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Why doesn’t outrage over Arizona translate to ENDA support?

John Boehner, Ohio, Republican Party, GOP, United States House of Representatives, U.S. Congress, gay news, Washington Blade, Jan Brewer, Arizona

Will U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) take note of Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer‘s veto of an anti-gay measure and bring up ENDA? (Washington Blade photo of John Boehner by Michael Key; photo of Jan Brewer by Gage Skidmore courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Within one week, national outrage over anti-LGBT discrimination was able to kill a controversial “turn away the gay” bill in Arizona, but almost 40 years after an early version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act was introduced in Congress, the bill still hasn’t become law.

The unprecedented firestorm of opposition leading to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s veto of SB 1062 raises questions about why that energy can’t be harnessed to institute federal protections against the discrimination the legislation would have enabled.

The outcry among LGBT advocates, Republican lawmakers, faith groups and the media against the Arizona bill was widespread. The legislation would have allowed any person — which under the bill could be an individual, a religious assembly or business — to deny services based on a religious belief.

Among Republicans, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) urged a veto of the measure. They were followed by surprise calls to reject the measure from former Republican presidential contenders generally known for their opposition to LGBT rights: former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

On the business side, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce opposed the legislation as well as corporate tech giants Apple and Intel. Major companies based in Arizona — U.S. Airways and retailer PetSmart — also called on Brewer to veto the bill. The National Football League even weighed in and, according to a report in Sports Illustrated, reportedly considered moving next year’s Super Bowl XLIX out of Phoenix if the measure became law.

Scott Wooledge, a gay New York-based netroots advocate who sought to get major U.S. companies on the record against SB 1062, said he thinks the “broad and vague” language of the bill is what triggered the massive outcry among businesses.

“Individuals could assert under Arizona law that they have the right to fire their gay subordinate,” Wooledge said. “They could say you hired me and I have this gay executive assistant, and I’m firing him because he offends my religious liberty. What would Intel do under this situation because that would be a violation of their company policy, and their own employees would have the force of law behind them?”

But other religious exemption bills that would enable anti-LGBT discrimination have advanced without as much outcry. In Kansas, the state House approved a measure specifically aimed at allowing businesses to refuse services for weddings. Despite media reports that the measure is dead, at least one advocate on the ground has said he expects action soon in the Senate.

In Mississippi, the Senate passed legislation, SB 2681, which would give businesses a license to discriminate against customers based on personal religious beliefs that is under consideration in the House. Although LGBT advocates have spoken out against these measures, the level of outcry isn’t the same as in Arizona.

A number of observers who spoke to the Washington Blade pointed out an obvious distinction: SB 1062 managed to reach the governor’s desk while others haven’t made it that far.

Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, director of social policy and politics for the Third Way, also said Arizona has a special distinction because it has a reputation for passing controversial bills, such as SB 1070, which allowed law enforcement to ask individuals perceived as being immigrants for registration documents before the measure was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Folks in Arizona are particularly sensitive about their state getting a bad rap and losing business after the anti-immigrant legislation caused such an uproar,” Erickson Hatalsky said. “This bill was similarly poorly written and would’ve allowed a parade of horribles that made it easy to convince businesses and the public that it was a bad idea, especially on top of that current sensitivity about the state’s reputation.”

But the situation in Arizona was striking not just for the outcry over the legislation, but the wall-to-wall coverage from national mainstream media on the bill on networks like MSNBC and CNN.

As Media Matters notes, even Fox News, which has a reputation of shilling for conservatives, aired commentary from conservative analysts in opposition to the bill. Andrea Tantaros, co-host of “The Five,” compared the bill to the racist Jim Crow laws in the South and said she doesn’t know why “you would want to bring Jim Crow laws back to the forefront for homosexuals.”

Cathy Renna, a New York-based public affairs specialist, said the media coverage of the Arizona bill is part of a trend of growing attention to LGBT rights amid rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court on marriage equality.

“We obviously cannot turn on the TV or look at any website, or if people still flip through newspapers, not seeing a story about this,” Renna said. “It’s almost impossible, and it’s creating a whole new level of conversation about the issue of discrimination, and I think it’s really showing how we have a ton of momentum that’s come a long way, but we still have a lot that we need to do.”

Turning Arizona outrage to ENDA

But if a bill that would have enabled discrimination against LGBT people inspired so much angst, why isn’t that same energy helping to advance measures that would protect against this kind of discrimination, at least in employment, at the federal level?

John Aravosis, editor of AMERICAblog, said the distinction is the Arizona bill was a negative anti-gay measure that could have been enacted by Brewer’s signature within a week, and it’s harder to muster the energy to pass a positive law that can be constantly delayed.

“If the president had a week to decide and then ENDA would be dead forever, people might be a little more engaged, and there might be a little more pressure on him,” Aravosis said. “But the negative is always better reality in playing to the grassroots than the positive. It shouldn’t be, but it is.”

Not helping matters is a misconception that federal protections against LGBT people in the workplace are already in place. According to a YouGov/Huffington Post poll made public in October, 69 percent of Americans incorrectly believe firing someone for being gay or lesbian is illegal.

It’s that kind of false understanding that Erickson Hatalsky said makes people satisfied with the status quo and unwilling to make changes to law as other issues surrounding LGBT rights move quickly.

