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N.J. lawmakers introduce same-sex marriage bill

9 Dem members of congressional delegation urge passage

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New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, gay news, gay politics dc

While marriage advocates are optimistic, New Jersey Guv. Chris Christie is likely to veto the bill. (Photo by Walter Burns via Wikimedia Commons)

One day before the New Jersey Legislature is sworn in and Gov. Chris Christie delivers his State of the State address, leaders of the state Senate and Assembly have announced that they are not only introducing but fast-tracking a bill designed to offer marriage rights to same-sex couples in that state.

The House and Senate bills (respectively numbered A. 1 and S. 1) are expected to be taken up early this year. According to same-sex marriage advocacy organization, Freedom to Marry, “the numbering of the bills reflects the importance which the legislative leaders are giving to the effort.”

The legislative leaders who were scheduled to participate in a Tuesday press conference included Senate President Steve Sweeney, incoming Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, incoming Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald, and state Democratic Chairman Assemblyman John Wisniewski.

With Democratic leadership unified in calling for the law’s passage, the bill will likely fare better in the legislature than the 2010 attempt to convert civil unions into same-sex marriage rights for both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. Both houses will have to secure a two-thirds super-majority to overcome a promised veto by Christie, according to the Star-Ledger.

In 2009, in the waning days of the administration of marriage supporter Gov. Jon Corzine, the New Jersey Legislature debated and killed a bill that would have legalized same-sex marriage.

“The days are over when marriage equality was the third rail of American politics,” Garden State Equality chair Steven Goldstein said in a statement. “Today, in a state and nation that supports marriage equality, not standing up for equality is the third rail for prejudice.”

In 2006, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Lewis v. Harris that same-sex couples must be provided all the same rights as opposite-sex married couples. The high court, however, left the means of doing so up to the legislature. Rather than make marriage gender-neutral, as Massachusetts had, the New Jersey Legislature passed the Civil Union Act in December 2006, offering same-sex couples the same state-level benefits as opposite-sex married couples.

Following its passage, the state commissioned a study on the effectiveness of the law. The 2008 New Jersey Civil Union Commission concluded there was “overwhelming evidence that civil unions will not be recognized by the general public as the equivalent of marriage in New Jersey with the passage of time.” It unanimously recommended enacting marriage in the place of civil unions.

The commission discovered some businesses and institutions that offered insurance and other benefits to opposite-sex spouses of married employees were slow to offer those same benefits to same-sex spouses of those employees in civil unions. According to Garden State Equality, by the end of July 2007, 1 out of 7 couples who had entered into New Jersey civil unions had reported that their employers refused to recognize their civil unions, including DHL, FedEx and UPS, the last of which claimed their contract with the Teamsters Union prevented them from offering the benefits since the civil unions law did not explicitly designate partners entering into the unions as ‘spouses.’

“What New Jersey’s legislative leaders are telling us clearly today is that the Garden State values its gay and lesbian citizens fully, and does not accept treating same-sex couples and their families as second class citizens, as it presently does with civil unions,” said Freedom to Marry campaign director Marc Solomon. “Marriage matters for same-sex couples and their families, both because it says we’re a family through thick and thin in a way that nothing else does, and because it provides a critical safety-net of protections that civil unions do not.”

In July, Lambda Legal filed suit in New Jersey court on behalf of Garden State Equality and seven families headed by same-sex couples stating that the civil unions law violates not only the New Jersey Constitution but the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as well.

“We believe in all roads to justice,” Goldstein said on Tuesday. “Whether through the legislature or the courts, however we can win equality, we will.”

Upon the announcement of the bill’s introduction, the entire New Jersey Democratic delegation to the United States Congress signed a joint letter urging their colleagues in the New Jersey state legislature to pass the marriage bill.

Full text of letter from New Jersey Democratic delegation to the United States congress:

Dear Democratic Colleagues in the New Jersey Senate and Assembly:

We, the entire Democratic membership of the New Jersey Congressional delegation, urge you to support the marriage equality bill being introduced by the Democratic leadership in the state Senate and Assembly, along with many sponsors.

New Jersey has a proud history of civil rights leadership, and we must continue our role in pursuing fairness and equality. Other states with a combined population of more than 35 million people already have marriage equality – including our next door neighbor, New York.

Although New Jersey has a civil union law, ample testimony before the New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee two years ago demonstrated that the civil union law has not successfully provided equality to same-sec couples in New Jersey. Couples testified that hospitals still refuse visitation and medical-decision rights because they do not consider civil unions to be equal to marriage. Similarly, couples demonstrated that employers continue to refuse to grant equal benefits to civil union partners.

As more states recognize marriage equality, civil unions threaten to become an even less respected and understood alternative to marriage. The 2008 New Jersey Civil Union Review Commission concluded there was “overwhelming evidence that civil unions will not be recognized by the general public as the equivalent of marriage in New Jersey with the passage of time.”

It is important to note that New Jersey enacted the strongest possible civil union law in 2006. Therefore, it is not feasible to “fix” the law short of providing marriage equality. The time has come to end discrimination in marriage. The marriage equality bill in the New Jersey legislature needs your support.

