Over the past few weeks, the media has been absolutely focused on what as been described as a “war on women,” the “war on voting,” and the “war on labor,” when it comes to issues of contraption, abortion, voter ID laws, and collective bargaining restrictions. The media has donated unprecedented time to these issues and debates. However, what I find striking is that while the media never shies away from a debate over abortion, labor issues, or the environment, there is one other issue they give much less attention too. In an era where 24/7 news is the norm, and no controversy lasts more than two or three days. Even half-covered stories get completely buried and go by unnoticed. That is why even though the media reports on the issues affecting the LGBT community, the war this community fights to preserve an semblance of human dignity and legal rights is a war that is largely silent in the mainstream media. The media gives quick mentions to victories the community experiences (gay marriage passage in Maryland, New York, and Washington), but almost never covers the struggles and backtracks the community experiences. And with the wave of GOP wins in 2010, the gay community has been targeted repeatedly in several states. This blog entry aims to shed light on a war that is being fought as largely in the dark.
The stance of Public Opinion and Progress made
The movement for equality has taken some dramatic leaps in public opinion over the last several years. Since 2003, probably one of the most pivotal years of the gay rights movement, where the US Supreme Court in Lawrence v Texas struck down sodomy laws across the nation, and where the Massachusetts Supreme Court made the state the first in the nation to have gay marriage; the march for equality has been at full steam in many parts of the country. Since this date, same-sex marriage has become the law in Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Iowa, New York, DC, and providing positive results for referendums this November… Maryland, Washington, and Maine, as well. In addition, strong civil unions laws have passed in Delaware, Nevada, Illinois, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington, Oregon and California. And domestic partnerships have passed in Maine, Wisconsin, and Colorado. In addition, several states have passed workplace protection laws and other protections. Indeed there has been alot of progress over the last decade. And public opinion continues to move in the right direction. Support for same-sex marriage has gone from a fringe left-wing idea to a more popular option in many blue states, and civil unions have almost universal support in any state polled.
Lets look at a map of same-sex marriage polling in the states that have had a reliable poll done.
This map shows a traditional graduated color map to show support for same-sex marriage. Several states have no reliable polling. An important note, the light blue are states where same-sex marriage is above 45% but below 50%, but in all those states, the opposition was lower than support, with undecideds being what kept the support below 50%. Also, for the two light red states, the opposition was literally one to two points higher than support, so to a degree these where ties.
The map shows that support for same-sex marriage is pocketed in the west and the northeast, but including states like Nevada, Arizona, Minnessota and Colorado. The swing states are moving in the right direction on this. The biggest factor in being against same-sex marriage is either a southern heritage or and older age (which is what throws off the numbers in Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, which tend to be older and more blue-collar states). If these polls where from 2004, most of the map would be some shade of red. The fact that support is moving into the swing states really shows that public opinion is changing.
Now, lets look at civil union support. This has much broader appeal than same-sex marriage, and most of the red states even back the measure.
Look at this map, only 3 states don’t back civil unions when polled on the matter. Most state sfall above 60%, including Utah, Nebraska, and Montana. Hardly blue states. Texas, Kentucky, Virginia, and North Carolina all back the measure as well. The only states that don’t are South Carolina and West Virginia, which are southern/Appalachian, and lower educated, and Mississippi, which is always the last state in terms of progress on anything! I would imagine Louisiana and Alabama would likewise not back civil unions, but I imagine the rest would. Civil unions are quickly becoming non-political.
A good rule of thumb is that another gay rights initiatives (employment protection, hate crime protection, ext) are considered more popular then gay marriage/adoption/ or civil unions. Keep that in mind…
The Silent War
Despite the growing acceptance for gay rights thoughout the states, ever since the Republican takeover in 2010, their has been a continous assault on gay rights throughout the states. While the Republican Party doesn’t focus as much publicly on LGBT issues as they used to, it doesn’t mean they have suddenly become accepting. It also isn’t the case that all Democrats are now in favor of gay rights. See what I am talking about. The map below shows the states where anti-gay actions are taking place.
