SANTA MONICA--In anticipation of the topic of gay marriage coming up at tonight's gay forum the folks at FactCheck.org put together a briefing on the positions of the Democratic rivals.
The forum, sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and LOGO Television, a gay-oriented cable channel, will have a live audience. Included in the audience will be Susan Stanton, the former city manager of Largo, Florida, who made headlines last February 2007 when Stanton, then a he, told the city commissioners about pending sex reassignment. Stanton got fired as a result.
Click below for briefing materials...
What Is a Civil Union?
August 8, 2007
Politicians often say they support civil unions but not gay marriage. We sort out the difference.
When politicians say they support civil unions but not marriage for people of the same sex, what do they mean? We find three main differences between the two concepts:
The right to federal benefits. States that allow some type of same-sex union are able to grant only state rights. The Defense of Marriage Act passed in 1996 prohibits same-sex couples from receiving federal marriage rights and benefits.
Portability. Because civil unions are not recognized by all states, such agreements are not always valid when couples cross state lines.
Terminology. "Marriage" is a term that conveys societal and cultural meaning, important to both gay rights activists and those who don't believe gays should marry.
On Aug. 9, the Democratic presidential candidates will debate issues important to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals. The forum in Los Angeles is sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and the MTV Networks’ Logo Channel. We expect the candidates will be asked about gay marriage and civil unions – a major issue that has sparked political passions on both the right and the left.
In a questionnaire that Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights advocacy group, sent to presidential candidates, all of the Democrats said they were in favor of civil unions for gay couples – a solution that is often touted as being functionally equivalent to marriage. Only Rep. Dennis Kucinich and former Sen. Mike Gravel said they would support gay marriage. But what exactly is the difference? FactCheck.org offers this primer on the subject.
The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996, stipulated that for all federal legal purposes “marriage” is a union between one man and one woman. Because of that legislation, all federal laws pertaining to married couples apply exclusively to opposite-sex couples. States that have made civil unions legal, including Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Vermont, have granted state benefits to same-sex couples. These include state tax benefits, better access to family health plans, co-parenting privileges, automatic preference for guardianship and decision-making authority for a medically incapacitated partner, as well as protection under state divorce and separation laws. While each state law is somewhat different, they are similar in that they convey these state rights to gay couples; they do not and cannot grant federal rights and benefits.
California, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia have domestic partnership laws, which are fundamentally similar to civil unions. Massachusetts is the only state in which gays can legally marry, due to the 2003 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling that said the state constitution didn’t support discriminating against same-sex couples that wanted to wed. Like states that grant civil unions, Massachusetts extends all the state benefits of marriage to same-sex couples; unlike in other states, gay couples also can be issued a marriage license. However, married gay couples still are not eligible for federal benefits.
The Government Accountability Office lists 1,138 federal laws that pertain to married couples. Many in that long list may be minor or only relevant to small groups of citizens. However, a number of provisions are key to what constitutes a marriage legally in the United States:
Taxes. Couples in a civil union may file a joint state tax return, but they must file federal tax returns as single persons. This may be advantageous to some couples, not so for others. One advantage for married couples is the ability to transfer assets and wealth without incurring tax penalties. Partners in a civil union aren't permitted to do that, and thus may be liable for estate and gift taxes on such transfers.
Health insurance. The state-federal divide is even more complicated in this arena. In the wake of the Massachusetts high court ruling, the group Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders put together a guide to spousal health care benefits. GLAD’s document is Massachusetts-specific but provides insight into how health insurance laws would apply to those in a civil union in other states. In general, GLAD says, it comes down to what’s governed by state law and what’s subject to federal oversight. If a private employer’s health plans are subject to Massachusetts state insurance laws, benefits must be extended to a same-sex spouse. If the health plan is governed by federal law, the employer can choose whether or not to extend such benefits.
Social Security survivor benefits. If a spouse or divorced spouse dies, the survivor may have a right to Social Security payments based on the earnings of the married couple, rather than only the survivor’s earnings. Same-sex couples are not eligible for such benefits.
Other federal areas in which couples in civil unions don't have the same rights as married couples include immigration (a partner who's a foreign national can't become an American by entering into a civil union with someone) and veterans' and military benefits (only opposite-sex spouses have a right to pensions, compensation for service-related deaths, medical care, housing and the right to burial in veterans’ cemeteries). Gay couples, however, may actually benefit when applying for programs such as Medicaid or government housing that require low-income eligibility. A spouse’s income is included in such applications, but a same-sex partner’s income is not. One change has been made in federal law: A provision in the Pension Protection Act of 2006 allows same-sex couples to transfer 401(k) and IRA earnings to partners without penalty.
