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Archives – June, 2011

Immigration Chief Counsel halts DOMA-related deportation of Henry Velandia

By Adam Bink

I may have missed this if it was noticed in the comments — apologies if it has been — but catching up after a busy day with this tremendous news. The Immigration Chief Counsel in Newark, NJ decided to halt the DOMA-related deportation of Henry Velandia, whose case many of us here at P8TT and Courage Campaign took up with our friends at AllOut, Stop the Deportations, and many other allies. More background can be found here.

Here’s Josh, his husband, speaking to CNN (bolding mine):

Q: Do you have any idea why the government had a change of heart?

There’s no doubt in my mind that it is the direct result of our hard-fought advocacy over the past year on behalf of our marriage.  We stood up and told our story: that as a same-sex married couple our marriage is not treated equally.

Because of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), I am denied the right to sponsor my foreign-born spouse, Henry, for a green card.  The reason I’m denied this is because we’re gay.  A non-gay couple would never face a deportation like this.

We would simply like our marriage to be treated equally.  We have worked tirelessly to spread the word about this law, DOMA, and how it is tearing apart our family and the families of bi-national same-sex married couples around the country.

Thankfully Attorney General Holder said earlier this year that DOMA is unconstitutional and discriminatory.  But the deportations had continued after Holder’s decision.  That’s why we kept the pressure on the administration and ICE to stop these deportations.

[...]

Our elected officials joined our cause in part because 20,000 people signed our petition to Secretary Janet Napolitano of Homeland Security asking her to stop deporting the spouses of LGBT Americans.   And we’ve been joined by some great organizational partners in the struggle for equality including AllOut, GetEQUAL, the Courage Campaign, Marriage Equality USA, and Freedom to Marry.

I think that’s absolutely right. Tens of thousands of Courage members joined other activists around the country to (a) raise awareness of this case and generated press (b) keep the pressure on the Administration. It led to an “extraordinary”, as it was described, decision by Attorney General Holder to vacate the Board of Immigration Appeals’ decision in the case, for the judge to hear the case again, and for this decision to come down this week.

When we take a stand, things really do happen. A big first step, and hopefully more couples will find the same experience.

39 Comments June 30, 2011

Statistics and same-sex marriage ballot initiatives

By Adam Bink

As an interesting follow-up on today’s piece about Maine advocates going back to the ballot on marriage equality, NYTimes resident statistics geek Nate Silver has an incredibly wonky and data geek-y new model taking into account all kinds of voting statistics and demographics. The full piece is here, which I recommend perusing, but the parts I want to pull out (predictions) that can be understood in English are below:

Minnesota. The Minnesota measure, which would ban same-sex marriage but not domestic partnerships, should be considered something of a tossup. Under the Accelerated Model, it would fail with about 49 percent of the vote, while under the Linear Model it would pass with 54 percent — both forecasts well within the models’ respective margins of error.

One additional factor, however, is that Minnesota rules require a majority of all voters to cast a ballot in favor of a constitutional amendment in order for it to pass. So someone who turns out to vote next November and punches her ballot only for the presidential election is essentially a “no” vote. Historically, about 5 percent of Minnesota voters undervote constitutional amendment proposals despite casting ballots for other races, so what this means is that the ban on same-sex marriage will de facto need something like 52 percent of the vote in order to pass. For this reason, I’d conclude that the Minnesota measure is a slight underdog.

In addition, the most recent poll in the state finds that 55 percent of voters oppose the ban on same-sex marriage while 39 percent support it. Polls on this issue have historically underestimated the support for bans on same-sex marriage — but not by such a wide margin to account for this discrepancy. Instead, the rule of thumb is that you should assume that all undecided voters will vote for the marriage ban. But since an outright majority of Minnesotans oppose the initiative in the poll — even after accounting for the undecided — it provides some meaningful guidance.

The ban is certainly not a heavy favorite to be defeated: see this blog post for someone who thinks it will pass, and consider that there are two plausible Republican presidential nominees from Minnesota, which could affect the dynamics of the vote. But I’d set something like 5-to-3 odds against its passage.

North Carolina. The other state that is most likely to consider an initiativeagainst same-sex marriage in 2012 is North Carolina — the only remaining Southern state that does not ban same-sex marriage in its Constitution. A ban on same-sex marriage alone would be a heavy favorite to pass in North Carolina: although the state is becoming bluer, it is still fairly socially conservative, and many of the voters who allowed Barack Obama to win the state in 2008 were African-Americans, who have historically been opposed to same-sex marriage.

