Nel's New Day

January 15, 2014

Utah, Oklahoma Overturn Marriage Equality Bans

Less than a month after U.S. District Robert Shelby decreed that banning same-sex marriage in the highly conservative state of Utah is unconstitutional, U.S. District Judge Terence Kern did the same thing yesterday in Oklahoma. U.S. District Judge Terence Kern ruling Both of them set up rationales that could be used in the remaining 31 states.

In Utah, Shelby referred back to the U.S. Supreme Court’s reasoning that “the Court’s reasoning logically extends to protect an individual’s right to marry a person of the same sex.” Kern, however, uses a simple “rational basis” protection, far lower than the required higher level of scrutiny that other courts have used. He concluded that the two lesbian couples bringing suit had suffered no stigma because they could not marry. Instead he wrote:

“Supreme Court law now prohibits states from passing laws that are born of animosity against homosexuals, extends constitutional protection to the moral and sexual choices of homosexuals, and prohibits the federal government from treating opposite-sex marriages and same-sex marriages differently. There is no precise legal label for what has occurred in Supreme Court jurisprudence beginning with Romer in 1996 and culminating in Windsor in 2013, but this Court knows a rhetorical shift when it sees one.”

In Romer v. Evans (1996) the Colorado Supreme Court struck down Amendment 2 of the state constitution that forbid protecting “those who suffer discrimination due to their sexual orientation” because the amendment violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. That case did not move up to SCOTUS. In Windsor v. United States, (2013) the U.S. Supreme Court overturned part of DOMA, allowing the terms “marriage” and “spouse” to be also used by same-sex couples under the due process clause of the constitution’s Fifth Amendment. SCOTUS used the same clause ten years earlier when it decriminalized sex between same-sex couples in Lawrence v. Texas (2003).

The Supreme Court’s ruling less than seven months ago that created the impetus for court rulings regarding marriage equality was ambiguous: their decision failed to explain what protections that LGBT people should have. Thus Kern used Justice Anthony Kennedy’s language and tone.

The Windsor decision, the judge said, supports a plea for marriage equality because much of the reasoning of the Court majority about the purpose behind DOMA could also be applied to state bans on same-sex marriage. It supports marriage equality in the state, the judge added, because of the lengthy commentary in the opinion about states’ primary power to define marriage.

Shelby used dissenting Justice Antonin Scalia’s words when he struck down Utah’s same-sex marriage. Scalia predicted that the two successful rulings for marriage equality last summer, including Windsor, would end up legalizing nation-wide same-sex marriage. In his opinion, Shelby wrote, “In his dissenting opinion, the Honorable Antonin Scalia recognized that [legalized gay marriage] was the logical outcome of the court’s ruling in Windsor.” He then quotes from Scalia:

“In my opinion, however, the view that this Court will take of state prohibition of same-sex marriage is indicated beyond mistaking by today’s opinion. As I have said, the real rationale of today’s opinion … is that DOMA is motivated by ‘bare … desire’ to harm couples in same-sex marriages. How easy it is, indeed how inevitable, to reach the same conclusion with regard to state laws denying same-sex couples marital status.”

Shelby continued:

“The court agrees with Justice Scalia’s interpretation of Windsor. … And Justice Scalia even recommended how this court should interpret the Windsor decision when presented with the question that is now before it. The court therefore agrees with the portion of Justice Scalia’s dissenting opinion in Lawrence in which Justice Scalia stated that the Court’s reasoning logically extends to protect an individual’s right to marry a person of the same sex.”

As Shelby did in Utah, Kern granted a stay of same-sex weddings in Oklahoma until an appeal is adjudicated. Yet 17 of the 50 states presently allow LGBT marriage, and Ohio recognizes same-sex marriages if one of the couple is dead. Litigants in over three dozen cases are challenging marriage equality bans in 20 different states. Only one-third of people in the country oppose marriage equality, down 12 percent from the 45 percent in opposition just two years ago.

