PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Can Design Save Democracy?

Proposed AIGA ballot design

The AIGA, a consortium of graphic artists, thinks it just might.

In order to avoid the sort of poor election ballot design that plagued the 2000 election — remember butterfly ballots and hanging chads? — the AIGA has proposed several changes that would make ballots much easier for voters to figure out. (To say nothing of prettier.)

The New York Times has a great interactive look at the problems the AIGA sees in current ballot designs and what their ideal ballot would look like. (The picture on the right offers a glimpse.)

Of course, in addition to better ballots, voters also need to know their rights at the polls and what they need to bring with them. (Think ID!) Click here for People For's voting-rights toolkits.

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Kathleen Turner vs. Susan Collins

Sure, we've been saying for years that Senator Susan Collins's votes on the Roberts and Alito nominations show how shallow her commitment to choice really is. But when Kathleen Turner is saying it, it just sounds different. So, without further ado, Kathleen Turner calls Susan Collins out on choice. Enjoy.
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Kathleen Turner vs. Susan Collins

Sure, we've been saying for years that Senator Susan Collins's votes on the Roberts and Alito nominations show how shallow her commitment to choice really is. But when Kathleen Turner is saying it, it just sounds different. So, without further ado, Kathleen Turner calls Susan Collins out on choice. Enjoy.
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Yo, CNN! Progressives Have Values Too!

Did you watch last Saturday's presidential candidate forum at Rick Warren's Saddleback Church? The media coverage has made me want to scream, hey, progressives have values too! Fortunately, we're doing more than yelling about it. With your support, People For is putting progressive values to work around the country this year with:
  • a campaign to expose the threat to Americans' rights, safety, and health from a federal judiciary dominated by President Bush's judicial appointments;
  • activists striving to keep people from being unfairly turned away at the polls this November, a deeply moral undertaking given our nation's history on voting rights; and
  • People For the American Way Foundation is working with equality-affirming clergy in California to challenge homophobia in the church, and promote the value of treating everyone equally under the law.
It's great to be engaged in these great questions of our day. But back to that forum for a minute. I have no problem, of course, with candidates reaching out to religious voters like any constituency. But there are at least two things that make me uncomfortable about the Saddleback event and the way it's been covered by the media. I worry about the precedent that seems to have been set this year for presidential candidates to be grilled on the details of their faith by journalists and preachers. There's a blurry line between candidates talking genuinely about what grounds their outlook and policies, and having the race for the presidency turned into a forum on which candidate is the "right" kind of Christian. That's definitely not the American Way. People For's Right Wing Watch blog has done some excellent reporting on this. While Rick Warren may call Sen. Obama a friend, and encourage civil debate, there's no question in my mind that his questions were far "friendlier" to Sen. McCain. His forum delighted the Religious Right's "old guard." I'm also eager to challenge media coverage that buys into the Right's message that the only moral or values-based position on reproductive choice and gay equality is opposition to both. I happened to catch a piece on CNN on Monday in which BOTH interviewees — Religious Right leader Tony Perkins and a religious leader supporting Obama — spent much of the segment agreeing with each other about how Obama should water down his positions on choice. If CNN couldn't find a clergyperson to explain the moral underpinnings of choice, they didn't look very hard. We'll keep working to raise those voices. I think it's important for our leaders, in their eagerness to reach as many voters as possible, not to back down from defending core progressive values. Some of these are equality, free speech, religious liberty (not intolerance) and a willingness to fight against poverty and abuses of human rights. Another core value is a women's right to make the most personal decisions about her health and family. That's no less a "value" than John McCain's stated belief that life begins at conception — and his support for a constitutional amendment that would make all abortion illegal. The same goes for the value of marriage equality, which polls show is being embraced by a growing number of Americans, even as the Right pours all its energy into fighting it. I'm off to the Democratic Convention in Denver next week, in part to make sure that at least one party doesn't forget about progressives and OUR values. This work can be tiring and energizing at the same time — I'm sure I'll feel that way after a week at the convention! I'm looking forward to telling you about it. If you had the same reaction — or a different one — to the Saddleback forum, feel free to let me know at Kathryn@pfaw.org. And as always, thanks so much for your ongoing support.
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Olympic Fever at People For

