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New book on marriage equality assailed as ‘travesty’

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 lionized in “Forcing the Spring” for his role in the marriage movement. (Blade file by Michael Key)

A new book on the advancement of marriage equality and the lawsuit that overturned Proposition 8 is stirring controversy over its lionization of HRC President Chad Griffin and its depiction of the federal lawsuit he helped initiate against the California ban.

The book, “Forcing the Spring,” was written by Jo Becker, a New York Times journalist who was embedded with Griffin and the Prop 8 team as their lawsuit moved forward. The book hit shelves on Tuesday, but has already incurred the ire of many in the LGBT movement who say it heaps too much praise on Griffin and ignores others who led the marriage equality effort for decades.

The notion that Griffin, a board member of American Foundation for Equal Rights, is the hero who saved the marriage equality movement pervades the 437-page work.

One part of the book that addresses his move to D.C. in 2012 to become head of the Human Rights Campaign includes a farewell discussion in which fellow AFER board member Rob Reiner says of Griffin, “If there ever is going to be — and there will be at some point — the first gay president, you’re looking at him.”

As noted by gay blogger Andrew Sullivan in his tirade against the book, “Forcing the Spring” opens with a comparison of Griffin and civil rights icon Rosa Parks, saying a revolution begins when someone “grows tired of standing idly by” against the tide of injustice.

“It begins when a black seamstress named Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat on a bus to white man in the segregated South,” Becker writes. “And in this story, it begins with a handsome, bespectacled thirty-five-year old political consultant named Chad Griffin, in a spacious suite at the Westin St. Francis hotel in San Francisco on election night 2008.”

It’s this comparison between Griffin and the iconic figure of the black civil rights movement that Sullivan, who helped pioneer the idea of same-sex marriage in the 1990s, says is only the start of “jaw-dropping distortion” throughout the book.

Andrew Lane, a prominent New York-based gay donor, called the book a “travesty” and said Becker knew that was the case as she was putting the book together.

“She chose to give us a shallow and incomplete history that fetishizes the role of celebrities and PR hacks and either trashes or ignores the real heroes who fought for years to help make the moment possible,” Lane said. “That vapid gay men are attempting to re-write history by centering themselves is not news. That they conscripted a New York Times reporter to do the heavy lifting for them certainly is.”

HRC didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment on the perception that Griffin and the Prop 8 case are given undue credit in the book for their role in the marriage equality movement.

A significant portion of the book is devoted to the behind-the-scenes action leading to President Obama’s announcement in favor of marriage equality in 2012. Although Obama campaigned in 2008 in opposition to same-sex marriage (despite supporting it in 1996), he later said he could evolve on the issue, leading to his announcement in favor of same-sex marriage during his re-election campaign.

According to the book, when Vice President Joseph Biden appeared to endorse same-sex marriage on NBC’s “Meet the Press” just days before Obama’s announcement, the White House reacted furiously. In a chain of emails sent through the White House, senior adviser to the president Valerie Jarrett through an intermediary accused Biden of “downright disloyalty.”

Griffin gets credit as a key voice for moving these evolutions forward. A passage in the book recounts Griffin briefly asking the president during a fundraiser, “How can we help you evolve more quickly?” Obama gave a non-committed response, but pointed to his work on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and the Defense of Marriage Act as evidence of his commitment to LGBT rights.

Further, it recounts Griffin attending a Los Angeles fundraiser with Biden prior to his appearance on “Meet the Press.” After Griffin asked Biden what he really thinks about marriage equality, the vice president said being against it in the future will be a “political liability.” A top Biden aide is quoted as saying it was a moment when “his hard drive got erased.”

John Aravosis, editor of AMERICAblog, criticized the depiction of Griffin as being a driving factor in Obama’s evolution, especially because others who contributed to the effort — like his own blogger who got Obama to say he could evolve on marriage — are absent from the book.

“I had high hopes for Chad taking over HRC, and said so publicly, but I don’t honestly know what Chad did to get the president to evolve on marriage,” Aravosis said. “You wouldn’t know it from Jo Becker’s self-proclaimed ‘definitive account’ of the gay marriage battle these past five years, but the president used that word in response to a question from then-AMERICAblog deputy editor Joe Sudbay, who questioned the president in the White House in October of 2010. Becker gives neither Joe, nor AMERICAblog, any credit, for the now-famous answer.”

Also depicted as contributing to Obama’s evolution on marriage is Ken Mehlman, the former head of the Republican National  Committee who came out as gay in 2010. Mehlman attended Harvard with Obama, so the two had known each other for decades.

According to the book, Mehlman e-mailed Obama senior adviser David Plouffe some talking points and suggested soft lighting for the interview and that it be conducted by a female reporter (it ended up being Robin Roberts of “Good Morning America,” who was closeted at the time).

It’s not the first time the events leading up to Obama’s announcement in favor of same-sex marriage have been reported. The 2013 book “Double Down,” which chronicles Obama’s re-election campaign, also discusses the lead-up to the endorsement. The book similarly recounts the fervor in the White House after Biden’s words on “Meet the Press” and Mehlman’s advice to Obama for his interview, although Griffin makes no appearance in that narrative.

While praising Griffin, the book doesn’t present as favorable an image of other leaders in the marriage equality movement. Among them is Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, who spoke out on marriage equality when it was much less popular — even among LGBT rights groups — in the 1990s.

One portion of the book disparages Wolfson for having unkind words for “Milk” screenwriter and AFER board member Dustin Lance Black after he pledged in his Oscar acceptance speech that equal rights will come very soon for gay people across America.

“Wolfson had berated the younger man over his Oscar speech, explaining as though to a willing but ignorant child his ongoing, twenty-five year plan to build support for marriage equality,” Becker writes. “Twenty-five years? Black had practically gasped. But he had said little; it was intimidating, to say the least, to be dressed down by a pioneer of the marriage equality movement.”

In response to a Blade inquiry on whether he’s given a fair shake in the book, Wolfson spoke in holistic terms on progress made on marriage equality and future goals to advance it further.

“As a movement, we have secured a strong majority of public support for the freedom to marry and a critical mass of Americans living in marriage states,” Wolfson said. “Together, we gutted the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, and, as we again head toward the Supreme Court, have built irrefutable momentum showing America is ready. But we are not done. Freedom to Marry is going to stay focused on finishing the job and achieving the goal we’ve long been aiming toward: winning marriage nationwide.”

Another person whose role is minimized in the book is Mary Bonauto, the civil rights director at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, who successfully argued the case almost 11 years ago that brought marriage equality to Massachusetts, making it the first state in the country with same-sex marriage. She has also led efforts against the Defense of Marriage Act.

