Edge On The Net – Prop 8 Judge: Time for Marriage Equality Has Come

Prop 8 Judge: Time for Marriage Equality Has Come
by Roger Brigham
EDGE Contributor
Friday Apr 20, 2012

Retired U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker speaks at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on Thursday. (Source:Roger Brigham)
Such a California moment. When Vaughn Walker, retired chief U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of California spoke at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on Thursday about the changing nature of the legal profession, it was natural that the bulk of the questions tossed his way after the prepared lecture would concern the federal Proposition 8 challenge he adjudicated in 2010.

The first Prop 8 question?

How did the judge feel about being portrayed by Hollywood hunk Brad Pitt in the stage recreation of the same-sex marriage case based on court transcripts?

Walker, who retired last year and returned to private practice, responded with a laugh.

“I can think of people I’d rather not be portrayed by,” he said. But he then tied the question back to the underlying theme of his speech-how emerging information technology is changing the way people interact with the legal system-and why the U.S. Supreme Court was wrong to block the public broadcast of the case.

The court’s banning of the trial’s telecast, Walker said, “prompted a number of people to recreate the case in a variety of forms.” The 90-minute Los Angeles production created by “Milk” screenwriter Dustin Lance Black in which Pitt appeared used verbatim transcripts from the trial.

“The irony of the court ruling,” said Walker, “is that probably far more people have seen that than those who would have sat through the actual trial.”

Walker noted that technological tools have changed the legal profession, with more and more laypersons doing routine legal tasks such as the creation of wills without the use of legal counsel. He said these litigants remain disconnected from the process is in cases such as class action suits, where litigants are seldom consulted on selection of attorneys, legal fees or how to evaluate settlements.

Walker said he predicts that technology will chip away at that disconnect. Electronic filing can now make it possible for people to access documents throughout a case, and streaming video could eventually enable people to remain connected throughout legal proceedings. And that is where he said the U.S. Supreme Court is lagging behind the times.

“The early stages of the advancement of these technologies have been frustrated by the Supreme Court’s country’s refusal to accept cameras in the courtroom,” said Walker.

Walker was asked if he ever thought about disclosing his sexual orientation before the Prop 8 trial to ward off the criticism he later received from referendum supporters who said he should have disqualified himself.

“I didn’t anticipate criticism because the word was already out and had been published in a number of sources, and they were not going to raise the issue,” he said. “I had thought at some point or other in my career I would have to deal with the criticism.”

Walker noted he had earlier faced “critics from the gay community, particularly in San Francisco,” because he had represented the U.S. Olympic Committee in its lawsuit to stop San Francisco Arts and Athletics from using the word “Olympics” in the first Gay Olympic Games. The suit was successful and organizers instead launched the event as the Gay Games.

“Much of that criticism was because they assumed I took it and it was litigated the way because I was trying to cover up my sexual orientation,” he said.

“That is really a very dangerous road to start going down,” added Walker of the calls for his ruling to be disallowed because he had not disclosed his sexual orientation. “Black judge, female judge, Asian judge-judges have to be given the credit to have decisions accepted for what they are.”

Walker said President Barack Obama’s comment that the court did not have the precedence to overturn his health care reform law “was a blunder.” He said if the court upholds the package, it will look like it caved to political pressure. If it overturns the law, it will seem as though someone had leaked the decision to him.

“That comment was a very very serious mistake on his part,” said Walker.

At the end of the appearance, Walker was asked about the fate of his Prop 8 decision that declared the state ban on marriage for same-sex couples unconstitutional.

“As you know, my decision was affirmed on narrower grounds than I took,” said Walker. “Like any judge who has been affirmed, I’m happy to take it. The Supreme Court could conceivably choose not to review it. But there’s no way they can avoid the Defense of Marriage case. The notion of people deciding to get married without regard to gender is an idea whose time has come.”

Edge On The Net – New Proposition for Gays Tying the Knot

New Proposition for Gays Tying the Knot
by Winnie McCroy
EDGE Contributor
Tuesday Apr 17, 2012

When New York passed marriage equality last summer, New York couple Sam Street and Jonathan Tack had been together for 13 years. Encountering difficulties in finding appropriate wedding bands, the men founded Proposition Love, an online jewelry site that offers a wide selection of rings and other accessories and donates a percentage of profits to the marriage equality movement.

“The tradition of going to Tiffany’s or a mainstream jeweler just wasn’t appropriate for us,” said Tack. “I had a jewelry background and there was a need in the LGBT community for this. So we formed Proposition Love, which is a double entendre on a proposal, as well as a nod to Prop 8. We also decided to be proactive in the marriage equality movement by giving a portion of proceeds back to gay marriage.”

The two men had traveled to California to get married, and were one of the 18,000 couples whose union was grandfathered in before Proposition 8 voter initiative took effect.

