Seattle same-sex Marriage Lawsuit

Seattle civil rights activists have asked their elected officials to change the law to allow same-sex partners to marry. This parallels pioneering efforts in San Francisco, New York, Portland, and the state of Massachusetts – not to mention entire countries in Europe which now bless same-sex couples with the same civil liberties as everyone else.

Legal strategies in the United States are homing in on an inescapable fact, one which makes neoconservatives uncomfortable. In the United States, the law denies same-sex couples the same civil liberties as everyone else.

Rather than paraphrase the news, I will excerpt from the article by Wyatt Buchanan in today’s San Francisco Chronicle:

When San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom ordered city officials to marry same-sex couples -- a defiant act two years ago that soon was emulated in Portland, Ore., and New Paltz, N.Y. -- gay rights supporters in Seattle demanded that their elected officials do the same.

Instead, King County Executive Ron Sims placed an unusual phone call.

“He said, ‘I don’t want to break the law. Will you please sue me to strike down the law?’ ” said Lisa M. Stone, executive director of the Northwest Women’s Law Center. “That’s not a call we get very often.”

“The cases present constitutional issues that judges haven’t thought about a great deal yet,” said Matt Coles, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. “It’s not just the narrow issue of marriage but how you think about laws that discriminate against gay people under the equal protection clause, how you think about what a fundamental right is.

La Parola didn’t invent the concepts of equal protection and the universality of civil liberties. But we have been saying for years that same-sex couples have been denied the same constitutional protections that other Americans take for granted.

It isn’t about what America feels like “sanctioning” or approving, though America has a 200+ year track record of clinging to the popular idea that your constitutional rights can be subordinated to popular approval. That’s right: in order for you to exercise a constitutional right, you may have to wait and see when – if ever – a committee of your friends and neighbors ratifies that right for everyone, or just for themselves.

In the past, this precedence of inconsistency seemed to excuse the many politically active religious groups who campaigned agressively to deny fundamental liberties to others, such as same-sex couples.

The Constitution says the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, but when the citizens of the good City of San Francisco vote to ban handguns, listen to these same partisans scream!

I and my partner of fifteen years had always wanted to obtain a marriage license. It wasn’t a matter of commitment – our partnership was already a devoted lifetime commitment. It was a matter of respect, dignity, and equal protection under the law. We thought of Amsterdam, or groundbreaking San Francisco. A marriage that gets shot down in the courts is denigrating. And, what were we to do: get married in ten different localities, in the hope that one would survive court challenges?

My partner Bob Sibley died last year, after a long battle with cancer. I will always regret that, in his lifetime, he never saw equality and recognition in our nation, or even in our state, for a domestic home life that was always the same for every day of our fifteen years together: a commitment to the household, and to each other, forever.

How many lifetimes will it take?

Those who think that civil rights aren’t a right, but a privilege that can be revoked or denied, better not complain about their Second Amendment rights, or wave the flag or the great Constitution in our faces. Those who are unable or unwilling to defend the rights of others haven’t really forfeited anyone’s rights, even their own.

What they have forfeited is their own credibility whenever they try to selectively defend some rights and deny others. And they keep good company: this thinking goes all the way up to the Supreme Court.

Heresy? If civil liberties really were a juggling act, in which some parties must do without the rights of full citizenship so that others may take pleasure in theirs more fully, then how are civil liberty guarantees better than just a Soviet-style farce? If that were the case, should we then proclaim that the great American experiment really failed?

In another era, Americans believed in the sacred tenet of “Live and Let Live”, even though we didn’t practice it. Let’s hope for all our sakes we see the light before it’s too late for any of us.

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California Domestic Partners Act of 2003

My partner Bob and I celebrated our 15th anniversary last Monday. We filed for domestic partnership with the California Secretary of State in June, 2000. Since then, we have taken advantage of a number of benefits with our wonderfully supportive employer, not the least of which was the ability to add Bob to my HMO plan under domestic partner coverage when his health failed and he had to go on disability.

