Jerame Davis

A new website with a new agenda

Filed By Jerame Davis | January 20, 2009 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Gay Geeks, Marriage Equality, Politics, The Movement
Tags: civil rights, LGBT rights, President Obama, White House

In the Internet age, the real proof that change has come to the White House can be seen by surfing over to WhiteHouse.gov. President Obama's new website is live and it is just as amazing and groundbreaking as his campaign website and the transition website. whitehousecivilrights.jpgThis is truly a new era in technology in government.

Another welcome change can be seen on one of the first pages I visited on the site - the section on Civil Rights. LGBT people are the main focus of the Administration's Civil Rights agenda. In fact, if you look at the the Agenda section of the WhiteHouse.gov site, the first issue is Civil Rights and LGBT people get the only sub-heading on the page.

Check it out after the jump - it's a pretty bold agenda and I am excited to work to see it happen. I'm not going to take time to parse each point, but go check it out and let me know your thoughts in the comments.

CIVIL RIGHTS

"The teenagers and college students who left their homes to march in the streets of Birmingham and Montgomery; the mothers who walked instead of taking the bus after a long day of doing somebody else's laundry and cleaning somebody else's kitchen -- they didn't brave fire hoses and Billy clubs so that their grandchildren and their great-grandchildren would still wonder at the beginning of the 21st century whether their vote would be counted; whether their civil rights would be protected by their government; whether justice would be equal and opportunity would be theirs.... We have more work to do."

-- Barack Obama, Speech at Howard University, September 28, 2007

President Barack Obama has spent much of his career fighting to strengthen civil rights as a civil rights attorney, community organizer, Illinois State Senator, U.S. Senator, and now as President. Whether promoting economic opportunity, working to improve our nation's education and health system, or protecting the right to vote, President Obama has been a powerful advocate for our civil rights.

  • Combat Employment Discrimination: President Obama and Vice President Biden will work to overturn the Supreme Court's recent ruling that curtails racial minorities' and women's ability to challenge pay discrimination. They will also pass the Fair Pay Act, to ensure that women receive equal pay for equal work, and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
  • Expand Hate Crimes Statutes: President Obama and Vice President Biden will strengthen federal hate crimes legislation, expand hate crimes protection by passing the Matthew Shepard Act, and reinvigorate enforcement at the Department of Justice's Criminal Section.
  • End Deceptive Voting Practices: President Obama will sign into law his legislation that establishes harsh penalties for those who have engaged in voter fraud and provides voters who have been misinformed with accurate and full information so they can vote.
  • End Racial Profiling: President Obama and Vice President Biden will ban racial profiling by federal law enforcement agencies and provide federal incentives to state and local police departments to prohibit the practice.
  • Reduce Crime Recidivism by Providing Ex-Offender Support: President Obama and Vice President Biden will provide job training, substance abuse and mental health counseling to ex-offenders, so that they are successfully re-integrated into society. Obama and Biden will also create a prison-to-work incentive program to improve ex-offender employment and job retention rates.
  • Eliminate Sentencing Disparities: President Obama and Vice President Biden believe the disparity between sentencing crack and powder-based cocaine is wrong and should be completely eliminated.
  • Expand Use of Drug Courts: President Obama and Vice President Biden will give first-time, non-violent offenders a chance to serve their sentence, where appropriate, in the type of drug rehabilitation programs that have proven to work better than a prison term in changing bad behavior.


Support for the LGBT Community


"While we have come a long way since the Stonewall riots in 1969, we still have a lot of work to do. Too often, the issue of LGBT rights is exploited by those seeking to divide us. But at its core, this issue is about who we are as Americans. It's about whether this nation is going to live up to its founding promise of equality by treating all its citizens with dignity and respect."

