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Citizens Union

Lagging Behind In The Fight For Gay Rights


The modern movement for gay rights was born in the streets of New York's Greenwich Village in June 1969 when patrons of the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar, fought back against a police raid and three nights of riots ensued. That historic rebellion is chronicled in a new book by David Carter and will be celebrated for the 35th time by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Paradedown Fifth Avenue on Sunday, June 27th. But in a year of tremendous progress for the American gay movement, New York pegged itself as more of a follower than a leader, while holding the line against some of the severe backlash throughout most of the South and Midwest.

DOMESTIC PARTNER BENEFITS

Mayor Michael Bloomberg kicked off Gay Pride Month by vetoing a City Council bill that would require contractors with the city to provide domestic partner benefits to their employees if they provide spousal benefits. The "Equal Benefits Bill" passed on May 5 by a vote of 43 to 5. Council Speaker Gifford Miller and Councilmember Christine Quinn, the bill's chief sponsor, have vowed they will override Bloomberg's June 3rd veto. But they will also have to contend with the mayor's threat to take legal action to prevent the law from going into effect, contending it violates his city charter prerogatives and state law governing municipal procurement. And though the bill had broad religious and corporate support, the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities, both of whom have millions in city contracts, opposed it.

While New York City continues to debate the merits and legality of requiring contractors to treat gay partners equally, San Francisco beat us to the punch in 1997 with such a law and got the Catholic Archdiocese there (but not the Salvation Army) to go along with it. San Francisco's law has withstood several legal challenges and is credited with triggering 80 percent of the corporate domestic partner benefits available throughout the country -- because companies not based in the city but who did business with it started extending the benefits to all their employees rather than just those who worked there.

MARRIAGE

New York will also have to follow the lead of another state if it is to catch up in recognizing the marriage rights of same-sex couples. Massachusetts became the first state to marry gay couples legally on May 17. But Governor Mitt Romney invoked a 1913 law, designed to prevent interracial couples from coming to the Bay State to marry, to prevent out-of-state gay couples from marrying there. That law forbids clerks from licensing couples whose marriages would be "void" in their home states, but clerks in a half dozen towns did not interpret the law to prevent them from marrying gay people.

New York domestic relations law expressly voids underage, incestuous, and bigamous marriages, but not same-sex ones. So the lesbian and couples from New York who married in Massachusetts might be able to avoid dissolution of their marriages by Romney. The 1913 law is also being challenged in Massachusetts by both the legislature and gay legal groups.

New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer opined in March that legal same-sex marriages performed in other states or countries (such as Canada) must be recognized here even though New York does not allow for licensing such marriages here. But as the state's lawyer, Spitzer is opposing a challenge to the marriage law by gay couples including John Shields, the mayor of Nyack, and his partner. The Attorney General professes to be personally supportive of the right of gay people to marry, but is vigorously defending the law that excludes them.

Lawsuits have also been filed by gay couples seeking to marry in Albany, where State Assembly Member Daniel O'Donnell of the Upper West Side of Manhattan is a litigant in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Civil Liberties Union, and against City Clerk Victor Robles in New York City in a casebeing argued by Lambda Legal Defense, a gay legal group.

All of the New York same-sex marriage cases are expected to work their way through the courts over the next two years and be grouped together before the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court.

New York State does have the distinction of being one of eleven states that has yet to pass a law forbidding recognition of same-sex marriages. Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, a Republican, has expressed interest in such a ban. Governor George Pataki is opposed to same-sex marriage. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has remained mum on the subject. And while there is a "Right to Marry" bill for gay couples in both houses, sources say that the most likely action in Albany is no action on the issue pro or con. That puts New York ahead not just the 39 states that ban same-sex marriage in law, but the growing number that are moving to amend their state constitutions to limit marriage to man-woman couples.

FEDERAL MARRIAGE AMENDMENT

No state will be allowed to recognize a same-sex marriage if the Federal Marriage Amendment to the United States constitution is enacted. It would define marriage as between a man and a woman and forbid judges from extending marital benefits to gay couples, while allowing state and federal legislatures to create domestic partnerships or civil unions as long as they are not called marriage. The Defense of Marriage Actpassed in 1996 and signed by President Clinton--and supported by New York Senators Hillary Clinton, then First Lady, and Chuck Schumer, then in the House--prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriages and allows the states to do what they want on the issue, including not recognizing legal same-sex marriages performed in other states. Clinton and Schumer still oppose same-sex marriage, but support civil unions and oppose the Federal Marriage Amendment.

President George Bush endorsed the amendment and 60 percent of the American people supported it in the most recent CBS News poll. But United States Senate Democrats recently pledged to block any such amendment. It is opposed by Democratic Presidential nominee Senator John Kerry. Two-thirds of the House and Senate would be required to send the amendment to the states. Three-quarters of the states would have to ratify it for it to become part of the constitution. It is not expected to get out of the Congress, but a vote on it is expected this summer because of a strong push on the issue by the religious right.

VIOLENT BACKLASH

Progress in the gay movement has not come without a price. The New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Projectreported last month that reports of violent attacks against people perceived to be gay, lesbian, or transgendered were up 43 percent here in the second half of 2003 versus the same period the year before. The project cited the historic United States Supreme Court decision overturning sodomy laws last June and the explosion of gay images on television as contributing to the backlash.

Andy Humm is a former member of the City Commission on Human Rights. He is co-host of the weekly "Gay USA" on Manhattan Neighborhood Network (34 on Time-Warner; 107 on RCN) on Thursdays at 11 PM.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fast-Changing Status of Same-Sex Married Couples in New York


While New York State has yet to allow marriage licenses to be issued to same-sex couples, there has been a sudden explosion of activity toward that goal within the past month.

Married Elsewhere, Married Here

The state’s highest legal officer now has said that some New York gay couples who married legally elsewhere can be considered married here.

Attorney General Eliot Spitzer issued an opinion (PDF Format) that while New York did not expressly forbid gay couples to marry, the gender neutral domestic relations law nevertheless was not written with them in mind. A supporter of the right of same-sex couples to marry, Spitzer nevertheless said that town and city clerks should not issue licenses to same-sex couples until the courts rule on the constitutionality of the state marriage law’s exclusion of gay couples. But he also held that same-sex couples validly married elsewhere (as they have been in Holland, Belgium, and Canada) “must be treated as spouses for purposes of New York law.”

New York gay and lesbian couples have been getting married in Ontario and British Columbia since this past summer. They didn’t become un-married when they returned to New York.

After May 17, New York gay couples will only have to go as far as Massachusetts to get married. That’s when the Bay State’s high court has ordered the state to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, even though the state legislature, meeting in Constitutional Convention in March, have voted to amend the state constitution to limit marriage to man-woman couples, while providing gay couples “civil unions” that would carry the same legal rights and responsibilities associated with marriage. The amendment could not go into effect until late 2006, so gay people will be marrying in Massachusetts next month.There is a wrinkle in the Massachusetts marriage law that may have an effect on New Yorkers seeking to marry there. It forbids clerks from issuing licenses to out-of-state couples whose marriage would not be valid in their home state. Thirty-eight states, but not New York, have laws prohibiting recognition of same-sex marriage. And again, while New York does not license same-sex marriages, the attorney general of New York is of the opinion that the state must recognize valid same-sex marriages licenses elsewhere.

Twenty New York couples were among the more than 4,000 who tied the knot in San Francisco after Mayor Gavin Newsom started issuing licenses to gay couples on February 12. That process was stopped by California’s high court on March 12 and the validity of the licenses will be resolved in court cases.

New York City has a law, signed by Mayor Bloomberg in 2003, that requires the city to recognize domestic partnerships, civil unions, and same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions. Bloomberg has said that while this means the city will recognize those same-sex unions contracted in Vermont, Canada, Holland, and Belgium, he will not recognize same-sex marriages performed in San Francisco.

Lawsuits To Win The Right To Marry

New York City’s Corporation Counsel, Michael Cardozo, wrote to City Clerk Victor Robles, “Both New York State statutory law, and its interpretation by New York courts, support the City Clerk’s ongoing practice not to issue licenses to, or perform marriage ceremonies for, same-sex couples.” But when Cardozo was president of the New York City Bar Association in 1997, he approved a report calling marriage a “fundamental right” that be open to “all couples, regardless of sex,” the Daily News reported. He told the paper that his approval of the report “did not me I personally agreed with every legal point or the conclusion,” but that he thought “the legal issues were thoughtfully researched.”

