing same-sex couples to marry is equivalent to tossing the “word of God …into the garbage.” They know Ted Cruz would like is not only against allowing transgender people in the military, he’d like to go back and create a new ban on all LGBT people. They read Mike Huckabee criticize President Obama’s appointment of openly gay Eric Fanning to be Secretary of the Army, saying, “It’s clear President Obama is more interested in appeasing America’s homosexuals than honoring America’s heroes.” And they learn that Donald Trump promised a Faith & Freedom Coalition that his first priority as president would be to protect religious liberty because, as he told the evangelical conservative audience, “I’m one of you — just remember that.”

LGBT people also know that support for these and other GOP candidates with hostile positions on LGBT matters has not changed significantly for all but one of the candidates (Carson’s gone up 5 points) since the second debate, in September. Carly Fiorina, who impressed many with her second debate performance, is right back at her pre-second debate polling number: 5 percent. Frontrunner Donald Trump is at 24 percent, just one point off from where he was prior to the second debate.

Meanwhile, support for John Kasich, George Pataki, and Chris Christie, the field’s most moderate on LGBT issues, has dropped to one percent each.

CNBC is hosting the next debate at the Coors Event Center in liberal Boulder, Colorado, on the campus of the University of Colorado, October 28. CNBC has indicated it will focus on employment, taxes, the deficit, and the national economy, so presumably a question might arise about the federal Equality Act. The Equality Act is a bill in Congress that seeks to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment and other areas. This probability increased recently with the publicity around Senator Rand Paul’s remark that that LGBT people could escape discrimination in the workplace by staying the closet. And Bush took a muddled position on the issue in July when he said he didn’t think gay people should be discriminated against at their jobs but he believes Christian business owners who oppose marriage for same-sex couples should be able to be “guided by [their] faith.”

There are some unanswered questions on other LGBT-related issues, too.

For instance, only eight of the 15 GOP hopefuls have taken a position (for it) on the First Amendment Defense Act. This bill was introduced to Congress shortly before the Supreme Court’s ruling that state bans on marriage for same-sex couples is unconstitutional. It is part of the effort to circumvent laws prohibiting discrimination against same-sex couples by urging that such discrimination is a product of a person’s free exercise of religion. It seeks to prohibit the federal government from taking any adverse action against a person who “acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman.” The other seven GOP candidates have not yet weighed in.

All 15 Republican candidates are vowing to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, if elected. But most LGBT activists see the Affordable Care Act as providing critical support for the battle against HIV infection and much needed support for community health centers. The law also prohibits discrimination in health care coverage based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and it prohibits insurance companies from excluding people with pre-existing conditions such as HIV infection and breast cancer.

On Common Core, a set of educational standards –developed at the initiative of the National Governors Association—for math and English language arts, many right-wing conservatives oppose. All but one of GOP candidates (Kasich) have expressed general opposition to Common Core, though Bush has been supportive of having “standards.”

The standards recommended by Common Core are not mandatory and do not promote a specific curriculum. But opponents claim, among other things, that the standards promote homosexuality. There is nothing in the Common Core standards that even mentions homosexuality or LGBT people, but the Southern Poverty Law Center says the concerns appear to be based on some “exemplar texts” that the Common Core offer for educators to consider. The 78 texts include Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, Walden by Henry David Thoreau, and Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston –all well-established classics that do not discuss homosexuality.

The CNBC Wednesday, October 28, debate begins at 6 p.m. EDT with candidates who are polling at less than three percent but more than one percent, followed at 8 p.m. EDT with the candidates who are polling at at least three percent. The New York Times reported that only about 50 students are expected to get tickets to the event, which is expected to accommodate 1,000 people. Openly gay U.S. Rep. Jared Polis is supporting an effort by students to get more seats, according to the local Fox News affiliate.

Here’s where the GOP candidates stand on these issues:

 

JEB BUSH

First Amendment Defense Act: No comment on point.

Affordable Care Act: Responding to Supreme Court ruling upholding ACA subsidies for people in states that don’t set up health insurance exchanges, Bush said “this fatally-flawed law imposes job-killing mandates, causes spending in Washington to skyrocket by $1.7 trillion, raises taxes by $1 trillion and drives up health care costs.”

Common Core: Supports having “standards” but adds that the federal government should not be involved. (The Obama administration has provided grants to states that adopt the standards.)

 

DONALD TRUMP

First Amendment Defense Act: No statement available.

Affordable Care Act: Says it should be repealed, but Bloomberg News says Trump’s proposed replacement sounds very similar to the ACA.

Common Core: Opposes it, saying: “I think that education should be local, absolutely. I think that for people in Washington to be setting curriculum and to be setting all sorts of standards for people living in Iowa and other places is ridiculous.”

 

MARCO RUBIO

First Amendment Defense Act: Is a co-sponsor of the First Amendment Defense Act (S. 1598) that seeks to prohibit the federal government from taking any kind of adverse action against a person who “believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman.”

Affordable Care Act: Says he would repeal and replace with tax credits for employers who offer health insurance coverage, “reform” insurance regulations, and encourage individual health savings accounts.

Common Core: Says he opposes it because it will turn into a mandate. Voted for an amendment to “allow states to opt out of Common Core without penalty,” expressing opposition to the Obama administration’s policy of providing federal funds to states which opted in

 

BEN CARSON

First Amendment Defense Act: Signed the National Organization for Marriage Act, which includes statement supporting FADA.

Affordable Care Act: Carson says the ACA is a “monstrosity.” He supports creating Health Savings Accounts.

Common Core: Says it must be “overturned.”

