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New York Allows Same-Sex Marriage, Becoming Largest State to Pass Law

June 25th, 2011

i-heart-ny-marriage-equality-webGreat news for equality.

From the New York Times

June 24, 2011
New York Allows Same-Sex Marriage, Becoming Largest State to Pass Law
By NICHOLAS CONFESSORE and MICHAEL BARBARO
ALBANY - Lawmakers voted late Friday to legalize same-sex marriage, making New York the largest state where gay and lesbian couples will be able to wed and giving the national gay-rights movement new momentum from the state where it was born.

The marriage bill, whose fate was uncertain until moments before the vote, was approved 33 to 29 in a packed but hushed Senate chamber. Four members of the Republican majority joined all but one Democrat in the Senate in supporting the measure after an intense and emotional campaign aimed at the handful of lawmakers wrestling with a decision that divided their friends, their constituents and sometimes their own homes.

With his position still undeclared, Senator Mark J. Grisanti, a Republican from Buffalo who had sought office promising to oppose same-sex marriage, told his colleagues he had agonized for months before concluding he had been wrong.

“I apologize for those who feel offended,” Mr. Grisanti said, adding, “I cannot deny a person, a human being, a taxpayer, a worker, the people of my district and across this state, the State of New York, and those people who make this the great state that it is the same rights that I have with my wife.”

Senate approval was the final hurdle for the same-sex marriage legislation, which was approved last week by the Assembly. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed the measure at 11:55 p.m., and the law will go into effect in 30 days, meaning that same-sex couples could begin marrying in New York by late July.

Passage of same-sex marriage here followed a daunting run of defeats in other states where voters barred same-sex marriage by legislative action, constitutional amendment or referendum. Just five states currently permit same-sex marriage: Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont, as well as the District of Columbia.

At around 10:30 p.m., moments after the vote was announced, Mr. Cuomo strode onto the Senate floor to wave at cheering supporters who had crowded into the galleries to watch. Trailed by two of his daughters, the governor greeted lawmakers, and paused to single out those Republicans who had defied the majority of their party to support the marriage bill.

“How do you feel?” he asked Senator James S. Alesi, a suburban Rochester Republican who voted against the measure in 2009 and was the first to break party ranks this year. “Feels good, doesn’t it?”

The approval of same-sex marriage represented a reversal of fortune for gay-rights advocates, who just two years ago suffered a humiliating defeat when a same-sex marriage bill was easily rejected by the Senate, which was then controlled by Democrats. This year, with the Senate controlled by Republicans, the odds against passage of same-sex marriage appeared long.

But the unexpected victory had a clear champion: Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat who pledged last year to support same-sex marriage but whose early months in office were dominated by intense battles with lawmakers and some labor unions over spending cuts.

Mr. Cuomo made same-sex marriage one of his top priorities for the year and deployed his top aide to coordinate the efforts of a half-dozen local gay-rights organizations whose feuding and disorganization had in part been blamed for the defeat two years ago.

The new coalition of same-sex marriage supporters brought in one of Mr. Cuomo’s trusted campaign operatives to supervise a $3 million television and radio campaign aimed at persuading several Republican and Democratic senators to drop their opposition.

For Senate Republicans, even bringing the measure to the floor was a freighted decision. Most of the Republicans firmly oppose same-sex marriage on moral grounds, and many of them also had political concerns, fearing that allowing same-sex marriage to pass on their watch would embitter conservative voters and cost the Republicans their one-seat majority in the Senate.

Leaders of the state’s Conservative Party, whose support many Republican lawmakers depend on to win election, warned that they would oppose in legislative elections next year any Republican senator who voted for same-sex marriage.

But after days of contentious discussion capped by a marathon nine-hour closed-door debate on Friday, Republicans came to a fateful decision: The full Senate would be allowed to vote on the bill, the majority leader, Dean G. Skelos, said Friday afternoon, and each member would be left to vote according to his or her conscience.

“The days of just bottling up things, and using these as excuses not to have votes - as far as I’m concerned as leader, it’s over with,” said Mr. Skelos, a Long Island Republican who voted against the bill.

Just before the marriage vote, lawmakers in the Senate and Assembly approved a broad package of major legislation that constituted the remainder of their agenda for the year. The bills included a cap on local property tax increases and a strengthening of New York’s rent regulation laws, as well as a five-year tuition increase at the State University of New York and the City University of New York.

But Republican lawmakers spent much of the week negotiating changes to the marriage bill to protect religious institutions, especially those that oppose same-sex weddings. On Friday, the Assembly and the Senate approved those changes. But they were not enough to satisfy the measure’s staunchest opponents. In a joint statement, New York’s Catholic bishops assailed the vote.

“The passage by the Legislature of a bill to alter radically and forever humanity’s historic understanding of marriage leaves us deeply disappointed and troubled,” the bishops said.

Besides Mr. Alesi and Mr. Grisanti, the four Republicans who voted for the measure included Senators Stephen M. Saland from the Hudson Valley area and Roy J. McDonald of the capital region.

Just one lawmaker rose to speak against the bill: Rubén Díaz Sr. of the Bronx, the only Democratic senator to cast a no vote. Mr. Díaz, saying he was offended by the two-minute restrictions set on speeches, repeatedly interrupted the presiding officer who tried to limit the senator’s remarks, shouting, “You don’t want to hear me.”

“God, not Albany, has settled the definition of marriage, a long time ago,” Mr. Díaz said.

The legalization of same-sex marriage in the United States is a relatively recent goal of the gay-rights movement, but over the last few years, gay-rights organizers have placed it at the center of their agenda, steering money and muscle into dozens of state capitals in an often uphill effort to persuade lawmakers.

