Gay What ?
Rest of site back up shortly!

State Dept. quiet on Nigeria gay arrests

Department of State, gay news, Washington Blade

The State Department won’t articulate options to address anti-gay activity in Nigeria. (Photo public domain)

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki was unable on Friday to articulate any options to address Nigeria’s anti-gay law and the arrests that have followed other than restating U.S. concerns about the situation.

Under questioning from the Washington Blade, Psaki provided little additional information on U.S. efforts to confront the anti-gay law as reports continue to emerge of hostilities toward gay men in the country.

“I don’t have any new options to outline for you at this point,” Psaki said. “I think we’ve been very clear in expressing our concerns and how deeply concerned we are about the impact on all Nigerians of this law.”

On Thursday, the Human Rights Campaign issued a statement calling on the State Department to employ all available tools to stop the anti-gay situation in Nigeria described in media reports that has troubled many observers.

“The State Department must use every available tool to demonstrate that any nation which targets its own LGBT citizens and violates their civil rights gravely risks its standing in the international community,” said HRC President Chad Griffin.

The Obama administration has previously said the anti-gay law itself violates Nigeria’s international legal obligations and is inconsistent with human rights protections in its constitution.

But one option that Psaki took off the table on Friday was a potential loss of U.S. financial aid to Nigeria, saying the United States funds programs in Nigeria that are critically important.

“It’s also important to note that a great deal of our funding goes to programs including HIV prevention, human rights programs, programs that are promoting fundamental freedoms, program funding that often goes through PEPFAR,” Psaki said. “Those are programs that, obviously, we continue to support.”

Homosexual acts were already illegal in Nigeria, but the new anti-gay law signed on Jan. 7 by Nigeria President Goodluck Jonathan goes further than the existing statutes.

It bans not only same-sex marriage and same-sex relationships, but also membership in LGBT organizations. Entering into a same-sex marriage or civil union is punishable by up to 14 years in prison, and membership in an LGBT organization is punishable with jail time of up to 10 years.

The State Department had previously said it was trying to verify reports that as many as 38 gay men have been arrested and 168 others are being pursued following passage of the anti-gay law. The Associated Press reported on Friday that arrests are spreading across Nigeria and dozens more individuals perceived to be gay have been rounded up and questioned.

But Psaki on Friday said wasn’t able to provide any confirmation about arrests in terms of numbers as she reiterated U.S. concern about the media reports.

“I don’t believe I have an update on the specific numbers that have been out there,” Psaki said. “Obviously, we have expressed our concerns about these reports, expressed our concerns about the legislation as well…It’s often difficult to confirm specific numbers along those lines.”

Will Stevens, a State Department spokesperson, later told the Blade the U.S. embassy in Nigeria is working to ascertain the number of individuals perceived to be gay arrested under the law. Stevens said the State Department would provide a response by Tuesday, but it’ll probably be a “squishy number” because of the changing situation.

Asked to respond to media reports that Uganda President Yoweri Museveni has returned the “anti-homosexuality” bill to parliament, which passed the measure last month, Psaki said she was unaware of the development.

“I haven’t seen that,” Psaki said. “I’m happy to check with our team and see if we have more details on that.”

A State Department official later told the Blade the United States continues to raise concerns about the legislation in Uganda and “welcome[s] reports” that some Ugandan leaders have expressed their  opposition to the bill.

“Since the 2009 introduction of this legislation, we have consistently registered our opposition at the highest levels of government, both in Washington and in Kampala, reiterating our long-standing opposition to legislation that discriminates against LGBT individuals,” the official said.

18
Jan
2014

Putin: Gay rights protesters won’t face prosecution during Olympics

ABC News, George Stephanopoulos, Russia, Vladimir Putin, Sochi, Russia, gay news, Washington Blade

ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos interviewed Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) in Sochi, Russia, on Jan. 17. (Photo by Jeff Overs/BBC)

Russian President Vladimir Putin told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos during an interview his network aired on Sunday that those who protest the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record during the 2014 Winter Olympics will not face prosecution under Russia’s controversial law that bans gay propaganda to minors.

“Acts of protest and acts of propaganda are somewhat different things,” Putin told Stephanopoulos through a translator during an interview with him and a handful of other journalists from Russia, China and the U.K., that took place in Sochi, Russia, on Friday. “They are close, but if we were to look at them from the legal perspective, then protesting a law does not amount to propaganda of sexuality or sexual abuse of children.”

Putin once again sought to downplay concerns over the gay propaganda law ahead of the Sochi games that begin on Feb. 6 during his interview with Stephanopoulos that aired on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”

“It has nothing to do with prosecuting people for their non-traditional orientation,” he told Stephanopoulos. “In this country, everybody is absolutely equal to anybody else, irrespective of one’s religion, sex, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Everybody is equal. So no concerns exist for people who intend to come as athletes or visitors to the Olympics.”

Putin said during the interview that “homosexuality remains a felony” in some U.S. states — Stephanopoulos pointed out the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down these anti-sodomy laws.

The Russian president also noted homosexuality remains a crime in 70 countries — and seven of these nations impose the death penalty upon anyone found guilty of same-sex sexual relations.

