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New book on marriage equality assailed as ‘travesty’

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

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin is lionized in “Forcing the Spring” for his role in the marriage movement. (Blade file by Michael Key)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

22
Apr
2014

Jo Becker’s revisionist history on marriage

Proposition 8, Supreme Court, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade, Becker

(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Jo Becker’s book “Forcing the Spring,” which lauds the work of the American Foundation for Equal Rights has generated much debate in the LGBT community. Andrew Sullivan trashed the book and its author and claimed some major credit for himself in the fight for marriage equality.

Elizabeth Birch, former president of the Human Rights Campaign trashed Sullivan in her Huffington Post column. But they apparently agree on one thing: The book by Becker is far from an accurate history of the fight for marriage equality.

Reading the excerpt published in the New York Times, it was easy to accept both Sullivan and Birch were right even if their language was harsh. Michael Calderone in his Huffington Post piece quotes Sullivan’s comments on Becker’s book in which he said it is “truly toxic and morally repellent,” and that it includes instances of “jaw-dropping distortion” and statements “so wrong, so myopic and so ignorant it beggars belief that a respectable journalist could actually put it in print.” I guess Sullivan and Becker won’t be going for brunch anytime soon.

Birch calls Sullivan “insufferable,” and notes, “While it is true that the struggle for marriage equality predates the Proposition 8 case and its aftermath, it also predates Andrew Sullivan. (Did anyone else notice no less than four of Sullivan’s books are pushed in the opening paragraphs of his diatribe against the Prop 8 team? So much for collective credit).”

But why is anyone surprised that Sullivan thinks the world revolves around him? I remember his New York Times magazine cover story on the AIDS epidemic, “When Plagues End,” in 1996 when he declared the AIDS epidemic over because the new medications worked for him. The millions who have died and been infected since may not see themselves in the same light.

Both Sullivan and Birch offered strong statements about what was left out of Becker’s book and after reading the excerpt, I was left wondering how much money AFER paid her to write it. It clearly is not a history of the fight for gay marriage but rather a book trying to create heroes of a select few. This is not to denigrate the work of Chad Griffin or the actual work of attorneys who fought the Prop 8 fight or the real heroes of that fight, the couples who brought suit.

But in the excerpt (I haven’t read the full book) she portrays Ken Mehlman as a hero, glancing over his personal responsibility for the anti-gay rhetoric and devastating policies of the Bush administration. She never mentions that while Olsen was one of the lawyers for these couples he was at the same time supporting the Romney/Ryan ticket that was promising to repeal all gay rights advances and to appoint justices to the Supreme Court who would be guaranteed to rule against this case.

There are so many people and organizations deeply involved in the struggle for marriage equality. The fact is, the case brought by AFER to the Supreme Court was a partial victory instead of a possible total loss because Walter Dellinger, former acting solicitor general in the Clinton administration, submitted a brief offering the court what some called an “off-ramp.” It was his brief quoted in Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion that allowed the court to reject the case and return it to the Appellate Court in California where the ruling would only impact that state.

The Becker book apparently leaves out nearly all the activists who have spent a good part of their lives fighting for full human and civil rights for the LGBT community. Many have spent the years working for marriage equality that Mehlman and Olsen spent developing and supporting policies to prevent it.

From Hawaii, where the Supreme Court first ruled in 1993 that marriage equality was constitutional beginning the long fight there, to Massachusetts, which became the first state to legalize marriage equality in 2004; to Iowa that legalized it in 2009 to D.C., the fight for marriage was an effort by thousands. D.C. advocates spent 20 years preparing the stage and working to elect a City Council that would vote yes when the right time came. The question Becker says Griffin put to Obama about when he would “evolve” was asked by many others at those small $37,500 a couple fundraisers. I myself put him on the spot with the same question, and got the same answer, at one of those events on Sept. 30, 2011.

I hope that when marriage equality becomes a reality across the entire nation that someone will write the real history of the fight that won it. That book will be beneficial to future generations in a way that the Becker book will never be.

24
Apr
2014

Bill Clinton’s desperate bid to rewrite history

Former President Bill Clinton today penned an op-ed for the Washington Post, disavowing the discriminatory and unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act that he signed into law 17 years ago.

