Last night, in a 31-20 vote, the Hawaii House unexpectedly passed legislation extending civil unions to same sex and opposite sex couples. If signed by the moderate Republican Governor Linda Lingle, Hawaii will become “one of six states giving all the rights of marriage to same-sex couples, but without calling it marriage.” The Star Bulletin sets the scene:
The House vote came yesterday evening after an afternoon spent in caucus and marked with procedural votes that showed supporters had a 31-vote majority with 20 opposed. Thirty-four votes are needed to override a veto. When the final vote was tallied, again at 31-20, with two Republicans, Reps. Barbara Marumoto and Cynthia Thielen, joining the Democratic majority, the reaction from the packed House gallery was subdued. Supporters looked at each other; some cried. Outside, they sang “We Shall Overcome” and hugged each other.
“Martin Luther King said it best,” House Majority Leader Blake Oshiro told a local NBC affiliate after the vote, “‘The arc of history is long and once in a while you get to bend it correctly,’ and today we bent it in the right way, towards justice.”
Indeed, Hawaii has been a battleground for gay rights since the 1990s, when the Hawaii Supreme Court declared that the state “could not bar same-sex couples from marrying without violating its own equal protection statutes.” The decision, the first of its kind, led to a national backlash against gay equality and led President Clinton to sign the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. By 1998, Hawaii voters approved the nation’s first ‘defense of marriage’ constitutional amendment with 78% of the vote. It wasn’t until 2001 that the first civil union bill was introduced in the Hawaii legislature, only to pass 8 years later. The Senate did not approve the measure until earlier this year.
Nobody knows how the governor will act — the House fell three votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto — but Michael Jones makes the case for why Lingle, a fried of Sarah Palin, should sign the measure here. Lingle has until July 6th to make her decision. She could do nothing and allow the bill to come law, sign it, or veto it. The Lieutenant Governor, incidentally, is publicly opposing the measure.
As part of the Obama administration’s plan to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), the Pentagon has convened a “Working Group” that is meeting with servicemembers, chaplains, and others individuals about how to repeal the ban on gay men and women serving openly in the military. The process is going to take until at least Dec. 1, 2010, and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has said that the President is committed to letting the group complete its work before moving forward. Some members of Congress have raised the possibility of passing DADT repeal legislation this year — before the review process is complete — and delaying implementation until next year.
However, today Defense Secretary Robert Gates sent House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) a letter (in response to an inquiry from Skelton) telling him that he doesn’t want Congress to take any action at all on DADT this year. From the letter obtained by ThinkProgress:
I believe in the strongest possible terms that the Department must, prior to any legislative action, be allowed the opportunity to conduct a thorough, objective, and systematic assessment of the impact of such a policy change; develop an attentive comprehensive implementation plan, and provide the President and the Congress with the results of this effort in order to ensure that this step is taken in the most informed and effective matter. [...]
Therefore, I strongly oppose any legislation that seeks to change this policy prior to the completion of this vital assessment process.
Gates’ moratorium on any DADT action this year is troubling. Thirteen Senate Democrats have introduced a bill to replace DADT with a new nondiscrimination policy that “prohibits discrimination against service members on the basis of their sexual orientation.” The Senate bill mirrors Rep. Patrick Murphy’s (D-PA) repeal bill in the House but goes several steps further, laying out a timeline for repeal and setting benchmarks for the Pentagon’s ongoing review of the policy.
Gates’ stance makes it significantly harder for Congress to help fulfill Obama’s pledge to repeal DADT and has some supporters of repeal questioning the Pentagon’s dedication to moving forward. Democrats in Congress will have a tougher time attracting moderate and Republican co-sponsors in light of this letter, and if Congress waits until next year — after the Pentagon review is completed — to move forward on legislation, the make-up of the legislature will be different and could again delay repeal.
Sens. Harry Reid (D-NV), Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) will unveil a draft immigration proposal today that’s meant to entice Republicans to support a bipartisan and comprehensive bill. The 26-page draft, obtained by the Associated Press, “attempts to woo GOP senators in part by calling for ‘concrete benchmarks’ to secure the border before granting illegal immigrants the opportunity to gain legal status.” The draft includes a path towards legalization of the estimated 10.8 million undocumented immigrants but also establishes enforcement benchmarks like “increasing the number of border patrol officers and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, increasing the number of personnel available to inspect for drugs and contraband, and improving technology used to assist ICE agents,” CNN notes.
The proposal will also address several remaining technical issues that prevent widows and orphans of U.S. citizens from obtaining immigration benefits. It will eliminate discrimination in the immigration laws by permitting permanent partners of United States citizens and lawful permanent residents to obtain lawful permanent resident status.
The U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act allows U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents to sponsor their spouses (and other immediate family members) for immigration purposes, but does not recognize same-sex partners as spouses. Consequently, the approximately 36,000 Americans who are in same-sex relationships in which one member is a citizen are frequently forced to re-locate to another country or live separately once a visa expires or an immigration problem arises. Children are separated from their parents and relationships are torn apart.
Democrats remain skeptical, however, that Congress will take up immigration reform this year. Just yesterday, President Obama told reporters aboard Air Force One that he didn’t think Congress had the “political will” to pass reform this year. “Now, look, we’ve gone through a very tough year, and I’ve been working Congress pretty hard. So I know there may not be an appetite immediately to dive into another controversial issue,” he said. Meanwhile, Republicans have walked away from the proposal, claiming that immigration reform has no chance of passing.
Last year, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) introduced a reform proposal that did not allow U.S. citizens and permanent residents to sponsor their partners for residency.
My colleague Jeff Krehely is out with a fascinating piece exploring how opponents of gay marriage are responding to the public’s growing support for marriage equality by portraying themselves as “victims of anti-religious (specifically anti-Christian) hate crimes.” And they’re using the courts to press their case and develop the narrative.