Gay couples are now suing in New York, Rockland, and Ulster counties to win the right to marry in New York State. Lambda Legal Defense is representing Nevin Cohen and David Hernandez from Manhattan. Norman Siegel, once director of the New York Civil Liberties Union and now in private practice, has brought a case on behalf of ten gay couples from Nyack and is seeking a judgment that the state marriage law is unconstitutional because it bars licenses for same-sex couples. And in Ulster County, the New York Civil Liberties Union and the firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison are defending New Paltz Mayor Jason West who has been charged with marrying 25 same-sex couples without licenses.

Religious Defiance

While the domestic relations law of the state may be open to interpretation as to whether or not gay couples are entitled to marry, the law explicitly prohibits agents of the state (mayors, clerks, ministers, etc.) from marrying couples without licenses. The same Ulster County district attorney who charged Mayor West with breaking that law also went after two Unitarian ministers who performed multiple same-sex nuptials in New Paltz in March. All their cases are before the courts and they face fines of $500 and up to a year in jail on each count.

More than 30 ministers, priests, and rabbis in New York gathered on the New York City Hall steps on March 18 and defiantly pledged to break the law that forbids them to perform marriages for unlicensed couples, as I reported in Gay City News. Rev. Pat Bumgardner, pastor of the gay Metropolitan Community Church of New York performed two same-sex weddings--one for two men, another for two women--clearly stating that she was acting in her capacity as an agent of the state. Rabbi Ellen Lippman of Congregation Kolot Chayeinu in Park Slope, Brooklyn married another lesbian couple. Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau announced that he did not intend to prosecute either Rev. Bumgardner or Rabbi Lippman, saying in a statement, “The criminal courts are not the appropriate forum for the resolution of these issues. Ultimately, they will be resolved in civil lawsuits, at least two of which are now pending.”

While it is illegal for the minister to perform a marriage for unlicensed couples, the law also says that couples so married are legally married if their intent was to obtain a license afterwards. It is possible, then, that the same-sex couples wed by Mayor West and these ministers and rabbis will have to be recognized as married by New York.

Bloomberg’s Back And Forth

Mayor Bloomberg, who maintains that he has no official position on same-sex marriage, told a gathering of lesbian and gay journalists that he did favor changing the marriage law to include gay couples. But the next day his press office would not confirm that he had said it. Bloomberg, a former Democrat who is now the biggest individual contributor to the Republican Party in the nation, will be playing host to Republican National Convention in late August and early September that will nominate for re-election President George Bush, a supporter of a constitutional amendmentto ban same-sex marriage. While Bloomberg and Governor George Pataki do not support that amendment, the mayor seems reticent to emphasize the issues with which he disagrees with his new party.

Opposition, Neutrality, Support

There are pockets of vocal opposition to same-sex marriage in New York. The state’s Catholic bishops went to Albany to lobby against it in March, with Brooklyn’s new Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio worrying that sanctioning same-sex marriage could open the door to people marrying their “pets.” On March 14, thousands of Pentecostal Latinosrallied outside the Bronx courthouse in favor of Bush’s constitutional amendment.

While the state legislature has been disinclined to take up bills either banning or approving of same-sex marriage, by the end of the March, Republican Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno was looking at the possibility of taking up a state Defense of Marriage Act (limiting marriage to man-woman couples), something Democratic Speaker Sheldon Silver has told colleagues that his house will not consider. The State Democratic Party is on record in favor of same-sex marriage, the Conservative Party is vehemently opposed, and Governor Pataki, leader of the state's Republicans, has said that the marriage laws should remain as they are--though he has granted some incremental rights for gay domestic partners in recent years.

“The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men,” wrote the United States Supreme Court in overturning laws in sixteen states banning interracial marriage in 1967. Despite the reference to men—and not men and women—the court surely did not foresee that men would want to marry men and women women in the early 21st century. But it is already a legal reality in New York, at least for a few couples, and it looks as if it will be left to our courts to decide if it will be open to all same-sex couples soon.

Andy Humm is a former member of the City Commission on Human Rights. He is co-host of the weekly "Gay USA" on Manhattan Neighborhood Network (34 on Time-Warner; 107 on RCN) on Thursdays at 11 PM.

The Right of Religious Groups to Discriminate


 <ahref="http://www.salvationarmy-newyork.org"target="new">The Salvation Army's determination to impose a religious test on its social service employees has brought them a federal lawsuit from the New York Civil Liberties Unionand opened the whole question of the degree to which religious organizations are subject to human rights law, particularly if they are receiving government money to provide services.

Several longtime employees of the Salvation Army are suing because they said that, though they worked on "secular, publicly financed activities like caring for children and counseling young people with AIDS," according to the New York Times , they were "pushed out" when they objected to having to specify the churches they had attended over the last ten years, name their ministers, and agree to the Army's mission to "preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

The Salvation Army released a statement saying that its policies and procedures were "entirely consistent" with the laws governing religious institutions in New York. The city's human rights law , like most anti-discrimination statutes, contains a limited religious exemption. New York's clause (§ 8-107-12 Unlawful discriminatory practices) reads as follows: "Religious principles. Nothing contained in this section shall be construed to bar any religious or denominational institution or organization or any organization operated for charitable or educational purposes, which is operated, supervised or controlled by or in connection with a religious organization from limiting employment or sales or rental of housing accommodations or admission to or giving preference to persons of the same religion or denomination or from making such selection as is calculated by such organization to promote the religious principles for which it is established or maintained."

Thus, even though city law forbids discrimination on the basis of sex, the Catholic Church cannot be hauled into court for not ordaining women to the priesthood. The city also prohibits religious discrimination, but all of the students who go to a Muslim school are of that faith and that is not, on its face, an illegal discriminatory practice. But if a secretary at the Mormon Center were to be denied a job on the basis of race, he or she would have a case, even if the organization were not receiving any public money.

When religiously affiliated organizations contract with the city to provide social services--and many do, for tens of millions of dollars--they are subject to more scrutiny under the human rights law. While the majority of the clients of an agency such as Agudath Israel may be of the Jewish faith because of where the service is situated, they would run afoul of the law if they turned away non-Jewish clients in the course of work performed with city funds. There is a Jewish Home and Hospital on the Upper West Side of Manhattan that still has special programs for Jewish residents, but their bulletin board is chock full of events for Christians and other groups. It could not receive the public funds and continue only to serve the Jewish elderly. Its mission is to provide a range of services "in keeping with our Jewish heritage," but most of those served are not themselves Jewish today.

Groups receiving city money must certify that they are in compliance with the city's human rights law, even if the organization is not based in New York City.

The City Council is on the verge of passing an Equal Benefits Bill that will require contractors with the city to provide domestic partner benefits for their employees if they give them spousal benefits. Mayor Bloomberg has raised legal objections to the bill, Intro 137, but no one else has testified against it in its two hearings , the last of which was February 27. The mayor has not said whether he will veto the bill, but it has a veto-proof majority of 38 sponsors in the City Council.

Similar legislation has been in force in San Francisco since 1997, leading to more than 80 percent of the private sector domestic partner benefits in the country because major firms doing business with San Francisco ended up providing the benefits to their employees nationwide.

The Salvation Army in San Francisco dropped their contracts with the city rather than comply with the law, because they believed that recognizing domestic partners compromised their religious teaching against homosexual relations. But the Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco maintained their contracts and complied with the law by allowing their employees to name one other household member on their benefit policies regardless of relationship.

Catholic Charities in New York has yet to say publicly how they will deal with the Equal Benefits Bill, though there are Catholic hospitals already giving domestic partner benefits to their unionized employees under their contract with Local 1199. The Salvation Army here has already indicated that they might forgo their $89 million in city contracts rather than comply. The national church just received a $1.5 billion bequest from Joan Kroc of the McDonald's hamburger fortune that may soften the blow.

Among those testifying for the equal benefits bill was the Right Reverend Catherine Roskam , Suffragan Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York that has been providing domestic partner benefits for years. "I am tired of the assault by the political right on the division between church and state," she said. Quoting George Washington, whose portrait looms over the ornate City Council chamber, "This land is no more Christian than it is Hebrew or Mohammedan."

Andy Humm is a former member of the City Commission on Human Rights. He is co-host of the weekly "Gay USA" on Manhattan Neighborhood Network (34 on Time-Warner; 107 on RCN) on Thursdays at 11 PM.

