Showing posts with label Marriage Equality. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Marriage Equality. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Initiatives: Maine Citizens to Approve Marriage Equality?

 In less than a month,  Maine may become the first US state to adopt Marriage Equality by popular vote.

In 2009, the Maine state legislature approved same-sex marriage, but it was overturned on a citizen’s referendum by a 53-to-47 margin. But since that time, supporters have built a campaign organization that is likely to bear fruit this November. 

 “We’ve had 2 ½ years to go door-to-door and target the undecided,” said Matt McTighe, the manager of the Mainers United for Marriage campaign. In that time, over 200,000 one-on-one conversations (in a state of 1.3 millions) have taken place as a result of direct contact by volunteers. In addition, television commercials supporting same-sex marriage have been airing in Maine since the Olympics.
Today, polls show 57 percent of Mainers in support, and only 36 percent opposed. 

Turn out in Maine is expected to be heavy, not only because of the Presidential election, but because of a hotly contested three-way Senate race pitting former Governor and Independent candidate Angus King against Democrat Cynthia Dill and Republican Charlie Summers. Maine, more than any other state in the union, has a strong history of supporting Independent candidates over both major parties.  King, who leads in the polls, solidly supports the ballot initiative, as does the second-place-polling Democrat.  Only the Republican – whose support level has fallen to 16% - opposes the initiative. 

As a rule, we do not support ballot initiatives, because civil rights can not – and should not -  be subject to popular vote (or mob rule, depending on your perspective).  But it will be nice to be able to shut the mouths of those who constantly harp on the notion that ‘the people’ oppose equality.

[This is a first in a series of blog posts dedicated to the under-reported citizens' initiatives taking place around the nation] 


Sunday, September 09, 2012

Chris Kluwe: Open Letter to Emmet C. Burns, Jr.

 On the ballot this November, Marylanders will be voting on an initiative to enact Marriage Equality in that state.  Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo has  urged support for that measure (Video below), prompting a strong reaction from anti-equality legislator Emmet Burns. The Baltimore Democrat wrote to Ravens owner Steve Biscotti, urging him to silence his players. That letter was made public, and Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe - who as a gay brother-in-law and is fighting an anti-Equality initiative in Minnestota - responded with the letter below.

Dear Emmett C. Burns, Jr.,

I find it inconceivable that you are an elected official of the United States government. Your vitriolic hatred and bigotry make me ashamed and disgusted to think that you are in any way responsible for shaping policy at any level. The views you espouse neglect to consider several fundamental key points, which I will outline in great detail:

1. As I suspect you have not read the Constitution, I would like to remind you that the very first amendment in this founding document deals with the freedom of speech, particularly the abridgment of said freedom. By using your position as an elected official (when referring to your constituents in order to implicitly threaten the Ravens organization) to argue that the Ravens should silence Brendon Ayanbadejo from voicing his support for same-sex marriage, not only are you clearly violating the First Amendment, but you come across as a narcissistic fromunda stain. What on Earth would possess you to say something so mind-boggingly stupid? It baffles me that a man such as yourself, a man who relies on that same First Amendment to pursue your own religious studies without fear of persecution from the state, could somehow justify stifling another person's right to free speech. To call that "hypocritical" would be to do a disservice to the word. "Mindfuckingly, obscenely hypocritical" starts to approach it a little bit. 

2. You wrote, "Many of your fans are opposed to such a view and feel it has no place in a sport that is strictly for pride, entertainment and excitement." Holy fucking shitballs. Did you seriously just say that, as someone who is, according to your Wikipedia page, "deeply involved in government task forces on the legacy of slavery in Maryland"? Have you not heard of Kenny Washington? Jackie Robinson? As recently as 1962 the NFL still had segregation, which was only done away with by brave athletes and coaches daring to speak their mind and do the right thing, and you're going to say that political views have "no place in a sport"? I can't even begin to fathom the cognitive dissonance that must be coursing through your rapidly addled mind right now; the mental gymnastics your brain has to tortuously contort itself through to make such a preposterous statement are surely worthy of an Olympic gold medal (the Russian judge gives you a 10 for "beautiful oppressionism"). 

3. This is more a personal quibble of mine, but why do you hate freedom? Why do you hate the fact that other people want a chance to live their lives and be happy, even though they may believe in something different from what you believe, or act differently from you? How does gay marriage affect your life in any way, shape, or form? Are you worried that if gay marriage became legal, all of a sudden you'd start thinking about penis? ("Oh shit. Gay marriage just passed. Gotta get me some of that hot dong action!") Will all your friends suddenly turn gay and refuse to come to your Sunday Ticket grill-outs? (Unlikely. Gay people enjoy watching football, too.)

I can assure you that gay people getting married will have zero effect on your life. They won't come into your house and steal your children. They won't magically turn you into a lustful cockmonster. They won't even overthrow the government in an orgy of hedonistic debauchery because all of a sudden they have the same legal rights as the other 90 percent of our population, rights like Social Security benefits, childcare tax credits, family and medical leave to take care of loved ones, and COBRA health care for spouses and children. You know what having these rights will make gay Americans? Full-fledged citizens, just like everyone else, with the freedom to pursue happiness and all that that entails. Do the civil-rights struggles of the past 200 years mean absolutely nothing to you? 