The sentiment is most obvious in Washington State, where Protect Marriage Washington (PMW), a group opposing marriage equality, successfully placed a voter referendum challenging a law which granted “same-sex (and older opposite-sex) domestic partners virtually all of the same rights that straight married couples receive from the state.” Washington state’s Public Records Act “instructs the state to release names of people who sign petitions to place an issue up for a public vote,” but PMW moved to block the release of names, claiming that publicizing the names of the petitioners “will subject the signatories to harassment, injury, or property damage.” The case is now “scheduled to go before the Supreme Court this month.”
As Krehely notes, these claims are somewhat ironic; the group is complaining about the very kind of abuse that the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community have experienced for decades. Abuse that some PMW petitioners undoubtedly propagated, if not overtly then through their unequal policies. Still, that’s not to say that their claims are all frivolous, of course. Any violence against petitioners is inexcusable, but as Krehely notes, it simply pales in comparison to the kind of abuse gay people face when challenging PMW-like petitions or fighting for equal rights. “In fact, based on hate crimes data, the LGBT community received much more harassment and intimidation in California during the Proposition 8 debate than any of the people opposed to marriage equality“:
- Hate crimes in California dropped 2% overall in 2008, but anti-LGBT related crimes increased by nearly 17%, raising recorded incidents from 132 to 154.
- Sexual-orientation-related hate crimes in states with marriage amendments on the ballot in 2004 saw a 47% increase in these crimes from the previous year. Two of the most telling examples are Ohio, which saw an increase from 32 hate crime incidents based on sexual orientation in 2003 to 57 incidents in 2004, and Michigan, which went from 41 incidents in 2003 to 73 in 2004.
- Government reports and data also note that anti-LGB hate crimes are on the rise nationally.The FBI recorded 75 anti-Catholic and 56 anti-Protestant hate crimes nationwide in 2008, which is equal to fewer than one religious-based hate crime for every 100,000 Christians in the country. That same year saw 16 sexual orientation hate crimes for every 100,000 LGB people in the United States.
“The current strategy, which is being advanced through the Protect Marriage Washington Supreme Court case, is to falsely portray marriage equality opponents as political and religious victims whose rights and well-being are being trampled upon,” Krehely argues. “The PMW case before the United States Supreme Court should be about the need to maintain transparent and fair elections, and not about the trumped up and exaggerated charges of voter intimidation.”
But conservatives are busy blaming the victims for the very kind of behavior that “the anti-LGBT ballot fights that groups such as PMW are starting.”
The editorial pages of RollCall and the Washington Times have become a battleground for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and transgendered people are in the bulls-eye of the conservative attack. These articles distill transgendered individuals of their humanity and presents them as freaks or pieces of flesh not deserving of legal protection. “Women should not be forced to share bathrooms with people with male body parts who say they want to be females,” the Washington Times wrote on Saturday. “It is right to discriminate between honesty and dishonesty, between politeness and impoliteness, between right and wrong. And it assuredly is right… to remove from the classroom a ‘she-male’ who insists on exposing her pupils to her unnatural transformation.”
That prominent national newspapers are accepting such extreme pieces and publishing them alongside supportive editorials is just appalling. Editors who would have never thought it appropriate to run an argument that advocated inferior health coverage for some minority group just several months ago, now publish articles that say transgedner people don’t deserve legal protection because of some alleged inferiority. These editorials legitimize the most reactionary social doctrines and set them as default conservative positions in the ENDA debate.
The most interesting progressive response to these arguments comes from Lisa Mottet of the the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Mottret points to preliminary data “from a forthcoming, groundbreaking survey on discrimination against transgender people in the U.S. from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality [which] shows that discrimination in employment is a nearly universal experience:
- 97% our sample report being mistreated or harassed at work.
- 47% lost their jobs, were denied a promotion or denied a job as a direct result of being a transgender individual.
As she notes, “Americans support nondiscrimination in the workplace, including ENDA, because they aspire to workplaces where people truly are judged by their contributions to the workplace, not on personal characteristics. LGBT people simply want to be included in the American dream of equal opportunity for all.” Unfortunately, the balance in the media coverage suggests otherwise.
On Saturday, the Washington Times argued that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) — which would prohibit public and private employers from using an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity “as the basis for employment decisions, such as hiring, firing, promotion or compensation” — would subject “kids to weirdos” that undermine “standards of decency.” Titled ‘Discrimination is necessary,’ the editorial contends that protecting children from the “unnatural transformation” of “a she-male” is “common sense“:
First-graders should not be forced into the classrooms of teachers undergoing sex changes. Religious broadcasters and faith-based summer camps should not be forced to hire cross-dressers. Women should not be forced to share bathrooms with people with male body parts who say they want to be females. Yet those are some of the likely results if Congress passes H.R. 3017, the so-called Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which is due for a vote this week by the House Education and Labor Committee.
ENDA purports to “prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.” Clever politically correct wording aside, this is a direct attack on common sense. On some matters, it is good to be discriminating. It is right to discriminate between honesty and dishonesty, between politeness and impoliteness, between right and wrong. And it assuredly is right to be discriminating in choosing who teaches our children. ENDA would make it impossible for a non-church-based charter school, for instance, to remove from the classroom a “she-male” who insists on exposing her pupils to her unnatural transformation.…Andrea Lafferty of the Traditional Values Coalition wrote in the April 20 edition of Roll Call about several examples of cross-dressing or sex-changing teachers who claimed protections under state disability laws (in the 12 states that do indeed protect “gender identity”) and were able to remain in the classroom despite parents’ protests.
Despite the fact that 12 states already protect transgendered teachers and have seen “no epidemic of children coming out of those public school environments profoundly harmed,” the Times relies on popular anxiety about transgendered people to suggest that that their mere presence would hurt children without providing any evidence of actual harm.
