marriage

Religious Right Groups And Chamber of Commerce Fail To Block District Court Nominee

Cross-posted on Right Wing Watch

Religious Right and pro-corporate groups failed today to block President Obama’s nominee for U.S. District Court in Rhode Island, John McConnell, from receiving an up-or-down vote in the Senate. The Senate invoked cloture on McConnell’s nomination in a 63-33 vote, defeating the filibuster against McConnell. Filibusters against district court judges are extremely rare—only a handful of District Court nominees have ever faced cloture votes, and none have ever been blocked—and many Republicans previously vowed they would never filibuster a judicial nominee.

Today’s vote came after a long wait for McConnell: according to The Providence Journal, the delay caused by the concerted right-wing effort to block McConnell forced Rhode Island’s chief federal judge to “take the unusual step of reassigning more than two dozen civil cases to judges in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.”

Why the tough fight? McConnell faced virulent opposition from the Chamber of Commerce over his role fighting big tobacco companies and lead paint manufacturers. The Chamber and other groups that oppose corporate accountability found allies in the Religious Right groups that decided to fight McConnell as well.

The Conservative Action Project made McConnell a top target of their efforts. The group includes pro-corporate organizations like the 60 Plus Association, National Taxpayers Union, Americans for Limited Government, Citizens United, and American Tax Reform, along with social conservatives such as the Family Research Council, Traditional Values Coalition, Heritage Action, American Values, Liberty Counsel Action, and Eagle Forum. The Conservative Action Project’s Memo to the Movement [PDF] claimed McConnell was unqualified to serve in the judiciary because he was a trial lawyer with a history of challenging big business.

Eagle Forum derided him as a “pro-choice, anti-business, pro-judicial activism nominee” who “has made numerous anti-business statements.” The Family Research Council slammed McConnell for his ties to the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the country’s most prominent civil rights organizations, and Phillip Jauregui’s Judicial Action Group said that his link to the SPLC and the American Constitution Society shows he “supports organizations who support homosexual marriage and oppose conservative politicians.”

While the Corporate Right and the Religious Right filibuster of the McConnell nomination failed, many of these organizations will continue to work together to block other qualified judicial nominees and aggravate the country’s burgeoning judicial vacancy crisis.

PFAW

Prop 8 Supporters Seek to Vacate Case They Lost

Proponents of California's Proposition 8 are making another assault against the trial court decision they lost and have appealed. This time, instead of addressing the merits of the case, they are attacking the judge who wrote the opinion. As reported in SCOTUSBlog:

Arguing that the judge who struck down California's ban on same-sex marriage was not impartial, because of his failure to disclose his own long-term gay relationship, the sponsors of Proposition 8 asked a federal judge in San Francisco on Monday to throw out all parts of the ruling and any earlier orders in the famous case. The motion to vacate the ruling by now-retired U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker can be read here.

Since Walker retired, the case has been taken over for any further action in U.S. District Court in San Francisco by the chief judge there, James Ware. The new filing by the Proposition 8 backers said they would seek permission from the Ninth Circuit Court — where Walker's ruling is now under review — for Judge Ware to rule on their new challenge. With the case pending in the Circuit Court, that judge may not have the authority to act without permission. ...

The motion asserted that the opponents were "not suggesting that a gay or lesbian judge could not sit on his case." Rather, they argued that Judge Walker had a personal interest in the outcome of the case, because he may wish to marry his partner if Proposition 8 no longer exists. At a minimum, the motion argued, he should have disclosed that relationship and whether he has any interest in marriage so that the parties in the case could evaluate whether to formally demand that he step aside under federal laws governing such disqualifications.

Right Wing Watch reported last week on The National Review’s Ed Whalen making this same argument.

The claim that Judge Walker had a personal stake in the case that warrants throwing his decision out adds yet another illogical inconsistency to the far right’s arguments against marriage equality. Under this reasoning, since traditional marriage is designed to show societal favor toward monogamous opposite-sex couples, any judge in an opposite-sex relationship has a personal stake in the case that warrants disqualification.

And if same-sex marriage genuinely threatens opposite-sex marriage as the far right claims, then married heterosexual judges (or ones in long-term relationships who might want to marry someday) have a personal stake in the Prop 8 case that could disqualify them from hearing the case.

If anti-equality advocates actually believe the legal principles they espouse, they should apply them across the board, not only when it suits their political agenda. Otherwise, one might be forgiven for thinking that their real goal is to hurt gay people, rather than to protect the integrity of the law.

PFAW

Firm Hired to Defend DOMA Drops the House

King & Spalding, the top-tier law firm hired by the House of Representatives to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), has backed out of the agreement. Although a statement on behalf of the firm declined to specify exactly why they changed their minds and are no longer interested in a cool $500,000 of taxpayer money, Speaker Boehner will likely have to explain to the American people why he is once again leading the effort to enforce an unjust, discriminatory and now unpopular law instead of leading the effort to repeal it.

As PFAW’s Marge Baker told Roll Call last week, Americans might wonder why House Republicans wish to focus government resources on denying equal rights to gay and lesbian citizens rather than on creating jobs.

Whatever the motivation behind King & Spalding’s decision, the firm has at least provided the House with yet another opportunity to change course and do the right thing.

PFAW

NOM’s Gallagher Invited to Share Anti-Equality Myths with House Committee

This morning, Rep. Trent Franks, chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, called a hearing on “Defending Marriage” to examine the Obama Administration’s decision to stop defending the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” in courts.

Franks is pretty, um, far to the right, so it’s no surprise that one of the three witnesses he called to the hearing was Maggie Gallagher, chair of the National Organization for Marriage.