The proposed text of the amendment would seem to apply to domestic partnerships in addition to marriage, however, which makes its prospects more tenuous. We’d project such a measure to receive about 60 percent of the vote under the Linear Model, but 54 percent under the Accelerated Model, making it a favorite but not a prohibitive one.

New York. New York’s new law is unlikely to be overturned. If a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage were on the ballot next year, we’d project it to receive 40 percent of the vote under the Accelerated Model or 44 percent under the Linear Model, making its passage doubtful but not impossible.

But New York law is quite unfriendly to constitutional amendments, and even groups that would like see the law overturned are unlikely to get a proposition on the ballot before November 2015. Unless the trend toward greater acceptance of same-sex marriage abruptly reverses itself, such a measure would probably be defeated, perhaps by a wide margin.

Iowa. Among the six states where same-sex marriage is allowed today, Iowa is the only one in which the model projects a majority of voters would want to overturn it — either 52 or 58 percent of voters, depending on which model is used.

But Iowa is another state in which the constitutional amendment process is cumbersome. Ballot initiatives must be approved by both chambers of the Legislature for two consecutive sessions, and with Democrats having held onto control of the State Senate, it is likely to be at least 2013 before the initiative passes through the Legislature the first time, let alone the second.

If and when an amendment eventually makes the ballot, Iowans will have lived with same-sex marriage for several years at a minimum, during which time support for marriage equality is likely to increase both within the state and nationally. Therefore, the law is relatively likely to stick, the more promising route for overturning it perhaps being a court challenge.

New Hampshire. New Hampshire is another state in which there are discussions about overturning the new marriage law. Public opinion, however, is more likely than not to resist to such measures. Although the state can be fiscally conservative, it is also highly secular, and the models would project around 60 percent of the voters there to reject a ban on same-sex marriage if one were voted upon next year.

Maine. With the important caveat that the model had incorrectly deemed Question 1 to be an underdog in 2009, the results might be different if a similar measure were voted upon again. Between the growth in support for same-sex marriage over the past three years and the fact that the ballot initiative in 2009 may have benefited from standing alone on the ballot rather than being coupled with other races, the model thinks Mainers are likely, although not certain, to affirm same-sex marriage if given another chance.

California and Oregon. These are the states in which there has been the most discussion about overturning an existing ban on same-sex marriage. The model suggests that these are the right targets: of those states where there is a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, they are by some margin the most friendly toward gay rights.

However, there is not yet a precedent for overturning a constitutional amendment that the voters in a state had previously approved, and the model might or might not be reliable in such cases.

Nevertheless, even the relatively cautious Linear Model predicts that 54 percent of Californians would vote against a measure like Proposition 8 if one were on the ballot next year, while 55 percent of Oregonians would vote against a ban on same-sex marriage like the one the state’s voters approved in 2004. Neither prediction seems too far out of line: Oregon’s marriage ban was rejected by 43 percent of voters seven years ago, and California’s by 48 percent two years ago, and public opinion has shifted meaningfully in favor of same-sex marriage since then.

In short, the future for same-sex marriage looks to be reasonably bright. Most of the states that were fertile ground for passing a constitutional ban on it did so long ago. Minnesota and North Carolina are potential exceptions, but the six states that have gender-neutral marriage laws on the books now are unlikely to see them reversed, while some of those that don’t are in a position for gay rights advocates to go on offense.

On California, where Prop 8 is on the books, it’s interesting because the polling EQCA has been using in town halls around the state show nothing close to 54% of Californians voting our way (and it would probably need to show more, given evidence that the numbers in support of equality end up being much closer at the ballot box than in pre-election polling). Nate’s model seems to assume demographics changing over time much more dramatically.

All of this may be academic, but what’s not academic is that the stories we tell, making ourselves visible, getting media around couples like Ed and Derence all makes a difference here.

22 Comments June 30, 2011

Equality Maine and GLAD announce effort to go back to the ballot on marriage equality

By Adam Bink

The planned ballot language:

Do you favor a law allowing marriage licenses for same-sex couples that protects religious freedom by ensuring no religion or clergy be required to perform such a marriage in violation of their religious beliefs?