In reality, the issue of transgendered teachers is quite rare. “There have been a half-dozen or so teacher gender transitions in the last decade,” and in at least some of these cases, parents were allowed “to remove their child from that school and place them in another school.” ENDA only prohibits institutions from making employment decisions based on sexual orientation or gender identity; it does not prevent schools from re-assigning teachers to different classrooms.
Moreover, both the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA) support the measure. “ENDA embodies the simple principle that all workers should be evaluated solely on the product of their work not judged on their sexual orientation or gender identity,” AFT notes. The NEA adds, “Diversity among educators is not a threat, but rather a great asset to the profession and the students they serve.”
Supports of ENDA are still anxious about the transgender provisions, however. As Roll Call reports today, Republicans who support the measure “are suggesting that their support for the bill may turn to opposition if the final bill extends protection to transgender individuals.” “‘That’s an issue,’ said Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL), who is listed as a co-sponsor of the bill that includes transgender people. ‘I just haven’t decided.’ Biggert said she had met with transgender people and had initially intended to vote for the bill, but became concerned when she began to think how the expansion of the law could affect schools.” Similarly, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has said that “he would likely vote against the legislation with transgender protections.” “It makes it something you can’t vote for,” Ryan said. “I think ENDA’s the right thing to do,” but transgender language “changes the equation.”
In 2007 the House had to drop protections for transgendered individuals to secure enough votes for passage and it’s unclear that Democrats will be able to withstand a Republican motion to recommit that excludes protections for transgender people.
Today, Donohue released another statement attacking the New York Times for claiming that a man who returned to his abuser was, in fact, abused. Titled “Not All Gay Sex Is Abusive,” the release claims that a child who returns to his molester was not “sexually abused”:
If a 17-year old guy has sex with an older guy for twenty years, and continues to have sex with him at the age of 38—while he is married with children—is there anyone who would believe his claim that he was sexually abused? The answer is yes: the New York Times would. That’s exactly what happened in the case described in today’s newspaper involving a homosexual affair between Chilean priest Fr. Fernando Karadima, now 79, and Dr. James Hamilton, now 44. [...]
According to the Times, it all started with a kiss. Let me be very clear about this: if some guy tried to kiss me when I was 17, I would have flattened him. I most certainly would not go on a retreat with the so-called abuser, unless, of course, I liked it. Indeed, Hamilton liked it so much he went back for more—20 years more. Even after he got married, he couldn’t resist going back for more.
In reality, victims of abuse often return to their abuser for a variety of reasons including fear, guilt, shame, or low self-esteem. Many victims of sexual abuse develop a form of The Stockholm Syndrome — a condition in which a victim (usually a hostage) begins to identify with and grow sympathetic to their captor/abuser to minimize the threat to their lives.
As one psychologist explained it, “When abused by a person close to them, victims struggle to integrate the fundamental human task of attachment with the instinctive recoiling from pain through withdrawal or shutdown, which causes huge emotional conflict.” “It appears that the self-preservative instinct (here comes nature again throwing a curve ball) to attach is reactivated by starting to view the perpetrator as bad and hurtful and the more people are able to loosen their attachment to the perpetrator, they have intense feelings of loss, isolation, abandonment, or even impending death.”
Ironically, in his effort to minimize the scandal and criticize the Times, Dononhue has made, what for him must be a major concession: not all gay sex is bad.
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee addressed his controversial remarks about gay adoption during an interview with Rosie O’Donnell yesterday. Huckabee insisted that his biblical worldview convinced him that a heterosexual environment still represented the “ideal” for children, but said that gay parents also offer loving homes to children. The interview grew contentious at points as O’Donnell pressed Huckabee about his view of “the ideal.”
“You’re saying it’s not the ideal because it’s not straight,” she said:
HUCKABEE: The point that I have tried to make is, I think the ideal is traditional marriage. Man, woman raising children that they’ve created and we don’t always have the ideal [...]
HUCKABEE: I certainly believe adoption ought to be a high priority and as a person who is pro-life, I certainly think we need to make a greater effort to put children with families who are going to nurture them and care for them.
O’DONNELL: And does that preclude gay families in your mind?
HUCKABEE: Well, you know Rosie, again, I think people have to make their own decision about what a family ought to look like and I’m not going to judge you or judge anybody else because I know there are so many loving people who are in same-sex relationships and they have adopted children and they love those kids. I’m not going to judge them. I’m simply not going there. [...]
O’DONNELL: Do you believe if there is a child and there is a gay family that wants the child, the child should just stay in foster care rather than go with a gay family? Is that your preference?
HUCKABEE: No, that’s a choice that each state is going to make according to the laws of that state….I have no doubt that you don’t have love and affection and total devotion to your children.
O’DONNELL: Yes, I feel about them, the same way you feel about yours.
HUCKBAEE: Absolutely, I don’t question that.
O’DONNELL: Maybe Mike, you should just in your mind know that ideal is really code word for heterosexual. It’s not the ideal because it’s not heterosexual.
Listen to highlights:
O’Donnell asked Huckabee how he would respond if one of his kids were gay. “I would love them, I would absolutely love them…there would be no less love because of whether it was there behavior or whether it was who they were.” he said. O’Donnell also urged Huckabee to spend more time with gay parents and their children and advised him to think about how his remarks affect these families — “who are already a minority and are marginalized.”
Huckabee was criticized after he suggested that society shouldn’t recognize gay marriage because it would set a precedent of accepting other behaviors “against the ideal” and likened the children of gay parents to puppies. Huckabee accused the magazine of misrepresenting his statements and they have since published the full interview. In his conversation with O’Donnell, however, Huckabee still insisted that the magazine deliberately edited portions of the conversation.
