Did Microsoft kill the Washington gay rights bill last week? Based in Redmond, Washington, the software giant is considered one of the most gay-friendly corporations in the country, banning discrimination, offering domestic partner benefits, and standing firmly for civil rights. For the last several years, Microsoft has expressed support for legislative efforts to ban gay bias, even though those efforts have not been successful as yet.
But this year, the gay rights bill had a chance. It passed the Washington house 61-37 in February, and was headed for a close vote in the senate. Washingtonâ€™s high tech leaders and other major state employers were united behind the bill, including Nike, Boeing, Coors, and Hewlett-Packard. And where was Microsoft?
It turns out, Microsoft had changed their position on the bill from â€śsupportâ€ť to â€śneutral.â€ť According to an investigative report published in the Seattle alternative paper The Stranger on April 21, Microsoftâ€™s senior vice president and general counsel Bradford Smith had a meeting in February with a powerful evangelical church leader, Ken Hutcherson, and agreed to back away from the bill. Smith subsequently met with gay employees in early April, and explained that the company had decided to avoid taking stands on controversial social issues, and focus instead on legislative initiatives that had a direct impact on business.
Smith and Microsoft denied that Hutcherson influenced their decision. But they do admit that Hutcherson threatened a Christian boycott. Last week, the minister old the New York Times: â€śI told them [Microsoft] I was going to give them something to be afraid of Christians about.â€ť Rep. Ed Murray, the openly gay sponsor of the gay rights bill, told the Times that Smith made it clear that he and his company were under pressure from the Christian right. As far as Murrayâ€™s concerned, the idea that Microsoft made its decision based on business considerations was â€śan absolute lie.â€ť
According to the Stranger, Rep. Murray first heard of the shift from Microsoftâ€™s state legislative lobbyist, DeLee Shoemaker. â€śI told her, this is a crisis. It will kill the bill,â€ť Murray told the Stranger. â€śShe said no one will know,â€ť the lawmaker said. The gay rights bill died in the senate last Friday by one vote, 24-25. Washington allies have been trying to pass anti-discrimination legislation without success for 30 years.
Virginia Justices Tell State to Fix Birth Certificates
The Virginia Supreme Court has overturned a lower court decision and ordered the state Registrarâ€™s Office to issue revised birth certificates for several children of same-sex parents.
Represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, three families had found themselves at a stalemate. Two families live in Washington, D.C., while the other lived in New York. They had all adopted children who were born in Virginia, and they were unable to get a routine piece of paper, showing the childâ€™s name, place and time of birth, and the name of both the childâ€™s legal parents. Revised birth certificates are issued as a matter of course by virtually every state in the nation, and indeed, an accurate birth certificate is required for all sorts of standard administrative tasks, such as enrolling in school or applying for a passport.
These parents, however, were given the runaround. In one family, a man had adopted his partnerâ€™s biological children, and the biological mother had formally relinquished parental rights. Virginia went ahead and revised the childrenâ€™s birth certificates, placing the adoptive father on the new paperwork. But while they were at it, officials deleted the biological father, insisting that a child could only have one parent of each gender. Among other reasons, the bureaucrats explained there was no space on the birth certificate form for two fathers or two mothers.
In a 5-2 decision issued April 22, the justices said that existing forms were irrelevant, and that state statute provides no excuse for failing to provide the correct paperwork. The high court declined to discuss the constitutional issues at stake, ruling that the since law was so clear-cut, there was no need for further analysis.
Sometimes She Feels Like A Nut
My favorite recent state legislative news story involves Minnesota state senator Michele Bachmann, a lightly qualified Republican lawmaker who has taken the lead in opposing GLBT rights, particularly marriage rights, in her state. So the other day there was a demonstration in support of same-sex couples at the Capitol, and Michele was caught on camera hiding in the bushes. She claimed that her high heels hurt, and she was kneeling or squatting or whatever it was she was doing, in order to relieve the pain.
The woman was hiding in the bushes!