Which is an interesting, positive light.

They will need to collect just over 57,000 signatures that are verified by the end of the year.

More from the Bangor Daily News.

36 Comments June 30, 2011

The difference between life and death in the Rhode Island civil union bill

By Adam Bink

The Rhode Island legislature just passed legislation legalizing civil unions for same-sex couples.

This was a difficult road. The choice was made to push a civil unions bill through in Rhode Island rather than marriage — a choice that may, to Rhode Islanders, be the best choice based on what they want and need at the moment.

What becomes a problem is language like this in the bill:

15-3.1-5. Conscience and religious organizations protected. – (a) Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, no religious or denominational organization, no organization operated for charitable or educational purpose which is supervised or controlled by or in connection with a religious organization, and no individual employed by any of the foregoing organizations, while acting in the scope of that employment, shall be required:

(1) To provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges for a purpose related to the solemnization, certification, or celebration of any civil union; or

(2) To solemnize or certify any civil union; or

(3) To treat as valid any civil union; if such providing, solemnizing, certifying, or treating as valid would cause such organizations or individuals to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs.

(b) No organization or individual as described in subsection (a) above who fails or refuses to provide, solemnize, certify, or treat as valid, as described in subdivision (a)(1), (a)(2) or (a)(3) above, persons in a civil union, shall be subject to a fine, penalty, or other cause of action for such failure or refusal.

Perhaps some legislators looked at the careful negotiation and insertion of religious exemption language in New York State and demanded the same deal. The difference is that pastors deciding who to marry, and synagogues deciding whether to rent out their reception hall for a wedding, is not the same as this.

I’ll give you an example: if I were back home in suburban Buffalo and my partner had a medical emergency and I had to get him to a hospital, Kenmore Mercy hospital would be the closest at just over 3 miles away. I could drive there in my sleep. Unfortunately for me, Kenmore Mercy is a Catholic hospital. If he were treated at Kenmore Mercy, then despite all my civil union paperwork, despite my partner’s wishes for me to make important medical decisions on his behalf, or be at the doctors’ side to tell them important information like what he’s allergic to or that he only has one functional kidney, they can treat me as a complete stranger and it’s legal. They could do to me the same as what happened to Daniel Weiss in New Jersey, one of the plaintiffs in the new lawsuit being filed:

Daniel Weiss, for instance, had to show doctors his civil union ring to show that he could make medical decisions for his long-time partner, John Grant, after Grant was struck by a car and his skull shattered in Manhattan. Despite explaining it to attending doctors, the hospital called Grant’s sister up from Delaware – four hours away – to make medical decisions for him.

“At the moment that we needed civil unions the most to provide equality, it failed for us miserably,” said Weiss. “To this day, the records at Bellevue Hospital do not recognize that I am the next of kin.”

Let’s say I didn’t want to go to a Catholic hospital because of those very concerns. Then the next closest hospital would either be Millard Fillmore-Gates Circle or Millard Fillmore Suburban, both about 6 miles away. That’s twice the distance, more stoplights, more chance for an accident or hitting traffic.

That’s the difference between life and death. And this bill’s language could mean that.

Will Gov. Chafee veto it?

77 Comments June 29, 2011

Rick Jacobs bears his Testimony

By Adam Bink

This video was sent in the following e-mail to Courage Campaign members in Tennessee, as part of organizing we’re doing with the Tennessee Equality Project against the “don’t say gay” bill, which is expected to rear its ugly head again. We have to start telling stories — straight or LGBT — of why we support equality to being this long-term process of changing hearts and minds in places like Tennessee.

There are a few days left to enter the Dustin Lance Black challenge. It’d be pretty cool if Lance and his film crew flew to Tennessee and put a story on television.

If you know folks in Tennessee, please pass along.

Courage Campaign
Dear Adam, 

I was born and raised in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, right near Knoxville, the home town of Tennessee governor Bill Haslam. I have always loved my home place and had intended to live my life there, but I knew I was gay. At the time, East Tennessee was not a place to be out, so I moved to California. I still have lots of friends back home. My parents just moved from there three years ago.
I love Tennessee, so imagine my disappointment and anger when Gov. Haslam signed the recent bill outlawing protections for LGBT people… and may sign legislation banning the word “gay.” To fight back, I recorded my video Testimony, and I want to share it with you.

