Monthly Archives: April 2009

President Obama Quietly Erases Commitment to LGBT Community

UPDATE HERE!!!

In all the flurry of news yesterday I didn’t get a chance to post my analysis of President Obama’s first 100 days in office. In general, I’m pleased with President Obama. He seems to be making decisions that I can generally stand behind, with a few glaring exceptions like vowing not to prosecute people who tortured prisoners on the government’s dime.

But when it comes to President Obama’s commitment to the LGBT community, there wasn’t much to talk about. After the Rick Warren debacle, we really needed to see some proof of the “fierce advocate for equality for gay and lesbian Americans” the President claims to be. And other than signing a UN resolution that has no legal ramifications (which I applaud) and using the word “homophobia” a couple times in laundry lists of prejudices there wasn’t a lot of substantive change coming from the White House. He even went in reverse as far as DADT is concerned, with White House spokespeople going from “Yes without a doubt we’re going to repeal it” to “That might not happen for a few years” to “If it happens at all…”

Then Tuesday night, President Obama released a statement right under the wire encouraging both houses of congress to pass this year’s version of the Matthew Shepard Act. It was a nice gesture. The President’s statement is presented below in its entirety.

This week, the House of Representatives is expected to consider H.R. 1913, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009. I urge members on both sides of the aisle to act on this important civil rights issue by passing this legislation to protect all of our citizens from violent acts of intolerance – legislation that will enhance civil rights protections, while also protecting our freedom of speech and association. I also urge the Senate to work with my Administration to finalize this bill and to take swift action.

That’s it. That’s the entire statement. Three sentences. Eight-nine words. The night before the House was scheduled to vote, after even the Religious Right had already conceded that it would probably pass.

So on LGBT issues, I would have given President Obama a D yesterday. (I was in a generous mood.)

Then today, Joe.My.God made the stunning discovery. In the very recent past, someone in the Obama administration has made a major change to the White House’s official website. What had been a detailed list of commitments to the LGBT community has been reduced to two sentences.

President Obama also continues to support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and believes that our anti-discrimination employment laws should be expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity. He supports full civil unions and federal rights for LGBT couples and opposes a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s a screengrab of the page from Google’s cache, and here’s one of the new page. You’ll notice that several items are missing in the new text. Gone is any mention of repealing DADT. Adoption rights are conspicuously absent. AIDS prevention has disappeared altogether. Tuesday’s statement notwithstanding, there’s no commitment on the page about support for hate crimes legislation. There’s still clumsy language to get around supporting marriage equality.

As I see it, there are two possibilities here. Either some lower-level staffer made a bad decision or President Obama isn’t the “fierce advocate” that he’s claimed to be.

To tell you the truth, I’m inclined to believe the latter. We’re a fairly small percentage of the population, and unless the wheels are already in motion (as in hate crime legislation) and people are already behind the issue, what’s the political reason to stick his nose out for us? What could possibly be gained from standing up for Lesbian, Bisexual, Transsexual, and gay Americans?

Other than justice, I mean.

President Obama leaves us behind.
President Obama leaves us behind.

Mr. President, I’m disappointed that you’ve decided your LGBT constituents are expendable. I’m frustrated that it looks like you’ve stolen back the commitment you made before the vast majority of our community voted for you.

I hope I’m wrong on this, but assuming this wasn’t some clerical error or something, I don’t see any other way to figure it.

UPDATE HERE!!!

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Maine Senate Makes First Move for Marriage

The Maine State Senate approved a marriage equality bill in a vote this afternoon. From the Bangor Daily News:

AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill to legalize gay marriage has won all-but-final approval in the Maine Senate. The measure now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration next week. In initial voting after extended and emotional debate Thursday, the Senate voted 20-15 to give its preliminary approval.

Next, an amendment to require a statewide referendum on the matter was rejected, 22-13. Then the Senate registered its support for the original measure again, this time by 21-14.

