The Federal State-Based Universal Health Care Waiver Act of 2015

banner picture of Universal Healthcare from

One Agenda: Universal Health Care.
Picture courtesy of Healthcare for All Colorado

As part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), states have been given the ability to innovate or create their own form of health care insurance or coverage starting on January 1, 2017 AS LONG AS “benefits are at least as comprehensive and affordable as those offered by Qualified Health Plans available on the Exchanges,” according to Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA-7).

As a result, at least 14 states—California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, , New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Washington—have community advocates and state legislators working towards implementing a state-level form of universal health care. They have been working for affordable healthcare access for all residents of their states before and since the Affordable Care Act – aka Obamacare – was passed in 2010.

Now that the US Supreme Court has basically settled the fact that the ACA is constitutional both on June 28, 2012 (Florida v. Department of Health and Human Services) and again on June 25, 2015 (King v. Burwell), we can consider ways to improve our healthcare system at both the state and federal level. As a medical doctor and a member of Congress, McDermott voted for the ACA. He also recognizes that “still more needs  to be done to control costs, improve care, and cover everyone.”

One way to further control these costs and improve health care while covering everyone is to create a universal health care system which I’ve previously blogged about (see here, here, here, here, and here). That means we either have the federal government create a federal single payer plan OR we use the waiver clause in the ACA to help states create their own universal single-payer health care program.

Yet even with the waiver currently allowed within the ACA for innovative state-based health care plans, creating a state-based universal care plan that saves funds for states and individuals while providing health care access to all has a big hurdle to overcome. Rep. McDermott explained this issue in a speech on the floor of the House of Representatives on July 28:

One of the many achievements of the Affordable Care Act is its provisions that grant states the authority to innovate in their health care systems. Under Section 1332 of the law, a state may apply for a State Innovation Waiver that will provide it with control of federal dollars that otherwise would have been spent on premium tax credits and cost-sharing reductions for its residents. Through this waiver, a state may design a system to cover its residents, so long as benefits are at least as comprehensive and affordable as those offered by Qualified Health Plans available on the Exchanges.

However, even with this flexibility, numerous barriers limit states’ ability to design true single-payer systems. Existing waivers are narrow in scope, requiring states to seek out imperfect and convoluted solutions to circumvent federal limitations. A sweeping preemption provision in the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) denies states authority to regulate employer-sponsored health plans. And, due to the complexities of our existing federal health programs, it is essentially impossible for a state to design a single benefit package that can be administered simply and efficiently on behalf of all of its residents.

This speech was McDermott’s announcement that he was introducing HR 3241, aka the “State-Based Universal Health Care Act of 2015:” If passed, this bill would allow states to apply for a universal health care waiver that would allow them to have access to and authority over federal health care dollars that would otherwise be spent on the residents of that state. More specifically, this additional waiver act goes beyond the ACA to deal with the hurdles mentioned above. The new provisions of this law, according to McDermott, would waive all of the following:

  • The rules governing premium tax credits and cost-sharing reductions, as provided for in existing waiver authority under Section 1332 of the ACA.

  • Provisions necessary for states to pool funds that otherwise would be spent on behalf of residents enrolled in Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, TRICARE, and the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program.

  • ERISA’s preemption clause, which cur-rently forbids states from enacting legislation relating to employee health benefit program

After the introduction of HR 3241, the House referred this bill to five committees — the Committee on Energy and Commerce, the Committee on Ways and Means, the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the Committee on Armed Services, and the Committee on Education and the Workforce. I believe that the large number of committee referrals was done because of the need to review all of the different laws that this waiver would impact.

You can read the bill in its entirety here.

I am pleased that this bill has been introduced. It however needs many co-sponsors and advocates to pressure Congress to actually hear, review, and pass this legislation. Please contact your US Representative and ask her/him to co-sponsor Representative Jim McDermott, MD’s bill HR 3241. Here’s the lookup page to find your US. Representative by zip code.

As this is the summer, your Representative should be in the home district. Call, write, set up a meeting and tell her/him why you want to see a universal health care program in your state and why this bill is so necessary. If your Representative agrees to sign on, have him/her contact Mr. McDermott’s aides that are focusing on this issue. They are Jayme Shoun, located in Seattle at (206) 553-7170 and Daniel Foster, Health Counsel in the DC Office at (202) 225-3106.


