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Will Justice Roberts Join the Marriage-Equality Majority for All the Wrong Reasons?

Michelangelo Signorile   |   January 23, 2015    2:41 PM ET

Predicting the Supreme Court's decisions is like reading tea leaves. Still, we never tire of either, even if only for the sake of enjoyment. So in that spirit I offer a potential outcome on marriage equality when the Supreme Court takes it up this spring that New York Law School professor Art Leonard, who has studied Supreme Court legal decisions on gay issues for decades, suggested as a possibility come June: Chief Justice John Roberts joins the majority and writes the decision himself, making it the narrowest possible ruling with regard to the ramifications for LGBT equality beyond marriage.

This would be the best possible scenario for anti-gay conservatives, including Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, who surely have come to see that nationwide gay marriage is a done deal. Their big hope and challenge now is limiting any decision's ramifications. Roberts, who might not want to be on the wrong side of history, and also might want to do what he can to help conservatives, can thus serve both sides and himself.

With 70 percent of Americans now living in a state where same-sex couples can marry, we are largely in a post-marriage-equality world already. Religious conservatives are moving on (though hardly giving up), recalibrating their tactics and targets, trying to blunt the expansion of rights to LGBT people in the name of "religious liberty" in a whole host of other areas, from allowing businesses to turn away gay and lesbian customers, particularly in catering their weddings, to firing a teacher because his or her gay marriage doesn't adhere to a private school's religious views.

There's been a lot of discussion in recent days about how the Supreme Court framed the questions for attorneys representing plaintiffs in the four states in the Sixth Circuit on whose gay-marriage bans the Supreme Court is hearing arguments in April. Fears have been expressed that the questions betray that the court is trying to "split the baby," perhaps ruling that a state must recognize all gay marriages from outside the state without being compelled to perform gay marriages itself.

But this outcome has seemed extremely unlikely for a while, as the court has allowed lower courts' rulings to stand, bringing marriage equality to state after state, now with 36 in total. It would be quite chaotic if the Supreme Court didn't strike down marriage bans now. And the court will be seen as having been exceedingly reckless. That doesn't seem like something Justice Kennedy wants as his legacy on gay rights, having crafted it very carefully for several decades. He'll go all the way, and the liberals will go with him.

But there are different legal theories on which the decision can be based and which could have profound implications for other kinds of discrimination against LGBT people. And, as Art Leonard told me in an interview on my radio program, that's where Justice Roberts could come in to narrow the decision.

"Two of the circuits out of the four that have decided this issue in favor of marriage equality used the fundamental right to marriage as their gateway to the decision," he explained. "They located it in the due-process-clause protection for liberty. They said the right to marry is fundamental, going back to Loving v. Virginia." (The Supreme Court decision in Loving v. Virginia struck down bans on interracial marriage.)

The other two circuits that decided in favor of marriage equality did not use the Constitution's due-process clause. They said marriage bans were discrimination based on sexual orientation and based the decision on the equal-protection clause of the Constitution.

"The Ninth Circuit said discrimination based on sexual orientation involves a suspect classification" and requires "heightened scrutiny" because of the Windsor case, Leonard noted. "They said they thought that in the Windsor case, which struck down DOMA, that the court had used some sort of of heightened scrutiny in that case." The Seventh Circuit, Leonard said, was also an equal-protection decision but ultimately didn't base its decision on heightened scrutiny and instead said there was no rational basis for the bans.

"So there are all these different theories floating around," Leonard said. "Kennedy won't want to go the due-process [route] because it could leave open to Scalia's fears of polygamy and incest [being constitutionally protected]. But Kennedy has shied away from equal protection and heightened scrutiny. The Windsor decision -- a key element was animus, that the law was driven purely by animus. On that basis he could strike down the marriage bans and the bans on recognition [of out-of-state marriages] without giving heightened scrutiny, without saying marriage is a fundamental right and thus not having much of an impact on any subsequent case [on LGBT rights or marriage]. I hope he doesn't do that, but he could."

But precisely because no one knows on what basis Kennedy would decide, Roberts could step in to make sure it's clear and narrow.

"If [Roberts] decides to vote with Kennedy and the four liberals, he would then control the decision, because as Chief Justice, he could assign it to himself or any of the other justices," Leonard explained. "He could keep it away from Kennedy. I think if he votes [for marriage equality], he would keep the decision for himself, and he would try to write it as narrowly as possible. But I don't think he's happy about the animus argument [of Windsor, in which he was in the dissent], so I don't know how he would do it. He might just decide that there's no rational basis. The narrowest basis is that there's no rational basis [to the marriage bans]. You don't get into whether marriage is a fundamental right. You don't get into heightened scrutiny. It doesn't set any major precedents for future cases on LGBT rights."

It would still be a big win for marriage equality, but the anti-gay crowd would have more to work with in fueling its unending crusade.

What Will 2016 Mitt Romney Say About Gay Marriage?

Michelangelo Signorile   |   January 16, 2015    3:44 PM ET

Political pundits have been abuzz over -- and bewildered by -- Mitt Romney's statements pointing to a likelihood that he will actually run for president again. He's touched off lots of discussion about his past positions and the holes he's dug for himself -- like the infamous "47 percent" line.

And one vexing issue with which Romney will have to grapple is what to say about homosexuality and marriage equality in a world where gay marriage will likely be the law of the land in every state. Unlike those of the other possible candidates of the GOP establishment, Jeb Bush and Chris Christie, Romney's positions on gays have been more defined and extreme -- and more consistent and reiterated much more recently, especially since he veered far right in the primaries in 2012. Any change will be seen as a yet another major flip-flop by a candidate who's already got a dozen he's been juggling for years.

While Jeb Bush made ugly statements about gays in 1994 -- claiming that "sodomy" shouldn't be "elevated to the same constitutional status as race and religion" -- it was 20 years ago. When the comments surfaced recently, his spokesperson quickly put out a statement saying the comments "do not reflect" Bush's opinion today. Bush is still repugnantly dog-whistling to conservatives by saying we must "safeguard religious liberty" even as we should "respect" gay and lesbian couples seeking to get protections, but unlike Romney he was able to take back his most extreme rhetoric because it was two decades old.

