Friday, January 22, 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Give

On the Saturday after the marriage equality bill failed in the New Jersey state senate, thanks in large part to turncoats in the Democratic Party, I received a phone call from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee asking for money. I didn't give the caller money. I gave him a message: with no action on DOMA, ENDA and DADT despite having majorities in both houses of Congress and, for a year, a self-proclaimed "fierce advocate" for gay rights in the White House who has failed to exercise leadership of any meaningful sort on these issues, the DCCC cannot then come back and ask me for money. After all, they can then use that money to support candidates who will do nothing for my community and may even oppose our issues. I told the caller not to bother calling back until there is concrete action on DOMA, ENDA and DADT.

With that, it's good to read this blog entry on AMERICAblog showing one gay man's hand-written response to a fund-raising letter from the Democratic National Committee. It expresses the same anger shared by many of us who have given, time and time again, our money, our votes, and our volunteer hours to the Democratic Party, with little in return. AMERICAblog's John Aravosis has called for a Don't Ask, Don't Give campaign and I've gladly joined. I will certainly contribute to individual candidates who, by their actions (as opposed to their promises), have demonstrated support for the LGBT community. But for the Democratic Party at large, this ATM is closed for business.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Bicyclists of New Jersey: here's something you can do to increase access

As reported in the WalkBikeJersey blog, the Scudders Fall I-95 bridge over the Delaware and which connects Ewing, NJ with Lower Makefield, PA will be undergoing reconstruction. The bridge currently does not include a pedestrian/bike path but, by writing an email through this link, you can petition for one to be included. The email is prepopulated and ready to go thanks the efforts of the folks at the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. I'm doing my part. Please do yours if you value cycling as an alternative to cars or just for recreation along the beautiful Delaware River.

A message to gay youth everywhere: come out and be proud

My friend Matt shared with me his contribution to I'm From Driftwood, a compilation of first-hand testimonials from young gay people across the country about their coming out experience. Here is Matt's testimonial to his coming out and serves as a reminder of just how important being out is and gives hope to teens across the United States who live in fear of coming out to their families and in their communities:

Monday, January 18, 2010

Apple adds iTunes Store page for Haiti donations

Apple adds iTunes Store page for Haiti donations

Posted using ShareThis

Scott Brown is NOM's man in the Mass. special election

Tomorrow is the special election in Massachusetts to fill the late Ted Kennedy's seat. The National Organization of Marriage, which has devoted itself to making sure same-sex couples never achieve equal rights anywhere in the United States (e.g. Maine and New Jersey), has launched robocalls in support of Republican and one-time Cosmo centerfold Scott Brown. A description of the call is in this article. Brown opposes marriage equality. His Democratic opponent, Martha Coakley, support equal rights for lesbians and gay men.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

I miss riding my bike on the roads

The Oak King is taking his own sweet time to take over from the Holly King and we face a lot of cold weather still. Apologies to those who don't get the pagan reference just now. Suffice it to say that for anyone who enjoys riding a bike, the winter months here in New Jersey can be very bleak indeed. I'm a neophyte when it comes to cycling but I've ridden just enough last fall to get bitten by the bike bug and now must content myself with spinning at a gym. Spinning is a lot of fun but it's an entirely different experience from biking out on the road.

For now, my bike — a Trek 7.5 FX fitness bike as shown above — hangs dormant on my garage wall. It looks sad, cold and unloved as I pull into the garage at the end of each work day. All I have to console myself are maps of possible routes for when the weather warms up and videos like the one below, promoting Trek bikes. Springtime can't come soon enough.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Congressional Republicans seek to block DC marriage

It's the height of hypocrisy. So often we hear conservatives decry what they call "judicial activism" when the courts uphold minority (e.g. gay) rights in the face of discrimination. Yet now thirty-nine Congressional Republicans, as reported by Joe Sudbay in AmericaBlog, have filed an amicus brief in DC Superior Court to try to put the brakes on the recently-enacted civil marriage equality law in the District of Columbia. In other words, some so-called conservatives believe the courts should be used to deny people rights but not to uphold minority rights. The latter would be "judicial activism" and that, in their view, would be bad. Either you believe in the courts as a place for appeal or you don't. But some highly-placed members of the Republican Party seem to think the courts are to be used only to deny people rights and impose a tyranny of the majority.