Last week, an Arkansas Circuit Court struck down a state law that banned unmarried couples from adopting or fostering children. The Court found that Huckabee’s “ideal” view was unconstitutional. “Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Chris Piazza said in a two-page ruling Friday that people in ‘non-marital relationships’ are forced to choose between becoming a parent and sustaining that relationship. ‘Due process and equal protection are not hollow words without substance,’ Piazza said. ‘They are rights enumerated in our constitution that must not be construed in such a way as to deny or disparage other rights retained by the people.’”
Servicemembers United is reporting that 443 soldiers were discharged under the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy during fiscal year 2009. “The annual fiscal year ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ discharge statistic combines the total number of discharges reported by the Department of Defense, which was 428, with the total number of discharges reported by the Department of Homeland Security for the Coast Guard, which was 15.”
“This brings the official 17-year total, according to the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security, to 13,425 discharges,” the group says, noting that the number may be an underestimate:
Although only 443 total discharges are included in the official statistic for fiscal year 2009, the true number of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” discharges is very likely higher. When pressed by Servicemembers United, the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s Freedom of Information Office confirmed on three separate occasions in late 2009 and early 2010 that the internal source of their annual “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” discharge numbers is the Defense Manpower Data Center, and that Defense Manpower Data Center statistics do not include discharges from the Reserves or the National Guard. [...]
The Department of Defense in general – and the Defense Manpower Data Center specifically – has consistently failed to disclose full information and data related to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” discharges in blatant violation of the Freedom of Information Act. In response to one request for information by Servicemembers United in mid-2009, the Department of Defense took more than twice the amount of time allowable by law to produce less than one-tenth of one percent of the requested data – data that was not classified and not protected by the Privacy Act. Information requests from members of Congress, including House Armed Services Committee members, have also been only partially filled.
Studies have indicated that the cost of discharging and replacing service members fired because of their sexual orientation during the policy’s first 10 years varied from $190.5 million to $363.8 million. It’s estimated that there are at least 65,000 gay and lesbian servicemembers on active military duty today and another 1 million gay and lesbian veterans.
Of all the pending changes, the introduction of women seems to be igniting the strongest reactions, according to interviews with active-duty and veteran sailors. The complaints often fall into two categories: first, that female sailors will invariably become pregnant, potentially compromising missions during which submarines can remain submerged for months at a time; and second, that submarines are not built for the mixing of the sexes, given the tight passageways, shared berths and lack of privacy.
Joseph Shook, a retired submariner from Texas, responded to Bruner’s blog with defiant comments, arguing that “over 99% do not wish to see it happen, all knowing it will not work as envisioned by whatever idiots have thought it up.” Some of the backlash stems from a desire to preserve one of the few remaining public institutions in America where adult men can openly act like, well, young adult men. (Women sometimes board submarines as guests or as technicians on short-term assignments but are not assigned to crews.) [...] “I’m worried that if you add women and remove smoking, some people will say, ‘Too much is changing; this isn’t what I like, and I’m going to get out,’ ” he said. “I don’t think you can remove cigarettes and add women and it not have some effect on the retention rate.”
Republicans and conservative military leaders should be outraged. They have insisted that the Pentagon poll military members and their families about replacing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and warned about the implications of adopting new social policies while the country is at war. Why aren’t they concerned that the Navy is about to institute some very unpopular policies?
But in this case, the critics are silent, apparently cognizant of the fact that military policy should be determined by the needs and values of the military, not opinion surveys. This tacit acceptance undermines their concerns about DADT and suggests that their support for the policy has little to do with the needs of servicemembers. As one anonymous members observed, allowing gays to serve openly is small apples compared to taking away cigarettes and integrating women. “Everybody knows there are already homosexuals on our force, and I don’t think them being open about it will change anything on a boat.”
This morning, Fox and Friends covered GetEQUAL’s recent attention-grabbing protest, in which six veterans discharged under the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy handcuffed themselves to the White House fence to pressure the administration to repeal the policy before the end of the year. The network ignored the purpose of the protest and focused on the “transparency” angle, playing a footage of the Park Police closing down Lafayette Park and moving reporters away from the activists.
Host Gretchen Carlson asked conservative blogger Michelle Malkin to comment the police’s actions and insinuated that the protesters were not real soldiers:
CARLSON: I want to get your take on something that happened at the White House earlier this week, because, of course the message from the Obama administration is of course they will be the most transparent White House ever and there was this incident where some members of the military, at least dressed up like that, were handcuffing themselves in an area where typically protests happen and the police chased reporters away and basically said they could not cover the event that was happening. Now the police say it was a rookie mistake, but what’s your take on it?
MALKIN: Well, I think what amuses me most is the left wing frenzy very this, because you have all these blogs and left-wing journalists who are finally realizing that Obama lied and transparency died. And all the morons at Media Matters can Google it or search it in their transcripts. I’ve said it so many times on your show and Fox about this administration’s lack of commitment to transparency…
In reality, of course, all of the protesters were, or still are, members of the military. Lt. Dan Choi serves in the New York National Guard and served in the Army, James Pietrangelo II served in the army, Autumn Sandeen and Larry Whitt served in the Navy, Mara Boyd served in the Air Force ROTC and Evelyn Thomas served in the Marine Corps.
The Park Police was widely criticized for its action and initially “provided contradictory accounts of who ordered the move.” Yesterday, however, park police officials said that they acted without consulting administration officials or the secret service and admitted that young officers had “screwed up.” Press Secretary Robert Gibbs also said the police engaged in “some overzealous actions.”
This obviously isn’t the first time the channel has used left-wing protests to push a conservative agenda. On Tuesday, Neil Cavuto covered GetEQUAL’s protest of Obama in Los Angeles by inviting a tea party activist to explain the double standard between how the media treats DADT activists and conservative tea partiers. “I think we kind of have a political double standard going on here. It’s easy for one side when they see their issues being put forward to ignore rude behavior. But when it’s the other side of the aisle, they’re quick to point fingers,” the tea partier explained to Fox.
