White House upholds policy against discrimination, contradicts own official
WASHINGTON – The White House on April 1 affirmed President Bush’s support for protecting gay federal workers from discrimination because of their sexual orientation a month after the official he appointed to enforce that policy put it on hold.
On Wednesday, a group of Democrats in Congress urged Bush to overturn a decision by Scott Bloch, head of the Office of Special Counsel, to deny federal workers legal recourse through his agency for sexual-orientation discrimination.
The independent agency investigates and prosecutes claims by federal employees and job applicants about discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation against whistle blowers.
Bloch, who took office in January after the Senate confirmed his nomination by Bush for a five-year term, announced in late February that the agency had removed references to sexual orientation from its Web site and complaint forms. He later said that sexual orientation is not covered as a “conduct” as defined by the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act.
That law forbids discrimination “on the basis of conduct which does not adversely affect the performance of the employee or applicant or the performance of others.”
Asked whether the White House would ask or direct the agency to restore sexual orientation to its list of “race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age or handicapping condition” that can be causes of discrimination claims, Duffy said, “That would be speculation.”
A 1998 executive order by President Clinton explicitly prohibited sexual orientation discrimination in the federal government. That policy remains in effect at the Office of Personnel Management, which oversees the federal work force.
House bill would deny funds to colleges who deny military recruiters
WASHINGTON – The House moved March 29 to deny defense-related funding to universities that don’t provide ROTC programs and military recruiters equal access to their campuses. Opponents said the bill was an assault on university policies banning gay discrimination.
Under the legislation, passed 343-81, universities would have to give military recruiters access to campus and to students that is equal in quality and scope as that provided to other employers. It also requires that colleges with ROTC programs submit an annual report to the Secretary of Defense confirming they will continue to support those programs.
The measure, sponsored by Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., expands on a 1995 law denying Pentagon funds to universities that prohibit military recruiters’ access to campus. That law was later revised to withhold Pentagon funding for “anti-ROTC” policies and to add other agencies with national security and homeland security programs to the list of those that may deny grants to colleges.
Critics of the legislation, which still must be considered by the Senate, said it penalizes those institutions that restrict groups, including the military, that don’t offer equal opportunities to gays and lesbians.
Annan to decide fate of controversial ruling on same-sex partner
UNITED NATIONS – A U.N. panel asked Secretary-General Kofi Annan April 2 to decide the fate of a new policy that allows gay partners of U.N. staffers to receive benefits.
The policy directive, which took effect Feb. 1, was hailed by the gay and lesbian rights organization at the United Nations which had lobbied for years for medical, pension and other benefits for same-sex partners.
But last month, the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference strongly objected to the policy as did a number of African nations.
The General Assembly’s budget and administration committee approved a resolution calling for the directive to be reviewed by Annan. It did not propose specific changes, leaving open the possibility that Annan could maintain the policy, modify it or abandon it.
The U.N. doesn’t keep track of laws on same-sex marriages or domestic partnerships. But U.N. officials have said they are aware that the Netherlands recognizes same-sex marriages and a number of countries recognize domestic partnerships, including Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, France, Germany and Belgium.
By providing U.N. benefits only to nationals whose countries provide similar benefits, diplomats said Annan had sought to avoid any confrontation with the vast majority of countries that don’t offer any benefits to gay or lesbian couples.
Petition drive to annul gay rights law may be in jeopardy
SANTA FE – The opponents of New Mexico’s gay rights law are awaiting an attorney general’s opinion as to whether a change made to the law this year sends them back to the starting line.
With a July 2 deadline for submitting petitions to get a referendum on the Nov. 2 ballot, they are worried there won’t be enough time to round up the mandatory 50,370 signatures.
Lawmakers in 2003 amended the Human Rights Act to prohibit discrimination in housing, employment and other areas based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Critics almost immediately began gathering signatures aimed at getting it repealed by voters. Those petitions, which organizers estimate contain 40,000 signatures, ask for a referendum specifically to overturn the 2003 changes to the Human Rights Act.
But the Legislature changed the law again this year in order to correct a mistake in the 2003 version, which had inadvertently wiped out protections for tens of thousands of New Mexico workers. The law’s proponents believe this year’s changes make the petitions targeting the 2003 law no longer relevant.
The attorney general’s office also is weighing a second question posed last year by a sponsor of the law: whether the anti-discrimination law is subject to referendum. The law may fall under a provision in the state Constitution that says laws may not be subject to annulment by voters if they provide for “preservation of the public peace, health or safety.”
