Thursday, January 26, 2012

Referendum for Marriage Equality Filed in Maine

In Maine 105,000 signatures on petitions were filed requesting another vote on marriage equality. The group EqualityMaine gathered the signatures to place the measure before voters. A representative of the group, Betsy Smith, said that their polling indicates "a 54 percent majority" support the measure. In 2009 groups led by fundamentalist churches ran a campaign of misinformation to narrowly pass regulations denying gay couples the right to enter marriage contracts.

Rev. Bob Emrich, of the Emmanuel Bible Baptist Church, is promising to do the same again this year and is forming a coalition of fundamentalists Baptists and Catholics to try and and defeat equality of rights.

In the years since the last vote public polls have shown consistently growing support for marriage rights for gay couples. In March of last year Public Policy Polling found that 47% supported marriage equality and 45% opposed it. In November they found support had increased to 51% with 42% in opposition.

In recent weeks it has become clear that Washington state will pass marriage equality with all the votes needed in the legislature lined up. Maryland is on the cusp of doing so as well. The trend continues.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Washington State Set to Pass Marriage Equality

It's now all but official—the state of Washington looks set to pass marriage equality over the banshee-like wails of Maggie Gallagher, Jennifer Roback Morse, the National Organization of Marriage and others of that odious ilk.

Today Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen announced she too would support the measure. This means there are the 25 votes in the Senate necessary for passage. The votes are already lined up in the House and Gov. Chris Gregoire supports the measure. Haugen says she simply can not "deny to others the joys and benefits I enjoy. This is the right vote and it is the vote I will cast when this measure comes to the floor."

Rev. Ken Hutcherson denounced the legislature for "saying... you know better than God." God did appear at the hearing himself, just in case you were wondering.

NOM is threatening legislators who vote for the measure but only Republican legislators. NOM says they will channel $250,000 to any challenger. NOM refuses to say where their funds come from and has flouted the law repeatedly at the state and federal levels. Money is laundered through NOM to bigoted candidates with the actual donors kept secret—something no other organization is allowed to do, but then NOM does believe in the inequality of rights.

Fundamentalist hate groups are threatening to try to force a referendum asking the majority to approve that a minority have the same rights they do—something in violation with the essence of the American concept of limited government. But polls showed that a majority of voters said they would vote against repealing the measure. Washington will be the seventh state with marriage equality.

Microsoft Statement Supporting Marriage Equality

The following statement was posted on the Microsoft blog by Brad Smith, General Counsel & Executive Vice President, Legal & Corporate Affairs, Microsoft, on behalf of the company. 

Today, Microsoft is joining other Northwest employers Concur, Group Health, Nike, RealNetworks and Vulcan Inc. in support of Washington State legislation recognizing marriage equality for same-sex couples. We believe that passing this bill would be good for our business and good for the state’s economy. I wanted to take a few moments to explain why.

At Microsoft, we pride ourselves on our products and services, our brand, and our global reach. But unquestionably, our employees are our greatest asset.

To be successful, it’s critical that we have a workforce that is as diverse as our customers. Every day, the national and global economies are becoming more diverse. The lifeblood of a business is its ability to understand and connect with its customers. We’re no exception. Now more than ever, the most effective workforce is a diverse workforce.

While some of our employees literally grew up around the corner, others have come from every state and almost 150 countries around the world. They reflect virtually every background in the country and on the planet. They bring their creativity to work, and they put it to good use in developing new products and serving our customers. There simply is no substitute for their diverse backgrounds, perspectives, skills and experiences.

Inclusiveness is therefore a fundamental part of our values, and is integral to the company’s business success.

This means it’s important to go beyond simply forbidding discrimination; we strive to actively promote diversity, equality and inclusion in our workplace. In 1993, Microsoft became the first Fortune 500 company to provide same-sex domestic partnership benefits. For almost two decades, we’ve benefited from this support and the resulting contributions of our LGBT employees.

In addition to corporate policies supporting diversity and equality, we strive to engage in a thoughtful manner in public discussions on issues that have a significant impact on our employees and our business. For example, Microsoft supported legislation in Washington State prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, as well as legislation expanding domestic partnership rights.

Our support today for Senate Bill 6239 and HB 2516, Washington’s marriage equality legislation, builds upon our previous work in this area.