Internet resources for what you need to know on NYC Civil Rights


The Topic
Civil rights refers to the basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled, and to the laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, creed, gender, age, sexual orientation, and many other criteria.
The Context
New York is the most diverse city on the planet, home to people of every race, nationality, language group, religion, sex, and sexual orientation, and to some of the world's premiere human rights groups. There have been intense intergroup conflicts throughout the city's history, from the Draft Riots of 1863 to the Crown Heights riots of 1992. But more amazing is how well such varied peoples have gotten along for hundreds of years.

Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia created a Committee on Unity after some race riots in 1943, in order "to make New York City a place where people of all races and religions may work and live side by side in harmony and have mutual respect for each other, and where democracy is a living reality." Eventually, the city and state governments passed laws against discrimination and established agencies to enforce them.

The Reporter
Andy Humm is a former member of the City Commission on Human Rights. He is co-host of the weekly Gay USA on Channel 35 on Thursdays at 11 PM.
The Archives
See past monthly updates for Civil Rights.

 

Civil Liberties since 9/11. Also: Vacant seats on the human rights commission; the new local about same-sex marriages.

Monica Terazzi admits that, a year after the terrorist attacks, Arab Americans in New York are no longer subjected to the threats and harassment that many of them underwent in the immediate aftermath. "We have experienced a lot fewer incidents of violent crimes," said Terazzi, the New York director of the American Arab Discrimination Committee. Indeed, the City Commission on Human Rightshas not seen many complaints by Arab Americans of their civil liberties being violated.

But 9/11 still holds a special threat to the civil liberties of Arab-Americans in New York -- as well as to that of the rest of New Yorkers.

"We are still seeing a lot of workplace discrimination and incidents of police harassment. " Terazzi said. She is especially concerned that the government is detaining Arab immigrants and holding them for months on end for such infractions as overstaying their visas. "A Palestinian man with Jordanian citizenship was recently deported for not reporting an address change," she said. "This had never previously been a deportable offense... Everyone knows someone who has been harassed or detained. It is pretty scary, the notion that police can swoop down on your house and disappear with your husband."

Air travel poses special problems for those of Middle Eastern descent. "Many Arab Americans have been pulled out of line at airports," she said, despite assurances from United States Transportation Secretary Norman Minetathat there would be no such racial profiling. "Arab American passengers have been ejected from flights after going through security. I have spoken to lots of people who have faced so much harassment that they say, 'I'm not traveling again.'"

It is true that most of the incidents that Terazzi talks about are "anecdotal" -- they are not listed in official statistics, such as complaints registered with the City Commission on Human Rights. "People don't want to draw attention to themselves," Terazzi explained. "There is a fear of anything associated with the government." Her group held a town meeting in Bay Ridge with local and federal government agencies represented and the reaction from the crowd was "we don't want to go there; it's the government."

Staff members of the human rights commission are conscious of this reluctance, and have been speaking to small groups of Arab Americans, encouraging them to make reports and reminding them that they do not have to be citizens to do so. But few have come forward, despite an assurance from Commissioner Patricia L. Gatling that "discrimination has no place in this city -- not today, not tomorrow, and not on the anniversary of the attack on our nation at the hands of terrorists." She said that the city human rights law "is one of the most comprehensive in the nation" and that she and Mayor Michael Bloomberg are committed to "the vigorous enforcement of the law that protect these rights. And that protection extends to all New Yorkers, not just some of them."

Indeed, all New Yorkers should be concerned about the threats to their civil rights, says Donna Lieberman, the director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. "In September and October of last year," she said, "I didn't dare contemplate how bad things would get. Some of the measures that the government has adopted have seriously eroded our fundamental civil rights and cry out for reversal." One example is the TIPS program, the Bush plan to recruit millions of volunteers to do domestic surveillance. Another is the "facial recognition technology" which is being employed at the Statue of Liberty, which is "about as accurate as heads or tails" in identifying evil-doers, while creating "a Big Brother-type of encroachment."

"What's heartening," Lieberman said, "is that...the American people have resisted to a certain extent. That's why we have not seen a proliferation of military trials. That's why TIPS has been met with resistance."

In New York, Lieberman said, the state legislators "enacted tough anti-terrorism legislation without debate or thoughtful consideration in an effort that was designed more to attain political capital than protect security. It increased death penalty application and defined terrorism in a vague and chilling way." Despite the rush to pass the law last year, "we haven't seen any prosecutions." She believes the law would not hold up in court.

The New York City Department of Education has a whole page of resources for administrators and teachers on how to help students cope with the traumatic effects of September 11, but there is scant acknowledgement in the school system's special materials on the stigmatization to which many students of Middle East origin or descent have been subjected. The resource page does, however, promote a special post 9/11 series on PBS-TV's "In the Mix" called "The New Normal" that focuses on dealing with ethnic, racial, and other human differences. And the "9/11 as History" program cited from the Families and Work Institutedoes include a lesson plan that deals with "compassion and diversity."

New Yorkers concerned about human rights should know about two events timed to the one-year anniversary. Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, an organization of family members of those who perished on 9/11, is sponsoring a march across the Brooklyn Bridge on September 10. And on September 11 at 6 PM, a candlelight vigil will begin at Atlantic and Court Streets in Brooklyn, the heart of the Arab American community in New York, to gather for "remembrance, prayer, reflection, and unity," according to Terazzi.

New Human Rights Commissioners to be Named This Month

Mayor Bloomberg is finally getting around to filling twelve vacancies on what is supposed to be the 15-member City Commission on Human Rights. An announcement is expected in mid-September.

The beleaguered agency, which lost 75 percent of its funding under Mayor Giuliani while ironically gaining Charter status, got a new chairperson, Patricia L. Gatling, back in February. She is the only paid member of the Commission and directs the staff. But only two of the non-salaried commissioners are left-Marta Varela, who chaired the agency under Giuliani, and Derek Bryson Park. This minimum of three commissioners is required to make final determinations on cases. When all fifteen commissioners are on board, rotating panels of three review decisions and make recommendations to the full commission.

Gay Rights Continue to Advance in Wake of 9/11

In June, I wrote an Issue of the Week on "The Rights of Same-Sex Partners" and how they had advanced after the public saw how domestic partner survivors of the victims of 9/11 received second class treatment. While most of these are state and federal issues, the City Council is doing what it can to bring about spousal equivalency for domestic partners, gay and straight. In August, it passed Intro 114 by a vote of 34 to 7, with four abstentions. In it, New York City recognizes domestic partnerships or same-sex marriages contracted in other jurisdictions under our domestic partners law. In other words, the couples will not have to register again in the city just as married couples don't have to get married here to have their union acknowledged. Mayor Bloomberg signed the bill on August 27 and it went into effect immediately.


Recommended Links:

  • New York City Commission on Human Rights- 40 Rector Street, New York, NY 10006; (212) 306-7500 The Commission enforces the City's Human Rights Law which prohibits discrimination based on race, creed, color, age, national origin, alienage orcitizenship status, gender (including sexual harassment), sexual orientation, status as a victim of domestic violence, disability (including HIV/AIDS relatedconditions), lawful occupation, arrest or conviction record, marital status, family status, and retaliation. The Law prohibits discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations, as well as bias-related harassment.
  • New York State Division of Human Rights- One Fordham Plaza, 4th Floor, Bronx, New York 10458; (718) 741-8400 The State Division of Human Rights serves as an alternative to the court system for resolving discrimination claims--in employment, in places of public accommodation, resort or amusement, in educational institutions, in commercial space and in credit transactions and to take other actions against discrimination. The agency is responsible for developing civil rights legislation and policy for the State of New York, and for promoting awaren essof civil rights issues and remedies.
  • American Civil Liberties Union- 125 Broad St., New York, NY 10004 "The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is our nation's guardian of liberty, working daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States."
  • Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund- 99 Hudson Street, 12th floor, New York, NY 10013; (212) 966-5932 is "the first organization on the east coast to defend and promote the legal rights of Asian Americans through litigation, legal advocacy, community education, leadership development and the position of free legal assistance to low-income and immigrant Asian Americans."
  • Human Rights Watch- 350 Fifth Avenue, 34th floor, New York, NY 10118-3299 USA; (212) 290-4700 "Human Rights Watch is dedicated to protecting the human rights of people around the world. We stand with victims and activists to prevent discrimination, to uphold political freedom, to protect people from inhumane conduct in wartime, and to bring offenders to justice."
  • Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund- 120 Wall Street, Suite 1500, New York, NY 10005-3904; (212) 809-8585 The nation's oldest and largest legal organization working for the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, and people with HIV/AIDS.
  • NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund- 99 Hudson St., New York, NY 10013; (212) 219-1900 "Committed to staying on the cutting edge of the movement for racial justice."
  • National Organization for Women/NYC- 150 W. 28th St., #304, New York, NY 10001; (212) 627-9895 NOW/NYC "works towards equality for women with a focus on several key issues: battling racism and violence against women, guaranteeing reproductive rights, advocating lesbian and bisexual rights, fighting for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, and generally working towards economic, educational, and political equity. The chapter provides educational outreach and takes part in political lobbying, zap actions and demonstrations in response to various social situations. The Service Fund of NOW-NYC also offers referrals, support groups, and clinics for women in need."
  • New York Civil Liberties Union- 125 Broad St., New York, NY 10004; (212) 344-3005 The NYCLU is "a statewide organization dedicated to the protection and enhancement of New Yorkers' civil liberties as enumerated in the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution of the State of New York."
  • Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund - 99 Hudson St., 4th floor, New York, NY 10013; (212) 219-3360 "Through litigation, policy analysis and education, the Puerto Rican Lega lDefense and Education Fund works to secure, promote and protect the civil and human rights of the Puerto Rican and wider Latino community."

