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New life for ENDA in Congress

October 28, 2013 By Josh Steichmann

Cindy McCain signed postcard in support of ENDA

Passing a national Employment Non-Discrimination Act to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees has been a goal of LGBT advocacy for a generation, introduced in every Congressional session since 1994, with similar legislation dating back to 1974.

ENDA may be getting new life, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid readying ENDA for a Senate floor vote, and a growing effort to bring Republican support to the bill.

Even Cindy McCain is signing on, though her husband has yet to vote in favor.

But if the Senate can pass ENDA, the real question will be the GOP-led House. After an “autopsy” came out last year analyzing the dismal failure of the Republican party to attract young voters, one of the prescriptions was moving toward more support for LGBT equality, and an employment bill could be more palatable than something like marriage.

A staggering 80 percent of voters already believe that ENDA is law, and 56 percent of self-described Republicans favor passing ENDA, according to a new poll (PDF) from the Human Rights Campaign. However, Republicans in the House are even more conservative than Republican voters as a whole, so it’s hard to predict whether ENDA will gain sufficient traction to pass.

Angel Haze covers “Same Love”

October 24, 2013 By Josh Steichmann

Angel_haze Angel Haze covers Macklemore’s “Same Love” and raps about queer sexuality beyond boundaries. https://soundcloud.com/angelhazeym/same-love-angel-haze

STAY DENIED! MARRIAGE COMING MONDAY TO GARDEN STATE

October 18, 2013 By Josh Steichmann

Freedom to marry garden stateCongratulations to loving same-sex New Jersey couples — the New Jersey Supreme Court today held that same-sex couples can marry starting Monday at 12:01 a.m., denying a stay while the court case winds its way through the appeals process.

In their decision, the Court wrote: “What is the public’s interest in a case like this? Like Judge Jacobson, we can find no public interest in depriving a group of New Jersey residents of their constitutional right to equal protection while the appeals process unfolds.”

The long, winding road to the freedom to marry in New Jersey began in earnest in 2002, when Lambda Legal filed Lewis v. Harris, which ended in 2006, with the NJ Supremes ruling that loving same-sex couples couldn’t be denied the rights and privileges of marriage without explicitly mandating the freedom to marry. The New Jersey legislature enacted civil unions, but Garden State Equality, New Jersey United for Marriage and Lambda Legal have been working since then to get full marriage.

The current case, Garden State Equality v. Dow, was filed in 2011, and on September 27, the New Jersey Superior Court found that in the wake of the Defense of Marriage Act case, civil unions no longer provided the same protections and benefits that marriage did, ruling that all loving couples in New Jersey must be allowed to marry, setting the effective date as October 21.

Gov. Brown Signs Law Making Accurate ID Easier for Transgender Californians

October 8, 2013 By Josh Steichmann

ab 1121It just got a little bit easier (and cheaper) for transgender Californians to live authentic lives.

Governor Jerry Brown just signed AB 1121, written by Assemblymember Toni Atkins, which streamlines the process for documentation changes, specifically name and gender changes on ID like driver’s licenses and vital documents like birth certificates. The law was cosponsored by Equality California and the Transgender Law Center.

Up until now, changes to birth certificates required a court hearing, and now California is in line with many other states that only require an administrative action, in this case from the Office of Vital Records. Since the court filing fee is $435, and the courts are already overburdened with actual cases, this is a win-win for transgender Californians and good governance.

The law also changes the requirement of public notice, which for many transgender people requires outing themselves to their entire community, which may not be safe and at the least is an unnecessary hassle.

“One step in enabling transgender people to live authentic lives consistent with their gender identity is to ensure that their names and their official documents are consistent with who they are,” said Atkins. “I am very pleased that the Governor signed my bill to move us forward toward equality and dignity for transgender Californians.”

“Today California made it easier for people who are transgender to live authentic lives by removing unnecessary barriers to name changes and identity documents,” said John O’Connor, EQCA executive director. “This is a common sense solution to ensure that transgender Californians are treated fairly and with respect. We thank Gov. Brown and Assemblymember Atkins for their leadership.”

100 Days Later

October 4, 2013 By Josh Steichmann

100 days from SCOTUS marriage100 days ago, the Supreme Court struck down the central portion of the Defense of Marriage Act, and dismissed the last gasp appeal of the Prop. 8 supporters, returning the freedom to marry to California. Across the country, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people cheered along with allies who supported the vision of an America where everyone could marry the person that they love.

Since then, we’ve seen a parade of victories at the federal level, from the Department of Homeland Security allowing same-sex spouses full immigration privileges to the IRS issuing new rules to make sure loving same-sex couples are recognized, to the first same-sex weddings on U.S. military bases. We’ve seen big marriage victories in New Mexico and New Jersey, and we’ve seen the roll-out of the biggest advance in LGBT healthcare in our lifetimes with the Affordable Care Act.

Here in California, we’ve seen the federal courts uphold SB 1172, which ended the psychological abuse of LGBT youth by licensed therapists, we’ve seen transgender students win both with the passage and signing of the School Success and Opportunity Act (AB 1266), which ensures that transgender students can participate as their authentic selves in school, and at the Arcadia Unified School District, which settled a lawsuit and implemented policies to ensure transgender equality.  Read the rest of this entry »

Freedom to Marry Affirmed in NJ Court Decision

September 27, 2013 By Josh Steichmann

new jersey freedom to marryNew Jersey Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson granted a summary decision today in favor of plaintiffs, represented by Lambda Legal, seeking the freedom to marry in New Jersey.