Same-Sex Marriage = Equal Rights

Marriage Equality We the PeopleThe Supreme Court is currently hearing the same-sex marriage case. This gives some background info on the first set of same-sex marriages forty years ago here in the USA. The live blog at will help fill you in on the arguments being heard before SCOTUS.

Nel's New Day

Forty years ago, a young clerk in Boulder (CO) gave marriage licenses to six same-sex couples before the state attorney general discontinued the practice. Clela Rorex made history, and one couple, Anthony Corbett Sullivan and Richard Frank Adams, made more history when they sued the government after the U.S. government denied an application for Sullivan, an Australian, to stay in the United States although he was married to a citizen. The response on the denial read, “You have failed to establish that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots.”

The 9th Circuit Court ruled against Adams’ suit to obtain an immigrant visa for Sullivan, stating that Colorado might recognize the marriage but the federal government would not. The couple did quit: Sullivan filed a new suit, arguing that his deportation constituted an extreme hardship because ending his relationship with Adams would “cause him personal anguish and hurt.” He…

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The Supreme Court, the ACA,, and an Alternative Plan

The US Supreme Court will be hearing a case – known as King v. Burwell – this coming week on whether or not the federal healthcare exchange program, known as, is legal. The question before the Court is whether or not the Affordable Care Act (ACA) allows for subsidies for healthcare premiums in any of the 34 states that refused to set up their own healthcare exchanges under the ACA.

The plaintiffs – four people from Virginia – argue that the federal government misinterpreted the ACA in regards to the subsidies. They argue that the law only allows for subsidies in states that set up a state-based exchange. Virginia in one of the 34 state who opted out of a state-based exchange. These four individuals, who don’t want to purchase insurance, say that without the subsidies, they would not have to either buy insurance or pay a penalty since they do not make enough to afford healthcare without the subsidy*. The Obama administration argues that this is a politically motivated argument to narrowly interpret a couple of words found in the ACA in order to gut it.

If the US Supreme Court invalidates the websites in all of the states that refused to set up their own healthcare exchanges, everyone who gets a subsidy to purchase their health care through the exchange will lose that subsidy. According to the Washington Post, this type of ruling would affect about eight million people across the country. That’s about 87% of all users nationwide in the 34 states that did not set up a state-based exchange receive. In Pennsylvania, somewhere between 70-84% of all users of receive these subsidies.

The subsidies in currently reduces healthcare premiums by up to 72% of the full premium, depending on the size of one’s family and family income. So if the Court holds that subsidies within the Federal Healthcare exchange are illegal, premiums for individuals needing these subsidies will dramatically increase; out-of-pocket premium increase could amount to an average increase of 256%. This increase could begin in as little as 25 days after the ruling is made in June 2015. OR the Court could set a date further in the future to allow some time for transition.

What would the end of these subsidies mean?

Healthcare in the 34 states in the federal exchange program would destabilize. The predictions include lots of people – mostly the young and the healthy – ending their insurance, insurance companies pulling out of the exchanges in these states, lots of layoffs, and a return to uncovered people attempting to get care in hospitals without any coverage. Those left in the exchanges after the young and healthiest leave are the older and the sickest individuals. Insurance companies will begin to feel the pain and start to pull out of the exchanges as participation in the exchanges would no longer be financially viable. With fewer people seeking care on the federal exchange, thousands of people hired by the insurance companies and by the federal exchange system will likely face layoff. In addition, hospitals will once again see a surge in the uninsured arriving on their doorstep for care.

Here’s how the Kaiser Family Foundation summarizes this issue:

People Leaving the Market Followed by Premium Increases for Those Who Remain. As a result, the elimination of the subsidies would destabilize the individual insurance markets in states not running their own marketplaces. Under the ACA, insurers would still be required to guarantee access to coverage irrespective of health status and prohibited from charging sick people more than healthy people. Even without the subsidies, many people who are sick would likely find a way to maintain their insurance in the face of substantial premium increases. However, people who are healthy would likely drop their insurance.

Insurers in the affected states would immediately find themselves in a situation where premiums revenues were insufficient to cover the health care expenses of the remaining enrollees, who would be far sicker on average than what insurers assumed when they set their premiums for 2015. This would trigger a classic adverse selection “death spiral,” where insurers would seek very large premium increases, which in turn would cause the healthier of the remaining enrollees to drop coverage….

