A Step Forward

Today Governor Chafee signed an executive order recognizing same-sex marriages performed in states where the marriages are legal.

This is a small, reasonable step that will clear up confusion and save lawyer hours. When Rhode Island finally joins the rest of New England in marriage equality nothing much will change for most of us. But some will miss the controversy. From what I heard at the State House, we should all be very worried about Communists. Let’s legalized gay marriage and end this distraction from our crusade against the Bolshevik threat.

We Do — In North Carolina

Pam Spaulding, blogmistress of Pam’s House Blend, is an inspiration to all citizen journalists. Carrying a day job, living with chronic pain and disability, Pam tirelessly advocates for fairness and equal rights. Pam lives with her wife in North Carolina, they are an interracial couple. Pam campaigned, along with individuals, organizations and churches, against Amendment One– a law that bans all unions, gay or straight, except traditional marriage. This will affect straight couples when it comes to such rights as visitation in the hospital. It might just foul things up enough to discomfort the average North Carolinian.

About a year ago I heard Maggie Gallagher of NOM (National Organization for Marriage) testify in the Rhode Island State House that we should put marriage equality to a popular vote. Putting the rights of a minority to a majority vote is almost a guarantee that those rights will be denied, as we see in North Carolina.

Pam links here to the day after Amendment One…

Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, Executive Director of the Campaign for Southern Equality is ready to roll with an equality action following the results of today’s primary. Its WE DO Campaign involves LGBT couples in Southern communities requesting – and being denied – marriage licenses in order to call for full equality under federal law and to resist unjust state laws. During these actions clergy, family and friends stand with them. She shares her feelings about passage of Amendment One.

This is a hard night. As I sit in Wilson, N.C. I’m thinking most about the LGBT youth across the state who, for months now, have been hearing increasingly vitriolic messages that they are less than. My heart is heavy for them, and heavy with the news that Amendment One has passed.

But that’s not all that I feel. Looking forward, I feel deeply hopeful about what is possible – tomorrow and in the years to come. This hope comes from knowing people like you and from knowing that we are building a new southern equality movement that, I truly believe, can accelerate the path to full federal equality.

We can’t change the results of this vote, but we can determine what comes next. Tomorrow when kids across the state wake up, I want them to know that this story isn’t over.

Follow the link above if you want to know what is happening nationwide.

I hope to get Pam’s autograph at NetRoots Nation. She is always worth reading. You can visit the Blend here.

I’ll probably be hearing more about this in church. The Unitarian Universalist Association has a campaign for human rights called, Standing on the Side of Love.

It All Comes Down to Religion

Last night, May 2, the House of the Rhode Island General Assembly held hearings on three bills related to same sex marriage. I was in the area and stopped by after 5:00, decided to stay, listen and testify. I was allowed into the hearing room at about 5:45.

Compared to last year, attendance was light– but the crowd overflowed in to the hall and the secondary room they use for watching on video. Hearings started at the rise (around 4:00) and went on till after 9:00.

I was struck by the consistency of the arguments against marriage equality. Without exception the speakers cited religion–specifically, conservative Christianity. A man in clerical dress blasted the sixties as the root of all our problems– oblivious to the fact that bringing back the fifties would place some of us in legal segregation and others in legal second class status. There was some name dropping of medical or psychiatric authorities that I doubt would stand a Google search. Two men testified that they gave up being gay since they found Jesus, and are now celibate. They called other gay men to convert. Many speakers claimed to be full of love for the people they were characterizing as sinful by nature and requiring an orientation change.

By contrast, pro-marriage speakers talked about their relationships, the legal and social advantages of legal marriage that they wanted to attain in this world, in their own home state. Tom Marlin,RN was one speaker who is in a long-term relationship he wants to have legally recognized. He sounded like he was reaching a point after years of this same scene playing out and said he hoped his testimony would act like Metamucil and promote peristalsis in the General Assembly so they would finally pass– actually a rather strained metaphor we might not want to take too far. Especially considering some of what the GA passes.

