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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

There must be something in December’s air

By Steve Charing
Senior Political Analyst

Maybe it’s the unusual balmy weather we’re experiencing or that the Ravens seem unstoppable. But whatever the reason, there have been some odd happenings in the political arena during December. Here are just a few:

MARY’S HAVING A LITTLE LAMB. The news that lesbian Mary Cheney is pregnant is a study of irony. I’m happy for her, believe me. But because of her Republican Party’s success in trashing same-sex marriage in Mary’s home state of Virginia and elsewhere, her partner Heather Poe will not enjoy the same legal relationship with the baby as heterosexual couples can have with theirs.

During the 2004 presidential campaign when the GOP bludgeoned gay marriage, Mary Cheney, who was an aide for her dad, was silent and let her party drive a cynical wedge into the electorate to win. Only when she promoted her flopperoo of a book did she finally speak out against a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Too little, too late. Her child will not receive the same protections and rights as the children of heterosexuals.

Dick Cheney should have used the same degree of influence he had in launching a preposterous war and developing an oil companies-friendly secretive energy policy in staving off the GOP’s opposition to same-sex marriage. But, alas, he didn’t. And Mary and Heather and baby will suffer the consequences.

APPEALING COURT. The Maryland Court of Appeals heard oral arguments from the gay plaintiffs and the state in the case that is trying to overturn the state’s marriage law. Despite the high passions on both sides, there was an eerie, surprising calm both inside and outside the courthouse. The justices seemed so laid back one has to wonder if they had already decided on the issue prior to the proceeding. Outside, there were no jeering or other demonstrations.
My guess is that the opposition is laying low pending a ruling, which is expected during 2007—probably in March or April. Look for a New Jersey-type verdict that would offer civil benefits to same-sex couples but not use the term "marriage." They will order the General assembly to fine-tune the implementation of the decision. That’s when things will heat up.

DWYER’S EEKED OUT VICTORY. Noted homophobe Delegate Don Dwyer managed to win re-election by just 25 votes. Whew! From a strategic and public relations perspective, this isn’t all that bad. Perhaps Equality Maryland’s Executive Director Dan Furmansky said it best: "While we would all obviously prefer to see Del. Dwyer collecting an unemployment check rather than returning to the General Assembly, there is truly no better face of the anti-gay movement in Maryland," he told the Washington Blade. "Del. Dwyer is zealotry personified."

OBAMA FEVER. The buzz surrounding the potential presidential candidacy of Barack Obama is startling. Despite the fact he is a minority and has such a thin resume, I believe he has an excellent shot—not only the Democratic nomination, but also the presidency itself. In a future column I will explain why. Get on the bandwagon now!

MINCING WORDS: Sometimes it is a good idea if politicians think of what they say before they say it. In discussing the need for broad tax reform in Maryland, openly lesbian Delegate Maggie McIntosh made a curious comment as reported by C. Fraser Smith in the Sun: "Why do we keep poking our fingers in holes in the dikes?" Hmmm.

STROKE OF LUCK. Democratic Senator Tim Johnson (SD) was stricken with what originally appeared to be a stroke but later determined to be a congenital arterial malformation that had caused blood vessels in his brain to burst. While he remains in critical but improving condition, there is widespread speculation concerning the fate of Sen. Johnson and the balance of power that was to tip towards the Democrats come January.

Should Sen. Johnson die or resign from office, the vacancy would be filled by the Republican governor of South Dakota. If he selects a member of the GOP to replace Sen. Johnson, the Senate would be split down the middle, 50-50, with VP Cheney breaking the tie. That would mean the coveted chairmanships of the senate committees would fall to Republicans and the re-emergence of the constitutional amendment. Ugh!! Let’s pray for the Senator in more ways than one.

Injustice anywhere offends all of us

Letter Published in Baltimore Sun--

Dec. 26, 2006

Leonard Pitts' column condemning all forms of discrimination is right on the mark ("Black or white, gay or straight, discrimination is still discrimination," Opinion • Commentary, Dec. 17).
Mr. Pitts accurately drew a correlation with the struggle for equal rights for gays and lesbians and the black civil rights movement of the 1960s.

During that era, many gays and lesbians joined arm-in-arm with their black brothers and sisters in taking part in marches in the South.

They also pushed for black voter registration in Selma, Montgomery and other campaigns in the civil rights movement in an effort to expand democracy to all of America's citizens and foster social justice. And often they risked their lives in the effort.

While there are African-Americans who are loath to equate the two movements, a significant number of black civil rights leaders, elected officials, prominent clergy and others recognize the contributions of gays and lesbians in the black civil rights movement and see gay rights as part of the broader quest for human rights.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Kweisi Mfume, Julian Bond, Rep. John Lewis and the late Coretta Scott King come to mind.

Mrs. King, who knew a thing or two about civil rights, once said, "I still hear people say that I should not be talking about the rights of lesbian and gay people and I should stick to the issue of racial justice. ... But I hasten to remind them that Martin Luther King Jr. said, 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.'"

Mr. Pitts echoes Dr. King's view that discrimination of any kind is unjust, and I applaud him for that.

Steve Charing


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Same-Sex Marriage in Maryland

The quest for Marriage Equality taken to Maryland’s Highest Court

By Steve Charing
Senior Political Analyst

ANNAPOLIS—Just before 10:00 a.m. on December 4 in a stark, dimly lit, wood-paneled room in Maryland’s Court of Appeals, the next step in the long, tough journey towards marriage equality was taken.

Before a seven-judge, crimson-robed panel, consisting of two women and five men, the state of Maryland, through the oral arguments presented by Robert Zarnoch, appealed to overturn the decision handed down in January by Baltimore Circuit Court Judge M. Brooke Murdock. That decision determined that the state’s marriage law is unconstitutional based on Maryland’s Equal Rights Amendment. The ruling was stayed pending appeal, which the state promptly filed.

Ken Choe of the American Civil Liberties Union argued on behalf of the plaintiffs. The ACLU with the cooperation of Equality Maryland brought the legal challenges. Both sides had presented to the Court thousands of pages of legal briefs.

The original lawsuit, Deane and Polyak v. Conaway, was filed nearly three years ago by nine gay and lesbian couples and a widowed gay man. It sought relief from Maryland’s 1973 law that defines marriage as solely between a man and a woman. Every plaintiff contributed his or her own unique perspective as to how the current statute, which denies them the rights, benefits, responsibilities and obligations that are accorded to heterosexual couples, harms them and their families.

With Maryland now in the forefront of the same-sex marriage debate, this case is being watched closely by lgbt activists and opponents from all over the country. Thus far, only courts in Massachusetts and New Jersey have ruled favorably on same-sex marriage.

Each attorney presented arguments that lasted approximately 30 minutes in the courtroom that was jammed with 90 spectators. A component of the state’s appeal is that gays and lesbians are not a suspect class, meaning they are not as powerless as the plaintiffs allege and that the matters of marriage and state’s rights should be settled in the state’s General Assembly—not in the courts.

The state’s attorney Mr. Zarnoch as part of his argument to discredit the plaintiffs’ contention that they are of a suspect class had referred to Dan Furmansky, Executive Director of Equality Maryland, but not by name. He said, "We have a gay-rights activist who is incredibly successful with our General Assembly in terms of getting bills passed."

Choe argued that fundamental rights belong to all Maryland’s citizens and the Court should protect them. He maintained that denying gays and lesbians the right to marry is in violation of the state’s constitution and is discriminatory.

Surprisingly, very few questions were asked by the judges, who will now deliberate for an unspecified length of time. Some observers predict it may take at least five months. Lisa Polyak, who along with her partner Gita Deane, is a plaintiff in the case, said, "It’s been three years. We are grateful to reach this threshold."

Another plaintiff, Glen Dehn and his partner Charles Blackburn, felt confident in the arguments presented but could not predict the outcome. "I can’t read the judges," Dehn said. That cautious optimism was echoed by fellow plaintiff Patrick Wojahn and his partner David Kolesar.

Following the hour-long proceeding, about 50 supporters of the plaintiffs and others gathered outside the front of the Robert C. Murphy Courts of Appeals Building. Despite the high level of passion from both sides during the legal struggle and the extensive media coverage, the scene was surprisingly subdued and lacked the "circus" atmosphere that one would have expected. No heckling or vocal demonstrations by either side took place.

