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Eric Lee, former Inouye aide, dies at 69

Eric Lee, gay news, Washington Blade

Eric Lee (Photo courtesy of the SS United States Trust)

Eric H.M. Lee, an attorney, former legislative director for the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), and most recently the principal partner in Lee and Associates, a Washington consulting firm specializing in telecommunications issues, died March 31 from complications associated with a stroke. He was 69.

Prior to founding his consulting firm, Lee worked in the 1990s in various positions with AT&T and an Internet trade association on projects credited with shaping current federal policies for the U.S. telecommunications industry.

He played a role in developing the Telecommunications Act of 1996 which, among other things, addressed and the then nascent commercial Internet.

Lee, who was gay, was a supporter of LGBT rights organizations and provided behind-the-scenes advice to many of his activist friends working on strategy for advancing LGBT rights legislation, according to friends and professional colleagues.

“He was a very active supporter and informed participant,” said Will Burrington, a former colleague at AT&T who later became president of D.C.’s Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group.

“To me, aside from his brilliance, as a person, he was just a very authentic, nonjudgmental, inclusive friend, Burrington said.

A native Hawaiian, Lee graduated from Honolulu’s Iolani college preparatory school before going to Princeton University, where he received a bachelor’s degree with honors in European and modern Asian history. He received a law degree from Harvard University School of Law.

A Lee and Associates biography says he began his career in Washington working for Inouye on issues under the jurisdiction of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. He later became staff counsel to the Senate Subcommittee on Foreign Trade and Tourism before serving as Inouye’s legislative director.

He next joined AT&T’s Regulatory Affairs Division in Basking Ridge, N.J. and later became public policy director for AT&T International before returning to Washington as a member of AT&T’s Government Relations office.

After working on issues surrounding the Telecommunications Act, Lee left AT&T to become public policy director of the Commercial Internet Exchange Association (CIX), the world’s first Internet trade association, his biography says.

Among other things, Lee played a key role organizing a coalition of companies that negotiated what became the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, considered a landmark statute that determines online copyright policy.

Brenda Lee, his sister who lives in Honolulu, described her brother as “very caring and thoughtful and generous with a great sense of humor.” She added, “He was very devoted to his family and his three nieces.”

Burrington said Lee was an active supporter of the arts and progressive political candidates, a “tireless advocate for the interests of his native Hawaii and one of the most well-read people I know.”

Lee’s work on behalf of his home state was recognized by the office of Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii).

“I was very sorry to hear of Eric Lee’s passing,” said Hirono’s chief of staff, Betsy Lin, in an April 1 statement. “His service to Hawaii; as Sen. Daniel K. Inouye’s counsel, his continued support of the delegation, and his generosity of spirit will be missed,” Lin said.

Robert Garnet, another friend and former AT&T colleague, said he was among a number of friends that Lee helped when they faced hard times, such as unemployment. He said Lee took him under his wing and invited him to stay at Lee’s Dupont Circle apartment until he got back on his feet.

“And my story, or some version of it, was repeated many times for others, both before I arrived on his doorstep and afterwards,” Garnet said.

Lee is survived by his sisters Brenda and Terri Lee; his brother Earl Lee; and his nieces Alyson, Annaliese and Katrina Kintscher – all of Honolulu.

Other survivors include his friends, many from Washington, who say they considered themselves part of Lee’s extended family. They include Will (Bill) Burrington, Craig Huffman, Bruce Lehman, Robert Garnet, Patrick Keating, John Weinfurter, Raymond Zahrobsky, John Gallagher, Hana Sakuta, Kevin Hartmann, and numerous other friends.

Family members and friends said contributions can be made in Lee’s memory online or by mail to the Daniel K. Inouye Institute Fund, c/o Hawaii Community Foundation, 827 Fort Street Mall, Honolulu, Hawaii 96813 or through: http://www.hawaiicommunityfoundation.org/daniel-k-inouye-institute.

