During the 2004 elections, George W. Bush’s campaign, managed by a closeted gay man, pushed a series of anti-gay ballot initiatives across the country. The House of Representatives, led by a male speaker who allegedly sexually assaulted a male minor, moved a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage after beating back attempts to strengthen hate crimes legislation. And the White House, led in part by a vice president with a lesbian daughter, eagerly encouraged a conservative evangelical base hostile to gay rights.

Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) may have sexually abused at least two male students during his time as a high school teacher and wrestling coach, and later lied to the FBI about the hush money he was paying one of them.

Hastert wasn’t a strident culture warrior during his time in Congress. But he was a vital cog in the anti-gay political machinery that the GOP deployed for political benefit. And now it appears his involvement carried the same elements of duplicity and deceit as that of other Republican operatives of that era.

“The hypocrisy is breathtaking in its depth,” said Elizabeth Birch, former president of the Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.

As speaker of the House from 1999 to 2007, Hastert didn’t just go along and vote the party line on various bills; he decided which pieces of legislation made it to the floor for a vote. During his tenure, he was a clear foe of the LGBT community.

Toward the end of his presidency, Bill Clinton was trying to broaden the federal hate crimes statute to cover acts of violence motivated by sexual orientation and gender identity. Calls for such legislation had picked up steam after the horrific assault and killing of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old gay man, in 1998. But Republicans, led by Hastert and other GOP leaders, repeatedly barred any such measure from passage.

“We’d like to see the Clinton-Gore administration focus more on the enforcement of the current laws we have, rather than try to create a partisan political bill that has little effect in the real world,” said Hastert spokesman Pete Jeffries in an April 26, 2000, article in The Washington Post.

That Hastert was allegedly hiding a sordid past wasn’t known at the time, though rumors were beginning to spread. Still, those who lobbied on the bill picked up odd clues that hold more meaning now.

“I once sat in a meeting with Denny Hastert where he literally teared up in front of Judy and Dennis Shepard [Matthew’s parents] and committed to doing everything he could to pass the Matthew Shepard hate crimes bill and then literally did nothing. Didn’t lift a finger,” recalled Birch. “You should have seen this guy. He teared up, was so sincere. But when we tried to put meetings together with families to talk about what it was like to grow up LGBT and the kinds of additional stresses in places like high school and college, we could never get traction back in the district.”

Hastert continued opening the gateways for anti-gay legislation in the years that followed. In 2004, Bush announced his support for a constitutional amendment to define marriage as being between one man and one woman. Hastert brought it to the floor even though he predicted that passage would be difficult since it required the approval of two-thirds of Congress.

“Sometimes you win for losing,” said Hastert spokesman John Feehery at the time, arguing that the effort helped draw a clear distinction between Bush and then-Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry.

When a constitutional amendment finally came to a vote in July 2006 — and failed — Hastert vowed to keep fighting.

“Be assured that this issue is not over,” he said.

In fact, it basically was. The country was by then beginning its rapid shift toward accepting same-sex marriage — a change helped along by some Republicans who began paying a penance for their past work.

Ken Mehlman, who headed the Bush re-election campaign when it was pushing anti-gay rights initiatives in various states and who ran the Republican National Committee when it continued anti-gay politicking, revealed that he is gay in 2010, after Bush had left office.

In coming out, Mehlman acknowledged that he had been aware Bush’s chief strategist, Karl Rove, was pushing those initiatives and said he regretted not doing more to advance gay rights. He has since become an outspoken advocate and was instrumental in pushing marriage equality in the state of New York, which passed same-sex marriage in 2011. He’s doing similar work now nationally.

Hastert’s onetime spokesman Feehery likewise noted that times have changed dramatically since his old boss was allowing marriage amendments to come to the floor. His own past statement welcoming those votes wasn’t a moral one, he said, but a reflection of outdated politics.

“Obviously the dynamics have changed,” said Feehery. “It was a political vote. At the time it seemed like it was smart politics, but the politics changed. It is easy to look back and say it doesn’t make sense in 2015, but it made sense in 2004.”

Those who were on the other side of the fight aren’t so quick, however, to let bygones be bygones. On MSNBC Friday, former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), himself gay, said that he did not excuse Hastert’s alleged actions — “the teacher taking advantage of students” — but that the episode made him think of how destructive homophobia has been.

“Leave aside from the fact the illegitimate nature of the fact that it was a teacher-student relationship that should not have happened,” said Frank, who added that it seemed Hastert may have been bisexual. “But the gay sex in itself obviously, it was something which back then was considered so scandalous that Hastert couldn’t do it in an — in a kind of an open way.”

