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Should we Push for Marriage or Compromise on Civil Unions? May 9th Marriage News Watch

By Matt Baume

Disagreement over marriage versus civil unions could drive Rhode Island’s LGBT activists against each other. Meanwhile, an unknown source is funneling millions of dollars to anti-gay groups in fifteen states. We’ll talk about Target’s role in Minnesota’s proposed double-ban on marriage, and share some good news from Brazil, Scotland, and Taiwan.

The fight for marriage grew even more heated this week in Rhode Island with the introduction of a civil unions bill. One week earlier, sponsors of a marriage bill decided to pull their legislation due to what they felt was a lack of votes. But now, this civil unions compromise, introduced by Representative Peter Petrarca, is coming under fire from groups like Marriage Equality Rhode Island and Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders.

GLAD criticized House Speaker Gordon Fox for giving up on the marriage bill, and Rhode Island Marriage Equality began formulating plans to vote out anti-marriage legislators in 2012. That’s likely to include Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed, a Democrat who opposes marriage.

But in order for that effort to be successful, Marriage Equality Rhode Island still needs the House to vote on marriage to determine out who exactly needs to be voted out. Marriage bill sponsor Arthur Handy may be able to force a House vote by attaching an amendment to the civil unions bill, which would also endanger its chances of passage.

Meanwhile, around the country, we’re starting to see a mysterious surge in spending on anti-gay campaigns through a program called Ignite an Enduring Cultural Transformation. The cash is flowing to Family Research Councils in 15 states, which have created 3-year plans to oppose marriage, as well as anti-discrimination and abortion legislation.

The source of the money is unclear, but it adds up to millions more than has been spent in past years. It includes anti-gay initiatives in Idaho, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Arizona, West Virginia, Tennessee, Kansas, Louisiana, Florida, Indiana, and Massachusetts.

The biggest spending is in Virginia, where an anti-gay group is getting $1.2 million; New Jersey, which is getting $1.3 million; Pennsylvania with $1.5 million, and Minnesota, with $4.7 million.

Pennsylvania and Minnesota are of particular importance, because they’re both facing Constitutional amendments to ban marriage. Pennsylvania’s was introduced this week by Republican Representative Daryl Metcalfe. Minnesota’s, which would duplicate a ban that already exists, has been working its way through the legislature for several weeks.

That’s thanks, in part, to Target. You’ll remember several months ago when it came to light that the retailer was pouring huge amounts of cash into the campaigns of anti-gay candidates. And now two of those politicians, Representatives Doug Magnus and Kurt Zellers, are likely to play a role in passing Minnesota’s double marriage ban. To this day, Target still won’t pledge to stop funneling money to anti-gay politicians.

But there’s some good news in Illinois, where civil unions will begin on June 2nd. Lawmakers and LGBT couples will mark the occasion with a ceremony at 10am at Wrigley Square, where Governor Pat Quinn will oversee the civil unioning of thirty couples. Click over here to watch our interview with Phil Reese about exactly how Illinois activists were able to make civil unions a reality.

And in New York, both sides continue to lay foundations for an upcoming marriage fight. Bill Clinton released a statement this week endorsing marriage, which is better late than never, and Chelsea was photographed phonebanking for our side.

Also this week, a coalition of civil rights groups released a very soft TV commercial for marriage, and are gearing up for a day of lobbying on May 9th in Albany.

But anti-gay groups are pushing back hard. They’ve pledged to spend $1 million to unseat any Republican who supports marriage, and they’re planning an anti-marriage rally on May 15th. The same day as New York’s annual AIDS Walk.

There was also big news this week in immigration, with Attorney General Eric Holder taking the extraordinary move of personally intervening to stop the deportation of Paul Wilson Dorman. The Board of Immigration Appeals had previously ruled that Dorman should be deported, despite having a civil union with an American citizen.

In his ruling, Holder ordered the BIA to re-examine whether couples with civil unions can be considered spouses, and whether their finding would have been different in the absence of DOMA. While it’s unclear how this changes the playing field, it’s a sign that Holder could be exploring legal justifications for ending the long-standing practice of deporting gay spouses.

And the move had immediate ramifications for Henry and Josh, the bi-national couple in New Jersey who faced a deportation hearing on Friday. At that hearing, the judge decided to put Henry’s removal on hold for another six months, due to the uncertainty around DOMA’s application. Courage Campaign’s joint petition with AllOut.org is here.

Click here to watch our interview with Josh about how he and Henry met, and what it would mean if the government ordered them to be separated.

Let’s take a quick look at some other major headlines this week. At the GOP debate in South Carolina, nobody had anything nice to say about LGBTs, with Ron Paul expressing support for DOMA because, he says, it protects states. It’s great that Ron Paul is more concerned about the welfare of the state than of the people who actually live in it.

Representative Pete Stark introduced the “Every Child Deserves a Family Act,” which seeks to end adoption bias. Despite 100,000 children awaiting adoptive families in this country and 2 million LGBT adults willing to adopt, one third of adoption agencies reject parents simply because they’re gay. Stark’s law would divert adoption funding to states that practice inclusive adoptions, and could save the country $3 to $6 billion.

And one the many legal cases against DOMA could move forward on Monday with a judge potentially setting a schedule for arguments in Windsor versus United States, in which Edie Windsor was charged a $350,000 gay death tax when her spouse of 44 years passed away.

Turning to international news, the Supreme Federal Court in the heavily Catholic country of Brazil voted in favor of civil unions this week by a margin 10-0, joining Argentina and Uruguay in offering protections to same-sex couples.

The Scottish National Party won a majority in Parliament, and is expected to open talks on marriage equality.

And Taiwan is moving ahead with plans to implement age-appropriate lessons in elementary schools about LGBT issues.

Those are the headlines, join us over at MarriageNewsWatch.com for more on all of these stories and more. Remember to check us out at Facebook.com/MarriageNewsWatch and follow mnwatch on Twitter. Click here to subscribe to us on YouTube, and over to the right to get caught up on previous episodes, including last week’s news about the turmoil on DOMA’s legal defense team and more background on the fight for immigration equality.

We’ll see you next week.