Bill of Rights Resolution; Court Ruling On Banning Masked Demonstrators


City Council Passes Resolution Against USA Patriot Act

The New York City Council voted overwhelmingly on a voice vote February 4 for a resolution "calling upon federal, state and local officials, and upon New York City agencies and institutions, to affirm and uphold civil rights and civil liberties." The main target of the resolution, which has no force of law, is the federal USA Patriot Act and Domestic Security Enhancement Act (DSEA) (also known as PATRIOT II), "which may further compromise constitutional rights and our government’s unique system of checks and balances." Thirteen members objected to the resolution out of 51 and one abstained. I dealt in detail with local concern about the Patriot Actlast month.

The resolution was promoted by the local chapter of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, a coalition of 90 groups, headquartered at the New York Civil Liberities Union. It had been scheduled for a vote in December, but was delayed because Saddam Hussein had just been captured in Iraq, and Council leaders worried about the timing.

"The Patriot Act is really unpatriotic, it undermines our civil rights and civil liberties," Councilmember Bill Perkins, the bill's sponsor told the Washington Post. "We never give up our rights; that's what makes us Americans."

The Washington Post also talked with Mark Corallo, a Justice Department spokesman, who "dismissed the local governments' resolutions, saying the majority were passed in locales with left-leaning constituencies and based on 'erroneous' information about the Patriot Act." Three states (Alaska, Hawaii, and Vermont) and 250 cities, towns, and counties have passed resolutions defending the Bill of Rights from the Patriot Act.

BAN ON MASKS AT DEMONSTRATIONS

When he was mayor, Rudy Giuliani lost a series of First Amendment cases, when courts ordered him to back down on threats to yank funding for the Brooklyn Museum due to a piece of art that offended him, and to allow demonstrators to rally in City Hall Plaza despite his contention that it was too big a security risk. But he prevailed in a lesser-known case involving the Ku Klux Klan.

 

Giuliani invoked an 1845 New York law prohibiting masked gatherings in public places against the Church of the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in 1999. Seventeen members of the KKK wore hoods and robes at a rally in Foley Square that October, but had to bare their faces to the 10,000 demonstrators who came out to protest the racist, anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, and anti-gay group.

When Norman Siegel, then director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, challenged the masks law on behalf of the Klan, he received anonymous death threats, but he was also reportedly supported by Bill Tatum, the African American former publisher of the Amsterdam News, and his wife Susan, who is Jewish, as well as from the Rev. Al Sharpton.

The initial case was heard before United States District Judge Harold Baer, Jr. who granted the Klan a preliminary injunction on the day of the demonstration. As a reporter who had covered many demonstrations where the participants had worn masks, I was called as an expert witness by the civil liberties group but ultimately did not testify when the city's lawyers stipulated to what I had to say. I have seen masks worn in everything from the annual Lesbian and Gay Pride Parade to demonstrations of Iranian dissidents fearful of reprisals. And I had never seen anyone arrested for wearing a mask at a public demonstration.

In fact, said Donna Lieberman, the current executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, the last time the law was invoked prior to the Klan case was "in the 1970s against cross-dressing folks in Greenwich Village." The law has been so infrequently enforced, she argued, that almost any use of it amounts to selective enforcement.

Judge Baer's injunction, however, was stayed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Later in the day, United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg refused to vacate the stay and the Klan members had to rally barefaced.

Three years after the demonstration, however, Judge Baer issued his decision in the case, declaring the statute unconstitutional. "The result of the law," he wrote, "is that a face mask worn to delight the public is lawful while one intended to sway political beliefs is unlawful." He called the wearing of masks "expressive conduct" protected under the First Amendment, in this case expressive of the "horrific ideology" of the KKK. He also noted that some Klan members had not participated in the rally for fear of reprisals and that those that did were subjected to harassment, assault, and subsequent loss of employment. The New York Civil Liberties Union called the decision “a victory for free speech."

The city appealed Baer's decision. The Anti-Defamation League was so concerned by the ruling that they proposed a state bill to ban the wearing of masks to "threaten or intimidate."

Last month, the city won its appeal. The United States Court of Appeals for the Southern District wrote in a 3-0 decision that the original 1845 legislation was "indisputably aimed at deterring violence and facilitating the apprehension of wrongdoers" and that the city had used the statute properly. The judges said that while there are numerous cases in which the right to anonymous speech has been upheld, it "has never been held that freedom of association or the right to engage in anonymous speech entails a right to conceal one's appearance in a public demonstration." And they held that in the case of the Klan, "the mask does not communicate any message that the robe and the hood do not."

Beth Haroules, Civil Liberties Union staff attorney, called her clients, the Klan, a "disgusting group," but said the city is engaging in "viewpoint discrimination" and said that they will appeal the case.

Andy Humm is a former member of the City Commission on Human Rights. He is co-host of the weekly "Gay USA" on Manhattan Neighborhood Network (34 on Time-Warner; 107 on RCN) on Thursdays at 11 PM.

Debating the USA Patriot Act. Also: The Proposed Marriage Amendment To The Constitution


When the United States Justice Department proposed radical changes to the way intelligence was gathered in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, most of New York City's delegation to Congress agreed to the "USA Patriot Act" (In PDF format) in October 2002. The vote was 98-1 in the Senate, with Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI) dissenting and New York's Senators Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton enthusiastically supporting it. Among New York City's fourteen House members, only four voted nay: Democrats Jerry Nadler (West Side), Jose Serrano (Bronx), Nydia Velazquez (Queens) and Major Owens (Brooklyn). Even such notable liberals as Carolyn Maloney (East Side), Anthony Weiner (Brooklyn), Charles Rangel (Harlem), Eliot Engel (Bronx), and Gregory Meeks (Queens) went along with the legislation.

A debate has raged ever since, particularly in New York, about whether civil liberties were deeply and unnecessarily compromised by the Patriot Act or whether the government needs still more extraordinary powers in order to thwart terrorists. Indeed, a more far-reaching Patriot Act II ("the Homeland Security Act") is before Congress now. But Nadler, whose district includes Ground Zero, is working on legislation to modify what he sees as the excesses of the first Patriot Act.

"The Justice Department," Nadler wrote in his most recent newsletter, "changed its rules to allow for listening to attorney-client conversations, undercover surveillance of religious institutions, military tribunals, and the designation of United States citizens as enemy combatants." He also complained about the lack of cooperation from the Department of Justice in answering questions from the House Judiciary Committee and cited a reportfrom the department's Inspector General that found a "'pattern of physical and verbal abuse' of detainees rounded up after September 11th." He not only attacked provisions in the law for "sneak and peak" searches ("of people's homes without notifying them afterwards"), but he voted for an amendment to deny federal funds to be used for such a purpose. It passed this summer 309-111.

