Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Marriage Equality and The Supreme Court: A Review...

It all might start to change this week.

Today and tomorrow are the days that marriage equality supporters have been waiting for, when the Supreme Court takes on the issue in two separate cases.

On Tuesday, the court will hear one hour of testimony on California’s Proposition 8 case, formally known as Hollingsworth vs Perry. On Wednesday, the justices will devote 110 minutes to hear arguments on the so-called federal Defense of Marriage Act, United States vs. Windsor.

LGBT rights supporters and detractors were lining up as early as last Thursday to be in the courtroom for the arguments.

We wondered what specific issues the justices would be looking at in the two cases, and what possible outcomes the justices may decide.

Let’s take Prop 8 first

According to Geoffrey Stone, an expert on constitutional law and former dean at the University of Chicago Law School, the court will likely make one of four decisions in hearing Prop 8 on Tuesday:

1)   Not hear the case

2)   Agree with the opinion of Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the Ninth Circuit, which would limit the decision only to California

3)   Rule Prop 8 unconstitutional, but only in states where marriage is currently legal and states that already give LGBT people some protections – like civil unions or domestic partnerships

4)   Rule Prop 8 unconstitutional in total – meaning LGBT people have a right to marry everywhere U.S. law is applicable

Stone thinks the last scenario is unlikely, given the makeup of the court and recent suggestions by liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg that the Supreme Court may have “moved too far too fast” in the 1973 Roe vs. Wade case, thus giving rise to the bitter divide over abortion that still rages 40 years later.

The second option – agreeing with the lower court’s decision – would slow down the process, by ruling Prop 8 unconstitutional only on the grounds that when a state has already legalized marriage equality, it can’t take that right away. That is the ruling the Ninth Circuit made in February of 2012 in deciding the Prop 8 case. Judge Reinhardt specifically declined to consider whether same-sex marriage is constitutional, ruling narrowly on the ability of states to take away rights it has already granted. Since California is the only state in the country that has granted LGBT couples the right to marry, then taken that right away, California only would be affected by this decision.

The second option is also more in line with a decision Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in1996 striking down Colorado’s Amendment 2, which the court said discriminated against LGBT people and therefore violated the Equal Protection Clause.

The third option, Stone thinks, is the most likely – that states that recognize same-sex couples on some level have to recognize marriage. Some legal watchers have dubbed this the “eight state solution,” in that it would automatically legalize same-sex marriage in eight states – Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Delaware and Hawaii – but it wouldn’t hold marriage legal in states such as Mississippi or Utah, which have constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage.

It will now also include Colorado, which passed a civil unions law this past Thursday. Stone said that the decision to grant LGBT couples some rights in Colorado will, if the third option is adopted, trump the constitutional amendment banning marriage equality the state passed in 2006.

So, if the third option prevails, and the Court rules Prop 8 unconstitutional, but only applies it to states that have marriage laws already or states that have some same-sex couple protection, that will be 19 states, plus the District of Columbia, where same-sex couples can get married.

This is exactly the outcome that the Obama administration has argued for the in its amicus brief to the court.

“It’s an intermediate step for the courts to eventually invalidate the laws against same-sex marriage,” Stone said. “The Justices might want to go slow – even though the majority of people favor same-sex marriage, there are states in the union which would consider it an outrage.”

Of course, the court may simply decide that there is no case to be made. In both Prop 8 and DOMA, Stone pointed out, “the State of California and the Justice Department have been clear that they think those laws are unconstitutional.” That means that a government entity is not arguing against the issue at hand. In the case of Prop 8, California is not defending the state law. The justices may decide that since a government is not arguing for its own law, then the Court will not hear the case.

Marriage equality advocates don’t want that scenario, as it would allow the Ninth Circuit decision to stand – which only rules that LGBT people can get married in California.

Now let’s look at DOMA

The Justices will also decide if those that are arguing for the so-called Defense of Marriage Act have legal standing to do so, given that the Obama administration is not defending the law.