As Justin wrote earlier, Gallagher hit a bunch of the big themes of the Religious Right’s anti-gay activism, but she also dwelled on one argument peculiar to the anti-marriage equality crowd: that marriage exists solely as a structure for procreation:

If we accept, as DOMA explicitly does, that this is a core purpose of marriage, then treating same-sex unions as marriages makes little sense. If marriage as a public and legal institution is oriented towards protecting children by increasing the likelihood they are born to and raised by the man and the woman whose union made them, then same-sex couples do not fit. If same-sex couples “fit” the public definition of marriage, then marriage is no longer about responsible procreation. Same-sex marriage cuts marriage as a public idea off from these deep roots in the natural family. Over time the law will re-educate the next generation that these ancient and honorable ideals underlying marriage no longer apply. Gay marriage, as Judge Walker ruled in wrongly striking down Prop 8, is based on the idea that neither biology nor gender matters to children. Same-sex marriage repudiates the public’s interest in trying to see that children are, to the extent possible, raised by the man and woman whose bodies made them in a loving single family.

The argument that marriage exists solely for having children is, needless to say, flimsy – and has been pretty well demolished in a few marriage equality trials. I’m just going to share this extended exchange from last year’s Proposition 8 trial, in which Judge Vaughn Walker reduces the lawyer defending Prop 8 into babbling incoherence as he tries to defend the marriage-is-only-for-procreation argument:

THE COURT: And my point was that there are a number of heterosexual couples who do not naturally procreate, who require the intervention of some third party or some medical assistance of some kind.

MR. COOPER: Yes, your Honor. And it is not those opposite-sex couples either that the state is concerned about in terms of -- in terms of the threats to society and the natural concerns that society has from irresponsible procreation.

THE COURT: What's the threat to society of people choosing to have medical assistance in order to conceive children?

MR. COOPER: There isn't one there, your Honor. I mean, it's -- it is the -- again, it's irresponsible procreation. The procreation that comes about casually. And often again, as the Eighth Circuit put it, often by accident, unintentionally, unintentionally. The opposite-sex couple where one of the partners is infertile, for example, or the same-sex couple can't unintentionally procreate, but for reasons that we discussed earlier with respect to the opposite sex but infertile couple, allowing them to marry isn't something that is inconsistent with the purposes of -- the core procreative purposes of marriage and, in fact, in certain respects it advances those purposes and it would just not be possible or realistic, as case after case has said, for the state to try to implement its policy on a more narrow or fitted basis.

And, your Honor, with respect to -- and you asked a question about this in your written questions. Even with respect to the opposite-sex couple where one of the partners is infertile, encouraging that couple to get married, trying to channel that couple into marriage furthers the procreative purposes and policies underlying the traditional definition of marriage in the sense that if that couple gets married, then it -- then all of the social norms that come with marriage to encourage that couple to stay together and to be faithful to one another operate to society's benefit in the sense that the fertile member of that couple will be less likely to engage in sexual relationships with third parties and raise anew a threat of some type of unintentional or what I have been referring to previously as irresponsible procreation.

THE COURT: Why don't those same values, which are values to society that you have described, apply to lesbian couples and gay couples? Coming together, supporting one another, taking care of one another, looking out for one another, being an economic unit, being a social unit, providing love, comfort and support for one another, why don't all of those considerations apply just as much to the plaintiffs here as they apply to John and Jane Doe, to use the names that Reverend Tam used.

MR. COOPER: Those purposes, your Honor, are – we haven't suggested there is a distinction among gay and opposite-sex couples with respect to those considerations. There is a distinction, however, with respect to the fundamental procreative purpose, responsible procreative purpose of marriage; and that is that the gay couple, unlike the opposite-sex couple where one of the partners may be infertile, doesn't represent -- neither partner in the – with respect to the same-sex couple is -- again, assuming homosexual sexual orientation -- represents a concern about irresponsible procreation with a third party.

To summarize, Cooper, when pressed on the issue, ended up arguing that opposite-sex couples should get married so they don’t go around “irresponsibly procreating” with people they aren’t married to…but same-sex couples aren’t in danger of irresponsibly procreating, so they don’t need to get married….and that somehow, if gay couples were to get married, they would drive heterosexuals away from marriage, resulting in them having babies out of wedlock.

To be clear, this is the primary argument that opponents of marriage equality have in their toolkit.
 

PFAW

Support Marriage Equality? You're a Bigot!

It seems that the religious right is resorting to that old schoolyard taunt to yet again attempt to portray themselves as the victims of the fight for marriage equality.

I am rubber, you are glue…

In her testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Maggie Gallagher, Chairman of the Board of the National Organization of Marriage, warned members of the panel that Americans must brace for the impending scorn they will receive for standing up for “religious liberty.”

In a lovely bit of circular reasoning, Gallagher bemoans the intolerance of the pro-equality community:

The great animating idea behind same-sex marriage is this: there are no relevant differences between same-sex and opposite-sex unions, and if you see a difference there’s something wrong with you. You are like a bigot opposed to interracial marriage.

If you want to see what this big new idea, embraced by law, means, ask yourself: how do we treat bigots who oppose interracial marriage? If we—and the law—accept the core ideas driving same-sex marriage, we will also have to accept the consequences for traditional faith communities, for those Americans who continue to believe that marriage is the union of husband and wife.

Apparently, there is a new type of bigot: The bigot-bigot. Strangely, Gallagher is trying to claim that supporters of marriage equality are actually bigoted themselves for thinking that treating gay couples as second-class is inherently bigoted. Around and around we go.

PFAW

Ohio Governor Signs Union-Busting Bill But The Fight Isn't Over

Welcome to Ohio 2011, the state that has become the new laboratory for various right wing bills aimed at destroying Ohio’s middle class, and communities of color. And it just got worse for Ohio workers. Last week, Governor John Kasich, ignoring the overwhelming majority of Ohioans, signed into law a bill that all but eliminates collective bargaining rights for 350,000 public workers across Ohio. This law, couched as a way to close the state’s budget gap, is nothing more than an outright attack on working families. Kasich even predicted this day in March 2009 when telling a Republican audience on the campaign trail, “we need to break the back of organized labor in the schools."

