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  WINDY CITY TIMES

LOOKING BACK AT '06 - National
by Bob Roehr
2006-12-27

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POLITICS

The kaleidoscope of public and political personalities seemed to spin faster and more bizarrely throughout 2006 than one could have possibly imagined at the start of the year, with the emphasis on downfall. It once again proved the dictum that truth is stranger than fiction.

Even before Congressional Republicans took their Iraq induced drubbing in the November elections, their House leaders had been done in by their own overreaching or incompetence.

Majority Leader Tom 'The Hammer' DeLay ( Texas ) threw in the towel, resigning in April to fight corruption charges, but it was too late for Republicans to hold on to his seat. He was succeeded by the preternaturally tanned John Boeher from the 'Sun Belt' state of Ohio.

DeLay had been pulling the strings of front man Dennis Hastert ( Illinois ) as Speaker of the House and when left to his own devices, Hastert quickly proved his ineptitude in managing the faux scandal of Mark Foley and Congressional pages. Hastert, as Speaker, was essentially gone even before the elections.

And speaking of Foley, the Floridian resigned his seat at the end of September, almost immediately after it became public knowledge that he had exchanged salacious electronic messages with former congressional pages.

It turns out that electrons, not bodily fluids, were about the only things that Foley exchanged with the men who were young ( but not illegally so ) and only after they had left the page program and returned home. It was a little creepy and very pathetic, but to hear some of our Democratic 'friends' in full campaign mode spin it, nubile pages were being molested in the very antechambers of the Capitol Building.

Oh, and soon after resigning, while hiding out at a rehab facility, Foley acknowledged through his lawyer the open secret known in all of Washington and much of Florida—that he is gay. Otherwise, he has had the good sense to shut up and stay out of the public eye. Let's hope he is not writing a 'tell all' book.

The scene only got weirder a month later when Pastor Ted Haggard was outed for using crystal meth and the services of masseur and ex-escort Michael Jones. The father of five and evangelical superstar tried copping a plea to only the former but nobody bought it and he was quickly separated from his Colorado Springs megachurch and vanished.

That scandal eclipsed the one involving Claude Allen. One of the most prominent African-American social conservatives around, the former number two man at the Department of Health and Human Services was sitting in the presidential box during the State of the Union address and a few days later quietly resigned from his White House position as domestic policy chief, for 'personal reasons.'

Allen had been moonlighting, supplementing his income with a sophisticated ruse that involved stores giving him cash back for items he did not purchase. Then he was busted, on videotape. It turns out the scam was something that Allen had done a couple of dozen times. He eventually pled guilty in the summer to a lesser charge and was sentenced to probation.

All those hijinks might make one forget that the purpose of Congress is to pass legislation. So, social conservatives again trotted out an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to ban the specter of gay marriage. And President George W. Bush again pandered to that base in urging passage of the amendment.

It didn't make any difference. In June, the Senate again said no, by about the same margin as two years earlier, despite Republican pick-ups in that chamber. The House went through similar motions a month later.

Reauthorization of the Ryan White CARE Act ( RWCA ) to better reflect the changing nature of the HIV/AIDS epidemic was the ongoing congressional soap opera for many within the gay community. Hopes for a spring passage of the bipartisan, bicameral legislation were quickly dashed. Multiple subsequent revisions fared no better.

The main issue is that the caseload and problems continue to grow but the federal money to meet those needs does not. Any changes in RWCA would take money from the cities that were first and hardest hit by the epidemic and shift it to areas where it hit later, primarily the South.

The political, medical and moral solution is to increase the pot of money so that nobody loses and all AIDS services are adequately funded. Unfortunately, nobody has managed to pull that off.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act ( ENDA ) is been the centerpiece of the Human Rights Campaign's legislative agenda. But they didn't even bother to have the bill introduced in this session of Congress.

