TV & Radio
Same-sex survivor denied pension
Spouse of gay ex-lawmaker ineligible for federal death benefit
- Kimberly Geiger, San Francisco Chronicle Washington Bureau
Friday, October 20, 2006
The death of a gay former congressman Saturday has left advocates for same-sex marriage frustrated, as the congressman's spouse has been barred from inheriting his federal pension despite the couple's legal marriage in the state of Massachusetts.
Former Massachusetts Rep. Gerry Studds, the first openly gay member of Congress, died Saturday at 69 after developing two blood clots, doctors said. Studds' husband, Dean Hara, has since been informed that -- unlike heterosexual spouses of former members -- he can't collect on his deceased husband's pension.
"This benefit is something that's there to protect their families," said Lara Schwartz, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights advocacy group. "He (Hara) is being treated like a total stranger to his partner."
The couple married in 2004 after Massachusetts legalized gay marriage, but the federal government does not consider Hara a legitimate "spouse."
When a former member of Congress dies, his or her spouse is eligible to collect the member's pension. But the Defense of Marriage Act forbids the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages or civil unions, and pension administrators say they cannot release the funds to any relative other than a federally recognized spouse.
The Defense of Marriage Act -- passed in 1996 and opposed by only 67 members -- defines a spouse as "a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or wife."
"What we see here is the impact of legal discrimination," said Lee Swislow, executive director of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, a gay rights advocacy group based in Boston. "The federal government does not respect that marriage."
Studds, who voted against the act, served 24 years as a Democratic congressman and was openly gay for the majority of his time in Congress. In 1983, Studds was one of two members of Congress to be censured for having relationships with house pages. Studds then announced that he was gay. Despite being censured -- a disciplinary practice that typically ends a member's congressional career -- Studds' constituents continued to re-elect him until his retirement in 1997.
Studds' lifetime pension has been estimated to be worth an annual $114,337, and Hara would have been eligible to collect $62,000 each year for the rest of his life.
Peter Graves of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management said he is not aware of any other federal employee whose spouse has been denied the pension. Pension administrators will deny a spouse's claim only if that spouse is the same sex as the member, or if the spouse has been convicted of murdering the member, Graves said.
Schwartz, of the Human Rights Campaign, said the government's criteria for determining who gets their spouse's pension reflect institutional discrimination against gay federal employees. "It's unequal treatment of people who are doing the same job.
"Former members of Congress serving out jail terms are still eligible for these pensions, but gay spouses are not," said Schwartz, referring to former members such as San Diego County Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, whose conviction on charges of tax evasion and conspiracy didn't affect his eligibility to collect a pension. "Frankly, it's insulting."
According to Swislow, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders considers this conflict part of a larger battle between supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage. While Massachusetts is the only state to grant equal marriage rights to same-sex couples, advocates argue the federal government should respect an arrangement that is legal under state law.
Groups such as GLAD and the Human Rights Campaign say they will not take legal action on behalf of Hara, but they are pressing for legislation that would give gay federal employees equal rights. Under a bill by Sens. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., and Gordon Smith, R-Ore., the government would be required to provide gay employees with equal spousal benefits as well as life and health insurance.
E-mail Kimberly Geiger at email@example.com.
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Gay Republicans fight perceived oxymoron
By DAVID CRARY, AP National Writer
Thu Oct 19, 4:37 PM ET
They are members of an increasingly exclusive club — a district attorney and a mayor from southern California, a legislator from Minnesota, a handful of others scattered across the country. They are elected officials who are Republican and openly gay.
"People think it's an oxymoron," said the Minnesota state senator, Paul Koering. "How can you be gay and be in the Republican Party?"
Never more than a tiny fraction of GOP politicians, openly gay Republicans are about to disappear from Congress with the retirement of Rep. Jim Kolbe (news, bio, voting record) of Arizona, and Koering is the lone openly gay GOP state legislator — out of 7,382 seats nationwide. The Democrats, by contrast, have 56 openly gay legislators and embrace an array of gay-rights causes.
Against that backdrop is the scandal involving Republican Mark Foley. The former Florida congressman who abruptly quit because of sexually explicit messages he sent to male pages, and later acknowledged he is gay. Some conservatives cite the scandal as reason for the GOP to further distance itself from gays; others think that's a long-term losing strategy.