Ohio’s new law, SB 5, will:

  • Limit collective bargaining rights for public employees, including teachers, police officers and firefighters.
  • Give elected officials the authority to resolve contract disputes with public employees.
  • Eliminate binding arbitration, which police officers and firefighters use to resolve contract disputes as an alternative to strikes.
  • Prohibit strikes by public employees.

Also, in a burst of equal-opportunity gay-bashing to accompanying its union bashing, the bill also includes provisions prohibiting the state from passing marriage equality legislation, including, apparently, the recognition of marriages in other states and possibly even the enactment of domestic partnership laws.

This politically driven law is very unpopular in Ohio. According to a poll released by Public Policy Polling on March 15, 2011, 63% of registered Ohio voters believe that public employees in Ohio should have the right to collectively bargain for wages, benefits, and working environment rules.

However, Ohio voters will have the last word in protecting the state’s working families. Ohioans from all corners of the state are already gearing up for our upcoming ballot battle. We will gather approximately 231,000 Ohio voter signatures for a November 8th referendum to overturn this legislation. And we will be victorious!

We must move quickly. Stay tuned for weekly updates on how you can become involved in helping to overturn this law!

PFAW

Wisconsin Republicans Seek to Block Americans From Seeing Their Embarrassing Video

Wisconsin Republicans have been using the threat of legal action this week to suppress dissemination of a video that they are, quite justifiably, embarrassed about. As reported by Talking Points Memo:

First the Republican Party in Polk County, Wisconsin, pulled the tape of Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) fretting about making ends meet on his $174,000 a year salary from its own website. Now they want it gone from the whole Internet.

For a couple hours, the local county GOP was successful. But we've put an excerpt of the video back up.

A day after TPM posted the video we obtained of Duffy talking about his salary at a Polk County town hall meeting earlier this year, the Polk County GOP contacted the video provider we used to host the video, Blip.tv, and demanded the video be taken down. ...

The county GOP took down the video from its blog after the Washington Post posted a short clip of it yesterday morning.

An official with the Polk County GOP, which posted many other clips of the town hall on its YouTube channel, told TPM yesterday that the video was taken down because it was "was being republished without our consent."

Duffy and his supporters are right to be embarrassed. However, they are not right to use copyright law to keep Americans from seeing and hearing Duffy's words for themselves. Copyright exists to encourage and protect intellectual property. It does not exist to allow an elected official to avoid accountability for his own embarrassing political speech. Nor is it intended to be used as a tool to harass those who criticize you, particularly when dissemination of portions of the video for news and commentary most likely falls within the fair use doctrine - an exception to the exclusive right of copyright holders.

How many bloggers out there without a team of lawyers to represent them are now worried about legitimately posting this video or others like it in the future? How much political speech is being intimidated this way?

Use of the law to squash criticism - particularly when there is a legitimate fair use claim - is not new. For instance, the National Organization for Marriage had Rachel Maddow take down her clip of a NOM audition tape that made viewers heap scorn upon the organization and its latest advertisement.

Molly Ivins once noted how then-Governor George W. Bush used the threat of a lawsuit to shut down an embarrassing parody website:

The parody, run by a 29-year-old computer programmer in Boston named Zack Exley, annoyed Bush so much that he called Exley "a garbageman" and said, "There ought to be limits to freedom." (That's not a parody -- he actually said that.)

Bush's lawyers warned Exley that he faced a lawsuit. Then they filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission demanding that Exley be forced to register his parody site with the FEC and have it regulated as a political committee.

In just the past few days, we have seen right wing groups use the law on public records as a weapon to intimidate academics who criticize them. But in a country whose freedom depends on robust and open political debate, the law should be used to protect political discourse, not to prevent it.

PFAW

A Religious Exemption From the Rule of Law

As originally written and introduced, the marriage bill that recently failed to pass in Maryland was very straightforward, simply removing the restriction that limits marriage to opposite-sex couples. Other laws in the state would have remained unchanged. However, a number of equality opponents expressed concern that some people would have to recognize the civil marriages of same-sex couples in violation of their sincerely held religious beliefs. Therefore, they introduced a variety of "conscience clause" amendments.

These amendments tell us a great deal about their supporters' real agenda, and it has nothing to do with a principled stand for religious liberty. The amendments did things like provide:

  • that a public school teacher not be required to teach materials that promote same-sex marriage if the content of the materials violates their sincerely held religious beliefs.
  • that a religious entity (or any nonprofit organization operated or controlled by one) need not provide adoption, foster care, or social services if providing the services would violate the entity's religious beliefs.
  • that a government employee (like a clerk or judge) not be required to perform a civil marriage ceremony if performance of the ceremony would violate their sincerely held religious beliefs.

The common phrasing – violating someone's religious beliefs, as opposed to violating their First Amendment rights – is extremely important. It makes it sound like people's constitutional Free Exercise rights are being protected. But in Maryland and elsewhere, that is not the case: Provisions like these do not codify existing First Amendment rights to the free exercise of religion.

Neutral laws of general applicability that infringe on a person's religious beliefs have been upheld as not violating a person's First Amendment rights. For instance, in the 1990 Employment Division v. Smith case, the Supreme Court upheld Oregon's right to deny unemployment benefits to a person who had been fired for violating the state's anti-drugs laws (specifically, smoking peyote), even though the person smoked peyote as part of his religion.

In that case, with Justice Scalia writing for the majority, the Court ruled that the First Amendment does not allow a person to cite their own religious beliefs as a reason not to obey generally applicable laws. "To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself."

Anti-discrimination laws have long required people to do things that may not be consistent with their religious faith. For instance, an election worker who believes God commanded the sexes to remain separate in public cannot force men and women to vote in different rooms. A white innkeeper who believes that God commands segregation must nevertheless open his inn to all races. An employer who believes God commanded women to defer to men cannot refuse to make women supervisors.

So opponents of marriage equality certainly aren't acting to protect anyone's constitutional right to religious liberty. What they are demanding is a religious exemption from laws they don't like.

