From the November 30 edition of CNN's Anderson Cooper 360:
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The following is a column by Richard Socarides, president of Equality Matters.
As we prepare to launch EqualityMatters.org, Congress has just approved a bill repealing "don't ask, don't tell." This highly significant victory is an important milestone in our effort to secure full equality. No one said it better than our president, who deserves substantial credit for helping to bring about this day:
"It is time to close this chapter in our history," President Obama said in a statement. "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."
The president is making a crucial connection here. This victory not only means that gays and lesbians will be allowed to serve with the dignity they deserve, but that America is beginning to recognize that our struggle is for civil rights. America is beginning to understand that gay rights are human rights.
In order to win the "don't ask" effort, we needed not only to convince our friends that now was the time to act, but we also had overcome the homophobia of the obstructionist Republican apparatus and conservative movement. Although eight Republicans joined the Senate vote to finally right this injustice, within an hour of the vote, Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association said, "we are now stuck with sexual deviants serving openly in the U.S. military..."
"It's a tragic day for America," Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council, told the Associated Press. "But I don't think this will really affect the marriage issue very much. It's been rejected by voters in 31 states."
That's exactly where Mr. Sprigg is wrong.
Our culture is changing rapidly. Most Americans believe that gays and lesbians are entitled to the same rights and responsibilities as their fellow citizens, including now over 50 percent who believe in marriage equality.
We see other signs of progress too. For example, Ricky Martin, one of the biggest pop music stars of all time and Ken Mehlman, a former Republican Party chair turned Wall Street banker, felt comfortable enough to publicly proclaim their sexuality. Now, the gay high school kid on Fox's Glee has a great, show-stealing boyfriend. A New Jersey teenager's suicide gave new poignancy to a PSA campaign in which Americans from all walks of life, famous and not, spoke openly and candidly in record numbers about what it means to be gay and how "it gets better" - thanks to activist and writer Dan Savage.
In Washington, however, we have missed opportunities and have not so far been able to transform favorable public opinion into the powerful and undeniable force for change that it should have been. We believe that the moment for decisive action for full gay equality is here -- that this moment is a historic imperative. The goal of Equality Matters is to leverage our expertise in media and communications, and politics and policy, to support those who share that belief and help create an environment where policymakers, the courts, the media and the public at large understand that gay rights are human rights.
Despite the important victory we have just witnessed, make no mistake about it: we are still the only class of Americans for whom discrimination is codified into state and federal law. We have a lot of work to do.
Three basic commitments; and substantial progress.
President Obama made three core commitments to Americans on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. He would end "don't ask, don't tell"; fight for and sign into law legislation with basic employment anti-discrimination protections; and work hard to repeal the federal anti-gay marriage law (the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA). We have now achieved one out of three.
This milestone on "don't ask" repeal and the other progress we have made would not have been possible without true political leadership. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York is perhaps the most significant example of someone who, as she has stepped on to the national stage, has embraced the cause of equal rights for gays and lesbians as one of her signature issues. Gavin Newsom, the new lieutenant governor of California and the first elected official there to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples, is another.
There are others less well known, like Iowa State Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, who when urged to allow legislative action on reversing Iowa's court-imposed marriage equality rule, recently said: "The easy political thing for me to do years ago would have been to say, 'Oh, let's let this thing go. It's just too political and too messy.'" But, he added, "What's ugly is giving up what you believe in - that everybody has the same rights. Giving up on that? That's ugly."
And we have witnessed profound profiles in courage and conviction in the "don't ask, don't tell" debate. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff made a passionate case for open military service. Gen. John Shalikashvili and Former NATO commander Gen. Wesley Clark were other important voices. Rep. Patrick Murphy and Sen. Joe Lieberman simply refused to give up.
The "don't ask, don't tell" rule was first created in 1993. I was serving on the White House staff at the time and later became a special assistant and LGBT advisor to President Bill Clinton. The president, who supported fully open military service, was thwarted in that goal by then chairman of the Joint Chiefs Colin Powell (a Bush holdover) and Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Sam Nunn, who both strenuously opposed letting gays serve. The new rule was supposed to be a compromise of sorts - a midway point. Gays could serve, just not openly. It never turned out that way.
In the almost two decades since "don't ask, don't tell" was enacted, the world has changed dramatically. Our perceptions have changed. Our expectations are higher around issues of basic fairness, dignity, and respect, both as a result of sweeping changes in the culture and changes in our politics as well. It's hard to imagine a rule like "don't ask, don't tell" being made law today. Even President Clinton eventually denounced the law and he has since become a supporter of equal marriage rights.
Marriage equality takes center stage.
The key issue President Obama and other policymakers face now is gay marriage. In the civil rights community, it has become a litmus test of sorts on whether one supports full equality. As an Illinois state legislator, Mr. Obama favored marriage equality and a generally more expansive view of gay rights. But as he ran for higher office, his position became more cautious (he now favors civil unions), although he recently told blogger Joe Sudbay that "attitudes evolve, including mine."
