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Queen Latifah can’t change, even if she tried

Spoiling an otherwise beautiful moment during last night’s Grammy Awards marriage ceremony was the presence of Queen Latifah, who presided over the mass nuptials on live TV.

Included among the 34 pairs that were married during the telecast were many gay and lesbian couples. It was a momentous spectacle — the weddings of gay and lesbian couples being celebrated on a nationally televised awards show while the crowd cheered and cried. The times have certainly changed from the days when LGBT people were rendered invisible in pop culture.

But Latifah’s involvement illustrates just how far we still have to go toward full equality and true mass acceptance. Latifah is a closeted singer/actress, a fact confirmed over the years by several colleagues and personal friends and in photos snapped by paparazzi of Latifah with her partner.

Her presence on that stage was baffling. Was it a tacit acknowledgement that she’s gay? Does she think it’s enough for her to make carefully scripted pro-gay appearances without having to actually come out?

Why do we keep rewarding closet cases when there are so many other openly LGBT people deserving of attention and praise? Bring out Wanda Sykes, Melissa Etheridge, k.d. lang, Ellen DeGeneres or Neil Patrick Harris to do the honors. The irony of that Grammy moment was glaring: a beautiful hit song celebrating same-sex love and the unions of gay and lesbian couples introduced and presided over by a closeted lesbian.

It’s akin to the farce of President Obama granting an exclusive interview announcing his historic support of marriage equality to Robin Roberts, who at the time was also in the closet. There are plenty of openly LGBT journalists who should have been given that honor.

How can we expect average LGBT Americans to come out when some of the wealthiest and most successful among us — like Latifah — continue to cower in the closet?

Queen Latifah can’t change, even if she tried.


A milestone in the hourglass

Will Horton, Sonny Kiriakis, Marlena, Deidre Hall, Freddie Smith, Guy Wilson, Days of Our Lives, soap opera, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, Salem, gay news, Washington Blade

Guy Wilson (left) as Will, Deidre Hall as Marlena and Freddie Smith as Sonny on ‘Days of Our Lives.’ Will and Sonny made history this week as the first same-sex male wedding on a daytime soap. (Photo by Howard Wise, JPI Studios)

Long-running NBC daytime soap “Days of Our Lives” made history this week when characters Sonny Kiriakis (son of Justin and Adrienne) and Will Horton (son of Lucas and Sami) were united in marriage by Dr. Marlena Evans (Deidre Hall), Will’s grandmother. They’re not the first ever same-sex couple (“All My Children” had a 2009 lesbian wedding) but they’re the first male soap power couple and first same-sex male wedding.

Actor Guy Wilson, who took over the role of Will in episodes airing in January (actor Chandler Massey won two Daytime Emmys playing Will starting in 2010), caught up with the Blade during a break in filming this week. The Los Angeles-based actor, who, along with co-star Freddie Smith who plays Sonny, is straight, says it’s been an honor to work on the show in a groundbreaking storyline.

“I’ve had to pinch myself,” the 28-year-old San Francisco native says. “You know, part of my interest in going into entertainment at a young age was to hopefully make a difference in life. And I feel at 28, which I still feel very, very young, so to be part of something so special at a young age and that I care about on a personal level, it’s a blessing. It’s part of why I was so excited back in August when I heard I had a chance of getting this part, to see it now come to fruition and to get to do what I love everyday, it’s all I need to be happy.”

Wilson, who met his predecessor Massey a couple times in 2011 when Wilson had auditioned for two other roles on the show, says he and Smith have “found a really comfortable place.”

“We’re obviously friends but playing roles that are so emotionally intimate, you know, we’ve definitely developed a special kind of bond. It’s almost too simple to say he’s one of my best friends because we’ve shared this emotional journey together for the last almost seven months. … He’s definitely one of the most important people in my life.”

Wilson, who’s also had roles on “NCIS,” “Castle,” “Bones” and “Breaking Bad” says the fast shooting schedule in daytime has been a challenge with most scenes shooting after one quick rehearsal, but he’s growing accustomed to the pace. The wedding scenes were shot about four months ago, which is typical.