According to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which supports gay candidates, there are about 350 openly gay elected officials nationwide — up from about 50 in 1990. Of those elected on party tickets, 140 are Democrats and 11 are Republicans, the fund said.
Victory Fund president Chuck Wolfe said the ranks of openly gay GOP candidates have dwindled in recent years as religious conservatives have expanded their influence and made opposition to same-sex marriage a high-profile issue in the 2004 election.
Instead of an all-welcoming "big tent," the GOP "is more of a revival tent," Wolfe said. "It has chased out more and more gay Republicans."
Among those determined to stay is Peter Hankwitz, a TV producer and talent manager who is the GOP nominee challenging incumbent Democrat Brad Sherman for a congressional seat in California's San Fernando Valley.
Hankwitz is a heavy underdog, without funding from national GOP committees. Yet state Republican officials have been supportive, even posing for pictures with Hankwitz and Julian Trevino, his domestic partner since 1997.
Hankwitz resents what he calls "single-issue social politics" — such as the ban-gay-marriage campaign — and wishes he could get to Congress to help moderate his party.
"Unfortunately, we're influenced by the people on the extreme right and extreme left," he said.
Southern California already has openly gay Republicans in office — including San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and Redondo Beach Mayor Mike Gin.
Gin says he has no qualms about remaining Republican.
"I believe in the basic tenets — limited government, individual rights, a strong economy and national defense," he said. "It's important to me to provide a more moderate voice."
Likewise, Koering — who opposes abortion and gun control — wants to keep working within the GOP. He recently won a primary over a conservative whose campaign stressed "moral values."
"It would be easy for me to go to the Democrats — they court me on a daily basis," Koering said. "But my home is in the Republican Party. I'm not going to let the people with a radical agenda kick me out."
Nationally, GOP officials have voiced no concern about the scarcity of openly gay officeholders. Tara Wall of the Republican National Committee and Alex Johnson of the Republican Legislative Campaign Committee said it wasn't a priority.
"We look for good candidates who believe in our message," said Johnson. "If they happen to be gay, it's their prerogative."
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said the issue is not a candidate's sexual orientation in and of itself. "It's whether they support pro-family policies," he said.
Democratic politicians generally seek gay support and encourage gay candidacies.
Gay Democrats have won legislative seats even in seemingly inhospitable territory, scoring breakthroughs recently in Oklahoma, Alabama, Arkansas, North Carolina and Georgia.
Perkins said the GOP shouldn't worry about losing votes of gays because their numbers are dwarfed by Christian conservatives. He predicted that any GOP presidential hopeful deemed a gay-rights supporter would be denied the 2008 nomination.
The Rev. Louis Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition urged the GOP to reject the concept of a "big tent" welcoming gays.
"What happens is not a happy tent like the Barnum and Bailey circus," he said. "You end up with a lot of mush in it."
Sheldon predicted that Republican organizers, because of the Foley scandal, would be more aggressive in asking if prospective candidates are gay.
The president of the largest national gay rights group, Joe Solmonese of the Human Rights Campaign, said the GOP was at a significant crossroads.
"Most Americans believe both parties ought to be open and inclusive," he said. "So you've got the Republican leadership in a quandary: how do you balance that public sentiment ... with the powerful voting bloc of the radical right?"
For nearly 30 years, a group called Log Cabin Republicans has lobbied to make the GOP more open to gays. Its executive vice president, Patrick Sammon, is optimistic.
"Anti-gay Republicans want a narrow agenda that only 25 to 30 percent of Americans actually agree with," Sammon said. "Republican officeholders are shrewd enough to understand that's a losing strategy, that the party risks being on the wrong side of history."
Some Seek 'Pink Purge' in the GOP
By Johanna Neuman
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
October 18, 2006
WASHINGTON — In recent years, the Republican Party aimed to broaden its appeal with a "big-tent" strategy of reaching out to voters who might typically lean Democratic. But now a debate is growing within the GOP about whether the tent has become too big — by including gays whose political views may conflict with the goals of the party's powerful evangelical conservatives.
Some Christians, who are pivotal to the GOP's get-out-the-vote effort, are charging that gay Republican staffers in Congress may have thwarted their legislative agenda. There even are calls for what some have dubbed a "pink purge" of high-ranking gay Republicans on Capitol Hill and in the administration.