It’s a typically cynical, desperate bid to rewrite history.

Clinton now suggests that his support for DOMA was really intended to thwart a constitutional amendment that would have banned marriage equality for a generation or more.

The truth is that Clinton said at the time that he “had long agreed with the principles in the bill but hoped it would not be used to justify discrimination against homosexuals,” according to the New York Times. Of course, the point of DOMA was to discriminate. What’s worse, Clinton bragged about his support for DOMA in radio ads during his 1996 re-election campaign against former Sen. Bob Dole, after criticizing Republicans for “gay-baiting.” In the same ads currying support among Christian conservatives, Clinton announced his newfound support for abortion restrictions.

Nearly a year after President Obama’s courageous endorsement of marriage equality, Clinton chimes in from the safe confines of retirement. Meanwhile, Hillary, still adored by legions of gay fans waiting breathlessly for 2016, has yet to utter a word about marriage.

Clinton’s op-ed is a naked attempt to get on the right side of history before the Supreme Court strikes down DOMA. He sounds desperate, highlighting the fact that “DOMA came to my desk, opposed by only 81 of the 535 members of Congress.” That only makes his support worse — at least 81 other politicians at the time had the sense and foresight to oppose the discriminatory measure. The op-ed, of course, contains no apology from Clinton for enacting the most hideous piece of anti-gay legislation ever conceived in this country. DOMA has literally destroyed the lives of countless couples — from the financial ruin triggered when a surviving partner is faced with crippling tax bills to the separation of thousands of bi-national couples forced to choose between love and country.

But never mind all those ruined lives. Clinton was just trying to spare us a constitutional amendment. Cue the parade of gay rights advocates, who will commence tripping over themselves to praise Clinton’s bold stance for equality. HRC’s Chad Griffin has already called Clinton’s op-ed “eloquent.”

If we’re going to so easily forgive and forget Clinton’s anti-gay sins, then our advocates should be consistent and shower former RNC Chair Ken Mehlman with similar praise and awards. As horrible as Mehlman’s record is, at least no one ever elected him president; and he’s been working hard to raise money for marriage equality since coming out of the closet and repudiating his own dirty deeds.

This warm-and-fuzzy new era of gay love is gratifying for those of us who’ve been working for change for years and decades. And although we should welcome converts to the cause, we must not forget the past or rewrite the ugly history that relegated LGBT people to second-class status. Clinton represents cynicism and politics at its most self-aggrandizing. Obama is the real deal — the president who is leading Americans to a true revolution in thinking on LGBT equality.

08
Mar
2013

Cato legal analyst: DOMA is dead

The Cato Institute (Photo by Matt Bisanz via Wikimedia)

The Cato Institute (Photo by Matt Bisanz via Wikimedia)

A senior fellow with the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank that supports LGBT equality, said comments by U.S. Supreme Court justices on Wednesday lead him to believe the high court will strike down the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act known as DOMA.

Cato Institute senior fellow Ilya Shapiro, who attended Wednesday’s oral arguments at the high court, said the court’s four liberal justices would likely invoke the Constitution’s “equal protection” clause as grounds for overturning DOMA’s Section 3, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.

Shapiro said comments made by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is considered the court’s swing vote on DOMA, indicate Kennedy would vote to strike down DOMA based on grounds that it violates “federalism” or states’ rights protections under the constitution.

Assuming Kennedy joins liberal leaning Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan in voting to declare Section 3 of DOMA as unconstitutional, the five would become a majority on the nine-member court needed to strike down that provision of DOMA, according to Shapiro.

“Assuming they get past the jurisdictional arguments it seems like DOMA Section 3 is not long for this world,” he said.

Shapiro gave his assessment on the justices’ views on DOMA at a Cato Institute forum Wednesday afternoon called Law, Politics, and Same-Sex Marriage.

Others panelists speaking at the forum included Walter Olson, a Cato Institute fellow, who served as moderator; Evan Wolfson, executive director of the same-sex marriage advocacy group Freedom to Marry; and Ken Mehlman, a York City businessman and former chair of the Republican National Committee.