Working with soap parents Bryan Dattilo (Lucas) and Alison Sweeney (Sami), both longtime vets of the show, has been grounding. He says Hall has gone above and beyond in her efforts to make him feel welcome and get him up to speed.

“She never hesitated at any point to share all of her knowledge and all of her experience with me and to be really detailed with that information and with that level of specificity made it so much easier to continue the relationship between Will and Marlena, which is very important to the show.”

And long-time executive producer Ken Corday whose parents started the show in 1965? Wilson isn’t sure if he was around when he auditioned, but says he’s seen him “a few times” on the set.

“I really like that man,” he says. “He’s very cool.”

Wilson laughs when asked if Salem, the show’s fictional base town, has a gay bar.

“If there are, I haven’t been to them,” he says with a chuckle.

Of course, given the medium, it’s inevitable that Will and Sonny will have many ups and downs if they stay on the show. Wilson says as an actor, he looks forward to that.

“With conflict comes growth,” he says. “One thing that’s been very satisfying about the whole WilSon (as fans have dubbed it) storyline is they do a really good job of communicating with each other. I actually think they have one of the healthier relationships on daytime TV. … But with adulthood comes adult problems so as an actor I’m very excited to tackle those.”


What is marriage, anyway?

wedding, marriage, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade, spousal benefits

(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)


Marriage is generally understood in our society as an emotional and social institution, signifying and celebrating the love and devotion between two people and demonstrating a commitment to that relationship above all others. But marriage is also a business and contractual relationship that is given great deference by the laws of our country, on both the federal, state, and local levels. Once a couple is married, spouses are no longer individuals, but part of a marital unit. On the federal level, there are more than 1,000 rights and responsibilities associated with marriage. On the state and local level, there are usually more than 400 such rights and responsibilities.

The “marital unit” is treated differently in the law than the two spouses were as individuals.  For example, any income coming into the “marital unit” post-marriage, belongs presumptively equally to both spouses, no matter who earned the income. So, if one spouse saves money in retirement, the other spouse is entitled to one-half of that amount if the couple divorces. States and the District of Columbia may treat marriage somewhat differently if the couple divorces.  Accordingly, spouses would be wise to execute a pre-nuptial agreement prior to their marriage, in order to define the couple’s agreements as to how their property would be divided in the event of divorce.

Other impacts of the marriage contract range from taxes to immigration to estate planning to children, and more. As same-sex couples take advantage of new opportunities to marry in the United States, these consequences can be welcome but confusing reminders of just how much marriage matters in American society.

Most of the federal government now recognizes marriages between same-sex couples as long as the marriage was valid where it occurred, known as the “place of celebration” rule.  Locally, Maryland, the District of Columbia and Delaware have marriage equality, while Virginia and West Virginia do not. The federal government applies the “place of residence” rule in some instances, so couples living in non- marriage equality states (non-recognition states) do not have valid marriages under that rule. However, Attorney General Eric Holder has said that the federal government will make every effort to treat all validly married same-sex couples as married for federal government purposes.

Application of tax rates are one of the biggest impacts of marriage. Married couples must file either as married filing jointly, or married filing individually. As a general rule, if couples have a significant income disparity, marriage will reduce their taxes, but if the couple is relatively equal in income, marriage will increase those taxes. Married couples have no choice – they MUST file their taxes as married. Couples that are registered as Domestic Partners in the District of Columbia must also file their D.C. taxes as “married.” Married couples are also eligible for estate tax exemptions, now both on the federal level and in their state of residence if the state has marriage equality, like Edie Windsor. Married couples in Maryland are also exempt from Maryland’s inheritance tax. Also, after Windsor, a couple may be able to amend its federal tax returns to claim certain exemptions and to reduce income that had previously been taxed when the federal government did not recognize their marriage.

For same-sex couples wishing to have children, marriage creates a legal presumption of parentage, meaning that any child born or conceived to one spouse during the marriage is presumed to be the legal child of the other spouse. This can be extremely important to ensure that a non-birth parent continues to have a legal right to custody and decision-making power over the child, even in the event of divorce, or the birth parent’s death or incapacity. However, since not all states have marriage equality, we recommend that even married couples obtain a second-parent adoption or pre- or post-birth order so that their parental rights are recognized in all states.

