Saturday, January 31, 2009

New York same-sex couples married out of state: New report lists protections

Four groups (Lambda Legal, Empire State Pride Agenda, New York Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union) have co-published a summary document, available online in PDF format, “Your Government Respects Your Marriage: Developments in New York State Agency Recognition of Same-Sex Couples' Out-of-State Marriages,” a five page document. It is available on Lambda Legal’s site here. The document lists a number of Protections, including insurance coverage and birth certificate issues. The document also discusses some unresolved tax issues. The document should be read carefully by New York couples who may be affected.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Iceland has openly gay head-of-state

UPI is reporting this morning that Iceland has the first openly gay head of state in modern history, Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir, 66, a former flight attendant and open lesbian. The link for the story is here.

It’s unclear whether the United States could have had a gay president, such as James Buchanan, the only president not to marry, but a Freemason and also (unfortunately) a defender of slaveowner’s rights. There are stories about Lincoln (hence “Log Cabin Republicans), but it was common for civilian men to sleep together and share quarters in the 19th Century; nothing was made of it then.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

HIV infection still an issue for overseas deployment in some civilian jobs

HIV infection still is leading to civilian employment issues in some sensitive situations. A former green beret, now HIV+ without symptoms and identified only as John Doe, was denied deployment overseas protecting diplomats by security firm Triple Canopy. The company says that State Department rules do not allow deployment of persons with permanent communicable diseases in sensitive locations, because of the possibility of an incident, or of the person’s being away from possible medical treatment. The issue has occurred before with the Foreign Service.

People infected with HIV cannot join the military, and that has never been controversial (unlike the military gay ban) although they may stay in if infected while on active duty (and often did in the 1980s). In this case, the male individual could have been infected by heterosexual conduct, even on active duty, particularly if infection transmission occurred overseas, as in Africa. It’s unlikely to have been acquired outside of sexual contact.

The Washington Post has a story Jan. 28 in the Business Section, p D01, by Joe Davidson, “In Dangerous Locales, HIV Discrimination Isn’t an Open-and-Shut Case”, link here.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Washington DC: "gay marriage" through the "back door"?

The Washington Times, the DC area’s “conservative” paper (although the Examiner also seems so) continues its obsession with gay marriage (almost as important, it seems, as the financial collapse), although lately it’s dropped the practice of putting the word “marriage” in quotes (not sure how English teachers would handle this in punctuation lesson plans).

There’s an editorial today (Jan. 27, "D.C. gay marriage bill is a sham") on p. A16 that sort of suggests that there is a way to “inherit” gay marriage (literally in an Object oriented programming sense) from the politics of gay custody or gay adoption, given the social focus on the ever increasing need for adoptive parents. At least, there is in the peculiar politics of non-state Washington DC. The link is here.

The paper says that on Jan. 6, DC council members Phil Mendelson and Jack Evans proposed what amounts to automatic co-custody laws for same-sex female domestic partners, removing the need for an expensive adoption procedure for the second parent. For male couples, there’s an even more convoluted legal device. But the end result, the paper says, is to institute de facto gay marriage in Washington DC without having to go through the political process to get it (or let it be opposed, as in California).

It certainly is a bizarre take on the issue. But I always enjoy this particular newspaper and the mental fix it provides me, however perversely. And just imagine the java code in the “methods” for this new bill.

Monday, January 26, 2009

VA Episcopal diocese may allow gay civil unions

The Sunday Jan. 25, 2009 Washington Times reports “Episcopalians: Diocese warming to gay unions; Va. delegates ‘take that step’’, in a front page story by Julia Dunn, link here.

A resolution passed at a meeting of 700 church members in Reston, VA. However, some dissenters actually warned that accepting gay unions could interfere with relief work in the Sudan, a “non sequitir.”

In 2007, eleven conservative parishes split off over issues of scripture and particularly the 2003 ordination of New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson.

Picture: The Falls Church, in Falls Church VA, is one of the "conservative" congregations involved in various disputes.

Friday, January 23, 2009

White House website lays out LGBT civil rights agenda

Visitors should view The White House’s new Civil Rights page, with a section on LGBT rights. The main link is here. This is the real "White House" website, not an imitation or surrogate.

Look for the section titled "Support for the LGBT Community". The bullet points include repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell”, opposing a federal constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, civil unions, ENDA, expanding hate crimes statutes, and expanding adoption rights.

We will have to see how quickly the new president Barack Obama can make progress, given the urgency of the economic issues and national security problems. But there is some synergy: employment non-discrimination gets easier with health care reform (which is important to economic stimulus anyway), and the loss of language translation and intelligence capabilities because of DADT has become glaring.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

CA: Companies prepare Prop 8 amicus brief

The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, along with a number of parties, including Google and Levi Strauss, have filed an application to file amicus brief in support of petitioners for “extraordinary relief challenging the enforceability of Proposition 8”. The link is here.

