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Feb 13, 2009
Governor Jon M. Huntsman Jr., of Utah State, made a bold announcement this week when he decided to commit to a civil partnership bill, in spite of a recent survey that found 70% of Utah citizens are against the measure. Subsequently, vehement protests were held outside the State Capitol, with pro-family lobbyists crying injustice, and saying that it was “time for the homosexual agenda to stop”. Some campaigners wore shirts baring the slogan “gays are anti-species,” whilst others were quick to distance themselves from any anti-gay remarks, saying that the demonstration was in fact about being &ldquoro-family.”

Reactions to Governor Jon Huntsman's Actions in Utah

Conservative groups are especially angered as Utah actually bans gay marriages under Amendment 3 of its law, passed in 2004, which defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. Gov. Huntsman also endorsed Amendment 3 at the time of its passing. Conservatives are worried any move allowing domestic partnerships would violate Amendment 3 and pave the way for same-sex marriage, however Gov. Jon Huntsman finds no such conflict, saying that the measure would simply be “enhancing equal rights for more of our citizens."

What Does the Bill Contain?
It should be clarified that the bill is not aimed at legitimizing same-sex partnerships exclusively, but rather extends rights to all kinds of co-habiting couples to offer them protections against such legal sticking points as inheritance of an estate should a partner die and other such gray areas.

The bill was split into three sections, but the first part that directly went in opposition of Amendment 3 has been dropped since its conception. The remaining two parts, HB160 and HB267, strengthen cohabiting relationships as a whole, whilst HB276 focuses on protecting LGBT people from being victimized and discriminated against in the work place and in day to day life.

The strength of reaction against Gov. Jon Huntsman’s support for the bill is unsurprising. The Church of Latter Day Saints counts around 60% of Utah citizens amongst its followers, and gave heavily to the Californian Proposition 8 which rendered gay marriages illegal.

A Calculated Move by the Utah Govenor?

But could there be a greater motive behind Jon Huntsman ignoring the people of Utah and endorsing the measure? Up to this point, Jon Huntsman has proven to be one of Utah’s most popular Governors, and although he has bucked trends in the past, he has largely fallen into line with Republican rhetoric throughout his career. It has been confirmed however, that even with an eighty percent approval rating prior and a re-election to his name, Jon Huntsman does not plan to serve as Utah Governor again with Representative Jon Dougall, R-Highland telling the Desert News, “He's moving to a national agenda."

In this Gov. Jon Huntsman has made it known that he would put himself forward as the Republican Candidate for the Presidential nomination in 2012. Could this bill, which falls short of gay marriage but is seen as a positive step by gay groups, be his way of setting the tone for that nomination?

As some have cited, Huntsman’s support for Amendment 3 was, in the first place, somewhat lack-luster, so could this be Gov. Huntsman’s way of marking himself off as a moderate Republican, whilst still trying to keep many of his Utah faithful at his side. After all, he hasn’t actually done anything to weaken Amendment 3 in endorsing the now amended bill, but has, instead, extended basic civil rights and protections to couples that fall outside of traditional marriage. The bill is vague, and it is probably so for that exact reason. And whilst a vocal band of people have reacted against the bill, it is claimed by Gov. Huntsman’s staff that they have received far more praise than complaint, even with the demonstrations outside their offices accounted for.

Whether this was a carefully calculated political move or not, gay rights groups in Utah have praised the decision, with Mike Thompson from Equality Utah, saying, "Let's not be distracted by the controversy. This is not about marriage. The fact that someone can lose their job or be evicted from their home has nothing to do with marriage." (Standard.net; 12th Feb 2008)
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Posted: Feb 13, 2009 8:23am
Feb 5, 2009
Plans for legislature to extend the rights afforded by marriage to same-sex couples have been unveiled in Washington this past week which would strike a decisive victory for LGBT people who have long campaigned for equality. However, this action would fall short of legalizing actual same-sex marriage in Washington, but critics have said it does everything but.

Whilst some legal rights are already established under domestic partnerships for same sex couples, this new bill would affirm equal protections comparable to marriage in the state of Washington, a move that is being sponsored by Representative Jamie Pederson, an out gay member of the Democratic party (and one of six openly gay law makers supporting the bill), with the full backing of the state governor.

The 110-page Washington bill will amend all instances where only those within marriage are protected, extending those rights to domestic partnership or same-sex couples by including them in such areas as pensions and all  employee benefits in a bid to &ldquorotect all Washington’s families” as Senator Ed Murray, a supporter of the legislature, said.

This same-sex partnership measure builds on previous legislature Senator Murray pursued that allowed visitation rights in hospitals as well as a partner being able to give consent for organ transplants and authorize autopsies, as well as giving inheritance rights should there be no will left by their deceased.

However, there has been widespread criticism of the Washington bill by those cautious of gay marriage and same-sex partnership who claim that it is "with this year's legislation, they (gay groups) are taking the final step to stitch together gay marriage in a state that does not legally permit it," as Senator Dan Swecker of the Republican party said in a prepared statement on the matter.