As other states recognize marriage equality, Washington’s employers are at a disadvantage if we cannot offer a similar, inclusive environment to our talented employees, our top recruits and their families. Employers in the technology sector face an unprecedented national and global competition for top talent. Despite progress made in recent years with domestic partnership rights, same-sex couples in Washington still hold a different status from their neighbors. Marriage equality in Washington would put employers here on an equal footing with employers in the six other states that already recognize the committed relationships of same-sex couples – Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont. This in turn will help us continue to compete for talent.

While Microsoft’s support for marriage equality is motivated by respect for our employees, we also respect the views of those who may not agree with our position. For example, we have many highly valued and highly successful employees who hold a wide range of views on this and many other issues. We’re not asking anyone to change their views to conform to the company’s position.

We also recognize that marriage has meaning as both a civil and a religious institution. Like the marriage equality bill passed last year in New York State with bipartisan and business support, this bill preserves religious freedom in Washington’s churches while ending discrimination in Washington law.

Like the New York bill, we believe Washington’s legislation should be passed into law. It will make our state and our economy stronger.

Friday, January 20, 2012

An Excellent Defense for Supporting Marriage Equality

Rep. Glenn Anderson
State Rep. Glenn Anderson of Washington, a Republican, has announced he is going to support the new marriage equality legislation there. The measure already has assurance of passing the House, and is now just one vote shy of passing the Senate as well. This means Anderson's vote isn't going to change the results, he isn't the one putting it over but his support helps cement the majority even more and puts more pressure on the senators who are still fence sitting.

What is unusual is that Anderson has not just released a statement announcing his support, but has also outlined his thinking on the matter. And his thinking wasn't just superficial. He looked at the history of marriage, something that is rarely discussed in the debates. He discussed religion and traditional marriage and the concept of equal protection under the law according to the Constitution. What impresses me is that his explanation is historically accurate and indicates he put a lot of thought into the matter. I don't agree 100% with everything he says, but he is pretty much spot on throughout. It has to be one of the best laid-out explanations I've ever seen by a politician. It indicates something very unique—he actually thought about the issue and research it before drawing a conclusion. That's damn refreshing. Here are his comments:

While acknowledging the extremely sensitive nature of the same-sex marriage issue, today Rep. Glenn Anderson announced that after extensive research into the three primary criteria in determining the definition of ‘marriage,’ he would vote for House Bill 2516 allowing same-sex civil marriage in Washington. The three criteria he used are:

1) The historical purpose of civil marriage;

2) The historical religious doctrines on traditional marriage; and

3) The federal judicial record for determining equal protection under the law in the 14th Amendment the U.S. Constitution.

“If there was ever an issue that deserved more than advocacy sound-bites by either side in our civic debate, this it is that issue. It is religion, sex and politics all wrapped into one issue. Advocates on both sides have used excessive language to attempt to discredit the other. Same-sex advocates have sought demonize the legitimate, deeply held religious convictions of one side, and traditional marriage advocates have sought to dehumanize the intense pursuit of civil equity by the other. Considering the intense passions on both sides of the issue, I believe it is important to pull back and genuinely examine the issue on its merits versus strong opinions.

“Based on my investigation of the relevant criteria defining marriage, I have concluded the following in making my decision: First, the compelling primary purpose of civil marriage remains to provide a neutral and secular foundation for social order and an orderly transfer of property rights for the collective good, regardless of individual differences.

“Second, the distinction between civil and religious marriage is a long-settled question between religious organizations and civil government in western culture. The United States Supreme Court has ruled that religious organizations have an exclusive exemption from employment discrimination liability and may legally employ only those persons that agree with and abide by their fundamental religious doctrine. In my view, civil same-sex marriage does not undermine the right of individuals to freely choose association with religious organizations that seek to encourage traditional marriage values with which they agree. Neither does it obstruct the ability to practice the values of religious marriage, either individually or with like-minded persons.

“And third, there is sufficient physiological research and consistent historical record to suggest that homosexuality is a normal, if much less frequent, genetic expression of human biology. If race is a genetically acceptable criterion for constitutional equal protection under the law in the 14th Amendment, then genetic sexual orientation is closely related as a fundamental expression of human biology.

“This is certainly a big change in our cultural expectations and it will take time to fully sort it all out. It took almost one hundred years from the ratification the 14th Amendment after the American Civil War until the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of the 1960s. Hopefully, we have learned much from that experience and it won’t take so long on this issue.