Employee benefits, immigration, Social Security, the military, taxes, retirement rollovers, criminal matters, and of course, even more areas are impacted by marriage. The law continues to evolve, and there are about 45 lawsuits throughout the country, including two in Virginia, attempting to establish marriage equality in those states that still do not recognize our marriages.  So, even if couples are married in one state, if they move to a non-recognition state, or perhaps are even traveling through such a state, their marriages will not be considered valid if a marriage issue arises in that state.

Marriage does not hold all the answers. As with everything, there may be downsides to getting married, and individual couples must decide for themselves whether the rewards outweigh the risks. For example, if one member of a couple is receiving alimony, that alimony generally will end at remarriage. Or if one member of the couple receives income-based government benefits, marriage may then disqualify that spouse from receiving those benefits.  Couples should consult with an attorney before they marry to discuss the legal risks and rewards of marriage. But, of course, there is more to marriage than all of these rights and responsibilities.  And sometimes, for some couples, marriage does come down to love and commitment, and the legal aspects are just secondary.

Michele Zavos is partner, Zavos Juncker Law Group, PLLC. Cody Perkins is a law clerk at the firm. The Zavos Juncker Law Group practices in all three local jurisdictions.


Gay marriages are back on in Arkansas!

Judge strikes down remaining anti-gay law, and the state that already saw 456 gay weddings will see some more.


Minessota Vikings deny Chris Kluwe fired for being pro-gay

The Vikings denied Kluwe's allegations, then said they were still investigating them.


Catania enters race for mayor

David Catania, gay news, Washington Blade

David Catania is the first serious openly gay contender for the office of D.C. mayor. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) filed papers on Wednesday to become a candidate for mayor in the November general election, saying he has the “values and the vision and the tenacity” to tackle the challenges facing the city.

As a 16-year veteran on the Council with a long record of legislative accomplishments, including his role as author of the city’s historic marriage equality law, Catania becomes the first serious openly gay contender for the office of D.C. mayor with a shot at winning.

“This is a city that believes strongly in equality of opportunity, a strong sense of fairness and the importance of playing by the rules,” Catania said at a news conference outside the city’s Reeves Center municipal building, where he registered his candidacy.

“These are the values we all share and these are the ones that have guided me since I was elected,” he said.

In what many LGBT activists will likely view as a twist of fate, a large segment of the city’s LGBT community has already lined up behind the re-election campaign of Mayor Vincent Gray, who they consider the most LGBT-supportive mayor in the history of the city.

The potential dilemma of LGBT voters having to choose between an out gay candidate with a longstanding record of support on their issues and a pro-LGBT mayor they consider a longtime friend and ally was likely heightened on Wednesday when Catania reiterated his call for Gray to resign.

When asked by reporters at his news conference what he thought about revelations by the U.S. Attorney earlier this week that Gray was aware of an illegal “shadow campaign” orchestrated by businessman Jeffrey Thompson to benefit Gray’s 2010 mayoral campaign, Catania said he believes the allegations to be true.

“I made my feelings known about the mayor’s shadow campaign when it was first disclosed nearly two years ago,” he said. “I said he should have resigned then and I believe that today.”

Catania, however, said the timing of his declaration of candidacy for this week was set in motion over a week ago, before the revelations of the U.S. Attorney were known, when he set up a campaign bank account that required him to formally enter the race this week.

Catania said he’s ready to run against Gray or any of the other seven Democrats challenging Gray in the city’s April 1 Democratic primary, including four of Catania’s Democratic colleagues on the Council.

In response to questions by reporters, Catania said he’s not at all deterred by the fact that he’s an independent and former Republican running in a city with an overwhelmingly Democratic electorate. No non-Democrat has ever won election as mayor in the District of Columbia.

“I want to be as clear as I can be,” he said. “I won more citywide races than everyone else in the race combined. I’ve won five times citywide. I’ve represented every corner of the city since 1997.”

Catania added, “I believe I have the values and the vision and the tenacity to tackle the challenges facing the city and I have the record of accomplishments that supports it. So I’m not worried about who prevails in the Democratic primary. I’ve got a record that I’m very proud of and that I’m very excited to share, and I’m very excited to talk about my vision for the city.”