We are no stranger to the health care system, having faced a number of threatening medical issues in the last few years. We notice how often I have to explain why I’m entitled to stay by and visit Bob when in a hospital. Many times, saying “I’m his domestic partner” produces only a blank stare.

Kaiser Permanente is in the forefront of equitable and accessible health care, yet nobody seems to know what to do when a domestic partner arrives on the scene. “Family” works better, and it’s truthful. I have only been denied the ability to stick with Bob in a couple of emergency hospital situations, where the answer “spouse” would have worked. In a medical emergency, we’re more interested in timely attention to Bob, than in proving a point.

We face banking issues, mostly stuff we should have taken care of years ago. I can’t open a joint account with Wells Fargo, where Bob has banked for 25 years or longer, because my own account with Wells Fargo is new, and we haven’t gone the Financial Power of Attorney route. For this Wells Fargo customer, Bob has to come in, presumably, with oxygen and hospital bed and meds.

In short, nobody knows exactly what rights and responsibilities we do have, including us. I researched it a bit. The following is excerpted from a Google html version of the PDF file http://www.ucop.edu/sas/sfs/programs_and_policies/AB205Q&A5a.pdf.

What is the California Domestic Partnership Rights and Responsibilities Act of 2003?

It is an Act passed by the California legislature and signed by Governor Davis in September of 2003 that is designed to give persons living in registered domestic partnerships rights and responsibilities more similar to those of marriage. The Act is sometimes referred to by its bill designation of “AB 205.” It is in California’s Family Code beginning at section 297.

In general, what rights does the Act provide for Domestic Partners?

Generally, partners “shall have the same rights, protections, and benefits . . . under law as are granted to . . . spouses.” Specifically, partners have rights equal to those of spouses under probate law, employment law, and discrimination law. Public entities are required to extend to Domestic Partners any rights extended to spouses in terms of insurance and retirement benefits and any other employment rights mandated by law.

What I find is that there are specific rights in dealing with CA state entities, and in applying for student financial aid. More general provisions are tied to a governing body of law, The California Family Code.

In short, domestic partners – and all those with whom we deal institutionally – have to be attorneys to argue effectively for a specific right in a specific situation. “Because the California Family Code says so” is a guaranteed show-stopper, if it might have any effect at all. Don’t try it if you’re in a hurry. We, and the folks we deal with, are not equipped to make a legal determination on the spot whether the Act covers a given situation or not. And, of course, none of this is any good at all outside the state of California (we own property in Arizona), even in other states which do support domestic partnership or even same-sex marriage.

In order to mitigate the harm done to same-sex households by feudal reactionaries – who believe that your partnership or marriage is fundamentally a matter of public property and consent – we’ve created a horrible hodgepodge of laws. Some rights are undefinable, some are denied, and some are in hopeless conflict with other laws and other levels of government.

The short-term workaround is for domestic partners to continue dealing with obstacles issue-by-issue, as we have. In our experience, by far most of the people we deal with bend over backwards to be fair.

And, in the long run, the person who is permitted those bedside visits is probably going to be the one paying the bills, and authorizing the treatments, who has already been sitting by that bed for weeks.

You were probably wondering, what is the California Family Code? Here is the currently famous provision:

FAMILY.CODE SECTION 300-310

300. Marriage is a personal relation arising out of a civil
contract between a man and a woman, to which the consent of the
parties capable of making that contract is necessary. Consent alone
does not constitute marriage. Consent must be followed by the
issuance of a license and solemnization as authorized by this
division, except as provided by Section 425 and Part 4 (commencing
with Section 500).

In conclusion: “In general, what rights does the Act provide for Domestic Partners?”

Nobody knows exactly what rights and responsibilities we do have, including us.

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Racism in the Gay Community

Rainbow flagWake up, America. Racism in the Castro needs to be dealt with firmly. It needs to be discussed openly in the gay and straight communities. But when the day is done, we will still have racism in the Castro (and in America) — even if more covertly. When the day is done, our pervasive anti-other attitudes are undermining civil liberty efforts everywhere.