“If they don’t see a huge problem happening in front of them, they say, ‘Whatever the law is, it must be working,’” Erickson Hatalsky said. ”So that really plays to our benefit when it’s an overly broad religious liberty attack like the one in Arizona. It does exactly the opposite when we’re trying to pass affirmative non-discrimination.”

Amid the national outcry over the Arizona bill, President Obama has remained unwilling to sign an executive order barring LGBT discrimination among federal contractors.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney instead touted the importance of ENDA when asked last week for an update on the directive in the aftermath of the Arizona veto, saying the legislative approach “would be far more comprehensive in its effect.” Still, Carney acknowledged the broad opposition to the Arizona bill.

“And it was gratifying to see Americans from all walks of life, including business leaders, faith leaders, regardless of party, speak out against this measure — and it’s further evidence that the American people fundamentally believe in equality, and it’s time to get on the right side of history,” Carney said.

But Congress has shown no signs of moving forward. Months after the Senate approved ENDA by a bipartisan 64-32 vote, U.S. House Speaker John Boehner held a meeting with the LGBT Equality Caucus and threw cold water on the bill, either saying there’s “no way” ENDA would come this session or it’s “highly unlikely.” Still, those in attendance see an opportunity for a bill to come up after Election Day during the lame duck session of Congress.

Seeking discharge petition, Paul Ryan’s help

The effort to link the discrimination that would have been allowed under the Arizona bill to the need to pass ENDA is daunting, but something observers say can happen.

Wooledge said the situation over the Arizona bill was different than the effort to enact federal workplace protections because there was a singular focus, a veto, and a singular target, Brewer. If supporters settled on a discharge petition as the method to pass ENDA in the House, Wooledge said, the results would be similar.

“I have full confidence that the progressive coalition that coalesced around SB 1062 would do a very similar campaign to persuade legislators both Democratic and Republican to sign the discharge petition, but they don’t want to do that,” Wooledge said. “Human Rights Campaign has never called for a discharge petition, never has the [National] Gay & Lesbian Task Force, so if our own 800-pound gorillas of advocacy don’t want a discharge petition, then Nancy Pelosi is not going to want a discharge petition.”

For Erickson Hatalsky, Arizona demonstrated the importance of having Republican, business and faith leaders on board with an LGBT measure, and said those efforts should continue with ENDA. One way, she said, is getting  Republican star Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who voted for ENDA in 2007, to vocalize renewed support.

“I think we’ve only had Jeff Flake and John McCain and those other Republican senators on ENDA for a few months,” Erickson Hatalsky said. “That was a huge step that we’ve taken in the past year, so we just have to keep building on it and make the case to John Boehner that it’s in his best interest to get on board.”

Instead of the Arizona bill, Aravosis said supporters of federal non-discrimination protections should look to the path that led to repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” when gay discharged troops brought their stories to the media.

“With ENDA, if we had stories coming out every day, gays in the military…been screwed again today, we’d probably be more successful,” Aravosis said. “That’s the battle to compare it to because we had stories almost every day of these nice people losing their jobs. The folks getting paid to do ENDA are not putting out those stories every day.”

The extent to which national LGBT organizations will draw on the controversy to advance ENDA isn’t yet clear. Freedom to Work didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment.

Dan Rafter, spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, said his organization intends to carry the outrage over the Arizona bill to the table in engagement over ENDA.

“Bills like SB 1062 illustrate how vulnerable LGBT people remain when it comes to facing discrimination – be it in their workplace or their communities,” Rafter said. “But the backlash to the bill, including from Republicans and big business, illustrates the incredibly broad support for workplace protections. We are absolutely going to continue elevating that message as we work to build support for ENDA in the House by continuing our engagement with members all across the country.”

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, said in a statement to the Blade the veto of the Arizona bill itself demonstrates the time has come for Congress to act on ENDA.

“America is against discrimination but the public thinks protections are already in the law,” Carey said. “The effort to successfully reject Arizona¹s SB 1062 spotlights the lack of federal LGBT anti-discrimination legislation, sends a clear  message that extremism is totally unacceptable to people of all political persuasions, and highlights the urgent need for the House to take up and pass ENDA.”

01
Mar
2014

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

Biden triggers speculation about ENDA executive order

Vice President Joseph Biden said he sees no downside to an executive order protecting LGBT workers (Blade file photo by Michael Key).

Vice President Joseph Biden said he sees no downside to an executive order barring bias against LGBT workers. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Vice President Joseph Biden said in an interview with The Huffington Post’s Jennifer Bendery on Thursday he sees “no downside” to President Obama’s signing an executive order barring federal contractors from engaging in anti-LGBT workplace discrimination.

Although Biden said passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act would be a better approach to combatting anti-LGBT discrimination because passage of the legislation “ends it everywhere,” his comments on the executive order raise a question: Will it be enough to push Obama, who has withheld the order despite calls from LGBT advocates, to sign the directive?

Richard Socarides, a New York-based gay advocate, was among those wondering if Biden’s latest remarks would be a catalyst for Obama to take action.

“It’s hard to know what the delay is,” Socarides said. “Maybe Biden’s remarks will help. But at this point, it’s hard to know.”

After all, when Biden appeared to endorse marriage equality in April 2012 on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Obama concluded his evolution on the issue himself just three days later in a TV interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts, becoming the first sitting U.S. president to endorse same-sex marriage.

John Aravosis, editor of AMERICAblog, said Biden has proved to be a bellweather on LGBT issues before and “so perhaps this is a sign that the administration is finally moving in that direction.”

