Connecticut governor M. Jodi Rell has signed into law a civil unions bill that grants all the rights and benefit of marriage under state control to same-sex couples. The bill passed the House of Representatives last week, where lawmakers attached language emphasizing that the word ‚Äúmarriage‚ÄĚ applied exclusively to a man and a woman. Governor Rell had stated that she would not sign civil union legislation unless it carried that kind of clarification.
On Wednesday, the House version of the bill returned to the Senate, where it passed by 26-8. Governor Rell signed the civil union bill into law later on Wednesday afternoon, resisting pressure from the state‚Äôs evangelical factions who had urged a veto. According to the Associated Press, marriage and civil union opponents were planning a rally this Sunday at the Capitol, although their protestations will apparently come too late.
Earlier this year, the state‚Äôs leading gay rights group, Love Makes a Family, had opposed the civil union bill, fearing that a vote on civil unions would damage the prospects for full marriage equality.¬† Subsequently, activists signed on to the civil union campaign, in part because of strong support in the state legislature, and also after being convinced that the fight for marriage would not suffer.
Connecticut is also the scene of one of the several freedom-to-marry lawsuits being waged in half a dozen state courts around the country. Filed by the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders of Vermont and Massachusetts fame, the suit is in its early stages.
Connecticut‚Äôs civil union status is patterned after that of Vermont, granting partners all the rights and responsibilities available to a spouse under state law. California‚Äôs statewide domestic partner registry operates in much the same fashion, while of course Massachusetts simply issues marriage licenses, with full equality, to gay and straight couples alike. Although New Jersey and Maine have statewide domestic partner registries, they do not offer all the rights of marriage, merely a few.
Oregon Court Dissolves Portland Marriages, Upholds Anti-Marriage Amendment
The Oregon Supreme Court announced its decision April 14 in the same-sex marriage case of Li v. Oregon. The case was effectively rendered moot back in November of last year, when Oregon voters amended their constitution to define marriage as a union of one man and one woman. In a way, therefore, it was not surprising that the justices simply pointed to the new amendment in ruling that marriage must remain heterosexual by law. But gay allies were disappointed nonetheless that the justices did not scratch beneath the surface and discuss the underlying issues at the heart of the litigation.
Li v. Oregon turned into a strange case indeed, as the voters stepped in and took the main question off the table before the state‚Äôs highest court could consider its merits. Filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, and Basic Rights Oregon on behalf of nine same-sex couples, the lawsuit won a victory at trial court before being derailed at the ballot box. The lower court ruled that the benefits of marriage must be equally available to gay and straight couples, and ordered the legislature to take prompt action on a civil unions or marriage bill of some unspecified nature.
But technically, as the high court noted last week, the status of the ‚Äúbenefits‚ÄĚ of marriage was not separately at issue in the lawsuit. Instead, the couples had sued for the right to enter the institution itself, marriage with all its tangible and intangible attributes. Given the amendment‚Äôs passage, the justices said, the answer to that request was no. As for the gay advocates who argued that the benefits of marriage should be made available to all, regardless of the word applied, the justices said that this argument was a new one, and could not be raised on appeal in an effort to sidestep the implications of the amendment.
Finally, the justices ruled that the 3,000 weddings performed in Portland‚Äôs Multnomah County in February and March of 2004 were not worth the paper they were printed on. Like their neighbors on the California Supreme Court, the jurists said that local authorities are not empowered to interpret the constitution on their own and ignore state statutes as a result of that interpretation. Since the marriage licenses were issued in error, the court concluded, the marriages themselves were void from the start.