You’ll get up-to-date information on both cases here on the blog, and up-to-the-moment updates by Liking us on Facebook and Following us on Twitter!

Two lowercourts last year ruled DOMA unconstitutional, so if the justices don’t hear the case, those rulings will stand and the federal government will give the same benefits to same-sex married couples as it currently does to opposite sex married couples.

There’s also the possibility that the Court will rule that DOMA is constitutional.

 “I think that’s highly unlikely,” said Stone. “I don’t think there’s any scenario in which Anthony Kennedy would do that.”

Stone believes that Kennedy wants to write these opinions affirming some constitutionality of marriage equality. And he believes that Kennedy wants to write the next opinion – in a few years –  legalizing same-sex marriage for all states.

DOMA, he thinks, will be struck down, both because “Kennedy will be skeptical of denial of same-sex marriage” and because of the issue of whether the Federal government has any business telling people who they can marry. That, Stone asserted, could possibly be the issue that draws Chief Justice John Roberts to vote for striking DOMA down as well.

If DOMA is struck down, it will mean that LGBT couples will be afforded the approximately 1,100 federal benefits that opposite sex couples already get. It will not mean that states that don’t honor marriage equality will have to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. That’s an issue pertaining to the Full Faith and Credit clause of the constitution, which deals with contract law.

Monday, March 25, 2013

A Champion For Change: California Activist Gets Invited to the White House

One loving couple's visit to the PFLAG National Convention could never have been imagined to lead to a trip to the White House to be honored within a year's time. Yet, as the Supreme Court gets ready to hear arguments for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, Judy Rickard will be at the White House, talking about how DOMA has affected her and her family.
Rickard, author of Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law, is being honored as one of 14 Cesar Chavez Champions of Change. She will sit on one of two panels of immigration advocates and community activists Tuesday, March 26, in the Eisenhower Executive Offices, talking to and answering questions from White House senior staff.

Rickard, 65, had never considered DOMA before she met her spouse, Karin Bogliolo, in 2005. They met on a lesbian dating site, then had their first date at a PFLAG event in Ashland, Oregon. But Bogliolo is a British national, and could only be in the country for six months at a time. That was a problem once their relationship became permanent.
Ordinarily, spouses of American Citizens can get citizenship, or at least green cards. But DOMA specifically excludes same sex couples – even those legally married in different countries – from the same spousal benefits as straight couples.
Rickard started blogging, calling her representatives, and speaking out around her home in California's San Jose and Santa Clara counties. She took early retirement – and a reduced monthly pension – so that she could travel with her wife. Then she and Bogliolo decided to challenge the system directly, by joining with other bi-national same sex couples in applying for a green card for Bogliolo.
They met with immigration officials in September of 2012, and the 72-year-old Bogliolo, surprisingly was given a 14-month work permit as the case to repeal DOMA made it through the courts.
“[The immigration official] couldn’t give us a green card, but he couldn’t deny our green card,” says Richard.
That changed things, but not necessarily for the better. Where before they had to leave the U.S. for months at a time, now Bogliolo is stuck in America until her work permit runs out, or DOMA is overturned.
“We used to call ourselves ‘love exiles,’” says Rickard. “Now we call ourselves ‘prisoners of love.’”
Rickard’s path to the White House started at the 2011 PFLAG National Convention in Alexandria, Virginia, when she and Bogliolo gave a briefing for members of Congress, arranged by their Congressman, Democrat Mike Honda. She also met staff members of the White House Office of Engagement, who told her to keep in touch.
The couple then were invited to hear President Obama speak in Las Vegas in September, where she was assured by both the president and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano that same sex spousal immigration benefits were part of the president’s agenda.
Tuesday’s White House panels, subtitled “A Legacy of Service Organizing for Immigration Reform,” will give Rickard the opportunity to tell her story on a national stage, and make sure same sex couples are included when talking about immigration issues.
She says she feels synchronicity, being at the White House the day the Supreme Court hears the case to repeal California’s Proposition 8, and the day before the high court hears the case to repeal DOMA.
“I feel like change is coming and I’ve let myself be more optimistic than I ever had,” says Rickard.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