Christie has opposed gay marriage and said it should be voted on by residents of each state. But in the end he blinked and didn't take a state court ruling in favor of gay marriage to the New Jersey Supreme Court, letting it stand. He also signed legislation making New Jersey one of only three jurisdictions that bans the practice of "conversion therapy" on minors by licensed therapists. Both issues will haunt him with religious conservatives in the primaries if he runs, and he'll no doubt be doing his own dance, as will all the GOP contenders, who will try to run from the gay issue while also trying to appease social conservatives.

But it's worse for Romney, who, in the 2012 campaign, supported a federal marriage amendment, certainly not just leaving the issue to the states. As I wrote during the 2012 campaign, as recently as 2005, as Romney focused on running for the presidency, he gave a speech to conservative voters in South Carolina saying, "Some gays are actually having children born to them. It's not right on paper. It's not right in fact. Every child has a right to a mother and father.''

That was a year after he had battled with the Registry of Vital Records and Statistics as the governor of Massachusetts, directing that state office -- after marriage equality had come to the state -- not to revise birth-certificate forms for babies born to same-sex couples. He directed the office not to change the box labeled "father," for example, to "father or second parent" and said it should simply be changed with a pen, obviously marking these children as different for life and making them open to charges of fraud every time they had to show a birth certificate.

Romney never backed away from any of these past positions during the 2012 campaign. And even after the race was over, in 2013, he continued in the same vein, saying, "I believe that marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman, and that's because I believe the ideal setting for raising a child is where there's a mother and a father in the home."

Obviously Romney's positions carried him through the GOP primaries in 2012, and if he remains in the same place, perhaps he can use those positions as a wedge against Christie and Bush in the 2016 primaries. But with Utah, seat of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, now a marriage-equality state, and with marriage equality sweeping across the land, Romney looks like a relic from the past on this issue, particularly to GOP establishment donors. Yet any change, even a nuance, will add to his reputation of putting his finger in the air on issue after issue. The more Romney runs, the more evident that becomes.

Rep. Nadler Explains Why 'Religious Liberty' Defense Doesn't Work To Deny LGBT Rights

Michelangelo Signorile   |   January 15, 2015    9:35 AM ET

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) spoke out this week about the Respect for Marriage Act, which he reintroduced in Congress last week with Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.). If passed it would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), only one portion of which was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013.

The progressive New York Democrat also offered his thoughts on some conservatives’ increasingly vocal defense of “religious liberty” in what Nadler and others see as an attempt to blunt LGBT rights in the face of the success of marriage equality. Last week former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who is exploring a run for the presidency, said in response to marriage equality coming to his state, that the “the rule of law” and the couples “seeking greater legal protections” should be respected but that citizens also need to “show respect” for “those of us who believe marriage is a sacrament and want to safeguard religious liberty."

“I’m not sure it’s a change on Jeb Bush’s part,” Nadler said in an interview with me on SiriusXM Progress. “[The use of the term ‘religious liberty’] is new, and it’s an inversion of the concept of religious liberty. Religious liberty should mean you don’t interfere with my right to worship as I see fit. It has never been held to mean that I impose my views on you.”

Nadler addressed anti-LGBT advocates who are defending businesses such as bakeries and florists that don’t want to cater to gay and lesbian weddings because they say it infringes on their religious liberty. Nadler said that while this is new in the gay context, the argument is an old one that has been refuted by the American people and by the law.

“It’s no more religious liberty to say I have the right not to serve a gay couple in my restaurant or my wedding cake business than it would be to say I have the right not to serve a black couple or a Jewish couple or a Chinese couple,” he said. “Now, people used to say that in the 1950s and '60s. That was one of the defenses: ‘I have a religious right to discriminate. My religion tells me whites and blacks shouldn’t mix.’ And we decided as a country that your religion is your religion and it cannot justify discriminating in public commerce.”

On the Respect for Marriage Act, Nadler emphasized that while the Supreme Court struck down one section of DOMA, which banned federal recognition of marriages of gay and lesbian couples, the law still allows states not to recognize other states’ gay and lesbian marriages and said that there is no clarity for couples who marry in one state and then move to a state with a gay marriage ban.

“The federal government recognizes the marriage in a state that recognizes gay marriage, but if you go to a state that doesn’t have marriage [equality], there’s confusion,” he explained. “There are a few statutes, like [those around] social security and veterans benefits, that only recognize the marriage in the state in which it occurred.”

While he acknowledged that the bill is unlikely to get a vote in the Republican-controlled Congress any time soon, just like a comprehensive civil rights bill that Democrats intend to be introduce this year and which would protect LGBT people in public accommodations in addition to other areas, Nadler said it’s important to move forward. He notes that when he first introduced the Respect for Marriage Act in 2009, there was little support for it even among some gay groups and Democrats in Congress.

“You have to start,” he said. “When I first introduced the Respect for Marriage Act back in 2009, it was controversial even among gay groups. Some of the gay groups said, ‘Don’t introduce it now. It’s too radical and it’ll take attention away from what we really want to accomplish, which we have a chance to accomplish,' which is to say, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), and gays in the military. My response was, ‘No, I’m not trying to say we should introduce the Respect For Marriage Act and expect a vote on it and push for a vote on it before ENDA or [‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’] repeal. And yes, I know it will take time. But the sooner you start, the sooner you finish.’ As I said, some of the gay groups didn’t support [a DOMA repeal bill in 2009.] But two years later, it had totally turned around. Opinions can turn around but you have to push.”

Jeb Bush: 'Respect' My Opposition to Your Civil Rights Because 'Religious Liberty'

Michelangelo Signorile   |   January 7, 2015    7:56 AM ET

Once again many in the media have fallen for GOP strategists' attempts to make a candidate seem moderate -- "soften" and "softening" seem to be the words of choice for CNN and others -- while he's not changed his hardcore right-wing position at all.