The only silver lining in the story was the April 13 announcement by Governor Ted Kulongoski that several lawmakers were poised to introduce a full civil unions bill with his enthusiastic support.¬†
Lambda Tells New York School District to Respect Canadian Marriage
Lambda Legal Defense is pressing the state of New York on all fronts, determined to put teeth into a number of quasi-formal pronouncements in favor of same-sex couples rights. Last year, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer‚Äôs office issued an informal opinion stating that same-sex couples legally married outside the state would be recognized as spouses in New York. Subsequently, the state comptroller said his office would recognize same-sex marriages for pensions and other benefits. Earlier this year, a judge in New York City ruled that marriage laws must be equalized, a decision that is under appeal. And last week, Anthony M. Cowell, special counsel to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, sent a letter to the Empire Pride Agenda confirming that any legal marriage would be recognized in the city, ‚Äúto the maximum extent allowed by law.‚ÄĚ
With this kind of precedent and more in their pockets, Lambda lawyers are suing Nassau County‚Äôs Uniondale Union Free School District, insisting that school authorities recognize the Canadian marriage of a former teacher. Duke Funderburke taught in the district for over 20 years before retiring. Now he wants Brad Davis, his husband of six months and partner of 42 years, to receive spousal pension benefits.
Since the school district has not reacted to letters sent by the legal eagles, Lambda filed suit Wednesday in a local court. Almost exactly two years ago, Lambda won a case for the civil union partner of a man who died in a New York hospital after breaking his leg. The ruling, which is now on appeal, gave John Langan the standing to sue St. Vincent‚Äôs Hospital in Manhattan for wrongful death, just like a heterosexual spouse.
Texas Hits Rock Bottom
Warning to California readers: long discussion of Texas politics ahead. You may want to skip it. Or, you might want to sit back and gloat, because that‚Äôs just the way you are. I had to write about it because I live here! I even went to the goddamn news conference this afternoon (Wednesday). Even worse, I got a phone call from a spy on the house floor last night in the middle of my margarita. Yes, that‚Äôs right. My cocktail hour was sullied.
For the fourth session in a row, Pasadena Republican Robert Talton has taken aim at Texas‚Äôs gay and lesbian foster parents. And this time, he has changed his failed tactics. After watching his efforts repeatedly die in committee, Talton decided this session to turn his bill into an amendment to a major overhaul of the Child Protective Services division of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.
That ambitious bill had already passed the state senate, and was up for debate Tuesday night on the house floor. After several hours of general discussion, Talton came forward with his amendment, which requires prospective gay foster parents to come out of the closet and then be disqualified from consideration. His proposal goes even further, ordering a review of foster placements every year, and stripping foster kids from homes where parents are revealed to be gay or lesbian.
Gay activists and their allies in Austin were not born yesterday. As such, they were not surprised to see Talton‚Äôs head pop up with his amendment in hand. Since Talton had not filed an anti-gay parenting bill this session, since he presumably had not undergone a philosophical conversion since the last session, and since a major piece of legislation on the subject of foster care was en route to his chamber, Rep. Talton‚Äôs strategy was not unexpected. But, according to sources close to the action, there was every reason to expect that the amendment would be dispatched without damage. Unfortunately, those expectations did not materialize.
The bill‚Äôs house sponsor, Lampasas Republican Rep. Suzanna Gratia Hupp, asked her colleagues to reject the amendment, less out of good wishes for the GLBT community, and more out of concern for the multi-million dollar price tag and the drag it would place on her underlying legislation. Had a quick vote been possible without ensuing debate or pressure, the matter might have died on the spot.
Instead, observers on both sides were surprised when San Antonio Democrat and gay rights champion Michael Villarreal stood to offer his own amendment, a suggestion that state forms ask applicants about their sexual orientation, but do not take the information into account as a matter of policy. The rival amendment triggered a half-hour or more of charged up floor debate, dominated by Mr. Talton and his anti-gay rhetoric.
When all was said and done, the public vote on Talton‚Äôs amendment had taken on a certain amount of electricity, and his language passed by a margin of 81-58.¬† There was no vote on Rep. Villarreal‚Äôs amendment. The underlying bill, in turn, passed the chamber by a final vote of 135-6 with two abstentions on Wednesday. The only hope for gay foster parents now lies in a conference committee that will reconcile the house and senate versions of the bill. At press time, the members of that committee have not been named, so the outcome remains in doubt.