The Olympics begin today -- with some very personal excitement at People For. David Banks, the son of Executive Vice President Marge Baker, is competing on the U.S. Olympic rowing team in Beijing. I know many of us will be up in the wee hours cheering for David and the team, and looking for a glimpse of Marge and her family in the crowd. This year, American viewers of the Olympics can expect to see a lot of ads for our presidential candidates, bringing our domestic politics more noticeably into an event that always strikes me as a complicated mix of internationalist spirit and patriotic rooting for the home team. And here in the U.S. we'll go pretty much straight from the Olympics into the political parties' nominating conventions and into the final sprint toward Election Day. All that has me feeling a sense of excitement -- and gratitude -- for the potential for progressive change achieved through the democratic process. As flawed as our election system is, as frustrated as the candidates will make us, as maddening as some of the campaign coverage will be, American voters have the opportunity to make a tremendous change in the leadership of our country -- and influence our future and the world's. The political Right has long tried to co-opt patriotism, and use it as a bludgeon against progressive candidates. But I hope those efforts have less and less effect in the wake of the very evident damage right-wing leadership has done to America. Of course we progressives are motivated by our love for this country and the freedom and power it grants its citizens, for our deep desire to see it be true to its highest ideals. Our patriotism leads us to reach for a better, more progressive America -- one that holds true to core values that have been sadly corrupted by the Bush administration. People for the American Way is dedicated to making the promise of America real for every American. Equality. Freedom of speech. Freedom of religion. The right to seek justice in a court of law. The right to cast a vote and have that vote count. That's the American Way! And thanks to pressure from People For members and allies, we're seeing a reassertion of checks and balances -- like the House Judiciary Committee voting recently to hold Karl Rove in contempt of Congress. So, I'm hopeful. In the coming weeks I'll be cheering for David and other athletes who represent the best of the American spirit. And I'll be working with all my colleagues to help ensure that our leaders are committed to the values we believe represent the best of American ideals. (To this end, People For has a petition out now urging Barack Obama to pick a progressive running mate).
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Olympic Fever at People For

The Olympics begin today -- with some very personal excitement at People For. David Banks, the son of Executive Vice President Marge Baker, is competing on the U.S. Olympic rowing team in Beijing. I know many of us will be up in the wee hours cheering for David and the team, and looking for a glimpse of Marge and her family in the crowd. This year, American viewers of the Olympics can expect to see a lot of ads for our presidential candidates, bringing our domestic politics more noticeably into an event that always strikes me as a complicated mix of internationalist spirit and patriotic rooting for the home team. And here in the U.S. we'll go pretty much straight from the Olympics into the political parties' nominating conventions and into the final sprint toward Election Day. All that has me feeling a sense of excitement -- and gratitude -- for the potential for progressive change achieved through the democratic process. As flawed as our election system is, as frustrated as the candidates will make us, as maddening as some of the campaign coverage will be, American voters have the opportunity to make a tremendous change in the leadership of our country -- and influence our future and the world's. The political Right has long tried to co-opt patriotism, and use it as a bludgeon against progressive candidates. But I hope those efforts have less and less effect in the wake of the very evident damage right-wing leadership has done to America. Of course we progressives are motivated by our love for this country and the freedom and power it grants its citizens, for our deep desire to see it be true to its highest ideals. Our patriotism leads us to reach for a better, more progressive America -- one that holds true to core values that have been sadly corrupted by the Bush administration. People for the American Way is dedicated to making the promise of America real for every American. Equality. Freedom of speech. Freedom of religion. The right to seek justice in a court of law. The right to cast a vote and have that vote count. That's the American Way! And thanks to pressure from People For members and allies, we're seeing a reassertion of checks and balances -- like the House Judiciary Committee voting recently to hold Karl Rove in contempt of Congress. So, I'm hopeful. In the coming weeks I'll be cheering for David and other athletes who represent the best of the American spirit. And I'll be working with all my colleagues to help ensure that our leaders are committed to the values we believe represent the best of American ideals. (To this end, People For has a petition out now urging Barack Obama to pick a progressive running mate).
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Matching the Right's Passion