PFLAG National’s Fifth Annual Awards Gala to Celebrate Corporate Leader in Ally Excellence

PFLAG National has named Whirlpool Corporation the 2013 Straight for Equality in the Workplace Award honoree. The award will be presented at the Fifth Annual Straight for Equality Awards Gala on Thursday, April 4 at the Marriott Marquis Times Square. Straight for Equality—a national outreach and education project created by PFLAG National—invites, educates and engages straight allies to advocate for and support GLBT people.
The Straight for Equality in the Workplace Award acknowledges an organization with a demonstrated commitment to achieving equality for GLBT people in the workplace by educating and engaging straight allies in creating both policy and culture change.
“Whirlpool is an ally engagement success story in corporate America,” said Jody M. Huckaby, executive director of PFLAG National. “They embarked on an intentional and ambitious effort to go beyond just getting their GLBT-inclusive policies in place, but to create a truly inclusive culture for their GLBT employees through involving constantly-expanding numbers of straight allies in the effort. From year-round events to annual educational opportunities, Whirlpool is proving that change can and does happen at every level of organizations.”
Whirlpool has earned a perfect score of 100 percent on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index for nine years running, the first and only appliance company to do so. The perfect score on the Index is a result of the company's dedication to workplace equality. In 2002, Whirlpool instituted domestic partner benefits, and recently introduced benefits to support transgender employees. Whirlpool Corporation also created its own "It Gets Better" video in honor of National Coming Out Day, and is the first appliance brand to feature same-sex families in national advertising. The company has implemented GLBT equality diversity training to employees across the U.S. and has a track record of supporting GLBT workplace equality at both the state and federal levels of government.

"At Whirlpool Corporation, we recognize that diversity and inclusion are key enablers to our success. The diverse perspectives of our employees contribute to true creativity and product innovation. We strive daily to create an environment where employees from all walks of life can grow and participate fully while working here,” said Jeff Fettig, chairman and chief executive officer of Whirlpool Corporation, who will accept the award on the company’s behalf.
Whirlpool has six employee resource groups, one of which is the PRIDE Network. The Network was established in 1999 for the company's GLBT employees and their supporters, and has a goal to be the top company for the GLBT community in support of the company's vision to improve lives, one home, one family at a time..

To learn more about the 2013 Straight for Equality Awards Gala, visit www.pflag.org/2013gala.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Marriage Equality Legislators Have Message for Supporters: Keep Calling

Image courtesy of www.lambdalegal.org
Members of the Illinois General Assembly return to Springfield today and representatives and LGBT rights advocates are determined that a vote on Senate Bill 10, the Marriage Fairness and Religious Freedom Act, will take place before the legislature goes into recess March 23 for Easter and Passover. 

That means that in a matter of days, Illinois could become the 10th state plus the District of Columbia where same-sex couples can legally marry.

Representatives and advocates say they are very close to securing the 60 votes (or 51 percent) needed to pass the legislation, which was passed in the Senate on Valentine’s Day. But, says, Anthony Martinez, executive director of The Civil Rights Agenda, “In Springfield, people change their votes from hour to hour.”

Representative Kelly Cassidy, one of four openly gay House members and a co-sponsor of the bill, points out that the anti-marriage forces are using automated calls and flooding the capital with yellow-stickered volunteers – one of whom entered her office and, in front of Cassidy’s kids, told her that same-sex headed families are “unnatural” and that "real families" must have a man and a woman raising the children.

This is why, say supporters of the bill, constituents need to keep calling their lawmakers.

“What we’re hearing now is that a lot of people are saying they’re 50-50 [on the fence], which is why it’s incredibly important that people reach out to their representative and encourage them to vote yes,” says Martinez. “In the end, there are some legislators who are going to look at the count from their constituents and make the decision based on numbers.”

