Join Paul Dodd in standing with Sens. Barbara Boxer and Kirsten Gillibrand to send Speaker Boehner and the House Republicans a message: We will not stand for their egregious attacks on women’s health. Visit http://www.stophr3.com to join this fight.
From the White House blog
Posted by Brian Bond, Deputy Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, on January 18, 2011 at 05:41 PM EST
"There are few moments in our lives that call for greater compassion and companionship than when a loved one is admitted to the hospital. In these hours of need and moments of pain and anxiety, all of us would hope to have a hand to hold, a shoulder on which to lean – a loved one to be there for us, as we would be there for them."
With those words on April 15, 2010 President Obama directed HHS Secretary Sebelius to initiate rulemaking to ensure that hospitals that participate in Medicare and Medicaid respect the rights of patients to designate visitors. The President further advised that the rule should ensure that participating hospitals may not deny visitation privileges based on factors including sexual orientation or gender identity.
Today the new Hospital Visitation Regulations go into effect.
This policy impacts millions of LGBT Americans and their families. The President saw an injustice and felt very strongly about correcting this and has spoken about it often over the years. I want to thank HHS Secretary Sebelius and her team for their resolve to see this rule implemented. In fact, long before this rule was finalized, back in June, 2010 the Secretary laid the groundwork by reaching out to leaders of major hospital associations asking them to encourage their member hospitals to not wait for the formal rulemaking to run its course regarding patient-centered visitation rights suggested by the President.
This significant policy change is due in no small part to the journeys of two incredibly courageous and passionate women, Janice Langbehn and Charlene Strong. Both lived through unimaginable experiences with the loss of their wives and life partners. While I never had the opportunity to meet Janice’s wife Lisa Pond, or Charlene’s wife Kate Fleming, I have had the honor to meet and work with Janice and Charlene. I want to thank them for bringing us all into their lives and for sharing themselves and their families with us, and for using their voices to make lives better for LGBT families.
A growing coalition for decriminalization of sexual orientation and gender identity
December 17, 2010
Contact: Ann Craig (213)-703-1365 email@example.com<mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>
UN Faith Coalition Urges Protections for Sexual Orientation And Gender Identity
Forty national faith leaders and organizations in support of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people were convened on December 13 by the Faith Coalition for LGBT Human Rights. The group, meeting across the street from the United Nations at the Church Center for the UN, spoke out strongly against the action of a committee in the UN that removed gay people from a list of groups protected from violent targeting and extrajudicial killing. The Coalition expressed strong support for Susan Rice, the U.S. Ambassador of the United States to the United Nations, who is expected to propose reinstatement of sexual orientation to the UN resolution on December 20.
The essence of the Resolution is reflected in the following comments by leaders in the Coalition. The full document can be read on our blog.
Bruce Knotts, Executive Director of the Unitarian Universalist UN Office, said, "Thousands of supporters have been called on to contact US State Department officials and the UN to urge the reinstatement of sexual orientation as a protected class. In addition to this protection, the UN and all countries can add protection for everyone by adopting the Yogyakarta Principles which say, ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Sexual orientation and gender identity are integral to every person’s dignity and humanity and must not be the basis for discrimination or abuse.’"
Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, retired bishop from Uganda, said, "As a straight ally to LGBT people, I see how countries in Eastern Africa are increasingly persecuting people because of who they are and who they love, in part, because Evangelicals from the USA come to Uganda and preach against LGBT people. This divides families, communities and countries. The UN removal of sexual orientation from a list of protected groups is one more symptom of a deeply disturbing trend."
Dr. Cindi Love, Executive Director of Soulforce, said, "Imprisoning or executing people for sexual orientation or gender identity does not just violate human rights, it undermines trust, social cohesion, economic development and public health. Trust is vital for cooperation among nations, communities, families and co-workers. We call on the UN to rebuild this trust by protecting all people who are subject to persecution by unjust laws and mob actions."
Frank Mugisha, head of SMUG (Sexual Minorities of Uganda) said, "The international community must not ignore the warning signs of persecution and genocide. LGBT people are fleeing from their homes in fear for the lives. Any law that calls for imprisonment or execution based on sexual orientation or gender identity creates a climate ripe for vigilantes. People of good will must speak out."
Pat Bumgardner, head of the Metropolitan Community Church’s International Committee, said, "All faith traditions support human rights but many faith leaders get cold feet when it comes to LGBT human rights. It is time for faith leaders to step up and support human rights for all people.
Pastor Joseph Tolton, of The Fellowship, said, African American people of faith understand that LGBT people have always been part of our faith communities. As part of the African Diaspora, we are saying out loud, that when any of us are targeted, we are all at risk.