Incidentally, I say "so-called conservatives" because I'm reminded of a conversation I had while waiting at the security line to enter the New Jersey Statehouse last Thursday for the state senate vote on the civil marriage equality bill. As luck would have it, I arrived at the line alone and soon found myself standing immediately behind a large group of Hassidim, consistently present at the Statehouse as opponents to marriage equality over the past month or so. Behind me formed a line of people completely unassociated with the marriage equality issue and there, presumably, to visit legislators or testify in committee on unrelated matters. It was quite a study in contrasts: before me the Hassidim in their traditional clothing, behind me a group of grim-faced people in business suits. An evangelical clergyman walked by, saw me, and took the opportunity to chat up the Hassidim, raising his voice (perhaps for my benefit) as he told the Hassidim they were all in the fight together to do God's work. Alas, they didn't discuss whose definition of god they supported. Now that would have been fun to witness.

Soon, another gentleman joined the group as the line inched forward ever so slowly towards the security desk. That man, seeing me in my Garden State Equality t-shirt, told me "I'm just their friend. I don't necessarily agree with them." I really didn't care and didn't acknowledge him at all. I remained silent, not wanting to engage them, and just proceeded to text my friends in the Statehouse wondering where they were, half tempted to text "Help me!" The very businesslike couple standing behind me just rolled their eyes, smiled at me sympathetically, and told me they wished some people would just learn to mind their own business. I replied "Oh well, they can say what they want but we've been advised not to respond to any taunts or attempts to engage us." I just wanted to get my stupid security badge and get on with the day's business.

But the couple behind me wanted to make a point: "I'm a Republican and, for me, being a conservative means I don't want government ever telling people what they can or cannot do. You should be allowed to do what you want" said the man, the woman with him nodding in agreement. Of course, his statement struck me as overly simplistic since marriage does, inescapably, carry with it government-recognized protections. But he had made an interesting point with an important implication: For those who profess to dislike government intruding in private concerns to then say that government should favor some relationships (opposite-sex in this case) over others (same-sex) smacks of hypocrisy.

In other words, there are indeed conservatives out there who do recognize the hypocrisy inherent in opposing gay rights. Indeed, there are Republicans like Senator Baroni and former solicitor general Ted Olson (now challenging California's Prop 8 in Federal court) who understand this. That the Republican Party is still mostly represented by people like House Minority Leader Boehner and US Senator Inhofe and the other opponents to DC's marriage law demonstrates just how much the Republican Party is at odds with its own professed world view.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Names of NJ State Senators to Remember in 2011

A friend asked that I post the names of who voted for or against (or, laughably, abstained) in the 01/07/10 NJ state senate vote on S1967 which would have included same-sex couples in New Jersey in the state's civil marriage statute and thus would have afforded those couples, like me and my partner, all the protections and obligations afforded in law and common business practice (e.g. insurance, hospitalization, etc.) to opposite-sex couples. That the bill failed was not, by the time the vote was finally scheduled, unexpected for a whole host of reasons (the governor's race and political cowardice to name two). But this post isn't about the vote itself or what led up to it. It concerns naming those who stood by us and their promises to us as compared to those who either went back on their word, acted on their professed hostility to us, or who dithered and sat on the fence on what is one of the most important issue to scores of same-sex couples in New Jersey.

We cannot, as a community, forget who fulfilled their promises to us, who betrayed us, who voted purely out of self interest, and who sat idly by. Given the small size of the LGBT community, it's unrealistic to think that all the senators who voted against us or who abstained can be made to pay the price in 2011. But there are many who represent districts in which we or at least the progressive community as a whole can certainly affect the outcome of the next election (only a couple of years away). And that's just in terms of votes. As a community, we have had and can still have an impact out of proportion to our voting ranks in the form of volunteering, canvasing and donating money to candidates. What we lack in sheer numbers we more than make up for in commitment. We can support those who have supported us as well as support challengers to those who have not so long as those resources are husbanded and used strategically. In any event, here is the list of heroes and villains from last Thursday's vote with full names, party affiliation and district number:

Yes votes (totaling 14):
Bill Baroni (R-14)
Barbara Buono (D-18)
Richard J. Codey (D-27)
Sandra B. Cunningham (D-31)
Nia H. Gill, Esq. (D-34)
Robert M. Gordon (D-38)
Raymond J. Lesniak (D-20)
M. Teresa Ruiz (D-29)
Nicholas P. Scutari (D-22)
Bob Smith (D-17)
Brian P. Stack (D-33)
Joseph F. Vitale (D-19)
Loretta Weinberg (D-37)
Jim Whelan (D-2)