-- Barack Obama, June 1, 2007
  • Expand Hate Crimes Statutes: In 2004, crimes against LGBT Americans constituted the third-highest category of hate crime reported and made up more than 15 percent of such crimes. President Obama cosponsored legislation that would expand federal jurisdiction to include violent hate crimes perpetrated because of race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or physical disability. As a state senator, President Obama passed tough legislation that made hate crimes and conspiracy to commit them against the law.
  • Fight Workplace Discrimination: President Obama supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and believes that our anti-discrimination employment laws should be expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity. While an increasing number of employers have extended benefits to their employees' domestic partners, discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace occurs with no federal legal remedy. The President also sponsored legislation in the Illinois State Senate that would ban employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
  • Support Full Civil Unions and Federal Rights for LGBT Couples: President Obama supports full civil unions that give same-sex couples legal rights and privileges equal to those of married couples. Obama also believes we need to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and enact legislation that would ensure that the 1,100+ federal legal rights and benefits currently provided on the basis of marital status are extended to same-sex couples in civil unions and other legally-recognized unions. These rights and benefits include the right to assist a loved one in times of emergency, the right to equal health insurance and other employment benefits, and property rights.
  • Oppose a Constitutional Ban on Same-Sex Marriage: President Obama voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2006 which would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman and prevented judicial extension of marriage-like rights to same-sex or other unmarried couples.
  • Repeal Don't Ask-Don't Tell: President Obama agrees with former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili and other military experts that we need to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. The key test for military service should be patriotism, a sense of duty, and a willingness to serve. Discrimination should be prohibited. The U.S. government has spent millions of dollars replacing troops kicked out of the military because of their sexual orientation. Additionally, more than 300 language experts have been fired under this policy, including more than 50 who are fluent in Arabic. The President will work with military leaders to repeal the current policy and ensure it helps accomplish our national defense goals.
  • Expand Adoption Rights: President Obama believes that we must ensure adoption rights for all couples and individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation. He thinks that a child will benefit from a healthy and loving home, whether the parents are gay or not.
  • Promote AIDS Prevention: In the first year of his presidency, President Obama will develop and begin to implement a comprehensive national HIV/AIDS strategy that includes all federal agencies. The strategy will be designed to reduce HIV infections, increase access to care and reduce HIV-related health disparities. The President will support common sense approaches including age-appropriate sex education that includes information about contraception, combating infection within our prison population through education and contraception, and distributing contraceptives through our public health system. The President also supports lifting the federal ban on needle exchange, which could dramatically reduce rates of infection among drug users. President Obama has also been willing to confront the stigma -- too often tied to homophobia -- that continues to surround HIV/AIDS.
  • Empower Women to Prevent HIV/AIDS: In the United States, the percentage of women diagnosed with AIDS has quadrupled over the last 20 years. Today, women account for more than one quarter of all new HIV/AIDS diagnoses. President Obama introduced the Microbicide Development Act, which will accelerate the development of products that empower women in the battle against AIDS. Microbicides are a class of products currently under development that women apply topically to prevent transmission of HIV and other infections.

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Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | January 20, 2009 2:44 PM

I believe I heard on MSNBC that prior to the Bush administration there wasn't such a thing as a formal White House website. That may or may not be true, but certainly one would never have seen anything close to what's been cited on it. The times they are a changin'......maybe not in all instance as fast on all fronts as we might hope...but a changin' nonetheless.

Karen Collett | January 21, 2009 4:37 AM

ReadWriteWeb recently posted a nice history of whitehouse.gov titled Whitehouse.gov: Looking Back at 12 Years of the US President's Web Presence

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | January 20, 2009 2:57 PM

This is clearly the most pro-LGBT agenda laid out be a U.S. president. It is bold in its reach and especially noteworthy because the LGBT equal rights is the only civil rights issue area to receive a special sub-heading. That says a lot about President Obama's commitment to the LGBT community.

yeah but what did they have for lunch???

Generally, this is a presidential platform that could have materialized from out of our dreams. But I am not sure that it will be embraced by everyone in the GLBT movement:

(1) It plays the "separate but equal" game on marriage. It suggests, Don't call it marriage, but set up a separate civil institution that is identical to marriage. This is a game of semantics, but it is being presented at a time when much of the opposition is hung up on semantics. Many in the GLBT camp will go into orbit about this; yet "marriage" is such a romantically loaded word to millions of heterosexuals, that maybe this approach is indeed our best bet. Just because "separate but equal" was a sham racially does not mean that it must be a sham in regards to civil relationships. As with race, the proof or failure is in the real-world implementation.