While some policymakers still exist in both parties who think that support for marriage equality is too much to ask, positions on this issue are changing rapidly as the culture of the country progresses. Former Vice President Dick Cheney, former first lady Laura Bush, former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olsen, former party chair Ken Mehlman, and Cindy and Meghan McCain all form the core of Republican supporters of marriage equality.
With New York Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo pushing for marriage equality legislation in the state early this spring and the federal court about to confer it (again) in California, it may not be long before it is the norm for many citizens across the country because of momentum created outside Washington, including in Iowa and the Northeastern states. In fact, in addition to New York, pro-marriage governors were also elected this year in California, Maryland, Minnesota, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire.
Another important factor in the evolution of where we are today is the democratizing impact that "new media" and the Internet have had on the equality movement. Bloggers like John Aravosis, David Mixner, Pam Spaulding, Joe Sudbay and Andy Towle have been an invaluable resource, providing up-to-date, provocative information to the gay political community that it could not get elsewhere.
Partially as an outgrowth of all this information, new gay rights groups like Get Equal and Fight Back New York, formed just this year, were able to demonstrate that you could get results by being tough on friend and foe alike (a fact almost no one in Washington seems to get).
The struggle for marriage equality goes back to the late 1980s when groups like Lambda Legal and leaders like civil rights attorney Evan Wolfson (now head of the equality group Freedom to Marry), brought the original same-sex marriage case. Many, even those who were gay rights supporters then, thought they were asking too much. The truth is that they were visionaries.
Last year, following voter approval of the anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 in California, another visionary, Chad Griffin, formed the American Foundation for Equal Rights. He hired two of the best lawyers in America, one of them the most respected conservative legal figure in the country, former Republican Solicitor General Ted Olson and Democratic legal superstar David Boies. Together, they have since won the most sweeping gay rights court ruling in history.
That ruling captured an historical imperative. Supporting full equal rights is no longer out of the political mainstream, nor should we let our elected officials fail to seize this moment in history to embrace the dignity of each and every human being. Anyone who misses the opportunity will undoubtedly find themselves on the wrong side of history.
And as the Democratic Party starts work on its new national party platform next year, it will have to face the issue head on, as will President Obama.
The challenges ahead.
Historically, some Democrats have believed in the faulty premise that voters who care about gay equality have no alternative but to support all Democrats. In fact, even within the Democratic Party there has always been a range of views, including some real champions (Howard Dean, for example, was the first significant political leader to support early civil unions) and some not.
Now we have even more options. In my home state of New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, another marriage equality supporter and a Republican-turned-Independent, has staked out many aggressively pro-gay positions.
The gay Log Cabin Republicans made an important contribution earlier this year when their long languishing federal court case become the first to significantly and broadly strike down "don't ask, don't tell."
Then comes the issue of money. Gay and lesbian donors to the Democratic Party are frustrated with the sometimes slow place of change. Moreover, gay rights have become significantly more important to progressive donors generally, who are directing their substantial resources toward those who support full equality, ignoring those who don't.
Washington-based gay rights groups have faced daunting challenges in the past two years. With friends in power, it often seems like change should come more easily. As a former White House official, I understand how that view is part of the Beltway culture. Additionally, whenever a new Democratic administration arrives, especially when it is preceded by a conservative one, progressives generally have long lists of items they all want done right away. The fact is, not everything can be first on the list. I understand that, too.
But equality groups have had another huge obstacle. They have had to try to be strategic sometimes without clear and consistent White House guidance. Let's face it: LGBT rights lobbyists were in the same position as many other progressive activists (for example, those for immigration and climate change) - they often had to make strategy decisions based on mixed signals from the administration.
Because President Obama lacked close relationships or long-standing political connections to gay rights leaders, he should have appointed a senior staff person to oversee policy formulation on equality issues across the government from the start.
During the early days of the new administration, in a Washington Post op-ed I urged President Obama to talk about equal rights with the passion he seemed to project during the campaign. That is exactly what he did following passage of the "don't ask, don't tell" bill this past weekend. When I read the president's statement I knew, again, that he was with us.
Now, even with an incoming Congress not fully in his corner, the president still has enormous power to fight ongoing discrimination through enforcement regulations and by instructing the Justice Department to fight for an expansion of rights rather than a contraction of them.
Going forward, we must continue to do battle against the cynical obstructionists of the right-wing apparatus and conservative movement who still try to exploit fear for their own partisan and anti-Obama political reasons. It's clear the right-wing wants to continue to have this fight through the upcoming presidential election and -- as candidate Bob Dole tried to do against Bill Clinton in 1996 with the issue of marriage -- use it as a wedge against Democrats and progressives.
At the same time, we should insist that President Obama show moral leadership on marriage equality by not only endorsing it now, but by using his considerable powers of persuasion to help all Americans understand why equality matters.
On December 19, the New York Times reported that Media Matters for America is lauching Equality Matters, a new media and communications initiative in support of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality.
The Times' Sheryl Gay Stolberg wrote:
As gay people around the country reveled on Sunday in the historic Senate vote to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," a liberal media watchdog group said it planned to announce on Monday that it was setting up a "communications war room for gay equality" in an effort to win the movement's next and biggest battle: for a right to same-sex marriage.
