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Why we need more than ENDA

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We also need to change the FMLA to establish a more comprehensive definition of family. This is especially important, for example, for older LGBTQ couples who aren’t married as well as for those who have no interest in marrying.

By WENDY CHUN-HOON

Imagine being pregnant with twins and your lawful and loving spouse has to sue you to establish joint custody under the law.

That was just one of the stories I heard last month in Houston, where I traveled along with 4,000 other activists, workers, family members and allies to Creating Change – the country’s largest LGBTQ conference. On my first day, I participated in a workshop on families. Most of us were there because we’re starting families and need to learn how to navigate the complex and dynamic web of laws that – for the most part – don’t serve us well. The woman I referenced above had married her wife in Massachusetts. The couple moved their family to North Carolina and was now expecting twins. Under North Carolina law, their marriage didn’t exist. Not only would her wife have to sue her, she also couldn’t use family leave to care for her spouse as she recovered from the birth.

The Family Medical Leave Act, established 21 years ago, is the only federal policy that protects workers’ jobs when a child is born or adopted or when a loved one falls seriously ill. It is woefully outdated. Forty percent of the workforce doesn’t qualify. Many who do can’t afford to sacrifice their paychecks for unpaid leave. The FMLA provides too few protections for workers and their families – and even fewer for LGBTQ families.

In far too many workplaces across our country, LGBTQ workers are fired because their employers are legally allowed to discriminate against them for their sexual or gender identity. In far too many communities, LGBTQ couples’ relationships aren’t recognized and LGBTQ parents aren’t able to establish a legal relationship to their children. And in far too many households, LGBTQ partners aren’t able to care for each other without risking wages or, worse, their jobs because FMLA’s restrictive definition of the word “spouse” does not include their relationship.

My role in the workshop was to educate folks about their rights under the FMLA. There was some good news. In 2010, the Department of Labor issued a ruling affirming that the “in loco parentis” (standing in the shoes of a parent) provision of the FMLA applies to same-sex couples. For LGTBQ families (and many other families) this is critical. It helps to formally establish a parent-child relationship for non-birth parents who are very much, in fact, raising their kids. The North Carolina partner who wasn’t carrying the twins could take leave to care for them – just not for her wife.

I was able to name one other highpoint in my presentation. When, in June of last year, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Edith Windsor, overturning key parts of the Defense of Marriage Act, suddenly certain married LGBTQ couples were granted FMLA coverage to care for each other in emergencies. Married couples that live in a state with marriage equality can qualify for FMLA leave for their partner. For the North Carolina woman, however, her spouse would not be able to take FMLA leave to care for her after the birth or should she fall seriously ill.

Only 25 percent of kids today are being raised in this country’s “traditional” concept of the mom-dad, two-parent household. It’s long past time to reform the FMLA. We can start by treating same-sex married couples the same as we treat different-sex married couples by not conditioning FMLA coverage on where you live. This is something the Department of Labor could issue a ruling on now.

But we also need to change the FMLA to establish a more comprehensive definition of family. This is especially important, for example, for older LGBTQ couples who aren’t married as well as for those who have no interest in marrying. We all benefit when laws recognize and strengthen the many forms of family in the U.S. today.

Wendy Chun-Hoon is D.C. director of Family Values @ Work. She lives in D.C.

11
Feb
2014

Cartoon: Finish Line

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(Washington Blade cartoon by Ranslem)

30
Apr
2014

Marriage: It’s more (and less) than you think

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In most states, if you die without a Will and you are married and that marriage is recognized, your spouse will inherit a share of your estate.

By LAWRENCE S. JACOBS

In the eight months since the fall of the Defense of Marriage Act, I have witnessed a huge rush to marriage among friends, clients and our community at large. Many of those people dramatically underestimate the changes that marriage might bring to their lives, while at the same time being lulled into a false sense of security that marriage will solve every potential legal issue that comes along. Of course, it won’t.

