HRC Sets Its Sights on the Deep South
The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's most prominent LGBT rights organization, is launching an $8.5 million intiative to enhance its presence in states that offer no protections for its LGBT citizens.
Called Project One America, the initiative will establish offices in the Deep South states of Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas (coincidentally or not, HRC president Chad Griffin hails from Arkansas). The impetus is to address the serious inequalities in the South, where there is not only a lack of marriage equality, but also no basic protections in housing and employment for LGBTs.
"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," Griffin said in a statement reported by USA Today. "Project One America is an unparalleled effort to close that gap, and it opens up a bold, new chapter in the civil-rights movement of this generation. In this grand struggle for equality, we can't write off anyone, anywhere."
2013: The year gay rights 'triumphed'
Bill allowing gay weddings sooner may see vote
CHICAGO — A gay couples' expedited marriage license could mean the start of other efforts to move up the effective date of Illinois' new same-sex marriage law.
Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill last week that's effective June 1. But one couple was able to get married Wednesday after a federal judge's order allowed them to get a marriage license right away because one of the women is ill.
The legal advocacy group Lambda Legal says more lawsuits could follow. There's also legislation pending that would allow marriages to take place right away. Sponsor state Sen. Don Harmon says it'll be a tough sell.
Approving same-sex marriage was a close vote. Still, he says it's unfair to make couples wait.
The bill could come up in January when lawmakers return to Springfield.
Another big gay week
The gays haven’t had a great week like this since, well, June, when the Supreme Court legalized marriage equality in California and struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. A 15th gay-marriage state, two gay mayors, one coming out and one historic vote against employment discrimination all happened in the past five days.
On Aug. 15, Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) threw his hat into the ring to run for governor. On Nov. 4, he came out of the closet. Responding to “insinuations” that he is gay, Michaud wrote, “Yes, I am. But why should it matter?” Clearly, it doesn’t, since his big reveal caused nary a ripple. And that’s a wonderful thing.
Voters in Houston made history in 2009 when they elected an openly gay woman as their mayor. On Nov. 5, the people of the nation’s fourth-largest city sent Annise Parkerback to city hall for a third and final two-year term. That same night, Washington state Sen. Ed Murray was elected Seattle’s first openly gay mayor. Oh, and the Illinois state House and Senate moved a marriage equality bill to the desk of Gov. Pat Quinn (D), who will sign it into law on Nov. 20. This will make Illinois the 15th state to legalize same-sex marriage.
By a vote of 64 to 32, the U.S. Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). And it did so with the help of Mormons in that body. This was the first vote on the legislation since it failed by one vote in 1996. That the measure includes gender identity is a huge victory for transgender Americans.
But here’s the one cloud in all this. ENDA’s prospects in the House are less than rosy, which is why gay-rights groups are pushing President Obama to issue an executive order extending employment discrimination protection to federal contractors. It’s been sitting on his desk for a while.
Kentucky attorney general defends same-sex marriage ban
LOUISVILLE, Ky — Kentucky’s attorney general is defending the state’s same-sex marriage ban, saying it should stand even though his office acknowledges overturning it would grant gay couples the same legal protections as straight couples.
In an 18-page filing in federal court in Louisville, Assistant Attorney General Clay Barkley asked U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Gregory Bourke and Michael De Leon. Barkley wrote that the men lack standing to challenge the law.
Bourke and De Leon, who were married in Canada nine years ago, sued in July to force the state to recognize valid unions from other states and countries. The men are seeking an injunction to stop state and local officials from enforcing the ban written into the Kentucky constitution in 2004. The suit is the first such challenge in Kentucky since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The act had blocked married same-sex couples from receiving the same benefits as heterosexual spouses.
Kentucky changed its state constitution in 2004 to include the prohibition on same-sex marriage. The amendment reads: “Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Kentucky” and “A marriage between members of the same sex which occurs in another jurisdiction shall be void in Kentucky.”
Much of the state’s filing is boilerplate legal language. But, Barkley said same-sex couples seeking to marry “are just as willing as opposite-sex couples to assume the obligations of marriage” and, if allowed to marry, would “benefit equally from the legal protections and social recognition afforded to married couples.”
While Kentucky judges have granted adoptions to same-sex couples, the state treats them differently than opposite-sex couples by not allowing both partners to be listed as parents, Barkley said. According to the 2010 Census, about 2,800 same-sex couples are raising children in Kentucky. De Leon is the father of an adopted 15-year-old boy and 14-year-old girl. Bourke has been designated a legal guardian for the children.
Bourke, a 55-year-old applications consultant at Humana, and Deleon, a 55-year-old database administrator at General Electric, were married in at Niagara Falls in Canada, in 2004. Both men said the recent decision by the Supreme Court proved to be the impetus to challenge Kentucky’s ban.
Challenges to same-sex marriage bans have been filed in recent months in Pennsylvania, Arkansas and New Mexico. The American Civil Liberties Union has said challenges are also expected in Virginia, Nevada, Hawaii and Michigan.
What we ought to be asking gay marriage advocates
Given his track record on marital fidelity, former President Bill Clinton is not the person I would consult about "committed, loving relationships." Clinton used those words in a Washington Post op-ed last week, urging the Supreme Court to overturn the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman, which he signed into law.
In his column, Clinton said that 1996 "was a very different time." No state recognized same-sex marriage and supporters of DOMA "believed that its passage 'would diffuse a movement to enact a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, which would have ended the debate for a generation or more.'" Clinton says he now supports same-sex marriage based on justice, equality and the Constitution.
All of the arguments for and against same-sex marriage have been heard and will be heard again on March 26 and 27 when lawyers on both sides of the issue argue two key cases regarding same-sex marriages before the Supreme Court.
If same-sex marriage is approved, what's to stop polygamists from demanding legal protection and cultural acceptance?
The justices are expected to rule in June. It will be the Court's most important social and cultural ruling since its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
What advocates for same-sex marriage should be asked is whether they consider any other human relationship worthy of similar constitutional protection and based on what standard? The Constitution doesn't guarantee the right to marry. States, not the federal government, issue marriage licenses.
Current laws restrict "underage" marriage, as well as polygamy. If same-sex marriage is approved, what's to stop polygamists from demanding legal protection and cultural acceptance? Justice Antonin Scalia predicted as much in 2003 in his dissent of the Lawrence v. Texas case, in which the Court struck down the sodomy law in Texas. So I ask, if "fairness" and "equality" are the standard, isn't it also "unfair" to "discriminate" against polygamists who wish to live in "loving" and "committed" relationships?
Since we are rapidly discarding the rules for living and social order set down in a book found in most motel room drawers, what is to replace it? Opinion polls? Clever legal arguments? Fairness? What exactly does "fairness" mean and who decides what's fair? Many things may seem "unfair," but not all can, or should, be addressed by courts.
I am reminded of this exchange between Humpty Dumpty and Alice in Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland":
"'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.'( 'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things...'"
Last week in Sacramento, Calif., Justice Anthony Kennedy lamented that the Supreme Court is asked to settle too many politically charged issues. Responding to reporters, Kennedy said, "A democracy should not be dependent for its major decisions on what nine unelected people from a narrow legal background have to say. And I think it's of tremendous importance for our political system to show the rest of the world -- and we have to show ourselves first -- that democracy works because we can reach agreement on a principle basis."
The states, or Congress, should be allowed to sort out how they wish to define and license marriage, not the Supreme Court.