The new group, Equality Matters, grew out of Media Matters, an organization backed by wealthy liberal donors -- including prominent gay philanthropists -- that has staked its claim in Washington punditry with aggressive attacks on Fox News and conservative commentators like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.
It will be run by Richard Socarides, a former domestic policy adviser to President Bill Clinton who has been deeply critical of President Obama's record on gay rights. A well-known gay journalist, Kerry Eleveld, the Washington correspondent for The Advocate, will leave that newspaper in January to edit the new group's Web site, equalitymatters.org, which is to go online Monday morning.
"Yesterday was a very important breakthrough," Mr. Socarides said in an interview on Sunday, "and President Obama's comments, especially following the vote, were very significant, where he for the first time connected race and gender to sexual orientation under the banner of civil rights.
"But we will celebrate this important victory for five minutes, and then we have to move on, because we are the last group of Americans who are discriminated against in federal law and there is a lot of work to do."
Mr. Obama signed the hate crimes bill into law last year, and he is expected to sign the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal before he leaves for Hawaii this week, although he and military leaders face additional steps before the actual reversal of the policy.
But the nondiscrimination and marriage bills are stalled on Capitol Hill, and now that Republicans are about to take over the House and increase their numbers in the Senate, it is widely agreed that the political climate for gay rights in Washington is about to worsen.
For the gay rights movement, the right to marry is the holy grail, because so many other benefits -- including Social Security and health benefits for gay partners, adoption rights, tax benefits and others -- flow from it.
While a range of groups are working to advance gay rights, the movement has lacked a national rapid-response war room of the sort that can push back against homophobic messages in the media and the political arena and keep the pressure on elected officials, said David Mixner, a gay author and activist.
"I think the lesson we have learned over the last two years is that you've got to be tough," Mr. Mixner said, "and you've got to keep people's feet to the fire."
The organizers of Equality Matters say that is their intent. Mr. Socarides and the founder of Media Matters, David Brock, said they began planning Equality Matters several months ago. They quickly persuaded Ms. Eleveld, who covered the Obama campaign and has covered Washington for the last two years, to join them.
"I've spent the past two years with a front-row seat to history, and the longer I sat there the more I felt drawn to participating," Ms. Eleveld said in an interview.
Equality Matters, Mr. Brock said, should "expose right-wing bigotry and homophobia wherever we find it" and "stiffen the spines of progressives." That, he said, did not change with the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell." He said Equality Matters was planned long before anyone in Washington had an inkling that repeal might actually succeed.
"We believe the big battle is full equality, which is gay marriage," he said.
Media Matters today announced the launch of EqualityMatters.org, a new media and communications initiative in support of gay equality. Joining EqualityMatters.org as President is Richard Socarides. A leading gay rights advocate for over two decades, Socarides previously served as White House Special Assistant and principal adviser to President Bill Clinton on gay civil rights issues.
Below is a sampling of Equality Matters President Richard Socarides' op-eds pushing for full LGBT equality.
POLITICO: A way forward on gay marriage
August 18, 2010
The recent sweeping federal court ruling striking down California's gay marriage ban as unconstitutional provides President Barack Obama, a constitutional law scholar, with an important opportunity to shift his views on same-sex marriage. He can do so by reminding people that respect for the constitution, the rule of law and the courts are the principles upon which this country was founded.
When he ran for president, Obama took the position that while he was for equal rights for gays, he favored civil unions over marriage. (Earlier, as a candidate for the Illinois state Senate in 1996, he had supported full same-sex marriage rights.)
His presidential campaign view seemed fine for most gay voters at the time (despite its apparent political expediency), and he received their overwhelming support in the general election. But that position is now untenable for several reasons.
First, where you stand on the issue of marriage has become a kind of political litmus test for gay voters on whether you support full or partial equality. It is now seen as a proxy for whether you believe gays and lesbians are entitled to full dignity, respect and inclusion in every aspect of American society. And whether, in essence, our struggle for equality is worthy as a civil rights movement. Just saying you are for equal rights will no longer cut it.
Chad Griffin, president of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which brought the Perry v. Schwarzenegger case in California, said immediately after the ruling: "Today we begin the process of saying to the millions of people who are made to feel ostracized, besieged, bullied and ashamed of how God made them -- be who you are, love who you love and marry who you wish to marry."
That is not someone talking about just a marriage license, and if Judge Vaughn Walker's reasoning is upheld, it is hard to believe that any law that discriminates against gays would be constitutional.
Moreover, as the Perry case and its high-profile legal dream team of Ted Olson and David Boies continue to focus attention on the issue, Obama's position becomes increasingly important to the liberal (and younger) voters that helped elect him -- voters who are already less enthusiastic, according to recent polling.
They realize that the external political environment has an impact on the Supreme Court and that the president's views could be an important factor. Obama can no longer continue to allow his Justice Department to vigorously defend the constitutionality of anti-gay laws in court -- laws he then says should be repealed.
The day after the California ruling, White House aide David Axelrod reiterated the president's current position, telling MSNBC, "The president does oppose same-sex marriage, but he supports equality for gay and lesbian couples in benefits and other issues, and that has been effectuated in federal agencies under his control. He supports civil unions, and that's been his position throughout. So nothing has changed."
