AMERICAblog NewsDOMA – AMERICAblog News A great nation deserves the truth // One of America's top progressive sites for news and opinion Fri, 23 Mar 2018 16:06:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Clintons’ DOMA history thoroughly debunked Fri, 30 Oct 2015 14:50:31 +0000 A comprehensive review from Buzzfeed should settle this once and for all.

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Buzzfeed’s Chris Geidner just poured a gallon of cold water on Hillary Clinton’s claim that the Defense of Marriage Act was itself a “defensive action” that prevented a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage from passing:

There is no contemporaneous evidence…to support the claim that the Clinton White House considered a possible federal constitutional amendment to be a concern, based on a BuzzFeed News review of the thousands of documents released earlier this year by the Clinton Presidential Library about same-sex couples’ marriage rights and the Defense of Marriage Act. In the documents, which include correspondence from a wide array of White House and Justice Department officials, no one even hints that Bill Clinton’s thinking or actions regarding DOMA were animated by the threat of a federal constitutional amendment.

Instead, as Geidner notes, those operating within the White House at the time simply assumed Clinton would support DOMA, given that he had already expressed his opposition to same-sex marriage by the time the bill came up for consideration in 1996. As he writes, “While some of the few out gay employees and their strongest straight allies worked in the spring of the year to find a way to keep Clinton from supporting DOMA, the internal conversation surrounding the bill mostly concerned when Clinton would announce his support.” As he continues:

And Clinton ended up announcing his support sooner rather than later. On May 23, 1996 — less than three weeks after the bill was introduced in Congress — Clinton announced that he would sign the bill if it came to him as he understood it.

Through it all, though, no one discussing the bill in the Clinton administration — from the White House senior staff to gay staffers and their strongest allies to the press office to Justice Department lawyers — ever mentioned any concern about a federal constitutional amendment.

That’s because conservatives weren’t throwing around the idea of a constitutional amendment in any serious way. At the time, conservatives were freaking out over the prospect of having to do exactly what DOMA said they wouldn’t have to do: recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. A constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage was not the go-to policy response to states like Hawai’i legalizing same-sex marriage; DOMA was.

This jives with a guest post Elizabeth Birch wrote here at AMERICAblog in 2013, explaining that the Clintons’ assertion that DOMA was passed to “defuse a movement to enact a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage” simply isn’t supported by the discussions that took place at the time. As she wrote:

In 1996, I was President of the Human Rights Campaign, and there was no real threat of a Federal Marriage Amendment. That battle would explode about eight years later, in 2004, when President Bush announced it was a central policy goal of his administration to pass such an amendment. (President Bush made such an announcement even while his right hand man, Vice President Cheney, had a lesbian daughter).

The only threat in 1996 — the year DOMA became law —- was a marriage case making its way through the courts in Hawai’i, and that case was only construed under the Hawai’i Constitution.

Geidner’s account traces the White House’s train of through throughout 1996, as DOMA was introduced and considered in Congress. While White House memos initially suggested that allowing the states to hold different definitions of marriage would violate the Equal Protection Clause, but they quickly backed off that view and took a more generous interpretation of the bill:

The Clintons, via stocklight / Shutterstock

The Clintons, via stocklight / Shutterstock

Even then, though, nothing in the voluminous communications among members of the White House staff or between the Justice Department and White House mention any concerns about or even consideration of the possibility of a federal constitutional amendment that might explain support for DOMA.

The story detailed in the discussions is simpler: Clinton opposed same-sex marriage and opposed federal recognition of same-sex couples’ marriages. Ultimately, then, he supported the substance of the bill — and efforts to get him to oppose the bill on federalism grounds or due to constitutional concerns were shut down within a week of the bill’s introduction.

This stance was continuously affirmed by White House staff in public, as well as in private, with Press Secretary Mike McCurry responding to a question about DOMA by saying that “[President Clinton] believes this is a time when we need to do things to strengthen the American family.” Shortly thereafter, Assistant Attorney General Andrew Fois informed House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde that the White House believed DOMA would hold up under constitutional scrutiny.

Shortly thereafter, the White House adopted a position in favor of DOMA based not on Clinton’s begrudging nod to federalism, but rather on his opposition to same-sex marriages being recognized by the federal government, with talking points that read: “[S]ince the president does not believe that the federal government should recognize gay marriage, he does not believe it is appropriate for federal resources to be devoted to providing spousal benefits to partners in gay and lesbian relationships.”

Geidner’s account is comprehensive and thorough, leaving no doubt that when Hillary Clinton says that her husband’s support of DOMA was actually pro-LGBT, as it was a calculated political decision aimed at preventing something worse, she’s simply wrong. You can read the whole thing here.

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Clinton called out for whitewashing Defense of Marriage Act history Mon, 26 Oct 2015 13:55:04 +0000 The Defense of Marriage Act was actually *pro* LGBT equality???

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Hillary Clinton has been trying out a new explanation for her support of the Defense of Marriage Act, which her husband signed into law in 1996. According to her, the bill wasn’t meant to be an offensive attack on the LGBT community, it was a “defensive action” to prevent something worse, like a constitutional amendment banning marriage equality. As she told Rachel Maddow last week:

On Defense of Marriage, I think what my husband believed – and there was certainly evidence to support it – is that there was enough political momentum to amend the Constitution of the United States of America, and that there had to be some way to stop that. And there wasn’t any rational argument – because I was in on some of those discussions, on both ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ and on DOMA, where both the president, his advisers and occasionally I would – you know, chime in and talk about, ‘you can’t be serious. You can’t be serious.’ But they were.  And so, in a lot of ways, DOMA was a line that was drawn that was to prevent going further.

As Chris Johnson noted in the Washington Blade, this isn’t the first time the Clintons have explained DOMA in this context:

The Clintons on inauguration day, via Wikimedia Commons

The Clintons on inauguration day, via Wikimedia Commons

The notion that DOMA was signed into law to stave off a U.S. constitutional amendment has been articulated before by Hillary Clinton during an interview last year on National Public Radio. Bill Clinton offered that rationale for DOMA in 2009 during Netroots Nation when confronted by LGBT activist Lane Hudson.

“We were attempting at the time, in a very reactionary Congress, to head off an attempt to send a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage to the states,” Bill Clinton said. “And if you look at the 11 referenda much later — in 2004, in the election — which the Republicans put on the ballot to try to get the base vote for President Bush up, I think it’s obvious that something had to be done to try to keep the Republican Congress from presenting that.”

However, this version of the history of DOMA doesn’t square with what many LGBT activists remember:

Clinton’s revision is especially puzzling given the fact that, in the 2016 campaign, Clinton has been pretty good on LGBT issues, especially her full-throated endorsement of the Equality Act, which she called her “highest priority.”

At Saturday’s Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner in Iowa, Bernie Sanders attacked Clinton over this distortion — a rare move for him — highlighting his vote against DOMA while he was in Congress:

Now today, some are trying to rewrite history by saying that they voted for one anti-gay law to stop something worse. That is not the case. There was a small minority in the house opposed to discriminating against our gay brothers and sisters and I am proud that I was one of those members.

Of course, as the same activists frustrated with Clinton were quick to point out vis a vis Sanders, just because he cast the right votes doesn’t mean he can necessarily call himself a champion of LGBT rights.

That being said, Sanders is a co-sponsor of the Equality Act in the Senate, and has opposed anti-gay discrimination laws going back to his campaigns for mayor in the 1970s.

At the end of the day, the Democratic field is filled with candidates who have done some degree of evolving on LGBT rights, but who have all (O’Malley included) landed in the right place today. Rather than pretend that their past errors don’t exist, or were actually pro-LGBT moves in the first place, they’d do better to admit their mistakes and move on. They can take credit for how far they’ve come.

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Don’t Tell Me to Wait Wed, 07 Oct 2015 17:41:28 +0000 Kerry Eleveld's out with a new book on the LGBT movement's relationship with President Obama. Read it.

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When Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were duking it out for the Democratic nomination in late 2007 and early 2008, I was a junior in high school who couldn’t tell you all that much about where each candidate stood on repealing the Defense of Marriage Act and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, or enacting employment non-discrimination laws and marriage equality. What I could tell you, however, was that Barack Obama was good and Hillary Clinton was slightly less-good.

Why? Because Barack Obama was, well, different. He spoke in values, not sentences you could have pulled from the National Journal. By extension, his supporters seemed to back him not to elect a generic capital-D Democrat, but to elect this particular Democrat. He was an underdog, a sorta-outsider taking on everything that was wrong with politics — with every intention of winning. He was a statesman and an activist at the same time. It seemed he was running to be the kind of president everyone said they wanted.