“It’s also possibly a sign that Biden is being Biden and saying something out of school,” Aravosis said. “I think we always need more fuel — clearly, the administration hasn’t done the executive order, and until they do, we need more fuel.”

The White House didn’t respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on whether Biden’s words mark any change in position for the administration. During periodic requests for comment on the issue during news briefings, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has said the White House prefers a legislative approach to addressing the issue of LGBT workplace protections.

Not so long ago, Biden made similar comments against LGBT workplace discrimination during a speech at a Human Rights Campaign dinner in Los Angeles, saying the lack of federal non-discrimination protections in the workplace was “close to barbaric.” Although Biden omitted any mention of the executive order from the speech in March, he called on Congress to immediately pass ENDA.

Mark Daley, spokesperson for the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, said the views his organization articulated after those remarks remain the same now that Biden has explicitly dismissed any concerns about the executive order.

“As we saw with marriage equality, Vice President Biden is sometimes the person who will preview a presidential decision,” Daley said. “So let’s hope his most recent comments means that a non-discrimination executive order is imminent from President Obama.”

Meanwhile, LGBT advocates pounced on Biden’s remarks as an opportunity to reiterate that both passage of ENDA and the signing of an executive order is necessary to institute protections for LGBT workers at the same level that they exist for other categories of workers, such as race, religion and gender.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), chief sponsor of ENDA in the Senate and one of the biggest proponents of the executive order, echoed the sense via Twitter there’s no downside to the executive order.

 

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said Biden’s remarks demonstrate the potential impact of the executive order is known by senior administration officials.

“The vice president’s comments are further compelling proof that the importance of the executive order is understood at the highest levels of the administration,” Sainz said. “The executive order and ENDA protect LGBT workers in two very different ways. This has never been a question of one over the other. We need both.”

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said Biden has resumed his “reoccurring role as the White House’s inconvenient truth teller” by saying there’s no downside to the executive order.

“No matter if Jay Carney incorrectly calls the policy ‘redundant’ or other officials invent excuses for delay, the vice president is right that there’s no downside,” Almeida said. “In fact, in an election year where Democrats need to fire up the base, there’s actually political upside that combines with the greater good of being on the right side of history just like Presidents FDR and Eisenhower who signed federal contractor executive orders before Congress passed the Civil Rights Act.”

Almeida, pointing to a graphic his organization made on Biden last year, added that as Pride month approaches in June, expectations among LGBT advocates will increase that this policy will finally happen.

But not all LGBT advocates are drawing on the Biden comments to double-down on their call for an executive order and are instead refocusing on ENDA.

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), who’s gay and chief sponsor of ENDA in the U.S. House, turned attention to the legislation that continues to languish in the Republican-controlled House, but said he continues to support the executive order.

“The best way to ensure that all Americans are judged by the quality of their work, not who they love, is for the House to pass the bipartisan Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which currently has 203 cosponsors,” Polis said. “Until that happens, I have and will continue to urge the president to sign an executive order prohibiting discrimination of LGBT employees by federal contractors.”

01
May
2014

Thomas Roberts to co-host Miss Universe pageant in Moscow

Thomas Roberts, Gay, Russia,MSNBC, Washington Blade

Thomas Roberts (Photo courtesy of MSNBC)

Gay MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts on Thursday announced he will co-host next month’s 2012 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow amid ongoing concerns over Russia’s LGBT rights record.

“Courage is contagious,” Roberts wrote in a column his network posted to its website. “I have felt that way since coming out publicly in 2006. I’ve never regretted it.”

Roberts, who married his husband, Patrick Abner, in New York in 2012, further described his decision to co-host the pageant with singer Mel B as “a huge, visible opportunity for LGBT people” everywhere.

“I am not a special case. I am a good person, good spouse, good child, good sibling, good friend and hard worker. That is me,” he wrote. “I am just like millions of LGBT people around the world. We are good, regular, hard-working people who come from solid families. So when I heard there was a chance at this assignment I aggressively went after it. Lo and behold the Miss Universe team, NBC Entertainment and the Trump team agreed and offered it to me.”

Roberts’ announcement comes roughly two months after Andy Cohen told E! News he turned down a request to co-host the pageant, in part, because “he didn’t feel right as a gay man stepping foot into Russia.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin in June signed a bill into law that bans gay propaganda to minors.

A second law that bans foreign same-sex couples and any couple from a country in which gays and lesbians can legally marry from adopting Russian children took effect in July. The Family Equality Council and other LGBT advocacy groups have also criticized a proposal that seeks to allow authorities to deny parental custody based on their sexual orientation.

Author Dan Savage, playwright Harvey Fierstein and others have called for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics that will take place in Sochi, Russia, in February over the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record.

Cher last month said she turned down a request to perform at the games over Russia’s gay propaganda law. LGBT rights advocates have criticized gay singer Elton John over two concerts at which he is scheduled to perform in Moscow and the Russian city of Kazan in December.

John Aravosis of AMERICAblog is among those who questioned Roberts’ decision to co-host the Miss Universe pageant that will take place in the Russian capital on Nov. 9.

“If Thomas Roberts thinks he can give gay Russians ‘hope’, then I’d implore him to do far more while he’s there than simply host the Miss Universe pageant and assume that everyone knows he’s gay and married to a man,” Aravosis wrote earlier on Friday. “The benefits of such a trip are still unclear, the risks however are not.”

