Marriage Equality Lawsuit Filed in Alaska, Only Three State Bans Remain Unchallenged

It seems like the march toward marriage equality is making news every day. Just yesterday, May 12, Alaska became the latest state to take up the issue when a lawsuit was filed in federal court challenging the state constitution's ban on same-sex marriage, which dates back to 1998.

The plaintiffs' intent is plainly stated:

[R]estore to the Alaska Constitution the principles of due process, fairness, and equality, and to restore and affirm the civil liberties, individual rights, and personal dignities otherwise guaranteed by the Alaska Constitution to each and all of its citizens.

But it's their personal stories that really drive the message home:

Matthew Hamby and Christopher Shelden: They have experienced difficulties obtaining benefits, such as health insurance, extended by the State of Alaska to other married couples as a routine matter.

Susan Tow and Christina Laborde: The same-sex marriage ban complicates the process by which Christine could adopt the children.

Stephanie Pearson and Courtney Lamb: The couple lives in Anchorage and wishes to marry in Alaska because both feel that Alaska is their home and that they should be able to marry in their home state.

Sean Egan and David Robinson: Despite the fact that they were lawfully married in New York nearly three years ago and that even the United States Armed Forces now recognize them as married, extending to Sean the benefits available to military spouses, the State of Alaska does not recognize their marriage, and in the eyes of the State, they are legal strangers, their marriage void under state law.

Tracey Wiese and Katrina Cortez: Tracey moved to Alaska sixteen years ago and Katrina has lived in Alaska her entire life. Tracey works for Providence Medical Center and is a business owner. Katrina is a [self-employed] business owner. The couple has a three year old daughter together.

Yesterday's filing is great news for these couples and countless other Alaskans wishing to bring marriage equality to their state, but on this issue Alaska is not The Last Frontier – three states remain with unchallenged marriage bans.

Here's where we stand:

17 states and DC have legalized marriage for same-sex couples.

30 states without marriage equality have lawsuits pending.

3 states – Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota – have unchallenged bans, though a South Dakota challenge is expected soon.

Check out our website for more LGBT equality updates.

PFAW Foundation

PFAW Releases New Toolkit on Getting Money Out and Voters In to Our Democracy

Americans today face twin threats to the integrity of our elections. The threats are multifaceted and formidable, involving all branches of government at the local, state and federal level – from legislative bodies, to governorships, to courthouses. The aims are clear:

  • Manipulate the campaign finance system to get "the right people" elected.
  • Manipulate the balloting process to make it harder for "the wrong people" to vote.

These measures must be confronted. But we also need long-term proactive and pro-democracy strategies of our own.

The “Money Out, Voters In” campaign embodies this long-term vision premised on the concept of political equality, of one person = one vote.

We believe in a democratic system where all Americans have equal access to the voting booth and where all Americans, regardless of wealth, can express their views to one another and their government on a level playing field.

Through A Guide to Democratic Reform, a new toolkit released today by People For the American Way, we provide the structural framework for enacting this vision. We do not have all the answers, nor could we. We must embrace an evolution of ideas, tactics, and legislative language to achieve our goals. Yet, as the local, state, and federal initiatives cited herein show, much of that work is already well-underway.

Click here for information about critical allies and other resources.

PFAW

Call to action hopes to increase Native vote

With the nationwide attack on voting rights a regular topic of discussions these days, we must not forget that our democracy is strongest when all citizens participate – which is exactly what the National Congress of American Indians reminded us last month when it called for immediate action to empower Native voters.

Jefferson Keel, NCAI President:

In the next five months we have a great deal of work to do to ensure that our people are ready for the 2012 election.

Over the last century since securing our rightful place at the ballot box, Native people have remained one of the most disenfranchised group of voters in the United States. Today as a result, two out of every five eligible American Indian and Alaska Native voters are not registered to vote. In 2008 over 1 million eligible Native voters were unregistered. I think that Indian Country should consider this a civic emergency. We should all be concerned; American Indians and Alaska Natives, tribal, and state and federal governments.

