Tag Archives: LGBT equality

Gay marriage advocates gain corporate support

Gay marriage advocates have a new and powerful ally in corporate America.

One by one, national corporations like Microsoft, Starbucks, Boeing and Google are wading into the once-risky business of taking a position supporting gay marriage in states across the country.

Nowhere is that more apparent than in the lawsuit challenging the Defense of Marriage Act, which a federal appeals court called unconstitutional on Thursday. Forty-eight companies, including Nike, Time Warner Cable, Aetna, Exelon Corp., and Xerox had signed a brief arguing that the law negatively affected their businesses.

Read more- Politico

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Why the Church Should Fight Anti-Gay Bigotry

Last week, I called attention to, but did not write about, an important article by former Ambassador Thomas Melady and the Reverend Richard Cizik, a prominent evangelical leader. The two men wrote about the need for Christians to oppose efforts in Uganda to criminalize homosexuality, including life-time prison sentences and even death as penalties in certain cases. I think Melady’s and Cizik’s article is very important.

Many gay men and women see the Christian Church as unjust and bigoted towards them. For purposes of this article, I will only consider the situation of the Catholic Church. Just today, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in publishing its notice about Sr. Margaret Farley’s book on sexual ethics, reaffirmed the teaching that: “Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.” It is not difficult to see how gay men and women could find these words hurtful and even demeaning, even though the CDF precedes this bit about “intrinsically disordered” by affirming the fact that the Church also teaches gay men and women “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”

I should like to see the Catholic Church, and the broader Christian community, do more to focus on the teaching about “respect, compassion and sensitivity” and think Melady’s and Cizik’s article does this. It does not ask the Church’s leaders to do something they do not think they could, i.e., change the Church’s teaching. It does not ask the Church to reverse its views on marriage. Instead, the call to oppose unjust discrimination against gays in Uganda asks the Church to do what it can.

Michael Sean Winters

-full post at National Catholic Reporter

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61% of UK Christians back equal rights for gay couples – Survey

There is extensive evidence that the US is moving to embrace full equality for lesbian and gay couples, and that Catholics are more supportive than the population at large. American Evangelicals though, remain (mostly) hostile. There has not been nearly as much polling for the UK, but a new survey shows even more support than in the US – including from 61% of all Christians.

61% of Christians back equal rights for gay couples

Results of a poll released today say 61% of people in the UK who identify as Christian back fully equal rights for gay couples.

The 2011 Ipsos MORI study explored the “beliefs, knowledge and attitudes” of people who identified as Christian after the nationwide census last year.

74% of respondents said as Christians they thought religion should not have a special influence on public life.

The survey was conducted on behalf of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.

Six in ten respondents, 61%, agreed that gays should have the same rights in all aspects of their lives as straight people.

Only 29% said they disapproved of sexual relationships between gays. Nearly half said they did not actively disapprove.

– full report at  PinkNews.co.uk.

A word of caution here, is that the survey was sponsored by the explicitly secularist Richard Dawkins Foundation, which is using the results to demonstrate that the UK is a secular society, and not a “Christian country”. It does not appear to have released the full questionnaire or tables. The only results currently available are those selected for inclusion in the press release by the Foundation. In particular, the description “Christian” appears to be used for those who describe themselves as such – many of whom do not actively practice their religion.

There is no reason to disregard the main thrust of the finding though, which is in agreement with what previous research is available. British opinion is firmly on the side of LGBT inclusion – and that includes those who think of themselves Christian.

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Oz State Premier Stands Up To Cardinal Pell, Secures Gay Adoption for NSW.

Breaking news today is that the New South Wales state assembly has narrowly approved a bill to put LGBT and heterosexual couples on an equal footing for adoption procedures. There are still a few hurdles to clear before this becomes final, but (as far as I can tell), with this one, the biggest has now been cleared. This is big news for queer Catholics. The formidable Cardinal Pell made clear his strong opposition – but the equally strong support of the Catholic NSW Premier, Kristina Keneally, appears to have been decisive in providing just enough resistance.
Kristina Kenneally, Catholic and Advocate for Adoption Equality

Perhaps it was the full-fledged backing given to the Bill by New South Wales Premier Kristina Keneally, a devout Catholic, which took the wind out of the sails of opponents. “In forming my position on this Bill, I have considered my experiences as a mother, my responsibilities as a parliamentarian and my conscience as a Christian and member of the Catholic faith,” she told lawmakers. Instead of proving divisive, it served to unite New South Wales’s main political outfits with Opposition Liberal Party leader Barry O’Farrell also voting in its favor.

