Marriage (and Other LGBT) Rights in Pennsylvania

In my childhood, my mother and I vacationed in Pennsylvania frequently. My mother didn’t have much love for the modern world. She hated any musical composition that included the snare drum. She bemoaned tattoos on women: “That’s not ladylike.” And every year over Columbus Day weekend, we went to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Amish Country.

Now, I was a city kid, through and through. My idea of a good vacation included lots and lots of neon and zero mincemeat pie. We would visit covered bridges and Amish demonstration farms. Gift shops that sold butter churns and preserves. We would walk–yes walk–behind horse-and-buggy travelers in suspenders, straw hats, and button-down pastel shirts. I hated it. The one bright spot of the trip was going to Dutch Wonderland, an amusement park with the occasional nod to the surrounding culture.

Oh, and I liked hex signs. So much that the tattoo I got to memorialize my mother has the imagery of the double distelfink. Let’s hope in the afterlife or whatever, my mother has developed an appreciation for tattoos and a healthy sense of irony.

So it’s with this appreciation for the varied cultures of Pennsylvania that I report on their laws concerning LGBT people.

Pennsylvania

  • There is no recognition of same-sex relationships in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania law states: “It is hereby declared to be the strong and longstanding public policy of this commonwealth that marriage shall be between one man and one woman. A marriage between person of the same sex which was entered into in another state or foreign jurisdiction, even if valid where entered into, shall be void in this commonwealth.”
  • After five other people are consulted, a same-sex partner may make medical decisions on behalf of an incapacitated partner. The law recognizes a health care power of attorney–it must identify the person appointing the health care agent and declare that the agent has the power to make medical decisions on the person’s behalf.
  • Single LGBT people in Pennsylvania may adopt. At least one case sets precedent for joint adoption, and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has ruled that same-sex couples may adopt each other’s children.
  • A person’s sex may be amended on his or her birth certificate.
  • Hate crimes are enforced by federal law as of Wednesday, but only in the case that the state cannot or will not prosecute the crime as a hate crime. In the case of Pennsylvania, a 2002 amendment would have protected both sexual orientation and gender identity, but the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck those amendments down in 2007. So to the Feds it is, Penn.
  • In Pennsylvania only state employees are protected against discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation.
  • Pennsylvania has no safe schools laws. [via HRC]

This Week in LGBT Activism

On Wednesday President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard & David Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law. It was buried in a defense spending bill that had wide Republican support, and in this way found its way to the president’s desk after ten years of advocacy. Yesterday Obama lifted the HIV travel and immigration ban that barred positive individuals from visiting or immigrating to the U.S. And he reauthorized the Ryan White Care Act–having worked for an HIV/AIDS organization in the past, I know how critical these funds are to people living with HIV/AIDS.

Matthew Shepard, 1976-1998
Matthew Shepard, 1976-1998

On Wednesday President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard & David Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law.

The Act was buried in a defense spending bill that had wide Republican support, and in this way found its way to the president’s desk after ten years of advocacy. Yesterday Obama lifted the HIV travel and immigration ban that barred positive individuals from visiting or immigrating to the U.S. And he reauthorized the Ryan White Care Act–having worked for an HIV/AIDS organization in the past, I know how critical these funds are to people living with HIV/AIDS.

It’s been a pretty good week for LGBT activism. Let’s hope next week is even better. It could be the first time pro-LGBT legislation has been approved at the polls (Washington State) and the first time anti-marriage-equality legislation was defeated (Maine). If you live in Washington, get that ballot in the mail and contact Approve Referendum 71 to see how else you can help. We plan to be on the phones this weekend. If you live in Maine, volunteer for election day activities by calling the No on 1 Campaign. If you live elsewhere, give them a call anyway. There are still ways you can help.

I don’t know where we’ll be on the night of November 3. Maybe Atlanta. I do know what we’ll be doing: watching election returns. Let’s make this year the one that finally turns things around in our favor. I know we can do it.

Meeting with Rep. Inslee on the Respect for Marriage Act – Act I: Getting There

Oh, travel. You fickle harlot.