In closing, I would like to say that I hope this letter in some small way causes you to reflect upon the magnitude of the colossal foot-in-mouth clusterfuck you so brazenly unleashed on a man whose only crime was speaking out for something he believed in. Best of luck in the next election; I'm fairly certain you might need it. 

Chris Kluwe 

P.S. I've also been vocal as hell about the issue of gay marriage, so you can take your "I know of no other NFL player who has done what Mr. Ayanbadejo is doing" and shove it in your closed-minded, totally-lacking-in-empathy pie hole.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Washington State Senate Approves Marriage Equality; Governor Promises to Sign

By a vote of 28-21, the Washington State Senate has just approved SB 6239, moving that state just a few days away from being the eighth American jurisdiction to establish Marriage Equality for same-sex couples. A companion bill in the State House, HB 2516, is widely expected to pass by a comfortable margin, and Governor Chris Gregoire has already announced that she will sign the bill if it gets to her desk. With California’s Marriage Equality law suspended while courts rule on the legality of “Proposition 8,” Washington would become the only western state at the current time to grant full equality to same-sex couples.

The issue was scheduled to be voted on at 6:00 pm Pacific Time, but due to seventeen amendments that were offered and breaks for party caucuses, the final vote did not take place until almost 8:00 pm. Most of the amendments were written to safeguard religious institutions and organizations, not unlike the clauses that were added in the New Hampshire and New York Marriage Equality debates, but were actually redundant as they reiterated protections already codified in state or federal constitutional law. One of the amendments included protections for faith-based social service agencies, which would exempt religious adoption agencies from litigation for refusing to place children with gay families. Proponents agreed to 13 of the 17 amendments, including the exemption for adoption agencies, and these were adopted unanimously with little fuss on the floor.

A few amendments did spark controversy, however. Amendment 15 sought to exempt public officials from performing same-sex marriages if they harbored personal religious objections. It was rejected on a voice vote.

Amendment 14 would have exempted businesses from providing services for gay ceremonies; in an early test of the eventual fate of the bill, Amendment 14 was defeated on a roll-call vote of 22 yeas and 27 nays.

Of all the amendments offered, Amendment 10 was the critical test. Amendment 10, the so-called "Referendum Amendment," sought to subject the eventual decision to a public vote. A call to "let the people vote" is a tactic that opponents of Marriage Equality have used as a rallying call in numerous states, including Maine (where voters repealed an Equalty law) and New Hampshire, where Marriage Equality remains intact. The effort to require a public vote failed by a vote of 23 to 26, foreshadowing the final vote.

Just before the vote was taken, Democratic Senator Kevin Ranker (40th District, San Juan Islands) delivered an emotional speech on the floor about his own father's coming out process and the impact of shame and discrimination on families, ending his statement saying, "today I am proud to stand on the right side of history, to fully support marriage equality and mostly, proud of my father."

While the Senate split largely along party lines, four Republicans, including Cheryl Pflug of Maple Valley and Steve Litzow of Mercer Island crossed the aisle and supported the measure, while three Democrats bolted opposed the bill.

Washington has wrangled non-stop over this issue for almost 15 years, and the vote tonight represents a seismic shift in opinion over those years.

In 1998, state legislators voted to ban same-sex marriage altogether, endorsing a state-wide version of the so-called federal DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) statute. But in 2006, legislators also adopted Washington’s first civil rights statute for gays, followed one year later with a mechanism that allowed for the registration of Domestic Partnerships. Soon thereafter, lawmakers adopted a civil unions statute that awarded same-sex couples the same rights as opposite-sex couples, except for the title of “marriage.” Conservative groups gathered enough signatures to bring this measure up for a popular vote on November 3, 2009, known as Referendum 71 (or “R-71” for short). But in a stunning turnaround of popular opinion, voters in Washington approved the measure by a vote of 53% - 47%.

The current effort to enact full Marriage Equality came down to the wire, as supporters came into the vote seemingly one vote shy of the necessary of the 25 Senate votes needed. Last week, Sen. Jim Kastama of Puyallup announced he would support the measure in the Senate, bringing the number of Senators in favor of the measure to 24, where support appeared to stall, and 6 Senators remained undecided. Reminiscent of the battle in New York State, intense lobbying ensued, with formal support being offered by Nike, Starbucks, and Microsoft, three of the state’s most visible employers. In October, a University of Washington poll found that 43 percent of Washington residents supported the measure. While still less than a majority, this was a significantly higher percentage than the 30% who supported such a measure in a poll taken in 2007. During the debate on the amendments, news services reported that Seanator Brian Hatfield announced that he would provide the 26th vote in favor of the Bill.