In New York, passage of the bill reflects rapidly evolving sentiment about same-sex unions. In 2004, according to a Quinnipiac poll, 37 percent of the state’s residents supported allowing same-sex couples to wed. This year, 58 percent of them did. Advocates moved aggressively this year to capitalize on that shift, flooding the district offices of wavering lawmakers with phone calls, e-mails and signed postcards from constituents who favored same-sex marriage, sometimes in bundles that numbered in the thousands.

Dozens more states have laws or constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage. Many of them were approved in the past few years, as same-sex marriage moved to the front line of the culture war and politicians deployed the issue as a tool for energizing their base.

But New York could be a shift: It is now by far the largest state to grant legal recognition to same-sex weddings, and one that is home to a large, visible and politically influential gay community. Supporters of the measure described the victory in New York as especially symbolic - and poignant - because of its rich place in the history of gay rights: the movement’s foundational moment, in June 1969, was a riot against police inside the Stonewall Inn, a bar in the West Village.

In Albany, there was elation after the vote. But leading up to it, there were moments of tension and frustration. At one point, Senator Kevin S. Parker, a Brooklyn Democrat, erupted when he and other supporters learned they would not be allowed to make a floor speech.

“This is not right,” he yelled, before storming from the chamber.

During a brief recess during the voting, Senator Shirley L. Huntley, a Queens Democrat who had only recently come out in support of same sex marriage, strode from her seat to the back of the Senate chamber to congratulate Daniel J. O’Donnell, an openly gay Manhattan lawmaker who sponsored the legislation in the Assembly.

They hugged, and Assemblyman O’Donnell, standing with his longtime partner, began to tear up.

“We’re going to invite you to our wedding,” Mr. O’Donnell said. “Now we have to figure out how to pay for one.”

Danny Hakim and Thomas Kaplan contributed reporting from Albany, and Adriane Quinlan from New York.

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Watch San Francisco Giants It Gets Better Anti-Bullying Video

June 3rd, 2011

The San Francisco Giants became the first professional sports team to release an “It Gets Better” video to raise awareness and tolerance for LGBT youth.

As a baseball fan I am happy that the San Francisco Giants created a video for the It Gets Better Project. The Giants hit a home run with this video.

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Letter from the Attorney General to Congress on Litigation Involving the Defense of Marriage Act

February 24th, 2011

The Obama Administration announced that it will not defend the discriminatory federal “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) in court.

Department of Justice

Office of Public Affairs

WASHINGTON - The Attorney General sent the following letter today to Congressional leadership to inform them of the Department’s course of action in two lawsuits, Pedersen v. OPMand Windsor v. United States, challenging Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage for federal purposes as only between a man and a woman. A copy of the letter is also attached.

The Honorable John A. Boehner
Speaker
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Re: Defense of Marriage Act

Dear Mr. Speaker:

After careful consideration, including review of a recommendation from me, the President of the United States has made the determination that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (”DOMA”), 1 U.S.C. § 7, i as applied to same-sex couples who are legally married under state law, violates the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 530D, I am writing to advise you of the Executive Branch’s determination and to inform you of the steps the Department will take in two pending DOMA cases to implement that determination.

While the Department has previously defended DOMA against legal challenges involving legally married same-sex couples, recent lawsuits that challenge the constitutionality of DOMA Section 3 have caused the President and the Department to conduct a new examination of the defense of this provision. In particular, in November 2010, plaintiffs filed two new lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA in jurisdictions without precedent on whether sexual-orientation classifications are subject to rational basis review or whether they must satisfy some form of heightened scrutiny. Windsor v. United States, No. 1:10-cv-8435 (S.D.N.Y.); Pedersen v. OPM, No. 3:10-cv-1750 (D. Conn.). Previously, the Administration has defended Section 3 in jurisdictions where circuit courts have already held that classifications based on sexual orientation are subject to rational basis review, and it has advanced arguments to defend DOMA Section 3 under the binding standard that has applied in those cases. ii

These new lawsuits, by contrast, will require the Department to take an affirmative position on the level of scrutiny that should be applied to DOMA Section 3 in a circuit without binding precedent on the issue. As described more fully below, the President and I have concluded that classifications based on sexual orientation warrant heightened scrutiny and that, as applied to same-sex couples legally married under state law, Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional.

Standard of Review

The Supreme Court has yet to rule on the appropriate level of scrutiny for classifications based on sexual orientation. It has, however, rendered a number of decisions that set forth the criteria that should inform this and any other judgment as to whether heightened scrutiny applies: (1) whether the group in question has suffered a history of discrimination; (2) whether individuals “exhibit obvious, immutable, or distinguishing characteristics that define them as a discrete group”; (3) whether the group is a minority or is politically powerless; and (4) whether the characteristics distinguishing the group have little relation to legitimate policy objectives or to an individual’s “ability to perform or contribute to society.” See Bowen v. Gilliard, 483 U.S. 587, 602-03 (1987); City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Ctr., 473 U.S. 432, 441-42 (1985).

Each of these factors counsels in favor of being suspicious of classifications based on sexual orientation. First and most importantly, there is, regrettably, a significant history of purposeful discrimination against gay and lesbian people, by governmental as well as private entities, based on prejudice and stereotypes that continue to have ramifications today. Indeed, until very recently, states have “demean[ed] the[] existence” of gays and lesbians “by making their private sexual conduct a crime.” Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558, 578 (2003). iii

Second, while sexual orientation carries no visible badge, a growing scientific consensus accepts that sexual orientation is a characteristic that is immutable, seeRichard A. Posner, Sex and Reason 101 (1992); it is undoubtedly unfair to require sexual orientation to be hidden from view to avoid discrimination, seeDon’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010, Pub. L. No. 111-321, 124 Stat. 3515 (2010).