Abstaining (totaling 3):
James Beach (D-6)
Paul A. Sarlo (D-36)
Stephen M. Sweeney (D-3)

Absent (totaling 2):
Diane B. Allen (R-7)
Andrew R. Ciesla (R-10)

No votes (totaling 20):
Christopher Bateman (R-16)
Jennifer Beck (R-12)
Anthony R. Bucco (R-25)
Gerald Cardinale (R-39)
Christopher J. Connors (R-9)
Michael J. Doherty (R-23)
John A. Girgenti (D-35)
Philip E. Haines (R-8)
Sean T. Kean (R-11)
Thomas H. Kean, Jr. (R-21)
Joseph M. Kyrillos, Jr. (R-13)
Fred H. Madden, Jr. (D-4)
Kevin J. O'Toole (R-40)
Steven V. Oroho (R-24)
Joseph Pennacchio (R-26)
Ronald L. Rice (D-28)
Nicholas J. Sacco (D-32)
Robert W. Singer (R-30)
Shirley K. Turner (D-15)
Jeff Van Drew (D-1)

District 5 is vacant, thus accounting for why the numbers total only 39. Among Democrats, 13 voted for the bill while 9 either voted no (6) or abstained (3). They are the Democrat 9. We'll remember them. Among the Republicans, only one voted for the bill despite the fact that among Republicans there were other supporters, that is before the election of Chris Christie as governor. Among the 16 Republicans who either voted no or abstained or were absent, a few stand out as having betrayed earlier promises to the LGBT community in this vote. We'll remember them too. The next election, in 2011, can't come soon enough. The time to start laying the groundwork to defeat some of the most vulnerable among those who voted no or abstained is now.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

An open letter to NJ state Senator Stephen Sweeney

What follows is my open letter to Senator Stephen Sweeney, who is taking over as New Jersey Senate president in the new legislative term and who abstained from voting on S1967 — the marriage equality bill — last Thursday.

Senator Sweeney:

I write to you today as a member of the Democratic Party, as a proud resident of the state of New Jersey, and as someone who is deeply ashamed of your complete lack of leadership as shown by your failure to cast a vote on senate bill 1967. As you must surely know, that bill would have extended civil marriage rights to same-sex couples in New Jersey. The citizens of New Jersey expect their elected representatives to be men and women of action. That you could sit by and take no action at all on what may very well be one of the most important pieces of legislation to come to the floor of the state senate in a long time, a piece of legislation having a direct practical impact on the lives of scores of same-sex couples in our state, says a great deal about your lack of leadership. By your unwillingness to cast a vote, you have shown yourself utterly unworthy of the post — that of incoming president of the Senate — to which you have aspired. I would hope, out of a sense of shame and regret at so seriously defaulting on your responsibilities to the people of New Jersey and to your new position as senate president, that you would do the right thing: resign your leadership position. After all, you are a leader in name only.

Friday, January 8, 2010

My education in New Jersey politics

Yesterday saw the long-awaited vote in the New Jersey state senate on the issue of marriage equality. I won't go into the legal aspects of this issue, all stemming from a court case decided a few years ago by the New Jersey supreme court finding that the state was required to offer same-sex couples the same rights and protections as currently enjoyed by straight couples who are married under the state's civil marriage statute. That the state legislature's 2006 civil unions statute has failed to meet the requirements of the court decision has been amply demonstrated. What remained was for the legislature to do not only the right thing with respect to justice, but to do what it had to do to comply with New Jersey's state constitution. Yesterday, the New Jersey state senate failed to do that.

But the story is much more nuanced than simply focusing on a 20-14 tally would suggest. After all, three Democrats abstained from voting altogether: Senate judiciary committee chair Sarlo, who had voted no in committee in December, abstained rather than voting no again, with no explanation offered. Senator Beach, whose district includes the city of Collingswood with its large gay population, likewise abstained and promptly fled the chamber refusing to explain why. Incoming senate preside Sweeney, who admitted that our side had made a persuasive argument for marriage equality, abstained. Yes, the incoming leader of the upper chamber of the New Jersey state senate, a mean who through a power play was able to push aside a widely-respected leader like Senator Codey, demonstrated his idea of leadership by failing to vote on probably one of the most important pieces of legislation in quite some time. Senator Sweeney's brand of leadership is to see which way the political winds are blowing and to act accordingly. He's not a leader. He's not even a follower. He's a weather vane.

