Bil Browning

GLADly bending over or All coastal states are tops

Filed By Bil Browning | March 03, 2009 10:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: DOMA, federal court, flyover country, gay marriage, GLAD, same-sex marriage

The Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) announced at a press conference today that they filed "the first concerted, multi-plaintiff lawsuit to challenge the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)" in federal district court.

New England's Bay Windows reports:

GLAD plans to file suit March 3 in the Federal District Court of Massachusetts, challenging provisions in section three of DOMA that bar the federal government from granting certain protections to legally married same-sex couples.
deal_with_it.jpgIf successful the suit would overturn only those specific provisions of DOMA, not the entire statute, which prevents federal recognition of any same-sex marriage and also allows states to deny recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states.

The marriage fight has cost me dearly in Indiana. I've lost jobs. I've lost an apartment and been denied others. I've been beaten with a crowbar and gang raped by men who called me "faggot" and "queer" over and over and over to the point where I still here them in my sleep. And there's not a damned thing I can do about it because our state legislature is still focused on keeping the queers from getting married - something we neither asked nor demanded - instead of moving the ball forward on discrimination and basic human rights.

So, kudos to an east coast state that already has marriage. I'll bend over now; coastal states seem to all be tops.

One Step Forward and Two Steps Back

It couldn't come at a worse time for Indiana. We just staved off a marriage amendment with the logic by our House Speaker that we already had a DOMA law and there's been no challenge federally. The general strategy was, "If they were challenging it nationally, it'd be a different story because then the judges would have control." The session isn't over yet and there's plenty of time next year to revisit that bit of legislation too.

onestepforward.jpgA person from Massachusetts commented on a mailing list I'm on, "and know one thing, Mary Bonauto rarely ever loses." That sends me over the edge.

Mary Bonauto had better not make this one of those "rare" cases because it's going to knock out our "rare" win for hate crimes and employment protections. We have a chance of finally passing those now that the focus was taken off of marriage for the first time in almost 10 years but as soon as this hits the local papers we're screwed. Focus back on f--king marriage again.

Even all of the work I've done with Indiana towns and cities to pass non-discrimination ordinances is honestly useless; they can't be enforced because of the state law which says that local government can't go beyond the protections offered by the state. Companies don't even have to respond to a complaint or notice by a human rights commission if it's LGBT-related.

And when there's a chance of gay weddings in Indiana, why bother helping the gays and being seen as gay friendly? Remember - New England Republicans are our Democrats. Look at ENDA. What other state had a majority of Democrats - of which the majority wouldn't vote for ENDA and were behind the "dump trans people" brigade? Obama may have turned us blue for him, but not blue enough for that.

"Painfully Familiar"

You know what I thought when the "news" broke that Hawaii might get civil unions? Might?!? They got us into the damned problem to start with and now they might finally get civil unions? GLAD's going after one portion? We're going for the right to life and liberty before the right to happiness.

That one portion isn't without cost. My concerns on the mailing list generated a reply that read:

this sounds painfully familiar. when the marriage case in MA was first being tried, everyone had a fit here. we can't do that! no no no!

There's a reason why what you're hearing is familiar to you. Perhaps, someone will actually listen. Because there's consequences to GLAD's actions that they don't have to live with. We do. We pay with our blood, our money, our time, our energy, and our security.

When the next kid is beat up for being too nelly and nothing happens other than a slap on the wrist? When the butch lesbian loses her job in this economy with double digit unemployment rates? I'll tell them it sounds "painfully familiar," but GLAD is going after section 3 of DOMA so sit back and enjoy the show.

The Myopic Focus on Marriage

As a movement we've focused on marriage quite a bit. Almost every national group helped in some sort with Prop 8. Almost every state has had folks on the ground locally trying to stop their state's amendment - without luck. Coastal states keep pushing the ball forward for marriage.