My opinion of Obama at the time was definitely a bit rose-colored, and by no means perfectly “rational” as the word is used in political discourse. I identified with a candidate, and projected all things good upon them. And I didn’t just do this because I was in high school and didn’t know any better; for the vast majority of people engaged in politics, that’s how candidate choice works — at least on some level.

This is one of the many reasons why it’s so important for activists to pressure political candidates — especially the ones who are sympathetic to their causes to the point at which their support is taken for granted. The voters need to be reminded once in a while that their “all things good” projections on candidates are often just that: projections. As silly as this may sound, if constituencies that one expects would line up behind a candidate aren’t visibly upset with that candidate, their support is assumed by everyone else and, by extension, that candidate, giving them no incentive to move in that constituency’s direction. After all, why should they? They don’t have to give up anything in order to get their donations and their votes.

Perhaps nowhere has President Obama’s navigation of this tension been more measured, careful and, well, tense than with the LGBT community — a navigation thoroughly documented by former Advocate reporter and current DailyKos columnist (and friend of AMERICAblog!) Kerry Eleveld in her new book, Don’t Tell Me to Wait: How the Fight for Gay Rights Changed America and Transformed Obama’s Presidency. Drawing from her time spent covering Obama on the campaign trail in 2008, and from the White House during his first term — interviewing him in person three times during the process — the book provides an inside look at the politics of gay rights during the Obama years.

The story begins with then-candidate Obama’s defense of his opposition to same-sex marriage being used in a robocall supporting Proposition 8 in California, and ends with President Obama’s announcement in 2012 that this was no longer the case — his evolution was complete. In the intervening pages, however, the reader is told the story of how he got from Point A to Point B, highlighting the at times collaborative and at times confrontational relationship between the president and the movement who needed him.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the book is just how much inertia there is in Washington, and just how organized a movement needs to be in order to affect meaningful change. Yes, the LGBT movement won a series of political, legislative and/or legal battles on DOMA, DADT and marriage equality in recent years, but as Eleveld shows, those wins would not have happened so quickly — let alone happened at all — without a collection of efforts from both inside and outside of the Washington establishment. As she told me over the phone yesterday, winning battles for public opinion wasn’t enough; public support “doesn’t necessarily translate into what people do in Washington.”

This means that movements need to both move and capitalize on public opinion. The arc of history doesn’t bend toward justice by itself. More often than not, it has to be bent. Bloggers need to sweat what traditional media might consider small stuff, like when John Aravosis flagged the Obama campaign’s selection of Donnie McClurkin — a gospel singer who had vowed to fight “the curse of homosexuality” — for a “40 Days of Faith & Family” tour, describing the nod as “sucking up to anti-gay bigots and joining them on stage – no, giving them a stage.” Activists need to stage direct actions that generate headlines that make specific legislation a priority, like when GetEQUAL activists continuously interrupted President Obama’s speech at a fundraiser for Barbara Boxer calling for him to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Insider interest groups like the Human Rights Campaign need to establish relationships with members of Congress for when legislation like the Hate Crimes Act is introduced. Donors need to be willing to withhold money from politicians and political organizations that aren’t willing to fight for said legislation.

Without multi-front campaigns like these, inertia in Washington can and will prevent change. Even leaders who in their heart of hearts want to move ahead of the status quo won’t do so unless they feel that doing so is politically viable. President Obama appears to be no exception in this regard, holding out support for marriage equality by repeatedly saying he was “evolving” on the issue and at multiple points saying he wasn’t ready to “make news” on the issue before he finally announced his full support. In hindsight, it’s easy to see how late to the party he was, and how much he underestimated his ability to lead public opinion on the issue as opposed to simply following it. But as Eleveld said, by the time President Obama came around on marriage equality, the issue had become far larger than conventional wisdom held. As she told me:

Marriage equality was no longer just some constituency issue. It was an issue that spoke to the core of who the president was as a person. It was no longer just LGBT-specific…It was a broader progressive issue that many people were paying attention to — not just LGBT people. It became this marker of: “Is this really the guy that we elected in 2008? Because the guy we elected in 2008 was not only supposed to be true to himself — and in that sense, very candid with the voters — but also ahead of the curve. And he’s clearly not ahead of the curve anymore on this.”

That was only a political reality because the LGBT movement pushed the curve ahead, constantly reminding the president that their support — in coverage, in dollars, in votes and so on  — was not a guarantee. He had to earn it. As the LGBT movement looks to the battles ahead (the Equality Act, which the White House is not yet ready to endorse, comes to mind), it’s beyond important to keep this in mind. It isn’t enough that the public already thinks that anti-LGBT housing and hiring discrimination are already (and rightly) illegal; it will take coordinated pressure on the politicians who we count as friends in order to make it so.

We can’t wait.

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What to watch for at the Supreme Court today Tue, 28 Apr 2015 12:00:43 +0000 A few things to keep in mind as the Court hears Obergefell vs. Hodges.

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The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Obergefell v. Hodges today, holding debate on whether state-level bans on same-sex marriage are constitutional and, perhaps by extension, if marriage is a fundamental right that cannot be denied on the basis of sexual orientation. It’s an historic day, and could be an indication of more historic days to come.

The case comes shortly (in legal terms) following the United States v. Windsor decision, in which the Court held that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional, and that the federal government had to recognize same-sex marriages that were legal on a state level.

Here are a few of the important things to listen for as the LGBT community and nation as a whole attempts to read the tea-leaves as to how the justices plan to rule later this summer:

What are the conservatives arguing?

Over 100 amicus briefs have been filed by various parties in advance of these oral arguments, many of which entail a wide range of conservative cases against marriage equality. Some are absurd, like the one filed by “over 100 scholars of marriage” — a title in search of a job — arguing that legalizing same-sex marriage will directly result in over 900,000 abortions over the next generation. Others argue that the court should reject marriage equality because sodomy was illegal for so long that tradition mandates upholding bans on same-sex marriage. Still more argue that endorsing marriage equality will stigmatize religious conservatives, effectively telling the Court to preemptively exercise heightened scrutiny for them as a protected class, not the LGBT community.

In oral arguments in lower courts, and in Windsor, conservatives have also argued against marriage equality on the grounds that the state has an interest in defining marriage on the grounds of procreation, and that children of same-sex couples fare worse than children of opposite-sex couples. It would be a gross understatement to say that those arguments did not fare well under scrutiny.

If the conservatives arguing against marriage equality in court adopt any of these arguments, it will signal that they’re going for a big, unlikely win. If, on the other hand, they make a smaller case, arguing that the Court should resist public opinion and punt the issue back to the states, it will amount to an admission that marriage equality should be legal, just in as few places as possible.

Making their case in terms of federalism and states’ rights is likely conservatives’ last best hope for walking out of Obergefell with anything to hang their hats on. It would be a major concession, but a calculated one. As oral arguments commence, we’ll know early on if that’s the tack they are taking.

Will the plaintiffs cite Scalia?

In his 2013 dissent in Windsor, Justice Antonin Scalia (R – VA) penned an impassioned outburst denouncing the victory of the “so-called homosexual agenda,” warning the nation that the ruling set a dangerous precedent for future cases:

The real rationale of today’s opinion, whatever disappearing trail of its legalistic argle-bargle one chooses to follow, is that DOMA is motivated by “‘bare … desire to harm’” couples in same-sex marriages. How easy it is, indeed how inevitable, to reach the same conclusion with regard to state laws denying same-sex couples marital status.

To which those in favor of marriage equality responded: “Yep, pretty much.”

Scalia’s Windsor dissent has been used in numerous cases in which lower courts have invalidated state bans on same-sex marriage. As Garrett Epps of The Atlantic noted, it was even directly referenced in roughly half of the majority decisions that struck down same-sex marriage bans.

The concession embedded in Scalia’s rant is crucial in determining not if the court affirms marriage equality, but in how broad their ruling is. So it would constitute more than simple trolling if the plaintiffs were to remind the Court of it.

If the Court rules in favor of marriage equality on the same grounds as Scalia cited in Windsor — that same-sex marriage bans are motivated by a “bare…desire to harm” — then the ruling will have used heightened scrutiny and classified sexual orientation as a protected class of citizens. That would be huge in the context of future laws and court cases concerning LGBT discrimination, which we may well see in the near future. As many of the recent religious freedom “right to discriminate” laws were passed in part as a response to state-level marriage equality, it’s highly likely that marriage-related discrimination winds up back in court in the coming years.

Another way the Court could use heightened scrutiny in deciding Obergefell would be to rule that same-sex marriage bans discriminate based on sex, not sexual orientation. As Kenji Yoshino at Slate noted, “James Obergefell was prohibited from marrying his now-deceased partner, John Arthur, because of their sexes, not their orientations. If John had been a woman, they could have married, regardless of their sexual orientations.” However, this form of heightened scrutiny would not constitute the same kind of victory for the LGBT community, as it could not be used as precedent in cases concerning anti-discrimination efforts that really are about sexual orientation as opposed to sex. However, as Yoshino also points out in their article, heightened scrutiny concerning sex and sexual orientation is “not mutually exclusive.