Hundreds and hundreds of benefits accrue to married couples. Yet, many of those benefits are misunderstood and do not come automatically. For example, the right to own real estate as a married couple does not and cannot happen unless the deed to that property includes that right. Many of my clients own their homes as joint with right of survivorship. But married couples can hold real estate as tenants by the entirety, which is much better. Far too many of my clients live in a home that is only owned by one of them. If something happens to that homeowner, the other one may be literally out on the street. Not surprisingly, we re-deed many of our clients’ homes, which is neither difficult nor expensive. Where the transfer of title may be impractical or undesirable, we create Revocable Trusts for the purpose of owning real estate.

Wills are another area where marriage has unexpected impacts. In most states, if you die without a Will and you are married and that marriage is recognized, your spouse will inherit a share of your estate. The amount of that share varies and can be as low as one-third. A properly drafted and signed Will can override those rules. For couples with children, the default rules can be even more problematic because minors cannot inherit money directly, either under a Will or because they were named as the beneficiary of a life insurance or retirement account. Worse yet, no matter how much money you leave, they will likely get it all in a single payment on their 18th birthday. Wills can and frequently do establish distribution schemes that make much more sense.

Marriage only solves problems for couples when both of them are healthy and alive.  If either of those should become untrue, then the marriage may count for little or nothing. If your spouse becomes incapacitated, you may have medical decision-making rights, but not the right to manage their separate assets.  That is usually accomplished by general durable power of attorney. Otherwise a guardianship petition will be required, which are typically expensive and time-consuming.  If your spouse dies before you, and you die later without a will, your assets will all be distributed to certain family members with parents typically first in line, regardless of whether that makes sense.

Marriage equality also brings with it the trials and tribulations that our straight counterparts have endured for generations. If you break up in the future, the only way to end that legal relationship is through a divorce. While you are still married, you cannot change your Will to completely disinherit your spouse. If you get divorced, the court will determine how to divide your assets. The court may also order you to pay alimony to your former spouse.  However, all of these potentially adverse outcomes can be changed in a properly drafted prenuptial (and sometimes post-nuptial) agreement. A word of caution: do not call a lawyer the week before your marriage for a pre-nup. I typically advise my clients to allow six to eight weeks.

None of this is intended to discourage anyone from getting married. I am a firm believer in that institution and took the plunge myself in 2009. Rather, I view my job as educating people on the issues, so that they can then make good decisions.

Larry Jacobs has helped hundreds of same-sex couples in the Washington area protect their assets and loved ones through partnership planning. He is a partner at McMillan Metro, P.C. and has practiced law for 39 years. He is admitted to the bar in Maryland, Virginia and D.C. You can learn more about Larry and his practice at PartnerPlanning.com.

28
Feb
2014

Finishing the job of the LGBT movement

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(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The nature of LGBT activism is changing fast in this post-DOMA/Prop 8/DADT world. As LGBT acceptance grows and anti-gay laws continue to fall, it’s easy to forget where we came from, how we got here and what’s left to accomplish.

Pride week seems a good time to reflect on some of that.

One recent story illustrates just how dramatically different the world is today: Michael Sam’s NFL draft and kiss with his boyfriend broadcast live on ESPN. The “ick” factor remains a potent enemy of LGBT equality, from straight men tweeting their horror at the kiss, to opponents of Maryland’s recently approved trans rights law trying to scare voters into thinking men dressed as women will flock to bathrooms and locker rooms. That’s why spontaneous displays of affection like Sam’s are important — such visibility will slowly ease the discomfort some feel at the sight of two men or two women together.

Although Sam’s coming out is a courageous step, some won’t recognize his process as particularly pioneering. When Martina Navratilova came out in the early 1980s, she lost untold millions in endorsement deals and endured the homophobic and misogynistic barbs of commentators and tennis fans the world over. Contrast that with Sam’s carefully choreographed announcement, Visa endorsement deal and the NFL’s aggressive moves to shield him from criticism.