(2) This is a minor footnote, but the discussion at the last bullet point regarding the Microbicide Development Act doesn't go far enough. The goal of developing microbicides to help women combat AIDS is great, but it should not be a "closet consequence" that such products would also be of major benefit to gay men who engage in anal sex. AIDS itself is out of the closet enough, now in 2009, that mentioning men having anal sex shouldn't be politically untenable. This shouldn't be something that we need to communicate with wordless nods and smirks accompanied with knowing glances, it is something that should be made explicit in the wording. And the products should not be tested only in the context of straight sex, but gay sex as well --- and their use should be "on label" for gays as well as straights.

Speaking for me only and those whom I have read, I have to disagree.

I think people can believe that separate, but equal is wrong, and still not be opposed to this agenda.

It's not perfect, but it's good. I don't know anyone who wants to get things done who believe that perfect should be the enemy of good. There are a lot of things outside of marriage which we all agree are important civil rights.

That's just me and again others I have read. The issue was never that we thought Obama would be perfect. It is that we feel that we must keep up the pressure to ensure this impressive list of goals happens.

Lately, I've been ending with a quote because it gets at the heart of the discussion:

"FDR was, of course, a consummate political leader. In one situation, a group came to him urging specific actions in support of a cause in which they deeply believed. He replied: "I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it."

This is how I and I believe others see our relationship with Obama. You can continue to mischaracterize that view or try to understand the historical reasons why this is indeed how American politics works. FDR himself advocated it as how you get what you want from presidents. It's not enough that they believe in it.

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | January 21, 2009 7:25 AM

"The issue was never that we thought Obama would be perfect. It is that we feel that we must keep up the pressure to ensure this impressive list of goals happens."

I agree with your comment Craig 100%.

Craig and Michael:

I'm not sure if either/both of you got the idea that I object in any way to this agenda statement, I merely pointed out that "some of us" would find it less than ideal in the wording re marriage; to the contrary, I personally am thrilled with it!

And of course, these goals will not get enacted if we don't keep the pressure on --- but I hope we can do this with a measure of political savvy, and stay away from fantasies that we can do all these things by brute force.

Marla R. Stevens Marla R. Stevens | January 21, 2009 12:48 AM

It's not "just semantics". In federal law, as in many states, non-redundancy applies, meaning that the courts MUST interpret two different terms to mean two different things, which, in statute, means they cover different things. Granted, it's possible that the hets could give us more than they've got to comply but, if you believe that's happening, I've got this nice big bridge for sale -- cheap. And that doesn't touch the issue of portability, both interstate and international or the social science/psychological reasons that underpinned Brown in the first place.

Sorry, A.J. -- there are almost never shortcuts to equality and civil marriage is no exception.

Marla R. Stevens Marla R. Stevens | January 21, 2009 12:55 AM

Show me a signature on an amendatory civil rights bill -- covering not just jobs but housing, credit, public accommodation -- just like everyone else gets -- and I'll be the first to applaud.

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | January 21, 2009 7:31 AM

Marla, while you wait to be impressed, we while we will be building the grassroots, educational and lobbying pressure needed to make this agenda reality.

Marla R. Stevens Marla R. Stevens | January 21, 2009 10:08 PM

One can do both simultaneously, Michael...or did I, in speaking for myself, speak too broadly? I know you're not too low in IQ for that. Is it that you are think too linearly focuses to encompass both at the same time in your mind? There are studies that show that men have more trouble with global thinking than women do, for instance -- that you all are too often handicapped by linearism.

What I *love* about this is that it is in fact the same LGBT civil rights platform that President Obama (!!!) has espoused since the campaign. It was posted on barackobama.com (it evolved over time there) and on change.gov.

i love the transparency that Obama brings to the table. its so refreshing to not be in the dark about what the President is up to. We can hold him accountable for his actions.

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | January 21, 2009 8:00 AM

"In federal law, as in many states, non-redundancy applies, meaning that the courts MUST interpret two different terms to mean two different things, which, in statute, means they cover different things."

Marla, you've made reference to this legal premise previously, but I've been able to get a handle on exactly where you've come up with it, especailly your emphasis on the term "MUST".

Please cite me to something other than your own writings here.