The Court is widely expected to rule in favor of marriage equality, but how they rule is almost as important. And in what is probably the only time I will ever use these words in this order: The Court should use Scalia’s logic as precedent in deciding this case.

What is John Roberts thinking?

Anthony Kennedy is considered the Roberts Court’s swing justice, but his opinions in Windsor have led many to believe that he will come down in favor of marriage equality, and could do so using heightened scrutiny. This being the case, almost as much attention is being paid to John Roberts, who court observers are having a harder time reading.

The Bush appointee is regarded as being both personally opposed to marriage equality and professionally concerned about his legacy as Chief Justice. One need look no further than his opinion(s) in the NFIB v. Sebelius case that partially upheld the Affordable Care Act to see this tension at play. In Obergefell, Roberts could go through another tug of war in which he both wants to be on the right side of history and has personal objections to what being on the right side of history entails.

That said, when it comes to Obergefell, the LGBT community may not even want Roberts’s vote. As Michaelangelo Signorile noted earlier this year in the Huffington Post, it is entirely possible that Roberts will vote with a majority in favor of marriage equality for the purpose of writing a narrow opinion. By voting with the majority Roberts, being Chief Justice, could reserve the right to write the controlling opinion. Unlike a majority opinion written by any of the other pro-marriage equality justices, Roberts’s opinion could potentially be much narrower, avoiding heightened scrutiny.

In other words, Roberts could elbow his way into a majority opinion that could, in theory, approach marriage equality in terms of federalism, in which states have to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages but can’t be required to perform them within their own borders. This is essentially what conservatives such as Marco Rubio — and Tony Perkins — have been arguing ever since they stopped shaking their fists at Windsor.

Today’s an historic day, and will give us clues as to what an even more historic day this summer will look like. All signs point to some form of victory for the LGBT movement, but the deal isn’t done yet.

Stay tuned.

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Is Bill Clinton redeemed? Thu, 25 Sep 2014 21:55:40 +0000 Former President Clinton has been invited to address the annual HRC gay rights dinner.

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The Human Rights Campaign, America’s largest gay rights group, has invited former president Bill Clinton to keynote their annual dinner next month.

That’s led a reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle to suggest that Clinton has been “redeemed” for the double sins of embracing the anti-gay Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) during his tenure in the 1990s.

I wasn’t thrilled with how President Clinton handled DADT in 1993 (clumsily), nor with his approach to DOMA in 1996 (welcoming it with open arms, and then using his support of it to rally southern voters). But. There is no question that Bill Clinton was, as my friend Richard Socarides calls him, a “transformational figure” in the battle for gay rights.

And keep in mind, Clinton addressed the HRC dinner back in 1997 as well. And that was right after DOMA passed the previous year. So this effort to read-the-tea-leaves about Clinton’s invite might prove weak tea after all.

Then-President Bill Clinton appearing at the HRC annual dinner with then- HRC President Elizabeth Birch.

Then-President Bill Clinton appearing at the HRC annual dinner with then- HRC President Elizabeth Birch.

I was just coming out around the time Clinton was running for president, and elected. And it was a big deal having a candidate, and then president, who dared to speak our name.

I remember watching the Democratic convention and seeing Clinton supporter, and someone I grew to know and admire years later, Bob Hattoy address the convention during prime time as both an openly-gay man and a person living with HIV/AIDS. That was unheard of at a political convention, let alone prime time. And, it forced the Republicans to then do the same, inviting AIDS activist, and GOP doyenne, Mary Fisher to speak at their convention. (Though Mary was “safely” straight.)

And that was only the beginning.

Clinton gave us the first administration committed to fighting HIV/AIDS, including appointing an AIDS czar. He gave us the first openly-gay appointees at the most senior levels in any administration as of that date. He gave us the first openly-gay US ambassador, and more.

Bill Clinton wasn’t perfect. And as good as he was on our issues, there was reason for our community to be annoyed with him at times during his presidency and after. (For example, it took him a while to come around on marriage equality.) But during his time in office, and subsequently, President Clinton made a huge difference for our community, and on issues we care about like AIDS.

So I have no problem with HRC embracing Bill Clinton. Yeah, DADT and DOMA kinda stunk. But he still made a huge difference for the gay community at a crucial time. And for that, he shall forever be thanked.

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The Defense of the History of (Gay) Marriage Mon, 21 Apr 2014 21:06:37 +0000 A new book has the "definitive account" of the gay marriage battle over the last 5 years. And gets it all wrong.

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Gay activist and journalist Michelangelo Signorile weighs in on the growing controversy over a new book about the gay marriage battle that tends to overlook the work of a number of advocates at both the state and national level.

The book by Jo Becker, Forcing the Spring: Inside the Fight for Marriage Equality, is billed as the “definitive account” of the marriage equality battle of the past five years. Except it isn’t.

From the book’s Amazon page:

A tour de force of groundbreaking reportage by Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Jo Becker, Forcing the Spring is the definitive account of five remarkable years in American civil rights history: when the United States experienced a tectonic shift on the issue of marriage equality. Beginning with the historical legal challenge of California’s ban on same-sex marriage, Becker expands the scope to encompass all aspects of this momentous struggle, offering a gripping behind-the-scenes narrative told with the lightning pace of the greatest legal thrillers.

Protesters outside the Supreme Court, and across from the US Congress, for the oral arguments on the gay rights cases involving DOMA and Proposition 8 in March, 2013. © John Aravosis 2013

Protesters outside the Supreme Court, and across from the US Congress, for the oral arguments on the gay rights cases involving DOMA and Proposition 8 in March, 2013. © John Aravosis 2013

For nearly five years, Becker was given free rein in the legal and political war rooms where the strategy of marriage equality was plotted. She takes us inside the remarkable campaign that rebranded a movement; into the Oval Office where the president and his advisors debated how to respond to a fast-changing political landscape; into the chambers of the federal judges who decided that today’s bans on same-sex marriage were no more constitutional than the previous century’s bans on interracial marriage; and into the mindsets of the Supreme Court judges who decided the California case and will likely soon decide the issue for the country at large. From the state-by state efforts to win marriage equality at the ballot box to the landmark Supreme Court case that struck down a law that banned legally married gay and lesbian couples from receiving federal benefits, Becker weaves together the political and legal forces that reshaped a nation.

Signorile walks through three particularly egregious examples of some serious defects in the book, including:

  • Becker’s refusal to name any state advocates who fought, and won, important gay marriage battles in their states in 2012;
  • Her effort to diminish the role, and importance, of Roberta Kaplan, Edie Windsor’s lawyer, in the incredible gains we’ve had over the past few years; and
  • The role AMERICAblog, and specifically Joe Sudbay, played in the debate over the administration’s defense, and then rejection, of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

I won’t go through all of Mike’s arguments, you can read through them on your own. I would like to weigh in on two points, though.  First, the significance of Prop 8 in our overall marriage quality gains, and the role of AMERICAblog.

Prop 8

As I’ve written before, Proposition 8 in California was a unique evil, the import of which even our straight allies don’t always fully appreciate.  Prop 8 passed in November of 2008, and not only was a statement “against gay marriage,” it repealed the already-existing civil right of gay couples in California to marry.  It was unique in civil rights history, where you’d be hard pressed to find too many examples of civil rights bestowed and then repealed.

prop-8-plaintiffs-air-force-oneBut of course, Prop 8 was even worse than that.  Its advocates claimed that Prop 8 actually dissolved 18,000 legal marriages of gay couples already performed in California.  The new state constitutional amendment, supported by the religious right and Catholic church, and brought back from the dead by the Mormons and their $20 million investment, was vicious.

So, Prop 8 had an incredible impact on the gay psyche. Add to that the legal challenge by esteemed lawyers Boies and Olson, and Prop 8 was hugely important in the marriage equality battle.

Except then a funny thing happened on the way to the promised land: Edie Windsor showed up and crossed the finish line first.

US v Windsor

Here’s some background on Windsor’s case, handled by lawyer Roberta Kaplan, from Wikipedia:


Edie Windsor

In 2007, Edith “Edie” Windsor and Thea Spyer, residents of New York, married in Toronto, Ontario, under the provisions set forth in the Canadian Civil Marriage Act, after 40 years of romantic partnership. Canada’s first openly gay judge, Justice Harvey Brownstone, officiated. Windsor had first suggested engagement in 1965. After Spyer’s death in 2009, Windsor was required to pay $363,053 in federal estate taxes on her inheritance of her wife’s estate. If federal law had recognized the validity of their marriage, Windsor would have qualified for an unlimited spousal deduction and paid no federal estate taxes. In May 2008, New York Governor David Paterson had ordered state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions. Some lower-level state courts had made similar rulings, but whether the state’s highest court would give such a ruling the force of law, as Windsor’s claim for a refund required, remained uncertain and was disputed throughout her lawsuit.