Indeed, much has changed. From the days when activism meant taking to the streets, as chronicled in HBO’s “Normal Heart,” which debuted last month, to our modern view of activists as lawyers and lobbyists.

As things get better, it’s important to remember that not everyone is benefitting from all the positive change. The Blade in January embarked on a special yearlong series focusing on poverty in the LGBT community. We’ve told many stories of those in our community struggling with chronic unemployment, discrimination and health care dilemmas. There’s much more to come this year in the series.

Poverty isn’t the only problem facing the LGBT community. From transgender people who face disproportionately high rates of violence and discrimination to prison inmates coping with discriminatory laws behind bars to LGBT youth living on the streets to the stubbornly high rates of HIV infection among MSM, there is much work ahead.

And as we remember those less fortunate at home, let’s also look abroad to those LGBT people struggling to overcome hate in countries around the world like Russia, Uganda and elsewhere where being LGBT can mean imprisonment and even death.

The Blade is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year and our Pride float will reflect the changes in both the LGBT community as well as at the paper itself — from our early days as a black-and-white one-sheet newsletter featuring stories about police harassment to our modern incarnation complete with social media platforms and mobile app.

If there’s one common thread in all the thousands of stories the Blade has published over the years it’s our focus on telling the stories of LGBT people. Some readers still occasionally question why we disclose the sexual orientation of sources in our stories. The reason speaks to our core mission of chronicling our own history and overcoming hate and bias through visibility. Encouraging visibility is also why Pride celebrations remain important. Not everyone lives in LGBT-friendly places like D.C. They come from rural Virginia, Pennsylvania, Western Maryland and other locales that seem close by but for some can feel a world away from a city like Washington with its pro-LGBT politicians, an openly gay candidate running for mayor, marriage equality law and progressive laws protecting transgender residents.

So as we celebrate Pride this weekend in D.C., let’s be mindful that marriage equality isn’t the only goal of the movement and that when the weekend’s revelry ends we need to recommit ourselves to finishing the job.

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

05
Jun
2014

Defrocked Methodist pastor returns to D.C.

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Frank Schaefer of Lebanon, Pa., appeared at Foundry United Methodist Church in December. (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas)

A Methodist minister from Pennsylvania who was defrocked as a clergyman in December for refusing to stop performing same-sex marriages is scheduled to return to D.C.’s Foundry United Methodist Church on Jan. 26.

Ex-pastor Frank Schaefer will deliver guest sermons at a service for “hope and justice” at 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. on the 26th, according to a statement released by Foundry. Foundry’s pastor, Rev. Dean Snyder, is a longtime ally of the LGBT community and has performed same-sex marriages.

The statement says two other United Methodist ministers who were defrocked will also participate in the services – Jimmy Creech and Beth Stroud. Church officials revoked Creech’s credentials as a Methodist minister in 1999 after he performed a holy union ceremony for a gay male couple in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Stroud was defrocked in 2001 after coming out as a lesbian while assigned as a minister for a United Methodist Church in Philadelphia.

Schaefer, Creech, Stroud and others will participate in a panel discussion at the church following the 11 a.m. worship service, the Foundry statement says.

“Foundry is on the forefront of full inclusion of the LGBTQ community in the life of the church,” the statement says, adding that Foundry continues to push for the United Methodist Church to end the “discriminatory language” related to LGBT people in its Book of Discipline or church law.

22
Jan
2014

Gay R.I. House speaker steps down

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Gay Rhode Island House Speaker Gordon Fox (D-Providence) on March 22 announced he will step down after authorities raided his office and home. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Rhode Island House Speaker Gordon Fox (D-Providence) on March 22 resigned his post a day after federal and state authorities raided his office and home as part of an undisclosed criminal investigation.