Here's what happened: Jeb Bush was playing golf on Sunday while the earth in Florida shifted beneath him. Judges had been hearing desperate last-minute arguments and handing down rulings as Florida's gay marriage ban was on its last leg, and Florida, within 24 hours, would see its first gay and lesbian couples marrying, another tipping point in the national movement.

The Miami Herald caught Bush off guard as he came off the Coral Gables course, and -- in an example of how he is not ready for prime time, since a would-be presidential candidate should have had a plan -- Bush gave an old, tired answer that doesn't work anymore, and also seemed a bit confused: "It ought to be a local decision. I mean, a state decision. The state decided. The people of the state decided. But it's been overturned by the courts, I guess."

Thud. So, what transpired after that was probably a lot of frantic phone calls with GOP strategists, and by midday Monday Bush pressed reset and sent out a polished-up 2015 line that seeks to appeal to bigots in code words while seeming like he's "softening" -- or at least, it could be peddled that way to the media -- on an issue about which he's out of step with the majority of Americans.

"We live in a democracy, and regardless of our disagreements, we have to respect the rule of law," Bush said in a statement that was put out to the media. "I hope that we can show respect for the good people on all sides of the gay and lesbian marriage issue -- including couples making lifetime commitments to each other who are seeking greater legal protections and those of us who believe marriage is a sacrament and want to safeguard religious liberty."

In other words, please respect that I and others don't support your civil rights because of our religious beliefs. Sorry, but that doesn't cut it. This was no change -- no softening -- in Bush's actual position on gay marriage, though he did tell us that we all should respect the law in America, something about which we're supposed to be impressed. The Democratic National Committee was right to blast Bush. "It took Jeb Bush 69 words to say absolutely nothing - 69 words not to say, 'I support marriage equality.' Nothing's changed," DNC spokesman Mo Elleithee said. "At the end of Bush's statement, he still had the same position: He opposes the right of gay and lesbian Floridians -- and all LGBT Americans -- to get married and adopt children."

Bush's newly-fashioned statement was meant not to scare off younger voters, suburbanites, and some wealthy fiscal conservative donors, while still dog whistling to the Christian right with the "safeguard religious liberty" bit -- three words we will hear ad nauseum in the 2016 presidential race.

Curiously, the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBT group, actually worked up a bit of praise for Bush's comments, with the group's Fred Sainz telling Metro Weekly:"[H]is own conflict is encouraging. The vast majority of Republican politicians only express their adamant opposition to marriage equality. Bush acknowledges gay married couples and encourages respect for them. The fact that he's struggling with this issue is something that many Republicans will understand."

It certainly was very odd that the DNC was more out front in defending gay equality and pointing to Bush's anti-LGBT record than an actual LGBT group. And that should make all of us concerned, as GOP legislators in states across the country now move forward on "religious liberty" bills meant to blunt LGBT rights. A bill was also introduced in Congress last year that would allow religious groups getting federal money to deny adoptions to gay and lesbian couples based on "religious liberty." Giving any legitimacy to this language by not commenting on it, while the media is already beginning to use it exactly in the way Christian conservatives desire, is flat out dangerous.

Saudi Arabia Beheads Gays, but Marco Rubio Has No Problem With You Traveling There

Michelangelo Signorile   |   December 19, 2014    2:58 PM ET

In about a minute you can book a flight to locales that are home to the most brutal anti-gay regimes in the world, where homosexuality is punishable by flogging, imprisonment (sometimes for life) or execution. I don't just mean Uganda or Brunei, where Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah recently decreed Sharia law shall commence and where you might have no interest in ever visiting. I'm also talking about major vacation destinations of millions of Americans, like Jamaica, where homosexuality is outlawed and punishable with a prison sentence, and where LGBT people are attacked and killed in waves of violence while the police often have little concern for this brutality.

But U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) wants to keep you from traveling to Cuba and believes that American companies shouldn't be allowed to do business there because Cuba isn't a democracy, violates human rights and is run by a "tyrant." He's been lashing out ever since President Obama announced the normalization of relations with Cuba. But if human rights abuses really were the metric by which we decided on trade and travel, the U.S. should be banning Americans from visiting our staunchest allies and our most popular vacation spots (including much of the Caribbean, where homosexuality is illegal, though it's not illegal in Cuba). It would literally be much of the globe.

Everyone's been using China and Vietnam as the examples to point to Rubio's hypocrisy, but let's put aside countries where we "normalized" relations. There are dozens of countries we were never estranged from, some of which we consider major business and military allies, and which engage in brutality against their citizens each and every day. Rubio attacked the president for his overtures to Iran as well, but he seems to have no problem with our relationship with Saudi Arabia. Both are closed societies, Muslim fundamentalist theocracies that have terrorized gay citizens and many others. Both punish homosexuality with floggings, lashings and death, including by hanging and beheading. But one of them has long been a cash cow for American oil companies, so Rubio doesn't seem to see its human rights abuses, which include treating women as if they're property, and arresting them for driving.

The United States gives financial aid to countries across Africa whose leaders are feted at the White House -- and whose laws punish homosexuality with imprisonment, from Uganda to Nigeria. President Obama is hellbent on signing a trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would include Brunei, as well as Malaysia, which criminalizes homosexuality too, and with which American companies are doing much more business. I've heard nothing from Marco Rubio about our close relationship with these human rights abusers.

Even The Washington Post's editorial board, in a myopic piece, criticized the president for his actions, as if we don't do business with human rights violators all around the world (far beyond China and Vietnam). That's because, even in this day of so much more supposed acceptance and support for LGBT rights, many people still see a difference between "human rights abuses" and oppression of LGBT people. They think about issues such as press freedom, crackdowns on protest or jailing of dissidents -- all horrendous realities about which we should be concerned -- as "human rights abuses" (though, again, on even this they look the other way in places like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and among our other so-called allies). But they don't think about the criminalization of LGBT people, and violence against them, in the same way -- almost as if anti-LGBT laws should be expected and tolerated even if they're unsavory.

