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Committee OK’s Defense of Marriage Act’s repeal

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee voted 10-8 along party lines Thursday to approve Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s bill to repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law defining marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman.

“DOMA was wrong when it passed in 1996 and it is wrong now,” Feinstein, D-Calif., said in a statement issued after the vote. “There are 131,000 legally married, same-sex couples in this country who are denied more than 1,100 federal rights and protections because of this discriminatory law. I don’t know how long the battle for full equality will take, but we are on the cusp of change, and today’s historic vote in the committee is an important step forward.”

Among other inequalities, married same-sex couples can’t file joint federal income taxes and claim certain deductions; receive Social Security spousal benefits; take unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act; get protection from the estate tax when one spouse tries to leave property or assets to the other.

Feinstein’s S.598 has 30 co-sponsors, all Democrats.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the committee’s ranking Republican, said at the hearing that the vote was a waste of time given the bill lacks enough votes to pass the Senate floor. “This Orwellian bill does not restore anything,” he said. “Restoring marriage would mean restoring marriage as it has existed for thousands of years. The rights that the bill would create for same-sex couples are not a restoration of any rights. They are new rights that same-sex couples have never had under federal law.”

Same-sex marriage equality advocates disagreed.

“For the first time in history, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to make gays and lesbians whole people,” Courage Campaign founder and chairman Rick Jacobs said Thursday. “This truly historic vote today should never have been necessary because this absurd law should never have been on the books. Thanks to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, we have a bill that can move to the Senate floor where fair-minded people who believe in a nation united, not divided, can end federal discrimination against gay and lesbian couples legally married in six states and the District of Columbia. Sadly, the Republicans think this is a partisan issue, but then some thought the same about the other great civil rights issues of this nation. Eventually, America is just.”

Posted on Thursday, November 10th, 2011
Under: Dianne Feinstein, same-sex marriage, U.S. Senate | 1 Comment »

Prop 8 contributions must be public, judge rules

The identities of past, present and future contributors to committees that backed California’s Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure amending the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage, must remain publicly disclosed, a federal judge ruled today.

ProtectMarriage.com–Yes on 8 and the National Organization for Marriage-California had challenged the state Political Reform Act’s campaign disclosure requirements for contributions to ballot measure committees, arguing individual donors to this measure should be treated the same as members of groups such as the NAACP in the 1960’s and be exempt from disclosure.

Contributions to the Yes on 8 campaign already are public. The plaintiffs had wanted the court to permanently block future disclosure of all of contributors to such groups, expunge all records of past contributions, and invalidate as unconstitutional the state law’s $100 disclosure threshold for contributors to ballot measure committees.

But U.S. District Judge Morrison England Jr. of Sacramento ruled from the bench today in favor of the defendants including the Fair Political Practices Commission, the state attorney general and the California secretary of state.

The FPPC issued a news release saying the Yes on 8 committees’ arguments “attacking the Act’s disclosure laws that exist to serve and inform the People of the State of California were ultimately too weak to overcome this State’s important interest in, as Judge England stated, instilling sunshine into the initiative process.”

“They sought to permanently enjoin the future disclosure of all of plaintiffs’, and groups like plaintiffs, contributors, expunge the records of all of plaintiffs’ past contributors, and to invalidate as unconstitutional the Act’s $100 disclosure threshold for contributors to ballot measure committees, among other things,” the FPPC’s release continued. “The Commission vigorously and successfully defended all of the Act’s challenged provisions. The Judge’s decision denying plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment and granting the Defendants’ cross motion on all counts will be followed up with a written order.”

I’ve reached out to various Yes-on-8 spokespeople and attorneys, and will update this item if/when they respond.

UPDATE @ 6:29 P.M.: This just in via e-mail from ProtectMarriage.com Executive Director Ron Prentice:

“Campaign disclosure laws were enacted in order to give the public knowledge of a campaign’s primary financial sponsors. To think that donations of $100 represent major donors – in an $82 million battle – is ridiculous on its face. In addition, the evidence of using these public lists to intimidate and harass is plain. The court’s disregard of this fact will contribute to ongoing abuse of the initiative process.”