Gay marriage supporters were elated. But one organizer, Maggie Ricker of Chelsea, echoed a number of lawmakers in saying she expects opponents of same-sex marriage to use a petition drive to force a people’s veto referendum even if the bill wins enactment.

Maine Governor John Baldacci dropped a hint this morning that he is likely to sign the bill if given the chance.

Another NOM Commercial, Another Batch of Lies

For those who haven’t heard, Miss California, who last week said that gay marriage should be illegal in favor of “opposite marriage”, has signed on as a spokesperson for the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), the anti-gay group that released that horrible and hilarious “Gathering Storm” ad a few weeks ago and called their campaign 2M4M.

This morning NOM released their first ad with Miss California. She doesn’t have a speaking role (it’s not her strong suit, after all), but they used footage of the broadcast to open the ad.

Okay, so first things first. Of what relevance is it that Miss California is “young”? That seems like an extraneous fact to throw in, as if her being young made the reaction to her answer more wrong. Which, of course, would be silly.

More importantly, this ad, just like “Gathering Storm”, is chock full of misrepresentations.

Opinions from “some of the nation’s foremost scholars” are mentioned, all of which proclaim that the sky is falling. Let’s take them one by one.

But first, let’s look at the slight-of-hand NOM has tried to pull off here. At the 0:45 mark in the video, a quote goes by over the blurry image of a document. Then that one disappears and is replaced by another quote over the blurry image of another document. I went hunting for these quotes (I’ll get to them in a minute), and found something amazing.

They come from the same document. While it’s technically true that the letter in question was signed by a team of lawyers, NOM clearly intended for the audience to believe they were from separate documents. In fact, they’re from the same page of that letter.

The letter (pdf here) was sent last week to Connecticut Speaker of the House Christopher G. Donovan by professors Thomas Berg of the University of St. Thomas, Carl Esbeck of the University of Missouri, Richard Garnett of the University of Notre Dame and Robin Fretwell Wilson of Washington & Lee University. Here are the quotes.

“will create widespread and unnecessary legal conflict…”

“effects would be…devastating”

(The text replaced by elipses in the second quote is “widespread and”. I guess they didn’t want it to be too obvious that the quotes were written by the same person.)

In the letter, the four present the argument that that codifying marriage equality would require businesses to recognize the legal marriages and not discriminate against those individuals.

Examples are provided, including false examples in footnote 5. One reference is the New Mexico photography studio that was told that they could not illegally refuse public accommodation as defined in §12181 (7)(f) and codified in §12182(b)(1)(A)(i). This, of course, has nothing to do with individual religious freedom, but that’s never stopped the anti-gay crowd before.

Also referenced is the case of the United Methodist owned Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, which for several decades took advantage of a tax credit by allowing the pavilion and attached boardwalk to be used as public land and then was found to have violated the rights of a lesbian couple by refusing to grant them use of the public land for a commitment ceremony. Public land = Used by the entire public, even the parts that disagree with you.

But this letter doesn’t just have the problem of misused examples that have nothing to do with religious liberty. In addition, the authors rely heavily on the writings of Marc D. Stern, general counsel for the American Jewish Congress, who is quoted in the letter as saying “[n]o one seriously believes that clergy will be forced, or even asked, to perform marriages that are anathema to them.”

DOT DOT DOT

No, civil marriage equality doesn’t mean preachers will be forced to perform religious marriages they don’t want to. Of course not. Even NOM-cited documents draw that obvious conclusion. But that’s a major plank of the anti-equality platform that groups like NOM like to claim.

Did they just not expect people to check this out?

I have trouble wrapping my head around the whole premise of the ad, that marriage equality will mean that people will have to treat LGBT people like everybody else with regard to marriage. Why is that a problem? Why do they expect debate over whether Christians can be exempt from complying with civil rights laws?

We aren’t trying to make anybody stop speaking. We aren’t telling people that they can’t act with bigotry. We’re saying that America is better than the current laws, and that the basic premise of liberty for all includes LGBT Americans. Why is this controversial?

