Tag Archives: equality

What’s government for?

In the simplest terms, our country was founded on an idea that every person has a right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  This was derived from John Locke’s similar belief in “life, liberty, and property.”  It is the government’s duty to protect these rights.   Police protect our lives and property domestically, and the armed forces protect us from foreign threats.  But the government is so much more that just police and military.  Forming and living in societies has allowed us to move away from hunting and gathering and subsistence agriculture.  By division of labor, we’re able to specialize in a trade, send our young to schools, and have more leisure time.  Currency developed to make transactions simpler (What you don’t want my chickens?)  Government has grown to regulate agriculture, balance the rights of laborers and corporations, preserve our natural resources, monitor food and drug safety, provide a social safety net, and on and on.

Today, among recession, unemployment, skyrocketing health care and education costs, multiple foreign wars, growing support for LGBT equality, and many other issues, we’ve seen the rise of the Tea Party.  Now, I used to be an objectivist/Libertarian.  I thought “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged” were brilliant.  But those books showcase an unrealistic utopia.  No one had a sub par education because they were born in the wrong neighborhood, there wasn’t a stay at home mom left with nothing when her husband decided to abandon his family, mental illness didn’t exist.  The Tea Party wants to cut government spending so they can have lower taxes.  Too bad for you if you don’t have insurance or want to marry your same-sex partner.  The Tea Party supports a strict adherance to the Constitution, nevermind that the preamble specifically says to “promote the general Welfare.”  Our country wasn’t founded to create millionaires or laud people who were lucky enough to be born into healthy, wealthy, intelligent families.  America is for everyone.

If you’ve ever played a sport or were part of any type of team, you’ve probably heard the saying that a group is “only as strong as the weakest link.”  If our country is a team, the homeless, unemployed, ill, etc are our weakest links.  We cannot progress as a whole and leave these less fortunate behind.  Our country supports public education because an educated populace is important for a functioning democracy, our economy needs trained workers, and academically engaged children are less likely to become teen parents or criminals.  I think this rationale extends to other government-run social welfare programs.  We cannot expect people to be good citizens when their basic needs such as housing, food, and health care are not met.  Of course we must find a balance in these programs to make sure we are teaching men to fish, not just handing out fish.  And yes, there are charities that care for these needs but they’re not in every community and not everyone is welcome (for example, some shelters turn away gay or transgender people).

I hate myself for saying this, but I do agree with the Tea Party on one of their points.  We should be auditing government for waste.  Are consultants overpaid?  Do politicians need the lavish offices and expense accounts they have?  Are we sending Social Security checks to dead people?

For me it comes down to this fundamental question: Can government achieve what liberals and progressives want for a price that conservatives can accept?

 

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Rhetoric, shmetoric

It’s nice to have a president who can actually string two sentences together.  It’s nice when he says things like this:

While we have come a long way since the Stonewall riots in 1969, we still have a lot of work to do. Too often, the issue of LGBT rights is exploited by those seeking to divide us. But at its core, this issue is about who we are as Americans. It’s about whether this nation is going to live up to its founding promise of equality by treating all its citizens with dignity and respect.

My Administration has partnered with the LGBT community to advance a wide range of initiatives. At the international level, I have joined efforts at the United Nations to decriminalize homosexuality around the world. Here at home, I continue to support measures to bring the full spectrum of equal rights to LGBT Americans. These measures include enhancing hate crimes laws, supporting civil unions and Federal rights for LGBT couples, outlawing discrimination in the workplace, ensuring adoption rights, and ending the existing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in a way that strengthens our Armed Forces and our national security. We must also commit ourselves to fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic by both reducing the number of HIV infections and providing care and support services to people living with HIV/AIDS across the United States.

or

These issues affect not only the LGBT community, but also our entire Nation. As long as the promise of equality for all remains unfulfilled, all Americans are affected. If we can work together to advance the principles upon which our Nation was founded, every American will benefit. During LGBT Pride Month, I call upon the LGBT community, the Congress, and the American people to work together to promote equal rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Read the full proclamation here.