Third, the adoption of laws like those at issue in Romer v. Evans,517 U.S. 620 (1996), and Lawrence, the longstanding ban on gays and lesbians in the military, and the absence of federal protection for employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation show the group to have limited political power and “ability to attract the [favorable] attention of the lawmakers.” Cleburne, 473 U.S. at 445. And while the enactment of the Matthew Shepard Act and pending repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell indicate that the political process is not closed entirelyto gay and lesbian people, that is not the standard by which the Court has judged “political powerlessness.” Indeed, when the Court ruled that gender-based classifications were subject to heightened scrutiny, women already had won major political victories such as the Nineteenth Amendment (right to vote) and protection under Title VII (employment discrimination).

Finally, there is a growing acknowledgment that sexual orientation “bears no relation to ability to perform or contribute to society.” Frontiero v. Richardson, 411 U.S. 677, 686 (1973) (plurality). Recent evolutions in legislation (including the pending repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell), in community practices and attitudes, in case law (including the Supreme Court’s holdings in Lawrenceand Romer), and in social science regarding sexual orientation all make clear that sexual orientation is not a characteristic that generally bears on legitimate policy objectives. See, e.g.,Statement by the President on the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010 (”It is time to recognize that sacrifice, valor and integrity are no more defined by sexual orientation than they are by race or gender, religion or creed.”)

To be sure, there is substantial circuit court authority applying rational basis review to sexual-orientation classifications. We have carefully examined each of those decisions. Many of them reason only that if consensual same-sex sodomy may be criminalized under Bowers v. Hardwick, then it follows that no heightened review is appropriate - a line of reasoning that does not survive the overruling of Bowersin Lawrence v. Texas, 538 U.S. 558 (2003). iv Others rely on claims regarding “procreational responsibility” that the Department has disavowed already in litigation as unreasonable, or claims regarding the immutability of sexual orientation that we do not believe can be reconciled with more recent social science understandings. v And none engages in an examination of all the factors that the Supreme Court has identified as relevant to a decision about the appropriate level of scrutiny. Finally, many of the more recent decisions have relied on the fact that the Supreme Court has not recognized that gays and lesbians constitute a suspect class or the fact that the Court has applied rational basis review in its most recent decisions addressing classifications based on sexual orientation, Lawrenceand Romer. vi But neither of those decisions reached, let alone resolved, the level of scrutiny issue because in both the Court concluded that the laws could not even survive the more deferential rational basis standard.

Application to Section 3 of DOMA

In reviewing a legislative classification under heightened scrutiny, the government must establish that the classification is “substantially related to an important government objective.” Clark v. Jeter, 486 U.S. 456, 461 (1988). Under heightened scrutiny, “a tenable justification must describe actual state purposes, not rationalizations for actions in fact differently grounded.” United States v. Virginia, 518 U.S. 515, 535-36 (1996). “The justification must be genuine, not hypothesized or invented post hoc in response to litigation.” Id. at 533.

In other words, under heightened scrutiny, the United States cannot defend Section 3 by advancing hypothetical rationales, independent of the legislative record, as it has done in circuits where precedent mandates application of rational basis review. Instead, the United States can defend Section 3 only by invoking Congress’ actual justifications for the law.

Moreover, the legislative record underlying DOMA’s passage contains discussion and debate that undermines any defense under heightened scrutiny. The record contains numerous expressions reflecting moral disapproval of gays and lesbians and their intimate and family relationships - precisely the kind of stereotype-based thinking and animus the Equal Protection Clause is designed to guard against. vii See Cleburne, 473 U.S. at 448 (”mere negative attitudes, or fear” are not permissible bases for discriminatory treatment); see also Romer, 517 U.S. at 635 (rejecting rationale that law was supported by “the liberties of landlords or employers who have personal or religious objections to homosexuality”); Palmore v. Sidotti, 466 U.S. 429, 433 (1984) (”Private biases may be outside the reach of the law, but the law cannot, directly or indirectly, give them effect.”).

Application to Second Circuit Cases

After careful consideration, including a review of my recommendation, the President has concluded that given a number of factors, including a documented history of discrimination, classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to a heightened standard of scrutiny. The President has also concluded that Section 3 of DOMA, as applied to legally married same-sex couples, fails to meet that standard and is therefore unconstitutional. Given that conclusion, the President has instructed the Department not to defend the statute in Windsorand Pedersen, now pending in the Southern District of New York and the District of Connecticut. I concur in this determination.

Notwithstanding this determination, the President has informed me that Section 3 will continue to be enforced by the Executive Branch. To that end, the President has instructed Executive agencies to continue to comply with Section 3 of DOMA, consistent with the Executive’s obligation to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, unless and until Congress repeals Section 3 or the judicial branch renders a definitive verdict against the law’s constitutionality. This course of action respects the actions of the prior Congress that enacted DOMA, and it recognizes the judiciary as the final arbiter of the constitutional claims raised.

As you know, the Department has a longstanding practice of defending the constitutionality of duly-enacted statutes if reasonable arguments can be made in their defense, a practice that accords the respect appropriately due to a coequal branch of government. However, the Department in the past has declined to defend statutes despite the availability of professionally responsible arguments, in part because the Department does not consider every plausible argument to be a “reasonable” one. “[D]ifferent cases can raise very different issues with respect to statutes of doubtful constitutional validity,” and thus there are “a variety of factors that bear on whether the Department will defend the constitutionality of a statute.” Letter to Hon. Orrin G. Hatch from Assistant Attorney General Andrew Fois at 7 (Mar. 22, 1996). This is the rare case where the proper course is to forgo the defense of this statute. Moreover, the Department has declined to defend a statute “in cases in which it is manifest that the President has concluded that the statute is unconstitutional,” as is the case here. Seth P. Waxman, Defending Congress, 79 N.C. L.Rev. 1073, 1083 (2001).