As gay activistsorganizeagainst the administration’s reluctance to commit to repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell this year, Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) — a member of the critical Senate Armed Services Committee — is saying that Democrats are “within a vote or two” of including repeal legislation in this year’s Defense Authorization bill. Yesterday, Udall hosted a press conference to reiterate his support for ending the policy this year:
The Pentagon is studying how to implement an end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and while I agree that is a necessary step, I also believe strongly that we must repeal it this year. I will continue to work with other senators to ensure that the repeal is included in the Defense Authorization bill, which will be marked up in the Senate Armed Services Committee next month. But we still face an uphill battle, and we will need a bipartisan push to clinch this urgent effort. The stories these dismissed service members told me today are extremely powerful and compelling, and they’ll help as I urge my colleagues to support repeal. The countless men and women who currently are unable to serve our country honestly deserve a change. And I believe it’s imperative for our national security.
“I’m going to push everybody possible to see this happens this year. We’ve had this discussion long enough,” Udall told the Denver Post. “The Pentagon has taken some big forward steps that they’ve never been willing to take. I don’t under estimate the steps they’re taking, but in the end we need to change the law.”
Indeed, when Secretary of Defense Robert Gates first announced the formation of the study group in February, Udall proposed that Congress move concurrently with the study and has since co-sponsored Sen. Joe Lieberman’s (I-CT) repeal legislation that would end the policy within 13 months of enactment and set benchmarks for the Pentagon’s ongoing review. To the frustration of many, however, President Obama has yet to endorse the measure or recommit to ending the policy this year. During today’s White House Press conference, Gibbs said the administration would wait for the Pentagon to complete its review before pushing for repeal.
Yesterday, veterans discharged under the Military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy handcuffed themselves to the White House fence to protest the administration’s refusal to ending the policy before the end of the year. Park Police responded to the incident by closing down Lafayette Park and moving reporters “more than 300 feet back from the activists handcuffed to the fence in front of the north side of the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue.” On Tuesday, “the U.S. Park Police and the U.S. Secret Service Uniformed Division provided contradictory accounts of who ordered the move,” but today, the Park Police officially apologized, saying it had “screwed up.” “We had some young officers who, when they were told to move the people back — which we typically do when we’re going to make arrests – they moved the people back a lot further than we typically do,” said Park Police spokesman David Schlosser. “That was a rookie, amateur error and they screwed up on that.”
This afternoon, The Advocate’s Kerry Eleveld joked with Press Secretary Robert Gibbs about the incident and asked if the recent protests suggested to the White House that it had underestimated the LGBT community’s patience with the process to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Gibbs admitted that the Park Police engaged in “some overzealous actions” and reiterated the president’s long standing commitment to ending the policy. But when Evelveld asked if the administration is committed to letting the Pentagon study group complete its work before Congress acts on repeal legislation, Gibbs said that it was, effectively precluding any chance of ending the policy this year:
ELEVELD: He’s committed to letting the Pentagon work through it’s working group process until December 1st, is that true? He’s committed to that?
GIBBS: Yes. The president has set forth a process with the chair of the Joint Chiefs and with the Secretary of Defense to work through this issue.
ELEVELD: Before any legislative action is taken. That rules out legislative action this year.
GIBBS: Well, again — the House and the Senate are obviously a different branch of government. The President has a process and a proposal I think that he believes is the best way forward to seeing, again, the commitment that he’s made for many years in trying to — changing that law.
Indeed, with the military committed to maintaining the policy until it finished its review on December 1st, the White House has been reluctant to lobby moderate senators to include repeal legislation in this year’s defense authorization act.
During his State of the Union, however, Obama pledged, “This year — this year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are. It’s the right thing to do.” Similarly, at the Human Rights Campaign fundraiser in October, the president said he understood activists’ frustration with the slow process of repeal and urged them to continue lobbying leaders.
“Now, I’ve said this before, I’ll repeat it again — it’s not for me to tell you to be patient, any more than it was for others to counsel patience to African Americans petitioning for equal rights half a century ago,” he said. “And that’s why it’s so important that you continue to speak out, that you continue to set an example, that you continue to pressure leaders — including me — and to make the case all across America,” Obama added.
The Dallas Voice is reporting that activists with GetEQUAL — the same group that interrupted President Obama during a fundraiser and handcuffed activists to the White House fence yesterday to force the administration to repeal DADT by the end of the year — disrupted a House Education and Labor Committee hearing this morning to demand that the committee mark-up the Employer Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). The committee is already expected to hold hearings on the measure this week or next and the bill could get a vote in the House shortly thereafter.
As Chairman George Miller (D-CA) began today’s hearing on reforming the juvenile justice system, an activist with a ‘Get Equal Pass ENDA’ sign came up and asked him to accept a mark-up marker. Miller refused:
MILLER: And to hear from a series of witnesses on the…
PROTESTER 1: With all do respect, Chairman Miller, as a constituent of your state of California, I’m here demanding you no longer delay a mark-up…
MILLER: We’re not delaying the mark-up and thank you.
PROTESTER 1: I would just like to deliver this marker I don’t know if it’s because of the recession that you guys you can’t afford markers, or whatever the issue is, but in our community there are people being fired because they are lesbian, gay, bi and transgender.
MILLER: As you know, we are working very hard on that legislation...I will not accept the marker. We’re working on that as expeditiously as we can, thank you very much. I appreciate it, thank you.
PROTESTER 2: From Texas, Virginia…Chairman, I can be fired for being gay.
MILLER: I understand that, and that’s why we’re proceeding with the legislation.