But what good are those words, when his Department of Justice writes things like this:

To deny federal recognition to same-sex marriages will thus preserve scarce government resources, surely a legitimate government purpose.

or

As a result, gay and lesbian individuals who unite in matrimony are denied no federal benefits to which they were entitled prior to their marriage; they remain eligible for every benefit they enjoyed beforehand. DOMA simply provides, in effect, that as a result of their same-sex marriage they will not become eligible for the set of benefits that Congress has reserved exclusively to those who are related by the bonds of heterosexual marriage.

or

DOMA does not discriminate against homosexuals in the provision of federal benefits. To the contrary, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is prohibited in federal employment and in a wide array of federal benefits programs by law, regulation, and Executive order…. Section 3 of DOMA does not distinguish among persons of different sexual orientations, but rather it limits federal benefits to those who have entered into the traditional form of marriage.

Read the full brief here.

Please join me in expressing disappointment about this brief.

Contact the President

Online.

via Twitter @barackobama or @whitehouse

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Comments: 202-456-1111
Switchboard: 202-456-1414
FAX: 202-456-2461

Contact the Department of Justice, including Attorney General Eric Holder.

U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001

askdoj@usdoj.gov

Department of Justice Main Switchboard – 202-514-2000

Office of the Attorney General – 202-353-1555

Contact your legislators.

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Remembering Stonewall & Moving Forward

Washington State Senator Murray Op Ed – June 11, 2009

On June 28, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community celebrates an earlier generation who, one evening, finally had enough of being marginalized, drew a firm line in the sand, and fought back.

Forty years ago, at a little bar in the West Village called Stonewall, a group of LGBTQ people spontaneously staged an uprising by resisting police arrest, discrimination, persecution and public humiliation. Their show of courage – particularly that of the drag queens, who were the bravest on that night – launched the modern-day gay rights movement.

Forty years later, as we honor the anniversary of this historic occasion with Pride Parades around the country, I look at how far we’ve come and how much further we need to go. That seems to be what forty asks us to do: look back to measure our success and look forward to make sure we accomplish our goals.

As of 2009, five out of fifty states recognize the love, partnership and marriage of same sex couples – Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and Maine. Around the world, many countries have made huge advances accepting that love is equal.

And in Washington State we have made significant strides towards equality. In 1994, under the leadership of the late Sen. Cal Andersen, the state Legislature passed hate crime protections for gay and lesbian individuals. In 2002 the Legislature passed my bill to help ensure that our schools are safe places for gay and lesbian students. In 2006, the Legislature passed my civil rights bill to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination in employment, housing, and financial transactions. For the past three years, I’ve sponsored legislation to extend domestic partnership benefits for same-sex couples, so that we are now treated the same as married couples under state law. And this year, under the leadership of Sen. Joe McDermott, the Legislature passed hate crime protections for transgender individuals.

We are standing together united as couples in love and as individuals, recognizing that our country was founded on the premise of equality and acknowledging that none of us are free until all of us are equal.

This last 40 years hasn’t been easy. We’ve made many strides, and we’ve suffered many disappointments. We have overcome and reversed discriminatory laws. And we have lost many fallen heroes along the way from Harvey Milk, to Matthew Shepard, to the too many victims from AIDS and the ones that remain unknown as they took their lives when rejected by family, friends and the only community they knew. As of 2006 studies showed that LGBTQ teens are four times as likely to take their lives then their heterosexual counterparts. Yet we are still here, as a minority and being joined by our heterosexual counterparts who understand the meaning of freedom and justice for all.

Let me be clear, this is not just a fight to legalize marriage equality for same sex couples. That is one of many battles that the LGBTQ community faces. Just as the patrons of Stonewall were not safe to express themselves openly and honestly in public, we as a community and as individuals are not always safe in our families of origin, our schools, places of worship, our workplace and our communities. We are fighting for safety. We are fighting for recognition. We are fighting for acceptance. We are fighting for equal rights under the law. And we are fighting to explain that we are all in this together, as human beings with the same needs for food, shelter, and love.