I'm not one of those who believes that engagement -- and capitalism -- necessarily brings democracy, and we've certainly not seen that with China. But it's completely bogus for Marco Rubio and other Republicans still in the bosom of rich, older Cuban-American political donors in Florida to use human rights to make their argument. Rubio, who is opposed to giving LGBT people in this country basic civil rights -- like job protections and marriage equality -- doesn't seem to care about human rights in the U.S. or in much of the rest of the world where people are facing a far more horrific reality every day.

Why Newly Single Robbie Rogers Isn't Looking Back

Michelangelo Signorile   |   December 12, 2014    9:59 AM ET

Out soccer player Robbie Rogers, promoting his new book Coming out to Play, confirmed yesterday that he’d broken off his relationship with Hollywood producer Greg Berlanti, speaking out about it for the first time since Perez Hilton claimed earlier in the week that the two had split. Rogers, who in 2013 became the first player for a North American male sports league to come out, also talked about the process of opening up about his sexual orientation.

“Yeah, yeah, we’re no longer dating but we’re friends,” the 27-year-old LA Galaxy player said in an interview with me on SiriusXM Progress, about his relationship with 42-year-old Berlanti, who's worked on the groundbreaking "Dawson’s Creek" and "Brothers and Sisters," both of which had prominent gay plotlines, and whose latest projects include the CW’s "Arrow," in its third season, and the newly debuted "The Flash."

He added, “And that just goes with things. When Perez posted that, I don’t think I even cared. I don’t think a lot of people do care. I understand that my personal life is going to be more and more in the spotlight. And it’s not going to stop me from dating people or being public about it. I just want to live a normal life. It doesn’t bother me, to be honest.”

Rogers, who’s been touring for the new autobiography, acknowledged it was the first time he’d discussed the break up. “I didn’t talk about it publicly,” he said. “It’s a small town and people figure out things. You report it, and he had all the right to do that. So I really didn’t care about it.” He reiterated that the split was amicable: “We dated for a year and half. And we split up. Stuff happens. But again, we’re still friends. And we’re very supportive of each other.”

Rogers also discussed why he decided to come out, rather than leave soccer for good, as he’d contemplated while he took a few months off. “I felt isolated and depressed throughout my career,” he said. “Different accomplishments — winning at the Olympics, and playing with a national team [in the U.K] and winning a championship — just so many things I thought would make me happy. I couldn’t quite enjoy all those moments and I couldn’t have any real relationships…I knew I needed to make a change.”

After coming out to his “Catholic conservative family” and being fully supported, he decided it was time to tell the world.

“It was the reaction I got from people and the support from people that got me back into soccer,” Rogers said. “And that’s when I signed with the Galaxy and started playing with them. Since then it’s been very amazing.”

Meet the Pastor Who Told Me He Hoped I Got Brain Cancer and Died

Michelangelo Signorile   |   December 5, 2014   12:45 PM ET

I wasn't shocked to see a video that went viral in recent days in which Steven L. Anderson, an Arizona pastor, had given a sermon on November 30, quoting Leviticus and calling for executing gays as a solution to the AIDS epidemic. That's because a few years back he called me a child molester when I told him I was gay, and then wished me dead, hoping that I'd "get brain cancer like Ted Kennedy," who'd recently passed away.

Anderson is the embodiment of hate and makes the late Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church look like Ghandi. He's much more dangerous because Anderson has an actual congregation -- not just a cultish family -- called the Faithful Word Baptist Church, in Tempe, Arizona. They are a group of extremists who come to an office space in a strip mall in Tempe -- the site of the "church" -- to hear Anderson spew his venom and follow his commands, and that's surely one reason why the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) labeled the church a hate group.

Back in 2009, Anderson gave a sermon titled, "Why I Hate Barack Obama," in which he prayed for the death of President Obama. "God hates Barack Obama," he told his congregation. "I hate Barack Obama." This was on the eve of the president's visit to the area, and while Anderson noted that several of his congregants would be going, he couldn't make it. A few days later it was reported that Christopher Broughton, a man who brought his loaded AR-15 rifle to Obama's speaking event outside Phoenix, was one of Anderson's followers, who attended that sermon the day before.

In the same sermon Anderson attacked "sodomites" and called for the execution of gays back then too. I invited him on my radio program at the time, not just to try to understand this lunacy and challenge him on it; I think we need to expose people like Anderson, so the world can see their hate and be made aware of their dangerous rhetoric. He told me he wouldn't consider an individual a "murderer" if he or she shot the president, and then talked about his belief that gays should be executed. He claimed that "homosexuals infiltrate church and molest kids." When I told him I was gay and didn't molest children, he said I certainly was molesting children and called me a liar. I asked if he would then pray that I'd die too. He answered, "If you're a homosexual I hope you get brain cancer like Ted Kennedy." (You can watch the video clip below.)

A lot of people think people like Anderson should be ignored. But when there's an audience listening to him, following his twisted and violence-inciting rants, I believe quite the contrary: People like Anderson should be monitored by groups like SPLC and should be kept under a floodlight, so that he knows the whole world is watching. And it's also great when we can take someone like this and turn his hate into something good and powerful. That's what the organizers of Planting Peace, who've taken on Westboro Baptist church, are doing. They're using Anderson's rant as an opportunity to raise money and awareness about HIV and AIDS, and sending a lump of coal to Anderson for every donation they get. Here's hoping that the postal service will be hauling truckloads of coal to Tempe this Christmas.

