Gender & Sexuality

LGBT Groups Need to Play Offense

Gay marriage often ends up on the ballot after a push by conservative groups, meaning the outcome often ends in their favor.

(AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach)
Basic Rights Oregon (BRO)—the leading LGBT advocacy group in the state—faced a difficult decision this past November. In 2004, Oregon voters approved a constitutional measure to ban same-sex marriage. The vote wasn’t even close. The amendment passed by a whopping 57-43 percent margin as part of a larger push by Republicans to incite fervor in their base during George W. Bush's re-election campaign. Since then, Basic Rights Oregon had been eying the 2004 amendment for possible repeal. Should the organization hit the go button to bring the issue to the voters again in 2012? For now, that looks like a risky move—BRO’s internal poll numbers predict a evenly split electorate. The organization didn't want to risk putting the amendment up only to see if fail, and they just weren't quite confident enough that the state had shifted enough since 2004. “Who would ever choose to go into a ballot measure at 50-50?” says Jeana Frazzini, the group's executive director. “We need a solid cushion of...

Why Obama Won't Be Punished For His "Evolution" On Marriage Equality

President Obama discussing same-sex marriage.
If you were Mitt Romney right now, you'd probably feel like you're the victim of a double-standard. When you have changed your position on an issue in the past, everyone took it as proof that you have no core of beliefs and you'll flip-flop whenever the situation demands. But when Barack Obama does the same thing, he gets to say he has "evolved" and nobody takes it as proof of a character flaw. Surely, Mitt might be saying to himself, Americans will see this for the craven, politically motivated flip-flop it is and punish Obama for it, no matter what they think about gay marriage. I'm afraid Mitt is going to be out of luck on this one. Obama's evolution will be treated differently than Romney's changes in position, for one important reason: because millions of people have gone through a similar evolution in the last few years. Most of us haven't changed our opinions about abortion or cap and trade or gun control recently (if ever), but most Americans have changed the way they think...

An Evolution Too Little, Too Late?

Obama still has a chance to lead on LGBT rights—if he takes it.

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Last June, President Obama was pressed at a news conference on how his famous “evolution” on marriage equality was coming along. "I'll keep on giving you the same answer until I give you a different one," he said . It was another in a long line of wink-wink statements indicating that the president’s stated opposition to same-sex marriage was shifting. Everybody knew the “different answer” was coming—just not when. Now we know. “At a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married,” Obama told ABC’s Robin Roberts today. The interview, which will air in full on tomorrow’s Good Morning America, was hastily arranged when Obama’s “I’m getting there” position on same-sex marriage went from being merely annoying to utterly ludicrous. After Vice President Biden and two cabinet members declared their support for gay marriage, the president’s spokespeople were finding it impossible...

I Am Gobsmacked

(Flickr/ntssu)
Well, I guess I'm cynical. I had a list of reasons as long as my arm for President Obama NOT to state that he favors equal marriage. My heart is turning such cartwheels that I am not sure I can write anything cogent. Here's what I was all ready to say before the announcement: In practice, the White House has already backed same-sex marriage as fully as it can at the federal level. Under the tenth amendment, individual states write the marriage rules—not the president or Congress. The federal government merely applies its rules and regs to marriages the states have performed. The exceptions str marriages like mine, between two men or two women—which, under the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, the federal government is barred from recognizing. DOMA passed before any state had yet legalized marriage equality. Now that six states and the District of Columbia marry two women and two men, some married couples have brought lawsuits against DOMA, and are winning in the federal...

Doing the Right Thing Was the Right Thing

WikiMedia Commons
Today is obviously a great and historic moment for President Obama, who decided today to follow the Prospect 's Jamelle Bouie's advice and openly favor same-sex marriage. The effects are primarily symbolic, but it's still a good thing that he decided to match his excellent policy record on LBGT issues with the correct position on a crucial civil-rights issue. One question that is sure to come up is whether this decision will harm President Obama's chance of re-election. I'm sure some members of Obama's political team were urging him to maintain the incoherent mess of a position he nominally took before today. This is, for reasons I discussed in the context of LBJ last week, certainly a serious question. Romney winning the 2012 election would be a disaster for LBGT rights, starting with the fact that this would probably result in Antonin Scalia being to the left of the median Supreme Court justice. Particularly since Obama has done pretty much all that is within his power to advance...