09
Apr
2014

Court asked to overturn marriage bans in Nevada, Hawaii

Martha Coakley, Beau Biden, Neil Abercrombie, Massachusetts, Delaware, Hawaii, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden and Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie signed briefs before the Ninth Circuit seeking marriage equality. (Photo of Martha Coakley by Fogster via Wikimedia Commons; Washington Blade photos of Biden and Abercrombie by Michael Key)

Five months after the U.S. Supreme Court issued two decisions in favor of marriage equality, a chorus of voices is calling on the U.S. Ninth Circuit to make a similar ruling on behalf of gay couples seeking marriage rights in Nevada and Hawaii.

Legal briefs were submitted to the Ninth Circuit by numerous public figures who’ve previously articulated their support for marriage equality, ranging from Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie to Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden. However, the Obama administration didn’t submit a brief to the court by the deadline articulating its views of favor of same-sex marriage.

The cases before the court are Sevick v. Sandoval, a federal lawsuit filed by Lambda Legal last year seeking marriage equality in Nevada, and Jackson v. Abercrombie, a similar lawsuit filed by private attorneys seeking to overturn the ban on same-sex marriage in Hawaii. Both are on appeal before the Ninth Circuit after district courts in those states affirmed that the bans on same-sex marriage were constitutional.

Abercrombie, who previously said he wouldn’t defend the ban on same-sex marriage in court, submitted an opening brief from his lawyers on Oct. 18 that seeks permission to file an additional, more lengthy document because the lawsuit a “landmark civil rights case.”

But the 112-page brief makes initial arguments about why the ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, arguing that it fails any rational basis test and laws related to sexual orientation should be subject to heightened scrutiny.

“Only legalization of same-sex marriage would allow plaintiffs, and tens of thousands of other same-sex couples in Hawaii, to ‘pursue the happiness’ and assume the mutual responsibilities — important to human ‘existence and survival’ — that are at the heart of the fundamental right to marry,” the brief states. “And only legalization will give plaintiffs the equality they so justly deserve.”

On Friday, friend-of-the-court briefs were also due before the Ninth Circuit. One high-profile brief was signed by 14 attorneys general who had previously signed a brief before the Supreme Court arguing in favor of marriage equality. Signers of the brief include Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, who’s running for governor, California Attorney General Kamala Harris and Biden.

The 32-page argues that the bans on same-sex marriage in Hawaii and Nevada are unconstitutional, among other reasons, because including same-sex couples into the institution of marriage enhances state interest and the current laws aren’t rationally related to interests in procreation or child-rearing.

“Since the founding, states have sanctioned marriages to support families, strengthen communities, and facilitate governance,” the brief states. “Because same-sex couples form families, raise children, and avail themselves of the benefits and abide by the obligations of marriage in the same manner as different-sex couples, the states’ interest in marriage are furthered by allowing same-sex couples to marry.”

The 14 states represented in the brief are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. D.C. Attorney General Irving Nathan also signed.

Because the cases are before the Ninth Circuit, they are the most advanced federal lawsuits on marriage equality and the closest to the Supreme Court. However, the lawsuits may not be the ones to reach the high court first because the Ninth Circuit is notoriously slow in reviewing litigation.

Both briefs from the attorneys general and Abercrombie make use the Supreme Court’s decision against the Defense of Marriage Act.

The brief filed by the attorneys generals says in a footnote that the DOMA decision has particular impact on gay couples in Hawaii and Nevada because marriage laws in those states are now preventing them from accessing the federal benefits of marriage.

“Nevada and Hawaii marriage laws now prevent same-sex couples and their families from obtaining important federal benefits and protections otherwise available to married couples,” the brief states. “This works significant and practical harm to those families and further undercuts the rationality of state laws that create two classes of state-sanctioned relationships.”

The attorneys general filed a brief before the Ninth Circuit even though they had previously articulated their views on marriage before the Supreme Court, but one party that didn’t follow suit is the Obama administration.

