Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hawaii Lawsuit Seeks Equal Rights for Gay Couples

The Associated Press is reporting that six gay couples in Hawaii are filing a lawsuit Thursday asking for the same rights as married couples, three weeks after Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed a same-sex civil unions measure.

The lawsuit doesn't seek the titles of "marriage" or "civil unions" for gay partners. Instead, it requests that the court system extend them the benefits and responsibilities of marriage based on the Hawaii Constitution's prohibition against sex discrimination.

"We continue to be discriminated against," said plaintiff Suzanne King, who has been in a relationship with her partner for 29 years. "We're a family unit, and we live our lives just like everyone else, but we aren't treated the same."

The legal action in state court comes as a response to the Republican governor's veto July 6, when she said voters should decide whether to reserve marriage for couples of a man and a woman.

Five other states and the District of Columbia permit same-sex marriage. Five more states essentially grant the rights of marriage to same-sex couples without authorizing marriage itself.

Hawaii passed the nation's first "defense of marriage" constitutional amendment in 1998, giving the state's legislature the power to reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples. The amendment is silent on civil unions and rights for same-sex couples.

Most Hawaii residents don't want the government to endorse equal rights for gay couples, said Garret Hashimoto, chairman for the Hawaii Christian Coalition.

"I feel insulted. They keep bringing up Martin Luther King, black rights and women's sufferage. This is not about that. This is about two males or two females practicing sex," he said. "It's behavior. It's no different from smokers or drinkers."

The office of Hawaii Attorney General Mark Bennett declined comment Wednesday because it hadn't yet been served with the lawsuit.

The state grants some rights to gay couples through its reciprocal beneficiaries system.

But they lack the same legal priviledges and obligations of adoption, child support, alimony and access to family court, said Jennifer Pizer, senior counsel for Lambda Legal, which is bringing the case along with the American Civil Liberties Union.

"This case is not about marriage. It's about the right of same-sex couples to at least have a system that is understandable and complete," Pizer said. "The state's equality guarantee at least has to mean same-sex couples should have the same rights and responsibilities, even if it's segmented off into a system that isn't as respected, understood and revered as marriage."

The case likely won't be settled until it reaches the Hawaii Supreme Court, or if state lawmakers and the next governor approve a new civil unions bill, Pizer said.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Gay Man to be Deported to Iran?

By the time Mohammad Abdollahi figured out he had been living in the United States illegally for more than a decade, he also knew that his personal safety would depend on being able to stay in the country he calls home.

Abdollahi, a 24 year-old Iranian who was raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan, came to the U.S. as a child when his parents immigrated to study at a state university. He says he learned of his undocumented status in high school, which is also when he first began identifying as a gay man.

"It wasn't until I was 17, 18 that I began connecting the dots," he said of his situation. "I grew up in a very Muslim family. I didn't know what 'gay' meant. ... I didn't understand the gap."

Abdollahi is now facing that "gap" head on, with the looming prospect of deportation to Iran where homosexuality is a capital crime. He was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities after a protest in May, and his removal proceedings are scheduled to commence later this summer.

"It's not something I can imagine," he said of the thought of returning to Iran. "It would be a very scary thing because I haven't hidden my sexuality in talking with friends or the media."

Iran has a documented record of persecuting gays and lesbians, including by death, according to U.S. government officials and international human rights groups.

Still, Abdollahi's case for asylum is not cut and dry: As an undocumented U.S. resident for twenty years, he missed the one-year window of opportunity by law to proactively apply for protected status. He now faces the more difficult task of appealing defensively before an immigration judge.

More than 13,000 immigrants in situations such as Abdollahi's requested so-called "withholding removal" status in U.S. immigration courts last year, according to the Justice Department's Executive Office for Immigration Review. But only 14 percent of the requests were granted, reflecting a much more stringent standard than that applied to asylum applications filed by people not facing deportation.

"He's looking at having to prove greater than 50 percent chance of persecution, a clear probability of persecution," said D.C.-based immigration attorney Kimberley Schaefer, who handles asylum cases.

The risk of physical harm must also be demonstrably linked with either his race, religion, nationality, membership in a social group or political opinion, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services guidelines.

Sexual orientation is loosely classified under "membership in a social group," according to immigration officials, and has been recognized by the courts as a protected category since 1994.

"In Iran, it's illegal to be gay," said Hossein Alizadeh of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, who received U.S. asylum as a gay Iranian in 2001.

"Even if you're not charged, however, you face the threat of honor killings by family members and vigilantes. The government does nothing to protect these individuals."

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, which processes asylum applications, received 198 petitions from Iranians last year of which 91 were granted. But it's unclear how many, if any, were based on an individual's sexual orientation because the agency does not track those statistics.

To continue reading, click here.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Policy Matters - July 26, 2010

Front Page Headlines
Has the LGBT legislative agenda been shelved? The limited time remaining in the legislative calendar for this Congress is raising questions about whether lawmakers will pass any further pro-LGBT bills before year’s end — and whether it will be politically feasible to pass such bills next year. Further complicating the situation is the specter of reduced Democratic majorities in the next Congress — or even a Republican takeover — and whether measures unaddressed this year would be viable in 2011. Despite the limited time remaining this year, some LGBT rights supporters are hopeful that Congress will move forward with additional legislation. U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), a gay lawmaker and House sponsor of ENDA, expressed optimism about the bill passing the House this year.

Risky Behavior, Drug Use Linked to Childhood Abuse. Gay and bisexual men who were victims of sexual abuse and social shaming as children are more likely to have psychosocial health problems that could put them at greater risk for HIV infection, a new study suggests. The study included more than 1,000 HIV-positive and HIV-negative gay and bisexual men enrolled in the U.S. National Institutes of Health-funded Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study, which began in 1983. Almost 10 percent of the participants had been victims of childhood abuse and nearly 30 percent had been the targets of gay-related victimization between the ages of 12 and 14, including verbal insults, bullying, threats of physical violence, and actual physical assaults. The University of Pittsburgh researchers found that men who experienced childhood sexual abuse and a sense of masculinity failure were more likely to use illegal drugs and to engage in risky sexual behaviors in adulthood, both of which heighten the risk of HIV infection. They added that those health issues have led to a “syndemic,” or shared epidemic.

