Change in passport language is boon to gay rights activists

Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Riding the momentum from the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," and the State Department's adoption of more gender-neutral language on passport applications, gay rights activists are pressing for more changes to federal policies that they say are unfavorable to gay Americans.

The State Department's change - unveiled quietly in late December and widely reported last weekend - arrived the same day that President Obama signed legislation ending the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

Amid the news reports and potential political backlash from conservatives, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pulled back Saturday, deciding that the forms required for first-time passport applicants younger than 16 will retain "Mother" and "Father," but ask instead for the names of a child's "Mother or Parent 1" and "Father or Parent 2." The "parent" reference is seen by gay rights groups as a more gender-neutral reference for same-sex parents.

"The government is finally recognizing the reality that many children are being raised by same-sex parents," said Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, a group that helped push for the change. "This is just one form, but there are hundreds of government forms that need to be changed to reflect the realities of the modern family."

The tweak to passport application forms means gay rights organizations can cross another item off a list of proposed changes - called a "Blueprint for Positive Change" by some groups - presented to Obama aides during the 2008 presidential transition. The "Blueprint" changes could be made through executive order, without congressional approval, gay rights activists say.

Gay rights leaders also want to see "Parent 1" and "Parent 2" on other federal health and housing forms, changes that would be "nothing more than the recognition of reality," said Fred Sainz, vice president of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights organization close to the Obama White House.

After intense lobbying by gay rights groups, the administration is studying the impact of housing discrimination against gays and lesbians and planning to count same-sex marriages in the 2020 Census. The administration is also pushing for legislation that grants full benefits to the same-sex partners of gay federal employees after extending some fringe benefits to them.

The Pentagon is also moving fast to dismantle "don't ask, don't tell."

Several other "Blueprint" items remain: Advocates want the Federal Emergency Management Agency to ensure appropriate protections to gay and lesbian people and their children during disaster relief efforts, and are calling on the Transportation Security Administration to draft nondiscriminatory policies addressing the treatment of transgender air passengers.

The passport changes simply reflect "recognition of different types of families," the State Department said.

But Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, called the changes "clearly designed to advance the causes of same-sex 'marriage' and homosexual parenting without statutory authority." He called on Congress to intervene.

"I don't think this is the kind of decision that makes or breaks a civilization, but I don't want to underestimate what it means symbolically," said Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a popular evangelical commentator. "It's further evidence of the loss of a commitment to the natural family that will come with very serious consequences for the culture."

"There are relationships that are immediately implied by mother and father that aren't implied by Parent 1 and Parent 2," he said. "It's not just a change to more bureaucratic language, it's a redefinition of the relationship."

The nation remains divided on the issue of gay rights: 40 percent of respondents described themselves as a "gay rights supporter" in a June survey by the Pew Research Center. Fifty-six percent of voters said homosexuality is a way of life that should be accepted; 33 percent said it should be discouraged, according to a November poll by Democracy Corps. Support for homosexuality has climbed steadily since the 1990s, according to several surveys.

Polling analyst Peyton M. Craighill contributed to this report.

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