Myopic.jpgBut when do some of those orgs help those of us who can still get fired for being LGBT? Or denied housing? Or even public accommodations? Or hate crimes protections? All four have happened - repeatedly - here in the past year. And not a damned peep from any of the national groups on how to help us get the basic rights that a lot of the our readers take for granted every day.

Where's the coastal and national groups saying, "We're not free until we're all free." and sending us some help organizing, fundraising and lobbying? Where's the millions of dollars spent to allow a small portion of one state's queer folks to get hitched? Or hell, 1/10th of that cash...

Where's the planning sessions on helping out flyover country states? Where's the e-mails on those mailing lists? Where's the shout back to middle America that Harvey Milk gave? Remember, the kids he talked about in his speeches came from my area and he was there to help - and not just help us get married but to have some damned dignity and basic recognitions.

This isn't help. This is hurt. And, personally? I'm glad some folks can get married. Good for them; they're lucky. I fought for them both nationally and I fought for myself locally because of them.

Now someone stand up for us for once. I'm tired of us being the whipping post.


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Bil, thank you for the post here. I've written about the GLAD challenge to DOMA on the Q-Notes blog:

http://blog.q-notes.com/mattcomer/entry/will-history-repeat-challenge-to-fed-doma-comes-at-bad-timing/

GLAD’s DOMA challenge couldn’t come at a worse time. Today, as I write this and as GLAD holds a press conference in liberal Massachusetts, thousands of anti-gay religious fundamentalists are being bussed into Raleigh for a “rally to defend traditional marriage” on the mall at the N.C. Legislative Building. Already introduced in the N.C. Senate, anti-gay GOP and Democratic N.C. House members will introduce their version of the anti-gay, state constitutional amendment today, as well.

southeastnctarget1The anti-gay right has never been more organized in North Carolina. In the words of blogger Pam Spaulding, we’re “sitting ducks.” They’re propaganda even has the Tar Heel State bulls-eyed.

North Carolina, the only Southern state without an anti-gay amendment, will likely become just another casualty of this Northeastern/Western, liberal coastal state battle. There will be no saving us once an amendment is passed. Like the other 30 states that have succumbed to these amendments, the Old North State will have to wait until (and if) we’re saved by the U.S. Supreme Court.

We should learn from our history. We are repeating the same reckless mistakes over and over again. A little step forward in liberal states like Massachusetts mean huge leaps backward for states like North Carolina and the LGBT people who live here.

A challenge to federal DOMA is dangerous. Put it on the back burner.

Ooops... should've been: "Their propaganda even has the Tar Heel State bulls-eyed."

I love the bunny graphic--although it almost caused a terrible coffee-laptop incident here.

Bil, I couldn't agree more. I'd also point out, however, that even in states where there is already an LGBT-inclusive anti-discrimination law (like here in Jersey) it's still a tough haul for LGBT workers thanks to "right to work" laws in 49 states which allow businesses to fire an employee for any reason not protected by law, or even for no reason at all.

As a result, LGBT people can still be fired with impunity in every state in the nation since the burden of proof in a discrimination case is fully upon the employee, not the employer. Similarly, LGBT's can be thrown out of their homes (i.e. leases not renewed or even offered in the first place) because tenant rights laws tend to favor the property owner not the tenant.

As I've written about before the efforts of the national groups are so narrowly focused on marriage that shamefully little attention is paid to other LGBT rights issues which have a far greater impact on most of us. The fact that this continues unabated even in the face of a massive recession where thousands of lower and middle class LGBT's are unemployed and/or losing their jobs, and most importantly, with ENDA to come up for debate in Congress this spring, indicates to me that those in power and holding the purse strings have little or no interest in fighting for employment rights.

Sadly, we see once again that those who already have good jobs and nice homes don't care very much about helping those who don't.

Matt, I think you completely missed Bil's point. There are LGBT's all over this country who are unemployed and struggling to find work. Now is not the time to go fight yet another losing battle for same-sex marriage, it's the time to devote our efforts to protecting people's homes and jobs so we can afford to continue fighting our other issues in the future.