Wolfson attended Wednesday’s Supreme Court oral arguments on DOMA as well as the arguments before the court one day earlier on California’s Proposition 8 case, which legal experts say could potentially lead to the legalization of same-sex marriage in all fifty states.

He told the forum that making predictions about how the court will rule on a case based on the justices’ statements and questions during oral arguments is highly speculative.

“I think you really need to take every prediction you hear and read and see tweeted and re-tweeted very, very skeptically,” Wolfson said. “The justices are going to go back and delve through a mountain of briefs in both cases, a huge amount of evidence and argument.”

While the outcome of both the Prop 8 and DOMA cases is uncertain, there are things marriage equality advocates know “very, very clearly,” Wolfson said.

“One thing we know is that while the justices are doing their homework in going through the process, the best single way we can maximize winning the freedom to marry and even getting the justices encouraged to do the right thing as they deliberate now in the court is to do what we’ve been doing, which is to continue winning in more states and to continue winning over more hearts and minds,” he said.

“There are as many as four states that are going to be considering or have begun considering freedom to marry legislation and could pass those bills into law before the court hands down its decision likely at the end of June,” Wolfson said. “So the single biggest thing we can do to maximize the chances of winning are to pass those marriage bills and to continue growing the extraordinary ‘who’s who’ of Americans that have stepped up the last many weeks and months in supporting the freedom to marry.”

Ken Mehlman, gay news, Washington Blade

Ken Mehlman (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Mehlman, who’s gay and who has emerged as an outspoken same-sex marriage advocate in recent years, said that aside from using sound legal arguments, marriage equality advocates have made important advances by putting a human face on the same-sex couples who want the right to marry.

“In my judgment, what has so galvanized the public is our stories,” he said. “These are real stories about real people and they make a gigantic difference.”

He said the numerous “friend-of-the-court” or amicus briefs filed in support of the marriage equality side by a wide range of organizations also shows how the breadth of support for same-sex marriage has greatly expanded.

The Cato Institute is among the groups that have filed an amicus brief in support of striking down DOMA.

“It’s not just that it is a large number,” he said of the groups and individuals filing amicus briefs. “It’s the cross section of society. It’s military leaders. It’s religious leaders. It’s business leaders. It’s Republicans and conservatives. It’s leaders of excellent think tanks — all making the case from their perspective and why it makes sense,” Mehlman said.

28
Mar
2013

GLAAD honoring all the wrong people

Are the good people at GLAAD suffering from amnesia?

First, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation honored lifelong closet case Anderson Cooper with its Vito Russo Award last month. Then came word that former President Bill Clinton will be honored with the Advocate for Change Award.

Russo was a pioneering LGBT activist and author who wrote “The Celluloid Closet.” Cooper became infamous in the gay community after Out magazine published a 2008 cover story featuring his image along with Jodie Foster’s above the headline “The Glass Closet, Why the Stars Won’t Come Out and Play.”

Cooper finally came out publicly last year in a blog post and is immediately honored by GLAAD for doing what exactly? Is GLAAD so desperate to sell tickets to its awards shows that it must genuflect at the feet of anyone with a modicum of fame? This star-fuckery does a disservice to the movement and overlooks the hard work and visibility of more deserving honorees.

As transparent as the Cooper award was for its pandering, the Clinton award is even more disappointing. Clinton gave us “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He signed the Defense of Marriage Act and later bragged about it in 1996 campaign ads. Former HRC President Elizabeth Birch recently revealed that during that time, Clinton White House officials threatened to re-air the offensive ads if she took credit for their being yanked amid a firestorm of protest. More recently, Clinton reportedly advised John Kerry to support state constitutional amendments barring marriage equality during the 2004 presidential campaign. He only recently changed his position; his wife only endorsed marriage last month.

With such a stellar record of support, it’s time for a GLAAD award! I’m sure the wealthy Los Angeles gays will shell out plenty of cash for tickets to the award show later this month. (Individual tickets start at $500; a platinum table will set you back $25,000.) For some inexplicable reason, the gays are drawn to the Clintons like moths to the flame.