TX Mom Challenges Transgender Widow’s Marriage. The family of a southeast Texas firefighter, T. Araguz III, killed in a July 4 blaze is suing to void her marriage to her transgender widow, Nikki Araguz. The family of T. Araguz wants to prevent her widow, Nikki Araguz, from collecting any of her death benefits because Texas doesn't recognize same-sex marriages. But the widow said Thursday her marriage was not a fraud — she married Araguz prior to her transition from male-to-female. The Wharton Volunteer Fire Department captain died while fighting a blaze at an egg farm in Boling, about 55 miles southwest of Houston. In a lawsuit T. Araguz's mother filed on July 12 in Wharton County, she asked that her daughter's marriage to Nikki Araguz be voided because they were members of the same-sex and Texas law prohibits same-sex marriages.

Public Policy Watch
Levin: Senate to Tackle “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in September. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) said on Thursday he’s expecting the full Senate to take up “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal in September after lawmakers return from August recess. Advocates have been anticipating a vote on the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill — the vehicle to which repeal language is attached — after the Senate Armed Services Committee attached the provision to the bill and reported out the legislation to the floor on May 27 . Levin said the quickest possible route for passing repeal in the Senate is by reaching an agreement this month to take up the defense bill shortly after lawmakers return from August break. Levin, who had earlier said he was hoping for a vote on the defense bill in July, said this agreement would eliminate the possibility of a filibuster on a motion to proceed after lawmakers return.

Lawyers Seek an Injunction to Halt “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Lawyers for the Log Cabin Republicans say they will ask U.S. District Court Judge Virginia A. Phillips for an injunction to halt the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy during their closing arguments in a federal trial challenging the law and request that she declares the law unconstitutional. The case is unique in that it is not based on an individual’s complaint but rather is a broad, sweeping attack on the policy, making it is the biggest legal test of the law in recent years. The case has put the Obama administration in the awkward position of defending a policy the president wants repealed. Government attorneys have argued throughout the two-week trial that Congress should decide on the policy — not a federal judge. They presented only the policy’s legislative history in their defense.

Argentina’s Same-Sex Marriage Bill Signed into Law. President Cristina Fernandez signed a new law last Wednesday making Argentina the first country in Latin America to legalize marriage for same-sex couples. Civil registries across the nation will now begin processing long lists of marriage applications from gay couples. The first such ceremony in Buenos Aires is set for August 13. The law, which was approved by the Senate last week following earlier endorsement by the lower house, grants same-sex couples the full legal protections and responsibilities that marriage gives to heterosexual couples, including the ability to inherit property and to jointly adopt children. Mexico’s capital was the first city in the region to legalize gay marriages. The bill was pushed by Fernandez’s left-of-center administration, worsening its already strained relations with the Roman Catholic Church.

A Question from the Field
Dear Policy Matters,
I realize that the House and the Senate plan to break for summer recess beginning August 9th. Do you have suggestions on how my chapter can take advantage of our legislators’ time while they are visiting the district?
Thanks so much,
Michael

Dear Michael,
Thank you so much for your question. During each legislative recess, Congress adjourns and members leave Washington and return to their home districts. Recess is an important time for members, as they visit constituents, attend fundraisers, and march in parades, and establish visibility in their communities. Essentially, this is the time that your Congress Members are coming home to hear from you and bring your concerns back to Washington. Congressional recess is also an important opportunity for PFLAG members just like you. Away from the noise of the capital, Congress Members are more attuned to local concerns, which is why it’s important to make sure your concerns get on their radar screens during the recess.

Here are several suggestions for how you can take advantage of legislators’ time home and help move equality forward:

1. Invite Your Congress Members to a PFLAG Meeting!
Inviting your Congress Members to a PFLAG meeting is a great way for your chapter to share a little about what you all are doing in your community, and it will give you the opportunity to get your legislators’ attention while you talk more about LGBT bills that are under consideration in both the House and the Senate. Hosting your legislators at a PFLAG meeting is a low cost way to establish media contacts, educate legislators and enrich communities.

2. Schedule an In-District Meeting
Your legislators’ schedules may be less hectic while they are at home, compared to when they are working in D.C. And it is certainly cheaper for your group to meet with them at home than to travel to Washington! Plan ahead and schedule a meeting with your legislators to educate them about PFLAG, our issues, how we are helping the community, and how they can be part of this effort by supporting equality-friendly bills. Bring community partners and members who also care about the issues with you. Face-to-face visits are the most effective form of influence. Even if you can only meet with the legislator's staff member, the effort will likely be worthwhile because the staff member can help shape the member's views. Please be sure to read our Five Easy Ways resource for recommendations on how to make the most of your meeting.

3. Plan a PFLAG Lobby Day
If you have the time and resources, arrange a lobby day for chapter members to visit your legislators in-district. You can organize an in-district lobby day with your representative by first deciding what day works the best to get the most community participation. Once a date is decided, be sure to invite your chapter members along with your allies to join you on your visit to your Congress Member’s office to meet with district staff. Make sure the members you recruit live in the member's district. Legislators pay more attention to the concerns of the people on whom their reelection depends. Be sure to have a clear agenda for what you want to accomplish and a specific ask of your lawmaker.

4. Attend your legislator’s local events
While they are home, legislators schedule public appearances, such as town hall events, fundraisers, and policy conferences. To find out their schedules, check their website or call their office. Attend these events and introduce yourself and your organization to the congressperson. You may also consider bird-dogging the congressman at such events, by asking them specific questions about the issues you care about.

5. Use Media to Your Advantage
While your legislators are home, they are sure to read the local paper, watch the local news, and listen to the radio to find out what their constituents are thinking. Legislators may be more likely to pay attention to your issue if they hear about it from these sources. Work with local reporters and news organizations to place stories on issues important to your chapter during the weeks your legislators are home by contacting reporters and putting out press releases. Encourage chapter members to write a letter to the editor of the local newspaper. You may also consider placing an advertisement. Local news organizations may have specially discounted rates for organizations like PFLAG.

6. Scheduling a PFLAG Event During Recess
If your chapter plans to hold a fundraising, informational, or other event, consider scheduling it during a legislative recess. Invite legislators and their staff. If they cannot attend, send them any documents related to the event or a summary of the discussion or proceedings that took place.
If you have more questions on how you can outreach your legislators during the August recess, please feel free to contact us at your earliest convenience.

Warmest regards,
Policy Matters

Please note that Policy Matters will return on August 24, 2010. If you would like to have a policy-related question featured in our next edition, please e-mail rperry@pflag.org with your question no later than August 20, 2010.