To make a very long story short, last summer the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of DOMA, and sided with Windsor.  In the last less-than-year, the Windsor decision has successfully led to at least 14 victories of gay marriage advocates in as many states.

Something else happened last summer on the same day the historic Windsor decision was issued: The Supreme Court also dismissed the religious right’s challenge of a lower court decision finding Prop 8 unconstitutional.  That means, Prop 8 was struck down and gays in California could once again legally wed. It was a huge victory for Californians. And it had nowhere near the national import of US v. Windsor.

Yes, Prop 8 was  the “it girl” in 2008.  And then it wasn’t.  The true hero – well, the latest and greatest hero of the decades-long fight for marriage equality – was Edie Windsor and her lawyer Roberta Kaplan.

Now that’s not to say that lots of other heroes don’t share the crown.  Prop 8 was important in terms of focusing the gay community, and changing attitudes of the public at large.  And lots of commentators and activists from Andrew Sullivan to Evan Wolfson played a huge role, legally and culturally, in moving the marriage ball forward (in addition to the many state advocates that Mike mentions in his piece).  But the people who crossed the finish line first were Edie Windsor and her lawyer Roberta Kaplan.


And now a quick word about DOMA.

Becker mentions in her book the importance of the Obama administration changing its mind and no longer defending DOMA in the courts.  She writes about how the President was incensed when he found out that the administration’s brief filed in support of DOMA on June 12, 2009 had caused an uproar in the gay community, and with the national media.

But Becker doesn’t mention the fact that the “activists” who caused the firestorm were Joe Sudbay and me, writing on AMERICAblog.  Joe had managed to get a copy of the administration’s brief before anyone else in the media, or activist world, had it. Both of us being lawyers, we went through the brief and ripped it to shreds, piece by piece, over the ensuing hours — publishing minute-by-minute updates on AMERICAblog.

People were livid about the brief, but others were mad at us as well.  Some bought into the administration’s argument that they had no choice but to defend DOMA in court.  After all, the Department of Justice said, DOMA is the law of the land, and how could a department of “justice” not defend the law?

But again, being lawyers, Joe and I knew this wasn’t entirely true.  With the help of then-law-student Paul Sousa’s research, we wrote a story detailing how Reagan, H.W. Bush, Clinton and W. Bush all refused to defend certain laws during their respective administrations. We also asked our friend and colleague Richard Socarides, who is also a lawyer, and who worked in the Clinton White House, if he’d consider penning a piece explaining the options the President had.  So Richard did.  And it ended up being the first, and seminal, piece on the topic.

Two years later, the White House and DOJ relented, and admitted that the President didn’t have to, and no longer would, defend DOMA in court.  It was a huge and welcome victory, and it was owed to the work of a lot of people, from activists to organizations, but Joe and I quite literally got the ball rolling.  And you wouldn’t know any of it from Becker’s “definitive” history of the last five years of the gay marriage battle.

Here’s Mike with more:

AMERICAblog broke the story of the Obama administration's brief defending DOMA on June 12, 2009.

AMERICAblog broke the story of the Obama administration’s brief defending DOMA on June 12, 2009.

In another example Becker claims that President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, because of their beliefs about what was constitutional, both realized at the same time that they couldn’t defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in court, a decision that was made in 2011. Yet she doesn’t detail the relentless pressure campaign that had been going on for over a year before that decision, coming from the streets and online, including from Joe Sudbay and John Aravosis at AMERICAblog. They began the campaign to stop Obama from defending DOMA after the Justice Department filed an offensive brief defending DOMA in June 2009, in the face of many Obama apologists, some connected to the administration, who attacked them and said that the administration had to defend DOMA. Every word and action of Becker’s insiders is reported in detail, but when it comes to others, they’re just anonymous “activists” or vague events or an unattributed headline here or there.


One final point that Signorile explains in more detail, but Becker also overlooked a rather major turning point in the gay marriage battle: AMERICAblog’s then-deputy Joe Sudbay’s interview with President Obama, in which Joe got the President to say that he was “evolving” on the issue of gay marriage.

Here’s Mike:

Joe Sudbay and four other progressive bloggers interview President Obama at the White House on

Joe Sudbay and four other progressive bloggers interview President Obama at the White House

Becker doesn’t even tell the story of how Sudbay got the president to say, during an interview in October 2010, that he was “evolving” on marriage. (“[A]ttitudes evolve, including mine,” Obama said.) It was a pivotal moment, certainly reported on at great length in the media, that would be used against the president over and over by media pundits and activists demanding that he “evolve already!” Becker doesn’t cover it at all, only mentioning, while telling yet another story about the insiders that took place three months later, that Obama had “now said” that he was “evolving,” again making it seem like it was the insiders who had gotten him there.

Enough credit to go around

There’s more than enough credit to go around on the increasingly-successful battle over marriage equality in America.  And there are far more activists and lawyers and organizations than I can remember, who over the decades played key roles in getting us to where we are today.

But Becker’s book, which portrays itself as the “definitive account” of the past five years, doesn’t mention any of it.

It only goes to prove something I learned long ago. History isn’t written by the victors. History is written by those who step up to write it.  And unless you speak out, and challenge fiction, fantasy will eventually become accepted as fact.

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Gay marriages have begun in Michigan! Sat, 22 Mar 2014 16:06:02 +0000 Last night a federal court struck down Michigan's gay marriage ban, the 14th such victory since US v. Windsor.

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UPDATE: And the appellate court has decided to stay the marriages of gay couples in Michigan until Wednesdsay, when it will make a decision on whether to stay them throughout the state’s appeal. Still, as I note below, it’s already too late.  Reportedly over 200 gay couples were married in Michigan today. That adds a whole other element to the appeal, one that potentially works in our favor.

I try to refrain from using the exclamation point, but this is worth it.  Gay couples are getting married in Michigan!


I’d reported last night that a federal court in Michigan struck down the state constitution’s gay marriage ban, while at the same time taking a huge swipe at the lead anti-gay “study,” which was conceived at the Republican think tank “The Heritage Foundation.”


Utah saw a two-week spate of gay weddings last December.

Michigan is the 14th state in a row to have a gay marriage court victory following the Supreme Court’s ruling last summer in US v. Windsor, striking down a key provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

While the Windsor decision did not legalize gay marriage, many of us believed the language to be so broad that it would lead to such decisions in lower courts (thus permitting the issue to be resolved more slowly than in one fell swoop in a Supreme Court decision, perhaps making it more politically palatable to the public).

In Michigan this morning, we appear to be having a repeat of what happened in Utah last Christmas.  Pending a decision on a stay from the appellate court, people are getting married.  In Utah, those marriages took place for a good two weeks before the courts stepped in and said “wait until we issue a final ruling.”

The reason this matters is because now the cat’s out of the bag.  It would be one thing for an appellate court to overturn a lower court ruling in favor of gays getting married. It’s another thing entirely for the appellate court to overturn thousands of actual marriages, in many cases affecting children.

And it gets even more complicated than that.  If the court permits those already-married to stay married, while telling other gay couples that they can’t get married, the wanting-to-get-married gay couples would have an equal protection claim under the federal Constitution: Why are some gay couples permitted to be wed under state (possibly) and federal (certainly) law in Michigan while some are not?  The Constitution tends to frown on treating identical people differently without very good reason.

Here are some great images of the Michigan weddings by Chris Savage and others on Twitter:

michigan-gay-marriage-6 michicgan-gay-weddings-5 michigan-gay-weddings-4 michigan-gay-weddings-3 michigan-gay-married-2 michigan-gay-marriage-1

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Breaking: SecDef orders 9 rogue red-state National Guards to recognize spouses of gay US troops Fri, 01 Nov 2013 01:19:42 +0000 National Guard in 9 mostly-southern red states have defied DOD orders to recognize spouses of gay troops.

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Big news from the Pentagon. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has just said this evening that he is directing rogue National Guard organizations in mostly-southern red states to stop actively discriminating against gay service members, and start issuing Pentagon ID cards to their spouses.

In the past few months, the National Guard in Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Indiana, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and West Virginia has refused to recognize the same-sex spouses of gay service members because of homophobic local Republican politicians.

When the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act was struck down on June 26, 2013, the Pentagon ordered same-sex spouses to be treated the same as the spouses of heterosexual US service members.  The National Guards in the states mentioned above refused to issue ID cards to the spouses of gay service members, arguing that anti-“gay marriage” laws in the states forbade them from doing so.

