Thursday, February 26, 2009

Same-sex couples provide booming business for lawyers, financial planners

Around the United States, there are a number of law firms and businesses that focus almost entirely on helping same-sex couples. Of course, the nature and market for these partnerships would change in states that have accepted same-sex marriage (Massachusetts and Connecticut) because of judicial decisions, and it would change if California’s Proposition 8 is eventually overturned or reversed politically.

Nolo Press (with “Directory M”) has a small website with a guide to legal resources, here.

Frederick P. Gabriel-Deveau wrote an article for Worth Magazine in February 2006 covering the same-sex law business in Florida, which for some legal and paralegal professionals is quite lucrative. The article appears in the Best Practices: Estate Planning series and is called “The Puzzling Problem of Same-Sex Estates”. The link is here . Some of the comments come from Miami attorney Richard C. Milstein. To quote one particularly important passage, “Consider, for example, the "unlimited marital deduction," which allows one spouse to pass an unlimited amount of money to the other without paying federal estate tax. In the case of a gay couple, the surviving partner would face federal taxes of up to 48 percent on estates that exceed $1.5 million.”

I remember reading the Worth article on a flight to New Orleans in 2006, and discussing it with a passenger in the next seat, himself a young lawyer. Curiously, while I’ve been approached about becoming a financial planner (in 2005), I’ve never seriously thought about the same-sex couple business as one to “round up” and create for an established insurance or financial company. I guess it's not my temperament to chase leads.

For some students in law school, same-sex couple law is still likely to provide a booming business for years to come, perhaps sad to say, given all the state constitution angry amendments around the country.

There could be a hidden silver lining in the most “conservative” of these amendments (such as Marhsall-Newman in Virginia) that try to prohibit civil unions and relationships that partially “imitate” marriage. Virginia actually added its amendment to its state “bill of rights” as if to suggest that people should not be forced into intimate relationships of support (such as aging parents) that they don’t want. Given our issues with demographics today, that could lead to some interesting situations, perhaps as unintended consequences.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Prominent LGBT blogs are helping organize activists, greatly outpace conventional media on news details

Today (Tuesday Feb. 24) the Washington Post, on p. C1, Style, ran an interesting piece on LGBT-oriented blogs by Jose Antonio Vargas. It is titled “Gay bloggers’ voices rise in chorus of growing political influence,” link here. The HTML heading title is “bloggers are changing the way the gay rights movement communicates.”

The article mentions several important blogs, such as Pam’s House Blend from North Carolina, with about 8000 hits a day, and Towlerload ("A site with homosexual tendencies", and not "Towelhead", to movie), which right now has a lead story about “bears” with an attractive picture (chest hair included this time), and The Bilerico Project. The blogs tend to be fancy and have a high volume of previous posts and many categories (which seems easier with Wordpress). Having a high visual impact with videos and animation appears to attract more visitors.

The story doesn’t mention Gay Patriotwhich right now leads with “Why it matters that Bobby Jindal Delivers GOP Response” (to Obama’s speech).

The article indicates that the grass-roots, totally decentralized blogosphere is becoming much more effective in organizing gay movements and in spreading deeper news than is the conventional media, which has to deal with bureaucracy and formal journalistic standards.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Several Vet organizations report bad treatment of transgender veterans by VA (from Palm Center)

The Transgender American Veterans Assocation (TAVA) conducted a survey indicated substandard treatment of transgender veterans by the Veterans Administration. The survey was published by the Palm Center at the University of California at Santa Barbarab. The TAVA press release (Aug. 21, 2008) is here.

The report was also presented on the American Veterans for Equal Rights (AVER) here.

The report (by Monica Helms) also appears at “Vets Do Ask Do Tell” among its press releases here. This version of the report seems to include more of the statistical survey details inline.

Visitors will want to look at the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Project” at the Palm Center, here. The Palm Center used to be called the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Straight firefighters in San Diego win harassment suit after being compelled to participate in Gay Pride parade

In a bizarre turnabout, four firefighters have won a $34000 judgment against the City of San Diego for being forced, they say, in a Gay Pride parade. The firefighters complain that they were yelled at and made fun of and this amounted to workplace sexual harassment.