May 9, 2011 at 9:00 am 6 comments

Irrational Prop 8 Demands Get Their Day in Court

Congrats to Matt on the new website and name for the show, but same great content -Adam

By Matt Baume

What really prompted a prominent law firm to give up its defense of DOMA, and lose a key lawyer in the process? The date’s been set for a showdown over the secret Prop 8 trial tapes, and over Judge Walker’s personal life. Rhode Island legislators give up on marriage in favor of civil unions, and New York keeps ratcheting up the pressure with a massive lobbying effort slated for next week.

There was a surprise twist to the Defense of Marriage Act this week. The law firm King & Spalding had initially signed on to defend the anti-gay law, but then abruptly ended their representation on Monday. Paul Clement, the lawyer in the case, responded by resigning from King & Spalding so that he could continue DOMA’s defense with another firm.

So, why did King & Spalding drop the case? They said that it just wasn’t vetted properly, but there’s a lot of speculation that they were heavily pressured by clients and colleagues to get out of the business of hurting gay families.

Now, a few people — including Attorney General Eric Holder — have come to Paul Clement’s defense, saying that our legal system has a duty to secure representation for even the most unpopular clients, because defending unpopular clients is necessary for protecting larger fundamental freedoms.

For example, if we want to protect the freedom of expression, that includes defending racist or violent speech, because there’s a larger freedom at stake.

But that’s not really the case here. What’s the larger freedom at stake with DOMA? There isn’t one. DOMA limits freedoms. Standing up for a cause can be noble. But not if your cause is denying health care, deporting husbands and wives, and forcing widows out of their homes.

There’s simply no justification for Paul Clement’s continued defense of this harmful law, which has even been renounced by the people who wrote it.

The good news is that more Senators have signed on to DOMA’s repeal, and we now have the 10 votes needed to pass it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The next step is to pressure Patrick Leahy, the committee chair, to hold hearings on the Respect for Marriage Act. So Vermonters, you know what to do: go to leahy.senate.gov and tell him it’s time to hold hearings on the Respect for Marriage Act.

In the mean time, we can all mark our calendars for June 13. That’s going to be a big day in the Prop 8 case, as we’ll be hearing arguments on two separate controversial issues.

The first is whether the public should be allowed to see videotapes of the Prop 8 trial from last year. The answer, obviously, is yes, because we do not live in a country that makes a habit of holding secret trials. But the anti-marriage folks don’t want anyone to see how badly they lost, so they’re making the public jump through all these hoops in order to see our own justice system at work.

The second question is even more unbelievable. They’re saying that Judge Walker’s ruling on marriage should be thrown out because he might want to get married someday. Not that he said he would get married, not that he tried once before, just might. Hypothetically. Maybe. Or not. Who knows?

If that sounds crazy to you, you’re not alone. Just about every legal analyst in the country is shocked that they’re trying to make an issue out of Judge Walker’s marital plans.

It just doesn’t make sense — not even to their own people. Here’s what Maggie Gallagher had to say a few months ago about whether it was relevant that Judge Walker was rumored to have a partner.

MAGGIE GALLAGHER: First of all, it’s relevant. It could be relevant. It’s not irrelevant. If he had upheld Prop 8, I think it would be even more relevant. I don’t believe that it’s totally irrelevant. I’m not sure it is relevant, in the sense that I do know a small number of people who supported Prop 8 who were gay. So it’s not necessarily relevant.

Maybe they’ll get their story straight by June.

There was a big disappointment in Rhode Island this week, with House Speaker Gordon Fox deciding that they didn’t have enough votes to pass a marriage law this year. As a result, they’ll be introducing a civil unions bill on Tuesday of this week.

It’s a big letdown, especially since polls in Rhode Island showed that voters supported the marriage bill and nobody’s satisfied with the civil unions compromise. Civil rights groups say that it doesn’t go far enough, while the Catholic Diocese said this week that it doesn’t want gay families to have any protections.

Things are even worse in Minnesota, where lawmakers are moving towards implementing a second marriage on top of an already existing prohibition. The proposed constitutional amendment passed the Senate Judiciary 8 to 4 on party lines, and is expected to pass the House and Senate later this year, which would put it before voters in 2012.

There’s a bit more cause for optimism in New York, where marriage currently has 26 of the 32 votes needed to pass the Senate. Several lawmakers have yet to take a stand, including Democrats Joe Addabbo and Shirley Huntley of Queens, and Republicans James Alesi of Fairport, Greg Ball of Brewster, and Joseph Griffo of Utica. Empire State Pride Agenda will hold a lobbying day for marriage in Albany on May 9, but a week later NOM and its allies will hold an anti-marriage rally on May 15.

Meanwhile, Equality Ohio founder Lynne Bowman will serve as interim Executive Director of Equality Maryland while that organization searches for a permanent leader. Morgan Meneses-Sheets was abruptly fired last week after a disappointing legislative session. Her replacement will be expected to revive attempts to pass marriage and anti-discrimination laws in 2012.

And Poland announced this week that the country would soon allow its citizens living abroad to get married, although Poland itself still wouldn’t recognize those marriages.

Those are the headlines. Visit MarriageNewsWatch.com for more on all of these stories, and head over to Facebook.com/MarriageNewsWatch and click “Like” to get news alerts and headlines right on your wall. Click over here to subscribe to weekly updates, or over to the right to watch some of our previous episodes, such as our interview with Josh Vandiver about how DOMA could separate him from his husband, and our interview with Friendfactor’s Brian Elliot about moving New York legislators closer to marriage.

We’ll see you next week.

May 2, 2011 at 6:27 am 30 comments

Couples Torn Apart by the Government: Marriage News Watch for April 25, 2011

By Matt Baume

There’s going to be marriage more than ever before, with another survey showing majority support for the freedom to marry. So why are Republicans spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend a law that could tear apart legally married couples like Henry and Josh? There’s promising signs for marriage in New York and Scotland, but a legal setback in Montana is likely to postpone weddings for years. And the internet’s most popular weekly LGBT marriage news video show gets a brand new logo.

You’ve probably noticed that “This Week in Prop 8” is now “Marriage News Watch.” It’s basically the same show, only with a better name, a better website, a better logo, and now I’m standing on the left.