Legislation to repeal the anti-gay military policy known as Don't Ask, Don't Tell has garnered 120 co-sponsors in the House, though a companion bill was not introduced in the Senate.

Democratic success in November, seizing control of both houses of Congress albeit by slim margins, has raised expectations that LGBT concerns will be more fully addressed over the next two years. While hearings are assured on several measures, passage of these bills is not.

In October, the retired Gerry Studds, D-Mass., the first openly gay member of Congress, died at the age of 69.

At the end of the year, Jim Kolbe of Arizona, the only openly gay Republican in Congress, was preparing to retire. Barney Frank, D-Mass., was preparing for his elevation to chairman of the financial services committee and active engagement with that industry.

Other key electoral successes for the LGBT community throughout the year included the elevation of Christine Quinn to speaker of the City Council of New York City, the second most powerful office in that city; the landslide re-election of David Cicilline as mayor of Providence, R.I.; and the election of Patricia Todd to the Alabama legislature, despite attempts by some local Democrats to overturn her primary victory.

RELATIONSHIPS

The status of LGBT relationships absolutely dominated the news throughout the year, with some development popping up every week. While much of what occurred on marriage was discouraging, just about everything short of using that word seemed to be to be positive.

The toehold of marriage equality continued to hold in Massachusetts, where efforts by social conservatives to amend the state constitution were stymied by the hard political work of LGBT advocates and their allies. A number of political foes were picked off in the Massachusetts Democratic primary and the number of pro-gay politicians continues to inch upwards.

The biggest change in the coming year will be that Governor Mitt Romney, who has made antigay rhetoric the centerpiece of his pitch to social conservatives in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, will be succeeded by Democrat Deval Patrick, a leading advocate of equality for gays. Survival of marriage seems assured.

Neighboring Connecticut had enacted domestic partnership legislation the year before that offered all of the benefits of marriage to gays but not the name. In July, a judge ruled that was sufficient; 'The equal protection clause does not forbid classification.' That ruling is under appeal.

Courts in New York, Washington state, and New Jersey issued legally similar rulings, smashing the hopes of those who long for full marriage equality but pushing those legislatures toward increased protections for gay relationships through civil unions and similar measures.

Maryland's highest court heard similar arguments in December, but after the experience in other state courts, LGBT advocates were reluctant to get their hopes up. Most expect another ruling that grants most of the substance but not the language of marriage equality.

California remains the big prize. A series of laws over the years have granted most of the rights and responsibilities of marriage to same-sex couples. This year the legislature even passed a bill that added the word marriage, but it was vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who argued that the matter was before the courts.

In July, a three-member appeals panel overruled a district judge who had found it a violation of the state constitution to discriminate against gays on the issue of marriage. The California Supreme Court likely will take up the appeal in 2007.

The effort to amend state constitutions to ban gay marriage, and often other forms of legal protection for same-sex relationships, appears to be losing momentum. LGBT advocates and allies succeeded in keeping such measures off the ballot in about ten states.

Eight states voted on such amendments in November, down from eleven two years ago. In seven states the votes passed those amendments, though by margins that were smaller than what was seen two years earlier. More importantly, Arizona became the first state to defeat such a proposal.

While in Congress, even President Bush's election year pandering to social conservatives wasn't enough to revive the federal Marriage Protection Amendment, which would deny marriage to gays. Even under a Republican majority, the Senate and House again both said no.

Nor did the courts let homophobic get in the way of fair rulings on matters of family law. The Arkansas Supreme Court struck down a regulatory policy that banned homosexuals from serving as foster parents, though politicians have vowed to enact a law reversing that.

A struggle over visitation rights with the daughter of a lesbian couple whose relationship was certified through a Vermont civil union before breaking up, bounced back and forth between courts in that state and Virginia until coming to closure in November.

The Virginia court agreed that under federal law, Vermont had jurisdiction. It was careful not to affirm the gay relationship, but it did take a small step toward normalizing the legal treatment of those disputes under standard legal practices.


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