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Gay New Jersey couples seek marriage rights

Friday, November 6, 2009

NY Gov Shuffles his Legislative Deck for Equality

Governor Paterson of New York has begun to do exactly as I have said recently (see previous blog postings), to ensure he has a fighting chance to win his own re-election bid next year against Obama's wishes, the Same sex marriage ininitiave has landed on top of the deck with Paterson acting as the dealer.

The Democratic governor has issued a proclamation calling for an extraordinary session of both houses of the New York State Legislature to tackle a handful of issues. Specifically included is "marriage equality."

The issue has been on the front burner of the Empire State for at least a year. Paterson has been a vocal proponent of gay marriage. One of his first acts upon becoming governor was to recognize out-of-stage marriages as legal and binding. Paterson is an accidental governor. He was appointed after his predecessor, Eliot Spitzer, was caught in a prostitution scandal.

Paterson’s action on behalf of gay couples married elsewhere effectively legalized gay marriage in New York. In addition, several municipalities, including New York City and the surrounding suburbs, already have domestic partnerships.

Actual gay marriage in the Legislature has been tied up in the State Senate. The lower house, the Assembly, passed such a measure twice, the second time by a large margin. But the Senate has only fallen into Democratic hands for the first time in decades with this session. Then, earlier this year, a cabal of more conservative Democrats pulled a coup that resulted in the pro-gay marriage leader of the Senate being toppled.

Paterson is not crazy, although he might appear desperate to prove the nays wrong about his political will. He has continued to champion the directive, significantly dated two days after an election that saw a Republican resurgence and the defeat of gay marriage in Maine, serves as a call to activists on both sides. He is looking to rally the nation and GLBT community behind him and ride it all the way to re-election...that's politics.

The proclamation mentions the following hot-button issues that the Legislature has been skirting: the state’s budget, in a state of disrepair; (1) a reform of the public pension system that some say is bankrupting the state and New York City; (2)reform of the quasi-public authorities, which have been a cesspool of party patronage; "and Marriage Equality." (3)There are some other issues, like drunk-driving laws, as well.

"The time to act is now. The Deficit Reduction Plan, while painful, is necessary to keep our state afloat," Governor Paterson said. A press release from the governor’s office added that the session is meant to address "providing same-sex couples the same opportunity to enter into civil marriages as opposite-sex couples."

At least one state senator, in the Queens borough of New York City, has reportedly been considering relenting under the barrage of criticism, and may be changing to a "yes" vote.

The Hearts and Minds brought their Vote

Washington State voters approved the new "everything but marriage" law, and made history by expanding rights for domestic partners and marking the first time any state’s voters have approved a gay equality measure at the ballot box.

The new law adds benefits, such as the right to use sick leave to care for a domestic partner, and rights related to adoption, child custody and child support.

During the campaign, opponents argued the law is a stepping-stone to gay marriage. Gay rights activists countered that while the marriage debate was for another day, same-sex couples need additional legal protections and rights in the meantime.

The measure asked voters to approve or reject the latest expansion of the state’s domestic partnership law, granting registered domestic partners additional state rights previously given only to married couples. Full-fledged gay marriage is still not allowed under Washington law. This is something that I have been saying for months to our fellow blended families;..."fight for the issues that concern you instead of the titles you wish to be known by..".

Gay equality laws in other states, ranging from civil rights to gay marriage, have either been implemented by the courts or legislative process (See Nov 4 blog post "Hearts and Minds"). Voters have rejected gay marriage 31 states, most recently in Maine, where voters repealed a gay marriage law on Tuesday.

The underlying domestic partnership law, which the Legislature passed in 2007, provided hospital visitation rights, the ability to authorize autopsies and organ donations, and inheritance rights when there is no will.

Last year, lawmakers expanded the law to give domestic partners standing under laws covering probate and trusts, community property and guardianship.

"Our state made history today," said Anne Levinson, chairwoman of Washington Families Standing Together, and she's right. Just yesterday we were tweeting about how these laws for equality have long been implemented by legislatures, but here in Washington state, the people brought their own votes to the ballot boxes because in their hearts and in their minds, they knew it was the right thing to do.

Washington state, along with California, Oregon, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia, have laws that either recognize civil unions or domestic partnerships that afford same-sex couples similar rights to marriage.

Same-sex marriage is legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa and Vermont, and will start in New Hampshire in January. What's important to note here also is that the voters in Washington had a reason to support this initiative that has not been on any other ballot in the nation; these domestic partnerships are also for heterosexuals as well as long as one partner is at least 62 years old. This helps those who are afraid of losing pensions and benefits if they legally remarry.

They brought in another demographic. Equality is not about leveling the playing field for gays, its simply about leveling the playing field for us all. You legislation has to include other demographics or the people of that state will never get behind it. YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Are Gays Good for Parenting?

The ongoing battle over gay marriage in California -- legalized by the courts then overturned by voters who supported Proposition 8 in November -- has prompted some intriguing new questions.

Can anyone prove gay marriage harms traditional marriage? What's "harm" and what would "proof" be?

