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Archives – March, 2012

Equality round-up, March 31, 2012

By Adam Bink

A few things around and about:

  • Another great video from the folks at the You Can Play Project. Attention to the NHL is particularly high right now as playoffs are only a few games away (and my Sabres are on the cusp of squeaking in):

  • NOM’s Starbucks boycott appears to be yet another #FAIL (just like their Summer for Marriage tour and Vota Tus Valores tour). Although spokespeople are supposed to say “we’ve seen no effect,” my favorite part is this at a recent shareholder meeting (Schulz runs the company):

“I would assure you that the senior team of Starbucks discussed this, and it was, to be candid with you, not something that was a difficult decision for us,” Schultz said to a burst of applause from the stock-holding crowd. “We made that decision in our view through the lens of humanity and being the kind of company that embraces diversity.”

When pressed by another NOM spokesman whether it is “prudent to risk the economic interest” of the company to support gay marriage, Schultz remained unfazed. He explained that Starbucks employs 200,000 people—with the obvious subtext that the number includes lots of gay people.

  • Just an amazing response to our moneybomb fundraiser to help fully fund the campaign to defeat Amendment One in North Carolina. If you glance to the top right of P8TT, you’ll see (as of this post) $14,271 in from 424 Courage members and P8TT readers. Just outstanding! Thank you so much to everyone who dug deep. The moneybomb raised over $50,000 this week on ActBlue, another $32,000 through the ProtectNCFamilies.org website, plus additional support from large donors who called in to push the campaign over the $1 million mark raised. Remember, both Tom Jensen at Public Policy Poling and Celinda Lake, the respected pollster, said a fully funded campaign can beat Amendment One. We still have a ways to go, though. If you haven’t chipped in, consider packing your lunch next week and throw in $5, $10 or $15 to help get the campaign’s first ads up on the air. Children and families are depending on it, and early voting starts on April 19. Meanwhile, Courage will be rolling out our member-to-voter contact program next week and organizing GOTV.
  • Need more convincing? Check out P8TT friend Karen Ocamb on how we can win and how a win will change the movement.
  • If you missed Scottie’s breaking post last night, House Republicans vote to intervene in yet another DOMA case.
  • Via Sagesse in Quick Hits, Maggie Gallagher steps back from the NOM memo, saying it made them sound “too big for our britches.”
  • Next week (April 4) is a big hearing on the Gill v. OPM and Massachusetts v. HHS cases in the 1st Circuit in Boston, and we’ll have preview and day-of coverage here at P8TT. You can get started with this piece by Jacob here. Mary Bonauto will be arguing on behalf of GLAD and Maura Healey for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

What else are you reading this weekend?

16 Comments March 31, 2012

House Republicans intervene to defend DOMA against challenge from military veteran

By Scottie Thomaston

When the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group moved to intervene in cases challenging the Defense of Marriage Act, authorization was given to “defend the constitutionality of section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act.” The BLAG panel vote was 3-2 along party lines. Now, it’s been announced that they will be defending DOMA against a challenge by a US Army veteran and that they will also defend another law, Section 101(3), (31) of Title 38, related to military benefits. Minority Leader Pelosi and Minority Whip Hoyer say this exceeds the authority given to BLAG:

The lawsuit — like the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network’s McLaughlin v. Panetta lawsuit — raises claims based on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act and two specific provisions of Title 38 of the U.S. Code, which relate to veterans benefits and independently define “spouse” as only pertaining to opposite-sex spouses.

It is the defense of those provisions in Title 38 that Pelosi and Hoyer claim fall outside the scope of the original authorization on March 9, 2011. At that time, the five members of BLAG voted 3-2 along party lines to recommend that the House general counsel “take such steps as he considers appropriate … to protect the interests of the House in litigation in which the Attorney General has ceased to defend the constitutionality of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act.”

The House leaders have written a letter, which reads in part:

Today, we were notified that the House, through outside counsel acting at your direction, has decided to intervene in a case challenging the constitutionality of laws denying federal benefits to military spouses on the basis of their sexual orientation. As members of the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG), who were not consulted prior to this unwise decision, we strongly object to spending taxpayer money to intervene in this case against a decorated veteran, Tracey Cooper-Harris, and her spouse, Maggie Cooper-Harris. This decision clearly exceeds the scope of the original BLAG authorization, with which we initially disagreed.

This intervention once again puts the House of Representatives on the wrong side of the future – supporting discrimination, unfairness, and the denial of basic equality to all Americans. We have objected to prior decisions by the House Republican BLAG members to spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to defend discrimination. This latest decision not only ignores the civil rights of LGBT Americans but opens a new, direct assault on veterans. The men and women of our Armed Forces serve with courage and dignity on behalf of our safety and security. They risk their lives for the country they love – and they should not face prejudice at home because of whom they love. These brave soldiers deserve nothing less than our gratitude, our respect, and the benefits they have earned in battle.