The Miss Universe Organization in August criticized Russia’s gay propaganda law and the ongoing anti-LGBT crackdown in the country.

“The Miss Universe Organization believes in equality for all individuals and is deeply concerned by the laws recently enacted in Russia and currently in place in several other countries,” it said. “Both the law, as well as the violence experienced by the LGBT community in Russia, are diametrically opposed to the core values of our company. Our organization has always embodied a spirit of inclusion and is a celebration of people from all countries and walks of life.”

Donald Trump, who co-owns the Miss Universe Organization with NBC Universal, further criticized the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record during an interview with Roberts on Friday.

“I don’t like what it’s all about,” Trump said. “We can go over there and make a difference.”

Roberts was unavailable to speak with the Washington Blade as of deadline, but the gay anchor on Friday further discussed his decision to co-host the pageant during an interview on “Morning Joe”.

“I’m openly gay; I’m happily married and I don’t think anybody’s going to tell me that I’m less than,” Roberts said. “And so for that very reason that’s why I wanted to go and accept this assignment. I think it’s a wonderful assignment because this is going to be seen by a billion people in over 190 countries and if they happen to find out that I’m gay and married and my husband Patrick’s going to be there with me, fantastic.”

18
Oct
2013

Cheney family feud reflects GOP division on marriage

Dick Cheney, Lynne Cheney, Mary Cheney, Liz Cheney, gay news, Washington Blade

The Cheney family is engaged in a public dispute on same-sex marriage (Photo public domain).

The public spat within the Cheney family over the issue of same-sex marriage has prompted many to suggest the flap is a microcosm of what’s happening in the Republican Party at large over LGBT rights.

An explosion of media coverage ensued this week over lesbian Mary Cheney taking to her Facebook page to publicly rebuke her sister, U.S. Senate candidate Liz Cheney, for stating her opposition to marriage equality on Fox News Sunday. “Liz – this isn’t just an issue on which we disagree – you’re just wrong – and on the wrong side of history,” Mary Cheney wrote.

In a statement provided to media outlets, former Vice President Richard Cheney, a supporter of same-sex marriage, along with his wife Lynne Cheney, articulated a sense of pain over the controversy.

“This is an issue we have dealt with privately for many years, and we are pained to see it become public,” Dick and Lynne Cheney said in the joint statement. “Liz has always believed in the traditional definition of marriage. She has also always treated her sister and her sister’s family with love and respect.”

Gregory Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said the Cheney dispute demonstrates Republicans “do not walk in lockstep” on the issue of marriage equality.

“I think it shows there’s a lot more discussion that needs to happen both within the Republican Party and at dinner tables around the country in order to get more Republicans on the right side of this issue,” Angelo said.

Richard Socarides, a gay New York-based advocate and Democratic activist, also said the Cheney family conflict reflects the division among Republicans on the marriage issue.

“It’s uncanny how it exactly mirrors the divisions within the larger Republican Party,” Socarides said. “Cross generational agreement exists but  there are still some geographic and ideological differences. It shows also that the GOP still has a long, long way to go and that most LGBTs are going to be more at home with the Democrats.”

The growing support for marriage equality among the GOP can be seen by three GOP senators coming out for marriage equality this year: Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

And support for same-sex marriage is growing among younger Republicans, although the party as a whole remains opposed to gay nuptials. According to a March 2013 analysis by Republican pollster Jan van Lohuizen and Democratic pollster Joel Benenson, a bare majority of 51 percent of Republicans under the age of 30 support the legalization of same-sex marriage in their state.

But the party’s official position on marriage equality is still opposed. In April, the Republican National Committee approved by voice-vote a package of resolutions that included a measure reaffirming the party’s opposition to same-sex marriage.

Liz Mair, a Republican political strategist who favors LGBT inclusion in the GOP, said Liz Cheney’s advisers are mistaken if they’re telling their candidate that opposing same-sex marriage will make her more favorable to Republican voters because that strategy hasn’t worked for other GOP candidates.

“They tend to want to adopt or play up very conservative stances on issues that aren’t top-five or even top-10 for many primary voters at all, and think that will give them a toehold from which they can claw their way into contention,” Mair said. “It rarely works, and we’ve seen this whether we’re talking about hardline rhetoric on immigration or tacking right, noticeably, on so-called ‘gay issues.’”

Liz Cheney may have wanted to use the marriage issue to gain traction against her opponent, Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.). At the end of October, Enzi was ahead of Cheney 69 percent to 17 percent in a survey among likely primary voters conducted by Bob Wickers of The Wickers Group.

Mair said the more interesting question is whether Enzi, the incumbent, would be able to survive a primary challenge if he supported same-sex marriage.

“We’re not going to get to give that theory a test run, because Enzi does not support same-sex marriage, but the fact that it seems possible suggests what all the polling suggests,” Mair said. “This is an issue that is waning in importance for GOP primary voters and to the extent that it remains important, it’s because the number of self-identified Republicans who support the freedom to marry is increasing steadily, noticeably and consistently.”

The rebuke from Mary Cheney, who married her partner Heather Poe last year in D.C., also represents an evolution on her part after enduring criticism for not taking a strong enough position in urging her party to support same-sex marriage.

Mary Cheney in 2002 joined the advisory board for the now-defunct Republican Unity Coalition, a gay/straight alliance dedicated to making sexual orientation a ‘non-issue’ for the GOP.

