It's been a week of mixed emotions for those of us who care about civil rights. There was the elation today when the Supreme Court overturned the so-called Defense of Marriage Act -- the discriminatory law that has hurt so many Americans in its nearly 17 years of existence -- and let marriage equality return to California. There was the anger when the Court twisted the law to make it harder for workers and consumers to take on big corporations. And there was the disbelief and outrage when the Court declared that a key part of the Voting Rights Act that was so important and had worked so well was now somehow no longer constitutional.
But throughout the week, I have been reminded of one thing: how grateful I am that Mitt Romney will not be picking the next Supreme Court justice.
It remains true that this Supreme Court is one of the most right-leaning in American history. The majority's head-in-the-sand decision on the Voting Rights Act -- declaring that the VRA isn't needed anymore because it's working so well -- was a stark reminder of why we need to elect presidents who will nominate Supreme Court justices who understand both the text and history of the Constitution and the way it affects real people's lives.
We were reminded of this again today when all the conservative justices except for Anthony Kennedy stood behind the clearly unconstitutional DOMA. Justice Antonin Scalia -- no stranger to anti-gay rhetoric -- wrote an apoplectic rant of a dissent denying the Court's clear role in preserving equal protection. If there had been one more far-right justice on the court, Scalia's dissent could have been the majority opinion.
Just think of how different this week would have been if Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan were not on the court and if John McCain had picked two justices instead. We almost certainly wouldn't have a strong affirmation of LGBT equality. Efforts to strip people of color of their voting rights would likely have stood with fewer justices in dissent. And the rights of workers and consumers could be in even greater peril.
As the Republican party moves further and further to the right, it is trying to take the courts with it. This week, we saw what that means in practice. As we move forward to urge Congress to fix the Voting Rights Act and reinforce protections for workers and consumers, and work to make sure that marriage equality is recognized in all states, we must always remember the courts. Elections have real consequences. These Supreme Court decisions had less to do with evolving legal theory than with who appointed the justices. Whether historically good or disastrous, all these decisions were decided by just one vote. In 2016, let's not forget what happened this week.
The Supreme Court today ruled that the core section of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act violates the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. DOMA’s Section 3, which the Court vacated, prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in the states, thereby hitting legally married gay and lesbian couples with extra taxes and depriving them of a slew of federal protections.
People For the American Way Foundation president Michael Keegan said of the Supreme Court’s ruling: “Today’s DOMA ruling is a profound step forward for loving, committed same-sex couples across the country. The decision is premised on the plain fact that there is no good reason for the government to recognize some legally married couples while discriminating against others.”
PFAW launched a campaign to “Dump DOMA” in 2008. Since then, our petition calling on Congress to repeal the discriminatory law has gathered 230,000 signatures.
But the effort to overturn DOMA is not over. While Section 3 was the law’s most damaging provision, DOMA’s Section 2, which says that states don’t have to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, still stands. We will continue to work to overturn the remainder of DOMA and ensure that all gay and lesbian Americans have the right to marriage, no matter which state they make their home.
While our work continues, today’s decision represents a historic turning point for equality. DOMA will no longer tear apart binational couples. It will no longer impose a “gay tax” on legally married same-sex couples. It will no longer deny benefits to same-sex spouses of federal employees. It will no longer deny gay and lesbian veterans benefits for their spouses.
The story of Edith Windsor, the plaintiff who brought DOMA to the Supreme Court, and Thea Spyer, her late wife and partner of 40 years, illustrates what this decision will mean to so many Americans:
Photo credit: City of Minneapolis Facebook
Thousands of Minnesotans streamed into St. Paul Tuesday afternoon to witness history in the making. Governor Mark Dayton welcomed an estimated crowd of 7,000 equality supporters to watch him sign marriage equality legislation into law, making Minnesota the twelfth state to legalize marriage for same-sex couples.
People For members helped make this historic event happen. In 2012 PFAW activists joined the fight to vote down an anti-gay ‘one-man, one-woman’ measure on the November ballot. Following that first step, they continued working hard, joining PFAW ally organizations Minnesotans United and OutFront Minnesota in organizing their neighbors, making phone calls, sending emails, and writing letters to their newspapers, demanding full marriage equality for same-sex couples.
In late April, even a massive Midwestern blizzard didn’t stop hundreds from waving rainbow flags while rallying for same-sex marriage on the steps of the Minnesota State Capitol before heading inside to lobby their legislators. Last week the big moment finally arrived, as activists from across Minnesota trekked to St. Paul to witness the historic debate of HF 1054 in the MN House. After a contentious three-hour debate, the bill passed easily on a vote of 75-59, evidence of the measure’s broad bi-partisan support.
On Monday the action moved to the Minnesota Senate chamber. Once again, PFAW members in their bright red PFAW ‘Equality Now!’ t-shirts joined thousands of marriage equality supporters at noon in the capitol as the MN Senate took up the measure. A massive crowd packing the rotunda and hallways chanted ‘Vote Yes!’ and sang protest songs, letting Senators know where they stood. By a vote of 42-45, the Senate voted down a divisive amendment that would have allowed business owners to refuse goods and services to same-sex couples based on religious objections. The hours-long but respectful debate on the intact same-sex marriage bill resulted in another bipartisan vote; the measure passing 37-30, sending the bill to Gov. Mark Dayton for his signature.
At 5:00 pm yesterday Gov. Dayton and supportive members of the Minnesota Legislature gathered in the 90-degree heat on the front steps to celebrate the historic bill signing. A deafening roar rose from the crowd as Dayton signed the bill into law. Following the ceremony, the thousands of equality revelers paraded to downtown St. Paul for a free party thrown by St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman. The celebration lasted late into the warm spring night.