Marla R. Stevens Marla R. Stevens | January 22, 2009 10:23 PM

I don't, Don, but have been assured by a long string of attorneys that, although it is obscure (typically the comment is, "Oh, yeah, I remember that from law school but haven't heard it in a long time"), it is a part of federal practice and the rule in a number of states as well.

But even if you don't agree, the other issues are compelling -- so compelling that, for instance, the New Jersey commission tasked with exploring the issue entered an interim report on it last February because their initial findings were so striking about the actual harm being done by their civil union law as opposed to using the marriage standard and their subsequent findings were equally as compelling enough to cause them to issue their final report both early and unanimously, finding actual harm that they assessed would not be resolved by the passage of time necessitating a recommendation to the governor and legislature that the law be changed to provide for civil marriage for same-sex couples.

For instance, the final report states: "In a number of cases, the negative effect of the Civil Union Act on the physical and mental health of same-sex couples and their children is striking, largely because a number of employers and hospitals do not recognize the rights and benefits of marriage for civil union couples." This is despite ample press coverage and official state notification, including to all healthcare providers, of the new law and what it covered.

The report is unequivocal: "... the provisioning of the rights of marriage through the separate status of civil unions perpetuates the unequal treatment of committed same-sex couples.

"Even if, given enough time, civil unions are understood to provide rights and responsibilities equivalent to those provided in marriage, they send a message to the public: same-sex couples are not equal to opposite-sex married couples in the eyes of the law, that they are 'not good enough' to warrant true equality."

They were certain that time would not solve the problem: "The Commission is compelled to issue its final report now because of the overwhelming evidence that civil unions will not be recognized by the general public as the equivalent of marriage in New Jersey with the passage of time."

They noted that their conclusions were not localized to New Jersey but that New Jersey's experience was echoed in other civil union states, noting, in particular, another report issued in 2008 in Vermont: "Since the Commission issued its February 2008 [Interim] report, a similar commission in Vermont has issued a report detailing how the Vermont civil union law – in effect since July 1, 2000 – still does not provide the legal, medical and economic equality of marriage. Nearly a decade later, civil union couples in Vermont report the same obstacles to equality that New Jersey civil union couples face today."

They emphasized that, although federal DOMA would remain a significant barrier to equality, in the area of job benefits, particularly in health insurance where ERISA and health insurance under collective bargaining union contracts was concerned, using the "marriage" instead of the "civil union" or "domestic partnership" terminology drastically improved coverage levels for families headed by same-sex couples, noting that ERISA, not antigay animosity, was the most cited reason by employers for noncompliance with the intent of the civil union law to provide equal benefits as marriage and that experience in Massachusetts of the benefit of using marriage terminology to overcome that was conclusive.

The report says that the fiscal/job- and insurance-related suffering and harm are not limited to isolated cases. In contrast, "In fact, the word 'marriage' can and does make a
difference to employers [and, consequently, to health insurance coverage], even within the constraints of federal law."

Noting the near-absence of ERISA-based discrimination against civilly married same-sex couples in Massachusetts, one union organizer stated, "It is not that ERISA-covered employers in Massachusetts don’t understand that federal law allows them to refrain from providing benefits to same-sex married couples. It’s that employers also understand that without the term ‘civil union’ or ‘domestic partner’ to hide behind, if they don’t give equal benefits to employees in same-sex marriages, these employers would have to come forth with the real excuse for discrimination. Employers would have to acknowledge that they are discriminating against their employees because they are lesbian or gay" -- something that employers are increasingly unwilling to do, understanding that the public increasingly understands benefits to be a part of one's job compensation package and are increasingly unwilling to tolerate such blatent examples of unequal pay for equal work.

As GLAD testimony stated regarding when civil marriage terminology is used instead of civil union, "A company that makes coverage available to the spouses of heterosexual employees has to depart from its general rule covering married employees and draw a new line of discrimination in order to deny benefits to some married employees but not others ... [and, in Massachusetts,] companies ... have been unwilling to draw that line of discrimination and do, indeed, provide the same benefits to both their same-sex and opposite-sex married employees."

Further, as the civil union status makes both partners co-liable for their debts but simultaneously can prevent them being both covered by insurance, some couples have faced the necessity to dissolve their civil unions rather than put their entire family financial well-being at risk.

