Helena, MT – Montana AG Asks Court to Uphold Same-sex Marriage Ban – 7.18
Compiled by Dennis McMillan
Montana’s attorney general asked a federal court to uphold the state’s constitutional gay marriage ban in response to a lawsuit that seeks to overturn it. Republican Attorney General Tim Fox said in documents filed in federal court in Great Falls that the people of Montana spoke when they passed the ban in 2004. The ban says marriage is between a man and woman.
In May, four gay couples had filed a federal lawsuit challenging the ban. They alleged it denies same-sex couples freedoms and dignity afforded to other Montanans, and that it denies them legal protections and benefits that come with marriage. The plaintiffs—several of whom were married in other states—are Shauna and Nicole Goubeaux; Angie and Tonya Rolando; Ben Milano and Chase Weinhandl; and Sue Hawthorne and Adel Johnson. Democratic Governor Steve Bullock has expressed his support for the couples who filed the lawsuit.
State marriage bans have been falling around the country since the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Same-sex marriage is legal in nineteen states and the District of Columbia. Bans that have been overturned in other states continue to make their way through the courts. Jim Taylor, legal director of Montana’s American Civil Liberties Union, has said the Montana case could take up to a year to resolve—barring any higher court action striking down gay marriage bans.
Despite its AG, Montana is moving along quite nicely in the battle for LGBTQ civil rights. In June, Bozeman, the fourth-largest city in Montana, voted 4-0 to pass an LGBTQ nondiscrimination ordinance, becoming the fourth city in the state to do so. The ordinance protects people based on their sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. After months of heated City Commission meetings, commissioners finally voted unanimously to pass it.
Bozeman now joins three other Montana cities—Missoula, Helena and Butte—that have passed nondiscrimination ordinances. Talks are currently underway in Billings to get an ordinance adopted there.
“Treasure State,” you are becoming a gay treasure!
NY, NY – Chefs Protest Anti-Gay Law with Big Gay Mississippi Welcome Table – 7.14
For 35 years, hundreds of New Yorkers and displaced Mississippians have gathered yearly in Central Park to eat catfish, listen to the blues and praise the virtues of that southern state. But this year, a group of chefs upset over a new Mississippi law—perceived by critics as hostile to gays and other groups—is adding a little fried-chicken activism to the mix.
The Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act took effect in July, allowing businesses legal leeway in dealing with customers if doing so would put a substantial burden on their religious beliefs. Opponents call it the “turn away the gays” law. Although other states have introduced similar legislation recently, Mississippi was the first to pass a new version of what are referred to as religious freedom bills.
In some cases, the legislation has been motivated by legal decisions against businesses, including a case in New Mexico in which a photography studio was sued after refusing to photograph a same-sex couple’s commitment ceremony. Several religious organizations and conservative groups, including the homophobic Family Research Council, have praised Governor Phil Bryant for signing the bill.
But others in the state, chef John Currence among them, contend the law could lead to discrimination by businesses who don’t want to serve gays and lesbians, Muslims or others whose lives don’t align with certain conservative Christian values. Currence and a group of chefs including Art Smith, private chef for Oprah Winfrey, put on a protest dinner called the Big Gay Mississippi Welcome Table in partnership with City Grit in Manhattan.
“More than anything else, the law sends a terrible message about the state of consciousness in the state of Mississippi,” Currence said. “We are not going to sit idly by and watch Jim Crow get revived in our state.”
The idea was hatched with Memphis chef Kelly English, who fought against a similar bill introduced in Tennessee. The chefs were joined by Douglas Quint and Bryan Petroff, the men behind New York’s Big Gay Ice Cream, who served sundaes for dessert. Proceeds went to LGBTQ groups on Mississippi college campuses.
Hollywood, CA – TV’s Two and a Half Men To Have Gay Twist – 7.17
CBS Entertainment Chairman Nina Tassler revealed that the final season of Two and a Half Men, Chuck Lorre’s long-running comedy, would include a fake gay relationship between Walden (Ashton Kutcher) and Alan (Jon Cryer), which they undertake in order to adopt a child—a new half man (or woman).
“Walden is going to have a major health scare and it is going to give him a little bit of an existential crisis,” Tassler told reporters after her executive session at the Television Critics Association’s fall previews. “He wants to find a way to add more meaning to his life, so he decides he wants to adopt a child. In doing so, he starts the process and he realizes that it’s very difficult, to adopt a child as a single, straight man. So, once and for all, he decides, ‘I’m going to propose to Alan, we’re going to get married and adopt a child as a gay couple.’”’
Though Tassler believed the storyline would send a “positive statement” and she wouldn’t receive backlash from the LGBTQ community, some are criticizing Men for exploiting rights the community has fought so hard to obtain and, in some states, still do not have. When asked if the LGBTQ community might object, Tassler demurred. “It’s a very positive statement. It’s like, ‘I am going to adopt a child as a gay couple.’ The reality is, he can do that. In a universe where at one point you couldn’t do that and now you can do that, that’s a much more positive statement that he’s making.”