It doesn't take a prophet to see where this is headed. A nation that legalizes abortion and applies no stigma to cohabitation and out-of-wedlock births is not about to suddenly discover the moral courage to say "no" to same-sex marriage.
In the 1999 film "The Matrix," Agent Smith has Neo pinned down on a subway track. As the train approaches, Agent Smith says: "You hear that, Mr. Anderson? That is the sound of inevitability. It is the sound of your death."
If, as I suspect, the Supreme Court strikes down DOMA, it will be the inevitable result of an increasing number of Americans abandoning the Source of morality and goodness. As Calvin Coolidge said of our Declaration of Independence, "We cannot continue to enjoy the result if we neglect and abandon the cause."
Texas Gay Couple, Says Wedding Venue Turned Them Down
A Texas-based gay couple is crying foul after they say they were turned down by a reception venue who refused to host their forthcoming wedding.
Ben Allen and Justin Hudgins hoped to book a reception for 150 guests at the All Occasion Party Place near Fort Worth. But the couple says they were told by phone and email that the venue wouldn't host a same-sex wedding.
“It is because of God that I will not be a part in your reception, and I know he loves you, but not what you are doing,” All Occasion Party Place employee Robin Hearne is quoted by the news channel as having written to Hudgins in an e-mail. “I simply said I can not rent to you which is also my right.”
The couple, who will tie the knot in Mexico on April 6, say they were "floored" by the encounter.
"It almost felt like a sucker-punch to the face," Allen told NBCNFW. "I thought, in today's day and age, for someone to deny you simply because you date someone of the same sex, it doesn't really make sense to me."
As NBCNFW points out, the All Occasion Party Place is located outside the Fort Worth city limits, and therefore doesn't fall under the city's anti-discrimination code. Still, the case has nonetheless sparked the ire of local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights advocates.
Notes Chuck Smith of Equality Texas, "Refusing to provide services or public accommodations to anyone solely because of their sexual orientation or gender identity is wrong."
Allen and Hudgins' case follows that of an Oregon-based lesbian couple, who were turned away by a local bakeryafter they sought a wedding cake.
"I apologized for wasting their time and said we don’t do same-sex marriages,” Sweet Cakes by Melissa owner Aaron Klein is quoted by KATU as saying. “I honestly did not mean to hurt anybody, didn’t mean to make anybody upset, [it’s] just something I believe in very strongly.”
In October 2012, a New York-based lesbian couple were similarly turned away by a rural farm where they hoped to tie the knot.
Robert Gifford, who owns Liberty Ridge Farm with his wife Cynthia, confirmed the news, telling WNYT: "I think it's our right to choose who we market to, like any business...we are a family business, and we just feel we ought to stay down the family path."
Pentagon to give some benefits to same-sex partners of service members
The military is poised to extend some benefits to the same-sex partners of service members, U.S. officials said Tuesday, about 16 months after the Pentagon repealed its ban on openly gay service.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has not made a final decision on which benefits will be included, the officials said, but the Pentagon is likely to allow same-sex partners to have access to the on-base commissary and other military subsidized stores, as well as some health and welfare programs.
Panetta must walk a fine, legal line. While there has been increased pressure on the Pentagon to extend some benefits to same-sex partners, defense officials must be careful not to violate the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA. The federal law forbids the federal government from recognizing any marriage other than those between a man and a woman.
An announcement is expected to come in the next several days.
Officials discussed the plan on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly speak about internal Pentagon deliberations.
The Pentagon wouldn't comment to CBS News about the AP report.
Pentagon press secretary George Little declined to comment to the AP.
Other officials made it clear that there are still last-minute legal discussions going on to determine the details.
Officials said the military likely will require that some type of document be signed to designate the military member's partner as a legitimate recipient of the benefits. The same-sex partners are also expected to be issued some type of identification card that would give them access to the military installations and programs.
Panetta's decision comes as he nears the end of his tenure as Pentagon chief and on the heels of President Obama's broad call for equal rights for gays during his inaugural speech.
"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," said Mr. Obama, who also has supported gay marriage.
Also, just days ago, a woman married to a female Army officer at Fort Bragg wasinvited to become a full member of the North Carolina base's officers' spouses club after initially being denied. The Marine Corps has also said that any spouses clubs operating on its bases must admit same-sex partners.
Last year, Rep. Adam Smith, of Washington state, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, introduced legislation that would extend same-sex benefits to spouses of veterans and service members. He argued that, with gays serving openly in the military, their spouses should receive the same benefits.
Under his measure, the Defense Department and Veterans Affairs Department would have to recognize any marriage that has been recognized by a state, the District of Columbia, commonwealths or territories. Nine states and the District of Columbia now allow gay and lesbian couples to marry.
"Building on the repeal of 'Don't ask, don't tell,' this is another big step toward full equality in the military. No individual should be deprived of the benefits they have earned simply because of who they have married," Smith said Tuesday.
Advocacy groups called on Panetta to take substantive steps and grant full benefits that are available under the law.
"Considering DADT was repealed well over a year ago, our families have waited far too long for the Defense Department to extend benefits to same-sex military spouses," said Stephen Peters, president of the American Military Partner Association, which advocates for gay and lesbian military families. "No military family should suffer because of outdated regulations. For the sake of our families, we hope for substantive action and look forward to hearing from Secretary Panetta on exactly what benefits will be extended."
The repeal of the ban on gays serving openly in the military took effect in September 2011, and since then the Pentagon has been reviewing policies and procedures to see what military benefits can be opened to same sex partners without violating DOMA.
The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of DOMA in June, but advocacy groups have argued that there are a number of administrative steps the Pentagon could take to treat same-sex military couples more fairly.
More gay men are being forced to give police their DNA
Peter Tatchell remains concerned by fresh reports of gay men being forced to give DNA samples to police officers.
The human rights campaigner says alleged incidents have now taken place in West Yorkshire, London, Northumbria, West Midlands, Manchester and Essex.
Thousands of ex-offenders have been targeted by Operation Nutmeg, which aims to add the DNA of 12,000 people to the police national database.
Stephen Close from Salford, said the sample was taken because of a 30-year-old historic conviction for having consensual sex with another man.
The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) have said police should demand DNA samples for only the most serious of previous offenders, and that forces should not seek DNA samples from people convicted solely of previously banned consensual sex acts.
Mr Tatchell said: “Some of the men have no other convictions, contrary to what some forces are claiming.
I have written to the ACPO lead officer Amanda Cooper of Thames Valley Police stating:
‘It might be helpful if the ACPO guidance was revised and reissued.
‘I don’t think there is any justification for the inclusion of gross indecency in the list of DNA qualifying offences. These men are not a threat to the public.”
In response, Amanda Cooper said:
Police forces across the country are working to ensure that individuals, convicted of the most serious offences, have their DNA samples loaded and cross checked on the national DNA database. A 12-month programme of work, Operation Nutmeg, commenced in September to ensure that those convicted of serious sex offences and homicide and who should be on the national DNA database are.
The sampling specifically targets those who have served their time for those serious offences and are back in the community but have not had a DNA sample loaded onto the database, since it was created in 1995. As part of the guidance issued to forces it was noted that certain sexual offences, such as gross indecency and buggery, should not have a DNA sample taken on the grounds of a sole conviction. Each force is advised to undertake their own risk assessment on each named subject as part of their sampling decision making process.
Separately, ACPO Criminal Records Office is already working to facilitate amending police records for people who the Home Secretary decides should no longer have a record kept for historic offences which have been disregarded under the Protection of Freedoms Act.