They are among the most maligned groups in society, but when it comes to discrimination, many say, gays can give as good as they get.
A city investigation of S.F. Badlands, one of the largest and most popular bars in the heart of the Castro neighborhood, has added evidence to that argument. In April, the San Francisco Human Rights Commission found that the bar discriminated against African American customers and job applicants.
— Wyatt Buchanan, Chronicle staff writer, San Francisco Chronicle Sunday June 26, 2005

Racism in the GLBT community is not new, nor did it originate there. Massive family and cultural ethnic contradictions snake their way from generation to generation, without regard for the ethnic background or sexual orientation of individual members of the adoptive new generation. Racism in the greater communities, in the diverse ethnic and regional groups themselves, has improved since the 1960’s. But the ugly spirit of the KKK festers deep and heals slowly, and it is actively undermining efforts to bring real equality to the gay lesbian community, and other minority communities, today.

Racism in America has lost most of its political clout, meaning, it is now generally illegal to hurt you because of your ethnic origin. But the superstition, ignorance and mean-spiritedness, rooted now more in low-lifers and misguided individuals than in most institutions, is still there. You can say what you want, but victims of this prejudice know it when they see it. And they see it.

No student of history or current events would fail to look at this in the context of the racism and ethnic warfare that has infected and plagued all the regions of the world. Globally, tolerance and understanding has a long way to go.

What we need to understand about racism:

  • People who would deny some minority groups equal protection under the law, or discriminate in behavior and attitude against whole groups of people because of their ethnic origin or sexual orientation, are intellectually and morally disarmed in defense of their own civil liberties.
  • Ethnic slurs, discrimination, and derogatory smears of whole groups of people are unacceptable, not only because they are rude and unjust or downright illegal, but because they undermine any rational defense of civil liberties for any of us, including you.
  • Racism in the gay community is unwelcome twice over. We have seen minority groups engage in wholesale attack upon other minority communities before, but it is no less ugly when our own group is doing the mudslinging.
  • If you think you have a grievance against others because of what one or several individuals did to you in the past, don’t tar the entire group with the same brush. A straight white male who “hates blacks”, say because he was beat up in high school, has actually made a deliberate choice to embrace those unacceptable attitudes in his own life. Good-bye, Selma. Welcome, Kosovo.
  • Whether one understands and agrees with this or not, those who continue denigrating other groups on account of race, color, creed, sex, or sexual orientation make a day-to-day choice. And that choice says: “I opt out of any pretense that my civil liberties are justifiable. I’ll hang on to them as long as I can, but I can’t defend them. I choose a posture which says that universal rights are a myth, my rights are indefensible, and I’ll just take what I can get and hope I don’t get caught.”

    The next time you hear an associate use the “N” word, or make snide remarks about gay civil unions, speak out. Remind them their civil liberties are at stake too. As go the rights of the least popular minority, so goes the nation.

    On this day of San Francisco’s own Gay Pride parade, it’s time to reaffirm the “rainbow” in the Rainbow Flag.

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    Same-sex Rights May 2005

    Minority: a class of people seeking classification as people. — Alex Forbes

    The San Francisco Chronicle ran an AP piece by Michael Gormley yesterday, detailing current hot-spots in the nation’s crawl toward some sort of recognition of equal citizenship for gay and lesbian citizens.

  • New York’s high court ruled that Albany mayor Jason West will stand trial for violations of New York’s domestic relations law, for allowing same-sex couples to wed in his town. New York Governor Pataki, and celebrated state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, both have declared that West violated state law.
  • Massachusetts’ high court rejected a Roman Catholic bid to halt same-sex marriages until a statewide vote on the issue, to be held November 2006. The Catholic Action League reportedly argued that same-sex marriages interfer with “the voters’ ability to participate in debate on the issue.”
  • Colorado Gov. Bill Owens vetoed a bill outlawing discrimination in the workplace, while allowing another to pass covering gays under Colorado hate crime law. Owen reportedly stated that the workplace discrimination bill could force employers to spend large sums defending lawsuits.
  • In New York, Rosa Parks might have been prosecuted for violating Jim Crow laws, since her action was a violation of the law.

