Obama’s Reversal on Defending the Defense of Marriage Act

It looks to me that President Obama has decided that it is now “safer” to be a true advocate for same-sex marriage.  How else to explain his flip-flop of now telling the Department of Justice to not defend the Defense of Marriage Act when it was only one month ago when the Department had vowed to continue going to court to defend the Act.

The reasons given by Attorney General Eric Holder for the flip-flop are ludicrous.  Supposedly, according to Holder, he and President Obama have changed their minds because they determined after an extensive review that the law’s key section is unconstitutional.  The review was supposedly completed recently in response to two pending cases filed in November in Connecticut and New York.  Since the Department has been defending cases against the Defense of Marriage Act for two years, if one is to believe Holder’s stated reasons, the Department has failed miserably in its legal obligations for the past two years.  In fact, some opponents of same-sex marriage feel that the Department has been “deliberately throwing the case.”  If it intentionally has been “throwing the case,” the attorneys could be guilty of ethics violations.  Hopefully, that is not what has been going on; it is one thing for the Department of Justice to decline to defend an act, it is quite another to intentionally do less than its best.

Of course, Obama has still not committed all the way for support of same-sex marriage.  He is still said to be “grappling” with the issue.  How high do the polls showing support for same-sex marriage have to go before he will stop “grappling” with the issue?  Oh well, you can’t have everything.  Wouldn’t it be nice for Obama to finally take a true stand on this issue (and other issues) where he continues to equivocate?


State Department Backslides on Passport Application Change that Benefits Gay Rights

Last week, I wrote about the State Department change to passport application forms that improved gender equality.  Instead of having boxes on the form for “Mother” and “Father,” the boxes would now say “Parent 1” and “Parent 2.”  Obviously, applicants with same-sex parents could not fill out the old form accurately.  They would be forced to enter inaccurate information or would have to cross out the words and substitute “Parents.”

Well, there are two problems.  First, even though the Washington Post article on which I based that post said that the change applied to “forms required for first-time passport applicants younger than16,” it appears that the changes would not have applied to all passport application forms, but only to a form called the “Consular Report of Birth Abroad” that U.S. embassies use to document the birth of a child to expatriate Americans.

And, now, the State Department has stepped back from even that change.  The form will have boxes on the forms for “Mother or Parent 1” and “Father or Parent 2.”  This is still a good change, but there was no need to backslide from the simpler “Parent 1” and “Parent 2.”  What makes the backsliding worse is that it is reported that it was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who stepped back from the better change.  Supposedly, according to a State Department spokesperson, Clinton now says that she had not been aware that “Mother” and “Father” would be stricken when she signed off on a broader set of changes.  The spokesperson said that Clinton was “concerned that eliminating the ‘mother’ and ‘father’ from the forms would spark an unwanted fight with newly powerful Republican lawmakers who are calling for major cuts in foreign operations spending and have challenged administration policy in numerous areas.”

So, my first criticism is that Clinton backed down in the face of right-wing criticism.  It would not have been that difficult for her to stand her ground on the originally-reported change, especially given some previous advocacy by her for gay and lesbian rights.  And, second, when are the State Department and other government agencies going to make these kind of changes on other forms?  It’s really not a difficult change to make.

U.S. Passport Application Form Change — No More “Mother” and “Father”

In the latest welcome move toward gender equality, the U.S. State Department has dropped the words “mother” and “father” from its passport application forms.  Instead, applicants will need to fill out spaces labeled “Parent One” and “Parents Two.”  This obviously makes sense since it reflects the changing models of family structures and eliminates the need of parents who don’t fit the mother and father model to have to cross out the designations on the application.

Of course, the right ring groups are attacking the change in terms of same-sex marriage and “homosexual parenting”, but their attacks are sounding more and more like desperation.  For example, the increasingly irrelevant Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council wrote in a statement (to Fox News Radio, where else) that “This is clearly designed to advance the causes of same-sex ‘marriage’ and homosexual parenting without statutory authority, and violates the spirit if not the letter of the Defense of Marriage Act.”

When will these groups acknowledge the inevitable that movements toward gender equality will continue?  Just as importantly, when will news organizations realize that there is no need to seek comments from organizations like the Family Research Council?

Target Under Fire for Anti-Gay Donations

It was only last December that the HRC released its “Buy For Equality” report on corporate equality practices, highlighting Target’s 100% rating on LGBTQ rights. But now the gay rights group has issued a clear repudiation of the retail giant, calling on them to seriously reevaluate their donation policies, or lose all support of “fair-minded individuals.”

The fallout occurred when the HRC uncovered Target’s donations to a vehemently anti-gay rights politician. Apparently the company gave $150,000 to a group that supports Tom Emmer, a Republican candidate for Minnesota governor. Tom Emmer, as is the case for many Republican politicians, does not support gay marriage; in fact, it’s an issue that’s even made it onto his campaign website. But what’s disturbing about Emmer is that he goes a step further. In a political climate where many candidates, even conservative, are attempting to walk the line and avoid being labeled as bigoted, Emmer shows no real concern in this area. In 2007, he authored a constitutional amendment to block same-sex marriage and civil unions. He also attempted to alter language in legislation to block same-sex partners from receiving any benefits in a variety of circumstances– including employment, parenting, and death.

