Monthly Archives: March 2009

Vermont House Judiciary Committee: Yes to Marriage Equality

Breaking news from the Burlington Free Press this afternoon. We’re one step closer to marriage equality in Vermont.

The House Judiciary Committee voted in favor of a same-sex marriage bill this morning, advancing the controversial legislation to the full House for debate Thursday.

The committee supported the bill by a vote of 8-2.

The bill, which passed the Senate last week and which faces a promised veto by Gov. Jim Douglas, would provide same-sex couples with the same rights as those of heterosexual married couples.

Committee members who voted for the bill were: Eldred French, D-Shrewsbury; Willem Jewett, D-Ripton; Richard Marek, D-Newfane; Cynthia Martin, D-Springfield; Kathy Pellett, D-Chester; Heidi Scheuermann, R-Stowe; Bill Lippert, D-Hinesburg and Maxine Grad, D-Moretown.

Voting against the bill were Peg Flory, R-Pittsford and Andrew Donaghy, R-Poultney.

Patti Komline, R-Dorset, wasn’t in committee during the debate or this morning’s vote, though she has said she supports the bill.

The article goes on to quote some of the 1,500 letters that Vermont Governor Jim Douglas (R) has received since his announcement that he would veto the bill if it comes to his desk.

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West Virginia House Defeats Anti-Equality Amendment

More news on the civil marriage debate, as the West Virginia House of Delegates voted down a Religious Right backed bill that would have put an anti-marriage equality amendment up for a popular vote. More from the Charleston Daily Mail:

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s House of Delegates voted along party lines Monday to end this session’s chances for a proposed constitutional amendment on marriage.

Delegates voted 67-30 to reject the attempt. All 29 House Republicans voted to move the measure out of committee, as did Delegate Tom Louisos, D-Fayette.

West Virginia does not recognize same-sex marriages granted elsewhere, under a 2000 law that also requires all marriage license applications to say “marriage is designed to be a loving and lifelong union between a woman and a man.” But amendment advocates argue that doesn’t go far enough and could be challenged in court.

The Family Policy Council of West Virginia has pushed for this session’s resolution, citing a poll it says shows clear support for an amendment. It recently bombarded the revision committee’s chairwoman and the head of the House Judiciary Committee with sometimes abusive phone calls demanding action, and targeted Gov. Joe Manchin with a postcard campaign.

“Once you start down the path of bypassing committees, there will be no ability to draw the line on what group, what issue or what initiatives are given special consideration,” House Majority Leader Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, told fellow delegates. “Short-term gain should never trump abiding by the rules, despite the outcome.”

Just for grins, let’s take a look at the Family Policy Council of West Virginia. First, here’s a video (h/t Box Turtle Bulletin) that they released last month. It’s almost six minutes long, but for the best part, skip ahead to 00:45 to see the best part.

It’s an interesting image, isn’t it? A good wholesome American family, just minding their own business, is under attack, in the crosshairs of a sniper’s rifle because The Homosexuals want to kill families. What a wonderful message to send to people!

More recently, The Charleston Gazette (h/t Right Wing Watch) reported that the Family Policy Council of West Virginia had sponsored a telemarketer-esque campaign to harass House Judiciary Chairwoman Carrie Webster and Monongalia County, Delegate Barbara Fleischauer about the bill.

Who is the Family Policy Council of West Virginia? For one thing, they’re identified as “fully associated with” Focus on the Family (and by extension, Family Research Council). And as we learned last week, the position of FRC (and by extension, FotF) is that our government should side with the Axis of Evil.

All things considered, I wouldn’t consider this amendment news a win for our side (West Virginia law still explicitly stands against marriage equality, and legislators including the governor appear to stand by the current law), it’s at least a good sign that the state isn’t following the Religious Right’s lead. For that, we can be thankful.

Defense Secretary Gates to Gays: Wait!

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was on Fox News Sunday yesterday and answered a question about the repeal of DADT, which President Obama has supported. His response is, to put it politely, less than what we would expect.

