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Asylum for Malawi Couple in the U.S.?

June 2nd, 2010 No comments

Considering the dismal future and potential asylum request of the recently pardoned Malawi couple, Andrew Sullivan says:

“Come to America.”

Is he serious? Is this really the best place for them to seek asylum? Tiwonge Chimbalanga identifies as a trans-woman. They won’t be able to marry here, either. In many places, neither of them will have protection if fired from their jobs; Chimbalanga wouldn’t have anti-discrimination protection in most places. And I haven’t even gotten to the horrible violence that the most vulnerable among us — the trans-community — routinely suffer.

Despite his trenchant criticisms of the legal treatment of the LGBT community, Sullivan retains an immigrant’s zeal for his adopted nation (in this regard, it’s telling that he uses the patriotic “America” rather than “U.S.”). But surely a moment’s sober reflection would have told him that there are several obviously better choices for them in Europe. I know, I know — they have their own nativist movements, and violence against “outsiders” isn’t exactly unknown there. But at least they’d be assured that the law would treat them as full and equal citizens.

So Many Illegals, So Few Microchips!

April 30th, 2010 No comments

In a 21st century effort to technologically update the idiocy of the late William F. Buckley, who once suggested tattooing people with HIV, this Republican candidate for the Iowa legislature thinks that inserting a microchip into illegals would be a good idea. (How would this happen, exactly? Don’t expect specificity from someone this moronic.)

I have a better idea: Why don’t we insert microchips into the brains of nuts like Pat Bertroche? That way we could be notified of what group he’s spewing his venom at, and — bonus! — there’s no danger that the chip would melt from the heat of his cerebral energy.

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We, the People (Sometimes Forget the Very Document those Words Came From)

April 29th, 2010 3 comments

After reading the summary of this poll, can anyone seriously argue that it’s a good idea to allow people to vote on others’ civil rights? Without the cooling crucible of the legislature, all sorts of things would pass — including, say, bans on marriage equality.

But where legislation has to survive scrutiny and opposition from people who understand law and history, it’s much less likely — though, as Arizona has just shown — not impossible for the most blatantly unconstitutional and anti-American laws to get through. Or maybe not.

Andrew Sullivan’s “Familiar Feeling” — and a Qualified Defense of Obama

May 14th, 2009 No comments

Well, we’re not even four months into the Obama Administration and already the LGBT community is frustrated at the pace of developments. And, really, who can blame us, after the betrayals of the Clinton Administration and the hostility of his successor who-must-not-be-named? Here’s Andrew Sullivan, in a sobering and angry piece on the Atlantic website (“The Fierce Urgency of Whenever”):

“I have a sickeningly familiar feeling in my stomach, and the feeling deepens with every interaction with the Obama team on these issues. They want them to go away. They want us to go away.

“Here we are, in the summer of 2009, with gay servicemembers still being fired for the fact of their orientation. Here we are, with marriage rights spreading through the country and world and a president who cannot bring himself even to acknowledge these breakthroughs in civil rights, and having no plan in any distant future to do anything about it at a federal level. Here I am, facing a looming deadline to be forced to leave my American husband for good, and relocate abroad because the HIV travel and immigration ban remains in force and I have slowly run out of options (unlike most non-Americans with HIV who have no options at all).

“And what is Obama doing about any of these things? What is he even intending at some point to do about these things? So far as I can read the administration, the answer is: nada. We’re firing Arab linguists? So sorry. We won’t recognize in any way a tiny minority of legally married couples in several states because they’re, ugh, gay? We had no idea. There’s a ban on HIV-positive tourists and immigrants? Really? Thanks for letting us know.”

Steve Sanders over at Sexual Orientation and the Law Blog expands on the point, noting that some of the things Obama’s promised to do might be accomplished without legislative action; arguably, he already has the executive authority to stop the discharges under the completely indefensible “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

These points are fair, and we’re right to be concerned about both the pace of change and, perhaps as important, the weakening or outright disappearance of rhetorical commitment on central issues, such as federal civil unions; the Employment Non-Discrimination Act; and the repeal of  DADT. But the story isn’t this simple.

Sullivan himself is of two minds on this, as are many of us. He prefaces the eviscerating remarks quoted above with the following:

“[I]t’s tedious to whine and jump up and down and complain when a wand isn’t waved and everything is made right by the first candidate who really seemed to get it, who was even able to address black church congregations about homophobia. And obviously patience is necessary; and legislative work takes time; and there are real challenges on so many fronts….No one expects a president to be grappling with all this early on, or, God help us, actually leading on civil rights. That’s our job, not his.”

So, where are we and how concerned should we be?