Russia decriminalized homosexuality in 1993.

“Russia does not criminally prosecute people for being gay, unlike in over one-third of the world’s nations,” said Putin.

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin criticized Putin’s comments to Stephanopoulos.

“President Putin’s public interpretation of the country’s anti-LGBT law is beyond comprehension,” said Griffin in a statement. “This law was designed to do nothing less than secure second class status for LGBT Russians and visitors. It does nothing to protect children, but goes great lengths to harm families.

Putin spoke with Stephanopoulos and other journalists from Russia, China and the U.K. a day before authorities detained a protester who unfurled a rainbow flag as the Olympic torch relay passed through the city of Voronezh.

Putin on Friday once again sought to downplay concerns over Russia’s gay propaganda law during a meeting with Olympic volunteers in Sochi.

“We aren’t banning anything, we aren’t rounding up anyone, we have no criminal punishment for such relations unlike many other countries,” said the Russian president as the Associated Press reported. “One can feel relaxed and at ease, but please leave the children in peace.”

LGBT rights advocates blasted Putin’s comments.

“This statement demonstrates very well how the official discourse labels LGBT people as a threat to children, instilling fear and hatred in the society,” Anastasia Smirnova, spokesperson for a coalition of six Russian LGBT advocacy groups that includes the Russian LGBT Network, told the Blade on Friday.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who has frequently criticized the Kremlin over its LGBT rights record, described Putin’s comments as “sickening.”

The U.S. State Department on Jan. 10 issued an alert to Americans who plan to travel to Sochi that highlighted ongoing security concerns and the vagueness of Russia’s gay propaganda law.

“The job to Olympics host is to ensure security of the participants in the Olympics and visitors,” Putin told Stephanopoulos. “We will do whatever it takes.”

19
Jan
2014

Obama’s State of the Union light on LGBT issues

State of the Union, 2014, Barack Obama, United States House of Representatives, United States Senate, U.S. Congress, gay news, Washington Blade

President Obama was criticized by LGBT advocates over his State of the Union address. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

President Obama had few words in his State of the Union speech Tuesday night on LGBT issues, disappointing advocates who had wanted him to address the lack of federal non-discrimination protections for LGBT people.

Devoting a large portion of his speech to income equality, Obama called on on Congress to pass other initiatives — such as a Voting Rights Act, a measure to ensure equal for pay women, immigration reform — and pledged to sign an executive order raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for federal contractors.

“In the coming months, let’s see where else we can make progress together,” Obama said. “Let’s make this a year of action. That’s what most Americans want: for all of us in this chamber to focus on their lives, their hopes, their aspirations.”

LGBT advocates had been pushing Obama to include in his speech a call to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and a pledge to sign an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers.

Obama’s continued decision to withhold the LGBT executive order became more pronounced after he promised during his speech to take executive action if Congress doesn’t pass legislation, and enumerated a specific plan to boost the minimum wage through executive order. That raised questions about why he hasn’t done the same for LGBT workers.

“What I offer tonight is a set of concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class, and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class,” Obama said. “Some require congressional action, and I am eager to work with all of you. But America does not stand still — and neither will I. So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.”

But Obama’s speech wasn’t completely devoid of any references to the LGBT community. The president identified marriage equality as one of those issues with which the White House is partnering with “mayors, governors and state legislatures” on throughout the country.

Further, he said the administration pursues a robust foreign policy because “we believe in the inherent dignity and equality of every human being” regardless of categories like sexual orientation. Obama also said American values “equality under law” in his speech, which is of importance as courts decide the issue of marriage equality.

Joe Biden, John Boehner, Democratic Party, Republican Party, State of the Union, 2014, Barack Obama, United States House of Representatives, United States Senate, U.S. Congress, gay news, Washington Blade

President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House John Boehner at the 2014 State of the Union Address. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Nonetheless, the speech fell short of what LGBT advocates were calling in terms of federal workplace non-discrimination policy, prompting disappointment.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, responded the president’s failure to address LGBT issues in his speech with criticism, a striking change in tone from the organization’s usual praise of Obama as a strong LGBT ally.

“The President’s message tonight failed to address the needs of LGBT workers looking for a fair shake in this economy,” Griffin said. “Not only was there no call for the House to pass a federal law to protect LGBT workers nationwide, President Obama also sidestepped his commitment to take action where Congress has left off, leaving out an order prohibiting discrimination by federal contractors.”

Griffin added Obama “missed a real opportunity” to commit in the State of the Union to “executive action to address anti-LGBT discrimination for the millions of Americans employed by federal contractors.”

The absence of ENDA was particularly noteworthy because just months ago, for the first time in history, the Senate approved the measure on bipartisan basis, leaving the House as the only obstacle toward passage.

Although the president made no mention of ENDA during his speech, the White House included the legislation as part of a fact sheet distributed to reporters prior to the address, identifying LGBT non-discrimination as an issue in which the administration is “continuing to work with Congress.”

