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PHOTOS: DOMA Repeal’s First Senate Hearings

20 Jul

photo by Jamie McGonnigal EqualityPhotography.com

This morning, i had the distinct honor of joining the Family Equality Council at the very first Senate hearings on the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which was signed into law in 1996. This was my first time attending a Senate hearing and I wanted to walk you through what happened and my impressions along the way.

There was a long line of people waiting to get in to the hearing room, but luckily, we had reserved seats and were able to head in first. Looking around the room as it filled up was a who’s who in the LGBT rights movement – Joe Solmonese of the Human Rights Campaign, Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry, Rea Carey from the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and many other important names and faces in our movement.

Seated in the first row, in front of us were representatives from those who oppose equality for LGBT people. Tom Minnery of Focus on the Family, Austin Nimmocks of the Alliance Defense Fund and Ed Whelan of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

Chairman Leahy (photo by Jamie McGonnigal EqualityPhotography.com)

Chairman Leahy quickly called the hearings to order and the first panel spoke to their experiences with DOMA. The panel was made up of House members primarily speaking about their constituents. Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights legend – made several references to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as well as the comparisons between the Black Civil Rights movement and the LGBT Civil Rights movement today. he referred to DOMA as a “stain on our democracy.” He wrapped up by saying “These are our brothers and sisters, we cannot turn our back on them; we must join hands and work to create a more perfect union.

Over the course of the rest of the testimonies, I found myself listening more intently to the reasoning of those who stand against equality than those telling our stories. I think this is just because I’ve heard a lot of our stories in person (and even told a few), but to hear bigots spread lies in front of the US Senate was an experience I will never forget.

Rep. Steve King (photo by Jamie McGonnigal EqualityPhotography.com)

Rep. Steve King, the only anti-gay member of the first panel reiterated statements we’ve heard before. He spoke of the number of states where anti-gay referendums were passed, where the rights of a minority were voted on by the majority. He said that marriage equality would “demean” the institution of marriage. Also stated that same sex marriage would eventually lead to marriage between family members. And he wrapped things up by saying no court has ever found DOMA to be unconstitutional – he apparently never heard of the 14 times it has been in court and has been found to be unconstitutional.

The next panel featured non-members of Congress and was the first to tell first-person accounts of how DOMA has negatively affected our families. The primary focus of testimony from our side was on healthcare and tax law – many cited that same-sex married partners are frequently left out of hospital visitation protection and that the federal tax laws do not protect legally married same-sex couple and their families.

Tom Minnery, Focus on the Family (photo by Jamie McGonnigal EqualityPhotography.com)

Focus on the Family’s Tom Minnery complained about traditional marriage being destroyed. He kept referring to “mountains of evidence” that state children are better off with opposite-sex parents. I can’t help but note that while we tell our stories about how we are hurt by this bigoted law, during the entire hearing, no one mentioned how straight families are hurt by gays getting married. Minnery went on to complain about 8th graders who were “forced” to deal with the fact that gay people exist.

Now comes the good part. The members of Senate are now allowed to question members of the panel. The first question came from Chairman Leahy. He asked Minnery to answer a simple question. After Minnery’s claims that children are far better off with opposite-sex parents and that his most important reason for being there was to protect children, Leahy asked if children of same-sex parents are better off for not receiving the same benefits that children of opposite-sex parents? He needed to explain the question 4 times before Minnery finally agreed that DOMA is indeed hurting children of same-sex parents.

Sen. Al Franken (photo by Jamie McGonnigal EqualityPhotography.com)

Following that, Al Franken asked for a specific example from Minnery’s “mountains of evidence” claiming that children of opposite-sex parents are better off than those of same-sex parents…in Minnery’s written testimony, he cited a study by the Department of Health and Human Services. Franken pulled out the study and let’s just say my favorite sentence of the day was – “I….checked the study out.” and instead of paraphrasing the whole thing here, please watch – and please keep in mind that ti’s fairly verboten for the audience to laugh, applaud, etc during these hearings:

 

So there was that.