But Mary Cheney didn’t stay with the organization. In 2003, the group criticized then-Sen. Rick Santorum for his now infamous comments comparing homosexuality to bigamy, incest and adultery when discussing sodomy laws.

During a 2003 appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Republican strategist and Cheney adviser Mary Matalin in turn rebuked the RUC for going after Santorum, saying the organization was “parroting” the Democratic interpretation of what Santorum said. About a week later, Mary Cheney resigned from the RUC, deferring media inquires to Matalin.

Even as Mary Cheney has criticized her sister for opposing same-sex marriage, she recently contributed $2,500 to the Romney presidential campaign despite his support for a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

In 2004, John Aravosis, a gay political activist, started a campaign called “Dear Mary” to encourage Mary Cheney to speak out against a Federal Marriage Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as she helped her father with the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign.

Aravosis, now editor of AMERICAblog, said he thinks Mary Cheney’s criticism of her sister is real and welcome, but still somewhat conflicted.

“Mary is running into a basic contradiction that gay Republicans face: Anti-gay bigots often don’t discriminate against us privately, but when in the public policy sphere they’re more than happy to,” Aravosis said. “Mary is finally coming to terms with that fact, and that’s great. But she needs to stop supporting anti-gay candidates overall, then I think people will accept her support unquestioningly.”

The situation also brings into question how the marriage issue will play out once the presidential primaries begin in 2016. What will be the fallout for potential candidates like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who opposes same-sex marriage, but withdrew an appeal before the Supreme Court on a court ruling in favor of marriage equality?

Mair said she doesn’t think Christie’s chances of securing the Republican presidential nomination are at all diminished by his decision to back down in the marriage equality fight.

“With some pockets of the GOP primary electorate, especially in a state like New Hampshire, they may be increased,” Mair said. “But like Liz Cheney and Mike Enzi, I would be highly surprised if Christie’s prospects in a primary hinged on his stance on same-sex marriage.”

Bigger issues, Mair said, would be his brashness, his stance on issues like guns and foreign policy, and whether he could hold his own against Hillary Clinton in the general election.

Angelo noted that Christie hasn’t made any personal statements regarding his feelings on marriage equality following his decision to withdraw the appeal to speak to whether they’ve changed.

“If anything, Chris Christie certainly has a strong independent streak and has not allowed himself to be defined by any one single issue for the entirety of his term of governor of New Jersey,” Angelo said. “I imagine that will likely be the case with the civil marriage issue as well.”

20
Nov
2013

Gay, bi lawmakers criticized for joining GOP on Obamacare vote

Kyrsten Sinema, Sean Patrick Maloney, Democratic Party, United States House of Representatives, New York, Arizona, Victory Fund, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney are incurring the wrath of gay activists for voting with House Republicans. (Photo of Sinema courtesy the Sinema campaign; Washington Blade photo of Maloney by Michael Key).

Two Democratic members of Congress — one gay and one bisexual — are incurring the wrath of LGBT activists for voting with House Republicans to delay certain portions of Obamacare in exchange for keeping the government in operation.

Reps. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) were among nine Democrats on Monday who voted for a Republican-led resolution that provided funds for the government for fiscal year 2014, but included a provision delaying the individual mandate and requiring members of Congress and their staffs to pay the full cost of insurance without the government subsidy.

Additionally, Maloney voted for another measure that includes the above policy items in addition to calling for a conference committee with the Senate, which would likely mean some give on health care reform.

Both Maloney and Sinema also joined Republicans on Sunday to vote for repeal of the tax on medical devices as part of Obamacare.

Each House proposal was rejected by the Senate, which has insisted on a bill that only continues funding for the government, leading to the stalemate that caused the government shutdown on Tuesday.

Michael Rogers, a D.C.-based LGBT rights advocate, said the vote means Sinema and Maloney are Democrats in name only.

“I am a progressive so I wish Sinema and Maloney were more concerned about the American people than with their reelection,” Rogers said. “When Democrats stand for Democratic principles we win. If these two people won as out LGBT people, surely they would not have been tossed out sticking with their caucus. It is sellouts like Sinema and Maloney who, as DINOs, are more than willing to cave in to the crazy demands of the right.”

Michaelangelo Signorile, a gay New York activist and radio host on SiriusXM, took to Twitter to express his indignation.

John Aravosis, who’s gay and editor of AMERICAblog, also had harsh words for the two lawmakers, who ran as openly gay/bi candidates and took donations from the LGBT community.

“I think it’s abominable,” Aravosis said. “No Democrat, let alone a gay or bisexual one, should be working to undercut health care protections for Americans, let alone helping John Boehner do anything.”

The other openly gay lawmakers in the U.S. House — Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), David Cicciline (D-R.I.), Mark Takano (D-Calif.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) — didn’t join Maloney or Sinema in these votes.

Maloney and Sinema voted against the most drastic proposal from House Republicans to attach a one-year delay of health care reform to the spending bill for fiscal year 2014.

In a statement, Maloney defended his vote for delaying the individual mandate by pointing to the administration.

“I strongly support the president’s decision to give employers more time to comply with the law, and I believe that we should give families the same flexibility we’re giving to our small businesses,” Maloney said.

Maloney also explained his support for eliminating health care subsidies for government employees by saying the playing field for public and private workers should be equal.

“Families and businesses in the Hudson Valley are not getting special subsidies from Obamacare and neither should members of Congress or the White House,” Maloney said.