“Today, federal law prohibits employment discrimination based on race, sex, religion, and disability,” the fact sheet states. “It’s time to add sexual orientation and gender identity to that list, so that no American worker can lose his or her job simply because of who they are or who they love. ”

After noting that the Senate last year passed ENDA by a bipartisan vote, the fact sheet says Obama “renews his call for the House to do the same.”

Others advocates said they would continue to push Obama on the executive order despite the president’s exclusion of the directive from the State of the Union address.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said Obama’s pledge to issue an executive order on minimum wage was “great news” because it means there’s an opportunity for Obama to sign an executive order against LGBT discrimination.

“It’s disappointing ENDA did not make it into the State of the Union,” Almeida said. “But no matter what was omitted from this one address, we can still make 2014 a year of action for LGBT workplace protections by pushing the House of Representatives to allow an ENDA vote and pushing the President to keep his promise of the federal contractor executive order.”

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, gave Obama mixed reviews after previously calling on Obama to use the word “transgender” and address immigration reform during his speech in addition to LGBT workplace protections.

“The President is right to urge congress to fix our broken immigration system this year, the creation of more jobs, equal pay for women, and the restoration of the Voting Rights Act,” Carey said. “We are also pleased that the President is using his pen like he said he would to move things forward: in this instance by signing an executive order to increase the minimum wage for federal contract workers. However, he must go further and sign an executive order that bans discrimination against the same contract workers who are LGBT.”

Carey noted some of the workers who are set to receive pay raises because of the minimum wage executive order are vulnerable without the executive order for LGBT workplace non-discrimation.

“The irony is that some LGBT federal contract workers will get a pay raise but they could still be fired for who they are and who they love,” Carey said. “The longer the President waits the more damage LGBT people will face; discrimination is a painful reality that is too often the lived experience of LGBT people. The President has to act when Congress won’t.”

Gregory Angelo, executive director of the National Log Cabin Republicans, took issue with the speech as a whole, not simply for Obama’s handling of workplace issues.

“For a moment, I thought the news accidentally re-ran last year’s State of the Union, because all I really saw was more of the same,” Angelo said. “In the midst of a stagnant economy, understated unemployment, and ballooning debt, the only new ideas presented by the President involved using ‘a pen and a phone’ to push a liberal agenda for which hard-working Americans have no appetite.”

Coming off a victory in which Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) agreed to sign on as co-sponsor of ENDA, Angelo also chided Obama for his lack of attention in the State of the Union to LGBT non-discrimination in the workforce.

“While the President’s calls for a more equal nation are welcome, there is a profound irony in the absence of any mention of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act for LGBT workers tonight, and likewise in the President’s threat to exercise unilateral Executive actions with the explosive potential to ignite class warfare, while at the same time remaining silent on signing a common-sense Executive Order barring federal workplace discrimination: an empty promise to LGBT Americans that stands unfulfilled after six years,” Angelo said.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, defended the speech by saying it wasn’t “a comprehensive list of all of the president’s positions or priorities. ”

“The President has long supported ENDA, and its inclusion in our fact sheet reflects the President’s belief that Congress needs to act,” Inouye said.

Among the guests seated behind first lady Michelle Obama in her box during the speech was Jason Collins, a former Washington Wizards center who made headlines last year after coming out as gay.

Following the speech, lawmakers who spoke to the Washington Blade on Capitol Hill said they noted the absence of the ENDA in his speech, but felt assured by the president’s leadership.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said she thinks the minimum wage executive order will be a “down payment” on an LGBT directive the president will issue at a later time, but took issue with the lack of any mention of ENDA.

“I would love to have seen a mention, and I don’t think I saw, other than a passing mention of the LGBT community,” Norton said. “I think the way to have done it, frankly, would have been with ENDA, because ENDA is overwhelmingly supported by the American people. It’s already been supported by the Senate. It’s ripe, so I am disappointed that that did not occur, but I’m heartened that he’s going to move, and, frankly, I think we can get ENDA out of here in the next year or two.”

Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), one of seven openly gay members of the U.S. House, said he was confident Obama would take executive action to protect LGBT workers based on his previous actions.

“I tell you, 2013 was one of the gayest years in the history of human kind, and this president has used his executive orders already in how he’s interpreted the Supreme Court decisions, the way he’s applied in the ruling in the Windsor case, in ways that have been very favorable,” Takano said. “He’s done that through executive orders and interpretations, so he’s already used his executive order in the gayest way possible. So, I have hope that he’ll continue to do so.”

Mark Takano, California, Democratic Party, United States House of Representatives, Congress, gay news, Washington Blade, State of the Union Address, 2014

Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) at the 2014 State of the Union Address. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

29
Jan
2014

Obama must keep promise to LGBT workers

Barack Obama, LGBT workers, Election 2012, gay news, Washington Blade, Affordable Care Act, Obamacare

President Barack Obama (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

President Obama signed two more executive orders continuing to make good on his promise to move issues forward that aren’t being dealt with by Congress. Many applaud his efforts because waiting for this Congress to act is like “Waiting for Godot.”

Women were the beneficiaries of the two executive orders he signed last week. The time is way past due for us to deal with the disparities in pay between men and women in the workplace. The New York Times reported, “He signed two executive measures intended to help close longstanding pay disparities between men and women as Democrats seek to capitalize on their gender-gap advantage at the ballot box in a midterm election year.”