Grassroots Call - ACT NOW for Family Immigration Rights!

Our friends over at Immigration Equality invite you to join Congressman Mike Honda, Bishop Minerva Carcaño, and families impacted by our broken immigration system on a call designed for activists and concerned community members like you.

Hear how YOU can press Congress to act now!

Conference Call Details:
Date and Time: Wednesday, July 28, 2010
8:00 p.m. Eastern, 7:00 p.m. Central, 6:00 p.m. Mountain, 5:00 p.m. Pacific

Duration: 1 hour

Call-in Number: 1-866-740-1260, passcode 6946500#

To register and receive materials for the call: go to www.LGBTforCIR.org

Hear from:
• U.S. Congressman Mike Honda (D-CA), lead sponsor of the Reuniting Families Act and a tireless champion for family unification.
• Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño, United Methodist Church, who will discuss the moral imperative to move inclusive comprehensive immigration reform forward this year.
• Joriene and Jashley Mercado, U.S. citizen children whose gay mom Shirley Tan faces deportation; and another family impacted by our broken immigration system

Karen Narasaki of the Asian American Justice Center and Rachel Tiven of Immigration Equality Action Fund will discuss simple ways for YOU to help pass inclusive immigration reform this year.

To register and receive materials for the call: go to www.LGBTforCIR.org

Thank you for all you do to fix the immigration system for all families.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Uganda: Anti-Gay Legislation Slowed, but Could Still Pass by End of Year

From Voice of America news:

A human rights activist has praised Washington’s expressions of concern that have helped slow down Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill in parliament which she said, if enacted, would broaden the criminalization of homosexuality by putting to death those with previous convictions.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke out recently at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington against Uganda’s proposed anti-homosexual measure.

Secretary Clinton also spoke with President Yoweri Museveni by telephone expressing her strong concerns about the measure.

Valentine Kalende, an Uganda-based activist said homosexuals and activists, as well as lawyers who defend them, are often violently abused.

Kalende is currently in Washington, D.C. as part of the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership program.

“My mission is to meet faith groups and members of the [U.S.] federal government and LBGT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) groups and other groups working on rights to create more awareness about the anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda,” she said.

Homosexuality is illegal in Uganda with offenders likely to be sentenced to up to 14 years in jail.

Recent polls show Ugandans are against homosexuality with some saying the practice is alien to the country’s cultural practices, as well as an affront to traditional values and belief systems.

Uganda’s proposed anti-homosexuality law stipulates that gays and lesbians convicted of having sex would be sentenced, at minimum, to life in prison. People who test positive for HIV may be executed. Homosexuals who have sex with a minor, or engage in homosexual sex more than once, may also receive the death penalty. Anyone who knows of homosexual activity taking place, but does not report it, would risk up to three years in prison.

But, local and international human rights group have rejected the proposed law saying the move will result in a witch hunt against homosexuals in Uganda.

Supporters of the bill have warned parliamentarians not to block it. They threatened to embark on campaigns against the lawmakers if they fail to end what they described as an abomination that will undermine the country’s moral fabric, as well as its social structure.

Rights activist Kalende said her experience in America will make her better equipped to face the possible challenges in Uganda.

“I have been to Salt Lake City (Utah), which is known for its conservative views from the Mormon Church. Now, my lesson there has been of how to engage conservative religious people [and] religious leaders in a conversation on human rights issues…and that there is room for conversations and dialogue,” Kalende said.

But, barring any government intervention, indications are that Ugandan lawmakers will pass the bill before the end of the year.

To continue reading, click here.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Marriage Bill Signed in Buenos Aires

Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner


From The Advocate:

Within the halls of the 19th-century Casa Rosada, or Pink House, Argentinian president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner on Wednesday signed into law South America's first same-sex marriage bill.

Hundreds crowded the streets outside Buenos Aires's Casa Rosada to show their support for the bill, which the Argentinean legislature passed on July 15. Within the Hall of Science, 150 people — including Fernandez’s husband and former president Nestor Kirchner — crammed into a room to watch the president sign the legislation. The room, and a spillover room, erupted into applause following the signature and it was announced that marriage equality was now the law of the land.

Fernandez then spoke to the ebullient crowd. She stated that by signing this law the government is granting marriage equality to a group that deserves rights granted to them, not taken away. Change and progress are a good thing, Fernandez added, saying that once Argentina’s senators debated allowing divorce. Finally, the president pointed out the symbolism of signing the bill within the Hall of Science, saying it demonstrates that enlightenment trumped suspicion and fear.

Those opposed to the marriage equality legislation were mostly absent from the proceedings. -Reporting by Ed Salvato

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Beauty Queen to Believe In

From PFLAG Executive Director Jody Huckaby: "PFLAG is proud of Claire Buffie’s new title as Miss New York, having run on the platform of “Straight for Equality: Let’s Talk.” Claire is an active member of our PFLAG New York City chapter where she serves as a volunteer speaker in the Safe Schools Program, and a member of the chapter’s board of directors. As the sister of a lesbian, Claire truly understands the unique position that PFLAG plays in keeping families together and supporting, educating and advocating for LGBT people.

Claire and I met at PFLAG National’s Straight for Equality Awards Gala in New York on May 1st where we honored the tremendous role that straight allies can play in advancing LGBT equality. Claire will continue to be a strong visible ally as she competes for the Miss USA title in January.

All of us at PFLAG wish Claire much success in her quest to become Miss America!"

----

Move over, Carrie Prejean. Claire Buffie, crowned Miss New York in June, is the first Miss America contestant to compete on a gay rights platform. A trained dancer and Apple employee, she knows her profile may seem unusual for a pageant contestant, and that’s exactly why she believes she can win over America in the competition this January.

In her first interview with the gay press, the 24-year-old Indianapolis native spoke with The Advocate about her platform of improving the climate for LGBT youths in schools, misconceptions about beauty pageant contestants, and the real lesson of Prejean, the 2009 Miss USA runner-up.

Below is Claire's interview with The Advocate:

Do you think beauty pageant contestants are misunderstood?
Yes, I do. Even upon entering my first local for the Miss America organization four years go, I had some of those stereotypes that are very common — the hairspray, the eyelashes, the glue and the tape, and all those things. What I found was a group of incredibly intelligent, driven, and service-minded women. I have found my absolute best friends through this organization.