Chris Johnson at The Washington Blade
has written about this case, Cooper-Harris v. US before, noting that the United States government is denying a military veteran spousal benefits that she would receive if she were in an opposite sex marriage. And this is in spite of the fact that she suffers from multiple sclerosis connected to serving her country:

“We’re only asking for the same benefits as other married couples,” Tracey said. “We simply want the same peace of mind that these benefits bring to the families of other disabled veterans. And that is why we filed a federal lawsuit challenging this policy. No family should have to go through what we’ve had to experience, and our nation shouldn’t allow the Defense of Marriage Act to deny the last wishes of our veterans, but it is happening.”

Tracey served for 12 years in support of military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and received more than two dozen medals and commendations before being honorably discharged in 2003. In 2008, she married Maggie in California before Proposition 8 took away marriage rights for gay couples in that state.

After being diagnosed in 2010 with multiple sclerosis, which the Department of Veterans Affairs has determined is connected to her military service, Tracey began receiving disability benefits as a veteran. However, she’s unable to receive spousal benefits that she would otherwise be entitled to if she were in an opposite-sex marriage.

The Southern Poverty Law Center worked on a similar case in the 1970s, Frontiero v Richardson a pivotal case for women’s equality:

As a result of the lawsuit, known as Frontiero v. Richardson, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that female veterans should have the same access to benefits as their male counterparts. Levin said the discrimination faced at that time is similar to that faced by the plaintiffs now.

“These men and women made the same and endured the same sacrifices as other members of the military, yet this policy devalues their service, commitment and sacrifice,” Levin said.

Frontiero, who was also present at the news conference, said the lawsuit on behalf of Cooper-Harris is “a logical extension of the case” filed 40 years ago.

“Tracey is fighting the same battle I fought, which is not to have our work deemed second rate or second best,” Frontiero said. “We serve like everybody else, and we deserve what everybody else is getting.”

Levin said after SPLC won the Frontiero case in 1970s, Congress changed the statutes related to military benefits to define spouse as a person of the opposite-sex to ensure female veterans would have access to spousal benefits.

There is also the obvious point that now, the Republican-led House is not just going out of its way to defend a discriminatory law against a United States veteran with medical problems, but they are taking the extra step of defending a whole different law, possibly beyond the original terms of their agreement and vote. This is a questionable tactic and given that absolutely no one is currently happy with them over their defense of this law, the fact that they’re now attacking military veterans won’t win over any new supporters.

27 Comments March 30, 2012

Mitt Romney donated $10,000 to NOM to help pass Proposition 8

By Scottie Thomaston

In 2008, Mitt Romney donated $10,000 to the National Organization for Marriage to fund their attempts to prevent gay and lesbian couples from marrying each other in California. As the article points out, this news in itself isn’t new; the donation was reported on at the time and his spokesman at the time Eric Ferhnstrom commented that, “The governor feels strongly that marriage is an institution between a man and a woman, and one of the most high-profile fights on this subject is happening in California[.]”

The Human Rights Campaign obtained the filing from a whistleblower and it shows that Romney made the donation through curious channels:

In fact, record of the payment was only uncovered Friday when the pro-gay rights Human Rights Campaign was sent a private IRS filing from NOM via a whistleblower. The Human Rights Campaign shared the filing with The Huffington Post.

Asked for comment, an aide to Romney said that the donation was made through the Alabama chapter of the Free and Strong America PAC. State records confirm this. However, the 990 NOM filed lists the donation as having come from PO Box 79226 in Belmont, Massachusetts.

Alabama is known for having lax disclosure laws on campaign finance regulations. And the Human Rights Campaign notes that Romney’s financial contributions to NOM were important to the effort to pass Proposition 8:

“It’s clear now that Romney was a major financial donor to Prop. 8,” said Fred Sainz, HRC’s vice president for communications. “But it’s also clear that his campaign very cleverly hid this contribution in an obscure Alabama PAC.”

“His spokesperson said that Romney had financially supported Prop 8 but there’s no disclosure of a contribution to any Prop. 8 effort, personal or through the national or Alabama PAC,” Sainz added. “He instead chose to give to NOM, an organization that has a history of shielding its donors. For what other purpose would you contribute $10,000 to NOM three weeks before the election other than Prop 8?”

In any case, given the recent revelations coming from unsealed court documents showing that NOM engaged in a willful attempt to provoke hostility between minority groups, important questions need to be asked and answered by likely Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign:

Was Mitt Romney among the privileged few high-dollar donors who got an “eyes-only” glimpse at NOM’s confidential strategy memos?