Posted on Thursday, October 20th, 2011
Under: ballot measures, campaign finance, same-sex marriage | 2 Comments »

It’s no NY, but CA still mulling same-sex rights

New York State on Friday enacted a law allowing same-sex couples to marry, and while the California Legislature is somewhat stymied from following suit until courts figure out whether our state constitutional ban on the practice will stand, it is moving on other same-sex equality fronts.

SB 651 by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, would eliminate the requirement that couples must live together before entering into a domestic partnership. The state Senate passed this bill June 1 on a 24-15 vote; the Assembly Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hear it at 9 a.m. tomorrow, Tuesday, June 28.

SB 117 by state Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, would require that all state contractors paid more than $100,000 don’t discriminate on the basis of gender or sexual orientation of their employees’ spouses or domestic partners. Current law requires agencies to ensure contractors don’t discriminate between married employees and employees in domestic partnerships when providing benefits, but doesn’t cover same-sex couples who married during the period from when the statutory ban on it was voided by the California Supreme Court in May 2008 until voters approved Proposition 8’s constitutional ban in November 2008. The state Senate approved this bill May 9 on a 21-15 vote; it’s now awaiting an Assembly floor vote.

And AB 1349 by Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, would clarify that courts can consider the relationship between a child and his or her biological and non-biological parents are when they’re asked to rule on who that child’s legal parents are. Current law lets biological parents sign a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity that can be used to cut off a non-biological parent’s relationship. The Assembly passed this bill May 2 on a 52-22 vote; it’s now awaiting a state Senate floor vote.

Posted on Monday, June 27th, 2011
Under: Assembly, California State Senate, Jerry Hill, Mark Leno, same-sex marriage | 2 Comments »

Marriage, state budget & San Jose on ‘TWINC’

I was on KQED’s “This Week in Northern California” last night to discuss this week’s developments in the same-sex marriage wars. With me were KQED’s John Myers to discuss the state budget fiasco, and the Wall Street Journal’s Bobby White to discuss how San Jose is grappling with its monumental budget deficit.

Posted on Saturday, June 18th, 2011
Under: same-sex marriage, state budget, TWINC | No Comments »

Tim Pawlenty glitter-bombed by activists in SF

Republican presidential candidate and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty was sprinkled with glitter and confetti by a pair of gay-rights activists today in San Francisco.

Pawlenty was attending the American’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) Institute 2011 at San Francisco’s Moscone Center when he was approached by activists Nancy Mancias, 41, and Chelsea Byers, 24, both of San Rafael, from the women’s peace group CODEPINK. “Where’s your courage to stand up for gay and reproductive rights? Welcome to San Francisco, home of gay hero Harvey Milk!” they said as they were being led away.

In a news release issued after the incident, the activists said they were inspired by another glitter attack mounted against Republican presidential candidate and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich last month in Minneapolis.

“We are on the cusp of a important civil rights movement and Pawlenty wants to end it. He has expressed his desire to reinstate ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’”, Mancias said in the release. “He’s vetoed equal rights legislation in his home state of Minnesota.”

UPDATE @ 3:10 P.M.: All glitter aside, Democratic National Committee spokesman Brad Woodhouse issued a statement noting Pawlenty was in San Francisco to speak to health insurance executives, “and he’s getting paid to do it.”

Woodhouse noted Pawlenty recently endorsed House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s Republican budget plan that would convert Medicare into a voucher system for future generations.

“Perhaps being bought and paid for by the health insurance executives is something Tim Pawlenty is fine being known for, but it won’t help future seniors who will be forced to pay more for less in terms of health care if Republicans get their way and end Medicare,” Woodhouse said. “Perhaps pocketing thousands of dollars in cash to give a speech outlining his plan to repeal health reform is a plus for Tim Pawlenty, but it won’t help seniors afford their prescription drugs or preventive care, it won’t help young people access health insurance and it won’t help people being denied coverage based on a pre-existing condition.”

Pawlenty campaign spokesman Alex Conant quickly returned fire.

“This lame attack is just more evidence that President Obama has a campaign plan, not an economic plan,” Conant said via e-mail. “Given the inordinate amount of attention the DNC spends on Governor Pawlenty, it’s clear they recognize that Pawlenty’s record of results is a stark contrast to Obama’s empty rhetoric. We’re not going to be lectured by Democrats who have failed to address out-of-control health care costs, deficits and unemployment.”