GLAAD declined to comment directly on the story line until seeing the finished product, but Sarah Kate Ellis, the organization’s president and CEO, released a statement in response: “We hope the show will acknowledge not only the progress made in acceptance of gay and lesbian couples, but also the fact that—in many areas of the country—same-sex couples are often under greater scrutiny or still barred from adoption options that straight couples have.”
And, hey, kudos to the show for including a strong openly lesbian character!
Washington, D.C. – President Obama Bars Discrimination Against LGBTQ Employees – 7.21
President Obama has signed an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating against LGBTQ workers. The order also makes clear that federal employees, who were already explicitly protected from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, are protected from gender identity discrimination as well. Presidential executive orders have been used for 70 years to ensure that employers that receive federal money cannot discriminate based on characteristics such as race, gender, and religion.
According to a study by the Williams Institute, Monday’s executive order will provide 11 million employees with protection against sexual orientation discrimination and 16 million employees with additional protection against discrimination based on gender identity. It will also ensure that there are at least some workplaces in every state with explicit protections for LGBTQ workers. This is especially critical for transgender and gender nonconforming people: 78% report mistreatment or discrimination at the workplace, forcing many to hide who they are to prevent these abuses.
The executive order builds on the foundation of protection already provided in federal law under Title VII that covers every state’s transgender and gender nonconforming workers who are with companies that have 15 or more employees. The executive order provides much needed clarity to federal contractors and agencies. President Obama sent a clear message to employers who receive federal money that it is unacceptable for them to discriminate because of who someone is or whom they love.
Thankfully, the order does not contain any new exemption language that would permit religiously affiliated employers to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Rather, it simply adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of characteristics already protected from discrimination, and leaves intact a Bush-era exemption that permits religious organizations to discriminate in favor of fellow members of their faith.
We are more energized than ever to continue making sure that queers are able to live free from discrimination everywhere, all the time. There is a lot more work to do before we all have jobs, good health care, and safety on the streets.
Local News Briefs
Governor Brown Signs Bill Enshrining Freedom to Marry in State Statutes
Governor Jerry Brown has signed Senate Bill 1306, authored by Senator Mark Leno and co-sponsored by Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, Equality California and the National Center for Lesbian Rights. The bill will bring California statutory law into line with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 decision restoring the freedom to marry in California.
SB 1306 updates state law as was directed by the 2008 In Re Marriage Cases decision from the state Supreme Court. While both the California and U.S. Supreme Courts have affirmed the right for same-sex couples to marry, current state laws in many cases do not reflect that change. SB 1306 ensures that references to “husband” and “wife” will be replaced with gender-neutral language, such as “spouse,” to recognize all married couples throughout the California code.
“I am pleased Governor Brown has recognized the importance of this bill, which makes it explicitly clear in state law that every loving couple has the right to marry in California,” said Senator Leno. “This legislation removes outdated and biased language from state codes and recognizes all married spouses equally, regardless of their gender.”
“While we have achieved many milestones in the journey towards full equality for LGBT people—including the freedom to marry for same-sex couples—it’s important that we completely erase discrimination from the books,” said Rick Zbur, EQCA executive director-elect. “This new law will take us one step further in that journey. We applaud Senator Leno for authoring this important legislation and Governor Brown for signing it.”
“We are grateful for Senator Leno’s legislation that will ensure the fair and equal treatment of all married couples in California,” said National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director Kate Kendell. “Although there is no question that same-sex couples can marry in California, the discriminatory language that remains on the statutory books creates confusion about the rights of same-sex couples. This law makes it clear to everyone that same-sex couples can marry and that all spouses have the exact same rights and responsibilities under the law, regardless of gender.”
SB 1306 officially becomes law on January 1, 2015.
Story by Dennis McMillan
Bay Area Activists Call for End to Ban against Gay and Bi Male Blood Donors
The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) bans gay and bisexual men from donating blood. For this reason, a nationwide blood drive took place to bring attention to the ban and help save lives. Gay and bisexual men in the Bay Area joined thousands nationwide to show their willingness to contribute by bringing allies to donate in their place.
Volunteers and protesters showed up in droves—many proudly wearing red National Gay Blood Drive t-shirts—at a bloodmobile outside San Francisco City Hall from noon to 4pm. They also signed the White House Petition to End the Gay Blood Ban, in part stating: “The current lifetime deferral focuses on sexual orientation, and we are calling on the FDA to change its policy so that it focuses on sexual behavior and individual risk instead.”
In 2010, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services agreed that the ban on MSM (men who have sex with men) blood donations was “suboptimal,” but kept it in place pending additional research to “create a road map forward.”
The American Medical Association opposes the ban, saying it is not based on sound science. The blood donation organizations believe the rule should be modified to reflect the deferrals for other similar high-risk sexual behavior. 85 members of Congress, including our local activist members, have written to HHS to encourage its end.
One mother said she came to donate blood in honor of her gay daughter and all other gay and bisexual couples. “Donating blood for this great cause brings tears to my eyes, but a smile to my heart, knowing that I am helping to send a message.”
But another woman who wanted to participate as an ally noted, “I learned I wouldn’t have been able to participate because I’m married to a bisexual man and am not allowed to give blood either.”
One activist held a placard stating, “A community that has lost so much, and fought for so much more, shouldn’t have to fight to give back!”
Story by Dennis McMillan