Monday, March 29, 2010

Please tell your legislators and President to support "The Respect for Marriage Act"

"The Respect for Marriage Act" is the legislation pending (in addition to two Federal Supreme Court challenges in Massachusetts and California) to allow same sex couples the same federal rights of marriage as heterosexual couples. Below is a very brief, but inclusive, explanation of the legislation that tells you exactly what it WILL and will NOT do (for instance, it does not require any religious body to perform ceremonies).

If you agree with this bill, PLEASE consider contacting your representatives in the House, Senate, and the White House to indicate your support and to suggest that this bill be advanced as quickly as possible. THANK YOU!!!

(A copy of the verbatim description of the bill follows.)

Respect for Marriage Act

The Problem
The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) singles out lawfully married same-sex couples for unequal treatment under federal law. This law discriminates in two important ways. First, Section 2 of DOMA purports to allow states to refuse to recognize valid civil marriages of same-sex couples. Second, Section 3 of the law carves all same-sex couples, regardless of their marital status, out of all federal statutes, regulations, and rulings applicable to all other married people—thereby denying them over 1100 federal benefits and protections.

For example, legally married same-sex couples cannot:
• File their taxes jointly
• Take unpaid leave to care for a sick or injured spouse
• Receive spousal, mother’s and father’s, or surviving spouse
benefits under Social Security
• Receive equal family health and pension benefits as federal
civilian employees

Since DOMA’s passage in 1996, five states have provided equal marriage rights for same-sex couples, and two other jurisdictions recognize marriages of same-sex couples celebrated in other states and abroad. Thousands of couples have married since Massachusetts issued marriage licenses in 2004.* Because of DOMA, the federal government is not honoring their equal obligations under state law.

What is the Respect for Marriage Act?
The Respect for Marriage Act (RMA) repeals DOMA and restores the rights of all lawfully married couples—including same-sex couples—to receive the benefits of marriage under federal law. The bill also provides same-sex couples with certainty that federal benefits and protections would flow from a valid marriage celebrated in a state where such marriages are legal, even if a couple moves or travels to another state.

By repealing Section 2, the Respect for Marriage Act returns to traditional principles of comity and Full Faith and Credit. Under RMA, same-sex couples and their families would be eligible for important federal benefits and protections such as family and medical leave or Social Security spousal and survivors’ benefits, but the federal government could not grant state-level rights. The bill does not require states that have not yet enacted legal protections for same-sex couples to recognize a marriage. Nor does it obligate any person, state, locality, or religious organization to celebrate or license a marriage between two persons of the same sex. This legislation only requires the federal government to equally apply its policy of looking to the states in determining what legal relationships are eligible for federal benefits.

Americans Support Extending Protection to Same-Sex Couples
The system of federal benefits has always been based upon marriage. Polling shows strong public support for extending federal benefits and protections to same-sex couples. According to a December 2008 Newsweek/Princeton Research survey, more than seven in 10 Americans believe that same-sex couples should have inheritance rights, Social Security benefits, insurance benefits, and hospital visitation rights. The Respect for Marriage Act, in repealing DOMA, would provide to same-sex couples the full range of federal benefits and responsibilities already associated with long-term, committed relationships.

What is the Current Status of the Bill? RMA was introduced in the 111th Congress by Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) in the House.

*Same-sex couples may marry in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Iowa, Vermont and New Hampshire. California recognizes (the over 18,000) same-sex marriages performed in California before the passage of Proposition 8. New York recognizes same-sex marriages celebrated in other states, but does not grant civil marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The District of Columbia also recognizes same-sex marriages celebrated in other states and has passed a marriage equality bill, which was signed by Mayor Adrian Fenty. Pending congressional review, the law is scheduled to go into effect in early March 2010.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Fecundity (i.e., in the sense of productive, fruitful conversations that could arise)

Caveat: I'm feeling snarkier than usual this morning, which is a rather frightening state. That said, not naming any names, but ever notice the plethora of "not-yet-all-the-way-out" but quietly confirmed to be lesbian and gay folks on all sorts of morning, noon, and night national television programming?

