Thursday, January 20, 2011

Does Democracy Mean Anything to the National Organization for Marriage?

      The people over at the National Organization for Marriage never cease to astound me. Because of their loss in Washington D.C. the other day, they are determined to use the new Congress to force this issue upon those who live in Washington D.C., Brian Brown states,
“While we are disappointed that the US Supreme Court did not decide to take the case challenging the denial of the civil rights of District residents to vote on the definition of marriage, we are by no means done pressing this issue.  With a pro-marriage majority in the new Congress we will explore a number of avenues to force the District to fulfill their constitutional responsibility to voters. As the four Court of Appeal justices who dissented in this case made clear, the District of Columbia owes it to the voters to allow them to decide the critical issue of marriage which has existed since before there was a District of Columbia. In order to curry favor with the same-sex marriage special interest group, members of the City Council have turned their backs on their own constituents. It is ironic that these same council members champion the right of District votes to be heard in national elections but then deny those same residents the right to vote on the definition of marriage. We will press our belief with Congress that the constitution of the District requires that voters be allowed to decide this important issue.”
       Does this at all shock anyone reading this? So Brian Brown and the National Organization for Marriage are going to the United States Congress - a body that has authority over the District - to change the will of a democratically elected city council. 

      To put this into context. The District of Columbia DOES NOT have any representation in the United States Congress. Thus, the National Organization for Marriage, the group that supposedly cherishes democracy, is asking a body that is not elected by the people of Washington D.C. to override the decision of those whom the people of Washington D.C. elected. This alone shows that NOM does not care about the democratic process, and will use anything - even if it means overriding the express will of the voters - to eliminate marriage equality. 

     Here is my message to NOM - if the citizens of Washington D.C. want the law to change, do you know what they will do? They will elect a different city council!! Get your hands out of the District!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Another DOMA suit in the works?

     Right now, as many of my readers know, there is a lawsuit currently pending in Federal Court on the legality of the Defense of Marriage Act. This comes out of Massachusetts and most likely will make its way to the Supreme Court in the next few years. But today, another potential DOMA case was allowed to proceed, this time from California. A little background on the case can be found here. The San Fransisco Gate has more...

In a victory for gay-rights advocates, a federal judge has ruled that state employees in California can sue for discrimination over the federal government's exclusion of their same-sex spouses from a long-term health care program. 
U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken of Oakland denied an Obama administration request to dismiss the suit Tuesday and signaled that she is likely to overturn provisions of the 1996  
Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal benefits to same-sex couples.
A federal judge in Massachusetts declared the law unconstitutional in July, a ruling the administration is appealing. 
President Obama has criticized the law, but his Justice Department is defending it in court. The administration says Congress was entitled to preserve the status quo in federal law while states debated the marriage issue.
But Wilken said the 1996 law actually changed the status quo by "robbing states of the power to allow same-sex civil marriages that will be recognized under federal law." 
She also rejected arguments that the law's sponsors put forth in 1996, that the legislation was necessary to promote procreation and preserve heterosexual marriage. 
"Marriage has never been contingent on having children," Wilken said, and denying federal benefits to same-sex couples "does not encourage heterosexual marriage." 
She said sponsors' "moral rejection of homosexuality" had been obvious in congressional debate.  
The U.S. Supreme Court has found that bias against gays is an unconstitutional justification for passing a law, Wilken noted. 
Her statements paralleled the reasoning of the Massachusetts decision and a ruling in August by Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker of San Francisco that struck down California's ban on same-sex marriage. 
Although Wilken considered only whether the suit over health insurance could proceed, her ruling "gives a pretty clear direction as to where she's going," said Claudia Center, lawyer for three UCSF employees and their spouses who sued to overturn the law.
Center said she would ask Wilken to certify the suit as a class action on behalf of all state employees with same-sex spouses or domestic partners. The judge did not decide whether domestic partners could challenge the law.
All I can add to this is that I am very happy about this development. As more and more judges hear cases dealing with sexual orientation and start adjudicating in our favor, that bodes well for us in the future.  

The Importance of History: An Introduction to The Federalist Papers Series

    Many times, I think that we  - talking mostly to Americans, but this is applicable to everyone in the world - forget why we do things, and what their purposes are. We fail to learn from the mistakes or successes of generations past, and thus fall into the same traps and deal with the exact same issues as they did. It is for this reason that I will be starting a new series this Monday on the Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison - three of our most influential founding fathers.

     For us to understand the current political climate that exists in the United States - it is essential for us to understand the inner-workings of our Constitution and why it was set up the way that it was. For by learning these things, we can in good conscious contribute to the discussion about the roll of government in society. This is important for the LGBT community because of governments roll in marriage, discrimination, and hate crime issues.

     Thus, starting this next Monday, I will be doing five of the Federalist Papers per week. I am very much looking forward to this look at the reasons behind the United State's founding document, and how it relates to the world today. Look for at least one post per every weekday.