While GLAAD is busy dispensing awards to the unworthy, others who are actually making a difference go unrecognized.

Take Ken Mehlman, for example, who ran the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign and cynically unleashed a barrage of state constitutional amendments attacking our relationships. He has since repudiated his dirty deeds and worked behind the scenes to do his penance. He has raised money for the New York and Maryland marriage efforts, among other contributions. Where is the award for Mehlman? He has certainly done more to advance gay rights than Cooper.

And what about Sen. Rob Portman, who bravely endorsed marriage equality last month, becoming the first Republican senator to do so? He was pilloried by progressive bloggers because he attributed his evolution on the issue to having a gay son. The Wonkette blog went so far as to suggest we buy him a cake to celebrate with “Fuck that guy” written in icing.

But just days later when Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, announced her newfound marriage support and attributed it in part to having gay staff and friends, the progressive bloggers erupted in predictable praise.

This misguided strategy of turning LGBT rights into a partisan issue and the LGBT movement into a wing of the Democratic Party is as much a mistake today as it was 20 years ago.

Of course, we should welcome converts like Cooper and Clinton to the cause, but we mustn’t rewrite history in the process. And if our national advocacy groups are going to honor public figures like Cooper and Clinton who have such complicated records on LGBT issues, then shouldn’t they reach across the aisle and honor some Republicans, too?

Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at knaff@washblade.com.

10
Apr
2013

Chair of Ill. GOP urges lawmakers to support same-sex marriage bill

Illinois State Capitol, Springfield, gay news, Washington Blade

Illinois State Capitol (Photo by Meagan Davis via wikimedia commons)

The chair of the Illinois Republican Party on Wednesday urged state lawmakers to support a bill that would allow same-sex couples to marry.

“More and more Americans understand that if two people want to make a lifelong commitment to each other, government should not stand in their way,” Pat Brady told the Chicago Sun-Times. “Giving gay and lesbian couples the freedom to get married honors the best conservative principles. It strengthens families and reinforces a key Republican value — that the law should treat all citizens equally.”

Gay former Republican National Committee Chair Ken Mehlman, who lobbied lawmakers in Maryland and New York to support same-sex marriage measures in their respective states, also urged Illinois lawmakers to vote for the bill.

“Republicans should support the freedom to marry in Illinois, consistent with our core conservative belief in freedom and liberty for all,” Mehlman said in a statement that Illinois Unites for Marriage, a coalition of groups that supports the same-sex marriage law, released. “Allowing civil marriage for same-sex couples will cultivate community stability, encourage fidelity and commitment and foster strong family values.”

Brady, who stressed he was expressing his own views and not those of the state GOP, announced his support for the same-sex marriage bill on the same day the 15-member Illinois Senate Executive Committee was expected to consider the measure. (The Windy City Times reported late on Wednesday members are expected to vote on the bill state Sen. Heather Steans introduced on Thursday.)

Lawmakers have until the end of the current legislative session on Jan. 8 to vote on the same-sex marriage bill. Governor Pat Quinn has said he will sign the measure, while a White House spokesperson told the Chicago Sun-Times on Saturday that President Obama also supports the measure.

Chicago Archbishop Cardinal Francis George urged parishioners to oppose efforts to extend marriage rights to gays and lesbians in a letter that parishes distributed on Sunday.

Equality Illinois CEO optimistic bill will pass

Same-sex couples can legally marry in nine states and D.C., while Illinois is among the handful of other states that allow gays and lesbians to enter into civil unions.

Gay marriage referenda passed in Maryland, Maine and Washington in November, while Minnesota voters on Election Day struck down a proposed state constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman. Maryland’s same-sex marriage law took effect on New Year’s Day, while gays and lesbians began to tie the knot in Maine and Washington on Saturday and Dec. 9 respectively.

Lawmakers in Delaware, Hawaii, New Jersey and Rhode Island are expected to consider measures later this year that would allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot.

Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov told the Washington Blade during an interview from Springfield, the state capital, earlier on Wednesday he remains optimistic lawmakers will support the same-sex marriage bill. He said he feels recent legislative and electoral advances on the issue in other states will spur more Illinois lawmakers to support it.

