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Rallying for Marriage Equality – Now

“What do we want?  Equality!  When do we want it? Now!”

This morning PFAW staff and members joined a crowd of thousands gathered in front of the Supreme Court to chant, march, and speak out in support of marriage equality.  As Supreme Court Justices heard the first round of oral arguments on the marriage cases before them this term, multitudes of supporters gathered on the Court steps to share a simple message: our country is ready for marriage equality.

Today, the Court heard arguments on California’s anti-gay Proposition 8. Tomorrow, it will be considering the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). In the weeks leading up to today, we have been asking friends of PFAW to share why dumping DOMA is important to them.  As I stood out at the rally this morning, I thought about all of the people who had been brave enough to share their story with us – and what this day meant to each of them.

For Bishop Allyson Abrams, a member of PFAW’s African American Ministers in Action, it’s time to dump DOMA “because it hurts and humiliates those who know love and who practice showing it each and every day.”  For Sam Paltrow, member of affiliate PFAW Foundation’s Young People For Program, DOMA has to go because it “teaches that gay families do not matter,” and for Young People For member Erik Lampmann, it’s an “issue of economic justice.”  Missoula City Councilmember Cailtin Copple, member of affiliate PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network, “would like the chance to marry the person [she] loves someday.” 

While each person at the Supreme Court rally today – and those at the marriage rallies in all 50 states across the country – had a different reason for being there, we had a common goal:  Equality.  Now.

PFAW

Why It’s Time to Dump DOMA: Paul Gordon

This piece is the eighth in a series of guest blog posts on “Why It’s Time to Dump DOMA.” In the weeks leading up to the Supreme Court arguments on the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act, we’re asking friends of PFAW to share why dumping DOMA matters to them. Be sure to check back soon for the latest post in the series.

At the end of 2008, my husband and I were married in the same synagogue where I’d had my bar-mitzvah more than three decades earlier.  As a 13 year-old in the 1970s, I read from the Torah and spoke to the congregation about letting the people we love know how much we love them. But as a closeted 13 year-old, I never dreamed that 30 years later, I’d be standing in the same chapel, with all the same people who are dearest to me, publicly professing my love for another man. Rick and I were surrounded by family and married in the traditions of our faith. And as we drank from the Kiddush cup, we adapted a practice from the Passover Seder; since Prop 8 had just passed, we removed eight drops of wine as a symbol that our joy was diminished by the suffering caused by marriage discrimination.

Passover is my favorite holiday because it is about living in a just society.  It teaches us to welcome the stranger, because “we were strangers in the land of Egypt.” It is a lesson that, unfortunately, must be learned and relearned, as every society has those whom it unjustly treats as outcasts.

It’s appropriate that the Supreme Court will be hearing oral arguments in both the Prop 8 and Defense of Marriage Act cases during the week of Passover. Although the Constitution uses the language of “equal protection” instead “strangers in the land of Egypt,” the underlying values are the same. It is wrong – and unconstitutional – for states to prohibit us from marrying and for the federal government to refuse to recognize our marriages. What better time than Passover to dump DOMA and strike down Prop 8?

Paul Gordon, Senior Legislative Counsel
People For the American Way

PFAW

Young Elected Officials Call for Gun Violence Prevention Reforms

Daniel Hernandez - Rep. Gabby Giffords' heroic intern, now a school board member in AZ - appeared on the Ed Show to discuss a letter from 42 members of PFAW’s Young Elected Officials Action program urging gun violence prevention reforms.
PFAW

New Hampshire Moves Forward With First Steps to Overturn Citizens United in Bipartisan Vote

In a bipartisan vote yesterday, the New Hampshire House passed a bill calling for a constitutional amendment to get big money out of our elections and overturn Citizens United.
PFAW

Ted Cruz: Don't Believe What I Said to the Supreme Court

Did Sen. Cruz contradict his previous statement to the Supreme Court that its 2008 Heller ruling would not undermine federal and state assault weapon bans?
PFAW