“Because of the respect I have for all members of the House of Representatives, I am resigning as speaker,” said the Providence Democrat in a statement that also announced he would not seek re-election as the Associated Press reported. “The process of governing must continue and the transition of leadership must be conducted in an orderly manner.”

Fox, 52, in 2010 became the country’s first openly gay House speaker.

He sparked controversy among some LGBT rights advocates in 2011 when he sponsored a civil unions bill after it became clear a measure that would have allowed gays and lesbians to marry did not have enough votes in the Rhode Island Senate.

Gov. Lincoln Chafee last May signed a same-sex marriage bill into law that Fox spearheaded.

Fox and his partner, Marcus LaFond, wed after the law took effect last August.

Lawmakers on Tuesday elected House Majority Leader Nick Mattielo (D-Cranston) to succeed Fox.

26
Mar
2014

D.C. must have representation in Congress

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We must have our votes in Congress. But as we all work to that goal, our local government has more power than many realize. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

I serve on one of the most powerful elected legislative bodies in the nation. I am a member of the D.C. Council.

Whoa, hold on, I hear you say, how can that be when every law passed by the Council must go to, and may be changed by, Congress at will? And by a Congress where D.C. lacks any voting representation.

To be sure, D.C. statehood is one of the last remaining great human rights violations in the USA. Our city is entitled to full voting representation in the House and Senate and for that there can be no substitute.

Yet, in direct consequence of the congressional role, there is a widely held view that the D.C. government has little power.

On closer examination, that is far from the case.

D.C. may be the most unique political jurisdiction in the U.S. And since Home Rule was established on Dec. 24, 1973 — a 40th anniversary that went largely unnoticed — the D.C. government incorporates city, county and state functions. Thus, for example, motor vehicles, transportation and public works — functions that usually are not within the power of city/county government — are under our government.

Moreover, except for Nebraska, D.C. is the only unicameral state legislature in the U.S. And Nebraska’s single house has 49 members in contrast to D.C.’s 13. In our unicameral legislature, a law can be passed with the support of only seven votes and the signature of the mayor.

But what about this congressional review, where a D.C. law must lay over for 30 legislative days?

True enough. But how often do D.C. laws simply lay over in Congress without action or interference by them?

Almost always is the answer. Even though the heavy boot of a Congress where we have no vote is constantly hanging over the heads of District residents, Congress has used this authority only on rare occasions over the last 40 years — indeed only three times over the last 40 years — and not since 1991. In recent times, Congress has taken no action to disturb what in earlier times would have been viewed as enticing political targets — smoke-free workplaces and marriage equality come immediately to mind.

And D.C.’s congressional review is nothing like what many cities and counties must go through in order to take certain actions. In Virginia or New York, operating under what is known as the “Dillon Rule,” local government may only pass certain laws as expressly allowed by the state legislature. For example, in order for Mayor Bloomberg in New York City to gain control over the NYC public schools laws had to be introduced and passed in Albany in both houses and then signed by the governor. Mayor Fenty needed but seven Council members in D.C. to do about the same thing.

Congress also has the authority to impose restrictions on the District’s ability to raise funds, such as the congressional prohibition of a commuter tax, and override initiatives approved by District residents through referendum. But here again, the authority is increasingly not used. For example, prohibition on needle exchange and medical marijuana funding — both imposed in FY1998 — were lifted in recent years. Only the restriction on spending on abortions remains.

So too, Congress may use the District as a “laboratory” for its own initiatives that they think would be “popular back home.” Federal funding for opportunity scholarships for private schools and various actions related to charter schools are examples.

Forty years into the history of this relatively young government and we have accomplished a lot. The District’s legislature — among the most progressive in social policy in the country — also oversees one of the strongest economies in the country today. We must have our votes in Congress. But as we all work to that goal, our local government has more power than many realize.

12
Feb
2014

HRC launches Southern LGBT campaign

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“Right now, this country is deeply divided into two Americas — one where LGBT equality is nearly a reality and the other where LGBT people lack the most fundamental measures of equal citizenship,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. (Washington Blade file by Michael Key).