UNIDENTIFIED LAWMAKER: This is the problem with this. There’s no end to it. You’re never going to satisfy them all.. [...]
MILLER: We are working on it which we expect to bring to mark-up rather quickly. It’s not an easy piece of legislation, it’s a fairly compliated piece of legislation. We want to get it right. But we expect to have it before this committee in the very near future.
I speculated on the effectiveness of GetEQUAL’s activism around Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell here and the “unidentified lawmaker’s” comments reiterate the concern that the group’s in-your-face disruption may alienate more moderate or conservative lawmakers and cause them to triple question their votes.
Direct activism has its place in this struggle, but at a moment when Democrats have overwhelming majorities, it seems misplaced. As Bridgette LaVictoire of Lez Get Real observes, “This is about political chess. The time of civil disobedience may one day come. That I will not doubt and will not deny. That time is not now. LGBT Militancy in a time of increased Right Wing Militancy will not get our voices heard- they will get our voices shut down.”
Following yesterday’s action at Sen. Barbara Boxer’s (D-CA) campaign rally in Los Angeles, GetEQUAL, Lt. Dan Choi and five other gay and lesbian veterans who were discharged under the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Policy (DADT) “handcuffed themselves to the White House fence” this afternoon to demand that the President follow through on his promise to repeal the policy before the end of the year:
CHOI: We are handcuffing ourselves to the White House gates once again to demand that President Obama show leadership on repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ If the President were serious about keeping his promise to repeal this year, he would put the repeal language in his Defense Authorization budget. The President gave us an order at the Human Rights Campaign dinner to keep pressure on him and we will continue to return to the White House, in larger numbers, until the President keeps his promise to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ this year,” Choi said
It’s hard to say how effective all of this is. On one hand, the actions and the frustration of repeal advocates is certainly understandable. The White House, never very good at dealing with its base whether it be public option advocates or DADT opponents, has started pretending that asking for repeal is the same thing as pushing for one and has done little to advance the cause. DADT activists feel that inserting repeal legislation into this year’s Defense Authorization bill represents the best opportunity for repealing the policy and view the Pentagon’s study as an unnecessary delay tactic. GetEQUAL, Dan Choi and their allies hope that these kinds of actions bring new attention to DADT and pressure the administration to act before its too late.
But others feel that spectacular pronouncements of civil disobedience will alienate the military and the moderate lawmakers whose support is so necessary to pass repeal legislation. A prolonged fight, in other words won’t win over the likes of Jim Webb or Ben Nelson, if anything it may give them pause and make them triple guess their support. Military leaders like Gates, who are generally supportive of repealing the policy, but have repeatedly argued that Congress should not move legislation until a full review is complete, may also be offended by these antics.
Choi and GetEQAUL are trying to force the administration to move the debate forward, instead of simply sitting back and waiting for studies, and that goal is certainly is admirable. It’s way past time for Obama to throw his support behind Lieberman’s repeal measure in the Senate, since it includes language that codifies the Pentagon review process, and recommit to repealing the policy. But whether yelling at him is a better approach than engaging in traditional shoe leather lobbying and organizing, remains to be seen.
The House Education and Labor Committee is expected to take up the Employer Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in the next several days and the bill will likely receive a quick vote in the full House in the coming weeks, Rep. Barney Frank (D-NY) told a group of gay activists on Sunday. “The speaker has promised that.” “We will get this done fairly quickly,” he said. The legislation — which has 199 co-sponsors in the House and 45 co-sponsors in the Senate — would make it illegal for private employers with more than 15 employees to fire, refuse to hire, or fail to promote employees simply based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Religious organizations and non-profit membership-only clubs are exempt from the bill.
But as Congress prepares to move forward with the legislation, conservative activists are quickly mobilizing against it. Over the weekend, Matt Barber of the Liberty Counsel and Andrea Lafferty of the Traditional Values Coalition warned attendees of the Freedom Federation’s Awakenings Conference that protecting transgendered individuals from discrimination would cause sexual assaults on disabled veterans and lead to the designation of sexual fetishes like “men that want to rub their bodies up and down women… Fecal matter. Their involvement with fecal matter. Or urine. Transvestism. The list goes on, I’m not naming all of them. Children. Animals. And so we really need to draw a line in the sand” as a special class.
Expanding the scope of traditionally protected minorities to these groups will engender all sorts of problems…The federal government clearly oversteps its bounds when it places the privacy of a teacher above the right of the parents to look after the well-being of their child. These cases are not isolated, and hundreds of school districts nationwide could face similarly sticky situations if ENDA is passed…what type of education are we giving to our children when we present them with difficult questions regarding gender identity? These impressionable young students need a stable environment in which to learn. Forcing children, who are struggling to find their place, to remain in classrooms taught by teachers working through their own identity issues will breed more gender confusion and enervate the educational experience…
Dr. Jillian T. Weiss does a thorough take down of Lafferty’s argument here, but suffice it to say, Lafferty relies on popular anxiety about transgendered people to suggest that that their mere presence would somehow hurt children. As Weiss notes, “Lafferty does not cite any instances of harm occurring to children in those two cases. There is no indication that these children were scarred for life, or experienced gender confusion, or were subjected to inappropriate sexual comments.”
Roll Call has agreed to give Weiss space to rebut Lafferty’s argument and it might be placed in Thursday’s paper, but Lafferty’s column is probably the first of what will be many attempts by conservatives to clean up the language with which they try to derail the bill.
Gay rights activists committed to repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) before the end of the year interrupted President Obama’s fundraiser for Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) yesterday, forcing Obama to reiterate his support for ending the policy. Obama first pledge to repeal DADT in his State of the Union address, but repeal advocates have grown frustrated with Obama’s unwillingness to support including repeal legislation in this year’s defense authorization bill and reports that the administration may be urging some Members of Congress to delay a vote on DADT until next year.