Other notables: After the second debate, Carson business manager Armstrong Williams told CNN that Carson’s campaign wasn’t interested in the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ reaction to Carson’s statement that a Muslim should not become president. “When they change their actions and their behavior,” said Williams, noting that “ISIS [is] beheading people, treating women like animals…and killing homosexuals because of their choice.” As the controversy gained steam, the Carson posted on his campaign’s Facebook page: “Those republicans that take issue with my position are amazing. Under Islamic law, homosexuals –men and women alike—must be killed. Women must be subservient, and people following other religions must be killed…until these tenants are fully renounced…I cannot advocate any Muslim candidate for president.”

Campaign website: Under “Keep Faith in Our Society,” the campaign states “The United States of America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles….However, we need to reverse the recent trend of secular progressives using activist, federal judges to drive faith out of our society.”

 

JOHN KASICH

First Amendment Defense Act: Could find no statement on point.

Affordable Care Act: Wants to repeal the law and refused to let Ohio set up health insurance exchanges but expanded a key part of the ACA: Medicaid to people with low incomes.

Common Core: Told Fox News’ Chris Wallace that he supports Common Core and he demonstrated an accurate understanding of how the standards were developed and how they are implemented.

 

CARLY FIORINA

First Amendment Defense Act: Could find no statement on point.

Affordable Care Act: Says ACA must be repealed because its tax and regulatory codes are too complicated.

Common Core: Opposes.

Campaign website: Includes video showing Fiorina saying that “government should not bestow benefits unequally,” but added that she has “always been a supporter of civil unions” and benefits to same-sex couples at Hewitt-Packard. She added that she hopes people with different views on the issues can “tolerate each other.” Two other videos show Fiorina explaining that the Indiana Religious Freedom Act –which sought to allow discrimination against same-sex couples—does not discriminate in any way against LGBT people.

 

TED CRUZ

First Amendment Defense Act: Is a co-sponsor of the First Amendment Defense Act (S. 1598) that seeks to prohibit the federal government from taking any kind of adverse action against a person who “believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman.”

Affordable Care Act: Although he is a leading critic of the ACA, he signed up for coverage under ACA in March when his wife lost her health benefits through her employer. “I believe we should follow the text of every law, even laws I disagree with,” Cruz told CNN.

Common Core: Wants to “repeal” the “curriculum” because the federal government is “dictating what’s being taught to your kids.” Co-sponsored and Voted for an amendment to “allow states to opt out of Common Core without penalty,” expressing opposition to the Obama administration’s policy of providing federal funds to states which opted in.

 

CHRIS CHRISTIE

First Amendment Defense Act: No statement on point.

Affordable Care Act: As governor of New Jersey, Christie accepted increases in Medicaid dollars under ACA but rejected the opportunity to provide a state operated exchange for health insurance options. He has repeatedly called the ACA a “failed policy.”

Common Core: Initially, he was for it; but in June, he began opposing it, saying “it’s simply not working” in New Jersey.

 

RAND PAUL

First Amendment Defense Act: Is a co-sponsor of the First Amendment Defense Act (S. 1598) that seeks to prohibit the federal government from taking any kind of adverse action against a person who “believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman.”

Affordable Care Act: Says one of his first acts as president would be to repeal the ACA.

Common Core: Opposes it. Voted for an amendment to “allow states to opt out of Common Core without penalty,” expressing opposition to the Obama administration’s policy of providing federal funds to states which opted in

Other notables: At a Drake University forum October 14, an audience member asked Paul whether he thinks an employer should be able to fire an LGBT employee just because that person is LGBT. A videotape posted by The Hill newspaper captured Paul’s response: “I think really the things that you do in your house we can just leave those things in your house and they wouldn’t have to be part of the workplace, to tell you the truth. These are very difficult decisions on what you decide will be employer decisions or not.” The next day, in an interview with CNN, Paul said, “I don’t think anybody should be fired for being gay. I do also, though, believe that your personal life should be personal and shouldn’t affect anyone firing you. So I don’t think the decision whether to hire or fire you should be based on things from your personal life. So when I say that it should remain in your house –yeah, I don’t think it should be part of the decision-of the business. So I might have been able to word it better….”

 

MIKE HUCKABEE

First Amendment Defense Act: Told a right-wing political website, “Yeah, I would sign it.”

Affordable Care Act: Called the ACA a “disaster” and the Supreme Court decision upholding subsidies for insurance under ACA “an out-of-control act of judicial tyranny.” Promises, as president, he would repeal ACA.

Common Core: He initially supported the standards but then began opposing them.

 

RICK SANTORUM

First Amendment Defense Act: Supports the bill. Told CNN he thinks it would resolve conflicts such as the one in Kentucky.

Affordable Care Act: Says he would repeal the ACA and encourage citizens to set up their own private health savings accounts.

Common Core: Opposes it.

 

BOBBY JINDAL

First Amendment Defense Act: Signed the National Organization for Marriage Act, which includes statement supporting FADA.

Affordable Care Act: Says the ACA has been a “complete failure” and says he has a detailed plan to repeal and replace it.

Common Core: Initially supported Common Core then issued an executive order to repeal it.

 

LINDSEY GRAHAM

First Amendment Defense Act: Is a co-sponsor of the First Amendment Defense Act (S. 1598) that seeks to prohibit the federal government from taking any kind of adverse action against a person who “believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman.”

Affordable Care Act: Wants to repeal or defund the ACA.

Common Core: Voted for an amendment to “allow states to opt out of Common Core without penalty,” expressing opposition to the Obama administration’s policy of providing federal funds to states which opted in.

Other notable: According to ABC, Graham is unlikely to make the cut for the secondary debate.

 

GEORGE PATAKI

First Amendment Defense Act: No statement on point.

Affordable Care Act: Called the ACA the “worst law of my lifetime.” Says he wants to repeal and replace it.

Common Core: Called it a “horrible idea” and said he opposes any “national education standards.”

JIM GILMORE

First Amendment Defense Act: No statement on point.