Who are the judges who made these rulings? Judge Terence Kern, nominated by President Clinton, is a native of Oklahoma and a former Army reservist who easily won Senate approval. Robert Shelby is a registered Republican and former Persian Gulf War engineer. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) called him a “lawyer with an unwavering commitment to the law.” Tea Party member Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) called President Obama’s nominee a “pre-eminently qualified” nominee who would be an “outstanding judge.” So much for the conservatives’ accusation of “judicial activism.”

Appeals from both Utah and Oklahoma will be heard by the ideologically split 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Half of the ten judges were appointed by presidents of each party. One of President Obama’s appointees is Judge Scott Matheson Jr., a former federal prosecutor and the Mormon son of a former Utah governor.  

Supreme Court

The next few months will show whether more states will be required to recognize same-sex marriages or the U.S. Supreme Court—albeit reluctantly—dives into the fray once again.

Kern wrote, “Equal protection is at the very heart of our legal system and central to our consent to be governed.  It is not a scarce commodity to be meted out begrudgingly or in short portions.” Hopefully this argument can be used in the struggle to protect LGBT people from discrimination in marriage, jobs, housing, and the rest of our lives.

July 18, 2013

Today’s Good News Includes Obamacare

Good news today! Nelson Mandela’s health is improving as he celebrated his 95th birthday. The Senate cobbled together a deal to keep interest rates low on student loans until the economy improves. And federal judge Willian Conley kept abortion clinics open in Wisconsin until he has more time to consider a permanent injunction against the restrictive law rushed through in nine days and signed in private by the governor on a holiday weekend. The current legal proceedings require the state of Wisconsin to prove that it has a “legitimate governmental interest” in imposing additional regulations on abortion providers of seeking admitting privileges from local hospitals, a requirement unique to these clinics.

In the Senate, the Republicans kept at least part of its promise by confirming two more of President Obama’s nominees following yesterday’s confirmation of Richard Cordray for the Consumers Financial Protection Bureau.

Tom Perez is now the next Secretary of Labor after stiff opposition because he pushed for a minimum wage for domestic workers in Montgomery, promised to “throw the book” at employers who withheld pay from immigrant workers, saved an important piece of the federal fair housing law, and collected hundreds of millions of  dollars from major banks that charged minority homeowners more than whites seeking a mortgage. As head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division for the past four years, he enforced voting rights by  opposing the voter ID trend across the nation and sued the infamous Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, accusing his office of racially profiling Latinos during a crackdown on undocumented people in his county.

Gina McCarthy’s 59-40 confirmation for director of the Environmental Protection Agency was opposed by Democrat Joe Manchin (WV) because of what he called  an “over-regulatory rampage” against the coal industry. One of her positions during 25 years in the environmental policy world was leading the the EPA’s air pollution office since 2009. Although McCarthy held posts under five Republican governors, including Mitt Romney, the Senate held up her confirmation for 136 days until the Democrats threatened the GOP with removing the filibuster for executive nominees. Senators opposing McCarthy have accepted over $25 million from fossil fuel industries.

The House of Representatives will no longer use my taxpayer money to defend the unconstitutional statute DOMA, banning marriage equality. This decision may allow lesbian and gay service members and veterans to receive the same married benefits as opposite-sex couples. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said, “Rather than trying to delay justice for particular married gay and lesbian couples and their families, Speaker Boehner should immediately file motions to end House Republicans’ involvement in the remaining cases and stop spending taxpayer dollars to defend unconstitutional discrimination.”

On the same day that President Obama delivered a speech on the benefits of his Affordable Care Act, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a report showing that the average of the least expensive mid-level health plans are 18 percent lower than the CBO had estimated when the law was passed. One of the biggest arguments against Obamacare was that young people in the country would be forced to purchase expensive health insurance. Yet HHS expects that a plan for a 25-year-old in Los Angeles County would be $174 per month without a government subsidy and only $34 per month (with a tax credit) for someone making $17,235.

New York state regulators said yesterday that policies sold through the law’s insurance exchange would cost about 50 percent less than currently available policies. Ten other states also announced lower rates including Oregon, Montana, Louisiana, and California. Lower rates come from open competition, once something that the  GOP supported.