PFAW congratulates all Minnesotans and our People For members in celebrating the state’s newly-minted status as the twelfth marriage equality state!
Yesterday, as the Minnesota Senate voted 37-30 to allow same-sex marriages in the state, PFAW and friends expressed their support for marriage equality through signs, chants, and songs:
This afternoon the Minnesota House passed a bill allowing same-sex couples in Minnesota to marry. It is expected to be taken up by the Senate on Monday, and Gov. Mark Dayton has pledged to sign the legislation if it reaches him. If successful, Minnesota would be the twelfth state – and the third in one month – to pass marriage equality legislation.
“I personally want this to pass, but I also think it’s the right direction for Minnesota and where the future is headed,” said Minnesota House Speaker Paul Thissen on Tuesday, according to the Star Tribune.
Jake Loesch, communications director for Minnesotans United, shared a similar sentiment:
“Marriage is a simple freedom, it’s something that all Minnesotans deserve and it’s about the love, the commitment, the responsibility that two people share.”
Following closely on the heels of Rhode Island, Delaware is poised to become the eleventh state to allow same-sex couples to marry. Because the Delaware House passed a marriage equality bill last month and Governor Jack Markell has pledged to sign it, the only remaining step was passage in the state Senate – which happened this afternoon.
Recent polling data found that a clear majority of Delaware voters, like the majority of Americans in general, support marriage equality. In April Gov. Markell told the Huffington Post:
“…when the advocates came to me earlier this year, and said we think it's time…I said, you know what, it is time, and I'm happy to stand right there with you.”
We agree: it is time for loving, committed couples to be treated equally under the law – in Delaware and throughout the country.
Today the Rhode Island House passed and Governor Lincoln Chafee is expected to sign legislation allowing same-sex couples to marry, making it the tenth state in the country with full marriage equality. The state House passed a similar version of the bill earlier this year but held another vote following minor changes to the Senate version. Last week PFAW President Michael Keegan released a statement celebrating passage of the bill in the state Senate.
In The New York Times yesterday, Governor Lincoln Chafee called the nationwide push for marriage equality a “historic realignment”:
“A historic realignment is happening all around us, as Americans from all walks of life realize that this is the right thing to do. It is occurring both inside and outside of politics, through conversations at the office and over kitchen tables, and at different speeds in different parts of the country.”
Across dinner tables, in the pews, and in the halls of state legislatures, the momentum is indeed undeniable. Today’s victory will not only give equal marriage rights to committed, loving couples in Rhode Island, it will also strengthen the nationwide momentum towards marriage equality.
People For the American Way’s Right Wing Watch has been closely following the Right Wing’s reaction to this week’s marriage equality arguments at the Supreme Court – which ranges from awkward homophobic discussions to outright threats of revolution.
Last night, our director of communications, Drew Courtney, went on PoliticsNation with Al Sharpton to discuss the Right’s reaction to the marriage cases. Watch it here:
Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, director of African American Religious Affairs at People For the American Way, delivered the following remarks to those supporting marriage equality in front of the Supreme Court today.
I greet you as one who is humbled to stand before you on this day that will be like none other and say celebrate, be glad in it, and keep standing for and with Hope!
Why Hope? As the Director of African American Religious Affairs of People For the American Way, Hope tells us DOMA will not stand but like Goliath, will fall.
Hope says same gender couples, in committed relationships will be recognized and receive those 1100 plus benefits now denied by the federal government. Hope defends what is right, Hope unites people and families, Hope stands with us and for us, and Hope is the American Way!
Why Hope? As an organizer and ally since 1996, Hope kept us waiting for this historic day. Hope gave us a process and a lesson to never take lightly judicial nominations, to make sure voter registration and mobilization is a core value, to rejoice in victories in 2012 from the proclamation from the highest officer holder in this country – President Obama - to 4 states making it 9 states total passing pro-Marriage Equality laws, and that our work in the states is not done. Hope hasn’t just strengthened those who have always believed in marriage equality. It’s brought others to reconsider their opposition and join us on the side of justice for all. Hope is why we have so many other new and welcomed allies for equality.
Why Hope? As a Christian, during this Holy Week, from our sacred text “hope that is seen is not hope”, so you have had and must hold on with unwavering confidence that help has arrived, is sitting in between the walls of the highest court of this nation, and speaking into existence freedom that will no longer be denied.
And finally, why Hope? As an African American woman, on behalf of the Equal Justice Task Force of African American Ministers In Action, Hope says the enemy is a liar when they say African Americans and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people are two separate - even hostile – communities, for “no weapon shall be forged against us” and no wedge can be driven between those who know oppression, discrimination, denial of basic civil and human rights. Hope connects the civil rights movement to the gay rights movement, the yesterday to today, the hopeful to the hopeless.
So Beloved, stay in Hope! Stay in Hope I say for if the Justices are about the business of justice, then they will speak against hate, division, intolerance, and barriers to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and strike down the Defense of Marriage Act.
Stay in Hope for my sacred text tells us what “man meant for harm, God intends for good”.
In this pivotal moment in our country's history, we must stand on the side of compassion and equality rather than on the side of oppression and discrimination. And that’s why we’re all out here on the steps of the Supreme Court today.
I leave you with these words, stay in Hope because it was the late Senator Ted Kennedy who said, and prayerfully he won’t mind me playing with it a little bit, “ For all those whose dreams have been our concern (to defeat all forms of discrimination), the work goes on (we are not going to stop trying until gay and lesbian Americans across the country have full legal equality), the cause endures (freedom to be, freedom to love, just freedom), the hope still lives ( I say again hope still lives), and the dream (for all persons to marry the person they love) shall never die.”
Be encouraged! Have faith. Expand love. Know peace. And may Hope, which is never silent, always be with you!
“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.
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
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