Secretary Hagel said tonight that those state National Guards are breaking federal law, and DOD policy, and it won’t be tolerated.

dadt white house protest

The fact that Hagel invoked federal law and DOD policy means that the administration now has multiple avenues for forcing compliance, including going to court.

This is a big deal.

Here’s Hagel tonight at a speech at the ADL in NYC:

The balance between security and civil rights sends an important message to the world. At the Department of Defense, we work to preserve America’s individual liberties as well as defend our freedom.

When the Supreme Court issued its decision on the Defense of Marriage Act this summer, the Department of Defense immediately began working on providing the same benefits to all eligible spouses, regardless of sexual orientation. We did it because everyone who serves our country in uniform should receive the full benefits they earned, fairly and in accordance with the law. Everyone’s rights must be protected.

This means that all spouses of service members are entitled to DoD ID cards, and the benefits that come with them. But several states are refusing to issue these IDs to same-sex spouses at National Guard facilities. Not only does this violate the states’ obligations under federal law, their actions have created hardship and inequality by forcing couples to travel long distances to federal military bases to obtain the ID cards they’re entitled to.

This is wrong. It causes division among the ranks, and it furthers prejudice, which DoD has fought to extinguish.

Today, I directed the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, General Frank Grass, to take immediate action to remedy this situation. At my direction, he will meet with the Adjutants General from the states where these ID cards are being denied. The Adjutants General will be expected to comply with both lawful direction and DoD policy, in line with the practices of 45 other states and jurisdictions.

Whether they are responding to natural disasters here at home, in their states, or fighting in Afghanistan, our National Guardsmen all wear the uniform of the United States of America. They are serving this country. They – and their families – are entitled to all the benefits and respect accorded to all of our military men and women.

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Alabama GOP tries to force out College Republican chairwoman for being pro-gay Sat, 17 Aug 2013 23:30:59 +0000 Watch all of her young friends abandon your racist, sexist, homophobic party for their rest of their long lives.

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The Alabama Republican party is working on a measure to slap down the state College Republican chairwoman for applauding the Supreme Court’s recent decision on DOMA.

An Alabama Republican Party member’s Facebook post in support of gay marriage catalyzed a proposed amendment to the state party’s bylaws that would remove anyone publicly supporting a position contrary to the national GOP platform from its steering committee,Yellowhammer News reported Thursday.

Good. Kick her out. And watch all of her young friends abandon your racist, sexist, homophobic party for their rest of their long lives.

the South

Does anyone seriously think that the future of the Republican party is Alabama? Well, actually, the future of the GOP is Alabama. And that’s their problem. Because the rest of us, the majority of the country, have/has no desire to embrace Alabama’s backward bigotry and intolerance.

And the really neat thing about the Internet is that every time Alabama Republicans have a political brain fart, we can, and will, broadcast it to the world, and paint every Republican in this country with their backwards bubba bigotry.

So, have a field day, Alabama.  You’re doing our job for us.

Love, the Gays.

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PA county conducts gay marriage, says state ban invalid post-DOMA Wed, 24 Jul 2013 21:02:01 +0000 County officials say the Supreme Court striking down DOMA gives them the authority to conduct gay marriages.

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In a quite interesting move, officials in the third-largest county in Pennsylvania, Montgomery County, have defied a statewide ban on gay marriages, conducting the state’s first “legal” gay marriage.

There’s an adorable photo of the couple, Loreen Bloodgood and Alicia A. Terrizzi, with their kids over at the local Pennsylvania paper.

The county officials made their decision to move ahead with the marriage of a lesbian couple after determining that the Supreme Court’s recent decision in US v. Windsor, striking down section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), gave them the authority to do so.


Now, one could argue that that’s a bit of a stretch, but the county officials aren’t totally wrong, I suspect. Meaning, I think that the Supreme Court’s DOMA ruling very likely invalidates state-based DOMAs. The problem is that you usually need a court to make that official, rather than local election officials making the call. That’s not to say that I oppose what the local officials did – I love me some civil disobedience. But I suspect we’re going to need a lawsuit to overturn the statewide DOMA first and/or challenge state election law that says marriage is between a man and a woman.

Interestingly, the Miami Herald had reported yesterday that the wedding was put on hold after the couple in question talked to the ACLU, whose attorneys had advised them not to proceed. Apparently, these test cases have been tried before, where local officials conducts marriages, and it hasn’t worked in the past.

I’m working on another post about this larger question – of when and how to pick the right legal civil disobedience, that I’ll hopefully post later today or in the morning.

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Gay groups criticized for pursuing marriage equality when people are poor Thu, 18 Jul 2013 11:00:02 +0000 "How is [gay] marriage going to protect you from poverty?"

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I’d written the other day about my concern that there’s a movement growing – a fringe one, but one that’s had the support of at least one large progressive think-tank and a decently-large progressive blog – to push gay civil rights groups to drop the gay rights agenda and instead fight against poverty.

The people pushing this agenda do not want us fighting for marriage at all, or even pushing for ENDA.  They want us doing the work of traditional race and poverty groups, full time, instead of gay rights.  And that simply doesn’t make sense if you’re going to claim that you’re a gay rights organization, or a gay rights activist.

To wit: this astonishing article from Rolling Stone on July 12 of this year.  And I quote:

For years, the larger LGBT movement has received criticism for focusing on marriage equality over issues seen as more relevant to working-class people and minorities. “If you’re a waitress in Jackson, Mississippi and you’re working at a job with no healthcare and your girlfriend is working at the local Target or Wal-Mart,” asks New Orleans writer and activist Kenyon Farrow, “how is marriage going to protect you from poverty?”

Well, the same way that modern marriage laws help protect women from poverty by giving them greater property rights than they once had when the marriage dissolves.  They used to get nothing.

But let’s back up a moment.  Other minorities fought their marriage equality battle 46 years ago, culminating in the Loving v. Virginia decision of 1967.  But when we fight for ours, nearly half a century later, suddenly the marriage battle – and the civil rights battle overall (at least as it pertains to gay and trans people) is selfish and superfluous.

gay marriage prop 8 doma

Photo by ©John Aravosis.

Rolling Stone continues:

Yet Farrow and others believe there is still a real need for the LGBT community to focus more directly on bread-and-butter issues. The group Queers for Economic Justice is already doing this in New York City by fighting for rights like paid sick leave and a living wage. Working to secure the right to vote – the most basic of democratic rights – would seem clearly to fit into this category.

You’ll notice one thing missing from that new queer agenda: Anything actually queer.

We are to believe that gay rights groups should no longer fight for gay rights – and they should specifically give up on marriage equality, and probably ENDA too (ENDA isn’t going to pay your rent) – because some gay people are poor.

The thing is, if you’re poor and your civil rights aren’t a priority for you, there already exist anti-poverty organizations that are fighting an anti-poverty agenda.  It’s unclear why gay rights groups need to disband in order to fight the agenda of organizations that already exist.  How many poverty groups disbanded when Matthew Shepard was murdered? That poor young man needed a lot more than a job the night he died.

No one is saying that we won’t help the larger progressive coalition – we will, and already are.  But these folks quite literally want us to stop fighting for our civil rights, and more specifically, stop using our civil rights organizations to fight for our civil rights. They actually seem to think that we should be ashamed of the fact that we’re fighting for our civil rights.  Rights, mind you, that they already have.  (One blogger recently chastised gays for focusing so intently on the Supreme Court DOMA and Prop 8 decisions in the days immediately preceding the rulings.  We were only anticipating the greatest victory in the history of our people. How selfish of us.)

Under that logic, then why not play the same game with environment issues.  Maybe environmental groups should stop fighting the Keystone Pipeline, and more generally stop fighting global warming, because neither of those causes will help poor people get a job today. It’s time the Sierra Club and WWF gave up on the environment and devoted all of their time to poverty.

And you know what else won’t help you get a job?  Protecting a woman’s right to choose.  Or opposing the death penalty.  Or worrying about Edward Snowden and the NSA.  Or fighting to strengthen the Voting Rights Act.  Or getting guns off the street.  Or immigration reform (how is that going to help some poor lesbian couple in Appalachia find a job?)  Or being outraged over the Zimmerman verdict, for that matter – a righteous cause if there was one, but sadly one that is not going to help a minority lesbian couple pay their bills.

According to these folks, we should all give up any battle we’re fighting, and dismantle any organization fighting that battle, and redirect all of our energies to fighting poverty.

Or to put it more succinctly: Please stop working on your pet issue, so you can work on their pet issue instead.

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First green card issued to Irish spouse of lesbian in Denver Fri, 05 Jul 2013 14:59:31 +0000 Green card was issued as a result of Supreme Court striking down DOMA.

