Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Conservative Case For Gay Marriage

Andrew Sullivan posted something today that I loved. I wanted to share it with you:

Social conservatism resists change and that therefore extending civil marriage rights to gay couples is inherently liberal. The reform corresponds with the evolution of civil marriage away from procreation and toward companionship - and social conservatives worry about such change. In that sense, I don't disagree with Reihan's point. The most coherent conservative objection to same-sex marriage is simply resistance to any tampering with a vital social institution.

But as societies change, conservatives have to adapt. Given that our society now has a huge number of openly gay couples, many with children, and that the law has to respond to this social reality, the practical decision conservatives have to make is: what shall we do about this? My fear, expressed almost two decades ago now, was that the ad hoc responses - domestic partnership, civil unions and the like - were as practically unavoidable as they were subtly undermining of marriage. Give gays domestic partnerships and marriage-lite and straights will demand them as well. And so marriage becomes less special and less constructive an institution.

I can see that, back in 1989, when I first made the case, the jump to full marriage equality seemed a leap. But two decades later? When it has become the norm in many countries and in one state? When civil unions exist in many other states? Why does it remain socially liberal to resist the conservative logic of including everyone within the same family structure, with the same responsibilities? And, of course, when you actually listen to the current advocates of banning such marriages - and unions - you do not hear nuanced or Hayekian social arguments very often. You hear
truisms - "I believe marriage is between a man and a woman" - or religious invocations of the "sanctity" of a civil institution.

I suppose marriage equality is socially liberal in as much as it tries to defend and integrate a previously despised minority. But it is socially conservative in its attempt to envelop that minority in the traditions and responsibilities of family life. In this, it is exactly the same as welfare reform: ending a disincentive to family life among a minority that needs more social stability. I have to say that having finally begun to live a married life, all my previous intuitions about its integrating impact have been borne out more profoundly than I ever imagined.

If you can make the leap to seeing gay people as the equal of straight people, then encouraging their marriages to one another is arguably one of the most socially conservative measures now subject to national debate. That's why it remains so saddening that so many social conservatives still regard it as definitionally anathema. I don't think it's a leap to believe that homophobia or fundamentalism are the critical stumbling blocks. Or that they are the real reasons for the resistance.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Hope, renewal, and the reality of prejudice

I think both Christmas and the coming New Year must be a time of renewal, of hope and determination to work for a better Kentucky, United States, and world..... where people can experience all the liberties our founding fathers fought for. Therefore, wherever inequality exists and the leaders that are in control refuse to act, there is a greater responsibility for all of us to take a stand against all that dehumanizes the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people.

The flag of the Commonwealth of Kentucky says it best: "United We Stand, Divided We Fall." Thank you to everyone who contributed and/or
donated to Kentucky Equality Federation.

An enormous fight is in front of us in 2008; front and center is the issue of domestic-partner benefits in the Kentucky Retirement System, as outlined by James:

I had hoped the New Year in Kentucky, with a new gubernatorial administration that has to be an improvement over that of the discredited Gov. Ernie Fletcher would start out in an encouraging manner for those of us who believe in equality for everyone regardless of sexual orientation.

Alas, that is not to be. Just as Gov. Steve Beshear and Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo were sworn in and starting to look around their respective offices, members of their own Democratic party were filing legislation to prevent state universities from offering health care benefits to employees involved in domestic partnerships.

I had hoped that the year 2008 might be a year where those of us who believe in gender and sexual orientation equity would be able to take some steps forward in adding on to rights already achieved --- things like hate crime protection, access to marriage/civil union rights, adoption, automatic rights of inheritance --- instead of having to backtrack and re-fight battles already won.

A few legislators --- led by Democratic Reps. Ancel Smith and Richard Henderson --- do not understand that Kentucky has always been --- and still is --- a place where all people should be welcome to live in harmony.