Episcopal Canon Albert Ogle, head of St. Paul’s Foundation, said, "When I was in Uganda this year, I saw the needs for pastoral ministry such as Bishop Senyonjo is offering. Today, we call on all faith leaders to know that much rests on their shoulders. They need to follow their conscience to take actions to protect LGBT people both in the US and across the globe."
The UN Faith Coalition for LGBT Human Rights is a coalition of the Unitarian Universalist UN Office, Metropolitan Community Church, National Black Justice Coalition, The Fellowship, Union Theological Seminary and St. Paul’s Foundation for Reconciliation.
Today the Senate voted to repeal "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" and sent the meseaure to President Obama, who is expected to sign the legislation into law next week.
Please note: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is still in effect and will remain in effect for sixty days after Obama signs the bill into law. Please visit our friends at Servicemembers Legal Defense Network for more information.
Lesbian tries to blaze trail against Arizona ballot issue
Monday, July 14, 2008
By Deb Price
A famous Chinese proverb teaches that a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.
For Meg Sneed, a 25-year-old Arizona lesbian, journeys to change a thousand hearts begin with a single thought: There’s power in sharing personal stories.
In 2006, she and other young activists in Soulforce, a gay-rights group devoted to the peaceful confrontation practiced by Gandhi and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., traveled eight weeks by bus to evangelical colleges to share what it’s like to be gay.
The next year, Sneed, who was fighting cancer, was weak from chemotherapy but walked 60 miles to help raise money for breast cancer research.
Now, with her home state set to vote on banning same-sex couples from marrying, Sneed is back on the move: Starting Aug. 8, she and other young Soulforce activists will walk 96 miles to the state capitol to share touching accounts of how the amendment would hurt real people.
She picked 96 miles for the six-day trek through egg-frying heat because that’s the number of years gay Arizonans haven’t had equal rights.
"Walking 96 miles," Sneed says of her bold adventure, "is nothing compared to a gay or lesbian person being told they can’t see their partner in their dying moments at a hospital because they don’t have full marriage rights."
At the same time as the blazing walk, other Soulforce activists will spread out to share their stories with Arizona’s young Mormons and senior citizens, two large voting blocs that most gay-rights supporters would write off. But Soulforce never writes anyone off.
"It is important to reach out and have those conversations, because until you get the dialogue started, you can’t start change," Sneed says.
Besides Arizona, marriage measures will be on the ballot in California and Florida. The broad Florida proposal would ban any sort of legal recognition for couples, except male-female marriage. To pass, it must get 60 percent of the vote.
California, where same-sex couples have been marrying since June 16, is the first state where voters will be asked whether marriage rights should be taken away from gay couples.
Two years ago, Arizona became the first to defeat a ballot measure that included a gay marriage ban. But that sweeping proposal, similar to the one up now in Florida, also would have banned domestic partner protections, even for heterosexuals.
This year, Arizonans will be voting solely on gay marriage. That distinction hints at the challenges — and opportunities — for activists determined to change hearts before Election Day.
Will voters in California or Arizona become the first to turn down an anti-gay amendment limited to marriage? California looks especially promising.
In Arizona, a Cronkite/Eight poll in February found voters supporting an amendment by 49-40 percent, with a whopping 11 percent undecided. Sneed sees those numbers as an invitation to keep talking and walking.
"If you just say, ‘Their minds are not going to change,’ then you are right, their minds are not going to change. But if you reach out to them, then there is a possibility."
Hearts are reached, the Arizona woman teaches, one step at a time.
The original article is available on the Detroit News website
SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: September 27, 2007
For Immediate Release
Contact: Paige Schilt, Director of Public Relations and Media
On Wednesday the Washington Blade reported that House Democratic leaders are "strongly considering dropping anti-discrimination protections for transgender persons from the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA."
Today Soulforce joins other national LGBT organizations in opposing the removal of protections for transgender Americans from ENDA.
Statement from Jeff Lutes, Soulforce Executive Director
"Religious right organizations such as the Traditional Values Coalition have used the same old tactic of misrepresenting social science to lobby against gender identity protections in ENDA."
"Soulforce urges members of congress not to compromise on workplace equality. Now is the time to remember the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’"
Soulforce is a national civil rights and social justice organization. Our vision is freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance. For more information go to www.soulforce.org
Soulforce Executive Director, Jeff Lutes, attended the 2006 Values Voter Summit in Washington DC on Friday, September 22, 2006. The following is his initial report from inside the summit.
The room has an estimated 1600 in attendance. It is smothered in red, white, and blue . . . with white stars projected on the background and side walls. There are two huge video screens, 1599 Republicans and one bald Democrat who runs a gay rights organization.
Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA):
"Our society stands on the basis of the family unit and my state supreme court made a mistake . . . they should have focused on the children because marriage is about nurturing children…………We desperately need a Federal Marriage Amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman" (crowd cheers).