The supporters of the plaintiffs clearly outnumbered the opponents. They carried signs and stood behind Dan Furmansky as he addressed the media and other interested parties at a post-hearing press conference.

"They don't want the state of Maryland to redefine what a legal marriage means," said Furmansky, referring to the plaintiff couples in the case. "They want the state of Maryland to open up legal marriage to them and let them be a full part of their communities and this state."

He continued, "No Marylander should ever have to know what it's like to be denied a legal relationship to the person they have chosen to share their life with. No child should ever have to live with the insecurity of having two parents who are legal strangers… We ask our fellow Marylanders to walk a mile in our shoes, and then help us in your hearts to protect our children, help us live longer, help us be healthier, and help us know the stability and security of marriage."

Not everyone present was in agreement. Del. Donald H. Dwyer (R-Anne Arundel), arguably the most outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage in the legislature, predicted the ruling would be overturned. If not, he is prepared to push for a constitutional amendment to go before the General Assembly for a vote. He has already pre-filed a bill to resurrect his previously failed attempts in the legislature to ban same-sex marriage.

"I don’t believe this issue should be before the courts," Dwyer told Baltimore OUTloud. "It belongs in the legislature and even if it doesn’t pass, I would accept it as long as there is a vote." He denied with a straight face that he is homophobic and said he had been "painted that way." Of course, that flies in the face of his past inflammatory rhetoric on the floor of the House of Delegates and his homophobic comments on his website.

Dwyer is among many opponents who have used the Bible as a justification to discriminate against the lgbt community. An important group that has opposed same-sex marriage on those grounds is African-American clergy. "The black churches are not a monolith," said Dr. Alvin Williams during the press conference who with his partner Nigel Simon, are also plaintiffs in the case. "Not all are against same-sex marriage." He added, "Those that oppose same-sex marriage focus on the sin, which is contained in a brief biblical reference. But they fail to consider the rest of the Bible that speaks to love and human dignity."

Nonetheless, this case is about civil recognition of same-sex couples and is not an attempt to force religious sanctification of unions. The arguments presented before the Court by either side made no references to the religious aspects, but it is religion that fuels much of the opposition, which would likely ignite a strong backlash if the ruling is upheld.

At the conclusion of the press conference, Dan Furmansky told Outloud, "I am leaving the arguments really hopeful. The state is grasping at straws to justify the discrimination at hand. We have truth, case law and the amazing families representing us."

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Election Aftermath: What it means to Us

By Steve Charing

As you know, the electrifying Democratic nationwide election triumphs saw the takeover of both the House of Representatives and the Senate and the ouster of a popular but anti-gay governor here. But members of the lgbt community should not begin making wedding preparations just yet.

To be sure, these results have ushered in a new era of hope for the lgbt community, families and allies in that the Democratic victories will foster a better chance of moving towards the ultimate goal of equality—one that had evolved from merely tolerance and acceptance.

The Dems’ re-capturing the Senate and House of Representatives put on hold, at least for the next two years, the Karl Rove-driven gay-bashing politics that served the GOP so well in 2004. We no longer have to deal with such homophobes as Rick Santorum, John Hostetler and George Allen.

But the good news surrounding these ousters is tempered by the fact that their replacements, as well as newly elected conservative Democrats, are all opposed to same-sex marriage with some supporting a constitutional amendment. There will be a big push for the new Congress to avoid advocating a left-wing agenda that would include such third rail issues as "gay marriage" and gun control so that the party can be viewed as centrist heading into the 2008 presidential cycle.

The rebuke of Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi by the Democratic caucus by voting in Maryland Congressman Steny Hoyer to the majority leader post over Pelosi’s personal pick, Rep. John Murtha, signaled that the liberal Pelosi will not be able to run Congress from that direction.

On the other hand, with congressional committees being chaired by Democrats, no constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage will see the light of day. Instead, the transgender-inclusive Federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which has languished interminably in Congress, may actually move forward according to openly gay, re-elected representative Barney Frank (MA). Moreover, the issue of the military’s "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy may get some hearings on the effectiveness of the policy.

This election saw, for the first time ever, the voters in a state (Arizona) rejecting a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Unfortunately, seven other states passed such an amendment, but some of the margins were tighter than expected, revealing minute progress on that issue. In addition, several pro-lgbt governors were elected, such as Elliot Spitzer in New York, who outwardly supports same-sex marriage.

In Maryland, the victory for Martin O’Malley will return a more lgbt-supportive governor to Annapolis. He has been a constant visitor and speaker at Baltimore Gay Pride and has worked closely with the lgbt community. While he does not embrace same-sex marriage, he would oppose any statewide effort to pass a constitutional amendment that would ban it.

Mr. O’Malley has been fully behind lgbt causes since his days on the city council and as mayor, and he favored the addition of transgendered individuals to the city’s anti-discrimination law. He also supports other pro-lgbt measures, including domestic partner benefits for state employees.

Governor Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr., a staunch opponent of equal rights for same-sex couples, was never a governor with whom any headway towards equality could be realized. His veto of the hard-fought, fair-minded Medical Decision Making Act renewed suspicions that he was too cozy with the religious right.

"Gov. Ehrlich vetoed bills important to the lgbt community, and nothing else could have been accomplished without the capacity to override his vetoes," explained Dan Furmansky, Executive Director of Equality Maryland (http://www.equalitymaryland.org/), the state’s largest lgbt civil rights organization.

"Martin O'Malley, for the lgbt community, is synonymous with possibilities," Mr. Furmansky told Baltimore OUTloud. "We're very excited to have a leader like our Governor-elect who will work with us to take lgbt rights to a new level."

Ben Cardin’s win for the U.S, Senate over the anti-gay Michael Steele was significant. Mr. Cardin opposed the failed Federal Marriage Amendment and is against a similar constitutional amendment in Maryland. He is also a co-sponsor of the repeal of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell." As in the case of Governor-elect O’Malley, Mr. Cardin opposes same-sex marriage but supports some form of civil union arrangement.

Mr. Steele, by contrast, participated in an anti-gay rally in Annapolis and spoke disparagingly of same-sex marriage to religious leaders. There is nothing in his social conservative make-up to suggest he would have been an ally of the lgbt community. His defeat was welcome news to gay activists.
Locally, LGBT-supportive delegates in the General Assembly won their contests, including Liz Bobo (District 12B), Shane Pendergrass, Frank Turner and Guy Guzzone (District 13). Homophobe Rick Bowers (District 13) lost his bid for a seat in the House of Delegates. Jim Robey, who instituted domestic partner benefits for Howard County employees, unseated Sandra Schrader for Senator representing District 13.
Democrat David "Oz" Osmundson gave anti-gay Gail Bates and Warren Miller a feisty run for their money in District 9. Virulently homophobic Don Dwyer nearly lost his seat in Anne Arundel County as did another anti-gay zealot, Sen. Alex X. Mooney, in Frederick.

Several openly gay candidates won their elections to the General Assembly. Rich Madaleno will become the first ever openly gay senator in Maryland. Democrat delegates Maggie McIntosh, Heather Mizeur and Anne Kaiser were re-elected. Tim Quinn put up a good fight against two Republicans in the conservative Eastern Shore but fell short.

And Ken Ulman became the new Howard County Executive emphasizing" inclusion" and "diversity" in his acceptance speech on election night.

We anticipate the ruling by the Maryland Court of Appeals on the Deane and Polyak v. Conaway lawsuit next year and will be watchful of a potential backlash in the General Assembly. Once again, the lgbt community may have to play defense as the fear of "gay marriage" can cause even supportive politicians’ knees to buckle.

If this election taught us anything, governing from the center of the political spectrum, as opposed to lurching to the left or right, is key to a winning strategy. That is the way to keep swing and independent voters on your side. Accordingly, nothing in these results suggests any significant movement towards same-sex marriage down the road but some progress on other pro-lgbt issues is more possible today than it was on November 6.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Racial politics in the campaign: the big elephant in the room

By Steve Charing
Senior Political Analyst

In a rare Democratic sweep of national and local elections, the country voted on the Bush administration and Republican-led Congress and determined that enough was enough. With some contests still in dispute at deadline, it is clear the Democrats’ victories were stunning and a new direction will be in order. Throughout the campaign, however, one factor—an ugly one—emerged during several key contests. And that factor is race.

