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Freedom to Marry abandons Maryland fight

State residents should withhold donations to advocacy group

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The excitement that followed Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s public signing of the state’s marriage equality bill was tempered by the threat of a referendum that will likely require state voters to determine the law’s fate.

Right now is the calm before the inevitable storm. Opponents of the law are gathering the 55,000 or so signatures they need, mostly by targeting churchgoers who are being urged by pastors to sign the petition. It seems unlikely they will fail in that signature-gathering effort. Meanwhile, the Marylanders for Marriage Equality coalition of local and national supporters is working to reorganize and hire someone to lead the campaign to preserve the law. The road ahead is daunting and will require a massive fundraising effort at a time when LGBT money is already needed for Obama’s re-election campaign, Tammy Baldwin’s U.S. Senate bid and marriage initiatives in a handful of other states. Make no mistake: the national network of LGBT donors is stretched thin.

The national advocacy group Freedom to Marry has invested in Maryland in the past, but announced last year that it would take a pass this time around. Evan Wolfson, the group’s president, told the Blade, “Freedom to Marry has made it clear to members of the coalition and to lawmakers that our goal is to win, not simply to pass a bill, if there is not sufficient groundwork and investment in a campaign to win at the ballot. We have continued to press for clarity and progress on benchmarks for success, and have urged elected officials, national organizations, and advocates on the ground to show the plan, investment, and activities needed now to build public support and succeed at the ballot, not just the legislature.”

Clearly, Wolfson lacks confidence in the coalition, led by the Human Rights Campaign, and implies here that there isn’t “sufficient groundwork and investment” to preserve the law. The anti-gay National Organization for Marriage predictably pounced on Wolfson’s remarks as evidence that the law lacks support.

The most recent public poll available in Maryland shows that 52 percent of voters would support the marriage law and 44 percent would oppose it. The statewide survey was conducted by Public Policy Polling of 600 Maryland voters March 5-7. It’s unclear whether national donors and Freedom to Marry have established a threshold of support necessary to attract their support. Fifty-two percent isn’t an overwhelming majority, but it’s better than the numbers in other states where Freedom to Marry is fully engaged.

Public Policy Polling conducted a poll in Washington about marriage after that state passed its marriage bill Feb. 22. The results showed that 50 percent would uphold the bill and 46 percent would repeal it. Interestingly, Freedom to Marry announced a new initiative last week, the “Win More States Fund,” with a goal of raising $3 million for state marriage efforts in New Hampshire, New Jersey, Minnesota, Maine and Washington.

Bloggers quickly condemned the omission of Maryland and North Carolina from the list. Bil Browning, editor of Bilerico, wrote, “Bluntly put, this is a big ‘Fuck you’ out of the usually respectful Freedom to Marry gang … They don’t think they can win in those states, so they’re only attaching their names to the battles they think will win.”

Pam Spaulding of Pam’s House Blend called the omission of North Carolina “offensive, given NC is a battleground state, is hosting the DNC in Charlotte, and the President last Friday specifically came out against Amendment One.”

Although I don’t think Wolfson is giving Maryland and North Carolina the finger here, he ought to refrain from public remarks that undermine the hard work of his allies in states facing an admittedly uphill battle.

Further, Freedom to Marry should refrain from raising money in Maryland and North Carolina during this time. The group says it is not soliciting money for the Win More States fund from North Carolinians or Marylanders, but a Feb. 28 solicitation from the group did go to Marylanders, several of whom objected. It’s misleading — at best — for a group called Freedom to Marry to seek financial contributions from Maryland and North Carolina residents who might logically assume the group is engaged in the marriage fights in those states. Unfortunately, it is not and donors from Maryland and North Carolina should give all they can to the groups who haven’t walked away from the fight.

Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at [email protected]

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10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Tim

    March 29, 2012 at 6:22 pm

    Perhaps the supporters in Virginia and DC should blow off Freedom to Marry as well and focus their energies and money in Maryland and North Carolina. A defeat for the gay bashers in North Carolina in May could boost efforts in Maryland, Maine and Washington State in November, and of course, Maryland and North Carolina are closer and more important for Virginians and citizens in DC.

