Saturday, April 3, 2010

Recent news and commentary

Golinsky v. OPM

The San Francisco Daily Journal featured an article yesterday about Golinsky v. OPM, No. 10-0257 (N.D.Cal.) (John Roemer, Lawyer Hits Wall in Trying To Get Benefits For Gay Spouse; Obama Administration Staff Sympathizes With Cause But Say Their Hands Are Tied, San Francisco Daily J., Apr. 2, 2010, at 1.) The lawsuit names OPM Director John Berry, who is gay. The agency's general counsel, Elaine Kaplan, is a lesbian. Kaplan told the Daily Journal, "I get that people think it's ironic [for OPM to defend against Karen Golinksy's claim for enrollment of her wife in the federal employee medical insurance plan], but neither Director Berry nor I has the freedom to disregard the law, even though we may disagree with it." Another "irony": the Obama administration continues to block access to medical insurance for Golinksy's wife, even as President Obama just signed into law the largest expansion of medical insurance coverage for Americans since Medicare. Golinsky remains worried that her wife lacks medical insurance: "You hold your breath and pray that nothing goes awry. One bad illness or accident can leave a family devastated."

Lamda Legal Marriage Project Director Jennifer Pizer acknowledged progress by the Obama administration on policies that do not require an act of Congress. But she said that Obama's "lawyers here argue that the public interest is best served by reflexively asserting DOMA to block insurance for Golinsky's family, and to uphold a repugnant tradition of anti-gay discrimination." She also called OPM's position "a strange collection of misreadings and misapplications of federal law adding up to a disconnect."


Varnum v. Brien - first anniversary

Kate and Trish Varnum were lead plaintiffs in Varnum v. Brien, 763 N.W.2d 862 (Iowa 2009). They describe the lived experience of their marriage, their commitment to advocacy and their insecurity over out-of-state travel. (Iowa Independent) "It’s validation,” Trish [Varnum], 45, says grinning. “I finally have a word (marriage) to describe what our relationship is all about. I’m now equal to my brothers and sisters." (, Cedar Rapids) While Carolyn Jenison, executive director for One Iowa, said that Varnum was monumental, "I remember getting up Saturday, April 4, and walking down the street and nothing was different. People have continued to do what they've always done." The Daily Nonpareil reports on a gay couple who encountered neo-Nazis at a Council Bluffs courthouse as they sought their marriage license. "Shouting anti-gay slurs on bullhorns and holding signs with sentiments of the same ilk," the neo-Nazis subjected the couple to the Nazi salute and "Heil Hitler."

Iowa has become a wedding destination for same-sex couples in the Midwest. (AP) However, the Omaha World-Herald claims that same-sex couples have not married in Iowa in numbers predicted by The Williams Institute at UCLA. The claim remains open to question, because "Iowa does not require marriage license applicants to designate their sex on the forms that are filed with the state." Sen. Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, observed that a relatively low number of same-sex marriages in Iowa would mean that "a vast majority" of the married couples are Iowans who have benefited from the ruling. They are "people who live down the street,” Gronstal said. “They are our friends, neighbors and people who live in our communities, who pay taxes just like everybody else.” (Daily Nonpareil, Council Bluffs, Iowa)

Let Us Vote Iowa plans to target three of the Varnum Court judges who face a retention vote in the November election. The organization will also endorse state House and Senate candidates who oppose marriage equality. (The Hawk Eye) Gubernatorial candidate Rod Roberts has said that if elected he would do everything within his power to see that voters have opportunity to approve a constitutional amendment reversing Varnum. (Omaha World-Herald). Not to be outdone, another gubernatorial candidate, Bob Vander Plaats, would "will sign an executive order his first day in office halting the practice" of same-sex marriage. (Quad-City Times) Justin Uebelhor of One Iowa said that "(t)his is going to be a fight for the long haul, that the opposition here in Iowa is relentless. We're going to have a presence here for the next few years, making sure that our stories get told."(The Hawk Eye)

Civil unions legislation - Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania state Rep. Mark Cohen became the first state legislator to introduce a bill to establish civil unions. (As far as I can tell - without contacting Cohen's office - the bill has not been posted to the legislature's website.) His state has a DOMA (23 Pa.C.S.A. § 1704), but its constitution does not ban same-sex marriage, and another attempt to add a constitutional ban recently failed. State Senator Daylin Leach has championed marriage equality in the state legislature, having introduced SB 935 that would establish it. So why does Cohen prefer civil unions? "Civil unions are more attainable in a reasonable period of time than gay marriage is," Cohen said. "Civil unions don’t give gays the status of marriage, they’re not as good as marriage, but I think right now it’s a much more attainable goal." To increase support from legislators and the public, Cohen says that he will, if necessary, continue to re-introduce his legislation. Leach supports Cohen's undertaking, as it represents "incremental progress." But Leach believes - with overwhelming evidence - that civil unions institutionalize "second class citizenship," and that they can not embody "the final resolution of the issue." (Philadelphia Gay News, cross-posted by Gay Marriage Watch)

Is incremental progress better than no progress? I have suggested that it is, but my tentative suggestion requires qualification. Incremental progress should not come at the cost of stalling progress toward marriage equality, and it should reflect only a temporary concession to the need for changing recalcitrant public opinion. These qualifications, of course, may beg the question. Given that same-sex couples and their children suffer grave harms from marriage inequality, demanding marriage equality as the only remedy may have more long-term impact on public opinion than advocating civil unions as an allegedly necessary expedient. At any rate, I am ambivalent about the idea of starting with an unacceptably flawed substitute, and using it to advance the ultimate goal of marriage equality.

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