The most recent poll on the Democratic primary, which was conducted before the latest revelations about Gray’s alleged 2010 shadow campaign, show Gray leading his closest rival, Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), by a margin of 28 percent to 20 percent. Council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), and Vincent Orange (D-At-Large), were trailing with 13 percent, 12 percent and 4 percent respectively.

Businessman Andy Shallal had 6 percent, attorney and former State Department official Reta Jo Lewis had 3 percent, and civic activist Carlos Allen had less than 1 percent.

Political observers, including Bob Summersgill, former president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, said that if Gray squeaks out a victory in the primary with around 30 percent of the vote or less, many of the Democratic voters that backed his rivals could turn to Catania in the November election.

When asked by the Blade where he thinks the LGBT vote would go in the general election, Catania said he believes he would be a strong contender for that vote based on his record on a wide range of issues.

“I think people are going to vote their interests and their values,” he said. “And I hope we can refrain from having constituency voting blocs. I don’t think that’s good for anybody.”

But he added, “I’m happy to put my record as an LGBT advocate against anyone. I hear in these forums how everyone takes responsibility and credit for same-sex marriage. But I was there. I know members who never showed up for the hearings and never said a word on the dais,” he said.

“I know the difference between those who have revisionist history and those who were there,” he said. “And so whether it’s having been the first openly gay elected member of the Council, from championing everything from HIV education and treatment to same-sex marriage to adoption to transgender rights, I’ll put my record against anyone’s.”

When asked about a recent independent report indicating shortcomings in the D.C. Police Department’s handling of anti-LGBT hate crimes, Catania praised Police Chief Cathy Lanier but said he would not discuss personnel issues before the election.

“I think Cathy Lanier has been an excellent chief,” he said. “Now we can all do better and learn from our mistakes…[T]here’s always room for improvement both in terms of the reaction of the LGBT community, internal affairs and others,” he said.

A transcript of Catania’s news conference follows:

Reporter: So you just filed your papers today to run?

Catania: Actually, this has been in the works for some time. We decided in January that this would be the week we would announce. In fact, just last Wednesday, before any of the latest revelations came out, we opened our bank account and by law we have five business days to file. And so last Wednesday we opened our bank account, always with the intention of filing this week. And of course you know what has happened in the intervening time known to all of us.

Reporter: What do you think about what’s happened with the mayor this week?

Catania: Well, I made my feelings known about the mayor’s shadow campaign when it was first disclosed nearly two years ago. I said he should have resigned then and I believe that today.

Reporter: What is your path to victory at this point? Does the mayor have to win the primary?

Catania: No. I want to be just as clear as I could be. I won more city wide races than everyone else in the race combined. I’ve won five times citywide. I’ve represented every corner of the city since 1997. I believe that I have the values and the vision and the tenacity to tackle the challenges facing the city and I have the record of accomplishments that supports it. So I’m not worried about who prevails in the Democratic primary. I’ve got a record that I’m very proud of and that I’m very excited share and I’m very exciting to talk about my vision for the city.

Reporter: This is a city that remains hugely Democratic.

Catania: That’s right. And I would be delighted to put my record against any of those who have Democrat by their name as it relates to democratic values. I think my record more embodies democratic values than the field of candidates running as Democrats. If you look at what I’ve done for marriage equality, medical marijuana, smoke free D.C., cutting the rate of uninsured children and adults in half in this city, my work with HIV, and most recently my work with respect to education, including a fair funding bill which is finally going to give the resources for poor kids to catch up. And so labels are fine but I think the people are looking for a leader who’s actually delivered. And there’s one thing I can say – I’ve delivered.

The others have talked a good game and good for them for having labels. But I’ve actually delivered.

Reporter: You’re a former Republican and you’re also a white person. How does that play into the racial mix of this city?

Catania: Well I think the citizens of this city want a leader that shares their values. And it doesn’t matter what label you have. Clearly I do. This is a city that believes strongly in equality of opportunity, a strong sense of fairness and the importance of playing by the rules. These are the values we all share and these are the ones that have guided me since I was elected. So with respect to labels, you know, I think they may matter with some but by and large if you look at where we are in the city and if we’re going to secure our future we need a leader who shares our values, has a vision, and has the tenacity to get the job done.