Emmer also has had a controversial relationship with an extremist Christian group, You Can Run But You Cannot Hide (YCR) Ministry. This group isn’t just concerned with blocking political and societal equity for LGBT citizens— but has expressed support of violent measures against gay people. Advocating the recent Ugandan push to execute LGBT people, YCR leader remarked:

“[Any Muslim country that executes homosexuals] seems to be more moral than even the American Christians do…They know homosexuality is an abomination.”

Emmer has apparently donated money to the group, and has made public statements expressing his approval for the organization. Even when confronted with this particularly extreme language, Emmer commented:

“These are nice people. Are we going to agree on everything? No….but I really appreciate their passion and you know what, I respect their point of view… “

Target’s financial support for this GOP candidate has surprised many. I wrote last December on Target’s 100% approval rating from the HRC, which stood in stark contrast to competitor Wal-Mart’s 40%. In order to get this endorsement from the HRC, a group must score perfectly on inclusion of LGBTQ langauge for diversity policies, EEO policies, and also offer domestic partners benefits. Target additionally has supported gay rights within the community, including sponsoring Twin Cities Pride, and a Minnesota AIDS walk that conservative organizations shy away from.

Target’s CEO has issued an apology and explanation, confirming that it makes its donation decisions based on business interests, not social causes. But after weeks of negotiation with HRC, Target has chosen to take no corrective action, and not to offer an equivalent payment to a pro-gay organization.

That Target’s primary objective is to look out for business interests makes sense. But LGBTQ-rights advocates have a right to feel thrown under the bus by an organization they thought was socially progressive. I find Target’s lack of concern for this issue disconcerting. A symbolic $150,000 to an equality organization is a drop in the bucket for a company consistently reaching earnings higher than analyst projections, even in hard economic times. Unknowingly supporting a candidate who is anti-gay marriage is one thing– but supporting one who appears complacent with extremist, hate crime violence is indeed another.

The Ban on Same-Sex Marriage and Gender Inequality — “That Time Has Passed”

Obviously, it was a great decision by Chief U.S District Judge Vaughn Walker to rule that California’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.  The ruling will certainly be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court (the NY Times gives reasons why the Supreme Court will have difficulty in reversing Judge Walker’s ruling) and, therefore, the important point now will be whether he allows same-sex marriages in California to resume during the appeals process.  Because of the length of time of the appeals process, the only fair decision on his part will be to lift the temporary stay he granted and allow the same-sex marriage process to resume immediately.

I found the following quote from his ruling to be particularly on point for not just same-sex marriage, but gender equality in general:

[The exclusion of lesbians and gays] exists as an artifact of a time when the genders were seen as having distinct roles in society and in marriage.  That time has passed.

(And BTW, there is a new documentary about the role the Mormons played in the passage of Prop 8.)

The Catholic Church Responds to Same-Sex Marriage Employment Requirements by Ending All Spousal Benefits

Tomorrow (March 3) is another historic day for same-sex marriage. Unless something drastic happens, it will be the day that the Washington, D.C., law allowing same-sex marriage goes into effect. Many marriage applications are expected.

That means that the Catholic Church has lost its battle to prevent the law from going into effect. As Emily wrote in November, the church had gone on attack against the bill by threatening to cut off services that it offers in D.C., That would mean that services would be removed for thousands of homeless or low-income people, even though the bill would not require any religious organization to perform or assist with any same-sex marriages. The reason that the church made that threat was because, if the law went into effect, it would not be allowed to discriminate against the people employed by the group (Catholic Charities) that provides the services. Its stance was that it could not agree to provide employment benefits to employees who were involved in same-sex relationships because that would go against the beliefs of the church.  (Of course, it would seem unlikely that the church would employ any open lesbians or gays.)

Well, now that the threat didn’t work, the church has had to make a decision on what it should do.  One possibility, of course, would be to continue to provide services and offer employment benefits to any of its employees who are in same-sex relationships.   But, no, the church is not going to take that approach.

Instead, it has decided to continue to offer services (good!), but will not provide any spousal benefits to any new employees it hires (whether straight, lesbian or gay) or to current employees who are not already enrolled in its health plan.  That is truly unbelievable, but, of course, there are many truly unbelievable things that the church does (see this and this for examples).

Mexico City’s Law Allowing Same-Sex Marriage is Scheduled to Go Into Effect on March 4

In December, I wrote that the Mexico City government had just voted 39-20 to allow people of the same sex to marry and to adopt children.   This weekend, the New York Times had an article about the law, which is expected to become effective on March 4.  I say “expected” because the Roman Catholic church has asked the federal government (which is conservative) to intervene.

Whether or not the federal government is able to stop the law from going into effect, there is other good news in Latin America.  The Times reports that, in Argentina, while the debate over gay marriage is making its way through the courts, the Argentine province of Tierra del Fuego had Latin America’s first gay wedding there on December 29.