From: The Progress Report …
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender activists have resigned themselves to not seeing any substantial legislative progress toward equality while Republicans control the House of Representatives. Nevertheless, it has never been more apparent how the times have changed in the two decades since laws like the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) passed, both of which were actually seen as progress at the time. DOMA, some argued, at least allowed for individual states to legalize marriage for same-sex couples (as some since have), and DADT at least allowed gays, lesbians, and bisexuals to serve in the military, just so long as nobody knew who they were. It’s now been 15 years since the DOMA boat set sail, but its titanic barriers to equality are slowly sinking. In the meantime, same-sex couples are still struggling to make due without the federal protections marriage provides, while conservatives try every trick they know to keep inequality on the books.
LOST AT SEA: Though DOMA blocks 1,138 federal marriage benefits from same-sex couples, there is one in particular that’s particularly hard on some couples: not having the right to sponsor a foreign-born partner for residency. Immigration Equality estimates there are 36,000 same-sex binational couples living in the U.S., 45 percent of whom are raising children. Because of DOMA, any couple not protected by employment sponsorship is at risk of being separated by deportation. The Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) legal group actually warns these couples not to get married (PDF) as doing so may expose the foreign-born partner’s status and lead to deportation. In the wake of the President’s decision that DOMA is unconstitutional and should not be defended, the Department of Justice has twice suggested it might halt deportations, only to then reassert that deportations will continue. The first occasion was in March, when Citizenship and Immigration Services announced they would suspend the cases of married gay couples, but announced the following day that nothing had changed. Then, last week, Attorny General Eric Holder vacated a case, asking the Board of Immigration Appeals to reconsider it outside the context of DOMA. Again, hopes were raised, and a judge in Newark, New Jersey actually adjourned in a different case on Friday to give that couple an extra six months. On Saturday, however, the DOJ reaffirmed that deportations are still underway. Two proposed bills, the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) and Reuniting Families Act (RFA), would protect same-sex couples from deportation, but the demise of DOMA would likely eliminate the disparities entirely.
PLUGGING THE LEAKS: As the DOJ chips away at DOMA and the military works toward certification of repeal of DADT, conservatives at both the state and federal levels are trying to halt the flow of equality in any way they can (in addition to the House’s radically expensive plan to defend DOMA). This week, Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) will introduce an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act to prevent Navy bases from performing marriages for same-sex couples after DADT is lifted, even in states where those marriages are legal. He claims that “federal property and federal employees, like Navy chaplains, should not be used to perform marriages that are not recognized by federal law.” Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) is going a step further, introducing the second of many expected bills and amendments intended to derail the DADT repeal process. General George Casey opposed a similar move by Hunter in January. Meanwhile, Republican-controlled states like Pennsylvania and Minnesota are following Indiana’s lead by considering constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage even though both states already prohibit same-sex marriage by law. In fact, the religious right is ramping up an extensive new multi-million dollar campaign called “Ignite An Enduring Cultural Transformation” that will push for anti-LGBT measures in states up through the 2012 election. But times have changed even since 2004, and it’s unlikely conservatives will have the same success using same-sex marriage as a wedge issue as they did then.
THE RISING TIDE: For the first time ever, opposing LGBT equality is the unpopular position in American politics. Polls have been consistently showing majority support for marriage equality, just as they showed overwhelming support for repealing DADT last fall. Target and Chik-Fil-A have gotten incredible pressure from LGBT activists for their support of anti-gay candidates and groups. Law firm King & Spalding backed out of their defense of DOMA after clients and employees voiced their dissent. Olympic gold medalist Peter Vidmar had to step down from his appointment as chef de mission for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team because of his support for Proposition 8, California’s rollback of marriage equality. Graduates of the University of Michigan Law School walked out of their own commencement ceremony this weekend to protest the anti-gay voting record of the guest speaker, Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH). Despite the clear growing unpopularity of anti-gay positions, almost every GOP presidential candidate has towed the party line in maintaining them. Romney, Bachmann, Gingrich, Santorum, Pawlenty, Trump, Paul and others have all defended DOMA and come out against LGBT equality in other ways. The only exception is Fred Karger, who is actually making history as the first-ever openly gay presidential candidate, though the national stage has not given him much attention. Hopefully the history books look upon Karger kindly as the first Republican candidate to step out of the shadow of the religious right and join the Zeitgeist in embracing LGBT equality