Whether the issue of race contributed to the eventual outcome in these elections will undoubtedly be a matter of speculation and analysis by pundits, the media and elected officials. But that element clearly played a significant role in these battles, which is mind boggling considering we are over four decades removed from major national civil rights laws passed in 1965.

Following that landmark legislation that had been initiated by President Kennedy and then stewarded by southerner President Johnson, many disaffected southern Democrats began to search for another home. These "Dixicrats," as they were dubbed, were significantly slower in supporting civil rights than their northern brethren. They began to find more comfort within the Republican Party and some of their segregationist leaders.

While it is true that other conservative issues, such as strong defense, smaller government and so-called family values, were factors in folks’ migrating to the Republican Party, the hushed-up matter of race cannot be understated. Racists and homophobes have found a sanctuary in the GOP. If you disagree, consider this: do you think the uproar over tough immigration reform, led by angry Republicans, would have been as intense if it were white Canadians sneaking over the U.S. border?

GOP operatives have also used race baiting as a means to attract votes—a phenomenon admitted to by Republican National Chairman Ken Mehlman for which he apologized on behalf of the party. They also use gay bashing for the same purpose, but don’t expect any apologies, even from Mehlman.

In 2006, race clearly was one of the most controversial topics in the battle for the U.S. Senate in both Tennessee and Virginia. A distasteful television ad late in the campaign—subsequently pulled—played on the prejudices of Tennessee’s white rural voters by suggesting that Rep. Harold Ford, an African-American Democrat, had no qualms about dating white women. Even if it were true, what this had to do with the competence of the candidate is beyond imagination. But this smear tactic exploited the racial divide for political gain. It worked, although it is still unclear how much of a role race played in the outcome.

In Virginia, not only did Senator Allen inflict damage to his campaign by being caught on camera referring to a dark-skinned Indian staffer of Jim Webb as "Maccaca," a racial slur of some sort, but he was also charged with using the "N" word during his time in college. He was also alleged to have participated in a disgusting racial prank. Throw in the obviously anti-Semitic remarks he made when it was disclosed his mother was Jewish, and one can see that this virulently anti-gay Senator clearly has problems with minorities. This backlash helped to sink Allen although the results may await a recount and other delays.

Here in Maryland, race was a factor as well. Governor Ehrlich sent racially coded messages in his effort to disparage Baltimore City that had been protested by Mayor Martin O’Malley. He also denounced the reliability of the state’s voting machines that may have suppressed votes in Baltimore and Prince George’s County.

A stronger than expected turnout of African-American voters, opposed to the Bush administration and the war in Iraq, would spell doom for Ehrlich. African-Americans supported O’Malley by over 4-1.

The battle between Rep. Ben Cardin and African-American Lt. Governor Michael Steele contained the most overt racial implications in Maryland. Not that there was anything racial said or done between the two candidates, but the issue of race hovered over the campaign like a drop cloth.

There were segments of the black community upset that Kweise Mfume lost to Ben Cardin in the primary and felt the Democrat "machine" was responsible. "I heard many black people voice disappointment and anger regarding the race for Senator," said Meredith Moise, of the National Black Justice Coalition. "Many feel that Mfume was dismissed and Cardin was crowned."

It is important to note that Mfume lost by only 19,000 votes statewide. If black turnout was greater, he could have won. But the African-American community, with their poor turnout, should not be held blameless, although some of it was attributable to snafus at several Baltimore’s polls.

A good number of African-Americans who endorsed Steele and voted for him did so simply because he is black. One needs to get beyond the color of skin when making electoral choices and also examine the policies with respect to the issues to determine if they would be beneficial. For example, Republicans like Steele staunchly oppose affirmative action and an increase to the minimum wage.

Ms. Moise noted that many blacks believed there was a lack of diversity in the candidates nominated for top state offices. But keep in mind that Anthony Brown should have been credited as a black Lt. Governor candidate no less than how Michael Steele was touted four years ago. Plus the Republicans have not fielded any African-Americans in the state legislature, so the diversity argument isn’t compelling.

Steele did, in fact, tap into black anger during his campaign. In doing so he chose to accept the politically dubious endorsements from two convicted felons—Don King and Mike Tyson—as well as a rap industry mogul Russell Simmons.

But it was not enough as African-Americans supported the victorious Cardin by 3 to 1. The war in Iraq and President Bush were the main issues for the electorate, and Cardin did an effective job of tying Steele to the administration.

The Ehrlich and Steele campaigns were accused of using poor black unemployed and homeless people from Philadelphia to hand out fake sample ballots in at least four Prince George’s County polling places in an attempt to dupe largely African-American voters into thinking that the candidates were Democrats. The flier also misled the voters by suggesting that several prominent black Democrats endorsed their elections whereby only one did.

"I think it's pretty low that Ehrlich and Steele would print up a fake ballot and bus in unemployed people and exploit them," said Martin O'Malley on the morning of the election as reported in the Washington Post. "It doesn't get much lower than that."

Race has always been and will be a force to be dealt with in elections. It is forever part of the political landscape. But how it is addressed during the election campaigns from both major parties will signal how far our society has progressed or not.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Perfect Storm for Democrats

It’s almost now or never for party to make big gains

By Steve Charing
Senior Political Analyst

Democratic candidates from around the country really didn’t have to do too much to either retain or win office in the upcoming November 7 election. The mighty GOP has made it as easy as when Watergate annihilated the Republicans in 1974.

That abysmal valley in our history was based on a single event, albeit a colossal one: the lying and cover-up by the Republican President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, and his inner circle over an initial minor criminal act. It was seen as yet another scandal in the two hundred-year history of the nation but one that profoundly threatened the people’s trust in the institutions of our government. The GOP lost over 50 seats in that election and Watergate clearly affected the outcome in the next presidential election in 1976.

Now, over 30 years later, the GOP is on the brink of a similar calamity. However, this time it is not centered on one scandal, but several scandals, plus an endless string of mishaps, ethics lapses, an increasingly unpopular war, mismanagement and general incompetence.
As much as the GOP sings the tune that all politics is local, this year it will be different. This election should and will be about the bumbling, broader Republican regime in Washington that controls all three branches of the Federal government.

The perfect storm has arrived for Democrats. You can start with the war in Iraq. That, alone, should be sufficient to oust the controlling party. Not only is this a war of choice and was initiated under false pretenses with no legitimate basis, but it has also been so poorly mismanaged that key politicians from the GOP as well as top military officers are urging a fresh new look as to how we can get out. But President Bush and a shrinking number of Republicans want to "stay the course" in deeds if not words. Only a third of the nation now supports the handling of the war and a majority view it as a mistake.

Besides the war, which has left us more vulnerable to terrorist attacks and saber rattling from rogue states, the GOP is responsible for other miscues. The pathetic, insensitive handling of hurricane Katrina jumps out. Then you have the plummeting approval ratings of the president; the record-breaking budget deficits; tax cuts to the wealthy; no progress on closing the health insurance gap; no energy, immigration or Social Security reform; anti-environmental policies; a denial of the existence of science; the inane interference in the Schiavo case; and a plunge of our standing in the world. Toss in the myriad other ethics scandals and you have a recipe for disaster.

Nonetheless, the gravy on the roast for the GOP was the Foley mess. For one, it exposed House Speaker Dennis Hastert as one who covered up a creepy sex scandal to retain the House seat for the GOP at the expense of a 16 year-old page. The other aspect of this is that the Christian conservative voting bloc, once said to be in lockstep with the preacher-in-chief, has been turned off by this cover-up and is now also aware that there are gays within the ranks of GOP leadership. Imagine that. "Those people" are working in the Republican hierarchy.

When you add to the mix the public revelations by David Kuo, former manager in the Department of Faith-based Initiatives (read: bribes to GOP-friendly ministers), that top White House staff mocked the Christian conservatives as a group and insulted individual ones (Pat Robertson is "insane," Jerry Falwell is "ridiculous") one can see why this bloc may not be as enthusiastic in this election as it was in 2004.

Also, the question of "gay marriage" will be on the ballots of eight states this time, but there is some hope among lgbt activists that some of these contests will be close and even a win among them is possible. Recent court rulings have mitigated the fear, at least temporarily, that same-sex marriage isn’t imminent and may also dull the conservative drumbeat.