This week gave me a sobering reminder of just how motivated and organized the Radical Right is. I think it's a real challenge to us to match their passion and commitment. On Wednesday, national and local Religious Right leaders convened a call of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pastors and activists at 215 locations in California, Florida and Arizona. Those are the three states with constitutional amendments banning marriage for same-sex couples on the ballot this year. They rallied their troops for what they describe as nothing less than warfare against "Satan." The call's main focus was Proposition 8 in California, which Watergate felon-turned-Religious Right organizer Chuck Colson called "the Armageddon of the culture war." The Right's rhetoric may be over the top but their field plan is sophisticated and extremely ambitious, with detailed plans for identifying their voters, get-out-the-vote campaigns, absentee balloting strategies, and massive rallies. Organizers said they had already raised $15 million of the $23 million they need to put their full plan into action, and national religious right organizers are planning to call for special offerings from conservative churches across the country. All this to invalidate legal same-sex marriages in California and prevent other committed gay and lesbian couples from being legally married — and having their commitment recognized and protected under the law like everyone else. I'm glad that People For and our foundation's Right Wing monitoring brings this kind of behind-the-scenes strategizing to light. You can read more about the extreme rhetoric and terrifying scale of the Right's planned operation in a memo on the call here. And I'm proud that we're working with our allies to defeat this attack on equality —and that People For the American Way Foundation has its own long-term education campaign working with African American pastors who are willing to take the lead in challenging homophobia in the black church — and to take the heat for doing it! Some of those leaders were in the office this week, and we're getting some high-energy inspiration from them. We're going to need it — because, take it from me, the Right is not dead, or even sleeping. And, in case you forgot that some of its ideologues are sitting in positions of great power, People For the American Way Foundation's recently published analysis of the Supreme Court's most recent term confirms that critical institution's drastic shift to the Right. We're also going to need your passion and energy to fight for the American Way. I hope I can count on you in the coming months so that, together, we can build a better, more just and equal America.
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Rededicating Ourselves to Human Dignity

I'm writing to you today from San Francisco, where it's been an energizing, thought-provoking week. Last night, Ambassador James Hormel, a member of People For's board, hosted an event at his home to help me get acquainted with some friends and People For supporters. Jim's commitment to public service has benefited San Francisco and the country in many ways, and he is an incredible asset to People For. Joining me was Rev. Kenneth Samuel, who is helping lead People For the American Way Foundation's efforts in California this year to create constructive conversation in black churches around discrimination and marriage equality. Also there were Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, who have inspired my life and work for many years: Del and Phyllis are legendary advocates for women and for equality, and were the first same-sex couple married in California this year. I had the great pleasure of presenting to them, in person, a beautiful book we created with the more than 8,000 congratulatory messages from People For members who signed our online "guest book" for their wedding. It was a delight to see their pleasure at so many warm wishes and the knowledge that People For will be working to defend their marriage against right-wing efforts to strip away their rights. Seeing Del also reminded me that earlier in my career, as an advocate for women and families experiencing domestic violence, I had learned much from her book on battered women. Violence against women is on my mind because it was one topic covered at a conference sponsored by the Tides Foundation earlier this week. Did you know that women serving in the military are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire? And I read earlier this year that doctors at the West Los Angeles VA Healthcare Center reported that 41% of female veterans seen at the clinic say they were victims of sexual assault while in the military, and 29% report being raped during their military service. Those numbers haunt me. The struggle to promote and protect equality and dignity for all people is a long one. In our country, the progress toward equality for women won by generations of struggle has not yet overcome entrenched resistance to equal opportunity (as Lilly Ledbetter found out at the hands of first her employer and then the Supreme Court). But that's just one reason why we need to rededicate ourselves to women's equality. Lawmakers continue to pass legislation restricting women's freedom. And anti-choice activists are rallying to Sen. John McCain's campaign based on his hardcore anti-choice voting record and his pledge to appoint the kind of Supreme Court justices who will abolish a woman's constitutional right to choose. We're working to make sure people understand that record, just as we're fighting to get Congress to fix the Court's twisted reading of civil rights law that made it impossible for Lilly Ledbetter to get justice after being discriminated against for so many years. Next week I'll be back in Washington after ten days on the road. I look forward, as always, to hearing from you (Kathryn@pfaw.org).
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Fourth Circuit Victory For Religious Liberty