Insurance Companies Leave the Market and Layoff Employees…Under ACA regulations, premiums for insurance sold inside the marketplaces are locked in for a full calendar year. So, the earliest those premiums could change would be January 1, 2016, though even that would be tricky since insurers will have already submitted proposed 2016 premiums to state insurance departments by the time the Court issues a decision. Depending on state laws, premiums for products sold outside of the marketplaces could potentially be increased more quickly. And even if insurers could adjust rates, establishing stable and sustainable premium levels in this type of environment is extremely difficult, because as rates move higher, more of the relatively healthy enrollees drop their coverage.

Because this may all happen very quickly, it is possible that many or all insurers would choose to exit the individual markets in these states rather than facing significant losses in a quickly shrinking market. Insurers that remain in the market risk being one of the only carriers continuing to guarantee access to coverage to people in poor health (since people who lose coverage from exiting insurers have special enrollment periods to choose new coverage).

Since it is unlikely that Congressional opponents to the ACA would be willing to craft a law allowing for subsidies within should the Court overturn this portion of the ACA regulations, the burden of the fix falls upon each of the 34 states. Some of these 34 states will allow the healthcare exchange to die with the dire predictions quickly coming to fruition. Others, in advance of the Court’s hearing and decision of this case, are starting to talk about alternatives should the Court outlaw the subsidies in their states.

One of these states attempting to deal with this possibility is Pennsylvania, where I live. The insurance companies and hospitals throughout the state, fearing for their livelihood, are lobbying the PA General Assembly to set up a state-based exchange system. Tom Wolf (D), our new Governor, has said he is interested in setting up a state-based exchange.

The question then becomes, where would the money for the set-up of a state exchange come from in a state that has a large budget deficit since federal dollars for such a set-up are no longer available.

Might this be a great time to lobby for a universal health care plan for Pennsylvania? As well as in the other 21 states currently working towards such a solution as well?

Healthcare for All PA, in conjunction with some of our state legislators, are working on re-introducing the Pennsylvania Health Care Plan. This bill, if it becomes law, would

…create one insurance plan that has one single payer, to cover all Pennsylvania taxpayers.  The premiums for The Pennsylvania Health Care Plan would be a flat rate of 3% of income for individuals and 10% of payroll for businesses.  The Pennsylvania Health Care Plan would place you and your healthcare provider in charge of you and your family’s healthcare. The plan will be a public/private hybrid with the insurance function provided by the state government and the medical care would be privately delivered.

It’s cost effective. It covers everyone. It’s comprehensive in that it covers all medical treatment, dental care, eye care, physical therapy, mental health treatment,  hospice care, treatments for addiction, long-term care, access to wellness programs, prescription drugs and emergency transport. And you won’t need an army of navigators in either a state- or a federal-based healthcare exchange to help you interpret your plan.

Check out Healthcare for All PA for more information on this bill and become a citizen lobbyist for comprehensive health care that allows you access to the healthcare you need and want without bankrupting you, your family or your neighbors.


*NOTE: The four plaintiffs in this case before the Supreme Court–David King, Douglas Hurst, Brenda Levy and Rose Luck—appear to be either ideologues and/or guinea pigs for the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). CEI is an organization committed to overturning the Affordable Care Act. If the subsidies are overturned, all four of these individuals may not even be affected by the Court’s ruling according to a February 9 article in Mother Jones. Three of the four – Levy, King and Hurst – are now or soon will be fully eligible for Medicare. Two of them – King and Luck – already qualify for a hardship exemption from purchasing healthcare and/or paying a penalty due to their relatively low-income levels. However, the issue of “standing” (the legal argument that they would actually be harmed if the law were to continue), for some reason, has not been raised in this case by the Obama administration and will not be considered when the Court hears the case next week.

Update: Court Rulings Impact Voting Rules Across the Country

vote button

Go Vote Button

Yesterday I re-blogged an article on voter suppression by Nel’s New Day and added additional information from the Brennan Center for Justice on both increased access in eleven states as well as more background information on voter suppression across the country.

This afternoon, I received an email from the Brennan Center for Justice. It includes more information on the status of voting laws and decisions made in the last couple of weeks in Arkansas, Arizona, Kansas, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin. It includes several references to emergency appeals to the US Supreme Court by either the Brennan Center or by other advocates. Here’s that email…

 Court Rulings Impact Voting Rules Across the Country

A series of court decisions in the past few weeks have changed voting rules in several states. Here is a breakdown of the latest developments.


