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Lawmakers seek fed’l recognition for Michigan same-sex marriages

Delegation calls on DOJ to clarify whether administration will recognize unions

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Carl Levin, Democratic Party, Senate, Michigan, gay news, Washington Blade

Carl Levin, Democratic Party, Senate, Michigan, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) is among the lawmakers calling for federal recognition of Michigan same-sex marriages (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key).

Members of Michigan’s delegation to Congress are calling on the Obama administration to recognize the more than 300 same-sex marriages that took place in the state for the purposes of federal benefits.

In a letter dated March 27, six lawmakers — led by Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) — called on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to recognize the marriages in the wake of a federal district court decision striking down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

“The Court’s decision was a historic step toward equal protection for all American families, regardless of sexual orientation,” the lawmakers write. “By clarifying the federal status of these now married same-sex couples in Michigan—as you did in January for similarly situated same-sex couples in Utah—you can take another step toward full equality.”

Lawmakers seek federal recognition of the same-sex marriages performed on Saturday in Michigan prior to an indefinite stay placed on the weddings by the U.S. Sixth Circuit of Appeals. Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican who’s seeking re-election, said Wednesday the state recognizes the marriages as legal, but won’t afford the couples state benefits unless the stay is lifted.

But the Justice Department hasn’t yet announced a decision on whether federal benefits would flow to the couples. The department didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment on the letter from Michigan’s federal delegation. Allison Price, a Justice Department spokesperson, had said earlier this week the administration is “closely monitoring the situation.”

Six Democratic members of Michigan’s federal delegation to Congress signed the letter. In addition to Kildee, Reps. John Dingell (D-Mich.), Sander Levin (D-Mich.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.) signed the letter as well as both U.S. senators from Michigan: Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).

The only Democratic member of Michigan federal delegation not to sign the letter is Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.). His absence is noteworthy because he supports marriage equality and was chief sponsor of the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which extended federal hate crimes protections to LGBT people. Conyers’ office didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment on why his name was absent from the letter.

None of the nine Republicans making up the 16 members of Michigan’s federal delegation to Congress signed the letter.

Mitchell Rivard, a Kildee spokesperson, deferred to the Republicans as to why their names are absent from the missive.

“The Democratic delegation, as demonstrated by today’s letter calling for federal recognition of the legal marriages performed last week, are certainly unified in standing for equality for all Michiganders,” Rivard said.

Among the couples who wed in Michigan on Saturday were Anne Callison, 37, and Kelly Callison, 34. The couple, who has a two-year-old named Corbin, married in Ann Arbor, Mich., after being been together five years.

During a conference call with reporters, Anne said recognition of her marriage is important so that Kelly has second-parent adoption rights for their son. Kelly is the egg donor for Corbin, but Anne is the birth mother.

“I would say the thing that’s the most scary is that in order for Kelly to do things like pick him up from child care…access his medical records, all of that means that I have to give permission ahead of time,” Anne said. “Kelly is a stay-at-home mom, and I am working full-time. She should be able to do those things.”

Taking issue with Snyder’s decision not to allow benefits to flow to her and her spouse, Anne said she doesn’t understand why a stay being in place halting additional same-sex marriages led to that decision.

“I’m married, I have a Michigan marriage certificate, it has a seal and witnesses,” Anne said. “I don’t know how much more legal it can get than that.”

For her part, Kelly said the lack of recognition of her marriage continues to build “stress and anxiety” for her entire family.

“We have a two-year-old son that is the center of our lives and because of Gov. Snyder not recognizing a marriage that he himself said is a legal marriage, but the state won’t recognize [it], just adds to the stress that what goes on with our daily lives,” Kelly said.

Under the current situation, Kelly said the couple carries around a notebook of documents to ensure she can make medical and other important decisions for Corbin.

In a statement, Kildee said Anne and Kelly’s union should be recognized by both the state and federal government, criticizing Snyder and Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette for not allowing benefits to flow to the couple.

“Legally-performed marriages like Anne and Kelly’s should be fully recognized under the law, both at the state and federal level,” Kildee said. “It’s a shame to me that Gov. Snyder and Bill Schuette continue to work around the clock to deny these committed couples the same opportunity for love and happiness that they enjoy themselves.”

The situation in Michigan is along the lines of what happened in Utah after a district court ruling enabled an estimated 1,300 same-sex couples to wed in the state until the U.S. Supreme Court halted the weddings by issuing a stay pending appeal. Gov. Gary Herbert announced his state won’t recognize the weddings pending appeal, but U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the state would recognize for the purposes of federal benefits.

Prior to Holder’s announcement, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin wrote a letter to the attorney general, saying there’s no need to think the Utah marriages are invalid.