If you read my post back in March after the oral argument before the Fourth Circuit in Turner v. City Council of Fredericksburg, Virginia, you know that it was quite an honor to have had retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the three-judge panel. And now Justice O’Connor has written the court’s opinion in the case, a July 23 unanimous decision in favor of our client, the Fredericksburg City Council.

As I’ve reported previously, the Council has been sued by one of its own members, Rev. Hashmel Turner, who claims that he has the constitutional right to deliver a prayer in the name of Jesus as the official Council prayer to start Council meetings. Never mind that this would make the non-Christian residents of Fredericksburg feel like second-class citizens when they attend Council meetings. Rev. Turner, who is represented in this case by the religious right Rutherford Institute, also claims that the Council’s policy requiring that its official opening prayers be nonsectarian (that is, not in the name of a specific deity) is unconstitutional. A federal district court judge soundly rejected those claims, and now the Fourth Circuit has rejected them as well.

As Justice O’Connor explained in the court’s opinion holding that the Council’s policy does not violate the Constitution, “[t]he restriction that prayers be nonsectarian in nature is designed to make the prayers accessible to people who come from a variety of backgrounds.” This does not mean, of course, that Rev. Turner’s own free speech or free exercise rights have been violated. To the contrary, as Justice O’Connor observed, Rev. Turner “remains free to pray on his own behalf, in nongovernmental endeavors, in the manner dictated by his conscience.”

Justice O’Connor’s opinion is a sound repudiation of the Rutherford Institute’s efforts to stand the First Amendment on its head. Unfortunately, it seems that the Institute is not listening; it has already announced that it will ask the Supreme Court to hear Rev. Turner’s case.

So stay tuned. In the meantime, I want to add my personal thanks to our co-counsel in this case, the very fine lawyers at Hunton & Williams.

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Staking Out Our Principles

A lot of my friends and colleagues — and political journalists and bloggers — have spent a good chunk of time this week debating whether or not Barack Obama is "shifting to the middle," or how much he is shifting, or whether it's politically necessary or smart or disastrous for him to do so. You and I might not answer those questions the same way, and could probably have great discussion over dinner or drinks. But I've been thinking more about a different set of questions. What should we expect -- or demand -- from progressive candidates in an election year? How can we most effectively advance our principles and mobilize our supporters to make a difference in these important public debates? I think the answers are clear, at least in the big picture. Our role is to stake out our principles, push public officials to do the right thing, and work to hold them accountable for their actions. We don't always win, and political wrangling sometimes blurs the lines, but I'll always try to keep us focused on advancing the American Way and protecting the civil rights and liberties we hold dear. This week, we were sorely disappointed that so many Democratic senators supported the White House-backed intelligence bill, which gave immunity to telecommunications companies who assisted the administration's illegal wiretapping and which left the door open to further abuse. We, our activists, and our allies pushed hard until the very end, and when many of the people we should have been able to count on voted the wrong way, we said so. Next year we will be pushing for a fix from the new Congress and President -- one more reminder that People For the American Way's work will be important no matter who gets elected. A few days earlier, Sen. Obama proposed a set of changes to President Bush's Office of Faith Based initiatives, which has been a practical and constitutional disaster. We took a careful look and commended changes that would strengthen constitutional principles the Bush administration has undermined. But we also drew a clear line against direct funding for houses of worship — and we'll work before and after the election to make sure that any initiative respects core constitutional principles. This is going to be an exciting year, and I'm convinced that there will be many progressive victories. Along the way we'll have disagreements with each other, and with some of our friends and champions. My style is to be direct about those differences, and to work through them in ways that keep our eye on the big picture. Let me know what you think. I have loved hearing from so many of you in recent weeks. As always, you can reach me at Kathryn@pfaw.org.
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The Muppets Take Philadelphia