And with that I call on all citizens to join forces and unite to make sure that all people, LGBTQ people in particular, are safe and protected by law as individuals, couples, in business, schools and communities. We must stay engaged and turn our disappointments into positives. We can gently come out to the communities who don’t recognize our rights. If they know us, it will be easier for them to accept us. Be visible. Continue this fight and one day we will know longer need to have this conversation as we will be recognized as equals.

Every person around the state needs to be willing to work for equality. That is how they won Stonewall, and that is how we will win here.

Please join with me in the month of June to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Stonewall and continue in our fight for equality. The full calendar of events to raise awareness and funds for the equality movement can be found at http://www.celebratestonewall.org

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Imagine

Imagine a 13-year-old girl gets married in New Hampshire.  That’s the only state where it’s legal to marry that young.  Now imagine she and her husband can’t file their federal taxes together because no other state allows 13 year olds to marry.  Imagine her husband gets injured on their vacation to Indiana, and she can’t visit him in the hospital because in Indiana you have to be 15 to get married.  Imagine the couple decides to move to North Carolina, and they have to pay for separate rental applications and credit checks because you have to be 14 to get married in North Carolina.  But this is just your imagination, this 13 year old and her husband will have the rights of marriage where ever they go.

You might be repulsed by the idea of such a young girl being married, but it’s legal.  And because it’s legal where they got married, the federal government recognizes their marriage and every other state recognizes their marriage.  Because they’re straight.

In 1996 our government passed the Defense of Marriage Act.  It ensured that the federal government and other states didn’t need to recognize same-sex marriages, even if they were legal in the state where they were performed.  Same-sex marriage is now legal in five states and more states are moving in that direction.  Gay and lesbian couples married in those states face the problems I described above.

Fifty-five years ago the Supreme Court decided in Brown v Board of Education that separate is “inherently unequal” and required the integration of schools.  Education is a state’s right, but when it came down to discrimination, the federal government took a stand.  Likewise, marriage is a state’s right, but the LGBT community needs fairness and equality.  DOMA must be repealed.

Please contact your elected officials and demand marriage equality.

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Why do gays and their allies…

… find it so important to convince everyone that being gay is not a choice?

One of my (gay) friends asked me this last week.  He had a good point: Religion is a choice, yet it’s a protected status.  I also saw the question come up on Yahoo! Answers.

I’ve been pondering this amidst all the hoopla surrounding the Prop 8 decision.  Supporters of Prop 8 and opponents of marriage equality in other states make this argument about how the legalization of same-sex marriage will affect their children’s education.  Kids will be taught that it’s *gasp* okay to be gay and okay to want to marry someone of your own gender.  What these arguments say to me is that these people fear their children will become homosexual if they learn that being homosexual is okay.  So here’s where the “being gay isn’t a choice” argument comes in.  Don’t make some BS argument about protecting your kids from being “indoctrinated” and “turning gay.”  So, in my mind, that’s why it’s important for people to understand that you don’t just “turn gay” because you wanted to.

2-13% (research varies) of the population is gay.  Your kid might be one of them.  They might come out sooner and be happier about who they are because they learned that it’s not wrong to be gay, but learning about it didn’t make them be attracted to people of the same sex.  Straight people didn’t need to learn about traditional marriage to cause them to be attracted to people of the opposite sex.

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“The Defenders”

I’m not interested in voting on who you can marry.  Why worry about who I might want to marry?

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Something I think every person in America should read

Address by Prime Minister Paul Martin on Bill C-38 (The Civil Marriage Act)

February 16, 2005
House of Commons, Canada

I rise today in support of Bill C-38, the Civil Marriage Act. I rise in support of a Canada in which liberties are safeguarded, rights are protected and the people of this land are treated as equals under the law.

This is an important day. The attention of our nation is focused on this chamber, in which John Diefenbaker introduced the Bill of Rights, in which Pierre Trudeau fought to establish the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Our deliberations will be not merely about a piece of legislation or sections of legal text – more deeply, they will be about the kind of nation we are today, and the nation we want to be.