In light of the foregoing, I will instruct the Department’s lawyers to immediately inform the district courts in Windsorand Pedersenof the Executive Branch’s view that heightened scrutiny is the appropriate standard of review and that, consistent with that standard, Section 3 of DOMA may not be constitutionally applied to same-sex couples whose marriages are legally recognized under state law. If asked by the district courts in the Second Circuit for the position of the United States in the event those courts determine that the applicable standard is rational basis, the Department will state that, consistent with the position it has taken in prior cases, a reasonable argument for Section 3’s constitutionality may be proffered under that permissive standard. Our attorneys will also notify the courts of our interest in providing Congress a full and fair opportunity to participate in the litigation in those cases. We will remain parties to the case and continue to represent the interests of the United States throughout the litigation.

Furthermore, pursuant to the President’s instructions, and upon further notification to Congress, I will instruct Department attorneys to advise courts in other pending DOMA litigation of the President’s and my conclusions that a heightened standard should apply, that Section 3 is unconstitutional under that standard and that the Department will cease defense of Section 3.

A motion to dismiss in the Windsorand Pedersencases would be due on March 11, 2011. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.

Sincerely yours,

Eric H. Holder, Jr.
Attorney General

______________________________________

iDOMA Section 3 states: “In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.”

ii See, e.g., Dragovich v. U.S. Department of the Treasury, 2011 WL 175502 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 18, 2011); Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, 699 F. Supp. 2d 374 (D. Mass. 2010); Smelt v. County of Orange, 374 F. Supp. 2d 861, 880 (C.D. Cal.,2005); Wilson v. Ake, 354 F.Supp.2d 1298, 1308 (M.D. Fla. 2005); In re Kandu, 315 B.R. 123, 145 (Bkrtcy. W.D. Wash. 2004); In re Levenson, 587 F.3d 925, 931 (9th Cir. E.D.R. Plan Administrative Ruling 2009).

iiiWhile significant, that history of discrimination is different in some respects from the discrimination that burdened African-Americans and women. See Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Pena, 515 U.S. 200, 216 (1995) (classifications based on race “must be viewed in light of the historical fact that the central purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment was to eliminate racial discrimination emanating from official sources in the States,” and “[t]his strong policy renders racial classifications ‘constitutionally suspect.’”); United States v. Virginia, 518 U.S. 515, 531 (1996) (observing that “‘our Nation has had a long and unfortunate history of sex discrimination’” and pointing out the denial of the right to vote to women until 1920). In the case of sexual orientation, some of the discrimination has been based on the incorrect belief that sexual orientation is a behavioral characteristic that can be changed or subject to moral approbation. Cf. Cleburne, 473 U.S. at 441 (heightened scrutiny may be warranted for characteristics “beyond the individual’s control” and that “very likely reflect outmoded notions of the relative capabilities of” the group at issue); Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, 530 U.S. 640 (2000) (Stevens, J., dissenting) (”Unfavorable opinions about homosexuals ‘have ancient roots.’” (quoting Bowers, 478 U.S. at 192)).

iv See Equality Foundation v. City of Cincinnati, 54 F.3d 261, 266-67 & n. 2. (6th Cir. 1995); Steffan v. Perry, 41 F.3d 677, 685 (D.C. Cir. 1994); Woodward v. United States, 871 F.2d 1068, 1076 (Fed. Cir. 1989); Ben-Shalom v. Marsh, 881 F.2d 454, 464 (7th Cir. 1989); Padula v. Webster, 822 F.2d 97, 103 (D.C. Cir. 1987).

v See, e.g., Lofton v. Secretary of the Dep’t of Children & Family Servs., 358 F.3d 804, 818 (11th Cir. 2004) (discussing child-rearing rationale ); High Tech Gays v. Defense Indust. Sec. Clearance Office, 895 F.2d 563, 571 (9th Cir. 1990) (discussing immutability). As noted, this Administration has already disavowed in litigation the argument that DOMA serves a governmental interest in “responsible procreation and child-rearing.” H.R. Rep. No. 104-664, at 13. As the Department has explained in numerous filings, since the enactment of DOMA, many leading medical, psychological, and social welfare organizations have concluded, based on numerous studies, that children raised by gay and lesbian parents are as likely to be well-adjusted as children raised by heterosexual parents.

vi See Cook v. Gates, 528 F.3d 42, 61 (1st Cir. 2008); Citizens for Equal Prot. v. Bruning, 455 F.3d 859, 866 (8th Cir. 2006); Johnson v. Johnson, 385 F.3d 503, 532 (5th Cir. 2004); Veney v. Wyche, 293 F.3d 726, 732 (4th Cir. 2002); Equality Foundation of Greater Cincinnati, Inc. v. City of Cincinnati, 128 F.3d 289, 292-94 (6th Cir. 1997).

vii See, e.g.,H.R. Rep. at 15-16 (judgment [opposing same-sex marriage] entails both moral disapproval of homosexuality and a moral conviction that heterosexuality better comports with traditional (especially Judeo-Christian) morality”); id. at 16 (same-sex marriage “legitimates a public union, a legal status that most people . . . feel ought to be illegitimate” and “put[s] a stamp of approval . . . on a union that many people . . . think is immoral”); id. at 15 (”Civil laws that permit only heterosexual marriage reflect and honor a collective moral judgment about human sexuality”); id. (reasons behind heterosexual marriage-procreation and child-rearing-are “in accord with nature and hence have a moral component”); id. at 31 (favorably citing the holding in Bowersthat an “anti-sodomy law served the rational purpose of expressing the presumed belief . . . that homosexual sodomy is immoral and unacceptable”); id. at 17 n.56 (favorably citing statement in dissenting opinion in Romerthat “[t]his Court has no business . . . pronouncing that ‘animosity’ toward homosexuality is evil”).