Where to Live If You're Gay

We're having a gay old week, aren't we? The White House press corps battles poor Jay Carney about Obama's eternally evolving position on same-sex marriage after the president's presumed proxies, Joe Biden and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, come out in favor. Meanwhile, North Carolina—an important swing state—reveals exactly why, in an election year, Obama might be just a little cautious about openly endorsing what his administration clearly backs: Why would any candidate in a high-stakes election make himself a target on an issue that has significant opposition in key states? My colleague Gabriel Arana wrote the definitive piece on yesterday's loss in North Carolina; I don't really have anything to add. But the National Journal 's Alex Roarty has some excellent reporting and analysis on that consideration here , including the obvious: Obama’s description of himself as “evolving” on the issue amounts to a public flirtation, and has prompted speculation that he’ll become a gay-...

The Price of Prejudice

Amendment One passed yesterday, 61-39 percent, making North Carolina the 30th state to put a ban on same-sex marriage right in the state constitution.

(AP Photo/Jerry Wolford, News-Record )
Another day, another damned defeat. It wasn't much of a surprise. Despite heroic efforts by gay-rights activists , yesterday North Carolinians amended their state constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Amendment One passed by an overwhelming 22-percent margin. Gay marriage is already illegal in North Carolina by statute, but amending the constitution ensures that state courts can't overturn the law. (Small consolation prize: Obama says he’s “disappointed” that voters in North Carolina didn’t “evolve” any faster than he has . [ UPDATE ]: The president declared his support for marriage equality today.) For supporters of gay rights, it's another setback in a war that, overall, seems to be going the right way. But it's disappointing nonetheless, and there are a few things that are both telling and especially harmful about the gay-marriage ban in North Carolina. Opponents of marriage equality in the state weren't just satisfied with stopping gay people from getting married. Amendment One...

The Lost Cause

It's only a flesh wound!
The current controversy over the state of President Obama's "evolution" on same-sex marriage is one of those things that once it happens seems inevitable. After all, most everyone, both conservative and liberal, assumes that in his heart Obama does believe everyone ought to have the same marriage rights, but he thinks it's too risky to make that step before this fall's election. It's not exactly a profile in courage to say that you're in the process of changing your mind, but you haven't quite changed it yet. Perhaps he thought that the same answers he's been giving up until now would be sufficient to put off the time when he'd have to confront the issue more directly, but now that his vice president has put him on the spot and every cabinet secretary is going to get asked for his or her opinion at every interview, he really can't hold out much longer. All of which made me wonder, how does this look from the vantage point of the right? There's a bit of crowing about Obama being...

You Say You Want an Evolution...

Pity poor Jay Carney, getting beaten up soundly yesterday for having to explain the inexplicable: President Obama's position on same-sex marriage. Okay, it's explicable—the White House is obviously calculating that now is not the right time to draw fire on gay and lesbian rights—but that's not the kind of thing you have your press secretary say, now, is it? And of course, I'm explicitly calling him "President Obama," as earlier incarnations of Obama had a quite different position, as Richard Kim shows nicely over at The Nation , where he argues that Second-Term-President Obama will attend a lesbian or gay staffer's wedding, have a moving revelation that it's All About Love And Love is Good, and the evolution will be complete. Patrick Caldwell is right , of course—no one trusts this cautious position, left or right, which is why Carney's getting the press conference equivalent of heckling. You just don't let your vice president and your secretary of education run around saying they're...

No One Trust's Obama's Evolution

(Flickr/VJnet)
Few people truly believe Barack Obama when he claims his position on same-sex marriage is "evolving." He first publicly endorsed marriage equality in 1996 while running for the Illinois state senate. At the time, just 27 percent of the population shared his views, according to a Gallup poll. Now, Gallup's tracking numbers from last year have 53 percent of the country favoring SSM. It might have been politically expedient for Obama to position himself against same-sex unions in 2008, but it's impossible to imagine anyone at the vanguard of LGBT civil rights like that young Illinois legislator truly changing his mind. That's why his continuing "evolution" makes no sense. It ticks off liberals and moderates who are convinced that Obama does not have the courage to stand up for his convictions. And it certainly wins him no plaudits from conservatives, who also believe it is a smokescreen to hide his true agenda. To wit, here's RNC Chairman Reince Priebus on MSNBC earlier today: “So we’ve...