Senator Portman’s change of heart and the legacy of Harvey Milk

Why did Senator Portman’s change of heart take two years? Why has he continued to support the anti-gay policies of his party? There’s a lot of debate on both points, but one thing is certain: it was his son’s own coming out that forced the Senator to come out in support of marriage equality, and to do that interview and write that op-ed.
PFAW

Why It’s Time to Dump DOMA: Jen Herrick

This piece is the seventh in a series of guest blog posts on “Why It’s Time to Dump DOMA.” In the weeks leading up to the Supreme Court arguments on the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act, we’re asking friends of PFAW to share why dumping DOMA matters to them. Be sure to check back soon for the latest post in the series.

Nine years ago, as I was preparing to leave Ohio University, I said goodbye to Adam, one of my best friends. I remember writing to him in a card that I hoped our husbands would someday get to meet. That November – November 3, 2004 to be precise – I was on the phone with him, and he was heartbroken at what for many was a difficult election (including Ohio passing a state constitutional amendment limiting marriage to the union of one man and one woman).

Fast forward to 2011, and a visit with Adam and his partner of several years, Michael. Marriage equality came up in conversation. It seemed to us to be possible but still five or ten years away.

Then came 2012. In May, President Obama affirmed his support for the freedom to marry of same-sex couples. In December, the Supreme Court agreed to hear cases challenging California’s Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

With oral arguments looming at the end of the month, Adam’s reaction to the President’s announcement rings ever more true:

THANK YOU President Obama! Those of you who know Michael and I: we have such an incredibly strong, stable, loving relationship. Opening our relationship up to marriage does nothing but STRENGTHEN the institution!

That’s exactly why we should dump DOMA.

Yes, dumping DOMA is just one step on the long road to marriage equality. But it’s an important step, and one that’s many years overdue. DOMA unconstitutionally defines marriage for all federal purpose as the union of one man and one woman. That means that legally married couples in nine states and the District of Columbia are denied the more than one thousand rights and benefits that the federal government ties to marriage. That means that these couples and families aren’t afforded the safety and security that comes along with many of those rights. That means that they are discriminated against based solely on their sexual orientation.

That means that if Adam and Michael were to legally marry, despite progress made under the Obama administration, the federal government – bound by the discrimination enshrined in law – would have no choice but to turn its back on them in most cases.

That is not right. Dump DOMA.

Jen Herrick, Senior Policy Analyst
People For the American Way

PFAW

PFAW is United for Marriage

Marriage equality will be before the Supreme Court on March 26 and 27. PFAW will be there with the United for Marriage coalition. You can join us in DC or attend an event near you.
PFAW

Gun Violence Prevention Legislation Advances, Newtown Unites, and the Gun Lobby Doubles Down

This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved gun violence prevention legislation with the support of Newtown citizens and other families across the nation. NRA officials, meanwhile, continue to rely on incendiary rhetoric and fear mongering.
PFAW

The New March Madness: CPAC's Guest List

Although forced to exclude white nationalists and an anti-Muslim extremist, this year's CPAC is still hardly an open-minded place.
PFAW

Obama Talks to Senators About Broken Judicial Confirmation Process

Republicans ended their year-long blockade of an unopposed circuit court nominee after unjustly torpedoing another with a filibuster.
PFAW

White House Urges Senate to ‘Return to the Prompt Consideration of Judicial Nominees’

Chris Kang, Senior Counsel to the President, notes on the White House blog that today markes the one-year anniversary of the day Third Circuit nominee Patty Shwartz was first approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. That means that Shwartz, an experienced and respected attorney, has been waiting a full year simply for an up-or-down vote from the Senate. The ABA panel that evaluates the qualifications of judicial nominees unanimous gave her its highest possible rating. Not surprisingly for someone of her caliber, she has the strong support of Democrats and Republicans alike, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Kang writes that Shwartz’s experience is sadly not unusual in a Senate that’s been hamstrung by an obstructionist Republican minority:

Unfortunately, the delay for Judge Shwartz is not unique. Last week, my colleague wrote about Judge Robert Bacharach, who was recommended to the White House by one of his Republican home state Senators, but waited 263 days for a floor vote before being confirmed 93-0. And on Monday – after 347 days of delay -- the Senate will consider the nomination of Richard Taranto to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Overall, President Obama’s judicial nominees wait an average of 117 days on the Senate floor for a vote -- more than three times longer than President Bush’s judicial nominees, who waited an average of only 34 days. The Senate must promote the administration of justice by returning to the prompt consideration of judicial nominations. It should consider Judge Shwartz’s nomination without further delay, as well as the fifteen district court nominees awaiting votes. Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved five district court nominees. There is no reason they – and the others approved before them – should not be confirmed within 34 days.

PFAW

Three Voter Empowerment Bills Introduced in the House

Members of the Task Force on Election Reform introduced three voter empowerment bills at the beginning of the 113th Congress in January. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi created The Task Force to develop electoral reform legislation under the D.A.R.E. initiative (Disclose, Amend, Reform, and Empower).

The objective of the Task Force on Election Reform is to combine the best parts of reform bills into one effective piece of legislation that will help strengthen the voices of average Americans and increase the participation of small-donor contributors in our elections.

The three bills that were introduced are:

The Fair Elections Now Act (H.R. 269) was introduced by Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) along with 52 co-sponsors. Among other provisions, the bill matches small-dollar donation 5-to-1 and requires participating candidates to limit contributions to $100. The bill was referred to the House Committee on House Administration on January 15, 2013.

The Grassroots Democracy Act (H.R. 268) was introduced by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) with 36 co-sponsors. The bill matches small contributions 10-1 for candidates who limit contributions to $100 and 5-1 for those that follow the normal contribution limit. The act also provides a $25 tax credit to help voters make small-dollar donations to the participating candidates. The bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Communication and Technology on January 18, 2013.

The Empowering Citizens Act (H.R. 270) was introduced by Rep. David Price (D-NC) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) with 13 co-sponsors. The bill matches the first $250 of a contribution 5-to-1 and cuts the contribution limits in half to $1,250 for participating candidates. The legislation also aims to mitigate the effects of Citizens United, by providing a broader definition of coordination so that super PACs and political non-profits cannot function as arms of candidates’ campaigns. The bill was referred to the Committee on House Administration to the Committee on Ways and Means to decide which committee it belongs in on January, 15 2013.

The members of the Task Force on Election Reform are Congresswoman Donna F. Edwards, Congressman Theodore E. Deutch, Congressman John Larson, Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur, Congressman James P. McGovern, Congressman Rush D. Holt, Congressman Adam B. Schiff, Congressman Chris Van Hollen, Congressman Ed Perlmutter, Congressman John A. Yarmuth, Congressman Kurt Schrader, Congressman George Miller, Congressman David E. Price, Congressman Robert A. Brady, Congresswoman Susan A. Davis, Congressman Raul M. Grijalva, Congressman Keith Ellison, Congressman John P. Sarbanes, and Congressman Rick Nolan.

All members of the Task Force on Election Reform support amending the Constitution to overturn Citizens United and related cases.

PFAW

The NRA vs. Judicial Nominees

Back in December, The New York Times’ Linda Greenhouse wrote a great article explaining how the National Rifle Association has worked in concert with Republican senators to oppose many of President Obama’s federal judicial nominees – usually without anything close to a legitimate reason. The NRA’s “symbiotic relationship with the Republican Party,” Greenhouse wrote, led the group to oppose judicial nominees like Sonia Sotomayor, who had next to no record on the Second Amendment, and the party to chip in when the NRA didn’t like a nominee.

It is that symbiotic relationship that succeeded in sinking the nominations of two highly qualified women to federal courts this week. Both were unquestionably qualified and well-respected in legal circles. The NRA and the Senate GOP went after both for completely unfounded reasons.

