Marriage Equality on Hold in Utah But Progress is Inevitable


January 6, 2014; Washington Post

On December 20, lesbian and gay Utahans got a surprise holiday gift from U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby, who ruled that the state’s ban on same-gender unions was unconstitutional. Hundreds of couples rushed to get marriage licenses, resulting in what Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker called a “thrilling pandemonium.” Within a week, close to 1,000 marriage licenses were issued to gay couples, easily shattering records and providing counties with thousands of dollars in revenue.

The ruling caught conservative Utah by surprise, and state lawyers scrambled to halt marriages, asking both Shelby and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals for an emergency stay as Shelby’s decision was being appealed. The requests were not granted, prompting the state’s Attorney General’s office to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to step in.

On Monday, the nation’s highest court took away the gift of legal unions from same-sex couples who were about to get licenses and left those who got married during the past two weeks in legal limbo. The justices gave no indication which argument convinced them to halt marriage equality in Utah or who among them dissented.

Opponents of the freedom to marry may count this as a victory, but the tide has long turned. Not counting Utah, 17 states and the District of Columbia have sanctioned unions for couples who happen to be of the same gender. A majority of Americans view marriage equality favorably. Moreover, in states all across the union, lesbian and gay couples are fighting in the courts for their right to marry. However the U.S. Supreme Court rules in Utah, there are many cases in the pipeline. It can only get messier. In time, though, all couples will be recognized, not by their biology but by their love and commitment.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly.

DOMA and the States: What are the Next Strategic Steps for LGBT Groups?


June 26, 2013; ABC News

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) organizations are celebrating Wednesday’s Supreme Court rulings on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Proposition 8, major victories in the fight for civil rights. The Court overturned DOMA’s Article 3, which prohibited the U.S. government from recognizing legal marriages of gay women and men and denied gay married couples over 1,100 benefits enjoyed by their straight counterparts. The Supreme Court justices also let stand a lower court ruling that struck down Proposition 8, a ballot initiative that defined marriage as between one woman and one man.

Because of DOMA, gay U.S. citizens were not able to petition for green cards for their foreign-born spouses. Rachel B. Tiven, Executive Director of Immigration Equality, said, “Many of our families have waited years, and in some cases decades, for the green card they need to keep their families together. Couples forced into exile will be coming home soon. Americans separated from their spouses are now able to prepare for their reunion. Today’s ruling is literally a life-changing one for those who have suffered under DOMA and our discriminatory immigration laws.”

“Antiquated laws like Proposition 8 and DOMA disproportionately harm LGBT people of color, and ultimately our nation,” said Sharon Lettman-Hicks, Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of the National Black Justice Coalition, in a statement released after the rulings were announced. “Today is a victorious day for our community, our families, and our love.”

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, also applauded the development, but pointed out “there’s much work ahead of us to ensure that every couple can fully enjoy the recognition Justice Kennedy so eloquently wrote about in the majority opinion in Windsor.”

Although gay married couples are now entitled to federal benefits, access can be an issue in states that do not have marriage equality. As NPR’s Liz Halloran explains, “Some federal agencies adhere to what is known as a ‘place of celebration’ standard. That means no matter where a couple is legally married anywhere in the world, the union is recognized for the purpose of federal benefits. But other agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service and the Social Security Administration, hew to a ‘place of residence’ standard. Marriage has to be recognized in the place the couple is living for them to be eligible for those federal spousal benefits.”

“We have an obligation to ensure every same-sex couple—whether they live in Arkansas or New York, Kansas or California, can share in today’s emotional and deserved victory,” said Griffin. “We have momentum on our side, and it’s only a matter of time until the remaining parts of DOMA are entirely repealed.”

LGBT groups are already looking ahead at what remains to be done. Aside from fully getting rid of DOMA and establishing marriage equality in all states, advocacy groups are also working at addressing the many other issues faced by the LGBT community, such as workplace discrimination, violence, and the marginalization of queer people of color.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly

Pope Tiptoes Around Marriage


Photo Source: The Times of London

June 14, 2013; ABC News

Since being elected head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis has raised the hopes of reformists within the church and without. By ditching the papal throne for a white chair and opting for humbler accommodations so he could be among priests and visitors, the Argentine has set plebeian hearts of aflutter. By declaring that “women have a primary, fundamental role” in the Catholic Church, he has given some women encouragement. Now, it’s the gays’ turn.