Many obstacles – identification laws, purges of voting rolls, poverty, poor educational opportunities, and even US-tribal conflicts – contribute to low rates. NCAI, however, is diligently working to reverse their effect, with new partnerships between NCAI and Rock the Vote and State Voices. NCAI also called upon the US government to provide voter registration at Indian Health Service facilities.

NCAI’s efforts come on the heels of a recent report by our friends over at Demos, which details why Native Americans should be a central part of the voting rights discussion.

For more information, click here, and check out The Right to Vote under Attack: The Campaign to Keep Millions of Americans from the Ballot Box, a Right Wing Watch: In Focus report by PFAW Foundation.

PFAW Foundation

Yes, There is a War on Women

In an interview with Bloomberg today, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus claimed that accusing the Republican Party of waging a “war on women” is as absurd as accusing them of a “war on caterpillars”:

“If the Democrats said we had a war on caterpillars and every mainstream media outlet talked about the fact that Republicans have a war on caterpillars, then we’d have problems with caterpillars,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt” airing this weekend. “It’s a fiction.”

Perhaps Preibus should listen to women in his own party before declaring the GOP’s war on women to be a “fiction.” Speaking in Alaska today, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski was very clear that the war on women exists and is alienating female voters. According to the Huffington Post:

"It makes no sense to make this attack on women," she said at a local Chamber of Commerce luncheon, according to the Homer News. "If you don't feel this is an attack, you need to go home and talk to your wife and your daughters."

She also said that she would continue to support funding for Planned Parenthood, adding that the courts have affirmed a legal right to an abortion and she stands by that.

Murkowski criticized GOP presidential candidates for not condemning Rush Limbaugh for calling Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute," which he later apologized for. Fluke was rejected as a witness before a panel on the Obama contraception mandate chaired by House Oversight And Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) last February. (She spoke Thursday to HuffPost in a Q&A.)

"To have those kind of slurs against a woman … you had candidates who want to be our president not say, 'That's wrong. That's offensive.' They did not condemn the rhetoric," she said.
 

PFAW

Shameful!

Imagine senators of one party filibustering a judicial nominee who has been hailed as one of his generation’s great legal minds by legal experts of both parties and across the ideological spectrum on the grounds that he is *too* qualified.

Well that's exactly what happened today.

In what could be the most egregious example of the GOP’s partisan obstruction of judicial nominations to date, Senate Republicans today blocked Goodwin Liu from receiving an up or down vote. Liu, a law professor and dean at U.C. Berkeley who as a nominee has the American Bar Association’s highest rating, was nominated for a seat on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals by President Obama over a year ago, and has since been approved by the Judiciary Committee three times.

His credentials and grasp of the law and Constitution are impeccable. Liu’s only mistake: being too qualified.

At age 40, his confirmation to the 9th Circuit could put him in position to be the first Asian American Supreme Court nominee. Because of his intellectual heft, his commitment to Americans’ constitutional rights and his commonsense understanding of how the law impacts people’s lives, the prospect of Liu’s future elevation, and even his influence on a Circuit Court of Appeals, terrifies corporate special interests and right-wing ideologues ... the same people calling the shots with Republican senators.

Shame on them. The concocted justifications Republican senators used in their opposition to Liu were based on unbelievable distortions of his record by Radical Right activist groups, as well as Liu’s testimony in opposition to Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s confirmation. They rested their opposition on lies because they know that a Liu filibuster makes a mockery of the supposed agreement between parties to employ a filibuster only in “extraordinary circumstances.” Everything about Goodwin Liu’s record and the breadth of his support indicates a legal expert squarely in the mainstream -- the only thing “extraordinary” about him is how good he is, and how deserving he was of confirmation.

Every GOP senator except Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski participated in the filibuster. If one or both of your U.S. senators are Republicans, CALL them right now and let them hear it. Tell them, “shame on you for filibustering Goodwin Liu,” and let them know that you will be working hard to hold them accountable in their state.

Make sure you SIGN our “Stop the Obstruction” petition to the Senate and let senators of both parties know that the continued obstruction of the president’s nominees is hurting our country and will not be tolerated.