That was a missed opportunity.
Support for equal benefits, but not for equal status -- a gay "separate but equal" rule -- is contrary to what Obama stands for, both as a person and as a symbol of expanding freedoms and opportunities. Continuing on this course will lose him and his fellow Democrats the support and enthusiasm of a large block of his base voters.
But can President Obama, who once supported gay marriage, only to oppose it now, change his position again? The answer is yes -- and he in fact has no choice.
People understand that most public officials who now support gay marriage once opposed it. It wasn't until after they left office that Bill Clinton and Al Gore (and, most recently, Laura Bush) said that they favored marriage equality. As Nate Silver recently wrote on his blog FiveThirtyEight.com: "Does anyone really believe, in a country that is becoming close to evenly divided on gay marriage, that Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Kerry are among the half who oppose it? "
The sooner Obama changes his answer on this most important equal-rights issue of the day, the better off he will be. The Perry ruling provides the right opportunity to shift his emphasis and provide real leadership, reminding people that in this country, we look to the courts for direction on what our Constitution requires.
It might also help the president's popularity with those that elected him, and it puts him and his party on the right side of the equality question, where he, of course, belongs and presumably wants to be.
Huffington Post: A Summer for Gay Rights
July 18, 2010
This is shaping up as the summer of gay rights in the courts. The twin victories last week from the US District Court in Massachusetts striking down as unconstitutional key portions of the anti-gay "Defense of Marriage Act" and the eagerly anticipated decision in the federal Proposition 8 case in California have made for enormous excitement in the legal and civil rights communities.
We are at a tipping point in which the federal courts appear finally willing to recognize and more aggressively enforce civil rights for gay and lesbian Americans. Much as they did for African Americans a generation ago.
In the Proposition 8 gay marriage case especially (Perry v. Schwarzenegger), lawyers Ted Olson and David Boies have made a comprehensive and overwhelming case for basic fairness and full equality. Their opponents, on the other hand, presented no credible expert testimony and made arguments so flimsy -- and at times even patently false - that a ruling in their favor appears highly unlikely. The decision is expected soon.
Despite all this, there remains some marginalized skepticism from some unusual critics.
But here's another statistic: at the time that the Supreme Court struck down the remaining state laws banning interracial marriage in Loving v. Virginia, the Gallup Poll found that some 72% of Americans were opposed to interracial marriage. At one time or another, 37 states had passed anti-miscegenation laws. When civil rights are being infringed, "sticking out its neck" to protect minority rights is not only something the Supreme Court does, it is one of the primary reasons for the Court's existence.
Both Rauch and Capehart are ignoring not only our political history, but the history of civil rights advances through court rulings. Importantly, there is now an emerging consensus among gay rights advocates that these cases, including the one brought by Olson and Boies on behalf of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, can succeed and that the timing is right.
Wall Street Journal: Obama Is Missing in Action on Gay Rights
June 25, 2010
President Obama celebrated Gay Pride Month earlier this week by telling guests at a White House reception that he still favors full equality for gays and lesbians. But despite a steady trickle of small steps Mr. Obama has taken to promote gay rights, on the big issues he is a disappointment.
It's true that this president is no George W. Bush, or John McCain, for that matter. He signed into law a long-sought amendment to the federal hate-crimes statute, which added sexual orientation as a protected class. Many cabinet agencies have taken steps to make their rules and regulations more gay-friendly, most significantly with respect to issues like hospital visitation and, earlier this week, some aspects of family medical leave. That's all good news.
Mr. Obama entered office with greater immediate challenges confronting him than most. But after eight years of benign neglect (at best) from Washington, and a campaign in which Mr. Obama promised to be our champion, gay Americans had good reason to expect more from this president, and now are understandably frustrated.
In a telling development, the most significant and aggressive legal effort to promote gay equality today is being led by a conservative, former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson. In federal court in San Francisco, together with co-counsel David Boies, he is prosecuting the most comprehensive and sophisticated legal attack on antigay marriage laws in history.
As that case unfolded--the decision will come later this summer--we learned last month that former First Lady Laura Bush supports gay marriage. Add her to the growing list that includes Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Dick Cheney, and Cindy and Meghan McCain.
When Mr. Olson's case reaches the U.S. Supreme Court in a year or more from now, will Mr. Obama be one of the few left on the wrong side of history? What a bitter irony that would be.
Wall Street Journal: Ask Obama About Don't Ask, Don't Tell
January 24, 2010
Many question why the White House avoided dealing with Don't Ask, Don't Tell last year, when Democrats had big majorities in Congress and polls showed that a majority of Americans favor changing the policy. A Quinnipiac poll in April, for example, found that 56% of Americans support repealing the policy.
A big part of the reason why the White House hesitated is fear of a backlash similar to the one suffered by President Bill Clinton in 1993 when he tried to allow gays to serve openly in the military. Recently we saw the potential beginning of an antigay fear campaign--much like the one in 1993 when then Sen. Sam Nunn (D., Ga.) was leading the charge--in the form of a leaked memo from a legal adviser to Mr. Mullen. The legal adviser opined that "now is not the time" to lift the ban because of "the importance of winning the wars we are in." Also, the New York Times reported recently that the Pentagon had begun considering "the practical implications of a repeal--for example, whether it would be necessary to change shower facilities and locker rooms because of privacy concerns."