There is a story in the San Diego Union Tribune by Tony Manolatos and Angelica Martinez, link here, Feb 17, 2009.

There is also an interesting “hop topics” op-ed by Joe Moag on Feb 18, 2009, here, written by a self-identified gay man who says he understands the shoe is on the other foot. What a lesson in empathy.

But, back in the 1970s, in New York City, fire departments had offered arguments against ENDA-like ordinances for the City that resemble what is said about the military today: the loss of privacy in the “firehouse.” In fact, the meeting place for GAANY in the 1970s on Wooster street used to be called “The Firehouse.”

Saturday, February 14, 2009

France finds that heterosexual couples often prefer civil unions

Heterosexual couples in France are often opting for “Civil Solidarity Pacts” rather than legal marriage. The PACS’s were originally a civil union designed for same sex couples. But straight couples often prefer the lower level of commitment while still gaining many tax and inheritance benefits, and perhaps less “responsibility”, according to Washington Post Foreign Service writer Edward Cody, in a story (“Straight Couples in France Are Choosing Civil Unions Meant for Gays”) on p A13 of The Washington Post today, Feb. 14. The link is here.

“Conservatives” have often criticized gay “civil unions” on the grounds that they will set a “bad example” for heterosexuals, which sounds like a “twisted pictures” kind of reasoning.

The Wikipedia page on same-sex marriage gives shaded maps for states and countries on allowing same-sex marriage, civil union, or banning by constitutional amendment. France is shown in yellow, as allowing “foreign marriages” and blue (on another map) as allowing civil unions, as do Germany and Britain. Spain accepts full same-sex marriage.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Lifting "don't ask don't tell" will require looking at Internet speech issues

There have been several columns recently from liberal-to-moderate observers advising President Obama on how to play the “Giuoco Piano” on lifting “don’t ask don’t tell.”

One of the most obvious quiet steps that the president can take right now is to commission the Rand Corporation to upgrade its 1993 study (often discussed before here, and mentioned by me on Wikipedia’s page on “don’t ask don’t tell”). And, by the way, the chess opening that I mentioned is anything but quiet in practice (however quaint – OK, there is “giuoco pianissimo, too”), and I don’t expect the issue to get settled that easily either. I hope it doesn’t get down to another king-and-pawn ending with zugzwang. Obama will need to keep “the Opposition”.

The obvious wrinkle in revising Rand’s proposed “Code of Military Professional Conduct” is going to be the Internet, posing complications, with social networking sites, blogs and search engines not imaginable in 1993. Everyone then (most of all, Barney Frank) wanted a “compromise” where you can “tell” people “privately” when off duty, off base – and yet, in the military, you’re supposed to be on duty at all times and all places. That includes what you put up on Myspace from your home computer.

One “obvious” rule could be that any statement of sexual orientation online must be made with privacy settings turned on (that’s even possible with Blogger). Of course, that would be “unfair” and “unequal” and raise objections in principle. Then, one goes down the path of saying that when military members blog or do social networking on their own, they must always accept some level of supervision. That could undermine the combat journalism that has become such a valuable record, especially from Iraq. But many commands require that all communications by personnel, especially when deployed to combat areas, be cleared anyway.

This is an area that any new policy (whether drawn up by Rand or any other party) would have to review carefully. It could even set an important example for many areas of the civilian workplace, where “online reputation” is becoming such a nettlesome issue for those whose jobs make them publicly visible.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Former Marine argues for ending DADT in NY Times today

Owen West, now a commodities trader who served two tours in Iraq in the Marine Corps, has an interesting op-ed in The New York Times today on p A21, “An About-Face on Gay Troops,” link here.