Somewhere along the way, we decided to drive to DC on the day of our meeting with our representative. I think it was partly a comfort concern–we were staying at my cousin Ceil’s apartment near Philly, and it’s got great things like a guest room and a shower. It was also partly a money concern–the park closest to DC is also very expensive–twice the price of some RV parks,–so we didn’t want to stay there two nights. It takes about 2 1/2 to 3 hours to get from Philly to DC, and our meeting was at 1 p.m. We left at 7:09 a.m. I looked at the clock on the way out. I remember being proud of us for coming very close to making the 7 a.m. goal we’d set.

Oh, travel. You fickle harlot.

Somewhere along the way, we’d decided to drive to DC on the day of our meeting with our representative. I think it was partly a comfort concern–we were staying at my cousin Ceil’s apartment near Philly, and it’s got great things like a guest room and a shower. It was also partly a money concern–the park closest to DC is also very expensive–twice the price of some RV parks–so we didn’t want to stay there two nights. It takes about 2 1/2 to 3 hours to get from Philly to DC, and our meeting was at 1 p.m. We left at 7:09 a.m. I looked at the clock on the way out. I remember being proud of us for coming very close to making the 7 a.m. goal we’d set.

We arrived, all of us, dogs included, in the car, minus the trailer, at 12:59 p.m. I got out with Frances while Ami went to look for parking. I blame the Maryland highway system, and in our very roundabout detour I had enough time to call them and make a complaint. They’re sending me a form to make a claim against them. Do you think they’ll send me money for pissing me off?

Attention Maryland Department of Transportation: if you have a special detour for people carrying propane tanks, you must let them know before the exit on the highway that takes you to that detour.

There. I’ve vented that. Now we can move on.

The House Office Building is pretty impressive. Long hallways where women’s shoes click so loud you can hear them at the other end of the corridor. Well, most of the women in the building, anyway. My rubber-soled shoes didn’t even squeak. All of the offices have round metal plaques that invite you to come on in. We arrived at Inslee’s door just as another guy did, and since he was in a wheelchair, I held the door for him. The front room was crowded with men in suits who smiled at me as I pushed Frances in the door. I must have looked pretty out of place. Stroller. Rubber-soled shoes. Jeans. (Black, but still.)

Before we had a chance to worry about where we’d sit, Laura, the woman who’d been so patient with our scheduling needs, popped out of an office in back and introduced herself. She also said that Jay was held up in a meeting and introduced us to his aide, David. I was a little crushed. People more experienced than us in political matters had warned us that we might not get to meet with the Rep himself, only an aide.

It was a huge disappointment. We’d traveled so far. We’d waited in the Northeast so our schedule would match up with Inslee’s. This was, however, no time to quit. We would have our meeting, with whomever was there to listen. And with any luck, we’d get to speak to the man himself at some point.

We Voted! To Approve R-71, in Case You Were Wondering

At the post office mailing our ballots!
At the post office mailing our ballots!

Today we mailed out ballots from Pennsylvania. This is us at the post office, excited to vote to approve R-71.

In Maine, we met a Californian at the No on 1 campaign office. He said he was more worried about Washington and R-71 than he was about Maine and Question 1. I listened, and I didn’t disagree out loud. Maybe I got a little scared for a day or so. But in my heart I know Washington will do the right thing.

Do the right thing, Washington! Please!

Why should you Approve R-71? Because families like ours will benefit. There will be financial benefits, like we won’t get fired if we have to take time off from work to care for one another if one of us gets sick. And like not having to pay a social worker to come to our house to evaluate Ami’s fitness to adopt the daughter she’s been caring for since before conception.

Did I mention it’s the right thing to do?

If the heartbreak we experienced at the election results in California last year when Prop 8 passed is any indication, we will be ecstatic if the voters in our state uphold our rights. Even if 49% of the people who live in Washington believe we are not entitled to the rights and responsibilities that married couples have, that 51%–that a majority–welcomes us into the adult world is edifying. No, it shouldn’t have to happen in the first place. No, people should never have to or get to vote to say whether some group or other deserves (almost) equality. But since we have to, since it’s gone the other way so very many times in our country, it will be incredibly meaningful and triumphant when it goes our way.

