January 10, 2012
By Matt Baume
We’re just one week in and already 2012 is looking like a strong year for marriage, with encouraging action in Washington, Maryland, and Colorado. The governor of Michigan revokes health care coverage for domestic partners, leaving families with no access to medical care. And a bi-national couple in San Francisco gets a two-year reprieve, but their eventual fate may depend on whoever occupies the White House two years from now.
Remember the Republican debate, when a soldier named Stephen Hill asked Rick Santorum about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell? Well, this week I spoke to Stephen Hill and his husband, Josh Snyder, about their experience coming out in front of the world, what they thought of Rick’s response, how their relationship’s been affected by Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and we also got a little gun show. Here’s a few highlights from our conversation, stay tuned for the full interview, coming out later this week.
Stephen: “Immediately I thought, am I in trouble, did I do something wrong? ‘Cause I just got booed on national TV and I’m an active duty serviceman. I’m a soldier. So, that was the next thought. And then of course Rick Santorum’s answer was the next string of emotions. And then after all that was done, I thought oh my God, I just came out to six million people.”
Josh: “I can tell you after dealing with it for a year, and being an Army spouse, it’s not easy. We’ve been on Skype before and a mortar’s gone off, and he’s had to disconnect and, y’know, we lost contact for a few hours. And it’s really kind of weird to think — you’ve got your phone in one hand and I’ve got Skype sitting up on the computer. And I’m just hoping Skype rings first versus the phone. Because God only knows. I mean I’m the first to be contacted ’cause we arranged it from a standpoint of the documentation that you submit with the Army. But technically as a spouse I wouldn’t really be recognized. It was all set up by us.”
Stephen: “I’ve had to run through my house and hide pictures in my own house. Y’know, when soldiers and friends would come over. I’ve had to ask people to leave my house. Y’know, I’ve had to make my roommates lie, I’ve had to do a lot of stuff. And the resentment of that kind of stuff — and the resentment of knowing that for twenty years I’ve fought for my country, and I’ve fought for everybody’s rights except my own. I mean that’s basically what it is. And I have to lie to do that. Y’know, and it just isn’t right.”
Let’s look at some headlines from around the states. This week, the Governor of Washington, Christine Gregoire, will introduce a bill to legalize marriage. LGBTs have a good ally in Gregoire: it was her 2009 bill that legalized civil unions in the state. Getting from there to marriage is going to be an uphill climb, since the bill will have to pass through a legislature that’s proven skeptical towards marriage in the past. But with a recent survey showing Washington residents supporting equality 54 to 35 percent, momentum is clearly on our side. Washington’s legislative session starts this week and runs until March 8th.
Maryland’s legislative session starts this week as well, and lawmakers there are likely to take up a revamped marriage bill. Although similar legislation failed by a narrow margin last year, it now has the backing of a much larger coalition. Organizers on our side are duplicating many of the tactics that worked in New York. That includes a strong commitment of support from the governor, as well as broad exemptions for religious organizations that want to discriminate against LGBT couples. The Maryland Assembly is scheduled to adjourn in April.
And Colorado’s legislature starts its session this week, with a group of Republicans playing catch-up by joining Democrats to support a civil unions bill. Colorado’s Constitution prohibits marriages, but a survey in September shows that 76% of Coloradans support some form of relationship recognition.
Domestic partnerships suffered a setback in Michigan this week, with anti-gay Governor Rick Snyder signing a bill that would force most government employers to deny health care benefits to domestic partners. The law is particularly cruel to LGBT families, since it only affects domestic partners while allowing benefits to continue for any other family member. The American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit against the law on behalf of teachers and local employees. Among the named plaintiffs are domestic partners who desperately need those benefits to continue, such as Barbara Ramber, who could suffer blindness if she can’t access care for her glaucoma; and Gerardo Ascheri, whose high blood pressure and cholesterol pose an immediate risk if left untreated.
There was a reprieve this week for Bradford Wells and Anthony John Makk, a San Francisco couple threatened with deportation. Despite being the primary daily caregiver for his ailing husband, Immigration Services had moved to exile Makk to his native Australia due to the Defense of Marriage Act. This week Senator Nancy Pelosi called the couple to inform them that deportation proceedings would be deferred for the next two years. That’s good news for now, but it doesn’t necessarily help the thousands of other bi-national couples facing deportation, and there’s no guarantee that the government won’t reverse course over the next two years. All of the current Republican frontrunners for President would be likely to undo the accommodations that have been made for binational LGBT couples under the Obama administration.
Those are the headlines, I’m Matt Baume at the American Foundation for Equal Rights. Visit AFER.org for more on the federal fight to overturn Prop 8. And watch for a big announcement this week about the national rollout of “8,” Dustin Lance Black’s play about the Prop 8 trial. You can also get breaking news headlines at MarriageNewsWatch.com, and don’t forget to hit “Like” to spread the words about marriage equality to your family and friends. We’ll see you next week.