Current Status: On October 14, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated Texas’s restrictive photo ID requirement, which a federal judge had blocked five days earlier. The Brennan Center is part of the legal team representing plaintiffs in the case, who filed an emergency appeal today to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Background: After a lengthy trial in September, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzalez Ramos ruled last week that the Texas legislature enacted the ID law to purposely discriminate against minority voters. She also found more than 600,000 registered voters lack the kind of ID required by Texas’s law.


Current Status: On October 9, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked Wisconsin’s photo ID law from going into effect for the November election.

Background: Lawmakers initially passed the ID requirement in 2011, but it was blocked before it could go into effect for a major election. In September, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling allowing the law to be put in place immediately. Advocates filed an emergency appeal with the Supreme Court, arguing implementing the law so close to an election would “cause chaos at the polls.”

North Carolina

Current Status: On October 8, the Supreme Court allowed restrictions on same-day registration and out-of-precinct balloting to remain in effect for the November election.

Background: In 2013, legislators passed a series of laws cutting back on voting. Earlier this month, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily blocked two of those restrictions, but the Supreme Court’s October 8 order reversed that decision.


Current Status: On September 29, the Supreme Court issued an emergency injunction delaying early voting in Ohio by one week, a day before it was scheduled to begin.

Background: Ohio reduced early voting this year by eliminating Sunday and weeknight hours and ending “Golden Week,” a six-day period where voters could register and vote on the same day. A district court blocked those cuts in early September, but the Supreme Court’s order means they remain intact for the 2014 election.

What’s Next?

Decisions are still pending in:

  • Arkansas – The state Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the voter ID law October 2. The Brennan Center filed an amicus brief arguing the requirement violates the state constitution.
  • Arizona/Kansas – The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to rule soon on new rules requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote. The Brennan Center represents the League of Women Voters in a suit challenging the laws.

View all of the Brennan Center’s Election 2014 resources.


Stay connected. Stay informed. Get involved.

And once again remember to get out and vote on November 4!

It’s a Black and White Issue


Show your support for overturning the Hobby Lobby Ruling

Women have rights. It is a black and white issue. Show your support for overturning the Hobby Lobby decision by the US Supreme Court

Rally near your nearest Hobby Lobby protesting this decision. Here’s a link to the Hobby Lobby’s “Store Locator.” Your local NOW chapter may also be participating in a local action. 

Wear Black and White on July 5.

Women Have Rights. It's black and white issue.. Show your support this July 4th. Wear black and white or red and blue.  Change your profil picture to a black and white one. Keep your pic up until August 26.

Women Have Rights. It’s a black and white issue.

And turn your profile picture or banner on all of your social media sites black and white through August 26; this is the anniversary of women’s right to vote being placed into the US Constitution.

Thanks for your support of this action continuing to oppose the War on Women.

King’s Dream in 2013: Interlocking Destinies

It’s been 50 years since Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. One of his colleagues at that event was the Rev. Jessie Jackson, Sr.  Rev. Jackson has continued speaking and advocating for that dream of “uniting people on common ground across race, culture, class, gender, and belief.”  This idea of interlocking destinies was presented during his plenary speech at the National NOW Conference held in Chicago on July 5, 2013.

I was in the room during Rev. Jackson’s speech and took several video clips with my smart phone.  One of them came out clear enough to post on this blog.  So after getting back home, participating in a family reunion, and then spending a week and a half looking for a replacement car for our 253,000+ mile vehicle, I was able to upload the video and present it to you.

Video of Jessie Jackson at the 2013 National NOW Conference in Chicago, IL

The following quotes, along with the time tags are some of the best comments, IMHO, that Jessie Jackson made during this speech discussing the intersection between the women’s movement and the civil rights movement, which at 13:59 into this video, Jackson calls a “sharing of interlocking destinies.” He started off by discussing these Interlocking Destinies and shared rights.

3:10 Fifty years after the “I Have a Dream” speech, we still need the ERA [Equal Rights Amendment].

3:52 The right to vote should not be a state right. It’s a constitutional right for everyone.

4:10 Every child should have access to have access to high-quality public education.

4:20 No matter if you are in Mississippi, Maine, or in California, we live under one flag; you should have equal protection under the law.