Her role in “Forcing the Spring” is reduced to commending the Prop 8 lawsuit for enabling a trial of the issue of marriage equality. “They turned that trial into a truth commission,” Bonauto is quoted as saying of the attorneys behind the lawsuit.

Carisa Cunningham, a GLAD spokesperson, dismissed the omission of Bonauto’s work on marriage equality by saying the book was meant to capture the narrative of another effort to advance the cause.

“This book wasn’t Mary’s story, and it’s clearly not a history of the movement,” Cunningham said. ”Someday someone will write a book about Mary, and in the meantime, Mary’s story has been told in plenty of public ways and she and GLAD get a lot of well-deserved credit. We’re in it for the work – on principle and how it makes a difference in people’s lives.”

Cunningham also criticized the depiction of Griffin in the book, saying although he offered significant contributions to advancing marriage equality, the book “may do a disservice to those contributions by portraying him as a savior of the movement.”

But the crux of the book is that the lawsuit against Prop 8 litigated by Ted Olson and David Boies restructured the marriage movement. The title itself, “Forcing the Spring,” suggests the Prop 8 case was responsible for bringing marriage equality to the entire country — or at least getting the ball rolling for successes in other states besides California.

But it was the decision in the DOMA case — not the Prop 8 case — that established legal precedent enabling courts since that ruling to rule in favor of marriage equality in now 10 states. The U.S. Supreme Court on the Prop 8 case sidestepped the merits of whether a state can ban same-sex marriage, ruling that proponents of the law had no standing to defend the ban in court after California state officials declined to do so.

The conclusion of Becker’s account gives credit to the lawsuit against DOMA, but says the arguments in the Prop 8 case influenced U.S. Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy’s decision in striking down the federal law.

“By intertwining arguments from both cases, Kennedy gave the Windsor decision a heft and precedential value it might not otherwise have had, providing powerful legal ammunition for a slew of future challenges to state bans on same-sex marriage,” Becker writes.

It should be noted, as previously reported by the Blade, that Olson and Boies’ assistance in the Prop 8 lawsuit came with a hefty $6.4 million price tag. Moreover, HRC, now headed by Griffin, was among the nine signatories of a letter that came out the day before the Prop 8 lawsuit was filed and urged restraint in taking the case to court.

“It is by no means clear that a federal challenge to Prop. 8 can win now,” the letter says. “And an unsuccessful challenge may delay marriage even longer, not only in California but in other states, and seriously damage the rights of LGBT people on many other important issues.”

Nonetheless, HRC in the past week has been promoting the book and its depiction of the Prop 8 case in various blog postings on the organization’s website. One March 26 posting in the weeks prior to the publication of the book calls it “an unparalleled testament to the last five years in the American civil rights movement.”

Suzanne Goldberg, co-director for Columbia University’s Center for Gender & Sexuality Law, said she’s read the Becker book and faulted Becker for not telling the Prop 8 story in a way that better shows its place among other contributions to the marriage movement.

“I think the Perry case was, along with other cases, legislative and community-based advocacy, influential in shaping the marriage equality movement,” Goldberg said. ”The problem with Jo Becker’s book is not the up-close story she tells about the Prop 8 case and media work, which in itself is interesting, but rather the uncritical telling of that story as an account of the marriage equality movement. There are numerous places where she gives both the case and the media advocates far more credit for inventing advocacy strategies and changing the landscape than either deserves.”

22
Apr
2014

Bowser to perform gay campaign manager’s wedding

D.C. Council member and mayoral candidate Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) says she will perform a wedding Saturday for her gay campaign manager and his partner.

“This Saturday, my campaign manager, Bo Shuff, will marry the love of his life, Sean Farrell,” Bowser said in a statement released by her campaign. “A little while ago, Bo and Sean asked me to officiate their wedding. I am honored by their request, and I can’t wait to share in their joy.”

Shuff, who has worked on political campaigns in various parts of the country before moving to D.C., is credited with helping Bowser win the city’s hotly contested Democratic mayoral primary on April 1. He’s continuing as Bowser’s campaign manager for the November general election.

Shuff told the Blade on Thursday that the wedding will take place at a D.C. hotel and is limited to family and friends. He said he and Farrell chose to get married on the occasion of their 12th anniversary as a couple.

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and at least two other Council members – Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) have performed same-sex weddings since a recently enacted D.C. law that authorizes the mayor and members of the Council to perform weddings took effect last year.

Council member David Catania (I-At-Large), one of Bowser’s two main rivals in the November mayoral election, was the author and lead sponsor of the 2009 legislation that legalized same-sex marriage in D.C.

In her email message announcing she would be performing Shuff and Farrell’s wedding Bowser called on supporters to make a contribution to the LGBT group Freedom to Marry, which has coordinated efforts on behalf of marriage equality throughout the country.

“I only wish the District had votes in Congress so we could voice our support for marriage equality at the federal level,” Bowser said. “One thing we can do, however, is support organizations like Freedom to Marry who are fighting for marriage equality in courtrooms across our country.”

 

 

20
Jun
2014

Miss. mayor backs same-sex marriage

Mississippi, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WAVELAND, Miss. — The mayor of a small city on the Mississippi Gulf Coast has become the first mayor in the state to publicly support marriage rights for same-sex couples.

“I understand that the strength and health of our cities are enhanced when all families are protected and supported,” said Waveland Mayor David Garcia in a press release that Freedom to Marry issued on Wednesday as part of its campaign in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples in the South. “We know many people in loving and committed same-sex relationships who are active participants in improving our communities and we’ve seen how important marriage has been for them and their families. Because I believe in fairness for all American families, I support the freedom to marry for same-sex couples willing to take on that commitment.”


Garcia, a Democrat, took office in 2010.

The former chief of the Waveland Fire Department also has a gay brother.

Jeff White-Perkins, president of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Lesbian and Gay Community Center, a local LGBT advocacy and support group, lives in Waveland with his partner of two years, John Perkins, who grew up in the city.

They told the Washington Blade during an interview at a Mexican restaurant in nearby Gulfport on Monday that they had requested a meeting with Garcia last week to discuss the issue. White-Perkins said his secretary told him and Perkins — who last year became the first gay male couple to apply for a marriage license in Mississippi — when they arrived at Waveland City Hall that the mayor had already announced his position.

“Honestly because it’s him I knew he would,” White-Perkins told the Blade.