Click here to subscribe to our new YouTube channel, and visit us over at MarriageNewsWatch.com to find our new Facebook page, our Twitter feed, our RSS feed, and our email newsletter.

And there’s also one more change: more guests and contributors. And that’s where you come in. Whatever the name, I produce this show for the LGBT community, because we’re all fighting for marriage equality together. And now the show’s not just FOR the community — it’s also going to be BY the community.

I interview a lot of leaders and newsmakers, and I want to hear from you. If there’s news happening near you — a hearing, a protest, someone hurt by discrimination — get in touch with us so we can share your story.

For example, here’s some photos of the tax day protest in Los Angeles last week. Nothing too fancy — the organizers at GetEQUAL just took a few photos, sent ’em along, and now we all can see what happened and get inspired to take our own actions.

And even if nothing’s happening right now, we still want to have an army of newswatchers on the ground, to be the first to let the community know when something important pops up.

We have eyes and ears all over the world. So let’s get connected. Write to contact@marriagenewswatch.com if you’ve got a story to tell right now, or if you can sit tight and sound the alarm when news happens near you.

Let’s take a look at news headlines this week — there’s a lot to talk about.

Another survey this week shows national majority support for marriage. This time it’s a CNN poll that puts us ahead by 51 to 47 percent. Now, that’s still a narrow margin, but they didn’t interview people under 35, so the number’s likely higher.

This is the fourth recent survey to show us pulling ahead, but Congressional Republicans are still pursuing regressive anti-gay campaigns.

This past week John Boehner revealed that he’s hired Paul Clement, a lawyer with the firm King & Spalding, to defend the Defense of Marriage Act. Taxpayers are going to pay big for Clement. He typically charges $900 an hour, and although he’s giving Boehner a slight discount, his contract sets aside half a million dollars, just for starters.

That contract also contains a gag order, preventing any King & Spalding employees from advocating for DOMA’s repeal. The firm currently has a rating of 95% from the Human Rights Campaign, but not for long. HRC has launched a campaign to make sure King & Spaulding’s clients, employees, and law schools know that the firm’s raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars by actively harming LGBT gay couples.

For an example of that harm, we don’t have to look any further than Josh Vandiver and Henry Velandia in New Jersey, who Courage Campaign and AllOut have filmed and on who behalf launched an emergency petition to Secretary Napolitano. Now, even though they’re legally married, the Department of Homeland Security is trying to deport Henry back to Venezuela.

This Friday, Immigration and Customs denied a request to terminate removal proceedings. They didn’t have to do that. They have the freedom to put cases like those on hold. And in fact, they do it all the time for straight couples. For example, with the widows of combat veterans.

Henry and Josh aren’t asking the government to recognize their marriage, just to respect it. But time’s running out — they’ll have their final deportation hearing on May 6th. For more information, let’s turn to one of the men at the center of that story.

MATT: We’re talking to Josh Vandiver right now. Josh is facing a deportation of his partner Henry. Josh, I want to get some more details about who you guys are. How did you meet Henry?

JOSH: Well Henry and I met here in Princeton, New Jersey, four and half years ago now. And we sort of hit it off immediately. I hadn’t ever had that experience with anyone else. We went to dinner, I remember sitting across from the dinner table with him and there was a little light between us, and it was lighting up his face and his smile. And I sort of forgot about what he was saying at certain points just because I was enamored with him. And we ended up spending every day with each other after that point and moved in after a few months and it was all happily ever after from that point on.

MATT: Was there a point at which you knew this is the guy that I want to spend the rest of my life with?

JOSH: It was interesting, we never fought, we always just loved being with each other over the months and years that we were together, so within a year or two we started thinking, at least I started seriously thinking, yeah, this is the person that I’d like to marry and spend the rest of my life with.

MATT: How long have you been together?

JOSH: Well four and half years, almost, and then we’ve been married for eight months or so. We married in August of 2010.

MATT: It must be difficult to plan your life together and your careers with this uncertainty about his citizenship hanging over your heads.

JOSH: Yeah, it’s a huge uncertainty. I mean, my future is being determined on May 6th as well. That’s the date when Henry’s judge could say that GHenry is going to be deported shortly thereafter. So I can’t go about building my life with him. We can’t build our life together with that date hanging over us like that. He’s a dancer, a salsa dancer, I’m a graduate student in politics, I want to be a professor someday. So that’s our life, and we want to just go about building it together. That’s why we to get past this threat of deportation which is so amazing that this could something that an American would be facing. Having their spouse deported.

MATT: Now that you’re facing this potential separation, can you imagine how you would say goodbye to Henry if the country made him leave?

JOSH: No. I couldn’t imagine saying goodbye to my spouse. I mean, it would be a minimum of ten years that we would be separated if that were to happen. And I’m determined not to let that happen. Not to let my spouse be deported and separated from me like that. There are so many other couples like us who are facing this kind of situation, with their spouse being ripped away from them. And it’s unnecessary. The executive branch could decide right now to stop these deportations. We understand that the Defense of Marriage Act is the law of the land as the President has said, but there’s nothing that dictates that he has to, and his administration have to actively prosecution the deportations of spouses of American citizens, due to a law that he thinks is unconstitutional.

MATT: So, if people want to help and contribute to this cause of stopping these deportations, what do you recommend, how can people get involved?

JOSH: The most urgent thing is that we all have to work in ways to convince secretary Napolitano and Holder, the Attorney General, to take these steps. We can do that by contacting our congresspeople, our Senators and Congressmen. We have a petition to Napolitano. And urging them to take action, basically. The executive branch. We have a petition you can find thought our Facebook page, Facebook.com/saveourmarriage, and there’s a petition through AllOut.org, which is a major organization that’s helping us as well. And then each of us individually can contact our members of Congress. And ultimately, they need to join the handfull of members of Congress that have already done so in calling on Napolitano to make this decision right away, it’s urgent. This is irreparable harm that I as an American and other Americans will suffer if our spouses are taken away from us while this Defense of Marriage Act is being challenged and its fate determined.

MATT: Yeah. Time’s really of the essence. So hopefully we can get as many people involved as possible. Josh, thank you so much for speaking with us and I really wish you the best of luck with pursuing this.

JOSH: Thank you very much Matt.