Ed Whelan, who believes polyamory is a "project of the Left" (photo by Jamie McGonnigal EqualityPhotography.com)

The next panel came in, which featured the aforementioned Solmonese,  Wolfson, Nimmocks and Whelan. The information that came out during these testimonies were for the most part, things we have heard before from both sides…and then came Ed Whelan. This was the only time all morning where there was an audible laugh from the audience at the testimony of a panelist. His full testimony (which does not include random quips he made like the one I’m about to reference) can be found here. After referring to the terms polyamory or polygamy at least nine times in five minutes, he then referred to polyamory as “a current project of the Left.” Because ya know…multiple partners are never mentioned in the Bible or the Book of Mormon…we just made it up. I think it was Dan Savage actually who invented it (apologies for the snark, it was just a bit much to listen to).

Another interesting thing to note from Whelan’s testimony is that he claimed heterosexual taxpayers would be forced to “subsidize” same-sex marriages because of having equal protection under tax law. It astounds me that he doesn’t seem to see the irony that LGBT folk have been subsidizing heterosexual marriages since the government first got in the business of giving tax credits to married couples.

New York’s Sen. Chuck Schumer wrapped things up with a strongly-worded statement in support of the Respect for Marriage Act.

Sen. Charles Schumer (photo by Jamie McGonnigal EqualityPhotography.com)

In closing, I’m very excited to attend another hearing like this. To see this at work and to see bigots called-out for their lies for the whole nation to see was empowering to say the least. I should also note that there were only two anti-gay Senators in attendance at this hearing – Sens. Grassley and Hatch (who didn’t say a word at the hearing). There were eight pro-equality Senators (Chairman Leahy, Sens. Feinstein, Franken, Schumer, Whitehouse, Klobuchar, Coons and Blumenthal) in attendance with one of our biggest champions (Sen Kirsten Gillibrand) sitting in the audience. If this was really so important to their constituents, don’t you think more Republicans would have shown up?

Enjoy some photos from today and thanks for following @TalkEquality on Twitter!

For an excellent blow-by-blow account of today’s hearing, check out Adam Bink’s Prop8TrialTracker.


HRC's Joe Solmonese (photo by Jamie McGonnigal EqualityPhotography.com)

 

A family in support of DOMA repeal (photo by Jamie McGonnigal EqualityPhotography.com)

 

Sen. Chris Coons (photo by Jamie McGonnigal EqualityPhotography.com)

 

Sen. Durbin (photo by Jamie McGonnigal EqualityPhotography.com)

Sen. Chuck Grassley (photo by Jamie McGonnigal EqualityPhotography.com)

Sen. Feinstein (photo by Jamie McGonnigal EqualityPhotography.com)

 

Rep. Nadler (photo by Jamie McGonnigal EqualityPhotography.com)

 

Openly Gay Maine Couple Crowned Prom King & Queen

30 May

A beautiful story out of southern Maine (one of only two New England States not recognizing marriage equality). 17 year-old Christian Nelsen was just crowned Sanford High School’s Prom Queen.

Christian and his boyfriend, Caleb Jett decided to put their names in the running as Prom King and Queen to change minds across their community and in their state. With the help of his friends, Christian got enough votes to win Prom Queen. Happily, his boyfriend Caleb won King. The two wore suits and proudly showed off their tiara and crown and shared a King and Queen dance.

Here’s an interesting point. This interview from WNTW News 8 mentions that while some were very happy for the results of the election, others were very unhappy. News 8 tried to interview dozens of people and those who were against it declined to comment on camera – one even said he was afraid of offending someone. How wonderful is it when those who are on the wrong side of history and humanity can acknowledge their ignorance and bigotry through their silence.

Many Congrats to Christian and Caleb and many thanks to them and their friends for doing something so courageous. Please know that your work now will make all the difference in the world to LGBT kids for generations to come.

