Friday, February 05, 2010

Rewind: Week of Feb. 5

Originally posted on DC Agenda

Tuesday’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was remarkable not only for paving the way for the despicable law’s demise, but for showcasing the two routes conservatives can take moving forward.

One path is that taken by Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It took him a number of years to get to this juncture, but he has chosen to be on the right side of history, be in touch with the majority of Americans, and do what is right by his fellow soldiers. Mullen, who had been nominated to his post by George W. Bush in 2007, told the Senate committee that he believes “allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do.” He confessed, “No matter how I look at the issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.” He explained that it’s a matter of integrity — “theirs as individuals and ours as an institution.” He clearly meant his own integrity as well.

Then there is the way taken by Sen. John McCain. The Arizona Republican reneged on an earlier promise to heed the military’s top brass on the matter of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Now that both the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are telling us it’s time to repeal the discriminatory law, McCain throws a hissy fit and refuses to budge. Once known for his “maverick” and independent streak, it appears that he has lost his better qualities. Is he pandering to social conservatives to ensure more years in Washington? Or has he yet to accept his defeat to that young upstart, Obama? Or is he simply clinging on to an order that is fast disintegrating — one in which he and other privileged, wealthy and heterosexual white men hold sway?

McCain, joined by a few of his ilk, defiantly displayed how out of synch he is with most of us. Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, in particular, uttered inanity that only underscored how divorced these men are from reality. He protested that repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would open the flood gates to “alcohol use, adultery, fraternization, and body art” in the military. I believe it’s a bit too late for that.

In other news, at the National Prayer Breakfast yesterday, Obama finally addressed the maniacal and murderous anti-LGBT fervor gripping Uganda and other African Nations. He said, “We may disagree about gay marriage, but surely we can agree that it is unconscionable to target gays and lesbians for who they are — whether it’s here in the United States or, as [Secretary of State] Hillary [Clinton] mentioned, more extremely in odious laws that are being proposed most recently in Uganda.”

Clinton, who gave the keynote address, had stressed that the administration is “looking to take on religious discrimination and violations of human rights. But we are also standing up for girls and women, who too often in the name of religion are denied basic human rights. And we are standing up for gays and lesbians, who deserve to be treated as full human beings.”

On Monday, newly minted Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell announced that he had decided to shelve his predecessor’s proposal to allow same-sex partners to be covered under the state’s employee health plan. The proposal had been developed by outgoing Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine weeks before the god-fearing McDonnell took over the reins of the Old Dominion State. It would have expanded benefits to qualified adults — straight and gay partners, roommates, caregivers, children and other family members — who live in the same house as an insured state employee.

The following day, in neighboring D.C., Republican Sen. Robert Bennett of Utah and eight other GOP senators introduced legislation that would require the District to subject marriage equality to a referendum before issuing marriage licenses to lesbian and gay couples next month. In response, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton said that the Republicans are “disregarding the most basic of American self-government principles.” She argued that “marriage is a fundamental state’s right in the District as elsewhere in America, not a political football to be used or abused to score points back home at the expense of the people of the District, and of democratic principles.”

And while many of us were riveted on the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” hearing, the U.S. Tax Court quietly issued a long-awaited decision in a case that has very positive consequences for transgender people. In O’Donnabhain v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, the court ruled that treatment for gender identity disorder qualifies as medical care under the Internal Revenue Code, and that medical treatments for GID, including surgery and hormone therapy, are therefore deductible.

Karen Loewy of Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, which represented the plaintiff, celebrated the verdict.

“This decision treats Rhiannon O’Donnabhain the way she deserves to be treated — like any hard-working American taxpayer with medical expenses.” She pointed out that “this has been a no-brainer. Every mainstream medical authority from the American Psychiatric Association to the National Institutes of Health recognizes the legitimacy of providing medical care for transgender people. Dismissing these medical expenses as illegitimate and not deductible was discrimination, pure and simple.”

On Wednesday, Maryland lawmakers rejected an effort by their own to prohibit the state from recognizing same-sex marriages lawfully performed elsewhere. Del. Emmett Burns Jr., a Democrat and minister, had proposed the bill as a pre-emptive strike against an anticipated legal opinion the state’s attorney general has been working on. It has been predicted that the attorney general will allow same-sex marriages to be recognized in Maryland, following the state’s legal tradition of recognizing unions, including common-law marriages, which are illegal in Maryland but lawful elsewhere. Same-sex marriage is still not legal in the state.

Finally this week, thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans activists and straight allies gather in Dallas for Creating Change 2010, the National Conference on LGBT Equality organized by the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force. In attendance are young and old activists and advocates, organizers and activists of color, public officials and other LGBT leaders. Its primary goal is “to build our movement’s political power from the ground up to secure our overarching goal of full equality, social justice and dignity for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the United States.”

Unlike McCain and his friends, these people are not wealthy, privileged and powerful men cocooned in Washington, shaking their fists against welcome change. These ordinary Americans are acting with more wisdom, courage and integrity than the senators, leading the way to our shared future in which the next generation of conservatives, liberals and independents will wonder what the fuss was all about.

You can follow me on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

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