Brandiilyne Dear, co-founder of the Dandelion Project, an LGBT support group she runs out of her home in Laurel, a city that is slightly less than two hours north of Waveland on Interstate 59, told the Blade she is “very proud” of Garcia.

“It is admirable that he standing up for equality,” said Dear. “I applaud him for being on the right side of history.”

A state constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage passed in 2004 by an 86-14 percent margin. A lesbian couple from Southaven, which is a suburb of Memphis, Tenn., in DeSoto County, who legally married in California last September asked the state to recognize their marriage so they could file for divorce.

A law that Mississippi advocates maintain allows business owners to deny services to LGBT people based on their religious beliefs took effect on July 1.

Dear told the Blade she feels Garcia’s announcement will prompt other Mississippi mayors to publicly support marriage rights for same-sex couples.

“He will inspire others and encourage them to take a stand against hate,” said Dear. “Times they are a changin’ and Mayor Garcia is changin’ with the times. Everyone else is going to be left behind.”

Waveland, which has a population of slightly less than 6,700, is located in Hancock County near the Louisiana border.

Hurricane Katrina’s nearly 30-foot storm surge inundated Waveland and other cities and towns along the Mississippi Gulf Coast in August 2005 when it made landfall.

“Good Morning America” co-anchor Robin Roberts, who came out as a lesbian late last year, grew up in nearby Pass Christian.

Jeff White-Perkins, John Perkins, gay news, Washington Blade

Jeff White-Perkins and John Perkins of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Lesbian and Gay Community Center live in Waveland, Miss. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

16
Jul
2014

Where does the LGBT movement go in 2014?

Winter Olympics, John Boehner, Sean Eldridge, Supreme Court, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade

New advancements on LGBT rights are expected in 2014 in the aftermath of a milestone year in 2013. (Photo of the Winter Olympics public domain; Washington Blade photos of John Boehner, Sean Eldridge and activists in front of the Supreme Court by Michael Key)

Although 2013 will be a tough act to follow in terms of achievements for the LGBT community, some advocates say significant new battles and potential victories are on the horizon for 2014.

Additional court rulings on marriage and the upcoming Olympic Games in Sochi will attract attention, but the focus will also be on the lead-up to the mid-term elections in November 2014. Voters are expected to decide the issue of marriage equality at the ballot and make decisions in candidate elections that would shape LGBT rights in the future.

Next month, all eyes will be on the Winter Olympics to see what impact gay athletes coming to compete in Sochi, Russia, might have on the anti-gay laws there, including the now notorious law prohibiting pro-gay propaganda. The Olympics will be held between Feb. 6 and 23.

It remains to be seen whether any of the athletes who’ll compete in the games — or any of the three openly gay members of the U.S. delegation to the Olympics — will speak out against the anti-gay policies, and whether the Russian government will subject them to punishment under the propaganda law for doing so.

In terms of the advancement of marriage equality, no one is predicting movement in the state legislatures as seen in 2013, but action is expected at the ballot and as a result of numerous court cases filed throughout the country.

In Oregon, activists are preparing for a campaign to legalize same-sex marriage at the ballot. They’re already touting 118,176 signatures, which is more than 116,284 needed by July 3 to place the measure before voters. Success at the ballot would mean Oregon would become the first state in the country to overturn a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage through a ballot initiative.

Another effort is underway in Ohio, where the group Freedom Ohio is touting a new poll showing 56 percent of Ohio residents support marriage equality as part of an effort to place a measure on the ballot in 2014. National LGBT groups, however, aren’t behind this endeavor and reportedly have said 2014 isn’t the year to bring marriage equality to the ballot in Ohio.

But 2014 may also see the return of state constitutional amendments at the ballot banning same-sex marriage. Opponents of same-sex marriage in Indiana are seeking a vote in the legislature on such an amendment, which would bring the issue before voters in the 2014 election.

It’s possible that a similar amendment may appear on the 2014 ballot in New Mexico, where anti-gay lawmakers unhappy with the state Supreme Court’s recent decision to legalize same-sex marriage have threatened to take action. However, the legislature needs to approve the amendment before it goes to voters, which is unlikely because Democrats control both the House and Senate.

Amid efforts to place the marriage issue on the ballot, courts may issue rulings in favor of marriage equality in any of the at least 23 states with pending marriage litigation. Such rulings could happen in Michigan, where a trial on the ban same-sex marriage has been set for February, or in Pennsylvania. A federal court in West Virginia may respond to a request for summary judgment filed Tuesday by Lambda Legal on behalf on same-sex couples seeking to wed in the state.

For the first time since the Supreme Court ruling against the Defense of Marriage Act, federal appeals courts will also take up the issue of marriage equality. The U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals will review the marriage lawsuit in which U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby recently instituted marriage equality in Utah, and the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will review Nevada’s ban on same-sex marriage in the case known as Sevcik v. Sandoval.

It’s possible that rulings at the appellate level could send the issue of marriage equality back to the Supreme Court as soon as next year.

Marc Solomon, national campaign director for Freedom to Marry, said the endeavors to advance marriage equality in 2014 will foster a better climate for the Supreme Court to make a “national resolution” in favor of marriage equality.

“We really don’t know, and nobody knows, which case is going to be that case that gets to the Supreme Court, when it’s going to happen, if it’s going to happen next year, if it’s going to happen in five years,” Solomon said. “Basically, we are full-steam ahead with what we call our ‘Roadmap to Victory’ to win more states, grow public support, get more unexpected allies, and demonstrate that the country is completely ready.”

Solomon said his organization also plans to participate in public education campaigns in Arizona, Ohio, Michigan, Colorado and Nevada in anticipation of going to the ballot to win marriage equality in 2016 in addition to a similar campaign in Pennsylvania to foster a climate for a court ruling in favor of marriage equality in the Keystone State.

Advancement of pro-LGBT federal legislation may also take place, although the chances such legislation will reach President Obama’s desk are low — to say the least — because Republicans control the House.

Supporters of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act are pushing for a vote in the Republican-controlled chamber following a bipartisan vote in the Senate in favor of the legislation. Although the legislation has 201 sponsors in a chamber where 218 votes are needed for passage, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has repeatedly said he opposes the legislation when asked if he’ll bring up the bill for a vote.

Issues for married same-sex couples in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act are also expected to surface. Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has pledged to hold a hearing on these outstanding issues.

Among them is the Social Security Administration’s continued hold on benefits claims for married same-sex couples in non-marriage equality states. Passage of the Respect for Marriage Act would address these issues by ensuring married same-sex couples would be able to receive federal benefits wherever they move in the country.

