Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Best of 2009 #2: "Maine (& Washington, & Nevada): Why Marriage Matters"

Probably one of the biggest disappointments for me in 2009 was the stinging marriage loss in Maine just one year after Prop H8 stole fundamental civil rights away from LGBTQ Californians. Conversely, the biggest victories for me were the comprehensive DP wins here in Nevada and up north in Washington State. So as I reflect on all that's been queer in 2009, I want to go back to something I wrote just before the November election on why marriage matters.


OK, so the Yes on H8/Yes on 1 anti-equality forces are now saying they "don't oppose civil rights". Uh-huh. So they just want "equality by another name"?

Not really. After all, why did these same religious right forces fight SB 283 here in Nevada that isn't even marriage?

And by the way, Maine Domestic Partnerships are not even comprehensive like ours in Nevada. They're very limited to only a few medical decisions and property rights. Is this type of third-class (since it isn't even second-class) citizenship what Yes on 1 calls "equality"?

OK, so let's assume some of these Yes on 1 folks are serious about "changing" Maine's domestic partnership law to look more like Nevada's. I did my homework on SB 283, the domestic partner law that's now being practiced here in The Silver State. I did my homework and I know what's in the bill and what isn't. Let me give you the gist of SB 283.

[State Senator and SB 283 author] David Parks wasn't joking when he said that this is NOT marriage. While SB 283 provides for domestic partnerships (DPs) that are supposed to treat "domestic partnered" couples just like married spouses, let's remember that this theory doesn't always work out in practice. So while we celebrate the first major advance in civil rights in Nevada in decades, let's keep working toward the final goal of true civil marriage equality. [...]

But again, we must stress that DPs under SB 283 are not marriage and will not be treated by the federal government as such. Even if you and your partner file for a DP this fall, you will still not be able to file a joint federal tax return. You won't be able to receive any spousal benefits from the military or the VA. You won't be able to sponsor your partner for US citizenship or permanent residency if he/she is a foreign national. Unfortunately, DOMA still applies here as it does across the nation. This is why it's crucial that not only Nevada law change to give our families full equality, but that federal law change as well.
When it comes to federal law, marriage is marriage is marriage. And even if DOMA is repealed soon and same-sex marriages will be recognized by the federal government, comprehensive DPs and civil unions will still not be recognized by the feds and treated as "marriages". So all of us in Nevada will still be left in the cold and so will Mainers if Question 1 passes.

And even worse, comprehensive DPs and civil unions are not even treated equally when it comes to state law. That was the experience in Vermont until marriage equality was legalized there. That's what New Jersey is dealing with in regards to their civil unions. That's what California, Oregon, and Nevada are now facing with DPs. No matter how well intentioned the "separate but equal laws" are, separate is simply never equal.

Marriage equality is important because it gives LGBT families the same equal rights and responsibilities under the law as straight families. And even more so, civil marriage equality gives our families the same respect and dignity they deserve.

And again, I doubt the anti-equality folks will even allow DPs. After all, Richard Ziser is attacking us here in Nevada once again. DPs are under attack in Washington state this year. This is just another excuse for the anti-equality religious right to make LGBT families in Maine and elsewhere suffer. Don't believe them.


And I'll finish on an upbeat note by bringing back this explanation in November why the R-71 win in Washington is our glimmer of hope for equality in the future.


Well, at least not all the news from last night was bad. Washington looks to be expanding domestic partner rights. If this holds up (and so far the returns and the locations of the remaining uncounted ballots are pointing this way), Washington will be the very first state to approve of relationship recognition rights by popular vote.

In Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a bill in May granting same sex domestic partners all the rights of married couples. That same month conservative interests announced they would attempt to overturn the new law and enough signatures were collected enough to place R-71 on the November ballot.

Gay rights supporters were not ready to declare victory Tuesday night.

"We are hopeful, but we are not stupid. We know better than to think we've got this in the can," said said Jody Lane of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "They may be recounting 'til January, for God's sake."

Before the first batch of results came in at 8:15 p.m., supporters laughed as a clip of Stephen Colbert jokingly endorsing Washington's domestic partnership law played on a projector at the Pravda Studios party.

With a bigger crowd by 9:05 p.m., they were still having fun -- but no one was celebrating. "We are really very guardedly optimistic, remembering that a very very large percentage of King County ballots have not been counted," campaign manager Josh Friedes told the crowd.
So far, so good. Washington is on the right path... And here's why it's so important and why we should care about it.

First, the opposition made this about "gay marriage" even though people were actually voting on DPs. They called themselves "Protect Marriage Washington" and warned about how approving R-71 would "put Washington on the path to let teh gayz merry!" Ironically, this proxy war over marriage equality will encourage pro-equality activists to one day go for full civil marriage equality in Washington.

Secondly if the anti-equality forces couldn't muster an off-year election in Washington, what makes them think they can pull a win in Nevada next year with Harry Reid, Rory Reid, and a number of other high-profile races on the ballot? Nevada Democrats have now proven to have a superior turn-out machine than the Republicans, so I doubt voters in a regular general election will be in the appetite to hate on LGBT families just for the sake of hating on them.

And finally, this is truly historic. Again, R-71 in Washington is the first time EVER that voters in any state approved legal relationship recognition. And again, if they can't win in an off-year election like this it gives me hope that 2010 and 2012 won't be so scary for us after all.

And really, I need hope now. The Maine results still scare me. I guess they were just too religious right there... And Obama (again) was hurting us there. Whatever went wrong, hopefully one day it will be made right in Maine.

But at least today, Washington is making baby steps toward equality... And we can breathe a little more easily about Nevada coming along as well.

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