What if rather than focusing on morning programming about "secrets of your dishwasher" (no kidding- that was on this morning- although I did confirm that it's best to put silverware in 'facing up' if you want it to come out the cleanest), these folks were to do some programming about the truths in their lives and the rights and protections they wish they had under the law.

I do not believe they would be abandoned by their loyal followers. Rather, I believe the vast majority would be personally supported. Furthermore, imagine the progress we could make with that many more voices. As I learned at NGLTF's Creating Change Conference, if gay and lesbian folks do not have meaningful conversations with those around them (and, in these cases, the millions listening to them) about these issues, folks around them just figure that the issues aren't important and said gay and lesbian folks really just don't care that much.

Imagine the fecundity of subsequent conversations among millions of Americans were those who occupy prominent places in society (i.e., the folks that people listen to on a daily basis on hem) to officially and publicly come out.

Told you, snarkier than usual, but I'm just sayin'....

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A note to President Obama: PLEASE remember that all "moral issues of social justice" are EQUALLY important

Do not be angry, do not be angry, do not be angry. Huh. Still angry. Guess it's time to blog.

I was watching an interview with Ted Kennedy's widow this morning in response to the passing of health care reform legislation. I was fine...until the numerous excerpts of speeches by President Obama in which he refers to health care reform as the number one "moral issue...of social justice" in our time.

I would like to suggest an alternate framing inspired by the folks who talk about "multiple oppressions" like bell hooks and the late Audre Lorde. I think it is very dangerous to present any issue of moral and social justice as any more or less important or deserving of action. We face unprecedented segregation in schools by race and class (according to Gary Orfield, more so than at any time since the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968). We have a growing gap between the rich and the poor in our society both in terms of income and wealth. We still face challenges in providing quality and affordable health care insurance to all citizens. We still do not allow same sex couples the same rights of marriage at the state and federal levels as opposite sex couples, nor do we protect LGBT folks from being fired on the basis of their sexual orientation. We desperately need immigration reform. ALL of these issues (and then some) are of equal importance as "moral" issues of "social justice."

I would also strongly suggest that President Obama begin to properly frame issues of equality for LGBT folks as "moral issues of social justice." To date, he has only offered that he is not quite comfortable supporting the idea of marriage for same sex couples. His discomfort seems to be rooted in issues of religion. PLEASE remember, President Obama, that WE ARE FACING A MORAL ISSUE OF SOCIAL JUSTICE every day as people who are excluded from the 1,100 Federal and approximately 300-600 State rights of marriage. WE ARE NOT EQUAL IN THE EYES OF THE LAW. Just as laws banning interracial marriage were struck down by the Federal Supreme Court as unconstitutional, we must strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as unconstitutional. We should not allow the tyranny of the majority to decide the rules of the minority (e.g., only 30% of the population supported the Supreme Court decision to allow interracial marriage and yet we know it to be the fair and equal decision according to the Constitution). Nor should we WAIT (as Rea Carey said, and I paraphrase, waiting is the luxury of those who already *have* rights) for YOU to be comfortable with the religious implications. Marriage rights are civil in nature and not religious. State and Federal rights should be granted to ALL or to NONE.

Our full and equal rights are not an issue of the comfort of those in power or those in the majority. Our rights are not to be considered only during times of political convenience (e.g., the current year-long "time out" on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" to try to ensure positive mid-term elections for Democrats and the abject silence on issues of marriage rights or employment protection). Our rights should be enacted and protected as a matter of law. As we have done to protect other minority groups in society (e.g., folks of color, women, differently-abled folks, religious minorities and nationalities), we must act to protect and enable full and equal rights under the law for LGBT peoples as well.

I'm sorry if this still sounds angry. I am not sorry if this sounds irreverent. I hold no reverence for people in positions of power or authority simply because they are in power or authority. I only hold reverence for those who have earned it by standing up for what is right and fair and equal in the eyes of the law even when that action is not (politically) popular. PLEASE, President Obama, stand up for what is right.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Recognizing (and Changing) the Absurd

This afternoon's Introduction to LGBT Studies class was fantastic. I asked everyone to brainstorm about how our cultural, interpersonal, and institutional experiences would be different if homosexuality was the norm in our society.