According to reports issued by the Lesbian and Gay Rights Lobby of Texas, there are 8,390 same sex couples raising children in the six Texas counties that rank highest in GLBT families. It‚Äôs less clear how many foster families are headed by gay or lesbian parents in the state, but LGRL executive director Randall Ellis told the press on Wednesday that the figure may be in the range of 2,500.
Meanwhile, Dr. Carol T.F. Bennett, an economist who has looked at the cost of Talton‚Äôs various plans over the years, estimates that the state would spend nearly $18 million in the first year of a foster parent ban. Over half of that sum would be split between paying for the children left in state institutions, or returned to state care ($5,414,464) and defending lawsuits ($4,982,106).
In Arkansas last year, the American Civil Liberties Union successfully sued a state agency that had imposed a ban on gay and lesbian foster parents. However, the judge in that case struck the state‚Äôs anti-gay regulations, not because they were unconstitutional, but because the agency in question did not have the authority to set state policy. No other state restricts foster parents based on sexual orientation. Ironically, even Florida allows gay men and lesbians to take care of foster children, although it remains the only state to preempt gay individuals from even applying to become adoptive parents.
Pope¬†Rat¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† National Gay and Lesbian Task Force chief Matt Foreman has demonstrated again that he gives great copy. Possibly the best of any GLBT leader on the national stage, although Kate Kendell can compete as well. The man refuses to mince words. He steers clear of meaningless politically correct pabulum and pat expressions. He makes interesting points and he makes them forcefully.
‚ÄúToday,‚ÄĚ he wrote on Tuesday, ‚Äúthe princes of the Roman Catholic Church elected as Pope a man whose record has been one of unrelenting, venomous hatred for gay people‚Ä¶ Someday, the church will apologize to gay people as it has to others it has oppressed in the past. I very much doubt that this day will come during this Pope‚Äôs reign. In fact, it seems inevitable that this Pope will cause even more pain and give his successors even more for which to seek atonement.‚ÄĚ
I wish I could publish his entire statement, but I begrudge him the space. I too want a chance to rail against Joseph Ratzinger, his rigidly anti-gay posture, and his vicious rhetoric. According to Rat-a-Tat, you and I, dear reader, are carriers of an ‚Äúintrinsic moral evil,‚ÄĚ that runs ‚Äúcontrary to the creative wisdom of God.‚ÄĚ Restrictions on gay teachers, soldiers and parents are ‚Äúnot unjust‚ÄĚ and indeed may be ‚Äúobligatory.‚ÄĚ Placing a child in a gay family is basically a form of ‚Äúdoing violence‚ÄĚ to the unfortunate tot. In 1986, the Rat wrote that ‚Äúspecial concern and pastoral attention should be directed towards those who have this condition lest they be led to believe that the living out of this orientation in homosexual activity is a morally acceptable option. It is not.‚ÄĚ
I could go on and on, but you get the picture. The man has the compassion of a horse fly.
Bad Pope, No Doughnut
In contrast to Foreman‚Äôs fire, the Human Rights Campaign‚Äôs press people plugged in the tact machine, issuing a statement under the passive title: ‚ÄúElection of Pope Benedict XVI portends further conflict between church and GLBT community.‚ÄĚ I‚Äôll say it ‚Äúportends further conflict.‚ÄĚ It portends an ugly decade of Papal Bull that makes good old John Paul II look like a pal. After all, it was Rat Sass who ghost wrote the nastier pages of papal polemics in recent years, including the attack on same-sex marriage that I don‚Äôt feel like looking up at the moment.
HRC‚Äôs new man in charge, Joe Solmonese, said his group ‚Äúhopes that Pope Benedict XVI will follow the biblical tradition of expressing love and compassion for all.‚ÄĚ What is that phrase? If hoping were horses, we‚Äôd all have fancy leather crops? What Ever. Wake up and smell the manure, Mr. Solmonese! Joe adds that: ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs imperative that there be a positive conversation with the Catholic Church about GLBT people of faith and we welcome that discourse.‚ÄĚ Well, it better not be ‚Äúimperative,‚ÄĚ because it‚Äôs not going to happen until horses fly. Naaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyy!!!!! Brrrrrrrmphhhhhh.
