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Saturday, 29 January 2011

Civil Unions Now Imminent in Hawaii

The Hawaii state Senate yesterday approved civil unions legislation for the state. Approval by the state House, which last year passed similar legislation before it was vetoed by GOP Governor Lingle, is surely just a a formality. The new governor, Democrat Neil Abercrombie, has already promised to sign the legislation when (no longer if) it reaches his desk. Near-marriage, marriage in all but name, is on the way in Hawaii.

In my mind, only three questions remain:
  • When will the new legislation take effect? How long will it be before Hawaii's same-sex couples will be able to tie the knot, and have their unions recognized by the state?
  • Which will be the next state to follow suit?
  • How long must we wait for "near-marriage" to  become full marriage equality, including the name?
From NECN:

Hawaii Senate approves same-sex civil unions

HONOLULU (AP) — The Hawaii Senate on Friday overwhelmingly approved civil unions for same-sex couples, a major step toward the proposal becoming law. 
The state Senate voted 19-6 for the bill, which now goes to the state House of Representatives, where a nearly identical measure passed last year before it was vetoed by then-Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican.

Friday, 28 January 2011

New Yorkers Want Marriage Equality (Poll Shows Strongest Support Yet)

Even though New York Democrats lost control of the State Senate last November, the prospects for a bill providing for full marriage equality this year look brighter than ever - senators will know that in both parties, some of the most outspoken opponents lost their re-election bids (almost unheard of in state politics) and will not want to go the same way. Undoubtedly, some of those who voted against the last gay marriage bill will change their votes the next time around - we just don't know how many. For the waverers, this CBS6 Albany report of a new poll from  (highly reputable) Quinnipiac Research could help to sway them. Note that support for equality is strong in all geographic regions (suburban, NYC, and Upstate), and that 41% of Republican voters are also supportive. Note also that the gap between support and opposition has doubled in just 18 months, going from 10% in June 2009 to 21% this month.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Civil Unions Advance, Hawaii

Hot on the heels of the gay marriage bills which have been introduced this month in Rhode Island and Maryland, a measure providing for near-marriage has passed a key stage in Hawaii.  This is not yet full marriage, but as the opponents recognize, it is pretty close to marriage in all but name, and is surely just a staging post on the road to full equality. It's a long road, but civil unions in Hawaii will be an important landmark along the way.

Civil unions in Hawaii pass crucial first vote

A bill creating same-sex civil unions in Hawaii cleared a major hurdle Tuesday when it was narrowly approved by a key state Senate committee.
The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the legislation with a 3-2 vote following 2½ hours of passionate testimony from opponents wearing white shirts with buttons declaring "civil unions equals same-sex marriage" and supporters bearing rainbow lei.
"This is a matter of civil rights. We would no longer feel that we're second-class citizens," testified Gary Okabayashi of Honolulu, who has been in a relationship with his partner for 32 years. "We would have a sense of pride and integrity because the state has finally recognized us as equal."
Democrats, who control the Hawaii Legislature, said they plan to pass the bill quickly and send it to new Gov. Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat who supports civil unions.
The bill is nearly identical to a measure that passed the Legislature last year before it was vetoed by Republican Gov. Linda Lingle. 
It would grant both same-sex and opposite-sex couples the ability to enter into a civil union with the same state rights, benefits and responsibilities as marriage.
Advocates of civil unions said November's elections showed that voters supported candidates who backed equal rights for gay and lesbian couples. Only one incumbent state legislator who backed civil unions lost re-election.
Opponents said legal recognition of gay partnerships would put the state on a path toward same-sex marriage.
Read more at NECN

Marriage Equality Gaining Ground in Maryland.

The movement to marriage equality continues to show progress in Maryland. As lawmakers in the Maryland House and Senate formally kicked off their push for gay marriage, a new poll has shown that for the first time, an absolute majority of Marylanders now support full marriage equality.