The Times continued, “Mr. Obama, standing in front of a platform of women in a picture-ready ceremony in the East Room of the White House, said his actions would make it easier for women to learn whether they had been cheated by employers. He called on Congress to pass legislation that would take more significant steps.”

In signing these executive orders the president has put the Republican Party on the defensive and raised the question of why anyone would be opposed to equal pay for equal work. This continuing economic inequality is just another indication that the fight for equal rights for women is not yet won. Whether it is equal pay or the right to control their healthcare, the current leadership of the Republican Party thinks the way to move forward is to go back to the 18th century.

So I join with others who believe the president is taking the right position by signing these orders while at the same time imploring Congress to move on legislation in these areas. What I question is why he seems so averse to moving the ball forward when it comes to LGBT employment rights. While he is fighting for equal pay for women, there are lesbians who can’t even get employment because of discrimination. For them it’s not about equal pay it’s about any pay.

There are lesbian heads of household who are being denied employment by federal contractors because the president refuses to make good on a campaign promise from his 2008 campaign. At that time he ran on a slogan of “Hope and Change” and the LGBT community by large majorities supported him because of that. They put their trust in him to bring about positive change for the community.

In many ways both large and small he has done that. The president’s evolving to support marriage equality has been life altering for many in the community. It has allowed many people to have their families be fully recognized. He has hired members of the LGBT community on his staff and throughout government. He spoke out about equality for the LGBT community around the world at the United Nations and has made a huge statement to the world about our belief in equality by naming a number of openly LGBT persons to be ambassadors.

So what is stopping him from issuing the order to bar anti-LGBT workplace bias among federal contractors? This lack of action on his part is so perplexing given the other efforts he has made to move the ball forward toward full civil and human rights for the LGBT community.

Recently the White House press office stated that the president believes that signing this order would be redundant. The Washington Blade reported that Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign referring to the executive orders the president signed said, “Issuing these executive orders helps build momentum for Congress to act on paycheck fairness legislation. The exact same logic applies to the executive order that would afford protections to the LGBT workers of federal contractors. By the stroke of his pen, the president can immediately protect over 16 million workers and pressure Congress to pass ENDA. There is simply no reason for President Obama to wait one second longer.”

Anyone who believes in equality must join with the 47 senators and 148 representatives who have sent a letter calling on the president to sign the order. President Obama: the time to keep your promise is NOW.

17
Apr
2014

HRC urges feds to recognize Utah same-sex marriages

Human Rights Campaign, American Foundation for Equal Rights, AFER, HRC, marriage equality, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, Virginia, Chad Griffin, Tom Shuttleworth, Carol Schall, Emily, Mary Townley, Adam Umhoefer, David Boies, Ted Olson, Tim Bostic, Washington Blade, Tony London

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin is calling on the Obama administration to recognize Utah same-sex marriages. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The nation’s largest LGBT organization is formally calling on the Obama administration to recognize as valid the estimated 1,300 same-sex marriages performed in Utah.

In a letter dated Jan. 9 and obtained by the Washington Blade, Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, writes to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder “there is no legal reason to question” the validity of same-sex marriages performed in the state before the Supreme Court issued a stay on the weddings.

“Given this landscape of facts, there is simply no reason for the United States government not to extend federal recognition to these more than 1,300 couples,” Griffin writes.

Griffin ticks off several reasons why the marriages should be considered valid — despite a recent decision from Utah Gov. Gary Herbert to hold off on recognizing Utah same-sex marriages until the litigation that enabled them is complete.

“Each was legally performed by a clerk representing the State of Utah, in accordance with the state’s statutes and constitution,” Griffin writes. “Even the office of the governor of Utah—whose formal political position is one of opposition to marriage equality—urged state agencies to extend state marriage recognition to these couples during that 20 day period when same-sex marriages were being performed. Even though the governor’s office has now made a political decision to cut off this recognition, it continues to insist that it makes no pronouncement about the validity of these unions.”

A Justice Department spokesperson confirmed receipt of the letter, but declined further comment. Earlier this week, Dena Iverson, a Justice Department spokesperson, said the department is reviewing the Utah governor’s as part of its determination on whether the federal government will recognize the unions.

Same-sex couples began marrying in Utah on Dec. 20 as a result of ruling from U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby striking down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, known as Amendment 3, as unconstitutional. However, the Supreme Court placed a stay on these marriages on Monday, resulting in Utah saying it would place on hold recognition of these unions until the litigation is resolved in the courts.

But the letter to Holder isn’t the only missive HRC sent out on Thursday. The organization also sent out a letter to each of the attorneys general in the 18 states where same-sex marriage is recognized to urge them to recognize the Utah same-sex unions.

“Should any of these couples be residents of, travel through, or relocate to your state, there is simply no reason to treat their marriage differently from any other, and I urge you to issue an advisory opinion declaring that treating all legally-conferred marriages consistently as a matter of equal protection and basic justice is consistent with the public policy of your state,” Griffin writes.