Conant declined to comment on the glitter-bombing.

Posted on Thursday, June 16th, 2011
Under: 2012 presidential election, same-sex marriage | 3 Comments »

Poll numbers shift, ads launched on marriage

Days after a recent poll showed Californians becoming more accepting of same-sex marriage, the national advocacy group Freedom to Marry is rolling out a “Why Marriage Matters” national ad campaign.

The organization says the $10 million, three-year effort will be the largest-ever national public education campaign on this issue, launching Monday – Valentine’s Day – with a national cable buy on CNN. Here’s the first ad:

In partnership with local and state groups, the “Why Marriage Matters” campaign will include a variety of TV, radio, and online ads, plus a website of its own.

“Across the country the thinking of many Americans, from the president to the people next door, continues to — as President Obama put it — ‘evolve’ toward support for same-sex couples joining in the freedom to marry. Freedom to Marry’s team has crunched over a decade’s worth of polling data and field experience to crack the code on moving the reachable but not yet reached,” Freedom to Marry founder and president Evan Wolfson said in a news release. “By engaging friends, families, and neighbors in personal conversations about why marriage matters, each of us can help fair-minded people wrestling with a lack of information and uncertainty, and change hearts and minds.”

Freedom to Marry says its data showed that people who have had conversations with their gay and lesbian friends about why marriage matters to them are more likely to support the freedom to marry.

“As Americans see their gay and lesbian friends, families, and coworkers in loving and committed relationships, they realize there is no good reason to withhold the protections and support that only come with marriage,” said Thalia Zepatos, the group’s public engagement director. “It is as simple as the Golden Rule.”

Here in California, 52.2 percent of voters in November 2008 approved Proposition 8, which amended the state’s constitution to say that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” A federal judge has deemed the measure unconstitutional, and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is now considering the case.

But a recent poll indicates Californians’ minds might be changing on the issue even as the courts weigh it. A Public Policy Polling survey of 892 California voters, conducted from Jan. 28 to 30 with a 3.3 percent margin of error, found that when asked, “Do you think same sex marriage should be legal or illegal?,” 51 percent said legal, 40 percent said illegal and 10 percent said they weren’t sure. When PPP had last asked the question in September 2010, a 46 percent plurality was in support, but an almost equal 44 percent was opposed.

The poll showed Democrats remained stable, with two-thirds in support and a quarter opposed both then and now. But Republican voters moved from 76-15 opposed in the earlier poll to 64-29 in this new one; independent voters went from 47-41 to 51-35.

It’s still a generational divide, to some extent: 47 percent of senior citizens oppose same-sex marriage, while only 42 percent support it. Take them out of the poll, and support for legalization grows to 51 percent in favor, 38 percent against – indicating once again that legal acceptance of same-sex marriage may only be a matter of time.

Posted on Wednesday, February 9th, 2011
Under: same-sex marriage | 1 Comment »

Maldonado takes conservative heat on Prop. 8

A conservative group is calling Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, the Republican nominee to keep the job come November, “incompetent and dangerous” given his refusal to mount a legal defense of Proposition 8’s same-sex marriage ban while the governor is gone.

The Capitol Resource Institute, a Sacramento-based conservative advocacy group, issued a news release last Friday saying conservative leaders led by former Republican attorney general candidate John Eastman had asked to meet with Maldonado to discuss the issue.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown have declined to defend the constitutionality of Proposition 8, the November 2008 measure that amended the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage. A federal judge has deemed the measure unconstitutional, and arguments have ensued about whether Prop. 8’s proponents – who were allowed to intervene in the trial to defend the measure – now have standing to appeal the judge’s ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“But Abel Maldonado is a supporter of Proposition 8 and hopefully more willing to honor the obligations of his office than the current Attorney General has been” Eastman said in Friday’s release. “Importantly, while the Governor is traveling outside of the State, all of the rights and responsibilities of the office of Governor rest with Mr. Maldonado.”