“If you’ve called once, call again,” says Rep. Greg Harris, who is the lead sponsor of the bill. “We’re hearing from both sides, so it’s very important that we hear from the good voices – the voices for marriage equality.”

Cassidy says that this vote, unlike any she’s ever taken, is highly emotional for everybody involved.  “This is really a soul searching thing for a lot of my colleagues,” says Cassidy. “Even the people who are struggling with the decision are talking to people who are going to be impacted by this.” Cassidy feels that in the end, there will be some surprise votes, to put the total at more than 60.  “We will see someone for whom this is personal and we didn’t know it.”

Martinez agrees. “There are people who realize that this is the right thing to do and in 20 years they don’t want to be on the wrong side of history.” But, he cautions, “Most people are trying to figure out where their district is, so they won’t be attacked by the opposition.”

Illinois residents can go to www.pflag.org/takeaction to find their representative’s contact information. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Adele Starr, PFLAG Los Angeles, And The PFLAG National Legacy of Love...

Courtesy of PFLAG LA
Just as it would be impossible to tell the story of PFLAG without telling the story of Jeanne Manford, it would be impossible to tell the story of PFLAG without telling the story of Adele Starr. So we chose today, March 8th--the date of the first successful PFLAG LA meeting--to share it.

Adele and her husband, Larry, founded PFLAG LA, and Adele subsequently became the first President of PFLAG National. There is no question that she and Jeanne Manford were a formidable team. Much like Jeanne, Adele was a mama lion, willing to do whatever it took not just to protect her own cubs, but all of the others who came her way.  Adele, by all accounts from those who knew her, was a true force to be reckoned with.

Today we are proud to share with you, courtesy of PFLAG LA, Adele's story.  We hope you are inspired, enlightened, and reinvigorated by what you read.

Small things can have great consequences.  In 1968, a white square of paper on a dining room table in Brentwood changed the lives of a mother and father, spurring them to start a parents' support organization that has had unprecedented impact in Los Angeles and the nation.

The paper said, "I've left home because I am a homosexual."  It was signed by Philip Starr, the son of Adele and Larry Starr, who became both the founders of PFLAG Los Angeles and inexhaustible workers to improve the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their parents, families, and friends.  

Larry and Adele were frantic.  They tried to track Philip down at the homes of his friends.  After a series of dead ends, they went to the police station to file a missing person's report.  Late in her life, Adele would say she could still hear the sound of the officer tearing up a half-finished report.  Philip was 18 years old and considered an adult.  With no word from their son, they placed a personal ad in the Los Angeles Times:  "Philip, we love you.  Call or come home."  Against all odds, one of Philip's friends saw the ad and told him about it.  The family was reunited.

But that happy ending was only the beginning of the story.  The Starrs asked Philip to see a therapist.  Adele would later shake her head and say ruefully, "What did we know!"  After several months, Philip had had enough.  "I'm not going to change," he said.  "You will have to."  Remembering the moment his mother would say, "And so we did."

As willing as they were to educate themselves about the reality of gay and lesbian lives, change came slowly.  There were few places to go for reliable information.  Philip finally introduced Adele to a friend's stepmother who also had a lesbian daughter.  Conversations with her helped.

Eventually, the Starrs heard about the Gay Community Service Center on Wilshire Boulevard, the first incarnation of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center.  At the center there were "rap" groups, open to anyone who wanted to talk.  Adele and Larry participated and met a few other parents who had also found their way to this gay oasis.  They had a lot in common.  All of them adored their children and spoke glowingly of their accomplishments.  "It was then," Adele said, "that we realized our children were quite normal, even though they were different in this one way."

Courtesy of PFLAG LA
The parents continued meeting, and talked about starting a support group.  In 1974 Jeanne Manford, who had held the first support meeting for parents of gay children in New York in 1973, came to Los Angeles with her husband Jules to visit the Starrs.  She talked about the New York group and urged Adele and Larry to start one in Los Angeles.  