  2. laurelboy2

    March 29, 2012 at 6:56 pm

    Maybe Freedom to Marry is smarter than you think, Kevin.

  3. Willy Braxton

    March 29, 2012 at 9:40 pm

    I agree that Freedom to Marry should have included Maryland. Several things can be done in 7 months to tip the vote in Maryland. It is a winnable if you get out the youth and gay vote.
    In additional with the unraveling of NOM and their plan for a race war exposed it is likely many of the pastors on their payroll will be effective in the ballot fight.

  4. Ryan Willis

    March 31, 2012 at 12:03 am

    The fight is not really winnable. I think up to 60% of voters in MD may reject the bill. FTM is simply directing resources to states where they have a chance to win, like ME and WA. Even in those places, it will be difficult.

  5. RCS

    April 1, 2012 at 9:37 pm

    This is all the more reason to go to the Equality Maryland website and make a contribution. Those who live in the area can, also, volunteer to work to help preserve marriage equality there. One sure way to make sure that this battle is not won is to give up before it is even started.

  6. Mykelb

    April 2, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    I’ll be damned if I have to pay other people to secure my civil rights. I don’t give to legislators and I won’t give to these scumbags.

  7. Mousemess

    April 2, 2012 at 4:15 pm

    I prefer to wait and see. There are 7 months until the US general election day on Tuesday November 6th and I refuse to give into woe is us here in Maryland this early in the game. The lastest poll said that the split of those who support and those who oppose MD marriage equality is roughly 50-50 give or take some.
    People have said, Maryland will never pass MD marriage equality. Well, Maryland statehouse proved them wrong. Let’s see on November 6th this year if the people of MD vote mostly yes or no. Until then, I will aid Marylanders for Marriage Equality that Equality Maryland is part of, to help see that MME has the resources it needs for this MD marriage fight for Marylanders’ hearts and minds up until near Nov. 6th.

  8. One Who Knows

    April 6, 2012 at 9:45 am

    Under Webster’s definition of pompous hypocrite it says – see Evan Wolfson and Freedom To Marry. During 2011, FTM was sending people to Maryland to help advance the marriage bill, sent Sean Eldridge to elbow his way into the Annapolis press conference when the marriage bill was filed, and slapped their label on podiums and products touting the advance of marriage equality in MD. Now comes the superb irony that an organization called “Freedom To Marry” has decided that one state hasn’t done “sufficient groundwork and investment” to deserve the perogative. Really ? Cause it’s not like a whole has changed from 2011 to 2012 except for the small matter of the Governor deciding to sponsor the bill. Oh, and the part where it actually passed the legislature. The fact that the bill may end up going to a voter referendum was never a secret. So for FTM to suddenly decide that Maryland isn’t deserving of their support — it can’t be about the difficulty of the effort — sounds more like someone just decided to take their ball and go home. Unfortunately, the ongoing struggle for marriage equality in Maryland, or anywhere, is not a game. Kudos to HRC and the organizations in the Marylanders for Marriage Equality coalition for sticking it out to fight the good fight. Same-sex couples in Maryland deserve the freedom to marry, and the best effort of our community to try to make it so.

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Opinion | Why LGBTQ people should fear new Texas abortion law

Slippery slope measure turns private citizens into enforcers

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Texas State Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

I worry about everything from climate change to violence against transgender people to racism to reproductive freedom for women. But, until recently, I didn’t have to worry that a “$10,000 bounty” could be collected from me if I helped a woman to have an abortion.

Yet, this is now a terrifying concern for abortion providers, advocates of women’s reproductive rights and those who value civil liberties. Especially, for people in Texas.

If you value the right to privacy and are LGBTQ or a queer ally, you should be terrified.

Here’s why everyone with a sense of decency should feel the hair standing up on the back of their necks: It’s no secret, that the Supreme Court, more conservative since the court of the 1930s, is likely eyeing the chance to overthrow or gut Roe V. Wade.