“People like Dennis Hastert wouldn’t be subject to the same kind of temptations and pressures today,” Frank added. “A man who had those feelings, a man who has those feelings can express them more openly. And it is a reminder of the price everybody in society paid, not just the individual, for prejudice.”

The Senate quietly rejected legislation Thursday that would have extended certain veterans’ benefits to married same-sex couples and their children who live in states where their marriage isn’t recognized.

During debate on the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) proposed amending the federal statute that prevents the Department of Veterans Affairs from granting comprehensive benefits to same-sex couples in states that don’t recognize a same-sex marriage that was legally performed in a different state.

Her amendment failed 53-42, seven votes shy of the 60 votes needed to pass. None of the Senate Republicans running for president voted for it. Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Ted Cruz (Texas) opposed it, while Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) did not vote.

Shaheen called it “tremendously disappointing” that the Senate would deny benefits to people who put their lives on the line for their country.

“Veterans served their country bravely, and yet some are deprived of the very rights they risked their lives to protect,” she said in an email. “The impact of this discrimination is real. Monthly benefits are less; spouses and children are not eligible for medical care at the VA; and families are not eligible for the same death benefits.”

Because of restrictions in federal law, veterans in same-sex marriages who live in states that don’t honor their marriage receive smaller monthly disability payments and aren’t eligible to qualify for a VA home loan with their spouse. In some cases, these veterans’ spouses and kids are also ineligible for VA medical care.

It’s not the first time the Senate has voted to change this law. Shaheen introduced the same amendment in March, during debate on the budget, and the amendment passed 57-43. Only 51 votes were required to attach amendments to that bill. But the budget resolution is non-binding, meaning those votes were about making a statement on an issue rather than affecting law.

The Supreme Court is expected to issue a major decision later this month on whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. If they rule yes, then all states will be required to offer marriage licenses to gay couples and all states will have to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

“What we’re asking for is simply to be part of that same tradition of marriage where two people commit to each other and make those promises to love, protect and honor each other. How are we changing that? How are we harming that? We’re just asking to do the same thing.”

Jim Obergefell is fired up. He’s the lead plaintiff in a case before the Supreme Court that this month could change gay rights in America forever. And in an exclusive interview with Yahoo global news anchor Katie Couric, he explains why.

“It’s scary to think about having the highest court in the land rule that you really are a second-class citizen and you don’t deserve the same rights, the same protections, the same responsibilities as other people.”

His case, Obergefell v. Hodges, rests on two questions. One is whether the Constitution requires a state where same-sex marriage is not legal to recognize a marriage licensed in a state where it is legal.

The other question is whether the Constitution requires states to license marriages between two people of the same sex — in other words, whether same-sex marriage should be legal nationwide.

In 1992, Obergefell met a man named John Arthur — twice — through friends. On neither occasion did the men acknowledge their attraction to each other.

But, at a New Year’s Eve celebration that year, the third time was a charm.

“I went to a party, and I never left,” Obergefell says.

The two were inseparable for the next 20 years. They worked in IT consulting at four companies together and built a vast network of family and friends in their hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio. On weekends, they shopped at eclectic art galleries and supported local artists. Over Christmas, they gleefully decorated their yard with tacky trinkets. During the school year, foreign exchange students stayed in their home and became like their children.

“They were fantastic,” says Jim’s older brother, Bob Obergefell. “They brought such a vibrant life and atmosphere to almost everything that they did.”

Despite their decades-long relationship, the couple had never seriously considered marriage until June 2013, when two major events changed their lives. The first was Edie Windsor winning her case before the Supreme Court — thereby forcing the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages in states where they were performed legally. The second factor was Arthur’s declining health.

In early 2011, Obergefell had noticed a change in how his partner was walking — one leg seemed to slap abnormally. By spring, the problem could no longer be ignored, and Arthur learned his diagnosis: He had ALS, an incurable neurological disease.

Over the next two years, Arthur’s motor and speech skills slowed considerably. By the time the couple decided to wed, he had lost the ability to walk or speak more than a few words at a time. And, adding to the complications of getting to the altar, same-sex marriage was illegal in Ohio.

“In a perfect world, I could’ve put John in his wheelchair and taken him six blocks to our county courthouse to get our marriage license and then marry in the comfort, safety or our home,” says Obergefell. “But unfortunately we didn’t have that luxury.”

Mary Arnett, Arthur’s hospice nurse, wasn’t sure if the couple could pull it off. “Because John was so sick, I wondered how they were going to do it,” she recalls. “But… but they did, you know? Where there’s a will, there’s a way. And they both had the will.”