Affordable Care Act: Says he will “repeal and replace it

Common Core: He’s against it.

Other notable: According to ABC, Gilmore is unlikely to make the cut for the secondary debate.

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Biden won’t enter race for Democratic nomination

With the announcement Wednesday that Vice President Joe Biden will not seek the Democratic nomination for president in 2016, LGBT voters are now spared a tough choice: Support the man who is credited with playing a pivotal role in putting the Obama administration’s weight behind marriage equality or support a long-standing friend of the community who has a chance to make history as the first woman president.

With the announcement Wednesday that Vice President Joe Biden will not seek the Democratic nomination for president in 2016, LGBT voters are now spared a tough choice: Support the man who is credited with playing a pivotal role in putting the Obama administration’s weight behind marriage equality or support a long-standing friend of the community who has a chance to make history as the first woman president.

“Biden would have had a lot of LGBT support,” said long-time Democratic lesbian activist Hilary Rosen. “He has had real friendships and offered support over the years.”

Three polls conducted October 15-18 and released this week indicate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has a 20-point lead over progressive U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and a 30-point lead over Biden.

Biden’s announcement is likely to solidify more support behind Clinton, particularly in the LGBT community.

The nation’s largest LGBT political group, the Human Rights Campaign, has not devoted much attention to Sanders, but it invited both Clinton and Biden to its national showcase events in Washington, D.C., earlier this month. During the event with Clinton, HRC President Chad Griffin made prominent mention of his long-time personal association with Clinton. Griffin volunteered on the first presidential campaign of Bill Clinton and, after Clinton was elected, Griffin landed a position in the White House press office.

Openly gay MSNBC political talk show host Rachel Maddow said she thinks Biden’s decision will mean Clinton can “steamroll her way to this Democratic nomination and she expressed doubt Biden could have won the nomination.

In his remarks in the Rose Garden of the White House, Biden said he would have liked to have been the president to end cancer in this country. Biden’s son Beau died of brain cancer died earlier this year, an event that many believe was the reason Biden has decided not to run for president.

“I also believe we need to keep moving forward in the arc toward justice –the rights of the LGBT community, immigration reform, equal pay for women and the protection of their safety from violence, rooting out institutional racism,” said Biden. “Everyone of these things is about the same thing: It’s about equality, about fairness, about respect.”

The Democratic field now stands at only four candidates: Clinton, Sanders, and former governors Lincoln Chafee and Martin O’Malley. Democratic hopeful Jim Webb announced Tuesday that he was dropping out of the race for the nomination and hinted he may consider an independent campaign. Webb had been polling at only one percent in surveys of Democratic voters.

Rosen said she thinks Sanders is “great on the issues but has never really engaged.”

“My sense is that, while Hillary hasn’t always been perfect,” said Rosen, “she has been a friend through the wars. Many have felt her real and personal support and connection.”

 

 

Democratic debate: A stark contrast to GOP debate’s open hostility

Although it was the first debate among Democratic presidential hopefuls, Tuesday’s debate on CNN was most notable to LGBT viewers in how the candidates differed from their Republican counterparts. There was no talk of defending the right of Christian business owners to discriminate against same-sex couples, no derisive remarks about allowing transgender people to serve in the military, and no side-swipes against openly gay elected officials.

Although it was the first debate among Democratic presidential hopefuls, Tuesday’s debate on CNN was most notable to LGBT viewers in how the candidates differed from their Republican counterparts. There was no talk of defending the right of Christian business owners to discriminate against same-sex couples, no derisive remarks about allowing transgender people to serve in the military, and no side-swipes against openly gay elected officials.

Instead, two of the five candidates mentioned support for LGBT people in their opening remarks. And openly gay CNN news moderator Anderson Cooper brought up an LGBT issue with his very first question.

Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley noted that, as governor, he helped pass marriage equality. In his closing speech, he said young people do not want to “deny rights to gay couples.”

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in her opening remarks that “there is too much inequality,” including the “continuing discrimination against the LGBT community.”

Later in the debate, when asked to defend his having changed his party affiliation twice, former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee stated bluntly that he has been like “a block of granite” on issues –including “marriage equality.”

Marriage equality got prominent attention with moderator Cooper’s first question when he aired a concern that some voters have with Clinton: that she adopts positions on some political issues “based on political expediency.”

“You were against same-sex marriage. Now you’re for it,” said Cooper. “You defended President Obama’s immigration policies. Now you say they are too harsh. You supported his trade deal dozens of times. Now, last week, you’re against it. Will you say anything to get elected?”

Clinton said she has been “very consistent” but does “absorb new information.”

“I have always fought for the same values and principles, but like most human beings, including those of us who run for office, I do absorb new information. I do look at what’s happening in the world,” said Clinton.

Cooper challenged her further, noting that in New Hampshire, she told voters she had strong “progressive values” but in Ohio, she described herself as “being kind of moderate and center.”

“Do you change your political identity based on who you’re talking to?” asked Cooper.

“No,” said Clinton. “I think that, like most people that I know, I have a range of views, but they are rooted in my values and my experience. And I don’t take a back seat to anyone when it comes to progressive experience and progressive commitment.”

Much of the two-hour debate was taken up with discussion of many tough issues: gun control, immigration, Syria, Russia, Benghazi, corporate bailouts, college affordability, and racism, to name a few.

Polls taken just days before the debate showed Clinton with a strong lead over her challengers and that seems unlikely to change based on Tuesday’s debate.

A Fox News survey October 10-12 found that 45 percent of 353 people likely to vote in the Democratic caucus or primary support Clinton, compared to 25 percent for Sanders, 19 percent for Vice President Joe Biden (who has not yet announced whether he plans to run), one percent or less for any of the other announced candidates, and 10 percent for “Other” or “Don’t Know.” Similar surveys by CBS and Public Policy Polling this month found very similar results.

