Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Policy Matters - June 14, 2011

Front Page Headlines

Illinois Begins Issuing Civil Union Licenses. Same-sex couples in Illinois celebrated on June 1st, lining up before sunrise to obtain newly-issued civil union licenses. This is the result of a law signed by Illinois Governor Pat Quinn in January, which grants same-sex partners who wish to enter a civil union many of the rights afforded to straight married couples, such as “the power to decide medical treatment for an ailing partner and the right to inherit a partner’s property.” One of the champions of this law, Illinois Rep. Greg Harris, was honored on June 2nd at a Chicago PFLAG National event.

Catholic Adoption Agency Says They Will Refuse Services to Same-Sex Couples. With the state of Illinois allowing same-sex partners to obtain civil unions as of June 1st, adoption agencies cannot refuse to serve same-sex couples who have a civil union. However, Catholic Charities’ adoption agency, which has traditionally referred same-sex couples to secular agencies, has threatened to refuse services to same-sex couples. While Catholic Charities is hoping for an amendment that will allow religious agencies to continue discriminating against same-sex couples, the state of Illinois has asserted that if Catholic Charities continues this discrimination, they will no longer give state funding to their organization. Currently, Catholic Charities receives over $30 million a year from the state of Illinois.

Air Force Service Member Discharged Under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. An airman in the United States Air Force was discharged under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) ban on openly gay people serving in the military. The service member was discharged on April 29th, but the Air Force did not make an announcement until June 2nd. This is the first military discharge under DADT since President Obama signed legislation that is the first step towards ending the discriminatory policy. The military can continue to discharge service members under DADT until the repeal is finalized.

No Widespread Military Resistance to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Repeal. Approximately half of United States troops (approximately one million) have been given training about the implementation of the DADT repeal. Military officials have informed the Pentagon that most troops are not being adversely impacted. To those service members who morally object to the repeal, Defense Secretary Robert Gates stated that all troops are required to complete their enlistment regardless of their moral stance on LGBT people serving openly.

Some Georgia Schools in Hot Water with the ACLU for Internet Filter. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) warned Gwinnet County, Georgia schools that filtering of and barring student access to websites that mention sexual orientation or gender identity would be met with legal action if not stopped. As of the release of this update, Superintendant of Gwinnet County Schools, J. Alvin Wilbanks, has not yet responded to the ACLU’s request.


Public Policy Watch

Nevada Passes Anti-Discrimination Bills. On June 1st, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval signed into law two bills that aim to protect transgender people. One law prohibits discrimination against transgender people in public places, while the other prohibits discrimination against transgender people in the housing and property realm. These laws follow a prohibition on discrimination against transgender people in the workplace that Governor Sandoval signed on May 14th.

Maine Lawmakers Keep Protections for Transgender People. Both the Maine House and Senate rejected a bill that would have stripped transgender individuals of protections which allow them to access public accommodations, such as restrooms and locker rooms.

Seth’s Law Advances in California Legislature. On June 1st, the California State Assembly passed Seth’s Law, anti-bullying legislation, that will implement mandatory policies in public schools aiming to reduce and prevent bullying. The law is named for a 13-year-old gay Californian who died by suicide. The legislation needs to be approved by the California Senate and signed by Governor Jerry Brown before it can be implemented.

The Case for Passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). The Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy has found that 15 to 43 percent of LGBT people have encountered job discrimination. Job discrimination is especially common for transgender individuals: over 90 percent of transgender people have been harassed or mistreated at work. Discrimination in the workplace leads to economic inequalities for LGBT people. It is important, therefore, that we continue to work towards passage of ENDA, which would protect LGBT individuals from discrimination and harassment at work, and increase their employment and financial stability.

Connecticut Anti-Bullying Law Advances in Legislature. The Connecticut State Senate unanimously passed a bill in May that expands the definition of bullying to include cyber bullying as well as offering protections to those who are bullied based on real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill also requires schools to create and implement “safe school climate plans”. The bill has been passed on to the State House.


A Question from the Field

Dear Policy Matters,

I thought DADT repeal was finalized, yet I continue to learn about ‘harmful DADT repeal amendments’ in federal budget negotiations. Can you please explain what the current status of DADT repeal is?

Sincerely,

Joseph


Dear Joseph,

Thank you for contacting Policy Matters. While President Obama did sign the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010 last December, DADT will still be in place until Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, President Barack Obama, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen, agree and certify that repealing the law will not harm the military’s readiness. After that, there has to be a 60-day waiting period until the repeal is fully in effect. While both Defense Secretary Gates and Joint Chief Chairman Mullen have voiced their support for the repeal of DADT, neither they nor the President have written certifications that repealing DADT will not impede military readiness. President Obama did assert in his 2011 State of the Union address that the DADT repeal would be finalized this year. However, Joint Chief Vice Chairman James E. Cartwright stated that while repealing DADT in 2011 is “a good goal”, he and other Pentagon leaders could not guarantee that the repeal will be completed by the end of 2011. He also stated earlier this year that the military would begin instructing its forces about the repeal in February 2011.

There have been several bills and amendments introduced in Congress that aim to delay the repeal of DADT. In January, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) introduced a bill called the Restore Military Readiness Act of 2011, which would require that, in addition to the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all four chiefs of the military branches sign certifications that repealing DADT is not harmful to the military’s readiness. Rep. Hunter has since used these same ideas in a military budget amendment in an effort to delay the repeal of DADT.

The “harmful DADT repeal amendments” you refer to were introduced in the House’s budget negotiation debates. In May, three amendments were introduced in, and approved by, the House Armed Services Committee, while discussing the military budget under the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012. They do not aim to undo the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010; rather, they all aim to delay the implementation of the repeal. One amendment, introduced by Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO), restates that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) applies to military service members. The second amendment, introduced by Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO), stated that weddings on military bases have to be in compliance with DOMA. The final amendment, introduced by Rep. Hunter, essentially replicated his Restore Military Readiness Act of 2011 in that it would require all four military chiefs to sign off on the DADT repeal before it can be finalized.

Even though these amendments were approved by the House of Representatives, it is highly unlikely that the Democratic-controlled Senate would approve them. However, we need to ensure that these amendments are not passed and that DADT can be repealed quickly and easily. It is essential that LGBT people are able to serve openly in the military. Please contact your Congress Members today and urge them to stand up for DADT repeal by voting against these amendments. If you have any questions on how to contact your members of Congress, please do not hesitate to contact our Associate Director of Policy and Programs.

Thank you for moving equality forward,

Policy Matters

P.S. Have you downloaded your new edition of Bringing the Message Home yet? Get your 2010 version of the how-to guide to PFLAG advocacy now and share it with your chapter. Visit. www.pflag.org/btmh for more information now, and be sure to visit this webpage in July to get the 2011 version hot off the presses!

And please join us for the 2011 PFLAG National Convention, where you can join us for a Lobby Day in Washington, DC!

Please note that Policy Matters will return on June 28, 2011. 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 June 24, 2011.

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