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New Federal Hospital Visitation Regulations for LGBT go into Effect on Jan. 18, 2011

January 15th, 2011

medicalOn January 18, 2011, new hospital visitation regulations go into effect that require all hospitals participating in Medicaid and Medicare programs to permit patients to designate visitors of their choosing and prohibit discrimination in visitation based on a number of factors, including sexual orientation and gender identity.

The new regulations are a result from President Obama’s presidential memorandum in April 2010 directing the Department of Health and Human Services to develop regulations protecting hospital visitation rights.

Regulations require hospitals (from HRC’s Hospital Visitation Guide):

  • to inform each patient of his or her right to receive visitors whom he or she designates, including a domestic partner
  • to not restrict or limit visitation rights based on sexual orientation and gender identity, among other factors
  • must ensure that all visitors have full and equal visitation rights, consistent with a patient’s wishes.

To learn more visit the Human Rights Campaign Hospital Visitation Guide for LGBT Families>>

While these new federal regulations are a great step forward for LGBT hospital visitation equality it’s important to note there are other medical decision making areas that are not protected unless an individual has prepared the necessary legal documents.

Many state laws governing medical decision making defaults to biological family members or marital laws. Since there is marriage inequality in most of the U.S. LGBT individuals are not protected. Even if you are not in a committed relationship, you want to make decisions about your own life and future without unwanted intrusions from others. By planning now you can feel comfortable that you, your family and your future are taken care of exactly the way you envision.

If you want to designate a person to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to do so or state your wishes regarding the withholding or withdrawal of life-sustaining procedures under certain circumstances you will need to prepare an Advance Directive for Healthcare or Living Will.

Not planning, means letting someone else plan for you. LGBT individuals need to be proactive to ensure that their plans for the future reflect their own wishes and are not dictated by laws that do not fit your life and relationships or individuals who are not involved in your life and relationships.

Do not put off preparing legal documents as we never know what can happen. LegalOut can help you avoid putting off creating legal documents. LegalOut’s online resource center provides the LGBT community with affordable legal document solutions.  We provide easy-to-use tools for customizing your documents online, in the privacy of your own home, at your own pace and provides hundreds of do-it-yourself legal documents including living wills, domestic partnership agreements, power of attorney documents, last will and testament, and many others.

By planning now you can feel comfortable that you, your family and your future are taken care of exactly the way you envision.

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DADT Repeal Signed by President Obama!

December 22nd, 2010

The law barring openly gay men and women from serving in the U.S. military is coming to an end.

“We are a nation that welcomes the service of every patriot and believes all are created equal. Those are the ideals we upheld today.” - President Obama

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Breaking: Repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Advances

December 18th, 2010

From the NY Times

By CARL HULSE
Published: December 18, 2010

WASHINGTON - After a 17-year struggle, the Senate on Saturday cleared the way for repealing the Pentagon’s ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military.

By a bipartisan vote of 63 to 33, the Senate acted to cut off debate on a measure that would allow President Obama to declare an end to the Clinton-era policy, known as “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which allows gay members of the armed forces to serve only if they keep their sexual orientation a secret.

The vote was a historic moment that some equated with the decision to end racial segregation in the military. It followed a review by the Pentagon that found little concern in the military about ending the ban and was backed by Pentagon officials as a better alternative to a court-ordered end.

Backers of the repeal said that it was long past time to end what they saw as a discriminatory practice that cost the military valuable personnel and forced American troops to lie in order to serve their country.

“I don’t care who you love,” Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, said as debate opened. “If you love this country enough to risk your life for it, you shouldn’t have to hide who you are.”

Mr. Wyden showed up for the Senate vote despite saying on Friday that he would be unable to do so because he would be undergoing final tests before his scheduled surgery on Monday for prostate cancer.

The vote came in the final days of the 111th Congress as Democrats sought to force through a final few priorities before they turn over control of the House of Representatives to the Republicans in January and see their clout in the Senate diminished.

It represented a significant victory for the White House, Congressional advocates of lifting the ban and activists who have pushed for years to end the Pentagon policy created in 1993 under the Clinton administration as a compromise effort to end the practice of banning gay men and lesbians entirely from military service. Activists said it represented an emotional moment for members of the gay community nationwide.

Opponents of lifting the ban said the change could harm the unit cohesion that is essential to effective military operations, particularly in combat, and deter some Americans from enlisting or pursuing a career in the military. They noted that despite support for repealing the ban from Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, other military commanders have warned that changing the practice would prove disruptive.

“This isn’t broke,” Senator James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, said of about the policy. “It is working very well.”

Other Republicans said that while the policy might be need to changed at some point, Congress should not intrude on the issue now when American troops are fighting overseas.

“In the middle of a military conflict, is not the time to do it,” said Senator Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia.

The vote to lift the ban came after the Senate blocked - and effectively killed for this year - a measure that would have allowed some younger illegal immigrants to gain legal status by attending college or serving in the military.

Backers of that measure, known as the Dream Act, said it would have aided those who, through no fault of their own, were brought into the country illegally by their parents. But opponents said the initiative had the potential for fraud and amounted to a path to amnesty. The vote was 55 to 41, five votes short of the 60 necessary for the measure to advance.

Only a week ago, the effort to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy seemed to be dead and in danger of fading for at least two years with Republicans about to take control of the House. The provision eliminating the ban was initially included in a broader Pentagon policy bill, and Republican backers of repeal had refused to join in cutting off a filibuster against the underlying bill because of objections over the ability to debate the measure.