In a separate statement, Sinema defended her votes by saying they ensure individuals can sign up for health care plans without “being punished” for failing to purchase adequate healthcare coverage.

“It’s now been proven that too many states are not ready to implement the marketplaces,” Sinema said. “It’s not fair to punish people who don’t have the information they need to make informed decisions. Arizona’s hard-working families need transparency and certainty about this healthcare law and its implementation. A one-year delay of the individual mandate will ensure that Arizonans get that certainty.”

Sinema also said health care subsidies for government employees shouldn’t happen with a government shutdown in effect.

“Additionally, I supported tonight’s amendment because members of Congress should not ask the government to pay for their healthcare while Americans at home suffer during government shutdown,” Sinema said.

Neither the office of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) nor the Democratic National Committee responded to the Blade’s request for comment on Sinema and Maloney joining House Republicans. Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, is on furlough and unable to respond to media requests.

The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which endorsed the openly gay/bi candidates and called for donations from LGBT people for the candidates, didn’t respond to a request for comment. The Human Rights Campaign also endorsed both candidates and didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sinema and Maloney have been active on LGBT-specific issues since their election to Congress. They voted for an LGBT-inclusive version of  the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization and signed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act.

Dana Beyer, a Chevy Chase, Md.,-based transgender activist, said the LGBT community shouldn’t judge Sinema and Maloney too harshly for their votes because “these late night political machinations are generally theater” and don’t say anything about the lawmakers’ overall voting records.

“This issue isn’t about the LGBT community; it’s about America,” Beyer said. “They should be judged on a much broader set of criteria and values than this one vote, and I hope people take the context into account.”

02
Oct
2013

Critics assail Pentagon over blocked gay sites

Pentagon, military, gay news, Washington Blade

Activists are pressuring the Department of Defense to lift a block on the websites of LGBT blogs and organizations. (Public domain photo by Master Sgt. Ken Hammond)

WASHINGTON — The Defense Department has blocked access to several popular LGBT websites, angering activists, according to AmericaBlog.

The Internet filter, provided by software maker Blue Coat, blocks not just adult sites, but also blogs like Americablog and the sites of organizations like GLAAD and HRC.

“Blue Coat is banning any and all news related to gay and trans people, and even banning anti-bullying and suicide prevention information,” Americablog’s John Aravosis writes. “That’s an incredibly offensive category for any company to create, but adding in anti-bullying and suicide prevention as two specific things that need to be censored, is beyond offensive, especially when Blue Coat admits that sites are ‘generally suitable for viewing by all age groups.’”

HRC and GLAAD have both mobilized readers to reach out to Blue Shield and the Pentagon over the filter block, and a Change.org petition to lift the block had garnered 3,232 supporters as of Wednesday.

10
Jan
2013

Activists criticize new AP policy on couples

AP, Associated Press, gay news, Washington Blade

The Associated Press Building in New York City (Photo by Alterego via wikimedia commons)

WASHINGTON – Advocates continue to criticize the Associated Press for a memo it released on Tuesday that said journalists should use the words “husband” and “wife” to describe same-sex couples only if they have used them or in quotes attributed to them.

The memo said the news agency “generally” uses “couples or partners to describe people in civil unions or same-sex marriages.”

The National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association referenced the U.S. Supreme Court’s Loving v. Virginia court decision in a blog post about the AP memo. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and gay blogger John Aravosis also criticized the news agency.

“It isn’t the Associated Press’ job to overrule the courts and legislatures in nine American states, and numerous foreign countries,” Aravosis wrote on his blog. “Last time I checked, it’s states that determine who is legally married in America, not the Associated Press.”

14
Feb
2013

Obama cements legacy as ‘fierce advocate’

Citizens Metal, Barack Obama, gay news, Washington Blade

LGBT advocates applaud Obama’s Prop 8 brief, but still want more. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The relationship between the LGBT community and President Obama has arguably never been stronger in the wake of the administration’s decision to participate in the lawsuit challenging California’s Proposition 8 — but advocates want him to continue that momentum on other LGBT issues.

On one hand, LGBT rights supporters are pleased with the Justice Department’s friend-of-the-court brief because it marked the first time the administration argued that a ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. On the other hand, some advocates continue to clamor for advances in other areas — in particular by signing an executive order barring LGBT workplace discrimination for federal contractors.

Fred Sainz, vice president of the Human Rights Campaign, was among those who said the brief signaled that Obama continues to lead on issues facing the LGBT community.

“In ways big and small, he continues to distinguish himself as a leader on issues important to our community.” Sainz said. “So, the truth is, I think the president has by filing this brief cemented his legacy as a ‘fierce advocate’ for LGBT people.”

Following calls from LGBT advocates, U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli filed the Justice Department’s brief last week before the Supreme Court. It applies the administration’s reasoning for why the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional — namely that laws related to sexual orientation should be subject to heightened scrutiny – to California’s Prop 8.

While the brief focuses on the constitutionality of Prop 8, which is the question before the Supreme Court, the filing also has language suggesting that same-sex marriage bans in other states are unconstitutional. The brief observes that eight states including California have bans on same-sex marriage while offering domestic partnerships to same-sex couples with the same benefits of marriage.

During a news conference at the White House on Friday, Obama himself said the reasoning presented against Prop 8 in the brief may apply to other cases.