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We’d reported before the Supreme Court struck down DOMA that the first couple to receive a Green Card, should DOMA be struck down, might just be Catriona Dowling and Cathy Davis.

In fact, they were the first lesbian couple.


Here’s a release from Lavi Soloway at the DOMA Project, and below that a lovely video Lavi did with Catriona and Cathy before the DOMA ruling:

On July 3, 2013, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a
green card for Cathy Davis based on her marriage to Catriona Dowling, making
Cathy the first immigrant to become a permanent resident in the U.S. through
marriage to her same-sex spouse.

Catriona Dowling and Cathy Davis joined The DOMA Project and filed a green
card petition based on their marriage in June of 2012 to prevent their family from
being torn apart and to demand equality under the law. They were running out of options last year when the extension of Cathy’s work visa was denied. After filing
the green card petition and the application to adjust status to permanent residence,
Cathy received an employment authorization card which allowed her to work and
contribute financially to support her family. The couple was scheduled for a “green
card” interview with USCIS in Denver on January 9, 2013. They were told by the
Immigration Officer, who thoroughly reviewed their documentation, that their case
could have been approved that day if they had been a man and a woman. However,
the interviewing officer put the case on hold at the request of the couple’s attorney,
DOMA Project co-founder, Lavi Soloway, rather than issuing a denial….


Just two days later, the first “stand alone” green-card petition was approved on
June 28, 2013, for another couple working with The DOMA Project: Julian Marsh
and Traian Popov in Florida. Approval of a green card petition filed by a U.S. citizen
is the first of a two-part process through which the spouse obtains status as a
“lawful permanent resident” and receives the actual green card. (Marsh and Popov
will complete the second part and receive a green card later this year.)
Cathy and Catriona are the first same-sex couple to have a marriage-based green
card issued by USCIS. Cathy Davis will forever be the first person to have shattered
this barrier.

Coincidentally, Richard Adams and Anthony Sullivan, the first gay couple to wage
a fight against the Immigration Service were married in Boulder, Colorado, in
1975. They filed green card petition and assert that their legal marriage must be
recognized for purposes of the immigration law. Although they were unsuccessful
in their lawsuit against the Immigration Service, they are widely respected as
pioneers in the movement for marriage equality and immigration rights for lesbian
and gay binational couples. Adams and Sullivan, who lived in Los Angeles, were
together as a couple for more than 40 years until the death of Richard Adams in
December. They blazed a trail for Cathy and Catriona and inspired thousands of
others who have take up the cause of equality for LGBT families.

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A beautiful story of love and marriage in the wake of Prop 8’s demise Tue, 02 Jul 2013 11:00:19 +0000 The story of how our writer, Chris Andoe, married his longtime boyfriend, Damon An Harris, last week in SF.

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Thirteen years ago I was attending a gay church service when I saw Damon walk in.

He was an attractive, conservatively dressed, fresh-faced black man of twenty-two. With his excellent posture, serious expression and weathered old Bible he looked like a young preacher. Considering four churches were at the same intersection, all I could think was “OMG HE’S IN THE WRONG CHURCH!”

It was three weeks before the LGBT Pride celebrations, and the service was even gayer than normal but he kept sitting there, so I figured he knew where he was. When service let out I hopped and elbowed my way up the isle so I’d exit at the same moment as he. “Hi I’m Chris,” I said as I shook his hand. I invited him to stay for the potluck, but he politely declined. I assumed he wasn’t interested, and didn’t think anything more about it.

He attended the next three services, I found out later, looking for me, but I wasn’t around. Then came Pride Sunday. I was working a booth when I saw him in the crowd. “Damon!” I yell. I’m horrible with names, but I remembered his.

He walked over, dressed more casually than last time, but still very well put together, and we had one of those conversations where the butterflies drown out anything the other person is saying. He took off his mirrored sunglasses and asked if I’d like to go out sometime.

Four years later, in 2004, we found ourselves living one mile away from San Francisco City Hall when Mayor Gavin Newsom surprised everyone by ordering city officials to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. It was cold and dreary out, but couples from around the world came to wait in the rain for the opportunity to get married. But not us. Damon had a cold, and we correctly figured the marriages would be nullified.

The decision not to participate in that historical moment was always something we regretted. We ended up moving around the country for five years before returning to California and waiting out Prop 8, which repealed California’s new-found legalization of same-sex marriages in 2008.

I was optimistic Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) would fall, and expected to be excited. But when the rulings came down from the Supreme Court last Wednesday, and I read Justice Kennedy’s decision, saying, “DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled of recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty,” I broke into tears. The reaction surprised me. It came from somewhere deep within.

There was still a great deal of caution, in light of the 25 day stay (initially we all believed that the court’s decision wouldn’t go into place for 25 days) so we kept our enthusiasm in check. But then on Friday evening, I was sitting in the park with my dogs, when I read the California Federal Appeals Court issued a late order: “The stay in the above matter is dissolved effective immediately”. A few minutes later I read “A jubilant San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee announced that same-sex couples would be able to marry all weekend in his city, which is hosting its annual gay pride celebration this weekend.” And the marriages began.

Damon and I had another chance, and this time we had the federal government behind us.

Saturday morning we decided thirteen years was long enough to wait, we were going to get married. We already had non-wedding plans with our friend Chatters, so I needed to inform her things had changed. Chatters and I only text in rhyme, so I sent the following:

This weekend’s plans have somewhat varied
Pride tomorrow but today get married.
We’re heading to SF City Hall to stand and wait
We’d like you with us. That’d be great.

She threw on a dress, jumped on her bicycle and rode the fifteen blocks to meet us. She was so excited she got dizzy and had to sit down. None of us could really believe this was happening. It was so surreal.

We stood in a line that began outside City Hall and snaked through the corridors. Hundreds of couples were there, many who’d been together decades longer than us.


The love, camaraderie and jubilation was like nothing we’d experienced. Cars driving by honked in support. People took photos for strangers. Stories were told. Pens were exchanged as forms were filled out. Questions like “Where was your dad born” echoed through the halls. Smiling volunteers were everywhere.


Two elderly gentlemen in their eighties were among the couples (photo below). One of them had mobility issues and his partner fussed over him and made sure he was comfortable. I thought about how critical being married was for them; they don’t have to worry about being split up in a nursing home, and won’t be burdened with unfair end of life complications. The surviving partner won’t be treated as just “a friend.”


In the grand rotunda Damon and I vowed that we’d always look after one another. We are a family.

Chatters took us out for brunch at a lesbian-run restaurant. Afterwards we celebrated with “bottomless mimosas,” and the earthy waitress held us to the “bottomless” part, in light of our big day. Full and happy we nearly fell asleep in the booth.

Everyone we encountered on our way home seemed able to tell we’d just been married, and all we got was love — from the streets of San Francisco, to the new neighbors we met in our Oakland elevator — people struck up conversations with us and shared in our joy.

Californians had been humiliated by the fluke which was Prop 8. Funded and backed largely by Mormons in Utah, it was never who we were.

In the corridors of San Francisco’s palatial City Hall, the building that rose after the catastrophic 1906 earthquake, the building where Harvey Milk made history, and where a young Diane Feinstein appeared before gasping reporters to deliver the unbelievable news that Milk and Mayor Moscone had been assassinated in their offices. The building where brand new Mayor Gavin Newsom made history by issuing the first same-sex wedding licenses in the United States, and where his successor Ed Lee invited couples to marry all weekend in the wake of the Supreme Court rulings.

In that building we didn’t do things the way they wanted us to do them in Utah, or in Mississippi, or on the Plains. We were free to make our own way, make our own families, and it was beautiful.

NOTE FROM JOHN: Chris and Damon have set up a wedding registry with United Airlines to pay for their honeymoon.  If anyone feels like contributing, here’s the link – thanks.


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DHS: Foreign gays married to Americans get Green Cards Tue, 02 Jul 2013 00:23:04 +0000 Generally speaking, INS will look to the law of where you were married, not where you live.

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Oh what a difference a single court opinion makes. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano has ordered that married gay couples be treated like every other married couple for immigration purposes.


This is a direct result of last week’s Supreme Court decision finding Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional.

In the past, gay Americans who were legally wed to gay foreigners found that the federal government did not recognize their legal marriages, because of DOMA, so the foreign gay spouses were deported.  All of that now changes.

Press Release
July 1, 2013
Contact: DHS Press Office, (202) 282-8010


“After last week’s decision by the Supreme Court holding that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional, President Obama directed federal departments to ensure the decision and its implication for federal benefits for same-sex legally married couples are implemented swiftly and smoothly. To that end, effective immediately, I have directed U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to review immigration visa petitions filed on behalf of a same-sex spouse in the same manner as those filed on behalf of an opposite-sex spouse.”