The Miss America organization is a scholarship organization. Each of us has a platform that we support. Girls support platforms from a variety of places. Things like promoting the arts, arts education in schools, traffic safety, driving safety.

Do you fit the stereotypical mold of a pageant contestant?
I don’t think I fit the mold at all, but I think that’s been the greatest part and the reason I have such an effect on people throughout the pageant. My coworkers have said, “No offense, but I didn’t think you were a pageant girl.” It’s empowering women.

What is your day job?
I have my own business in commercial portraiture and graphic design. I also work for Apple, but I’m not allowed to say any more about Apple other than I work for the company on the technical side, based on PR restrictions.

How did you get started in competition?
I started just four years ago. My platform was a strong reason in getting started. I think it’s an unlikely challenge for this message to be discussed. I competed in Indiana for two years in college. Once I graduated, I came to New York and continued competing. I don’t think I would have continued competing if my platform was not something about which I’m so passionate.

Are you aware of any predecessors who competed on a gay rights platform?
In the 90-year history of Miss America, we have not yet found any Miss America contestant who has had this platform. It is quite unique.

Finally, Something Goes Constance McMillen's Way

Itawamba County School District officials agreed to have a judgment entered against them in the case of a recent high school graduate who sued her school for canceling the prom rather than let her attend with her girlfriend. The agreement ends a precedent-setting lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of 18-year-old Constance McMillen, who suffered humiliation and harassment after parents, students and school officials executed a cruel plan to put on a "decoy" prom for her while the rest of her classmates were at a private prom 30 miles away.

"I'm so glad this is all over. I won't ever get my prom back, but it's worth it if it changes things at my school," said McMillen, who was harassed so badly by students blaming her for the prom cancellation that she had to transfer to another high school to finish her senior year. "I hope this means that in the future students at my school will be treated fairly. I know there are students and teachers who want to start a gay-straight alliance club, and they should be able to do that without being treated like I was by the school."

As set forth in documents filed in court today, school officials agreed to implement a policy banning discrimination or harassment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, the first policy to do so at a public school in the state of Mississippi. The school also agreed to pay McMillen $35,000 in damages and pay for McMillen's attorneys' fees.

"Constance went through a great deal of harassment and humiliation simply for standing up for her rights, and she should be proud of what she has accomplished," said Christine P. Sun, senior counsel with the ACLU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project. "Thanks to her bravery, we now not only have a federal court precedent that can be used to protect the rights of students all over the country to bring the date they want to their proms, but we also have the first school anti-discrimination policy of its kind in Mississippi."

In addition to today's legal judgment against the school, an earlier ruling in the case set an important precedent that will help prevent other students from suffering the kind of discrimination McMillen experienced. In March, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi issued a ruling in McMillen's case that school officials violated McMillen's First Amendment rights when it canceled the high school prom rather than let McMillen attend with her girlfriend and wear a tuxedo.

"We're pleased that the school district agreed to be held liable for violating Constance's rights. Now Constance can move on with her life and Itawamba school officials can show the world that they have learned a lesson about equal treatment for all students," said Kristy L. Bennett, co-counsel on McMillen's case. "This has been about much more than just the prom all along – it's about all of our young people deserving to be treated fairly by the schools we trust to take care of them."

After IAHS's original prom date was canceled by school officials in response to McMillen's request that she be allowed to bring her girlfriend and wear a tuxedo, parents organized a private prom at which district officials told a federal judge McMillen and her date would be welcome. That private prom was then canceled as well, allegedly because parents did not want to allow McMillen to attend, instead organizing a "decoy" prom for McMillen and her date and another prom for the rest of the class. McMillen and her date then attended the event the school had told her was "the prom for juniors and seniors" on April 2, where they found only seven other students attending. Principal Trae Wiygul and several school staff members were supervising that event while most of McMillen's classmates were at the other prom in Evergreen, Mississippi.

"We hope this judgment sends a message to schools that they cannot get away with discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students. LGBT youth just want to be treated like their peers and do all the normal high school things, like going to the prom with the date they choose," said Bear Atwood, Interim Legal Director at the ACLU of Mississippi. "We're very proud of Constance for standing up not just for her rights but the rights of LGBT students everywhere."

Help us Welcome our Newest PFLAG Chapter: Taos, NM

PFLAG Taos president Annouk Ellis. Photo courtesy of Susan Ressler.


From Taos News:

The new chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, a nationwide, grassroots organization more widely known as PFLAG, is offering a service that Taos members of the LGBT community did not have before — support.

PFLAG Taos founder Annouk Ellis said their next meeting will be held Aug. 1, for what the group is calling a “back to school” meeting. The attendees for past PFLAG meetings have said that safe schools for gay and lesbian students are a primary concern.

The meeting, in addition to having the usual support section, will have a special guest speaker, Jean Hodges, giving a presentation. Hodges is an instrumental force within the PFLAG organization and is known for her work with the Boulder Valley Safe Schools Coalition, which advocated for a safe school system for LGBT students there.

With the help of Hodges, Ellis says PFLAG Taos is looking to gain a similar system for Taos’ LGBT students, one that they can feel safe in and help to bring about change themselves. Following her presentation, Hodges will be administrating a question-and-answer session for anyone interested.

In addition to offering support for gays and lesbians, the organization provides support for parents that may be scared for their child’s well-being as a newly outed lesbian or gay. The organization has chapters across the country, including one in Santa Fe, but has not had a Taos chapter since the late ’90s.

The new Taos chapter came into existence when founder Ellis’ son came out and Ellis was struck with the realization that there were “no support groups for either [her] son, or [her].”

PFLAG takes into account that being a parent of a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender child may be a difficult or frightening burden to bear. The Taos chapter held its first meeting May 2, and Ellis says that they “have been working hard ever since to gain more awareness and members” for their chapter.

PFLAG Taos made a great stride in gaining followers when members marched in the Fourth of July parade in Arroyo Seco. Ellis said “the event was both monumental and magical.”

Ellis said “when I heard the cheers for the sign I was carrying I cried” and that she found it hard not to be emotional. Her sign read “Parents of gays unite in support for our children,” a message she borrowed from an early driving force behind PFLAG, Jeanne Manford.

PFLAG Taos has aspirations to become much bigger and to be an official chapter, which it is “very close to doing,” Ellis said. Another idea members have is to form a Spanish speakers outreach division within their chapter.