Reporter: You’re campaigns have actually taken money from Jeffrey Thompson and then I guess you had a really serious falling out with him. Would you give back the money you took from Jeffrey Thompson or did you give the money back?

Catania: You know, Mr. Thompson held a fundraiser for me in 2006. And so the bulk of the funds that were raised through that fundraiser were in 2006. Unfortunately, as you know, we, unlike federal campaigns, we close each of our campaigns out – by law we’re required to – at the conclusion of the election. So the money has simply been closed out. Now the money – whatever was left over – went to a constituent services fund. And so it’s not like I have additional monies lying around to do that. And I think we’re prohibited by law from taking our existing campaign funds to pay back the debts of another campaign.

Reporter: Were you the chairman of the Health Committee when the agreement to give Jeffrey Thompson more money signed out? You fought that, didn’t you?

Catania: I think what’s interesting is that we’re here today because of the work of the Committee on Health when I became chairman. In 2005 when I became chairman of the committee the first thing I wanted to do was kind of survey the landscape of the area of responsibility that I had, which included the city’s three largest contracts for managed care and for Medicaid. And so I actually put the money in in 2005 to conduct an audit of our three managed care organizations, including Jeff Thompson’s. That audit is what ultimately led to Mr. Thompson having to settle with the city with $17 million in 2008. So it’s not about having a falling out one way or another. I was doing my job. I wanted the city’s largest contracts to be subject to an audit. They were. It demonstrated that he was helping himself, candidly, and that resulted in him having to pay some money back. I suspect that’s part of what inspired him to try to find leaders that were more malleable. I wasn’t one of them.

Reporter: The mayor calls him a liar. He says everything he says is a lie, lie, lie.

Catania: Well I think this whole subject, this whole drama we’ve had with Jeff Thompson – this great drama – the time has come for this to end. And you know we need to be talking about how we’re going to make sure our kids are ready to succeed. We need to be talking about an affordable housing plan and a public safety plan of action for Fire and EMS. The less we talk about Vince Gray and Jeff Thompson the better. That’s for others to talk about. I’m talking about my vision for the city, which doesn’t include serving as a human lie detector for Jeff Thompson or Vince Gray.

Reporter: What about this settlement. Did you think that settlement that was reached with Chartered Health was good and above board or did you think –

Catania: Which settlement, the first one or the second?

Reporter: The one that was agreed to [by the city] and paid him.

Catania: This was obviously an attempt to square accounts with the shadow campaign as far as I am concerned. It was laid out as meticulously as it could be. Jeff Thompson in 2008 had to pay $12 million because he stole from the city. And then two weeks after he wins his primary his group begins putting in motion the very settlement that ultimately, that Mayor Gray advanced – that we paid him the money from the false claims actions against the city. Do I believe the mayor knew it and participated and do I believe the city actually paid the shadow campaign money back? Yes, I believe that…

Reporter: You have a reputation for being a little difficult. I won’t even say the words that some – [Tom Sherwood interrupts: The Rahm Emanuel of D.C.?]

Catania: Well listen, we’re not cutting the crusts off cucumber sandwiches here. This is not a garden party. This is about running a $12 billion organization where the lives of 640,000 people depend on someone being honest, having values and a vision and being faithful to those values and those visions. And so I’m not going to apologize for the passion that I take to this job. I think most of us are outraged when they have Fire and EMS officials just standing by while our citizens are in harm’s way. I think most of our citizens are outraged when the see half of our African American males not graduating on time for high school. I think most of our citizens are outraged when they see our homeless in rec centers. So I’m not going to apologize for that outrage. I’m not going to apologize for the passion. It’s helped me get though some of the toughest measures in the last 15 years, 16 years on the Council…

Reporter: Concerning the police department, there was an independent report that just came out saying there are some shortcomings in their handling of hate crimes and that the chief may have caused the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit to not be able to do its job as well as it could. If you were elected, have you decided whether you would retain the police chief?