As important as it is to win the party’s nomination, it is equally important to win the general election. And polls about how various Democratic candidates would perform against any of the leading Republican candidates casts a different picture. A RealClearPolitics.com look at surveys testing various match-ups suggests that Clinton, Biden, or Sanders could beat the current Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, but Biden would have a more comfortable margin (11 points) compared to Clinton (1.6 points) or Sanders (4.3). Both Clinton and Biden could beat U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. But the three top Democrats are polling behind former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, a candidate seen as more likely to win the GOP nomination.

Also troubling for the Democrats: A Fox News survey of 1,004 “registered voters” nationally between October 10 and 12 found that 40 percent said they would “more likely” vote in the Republican primary/caucus, versus 35 percent in the Democratic primary/caucus, 14 percent in neither party’s events, and 11 percent undecided. Those who identified as “Independents” were leaning more heavily toward the Republican primary/caucus.

How the Democratic candidates differ: longevity, courage, and electability

It’s showtime for the candidates seeking the 2016 Democratic nomination for president. The field’s first nationally televised debate is slated for 9 p.m. EDT Tuesday, October 13, on CNN, with moderator Anderson Cooper. The big question for everyone –including LGBT voters—is whether Vice President Joe Biden will decide to run for the nomination. CNN has said it would put him onstage even if he decides as late as debate day itself that he’s in the race.

It’s showtime for the candidates seeking the 2016 Democratic nomination for president. The field’s first nationally televised debate is slated for 8:30 p.m. EDT Tuesday, October 13, on CNN, with moderator Anderson Cooper.

The big question for everyone –including LGBT voters—is whether Vice President Joe Biden will decide to run for the nomination. CNN has said it would put him onstage even if he decides as late as debate day itself that he’s in the race.

But Biden has little to gain by rushing his decision, and he’s got some breathing room. Federal law requires he file a statement of candidacy only after he’s raised his first $5,000 toward a campaign. And each state sets its own deadline for when a candidate must file to be on the ballot of a primary or caucus. that first deadline (for Alabama) isn’t until November 6.

Without Biden in the picture, the real contest for this first debate is between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and current U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders. The other three candidates on the stage –former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee, and former U.S. Senator from Virginia Jim Webb – are polling at only one or two percent at best. Any of them could do well and rise quickly, but most of the attention will likely stay on Clinton and Sanders, who are polling at 42 and 11 percent, respectively, in the latest poll.

A sixth announced candidate, Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig, has not been included in the CNN debate because he has not achieved the minimum one percent level of support in the past three polls. Most polls don’t include him on the list of candidates.

Below is a snapshot of each announced candidate and Biden and where they stand on various issues, following closely with issues used to profile the Republican field in earlier articles. There is no report on how the Democrats responded to the National Organization for Marriage Pledge; a spokesperson for the organization said NOM did not poll the Democratic presidential candidates because “Their positions in support of SSM were well-known.”

“Current odds of winning the nomination” are based on odds calculated by predictwise.com as of October 7.

Hillary Clinton                       

Current odds of winning the nomination: 69 percent

Occupational experience: Former Secretary of State, former U.S. Senator from New York, and former legal counsel to U.S. House Judiciary Committee during Watergate scandal

Age: 67

Main assets: Served four years experience as Secretary of State and “watched up close and personal” as her husband, President Bill Clinton, navigated many difficult issues. LGBT voters have a strong desire to see another discriminatory cultural barrier bite the dust, with the election of a first woman president. And Clinton has close ties to top people at the Human Rights Campaign, which can muster money and votes, and popular former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank.

Main liabilities: Her responses to questions about use of a private server at home for communication involving State business. As she tried out a variety of responses to questions, her favorability rating sank into the negative zone, and she’s still trying to recover. Among LGBT voters, some complain that she took too long to support marriage equality.

Response to Obergefell: Issued statement, saying the ruling was “an affirmation of the commitment of couples” and “reflects the will of the vast and growing multitude of Americans who believe that LGBT couples deserve to be recognized under the law and treated equally in the eyes of society.”

LGBT Record: Earned a 94 score from the Human Rights Campaign during her last Congressional session as senator; earned 89 and 88 in previous sessions. Clinton evolved over a period of 10 years to support marriage equality, saying, in 2004, that it was “a sacred bond between a man and a woman,” then saying in 2007 that she supported repeal of the part of the Defense of Marriage Act that said marriage could only mean a “man and a woman.” But in 2007, Clinton also wanted to leave the marriage equality issue to the states. Then, in a 2013 video after leaving her Secretary of State post, Clinton said she has “learned” and “come to believe” that LGBT Americans “deserve the rights of citizenship –that includes marriage….I support it personally and as a matter of policy and law.”

Kim Davis: Issued Twitter message saying, “Marriage equality is the law of the land. Officials should be held to their duty to uphold the law.” As recently as this week, Clinton said she thinks a federal district court judge did the right thing by putting Davis in jail for contempt of court, adding: “People are totally entitled to their private, personal beliefs, religious or otherwise, but when you take an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States, that is your job.”

Planned Parenthood: Urged support for Planned Parenthood in the face of Republican efforts to defund the group.

Equality Act: Supports it, saying it will mean “full federal equality for LGBT Americans and stronger anti-discrimination protections for everyone.”

Campaign inclusiveness: Website includes “LGBT equality” among 23 issues. Includes a two-minute video showing numerous same-sex couples at their individual wedding and engagement events. States that she “championed” hate crime legislation, “fought for” federal non-discrimination legislation, “advanced” LGBT rights abroad, and declared “on the global stage that ‘gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.’” Her campaign launch video also included gay citizens prominently. Her campaign manager is an openly gay man, Robby Mook, a former head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. And her campaign just recently hired an openly gay man to serve as liaison to the LGBT community.