Joe is still on his official community honeymoon because he just started his job, but he might want to consider toughening up the press release prose before we start slapping him around and telling him to make his own breakfast.
Poll Me A River
Want some more bad news? The guys from Gallup report that support for same-sex marriage has fallen to a record low, and by contrast, those who say they favor the drastic proposal to amend the federal constitution to ban our unions have hit an historic high, of 57 percent. Just 37 percent oppose the constitutional amendment, and 6 percent are undecided. A year ago, roughly 50 percent favored the amendment, while 45 percent opposed it.
There are a couple of other key features of this poll. First of all, GLBT leaders have to stop the spin cycle that insists the younger generation thinks there‚Äôs nothing wrong with same-sex marriage and is ready to pass around the equal rights platter to one and all.¬† The poll of 909 adults indicated that the 18-29 cohort split 56-39 against same-sex marriage, just about the same as their elders. This isn‚Äôt the first time that the youth brigade has aligned itself with older demographic groups, although as a rule, the X and Y generations are a little less set in their ways than the so-called greatest generation. Only two categories stood out in opposition to the plan to discriminate against gay couples for the foreseeable future. First, the people with post graduate degrees (42 in favor, 55 against), and second, the people who seldom or never go to church (46 percent in favor, 48 percent against, God bless ‚Äėem).
In short, there is nothing good about this poll. Nothing good about the direction in which we‚Äôre heading. There is no excuse for continued spinning, and no excuse for failing to address this fight head on. If we don‚Äôt fight for same-sex marriage, who will? If no one does, that poll number is eventually going to reach a tipping point, and our Senate allies are going to fold like a busted flush.
‚ÄúTipping point,‚ÄĚ was a fashionable phrase for a while, but it‚Äôs out of favor now so we can use it again without looking like we‚Äôre trying to be trendy. Heaven forbid.
Through The Schoolyard Gate
Enough ranting. Let‚Äôs move on to the kids in South Windsor, Connecticut, who were sent home for wearing homemade anti-gay T-shirts, reading ‚ÄúAdam and Eve, Not Adam and Steve.‚ÄĚ You know, you can‚Äôt send kids home for this sort of thing unless they are doing something that threatens the good order and discipline of the school community. Sure enough, at least one student lesbian told the local press that she ‚Äúdidn‚Äôt feel safe‚ÄĚ around the T-shirt bigots (buck up, honey!), and the principal said that the shirts caused such a disruption that the constitutional loophole was activated. We‚Äôll see. Just as the ACLU jumps in to defend gay kids who are sent home for wearing pride shirts, no doubt one of the far right legal groups will sue the powers that be in South Windsor.
But kids? Next time, can‚Äôt you think of something a little more original in terms of shirt talk? One of these days, I‚Äôll track down some gay male couple named Adam and Steve who have been together for a zillion years and ask them how they feel about personifying Queer Eye for the Garden of Eden.
Sexy Is As Sexy Does
Stop the presses! The gay cannibal from Germany is back in the news, this time because prosecutors are trying to arrange a new trial after Armin Meiwes managed to be convicted last year for the relatively minor crime of manslaughter. That wasn‚Äôt bad for a guy that chopped up someone he met on the Internet, and ate half of his body, and I guess the prosecutors want to win a tougher sentence. As 365Gay.com reports, ‚Äúwith good behavior, Meiwes could be back on the Internet looking for more gay men to slaughter and consume in four years.‚ÄĚ¬† (Uh oh!)
Finally, did you see that George Bush was ranked ‚Äútwo‚ÄĚ on a scale of one-to-ten by 11,000 women in 15 countries. You saw it, I‚Äôm sure. It was in Esquire‚Äôs ‚ÄúGlobal Survey of the Female Species,‚ÄĚ and it provides a small measure of satisfaction to those of us who would like to wipe the smirk off his face with a cow pie. Very small, though.