Fortunately, these scare tactics are for the most part relics of an older era. People understand that our military needs every talented American it can get, and that excluding gays from the military detracts from our ability to win wars.
Most people also understand that we are long past the point where our military personnel need to be reminded about appropriate behavior on duty, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. Men and women serve side by side today in combat, as do gay and straight service members, without incident.
If repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell becomes impossible in the shifting congressional dynamic this year (despite bipartisan support), the president has several options that would stop the discharge of gay American soldiers.
Current law does not require the services to discharge members based on sexual orientation per se. Rather, it looks to certain conduct to create a presumption for discharge. Thus, the Department of Defense has the authority to devise regulations that determine when such prohibited conduct has occurred. Defense could also interpret the Don't Ask, Don't Tell statute more literally (as intended) and refuse to discharge a service member unless he willfully discloses that he is gay, which almost never happens. Finally, Defense could invoke current regulations to retain gay service members in the interest of national security. All are good options.
January 11, 2010
Today, in a courtroom in California, a historic trial is beginning, one which may eventually decide the direction of civil liberties and constitutional rights in the United States into the foreseeable future.
That trial is Perry v. Schwarzenegger, and the battle for that most basic of civil rights, the right to marriage for anyone, regardless of sexual orientation, is now officially underway.
Theodore B. Olson, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, delivered his opening remarks this morning starting at 9 AM PT. In these, he reminded the court that "in the words of the highest court in the land, marriage is the most important relationship in life," and that basing the right to that relationship "on characteristics of an individual" is unconstitutional. He also noted that the stop-gap of domestic partnerships currently available in some states is an unequal alternative, and moreover, sounds like "a commercial venture."
"Proposition 8 singled out gay men and lesbians as a class, swept away their right to marry, pronounced them unequal, and declared their relationships inferior and less-deserving of respect and dignity."
Mr. Olson continued, noting that according to the California Supreme Court itself, "eliminating the right of individuals to marry a same-sex partner relegated those individuals to 'second class' citizenship, and told them, their families and their neighbors that their love and desire for a sanctioned marital partnership was not worthy of recognition." He then went on to lay out reasons for the importance of marriage, the harm Proposition 8 has done to gay and lesbian couples, and the lack of any valid reasons behind this exclusion.
Olson, a conservative who served as the attorney for the Bush side of Bush v. Gore, has received significant media attention for his involvement in this case. In an essay recently published inNewsweek entitled "The Conservative Case for Gay Marriage," he explained his reasoning, noting that he sees this as an issue of "recognition of basic American principles[and] commitment to equal rights," not a reason to invoke politics. He went on to say that "Americans who believe in the Constitution's guarantees of equal protection and equal dignity before the law cannot sit by while this wrong continues."
(President Bill Clinton recently agreed, saying that his former reluctance to endorse gay marriages was because he was "hung up about the word," and that he "was wrong about that...I had an untenable position.")
Mr. Olson's remarks are just the beginning of a three-week trial, which is eventually expected to be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court. Though Federal Judge Vaughn Walker had originally agreed to air the trial on YouTube, with some delay, the Supreme Court this morning overturned that decision, meaning that, at least until Wednesday, cameras will not be allowed inside the courtroom.
Nevertheless, this trial, a landmark of civil rights for our time, is sure to draw the eyes of the world. The stakes could not be higher, but as Olson said today: "that is exactly why we have courts, why we have the Constitution and why we have the 14th Amendment....That is why we are here today."
AMERICAblog: The Choice to Defend DOMA, and Its Consequences
June 14, 2009
Like many other gay people who support the president, and as someone who had hoped he would be a presidential-sized champion of gay civil rights from the start, I was disturbed by his administration's brief defending the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), filed late last week, in opposition to our full equality.
It had such a buckshot approach to it, a veritable kitchen sink of anti-gay legal theories, that it seemed expressly designed to inflict maximal damage to our rights. Instead of making nuanced arguments which took into account the president's oft-stated support for repealing DOMA - a law he has called "abhorrent" - the brief seemed to embrace DOMA and all its horrific consequences.
I was equally troubled by the administration's explanation that they had no choice but to defend the law. As an attorney and as someone who was directly involved in giving advice on such matters to another president (as a Special Assistant for civil rights to President Bill Clinton), I know that this is untrue.
No matter what the president's personal opinion, administration officials now tell us that the US Department of Justice (DOJ) must defend the laws on the books, and must advance all plausible arguments in doing so. Thus, the theory goes, the DOJ was just following the normal rules in vigorously defending the anti-gay law.
I know and accept the fact that one of the Department of Justice's roles is to (generally) defend the law against constitutional attack. But not in all cases, certainly not in this case - and not in this way. To defend this brief is to defend the indefensible.
From my experience, in a case where, as here, there are important political and social issues at stake, the president's relationship with the Justice Department should work like this: The president makes a policy decision first and then the very talented DOJ lawyers figure out how to apply it to actual cases. If the lawyers cannot figure out how to defend a statute and stay consistent with the president's policy decision, the policy decision should always win out.