The Justice Department filed a friend-of-the-court brief when California’s Proposition 8 had come before the Supreme Court, arguing the ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional and suggesting states with domestic partnerships must allow marriage rights for gay couples.

Although Nevada and Hawaii similarly have domestic partnership registries, the Obama administration didn’t make a filing in the Nevada or Hawaii cases. The Justice Department didn’t respond to a request to comment on why no brief was filed.

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, nonetheless said the lack of a brief from the Obama administration isn’t of concern.

“It is not disappointing and not a problem; the Department of Justice’s conclusion that the denial if the freedom to marry violates the Constitution is clear and a matter of record,” Wolfson said.

Lambda Legal had previously said it would “welcome” a brief from the Obama administration in the Nevada case for the Ninth Circuit. In response to an inquiry about the absence of input from the Justice Department, Lambda Staff Attorney Peter Renn pointed to the friend-of-the-court briefs filed by other parties in the lawsuit.

“A total of 17 amicus briefs were filed, in support of ending the unconstitutional exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage and the real harm it does to same-sex couples and their families,” Renn said. “The Obama Administration’s support for marriage equality is already well-established, and there may be future opportunities to file amicus briefs in this case as it proceeds further.”

A number of other parties submitted friend-of-the-court briefs before the Ninth Circuit in favor of overturning the bans on same-sex marriage.

* A group of 13 political scientists filed a 39-page brief arguing the marriage bans should be overturned because laws related to sexual orientation should be subject to heightened scrutiny. Gay people, the political scientists say, should be considered a suspect class because they continue to lack political power.

“Gay men and lesbians lack political power,” the brief states. “They are underrepresented in political office; they are viewed negatively by a majority of Americans; their interests are opposed by powerful, well-funded interest groups that use ballot initiatives to try to undo the limited political successes that gay men and lesbians have achieved; and they have limited influence over their political allies.”

* Another brief was filed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which argues that the 1967 Supreme Court decision overturning state bans on interracial marriage in Loving v. Virginia applies to prohibitions on same-sex marriage.

“The basic 14th Amendment principles addressed in Loving are not limited to race,” the brief states. “To the contrary, they govern any state action that denies two consenting adults – including those of the same sex – the right to marry. While the nature of discrimination against lesbians and gay men differs fundamentally from the de jure racial segregation at issue in Loving, the legal issues addressed by Loving are analogous to the legal issues raised in these appeals.”

Other briefs were filed by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, the American Psychological Association, the Columbia Law School Sexuality & Gender Law Clinic and the Gay & Lesbian Medical Association.

UPDATE: This article has been updated with a comment from Lambda Legal and a listing on the states that signed the brief from the attorneys general.

27
Oct
2013

Hawaii Senate approves same-sex marriage bill

Hawaii, gay news, Washington Blade

Hawaii on Thursday became one step closer to extending marriage to same-sex couples when the state Senate overwhelmingly approved a gay nuptials bill. (Photo by Omar A. via Creative Commons)

The Hawaii Senate on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a bill that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The 20-4 vote took place a day after the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee backed the measure after it heard testimony from supporters and opponents of nuptials for gays and lesbians for nearly 12 hours.

“This is a defining moment in all of our careers and we should embrace it,” state Sen. Clayton Hee (D-Kaneohe) said as the Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported.

The state Senate approved the same-sex marriage bill two days after a special legislative session that Gov. Neil Abercrombie called to consider the issue began.

Gays and lesbians are currently able to legally marry in 14 states and D.C.

Hawaii voters in 1998 approved a state constitutional amendment that allowed the Legislature to ban same-sex marriage.

The Aloha State’s civil unions law took effect in 2012, but a federal judge in August of that year dismissed a lawsuit on behalf of two same-sex couples who sought marriage rights in Hawaii.

The plaintiffs appealed the ruling, and it is pending in the U.S. Ninth Circuit alongside a lawsuit that seeks marriage rights for same-sex couples in Nevada. Abercrombie and 14 state attorneys general on Oct. 26 filed briefs with the court that urge it to rule in support of nuptials for gays and lesbians in the two states.