In other words, it’s worth asking: what did Mitt Romney know, and when did he know it? To be fair, Romney’s 2008 donation predates the materials that have been made public. But his relationship, and that of his Church — a major donor to NOM — continues. And it stands to reason that there were 2008 versions of this strategy memo, as well as 2010, 2011, and 2012 versions. The mind shudders to imagine what is in the ones we haven’t seen.

When Mitt Romney cut his $10,000 check for Maggie Gallagher and Brian Brown’s National Organization for Marriage, did he know that his money would be used to “drive a wedge between gays and blacks — two key Democratic constituencies”? Did he know it would be going toward fanning hostility between his fellow Americans?

Since, as Wooledge points out in his piece, these documents were specifically designed for donors, has Romney gotten to see any of these documents, or has he been told of their plans? And will he distance himself from NOM’s racist tactics? There is a petition asking him to do that here.

35 Comments March 30, 2012

Maryland equality organization responds to NOM memos in new social media campaign

By Scottie Thomaston

Later this year Maryland voters will decide in a referendum whether the recently passed marriage equality law will stay in place. The National Organization for Marriage has been meddling in the state for years in their endless campaign to turn people of different races against each other. As the Washington Post points out, NOM has pledged $1 million to defeat Republicans who voted to pass marriage equality legislation in the state.

But now, their tactics have been brought out into the light and equality organizations are fighting back. Marylanders for Marriage Equality released a new ad, circulating it around on social media, to make voters aware of NOM’s race-baiting strategy:

The graphic released Thursday afternoon responds to news that a Maine court released confidential memos of the National Organization Marriage. The memos outlined strategy to split the Democratic Party base by pitting blacks and Hispanics against gay-rights groups.

Released by Marylanders for Marriage Equality, a coalition of groups supporting same-sex marriage, the ad suggests NOM’s strategy is to “drive a wedge between gays and blacks” while supporters of Maryland’s month-old gay marriage law want to “showcase love, commitment and strong families.”

Along with the ad, they’ve released a statement from the Maryland State NAACP Political Action Committee:

The Maryland coalition also released a statement by Elbridge James, chairman of the Maryland State NAACP Political Action Committee, calling NOM’s tactics “deplorable.”

“Regardless of where you are on this issue, there is no room for racial exploitation,” James said. “The people of Maryland should not be used.”

Since Maryland is a particularly diverse state, race-baiting tactics have the potential to be uncomfortably effective. Keeping in mind that NOM’s strategy was in two parts – first, find racial minorities to speak out against gay people and to comparisons of gay rights with civil rights, and second, to provoke gays into calling these people “bigots” and other things – it’s important that Maryland is doing this right now. We certainly do not need to fall into NOM’s trap on issues like this.

Polling on this issue in Maryland shows such a close fight that at this point it could go either way. It would be more productive to focus on genuine opposition or support instead of allowing outside groups to come in and deliberately try to drive wedges between minority communities and provoke people into saying or doing hurtful things to other people. If the marriage law is going to fail, should it not fail on its own? Can the opposition only pull off a win by hurting a countless number of people and stirring up resentment on purpose?

I said this about NOM’s mention of developing “a media campaign” based on black opposition to marriage equality:

I find their mention of a “media campaign” quite interesting; at the very least it seems like it’s been effective, even if they didn’t directly push all these things into the spotlight. There have always been stories of a divide between the black and LGBT communities, but it is increasingly prevalent. Stories are coming up left and right. In North Carolina there are fears of “black pastors” (but not white ones) coming after gay people. In Maryland it’s “black pastors along with black politicians” coming after gay people. And there’s the constant stream of media focus on the president’s stance on marriage equality and how, supposedly, he “can’t” come out in support of marriage for gays and lesbians “because he might lose the black vote.”

This seemed to be part of the narrative coming out of the Maryland vote on marriage over the past few years and now it has been exposed as deliberate. Now that it’s out there let’s hope no one plays their game.

9 Comments March 30, 2012

Republicans acknowledge marriage equality is increasingly a losing issue for them

By Jacob Combs

In a front page, top-of-the-site article today, POLITICO reports on the Republican Party’s “retreat” from the issue of marriage equality:

It’s been one of the swiftest shifts in ideology and strategy for Republicans, as they’ve come nearly full circle on same-sex politics. What was once a front-and-center issue for rank-and-file Republicans — the subject of many hotly worded House and Senate floor speeches — is virtually a dead issue, as Republicans in Congress don’t care to have gay marriage litigated in the Capitol.

Even more than that, Republican leadership has evolved, too. It has quietly worked behind the scenes to kill amendments that reaffirm opposition to same-sex unions, several sources told POLITICO.