I was sitting next to a young woman named Kelly Reid, who testified that she is a military veteran, straight, and supports marriage equality as a matter of justice. Two young people spoke about growing up with two mothers, and how their families are no less ‘normal’ than any other families. Two clergy from the Old Catholic Church testified that they bless same sex marriage. Other religious people, a rabbi and ministers also testified in favor. It’s important to recognize that the loudest and most politically connected religious groups don’t represent all religious people.

Times like this I wish I was a reporter and not a tired blogger typing this out before work. I just have some general impressions–

The buzzword this year is ‘communist’. Chris Young accused the GA of being communists, but pushed it too far when he accused them of taking bribes. Rep.Costa objected, and Chris clarified that he meant to accuse Rep.Ajello. That made the usual impression. Kara seemed off her game, reading from a sheaf of papers. No police confrontation this time.

A man who described himself as just a regular guy, accused the GA of deliberately scheduling the hearing for a night when all right thinking conservatives would be in Woonsocket, protesting the cross challenge in the veteran’s park. He slammed education “these public school teachers couldn’t teach a snowball how to melt” and promised to mobilize voters in huge numbers. He sounded really angry– kind of like ‘Joe’ the ‘Plumber’. Seeing as I had walked there from a long day at work I was not terribly impressed with his prole creds.

Several of the religious speakers talked about God’s love right before vividly invoking the flames of hell that awaited most of us in the room. There being no harm in this world if the two ladies next door get married, they took refuge in their faith that most of us are toast when we all die.

I got an insight into how conservative Catholics view this, as some took slams at the Affordable Care Act and claimed that Catholics were forced to shut down charities. Charity is a wonderful thing, but if it is used as a down payment on political favors expected in the future we would be better off with less faith-based services. It is our tax money being invested– charity should not exclude some people for religious reasons if all taxpayers are supporting it.

Almost the last to speak was a man who showed the GA an actual rock from Sodom and Gomorrah (both cities I guess) that he said he paid a lot of money to send away for. He said it was 99% pure, nothing on earth was that pure, only God could make such a rock. They found melted teeth and bones in Sodom.

For me, the terrors of this world are more than sufficient. We have not really defused the nuclear threat.

The priest from the Old Catholic Church said that the sin of Sodom was the attempted rape of strangers, violence against those who were different, who were in need.

It occurred to me later that if Christianity defined the sin of Sodom as rape, Western culture would have been less brutal and kinder to women and children.

At this point, it’s past time to join the rest of New England and recognize committed partnerships and let them make it legal. It takes nothing away from the rest of us. My marriage is surviving the sink full of dishes, the ladies next door are minding their own business and we will mind ours.

One Million Hits

Via Democratic Underground, 2/10…

Since yesterday, a group called 1 Million People Who Support Ellen for J.C. Penney has popped up, far surpassing the support of One Million Moms’ Facebook “Likes” (now 42,634). As of press time, 1 Million People has 80,244 members and gaining. According to founder Cathie Winter Miller, the group only had 38 “Likes” yesterday, and a recent check of the group’s page showed pages upon pages of Team Ellen comments in the last 20 minutes alone.

I didn’t know anyone was tracking the numbers, this is fun. I thought that One Million Moms would continue to inflate themselves, limited only by the number of moms on planet earth– at my rough estimate, 2 billion. Maybe this mighty horde of moms is about to rise up and march on J.C.Penney, or maybe those busy women have more important things to do.

You know, this is a classic case of mis-information corrected by more information. Groups like the American Family Association have put the ‘bully’ in the bully pulpit for decades, and have always inflated their power and influence. They may have passed their peak. The current Republican lineup, all competing for the Christian vote, are an embarrassment to many Christians–who do not march in lockstep and were not all born yesterday either.

[for AFA, I tried to link to the organization’s ‘about us’ page, but when I did it grabbed onto my computer like a Jehovah’s Witness who won’t get off your porch, and I had to do a security update. Coincidence? I don’t know, but I won’t visit them again unless I have time to re-start Firefox.]

