I have come to the reluctant conclusion that state legislative news cannot be avoided this week. First, thereâs not a great deal of exciting alternative topics. Second, it looks like things are happening around the states that might actually be somewhat important.
In Minnesota this week, we will probably see an anti-marriage constitutional amendment placed on the 2012 ballot. A house committee sent it to a floor vote with a 13-12 margin of approval, and since the session ends Monday, the chamber will probably take a vote in the next few days. I gather from some article that I donât feel like looking up that we would need three more votes to defeat the measure. If not, the die is cast, since the senate already advanced the pernicious amendment earlier this month.
The good news is there are not a whole lot of states that are likely to hold anti-gay amendment elections of the sort that rolled over the country during the last decade. Most have already voted, about 30 or so. Then we have about a dozen friendly states - Massachusetts and Vermont, etc. And that leaves only a handful unaccounted for. Indiana is one of these outliers, but there, lawmakers have to pass an amendment in two consecutive sessions, so the Hoosiers are looking to 2014 at the earliest. And over in North Carolina, lawmakers need to win a 60 percent majority in order to advance constitutional measures, so itâs possible they could hit that bar, but Iâm not sure that they will.
In 2010, North Carolina, Indiana and Minnesota lost the Democratic majorities that had previously blocked amendments. And as soon as Republicans gained control, the urge to preclude same-sex marriage rose through their loins like a Viagra overdose. So here we are.
Did you know that one out of every 200 men in the world are related to Genghis Kahn?
Iâm not sure thatâs true, but I have decided to splice my column with interesting tidbits from cable TV news.
New York State of Mind
Returning to our main subject, the gay Speaker of the Rhode Island house, Gordon Fox, is under fire for dropping the attempt to pass marriage equality and embracing a civil union bill instead. No one is happy with the pragmatic political compromise. Gay activists call it a half measure, and of course the anti-gay crowd donât like anything that recognizes same-sex couples, and would probably vote against a bill that gave us the right to get a joint account at Home Depot.
Yet, arguably, Fox was left with little choice when it became clear a couple weeks back that the votes werenât there for marriage equality. The GOP head of the senate, who opposed marriage, has said that she would support civil unions, so it looks like the civil union bill will pass. I think it gets a house vote on Thursday and then goes to the senate.
I really hate to write about New York, one of the states that burned me the last time they were on the verge of passing marriage equality (for weeks and weeks) before finally tossing the measure in historyâs dustbin of rejected legislation.
I must have written 50 updates on the ins and outs of Albany politics at the time. You may remember that a Democratic senator switched parties at one point, throwing the leadership to the Republicans. Then all the other Democrats refused to come to work. A bunch of lawmakers were locked out. The party switcher switched back. Someone else was indicted for attacking his girlfriend with a broken glass.
Another guy was drowning in corruption charges. I forget all the details.
Suffice to say that I vowed never again to fall in love with the New York legislature, no matter how many roses or bottles of Champagne they sent my way. And when the Republicans took back control last November, I figured marriage was out of reach for the next two years, regardless of any optimistic statements to the contrary.
So Iâve been ignoring the money pouring in to the fight for marriage. I blew off the interesting Times article about support for marriage equality from deep-pocketed GOP donors. I deleted the endless emails about famous celebrities coming out for equality in HRCâs statewide media campaign. I rolled my eyes at Governor Cuomoâs commitment and Mayor Bloombergâs upstate lobbying trip.
And yet. Over the last month or so, a little spark of hope has started to blossom in my heart. Itâs not a flame quite yet, but I canât help thinking that we might win over more New York Republican senators than I would have thought possible a year or so ago. After all, the majority of New Yorkers support marriage, and the state effectively recognizes marriages from its New England neighbors. Would it really be that hard for the state senate to find the half-dozen votes it needs to make our dreams come true?
The 2011 session ends on June 20, and I have to assume a just-introduced marriage equality bill will pass the assembly this year, simply because the assembly has passed a marriage bill three times in the past. So the question is, what will the senate do if and when an equality bill is introduced in the upper chamber? Governor Cuomo has suggested to the press that he does not want to see the senate take a vote unless victory is assured, so weâll see, wonât we?
Sing with me. Whenever you call me, Iâll be there. Whenever you want me, Iâll be there.
Victory for Same-Sex Bankruptcy
In related New York news, a federal judge in New Yorkâs southern district has decided to finesse the Defense of Marriage Act and allow two women to file joint bankruptcy. The women were married in Vermont, and although federal law would technically require them to untangle their assets and file separately, the fact is that virtually all their finances and debts are co-owned.
I read about the case on New York Law School professor Art Leonardâs blog, the source of many under-reported gay legal cases. Talk about under the radar, I could only find two other references to the ruling, which was announced May 13.
The story is significant because federal courts are not in the habit of ignoring the clear meaning of federal law. And DOMA is pretty clear, as you well know. Section three defines marriage for all federal purposes as a union of one man and one woman, so thereâs not a lot of leeway in the text.