Based on all these factors, unless the GOP again succeeds in stealing the election with their voting shenanigans, the Dems should take over the House, and it has a decent chance of re-capturing the Senate if the anti-Republican tide is full-blown.

In Maryland, the big races are for Senate where the experienced and dependable Rep. Ben Cardin should edge out the empty suit in Michael S. Steele. Steele has ducked any questions so far regarding the issues that matter and has dodged opportunities to debate. The main reasons are that he is too aligned to Bush’s policies and wants that damage contained, and also he lacks the depth of knowledge regarding the issues. Cardin would take him to school.

Steele opposes abortion and is anti-gay and would be a disaster in the Senate. He’s trying to trick na├»ve voters that he can "change Washington." As a freshman Senator? Good luck!
The gubernatorial race between the incumbent Bob Ehrlich and Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley will also go down to the wire. It is a great challenge to unseat an incumbent governor who lacks a scandal and where the state is not in disarray as it was four years ago. Nonetheless, the charismatic O’Malley, far friendlier to the lgbt community than Ehrlich will ever be, should ride the anti-GOP tide to unseat the dour and petulant Ehrlich.

All the ingredients are in place for a huge Democratic victory pending an "October surprise" or voting irregularities. If, with all these favorable conditions, they cannot capture at least one of the houses of Congress in this election, my feeling is that we will be stuck with one-party rule forever.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

All Republicans bear stain of failed policies of Bush

Letter Published in the Howard County Times--Nov.2, 2006

We hear all the time that all politics are local. I think that in this environment we can toss out that mantra in the same manner in which it was discarded in 1994. This election is and should be nationalized.

Despite the efforts of our local Republican candidates to run for cover when the name George Bush pops up, voters here in Howard County must consider the party from which these candidates are running. This election should be a referendum on the policies, ethics lapses and incompetence of the GOP, who control all three branches of the Federal government and the Governor's mansion.

Our local Republican candidates-for Governor, Senate, County Executive and those seeking seats on the council and in the General Assembly-must be examined through the lens of what the GOP has done to this country over the past 6 years. Regardless of the candidates' election run-up conversion to pseudo-independence, they are still Republicans. Most have been aided by funding from the vast Republican Party war chest to wage their campaigns.

And Michael Steele, in receiving huge cash inflows from fundraising efforts by Bush, Cheney and Rove and who was hand-picked by the national GOP to run, cannot cloak himself as a non-Republican. The voters are too intelligent for that scam.

The GOP, under the leadership of President Bush, supported a tragic war of choice in Iraq that had no foundation from the start and has been a disaster in its management. By committing such a large amount of our resources and manpower to this futile cause, we are rendered impotent in the wake of saber rattling from Iran and North Korea. Indeed, we are left more vulnerable by a party whose members try to falsely impress the electorate that they can protect us better.

So drunk with power are they, that it is becoming more evident that the top leader in Congress had allowed the Foley mess to continue despite early warnings simply to protect and retain Foley's Congressional seat. This is the party that has decimated the environment, denies the existence of science, given huge tax breaks to those who do not need them, mismanaged a natural disaster, increased the size of government with its inept and politically-charged Department of Homeland Security, failed to legitimately tackle Social Security and energy reform, fostered more terrorists, and saw our world standing-like Congress' and Mr. Bush's poll numbers-plummet.

But with all the challenges facing America and the world, the president and Congress saw fit to waste precious legislative time by obsessing over such life and death matters as flag burning and gay marriage.

Don't think for one minute that our local Republican candidates are insulated by this disgraceful period of governance by our national leaders. One such candidate, in a recent public forum, defended our policy in Iraq by asserting "we were attacked on 9/11." She still doesn't get it. The voters, even with these local contests, must examine the candidates in the context of our national failures that continue to mount.

Steve Charing

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Foley’s foibles stain GOP, gays

By Steve Charing
Senior Political Analyst

"Lurid." "Salacious." "Disgusting." "Despicable." "Perverted."

Those were the most common characterizations heard by innumerable outraged citizens across America in response to the content of suggestive and sexually explicit e-mail and instant messages that former Representative Mark Foley (R-FL) sent to a 16 year-old congressional page. But they could also be the same terminology that unfortunately so many use to associate with the lgbt community and its attendant "lifestyle."

This development and the way the GOP-led House of Representatives mishandled the original notification of the events have dealt the Republicans another blow. They were seen as "protecting the congressional seat, not the children." The fallout indicates the Republicans forfeited their lock on the so-called cultural values issue and dampened any remaining enthusiasm from religious conservatives for the upcoming mid-term election.

Some Republican supporters desperately reasoned that going after Foley sooner would have been seen as "gay bashing" or "politically incorrect." Spare me. All they do is trash gays to comply with their innate bigotry or to win votes.

As much as I was delighted to see another Republican misstep during an unprecedented period of errors, incompetence and pre-election free-fall, I fear the impact of this highly publicized episode will have on our efforts to achieve equality and on our community itself.

On the heels of defeats in the judiciary regarding same-sex marriage in Washington and New York (and now most recently in California) and several states poised to amend their constitutions to ban same-sex marriage, this scandal didn’t come at a good time. Indeed, it led to verbal attacks on the gay community by religious conservatives, reinforcing the animus that prevails throughout much of straight America.

The anti-gay fervor that was fanned by the Republicans in 2002 and most prominently in 2004 appeared to have quelled to a degree as the rulings from the recent court decisions generally tamped down the fear of "gay marriage." Moreover, some pro-gay progress was beginning to at least be viewed as a possibility. The repeal of the military’s odious "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy, for example, was gaining traction even among some Republicans.

But the old stereotypes re-surfaced with the breaking news of the Foley Folly. Traditionally homophobic Christian conservatives were quick to link pedophilia to the gay lifestyle. While these charges did have some resonance briefly, lgbt supporters had denounced them as statistically invalid and reprehensible for attacking an entire segment of the population for the misdeeds of one troubled closet case.

Gays have been blamed for the misdeeds in the Catholic Church, as well as such disasters as tsunamis and hurricanes. But in the Foley case, when efforts to pin any wrongdoing by the Republican administration or Congress on Bill Clinton or the liberal media failed, they turned to their other favorite scapegoats: gay people.

They denounced gay men as predatory. Well that is true to some extent. Young gays constantly complain in blogs and in chat rooms about the "old pervs" hassling them online or in clubs. But straight men and males of all species are sexual predators—males typically are the aggressors.
Our opponents, however, like to claim that we are all child molesters. But the Journal of the American Medical Association found that although 90 percent of pedophiles are men, 98 percent of those men are heterosexual. That doesn’t matter to these homophobes. Their mindset is that gays are perverts, and that’s the comfort zone of straight society.

We were set back in many ways by this scandal and the roaring voices raised by our opponents. In a letter written to Speaker Dennis Hastert, Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese wrote, "When extremists in your party go on national television and assert claims that a person's sexual orientation is responsible for immoral and inappropriate conduct, it sends a clear signal to the American people that they are more interested in pushing their anti-gay agenda than they are in holding our elected officials accountable."

As wrong as Foley was to use his position in Congress to harass and make unwanted sexual advances to vulnerable high school-age pages, there is little evidence that it constituted pedophilia. Even if he had sex with the page that launched this scandal, the age of consent in Washington D.C. is 16. But that is the legal matter; our community still has been tainted with Foley’s foibles.

The general anger was loud and clear and rightly so. But I question if the intensity of the reactions would have been comparable had the former Congressman sent similar e-mails to a female page. There would have been some outrage to be sure, but not to this extent. Man on boy sexuality is a huge taboo. That’s what angers the citizenry most.

As this scandal continues to unfold, the impact on the mid-term elections will not be known for certain until after November 7. Should the GOP lose control of both houses of Congress and the Foley affair is seen as the principal cause (Hello, forget Iraq?), they will really target gays more than ever, if that’s possible. And gay Republicans will particularly be in the crosshairs.

The fallout will also show that this affair impeded our ongoing attempts to convince the rest of America that we are mainstream like everyone else and deserving of equal benefits and rights. We will have yet another mountain to climb.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Falling gas prices won't bail out GOP

Letter Published in the Baltimore Sun--September 29, 2006

Columnist Victor Davis Hanson gleefully opines that the slight bump in President Bush's approval ratings, which is mainly tied to the reduction in the price of gasoline, will allow the Republican Party to sneak out wins in November as the Democrats stand pat ("The Republican tortoise is gaining on the Democratic hares," Opinion • Commentary, Sept. 22). He's whistling in the graveyard.