This is an important reminder to all of us that the “Catholic Church” is far more than the bishops and cardinals who claim to speak for us. They are fully entitled to speak on behalf of the Vatican and Vatican doctrine – but when they claim to speak on behalf of “the church”, research evidence consistently shows that they deceive. On numerous issues of sexual ethics, ministry, and papal authority, the evidence is that right across the globe, most Catholics simply do not agree with orthodox Vatican doctrine.

This decision is also important as another indicator of an Australian paradox. In the global march to family equality, Australia stands out as an oddity. Although surveys have shown that a strong majority of Australians support full marriage and adoption rights for same sex couples, there is still no national provision for either, and both of the major political parties opposed full equality during the recent election campaign. Below the surface, however, there have been increasing signs of a gathering groundswell of support that could soon force the issue. The election result, which produced a hung parliament with increased influence for independents and a stronger Green Party, may show the major parties how mistaken they were – and may pave the way for a major rethink. It is significant that the NSW result came after a “conscience” vote in the assembly (that is, members were permitted by their whips to take their own decisions, rather than following a party line). It is believed that a conscience vote on marriage in the national parliament could attract significant support.
Meanwhile, even as Canberra dithers, there are regular advances at state level, with the adoption decision in New South Wales just the latest of several.   Earlier this week the Tasmanian lower house voted to recognise same sex marriages conducted elsewhere, which means that Tasmanian couples will be able to secure secure legally recognised marriage easily enough – provided only that they are willing to travel abroad for the wedding. (Several countries which currently recognise marriage equality do not have residency requirements. Nepal could soon be another.)
Gay adoption is already recognised in Western Australia and the Australian Capital Territory, which is also the only state to conduct formal civil partnerships. (New South Wales and Victoria maintain less formal domestic partnership registers, which makes it easier for same sex couples to achieve the de facto recognition that in principle they are entitled to – but which in practice can be difficult without suitable documentary evidence of the relationship.)
Each separate move at state level inevitably leaves the population that much more accustomed to the idea of family equality, and queer families increasingly visible as ordinary members of society, deserving equal treatment before the law, just like everyone else. Each advance bring the next one closer, eroding still further the resistance. Even before the vote in last month’s election, the Greens were promising to introduce a bill to provide for national gay marriage. When they do, they and the newly influential independents in the hung parliament will aim to secure a conscience vote. I suspect that even if they get one, it is unlikely that gay marriage will pass just yet. However, it is clear that Labour at least lost votes as a result of their stand against equality. The coming vote on a Green bill for marriage equality will not be the last. Sooner or later (and probably the former), the politicians will realise they are on the wrong side of history, and stand up for justice.
Cardinal Pell will soon have a lot more to worry about than adoption equality in one more Australian state.

The Road To Equality: How Long, How Long!

After I placed a report this week on the UN accreditation for an LGBT Human Rights Group, I noted in a comment that it is important as we celebrate each landmark (as with gay marriage success), we should also look back and recognise how far we have come.
Sadly, I was reminded this week that we also need to look ahead and consider just how far we still have to go. At one end of the scale, there are still five countries that impose the death penalty for homosexual acts. On the other, not even the most progressive countries have year reached  full equality: there are still only a handful of countries with full protection against all discrimination on grounds of both orientation and gender identity. None of those has a full slate of legal protections.
My interest today was triggered by a report from Canada, concerning the possibly imminent execution of an Iranian man, urging the Canadian government to “intervene”. The difficulty in these countries, which are generally pretty hostile to the West in the first place, is knowing how to intervene without aggravating the situation.  The death penalty also still applies in four other states (Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Mauritania and Sudan), as well as in some parts of Nigeria and Somalia.
In search of fuller information I went to ILGA (International Lesbian Gay Association), and downloaded their report  on “State Sponsored Homophobia“. This is dated May 2010, so its pretty up to date – but beware. The listing for marriage gives only three countries, omitting Portugal, Iceland Argentina. This a sharp (and encouraging) sign of just how quickly things can sometimes change.

