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NY Marriage Equality: How Did We Get There? A Photo Retrospective

26 Jun

I moved from New York to Washington DC three weeks ago to be with my boyfriend. It’s hard not to still consider New York City home after nearly 13 years living there, but after last night – my struggle to move on became even more difficult. For the past several years, I’ve proudly fought alongside some incredible activists, lobbyists, politicians and allies in the struggle for equality. And last night in New York, we finally won.

I thought of writing a diatribe about how much we have to learn from this victory – how for one of the first times in our movement’s history, we worked together to accomplish something. I could be heavy-handed and speak endlessly at the incredible work done by this partnership of several organizations all working towards the same thing. I could even go so far as to reflect on the fact that even though we have this beautiful victory at long last, that there are still 1,138 rights not afforded to legally married gay and lesbian couples and that we MUST focus on equality on the federal level. But instead, I decided to post some photos.

For the past 3+ years, I’ve discovered a love for photography and in my own way, I’ve been documenting some of the movement from my perspective as a New Yorker. So please enjoy these photos which reflect some of my favorite moments and people involved in the recent part of our struggle for equality. Please note: there are photos here from swanky cocktail parties, from pride marches, from rallies, protests, political speeches, phone banks and even a living room or two. New York Marriage Equality happened because of ALL of it, not some.

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All photos copyright Jamie McGonnigal, EqualityPhotography.com

Prop 8 Decision Upheld and NY Marriage Equality On The Way!

14 Jun

What a day for equality from coast-to-coast!

- PROP 8 NEWS! -

Judge Vaughn Walker

The history: As you may or may not know, a few months ago, Judge Walker (who had overturned Proposition 8 at the District Court level last year), came out of the closet. This of course sent the rabid anti-gay crusaders on a new mission – since Walker stood to benefit from the outcome as a gay man who could now get married in California, the bigots claimed his decision should be overturned.

The fun part: The Prop 8 proponents who fought tooth and nail for “traditional marriage,” used as their main argument that “protecting [heterosexual] marriage” would benefit straight people and straight families. So NOW their argument is that Judge Walker should have recused himself because he was gay – but apparently a straight judge would be fine because well…he wouldn’t benefit from Prop 8 (so long as you ignore their primary argument from the previous trial). Aaaaaawkwaaaard.

The news: The federal judge who heard yesterday’s case claiming that Judge Walker should have opted out of the trial just found that Walker had “no legal obligation” to recuse himself from the case. No word yet on when gay and lesbian Californians can again start saying “I do,” but it’s great to hear that once again, this homophobic law has been found unconstitutional.

 

-NEW YORK MARRIAGE EQUALITY NEWS -

The history: In 2009, the Marriage Equality Bill was defeated in New York after many Democratic senators betrayed their parties, their constituents and their colleagues after breaking promises made and voting against equality for all New Yorkers. Several of these senators then faced primary challenges for seats they had held for many years.

NY Sen. Carl Kruger

The fun part: One of these Democrats that voted against equality was protested at his home, when activist Corey Johnson demanded that he come out of the closet. Sen. Carl Kruger was then investigated by the FBI on a bribery sting and arrested in February for allegedly pocketing close to $1 million in bribes for he and his live-in boyfriend. His boyfriend was also charged, as he was not only a beneficiary but he’d set up several shell companies to help hide the money.

The news: Kruger, though STILL not admitting he’s gay, had this to say about his change of mind on the upcoming marriage equality bill:

“My vote comes not as an outgrowth of media attacks or picketing outside my home or political pressure, but due to a better understanding of the impact that this bill will have on the rights to countless New Yorkers”

Wondering where that “better understanding” came from?

NY Governor Andrew Cuomo, photo by Jamie McGonnigal, EqualityPhotography.com

Okay, the real news: The Marriage Equality Bill was introduced today by Governor Cuomo. In earlier reports, Cuomo said that he would absolutely not introduce the bill unless he was certain he had the votes in the Senate to pass it. According to reports from pretty much every marriage equality organization, after 4 previously anti-equality Democrats (including the aforementioned Kruger) and one previously anti-equality Republican announced today that they would be voting for marriage equality, we now have 31 of the 32 votes necessary to pass the bill. If what Cuomo had promised before remains true though, he’s certain there is at least one other Republican vote. So…keep your fingers crossed as the vote has to happen in the coming few days before the end of their session. And if you live in New York, CALL YOUR SENATOR! New Yorkers for Marriage Equality/HRC has set up a very easy to use site which will connect you directly with your state senator. Just click here to make it happen now! AND SPREAD THE WORD!