“In the past they kept us, the advocates, say to them that this is the right thing to do politically and morally,” Cherkasov said. “Now for the first time they’ve had a chance to see actually that the voters said this is the right thing to do politically and morally. So they didn’t need to trust just the activists and the advocates anymore. They can look at a clear record of successes from four states of voters being supportive of marriage equality.”

03
Jan
2013

Revisiting sinners of the past

Over the past 10 years, I’ve often used this space to target and critique a series of anti-LGBT figures — from politicians to criminals to closeted celebrities. My attacks have ranged from stinging to the occasional angry full-on takedown. It’s remarkable how much things have changed for the LGBT movement in those 10 years. So a quick look back at some of my favorite targets of the last decade and how they have evolved during that time.

1. The Democratic National Committee. This might seem an unexpected target, but the reality is that the party’s support for LGBT rights and legislation is an Obama phenomenon. From Bill Clinton’s support for DOMA to Howard Dean’s firing of a gay liaison and other shenanigans (pitting black delegates against gay ones, denigrating the gay press and threatening to sue the Blade), the Democratic Party has a complicated history with our community. Obama deserves the credit for turning around that sorry record. Today, the Democratic Party includes marriage equality in its platform. Ten years ago, there had been no movement on pro-LGBT federal legislation. Today, we have an expanded hate crimes law and have repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” DOMA is next to go.

2. The Bush administration. George W. Bush became the gay community’s public enemy No. 1 after his cynical assault on marriage equality in 2004, a crusade masterminded in part by former RNC Chair and Bush-Cheney campaign manager Ken Mehlman. The Bush years were ugly, from his calls for a federal marriage amendment to an odd and stubborn refusal to even utter the word “gay” in public. Ten years later, Mehlman is out of the closet and raising money to support marriage equality. Dick Cheney supports marriage equality, as does Laura Bush. And George has paid a steep price for his horrendous, reckless presidency — relegated to the dustbin of history and rendered persona non grata at last year’s Republican National Convention. He is rightly blamed for the country’s economic mess and will be remembered as among the worst presidents in American history.

3. Martin O’Malley. Another unlikely target, considering O’Malley was popular with LGBT residents of Baltimore from his days as a City Council member and mayor. He even endorsed marriage equality in a TV interview years before running for governor. He later disavowed that interview and was booed off the stage at a private LGBT donor gathering after advocating for civil unions over full marriage rights. After a 2007 court ruling limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples, O’Malley issued a cruel, stinging statement invoking the Catholic sacraments and reiterating a call for civil unions. But after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo successfully shepherded marriage through a Republican Senate there, O’Malley had an epiphany and adopted full-throated support for the cause. He was a latecomer, but ultimately played a key role in passage of the bill and of the subsequent ballot measure last year. He’s now a rumored 2016 presidential aspirant (along with Cuomo).

4. Religion. Perhaps the greatest force opposed to our full equality, organized religion gets a lot of ink. From the attacks of Pope Benedict to the reparative therapy efforts of Scientology, religions (and cults in the case of Scientology) remain a key threat to LGBT people. But even that’s changing. If you visit a local Catholic church, you’ll find openly LGBT people in the pews and gay support groups operating. And they have something to celebrate with the news this week that Benedict is stepping down after nearly eight years of anti-gay pronouncements. More and more religions are moderating their views on our full inclusion in church life, including in marriage. Evangelical Lutherans now recognize the same-sex relationships of church leaders; the U.S. Episcopal Church allows same-sex marriages in states where it’s legal. There’s a long way to go to full acceptance, of course, but progress is undeniable and change is happening at a brisk pace.

5. Anderson Cooper & Jodie Foster. Closeted rich and famous people have come in for a healthy dose of criticism on this page over the years. After all, if the wealthiest and most successful among us won’t come out, how can we expect the schoolteacher in Alabama or the construction worker in Iowa to do the same? Cooper and Foster became the poster children for the closet but in the last year, both publicly came out. Better late than never, right? Maybe Shepard Smith and Queen Latifah will follow their lead.