Homosexual acts remain illegal (without the death penalty) in 34 African countries (more than half the total) and eighteen in Asia , in Guyana in South America as well as eleven Caribbean island states, and nine Pacific Island states. Even in Europe,  homosexual acts are illegal in the Turkish part of Cyprus.
Even where homosexuality itself is legal, there are still a few countries where there is not yet an equal age of consent, even in some parts of Europe and North America.
There has been progress with various laws against discrimination of various sorts, but piece-meal protections can never be comprehensive.  There are still only nine countries with constitutional protection against discrimination on grounds of orientation. South Africa led the way in 1994, followed by Canada and Ecuador in 1998, Colombia and Switzerland (2000), Swede (2003), Portugal (2004), Kosovo (2008) and Bolivia (2009).
None of these yet has full legal protection on all the criteria listed by ILGA:
  • Employment discrimination based on orientation
  • Employment discrimination based on gender identity
  • Hate crimes based on orientation considered an aggravating circumstance
  • Hate crimes based on gender identity considered an aggravating circumstance
  • Incitement to hatred on orientation a criminal offence
  • Full marriage equality
  • Adoption by same -sex couples
  • Gender recognition
(Sweden comes closest. It is not included only under “hate crimes based on gender”. Not far to go, Sweden!)
So, wherever you are, there remains work to do on the long road to equality, both in your own country, and even more, in the world at large. Why not see what you can do to help?
(However, there was one suprising bright spot: with all the attention and awareness of homophobia in Africa, it was good to see, in a listing of the dates for decriminalization of homosexual acts, Africa is the only region listed where  in some countries  same-sex activities have NEVER been criminalised.  Hats off to  Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Côte d‘Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Madagascar, Mali, Niger and Rwanda!)

A Queer Presence at the UN

In a most welcome development, an LGBT human rights group has just won accreditation for observer status at the UN – over strenuous opposition from some GOP politicians.  Among other benefits, this has huge symbolic value – and will enable LGBT lobbyists to directly counter Vatican lobbying efforts lesbigaytrans issues.

From Huffpost:

US gay rights group gets UN accreditation

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Economic and Social Council has voted to accredit the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission after strong lobbying by the U.S. administration.

The 54-member council approved the U.S.-based group’s application for consultative status by a vote of 23-13 with 13 abstentions.

The organization, which has offices in South Africa, Argentina and the Philippines, has been trying since 2007 to get consultative status with the council so it can work at the United Nations. The council serves as the main U.N. forum for discussing international economic and social issues.

The U.S. government and 14 members of Congress supporting the application believe the group’s application was not approved because it promotes gay rights.

Gay Marriage: Where Next?

In the first six months of the year, three countries have already approved legal recognition for same sex marriage, up from just two last year, and an average of less than one a year during the previous eight years. The pace is clearly accelerating. We could well ask, where next? There are several candidates, some of which could see change quite soon.
The state of Marriage, Europe July 2010
Luxembourg is closely associated with its neighbours Netherlands and Belgium (hence the term “Benelux” countries), which were the first to introduce full marriage equality. At present, the Grand Duchy’s legal provision is based on the French PACS, but the government has announced plans to upgrade that to full marriage. In January, the minister of Justice announced  promised that legislation would be passed before the summer recess this year. The  bill was accepted for the session which began last week, and could be passed within weeks.
Slovenia announced its intention to provide legal recognition in July 2009, and passed the first reading of the required bill in March this year. There have been no reports since.

Nepal will introduce full marriage rights for all couples, but this too could take some time yet. To comply with a ruling by the Supreme Court last year, the country is obliged to do so, and has promised to include such a provision in the new constitution currently being drafted. It is expected that this should be promulgated by May 2011.
In Finland, there has been a rapid change of opinion among parliamentarians, who seem to have shifted within months from a narrow majority against, to overwhelming support in principle.  The leading political groupings have both accepted the principle of equality, and earlier this month, the Minister of Justice announced the start of work on preparing legislation. However, this will be a slow progress: the bill is likely to be introduced only in 2012.
In terms of a court ruling last year, Germany is obliged to upgrade its current civil unions provision to “full equality” with married couples. The Government has announced its intention to do so, but it is not clear when it will do so, or how, whether by formal marriage, or by upgrading the benefits of civil unions to “everything except the name”. Meanwhile, Berlin has announced its own plans to approve full marriage, which it says is the only way to provide fully with the constitutional requirement.
In Cyprus the Interior Ministry said that the government would “soon” examine the issue of extending marriage, but there has been nothing since.
Albania last July promised laws to outlaw sexual discrimination and introduce marriage equality. The discrimination law has been passed, but the marriage bill has been bogged down in a constitutional dispute: the opposition Socialists and allies party has been boycotting parliament in protest at alleged electoral fraud. Without their presence, the government cannot muster sufficient votes to pass the required change to the Family Code. When (and if) the boycott ends, expect easy passage – but don’t hold your breath.
So over the next two years or so, there could be anywhere from four to seven countries approving full equality – and that’s just the ones we known of.  There will likely be others coming up unexpectedly. Court rulings, or changes in government, can change things very quickly (Argentina wasn’t on the radar even one year ago).
That’s full marriage. What of civil unions?