You can help Josh and Henry by signing the emergency petition, and by putting pressure on your Congresspeople. Call their offices and ask if they’ve signed the letters to Janet Napolitano, asking to halt deportation proceedings for LGBT couples. If they have, say thanks. If they’re on the fence or if they haven’t, tell them about Henry and Josh.

Meanwhile, while we ratchet up the noise on immigration, marriage might finally happen in New York state. For more on that situation, let’s check in with Cathy Marino-Thomas, Board President of Marriage Equality New York.

MATT: Cathy, it looks like the legislature is going to take up the marriage equality bill soon. Any estimate for when that’s going to happen?

CATHY: Well, we’ve heard anywhere from three weeks to six weeks. So we’re hoping for the three weeks.

MATT: Right. Things didn’t go so smoothly in 2009, what’s going to be different this time around?

CATHY: Well, you know, the governor is a much more politically powerful person than our last governor was. Although he was fabulous. This governor seems to have relationships on both sides of the aisle, that’ll be extremely helpful. He’s from a political family. They’re very well-connected and they do very well on social justice type issues. He has a very good record. He’s putting an awful lot of promise behind this. We are also working … there are much more volunteers on the ground this time. There’s much more concentrated effort. More in the bipartisan way. So I think all in all, I think we’re looking at a really strong momentum here in New York.

MATT: What’s Marriage Equality New York doing to push this forward.

CATHY: We have volunteers out every night, getting letters signed, making flash phone calls on cell phones to Senators’ offices, at train stations and bus depots, in front of supermarkets and in malls. We’re targeting the Senators a little better. We have, oh my God, we are working all over the state this time, we have everywhere from western New York to very high up North, to the city areas and all the boroughs. We’re working with HRC and Empire State Pride Agenda, with GetEQUAL, with Marriage Equality New York. All in coalition together. Freedom to Marry is on board here. We have coordinated press releases going out. We’re just getting it in the news everywhere we can. Queer Rising has been wonderful with some street action around this. As we all know, no social justice issue gets accomplished without a good street action or two. So really, everyone is just putting everything they have into it this time.

MATT: New York already has domestic partnerships, what’s an example of a situation where domestic partnership just isn’t the same, or isn’t good enough as a substitute and people need marriage?

CATHY: Well, domestic partnerships here in New York are really territorial. So we have one domestic partnership that’s only for New York City and the five boroughs. Outside of that, there is no coverage. That will gain you around ten rights. And just for the record it costs a dollar more than a marriage license. Just saying.

MATT: So if people want to get involved and help out, what should they do, where should they go?

CATHY: www.MENY.us for Marriage Equality New York. To get involved with the grassroots effort. That’s the most direct way you can get to us though our direct website, or through Marriage Equality USA as well, there’s a link on that website that also will bring you to us.

MATT: And are there ways for people around the country who may not be in New York to help?

CATHY: Oh yes. You can donate through either Marriage Equality USA or Marriage Equality New York directly. You can do phone calls online much like we’re communicating now. We have systems now where we can set you up with a little list of the right senators to call and you can call them remotely. The letter writing is always good. And through Facebook, also if you know anyone in New York, you can connect them with us through Facebook, on Twitter, through the website, and in all the various additional ways.

MATT: Fantastic. Cathy Marino-Thomas is the Board President of Marriage Equality New York. Cathy, thank you so much for joining us.

CATHY: Thank you and I know we’ll be speaking again through this next few weeks, so thanks Matt.

MATT: All right.

CATHY: Have a good night.

MATT: Thanks.

Now for a quick roundup of headlines around the world.

A setback in Montana as a judge rules that he can’t force the legislature to provide marriage equality. The ACLU is likely to appeal that ruling.

After a disappointing legislative session, Equality Maryland’s board has fired executive director Morgan Meneses-Sheets.

Over in Scotland, four out of five major parties support marriage for gay couples. And as Prince William and Kate Middleton gear up for their wedding, protests at Buckingham Palace are pushing the couple to support marriage for British subjects.

That’s the news this week. Thanks for joining us.

Remember, we have all new everything now that we’re Marriage News Watch. Click here to subscribe to our new YouTube channel, and visit us over at MarriageNewsWatch.com to find our new Facebook page, our Twitter feed, our RSS feed, and our email newsletter.

Or you can take a shortcut and go to MNwatch.com.

See you next week.

April 25, 2011 at 11:42 am 37 comments

Prop 8 Complaint Backfires Spectacularly: This Week in Prop 8 for April 18, 2011

Leaked footage of the Prop 8 trial sparked a legal tug of war this week, with anti-gay groups renewing efforts to keep their work out of public view. Delaware’s on track to be the 8th state to offer marriage-ish protections, and activists gear up in New York.

This is our last episode of “This Week in Prop 8.” Next week we’re launching a brand new news show, with a more national focus and more headlines from around the country than ever before. It’s going to be great.

And it’s fitting that our final episode of this show starts where we began, with Proposition 8.

There was a lot of legal excitement this week over leaked footage of the Prop 8 trial. Or … is it leaked? It’s hard to know what exactly to call it.

Here’s what happened: Last year, Judge Vaughn Walker wanted to televise the Prop 8 trial, anti-gay groups wanted to keep it secret, and the US Supreme Court ruled that the trial could be taped, but not broadcast.

So, until now, we’ve never seen the actual trial. Then Judge Walker retired. And a few weeks later, he gave a talk about cameras in the courtroom in which he showed a few short never-before-seen clips of the trial.

Now these were not particularly revealing clips. In fact, here’s what they look like. Kind of hard to make anything out, not really a huge deal.

But for some reason, the Prop 8 proponents decided to make some noise about it.

To paraphrase, they told Vaughn Walker, “hey, you’re not allowed to do that, and you have to get rid of that footage.” To which Vaughn Walker said, “I think I am allowed to that, and I’m only going to get rid of it if someone makes me.”

Then our side got involved and said, “not only is he allowed to do that, and not only are you not allowed to stop him, but the public should have access to ALL the footage, not just a few clips.”

Then the city and county of San Francisco wrote a filing of its own, which boils down to, “the Prop 8 proponents can’t show any harm from releasing these videos. And besides, they’ve been begging for attention outside of court.”