Joe Biden

Current odds of winning the nomination: 18 percent

Occupational experience: Vice president for two terms, six terms as U.S. senator from Delaware, three-time chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations, Committee, eight years as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee

Age: 72

Main assets: Significant familiarity with how the White House and Congress work. Among LGBT voters, he’s widely credited with giving the White House a push toward supporting marriage equality.

Main liabilities: He’s run for the Democratic nomination twice before and failed to gain much traction. Among LGBT voters, he’s well liked but seems to play second fiddle to Clinton.

Response to Obergefell: Issued a statement, supporting the decision and praising the “courage” of LGBT advocates over the years who “risked their lives, jobs, and reputations to come forward in pursuit of the basic right recognized today….”

LGBT Record: Voted to enact the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996

Kim Davis: No statement found

Planned Parenthood: Supports right of women to have abortion

Equality Act: Supports “federal non-discrimination legislation”

Campaign inclusiveness: Biden has not announced his intention to run for the Democratic nomination for president this year. He has indicated he is contemplating it, but some believe the recent death of his son Beau may lead him to decide against a run. He has made speeches at numerous Human Rights Campaign events over the years. In December in Los Angeles last year, he told an HRC audience: “as long as I have a breath in me, I will not be satisfied till everyone in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community is afforded the dignity, the freedom and the equality that my father spoke so clearly of because that’s the only way.”

Bernie Sanders

Current odds of winning the nomination: 11 percent

Occupational experience: U.S. Senator from Vermont, former member of the U.S. House, and former mayor

Age: 74

Main assets: Blunt critic of giving tax breaks to corporations. For LGBT voters, he’s the candidate who has supported equal rights for LGBT people longer than anyone else in the field.

Main liabilities: He would be 76 when taking the oath for one of the most arduous jobs in the world, he is frequently described as a socialist, and many, including many in the LGBT community, fear he’s too progressive to win the general election.

Response to Obergefell: Issued statement, saying the decision was a victory for “all those seeking to live in a nation where every citizens is afforded equal rights.”

LGBT Record: Sanders was an LGBT supporter long before it became politically safe to be so. As mayor of Burlington, Vermont, he signed a city ordinance banning discrimination and he supported the city’s first ever Pride Parade. He earned a perfect 100 score from Human Rights Campaign on his record of voting on LGBT-related issues in each of six Congressional sessions. Co-sponsored all versions of the Equality Act (previously known as ENDA) as well as the Student Non-Discrimination Act, and the Respect for Marriage Act (which sought to repeal DOMA).

Kim Davis: No statement found.

Planned Parenthood: Says he “absolutely” supports Planned Parenthood and will defend its funding. He voted against proceeding to a vote on a bill that sought to immediately stop federal funds to the group. And he issued a statement, saying the effort to defund Planned Parenthood is an “attack on women’s health” and would jeopardize HIV testing. He has a 100 percent score from Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

Equality Act: Co-sponsors the current version and has co-sponsored all previous versions.

Campaign inclusiveness: Campaign website added “Fighting for LGBT Equality” to its list of issues soon after gay commentator Michelangelo Signorile posted an essay saying Sanders “he must get ‘LGBT rights’ up on his website”. The new addition to the site promises Sanders will “Veto any legislation that purports to ‘protect’ religious liberty at the expense of others’ rights.” But in July, Sanders said he would not endorse removing tax-exempt status from religious groups that refuse to recognize same-sex marriages.

Jim Webb

Current odds of winning the nomination: Zero percent.

Occupational experience: Former U.S. Senator from Virginia

Age: 69

Main assets: Bookish Marine with two Purple Hearts who served as assistant defense secretary in the Reagan administration

Main liabilities: During the controversy of the South Carolina capitol building flying the Confederate flag, Webb initially made statements that suggested he supported allowing the flag to stay and urged respect for its role in the “complicated history of the Civil War.”

Response to Obergefell: Posted a statement on Facebook, saying he was “pleased” with the decision and hope it leads to a “social environment where each of us can respect the private lives and personal decisions of others.”

LGBT Record: Earned an 88 rating from Human Rights Campaign for his record of voting on LGBT-related issues in one session, an 85 and 76 in two others. He opposed an anti-gay marriage ballot measure in Virginia while running for the Senate.

Kim Davis: No statement found.

Planned Parenthood: Planned Parenthood Action Fund rates Webb at 100 percent supportive.

Equality Act: He has made no comment about the current version of the bill but co-sponsored the previous incarnation, ENDA, which prohibited discrimination in employment

Campaign inclusiveness: None found

Martin O’Malley

Current odds of winning the nomination: Zero percent

Occupational experience: Former governor of Maryland

Age: 52

Main assets: He’s a former governor and a former mayor

Main liability: Lacks name recognition beyond Maryland

Response to Obergefell: Changed his campaign schedule to join celebration at Supreme Court following the decision.

LGBT Record: Introduced the bill for marriage equality to the Maryland legislature and was a key leader in pushing it through.

Kim Davis: No statement found.

Planned Parenthood: Does not support efforts to defund Planned Parenthood

Equality Act: Endorsed the bill

Campaign inclusiveness: No gay specifics on website

Lincoln Chafee

Current odds of winning the nomination: Zero percent

Occupational experience: Former U.S. Senator, former governor of Rhode Island, and former mayor

Age: 62

Main asset: Track record of working across party lines.

Main liability: Party changer: Was Republican in the U.S. Senate, independent as Rhode Island governor, and now running for president as a Democrat

Response to Obergefell: Posted Twitter message of support

LGBT Record: Earned an perfect 100 rating from Human Rights Campaign for his record of voting on LGBT-related issues in one session, an 85 and 76 in two others. He evolved quickly on same-sex marriage. In 2004, he opposed a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, he supported only civil unions, and he said the marriage issue should be left to each state. But in 2013, he led the push for and signed into law the marriage equality bill that passed the Rhode Island legislature.