The State of Marriage, South America: July 2010 (Wikipedia)
Ireland‘s Civil Partnership bill, granting virtually all the benefits of marriage without the name, has now been approved by both houses  parliament, and is with the President for signature.
Venezuela has civil unions legislation currently before the National Assembly. It has the support of President Hugo Chavez, and has already passed the first reading. (Civil Unions are already recognized in the state of Mérida)
In March 2010, Liechtenstein presented to parliament a civil unions bill modelled on that of Switzerland. I have seen no reports of progress since then.
In Chile, the government is currently “drawing up proposals” to extend some of the marriage benefits to same sex couples. It is not yet clear how far these will go, or how soon implementation will come.
The Costa Rican national assembly is “currently” considering legislation submitted by a gay rights group to recognise civil unions.  In April this year, the President, Oscar Arias, announced his support for the measure.

Modern History: Out in the Forces, UK

Over the last year or so there have been many notable anniversaries of landmarks on the way to LGBT equality: 40 since since Stonewall (June last year), 40 years since the first gay liberation march (June this year); 20 years since the first civil unions in Denmark (last year),10 years for those in Vermont (June this year), 5 years for the first full marriages in Massachusetts. Here’s one that passed me by – possibly because it’s more difficult to pin it down to a specific date in th year, possibly because it will have been missed by the American media that so dominate our news cycle.

2010 marks ten years of openly gay and lesbian members serving in the British armed forces.
Two specific dates are important here: in January 2000 the direct ban on “homosexual” servicemen and women was lifted, in November 2010 the regulations went further, making discrimination on grounds of orientation illegal. If you want a specific date for the ten-year anniversary celebration, I guess you could take a simple average of these two months, and come up – round about now, just in time for London Pride on Saturday, when there will surely be uniformed squads from the army, navy or airforce marching with the rest of us. Unlike the rest of us, they will be PAID for doing so! From a link at “Proud2Serve“, I can share extracts from the formal  “DEFENCE INSTRUCTIONS AND NOTICES” for the event:

This year’s ‘London Pride’ event will take place in Central London on Sat 3 Jul 10. Service and Civil Service Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender (LGBT) personnel will be permitted to march in the parade element. Following the success of the event in both 2008 and 2009, authority is given for serving members of the regular and reserve forces to march in uniform. Individuals marching in uniform on the day will be considered to be representing their Service at a Public parade and as such will be considered to be on-duty and may claim duty travel costs (but not subsistence) within the UK, subject to budget manager approval.

London Pride is a large public event which attracts up to 600,000 members of the public from the UK and overseas. The event attracts worldwide media attention and the very highest of standards are required to ensure that the Services and the MOD are portrayed in a positive light as modern, inclusive, employers that welcome men and women from a diverse range of backgrounds. A high degree of discipline and military bearing is expected from Service personnel participating in the parade. Prior to commencement of the March, individual Service Parade commanders will be expected to undertake an inspection of their Flight to ensure their personnel are suitably prepared for this high profile event. Personnel who fail to make the appropriate Service dress and deportment standards will be removed from the Parade. The orders of dress are as follows:
Royal Navy No 1 Dress with lanyards or equivalent
Army Service Dress/No 2 Dress
Royal Air Force No 1 Dress
Medals are to be worn by all entitled to wear them

London Pride is a large public event which attracts up to 600,000 members of the public from the UK and overseas. The event attracts worldwide media attention and the very highest of standards are required to ensure that the Services and the MOD are portrayed in a positive light as modern, inclusive, employers that welcome men and women from a diverse range of backgrounds. A high degree of discipline and military bearing is expected from Service personnel participating in the parade. Prior to commencement of the March, individual Service Parade commanders will be expected to undertake an inspection of their Flight to ensure their personnel are suitably prepared for this high profile event. Personnel who fail to make the appropriate Service dress and deportment standards will be removed from the Parade. The orders of dress are as follows:Royal Navy No 1 Dress with lanyards or equivalentArmy Service Dress/No 2 DressRoyal Air Force No 1 DressMedals are to be worn by all entitled to wear them

Although openly gay men were not only accepted but expected in the military in former times, getting to this point after the low points of the mid-twentieth century was a long hard struggle, which still continues in the US. For the UK, Proud2Serve has a useful chronology.

