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By Scottie Thomaston
- On DOMA and immigration.
- “In Tennessee, gay marriage has young doubting Republicans.”
- Former Congressman Charles Bass calls on Republicans to support full marriage equality.
- A new Gallup poll shows that people over the age of 55 now support marriage equality.
- The town of Bisbee, AZ has approved its civil unions measure that EqualityOnTrial has covered several times. The measure was amended after objections and threats of a lawsuit, and the new version passed.
A new Pew poll surveys acceptance of homosexuality in other countries.
Leave a CommentJune 5, 2013
By Jacob Combs
In a piece published yesterday, Metro Weekly‘s Justin Snow examines the Obama administration’s sclerotic approach to LGBT employment discrimination protections:
It was more than a year ago, in April 2012, that leaders from some of the nation’s largest LGBT-rights organizations sat down for a meeting at the White House. In attendance was White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, who told them that President Barack Obama would not sign an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from LGBT workplace discrimination
The news was a major and unexpected blow that came after weeks of speculation that the president would make good on his 2008 campaign promise to sign such an executive order, which would protect about 20 percent of the civilian workforce.
Among the consolations made to advocates in the room that day was news that a study would be conducted on LGBT workplace discrimination, possibly led by the Council of Economic Advisors, and released with the White House’s seal of approval. Advocates insisted the study was unnecessary and that plenty of data already existed. Winnie Stachelberg, executive vice president for external affairs at the Center for American Progress, was among those in the meeting and described announcement of the study as “confounding and disappointing.”
Never mind the fact–as underscored by HRC Vice President Fred Sainz in an email to Snow–that there was plenty of data on the issue and that further research was seen by LGBT advocates as unnecessary.
But as Snow points out, there has been no news from the White House on any such study, nor any course of action on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit companies from firing employees on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity, nor the issuing of an executive order banning such discrimination amongst federal contractors. At yesterday’s White House press briefing, press secretary Jay Carney responded to a Metro Weekly question on ENDA with, “I don’t have any updated status on that for you.”
There’s something remarkable about the fact that President Obama–and the Democratic Party at large–have so thoroughly rallied to the cause of marriage equality, an issue on which public opinion is shifting rapidly in favor but which remains an issue of marked contention amongst the American people. Employment discrimination provisions, on the other hand, enjoy overwhelming public support (favored by more than 70 percent of Americans), yet the president and other politicians have seemed to drag their feet on the issue. What makes this even more remarkable is the fact that ENDA has already been considered by the House and failed by a single vote, 49-50, in 1996–17 years ago!
Of course, it is possible (and likely) that the president and his allies are waiting until the Supreme Court acts on DOMA and Prop 8 to decide how to proceed with ENDA. Although the two issues are substantially unrelated, the Court’s decisions on marriage equality later this month are undoubtedly going to be huge news that will dominate the media’s coverage of LGBT rights for a while. It may be advisable to hold off an ENDA EO until after the decisions in order to maximize the political significance of the move.
Still, the end goal remains a legislative ENDA that would protect all workers, not just those who work for federal contractors. Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, is planning on holding a markup of ENDA this summer, and the chances for a full Senate vote look good for later this year. But while the timing of these events remains murky, the White House’s position does not have to be. Once the Supreme Court has issued its rulings, the White House should announce clearly and specifically how it plans to make ENDA law.
2 CommentsJune 5, 2013
By Scottie Thomaston
Marco McMillian, whose murderer floated ‘gay panic’ defense. Attribution: The New Civil Rights Movement
In August, the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates will consider a resolution that would minimize or eliminate use of the “gay panic” and “trans panic” defenses by defense attorneys. That legal strategy is most prominently associated with the murder of Matthew Shepard, and it was used in the trial of the murderer of Lawrence King. Essentially, perpetrators of violent crimes against LGBT people are defended under the theory that they committed the crime because of the victim’s LGBT identity, so they’re not responsible for their crimes. In the trial of Matthew Shepard’s killer, the defense team asserted that the murder was caused by Shepard, because, they said, he made a pass at the murderer, making him uncomfortable. (The “gay panic” defense was eventually barred by the judge in that trial.) In the Lawrence King trial, the defense team made the same basic argument: King was flamboyant and that caused McInerney his killer to shoot him in class. The trans panic defense asserts that a transgender person’s identity is so shocking it can lead someone to commit violent crimes against them, such as in the case of Angie Zapata’s killer.