“Now, the court may decide that if it doesn’t apply in this case, it probably can’t apply in any case,” Obama said. “There’s no good reason for it. If I were on the court, that would probably be the view that I’d put forward. But I’m not a judge, I’m the president. So the basic principle, though, is let’s treat everybody fairly and let’s treat everybody equally.”

Richard Socarides, a gay New York advocate who was pushing for Obama to speak out against the constitutionality of Prop 8, said the brief reiterates Obama’s views that laws against gay people should be subject to heightened scrutiny, but extends the president’s views further.

“It’s having the president of the United States say for the first time in a legal brief to the Supreme Court that gays and lesbians have historically been discriminated against, and that they’re entitled to heightened constitutional scrutiny, and that in this particular case, they’ve been discriminated against,” Socarides said. “I do think it was a big victory for the community, so I think it was an important milestone and definitely a step forward.”

In addition to filing the brief, the Justice Department has asked the Supreme Court to grant the solicitor general speaking time during the oral arguments in the Prop 8 case – a move that wasn’t publicly called for by LGBT advocates. The Supreme Court has yet to respond to the request.

And the moves in the Prop 8 case are coupled with the Obama administration’s active involvement in the litigation against the Defense of Marriage Act. In recent weeks, the administration has taken action elsewhere.

The Pentagon has started the process for implementing certain partner benefits for gay troops. That action comes in the wake of the inaugural address in which Obama issued a national call to advance the rights of “our gay brothers and sisters.”

John Aravosis, editor of AMERICAblog, said Obama deserves credit for filing the Prop 8 brief, but also criticized the White House for refusing to talk to about it before submitting it to the Supreme Court and filing it on the last possible day.

“Obviously, there was a hiccup in actually getting this brief,” Aravosis said. “It sort of appeared at the last minute. … Had they decided earlier to file a brief, they could have just gotten credit for it, but instead it became a controversy. They got credit at the end, but it still felt like it was begrudging support.”

In the wake of the filing, advocates say they continue to want more from Obama on LGBT issues and at the top of the list is signing an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers.

HRC’s Sainz was among those saying the directive is next on the plate for LGBT advocates in terms of administrative action.

“The non-discrimination executive order definitely remains our top priority, so that is where we turn our attention to next,” Sainz said.

Socarides said he wants Obama to sign the executive order, but also wants Obama to push ahead with the Employment Non-Discrimination Act amid promises from Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to advance the legislation this year.

“It’s past time for the president to sign the executive order extending non-discrimination provisions to federal contractors,” Socarides said. “I’m hoping that he will do that soon, and at the same time, continue to fight and actually fight more aggressively for ENDA, for federal legislation, and I think that we can flip the House Democratic in the next mid-term election, we could have a pretty good chance of getting ENDA in two years.”

Other requests include the appointment of an openly LGBT Cabinet member and holding in abeyance the marriage-based green cards for married bi-national couples until the Supreme Court makes a final determination on DOMA.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, said Obama remains concerned about LGBT issues and will continue to work on them.

“President Obama is proud of the strong record he’s established on LGBT rights, and he looks forward to building on that progress in the months and years to come,” Inouye said.

Aravosis said predicting whether the administration will follow the brief with other actions that benefit the LGBT community is difficult — but that doesn’t mean advocates should stop pushing for them to happen.

“People who aren’t necessarily working on your issues don’t understand that one fix does not address every problem, and they get sort of annoyed sometimes when we keep asking for more,” Aravosis said. “We keep asking for more because we don’t have our equal rights yet. Once we get full and equal rights, then you can complain that we’re asking for too much, but we have less than everybody else right now.”

07
Mar
2013

1 year later: A look back at Obama’s support for marriage

Barack Obama, White House, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade, Robin Roberts

President Obama comes out for marriage equality in an ABC News interview (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)

Amid cheers over recent marriage equality victories in Rhode Island and Delaware, supporters of same-sex marriage are marking the one-year anniversary of President Obama coming out for marriage equality, calling it a milestone that helped lead to the successes of the past year.

It was a year ago, on May 9, 2012, when Obama declared in an interview with ABC News’ Robin Roberts that he had grown to support same-sex marriage.

“At a certain point, I’ve just concluded that, for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married,” Obama said.

The decision, Obama said, came as the result of speaking with gay members of the armed forces during the debate on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and realizing they should have equal access to the institution of marriage.

But the president was careful to limit the scope of his support. Obama said he was hesitant to make an announcement in favor of marriage equality because he “didn’t want to nationalize the issue” and maintained that he believes the marriage issue remains one best left to the states.

And the announcement wasn’t spontaneous. The president endorsed same-sex marriage after saying for 19 months he was in a state of evolution on the issue. Obama finally made the announcement just three days after Vice President Joseph Biden said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he’s “absolutely comfortable” with married same-sex couples having the “same exact rights” as others.

Obama’s endorsement of marriage equality was seen as a watershed moment because no sitting U.S. president had ever come out for marriage equality and supporters of same-sex marriage hoped his words would influence others to join the president in completing their evolution on the issue.

Arguably, that happened. In the days after the announcement, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found that a majority of black Americans, 59 percent, had also come to support same-sex marriage — up 18 points after the president’s announcement.

Dan Pinello, who’s gay and a political scientist at the City University of New York, identified this growth in support of marriage equality among black Americans as one of the most immediate consequences of Obama’s endorsement of marriage equality.