According to Annapolis-based pollster Gonzales Research, 51 percent of Maryland residents support gay marriage. Endorsements break down along party lines, with 65 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of independents favoring same-sex marriage, while only 24 percent of Republicans back the concept. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.

The steady growth in Maryland for acceptance of equality matches the trend nationally and internationally. Speaking of the US,

Tim Magrath, a lecturer in political science at Frostburg State University and a former congressional staffer, agrees that the national attitude toward same-sex marriage is changing.

"The polling data's been incredible, the numbers have completely turned around," said Magrath. "In the '90s when (President) Clinton first started talking about gays in the military, the approval rating was in the 30s, but now a vast majority of people support the idea of gays in the military."

"Public perception on marriage has been transformed in the last decade as well, and there's been a major transformation in public opinion," said Magrath.
The bill which is now being introduced will face strong opposition and a likely filibuster. Still, it has an excellent chance of being passed, after the mid-term elections saw an increased number of key supporters elected to the state legislature. Governor O'Malley has promised to sign the bill if it reaches his desk - but it will probably then face an attempt to force the issue into a voter referendum.

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Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Gay Marriage - Moscow?

Lobbying and legal challenges in pursuit of gay marriage are cropping up regularly in all parts of the world - some of them unexpected and unlikely. These include the coming of full family equality in Argentina last year, and the progression to equality by legislative means currently underway in Nepal and Albania. Lobbying activity is being reported from the rest of South America and Serbia. On the legal front, a Russian lesbian couple has turned to the courts for ensure legal recognition for their marriage: < style="font: normal normal normal 140%/normal Georgia, serif; line-height: 26px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-top: 0px; text-align: justify;">  <

Gay Marriage Suit Filed

The European Court of Human Rights has accepted a lawsuit by a Russian lesbian couple who challenged authorities’ refusal to register their marriage, Interfax reported Tuesday.
Irina Fet and Irina Shipitko have married in Canada, with the Russian Embassy approving their marriage certificate. But a Moscow registry office refused to register the marriage, and courts upheld this decision in 2009, prompting the couple to file a suit in the Strasbourg court, gay rights activist Nikolai Alexeyev said.
Fet and Shipitko will probably have to wait several years before their lawsuit is reviewed, Alexeyev said.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Expert View on Gay Adoption: Beneficiaries are the Children.

Opponents of LGBT adoption regularly argue (correctly) that this is not a matter of gay/lesbian rights, but of the best interests of the children. Where they go wrong, is in making the false assumption that the best interests of the children involve excluding from consideration otherwise excellent potential parents who happen to have a homosexual orientation. At San Diego Gay and Lesbian News, Bryan Moore has a great interview with the adoption professional Adam Pertman, who sets corrects some common misrepresentations.

My favourite statement is his simple and direct response to the claims that LGBT people are somehow unfit for parenthood:
Those claims are made by people who are either uninformed or homophobic.
The important stuff though is not the one-line dismissal, but the substantive argument. Gay adoption is important, because it is in the best interests of the children.

The principle benefits are for children.

The fact is, there are lots of lesbian and gay people who want to give homes to children, so the real victims when that isn’t allowed to happen are the kids who wind up in temporary or group care or some other less advantageous situation. Yes, we should be working for equal rights for all, but the bottom line is, we’re here for the kids.

He takes care to note that "of course" LGBT equality is important, but later throws in important consideration, referring in passing to "qualified" potential parents. We as LGBT activists must always remember that no adult, gay, straight or trans, has any "right" to adopt, but only a right to be considered. All prospective parents are screened for a range of important considerations, and only those that meet the requirements may be approved. LGBT equality does not require an automatic right to adopt - simply that sexual orientation should not be seen as a reason to exclude candidate parents from further consideration.

Perhaps the most encouraging feature of his remarks is the observation that the numbers of openly gay or lesbian parents who are adopting is increasing steadily and rapidly. As the numbers increase, so the rest of the population becomes more familiar with family diversity - and in this case, familiarity breeds not contempt, but acceptance. Children are growing up with friends who have two moms or two dads. Parents from more traditional families are adapting to families of their offspring's playmates,  just as earlier generations of parents adapted to friends with single parents - or to friends of different ethnic backgrounds.