You hear me Washington? I didn’t say if. I said when. Make us proud. Do it for Frances.

Tomorrow we head back to Washington, D.C., where we will meet with our Representative in the House, Jay Inslee. Send us all your good gay juju at 1 p.m. EDT.

Marriage (and Other LGBT) Rights in New York and New Jersey

New Rochelle, New York: wild dogs, a goose, and cops. Not necessarily all in one incident. But that’s a synopsis of last night, which was probably the worst one of our trip. Don’t worry, we’re not writing this from the Westchester County Jail.

I would say more, but it’s not quite funny yet. Let’s have some laws, shall we?

New York

  • New York, by statute, does not issue licenses to same-sex couples. In 2004, the mayor of New Paltz, NY, Jason West, decided to preside over the marriages of about two dozen same-sex couples. He was charged with 19 violations of New York’s Domestic Relations Law. [via California Yankee] The State Attorney General ordered the marriages to stop, and in 2006, the state court decided, in Hernandez v. Robles, that it was not a violation of the state constitution to deny licenses to same-sex couples. In 2008 there was a ruling that same-sex marriages performed outside of New York were entitled to legal recognition in New York. The appeals court decided unanimously not to review the case, and to date same-sex marriages from other states (like ours) are recognized in New York. In addition, there is no domestic partner registry in New York, but same-sex partners are allowed to visit each other in the hospital and are given priority for the disposing of each other’s remains.
  • Same-sex partners who are not married are allowed to make medical decisions for one another in the case of an incapacitated partner, as a close friend. Others, like parents and adult children, are given priority. A health care proxy may be assigned to a partner if the proxy is named in writing and signed by the individual and two adult witnesses.
  • Unmarried couples, including same-sex couples, and married same-sex partners may adopt in New York. A 2002 decision in the courts affirmed the rights of same-sex couples to adopt. In 1995 a court in NY decided that same-sex co-parents could adopt each other’s biological children.
  • There is no New York law concerning issuing of new birth certificates upon sexual reassignment surgery, but in practice new certificates are granted.
  • New York hate crimes law specifically mentions sexual orientation, but not gender identity.
  • Some gender identity discrimination cases have been pursued in New York on the basis of sex, but there is no specific prohibition against discrimination on the basis of gender identity. There is protection for sexual orientation.
  • School violence is generally prohibited, but there are no specific protections for kids on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. [via HRC unless otherwise specified]

New Jersey

  • New Jersey does not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but they have civil unions which confer all of the same state rights as married couples. This was due to a 2006 New Jersey Supreme Court ruling that said it was unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples the rights and responsibilities of marriage. There is no prohibition against recognizing same-sex marriages from other states, but no affirmation of the recognition, either.
  • Civil union partners have the same rights as married couples in New Jersey concerning health care visitation, decision making, etc. Partners who have not had a civil union can name each other through health care advance directives, which must be signed and witnessed by two adults.
  • Unmarried LGBT people may adopt in New Jersey. Couples can adopt jointly, and adopt each other’s children.
  • New Jersey will issue a new birth certificate with a physician’s affidavit regarding sex change, and proof of name change.
  • Hate crimes laws in New Jersey protect people on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • You may not discriminate in New Jersey on the basis of either sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • Safe schools laws in New Jersey also protect on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity.

Not bad, New Jersey, not bad.

A Paradigm Shift for Marriage

You know, I wasn’t always a big gay. For more than half of my life so far, I did not self-identify as queer.

In fact, the number of years I’ve had to think about marriage are about three to one the number of years I’ve had to think about queerness. I’ve encountered marriage as a child, as a teen, as a straight-by-default, as a closeted queer, as an out queer, as a married queer, as a Lutheran, as a Mormon, and as a person with enough Comparative Religion credits to need several paragraphs to express their spiritual perspective.

So I was very surprised to learn something about marriage while volunteering for the “No on 1” campaign in Maine.

From the 'No on 1' Campaign Headquarters
From the 'No on 1' Campaign Headquarters

You know, I wasn’t always a big gay. For more than half of my life so far, I did not self-identify as queer.