We need Republicans to feel the pressure about their judicial obstructions just like they are feeling it about their attacks on Medicare. And Democratic leaders in the Senate need to know that they must be using every tool in their arsenal to combat this obstruction.

PFAW

From Wisconsin: Palin Echoes the Right's Lies in Madison Speech

On Saturday in Madison, some of the right wing’s favorite puppets rallied along with an estimated 1,000 Americans for Prosperity “Patriots” and 5,500 counter protesters at the Capitol.

As the former Governor of Alaska took the stage to chants and drums and counter protesters respectfully turning their backs, sleet turned to snow, the wind from Lake Mendota whipped through the crowd and the protesters’ chants and drums grew so loud that it was impossible to hear the loudspeakers.

Palin called for the crowd to support Governor Walker’s strong armed maneuvering, saying “...you saw these violent rent-a-mobs trash your capitol and vandalize businesses. You held your ground. Your governor did the same thing. And you won.” It isn’t clear what violent mobs or vandalized businesses she was referring to. Fox News and fringe right-wing websites have tried to make similar claims about the protesters in Wisconsin, even resorting to using misleading video footage from unrelated protests in other states. But as anyone without a dishonest, far-right agenda who has been following the events of the last 62+ days can tell you, the protests -- and the protesters -- have been peaceful.

While Palin spent the majority of her speech blasting President Obama for energy saving and job creating programs such as consumer solar panels and high speed rail, Andrew Breitbart cut right to the point at hand, leading a chant of “go to hell” aimed at the thousands of counter protesters.

Despite the miserable weather, PFAW members and a whole host of progressive and labor allies were out in force in support of collective bargaining rights for Wisconsin’s public workers, not only at the Tea Party’s rally but on the other side of the Capitol, where thousands gathered for songs, slam poetry and speeches by those leading the fight.

After 62+ days of protests in Madison transitioning into weeks of recall efforts across the state, it’s clear this is truly what democracy looks like.

Wisconsin PFAW Supporters were out to greet Ms. Palin on Saturday:

PFAW

Wisconsin Republicans Clamp Down on the Right to Criticize Them

Wisconsin Republicans have escalated their assault on Democrats, liberals, unions, and anyone else who does not fall into line for their ideological agenda. This time, it is the right to criticize the Republican Party that is under attack, as the Cap Times reports:

The Wisconsin Republican Party, apparently stung by a blog post written by UW-Madison history professor William Cronon, has responded by asking the University of Wisconsin-Madison for copies of all of Cronon's office e-mails that mention prominent Republicans or public employee unions.

Cronon revealed the GOP's Freedom of Information Act request in his Scholar as Citizen blog post late Thursday evening along with a lengthy, and typically scholarly, defense.

In his inaugural blog post on March 15, Cronon, one of the UW's academic stars, had sketched the apparent influence of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a shadow conservative policy group that works with Republican state legislators, on Gov. Scott Walker's legislative agenda. It was the first time the respected professor had used a blog format and he was, to put it mildly, surprised by the response. The blog generated more than half a million hits. For many of his readers, it was the first time they were aware of the organization and its involvement with conservative legislators around the country.

Billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, major Walker campaign contributors, provide funding support for ALEC. ...

The Republican request, filed two days after Cronon's March 15 post appeared, asks for "Copies of all emails into and out of Prof. William Cronon's state email account from January 1, 2011 to present which reference any of the following terms: Republican, Scott Walker, recall, collective bargaining, AFSCME, WEAC, rally, union, Alberta Darling, Randy Hopper, Dan Kapanke, Rob Cowles, Scott Fitzgerald, Sheila Harsdorf, Luther Olsen, Glenn Grothman, Mary Lazich, Jeff Fitzgerald, Marty Beil, or Mary Bell."

The named individuals are the Republican governor, the Republican leaders of the state House and Senate, and the eight Republican senators targeted for recall.

Professor Cronon has written a long, must-read response to this political effort to intimidate him for daring to question the Republican Party.