In a last-ditch effort, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, and Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, encouraged Democratic Congressional leaders to instead pursue a vote on simply repealing the ban. The House passed the measure earlier in the week.

The Senate must take a second vote to approve the repeal and send it to President Obama for his signature. The repeal would not take effect for at least 60 days while some other procedural steps are taken. In addition, it is necessary for the defense secretary to determine that policies are in place to carry out the repeal “consistent with military standards for readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention.”

Mr. Lieberman said the ban undermined the integrity of the military by forcing troops to lie. He said 14,000 members of the armed forces had been forced to leave the ranks under the policy.

“What a waste,” he said.

The fight erupted in the early days of President Bill Clinton’s administration and has been a roiling political issue ever since. Mr. Obama endorsed repeal in his own campaign and advocates saw the current Congress as their best opportunity for ending the ban. Dozens of advocates of ending the ban - including one wounded in combat before being forced from the military - watched from the Senate gallery as the debate took place.

Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who is chairman of the Armed Services Committee, dismissed Republican complaints that Democrats were trying to race through the repeal to satisfy their political supporters.

“I’m not here for partisan reasons,” Mr. Levin said. “I’m here because men and women wearing the uniform of the United States who are gay and lesbian have died for this country, because gay and lesbian men and women wearing the uniform of this country have their lives on the line right now.”

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U.S. House votes to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

December 15th, 2010

From the HRC newsroom

By Paul Guequierre
December 15th, 2010 at 5:30 pm

sidebar-ta-dadt1Today the U.S. House of Representatives voted 250-175 on legislation to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” This historic action is the second time the House passed repeal legislation this year, the first coming in May with the National Defense Authorization Act, to which repeal legislation was attached.

Rep. Patrick Murphy and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer introduced the free-standing DADT repeal bill yesterday with identical language to the repeal amendment that passed in the House in May

“Today the U.S. House of Representatives said, for the second time, what military leaders, the majority of our troops and 80 percent of the American public have been saying all along - the only thing that matters on the battlefield is the ability to do the job,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “We are grateful to Majority Leader Hoyer and Rep. Murphy for championing repeal and for Speaker Pelosi’s continuing leadership. The Senate must now follow their lead.”

Now all eyes shift to the Senate, where Senators Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced the companion bill, S.4023, last week after the failed Senate vote to proceed to debate the National Defense Authorization Act, to which repeal legislation was attached. The Senate bill currently has 48 bipartisan cosponsors. The votes are there to repeal DADT, but the question is whether the Senate will make the time to pass this important piece of legislation before they go on vacation?

It is critical that you call your senators and tell them to support repeal this year. Call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask them to connect you to your senator.

If repeal isn’t passed before the Senate adjourns for the holidays, it will likely be years before there is another chance for repeal.

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October 11th is National Coming Out Day

October 11th, 2010

news-national-coming-out-day-logo-topToday is National Coming Out Day. Stand up and be proud!

In wake of recent LGBT suicides and hate crimes, its critical to take a stand to advocate for equality and acceptance. People should feel safe coming out whether in the workplace, school or home.

Join the Human Rights Campaign in “HRC’s Coming Out for Equality” Facebook application to show your support.

If you know anyone struggling with issues of self-acceptance, isolation or harassment, please support them and direct them to resources such as:

  • Trevor Project, the leading national organization focused on crisis and suicide prevention efforts among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth.
  • PFLAG, promotes the health and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, their families and friends through: support, to cope with an adverse society; education, to enlighten an ill-informed public; and advocacy, to end discrimination and to secure equal civil rights.

  • GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, is the leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for all students.

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Court Rejects Same-Sex Marriage Ban in California

August 11th, 2010

From the NY Times:

Court Rejects Same-Sex Marriage Ban in California
By JESSE McKINLEY and JOHN SCHWARTZ

SAN FRANCISCO - Saying that it discriminates against gay men and women, a federal judge in San Francisco struck down California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage on Wednesday, handing supporters of such unions at least a temporary victory in a legal battle that seems all but certain to be settled by the Supreme Court.

Wednesday’s decision is just the latest chapter in what is expected to be a long battle over the ban - Proposition 8, which was passed in 2008 with 52 percent of the vote. Indeed, while striking down Proposition 8, the decision will not immediately lead to any new same-sex marriages being performed in California. Vaughn R. Walker, the chief judge of the Federal District Court in San Francisco, immediately stayed his own decision, pending appeals by proponents of Proposition 8, who seem confident that higher courts would hear and favor their position.

But on Wednesday the winds seemed to be at the back of those who feel that marriage is not, as the voters of California and many other states have said, solely the province of a man and a woman.

“Proposition 8 cannot withstand any level of scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause,” wrote Judge Walker. “Excluding same-sex couples from marriage is simply not rationally related to a legitimate state interest.”

Supporters of Proposition 8 said that the decision defied the will of the people of California, and could well be an issue in November’s midterm elections.

“This is going to set off a groundswell of opposition,” said Jim Garlow, the pastor of Skyline Church in La Mesa, Calif., and a prominent supporter of Proposition 8. “It’s going to rally people that might have been silent.”

Wednesday’s decision applied only to California and not to the dozens of other states that have either constitutional bans or other prohibitions against same-sex marriage. Nor does it affect federal law, which does not recognize such unions.

Still, the very existence of federal court ruling recognizing same-sex marriage in California, the nation’s most populous state, set off cheers of “We won!” from crowds assembled in front of the courthouse in San Francisco. Evening rallies and celebrations were planned in dozens of cities across the state and several across the nation.

