Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Reign in Spain

Some organized religious groups -- especially the Roman Catholic and Mormon Churches-- have been very active in trying to block LGBT people from marrying.  It's hard to argue with someone's religious beliefs, because that's just what they are -- beliefs.  Those possessing these beliefs often don't see them that way; their beliefs are truth.  Yet some churches -- the Unitarian Universalist Church is just one -- have supported same-sex marriage for years.  So who decides?  Do the beliefs of one religious faith become the law of the land?  And if our government acts on the belief of some churches to forbid same-sex marriage, isn't that inherently un-American?  Aren't we a country that was founded on -- among many other things -- independence from a monarchy as well as a state religion?

It might be helpful to look to Spain for guidance.  I lived there in 1980-1981.  Franco's death still hovered over the country.  Divorce had just become legal in this country that was overwhelmingly Catholic.  I couldn't imagine any recognition of gay people back then.  So how did Spain come to be one of the first country to make same-sex marriage legal?  Gay couples have been marrying there since 2005.

I wonder if decades of dictatorship made Spaniards more sensitive to the rights of everyone, not just the majority.  Sure, many Spaniards may not agree with same-sex marriage, but they recognize that they don't have to agree in order to support the right for everyone.  The Catholic Church, once so powerful in Spain, had little influence on the vote in Parliament that made same-sex marriage legal.  I wonder if having a history of authoritarian rule has made Spaniards hesitant to follow any authority, including the church.

It is no coincidence that South Africa, another country that for decades denied basic freedoms to some of its people, was also one of the first to legalize same-sex marriage.  In fact, the post-apartheid constitution was the first in history to ensure basic freedoms for gays and lesbians.

The far right in the United States is trying to take over one of our two major political parties.  When in power, they define patriotism as agreement; when out of power, they define it as rebellion.  How much power they are allowed to amass will have implications for the freedoms of many more people than LGBT folks.  I'd hate to believe that only then will people realize that denying the right to marry was the first step towards a right wing victory. Maybe then -- after women lose the right choose, after more laws like the Patriot Act are enacted -- will the voters of Maine and California regret that they didn't question religious authority when voting on the civil rights of US citizens at the ballot box.  Referenda on civil rights is more than un-American.  It is the slipperiest of a very dangerous slope.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Some People Who Keep Us Swimming

Let’s end the week on a high note. We’ve had enough bad news form Maine on Tuesday to last us the rest of the year. And I think we need a few specifics, not just speculation. At least 30 LGBT candidates won offices on Tuesday.  So here are some names of real LGBT people who won elections this week, helping us make real progress.

• ANNISE PARKER came in first Tuesday night in her race for mayor of Houston. She now faces a run-off. If she wins, she will be the first openly gay mayor of a top ten city in the United States.
• STEVE KORNELL was the first gay city official elected in Houston. 
• Chapel Hill, North Carolina now has a gay mayor in MARK KLEINSCHMIDT.
• Four gay candidates won elections in Ohio: Dayton School Board Democratic candidate JOE LACY, Lakewood City Council At-Large candidate NICKIE J. ANTONIO, Cleveland City Council candidate JOE SANTIAGO and Columbus City Council candidate MARY JO HUDSON.
• SCOTT BENSON, GARY SCHIFF and ROBERT LILLIGREN were re-elected to the Minneapolis City Council.
• DAN MILLLER was elected to the Harrisburg City Council in Pennsylvania, marking the first time an openly gay official has served on the council.
• JAY FISETTE was re-elected to the Arlington County Board in Virginia.
• SUSAN HOPKINS won a seat on the Portland, Maine, school board.
• ADAM EBBIN was re-elected to the Virginia House of Delegates.
• Four gay candidates won elections in Atlanta: BRIAN BATES, MELANIE HAMMETT, KATHIE de NOBRIGA, and JOHNNY SINCLAIRE. Two candidates made the cut for a run-off, ALEX WAN and SIMONE BELL.