Ellis said of the upcoming meeting that “it is important to know that everyone is welcome” and that the organization is “to inform everyone, not just gays, lesbians, and parents.”

The event begins Aug. 1, 5 p.m. at 1335 Gusdorf Road, suite R.

For information about PFLAG Taos, visit its Facebook page or its new website pflagtaos.org.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Summer for Gay Rights

From The Huffington Post:

This is shaping up as the summer of gay rights in the courts. The twin victories last week from the US District Court in Massachusetts striking down as unconstitutional key portions of the anti-gay "Defense of Marriage Act" and the eagerly anticipated decision in the federal Proposition 8 case in California have made for enormous excitement in the legal and civil rights communities.

We are at a tipping point in which the federal courts appear finally willing to recognize and more aggressively enforce civil rights for gay and lesbian Americans. Much as they did for African Americans a generation ago.

In the Proposition 8 gay marriage case especially (Perry v. Schwarzenegger), lawyers Ted Olson and David Boies have made a comprehensive and overwhelming case for basic fairness and full equality. Their opponents, on the other hand, presented no credible expert testimony and made arguments so flimsy -- and at times even patently false - that a ruling in their favor appears highly unlikely. The decision is expected soon.

Despite all this, there remains some marginalized skepticism from some unusual critics.

The Brookings Institution's Jonathan Rauch recently wrote in The New York Times that while he personally supports equal marriage rights (and is, in fact a married gay man), he nonetheless thinks it is bad public policy for the courts to enforce such rights, suggesting that we should instead let the political process bring about equality, as and when the country is ready for it.

Rauch's argument stems from a comment (which he completely misappropriates) by Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, who said, "The Supreme Court, of course, has the responsibility of ensuring that our government never oversteps its proper bounds or violates the rights of individuals. But the court must also recognize the limits on itself and respect the choices made by the American people."

Rauch himself admits that the comment was not in any way a reference to gay marriage - in fact it had nothing to do with the issue. Kagan was speaking broadly about the role of the Supreme Court, historically and today - a role which led to such landmark civil rights victories as Brown v. Board of Education and Loving v. Virginia.

The Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart also has a piece in which he argues that the political environment is not yet ripe for full equality and that the potential backlash against any pro-equality court decision could be so great that the gay-rights movement might be set back by years, even decades.

Capehart's position is that since 30 states currently outlaw gay marriage, the Supreme Court would never stick its neck out to overrule what he claims is the popular view.

But here's another statistic: at the time that the Supreme Court struck down the remaining state laws banning interracial marriage in Loving v. Virginia, the Gallup Poll found that some 72% of Americans were opposed to interracial marriage. At one time or another, 37 states had passed anti-miscegenation laws. When civil rights are being infringed, "sticking out its neck" to protect minority rights is not only something the Supreme Court does, it is one of the primary reasons for the Court's existence.

Both Rauch and Capehart are ignoring not only our political history, but the history of civil rights advances through court rulings. Importantly, there is now an emerging consensus among gay rights advocates that these cases, including the one brought by Olson and Boies on behalf of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, can succeed and that the timing is right.

To continue reading, click here.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Breaking: DC Appeals Court Upholds Marriage Law

From The Washington Post:

The D.C. Court of Appeals narrowly sustained same-sex marriage in the District on Thursday in a 5 to 4 vote.

The nine judges were asked to determine whether the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics acted lawfully when it rejected an initiative by opponents of gay marriage to have the matter voted upon by District residents in a referendum, rather than by the D.C. Council, which in December approved same-sex marriage.

A D.C. Superior Court judge upheld the board's decision in January and the initiative became law in March.

In May, attorneys for opponents of gay marriage, led by Bishop Harry Jackson, pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, argued before all nine appellate judges that the board's decision violated the District's Human Rights Act and that the council had overstepped its authority.

In an 81-page decision released Thursday, the five affirming judges -- Phyllis D. Thompson, Vanessa Ruiz, Indez Smith Reid, Noël Anketell Kramer and Anna Blackburne-Rigsby -- disagreed, writing that the board was within D.C. law in making such a decision.

The judges ruled that they think the council would not have authorized "any initiative" that would have discriminated against residents and violated the Human Rights Act. The judges also wrote that the board "correctly determined that the proposed initiative would have the effect of authorizing such discrimination."

The judges further ruled that the council "was not obliged to allow initiatives that would have the effect of authorizing discrimination prohibited by the Human Rights Act to be put to voters, and then to repeal them, or to wait for them to be challenged as having been improper subjects of initiative, should they be approved by voters."

Based on that conclusion, the judges ruled that the board acted lawfully in refusing to accept Jackson's initiative.

Peter D. Rosenstein, a gay and lesbian rights activist, hailed the ruling as a "victory for decency and civil and human rights."

To continue reading, click here.

PFLAG Praises Congress for United Effort to End Discrimination Against LGBT Bi-national Families

Earlier today, PFLAG joined a coalition of organizations and leaders from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT), immigrants’ rights, civil rights and faith communities and issued the following statement as Members of Congress gathered on Capitol Hill to call for passage of immigration reform legislation that ends discrimination against LGBT bi-national families:

"Today, key Congressional leaders joined forces on Capitol Hill to call on their colleagues to support passage of the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) as part of any future immigration reform effort. Tens of thousands of LGBT bi-national families are counting on this critically important legislation in order to achieve the most basic equality: The freedom to be with their families, and the people they love.

Today’s united front in support of UAFA – with key lawmakers from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC); Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC); Congressional Progressive Caucus and Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus – could not be more urgent for the families who are facing separation, or already living in exile, because of our country’s discriminatory immigration laws. An estimated 17,000 young children are being raised by LGBT parents in bi-national families and those children face the very real possibility of losing a parent, or leaving the only country they have ever called home. The United States can do better, and we stand with these courageous Members of Congress who are leading the way to ensure these families can be together.

We are proud to support the Uniting American Families Act, and urge Congress to heed the calls of lawmakers today and ensure its passage before one more family is separated. We are especially grateful to Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), who have led the effort on behalf of our families in Congress, as well as Congressman Mike Honda (D-CA), who has worked tirelessly to end discrimination against all immigrant families through his inclusive Reuniting Families Act. Today, we are also heartened to have the steadfast support of key leaders such as Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA),Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO) and others who believe that we must fix our broken immigration system forevery family, including LGBT families.