5:52 Our goal is to learn to live together.

6:20 Civil rights cannot be another word for “black” and NOW cannot be another word for “white women.”  Black women, in big numbers, should be members of NOW now!

7:00 We must pull down the walls [of cultural resistance] that leave us in the shadow of fear…. When the walls come down, we can all grow bigger, better, stronger with greater productivity.  When the walls come down.

9:00 There’s a new South today that can have the Super Bowl, CNN, high-tech universities [showing that we are] learning to live together.  Yet…

At this point, Rev. Jackson starts talking about some of the interlocking issues of racism and sexism still present that need to be addressed in the United States:

9:56 It’s interesting to me that during the Republican Primary, in my [home] state [South Carolina] with an open primary, not one candidate went to a single school or church of the black community.  Not one! 33% black.  Not only did they not go, the media did not challenge them to go.  This instance [of the] reinforcement of apartheid was natural because it’s [still] normal.

Jackson then spends a bit of time framing these interlocking destinies and the problem of economics and access to justice.  He gave several examples of this framework.  The one that resonated with me was the one about the automobile industry, considering that my car had died the weekend before the conference and knowing that I would soon be car shopping. He said,

12:38 What does it mean that there are 21,000 automobile dealerships? 200 black-owned. Almost no women. Pepsi: one black franchise. Coke: zero. When you go get educated. You get your masters and PhD degrees. Business people, you cannot buy one of these franchises, by the way, because they were sold under the laws of perpetuity. Those that got the territories [back in the day] have the territory eternally.  So it’s not about getting on the ball field.  If you get on the ball field, there are no balls left…. Even money can’t buy them.

And finally, just as the battery in my smart phone died, he ended on a high note using history to look towards the future. He said that as in the past, we have not and can never be at loss for continuing to advocate for reform.  This is what I caught on the video as it beeped “bye-bye:”

13:59 The agenda of race and gender equality are inextricably bound.  We share interlocking destinies.  African-Americans won the right to vote in 1879 – 15th Amendment. Women in 1920 – 19th Amendment. We [finally] got the right for blacks to vote in the Deep South in 1965 [with the Voting Rights Act] while women got the right to serve on juries in 1967 – 2 years later [as a result of the US Supreme Court decision in Taylor v. Louisiana]Eighteen year olds got the right to vote in 1970; [before that] those [young people] serving in Vietnam could not vote…

The Conservative Pot of Anger

IRS Form 990 non-profit form

Form 990 – the IRS tax form used by recognized 501(c) non-profit organizations

For over a week now we have been hearing about the “scandal” within the IRS’s Tax-Exempt division.  Congress has been holding hearings, calling on current and past Commissioners to testify about the additional scrutiny given to Tea Party organizations.  A couple of days ago, I asked if this additional scrutiny was a scandal or not.

In addition to my comments that day, the Guardian has now brought up another issue that may be adding fuel to the conservative f(ire).  That fuel is a four-decade simmering anger at the IRS by the conservative religious right.  An anger fueled by both segregation and religion.

In 1954, the US Supreme Court declared in Brown v. Board of Education that segregation in education was unconstitutional. In 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act that, which among other issues makes discrimination based on race in public accommodations and employment illegal. In 1967, the US Supreme Court declared in Loving v. Virginia that bans on interracial marriage were unconstitutional.  In 1970, the IRS changed their tax-exempt regulation on private schools to reflect these policies.

Bob Jones University had, under pre-1970 regulations been granted tax-exempt status.  In 1970, as a result of the change in regulations, the IRS notified Bob Jones University that they intended to revoke the university’s tax-exempt status because of their segregationist policy of initially not admitting blacks and then, later of not admitting or expelling students who entered into, engaged in, or advocated for interracial marriage or dating.

Bob Jones University felt that they had a “biblical” right to discriminate.  So they filed case after case to overturn the IRS revocation.  Finally in 1983, in Bob Jones University v. United States, the US Supreme upheld the IRS revocation of Bob Jones University’s tax-exempt status because of its segregationist policies.

The Justices disagreed with Bob Jones’ biblical interpretation of the competing First and Fourteenth amendments to the US Constitution.  In looking at both amendments, they first declared that there is strong governmental interest in ending discrimination:

[The] Government has a fundamental, overriding interest in eradicating racial discrimination in education 29 – discrimination that prevailed, with official approval, for the first 165 years of this Nation’s constitutional history. That governmental interest substantially outweighs whatever burden denial of tax benefits places on petitioners’ exercise of their religious beliefs.