In May, the Supreme Court said that, in its next term (beginning in October 2021), it would consider an abortion case involving a Mississippi law that would prohibit most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy (about two months earlier than permitted by Roe v. Wade).

The Court’s decision to consider this case gives hope to anti-abortion activists seeking the overthrow of Roe v. Wade.   

States with Republican-controlled legislatures, aware of the make-up of the Supreme Court (with its conservative 6 to 3 majority), have acted quickly to severely weaken abortion rights. This has been especially true this year.

“More abortion restrictions — 90 — have already been enacted in 2021 than in any year since the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down in 1973,” according to a Guttmacher Institute report.

On May 19, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas signed a draconian abortion bill into law. This measure, known as a “heartbeat law,” bans abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.

Many women, at the six-week point, have no idea that they’re pregnant.

This is bad enough. Other states, including Ohio, Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, Alabama, Kentucky and South Carolina have passed “heartbeat” laws banning abortion (when a fetal heartbeat can be detected).

But the legislation signed into law this spring by Gov. Abbott is even more insidious.

The legislation, scheduled to take effect in September 2021, gives private citizens the right to sue doctors and abortion clinic employees.

It doesn’t stop there. The new law permits a private citizen (from a pastor to an Uber driver to a friend, family member or perfect stranger) to sue anyone who performs or helps anyone to get an abortion. Even private citizens not living in Texas could sue people performing or helping someone to get an abortion.

Each private citizen could potentially be awarded $10,000 for every illegal abortion.

The law doesn’t allow for abortion in the case of rape or incest. Though it would permit abortions in rare medical instances. Thankfully, on July 13, a coalition of abortion rights and civil liberties advocates, including abortion clinics, doctors, clergy, filed a federal lawsuit to challenge this new law.

Six-week abortion bans passed by other states have been successfully challenged because abortion rights advocates sued government officials.

But Texas’s new law prohibits state officials from enforcing it. It’s set up to be enforced by private citizens.

“We had to devise a unique strategy to fight this subversive law,” Nancy Northup, president and chief executive of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. “We will pursue every legal avenue we can to block this pernicious law.”

This new law sets up a dangerous slippery slope for LGBTQ folk.

If a private citizen is allowed to sue anyone assisting a woman having an abortion, what, for example, would prevent anyone (from a minister to a friend to a cab driver) who helps a queer couple to adopt a child? Or suing anyone helping a transgender person to get health care.

Let’s do all we can to support the effort to block this dangerous law.

Kathi Wolfe, a writer and a poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.

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Opinion | LGBTQ victories are largely legal, not legislative

Leading lobbying groups ineffective as we face hostile Supreme Court

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anti-discrimination laws, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The recent conclusion of last month’s Pride month celebrations marked an annual milestone in both the history and advancements of rights for the LGBTQ community. The progress for LGBTQ rights over the last two decades has been groundbreaking – oftentimes described as an exemplary movement obtaining rights for a marginalized community. It was less than 20 years ago the United States Supreme Court struck down the country’s first real gay rights test in Lawrence v. Texas, decriminalizing “homosexual conduct” among consenting adults. 

Even in the most recent years, we all recognize how major achievements like marriage equality to the protection of gay adoption – to the recent action ensuring a fully inclusive military with transgender service – have benefited the community. But with new attacks arising daily in state capitals around the nation, like transgender sports becoming the new “bathroom bill,” LGBTQ future generations are counting on the leading LGBTQ rights and legal organizations to secure more equality.

Almost unanimously, these groundbreaking rights – while being achieved at almost lightning speed (although not fast enough for the millions of LGBTQ Americans whose lives have been, and still being impacted) – have been won in American courtrooms, not the halls of Congress. 

While the first federal LGBTQ rights bill was introduced in Congress in 1975 by former Rep. Bella Abzug (D-N.Y.) making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, it was simply referred to the Judiciary Committee and died. Forty-six years later barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, part of today’s Equality Act, has still not been passed into law by the LGBTQ lobbying organizations – and faces a similar fate this year in the U.S. Senate. 