As if that wasn't bad enough, it's only those who share their particular religious beliefs who they deem worthy of this special right.

Since the marriage equality bill in Maryland failed to pass, have these self-styled stalwarts of religious liberty insisted that the amendments they proposed be made into law anyway, as general religious liberty protections not targeting gay people as a class?

They have not.

Perhaps what drives them is animus toward gays and lesbians. Or perhaps it's an arrogant certainty that their religious beliefs and no one else's should be protected by law.

Whatever it is, it certainly is not a principled fidelity to religious liberty.

We faced a similar issue more than forty years ago, when people with religious opposition to interracial marriages found themselves in a society that no longer prohibited such marriages. Indeed, as the Virginia trial court judge wrote when convicting Richard and Mildred Loving of violating the state's prohibition of interracial marriage:

"Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."

After Loving v. Virginia, our nation did not empower that judge or any other public official to opt out of performing his duty to marry eligible couples simply because he personally opposed interracial marriages on religious grounds. Nor did we empower public school teachers to "opt out" of teaching students that such couples exist. No different standard should be applied with respect to gay couples.

PFAW

The Strategy Behind the Maryland Marriage Bill Withdrawal

Advocates of equality were disappointed Friday when Maryland's pending marriage bill failed to pass the House of Delegates. It had already passed the Senate, in part because the vitriol of equality opponents had prompted one legislator to switch from opposing to supporting the bill. Unfortunately, advocates were unable to garner a majority of the House.

However, the bill was not defeated in a floor vote, but instead was "recommitted to committee." This is a critical distinction, one that allows advocates to introduce the bill again next year with a greater chance of success. Equality Maryland board member David Lublin explains the strategy on Maryland Politics Watch:

The House of Delegates agreed on a unanimous voice vote to recommit the bill to the House Judiciary Committee. This decision effectively kills the bill for the year. Many people naturally wonder why no vote was taken after all of the hard work that was done to advance the bill by so many people inside and outside of the legislature. Proponents agreed to this because they fell a few votes short of those needed to pass the bill on the floor of the House.

The argument for a vote is clear. People have a right to know where their legislators stand on such an important issue. Regardless of the outcome, it would have been the democratic process in action with delegates reflecting the will of their constituents and acting as our representatives.

On the other hand, proponents would have lost by a greater number than the closeness of the unofficial count because some "yes" votes would have become "no" votes. Legislators in marginal districts who might have been willing to stick their necks out to pass a meaningful piece of legislation would not do so if the legislation was going to fail.

Additionally, going forward, it is a lot harder to convert the votes of people who have cast a vote on the floor against marriage than it is to gain the votes of the undecided or who have said they oppose it but have yet to cast an actual vote on the topic. The thought behind not holding a vote is that it makes it easier to bring it up again next year and also does not demoralize opponents in other states. That was the thinking behind the decision to recommit.

Had the bill been defeated in a floor vote, then it would have been hard to reintroduce it successfully until after the next legislative elections, which are not until November 2014. But with the bill recommitted, advocates are freer to introduce it next year. In the meantime, they can spend the intervening months reaching out to legislators and the general population.

PFAW

Rick Santorum's Journey to Fantasyland

Rick Santorum has an op-ed against marriage equality in the Des Moines Register that is breathtaking in its dishonesty.

In order to target a Republican base that has lurched further and further from reality, he writes about a world that simply doesn't exist.

One of the most easily disproved inaccuracies: He writes that President Obama is refusing to enforce DOMA. That is flat out false; the administration now refuses to defend DOMA in court, but it has made it clear in both word and deed that it will continue to enforce the law. While the idea of a president unilaterally declaring a law unconstitutional and simply pretending it doesn't exist plays into the Republican base's deluded image of Barack Obama as a totalitarian dictator, it bears no relation to reality.

If Santorum knows that what he is writing about DOMA is false, he lacks the basic moral qualifications to be president. And if he doesn't know that it's false, he needs to reassure voters that someone whose operation does not engage in even the most rudimentary fact-checking can be trusted to make the critical policy decisions a president must make every day. He also owes a public apology to the American people and to the president.

Similarly, Santorum's description of the arguments made by proponents of marriage equality bears no relationship to reality. He says that equality advocates fail to "make a reasoned case providing evidence about such things as the effects on children, traditional marriage, faith, school curriculum and public health." Among the many items from the reality-based world that the former senator simply pretends don't exist is the federal district court opinion striking down Proposition 8. In great detail, Judge Vaughn Walker's 136-page opinion goes through the evidence on these and other matters presented both by proponents and opponents of the right to marry. Those sharing Santorum's position had their evidence heard and carefully considered against the evidence presented by equality advocates. The result was that Judge Walker forcefully and persuasively rejected the arguments against marriage equality.

Santorum's distorted depiction of the world may play well with those on the right who ignore any fact contradicting their self-image as heroic freedom fighters under siege. However, the rest of the country would prefer an honest debate of the issues.

PFAW

Supreme Court Decision Exposes Religious Right Deceit on Hate Crimes Laws

When Congress debated and ultimately passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, detractors unfairly criticized the law as a threat to free speech and religious freedom. Opponents, especially from the Religious Right, tried to cover up their animus by maintaining that efforts to protect people against violent crime were really attempts to ban “hate speech,” and consequently “criminalize religion."

Rob Boston, a senior policy analyst of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, writes about how the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Snyder v. Phelps yet again exposes the dishonesty of the Religious Right’s arguments:

There has been no end of discussion about this church and its antics. Today I want to focus on an overlooked aspect of the controversy: For years, we’ve been hearing Religious Right leaders claim that their freedom to speak out on issues like homosexuality and abortion is at risk. To hear them tell it, “hate speech” laws are just around the corner, and Pastor Bob is only one step away from being tossed in the hoosegow if he dares to read from the Book of Leviticus in the pulpit.