The Senate early this year may also take up a version of No Child Left Behind reauthorization — reported out on a party-line basis in June by the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee — that contains anti-bullying provisions along the lines of the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, said the successes of 2013 are “much to celebrate,” but said they also highlight more work is necessary at the federal level — not just on LGBT-specific issues, but other areas like immigration reform and restoration of the Voting Rights Act.

“Every victory we achieve makes clearer the inequalities that remain — the painful gap between progress and true freedom,” Carey said. “That’s why we need the House to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act; fair immigration reform legislation; and to restore the heart of the Voting Rights Act, so unceremoniously gutted by the Supreme Court this past year. We must win on these issues in 2014; we can win on these issues in 2014.”

Meanwhile, campaigns are ramping up for elections in 2014. For the first time ever, at least two openly gay candidates may appear as gubernatorial candidates representing a major party.

In Maryland, lesbian Del. Heather Mizeur is running against two other candidates in a bid for the Democratic nomination for governor. Her primary is June 24.

And in Maine, Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine), who came out as gay in 2013, is seeking to oust Republican Gov. Paul LePage. Michaud is the only declared candidate on the Democratic side.

In Congress, six openly LGB members of the U.S. House will be seeking to retain their seats. Those running in moderate districts who may face more challenging re-election bids are Reps. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.).

Sean Eldridge, an entrepreneur known for his work advocating for marriage equality in New York and also known for being married to Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, is seeking to unseat incumbent Republican Chris Gibson to represent New York’s 19th congressional district.

Other gay newcomers are on the Republican side. Former Massachusetts State Sen. Richard Tisei, who narrowly lost a challenge to Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) in 2012, is considering a rematch in 2014.

Former San Diego City Council member Carl DeMaio is seeking to represent the San Diego area in the U.S. House and University of New Hampshire administrator Dan Innis has launched a bid to unseat Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.).

Despite openly gay candidates on the Republican side, LGBT advocates will likely also work for Democratic majorities in Congress — achieving it in the House and preserving it in the Senate — to foster a better climate for passing pro-LGBT legislation.

That may be an uphill battle. A recent survey from CNN/ORC International shows Republicans have increased their edge in the race for control of Congress. Republicans lead Democrats by 49 percent to 44 percent among registered voters asked to pick between unnamed candidates from each party in their district. That’s up from a smaller two-point edge in favor of Republicans last month.

Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, said he doesn’t think the House will be in play given the abysmal state of President Obama’s polling numbers, and Republicans have a strong chance of winning the Senate.

“The Senate definitely is up for grabs,” Rothenberg said. “It’s probably close to 50-50 that Republicans will net the six seats that they will need to get to 51 seats. But there is plenty of time for events to occur that could change the current outlook.”

Whatever happens in Congress, LGBT advocates pledge to work at all levels of the government — federal, state and local — to continue to advance rights for the LGBT community.

Fred Sainz, the Human Rights Campaign’s vice president of communications, said 2014 will present “tremendous opportunities” for the LGBT community in the aftermath of 2013′s victories.

“We will continue to advance all measures of equality in the states, most importantly non-discrimination laws that affect the greatest number of LGBT people,” Sainz said. “And federally, we will continue to grow support for ENDA toward its eventual passage — as well as other bills that are part of our legislative agenda.”

01
Jan
2014

Nevada AG invokes bigamy, incest to defend marriage ban

Nevada, Catherine Cortez Masto, gay news, Washington Blade

Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto. (Photo public domain)

Ask the attorney general of Nevada about the definition of marriage, and she’ll tell you it doesn’t include the union of a same-sex couple. But in the same breath, she’ll tell you it also doesn’t include incest or bigamy either.

In a 55-page brief filed on Tuesday, Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto urges the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage on the basis that it reflects the will of the people.

“The interest of the State in defining marriage in this manner is motivated by the state’s desire to protect and perpetuate traditional marriage,” Masto writes. “In establishing this criterion and others — e.g., age, consanguinity, unmarried status, etc. — the state exercises its prerogative as a State, and that exercise is entitled to respect.”

But in a section titled “Marriage Defined” explaining “what marriage is” and “what marriage is not,” Masto reminds the court that in addition to not being for same-sex couples under Nevada law, marriage is also not for those engaging in bigamy or incest.

Screen Shot 2014-01-23 at 11.02.07 AM

The invocation of bigamy and incest in Nevada’s brief before the Ninth Circuit recalls the first legal brief the Obama administration filed in support of the Defense of Marriage Act when it was still defending the law in court. That brief invoked bigamy and pedophilia to assert the constitutionality of the ban on federal recognition of same-sex marriage, which riled LGBT advocates.

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, took Masto to task for making an implicit comparison between same-sex marriage and bigamy or incest while saying she makes no solid argument against allowing gay nuptials in Nevada.

“Marriage is not ‘defined’ by who is denied it, and nothing in the brief explains why loving and committed couples of the same sex should be denied the legal commitment and bundle of obligations and protections that are available to different-sex couples,” Wolfson said. “To invoke bigamy and incest, as the attorney general does — at least she stopped short of bestiality! — doesn’t supply an explanation; it makes clear that the state has nothing to offer to justify the discrimination against same-sex couples in Nevada.

But Wolfson said he concurs with another argument within the attorney general’s brief: domestic partnerships, which are permitted under Nevada law, aren’t equivalent to and don’t provide a substitute for marriage.

The brief was filed in the case of Sevcik v. Sandoval, a challenge filed by Lambda Legal against Nevada’s ban on same-sex marriage in 2012.

Jon Davidson, Lambda’s legal director, said “of course, we find any such comparison objectionable” between same-sex marriage and bigamy or incest. The organization is slated to file its formal response to the attorney general’s brief next month.

Masto is a Democrat and has served in the role of attorney general for Nevada since 2007. Other Democrats holding the office in other states — most recently Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring — have elected not to defend marriage bans in the state on the basis that they’re unconstitutional.

Notably, Masto argues at length that the Ninth Circuit shouldn’t apply heightened scrutiny, or a greater assumption a law is unconstitutional, to the ban on same-sex marriage. That argument is somewhat dated after the Ninth Circuit on Tuesday applied heightened scrutiny in ruling that a juror cannot be excluded from a trial based on sexual orientation — a decision that will have precedent in the marriage case.

“Under an objective application of due process and equal protection analyses, there is no basis for heightened review of the State’s purpose in defining marriage by its traditional meaning,” Masto writes. “There exists neither fundamental right, nor suspect or quasi- suspect class, justifying a different standard of review.”