Supreme Court returns Monday; will review gay marriage cases
U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to return for the second half of the year and is expected to review affirmative action, gay marriage, voting rights and government secrecy, according to ABC News. In March, the Supreme Court justices will review two court cases on gay marriage.
One case that the Supreme Court will review is Hollingsworth vs. Perry and if there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage; the second case Windsor vs. United States will review the federal law that currently defines marriage as only between a man and a woman.
On Dec. 7, 2012, the Supreme Court agreed to review gay marriage and review California's Prop 8 ban on same-sex marriage, and they will also review the DOMA law that defines marriage as only between a man and a woman.
The Supreme Court may decide if any state has the right to ban same-sex marriage. The Constitution guarantees equal protection for everyone. Or the Supreme Court may decide to limit the case to California.
Over the last few weeks, the Supreme Court justices have been writing and reviewing draft opinions for cases from the last session.
On New Year's Day, same-sex ceremonies begin in earnest in Md. As gay marriage becomes legal
TILGHMAN ISLAND, Md. (AP) — Same-sex couples in Maryland were greeted with cheers and noisemakers held over from New Year's Eve parties, as gay marriage became legal in the first state south of the Mason-Dixon Line on New Year's Day.
James Scales, 68, was married to William Tasker, 60, on Tuesday shortly after midnight by Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake inside City Hall.
"It's just so hard to believe it's happening," Scales said shortly before marrying his partner of 35 years.
Six other same-sex couples also were being married at City Hall. Ceremonies were taking place in other parts of the state as well.
The ceremonies follow a legislative fight that pitted Gov. Martin O'Malley against leaders of his Catholic faith. Voters in the state, founded by Catholics in the 17th century, sealed the change by approving a November ballot question.
"There is no human institution more sacred than that of the one that you are about to form," Rawlings-Blake said during the brief ceremony. "True marriage, true marriage, is the dearest of all earthly relationships."
Brigitte Ronnett, who also was married, said she hopes one day to see full federal recognition of same-sex marriage. Maryland, Maine and Washington state were the first states to approve same-sex marriage by popular vote, in November, a development Ronnett said was significant.
"I think it's a great sign when you see that popular opinion is now in favor of this," said Ronnett, 51, who married Lisa Walther, 51, at City Hall.
Same-sex couples in Maryland have been able to get marriage licenses since Dec. 6, but they did not take effect until Tuesday.
In 2011, same-sex marriage legislation passed in the state Senate but stalled in the House of Delegates. O'Malley hadn't made the issue a key part of his 2011 legislative agenda, but indicated that summer that he was considering backing a measure similar to New York's law, which includes exemptions for religious organizations.
Shortly after, Archbishop Edwin O'Brien of Baltimore wrote to O'Malley that same-sex marriage went against the governor's faith.
"As advocates for the truths we are compelled to uphold, we speak with equal intensity and urgency in opposition to your promoting a goal that so deeply conflicts with your faith, not to mention the best interests of our society," wrote O'Brien, who served as archbishop of the nation's first diocese from October 2007 to August 2011.
The governor was not persuaded. He held a news conference in July 2011 to announce that he would make same-sex marriage a priority in the 2012 legislative session. He wrote back to the archbishop that "when shortcomings in our laws bring about a result that is unjust, I have a public obligation to try to change that injustice."
The measure, with exemptions for religious organizations that choose not to marry gay couples, passed the House of Delegates in February in a close vote. O'Malley signed it in March. Opponents then gathered enough signatures to put the bill to a statewide vote, and it passed with 52 percent in favor.
In total, nine states and the District of Columbia have approved same-sex marriage. The other states are Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont.
Meanwhile, the weddings continued throughout the day Tuesday. Clayton Zook, 28, and Wayne McKenzie, 30, married by the waters of the Chesapeake Bay at the Black Walnut Point Inn on Tilghman Island.
"We've been together for six and a half years, so this one day doesn't really change a whole lot as far as our feelings," said Zook, of Baltimore. "It does change a whole lot in how we are recognized, and we're certainly felt more as equal in the state of Maryland now."
Maryland Marks Historic Win
It was a long time in the making, but advocates of marriage equality now have four electoral victories in their ''win'' column – up from zero.
After years of trying to pass a marriage-equality bill through the Maryland General Assembly, gay-rights advocates – led by the Marylanders for Marriage Equality coalition – were able to round up enough votes from previously hesitant lawmakers to narrowly pass the Civil Marriage Protection Act in February, signed into law by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) in March.
The legislation provided that the state could begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on Jan. 1, 2013, setting the stage for the ballot fight.
The Maryland Marriage Alliance immediately began gathering petition signatures to force a November referendum, netting more than twice the number needed. Question 6 was born.
The battle also drew in the big guns. The anti-gay National Organization for Marriage dumped money in the ''vote no on 6'' camp, while the Human Rights Campaign put its weight behind passing it.
Beyond the cash, Question 6 supporters sought to craft the argument as one rooted in fairness and equality, where loving, committed couples could have their relationships recognized by the state while not infringing on the rights of clergy or religious organizations not to recognize same-sex marriages if it violated their beliefs.
Opponents, on the other hand, argued that the Civil Marriage Protection Act was an overreach of government, and, in particular, liberalism, which was seeking to ''redefine'' marriage and dictate a certain set of values. Opponents also claimed that religious freedom was threatened by marriage equality, despite the law's explicit protections for clergy and religious organizations.
Opponents pointed to the October suspension of Gallaudet University's chief diversity officer,Angela McCaskill, for signing the petition to put marriage equality on the ballot, and the vandalism of a Chick-fil-A store in Maryland, as evidence that freedom of speech and religion would be infringed by the passage of Question 6.
Come Nov. 6, Maryland voters approved Question 6 by a 52-48 margin.
Maryland was not the only win for marriage-equality advocates on Election Day. A referendum to uphold same-sex marriage passed by a similar margin in Washington state. Voters in Maine approved a citizen-backed initiative that successfully reversed a 2009 referendum that rescinded marriage equality. And voters in Minnesota rejected an effort backed by the Republican-controlled Legislature to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage, even though it is already outlawed by statute.
Tavares moves toward setting up domestic-partner registry
Tavares city officials agreed Wednesday to develop what could be the first domestic-partnership registry in Lake County.
The City Council asked its attorney to draft a new ordinance. The registry would be modeled afterOrlando's, which does not require those who register to be residents. About two dozen people applauded the vote. It wasn't clear when the council would vote on the ordinance.
Gay marriage before Supreme Court? Cases weighed
Ultimately, it will be up to clerks of county courts to decide whether to issue marriage licenses early enough to accommodate gay couples who want to wed on New Year’s Day.
But one powerful Annapolis politician who supports same-sex marriage left little doubt Friday as to what he would like to see the clerks do.
“I think everybody understood that ... January 1 would be the date that couples could marry,” House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said in an interview. “You would think that the vast majority of the clerks would comply with letting people apply for the licenses before January 1.”
The new law takes effect Jan. 1.
Busch’s comments came a day after an opinion was issued by the Attorney General’s Office that said it is permissible for clerks to start processing marriage licenses a few days ahead of time to facilitate Jan. 1 marriages and comply with a waiting period in Maryland law.
The formal advice was issued in an attempt to clear up confusion in the wake of this month’s passage of Question 6, the ballot measure upholding Maryland’s gay nuptials law. Early word out of the attorney general’s office was that same-sex marriages in Maryland would likely not take effect until Jan. 4.