In fact, the number of years I’ve had to think about marriage are about three-to-one the number of years I’ve had to think about queerness. I’ve encountered marriage as a child, as a teen, as a straight-by-default, as a closeted queer, as an out queer, as a married queer, as a Lutheran, as a Mormon, and as a person with enough Comparative Religion credits to need several paragraphs to express their spiritual perspective.

So I was very surprised to learn something about marriage while volunteering for the “No on 1” campaign in Maine. I was calling a list of people who had expressed interest in supporting the campaign previously. I was calling to ask them to do whatever they could to get the vote out on the big day.

I placed a call to a number of an 84-year old gentleman we’ll call “John.” A younger woman answered the phone, and she told me John wasn’t available. I said, “Well, maybe I can speak with you? <smile> My name is Ami and I’m calling from the “No on 1″ campaign.”

And then the most appalling thing happened.

She said: “You don’t need to speak to me. We’re Yes on 1.” Then she hung up.

I know, I know: for a seasoned cold caller, that would be a very gentle let-down. But after a lifetime of having it insinuated, but not said to my face, it was a real shock to hear someone say: “I don’t believe you should be able to marry anyone. Ever. Because of ‘how you are.'”

Usually, I’m live-and-let-live to a fault. But this call changed my perspective for good. Having had several run-ins with religion in my childhood, I still thought of marriage in a religious framework. I hadn’t really conceived of it as a right. I hadn’t really realized that people thought they could take it away from me!

This woman’s fear and righteousness are the basis of the fight against same-sex marriage, and what they fail to see is: Marriage, although I believe it to be a spiritual endeavor, is not a religious institution. It is a civil institution. Their side struggles to ‘defend marriage,’ when really that’s like defending business licenses, or any other civil procedure. Defend land use permits! Defend parking tickets!

What do they mean when they say “Defend marriage”, then? They want to confuse the meaning of the word marriage with as much (muddily-worded and religious-laced) rhetoric as possible.  Take for instance (from the Yes on 1 website):

If Question 1 fails and LD 1020 is allowed to take effect, marriage will be redefined to be about any two consenting adults without regard to gender, the focus being only about what the adults want for themselves, and not what is best for society as a whole. [Because personal fulfillment damages society? Down with the pursuit of happiness!] The roles of husbands and wives would become irrelevant. [I know a lot of straight people that would love to define their own roles, so this is just super. In fact, the happiest, longest term marriages I can think of are based on non-gender specific, personally-fulfilling, self-identified roles. Huh.] The reliance on marriage as an important fabric of society will no longer matter, [I know there’s not a language arts pre-req for writing things on the internet, but this metaphor is so ludicrous that I’m straining to get a point at all. If anyone can locate a subject or a verb in all that circular reasoning, please email me a diagram.] and the marriage laws will not consider what is best for children. [Flat out not true…says WebMD, the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychiatric Association–the list grows with the years.]

To all you Yes on 1 folks in Maine, to all you Reject R-71 folks back home in Washington, to the DOMA supporters and to anyone out there that thinks same-sex marriage is ruining something or taking something away from them: I’m fighting for marriage because marriage isn’t yours to give. 

Marriage isn’t just for straight white male landowners. (Although wouldn’t that be just a bit gay!?) Marriage isn’t just for the people in power, or the people who think they know what’s “right” for everyone else. Marriage is a civil right. It’s my civil right.

No on 1, Part 2–Heads We Win, Tails You Lose

There are 13 days left until Election Day. If you had been in the No on 1 campaign office today, you would have known that. You might have noticed the big sign on the back wall that is changed every day to remind you of the imminence of your job. You might have called a volunteer to ask them to spend some time canvassing or at the office in the coming days.

You might have been worried. Yesterday (14 days out) there was a poll published [pdf of press release] that said that 48% of Mainers were for Question 1 (boo), 48% against, and 4% undecided. I’m sure somebody has a calculation on what it takes to get a percentage point of the population to vote your way. How much money. How many volunteer hours. What kind of weather on Election Day.

There are 13 days left until Election Day. If you had been in the No on 1 campaign office today, you would have known that. You might have noticed the big sign on the back wall that is changed every day to remind you of the imminence of your job. You might have called a volunteer to ask them to spend some time canvassing or at the office in the coming days.