But the invocation of bigamy and incest isn’t the only part of the brief that is raising concerns among LGBT advocates.

Responding to the various friend-of-the-court briefs filed in the case on behalf of same-sex marriage, Masto takes issue with the way some say marriage is about children and others say it isn’t.

“There is some irony in the inconsistency in certain arguments made by amici,” Masto writes. “A brief by the Family Equality Council, et al., posits that the policy issue is primarily about children, presenting ‘testimonials from the children raised in such families [those with same-sex parents].’ In a separate brief, Family Law Professors (who are ‘scholars of family law’) argue that marriage is not about children.”

Masto concludes these divergent views on the role of children in marriage serve to “reinforce the conclusion that the state’s legislature is the democratic crucible where the issues should be debated and decided.”

Emily Hecht-McGowan, the Family Equality Council’s director of public policy, slammed the attorney general for her interpretation of its brief in favor of marriage equality.

“The Attorney General is missing the primary point of our Voices of Children brief, which is not that marriage is primarily about children but rather that the denial of marriage equality fundamentally harms children being raised by same-sex couples by rendering them and their families second-class citizens,” Hecht-McGowan said. “We trust that the Justices reading our brief and hearing oral arguments will reach the same conclusion that Justice Kennedy reached in his majority opinion in U.S. v. Windsor — that laws denying marriage recognition to same-sex couples ‘humiliate children’ and are a violation of equal protection under the law.”

23
Jan
2014

Ky. guv to defend marriage ban without attorney general

Steve Beshear, Kentucky, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Gov. Steve Beshear (D-Ky.) will defend the state’s marriage ban in court without the attorney general (Photo public domain).

The governor of Kentucky announced on Tuesday that he intends to appeal a ruling against the state’s ban on same-sex marriage to a higher court on the same day the state’s attorney general declared he would no longer defend the law.

Gov. Steve Beshear announced he’ll hire other counsel to represent the state in the case, known as Bourke vs. Beshear, in addition to appealing the district court decision against the marriage ban the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“General Conway has advised me that he will no longer represent the Commonwealth in Bourke vs. Beshear,” Beshear said. “The State will hire other counsel to represent it in this case, and will appeal Judge Heyburn’s decision to the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals and ask the court to enter a stay pending appeal.”

As Beshear notes, U.S. District Judge John Heyburn ordered the state to recognize out-of-state same-sex nuptials following his ruling last month against the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Heyburn, an appointee of President George H.W. Bush, also took on the question of whether the state can prohibit same-sex couples from marrying within its borders.

“Both of these issues, as well as similar issues being litigated in other parts of the country, will be and should be ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in order to bring finality and certainty to this matter,” Beshear said. “The people of this country need to know what the rules will be going forward. Kentucky should be a part of this process.”

Heyburn ordered the state to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages, but later issued a 21-day stay in his order, allowing Kentucky to wait to recognize until March 20.

In addition to defending the law, Beshear said he’ll seek a continued stay on that order until the U.S. Supreme Court resolves the issue.

“In every other appeal currently in process, a stay has been entered maintaining the status quo until a final decision is reached on appeal,” Beshear said. “The reason is obvious. Without a stay in place, the opportunity for legal chaos is real. Other Kentucky courts may reach different and conflicting decisions.”

Beshear announces he’ll continue defending the state’s ban on same-sex marriage after Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway announced earlier on Tuesday he’ll no longer defend the law in court.

“I have evaluated Judge Heyburn’s legal analysis, and today am informing my client and the people of Kentucky that I am not appealing the decision and will not be seeking any further stays,” Conway said.

After reviewing the judge’s order, Conway said Heyburn “got it right” with his decision against the marriage ban.

“From a constitutional perspective, Judge Heyburn got it right, and in light of other recent federal decisions, these laws will not likely survive upon appeal,” Conway said. “We cannot waste the resources of the Office of the Attorney General pursuing a case we are unlikely to win.”

Conway acknowledges that many in Kentucky will disagree with his decision, but he came to the conclusion defense of the law “would be defending discrimination.”

“The United States Constitution is designed to protect everyone’s rights, both the majority and the minority groups,” Conway said. “Judge Heyburn’s decision does not tell a minister or a congregation what they must do, but in government ‘equal justice under law’ is a different matter.”

Conway’s decision follows the announcement from U.S. Attorney Eric Holder that state officials are free to decline to defend bans on same-sex marriage against legal challenges. Other states where attorneys general who have declined their state marriage bans are Oregon, Nevada, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Much earlier, California Attorney General Kamala Harris declined to defend the ban on California’s Proposition 8 and Holder himself declined to the Defense of Marriage Act against legal challenges.

But the situation in Kentucky is unique in terms of party affiliation because Beshear, a Democrat, is defending the ban, while Conway, also a Democrat, is declining to defend the law. In Nevada, both Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, and Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat, determined their state’s ban on same-sex marriage was indefensible before the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Marc Solomon, national campaign director of Freedom to Marry, heaped praised on Conway for his decision to no longer defend Kentucky’s ban on same-sex marriage in court.

“Today’s decision by Kentucky attorney general Jack Conway echoes that of state attorneys general across America who refuse to defend discrimination,” Solomon said. “Conway stands on the right side of history along with the Republican-appointed Kentucky federal judge who held that there is no legitimate justification for denying equal protection to same-sex couples.”

Brian Brown, president of the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage, on the other hand commended Beshear for continuing to defend the state’s marriage ban.

“He is doing what every elected official, on every level of government across the country should do, defend the laws of the land,” Brown said. “It is absurd that Kentucky’s Attorney General Jack Conway is not doing what he swore to do upon taking office – defending the laws and constitution of the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the judgment of the Kentucky’s citizens who voted overwhelmingly on this issue. We hope that voters hold him to account for abandoning his sworn duty.”

04
Mar
2014

Poll: 59 percent of Americans support marriage equality

Supreme Court, gay marriage, marriage equality, Proposition 8, gay news, Washington Blade

A Washington Post-ABC News poll has found 59 percent of Americans support marriage equality (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

A new poll published Wednesday by Washington Post-ABC News has found national support for marriage equality has reached a record-high of 59 percent.

The poll, which was conducted via phone among 1,002 random adults, discovered the highest recorded support ever for same-sex marriage nationwide amid the growth in favorability for gay nuptials across the country.

The results found that 59 percent of responders support same-sex marriage, 34 percent are in opposition and 7 percent have no opinion. Moreover, in the wake of numerous federal court decisions striking down state constitutional bans on same-sex marriage, the poll found that 50 percent of responders believe the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to marriage equality.