That’s because Maryland has a two-day waiting period once clerks issue licenses. With Jan. 1 being a holiday, that would mean licenses could not be issued until the following day.
Gay Rights: Does Taking a Stand Affect Business?
When a company takes a stand on a hot-button issue like gay rights, does it affect the bottom line?
A Chick-fil-A restaurant
Fast-food chain Chick-fil-A inadvertently hit the button to find out when President Dan Cathy publicly came out against same-sex marriage.
“Guilty as charged!” Cathy told a Baptist news journal when asked about his company’s financial support of groups that campaign against same-sex marriage. “We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit.”
The remarks were instantly polarizing.
Pro-gay marriage groups called for a boycott of the chain, and the mayors of Boston and Chicago sent letters to the chain saying that it was not welcome in their cities. The Jim Henson Company, creators of “Sesame Street” and “The Muppets," said it would no longer supply toys or other merchandise to Chick-fil-A. Meanwhile, prominent conservative politicians including Rick Santorum, Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee came out in support of the chain and what Huckabee called its “Christian principles.”
Some public opposition might have been expected, but when it came to customers, Chick-fil-A’s brand perception among fast-food eaters took a significant hit in most regions of the country following Cathy’s remarks, according to market-research firm YouGov.
As Eagle Scouts return medals, gay ban still firm
"I can no longer maintain any connection to an organization which actively promotes such a bigoted and misguided policy," Dr. Robert Wise of Chicago wrote to Scout headquarters in Texas. "To that end, I am interested in removing all evidence that I was ever a Scout."
Wise, 59, is among several dozen former Eagle Scouts who have taken such steps following the July 17 announcement that the Boy Scouts of America, after a confidential two-year review, were sticking with the divisive, long-standing policy of excluding openly gay youth and adults as members and leaders.
Another of the protesters is attorney Jackson Cooper, 32, a former senior patrol leader of Troop 342 in his hometown of Louisville, Ky. In an open letter, he said he was unsure if any of his fellow Scouts were gay.
"But I do know that my now-deceased mother, a lesbian, would not have been allowed to serve as a den mother if her orientation had been public knowledge," he wrote. "The thought that I have invested such a large part of my life with an organization that would have turned my own mother away breaks my heart."
Also returning his medal was Martin Cizmar, 31, arts and culture editor of Willamette Week, an alternative newspaper in Portland, Ore.
He tweeted the news: "Just mailed my Eagle Scout medal back to the BSA to protest the ban on gay scouts. Kinda sad, but important."
In a letter sent to BSA headquarters along with the medal, Cizmar detailed his scouting career with a troop in Tallmadge, Ohio.
"Though I did not know at the time, I was acquainted with a number of gay Scouts and Scouters (adult leaders)," he wrote. "They were all great men, loyal to the Scout Oath and motto and helpful to the movement. There is no fair reason they should not be allowed to participate in scouting."
Deron Smith, the Boy Scouts' national spokesman, said there was no official count at his office of how many medals had been returned. He also noted that about 50,000 of the medals are awarded each year.
"We're naturally disappointed when someone decides to return a medal because of this single policy," he said. "We respect their right to express their opinion."
Beyond the Eagle Scout protests, the Boy Scouts' reaffirmation of the no-gays policy has drawn condemnation from liberal advocacy groups, newspaper editorialists and others. In Washington state, Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna, an Eagle Scout, joined his Democratic opponent, Jay Inslee, in suggesting the policy be changed.
But overall there has been little evidence of any new form of outside pressure that might prompt the Scouts to reconsider.
The leadership of the Scouts' most influential religious partners — notably the Mormons, Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists — appears to support the policy. And even liberal politicians seem reluctant to press the issue amid a tense national election campaign.
For example, President Barack Obama has made no public statement thus far about the Scouts' policy — a notable void given that he is a staunch supporter of gay rights and also, like all presidents of the past 100 years, is the Boy Scouts' honorary president.
The American Civil Liberties Union, in its online newsletter, suggested that Obama re-evaluate White House ties to the Boy Scouts. The White House press office declined comment on the matter, and there has been little pressure on Obama from other quarters.
"People are reluctant to force him to take sides," said Richard Socarides, a former Clinton White House adviser on gay rights. "Everybody knows what side he's on anyway."
Rep. Barney Frank, an openly gay Democrat from Massachusetts, said Obama already had burnished his gay-rights credentials by supporting same-sex marriage and there were "bigger fish to fry" at this juncture.
In contrast to Obama, Republican candidate Mitt Romney does have a public position on the Scouts' policy — he politely disagrees with it.
Back in 1994, during a political debate in Massachusetts, Romney said this: "I support the right of the Boy Scouts of America to decide what it wants to do on that issue. I feel that all people should be able to participate in the Boy Scouts regardless of their sexual orientation."
A Romney spokeswoman, Andrea Saul, said in an email that this remains Romney's position today.
Beyond the political arena, the Boy Scouts' stance was bemoaned in various newspaper editorials, ranging from The New York Times to the Iowa City Press-Citizen to the Salina Journal in Kansas.
"The Scouts do matter. They do a lot of good for a lot of families and boys," said the Journal's editorial. "But their influence and relevance will wane if they continue to go against a society that's becoming more inclusive, not exclusive."
Boy Scouts reaffirm policy denying membership to gays
Texas (Reuters) - The Boy Scouts of America on Tuesday said the organization would continue to deny gay people membership, saying that the policy "is in the best interest of Scouting."
The decision is the result of a two-year evaluation by the organization prompted by repeated criticism, as well as support, for the policy, the organization said in a statement.
"The vast majority of the parents of youth we serve value their right to address issues of same-sex orientation within their family, with spiritual advisers, and at the appropriate time and in the right setting," said Bob Mazzuca, chief scout executive of Boy Scouts of America.
"While a majority of our membership agrees with our policy, we fully understand that no single policy will accommodate the many diverse views among our membership or society," he said.
The study, which began in 2010, was done by a committee of volunteers and professional leaders that reflected "a diversity of perspectives and opinions," the organization stated.
No further action will be taken on the matter, according to the statement.
The Boy Scouts of America in 2000 won a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing the organization to ban gays whose conduct, the Boy Scouts argued, violated its values.
A campaign against the ban has gathered momentum in the past year and a half, in part because of activism by Zach Wahls, an Eagle Scout with two lesbian mothers, and Jennifer Tyrrell, a lesbian mother from Ohio who was ousted as a Scout den leader and treasurer in April because of the organization's policy.
Tyrrell is expected to deliver a petition to Boy Scouts of America's Irving, Texas, headquarters on Wednesday, urging the organization to reinstate her.
Jim Turley, chairman and chief executive officer of Ernst & Young and a Boy Scouts of America board member, has said he thinks the group should stop excluding gay people. Another Boy Scout board member, AT&T CEORandall Stephenson, has said he favors diversity and supports the idea of change from within.
The Boy Scouts of America claimed more than 1 million adult volunteers at the end of 2011. It was founded in 1910 as part of the international Scout movement established in Britain by General Robert Baden-Powell.
Southern and Western states: the "final frontier" say gay rights groups ready to spend millions to advance cause
Gay rights groups and their donors are preparing to spend millions of dollars across Southern and Western states in an effort to expand basic civil rights and workplace protections to gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender residents.
States across the south and west are described by gay rights advocates as the "final frontier" in the quest to win civil rights and workplace protections for gays, according to a story in today's New York Times.