Brad Luna, director of communications at Human Rights Campaign, says there have been several unsuccessful lawsuits filed by same-sex couples who wish to receive federal benefits. “It’s going to have to take the repeal of DOMA or a federal civil union law that would grant them that kind of federal recognition,” he says.
Since civil unions are only legal in certain states, they also can't be taken across state lines. If a couple gets married in Vermont, they can reasonably expect to still be married if they move to California; the same is not true for same-sex unions. While New Jersey law specifies that the state will recognize civil unions and domestic partnerships performed elsewhere, this is not true for all states that allow some form of same-sex partnership. And if civil partners move to a state that disallows all same-sex unions, they may find themselves with no legal standing whatsoever as a couple.
Most states have enacted DOMA legislation or passed constitutional amendments stipulating that marriage is a union exclusively between one man and one woman. In fact, only five states do not have laws on the books that prohibit same-sex marriage: Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Rhode Island. The District of Columbia also does not have such a law. Both HRC and DOMAwatch.org, a project of the Alliance Defense Fund, which opposes gay marriage, have U.S. maps showing the breakdown of legislation by state.
The Meaning of "Marriage"
The least concrete difference between civil unions and marriage is also perhaps the most polarizing: the term “marriage” and the social and cultural weight it bears. For many, this is not just a semantic issue. Opponents are concerned that allowing gays to marry will dilute the term “marriage,” threatening the institution it stands for. Supporters, meanwhile, feel that setting up a marriage-like institution for gays (such as civil unions) while defining marriage as fundamentally heterosexual is an example of flawed “separate but equal” legislation.
In an interview with FactCheck.org, Paul Cates of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project at the American Civil Liberties Union stressed the cultural significance of marriage: “You’re not a little kid dreaming about your civil union day. It’s your wedding day.” When you want to commit to a partner, “you’re not really thinking about the [legal] protections,” he says. “It’s the significance and what it means to be married and hold yourself out as married.”
Opponents of gay marriage also recognize the social importance of the word. Jenny Tyree, associate analyst for marriage at Focus on the Family, a Christian organization headed by James C. Dobson, says her group "does not believe that marriage has to be redefined to care for all the people in society. We understand that every person has needs and people they want to care for. But these are pretty bold attempts to undermine the marriage institution.”
Focus on the Family and other groups that oppose same-sex marriage are not just concerned with terminology. “Marriage is important because it’s a time-honored enduring social institution that serves women, men and children,” Tyree says. “And civil unions undermine marriage by reducing it to a bundle of rights and benefits.” Despite difficulties like divorce, marriage “is still an institution that does what we need it to do for children,” she adds, citing studies that show children do better when raised by a married mom and dad.
Such views seem to be in the majority. A 2003 Pew Research Center survey showed that 56 percent of respondents agreed that gay marriage would undermine the traditional family.
As previously noted, even states that allow for same-sex civil unions or domestic partnerships – including California, Connecticut, Maine, Vermont and Washington – have passed laws defining marriage as something that occurs between a man and a woman. Liberal-leaning politicians have made that distinction as well: Most of the Democratic candidates set to debate these issues support extending all the federal legal rights of married couples to same-sex couples – but they don’t want to call that “marriage.”
– by Jess Henig and Lori Robertson
Connecticut General Assembly. Substitute Senate Bill No. 963. 14 Apr. 2005.
DOMAwatch.org, Alliance Defense Fund. Issues by State. 8 Aug. 2007.
Government Accountability Office. Defense of Marriage Act: Update to Prior Report. GAO.gov. 23 Jan. 2004.
Human Rights Campaign. State-by-State Information, national maps of marriage-related laws. HRC.org. 8 Aug. 2007.
New Hampshire General Court. House Bill 437-FN-LOCAL. 4 Apr. 2007.
New Jersey Legislature. Bill A3787. 21 Dec. 2006.
Vermont General Assembly. Act No. 91: An Act Relating to Civil Unions. 26 Apr. 2000 .
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From a briefing from a briefing on GLBT by a consultant working for the forum, sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and LOGO Television
Below is: the recent Gallup Poll (highest ever acceptance); information on what’s going on in the states, and stats on the key issues (Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, job equality, hate crimes, etc) impacting the community. I also included Mellman’s column on what happened in 2004 on marriage, and today’s Huffington Post blog post by Joe Solmonese, President of the Human Rights Campaign on the importance of this debate.