The CRI posted Maldonado’s office and campaign numbers on its website so supporters could call and urge him to file an appeal defending Prop. 8. Monday was the deadline for doing so, and the deadline came and went without any state action.

Today, the CRI issued a release saying Maldonado was challenged today on Eric Hogue’s KTKZ radio show as to his refusal to act on Proposition 8; Maldonado apparently said he’d been unable to deal with the appeal issue due to being consumed with the San Bruno disaster. Later in the interview, he indicated his inaction may have been more intentional, explaining he has a partnership with the Governor.

“We certainly appreciate the attention that Mr. Maldonado paid to San Bruno, but we will not allow him to exploit that disaster as an excuse for ignoring the necessary filing of this appeal,” CRI executive director Karen England said in the release. “The requests for the Lieutenant Governor to sign this appeal began prior to the San Bruno incident and were repeated with intensity for several days after the explosion.”

Eastman had prepared the necessary paperwork for Maldonado to file the appeal; all Maldonado had to do was pull the trigger, the release said. Said England:

Karen England“Let me be candid. Maldonado is incompetent and disingenuous if he says he could not find a few minutes to approve this filing in his first five days as acting governor. For several days his staff indicated they would call back with an answer and the Lieutenant Governor complained that the pressure from the public was so intense on Monday that they could not use their phone system. He could have freed those phones up immediately by giving the go ahead.”

“The Lieutenant governor position is the warm-up position for our next governor. Four or eight years from now conservatives will be looking for a candidate for governor. I know we do not want Maldonado on that list. For now, we believe that Maldonado should refrain from saying he is a supporter of Proposition 8. If he could not be bothered to assure that the initiative received a proper hearing in the courts, then he should not exploit the issue by claiming he backed the measure.”

Legally speaking, woe is the lieutenant governor who litigates on his own and then leaves the governor and attorney general to file follow-up paperwork. He’d be burning a lot of bridges, including the one that got him into office, for a ploy that wouldn’t gey far at all.

Politically speaking, it would’ve been electoral suicide for Maldonado to act on his own – or the CRI’s – initiative on Prop. 8 while Schwarzenegger was overseas. Maldonado is doing all he can right now to appear moderate in order to attract decline-to-state and crossover Democratic voters in his general-election showdown with Democratic nominee San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.

Appeasing the GOP’s most conservative edges won’t do him a lot of good come November. If Eastman’s ideology, including his same-sex marriage stance, was so popular with his own party, why’d he get creamed by Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley in the GOP primary for Attorney General?

Posted on Tuesday, September 14th, 2010
Under: 2010 election, Abel Maldonado, Lt. Governor, same-sex marriage | 2 Comments »

Marriage bill: religious freedom or ‘Trojan horse?’

My article in yesterday’s editions reported upon a Presbyterian minister who’s been put on trial this week by her church for having solemnized same-sex marriages during the five months in 2008 when it was legal in California to do so, but still forbidden by the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s constitution.

Meanwhile, a pending bill would ensure that clergy members whose faiths oppose same-sex marriage are never forced into solemnizing such relationships, no matter what state law says about civil marriage. But SB 906 by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, faces some opposition from some sections of the religious community.

William May, chairman of the San Francisco-based Catholics for the Common Good, last month called the bill “a Trojan horse sponsored by the opponents of Prop 8. It is another slap at the 7 million voters who passed it.”

“The sponsor, Equality California, is trying to manufacture on their own a ‘civil’ class of marriage that is independent of marriage as a reality of nature,” he wrote. “It is clear this bill will be used to fool the voters into thinking there is a difference between religious and civil marriage and that same-sex ‘marriage’ will have no impact on churches and people of faith.”

The California Family Council opposes SB 906 for the same reason, as does Concerned Women for America of California.

I understand what they’re saying about Proposition 8’s ban on marriage being the will of the electorate, but there is an effective difference between religious marriage and civil marriage: If you don’t get a civil marriage certificate, your marriage isn’t recognized in California, and you don’t need a clergy member to sign that certificate. Read a deconstruction of May’s arguments here.