As for psychological harm, the report was direct and left no doubt that civil unions literally cause it: "Equally important is psychological harm that same-sex couples and their children endure because they are branded with an inferior label. ... [quoting from their February Interim report] The Civil Union Act has a deleterious effect on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex youth and children being raised by same-sex couples. ... and the Civil Union Act has a particularly disparate impact on people of color" which is even further exacerbated when couples find it necessary to access the legal system for help in redressing grievances.

This problem was additionally compounded for all same-sex couples with fiscal challenges: "The State Public Advocate acknowledged the particular difficulty for lower-income same-sex couples who encounter discrimination because they have fewer resources with which to seek legal counsel and redress and who have difficulty meeting expenses if faced with reduced healthcare benefits" which is further complicated by their relative lack of backup documentation due to the added expense of obtaining it. They did, however, find that, among the non-poor, the prevalence of those seeking typically expensive backup documentation was very high, as experience with civil unions alone was proving very unsatisfactory.

They found that "denying same-sex couples access to the widely recognized civil institution of marriage while conferring the legal benefits under a parallel system using different nomenclature, imposes a second-class status on same-sex couples and sends the message that it is permissible to discriminate against them."

The report states that civil unions institutionalize second-class status with predictable negative effects that, according to a Harvard Medical School psych prof, "contributes to increased rates of anxiety, depression and substance-use disorders" due to being "branded with an inferior label."

Quoting further from their Interim Report, the Commission notes additional negative effects of civil union versus civil marriage equality, including that the "requirement that same-sex couples declare civil union status, a separate category reserved for same-sex couples, exposes members of the United States military to the 'Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell' policy" and that the "classification of civil union may place marital status in question when one of the partners is transgender."

As the report notes, civil marriage, in contrast, has positive benefits in this regard, "The socially sanctioned right of gay marriage which is qualitatively different than civil unions, the right to choose one’s spouse, has a positive impact on self-esteem, sense of being validated in the eyes of the community, and on the internalization of ideas of commitment and responsibility to others, something that is sorely needed in our society currently.

"Nothing is more basic from a mental health perspective to happiness and liberty than the right to love another human being with the same privileges and responsibilities as everyone else."

In other words, the words do matter: "... the difference in terminology, between 'marriage' and 'civil union,' stigmatizes gays and lesbians and their families because they are singled out as different. Witnesses stressed that words are incredibly important and powerful and that marriage is a term of 'persuasive weight' that everyone understands and respects."

The report noted testimony on a variety of types of harm and suffering to children of same-sex parents as well as to LGBT children as a result of the stigmatization of separate and unequal that is civil unions "which can lead to", among other things, "teasing and bullying", noting that, "when the government treats people differently, it emboldens private citizens of any age to follow suit."

I found the testimony of the observations of schoolteachers of the behavior of even very young students particularly enlightening as well as the psychiatric testimony regarding that, although children born to parents in civil union contracted relationships are legally legitimate, they are often not viewed as such by their peers due to the perception that only marriage conveys legitimacy and that this is a strong source of stimatization of these children, forty-three percent of whom face, at minimum, "verbal harassment" by peers in school.

The civil union status of their parents also affects children's perception of the stability and safety of their families: "youth ... report that hearing that their family can’t have the same rights as other families leads them to feeling scared or confused ... They say that they think somebody is going to come and break up their family."

In contrast, children of the civilly married psychologically benefit from their parents being in a relationship defined by a word that is universally understood. For them, "It's a big deal." They have a "sense of validation of being part of a real family" -- something particularly profound for adopted children and children of divorce. As one young man so eloquently described, "Every time [when I was younger] I let somebody in and I said, 'Hey, I have to tell you something,' I’d say, 'My parents are gay,' and no matter what they said, my next reaction was, 'Don’t tell anybody.' And that’s no way to grow up.

"After my parents got their marriage license, all that changed. For the first time in my life I could stand there and I had a word to describe my family and that word could describe it to everybody because everybody already knew what a marriage was. You know, they didn’t have to
question.

"It’s been the biggest thing in my life. You know, I can’t stop talking about my parents. It’s easier for me to go around and talk to friends that I’ve had for 20 years, to go up to them and speak about my family openly now and they get it. When you say that your family is married, they just get it and there’s not a question. I just wish it would have happened when I was little, so I didn’t have to go through all this stuff.

