Marriage Equality Now Law in 19 States, Only 2 Bans Remain Unchallenged

The march toward marriage equality nationwide continues at an astounding pace.

On Monday Oregon became the 18th state added to the win column when Judge Michael McShane struck down its ban on marriage for same-sex couples. Then on Tuesday Judge John Jones issued a similar ruling in Pennsylvania, followed Wednesday by the news that Governor Tom Corbett won't appeal – make that 19!

Wednesday also brought the filing of a marriage equality lawsuit in Montana. Governor Steve Bullock:

Montanans cherish our freedom and recognize the individual dignity of every one of us. The time has come for our state to recognize and celebrate – not discriminate against – two people who love one another, are committed to each other, and want to spend their lives together.

I look forward to a future where all Montanans have the opportunity to marry the person they love, just as Lisa and I did almost 15 years ago. We are on the path to greater understanding and equality, and we will all be better for it.

Montana is the 29th state without marriage equality that has a lawsuit pending.

That leaves only two states, North and South Dakota, with unchallenged bans on same-sex marriage. Their suits could be filed any day now.

Onward!

Check out our website for more LGBT equality updates.

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Pennsylvania Marriage Ban Struck Down

Another day, another discriminatory ban struck down. Today a federal judge ruled in Whitewood v. Wolf that Pennsylvania’s 1996 ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. This victory for marriage equality follows closely on the heels of the striking of Oregon’s ban only yesterday and makes Pennsylvania the 19th state allowing same-sex couples to marry.

Congratulate Pennsylvanians by sharing our graphic below:

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Florida Puts Hold on Voter Purge, North Carolina Lifts the Veil on Voter ID Law

When we last checked in with the controversial Florida voter purge, advocates and media alike were speculating over what route Governor Rick Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner would take in 2014, with Detzner's office considering comparing its voter records with the US Department of Homeland Security's federal citizenship database known as Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE).

Now we know: the purge is off for 2014.

The about-face on Thursday by Secretary of State Ken Detzner resolves a standoff with county elections supervisors, who resisted the purge and were suspicious of its timing. It also had given rise to Democratic charges of voter suppression aimed at minorities, including Hispanics crucial to Scott’s reelection hopes.

Detzner told supervisors in a memo that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is redesigning its SAVE database, and it won’t be finished until 2015, so purging efforts, known as Project Integrity, should not proceed.

“I have decided to postpone implementing Project Integrity until the federal SAVE program Phase Two is completed,” Detzner wrote.

As the Brennan Center reported in 2008, election officials across the country are routinely striking millions of voters from the rolls through a process that is shrouded in secrecy, prone to error, and vulnerable to manipulation.

Florida has an especially troublesome history with this practice, so voting rights advocates will have to keep a close eye on what shape it takes next year.

Also this week, in North Carolina US Magistrate Judge Joi Elizabeth Peake ruled that lawmakers must release correspondence related to the formation of the state's new voter ID law, saying that though some records might be shielded, many are considered public.

Dale Ho of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project:

North Carolinians have a right to know what motivated their lawmakers to make it harder for them to vote. Legislators should not be shrouding their intentions in secrecy.

Allison Riggs of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice:

Defendants have resisted at every turn disclosing information about their reasons for enacting this discriminatory law. Today's ruling will help ensure the court has a fuller picture of why the voting changes at stake are so bad for North Carolina voters.

In other voting rights news, Colorado considers recall election changes, Pennsylvania ID remains in legal limbo, and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker approves (mostly) of the state's new voter suppression law.

Check out even more news from our friends at Fair Elections Legal Network.

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Ending the Disenfranchisement of Formerly Incarcerated Americans

The following is a guest blog from Reverend Michael Couch, a member of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers In Action.

On Tuesday, while speaking at the Georgetown University Law Center, Attorney General Eric Holder called for a repeal of state voting laws that disenfranchise formerly incarcerated people. In a country where nearly six million citizens are unable to vote because of felony convictions, these changes could not come quickly enough.

State laws dictating voting rights for those who have served time in prison vary, from an automatic restoration of rights after sentence completion in some states to outright bans in others. Restrictions on this civil right in states like Kentucky, Florida, Iowa, and Virginia should no longer be subject to criteria such as the type of convictions, arbitrary time frames, petitions to clemency boards and/or the state governor.

I work daily with others around the country to make sure nonpartisan voting education and voter registration of women and men who have completed their sentences takes place. Laws that disenfranchise formerly incarcerated people take away the single most fundamental American right, and they do so disproportionately to people of color. As Attorney General Holder pointed out in his speech, restrictive laws prohibit a shocking one in thirteen African Americans adults from voting.

As an African American faith leader, I find this to be both morally unacceptable and counterproductive to the goal of fostering supportive, engaged communities. I know from experience if someone has committed a crime, served their time in prison, and is released, no good could come of permanently stripping them of their most basic right and responsibility. Moreover, what isn’t often addressed is how restrictive laws keep families of those adults from helping them transition back to being a responsible, contributing citizen of their community. It’s time to change the message sent to the nearly six million Americans who have lost their voice and civic responsibility in our democracy.