Watch this message that we all need to hear right now, and that  these winners embody:

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Next Up: New Jersey

Although pro-marriage equality Governor John Corzine lost his re-election bid in New Jersey, there is still time to pass a marriage bill before he leaves office. The push is on. Here's an opening ad from two citizens of New Jersey.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Obligatory "Let's Look At the Big Picture" Blog Entry

Well, I was not surprised this morning.  Maine became the 30th state to either ban same-sex marriage or overturn a court of legislative decision that had supported it.  I find myself this morning doing what has become an almost yearly ritual the day after the election: trying to see the big picture and to find silver linings.  Although this  is getting harder and harder to do, I must take another stab at it:

1. Ten years ago, no one would ever have believed that almost 50% of a state would support same-sex marriage.

2. The margin of victory in Maine and California for same-sex marriage opponents was slim.  And younger voters in both states were solid supporters of same-sex marriage.  Time is on our side.

3. The voters of Washington State seem to have passed (it's not official yet) what is essentially a civil unions bill last night.  Remember the uproar of Vermont's civil unions bill not that long ago?  Civil unions have become an accepted part of the social landscape.  Marriage will follow.

4. As of today, five states offer same-sex marriage licenses.

5. A number of openly gay candidates won elections last night.

6. The city of Kalamazoo passed an anti-discrimination ordinance that includes transgendered Americans.

7. The far right of the Republican Party was dealt a huge loss in New York's congressional race in the 27th district.  Republicans have held that seat since the Civil War.  A Democrat now holds it.

8. The Maine vote was not a vote to amend the constitution, and it is within the power of the legislature to pass another same-sex marriage law.

9. Every time there is a vote on marriage, more and more people get to know LGBT people.  This can only be good.

10.  There's always Canada.


As I write this, a little after midnight, it is still too close to call in Maine.  The latest signs, though, aren't inspiring confidence in me.  The cities overwhelmingly supported same-sex marriage, but the rural areas -- many still yet to come in -- are voting to stop marriage equality.  It is discouraging, to say the least.  I hope I'm wrong.  I hope I'll wake up tomorrow to a surprise, but I'm not counting on it.

Where were our national leaders?   Where was the Democratic National Committee?  The silence is deafening.  And it is killing us.  As Audre Lourde once said, "your silence will not protect you."

Here's how I want to feel.  I want to be like Cindy Lou Who and all the folks in Whoville who have a joyous Christmas despite the Grinch's "stealing" of the holiday. I want to rise above marriage rights being stolen. I want to pretend that it doesn't matter, that love will conquer all. 

But this isn't a cartoon.  It's people's lives.  And that our Democratic leaders are not doing everything they can to support us is deeply disappointing.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Where Are the Democrats?

I just learned via Americablog that a branch of the Democratic National Committee sent an email to all Maine voters asking them to call their friends in New Jersey for the Democratic incumbent governor. And not one word about ballot question number 1!  I find this pretty outrageous.  They want Mainers to support a politician from New Jersey but they can't stand up for gay people -- a very large constituency group in the party?  And why did the Democratic National Committee ignore a request for funds to help defeat the ballot question?  I can't wait until the DNC calls me for more money and I tell them exactly why I won't give.

Fingers crossed for this evening in any case!

A Year Ago This Election

A year ago this Tuesday was one of the most bittersweet days of my life. I will never forget the moment when Barack Obama was declared President Elect.  I remember everything from Jessie Jackson crying in the crowd during Obama's acceptance speech in Chicago, to Michelle's black and red dress.  To be there -- even if only via cable TV -- was a highlight of my life.

But then the evening turned somber as it became clearer and clearer that Proposition 8, the referendum question to overturn the California Supreme Court's decision legalizing gay marriage, would pass.  And even as I asked myself how such a thing could happen in our country, I also wasn't surprised.  The anti-equality ads were vicious and dehumanizing, and they were effective.  Millions and millions of dollars were spent to take away a court-declared right.  I'm not one to call any person who opposes gay marriage "a hater," but I must admit to thinking just that when I heard the euphoria in some of the voices of those responsible for the passage of the amendment.  Even if you really wanted to win, what does it say about you if you are elated at making a group of people feel like second class citizens?