10 Hours of Catcalling Straight Men in NYC as a Gay Man: How to Get Fag-Bashed

Michelangelo Signorile   |   November 20, 2014    2:06 PM ET

The reactions to "10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman," the recent viral video from the anti-street-harassment group Hollaback, have run the gamut from angry and mocking to inspired and supportive, and some are fascinating. In case you missed the video, which has received almost 37 million views since it was posted to YouTube on Oct. 28, it shows a woman walking through various New York City neighborhoods while enduring constant attempts by men to get her attention by making various comments, documenting "100+ instances of verbal street harassment." It has spawned a slew of parody videos as well as countless vlog and blog responses.

The video was rightly criticized for showing mostly men of color harassing the woman, many of them sitting in chairs on the street as if they have nothing to do but harass women. (Hollaback later apologized for editing out many of the white men who'd engaged in the same behavior, calling it "unintended racial bias.") Some women on YouTube responded that most of what Hollaback viewed as harassment they themselves viewed as compliments, like "Nice!" and "Hey, beautiful!" or as benign greetings, such as "Have a good morning." One parody video trivialized the Hollaback video by showing a straight male model in a tight T-shirt walking for three hours, getting catcalls from both women and men, smiling and clearly not seeing any of this as harassment. A popular YouTube prankster made what seemed like an earnest attempt to expose homophobia on the streets of New York by walking for three hours "as a homosexual" -- in orange pants and holding a Victoria's Secret bag -- and was called a "faggot" quite a few times, logging "50+ instances of verbal harassment."

Many of the responses, however, didn't get the point that context and history matter. When straight men are "complimenting" women on their bodies while they're walking down the street, or throwing homophobic slurs at gay men doing the same thing, it represents a potential threat of violence in a way that a woman or a gay man "complimenting" a straight man walking down the street simply doesn't, because the latter doesn't carry a history of women raping men or of gay men "straight-bashing" heterosexual men.

That important fact was completely lost in the angrier response videos by straight men, some of which went viral, like this one, in which women are told that by wearing tight jeans they are simply inviting men to comment and should stop whining and enjoy what they're asking for. One man compares the Hollaback video with another spin-off, "10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman in Hijab," and concludes that since the woman in hijab received no catcalls, this is all simply about how women dress. If women don't want catcalls, he reasons, they should just dress "modestly," even joking that they should don burqas. "You're not expecting for men, which are hardwired, to notice these things?" he asks rhetorically. The implication, of course, is that men are so "hardwired" this way that they can't help but verbalize what they "notice."

But if catcalling is just about how men are "hardwired" and therefore should be accepted, surely straight men should have no problem with gay men paying them compliments on their bodies and offering greetings on the street, right? Wrong. I don't even have to make the video to know what would happen if I walked the city for even one hour telling straight men that they're hot while smiling and greeting them. Imagine that I walked the city -- and, to avoid the sort of criticism that the Hollaback video received, let's choose the whitest neighborhoods -- saying to random straight men what men say to the woman in the Hollaback video: "What's up, beautiful? Have a good day"; "Sexy"; "Hey, baby"; "Smile"; "Someone's acknowledging you for being beautiful. You should say 'thank you' more"; and even just "How are you doing today?" And let's say I made these comments to straight men while they were in front of other straight men, their buddies or work colleagues, for example. How likely is it that I would get punched in the face, spit on, chased down the street or, at the very least, called a "faggot" or a "queer"? Even many straight men who wouldn't react violently or hurl a slur -- which, I want to believe, would be most -- would feel uncomfortable, objectified and embarrassed.

That exposes the fallacy of men who say that they're "just being men" when greeting women on the street, and that these are simply compliments that women should accept -- because they surely wouldn't accept men "just being men" when the men in question are gay. It reveals that catcalling isn't about giving compliments to women but about straight men retaining the privilege to demand that women pay attention to them, even if it means making women feel uncomfortable or annoyed as they're heading to work or school, including with a comment as seemingly innocuous as "Nice!" or "Smile." That demand is the essence of harassment.

Bizarro Election 2014: When Homophobes Backed Gay-Equality Supporters and Vice Versa

Michelangelo Signorile   |   November 13, 2014   12:33 PM ET

In 2014 hedge-fund billionaire Paul Singer backed some of the most anti-gay politicians -- and defeated others committed to full LGBT equality -- by pouring millions into super PACS and the Republican Governor's Association.

He helped anti-gay, personhood-amendment-backing Joni Ernst win a U.S. Senate seat in Iowa. He aided the kooky anti-gay extremist Paul LePage (who's obsessed with sodomy and Vaseline and once said President Obama "hates white people") in winning reelection as governor of Maine, sinking the near win of U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine), who would have become the first openly gay man elected as a governor in the United States. Singer helped defeat Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, who signed a gay-marriage bill into law. And he backed Shelley Moore Capito in West Virginia, Cory Gardner in Colorado and other anti-gay right-wingers who helped the GOP take the Senate. They will no doubt join Ted Cruz as he further stokes anti-gay sentiments (he's pushing another marriage amendment) and rails about how "religious liberties" are under assault by gays while he seeks a possible presidential run.

But Paul Singer considers himself pro-gay. He's characterized as such in puffy media stories (which mention none of his support of anti-gay candidates) that conveniently dovetailed with the GOP leadership's desire to make the party seem more inclusive. "GOP super PAC plans gay-rights push this fall," ran the headline in USA Today. The Washington Post headline read, "Meet the billionaire hedge fund manager quietly shaping the GOP gay marriage debate." In these stories Singer is portrayed as elusive (only answering questions by email for the Washington Post), but the reporters get the scoop to tell us how he created a PAC that would be backing the very few GOP candidates who already support gay marriage. Singer's PAC got behind Carl DeMaio, the openly gay GOP congressional candidate now infamous for allegedly masturbating in front of more than one staffer (and was reviled in the gay community in San Diego, having not spoken out against Prop 8 in years past), and openly gay GOPer Richard Tisei in Massachusetts.

Both were of course running in districts in very blue states where Democrats held the seat, and these gay candidates would both help expand the GOP majority and put some gay face on a not-so-gay-friendly Republican Party. Their first vote would be for the majority leader John Boehner, who won't let a vote happen on any legislation to protect LGBT people. Both of them thankfully lost.