IN RELATED NEWS: Who can forget the time world-famous author Jincy Willett named her novel, ‘Winner of the National Book Award’? It’s a well-known fact that Ms.Willett wears a scarf and dark glasses whenever she goes out, and survives death-defying car chases with paparazzi seeking photos they can sell to the tabloids. Of course, I don’t have the numbers on that, but this is the internet, after all.

Letter to Treasurer Raimondo

A group of civil rights and advocacy organizations in Rhode Island is calling Treasurer Raimondo’s attention to some of the extreme political positions taken by The Manhattan Institute and demanding that she return the award she recently received:

January 11, 2011
Hon. Gina Raimondo, General Treasurer State House, Room 102 Providence, RI 02903

Dear Treasurer Raimondo,

On behalf of a broad range of civil rights and community organizations, we respectfully write to you regarding your recent affiliation with the Manhattan Institute – an extremist right wing group that promotes offensive, ignorant and hurtful positions towards the LGBTQI community, women, minorities and our environment.

Last week you traveled to New York to stand with and be publicly recognized by The Manhattan Institute, where you accepted their “Urban Innovator Award” for your work to alter Rhode Island’s pension system. Your work regarding the pension system has certainly been the subject of significant debate, and our purpose today is not to reexamine the merits of those legislative efforts. Rather, we seek to call your attention to a series of troubling articles and position papers that we sincerely hope do not reflect your own personal or political positions.
· In “Gay Marriage vs American Marriage”, the Manhattan Institute comes alarmingly close to some of the more common anti-equality rants espoused by the so-called National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and the Family Research Council, by claiming that marriage equality (same-gender marriage) is not the same as “American Marriage”. Furthermore, in “Redefining Marriage Away”, the Manhattan Institute claims that the reason to fear marriage equality is that gay and lesbian couples do not value fidelity, that their asserted lack of monogamy is immoral and dangerous. As if these articles aren’t offensive enough, they publish and reference anti-equality articles and books written by former NOM president Maggie Gallagher including “Why Marriage is Good For You”.
· Ms. Hymowitz writes about how “Women Prefer the Mommy Track,” widespread rape on college campuses is a myth, and claims that feminism as a whole is “not so much dead as obsolete.”
· The Manhattan Institute called claims of racial profiling by police “ACLU misinformation,” “promoting racial paranoia,” and “ivory-tower posturing” and compared being charged with racism to being charged as a witch: to be without any conceivable defense.
· The Manhattan Institute rails against President Obama’s green jobs initiative, stands in opposition to wind power, and sees fracking as an alternative energy solution.

Madame Treasurer, the aforementioned articles are just a sample of what is readily available on the Manhattan Institute’s website. We must ask if you or anyone in your office were aware that this organization published such venomous, racially-charged, anti-gay, anti-environment and anti-women positions before you agreed to be honored by them in New York. We are willing to accept that you were not, but that acceptance must accompany a proactive effort by you. Return the Manhattan Institute’s Urban Innovator Award and publicly condemn these harmful writings at your earliest convenience, preferably within the next 48 hours.

We recognize that the purpose of your visit to the Manhattan Institute was to receive an accolade for your pension work and not to discuss the important issues we have brought to your attention. It is simply unacceptable to us as a coalition, or your constituents as a whole, for you to stand with or accept an award from a narrow-minded and hurtful organization. To do so would be seen as nothing less than an implicit condoning of their bigotry.

Thank you for your time and thoughtful consideration, we look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible.

Sincerely, Clean Water Action Rhode Island
Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island
Hope United
Marriage Equality Rhode Island
National Association of Social Workers Rhode Island Chapter
Ocean State Action
Sierra Club Rhode Island Chapter

The Silent Passing of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

The following is from Kmareka’s West Coast correspondent, Elaine Hirsch.