First things first. You can't be an effective activist if your primary concern is trying to figure out how to feed and keeping a roof over yourself and your family.

I'm pretty sure Matt was agreeing with me, Becky. Not disagreeing. :)

Maybe so, Bil, but the example he used was yet another SSM effort, indicating to me that he didn't really get your main point about workplace rights and how they are impacted by SSM-related efforts.

I agree, Becky, the issue of employment protections is much bigger than LGBT-specific legislation. Even when that gets passed, we have to get good judges to try these cases (instead of the federal trial court judges who just throw them out right and left), require more documentation for firing people, and increase union power.

But along those lines, isn't GLAD based in Massachusetts? They still don't have trans protections, do they?

Lindasusan | March 3, 2009 1:51 PM

As someone who knows just how fortunate I am to live in the bubble of San Francisco, I *adamantly* agree that this DOMA challenge seems wrong-headed and dangerous. The arrogance and self-involvement of such a move is apparent not just in all the reasons Bil pointed out, which are serious and multitudinous. It's also potentially devastating to the marriage equality issue they're purporting to advance: oral arguments go before the CA Supreme Court on Thursday. As in, two days after GLAD files their DOMA challenge. Are they naive enough to think it won't matter to the opposition? Seriously -- couldn't they wait *three days*?

Please don't interpret my comments as a West Coaster diminishing the issues Bil has raised here in any way -- far from it. For me, marriage equality has never been the end of the story. I'm just pointing out the monumental tone-deafness required to toot your own horn this way, even when it's at your own expense.

And, to make a point about employment protections in red states - Moscow (Idaho) council nixes specific transgender protection:

The Moscow City Council rejected a resolution Monday night that would have amended the city’s employment nondiscrimination policy to specifically protect transgendered people.

The council voted 5-1 to keep the city’s policy as is despite several emotional pleas from Moscow residents, including the mother of a transgendered child.

Councilman Tom Lamar was the only council member who supported the change.

Transgendered people are those whose gender identity does not match their physical gender. Councilman Wayne Krauss said transgendered people already are included in the city’s current nondiscrimination policy, which provides protections based on age, race, religion and sexual orientation.

Frankly, I'm a little shocked at this move from GLAD. I always heard that the "popular wisdom" of the leading LGBT-rights legal groups was that DOMA and nationwide marriage equality wasn't a wise move until at least a dozen or so states had got there on their own. That until the movement picked up enough steam to look like a fundamental shift in American acceptance, it was potentially devastating to take the issue before the Supreme Court.

I hope GLAD knows something I don't, but I suspect there might be a self-glorification thing going on instead. I wish them well in their challenge, but the timing has me deeply unsettled.

I'm actually really conflicted on this. I'm beginning to think that the real hope of doing anything is through the courts. These statewide constitutional amendments aren't going to get killed locally, one by one. They are going to get killed by applying the full faith and credit clause consistently across the country. And that is going to get done through the courts. I'm not intelligent enough to figure out the timing, and I do think that the Roberts court won't be particularly friendly to us, but I do believe that this fight will have to be had in the courts eventually. Jim Crow wasn't beaten in the state legislatures, for example.

That being said, I completely agree with Bil that marriage shouldn't be the top priority. I don't see why this can't wait until a trans-inclusive EDNA is passed. We're sooooo close on that one.

Bil:

Thank you for your post. Thank you also for speaking of being a sexual assault survivor, you, unfortunately are not alone.

When I heard about this challenge I was a little flabbergasted- but then I remember when Massachusetts first pushed for marriage equality I remember the same cries of this isn't the right time. I don't think there ever is.

That said, it brings me back to the component of our civil rights movement that continues to not be talked about and pushed under the rug... the class difference.

Underlying the push for marriage is that those with money, many who think (rightly or wrongly) that they don't have to worry about workplace discrimination, have made marriage the benchmark that we all must chase.

