Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Policy Matters – July 26, 2011

Front Page Headlines

New York Marriage Equality Effective July 24: Hundreds of gay and lesbian couples, from retirees in Woodstock to college students in Manhattan, rushed to tiny town halls and big city clerks’ offices across New York to wed in the first hours of legal same-sex marriage on Sunday, turning a slumbering summer day into an emotional celebration. Even those who had been together for decades, watching same-sex marriage become legal in surrounding states but suffer rejection in New York, said there was something unexpectedly moving and affirming about having their unions recognized by the state in which they live. [New York Times]

First Openly Gay Man Confirmed as Federal Judge: On July 17th, the United States Senate voted 80 to 13 to confirm the appointment of J. Paul Oetkin as a federal judge. Oetkin will begin presiding as a federal judge in Manhattan as soon as the President signs Mr. Oetkin’s commission. While the first openly lesbian federal judge was appointed in 1994, Mr. Oetkin is the first openly gay federal judge. [New York Times]

Hate Crimes Against LGBT People on the Rise: A recently released report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs found that between 2009 and 2010, there was a 13% increase in hate crimes against people because of their actual or perceived gender identity, sexual orientation, or status at HIV positive in the United States. Additionally, 2010 had the second-highest number of hate crime related homicides since the Coalition began collecting data in 1996. [Los Angeles Times]

Public Policy Watch

Obama Ends ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Policy: President Obama, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Friday formally certified the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and enactment of the repeal will occur on Sept. 20, 60 days from the certification. The certification comes after an extended preparation period, sought by military leaders and Pentagon officials, many of whom were initially reluctant to end the policy in the middle of two wars. Pentagon officials said they would use the 60-day period to review the possibility of extending some limited health, housing and legal benefits to same-sex couples. It is unclear to what extent Congress will review the law and whether any hearings will be held. [New York Times]

Obama Backs Law That Would Repeal DOMA: On July 19th, the White House announced that President Obama will endorse the Respect for Marriage Act (RFMA), which would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and give legally married same-sex couples the same federal benefits as heterosexual married couples. This announcement is in line with the President’s previous decision to withdraw federal legal support from DOMA. [New York Times]

Senate Committee Holds a Hearing on the Respect for Marriage Act: On July 20th, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the RFMA, a bill sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) that would effectively repeal DOMA. Even though same-sex marriage is now legal in six states and the District of Columbia, with DOMA in place the federal government cannot legally recognize these marriages, which puts added economic and psychological strain on same-sex married couples. [New York Times]

Students Sue MN District over LGBT Policy: Our friends at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Southern Poverty Law Center and Faegre & Benson filed a lawsuit on behalf of five students in Minnesota’s Anoka-Hennepin School District challenging a policy that requires faculty to remain “neutral” on matters related to LGBT people. This policy prevents teachers from effectively protecting kids perceived as LGBT from bullying and harassment. The students are asking the court to block the policy, order effective protections including better training and award them unspecified damages. [New York Times]

A Question from the Field

Dear Policy Matters,

What does it mean that the military will certify repeal? I thought the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law was a thing of the past?

Sincerely,

Katherine

//

Dear Katherine,

Thank you for contacting Policy Matters. On Friday, July 22, we welcomed a key milestone in repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), as President Obama, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, formally issued their certification signifying that the military is ready to move forward with the repeal of DADT. In 60 days, as prescribed in the law, repeal will be final.

Until September 20, 2011, we must caution LGBT service members that it is not safe to come out and serve openly. Only when the 60 days run out will LGB service members be able to disclose their sexual orientation without risk. Unfortunately, it will remain unsafe for transgender service members to come out and disclose their gender identity indefinitely. Our friends at Service Members Legal Defense Network issued this important warning for LGBT service members, click here, and we encourage you to share this important message with your communities.

While DADT repeal is an important milestone, it is not sufficient for ensuring equality. This is why we continue to urge President Obama to issue an executive order prohibiting discrimination and harassment in the armed forces on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Such an order would give LGBT service members recourse outside their chain of command if they are experiencing discrimination or harassment.

As we move past final repeal, we will continue the fight for full equality for LGBT troops who are serving today, as well as for those qualified Americans who wish to join. This work involves advocating for legally married service members to receive the same benefits as their straight counterparts, standing up for the rights of transgender service members who continue to serve in silence indefinitely, and fighting alongside veterans to correct or upgrade their discharge paperwork.

If you should have any additional questions about what certification and final repeal will mean for LGBT service members please don’t hesitate to contact us today!

Thank you for moving equality forward,

Policy Matters

P.S. Have you downloaded your new edition of Bringing the Message Home yet? Get your 2011 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 please don’t forget to register now for the 2011 PFLAG National Convention, and join us for a Lobby Day in Washington, DC!

Please note that Policy Matters will return on August 9, 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 August 5, 2011.

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