This bill protects minority rights. This bill affirms the Charter guarantee of religious freedom. It is that straightforward, Mr. Speaker, and it is that important.

And that is why I stand today before members here and before the people of this country to say I believe in, and I will fight for, the Charter of Rights. I believe in, and I will fight for, a Canada that respects the foresight and vision of those who created and entrenched the Charter. I believe in, and I will fight for, a future in which generations of Canadians to come, Canadians born here and abroad, will have the opportunity to value the Charter as we do today – as an essential pillar of our democratic freedoms.

There have been a number of arguments put forward by those who do not support this bill. It’s important and respectful to examine them and to assess them.

First, some have claimed that, once this bill becomes law, religious freedoms will be less than fully protected. This is demonstrably untrue. As it pertains to marriage, the government’s legislation affirms the Charter guarantee that religious officials are free to perform such ceremonies in accordance with the beliefs of their faith.

In this, we are guided by the ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada, which makes clear that in no church, no synagogue, no mosque, no temple – in no religious house will those who disagree with same-sex unions be compelled to perform them. Period. That is why this legislation is about civil marriage, not religious marriage.

Moreover — and this is crucially important — the Supreme Court has declared unanimously, and I quote “The guarantee of religious freedom in section 2(a) of the Charter is broad enough to protect religious officials from being compelled by the state to perform civil or religious same-sex marriages that are contrary to their religious beliefs.”

The facts are plain: Religious leaders who preside over marriage ceremonies must and will be guided by what they believe. If they do not wish to celebrate marriages for same-sex couples, that is their right. The Supreme Court says so. And the Charter says so.

One final observation on this aspect of the issue: Religious leaders have strong views both for and against this legislation. They should express them. Certainly, many of us in this House, myself included, have a strong faith, and we value that faith and its influence on the decisions we make. But all of us have been elected to serve here as Parliamentarians. And as public legislators, we are responsible for serving all Canadians and protecting the rights of all Canadians.

We will be influenced by our faith but we also have an obligation to take the widest perspective — to recognize that one of the great strengths of Canada is its respect for the rights of each and every individual, to understand that we must not shrink from the need to reaffirm the rights and responsibilities of Canadians in an evolving society.

The second argument ventured by opponents of the bill is that government ought to hold a national referendum on this issue. I reject this – not out of a disregard for the view of the people, but because it offends the very purpose of the Charter.

The Charter was enshrined to ensure that the rights of minorities are not subjected, are never subjected, to the will of the majority. The rights of Canadians who belong to a minority group must always be protected by virtue of their status as citizens, regardless of their numbers. These rights must never be left vulnerable to the impulses of the majority.

We embrace freedom and equality in theory, Mr. Speaker. We must also embrace them in fact.

Third, some have counseled the government to extend to gays and lesbians the right to “civil union.” This would give same-sex couples many of the rights of a wedded couple, but their relationships would not legally be considered marriage. In other words, they would be equal, but not quite as equal as the rest of Canadians.

Mr. Speaker, the courts have clearly and consistently ruled that this option would offend the equality provisions of the Charter. For instance, the British Columbia Court of Appeal stated that, and I quote “Marriage is the only road to true equality for same-sex couples. Any other form of recognition of same-sex relationships …falls short of true equality.”

Put simply, we must always remember that “separate but equal” is not equal. What’s more, those who call for the establishment of civil unions fail to understand that the Government of Canada does not have the constitutional jurisdiction to do so. Only the provinces have that. Only the provinces could define such a regime – and they could define it in 10 different ways, and some jurisdictions might not bother to define it at all. There would be uncertainty. There would be confusion. There would certainly not be equality.

Fourth, some are urging the government to respond to the decisions of the courts by getting out of the marriage business altogether. That would mean no more civil weddings for any couples.

It is worth noting that this idea was rejected by the major religions themselves when their representatives appeared before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in 2003. Moreover, it would be an extreme and counterproductive response for the government to deny civil marriage to opposite-sex couples simply so it can keep it from same-sex couples. To do so would simply be to replace one form of discrimination with another.