Kim Davis: No statement found

Planned Parenthood: The Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the political arm of the Planned Parenthood Federation, said Chafee’s been a “supporter of women making their own personal medical decisions” who has “stood up for women’s health and rights, vetoing legislation that would violate the separation of church and state by funding an organization that works to limit a woman’s right to safe and legal abortion.”

Equality Act: No statement found

Campaign inclusiveness: No gay specifics on website.

Lawrence Lessig

Current odds of winning the nomination: Not calculated

Occupational experience: Harvard law professor

Age: 54

Main asset: Wrote book How Money Corrupts Congress

Main liability: One-issue candidate: Wants passage of a bill to reform campaign finance

Response to Obergefell: In a friend-of-the-court brief with other constitutional law professors, he argued the Supreme Court should apply heightened scrutiny to laws treating people differently because of their sexual orientation.

LGBT Record: Joined a friend-of-the-court brief in the Proposition 8 case arguing that laws treating people differently because of their sexual orientation should receive heightened scrutiny.

Kim Davis: No statement found

Planned Parenthood: No statement found.

Equality Act: He supports the “Citizen Equality Act,” legislation to reform campaign funding

Campaign inclusiveness: His website says his position on other issues is “not relevant.”

 

Clinton promises to fight for LGBT Americans, Biden says the victories won in the past ensure the ease of future gains

There were some notable contrasts in the speeches of Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton and potential contender Joe Biden during their separate appearances before Human Rights Campaign events in Washington Saturday.

WASHINGTON, DC– Just 10 days before the first televised debate among the 2016 Democratic presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden elicited enthusiastic cheers Saturday as they addressed two separate Human Rights Campaign events in Washington, D.C. It was an important opportunity for both to lay out their credentials and proposals to the national LGBT community, and the speeches illustrated some important contrasts between them.

Vice President Biden has not yet announced whether he intends to enter the race for the Democratic nomination for president in 2016, and his speech to the HRC National Dinner Saturday night gave no indication he’s in the revving up for such a run. The address consisted mostly of anecdotes that he’s shared at many previous HRC events and –except for a clear endorsement of the recently introduced Equality Act— was more a look back at accomplishments than forward to future intentions.

Former Secretary of State Clinton focused on specific things she would do for LGBT Americans “as president,” making a number of important promises and carefully couching others. She also eschewed her usual quick departure following her speech and waded into the friendly fray, shaking hands, and posing for photos with the large crowd gathered from various HRC boards and major HRC donors.

When a lone audience member at HRC’s cavernous black tie sit-down banquet yelled out “Run, Joe, Run” as Biden was about to explain what “a number of you have said to me over the last three to four years,” Biden quickly replied, “No, didn’t say that,” then looked down at the podium and grinned as the crowd sat mostly quiet. “Oh, anyway….what was I saying?” Then, the audience erupted into applause.

Clinton’s appearance, at 10 o’clock on Saturday morning, drew more of a rousing campaign-like response from an already standing assembly of HRC organizational stalwarts, chanting “Hill-a-ry, Hill-a-ry.” Out of the jam-packed room, Clinton found and pointed to Supreme Court plaintiffs Jim Obergefell and Edie Windsor. And, in subtle ways, she addressed what are likely to be her weaknesses in soliciting LGBT support for her campaign if she finds herself in a tough contest with Biden or with the popular progressive candidate, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

“You’ve helped change a lot of minds, including mine,” said Clinton, “and I’m personally very grateful for that.” It was a reference to the oft-cited criticism that Clinton did not support marriage equality until after a majority of the American public was already polling its support for it.

Biden said he believes the remaining work for the LGBT movement “will come much more quickly and more surely.” And while he said he “strongly supports” the Equality Act, he did not promise he would push for it but rather that “it will pass.”

Acknowledging that there are still young LGBT people “terrified of being rejected by the world” around them, Clinton said she knows “we still have work to do.”

“Our work isn’t finished until every single person is treated with equal rights and dignity they deserve,” said Clinton. “…I want you to know that I get it. I see the injustices and the dangers that you and your families still face. And I’m running for president to end them once and for all.”

The HRC gathering responded with prolonged and thunderous applause to that line and one that quickly followed: “I’m running for president to stand up for the fundamental rights of LGBT Americans and all Americans. That’s a promise, from one HRC to another.”

“Congress must pass the federal Equality Act,” said Clinton, later. “As president, I will fight for it and I hope many of you will be with me when I sign it into law.”

Regarding the service of transgender people in the military, Biden stated that “transgender people are able to serve,” thanks to a directive from Defense Secretary Ash Carter. Clinton more accurately noted that transgender people “are still banned from serving” unless they remain closeted, and she stated her support for “the policy review” Carter directed, adding that she “hopes” transgender people will be allowed to serve openly.

There were similarities in both speeches. Both emphasized the role of all individual LGBT Americans in reaching today’s greater acceptance of marriage equality and non-discrimination. Both acknowledged that, even though the law now enables same-sex couples to be married in any state, it is still legal in most states to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations. Both urged that LGBT Americans stand up for the rights of LGBT people around the world.

And both took swipes at the current field of Republican presidential hopefuls. Biden got one of the biggest applause lines of the day when he said, “There are homophobes still left–most of them are running for president.” Referring to the “ridiculousness” of the GOP candidates, Clinton noted that Ben Carson said marriage equality “was the cause of the fall of the Roman Empire.”