San Francisco had good timing with that argument, because it came on the same day that various members of the anti-gay industry staged a hearing in Washington DC. And they had no problem publicly denouncing gay couples there. So obviously, they’re only camera shy if they can’t control the venue.

But that’s the whole point of a trial — when you’re up on the stand, you don’t get to control the court. And if you admit that you’re wrong, you don’t get to add, “but don’t tell anyone.”

Now it’s up to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. They could recall the clips, or, now that the issue’s come up, they could decide release everything.

So, ultimately, it’s huge miscalculation by the Prop 8 proponents. It was just a few fuzzy minutes of video, and if they hadn’t said anything, it would have flown under the radar. But because they complained, now the whole thing might finally be released.

We’ll keep an eye on it and let you know what happens.

Meanwhile this week in Delaware the House overwhelmingly approved civil unions by a margin of 26 to 15. The bill was already passed 13 to 6 in the Senate, and now it heads to Governor Jack Markell, who has said that he’ll sign it.

Of course, civil unions are nice, but what we really want is to get married.

That’s why New York is the state to watch right now. Legislators in Albany are likely to consider a marriage bill at some point in the next few weeks. At this point, it’s impossible to guess what’s going to happen. On one hand, Governor Andrew Cuomo has said that he’ll give his full attention to getting the bill passed. And a survey last week showed that we have the support of 58 percent of New York voters.

But Republicans control the Senate right now, and they’ve managed to kill marriage in the past. That’s why it’s crucial for New York residents to tell their legislators to support the marriage bill.

The good news is that FriendFactor.org has come up with a new tool to make it easier than ever to contact New York State Senators. The site lets you create a goal, for example, getting 25 of your friends to call their Senators. Then as your friends make those calls, your progress bar fills up like a fundraising thermometer. I have an interview with them here.

For more on all these stories, visit us over at Stop8.org. Click here to subscribe, and click here to watch previous episodes. We’ll see you next week on a brand new show.

April 18, 2011 at 8:15 am 37 comments

Boehner’s Blank Check to Anti-Gay Lawyers: This Week in Prop 8 for April 11, 2011

By Matt Baume

Why did John Boehner sign up for a protracted legal fight over anti-gay laws without first finding out what it was going to cost taxpayers? Hope is on the way for gay couples facing homelessness due to discriminatory Medicaid policies. Civil unions advance in Delaware but marriage is on the rocks in Rhode Island. And will we see Prop 8 back on the ballot in 2012?

Last month House Speaker John Boehner committed the government to covering the cost of defending the Defense of Marriage Act, but this week he admitted that he still has no idea what that cost is actually going to be. DOMA’s a widely unpopular anti-gay law, but Boehner’s plan is to just keep paying lawyers indefinitely to defend it, which is easy to do when you’re paying them with someone else’s money.

Congressional Democrats aren’t letting the subject drop. Back in March, Nancy Pelosi asked Boehner’s office for cost estimates and still hasn’t heard back. Now she’s been joined by Michigan’s John Conyers, Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin, Colorado’s Jared Polis, Rhode Island’s David Cicilline, and Barney Frank of Massachusetts.

You can help keep the pressure up. Contact your members of Congress and tell them that if Boehner’s going to put taxpayers on the hook for defending DOMA, you want to know the price tag.

Of course, it makes sense that Boehner wouldn’t care about DOMA’s cost to the government. He’s already shown that he doesn’t care about its cost to private citizens, from unfair taxes to life-ruining medical expenses to surprise deportations that forcibly separate legally married couples.

But even as Boehner runs up huge legal fees on the taxpayer’s dime, other government agencies are taking steps to protect gay families.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is preparing new guidelines for extending equal medical coverage to low-income LGBT couples. Currently, straight couples have what’s called “spousal impoverishment protection,” which protects them from having to deplete all of their savings and assets before qualifying for Medicaid.

Gay couples don’t have those protections. So if one of them gets sick, Medicaid forces gay couples — and only gay couples — to spend down half of their joint savings and to give up all the sick spouse’s income. If one of them dies and the surviving spouse inherits their home, Medicaid will sue the survivor for back costs, often forcing the surviving elder spouse out of their family home.

When the new protections come, they’re likely to be voluntary for each state. That’s in part because DOMA specifically prevents the federal government from enforcing uniform protection for LGBT couples.

Nevertheless, in states that do recognize those marriages, new protections could save senior citizens from losing their entire savings and their homes.

This is thanks in large part to an Obama administration directive to the Department of Health and Human services, instructing them to address disparities in LGBT health care. So as we head in the 2012 presidential election, if you hear anyone ask, “What’s Obama done for us lately?” you’ve got an answer.

And that’s just one area where DOMA is hurting us. In previous episodes, we’ve talked about how the country denies spousal green cards to gay couples. But the chorus of voices protesting that policy is growing louder.

This week five congressional representatives and twelve senators criticized the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security for continuing the policy of forcibly separating married binational couples. They’re pushing for DHS to use what’s called “prosecutorial discretion,” a practice that allows them to put deportations on hold until pending issues are resolved.

DHS has said that they’ll respond to the requests soon, and this is another area where you can help. Contact your members of Congress now and tell them to join Senator John Kerry and Representative Rush Holt in demanding an end to the deportations until the DOMA situation is resolved.

Turning to states, marriage equality legislation is in jeopardy in Rhode Island this week. We’re still just a few votes short of passage in the House, and even shorter in the Senate. If you’re in Rhode Island, your state representatives need to hear from you now.

But there’s good news in Delaware, where a civil unions bill easily passed the Senate by 13 to 6 and now heads to a supportive House and then to the Governor, who has said that he will sign the bill into law.

Meanwhile, Equality California is taking a closer look at overturning Prop 8 at the ballot box in 2012, and they want to know what you think. They’ve launched an online survey at EQCA.org, and in late Spring, they’ll hold ten town halls around California to gauge public sentiment.

Now, we’ve been through this before. In 2009, a whole host of organizations did similar outreach and got mixed results. On one hand, the LGBT community tended to want to return to the ballot in 2010. But on the other hand, polling indicated that voters needed more outreach and education than a 2010 campaign would have given us time for.

A small group of activists tried to get on the ballot for 2010, but without any money or the backing of major organizations, they didn’t get very far.

