Friday, November 27, 2009

Happy Belated Thanksgiving! There's Much I'm Grateful For - What About You?

Ugh. Had absolutely no internet access yesterday. Intended this to go up on time, but I guess it's never too late to say what you're grateful for!

Well, this year has been a year of mixed results when it comes to the advancement of LGBT rights, and in particular marriage equality.

Unfortunately, having the job that I do for this site, I have to report on a lot of bad news. Those who wish to deny us equality don't ever seem to let up, so we must constantly be vigilant and be equally active in protecting ourselves.

But today, I want to focus on the good things that we and our allies have accomplished in advancing our rights, as well as uplifting events that have significantly marked this year thus far for the community and for me personally.

Now I know I'm bound to forget some news and events since this site's mission focuses me on advancement in marriage and legal recognition of our relationships. So please feel free to add in the comments items I have forgotten or anything that you yourself are grateful for. It can about LGBT rights or something personal. (Mine are in no particular order - except for the first one.)
  1. I got engaged! I'm grateful for the love of my life, Loch.
  2. Referendum 71 passed, a historical moment in LGBT history. It was the first ballot initiative that voters passed affirming LGBT relationships.
  3. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act passed.
  4. Maine passed marriage equality through its legislature (I'm focusing on the good here, not the law being overturned.)
  5. Iowa's Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional.
  6. New Hampshire passed marriage equality through its legislature and Gov. Lynch signs it into law.
  7. The Vermont legislature overrides Gov. Jim Douglas' veto and legalizes marriage equality!
  8. Washington DC passes same-sex marriage recognition bill. (They're headed towards legalizing it within their own jurisdiction.)
  9. India, one of the most populous nations in the world, decriminalizes homosexuality.
  10. Despite differences, California's LGBT population comes together in solidarity on the Day of Decision when the state's Supreme Court decides to uphold Prop 8.
  11. I'm grateful for my readers.
  12. I'm grateful for the many friends I have made while working for equal rights.
  13. Unite the Fight was the official Meet in the Middle blog - I was blessed to be able to witness and cover such a historical moment.
  14. Though not everyone agreed on whether it should happen, the National Equality March inspired a new generation of activists.
  15. I'm grateful that my family is accepting Loch and I'm looking forward to what the future may bring.
I can go on but I think 15 is a good number. What are you grateful for?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Periodic Blogging Due to Holidays

Hi UTF Readers,

I will only have periodic access to the internet during the next few days while traveling for the holidays. I due intend to post but not as often as I usually do.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!


New Poll Shows Support for Marriage Equality in New Jersey Dropping, Tug-O-War Continues

Just last week, a Rutgers-Eagleton poll showed New Jersey residents supporting the marriage equality bill by a 46 - 42% margin but with a slice of 12% still unsure.

A new poll released today from Quinnipiac University, conducted Nov. 17 and Nov. 22, reverses these results and one from earlier this year in April, now indicating that by a slim 49 - 46% margin, New Jersey voters oppose a law that would allow same-sex couples to marry. The Quinnipiac poll in April showed support with a 49 - 43% margin.

Voters were asked, "Would you support or oppose a law that would allow same-sex couples to get married?" (Click on images to enlarge)

Women support same-sex marriage 53 - 41 percent, while men oppose it 57 - 38 percent. White voters split 49 - 47 percent, while black voters oppose the measure 61 - 28 percent.
Among voters who do support same-sex marriage, 74 percent say the State Legislature should pass the measure now, so Gov. Jon Corzine can sign it.
"When we asked about gay marriage in April, it won narrow approval. Now that it seems closer to a legislative vote, it loses narrowly with the public," said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

"The biggest drop is among independent voters, who backed the measure 50 - 41 percent in April. And opposition among men spiked from 48 - 44 percent opposed to 57 - 38 percent."

"If the State Legislature is going to pass it, voters say, do it while Gov. Jon Corzine - a supporter - is still in office. Governor-elect Christopher Christie has said he'd veto it."
The poll goes on to ask an interesting question regarding uber-conservative governor-elect Chris Christie and how he should select state Supreme Court justices, particularly when it comes to controversial issues.

It's a shame that it is, but it appears marriage equality is controversial. Go figure.

One of the more disheartening aspects of this poll is the big drop in support from independent voters. It's hard to determine if this shift is the result of Maine and the message that came from Question 1 passing, or if it's because now that marriage equality can become an actuality in New Jersey, voters balk at the idea. Or maybe it's both?