This exercise is my adaptation of the 1997 "Ellen" episode in which Ellen's cousin has a dream that heterosexuals are the minority group. In this dream world, Normal Rockwell is pornography (ewww..."little boys kissing little girls") and heterosexuals find freedom from discrimination living together in "Straight Town." Programs on television with heterosexual content ("Mad About You" or "Friends") warrant a "Parental Advisory for adult content" and the program "Nightline" features a panel discussion of "Heterosexuals in the military: yea or nay."

In class, we decided to add the following to the "Ellen" episode:

1) We would have 'straight bars' and 'straight pride.'
2) We would be debating whether or not it was appropriate for heterosexuals to teach in our schools. They could "teach" our children to be heterosexual. Likewise, we would be reluctant to include representation of famous heterosexuals in our history curriculum.
4) We would be awaiting the first heterosexual President of the United States. We think we would be waiting a long time.
5) We would be debating whether employment non-discrimination laws should protect heterosexuals from being fired on the basis of their sexual orientation. In most states, you could not be openly heterosexual without fear of being fired.
6) We would be very concerned about heterosexual parents. We would limit heterosexual adoptions in some states and give custody to the homosexual parent in cases where a heterosexual parent "comes out."
7) Rather than having Homosexuals Anonymous (HA) (I'm NOT really does exist...Google it), we would have Heterosexuals Anonymous or maybe even Straight-A. We're pretty sure heterosexuals "can change" and be perfectly "normal" like homosexuals.
8) We would not extend federal or state (in most cases) rights of marriage to heterosexual couples. We're pretty sure that would destroy the fabric of society.

Get the picture?

I could keep going, but the list is nearly endless.

We collectively laughed in class at the absurdity of most of these assertions. It seemed like "they could never happen" because they are so ridiculous and absurd when applied to heterosexuals.

Can we use this exercise to see that current inequities in rights and protections for gay folks are absurd and ridiculous? Can we then decide that this will both change and never happen again? I hope so.

Please feel free to try this brainstorming exercise yourself or share it with others. Peace, Sarah

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Here's the TH Editorial :)

Printed in the Telegraph Herald (Dubuque, IA) on Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"Letter: Iowa ruling on same-sex marriage a source of pride"

I was raised in Dubuque, but only recently felt I might belong in Iowa. As a young, educated professional, I represent the demographic most likely to leave the state for expanded opportunities.

Last spring when the Iowa Supreme Court ruled it only fair that same sex couples be granted the same rights of marriage as heterosexual couples, my heart opened toward Iowa. I was proud to be an Iowan. I felt visible and legitimate both as an individual and as part of a same sex couple.

My partner and I will soon be married in Iowa. A magistrate will perform the nuptials. We will not have any religious involvement nor are we trying to change anyone’s religious beliefs. We will spend all of the money for the wedding through Iowa owned/operated businesses. We will receive the nearly 400 rights and responsibilities of marriage in the State of Iowa.

Since neighboring states will not recognize our marriage, we are paying an attorney to help us prepare the paperwork that will (hopefully) preserve our power to make decisions for each other in emergency situations. Until the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is overturned, we cannot receive any of the nearly 1,100 rights of marriage at the federal level, including Social Security Survivor Benefits.

In the end, I stay in Iowa because of a fabulous Dean and co-workers at Kirkwood; because my family (including my new family-in-law) lives in Iowa; and, foremost, because Iowa grants me the right to marry my soul mate.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Yay for the TH!

A couple of weeks ago, I'd finally had enough "signs" from the cosmos that it was time to finish my Letter to the Editor weighing in about marriage equality for same sex couples in Iowa. So I did.

Unfortunately, The Des Moines Register (largest newspaper in the state) tersely informed me that "space did not permit" it to publish my teeny, tiny, miniscule little 250 word letter. Space *did* permit it, however, to publish a rather large (with color picture of two rings intertwined) editorial condemning marriage equality just two weeks earlier. Huh.

Anywho, yay for Dubuque's Telegraph Herald (TH)! The TH has agreed to publish the letter, and it should appear at some point during the next 2-3 weeks. You can find TH letters by going to, dragging the mouse over the "news" tab, and then clicking on "opinion."