Notably, D.C. isn’t included in the letter, even though same-sex marriage was legalized there in 2009.

According to Utah TV affiliate Fox 13, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes suggested that others states may be able to recognize same-sex marriages performed in Utah, even though Utah won’t recognize them.

“It’s not invalidating it in the same way that if they went to Hawaii, they could potentially apply for benefits there based on the marriage that took place. They can’t be recognized (here),” Reyes reportedly said. “There is a very fine distinction, but a very important distinction based on those two things.”

09
Jan
2014

Maryland to recognize Utah same-sex marriages

Doug Gansler, gay news, Washington Blade

Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler on Friday said his state would recognize same-sex marriages performed in Utah.

“Maryland will continue to recognize valid out-of-state same-sex marriages as we continue to strengthen the Constitution’s promise of equal protection under the law,” said Gansler. “It is an affront to the idea of basic human rights that the battle for full marriage equality in this country remains in headlines and courtrooms.”

Gansler told the Washington Blade his office on Thursday received a call from a gay Maryland couple who married in Utah about whether the state would recognize their union.

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin on the same day urged him and attorneys general in the 17 other states that have extended marriage rights to gays and lesbians to recognize the marriages of the more than 1,300 same-sex couples who exchanged vows after U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby struck down the Beehive State’s gay nuptials ban. The U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 6 blocked any future same-sex marriages from taking place in Utah until the case is resolved.

“Should any of these couples be residents of, travel through, or relocate to your state, there is simply no reason to treat their marriage differently from any other,” wrote Griffin.

HRC spokesperson Fred Sainz described Gansler’s announcement to the Blade as “another win for justice, dignity and equality.”

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder earlier on Friday announced the federal government will recognize same-sex marriages performed in Utah between Dec. 20 and Jan. 6. This announcement came two days after Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said his state would not recognize the aforementioned unions pending the outcome of his administration’s appeal of Shelby’s ruling.

Gansler in 2008 became the first statewide official to back marriage rights for same-sex couples in Maryland when he testified in support of gay nuptials during a state Senate committee hearing. He wrote an opinion in 2010 that said Maryland would recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other jurisdictions.

“We’ve just said of course based on our previous opinion, we of course would welcome those couples here,” Gansler told the Blade. “Public policy would dictate that least in those 18 states (in which nuptials for gays and lesbians are legal) the marriages from Utah would be recognized.”

Gansler added he hopes the Supreme Court will agree to hear the Utah case and determine whether the denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples is constitutional.

“The hope is that this Utah case would be taken at the Supreme Court, which issued the injunction,” he told the Blade. “Staying the decision is indication the Supreme Court would take the case and finally put to rest the issue of whether or not the prohibition of same-sex marriage is constitutional. And clearly it’s not.”

Gansler is currently running to succeed Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.

He will face Lieutenant Gov. Anthony Brown and state Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery County) in the Democratic primary in June.

10
Jan
2014

Pope says gays should not be marginalized

Pope Francis I, Catholic Church, gay news, Washington Blade

Pope Francis (Photo by Roberto Stuckert Filho via Wikimedia Commons)

Pope Francis on Monday said gay men and lesbians should not be judged or marginalized.

“If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and is of good will, who am I to judge him?” he told reporters in response to a question about gay priests as he returned to Rome after his week-long trip to Brazil for World Youth Day as La Nación, an Argentine newspaper reported.

Francis’ comments come amid renewed calls to welcome gays and lesbians back into the church following Pope Benedict XVI’s abrupt resignation in February.

“You are made in God’s image and likeness,” New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos during an interview in March. “We want your happiness… and you’re entitled to friendship.”

Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez of the Archdiocese of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic late last month referred to James “Wally” Brewster, an openly gay man whom President Obama nominated to become the next American ambassador to the Caribbean country, as a “maricón” or “faggot” in Spanish during a press conference.

Francis himself seemed to echo Dolan’s call during his comments to reporters.

“The Catechism of the Catholic church explains this in a very clear way,” the pontiff told reporters. “It says that these people should not be marginalized. They should be integrated into society.”

Majority of Catholics back same-sex marriage; hierarchy remains opposed

A Quinnipiac University poll in March found that 54 percent of Catholics support marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley is among the Catholic state executives who have signed same-sex marriage measures into law.

Catholic hierarchy continues to oppose the issue in spite of this increased support.

“Marriage exists obviously we believe by the will of God because the sexual orientation between men and women tends to create babies,” Father Leonard Klein of the Diocese of Wilmington (Del.) said before Delaware Gov. Jack Markell signed a bill into law that extended marriage to same-sex couples in the state.

Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Diocese of Providence (R.I.) in May also spoke out against the issue in a letter to Rhode Island Catholics before Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed his state’s same-sex marriage bill into law.

“Like many others, I am profoundly disappointed that Rhode Island has approved legislation that seeks to legitimize ‘same-sex marriage,’” Tobin wrote.

Francis, who was among the most prominent opponents of efforts to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in his native Argentina, also spoke out against what he described as the “gay lobby” within the Vatican. These comments came in response to questions over the reported homosexuality of Monsignor Battista Ricca, whom the pontiff last month appointed to oversee the Vatican bank, that began to emerge last week in the Italian press.