The First Openly-Gay Congressman

9 May

This Thursday would have been the 74th birthday of the first openly-gay federal politician. Congressman Gerry Studds of Massachusetts was my Congressman growing up and I can proudly say that both my mother and my aunt took a major part in getting Gerry elected.

When he was first elected in 1972, he was not out of the closet. It wasn’t until a scandal outed Gerry, that he admitted publicly to being gay. Gerry was censured by Congress for having a sexual relationship with 17 year-old page Dean Hara. He fought to avoid a hearing so as to avoid outing young Hara. But instead of abandoning his post, like many outed politicians do, Gerry was re-elected six more times, until he retired in 1997 after serving the country for 25 years. He fought for many issues, including environmental and maritime issues, same-sex marriage, AIDS funding, and civil rights, particularly for gays and lesbians.

Following his retirement, Gerry continued to lobby for the fishing industry – one of the primary industries of his constituents in Massachusetts.

Gerry Studds and his husband Dean Hara

Gerry defended himself regarding the scandal by saying that he was in a consensual relationship with the the young man. In 2004, one week after Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage, my aunt got a call from Gerry inviting her to his wedding. Gerry was marrying his partner of 25+ years, Dean Hara. Two years later, Gerry passed away following a pulmonary embolism. Due to the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act, Dean was not eligible to receive the pension provided to surviving spouses of former members of Congress.

Christian College Freshman Harassed By Students and Professors

9 May

Isaia Thomas (photo by John C. Whitehead for The Patriot News)

Openly gay freshman Isaiah Thomas has discovered Messiah College in Grantham, PA is not quite a good fit. According to PennLive, The student has been through hell at the Christian College – from having his wallet, room key and student ID stolen just a month after school started to having a professor call him “an abomination” in class to receiving a death threat on his facebook page. Isaiah has decided to transfer at the end of the semester.

The Christian College requires all students to sign a “Community Covenant” which forbids homosexual behavior, according to school provost Randy Bassinger. he also claimed the school had a very strict harassment policy and has investigated the claims from Isaiah, but they refuse to release the results of any of those findings.

What we find most interesting about Isaiah though is not that he was harassed and is leaving, but he actively worked to change the school’s policies. He is the secretary of the multicultural council, a member of the black student union and by invitation, vice president of the Middle Eastern Student Association. And when Isaiah learned about the Covenant, he actively worked for more inclusion, but each teacher he spoke to defended the covenant.

Back in March, we reported that another Christian school, Harding University was under fire from LGBT bloggers and press after they blocked an HU gay student website from being accessed from on-campus. The University defended it’s bigotry and it’s censorship of several students continues.

UPDATE: Is DOMA Sinking? AG Holder Vacates Gay Deportation Case

5 May

While Organizations like ALL OUT and GetEQUAL are pushing to stop tomorrow’s deportation of Henry Valendia, thus tearing him away from his legal marriage with Joshua Vandiver, it seems Attorney General Eric Holder is taking further steps to discredit the ant-gay Defense of Marriage Act.

According to Chris Geidner at Metroweekly, AG Holder has vacated a decision made by a Board of Immigration Appeals decision.

Holder writes:

“Pursuant to my authority set forth in 8 C.F.R. § 1003.1(h)(1)(i), I order that the decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals (“Board”) in this case applying Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), 1 U.S.C. § 7, be vacated, and that this matter be referred to me for review.”

Geidner continues:

Saying the attorney general “has taken [an] extraordinary step” with the decision, attorney Eric Berndt — the supervising attorney for the National Asylum Partnership on Sexual Minorities at the National Immigrant Justice Center — told Metro Weekly, “It adds some heft to our requests for prosecutorial discretion in individual cases in which the foreign partner” of a same-sex bi-national couple is seeking a green card because of his or her citizen same-sex partner.