"It was just the best feeling I ever had. And part of it, too, I think was I felt like finally I was protected. My parents’ fears probably creeped into my subconscious mind too as a kid, that they would lose me for some reason.

"I’ve watched young gay couples, teenagers, 15 year olds, walk up to my parents and say, 'You guys are heroes.' And you can see in their eyes
that finally there’s hope that their relationship is just as good as anybody else’s. There’s a future in their relationship. I was happy for every other little kid out there, that they didn’t have to go through the same stuff.

"I see the huge weight lifted off my parents’ shoulders. When they talk to their co-workers at work or their boss, it’s huge. To not tell your lifelong friends or your boss for 20 years about your spouse, it’s a tough thing to live with, and it’s something that people shouldn’t have to live with, especially the kids."

But that was the story of a young man whose parents had a real civil marriage, not a civil union.

LGBT youths report that the civil union situation has left them feeling "angry, confused, and upset." Reported one, "Today (a classmate) asked me, 'Do you have a boyfriend?' I said, 'No, actually, I have a girlfriend. You might know her.' And he said, 'You have a girlfriend? That’s wrong, that’s a disease. You need to go get help for that.' And I was like, 'Why is it a disease?' And he was like, 'You can’t get married. Well, that’s why, you can’t get married. Obviously something is wrong with it.'"

Civil unions attack the basic dignity of adult same-sex couples, too, and put them in peril: "Many witnesses who are in civil unions described situations in which they were forced to explain their civil union status, what a civil union is, and how it is designed to be equivalent to marriage. These conversations include the indignities of having to explain [and often have to go to unusual lengths to prove] the legal nature of their relationship, often in times of crisis, and the obstacles and frustrations encountered when using government, employer, or health care forms that do not address or appropriately deal with the status of being in a civil union."

Further, as couples typically find it necessary to reinforce documentation of their relationship status using old standards such as powers of attorney and medical consent forms that use other labels besides civil union or marriage, "confusion as to the labels applied to same-sex relationships and resulting misunderstandings can lead to both intentional and unintentional discrimination and hardship", a situation that civilly married couples have fewer problems with, the report concludes.

The report also dashes the seemingly reasonable hope most typically given for taking the civil union shortcut -- that civil unions will provide protection in times of medical crisis: "Civil unions create challenges to equal health care access."

Civil unions are not infrequently considered suspect or fraudulent, documentation is demanded of civil union couples in New Jersey at far higher rates than for civilly married couples in Massachusetts, for instance, and, even when provided, testimony in case after case showed that proper access was unduly postponed until authorities could be made to understand the rights involved -- with enough near-tragedies that actual tragedies are reasonably predicted should the law not be changed.

As stated in the report, "In times of crisis, it is unfair and unreasonable to ask people in a state licensed relationship to have to explain that relationship [civil union relationship]; to explain why they are legally entitled to hospital visitation rights, to explain why they are legally entitled to make final arrangements for their deceased spouse. Yet, as a practical matter, civil unions impose this unreasonable burden."

People understand marriage. From the testimony of a Massachusetts married lesbian: "I do health and safety work with ... big construction unions. I went down to the labor training center a few weeks after [we got married]... . All these big burly guys come and say, 'Well, I guess we should say congratulations, huh?' And I’m like, 'Oh, oh, yeah. Thanks.' Then another guy walks in and says, 'How does it feel to be married now? How’s married life?' You know, because that’s what people understand ... And they get it."

Contrast that to the New Jersey civilly unioned/unionized/unified??? couple who showed the Commissioners a “flash drive that both ... keep on their key chains. The flash drives contain living wills, advanced health care directives, and powers of attorney for the couple, as they fear being unable to adequately explain their relationship to emergency room personnel during a medical crisis. The witness testified that opposite-sex married couples need not live with this uncertainty because a mere declaration that someone is the 'wife,' 'husband,' or 'spouse' of someone who is ill will provide immediate access and decision-making rights."