Catania: Look, I think Cathy Lanier has been an excellent chief. Now we can all do better and learn from our mistakes. But I want to make clear I’m not talking about personnel decisions until after the election. It is the right of every mayor to select those individuals that he or she wishes to work with. I think that Chief Lanier has been an excellent chief but there’s always room for improvement both in terms of the reaction of the LGBT community, internal affairs and others.

Reporter: We’re now in the primary. Will you be out campaigning or will you wait to see who wins the primary?

Catania: No, the race starts today, Tom. The race starts today.

…If we’re electing leaders rather than administrators I think it’s time for people to look at the record. And among those who are running for mayor if you look at what have they done in the last 15 months. I think that’s a fair subject for discussion and it’s what I intend to talk about during this race. But look, it isn’t about who the Democratic nominee might be. I have an affirmed agenda that I believe is consistent with the values of our residents. I think we can do better. We have incredible fundamentals. When I look at our economy and I look at the values of our citizens and we have yet to capture the entire trajectory, the entire direction of those values…

Q: The leading candidates in the Democratic primary are all very supportive on LGBT issues. The mayor says he’s very supportive. Whoever wins the primary, how do you think the LGBT vote will go in the general election?

A: Lou, I think people are going to vote their interests and their values. And I hope we can refrain from having constituency voting blocks. I don’t think that’s good for anybody. I’m happy to put my record as an LGBT advocate against anyone. I hear in these forums how everyone takes responsibility and credit for same-sex marriage. But I was there. I know the members who never showed up for the hearings and never said a word on the dais. I know the difference between those who have revisionist history and those who were there. And so whether it’s having been the first openly gay elected member of the Council, from championing everything from HIV education and treatment to same-sex marriage to adoption to transgender rights, I’ll put my record against everyone’s or anyone’s.

Q: Can you say something about the EMS?

A: You know, I’m very open to the idea of separating the EMS and putting it candidly under the Department of Health because I see the EMS as the front line of the Department of Health. These are the front line deliverers of health services. The way it has been organized, specifically it’s been subsumed by the Fire Department and has not been able to stand on its own. And so I’m open to the idea of separating the two…

Q: Would you retain Chief Ellerbe as fire chief?

A: No. I’ll make an exception because that’s so glaring.

Q: How do you assess your chances?

A: Good.

Q: Why do you think they’re good?

A: Well I think this is an election about change. I think the electorate is eager to have a leader instead of an administrator and I think the work that I’ve done touches many constituencies across the city. Who else can claim that they saved our public hospital? Who else can lay claim to a marriage equality bill that finally made all of our families equal before the law? Who else can claim that they produced the lowest rate of uninsured children in the country? Who else championed medical marijuana or the most comprehensive mental health system for young people in the country? So I think it’s time to ask some of those who are running on the inertial of a label why they believe they have a chance of winning having accomplished so little.


A son’s case for marriage equality

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

Prop 8 plaintiffs Sandy Stier and Kris Perry addressed onlookers after a historic ruling at the U.S. Supreme Court. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The first time anyone asked me if I was disadvantaged to be raised by lesbian moms was in the first grade. A friend from my class asked what my mom and dad did for a living, and when I told him I had two moms, he told me that I wasn’t normal, that we were different.

Growing up, friends would ask questions like, “who cooks?” or, “who works?” trying to fit our puzzle piece where we just couldn’t. To me, my family was different because I had three parents; a step mom and two other moms; a twin and two step brothers; the fact that my parents were gay never made me think of them as different, until those outside my family made a point of it.

It wasn’t until my freshman year in high school that I finally saw how my family was “different.”

Elliott and I woke up early on Jan. 11, 2010, and put on our only suits. We shuffled into the back of Kris and Sandy’s SUV and the four of us drove across the Bay Bridge to a Victorian home in San Francisco. There, we met with Chad Griffin, president of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, Paul Katami, and Jeff Zarrillo (who with my moms would be the plaintiffs in the Proposition 8 case). The five of them stepped outside to meet the press, and it was Jeff who said, “We’re all Americans who simply want to get married like everybody else.”