Obergefell found out that in Maryland, a state where same-sex marriage was legal, only one party needed to be present to obtain a marriage license. So he traveled there, secured a license, and returned home to collect Arthur to make a return trip to the state. Friends and family pitched in to foot the $13,000 cost of a private medical plane Arthur would need for the trip. Paulette Roberts, Arthur’s aunt, had gotten ordained online years before in the hope that someday she would be able to marry the two. She was ready for the ride.

On July 12, 2013, the two wed on the tarmac of Baltimore-Washington International Airport in an emotional ceremony that lasted just moments. They were back home in Ohio in less than an hour.

“It wound up to be a beautiful day and a meaningful day,” says Roberts. “But we had no idea that it would be where it is now.”

The honeymoon didn’t last long. Within days of the wedding, a local lawyer delivered some harsh news. Since Ohio does not recognize same-sex marriage, Arthur’s death certificate would list him as “single” and Obergefell’s name would be nowhere on the document.

Obergefell immediately filed for — and won — a temporary injunction, allowing his name to be listed on the document as “spouse.” Arthur died three months later.

But the legal battle went on. In December 2013, a judge made the injunction permanent. Immediately, the state of Ohio filed an appeal in an attempt to removed Obergefell’s name from Arthur’s death certificate. The case reached the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals the following summer.

The appeals court would go on to rule against Obergefell — as well as couples with other same-sex marriage cases in Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee. The rulings contradicted other circuit court decisions nationwide that had ruled in favor of same-sex marriages in recent years.

“I was hurt. I was angry,” says Obergefell. “But there was that silver lining because so many people at that point were saying, ‘Well, the Supreme Court won’t get involved until there’s a split between the appeals courts.’”

Sure enough, the Supreme Court was the final stop. All of the cases have now been combined under Obergefell v. Hodges, and the court is expected to rule later this month in the case that could change gay rights in America considerably.

SCOTUSblog’s Kevin Russell says if the court rules in favor of the legality of same-sex marriages on both of the questions that Obergefell v. Hodges asks, the implications could extend far beyond marriage.

“This could be a decision that says that it is generally unconstitutional to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in every sphere,” says Russell. “And if the Supreme Court holds that, then this will be a huge case. It’ll be the ‘Brown v. Board of Education’ for sexual orientation. It will mean that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, at least by states and by the federal government, is unconstitutional across the board.”

Obergefell’s case, however, also poses an unlikely danger to proponents of same-sex marriage. Currently, 37 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized same-sex marriage. However, in 21 of those states, it is only legal because courts ruled state bans unconstitutional. If the Supreme Court rules against him, and additionally goes so far as to say that the constitution does not protect marriage at all, those rulings could be in jeopardy.

Experts say that outcome is largely unexpected, but they concede that this scenario could be a major setback for gay couples. Same-sex couples who are now legally married in 21 states could suddenly lose their legal status. As Russell says, “It would be a huge mess.”

That fear is not lost on Obergefell, who says he “absolutely” shares that concern. “I think there would be a certain level of pandemonium in the country. I mean, how could there not be, because suddenly, again, you’re creating this second class of citizens.”

Nonetheless, he’s staying positive. Each night before he falls asleep, he talks to his late husband. He always envisions how the conversation will go on the day of the ruling. “I’m hoping that night, as I lie in bed and talk to John and tell him about my day, I hope that I’m able to say, ‘John, we won. We helped bring marriage equality to the United States. Hard to believe we did it. And I wish you were here to celebrate with me.”

Obergefell has been in the Supreme Court twice before — once on a tour and once for oral arguments. He plans to be inside again on the day the decision is reached. He hopes that — just like when he met Jim — the third time’s a charm.

Huckabee’s Comments Out of Date, Even Bigoted

Posted June 2nd, 2015 by pikapp44

The political mind of former Arkansas governor and 2016 Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee must be a very interesting place — a place that looks and feels a lot like 2004.

BuzzFeed spotted a video of Huckabee’s February address at the 2015 National Religious Broadcasters Convention in Nashville, Tenn. The video was posted online this weekend by World Net Daily. In it, Huckabee shared some thoughts on transgender Americans.

“Now I wish that someone told me that when I was in high school that I could have felt like a woman when it came time to take showers in PE,” said Huckabee. “I’m pretty sure that I would have found my feminine side and said, ‘Coach, I think I’d rather shower with the girls today.’ You’re laughing because it sounds so ridiculous doesn’t it?”