You might have been worried. Yesterday (14 days out) there was a poll published [pdf of press release] that said that 48% of Mainers were for Question 1 (boo), 48% against, and 4% undecided. I’m sure somebody has a calculation on what it takes to get a percentage point of the population to vote your way. How much money. How many volunteer hours. What kind of weather on Election Day.

Situations like this make me strongly question if voting by the general population should decide single issues. Maybe the electorate as a whole should just stay home, and we’ll flip a coin instead.

Heads: Mainers are able to take medical leave to care for their partners or their partners’ children. More people will be able to afford health insurance. Many children who wouldn’t have before will have two legal parents to care for them.

Heads: Maybe one gay or lesbian teenager in Maine, hearing the decision that marriage is now a possibility for him or her, feels a surge of self worth, of possibility, and makes the choice to stick around.

Heads: Maine same-sex couples will file federal taxes separately. They will be denied Social Security benefits if their partners die. They will pay federal taxes on property inherited from their spouses. They will not be able to have a family business as far as taxes are concerned. They will pay taxes on “gifts” from one spouse to another. If their (closeted) service member spouses die, they will not get any veteran benefits.

Heads: Most Mainers–the straight ones–will get up on Wednesday November 4th, married or not, eat breakfast and head out for work or school. Their lives will not have changed. Their marriages will not have changed. Like 92% of Iowans, they will likely feel that there has been no change in their lives. In five years they will probably feel, like 74% of Massachusetts voters [see p. 5], that marriage equality has strengthened society.

Heads: There will be dancing, hand-holding, and lots and lots of weddings.

Tails: We will be back next year. And the next. In Alaska, Arkansas, Kansas, and Wisconsin. In your SCOTUS. In front of your house.

Tails: Love is on our side. God is on our side. Tails: You still lose.

Hangin' with No on 1

I worked at a campaign for an initiative before, so nothing I saw when I arrived surprised me–except for the scale. There were computers and tables and chairs cobbled together into a makeshift set–function over fashion. There was food, sandwiches to Twizzlers. But there were probably twenty people, which is about 15 more than ever were seen at the initiative I worked for. I later found out there was a whole second room of volunteers.

On the wall were handmade and professional signs expressing Maine’s love for equality. The mood was cheerful, determined, and busy.

Frances says No On 1!
Frances says No on 1!

One thing I’ve noticed about New Englanders: they like their pizza.

Everywhere we’ve been, even in smaller towns, pizza shops have been ubiquitous. On Mandy’s recommendation, today we sampled Portland, Maine’s pizza at the Flatbread Company.

Maybe you think you know pepperoni. I thought I knew pepperoni. But the homemade (!), nitrite-free pepperoni at Flatbread was specatcular enough to forgive them some serious pizza faux pas. Like cutting it in rectangles, and serving it with a knife and fork.

Then, after stopping for coffee–guess where–at Dunkin’ Donuts, we went to the No on 1 campaign office. It was in the same building as the Social Security office, the nice man on the phone told us when we called to ask about volunteering. Which turned out to be a very important piece of information, since my iPhone steered me to a whole different town when given the address. When I searched for the Social Security office, I found what I was looking for.

I worked at a campaign for an initiative before, so nothing I saw when I arrived surprised me–except for the scale. There were computers and tables and chairs cobbled together into a makeshift set–function over fashion. There was food, sandwiches to Twizzlers. But there were probably twenty people, which is about 15 more than ever were seen at the initiative I worked for. I later found out there was a whole second room of volunteers.

On the wall were handmade and professional signs expressing Maine’s love for equality. The mood was cheerful, determined, and busy.

After some diaper duty, we got to work calling town clerks all over Maine to ask about voting hours. And if there would be a chair at the polling place, should No on 1 send out an observer.

Many of the places I called were hand-counting their ballots. Most of the people who answered the phone had a sense of humor. When I asked if they were counting by machine, one town clerk employee said, “This is Fayette.” She laughed. “We’re counting by hand.” Another corrected me when I asked if she was the Town Clerk. “I am the City Clerk.”

Frances was popular at the campaign office. One volunteer even babysat her while we called people. We ran out of clerks to call just as we realized we had to get back to home sweet travel trailer. We were out of diapers, it seemed.