I am still hopeful that much can be accomplished over the course of this presidency. But I strongly believe that to do so we must make it loud and clear that we will not be sacrificed to the altar of political expediency, that there will be a steep price to pay if our constitutional rights are ignored or put off indefinitely, and that a deeply offensive brief like the one filed last week will not be allowed to go unchallenged.
As we approach the 40th anniversary of Stonewall, I'm reminded of something President Obama said during the campaign: "Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek."
Washington Post: Where's Our 'Fierce Advocate'?
May 2, 2009
As an adviser on gay rights to President Bill Clinton during his second term, I know how hard it is to achieve real progress. We learned that lesson acutely during Clinton's abortive first-term attempt to allow gays to serve in the military, an outcome for which he is still paying a steep legacy price.
But recent victories on gay marriage, a youth-driven paradigm shift in public opinion and the election of our first African American president make this a uniquely opportune moment to act.
I understand that the president has his hands full saving the economy. But across a broad spectrum of issues -- including women's rights, stem cell research and relations with Cuba -- the Obama administration has shown a willingness to exploit this change moment to bring about dramatic reform.
So why not on gay rights? Where is our New Deal?
It is the memory of 1993's gays-in-the-military debacle (and a desire never to repeat it) that has both the president's advisers and policy advocates holding back, waiting for some magical "right time" to move boldly.
This is a bad strategy. President Obama will never have more political capital than he has now, and there will never be a better political environment to capitalize on. People are distracted by the economy and war, and they are unlikely to get stirred up by the right-wing rhetoric that has doomed efforts in the past.
And people are willing to try new approaches. The court ruling legalizing gay marriage in Iowa represents a real opening, an opportunity to get "undecideds" to take another look not only at gay marriage but at gay rights in general. As Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin remarked, many Americans may be asking themselves, "If the [Iowa] Supreme Court said this, maybe I have to think anew."
Here is what Obama should do to seize this opportunity:
First, he should start talking about gay rights again, the way he did during the campaign. What made Clinton such a transformational figure of inclusion was his constant willingness to talk to and about gay people. When he said, "I have a vision and you are a part of it," you could feel his sincerity.
As president, Obama barely mentions gay and lesbian Americans. During his first 100 days, he has done so only while defending his selection of inauguration speakers. He was silent after the announcement of the Iowa decision -- one of the most important gay civil rights victories ever.
Second, he should move swiftly, as he promised during the campaign, to help secure passage of the bill now moving through Congress imposing new federal penalties for anti-gay hate crimes, as well as legislation allowing gays to serve in the military. Ten years have passed since Matthew Shepard was killed. We have endured 15 years of "don't ask, don't tell" discrimination. We have waited long enough.
Third, he should appoint a high-ranking, respected, openly gay policy advocate to oversee government efforts toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. Give this person access to policymakers, similar to what has been done on urban policy and for people with disabilities. This is especially important because, unlike Clinton, who had gay friends such as David Mixner, Roberta Achtenberg and Bob Hattoy around to nudge him, Obama has no high-profile gay senior aides with a history in the gay rights movement.
Finally, Obama should champion comprehensive, omnibus federal gay civil rights legislation, similar to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation and granting a basic umbrella of protections in employment, education, housing and the like (rather than the existing piecemeal approach to legislation). Such a bill should also provide for federal recognition of both civil unions and marriages as they are authorized by specific states.
Obama is in a good position, and the time is ripe for a new approach. Taking these steps might spare the country the trauma of devolving into a pervasive and divisive debate over gay marriage, which, after all, is not the only issue of concern to gay and lesbian Americans.
Gay voters who supported Barack Obama remain positive about him, and most are prepared to be patient. It's still early on gay rights for the Obama administration -- but now is the time to act boldly.
In a December 17 column at WorldNetDaily, Joseph Farah encouraged U.S. service members to leave the military if Congress were to lift the ban on openly gay service, writing, "As much as I respect and admire the U.S. military as an institution, I would find myself actively encouraging men and women to leave - in droves." Farah also wondered, "So what's next if the U.S. military opens up its ranks to flaming homosexuals, transsexuals, transvestites, lesbians and other sexual deviants du jour?" From the post:
So what's next if the U.S. military opens up its ranks to flaming homosexuals, transsexuals, transvestites, lesbians and other sexual deviants du jour?
According to the Pentagon's survey on the impact of the move, 265,000 military service people would leave earlier than planned as a result of just this move. That represents 12.6 percent of all personnel, and, I think, that's low-balling it.
Military analyst Bob Maginnis, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and senior fellow for national security at the Family Research Council, said the real number could exceed half a million.
"Twelve-point-six percent is just the people who said they would leave," Maginnis told WND. "If you add in the number who said they 'might' leave, you get 23.7 percent. That would be 528,000, when you count both active duty and reserves."
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As much as I respect and admire the U.S. military as an institution, I would find myself actively encouraging men and women to leave - in droves.