A similar response was given by Vermont’s Governor Douglas last week on the timing of marriage equality rights. Just wait until this other thing is under control and then we’ll get back to you, unless something else comes up.

By coincidence, I was going through old posts Saturday afternoon, and when I first saw Secretary Gates’ response this morning I immediately thought of the words Dr. King wrote from a jail in Birmingham, Alabama.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

“Wait!” doesn’t work. We know this from the experience of African Americans. We know this from the experience of women. We even know this from our own experience.

My answer to Secretary Gates: NO. At least not willingly, not quietly, and not patiently.

You don’t get to decide, Secretary Gates, when to give us what has been stolen from us. You don’t get to decide that we’d best just sit in the corner and wait patiently like good little boys and girls. You don’t get to negotiate the acknowledgment of our rights.

If there’s one silver lining we can take from this, maybe we can read this is an indication that we’re getting somewhere. In both Governor Douglas’ and Secretary Gates’ comments, they aren’t telling us that rights aren’t due, just that the timetable for handing over those rights is negotiable. I get the impression that they expect us to be thankful for that. Our response to them, whether it be about marriage equality, DADT, or any other issue, must be an emphatic and uniform NO.

The rest of Dr. King’s letter, which is now and always relevant to the cause of justice, can be found in the aptly titled book Why We Can’t Wait.

Delaware General Assembly Votes on Gay Rights, Marriage Equality

There are several parts to this one, so I’ll go directly to Delaware’s WBOC-TV for an explanation:

Two major pieces of legislation dealing with gay rights came up for a vote in the Delaware General Assembly Thursday.

The first measure, Senate Bill 27, would have reinforced Delaware’s ban on gay marriage. That proposed constitutional amendment failed in the Senate Thursday.

The House though did pass a measure to make it illegal to discriminate against gay people when it comes to everything from employment to buying homes. The bill now goes over to the Senate for consideration. Gov. Jack Markell said Thursday he supports the bill.

Senate bill 27 failed despite the efforts of hundreds of protesters who gathered at Legislative Hall to support the measure. Supporters argued they wanted to make sure marriage remained between a man and a woman.

“We really want to see a growing swell of support for what marriage really is, between one man and one woman, no matter who wants to change it,” said Kim Birowski.

Opponents though argued that Delaware already bans gay marriage and did not need to pass a constitutional amendment.

Steve Elkins says, “We’re here at the state capital of the first state, to take advantage of equal rights for citizens.”

No word on whether Senate Bill 27 will be re-introduced.

Okay, so to reiterate:

  • Senate bill (SB27) that would have started the process of passing an anti-marriage equality amendment to the Delaware Constitution failed. Gay marriage remains illegal, but only by law, not by Constitution.
  • House bill (HB5) that gives roughly the same anti-discrimination protections as the federal proposed ENDA passed. The bill needs to pass in the Senate, then it goes to the Governor, who says he’ll sign it.

Kudos to the Delaware legislature for voting in favor of equality and against discrimination.

Interesting comments on the WBOC-TV article. Some very basic arguments being made, the kind that have been refuted and that we’re all tired of dealing with. There are more than these three comments, some of them even positive, but these show up on the main article page.

Can you count the old standbys? I came up with 24.
Can you count the old standbys? I came up with 24.

h/t thomascwaters.com

New Hampshire House Votes For Marriage Equality

News is coming fast and furious these days. While we wait for the House of Representatives in Vermont to decide on gay marriage, their next door neighbor has made up its mind. More from Tom Fahey of the UnionLeader.com.

The New Hampshire House narrowly passed a bill today that would allow gay couples to marry.

The final vote on HB 556 was 186-179, and came after nearly three hours of debate.

The bill was amended today to state that no clergy of any religion could be required under the bill to officiate at a same-sex marriage.

Rep. David Pierce, D-Etna, in arguing for passage, told House members, “Both sides of this debate believe in the institution of marriage,” said. “We all want the same things during our time on earth. It doesn’t matter if you’re straight or gay.”

Rep. Laura Gandia, R-Litchfield, warned it will make children of this and future generations “guinea pigs in a massive social experiment that is irreversible.”