Said Leno, back in May: “This bill simply affirms that California is a diverse state and that we can all co-exist and make space for each others’ beliefs without compromising the beliefs of any religious group or individual. With the Civil Marriage Religious Freedom Act, churches and clergy members who fear their religious views are threatened by marriage equality will have clear and solid protections under state law. In addition, churches that welcome same-sex couples will continue to fully recognize those families within their faith.”

The Assembly approved SB 906 last Thursday on a 51-26 vote; Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, and Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, R-San Diego, joined with Democrats to support it. It now goes back to the state Senate – which approved it 23-11 in May – briefly for concurrence with a technical change, and then it’s headed for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk.

Posted on Wednesday, August 25th, 2010
Under: Assembly, California State Senate, Mark Leno, same-sex marriage | 6 Comments »

Appeals court issues stay of Prop. 8 ruling

There will be no same-sex marriages in California this week. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has granted Proposition 8 proponents’ request that the same-sex marriage ban remain in place pending appeal of a federal judge’s opinion finding it unconstitutional.

But the appellate court also has ordered that the case be expedited: A previous briefing schedule that would’ve had papers being filed through December has now been vacated. Instead, the opening brief is now due Sept. 17; the answering brief is due Oct. 18; and the reply brief is due Nov. 1, with oral arguments set for the week of Dec. 6.

And the court has asked the proponents – who were actually interveners in the original suit filed against the state – to include in their opening brief why their appeal shouldn’t be dismissed for lack of standing.

UPDATE @ 5:30 P.M.: The three 9th Circuit appellate judges who ordered the stay are Edward Leavy, Michael Hawkins and Sidney Thomas – for those who keep count, that’s one Reagan nominee and two Clinton nominees. (Though if you want to judge books by their covers, don’t forget that Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, who has declared Proposition 8 unconstitutional, was first nominated by Reagan and then re-nominated by George H.W. Bush.)

From ProtectMarriage.com General Counsel Andy Pugno:

“California voters spoke clearly on Prop 8, and we’re glad to see their votes will remain valid while the legal challenges work their way up through the courts. Invalidating the people’s vote based on just one judge’s opinion would not have been appropriate, and would have shaken the people’s confidence in our elections and the right to vote itself.”

From Freedom to Marry Executive Director Evan Wolfson:

“Today’s 9th Circuit order expediting appeal of Chief Judge Walker’s persuasive decision striking down Prop 8 and maintaining a stay during the appellate review, is a disappointing delay for many Californians who hoped to celebrate the freedom to marry and full inclusion in society as soon as possible. But there are many twists in the road to justice, and we are encouraged by the court’s setting a fast pace for the appeal, revealing that the judges understand how important a quick end to the exclusion from marriage is to gay couples, their loved ones, and all Americans who believe in equality under the law. While the lawyers make the case for the freedom to marry in the courts of law, we have more months in which to make our case in the court of public opinion. The evidence at trial overwhelmingly confirmed that there is no good reason for withholding the freedom to marry from committed couples, and the Governor, the Attorney General, a majority of Californians, and a majority of Americans agree with Judge Walker that the freedom to marry helps families, while hurting no one. Prop 8 should never have been on the ballot and we look forward to seeing its stain removed from the law books, as we push forward on other fronts across the country.”

From Alliance Defense Fund Litigation Staff Counsel Jim Campbell:

“It made no sense to impose a radical change in marriage on the people of California before all appeals on their behalf are heard, so the 9th Circuit’s decision is clearly the right call. Refusing to stay the decision would only have created more legal confusion surrounding any same-sex unions entered while the appeal is pending. This case has just begun. ADF and the rest of the legal team are confident that the right of Americans to protect marriage in their state constitutions will ultimately be upheld.”

Posted on Monday, August 16th, 2010
Under: same-sex marriage | 6 Comments »

Prop. 8, Ron Dellums and Prop. 209 on ‘TWINC’

I was on KQED’s “This Week in Northern California” on Friday night to discuss the big court decision on the constitutionality of Proposition 8’s ban on same-sex marriage; other topics included Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums’ decision not to seek re-election, and the California Supreme Court’s ruling on San Francisco’s challenge to Proposition 209’s ban on affirmative action in public institutions.

Posted on Sunday, August 8th, 2010
Under: Ron Dellums, same-sex marriage | 2 Comments »