I've written a great deal about the Maine referendum this Election Day.  I keep telling myself that Maine is a different state from California.  I keep hoping that we have learned from that experience.  But I also know that some of the same tactics used in California are being used in Maine.  Depicting a minority group as not trustworthy with children is not a new strategy.  It's been used forever.  And it is being used again in Maine.  Many of the ads lead you to believe that this is a referendum about teaching gay sex in the public schools rather than making families stronger.  Opponents of same-sex marriage have stepped up their TV advertising the last few days.  It's a typical tactic: try to persuade with some untruthful attack at the last minute so that a response is almost impossible.  Unfortunately, it may be shifting some undecided voters to support the repeal.  The latest poll has marriage equality supports falling behind, although still within the margin of error.

It's going to be very, very close.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Should Maine Even Be Voting on Same-Sex Marriage?

“Let the people vote!” was the refrain in Massachusetts five years ago when same-sex marriage was legalized by the court.  Who could argue with that?  Well, lots of people, it seems.  Governor Deval Patrick, who ran on a pro-gay marriage platform, won by a landslide in 2006.  He threw the power of his office to stop the question of marriage to come to a vote.  It has never been acceptable to bring civil rights issues before the public.

One example can be found in Washington, DC.  Right now the city council is debating whether or not the district should legalize same-sex marriages. Opponents to marriage equality have asked for an “advisory” referendum.  Councilor David Catania reminded the council that the only time DC held such an advisory referendum was on December 21, 1865.  The subject of the referendum, whether or not former enslaved Africans should be able to vote, was defeated by 721 to 1 in Georgetown.  That’s right: one lone voter supported equal voting rights.  In the rest of the city, only 35 voters supported this right while 6591 opposed it.  Less than 1% of the electorate supported granting voting rights to African Americans. 

I’m not comparing the struggle of enslaved African Americans to that of LGBT Americans today.  What I am saying is that we have a history of failing miserably when we are asked to vote on the rights of those who society views as “less than.”  I don't know how Maine will turn out on Election Day.  What I do know is that the rights of Americans should not be on Maine's ballot.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

It's Not Just Maine on Tuesday....

Much of the focus about same-sex marriage has been on Maine, and rightly so. Tuesday's referendum is similar to California's Proposition 8, which made same-sex marriage illegal.  Yet there are two differences: (1)the Maine referendum the voters are weighing in on is a law passed by their representatives, not a decision by the courts; (2) the vote is about overturning a law passed by lawmakers, not about amending a constitution to prohibit gay marriage.  The Maine vote is important, but there are other important decisions to be made on Tuesday:

1. Washington State: The legislature passed and the governor signed into law a bill extending partnership rights to same sex couples. This bill is not marriage, but it does give gay couples visitation rights, adoption rights, the right to inherit pensions, and family leave rights. The anti-marriage leaders(obviously not just anti-marriage, but also anti-any rights for same sex couples), collected just enough signature to put the question on the ballot.

2. Kalamazoo, Michigan: Ordinance 156 would bar discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  The issue of gender identity seems to be especially contentious here; those against the measure have used fear of bathrooms (who should go where?) to bolster their case.

3. New York State: Although gay marriage or gay rights aren't officially on the ballot here, what has happened during the last few days should be a call to arms to anyone who supports equal rights for LBGT people.  Dede Scozzafava is a moderate Republican who was nominated for the Congressional Seat in NY-23.  This is a special election.  She favors marriage equality and a woman's right to choose.  This was not to the liking of the Republican right wing, so Palin and company brought in a social conservative from outside the district to run against the nominee of their own party.  That's how narrow this party has become.  Big tent?  There isn't even an umbrella.  On Saturday, Dede Scozzafava withdrew from the race.  She was outspent and had little national support from the Republicans.  Now it looks like the conservative -- running head-to-head against the democratic candidate -- may win in this district that has been Republican for over a century.  A whole wing of the Republican Party is being pushed out.  The question remains as to whether these moderates will fight for their place at the table, or roll over and drink the Far Right Kool Aid.  Here's hoping that they fight.  This is a huge issue with enormous ramifications for national politics.  Some Democrats are happy that the Republican Party is engaged in such infighting.  I don't agree with them.  I think such ideological purity in the Republican Party is unhealthy not just for the party, but for the country.  Stay tuned.