Sincerely,

Frank R. Laurenberg, United States Senator
Robert Menendez, United States Senator
Rush Holt, Member of Congress
Robert Andrews, Member of Congress
Albio Sires, Member of Congress
Steven Rothman, Member of Congress
Bill Pascrell, Member of Congress
Frank Pallone, Jr., Member of Congress
Donals Payne, Member of Congress

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U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court declines to hear lawsuit against Montgomery County schools gender guidelines

4th Circuit last August dismissed parents’ case

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U.S. Supreme Court (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a lawsuit against Montgomery County Public Schools guidelines that allow schools to create plans in support of transgender or gender nonconfirming students without their parents’ knowledge or consent.

Three parents of students in the school district — none of whom have trans or gender nonconfirming children — filed the lawsuit. 

A judge on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last August dismissed the case. The plaintiffs appealed the decision to the Supreme Court.

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National

Bill to support LGBTQ seniors in rural areas reintroduced

Advocates praise Elder Pride Act

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(Washington Blade file photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), and Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) reintroduced legislation to increase access to needed services and resources for LGBTQ seniors who live in rural areas this week.

The Elder Pride Act would bolster the capacity and ability of Area Agencies on Aging located in rural communities to better serve and support LGBTQ seniors who often require affirming care, services, and supports that are often underfunded and scarce in many parts of the country.

Recent surveys show that between 2.9 million and 3.8 million LGBTQ people live in rural American communities.

“LGBTQ+ elders and older people living with HIV live in every part of this nation, including rural areas. We all deserve to be able to age in our communities with the services and supports we need to remain independent,” SAGE CEO Michael Adams said in the press release announcing the reintroduction of the legislation. “We commend Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Mark Pocan (D-WI), and Sharice Davids (D-KS) on reintroducing the Elder Pride Act. And we honor the contributions of our many LGBTQ+ trailblazers whose tireless advocacy allowed us to reintroduce this critical bill. We look forward to working alongside Reps. Bonamici, Pocan, and Davids, and our LGBTQ+ pioneers nationwide to pass this legislation.”

“LGBTQI+ seniors should be able to access services and care that meets their unique needs, regardless of where they live,” said Bonamici, chair of the Equality Caucus’s LGBTQ+ Aging Issues Task Force.”Those who live in rural areas frequently face increased barriers, which Congress can break down. The Elder Pride Act will increase resources for programs and services that will improve the lives of LGBTQI+ elders.”

“The Elder Pride Act will improve the overall health and social and economic well-being of LGBTQI+ older adults and seniors living with HIV in rural areas by better equipping senior service providers with resources to address the unique needs of these communities. I’m pleased to introduce this important legislation with my colleagues and co-leaders on the Equality Caucus, Reps. Pocan and Davids,” Bonamici added.

“Rural LGBTQI+ seniors have been lacking access to necessary services and care for too long,” said Pocan, co-chair of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus. “The Elder Pride Act creates opportunities for LGBTQ+ seniors in rural communities, benefiting everyone in the region. I look forward to advancing this important legislation.”

“Many of our LGBTQ+ elders fought tirelessly for equality in a world that refused to accept their identity,” said Davids. “While they overcame tremendous odds to give future generations the rights they deserve, our elders, particularly those in rural communities, continue to face discrimination when accessing long-term care and healthcare. I am proud to support the Elder Pride Act because who you are and who you love should never increase your risk for isolation, poverty, and poor health outcomes as you age.”

The Elder Pride Act complements the Older American Act, which was updated under Bonamici’s leadership, by establishing a rural grant program designed to fund care and services for LGBTQ seniors. The grant would also support programs that:

• Provide services such as cultural competency training for service providers;

• Develop modes of connection between LGBTQI+ older adults and local service providers and community organizations;

• Expand the use of nondiscrimination policies and community spaces for older adults who are members of the LGBTQI+ community or another protected class; and,

• Disseminate resources on sexual health and aging for senior service providers.

A fact sheet on the legislation can be found here, and the full text can be found here.

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State Department

State Department travel advisory warns of potential anti-LGBTQ violence

FBI issued similar warning this week

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(Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

The State Department on Friday issued a worldwide travel advisory that warns of potential violence against LGBTQ people and LGBTQ-specific events.

“Due to the potential for terrorist attacks, demonstrations, or violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests, the Department of State advises U.S. citizens overseas to exercise increased caution,” reads the advisory. “The Department of State is aware of the increased potential for foreign terrorist organization-inspired violence against LGBTQI+ persons and events and advises U.S. citizens overseas to exercise increased caution.”  

The advisory further urges U.S. citizens to:

  • Stay alert in locations frequented by tourists, including Pride celebrations and venues frequented by LGBTQI+ persons.
  • Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive information and alerts and make it easier to locate you in an emergency overseas.
  • Follow the Department of State on Facebook and Twitter.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Homeland Security Investigations earlier this week issued a similar advisory.

The advisory notes June 12 will mark eight years since the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

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