More from DHS:

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1: I am a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident in a same-sex marriage to a foreign national. Can I now sponsor my spouse for a family-based immigrant visa?

A1: Yes, you can file the petition. You may file a Form I-130 (and any applicable accompanying application). Your eligibility to petition for your spouse, and your spouse’s admissibility as an immigrant at the immigration visa application or adjustment of status stage, will be determined according to applicable immigration law and will not be automatically denied as a result of the same-sex nature of your marriage.

Q2: My spouse and I were married in a U.S. state that recognizes same-sex marriage, but we live in a state that does not. Can I file an immigrant visa petition for my spouse?

A2: Yes, you can file the petition. In evaluating the petition, as a general matter, USCIS looks to the law of the place where the marriage took place when determining whether it is valid for immigration law purposes. That general rule is subject to some limited exceptions under which federal immigration agencies historically have considered the law of the state of residence in addition to the law of the state of celebration of the marriage. Whether those exceptions apply may depend on individual, fact-specific circumstances. If necessary, we may provide further guidance on this question going forward.

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Will married gays avoid jobs in anti-marriage states? Mon, 01 Jul 2013 11:00:53 +0000 Married gays may lose some federal benefits if they live in states that don't recognize marriage equality.

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The nation’s employers are soon going to find themselves in an increasingly tough spot as married gay couples start avoiding jobs in states where their marriages are not recognized under state law.

I was reading a Tweet yesterday by Frank Rich, and it got me thinking:


The answer to Frank Rich’s question is: Maybe not too many, once companies realize that gay employees may now be at a distinct disadvantage working in states that do not recognize the marriages of legally-wed gay couples.

With the advent of last week’s Supreme Court decision striking down DOMA, and legalizing gay marriages in California, marriage suddenly became ‘real’ for the first time for many gay couples across America, even those already married.  Why “real” now?  Because in some ways, without the over 1,100 federal benefits that accrue to marriage, gay couples, even in states that permitted gay marriage, were married in name only.  For federal tax purposes, and for Social Security, Medicare, and one thousand other federal services, gay couples were considered single, even if they were legally married.

That meant that the opportunity cost of working in an anti-gay, anti-marriage-equality state was simply the state benefits you were losing, not federal benefits – since no married gay couples in any state got federal benefits. Now they do.  And that makes the cost of working in an anti-gay-marriage state that much higher for gay employees, and it’s one they may no longer be willing to accept.

While most federal federal marriage benefits define your marriage by the state you were married in, some, most notably Social Security and taxes, define your marriage by the state in which you live.


Chris Johnson at the Blade reports:

Some of these benefits, like Social Security survivor benefits and tax benefits, are in question because federal law governing these issues looks at a state where a couple lives as opposed to whether they were legally married. That means a gay couple that marries in a state like New York, but moves to Florida, won’t be able to apply for these benefits while living there.

The ACLU says that President Obama has some wiggle room here, but they weren’t entirely clear what wiggle room the President has for which programs:

James Esseks, director of the American Civil Liberties Union LGBT Project, said while explaining the decision that the Obama administration can interpret the rulings in a broad manner to ensure all federal benefits flow to married same-sex couples regardless of the state in which they live.

In almost all contexts, the Obama administration has the ability and the flexibility to move to a rule where they look to the law of the state in which you got married, not the state in which you live,” Esseks said. “So we expect and hope that the federal government is going to update those rules … and that would mean that once you get married, you’re married for federal purposes forever. That’s what we think the right rule is, and that’s the rule we think the administration can get to.”

An employer that could be especially hard-hit is America’s, and the world’s, largest employer, the Defense Department:

The Department is also the largest employer in the world,[5] with more than 2.13 million active duty soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, and civilian workers, and over 1.1 million National Guardsmen and members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Reserves. The grand total is just over 3.2 million servicemen, servicewomen, and civilians.


A lesbian wedding at West Point.

30% of Americans, or 93 million people, now live in states that have marriage equality. But what’s more important, every American now lives in a country that will recognize his or her legal gay marriage. That means 100% of gay Americans have something lose by working in a state in which gay marriage is not recognized.

It’s going to be very interesting to see what employers – and states – do next to stop a possible gay-business-flight from anti-gay states.

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THEY DID! Lesbian Prop 8 couple marries in California Fri, 28 Jun 2013 23:10:13 +0000 Prop 8 plaintiffs Kris Perry and Sandy Stier just tied the knot in California.

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What a freaking week. The court of appeals for the 9th circuit in California has just lifted its injunction on the lower court’s order striking down Proposition 8. That means marriages of gay couples in California begin again, immediately.

The flood gates are open. And to risk mixing my metaphors, this genie ain’t going back in the bottle any more. It’s over. We won.

The first couple to marry was Prop 8 plaintiffs Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, in San Francisco, below.  Later, Prop 8 Plaintiffs Jeff Katami and Paul Zarrillo got married tonight in Los Angeles.


Prop 8 plaintiffs Kris Perry and Sandy Stier about to get their marriage license in California as marriages for gay couples begin again in California following historic Supreme Court ruling. (Photo via HRC)

It’s over, they’re married! Well, they said their “I dos” and got their license, now they’re having a ceremony in moments – it’s rather confusing. You can watch it live here in moments.

And here’s the photo from the actual wedding, as compare to getting their marriage certificate from the clerk in the photo above:


And here’s the video of the wedding:


BREAKING: Immediate Return of Marriage Equality to California a Joyous Day for America

Following historic decisions, weddings begin immediately as 9th Circuit ends Prop 8 once and for all

WASHINGTON – Gay and lesbian couples will immediately be able to marry in California thanks to decisive action by the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to lift the stay on same-sex marriages. Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin released the following statement from San Francisco:

“After four and a half long and painful years, justice for committed gay and lesbian couples has finally been delivered. In California, a time of struggle and indignity are over, and love, justice and freedom begin anew. And now, no election, no judge – no one – can take this basic right away. At long last, marriage has finally returned to the most populous state in the nation.

“Kris Perry and Sandy Stier’s twin sons were just starting high school when their moms’ right to marry was taken away, now, as they prepare to start college, they will finally see their family recognized in the eyes of their state and their country. Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo, now free to marry, can finally plan the family they’ve always wanted. Thousands upon thousands of lives are about to change for the better, for good. And young LGBT people across the Golden State will can today look forward to a future where they are truly and fully equal.

“Today is a day of profound celebration, but tomorrow – and every day from here on out – we will fight until joy, dignity, and full equality in all its forms reach each and every corner of this vast country.”

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.

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And the benefits for married gay federal employees begin Fri, 28 Jun 2013 22:30:05 +0000 Health, life, dental, vision, long-term care insurance and more benefits for married gay federal employees.

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The Obama administration has announced a slew of new benefits for married gay federal employees, with more to come, as a result of the Supreme Court’s recent DOMA decision.

gay marriage

Gay marriage via Shutterstock


FROM: Elaine Kaplan
Acting Director

SUBJECT: Guidance on the Extension of Benefits to Married Gay and Lesbian Federal Employees, Annuitants, and Their Families

As you already know, on June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional. As a result of this decision, the United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM) will now be able to extend benefits to Federal employees and annuitants who have legally married a spouse of the same sex.

There are numerous benefits that are affected by the Supreme Court’s decision, and it is impossible to answer today every question that you may have. Nevertheless, I want to assure you that the U.S. Office of Personnel Management is committed to working with the Department of Justice to ensure swift and seamless implementation of the Court’s ruling.
OPM will be issuing additional information covering a broader range of issues, but at this time, OPM can offer the following guidance regarding specific employee benefits that may be of particular interest:

Health Insurance (FEHB): All legally married same-sex spouses will now be eligible family members under a Self and Family enrollment. In addition, the children of same-sex marriages will be treated just as those of opposite-sex marriages and will be eligible family members according to the same eligibility guidelines. This includes coverage for children of same-sex spouses as stepchildren. Employees and annuitants will have 60 days from June 26, 2013 until August 26, 2013, to make immediate changes to their FEHB enrollment. Enrollees will continue to be eligible to make changes to their coverage options during Open Season later this year. For those employees and annuitants who already have a Self and Family insurance plan, coverage for their same-sex spouse will begin immediately upon their notifying their FEHB carrier that there is a newly eligible family member. For those employees and annuitants electing Self and Family for the first time, benefits will be effective on the first day of the first pay period after the enrollment request is received. While online enrollment systems are updated, it may be necessary for employees and annuitants to update their elections using the paper (rather than electronic) version of the SF2809 form.

