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Labor unions back Obama, marriage equality

UPDATE (May 14) — Since this story was originally posted May 10, more unions have announced their support for marriage equality, including UNITE HERE, the Association of Flight Attendants, the American Federation of Teachers, and of course, Pride @ Work. See statements from leaders of these unions.

In an historic announcement on Wednesday, President Barack Obama stated his unequivocal support of same-sex marriage. Over the weekend, delegates representing unions from across Washington state voted in support of Ref. 74 which, if it appears on this fall ballot, would affirm the state’s Marriage Equality Act legalizing same-sex marriage in this state.

When the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO first announced its support of the Marriage Equality Act, some wondered aloud why organized labor would take a stand on a polarizing social issue. WSLC President Jeff Johnson explained:

This past year has been one of great struggle for working people. Across the nation working people came together with community partners under the banner ‘We Are One’ to stand up for jobs and for social justice for all. We are stronger when we stand together as working people, and in this spirit of solidarity, the WSLC stands together with our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Brothers and Sisters in support of the Marriage Equality Act. There can never be true justice and equality, unless it applies to all of us.

The following, crossposted from Crooks and Liars, explains why this is such an important issue for trade unionists:

Major labor unions back Obama’s support for Marriage Equality

In the wake of President Barack Obama’s announced public support for marriage equality, a number of major labor unions have come out in support of the president’s position and equality for the LGBT community. This is a great development for a number of reasons. One, it’s a clear statement from unions that they recognize that LGBT families are working families, too. Two, it gives Obama strong public support on an issue that he is certain to be attacked on. Third, it is a good way to attract new people to the labor movement who might have otherwise not paid much attention to unions because they had other issues that were more important to them. If it is clear that unions support LGBT families — which it is — there is more reason for people to move out of issue silos, recognizing that they have allies they can work together with to improve everybody’s situation.

Communications Workers of America President Larry Cohen:

“The Communications Workers of America stands with the President and those who support equality and human rights. We oppose all discrimination and recognize the direct linkage between civil and workers’ rights, and the attempts to divide Americans based on these issues.

Nearly ten years ago, CWA convention delegates called for full and equal rights including civil marriage, pointing out that far too many benefits and protections of civil marriage are denied to people on the basis of sexual orientation. These often include health care and survivor benefits as well as other legal rights for partners. It’s time to move forward.”

Service Employees International Union President Mary Kay Henry:

“Earlier today, President Obama joined a host of faith, civil rights, business and political leaders who have publicly voiced their support of marriage equality. The president’s support comes at a critical moment as the rights of LGBT people are under legislative attack in Minnesota, New Jersey, North Carolina and elsewhere. The president understands what we do – marriage equality is about family, community, love and justice.

“Across this country, right-wing Republican politicians are seeking to divide us with attacks on immigrants, the middle class, women’s health, the environment and the LGBT community – but the growing numbers of Americans who believe in marriage equality reminds us that we cannot live up to our promise as a nation until we extend equal rights to all.

“To those who have chosen to stand on the wrong side of history, we say this: There is growing momentum for equality in this country. And with each American that believes in equality, we are reminded that the continued dream of equality is our birthright, our heritage and our promise.

“For anyone who counts equality among the basic tenets of a free and just America, Pres. Obama’s announcement today is a victory.”

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka:

Working people believe in equality and fairness and that’s why we are happy to stand with millions of Americans and with President Obama in supporting marriage equality.

LGBT working people face numerous inequities in the workplace and in society as they struggle to care for their families. Civil unions do not guarantee the 1,138 rights, benefits and responsibilities that are triggered by the word “marriage” under federal law.

Most important, we should respect and honor our friends, neighbors, and family members who want to take care of their families and their loved ones – whatever their sexual orientation. We are proud to come together for a more just America.

United Food and Commercial Workers President Joe Hansen:

“I commend President Obama for his support of marriage equality, and I’m proud to support him as he takes this historic stand.

“Marriage equality is an economic justice issue, and a social justice issue – and that makes it a union issue. In the UFCW, we have a long, proud history of standing up for fair and equal treatment for all workers – regardless of what they look like, where they come from, what language they speak, or who they love. These values are heartfelt. We work every day to fight discrimination and unfair treatment against LGBT people on the job. That’s why our union is a strong supporter of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) which would ensure justice in the workplace for LGBT workers. UFCW members have been negotiating equal health care coverage for same-sex couples into their union contracts all over the country for years. It’s the right thing to do, and the fair thing to do. I’m proud that the UFCW’s advocacy on behalf of families includes all families.”

AFSCME President Gerald W. McEntee:

“President Obama’s announcement today recognizes a fundamental American right – that every citizen is entitled to respect and dignity, and the equal protection of our laws. For too long, lesbian and gay Americans have been denied the right to marry the person they love, raise a family and live as equal citizens in our country. They are denied access to pension benefits, Social Security survivor benefits, family health and bereavement leave and family immigration rights. That discrimination harms all of us, not just LGBT Americans. We have an obligation to work to overturn unjust laws and amendments to state constitutions that codify prejudice and promote discrimination against fellow citizens. The President deserves praise for recognizing that this issue is about equality under the law and the right of all Americans to live their lives free from discrimination.”

► Also in today’s NY Times — President Obama’s moment (editorial) — In publicly affirming his support for marriage equality, the president took the moral high ground on what may be the civil rights struggle of our time.

More news coverage from this Washington:

► In today’s Olympian — Gregoire, Murray welcome Obama’s support of same-sex marriage — Says the governor: “As we know in Washington state, families are families and we cannot deny equal rights to committed, loving couples. Passing the marriage equality bill was among my proudest accomplishments. Today I’m equally proud of our President.”

► In today’s (Vancouver) Columbian — Obama’s support of same-sex marriage could have effect in Washington state — Some Southwest Washington Democratic leaders said Wednesday that they believe the president’s support for same-sex marriage will give oomph to the cause at the state level.

► In today’s Seattle Times — Where does Obama’s pivot leave Rob McKenna? — The Republican gubernatorial candidate previously said, “My position is the same as Barack Obama’s.”

EDITOR’S NOTE — Today, McKenna’s position is “no comment.” Or perhaps, “Go get a job,” depending what mood you catch him in. You can almost smell the frantic polling happening right now at the McKenna campaign.

CHECK OUT THE UNION DIFFERENCE in Washington: higher wages, affordable health and dental care, job and retirement security.

FIND OUT HOW TO JOIN TOGETHER with your co-workers to negotiate for better wages, benefits, and a voice at work. Or go ahead and contact a union organizer today!