Earlier this year millions of people in the nation received insurance rebates because of the “medical loss ratio” provision requiring insurers to spend at least 80 percent of premiums on actual medical care instead of profits and overhead. An average rebate of $100 was sent to 8.5 million people this year, and consumers received another $3.4 billion savings because insurance companies lowered their premiums to comply with the law.

People may not hear the good news about Obamacare because today the media has focused on the 38th and 39th times that the U.S. House again voted on the health care law, passed by Congress and ruled constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. One bill agreed with President Obama’s delay in the law’s employer mandate, and the other extended the delay to the individual mandate. Of the 147 media pieces including “Obamacare,” 120—almost all—mentioned the House vote whereas only 71—fewer than half—discussed lower premium rates.

The following will be classified as either good or bad news, depending on your perspective. After taking off almost the entire month of August, House leadership has penciled in just nine workdays during September. The farm bill stops on September 30, and other bills, such as immigration reform, voting rights, and student loans, are vital. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has objected to reports of shrinking productivity in his chamber, but the 112th Congress that ended in December 2012 was the least productive session since the 1940s when one considers the total number of bills passed. Thus far, the 113th has been less productive.

The GOP is providing great fodder for comedians. Last night Stephen Colbert addressed the House’s inaction, citing the immigration bill kerfuffle. Although the Senate bill would double border security, creating more border agents than FBI agents, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) complained that it overlooks “the need for border agents in the interior of our country.” Colbert responded, “When will we build the border wall with Florida?  We can’t let those maniacs in our country. It’s legal to shoot each other down there.”

Yesterday the GOP majority on the House Appropriations Committee, with the help of two Democrats, reaffirmed the legal sale of guns to people suspected of terrorism to buy guns. In six years, the people on the watch list tried to buy weapons 1,228 times and were approved 91 percent of the time. To those who say that the terrorist watch list shouldn’t be used because it’s flawed, I say, “Fix it.”

The Appropriations Committee also passed an amendment “to block the ATF from continuing to require the reporting of purchases of multiple firearms in border states.” People in the United States are responsible for part of Mexico’s bloody drug war because many of the guns used are sold in U.S. stores. If the philosophy is “first, do no damage,” it’s good news that the House meets so few days.

Maybe the best news from yesterday is that at least one GOP Senator understands the dysfunctional Senate leadership. When Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said he could have done better than Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in negotiating the filibuster agreement, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) called out, “Bullshit.” Now somebody needs to do something about the House.

July 1, 2013

Conservatives Want Big Government, Control

A week ago yesterday, David Gregory tried to criminalize the journalist who reported on Edward Snowden’s leaks about the unconstitutional NSA surveillance. Yesterday, he seemed a different person—for some of the time. Gregory pushed against Rep. Tim Huelskamp’s (R-KS) false belief that there are studies showing that the traditional marriage of male and female is better for children. Several times, Gregory tried to explain that these studies show that having two parents is better for children although Huelskamp was unable to accept information that disagreed with what his personal belief. 

Yet the panel contained the worst of the narrow bigots who refuse to follow any scientific belief in humanity or nature, the head of the Heritage Foundation Jim DeMint and the religious leader Ralph Reed. They added nothing to the discussion about the SCOTUS decisions overturning DOMA and turning Prop 8 back to a district court ruling in California. All the two of them could do was to repeat the far-right belief that traditional marriage should be decided by the state, as if giving same-sex couples federal benefits had anything to do with states’ rights. 

The statements from DeMint and Reed about mandated transvaginal ultrasounds were equally weak. DeMint claimed that these ultrasounds give women an opportunity and that they are lucky because they are free. Rachel Maddow disabused him of both ideas, telling him—and the audience—than a mandated action is not an “opportunity” and that these ultrasounds are not free. After that, Reed claimed that 70 percent of the people in the country want abortions after 20 weeks—a bold-faced lie. DeMint also tried to justify SCOTUS overturning the Voting Rights Act.

A strong feel of sexism, however, came with Gregory’s treatment of Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis who stopped the stringent anti-abortion bill last week through a filibuster of almost 12 hours. First, of Gregory’s six questions to her, two of them dealt with her choice of wearing pink sneakers. Davis had to stand for the entire time, not even leaning against any object.