It is clear that Smith and Henderson, in bringing up a previously defeated proposal to block public universities in Kentucky from extending health benefits to unmarried, live-in partners of the institutions' employees, acted without the sanction of their own party. This has caused an embarrassing situation not only for party leaders, but for Democratic leaders and other party members within the Beshear administration.

Trustees at several Kentucky institutions, led by the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville, have approved offering health care to domestic partners of unmarried employees as a matter of good business. The policy makes the universities more competitive with other top universities nationwide, because it opens the pool of potential employees and appeals to the increasing number of private employers --- who can be drawn upon for financial support and to provide cooperative educational opportunities and investment with the universities --- who already extend health care benefits to live-in partners of workers, regardless of sexual orientation.

In other words, the universities' policies are good business for a state that is on the precipice of a new era of economic progress after four failed years of an administration that collapsed under its own prejudices and lack of vision.

The matter of inclusion is a moral and ethical issue. Moral, because all great religions preach that love and tolerance should trump all other rules for living. Ethical, because this country --- and the states that make it up --- was based on the premise that all people are created equal.

If our government creates policies that benefit its public employees, it should do so for all the employees, without discrimination based on race, gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, and yes, sexual orientation.

If these representatives --- and the other Democrats and Republicans who co-sponsored this legislation, which has its roots soaked in bigotry --- will not withdraw their sponsorship, then the people of their districts should look for gay-supportive candidates from either party to replace them.

Click here to read unedited comments from James.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Attorney General Stumbo to seek his old seat in the House

Attorney General Greg Stumbo will seek his old seat in the state House, he said on WHAS radio (Louisville) this morning.

Freshman Rep. Brandon Spencer, D-Prestonsburg, decided to resign after "prayerful consideration," he said in a letter to Governor Beshear.

Stumbo spoke to Floyd County election officials and told them he would accept the Democratic Party's nomination for a special election to fill Spencer's spot in the 95th House District.

Stumbo spent 24 years in the Kentucky House, 19 in leadership before being elected Attorney General.

At a minimum, Stumbo being back in the Kentucky House will irritate Representative Stan Lee. Stumbo ruled the way Lee wanted on the domestic-partner issue at Kentucky universities, but Stumbo included “a blue print on how to offer domestic partner benefits legally” in his ruling.

Stumbo had been considering a possible run for U.S. Senate against Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell. He had said he would likely challenge McConnell if polling done by an exploratory committee showed him within 10 percentage points of McConnell (see
Ditch Mitch KY to stay updated on McConnell).

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Dangerous Nonsense - Some Kentucky Democrats lose their spine!

When pre-filing House Bill BR-204 Representative Smith and Henderson both claim they were pressured by constituents to reintroduce the legislation, which would block universities that receive public funding from offering domestic-partner benefits.

Henderson, specifically, was quoted in the Lexington Herald-Leader as saying he received between "1,200 and 1,500 calls" from his constituents urging him to take action. "I live in an ultraconservative district with 150 churches," Henderson said. "Between 1,200 and 1,500 of my constituents have called, not requesting but directing me to do this." This would suggest that the people of Montgomery, Powell and Wolfe counties are obsessed with denying partner benefits at a rate far beyond the people of the rest of the Commonwealth, since other legislators have not reported their telephones being overwhelmed in such a manner.

Representative Henderson’s figures seem to be skewed. According to the Association of Religion Data Archives, in 2000, there were 77 religious congregations in the three counties Henderson represents. Kentucky Equality Federation doesn’t believe that the number of churches in Montgomery, Powell and Wolfe counties has nearly doubled in the past seven years. How can we believe this Representative?

Kentucky Equality Federation is taking the stand on this issue that Representative Henderson’s report of between 1,200 and 1,500 phone calls isn’t realistic. We ask Representative Henderson, as a public figure, to show us the phone records and messages his office recorded that indicate that between 1,200 and 1,500 DIFFERENT people called, “directing [Henderson] to do this.”