Last night in Los Angeles that frustration translated into action as members of the group GetEQUAL shouted over Obama’s remarks and pushed him to address their concerns:
OBAMA: She’s passionate about fighting for jobs, jobs with good wages, jobs with good benefits. She’s passionate about fighting for California’s families. She is –
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell!”
OBAMA: We are going to do that. Hey, hold on a second, hold on a second. We are going to do that.
AUDIENCE: Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can!
OBAMA: Here we go. All right — guys, guys, all right. I agree, I agree, I agree. (Applause.) Now –
AUDIENCE MEMBER: (Inaudible.)
THE PRESIDENT: No, no, no, no, listen. What the young man was talking about was we need to — we need to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which I agree with and which we have begun to do. (Applause.) But let me say this: When you’ve got an ally like Barbara Boxer and you’ve got an ally like me who are standing for the same thing, then you don’t know exactly why you’ve got to holler, because we already hear you, all right? (Applause.) I mean, it would have made more sense to holler that at the people who oppose it. (Applause.) [...]
AUDIENCE MEMBER: It’s time for equality for all Americans!
THE PRESIDENT: I’m sorry, do you want to come up here? (Applause.) You know, the — all right, because can I just say, once again, Barbara and I are supportive of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” so I don’t know why you’re hollering.
Now, the problems that we have here put a further strain on folks in this state, forcing painful choices about where to spend and where to save. And the challenges folks have been facing here –
AUDIENCE MEMBER: (Inaudible.)
AUDIENCE: Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can!
THE PRESIDENT: Barbara — I just — everybody, I just wanted to confirm — I just wanted to confirm — I just checked with Barbara, so if anybody else is thinking about starting a chant, Barbara didn’t even vote for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the first place, so you know she’s going to be in favor of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” (Applause.)
“It was worth it to us,” Dan Fotou, one of the protesters, told the blog LGBT POV, and explained that the group is particularly angry about the policy review now being conducted by the Department of Defense. While Secretary Gates had emphasized that the review would study how to repeal the policy rather than whether it should be repealed, the Pentagon had sent a “letter to military families asking their opinion about repealing the policy.” “They weren’t asking the families about how to implement the repeal,” Fotou said angrily. “They were asking the families of servicemembers about what they think about the repeal. Why should our rights be going to a poll? The president can change all that by showing leadership and putting the repeal into the Appropriations bill.” “Fotou said Get EQUAL is pushing on DADT specifically because of Obama’s apparent desire to wait to see the Pentagon study on the repeal – which would take about a year.”
While the protest certainly showered new attention on the issue and brought the communities’ frustration with the President’s foot dragging to a national audience, the action is unlikely to expedite the process. After all, the President seems to think that calling for repeal is the same thing as strongly advocating for it. The protesters pressed Obama to specifically act on repeal, but he demurred, saying, “Barbara and I are supportive of repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, so I don’t know why you’re hollering.”
As Metro Weekly’s Chris Geidner observes, “I’m not sure Obama wants DADT repeal any more after tonight. Maybe he will do more, and maybe that’s enough to call this a success, but I can’t imagine that it made him more eager personally to support LGBT equality. I’m not sure about that, but I still think that’s the downside in taking on the President in this way.”
Opponents of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) have grown increasingly frustrated at the administration’s unwillingness to support including repeal legislation in this year’s defense authorization bill. With unprecedented support within the Pentagon, favorable public opinion within the ranks and the public, repeal legislation introduced in the Senate and House, and the unpleasantness of having to defend the policy in court, one would think that ending the policy would be a no brainer for a White House interested in re-energizing its base and advancing a significant piece of its agenda.
But as AmericaBLOG and Kerry Eleveld of the Advocate have chronicled, the White House has repeatedly avoided taking a strong stance on repeal and may be actively urging some Members of Congress “not to include the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” in the Defense Authorization bill, and not to have a vote on DADT on the House floor, this year.” An unnamed “White House official” denied these reports last week “without stating whether or not the White House did indeed want a vote this year.” In fact, the administration has implied the contrary, suggesting that it would wait for the Pentagon to review the policy and work with Congress to repeal the bill sometime thereafter.
I am very disturbed by multiple reports from Capitol Hill that your Congressional liaison team is urging some Members of Congress to avoid a vote on repeal this year. The upcoming House and Senate votes will be close, and very frankly, Mr. President, we need your help now.
As a veteran, and on behalf of thousands of men and women who have served and want to serve their country openly, I ask you today to stand by your encouraging words to the American people in your State of The Union address: “This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are. It’s the right thing to do.”
Mr. President, this is also about the integrity of all service members. I respectfully urge you to continue speaking up for them on Capitol Hill. Under your leadership and with your voice we can have a repeal victory this year.
The administration has been operating under the radar on LGBT issues and seems intent on applying the same non-confrontational approach to DADT as it employed for health reform — give a third party time and space to try and forge a compromise without doing too much to shape the debate and then reclaim control of the process just as it’s heading under, orchestrating a last minute all-out push to secure passage. The good news is that this has worked once and so the administration could succeed by waiting for the Pentagon to produce its study, giving both political parties and the military an opportunity to weigh in on the process. The bad news is, passage won’t come as quickly or smoothly as advocates would like and the final bill will be far from perfect.
For those ready to end the policy this year, waiting for the administration to pull yet another rabbit out of its hat is as frustrating as getting the President to weigh in on health reform after the Massachusetts election, and probably far less probable. Several groups including the Center for American Progress Action Fund and the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network have argued that a drawn out process would actually undermine successful repeal and have outlined responsible proposals for ending the policy the policy before the Pentagon finishes its study. Unfortunately, the administration may now be moving in the opposite direction.