Announcer introduces James Dobson (Focus on the Family), Alan Sears (Alliance Defense Fund) and Tony Perkins (Family Research Council). Introduces them as a "power panel" and says later that "if the pro-family movement had a Mount Rushmore, their faces would be on it." The theme from "Rocky" plays as Dobson, Perkins and Sears come out to speak.
They all spoke about victories in multiple states to protect traditional marriage but urged the crowd to not become complacent and keep working to get out the vote. Alan Sears says that "All good people come together to protect God’s plan for marriage" and that the "homosexual agenda and religious freedom are on a collision course".
Tony Perkins agrees and says that "America is on a collision course between radical homosexuals and religious freedom" and that "the other side wants to silence the church" Dobson and Sears told crowd that IRS code allows pastors to preach values and talk about public policy and get out the vote. Tony Perkins says that "if any pastor is challenged (for preaching on public policy/values), then ADF will defend them free of charge. No longer in America when pastors take a stand will they be alone".
Alan Sears says "there is so much propaganda about the myth of oppression" and Dobson says homosexuals can get most of the marriage protections by simply visiting a lawyer. Alan Sears says that the crowd must be careful to not "further the homosexual agenda which is the abolition of marriage and the silencing of the church". Alan Sears has to leave early – tells crowd he has to fly to San Francisco. The crowd giggles and moans and Tony Perkins says "We’ll pray for you".
Tony Perkins refers to a lesbian couple who broke up less than two years after their state passed some marriage-like legislation for same-sex couples, and then says "That tells you about the their commitment to the institution of marriage". Tony Perkins says the last time he saw the President, the President asked him to have his people pray for him.
Tony mentions Barry Lynn and refers to him as the head of "Americans United for the Division of the Country". Dobson acknowledges that Barry Lynn registered for the summit and may be in the crowd. He then criticizes Barry Lynn, claiming that Barry doesn’t understand the difference between a 510(c) 3 and a 501 (c) 4 and reassures the crowd that Focus on the Family has done nothing wrong and is in no danger of losing their tax-exempt status. He jokes that Barry Lynn has made a living off attacking him and worries about what Barry will do once he (Dobson) is gone. Dobson tells a story about a recent hunting trip with his son Ryan in which Dobson shot and killed a bear. He then says to the crowd "Those of you who don’t like hunting and that story offends you . . .get over it."
After they leave the stage, another panel forms ("Love and Marriage" plays as they walk on stage) with Prof. Robert George (Princeton), Marilyn Musgrave (R-CO) and Maggie Gallagher (author and syndicated columnist). Robert George talks about how same-sex marriage will lead to polygamy and says the Supreme Court is still a danger if it continues to follow the logic of Lawrence vs. Texas. Marilyn Musgrave says "If we have gay marriage our religious liberties are gone." Gallagher claims social science is clear kids need a mother and a father.
Next is Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) who states marriage is between a man and a woman and states confidently that Roe vs. Wade will be overturned in the future. He continues the argument that marriage is for the welfare of the children and encourages crowd to fight for the kids. He says that Dobson has been a wonderful gift to the country.
Mike Huckabee (R-AR) is next and says that marriage has always been between a man and a woman and, quote, "until Moses comes down with two tablets from Brokeback Mountain, let’s keep it like it is."
There was a break for lunch and the announcer reminds the crowd that any unauthorized taping is prohibited and if caught our tapes will be confiscated and erased. I quietly slip out with my recorder. As I exit the hall, I pass Don Wildmon from the American Family Association telling a reporter that the best thing the Republicans have going for them is the Democrats.
I swim through the sea of "values voters" until I get to the lobby, where I immediately call my partner Gary and tell him I love him and ask him to kiss the kids for me.
Jeff Lutes, LPC
Help Soulforce Guard The Constitution This November!
48 hours of nonstop protection outside the National Archives in Washington, D.C., November 5-7th, 2006
In this mid-term election, religious fundamentalists have waged a full scale war against the United States Constitution and the values of freedom, liberty, and the critically important separation of church and state. Well-organized and determined, they intend to create a "Christian Nation" in which every office is held by "righteous men" who attack basic civil liberties like marriage equality, adoption and foster-parenting (by LGBT parents), stem cell research, and a woman’s right to choose. Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, Pat Robertson and powerful others want an America in which their interpretation of the Bible trumps the Constitution in the governance of our great country. Soulforce needs you to help us sound the alarm, raise public awareness, and encourage fair-minded Americans to vote for equality this November.
Soulforce is organizing volunteers to symbolically "Stand Guard" outside the National Archives where the United States Constitution is kept. During the last 48 hours leading up to the election (Sunday, November 5 – Tuesday, November 7), fair-minded Americans will take turns standing vigil wearing "We the People" t-shirts and passing out materials that educate the public on the dangerous connection between Christian dogma and the resulting loss of civil liberties. Our founder and president, the Rev. Dr. Mel White, will share excerpts from his new book, Religion Gone Bad: The Hidden Dangers of the Christian Right during a press conference.