According to a Washington Post article that details the results, there’s also majority support for marriage equality in the 33 states where same-sex marriage is illegal. Among residents polled in those states, 53 percent support allowing same-sex marriage, while 40 percent were opposed.

Marc Solomon, national campaign director of Freedom to Marry, said the poll demonstrates “bipartisan momentum” is on the side of supporters of same-sex marriage.

“A supermajority of Americans believe in freedom and fairness, and support is growing at an unprecedented speed,” Solomon said. “Overwhelmingly, Americans – no matter where they live, how old they are, or what party they belong to – believe in treating their gay and lesbian family members and friends with dignity and respect by supporting their freedom to marry.”

Additionally, the poll found 81 percent Americans rejects the idea of allowing businesses to discriminate against or refuse services to LGBT people. Numerous states, most recently Arizona, have considered legislation that would enable businesses and individuals to refuse services to LGBT people for religious reasons.

Prior to the publication of the Washington Post-ABC News findings, the poll that demonstrated the highest-recorded support for same-sex marriage was another Washington Post-ABC News poll that came out just prior to the start oral arguments at the Supreme Court on marriage. That poll found 58 percent of Americans support marriage equality.

05
Mar
2014

Ohio couple ‘blown away’ by impact of marriage lawsuit

James Obergefell, John Arthur, gay news, Washington Blade, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality

James Obergefell (right) and John Arthur in happy times before Arthur was stricken with ALS (Photo courtesy of James Obergefell).

Two days after a judge issued a court order requiring his home state to recognize his marriage, James Obergefell is still blown away by the media attention he and his dying spouse, John Arthur, have received after they spent $13,500 to wed in Maryland and sue Ohio to recognize the union.

During an interview with the Washington Blade on Wednesday from his home in Cincinnati, Obergefell called the experience of flying to Maryland to marry his partner of 20 years, returning home to sue for marriage recognition and having the court order his state to recognize it “surreal and honestly, kind of hard to believe.”

“Just the reaction that we received worldwide was touching and amazing. But then for it to turn into this?” Obergefell said. “We’re blown away, we’re thrilled and happy to show the world that we’re people too. We’re just like your neighbors, just like your kids. All we want is exactly what you have.”

The story of Obergefell and Arthur, both 47, and their marriage went viral earlier this month. Obergefell married his spouse Arthur, who’s dying of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS,) also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, on July 11.

Their friends and family donated about $13,500 for them to fly to Maryland on July 11 in a special jet equipped with medical equipment to serve Arthur’s needs. The couple married aboard the plane as it sat on the tarmac before returning to Cincinnati the next day.

After they sued the state of Ohio to recognize their marriage, U.S. District Judge Timothy Black issued a temporary restraining order on state officials, including Gov. John Kasich, requiring Ohio to recognize the union in Arthur’s remaining days. Arthur’s death certificate must denote that he’s legally married and Obergefell is his surviving spouse.

Obergefell said he learned the judge put the order in place on Monday while at home with family — including with Arthur’s aunt, who married the couple in Maryland — after attending the hearing in which Black said he’d rule later that day. The news came from the couple’s lawyer via telephone.

“I got the call from our attorney, and he simply said, ‘We won!’” Obergefell said. “So then I got his email and I read the whole 15 pages, or most of them, to John and his aunt and his uncle after we jumped up and kissed and hugged and cried and all of that, then I just read through the document. And then, friends came over that night and we shared a bottle of Champagne.”

The judge’s decision to hand down a temporary restraining order even before he reached a final decision in the lawsuit was expected for Obergefell, who requested such action on Friday as part of the couple’s lawsuit. Still, when the order was handed down, Obergefell said the decision was “surprising, gratifying and just incredible.”

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, said in a statement the great lengths the couple went to marry demonstrates the commitment of their love as he criticized Ohio law because it “cruelly denies them the freedom to marry at home.” A state constitutional amendment passed by Ohio voters in 2004 prohibits same-sex marriage.

“No couple should be forced to leave home to make legal their love and commitment to each other, and as a federal court this week rightly affirmed, no couple should suffer the indignity of returning home only to be told, ‘Your marriage doesn’t matter here,’” Wolfson said.

The order, which expires on Aug. 5, may have come just in time for the couple. Obergefell said Arthur has good days and bad days, but his health continues to decline.

“He has lost even more ability to speak,” Obergefell said. “I mean, a sentence or two is about all he can manage. ALS is a horrible disease; it just doesn’t let up.”

It’s hard to say how much time remains for Arthur, but Obergefell continues to have a positive mindset.

“In my heart of hearts,” Obergefell said. “I want to say indefinitely, I want to say many months more, but I don’t know. I wake up everyday, and my day is all around, ‘Be here longer. Be here longer.”

The reason the couple filed the lawsuit and went to such lengths to marry was Arthur’s death certificate. After the couple married on July 11, their lawyer informed them that Arthur’s death certificate would not designate him as married, nor would it identify Obergefell as his surviving spouse.

“It ripped my heart out,” Obergefell said. “Hearing that was enough to say, OK. I can’t stand for that. I can’t let any other gay couple stand for that. It isn’t right.”

But the decision to file the lawsuit resulted not just from the issue of the death certificate or state recognition of their marriage, but the idea that their union should be treated equally under the law.

“So it’s not the only thing; it was just the lightbulb going off over your head that — I felt responsibility, not just to John, not just to our marriage, but other people,” Obergefell said. “So, it’s not just that. We need to be equal. Simply put.”

Gov. Kasich, who opposes same-sex marriage, has the option of filing to a higher court the restraining order put in place by Black. No word has come yet from the governor’s office on whether he’ll do so.

Obergefell has a singular message for Kasich: Stand back and allow the court ruling that enables the legal recognition of him and his dying spouse to stand.

“My message to him is Gov. Kasich, we are citizens of Ohio, we are asking for nothing more than the same rights, responsibilities and benefits that every other married couple in the state receives,” Obergefell said. “That’s it. Do the right thing, sit back, and allow us to be Ohioans and Americans.”

Obergefell said he chose Maryland as the place where he and Arthur would marry because obtaining the marriage license in the state requires the presence of only one person — not both parties in the relationship — and because of the limited 48-hour waiting period that must pass before a wedding. Obergefell traveled by himself to obtain the license, then the couple returned together for the ceremony at BWI airport.

During the trip, Obergefell said one thought was continuously running through his head: “I can’t believe this is happening; I can’t believe this is happening.”