In some ways, this is reminiscent of Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's assault on academic freedom in Virginia. Academic freedom exists only in name if scholars questioning the Republican Party are bullied into not using it. In that sense, the Wisconsin assault against Professor Cronon is directly related to all the other ways that the modern-day GOP is actively undermining the infrastructure of our democracy, giving us:

  • elections where significant numbers of the GOP's opponents are prevented from voting;
  • campaigns where the GOP's opponents can't be heard over corporate millions;
  • the right to protest, but if you oppose a Republican official he may secretly plant troublemakers among your group to discredit you;
  • the right to a free press, but if a Republican who you criticize sends his goons to rough you up, the Party will not bat an eye;
  • the right to form a union that cannot collectively bargain;
  • the right to free speech, but if you displease the GOP you risk becoming the subject of phony video smears followed up by legislative attack;
  • the right to lobby, but your lobbying firm loses access to a GOP-dominated Congress if it hires Democrats.

In isolation, the incident in Wisconsin is terrible. But to see it only in isolation would be a grave mistake.

If the party officials involved with this are not condemned and banished from the party, this incident will do long-term damage. Continuing party support for those who undermine the foundations of our free society – as in the examples above – significantly lowers the bar for what departures from the principles of democracy are now acceptable.

This incident should be a rallying cry for Americans to protect the liberties and rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.

PFAW

In an Open Letter, People For Urges ABC to Distance Itself from Breitbart

Right-wing activist and noted smear concocter Andrew Breitbart announced Friday that he would be appearing on ABC News tomorrow as an election night "analyst." Faced with backlash from progressive groups, ABC News has said that Breitbart will appear only as a guest on an online town hall discussion. In an open letter to ABC News President David Westin today, People For's Michael Keegan responds that providing any sort of platform for Breitbart legitimizes his deceitful practices:

Dear Mr. Westin:

We at People For the American Way are deeply concerned to hear of your plans to host activist Andrew Breitbart as an ABC News election night “analyst” on Tuesday, and want to make sure you are aware of the implications of any association between ABC News and Breitbart’s history of deceptive mudslinging. Breitbart has proven time and again that he is willing to make up stories and smear the names of innocent people in order to draw attention to himself and advance his political causes. By associating with Breitbart, ABC News acknowledges the credibility of his dishonest tactics, and draws its own credibility as a news source into question.

We respect ABC News’ commitment to balanced analysis, and expect that any unbiased news source will seek to provide equal platforms to each side of any debate. However, part of the responsibility of providing balanced news is ensuring that those participating in the debate are approaching the issues honestly and dealing in facts.

Andrew Breitbart, far from dealing in facts, has a long history of fabricating smears in order to advance his own agenda:

  • He famously doctored a recording of Department of Agriculture employee Shirley Sherrod speaking about overcoming racism in order to accuse her of racism. His smear led to Sherrod’s firing, but even more troubling, served to stoke existing racial resentment against the Obama Administration.
  • His pushing of a tape that supposedly showed an ACORN employee helping a pimp and prostitute to establish a brothel helped to drive the smear campaign that eventually brought down the respected community organization. Independent investigations  later found the tapes to be heavily edited and the storyline that Breitbart pushed to be far from the truth. Breitbart’s smear of ACORN helped to propel the right-wing media’s current fixation on the discredited fear of “voter fraud” resulting from minority voting.
  • Breitbart is currently engaged in another fishy media campaign in Alaska, where he has accused a local CBS affiliate of concocting a plot against Senate candidate Joe Miller…but the only evidence he has been able to produce is a fuzzy audio clip that hardly substantiates his claim.

Andrew Breitbart has every right to continue spewing his lies and conspiracy theories on the Internet, but his deceptive “analysis” has no place in an honest debate on an unbiased news program. Even including him in an online feature, as you have now said you will, lends a legitimate platform to his lies. And providing that platform makes ABC News complicit in Breitbart’s deliberate, excuseless smears.

We urge you to reconsider your invitation to Andrew Breitbart before providing a platform to harmful smears and putting your own reputation as a news source at risk.