The New York Library Association this year passed the Patriot Act Resolutionopposing "the use of governmental authority to infringe upon constitutionally protected privacy by data mining vast amounts of information on people not suspected of any crime, to suppress the free and open exchange of recorded information and knowledge." Their resolution "encourages all librarians, library administrators, and library advocates to inform their communities, staff, and patrons about the ramifications and the dangers of current legislation, including the provisions of the USA Patriot Act, the Homeland Security Act, and other current legislation that threaten patron privacy and the confidentiality of library records."

The post-9/11 legislation has its defenders in New York. "Stop the Cheap Shots at the Patriot Act," wroteformer Mayor Ed Koch and Long Island Republican Congressman Peter King in a New York Post op-ed. Terrorism, they said, "threatens our national survival. Yet, listening to an increasingly shrill chorus of political voices, Americans could almost conclude that the real threat to our country comes not from bin Laden and al Qaeda but John Ashcroft and the Patriot Act." They assert the law is not being abused and quote Democratic Senator Joe Biden as saying that the Department of Justice has "done a pretty good job in terms of implementing" the law. And while they say that the provisions of the law that allow investigators to search library records "has not been used even once," it is "a weapon that must remain in the prosecutor's arsenal." They commend President Bush, whom Koch has endorsed for re-election, and Attorney General Ashcroft "for the superb job they've done over the last two years. Our liberties have been protected and our country has not been attacked."

In December, Judge Emily Jane Goodman wrote in Gotham Gazette's "Law" topic page about the Bill of Rights Defense Campaignthat began this year in New York, mainly sponsored by the New York Civil Liberties Union. On December 2, about 300 stalwarts demonstrated outside City Hall in bitterly cold weather pushing for passage of City Council Resolution 909 from Council Member Bill Perkins (D-Harlem) "calling upon federal, state, and local officials, and upon New York City agencies and institutions to affirm and uphold civil rights and civil liberties." Already passed in three states and 215 communities, it specifically targets the Patriot Act for allowing "the indefinite incarceration of citizens as 'enemy combatants' without access to counsel," opening the door to abuse of electronic surveillance in "ordinary" investigations, giving law enforcement access to medical and financial records with "little if any judicial oversight," instituting an "overbroad" definition of terrorism, and more.

This City Council resolution calls for a lot of changes such as asking the police department to "refrain" from certain practices such as ethnic profiling, but it does not require anything. It was supposed to have been passed in the Council on December 15 after a 7-2 vote of approval in the Government Operations Committee, but Speaker Gifford Miller (D-East Side), who had spoken at the rally in favor of it earlier in the month, did not want the Council's actions to be interpreted as raining on the celebration of the capture of Saddam Hussein the day before in Iraq. Miller and Perkins wrote to the Bill of Rights Campaign promising a full Council vote at the "earliest possible date in the next legislative session."

The question is, why doesn't the council use its powers to make laws to require the kinds of things of the police and others that it is calling for in this resolution? Perkins said that once the resolution passes, "we'll see what we can do legislatively." Also on the substantive front, the New York Library Association is bringing suit against provisions of the Patriot Act that they deem unconstitutional.

The Justice Department is not ready to back down on any of the Patriot Act provisions. Their director of public affairs, Mark Corralo, saidin October, "Those who would seek to repeal or water down the important tools in the Patriot Act would return America to the level of vulnerability to terrorist attack that existed prior September 11, 2001." Nadler said that the Bush administration is now trying to get the things it wants in Patriot Act II into appropriations bills "without having any chance to debate it." He believes that one day, this country will look back in shame over the Patriot Act the way it does at the Espionage Act of 1917, the internment of the Japanese during World War II, and the McCarthy Era during the Cold War.

When those civil liberties restrictions were enacted, there certainly were protests, but not the mass kind that get things reversed. Hundreds of thousands in New York protested the war in Iraq back in February and March, but only a tiny fraction of that number has been on the government's case over the rollback in civil liberties. The New Yorkers most affected by the Patriot Act are immigrants, legal and illegal, many of whom have gotten swept up in the government's use of its new powers and are the least likely to protest their mistreatment.

Jason Helperinof Doctors without Borders wrote in April on Alternet.org of dining in a midtown Indian restaurant with his roommate, Asher, who is of South Asian descent, prior to going to a Broadway show when "all of a sudden, there was a terrible commotion and five NYPD in bulletproof vests stormed down the stairs. They had their guns drawn and were pointing them indiscriminately at the restaurant staff and at us." They were detained by agents of the Immigration and Naturalization Service as well as Homeland Security, denied legal counsel, and told repeatedly, "We are at war." After several hours, they were released and received an apology. Helperin later learned the whole raid had been a "mistake."

Nat Hentoffof the Village Voice, our resident First Amendment absolutist, writes regularly about the ongoing battles over the Patriot Act and the proposals to strengthen it.

The next time these issues are likely to be debated intensely in the mainstream will be when the Republican National Convention comes to town in late August. Many groups have already filed for places to march and rally against the Bush administration. As the president insists that terrorists hate us because they hate our "freedom," it will be a test for the government, right down to the level of the New York Police Department, as to how much freedom will be sustained when security concerns are so heightened.

The Federal Marriage Amendment

This February, Congress will take up the Federal Marriage Amendment to the United States Constitution that proposes to limit marriage and its benefits to man-woman couples. No state currently issues marriage licenses to same-sex couples. When Hawaii looked as if it were going to in 1996, the Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act barring the federal government from recognizing such unions and allowing the states not to give full faith and credit to such contracts in other states. But the recent ruling from the Massachusetts high court that gay couples are entitled to marry has set off this current push for a constitutional amendment, one that President Bush said he will support "if necessary," which has been interpreted to mean if the courts try to force states outside Massachusetts from recognizing gay marriages performed there.

The Federal Marriage Amendment reads: "Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups." It's main backers, the Alliance for Marriage, say that it will not prohibit states from recognizing civil unions or the domestic partnerships that gay and straight couples can register for in New York City. But opponents take the phrase "legal incidents thereof" to mean just what it says and warn that passage could overturn the City's law among others. There is also a more conservative coalition of representatives of the religious rights called the Arlington Groupwhich is explicit about pushing an amendment that would ban civil unions and domestic partnerships.

The Massachusetts legislature, for its part, is trying to see if a Vermont-style civil union scheme (all the rights of marriage but not the name) will satisfy the court.

Almost 40 states have passed laws or constitutional amendments prohibiting recognition of gay nuptials. New York has not passed a state version of the Defense of Marriage Act, but its marriage law has been interpreted by the State Department of Health to only permit marriages for heterosexual couples.

For the federal constitutional amendment to be enacted, it must be passed by two-thirds of both houses of Congress and then win votes in three-quarters of the state legislatures. Even many opponents of same-sex marriage such as New York's Senators Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer have come out against amending the constitution for this purpose. While the New York Timestrumpeted a story on its front page that support for the amendment is "strong" at 55 percent of the American people, amendments banning flag burning and requiring a balanced budget polled favorably at upwards of 80 percent and have not even gotten past Congress. Lobbyists against the amendment say they can count on 34 Senators to oppose it, but that number could change if it is rewritten to just ban same-sex marriage and not the benefits of marriage to gay couples.

While New Jersey's legislature is enacting limited domestic partners legislation, in part because a same-sex marriage lawsuit is working its way through their courts, the New York legislature is avoiding the issue thus far. Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver won't take a stand on the issue. Republic Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno said gay people don't "need" to get married. And Governor George Pataki reiterated his stand that the state's marriage laws are "fine the way they are." With New York surrounded by states grappling with the issue very intensely, it is not likely that Albany will be able to keep avoiding it for long.

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-West Side) is sponsoring a piece of legislation that would grant some recognition to gay couples. His Permanent Partners Immigration Act(HR 832) has 119 sponsors. It lets "United States citizens and lawful permanent residents to sponsor their permanent partners for residence in the United States, and for other purposes." It is a long way from passing a Republican Congress, but recognition like this is often the first kind accorded to gay couples in places ranging from Brazil to the United Kingdom.

Andy Humm is a former member of the City Commission on Human Rights. He is co-host of the weekly "Gay USA" on Manhattan Neighborhood Network (34 on Time-Warner; 107 on RCN) on Thursdays at 11 PM.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Civil Rights Bills. Also: The Effect Of Gay-Marriage Ruling on NY


As the year comes to an end and a newly-elected (but scarcely changed) City Council is about to take office, a series of civil rights bills that have been kicking around City Hall for a while now are finally getting their first hearings. Council sponsors are expecting action on them either this month or when the new Council is seated in January.