“That was closely preceded by, ‘Oh my goodness, we have such wonderful friends and family who — without prompting — jumped up and said, ‘We will make this happen for you,’” Obergefell said. “We will help make this reality.”

But when asked how it felt to have to spend $13,500 to travel to another state to marry when opposite-sex couples can do the same thing at their local courts, Obergefell said he was “pissed.”

“We live blocks from the Hamilton County Courthouse,” Obergefell said. “It makes me angry that we couldn’t just go there. And you know, that would still be physically demanding on him, but that would be a matter of getting him into his power wheelchair and taking him a few blocks to appear in person, and then coming home.”

Grant Stancliff, a spokesperson for Equality Ohio, said the legal recognition of their marriage is “huge” and “brought Ohio couples who are legally married in other states a ray of hope.”

“This is one of the biggest steps that has ever been taken toward marriage equality in Ohio,” Stancliff said. “It is a fantastic ruling for Jim and John. They really deserve the dignity and respect they were shown by Judge Black. Of course, so do the rest of legally married Ohioans.”

And Obergefell has a message for gay couples seeking to marry, but who live in one of the 37 states without marriage equality: Don’t wait another moment to obtain the recognition you seek.

“We deserve it; we’re asking for nothing special,” Obergefell said. “If you have the energy, the will, the desire, if you’re thinking about it, do it. Getting married, in a way, nothing changed, being together 20 years, but, truly, everything changed. It’s impossible to describe, but everything changed getting married.”

24
Jul
2013

Marriage advocate to speak out for LGBT workers

Evan Wolfson

Freedom to Marry President Evan Wolfson is set to speak at Freedom to Work’s “Situation Room” (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A longtime LGBT advocate at the forefront of the movement to advance marriage equality may take a slightly different tune on Thursday when he’s set to speak out on ways to advance LGBT workplace non-discrimination protections.

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, is scheduled to be among the speakers at Freedom to Work’s premier “Situation Room” in New York City at New York Law School — the first in a series of public forums to strategize on the way forward for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Wolfson told the Washington Blade he envisions that his participation will facilitate a discussion on the ways successes from the marriage equality movement can be applied to ENDA.

“It’s going to really be more of a conversation about what are some of the lessons that we applied from history and from other movements in the shaping our strategy and campaign to bring the freedom to marry to the United States, and how can we apply some of those in the work to end employment discrimination,” Wolfson said.

The cross-pollination of the marriage equality strategy to other movements isn’t new for Wolfson, who said he’s been asked by other campaigns — ranging from the environment to voting rights efforts — to talk about the ways in which marriage equality achievements can be applied to these initiatives.

Although he’s credited with being a founder of the marriage equality movement, Wolfson is no stranger to advocating on behalf of other LGBT causes. In 2000, he argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that a New Jersey law prohibiting the Boy Scouts of America from banning gay scouts was constitutional. The court ultimately ruled the other way.

Other LGBT causes in which Wolfson said he’s been involved are employment cases, work to abolish state sodomy laws as well as protections for people with HIV/AIDS.

“In all my years working in our movement, I’ve never really been a fan of pitting one so-called issue against the other,” Wolfson said. “To my mind, marriage has never been just about marriage. Marriage has been a powerful vocabulary of helping people understand who we are as LGBT people and to tap into their values of fairness and respect and help them move.”

After talking on this initial panel, Wolfson said he’ll speak out to aid LGBT workplace non-discrimination efforts “where it can be appropriate and helpful,” but added he has no immediate plans to do so.

“Obviously, my primary mission right now is continue leading the campaign to win the freedom to marry, and I want to finish the job, and we are not done,” Wolfson said.

Freedom to Work President Tico Almeida first announced the “Situation Room” in July as a way for groups working on federal workplace non-discrimination protections to lay out their contributions to the effort.

Wolfson is set to speak on a second panel as part of the “Situation Room” alongside Almeida in a session titled, “Lessons from Freedom to Marry for the Campaign to Win the Freedom to Work,” according to a statement from Freedom to Work.

Another panel earlier in the day is set to consist of Brad Sears, executive director of the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, as well as two LGBT advocates representing both major political parties: Gregory Angelo, executive director of the National Log Cabin Republicans; and Melissa Sklarz, president of Stonewall Democrats of New York City.

In a statement, Almeida billed the “Situation Room” as a bipartisan event said it would help lead to victory for ENDA on the Senate floor, where a vote is expected to take place later this year.

“We’re honored to host a bipartisan group of leading experts and advocates for this first of a kind ENDA event,” Almeida said. “I’m confident we’re going to win a big Senate victory this year, and then ride that momentum into a robust campaign in the House of Representatives.”

The program, which is scheduled to begin Thursday at 2 pm, is set to be webcast live at the LGBT blog Towleroad.com. Moderating the first panel will be Towelroad legal editor and New York Law School professor Ari Ezra Waldman of New York Law School.

Almeida declined to comment on who’s set to moderate the second panel with Wolfson, but added additional speakers will be named later in the week.

A second ENDA “Situation Room” is planned later for Miami, which Almeida said will include Spanish-language content for Latino voters. Depending the timing of the ENDA Senate vote, similar events may place in Phoenix, Las Vegas and Philadelphia.

“Given where the undecided senators reside in states like Arizona, Nevada, and Florida, we believe Latino voters are a critical part of any winning ENDA coalition,” Almeida concluded.

09
Sep
2013

Religious exemption inspires heated debate at ENDA panel

Freedom to Marry's Evan Wolfson (left) and Freedom to Work's Tico Almeida had heated exchange on ENDA's religious exemption (Blade file photos by Michael Key).

Freedom to Marry’s Evan Wolfson (left) and Freedom to Work’s Tico Almeida had heated exchange on ENDA’s religious exemption (Blade file photos by Michael Key).

NEW YORK — The appropriate scope of the religious exemption in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act continues to stir debate as a prominent marriage equality advocate on Thursday made a surprise endorsement of narrowing the broad provision in the bill.

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, said he shares the “grave concerns” expressed by the American Civil Liberties Union over the religious exemption — which he said would “carve coverage by certain kinds of entities for LGBT people” — during a panel as part of Freedom to Work’s premier “Situation Room” in New York City.

“I do have grave concerns about the specific language in the specific bill,” Wolfson said. “That’s one of the points of difference I have with Freedom to Work on this current bill.”

Currently, ENDA has a religious exemption that provides leeway for religious organizations, like churches or religious schools, to discriminate against LGBT employees. That same leeway isn’t found under Title VII, which prohibits religious organizations from discriminating on the basis of race, gender or national origin.