The Equality Act, the chief legislative target for Washington, D.C.’s LGBTQ lobbying organizations is dead in Congress despite the ripest political environment with a Democratic House, Senate and White House. The Senate’s filibuster and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are major structural problems for the legislation, but there is not even serious discussion or demands from the LGBTQ lobbying community to insist on passage through filibuster reform.  

Must we automatically presume the LGBTQ community is so low a priority we are essentially beholden to prejudice of the minority in the Senate? When, therefore, can we ever expect any action? If not now, then when will gay lobbying succeed?

As an LGBTQ researcher at the University of Sydney in preparation for a new academic piece, I wanted to find out how groundbreaking LGBTQ rights could be won in courtrooms while lingering in Congress for half a century. The central question this research tried to answer was, “what factors contribute to LGBTQ lobbyist and advocate perceptions of movement success by LGBTQ organizations?”  The answer became pretty clear when surveying the top LGBTQ lobbying and government affairs professionals, the ones with the most intimate, front-line view of congressional outreach. 

Overwhelmingly, the research concludes the leading mainstream legal organizations have been primarily responsible for the community’s progress – not the LGBTQ organization’s lobbying efforts. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the wealthiest LGBTQ organization with a $48 million a year budget based in Washington, D.C. and founded 41 years ago, was ranked 10th most effective out of 17 organizations ranked. Since 2018, HRC has fallen six additional positions since the original research was published. In contrast, Lambda Legal, the LGBTQ community’s foremost legal rights organization, followed by the legal powerhouse, the ACLU, have moved ahead of them ranking as the most effective LGBTQ organizations.

The research clearly demonstrates the ineffectiveness of the LGBTQ lobby, which has largely focused on gaining access to power structures instead of winning legislative victories.  Fundraising models of these organizations, built largely around monetizing their access to power, has left little evidence of their effectiveness and in turn, has strengthened systems of oppression against an overwhelming number of LGBTQ people of color, transgender individuals and lower-income members of the community. The “access to power” model of LGBTQ lobbying has essentially commercialized gayness (white, cisgender, English-speaking, middle and upper class gayness) as a consumable product that most often benefits those in power. It’s a “scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours” system of lobbying that shuts the door on the most marginalized LGBTQ people – those most in need of legislative victories to protect their lives.

Today, regardless of all of the progress in LGBTQ legal victories over the last two decades, the community is in the most dangerous place it has been in 25 years. LGBTQ lobbying does not work, and LGBTQ legal avenues have catastrophically changed. The 6-3 Supreme Court is poised to undermine Roe, which some say undermines Lawrence, which undermines Obergefell (the groundbreaking 2015 marriage equality decision). A house of very successful, but delicate legal cards, may begin to fall. The LGBTQ community is holding its collective breath against an anti-LGBTQ Supreme Court majority, and the spotlight is now shining brightly on the LGBTQ lobby and their ability to produce legislative success. 

Unfortunately, the organizations responsible for shaping the community’s relationship with states and the federal government are largely seen as ineffective and oftentimes harmful to progress. This ineffectiveness leaves the LGBTQ community in a dangerous and perilous moment in the movement’s history.  

To be successful, a radical transformation of the movement’s lobbying must happen immediately by shifting to a much more state-based movement, where anti-LGBTQ opponents are already attacking the identity and existence of transgender people with the introduction of more than 100 bills aimed to curb the rights of transgender people nationwide. Secondly, the danger to the lives of LGBTQ people from these legislative harms must be amplified and ready to be fought against. And lastly, a new model of investment is required that prioritizes the lives of transgender individuals and people of color and embraces an intersectional approach to lobbying. 

The LGBTQ movement is about to face darker days ahead. Leaders in Washington’s premier gay rights groups, including their lobbyists, must figure out how to protect our children, protect the poor, and lift up the marginalized or face disastrous consequences in the next few years in legislative bodies from city halls to the U.S. Capitol. Otherwise our hopes to tackle issues like transgender sports and equality will rest solely on the LGBTQ legal apparatus.