Gay adoption is here to stay - and will contribute to increasing public acceptance of LGBT equality more generally - as well as improving the chances that children will be placed with the best possible among all qualified potential parents.

(Adam Pertman is executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a national nonprofit that is the pre-eminent research, policy and education organization in its field. He is also the author of Adoption Nation: How the Adoption Revolution Is Transforming America.. Pertman sat down with dot429 to discuss LGBT adoption, explaining the progress and the trials and tribulations. Read the full interview at SDGLN)
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Thursday, 13 January 2011

Marriage Equality Safe in New Hampshire.

After the Republicans took control of the NH state assembly last November, there were some fears that they would attempt to repeal the marriage equality legislation which was enacted in 2009. However, the state GOP leadership has announced that this is not on their agenda "for this year". Same sex marriage is safe - for now. 

What about next year? Will the issue then appear on the agenda? Well, no. The GOP won't like to admit it, but in every jurisdiction where legal provision has been made for same sex marriage, the population has found that surprise- the sky has not fallen in, their own marriages have not been threatened, and life goes on as before - except for some businesses people, who find that they benefit from increased wedding and tourism customers. Living with the facts of gay marriage, and not the imaginary threats, quickly reduces the opposition.  

Even next year, the GOP are unlikely to take up the repeal of gay marriage. If they attempt it, they will find that not all their legislators will co-operate. An increasing number of Republicans are seeing that there is a conservative case for gay marriage,and against interfering in the bedrooms of citizens. I think we can safely say that marriage equality is safe in New Hampshire - period.

From the Washington Post
Gay marriage repeal not on NH GOP agenda this year
CONCORD, N.H. -- Republicans who control the New Hampshire House have decided that repealing the state's gay marriage law won't be on their agenda this year.
House Republican Leader D.J. Bettencourt confirmed to The Associated Press on Wednesday that jobs and the economy will be the top priorities on an agenda to be announced Thursday. Bettencourt says there's widespread agreement that social issues will have to take a back seat.
Gay marriage was enacted in 2009 when Democrats controlled the Legislature. Democratic Gov. John Lynch signed the law and has since said he would veto any repeal attempt.
Conservatives were hoping for enough votes for both a repeal and veto override after voters in November gave Republicans control of the Legislature. Lynch defeated a Republican challenger who opposed gay marriage, despite ads run by national groups criticizing his decision to sign the bill.

"Religious Freedom" does not include the right to discriminate - Canadian Court

In Canada, gay marriage has been part of the law since 2004 - but some marriage officers still attempt to avoid conducting them, on the basis that it is against their religious freedom. In Saskatchewan, the state parliament has attempted to build this into state law, with explicit provision for officials to recuse themselves on religious grounds. The state supreme court has ruled this out of order.

In its decision, released Monday, the court said both of the proposed laws -- allowing an exemption for all marriage commissioners or just for those who were commissioners at the time gay marriage was legalized in 2004 -- would be unconstitutional. If enacted, such a law would violate the equality rights of gay and lesbian individuals and would not be a reasonable and justifiable breach of those rights, the court said.
Read more   - Vancouver Sun 

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Marriage Equality Advances in Maryland.

It seems increasingly likely, as I predicted last year, that Maryland will join Rhode Island as the next US states to  approve legislation to recognise same-sex marriage.