The AP thinks it's Maine, declaring, "The state-to-state march to legalize gay marriage across the left-leaning Northeast has lost more momentum since a major setback three weeks ago at the ballot box in Maine."

Of course Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), whose organization launched a major campaign against the marriage bill Monday, told the AP, "If they are unable to pass gay marriage in New York and New Jersey, combined with the loss in Maine, it will confirm that gay marriage is not the inevitable wave of the future."

But Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry disagrees. "In any civil rights struggle there are going to be periods of creeping and periods of leaping."

"If this goes down in both states, it will be seen by both sides as building on the momentum that opponents sort of got coming out of Maine," said David Masci, a senior researcher at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Steven Goldenstein of Garden State Equality, the state's largest LGBT advocacy group, acknowledges they may have lost support in the New Jersey's capital of Trenton, but asks, "Was marriage equality in the bag before the election? Nothing in politics is ever in the bag, but we were looking pretty damn excellent."

Whatever the cause of support dropping, there's a lot of work to be done in New Jersey and very little time to do it. Gov. Jon Corzine, who has promised to sign the marriage bill if it reaches his desk, will have to leave office in January and be replaced by Christie, who is not a fan of the LGBT population.

On Monday, legislators met for the first time during the lame duck session and Democratic leaders met to discuss the marriage bill but made no decisions. Meanwhile they faced a large crowd of marriage equality supporters rallying for its passage.

However, opponents say that despite the difficulty of getting an initiative on the ballot in New Jersey, they vow to accomplish just that if the bill is passed in order to give voters a chance to have a final say on the matter.

ACTION: Now more than ever, New Jersey needs your help. Go to Garden State Equality and find out how you can get involved.


Will Catholic Bishops Begin to Use Sacraments As Weapons Against Pro-LGBT Politicians?

UPDATE 11/25/09: Washington Post article, "Clergy abuse victims criticize RI bishop."

Original Post, 11/24/09

In what Sen. Patrick Kennedy has admitted was a long time coming, Bishop Thomas Tobin of Rhode Island wrote the Catholic senator an email informing him that he will not be allowed to partake of the Eucharist, or what is commonly known as Communion, because of his support of reproductive rights, in particular when it comes to health care reform.

In a statement issued Sunday, Tobin made known he informed Kennedy in February 2007 that it would be "inappropriate" for him to continue receiving the fundamental Catholic sacrament, "and I now ask respectfully that you refrain from doing so."

MSNBC reports:

Bishop Tobin appeared on Chris Matthews and got a lashing.

The bishop is not deterred. The most recent development occurred Tuesday morning on a Rhode Island radio show on which Bishop Tobin appeared.

"If [Sen. Kennedy] cannot abide by the teaching of this church, not just this one but others and ... what it means to be a Catholic ... maybe he should find another fine Christian denomination where he can be more comfortable," the bishop said.

Bishop Tobin also has the ear of Rhode Island Gov. Carcieri, who is a member of the anti-LGBT National Organization for Marriage and, in a move many criticized has heartless, recently vetoed the bill that would have given domestic partners the right to make burial arrangements for each other.

But can we honestly be surprised that this is the direction that Catholic Church leadership is headed? Strong-arming politicians to craft secular law to reflect church law?

Patrick Kennedy told the Providence Journal that Tobin had barred him from receiving communion and instructed priests in the diocese not to administer the sacrament "because of the positions that I've taken as a public official."

Naturally the question arises, "What public policy positions will the church hound policy makers on next? Marriage equality?"

Michael Jones at says, "It was a narrowing of Catholic theology to strip issues like poverty and social justice from the forefront of the Church, and replace them with opposing abortion, gay marriage, and stem cell research. It was also a call to Catholic politicians: oppose abortion and gay marriage at all costs, or risk the threat of the Church denying you Communion and publicly tarring and feathering you as a sinner."

And he's right. The Archdiocese of Washington D.C. threatened to throw the poor and homeless under the bus, claiming they will end their charity work if the District City Council passed their same-sex marriage legislation.

Let's not forget to that they are issuing a new edict that will be signed by hundreds of U.S. Bishops that will strongly unite them all behind a common statement condemning the love between gays and lesbians. Behind this they can rally and step into public policy making more than ever before.

Moreover, the church has pledged $2 million to fight marriage equality, despite closing parishes left and right due to lack of funds.

More recently, some Bishops signed onto the Manhattan Declaration with a swath of excitable, anti-LGBT evangelicals. The Declaration in part states, “We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence."