 

 

Photos From a Big Gay Wedding

2 May

This weekend, it was my great honor to attend the wedding of our friends Jonathan Howard and Gregory Jones.

You might remember Jonathan and Gregory as the 2nd place winners in last year’s Crate & Barrel Ultimate Wedding contest. Not only did they enter the contest, but they sacrificed greatly to use their new-found celebrity status to expand the conversation on equality. Their work to promote our rights has been unending and I’m certain it will continue to be.

I’ve happily gotten to know Jonathan and Gregory over the past year and am personally looking forward to seeing them more after my move to DC in June and one thing I can say is that they are one of the most loving couples I’ve ever met. They compliment each other in wonderful and indescribable ways. They belong together and there’s no questioning it.

The wedding, held at a stunningly beautiful vineyard in Virginia (after being legally married in Washington D.C.), was filled with friends and family that could not have been happier than to see these two men together. The support, love and genuine emotion was unlike anything I’ve experienced at a wedding before. I’ve been to well over twenty weddings, but never one where the people being married had fought tooth and nail for the simple right to do so.

I was happy to share this day with so many friends who continue to work for our equality and it’s a day I won’t soon forget. Here are some photos from this extraordinary day. Congrats Jonathan & Gregory. We love you and we thank you.

You can see more at Equality Photography.

Refuse to Lie! New Campaign Tells the Truth to the IRS

31 Mar

An exciting new campaign which could have real consequence and promote real change, has been launched.

As dreaded tax day is fast approaching, we LGBT people have frequently sought ways to protest via the IRS. Some people have simply refused to pay taxes as we do not have equal protection under the laws. The Refuse to Lie campaign is shedding light on another way we can protest our unequal status with the Federal Government.

From the Refuse to Lie website:

Each year the federal government demands that thousands of married couples lie.

The federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) not only denies legally married gay couples the benefits of heterosexual marriage, but we are also told to disavow our spouses and file our taxes as “single.”

The Federal Government must stop requiring legally married gay couples to deny the existence of our families and hide our marriages.

It is dehumanizing and it is wrong.

Across the country, legally married gay couples are taking a stand. We are refusing to lie about the fact that we are married.

The federal government’s refusal to recognize our marriages is blatant discrimination and we will not play along by lying on our tax returns and pretending we are single. The government has chosen to discriminate and we choose to expose their bigotry by refusing to lie.

Taking this principled stand is not without risk and each person doing so needs to carefully consider those risks before deciding if it is a stand you are willing to take.

While tax time forces legally married gay couples to decide whether to comply or resist the government’s requirement that we lie, it is not the only circumstance where we face this dilemma. We are married and our commitment is to tell the truth every time we are asked to fill out a form or respond to a question about our marital status.

This website is intended to be a resource to all who decide to refuse to lie. And it is a place for everyone who believes in marriage equality to show your support and stand with us by adding your name to this effort.

Not everyone will commit to filing as married but everyone can take a stand in solidarity.

Please sign the petiton and help send the message to the federal government that gay married couples should not be compelled to lie. Share this link of Facebook and help spread the word.

Of course this is not for everyone and you are certainly risking something, but the protest and the reasons behind it are completely legitimate. The very idea that we have to lie on our tax returns if we are legally married, is ludicrous. The site gives detailed information on how to go about taking part in the action, with options on how to do so safely and within the rules of filing.

How can you affirm your marital status, object to DOMA, file a joint return, and not be subject to penalties? Here are two possibilities:

  1. File two single returns (including the attachment affirming the marriage) and then file an amended return, filing jointly. The amended return is a 1040X. This is what the plaintiffs in the GLAD case did. Once the IRS rejects the amended return, or if six months passes and they do nothing, the taxpayers who file an amended return have the right to file suit in federal district court claiming the refund.The basis of the claim for refund by a Florida same-sex couple would be that they were married, that under the U.S. Constitution that marriage should be recognized, that it would be perjury to claim otherwise, and that DOMA itself is unconstitutional. This option would avoid penalties because your original return would be filed according to the statute.
  2. Submit two returns to the IRS, one filed jointly, showing the tax due on a joint return, and one filed as a single taxpayer, showing the tax due on a single return. Explain your constitutional and moral theory entitling you to file a joint return. Pay whatever amount is due on the single return and ask the IRS to choose which return to accept.If you have paid the amount due on the basis of a single return, then you have not made an underpayment as a result of disregarding a statute. Penalties are only due if there is an underpayment. If the IRS accepts your single return and accepts your tax payment on that basis, there is no penalty. Of course if the IRS accepts your joint return and that results in a refund to you, there is no way to know what will happen if you are later audited. That would be a new case.