From CNN:

Maryland is poised to become the sixth state to recognize same-sex marriage as proponents say they believe they have enough support to pass such a measure in the upcoming legislative session.
The expansion of gay rights appears to have gained significant traction as Maryland's General Assembly begins its 90-day session Wednesday. Not only are Democrats optimistic about their chances of approving same-sex marriage, but a leading Republican, sensing momentum on the issue, has instead countered with a proposal to grant civil unions to gay couples.
Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley has publicly stated that he would sign a marriage bill into law. Maryland then would join Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington, D.C., in sanctioning same-sex marriages.
Maryland has been inching toward granting greater rights and protections for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Last year Democratic state Attorney General Doug Gansler offered a legal opinion recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions. "We've been marching in this direction for a while now," said Democratic state Delegate Heather Mizeur.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Nepal introduces transgender census category

KATHMANDU — Nepal's national census will include a new category for transgender people when counting begins in May, the government said Sunday, in a move welcomed by equality activists.
"Earlier, we had only two categories, men and women. But in the upcoming census, we are including a 'third gender' category," said Bikash Bista, director of the Central Bureau of Statistics in Kathmandu.
Two years ago, the Supreme Court in Nepal ordered the government to enact laws to guarantee the rights of transgender, gay, lesbian and bisexual people.
Bista said the court's ruling prompted the new category, though Nepal remains a deeply conservative country.
"We will send supervisors to each household and get the figures of the household, its members and their gender. This is when we count the number of transgenders," he said.
Sunil Babu Panta, Nepal's first openly gay parliamentarian, who runs the Blue Diamond Society pressure group, said that the transgender community was delighted by the decision.
"This shows that the government has started to recognise them. I hope this will help to ensure their rights," he said.
"But challenges remain for the community as they have often been forced to leave their villages and taken refuge in cities due to discrimination."
Nepal plans to complete the census, which takes place every ten years, in two months. About 28 million people live in the mountainous country.
India will also have a transgender category in its 2011 census, the domestic Press Trust of India news agency reported on Sunday, though no government spokesman was able to confirm the plan.

from AFP

Sunday, 9 January 2011

"Gay marriage isn't revolutionary. It's just next." - WaPost

By Stephanie Coontz
Sunday, January 9, 2011
Opponents of same-sex marriage worry that allowing two men or two women to wed would radically transform a time-honored institution. But they're way too late on that front. Marriage has already been radically transformed - in a way that makes gay marriage not only inevitable, as Vice President Biden described it in an interview late last year, but also quite logical.

We are near the end of a two-stage revolution in the social understanding and legal definition of marriage. This revolution has overturned the most traditional functions of the institution: to reinforce differences in wealth and power and to establish distinct and unequal roles for men and women under the law.

For millennia, marriage was about property and power rather than love. Parents arranged their children's unions to expand the family labor force, gain well-connected in-laws and seal business deals. Sometimes, to consolidate inheritances, parents prevented their younger children from marrying at all. For many people, marriage was an unavoidable duty. For others, it was a privilege, not a right. Often, servants, slaves and paupers were forbidden to wed.

But a little more than two centuries ago, people began to believe that they had a right to choose their partners on the basis of love rather than having their marriages arranged to suit the interests of parents or the state.

Love, not money, became the main reason for getting married, and more liberal divorce laws logically followed. After all, people reasoned, if love is gone, why persist in the marriage? Divorce rates rose steadily from the 1850s through the 1950s, long before the surge that initially accompanied the broad entry of women into the workforce.

Read more at the Washington Post, Jan 9th 2011

Friday, 7 January 2011

Bills to legalize gay marriage introduced in R.I. House, Senate - ProvidenceJournal

With the introduction on Thursday of same-sex marriage bills in the House and Senate, the battle now begins.
In the House, Rep. Arthur Handy, D-Cranston, introduced his annual bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Rhode Island. The 29 lawmakers cosigning the bill include House Speaker Gordon D. Fox.
As she introduced similar legislation in the Senate, Sen. Rhoda Perry, D-Providence, said she hoped it would get a hearing and vote early in the legislative session.
A mirror of Handy’s bill, it legalizes “civil marriage” between people of the same gender to marry, while specifying that no religious institution would be required to marry same-sex couples if it goes against its teachings.

“We want to get it going early on,” she said. “We want to have debate and a hearing, and we do not want to wait until the end of the year.”
The legislation has strong support in the House, where Fox, who is openly gay, has also expressed his desire for an early vote.
Read more at Providence Journal