In minutes, Elliott and I were on our way to the Federal District Courthouse. We were led through the back while our moms and a battalion of lawyers weaved their way between picket lines. It seemed that in no time Judge Walker was banging his gavel and the trial began.

One of our lawyers, David Boies, called Jeff and then Paul. The opposing lawyer, Charles Cooper, cross-examined Paul, and then, Ted Olson, our other lawyer, asked Kris to take the stand.

After a few questions, Ted asked Kris what it felt like to be discriminated against. It was the first time I had ever heard any of my moms describe what it was like to face prejudice. She told Ted about growing up in the Central Valley of California and hiding who she was. She told him how she was teased and mocked as she grew up and how that blanket of constant hate had lowered the quality of her life. She also said she had never allowed herself to be truly happy and how she didn’t want any kid to know what that felt like.

Looking around as Kris joined us again on the bench, I could see my brother, Sandy, and our friends in tears.

I had finally found my answer: Families like mine are no different than anyone else’s. We share the same love. We’re only different in that we felt the brunt of living under discriminatory laws.

When a family like mine is denied equal protection under the law, when society tells us that because you are a minority, you don’t get the rights of the majority, it hurts. It validates hate against that minority. It teaches kids in states with same-sex marriage bans that your family isn’t worthy of protection.

Perry v. Hollingsworth was appealed again and again until it reached the Supreme Court.  My first trip to D.C. was much like that drive to San Francisco three years earlier. Elliott and I woke up early to stand in line outside the courthouse. We walked behind our parents to sit behind Ted Olson and David Boies. In the midst of Charles Cooper’s oral argument, Justice Kennedy asked, “Forty thousand children in California … that live with same-sex parents, and they want their parents to have full recognition and full status. The voice of those children is important in this case, don’t you think?” Cooper responded saying there was no evidence that children, my brothers and I, would benefit from Kris and Sandy being married.

Today the same question is being asked in court cases across the country that challenge state bans on marriage equality and like Perry v. Hollingsworth have the potential to bring the battle of universal marriage equality to the Supreme Court.

Four months after the Supreme Court oral arguments, the court lifted the ban on same-sex marriages in California and I got to know exactly what that benefit is. Take it from a son –I’ve never felt prouder or more patriotic than when my moms were legally married one year ago on June 28. Every son and daughter in every state should have the right to feel that way.

Spencer M. Perry is the son of Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, plaintiffs in the Perry v. Hollingsworth case that overturned California’s ban on same-sex marriage. He studies economics and public policy at George Washington University.

Kris Perry, Sandy Stier, Spencer Perry, gay news, Washington Blade

From left, Kris Perry, Spencer Perry and Sandy Stier (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)



Free tax services offered

Aaron Merki, FreeState Legal Project, gay news, Washington Blade, free tax

Aaron Merki, executive director of FreeState Legal, said the arrival of marriage equality helped trigger the new tax project. (Washington Blade file photo by Steve Charing)

Several organizations have partnered to provide free tax preparation services to low-income members of the LGBT community. FreeState Legal Project, Inc., which offers free legal services to the LGBT community; the Baltimore CASH Campaign, an organization that works to “increase the financial security of low-income individuals and families;” Chase Brexton Health Care; and PNC Bank, which is funding the project, are providing this service.

“We viewed the project as particularly important this year, following the achievement of marriage equality because LGBT families may now be subject to different rules and benefits under federal and state tax laws,” Aaron Merki, executive director of FreeState Legal told the Blade.

Free tax services are available every Thursday through April 4 from 3-6 p.m. at the First Floor Community Room, Chase Brexton Building, 1111 N. Charles St., Baltimore.

Those interested in signing up for free help filing 2013 taxes should contact FreeState at 410-625-5428 for an appointment.


Second N.C. marriage lawsuit filed

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(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

GREENSBORO, N.C. – The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina on April 9 filed a second same-sex marriage lawsuit in the Tar Heel State.

The group filed the lawsuit in federal court on behalf of three married same-sex couples who are seeking recognition of their marriages in North Carolina. They have asked the court to expedite the case because three of the six plaintiffs have serious medical conditions.