It’s hard to imagine speech more hateful than that put forth by Westboro Baptist’s members. They think God is punishing America for tolerating homosexuality, so they hoist signs reading, “God Hates Fags,” “Thank God for IEDs” and “Pray for More Dead Soldiers.”

This is some seriously hateful stuff – and by an 8-1 vote the Supreme Court said in Snyder v. Phelps that it is protected speech. If Westboro Baptist can claim the mantle of the First Amendment to unleash this stuff, I don’t think Pastor Bob has to worry about his pulpit criticisms of same-sex marriage. W

henever cases like this come up, the term “hate speech” is thrown around a lot in the media. Although this term appears in common parlance, it’s not something the courts have adopted. Sure, a lot of speech can be termed “hateful” – and it’s also protected speech. The First Amendment does not require that speech be polite, rational or popular. After all, the First Amendment wouldn’t be very useful if all it did was protect your right to say something everyone agrees with.



The claim that “hate speech” laws are going to shut down fundamentalist churches and gag conservative pastors is, to put it politely, bunk. It was never a persuasive argument, and in light of Wednesday’s ruling stands in shreds. I’m hoping Religious Right leaders will have the decency to stop saying it – but I won’t hold my breath.
PFAW

President Obama Calls DOMA Unconstitutional

Attorney General Eric Holder has announced that the Department of Justice will no longer defend Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act in court because it is unconstitutional. This is the provision prohibiting federal recognition of the marriages of gay or lesbian couples. As if that wasn't big enough news by itself, DoJ has concluded that legal classifications based on sexual orientation, like those based on race, sex, national origin, and religion, should be subject to a higher level of judicial scrutiny.

While the Department has previously defended DOMA against legal challenges involving legally married same-sex couples, recent lawsuits that challenge the constitutionality of DOMA Section 3 have caused the President and the Department to conduct a new examination of the defense of this provision. In particular, in November 2010, plaintiffs filed two new lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA in jurisdictions without precedent on whether sexual-orientation classifications are subject to rational basis review or whether they must satisfy some form of heightened scrutiny. Windsor v. United States, No. 1:10-cv-8435 (S.D.N.Y.); Pedersen v. OPM, No. 3:10-cv-1750 (D. Conn.). Previously, the Administration has defended Section 3 in jurisdictions where circuit courts have already held that classifications based on sexual orientation are subject to rational basis review, and it has advanced arguments to defend DOMA Section 3 under the binding standard that has applied in those cases.

These new lawsuits, by contrast, will require the Department to take an affirmative position on the level of scrutiny that should be applied to DOMA Section 3 in a circuit without binding precedent on the issue. As described more fully below, the President and I have concluded that classifications based on sexual orientation warrant heightened scrutiny and that, as applied to same-sex couples legally married under state law, Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional.

This is the first recognition by the United States government that gays and lesbians have suffered a long history of discrimination so bad that it makes suspect any laws that treat people differently based on sexual orientation.  Moreover, that discrimination continues today and limits their political influence.

[T]he adoption of laws like those at issue in Romer v. Evans [prohibiting the state from passing civil rights protections for gay people] and Lawrence [laws making their private sexual conduct a crime], the longstanding ban on gays and lesbians in the military, and the absence of federal protection for employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation show the group to have limited political power and "ability to attract the [favorable] attention of the lawmakers." Cleburne, 473 U.S. at 445. And while the enactment of the Matthew Shepard Act and pending repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell indicate that the political process is not closed entirely to gay and lesbian people, that is not the standard by which the Court has judged "political powerlessness." Indeed, when the Court ruled that gender-based classifications were subject to heightened scrutiny, women already had won major political victories such as the Nineteenth Amendment (right to vote) and protection under Title VII (employment discrimination).

The Attorney General's announcement notes that it will continue to enforce DOMA until it is repealed by Congress or struck down definitively by the courts. In addition, it will work to ensure that Congress, should it wish, has the opportunity to defend the law in court since the Administration cannot in good conscience do so. (This would presumably avoid a situation like the one in California, where the state refused to pursue an appeal of the district court ruling against Proposition 8, leaving in doubt whether anyone has standing to do so.)

PFAW

Anti-Equality Testimony May Have Backfired in Maryland

Yesterday in Maryland, both equality advocates and far right groups testified before a state senate panel considering a marriage equality bill. Opponents of the bill offered their standard arguments against marriage equality. And those arguments did succeed in giving at least one legislator second thoughts.

But not in the way the far right hoped.

State Sen. James Brochin had earlier this week announced that he would vote against the bill. Yet he was so moved by the vitriol of the bill's opponents that he is now considering changing his position and voting in favor of marriage equality. As the Baltimore Sun's Maryland Politics blog reports:

Baltimore County Sen. James Brochin found the testimony Tuesday by opponents of gay marriage "troubling," and said this morning that he may support the bill. The Baltimore County Democrat had previously said he was against same-sex marriage.

"The demonization of gay families really bothered me," Brochin said. "Are these families going to continue to be treated by the law as second class citizens?"

The Washington Post adds:

Brochin said in [a] news release that he was moved by testimony at the hearing, particularly that of the bill's opponents, which he called "appalling."

"Witness after witness demonized homosexuals, vilified the gay community and described gays and lesbians as pedophiles," Brochin said.

The testimony of the far right – their own opinions in their own words – has pushed a legislator from the “no” column into the “maybe” column. It's too early to say for sure how Senator Brochin will vote on the issue, but his reaction to the ugliness of the arguments against equality speaks volumes.

PFAW

Appeals Court Starts Hearing Prop 8 Case Today

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has just begun hearing an appeal of the decision that struck down California’s gay marriage ban. The court will be considering the legal arguments laid out by Judge Vaughn Walker in his decision to strike down Prop 8 in August. As it does so, the Court will rely on the substantial factual record that Judge Walker gathered in the original trial—much of which demolishes the “facts” presented by anti-gay activists.