Companies in the brief stated that the discriminatory aspects of Proposition 8 would ultimately be bad for business, reducing sales and hindering the future recruiting of the proper talent, even given the current economic climate.

Google's own corporate blog entry ("Supporting Equality"), dated Jan. 15, 2009, is here.

The companies note that employers could be liable for additional taxes if the Proposition holds. There is an interesting reference to Probate Code Rules and the possibility that the Proposition could be held retroactively. Also, there are ways that real estate taxes could rise.

The brief numbers 68 pages on a PDF document.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Parade survey on campus ROTC and DADT

Following on to the story about Obama and lifting “don’t ask don’t tell” is a Parade survey today, Jan. 18, on p. 8, “Should ROTC Be in All Colleges?”

15% said no. 85% said yes, and pointed out that if the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy were ended immediately, “elite” colleges would find other reasons to express animosity toward the military. However, among those who say no, the DADT policy is a major reason, saying that it corrupts the non-discrimination at colleges. The Parade link is here.

Of great controversy associated with the ban is the Solomon Amendment, a 1996 law that allows the Secretary of Defense to withhold Pentagon funds from colleges which ban military recruiters on campus. The official regulations, promulgated in 1998, are here. The Findlaw text for the US Code (983) is here.

The Supreme Court upheld the Solomon law in 2006 in a case called Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights (FAIR), analysis here. Justice Roberts wrote “The Solomon Amendment also does not violate the law schools’ freedom of expressive association. Unlike Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, 530 U. S. 640, where the Boy Scouts’ freedom of expressive association was violated when a state law required the organization to accept a homosexual scoutmaster, the statute here does not force a law school “ ‘to accept members it does not desire,’ ” id., at 648. Law schools “associate” with military recruiters in the sense that they interact with them, but recruiters are not part of the school. They are outsiders who come onto campus for the limited purpose of trying to hire students—not to become members of the school’s expressive association. The freedom of expressive association protects more than a group’s membership decisions, reaching activities that affect a group’s ability to express its message by making group membership less attractive. But the Solomon Amendment has no similar effect on a law school’s associational rights. Students and faculty are free to associate to voice their disapproval of the military’s message; nothing about the statute affects the composition of the group by making membership less desirable. Pp. 18–20.”

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Robert Gibbs says that Obama will end "don't ask don't tell"

Robert Gibbs, the incoming press secretary for President-elect Barack Obama, told reporters, in answer to a question from “Thaddeus” from Michigan, that the incoming president will lift the ban on gays in the military and end the “don’t ask don’t tell.”

There have been numerous media stories since Jan. 14; a typical detailed story appears on Fox News, by Carl Cameron, here. “You don’t hear a politician give a one-word answer often. But it’s, ‘Yes’.”

Nevertheless, Obama seems to be treading very carefully on the issue, not wanting to cause an immediate confrontation in Congress as did President Clinton in 1993. He will probably bring up arguments similar to those on my blogs, that it can have an effect on other service areas and affects the ability of every citizen to share risk and responsibility equitably. I expect to hear this from him soon.

The story also appeared as a brief on p A2 under “Washington” in the conservative paper The Washington Times.

Some politicians say privately that Obama may take this up in 2010.

Update: January 18, 2009

On Saturday night, Anderson Cooper, speaking with David Gergen at the Newseum in Washington DC, waiting for Obama's train arrival, mentioned Gibbs's statement and Obama's campaign promise to end "don't ask don't tell". Barack Obama will meet with the Joint Chiefs on Wednesday to set up his military priorities in Iraq, Afghanistan, and domestic operations for the war on terror; some people feel that this is an opportunity for Obama to mention the problem. There's one real good reason: We're hurting badly on linguistic intelligence, and the DADT policy has become one of the causes. We just might have missed some clues before 9/11 because of the policy.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Rick Warren's connections in Africa with his AIDS ministry criticized as homophobic

This morning (Jan. 8), Alternet has a story about inaugural pastor Rock Warren by Max Blumenthal from “The Daily Beast”, with a strident title “Condom Burning and Anti-Gay Witch Hunts: How Rick Warren Is Undermining AIDS Prevention in Africa,” link here. The article mentions a book by Helen Epstein “The Invisible Cure: Why We Are Losing the Fight Against AIDS in Africa,” published in May 2008 by Picador. The article says that Rick Warren promoted a particular pastor from Uganda name Ssempa, who reportedly promoted a terror of homosexual men and women, and spoke of a witches’ coven around Lake Victoria.

First, remember that reputable science has always maintained that AIDS is Africa is primarily transmitted heterosexually, and the reason that this so may be related to the presence of lesions from other sexually transmitted diseases, leading to a kind of multiplicative effect.

