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One more step, albeit small, towards equality.

By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post staff writer
Thursday, April 15, 2010; 8:08 PM

President Obama on Thursday signed a memorandum requiring hospitals to allow gays and lesbians to have non-family visitors and to grant their partners medical power of attorney.

The president ordered the Department of Health and Human Services to prohibit discrimination in hospital visitation. The memo is scheduled to be made public Friday morning, according to an administration official and another source familiar with the White House decision.

An official said the new rule will affect any hospital that receives Medicare or Medicaid funding.

The decision injects the president squarely into the debate over gay marriage by attempting to end the common practice by many hospitals of insisting that only family members by blood or marriage be allowed to visit patients.

Gay activists have argued for years that recognizing gay marriages would ease the emotional pain associated with not being able to visit their partners during a health crisis.

By contrast, opponents of gay marriage have said the visitation issue is a red herring, and have argued that advocates want to provide special rights for gays and lesbians that others do not have.

The memorandum from Obama to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, made public late Thursday night, orders new rules that would ensure hospitals “respect the rights of patients to designate visitors.”

Obama says the new rules should require that hospitals not deny visitation privileges on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

“Every day, all across America, patients are denied the kindnesses and caring of a loved one at their sides whether in a sudden medical emergency or a prolonged hospital stay,” Obama says in the memo.

Affected, he said, are “gay and lesbian American who are often barred from the bedsides of the partners with whom they may have spent decades of their lives — unable to be there for the person they love, and unable to act as a legal surrogate if their partner is incapacitated.”

Obama’s actions are the latest attempt by his administration to slowly advance the agenda of a constituency that strongly supported his presidential campaign.

In his first 15 months in office, Obama has hailed the passage of hate crime legislation and hosted the first gay pride day celebration at the White House. Last month, Obama’s top military and defense officials testified before Congress in favor of getting rid of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for gays in the military.

But the moves have been too slow for some in the gay community, who have urged the president to champion their causes head-on. One prominent gay blogger, John Aravosis, wrote last October that Obama’s “track record on keeping his gay promises has been fairly abominable.”

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I think we will finally see some movement in Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the arcane “stay in the closet” military requirement for gays. Frankly, the name is a misnomer. If an allegation is made that a member is gay, the military investigates it (asks) and the service member must admit (tell) to it, if true, or risk court marshal.

From msnbc.com:

Admirals, generals: Let gays serve openly

More than 100 retired generals and admirals called Monday for repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays so they can serve openly, according to a statement obtained by The Associated Press.

The move by the military veterans confronts the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama with a thorny political and cultural issue that dogged former President Bill Clinton early in his administration.

“As is the case with Great Britain, Israel, and other nations that allow gays and lesbians to serve openly, our service members are professionals who are able to work together effectively despite differences in race, gender, religion, and sexuality,” the officers wrote.

While Obama has expressed support for repeal, he said during the presidential campaign that he would not do so on his own — an indication that he would tread carefully to prevent the issue from becoming a drag on his agenda. Obama said he would instead work with military leaders to build consensus on removing the ban on openly gay service members.

“Although I have consistently said I would repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ I believe that the way to do it is make sure that we are working through a process, getting the Joint Chiefs of Staff clear in terms of what our priorities are going to be,” Obama said in a September interview with the Philadelphia Gay News.

Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for Obama’s transition team, declined comment.

Flash point for Clinton
The issue of gays in the military became a flash point early in the Clinton administration as Clinton tried to fulfill a campaign promise to end the military’s ban on gays. His efforts created the current compromise policy — ending the ban but prohibiting active-duty service members from openly acknowledging they are gay.

But it came at a political cost. The resulting debate divided service members and veterans, put Democrats on the defensive and provided cannon fodder for social conservatives and Republican critics who questioned Clinton’s patriotism and standing with the military.

Retired Adm. Charles Larson, a four-star admiral and two-time superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy who signed the statement with 104 other retired admirals and generals, said in an interview that he believed Clinton’s approach was flawed because he rushed to change military culture.