You can watch the proceedings live here:

...and follow the Constitutional Accountability Center’s live blog at the Huffington Post.

Whatever the Ninth Circuit decides, the case is likely to end up before the Supreme Court. Back in August, People For’s Michael Keegan wrote about the stakes involved for the Right:

For years, the Right has watched its anti-gay agenda lose credibility as public acceptance of gays and lesbians has steadily grown and intolerance has declined. And that trend is going strong, as young people of all political stripes are more likely to know gay people and more willing to grant them equal rights and opportunities, including the right to marriage. A CNN poll this month found that a majority of Americans think gays and lesbians should have the right to marry--the first time gay marriage dissenters had slipped solidly into the minority in a national poll. Even in California, where Proposition 8 passed on the ballot in 2008, a poll earlier this year found a majority now support same sex marriage rights. Indeed, this change is even visible on the Right, where the fight against equality is being waged by an increasingly marginalized movement. Who would have ever thought that Ann Coulter would be booted from a right-wing conference for being "too gay friendly"?

Of course, basic human rights should never be decided by majority vote--they are guaranteed by the Constitution. But, on the issue of gay rights, the Right Wing now finds itself up against both the Constitution and the will of a steadily increasing majority.


 

 

PFAW

Illinois sends civil union bill to Governor Quinn

In a 61-52 vote on November 30, the Illinois House approved the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act. The Senate followed suit on December 1 with a 32-24 vote. The bill would make civil unions available to Illinoisans as of July 1 of next year.

Equality Illinois celebrated the victory.

On that date, thousands of same-sex couples in Illinois will have access to protections that were previously denied to them, such as emergency medical decision-making, hospital visitation, inheritance rights, and others.  This is a historic moment for our State, and we would not have been able to get here without the extraordinary leadership of the bill's chief sponsors, State Representative Greg Harris and State Senator David Koehler.  Many of our partner organizations and community leaders devoted endless energy to helping pass this bill.  Clergy all around Illinois educated their congregations and even prayed for elected officials to understand the urgency of the protection that civil unions offers.  And our supporters from every corner of the State participated by contacting lawmakers, canvassing, phone banking, writing letters, and making contributions.  This is your victory too.

Governor Quinn has pledged to sign it into law.

Quinn has been an outspoken supporter of the bill, which was co-sponsored by state Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, one of two openly gay state legislators. During the recent election, Quinn gambled his political career on the legislation by vowing to pass it and sign it into law. He defeated state Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, a staunch conservative, by less than 20,000 votes.

"It's always the right time to do the right thing,"; Quinn said paraphrasing Martin Luther King Jr. during a press conference, when asked to address criticism that the state's large debt and high jobless rate should take precedence over social issues.

"My conscience is not kicking me in the shins today," he said. "I believe I did the right thing for the people of Illinois and all those who live in Illinois."

The action in Illinois is an important step forward in the fight for equitable relationship recognition. PFAW welcomes this step but notes that civil unions are no substitute for marriage. Marriage is a state institution recognized in every state, across state lines, and at the federal level. Civil unions are exclusively state-based. Like domestic partnerships, they provide some state benefits, but they are not portable from state-to-state, and they receive no federal recognition. In addition, the separate status of “civil unions” stigmatizes lesbian and gay families as unworthy of perhaps the most basic foundation of our society.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has produced maps that show the successes thus far and the challenges moving forward.

We have won the battle, but we have not yet won the war.

PFAW

Right Wing Escalates Drive to Censor and Investigate the Smithsonian

Even after successfully demanding that the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery censor part of its “Hide/Seek” exhibit, congressional Republicans and conservative commentators have continued their attacks on the Smithsonian. House Republican leaders John Boehner and Eric Cantor joined right wing extremists like Bill Donohue and Glenn Beck to pressure the Smithsonian to remove a video by the late artist David Wojnarowicz in an exhibit on the ways art portrays homosexuality and AIDS.

Georgia Republican Jack Kingston, who is in the running to become chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, called for a Congressional investigation into the art at the Smithsonian with hopes to strip the museum of its funding, despite the fact that the exhibit was entirely funded by private donors. Speaking to Fox News, Kingston said that parts of the “pro-gay exhibit” are “really perverted” with “lots of really kinky and questionable kind of art.” Kingston went on to say that the Smithsonian “should be under the magnifying glass right now” and is “a waste of tax dollars, and during these hard budget times we can’t afford it.”

With the prospect of congressional investigations of art and the de-fuding of museums, critics of censorship are speaking out.

PFAW President Michael Keegan writes in his new Huffington Post Op-Ed that “the path from David Wojnarowicz's struggle with AIDS to the director of a Smithsonian museum announcing, ironically on World AIDS Day, that Wojnarowicz's artwork might spoil someone's Christmas, says a lot about American politics at the start of a new era of right-wing power.”

Blake Gopnik, the arts critic for the Washington Post, spoke out against the Right’s blatant attempts at censorship in a must-read Op-Ed for the Post. In his November 5th review of “Hide/Seek,” written well-before the Right cultivated the controversy, Gopnik in his description of a painting by Andrew Wyeth said that “it’s that censor-baiting force that clearly made it worth painting for Wyeth -- and worth looking at for all the rest of us.” Now, Gopnik is pushing back on the conservatives’ demands for censorship:

If every piece of art that offended some person or some group was removed from a museum, our museums might start looking empty - or would contain nothing more than pabulum. Goya's great nudes? Gone. The Inquisition called them porn.

Norman Rockwell would get the boot, too, if I believed in pulling everything that I'm offended by: I can't stand the view of America that he presents, which I feel insults a huge number of us non-mainstream folks. But I didn't call for the Smithsonian American Art Museum to pull the Rockwell show that runs through Jan. 2, just down the hall from "Hide/Seek." Rockwell and his admirers got to have their say, and his detractors, including me, got to rant about how much they hated his art. Censorship would have prevented that discussion, and that's why we don't allow it.