Attorney General Holder is right: These laws are “unwise…unjust, and… not in keeping with our democratic values.” It’s time for states to get rid of laws that suppress those who have served their time and prevent them from fully participating in our democratic system.

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GOP Senators Fail to Support Their States' Judicial Nominees

Because of Republican refusal to let Majority Leader Reid hold confirmation votes, there are 32 judicial nominations languishing on the Senate floor. They could be confirmed in a day, and even in a few minutes. But with Republicans filibustering all judicial nominees, the Senate will have to spend weeks doing nothing but engaging in needless "post-cloture debate" before finally being able to confirm these 32 nominees.

All these nominees have had the support of their home-state senators, many of whom are Republicans. But with the GOP blocking votes on those same nominees, that support seems to be in name only.

For instance, Arkansas senators Mark Pryor (D) and John Boozman (R) were united in their strong support of nominees James Moody and Timothy Brooks before the Judiciary Committee last fall. Both nominees were approved by the committee unanimously, Brooks in October and Moody in November. But since then, Republicans have prevented them from having confirmation votes. Yesterday, Pryor went to the Senate floor to request unanimous consent to hold a confirmation vote, which Republican Chuck Grassley objected to. Boozman, however, did not speak up for the nominees or against his party's sabotage of the federal courts in Arkansas.

Such silence characterizes most if not all of the Republican senators who seem not to be protecting their states' nominees:

Illinois (Mark Kirk): Manish Shah (Northern District) and Nancy Rosenstengel (Southern District) were both approved by the Judiciary Committee by unanimous voice vote on January 16 and February 6, respectively. Rosenstengel would fill a vacancy that has been officially designated a judicial emergency by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts.

Kansas (Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran): Nancy Moritz (Tenth Circuit) and Daniel Crabtree (District of Kansas) were both approved by the committee by unanimous voice vote on January 16. Crabtree would fill a judicial emergency and would fill a vacancy that opened back in 2010; Moritz's vacancy opened in back in 2011.

Maine (Susan Collins): Jon Levy has been awaiting a confirmation vote since January 16, when the committee approved him overwhelmingly. Sen. Collins spoke glowingly about Levy when he was nominated and when he appeared before the Judiciary Committee. But now what he needs is for her to have a conversation with her fellow Republicans about letting him have a confirmation vote.

Missouri (Roy Blunt): Douglas Harpool was unopposed when the committee approved his nomination on January 16. He would fill a seat that became vacant ten months ago when a sitting judge passed away.

Pennsylvania (Pat Toomey): Gerald McHugh and Edward Smith were both among those approved by the committee on January 16, Smith unanimously and McHugh with a bipartisan 12-5 vote. Sen. Toomey has noted that "Judge Smith will sit in the Easton courthouse, which has lacked a sitting federal judge since 2004, thus ensuring that the people of the northern Lehigh Valley will once again have close, ready access to the federal judiciary." But unless Toomey can get his party to relent, the people of the northern Lehigh Valley will have to wait.

Tennessee (Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker): Pamela Reeves, who would be the first woman federal judge in the state's Eastern District, was approved by the Judiciary Committee by unanimous voice vote in November, yet has not been allowed a simply yes-or-no vote. Since then, she has been joined by Sheryl Lipman, who was similarly approved unanimously last month.

Utah (Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee): Carolyn McHugh would be the first woman from Utah to serve on the Tenth Circuit. Both her senators are actually on the Judiciary Committee. Last year, Hatch said he hoped the Senate would "act quickly" in confirming her, and Lee said he would work to "ensure her speedy confirmation." But this year? Despite her unanimous approval by the Judiciary Committee, Hatch and Lee's party hasn't allowed her to take her seat on the Tenth Circuit.

Wisconsin (Ron Johnson): James Peterson would fill a seat that has been vacant for more than five years, and which has been designated a judicial emergency. Last year, Sen. Johnson recommended him to the White House and urged his fellow Senators toward a "swift confirmation." He was approved with overwhelming bipartisan support by the Judiciary Committee last week, but he and the two other nominees advanced that day found themselves at the back of a line that already had 29 people on it. If Johnson wants a "swift confirmation," he might ask his fellow Republicans to let up and allow votes on all those other nominees.

In all these cases, courtroom vacancies could be filled if only Republicans would allow it. Each of these Republican senators has to decide whether GOP leader Mitch McConnell deserves a show of loyalty more than their constituents deserve a fully functioning system of justice.

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Judge Strikes Down PA Voter ID Law

In 2012, over the protests of thousands of Pennsylvanians, forty five organizations, and every Democrat in the state legislature, Governor Tom Corbett signed into law one of the strictest voter ID requirements in the country. The Speaker of the Pennsylvania House acknowledged that he pushed the law to help Mitt Romney win the state.

This morning the two-year-old law was ruled unconstitutional. Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley wrote that law was a “substantial threat” and that it would hinder the ability of many to vote freely.

In the ruling, Judge McGinley stated

“Voting laws are designed to assure a free and fair election; the Voter ID Law does not further this goal.”