While gays have won significant legal battles in a number of states and their efforts have created better living conditions, gay organizations say that the nation is dividing into two separate and unequal regions: one along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and in large cities where gays are making advancements; The second is in Southern and Western states where Republicans dominate public office and churches have strong influence and where gays have made little to no progress in terms of civil rights or workplace protections.
Hawaii Senate passes gay marriage bill
The state Senate passed a bill Tuesday legalizing gay marriage, putting Hawaii a signature away from becoming a same-sex wedding destination.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who called lawmakers to a special session for the bill and has vocally supported gay marriage, has said he would sign the measure. It will allow thousands of gay couples living in Hawaii and even more tourists to marry in the state starting Dec. 2.
Senators passed the bill 19-4 with two lawmakers excused. Cheers erupted inside and outside the gallery when the vote was taken, with a smattering of boos. Senate President Donna Mercado Kim, who voted against the bill, banged her gavel and told members of the public to quiet down.
More than half the chamber's lawmakers spoke in support of the bill, with many urging the public to come together to heal divisions within the community.
"This is nothing more than the expansion of aloha in Hawaii," said Sen. J. Kalani English, a Democrat from Maui.
An estimate from a University of Hawaii researcher says the law will boost tourism by $217 million over the next three years, as Hawaii becomes an outlet for couples in other states, bringing ceremonies, receptions and honeymoons to the islands. The study's author has said Hawaii would benefit from pent-up demand for gay weddings, with couples spending $166 million over those three years on ceremonies and honeymoons.
The Senate took up the bill a second time because of changes made in the House, where the bill was amended and eventually passed.
Abercrombie last week urged the overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature to pass the bill in its current form. Hawaii Attorney General David Louie said the measure is constitutional and legally sound.
The House amendments delayed the dates ceremonies could begin, slightly expanded an exemption for clergy and religious organizations, and removed regulations determining how children of same-sex couples could qualify for Native Hawaiian benefits.
The measure is the culmination of more than two decades of debate in the state, where two women in 1990 famously applied for a marriage license, touching off a court battle and eventual national discussion on gay marriage.
The case led to Congress passing the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, part of which was struck down earlier this year by the U.S. Supreme Court. The decision that legally married same-sex couples could qualify for federal benefits led Abercrombie to call the special session in Hawaii.
The Senate vote puts Hawaii alongside Illinois, where a bill legalizing gay marriage is also awaiting the governor's signature. Another 14 states and the District of Columbia already allow same-sex marriage.
New Jersey Seeks to Block Gay Marriage During Appeal
The attorney general for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie asked a state judge in an emergency request to delay implementation of her ruling that same-sex couples must be allowed to marry.
Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson in Trenton ruled Sept. 27 that the state’s civil-union law was unconstitutional, and same-sex marriages should begin Oct. 21. Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman asked Jacobson today to put the ruling on hold while his office appeals directly to the state Supreme Court.
Jacobson ruled in favor of Garden State Equality and Lambda Legal, which represents six same-sex couples and their children. The judge ruled after the U.S. Supreme Court on June 26 struck down a federal law denying benefits to same-sex married couples. Hoffman said the state Legislature passed a civil union law in 2006 that retains the name marriage for heterosexual couples.
“If the court single-handedly, without guiding precedent and without input from the Supreme Court, reverses this course and overrides the intent of the democratically elected branch, the state will suffer irreparable harm,” according to Hoffman’s motion.
The judge should allow the Supreme Court, “the ultimate arbiter of substantial constitutional issues, to definitively determine the contested issue and allow that court, if it deems necessary, to take the drastic step of rejecting on constitutional grounds” a state law, according to the motion.
‘Irreversible’Hoffman disputed the judge’s ruling that the state must begin issuing marriage licenses within three weeks, which he said would be “drastic” and “irreversible.” If Jacobson’s ruling is upheld, New Jersey would be the 14th state to allow same-sex marriages.
“Every day that the state does not allow same-sex couples to marry, plaintiffs are being harmed,” Jacobson ruled. “Plaintiffs are ineligible for many federal marital benefits at this moment, and their right to equal protection under the New Jersey Constitution should not be delayed until some undeterminable future time.”
Attorney Lawrence Lustberg, who argued before Jacobson on behalf of Lambda Legal, said he was disappointed that the state is appealing and seeking a stay.
“We will fight it every step of the way,” Lustberg said. “We’re optimistic that under the governing legal standards, the motion for a stay will be denied, and on Oct. 21, same-sex marriages will commence.”
ReplyAdvocates of same-sex marriage have until Oct. 4 to reply, Jacobson said in an order today. The state has until Oct. 7 to respond. Jacobson said the state waived oral arguments.
Lambda Legal’s deputy legal director, Hayley Gorenberg, said the group expects to prevail.
“We’ll be making the case that we are likely to win and any delay in allowing same-sex couples to marry is too great a hardship to allow a stay,” Gorenberg said today in a statement.
In its motion, signed by Deputy Attorney General Jean P. Reilly, the state argued that Jacobson erred in ruling that federal officials, “over whom the state has no control,” could affect the constitutionality of a state law.
“Under plaintiffs’ theory, state judicial decisions would flip-flop endlessly at the whim of variable federal policies, resulting in chaos and, effectively, the concession that the state constitution has no independent application,” according to the motion.
Illinois Will Pass Marriage Equality Bill, Sponsor Says
May could become an even more spectacular month for marriage equality: The sponsor of the Illinois bill predicts it will pass by the month’s end, which is also the end of the legislative session.
Rep. Greg Harris, the chief sponsor, said he will “absolutely” call a vote on the marriage equality bill by May 31, and “it’s going to win,” Chicago’s Windy City Times reports. Harris has previously said he would not bring the measure to a vote in the House of Representatives unless he was sure there was enough support to pass it. The state Senate approved it Valentine’s Day, and Gov. Pat Quinn has vowed to sign it.
The bill picked up an endorsement today from former president Bill Clinton, who issued a statement invoking another president. “Since the days of Abraham Lincoln, Illinois has stood for the proposition that all citizens should be treated equally under the law,” President Clinton said in Tuesday’s statement.“Lincoln himself came to Springfield in search of opportunity, and he dedicated his life to securing equal opportunity for all citizens. I believe that for Illinois and for our nation as a whole, in the 21st century that must include marriage equality.”
Several other supporters of the bill have predicted it would pass by May 31, according to Windy City Times. If this happens, Illinois will join three other states — Rhode Island, Delaware, and Minnesota — that have approved marriage equality in the past few weeks. Twelve states plus the District of Columbia offer marriage rights to same-sex couples.
Hillary Clinton Endorses Same-Sex Marriage
Former and perhaps future presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton endorsed same-sex marriage in a video released Monday.
"I support it personally and as a matter of policy and law, embedded in a broader effort to advance equality and opportunity for LGBT Americans and all Americans," Clinton said in the video posted by the advocacy group Human Rights Campaign.
Clinton's declaration puts her in line with other potential 2016 Democratic presidential candidates, and with President Obama.
Earlier this month, Clinton's spouse -- former president Bill Clinton -- endorsed gay marriage in a Washington Post op-ed urging the Supreme Court to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, which he had signed into law in 1996.
The Supreme Court justices are expected to rule by June on the Defense of Marriage Act, which among other things defines marriage as being between a man and a woman.