Caitlin Halligan was President Obama’s nominee to fill one of four vacancies on the hugely influential Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Never mind that she had broad bipartisan support and sterling credentials. She had once represented a client, the state of New York, in a lawsuit against gun manufacturers. Back when John Roberts was being considered for the Supreme Court, Senate Republicans said that judicial nominees shouldn’t be held responsible for positions they took as lawyers on behalf of clients. But no matter. Senate Republicans twice voted to filibuster her nomination – most recently on Wednesday – never even allowing her an up-or-down vote.

Then today, Nevada District Court nominee Elissa Cadish withdrew her nomination over one year after she had been selected by President Obama. Her story was similar. Filling out a questionnaire in 2008, Cadish stated that under then-current law, the constitutional right to bear arms didn’t apply to individual citizens. She was correct. Two months later in a 5-4 opinion, the Supreme Court established for the first time that the Second Amendment does contain that right. Cadish made clear that she understood, and would follow, the new Supreme Court precedent.

But no matter. The NRA targeted Cadish and Nevada Sen. Dean Heller used a little-known Senate practice to keep her from ever even getting the chance to explain her views in front of the Judiciary Committee. Under committee procedures used by Chairman Patrick Leahy as a courtesy to his colleagues, a nominee is not granted a hearing unless both of her home-state senators give permission in the form of a “blue slip.” Heller simply refused to sign the blue slip for Cadish, thus single-handedly sinking her nomination.

The flimsiness of the arguments against Cadish and Halligan, and the fact that much of the opposition took place behind the scenes (in the case of Cadish without even a public hearing), betrays the real reason the NRA and the GOP were working to keep these women off the federal bench. They just don’t want President Obama to be nominating federal judges.

 

PFAW

Michael Keegan Discusses the GOP’s Reality Problem

Last night, People For the American Way president Michael Keegan joined Rev. Al Sharpton and David Brock of Media Matters to discuss Bill O’Reilly’s most recent delusional outburst and the GOP’s reality problem. Watch:

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

 

PFAW

Why It’s Time to Dump DOMA: Valeria Carranza

This piece is the sixth in a series of guest blog posts on “Why It’s Time to Dump DOMA.” In the weeks leading up to the Supreme Court arguments on the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act, we’re asking friends of PFAW to share why dumping DOMA matters to them. Be sure to check back soon for the latest post in the series.

Growing up as a gay woman in a conservative Salvadoran household was like being the protagonist in one of the telenovelas that I used to watch with my Maminena, my grandma. Thankfully, here in Maryland, being gay is no longer an obstacle to marrying the love of my life.

After a hard-fought battle, my girlfriend and I now have the right to say, “I do.”

Unlike most economic development initiatives, tax increases, and transportation projects, our ability to marry was taken to the polls and put to a vote. Marriage for same-sex couples is still treated like an earned privilege rather than a given right. While we won the right to marry in Maryland, thanks to DOMA our marriage would not be recognized under federal law.

My relationship, under this law, does not count. DOMA is a vehicle for discrimination and it hurts our families.
 
When thinking about equality, whether it’s equal protection under federal law, marriage equality or equal protection for our transgender community, two words come to mind: unconditional love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unconditional love. That is what equality means to me: unconditional love for our community, constituents, neighbors, co-workers, schoolmates, friends, family members. Because when you truly love, you don’t let discrimination and injustice take place in your community – or in your country.

The Defense of Marriage Act is just as outdated as the concept of “traditional marriage” being restricted to heterosexuals only. It’s time to dump DOMA – let unconditional love take its place.