Even more, “We will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other antilife act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent.”

What's shocking is the church leadership's blatant intimidation and misuse of the Eucharist, one of the most sacred rites of Catholicism, in an attempt to force upon those with the hefty responsibility of writing secular law what the Church believes should be the law all U.S. citizens must abide by.

Are we to see next Catholic members of Congress strong-armed by their bishops to vote against the Respect for Marriage Act? Are we to see politicians blackmailed into voting against ENDA? Will the bishops manipulate these policymakers by using their beliefs of salvation by threatening their very souls?

This is exactly why Thomas Jefferson wrote of the need for the separation of church and state - to avoid this very wrong and morally corrupt yet powerful tactic that history has witnessed those in a position of religious power use time and time again.

Thankfully, Sen. Kennedy is not easily jolted by Tobin's blatant tar and feathering of his soul, but we all know many politicians are not as steadfast and grounded, their religious beliefs scaring then into manipulating hands of bishops.

The best we can do is keep on top of the church and watch their every move, and when we see them strike, we back up our allies in Congress.

Putting aside whether or not you're religious, I would hope that you would agree that no religious member of Congress should be manipulated into fearing for their salvation simply because they're doing their job.

RELATED: Republicans may now face losing funding from their party if they support repealing the Defense of Marriage Act. It appears the GOP is taking tips from the Catholic church.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Actors Missi Pyle and Shawnee Smith Wed! Only If They Really Could . . .

In a show of support for marriage equality, actors Missi Pyle and Shawnee Smith participated in a mock wedding ceremony officiated by comedian/actor/Queer As Folk star Hal Sparks.

The event was set up to promote Revenge Is... "All Love is Equal" t-shirt line which will benefit Love Honor Cherish (LHC), the Los Angeles-based grassroots group who is leading the effort behind the 2010 initiative to repeal Prop 8. (See Unite the Fight's interview with LHC regarding the repeal.)

Marilyn Barret wrote about the event on the Huffington Post. The mock ceremony sparked in her the question, "Gays and lesbians are legally protected against most forms of discrimination. What is it about marriage?"

New Jersey Heats Up As Over 250 Rally at the Capitol Monday to Push For Marriage Equality Bill Vote

Yesterday, I reported from the news I received on the ground that hundreds of marriage equality supporters rallied at Statehouse in New Jersey's capital of Trenton.

The rally, organized by the state's largest LGBT advocacy group Garden State Equality, had over 250 people reports the NJ Politiker.

Steven Goldstein of Garden State Equality took a megaphone and proclaimed to the crowd, "If the Democrats don't enact marriage equality now, after years of telling us to wait, it will cause a huge schism between the state Democratic party and its entire progressive base," he added. "And it could change the political landscape of New Jersey permanently."

This is a great video from Jay Lassiter covering yesterday's rally.

The intent of the rally was to encourage state Democrats to pass marriage equality legislation so that pro-LGBT Gov. Jon Corzine can sign the bill before he leaves office in January. Governor-elect Chris Christie is adamantly opposed to same-sex marriage and has promised to veto the bill if it comes to him. His election has discouraged lawmakers from passing it as well as the passing of Question 1 in Maine. However, a recent poll showed a small majority of New Jersey resident support marriage rights for their LGBT fellow citizens.

However, both Sen. Paul Sarlo who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee and current Senate Majority Leader Steve Sweeney, who was just elected Senate President by his peers Monday, both oppose taking up the marriage bill at this time. Yet bill co-sponsor Sen. Loretta Weinberg is still hopeful.

She "insisted the gay marriage bill isn't dead," reports the Asbury Park Press. "She said discussions would continue, tamping down persistent chatter that the measure lacks support to pass. Legislative leaders have said they won't post the bill for a vote unless it has at least 21 votes in the Senate and 41 in the Assembly."

The New York Times reported about Monday:
But Senate Democrats met to discuss the measure on Monday and — despite intense lobbying from a coalition of gay-rights advocates and other groups — did not schedule it for a vote, because they appeared unable to muster the 21 votes needed to pass it. A few Republicans have said they may support the bill, but several of the 23 Democrats have expressed reservations about it. Senator Loretta Weinberg, a sponsor of the bill, who spent the fall campaigning as Mr. Corzine’s running mate, said that despite her colleagues’ post-election apprehensions, she believed that lawmakers would make New Jersey the latest state to legalize gay marriage.