In West Hollywood, Ron Cook, 46, an accountant who is gay, said he was thrilled by the decision. “If the court had come back and upheld it,” he said. “I would have moved out of the state.”

The plaintiffs’ case was argued by David Boies and Theodore B. Olson, ideological opposites who once famously sparred in the 2000 Supreme Court battle between George W. Bush and Al Gore over the Florida recount and the presidency. The lawyers brought the case - Perry v. Schwarzenegger - in May 2009 on behalf of two gay couples who said that Proposition 8 impinged on their constitutional rights to equal protection and due process.

On Wednesday, Mr. Olson called the decision a “victory for the American people,” and anyone who had been denied rights “because they are unpopular, because they are a minority, because they are viewed differently.”

For advocates of gay rights, same-sex marriage has increasingly become a central issue in their battle for equality, seen as both an emotional indicator of legitimacy and as a practical way to lessen discrimination.

“Being gay is about forming an adult family relationship with a person of the same sex,” said Jennifer Pizer, the marriage project director for Lambda Legal in Los Angeles, who filed two briefs in support of the plaintiffs. “So denying us equality within the family system is to deny respect for the essence of who we are as gay people.”

But Andrew Pugno, a lawyer for the defense, said Proposition 8 had nothing to do with discrimination, but rather with the will of California voters who “simply wished to preserve the historic definition of marriage.”

“The other side’s attack upon their good will and motives is lamentable and preposterous,” Mr. Pugno said in a statement.

During the trial, which ended in June, plaintiffs offered evidence from experts on marriage, sociology and political science, and emotional testimony from the two couples who had brought the case. Proponents for Proposition 8 offered a much more straightforward defense of the measure, saying that same-sex marriage damaged traditional marriage as an institution and that marriage was historically rooted in the need to foster procreation, which same-sex unions cannot, and was thus fundamental to the existence and survival of the human race.

But Judge Walker seemed skeptical of those claims. “Tradition alone, however,” he wrote, “cannot form the rational basis for a law.”

Even before appeals to higher courts, Judge Walker seemed ready to continue to hear arguments, telling both sides to submit responses to his motion to stay the decision by Friday, at which point he could lift or extend it.

How the decision might play politically was also still unclear. In 2004, same-sex marriage was seen as a wedge issue that helped draw conservatives to the polls, and Richard Socarides, who advised President Bill Clinton on gay rights issues, said that this decision could be used as a rallying cry for Republicans again. “But Democrats and most importantly President Obama will now have to take sides on whether gays deserve full equality,” Mr. Socarides wrote in an e-mail.

In California, it could also affect the race for governor. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, has been vocal in his support of same-sex marriage in his current role as California attorney general and hailed the decision on Wednesday. Meg Whitman, a Republican, has taken the position that marriage should be between a man and a woman - in line with the language of Proposition 8 - though she says that she strongly supports the state’s domestic partnership laws, which afford many of the same rights as marriage.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in a statement on Wednesday supported the ruling, saying it “affirms the full legal protections” for thousands of gay Californians.

Some gay rights activists initially feared the case, believing that a loss at a federal level could set back their more measured efforts to gain wider recognition for same-sex marriage, which is legal in five states and the District of Columbia. But those concerns seemed to fade as the trial began, and on Wednesday, the mood was of elation and cautious optimism that Mr. Boies and Mr. Olson’s initial victory might change the debate.

Kate Kendell, executive director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said that she believed that there were members of the Supreme Court who “have a very deep-seated bias against L.G.B.T. people,” meaning lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. But, she added, “This legal victory profoundly changes the conversation” by involving “folks in the legal world and the policy world who were previously unmoved by this struggle.”

For those who had actually filed the suit, Wednesday’s victory, while measured, also seemed sweet.

“This decision says that we are Americans, too. We too should be treated equally,” said Kristin M. Perry, one of the plaintiffs. “Our family is just as loving, just as real and just valid as anyone else’s.”

Jesse McKinley reported from San Francisco, and John Schwartz from New York. Malia Wollan contributed reporting from San Francisco, and Rebecca Cathcart from West Hollywood, Calif.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: August 5, 2010

An earlier version of the multimedia presentation running with this article reversed the surnames of the plaintiffs Paul Katami and Jeff Zarillo.

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From the Irish Times: “Civil to One Another”

July 2nd, 2010

Civil to one another

Fri, Jul 02, 2010

As the Civil Partnership Bill goes through the Dáil, Fiona McCann talks to three couples about how it will affect their relationships

‘We consider ourselves to be as good as married, so we consider this to be almost ticking a box’

Michael Walsh, partner in the law firm BryneWallace, and Des Crowley, doctor, have been together for 12 and a half years. They plan to become civil partners, and have a civil partnership ceremony already organised for later this month, with a blessing in the Unitarian Church followed by a meal and celebration for friends, family, colleagues and business associates.

Ceremony already organised for this month: Des Crowley (left) and Michael Walsh. Photograph: Alan Betson

Des Crowley (left) and Michael Walsh. Photograph: Alan Betson

MICHAEL : We consider ourselves to be as good as married, we consider ourselves to be family . . . so in some respects we consider this to be almost ticking a box. But going through a process of preparing for the Civil Partnership ceremony has been an enlightening experience for us because it actually has brought new definition to our relationship, and brought about a renewed commitment.

DES : Initially, for me anyway, it was about just protecting the legality of the relationship . . . but I have been really surprised how the experience of the last month or six weeks has actually changed that and how much more important it has become to me.

MICHAEL : There have been certain elements of the LGB community who might have rejected the whole notion of civil partnership because it’s not full marriage. And whereas I agree in part with the sentiment that what will be provided for in law doesn’t go far enough, it certainly goes far enough for us to be acceptable, particularly in our own individual circumstances.