We could wind up seeing a repeat of that situation in 2012. But a lot has changed in the last two years. So this is an important opportunity to re-examine what we want, and how voters are likely to respond to a campaign.

And finally this week, you’ll never guess who’s out of the closet. Judge Vaughn Walker, who declared Prop 8 unconstitutional back in August, has finally started talking about his gentleman friend in public and scoffed at the idea that gay judges should have to recuse themselves from cases involving gay plaintiffs.

So welcome, Judge Walker, to being publicly out. We’re looking forward to seeing your It Gets Better video.

You can watch our It Gets Better video, which just topped one hundred thousand views, by clicking over here. You can click here to subscribe and remember to Like us over at Facebook.com/stop8.

And don’t forget to contact your congresspeople to demand answers about the cost of defending DOMA, and about keeping families united by stopping deportations.

See you next week.

April 11, 2011 at 10:03 am 29 comments

Politicians and Gay Bashers: This Week in Prop 8 for April 4, 2011

By Matt Baume

What’s the connection between this anti-gay assault in New York and this anti-gay politician in California? We’ll take a closer look at both this week, and analyze some new ads airing in Oregon. There’s been significant movement around the country on civil unions, and Montana Republicans are backing an bill that could send any gay couple to prison for up to ten years. All that plus an interview with Lavi Soloway, the attorney at the center of efforts to protect bi-national couples from forced deportation.

This is surveillance footage of two men assaulting Damian Furtch on March 27 in New York. This assault was accompanied by anti-gay epithets and left Damian with two black eyes, a broken nose, and stitches.

So, what does this have to do with Senator Bob Huff, a Republican representing California’s 29th District? Well, just a few days before Damian’s assault, the California Senate Education Committee heard testimony on SB48. Senate Bill 48 corrects the straight-washing of California curriculum, which currently requires that students learn about the cultural and historic contributions of every group except LGBTs. It’s important that we end our exclusion for a lot of reasons, but the most urgent is that we know that learning about LGBT figures in schools reduces anti-LGBT harassment.

A recent California study shows that harassment more than doubles, from 11% to 24%, when schools fail to include LGBT curriculum. SB48 protects children and stops gay-bashing. But Republicans like Bob Huff are cynically using it for ideological pandering. Listen to how he describes a bill that would save kids’ lives.

Huff: “To sexualize the training of our children at an early age, I do believe it will promote the agenda, and I think that’s what is of concern.”

We’re going to have more on SB48 later this week, in a special episode that picks apart all the anti-gay rhetoric that came out of this hearing. So, for now, how can you help?

If you’re in California, contact your representatives at leginfo.ca.gov. The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to hear the bill very soon. And no matter where you are, you can help put copies of the new It Gets Better book into schools around the country. All it takes is a $25 donation. Visit bit.ly/IGBdonate to help put this book where it’s needed most: in the hands of vulnerable, isolated youth who are suffering in districts like Bob Huff’s.

Turning to marriage news, it’s been a busy week across the country, with good news in Oregon, Illinois, Iowa, Delaware, Washington, and Rhode Island. And bad news in Colorado, Montana, and Indiana.

Let’s start with the good news. There’s nothing happening right now in Oregon with marriage equality — no ballot measures, no hearings, no proposed legislation. And makes it the perfect time to MAKE something happen.

Basic Rights Oregon has just started airing TV commercials that feature gay couples and allies talking about their lives and the challenges that they face because they can’t get married.

Now, these are very gentle, sweet, non-confrontational ads, just like the ones running right now in Rhode Island and the ones that ran in California and Maine right before those elections. Those ads were a problem because they didn’t respond to the harsh attacks of the anti-gay industry, which kept hammering arguments about kids and schools.

In California, it took weeks for the No On Prop 8 campaign to respond, by which time they’d lost crucial voters in the mom demographic. And in Maine, even though the campaign responded quickly, they were never able to match the sense of danger and threat that the anti-gay side put forth. That’s crazy: we’re the ones at risk, and yet for some reason, their ads convinced voters that it was the other way around.

But the situation is Oregon is different. Because they’re between elections, they probably won’t have to respond to any attack ads. So this is a chance to talk about our families on their own terms.

That might work. But any advances that we make could be undone if Basic Rights Oregon isn’t prepared to respond to harsh attacks that will eventually come.

Also this week, an attempt to put marriage discrimination into the Illinois Constitution was effectively ended when it was sent to a subcommittee. The anti-gay bill isn’t getting out of there anytime soon, because that particular subcommittee doesn’t have any members. And that’s how democracy works in Illinois.

A similar amendment also died in Iowa this week. It never really had a shot, because Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal said he’d block it. But it didn’t make a Friday cutoff so it’s done for 2011.

Delaware’s playing catchup with a civil unions bill. It passed a Senate subcommittee this week, and now goes to the full floor for debate.

Meanwhile, a special new domestic partner bill passed the Washington state Senate 29 to 19 this week, and heads to governor. Washington already has domestic partnerships, but this bill would allow the state to recognize marriages from out of state. So if you’re vacationing in Seattle with your husband and he gets sick, you won’t have to worry about the hospital shutting you out.

This patchwork state-by-state approach will have to continue until we are able to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act. Until then, gay couples will have to cope with wildly different laws depending on what state they’re from and what state they’re in.

This week Marriage Equality Rhode Island invited Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin to visit Rhode Island and tell lawmakers about how marriage equality has benefited his state.

Time is running out in Rhode Island. The deadline for legislators to vote on marriage equality is June, so if you’re in Rhode Island, contact your legislators today by going to sos.ri.gov/vic. Even though the marriage equality bill is supported by the public, by the governor, and by a lot of legislators, they still haven’t scheduled a vote.

Now, some bad news. Seventy-two percent of Coloradans support civil union legislation, but Republicans in the House Judiciary Committee killed this bill this week. That leaves gay Coloradans vulnerable to all kinds of risks and penalties, from denial of hospital visitation to denial of health coverage to gay death taxes.

Things are even worse in Indiana. That state already prohibits marriage equality, but the Senate just overwhelmingly passed a second ban, just in case the first one is found unconstitutional.