LGBT rights advocates have also filed same-sex marriage lawsuits in Pennsylvania, Virginia, New Mexico, Ohio, West Virginia and other states since the U.S. Supreme Court in June found a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and struck down California’s Proposition 8.

The Hawaii House of Representatives on Thursday is expected to refer the same-sex marriage bill to a joint committee.

The Associated Press reported House Majority Leader Scott Saiki (D-Honolulu) said lawmakers will likely amend the measure to add non-profit businesses to the list of those that would fall under its religious exemption provision. The bill’s supporters remain confident it has enough votes to pass in the chamber, but observers expect the hearing will likely take two days because of the amount of people who have signed up to testify for and against it.

Hawaii Family Advocates President Jim Hochberg is among those who have called for a referendum on nuptials for gays and lesbians in the Aloha State.

Abercrombie has said he will sign a same-sex marriage bill if lawmakers approve it.

31
Oct
2013

It was a good night for sodomy in America

From Virginia to Illinois to Seattle, gay rights, and really sex more generally, was on the ballot, and won.

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06
Nov
2013

Hawaii same-sex marriage bill advances

Hawaii, gay news, Washington Blade

Hawaii on Wednesday became one step closer to extending marriage to same-sex couples when the state House approved a gay nuptials bill. (Photo by Omar A. via Creative Commons)

The Hawaii House of Representatives on Wednesday advanced a bill that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in the Aloha State.

The 30-18 vote took place a day after the House Judiciary and Finance Committees approved the measure. Lawmakers spent five days listening to testimony from more than 8,000 supporters and opponents of nuptials for gays and lesbians.

The state Senate on Oct. 30 overwhelmingly approved the bill.

“Sadly, and in part due to what we’ve been hearing these past five days in the basement of this building, some may have the impression that all Christians are opposed to the freedom to marry,” Rev. Kerry Grogan of the Christ Church Uniting Disciples and Presbyterians in Kailua said during a Thursday press conference at the state Capitol in Honolulu that same-sex marriage opponents sought to disrupt. “We are here today to say that’s not the case.”

Gays and lesbians can legally marry in 14 states and D.C.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn later this month is expected to sign a same-sex marriage bill that his state’s lawmakers approved on Tuesday.

Hawaii voters in 1998 approved a state constitutional amendment that allowed the Legislature to ban nuptials for gays and lesbians.

The state’s civil unions law took effect in 2012, but a federal judge in August of that year dismissed a lawsuit filed on behalf of two same-sex couples who sought marriage rights in Hawaii. The plaintiffs appealed, and their case is currently pending in the U.S. Ninth Circuit alongside a second lawsuit that seeks to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in Nevada.

Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie and 14 state attorneys general last month filed briefs with the court that urge it to rule in support of nuptials for gays and lesbians in his state and Nevada.

A final vote of the same-sex marriage bill is expected to take place in the state House on Friday.

Abercrombie has said he will sign it into law once lawmakers approve it.

07
Nov
2013

Hawaii House gives final approval to same-sex marriage bill

Neil Abercrombie, Hawaii, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Hawaii House of Representatives on Friday gave its final approval to a bill that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in the Aloha State.

The 30-19 vote took place 12 hours after lawmakers began debating the measure.

“This is about a move towards acceptance, tolerance and compassion,” state Rep. Sylvia Luke said.

State Rep. Mark Takai, who in 2011 voted against a bill that extended civil unions to same-sex couples in Hawaii, described Senate Bill 1 as the “right thing to do.”

“My yes vote for this bill is a vote for love, equality and fairness,” Takai said.

Lesbian state Rep. Jo Jordan is among those who voted against SB1.

“I had come to the decision that SB1 needed to [be] amended,” the lawmaker told Honolulu Magazine. “It wasn’t protective enough for everybody. And I truly know, my GLBT community is not going to go somewhere where they are not welcome.”