Last Friday, Francis met with Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury and titular head of the Anglican Communion. The religious heads addressed the controversial issue of civil marriage equality, which is gaining ground not only in the United States, but globally. Both men prayed, broke bread, and discussed the urgency of protecting and strengthening families—at least those headed by one man and one woman. What set the conversation apart, however, and has faithful gays and allies excited, was the tone taken.

Nicole Winfield of the Associated Press writes, “In his remarks to Welby, Francis said he hoped they could collaborate in promoting the sacredness of life ‘and the stability of families founded on marriage’…significantly, though, Francis didn’t specify that marriage should be based on a union between a man and woman, which is how Benedict XVI and John Paul II routinely defined it in a way that made clear their opposition to same-sex marriage.”

While the Pope may not have spelled out who can be married, it’s best that bubbles be burst. Before becoming pope, Francis vehemently opposed civil marriage in his native Argentina. As Cardinal Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, he called the civil rights development an “anthropological step backward.” He also wrote, “if they’re granted marriage rights and can adopt, there could be children affected. Every person needs a masculine father and a feminine mother to help them settle their identity.” Clearly, he is not up to speed with scientific studies that have proven children raised by lesbian and gay parents are doing quite all right.

Let us be clear that Pope Francis is no ally of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, and no one should expect any changes during their lifetime. Just last week, he bemoaned the existence of a “gay lobby” in the Vatican and managed to portray gay men as responsible for the rot and corruption in Rome. Franco Gillini, president of a gay rights group, points out that just because “priests have sex with other men doesn’t authorize anyone to speak about a gay lobby, because we’re not talking about a group that represents the interests of the homosexual community but rather a group that is an integral part of a power structure—the Vatican—which is violently homophobic.”

Vatican officials did clarify that Francis was merely being diplomatic during his initial meeting with his Anglican counterpart, who is just as opposed to equal civil rights for LGBT people and their families. “We were absolutely at one on the issues,” Welby assessed after the power meeting. Without irony, he added, “and equally at one in our condemnation of homophobic behavior and our sense that the essential dignity of the human being is where you start.”

Are they so dense to realize that their official and dogmatic treatment of LGBT families as flawed and less than straight families spur and arm the very homophobia they condemn? And what about the essential dignity of human beings who happen to love someone of the same gender?

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly’s Newswire.

Money Edge No Guarantee for Marriage Equality on State Ballots

LGBTLindsay Douglas /

October 18, 2012; Source: NBC News

Two weeks from today, voters will choose more than the next president or their legislative representatives. Through state ballots, they will also decide how some of us get to live our lives. In Maine, Maryland, and Washington, the electorate will determine whether same-gender couples can marry. Those in Minnesota will vote on a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between individuals of opposite genders. Many previous attempts at establishing marriage equality through popular vote have failed even though proponents injected large sums of cash to educate voters. This time around, however, opponents of marriage equality are getting nervous, alarmed by the considerable amounts raised by same-gender marriage supporters.

According to NBC News, marriage equality supporters in Maine have raised over $3 million, while opponents have only managed to raise approximately $430,000. In Maryland, proponents have more than $3 million in their coffers, while opponents have less than $900,000. In Washington, proponents have more than $10.5 million while opponents have less than $2 million.

Frank Schubert, the political director for the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and the campaign manager for the four state campaigns opposed to marriage equality, expressed his concern that marriage equality proponents with deep pockets would be able to inundate voters with their message. “I am worried … about the particular disparities in Maine and Washington state and somewhat in Maryland,” Schubert says. “What’s occurred in the past—that we’ve been able to win despite being outspent—you know, is certainly going to be challenged this time by just the sheer disparity that exists.”

However, Denise Roth Barber, managing director of the National Institute on Money in State Politics, points out that marriage equality opponents have been outspent before but nonetheless prevailed in several cases. “Regarding same-sex marriage, raising more money has thus far not equated to success at the ballot box,” she tells NBC News. Political scientists like Patrick Egan of New York University agree with Barber. “A money advantage in any race is generally not what it’s blown up to be,” he says.