“This is an issue of fairness,” she said. “It’s not like we’re going to miss out on a chance to fix the economy during the lame-duck session because we’re spending a couple of hours debating this. It is a matter of civil rights.”
Though civil unions are legal in New Jersey, a state-commissioned study showed that the institution is not adequate and that those in unions are not treated equally to married couples. It was this report that sparked the marriage bill creation.

The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) has already been airing radio ads against the legislation but have just released a new one Monday with $500,000 spent to blast the state with it, along with direct mailers, telephone calling and online advertising. (H/T Good As You)

Jeremy at Good As You says it best, "So disgustingly misleading. We're not talking about days of debate and scores of resources. In a state where the high court has already demanded equality, and where the legislatively-implemented civil unions have failed to live up to that promise, the debate over whether or not to bump up the C.U. system to full equality should be a no-brainer."

You would think.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church leadership organized their Garden State priests to simultaneously give the same homily against marriage equality. No doubt the $2 million they have set aside to fight LGBT citizens' right to marriage will be used in New Jersey.

Garden State Equality has fought back with sharp ads of their own which caused a stir the day after Question 1 passed in Maine.

ACTION: Get involved. Go to Garden State Equality to find out how.

Monday, November 23, 2009

VIDEO: America's Best Christian Sets Her Critical Eyes on the Mormons

America's Best Christian, Mrs. Betty Bowers, calls out Mormons and schools all Americans on the unconstitutional craze of doling out civil rights by popular vote.

VIDEO: Maine High School Student Organizes Marriage Equality Rally

Antonia Carroll, a 16-year-old high school junior, organized a marriage equality rally in Bangor, Maine that took place Sunday.

“What is the difference between a man and a woman getting married and two men or two women getting married?” she asked the crowd of about 60 attendees. “It’s that Y chromosome or lack thereof in one of the partners. Who cares about Y chromosomes?”

"We will not stop, and we will not give up until we have equality for all,” she added.

Carroll says she cried on election night when Question 1 passed. If this is a sign of our future, then a bright future we will have.

Thousands Across the Nation Hold Vigils For Teen Victims of Violent Hate Crimes

Across the nation thousands attended vigils Sunday night in remembrance of Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado, a Puerto Rican gay teen who was savagely murdered and whose burned and decapitated body was discovered last weekend, as well as Jason Mattison Jr., a 15-year-old Baltimore gay teenager who was sexually assaulted and stabbed to death. His body was discovered in his aunt's closet and the suspect is a family friend.

Puerto Rican police are investigating Mercado's murder and considering how the new federal hate crimes law may be applied. An investigator sparked outrage when he suggested that Jorge's "type of lifestyle" caused the teen's untimely death.

Juan Martinez Matos has been charged with Mercado's slaying. Dante Parrish has confessed to and has been booked for Mattison's murder.

In New York City, Council Speaker Christine Quinn spoke to the four or five hundred vigil attendees.

GLAAD President Jarret Barrios also spoke:

The San Francisco Vigil:

Miriam Mercado, mother of Jorge, expressed gratitude for the support shown for her and her family during this difficult time.

Thanks to Andres of Blabbeando for translating.
Hi. My name is Miriam. I am Steven's mom. My family and I are incredibly grateful for all the love, the unconditional support that you have given me. That's what gives me the strength, in part, it gives me the force for me to bring a message: Love conquers hate. And this we have to shout to the world. Because... Steven was a human being. He was my son. He was a brother. I ask you and beg you, everyone in the world, that we should love everyone else no matter what's there. Behind of what is there, there is a human being just like my son that did not deserve this. In the name of my family and my own, I offer my hand, I don't have how to pay back every... the demonstrations and the love that I have received. So we are all going to bring a message: Love conquers hate. And together, we have the strength.
If anyone has an inkling about the pain Miriam must be experiencing, it's Judy Shepard. She has issued the following statement on Jorge's slaying.
Dennis and I, and the entire board and staff of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, stand with all who are grieving the loss of Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado in one of the most shockingly brutal hate crimes in Puerto Rico’s history.

While we are grateful to the local law enforcement officials for their swift work to apprehend the suspect in this terrible crime, we remain deeply saddened that yet another family should have to suffer the pain of such a tragedy, and that such breathtaking violence continues to be directed at gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people who are simply trying to live their lives honestly and openly.

For another young person to lose their life and be taken from their family and community due to fear, prejudice and hatred is simply unacceptable. Each of us who believe in freedom and equality must remain vocal, active, and unrelenting in calling for justice.