As for the Republicans, apparently there were many who this past summer would have voted yes for marriage equality. Many of them (senators Beck and Sean Kean immediately come to mind) represent districts with large gay populations. But then Chris Christie won election over a Governor Corzine, a weak candidate, a poor campaigner, and an unpopular governor. So unprincipled, so without independence of thought are those Republican senators that their support shifted to opposition. During the hearing in the judiciary committee, for example, senator Beck voted no without once (as I recall) asking a question of the witness during many hours of testimony. She never offered an explanation. Those Republican senators who took their marching orders from the incoming governor, who has made it abundantly clear he opposes marriage equality, are not fit to occupy their seats. They are not thinkers, they are not leaders, they are political weather vanes.

Sean Kean (not to be confused with the other marriage opponent Tom Kean) probably provided the most perplexing speech yesterday. He stood up and talked at length, often repeating himself, about how gay people move into neighborhoods and make great neighbors and improve property values. He went on to brag about how he has many gay friends and has held public events with gay people. He joked how he's been told he represents a particularly gay district. But he said he would vote no. So gays are good for increasing property values but not good enough to have equal rights. He didn't offer any explanation as to why he voted no. He simply went on a self-serving diatribe about how offended he was at the implication he was bigoted for voting no. How like a bigot to not recognize his own bigotry. In that respect, bigotry is a lot like body odor: those who stink seldom smell their own odor.

From ranking Republican judiciary committee member Cardinale, who had given a bravura performance in ignorance, bigotry and incivility during the committee hearing in December, we heard the same tired slippery-slope arguments. Newcomer Republican Doherty demonstrated his complete ignorance of this country's constitutional principles by arguing that the rights of a minority should be subject to the whims of an oppressive majority, something the founding fathers rejected by establishing a representative form of government.

But there was one Republican, Senator Baroni who represents my partner's (wait, make that husband's) parent's district and who had voted yes in committee, who spoke at length about the very nature of love between two people who have supported and cared for each other. He compared the love shared by Marsha and Louise, who have been featured so prominently in our campaign, to the love shared by his grandparents, finding that there was no difference at all. His speech was brilliant and moved many of us in the audience to tears.

Speaking of emotion, Senator Lesniak choked up on reading a letter from a constituent, Senator Cunningham spoke from the perspective of being descended from slaves, Senator Ruiz spoke briefly and eloquently about never denying others the opportunities that had been denied the Latino population. Senator Gill, as is usual for her, spoke calmly, quietly but with strength and passion about how this fight is at its core a fight about civil rights. As an African American woman who has practiced law and represents a district with a large African American population, she is certainly qualified to speak to issues of civil rights. She has earned our admiration for doing so on behalf of our community.

Finally, congratulations go to Senator Weinberg who has been so persistent on this and many other progressive issues. She opened and closed debate by reminding the members of the senate that their responsibility as leaders was to vote their conscience. It is to their shame that so many failed to do so. It is a lesson to all of us, straight and gay, who care about progressive issues, that many members and leaders in the Democratic Party cannot be counted on to exercise their responsibility to all the citizens of New Jersey. It is a lesson that there are many Republican senators who actually are reasonably progressive on social issues, reflecting the general mood in their districts, but who nevertheless put towing their party line ahead of thinking for themselves.

But the three biggest lessons I learned yesterday is that never should members of our community donate money to, volunteer for, and vote for members of either party who do not pass one simple acid test: Do you commit publicly to the principle that lesbians and gay men are entitled to the full range of citizenship in our state including the right to the protections and responsibilities afforded by civil marriage in name and in fact?

The second lesson is that we must each commit to supporting any challenger to the sitting members of the legislature who have, whether by voting no or by abstaining or by professing opposition to us (in the case of the assembly, which will not vote on this bill), by donating money to, canvasing on behalf of, and voting for those challengers so long as they are on our side. We must demonstrate that our resources, which for too long have gone to support candidates who do not support us or are cause, can be brought to bear against those who oppose us.

Finally, I can't help but think of how the concerns of women and African Americans and Latinos and so many other disadvantaged parts of our society didn't get addressed in fundamental ways until leaders from those same communities rose up, spoke out, and began to take positions of responsibility in the community at large and in government. There are still precious few out members of the LGBT community in prominent positions in government. We need to be everywhere in the public sphere. And that includes in all levels of government, from dog catcher all the way up to the executive. That begins with running for office. I heard one gentleman at our post-vote reception, say he would take that challenge. We all need to take an active role, even if it means volunteering on a municipal committee to start out. We can't be passive observers of the political process any longer.