Unfortunately for Mr. Hanson and similar GOP optimists, this polling uptick, which is very minor, is not a trend.

When gas prices spiked, of course there was widespread discontent among the American people.
Anger was initially directed toward those in power - who are mostly Republican.

However, people grudgingly made adjustments and got used to the $3-plus-per-gallon prices, and the animosity dissipated to an extent.

The same thing will happen with the lower prices: early euphoria, to be sure, but, again, the initial "shock" will wear off.

And the gas price problem was only one of many concerns for the American people.
It was not the driving cause for the disaffection with the Republican-controlled White House, Congress and courts.

The issue that is in the forefront of people's minds now is one Mr. Hanson glossed over like it was no big deal: Iraq.

The voters will continue to see the war in Iraq as an abject failure - from its unjustified inception to the incompetent planning and execution in winning the peace.

The blame for this colossal travesty will be directed to the Republican president, vice president, secretary of defense and all the Republican leaders in the House of Representatives and the Senate for their support of this boondoggle, which has cost us thousands of lost and broken lives, depleted our treasury, created more enemies, diminished our standing in the world and left us weaker in the war on terror.

The few bucks a tankful the voters will save until the election will not make them forget about the war.

Steve Charing

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

An Open Letter to Clay Aiken

By Steve Charing

Dear Clay,

I want you to know that I am a fan of yours. I rooted like crazy for you on American Idol, voted for you numerous times, and felt you were screwed by the ultimate voting snafus. I thought your single "Invisible" was one of the best releases of the year.

You’re talented singer and a sweet guy. So what I’m about to tell you is, I believe, for your own good, improve your chances at happiness, and will help you in your future career.

Clay, come out of the closet already!

Your defensive denials and evasion especially during your interview with and Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America made you look like you were squirming and, therefore, dishonest. Saying that coming out "doesn’t make sense" is wrong. It makes perfectly good sense, as I will explain.

Until you come out, you have to expect questions by media folks to whom you agreed to talk as you ostensibly promote your new album, "A Thousand Different Ways." Your reticence smacked of Ricky Martin when confronted with the same questions. Have you noticed which direction his career has gone?

Give your fans some credit. Do you truly believe that girls fantasize about marrying you and that’s the only reason they buy your CD’s and concert tickets?

People are far more accepting nowadays than when Liberace built his lucrative career by luring middle-aged women to his shows. Back then he could not come out and maintain his popularity, although most suspected his feminine antics were tied to being a homosexual. And Luther Vandross didn’t want to divulge his being gay lest he, too, lose his female fan base.

On the other hand, Elton John punched the rumors square in the mouth when he came out and proudly at that, although his initial claim of being bisexual was plain silly. He continued his fabulous run, on the path to superstardom without a hitch. He’s totally liberated by his self-acceptance and is still prancing down the yellow brick road, laughing all the way to the bank. And Melissa, Ellen and Rosie are also doing quite well since coming out.

As you know, Lance Bass came out only after being outed by "Page 6" of the New York Post. He was sighted in a very public, well-known gay bar in Provincetown. He basically had no choice but to admit it. Nonetheless, he seems so relaxed with himself. He also had a large female fan base and doesn’t seem concerned about it. Lance says he’s received a ton of support and has projects lined up for a busy year and beyond.

People appreciate honesty, so I will be honest with you. I hate stereotypes as much as anyone does, but you are not exactly "straight-acting"—another term I loathe. So many already believe you’re gay. Disclosures about you on the Net abound. You even have been dubbed "Gayken" all over the blogosphere. Clay, you need to come to terms with this and not duck the issue.

Sure, it’s no one’s right to invade your privacy. I think it’s odious, too. But remember you’re a public celebrity. The rules change for the likes of you. The public pays you to perform; you have to accept the attendant scrutiny. It’s not perfect, but it’s a fact of life. You can’t eliminate it with your incredulous denials and evasive banter.

What’s your downside for coming out? You lose a few teenage girls among your "Claymates" who still have delusional fantasies about you? So what? You don’t have much of a male fan base either. Mothers and grandmothers already adore you and will. Fans—young and old—will respect you more for your candor. How will they love you if you don’t love yourself?

I understand how you believe that your coming out would hurt your Mom. If she needs any comforting by others who have children who are gay, I’m sure there is a PFLAG chapter near her home. You should check out www.pflag.org to find that chapter. You’re still the same son she loves so much. Nothing has changed except the shackles from your self-imprisonment will have been cut off.

Over time your coming out will all be forgotten—a thing of the past. You still have talent and charm. That’s your key to success. You can widen your appeal by doing good things for the lgbt community. You can be an activist and a role model—unlike Lance.

Helping fundraising efforts for lgbt causes would be a good first step. Assist on voter registration drives. Be a Grand Marshall in a gay pride parade. Lend your hand to HIV/AIDS awareness. Help kids come to terms with their sexuality.

Come out in time for National Coming Out Day October 11. What a great message that would send! Be visible—not "invisible."

You’d be aiding a segment of the population who is oppressed by straight society—the same oppression and homophobia that is compelling you to hide behind a tortured facade which makes you reluctant to admit your true being. Do it for all of us who have to watch you painfully skirt the questions. But most importantly, do it for you.

Next letter, I will talk to you about your new "do."

Keep in touch.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

On to November

Though few Democrats outwardly support marriage equality, they give the lgbt community the best chance for progress

By Steve Charing
Senior Political Analyst

Now that the primaries are over, which locally was highlighted by the defeat of William Donald Schaefer for Comptroller and the mixed results for the openly lgbt candidates, we must look towards November.

On the national front, the stage is now set for at least a partial recovery for our nation from the incompetence, arrogance and greed of the Republican Party. The Democrats are seeing their best opportunity in 12 years of regaining control of the House of Representatives and even a slim shot at re-taking the Senate.

President Bush’s considerable unpopularity, the war in Iraq, Katrina, energy and utility prices, the sluggish economy, deficits, wage stagnation, health care concerns, ethics violations, international standing, and a myriad other shortcomings, one might think the election would be a "gimmee" for the Dems.

The GOP will also cling to its proven mantra that they are better equipped to handle terrorism and national security. But lest we forget, the attacks on 9/11 occurred on Bush’s watch after disregarding high-level warnings about terrorists who are planning to use planes in their next operation.

Our irrational folly in Iraq has stretched our armed forces and budget so thin that we cannot deal with the real threats of Iran and North Korea. Moreover, the administration has failed to implement several key recommendations from the 9/11 Commission report. So how are we more secure?

But don’t overlook the GOP fear and smear machine that will spew venomous negative ads intended to pick apart and pulverize each Democratic candidate while exploiting, as you have seen, the tragedy of 9/11 for political gain.

For the gay community, the general elections on November 7 will be of most importance. Although lgbt-related issues are not high on the list of voters’ priorities, it is vital that we elect gay-friendly candidates. Yes, Democrats have not always been reliable and outspoken on pro-lgbt issues, but the GOP has been a major impediment to progress.

And that’s putting it mildly.

During the 2004 election cycle, gay-hater-in-charge, Karl Rove fueled anti-gay sentiment among the numerous bigots who align themselves with the Republican Party in scaring the public about the threat of "gay marriage" to society. He and his troops used this combustible issue to mobilize anti-gay religious conservatives to ensure passage of nearly a dozen state constitutions to ban same-sex marriage. And it worked.

When the Federal Marriage Amendment backed by President Bush came before both houses in Congress the past two years, most Republicans supported it. Although it was killed before it came to a vote, that’s not encouraging; the GOP lawmakers are clearly not on our side.

A Democratic-controlled House and/or Senate could produce some pro-lgbt legislation, such as repeal of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" and enacting the Federal Employment Discrimination Act, even if they are long shots. With the GOP in power, there is zero chance of passage. Therefore, it is in the best interests of the lgbt community to consider voting for Democrats in Congressional races in November. A small chance is better than none.

Locally, we expect a no-holds-barred slugfest for U.S. Senate and Governor. Both are expected to be closely contested.