Finally, I looked up the Joe Solomonese/Hardball clip. It’s from an April 8, 2009 episode and includes commentary (such as it is) by NOM president Maggie Gallagher. In fact, on the new commercial, they cover her up with a Hardball logo. Did they just not want people to know she was there? Here’s the clip. It’s almost nine minutes, but it’s very important to know the truth behind the Religious Right’s rhetoric.

In closing, yes, Maggie Gallagher, you are lying. Yes, you are promoting bigotry. Stop it. Let us (all of us) move on with our lives in peace.

Jaheem Herrera Laid to Rest

Lest we forget why the Matthew Shepard Act is so important, we should all remember another big event that took place this week. Jaheem Herrera, one of the boys who recently committed suicide after enduring months of anti-gay slurs and physical abuse at school, was buried yesterday near his family’s home in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands.

A little girl stands on tiptoe to see her friend.
A little girl stands on tiptoe to see her friend.

Today, children solemnly filed into the church, clad in the school uniforms worn at the public elementary school Jaheem attended on St. Croix before moving to Atlanta less than a year ago. Some were in tears as they said their last goodbyes to a former schoolmate.

Masika Bermudez, Jaheem’s mother, greeted well-wishers with a sad smile and a hug before breaking down in loud, gasping sobs as the body of her eldest child and only son was wheeled past her in a gleaming white coffin with gold trim.

“Jaheem,” she cried as family members crowded around to comfort her. Jaheem’s stepfather and his three younger sisters held on to her, encouraging her to sit down. Yet, she clung to Jaheem’s lifeless body, smoothing his hair and whispering in his ear as she fiddled with the gold cross around his neck.

Jaheem was eulogized in a bilingual service as a loving, sweet and wonderful son, grandson, nephew and friend. An aunt, Ama Bermudez, recalled the time he spent living on the island with his grandparents and how their recent deaths affected him.

“He lost his beloved abuela [grandmother] six months ago, and it struck him hard because he was very, very attached to her and all of a sudden she was no longer there,” Ama Bermudez said.

She described Jaheem as a talented boy with a fascination for wrestling and a passion for dancing and drawing.

“He loved drawing and was very good at it,” Ama Bermudez said. “I believe he would have become an excellent artist, but now we will never know.”

His aunt urged mourners and the children in attendance to not let Jaheem’s death be in vain.

“I call upon all the parents and children out there; don’t allow anyone to bully you in any which way or form,” she said. “There must be a person you can trust to tell. You must put a stop to this immediately so that the reason we are here today won’t happen again. We are all hurting, but in spite of the circumstances, Jaheem is now resting. He’s not suffering anymore.”

His former classmates at the Evelyn M. Williams Elementary School on St. Croix performed a pantomime to the lyrics of “One Sweet Day” as sung by Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men and wrote a poem in honor of their friend.

“Jaheem, thank you for being our friend and thank you for sharing our love with us,” the poem read. “Rest in peace and we will see you again.”

In a final show of solidarity, Jaheem’s family and friends followed the hearse to his burial site farther down the hill. The blue and white balloons that decorated the church had been distributed to the children in attendance and were released simultaneously in the air during the graveside ceremony. The brisk island trade winds carried them higher and farther away until they were mere specks in the distance, leaving behind Masika Bermudez’s muffled screams to pierce the silence as Jaheem’s coffin was finally lowered into the ground and covered with the first sprinklings of dirt.

Word is that Jaheem’s family won’t be returning to the United States. I can’t say I blame them.

US House of Representatives Passes Matthew Shepard Act

Moments ago, the US House of Representatives passed the Matthew Shepard Act, also known as HR 1913 Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, with a final vote tally of 249-175.

Earlier in the day, North Carolina Congresswoman Virginia Foxx and many of her fellow Republicans did their best to misrepresent the purpose, mischaracterize the intent, and frighten people with false legal effects of the bill. Tactics included questioning the circumstances of Matthew Shepard’s death, reading from the Bible, reading from the dictionary, and claiming that 90% of states already have protections, making the law unnecessary.