Happy Fourth of July! After a busy week traveling to Pittsburgh and San Francisco, talking to activists about the Supreme Court and to donors about People For's work, I'm using the long weekend to spend some much needed time with my family. I hope you too will have a happy and healthy Fourth of July! I heard from many of you in the last week in response to my Friday Note about George Carlin and Big Bird. Your ideas about how best to use culture to bring change to America were wonderful. I hope that in the coming months I will have the opportunity to talk with you more about the direction of our country and what People For can do to create an America that values religious liberty and free speech, a democracy where all our voices and votes count. When Norman Lear read last week's Note, he reminded me that in 1982, Big Bird, Martin Sheen and the Muppets participated in "I Love Liberty," a two-hour television special that Norman produced for People For the American Way. The Muppets do a wonderful reenactment of the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia, reminding us all that our nation's founders were a group of unruly rebels who stood up to tyranny. If you have a moment this weekend, watch this terrific blast from the past ... preferably with your children or grandchildren who might not yet know about our nation's rich history. You can watch the video on YouTube here. Today we celebrate the patriots who inspired their friends and neighbors, and launched an independent nation committed to justice and the rule of law. They remind us that with passion and principle on our side, we too can make a difference. As Margaret Mead said so well, "A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." Thanks for your support, and have a great holiday!
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The Power of Culture

What do seven dirty words, Big Bird and Archie Bunker have in common? George Carlin, the envelope-pushing, line-crossing comedian was probably most famous for "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television." That routine provoked countless conversations about censorship and the First Amendment, both before and after the Supreme Court upheld a Federal Communications Commission order against his "indecency." I didn't remember until reading his obituary that he had actually been arrested several times for delivering "Seven Words" in a show. Carlin was about far more than dirty words. He used his immense talents as a wordsmith and performer to simultaneously make listeners laugh and challenge them to look askance at the status quo in politics, culture and society. Carlin was scheduled to receive the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. this fall, and it's a great misfortune that we won't be able to see the ways that he undoubtedly had in mind to have the gala crowd squirming in their seats. Also in the news this week was the death of Kermit Love, a much lesser known name. Love was a costume designer who built Big Bird and other Sesame Street characters. The gentle, uplifting spirit of Sesame Street, so prized by generations of parents and children, is in many ways a stark contrast to Carlin's purposefully jarring routines. But Carlin and Big Bird both reminded me of the power of culture to shape our society. People For the American Way's founder Norman Lear has always understood the great ability of pop culture to puncture unexamined prejudice, to make people think, to point toward a higher ideal. That's one of the reasons I was so excited about taking this job. I would love to hear your ideas on ways we can creatively use culture to make social and political change — send me your thoughts at Kathryn@pfaw.org. One last thought about the week. Thursday was the fifth anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which overturned state sodomy laws. Reading our legal director's remembrance of that day reminded me how exciting it was to have the Court make a ringing defense of liberty — and reminded me what a huge difference it makes whether our top Court is friend or foe on individual rights. That is also why I'm here. And why I'm grateful that you are too.
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Five Years Later: Decriminalizing Gay People

Many people probably don’t recall much, if anything, about June 26, 2003, but I recall a great deal. That’s because it’s the day on which the Supreme Court issued one of its most important rulings in the area of individual rights and human dignity. In Lawrence v. Texas, a sharply divided Court struck down a Texas state law that prohibited consensual, private sex between adults of the same gender, a law that essentially made criminals out of gay men and lesbians. Five justices held that the law was an improper intrusion on the right to liberty guaranteed to everyone by the Constitution, effectively invalidating all state laws that invade the home to prohibit so-called sodomy.