Encouraged, Adele moved forward with the plan.  She wrote a public service announcement, posted a notice on the bulletin board of the Gay Community Service Center, and on the evening of April 4, 1975 waited for parents to arrived.  No one showed up.  Parents were too afraid to be seen in a building that had the word "gay" on the front door.

Adele, however, was not easily deterred.  She tried again on March 8, 1976, this time holding the meeting in her own home.  More than 30 people showed up.  Some circled the block cautiously several times before they parked and came in, but they came and they stayed.  PFLAG Los Angeles was born.

Courtesy of PFLAG LA
Early documents show that right from the start, the all-volunteer founding group had the same mission and vision that PFLAG members have today:  to promote the health and well-being of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered persons and their families through support, education, and advocacy.   A meeting agenda from 1976 lists as its goals "to form a mutual support group, to bring parents and children together, to educate the community, to fight ignorance and prejudice, to support positive legislation and oppose negative legislation."

Their strategies are still used: regular support meetings, telephone helplines, public speakers, and a library.  As is the case today, the support meetings were the foundation of the fledgling PFLAG Los Angeles.  Adele's description of the meetings would sound very familiar to mothers and fathers attending one today: “Parents. . . are all bottled up, they have no one to talk to.  It’s the rap group where they start expressing their feelings, and seeing other parents are doing very well.  It’s an evolution that they have to go through . . . . They come here at the beginning with all those questions and feelings.  And by the time they go home, they are different people. . . . After about the third or fourth month, they’re helping other people who were just like them three months earlier.  We’ve seen that happen all the time.  That’s the miracle of it.”

Right from the very beginning PFLAG Los Angeles was not just a parents' organization.  LGBT people participated in meetings, answering the questions that parents couldn't ask their own children and getting the support and love that their own parents may have been unable to give.  Siblings, aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins were all welcome, too.

The mutual love affair between PFLAG Los Angeles and the LGBT community was demonstrated in 1977 when PFLAG Los Angeles received the Grand Marshall's award in the Gay Pride Parade.  It was given to the chapter in part because of their efforts opposing the Anita Bryant campaign in Dade County Florida to deny LGBT civil rights.  Adele describes the excitement of that day:  "As a result (of the vote in Dade county) many of us parents—conservative, old, tired—marched in not one but two pride parades FOR THE FIRST TIME IN OUR LIVES.  Thanks to the many who made it such a success, and a special thanks for giving me the honor of accepting the grand marshal’s award for our parents.  I said, ‘This is only the beginning of our fight to save our children from bigotry.’”

The activism of those early chapter members is inspiring.  As a part of their educational work, they spoke on behalf of their children whenever and wherever they were invited.  One of Adele's mentors gave her advice she followed for the rest of her life:  "We must not be afraid to go where we are uncomfortable.  That has been my motto ever since." 

Courtesy of PFLAG LA
Among the places she went was on the Good Morning America television show.  The National Gay Task Force had launched what they called A Week of Dialog with American Families.  Adele, Larry, and Philip came out on national television, modeling family love and promoting the support groups that had begun to spring up throughout the country.

Galvanized by the success of the Anita Bryant campaign, the core group of about thirty parents and LGBT persons recognized that political action on the local, state, and national level was essential.  In 1978, they had a big fight right in their own backyard.

Proposition 6, the Briggs Initiative, won a place on the ballot that year.  Passage of the proposition would have banned gays, lesbians, and anyone who supported them from teaching in California Public Schools.  

In response, this small group of people wrote the first PFLAG publications, called "About Our Children," which answered the fear-mongering rhetoric aimed at LGBT persons and their families.  They printed 175,000 copies and delivered 150,000 to voters throughout the state, helping to defeat the measure.  The "No on 6" organization did not want to fund the effort of such a small group, so Adele went out and raised funds to do it herself.

