Thursday, March 22, 2012

Liberty and Justice for All: Marriage Equality Wins (Again) in New Hampshire

On March 21, 2012, the Republican-controlled New Hampshire House of Representatives fought back a repeal of marriage equality by a vote of 211 to 116. Staff Attorney Janson Wu, who served on the steering committee of the campaign to fight repeal, shares his thoughts on this incredible victory.

Coming back to the gallery of the New Hampshire House of Representatives for yesterday’s vote on whether to repeal the state’s marriage equality law felt like a reunion, even if it wasn’t for the happiest of occasions. As soon as I walked into the gallery, I saw Ed Butler and Bob Thompson, two openly gay former state representatives who played pivotal roles in 2009 in passing the Granite State’s marriage equality law. Soon former state representative Melanie Levesque, with whom I also worked and whose powerful floor speech in support of marriage equality I still remember vividly, joined us. She had spoken in 2009 about how 40 years ago, she, as a black woman, could not have married her white husband in at least 16 states. How, she asked her colleagues back then, can we justify the same exclusions for gay couples today?

That was again the question of the day at the State House in Concord, as marriage equality opponents tried and failed to pass repeal of the marriage repeal legislation. While our side’s original goal was simply to secure the one-third votes necessary to sustain an expected veto of the repeal bill by Governor Lynch, as the day grew closer, a path to outright victory started to open up. In the end, we were able to kill the bill outright by a margin of 2-1, in a legislative body that is three-fourths Republican. The bipartisan vote made clear that upholding marriage equality is not, and should not, be about whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, but rather whether you believe in liberty and justice for all.

Yesterday’s vote could not have happened without the strong work and support of our coalition partners, including Standing Up For New Hampshire Families, Granite State Progress, PFLAG-NH, Freedom to Marry, and HRC.

This victory also had personal meaning for me. Having drafted the original marriage equality legislation, I felt a special ownership and pride in the law, which many in New Hampshire and nationally initially thought had no chance of passing in 2009. It was also personal, because one of my closest friends from law school married her wife in Portsmouth, and I wanted to see her commitment continue to be honored by the state in which she chose to marry. (This friend also officiated my own wedding, having introduced me and my husband many years ago.)

The fight here in New Hampshire is far from over. Our opponents will surely try to make marriage equality an issue at the ballot box, particularly with the Governor’s seat up for grabs. Yet, with over 60 percent of New Hampshire residents supporting marriage equality, it is reassuring to know that public opinion is moving in our direction, thanks to the thousands of Granite State gay couples who have married and shared their happiness with friends, coworkers, and neighbors. Today’s success affirmed not only the equality of New Hampshire’s LGBT citizens, but it recognizes the love and commitment of the almost 2,000 same-sex couples who have married in New Hampshire. And that is certainly cause for celebration.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day! Except if you’re gay!

Gays need not apply when it comes to marching in South Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. It’s hard to believe in the year 2012, but organizers – the Allied Veteran’s War Council under the leadership of Parade Organizer Philip J. Wuschke Jr. – continue to exclude LGBT organizations from participating in the festivities. Just ask our friends over at MassEquality, whose application to march parade organizers rejected last month.

It’s not for lack of trying on our part. In the early 1990s, GLAD sued the parade organizers on behalf of the Irish-American Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Group of Boston (GLiB), a multi-year battle that took GLAD and GLiB all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court with the case Hurley v. the Irish-American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston. GLAD compiled a multi-media history of the case for our 30th anniversary a few years back that is still available here. There are photos, an interview with GLAD founder John Ward – who, thanks to Hurley, was the first openly gay man to argue before the Supreme Court – case documents, an excellent podcast featuring GLiB members, and archival photos and news coverage.

Prior to the 1995 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, GLAD and GLiB won seven Massachusetts court rulings affirming the right of LGB Irish-Americans to participate in a public -- and taxpayer funded -- civic event celebrating their heritage, and GLiB joined the 1992 and 1993 parades under court order. It wasn’t pretty. Our podcast includes chilling recollections of the 1992 parade from several GLiB members who marched with the protection of police, a SWAT team and snipers perched on roof tops along the route – while rageful spectators hurled insults, rocks and other debris. As GLiB member David O'Connor recalls in our podcast, “It was the longest four miles of our life, but we did it.”