“It was before the Presidential election, and John McCain and Sarah Palin had said that if elected, they would do away with gay marriage. So we didn’t know whether we would ever see it in our lifetime,” said Tack.

“It was a bittersweet experience for us,” added Street.

Their business has been in the works for a couple of years. The men exhibited at this year’s New York LGBT Expo at the Javits Center, and their website will go live this month. It features a blog from Street with the latest marriage equality news and events in the U.S. and around the world.

It was Street who came up with the idea of using the triangle symbol in the design of some of the jewelry, noting the history and importance behind the symbol.

“We also have a classic collection,” said Tack. “There is something for everyone. Our Countdown Collection features a ring for each of the states that passed marriage equality, with the date when the legislation was passed. As each state passes marriage equality, we will honor them and dedicate a ring for their state as a callout and reminder. We’re not going to stop until we have all 50 states!”

Street and Tack said that they wanted to target the higher-end market and make a better quality product than they had seen in their search for wedding bands. The price points range from $95-$2,000 retail, and rings can be ordered in 14 carat gold, white gold, yellow gold, and a cobalt alloy that is white in appearance, and all can be inlaid with diamonds. The Proposition Love logo is engraved on the inside of all of the jewelry.

“This isn’t just about rainbow flag jewelry,” said Tack. “We’re not doing that. We’re making quality pieces…and the reaction we’re getting is tremendous.”

Proposition Love has a gay Pride ring ready to launch for the upcoming Pride festivities, and will also carry pendants for straight allies, “reminiscent of the Lance Armstrong Livestrong bracelet.” People have also scooped up the company’s T-shirts featuring the Prop Love logo and pink triangle.

Tack and Street have partnered with a factory in the U.S. to make their jewelry, and offer engraving on all pieces. Their headquarters are in New York, and their business partner, Julie Hartstein, runs the California office.

“There is a whole worldwide movement supporting marriage equality, and we want to be a part of it,” said Street. “You think things are changing, but they don’t sometimes if you become complacent about what’s happening. It is important for us to be active for our rights.”

For more info, visit www.propositionlove.com

Winnie McCroy is a freelance writer based in New York City. She has written for publications including The Village Voice, The Advocate, Curve Magazine, Gay City News, and Chelsea Now.

Related Topics: Marriage | Marriage equality | marriage recognition | same-sex marriage | gay marriage | New York City Council | Marriage Equality New York | New York City | New York | fashion designers | fashion | jewelry



DOMA Packs a Particularly Potent Punch at Tax Time – Huffington Post

DOMA Packs a Particularly Potent Punch at Tax Time

Unless you happen to be married to a citizen of a foreign country, re-entering the United States after a trip abroad, adopting a child, or dealing with the death of a spouse (and if you are, my condolences), if you’re one half of a legally married same-sex couple, there’s a very good chance that this time of year — tax time — is the time you and your spouse most acutely feel the sting of marriage discrimination.

If you live in a state without marriage equality, you know how degrading it is to have to check the box next to the word “Single” on your federal and state tax forms.

If you happen to live in one of the six states where marriage equality is the law of the land, or in any of the five non-equality states that allow same-sex couples to file jointly, you’re at least spared the indignity of your state government pretending that you and your soulmate are legal strangers. But due to the discriminatory “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA), the federal government is forbidden from recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples. For the moment, at least, your legal marriage does not exist in the eyes of the United States of America. And while state-level marriage equality or relationship recognition is unequivocally a good thing, same-sex couples know that the dissonance between state recognition and federal non-recognition can create some pretty major headaches during tax season.

I’m not going to spend any time going into detail about the tax-specific ways that DOMA penalizes same-sex couples; many others have already very capably done so. (Check out these two informative articles from The New York Times, for example.) But I am going to take a minute to share a brief personal story about the impact DOMA has had on my husband Michael and me this past year.

In 2011 Michael and I moved from our home state of Wisconsin (a state without marriage equality) to our new home in Vermont (a marriage-equality state). Let me tell you, the difference between the two is like night and day. I don’t think I can overstate how much it means to us both to live in a place that values the loving marriages of all couples, gay and straight, or our gratitude to all those Vermonters who worked so hard to make marriage equality possible.

But living in a marriage-equality state for the first time did make filing our taxes a little more eventful. Vermont, like most states, uses the figures from a couple’s federal return to compute their state return. Because our legal marriage means we file jointly with the State of Vermont but DOMA forces us to file separately and singly with the United States, Michael and I — well, our amazing tax preparer — were forced to complete four tax returns: one individual federal return each (which each of us ultimately files), a “dummy” joint federal return (to combine our incomes, adjustments, credits, etc. in order to obtain the necessary numbers for our state return), and our joint state tax return (which we file with the State of Vermont). While the extra step of preparing that “dummy” federal return is a big-time hassle, it also provided us, for the first time, the opportunity to see exactly how much more we paid in taxes because the federal government forces us to file singly rather than jointly, as our straight counterparts are able to do. The difference between those two numbers is what I and others refer to as the “gay tax.”