WASHINGTON — The Human Rights Campaign on April 28 announced a new campaign designed to bolster pro-LGBT efforts in the South.

Project One America establishes what the organization described as “permanent campaigns” in Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas. HRC will spend $8.5 million over three years and devote 20 staffers to the effort.

“Right now, this country is deeply divided into two Americas — one where LGBT equality is nearly a reality and the other where LGBT people lack the most fundamental measures of equal citizenship,” said HRC President Chad Griffin, who was born and raised in Arkansas.

Gays and lesbians in the three states have filed lawsuits seeking marriage rights since the U.S. Supreme Court last June struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act. The Campaign for Southern Equality last year launched a campaign to highlight the need for gay nuptials in the South.

30
Apr
2014

Author of disputed study takes stand in Mich.

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University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus testified for more than three hours as a witness for the state of Michigan. (Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

DETROIT — The author of a controversial study of adult children often cited by opponents of gay marriage defended his work in court this week but also said it was too early for social scientists to make far-reaching conclusions about families headed by same-sex couples, the Associated Press reports in a story carried by the Washington Post.

University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus testified for more than three hours as a witness for the state of Michigan, which is defending a ban on gay marriage. The constitutional amendment, approved by voters in 2004, is being challenged by two Detroit-area nurses in a rare trial.

Regnerus was the leader of a study that screened thousands of people, ages 18-39, and found roughly 250 who said they grew up in a house where a mom or dad eventually had a same-sex relationship, the AP reports.

He found they were more likely to have problems — welfare dependence, less education, marijuana use — than young adults from stable, straight-led families. But he later acknowledged that his study didn’t include children raised by same-sex couples in stable relationships.

The results ignited a blast of criticism when they were published in an academic journal in 2012, the AP reports.

05
Mar
2014

Prop 8 plaintiff speaks at Education Dept. Pride event

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Proposition 8 plaintiff Kris Perry spoke Thursday with U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan. (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan played the role of talk show host on Thursday when he interviewed famed Proposition 8 plaintiff Kris Perry on the dual topics of LGBT equality and early childhood education.

The interview took place before an audience of about 150 people assembled at the department’s headquarters in Southwest Washington as part of an LGBT Pride Month event sponsored by the department’s LGBT employees group.

“This is a really meaningful day,” Duncan told the Blade after the event. “We try to do whatever we can just to celebrate the wealth of talent and the wealth of diversity we have here,” he said in referring to the department’s employees.

Perry became a nationally recognized figure as the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit that challenged the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8, a ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage in the state.

Shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Prop 8 last year Perry and her partner of more than 10 years, Sandy Stier, married in their home state, with LGBT activists joining them and their four sons in celebrating the victory.

Although the spotlight on Perry has focused on her marriage equality efforts her career has long involved advocacy for early childhood education programs. She currently serves as executive director of the First Five Years Fund, a national advocacy organization that lobbies for federal funding for early childhood education programs.

In response to a question from Duncan at Thursday’s Pride event, Perry pointed to what she sees as similarities in the impact of marriage equality and early childhood education programs on the lives of children.

“There are so many similarities in terms of why high-quality early education is the same as kids feeling like they have a family that is equal,” she said. “When you are told by your government that your family isn’t equal it changes your self-image, your self-esteem and it creates a ceiling for you that is very hard to push through,” Perry said.

“When you aren’t allowed to get a high-quality early education a similar ceiling is placed on top of you,” she said. “It is very hard to reach your full potential. It’s very hard to compete … And I really believe that family diversity and the early education opportunity – you create opportunities or you take them away,” she said.

“And those are life-changing, life-altering decisions that we make in the society that limit potential.”

After asking Perry several questions, Duncan opened the discussion to questions from the audience of mostly DOE employees. The questions were divided almost equally between LGBT equality issues and education issues, including early childhood education.

06
Jun
2014