Democrats were joined by about a dozen Republicans in passing the bill.

The final vote followed a 183-182 vote against passing the bill, an unsuccessful 177-189 attempt to kill it, and a failed effort to postpone it for more work.

In a statement after the vote, state GOP chairman John H. Sununu called the vote “another attempt by the liberal Democrats in the Legislature to impose their San Francisco agenda on the State of New Hampshire.”

The former governor said, “The small margin by which the bill passed should encourage Governor Lynch to take a stand with a clear ‘I will veto this bill if it gets to my desk’ message.”

With a governor who opposes gay marriage and a far from veto-proof margin, there’s little chance of this bill becoming law. Still, thanks to the 51% of House who voted against fear and inequality, there’s a chance.

Now we wait for the Senate vote.

VT Governor to Veto Marriage Equality

All eyes have moved to Vermont this week, following the State Senate’s overwhelming passage of a marriage equality bill on Monday. Talks are ongoing in the House of Representatives, where passage is expected as well. The big question mark on the whole affair has been whether it will have enough votes to withstand a veto from Governor Jim Douglas (R).

That was an academic question until this afternoon; it had been speculated that while Governor Douglas was against marriage equality, he wouldn’t veto the bill instead allowing it to pass without his signature. That all changed when he announced his intent to veto the marriage equality bill. Audio below, courtesy Vermont Public Radio, with a few excerpts of the transcription of the statement courtesy the Rutland Herald, interrupted by my response.

[mp3=http://blog.mattalgren.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/douglas-statement.mp3]

Again, below are chosen excerpts. To get the full transcript, see the link above.

The urgency of our state’s economic and budgetary challenges demands the full focus of every member and every committee of this Legislature. Ensuring that the federal recovery money is spent wisely, that the state budget is balanced and responsible, and that we do all we can to help our employers compete and create jobs is my top priority.

However, I recognize that legislative leaders have different priorities.

Nice dig at your opposition, Governor. Bravo.

So long as same-sex marriage consumes the time and energy of legislators, I will urge lawmakers to act quickly so they can turn their full focus to the economic needs of Vermonters as soon as possible.

Okay, so Governor Douglas has pulled out the old stand-by “We don’t have time” excuse. To begin with, the Senate took a week and the House is believed to be all but ready to vote by the end of this week. So, you know, two weeks isn’t a long time.

More importantly, why in the world would one think that civil rights should take the back burner? That’s a problem we’ve faced before, both in the LGBT community and in other civil rights struggles. “Just wait,” they say. “Wait, and once we this under control, we’ll get to your rights.”

And let’s just be honest, if it weren’t the economy, something else would appear that would be pushed as more important. It’s not good enough, Governor Douglas. Your constituents deserve better.

The question of same sex marriage is an issue that does not break cleanly as Republican or Democrat, rural or urban, religious or atheist. It is an intensely personal decision – a decision informed by all of those things and many more – an amalgam of experience, conviction and faith. These beliefs are deeply held, passionately expressed and, for many legislators, infinitely more complex than the ultimate ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ required to fulfill the duty of their office.

This covers a lot of catchphrases that we heard last year as the Religious Right prepped voters to feel okay about their vote. Let me put it plainly: I couldn’t give two shits about someone’s religious beliefs. They have no place in this discussion. That isn’t a “personal decision”, it’s the way the government is supposed to work.

Likewise, I don’t care how “deeply held” your convictions are. Guess what? Many people had the “deeply held” conviction that African Americans were less human than white Americans, that they should have separate bathrooms, that their children’s education was less important. Many had the “deeply held” conviction that women should live in submission to men, unable to inherit land or sign contracts. Heck, once upon a time, many had the “deeply held” conviction that women who might be witches should be murdered.

But those convictions were all laid aside in favor of reason and nonprejudicial order.

And frankly, no, it isn’t more complex than “yea” or “nay”. Take out all the junk and excuses that the Religious Right has come up with over the years and you have a simple question: Are we equal or are we unequal? This is one of those rare times that the choice really is binary.