If you are interested in buying The Federalist Papers as we go through this series, you can purchase it from Amazon for about $9. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Canada: Halton Catholic School Board DROP's Gay/Straight Alliance Ban

     In an excellent move for progress in Catholic Education, the Halton School Board officially decided to remove the ban that was instituted last year on Gay-Straight alliances. There was some opposition though, from two of the board members, who stated that by doing this they would be getting away from the school districts Catholic principles. But, sane heads prevailed. The final vote was 8-2. The Hamilton Spectator has the story....
Halton Catholic School Board trustees have voted to rescind a controversial policy that banned gay-straight clubs in its schools.
Trustees Wednesday night voted 8-2 to do away with the policy passed by the outgoing board last number.
The board, facing criticism from gay rights groups and citizens for the ban, also voted to put in place as an interim measure called the Ontario Education Services Corporations' (OESC) Catholic template policy. It was developed in 2010 along with Catholic community partners throughout the province to help Catholic school boards define their vision and commitment to the Ministry of Education's equity and inclusive education strategy.
The interim move was approved 8-0.
An overflow crowd packed the board's small meeting room, showing the emotion in the issue. Only about 70 people were able to get in and two youths carried signs which said “Love sees no gender or sexual orientation” and “Don't hate or discriminate.” A woman, however, carried a sign which said the school board “already fosters equity and inclusiveness - no need for gay-straight alliance clubs.'
The majority of trustees believed the board policy did not foster a good atmosphere for students. A new policy will be developed and the first meeting of the policy committee is Feb. 8.
“Students must be able to attend our schools without fear,” said trustee Arlene Iantomasi, who moved to rescind the old policy. “This current policy is an insult.”

I feel very happy for the citizens of the regional municipality of Halton - which includes major cities like Burlington and Oakville. They persevered against the injustice that was being forced upon them, and they have overcome! 

New Poll on Gay Marriage - Public Policy Polling/Daily Kos

A new poll was released today about how citizens feel about government recognition of gay and lesbian relationships. Here are the results...

Public Policy Polling for Daily Kos. 1/14-16. Registered voters. MoE 3.1% (No trend lines)
Which of the following best describes your opinion on gay marriage: gay couples should be allowed to legally marry, or gay couples should be allowed to form civil unions but not legally marry, or there should be no legal recognition of a gay couple's relationship.
         Marry  Civil unions  Neither 
All         34       31         33

Dem         53       24         20 
Rep         11       35         52 
Ind         37       34         27
Lib         78       10         12 
Mod         40       38         20 
Con          8       32         57
Tea Party   17       30         52 
Non-TP      42       30         27
White       33       30         35 
Black       32       30         30 
Latino      47       32         22

18-29       52       13         33 
30-45       37       31         29 
46-65       31       36         31 
65+         23       34         42 
        There are a few things that I would like to direct your attention towards. First, let us look at the party breakdowns. From the Democrats - 77% favor some sort of legal recognition for same-sex couples, vs. the Republicans, of which only 46% favor any recognition. Leaving 52% of Republicans and 20% of Democrats against any form of recognition.

        This is even further clarified when you look at the differences between Liberals/ Moderates/ Conservatives. For self-proclaimed Liberals - 88% favor recognition. Moderates - 78% favor recognition. Conservatives - 40% favor recognition.

     Quite interestingly, which may lead to statistical proof that the Tea Party focus' on fiscal issues rather than moral ones, is the feelings of self-proclaimed Tea Party members. Of those surveyed, 47% favored some sort of legal recognition for same-sex couples. I say this, but it also can be seen that only 17% of Tea Party members thought that we should have marriage rights in general.

      What surprised me greatly was the amount of Latino support that marriage equality received. A whopping 47% - higher than any other group. Considering that the majority of the United States' Latino population is Catholic, this is excellent news.

    And as can be expected, the younger generation is less opposed to marriage equality, or relationship recognition, than any other group. Which signifies the hope that we have, for we will eventually win the day! Public Policy Polling will be doing this survey every four weeks in 2011, so we will be able to see overall the trend after this year.

Breaking News: Supreme Court Rejects Appeal of D.C. Gay Marriage Law

      The Supreme Court today declined to hear the case challenging the legality of the District of Columbia's marriage equality law. The case was decided a few months ago by the D.C. Court of Appeals, who found that it would not be consistent with the Districts Human Rights Charter ( which does not allow discrimination based upon sexual orientation) for the people to vote of the marriage equality rights of gays and lesbians.

       The appeal was brought to the U.S. Supreme Court by Maryland pastor, Bishop Harry Jackson. This alone causes me to ask, why the hell would a Maryland pastor care what is going on in the district...worry about your own state buddy.

       Regardless, today is a great day in the District of Columbia...for now gay and lesbians are never going to be in fear of losing their right to wed.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Furor Erupts in Britain over Homophobic Tweet: How will the Tories React?

       If any of you missed the news out of Britain yesterday, East Midlands MEP Roger Helmer tweeted the following statement....