Bring your family and friends to Washington, D.C. and help Soulforce Guard the Constitution!
The Sodomy Laws That Had Kept Us From Living and Loving Openly
Georgia Supreme Court Repeals Sodomy Law
3. A COMMENTARY BY PAUL VARNELL
Ending Sodomy Laws
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1. TEXAS SODOMY ARREST OPENS LEGAL BATTLE FOR GAY ACTIVISTS
By Paul Duggan, Washington Post Staff Writer
HOUSTON – Rarely does a police officer witness violations of Section 21.06 of the Texas criminal code, the section entitled "Homosexual conduct." And almost never is an arrest made under the 119-year-old statute. So what happened recently to John Lawrence and Tyrone Garner, in the supposed privacy of Lawrence’s bedroom, was highly unusual.
The two men were having sex when a Harris County sheriff’s deputy walked into the apartment on another matter, saw what they were doing and hauled them off to jail.
"In all candor, I don’t believe we’ve ever made an arrest before under those circumstances," said Capt. Don McWilliams, a sheriff’s spokesman. But the law is the law, he said. "We can’t give our deputies a list of statutes we think they should enforce and a list of statutes we want them to ignore."
The handcuffing of Lawrence and Garner that night did more than just satisfy the deputy’s obligation to enforce the law. It opened a new legal front in a long campaign by gay activists across the country to do away with such statutes, which they contend are unconstitutional.
Georgia’s highest court issued a ruling Monday that struck down that state’s law against consensual sodomy, but statutes prohibiting the practice remain on the books in Puerto Rico and 19 states, including Maryland and Virginia. Five of the states, including Texas, limit the ban to same-sex couples. Now lawyers have seized on the Houston case as a vehicle to again contest the legitimacy of the Texas statute, which has survived three legal challenges since the early 1980s.
Among similar court challenges in four other states and in Puerto Rico, four are lawsuits, including one in Maryland — where a judge ruled last month that homosexual oral sex is not illegal but refused to declare the sodomy statute unconstitutional. Only two cases, in Minnesota and now Texas, stem from criminal charges. And as gay activists see it, no case more vividly illustrates the threat such laws pose to privacy than the Sept. 17 arrests of Lawrence and Garner.
Answering what turned out to be a bogus report of a man behaving erratically with a gun, Deputy Joseph Quinn arrived at an apartment building east of Houston about 10:30 p.m. and met Roger Nance, 41, who had phoned in the complaint, authorities said.
Nance directed Quinn to apartment No. 833, Lawrence’s apartment. The deputy entered through the unlocked door with his weapon drawn. After finding no one with a gun, Quinn later wrote in his report, he "observed [Lawrence] engaged in deviate sexual conduct, namely, anal sex, with another man." Lawrence, 55, and Garner, 31, spent the rest of the night behind bars before each was let out on $200 bail.
Nance’s false report, for which he served 15 days in jail, stemmed from "a personality dispute" between him and the two men, the sheriff’s department said.
Lawrence and Garner pleaded no contest earlier this month to violating the anti-sodomy statute and were fined $125 each by a justice of the peace. Now the stage is set for what lawyers predict will be a long appeals process, one they hope will end with the state’s highest criminal appeals court invalidating the law as an infringement on privacy as protected by Texas Constitution.
The arrests in some ways delighted gay activists. They said the case not only provides a long-awaited legal platform to challenge the Texas law, but also has a public-awareness benefit, offering facts that underscore their warnings about privacy. Here, they contend, was an instance of government authority literally reaching under a person’s blankets.
"You can’t get more private than a bedroom," said Suzanne B. Goldberg, a lawyer with the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, which is representing the men.
In the other criminal case resulting in a legal challenge, a Minnesota bartender was arrested for engaging in oral sex with a woman in the bar after closing time. Minnesota’s law, which applies to all couples, includes oral sex in the definition of sodomy, as does the Texas law. But in Minnesota, police witnessed the offense after the fact, while viewing a videotape from the bar’s security camera during an unrelated investigation.
The Texas case "should really show the public how invasive these laws can be," said Michael Adams, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, which is handling the Minnesota appeal. "It shows that the police really do intrude into the home. And the fact that people have to live in fear of that is terrible."
Goldberg said Lawrence, who works in medical technology, and Garner, a shipping clerk, did not want to be interviewed. McWilliams said Quinn also has declined to comment on the arrests.
As they have in other states, conservative groups voiced support for the Texas law on moral grounds.
Cathie Adams, president of the Eagle Forum’s Texas chapter, said the law banning same-sex sodomy helps maintain a distinction between traditional couples and those "who practice homosexuality," which she called "unnatural and unhealthy."