In the Ben Cardin vs. Michael Steele duel, it is essential that Maryland retains its Democratic seat in the Senate for the reasons stated above. Ben Cardin, while not a classic advocate of gay rights, still maintained a 77 rating out of 100 from the Human Rights Campaign during the last Congress. He is not supportive of same-sex marriage, but favors civil unions.

However, Steele is anti-gay, among other deficiencies, and would thwart any potential pro-lgbt legislation in Congress. He participated in a rally against same-sex marriage and made other derogatory anti-gay statements. We must not let him win.

The race for governor will be even more rough and ugly, and it has been brewing for four years.
Mayor O’Malley is not an proponent of same-sex marriage but would oppose an effort to pass a constitutional amendment that would ban it. He has been fully supportive of lgbt causes since his days on the city council and as mayor, and he favored the addition of transgendered individuals to the city’s anti-discrimination law. Furthermore, he has become a regular speaker at Pride, where except for one appearance by Kurt Schmoke, no other Baltimore mayor had. He also was a guest speaker at last fall’s Equality Maryland’s Jazz Brunch.

Governor Ehrlich has always tilted towards anti-gay ever since his terms in the House of Delegates and in Congress. He considers advancements in gay rights as "special rights," though there were some gay members in his inner circle. As far as I know, he has never met with the Log Cabin Republicans on an official basis.

Ehrlich strongly opposes "gay marriage" and would not allow it on his "watch." Ehrlich vetoed the Medical-Decision-making Act in 2005 but went along with a revised version this past legislative session.

On the other hand, Ehrlich signed into law hate crimes legislation to help protect gays and lesbians, fired a transportation board appointee for making anti-gay remarks on a radio station, and appointed an openly gay judge. I believe these last two actions were done to burnish his moderate credentials as he entered his re-election phase of his seemingly ongoing campaign.

This upcoming election in Maryland is critical for gays as a potential backlash from the Appeals Court ruling on the marriage lawsuit could come down this winter. We will need friends in the Governor’s mansion as well as the legislature to prevent a constitutional amendment.

Nationally Democrats should be motivated to try to take back the government and change the direction of America. Republicans will also be motivated to prevent the Democrats from recapturing the government and relinquishing the power they thrive on. That’s the battle come November.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Homophobia, bigotry motivate same-sex marriage opponents

Letter Published in the Washington Blade--September 8, 2006

Sadly, I agree with Jeff Gannon's conclusion that same-sex marriage will not come to fruition for many years to come ("Gay marriage is a lost cause," September 1). However, he blithely dismissed the homophobia among religious conservatives and their allies as a reason for its demise.

Religious extremists always pointed to the Bible as a sanctuary to support their bigotry, whether it be directed against blacks, women or gays. They cheerily highlight scripture in Leviticus but conveniently dismiss the myriad other "sins" contained therein.

These homophobes insist that marriage is all about procreation but have not pushed to invalidate the marriage licenses of older couples who cannot bear children or other couples who do not want them.

They maintain the one-man, one woman model existed since the beginning of time but ignore the fact that in the Old Testament, Abraham and others typically had five wives.

They insist on making the debate about religion when same-sex marriage advocates were merely seeking civil recognition and the legal benefits, rights and responsibilities that would accrue.

The failure of this effort is more attributable to allowing the religious right to frame the debate on their terms, the intimidation of judges by the extremists, and the squeamishness of elected officials than to the rise of a conservative ideology.

Steve Charing

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Upcoming Primaries: A Way to Get Our Voices Heard

By Steve Charing
Senior Political Analyst

Rich Madaleno, an openly gay state Delegate (Montgomery County) now running for state Senate, told the Washington Blade, "I’m surprised [by] the number of gay people whose doors I knock on. I introduce myself as ‘The gay guy who’s been representing you for the last four years,’ and they’re like, ‘Really? Wow.’"

That is a sad commentary on the lack of interest in politics by a large segment of the lgbt community (as well as much of the general population). Too many are happy in their comfort zone of apathy and just enjoying their own little world. Madaleno’s "surprise" at the reaction of his gay constituents is, by itself, a revelation; he should have been more aware of the widespread apathy—an ongoing impediment to activism.

But for those of us who seek to make things better, if not for ourselves, but for the younger generation of lgbt people, engagement in the political process is key. And the upcoming primary elections on September 12 will afford us a good opportunity to make our voices heard.

Not only is it important to participate as a civic duty and to try to improve the plight of lgbt folks, but this year will feature as many as eight openly lgbt candidates for the Maryland General Assembly. Electing individuals friendly to our cause as well as their being strong on other weighty issues is vital to our drive for equality.

This 2006 election year brings significant statewide and local races. The primaries serve to winnow out candidates of the same party to determine who will be bumping heads in the general elections in November. Often, these primary elections feature multiple candidates from an individual party whose differences on policy may be scant or nuanced. Usually at the end, it boils down to personal popularity, name recognition, electability, likability and other factors.

For example, the race for the oddly shaped 3rd Congressional District—a seat vacated by Ben Cardin who is running for U.S. Senate—is distinguished by an unusually crowded pool competing from both parties. But the Democrats are fielding an excellent group led by Paula Hollinger, John Sarbanes, Andy Barth and Dr. Peter Bielenson.

The top job in Maryland—Governor—will not be battled out in the primaries, as neither candidate, Democrat Mayor Martin O’Malley nor Republican Governor Robert Ehrlich, Jr., faces any opposition from within their own ranks.

The outcome in the General Assembly is vital to maintain if not an absolute pro-lgbt posture, at least one that prevents a hostile environment for pro-lgbt causes, such as marriage equality, adoptions and partnership benefits. The record clearly shows that lgbt causes fair better with Democrats than Republicans, but not all Democrats have been on our side or helpful. Hardly any Republicans are, however.

One needs to pay attention to the candidates’ record and positions. As a guide, check out Equality Maryland’s website at www.EqualityMaryland.org for their endorsements at the state level.

The Senate contest to fill retiring Democratic Senator Paul Sarbanes’ seat is going to be one that is closely watched nationally. Indeed, NBC’s Meet the Press will be televising a debate between the two emerging rivals on October 29. Maryland, a "blue state" must retain the Democratic Senate seat, or any hopes of recapturing the Senate will be dashed.

Why is that important? If the Democrats wrest control of either the Senate or House of Representatives or both, they will be in a position to determine what legislation makes it to the floor for votes. They will also control committees, which influences legislation.

That will virtually guarantee that a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage, for example, will never see the light of day under Democratic leadership. Moreover, progressive pro-lgbt bills like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and repeal of the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" military travesty have a better chance of advancing in a Democrat-controlled Congress.

While several Senate candidates with solid pro-gay stances are competing in the primaries, Kweisi Mfume and Rep. Benjamin Cardin are the presumed frontrunners to face Lt. Governor Michael S. Steele in November.

Mr. Mfume has pledged to oppose any attempts to amending the U.S. or Maryland Constitution that would restrict marriage to a man and a woman. Rep. Ben Cardin, while not overtly supporting same-sex marriage, still has a rather high pro-gay score of 77 during the 108th Congress as assessed by the Human Rights Campaign—the nation’s largest lgbt advocacy group.
Although some gays prefer Mfume because he would seem like a more actively supportive advocate in Congress, others see Cardin as the best chance to defeat the anti-gay Michael Steele head-to-head.

The primary elections will also feature contests for state Comptroller, Attorney General, all Congressional seats, the entire General Assembly, local judges, boards of education, sheriffs, etc.
To be sure, gay issues are under the radar in Maryland this election cycle as other matters have a higher priority for voters. Nonetheless, the Maryland Appeals Court will eventually hand down its decision on the Deane and Polyak v. Conaway lawsuit that has challenged the constitutionality of the state’s marriage laws.

A Baltimore Circuit Court judge ruled favorably for the plaintiffs. If the Appeals Court upholds the ruling, we can expect a backlash from conservative lawmakers and a constitutional amendment restricting marriage to one man and one woman will undoubtedly be sought. That is a compelling reason to participate in both the primary and general elections to ensure that lgbt or lgbt-friendly officials are elected.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Military Ban Must be Repealed

The homophobic ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy has been an abject failure: it doesn’t work, and it compromises national security

By Steve Charing
Senior Political Analyst

While the push for same-sex marriage has taken center stage in the lgbt community’s fight for equality, a slightly less controversial effort to repeal the Pentagon’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ (DADT) policy has been gaining traction.