As the map shows, there has been a flury of anti[gay actions in many states. Let me break down what each category means in more details
- Anti-Gay Amendment means the legislature passed as an amendment to the state constitutions to restrict gay rights, any such amendment will have to be voted on
- Anti-Gay Law passed means one or more anti-gay laws where passed and and signed into law
- Proposed law means anti-gay legislation has been seriously considered, and may have fell short of passage or been vetoed, but that it was a close call. This does not include introduced legislation that received no action or consideration.
- Administrative change means the government of a state through executive authority made anti-gay administrative decisions
- Multiple Offenses means a state took action in more than one of these categories
- Failure to act means the state had the opportunity to fix a glaring problem for gay rights, there was debate and progress, but ultimately the effort fell short despite no logical reason for failure
- Ant-Gay Petition push means there is, or was, an effort to put a pro-gay piece of legislation of the ballot for repeal by the voters, and that the push had significant organization and opportunity.
Now with the categories broken down, I take a look at each of these states and the actions that warranted this categorization.
- Minnesota (Amendment). The moment the republicans took control of the legislature in the 2010 elections, they began talking about amending the constitution to ban gay marriage in the state. While Democratic Governor Mark Dayton is against the measure, he has no veto authority over such amendments. The legislature passed the law, and it will not be subject to voter approval in 2012.
- North Carolina (Amendment). The same situation as Minnesota, a brand new Republican legislature has passed an amendment to ban gay marriage AND civil unions. The Democratic governor had no way to stop it. The real infuriating thing about this measure is that it actually had 10 democratic backers in the state house, and that most democratic opposition was from the idea of it being on the November ballot, because those Democrats feared a conservative surge in voting would affect their re-elections. Therefore, the “compromise” was to put it on the May 8th ballot, during the primaries. This should benefit the conservative side since its easier to mobilize their side. Luckily, the end of the Republican primaries means the turnout might be more even than thought, since Democrats still will be coming out for the governor primary, while Republicans have less high profile primaries left. But I’m not too optomistic. While a majority of the state supports civil unions, the voters dont seem to understand that amendment bans those as well. Look at the state house map of the vote, the light red districts are the Democratic yes votes. They are all traitors.
- Michigan (Anti-gay law). Michigan, under its new right-wing administration has passed not one, but two anti-gay laws. First the the legislature passed a law that would ban state agencies from giving health benefits to same-sex couples if one was an employee. Such a decision was at the agency’s discretion before, now they have no right to offer such benefits. The second law passed was an anti-bullying law for the schools. However, the law specifically gave out an exemption for religious talk that was so broad, it effectively allows verbal bullying of LGBT teens as long as you claim you did so for religious reasons.
- Arizona (Anti-gay law). Arizona has alot of press for anti-Latino and anti-women legislation these past few years. But Arizona, the home of a libertarian-minded Barry Goldwater, continues to trample all over his name. The state passed an adoption bill that preferences every conceivable group of parents over same-sex couples. You know, despite the fact that no studies say straight couples are better than same-sex couples at raising children.
- Utah (proposed law). Utah actually passed the ‘don’t say gay law’ as part of an even more restricted sex-ed bill that gave very strict abstinence requirements. The law was vetoed by the Republican governor, who was concerned about central state control over regional school districts. So breath a sigh of relief here, the law went to far for the limited-government minded governor.
- Louisiana (proposed law). This law is a recent development. A senate committee has already passed a law that would allow charter schools (of any kind) to refuse admission to schools based on sexual orientation. State sanctioned discrimination.
- Montana (proposed law). Montana republicans where considering a law that would override the anti-discrimination ordinances that has been passed in local cities. They seem to have abandoned the plan, considering a veto by the governor was assured.
- New Mexico (proposed law). New Mexico is one of the only states that has no laws regarding same-sex marriage or civil unions on the book. Rather, it recognizes any union from other states. So a same-sex marriage from New York will be recognized in New Mexico. Republicans tried to push legislation that would have stopped such recognition, but thanks to both chambers of the legislature still being controlled by Democrats, the legislation is dead for now.