We have a larger movement that only listens with those with money- and issues like workplace discrimination, health care benefits, etc are all issues that those with money don't face as acutely.

It really screwed us in California, where those at the table who made decisions for the Prop 8 campaign were big donors, who are important, but just because you can donate $100,000 doesn't mean you can organize yourself out of a paper bag or talk to working class communities.

Our civil rights movement, rightly or not, is driven by those with the cash- and the people with cash- want to get married, god damn it, and they want it now. So the rest of us are hostage to that agenda, regardless of whether our most important issue is trying to just get a job, let alone get health benefits for our partner.

This is not to say that marriage equality is not a working class issue- it is absolutely- but the voices of working class queers continues to be marginalized.

I guess I'm just a marxist at heart- it all comes back to class.

just another reader | March 3, 2009 4:10 PM

Excellent post, Bil. Very well said.

Bil
Sorry to hear of your misfortunes in a non progressive state. I have read GLAD's Legal complaint and agree with it. It doesn't involve your state as section 2 in DOMA stands, it is about married couples in the progressive states.
The young gay midwestern kid Milk was addressing moved to California. Not a bad idea if targeted.
It's going to get worse due to the melting economy. My thoughts are with you. There were crimes against blacks in flyover states after Loving vs Virginia.


This sounds like the typical, myopic view that the coastal folks espouse.

It does affect Indiana because this is where the backlash will happen. A huge part of the argument keeping Indiana from having a marriage amendment is the fact that DOMA exists.

If you start chipping away at DOMA now, we will lose opposition to the amendment. It's not an insignificant number of Democrats that base their stance on the marriage amendment on the lack of need for an amendment due to DOMA.

So the idea that this doesn't affect us is simply poppycock. We inland states are the whipping boys for the coastal progress every time. Live here for a while and maybe you'll have a better perspective.

When you add in the fact that many feel this lawsuit is ill-timed, you're just pouring salt in the wound.

Agree with the lawsuit or not - that's not what matters here. What matter is that I'm sick of this attitude that what happens on the coasts has no impact here.

That - is utter bullshit.

Thanks Bill. Very well done.

I feel the same way about folks here in California floating the idea of putting marriage back on the ballot next year.

Let's continue this as a national discussion among the people on the ground doing organizing, advocacy and services, about our priorities as a movement.

The true consequences of our actions, especially with funding so tight, need to be discussed. Along with all of the state, regional and national LGBT groups in other states that have paid the price for Prop. 8, there are countless LGBT community centers, substance abuse programs, youth programs, support groups, HIV/AIDS service programs, etc. here in California that are now closed or are very close to closing, because donations dried up in 2008. Unintended consequences, but consequences none the less.

Do we really want to have to rebuild all of our community institutions to achieve marriage?

I agree with Jeremy, this is all about class.


Dave in Northridge | March 3, 2009 10:08 PM

This is all very nice, and I'm pretty sure I sympathize with all of you who live in states where there is no chance that you'll be able to marry, but three things:

1) If DOMA is unconstitutional, so are all the state laws that reflect it.

2) Yes, it might be about money. Right now, even if you live in Indiana, you and your partner can have all the privileges of marriage IF you pay a lawyer thousands of dollars and form a corporation.

3) I'm admittedly a professional because I have a Ph.D. and I teach part time at two college campuses, but let's not bring class into this, please. Right now I'm worried that the California Supreme Court will annul my marriage. This is actually a real world problem for some of us.

As long as it's about me for so many of you, it can be about me with regard to this suit as well.

Dave:

I have to say I am confused. No disrespect meant, but how can you say "Yes, it might be about money. Right now, even if you live in Indiana, you and your partner can have all the privileges of marriage IF you pay a lawyer thousands of dollars and form a corporation," and then say, "...but let's not bring class into this, please?"

Isn't that what the class system is all about-the ability to buy one's way out of a problem? Having the power that money brings?