Assuming the bill is passed in the House and signed by the Governor, as expected, the law would take effect in June unless opponents find a mechanism to forestall its implementation in court or through petition and referendum.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Masks, GLBT rights, & GOP Presidential Politics

This month saw the 25th Year Anniversary performance in London of the Phantom of the Opera - the highest-grossing entertainment event of all time, the most financially successful theatrical show in history, and the longest running show on Broadway. Around the world, the show is easily identified - even by those who have never seen it - by the trademark Phantom’s Mask

Masks have always intrigued me. Fascinated, terrified, and intrigued me.

As a child, clowns scared me. They still do. There is something evil and scary about clown make-up to me; it is a very obvious statement that what you “see” before you is not what is “really” underneath. Something is being prettified, or changed, or hidden; something awful is being presented as if it’s funny and joyful. I don’t like them.

I was drawn into the 1998 film, “The Man in the Iron Mask,” which itself was based on the Alexandre Dumas novel of an actual man imprisoned in the Bastille. In the movie, it is proposed that the prisoner was the twin brother of King Louis XIV - but he was kept hidden from view behind locked prison doors, his face encased in a locked iron mask so no one would recognize him as an heir to the throne. Had his true self been revealed, it would upset the established social and political order, and so the King insisted that no one be permitted to see him.

As a gay man living a closeted existence for several decades, I could identify with that.

Just as I can identify with the Phantom.

Of course, in the Phantom’s case, no one forces him to wear his mask. Rather, it is his fear of rejection, and the public's revulsion at his "differentness," his disfigured face, that causes him to hide. He voluntarily wears the mask to obscure his true identity, and lives in the shadows of the Opera House’s basement. There he can continue his life's musical work without fear of rejection. I can identify with the Phantom even more than with the Man in the Iron Mask.

I recall a heated discussion I had six years ago about the Phantom. I was admittedly sympathetic to him, understanding his perspective. The woman with whom I was speaking was outraged. “He is a monster! He’s a liar! He manipulates and uses people! How can you defend him?!” I suspected that she was seeing this from her very personal perspective, just as I was seeing from mine.

Which brings me to the main point of this blog post: the scrambling by Republican presidential candidates to shove masks back on our faces.

Here in New Hampshire, we go through the every-four-year sideshow of Presidential-wannabes traipsing through the state seeking a First-in-The-Nation Primary win. And as Primary day gets closer, each candidate tries to outflank the next in securing votes. This week, they tried to outdo each other on the issue of Marriage [In]Equality.

In August, Rick Perry had signed a pledge to support a Constitutional Amendment banning Marriage Equality nation-wide. This past Friday, at a dinner hosted by the extreme right-wing “Cornerstone Action,” Perry shored up his credentials, adding,

"As conservatives…We believe in the sanctity of traditional marriage, and I applaud those legislators in New Hampshire who are working to defend marriage as an institution between one man and one woman, realizing that children need to be raised in a loving home by a mother and a father."

Perry was referring to the current effort by the NH House to repeal the 2009 NH Marriage Equality bill.

Mitt Romney, despite pledging his personal support as an advocate of GLBT rights to the Log Cabin Republicans in 1994, turned around and signed the pledge calling for a federal amendment defining marriage as one-man and one-woman. Rick Santorum has stated that there is “no right to privacy in the U.S. Constitution” (50 years of Court decisions say otherwise), and called gay rights to the equivalent of another 9-11 terrorist attack in the Morning Call. This actually sounds like a remix of Michelle Bachmann’s letter in which she declared that legislators who oppose a federal Marriage Amendment to be like “soldiers who missed the Pearl Harbor warning signs.”

Speaking (or should I say ”pandering?”) to the Christian Broadcasting Network, Last week possible front-runner Herman Cain said,

“I think marriage should be protected at the federal level also…I used to believe that it could be just handled by the states but there’s a movement going on to basically take the teeth out of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and that could cause an unraveling, so we do need some protection at the federal level because of that and so yes I would support legislation that would say that it’s between a man and a woman.”

Make no mistake: Theocratic political action groups such as the National Organization for Marriage and Cornerstone Action are scrambling to find ways to lock iron masks on gay men and women, lest the world see us for who we are: neighbors, teachers, firefighters, sons, daughters, architects, sports figures, secretaries, construction workers, accountants, warehousemen, drivers, and nurses.

If we can’t be seen, or acknoweldged, or recognized, they hope, we will be forgotten, as if locked in the Bastille.

As they attempt to re-introduce a climate of fear and loathing, they work on our psyche much as the crowds worked on the Phantom’s psyche: by convincing him that he was ugly, that he was different, that he would be attacked by ‘normal’ people...and just as he chose to live his life behind a mask so no one could see, so, still, do many gay and lesbian citizens.

After all, NH Rep. Ralph Boehm, the vice chairman of the House Education Committee, tried to gut the states new anti-bullying law, saying that

"Students need to be prepared for life...bullying is part of it.”

You see? We should hide...because otherwise we will be attacked. It's just "part of life."