FOR THE RECORD:
Gay Republicans: An article in Section A on Wednesday about friction in the Republican Party between gays and religious conservatives said Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) had a campaign manager who is gay. The Allen staff member who is gay is his communications director. —
The long-simmering tension in the GOP between gays and the religious right has erupted into open conflict at a sensitive time, just weeks before a midterm election that may cost Republicans control of Congress.
"The big-tent strategy could ultimately spell doom for the Republican Party," said Tom McClusky, chief lobbyist for the Family Research Council, a Christian advocacy group. "All a big-tent strategy seems to be doing is attracting a bunch of clowns."
Now the GOP is facing a hard choice — risk losing the social conservatives who are legendary for turning out the vote, or risk alienating the moderate voters who are crucial to this election's outcome.
"There's a huge schism on the right," said Mike Rogers, a gay-rights activist who runs a blog to combat what he calls hypocrisy among conservative gay politicians. "The fiscal conservatives are furious at the religious conservatives, because they need the moderates for economic policy. But they need the social conservatives to turn out the vote."
A recent incident that upset social conservatives involved remarks by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last week. With First Lady Laura Bush looking on, Rice swore in Mark R. Dybul as U.S. global AIDS coordinator while his partner, Jason Claire, held the Bible. Claire's mother was in the audience, and Rice referred to her as Dybul's "mother-in-law."
"The Republican Party is taking pro-family conservatives for granted," said Mike Mears, executive director of the political action committee of Concerned Women for America, which promotes biblical values. "What Secretary Rice did just the other day is going to anger quite a few people."
It's not just anger at Rice that worries Republicans; it's the possible effect on evangelical voters next month.
The Dybul incident "was totally a damper to the base that we need to turn out," said the Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, a California lobbying group that focuses on religious and social issues.
Adding to the conservative Christians' disaffection has been a new book asserting that the White House used President Bush's faith-based initiative for political purposes while mocking evangelicals behind their backs.
The tension between Republican gays and evangelicals has been highlighted in recent weeks by the scandal involving Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.), who resigned over explicit messages he sent to underage male House pages.
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said in a television interview last week that there should be an investigation into whether gay congressional staffers were responsible for covering up for Foley.
Perkins also has questioned whether gay Republican staffers on Capitol Hill have torpedoed evangelicals' priorities, such as a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. "Has the social agenda of the GOP been stalled by homosexual members and/or staffers?" he asked in an e-mail to supporters.
Some social conservatives deny they are interested in removing gay staffers from the party.
"We're not calling for what I've heard referred to as a pink purge," McClusky said. "We're asking that members [of Congress] might want to reflect on who's serving them: Are they representing their boss' interest?"
Mears of Concerned Women for America said purging gays from the GOP would not necessarily help the evangelical cause. "If you get rid of all the homosexuals in Congress and on the staff, you'd still have Republicans like Chris Shays [the Connecticut congressman] and Susan Collins [the Maine senator] pushing the gay agenda."
This week, a list that is said to name gay Republican staffers has been circulated to several Christian and family values groups — presumably to encourage an outing and purge. McClusky acknowledged seeing the list but said his group did not produce it and had no intention of using it.
Still, gay Republican staffers on Capitol Hill say it feels as if the noose is tightening. Fearful of having their names on such a list and losing their jobs after the election, they are trying to keep a low profile.
None of the gay Republican staffers contacted for this article would speak for the record.
But Eric Johnson, a former GOP staffer who left the party over its policies on gays and who now works for a Democrat on the Hill, said many of his old friends were worried.
"There's a real concern, a legitimate concern, about a lower glass ceiling — preventing them from attaining higher positions in the party," Johnson said. "Most Republicans do lip service to the conservative side of gay issues. But on hiring practices, most of them have been pretty reasonable."
Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), a staunch opponent of same-sex marriage, has a campaign manager who is gay. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), who linked gay sex to bestiality, has a press secretary who is gay. Both senators are in perilous races for reelection, and neither staffer would comment.
The GOP has at times seemed a bit disjointed in its approach to gay issues. Political advisor Karl Rove ran Bush's reelection campaign in 2004 by mobilizing opposition to same-sex marriage, even as Vice President Dick Cheney said consenting adults of any orientation should be free to marry. Cheney's daughter Mary is a lesbian, and her partner was welcomed at presidential events.
