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Alabama Day of Equality — we're coming to Birmingham

As many Blenders know, my wife Kate hails from really deep Red State America — Alabama. It’s not easy being gay in this part of the country, but the good folks at Equality Alabama, LGBT residents and allies, are working hard to bring change — tolerance and inclusion — at the grassroots level, one step at a time, one person at a time.

One measure of progress this year was that the Birmingham City Council passed a resolution of inclusion promoting tolerance and respect for all residents and visitors, and to condemn racism, bigotry, homophobia and all forms of discrimination — it’s first step toward an ordinance for the city, which is obviously still very much a part of the bible belt. 

The LGBT and progressive community there has no intention of abandoning their state. You can be gay and live in Red State America. It’s hard, and these folks need to be lauded for doing the hard work that those who live in gay-friendly metro enclaves don’t have to think about doing.

This Saturday, September 15, Equality Alabama is holding its Day of Equality celebration, a free event open to the public that features speakers and workshops for the community, along with an evening gala. We were asked by ally Kathy McMullen (of Birmingham Blues) and EA’s John Smallwood to come to Birmingham for the event. Kate and I weer happy to accept, and I plan to hold two workshop sessions that day:

1PM – 2PM Educating Potential Political Allies
Many progressives are under-informed about LGBT legal issues at stake. With so much disinformation being funneled out into the mainstream media by the religious right, accurate education is needed to help straight allies, and others who support LGBT rights to feel comfortable when challenged with disinformation so that they can be open advocates. A discussion about hate crimes laws, marriage equality vs. civil unions — where they exist and what the differences are — are just two of the issues that can confuse potential political allies.

2PM – 3PM Urban vs. Suburban vs. Rural and Perceptions of Rights and Community
LGBT citizens living in large metro Blue areas of the country are often blind to the every day struggles of out and closeted gays in suburban, exurban and rural areas. This is a discussion on how to make sure these voices are heard at the national level so that advocacy organizations and our “in-town” LGBT brothers and sisters don’t forget that it’s a much more difficult world out there in Red State America.

On Friday, there will be a “Meet the Speakers Party” all of the speakers will meet and greet folks, so come on out!  It will be exciting to finally meet Rev. Mel White of Soulforce,  a man who has done so much for the community to advance LGBT equality.

He is giving a lecture Saturday morning, The Journey to Equality in Alabama,” and will be the keynote speaker after the banquet on Saturday.

If you’re in the area, there are a lot of good, practical sessions on the agenda, including:
* Sex, Sexuality and Spirtuality for Communities of Color
* Double Jeopardy: Avoiding the Legal Pitfalls of Being Gay & HIV Positive
* Thriving in a Transgender World

There will also be free 20 minute HIV Testing provided by AIDSAlabama.

…and many more. I am curious to see what the turnout will be in Birmingham, since there are many gay folks there, many still in the closet. It would be great to see a big coming out party!***

On the topic of educating potential straight allies about what partnership rights we do have, here are some facts to pass along. Hat tip to Rex Wockner, who nicely documented the status of matters in his post about Sully’s nuptials.

Marriage

* Massachusetts is the only state where gay and lesbian couples can get hitched. That began in 2004. However, because of the Bay State’s “1913” law, couples from other states where same-sex marriage is not legal or recognized cannot marry there. If, as in the case of Rhode Island and New Mexico, there is no ban on marriage equality (but no same-sex marriage on the books either), gay couples can go to Massachusetts and marry.

Civil unions and domestic partnerships (or “marriage lite)

* New Jersey: Civil unions have now been in place for several months now, with a commission monitoring whether the separate institution is resulting in equal legal rights and benefits for gay and straight couples as its Supreme Court ruled that the legislature must provide.

* California: the Golden State’s legislature has approved a marriage equality bill twice, but the Governator has vetoed it one and is expected to veto it again. Oddly, Schwarzeneggar says marriage equality should be determined by the courts or at the ballot box, not by legislators. He will likely face the former as the matter is going to be ruled on by the state Supreme Court soon.  California’s current domestic partnership law has been expanded over time to be functionally equivalent to marriage.

Other states that have institutions in place that come close to equivalent civil marriage include: Connecticut (CUs), New Jersey (CUs), New Hampshire (CUs, beginning on Jan. 1), Oregon (DPs, beginning on Jan. 1) and Vermont (CUs).  Maine and Washington state have domestic partnerships with some benefits; Hawaii provides some reciprocal benefits and DC’s domestic partnerships offers limited spousal rights to same-sex couples.

Under consideration

* Illinois: its legislature is mulling civil unions, which Governor Rod Blagojevich supports.

* Maryland: In 2004, supporters of marriage equality filed a lawsuit to recognize same-sex unions. In July 27, 2006, the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, heard oral arguments on December 4, 2006; but it’s not known when a decision will be handed down there.

* New York: Since August 2007, same-sex marriages are recognized if the couple is married in a place where it is legal. Governor of New York Eliot Spitzer proposed legislation to make it legal in the Empire state, submitting it to the state legislature on April 27, 2007. It’s languishing there for now, as the Senate will consider it next session.

* Rhode Island: bills have been proposed for both marriage and civil unions.

* And last but not least, the surprise of Iowa. In August the Iowa District Court for Polk County said that same-sex couples must be allowed to marry based on the Iowa Constitution’s guarantee of equal treatment under the law. This will clearly be challenged, but it shows that even in the heartland there is change coming.

Abroad, you can marry, but it won’t be valid here.  Canada provides full marriage rights, and non-residents may marry there. More from Rex:

Numerous nations grant registered same-sex couples some, most or all rights and obligations of marriage under registered-partnership, domestic-partnership or civil-union laws. They include Andorra, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Greenland, a self-governing administrative division of Denmark, also has a civil-union law. In yet other nations, such as Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Mexico and the U.S., such rights are granted by city, state or provincial laws. Informal cohabitation of same-sex partners has become legally recognized in Austria, Colombia, Croatia, Hungary, Israel and Portugal — and in parts of Australia, Italy and the U.S.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding

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