Valeria Carranza
Alumna of affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Front Line Leaders Academy

 

PFAW

Obama Condemns Filibuster of His DC Circuit Court Nominee

President Obama specifically cites the obstruction of the three remaining Republican members of the "Gang of 14."
PFAW

PFAW Urges Senate to Confirm Halligan

People For the American Way today sent letters to members of the U.S. Senate urging them to vote to confirm Caitlin Halligan to sit on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The full text of the letter:

March 4, 2013
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator:

On behalf of the hundreds of thousands of members of People For the American Way, we write to express our strong support for the confirmation of Caitlin Halligan to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the  District of Columbia Circuit. With a fourth seat on this 11-member court becoming vacant, the urgency  of confirming Halligan becomes even more pressing.

Caitlin Halligan is supremely qualified with a broad level of support in the legal, women’s and law  enforcement  communities. Currently the General Counsel for the Manhattan District Attorney's Office,  she also spent six years serving as New York State's Solicitor General. She is a nationally respected  litigator who has earned the ABA's highest possible evaluation of her qualifications.

Her career shows that she recognizes that protecting individuals, their families, and their entire  communities requires not only tough prosecution, but tough prosecution done fairly. So while she shares  management responsibility for the Manhattan DA's Special Victims Bureau (which prosecutes those  involved in child abuse, rape, domestic violence, and elder abuse), she also has been instrumental in the  DA's Conviction Integrity Program, which seeks to prevent and correct wrongful convictions.

Her nomination has the support of numerous law enforcement individuals and organizations, including Robert Morgenthau (former DA of Manhattan), Raymond Flynn (New York City's Police Commissioner), the National District Attorneys Association, the New York State Sheriffs’ Association, the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police, and New York Women in Law Enforcement.

The best judges understand keenly how the law affects ordinary people. Halligan has worked to help  economically disadvantaged families throughout her career. Even before law school, she worked at Georgians for Children, a statewide public policy organization that focuses on issues related to impoverished children and families. Over the years, she has engaged in pro bono work and community service projects that focus on families with the greatest needs. For example, she represented victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita who were at risk of losing their housing assistance.

In its 120-year history, the DC Circuit has had a grand total of five women judges. Halligan clerked for  the first of those, trailblazer Patricia Wald, and she would be the sixth if confirmed. The National Conference of Women's Bar Associations, the Women's Bar Association of the District of Columbia, the National Center for Women and Policing, and the U.S. Women's Chamber of Commerce are just some of the women's organizations that are supporting her nomination.

Halligan has received the highest possible rating of her qualifications from a unanimous panel of the ABA’s nonpartisan Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary. She has also received the strong support of a bipartisan group of renowned appellate advocates, including Miguel Estrada (Assistant to the Solicitor General under President George W. Bush and former nominee to this same court), Seth Waxman (Solicitor General under President Clinton), Carter Phillips (Assistant to the Solicitor General under President Reagan), and Walter Dellinger (Solicitor General under President Clinton).

A nominee with such sterling credentials and strong support from a broad range of the legal community is exactly the kind of mainstream, talented, and fair jurist we need on the federal bench.

The seat to which Halligan has been nominated has been vacant since 2005. In fact, the 11-member DC Circuit has lost three additional active judges since 2008. None of those judges has been replaced. Not surprisingly, this has had a serious impact on the caseload for the judges who are left. The Senate’s confirmation of George W. Bush nominee Thomas Griffith to the eleventh seat in 2005 resulted in there being approximately 121 pending cases per active judge. When the Senate debated Halligan’s nomination in 2011, that number had climbed to about 146 pending cases per active judge. Last month, with Judge Sentelle taking senior status, that number has now increased to about 188 cases per active judge, according to the most recent data on pending cases made available by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts.

Caitlin Halligan has excelled throughout her career. With yet another vacancy opening up on the DC Circuit just last month, the need for someone of her caliber on the bench is greater than ever before. Her nomination deserves a vote on the Senate floor, and she should be confirmed to the DC Circuit.

Sincerely,

Marge Baker
Executive Vice President for Policy and Program
People For the American Way

Paul Gordon
Senior Legislative Counsel
People For the American Way
 

PFAW