For my husband and me, that difference in 2011 amounted to $1,566. To some of you, that might not seem like much, but trust me: to a young professional couple, one of whom works in the nonprofit sector, $1,566 is a good chunk of cash. That $1,566 could have gone toward the purchase of a car that’s newer and more reliable than the one we currently own, which was built when this 27-year-old was in the fifth grade. It could have helped pay down our student loans or some of the credit card debt that he and I incurred in order to pay our bills during the 15 months when neither of us could find full-time employment. It could have paid for our groceries for nearly nine months! But no; instead, we’re forced to pay it to the IRS because our legal spouse happens to be of the same gender. We’re paying a $1,566 “gay tax.”

Thanks, DOMA.

If you’ve read this far and are wondering why I bothered to spend any of my time and energy on an issue that’s such old news, consider this: if I had a dollar for every wide-eyed, incredulous, shocked look I’ve received over the last year whenever I bring up the subject of federal tax discrimination, I’d have more than enough money to pay my $1,566 “gay tax.” I choose to share my story because of the truly astonishing number of well-meaning people, both inside and outside the LGBT community, who have absolutely no clue that same-sex couples incur federal tax penalties even when they live in states that recognize their marriages. I’m speaking out about how the “Defense of Marriage Act” hurts my marriage, my family, because we’ve got to change hearts and minds all across America if we hope to see that awful law repealed. And I’m speaking out because those hearts and minds won’t change unless all of us continue to speak out and share our stories.

If you’re a victim of DOMA, you can speak out right here and now by leaving a comment below. Go ahead, tell your story. How costly was the “gay tax” for you and your spouse this year?

Chicago Sun Times – Illinois not ready to say ‘I do’ to gay marriage

Illinois not ready to say ‘I do’ to gay marriage
By andrew maloney Sun-Times Springfield bureau April 15, 2012 12:22AM

Illinois Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, speaks with reporters on the House floor during veto session at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, Ill., Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2010. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
Updated: April 15, 2012 3:36AM

SPRINGFIELD — Despite a push by gay lawmakers, the effort to legalize gay marriage in Illinois is unlikely to get off the ground this year, the chief sponsor of a marriage proposal said.

State Rep. Greg Harris (D–Chicago) told the Chicago Sun-Times that reeling in Medicaid and pensions programs as well as approving an overall budget would take precedence during the homestretch of the General Assembly’s spring session.

“I never say never,” Harris quipped. “[But] I don’t think there will be a push before the end of this session.”

His bill, HB 5170, would delete a provision outlawing marriage between individuals of the same sex.

It was first introduced on Feb. 8 and, perhaps unsurprisingly during an election year in which fiscal issues have been front-and-center, remains pent up in the House Rules Committee.

But Harris, one of the three openly gay lawmakers in the House who filed the legislation, said introducing the bill fosters dialogue between lawmakers and their constituents and gives interested parties a chance to evaluate their positions.

“This is how we passed the civil unions bill,” he said.

The state began giving civil union licenses in 2011, which provide same-sex couples many protections of married couples but aren’t recognized in some other states.

Six states in addition to Washington, D.C., currently allow gay marriage.

Maryland and Washington state also just legalized gay marriage this year, but those measures have not taken effect and could be struck down by referenda.

Recent poll numbers in Illinois outline the political difficulty of moving from civil unions to marriage in the Land of Lincoln.

The last statewide poll on the topic conducted by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University was during the fall of 2010, when a third of registered voters said they supported gay marriage. Back then, the civil unions measure passed with only one vote to spare in the Illinois House.

In another poll this spring, 22 percent of registered voters in the state’s most conservative region — the southernmost 18 counties — said they supported legalization.

“You’d have a hard time moving the ball down here I think, in terms of civil unions to full-blown gay marriage,” said Charlie Leonard, a visiting professor at the institute who coordinates polling.

On the national level, Gallup polling showed for the first time last year that a majority of Americans believed gay marriage should be recognized by the law.

But opposition remains. This spring, the Illinois Defense of Marriage Initiative sought 500,000 signatures to put a non-binding referendum on the November ballot, recommending the state legislature enshrine in the state constitution rules that forbid same-sex marriage.

Jim Finnegan, the president of the initiative, said that effort will fall short with the group likely acquiring about 100,000 signatures by the end of the month. However, he said it still sends a message that those opposed to gay marriage are willing to come forward.

“Those people that brought this bill up, they’ll bring it again and again,” he said. “This gives us a strong indication of who will be heard on this.”

Harris would not say how many votes he has lined up for legalization, but is confident that eventually he’ll get enough.

“I think this will happen,” he said. “I think this is an issue whose time is really here in the near future.”