“Polling data show a statistically significant increase in support for same-sex marriage among black respondents for the periods immediately before and after Obama’s announcement,” Pinello said. “In turn, this increased support probably was crucial in a state with a large African-American-voter contingent like Maryland, which narrowly approved of gay nuptials last November.”

The growth in support isn’t limited to black Americans. Another widely noticed poll in March from Washington Post-ABC News found that 58 percent of the American public had come to support same-sex marriage.

And in the wake of the president’s announcement, substantive changes were seen in favor of marriage equality throughout the country. For the first time ever, the Democratic Party platform in 2012 endorsed marriage equality. In another first, voters legalized same-sex marriage in Maine, Maryland and Washington State at the ballot in November, while voters in Minnesota rejected a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. In the past week, Rhode Island and Delaware became the latest to join other states in legalizing marriage equality.

Moreover, a bevy of U.S. senators have followed in Obama’s tracks by coming out for same-sex marriage. The ones who have come out since the beginning of this year include Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo,), Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) as well as Republicans Rob Portman (Ohio) and Mark Kirk (Ill.). Now all but three members of the Democratic caucus — Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) — back marriage equality.

Pinello said Obama articulating his views a year ago in favor of marriage equality helped set the tone for the Democratic Party that has enabled other lawmakers to come out for same-sex marriage.

“The president set a standard for the Democratic Party, encouraging its other officeholders to emulate his leadership on the issue,” Pinello said. “For example, I doubt that there would be nearly unanimous support for marriage equality among Democrats in the U.S. Senate today without Obama’s action a year ago.”

On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney reflected on the president’s current views on marriage equality when asked by Sirius XM Radio’s Jared Rizzi if Obama still thinks that state-by-state is the best way to address the issue in the wake of Delaware becoming the 11th state with same-sex marriage on the books.

“There has been enormous progress made,” Carney said. “I think that the facts, as you just recited them, demonstrate the progress made. The president’s views are known. He’s expressed them. Our views on issues like DOMA and Prop 8 have been expressed in legal filings, so I’ll point you to those. For him, it’s a fundamental issue of equal rights, and that’s why he has taken the position that he has taken. But for our legal approach to these issues, I would refer you to the Department of Justice.”

But Obama hit another milestone on Election Day six months after his announcement by winning re-election to the White House despite predictions that coming out for marriage equality would jeopardize his re-election prospects. Although he didn’t win as he did in 2008 North Carolina, a state with a significant evangelical population, Obama walloped Mitt Romney in the electoral college by taking 332 votes in the Electoral College compared to Romney’s 206.

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said Obama’s victory after coming out for marriage equality is having a major impact as LGBT advocates push more states to legalize same-sex marriage.

“The president proved that elected officials — at the highest of levels — could be for marriage, campaign on it and be reelected, in fact, based on their support,” Sainz said. “Without that shining example, we may not have the number of senators we do today or have been able to recruit the legislators we need to support marriage in Rhode Island and Delaware and soon in Minnesota and Illinois.”

Obama’s support for marriage equality hasn’t been limited to his words in that May interview. Days before the election, newspapers in Maryland, Maine and Washington State published statements from his campaign urging voters in those states to legalize marriage equality at the ballot. After Obama endorsed legislation in favor of marriage equality in Illinois, Organizing for Action, the successor organization to the Obama campaign, sent out action alerts to its members in the state calling on them to help pass the marriage equality legislation.

Most notably, Obama raised the bar on his position in favor of same-sex marriage by having his Justice Department file a friend-of-the-court brief in the pending lawsuit before the Supreme Court challenging California’s Proposition 8. That brief argued the ban on same-sex marriage in California was unconstitutional and suggested similar bans in other states were unconstitutional.

Even before Obama endorsed marriage equality, his administration had already stopped defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court in addition to aiding litigation by filing briefs and arguing against the law in oral arguments.

John Aravosis, who’s gay and editor of AMERICAblog, said Obama has done a “pretty good job” in acting on his position in favor of marriage equality, but added he could do more — particularly in advocating for immigration reform that would enable gay Americans to sponsor foreign spouses for residency within the country.

“If we sort of think through the things that we wanted him to do in the last year on marriage, he’s done a lot of them,” Aravosis said. “The only one I can think of [him not doing] is putting his foot down on immigration reform and saying, ‘This shall not pass if you discriminate against gays.’ It’s the only one I can think of off the top of my head where he needs to do a better job in terms of putting his foot down.”

Aravosis added to some degree the onus is on the LGBT community in terms of “coming up with the list of pro-marriage needs to do” because “rabble-rousing” on the legal briefs in the Prop 8 case eventually led the administration to file them.

It remains to be seen what impact the president’s words will have in future battles over marriage equality. Will lawmakers in Minnesota and Illinois heed Obama’s words as they consider whether to become the 12th and 13th states to legalize same-sex marriage? Will the U.S. Supreme Court draw upon President Obama’s words in rulings against the Defense of Marriage Act and Prop 8?

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, said he expects Obama’s words from a year ago to continue to have an impact in anticipation of the Supreme Court decision and future legislative wins.

“The president’s strong support for the freedom to marry adds to the case we are making in the Supreme Court, signaling to the justices that America is ready for the freedom to marry and they can do the right thing knowing that not only will history vindicate them, but the public will embrace a right ruling,” Wolfson said. “And we’ve already seen how the president’s leadership — and resonant explanation of how he changed his mind  — adds to the momentum in state battles, ongoing and to come.”

09
May
2013