The gay marriage issue is also changing Republican politics. Last week, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, a finalist for the Republican vice presidential slot in 2012, announced he now supports same-sex marriage after learning that his son is gay.
During their 2008 battle for the Democratic presidential nomination, both Clinton and Obama supported civil unions for same-sex couples, but not gay marriage. Obama endorsed the latter in 2012.
In the Human Rights Campaign video, Clinton said, "like so many others, my personal views have been shaped over time by people I have known and loved."
Clinton cited her work as secretary of State, saying the United States has become a leader in defending gay rights worldwide.
Gays and lesbians "are our colleagues, our teachers, our soldiers, ourfriends, our loved ones," Clinton said. "And they are full and equal citizens and deserve the rights of citizenship -- that includes marriage."
Clinton -- who also announced her 2008 presidential bid bid via video -- has not said she whether she intends to run again in 2016. But the gay marriage video is likely to stoke even more speculation.
Democratic strategist Steve Elmendorf said he doesn't know if Mrs. Clinton will again seek the presidency, but any one who does has to favor gay marriage to be successful in the 2016 Democratic primaries. Elmendorf said the issue has taken on great symbolic significance for many voters, particularly young ones.
"It's become a civil rights issue," he said, "a progressive issue."
Missouri Gay Teen Wins Right To Bring Boyfriend To Prom
This spring, a gay Missouri teen who challenged his school’s policy barring same-sex dates will get to bring his boyfriend to the prom.
Stacy Dawson found out he could not bring his boyfriend because of a single line in the school handbook stating, “high school students will be permitted to invite one guest, girls invite boys and boys invite girls.”
“I’m doing this for anyone to bring anyone they want to prom,” Dawson told LGBTQ Nation before the ban was reversed. “I hope that my school and the school board members understand it’s a wrong policy. [...] It isn’t fair that a school can randomly disregard students’ rights because it doesn’t agree with who you want to take to prom.”
Just one day after the Southern Poverty Law Center threatened a lawsuit on Dawson’s behalf, the school quickly removed its ban.
SPLC’s letter to Scott County Central High makes the strong case for the ban was unconstitutional. The letter cites Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, where the Supreme Court determined students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gates.” And a second federal case in Mississippi, McMillen v. Itawamba County School District, decided a student expressing “her identity through attending prom with a same-sex date” was “the type of speech that falls squarely within the purview of the First Amendment.”
However, the fight against same-sex discrimination at proms carries on elsewhere, as an anti-gay Indiana group faces major backlash for proposing a gay-free prom.
U.K. Marriage Equality Bill Advances
The United Kingdom moved a step closer to marriage equality today, with the House of Commons voting 400-175 for a bill extending marriage rights to same-sex couples.
The measure must go through more parliamentary debates and a vote in the House of Lords before becoming law, but the House of Lords is likely to approve it, given the strong support in the House of Commons, the Associated Pressreports. If approved, the law would take effect in 2015, giving same-sex couples access to both civil and religious marriage, as long as the religious body does not object. Also, couples in civil partnerships would be able to convert their union to a marriage.
Marriage equality has the backing of Prime Minister David Cameron, who said before today’s House of Commons debate, “I am a strong believer in marriage. It helps people commit to each other, and I think it is right that gay people should be able to get married too. This is, yes, about equality. But it is also about making our society stronger.”
In the House of Commons, most of the resistance to the bill came from members of the Conservative Party, even though that is Cameron’s party. Conservative lawmaker Roger Gale invoked works of literature in stating his opposition, saying, “Marriage is the union between a man and a woman, has been historically, remains so. It is Alice in Wonderland territory, Orwellian almost, for any government of any political persuasion to seek to come along and try to rewrite the lexicon.”
GLAAD has been involved in the battle with the BSA...
The National Geographic show, from the makers of The Deadliest Catch, is called Are you Tougher Than a Boy Scout, and is set to premier on the channel later this year, reports the LA Times.
GLAAD has been involved in the battle with the BSA, and in July 2012, after a two year review, the Boy Scouts of America announced it would retain its ban on gay members, volunteers and staff.
National Geographic issued a statement last week saying that it appreciated ”all points of view on the topic, but when people see our show they will realize it has nothing to do with this debate, and is in fact a competition series between individual scouts and civilians.”
The President of GLAAD, Herndon Graddick responded in a statement: “That National Geographic would brush aside countless gay teens suffering at the hands of the BSA, shrugging off injustice as just another ‘point of view,’ is irresponsible.
“By airing this program, National Geographic is providing support and publicity to an organization that harms young people simply because of who they are.”
The Boy Scouts have already lost funding from several large corporate donors, including UPS, back in November, who had given over $150,000 (£95,000), Intel, another of the scouts’ largest donors, ceased funding back in September, and the Merck Foundation in December.
Catholic Charities Again Attempts To Derail Colorado Civil Unions
With a Democratic majority now in both chambers of Colorado’s legislature, civil unions legislation is expected to pass quite easily this year. That won’t stop Catholic Charities from attempting to thwart the effort with its perennial threat to abandon all adoption services if not granted specific protections to continue discriminating against same-sex couples. Mark Rohlena, President and CEO of Catholic Charities of Central Colorado, explains that a complete shutdown is “very well what could happen”:
ROHLENA: We feel it would be a very sad commentary if Colorado forced religious institutions or those who believe in a different framework to do something against their conscience… We probably would cease the operation of our adoption programs. That risk is always there. I think that we would try to explore every avenue available to us to provide this vital service to the community.
Catholic Charities can easily avoid the conflict by functioning privately without dependency on state funding. Catholic Charities in Illinois, Massachusetts, and Washington, DC preferred to honor their ultimatums and voluntarily shut down when the respective governments refused to continue the organization’s funding if it discriminated. Rohlena claimed that his agency does not receive state funds to “any significant degree,” so this shouldn’t be a concern.
But Catholic Charities demonstrated quite brashly during the debate last year in Colorado that it cares more about opposing recognition of same-sex couples than it does the service it provides. Last year’s version of the civil unions bill included a specific provision that the law could “not be interpreted to require a child placement agency to place a child for adoption with parties to a civil union.” Despite this exemption, Catholic Charities nonetheless testified it would shut down anyway.
If any lawmaker might be swayed by Catholic Charities, that testimony should be sufficient evidence that the threat is a bluff. Just as an Illinois bishop recently admitted that religious exemptions will not assuage the Catholic Church’s opposition to marriage equality, Catholic Charities of Colorado is going to protest civil unions even if lawmakers meet all of their demands.
Quick push for gay marriage in Illinois set back
Hopes that Illinois could quickly become the 10th state in the nation to legalize gay marriage bogged down Thursday when the bill's Democratic supporters backed off plans to hold a full Senate vote on it and went home after Friday's scheduled session was canceled.
Same-sex marriage advocates entered the lame-duck session Wednesday with high expectations of passing a bill by the assembly's Jan. 9 curtain. Backers were riding a wave of momentum from successes during the November elections as well as public encouragement from President Barack Obama.
After two days of encountering snags in trying to move the measure, Sen. Heather Steans finally won approval in a Senate committee Thursday evening with an 8-5 vote, which was met with cheers by gay marriage supporters.
But Democrats called off a full Senate vote after Steans said three backers — two Democrats and one Republican — weren't present, demonstrating how delicate and contentious the issue remains even in a left-leaning state dominated by Democrats.
The measure's sponsors downplayed the urgency to pass the measure in the lame-duck session, suggesting the issue could win approval in the next Legislature, which convenes next week. Steans still insisted approval of gay marriage in Illinois remained "a question of when, not if."