But living behind a mask has repercussions worse than these theocrats understand.

In a 2008 poll of 260 openly gay men in New England, fully one half stated they used to me married to a woman…which, of course, ended in divorce.

They did not ‘change’ their orientation half-way through their lives. Rather, they tried to live behind a mask, where no one could see their ‘real face,’ or their ‘differences,’ and hope it would work.

It doesn’t.

And for those who claim to be on the side of “marriage,” they do themselves – and society – no favor by forcing men to live in ways they can’t.

Harvey Milk pleaded with us to drop the masks:

“…Gay brothers and sisters,... You must come out. Come out... to your parents... I know that it is hard and will hurt them but think about how they will hurt you in the voting booth! Come out to your relatives... come out to your friends... if indeed they are your friends. Come out to your neighbors... to your fellow workers... to the people who work where you eat and shop... come out only to the people you know, and who know you… But once and for all, break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions. For your sake. For their sake. For the sake of the youngsters who are becoming scared by the votes from Dade to Eugene…”

No More Closets…No More Bastille Prison Doors…No More Iron Masks…No More Phantoms.

And no more two-faced, pandering, ignorant hateful Republicans as President, thank you.

Friday, June 24, 2011

ROLL CALL: New York Adopts Marriage Equality!

Four days after it had intended to adjourn for the season, the New York State Senate gave its approval to Marriage Equality by a larger-than expected margin of 33-29. All Democrats voted in favor of the bill, except for Bronx Homophobe Senator Ruben Diaz. The majority of Republicans opposed the measure, but three broke ranks to provide the margin of victory: Sen. Alesi (Rochester) and Sen. McDonald (Saratoga), both of whom announced support a few days ago, were joined by Poughkeepsie's Stephan Saland and North Buffalo's Mark Grisanti.

The Democratic-controlled Assembly has already approved the Senate's version earlier this evening, so it is now expected that Governor Andrew Cuomo's signature will be imminent, thus making New York the seventh - and most populous - American jurisdiction to enact equality (after Connecticut, DC, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont).

I am a New Yorker by birth, and never cease to be proud of the Greatest State in the Union. Below are the results of the roll call vote:

Adams (D) Yes
Addabbo (D) Yes
Alesi (R) Yes
Avella (D) Yes
Ball (R) No
Bonacic (R) No
Breslin (D) Yes
Carlucci (D) Yes
DeFrancisco (R) No
Diaz (D) No
Dilan (D) Yes
Duane (D) Yes
Espaillat (D) Yes
Farley (R) No
Flanagan (R) No
Fuschillo (R) No
Gallivan (R) No
Gianaris (D) Yes
Golden (R) No
Griffo (R) No
Grisanti (R) Yes
Hannon (R) No
Hassell-Thompson (D) Yes
Huntley (D) Yes
Johnson (R) No
Kennedy (D) Yes
Klein (D) Yes
Krueger (D) Yes
Kruger (D) Yes
Lanza (R) No
Larkin (R) No
LaValle (R) No
Libous (R) No
Little (R) No
Marcellino (R) No
Martins (R) No
Maziarz (R) No
McDonald (R) Yes
Montgomery (D) Yes
Nozzolio (R) No
O'Mara (R) No
Oppenheimer (D) Yes
Parker (D) Yes
Peralta (D) Yes
Perkins (D) Yes
Ranzenhofer (R) No
Ritchie (R) No
Rivera (D) Yes
Robach (R) No
Saland (R) Yes
Sampson (D) Yes
Savino (D) Yes
Serrano (D) Yes
Seward (R) No
Skelos (R) No
Smith (D) Yes
Squadron (D) Yes
Stavisky (D) Yes
Stweart-Cousins (D) Yes
Valesky (D) Yes
Young (R) No
Zeldin (R) No

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Scorecard on NY Marriage Equality: The Players and the Numbers

With all the tweets and [contradictory] news reports, I thought it might be helpful to give Non-New Yorkers (as well as confused New Yorkers) a scorecard on where things stand.

New York's Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Democratically-controlled lower house (the Assembly) are in favor of Marriage Equality. In fact, the Assembly has passed a Marriage Equality bill three times.

The hang-up is in the Senate, which is controlled by the Republicans by a slim margin of 32 - 30. There are a total of 62 Senators; unlike the US Senate or other states, a 31-31 tie is *not* broken by the Lt. Governor or some other figure. Therefore, in order to pass the Senate, 32 votes are needed.

29 Democrats are on record in support of the bill; one (Sen. Ruben Diaz of the Bronx) does not. That means supporters need to get three Republicans to support the Bill.

2 Republicans have, in fact, announced full support (Sen. Mark Alesi of Rochester, and Sen McDonald of Saratoga). That makes 31. One more is needed.