If the U.S. military is going to be transformed into just another tool of twisted social engineering, rather than a force designed to defend America's national security interests, dedicated, brave and upstanding young men and women should no longer participate of their own free will. It's just that simple. Let the politicians cobble together a military of social deviants if they think they can.
After all, this is simply a plan being orchestrated by a regime that loathes the military and seeks to destroy it. Maybe it's time for America to recognize what that will mean to the future of the country.
As Media Matters previously noted, most respondents to the Pentagon's DADT survey said repeal would not affect their career plans, and predictions that integration would hurt retention proved false in foreign militaries.
Even when Fox is reporting on a completely innocuous story, they can't help themselves from lying. Fox & Friends ran a segment hosting one of their most prominent advertisers, the Foundation for a Better Life, and purporting to report "who's behind" the group, they hosted an unobjectionable, heroic woman who is featured in one of their ads. But, she's not "who's behind" the group; indeed, it doesn't even seem that she works for them. In fact, the actual people behind the group are right-wing, religious, anti-gay conservatives.
As any Fox News viewer knows, the Foundation for a Better Life is a pretty prominent advertiser on the network. Their commercials follow a similar pattern, usually a short vignette or montage with little to no dialogue, featuring people demonstrating some sort of positive behavior. Sometimes they will show a student refusing to help his friend cheat, a mother encouraging her son to find the things he's best at, a basketball player coming clean about a bad call that a ref made. The personal favorite for many of us depicts a man remembering the things he loves about his wife and deciding to go back to her, despite the fact that they fought, and she burned his steak dinners for a whole year. Set to country music.
These ads almost invariably end with the ad naming the positive quality displayed in the ad and encouraging you to "pass it on." These include things like honesty, patience, generosity, so on. The fact that the commercials don't ask you to do anything, and the website doesn't ask for money, makes this group unique to say the least. So when this morning's Fox & Friends told us they were going to show us who is behind these somewhat cryptic ads, we were intrigued. But, somehow, the show let us down again.
Co-host Steve Doocy teased the segment by saying: "Straight ahead have you seen these commercials about paying it forward? We wanted to know who makes them and who's the group behind them? We found out. The very cool story behind the message is coming up." While Doocy was speaking, they aired video of the Foundation for a Better Life ad, which depicts a real life story of a high school student with Downs Syndrome being named Prom Queen. Watch:
Yet when they got around to the segment on "who's the group behind" the ads, they hosted a woman named Oral Lee Brown, whose experience with a young girl prompted her to "adopt" an entire class of 23 first graders and put up the money for them all to go to college. On $45,000 per year. Her story is truly amazing and certainly one worthy of national attention. But it has nothing to do with who is "behind" the Foundation for a Better Life. In fact, despite Fox identifying her as a "face" of the organization, Ms. Brown doesn't even appear to work for them; her story is simplyfeatured on one of the group's advertisements.
So who is behind the Foundation for a Better Life?
During World War II it was Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal, El Alamein and Okinawa. Then came Korea's Pusan, Inchon and Chosin. In Vietnam it was the Tet Offensive and Battle of Saigon. Thousands of battles followed in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Now members of Congress have the choice of following the expert military advice offered by the U.S. veterans who gave their life's blood, sweat and tears on those far-flung battlefields -- or Lady Gaga.
Unruh goes on to contrast the American Legion's opposition to repeal with support of repeal from "a pop star."
Of course, Lady Gaga is not alone in offering "expert military advice" in calling for Congress to end the DADT policy; Defense Secretary Robert Gates supports repeal, as does Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; former chairmen Colin Powell and John Shalikashvili; more than 100 other retired generals and admirals; former National Security Advisor Gen. Jim Jones; and former Defense Secretary and Vice President Dick Cheney.
In other news, WND's list of "high-profile personalities and leaders who have raised questions about Barack Obama's eligibility to occupy the Oval Office" includes noted presidential eligibility expert and Baltimore Orioles designated hitter Luke Scott.
On Monday, in response to Frank Rich's argument that "in establishment Washington … homophobia is at most a misdemeanor" I noted that at the Washington Post, it is not even a misdemeanor. As it turns out, that was too kind: At the Washington Post, homophobia is a job qualification.
The Post's On Faith microsite, which has long promoted the bigoted rantings of homophobes and Muslim-bashers, and endorsed this hateful rhetoric as the mark of "respectful" dialogue by "distinguished" panelists, has now created a new blog, Religious Right Now for Jordan Sekulow.
Sekulow has previously used his status as an On Faith panelist to approvingly quote biblical references to homosexuality as an "abomination" and "unnatural" and "indecent" and "perversion." And to attack Islam and endorse loopy claims about Sharia Law coming to Oklahoma.
The Post's announcement of Sekulow's new blog is all the more striking in light of the Post's revelation this morning that fully 70 percent of white evangelicals support allowing gays to serve openly in the military. Jordan Sekulow, whose new blog is supposed to represent the religious right to Post readers (as if that perspective was going unrepresented!) does not.
The new ABC/Washington Post poll about public attitudes towards gays serving in the military contains an interesting data point: Not only do 77 percent of all Americans think gays should be able to serve openly, but 70 percent of white evangelicals agree.
Let me say that again: 70 percent of white evangelicals think gays should be able to serve openly in the military.