“When one encounters a person like this, one have to distinguish between the act of being gay and lobbying, because no lobby is good,” Francis said. “The problem is not having this orientation. We must be brothers. The problem is lobbying.”

The Archdiocese of Washington did not have an immediate comment on Francis’ statements.

“He’s articulating well in a beautifully tender way the traditional teaching of the church,” Dolan said during an interview on “CBS This Morning” on Tuesday. “While certain acts may be wrong, we will always love and respect the person and treat the person with dignity.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, an LGBT Catholic organization, told the Washington Blade she welcomes what she described as a “change of tone from the very harsh and damaging rhetoric” of Benedict and his predecessor, Pope John Paul II.

“We hope it translates into similar expressions of openness among bishops and cardinals here in the U.S. and in other countries,” Duddy-Burke said. “The best news would be if the Pope indicates a willingness to begin a dialogue with LGBT Catholics and our families about our experience in the Church and in our societies. He’s shown humility in walking with other marginalized groups. We’d hope it would extend to us, as well.”

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin struck a similar tone.

“While Pope Francis’s words do not reflect a shift in Church policy, they represent a significant change in tone,” he said. “Like his namesake, Francis’s humility and respect for human dignity are showing through, and the widespread positive response his words have received around the world reveals that Catholics everywhere are thirsty for change.”

Esteban Paulón, president of the LGBT Federation of Argentina, highlighted the pontiff’s opposition to same-sex marriage in Argentina.

“A profound self-criticism on the part of the church hierarchy about the position it has historically taken with regard to lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people is essential,” Paulón said in a statement. “Let’s not forget that this same pope that today said don’t judge us the same man who called for ‘a holy war against the devil’s plan’ to block the same-sex marriage law. These types of declarations, coming from the top of the Catholic church hierarchy, only promote hate and discrimination.”

29
Jul
2013

LGBT advocates outside Supreme Court remain ‘optimistic’

Proposition 8, Prop 8, DOMA, Defense of Marriage Act, Supreme Court, gay rights, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade

Activists held signs and a flag in front of the Supreme Court in hopes of a decision on the Proposition 8 and Defense of Marriage Act cases. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Same-sex marriage supporters who gathered outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday said they remain hopeful the justices will strike down California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act.

“We’re hopeful and optimistic that even out of a conservative court is going to come a strong opinion for equality,” Jonathan Lewis of Brookline, Mass., told the Washington Blade as he stood outside the court with his husband of nearly six years, Jonathan Adlar, and their 10-week-old son.

David Baker, a D.C. resident who is originally from Salt Lake City, held a sign outside the Supreme Court that read “Gay Mormon for marriage equality.”

He told the Blade shortly after he learned the justices would not issue a ruling on the Prop 8 and DOMA cases until at least Tuesday that he feels “civil marriage is a civil right.” Baker, who is also a member of Affirmation, an LGBT Mormon group, added same-sex couples in Utah and other states without marriage rights for gays and lesbians would receive federal benefits if the justices strike down DOMA.

“What’s going through my mind is a lot of hopes and prayers that things break our way — that things break for the right side of history,” Baker said.

Gays and lesbians can legally marry in nine states and D.C.

Delaware’s same-sex marriage law will take effect on July 1. Gays and lesbians in Minnesota and Rhode Island will be able to exchange vows as of August 1, while four Michigan lawmakers on Monday introduced a bill that would allow nuptials for same-sex couples in their state.

Supreme Court passersby largely support same-sex marriage

One man held a poster of a gay couple kissing with the word “sodomy” written beneath it as he stood across the street from the Supreme Court on Monday as the decisions were announced. The vast majority of passersby and others who have gathered outside the court over the last week, however, have supported same-sex marriage.

“It will change everyone’s lives, make it so much more fair and equitable,” Mara McKennen of Richmond, Va., told the Blade on Friday as she watched Dennis Niekro and Paul Richmond of Columbus, Ohio, and 24 other same-sex couples marry at the Supreme Court.

Elizabeth North of Florida added she feels a decision that would strike down DOMA would help same-sex marriage advocates in the Sunshine State who last week launched a campaign to overturn a 2008 constitutional amendment that bans nuptials for gays and lesbians.

“It just gives us a leg to stand on,” she told the Blade. “It gives us something to fight with.”

Gwenn Andrix, a transgender woman from Bowling Green, Ohio, who also traveled to D.C. on Friday to attend the mass same-sex wedding that took place outside the Supreme Court, agreed as she held LGBT and trans Pride flags.

“I’m hoping they (the justices) move the country forward,” she told the Blade.

Kris Perry, Sandy Stier, Paul Katami, Jeff Zarillo, Proposition 8, Prop 8, DOMA, Defense of Marriage Act, Supreme Court, gay rights, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade

Kris Perry and Sandy Stier and Paul Katami and Jeff Zarillo, plaintiffs in the Proposition 8 case, enter the Supreme Court. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Kris Perry and Sandy Stier and Paul Katami and Jeff Zarillo, plaintiffs in the Prop 8 case, did not speak to reporters as they left the Supreme Court with Ted Olson and David Boies and Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin, who co-founded the American Foundation for Equal Rights that filed the lawsuit against California’s voter-approved same-sex marriage ban.

