Friday, September 23, 2011

Putting Homophobia Ahead of Patriotism

It’s bad enough that presidential candidate Rick Santorum wants to reinstate ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ after the nearly two-decade long policy had been sent to the scrapheap on September 20. Being the homophobe that he is, Santorum had made even more outlandish comments against gays during his unheralded career.

But when asked about “circumventing” the repeal if elected president during the latest Republican presidential debate on September 22 by a gay U.S. soldier serving in Iraq, this is the garbage Santorum could muster:

“I would say any type of sexual activity has no place in t

he military. The fact they are making a point to include it as a provision within the military that we are going to recognize a group of people and give them a special privilege to and removing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell I think tries to inject social policy into the military. And the military’s job is to do one thing to defend our the military.”

Not only did he fail to acknowledge and thank the soldier for his service, but none of the other 8 morons at the podiums jumped in to do so. Nor did he or the other wannabes attempted to muffle the crowd noise, which was cheering during Santorum’s answer. No admonishment for disrespecting a soldier who is in harm’s way defending his country—something Santorum never did.

In the circus atmosphere that characterizes Republican primary debates (“Let him die,” applauding executions, etc.), hypocrisy wins out over their principles. Of those audience members who shouted “let him die” during last week’s debate in response to Ron Paul’s tortured explanation of how should a hypothetical 30 year-old without health insurance be dealt with if he was critically ill or those who cheered Rick Perry’s bragging that Texas leads all state in executions, one must question the sincerity of their “pro-life” principles.

And these same folks who normally applaud service members at the drop of a hat (as they should) but boo a soldier simply because of who he is, aren’t as patriotic as they claim to be. Homophobia over patriotism—that’s all it is.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Welcome Aboard!

NAACP-Baltimore Joins MME coalition but there are concerns.

By Steve Charing

The email message from Marylanders for Marriage Equality (MME) that announced on September 9 the addition of the Baltimore branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to the coalition was welcome and positive. My gut reaction is that there is now a focus on MME’s steering committee to work directly with the African-American community to help pass a marriage equality bill in 2012.

“The NAACP’s long history of working for equality and fairness for all will be instrumental in harnessing the supportive voices in the African-American community and throughout Maryland,” said Sultan Shakir, Campaign Manager for MME in the statement.

Tessa Hill-Alston, president of the Baltimore branch was quoted as saying, “We believe gay and lesbian couples have the same values as everyone else. They want to make a lifetime commitment to the person they love and build a loving, stable family. So it is only right that committed gay and lesbian couples be given the opportunity to marry as everyone else. We look forward to working with the coalition and lawmakers to pass a marriage equality bill that protects religious freedoms.”

The NAACP joins Senator Rich Madaleno, Delegate Luke Clippinger, Equality Maryland, Progressive Maryland, 1199 SEIU, ACLU-MD, Human Rights Campaign, and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force as steering committee members for MME.

The news was received favorably by progressives all over. Blogger Michael Hulshof-Schmidt (TheSolipsisticMe) of the Daily Kos wrote: “Hill-Alston is the tonic for the hypocrisy and bigotry I witness from gays who are racist and misogynists, or blacks who are homophobic, or women who are anti-women and homophobic. I simply don’t understand how anyone that is or has been marginalized can’t feel an obligation to then stand up for others who are marginalized. I am hopeful and will look forward to other NAACP chapters stepping up to the plate and continuing to show great courage and leadership for civil rights for all.”

Yet religious African-Americans have resisted, if not rejected, the clarion calls by eminent civil rights leaders, such as Julian Bond, Rep. John Lewis, the late Coretta Scott King and many others as well as iconic institutions, such as the NAACP, who have argued for marriage equality. Those African-Americans who oppose such legislation use their religious convictions and/or their refusal to recognize marriage equality as a civil rights struggle as justification.

Even in a liberal city like Baltimore, mayoral candidates Frank M. Conaway and Otis Rolley and victorious District 12 Councilman Carl Stokes—all African-Americans—expressed opposition to same-sex marriage in a Gay Life survey. Other African-American candidates did so as well.

But it must be pointed out that while there is significant resistance to marriage equality among blacks, more recent polls indicate a modest increase in support. When the data surrounding the passage of Proposition 8 in California were ultimately analyzed, the initial finding of 70 percent support for the ballot initiative among African-Americans based on exit polling turned out to be overstated.

Further studies, however, indicate that in actuality 58 percent of California’s black population voted to prohibit same-sex marriage—a clear majority to be sure, but not an overwhelming one.

Many gays and lesbians were quick to blame blacks for the Prop. 8 debacle, but other factors, such as political ideology, religiosity and age played more of a role than race.

For marriage equality to pass the Maryland legislature in 2012 and to successfully defend it in a likely referendum, advocates will certainly need increased backing from African-Americans. With 30 percent of Maryland’s population being black—among the highest proportion of any state—the education process needs to be sweeping and intense. Clearly, the NAACP, with help from others, could provide such an effort.

That is why I enthusiastically welcomed the MME announcement. But upon visiting the Baltimore branch’s website , I was surprised by the fact that Tessa Hill-Alston’s name did not appear as president. She had been elected last November—fully 10 months ago—yet former president Marvin L. “Doc” Cheatham’s president’s message is still displayed. And when doing a search for Tessa Hill-Alston, “no results were found.”