“If any one of them, heaven forbid, were ever to be elected president, they will do their best to enact policies that will threaten you and your families,” said Clinton. “Every single Republican candidate for president is against marriage equality — every one of them. Many of them are against anti-discrimination laws. Many are against same-sex couples adopting….If you are ever in a forum with them, see if you can get them to even say the word ‘transgender’.”

Most recent national polls show Clinton has a clear advantage over other Democrats to win the nomination. The latest poll, conducted by USA Today, found 41 percent of 430 “likely” Democratic primary and caucus voters said they would vote for Clinton, 23 percent for Sanders, 20 percent for Biden. A similar poll by the Pew Research Center found Clinton with even stronger support from “potential Democratic primary voters nationwide.” (Clinton 45, Sanders 24, Biden 8.)

But the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal polls testing individual Democratic-Republican match-ups, show only Biden would, at this point, beat all four Republican frontrunners (Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, and Jeb Bush). Clinton and Sanders would beat only Trump.

Biden is not likely to jump into the October 13 Democratic presidential debate unprepared, and he still has until November to meet deadlines to participate in the key first caucuses and primaries.

While debate participants may, like their Republican counterparts, be asked one or two LGBT-related questions, Clinton’s speech was an especially important opportunity for Clinton to lay out her positions on a wide range of issues of specific concern to LGBT voters. Candidates have the luxury in the primary season to play to the party’s base –which, for Democrats, is a progressive and liberal one. But they must also be careful not to promise so much that they hobble their campaign to a more moderate general electorate, should they win the nomination. For the most part, Clinton seemed unabashed about putting herself on record, even ahead of the nationally televised debate, in support of LGBT Americans on most issues. But she did seem to be choosing her words very carefully with regard to allowing gays to adopt.

Calling discrimination against LGBT people in adoption “one of the cruelest vestiges of anti-gay bigotry,” Clinton said that, “as president, I would push to cut off federal funding for any public child welfare agency that discriminates against LGBT people.”

Most discrimination against allowing LGBT people to adopt is being conducted, not by “public agencies” but, by Catholic Charities and other private, religious-based organizations. On another matter where religious-based discrimination has played out, however, Clinton has made clear that she believes Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis has a legal duty to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples even though Davis claims an “authority from God” prevents her from doing so. And Clinton promised, in her speech Saturday, that she would not be the sort of politicians who is “courting your support at election time, and then disappearing as if your lives and your rights are just a political bargaining chip.”

“Those who know me know that’s not me,” said Clinton. “I’ve been fighting alongside you and others for equal rights and I’m just getting warmed up.”

“Your families matter to me and you matter to me,” said Clinton, closing her 25-minute speech. “I’m going to keep, as I have throughout my life, fighting for you, your rights, your children, your futures….And I am proud to be fighting right alongside you.”

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Political license: Rubio on “family”

Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio says the Obama administration should be faulted for doing three things regarding marriage and families; he was right on one.

 

Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio, in speech at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., Friday, September 25, said this:

“What we need is a president who in their first day in office will put the left hand on the bible and the right hand in the air and promise to uphold the entire constitution, including the right of religious liberty. …You cannot have a strong people without strong families. [The Obama administration] has tried to redefine the family. It’s persecuted and now even prosecuted those who do not agree with the new direction that those seek to take us. It has punished marriage, the foundation of family life, by taxing married couples more than singles.”

FACT CHECK: The Obama administration has redefined the term “family” in a number of federal regulations. Before same-sex couples had the option to marry in all states, the Department of Labor announced that the definition of “son or daughter” under the Family and Medical Leave Act would include a non-biological child if the employee had assumed a parental role of caring for the child. The U.S. Customs agency expanded the definition of family members to include couples in committed relationships and children of same-sex parents.

Rubio did not identify who he thinks the Obama administration has “persecuted or prosecuted” for disagreeing with the expanded definitions of family. Presumably, it was a reference to Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, in defiance of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that bans on such licenses is unconstitutional. A federal court judge –not the Obama administration—found Davis in contempt of court for her refusal to comply with the law.

As for the current “marriage penalty,” according to the Tax Policy Center, the “marriage penalty” was created with the passage of the Tax Reform Act of 1969. That’s when Republican President Richard Nixon was in office.

Obama: ‘new forms of discrimination’

Speaking to an LGBT Democratic fundraiser in New York Sunday evening, President Obama identified “new forms of discrimination” involving religious claims by politicians.

The following is an excerpt from remarks delivered by President Obama September 27 before an LGBT Democratic National Committee fundraising dinner in New York City. Full remarks can be viewed at the White House website.

Now, the good news is they probably won’t use marriage equality as a wedge issue like they did in 2004 because the country has come too far.  (Applause.)  In fact, America has left the leaders of the Republican Party behind.  One of their leading candidates argued that going to prison turns you gay.  (Laughter.)  Well, you think I’m — I shouldn’t go into this?  (Laughter.)  No, I mean, I’m just stating the facts.  Another candidate boasts that he introduced an amendment to end nationwide marriage equality — which isn’t even an accomplishment at all.  (Laughter and applause.)  A third says Americans should just disobey the Supreme Court’s ruling entirely.  I’m sure he loves the Constitution — except for Article III.  (Laughter and applause.)  And maybe the Equal Protection Amendment.  And 14th Amendment, generally.  (Laughter.)

 

Now, look, for some Americans, there’s no doubt that this change has been a world-wind.  And we believe that these changes have been for the better.  But we have to recognize — and in fact, I know the people in this room do because they felt it in their own family sometimes, or in the workplace — that with change, with any progress, comes some unease.  And as Americans, I think we have to acknowledge that.  I think that it’s important for us to recognize that there are still parts of the country that are getting there, but it’s going to take some time.