"As people vote," Steans said, "they should be thinking about where we want to be in history on this."
Steans says she still might call a vote Tuesday when the Senate returns before the end of the lame-duck session on Wednesday.
But Senate President John Cullerton — like Steans, a Chicago Democrat — said it might be a weeks before the bill gets a full Senate vote. His spokeswoman said "the bill needs work," and even Steans suggested working with Republican opponents to get a bipartisan agreement.
Expectations were high for a productive end to the 97th General Assembly, with legislation not only on gay marriage but on assault-weapons restrictions and the Leviathan Illinois issue, a solution to the $96 billion hole in state retirement-benefit accounts.
Gun curbs advanced, and a pension fix has been proposed in the House, which isn't scheduled to return to Springfield until Sunday — giving Gov. Pat Quinn reason to stay optimistic that his top priority will still get attention.
Democrats hold a 35-24 majority in the Senate, but party members outside Chicago don't always toe the line. Not all are on board with extending marriage rights to same-sex couples.
A gay actor who stars in a popular TV comedy campaigned for the measure in Illinois while religious leaders — including 1,700 clergy, from Catholic to Muslim — united in writing lawmakers to oppose it.
Ralph Rivera, a lobbyist for the Illinois Family Institute, told lawmakers the bill was "an attack on our particular religious beliefs" and that it would force churches and other religious institutions to allow their facilities to be used for same-sex marriages.
Steans said that wouldn't be the case, but she said she planned to work with Republicans to address some of those concerns.
Bishop Thomas Paprocki of the Springfield Catholic diocese said the bill would undermine "natural marriage" between a man and a woman and would send a message that children don't need a mother and a father.
"Laws teach," Paprocki said. "They tell us what is socially acceptable and what is not."
Mercedes Santos and Theresa Volpe brought their two children to testify in favor of the bill. The Chicago women have been together 21 years.
Volpe said while the couple has a civil union, a hospital administrator once refused to let her into their son's room because she and Santos aren't married. She said their family deserves the same respect given to other married families.
"We shouldn't have to always care paperwork to show we are their real mothers," she said.
And in a twist not uncommon in Illinois politics, the state's Republican Party chairman said he was lobbying for what he termed a conservative position in favor of proposal, calling it a matter of equality for "the party of Lincoln."
"I don't think the government should be in the business of telling people who can and can't get married," GOP chairman Pat Brady said Thursday. "... This is the most conservative position."
Supporters said they pressed the matter in the waning days of the General Assembly's session to take advantage of soaring support in the state and nationally.
And lame-duck lawmakers theoretically have more freedom to vote without fear of voter backlash. Even though Democrats will claim a 40-19 advantage in the new session, newcomers will bring more diverse views in a state where southern Illinoisans live closer to Birmingham, Ala., than to Chicago.
The plan comes just 18 months after Illinois recognized civil unions.
But the hiccups piled up quickly. Steans' attempt to get the amended marriage language onto an existing bill Wednesday night stalled when Republicans demanded a roll call on a procedural measure and defeated the bill's progress.
The Executive Committee vote gave Steans a needed victory, but she called off a floor vote Thursday, having said earlier in the day she needed votes from missing members — one Democrat who was out of the country, another who had a family issue to attend, and a GOP supporter who was absent because of her mother's death.
"People are changing their minds every day," Steans said. "This is never going to be an easy one, but it's only going to get easier."
Minnesotans Consider Next Step Toward Marriage Equality
Having turned back an anti-equality constitutional amendment, Minnesota marriage equality activists gathered Saturday to discuss their next move, including the possibility of introducing a marriage bill in the state legislature as early as January.
“We have a Democratic House, Senate and governor,” said Ruth Larson, a participant in the Equality and Justice Summit in Minneapolis, according to Minnesota Public Radio. “Strike while the iron’s hot.”
Another attendee, Democratic state representative Alice Hausman, said that since work on the state’s budget has to wait for revenue forecasts, due in February, lawmakers should consider marriage equality legislation in January.
“Some people say, ‘Well, that means we get off track of the budget.’ And we shouldn’t have other issues dominate,” Hausman said. “But if we don’t deal with this immediately, I would argue it’s going to dominate anyway because it hangs out there.”
Not all party members and activists agreed that the time is right. “We’re not close enough to win unless we move some legislators to make what for them might be a challenging decision,” said activist Michelle Dibblee. “To do that they need to hear from constituents, and for those legislators to hear from constituents, we need to continue to organize. What we’ll be doing over the course of the next six months is helping you all to connect more deeply in your communities, particularly in those places where we think there are legislators who need constituent pressure to be moved.”
In November, Minnesota voters rejected a state constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage. This made Minnesota only the second state to do so, after Arizona in 2006, but voters there approved an amendment two years later.
Will Maryland be first state to vote 'yes' on gay marriage?
Irene Huskens has the wedding venue picked out: a charming bed-and-breakfast in southern Maryland. But the wedding is no sure thing.
The plans made by Huskens, a 43-year-old police captain, and her partner, Leia Burks, hinge on whether Marylanders make history on Nov. 6 by voting to legalize same-sex marriage. A "yes" vote, and the wedding is on. A "no" victory? Huskens is loath to consider it.
"There are a lot of Marylanders who want to set the precedent of equality who will vote from their gut for fairness," she said at her colonial suburban home in Prince George's County, where she and Burks are raising two adopted children.
Dating back to 1998, 32 states have held votes on same-sex marriage, and all 32 have opposed it. Maryland is one of four states with Nov. 6 referendums on the issue -- and gay-marriage advocates believe there's a strong chance the streak will be broken.
In Maryland, Maine and Washington, it's an up-or-down vote on legalizing same-sex marriage. In Minnesota, there's a measure to place a ban on gay marriage in the state constitution, as 30 other states have done previously.
"There are a lot of Marylanders who want to set the precedent of equality who will vote from their gut for fairness."- Irene Huskens
Groups supporting same-sex marriage, which has been legalized by court rulings or legislative votes in six states and the District of Columbia, are donating millions of dollars to the four campaigns. They're hoping for at least one victory to deprive their foes of the potent argument that gay marriage has never prevailed at the ballot box.
"Our opposition uses this talking point with elected officials and in courtrooms," said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign. The national gay-rights group is contributing more than $4.4 million to the four state campaigns.
"If we're able to win one of these four, it will be a narrative change -- proof that the public has moved our way dramatically," Griffin said.
Opponents of gay marriage expect to be outspent in the four states, perhaps by more than 2-to-1 overall, yet they remain hopeful their winning streak can be preserved.
"We definitely can win all four if we can increase the fundraising," said Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage, which has pumped more than $2 million into the campaigns against gay marriage. Its TV advertising is just beginning, including in the expensive markets that reach Marylanders in the Washington, D.C., suburbs.
"We do have a big hill to climb to be able to effectively communicate our message," Brown said. "But we don't need to match the other side -- we win repeatedly while being outspent."
All four states are expected to be carried in November by President Barack Obama, who came out in support of same-sex marriage earlier this year.
In Maryland, as in Maine and Washington, the most recent polls show a lead for the supporters of same-sex marriage. But comparable leads in other states -- notably in California in 2008 -- evaporated by Election Day, and Josh Levin, manager of the Marylanders for Marriage Equality campaign, expects the final result to be extremely close.