People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council said of the law last year:

“The purpose of this law has been clear from the beginning. It was meant to keep African Americans, students, and other traditionally suppressed communities from  exercising our hard-won right to vote. Even the law’s supporters have admitted that there is absolutely no evidence of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania. Instead, this law is a purely political attempt to disenfranchise citizens who have every right to vote. I am dismayed at today’s decision and hope that as this case moves through the courts, our judges recognize the ugly intent and real consequences of voter ID.”


 

PFAW Foundation

PA Legislator Introduces ALEC Bill That Would Block Paid Sick Leave

Paid Sick LeaveOn Tuesday, November 12, legislators will debate Pennsylvania State Representative Seth Grove’s (R) bill that would block cities and local governments in PA from implementing paid sick days bills and other forms of paid leave (domestic violence and domestic partnership leaves, for example) that aren’t already guaranteed at the state level.

As paid sick days legislation moves forward in other states and cities throughout the nation, Pennsylvania’s Tea Party Republicans are busy pretending that they actually care about small government (last I checked, preempting municipal legislation on the state level is not exactly something out of the local control playbook.)

Grove’s bill and those like them have been fueled by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a coalition of big business interests and conservative legislators who handed out model legislation at a national meeting in 2011. And this is not the first time Rep. Grove has introduced model ALEC legislation.

If you’re outraged about this (and you should be) consider signing this petition. Better yet, give your state rep a call and tell him or her to oppose HB 1807, and focus on helping families and the economy instead of working to destroying both.

(See ThinkProgress’s piece on the bill for more info.)

Crossposted at http://www.justactionllc.com.

PFAW

Lehigh Tea Party Commissioner Tom Creighton Compares Same-Sex Partners to Pets

By Jodi

Not to be outdone by PA's Department of Health and Human Services recently comparing gay and lesbian couples to 12-year-olds, Lehigh County PA Tea Party Commissioner Tom Creighton Wednesday explained his opposition to an initiative to expand benefits to to same-sex partners with this doozy: "I don't feel the county should be looking for new ways to give away taxpayer money. Next it could be giving money to people's pets or whatever."

Creighton sponsored the sole amendment to the 2014 county budget, pushing back against County Executive Matt Croslis’ expansion of benefits to same-sex partners whose marriage is recognized in another state.

Creighton is up for reelection this November and is evidently not vying hard for the canine vote. Thankfully even most household dogs understand bad analogies better than Creighton.

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Corbett Forced To Apologize After Comparing Same-Sex Marriage To Sibling Incest

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett hasn’t been helping his own approval ratings lately.

A Corbett administration legal brief filed on August 28th regarding the state’s same-sex marriage ban seemed to argue that same-sex marriage is analogous to the marriage of two 12-year-olds. Corbett rejected that argument after the fact in a written statement, but then in a TV interview made an even worse analogy. 

On WHY-TV’s ‘Ask The Governor” segment Friday morning, a smirking Corbett called his legal advisors’ analogy ‘inappropriate,’ but then asked the news anchor interviewing him ‘I think a much better analogy would have been brother and sister, don’t you?” 

The shocked news anchor didn’t quite know what to say other than “I don’t know,” and attempted to move on to the next question after saying she was going to leave the comments to Corbett.

Things didn’t get much better from there, with Corbett saying Federal courts shouldn’t get involved in Pennsylvania’s same-sex marriage cases because the U.S. Supreme Court left that decision up to the states, failing to specify what court case to which he was referring.  Later Friday morning Corbett then was forced to apologize for his offensive comparison of same-sex marriage and sibling incest.  Corbett’s approval ratings continue to drop after a stream of self-inflicted gaffes he has made, even when given questions in advance; leading Philadelphia Independent and Watchdog.org reporter Eric Boehm to label the Governor ‘Gaffe-tastic.’

PFAW

Corbett's Mixed-Up Priorities, Marriage Equality Edition

Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett is proving once again that his priorities are out of line with the rest of the state: He just hired lawyer William H. Lamb for $400 an hour to defend a 1996 law banning same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania.

Even though the state’s attorney general declined to fight the case— and even though a majority of Pennsylvanians support marriage equality—Governor Corbett still thinks it’s worth spending $400 per hour of taxpayer money, plus $325 per hour for others in Lamb’s firm working on the case, to stop LGBT Pennsylvanians from being able to marry the person they love. It’s also worth noting that this law firm donated $39,500 to Corbett’s political campaigns between 2004 and 2012. Given the recent revelation that Governor Corbett’s former chief of staff is still being paid despite supposedly resigning, perhaps it shouldn’t be that surprising that Corbett is putting someone else on the government payroll unnecessarily.

Still, why fire your friends or let your discriminatory laws go undefended when you can just cut education funding? Why put your personal and ideological priorities aside, when the state’s children are there to take the hit? I’m sure school kids in Philadelphia won’t mind their ballooning class sizes or their after-school programs being cancelled when they know that money is being put to such good use, fighting a law to prevent people who love each other from being able to marry. Welcome to Tom Corbett’s Pennsylvania. 

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