Finally, Mr. Speaker, there are some who oppose this legislation who would have the government use the notwithstanding clause in the Charter of Rights to override the courts and reinstate the traditional definition of marriage. And really, this is the fundamental issue here.

Understand that in seven provinces and one territory, the lawful union of two people of the same sex in civil marriage is already the law of the land. The debate here today is not about whether to change the definition of marriage – it’s been changed. The debate comes down to whether we should override a right that is now in place. The debate comes down to the Charter, the protection of minority rights, and whether the federal government should invoke the notwithstanding clause.

I know that some think we should use the clause. For example, some religious leaders feel this way. I respect their candor in publicly recognizing that because same-sex marriage is already legal in most of the country, the only way – the only way – to again make civil marriage the exclusive domain of opposite-sex couples is to use the notwithstanding clause.

Ultimately Mr. Speaker, there is only one issue before this House in this debate. For most Canadians, in most parts of our country, same-sex marriage is already the law of the land. Thus, the issue is not whether rights are to be granted. The issue is whether rights that have been granted are to be taken away.

Some are frank and straightforward and say yes. Others have not been so candid. Despite being confronted with clear facts, despite being confronted with the unanimous opinion of 134 legal scholars, experts in their field, intimately familiar with the Constitution, some have chosen to not be forthright with Canadians. They have eschewed the honest approach in favour of the political approach. They have attempted to cajole the public into believing that we can return to the past with a simple snap of the fingers, that we can revert to traditional definition of marriage without consequence and without overriding the Charter. They’re insincere. They’re disingenuous. And they’re wrong.

There is one question that demands an answer – a straight answer – from those who would seek to lead this nation and its people. It is a simple question Will you use the notwithstanding clause to overturn the definition of civil marriage and deny to Canadians a right guaranteed under the Charter?

This question does not demand rhetoric. It demands clarity. There are only two legitimate answers – yes or no. Not the demagoguery we have heard, not the dodging, the flawed reasoning, the false options. Just yes or no.

Will you take away a right as guaranteed under the Charter? I, for one, will answer that question, Mr. Speaker. I will answer it clearly. I will say no.

The notwithstanding clause is part of the Charter of Rights. But there’s a reason that no prime minister has ever used it. For a prime minister to use the powers of his office to explicitly deny rather than affirm a right enshrined under the Charter would serve as a signal to all minorities that no longer can they look to the nation’s leader and to the nation’s Constitution for protection, for security, for the guarantee of their freedoms. We would risk becoming a country in which the defence of rights is weighed, calculated and debated based on electoral or other considerations.

That would set us back decades as a nation. It would be wrong for the minorities of this country. It would be wrong for Canada.

The Charter is a living document, the heartbeat of our Constitution. It is also a proclamation. It declares that as Canadians, we live under a progressive and inclusive set of fundamental beliefs about the value of the individual. It declares that we all are lessened when any one of us is denied a fundamental right.

We cannot exalt the Charter as a fundamental aspect of our national character and then use the notwithstanding clause to reject the protections that it would extend. Our rights must be eternal, not subject to political whim.

To those who value the Charter yet oppose the protection of rights for same-sex couples, I ask you If a prime minister and a national government are willing to take away the rights of one group, what is to say they will stop at that? If the Charter is not there today to protect the rights of one minority, then how can we as a nation of minorities ever hope, ever believe, ever trust that it will be there to protect us tomorrow?

My responsibility as Prime Minister, my duty to Canada and to Canadians, is to defend the Charter in its entirety. Not to pick and choose the rights that our laws shall protect and those that are to be ignored. Not to decree those who shall be equal and those who shall not. My duty is to protect the Charter, as some in this House will not.

Let us never forget that one of the reasons that Canada is such a vibrant nation, so diverse, so rich in the many cultures and races of the world, is that immigrants who come here – as was the case with the ancestors of many of us in this chamber – feel free and are free to practice their religion, follow their faith, live as they want to live. No homogenous system of beliefs is imposed on them.