For those on either side of the vote to sternly judge the other’s morality and conscience is the only true intolerance in this debate and is a disservice to all Vermonters.

No. Absolutely wrong. The proposition that one group is better or more deserving of respect, dignity, and full equal rights is one that should never be tolerated. It should be judged. It MUST be judged. The Constitution demands it.

I do judge your morality, Governor Douglas. I judge your conscience when it tells you that “deeply held beliefs” are more important than full equality for your constituents. I judge your service as a public servant. I judge your honor, sir. I judge your supposed Christian morals. I judge your humanity.

I judge these things, and I judge them wanting.

For those reasons and because I believe that by removing any uncertainty about my position we can move more quickly beyond this debate, I am announcing that I intend to veto this legislation when it reaches my desk.

It makes me sad, Governor Douglas. For nothing more than political expediency, you’re willing to sacrifice not only the equality of your constituents but your place in history. In a generation, people will look back at today’s statement and shake their heads. They’ll look at your silly arguments and rhetorical dodges with the same disdain as we look at the arguments made in 1957 by Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus.

This is your legacy, Governor Douglas. I hope you’re ready for it.

Class Invited to Teacher’s Commitment Ceremony

Another LGBT person has stepped up to be a role model for today’s youth and it just has to be recognized. I’m talking about Chance Nalley, a math teacher at Harlem’s Columbia Secondary School, has invited the 7th grade students and their parents to his commitment ceremony next month. (Thank goodness it’s a small school!)

In Harlem a week ago, a 32-year-old math teacher handed out slips of paper inviting the entire seventh grade of Columbia Secondary School to his upcoming ceremony, where, the names on the invitation made clear, he’d be celebrating his commitment to another man. The teacher, Chance Nalley, rarely wastes an instructional opportunity but said that, in this particular instance, he wasn’t trying to make an educational statement.

“They kept asking if they were invited,” he said of his students at Columbia, a selective public school that specializes in math, science and engineering. “Originally, I said no. But when I found a venue that turned out to be big enough I said, ‘O.K., you can come.’ I invited their parents, too.”

[…] With his principal’s support, Mr. Nalley, who started at the school when it opened in 2007, felt comfortable coming out to students during a diversity workshop that fall.

“A lot of the students were shocked at the time,” said the principal, Jose Maldonado-Rivera, “shocked that he said it, and shocked that it was true. For many students, it was a huge eye-opener — it was the last thing they would have thought about Chance.”

I don’t want to post the entire article by Susan Dominus, so go over to the New York Times to read the whole thing.

Chance Nalley pauses for a picture.
Chance Nalley pauses for a picture.

Already the effect of having an out non-heterosexual teacher in school can be seen. According to Mr. Nalley, six students have come out to him this year, and the article quotes some remarkably mature opinions from 7th graders, including understanding the difference between homosexual (which Mr. Nalley isn’t) and bisexual (which he is).

Kudos all around, to the principal for not squashing this, to the parents for being (mostly) on board, and of course, to Mr. Nalley and his partner/husband.

FRC’s Tony Perkins: US Should Side With Bush’s ‘Axis of Evil’

Sometimes I hate being right.

Last Thursday, I posted about the Obama Administration’s decision to sign a UN Declaration calling for the worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality. GWB had refused to sign the declaration in December 2008. In the post, I made a fairly inflammatory statement about the Religious Right.

The only difference between the Sharia in Iran and the Religious Right in the United States is degree of success.

I actually held the post up for a few hours last Thursday trying to decide whether I was going too far. At one point I took it out completely, then I put it back in with a disclaimer. I finally decided to post it because I honestly thought the statement was true. I still wasn’t sure, though.

That changed yesterday afternoon when I ran across this post from Americans United confirming what I had previously surmised.

“Only 66 of the U.N.’s 192 member countries signed the [French] statement,” [Family Research Council President Tony] Perkins observed, “while nearly as many (58) endorsed a counter-statement pointing out that rights based on ‘sexual orientation’ are not found in established international law. On the contrary, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights defends the family as ‘the natural and fundamental group unit of society.’ That – and not political correctness – is a principle worth defending.”