In addition to citing privacy concerns, activists have complained that such laws often are used as a pretext for discriminating against homosexuals in employment, child custody and other matters.
In one earlier, unsuccessful challenge to the Texas law, for example, an openly lesbian job applicant sued the Dallas Police Department for refusing to hire her. The department said it could not employ her because it presumed she was routinely violating the law in private, by the nature of her homosexuality. The city now has an ordinance barring job discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Wyatt Roberts, chairman of the American Family Association of Texas, said he favors retaining the Texas statute so it can be used as it was in Dallas.
Homosexuality "speaks for a person’s character," Roberts said, and ought to be a legal basis for denying homosexuals child custody and certain jobs. "I think most people in Texas respect a person’s right to privacy," he said, "while at the same time they think homosexuality should be discouraged."
In an earlier challenge to the now-defunct Georgia law, which banned sodomy by all couples, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the statute in 1986 in a case that focused on the privacy issue. The court said the U.S. Constitution "does not confer a fundamental right upon homosexuals to engage in sodomy."
But the ruling noted that state courts may strike down such laws if they are found to violate privacy protections that are guaranteed or implicit in state constitutions.
That was the basis for the Georgia Supreme Court’s ruling this week, one that gay activists hope will be repeated in the other state courts. In addition to the cases in Texas, Minnesota, Maryland and Puerto Rico, challenges are pending in state courts in Arkansas and Louisiana.
Citing the U.S. Constitution’s equal-protection clause, activists said they also may eventually begin federal court challenges to the Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri anti-sodomy laws, which apply to same-sex couples but not heterosexuals.
In a federal lawsuit challenging the Texas law on privacy grounds in the early 1980s, a gay man prevailed in U.S. District Court in Dallas. But a federal appeals court reversed the ruling and upheld the statute in 1985, and a year later the U.S. Supreme Court decided the Georgia case.
Two state court challenges to the law, including the case involving the Dallas police force, were dismissed in 1994 by the Texas Supreme Court, which ruled that the legitimacy of a criminal statute in Texas cannot be contested through a lawsuit, that the challenge must arise from a criminal case.
Activists have waited four years for such a case. Now they have it.
Five states prohibit consensual sodomy among same-sex couples only; 14 states plus Puerto Rico prohibit consensual sodomy among all couples.
States with laws prohibiting consensual sodomy among all couples: Virginia, Maryland*, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Minnesota*, Louisiana*, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Michigan, Puerto Rico*.
States with laws prohibiting consensual sodomy among same-sex couples only: Oklahoma, Texas*, Kansas, Arkansas*, Missouri.
* States facing legal challenge.
NOTES: In some jurisdictions, oral sex is included in the definition of sodomy. In the most recently decided case, the Georgia Supreme Court struck down Georgia’s anti-sodomy statute on Nov. 23, ruling that it violated privacy rights guaranteed by the state constitution.
The Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Gay and Lesbian Task Force of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Washington Post, November 29, 1998
1150 15th Street NW, Washington DC, 20071
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2. GEORGIA SUPREME COURT REPEALS SODOMY LAW
Washington, DC-November 23, 1998
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force today celebrates a 6-1 vote by the Georgia Supreme Court to repeal that state’s sodomy law. The Court ruled that the law violates the Georgia Constitution’s guarantee of a right to privacy.
"Sodomy laws are the linchpin in attacks against the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community," said Kerry Lobel, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "They are used to criminalize our behavior and are the basis for discrimination in employment, housing, health care and against families. We applaud the Court for its vote today and also salute the tireless work of Georgia activists who have helped change the climate in the state."
The Georgia law has been the basis of two U.S. Supreme Court cases. The first was the landmark Bowers v. Hardwick in 1986, when it found no constitutional right to privacy for same-gender conduct. And earlier this year, the Court refused to hear the case of attorney Robin Shahar, whose job offer from then-Attorney General Michael Bowers was rescinded after discovering she was planning a commitment ceremony with her partner. Bowers claimed her lesbian relationship violated the Georgia sodomy law, which he himself defended in Bowers v. Hardwick.
"We must be vigilant not only in the passage of civil rights laws, but also in the repeal of sodomy laws," continued Lobel. "Even though they are rarely enforced, they are frequently used as the basis for other forms of discrimination – in the workplace, in the schools, and with the custody of our children."
With the Georgia law now invalid, thirty-one states and the District of Columbia will have no laws forbidding same gender sexual relations. Of the nineteen states that will have sodomy laws in place, six state’s laws apply only to same-gender activity – Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, and Maryland. Thirteen other states have an opposite and same-gender sodomy law – Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Massachusetts, Michigan and Minnesota.
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3. A COMMENTARY by Paul Varnell
ENDING SODOMY LAWS
Early in May, Judge Jonathan Heher of the Johannesburg High Court struck down South Africa’s sodomy law on the grounds that it violated the nation’s new constitution barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Just a few months earlier Ecuador’s Supreme Court ruled that nation’s sodomy law unconstitutional. And Romania’s new prime minister recently promised to repeal his nation’s sodomy law so it could join the European Union.