“Without the legal security that only marriage affords, these families are left vulnerable,” said Jennifer Rudinger, executive director of the ACLU of North Carolina. “If they could marry or have their marriages recognized in North Carolina, the law would protect their families in countless ways.”

The ACLU in 2012 filed a federal lawsuit against North Carolina’s second-parent adoption ban on behalf of six gay families. The group last year amended the case to directly challenge the state’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., will hear oral arguments in a case that challenges Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban.

North Carolina, South Carolina and West Virginia also fall under the 4th Circuit’s jurisdiction.


From Stonewall to marriage equality at lightning speed

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Even those of us involved in the fight for women’s rights and civil rights would never have believed the speed at which things are changing for the LGBT community. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The progress from Stonewall to marriage equality in my lifetime is amazing. My accepting who I am mirrored the evolving LGBT movement. Coming of age at 21 in New York City, a gay man deep in the closet, hiding my sexual orientation to become a teacher. At 25, starting a political career and working for the most gay-friendly politician in the nation, the congresswoman who introduced the first ENDA bill in Congress, yet still deep in the closet.

Then moving to Washington, D.C. at 31, a city that just elected a mayor who credited the LGBT community and the Stein Democratic Club with making the difference in his election. Pride events were gaining in strength and visibility and my first in Dupont Circle had me hiding behind a tree to make sure my picture wouldn’t end up in a newspaper. Then life started moving faster for me and the LGBT community. By the time I was 34, we were beginning to hear about AIDS and that coincided with my coming out to friends. Then began the process of my morphing into an LGBT activist joining in the fight against HIV/AIDS and openly participating in marches for LGBT rights, openly attending Pride events on a muddy field in Dupont, and being a regular at Rascals, the bar of the moment.

Over the ensuing years the organized LGBT community would get stronger and stand up for our rights and I would find that being “out” still had its consequences. Being rejected for a job for being gay was one of them. As the community turned to more activism, my role in politics was becoming more identified with being gay. First becoming a columnist for the Washington Blade and then finding my picture on the front page of the Washington Post supporting a mayoral candidate and being identified as among other things a gay activist.

As the fight for marriage equality heated up in D.C., GLAA activist Rick Rosendall and I met at a little outdoor lunch place on 17th Street and set the plans in motion to form the Foundation for All DC Families, which begat the Campaign for All DC Families, which helped coordinate the fight for marriage equality in the District.

For so many who grew up in the Baby Boomer generation, life continues to hold many surprises. But even those of us involved in the fight for women’s rights and civil rights would never have believed the speed at which things are changing for the LGBT community.

The courts are moving at a much faster pace than anyone could have predicted even a year ago, striking down bans on gay marriage enacted by state legislatures. State constitutional amendments banning marriage equality are being declared unconstitutional by a raft of federal judges. From Oklahoma to Kentucky, Utah to Virginia, federal judges are saying that states must recognize these marriages. While the cases are being appealed there is a clear path for one or more of them to reach the Supreme Court in its next term. While they weren’t ready to make a decision when they rejected the Prop 8 case in 2013, they will now probably have to decide the fate of marriage equality nationwide and determine whether it is constitutional to discriminate against gay and lesbian citizens.

Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen in her decision in Virginia added to the so-far unanimous group of federal judges who have thrown out these bans. Judge Allen quoted from Mildred Loving, who was at the center of the 1967 Supreme Court case that struck down laws banning interracial marriage. At the time that case was decided only 14 states had laws allowing interracial marriage and already there are 17 states and the District of Columbia that allow gay marriage. While people are hailing her decision she clearly had to be embarrassed when she had to amend her written opinion because she confused the U. S. Constitution with the Declaration of Independence. She isn’t the first and won’t be the last to do that.

Clearly the time has come in our country for full equality. The decisions made by these federal judges have been based on the Supreme Court’s decision in Windsor. Then Attorney General Eric Holder announced “the federal government would recognize legal same-sex marriages in federal matters including bankruptcies, prison visits and survivor benefits.” He stated that, “It is the [Justice Department's] policy to recognize lawful same-sex marriages as broadly as possible, to ensure equal treatment for all members of society regardless of sexual orientation.”

In what seems like lightning speed, the LGBT community is moving toward full civil and human rights.