But in the bizarro election of 2014, the viciously anti-gay National Organization for Marriage (NOM) actually supported DeMaio's and Tisei's progressive, gay-friendly Democratic opponents. The group even took credit on its website for helping defeat the two gay GOPers. In the Massachusetts race, NOM endorsed Seth Moulton, a progressive Democrat and former Marine who was mentored by the late, openly gay Harvard chaplain Peter Gomes and was a candidate who proudly stated that his brother is gay and deserves full equality. (Moulton had beaten long-time Democratic incumbent John Tierney in the Democratic primary; for the record, he vehemently rejected NOM's endorsement, as he should have.) And NOM's Brian Brown robocalled voters in San Diego urging them to vote for pro-gay U.S. Rep. Scott Peters (D-California) over DeMaio.

This seemed bonkers (and was pretty desperate), but NOM and other radical-right groups like the Family Research Council (FRC) have their priorities. They want to show the GOP that they will help defeat any Republican candidate who veers from the evangelical right's agenda on gay marriage, abortion and a number of other issues. Conversely, NOM and FRC heralded the election of Ernst and Gardner, and, according to exit polling, despite the fact that the GOP concealed the extremism of these two and others for the general election, religious conservatives did turn out to vote for them, secure in the understanding that they will deliver for them.

Paul Singer is showing where his priorities lie too. In Marc Solomon's fast-paced and informative new history of the marriage-equality movement, Winning Marriage: The Inside Story of How Same-Sex Couples Took on the Politicians and Pundits -- and Won, Singer is described as being moved by looking through his gay son's wedding album, and in 2011 he put his heart into helping pass marriage equality in New York, where his influence and money helped convince four Republicans in the New York State Senate to join all but one of the Democrats in passing the bill that Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed. Singer has given millions to groups like the Human Rights Campaign and Freedom to Marry, the group for which Solomon is National Campaign Director.

But here he is helping the corporate-friendly GOP take control of the U.S. Senate even if that means electing social conservatives who will try to halt further rights for LGBT people and attempt to strip those gained. In this wave election, more Republicans were elected to state legislatures than at any time since the 1920s, something that will have a dramatic effect on state legislation and on congressional redistricting for a long time to come.

Already we're seeing bills like the proposed constitutional amendment introduced in Texas that would allow businesses to discriminate against LGBT people based on their owners' religious beliefs. Again, don't think Ted Cruz, joined by Ernst, Gardner and others, won't push such bills at the federal level, while we can forget about any pro-gay legislation getting a vote. In the bizarro election of 2014, where anti-gay NOM backed pro-gay candidates, pro-gay Paul Singer helped create this new reality.

Meet The First Openly Gay Man Elected To Idaho's House Of Representatives

Michelangelo Signorile   |   November 9, 2014   10:19 AM ET

While Election Day brought bad news for many Democrats, there was a big win for LGBT equality in the deeply red state of Idaho. Democrat John McCrositie became the first openly gay man elected to Idaho’s House of Representatives, and became only the second openly gay, lesbian or bisexual elected official in the state, after openly lesbian Nicole LeFavour had been elected in 2008 and served until 2012.

“I had to decide for myself,” the longtime schoolteacher said in an interview with me on SiriusXM Progress, regarding the moment when the opportunity presented itself for him to run in Boise’s 16th district. “I want to represent education in our state legislature. But the reality of life is, I’m a gay man. And people are going to find out that I’m gay. I can either run with integrity and let people know, ‘Yep I’m gay.’ Or I can lose that integrity.”

It’s a bit of a transition for McCrostie, going from teaching band, choir and guitar to middle and high school students, to the public life of a politician. But education and the economy were issues he was becoming passionate about politically, he said, and he knew he could also use the platform to speak out for LGBT equality.

He’s been doing just that since he announced in 2013 that he’d be running for the Democratic primary, which he won last May. McCrostie publicly supported the "Add the Words" protests that rocked the legislature earlier this year, when many were arrested in acts of civil disobedience while demanding the addition of sexual orientation and gender identity to Idaho’s human rights protections. And he criticized Governor Butch Otter as the GOP governor vowed to fight the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that brought marriage equality to Idaho last month.

McCrostie didn’t have a moment when he “came out” as a budding politician, he said, but rather has been out all along.

“The people in the community know me,” he said. “They know my partner, currently my husband, as of December of last year, according to Hawaii standards -- according to Idaho standards, as of October 15, once the Supreme Court denied the second stay [of the 9th Circuit's ruling].”

Still, his being gay, refreshingly, has been such a non-issue in his Boise race that even some gay people didn’t always know he was gay.

“I even had a fundraiser recently at our local gay bar, and I was talking to some folks and they said, ‘You know John, I’m so happy to have a candidate that is so gay-friendly,’” he recounted. “And I told him right there, ‘You know, I’m about as gay-friendly as they come. And you can take the "friendly" off.'"

Listen to the interview below:

What Makes Men 'Gay'?

Michelangelo Signorile   |   November 3, 2014   12:32 PM ET

David and Jason Benham aren't gay. Each is married (to a woman), and they have nine children between them. In fact, the twin brothers lost their HGTV reality show, Flip It Forward, last April, before it even got off the ground, after videos and audio surfaced on Right Wing Watch showing David Benham condemning homosexuality as "demonic" and revealing that both brothers had led a prayer rally against "homosexuality and and its agenda." They are the sons of Flip Benham, who heads Operation Save America (which split off from the militant anti-abortion group Operation Rescue) and has stood in front of mosques yelling, "Jesus hates Muslims." And there they were at the Family Research Council's anti-gay "I Stand Sunday" rally in Houston yesterday, cavorting with Mike Huckabee.