Bottomline is that the country is way ahead of politicians in terms of overall equality…..2008 is not 2004, or what 2004 was perceived to be….. the right wing will try to use this issue next year, but there’s not a lot of appetite out there for wedge politics and Dems have smartened up how to handle.
Gallup Poll Shows Highest-Ever Acceptance of Homosexuality in America
By Elizabeth O’Brien and John-Henry Westen
PRINCETON, NJ - May 30, 2007 (LifeSiteNews.com) – American Gallup Poll results, released this morning, indicate that tolerance of homosexuality within the United States has reached a record high. According to the Poll, since 1977 public support of legalization of “homosexual relations between consenting adults” has risen from 43% to a record-breaking 59%.
According to Gallup, the general trend is an increased support for homosexuality. Notably, the observed increase in acceptance of homosexuality has occurred concurrent with a nationwide promotion of homosexuality in the American public elementary school system.
Further evidence that it is largely changes in the educational system that have brought about the increase in national acceptance of homosexuality is found in the vast disparity of opinion between the old and young. In the Gallup Poll, for example, only 45% of people of over 55 years of age support “homosexuality as an acceptable alternative lifestyle”; whereas young people from ages 18-34 years old are 75% in favor.
Gallup asks, “Do you think marriages between same-sex couples should or should not be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriage?” The answers to this question clearly indicate support of legally valid homosexual-“marriage” has steadily risen over the past 11 years (from 27% to 46% in support since 1996).
Mellman’s Column from August 03, 2005:
Gay marriage isn't what beat Kerry
Wedge Politics Losing Steam
The use of wedge politics is becoming less and less effective in the legislative arena, as well as the court of public opinion.
On June 1st, New Hampshire became the fourth state to legalize civil unions. In describing how the new law was consistent with the state’s anti-discrimination tradition, New Hampshire Governor John Lynch said the law would further “strengthen New Hampshire families.” Since last November, several states often viewed as moderate to conservative, such as Iowa and Oregon, have enacted pro-equality legislation, and Arkansas and Indiana have beaten back attempts to discriminate against GLBT people.
In 2006, legislative attempts to restrict adoption by gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender individuals or same-sex couples failed in five states. Proposed state constitutional amendments to ban marriage rights for same-sex couples failed in 11 states, including Arizona, which became the first state to defeat a proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage by popular vote. The Federal Marriage Amendment again failed to pass last year— this time with two Republican senators switching their votes to vote against it. Today, 60 percent of Americans support same-sex marriages or civil unions, as opposed to 53 percent in late 2004, according to CBS News and the New York Times.
There’s a reason why wedge politics have become less effective – the overwhelming majority of Americans have moved toward equality. Over the last decade, we’ve made significant progress:
Fortune 500 Companies: For the first time ever, a majority of the most successful companies in the country offer domestic partner benefits to the same-sex partners of their employees. These 264 Fortune 500 companies collectively employ more than 20 million people.
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”: According to a recent Harris poll, 55 percent of Americans now support repealing the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. A December 2006 Zogby poll of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan found that 73 percent of soldiers reported being “comfortable … in the presence of gays,” and only 37 percent oppose repealing the policy. Many military officials, including Gen. John Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Clinton, now believe that gays should be allowed to serve openly. Congress recently introduced a bill to repeal this discriminatory policy with 100 original co-sponsors. In 2005, four out of five (79 percent) Americans believed gays and lesbians should be allowed to openly serve their country in the military, according to a University of New Hampshire survey. This is an increase of 1 percent from 2004, according to Peter D. Hart Research Associates, Inc. and an increase of 34 percent since 1999, according to Hart and Teeter Research Companies.
Pension Protection Act: Last year’s Pension Protection Act included the first-ever federal protections for GLBT families, including a provision that alleviated excessive tax penalties on surviving partners who inherit 401(k) proceeds—penalties that married couples do not pay. In addition, the Act permits withdrawal of 401(k) funds for a qualified emergency of a domestic partner, a protection formerly unavailable to same-sex couples.
Equal job opportunities:
Support stands strong at 89 percent for equal job opportunities for gays and lesbians, according to Gallup. This number remains the same as in 2006, and is up 2 percentage points since 2005..
Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of Americans support including gays and lesbians in federal hate crimes law, according to Peter D. Hart Research Inc. In 2000, only 65 percent favored expanding this legislation, according to a Gallup, CNN, and USA Today poll.