Regardless of whether the figures are true or not, Henderson’s stand isn’t with a majority of his constituents. According to the Commonwealth of Kentucky – State Board of Elections Voter Registration Statistics Report, the three counties that Henderson represents have a total of 32,778 registered voters. If Representative Henderson received 1,500 phone calls, it would mean 4.57 % of his constituents are calling to “direct” Henderson to not allow domestic partner benefits. While 1,500 phone calls might seem overwhelming, it doesn’t mean that a Representative should base his actions on a very small minority opinion.

Likewise, it would seem odd that the most pressing issue that Smith, whose districts include Knott, Magoffin and part of Letcher counties --- communities where health care, education, and employment would seem like more urgent concerns --- has to do with micromanaging state universities’ employee health care policies.

Our elected officials should be working on legislation that improves health care access for all Kentuckians and not taking a discriminatory stand against one group of people.

Trustees at several Kentucky institutions, led by the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville, have approved offering health care to domestic partners of unmarried employees, including to gay couples.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

House Democrats attack Domestic-Partner Benefits

Democrats in the Kentucky House of Representatives have elected to attack domestic-partner benefits.

Are they crazy? There are over 550,000 Kentuckians without health insurance coverage!

During Governor Beshear’s Inaugural Speech he quoted Kentucky Senator Henry Clay as saying: “Government is a trust, and the officers of the government are trustees. And both the trust and the trustees are created for the benefit of the people.”

Some House Democrats apparently disagree.

Ryan Alessi at Pol Watchers is also reporting this (below):

Two Democratic state lawmakers are dredging up a controversial proposal to block public universities in Kentucky from extending health benefits to unmarried, live-in partners of the institutions’ employees.

The move by state Reps. Richard Henderson, D-Jeffersonville, and Ancel Smith of Leburn already has raised eyebrows among members of their own party — especially considering new Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear has repeatedly promised to veto any such bills. I had expected it but not from those two,” said Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, who said he opposes the bill. “I expected it from Republicans.”

Sixteen other Democratic lawmakers have signed on to the bill, which Henderson and Smith pre-filed yesterday in preparation for the upcoming General Assembly session that begins Jan. 8.

Both Henderson and Smith said they have received pressure from constituents to block universities that receive public funding from offering such domestic partnership benefits.

“I live in an ultra conservative district with 150 churches,” Henderson said.

Trustees at several Kentucky institutions, led by the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville, have approved offering health care to domestic partners of unmarried employees, including to gay couples.

Let’s hope Governor Beshear keeps his promise to veto this horrible legislation.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Congress Drops Hate Crimes Bill

We just received this email from Mat Staver, Founder of Liberty Counsel:

I want to tell you about a stunning victory that just took place in Congress.

The House-Senate Conference has removed the Kennedy Hate Crimes bill from the Defense spending bill!

This is incredible news. Most pundits expected Kennedy's strategy of attaching the bill to a must-pass defense appropriations bill would succeed. But citizens like you sent faxes and made phone calls and the message got through!

This is the second major victory we have seen in the last few weeks against attempts to criminalize Christian beliefs in favor of a radical homosexual agenda.

The exclusion of the hate-crimes legislation, sponsored by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., is a blow to civil rights groups who say it is necessary to address a rise in crimes motivated by prejudice against a person's sexual orientation or gender identity.

In a private meeting on Wednesday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and House Democratic Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., told Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., that if the Senate continued to insist on the hate crimes provision the defense legislation would fail.

Levin, as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, oversees the defense authorization bill, which covers the 2008 budget year.

"We don't have the votes," said one House Democratic aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because conference negotiations are ongoing. "We're about 40 votes short, not four or six."

The Senate had voted in September to include the hate-crimes measure in the bill. The House version of the defense authorization bill, approved in May by a 397-27 vote, did not include Kennedy's proposal. The House passed a similar hate crimes measure as a stand-alone bill this year.