Then, citing the aforementioned cases (and others), the Court held stated:

An unbroken line of cases following Brown v. Board of Education establishes beyond doubt this Court’s view that racial discrimination in education violates a most fundamental national public policy, as well as rights of individuals.

The Court then pointed out that this IRS regulation was still constitutional even after Bob Jones University opened its doors to people of all races.  The Justices reiterated the lower court decision, stating that the University remained racially discriminatory in its policies at the university in violation of the tax-exempt regulations:

Petitioner Bob Jones University, however, contends that it is not racially discriminatory. It emphasizes that it now allows all races to enroll, subject only to its restrictions on the conduct of all students, including its prohibitions of association between men and women of different races, and of interracial marriage. 31 Although a ban on intermarriage or interracial dating applies to all races, decisions of this Court firmly establish that discrimination on the basis of racial affiliation and association is a form of racial discrimination, see, e. g., Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967); McLaughlin v. Florida, 379 U.S. 184 (1964); Tillman v. Wheaton-Haven Recreation Assn., 410 U.S. 431 (1973). We therefore find that the IRS properly applied Revenue Ruling 71-447 to Bob Jones University. 32

The judgments of the Court of Appeals are, accordingly,


I think that this article in the Guardian is correct.  It might just be another reason for the current tax-exempt status furor.  It seems that pulling the tax-exempt status of a religiously-based institution for its violation of our country’s stance for equality under the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution resulted in a simmering pot of anger just waiting for a bit more fire to bring conservatives to a full boil.

What do you think?  Please comment.  I’d be interested in hearing your opinion.

PA’s Dueling Marriage Equality and Gay Marriage Ban Bills

Logo of Freedomt to Marry, Inc.

“working to win the freedom to marry in more states, grow the national majority for marriage, and end federal marriage discrimination. ”

On April 15, Pennsylvania State Representative Mark Cohen (D-102 Philadelphia) introduced legislation (HB 1178) that would legalize civil unions and extend all state laws applicable to marriage to any civil union created anywhere and to any marriage performed and recognized outside of the state.  Less than one month later, on May 7, Pennsylvania State Representative Daryl Metcalfe (R-12 Butler County) introduced his legislation (HB 1349) to create a constitutional amendment defining marriage OR its “substantial equivalent” solely as a union between a man and a woman.

So we once again have a legislative dual going on in Pennsylvania between those that believe in equality for all and those that want to enshrine discrimination into the state Constitution.

Side 1: For Equality

What does Cohen’s bill do?  Very simply, it takes us on the path toward equality for lesbian and gays.  As Rep. Cohen says,

 “This bill would define a civil union as a union between two members of the same sex.  It would make all state laws applicable to marriage also applicable to a civil union.  The bill would also provide for reciprocity of civil unions performed legally in other states and the recognition of same sex marriage in other states as civil unions in Pennsylvania.”

Civil unions represent the middle-of-the-road compromise position between constitutionally banning and permitting gay marriages and have been embraced by both advocates for LGBT rights and a growing number of conservatives.

Nothing in this bill would require any religion or any clergyman to perform any ceremony uniting people in a civil union.  This legislation will merely offer committed gay couples the same legal rights that are bestowed upon married people without the status of marriage.”

I would prefer full marriage equality.  Just like all gay and straight couples in 10 states (plus Minnesota and Delaware if their legislatures pass their marriage equality bills as expected) already have.  And  just like the majority of people in Pennsylvania desire.

In a poll released on May 8 by Franklin and Marshal University, 54% of Pennsylvanians “generally” support while 41% “generally” oppose legalizing same-sex marriage.  In that same poll, 65% support passage of a state law that would allow same-sex couples to legally form civil unions that give them some, if not all, of the marriage rights given to heterosexual couples who marry.

This bill is a compromise.  It currently has 28 cosponsors and was referred to the House Judiciary Committee when it was introduced on April 15.

Side 2: For Discrimination

Meanwhile, Daryl Metcalfe has seen fit to once again try to enshrine discrimination into the state constitution.  It is a one-sentence amendment that has severe ramifications.  Here’s the constitutional amendment as written in HB 1349:

“Marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife and no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.”