DES : Ultimately it is down to the practical issue of our home together, the tax situation, the pension situation, and what is really important for us is our next of kin. Because it’s extraordinary that . . . even though you may be living with a person for 12 years, if anything was to happen to you and you were unable to make your own decision, that the people that they turn to is your parents.

MICHAEL : For me the ceremonial aspect of it is really important, and although we are together 12 years, we haven’t yet stood in front of our nearest and dearest and said ‘this is it’. And to have the opportunity now to do this and for it to also mean something from a legal point of view is fundamental.

DES : While it would have been preferable if the legislation had included the rights for gay parents to adopt, there is an expediency about it as well. If you continue the next five or 10 years fighting for that right, in the meantime so many other situations are not regularised, and some people do not have the luxury of time. They’re unwell, or they’re elderly, and there are a lot of complicated legal issues that need to be sorted out for these couples.

MICHAEL : I’ve been writing to the Minister every fortnight, explaining to him the date of our blessing and how important it is that the Bill would have cleared through the main house of the Oireachtas before our date . . .What is important to us is the certainty that it will happen, so we decided to press the button with the sense that it was effectively a done deal . . .

I’m sure we’ll look back in years to come and wonder why it took so long for the State to finally recognise that it isn’t a bad thing to recognise love between consenting adults and a love that’s about long-term commitment and the creation of family.

‘This Bill is not going to do anything for us, for our family. And legally, our family doesn’t exist’

Orla Egan-Morley and Catherine Egan-Morley have been together for more than eight years, and have a four-year-old son called Jacob. Catherine is director of Southside Travellers Action Group, and Orla is training and development officer with BeLonG To youth services.

ORLA : It should be a day for celebration and I just feel really disappointed that the politicians haven’t had the courage to legislate for equality and take a child-centred approach to the legislation. [This Bill] is not going to do anything for us, for our family. And legally, our family doesn’t exist.

CATHERINE : I feel let down for my son because it doesn’t acknowledge his place; It doesn’t make any reference to his rights to have two parents, which he has . . . It hits me very deeply because I am his non-biological parent. It hits me on an equality level, but it also hits me on a gut level.

ORLA : Jacob asked me recently, “What’s marriage? What’s a wedding?”. And I said, “Sometimes when people love one another very much it’s a ceremony they do to mark that love.” He looked at me and Catherine and said “We all love one another, why can’t we get married?” How do you explain to a four-year-old that there are some people who think your family is not worth protecting? . . . I don’t care about the money stuff; I care about the rights of my child. I could get up in the morning and take him away from one of his parents and neither he nor she would have any right to fight back.

CATHERINE : We’ve been living together for almost eight years. We own our home together. . . it only takes one person to look at the letter of the law, and if I have him in the hospital and he has a broken leg, I won’t be allowed to make any decisions because I’m not his legal parent or guardian. Right now in the eyes of the country we live in, in the place that we’re committed to, where we bought our home and live our lives, Orla is a lone parent and I’m a single woman . . . The most public commitment we could ever make to each other is have a child together.

ORLA : We spent a long time planning to have Jacob . . . we changed our names by deed poll so that we all shared the same surname, Egan-Morley. We made sure we had our wills in order, we took as many legal steps as we could, but the bottom line is that there is no legal relationship there between Jacob and one of his parents . . . We don’t want to go somewhere else to get married and not have that marriage recognised here.

I want to be able to get married, and have Jacob have a formal legal relationship with both of his parents in the country where he lives.

‘The ritual, the declaration, it’s an affirmation. People forget that. Everyone should be entitled to that’

Don McClave and Wil Matthews have been together for seven years. Don is an Apple Mac specialist and technical support operative and Wil is a public servant. They had a Civil Partnership ceremony in Belfast earlier this year.

DON : It was pretty much love at first sight - we moved in together after about six months. We’d both been aware of marriage and civil partnership as a political issue, but around the time we were five years together, we said we’d really like to do this. We decided that if we waited for the pace of legislative progress here, we’d all be dead and buried.

We could have gone to Spain or Canada and gone for a full marriage, but that wasn’t practical for economic reasons, and since such marriages weren’t going to be recognised here - we’d been following the Zappone-Gilligan case - we thought we’d be more realistic about it. Civil partnership in Belfast was doable.

WIL : We went up to lodge our petition to have our Civil Partnership in December, and we had it on the 17th of April . . . We had some family members who were not getting any younger and we wanted them to have the day out, and we wanted to be able to get up in front of our loved ones and make a declaration of love for one another . . . It was a really joyous occasion. And even though we’ve been together seven years, our relationship feels different now.

Even though we’re not recognised here, we’ve no legal standing, to us it just feels different. The ritual, the declaration, it’s an affirmation. People forget that. Everyone should be entitled to that and everyone should be entitled to having that celebration with family and friends. It’s not a gay right; it’s just a fundamental human right.

DON : Every step is progress, and we welcome this Civil Partnership Bill, but even so, it’s not enough. We want marriage: not gay marriage, just marriage for all . . . [with this new Bill] presumably when we can present our certificate and have it recorded and acknowledged, we can look at practical things.

There have been some situations where Wil’s been in hospital and I haven’t been able to go through with him to the A&E procedures. So having that kind of recognition, that would give some measure of protection with a hospital official . . . And in the areas of social welfare, inheritance, next-of-kin rights, immediately we have some kind of status.

WIL : While this bill is fantastic and we do welcome it, we will gain some rights and entitlements, but not all, and we’re very clear about that: there’ll be many that we won’t be entitled to.

DON : They’re picking and choosing where they confer equality, but you can’t have equality where you are creating a separate legal classification for same-sex couples.

© 2010 The Irish Times

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