Larson said he hoped Obama would take more time to work with the Pentagon. Joining Larson among the signatories was Clifford Alexander, Army secretary under former President Jimmy Carter.

“There are a lot of issues they’ll have to work out, and I think they’ll have to prioritize,” Larson said, noting that the new administration will immediately face combat-readiness issues and budget concerns. “But I hope this would be one of the priority issues in the personnel area.”

The list of 104 former officers who signed the statement appears to signal growing support for resolving the status of gays in the military. Last year, 28 former generals and admirals signed a similar statement.

Generational shift cited
Larson, who has a gay daughter he says has broadened his thinking on the subject, believes a generational shift in attitudes toward homosexuality has created a climate where a repeal is not only workable, but also an important step for keeping talented personnel in the military.

“I know a lot of young people now — even people in the area of having commands of ships and squadrons — and they are much more tolerant, and they believe, as I do, that we have enough regulations on the books to enforce proper standards of human behavior,” Larson said.

The officers’ statement points to data showing there are about 1 million gay and lesbian veterans in the United States, and about 65,000 gays and lesbians currently serving in the military.

The military discharged about 12,340 people between 1994 and 2007 for violating the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, according to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a military watchdog group. The number peaked in 2001 at 1,273, but began dropping off sharply after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Last year, 627 military personnel were discharged under the policy.

Political observers say that even though the issue may not be as controversial as it was when Clinton addressed it, it’s impossible to forget what happened then.

Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, said Obama is unlikely to tackle the issue early on. Sabato said he expects Obama to focus on economic recovery and avoid risking the spark of a distracting “brush fire” controversy at the outset.

“I can’t imagine that he will do this right in the beginning, given the Clinton precedent,” Sabato said.

Aaron Belkin, who has studied the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy as director of the Palm Center at the University of California at Santa Barbara and organized the officers’ statement, said how Obama addresses the issue will be the first test for the new president on gay rights.

“Everyone is going to be interested to see how he responds,” Belkin said.

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mrnicegay

I have some work to do. Work that will include coming out to more people, publishing the names of pro prop 8 donors and filing complaints with the IRS to have the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’ (Mormons) tax exemption revoked. More on the last two later. First, a note from HRC:

Dear Eliot,

On Tuesday night, our community felt the emotions of electing a pro-equality President and expanding our numbers in Congress and state houses across the country, but the next morning our hearts were broken as the dust settled and it was clear we lost the marriage ballot measures in California, Florida and Arizona. I will certainly provide you with further insight in the coming days to how we effectively organized and motivated LGBT voters in elections throughout the country, but today, as we find ourselves in this agonizing intersection of victory and defeat, I felt it was important to try and give some perspective about our losses.

I’ve drafted the following op-ed that I wanted to share with you. I know that mere words aren’t enough to provide the salve for our wounds that we desperately need but perhaps they will begin to shape a path for how we move forward. And for those of you who gave your time and resources, your sacrifices were not in vain. You’ve helped lay the foundation for the victory that will one day be ours. And I thank you.

You can’t take this away from me: Proposition 8 broke our hearts, but it did not end our fight.

Like many in our movement, I found myself in Southern California last weekend. There, I had the opportunity to speak with a man who said that Proposition 8 completely changed the way he saw his own neighborhood. Every “Yes on 8” sign was a slap. For this man, for me, for the 18,000 couples who married in California, to LGBT people and the people who love us, its passage was worse than a slap in the face. It was nothing short of heartbreaking.

But it is not the end. Fifty-two percent of the voters of California voted to deny us our equality on Tuesday, but they did not vote our families or the power of our love out of existence; they did not vote us away.

As free and equal human beings, we were born with the right to equal families. The courts did not give us this right—they simply recognized it. And although California has ceased to grant us marriage licenses, our rights are not subject to anyone’s approval. We will keep fighting for them. They are as real and as enduring as the love that moves us to form families in the first place. There are many roads to marriage equality, and no single roadblock will prevent us from ultimately getting there.