Then, a few days later, a couple of lesbians, or gay friendly women, confronted her in the ladies room of a community center, and instead of dealing with the situation, she reportedly screamed hysterically for help and then came running out in a crazed fashion. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, a blogger posted an account of the incident that said witnesses heard her yelling: â€śHelp!!! HEEEEELLLLLLLPPPPPP!!!!!â€ť from inside the facility. Then they saw her come out â€śin a crouching run,â€ť insisting, â€śI was being held against my will!â€ť
Senator Bachmann, who is pushing an anti-gay amendment to the state constitution thatâ€™s headed nowhere for now, is also running for the U.S. Congress. She told the press that she left the ladies room â€śto change the dynamics,â€ť because â€śthere are personal safety issues involved.â€ť She has also asked for an official bodyguard, but that request has been denied.
Sounds like a piece of work, doesnâ€™t she? Skittering around in a panic like a badly written sitcom character.
Hey, calling all handsome law professors at the University of Minnesota, specifically our colleague in GLBT punditry Dale Carpenter. Whatâ€™s the real story, Dale? Have you ever met Michele? She wouldnâ€™t be considered bad looking except sheâ€™s got that â€śtoo rigid to actually be cuteâ€ť look that seems to afflict many otherwise attractive Republican women. Sad to say, I would have to kick her out of bed, unless she begged and begged and begged.
Well, while weâ€™re on the subject of state legislatures, the Colorado Senate snuck a gay employment rights bill through by a 18-17 party line whisker on Monday. So weâ€™ll see what happens with that in the House. And the California assembly judiciary committee on Tuesday passed the bill to legalize same-sex marriage through to its next date on the legislative calendar by a 6-3 party line vote.
Sharp readers recognize that the vague language at the end of that sentence means I have no idea what happens to the bill now. Does it go to the assembly floor? The appropriations committee? Who knows!
I wrote more for Texas readers but Iâ€™ll stop here for you in California, since youâ€™ve stopped reading havenâ€™t you? Yes, I see that you have, because you think youâ€™ll jump ahead to the penguin news, donâ€™t you? Oh, I know how much you love penguins. Particularly you northern Californians.
Now, the Texas legislature has been making national headlines for the last 10 days, and just because youâ€™re in California doesnâ€™t mean you can skip this. Remember that I forced my Texas readers to spend several minutes on complicated news involving Proposition 22 and a bunch of other California stuff, and they didnâ€™t complain.
As you might recall, last weekâ€™s house vote on a bill to reform the stateâ€™s Child Protective Services division included a last minute amendment that required foster parent applicants to list their sexual orientation, and then disqualified those who were gay or bisexual. The amendment also called for an annual review to remove any foster children from the care of same-sex parents.
The subsequent reaction to the amendment Iâ€™m happy to report was almost uniformly negative. Governor Rick â€śGood Hairâ€ť Perry, as Molly Ivins thinks of him, called the provision a distraction that could â€śbog downâ€ť the underlying legislation, while the billâ€™s senate sponsor, Republican Jane Nelson of Lewisville, said the amendment â€śmay present challenges both legally and practically.â€ť Thatâ€™s GOP talk for this thingâ€™s going down. Randall Ellis, the handsome head of the Lesbian and Gay Rights Lobby of Texas, says newspapers across the state have editorialized against the amendment, and that heâ€™s â€ścautiously optimisticâ€ť that the language will be dropped from the final version of the bill. In other words, we are dodging this particular bullet as soon as the house-senate conference committee is seated and pulls out their little red pencils.
But meanwhile, the house lawmakers voted Monday to pass a resolution that would send a constitutional amendment to the November 2005 ballot. The amendment would define marriage as a union of one man and one woman, and would also prohibit Texas from recognizing â€śany legal status identical or similar to marriage.â€ť I had to write a serious news story about all of this for the Texas press so forgive the schizophrenic change in tone over the next several paragraphs. I will return in a minute. (You donâ€™t think Iâ€™m going to rewrite all of this in a jocular tone just to make it more palatable, do you?)
A ban on same-sex marriage is bad enough, but the additional restrictions, tacked on by author Warren Chisum, Republican of Pampa, on the house floor, lead Texas down a particularly dangerous path. If passed in this form by two thirds of the state senate, and if ratified by the voters, gay Texas couples would find themselves in the dilemma now faced by their counterparts in Ohio, Michigan, Utah, Nebraska and elsewhere where far-reaching amendments are having an effect on basic legal rights.