Our thoughts are with Mr. Lopez, all who knew and loved him, the members of his community and the millions worldwide who have been touched by his senseless death. Our family and the Foundation will continue to work to prevent similar tragedies in any way we can.
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated event. The AP reports that new FBI data released today shows that hate crimes against gays increased sharply in 2008. Overall hate crimes increased 2%, and of these there was an 11% increase of hate crimes based on sexual orientation. (Though the AP's reporting on the numbers has been called into question.)

Sadly, these incidents still won't silence the critics and haters who believe the hate crimes bill is an unnecessary, "thoughts crime" law.

ACTION ALERT! Will They or Won't They? Urgent Need to Lobby New Jersey Legislators for Marriage Equality Monday!

UPDATE: The Star-Ledger is reporting that 300 marriage equality proponents have shown up today in front of the Statehouse on the first day of the lame duck session.

Original post 11/20/09

New Jersey. What a roller coaster lately.

Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine said he'll sign a marriage equality bill if it hit his desk. The legislature looked willing and ready. But -

Corzine didn't win re-election and Republican and staunch LGBT opponent Chris Christie won. So now we're in the lame duck session and racing against the clock.

Immediately after elections, Garden State Equality releases ads in hopes of encouraging supporters to call their legislatures to vote in favor of marriage equality.

But there's some hurdles. State Sen. Paul Sarlo, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said at the beginning of the week that he didn't think the marriage bill would come up.

"Today, as I stand here, we do not have the votes in the Judiciary Committee," said Sarlo. "Until somebody can demonstrate that we have the votes in the Judiciary Committee, it will not be posted."

But according to the Star-Ledger, Sen. Steve Sweeney, who will soon take over as Senate President, is leaving the door open. Probably encouraged by yesterday's poll that showed a majority of New Jerseyans supporting marriage equality. (Though I usually fear a Bradley Effect when it comes to gay issues and polls, New Jersey has been consistent in its support.)

"I would like there to be more discussion about the economy, that’s all. Gay marriage will likely come up in lame duck. I expect it to come up," Sen. Sweeney said.

So we know we're possibly back up and running, at least with a better chance.

The bill's sponsor,
Sen. Loretta Weinberg, shares the Star-Ledger's frustration, whose editorial board says same-sex marriage supporters in the legislature need to grow a spine and "man up."

"I’ve campaigned all over the state, and based on my unscientific poll, people in New Jersey don’t care about other people’s marriages," Weinberg says. "I’ve never had a single person bring this up to me. And I’m talking about street fairs, restaurants, wherever. People care about their own marriages, and their ability to support their families."

ACTION: So the time is now folks, and Garden State Equality ain't messin' around.
Urgent! Join us: Garden State Equality is holding an urgent lobby day this Monday, November 23rd, beginning at 8:30am - Meet at our Trenton office across from the State House, 110 West State St. Please attend. No RSVP necessary.

The legislature is back in session on Monday. We have just learned our anti-marriage equality opponents are doing a lobby day on Monday and are turning out in droves to try to intimidate legislators. If ever there was a time to take off from work to help make history, this is it.

Parking is available at the Trenton Marriott Parking lot at 1 West LaFayette Street at the corner of West LaFayette Street and South Warren Street. If needed, Garden State Equality will reimburse you for the parking. Don't go looking for free street parking in Trenton: it's impossible to find and/or you'll have to feed a meter constantly. For a map to walk from the Trenton Marriott parking lot at 1 West LaFayette Street to Garden State Equality's office at 110 West State Street, enter the location at Map Quest.
Food and drink will be supplied. Contact Garden State Equality Field Director Hannah Johnson at with questions.

Prop 8 Proponents Get Out of Handing Over Campaign Documents . . . For Now

The proponents of Prop 8 are getting their way. For now.

On Thursday I reported that Judge Vaughn Walker, who is presiding over the federal challenge to the same-sex marriage ban, ordered for the third time that the Yes on Prop 8 campaign hand over internal campaign communications regarding messaging to the plaintiffs. These documents are important to determine the intent of those who pushed the initiative. The plaintiffs intend to prove it was animus toward the LGBT population. If they succeed, Prop 8 will violate the 14th Amendment of equal protection.

However on Friday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal granted a stay on Judge Walker's orders of discovery and gave the defendants until 5pm today, November 23, to file briefs on the merits of their appeal.

There's got to be something good in these documents. Prop 8 proponents are doing everything in their power and taking all avenues to avoid having to turn these documents over.

9th Circuit Court Stay of Discovery