Repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Last week, the House Armed Services Committee held its first hearing in fifteen years regarding “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a policy put into place in 1993 by President Clinton. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” prevents gay, lesbian and bisexual members of the military from being open about their sexual orientation. Since 1994, over 11,000 people have been discharged from the military due to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.

However, last week’s hearing offered a great amount of hope for the future of BGLT service members. Testimony was heard from many, including retired Captain Joan Darrah, United States Navy, a member of the Mount Vernon Unitarian Church in Virginia. The majority of the testimonies presented favored repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is a discriminatory policy that not only affects the gay, lesbian, and bisexual members of the military but all of us, whether we are friends with those affected or paying our taxes part of which help fund the firing of gay, lesbian or bisexual service members. As Unitarian Universalists and concerned citizens we must take advantage of our current momentum to take a stand against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The Military Readiness Enhancement Act (H.R. 1246) would repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and replace it with a new provision prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in the Armed Forces. H.R. 1246 would also allow people who have been discharged because of their sexual orientation to apply to rejoin the military. Contact your Representative and Senators today and ask them to support the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, H.R. 1246. Let’s work together to make the United States and the Armed Forces a positive place for all people, regardless of their sexual orientation.

Act Now to Repeal the Ban on HIV Travelers and Immigrants to the U.S.

Posted below is a special, urgent Action Alert from Immigration Equality.

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The U.S. bars anyone with HIV/AIDS from immigrating or visiting – even as a tourist. HIV is the only disease singled out by Congress for special treatment. The ban is unfair, ineffective, and disproportionately harmful to LGBT immigrants and their families. While opposite-sex couples qualify for a waiver to the ban, same-sex couples do not.

Today the Senate is considering legislation that would end the ban. Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Gordon Smith (R-OR) added language to the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which is being debated on the Senate floor today.

Send a message urging your Senators to support the Kerry-Smith provision and to ensure that the repeal of the ban on HIV-positive visitors and immigrants remains in PEPFAR.

Immigration Equality has been working to end the HIV ban for more than a decade. Don’t let this opportunity pass us by – contact your Senators now and ask them to repeal the HIV travel ban!

Ruminations on California Marriage Equality

When I came out in 1977, there was this really old lesbian couple, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyons, who had been together forever. Or so it seemed then. More than thirty years later, I’m close to their “really old” age, and they are legally married in California after 55 years together.

Sometimes justice takes a while. Del is now 87 and Phyllis is 84. And yet the interviews say that they are happy, not bitter, that after 55 years together they will have the same rights as heterosexual couples can get in Vegas after knowing each other two hours. It’s that positive outlook and their love for each other that’s kept them going all this time.

I wept this morning when I logged onto the computer and saw their elderly forms being joined in holy matrimony. Images like that are what we’ll be promoting through UU information sources as well; happy couples together at last as legal entities. They remind me that it is love, indeed, at the heart of every longterm commitment.

People asked me after Massachusetts, and they’ll ask me again now I’m sure, if my partner and I are considering marriage. My answer is probably not. Kendrick and I met in 1979, and it was pretty much love at first sight. We basically ruined each other for anyone else and assume that this is it for life. We had a commitment ceremony in 1991 at Arlington Street Church in Boston, and since we live in Minnesota it would not tangibly change our lives to go back and do it again, this time legally.

Frankly, now that I’m ‘really old,’ my desire for marriage equality is not particularly about romance. It’s much more basic and economic. I want the federal benefits that California and Massachusetts can’t offer even their own residents, much less me! Kendrick has a chronic illness. Last year she had to quit work early in the year. She earned only $3700 all year and my work supported our family. Unfortunately $3700 is $200 more than the $3500 cap by which I could claim an ‘unrelated person’ as a dependent on my taxes, so I could not. Nor could I deduct about $11,000 of her medical bills. It was as if I had just stood on the corner and thrown that money at a passing stranger.

Likewise, she is ineligible for SSI, the social security benefits which she could get if she were single, because I am supporting her. Yet, should I die tomorrow, she would not receive a cent of my survivor benefits because we are legally single.

The news about California will be about weddings, and celebration, and fun. That’s as it should be. But as our country’s economy continues to fail, same gender couples will bear an extra burden. The survival of our long term relationships are no more about tuxedos and gowns and cakes than anyone else’s. I am acutely aware as I write this that I am a very privileged lesbian—I work for a place that could not be more supportive with both tangible and intangible measures, I have a graduate degree and white privilege—three things that mitigate against the economic suffering which others know from far more dire circumstances than I do. I am not meaning to whine here!

But my feelings are mixed. Even through my tears of happiness for them, I’m aware of the tangible tax, healthcare, and other benefits that Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon and other same sex couples still cannot offer to each other, even if their marriage is now legal in California. The journey ahead is still long, and Kendrick and I may be in our eighties before we know full equality. May our love and positive outlook sustain us, as it has so many others.