Five years later, I can still recall vividly the absolute joy and elation that I felt learning that these pernicious laws were no more. The Court’s ruling meant not only that these laws could no longer be used to intrude into a realm of personal conduct in which government has no place, but also that they could no longer be cited to deny gay people jobs or participation in any other aspect of human endeavor on the ground of criminality.

Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion was a ringing endorsement of constitutional liberty. According to Justice Kennedy:

Liberty protects the person from unwarranted government intrusions into a dwelling or other private places. In our tradition the State is not omnipresent in the home. And there are other spheres of our lives and existence, outside the home, where the State should not be a dominant presence. Freedom extends beyond spatial bounds. Liberty presumes an autonomy of self that includes freedom of thought, belief, expression, and certain intimate conduct. The instant case involves liberty of the person both in its spatial and more transcendent dimensions.

As news of the Court’s decision unfolded, it was equally wonderful to learn that the five-justice majority had also overturned the Court’s 1986 ruling in Bowers v. Hardwick, in which the Court, by a vote of 5-4, had upheld a Georgia anti-sodomy law under which Michael Hardwick had been arrested for having had sex in his own home with another man. Bowers was a strikingly anti-gay decision in substance and language and, like Plessy v. Ferguson, a low point in Supreme Court history and an instance of the Court’s abject failure to protect the constitutional rights of minorities. Justice Kennedy, writing for the Court in Lawrence, soundly declared that Bowers “was not correct when it was decided, and it is not correct today. It ought not to remain binding precedent.”

One of my law school classmates was Michael Hardwick’s original attorney. I accompanied her to the Supreme Court that day in March 1986 when Bowers was argued, and I commiserated with her when that terrible ruling came down several months later. She was the first person I called after learning that Bowers had been overturned, and we shared a long-delayed moment of joy.

And so June 26, 2003 is a day that I remember quite well. But as significant as the Lawrence ruling was, I am mindful that four justices did not join Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who was part of the majority in Bowers (truly a low point in her judicial career as well), declined to join the majority in overruling that decision. She agreed, however, that the Texas “sodomy” law was unconstitutional, but only because it treated same-sex and opposite-sex couples differently.

Three justices dissented outright from the ruling in Lawrence: then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Scalia and Thomas are still on the bench today. The late Chief Justice Rehnquist has been replaced by the equally ultraconservative John Roberts, while Justice O’Connor has been replaced by the extreme right-wing Samuel Alito.

Counting the numbers, then, it’s very clear that the constitutional protection of the essential human dignity of gay men and lesbians is hanging by a slender thread on the Supreme Court. John McCain has praised Justice Scalia and has also promised to put more justices like Roberts and Alito on the Court, which should be a consideration for any voter who cares about gay rights and the future of the Supreme Court.

Cross-posted on The Huffington Post

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Five Years After Lawrence: Decriminalizing Gay People

Many people probably don’t recall much, if anything, about June 26, 2003, but I recall a great deal. That’s because it’s the day on which the Supreme Court issued one of its most important rulings in the area of individual rights and human dignity. In Lawrence v. Texas, a sharply divided Court struck down a Texas state law that prohibited consensual, private sex between adults of the same gender, a law that essentially made criminals out of gay men and lesbians. Five justices held that the law was an improper intrusion on the right to liberty guaranteed to everyone by the Constitution, effectively invalidating all state laws that invade the home to prohibit so-called sodomy.

Five years later, I can still recall vividly the absolute joy and elation that I felt learning that these pernicious laws were no more. The Court’s ruling meant not only that these laws could no longer be used to intrude into a realm of personal conduct in which government has no place, but also that they could no longer be cited to deny gay people jobs or participation in any other aspect of human endeavor on the ground of criminality.

Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion was a ringing endorsement of constitutional liberty. According to Justice Kennedy:

Liberty protects the person from unwarranted government intrusions into a dwelling or other private places. In our tradition the State is not omnipresent in the home. And there are other spheres of our lives and existence, outside the home, where the State should not be a dominant presence. Freedom extends beyond spatial bounds. Liberty presumes an autonomy of self that includes freedom of thought, belief, expression, and certain intimate conduct. The instant case involves liberty of the person both in its spatial and more transcendent dimensions.

As news of the Court’s decision unfolded, it was equally wonderful to learn that the five-justice majority had also overturned the Court’s 1986 ruling in Bowers v. Hardwick, in which the Court, by a vote of 5-4, had upheld a Georgia anti-sodomy law under which Michael Hardwick had been arrested for having had sex in his own home with another man. Bowers was a strikingly anti-gay decision in substance and language and, like Plessy v. Ferguson, a low point in Supreme Court history and an instance of the Court’s abject failure to protect the constitutional rights of minorities. Justice Kennedy, writing for the Court in Lawrence, soundly declared that Bowers "was not correct when it was decided, and it is not correct today. It ought not to remain binding precedent."

One of my law school classmates was Michael Hardwick’s original attorney. I accompanied her to the Supreme Court that day in March 1986 when Bowers was argued, and I commiserated with her when that terrible ruling came down several months later. She was the first person I called after learning that Bowers had been overturned, and we shared a long-delayed moment of joy.

And so June 26, 2003 is a day that I remember quite well. But as significant as the Lawrence ruling was, I am mindful that four justices did not join Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who was part of the majority in Bowers (truly a low point in her judicial career as well), declined to join the majority in overruling that decision. She agreed, however, that the Texas "sodomy" law was unconstitutional, but only because it treated same-sex and opposite-sex couples differently.

Three justices dissented outright from the ruling in Lawrence: then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Scalia and Thomas are still on the bench today. The late Chief Justice Rehnquist has been replaced by the equally ultraconservative John Roberts, while Justice O’Connor has been replaced by the extreme right-wing Samuel Alito.

Counting the numbers, then, it’s very clear that the constitutional protection of the essential human dignity of gay men and lesbians is hanging by a slender thread on the Supreme Court. John McCain has praised Justice Scalia and has also promised to put more justices like Roberts and Alito on the Court, which should be a consideration for any voter who cares about gay rights and the future of the Supreme Court.

Cross-posted on The Huffington Post

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History Being Made

It was an incredibly moving week for me. Couples in California who have been denied equality for so long began to get married — in weddings recognized by the largest state in the nation. It's one of those rare moments when we can actually recognize history as it's being made — both for the country and for the couples and families celebrating this week. As a long-time admirer of feminist and equal-rights pioneers Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, I love that so many people have signed our guestbook with heartfelt wishes for the two of them. They have been together for 55 years and were the first couple to be married on Monday evening. If you haven't done so, here's your last chance before we deliver our best wishes to them. This week's images were so positive, so reflective of what's best in our lives and communities, that it is jarring to be reminded that some people will stop at nothing to pull the rug out from under these couples. If you saw what comes across my desk every day, you'd understand that this is Armageddon for the Far Right. It's not just ridiculous end-of-civilization rhetoric. The Right knows how high the stakes are on this, and they fear the public is moving away from them on this issue. They know that if their ballot initiative to roll back equality fails, they will lose their ability to dismiss progress as the actions of a few rogue judges overriding the will of the people. So they are pulling out every lie in their heavy handbook. And they are pouring millions of dollars into their campaign to reverse the tide of history. Polls show that we can win in California — but it's going to be close and hard-fought. I'm proud and excited that People For is working shoulder to shoulder with so many allies to win this battle for people's hearts and minds. We're putting together a campaign in California that's going to make a real difference — something you'll be hearing a lot more about in the weeks and months to come. Making change is fun! Let's keep it up.
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