The POLITICO story doesn’t exactly break new ground, but it is remarkable to note that House leadership has had a hand in crafting the legislative truce on marriage equality at the federal level.  Congressional Quarterly ran a piece last week detailing how John Boehner has come under fire from conservative groups for not doing enough on the marriage front.  Of course, Boehner has committed $742,000 to the defense of DOMA out of a contract that provides for up to $1.5 million.  In an excellent example of ‘small government’ at work, it’s unclear where exactly this money is coming from.

This is not to say that Republican leadership has suddenly seen the light on marriage equality; they’re still committed to defending the discriminatory and unfair law that is DOMA.  However, it is still significant that when Republicans discussed a reaffirmation of DOMA or a vote on the merits of a constitutional amendment on marriage last year, they opted to forgo both and quietly pursue only legal action.

In my opinion, there are two big takeaways from POLITICO’s reporting.  First, while anti-marriage equality efforts continues to take place on the state level, there appear to be quiet but encouraging signs that we have essentially won on the federal level.  Talk of a marriage amendment to the U.S. Constitution is dead, as it rightfully should be (that was always a pipe dream with little chance of enactment).  P8TT has opined before that it might be preferable to our cause if were DOMA struck down by the Supreme Court before that court rules on the Prop 8 case.  I continue to agree with that sentiment: DOMA is now the remaining hurdle to marriage equality at the federal level.  Bringing down DOMA returns the debate entirely to the states, where the real gains will continue to be made.  (Because family and marital law is historically the province of state governments, a federal legislative action establishing marriage equality would be as suspect under the Tenth Amendment as DOMA is.  The proper route to equality is through state legislatures and courts and, eventually, a Supreme Court ruling on the unconstitutionality of marriage bans.)

Even more importantly, though, it’s important for the marriage movement to stay on guard.  The whole “we should only be focused on the economy” argument is a canard, even if it does help our cause right now.  The economy will improve, and once it does, some conservatives will no doubt go right back to advocating for rolling back any marriage equality achievements we’ve made.  We have an opportunity, then, (and so does the Democratic Party) to push our advantage in this moment and to argue that equal rights should be a priority for our nation and for our government in any economic environment.  If we do, when the economy improves and conservatives are looking for a new cause to rile up the base, we can ensure that marriage equality remains a political non-starter for them.

16 Comments March 30, 2012

Senior House Democratic whip wants DOMA defense funds diverted to investigation of Trayvon Martin’s shooting

By Scottie Thomaston

Representative Mike Honda, a senior Democratic whip, piles on the criticism of Speaker Boehner’s misguided and expensive defense of DOMA that I alluded to yesterday. To recap, Boehner is facing strong criticisms from both the left and the right, legitimate political actors and hate groups alike. The decision to take up the defense of the discriminatory and costly law and the process under which the House leadership has worked has been anything but open and transparent. No one seems to be particularly happy with Speaker Boehner or the Republican House leadership and as more cases work their way through the courts, it isn’t getting any better.

Now representative Honda is speaking out again, wondering why the Republican-led House is wasting so much of their money in a desperate last-ditch effort to continue the pain inflicted upon gays and lesbians since the law’s passage in 1996 when they could be aiding the Department of Justice in investigating what is likely a racially-motivated unprovoked attack and murder of a black teenager who was walking down the street carrying Skittles and a drink:

“We can spend some of that money and address ourselves to the issue in Florida where we could do some investigation and see if there are civil rights violations,” said Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif., and a senior Democratic whip team member.

It would seem to be a more substantive and productive use of time and taxpayer money to investigate civil rights violations than it is to throw $1.5 million at the defense of a law no one really likes. Certainly that is something that would unite a lot more Americans and House representatives than the costly defense of this law.

Representative Honda has addressed the House’s insistence on defending DOMA at the expense of everyone else before:

The California lawmaker has previously requested a hearing into Beohner’s “irresponsible, backdoor use of taxpayer money to pay the private law firm Bancroft PLLC to represent the House in support of the constitutionally-questionable” law. The legal team that Boehner and the Republicans hired has come under harsh criticism for arguing that homosexuality is a choice, misrepresenting research, and relying on such experts as ex-gay advocate George Rekers and the National Organization for Marriage’s Maggie Gallagher.

Violations of civil rights against racial minorities are still enormous and pervasive problems, despite amending the constitution and passing much legislation designed to fight against these violations and protect racial minorities from daily injustice. It’s incredibly problematic to think that we could just ignore stories like this and that the House might not even bother to spend a little money on investigating one of the most widespread and long-term problems the country has ever faced while at the same time perpetuating injustices of a different sort against another minority group through fighting hard to uphold a blatantly discriminatory and disrespectful law that is likely unconstitutional anyway.

7 Comments March 29, 2012

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