 

We affirm that we cherish our religious freedom and are profoundly respectful of religious traditions.  But we also have to say clearly that our religious freedom doesn’t grant us the freedom to deny our fellow Americans their constitutional rights. (Applause.)  And that even as we are respectful and accommodating genuine concerns and interests of religious institutions, we need to reject politicians who are supporting new forms of discrimination as a way to scare up votes.  (Applause.)  That’s not how we move America forward.

Fiorina shines, Bush ‘contorts’ to the right, Walker and Perry are gone

People posting on the Log Cabin Republican’s Facebook timeline last Wednesday night overwhelmingly agreed that business executive Carly Fiorina was the winner. But not everyone was praising Fiorina after the debate.

People posting on the Log Cabin Republican’s Facebook timeline last Wednesday night overwhelmingly agreed that business executive Carly Fiorina was the winner. Of the 117 responses to the open thread question, “Who won the debate?” 50 said former Hewlett-Packard CEO Fiorina, and 27 said U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. The next closest tally –11— was for pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson.

The tally from the national LGBT Republican group mirrored the reactions of most observers. And by Monday, September 21, support for Fiorina had catapulted her into second place in polling — behind real estate mogul Donald Trump. The CNN poll of 444 registered voters nationwide in the four days after the debate showed 24 percent support Trump, 15 percent Fiorina, 14 percent Carson, and 11 percent Rubio. All the other candidates, including Jeb Bush (9 points) were in the single digits.

Most observers commended Fiorina for answering often complex foreign policy questions with informed, detailed, and decisive answers. For instance, when asked how they would deal with Russian President Vladamir Putin sending military arms into Syria, Trump said he’d “talk” and “get along” with Putin. Fiorina said she’d rebuild the Sixth Fleet and the missile defense program in Poland, conduct military exercises in the Baltic states, and send a few thousand more troops into Germany.

Many also liked how she handled Trump’s remark to Rolling Stone magazine that he couldn’t believe anyone would “vote for that” –referring to Fiorina’s face. CNN moderator Jake Tapper invited Fiorina to “feel free to respond what you think about his persona.” Rather than take the bait to return an insult to Trump, Fiorina said, “I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said” – a line that drew a boisterous cheer from the debate audience.

Not everyone was praising Fiorina after the debate. Stampp Corbin, publisher of San Diego LGBT Weekly, posted an op-ed in his paper, noting the “ridiculous hypocrisy” of Fiorina calling out opponent Donald Trump for making an unkind remark about her face. Corbin was referring, not to her response at the debate but, to a campaign ad, “Look at this Face.” The ad shows the faces of many women with Fiorina saying in the background that these are the faces of leadership.

Corbin said he found Fiorina’s response hypocritical, given that she “mocked” U.S. Senate opponent Barbara Boxer’s hair as “so yesterday” during their race in 2010.

“Such a double standard,” wrote Corbin. “Fiorina can say nasty things about Boxer’s hair but her mug is off limits? Ridiculous.”

Corbin co-chaired an LGBT arm of the first Obama for President campaign.

Jeb Bush leans more to the right

While Fiorina’s performance and her boost in the polls were the big news out of last Wednesday’s debate, there was considerable sparring over at least one LGBT-related issue during the five-hour-long, two-tier event.

The candidates took on the issue of whether Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis should be able to refuse marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Jeb Bush took a step to the right and said he agrees with Mike Huckabee.

It was a somewhat surprising move. Earlier this month, Bush told reporters that Davis “is sworn to uphold the law” but that there “ought to be big enough space for her to act on her conscience….” CNN moderator Jake Tapper noted that candidate Huckabee had called the detention of Davis for contempt of court as tantamount to the “criminalization of Christianity.” Tapper then noted that Bush had said Davis was “sworn to uphold the law” and asked Huckabee if Bush is “on the wrong side of the criminalization of Christianity?”

Huckabee said, “No,” and then launched into a heavily opinionated discourse about the Kentucky controversy. Among other things, he claimed the U.S. Supreme Court “legislated” a new pro-same-sex marriage law “out of thin air.” (In fact, the court determined that existing state laws banning same-sex couples from marriage violate the U.S. Constitution.) And he claimed the government “made accommodations” for religious beliefs in the treatment of two Muslim male prisoners but not to Davis, who said she was asserting her Christian beliefs in denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples. (In fact, neither Muslim prisoner got religious accommodation. See Slate and Military.)

“What else is it other than the criminalization of her faith and the exaltation of the faith of everyone else who might be a Fort Hood shooter or a detainee at Gitmo?” asked Huckabee.

“I’m not telling you that, governor,” said Tapper. “But Governor Bush is, because he disagrees. He thinks Kim Davis swore to uphold the law.”

“You’re not stating my views right,” said Bush. “I think there needs to be accommodation for someone acting on faith. Religious conscience is a first freedom. It’s a powerful part of our Bill of Rights. And, in a big, tolerant country, we should respect the rule of law, allow people in this country –I was opposed to the [Supreme Court] decision, but we—you can’t just say, ‘Well, they –gays can’t get married now’. But this woman, there should be some accommodation for her conscience, just as there should be for people that are florists that don’t want to participate in weddings, or bakers. A great country like us should find a way to have accommodations for people so that we can solve the problem in the right way. This should be solved at the local level. And so, we do agree, Mike.”

Gregory Angelo, president of the national Log Cabin Republicans group, said he found that answer “confusing.”

“There are contortions that certain candidates are twisting themselves into unnecessarily with the Kim Davis issue,” said Angelo.

But overall, said Angelo, the candidates last Wednesday “merely reinforced statements made in the past.”

“I have noticed one thing that differentiates [this debate] from 2012,” said Angelo. “It’s the willingness to talk about LGBT issues and a degree of sympathy and respect that was sorely missing from 2012 cycle.”

Meanwhile, former Texas Governor Rick Perry dropped out of the race before the debate. Current Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker dropped out of the race after the debate.

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