But in Africa, and in economically poor cultures in general, the family as an institution becomes even more important in its own right, taking on a meaning that transcends the individual people in it, or what modern progressive societies regard as just at an individual level. This leads to homophobic statements that to a western person sound self-deprecating. Family responsibility is quite involuntary in their cultures. Older children often wind up with the responsibility for raising their siblings when parents die.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Washington Times has banner headline on gay marriage fight in remaining New England states

The Washington Times, on Sunday January 4, 2009, perhaps practiced a little yellow journalism with a front page banner headline “Gay-marriage backers target New England” with a subheadline “foes brace to fight effort to create ‘equality’ zone by 2012”. The story is by Valerie Richardson and the link is here.

A group called Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) is allegedly leading the fight.

The Washington Times in the past has always used quotes: gay “marriage” when discussing this topic.

Civil unions exist in New Hampshire and Vermont. Some domestic partnership benefits exist in Maine and Rhode Island. Same-sex marriage exists in Massachusetts and Connecticut because of state supreme court decisions.

The headline on the newspaper looks funny. The Washington Times is actually supporting the gay marriage cause without realizing by giving it front burner attention, compared to everything else (like the economy and Gaza). That's like Sen. Rick Santorum's pushing of the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in the US Senate in 2004 and it went nowhere.

Friday, January 02, 2009

The history of the HIV epidemic has lessons today for everyone: In the early 1980s we never saw it coming

Randy Shilts, in “And the Band Played On” (which became a cable film), reported sporadic cases of illness that we know now were HIV-related as far back as 1978 (after suggesting that it could have entered the US in 1976). By 1980, a few doctors were noticing it in New York and Califronia, and in 1981, the CDC presented its reports of clusters, first of pneumocystis carinii pneumonia and then Kaposi’s sarcoma.

Back in 1978, in my last year in New York City, I had heard of a couple of isolated medical mysteries, and at the time the media had reported clusters of Hodgkin’s Disease in a few communities in the Northeast. I didn’t hear about KS until February 1982, ironically in the Dallas gay magazine TWT (“This Week in Texas"), on the same day that I saw the film “Making Love.” Still, I didn’t think much of it. I thought that unusual viruses could cause clusters of disease that fizzle and die out. I went to England in November 1982 on vacation (it’s dark but not too cold then) and never thought about it. In December of 1982, though, the Dallas Gay Alliance sponsored the first information program on what they then called GRID, and there had already been four deaths in Dallas.

Publicity about AIDS took off in the Spring of 1983, when Time or Newsweek called it “the public health threat of the century.” Geraldo Rivera ran a sensational report, showing graphic cases of KS, on ABC 20/20 in May 1983. Pretty soon the religious right in Dallas was picking up on the story, claiming that AIDS would soon become casually contagious (if it could, it would change character radically any probably be much less lethal, but it never has in 30 years). A group called “Dallas Doctors Against AIDS” tried to get the Texas legislature to strengthen the sodomy law (Bill Ceverha’s HR2138) and ban gays from working in hospitals, in schools, or where food was served or prepared. The Dallas Gay Alliance fought the bill and it died in committee. A federal judge had already struck down the existing law 2106 in 1982.

The concept that so many people had trouble understanding was the geometric progression in the number of cases within a circumscribed population. Mathematically, that could consume the population in a few years. The geometric increase in cases was strong evidence of a novel infectious agent, a possibility with potential political consequences that no one could afford to face. Gay men became terrified, and I once had a lesion biopsied for KS, in July 1983 when I had just turned 40. It was negative, but I had a very anxious weekend.

In 1984, the cause was identified as HTLV-III, later renamed HIV, while Charles Ortleb’s newspaper “The New York Native” covered the lurid details (I subscribed to it and had it mailed to my home in Dallas). By sometime like 1986, the first anti-retroviral drugs like AZT were becoming available. I helped run the information forums, wrote an information pamphlet, volunteered with the Oak Lawn Counseling Center (the equivalent in Dallas then to the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in New York or Whitman Walker Clinic in Washington) as an “assistant buddy.”

The geometric progression leveled off, and gradually the disease became more manageable politically, and today many people live years on anti-retroviral drugs, which may have big side effects but don’t always. But at the time, it was the first big pandemic.

Today, we brace for other pandemics in the general population in the West: natural ones like avian influenza, or possibly introduced by terrorists, like smallpox. The demographics and communicability are totally different, and the effects on society at large are much more dramatic. Today, the political significance of HIV largely rests with Africa, where it seems to be spread heterosexually, and where it can bring down whole governments, leaving the population not only impoverished but a breeding ground for terrorists.

In fact, one of our biggest public health problems now, in terms of uncontrollable economic impact, is the explosion of Alzheimer’s disease among the elderly.

Times do change, but history has a habit of repeating itself, with twists. People forget history quickly. The biggest horrors of the AIDS epidemic in the gay male community ambushed us about 25 years ago. I lived through it. I remember the details all too vividly.