Marriage may now be legal in New York State, but in Tennessee, it may be soon be illegal for teachers to say “gay” in schools. We have to change that.
Tennesseans love good stories and those stories really do change minds. That’s why, together with our good friends at the Tennessee Equality Project, we hope you’ll record your own 1-2 minute Testimony, which we’ll share with Academy Award-winning filmmaker Dustin Lance Black (who wrote Milk and many other incredible films). He’s going to take three of the best stories and literally fly out to wherever the person lives to film the story for TV. Imagine if he selects yours to air in Tennessee to show Gov. Haslam and the legislature that hurting gay people hurts the state.
Think about it: your story could be shown in front of hundreds of thousands of people — people who aren’t sure about their son or daughter being gay, or who don’t understand why schools need LGBT-inclusive bullying policies. It could be shown in front of people who aren’t sure about why equality in the workplace matters, who haven’t considered the importance of repealing the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), or other important issues that come down to basic decency. It may even be the first time Tennesseans see LGBT people in an affirming light.
Don’t worry, your video doesn’t have to be perfect. Look at mine – I’m no videographer. The story is what counts.
Thanks for all you do,
Rick Jacobs
Chair and Founder, Courage Campaign, and native Tennessean

23 Comments June 29, 2011

New Jersey couples sue for equal marriage rights

By Adam Bink

After marriage equality legislation failed in the New Jersey legislature in 2009, Garden State Equality said they would go back to the courts along with Lambda Legal. The New Jersey Supreme Court, which originally ruled that legislators must provide either civil unions or marriage (they chose civil unions), declined to hear the case, which led to today’s events. From NJ.com:

A New Jersey gay rights organization, seven same-sex couples and several of their children say they will file a suit in state Superior Court today demanding the partnerships be recognized not as civil unions, but as marriages.

The lawsuit comes days after New York signed gay marriage into law, which will go into effect next month.

But in New Jersey, where Gov. Chris Christie has vowed to veto any gay marriage bill approved by the Legislature, the courts are the only realistic option for same-sex partners who hope to marry any time soon.

“Gov. Christie says no way will there be marriage equality in New Jersey,” said Steven Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality, a gay rights organization that is the lead plaintiff in the suit. “And we say no way are we going to listen to him.”

New Jersey allows civil unions for gay couples, and the state has automatically recognized same-sex marriages performed in other states or foreign countries as civil unions since 2007. Over the last year and half, the movement for gay marriage in New Jerey has suffered two major setbacks. In January, 2010 — weeks before Christie took office — the state Senate rejected a bill that would have legalized it.

Several Democrats either voted no or did not cast a vote. Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester), who did not cast a vote, recently said he should have voted yes and called it the “most embarrassing moment of my political career” in a radio call-in show.

Six months later, the state Supreme Court declined to hear the case, ruling that it needed to work its way through the trial courts. That led to today’s lawsuit.

The suit contends civil unions are a “badge of inferiority” for same-sex couples. Although civil unions are meant to grant the state’s 5,417 civil union couples the same rights as heterosexual married couples, the suit argues that is far from the case in practical terms.

“Today, New Jersey shunts lesbian and gay couples into the novel and inferior status of ‘civil union,’ while reserving civil marriage only for heterosexual couples,” it read.

The suit outlines how William Keith Heimann’s health insurance policy dropped his two children and his 25-year partner, Thomas Davidson, after a contractor conducting an audit “questioned whether they had adequate documentation of their relationship.” The lawsuit says it took months to reinstate the policy, even though Davidson and Heimann were in a civil union.

The suit also outlines Danny Weiss’s struggle to make health care treatment decisions for his civil union partner, John Grant, after Grant was struck by a car in New York City.

“Despite their civil union, doctors and hospital staff did not recognize their legal relationship,” the suit says. “Discussions with doctors and other hospital staff about what a civil union meant, and whether it was ‘like marriage,’ took place as John was suffering from a brain hemorrhage.”

Eventually, hospital staff summoned Grant’s sister in Delaware to help make decisions.

The report of the official New Jersey Civil Union Review Commission (found here, at the top) is something I use all the time when I meet people who don’t understand why civil unions — in terms of rights and being effective — aren’t “good enough.” Leaving aside respect and dignity, important people who need to recognize them — employers, hospital staff — simply don’t. Moreover, should DOMA be overturned, they don’t provide the federal benefits that marriage would. That’s why this lawsuit is so important.