For most people, Huckabee’s comments seem a little out of date, perhaps even bigoted. This is a country in which a gold-medal-winning Olympian and one-time mascot of American masculinity just revealed that he is a transgender Republican, and then posed for the cover of Vanity Fair to share a new name, Caitlyn Jenner, along with a new gender identity and personal story.

Huckabee’s comments might have gone over quite well back in 2004, when so-called “values voters” dominated most of the waking hours and dreams of political operatives and candidates alike. In 2004, a mostly-Republican contingent of lawmakers pushed constitutional bans on gay marriage onto state ballots, which the Karl Rove-led George W. Bush campaign ably leveraged to draw conservative voters to the polls.

While casting a vote against gay marriage, Republicans could also cast a vote for Bush. And despite some post-election equivocation about the role that the gay marriage measures played in helping Bush return to the White House, Rove was utterly plain about the role that “moral values” played in the 2004 election.

But this is 2015, where what precisely the list of moral values should contain has, for much of the country, shifted. Somewhere around 2011, the share of American voters who believe that government should “promote traditional values” slipped below the portion who think the state should not back any particular set of values. A December CNN/ORC International poll found that same split not only remains, but has grown.

And that’s to say nothing of the huge shift leftward on issues like gay marriage and marijuana. A recent Gallup poll shows the number of Americans who consider themselves socially liberal just hit a new high.

So Huckabee’s on-stage befuddlement at that Christian broadcaster’s gathering back in February – genuine or feigned – probably can’t be described as an effort geared toward the general election.

Huckabee always seems to be fighting yesterday’s battles and aiming for an ever-shrinking constituency. Maybe that’s where his heart is, but it’s not helping his party.

The people of Ireland backed same-sex marriage by a landslide in a referendum that marked a dramatic social shift in a traditionally Catholic country that only decriminalized homosexuality two decades ago.

After one of the largest turnouts in a referendum there, 62 percent of voters said ‘Yes’, making Ireland the first country to adopt same-sex marriage via a popular vote.

‘Yes’ supporters crowded into the courtyard of Dublin Castle to watch in blistering sunshine as results trickled in from around the country were shown on a large screen. They cheered with joy as the final tally was announced and then burst into a rendition of the national anthem.

“We woke up today to a new Ireland. The real Irish Republic that I have dreamed of my whole life,” said Jean Webster, a 54-year-old administrator who came out as a lesbian eight years ago after separating from her husband.

Government ministers waved a rainbow flag from the stage in front of the crowd and one lesbian senator proposed to her partner live on national television.

“The answer is yes to their future, yes to their love, yes to equal marriage. That ‘Yes’ is heard loudly across the world as a sound of pioneering leadership from our people,” Prime Minister Enda Kenny told a news conference. “Ireland, thank you.”

The Catholic Church, which teaches that homosexual activity is a sin, saw its dominance of Irish politics collapse after a series of child sex abuse scandals in the early 1990s and limited its ‘No’ campaigning to sermons to its remaining flock.

The archbishop of Dublin said the result presented a challenge.

“It is a social revolution. It’s very clear that if this referendum is an affirmation of the views of young people, then the Church has a huge task ahead of it,” Archbishop Diarmuid Martin told national broadcaster RTE.

“The Church needs to do a reality check.”

Boy Scouts President: Lift Ban On Gay Adults

Posted May 22nd, 2015 by pikapp44

Robert Gates, the president of the Boy Scouts of America, called for the organization to end its ban on gay adults in remarks (PDF) at the organization’s national business meeting Thursday.

Citing “the social, political and judicial changes taking place in our country” regarding laws and sexual orientation, Gates said that “the status quo in our movement’s membership standards cannot be sustained.”

He added, “Our oath calls upon us to do our duty to God and our country. The country is changing, and we are increasingly at odds with the legal landscape at both the state and federal levels. And, as a movement, we find ourselves with a policy more than a few of our church sponsors reject, thus placing Scouting between a boy and his church.”

Gates noted that the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was overturned by a judge in 2010, when he was defense secretary, prompting Congress to repeal the law. He said decisions on the Boy Scouts’ policy could also be dictated by the courts, and it would be better “to seize control of our own future.”

He also said that the Boy Scouts would not revoke the charters of councils that currently oppose the ban.

Gates’ statements were met with praise from Scouts for Equality, an organization dedicated to ending the ban.

“This is another step forward for the Boy Scouts of America,” Scouts for Equality Executive Director Zach Wahls said in a news release. “I’m proud to see Dr. Gates charting a course towards full equality in the BSA.”