After the Senate vote, which prompted nine Republicans to break ranks and swing behind the measure, the White House stopped short of reiterating President Bush's veto threat against the hate crimes measure. But presidential spokeswoman Dana Perino made clear that Bush believes the federal provision is unnecessary.

"State and local law enforcement agencies are effectively using their laws to the full extent they can," Perino said

I don't suspect the Human Rights Campaign will blast emails to its members about this defeat.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Pets more important than gays; even if you're a U.S. Ambassador.

What a great man….a person who stood up to injustice for himself, his partner, and our entire community. How sad. The U.S. Department of State cares more about an Ambassador's pets than the person he or she loves; Dogs and Cats are higher on the "food chain" than humans.

By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post Staff Writer

Michael E. Guest, a tall, soft-spoken man with salt-and-pepper hair, looks every bit the diplomat. At the young age of 43, at the start of the Bush administration, he was named ambassador to Romania, and since he returned in 2004 he has trained new ambassadors before they ship out overseas.

But last month, after 26 years in the Foreign Service, he did something uncharacteristically undiplomatic.

Ambassador Guest resigned from the State Department, giving up a career he loved, in order to protest rules and regulations that he believes are unfair to the same-sex partners of Foreign Service officers, giving them fewer benefits than family pets. He had spent the years since his return from Bucharest trying to win changes in policies, appealing directly to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, but said his proposals were met with indifference and inertia.

"I've felt compelled to choose between obligations to my partner, who is my family, and service to my country," Guest told a crowd of 75 senior State Department officials, a few steps from Rice's office, at his retirement ceremony on Nov. 20, according to a transcript of his remarks. "That anyone should have to make that choice is a stain on the secretary's leadership, and a shame for this institution and our country."

Same-sex partners -- or unmarried heterosexual partners -- are refused anti-terrorism security training or foreign-language training and are not evacuated when eligible family members are ordered to depart. Unlike spouses, they do not receive diplomatic passports, visas or even use of the State Department mail system. They also must pay their own way overseas, get their own medical care and are left to fend for themselves if a partner is sent to a dangerous post such as Iraq.

Many of these rules, Guest said, could be changed with Rice's signature, which he said was not a matter of gay rights but of equal treatment.

There are 12,000 Foreign Service officers, and about 5 percent are gay.

J. Michelle Schohn, an officer in the intelligence bureau, said she gave up a budding career in archaeology and joined the Foreign Service simply because of the hassles she encountered when her partner was based in Azerbaijan, shortly after the Soviet Union collapsed. One of her partner's colleagues got married and his spouse immediately got a diplomatic passport, but Schohn was treated no differently than any American tourist. Because of the difficulties, she ended up flying to Azerbaijan a month at a time to stay with her partner, and received no housing allowance for staying home.

At one point, during violent protests, "had there been an evacuation, we would have had to pay to evacuate me," she said.

Once Schohn joined the Foreign Service, she said, the department "has been very good to us," posting the two together in Jerusalem and now back in Washington, though same-sex couples technically cannot bid for jobs in tandem.

Another Foreign Service officer, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of her counterterrorism work, said she had to pay for her partner's evacuation when she was based in an African country that erupted in conflict. Her partner was not allowed to attend embassy security briefings and was prohibited from using the diplomatic postage service. "Effectively, she doesn't exist," she said.

The travel costs of family pets, however, are paid for by the State Department.

When Guest was ambassador, he signed a waiver allowing his partner and other unmarried partners to pay to use the embassy medical facilities. When Guest returned to Washington to head the management and leadership school at State's Foreign Service Institute, he began a campaign to get the rules altered. He won an annual award in 2006 from AFSA for "constructive dissent," but saw little or no response from top officials. Finally, he wrote Rice directly in December, knowing that soon he would be posted again overseas.

"This was my last chance. I never got a response," Guest said yesterday. "I don't know that I expected a response. What I wanted was attention to the issue." He said that in the State Department culture, "one word from the secretary" would have spurred action.

"That's what I was hoping, that I would somehow get to her heart," he said.