Life Insurance (FEGLI): All legally married same-sex spouses and children of legal same-sex marriages are now eligible family members under the FEGLI Program, which means that employees may add coverage for a same-sex spouse and any newly eligible children under Option C. Employees will have 60 days from June 26, 2013 until August 26, 2013, to make changes to their FEGLI enrollment.

Dental and Vision Insurance (FEDVIP): As with FEHB, all legally married same-sex spouses will now be eligible family members under a Self and Family enrollment or a Self Plus One enrollment. Current FEDVIP enrollees may now call BENEFEDS (877-888-FEDS (3337)) directly to make the necessary enrollment changes. Employees will have 60 days from June 26, 2013 until August 26, 2013, to make changes to their FEDVIP enrollment. Current enrollees will also be able to make changes to their coverage options during Open Season later this year, and individuals wishing to enroll in FEDVIP for the first time may also do so at that time.

Long-Term Care Insurance (FLTCIP): All legally married same-sex spouses can now apply for long-term care insurance under FLTCIP. Same-sex spouses of employees will have 60 days from June 26, 2013, to apply for FLTCIP coverage with abbreviated underwriting.

Retirement: All retirees who are in legal same-sex marriages will have two years from the date of the Supreme Court’s decision (i.e., June 26, 2015) to inform OPM that they have a legal marriage that now qualifies for recognition and elect any changes to their retirement benefits based on their recognized marital status. In the coming days, OPM will be developing guidance to help retirees determine whether they wish to change their pension benefits in a way that will provide benefits for their surviving spouse. Retirees will need to determine whether this option makes sense for them, as making this election will likely result in a deduction to the monthly annuity that the retiree currently receives. Going forward, the same-sex spouses of retiring employees will be eligible for survivor annuities.

Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA): All employees who are in legal same-sex marriages will now be able to submit claims for medical expenses for their same-sex spouse and any newly qualifying (step)children to their flexible spending program.
* * *
Additional guidance regarding these and other benefits will be coming soon. In the meantime, questions regarding the effect of the Supreme Court’s DOMA decision on Federal employee and annuitant benefits should be directed to OPM through your agency Chief Human Capital Officer.
We appreciate your cooperation in our effort to implement the Supreme Court’s decision, and provide greater equality to Federal employees and annuitants regardless of their sexual orientation.

cc: Chief Human Capital Officers

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Paula Deen, Proposition 8, and the sometimes-nuance of bigotry Fri, 28 Jun 2013 16:48:11 +0000 We make a mistake treating people as brands. People are more nuanced, and can change. And we should welcome it.

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Quite a week.

Paula Deen brings the “N” word into national discourse, and the Supreme Court strikes down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act.

Yet, a day after this stunning reversal in our march toward civil rights, the Defense of Marriage Act is overturned, and marriage equality is affirmed.

It’s hard to make sense of it all. But here are two lessons I’ve taken from this week.

The first lesson is about our consumer culture and the role of brands.

Paula Deen has been a train wreck this week because she doesn’t understand the difference between a celebrity and a brand. She thinks she’s a celebrity. She’s wrong.

The Paula Deen brand is a fantasy of southern warmth and graciousness, based around comfort food. It’s a fantasy world where racism (and diabetes) don’t exist.

Paul Deen (photo courtesy of the Food Network)

Paul Deen (photo courtesy of the Food Network)

The first blow to the fantasy was her admission that she is in fact diabetic. The uproar over that should have been her first clue to her existence as a brand. Consumers project their hopes and aspirations onto a brand – we all wanted to believe we could eat Paula’s butter-laden food without consequence. When you rip that dream away from us, we get mad.

We also don’t want moral complexity from our brands.

When asked under oath is she’d ever used the “N” word, Deen replied: “Of course.”

It was the worst possible answer – albeit true and authentic to her culture and upbringing. Two sticks of butter we can take, but please don’t serve us the brutal honesty, and reality, of race relations in America. No one has an appetite for that!

Failing to understand brand dynamics, her horrendous defense this week has only made the problem worse, and her brand has become aligned with Mel Gibson, Michael Richards, among others.

And the Food Network and Smithfield Foods, fully understanding brand dynamics, have run as quickly as they could away from her.

The second lesson is about our need to simplify and reduce people to a single label.

In both the Paula Deen brouhaha, and during the Prop 8 battle, we saw how people are sometimes treated as brands instead of, well, people.

Labeling Paula Deen a racist makes all of us feel better about our own degrees of racism – we can point to “it” over there, as if none of “it” was also inside of us. When we divide the world up that way, and group people as racist, homophobic, sexist, etc., we risk reducing them to something more like brands, than like the people they truly are. We deprive them of the ability to be complex, to grow, and to change. Even the redemption narrative, so common in our culture, requires a bipolar theory of life: you were one thing, now you’re redeemed and you’ve become its opposite.

This point came home to me reading about a family in California that had been very involved in the fight in favor of Proposition 8 – the ballot measure that repealed, and banned, gay marriage in California in 2008 (and was just, de facto, struck down by the Supreme Court).

From the LA Times:

Wendy Montgomery, 37, of Bakersfield and her husband supported Proposition 8 in 2008 but changed their position “180 degrees” after they learned their 13-year-old son was gay a year and a half ago. Montgomery, a practicing Mormon, said she voted for the measure and spent a couple of days canvassing and working on a phone bank for it.

“We’re Mormon. The church asked us to participate in Prop. 8, and we did, pretty much unthinking,” she said.

When her son came out, he told his parents he had at first planned never to tell them he was gay, because he thought they hated gay people because they had supported Proposition 8.

I suspect in 2008 most of us would have described the Montgomerys as homophobes and bigots.

But what seems clear now is that they are in fact thoughtful loving people who work hard to incorporate their faith with the reality of everyday life. They are complex people, capable of growth and change — and change they did, for the better. They are exactly the sort of people I’d like to have in my life, and they’ve exhibited exactly the kind of change the gay community should welcome.

That doesn’t excuse what the Montgomerys did in 2008.  But it does suggest that there was, and is, more nuance to their bigotry than first met the eye. (See Ken Mehlman, or Senator Portman.)

If we’re to stay on a path toward justice, we need to create a world where Paula Deen, the Montgomerys, the Mehlmans and the Portmans of the world are discussed in public discourse as full people, not simply as bipolar labels incapable of imperfection, or improvement. A world where their own personal growth (and the potential for it) is supported, cultivated and acknowledged, along with our own.

In the future, I’m going to try to do better embracing the complexity of my fellow human beings, and avoiding labels.

And butter.

(Originally posted by Mike Bento to his personal blog.)

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Free at last Fri, 28 Jun 2013 15:00:49 +0000 The New Yorker cover this week shows Bert & Ernie, cuddling on the couch, watching Supreme Court DOMA coverage.

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The New Yorker cover this week show Bert & Ernie, cuddling on the couch, watching Supreme Court DOMA coverage.

And it’s kind of a wild story how this became the cover:

“It’s amazing to witness how attitudes on gay rights have evolved in my lifetime,” said Jack Hunter, the artist behind next week’s cover, “Moment of Joy.” Hunter, who originally submitted his image, unsolicited, to a Tumblr, continued, “This is great for our kids, a moment we can all celebrate.”


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The most unfortunate anti-gay logo and slogan in the history of politics Thu, 27 Jun 2013 22:23:13 +0000 FRC's anti-gay-marriage "On our knees for America" campaign appears to have logo of man performing oral sex.

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In one of the most unfortunate moves in American politics since Republicans kept referring to the Tea Party “teabagging,” the anti-gay Family Research Council, which has been officially designated a “hate group,” has come up with a rather odd campaign to fight the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down DOMA yesterday.

(Big hat tip to Chris Geidner who first tweeted the logo.)

FRC’s anti-gay campaign is titled “Call 2 Fall.”  (Note the number “2”, done Internet-style – rather than being written out “two” – to attract the younguns.)

The anti-gay campaign’s slogan is “On our knees for America.”

And it’s accompanied by a logo that appears to be a man performing oral sex.

frc-on-our-knees-gay-marriageI’m in too.

Even their little logo they use for the tabs on your Web browser (in the business we call this a favicon) shows the man on his knees:

by default 2013-06-27 at 6.13.19 PM

You might recall the first time the religious right tried to be “cool” by adopting the youthy Internet-style for the name of an anti-gay campaign.  It was called 2M4M – meaning, “two million for marriage.” Unfortunately, they found out a little too late that 2M4M is actually Internet shorthand for a gay couple looking for a  three-way.

So, first here’s our friend Andy Cobb’s (of Second City fame) video about the unfortunate “teabagging” incident.  Then, the second video, is Andy’s follow-up video about 2M4M.  Seriously, do yourself a favor and watch both videos – they’re hilarious:

And now the second video about 2M4M:

Update: Chris has now posted on this as well.

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