The second oddity was that Meet the Press, we’ll assume Gregory’s choice, ran personal information about Davis beside the video of her that included her being a single mother at the age of 19 and attending a community college. It is the first time I’ve seen this on the program, and there was nothing about Huelskamp growing up on a farm or adopting four children, information about as pertinent to his appearance as that about Davis.

The third peculiarity was the disparity between questions for Davis and Huelskamp. For the latter, Gregory talked about the new bill the representative introduced to pass a constitutional amendment declaring marriage as only between one man and one woman. With Davis, Gregory asked why she would try to block another anti-abortion bill when she had little or no chance of success in doing this. Actually, she has a better chance of blocking this than Huelskamp has of getting a 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution blocking marriage equality, yet Gregory didn’t ask Huelskamp about that. 

Davis had an excellent response to Gregory’s question of why she would pursue an issue if it was most likely that she would fail: “I don’t thinks it’s ever acceptable to concede the argument on incredibly important issues like this.” It was almost as if Gregory was trying to convince Davis to just quit. 

A group that did just quit, at least for ten days, is Congress. Today is when seven million college students can thank the Republicans in Congress for the doubling of new student loan interest rates while the lawmakers headed home for a leisurely recess. When the rates go from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent, students will pay over 10 percent more over 10 years. Last Thursday, Senate Democrats asked for a temporary one-year delay to keep the loan rates at 3.4 percent, but the GOP refused.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) said, “Why would we want to … just kick the can down the road another year?” Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), chair of the Senate education panel, said lawmakers would consider a retroactive fix on July 10.  With the current rates, the U.S. government is forecast to make a record $51 billion profit from the federal student loan program this year. Angus King (I-Maine) described this sum as “billions of dollars off the backs of our students.”

Democratic senators proposed closing tax loopholes for oil companies, wealthy pensioners, and multinational corporations, raising $8.6 billion over ten years. The GOP didn’t seem to mind restricting wealthy heirs from sheltering inherited 401(K) accounts from being taxed, but the U.S. Chamber of Commerce opposed increasing taxes on the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund and restrictions on multinational companies’ deducting interest payments to foreign subsidiaries from U.S. taxes. The Chamber’s $136 million in 2012 lobbying expenditure make them the highest spender. In addition, the Chamber spent almost $36 million in election campaigning for conservative causes and candidates. 

A year ago, Mitt Romney supported the president’s proposal for a temporary extension of lower rates, and the GOP senators backed off. 

The House Republicans want to tie student loan rates to the 10-year Treasury note and add 2.5 percent with the added revenue paying down the deficit. The cap would be 10.5 percent, but there would be no fixed rate.  This is the plan from the people who say that they want to protect the children.

Student debt in the United States currently totals more than $1 trillion, and one in five households has student debts. College costs have increased 7.45 percent per year from 1978 to 2011, exceeding both inflation and family income growth. At the same time, the bottom 90 percent of people in the country have not increased their salaries. People who have paid off their student loan debt are 36 percent more likely to own homes than those who haven’t. 

As most of us know, the immigration bill will also have great trouble in the House. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) is one of the far-right lawmakers who’s trying to cover his negative votes that might lose Hispanic votes. His concern is that some undocumented people in the country might not want to become citizens, and he thinks that the immigration reform bill would force citizenship on those who don’t want it.

Gowdy likes his own Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement (SAFE) Act that the House Judiciary Committee passed on Thursday. If this became law, all undocumented immigrant would be designated as criminals, and states could enforce their own more restrictive immigration laws.

The conservatives weren’t able to protect the Bank of America in San Diego because a jury acquitted Jeff Olson of all 13 counts. Olson is not particularly a household name maybe because he doesn’t seem to be a criminal. Yet the bank pushed for prosecution after Olson used water-soluble chalk to protest the bank’s powers in front of three different buildings. One of the messages was “Shame on Bank of America.”  

Another activist was charged with the crime of using chalk to write on the sidewalk in Pennsylvania this last week. According to the police citation, A.J. Marin “Governor Corbett has health insurance, we should too.” The state pays for Corbett’s health care, and he opposes Medicaid expansion in the state for 700,000 poor and uninsured residents. Federal funding pays all the bills for the first three years.