Perhaps NOM and its allies should be less worried about cash and more concerned that public opinion has recently changed, rapidly and dramatically, in favor of legalizing same-gender marriage. Polls in Maine,Maryland and Washington indicate that a majority of voters prefer marriage equality to discrimination against same-sex couples. This is not so in Minnesota, however, where residents surveyed were about evenly split (the one percent difference on the question was well within the poll’s 4.3 percent margin of error) on whether they favor a state constitutional amendment banning same-gender marriage.

Opponents of marriage equality need not throw in the towel yet nor should proponents start a victory lap. The plain and simple fact about polling is that some people will say one thing in order to look good and do another when it comes to socially contentious issues like gay rights. It remains to be seen whether the large cash infusions in Maine, Maryland, Washington and Minnesota will make a difference this time around. Regardless of the outcomes for these ballot initiatives during this cycle though, the tide has turned and it’s only a matter of time before more states recognize the legitimacy and commitment of same-gender couples.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, October 23, 2012.

Obama’s Gay Marriage Stance Won’t Cost Him the Latino Vote

Gay Latinos in Queens celebrate the passage of marriage equality in New York State

Gay Latinos in Queens celebrate the passage of marriage equality in New York State. (Photo: JoeinQueens/flickr)

President Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage last week has everyone theorizing on whether it will hurt or help his re-election bid. Some argue that this move will cost the president support from Latinos, a rapidly growing population whose votes may decide the race in battleground states.

Bob Quasius, Sr., president of Café Con Leche Republicans, a group that does not take a position on gay marriage, claims the president’s comments will distance him from Latinos, who are now over 16 percent of the U.S. population.

“Sixty percent of Latinos are center-right according to Pew Hispanic,” Quasius said, “and more conservative Latinos, especially evangelical Christians, are strongly opposed to gay marriage. A majority of Latinos voted against gay marriage in California. Among Latinos who support gay marriage, many will view Obama’s recent comments as election time rhetoric,” Quasius said.

But despite a reputation of Latino social conservatism that the GOP likes to tout, in 2008, 67 percent of Hispanics voted for Obama, and Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) doubts the President’s comments will be a deal breaker.

“Most Latinos favor broader civil rights protections and inclusion in U.S. society and the issue of same-sex marriage is no exception.  A majority of Latino voters favor legalizing same-sex marriage, as a recent NCLR study showed,” Rep. Gutierrez  said.

Clarissa Martinez, Director of Civic Engagement at NCLR, the country’s largest Latino civil rights advocacy group, believes Mr. Obama’s historic stance will actually increase his appeal among Latinos.

“The President’s endorsement of same-sex marriage is historic and will resonate with the 54 percent of Latinos who support marriage equality (according to a recent report by Social Science Research Solutions, co-released with NCLR),” Martinez emailed.  “And while marriage equality has not been a top voting issue or determining factor for Latinos overall, this endorsement may be one factor voters in favor take into account.”

Pedro Julio Serrano, Communications Manager of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force attributes this to the Latino community’s strong sense of family.

“We know what ‘familia‘ is,” he said, “and when we see same-sex couples in loving and committed relationships, when we see that more that 40 percent are raising children, we want them to have the same rights and protections as the opposite-sex couples have. In any case, if it has an effect, it will be a positive one,” Serrano said.

The stereotype of Latinos as conservatives appears increasingly outdated. Indeed, the president’s marriage equality stance seems to have energized immigration activists, especially young Latino voters who have built an alliance with gay activists on pushing for immigration reform. Juan Rodriguez, who is active in the Florida Immigrant Coalition, told the Associated Press that the gay rights and immigrant rights movements are “very aligned and becoming more so every year.”

Analysts of the Latino vote also say that at the end of the day, the president’s stance on marriage equality will be overshadowed by his reputation on creating jobs and immigration reform.