The decision rests on two points: First, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided in the 2006 Lewis v. Harris case that New Jersey’s constitution requires same-sex couples be granted the same rights as opposite-sex couples, something that had until now been resolved with civil unions.

But given the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor, which overturned the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, same-sex couples who are married are now entitled to the same federal rights and benefits as any other married couple, which does not apply to civil unions.

Given that, Jacobson held that in order for same-sex couples to have the same protections and rights, the current ban on same-sex marriage could not be constitutional. She ordered that marriage licenses for same-sex couples are to be granted starting Oct. 21.

Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican who will likely seek the Presidential nomination in 2016, had held that it was constitutional to exclude same-sex couples from marriage, and will likely appeal.

Pope Suggests Church Shift on Gay Rights

September 19, 2013 By Josh Steichmann

Pope_Francis_rainbow

In a move that signals softening of the Vatican rhetoric on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, Pope Francis has spoken out about the “obsessive” focus of the Catholic church on abortion and LGBT issues.

“A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality,” he said to Jesuit priest Fr. Antonio Spadaro, who conducted the interview for La Civilta Cattolica. “I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person.”

This holistic approach has annoyed some hardline conservative Catholics, including Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, R.I., who said he was “disappointed” because Pope Francis hadn’t spoken out about abortion or marriage for same-sex couples.

The Pope’s new statements come a few months after, when asked about gay priests, Pope Francis said, “Who am I to judge?”

DignityUSA, an organization that represents LGBT Catholics, took his earlier comments as a step forward toward the respect for all members of the Catholic community.

We here at EQCA hope that the Pope’s shift toward tolerance and away from restrictive doctrine finds a way to Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone’s heart; Cordileone is an arch conservative and major proponent of both Prop. 8 and DOMA.

AG Holder ends Exclusion of Same-sex Couples from Veteran Benefits

September 4, 2013 By Josh Steichmann

Saluting LGBT veterans

In a letter (PDF, Washington Blade) issued today, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder informed Speaker of the House John Boehner that the Department of Justice would no longer be enforcing sections 101(3) and 101(31) of Title 38, which covers veterans’ benefits.

In plain English, that means that same-sex spouses of veterans are entitled to the same benefits as opposite-sex spouses.

Holder cites the Windsor case, where the Supreme Court ruled that treating married same-sex couples differently for tax purposes violated the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause, arguing that under the court’s decision, treating same-sex spouses differently in veteran’s benefits would violate the same due process protection.

He goes on to mention that the only reason why the Department of Justice was enforcing them was because the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group — the same folks who defended DOMA — were still defending them. Since BLAG recently dropped that case, Holder saw no reason to keep enforcing the discriminatory portions of the law even without having a clear court ruling on those portions specifically. Continuing to enforce those previsions would only have “tangible adverse effects” on same-sex spouses of veterans.

It’s a win, and one more stop on the road to full equality.

Big Win for LGBT Youth; Big Loss for Abusive So-Called “Therapists”

August 29, 2013 By Josh Steichmann
Orientation and gender identity aren't a switch to turn on and off


Orientation and gender identity aren’t a switch to turn on and off

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled today that SB 1172, a law that prohibits the discredited and dangerous use of psychological abuse to change sexual orientation in minors by licensed therapists, is constitutional, removing an injunction against the enforcement of the law and remanding the case back to the district court level.

Writing for the court, Circuit Judge Susan Graber ruled that the California law is a “regulation of professional conduct” and therefore “does not violate the free speech rights of [mental health] practitioners or minor patients, is neither vague nor overbroad, and does not violate parents’ fundamental rights.”

SB 1172, authored by Sen. Ted Lieu, takes aim at the debunked practice of subjecting minors to psychological abuse in order to change their sexual orientation, which has been disavowed by every major medical and psychological association.  Read the rest of this entry »

County by County: New Mexico Embraces Freedom to Marry

August 27, 2013 By Josh Steichmann

In terms of marriage, New Mexico was an anomaly: the only state to have no laws at all regarding marriage for same-sex couples. No laws banned it, but neither was there any explicit affirmation. The marriage statutes were gender-neutral, the result of New Mexico’s 1973 Equal Rights Amendment, which stripped gendered language from state laws on deeds and inheritances to marriages.

In 2004, Sandoval County Clerk Victoria Dunlap, a Republican, announced she’d begin issuing licenses to same-sex couples, arguing that nothing prevented it. But after 66 couples were married, then-New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid ordered the county to stop. They’ve been in legal limbo ever since — lawsuits filed regarding the validity of the marriages were dropped, and the single court case involving a same-sex married couple was an incredibly narrow technical ruling that found the marriage was valid — for the purposes of splitting property in a divorce. Clerks had refrained from issuing licenses since.

That changed when Dona Aña County Clerk Lynn Ellins again reviewed the state’s statutes and concluded that there was still nothing preventing same-sex couples from getting married — New Mexico’s constitution prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation, and the law had always been written in gender-neutral terms. Coincidentally, New Mexico public attitudes have shifted to favor marriage for same-sex couples by three points (45 to 42 percent). Ellins started issuing marriage licenses on August 21. Much kissing ensued. Read the rest of this entry »