However, Senator Murray denies this accusation, saying of the same-sex rights bill that, "The purpose of this legislation is to provide a way for us to talk about how our families are harmed concretely by their exclusion from civil marriage," but then did add, "we hope that sooner, rather than later, we'll be here talking about a marriage bill."

The Family Policy Institute of Washington, who firmly oppose the bill, have drawn parallels between same-sex marriage and any step toward it including domestic partnerships, likening it to polygamous marriage, as well as saying that homosexuality is comparable to incest and under-age marriage, commenting in a press-release that:

"Canada became the fourth nation to legalize same-sex marriage in 2005 when they enforced the Civil Marriage Act. Last month, the Tri-City Herald reported that two leaders of rival polygamous groups in Vancouver, B.C., made their first court appearance to file lawsuits demanding equal recognition and protection under the law," and then went on to say, "Same-sex marriage activists routinely say that they want to 'end discrimination' as it pertains to marriage equality. However, state law currently discriminates against polygamy, incest and under-age marriages. Do same-sex proponents also want to end the discrimination against groups that promote these kinds of relationships?" (Russell Johnson, World Net Daily, Feb 4th 2009).

Needless to say, gay groups have reacted angrily to Johnson’s statement, but have encouraged all concerned not to let those words, words of considerable faulty logic, take focus from the proposed Washington bill and the significant step it would make for gay and lesbian same-sex couples.

The bill has its next public hearing on the 5th of February and will specify that, to be registered as domestic partners certain criteria must be met that include co-habitation, be of consenting age (18) and be a part of no other domestic partnership or marriage.

In context, five states will this year debate measures to grant gay and lesbian marriage, including Vermont, New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire and Maine, whilst Hawaii and New Mexico will follow in Washington's footsteps and debate legislature allowing same-sex couples the same privileges as given through marriage.

Coinciding with this, it has been announced that the validity of the Californian Proposition 8, which banned same sex marriage, will be examined on March 5th.
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Posted: Feb 5, 2009 12:00am
Feb 4, 2009
A bipartisan call to the new Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asks that all State department workers, including Foreign Service Officers (FSO), be given full State benefits for their partners and therein bring gay and lesbian couples in-line with their heterosexual counterparts. This came in a letter from the Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Democratic congresswoman Tammy Baldwin as well as other supporters in congress, who wrote:

"The lack of equitable treatment could force dedicated, intelligent, and needed FSOs and officials to make an unfortunate choice between serving their country and protecting their families.

"As you noted during the question and answer session of your Senate Foreign Relations confirmation hearing, many other nations now extend training, protection, and benefits to the partners of LGBT employees.

"Further, the State Department’s past inattention to these disparities places it below parity with the best employment practices used in the private sector, where the majority of Fortune 500 companies extend employee benefit programs to cover the domestic partners. Without remedying these inequities, the State Department may fail to attract and retain qualified personnel."


Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin previously wrote to the incoming Obama Administration expressing her hope that when President Obama took office the discrepancies in the benefit plan would be finally amended.

This follows Hillary Clinton’s meeting with the organization Gays & Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies and its head Michelle Schohn over the Secretary of State’s plans for advancing the treatment for gay employees. Both sides talked in glowing terms about one another and an overwhelmingly positive outcome all round is expected. Although, as Schohn noted, no timetable for changes was drawn-up.

The main issues tackled in the meeting dealt with Foreign Service Officers, since under current legislation, partners of gay or lesbian employees are not included in travel orders, are not allowed Federal health care provisions and are not covered for travel expenses should a service man or woman’s partner have to relocate overseas.

Other potential changes include:

• The facility for all partners of gay and lesbian service people to have access to language and effectiveness lessons, as well as area studies to help with relocating.

• Aid in securing Visas for same-sex partners so that they can travel when their partner is placed overseas, as well as for those partners born in other countries looking to travel to the United States with their partner.

• Emergency aid for FSO same-sex partners.

• The same or equivalent rights as Eligible Family Members (EFM) in securing work.

The inequality faced by gay employees was last brought into the spotlight during the winter months of 2007 when Michael E Guest, a US Ambassador to Romania and openly gay individual, retired in order to protest Condoleezza Rice’s position on the subject and her refusal to extend those rights or even to acknowledge Guest’s proposals for equal treatment for gay staff. It seems Hillary Clinton is more open to the discussion over FSOs. 

A move toward equal protective measures for gay federal staff and their partners would bring America into line with other nations who have already extended their care program to include domestic or civil partnerships. There are high hopes for the Obama Administration and for Hillary Clinton’s time as Secretary of State after she publicly declared that, should she secure office, she would be an advocate for LGBT rights.  
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Posted: Feb 4, 2009 10:55am

 

 
 
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Steve Busfield
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