Indeed, The Military Readiness Enhancement Act (H.R. 1059), introduced in March 2005 by Congressman Marty Meehan (D-MA) now has about 120 supporters, including 5 Republican legislators. "When this issue comes up, members who believe that gays shouldn't be in the military are now more hesitant to voice their opinion," Maryland Republican Congressman Wayne Gilchrest, a Vietnam War veteran, recently told the Washington Post. "Many of us who feel the other way have come out of the closet, so to speak."

Moreover, recent polling suggests that 80 percent of the American public support gays and lesbians serving openly in the military.

This insidious policy, implemented in 1993 as a compromise law between President Clinton’s intended executive order to lift the ban on gays and lesbians in the military and Congress’ desire to maintain the status quo with the strong backing of the military’s brass, has been a dismal calamity and needs to be overturned.

In essence, lgbt members of the armed forces may serve just so long as the person does not admit to being gay, discuss it with anybody in the service, engage in a sexual activity or appear in gay establishments. In other words, lgbt military personnel cannot act on their orientation and must keep it a secret.

For their part the military is supposedly not permitted to ask if the person is gay at the time of enlistment or pursue information about the sexual orientation of a servicemember. And there is not supposed to be harassment targeting these individuals.

Under the rules prior to DADT, military personnel were totally forbidden to serve if they were gay. As a result, many thousands of capable men and women were drummed out of the military for being gay frequently following witchhunts.

The current policy has seen little improvement over the prior ghastly regulations. A University of California study concluded that the Department of Defense has discharged more than 11,000 servicemembers since 1993 under DADT at a cost of $363 million. According to the Government Accountability Office, more than 800 of those service members were trained in skills deemed ‘mission-critical’ by the Pentagon. And others discharged included much-needed Arabic linguists—crucial personnel in the war on terrorism.

The rationale for barring lgbt people from the military was that it would compromise unit cohesion. But as Dr. Galen Grant, a retired Army Captain and licensed clinical psychologist and now a representative of the Military Community Services Network said, "The DADT policy has the opposite effect on unit cohesion. If you cannot talk to someone about your sexual orientation, how can you trust that person in battle?"

The resistance stems more from the institutionalized homophobia within the military (e.g. perpetuating the irrational fear of straight soldiers being accosted by gay men in the showers) than by individual servicemembers themselves. Yet, DADT has created a pervasive unsafe environment for lgbt service personnel. Several beatings and murders of servicemembers have taken place since the onset of the policy for being perceived as gay.

Other civilized countries do not seem to have the same hang-ups as the U.S. Over 24 industrial nations (including Great Britain, France, Australia, the Czech Republic, Italy, Canada, Germany and Israel) allow open service, and 13 have battled along side the U.S. in Afghanistan and Iraq without any gay-related problems.

People choose to serve in the Armed Forces for myriad reasons. Most are patriotic, or want to continue a family tradition and/or they may find military service to be a path towards obtaining an education or establishing a career where they may not otherwise have the opportunity. Many seek upward mobility from their current economic situation. Those in the lgbt community who sign up believe they can handle the DADT policy and continue to serve.

It’s not that easy.

Merely discussing one’s sexual orientation with another servicemember could lead to a discharge process though the level of enforcement varies with each commanding officer. And, of course, enjoying a same-sex relationship can be perilous if found out. Even corresponding with gay people out of the service could be grounds for suspicion and investigation.

Other servicemembers, gay and straight, have attempted to use DADT to deliberately get discharged to avoid deployment to Iraq. It seems that being blown up from roadside bombs in Baghdad is not appealing. Typically, military commanders disallow that tactic; they ship the soldiers off to Iraq, and if and when they return from the tour, the discharge process is then initiated after they served their country in combat. Nice.

Until there is a repeal of DADT, being kicked out is not the only problem facing lgbt servicemembers. They lack the same care and support as other servicemembers receive. Returning gay servicemembers from combat in Afghanistan and Iraq risk disclosure of their sexual orientation by participating in post-deployment peer counseling or other mental health programs offered by the military.

Recognizing these and other inequities, the aforementioned Military Community Services Network (www.mcsn.org) was formed in 2004. The Arlington-based organization is attempting to fill a void for gay servicemembers and veterans as well as their partners and families by providing a wide range of services from mental health services and peer counseling to financial and childcare related assistance. These services cannot otherwise be obtained lest the active members violate DADT.

One of MCSN’s goals is to educate the public about DADT and its impact on the lgbt community. In addition it gives training to other supportive organizations (representatives recently visited PFLAG-Howard County) as well as offering lgbt military sensitivity and peer mentor training.
While MCSN provides social and economic services, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (
www.sldn.org) offers legal services, especially to those servicemembers contesting discharges under DADT.

These organizations would like nothing better than to go out of business because of the repeal of the DADT policy. Our country has lost the talents and skills of thousands of patriotic Americans for simply being who they are.

Congress must be pressured to act to repeal this grotesque policy. Straight veterans who knew of lgbt servicemembers need to step forward and argue that no problems surfaced because their colleagues were gay.

The country did not collapse when it integrated African-Americans and women into the armed forces; it was better for it. It is time the U.S. military joins the other civilized nations in the 21st century and drop the homophobia if for nothing else, national security.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Understanding the gay marriage debacle

Same-sex marriage efforts have taken a big hit. What went wrong, and what can be done about it

by Steve Charing
Senior Political Analyst

The recent spate of unfavorable court decisions concerning the drive to achieve marriage equality for same-sex couples seemingly has thrown a wet blanket over the movement. Discouraging rulings particularly in New York and Washington—both states with liberal leanings—makes some wonder if same-sex marriage will ever exist anywhere in the U.S. except for Massachusetts (and that’s not a sure thing anymore).

Activists were hoping that the judicial branch would provide relief where the legislative and executive branches have failed us so far. But with these recent decisions in a half dozen states, same-sex marriage advocates must re-group and re-think their strategy.

Despite the fact there has been a favorable trend in recent years towards acceptance of gays by the general population, it is becoming clear why same-sex marriage did not gain the necessary momentum for widespread legalization. Here are some of the reasons:

The issue jumped out in front of the education. When the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in February 2004 that the state’s constitution illegally discriminated against gays and lesbians by denying them marriage, the question of gay marriage was thrust into the spotlight. Before pro-marriage individuals and organizations could mobilize, opponents went on the offense and successfully framed the debate as "protecting marriage from activist judges." Marriage was a lightening rod, and the opposition was determined to make a stand.

This strategy gained traction during the 2004 presidential campaign, and constitutional amendments were placed on the ballots of 11 states to ensure that "activist judges" don’t do to their states what they did to Massachusetts. All won.

To educate the public and mitigate their reflexive opposition, same-sex marriage proponents have failed to convince the general population that marriage was more threatened by heterosexuals with their 50 percent divorce rate, adultery, children born out-of wedlock, etc. than by what gays and lesbians could ever do.

They have not sold the public that the objective was civil marriage—marriage that can be performed in city halls or by town clerks—and they were not imposing marriage rituals on religious institutions.

They have not persuaded the country that same-sex marriage was legitimate on the grounds of equality and fairness—key principles in the founding of our nation. Over 1,100 rights and benefits are being denied gay couples and families simply for being who they are.

Same-sex marriage advocates have not acceptably discredited the myth that the "one man, one woman" concept existed since the beginning of time and instead point out that the institution of marriage evolved over centuries. They failed to successfully expose those in the religious right of cherry picking biblical passages to suit their homophobic needs while they blatantly ignore or dismiss a host of other "sins" contained in Scripture.

They also haven’t sufficiently argued that marriage is not about procreation—it’s about commitment. Tens of thousands of legally married couples choose not to have children or they cannot have them. Yet their marriage licenses remain valid.

We don’t have the numbers. The lgbt community is, in fact, a tiny minority within the U.S. population. While many gay activists claim we represent 10 per cent, we’d be lucky if the actual total amounts to half of that. Moreover, the number of lgbt people engaged in the debate is even smaller. Many gays and lesbians have not been motivated to be active on this issue because: 1) they don’t see themselves as ever being in a long-term relationship; 2) those that are in such a relationship don’t care to change the status quo; 3) a large segment of the community opposes marriage and favors lesser victories, such as civil unions; or 4) they are simply indifferent on the issue or apathetic in general.