Gay and trans panic defenses were popular in past decades but less successful in recent years. Still, they promote the idea that a LGBT person’s identity is a threat, and is responsible for crimes committed against them.
The resolution, if passed, would disallow the defense in court; the resolution also requires training for judges and lawyers, and jury instruction.
The proposal was submitted by the National LGBT Bar Association, and the ABA’s Criminal Justice Section will take it up at their annual August meeting. The National LGBT Bar Association’s executive director commented on the importance of their resolution:
“This resolution puts an end to a longstanding injustice in our legal system and gives a voice to countless lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender victims of violence, a voice we never hear because they are no longer here to speak for themselves,” said D’Arcy Kemnitz, executive director of the LGBT Bar.
“We have been fighting against gay and trans panic defenses for more than 15 years,” said Kemnitz. “We must protect the LGBT community by refusing to allow defendants to use a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity to justify their heinous crimes.”
As recently as this year, after the murder of a gay, black mayoral candidate in Mississippi, lawyers for the defense floated the idea of saying the murder was committed because of gay panic.
3 CommentsJune 4, 2013
By Jacob Combs
The Nebraska legislature’s judiciary committee voted last Friday to advance a bill to the full body next year that would allow same-sex couples to serve as foster parents if they are related to or have had a ‘significant’ relationship with the child, the Omaha World-Herald reported. From the World-Herald:
Legislative Bill 385 would amend current state policy, which prohibits openly homosexual people and unrelated, unmarried adults who live together from being considered as foster parents.
The bill won’t be debated until next year, but it puts a controversial issue on the agenda for 2014.
The sponsor of LB 385, State Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha, said the amended bill is a “common-sense” policy change that recognizes foster children are better off living with relatives or foster parents they know.
As originally written, Nordquist’s bill would have barred discrimination against any gay or lesbian couple seeking to become foster parents. The senator said he narrowed the bill to allow only relatives and cases where at least one of the primary caretakers “has previously lived with or is a trusted adult that has a pre-existing, significant relationship” with a foster child.
Nordquist amended the bill, he told the World-Herald, to improve its chances of becoming law. The judiciary committee vote was 5-1, with two absences. As the World-Herald pointed out, two other LGBT anti-discrimination bills were introduced in the legislature this year but did not move forward. One would have allowed two unmarried individuals to jointly adopt children (currently, only one member of an unmarried couple can adopt) and the second would have banned workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Nebraska’s legislature is different from those of all other states in that it is comprised of a single, nonpartisan chamber.
Leave a CommentJune 3, 2013
By Jacob Combs
AP file photo
Freedom to Work filed a complaint with the Illinois Department of Human Rights yesterday alleging that Exxon Mobil Corporation discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation in its hiring practices, in contravention of the state’s Human Rights Act.
The complaint, written by two lawyers from the D.C. civil rights/employment firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, was based on the company’s treatment of a pair of ‘test’ resumes that Freedom to Work submitted on behalf of fictitious applicants to an Exxon job located in Illinois. This is the first time an LGBT group has conducted a resume test. As Freedom to Work describes in its filing, the two applicants received dramatically different treatment by the company based on their sexual orientation:
“[W]hen a highly qualified LGBT candidate applied to work as an administrative assistant for Exxon in Illinois, Exxon refused to invite the applicant for an interview and never contacted her about her interest in the position. In stark contrast, during the same time period a less qualified non-LGBT applicant applied for the same position and Exxon responded by contacting the less qualified non-LGBT applicant on three separate occasions to ask her to interview for the position.
“On the third occasion that Exxon contacted the non-LGBT applicant, Exxon’s representative even suggested that the position would be held open for the non-LGBT applicant for four days until the applicant could contact Exxon. And even after the non-LGBT candidate failed to respond to Exxon’s request for an interview, Exxon did not contact the better qualified LGBT candidate for an interview.”
Freedom to Work’s complaint asks the Department of Human Rights “to enjoin Exxon from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation in Illinois, to require Exxon to amend its equal employment opportunity policy to expressly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and to require Exxon to educate its managers and workforce on how to ensure that its employees and applicants are not subject to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Exxon Mobil remains one of the few Fortune 500 companies without an LGBT non-discrimination policy; the oil company received a score of -25 in the Human Rights Campaign’s 2013 Corporate Equality Index.