In Kalamazoo, the town council has pulled a plan for domestic partner benefits on the advice of the Michigan Attorney General. In Nebraska, a state legislator was told by that stateâ€™s attorney general that she could not even introduce a bill allowing same-sex couples to make burial decisions. Policy makers at Utah State University are holding off on partner insurance based on their amendment, while just this week, a lawyer in tiny Mason, Ohio, told a lesbian family that they could not take advantage of the family rate for the community center because the town â€ścannot take actions that conflict with the state constitution.â€ť
Amending the constitution is far more drastic than passing a law, and amending the constitution with fuzzy language referring to a â€ślegal statusâ€ť that might be â€śsimilarâ€ť to marriage is a disaster waiting to happen for same-sex headed families. Still, the resolution has a distance to go. According to Randall Ellis, the measure does not have a sponsor in the state senate, and there is a slim chance that it could simply founder.
If the resolution is picked up, as will likely be the case, it will still have to win a super majority. The house reached the two-thirdâ€™s benchmark by one vote, passing 101-29 with 20 members abstaining or not voting for some reason. There is some chance that senate allies could rise to the occasion and block passage in the month or so remaining in this session.
But it is more likely that the state will spend this summer and fall in a bruising anti-gay election campaign. the first referendum on gay rights in Texas history.
Gay Penguins Anyone? No!
Iâ€™m back now. See, I can very professional if I want to be.
I have several long legal papers on the California situation that I am looking forward to reading in the near future, after which I will share their conclusions with all of you. Oh, donâ€™t roll your eyes. This stuff is interesting, and you should pay attention. Weâ€™re not going to be able to discuss cannibals or gay penguins in every issue. (So there!)
Particularly not this week, which is jam packed with serious news items, such as the Swedish women who were awarded $7,100 in damages by an appellate court after they were kicked out of a Stockholm restaurant for making out. The patron insisted that no couples were permitted to make out in his establishment, but it came out in court that the incident was lesbo-phobic in nature.
Pierce Me, Jesus!
Plus, Iâ€™ve also been reading a lot about religious freedom. I learned from the National Law Journal recently that last December a woman lost a discrimination case before the First Circuit, where she argued that she belongs to the â€śChurch of Body Modification,â€ť and that her religion required her to wear an eyebrow ring in defiance of Costco dress codes. Doncha love it?
You know, I would not enjoy sitting next to a couple making out in a restaurant. Thatâ€™s what bathroom stalls are for, ladies! Moving on, same-sex couples can sign up for some kind of partner union thing in New Zealand as of Monday. To be accurate, itâ€™s a â€ścivil union licenseâ€ť and it started Tuesday, but you get the picture. And I may have mentioned last week that Spainâ€™s parliament legalized same-sex marriage the other day, and the Spanish senate is expected to follow suit shortly. Pope Ratso did some huffing and puffing, but Prime Minister Zapatero blew him off, adding diplomatically that he only has the greatest respect for the Popeâ€™s (irrelevant) opinions.
Canada in a Mess
And before we leave the international realm, you should know that the Canadian government has been tarnished by a huge kickback scandal, the liberal party has lost tremendous ground in the polls, and the conservatives may call for a vote of no confidence that would trigger another national election.
hey just had one last summer, or at least very recently. And at that point, the liberals hung on to the largest share of the vote, but they lost their outright majority in Parliament. Still, they kept the reins of government although they had previously forced Jean Chretien to turn over the party leadership to Paul Martin, who had become Prime Minister in early 2004. (Or something like that.)
Anyway, if a vote were held today, the conservatives would win, and their nasty leader, Stephen Harper, would take office along with his creepy colleagues. The vote on legalizing same-sex marriage, expected later this year, would be off the agenda, even though marriage would remain legal by court order throughout all but three Canadian provinces. With this threat looming, same-sex couples have just filed a marriage suit in New Brunswick, and I wouldnâ€™t be surprised to see another group hit up Prince Edward Island or maybe even Alberta, Canadaâ€™s only real â€śred province.â€ť
Hey, could you go for some mussels right now? With a nice New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc? Maybe we can have a weekly dinner party featuring the cuisine of countries or states that have done something nice for the GLBT community within the last seven days.
Before we close, letâ€™s go down memory lane to 1998, when Steven Schwalm of the Family Research Council had this to say about the venerable Senate filibuster, then being applied to block James Hormel from confirmation as Ambassador to Luxembourg. The Senate, he told National Public Radio, â€śis a deliberative body and itâ€™s got a number of checks and balances built in to our government. This is one of those checks, in which a majority cannot just force its will.â€ť