- Oklahoma (proposed law). The state legislature considered, but ultimately failed to pass, a law that would have kept ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ as policy for the state national guard, rather than adhere to the federal repeal of the DADT policy. Failure probably resulted from concerns about conflict with the federal government over military issues.
- Kansas (proposed law). This law is still being worked through the legislature. It will repeal any anti-discrimination ordinances passed by the cities, like Topeka. This one may well become law by the end of it all.
- Iowa (proposed law). Ever since the state court legalized gay marriage, Republicans have been clamoring to pass same-sex marriage bans. However, the state senate is still controlled by democrats, so that move is on hold. There was a special election last November for a seat in the senate, which could have lead to a tied chamber, and given Republicans the chance to bring up the measure and pass it. That issue became a theme in the election, which democrats thankfully held. Republicans will not be letting up on this for awhile.
- Ohio (proposed law). Everyone remembers Senate Bill 5, the anti-union law that was struck down in a referendum. What got overshadowed was that in that law was a quick re-statement that marriage was one man and one woman, even though the state already has a constitutional amendment stating that.
- New Hampshire (proposed law). Ever since Republicans came into power in 2010, they have been clamoring to repeal the state’s gay marriage law from 2009, despite the fact only 29% of the state wants it to be repealed. Republicans kept pushing it, and finally held a voter, which failed overwhelmingly, thanks to libertarian Republicans and those from blue districts who didn’t want to risk defeat over the issue. That vote is below, which was the final of several votes. This one reflected the vote to kill the repeal bill, so “yes” was a good vote.
- Wisconsin (administrative change). Wisconsin has been toying around with a variety of anti-gay moves for awhile. First, Governor Walker tried to say the domestic partnership law in the state was invalid, which failed. Then Governor Walker updated executive statutes that removed sexual orientation from the list of protections for registering rallies, parades, and marches. In other words, a city can deny permit for a gay rights march because it doesn’t like gay people, all thanks to Walker’s changes.
- Virginia (multiple offenses). There are two key anti-gay actions in Virginia. First, the attorney general has removed LGBT protections from state employment, and demanded the Universities do the same thing (something being fought). Second, the state has passed a gay adoption ban, which is finally did literally a few months after Republicans took control of the state senate in 2011. The bill allows any agency to refuse adoption to gay couples, and since many of these are religious institutions… it doesn’t bode well.
- Tennessee (multiple offenses). This one law has gotten a good deal of coverage. It is known as the “don’t say gay law.” which demanded that schools never talk about homosexuality during sex ed or anything else, ever… no matter what… even if the kids asked about it. Because anyone knows that education leads to acceptance, the best way to stop that chain of events is to stop the education from happening. Right now the law is delayed in the Senate and hasn’t been voted on yet. In addition to this debated law, the state already passed a law last year that would not allow cities and counties to pass anti-discrimination rules. So much for local government.
- Idaho (failure to act). Idaho never had an anti-discrimination law on the books, for anything. Gender, race, religion, ethnicity, or anything else. Finally the state got around to adding one, realizing it looked pretty stupid to not have one. Then a fight emerged over adding sexual orientation to the list of protected groups. In the end, the effort failed, and a law was passed for protections without sexual orientation being included.
- Colorado (failure to act). Same-sex marriage is above 50% in support in Colorado, and over 60% support civil unions. When the new government came to power in 2010 (Democratic Governor and Senate, and a one-vote Republican majority in the house), a push for civil unions began. The state senate passed it, and it was believed the votes existed in the state house, but the anti-gay Republican leadership refused to let it come to a vote.
- Texas (failure to act). The state’s sodomy ban was overturned in 2003’s supreme court case, but the legislature continues to refuse to officially remove the law from its laws (despite it being unenforceable at this point).
- Georgia (failure to act). The state has been trying to pass an employment protection bill for awhile now, but can’t get it done. The bill is being debated again this year.
- Mississippi (failure to act). More than a month ago, the Jackson police told gay rights groups in the area that they have no right to rally. The police basically said sexual orientation is not a protected class and isn’t recognized by the state. The new Republican government hasn’t been jumping to step in and clarify the matter. Not that Mississippi democrats would either.