The Human Rights Campaign issued an organizational statement late Thursday calling for the federal recognition of same-sex marriages performed in Michigan.

“The Department of Justice under Attorney General Eric Holder has been a remarkable leader in the fight for equal recognition of marriage for lesbian and gay couples,” the statement says. “Their decision to recognize marriages performed in Utah during the period when gay couples were granted licenses was legally sound and morally right. The Human Rights Campaign has encouraged the Department to apply the same principles to the Michigan marriages that happened recently and we have every reason to believe that they will continue being champions of the LGBT community.”

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Comings & Goings

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Troy Cline, gay news, Washington Blade
The 'Comings & Goings' column chronicles important life changes of Blade readers.

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected]

The Comings & Goings column also invites LGBTQ+ college students to share their successes with us. If you have been elected to a student government position, gotten an exciting internship, or are graduating and beginning your career with a great job, let us know so we can share your success. 

Shin Inouye, gay news, Washington Blade
Steven McCarty

Congratulations to Steven McCarty on being named president of the Kiwanis Club of Washington, D.C. He said, “I’m honored to be installed as the president of the Kiwanis Club of Washington, D.C. and to be able to shepherd our programs and volunteers to impact youth where they are needed most. Our club’s new partnership with SMYAL has already turned a portion of their Youth Center in Southeast D.C. into the first Clinical Services Department in the District that offers free and affirming mental healthcare to LGBTQ Youth. As an openly gay man, I’m proud to further our club’s mission with radical empathy and inclusion.” McCarty has also recently been awarded Kiwanis’ highest honor, the George Hixson award.

McCarty is a Technical Program Specialist at stac labs in D.C. He is also founder and campaign manager at Abolish Racism 2020. He worked as a Senior Customer Success Manager,  Crowdskout. He was a workplace equality intern at Human Rights Campaign and a summer fellow at Michigan State AFL-CIO, in Lansing, Mich. 

McCarty earned his bachelor’s in Political Science and Communications Studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Congratulations also to Shin Inouye on his appointment as Executive Vice President of Communications, The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and Human Rights, The Leadership Conference Education Fund. 

Wade Henderson, interim president and CEO of The Leadership Conference and The Education Fund said, “We are thrilled Shin Inouye will be taking on even greater responsibilities on our senior leadership team. His incredible talent and commitment to this organization and our work are truly outstanding, and his strategic leadership will no doubt continue moving us forward in the fight to protect and advance civil and human rights.”

Inouye has held a number of positions with the organization including Managing Director of Communications. Inouye also held a number of high-level positions in the Obama administration, including Press Secretary and Acting Senior Adviser for Intergovernmental and External Affairs, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; Adviser for Intergovernmental and External Affairs, Executive Office of the President; White House Office of Communications: Director of Specialty Media; and served as an authorized spokesperson for the Obama Inaugural Committee, with a focus on specialty media outlets, including LGBTQ, AAPI, Native American, Youth/College, Faith, and Jewish press. Prior to that Inouye was Communications Director in the Office of Congressman Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.) and has also worked for the ACLU and as a summer intern with the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan. 

Inouye received a number of honors including being named One of 25 “LGBTI next generation leaders to watch” by Out in National Security and the Atlantic Council; and One of “40 Asian American Pacific Islander National Security & Foreign Policy Next Generation Leaders” by New America and the Diversity in National Security Network.

Shin Inouye
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World

Petition urges White House to develop plan to protect LGBTQ Afghans

Taliban regained control of country on Aug. 15

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Two men in Kabul, Afghanistan, in July 2021 (Photo courtesy of Dr. Ahmad Qais Munzahim)

More than 10,000 people have signed a petition that urges the Biden administration to do more to help LGBTQ Afghans who remain in Afghanistan after the Taliban regained control of the country.

The Human Rights Campaign; the Council for Global Equality; Immigration Equality; Rainbow Railroad; the Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration and the International Refugee Assistance Project on Friday presented to the White House the petition that urges the administration to adopt “a 10-point action plan … to expedite and ease the refugee and asylum process for LGBTQI Afghans.”

The same six groups last month urged the Biden administration to adopt a plan that would “prioritize the evacuation and resettlement of vulnerable refugee populations, including LGBTQI people, and ensure that any transitory stay in a third country is indeed temporary by expediting refugee processing.” The groups, among other things, asked the White House to “speak out forcefully against human rights abuses by the new Taliban regime and any increased targeting of vulnerable communities, including LGBTQI people, and use existing mechanisms to sanction and hold accountable perpetrators of human rights abuse.”

The Taliban entered Kabul, the Afghan capital, on Aug. 15 and regained control of the country.

A Taliban judge in July said the group would once again execute people if it were to return to power in Afghanistan.