Holder goes on to state four questions that he directs the BIA to consider:

In the exercise of my review authority under that regulation, and upon consideration of the record in this case, I direct that the order of the Board be vacated and that this matter be remanded to the Board to make such findings as may be necessary to determine whether and how the constitutionality of DOMA is presented in this case, including, but not limited to: 1) whether respondent’s same-sex partnership or civil union qualifies him to be considered a “spouse” under New Jersey law; 2) whether, absent the requirements of DOMA, respondent’s same-sex partnership or civil union would qualify him to be considered a “spouse” under the Immigration and Nationality Act; 3) what, if any, impact the timing of respondent’s civil union should have on his request for that discretionary relief; and 4) whether, if he had a “qualifying relative,” the respondent would be able to satisfy the exceptional and unusual hardship requirement for cancellation of removal.

This could be extraordinary news, considering Holder’s specific questions. It’s apparent from his requests to the BIA that state’s rights may be violated by DOMA, considering his mention of “New Jersey law.” Let us hope this is good news for Joshua and Henry (who is set for deportation tomorrow).

There is a rally scheduled for tomorrow in Newark from 11-12am – Department of Homeland Security/Newark Immigration Court – Peter Rodino Federal Building, 970 Broad Street, Newark, NJ. Please attend if you can and also please visit ALL OUT’s Petition to help stop this cruel punishment for a couple whose only crime was getting married.

***************UPDATE********************

According to Metroweekly’s Chris Geidner:

Attorney Lavi Soloway tells Metro Weekly that Henry Velandia’s deportation proceedings have been adjourned, in part, because of Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to vacate the Board of Immigration Appeals decision in another case involving a same-sex couple on Thursday. Moreover, Soloway says, “The government attorney agreed to adjourn the case.”

This is excellent news and proves that when we rally and get people to join together around something, we can win. Please keep this in mind and kep working hard when we ware called to action. We CAN make a difference!

WATCH AND SHARE: The Kids Are Listening

4 May

With the non-stop influx of social media nowadays, it takes something really special to break through and make you take more than a glance at something. And today, this little video popped up on my facebook feed and I knew I had to do more than take a glance:

I followed through to the website listed on the video and I discovered what looks to be a moving and desperately-needed campaign aimed at improving the lives of LGBTQ foster youth. This is quite clearly the most underserved portion of our community and we must do more to include these kids in our conversations around equality.

According to the campaign running The Kids Are Listening website:

The Opening Doors Project works to make life better for LGBTQ youth today. The project is dedicated to training and supporting the legal and social service professionals on the front lines to ensure that LGBTQ foster youth have the support they deserve and the rights they demand.

Through on-the-ground trainings, local task forces and comprehensive research and training material The Opening Doors Project provides the legal community with the advocacy tools they need to successfully represent LGBTQ youth in foster care.

Also on the site, you can sign up to receive more information from the campaign. The pledge you sign is also linked to the It Gets Better Project.

So many organizations and campaigns come and go and I truly hope to see more from the people who put together this stirring video. Please share the video wherever you can and visit their site to find out more.

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.

Virginia Allows Transgender Freedom…382 Years Ago

23 Mar

The early seal of the Virginia Colony

Long before our country was struggling with the idea of gender-free bathrooms, actually – long before we were struggling with the idea of Independence from Great Britain, it seems that a Virginia magistrate was already getting things right.

382 years ago this week, In 1629, a man named Hall appeared before the court. He had not committed any crime. He was appearing before the court merely because he confused people. You see, at various times, Hall would appear as Thomas, dressed in men’s clothing. And at other times, he would appear as Thomasine, dressed in women’s garb. Virginian’s apparently couldn’t come to grips with a sexually ambiguous person.

Christened and raised as a girl, Hall was inspected by many because of the court case, and all insisted she was a man. The confusion arose because although Hall was raised female, in later years, he developed more masculine features, but still behaved effeminately, perhaps due to his upbringing. The problem presented itself in the first place because early Virginians lived in a society where clothes made the man…and the woman. People’s rank, social status, gender and job were all things that were communicated through their attire. If you wore an apron, you worked in the home, if you wore a certain kind of hat, you worked in the fields. It was a time when someone’s fluid gender expression could really confuse people.