And it’s been nearly fifteen years since the Montana Supreme Court found that state’s ban on gay sex unconstitutional, but Republican lawmakers voted this week to keep the law on the books. Gay Montanans caught in bed together are looking at a fifty thousand dollar fine, and ten years in prison.

Nationally, the Defense of Marriage Act put gay couples through a roller-coaster this week, starting with some bad news, then some good news and then some more good news and then some bad news.

It’s complicated. But Lavi Soloway, the lawyer at the center of the legal turmoil, is joining us to explain what’s going on.

MATT: So, we’re talking again with Lavy Soloway, the founder of Immigration Equality and Stop the Deportations. It’s been kind of a roller coaster ride for gay couples. At the end of last week we thought that there had been a precedent set in the way that binational couples’ cases were going to be adjudicated. But then this week there were a bunch of ups and downs as conflicting messages came out. So, Lavi, what are gay coupoles … what have they been though in just the last week or two?

LAVI: Well, you’re right that last week we had a big success in immigration court for one lesbian couple who won a reprieve on their deportation based on their marriage. And then on Friday we had surprising news which was broken by Newsweek that several individual district office of the immigration servie had been accepting green card applications filed by married gay and lesbian couples and then holding the decisions on those cases. In other words, not denying them. And that was really important news for gay and lesbian couples who are desperately waiting for the day when they can apply for green cards because what it meant was that potentially folks could file these applications, and then have them held indefinitely, obtain legal status, obtain employment authorization, obtain protection from deportation. And the decisions on those cases which would today have to be denials because of the Defense of Marriage Act, would be put off to a later date, hopefully a date beyond the Supreme Court Decision on the Defense of Marriage Act or beyond Congressional action to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. Now, unfortunately, that news was very quickly followed by more statements from the Department of Homeland Security clarifying that this seeming policy of abeyance would be only a temporary one and that it was further clarified that it would not exist at all. What seemed like a glimmer of hope for all the couples who are trying to prevent deportation, it was taken away. So it was an emotional roller coaster of a week.

MATT: So the case two weeks ago that had everybody really enthusiastic, Monica and Christina, the result there was that their case was held in abeyance. Is that going to end now? Do they lose that now?

LAVY: No, no, and their case actually wasn’t held in abeyance. So let me be really clear about what happened over the last few days. And what’s happening in immigration court for married gay and lesbian couples. In the last few days we learned that the administrative agency that accepts applications and petitions, which is called USCIS, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, was accepting applications and petitions and then holding on to them. We then learned that they would not be doing that. What Monica and Christina achieved however was to be able to persuade an immigration judge that for as long as they are pursuing a marriage-based case, and that means fighting it past a denial, potentially appealing that, the immigration judge decided that they should not — their immigration proceedings should not continue. They should be adjourned so that the couple can take their fight all the way to the end. So that two things, while they are related, they’re not so closely related that Monica and Christina need to be particularly fearful that their win is somehow less than a win.

MATT: So, it sounds like this is just purely about policy, a discretionary policy move to start the abeyances back up. Do we have any sense of whose ear we nee to have in the administration to make that change?

LAVY: I think primarily Janet Napolitano. And also Eric Holder. And ultimately if neither of those two cabinet secretaries feel that both the legal and the political terrain, which is tough, admittedly, if neither of them feel that that legal or political terrain is something that they can overcome in the near future for us, then we need to bring the attention to this issue directly to the White House. And what’s at stake here, let’s be really clear, is gay and lesbian couples who are lawfully married, are being torn apart every day by deportation by separation, by forced expatriation of American citizens’ spouses, because of the lack of recognition of their marriages. What we’re asking for is not that their marriages be recognized under law, because the law currently prevents that. What we’re asking for is that their marriages currently be respected, and that their families be protected. And that’s something that is within the power of the executive branch. If that decision cannot be made by Janet Napolitano and Eric Holder, then it needs to be a decision made by the President of the United States. This is a President that definitely understands that gay and lesbian couples need legal protection. They need legal recognition. And he is doing what he believes is in his power to move the issue forward to that conclusion. Unfortunately, when it comes to deportation, we don’t have a lot of time. We don’t have the benefit of waiting out the legislative process or waiting out the legal process for the cases that are headed to the Supreme Court in the next few years. We need interim measures to be put into place now to make sure that individuals like Monica and many others who are facing deportation are protected.

MATT: Well, Lavy Soloway, thank you again very much for joining us. This is a fast moving case and there’s a lot at stake in a very short amount of time.

LAVY: My pleasure, Matt.

For more information on all of these stories, visit us over at Stop8.org. Click over here to subscribe to weekly updates, and click here to watch some past episodes. You can also join us on Facebook over at facebook.com/stop8.

See you next week.

April 4, 2011 at 4:51 pm 21 comments

DOMA Doubts Rescue Couples from Deportation: This Week in Prop 8 for March 28, 2011

Matt’s usual Monday feature didn’t go up while I was away, so here it is. -Adam

By Matt Baume

Sex sells when it comes to marriage equality, with a male modeling agency lending its talents to a new fundraising campaign. A reprieve for a woman facing deportation proves just how important marriage can be. Meanwhile, more voters than ever support the freedom to marry, so why aren’t politicians listening?

Sexy torsos! A group of male models are showing their support for marriage equality by signing their names to a Shepard Fairy poster which will then be auctioned to support the grassroots organization FAIR.

It’s a lovely poster, and it’s very nice that the Nous Model Management company is supporting this project. But I gotta say, the primary appeal of these men is probably not their signatures. You have to wonder if maybe they could’ve raised more money and awareness by auctioning off pictures of themselves.

I mean, the only reason I’m even talking about this is so I can flash shirtless men on screen at the top of the show. There’s nothing better than sex for getting people interested in a cause.

But either way, it’s very nice that they’re doing this, and hopefully we’ll see more things like this that feature people of color, women, diverse body types, the disabled … something representative of our entire community.

Turning to Prop 8 news, this week the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals turned down a request to lift the stay that prevents gay couples from getting married right now. Even though Prop 8 has been already found unconstitutional, it’s still in place while the anti-gay industry appeals.

That’s hurting gay couples right now who need access to marriage. And even though we can demonstrate the harm of that keeping Prop 8 in place causes, the court wants to play it safe until all the appeals are done.