Rainbow Railroad and Immigration Equality are among the other groups that have continued their efforts to evacuate LGBTQ Afghans since American troops completed their withdrawal from the country on Aug. 30. Some of the 50 Afghan human rights activists who Taylor Hirschberg, a researcher at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health who is also a Hearst Foundation scholar, has been able to help leave the country are LGBTQ.

“We reiterate our call for President Biden to adopt the 10-point policy plan which will expedite and ease the refugee process for LGBTQI Afghans,” said Human Rights Campaign Senior Vice President for Policy and Political Affairs JoDee Winterhof in a press release. “The 10,000+ people who signed our petition have demonstrated that they want the United States, long a beacon of refuge for those fleeing persecution, to take action to protect LGBTQI Afghans—a vulnerable group who risk oppression, even death, simply for who they are or who they love. Now is the time for action.”

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Utah

VIDEO: Utah deal promoted as national model for LGBTQ rights, religious liberty

Data finds state has 2nd highest support for LGBTQ rights

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(Screen capture via YouTube)

A new video from the premier LGBTQ group in Utah, challenging the idea LGBTQ rights must be at odds with religious liberty, promotes an agreement reached in the state as a potential model to achieve a long sought-after update to civil rights law at the federal level.

The video, published Friday by Equality Utah, focuses on a 2015 agreement in Utah between the supporters of LGBTQ rights and the Mormon Church to enact a compromise acceptable to both sides. The agreement by those two sides led to an LGBTQ civil rights law in the state, which has Republican control of the state legislature and the governor’s mansion.

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, says in the video dialogue is key to achieving meaningful success, whether its among the people of Utah, a state legislature or lawmakers in Congress.

“When you are working with LGBT rights in a state like Utah, and you want to advance legal equality, you can’t do it without working with Republicans, with conservative, with people of faith,” Williams says.

Williams, speaking with the Washington Blade over a Zoom call, said the main audience for the video is people on “the center right and the center left” willing to listen to other side when it comes to LGBTQ rights and religious liberty.

“People that have the courage to reach out to each other, and sit down across from each other and say, ‘Hey look, let’s hammer this out,” Williams said. “That’s who my audience is.”

Not only did Utah enact non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people, but the state under a Republican governor administratively banned widely discredited conversion therapy for youth. When lawmakers proposed legislation that would ban transgender youth from competing in school sports, the proposal was scuttled when Gov. Spencer Cox (whom Williams called a “super Mormon”) said he’d veto it after it came to his desk.

Marina Gomberg, a former board for Equality Utah, is another voice in the video seeking dispel the narrative religious liberty and LGBTQ rights are in conflict.

“in order to protect LGBTQ people, we don have to deny religious liberty, and in order to provide protections for religious liberties, we don’t have to deny LGBTQ people,” Gomberg says. “The idea that we do is a fallacy that Utah has dismantled.”

In July, new polling demonstrated the surprisingly the Utah, despite being a conservative state, has the second highest percentage of state population in support for non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. The data Public Religion Research Institute from 77 percent of Utah residents support LGBTQ people, which is just behind New Hampshire at 81 percent.

Tyler Deaton, senior adviser for the pro-LGBTQ American Unity Fund, said the Utah agreement demonstrates the possibility of reaching an agreement at the federal level once “second order” issues are put into perspective.

“The first order question has to be how are we winning the culture,” Deaton said. “Do people even want to pass the bill? And if they do, you then figure out the details.”

The American Unity Fund has helped promote as a path forward for LGBTQ non-discrimination at the federal level the Fairness for For All Act, legislation seeking to reach a middle ground on LGBTQ rights and religious freedom. Polling earlier this year found 57 percent of the American public back a bipartisan solution in Congress to advance LGBTQ civil rights.

Supporters of the Equality Act, the more established vehicle for LGBTQ rights before Congress, say the Fairness for For All Act would give too many carve-out for LGBTQ rights in the name of religious freedom. The Equality Act, however, is all but dead in Congress and has shown no movement in the U.S. Senate.

Skeptics of the Utah law would point out the law doesn’t address public accommodations, one of the more challenging aspects in the fight for LGBTQ rights and one or remaining gaps in civil rights protections for LGBTQ people in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year in Bostock v. Clayton County. As a result, it’s perfectly legal in Utah for a business owner to discriminate against LGBTQ coming as patrons.

Williams, however, shrugged off the idea the lack of public accommodations protections in Utah make the agreement in the state makes it any less of a model, making the case the spirit behind the deal is what matters.

“I think copying and pasting Utah’s law doesn’t work for lots of reasons,” Wililams said. “What’s most important is a model of collaboration because when you are sitting around the table with each other — Democrats and Republicans, LGBTQ people and people of faith — that’s when the transformation happens. That is when the mutual respect is really forged.”

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