Our constituencies, members and congregations stand ready, willing and able to support passage of legislation that fixes our broken immigration system for all families, including LGBT binational families. No reform can truly be called comprehensive unless it includes LGBT immigrant families as well. Today, leaders made clear that all future immigration legislation must be truly inclusive, and we are proud to stand with them in that call. We are committed to working, together, for this long overdue and much-needed victory and to honoring our country’s commitment to families and its rich history as a nation of immigrants."

Groups that endorsed this legislation include: Anti-Defamation League, AIDS Action Council, Advocates for Youth, Asian American Justice Center, CenterLink: The Community of LGBT Centers, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), the Council for Global Equality, the Episcopal Church, Equality California, Equality Federation, Family Equality Council, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, Bill Mefford, Director of Civil and Human Rights, General Board of Church and Society, The United Methodist Church, Hispanic Federation, Human Rights Campaign, Human Rights Watch, Immigration Equality Action Fund, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, Lambda Legal, Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National Center for Transgender Equality, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund, National Immigrant Justice Center, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance, Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) National, People For the American Way, South Asian Americans Leading Together, Stonewall Democrats, UNID@S, Union for Reform Judaism, Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.

Marriage Equality in Argentina!

From The Advocate:

In a debate that lasted well into the early hours of Thursday morning, Argentina's Senate voted 33-27 to make theirs the first country in South America to legalize same-sex marriage.

Gay rights activists had predicted a close vote. According to reports, debate in Buenos Aires lasted until four in the morning.

The subject of marriage has been a hot button issue in Argentina for the past several months. In December, Jose Maria Di Bello and Alex Freyre (pictured) became the country's first legally married same-sex couple because of a legal loophole.

Freedom to Marry's Evan Wolfson issued the following statement early Tuesday morning: "Today's historic vote shows how far Catholic Argentina has come, from dictatorship to true democratic values, and how far the freedom to marry movement has come as twelve countries on four continents now embrace marriage equality. Argentina's vote for the freedom to marry marks an important advance for fairness and family values as more couples around the world will now share in marriage, with families helped and no one hurt. Today's vote adds momentum to the international movement to secure the freedom to marry for all loving and committed couples.

"Key to Argentina's human rights achievement was strong leadership from legislators and the president. It is time we see more of our own elected officials standing up for the Constitution and all families here in the United States. America should lead, not lag, when it comes to treating everyone equally under the law."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Los Angeles Times: "Judge Should Dismiss Prop 8"

The Los Angeles Times editorial board wrote yesterday that the judge deciding the Proposition 8 case should recognize that the arguments advanced against same-sex marriage fall short.

The piece goes on to say, "What is the rational basis for laws that deprive gay and lesbian couples of the right to wed? The arguments that have emerged so far — that same-sex marriage is bad for child-rearing and that it damages heterosexual unions — fall apart under the slightest scrutiny. A judge in Massachusetts recognized this in a case involving the federal Defense of Marriage Act; now the judge in the lawsuit against California's Proposition 8 should do the same.

In declaring the federal marriage act unconstitutional last week, U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro noted that when Congress passed the law in 1996, supporters said it would "encourage responsible procreation and child-rearing" and protect traditional heterosexual marriage. The law recognizes only heterosexual marriage for federal purposes. Supporters of Proposition 8 used almost identical language during the 2008 campaign to ban recognition of same-sex marriage in the state.

In this year's trial on the proposition, however, even its defenders were unable to show that same-sex marriage threatened the traditional institution of marriage. And not only is there ample reason to doubt that the children of gay and lesbian couples are any worse off than those in traditional families, that's not reasonable grounds for denying marriage based on sexual orientation. Many people make less-than-ideal parents. They aren't denied a wedding license because of it.

District Judge Vaughn R. Walker, who is expected to rule in the Proposition 8 case this summer, has been asked to consider the more complicated question of whether homosexuals constitute a "suspect class," or a group of people who have suffered unreasonable discrimination; if he did so, laws that could adversely affect that group would have to meet a stricter level of judicial scrutiny.

But even if Walker does not go that far, Proposition 8 could still be struck down. Tauro, in his opinion on the Defense of Marriage Act last week, wrote that denying marriage to homosexual couples was so clearly a failure to provide equal protection that it qualified as unconstitutional discrimination even without considering the question of a suspect class, because it was based on nothing more substantive than a belief in the immorality of homosexuality.

Tauro referred frequently to a 2003 case in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Texas anti-sodomy law directed solely against gay sex; the decision said: "The fact that a governing majority in a state has traditionally viewed a particular practice as immoral is not a sufficient reason for upholding a law." The lack of a solid justification for laws against same-sex marriage suggests that, like the sodomy law, they're based only on a traditional moral belief. That's why the Supreme Court should reject them.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Policy Matters - July 13, 2010

Front Page Headlines
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Survey Released. Last week, a copy of the Department of Defense’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” questionnaire was obtained by the University of California’s Palm Center and was published by The Washington Post. The questionnaire surveys 400,000 active and reserve troops who have until August 15 to complete the survey. Many LGBT advocacy groups knew that the survey was going to be administered prior to its unauthorized release; however none were allowed to review it. That aside, organizations and analysts uniformly questioned the basic premise of such an endeavor and added that they did not have significant input into the survey’s design and the nature of the questions. Given the misguided construction of the survey, many LGBT advocacy groups are asking the Pentagon to analyze the results with an understanding of the inherent bias in the questions and use it as a tool to implement open service without delay.

LGBT Youth Face Violence Behind Bars. Across the United States, the brutal and dysfunctional juvenile justice system sends LGBT youth to prison in disproportionate numbers, fails to protect them from violence and discrimination while they’re inside and to this day condones attempts to turn them straight. Antigay policies aren’t just a problem in the Deep South or rural regions. According to Jody Marksamer of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, one of co-authors of a recent report on LGBT youth in the juvenile justice system, “These things happen in every state.” Fortunately, the courts have started to take notice of the conditions and some, like Hawaii’s federal court, have ruled that a juvenile detention center’s “relentless campaign of violence, physical and sexual assault, imposed social isolation and near constant use of homophobic [and transphobic] slurs” are unconstitutional. Decisions like Hawaii’s federal court have spurred advocates in California, New York, New Jersey and elsewhere to push for reform, with some success.