Who the 32nd vote could be is a matter of conjecture (and I offer my own conjectures below). The Senate was supposed to recess for the summer on Monday; Senate leaders have been meeting relentlessly with the Assembly leaders and the Governor in order to insure that religious institutions are protected from lawsuits if the bill is adopted. The discussions go beyond protecting churches from performing same-sex marriages (they are already protected under the US Constitution's First Amendment), but also protecting quasi-businesses (Catholic Knights of Columbus Halls renting their facilities for weddings) and sectarian Adoption Agencies that receive government grants to operate.

So, if these issues are resolved, and a 32nd vote is found, does that means Equality is won? NO.

The leader of the Republican Caucus in the Senate, Sen. Dean Skelos of Long Island, has the 'right' to place the bill on the Senate's agenda for a vote - or to refuse to place it on the agenda, thus killing the bill by thwarting a vote, even if a majority of the Senate favors the bill. Skelos has promised to make this decision based on his closed-door negotiations with the Republican Senators.

In other words, one or more Republican Senators can pledge support for the bill, but since the majority of Republicans oppose it, they can block it from even coming to the floor for a vote.

If it DOES come up on the floor for a vote, and if it DOES pass, it's not over: the Senate's version of the bill is already known to be different than the version passed by the Assembly; therefore, the Assembly will have to be called back into session to pass the Senate's version. Democratic Assembly Leader Sheldon Silver has pledged to do this. It is assumed that the Assembly will support any bill passed by the Senate, but if the religious 'protections' are too broad, there *could* be a revolt in that chamber.

The Main Players:

Mike Long, Chair of the Conservative Party of New York State. In New York, 'minor' parties are able to 'cross-endorse' major party candidates, so that a candidate may run for election as a Republican and as a Conservative. The votes from both 'lines' are combined to give the candidates their winning totals. Even though the Conservatives control only 5% of vote, that is enough to provide the margin of victory in many districts. Long has threatened to withhold Conservative Party endorsement from any Republican who votes for Marriage Equality...and has gone further in demanding that the Repubicans not even allow the issue to be voted on. Ironically, Republican candidates in tight re-election races are caught between a rock and a hard place: they may very well need the Conservative Party line to win, but if their district is that close, they risk losing independents and moderates who overwhleming support Marriage Equality.

Countering Mike Long is Frank McKay, Chair of the Independence Party of New York. Though the Party does not have a stance on the bill, McKay favors it...and the Independence Party often delivers three times the number of votes than the Conservatives do. Many Republican Senators run with the support of both the Conservative and the Independence Party - but after this vote, they may be forced to ally themselves with one over the other.

Long Island Senator Dean Skelos is the Republican leader of the Senate. He has run with Conservative Party cross-endorsement, and has been consistent in stating he opposes the bill. As the highest-ranking Republican legislator who controls the Senate chamber with a razor-thin margin, he could be expected to try and mollify Conservatives, and even block a vote...or at least use it for political horse-trading on other issues with the Governor. However, Skelos has also repeatedly stated that he will allow the Republican caucus to decide whether or not to allow a vote. It is not known whether this is his way of avoiding personal responsibility for the issue, or whether he is buying time to twist Republican arms to gather support for the vote. Interestingly, Skelos regularly refers to the issue as "Marriage Equality," a phrase that supporters use (opponents usually say "gay marriage.") In addition, at least one Albany-area GLBT activist close to legislative activities privately confided to this blogger that Skelos secretly supports the bill.

Sen. Ruben Diaz of the Bronx,
the only Democrat who opposes the bill, and who once stated, "I AM the Church AND the State." He has actively fought the bill, and busloads of church groups from his home district have arrived in Albany over the last few days in an effort to pray and sing the bill away.

Sen. Mark Alesi of Rochester, the first Republican to break ranks and declare his support for the bill. Alesi not only declared support, but personally appeared and spoke at a pro-Equality rally on the West Capitol Plaza on Tuesday, to the cheers of the crowd.

Sen. Roy McDonald of Saratoga
, the second Republican to break ranks, who did so with this colorful announcement:

"You get to the point where you evolve in your life where everything isn’t black and white, good and bad, and you try to do the right thing. You might not like that. You might be very cynical about that.

Well, fuck it, I don’t care what you think. I’m trying to do the right thing.

I’m tired of Republican-Democrat politics. They can take the job and shove it. I come from a blue-collar background. I’m trying to do the right thing, and that’s where I’m going with this.”

State Senator Greg Ball of the Lower Hudson Valley, long considered a swing Republican vote on the issue, who used his status to maximize media attention, including a well-publicized Twitter campaign asking for feedback. In spite of overwhelming support among responses, Ball announced two hours ago he was voting no, winning him the "Media-Whore-But-A-Thorough-Coward" award of the session. No real surprise: he had Conservative Party cross-endorsement last time, but not Independence Party support.

The Republican Swing Votes:
Follow the votes of the following Senators, for the stated reasons: From Long Island, where polls show strong support for the bill: Senator Kemp Hannon , who has a fairly safe district with R-C-I support, who was involved in negotiations with the Governor on this bill, and who has been the beneficiary of numerous gay campaign workers, including this blogger; Sen. Chuck Fuschillo, who won without Conservative Party support; Sen. John J. Flanagan, who had both Conservative & Independence Party support and is officially "undecided"; and Sen. Jack Martins , who won without Conservative Party endorsement, and whose district includes heavily Democratic, liberal and Jewish neighborhoods in Great Neck, Lake Success, Roslyn, Manhasset and North Hills.