Lambda urges issuance of birth certificate to child adopted by gay men
OKLAHOMA CITY – Lambda Legal is urging the Oklahoma Health Department to issue an accurate birth certificate to a girl who was legally adopted by two gay men.
Lambda Legal became involved in the case when the former health commissioner refused to issue an accurate birth certificate reflecting both of the child’s legal parents.
Two-year-old Vivian has lived with her parents, Gregory Hampel and Edmund Swaya, in Seattle, Washington since shortly after she was born in Oklahoma.
Recently, the Oklahoma State Attorney General, W.A. Drew Edmonson, at the request of the former health commissioner, issued an advisory clarifying the matter under Oklahoma law. The advisory states that under the federal Constitution and Oklahoma laws, the state is required to issue accurate birth certificates for children legally adopted outside of Oklahoma including to children adopted by same-sex couples.
Lambda Legal won a similar case involving a lesbian couple in Vermont who legally adopted a baby from Mississippi. After a two-year court battle, a state judge ordered the Board of Health to issue an accurate birth certificate listing both mothers. That case was Perdue V. Mississippi Board of Health.
Lambda appeals Prudential’s denial of coverage for lesbian retiree’s spouse
SANTA FE, New Mexico – Saying that Prudential Financial’s denial of benefits to the spouse of a lesbian retiree is baseless and uncharacteristic for the company, Lambda Legal formally asked the company to reconsider the decision.
After her marriage in Canada, Laurel Awishus, a retired employee who worked for the company for 20 years, sought to enroll her spouse of nearly 22 years in the medical benefits program offered to the company’s retirees and spouses.
Prudential Financial, headquartered in Newark, New Jersey, offers benefits to the domestic partners of gay and lesbian employees, but says that it only offers those benefits in retirement if the employee retired after January 1, 2000. Straight spouses are entitled to benefits regardless of retirement date.
Prudential is partly using the IRS’s definition of whether the women are married to justify its decision, and in its appeal letter to the company Lambda said that rationale is flawed and the IRS does not decide who is married. Lambda’s appeal notes Prudential’s long history of support for lesbian and gay employees, and says the denial of spousal benefits is a “troubling” departure for the company.
“One of the reasons I’m in this precarious spot is that 19 years ago I moved with Laurel to New Jersey when the company transferred her. I left a promising career behind – that included benefits. I wasn’t treated like a spouse then because we weren’t married. Now we’re married, and that should be respected,” Adelsheim said.
In other news:
School risks funding over rights for transgender students
WESTMINSTER, Calif. – A school district in conservative Orange County is risking the loss of millions in state aid for refusing to update its anti-discrimination policy to protect transgender students.
Westminster school board trustee Judy Ahrens said the state Education Department policy promotes homosexuality, and she will not give in to what she called blackmail.
Westminster is the only one of California’s 1,425 school districts to refuse to endorse a 1999 state law that gives transgender and gender questioning students the right to pursue discrimination complaints.
The district serves 10,000 elementary and middle school students. More than $40 million of its $68 million budget comes from state and federal sources. That money could be cut off if the district is not in compliance with state law by April 12. A final decision will not be made until after the deadline, said Michael Hersher, a lawyer for the state Education Department.
Publisher cancels reissue of racy novel by Lynne Cheney
NEW YORK – A publisher has canceled plans to reissue a racy novel by Lynne Cheney, wife of Vice President Dick Cheney.
New American Library, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), was going to reprint “Sisters,” a historical romance published in 1981 that includes brothels, attempted rapes and a lesbian love affair.
But according to Cheney’s attorney, Robert Barnett, she did not even know about the reissue until receiving calls last week from the media. Barnett then contacted the publisher, which agreed this week to pull the novel. Barnett said no legal action was threatened.
Liberals have often mocked “Sisters,” noting that Cheney is a longtime conservative and that President Bush supports a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
Her novel was the subject of a recent satirical performance at the New York Theatre Workshop, with actors reading such passages as, “Let us go away together, away from the anger and imperatives of men. There will be only the two of us, and we shall linger through long afternoons of sweet retirement. In the evenings I shall read to you while you work your cross-stitch in the firelight. And then we shall go to bed, our bed, my dearest girl.”
“Sisters” has long been out of print and is not mentioned in Cheney’s biography on the White House Web site. In 2001, she told a New York Times reporter that she couldn’t even remember the plot.