This should serve as a lesson for journalists who tend to treat Tony Perkins and Bill Donohue as representative of people of faith: They aren't. The Washington Post, for example, routinely presents Perkins and Donohue (not to mention Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck) as respectable spiritual leaders, omitting mention of their hateful and divisive behavior. The Post poll's finding that an overwhelming majority of even white evangelicals believe gays should be able to serve openly is yet another reminder that bigots like Perkins, Donohue and their ilk are granted a larger and more respectful media platform than is justified by either the merit or popularity of their views.
As I was saying: The Washington Post just loves gay-bashing. Here's WaPo On Faith contributor John Mark Reynolds:
Romantic love is spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and physical. It is what happens when a woman or man discovers that there are other humans, equally people, but different from self. This other "side" of humanity seems designed to complement our souls.
It is the deepest form of sexism to believe that women or men could be replaced in such a relationship. Whatever the survey says at the moment, men and women complete each other in a unique way.
So, if you're gay (or merely someone who thinks gay relationships are natural and legitimate) you're really guilty of "the deepest form of sexism." Reynolds has previously used the platform granted him by the Post to compare gay rights advocates to racists and to call them "the hateful" and to refer to support for gay rights as "prejudice."
Oh, also, married Jews and Muslims and atheists aren't really married:
There is no real marriage outside the Church of Jesus Christ for this reason: God is the end of marriage, for only an eternal and infinite God can contain the explosive fecundity that can come when the two halves of the Image of God are united and made one. A great reason to become a Christian is that only in Christ's Church can the male and the female find completion in each other.
Good to know.
Looks like New York Times columnist Frank Rich has been reading the Washington Post:
Think anti-gay bullying is just for small-town America? Look at the nation's capital.
The Smithsonian's behavior and the ensuing silence in official Washington are jarring echoes of those days when American political leaders stood by idly as the epidemic raged on.
It still seems an unwritten rule in establishment Washington that homophobia is at most a misdemeanor. By this code, the Smithsonian's surrender is no big deal; let the art world do its little protests. This attitude explains why the ever more absurd excuses concocted by John McCain for almost single-handedly thwarting the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" are rarely called out for what they are -- "bigotry disguised as prudence," in the apt phrase of Slate's military affairs columnist, Fred Kaplan. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council has been granted serious and sometimes unchallenged credence as a moral arbiter not just by Rupert Murdoch's outlets but by CNN, MSNBC and The [Washington] Post's "On Faith" Web site even as he cites junk science to declare that "homosexuality poses a risk to children" and that being gay leads to being a child molester.
OK, the Washington Post isn't Rich's primary target, but I can't think of a better symbol of Washington's casual acceptance of gay-bashing than a newspaper that routinely grants a platform to anti-bay bigots and publishes anti-gay screeds -- and that regularly publishes and quotes the likes of Bill Donohue railing about purported anti-Catholic bias and bigotry without once noting his own history of anti-gay speech.
Take a look at some examples:
On the December 9, 2010 broadcast of Talk Radio Network's The Savage Nation, host Michael Savage invited listeners to call in and discuss interactions between fathers and their daughter's first-dates, and took a call from Marcia from New York. Savage hung up on Marcia and went off on a bizarre rant in which he stated that she had "a voice that you know already came out of La Cage aux Folles."
The french farce La Cage aux Folles tells the story of a drag performer and his partner who host a dinner for their son's very conservative future in-laws (The play was later revived for American audiences as The Birdcage).
Savage has a history of homophobic rantings. In 2003, Savage was removed from MSNBC after telling a caller to "get AIDS and die." In 2007 Creative Artist Agency (CAA) decided to stop representing Savage after he attacked Melissa Etheridge for thanking her wife at the Academy Awards and asserted that married gay couples' raising of children amounts to "child abuse" and "makes me want to puke."
In a Washington Times op-ed, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins falsely suggested that repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" lacks support from military officials and the public. In fact, numerous military officials and an overwhelming majority of Americans support repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
This morning, Fox News' Fox & Friends and CNN's American Morning hosted Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress to promote his website that aims to root out "Grinch" businesses that "shut-out expressions of Christmas."
But what viewers didn't hear about during these appearances was Jeffress' long history of inflammatory attacks on gays, Muslims, Mormons, and Hindus.
As The New York Times reported, in 1998, as a pastor of a church in Wichita Falls, Texas, Jeffress attempted to rid an area public library of books about children with gay parents. The Times reported that Jeffress "compared his effort to proposals to protect children from tobacco advertising, saying homosexuality causes 'the deaths of tens of thousands every year through AIDS.'" The Fort Worth Star-Telegram also reported [accessed via Nexis] that Jeffress called AIDS "a gay disease."
In 2008, Jeffress delivered a sermon at his Dallas church titled, "Why Gay Is Not O.K." The Dallas Morning News reported that, in the sermon, Jeffress "addressed what he called two 'myths' about homosexuality: that prohibitions exist only in the Old Testament, and that Jesus never condemned this behavior."
Jeffress' inflammatory rhetoric hasn't been limited solely to homophobic attacks on gays.
From the December 9 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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