SB1 opponents also introduced 16 amendments to the bill that would have, among other things, created a task force to study the extension of marriage rights to same-sex couples in Hawaii and further strengthen religious protections that already exist in the measure. Lawmakers rejected all of them in voice votes.

The Hawaii House approved the bill two days after the chamber passed it on its second reading following five days of testimony from SB1 supporters and opponents. The state Senate on Oct. 30 overwhelmingly approved the measure.

Gays and lesbians can legally marry in 14 states and D.C.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn on Nov. 20 is scheduled to sign a bill into law that will allow same-sex marriage in his state.

The Hawaii Supreme Court in 1993 ruled the denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples is unconstitutional. The ruling prompted the passage of the Defense of Marriage Act three years later that prohibited the federal government from legally recognizing gay nuptials.

The U.S. Supreme Court in June found a portion of DOMA unconstitutional.

Hawaiian voters in 1998 approved a state constitutional amendment that allowed the Legislature to ban same-sex marriage.

“The state has a responsibility to those voters,” state Rep. Bob McDermott said as he testified against SB1.

Hawaii’s civil unions law took effect in 2012, but a federal judge in August of that year dismissed a lawsuit filed on behalf of two same-sex couples who sought marriage rights in Hawaii. The plaintiffs appealed, and their case is pending in the U.S. Ninth Circuit alongside a second lawsuit that seeks to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in Nevada.

Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie and 14 state attorneys general last month filed briefs with the court that urge it to rule in favor of nuptials for gays and lesbians in his state and Nevada.

The state Senate on Tuesday is scheduled to consider amendments to SB1 that the House approved.

Abercrombie is expected to sign the measure into law later next week.

“I commend the House of Representatives for taking this historic vote to move justice and equality forward,” the governor said. “After more than 50 hours of public testimony from thousands of testifiers on both sides of the issue, evaluating dozens of amendments and deliberating procedures through hours of floor debates, the House passed this significant bill, which directly creates a balance between marriage equality for same-sex couples and protect our First Amendment freedoms for religious organizations.”

Same-sex couples will be able to legally marry in Hawaii on Dec. 2 once Abercrombie signs SB1 into law.

09
Nov
2013

Obama ‘proud’ of Hawaii for enacting same-sex marriage

President Obama said he's "proud" of his home state of Hawaii for legalizing same-sex marriage (Blade photo by Lee Whitman).

President Obama said he’s “proud” of his home state of Hawaii for legalizing same-sex marriage (Blade photo by Lee Whitman).

President Obama issued a statement shortly after the Hawaii legislature gave final approval to a bill to legalize same-sex marriage on Tuesday, saying he’s “proud” of his birth state for enacting marriage equality.

“Whenever freedom and equality are affirmed, our country becomes stronger,” Obama said. “By giving loving gay and lesbian couples the right to marry if they choose, Hawaii exemplifies the values we hold dear as a nation. I’ve always been proud to have been born in Hawaii, and today’s vote makes me even prouder.”

Gov. Neil Abercrombie is expected to sign on Wednesday the legislation that the State Senate approved earlier on Tuesday by a vote of 19-4. The bill was an amended version of marriage legislation that the State House approved last week.

The wins for marriage equality in recent weeks have been hitting close to home for Obama. Last week, the legislature in Illinois, where Obama served as a state senator and U.S. senator, gave the final approval to marriage equality legislation. Afterward, Obama said he and Michelle Obama were “overjoyed” by the news. This week, the victory came in Hawaii, where Obama was born in 1961.

The full statement follows:

“I want to congratulate the Hawaii State Legislature on passing legislation in support of marriage equality.  With today’s vote, Hawaii joins a growing number of states that recognize that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters should be treated fairly and equally under the law.  Whenever freedom and equality are affirmed, our country becomes stronger.  By giving loving gay and lesbian couples the right to marry if they choose, Hawaii exemplifies the values we hold dear as a nation.  I’ve always been proud to have been born in Hawaii, and today’s vote makes me even prouder.  And Michelle and I extend our best wishes to all those in Hawaii whose families will now be given the security and respect they deserve. “

12
Nov
2013

Hawaii same-sex marriage bill clears final hurdle

Neil Abercrombie, Hawaii, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A bill that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in Hawaii on Tuesday cleared its final hurdle.