Yet when the Benham brothers were hired for the HGTV show, their buff, chiseled looks, their sense of style and their flair for design couldn't have been lost on HGTV producers, who certainly know their audience includes lots of gay men who would be glued to their TVs watching these men charmingly buy fixer-upper homes and transform them. Interestingly, after the reports of their anti-gay activities surfaced and HGTV killed the show, the gaydar of many a gay blogger went off when they witnessed the pristinely groomed North Carolina brothers in their pastel-colored dress shirts defending themselves on CNN, or when they saw other photos of them in their just-a-bit-too-perfectly-styled T-shirts and baseball caps, looking like they were headed to the gay bar down the street. Americablog's John Aravosis noted they were dressing "as gay as possible" and commented on their "perfectly-coiffed" hair.

I recently interviewed the Benham brothers at the Values Voter Summit, the annual convention of religious political activists hosted by the Family Research Council. They were making the rounds along with others whom religious-right leaders claim have been targets of supposed attacks on religious freedom. (The Benhams, by the way, completely accept that HGTV, in canceling their show, made a business decision within the free market, and they bear no grudge against the network -- which is a bit refreshing compared with others who've been cast as "victims" of supposed attacks on their religious beliefs.) They're affable, and, if I didn't know better, I'd say they're a bit flirty. As I began to interview them, the first thing they did was comment on my outfit, both men running their fingers along my sports jacket. "Man, this guy is sharp," one of them said. "Look at this guy! I like this guy." (Listen to the audio below.) Honestly, had I not known anything about them and the controversy, I'd have thought I'd just met a pair of gay twins -- that is, until seconds later, when, with gleaming smiles on their faces, they quoted Bible verses, warned of the "depth of depravity" to which the culture has sunk and explained how "Satan has chosen homosexuality to slap an agenda over." (I should point out that I don't believe they knew I'm gay or knew anything about my background as a journalist, though of course my name and affiliation were made clear to them.) Then, at the end of the interview, they once again were commenting on my clothes. "Thank you," one of them said. "We loved it. You're a sharp guy."

Later, I ran into them again, with one of them greeting me with, "Hey, stud," and I posed for a photo with them:


A few minutes after that, I passed the other one (I apologize for confusing them and not knowing which was which by name) as he was giving a radio interview, and he winked at me, Sarah Palin-style, flashing a bright smile.

All of this had me asking myself: What makes men "gay"? Of course, I don't mean what makes people actually homosexual, biologically, or what inspires them to desire gay sex. Rather, what makes men appear "gay" within popular culture and thought to be gay even by gay men themselves? And how has that changed? At the time that the Benham brothers' show was canceled, The New Yorker ran a satirical piece by Sarah Miller headlined, "HGTV Was Worried Audience Might Think Benham Brothers Were Gay." It included a photo of them in their tight T-shirts and fictional quotations from a fictional HGTV executive:

"We have decided to cancel 'Flip It Forward' because David and Jason Benham just look so incredibly gay," said Chip Fordew, an HGTV spokesperson. "Plus, they look like they're together. And, by together, I mean that they have sex, trade off turns on the Pec Deck, go to Tulum at Christmas, and are adopting a baby."

The Benham brothers have attributes and just a general vibe that, for years, have translated as "gay." But obviously there are a lot of straight men, even homophobes, who now exhibit these characteristics, seemingly free to act on their creative instincts, more comfortable about it -- precisely because of the queer movement's challenge to conventional ideas about masculinity. Some of these men might be bisexual, openly or not. But a few years ago straight men who were something like this were labeled with the (dreadful) term "metrosexual," except metrosexuals were straight guys who were secure in being fashionable in part because they completely accepted homosexuality and supported gay rights. The Benhams decidedly do not.

So have gay men actually liberated many straight men to the point that they can appropriate "gayness" even while still being virulently anti-gay? And is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Pastor Who Will Keep Ordination After Performing Gay Marriage: 'I Will Never Be Silent Again'

Michelangelo Signorile   |   October 29, 2014    2:30 PM ET

The Rev. Frank Schaefer was jubilant yesterday, discussing what’s been dubbed his “refrocking" in the United Methodist Church (UMC), calling it a “huge” decision for LGBT rights.

The UMC’s Judicial Council ruled this week that he would continue to be an ordained minister in the church, overruling a Pennsylvania church jury that had defrocked him in 2013 after he’d both officiated over his son’s same-sex wedding several years earlier and refused to promise that he would not perform same-sex marriages in the future.

“It was a very technical argument, and some argue that I got off on a technicality,” he said about the decision, which didn’t change church doctrine opposed to gay marriage. The church’s high court rather overruled the jury decision, it stated, because the penalty was wrongfully handed down for a violation not yet committed. Schaefer had been given a 30-day suspension for officiating over his son’s wedding, but the Judicial Council said he could not be penalized further, with defrocking, for the possibility of a future violation.

However technical the decision, Shaefer believes it was a big step forward.

“Yesterday’s decision, I felt like, wow, now I got my day in court,” he said in an interview with me on SiriusXM Progress. “Justice was recognized and done in an LGBTQ case and it’s huge. To me, it’s a very, very huge decision.”

Schaefer, who was transferred from his conservative congregation in Eastern Pennsylvania to one in California in July, said he will not back down on speaking out for equality for LGBT people in the church, including marriage equality.

“One of the things I vowed during this whole period was that I will never be silent again," he said. “I will continue to be a voice and one of the things we encourage all pastors to do is declare that they will be willing to perform a same-sex marriage if they are asked to do that. We call that the 'open altar' action. And so, we are working toward all kinds of strategies, and plan all kinds of strategies for our General Conference in 2016...I am hoping and praying that something will change at that conference, because if it doesn’t I fear that a schism might be a real possibility.”

Be sure to check out Shaefer's book, Defrocked: How A Father's Act of Love Shook the United Methodist Church, here.