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has said that taxpayer-funded museums should uphold "common standards of decency." But such "standards" don't exist, and shouldn't, in a pluralist society. My decency is your disgust, and one point of museums, and of contemporary art in general, is to test where lines get drawn and how we might want to rethink them. A great museum is a laboratory where ideas get tested, not a mausoleum full of dead thoughts and bromides.

In America no one group - and certainly no single religion - gets to declare what the rest of us should see and hear and think about. Aren't those kinds of declarations just what extremist imams get up to, in countries with less freedom?

Of course, it's pretty clear that this has almost nothing to do with religion. Eleven seconds of an ant-covered crucifix? Come on.



The attack is on gayness, and images of it, more than on sacrilege - even though, last I checked, many states are sanctioning gay love in marriage, and none continue to ban homosexuality.

And the Portrait Gallery has given into this attack.



Artists have the right to express themselves. Curators have the right to choose the expression they think matters most. And the rest of us have the right to see that expression, and judge those choices for ourselves.

If anyone's offended by any work in any museum, they have the easiest redress: They can vote with their feet, and avoid the art they don't like.
PFAW

How DOMA Harms Real People in Real Ways: Exhibit A

The Justice Department today refused to step in to prevent the deportation Genesio Oliveira, a Brazilian man recently reunited with his husband, an American citizen, in Massuchusetts. In March, Oliveira and his husband followed the procedure to obtain a green card for Oliveira, as the immigrant spouse of an American citizen. But because the Defense of Marriage Act prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, they were out of luck.

Oliveira’s case became a high-profile cause after his husband, Tim Coco, invested in ads to bring attention to the couple’s plight. Senator John Kerry also took up the case.

Coloradoan Joshua Vandiver and his Venezualan husband Henry Velandia face the same legal roadblock. Watch them tell their story:

In June, a federal judge in Massachusetts ruled unconstitutional the section of DOMA that prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, finding that the law was motivated simply by “irrational prejudice.” The Obama Administration has appealed the ruling.
 

PFAW

LGBT Community Speaks Out Against Gold’s Gym

Karl Rove’s Super PAC American Crossroads has received millions of dollars in funding from TRT Holdings and its owner, Robert Rowling. TRT Holdings under Rowling’s leadership owns the companies Omni Hotels and Gold’s Gym. TRT Holdings donated $2,341,000 to American Crossroads, and Rowling himself gave the pro-GOP group $2.5 million. As reported in After Citizens United: A Look into the Pro-Corporate Players in American Politics, American Crossroads and its sister group Crossroads GPS plan to spend well-over $50 million to elect Republican majorities in the House and Senate. Now, activist Michael Jones, through the online community Change.org, is calling on consumers to hold Gold’s Gym accountable for the company’s substantial donations to the pro-corporate, right-wing political organization.

After criticizing Target and Best Buy for contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars to a Minnesota political organization that supports a staunchly anti-gay candidate for Governor, supporters of LGBT equality are now attacking Gold’s Gym and its parent company, TRT Holdings. Most of the candidates American Crossroads supports also have astoundingly anti-gay and anti-equality opinions and records.

Jones has launched a petition that calls out Gold’s Gym, which “markets and caters to LGBT customers,” for using money from their corporate accounts to effectively support candidates “who want to take away civil rights for LGBT Americans.” Jones writes:

Who would have thought that giving money to Gold's Gym could have such ugly consequences for the LGBT community?

Among the candidates that the owner of Gold's Gym is working to elect include Nevada GOP senate candidate Sharron Angle, who is challenging Sen. Harry Reid. Angle, you might recall, has previously said that women who are raped should turn their lemons into lemonade, and that LGBT people should be barred from adopting children. And that's only the tip of iceberg. In years past, Sharron Angle put her blessing behind an insert that went out to voters that said homosexuality would lead to the destruction of the United States, and called gay people "sodomites" and "perverts." She even endorsed a statement that said there was no evidence to suggest homosexuality was biological, and that scientists who argue otherwise are flawed.

Thanks, Gold's Gym!

But Sharron Angle isn't the only candidate that American Crossroads is supporting. There's also Rep. Roy Blunt in Missouri, who is currently running for an open U.S. Senate seat in the state. Blunt has a whopping 0% rating from the Human Rights Campaign when it comes to legislation focused on the LGBT community, and has voted against the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA), in favor of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, and in favor of banning gay adoptions in Washington, D.C. And in his current campaign for U.S. Senate, he's made the preservation of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) a hot issue, suggesting that if he loses his race, DOMA will die and gay people will be allowed to get married all over the country. Ah, the horror!

Once again, thank you, Gold's Gym.

American Crossroads also supports Colorado’s Ken Buck, who said that homosexuality was a “choice…like alcoholism,” and New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte, who believes that gay and lesbian couples should not have the right to adopt children, among other anti-equality Republicans.

Now, four Gold’s Gyms in the San Francisco Bay Area just released a statement saying that they will leave the Gold’s Gym brand as a response to TRT Holding’s political donations.

In the end, corporations should not just face petitions from consumers to stop financing political groups, but should be restricted from spending money in elections in general. Nine in ten Americans want “clear limits on how much money corporations can spend to influence the outcome of an election,” and Gold’s Gym and other companies should know that the public does not want them using their money from their general treasuries to influence elections.

 

PFAW

And Support for Marriage Equality Keeps on Inching Up…

The Pew Research Center reported this week that fewer than half of Americans are opposed to same-sex marriage, the first time opposition has dipped below 50% since Pew began polling on the issue 15 years ago.