Like other commentators, he notes that the public is much more sympathetic to the idea of lifting the ban now than it was in 1993. He points out that the main argument used in 1993 was one of “xenophobic” circularity. He also defuses Sam Nunn’s “privacy” argument. “Most military jobs are office-based and provide sufficient individual privacy” he writes. He also notes that even in Iraq many troops had “compartmentalized showers.”

He also says that the military is a dictatorship, but it will comply with Congress and the President if they lift “don’t ask don’t tell.”

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Pragmatic president Obama treads carefully, building a case to end "don't ask don't tell"

Derrick Z. Jackson has an article (Feb.3, 2009) in the site, “Obama’s Pledge to Gay Soldiers,” link here. “DON'T ASK too soon, our new pragmatic president says, if you want to do away with "don't ask, don't tell." True, Obama seems to want to tackle this as a systems analysis problem, or perhaps a preliminary hearing case, building up an overwhelming case before going to Congress. Some gay activists had thought that Hillary Clinton would pursue this more quickly.

There is, in fact, a copy of the 1992 GAO report on Fordham University’s site, link here. The article says that gay discharges dropped in 1994 and 1995 (when the Pentagon Policy actually written in early 1994 in response to the somewhat strident 1993 law turned out to be somewhat conciliatory) but then rose rapidly toward the end of the Clinton administration. In many cases in Iraq and Afghanistan, commanders have not been able to afford investigations and discharges when soldiers are badly needed, so the experience during the Bush years seems erratic and varied.

But the most telling observation is that over 75% of Americans say that (openly) gay soldiers should be allowed and even encouraged to serve, in a world where burdens of defending democracy need to be shared. That may be the strongest pragmatic argument of all.

There is also another area to explore: the possible indirect effect of the military ban in civilian areas, like security clearances (with the build up of legacy discrimination over time), and even in other areas requiring some forced intimacy like some teaching scenarios.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Denial of health benefits to CA gay couple unconstitutional (9th Circuit)

9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt has ruled that the federal government’s refusal to extend health care benefits to the male domestic partner of a public defender Brad Levenson, is unlawful discrimination on the basis of both sex and sexual orientation. The partner was legally married during the five-month period while same-sex marriage was recognized in California, before the passage of Proposition 8. It’s also logical to wonder if the case could challenge the idea of the law applying “retroactively” to marriages entered during that period.

The story appears in the Los Angeles Times blogs today, here. The article contains a large part of the text of the opinion.

The ruling appears not to be a formal opinion, but to come from the 9th Circuit’s Standing Committee on Federal Public Defenders.

There are some comments to the effect that the Judge’s reasoning could challenge the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, signed by President Clinton.

The comments are quite varied, to say the least. One disapproves of government benefits to married persons. Another goes into a typical harangue about “nature.”

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

CA Prop 8: "Faith in America" group offers amicus brief

Faith in America” ("End Relgion-based Bigotry", website) announced this morning that it had submitted an amicus brief in the California Proposition 8 case.

The website has a front page presentation about Rick Warren, who gave the Invocation at Barack Obama’s inauguration. There is a panel and video that reads “Dear Pastor Warren: Can You Understand the Harm”.

The group offers an Mitchell Gold’s book “Crisis in America: 40 STORIES REVEALING THE PERSONAL, SOCIAL, AND RELIGIOUS PAIN AND TRAUMA OF GROWING UP GAY IN AMERICA,” much of it excerpted online, link here.

The tone of this somewhat reminds me, at least, of the Lifetime movie “Prayers for Bobby”, which I reviewed on my movies blog Jan. 23.

I couldn’t find a link to the PDF file in the amicus brief (which was offered as an attachment in the broadcast email), but here are several excerpts from the brief, as offered in the email:

“• Faith in America, Inc. ("FIA") agrees with Petitioners: whether this Court decides (1) that Proposition 8' s denial of an inalienable right to a historically disfavored minority constitutes a far-reaching, qualitative revision to the California Constitution under the guise of an initiative-
amendment; or (2) that the California Constitution cannot logically be read to allow the abrogation of such an essential liberty via an initiative- amendment, the Court's conclusion should be the same: "The discriminatory elimination of a fundamental right from a group defined by a suspect classification is not a change to the California Constitution that can be accomplished by a simple majority vote of the people."