“Obviously we all want to get these rulings and are hopeful that they’re going to be everything we want,” Freedom to Marry President Evan Wolfson told the Blade on Monday as he left the Supreme Court. “What we know is no matter what the court does, we have to keep pushing. And we have victory within reach as long as we keep reaching.”

24
Jun
2013

New House bill seeks to aid LGBT homeless youth

Gwen Moore, Mark Pocan, Wisconsin, Democratic Party, United States House of Representatives, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) and Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) have introduced a bill to support LGBT homeless youth (Photo of Moore public domain; Washington Blade photo of Pocan by Michael Key).

Homeless shelters that receive federal funds won’t be able to discriminate against LGBT youth if new legislation introduced in the House is signed into law.

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), one of six openly gay members of the U.S. House, introduced the legislation, known as the Runaway & Homeless Youth Act, along with Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) on Thursday.

In a statement, Pocan called passing the legislation a “moral responsibility” to ensure that LGBT homeless youth have access to “life-saving services and safe, welcoming places to stay.”

“Homelessness is one of the most pressing matters affecting LGBT youth,” Pocan said. “Young people in the LGBT community are disproportionately at-risk for homelessness, often as a result of the rejection, discrimination, or violence they face simply for being themselves.”

The bill seeks to amend the Reconnecting Homeless Youth Act — which was last authorized in 2008 and is up for reauthorization this year — in key ways to make the law LGBT-inclusive.

Staff for Pocan and Moore said they hope to pass the bill as part of Reconnecting Homeless Youth Act reauthorization this year and are working with House and Senate leaders to encourage them to include the bill.

The bill would prohibit discrimination against LGBT youth at homeless shelters that receive federal funds and require grant recipients to have the cultural competency to serve these youth. Additionally, the bill would provide resources to support services for families struggling with the sexual orientation or gender identity of their children.

Further, the Runaway & Homeless Youth Inclusion Act would require the Family & Youth Service Bureau at the Department of Health & Human Services to compile comprehensive data on the pervasiveness of the LGBT youth homelessness problem.

According to a report last year from the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, LGBT youth comprise 40 percent of the clientele served by homeless shelters. The study identifies family rejection as the most heavily cited reason for LGBT youth homelessness.

In an interview with the Washington Blade last month, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin identified youth homelessness as one LGBT issue that doesn’t receive enough attention in the media, saying the issue came up on his recently completed Southern tour.

“I was talking to a number of folks in North Carolina about the homeless youth issue, and the issue of homelessness,” Griffin said. “There are a number of ways to combat that problem. One of them is direct service providing and the need for public funds to do that.”

01
Aug
2013

What’s next for gay couples after court decisions on marriage?

Jeff Zarillo, Paul Katami, Sandy Stier, Kris Perry, David Boies, Chad Griffin, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, Proposition 8, Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA, Prop 8, California, Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade

Jeff Zarillo speaking to the press following the Supreme Court’s ruling on DOMA and Proposition 8. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Supreme Court rulings against the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 are providing new momentum to the LGBT rights movement as advocates are pushing for officials to interpret the decisions as broadly as possible.

The court ruling against DOMA is complex because it means that new benefits will be available to same-sex couples if they’re married. But there still is an issue with some of these benefits even with DOMA gone.

Some of these benefits, like Social Security survivor benefits and tax benefits, are in question because federal law governing these issues looks at a state where a couple lives as opposed to whether they were legally married. That means a gay couple that marries in a state like New York, but moves to Florida, won’t be able to apply for these benefits while living there.

James Esseks, director of the American Civil Liberties Union LGBT Project, said while explaining the decision that the Obama administration can interpret the rulings in a broad manner to ensure all federal benefits flow to married same-sex couples regardless of the state in which they live.

In almost all contexts, the Obama administration has the ability and the flexibility to move to a rule where they look to the law of the state in which you got married, not the state in which you live,” Esseks said. “So we expect and hope that the federal government is going to update those rules … and that would mean that once you get married, you’re married for federal purposes forever. That’s what we think the right rule is, and that’s the rule we think the administration can get to.”

Esseks added there “are a small number of contexts” in which the administration can’t do it alone and Congress has a statute prohibiting certain benefits from flowing to married same-sex couples so passage of the Respect for Marriage Act is necessary to address those issues.

That sentiment was expressed by Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin, who in a statement called on the administration to interpret the DOMA ruling broadly.

“Federal recognition for lesbian and gay couples is a massive turning point for equality, but it is not enough until every family is guaranteed complete access to the protections they need regardless of state borders,” Griffin said. “The administration must take every possible step to ensure this landmark ruling treats every lawfully married couple across the country with the equality our Constitution guarantees.”

Following the court decision against DOMA, Holder issued a statement saying he’ll “work expeditiously with other Executive Branch agencies” to ensure they comply with the court decision. President Obama issued a statement earlier in the day indicating he had given Holder this task.