We packed up and chatted with some of the other volunteers. We were not the only out-of-towners. In fact, we weren’t even the ones from farthest away. We met volunteers from California, North Carolina, and Eugene–and those were only the ones we spoke to. A couple of them were emissaries from Equality California. It felt a little like a family reunion, only made up completely by people we’d never met. It made me happy to see evidence that people are mobilizing–quite literally–to get this work done.

We felt a like slacker volunteers, leaving so soon after we began our day, midway through the afternoon. But we’ll be back tomorrow.

Travel New England, The Marriage Equality Promised Land

We should have arrived yesterday in Maine. It would have been much later than we thought, as usual. We took the route through Massachusetts to get there, so I thought we’d stop off in Northampton to sample a little lesbian culture before we headed east again.

That was before we realized we’d left Frances’s stroller at an abandoned gas station in Bennington. Detour to Holyoke to buy another Snap-n-Go, which we assembled in the entryway to Babies R Us.

Back on I-90, the dominant highway of our trip, it began to snow. Hard. It wasn’t sticking, but it was enough to slow traffic to a halt. It was dark; we were tired. We called my aunt in Auburn, Massachusetts, and stopped there for the night.

Welcome to Maine!
Welcome to Maine!

We should have arrived yesterday in Maine.

It would have been much later than we planned, as usual. We took the route through Massachusetts to get there, so I thought we’d stop off in Northampton to sample a little lesbian culture before we headed east again.

That was before we realized we’d left Frances’s stroller at an abandoned gas station in Bennington. Detour to Holyoke to buy another Snap-n-Go, which we assembled in the entryway to Babies R Us.

Back on I-90, the dominant highway of our trip, it began to snow. Hard. It wasn’t sticking, but it was enough to slow traffic to a halt. It was dark; we were tired. We called my aunt in Auburn, Massachusetts, and stopped there for the night.

I don’t know if I should describe the varieties of minor troubles and inconveniences that we regularly endure on this trip. I guess I’ll mention the two that happened yesterday, not including the lost stroller, which technically happened the day before. One was during a stop for coffee at a Dunkin’ Donuts. They had a drive through, which looked like we could fit under it. But at the entryway to the drive through we saw the sign–9 feet of clearance. We weren’t sure, but it was definitely cutting it close. And we also saw that the drive through and the entrance were the only two ways out. Which meant, you guessed it, turning the car and trailer all the way around in a small parking lot. Let’s just say that as I did so I blocked the drive through long enough to get a middle finger flipped at me from a teenager who must have really needed a donut.

The other time was at a rest stop/truck stop right on the highway–the kind they have on toll roads so you don’t have to get off and back on. Usually these places are very carefully laid out. Trucks and cars with trailers go in one way, cars the other. This one had a sign directing only the trucks. So we took it, wondering if we were going the right way. We came around the back of the building to a place where several trucks were parked in a line. In the dark, it looked like your standard bank of pull-through spots, so I picked an opening between two trucks. Only to find there was a truck in front of me, too. We were in a truck dormitory. There I was for the second time in a day, backing the trailer out of a tight spot while blocking traffic and nearly jackknifing the thing. This time instead of getting the finger from a grumpy, donutless teen, I got guided out by a trucker, who at least tried not to laugh at us.

There’s a learning curve associated with this type of travel. One I’m still climbing.

So tomorrow, after we sleep in my friend Mandy’s driveway in Portland, Maine, we volunteer at No On 1. I’m looking forward to connecting with some local queers, and to doing something to help make Maine part of the Promised Land. Technically we didn’t have to come here–it is out of the way, and we’re not married here. But not to do so seemed remiss.

Yes, this trip is about how painfully, ridiculously dumb it is to be married in one state and not another. It’s about a whole-country approach to marriage equality. But there are real families in Maine whose lives are going to be greatly impacted by the outcome of November 3rd’s election. And this, too, is important. This, too, deserves our attention.

For the next couple of days, we’re yours, Maine. We will do what we can to help make Maine the first state to approve marriage equality at the polls. And I have a suspicion that Mainers will come through.