When we as a nation protect minority rights, we are protecting our multicultural nature. We are reinforcing the Canada we value. We are saying, proudly and unflinchingly, that defending rights – not just those that happen to apply to us, not just that everyone approves of, but all fundamental rights – is at the very soul of what it means to be a Canadian.

This is a vital aspect of the values we hold dear and strive to pass on to others in the world who are embattled, who endure tyranny, whose freedoms are curtailed, whose rights are violated.

Why is the Charter so important, Mr. Speaker? We have only to look at our own history. Unfortunately, Canada’s story is one in which not everyone’s rights were protected under the law. We have not been free from discrimination, bias, unfairness. There have been blatant inequalities.

Remember that it was once thought perfectly acceptable to deny women “personhood” and the right to vote. There was a time, not that long ago, that if you wore a turban, you couldn’t serve in the RCMP. The examples are many, but what’s important now is that they are part of our past, not our present.

Over time, perspectives changed. We evolved, we grew, and our laws evolved and grew with us. That is as it should be. Our laws must reflect equality not as we understood it a century or even a decade ago, but as we understand it today.

For gays and lesbians, evolving social attitudes have, over the years, prompted a number of important changes in the law. Recall that, until the late 1960s, the state believed it had the right to peek into our bedrooms. Until 1977, homosexuality was still sufficient grounds for deportation. Until 1992, gay people were prohibited from serving in the military. In many parts of the country, gays and lesbians could not designate their partners as beneficiaries under employee medical and dental benefits, insurance policies or private pensions. Until very recently, people were being fired merely for being gay.

Today, we rightly see discrimination based on sexual orientation as arbitrary, inappropriate and unfair. Looking back, we can hardly believe that such rights were ever a matter for debate. It is my hope that we will ultimately see the current debate in a similar light; realizing that nothing has been lost or sacrificed by the majority in extending full rights to the minority.

Without our relentless, inviolable commitment to equality and minority rights, Canada would not be at the forefront in accepting newcomers from all over the world, in making a virtue of our multicultural nature – the complexity of ethnicities and beliefs that make up Canada, that make us proud that we are where our world is going, not where it’s been.

Four years ago, I stood in this House and voted to support the traditional definition of marriage. Many of us did. My misgivings about extending the right of civil marriage to same-sex couples were a function of my faith, my perspective on the world around us.

But much has changed since that day. We’ve heard from courts across the country, including the Supreme Court. We’ve come to the realization that instituting civil unions – adopting a “separate but equal” approach – would violate the equality provisions of the Charter. We’ve confirmed that extending the right of civil marriage to gays and lesbians will not in any way infringe on religious freedoms.

And so where does that leave us? It leaves us staring in the face of the Charter of Rights with but a single decision to make Do we abide by the Charter and protect minority rights, or do we not?

To those who would oppose this bill, I urge you to consider that the core of the issue before us today is whether the rights of all Canadians are to be respected. I believe they must be. Justice demands it. Fairness demands it. The Canada we love demands it.

Mr. Speaker In the 1960s, the government of Lester Pearson faced opposition as it moved to entrench official bilingualism. But it persevered, and it won the day. Its members believed it was the right thing to do, and it was. In the 1980s, the government of Pierre Trudeau faced opposition as it attempted to repatriate the Constitution and enshrine a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But it persevered, and it won the day. Its members believed it was the right thing to do, and it was.

There are times, Mr. Speaker, when we as Parliamentarians can feel the gaze of history upon us. They felt it in the days of Pearson. They felt it in the days of Trudeau. And we, the 308 men and women elected to represent one of the most inclusive, just and respectful countries on the face of this earth, feel it today.

There are few nations whose citizens cannot look to Canada and see their own reflection. For generations, men and women and families from the four corners of the globe have made the decision to chose Canada to be their home. Many have come here seeking freedom — of thought, religion and belief. Seeking the freedom simply to be.

The people of Canada have worked hard to build a country that opens its doors to include all, regardless of their differences; a country that respects all, regardless of their differences; a country that demands equality for all, regardless of their differences.

If we do not step forward, then we step back. If we do not protect a right, then we deny it. Mr. Speaker, together as a nation, together as Canadians Let us step forward.

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