The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

The Morning After: Obama

Well, the song says “There’s Got to Be a Morning After,” and here we are. Six candidates in on night. The sheets are a mess, but at least there’s leftover OJ and bagels since no one hung around for breakfast this time. And there are six phone numbers on the dresser. So, who made it a night to remember, who would we rather forget, and who — if any — get’s a call back?

Obama? Edwards? Kucinich? Gravel? Richardson? Clinton? Two who support full equality, and four who support … something else. If I’m ever in a room with Obama, Edwards, Richardson, or Clinton, and I have an opportunity to ask a question, I just have one. They all essentially said that the country is moving inevitably towards full equality. So my question for them is this: How can you lead the country on the path to full equality without actually supporting full equality yourself? (Of course, I realize that by saying this I’ve all but killed whatever chance I had of being in a room with any of the candidates and have an opportunity to ask that question.)

I watched the forum, took notes (yes, I’m that much of a nerd), and recorded it so I could go back and review each candidate’s performance in the cold light of morning. So, grab a bagel, schmear on some cream cheese, pour some left over OJ, and lets compare notes.

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Let’s start with Barrack Obama.

Right out of the gate, here are talking civil unions. On the one hand I’m glad he spoke up about separation of church and state. But right away I’ve got questions about civil unions. If civil unions, in Obama’s vision, are to be granted all the same benefits and protections of marriage, why is it necessary to create civil unions in the first place?

I’m glad that Joe Solomnese broached the “separate but equal” conundrum, because it raises more questions than any of the candidates answered.One thing I’d like to see discussed further is just what a theoretical establishment of civil unions at the federal level with full marriage benefits, etc., would look like, since at Obama, Clinton, and Edwards brought it up. I’ve never been to sure that support for civil unions is “real” so much as a way of sounding progressive without actually having to say you’re going to do anything.

If it’s not marriage, is it automatically less than marriage? If it’s not marriage, is it vulnerable to revision? What would that look like? What legal obstacles are there? Would civil unions be vulnerable as a newly established status in a way that marriage isn’t? Would they be subject to revision or repeal in a way that marriage isn’t? Would couples with civil unions be in danger of having the legal status of their relationships and their rights revised right out from under them? How could that be prevented? How would conflicts between state and federal civil unions be resolved? How would the second article of DOMA (the part Hillary does not want to repeal) come into play?

Based on my experience with delving in to various other experiments, like reciprocal beneficiaries, I’m not encouraged.

The concept goes back at least as far as 1997 (no, Ramesh Ponnuru didn’t invent it), when the Hawaii legislature passed the Reciprocal Beneficiaries Act, in an effort to head off any possibility of same-sex marriage happening in Hawaii. That sounds about right. As I recall, the Hawaii Supreme Court was dealing with a marriage rights case. The court ruled against same-sex marriage two years later, but at the time there was enough anxiety to go around. Enough that a year before, in 1996, the Defense of Marriage Act was signed into law by Bill Clinton. I can’t speak for the Hawaii legislature, but I was working at HRC at the time and most of the gay organizations at that time didn’t want to touch the marriage issue, because the numbers were overwhelmingly against us no matter how you looked at them. (That’s changed significantly since then, but more about that later.)

Back to the question at hand. What did Hawaii’s reciprocal beneficiaries status include? Well, if the partners in question were over 18, unmarried, legally prohibited from marriage, not consenting under duress or fraud, and had signed and filed a notarized declaration of the relationship, the RB initially covered:

* Worker’s compensation

* Public employees health fund

* Public employees retirement

* Health insurance

* Life insurance

* Inheritance without a will

* Wrongful death

* Hospital visitation (and health care decisions)

* Consent to postmortem exams

* Loan eligibility

* Property rights (including joint tenancy)

* Tort liability

* Protection under Hawaii domestic violence laws

But then employers raised holy hell, and eventually the public employees health fund, public employees retirement, health insurance and life insurance were no longer covered. So that leaves:

* Worker’s compensation

* Inheritance without a will

* Wrongful death

* Hospital visitation (and health care decisions)

* Consent to postmortem exams

* Loan eligibility

* Property rights (including joint tenancy)

* Tort liability

* Protection under Hawaii domestic violence laws

Now, I’m not sure that even all of these are covered under currently Hawaii’s statute, but it’s enough to work with. It even still includes some of the rights mentioned in the previous post. Not all, (federal benefits like social security, etc. won’t be covered by a state law) but more than most same-sex couples get in most places.

We can look at how civil unions and domestic partnerships have played out in the states. Most often, it seems like they’ve inspired lawsuits because they’re so new that what they do and do not include has yet to be determined, or the opposition attempts to reduce the benefits and protections they do include. So, establishing federally recognized civil unions might ameliorate some problems, but I’m not convinced that civil unions will be or even can be equal to marriage, or that once established they would retain all the same rights and protections as marriage, for the simple reason that they’re not marriage. Thus they’re subject to be revised down at some point in the future.

I’m glad Barrack addressed homophobia in the black community. I’ve touched on it in “Historically Black Homophobia” and “Are Blacks More Homophobic?”, and I think Obama handled the question well. I only wish he’d had the time to get into how some black ministers are, knowingly or unknowingly, getting into bed with some of the same people who opposed civil rights, the same people who opposed equality for African Americans not long ago, using religion as a basis. And, yes, Obama did bring up the issue at the forum with Tavis Smiley but stumbled afterwards, depending on who you ask. He may have redeemed himself here.

I will give him credit for one thing in his closing statement, he has spoken up about LGBT issues in a variety of forums, from his speech at the 2004 convention to his announcement to his statement at the All American forum earlier this summer.

But one thing in his closing statement bugged me a little bit. Yes, all the candidates in this forum will be better than the Republicans on LGBT issues. But they’re supposed to be better than Republicans on LGBT issues. That’s not a stretch. They can be an improvement over Republicans by just not actively legislating against us, let alone advocating for us. They can do better than teh Republicans by just leaving us alone.

But we’re supposed to be able to expect more than that from Democrats. At least I think we still are.

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