U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn Walker brought these up during a hearing on a lawsuit, brought by gay Californians and supported by the state's attorney general, claiming that Prop. 8 is unconstitutionally discriminatory.

According to an Associated Press story, Charles Cooper, lawyer for the group that sponsored Prop. 8 argued that it is "constitutionally valid because it furthers the states' goal of fostering 'naturally procreative relationships.' " But Cooper was flummoxed when the judge asked him where's the harm.

With no examples of harm at hand, Cooper argued that Californians are still "entitled" not to take the risk. Walker, however, ruled that the case could go forward.

The AP quotes Andy Pugno, general counsel to the coalition of religious and social conservative groups behind Prop. 8, who says the real impact is that the voters who overturned gay marriage "continue to be accused of being irrational and bigoted for restoring the traditional definition of marriage."

The idea that having babies is the one true purpose of marriage is rooted in a traditional, literal reading of the Bible, a reading that not everyone shares these days.

What do you think is the purpose of marriage? Are childless couples less truly married? What about couples who limit the number of children? Is their marriage not as valid? Has your marriage been harmed by gay couples, married or unmarried? How?

Big Wins for Gays in Detroit, FL and N.C-Not much Media!

Maine voters may have chosen to take marriage rights away from their neighbors, but not all was gloomy for LGBTs: three wins around the country brought victory to gay and lesbian politicians and their constituents.

In Chapel Hill, N.C., GLBT equality advocate Mark Kleinschmidt won as mayor against Matt Czajkowski and two others contenders, taking 49% of the overall vote, reported the Chapel Hill News on Nov. 4. Kleinschmidt’s victory marks the third time an openly gay candidate has won Chapel Hill’s mayoral office.

In St. Petersburg, Fla., the city council gained a new, and openly gay, member in the person of Steve Kornell, who won over Angela Rouson for the council’s District 5 seat with nearly 60% of the vote, making him the city’s first openly gay elected official. The seat became available when Jamie Bennett resigned to pursue a spot in the mayoral race, which was won by Bill Foster, reported a Nov. 4 St. Petersburg Times article posted at, which noted that the town’s leaders have historically been opposed to Pride events there.

The article quoted Kornell as saying, "The thing about making history is fine. But this campaign was really about the future of St. Petersburg and that’s what I plan to focus on for the next four years."

Said Rouson, "I have no regrets.... I am very proud and pleased and we worked very hard. I’m proud of the folks who worked for me. We fought a good fight. District 5 couldn’t have lost no matter what the results were."

Outgoing mayor Rick Baker praised both candidates, saying that Rouson "ran a great race. But the guy she ran against is a good guy and ran a great race, too. Nothing to be ashamed about."

And Detroit elected openly gay former Fox News reporter Charles Pugh as city council president, reported a Nov. 3 article at the Detroit Free Press.

Said Pugh, "This is unbelievable... It means Detroit has really wanted change for a very long time."

In other elections, Washington voters seemed poised to uphold state provisions for same-sex families granting most of the same state-level rights and protections enjoyed by married heterosexuals, but not calling such unions marriage.

Which Came First; Hearts & Minds or the Vote?

A Michigan City Commission originally approved the ordinance in late 2008 by a unanimous vote, but was challenged earlier by an opposition group seeking to overturn the 'equality ruling. Yesterday, November 3, the people of Michigan once again voted with their hearts and affirmed the earlier unanimous vote to save 'equality.

This pattern of events will sound very familiar to those who have followed the fight for equality at the municipal level. Similar ordinances were proposed in Montgomery County, Maryland and Gainesville, Florida over the last two years, evoking similar reactions from groups opposed to LGBT equality. Also very similar are the tactics those groups have adopted to preserve the ability to discriminate without consequence. In each case, opposition groups focused their attacks on the proposed gender identity protections, claiming that they would make it legal for male sexual predators to enter women’s public restrooms. In Kalamazoo, the opposition group Citizens Voting No stooped even lower, airing TV ads that mocked specific transgender women, using their photos without permission and repeatedly referring to them as men.

A deep and bitter disappointment however from Maine yesterday: Maine voters have passed a devastating Proposition 8-style measure overturning the state’s marriage equality law.

Our hearts are with everyone in Maine who fought so hard to win recognition for their families. The legislature passed marriage equality earlier this year, but a divisive anti-LGBT campaign to scare voters seems to have worked.

It is infuriating to see that the same fear-mongering ads that were used to pass Prop. 8 a year ago have triumphed again at the expense of so many. This is a terrible loss.

So although on one hand the fight for equality inches one step at a time, there will always be others to attempt to thawrt forward progress. Finally, what we love about this country is that the laws are made up "for the the people", so even in our anger for Maine's overturning, "the people" of Maine spoke their minds through the power of their vote. As americans, we all bleed for that right; it is that right which rises to the surface like an umbrella to protect every other right.

As we now know, this fight is not about the power of the vote, but instead, the power to win hearts and minds. If we do that, the vote will take care of itself.