In 1979, the fight was even closer to home.  The Los Angeles City Council was considering the Los Angeles Gay Rights Ordinance.  Passage would outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing and employment.  Wading through crowds of people opposing the ordinance (some arriving in busloads from churches), Adele, the Reverend Troy Perry (founder of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Community Church) and other speakers advocated passage.  The ordinance passed by a courageous vote of 13 to 2, making Los Angeles only the 44th local government in the country to have such protections.  Feelings against this action ran so high that letters to the City Council were 50 to 1 in opposition.

In March of 1979, the growing gay rights movement held the famous March on Washington to mark the ten year anniversary of the Stonewall riots that had begun the struggle.  PFLAG Los Angeles sent 11 people to the event.  Adele Starr was one of only two parents invited to speak.  She gave a rousing message to the crowd:  "We parents of gays help one another and our family members to understand, to learn and to be free from fear. Together we parents and our children challenge the attitudes that destroy,  attitudes that have caused violence, bloodshed, suicide. . .  We are silent no longer!!! We parents of gays speak out!!!

Two more exciting events occurred during that visit to Washington.  LGBT groups went to offices throughout Capitol Hill to lobby for legislation supporting an employment non-discrimination act.  PFLAG Los Angeles members were among them.  With her usual foresight and energy, Adele had written letters to a number of key senators and congressmen.  She received many replies to her letter and visit.  Among them were carefully worded letters from Republicans like Senator Charles Percy and Senator Harrison A. Williams, Chairman of the Labor and Human Resources committee promising, "serious consideration."  The star of her collection was a thoughtful, personal two page letter from Senator Edward Kennedy dated December 26, 1979  in which he writes: “When a qualified individual is denied employment because of his or her race, or sex, or sexual preference, then we must all be concerned. . . . So too must we be concerned when an individual is denied permission to come into this country because of a statute based on outmoded medical and psychiatric views of homosexuality."

In addition to PFLAG Los Angeles and PFLAG New York City, 23 other parent-support organizations from all over the country attended the March.  They used the opportunity to have the first formal meeting about establishing a national organization.  Ideas of this sort had been informally pursued in the mid-70s, with some notable discussions going on in Jeanne Manford's home.  In Washington, parents met in a church to discuss how a national organization could work.  Getting all these autonomous groups to coalesce was a challenge.  The meeting almost derailed over what to call this incipient federation.  Some parents objected to calling it Parents of Lesbians and Gays, which was the name many chapters had chosen.  "My daughter's not out," explained one woman.  "If I attend the meeting I'll expose her."  She recommended adding the word "Friends," and the problem was solved.

All the participants went home with a lot to think about--especially how such widespread, but locally small groups could be welded into an effective unit.  They exchanged correspondence, but didn't get together until 1981 at Adele and Larry's Brentwood home.  Jeanne Manford and representatives from 20 other groups filled the living room and flowed out onto the patio working out the structure of the new collaboration.  

Adele Starr
Photo courtesy of PFLAG LA
By the end of the weekend, they had written by-laws, drafted articles of incorporation, created a five-member board, and elected Adele Starr as PFLAG National's first president, with Larry Starr as its chief financial officer.

The Starrs filed all the required documents in December 1981, and PFLAG was recognized as a non-profit corporation in January 1982, with the IRS recognition of its non-profit status following shortly.

What benefit did this new, national organization bring to the far-flung groups?  Banded together, local chapters of 20 or 30 members became a group large enough to appear on the political radar.  Their voices could now be heard.  It's no coincidence that in 1981 Adele was invited to attend the White House Conference on Families, where she made sure participants knew families all over the country valued their gay members.  The work of support, education, and advocacy that began with the earliest PFLAG chapters would now be pursued on a larger stage.

Courtesy of PFLAG LA
Meanwhile, PFLAG LA continues to thrive, providing support, education, and advocacy to one of the most diverse cities in the country. 

We are so proud of this chapter and its ties to the founding of our national organization!