Britain Rules in Favor of LGBT Asylum Seekers. Last Wednesday the Supreme Court of Great Britain upheld the right of LGBT asylum seekers not to be deported if they could show that they faced persecution in their home countries. The court ruled unanimously in favor of two men — a Cameroonian who fled his country after being attacked by an angry mob, and an Iranian who was attacked and expelled from school when his sexuality was discovered — who had lost appeals against deportation in a lower court. The lower court judges had ruled that the men could live “reasonably tolerable” lives in their home countries if they concealed their sexuality. The Supreme Court said that “to compel a homosexual person to pretend” that his sexuality does not exist amounted to denying “his fundamental right to be who he is.” The coalition Conservative-Liberal Democrat government embraced the ruling, which reversed the policy of the former Labour government.

Public Policy Watch
Federal Judge Rules Against DOMA – Twice. In an enormous victory for same-sex marriage, a federal judge in Boston last Thursday ruled, in two separate cases, a critical part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional. In one challenge brought by the state of Massachusetts, Judge Joseph Tauro ruled that Congress violated the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution when it passed DOMA and took from the states decisions concerning which couples can be considered married. In the other, Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, he ruled DOMA violates the equal protection principles embodied in the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Both lawsuits are very precise legal attacks against DOMA – targeting just Section 3 – and most legal observers believe both cases will eventually be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court for resolution. The only other marriage case right now that has that same potential is the Proposition 8 marriage case in a federal district court in San Francisco. Judge Vaughn Walker heard closing arguments in that case in June and has not yet issued his decision. The next step for all three cases is the U.S. Court of Appeals.

DOJ Says DOMA Ruling Could Have Implications for Other States. While Judge Tauro’s recent DOMA ruling applies to Massachusetts, the Department of Justice believes that if a higher court with a broader jurisdiction were to hear an appeal and agree with the judge’s rulings, the decision’s impact would spread to other states (and the District of Columbia) that recognize same-sex marriage. The rulings might encourage other attorneys general who oppose DOMA to sue to try to knock it down, said Boston College professor Kent Greenfield, a constitutional law expert.

Historic Ruling Favors Transgender Employee. A federal judge has ruled in favor of a former Georgia state legislative aide who claimed she was fired after telling her boss she would come to work dressed as woman as she began her transition. U.S. District Judge Richard W. Story ruled Friday that Vandy Beth Glenn’s firing violated her constitutional rights under the Equal Protection Clause. Glenn, a transgender woman, claimed that Legislative Counsel Sewell Brumby fired her from her job as a legislative editor because the gender transition would make her colleagues feel uncomfortable and would be seen as “immoral” by Georgia lawmakers. Brumby told The Associated Press that he had no comment on the ruling.

HI Governor Vetoes Same-Sex Civil Unions. Hawaii’s Governor Linda Lingle vetoed legislation Tuesday that would have permitted same-sex civil unions, ending weeks of speculation about what she would do with the contentious, emotionally charged issue. The Republican Governor acted on the last day she had to sign, veto, or allow the bill to become law without her signature. The Legislature had approved it in late April, which would have granted lesbian and gay couples the same rights and benefits the state provides to married couples. She said voters, not politicians, should decide the fate of civil unions. For weeks, the governor heard emotional views from both supporters and opponents of the bill. She invited leaders from both sides to her standing-room-only news conference. Lingle’s decision is expected to be the last say on the proposal this year because legislative leaders have said they won’t override any of her vetoes. The two-term Republican leaves office in December.

A Question from the Field
Dear Policy Matters,
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Washington State's law that says ballot-measure petition signatures are public records. Despite the high court’s ruling, the drawn-out battle over whether to release Referendum 71 petition signatures continues. Can you please explain why the Supreme Court’s ruling wasn’t enough to resolve this conflict, and also let me know when this matter finally will be settled?
Thanks so much,
Sara


Dear Sara,
Thank you so much for your question. For those readers not familiar, Referendum 71 sought to repeal a 2009 state law granting expanded marriage-like benefits for lesbian and gay couples registered as domestic partners. The measure was sponsored by Protect Marriage Washington. In the months leading up to the November elections, when voters opted to keep the expanded benefits law, a LGBT-rights advocate said he would request — as permitted under the state's Public Records Act — the names of those who signed petitions to get the referendum on the ballot, and then post the information on a searchable website. Protect Marriage Washington filed suit to keep the names private, saying disclosure would scare supporters away from exercising their free-speech rights.

As you mentioned, the Supreme Court ruling in the Doe v. Reed case released earlier this summer in an 8-1 decision (with Justice Clarence Thomas dissenting) stated that disclosing the identities of petition-signers does not violate the First Amendment, but the justices also said their decision “does not foreclose success” should Referendum 71 sponsors decide to pursue an exemption in a lower court — which the sponsors said they will do. This caveat is why the Supreme Court’s ruling still provides an opportunity for the Referendum’s sponsors to conceal the identities of those who signed the petition.

The sponsors plan to take their case to the U.S. District Court where they will have to prove that there is “reasonable probability” that disclosing the names will lead to threats, harassment and reprisals. Meeting this very high standard will prove to be incredibly difficult since the sponsors lack the necessary evidence needed make the case, though the lead attorney for Protect Marriage Washington, James Bopp Jr., believes that the District Court will agree that releasing the names of those supporting the Referendum makes those individuals vulnerable “to death threats, vandalism, and even the loss of their jobs.”

It’s important to note that the question that worked its way up to the Supreme Court was focused only on the broader issue of whether it's constitutional to disclose the identities of signers of all ballot-measure petitions, not just Referendum 71. It left unanswered the narrower question of whether it's constitutional to release the names in the case of Ref. 71 specifically, given that sponsors fear disclosure may lead to harassment. That question is what will come before a U.S. District Court, but most justices expressed doubt that in the case of Referendum 71, the fear of possible harassment should override the state’s disclosure law.

Moving forward, Referendum 71 names are not immediately available, as the Supreme Court decision is not final for 25 days. A Thurston County judge must lift an injunction he issued banning the release of all voter petitions, pending the Supreme Court decision. Attorneys advocating for the release of petition signatures said that they would ask the judge to lift the injunction so that the signatures will be public later this month. With respect to when this matter will finally be resolved, please continue reading Policy Matters for the latest coverage.

Warmest regards,
Policy Matters

Please note that Policy Matters will return on July 27, 2010. If you would like to have a policy-related question featured in our next edition, please e-mail rperry@pflag.org with your question no later than July 23, 2010.

President Obama to Outline National AIDS Strategy

President Obama will unveil a new national strategy this week to curb the AIDS epidemic by slashing the number of new infections and increasing the number of people who get care and treatment.