FAIR HOUSING

Mayor Mike Bloomberg introduced a bill, Intro 417, earlier this year in an attempt to make the City's human rights law "substantially equivalent" to the federal Fair Housing Act. The City Commission on Human Rights desired the change because they want, in this era of drastic budget cuts, to make themselves eligible for money from Washington to investigate fair housing cases.

Disability rights groups, including Disabled in Action, Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association, and the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, testified at an October hearing before the General Welfare Committee that the proposed legislation would considerably weaken protections for the disabled currently available under the city law. At that hearing, the administration withdrew support for the bill in its current forum.

Craig Gurian, who is now heading the Anti-Discrimination Center of Metro New York, offered an analysis of the problems with 417 (In PDF Format) and a substitute bill(In PDF Format) was drafted that would achieve the administration's goal of "equivalence" without weakening city protections for the disabled. The substitute has yet to be introduced. Gurian was the principal drafter for the Human Rights Commission of the comprehensive 1991 amendments to strengthen the human rights law.

POSTING SUMMARY OF HUMAN RIGHTS LAW IN PUBLIC PLACES

The Human Rights Law Posting Bill, Intro 353, had its first hearing in General Welfare in October and was received favorably, according to civil rights activist Tom Smith who is the prime mover behind the idea of requiring that a summary of the City Human Rights Law be posted in every place of employment, housing, and public accommodation. "I firmly believe that the best way for people to prevent discrimination is for people to understand what their rights are and for employers and landlords to understand what the law is," said Smith. The chief sponsor of the legislation is Councilmember Alan Gerson of Lower Manhattan. Smith is hopeful that the bill will pass before the end of the year or early in 2004.

HOUSING AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

A bill that would cover survivors of domestic violence from housing and employment discrimination under the City Human Rights Law, Intro 107, also had its first hearing. The Council in 2001 banned workplace discrimination against domestic partner survivors. Councilmember David Yasskyof Brooklyn, the chief sponsor of the new bill, said that it "would extend coverage to survivors of sex offenses and stalking and grant all three groups further protection against discrimination in housing and public accommodation. Additionally, it would require employers and landlords to make reasonable accommodations for special needs of these survivors."

"Local Civil Rights Restoration Act"

Councilmember Gale Brewer has introduced the Local Civil Rights Restoration Act, Intro 439, that would strengthen the City Human Rights Law by making more allowances for precedent-setting cases, give attorneys more motivation for representing complainants by permitting them to recover fees in administrative cases, and make clear that the category of "marital status" in the law means not just that discrimination against single or married individuals is illegal, but that it is discriminatory to favor a single person over a married couple or vice-versa. The proposed changes were heard before the General Welfare Committee. "The administration doesn't love our bill," Brewer said, "but we're going to plow ahead. I'm working to expand the coalition and hope to pass it early next year."

EQUAL BENEFITS

The Equal Benefits Bill, Intro 271, introduced by Councilmember Christine Quinn of Chelsea, had its first hearing before the Contracts Committee on November 13. It would require those with city contractsof more than $100,000 to treat the domestic partners of their employees the same as the spouses of workers.

Despite anticipated opposition from conservative religious contractors that oppose homosexuality, the only ones to show up to testify against the bill were two representatives of the Bloomberg administration who were unprepared to answer questions from the committee about their legal objections. Terri Matthews of Deputy Mayor Marc Shaw's office testified that "the general municipal law prohibits social policy restrictions on municipal contracting" and that a city charter change would also be required. The counsel to the committee, Rob Newman, challenged both assertions.

The committee also heard from Cynthia Goldstein who administers the 1997 law in San Francisco that was the model for New York's bill. She claimed that the bill did not drive up contracting costs, was agreeable to most religious contractors including the Catholic Archdiocese, and reduced city spending on the uninsured.

Quinn's bill was backed by an 80-group coalition and has 37 sponsors, a veto-proof majority. She expects passage in December. If the mayor vetoes the bill, a promised override vote might have to wait until January.

HOW WILL THE SAME-SEX MARRIAGE DEBATE PLAY OUT IN NEW YORK?

The decisionof the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts to open marriage to same-sex couples has once again put the spotlight on New York State's political leaders as to how they will address the issue here. Few are tipping their hands.

Same-sex couples have already returned from neighboring Vermont with civil unions and Ontario with marriage licenses and are slowly gaining recognition of their bonds from their local governments, employers, and others, but Massachusetts will actually be the first state in this country to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. Their court has given the Massachusetts state legislature until May 2004 to implement the order. This is when, lawyers for the plaintiffs say, the state must have begun letting same-sex couples marry. Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and legislative leaders in the state are trying to comply with the order by developing a civil union plan like Vermont's, but the court is not expected to accept anything less than full marriage rights.

New York is one of thirteen states that has not passed a law banning recognition of same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions. The federal government enacted the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 in anticipation of Hawaii opening marriage to gay couples (even though the state ultimately never did), banning federal recognition of same-sex marriage and allowing the states an exemption from the full faith and credit clause of the constitution if they didn't want to honor gay marriages performed in other states. Thirty-seven states have done so.

There has been a state Defense of Marriage Act in Albany since 1996 and neither house of the legislature has acted to pass it into law. A bill to end sex discrimination in marriage was first introduced in the State Senate in 1999 and in the Assembly in 2002. Again, no action in either house.

Most same-sex partner recognition in New York State has come through the courts, with the state's Court of Appeals allowing two-parent adoptions for same-sex couples and succession rights in rent regulated apartments as early as the 1980s.

Governor Mario Cuomo extended domestic partner benefits to state employees in the early 1990s and Governor George Pataki, while publicly opposed to same-sex marriage, continued that program and has been allowing incremental gay partner rights since, especially after 9/11. The state's Crime Victims Board now recognizes same-sex partners when compensating victims of violent crime.

No same-sex married couple from Canada has started a court case for recognition in New York, but a Nassau man with a civil union is suing St. Vincent's hospital in Manhattan for the wrongful death of his "spouse," a word the Nassau County judge in the caseaccepted in granting him standing to sue earlier this year.

In the wake of the Massachusetts developments, Pataki is sticking with a statement that he is "comfortable" with the way the marriage laws in New York are. Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, an upstate Republican, said, "I don't believe people of the same sex need or ought to be legalized in marriage," though he has not vowed legislative action to prevent it. And Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Lower East Side) has remained mum on what his chamber will do to address the issue and refuses to state his own position on same-sex marriage, despite a recent resolution by the state Democratic Party endorsing it.

New York City has gone about as far as it can go in granting partner rights to gay couples, save for the contractors' bill described above. Mayor Ed Koch was the first to extend hospital visitation rights and bereavement leave to domestic partners in 1989. Mayor David Dinkins established a domestic partners registryand settled a case granting all city employees equal benefits for their domestic partners in 1993. (More than 72 percent of the city's registered domestic partners are in heterosexual couples.) Mayor Rudy Giuliani codified that settlement into law in 1998. And Mayor Mike Bloomberg signed into law a 2002 Council bill whereby the city recognizes domestic partnerships, civil unions, and same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. Council Speaker Gifford Miller (D-East Side) greeted the Massachusetts decision on same-sex marriage with a press conference supporting it.

Andy Humm is a former member of the City Commission on Human Rights. He is co-host of the weekly "Gay USA" on Manhattan Neighborhood Network (34 on Time-Warner; 107 on RCN) on Thursdays at 11 PM.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Dream Act


 

After years of waiting for her petition for green card, Yuna Im, then 22 years old, found out that she was a year too old to apply for family based permanent resident status. The case had been pending since her parents, along with Im and her sisters, immigrated to the United States in 1989.

It was bittersweet that her younger sister was eligible for a permanent resident status on the very same day that Im began her life as an undocumented immigrant.

While her sister went on to college and received financial aid, Im could not afford to go to her dream school, the Fashion Institute of Technology, a State University of New York. As an undocumented immigrant, she is not qualified for any financial assistance.

"Sometimes I feel like I have nothing in the future," she told the Daily News.

For many undocumented immigrants such as Im, obtaining higher education is nearly an impossible goal. While high school education is accessible and free to all immigrant students, thanks to a1982 Supreme Court decision, college tuition has increased to the point that many cannot attend without financial aid. Last year alone, tuition at the City University of New York increased by 25 percent to more than $4,000.

Advocates said that 50,000 to 65,000 graduates of American high schools each year are children of undocumented immigrants who have lived in the United States for five years or longer.