Update: Over e-mail, a news release with some details:

GARDEN STATE EQUALITY V. DOW FILED TODAY

Trenton, June 29, 2011 — Today Garden State Equality and seven same-sex couples and their children, represented by Lambda Legal, filed a lawsuit seeking marriage equality in New Jersey.  Garden State Equality is the lead plaintiff in the case, captioned Garden State Equality et. al. v. Dow et. al.

The case combines both state and federal claims. It argues that the civil union law violates both the New Jersey Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment of the federal Constitution.

“The constitutional guarantee of equality under the law does not stop midway through the Lincoln Tunnel,” said Hayley Gorenberg, Lambda Legal Deputy Legal Director. “Our clients have been kept from each other during medical crises, denied health insurance, and even discriminated against in funeral homes because their civil unions relegate them to second-class status.  New Jersey’s same-sex couples have been stuck in a limbo caused by the confusion and indignity of living with an inferior status.”

“By now, everybody in New Jersey knows that civil unions don’t work,” said Steven Goldstein, Chair and CEO of Garden State Equality.  “Since civil unions became law in New Jersey, Garden State Equality has received reports from multitudes of civil union couples who have told us their employers refuse to provide the equal rights and benefits the civil union law mandates. It’s time for the courts to fix this mess and give full marriage equality to New Jersey’s same-sex couples and their children.”

In court papers filed today, Lambda Legal addressed how New Jersey’s civil unions fall short. Civil unions place same-sex couples in an inferior status to different-sex couples. Without full marriage equality, same-sex couples are denied workplace benefits and protections equal to those accorded to married people, and they are blocked from seeing their loved ones during medical emergencies.  The exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage deprives them and their children of  their dignity as a family and certainty in their legal rights and status to each other.

Plaintiffs:

Garden State Equality, New Jersey’s largest civil rights organization, is the lead plaintiff in the case.

The plaintiff couples include:  Daniel Weiss, 46, and John Grant, 46, of Asbury Park, who have been together for four years and were married in Connecticut in 2010 after John was hit by a car, shattering his skull, and hospital administrators failed to understand their civil union; Marsha Shapiro, 56, and Louise Walpin, 57, of Monmouth Junction, who have been together for 22 years and raised four children; Cindy Meneghin, 53, and Maureen Kilian, 53, of Butler, who were high school sweethearts and have been together for 36 years, raising two children; Tevonda and Erica Bradshaw, both 36, of North Plainfield, who have an infant son and have been together for more than four years; Marcye and Karen Nicholson-McFadden, 47 and 45 respectively, of Aberdeen, who have been together for 21 years and have two children; Keith Heimann, 53, and Tom Davidson, 49, of Shrewsbury, who will celebrate their 25th anniversary together in January, and have two daughters; Elena and Liz Quinones, 33 and 45 respectively, of Phillipsburg, who are raising four children and have been together for nine years.

Background:

In 2002, Lambda Legal filed a historic case, Lewis v. Harris seeking marriage equality on behalf of seven New Jersey couples. The case reached the New Jersey Supreme Court in 2006. The high court ruled unanimously that same-sex couples must be provided all the benefits and responsibilities of marriage, although it declined to mandate that marriage was specifically required, and gave the state legislature 180 days to provide equality. The legislature hastily passed a civil union law in December 2006, and began issuing civil union licenses to same-sex couples in February 2007.

In December 2008 the Civil Union Review Commission, appointed by the legislature pursuant to the Civil Union Act itself, issued its unanimous report documenting how civil unions fall short of providing the court-mandated equality for same-sex couples. In January 2010, days before the legislative session ended, the New Jersey Senate voted on and failed to pass a marriage equality law. On March 18, 2010, Lambda Legal filed a motion in aid of litigants’ rights asking the New Jersey Supreme Court to intercede and order marriage to secure compliance with its original mandate of equality for the Lewis v. Harris plaintiffs, but in July 2010, the New Jersey Supreme Court denied the motion, requiring further proceedings to develop a record in Superior Court.

Hayley Gorenberg, Deputy Legal Director, is handling this case for Lambda Legal. She is joined by co-counsel Lawrence S. Lustberg and Eileen Connor of Gibbons, PC.

17 Comments June 29, 2011

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