Elaine Hirsch is kind of a jack-of-all-interests, from education and history to medicine and videogames. This makes it difficult to choose just one life path, so she is currently working as a writer for various education-related sites and writing about all these things instead. Currently, she writes for onlinephd.org.

The Silent Passing of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Ten days after the solemn ceremony commemorating the tenth anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks, a momentous piece of legislation was enacted in the United States. Any student of history should remember September 20th, 2011 as the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and as the beginning of a new era for gay rights in America, but instead the moment was eclipsed in the national news.

The history of DADT and its eventual repeal is an important chapter for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights community. In the all-male American military service of yore, sodomy was considered a grave violation which merited discharge, but homosexual preferences or tendencies were not specifically addressed until around World War II. Military psychiatrists deemed homosexuality a deviant behavior, and thus not suitable among servicemen. This rather extreme and disparaging view was soon eschewed and replaced by a more tacit “no sex between servicemen” regulation, although gay members of the military continued to be unfairly discharged. The issue of homosexuality in the military was mostly an afterthought during the Vietnam War era, when simply maintaining troop levels was the main concern.

The notorious cases against Fannie Mae Clackum and Leonard Matlovich of the United States Air Force led to the adoption of a policy by the Department of Defense which essentially outlawed homosexuality in the military. By the 1990s, the LGBT rights community raised awareness of this unfair policy and public opinion began to sway against the narrow-minded stance it represented.

It took the brutal murder of a gay sailor serving in Japan to bring the issue to a level of national interest. Radioman Petty Officer Third Class Allen R. Schindler, Jr. was only 22 years old when he was stomped to death by a shipmate because of his sexual orientation in 1992. The young sailor’s murder prompted presidential candidate Bill Clinton to announce his intention to repeal anti-gay military policy, but Congress quickly moved to make it federal law instead. This was a shrewd political move that forced the Clinton White House to attempt a repeal. The Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy is the compromise reached in lieu of overturning the gay ban in the military.

Originally the policy was called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue.” This was the phrase chosen by sociologist Charles Moskos, who was instrumental in drafting a policy that didn’t explicitly permit homosexuals to serve in the military, but neither allowed them to be discharged as long as they “served in silence.” The original name of the policy was shortened almost as soon as the policy was adopted, but it was also known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Harass.”

As an official policy, DADT was challenged numerous times. The inadequacy of the policy was depicted in at least two films: Serving in Silence (1997) and Soldier’s Girl (2003). Serving in Silence is based on the life of Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer, an Army nurse who served in the Washington National Guard. Colonel Cammermeyer was honorably discharged in 1992 against her will when she came out as a lesbian. She appealed the discharge in federal district court and was reinstated and allowed to retire.

Soldier’s Girl portrays the tragic murder of Private First Class Barry Winchell, an infantryman in the 101st Airborne Division who was brutally murdered by a fellow soldier who believed PFC Winchell was involved in a relationship with transgendered showgirl Calpernia Addams. PFC Winchell’s murder infuriated President Clinton, who immediately ordered a review of the DADT policy. Lieutenant General Timothy Maude, a top Army officer who sympathized with the LGBT military community, personally met with PFC Winchell’s grieving parents.

The White House under President George W. Bush didn’t do much to advance the repeal of DADT, but presidential candidate Barack Obama made it a campaign promise. In 2010, efforts to repeal DADT and grant homosexuals the right to serve in the US military began in earnest. The efforts were silent but swift, and ultimately successful. The lack of news media attention shouldn’t detract from the sheer significance of the change represented by the repeal. The end of DADT marks a major achievement in the progress of civil rights in America. It may’ve passed in relative silence, but it should be remembered with fanfare.

So, When’s the Wedding?

Same-sex lovers in New York won’t be able to weasel out of making a commitment, or at least one excuse is gone.

Congratulations, felicitations and best wishes to all New Yorkers. This is civil rights for some, and likely to be an economic boost for the whole state, especially those in the floral and photo industries.

The window of opportunity for Rhode Island is closing. We’ll look back some day and ask why we passed on a chance to do right and do well at the same time.