Tonight, for the first time in history, six of the Democratic presidential candidates will participate in a national forum on GLBT issues before a live television audience. Jointly sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and LOGO Television, The Visible Vote ’08 will air live on MTV Networks’ Logo at 9:00 PM ET/ 6:00PM PT and on the web at www.visiblevote08.com. The leading Republican candidates were invited to participate, but only one even bothered to respond – and that was to tell us he had a scheduling conflict.
The candidates’ views on the major GLBT issues of our time are well established. None of the leading candidates are for marriage equality, and all are for repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” for allowing same sex couples to be granted immigration visas, and for finally passing a federal Hate Crimes law. But, we’ve only just scratched the surface. What exactly is it about a person’s religion that prevents him or her from being for marriage equality? How would they react if a staff member told them they were transgender and going through a transition? Being for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is a positive step but what is your precise policy and political plan to make that a reality?
This live televised forum offers a chance to explore the evolution of these candidates’ beliefs and engage them in a conversation rooted in real specifics—not rhetoric.
The existence of the forum represents great progress in political discourse. Just three years ago, gay issues were used to divide and distract the American electorate. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry shied from acknowledging his well-established support for the GLBT community. Thirteen states placed same-sex marriage bans on the ballot. While most pollsters agree that the ballot measure in Ohio – the state that gave George Bush a second term – didn’t impact voter turnout, we all agree that GLBT Americans were used as a political football. (http://thehill.com/mark-mellman/gay-marriage-isnt-what-beat-kerry-2005-08-03.html)
Fortunately, 2008 is not 2004. Americans want real, honest answers about the state of this country, and are tired of political tactics designed to divide the electorate. The candidates who come across as backward looking, intolerant, discriminatory and political will lose this election.
Public support for GLBT equality is at an all time high. According to a recent Gallup poll (http://www.galluppoll.com/content/default.aspx?ci=27694), support for same sex marriage (46%) has nearly doubled over the last decade, and a whopping 89 percent say gays and lesbians should have equal opportunities in the workplace. Today, 60 percent of Americans support same-sex marriages or civil unions, as opposed to 53 percent in late 2004, according to CBS News and the New York Times. And, this week’s Newsweek poll (http://www.hrcbackstory.org/2007/08/new-poll-shows-.html) showed that 68 percent of Americans believe gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly in the military.
Outside of Washington, America is moving forward. On June 1st, New Hampshire became the fourth state to legalize civil unions. In describing how the new law was consistent with the state’s anti-discrimination tradition, New Hampshire Governor John Lynch said the law would further “strengthen New Hampshire families.” Since last November, several states often viewed as moderate to conservative, such as Iowa and Oregon, have enacted pro-equality legislation, and Arkansas and Indiana have beaten back attempts to discriminate against GLBT people. For the first time ever, a majority of the most successful companies in the country offer domestic partner benefits to the same-sex partners of their employees. These 264 Fortune 500 companies collectively employ more than 20 million people.
Tonight’s forum reflects that progress, and Democrats vying for their party’s nomination aren’t shrinking away from the questions and concerns of the GLBT community. In fact, it would be a political liability to do so. A study released yesterday by Community Marketing, Inc. (http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/washington/2007/08/gay-power.html) reports that 92.5 percent of gay men and 91 percent of lesbians voted in the 2004 election. Eighty-four percent and 78 percent, respectively, voted in the mid-term elections. Gay and lesbian Americans are a political “constituency,” not just a political “issue” that must be handled with care.
In the audience tonight will be GLBT Americans who are leading the way toward equality, including former Marine Sgt. Eric Alva, the first American soldier to be wounded in the Iraq War when he stepped on a landmine and lost his leg. Eric, a gay American, is leading the Human Rights Campaign’s “Legacy of Service” tour (www.hrc.org/legacyofservice), a national tour aimed at the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Also joining will be Antonio Agnone, a former explosives officer in the Marine Corps who is credited for saving the lives of numerous fellow soldiers and civilians. After being awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, Agnone left the Marines because Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell would prohibit his partner from being notified or recognized by the U.S. military if Agnone were injured or killed while in combat. Susan Stanton, the former city manager of Largo, Florida, will also be in attendance. Stanton became the subject of national and international media attention in February 2007 after disclosing that she was pursuing sex reassignment, leading Largo city commissioners to initiate the process of ending her contract as city manager and firing her.
These are just a few of the millions of Americans looking for their next president to lead the country toward equality. And, the candidates participating in the forum should take note that politically “cautious” non-answers won’t do. Tonight’s presidential forum is more than a political questionnaire. It’s an opportunity for frank discussion, not stock answers. And it’s a major landmark in the journey toward full equality for GLBT Americans.