In the civilized nations of the world there are few sodomy laws remaining. Mostly they linger in ignorant and savage nations of the third world, where religious faith inhibits rationality, provincialism is praised as patriotism, and fanaticism is proof of piety.
As South Africa’s judge Heher noted with unusual eloquence in his ruling, to penalize a gay or lesbian person "for the expression of his or her sexuality can only be defended from a standpoint which depends on the baneful influences of religious intolerance, ignorance, superstition, bigotry, fear of what is different from or alien to everyday experience and the millstone of history."
Among the developed nations of the world only the United States of America still retains sodomy laws in 20 of its 50 states.
Half of those states are in the heavily Baptist, former slave-owning Confederate South. If the Old South is no longer a "solid south" for racist Democrats, it is, at least, still solid in its legislated homophobia.
The other states are the western strip of Arizona, heavily Mormon Utah and Idaho; the traditionally Catholic states of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Maryland; Lutheran dominated Minnesota; and the conservative midwestern cluster of Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma.
These sodomy laws are seldom enforced. They do not appear to impinge on the lives of most gays and do not seem worrisome to most gay-friendly legislators. That would help explain the remarkable anomaly that three states with gay non-discrimination laws still have sodomy statutes: Minnesota, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. And the only states to have reelected openly gay congressmen by large margins are both states with sodomy laws: Massachusetts and Arizona.
However, anti-gay politicians who, like pro-gay politicians, seem content with non-enforcement of sodomy laws nonetheless fight vigorously to retain them.
This is extremely odd because no one claims that the laws actually reduce the incidence of sodomy. In fact, in arguing before the Montana Supreme Court, the the state’s attorney general tried to make it an argument for retaining the sodomy law that no one had been arrested under it for decades.
But why then retain them?
When George W. Bush was running for governor of Texas he was asked whether he favored retention of Texas’ sodomy law (currently in legal limbo). He said, yes, he thought the state should keep the law, chiefly for its symbolic value.
A symbol of what? A symbol, I think, of social disapproval. A symbol that society regards gay sexuality as defective, inferior and distasteful, tolerates it only contingently, and reserves the theoretical right to prohibit gay sexual expression because it is something we have no natural right to do.
It is a symbol that not only our pleasures, but our deepest relational commitments are shallower and less deserving of respect than those of heterosexuals, and, in short, that we are simply inferior human beings, not to be accorded the full autonomy, dignity or esteem granted to other citizens.
It follows from this that sodomy laws not only express social disapproval and lesser regard for gays, but they also serve the conservative function of reinforcing existing social disapproval and giving it a stamp of legitimacy.
One has to wonder why some bright young reporter did not speak up to ask the young Bush, "Do you mean to suggest, sir, that in your view the superiority of heterosexuality is not sufficiently evident to the public without the support of such legal symbols?
"And, sir, a follow-up question if I may? If the social superiority of heterosexuality is not readily evident to people, then wherein does its non-evident superiority lie?"
But heterosexual reporters probably did not think to ask the question, and gay reporters likely were too far in the closet to feel comfortable asking it.
Bush’s statement, however, suggests he believes it is legitimate to devalue some people in order to bolster some other group of people. This is an odd claim to make in a country dedicated to either liberty or equality, though it may have a certain intelligibility in the Confederate South.
But apart from the devaluing function of sodomy laws, there are also substantive "collateral harms" that sodomy laws create.
They are used to label gays and lesbians as known law-violators and thus create evidence of unfit character for responsible positions such as custodial parent, foster parents, teachers and the like.
Sodomy laws create opportunities for police abuse. They can invite corruption (bribery, extortion), entrapment of gays, and selective law enforcement. It is important to remember, too, that the police absorb their attitudes toward gays from the way the law categorizes them. If the law states that gays are felons, the police will tend to treat known gays with less civility.
Rhode Island prosecutors acknowledged that the state’s sodomy law was useful because it enabled juries to convict on the lesser sodomy charge in cases of alleged sexual assault involving sodomy where consent was uncertain. But that seems to be an argument against sodomy laws. If oral or anal sex is not wrong, then why should people engaging in anal or (chiefly) oral sex where consent is uncertain be convicted of something while those engaging in vaginal sex with uncertain consent not be?
By devaluing gay lives, sodomy laws also subtly encourage and legitimize young male vigilantes who assault, rob or even kill gays. On this ground, one could argue that legislators who support sodomy law are accessories before the fact in gay-bashing incidents.
Despite their offensiveness, sodomy laws remain on the law books in many states because local gay activists have not made repealing them a priority. But for all these reasons, repeal should be a higher priority.