“There will be a heavy burden on leaders at both ends of the political spectrum to respect the differences of opinion that will remain and to strongly emphasize the strengths of our common humanity, whatever the minor differences of our biology may be. As we take a step forward, I hope we can all share our views in a civil fashion that lends humanity and understanding to the dialogue.”

Below is Rep. Anderson’s extended statement regarding his conclusions in coming to his decision:

“The biological starting point is that male/female pair-bonding has been scientifically dated back about 1.5 million years. At its most fundamental that behavior it is an inter-gender compact on the division of labor to assure species survival by protecting and nurturing the young.

“As we wade into this passionate debate, we must first look at the historical purpose of civil marriage sanctioned by government. The first written legal texts defining marriage and marriage ‘rights’ date to about 2000 BC and the Code of Hammurabi in ancient Babylonia. The primary focus of that legal framework was collective social stability and the transfer of legitimate individual property rights. That focus was further refined by the imperial judicial codes of the late Roman Empire under the Emperors Theodosius and Justinian between 340-735 AD. Love and God were not considered of much importance, stability and property rights were.

“To this day, the interest in social order and protection of property rights remains the fundamental justification of civil marriage sanctioned by government. Indeed, that justification has been so strong that little change has occurred in the traditional definition of civil marriage until California authorized no-fault divorce in 1962.

“Additionally, we have to look at the root of our current religious marriage doctrines. Worldwide historical religious marriage beliefs and rituals have been extremely diverse. The more structured expectations of religious marriage did not really develop in western culture until 1563 when the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Trent made reforms to the holy sacrament of marriage in response to the Protestant Reformation. Prior to that, ‘religious marriage’ was a private affair with various pagan or Christian rituals conducted at the discretion of the participants.

“The Council of Trent also established the distinct separation between civil and religious marriage, as advocated by protestant reformers, which we practice to this very day. The Roman Catholic Church reformed the marriage sacrament for four primary reasons: First, to encourage the covenant of marriage, according the teaching of Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul, as a means to spread the faith of the Gospels; second, to counter the Protestant Reformation and re-establish the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church liturgies; third, to increase political influence over the rising royal family elites of Europe; and, fourth, to increase tax revenues collected by the Church from both royals and laypersons. Since then the religious tradition of marriage, both Catholic and Protestant, has evolved to fulfill the deepest aspect of human consciousness: Who am I in my relationship with God and with whom do I share that spiritual relationship with in life most closely?

“Finally, we must ask what the federal judicial criteria for constitutional ‘equal protection under law’ are related to our constitution. The 14th Amendment, which addresses equal protection under the law, was specifically designed to remedy the failure to address the issue of slavery in the original United States Constitution that allowed for the genetic segregation of humans into different classes of rights. The United States Supreme Court has an established and tiered criteria for defining ‘differentiation’ to determine questions of equal protection under the law. There is reasonable scientific evidence on sexual orientation that strongly suggests that sexual identity is, to a significant degree, genetically-driven, even if it is a small minority, roughly four percent, of the total population.

“It is the scientific consensus that the degree of both heterosexual and homosexual expression can be influenced personal socio-cultural experiences, but that does not necessarily change the underlying genetic predisposition. The genetic differentiation of race is externally observable. However, the genetic differentiation based on sexual orientation is not. Additionally, there is a continuous historical record of a homosexual minority in every civilization, and every race, worldwide which, again, strongly suggests a continuous genetic pattern.”

Thursday, January 19, 2012

New Jersey Support for Equality at New High

For the first time a poll of New Jersey residents shows a majority in favor of marriage equality. The Quinnipiac University Polling Institute released the results showing that 52% of New Jersey residents now support full marriage equality for same-sex couples. Opposition is down to 42%. Since their last poss, in April, 2009 they found support has increased by 3 points and opposition has dropped by 1 point.

Democrats support the measure by 62-33 percent. Republicans oppose the measure by 59-35 percent. And independent voters, once again showing their mushy libertarian sentiments support the measure 54 to 38 percent. A plurality of men and a majority of women support the measure.

The results of a series of polls show continually increasing support for marriage equality. In November 2006 support was at 41%, by December of that year it had increased to 44%. In April 2009 support had risen to 49% and now sits at 52%. Opposition declined from 50% in 2006 to 42% today.