In a 2009 editorial referencing its coverage of the two GLiB-inclusive St. Patrick’s Day parades, Bay Windows described the scene this way:

People lined the streets holding handmade signs covered in gay slurs; our photographer Marilyn Humphries photographed a man proudly brandishing a "God Hates Fags" sign six years before Fred Phelps made the phrase famous by picketing Matthew Shepard's funeral. Our own coverage of the 1992 parade described one attendee, a white-haired grandmother holding her grandchild in her arms, shouting from the sidelines, "Kill the faggots," as the 25 brave GLIB marchers went past. A group of about ten pre-pubescent boys in Celtics hats gave the GLIB marchers the thumbs-down and muttered, "Do me up the bum." A pair of cute little girls with bows in their hair booed and chanted, "Homos" at the crowd, egged on by adults. As the GLIB marchers walked along the parade route, surrounded by dozens of police officers and two box trucks full of riot police, the crowd shouted slurs at them and pelted them with smoke bombs, fire crackers, condoms, latex gloves, beer bottles and rocks. Many in the crowd turned their backs when the GLIB marchers walked past.

Yikes. The courage of the GLiB members who marched in those parades astounds and inspires me. I prefer to dwell on their strength, rather than the ugliness of the long-ago spectators and the mean-spiritedness of the current parade organizers clinging to a bigoted past. Well at least my tax dollars aren’t paying for their prejudice anymore. That’s some consolation.

The ongoing exclusion of LGBT organizations from the Southie parade is a reminder that even in Boston – one of the most LGBT-supportive cities in one of the most LGBT-friendly states in our nation – there is still much work to be done to ensure full legal and social equality for our community. Sooner or later everyone truly will be Irish on St. Patrick’s Day (well, at least metaphorically).

Until then, the local chapter of Veterans for Peace – an organization that is also excluded from the parade – is sponsoring the all-inclusive St. Patrick’s Peace Parade, which follows a mile behind the main event – apparently, that's just far enough to keep all the gay cooties and flower power from infecting the fragile fellas of the Allied Veteran’s War Council. Learn more about this great event here.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Warning: Same-Sex Married Couples and Medicare Part B

When you turn 65 you must enroll in Medicare Part B or face a 10% lifetime penalty for every year you fail to enroll. So if you wait until age 70, you will be paying an additional 50% premium in addition to the regular Part B premium for the rest of your life. However, Medicare does allow two exceptions to this rule.

First, if you are still working and are covered by either your employer’s or union’s group health plan, you can opt to enroll in Medicare Part B anytime while you are still working or during the 8 months after either your employer’s insurance or your employment ends WITHOUT incurring any penalty.

There is a second exception that involves being on a spouse’s health plan, but because of the discrimination that same-sex married couples face because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), this benefit will not apply to same-sex married couples until either GLAD wins one of its lawsuits against DOMA (for more information on GLAD’s cases see or Congress repeals DOMA.

On the Legal InfoLine, we have seen several cases where a same-sex spouse is on the other spouse’s employer or union health plan and thinks that he/she can delay enrolling in Medicare Part B without incurring a penalty. We have even seen situations where a Social Security employee tells the person that he/she can remain on the spouse’s health plan without incurring a penalty, showing that even some federal government employees are confused about the implications of DOMA. Later when the person decides to enroll in Medicare Part B, he/she is told that she/he is being assessed a 10% penalty for every year the person delayed enrolling after the age of 65.

So it is important when you turn 65 to enroll in Medicare Part B, unless you are still working and have group health insurance through your employer or union. You can sign up for Medicare Part B up to 3 months before the month you turn 65 and up to three months after the month you turn 65, but the later you sign up the longer you have to wait for Medicare Part B coverage to begin.

If you go to sign up more than 3 months after the month you turn 65, then you will have to wait until the “open enrollment” period, which is from January 1 thru March 31 and you will have an additional 10% penalty for every year you waited. You will also have to wait until July 1 before your Medicare Part B coverage starts.

There is more detailed information about enrolling in Medicare at If you have any questions about this or any other LGBTQ/HIV legal issue, contact GLAD’s Legal InfoLine at 800-455-GLAD (4523) or go to