Levin and his allies are aware that Maryland, because its polls close earlier than Maine's or Washington's, could become the first state to approve same-sex marriage by popular vote.
"We cannot take it for granted," Levin said. "That being said, if we make it happen in Maryland, the lessons learned here can be applied across the country."
The campaign has been intensifying in recent weeks, widening rifts among Maryland's most prominent Catholics, among black clergy, even among NFL teammates. Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo has endorsed same-sex marriage; center Matt Birk wrote a newspaper column opposing it.
The divide among Catholics -- the state's largest denomination -- has been striking. Archbishop William Lori and the Maryland Catholic Conference are actively campaigning against same-sex marriage. Catholic VIPs supporting it include Gov. Martin O'Malley and former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, daughter of the late Robert F. Kennedy.
In both Maryland and Washington state, voters are being asked to approve or reject a same-sex marriage bill passed by the legislature earlier this year. In each case, opponents were able to collect enough signatures to challenge the laws.
O'Malley, who played a key role in winning legislative support, says the law has strong provisions to protect the religious freedoms of the Catholic Church and other faiths that disapprove of same-sex marriage.
"We're a people of many different faiths, and it's so important that we protect rights equally under the law," he said.
Among several openly gay legislators who helped advance the bill was Delegate Heather Mizeur, who married her lesbian partner during a brief window when same-sex marriage was legal in California in 2008.
Mizeur says she's a dedicated Catholic, despite her opposition to church teaching on marriage.
"The No. 1 tenet of our faith is the primacy of our conscience," Mizeur said. "That was important to me as a young person, sitting there trying to pray the gay away."
Another churchgoing Catholic active in the gay-marriage campaign is 83-year-old Erma Durkin of Glen Arm, whose gay son married his longtime partner in New York last year. Durkin said she's made clear to her pastor that she objects to materials inserted in the church bulletin conveying the Catholic hierarchy's opposition to same-sex marriage.
"You can't command that someone stay celibate and single all their life," Durkin said. "If we find someone we love that much that we want to marry, that's a wonderful thing."
On the other side, Archbishop Lori recently hosted a meeting of same-sex marriage opponents to mobilize for the campaign's home stretch.
"The union of man and woman is not only a good for the couple, but for the entire community of believers and for humanity," Lori told the gathering.
Within the opponents' coalition, the Maryland Marriage Alliance, black pastors are playing a key role. One of them, the Rev. Derek McCoy, is the campaign chairman; he is keenly aware of the high stakes.
"Eyes are on us from around the country," he said. "We have a gargantuan task ahead of us."
Blacks comprise about 25 percent of Maryland's electorate, and polls showed a significant increase in their support of same-sex marriage after it was endorsed in May by Obama and the Baltimore-based National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
"The question isn't if marriage equality will prevail -- the only question is when," said Ben Jealous, the NAACP's president. "The rising generation of young voters is the most diverse and inclusive we've seen. It's only a matter of time until the laws catch up with them."
McCoy believes most Maryland blacks still oppose same-sex marriage and said one of his coalition's challenges is persuading them to vote "No" in the referendum even if they support Obama.
"Some people are in a quandary," he said, "We're telling them, `Don't vote against your conscience."'
The Rev. Delmon Coates, pastor of a large, predominantly black Baptist church in Prince George's County, has taken up the banner on the other side. He recently brought national civil rights leaders, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, to the region to endorse same-sex marriage.
As in Maryland, the campaign in Washington state involves a measure signed into law by a Catholic governor, Christine Gregoire, and now being challenged by gay-marriage foes.
The coalition supporting gay marriage has raised more than $8.9 million, compared to about $1.7 million for the opponents. The biggest single donation in support of the law came from Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie, who donated $2.5 million in July.
Maine's ballot measure marks the first time that gay-rights supporters -- rather than opponents -- have chosen to put same-sex marriage before voters. A gay-marriage law passed by the legislature in 2009 was quashed that fall after opponents gathered enough signatures for a referendum; this year, gay-marriage supporters used the same tactic to give voters a chance to reconsider.
The political action committee backing same-sex marriage in Maine raised about $3.4 million through September, compared to $430,000 for the leading opposition PAC.
At stake in Minnesota is a proposed amendment that would strengthen the existing law against same-sex marriage by inserting it in the state constitution. If the amendment is defeated, it would still take a legislative act, court ruling or future popular vote to legalize gay marriage.
The main group opposed to the amendment raised $7.8 million by the end of September. The leading group supporting it raised about $2 million, nearly half of that from Catholic dioceses and affiliated organizations.
A Minneapolis Star Tribune poll last month found 49 percent of likely voters supporting the amendment and 47 percent opposing it, within the poll's margin of error.
In all four states, TV ads airing against same-sex marriage are the brainchild of political strategist Frank Schubert, whose ads were credited with a key role in California's passage of the Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage in 2008.
Schubert's strategy is to laud heterosexual marriage as a timeless institution that should not be "redefined" and to warn that legalization of same-sex marriage can impinge on the rights of those who oppose it. He says such ads offer "solid lines of argument," while his gay-rights rivals assail them as deceptive scare-mongering.
To Schubert, the four-state showdown is "a big deal" -- in part because the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to take up the question of same-sex marriage soon.
"We don't want to lose anywhere," Schubert said. "If one state does go the wrong way, we'll argue that this is just one of out of 36 ... But we'd rather be arguing we've won every time it has gone before voters."
Gay-rights debates multiply
Randy Doenning organizes a charity gala for gay teens and AIDS patients and isn’t afraid to hold his male partner’s hand in public in the Bible Belt city where he lives.
The small-business owner also remembers when white supremacists bombed a gay church in Springfield, bomb-sniffing dogs and metal detectors were used at the local university for a play about a gay Jewish activist, and the school’s president refused to add sexual orientation to Southwest Missouri State University’s nondiscrimination policy.
As the elected leaders in the city of 160,000 debate whether to prohibit discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations based on sexual orientation and gender identity, Doenning and other activists are optimistic. They also know legal protections are anything but assured in a city that’s home to the national headquarters of the Assemblies of God Church and three Bible colleges.
Across the heartland, from regional economic hubs in southwestern Missouri such as Springfield to the Kansas plains and Nebraska college towns, the battle for gay rights is playing out in city halls and town squares, often with opponents of expanded nondiscrimination laws trying to reverse decisions by government officials.
“Places like Springfield, Mo., are the trenches of this battle right now,” Doenning said.
• In Lincoln, Neb., the groups Family First and the Nebraska Family Council quickly collected more than 10,000 signatures challenging a “fairness amendment” approved by the city council in May, forcing the city to either let the ordinance die or submit it for voter approval. No decision was reached before the deadline for the November ballot.
• Omaha, the state’s largest city, narrowly passed an ordinance in March extending legal protections to gay and transgender residents after a tie vote scuttled a similar attempt in October 2010.
• In the Kansas towns of Salina and Hutchinson, opponents of expanded nondiscrimination laws have collected enough signatures to force public votes after similar recent decisions by their city leaders.
Something similar could happen in Springfield, where the city council is meeting today.
A public hearing this month drew hundreds of residents, with most speakers approving of the change. But the eight council members and Mayor Bob Stephens — five of whom, including the mayor, face re-election in April 2013 — are hearing rumblings that their support could have political consequences, said Councilman Doug Burlison, who favors the change.
To force a vote, opponents in Springfield would need to collect 2,101 valid signatures in 30 days. One council member has said he already plans to call for a public vote.