Vote for change

Speak Out

<By Eric Rader>

This summer has been a season of great progress for LGBT equality. In late June, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation granting lesbian and gay couples equal marriage rights, while new polls reveal that a majority of all Americans now support marriage equality. Two weeks ago, President Obama and the Pentagon certified that the U.S. military is now ready to allow gay and lesbian troops to serve openly in all branches of the armed services. By the end of September, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" will be history and soldiers will never have to lie again about their sexual orientation in order to serve their country.

Despite all the progress that has been achieved over the past few months, there still remain great challenges when it comes to legal equality for LGBTs. While President Obama successfully ended the military's DADT policy, fulfilling one of his 2008 campaign promises, he has so far been unsuccessful in persuading Congress to repeal the "Defense of Marriage Act." Given the current partisan and ideological makeup of the U.S. Congress, especially the tea party-dominated House of Representatives, there is no chance that DOMA will be repealed legislatively before the 2012 elections.

All of this takes on added significance now in light of the repeal of DADT and the passage of equal marriage rights in New York. DOMA prohibits the federal government from offering benefits to same-sex couples or recognizing in any way a legal marital relationship between two people of the same gender in any state. While gays and lesbians will now be able to serve openly in the military, their spouses/partners will not enjoy the same benefits that the heterosexual spouses of other soldiers receive. For example, straight members of the military do not have to worry about whether their partners will be allowed to live with them in housing provided on a military base. Heterosexual soldiers also know that their spouses are eligible to receive health benefits through the military, and can access commissaries and other military base amenities. All of these benefits will be denied to lesbian and gay soldiers as long as DOMA is the law of the land.

New York, five other states, and the District of Columbia now provide equal marriage rights, but lesbian and gay couples are still denied federal recognition of their unions. Thus, while a legally-married same-sex couple in New York is now entitled to file a joint state tax return, they must file separately as "single" under federal law. Though married couples in marriage equality states do not have to pay state taxes on domestic partner benefits, they still have to pay federal taxes on them. Some New York companies have now decided that they will only offer domestic partner benefits to gay or lesbian employees who legally marry their partners, because these same benefits are only provided to the legal spouses of straight couples. Though this appears on the surface to treat gay and lesbian couples equally, the reality is that requiring legal marriage as a condition for the benefits may have negative implications for the couple at the federal level.

Marriage has always been a prerogative of the states. Michigan has one of the most radically homophobic marriage laws in the country. Not only does Michigan deny lesbian and gay couples the right to legally marry, our law also has been interpreted as preventing public employers from offering domestic partner benefits to their gay and lesbian employees. Just two weeks ago, the Michigan Supreme Court declined to take a case involving the custodial rights of a lesbian to children she had helped raise, which effectively denied those rights as well.

It is right and good that we celebrate the important successes of 2011; they represent significant milestones in the march toward equal rights. All of us must stay involved in the struggle ahead. Next year we will be voting for president, U.S. House, U.S. Senate, and the Michigan State House. It is important to support candidates who support our rights. President Obama, though imperfect on the issue of same-sex marriage, has stopped defending DOMA in federal court. The president seems to be moving toward support for equal marriage rights and praised the new law in New York. Most of the announced candidates for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination seek to enshrine discrimination against LGBTs in the U.S. Constitution and in federal law. The only chance for change on issues of equality is to elect or re-elect people who actually believe in equality. There is a difference between the two parties on issues of LGBT rights and it's critical that we not ignore it. Let's keep moving forward toward real equality in our state and nation.

Human Rights Campaign's "Call Out" page on GOP Presidential candidate, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-MN:

Statement by President Obama on certification of DADT repeal:

National Conference of State Legislatures' list of states that provide partial or equal marriage rights, as of July 2011:

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