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Abortion isn’t the only reason that the state is looking into women’s vaginas. In Clayton County (GA), 37-year-old Nakia Grimes discovered that her birth certificate incorrectly labeled her as a male because of a new rule requiring her to have a copy of her birth certificate.

An employee told the mother that, to prove she is a biological woman, she’d have to get Pap exam, have a doctor write a note verifying that she is a woman, and have it notarized. Grimes angrily reported the situation to a local media outlet who contacted Vital Records Services. State records officials looked up the birth certificate of Grimes’ son, Zion, and made the change.

June 26, 2013

SCOTUS Awards LGBT Rights; Davis Fights for Women’s Rights

Forty years ago, homosexuals were mentally ill. Ten years ago gays and lesbians were criminals. Today LGBT people can legally marry the people they love. Yesterday was the day that my partner and I celebrate as our anniversary because marriage equality is illegal in Oregon. It was our 44th anniversary. Without the same Social Security benefits that legally married people receive, my partner has lost well over $100,000. We don’t know how much we have lost in other benefits because of the discrimination against same-sex couples.

The Stonewall riots, hailed as the dawning of the gay rights movement, started in New York’s Greenwich Village on June 29, 1963, also 44 years ago. But today is a new day because the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1996 federal statute defining marriage as between one woman and one man.

Listening to the U.S. Supreme Court as they dribbled out their rulings for the past session was exactly like riding a rollercoaster: yesterday, they destroyed the voting rights of almost half the people in the country, and today they gave federal rights to all married same-sex couples. They also refused to allow standing of those protesting marriage equality in California so that same-sex couples there might have the right to marry. If that is true, one-third of people in the U.S. will live in a jurisdiction that has legalized marriage equality.

In its traditional 5-4 vote, SCOTUS ruled that, for federal purposes, marriage as defined as being between one man and one woman is unconstitutional. This ruling was in response to a case about Edie Windsor, who was charged federal estate taxes after Thea Spyer, her partner of 44 years, died. Yet they let stand Section 2 of DOMA permitting each state its own definition of marriage. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the 26-page opinion, and dissenters Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia, mostly joined by Clarence Thomas, wrote another 47 pages.

Kennedy wrote that DOMA “violates basic due process and equal protection principles applicable to the federal government” and intrudes on the states’ traditional role in defining marriage. His opinion also stated that the law “instructs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriages of others.”

Confusion will undoubtedly reign after the ruling because Kennedy also wrote, “This opinion and its holding are confined to those lawful marriages,” possibly just those authorized by the state of New York. Yet he also said, “The federal statute [DOMA] is invalid.” This is a very broad ruling, which is why Scalia, in particular, was apoplectic.

Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas opined that the court should not have taken the case because the House of Representatives had no right to appeal lower court decisions after President Obama stopped defending DOMA. Justice Samuel Alito disagreed, saying Congress did have that power. Whether or not it had any right to appeal, the House spent $2.3 of taxpayers’ money to support DOMA in the courts.

The majority did rule on the lack of standing in the case about California’s Prop. 8, stating that the private proponents of the measure, many of them living outside California, lacked the legal right to defend the proposition in federal courts. Supposedly, this ruling from SCOTUS did not change the district judge’s ruling that Prop 8 is unconstitutional. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals also declared Prop 8 unconstitutional. Dissenters in SCOTUS on the Prop 8 case were an odd mix: liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor joined Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito in disagreeing with the majority that included the ultra-conservative Scalia.

Although there may be more litigation regarding Prop 8, the governor told clerks that they would start issuing marriage licenses after the 9th Circuit Court takes care of its paperwork by lifting a year-long order that stopped the ban from going into effect until the Supreme Court reviewed the case. There might be a question about whether District Court Judge Vaughn Walker had the right to overturn Prop 8 for the entire state or for just his jurisdiction. The only definite conclusion is that the two couples in the Prop 8 case before SCOTUS will receive marriage licenses from the Clerks of Alameda and Los Angeles Counties.