Without a significant number of supporters butting heads against a highly energized, vocal opposition, it is easy to understand why state legislators and even governors can safely oppose any drive towards same-sex marriage. It’s all about the votes and getting elected. The numbers aren’t there for us yet. We have to exceed the 50 percent threshold of pro-same-sex marriage sentiment for elected officials to take us seriously.

Judges appear to be intimidated. The judges, especially in New York and Washington states, should have ruled favorably for the plaintiffs based on, if nothing else, equal protection. However, they used tortured, bizarre rationales to strike down the lawsuits, such as procreation and protecting the welfare of children as well as citing public opinion polls on the issue. It is becoming obvious that the "activist judges" mantra is affecting their decisions for the sake of retaining power and not doing what is normally considered right.

"The way most judges see it, though they won’t ever say it, there is no point to ‘doing the right thing’ if their decision faces a veto from the people in the form of a constitutional amendment," wrote Chris Crain, executive editor of the Washington Blade. "Not only is it pointless to risk prestige and rule one way, only to see it reversed by amendment, but their authority to rule on countless other issues, including other civil rights cases and even gay rights cases, has been irreversibly undermined."

With state after state codifying their constitutions to ban same-sex couples from marrying, the momentum for a Massachusetts-style breakthrough has been thwarted at this point. We still expect an imminent decision from New Jersey, which could end this bad streak, and the case before the Maryland Court of Appeals will be heard around December. Without a favorable ruling from at least one of these states, the push for same-sex marriage will sink deeper.

What needs to be done? As Dan Furmansky, executive director of Equality Maryland, pointed out to Baltimore OUTloud, "While we're all discouraged because of the decisions out of New York and Washington State, our social justice movement must look forward and continue our work in the judiciary, in the legislature, and in our communities."

Any such movement requires strong, enthusiastic and convincing supporters. Reaching out beyond the lgbt community and forming coalitions is crucial in getting our numbers up. Politicians tend to vote to maintain their seats. Few will buck their constituencies to do what their inner conscience tells them. Therefore, getting more allies on our side is key.

A significant group is the African-American community, whose homophobic conservative ministers have hurt the cause. They should be reminded of the pro-gay stances of Coretta Scott King, Julian Bond, Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton for example. They should also be reminded of the strong role the lgbt community played in helping to achieve civil rights for African-Americans.

As important as reaching out is, motivating our own community is also critical. If being attacked as second-class citizens doesn’t resonate, then I don’t know what will. We need to eradicate the prevailing political apathy within the community.

Get the lgbt youth to join the fight; they’re our future. Many of these young people don’t think there should be a controversy at all. Says Dan McCarthy, a PFLAG Dad from Columbia, "It gives me great solace to hear [the younger generation] talk and see them interact because it is very clear that when their generation comes to power, they will absolutely crush this discrimination against gays and lesbians and they will poke fun at us for ever debating it."

Another step is to elect gay and gay-friendly candidates and to work hard and contribute to their campaigns. Filling the state houses and governors’ mansions with allies will be a major step towards achieving equality.

This will be accomplished by educating the public on the flaws of the opposition’s arguments and the merits of our own, as outlined earlier. Separate religion from the issue as much as possible by stressing civil recognition over the religious one. Demonstrate that the children of gay couples are being victimized by homophobic politicians and judges.

Emphasize the traditional doctrine of fairness and point out how the country grew up and witnessed interracial marriages without the feared collapse of society. Criticize the religious right as homophobic bigots, which most are. Frame the issue as a civil rights matter despite what some in the African-American community contend.

And most importantly, convince the general population that gay people are a legitimate minority, that our orientation is not a choice, and that we should not be defined by perceptions and stereotypes. This is the root cause of all the discrimination against the lgbt community.

The outlook may not be that bleak. In looking at the broader picture there are other issues in which the lgbt community is realizing gains. The repeal of the widely criticized "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy for one is gaining momentum. Other states and jurisdictions are extending protections for lgbt people. Corporations and universities are doing the same. Domestic partnership benefits are proliferating.

But like any other major civil rights initiative, the quest for same-sex marriage will take time, patience and lots of effort. "Every year we are seeing that the country is on a clear trajectory towards equality as more and more Americans understand that same-sex couples and their children deserve to be treated equally under our nation's Constitution, nothing more and nothing less," Brad Luna, spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, told OUTloud.

"Acceptance and progress won't happen overnight; it happens in small and big steps with setbacks along the way and the recent court rulings have been a speed bump along the road towards equality."

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Marriage rulings may not be welcome news to GOP either

By Steve Charing
Senior Political Analyst
Same-sex marriage proponents suffered a major setback when the New York State Court of Appeals ruled that the state constitution does not provide a legal basis for members of the same sex to marry. The bizarre, almost illogical, rationale for the 4-2 majority decision made it even more frustrating.

"The Court's archaic reasoning is rooted in ignorance and completely contradicted by the facts of today," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese in a statement. "The Court threw the expert advice of child welfare professionals and years of scientific evidence out the window with its ruling against fairness." The HRC is the largest lgbt civil rights organization in the U.S.

Court of Appeals Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye dissented on the ruling and wrote, "I am confident that future generations will look back on [this] decision as an unfortunate misstep."

At the same time, a Georgia court upheld its ban on same-sex marriages. The Georgia decision was not unexpected; to a larger degree, the New Your one was. Recent polls have shown that a majority of New Yorkers favor marriage rights for same-sex couples. The New York decision allows for the legislature to consider changing the existing law.
More recently, there were similar setbacks in Connecticut, Tennessee and Nebraska that stymied the pro-same-sex marriage movement.

These defeats prevented, at least temporarily, an opportunity to turn the corner, move forward, and establish a venue in addition to Massachusetts as a place where gays and lesbians can legally marry. Moreover, the rulings could embolden other judges to make similar decisions on pending cases. In Maryland, the Deane and Polyak v. Conaway lawsuit is headed to an appeals court to determine if the ruling by a lower court that found the state’s marriage law is discriminatory should be upheld or tossed out.

Yet as bad as these court outcomes are for the lgbt community, the Republican Party may not be whooping it up either. Sure, they got their way: the drive for the legalization of same-sex marriage hit a major speed bump. Innate homophobia that defines the religious conservative-dominated GOP drives the anti-gay sentiment.

During the 2004 election cycle following the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in the Bay State, the Republicans under Karl Rove used the fear of "gay marriage" as a rallying point to dredge up and motivate otherwise apathetic religious conservatives (read: bigots) to head to the voting booths.

Republicans were successful in positioning the issue of gay marriage on the ballots of 11 states so that the people would decide its fate, not "activist judges," whom were demonized by Rove, Bush and their loyal minions. Many political observers credit this fear tactic as persuading a sufficient number of Catholics, African-Americans and evangelical Christians to vote and may have had a crucial impact in such battleground states as Ohio.

The 2006 elections, of course, do not involve a run for the presidency. But all of the members of the House of Representatives and one-third of the U. S. Senate are up for re-election. Then you have the Governors races (including Maryland) and state legislatures that are up for grabs.

The Republicans are hurting. They are beset by the low approval ratings for President Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress, the war in Iraq and other international hot spots, the economy and its burgeoning deficits, oil prices, myriad scandals and ethics issues (including the military), environmental concerns, healthcare, immigration reform, our standing in the world community, and a gaggle of other issues important to the American people.

Furthermore, Congress has been widely criticized in the media for wasting time on such peripheral issues as gay marriage, flag burning and protecting the words under God in the Pledge of Allegiance rather than tackling the more important matters.

As a result of the recent court rulings that have impeded the drive for same-sex marriage, the GOP cannot assail "activist judges" who are undermining the so-called institution of marriage. They cannot legitimately argue that unless Republicans are elected, these judges will go wild on American values.

The scare tactics used in the past may not hold water this time around although several more states will have the ant-gay marriage amendments on their ballots. The recent court decisions, while discouraging to lgbt activists, may have quelled temporarily the urgency created by the fabrication that society is collapsing because of actions taken by Massachusetts-type judges. Accordingly, the New York and Georgia decisions may douse the right-wing crazies’ "enthusiasm" come November.

What matters most is that the GOP record is out there to be judged, and without the use of fear, they are in trouble.