And yet there is no denying, as we pick ourselves up after losing this most recent, hard-fought battle, that we’ve been injured, many of us by neighbors who claim to respect us.

By the same token, we know that we are moving in the right direction. In 2000, California voters passed Proposition 22 by a margin of 61.4% to 38.6%. On Tuesday, fully 48% of Californians rejected Proposition 8. It wasn’t enough, but it was a massive shift. Nationally, although two other anti-marriage ballot measures won, Connecticut defeated an effort to hold a constitutional convention ending marriage, New York’s state legislature gained the seats necessary to consider a marriage law, and FMA architect Marilyn Musgrave lost her seat in Congress. We also elected a president who supports protecting the entire community from discrimination and who opposes discriminatory amendments.

Yet on Proposition 8 we lost at the ballot box, and I think that says something about this middle place where we find ourselves at this moment. In 2003, twelve states still had sodomy laws on the books, and only one state had civil unions. Four years ago, marriage was used to rile up a right-wing base, and we were branded as a bigger threat than terrorism. In 2008, most people know that we are not a threat. Proposition 8 did not result from a popular groundswell of opposition to our rights, but was the work of a small core of people who fought to get it on the ballot. The anti-LGBT message didn’t rally people to the polls, but unfortunately when people got to the polls, too many of them had no problem with hurting us. Faced with an economy in turmoil and two wars, most Californians didn’t choose the culture war. But faced with the question—brought to them by a small cadre of anti-LGBT hardliners – of whether our families should be treated differently from theirs, too many said yes.

But even before we do the hard work of deconstructing this campaign and readying for the future, it’s clear to me that our continuing mandate is to show our neighbors who we are.

Justice Lewis Powell was the swing vote in Bowers, the case that upheld Georgia’s sodomy law and that was reversed by Lawrence v. Texas five years ago. When Bowers was pending, Powell told one of his clerks “I don’t believe I’ve ever met a homosexual.” Ironically, that clerk was gay, and had never come out to the Justice. A decade later, Powell admitted his vote to uphold Georgia’s sodomy law was a mistake.

Everything we’ve learned points to one simple fact: people who know us are more likely to support our equality.

In recent years, I’ve been delivering this positive message: tell your story. Share who you are. And in fact, as our families become more familiar, support for us increases. But make no mistake: I do not think we have to audition for equality. Rather, I believe that each and every one of us who has been hurt by this hateful ballot measure, and each and every one of us who is still fighting to be equal, has to confront the neighbors who hurt us. We have to say to the man with the Yes on 8 sign—you disrespected my humanity, and I am not giving you a pass. I am not giving you a pass for explaining that you tolerate me, while at the same time denying that my family has a right to exist. I do not give you permission to say you have me as a “gay friend” when you cast a vote against my family, and my rights.

Wherever you are, tell a neighbor what the California Supreme Court so wisely affirmed: that you are equal, you are human, and that being denied equality harms you materially. Although I, like our whole community, am shaken by Prop 8’s passage, I am not yet ready to believe that anyone who knows us as human beings and understands what is at stake would consciously vote to harm us.

This is not over. In California, our legal rights have been lost, but our human rights endure, and we will continue to fight for them.

Warmly,

Joe Solmonese
President, Human Rights Campaign

Protest sign photo above via towleroad.

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Thank. God.

small_obama_image

History is made. I was just at Little Rock High School, the site of forced integration and the Little Rock Nine on Sunday. Now we elect a black president.

Even my home state of Virginia came around from the dark side after 44 years. Who would have thought.

I hope he is successful with his mandate and can get some great things done.

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Notice no exclamation point after “Obama” above. If he is as great as his supporters say, why hasn’t he been able to close the deal? The only “big” state (I define a big state as a state with 100 delegates up for grabs) he’s managed to win is Illinois.

I heard troubling news on the radio tonight. If Obama wins the nomination, 25% of Clinton supporters would vote for McCain. If Clinton gets the nomination, 20% of Obama supporters would vote for McCain. I didn’t think there were so many shortsighted Democrats.

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