Wolfson and Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work and proponent of the religious exemption, were the lone speakers on the second panel of the day. Wolfson’s main purpose on the panel was to talk about the lessons the campaign to pass ENDA can learn from the marriage equality fight.

Almeida initially responded by saying the religious exemption has value in allaying concerns from Republican lawmakers who are undecided on ENDA.

“I would say that in a bunch of Republican meetings we spend a majority of the time talking about the religious exemption and exactly how it will apply, what the case law is,” Almeida said.

Almeida co-wrote the current version of the religious exemption when working as a staffer for Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.). It was passed as an amendment on the U.S. House floor in 2007 to a gay-only version of ENDA by a vote of 402-25.

But Almeida qualified his support for the religious exemption by saying he believes religious organizations shouldn’t be able to receive federal funds if they discriminate against LGBT people. But, Almeida continued, the mechanism to prohibit this discrimination isn’t ENDA; rather, it should be a workplace non-discrimination executive order signed by President Obama.

“I think there’s complete uniformity that we are all pushing for a federal policy that if you take and profit from federal dollars, you must follow American values, you must pledge not to discriminate against LGBT folks — and if you get caught, there should be consequences,” Almeida said.

But Wolfson quickly retorted as the panel developed into a heated debate between him and Almeida that seemed to become almost hostile as the session closed.

“We have a body of laws across the country that include sexual orientation and gender identity as prohibited discriminatory classifications alongside race, sex and others — and they have all followed generally a certain kind of exemption — as had Title VII and the Civil Rights Act, and so on,” Wolfson said. “The problem with this current draft of ENDA is that exemption goes far beyond what that body of experience has taught us is the right balance.”

Wolfson added the argument in favor of ENDA to undecided lawmakers should be to look at existing law throughout the states as opposed to enshrining “new and unnecessary and dangerous exemptions from non-discrimination law.”

“By the way, calling them religious exemptions implies that there’s some religious problem to be solved,” Wolfson said. “There is no religious problem to be solved: what these are are licenses to discriminate.”

Almeida, a Catholic, responded by saying he thinks attitudes should change within the church by action from members of that particular faith.

“I don’t believe civil rights statute in the form of Title VII and ENDA should be used to force the Catholic Church to make a change to its policies,” Almeida said. “I think we will push them, and it may take decades, and it may take more than my lifetime, but we will push them in other ways.”

Almeida added he doesn’t understand the argument the religious exemption in ENDA is a new approach because he said he “literally copied and pasted it from Title VII.”

Besides, Almeida also said groups that oppose ENDA’s religious exemption missed an opportunity to propose an amendment when the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee voted on the bill in July. Also, he challenged them to make public the language they would prefer instead.

“I would love for those organizations to publicly communicate to the LGBT community and to Congress what is their proposal,” Almeida said. “They made a big fuss …,  and they didn’t seek an amendment at markup. They didn’t ask any of our progressive champions, and there are very progressive champions on that committee, or if they asked, then they got rejected.”

Wolfson countered by saying Almeida’s proposal to change the Catholic Church from within is “completely irrelevant” to the conversation of putting a “license to discriminate” in a statute.

“Nobody is saying that the Catholic Church should be sued or told what to do as a matter of law when it comes to doctrine or the church, or ministers,” Wolfson said. “That’s misleading language that might confuse people in a way that you didn’t intend.”

Additionally, Wolfson said Almeida was mischaracterizing the religious exemption in ENDA by saying it’s lifted from Title VII. Almeida conceded that point on the panel.

“To say that something has some degree of religion in it, but now that it’s in the marketplace, it can now fire not just the priest, but the janitor, that’s an exemption that doesn’t exist in Title VII or any other parts of law,” Wolfson said.

Concluding his argument, Wolfson said the religious exemption issue must be resolved because it’s giving fuel to the anti-LGBT forces seeking to thwart ENDA passage.

“The religious exemption language thing is mostly a distraction, it’s a non-and-wrong solution to a non-problem, but becomes important if it get put into law,” Wolfson said.

Ian Thompson, legislative representative for the ACLU, told the Blade after the panel he commends Wolfson for endorsing a narrower religious exemption for ENDA, calling the news “a great development.”

“As a leader of the freedom to marry movement, he knows as well as anyone the importance of rejecting overly broad religious exemptions,” Thompson said.

Further, Thompson responded to Almeida’s claims that narrower language on religious institutions hasn’t been proposed by pointing to existing law.

“The alternative to ENDA’s unprecedented religious exemption has been and remains crystal clear,” Thompson said. “Just as our civil rights laws have never permitted blank checks to discriminate based on race, sex, national origin, age, and disability, they must not now do so based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Discussion of the religious exemption also came up during the first panel of the day, which consisted of six speakers from a bipartisan group of LGBT organizations. Paul Schindler, editor-in-chief of Gay City News, asked the panel if they were comfortable with the language.

Gregory Angelo, executive director of the National Log Cabin Republicans, started off the discussion by saying he was “comfortable” with the current wording because it’s hard enough selling the bill as it is.

“Without naming names, there are meetings that I have had with Republicans — both in the House and the Senate — where there’s some Republicans who don’t feel those religious protections go far enough,” Angelo said. “We’re pushing back against that. I think the protections as they exist now are strong, they’re solid.”

Melissa Sklarz, a transgender Democratic activist from Stonewall Democrats of New York City, seemed to support the exemption on a temporary basis as a way to win support for the bill, saying it won’t hold up in court and is just “a barrier to try to win allies” on the Republican side.

“It’s a good idea,” Sklarz said. “We watched them fight LGBT equality in ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and we’ve watched it in marriage. As they keep throwing things at ideas that prevent equality, they will not stand up. If this is going to win allies among the moderate and right-wing so we can get it to the floor, then great.”

Asked by Schindler whether under the current religious exemption he could be fired at a Catholic hospital or a Mormon book store, Almeida replied, “It depends.”

“It depends on the facts,” Almeida said. “Law has very few bright line tests, and neither the Title VII religious exemption, nor the ENDA religious exemption, list types of organizations. So, courts have created factors that are considered.”

Almeida said courts have established that for-profit businesses are eligible for the religious exemption under existing law. But he acknowledged that organizations like the Catholic Church and Catholic Charities will be able to continue to discriminate against LGBT people in hiring and firing decisions.

“By tying the ENDA religious exemption explicitly to the Title VII religious exemption, that gives us the most clarity, and as a byproduct, and for me it’s just a byproduct, it’s going to be the one to help us win,” Almeida said.

13
Sep
2013