And, Phyllis and Del, Mazel Tov!!!!!!!

Congratulations California!

Last week the California Supreme Court overturned a California state law which only allowed marriage between a man and a woman in a 4-3 ruling. The decision will allow same-sex couples to marry starting June 14th.

California is the second state to legalize same-sex marriage. This is a huge victory for California and the country as we move forward during this election year. The California Supreme Court has historically set a precedent in their decisions. California was also the first state to allow inter-racial marriage in 1948 in Perez v. California which led to other states following suit and the U.S. Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia in 1967.

People all over the nation have been celebrating this historic moment. I for one am extremely proud of my home state and look forward to attending the marriage ceremonies of many couples in my home town church in Palm Springs.

While we have a great deal to celebrate we must not forget that the fight is not over. As I wrote earlier in my post “Stopping the Religious Right from Taking Over California” 1.1 million signatures were submitted for a ballot initiative that would constitutionally ban same sex marriage. The signatures are currently being checked and by June we will know if the initiative will be on the November ballot.

It is imperative that we keep the momentum from this joyous decision going into the November election to ensure that Californians continue to have equal rights under the law.

Stopping the Religious Right from Taking Over California

Each year California residents are bombarded with initiatives on the November ballot. The 700,000 signatures needed to put an initiative on the ballot are fairly easy to come by in the nation’s third largest state. Indian gaming and parental notification laws for abortions are usually on the ballot every other year and are often soundly defeated by California residents.

Unfortunately, gay marriage has not been treated as kindly. In 2000, Proposition 22 passed with a 60% yes vote by California residents, banning gay marriages performed in other states from being recognized in California. In the following years the California legislature passed a law allowing gay marriage three separate times, each being vetoed by the governor. Now California is facing another attack on BGLT rights. For the past few months the religious right has been gathering signatures to take Proposition 22 a step further and change the state constitution to forever ban gay marriage in California.

In recent years states all over the country have passed constitutional bans on gay marriage. California is by far the most liberal of them all, yet as was seen in 2000, when put to a vote gay marriage does not hold up.

This is why Equality for All began a campaign to stop the initiative from even making the ballot. For the past three months, Equality for All staff and hundreds of volunteers have taken to the streets to stop the initiative. Paid signature gatherers (PSG’s) funded by the religious right stand in front of stores and gather signatures as customers enter and exit. The PSG’s have six different petitions and are paid between $1-2 for each signature giving them an extra incentive to collect signatures for all of the initiatives. The majority of the PSG’s are poor and some are addicted to drugs. Most do not have an invested interest in the “Limits on Marriage” initiative.

Last week I worked with Equality for All. I stood in front of grocery stores, Targets and Walmarts and asked people to not sign the “Limits on Marriage” petition. Sometimes I stood in front of PSG’s and warned people not to sign any of the petitions. Other times when there were no PSG’s I asked for a pledge of support that they would not sign the petition if approached.

It was not easy work. Blocking PSG’s from gathering signatures was hard for me. I didn’t want people to sign the “Limits on Marriage” petition but I also did not want to block people from signing other petitions even though there had seen cases of signatures being copied from one petition to another.

As a Unitarian Universalist it was important for me to make sure that the group was reminded that the “opposition” felt just as strongly for this issue as we did. They may have different views that we do not agree with, but they are still people and they should be respected. I learned during this time that it is easy to forget this, especially when some of the opposition called us names or said homophobic comments. “The inherent worth and dignity of every person” and “Justice, equity and compassion in human relations” were the most important principles for me to remember. I was talking to a lot of people over the week and received a wide variety of responses to my question “Do you support the freedom to marry for gay and lesbian couples?” (The term BGLT while inclusive was not used since it is not widely known) Responses ranged from “Of course!” to people running away with a look of shock and disgust. No matter what I ended my conversation with the person with “Thank you! Have a great day!”

Petitions are due at the end of the month. We are hoping that they will have not gathered enough signatures but if they do that they miss the November ballot deadline and our put on the June 2010 ballot instead. This would give us two years to raise money and mobilize California to support marriage equality.

Even though it has been a tough battle and regardless of the outcome, it will continue to be, I have great faith and hope for the American people and for California. One day I approached two older women at a grocery store. I asked if they were supportive of marriage equality and one went running inside. The other stopped and took my pledge sheet. As she signed she said “I am a conservative Christian..” and then she looked directly at me and said “but this is wrong. My step sister is a lesbian and she is the most loving and caring person I know. She should have the same rights as everyone else.” I couldn’t help smiling for the rest of the day. It’s an uphill battle, but we will move forward and achieve equality.