The 19-4 vote in the state Senate clears the way for Gov. Neil Abercrombie to sign Senate Bill 1 into law. He is expected to do so on Wednesday.

“Join with me in bending the arc of moral justice by confirming on all Americans equal treatment under the law,” state Sen. Clayton Hee said after he read a letter he received from Edith Windsor, the New York widow who challenged a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act before the U.S. Supreme Court. “Let us confirm that all marriages are equal, regardless if they may be straight or gay.”

State Sen. Suzanne Chun-Oakland discussed her upbringing in a Christian and Buddhist household as she spoke emotionally in support of SB1.

“The bill before us provides an opportunity for the people of our state to nurture a just and more compassionate society,” she said.

The Hawaii Supreme Court in 1993 ruled the denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples is unconstitutional. The ruling prompted the passage of DOMA three years later that prohibited the federal government from legally recognizing gay nuptials.

The U.S. Supreme Court in June found a portion of DOMA unconstitutional.

Hawaii voters in 1998 approved a state constitutional amendment that allowed the Legislature to ban same-sex marriage.

The state’s civil unions law took effect in 2012, but a federal judge in August of that year dismissed a lawsuit filed on behalf of two gay couples who sought marriage rights in Hawaii. The plaintiffs appealed, and their case is pending in the U.S. Ninth Circuit alongside a second lawsuit that seeks to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in Nevada.

Abercrombie and 14 state attorneys general last month filed briefs with the court that urge it to rule in favor of nuptials for gays and lesbians in his state and Nevada.

The Hawaii House of Representatives on Friday gave its final approval to SB1 after lawmakers debated it for more than 12 hours. The chamber two days earlier passed the measure on its second reading following five days of testimony from its supporters and opponents.

The state Senate on Oct. 30 overwhelmingly approved SB1, but it had to consider amendments the House added to the measure.

“The Legislature has ignored the majority,” state Sen. Mike Gabbard said as he testified against the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Brickwood Galuteria, who introduced SB1, said lawmakers have “heard all the voices” on the issue of marriage rights for same-sex couples in Hawaii as he spoke in support of the measure.

“There must be no delay or no compromise or no hesitation with our purpose,” he said.

Same-sex couples will be able to marry in Hawaii on Dec. 2.

12
Nov
2013

Hawaii lawmakers urged to support marriage

Colleen Hanabusa, Tulsi Gabbard, Mazie Hirono, Brian Schatz, Hawaii, Democratic Party, United States House of Representatives, United States Senate, gay news, Washington Blade

Members of the Hawaii congressional delegation, (from top left clockwise) Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Sen. Brian Schatz and Sen. Mazie Hirono (all are Democrats). (Photos public domain)

HONOLULU—Members of Hawaii’s congressional delegation on Aug. 16 urged state lawmakers to support a bill that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Congresswomen Colleen Hanabusa and Tulsi Gabbard and U.S. Sens. Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz each spoke in support of the issue in a press release the group Hawaii United for Marriage released.

“Government officials, judges and bureaucrats should not have the power to declare one relationship ‘morally’ superior to another,” Gabbard said.

Lawmakers did not vote on same-sex marriage bills before they adjourned in June. They could potentially debate the issue during a special legislative session later this year if Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who backs nuptials for gays and lesbians, calls for one.

21
Aug
2013

Cartoon: Jo Jordan

Hawaii, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, marriage equality, Jo Jordan

Lesbian lawmaker, Jo Jordan, is experiencing some backlash after voting against marriage equality in Hawaii. (Washington Blade cartoon by Ranslem)

12
Nov
2013