Not to belabor the point but the commission, in its interim report called civil unions "an invitation to discriminate" and a " 'justification to employers and others' to treat same-sex couples as 'less than' married couples." The final report stated that "relatives, medical caregivers, and individuals in positions of authority take cues
from the government’s decision to categorize same-sex couples differently."

They found that "the civil union law has resulted in economic, medical and psychological harm for a number of same-sex couples and their children. This Commission believes that as long as New Jersey maintains two separate systems to recognize the unions of same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples, same-sex couples and their children will face a challenge in receiving equal treatment. Under a dual system, these and future families will suffer economic, medical and psychological harm."

They further found that "even if all employers in New Jersey were suddenly to provide benefits to employees in civil unions equal to the benefits provided to married employees - an unlikely proposition in itself - such compliance would
not cure much of the inequality perpetuated by the civil union law" and that, persistence of federal DOMA and ERISA-permissable discrimination notwithstanding, "a marriage statute would cure much of the harm perpetuated by the existing civil union law".

Reporting that time does not fix the problem, using Vermont as evidence, the Commission states, "even eight years after enactment,
Vermont’s Civil Union Law has not resulted in true equality although it purports
to provide protections equal to marriage. ...[Quoting from the April, 2008, State of Vermont report,] 'Time cannot and does not mend the inequality inherent in the two separate institutions.'"

I advise reading the material in the report regarding what courts in California and other states have said regarding civil unions not being able to be made equal to civil marriage. The Supreme Court of Connecticut, in its October 10, 2008, decision on the matter is typical: "... in light of the history of pernicious discrimination faced by gay men and lesbians, and because the institution of marriage carries with it a status and significance that the newly created classification of civil unions does not embody, the segregation of heterosexual and homosexual couples into separate institutions constitutes a cognizable harm. ...

" ... Although marriage and civil unions do embody the same legal rights under our law, they are by no means ‘equal.’ As we have explained, the former is an institution of transcendent historical, cultural and social significance, whereas the latter most surely is not. Even though the classifications created under our statutory scheme result in a type of differential treatment that generally may be characterized as symbolic or intangible, this court correctly has stated that such treatment nevertheless ‘is every bit as restrictive as naked exclusions’ because it is no less real than more tangible forms of discrimination, at least when, as in the present case, the statute singles out a group that historically has been the object of scorn, intolerance, ridicule or worse."

That court also found, as described by the New Jersey commission's Final Report, "Excluding same-sex couples from civil marriage will not make children of opposite-sex marriages more secure, but it does prevent children of same-sex couples from enjoying the immeasurable advantages that flow from the assurance of a stable family structure in which the children will be reared, educated, and socialized."

The Connecticut court also found, according to the New Jersey Final Report, that civil unions "discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation". Why would any of us ever actively promote that, especially merely to avoid what is, in reality, an unavoidable conflict? In light of the New Jersey and Vermont commission findings, the notion is, simply, obscene.

Marla,

At this length for a comment, no one will read it (except maybe Don). Write a post. It's longer than the original post!

Marla R. Stevens Marla R. Stevens | January 22, 2009 11:32 PM

Sorry, it's just such an amazing report, I started writing about it and, the deeper I went into it, the more I felt just demanded to be aired. Enthusiasm!

I pointed out that some of us are not satisfied with a civil union mechanism, and your comments demonstrate that I was right on that point. In fact, I said some would "go into orbit" --- how's the view up there at 400 miles above terra firma?

You may not be happy with anything less than the use of the term "marriage" but frankly, I am rather repulsed by the term and would welcome the development if our relationships were to be called something else ... of if I, at least, had the option to call it something else. A new terminology would separate the mechanism from having some imagined origin in somebody's sacred scripture, or God creating Adam and Eve, etc., blah, blah, blah. Like so many other things, marriage is a power-grab by whatever religious authority has "jurisdiction," historically speaking, at that place and time in history. Many straight couples who are strongly liberterian and/or anti-religion feel the same way. This, however, is a totally emotional position on my part and adds nothing to the discussion from a legal standpoint.

Marla, go ahead and work for what you really want --- that's the way democracy works. But for me, I would be a happy camper indeed if a state so less-than-bellwether as Indiana would enact a civil union mechanism that would grant basic tax equality, inheritance rights, government benefits survivorship, hospital visitation, and final disposition control. Considering that I might be around for only another 30 years or so, I find this hope to be bold enough.