The court was composed of the governor and council. When the judges heard from Hall, he refused to choose a gender. The court, the highest judicial authority in the colony, accepted Hall’s self- definition “a man and a woeman, that all the Inhabitants there may take notice thereof and that hee shall goe Clothed in mans apparell, only his head to bee attired in a Coyfe and Crosecloth with an Apron before him.”

Wedding Contests, Equality & Cheese Domes

16 Mar

Jonathan Howard and Gregory Jones speaking at The Big Commit last summer in DC

Contests. They’re honestly just silly tools for a company to advertise the hell out of itself. We all know that. When you enter a contest, you are either giving up some of your personal time by doing a survey hoping to win a $5,000 Best Buy shopping spree or you’re bringing as many people as possible to a company’s website so they might vote for you and spend money at the store. That’s what it’s truly all about.

But in our current political and social environment we find that contests may have another agenda, perhaps even hidden to the company that is sponsoring it.

Robbie & Allen from this year's Ultimate Wedding Contest (Click on the photo to vote for them!)

Last year, our friends Jonathan Howard and Gregory Jones entered the Crate & Barrel Ultimate Wedding Contest on a whim. They’d applied for their marriage license in DC and were only the 20th couple to do so. As the publicity surrounding the contest grew, Gregory and Jonathan saw the outpouring of support from the LGBT community and our allies to help them win votes. While in the end they came in second, the contest gave a lot of us hope that we could actually be seen as equals. While it doesn’t seem like a huge step to take – entering a contest – it was this seemingly innocuous move which put one of our stories in front of thousands.

This year, we have another gay couple in the top two – Robbie Cronrod and Allen Artcliff from Los Angeles. They have a wonderful story and have been together two years. They’re hoping for your votes.

What I’ve learned from watching Jonathan and Gregory and now Robbie and Allen – is that a contest isn’t just a contest. This particular contest is reaching out and telling our stories to everyone who will listen. And the many gay and lesbian couples who have registered for the contest are doing so bravely. Some may be announcing their relationship for the first time and some may have been together for decades. Either way, I hope we can throw some support behind Robbie and Allen to let them know that a community of support does exist.

 

The Cheese Dome won by Jonathan and Gregory in last year's Ultimate Wedding Contest

Hopefully Robbie & Allen will end up with a cheese dome too…and then some!

Status Update Reveals Story of Fallen Gay Soldier

11 Mar

Some of you may have caught this recent status update on facebook in the past 24 hours, pitting the media coverage of Charlie Sheen’s mental deterioration against it’s lack of coverage of fallen soldiers this week. It reads something like this:

“Charlie Sheen is all over the news because he’s a celebrity drug addict,” it said, “while Andrew Wilfahrt 31, Brian Tabada 21, Rudolph Hizon 22, Chauncy Mays 25, are soldiers who gave their lives this week with no media mention. Please honor them by posting this as your status for a little while.”

CNN Blogger Wayne Drash decided to do some research and hopefully give some of these brave heroes their due in whatever way he could. He began by calling the father of Cpl. Andrew Wilfahrt, who agreed with the viral posting.

Cpl. Andrew Charles Wilfahrt

Jeff Wilfahrt agreed with the viral posting and gave the blogger a little backround on his son. He told him of some of Andrew’s likes and dislikes, including the fact that he was anti-war among other things. and then he added: “He was a gay soldier.”

“He didn’t have a child and a wife,” Jeff Wilfahrt said. “In a way, he went over so that somebody with a young family wouldn’t die.”

“I’m so proud of him and his service.”

His voice breaks. It’s likely his son is among the first gay soldiers to die in combat since Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed in December. “I’d do anything to honor my son.”

Please take the time to read this entire piece and share the background and story behind this supposedly innocuous facebook status update.

 

h/t: TAE Friend, Kappy Griffith