Exxon will hold its annual shareholder’s meeting next week in Dallas, where shareholders will vote on a resolution to adopt an anti-LGBT discrimination ban. A similar proposal failed last year when 80 percent of shareholders rejected it. Only 12 percent of Fortune 500 companies do not have such a policy.
Freedom to Work conducted a similar resume test in Texas, Exxon’s home state, which returned the same results as the Illinois test. However, Texas has no LGBT employment discrimination law, so Freedom to Work was only able to challenge the company’s hiring practices in Illinois.
“Exxon broke the law, defies industry standards and continues to betray the American people’s sense of fairness,” Tico Almeida, Freedom to Work’s president, said in a statement announcing the complaint. ”This case is one more reminder that Exxon stands virtually alone in the Fortune 100 in denying qualified gay and transgender Americans a fair shot to get a job based on their talents and hard work. Exxon must obey the Golden Rule and do onto others as they would want others to do onto them.”
Read the full complaint in Freedom to Work v. Exxon Mobil Corp. below, via Equality Case Files at Scribd.
1 CommentMay 23, 2013
By Jacob Combs
In a stunning and disheartening defeat, Democrats in the Senate Judiciary Committee chose yesterday not to include protections for binational same-sex couples in the comprehensive immigration reform bill currently making its way through Congress.
Republicans on the committee had publicly and privately stated that including the measure, known as the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), would force them to withhold their support from the entire bill. UAFA would have created a classification of ‘permanent partners’ through which U.S. citizens in binational same-sex relationships could sponsor their partners in immigration proceedings. A related amendment would have extended immigration protections to married same-sex couples in spite of the Defense of Marriage Act.
During yesterday’s committee markup, four crucial Democrats–all of whom support marriage equality, in theory–spoke of a difficult decision in withdrawing support for the amendment but defended the move in light of Republican threats. ”If we make the effort to make [the protections] part of this bill, they will walk away,” New York Sen. Chuck Schumer said during the hearing. “They’ve said it publicly. They’ve told me privately. I believe them.”
The other three Democrats on the committee who pulled their support of the amendment were Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California, Dick Durbin of Illinois and Al Franken of Minnesota. Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who had introduced the UAFA amendment in the first place, was the only Democratic Senator who spoke in favor of the measure unreservedly. ”I don’t want to be the senator who asks Americans to choose between the life of their life and the love of their country,” he said when introducing the amendment, but later said he would withdraw it “with a heavy heart” given its lack of support in the chamber.
The committee eventually voted 13-5 to send the comprehensive immigration reform bill to the full Senate. The UAFA amendment could be considered by the full Senate in June when the immigration reform legislation comes up for a floor vote, although it would likely require 60 votes to pass, making its chances of success exceedingly slim. The measure could also be taken up as a stand-alone bill, but such a path would also be sure to falter in the face of a 60-vote threshold.
“Despite the leadership of Chairman Leahy, Judiciary Committee Democrats have caved to bullying by their Republican colleagues,” Rachel B. Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality Action Fund, said in a statement after the vote. “There should be shame on both sides of the political aisle today for lawmakers who worked to deny LGBT immigrant families a vote. Despite widespread support from business, labor, faith, Latino and Asian-American advocates, Senators abandoned LGBT families without a vote.”
LGBT immigration advocates pointed out yesterday as reports surfaced that the Leahy amendments might be tabled that they were essentially burned three times by Democratic Senators on the issue. ”It is important to note,” Immigration Equality’s Steve Ralls told Metro Weekly, “that, when the Senate immigration framework (which Schumer and Durbin helped write) did not include LGBT couples, both Senators assured our families they would be in the base bill. When the base bill (which they also helped write) was not inclusive, they assured us we would receive a vote in Committee.” Of course, no such committee vote ended up occurring.
The immigration protections debate underscores the vital importance of understanding that, while the LGBT community’s successes on the marriage equality front in the last few months have been remarkable, there are still many issues on which politicians still need to be pushed. Even though all four of the Democrats in question on the Judiciary Committee support marriage equality, that support did not carry over to support for same-sex couples’ rights when it comes to immigration. It’s worth asking these senators whether they support LGBT equality categorically, or in words only.
1 CommentMay 22, 2013