Dave, in my opinion there is nothing wrong with having money, being middle or upper class. Where the problem comes in is that we in this country have a very hard time talking about money, and the power that it brings to those who have it. We'll do almost anything to avoid the subject because we are "supposed" to be a classless society. The irony is that most of us have disturbing feelings about our own money situation, no matter where we are on the class-line. It is our societal shame with which we have not come to terms.

Dave, I understand that you do not want to have your marriage revoked. Neither do I or my spouse. Nor has anyone in the posts above said this is what they want to see. What I have read are people who have different priorities for themselves and their LGBT communities. And yes, these priorities grow out of the realities of their daily lives, including class and power.


Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | March 4, 2009 12:26 PM

"Right now, even if you live in Indiana, you and your partner can have all the privileges of marriage IF you pay a lawyer thousands of dollars and form a corporation."

Sorry, Dave, but that isn't the case. While going to an attorney (or not going to one and doing certain things yourselves) can go a considerable way in achieving a significant amount of rights and benefits that marriage brings, there are other things that no piece of paper, be it an incorporation document, a contract, will, or the like, can do in this area. Prime example in Indiana: A spouse married thirty seconds dies; his/her survivor gets a totally free pass on having to pay any Indiana inheritance tax. A committed same-sex couple together 50 years, maybe with children involved: a measly $ 100.00 (yep, just two zeros before and two after the decimal point) off the top and then from 10 to 20 percent of the value of the property involved. And in some cases a surviving partner may be liable to taxes on the part of a jointly held home or other property that was already his/hers. Repeat: no lawyer can remedy that situation. Only full marriage equality can. Same thing with many federal benefits.

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | March 4, 2009 12:56 PM

"Right now, even if you live in Indiana, you and your partner can have all the privileges of marriage IF you pay a lawyer thousands of dollars and form a corporation."

Sorry, Dave, but that isn't the case. While going to an attorney (or not going to one and doing certain things yourselves) can go a considerable way in achieving a significant amount of rights and benefits that marriage brings, there are other things that no piece of paper, be it an incorporation document, a contract, will, or the like, can do in this area. Prime example in Indiana: A spouse married thirty seconds dies; his/her survivor gets a totally free pass on having to pay any Indiana inheritance tax. A committed same-sex couple together 50 years, maybe with children involved: a measly $ 100.00 (yep, just two zeros before and two after the decimal point) off the top and then from 10 to 20 percent of the value of the property involved. And in some cases a surviving partner may be liable to taxes on the part of a jointly held home or other property that was already his/hers. Repeat: no lawyer can remedy that situation. Only full marriage equality can. Same thing with many federal benefits.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | March 4, 2009 2:10 AM

Those who want an agenda focusing on discrimination in housing, employment and educations and hate crimes while still supporting same sex marriage should move to form a nationwide, democratically run GLBT left wing independent of bigots like Obama and his party and their handpuppet in HRC. It should elect it’s leadership, not be dictated to by self appointed chuckleheads like No on 8.

A few massive weekends of heated protests alternating local, regional and national focal points will do wonders to clarify the thinking of bigots in Congress and the White House. At the same time they can be used to draw in allies and educate and solidify new layers of younger activists.

There is no downside. It's win, win, win.

A. J. Lopp | March 4, 2009 11:15 AM

I have to agree with Bil, Matt, and others that this case is poorly thought-out and generally Bad News for most of us. It could result in more anti-gay marriage amendments among the state constitutions, and could add quite a bit of fire to the RR push for FMA. The timing of this is no less than dreadful.

Truly, I do not get this post. So is your point, Bil, that misery loves company? That the coastal gays should slow down progress in the civil rights movement because the flyover gays are in hopeless territory? Why begrudge progress where progress is possible?

No. In fact, wrote another post that explains it a little further.

I'm not asking for the progressive states to stop or even slow down. I'm asking for them to at least look behind them and hopefully offer their hand to us so we can come along too.