Host all the "separate isn't equal" rallies you want --- just don't expect me to attend, at least not with the same rigid demands that you insist on.

Marla R. Stevens Marla R. Stevens | January 22, 2009 10:45 PM

Huh? What's so odd about fighting for equality under the law and not pre-settling for something you're not likely to get and which recent evidence (see above) proves you won't get what you want from anyway in a manner that has been proven to complicate the pursuit of what really works?

I don't have any problem with people not wanting to participate in civil marriage. I do have a problem with promoting segregation with all the attendant, proven harm that results.

This is no different than when I actively fight for DADTDP repeal even though I have serious concerns about anyone becoming a part of the military. They are separate issues and I can fight those battles separately, promoting equality under the law -- equal opportunity to serve (or, as I would prefer, not serve) while, simultaneously, for instance, fighting for the rights of conscientious objectors.

Just because one gains the equal right to an opportunity does not mean, after all, that one is in any way compelled to avail oneself of it.

In other words, if you want to fight for all people to have a civil union other than civil marriage, go for it but, as long as civil marriage is still what the New Jersey Commission described as "the coin of the realm", then I will maintain that we, as a people, have a fundamental right to equal access to it and point to the ample and growing evidence that lack thereof constitutes actual harm to us.

As for ballistic, nah, I'm just arguing the point. This isn't even a kitchen's worth of heat, much less a missile's worth. You must be used to playing in a very tame sandbox if you think it is.

Words are easy, action is tougher. After Rick Warren, Donnie McClurkin, the invisibility of Gene Robinson's invocation, his flip-flops on same-sex marriage and the utter insensitivity his team has clearly demonstrated toward us and our issues since the election, I will wait to see words backed up with real action before I'll believe any of it.

We've been fucked over by Democrats in general and by Obama himself too many times for me to even consider doing anything else.

Can't we celebrity any victory? This is the most inclusive, public language for LGBT people ever. Yes, it needs to be backed up by action, but it shows you where his head is. It's not perfect, but we can't expect perfection, we have to demand it. His language is, in my totally arbitrary estimation, about 85% there. That's - well, you can't divide by zero so pick your number, how about infinitely - better than the previous administration.

I'll remind you of these words from FDR: "I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it."

That's what Obama is saying on his website. It's our job to make him do it - and more. We shouldn't be cynical, we should be proud we have it in writing this time. If we only hold him to his own words, we'll win more in the next 4 years than in the last 20.

We've heard it all before, Jer, not only from Obama but from Barney Frank, Nancy Pelosi, Bill Clinton, and on and on, and it's all tuned out to be either bullshit or the actual end results made things even worse (ala DADT, DOMA).

As far as I'm concerned they've long since given up the right to expect the benefit of the doubt from any of us.

I'm not from Missouri, but as far as the credibility of any Democrat goes on our issues given the history here, I say "Show me".

Good gravy. I didn't say take them at their word. Read the quote I gave you fer cryin' out loud. We have it in writing. We have something tangible to hold him to. That's more than ANY other administration - ever.

I said exactly the opposite of giving them "the benefit of the doubt". I said we need to hold him to his words - and if we can, we will be infinitely farther ahead than we are now.

There is no "benefit of the doubt" in politics as far as I'm concerned. The one thing I agreed with Ronald Reagan about was "trust, but verify" which, essentially means, "I don't trust you, but I'll not say so for the niceties of it all."

I agree that we've been sold out time and time again. But I think our movement, as a whole, tends to look at the glass as half-empty far too often. A victory is a victory and getting such a strong statement directly from the administration is a victory, no matter how small you perceive it. It's worthy of mention, it's something we should be proud of, and it's proof that we have room to work again after 8 years of being stymied.

That's change I can believe in.

Marla R. Stevens Marla R. Stevens | January 22, 2009 10:56 PM

I have hope because so many of the dyed-in-the-wool progressive Obamacans like my cousin Jill Sim and her husband, Al, get it and have been putting their hard-earned-thru-long-hours-on-the-campaign-trail two-cents worth into the Obama input infrastructure on our behalf. That's where the "change gon' come" as Sam Cooke would say.