Inclusion in the military is important not simply as a symbol of the armed services “catching up” with the modern world. As Peter Bracken clearly shows in a Guardian “Comment is free” article,  creating a culture of inclusion and equality in the military is a powerful guarantor for  entrenching that culture of equality in the civilian world. Here are some extracts:

These developments are all the more profound because, unlike their civilian equivalents, the armed services are strong culture organisations, distinguished by their members’ adherence to a strict set of intensely held values and norms. The services welcome and encourage this ethos because it fosters what they crave above all else: a commitment that is the mainstay of the soldier’s capacity to venture in harm’s way and perhaps face the ultimate sacrifice. As such, the shift in the armed forces’ outlook, such that today it is aligned with progressive attitudes, is of surpassing social and symbolic significance.
The monoculture that before defined the homogenised military ideal – white, heterosexual servicemen – has been replaced by a strong culture that celebrates diversity. Where once the military resisted convergence with the accepted standards of equality of opportunity, pleading its case to be different on the grounds of “operational effectiveness”, today it seeks to cast itself as the embodiment of those standards. It’s a seismic shift, underappreciated by sociologists and equal rights campaigners alike. And, what’s more, it entrains an appreciation of equal opportunities that is deeper than any embraced by its civilian counterparts.
A much stronger case for equality of opportunity locates it in the concept of citizenship. Citizenship is founded upon the principle of equality. Anyone who meets its eligibility requirements is deemed to hold the same rights. These rights are unconditional, such that citizenship enjoys a moral imperative – justice demands that individuals have the right to exercise it.
The military finds itself in the happy circumstance of being at the vanguard of this default claim on equality. And that is because there are few more potent expressions of citizenship than the right to serve in a great institution of state. Indeed, given the armed forces’ role as defenders of a nation’s constitution, values and – ultimately – citizenship, they are uniquely privileged to set the standard by which that citizenship is founded. The services, in other words, have within their gift the capacity to lead others in a commitment to deliver genuine equal opportunities for all.
As Bracken notes in concluding his piece,

We should salute their efforts.
And so I do.

In Vermont, 10 Years of Civil Unions

It is now 10 years since the start of legal recognition for same sex unions in Vermont, just 11 years after a comparable start in Denmark. For a time, both Vermont in the US and Denmark internationally were seen as remarkable exceptions: idiosyncracies in that were unlikely to be emulated in more mainstream states and nations. However, after some initial delay, and increasing number of others followed, and even upped the game. 

MONTPELIER, Vt.—When Lois Farnham and Holly Puterbaugh were joined in civil union 10 years ago Thursday, some of their friends didn’t come for fear they’d lose their jobs, and the church asked that plainclothes police officers attend the ceremony in case there was trouble.

A decade later, Vermont and four other states—Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Iowa, as well as the District of Columbia—have instituted full marriage for same-sex couples, and the Burlington couple say many people view their relationship as “ho-hum.”

Vermont was the first jurisdiction in the country to offer most of the legal rights and responsibilities of marriage to same-sex couples. Massachusetts instituted full same-sex marriage in 2004 in response to a state court’s order. Last year, Vermont’s Legislature became the first to approve full marriage for those couples without a court’s prompting.

“At the time, civil unions were so radical,” Farnham said this week. “Now it’s the fallback, conservative issue.”

What has been remarkable in recent years though, is how quickly, after the slow beginning, the idea has spread. In Europe, almost all countries have or are planning some form of provision for same sex partnerships, and seven have already upgraded to full marriage, with more on the way. In the US, early progress towards marriage equality was meet with a strong political backlash, but even here progress has been substantial and is accelerating.

Even with the heartbreaking ballot losses in California and Maine, five states now have full state level provision for marriage equality, and many more states and even cities have local provision for varying grades of partnership recognition, from simple registration of domestic partnerships, to strong unions which are “marriage in everything but name”. On the other hand, the political push against equality appears to have run out of steam: in Iowa, the NOM made highly visible donations to promote the primary elections campaigns of marriage foes – and lost badly. In this year’s mid-terms, there are no new states with anti-marriage ballot initiatives, while it’s a fair bet that in 2010 California will be the first state to have a ballot question to remove restrictions on marriage – which is likely to be successful. Other states will follow.

It is also arguable that the fight for marriage equality, while i has been slow, has been a catalyst for many other, lower profile moves which have been finding it easier to gain public acceptance, and which are now bearing fruit in national, state and local government, and in private businesses. 
All big movements build gradually, with small incremental gains increasing over time. However, there are also major landmarks along the way to add impetus and momentum. Stonewall was one of the major landmarks on the route to LGBT equality. Vermont’s civil union legislation was another. Let us all join in congratulations, and thanks, to the small state of Vermont for the giant contribution of their vision and foresight.