Metcalfe justifies this discrimination by invoking partisan politics, a right-wing encroachment on the separation of church and state, and a denial of the protections given to us under the US Constitution:

Pennsylvania does not need to wait for the United States Supreme Court to rule on what natural law already declares as self-evident … Marriage is a sacred bond that can only be fulfilled by one man and one woman, as established by God. Final passage of my legislation will allow state lawmakers to exercise their rightful responsibility and obligation to uphold the rule of law and the will of the people.

The definition of marriage as ‘the union of one man and one woman,’ defended and upheld by this legislation, is the traditional definition of marriage that has been recognized and accepted throughout history and the world for centuries. Neither homosexual special interests gathered under the immoral umbrella of the ACLU, nor the Obama administration’s Department of Justice or any activist court should decide this critical issue for our Commonwealth.  House Bill 1349 is specifically written to empower Pennsylvania voters, and only Pennsylvania voters, with the authority to decide how marriage will be defined in the Keystone State.

News reports indicate that Metcalfe may be on the downside of this battle and that combined with the aforementioned Franklin and March poll, there is now less support for this discrimination.  According to the Philly Magazine,

His support system is fleeting. In the last session, the bill had 40 supporters, but today [May 8], according to a rep from [Rep] Brian Sims’ office, there are only 27. And this is the first time it’s been introduced with zero Democratic backers. To top it off, his bill’s lackluster show of support comes on the heels of yesterday’s announcement that a record number of legislators on both sides of the fence sponsor[ed] legislation that ban[s] discrimination against LGBT people in the workplace and housing and public accommodations [emphasis in original].

Discrimination and inequality are not the principles Pennsylvania was founded upon.

Discrimination and inequality are not the principles this state was founded upon. Metcalfe’s discriminatory amendment, in contrast to Cohen’s call for equality and respect for recognizing loving relationships, denies unmarried heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender families the protections and fairness they deserve.

Heterosexual married couples and their families are afforded more than 1,000 legal protections and economic benefits provided through state and federal law, benefits and protections that are currently inaccessible to unmarried couples.  Passage of Metcalfe’s amendment would therefore subject same-sex couples and their families to exclusion, discrimination and inequality.

Gay and lesbian Pennsylvanians are our neighbors, co-workers, friends, and family member.  They pay taxes.  LGBT people should not be bullied.  They deserve the same rights, protections, and responsibilities that all residents desire and have.

If the US Supreme Court declares this summer that marriage is a right across the country just like they did in Loving v. Virginia in 1967 (see my earlier blogs here and here on this issue) then we won’t need this interim step of civil unions and Metcalfe’s bill will immediately become moot.  A great way, in my opinion to end this duel.  In Pennsylvania and across the country.

So, let’s hope that the US Supreme Court overturns Proposition 8 this summer under the equal protection and due process protections given to us under the US Constitution’s 14th amendment and therefore—like Loving v. Commonwealth of Virginia in 1967—protect marriage rights for everyone. If they stop short of that, then let’s hope and advocate for the passage of Representative Cohen’s civil union bill.

Meanwhile, to keep up-to-date on these dueling bills as well as other LGBTQ legislation, check out Equality Pennsylvania’s website.

North Carolina: What Have You Been Drinking?

As a long-time activist, I’ve been watching the news around the country on many different issues.  Climate change. Racial equality. Gender equality. Same-sex marriage. Separation of church and state.  States rights.

Yesterday it really hit me.  What kind of Kool-Aid have the legislators and many of the citizens in North Carolina been drinking?  Whatever it is, it appears to have greatly impaired their view of the world and how we all fit (or don’t fit) together.  Here are three actions taken within the state in the last year that stretch credulity and appear to be sending the state back at least two centuries.

First, on May 8, 2012, the citizens of the state once again added discrimination to their constitution when they approved Amendment One. This amendment denies gays and lesbians the right to marry.  Fortunately it was the last state to do this and is now being questioned in the US Supreme Court in two cases – Hollinsgworth v. Perry and United States v. Windsor.

This is the second time North Carolina has written discrimination into the state constitution. The last time discrimination reared its ugly head was in 1875 when a miscegenation ban was added to the state constitution that made it a crime for people of color and whites to marry each other.  That anti-miscegenation ban lasted until 1967 when the Supreme Court unanimously overturned all anti-miscegenation laws around the country in a case known as Loving v. Virginia.