Let’s see. Who might be among the 58 countries “defending” the family and pushing for the “right” to execute, jail or otherwise penalize gay people?

Try those venerable members of George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil,” Iran and North Korea. And don’t forget paragons of democratic virtue such as Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Libya, Algeria, Zimbabwe and the various ‘stans – Pakistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.

Sudan took time out from waging genocide in Darfur to sign on too! And our erstwhile allies Iraq and Afghanistan were on the list as well.

Many of these countries scoff at individual freedoms, of course. Their definition of “family” includes polygamy in some cases and many keep women in brutal servitude. Religious minorities – including Christians, Tony – are persecuted relentlessly.

But what the heck, at least they’re keeping the gays in their place – pariahs, prison or the grave. Right, Tony?

Like I said, sometimes I hate being right.

The face of the "Axis of Evil" in America
The face of the "Axis of Evil" in America

By the way, the FRC is closely related to noted anti-gay organization Focus on the Family, having separated from Focus in 1992 over concerns about the IRS. Both organizations were founded by James Dobson, and Dobson sits on the Board of Directors still.

So next time you hear something from Dobson, Perkins, Focus on the Family, or the FRC, remember: When it comes to The Gays, they’ve thrown in with the Axis of Evil.

Vermont Senate Passes Gay Marriage Bill

Details are sketchy, but the Burlington Free Press is reporting that a marriage equality bill (SB 115) has passed in the Vermont State Senate with a whopping 87% of the vote (26-4).

Vermont’s Speaker of the House, Shap Smith, says that a similar bill should pass in the House very soon, though there is question as to how veto-proof that vote will be. Governor Jim Douglas has said he wouldn’t veto a marriage equality bill if it got to his desk, but also that he believed that marriage is for straight people only.

There’s been some speculation that Gov. Douglas might allow marriage equality to pass into law without his signature.

More from NECN.

UN Gay Rights Declaration Signed by Obama Administration

Two bits of news in one post today. One is happy, one decidedly less so.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States, in a reversal of Bush administration policy, has decided to sign on to a U.N. declaration that calls for the decriminalization of homosexuality, the State Department said on Wednesday.

State Department spokesman Robert Wood said the Obama administration, which took office eight weeks ago, would now join 66 other U.N. member states who supported a U.N. statement in December that condemned human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“The United States is an outspoken defender of human rights and critic of human rights abuses around the world,” Wood told reporters.

“As such, we join with other supporters of this statement, and we will continue to remind countries of the importance of respecting the human rights of all people in all appropriate international fora.”

The United States was the only western state not to sign on to the gay rights document. All European Union member states endorsed it, as did Canada, Australia and Japan.

As I read that yesterday, I couldn’t help but think “So what?” As the administration points out, there’s absolutely no legal obligation to this signing. It’s still legal to fire a gay person because he’s gay. It’s still legal to kick a lesbian out of her apartment because you don’t like lesbians. Honestly, signing this declaration should be an easy decision. What difference does it make?

Then the Box Turtle Bulletin linked to a video from Gays Without Borders. As Jim said over at BTB, only watch the video if you have a strong stomach. I’m still shaking from it, but I think it’s important to face what’s really going on in the world. This video was taken in Iran sometime in the past few weeks.

Update: BTB reports this afternoon that the video was misidentified by Gays Without Borders. I’ve pulled it here, and put in its place the first part of the 2007 CBC documentary Out in Iran: Inside Iran’s Secret Gay World.

According to the article on the UN Declaration:

…homosexuality is illegal in 77 countries, seven of which punish it by death.

Before we get too high on our horse, being gay has only been legal in the United States since 2003.

The only difference between the Sharia in Iran and the Religious Right in the United States is degree of success.

The Obama Administration’s agreement to sign the UN declaration on homosexuality may not stop my Iranian brothers from being murdered by their government, but it’s a clear signal to the Religious Right that the days of their advance are coming to an end.