“Annual AIDS deaths have declined, but the number of new infections has been static and the number of people living with H.I.V. is growing,” says a final draft of the report, obtained by The New York Times.

In the report, the administration calls for steps to reduce the annual number of new H.I.V. infections by 25 percent within five years. “Approximately 56,000 people become infected each year, and more than 1.1 million Americans are living with H.I.V.,” the report says.

Mr. Obama plans to announce the strategy, distilled from 15 months of work and discussions with thousands of people around the country, at the White House on Tuesday.

While acknowledging that “increased investments in certain key areas are warranted,” the report does not propose a major increase in federal spending. It says the administration will redirect money to areas with the greatest need and population groups at greatest risk, including gay and bisexual men and African-Americans. The federal government now spends more than $19 billion a year on domestic AIDS programs.

On average, the report says, one person is newly infected with H.I.V. every nine and a half minutes, but tens of thousands of people with the virus are not receiving any care. If they got care, the report says, they could prolong their own lives and reduce the spread of the virus to others. By 2015 the report says, the United States should “increase the proportion of newly diagnosed patients linked to clinical care within three months of their H.I.V. diagnosis to 85 percent,” from the current 65 percent.

The first-ever national AIDS strategy has been in the works since the start of the administration. It comes in the context of growing frustrations expressed by some gay rights groups. They say that more money is urgently needed for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, and they assert that the White House has not done enough to secure repeal of the law banning military service by people who are openly gay or bisexual.

To continue reading in The NY Times, click here.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Today Show Will Allow Same-Sex Couples to Enter "Modern Day Wedding" Contest

From Reuters

The Today Show announced that its 11th Annual Wedding Contest, which allows viewers to vote for a couple to get married on the air and select key details such as what the couple will wear and the location of their honeymoon, will be open to same-sex couples. The decision came after thousands of phone calls and emails flooded NBC's offices over the past week.

Network executives from NBC met with representatives from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation on Thursday to discuss the network's original decision to exclude same sex couples. NBC initially argued that the decision was made because this year's wedding will take place at Rockefeller Center in New York City and the state of New York does not offer marriage licenses to same sex couples. In past years, when the wedding took place outside of New York, same sex couples were allowed to participate.

Representatives from GLAAD, including the organization's president Jarrett Barrios countered that because the state of New York recognizes same-sex marriages from other states that the NBC's argument was flawed and it seems as if network executives agreed.

You can read more about the contest and application process on the Today Show's Facebook Page.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Federal Judge Finds Portions of DOMA to be Unconstitutional

U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro of Boston, MA has ruled in two separate cases that The Defense of Marriage Act is in direct violation of the 10th amendment as well as the equal protection clause of the US Constitution.

The scope of both cases targeted a single portion of DOMA known as section 3 which limits the federal definition of marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman.

To read more about these cases and Judge Tauro's decision click here.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Lingle Vetoes Civil Unions Bill in Hawaii

Honolulu Civil Beat


From Politico and The Advocate

Governor Linda Lingle (R-HI) vetoed a bill that would have allowed civil unions in the state on Tuesday. The bill was passed by the state legislature in April of this year. Lingle stated that she believes such changes should be left up to voters and that, "Although the legislature passed bills they believe are important, I have the final responsibility to ensure that any new law is constitutional, fiscally responsible and in the best interest of the state.”

If Lingle had signed the bill Hawaii would've become the 6th state to allow gay and lesbian couples the same rights as married couples. In the early 1990's Hawaii made history when the Hawaii Supreme court found that the statute limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples was unconstitutional. The decision was later overturned by voters in 1998 with Amendment 2 which allows the legislature to prevent same-sex marriage.

The PFLAG National Office would like to thank all of the PFLAG chapters and grass roots groups that worked tirelessly in an attempt to ensure equality for all people in Hawaii. More than 7,500 letters, postcards, and signatures were delivered to the governor's office in recent months. We would also like to thank the national organizations such as HRC and Lambda Legal that had a strong presence in the state in recent months and for their continued presence in any legal battles that may develop.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Philadelphia Loses Bid to Boot Boy Scouts

From The Advocate:

A Philadelphia federal jury ruled unanimously Wednesday that the city violated the First Amendment rights of the Boy Scouts of America when it cited the group's discrimination against gay people in an attempt to evict a local Scouts council from a city-owned building.

"We can't be kicked out of the building or evicted and we don't have to pay any rent," Scouts attorney William M. McSwain said of the verdict.

Lawyers for the Scouts say they expect U.S. district judge Ronald Buckwalter to issue an injunction against the Scouts’ eviction. Still, the city’s lease allows it to evict the Scouts without giving a reason.

Buckwalter told the jury he hopes the Scouts council and the city can negotiate a solution.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Univ. of Hawaii President Distances Himself From Antigay Letter

The president of the University of Hawaii is joining other business leaders who are distancing themselves from a letter sent to Gov. Linda Lingle urging her to veto a bill that would legalize civil unions.

University system president M.R.C. Greenwood sent a letter to Lingle June 18 stating that she did not agree with the stance of the Hawaii Business Roundtable, which has called for Lingle to veto the bill. Greenwood emphasized the university's own nondiscrimination policies, which were reaffirmed as recently as June 2009.

The university has not issued an official statement decrying the letter, but Greenwood issued a statement in addition to the letter, saying that the board of regents enforces its code of "nondiscrimination on the basis of race, sex, gender identity and expression, age, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, disability, marital status, arrest and court records, sexual orientation, or status as a covered veteran. I firmly support this policy of nondiscrimination."

Greenwood also mentioned that she was not one of the members of the roundtable's executive board, which officially submitted the letter. The June 4 plea to the governor says that local business owners would have to bear the burden of covering the costs of benefits and legal exemptions for civil partners.

"It is recommended that a commission be established to develop a recommendation for the state legislature to consider in 2011," the letter reads. "The commission should include representatives from a broad constituency to provide thoughtful input which could result in meaningful legislation that will minimize the potential for legal challenges and long-term problems."

Gary Kai, executive director of the Hawaii Business Roundtable, told The Advocate on Tuesday that the letter reflects only the position of the 10 executive board members and not that of the 48 nonexecutive members, including Greenwood.

"Each member has to make their own decision as to what their stance is on the bill," he said. "They're perfectly free to do so."