“• "FIA writes separately to provide the Court with perspective on an issue that is both at the core of FIA's struggles for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender ("LGBT") equality and at the heart of the official proponents of Proposition 8's ("Official Proponents" or "Interveners") case: the use of religious rhetoric and inflated claims of "consensus" to justify constitutionally-impermissible discrimination."

“• Interveners have conspicuously dropped the overtly religious rhetoric and justifications used to support Proposition 22 from their briefs in opposition to the Petition. But their careful wordsmithing cannot erase the fact that Proposition 8 is a religiously motivated initiative, and its goal to confine the definition of civil marriage to that ofmajoritarian religions.

“• Proposition 8's religious foundation runs counter to the most basic guarantee of the California Constitution: "All people" - regardless of their religious, ethnic, or racial background - "are by nature free and independent and have inalienable rights." CaI. Const. art. I, § 1. What is more, advancing this inherently religious view of marriage (and of only some religions at that), necessarily - and impermissibly - restricts the religious freedom of individuals whose religions believe in and support same-sex marriage.

“• The late Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. often exhorted his audiences to remember that "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." FIA respectfully submits that a decision finding Proposition 8 unconstitutional will shorten that course, and bend that arc towards justice, for LGBT people, not only in this State, but in this country.”


I have the links (PDF files) from Brent. They may be slow to load.
(For some reason, sometimes Firefox has trouble with PDF links, at least for me.)

California Courts link is this.

California supplementary appendix
listing all briefs.

Brent supplied them in a comment (q.v.)

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Recent documentary brings up the subject of "honor" for gays in military again

Friday, I reviewed the documentary “Tell”, an assembly of testimonials from gay veterans who had served in the military (see my movies blog), and in one particular story a young sergeant, who had been wounded in Iraq, made a point of the fact that it was a matter of honor for him to say who he was (in the media) and not just anonymously. Of course, I feel that way about my own life. I remember the famous quote from former midshipman Joseph Steffan’s book “Honor Bound” (Vantage, 1992) that “personal honor is an absolute” and can never be regained when surrendered. Steffan had served a summer of submarine duty (and was apparently the boat chess champion), and one of the other subjects in the film had also served on a submarine in the 1960s – one of the most intimate environments possible, even for the military.

The use of the word “honor” this way, however, seems now to take us on an existential journey. The military feels that once the “tell” event happens, others within a unit will (or at least may) believe that they’ll be subjected to some kind of unusual personal scrutiny according to the values of the gay person. That busts up the unit cohesion and “honor” as they see it – we’ll get to that in a moment. Doesn’t “honor” just mean that “we should ask” and the gay person should never be there in the first place? That’s how it was thought to be (but really wasn’t) until the 90s. Practical and political needs in time change our perceptions. In fact, the rise of women in the modern military and the practical likelihood of opposite sex “psychological intimacy” (let alone practical risk of pregnancy) probably presents a greater “risk” to cohesion than a small percentage of open gays (who in the military seem to have an “off” switch or fuse for environments like submarines anyway), but there’s no question that the acceptance of women is both a political and skills necessity.

It’s interesting how the concept of honor gets mediated by the values of a society. The concept of honor in this film and in Steffan’s book fits into an individualistic society where there is an idea that people make or break themselves as individuals in relation to others. The military is in somewhat of a paradoxical position, needing to embrace both individualistic and more collective notions of honor. The individualistic idea is important because saving lives depends on telling the truth. But it also depends on the chain of command and credibility of leadership (that is “power”).

We often hear the term “honor” in patriarchal or religious societies applied to groups of people – especially families – under the control of someone, like an elder. In collective cultures, with less dependence on modern technology, it’s often even more important that those “in charge” – whether by choice or not – protect others that they are responsible for “from enemies” in a necessarily unjust and imperfect world. After all, why do we have to fight wars? It’s interesting how the concept vacillates a lot more than we realize.