"Why is it OK for a surgeon to perform a sex-change operation, but not OK for a psychiatrist to try to 'turn' a consenting homosexual?"
Most likely he was referring to the controversy currently being discussed in Britain about the Christian counselor who is attempting to turn gay people straight (a process also known as reparative therapy). But in this one statement, and ones attempting to explain the tweet, Helmer demonstrates his profound ignorance of LGBT issues and psychology. The Guardian has more about the situation from an interview that they did with him on the subject. 

"Helmer, who insisted last year that he sees himself "as liberal and tolerant on the question of homosexuality", told the Press Association that he had merely been asking "a question" about why psychiatrists were banned from offering therapy for homosexuality.
"I am always surprised by the instant indignation of a strident minority," he said. "I am making a comparison between a lifestyle choice of a homosexual who would prefer not to be a homosexual and a lifestyle choice of a woman who would prefer to be a man ...
"It seems to me that in both cases it is what they call a valid lifestyle choice."
      Interesting choice of words. What Helmer is inferring here - and what many of my readers most likely saw- is that homosexuality and transgenderism are "lifestyle choices".   For someone who is supposedly "tolerant" about this issue, he seems to not understand it at all...and instead shows just how much of a closed mind he has. For someone to still believe in this day and age that being gay or trans-gendered is some sort of choice, there must be some other influence in his life informing his opinion on the issue. Religion maybe? 

     The Tory Government of David Cameron has been trying to show itself as being more tolerant of the LGBT community, and recognizing that they do form a part of the British Community. Yet with statements like these, it will be very hard for LGBT people to believe these political promises. Hopefully for the Conservatives, Cameron will come out and denounce Helmer for this inappropriate and uneducated statement. 

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Is Ontario's Accommodation of Religious Based Homophobia Acceptable?

     Last week, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal ruled on the fiasco that was brewing in the Province over civil marriage commissioners and same sex couples seeking to be wed. I wrote about this subject in early May - right as the Wall Government of Saskatchewan introduced its subsequently determined unconstitutional legislation. In a unanimous opinion, the justices decided that the two bills that the Sask Party had introduced would not be consistent with equality guarantees and in fact have the potential of depriving gay and lesbian couples the opportunity to wed. Now, the Sask party is contemplating changing the Civil Marriage Act to make it more consistent with Ontario's method of dealing with religious based disagreement over marriage equality. With this in mind, I did a little research into Ontario's method, and what I found disturbed me. The National Post explains the method of Ontario...
Unlike in Saskatchewan, where couples contact a marriage commissioner directly via a database, Ontario’s single-entry point approach requires that couples deal with a central unit. In such a system — which the court warned might also fail a full constitutional test — a commissioner who does not wish to perform same-sex marriages could make that known to the central office, which could in turn consider that when giving a couple a list of available commissioners.
A random sample of Saskatchewan commissioners revealed hesitant support for such a two-tiered approach, though one commissioner, who asked not to be named, questioned whether it amounts to government-sanctioned discrimination. Several com missioners also said provincial regulations prohibit religious references in their ceremonies — which, one woman said, weakens any argument about a commissioner’s attachment to their freedom of beliefs.
     A few months ago, I wrote a paper for my Canadian Law class about the specific issue brewing in Saskatchewan. In that paper, I discussed the concepts of "lists" of marriage commissioners in depth. I stated that "this policy establishes a separate but equal policy in civil marriage law. The State would essentially be saying, yes, homosexual marriages are equal to heterosexual marriages, but heterosexuals can choose between 100% of marriage commissioners, while same-sex couples are relegated to the back of the bus ‘list’ of commissioners." That is in fact what Ontario's method does, it regulates gay and lesbians to an unequal distribution of civil resources. This alone means that it is discrimination based upon sexual orientation, which in the Egan decision, the Supreme Court of Canada found was unconstitutional. 

     Not only would this "list" policy give rise to this unequal distribution of the law and taxpayer money, it also gives governmental legitimacy for these commissioners beliefs. It is saying to these gay and lesbian couples - no matter if they blatantly see it like they did in Saskatchewan  or if they don't like in Ontario- that the government is ok with allowing others to ride roughshod over your rights if they can provide a good reason. What is the impact to gays and lesbians because of this "legitimacy"? It is a statement by government once again that our relationships are worth less than heterosexual ones. 

        Lastly, I would also question in general a commissioner who declined to marry a gay and lesbian couple on how consistent they are with the application of their beliefs. For we must ask ourselves, have we seen such an uproar or accommodation when a religious civil marriage official was required to marry someone who has been divorced, been of two different faiths, or even because they engaged in pre-marital sex, all examples of which a religious marriage official would necessarily take issue with.  Could it not be that those who are objecting on this one issue, instead of others, are not doing so because  of their religious views, but instead because they have issue with same-sex marriage in general? Instead of being consistent in their religious based refusals, could they not be using their religion as a cover to validate their own beliefs on the validity of same-sex unions?

        It is for these reasons that when I saw how the system works in Ontario, I was very disappointed. Not only does Ontario's method relegate same-sex couples to a "back of the bus" list, but it also gives governmental legitimacy to these discriminatory opinions. It allows these commissioners to use their religion as a reason to not perform their job duties. It is for these reasons that Ontario's method should be also found unconstitutional. 

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