To demand that President Obama include DADT repeal language in his Defense Authorization budget that is in the process of being sent to Congress, and that he publicly state his support for repeal this year. While the President firmly committed to repeal DADT in his State of the Union this past January, since that time he has gone silent on whether he wants to see the anti-gay law repealed this year. Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) recently said that he is ‘disappointed’ and ‘frustrated’ with the Obama administration’s silence on DADT, and Frank has called on President Obama to publicly state his desire to repeal DADT this year.
Roll Call is reporting that House Democrats have started a whip count for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), the legislation would make it illegal for private employers with more than 15 employees to fire, refuse to hire, or fail to promote employees simply based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Religious organizations and non-profit membership-only clubs are exempt from the bill.
The House cleared a version of the legislation in 2007 (that did not include protections for transgendered people) with a wide margin padded by support from 35 Republicans, but the bill died in the Senate. The current House bill, which does include gender protections, has 199 co-sponsors (including 6 Republicans), the Senate version — introduced by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) — has attracted 45 co-sponsors (42 are Democrats, 2 independents, and the 2 Republicans Senators from Maine):
This time, Democratic leaders are committed to pursuing a discrimination ban that includes transgender people, lawmakers and staff said. And they believe that rapidly shifting politics surrounding gay rights, nudged along on the transgender issue by an aggressive lobbying campaign by advocates, will help them win the day. But the push faces resistance from a so-far-unknown number of Democrats, mostly from rural, socially conservative districts. Many of these lawmakers are eager to avoid what they consider a tough vote — pitting a sizable chunk of their constituency against base voters and wealthy donors — in an already challenging re-election environment.
The fact that the measure passed the House last Congress without the transgender provision “helps our Members understand that this is not toxic, because nobody that I know of lost any race because of it,” Frank said. “Secondly, we have done some education on the transgender issue, which we hadn’t done before.” Two years ago, he said, the matter was “too new.”
Proponents believe that ENDA has enough votes to pass in the House, but could run into trouble if Republicans introduce a motion to recommit that does not include protections for transgendered people. That would send the Democrats’ bill back to committee. DC Agenda reports that “supporters in the Senate don’t appear to have the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster,” however. “With the 2010 congressional elections fast approaching, only two GOP senators have so far committed to vote for ENDA, making it essential for supporters to line up most of the 16 uncommitted Democrats to secure the bill’s passage in the Senate.”
During her weekly press conference yesterday House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that the vote in the House will happen “soon” after Education and Labor reports the bill out of committee. “I believe that it will be soon, and as soon as they are ready, Leader Hoyer and I agreed that it will come to the floor. So, I think it will be pretty soon,” she said.
For many, “soon” cannot come soon enough. Congresswoman Bella Abzug (D-NY) first introduced a nondiscrimination bill that included employment protection based on sexual orientation in 1974. At that time, ENDA was seen as “an exotic cause.” Nearly two decades later, in 1996, it looked like a version of ENDA that did not include gender protections was set to pass Congress, but instead, it suffered “a nail-biter 49-50 defeat” in the Senate.
Currently, 12 states and the District of Columbia have policies to protect against employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, while nine states protect sexual orientation but exclude gender identity. At least 305 large corporations are also voluntarily providing equal rights and benefits to LGBT employees.
Late last night, President Obama issued a memorandum instructing the Department of Health and Human Services to develop regulations requiring all hospitals that receive federal Medicare and Medicaid funding to end discrimination in hospital visitation.
The new rules will stipulate that all patients have the right to designate people who can visit and consult with them during medical emergencies and that those individuals have the same rights that immediate family members now enjoy. Hospitals may also “not deny visitation privileges on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability” and will have to honor the visitation rights of “individuals designated by legally valid advance directives (such as durable powers of attorney and health care proxies).”
“There are few moments in our lives that call for greater compassion and companionship than when a loved one is admitted to the hospital,” Obama wrote in the memo to HHS. “In these hours of need and moments of pain and anxiety, all of us would hope to have a hand to hold, a shoulder on which to lean — a loved one to be there for us, as we would be there for them”:
Often, a widow or widower with no children is denied the support and comfort of a good friend. Members of religious orders are sometimes unable to choose someone other than an immediate family member to visit them and make medical decisions on their behalf. Also uniquely affected are gay and lesbian Americans who are often barred from the bedsides of the partners with whom they may have spent decades of their lives — unable to be there for the person they love, and unable to act as a legal surrogate if their partner is incapacitated.
For all of these Americans, the failure to have their wishes respected concerning who may visit them or make medical decisions on their behalf has real [c]onsequences. It means that doctors and nurses do not always have the best information about patients’ medications and medical histories and that friends and certain family members are unable to serve as intermediaries to help communicate patients’ needs. It means that a stressful and at times terrifying experience for patients is senselessly compounded by indignity and unfairness. And it means that all too often, people are made to suffer or even to pass away alone, denied the comfort of companionship in their final moments while a loved one is left worrying and pacing down the hall.
Currently, several states, including California, Delaware, Nebraska and Minnesota, and North Carolina allow patients to designate visitors, but the new rules “could require substantive changes to the visitation policies of hospitals in at least twenty-five states whose laws do not currently require the extension of visitation rights.”
Since Obama’s memo will have no immediate effect, “the rule-making process could be a lengthy one, requiring the creation and publication of new proposals, a period for public comment and additional approvals,” Box Turtle Bulletin notes. “The weakness of this process is that it could be overturned by a future administration, but that overturning would also have to undergo the same lengthy process — creation and publication of a new set of regulations, public comment period, etc. While it is not as immediate as an Executive Order, it is much more robust and durable.”
The memo also instructs HHS to provide additional recommendations on what can be done “to address hospital visitation, medical decisionmaking, or other health care issues that affect LGBT patients and their families.”