One of the best arguments for the marches on the 50 state capitols in 1999 is that they will provide an occasion to demand the right to sexual privacy and the repeal of state sodomy laws.
Sodomy laws anywhere in this nation are a offensive reminder to all of us that legislators think that our lives are defective and less worthy of respect.
Paul Varnell writes for Chicago’s Windy City Times and other gay newspapers. His e-mail address is PVarnell@AOL.com
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act
A note by Mick Ellis
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1. THE EMPLOYMENT NON-DISCRIMINATION ACT
WHAT IS ENDA AND HOW DOES ENDA WORK?
A Note by Mick Ellis
The Human Rights Campaign is working hard to pass a federal bill that would make discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the workplace illegal. This bill is known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. You may remember that this bill would add sexual orientation to the existing non-discrimination bill (which prohibits discrimination in hiring, firing and promotion discrimination based on race, color, disability, national origin, age, religious affiliation, and gender).
IT IS PERFECTLY LEGAL TO FIRE SOMEONE OR NOT HIRE SOMEONE IN ALL BUT NINE STATES JUST FOR BEING GAY OR LESBIAN (OR BEING THOUGHT TO BE GAY OR LESBIAN) — IT’S TRUE.
For your information, here is more detail about ENDA:
– Extends federal employment discrimination protections currently provided based on race, religion, gender, national origin, age and disability to sexual orientation. Thus ENDA extends fair employment practices — not special rights — to lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and heterosexuals.
WHAT ENDA DOES NOT DO:
- Does not cover small businesses fewer than 15 employees.
- Does not cover religious institutions.
- Does not apply to the uniformed members of the armed services.
- Does not allow preferential treatment, including quotas based on sexual orientation.
- Does not allow a disparate impact claim available under Title VII.
- Does not require an employer to provide benefits to the same sex partner of an employee.
- Does not apply retroactively.
Mick Ellis, Director
Student Activities/University Center
Room 220, Mary Graydon Center
4400 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20016-8148
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2. CLEAR MAJORITY OF AMERICAN VOTERS OPPOSE REPEALING STATE NON-DISCRIMINATION LAWS THAT INCLUDE SEXUAL ORIENTATION
Opposition Extends to Every Region of U.S., According to New Poll
WASHINGTON — By a margin of more than two to one, a solid majority of American voters oppose repealing state laws that protect gays and lesbians from job discrimination, according to a bipartisan poll released today by the Human Rights Campaign.
The survey found 59 percent of U.S. voters oppose repealing these laws, including 35 percent who strongly oppose repealing them. Just under one in four — 24 percent — favor repealing such state laws.
Majority opposition to repealing state anti-discrimination laws extends to every region of the country, the survey found. More than two-thirds of Western voters (68 percent) and nearly two-thirds of voters in the Northeast (65 percent) oppose repealing such laws, including 44 percent in both of these regions who strongly oppose repeal. Even a majority of Southern voters – 51 percent — and North Central voters –56 percent — oppose repealing state anti-discrimination laws.
The Human Rights Campaign draws two clear conclusions from the poll results, according to David M. Smith, HRC’s senior strategist.
"The first is that last month’s repeal of the statewide anti-discrimination law in Maine was a fluke caused by factors including low voter turnout, a single-issue ballot in the middle of winter and a disingenuous campaign by religious political extremists," Smith said. "The second is that a plan by the Christian Coalition to use Maine as a model to be exported to other states is bound to fail."
The pollsters — Celinda Lake of Lake Sosin Snell Perry & Associates, a Democratic firm, and Linda DiVall of American Viewpoint, a Republican company — predict that over time, Americans’ support for non-discrimination laws is only likely to grow because younger voters are more likely to oppose repeal than older. Among registered voters under age 35, 70 percent oppose repeal, according to the survey. Among voters over 35 years old, 54 percent oppose. Younger women are most strongly opposed to repeal, with 45 percent of women under age 40 strongly opposed.
Survey results are based on a national random sample of 1,010 American adults who were interviewed from March 4-8, 1998, including a subset of 788 registered voters. The margin of error for the entire sample was +/- 3.1 percent; for registered voters, it was +/- 3.5 percent.
Ten states currently include sexual orientation in their non-discrimination laws: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin. Federal law and the civil rights laws of the remaining states do not yet protect Americans from discrimination based on sexual orientation.
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3. CONSERVATIVES URGE CONGRESS TO VOTE DOWN GAY RIGHTS BILL
By Lauren Keeport
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
A group of social conservatives Thursday urged that Congress reject a homosexual rights bill, saying that homosexuals who claim to be hate victims are often those most guilty of discrimination.
"We’ve received death threats and hate mail because we’ve used our First Amendment rights to speak out for the biblical teachings we believe in and live by," said the black gospel duo Angie and Debbie Winans.