NONE OF THOSE ARE MADE UP!!!

(Easy as it is to poke fun at other people’s representatives, Steve Austria, my own representative, was posting on Twitter about an entirely different subject during the debate and then voted against it. I guess I’m just not that important.)

The Matthew Shepard Act now moves on to the Senate, where it is also expected to pass handily. This may be months away, so we’ll have to sit tight for a while longer until it gets to President Obama’s desk, where he has assured the nation that it will be signed.

New Hampshire Senate Sends Marriage Equality to Governor’s Desk

The New Hampshire Senate passed a marriage equality bill today, clearing the way for the measure (which has already passed in the New Hampshire House) to be sent to the Governor’s desk. From the New Hampshire Union Leader:

Concord – A bill legalizing same-sex marriage in New Hampshire passed the Senate today on a 13-11 vote.

The bill, amended on the Senate floor, draws a distinction between civil and religious marriage, and says that any two individuals have a right to join together in a civil marriage.

Last week Senate Judiciary Committee chair Sen. Deborah Reynolds, D-Reynolds, opposed the bill and voted with a committee majority that it should be killed. She said voters in her district told her they favor the legislation, and urged the Senate to vote for an amendment that was drawn up Tuesday night.

She said the wording “gives everyone in the state the right to seek a civil marriage … This is a compromise that is respectful to both sides in this debate and meets our shared goals of equality in state laws for all the people of New Hampshire. The people of this sate share the core values of equality for all, tolerance and acceptance regardless of our differences”

Republicans voted in a block against the measure, joined by Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester.

Does this mean we’ll soon be adding another star to the marriage equality flag? Possibly, but there’s a rough road ahead. The governor’s against it, and neither the House nor the Senate has a veto-proof majority, as the Vermont legislature had. We’ll be sweating for every single vote!

I have to say, these amendments clarifying the difference between religious and civil marriage are a bit annoying. On the one hand, if it gets the bill through, it’s fine because the law was pretty doggone clear on the separation in the first place. On the other, it lends credibility to the notion that we want the government to take over religious institutions, which just isn’t true. For now it’s a grin-and-bear-it compromise, but it’s frustrating.

Stay tuned for further news as it becomes available.

NC Congresswoman: Motive for Matthew Shepard’s Death “Really a Hoax”

While we wait for the US House to vote on the Matthew Shepard Act, also known as HR 1913 Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, Gay Rights Watch is supplying a fantastic blow-by-blow of the debate. I’m learning a lot about House members from around the country.

Take for example Virginia Foxx, Republican representative of the 5th District in North Carolina. She had a heckuva lot to say, including on Twitter, where just before the debate began she called the hate crimes bill a “thought crimes” bill. But I think she managed to suck all the air out of the room when she said this:

I also would like to point out that there was a bill — the hate crimes bill that’s called the Matthew Shepard bill is named after a very unfortunate incident that happened where a young man was killed, but we know that that young man was killed in the commitment of a robbery. it wasn’t because he was gay. This — the bill was named for him, hate crimes bill was named for him, but it’s really a hoax that that continues to be used as an excuse for passing these bills.

Just to refresh your memory, Matthew Shepard was kidnapped, beaten, tortured, and ultimately murdered ten years ago. He was also robbed, yes, but he was targeted specifically because he was gay. This fact is not in dispute; it was confirmed by the then-girlfriends of Shepard’s murderers at trial.

So no, Representative Foxx, it’s not a hoax. Matthew Shepard was murdered specifically because he was gay. And it wasn’t a “very unfortunate incident”. It was a murder. Shame on you for trying to demean the value of his life.

UMC Judicial Council: Gay Marriage Resolutions Unconstitutional

Having just wrapped up their Spring session, the United Methodist Church’s Judicial Council (Supreme Court) has released three separate rulings regarding questions surrounding gays in the Church.