- Kentucky (failure to act). Kentucky, like many other states, is considering anti-bullying legislation for the schools. However, the state senate, controlled by Republicans, refeused to allow sexual orientation to be a key bullying group (like race and ethnicity) protected, despite the please of parents and advocates.
- Rhode Island (failure to act). When the state finally got a pro-gay governor in Independent Lincoln Chafee, gay-rights groups thought they finally had the needed push to pass same-sex marriage. Democrats control the legislature by overwhelming margins. However, thanks to opposition from catholic democrats in the state senate (including the senate president), the law went no where, and a civil unions bill was passed instead (pleasing no one). This is despite same-sex marriage having more than 60% support in the state.
- New Jersey (failure to act). When the legislature finally passed a same-sex marriage law in 2012, after failing to do so in 2009, Governor Cristie vetoed the law.
- West Virginia (failure to act). Despite Democrats controlling the state legislature by an overwhelming majority, around 70%, a civil unions bill proposed has gone absolutely nowhere.
- Washington (referendum push). After the legislature passed same-sex marriage a few months ago, opponents are organizing a signature drive to put the measure on the ballot. They will likely succeed, and then the real fight will be at the ballot box in November.
- California (referendum push). After the state passed an historic “Gay History” bill, which aimed to focus teachings on contributions from LGBT individuals and their history (same as with women, and other races), anti-gay opponents moved to put the measure on the ballot for repeal. However, the unorganized state of the conservative movement and Republican Party in the state caused the signature drive to fail thanks to a lack of needed funds to get the monumental mount of signatures needed.
- Maryland (referendum push). After a year of struggle, same-sex marriage finally cleared the Maryland State House. Despite Democrats needing only 71 votes to pass the measure, and controlling 98 of the seats, opposition from catholic and black democrats made it a tough fight. The measure finally passed with 72 votes, one more than needed. Now the measure will likely go to a referendum thanks to a signature push. It really is something to be said for how close this came to not passing, absolutely sad. Every one of those defecting democrats should be primaried out. The map below shows the final vote, which is complicated because most of the seats have more than one member. Look to the categories to see which colors had democrats voting no, and you will see there where plenty of defections. Click the image to make it bigger.
So in 28 of the 50 states we have heavy anti-gay actions taking place. I think that qualified as a war on the LGBT community.
In addition to all these government actions or in-action, there are plenty of attacks taking place on LGBT citizens all over the country. The news media has picked up on different hate crimes being committed, but other attacks are not getting as much coverage. Here are just a few recent ones…
- Have you heard the story of a college girl at Rochester College being threatened to be kicked out of her student housing because you mentions she is a lesbian on her facebook page?
- How about that the catholic church defunded a homeless shelter in California just because the director spoke in favor of gay marriage?
- How about a teacher in a catholic school being fired for being gay?
- How about a lesbian being refused communion at a catholic church at her OWN MOTHERS FUNERAL!
- How about a girl in Massachusetts high school being reprimanded by her vice-principle for wearing a shirt saying “All cool girls are lesbians”
- How about a principle at an Iowa high school telling any gay students in the school that they are full of sin and going to hell.
These incidents don’t get mainstream coverage, but they are happening. There is a war going all over the country. All in the meantime, the suicide rate among LGBT teens has and continues to be alarmingly higher than the national teen average. 30% to 40% of LGBT youth’s attempt suicide, and suicide among LGBT teens is 4 times higher than their straight counterparts. In addition, recent studies are showing that suicide attempts, drug use, and depression increase in the LGBT community of an area that has recently enacted anti-gay legislation. See that study here..
We see alot of coverage for the different groups under assault by Republicans and conservative groups. However, the silence that surrounds this war is truly deafening. The media does not give this the coverage it deserves. Rather coverage is given to every other issue out there. However, this is a group that is loosing population to suicide and depression thanks to the actions against it. The LGBT community has yet to feel the full equality that other groups have already received. They still remain the least protected and most disciminated against group in the country. The war on them is of the most importance because of the disastrous side effects it reaps. Yet for all the stakes this war has, the casualties inflected because of it, it still remains one fought in the shadows.