Christopher Pepin-Neff, Ph.D., a senior lecturer in Public Policy in the Department of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney, is the author of ‘LGBTQ Lobbying in the United States.’

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Opinion | Macha, Byrne for Rehoboth Beach Commission

Aug. 14 election critical after reckless vote on Clear Space permits

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Double L, Diego's Hideaway, Fourth, Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, gay news, Washington Blade

On Saturday, Aug. 14, voters in Rehoboth Beach, Del., have an opportunity to make a strong statement on what they want their city to be in the future. During last year’s election for mayor and Commission, I suggested a vote for Stan Mills, Susan Gay and Patrick Gossett would take Rehoboth back to the Sam Cooper years and put anti-business candidates in control of the City Commission. My prediction has sadly proven accurate. The latest fiasco is the vote to turn down the city’s Planning Commission recommendation for the second time and potentially force the iconic Clear Space Theatre out of Rehoboth.

While voters of Rehoboth Beach can’t turn around the Commission with one election their votes can make a huge difference. That is why I urge support for Rachel Macha and Richard Byrne who have both shown an in-depth understanding of what Rehoboth Beach needs to flourish and promise a fair and balanced look at the future of the city. They understand to be successful for years to come Rehoboth must fairly balance the needs of its residents, businesses, and visitors.

Rachel Macha and her husband Rich have owned property in Rehoboth Beach for more than 21 years. They have a great loving family, 23-year-old triplets and 21-year-old twins. Macha is proud of the fact that since her kids were 14, they have held summer jobs in Rehoboth at Funland, Royal Treat, Jungle Jim’s, Bin 66 and Big Fish Restaurant Group.

She understands Rehoboth’s Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP) and that within the next year the updated CDP will set forth a strategic vision for Rehoboth Beach. Macha said “It will be the Commissioner’s guide to navigating the way to a sound future to achieve its key strategic objectives, including preserving our sense of place, infrastructure, arts and culture, strategic projects, and safety. As a member of the Planning Commission, I focused intensely to carefully analyze and understand the concerns, desires, and suggestions of residents, businesses, and tourists before, during and after COVID.”

Her professional experience is in the area of improving customer service and customer experience in the technology, software, and service industries. She has spent years serving on various school, church, company, and non-profit boards and committees. For the past three years, she leveraged her experience serving Rehoboth on the Parks, Shade Tree Commission, and Planning Commission.

Macha also understands the future of the city depends on fiscal responsibility and enhancing the sense of community that Rehoboth Beach was developing before the current mayor’s efforts, intentional or not, destroyed it. To foster that sense of community Macha has proposed launching a Customer Experience Committee comprised of residents, organizations such as RBHA and CAMP, and local businesses to generate and openly discuss ways to move Rehoboth forward positively with a unified sense of purpose.

Richard Byrne and his wife Sherri have been coming to Rehoboth for more than 25 years. They bought their home in 2002 and have lived in Rehoboth full-time since 2009. Byrne has more than 30 years of experience in education, running university extension programs in Maryland and Minnesota. Those programs required collaboration among citizens, volunteers, youth, community organizations and working with county and state agencies. He has served in many ways including being a member of the Rehoboth Beach Commission for the past three years and is proud of his many accomplishments during that time.

He authored legislation creating Steve Elkins Way; created the environment committee; and promoted endeavors to take care of the city’s natural environment. He led the review of the city’s wireless communications facilities ordinance; has been involved with bringing back recycling to the boardwalk; brought forward several measures to improve pedestrian safety; and secured a grant to support the beautification of the public triangle on State Road.

He said, “If I am re-elected I will continue to preserve residential neighborhoods, protect the city’s natural environment and promote ethical, open, fair, and transparent government. I will continue listening to concerns of residents and business owners and look for new ideas for improving our city.” So on Aug. 14, vote Rachel Macha and Richard Byrne for a better Rehoboth Beach.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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