So what we have here is yet another example of the impact of President Obamaâs February decision to treat sexual orientation as a constitutionally protected status. That decision led the administration to abandon its defense of DOMA in court, although Attorney General Eric Holder insisted that everyone would follow the law until a court ruled it unconstitutional down the road.
Um, well. That tightrope now seems more difficult to navigate than one would think. We have seen government officials back down in several deportation cases involving bi-national couples, taking a wait and see approach rather than expel the foreign spouse of a gay American under these circumstances.
Now we have a federal judge who writes that were it not for DOMA, the women would qualify for a joint bankruptcy. âIn this case,â she continues, âthe United States TrusteeâŠ appears to defend the law and yet has offered nothing more than a restatement of the language of DOMA. The mere existence of DOMA is not sufficient to remove the duty imposed on this Court by sec. 707(a) to find âcauseâ prior to dismissing the case.â
Citing the âextenuating circumstancesâ of the Obama administrationâs new stance on DOMA, as well as the cumbersome costs and time involved in separating the womenâs claims, the judge rejected the governmentâs motion to apply DOMA to the case.
The judge did not delve into DOMAâs constitutional status, but her ruling adds to the growing sense that the law will not survive the myriad challenges it now faces in federal courts around the country.
It also illustrates the complexity of the litigation faced by Republicans in the House of Representatives in their efforts to defend the law. Bankruptcy law over here. Immigration law over there. Federal benefits in one case. Estate tax issues in another. The list goes on, and as you know, the legal burden now rests on the shoulders of famed appellate lawyer Paul Clement and a small team of conservative partners hired by the House to champion their anti-gay cause.
Here, for example, Clement and company will probably be obliged to appeal the ruling in order to bolster DOMAâs status. Meanwhile, they are facing deadlines in two cases before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, one in trial court in New York, another in Connecticut, two in California, plus all the deportation cases. Plus all the cases I canât name off the top of my head and all the cases that will surely be filed in coming months.
Interesting, donât you think?
Someone has submitted a âprayer requestâ to a Catholic church in Florida for Osama Bin Laden. Hmmm. I suppose it would be churlish to put the terrorist maniac on a âno prayâ list. But then again, I wouldnât be praying very hard, would you? Call us churlish!
Oh, and speaking of Catholics, a 300-page, five-year $1.8 million dollar investigation into the root causes of sex abuse by Catholic priests blames the phenomenon on the changing sexual mores of the 1960s and â70s. Really? How come other subgroups went through the period without resorting to groping and rape? I donât remember the denizens of Haight Ashbury seducing children, do you?
Let me look up the details.
Turns out the report was commissioned by the Church itself, and researched at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. I guess it makes sense now that I read more details.
The researchers found that abuse spiked in the freewheeling sixties and seventies as ill-equipped priests found themselves unable to handle the sexual revolution. Gay priests were no more likely to abuse kids than heterosexual priests, said the researchers. And many cases of male-on-male abuse were based on the proximity of young boys rather than the sexual orientation of the abuser.
Most of the abuse was focused on people over the age of ten, which frankly doesnât say much. Why on Earth would anyone pick âtenâ as a cutoff age for this kind of analysis?
Iâm not sure why celibacy was ruled out as a contributing factor. Iâve only read reports about the report. And the researchers blamed the decades-long cover up on the tendency for large institutions to avoid scandal and controversy. The Catholic Church, said researchers, had their own version of the âthin blue lineâ that protects police officers from accusations of brutality.
Well, whatever. Iâm sure this story will have legs for awhile as everyone starts to scour the details.
And now, I donât know whether to end with Newt Gingrich or Dominique Strauss-Kahn. The chubby egotist, or the louche, and possibly violent, financier? Maybe weâll have room for both.
Thereâs something particularly offensive about true narcissists in the public square. Everyone is talking about Newtâs bungled performance on Meet The Press when he seemed to criticize his âvery close friendâ Paul Ryan and support an individual health care mandate. Oops!
nd in gay news, Newt was also the victim of a glitter attack by a gay activist who sprinkled him and Callista during a book signing.
But what really gets me about Newt is this half-million dollar line of credit at Tiffanyâs, which was revealed in one of Callistaâs financial statements. Itâs not clear whether this is an unpaid obligation or a revolving loan. But what is clear is that it never occurred to Newt that his ongoing business relationship with Tiffany & Co. might become public and that an electorate in the middle of an economic recovery and a Republican party obsessed with fiscal restraint might find his bling habit alarming.
Half a million dollars in jewelry purchases? And this is the man who actually thinks he could win the presidential nomination of a party that is prepared to put an end to medical subsidies for seniors in order to balance the budget?
As for DSK, I suppose I was truly shocked by the outraged pronouncements of people like Bernard-Henri Levy and Ben Stein, pompously wondering aloud why a man of Strauss-Kahnâs stature should be arrested in public, arraigned with common criminals and jailed on Rikerâs Island as if, as if, I guess as if heâd been charged with rape. As for Strauss-Kahn himself, if found guilty Iâd like to seem him tossed into the general population of some horrible American federal prison. Wouldnât you?
Two egos, each the size of the Hindenburg and perhaps heading for the same fate.