Obviously the website is in need of updating. Perhaps there are insufficient resources to make the technical changes. But if an organization is to exude confidence and credibility, this should be a priority in the Internet age.

Moreover, I attempted to reach Ms. Hill-Alston to ascertain how the branch will reach out to the African-American community to help sell marriage equality. She did not return the phone message I left with the receptionist.

I also emailed Kevin Nix, the media spokesperson for MME who released the announcement, requesting him to share details of the role the Baltimore branch of the NAACP will play in the coalition’s effort. I also wanted to know if the other NAACP branches in the state, particularly Prince George’s County, will be called upon. At press time, I had not heard back.

My hope is that the reluctance to discuss specifics with the media and, by extension, the community is more of a strategic calculation (and not a good one since the General Assembly is a mere four months away) rather than an absence of information, which is more discomforting because of the closeness of the session. What we don’t want is “window dressing”—organizations who sit on a board and who can help check the proverbial boxes but otherwise have no active function.

The members of MME’s coalition, including the NAACP, could be vital to secure passage of the marriage equality bill and stave off a referendum attempt if utilized properly. The community needs to hear more about those plans but right now, nobody is talking.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

The Time to Plan for a Referendum Battle is NOW

Following the victory on the marriage equality bill in the Senate during the 2011 Maryland General Assembly, I had asked a former official at Equality Maryland (not the executive director) if plans are afoot to combat a likely referendum should the marriage bill be signed into law. That person said that “we are focused on winning in the House, and we’ll worry about the referendum later.”

On the surface, that response seemed prudent. The legislative battle had yet to be won, and energy and resources must be dedicated to jumping that hurdle before you look further down the track. And with a potential ballot initiative taking place 19 months in the future, arguably there was time to mount a strong defense.

Unfortunately, the marriage bill fell short by only a few votes of victory in the House without an actual floor vote taken. On top of that, Equality Maryland, the principal group leading the legislative effort, essentially imploded in terms of organizational stability, finances, and to some extent, its reputation within the LGBT community.

Its board, which experienced multiple resignations following the session and had fired its executive director, is attempting to bounce back. But Equality Maryland will not be the vanguard for the marriage bill, as a new organization, Marylanders for Marriage Equality (MME), was launched in July.

Nor will Equality Maryland be the sole steward to secure protections on the basis of gender identity, as that effort is being headed by Gender Rights Maryland. That bill could also face a referendum attempt.

The fledgling MME is a coalition of organizations who will renew the fight in the legislature. It is comprised of Progressive Maryland, 1199 SEIU, ACLU, Human Rights Campaign (HRC), National Gay and Lesbian Task Force as well as Equality Maryland.

While it appears that Equality Maryland never got down to the nitty-gritty of mapping out a specific strategy to raise funds and plan for a possible referendum skirmish in 2012, there was hope that MME would. “The coalition is looking at the big picture to bring marriage equality to Maryland,” said Kevin Nix, who works for HRC and is the media spokesman for MME. “Our priority in the short term is passing a bill through the legislature.”

OK, apparently it’s back to Equality Maryland’s position earlier this year in that MME will not put the cart before the horse and instead focus on getting the bill through both chambers. Governor O’Malley promised to sign it and actively campaign for it as part of his legislative package.

If signed into law, one can rightly assume the opposition will garner the required number of signatures, regardless of the method, and the issue—“Should marriage only be between a man and a woman?”—will be offered to the voters. And with the next General Assembly ending in April 2012, there is precious little time to organize, raise funds, and execute a winning strategy to thwart the inevitable referendum come November.

Accordingly, the time to plan for such an eventuality is now—not after the bill is signed and the predictable celebrations fade away.

The main focus of the plan should be to bring in money—lots of it—and in a down economy to boot. Just to raise funds to counter the advertisements by opponents in the high-priced media markets of Baltimore and Washington will be daunting in itself. The need for printed materials, phone banking and other related expenses will cost a bundle as well.

There will be a plethora of well-funded, well-organized groups from within Maryland and throughout the U.S. who will be highly motivated to ensure that marriage equality does not see the light of day in Maryland. This opposition is formidable and will include but not limited to the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), the Catholic Archdiocese, Focus on the Family, the American Family Association, the Mormon Church and the mega-churches in predominantly African-American areas of Baltimore City and Prince George’s County.

To illustrate the challenge, NOM alone spent $1.8 million in support of Proposition 8 in 2008. The next year in Maine, NOM was the majority contributor to the anti-equality Stand for Marriage Maine with $1.6 million geared towards Question 1. Overall, in 2009, NOM’s total expenditures were roughly $7.5 million.

The task becomes even more exigent as a full-blown, all-out education campaign is required, especially among African-Americans and Catholics. With President Obama on the 2012 ticket, turnout among blacks is expected to be high. This is particularly significant in Maryland with its high proportion of African-Americans (nearly 30 percent). And according to the Public Religion Research Institute, 2 out of 3 African-American Protestants oppose marriage for same-sex couples.

Older citizens tend to be socially conservative, and as a group, they are more apt to vote. Moreover, the Dream Act referendum will also be on the ballot drawing out many voters to defeat that law who are also likely to oppose same-sex marriage.

If the opposition succeeds, the law is dead, and it could take decades before politicians decide to overrule the “will of the people.”

For Marylanders for Marriage Equality it’s understandable to focus on winning the immediate battle in the legislature. But it will be useless if we lose the war. To win the war we have to match our opponents dollar for dollar and then some.

Start the planning now!