    In Massachusetts, a Catholic group would have civil rights sit at the back of the bus while white passengers (those allowed full access) debate equal seating arrangements.

    In Colorado, where discimination in the workplace is still legal, there’s real concern that employers could spend a lot of money defending themselves against lawsuits. Far better, it’s thought, that those discriminated against should be required to spend large sums of money trying to gain equal protection under state anti-discrimination laws.

    Tomorrow is Memorial Day, commemorating those who fought to make this nation free. We still have a long way to go to allow full and equal rights of citizenship for all our citizens.

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    Microsoft Gay Rights Flip-Flop

    According to the New York Times, Microsoft again reversed direction on its decision to abandon support of a gay rights bill in Washington State. CEO Steve Ballmer announced to employees Friday that supporting the gay rights bill is the right thing to do.

    Well, of course it is. If Jim Crow had to be reversed on a state by state or county by county basis in the old pre-civil-rights South, we would still not have full legal civil liberties for the nation’s ethnic minorities. Lacking federal protections, the Washington bill is the best that citizens in the Washington area can hope for.

    The New York Times article, reprinted in the SF Chronicle, had an interesting subtext. The Microsoft decision was a disappointment to some Microsoft employees, including a contingent who belong to the Antioch Bible Church in Redmond WA.

    The Rev. Ken Hutcherson complained, “I feel it’s been kind of a stressful day. I feel that it was wrong for the company to say that they will be supporting issues such as this. Businesses should not be publicly making a stance on that, regardless of their internal policies.” [emphasis mine]

    Gee, this should strike a resonant chord with employees everywhere. For example, do you want your corporate management taking public positions on, say, a gaming casino in your neighborhood?

    There’s an important distinction that the plaintive Rev. Hutcherson somehow managed to drop. Gaming casinos aren’t rights issues. At least, they aren’t at the top of the rights chain. If a casino initiative fails in, say, Hutcherson WA, civil liberties will not collapse nationwide like a house of cards.

    The distinction dropped (and Hutcherson’s hardly alone here): civil liberties are at the top of the rights food chain. They explain, defend and protect all subordinate rights. The right to declaim at a public fountain is an extension of the right of free speech. The right to marry or join in civil union is an extension of rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (not to mention, rights of equal protection). You can’t deny the one, while defending the other, without undermining the whole apparatus that shields our liberties against incursion by governments or fellow citizens.

    Are you ready for answers to the big quiz? What gay rights and religious rights both have in common is that they’re both civil rights. It continues to astound me how church groups are keeping up a loud clamor that religious rights are in jeopardy, while lobbying and grassrooting vociferously for the repeal of the few splintered, unequal, scattered legal protections that gay minorities now enjoy under the law in some areas.

    You’d think that religious groups would be demonstrating loudly for full civil rights for all citizens, regardless of religious or sexual orientation, gender, ethnicity or racial origin.

    But wait, I can only be saying this if I think that rights are only strong and secure when everybody has them. We’re a nation of splinter rights groups. We have churches actively promoting the suppression of civil liberties, an NRA very pro on gun rights but silent on separation of church and state, and we have animal rights groups completely oblivious to the human carnage in the mideast. We have liberals who think businesspeople as a class ought to be burned at the stake. We have conservatives who think that working class folks and minorities ought to be thrown back into medieval bondage.

    Silly me. I was thinking that church groups ought to be in the vanguard of civil liberties advocacy, when their track record (by and large) shows them dragged kicking and screaming into every new advance for humankind. You can put your hand down now; class is over.

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    The “Log Cabin” Thing

    The “Log Cabin” Thing: Dignity and first-class seating: In a letter to a friend, we answer the question, “tell me about this ‘log cabin’ Republican thing.” While intending no offense to individual gay Republicans, we called it as we see it, and believe us, “working within the party” ain’t a pretty sight. If you find yourself with strong opinion on this topic one way or the other, by all means drop us a line.

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