The Winans referred to their 1997 song "Not Natural," which condemns homosexuality, violence, pornography and abortion.
Included on the album "Bold," the controversial song has been banned from some radio stations at the request of homosexuals who accuse the sisters of promoting hate and bigotry.
The singers were among those appearing at a congressional briefing, urging rejection of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
The briefing, sponsored by the Rev. Louis Sheldon of the Washington, D.C.-based Traditional Values Coalition, featured testimonies against the ENDA, a bill meant "to prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation," which is currently in House and Senate committees.
At Thursday’s briefing, the Winans insisted that they "hate the sin, but love the sinner," while maintaining that race is not a fair comparison to homosexuality.
"Behaviors are changeable," Angie Winans said, but race is "immutable."
"All you have to do is look at me to know I’m black," she said.
Joining the Winans at the hearing were Heather Trelow, a fifth-grader from Alameda, Calif., who says her teacher used her classroom as a platform to discuss and condone homosexuality, and Ron Grier, a fireman from Madison, Wis., who said he was suspended from his job for distributing religious tracts that condemned homosexuality.
Later, Mr. Grier claims, he was fired for fighting the hiring of a lesbian fire chief, who he said was "grossly underqualified." He emphasized at the hearing that his is not an isolated case. "We’re here to let you know what’s going on around the country, to stand up and let the truth be known," he said.
Homosexual activists, meanwhile, delivered an "opposing view" with a celebrity press conference an hour before the Traditional Values Coalition briefing.
"The message you will hear [at the briefing] is designed to misinform," said Candace Gingrich, lesbian sister of House Speaker Newt Gingrich and associate manager of the Coming Out Project, "using negative stereotypes to create an environment of fear."
Ken Marcus, a lawyer specializing in First Amendment issues, fears instead the environment that would be created by the passing of the ENDA because it would allow people to be punished for holding unpopular views.
"It punishes motivations rather than actions," Mr. Marcus said at the Traditional Values Coalition briefing. "It gives the federal government too much power over what we think and what we believe by using ‘hate’ to describe people who are advocating traditional moral values."
Lawyer Dudley C. Rochelle, a specialist for management at Littler & Mendelson in Atlanta, testified that the ENDA would burden employers to the breaking point financially. She says that the cost of the inevitable lawsuits, even if they are won, would force small companies into bankruptcy.
"ENDA would result in suppression of the religious expression of employers and employees," said Mr. Sheldon, adding, "Religious people are being told to sit in the back of the bus."
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4. "OUT AT WORK", A NEW AMERICAN UNDERCOVER DOCUMENTARY, DEBUTED JANUARY 6, 1999 ON HBO
First-Ever Documentary about Gay Men and Lesbians on the Job Narrated by Retired Colonel Grethe Cammermeyer
In 40 American states, it is legal to fire an employee for being homosexual.
More than three decades after the civil rights movement, gay and lesbian workers are still fighting for their rights – and their lives – in the workplace.
Produced, directed and written by award-winning independent filmmakers Tami Gold and Kelly Anderson, OUT AT WORK is narrated by retired Army Colonel Grethe Cammermeyer. At age 23, Ms. Cammermeyer headed an intensive care unit at an evacuation hospital in Vietnam, where the helped save the lives of hundreds of American soldiers. After a long and distinguished career, Ms. Cammermeyer was discharged from the service in 1992 for telling the truth about her sexual orientation during a routine security check.
OUT AT WORK reveals the ongoing perils that gays and lesbians face in companies in many states across the U.S., through moving case studies of two gay men and one lesbian worker, the are exposed to job discrimination and finally take action to fight for their rights.
Cheryl Summerville, a cook at a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Bremen, Georgia for more than three years, was fired when a corporate policy was instituted announcing that the "family" restaurant could no longer employ individuals "whose sexual preference failed to demonstrate normal heterosexual values."
Mark Anderson, a trainee at the LA branch of Cantor Fitzgerald, a prestigious securities trading firm, was also fired when rumors started spreading through the office that he was gay. He became the brunt of degrading slurs and pranks initiated by both co-workers and surprisingly, the branch’s top partners.
Ron Woods, a third generation auto worker in Detroit, was physically attacked by co-workers and management after they learned he was gay. He initiated a lawsuit alleging that Chrysler had failed to provide a safe work environment.
OUT AT WORK is produced, directed and written by Tami Gold and Kelly Anderson. Editors are Lillian Benson, A.C.E. and Kelly Anderson. Grethe Cammermeyer is narrator. Original Music by Don DiNicola. Supervising editor for HBO is Geof Bartz. Supervising producer for HBO is John Hoffman. Executive Producer for HBO is Sheila Nevins.
AndersonGold Films is the production company of Tami Gold and Kelly Anderson, award-winning independent producers who have worked together and separately on a wide range of films and videos exploring social issues.