The president recently reappointed Israel Hernandez, a gay man who had been a personal aide to Bush when he was Texas governor, to be assistant secretary of Commerce and head of an international trade office.
The Republican National Party says its tent is open to anyone who shares its political views.
"The Republican Party welcomes individuals from all walks of life," said Republican National Committee Press Secretary Tracey Schmitt.
Regarding the threat of losing support from social conservatives, she added: "Our core supporters understand that a Congress led by Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi [the Senate and House minority leaders] would be devoid of a values agenda. They are mobilized and committed to electing Republicans on Nov. 7."
Gays hope ally becomes first black Mass. governor
By Jason Szep
Thu Oct 19, 8:41 AM ET
Deval Patrick, widely expected to become Massachusetts' first black governor, says a nearly century-old law used to stop gays from elsewhere in America from marrying in the liberal state is rooted in racism.
If the Democrat wins on November 7, he would not only be the second African-American elected governor in the nation but he could also pave the way for gay couples from Alaska to Maine to marry in the only U.S. state where gays can legally wed.
Under Patrick, conservative Christians warn, Massachusetts will become the Las Vegas of gay marriage.
Patrick, comfortably leading in polls, has sharply criticized a 1913 law invoked by Massachusetts Republican Gov. and presidential hopeful Mitt Romney -- and upheld by the state's highest court in March -- that bars out-of-state gay couples from marrying in Massachusetts.
A top civil rights enforcer in the Clinton administration, Patrick has questioned the roots of the law, originally passed in part to uphold other states' bans on interracial marriage.
"I think that something that has origins as questionable and as discriminatory as they seem to be in this case ought to come off our books," he said in a recent debate.
The law, which is rare among U.S. states, prohibits Massachusetts from marrying an out-of-state couple if the marriage would be illegal in their home state. Most states have either laws or constitutional amendments barring gay marriage.
"The 1913 law has some very troubling origins," Patrick said. "It seems to have come on the books at the time when jurisdictions were trying to prevent marriage between blacks and whites -- and that worries me."
Gay rights advocates expect Patrick, if he beats Republican Kerry Healy, to lobby the Democratic-controlled legislature to rescind the law, again putting Massachusetts at the center of a socially divisive national debate over gay marriage.
IMPACT IF LAW REPEALED
Mike Thorne and Jim Theberge, a gay couple in Maine with a 4-year-old son, are among those hoping for a Patrick win.
"Massachusetts has same-sex marriage, why shouldn't people from Maine or other states have it too," said Theberge, 48, a doctor who was born in Massachusetts and lives with Thorne, 43, in Cape Elizabeth, a coastal resort town of 9,068 people about an hour's drive from Massachusetts.
"The whole marriage thing has to do with him," said Thorne, pointing to the couple's adopted son Nate at their dinner table. "We made a commitment to being a family together and, for me, that includes all the legal protections of marriage."
The two men were among eight plaintiff couples who lost a Massachusetts' supreme court challenge to the 1913 law, which was invoked by Romney in 2004 when Massachusetts became the first and only U.S. state to allow same-sex marriage.
"If Massachusetts repealed the 1913 law, it would make the supreme court's March ruling moot," said Lee Swislow, executive director of Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders.
The ruling left open the possibility that gay couples from states such as New York and Rhode Island that do not expressly ban same-sex marriage might be able to marry in Massachusetts. This month, a Rhode Island lesbian couple were married in Massachusetts after a separate court challenge.
"It's bizarre for one state to just be so socially reckless as to want to export this type of marriage to the other 49 states," said Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, a conservative Christian organization.
Mineau said his group, which also seeks a statewide referendum in Massachusetts to ban gay marriage, would lobby the state legislature to keep the 1913 law.
Still, other states may not recognize a Massachusetts gay marriage. "That state would have to decide what they want to do around recognition issues," said Swislow.
The top court in New Jersey, which does not have a law similar to Massachusetts' 1913 statute, is expected to rule on the issue before October 25. If it legalizes gay marriage, out of state same-sex couples could marry there, said Swislow.
"Then, what we do in Massachusetts with the 1913 law becomes irrelevant. The landscape will already have changed."