Then in June 2012, legislators decided that reality doesn’t need to be acknowledged.  Climate change, in their opinion, doesn’t exist and must be publicly denied or ignored.  In this case, scientists within the state are banned from accurately predicting sea-level rise. Replacement House Bill 819 states that scientists would be required to predict sea level rise by just using a linear model based on trends seen since 1900.  This bill  specifically says in section 2, paragraph e:

 “These rates [in sea level rise] shall only be determined using historical data, and these data shall be limited to the time period following the year 1900. Rates of seas-level rise may be extrapolated linearly. …”

Let’s bring this down to something concrete. Say it’s been sunny for the last three weeks with one day of rain and very little wind on two of those 21 days. Using a linear, straight-line model, one would predict that it will continue to be sunny and calm into the foreseeable future.  Even if Doppler radar and satellite pictures show a growing storm with 75 mile-per-hour winds headed in the direction of the NC coast.  This is ludicrous.  Where is the reality here? And where is the reality in North Carolina’s ban on accurate sea level rise predictions?

And now this week, two legislators who sponsored and/or voted for both of these thoughtless actions have taken another poisonous sip.  This time Reps. Carl Ford (R-China Grove) and H. Warren (R-Salisbury)—a co-sponsor of the house companion bill to the senate bill that became Amendment One—have introduced another constitutional amendment proposal.  If they get their way, North Carolina will declare that the state is exempt from the US Constitution and all court rulings regarding establishment of a religion.  The text of this amendment reads:

SECTION 1. The North Carolina General Assembly asserts that the Constitution of the United States of America does not prohibit states or their subsidiaries from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.

SECTION 2. The North Carolina General Assembly does not recognize federal court rulings which prohibit and otherwise regulate the State of North Carolina, its public schools, or any political subdivisions of the State from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.

This proposal goes hand-in-hand with another part of the NC Constitution that says that people who do not believe in God cannot hold public office. And that part of their Constitution is unenforceable because of a 1961 Supreme Court decision in Torcaso v. Watkins that bans such prohibitions.  Why? Because such a ban

“unconstitutionally invades [one’s] freedom of belief and religion guaranteed by the First Amendment and protected by the Fourteenth Amendment from infringement by the States.”

So would this newest proposal.

Sounds to me like North Carolina is setting the stage to try once again to secede from the United States of America.

Shades of the 19th Century, the Civil War and Post-Civil War era.  Climate change. Marriage rights. Religious freedom.

North Carolina. Really! What Kool-Aid HAVE you been drinking?!

The Tension Heard in SCOTUS Hearings on Marriage Equality

Logo of Freedomt to Marry, Inc.

“working to win the freedom to marry in more states, grow the national majority for marriage, and end federal marriage discrimination. ”

As a quick follow-up to my brush with history with the Loving v. Commonwealth of VA case and on interracial and same-sex marriage equality, I thought I’d provide some links to what happened this week in the US Supreme Court.

You can hear the oral arguments as well as read the transcript of the hearings on the Supreme Court’s website.

  • To hear or read the arguments in Hollingsworth v. Perry (the Prop 8 case) from Tuesday, March 26, click here.
  • To hear or read the arguments in United States v Windsor (the DOMA case) from Wednesday, March 27, click here.

And for some other commentary on the possible outcomes of these two cases, you might want to check out SCOTUS Blog.

The commentary I think is particularly good was written by Tom Goldstein. He gives a great summary of the tension between these two cases entitled “The Relationship between DOMA and Proposition 8.

Overturning DOMA argues that the federal government can’t deny benefits to individuals whenever a state has said that a same-sex couple has a civil right to marry (a 10th amendment states’ rights argument).  In contrast, overturning Proposition 8 is an argument for equal protection and due process (an 14th amendment anti-discrimination argument) and would therefore—like Loving v. Commonwealth of Virginia in 1967—trump states’ rights.

Based on this blog, I have two sets of questions.

  1. Will both amendments be upheld or will one trump the other? If one trumps the other, which one will “win out?” OR
  2. Will the Supreme Court just dodge this conflict by deciding not to decide?  i.e., Will they declare that they can’t rule on this case because the proponents arguing to uphold Proposition didn’t have “standing” or the right to bring the case in the first place?