    In many cases, of course, you will actually pay a higher tax if you file jointly. In that case, you should not owe a penalty.

Please check out the site, share your story and support this incredible action.

Don’t Deport My Husband: An Update!

27 Mar

As many of you know, a few weeks ago, President Obama made the surprisingly exciting announcement that his Department of Justice would no longer be defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in the courts. This decision was made after many lower courts had found DOMA to be unconstitutional. Obama framed his change of tactics around the amount of money the administration would spend on defending a law which judges were ruling against. Obama made sure to say that he would continue enforcing the law until it was overturned, but the court battles would no longer be defended by his administration.

The religious right and the National Organization for Marriage were in an uproar. They lied and claimed that Obama had overturned the law, or that he was no longer enforcing it. And the usual rigamarole ensued.

Now, we’re happy to find that despite the fact that DOMA has not yet been overturned, in at least one instance, it is no longer being used to attack gay and lesbian families. One of the rights we are fighting so hard for, which heterosexual married people frequently take for granted, is that married bi-national couples can stay in this country and that foreign-born citizens married to US citizens will gain citizenship through that marriage.

Joshua Vandiver and Henry Valendia

A few months ago, we told you the story of Josh Vandiver, a graduate student at Princeton, and Henry Velandia, a Venezuelan dance instructor who was facing deportation despite their 2010 marriage in Connecticut.

Now, Newsweek/The Daily Beast has learned that the heads of two USCIS districts—Washington, D.C. and Baltimore—informed attorneys from the advocacy group American Immigration Lawyers Association that cases in their districts involving married gay and lesbian couples would be put on hold. The news could have far-reaching effects. People like Velandia might be safe from deportation while their cases are on hold.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed that Henry and Josh will be together in the US permanently.

MUST-WATCH VIDEO: “We deserve the dignity of marriage…before I can’t remember what marriage is.”

3 Mar

On Tuesday, California Attorney General Kamala Harris asked the Federal Court to dismiss its order prohibiting same-sex marriages in the state while an appeal of Proposition 8 is pending. By lifting the stay it previously ordered, the court would allow marriage equality to be the standing law while the case is being considered and argued in the courts.

Additionally, the Courage Campaign has filed an amicus curiae letter to the 9th Circuit, also asking that the stay be lifted. Named in that letter are Ed Watson and Derence Kernek. Ed and Derence have been together more than 40 years.

Last Summer, Ed was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. They are hoping to have a wedding as soon as possible because Ed desperately wants to be able to remember it. As Derence puts it in the following video:

“We’re committed to each other. We’ve had a long long life with lots of love, lots of attention. We respect each other. We cherish each other and we don’t know many people who’ve had 40 years of anything. We hope to have that service as soon as possible.”

If ever there was an argument for marriage equality, Ed and Derence are it. It’s horrific that they’ve had to live as long as they have without the same rights as their neighbors. Let’s hope they are given the respect and dignity they deserve. Please share this and go to the link above to sign on to the letter.

 

BREAKING: US District Judge Opens Door for DOMA Challenge

19 Jan

More and more challenges to the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) have been hitting the courts and getting shafted by Federal Judges.

Today, we have a new ruling out of California, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, US District Judge Claudia Wilken of Oakland ruled that state employees can sue the federal government over their same-sex partners’ exclusion from long-term health care benefits. The judge denied a request from Obama’s Department of Justice to dismiss the case, opening the floodgates for lawsuits from gay federal employees around the country.

Currently, federal employees can enroll in federally-approved long-term health care plans. Employees of the state can buy coverage at below-market rates, use untaxed income to pay premiums and deduct future benefits from their taxes. The California agency has refused to sign up same-sex spouses because the Defense of Marriage Act denies federal tax benefits to any state that covers them.

Judge Wilken claimed that DOMA is “robbing states of the power to allow same-sex civil marriages that will be recognized under federal law” and made it clear she would be challenging parts of the law.

While this story doesn’t specifically address our personal stories, we thought it important to share the fact that a major decision was made today, that is in line with the decision of Judge Vaughn Walker’s which overturned California’s Proposition 8. With more and more judicial challenges to the bigoted Defense of Marriage Act, it’s only a matter of time before we see it overturned in US Courts.

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