In addition, Sen. Andrew J. Lanza from Staten Island, who won without Conservative Party support in 2010; Sen. Stephen Saland an influential Senator from Poughkeepsie, who never had Conservative Party support to begin with, and who was involved in negotiations with Cuomo over religious protections on this bill; Sen. Patty Ritchie of Watertown, who did not have Conservative support but whose district is part of a Congressional District that elected a Democrat in last years special election; and Sen. Mark Grisanti, from North Buffalo, who ran on three lines last time (R, C, I) and won with significant support from organized labor. His law practice specializing in taking up the causes of the disenfranchised.

The Clock is ticking....

Monday, June 20, 2011

Rally in Albany: Tues Jun 21, 12 Noon

If you are within a half day's drive of Albany, New York, you can be part of what could be one of the most important civil rights milestones of our generation.

Time: Tuesday, June 21 · 12:00pm - 1:00pm
Location Albany, NY -- West Capitol Park, outside the State Capitol

*Please join New Yorkers United for Marriage: Rally for Love and Marriage*

There are a number of issues still to be resolved in Albany, which means the Legislature will be staying beyond the original June 20th deadline.

We are heartened that there continues to be respectful and productive dialogue on the issue of marriage equality and believe we are getting close to a vote on the Governor's marriage bill.

New Yorkers United for Marriage asks you to join us at a Rally for Love and Marriage tomorrow --Tuesday June 21 -- at noon outside the Capitol in Albany. Together, we will make sure that all New Yorkers will soon be able to marry the person they love.


Departs 7:00 AM New York, West Side of 9th Ave between 31st St and 33rd St
Arrives 9:45 AM Albany, Rensselaer Station
2hrs 45mins
1 seat = $12.00

Friday, June 17, 2011

NY Senate Republicans Stalling of Equality exposes Cowardice

According to Michael Gormley of the Associated Press, "Senate Republicans in New York say protecting religious groups that won't perform gay weddings or offer services to gay couples is a major factor in their refusal so far to bring same-sex marriage to a vote."

Marriage Equality in New York - which would probably pass if a vote was taken in the Senate - is being held up because the Republican-controlled Senate is (so far) not permitting the bill to be scheduled for a vote. The Senate adjourns on Monday.

Their reason? That religious institutions are not being protected in the bill.

A reason, that, in plain language, is a pure crap.

Religious institutions have ALWAYS been protected under the US Constitution to create their own rules for membership and marriage. Since our birth as a country, heterosexuals have had the right to marry; However, NO Roman Catholic Church has been forced to marry non-catholics. Synagogues have not been forced to marry non-Jews. Every religious institution has ALWAYS had the right to define who was eligible for marriage within that religious institution.

What the proposed law in New York State refers to is the legal right to be married in a CIVIL ceremony, as recognized by the STATE - it has NO effect on the right of religious institutions to conduct their own policy as they have seen fit, just as they have always done. This delay tactic by the GOP, presumably to protect religious institutions, has nothing to do with churches and everything to do with playing politics with peoples lives. And, quite frankly, not having the balls to stand up to the the RC Archbishop, Hassidic Jewish leaders, and the Conservative Party, which has threatened to withhold its endorsement from any Republican supporting the Marriage Equality Bill.

To be sure, the Conservative Party can deliver the margin of victory in a race, as it commands about 5% of the vote in many districts. However, the Conservative Party is notoriously weak and disorganized - if not entirely unorganized. When Conservative Party leaders are challenged by insurgents, it has been standard operating procedure for those leaders to call upon Republican operatives to step in and do their campaign leg-work for them...and yet, the NY GOP - once the most progressive in the nation - continues to allow itself to be emasculated as the Conservative Party becomes the very small tail that wags a once very large dog.

To be fair, in recent years, there have been two series of court decisions that, on their face, have seemed to require religious institutions to provide services to gay couples, and this may be part of the fear that some Senators have. It makes sense, then, to look at these two decisions.

The first is the Ocean Grove, New Jersey case, where the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association was stripped of its non-profit status because it would not allow gay couples to rent their oceanfront boardwalk pavilion for weddings. Conservatives immediately pointed to this as evidence that 'gay marriage' would force religious institutions to provide services against their beliefs. But a closer look at the Ocean Grove situation shows their fears to be empty.