“As we move forward in a manner consistent with the Court’s ruling, the Department of Justice is committed to continuing this work, and using every tool and legal authority available to us to combat discrimination and to safeguard the rights of all Americans,” Holder said.

In a subsequent statement, Griffin said he spoke with Holder over the phone about the DOMA decision and was told the administration would go through a thoughtful and deliberative process to implement the ruling.

A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Obama himself also held a call on Wednesday with “a group of marriage equality advocates, faith leaders, elected officials, and allies” on the rulings in the DOMA and Prop 8 cases.

With the court ruling, one change is certain. Bi-national same-sex couples will now be able to apply for visas through the I-130 marriage-based green card application. Immigration law looks to the state in which a couple was married as opposed to the state in which a couple lives in determining whether a couple is eligible for a visa.

Rachel Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, said in a statement praising the court ruling that no barrier remains precluding the granting of visas to ensure bi-national same-sex couples can remain together in the United States.

“At long last, we can now tell our families that yes, they are eligible to apply for green cards,” Tiven said. “Many of our families have waited years, and in some cases decades, for the green card they need to keep their families together. Couples forced into exile will be coming home soon. Americans separated from their spouses are now able to prepare for their reunion.”

Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano applauded the ruling.

“This discriminatory law denied thousands of legally married same-sex couples many important federal benefits, including immigration benefits,” she said. “ … Working with our federal partners, including the Department of Justice, we will implement today’s decision so that all married couples will be treated equally and fairly in the administration of our immigration laws.”

The ruling also means the issue of whether bi-national same-sex couples should be included as part of comprehensive immigration reform pending before the Senate is off the table. Senate Judiciary Committee Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) had filed the amendment in the event of a Supreme Court ruling against same-sex couples in the DOMA case.

Calling the Supreme Court ruling against DOMA “a major step toward full equality,” Leahy announced that he would no longer pursue the amendment for bi-national same-sex couples.

“With the Supreme Court’s decision today, however, it appears that the anti-discrimination principle that I have long advocated will apply to our immigration laws and binational couples and their families can now be united under the law,” Leahy said. “As a result of this welcome decision, I will not be seeking a floor vote on my amendment.”

Also expected to come to an end is the preclusion of major benefits — such as health and pension benefits — from flowing to gay employees with same-sex spouses.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a statement following the court decisions that the Pentagon “welcomes” the ruling on DOMA and is prepared to offer these benefits to troops with same-sex partners.

“The department will immediately begin the process of implementing the Supreme Court’s decision in consultation with the Department of Justice and other executive branch agencies,” Hagel said. “The Department of Defense intends to make the same benefits available to all military spouses — regardless of sexual orientation — as soon as possible. That is now the law and it is the right thing to do.”

The Pentagon was already in the process of granting additional spousal benefits to gay troops available under current law, such as military IDs, which was expected to come to an end this year. It remains to be seen what impact the court decision will have on this process.

Elaine Kaplan, a lesbian and acting director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, said her agency is beginning to examine the issue of benefits that will be afforded to federal employees for same-sex couples, but additional waiting time is necessary.

“While we recognize that our married gay and lesbian employees have already waited too long for this day, we ask for their continued patience as we take the steps necessary to review the Supreme Court’s decision and implement it,” Kaplan said.

The situation resulting from the ruling in the Proposition 8 case is less complex because it only involves whether the State of California can resume granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples. But California officials say they’re prepared to recognize marriage equality in the state.

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D-Calif.) said in a statement he’s prepared to allow clerks to distribute marriage licenses to same-sex couples as soon as the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals lifts its stay.

“After years of struggle, the U.S. Supreme Court today has made same-sex marriage a reality in California,” Brown said. “In light of the decision, I have directed the California Department of Public Health to advise the state’s counties that they must begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in California as soon as the Ninth Circuit confirms the stay is lifted.”

Both rulings have stirred calls for the expansion of marriage equality into additional states. Speaking before the Supreme Court, HRC President Chad Griffin cried out those who came to celebrate, “Let’s set a new goal: within five years, we will bring marriage equality to all 50 states in the U.S.”

Considering some states would need at least four years to lift their bans on same-sex marriage through the legislative process, Griffin’s call would likely require another lawsuit that would spread marriage equality throughout the country much like the 1967 case of Loving v. Virginia brought to an end all state bans on interracial marriage.

ACLU’s Esseks said the ruling in the case against DOMA might have an impact on new litigation seeking marriage equality in all 50 states, but said Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the opinion in a way that was restrictive in its implications.

“It certainly won’t hurt, but Kennedy was careful to write it in a way that doesn’t directly address the broader freedom to marry issue,” Esseks said.

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, said he thinks the decisions would make an additional lawsuit more likely to succeed.

“The best way to win is not ‘just’ to file a lawsuit, it’s to bring that lawsuit on the strength of having won more states and more support, setting the stage for victory,” Wolfson said. “That’s the winning strategy that has brought us this far, and it is the winning Freedom to Marry strategy that will bring us to victory nationwide — if we keep doing the work.”

26
Jun
2013