Two of the rulings went specifically to same gender marriage resolutions from the two California Annual Conferences. From the UMC news feed:

In the case of the California-Nevada Annual Conference, the council affirmed Bishop Beverly J. Shamana’s decision voiding a resolution passed by the regional group backing retired pastors who perform same-gender marriages.

“An annual conference may not legally negate, ignore or violate provisions of the (Book of) Discipline with which they disagree, even when the disagreements are based on conscientious objections to the provisions,” the council ruled.

Council member Belton Joyner Jr. filed a dissenting opinion.

In a separate decision, the council reversed California-Pacific Conference Bishop Mary Ann Swenson’s ruling supporting a conference resolution recognizing “the pastoral need and prophetic authority of our clergy and congregations to offer the ministry of marriage ceremonies for same-gender couples.”

In a concurring opinion, Jon Gray and the Rev. Kathy Austin Mahle wrote “church law can only be made by the General Conference and cannot be achieved through piecemeal resolutions adopted in an annual conference session.”

The 2008 General Conference, the denomination’s top legislative body, voted to retain its ban on same-gender marriages and to bar clergy from performing such marriages or consecrating them in the church. Pastors who perform same-gender unions risk losing their clergy credentials.

Separately, the Council declined to take up the issue of Decision 1032, brought by the Alaska Annual Conference, which requested clarification of 1032’s compatibility with Article IV of the Methodist constitution.

In the membership case, the council said it did not have jurisdiction to address possible competing claims in church rules because the request for a declaratory decision did not deal with an action by the Alaska Conference.

The case refers back to an earlier council ruling in favor of the right of a Virginia pastor, the Rev. Ed Johnson, to block a practicing homosexual from joining the congregation of South Hill (Va.) United Methodist Church. The council ruled the pastor of a local church has authority to determine a layperson’s readiness for membership.

None of these decisions are terribly surprising, but all are disappointing for those of us on this side of the issue. However, they each bear important witness to future generations of United Methodists. Regardless of what declarations the ultra-conservative members of the General Conference push through, we aren’t all in agreement on the issue of LGBT people’s lives and contributions to the Church.

Make no mistake, we will continue to work until the day all of God’s children are welcome in the United Methodist Church. The next stage begins soon as each Annual Conference takes up Amendment 1. (More on that tomorrow.)

A Tribute to Bea Arthur

Bea Arthur passed away Saturday after a fight with cancer. Most remember her from her starring roles in TV’s Maude and Golden Girls, but she had a successful stage career long before she hit the small screen in the early 1970s.

May 13, 1922 – April 25, 2009
Bea Arthur
May 13, 1922 – April 25, 2009

Here’s a short bit of audio from her 2002 album Bea Arthur on Broadway – Just Between Friends.

[wpaudio url=”http://blog.mattalgren.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/bea-arthur-nudist.mp3″ text=”What Can You Get A Nudist For Her Birthday?”]

 

So long, Bea. You were one of a kind.

A New Symbol for Marriage Equality

I happened upon this new symbol a month or so ago and thought it was a fantastic idea, so much so that I’ve put it on the sidebar over there on the right. Carl Tashian, the man behind the symbol, explains:

Suffrage Protest FlagIn 1902, when the women’s suffrage movement was just getting warmed up, the American flag had 45 stars. In protest, the suffragists created their own US flag with only four stars, representing the four states that allowed women to vote.

This flag flew at the podium of the First International Womens Suffrage Conference in 1902, and it was my inspiration for a re-appropriation of the American flag. Unfortunately, all four states that were so progressive regarding women’s suffrage in 1902 have state-wide same-sex marriage bans today.

This new protest flag creates a visual history of our struggle for marriage equality. With every new law, court decision, and amendment that offers marriage equality in a state, a star will be added to reflect the new reality.

State by State
If you’re on Facebook, you can join the group here, or go to Carl’s site to read more about it.