Planned Parenthood Can't Catch a Break

(Flickr/WeNews)
Planned Parenthood staffers might have been inclined to celebrate last Friday. That afternoon, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled Texas could not exclude Planned Parenthood from its Women's Health Program . On Monday a district judge had granted an injunction, forcing the state to pay Planned Parenthood clinics that served the WHP clients—low-income women who are not pregnant. The injunction was short-lived—the state attorney general appealed the decision to the 5th Circuit, which granted an emergency stay, allowing state health officials to start kicking out the Planned Parenthood clinics. By Friday, the 5th Circuit had reversed the decision, granting a temporary injuction while Planned Parenthood's lawsuit against the state proceeds. While long-term fates are up in the air, this news was the best the organization has heard in quite a while. But any celebration would have been short-lived. By Friday night, the organization was already getting bad news. Texas may now have to...

Obama's Untenable Position on Same-Sex Marriage

(Flickr/Barack Obama)
Oh, good old Joe. The vice president just can’t help himself sometimes, getting juiced up and spouting off whatever comes to his mind rather than staying on message like the Obama campaign would prefer. On yesterday’s Meet the Press , Biden was questioned about his stance on same-sex marriage and seemingly went a step further than the official White House line, perhaps not endorsing marriage equality directly but coming pretty close : David Gregory: You’re comfortable with same-sex marriage now? Biden: Look, I am Vice President of the United States of America. The president sets the policy. I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual men marrying women are entitled to the same exact rights. All the civil rights, all the civil liberties. And quite frankly I don’t see much of a distinction beyond that. Of course that’s not the official policy of the Obama campaign, so officials acted quick to walk back Biden’s statement. But the...

Do the Right Thing

(plainwrap/Flickr)
Yesterday, on Meet the Press , Vice President Joe Biden was unusually candid about his feelings on same-sex marriage: “And you’re comfortable with same-sex marriage now,” NBC’s David Gregory asked Biden on Meet the Press. “I am vice president of the United States of America. The president sets the policy,” Biden said by way of a disclaimer, then continued, “I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties. And quite frankly, I don’t see much of a distinction—beyond that.” Almost immediately, this was reported as an endorsement of same-sex marriage by Vice President Biden, which in turn was followed by White House attempts to nix the perception. On Twitter, for example, David Axelrod issued an odd clarifying statement, “What VP said-that all married couples should have exactly the same legal rights-is precisely POTUS’...

Are Women the Richer Sex?

(Flickr / 401K)
Well, sure, women are the richer sex, if by "richer" you mean "making less money." If you take some tiny demographic slices—single, childless college-educated women in major urban areas— those women make more than men their age. But enough of me blathering. Here's some stats: National Women's Law Center I wrote about this subject on Equal Pay Day , before I came across Bryce Covert's fabulous Nation post " How to Close the Gender Wage Gap In Just Seven Easy* Steps ." ( Do read it for serious policy ideas written with verve.) One of her steps: raise the minimum wage. See? Easy!

"Don't Say Gay" Bill Prompts Lawmaker to Say He's Gay

(Flickr/Steve Rhodes)
After weeks of discussion on a bill that would restrict students from talking about their sexuality in Missouri public schools, Republican state lawmaker Zach Wyatt decided he'd had enough. While it's virtually impossible for the bill to pass through the General Assembly at this point, Wyatt nonetheless called a press conference. He lambasted the bill—and then came out as gay. His hometown newspaper, The Kirksville Daily Express covered the event, in which Wyatt introduced himself as "a proud Republican, a proud veteran and a proud gay man who wants to protect all kids." He didn't hold back in his comments: 'I will not lie to myself anymore about my own sexuality. It has probably been the hardest thing to come to terms with. I have always ignored it. I didn’t even think about it or want to talk about it. I’ve not been immune to it. I hear the comments, usually snide ones, about me,' Wyatt said. 'I am not the first or last Republican to come out. I have just gotten tired of the bigotry...

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