Sincerely,

Michael B. Keegan.
President, People For the American Way
 

PFAW

The Mugging of Democracy in Alaska

The latest example of Tea Party violence making the news - Rand Paul’s county campaign coordinator stomping on the head of a pinned-down MoveOn activist - highlights just how completely outside the American norm these Tea Party candidates and their followers are. The actions of Paul’s goon squad also refocuses attention on a similar event in Alaska last week.

In Alaska’s Joe Miller, we have a candidate for Senate who not only refuses to open himself to press inquiry, he surrounds himself with an aggressive group of bullies who rough up a reporter who dares ask questions of the candidate.

As PFAW President Michael B. Keegan wrote in the Huffington Post, this is not acceptable behavior in a democratic society. It’s not even a close call.

History has proven time and again that democracies are fragile. The civil compact underlying a democratic society must be monitored and renewed constantly. Part of that contract is that candidates for public office don’t have private goons squads who use physical force against reporters or anyone else they perceive as a threat to their ambitions.

Another requirement is that when a candidate goes so far over the line against the norms of a democratic society, his supporters recognize the danger, put their country’s welfare first, and withdraw their support. Again, this is not even a close call.

So this is a moment of truth for the Republican Party, as it has to choose between the values of the Tea Party and those of the United States Constitution.

The GOP should not only loudly condemn this assault on democracy, it should stop funding Miller’s campaign and urge Alaskans to vote for someone else. Since Lisa Murkowski, the incumbent Republican senator who Miller defeated in the primary, is already engaged in a write-in campaign to keep her seat, it’s not like the party doesn’t have an alternative, corporate-friendly candidate to easily turn to. Polls have shown her nearly even with Miller.

Continuing party support for a thug whose behavior undermines the foundations of our free society is a canary in a coal mine, another dangerous indication of the contempt for democracy held by a Republican Party under the sway of the Tea Party.

Should the voters of Alaska reward Miller and the Tea Party with a victory on November 2, America will have crossed a line: The tactics of Miller and his bully boys will no longer be considered quite so far beyond the norm, and we can expect to see more of the same.

And that should concern all patriotic Americans.

PFAW

Alaska’s New Super PAC: Brought to you by Federal Government Contractors

After extremist Republican Joe Miller upset incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski in the GOP primary, many Alaskans panicked over the prospect of having a Senator that wants to greatly diminish the federal government’s role in Alaska. After Senator Murkowski announced a write-in bid to take on Miller and the Democratic nominee, Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams, a new organization emerged to back the incumbent: Alaskans Standing Together.

Alaskans Standing Together is a “Super PAC” which can raise unlimited amounts of funds from individuals and corporations, and must disclose its donors to the FEC. The group is solely dedicated towards supporting Senator Murkowski’s reelection campaign and criticizing both of her opponents. So far, Alaskans Standing Together has reported having nine donors: Native American Corporations that have contributed over $800,000 to the group. But these Native American Corporations are also federal contractors, and many of them openly claim that they receive much of their federal money as a result of the legislative efforts of Lisa Murkowski. The corporations say that such money is needed since outside organizations like the California-based Tea Party Express are running hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of ads promoting Joe Miller.

But as the Miller and Murkowski squabble over the non-party groups backing their campaigns, only Scott McAdams directly pointed to an important reason for the massive downpour in campaign cash:

The Democrat in the race, Scott McAdams, took a different approach, blaming the U.S. Supreme Court for opening up politics to unlimited corporate donations. If he's elected, McAdams said, he'd move to pass a campaign finance law backed by Democratic leaders in the Senate and President Barack Obama. He also seized on a claim the White House has been hammering in recent weeks: that unlimited corporate money has the potential to give foreign-owned corporations a say in U.S. elections.

"As a small state, Alaska can't afford to allow its elections to be overtaken by corporate spending," McAdams said. "Unfortunately, Sen. Murkowski has voted to allow corporations, including foreign corporate money, to continue to influence elections."

Outside independent expenditure groups are playing a major role in the Alaska Senate race -- and those across the country. In previous elections, such contributions wouldn't have been legal, but the recent Citizens United Supreme Court decision allows corporate and union donors to inject unlimited amounts of money into politics.

PFAW