Attorney Who Scored Historic Gay Marriage Win Discusses Her Next Big Groundbreaking Move

Michelangelo Signorile   |   October 25, 2014    9:00 AM ET

Attorney Roberta Kaplan, who represented Edie Windsor in the landmark case, United States v. Windsor, which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, filed suit this week in federal court in Jackson to overturn Mississippi’s ban on same-sex marriage on behalf of two lesbian couples: Rebecca "Becky" Bickett and Andrea Sanders of Harrison County; and Jocelyn "Joce" Pritchett and Carla Webb of Jackson, who married in Maine in 2013. Kaplan noted that Mississippi has the highest percentage of gay couples with children, and that was one of the reasons why she thought it was an important case to take.

”They said, 'We need rights. We need to have our families protected the way other families are,'” she told me in an interview on SiriusXM Progress. “I agreed with them. I agreed it was the right time and we put a case together pretty quickly.”

The case has been fast-tracked by U.S. District Court Judge Carlton W. Reeves, an appointee of President Obama, who scheduled a hearing for November 12. The LGBT rights group Campaign for Southern Equality is also a plaintiff, and the plaintiffs are also represented by Mississippi attorney Robert McDuff of McDuff & Byrd, based in Jackson.

“We asked the court to kind of, on a very expedited schedule, decide that our clients were right and give them the right to marry at the very beginning of the case,” Kaplan explained. “And I have to say, writing the brief — I’m a bit of legal geek, so writing briefs for me is fun, which, already, I admit, is somewhat strange — but writing this brief was one of the best experiences of my life. [That’s] because the entire case just quotes case after post-Windsor case, just making the argument over and over and over again for why we’re right. Normally in a brief you have to analogize to other situations as to why you’re right. Here, we didn’t have to analogize. We have 40-plus decisions already deciding exactly the same thing.”

Kaplan also weighed in on the U.S. Supreme Court’s momentous decision nearly three weeks ago -- what she called its "non-decision decision" -- to let several circuit court decisions stand, bringing marriage equality to many more states but obviously not stepping in to rule on marriage equality for all 50 states, as some had hoped and expected. She referred to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s statements of a few weeks before, in which Ginsburg said the court would likely wait until a circuit court ruled against gay marriage before it stepped in. Ginsburg's remarks seemed to reflect the take-it-slow approach she has telegraphed on the issue in the past.

"Along with [the late Justice] Thurgood Marshall, Justice Ginsburg was one of the greatest strategic litigators of our country’s history,” Kaplan said.“When [Justice Ginsburg] says, ‘You know, you guys should take your victories, and let it happen,’ you know, call me crazy. But I listen very carefully to Justice Ginsburg, and I tend to take her advice.”

What's the Probability That Michael Sam Was Cut Because He's Gay, Really?

Michelangelo Signorile   |   October 24, 2014   12:09 PM ET

I've seen a little too much insistence this week, online and on social media, that Michael Sam's being cut from the Dallas Cowboys' practice squad had nothing to do with his being gay. It's a bit overwrought and defensive. A lot of fans seem to want to believe the NFL is not a homophobic institution, and that the Sam story somehow proved it: The NFL gave a shot to the first openly gay player ever drafted and treated him well, and his fate was based on his performance, and that's that.

But Michael Sam's being gay has been so much a part of this story from the moment he came out, with anonymous NFL executives saying he wouldn't be accepted, and some commentators and even some players making anti-gay remarks, right up through his late-round drafting and beyond. Can anyone really say for sure whether or not his being gay had anything to do with his being cut?

As both Outsports' Jim Buzinski and WCBS sports radio host Jared Max point out, there are no other openly gay players in the NFL right now, and if the NBA's Jason Collins indeed retires soon, as many commentators are predicting, there will be no openly gay player in any of the four major sports leagues. That's not exactly a sign of acceptance. Add to this the fact that the NFL has given minor or no penalties to players like the San Francisco 49ers' Chris Culliver after homophobic incidents. It also stood by the hiring of anti-gay former New York Giant David Tyree -- who worked to stop marriage equality, adheres to an extremist anti-gay ideology and has expressed the belief that gays can be made straight -- as the New York Giants' director of player development.

So it can't be ruled out that Michael Sam was cut because he's gay, not with the NFL's record. People can point to Sam's performance at this or that juncture, but that's been countered by pointing to other players who've performed similarly and have done just fine. Buzinski notes, looking at the chronology of events, that it was all quite suspicious:

Sam was the SEC co-defensive player of the year in 2013. Yet he was drafted in the seventh round, 249 out of 256 players selected. That's three rounds and 124 players later than what bookies set his draft order at. It's also by far the lowest any SEC defensive player of the year had been drafted in at least a decade. ...

With the draft winding down, I have always suspected that the league made calls to St. Louis to encourage/cajole/plead with the Rams to take Sam. ... Sam not being drafted would have been a huge embarrassment to the league and set back its efforts to appear more inclusive of gays.

After former voach Tony Dungy called Sam a "distraction" and said he'd have stayed away from picking him, Sam seemed to become even more of a hot potato. The Rams chose not to keep him, which seemed like a football decision, since he wasn't what they needed. But the fact that he wasn't immediately chosen by another team was "unprecedented," according to Michael Freeman of the Bleacher Report:

It can't be stressed enough how Sam not being signed despite a productive preseason is almost unprecedented. In my two decades of covering the NFL, it isn't just rare; it's basically unheard of for a player to not make the league after playing well in the preseason.

And Adam Schefter of ESPN tweeted:

NFL insider Peter King, of and NBC, reported that the Cowboys finally took Sam for the practice squad after "a league official contacted multiple teams asking if they'd evaluated Sam," and that the NFL "avoided a nightmare situation" when the Cowboys signed him. (The NFL denied King's claim.) Then, a month and a half later, he was cut, almost unnoticed, while the country was focused on Ebola, the attack on the Canadian Parliament and other pressing concerns.

Again, any of the individual actions can be explained away as a football decision. But when you add it all up and throw in the NFL's past and current disregard for homophobia (in incidents and hiring), it's impossible to escape the very real probability that Sam's being gay was a factor that determined his fate. And Jim Buzinski is right when he says it will give any other player pause about coming out, which may be exactly what the NFL wanted.