"We want to make sure these students are able to contribute and use their potential," Anna Maria Archila of the Latin American Integration Center in Woodside told Newsday.

A federal bill aims to help these students. Last month the Senate Judiciary Committee approved The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, or Dream Act, that would grant conditional legal status to high school graduate who are illegal immigrants but have lived in the United States for at least five years and were younger than 16 at the time of their entry.

To get permanent resident status, the bill would have an illegal immigrant completed two years of military service or two years of college within six years of graduating from high school.

Steven Yun, executive director of the National Koran American Services & Education Consortium Inc. told Newsday that many undocumented immigrants cannot afford college tuition and work in the underground economy.

"I wanted to study computer graphics," said Im, who after a brief enrollment dropped out of college and began working illegally.

Under the proposal, undocumented students could receive a federal loan or work-study grant but they will not be eligible for other federal financial aid.

Advocates believed the Dream Act, with 40 co-sponsors in the Senate, stands a chance of passing in an election year "[Politicians] will want to 'give' something to the immigrant community for their votes," said Minerva Moya of New York Immigration Coalition.

Critics argue that the bill is another example of pandering. "This bill is a crass political calculation aimed at selling amnesty disguised s as an educative initiative," Dain Stein of the Federal for American Immigration Reform, an organization promoting stricter immigration policies, told PBS.

The US House of Representative is also considering a similar bill, the Student Adjustment Act, but it would grant legal status to students enrolled in seventh grade or above.

Regardless of the outcome of these bills, like many undocumented immigrants before her, Im plans to stay in New York city for a long time even if it means that her dream will never come true.

An immigrant from Bangkok, Thailand, Chaleampon Ritthichai is the editor of The Citizen.

Discrimination After 9/11; Also: Bill On Domestic Partnership Benefits


After the September 11th terrorist attack in 2001, New Yorkers of Arab, Muslim and South Asian descent endured a level of discrimination that only now is coming to light:

"I got fired,” one said, “and, before that, my boss used to call me Osama Bin Laden."

Of almost a thousand New Yorkers surveyed by the City Commission on Human Rights, some 69 percent said they felt subjected to discrimination or harassment due to their ethnicity. Only 17 percent of these people sought help from a government or community agency to help deal with the incidents. According to a recently-released report of the survey results, most were either fearful of making a report, convinced that nothing would be done about it, did not know where to go to file a complaint, or simply felt that the incident was not worth reporting.

The survey was conducted between October of 2002 and April of 2003. "Following the attacks on the World Trade Center, we knew people were afraid to come forward," said Commissioner Patricia L. Gatling, "so we went into these communities and asked if their lives had changed since 9/11 and how."

The largest group of incidents, 37 percent, consisted of bias-related harassment, primarily verbal but also menacing, threats, and physical assault. "Several people were spat upon and a number of women stated that they had their hijabs pulled off," the report said. "Others described their neighbors putting garbage in front of their doors and damaging cars by scratching or burning them, breaking windows or slashing tires. One person was assaulted on a train for reading an Arabic newspaper."

The study found that 26 percent experienced employment discrimination, including being told not to wear traditional headdresses to work. A "large number" encountered difficulties looking for work. Some were harassed on the job by employers, others by customers.

One-quarter of the respondents reported incidents at public accommodations, including from teachers and administrators at schools. And 11 percent experienced housing discrimination, including landlords who openly said they wouldn't rent to them "because you are a Muslim." One landlord locked a Muslim tenant out, put all his belongings on the street, and would not accept rent. Some just were subjected to a reduction in services.

The bias was spread out amongst the boroughs, with most of it taking place right where the respondents live and work. Some people who can "pass" as non-Middle Eastern hear "people you thought were cool, reasonable, and sane exposed for their racism and ignorance," making comments about "others" right in front of them.

The picture isn't entirely bleak. A Jordanian man said that when another customer in a Manhattan café was harassing him, the owner asked the perpetrator to leave. "It was in the night and all the people around us in the place, Americans and other ethnicities, acted against the intruder and asked him to leave and I believe this is the best response that I can imagine." And a Muslim mother sounded a note of defiance: "People look at you like you are a terrorist, but let them look because I know who I am. They are the ones with the problem."

In terms of solutions, the commission report notes that the agency could have investigated many of the incidents recounted in the surveys, but that formal complaints were not made. In the course of disseminating the surveys, the commission worked to educate the affected communities about the Human Rights Law and its protections. And working on the project created many new connections between the agency and these communities.

The Commission on Human Rights concluded the report with five recommendations, saying it "encourages the following for government agencies and community organizations:"
1) a climate of tolerance and respect in the city;
2) interfaith and community integration through activities that involve all members of the community;
3) participation of people from the Muslim, South Asian, and Arab communities in civic and political activities (e.g., police councils, block associations, school leadership teams);
4) media campaigns to promote understanding and discourage discriminatory behaviors;
and 5) the entrance of South Asians, Arabs, and Muslims into public service positions (e.g., police and fire fighting).
Copies of the full report are available by calling the 311 Citizen Service Center.

The 2000 census found 71,000 Arabs and 216,000 South Asians living in the five boroughs.

Hearing On Domestic Partners Bill for City Contractors

The biggest civil rights debate in the City Council this year will come on November 13 when the first public hearing will be held on Intro 271, the Equal Benefits Bill, before Councilmember Robert Jackson's contracts committee. This legislation, sponsored by 36 council members (In PDF Format) but opposed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, would require those with city contracts of more than $100,000 to offer the domestic partners of their employees the same benefits that they offer the spouses of their workers. While there has been little public notice of this bill, it is bound to incite controversy, especially when it comes to religiously affiliated contractors.

The Salvation Army has indicated that it is likely to give up its contracts rather than comply with a law that they say would make them compromise their disapproval of gay relationships. The Catholic Archdiocese of New York, historically a voice against lesbian and gay rights in the city, has not indicated how it will deal with the pending legislation, though the San Francisco Archdiocese found a way to comply with the 1997 law out there. The Episcopal Diocese of New York is part of an 80-group coalition seeking to pass the legislation.

Proponents of the bill say that those receiving city funds to perform public services must treat all of their employees fairly, including people in domestic partnerships. Some contractors who do not yet offer domestic partner benefits said that the bill's passage would help compel more insurance carriers to offer policies that include domestic partners. California's outgoing Governor Gray Davis just signed the first statewide equal benefits bill in the nation, another development that may boost the prospects of the New York City bill.

Andy Humm is a former member of the City Commission on Human Rights. He is co-host of the weekly "Gay USA" on Manhattan Neighborhood Network (34 on Time-Warner; 107 on RCN) on Thursdays at 11 PM..

Bias Violence On Staten Island


 

At the end of a long month of bias-based violence on Staten Island (for details, click on "Links In the News"), the City Commission on Human Rights on September 24 opened up its first permanent office on the island in the commission's 48-year history. The office was long-planned, says Human Rights Commissioner Pat Gatling. But the Bloomberg administration is clearly concerned. New York City mayoralties have been made and unmade by responses to bias violence.

In the summer of 1989, when Yusef Hawkins, a 16-year-old African American from Bedford Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, visited the mostly white Bensonhurst neighborhood in the borough, a mob of white youth killed him. That incident marked the end of the re-election bid of three-term Mayor Ed Koch, who had often been viewed as insensitive in racial matters. It also catapulted Manhattan Borough President David Dinkins into City Hall, the first African American to be mayor.

Just one year later, black New Yorkers rioted in Crown Heights, Brooklyn after a car in a Hasidic motorcade sped through a red light and killed 7-year old Gavin Cato. Shouts of "Kill the Jew" went up and Yankel Rosenbaum, a 29-year old Australian rabbinical student, died from stab wounds inflicted by Lemrick Nelson in a case that was only recently resolved in the courts. The fact that it was not resolved in 1993 when Dinkins ran for re-election and Governor Mario Cuomo released a critical report on the matter during the campaign, contributed to Dinkins's narrow loss to Rudy Giuliani, who had been quite vocal in accusing the mayor of holding police back during the riots.

The first incident this past month occurred in a playground late at night Labor Day in Eltingville on Staten Island, when a mob of some 17 white men and women reportedly confronted an 18-year old black woman named Rachel Carter visiting from New Jersey. They uttered racial slurs and told her she didn't belong in the neighborhood. Then they attacked her and her five companions (who were white, black and Latino), using a sickle and a broken bottle --ugly stuff made worse because the police from the 122nd Precinct tried to discourage the victims from filing complaints. Eleven arrests have been made so far in the Labor Day attack.