So, why is access to marriage so important? We got a great answer to that question this week when a judge in New York halted the deportation of woman because she was able to get married.

For more information about that case, let’s talk to her attorney, Lavi Soloway.

MATT: So I’m talking today with Lavi Soloway. He has great news this week for bi-national couples. So, Lavi, tell me a little about Monica and Christina.

LAVI: Well, Monica came from Argentina about 10 years ago. And in the process of getting together in their relationship, they decided to move in together. And Christina at the time was finishing her studies up at college in Buffalo, and Monica and Christina went up on a bus to go get the last of her things to move them down to New York City.

And while they were on the bus, it stopped in Rochester, New York, and the border patrol got on the bus, asked everybody for their papers, and found that Monica was in the United States without legal status and took her away. And Monica was detained in a detention facility in New Jersey for three months, and eventually released and then placed into deportation proceedings.

MATT: And what does that look like, what happens when somebody’s in deportation proceedings?

LAVI: Well, of course deportation proceedings are somewhat of a euphemism, because there’s not a lot of proceeding. You go to court, you appear before a judge, and a judge determines whether you have any right to stay in the United States. And unfortunately for Monica, as for many of the foreign spouses and partners of gay and lesbian Americans, she didn’t have any kind of Visa status, and she didn’t have any kind of legal avenue to stay in the United States.

But she was married to a U.S. citizen. And she did want to assert her right to stay in the United States on the basis of that marriage.

MATT: So, fast-forwarding to their day in court, what were you arguing and what made things different this time?

LAVI: Well, what we argued this week in court was that the judge and the attorney representing the Department of Homeland Security should take note of the changing landscape of the Defense of Marriage Act. And what does that mean specifically? It means that they should take note of the fact first that the President and the Attorney General announced that they would no longer defend the defense of marriage act on February 23, and that they found the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional. But also that Congress, both the House and the Senate, were moving now to repeal it. And that legislation had been introduced.

And then of course, that previously, this summer, a federal district court judge had ruled the Defense of Marriage Act to be unconstitutional. And that taken together, all three branches were essentially working on the demise of the Defense of Marriage Act, that it would be premature to deport the spouse of a lesbian American citizen, while that was happening, when the Defense of Marriage Act was the only obstacle standing between them and a green card.

MATT: And how did they respond? How did the court respond?

LAVI: Well, of course we were very very pleased that both the judge and the government attorney were very open to this argument. And agreed to adjourn the proceedings and to allow Christina and Monica to pursue a marriage-based immigration case to its conclusion.

MATT: What do you put that down to? Why were they so receptive to this argument?

LAVI: Well, I think that in part it’s the conversation that we’re having in the United States outside of the courtroom. I think that in part it’s the polling data and the momentum of public opinion that really no longer sees gay and lesbian couples who are married as deserving of discrimination. And really there’s a lack of an argument to the other side.

And the other part of it is that the personal narrative of Christina and Monica wanting to be together and living together as spouses and being lawfully married under the laws of the state of Connecticut in this case, that’s a very powerful narrative, and when you look at them and you see their life together and you see in the paperwork they’ve provided all the evidence of a bona fide marriage, it’s hard to say to them, “you know what, sorry, we have to deport your spouse.”

So I think it’s a combination of the things going on outside the courtroom, and it’s the courage and the determination and ultimately the personal story of that couple that persuades both the judge and the government attorney to do the right thing.

MATT: So what are the next few months going to look like for this couple?

LAVI: Well we have some more filings. Now that we’ve been given this opportunity we’re going to file some more paperwork in support of the marriage case. And we’re going to keep track of the marriage case and see how the immigration service handles it. In any marriage case, usually it’s a heterosexual couple, but in any marriage case it’s typically a process that takes six to twelve months, so we have a ways to go, and we hope that ultimately their case will be approved and that Monica will get her green card on the basis of the marriage and the two will no longer have to go to immigration court.

MATT: Well, we’ll cross our fingers and hope for the best. Lavi Soloway is an immigration attorney and founder of Immigration Equality and Stop the Deportations. Lavi, thanks so much for speaking with us.

LAVI: Thanks, Matt.

Now, keep in mind that these legal proceedings are going to take months to years.

But there were some encouraging signs this week on DOMA repeal. We’re now just one vote shy of passing repeal in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Getting it passed there is going to be a big first step, and it’ll build momentum for full passage in the Senate.

Of course, the National Organization for Marriage is pushing back with all kinds of lies about DOMA. We put out a video last week that debunks all their crazy claims. You can click over here to watch it. And if you haven’t contacted your members of Congress yet to tell them why we need DOMA overturned, there’s never been a better time.

That’s because new polls show that a majority of Americans want DOMA repealed. It’s a big shift in public opinion, and smart politicians are listening.

This week in Colorado, the Colorado Senate passed a Civil Unions bill by a pretty large margin — 23 to 12, which included some Republicans voting for the bill. Now it goes to the House, where there should be enough votes to pass it, but other Republicans may try to kill the bill with procedural tricks.

And we’re losing ground in Indiana. Even though the state already bans gay couples from marrying, Republicans want to add a second ban in case the first one is found unconstitutional. That’s already passed the House, it passed the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. And it’s likely to pass the full Senate sometime soon. Then it goes to voters. And there’s some room for hope there. A new poll this week shows Indiana voters oppose the bill.

But of course, polls have wrongly shown us winning in the past.

And last, there’s good news coming out of Europe. Lichtenstein’s Parliament unanimously approved a limited form of civil unions called “partnerschaftsgesetz.” In England, where they’ve long had civil unions, Home Secretary Theresa May promised to move forward on full marriage equality. And civil unions are coming to a tiny island off the British coast called The Isle of Man. That’s a big deal, because the Isle of Man is relatively rural and conservative, and not at all what the name “Isle of Man” might lead you to hope.

Speaking of which, here are those torsos again, not really for any reason, just ta-da.

Now click over here to catch our previous episodes, and click over here to subscribe. And if you’ve already done that, then head over house.gov and senate.gov to tell your tell your elected officials that a majority of Americans support DOMA repeal.

See you next week.

March 30, 2011 at 11:00 am 25 comments

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