Let me start with Sullivan’s “familiar feeling.” I’m less concerned than he is (of course, I’m not about to get kicked out of the country, either), principally because Clinton and Obama are so different, tempermentally. Clinton, for all of his obvious intelligence, was in many ways an incautious, borderline reckless, man: “I’ll just issue an order allowing gays into the military. What could be hard about that?” Obama’s endlessly analyzed personality is that of the careful incrementalist, who listens to all parties, decides on a course of action (and sometimes reconsiders his position, as with yesterday’s about-face on the release of prisoner abuse photos), and then works patiently and tirelessly for consensus. Anyone who could herd the divas on the Harvard Law Review has some accomplishment to commend his approach.

So what looks the same from one perspective — the lack of progress on gays in the military — may be quite different in underlying significance. We don’t know what Obama is doing (or thinking) behind the scenes, but I’m willing to bet it’s…something.

Not exactly reassuring, is it? I don’t have any way of verifying my suspicion on this issue, and I might be totally off. (I really hope not. DADT is just nuts; made even more so now that same-sex couples can marry or civilly unite. That legal act is now a ground for discharge under the policy. My next post will be of a conversation I had with the unceremoniously brilliant Alex Nicholson, the founder of an organization dedicated to repealing the policy, Service Members United.)

But there is movement. Let’s put this into context. For approximately forever, the only traction gay issues had at the federal level had been as a wedge issue — against us. I’m talking about DADT and the Defense of Marriage Act, not to mention the Federal Marriage Amendment (which never had a chance of passage but was conveniently unsheathed whenever an election loomed), and of course the epidemiologically and ethically indefensible ban on HIV-positive immigrants.

Now we have a gay-inclusive hate crimes bill set to pass and be enacted into law, likely quite soon. (I don’t agree that this is entirely symbolic; but even if it were, symbols matter). “Sources” tell me that there is a place on the legislative agenda this year for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. (Whether it will be trans-inclusive is less certain, but vital: Who most needs this protection? Not me.) ENDA has been around since, if I’m remembering correctly, the Truman Administration. Neither Sullivan nor Sanders discusses this issue, on which progress looks quite likely.

Meanwhile, lifting of the HIV ban is moving along — albeit at the glacial pace of the federal regulatory process. Again, Sullivan (first quoting):

“’The Department of Health and Human Services has submitted for OMB review a notice of proposed rule-making to implement this change.’

“Translation: we’re doing the bare minimum to make us look no worse than Bush, but we have no real interest in this and are letting the bureaucracy handle it, and we guarantee nothing.”

I think that’s too critical. HHS Secretary Sebelius acted within one week of her confirmation to get this long-overdue repeal moving through the process. As this site reports, the bureaucrats are following standard procedure here, needed to put into practical effect the legislative repeal (changing the law meant that HIV was no longer required to be on the list of excludable diseases; now it must be removed).

Imagine it’s the end of 2009: The hate crimes bill is law, so is ENDA, and the HIV repeal is lifted (in time for Sullivan, I sincerely hope; but as he points out, there are many others for whom the ban leaves fewer, or no, options). DADT continues to be assaulted, relentlessly, from many perspectives, but is still in place. Civil unions, flowering all over the country, lie beneath still-frozen soil in D.C.

Would we regard this record as one of success? Let’s see if we get there, first. And let’s continue the relentless advocacy that is finally, I believe and dare to hope, beginning to push on the hinge of history.

The Immigration Follies

April 2nd, 2009 No comments

Yesterday, I wrote with righteous fury about the effects of marriage inequality on the mother of twelve-year-old twins. Her deportation to the Philippines, scheduled for tomorrow, will mean that these kids will lose her (and she, them). Again, were her same-sex partner permitted to “sponsor” her as may U.S. citizens married to foreigners, this sad story would not be unfolding.

But there’s another story here, and one that reminds me that focusing too narrowly on marriage equality risks missing other injustices. Consider this: In cases where kids have two parents, why should immigration policy focus on marriage in the first place? Why not focus on the parent-child relationship, and permit both parents to remain in the country (where at least one has the legal right to do so) — regardless of their marital status?

Opening up this question invites consideration of a broader point. We’ve made marriage “promotion” a national priority in a way that often leads to policies that don’t deal with other realities. Beyond this case, consider cases where battles over the right to marry overlook the underlying problem. As one example, the Family and Medical Leave Act sets strict definitional limits on the class of people who can take leave to provide care for sick relatives. Unmarried cohabitants are among those excluded from coverage. But also excluded are adult siblings who might be able and inclined to provide such care, which otherwise might have to be supplied by strangers (perhaps at government expense). Marriage equality won’t help opposite-sex cohabitants, nor will it do anything for the sibling pair.

This isn’t to say, of course, that laws can’t or shouldn’t place limits on who is eligible for various benefits. Philosophically, I favor laws that value the reality of relationships over their legal form (spouse, sibling, etc.), but there are reasonable arguments (based on ease of administration) in favor of status limitations in some situations. Nonetheless, the marriage promotion craze — which may one day be regarded as the government-inspired equivalent of pet rocks or hula hoops — tends to exalt marriage over other relationships, even at the cost of real human suffering.

These twin boys need their mother. What about that relationship?