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest advocacy group for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered communities, said it was “a step in the right direction,” though HRC President Chad Griffin said he hopes there’s more to come.

“As we have said many times previously, half measures are unacceptable, especially at one of America’s most storied institutions,” Griffin said in a news release. “It’s time for BSA leaders to show true leadership and embrace a full national policy of inclusion that does not discriminate against anyone because of who they are.”

Gates, a dedicated Scout — he told Esquire that the Scouts’ National Junior Leader Training Program, which he attended as a teenager, “was the only formal management course I’ve ever had in my life” — approved of the organization’s 2013 vote to allow gay youth into the organization when he took over as president last year.

He did not set a timetable for change but stressed urgency in his speech.

“We can act on our own, or we can be forced to act, but either way, I suspect we don’t have a lot of time,” he said.

During the same weekend that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg presided over the wedding of a same-sex couple, evangelist Franklin Graham was writing a prayer to change her mind on same-sex marriage.

“As the Supreme Court continues to deliberate over the constitutionality of same-sex marriage,” Graham wrote in a Facebook message, “let’s pray that Justice Ginsburg’s eyes would be opened to the truth of Scripture and that she would not be deceived by the arguments of those who seek to impose their ‘new morality’ on our nation.”

Mike Huckabee, 2016 GOP presidential hopeful, signed his own “Pledge to the People,” vowing to defend the constitution, pursue an economic agenda and turn the clock back on advancements made in marriage rights for LGBT Americans.

When discussing his pledge with Fox and Friends Saturday, the former Arkansas governor said, “I’m for term limits and ending judicial supremacy.”

In addition to “vigorously oppose any redefinition” of marriage,
Huckabee’s pledge has anti-abortion language and calls for the defunding of Obamacare and Planned Parenthood.

Jeb Bush Stands By Opposition to Same-Sex Marriage

Posted May 18th, 2015 by pikapp44

Jeb Bush stood by his opposition to same-sex marriage in a new interview, saying he doesn’t believe it’s a constitutional right and that traditional marriage is central to Catholicism.

“It’s at the core of the Catholic faith, and to imagine how we are going to succeed in our country unless we have committed family life, a child-centered family system, is hard to imagine,” he said on Christian Broadcasting Network’s “The Brody File.”

“So, irrespective of the Supreme Court ruling — because they are going to decide whatever they decide, and I don’t know what they’re going to do — we need to be stalwart supporters of traditional marriage.”

The Supreme Court is expected to rule next month on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage, and many observers — even opponents of gay marriage — believe the court will in some way expand marriage rights to gay men and lesbians. Many in the GOP are split over how to tackle such a ruling, as Evangelical Christians make up a significant subset of the GOP base and are adamantly opposed to gay marriage.

Those Evangelical Christians remain some of Bush’s biggest skeptics as he moves towards a presidential run.

Bush didn’t offer his own prescription for how to respond to the decision, but he again reaffirmed that he doesn’t believe same-sex marriage is a constitutional right — “but I’m not a lawyer, and clearly this has been accelerated at a warp pace.”

The expected presidential contender then took aim at his likely Democratic opponent in the race, Hillary Clinton, who surprised many in recently calling for the Supreme Court to back gay marriage, a shift from just two years prior when she said marriage was a matter best left to the states.

“What’s interesting is that four years ago Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton had the same view that I just expressed to you. It’s thousands of years of culture and history is just being changed at warp speed. It’s hard to fathom why it is this way,” Bush said.

A New Jersey priest was fired from his job at a Catholic university over a Facebook post supporting same-sex marriage, he claimed in a tweet.

“I’ve been fired from SHU for posting a pic on FB supporting LGBT “NO H8,”” Rev. Warren Hall, who until this week was the director of Seton Hall University’s campus ministry, tweeted on Friday. “I’m sorry it was met with this response. I’ll miss my work here.”

Hall has since deleted the tweet but a change.org petition to reinstate him captured a screenshot. He followed up with a second tweet later Friday.

Hall could not be immediately reached for comment.

The Archdiocese of Newark, which appoints Seton Hall’s director of campus ministry, denied that Hall was fired.

“His tenure is ending at the university as director of campus ministry and he is available for another assignment… I think people are misconstruing an awful lot,” Archdiocese spokesman Jim Goodness told The Huffington Post. “The church has long taught that every person is to be treated with dignity and respect.”

The conflict took a new twist on Sunday as college basketball star Derrick Gordon announced that he will be transferring to Seton Hall. Gordon is the first openly gay Division I men’s basketball player.