Opposition to marriage equality still edges out support, with 48% opposed and 42% in favor, but Pew’s data show’s a clear and steady trend toward acceptance of equal rights for gays and lesbians. And take a look at this chart showing how support breaks down among different age groups. The trend is remarkable:


In August, People For’s president, Michael Keegan, wrote in the Huffington Post, “The Right has won many important battles against gay rights, but they are losing the war...and they know it”:

For years, the Right has watched its anti-gay agenda lose credibility as public acceptance of gays and lesbians has steadily grown and intolerance has declined. And that trend is going strong, as young people of all political stripes are more likely to know gay people and more willing to grant them equal rights and opportunities, including the right to marriage. A CNN poll this month found that a majority of Americans think gays and lesbians should have the right to marry--the first time gay marriage dissenters had slipped solidly into the minority in a national poll. Even in California, where Proposition 8 passed on the ballot in 2008, a poll earlier this year found a majority now support same sex marriage rights. Indeed, this change is even visible on the Right, where the fight against equality is being waged by an increasingly marginalized movement. Who would have ever thought that Ann Coulter would be booted from a right-wing conference for being "too gay friendly"?

Of course, basic human rights should never be decided by majority vote--they are guaranteed by the Constitution. But, on the issue of gay rights, the Right Wing now finds itself up against both the Constitution and the will of a steadily increasing majority.

This isn’t to say that the Right Wing has been taking the hint that an anti-gay agenda might be a losing proposition in the long run. Rather, prominent figures on the Right seem to be trying to revel in homophobia as much as possible before the issue becomes marginalized. Opposition to the “homosexual agenda” was a major theme of last month’s “Values Voter Summit,” which drew GOP leaders (and aspiring GOP leaders) like Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, and Bob McDonnell. And even Glenn Beck, who drew flack from the far right for saying that gay marriage wouldn’t be a threat to the country, regularly invites pseudohistorian and professional homophobe David Barton—who recently opined that gay people were such a threat to the country that gay sex should be regulated—to lend his expertise to his program.

Maybe the most stunning thing about the Right’s commitment to anti-gay politics is the continuing opposition to allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. Pew found that Americans support allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly by a 2-1 margin—yet the Republican Party continues to side with a small minority of right-wing extremists dedicated to preserving Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
 

PFAW

Santorum Slamming JFK, Secularism

Fifty years ago, the man who would become America’s first Catholic president delivered a historic speech that helped reduce anti-Catholic prejudice in our public life. Five decades later, a man who would like to be the nation’s second Catholic president celebrated the occasion by slamming Kennedy. It’s a remarkable reversal. 

Former Senator Rick Santorum has been using the anniversary of then-presidential candidate John F. Kennedy’s famous address on church-state separation to decry the destructive forces of secularism that he says Kennedy unleashed. (People For the American Way is among Santorum’s targets.)
 
Santorum’s attack deserves attention, especially at a time when religious and political leaders, Santorum among them, are eagerly fanning the flames of religious intolerance. Much of Santorum’s recent speech – delivered in Houston on September 9 and reprised since then at events like Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom conference – is given over to repeated claims that Kennedy emboldened secularists who want a public square “cleansed of all religious wisdom and the voice of religious people of all faiths.” He says Kennedy’s speech launched a movement that is “repressing or banishing people of faith from having a say in government.”
 
These inflammatory claims are regularly advanced by Religious Right leaders who portray supporters of church-state separation as hostile to faith and religious liberty. But how can they be taken seriously?
 
Choose any topic that is being debated in the public square, and you’ll find people of faith advancing their values, probably on both sides of the issue – and not just on abortion and gay rights.  Religious Right activists spouted Tea Party arguments about the evils of government while progressive religious leaders worked hard to promote health care reform. The Catholic hierarchy is among the religious organizations working to deny gay couples legal recognition while other religious groups like the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism are working for full marriage equality.  At the same time, the two groups are both lobbying for humane immigration reform.
 
It’s a complicated scene, and it’s a noisy one. Who has been silenced? Not Ralph Reed, who is bragging that he’s planning to mobilize conservative evangelical voters to turn Election Day into a historic rout for Democrats.  And certainly not conservative Catholics like Santorum.  At Reed’s Faith and Freedom conference, a panel included leaders of two groups organized to promote conservative Catholic values in the public arena – Catholic Advocate and Faithful Catholic Citizens.
 
There are situations that bring constitutional values into tension. America, via the Supreme Court and civil rights legislation, has decided (Rand Paul notwithstanding) that a business owner’s desire to discriminate against racial minorities does not trump other individuals’ right to equal access to public accommodations, even if the desire to discriminate was based on sincerely held religious beliefs.  Courts and legislatures are wrangling with similar situations that consider religious beliefs about homosexuality, abortion, and contraception alongside LGBT Americans’ right to legal equality, and all Americans’ access to medical care.
 
But the fact that some court cases have gone against those seeking a religious exemption to a generally applied law is no grounds for claiming that religious people have been silenced, or no longer have the right to make their case in the public square. What Santorum seems to want is a kind of double standard: religious conservatives can take part in public debate but should be shielded from criticism. They can engage in legal and political advocacy, but if they lose they can claim the process has been stacked against them by sinister anti-religious forces.
 
Santorum argues that the secularist forces unleashed by Kennedy threaten peaceful coexistence and even put American civilization at risk. He says the founders believed that “if they fostered religion and the Judeo-Christian moral code we would achieve something that was never before seen in a country with so many competing faiths - a truly tolerant, democratic and harmonious public square.”
 
But Santorum himself is actively undermining the possibility for a “tolerant, democratic and harmonious” public square. He seeks political gain by branding his opponents as enemies of religious liberty. And he has played a significant role in inflaming an ugly anti-Islamic wave of public opinion that has resulted in fatal violence and could leave communities damaged and divided for years.
 
Santorum portrays himself as heroic, telling audiences, “I have been criticized in the media for daring to speak out on these sensitive moral issues.”  That’s not true.  Santorum is criticized not for “daring to speak out” but for saying things many people disagree with. Santorum has every right to denigrate the loving relationships of same-sex couples by comparing them to man-on-dog sex. But just as surely others have the right to criticize and even ridicule him for those statements.  
 
The First Amendment is a two-way street. But that seems to be one truth that Santorum and his allies refuse to acknowledge.
PFAW