As usual support for civil unions is significantly higher with 69% of all residents supporting the measure. Even 65% of Republicans will accept civil unions. Support is highest among independent voters with 71% support. Asked if they think same-sex marriage is a "threat to traditional marriage" a majority of all groups said they disagreed with the notion. Only Republicans were even closely divided but said they disagreed by a 51-46 margin.

Asked if denying same-sex marriage is discrimination a majority said it is. Only Republicans are in denial with 66% saying it is not discrimination. Majorities of Democrats, independents, men, women, and both whites and blacks say it is discrimination.

Gov. Christie, a Republican, is currently staying mum on whether he would approve a new law legalizing marriage equality. New Jersey currently allows civil unions but a commission set up by the state found that civil unions failed to provide the same protections to couples that marriage provided and that their legal standing confused people causing significant problems.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Prominent Washington Republican Endorses Marriage Equality

Reagan Dunn is an up-and-coming Republican politician. Named after Ronald Reagan, by his mother, former Congresswoman Jennifer Dunn, he sits on the King County Council, which covers the greater Seattle area. He is also running for Attorney General for the state of Washington.

And, he recently announced his support for marriage equality for same-sex couples. On January 9th, the county council approved a resolution calling on the state to pass marriage equality. It was proposed buy council member Joe McDermott who said he is engaged to his partner Michael Culpepper and would like to marry him in the state where they lie. Dunn congratulated McDermott and voted for the resolution. Joining him in the supportive vote were two other Republican members of the council.

Dunn says the public will eventually look on this controversy with disbelief, wondering why there was such a kerfuffle over it. He said people will reach the point where they will "view this the same way we do that people of some races were once forced to sit the back of the bus, or to use separate drinking fountains."

Dunn said that he views same sex marriage as he does abortion. "Like with abortion, I kind of take a libertarian perspective—that it ought to be a choice of the individual and less about the government."

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

So Close You Can Taste It: Marriage Equality in Washington

The state of Washington is literally on the verge of passing marriage equality. Governor Christine Gregoire has said she would sign such legislation if it passes. The state House has sufficiently strong support that it is expected to pass there. The real question has been the state Senate. The Senate needs 25 votes to pass the measure. The current legislature has 31 Democrats and 18 Republicans, but some conservative Democrats are reluctant.

The last few days two Republicans have announced their support for equality. Sen. Steve Litzow, who represents Mercer Island, was the first Republican to announce his support for a marriage equality bill. He says, "It's the right thing to do and it's very consistent with the tenets of being a Republican—such as individual freedom and personal responsibility." The Seattle Times suggested this "should prompt other Republicans to make the same decision. It is time to legalize same-sex marriage in this state."

A couple of days later Republican Sen. Cheryl Pflug, of Maple Valley, said she would support the bill as well. She said, "I have been a longtime supporter of human equality. I do not feel diminished by having another human being experience the same freedom I am entitled to exercise. I would feel diminished by denying another human the ability to exercise those same rights and freedoms."

Associated Press has surveyed the members of the senate and says that 22 senators have confirmed strong support for the measure and 18 are opposed. Two other Republicans are saying they are discussing the measure with constituents and are open to supporting the measure. Five Democrats are saying they are considering the measure. Two of them, Karen Fraser of Olympia and Rosemary McAuliffe of Bothell, said they were likely to vote for the measure.

The measure is expected to be introduced this week. Given that only three votes are needed and that two uncommitted senators are likely votes it really means that one additional senator has to support the measure for it to pass. There would still be five senators open to supporting the measure who are not officially committed but only one of them would be needed to pass the measure. It would appear that there is a very high chance of the measure passing by at least the minimum necessary, if not by a few votes extra.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Washington's Governor to Push for Marriage Equality

Governor Chris Gregoire of Washington has made a public statement that she will push for marriage equality. Most of what she says is correct. But she errs with the oft-repeated, false claim that divorce rates are near 50%. This meme has been going around for a long time and was based on hysterical claims made by the Right using dicey statistical analysis.

Previous polls show that more residents of Washington support marriage equality than oppose it. And when civil unions are added to the mix support surpasses opposition by a two-to-one margin. Conservative groups have suggested they would start a repeal campaign if passed, but polls show that a majority of voters would not support the repeal.