Two weeks later, there were nine bias incidents citywide reported on a single weekend, including several on Staten Island, such as a black man accosted by a white mob in a Staten Island deli and a black man shooting at white teens. The cycle of bias violence continued on Staten Island a week after that, when one of the alleged perpetrators in the Labor Day attack was himself assaulted by three Latino men in what law enforcement officers reportedly described as a "retaliatory assault." All in all, in the month after Labor Day, there were a dozen suspected bias incidents on Staten Island alone. Some newspapers began painting Staten Island as a hotbed of bigotry.

None of these incidents are as incendiary as the bias murders of Yusef Hawkins and Yankel Rosenbaum. But the administration is careful to show their concern. At the opening of the human rights office on Staten Island, Commissioner Gatling said, "Mayor Bloomberg and the commission are committed to using all of our resources to ensure that the people of this city do not become hostages to prejudice. This new office will be used to educate, mediate, and enforce the strongest anti-bias laws in the country. Our message is a simple one: Discrimination will not be tolerated in our city." One action already taken is the disciplining of three police officers in connection with the handling of Rachel Carter's Labor Day complaint.

But it's not just individual police officers who are being criticized for their failure to take such civil rights violations seriously. The commission itself is under attack from the Anti-Discrimination Center of Metro New York for not fulfilling its responsibility to enforce the city's human rights law. In a scathing report, attorney Craig Gurian, director of the non-profit center, said that the commission "had eliminated a decades-long backlog of cases in part by a newfound determination to do so, and in part by what the report refers to as 'the Big Case Dump.'" The report charges that the commission found no probable cause against discriminators in more than 98 percent of cases, leveled civil penalties just once, conducted only two trials, almost always failed to interview those accused of discrimination, and "failed to understand and apply basic principles of discrimination law."

Commissioner Gatling responded in the Times that the report "demonstrates a lack of understanding of the commission's objectives and practical application of the city's Human Rights Law," whatever that means. (She didn't elaborate.)

For all the criticism, the mayor has insisted that Staten Island is getting an unfair rap - that the incidents of bias have actually decreased by 25 percent on the island. Of course, these are the official statistics, based on people actually filing complaints - which, as evident from the police reaction to the Labor Day incident, is not always encouraged. But in a way, the mayor surely has a point in asking that Staten Island not be singled out. The truth is, bias violence is not restricted to one part of the city, nor targeted just at one group.

The New York City Gay and Lesbian Project has documented a 52 percent rise in attacks on people who either are or are perceived to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered. A recent weekend saw three reported incidents, including six men beating a man after he exited a subway stop in Chelsea.

Clarence Patton of the Anti-Violence Project attributed the rise in anti-gay incidents to the massive increase in the visibility of gay people in the news and on TV entertainment shows, contributing to a backlash. He also cited the downturn in the economy and tensions over the war with Iraq.

Commissioner Gatling is also conscious of these factors. The main perpetrators of bias violence, she says, are young people 17 to 22 years old for whom "the economy looks bleak" and for whom there are fewer after-school options in the economic downturn. But even while acknowledging these factors in play, she said that New York is experiencing less bias violence than cities like Los Angeles and Chicago. "We don't have it like they do," she said.

Even while playing down the dimensions of the problem on Staten Island, Gatling said she has spoken to the superintendent of schools there about stepping up conflict resolution and tolerance programs, some of them offered by the commission itself. "I'm a big proponent of peer mediation," she said.

The commission and its critic, the Anti-Discrimination Center of Metro New York, do agree on testing neighborhood tolerance in at least one concrete way. They are both sending out testers to pose as people looking for a job or a home, to see if local real estate agents and employers treat all comers equally. Most often, a white tester and a black tester who pose as similar applicants (same educational level or same income level) approach the same employer or real estate agent at different times to see if they receive the same treatment. One finding so far: In Howard Beach, both testers were treated the same. This might be surprising to those who see the Queens neighborhood as a bastion of bigotry because of past incidents, most notoriously in 1986 when a gang of white youths attacked three black men, killing one of them.

Mayors and mediators, boosters and borough presidents like to say that New York, which is probably still the most diverse city on earth, is a largely successful experiment in peaceful coexistence. One question provoked by the latest incidents is whether New Yorkers get along as well as we do only as long as all members of each group stay in their own neighborhoods. This is a city that, as Gotham Gazette's demographics columnist Andrew Beveridge has pointed out, "remains among the most segregated areas of the United States" - or, as one observer famously said, the only place New York is integrated is on the subway.

Andy Humm is a former member of the City Commission on Human Rights. He is co-host of the weekly "Gay USA" on Manhattan Neighborhood Network (34 on Time-Warner; 107 on RCN) on Thursdays at 11 PM.

Employing Non-Citizens


You are an employer in the city and you want to follow the law. You know that it is illegal to employ anyone not authorized to work in the United States; that is why they are called "illegal aliens." So, you put a "citizens only" restriction in your help wanted ad.

If you did that, you yourself would be breaking the law.

It is illegal in New York City to discriminate on the basis of national origin or citizenship status, and, while employers are required to verify that employees are authorized to work in the U.S., it is also illegal to so overdo the verification process that it effectively discriminates against the applicant.

The issue of non-citizen employment is clearly a minefield for employers, which is why the City Commission on Human Rights recently held a forum for employers entitled "Preventing Immigration-Related Employment Discrimination."

Many industries in New York employ more non-citizen immigrants than American citizens. This is certainly true of hotels. But other affected employers include those in the car rental business, home cleaning services, city agencies, YMCA, tour bus companies, housing complexes, banks, credit unions, nursing homes, hospitals, and a television station. All of these showed up for the forum.

"We're trying to make them aware of the law," said Betsy Herzog of the commission. "Even with immigrant employers, they don't always know the law. The paperwork is complicated."

Since 1986, all employees have been required to fill out I-9 forms for Employment Eligibility Verification. It lists 10 documents, such as a U.S. passport or Unexpired Employment Authorization Card that on their own establish identity and employment eligibility. Problems arise when an employer insists on one form of verification to the exclusion of others or insists on multiple documents when one alone will do.

Rachel Pomerantz, a law enforcement attorney with the commission, said, "The more you know as an employer, the less likely you are to have someone sue you for employment discrimination." She noted that the city human rights law covers more than the federal law does.

Pomerantz told the employers that it is never a good experience to have a complaint filed against you, even if there is no finding of discrimination, and said that the commission will "try to intervene before the complaint is filed," because sometimes "it is a matter of hurt feelings and can be resolved with a call." She noted that the city's human rights law and rules of practice for administrative hearings can be read online. She warned employers who have a complaint filed against them not to compound the problem by retaliating against the aggrieved employee. "We're here as a resource," she said, and urged them to call the Law Enforcement Bureau at 212-306-7450 when a question arises.

Common complaints from immigrants include discrimination based on their accents, unless it would interfere with their ability to do a particular job. "Exceptions are narrow," she said. ""You can't refuse to hire someone because you don't think that your customers will like the accent." It is also illegal to enforce English-only rules in a workplace during breaks and lunch. "There has to be a job-related necessity," she said.

Similarly, dress codes cannot discriminate against a "foreign look," such as wearing a sari, unless there are safety concerns. "You can have a uniform, but everyone has to wear it," she said.

Anthony Archeval, senior trial attorney with the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices, offers a video for employers, "Going Too Far," and promises to educate employee and employer groups who contact them at 1-800-255-7688 (or 1-800-237-2375 for the hearing impaired). In his experience, discrimination is not a result of evil intent, "but of a misunderstanding of the law."

The Department of Justice also has a Telephone Intervention System "for willing employers and workers, to avoid misunderstanding," and publishes a guide called "Look at the Facts, Not at the Faces: Your Guide to Fair Employment."

To have the Commission on Human Rights schedule a workshop on immigration issues for your group or workplace, call 311. The workshops are available in a wide variety of languages and have already been conducted in Spanish, Creole, Russian, Mandarin, African dialects, and, of course, English.

Andy Humm is a former member of the City Commission on Human Rights. He is co-host of the weekly "Gay USA" on Manhattan Neighborhood Network (57 on Time-Warner; 109 on RCN) on Thursdays at 11 PM.



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