The pavilion is not owned by the United Methodist Church (as is often claimed), but by an independent organization called the "Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association." (There are "Camp Meeting Associations" associated with revival meetings within Methodism all up and down the eastern seaboard). The OGCMA owns all the land in a 1 square mile section of Neptune Township, but leases most of it out to homeowners and businesses. The pavilion in question received its tax exemption NOT BY BEING A RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATION, BUT THROUGH THE NEW JERSEY "GREEN ACRES" PROGRAM, whose purpose is to provide tax breaks for properties which help preserve open space for enjoyment and use by the public, without discrimination. The OGCMA never reserved the pavilion for Christian weddings or religious services of ANY kind, and received its tax exemption for preserving open green space. Thus, this case did NOT involve an infringement on religious rights, but on the terms of a state program exchanging tax relief for public access.

The second series of cases Conservatives point to involve adoption services offered through religious-oriented agencies such as Catholic Charities. In Illinois, Maryland, and Massachusetts, courts or legislatures have made it clear that these agencies can not discriminate against applicants, if they receive state tax money. In a number of jurisdictions, Catholic Charities has chosen to longer place children in foster care or adoption rather than comply with these rulings.

However, they had another choice: they could have stopped taking taxpayer funding. In each case, the agencies were prohibited from discriminating precisely because state governments were contracting with them to perform state functions - the placement of children into foster care or adoptive families. Catholic Charities can not claim to be both a private religious institution on one hand - and then stay afloat by using tax dollars paid for by Americans of all religious stripes on the other - and expect to be able to serve only those with their own religious viewpoint. (It should also be pointed out that these agencies were not only prohibited from discriminating against gays, but also against single moms and cohabiting heterosexuals).

Even though both of these cases turned on very specific, non-religious issues - tax exemption for open space, or state contractual duties using taxpayer money - Conservatives continue to claim that gay marriage will destroy religious groups' ability to practice their own faith. This, of course, is complete nonsense.

And the New York Republican Senate's efforts to avoid and stall Marriage Equality based on these arguments is shallow and cowardly.

Dean Skelos, Kemp Hannon, Chuck Fuschillo, John Flanagan, Mark Grisanti - your constituents deserve better than kowtowing to the Conservatives and throwing up religious smokescreens to avoid doing the right thing...

Monday, June 13, 2011

Open Letter to NYS Senators Hannon, Skelos & Fuschillo:

Dear Senators Hannon, Skelos, and Fuscillo:

As a former Baldwin resident and Past President of the Nassau County Young Republicans, who worked tirelessly on your campaigns for a decade, I am asking that you stand for what is right and support Marriage Equality in New York State.

Kemp, in the late 1970s, you ran for NYS Assembly for the first time. I met you daily, running ahead of you to make sure that we knocked on every door in South Hempstead for your first campaign. I spoke to voters, delivered literature, and worked phone banks on your behalf. While I certainly can’t claim credit for the victory that launched your life-long electoral career, I can recount the endless effort I put into your campaigns. You accepted that help gratefully. You didn’t ask whether I was gay or straight, and it didn’t seem to matter.

Dean and Charlie, your very electoral survival is due, in part, to the tireless efforts of gay men on your behalf. When Ronald Reagan ran for President in 1980 and again in 1984, there were serious concerns that he could not carry a state such as New York….and that his coattails (or lack thereof) might damage ‘local’ Republicans. None of you complained when Terry Dolan, a gay man, founded and operated NCPAC (the National Conservative Political Action Committee) out of a Greenwich Village rowhouse, to insure a lopsided Reagan victory in New York. Rolling into the 1990s, you all were nervous when Bill Clinton was polling double-digits ahead of George HW Bush, and, later, Bob Dole on Long Island….but that didn’t stop you from calling on the expertise of Art Finkelstein – another gay man – who had practically set up shop out of Nassau Co GOP Headquarters, beginning with his engineering of Al D’Amato to the statehouse. As Clinton steamrolled over the GOP in NY, Finkelstein coordinated media messages that resulted in victories from Pataki down to yourselves. And in spite of the Democratic wins in NY and nationally, you all managed to hang on to your seats for three decades.

All with the help – acknowledged or not – of gay men you on whom you were more than happy to rely.

I organized rallies, manned phone banks, coordinated enthusiastic youth for your events, ran local headquarter operations, and responded to every request.

And so now, as an “out,” gay man in his 50’s, I ask this of you: Do the right thing, and take this opportunity to end the apartheid treatment of your gay and lesbian constituents.

I now live in New Hampshire, arguably a far more conservative state than New York. We have had full Marriage Equality for a year and a half now. The sky has not fallen. Churches have not been forced to do anything contrary to their beliefs. Marriages across society have not suffered. Children have not been harmed.

Rather, people have avoided bankruptcy and unaddressed illness because they’ve been covered by their spouses health insurance. Children have been able to refer to their parents, rather than “mom and her friend.” Hospitals and banks have been able to afford spousal recognition on marital property. Couples have been afforded security and equality. And society has continued, stronger than ever.

Gay men and women are all around you. They have voted for you, strategized for you, and campaigned for you. They have the same dreams for their children, the same hopes and dreams for their future as any other of your constituents.

Do the right thing, and be a part of history in New York.


T. Thomas Fitzsimmons
(f/k/a Thomas Simmons)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Urgent Request: Help Preserve Equality in NH...for all of us!