6. Mark Foley & Larry Craig. The Blade wrote about Foley’s sexual orientation for years before he was forced to publicly acknowledge the truth after his page scandal. Craig’s story is more twisted but both ultimately got what they deserved. Their names haven’t appeared in the Blade for years — two relics of a closeted past. Good riddance. Now if only Lindsay Graham would come out.

Even after all that progress, there’s still no shortage of organizations and public figures to take to task — think Sam Arora, Rick Santorum, Tony Perkins and the National Organization for Marriage. And our work is far from complete. We need a federal law outlawing anti-LGBT employment discrimination; a stop to religion-based bigotry; and an openly gay professional athlete would be nice, too. But the list of our enemies is a lot shorter than it was 10 years ago. Here’s to the next 10 years of progress.

Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at knaff@washblade.com.

13
Feb
2013

Takano calls on Obama to speak out on Prop 8

Mark Takano, United States House, California, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) is calling on President Obama to participate in the Prop 8 case (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A freshman openly gay member of Congress from California is calling on President Obama to participate in litigation challenging Proposition 8 before the Supreme Court as the administration has done in the DOMA case.

In a letter dated Feb. 26, Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) asks President Obama to instruct his Justice Department to argue Prop 8 is unconstitutional on the basis it should be subjected to heightened scrutiny — or a greater assumption it’s unconstitutional — just as it did in a brief filed last week in the case against the Defense of Marriage Act.

“I strongly and respectfully ask that the United States provide an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in Perry to explain how heightened scrutiny, the standard that the United States urges be applied to the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, applies to Proposition 8,” Takano writes. “A brief by the United States will assist the Supreme Court to see that Proposition 8 fails heightened scrutiny and does not further any proper governmental objectives.”

Takano explains in his letter that Prop 8, a ballot initiative that was approved by California voters in 2008, affects couples in his state and district who are unable to marry because of the amendment.

“My district includes thousands of loving gay and lesbian couples, who are not able to marry due to Proposition 8,” Takano writes. “They are our families, our friends and neighbors. They are doctors, veterans, teachers, gardeners, firefighters and police officers. They are Americans. Every day that they cannot enjoy the same rights and obligations enjoyed by other Americans, they and their families suffer.”

The White House has repeatedly declined comment on whether it’ll participate in the Prop 8 lawsuit before the Supreme Court, although President Obama has said Solicitor Donald Verrilli is “looking” at filing a brief. In response to the Takano letter, a White House spokesperson deferred comment to the Justice Department, which didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment.

Other LGBT advocates have been calling on President Obama to participate in the Prop 8 case, known as Hollingsworth v. Perry, by filing a friend-of-the-court brief. The deadline for them to file a friend-of-the-court brief is Thursday.

Herndon Graddick, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, or GLAAD, announced on Monday that his organization shares the desire for Obama to participate in the Prop 8 case.

“President Obama has already weighed in on DOMA, but as he himself said in his inaugural address: ‘Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well,’” Graddick said. “With less than four days left to act, it is time for the administration to make its views known directly to the U.S. Supreme Court by filing a friend of the court brief in the Proposition 8 case as well.”

Takano’s letter comes on the same day as The New York Times reported that more than 75 prominent Republicans have signed their own friend-of-court brief asking the Supreme Court to strike down Proposition 8.

Among the signers of that brief is Ken Mehlman, the gay former chair of the Republican National Committee, who is credited with organizing the brief. Another signature is from Hewlett-Packard CEO and former California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, who campaigned in support of Prop 8.

Two Republican members of Congress who have sponsored legislation to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act — Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) — are also among the signers. They are the only two Republicans currently holding federal office who signed the brief.

Other signers are former Utah governor and 2012 Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, who publicly came out in favor of marriage equality last week, as well as GOP strategist Steve Schmidt, who helped with John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign and came out in support of marriage equality in a 2009 interview with the Washington Blade.

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, said the brief as reported by the New York Times reflects the growing support for marriage equality — even within the Republican Party.