“Latino voters will be looking for specific plans that address the employment needs of the hardest hit communities, create jobs, and get the economy back on track,” said Martinez, from the NCLR. “Immigration has also risen on the issue priority agenda, particularly fueled by the anti-Latino sentiment with which the immigration debate has been laced, and the impact on the civil rights of the community,” said Martinez.

“For a large segment of the Latino community, immigration issues will probably have a bigger impact on the election than Obama’s support for marriage equality,” said Andrés Duque, a Latino LGBT rights activist and blogger.  ”Fairly or unfairly, there is a lot of discontent out there about the Obama administration’s handling of the issue, particularly with the DREAM Act, and what keeps saving him is that the Romney campaign has struggled to frame the issue and aligned himself with some of the most anti-immigrant voices in his party,” Duque added.

So while bread and butter issues might be an opening for the Romney campaign to bait Latino vote, the anti-immigrant rhetoric spewed during the GOP presidential primaries and the presumptive candidate’s own hardline immigration stance might have totally slammed the opening shut.

Rep. Gutierrez stresses the fact that Romney has catered to the “loudest and least tolerant elements of the Republican base,” which he says puts the GOP presidential hopeful and Republicans “out of step with America.”

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, WNYC It’s A Free Country, and the Huffington Post.

Gay Marriage Advocates Reframe the Debate

November 7, 2011; Source: USA Today | Lesbian and gay couples want the freedom to marry out of love and commitment, just like their straight counterparts. And same-gender couples, many of whom have been together for decades, want the 1,138 federal rights and benefits afforded different-gender couples such as social security and veteran benefits for spouses as well as the right to sponsor their foreign-born spouses.

Advocates for same-gender marriage have been arguing that it is a matter of equal rights, but now a bipartisan group is urging proponents to frame the debate as a matter of love and commitment.

The centrist group Third Way launched the “Commitment Campaign” on Monday and is reported to have already won support from Democrats, Republicans, and Independents such as Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, and former chair of the Republican National Committee, Ken Mehlman.

Those behind the initiative believe that the focus on equality may give the false impression that lesbians and gays want to marry for different reasons than their straight counterparts.

Charles Moran, chairman of the California Log Cabin Republicans, told USA Today that the old way of framing the issue has led to 31 straight defeats in ballot initiatives across the country. “This is a real radical way of changing the approach in communicating why gay marriage equality is important.”

O’Malley added that “in this fast-evolving issue, we’re all searching for common ground and the way to have a conversation with those who would be inclined not to support marriage equality is to search for those common values that we share.”

Lesbian and gay couples want to marry for the same reasons as straight couples: they want to express their love and commitment through a public and social compact. But they also want to do so in order to secure the legal recognition, protection, and stability that come with the right that straight couples take as a matter of course but that is denied to Americans who happen to be gay.—Erwin de Leon

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, November 7, 2011.

























New York, Marriage Equality and Immigrants

When Governor Andrew Cuomo called for “justice for all” through the passage of a marriage equality bill earlier this year, I asked whether gay marriage was a priority for New York immigrants. Some queer activists did not think so, arguing that many immigrants, gay or straight, are far more concerned about bread and butter issues.

The momentous passage of New York’s Marriage Equality Act late Friday night is nonetheless being celebrated by the LGBT community, its advocates and allies, including those who might have expressed skepticism. The law expands civil rights within the state and codifies the fundamental dignity of LGBT individuals and their families, some of whom are immigrants.

The Marriage Equality Act will not help lesbian and gay immigrants who hope to gain permanent residency by wedding their American partners, since immigration is under federal purview and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) bars the U.S. government from recognizing gay marriages. Among permanent residents and naturalized citizens however, the new law establishes one more jurisdiction where lesbian and gay couples will be treated equally within its boundaries. All couples have the freedom to marry in Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Washington, D.C. and now, New York.

Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, one of the organizations that led the effort to pass gay marriage in the state, told Fi2W back in January that “the denial of the freedom to marry with all its tangible and intangible protections, consequences, and meaning hurts everyone—not least because it is state-sponsored discrimination based on who we are and who we love, which is intolerable.”

New Yorkers – gay or straight, immigrant or native-born – have great cause to celebrate. They have taken a big step in the long of arc justice and freedom for all.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds,  June 26, 2011.