Regular readers of this blog know that I am running for State Representative in Cheshire County (District 4) this year as an openly gay candidate. I am running primarily to safeguard the changes we have made in New Hampshire over the last year.

My District is represented by Rep. Bill Butynski, one of only 4 Democrats in the entire state who voted against Marriage Equality in each of the last two sessions. In fact, this spring, he joined with a failed attempt by some radical right members of the House and voted to repeal the new Marriage Equality law (and this man is a Democrat?!?!?)

He has a history of some very 'backwards,' regressive votes, opposing Medical Marijuana (and lying about it on the statehouse floor), and actually introducing a bill to outlaw the sale of Red Bull and possession of veterinary medicines for pet-owners (both were voted down by the members of his own party.)

I am challenging him in the Democratic Primary. The District actually sends 4 representatives to Concord, and there are 5 candidates running at large, but I am targetting him specifically.

Here is the reality: Marriage Equality is going to lose supporters in the statehouse with the 2010 election. ALL of the Republican candidates for Governor have pledged to sign a REPEAL of the Marriage Equality bill It is crucial that we win every seat we can - not only for issues like Equality, but also for issues such as funding HIV service agencies. If you can help me in any way, this could be one seat we could 'flip' for Equality.

The national democratic clearinghouse, "ActBlue" set up a fundraising page for me yesterday at : (see Direct Link on the left side of this page for Act Blue).

If you are able and willing, I would appreciate ANY help you can offer. Ten people donating $20 each will pay for my signs...and will go a long way towards helping us oust this 'problem' legislator.

Thank you, and my apologies for my unabashed self-promotion.

Thom Simmons
Democratic Candidate, Cheshire-04
Chesterfield, Hinsdale & Winchester

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

New Hampshire House Preserves Marriage Equality, 201-135

More good news from my home state...about an hour ago, the New Hampshire House rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have prohibited gay marriage in New Hampshire. CACR 28 would have defined marriage by restricting it to a man and a woman.

As a Constitutional Amendment, it required a 60% margin in the legislature...and it did not even gain 50%. It was rejected 201-135, a big change from last fall when Marriage Equality squeaked through the state legislature by less than a dozen votes. While this may show significant movement in the right direction, the cheering is a little dampened by the fact that 60 legislators did not show up to vote. If they were all "anti" Marriage Equality, then there has really been very little movement at all. We will need to see who was absent before we draw too many conclusions. [UPDATE: 40 republicans supported Marriage Equality this time around, suggesting an actual shift...]

Had this passed, it would have gone on to a vote by the public, which was the main argument that CACR28's supporters kept making: that 'the people' ought to be able to vote on marriage. It apparently never occured to these legislators that 'the people' dont get to vote on "rights:" we never subject questions of free speech, or Miranda Rights, or gun ownership, to majoritarian votes, because majoritarianism is the antithesis of liberty and rights.

A concurrent effort to ask Town Meetings to adopt a "let the people vote resolution" effort is failing miserably. Even in reliably Republican Towns, such as Rindge, town meeting voters are removing and rejecting Town Meeting Warrant items seeking a public vote on Marriage Equality. Winchester (my home town), Rye, and Deerfield have all rejected it in recent days.

A second vote to repeal the bill that established Marriage Equality last fall failed by an even bigger margin: 210-109.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

May 24-May 28: Marriage Equality March in Maine

Like Martin Luther King's marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama - the mission of the Maine LGBT Civil Rights March is to bring thousands of LGBT rights supporters together to march from Portland to Augusta, Maine with one simple message: Civil Rights Now.

Planning: We planning an event like Maine has never seen before. A 5-day march from Portland to Augusta. A 5-day march from Bangor to Augusta. Meeting in the Middle for Equality. Join us.

Info and Signup on for MAINE LGBT Civil Rights March

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

New Hampshire approves Marriage Equality, 198-176

What a LOOOONG day! Rally at the Capital Building Plaza at 9 am, and then a LOOONG wait all day in the visitors gallery in 90 degree-plus heat,until the House took up HB 73....after 3:45 pm!

The victory of 22 votes was larger than any of the previous margins. Steve Vaillancourt, a Republican who opposed the current version because of Gov. Lynch's needless dramatics, came around and supported it, as did Rep. Tony DiFruscia (Republican) from Windham. Several other Dems (including a clearly choked-up Rep. Roberts, from Keene) who previously opposed the bill changed their minds. Our Bishop, the Rev. V. Gene Robinson, was also in the gallery. Loud Cheers went up from the gallery when the vote was posted, in spite of the Speaker's efforts to tell us to keep quiet.

Immediately after the vote, supporters moved to Reconsider the bill, which they then defeated: a parliamentary tactic to avoid having the bill reconsidered 'by surprise' later this session.

Outside, on the Capitol Building steps, on this historic day for New Hampshire, I proposed to my partner Scott. And (after saying, "Are you serious?!"), he said yes :-)