“A who’s who of the Republican Party has come before the Supreme Court to affirm that support for the freedom to marry is a mainstream position that reflects American values of freedom, family, and fairness, as well as conservative values of limited government and personal responsibility,” Wolfson said. “As opposition to the freedom to marry becomes increasingly isolated and the exclusion from marriage increasingly indefensible, Americans all across the political spectrum are saying it’s time to end marriage discrimination, do right by families, and get our country on the right side of history.”

26
Feb
2013

Year in review: Maryland wins marriage equality

Martin O'Malley, Maryland, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade

Gov. Martin O’Malley signed the marriage bill on Mar. 1 in Annapolis, Md. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Maryland voters on Nov. 6 approved the state’s same-sex marriage law by a 52-48 percent margin.

“Fairness and equality under the law won tonight,” Josh Levin, campaign manager for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, a coalition of groups that included the Human Rights Campaign and Equality Maryland that supported Question 6, said shortly after he announced voters had upheld the law. “We’re sure to feel the ripples of this monumental victory across the country for years to come.”

Election Day capped off a long and often tumultuous effort for Maryland’s same-sex marriage advocates that began in 1997 when three state lawmakers introduced the first bill that would have allowed nuptials for gays and lesbians.

Equality Maryland and the American Civil Liberties Union in 2004 filed a lawsuit on behalf of Lisa Polyak and Gita Deane and eight other same-sex couples and a gay widow who sought the right to marry in the state. Baltimore Circuit Court Judge M. Brooke Murdock in 2006 ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, but the Maryland Court of Appeals ultimately upheld the constitutionality of the state’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples the following year.

State lawmakers in 2011 narrowly missed approving a same-sex marriage bill, but legislators approved it in February. O’Malley signed the measure into law on March 1.

The Maryland Marriage Alliance, which opposed the same-sex marriage law, collected more than 160,000 signatures to prompt a referendum on the law — the group needed to collect 55,736 signatures by June 30 to bring the issue before voters on Nov. 6.

Marylanders for Marriage Equality struggled to raise money in the first months of the campaign, but it ultimately netted nearly $6 million. HRC contributed more than $1.5 million in cash and in-kind contributions to the pro-Question 6 campaign, while New York City Michael Bloomberg donated $250,000 in October.

Former National Football League Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and his wife Chan announced a $100,000 contribution to Marylanders for Marriage Equality during an Oct. 2 fundraiser that O’Malley, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and others attended at gay Democratic lobbyist Steve Elmendorf’s Logan Circle home. The governor also headlined a star-studded New York City fundraiser for the campaign that gay former Republican National Committee Chair Ken Mehlman hosted in September.

The Maryland Marriage Alliance netted slightly more than $2.4 million, which is less than half the amount Marylanders for Marriage Equality raised. The National Organization for Marriage, the Knights of Columbus and the Archdiocese of Baltimore are among the groups that contributed to the anti-Question 6 group. Bishop Harry Jackson of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Family Research President Tony Perkins and Dr. Alveda King, niece of slain civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., are among those who publicly opposed the same-sex marriage law.

The Maryland Marriage Alliance came under increased scrutiny as Election Day drew closer.

The Blade obtained court documents that indicate the Internal Revenue Service in 2011 filed a lien against Derek A. McCoy, the group’s chair, for more than $32,000 in unpaid taxes in 2002 and 2003. He also faced criticism from same-sex marriage advocates for defending a suburban Baltimore pastor who suggested during an October town hall that those who practice homosexuality and approve it are “deserving of death.” A California minister described gay men as “predators” during an anti-Question 6 rally at a Baltimore church on Oct. 21 that McCoy, Jackson, Perkins and others attended.

“Nobody here endorses violence, endorses bullying of any sort in any stance,” McCoy said during a Nov. 2 press conference, two days before a Frederick pastor noted during another anti-Question 6 rally that Superstorm Sandy struck New York City after Bloomberg gave $250,000 to Marylanders for Marriage Equality. “We stand collectively to love our community, to love the constituents who are in our churches and within our broader community in the state of Maryland.”

McCoy said after Election Day the Maryland Marriage Alliance respects “the results that have come from a democratic process.”

The law will take effect on Jan.1.

26
Dec
2012