How people would vote today in California, no one knows, polls show a movement toward majority acceptance of marriage equality; many people voted in favor of Prop 8 because of the lies from supporters about effects of marriage equality; and the Mormon Church, that paid as much as 70 percent of the campaign funds to support Prop 8, may not be as generous another time around.

With California now considered to accept marriage equality, 13 states and a few other jurisdictions, including Washington, D.C. and Native American reservations, have legalized same-sex marriage. This is one of the best maps describing the different same-sex couple laws across the U.S.

The hope is that same-sex couples may now start having rights in the military and in immigration that were prevented before this ruling. As Kennedy said in his ruling, “Under DOMA, same-sex married couples have their lives burdened, by reason of government decree, in visible and public ways…from the mundane to the profound. He mentioned healthcare, tax preparation, Social Security, and other benefits—even a person’s child can legally be kidnapped by an unmarried spouse.

A New York City immigration judge immediately stopped the deportation proceedings of Steven, a Colombian man legally married to Sean Brooks. The Center for American Progress has 14 fact sheets showing federal benefits that legally married same-sex couples will now have.

One expects crackpot responses to SCOTUS, but Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) may have achieved the strangest one in a performance on the Glenn Beck when the presidential wannabe asked of marriage, “Does it have to be humans?” (I’ll have another batch of crazy comments in my upcoming Sunday “religion” blog.)

The DOMA and Prop 8 rulings overshadowed a mind-blowing event in Texas. State Sen. Wendy Davis (D-TX) filibustered an unbelievable vicious, evil woman-hating anti-abortion in the state’s Senate. The bill stops abortions at 20 weeks as well as closes 37 clinics, leaving only five clinics that provide abortions throughout a state that is 773 miles wide and 790 miles long. Some of the 26 million people would have to drive 600 miles in order to have the opportunity to comply with a federal law.

The term “filibuster” has gained a benign connotation because of the U.S. Senate rules that allows one senator to call from his comfortable couch to say “I filibuster” and then return to the sports channel. Filibuster in this case means that Davis stood–with no support, no leaning, no bathroom breaks, no food, no liquid, no nothing—for almost 12 hours and talked about the bill and nothing else. She even got one violation for talking about sonograms although that’s part of the anti-abortion game in Texas.

Davis had to last until midnight to keep the chamber from voting before the deadline of the special session. Her third “violation,” another being when a colleague touched her when fascinating her a back brace, came before midnight, but hundreds of protesters disrupted the vote, shouting “Let her speak,” so that the vote could not be started until after the deadline.

At this time, events become even more bizarre. The vote on the bill wasn’t finished until a few minutes after midnight. In their eagerness to terrorize women, however, Republican senators changed the time stamp to before midnight, thinking that this would pass the bill.

After images of both the before and after images of the stamp change were posted on the Texas Tribune’s live blog showing the accurate time stamp of 12:02 am, the Senate went into a closed-door caucus. At 3:00 am, they said that the bill did not pass because Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst didn’t have time to sign it before midnight. Nothing about changing the time stamp.

In an ironic twist, Davis could be redistricted from her Fort Worth area after SCOTUS ruled yesterday that Texas can do gerrymandering districts. The state failed earlier because of the now-overturned Voting Rights Act.

More than 150,000 people watched the livestreamed session. Even President Obama tweeted his support for Davis. Gov. Rick Perry has declared a 30-day special session starting on July 1 to “address” the anti-abortion bill because the legislature needs to maintain “decency.” Nothing about the “decency” of illegally changing the timestamp for the vote.

It’s the GOP strategy: vote; if it fails, cheat; if that fails, hold another vote. The House has done it 37 times on Obamacare.

June 3, 2013

Senators Fail to Support Same-Sex Couples

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Conservatives are always bragging about their “family values,” but they’re very selective about who they consider families. Some liberals, too, are willing to follow the conservatives view of “traditional families” if it serves their own ends. A prime example of this is the proposed immigration reform balloon, currently in a fragile state, that dumped LGBT families off as ballast to encourage the bill to rise.

Amidst the over 300 amendments proposed to the Judiciary Committee for the immigration reform bill last month—many of them designed to stop the act in its tracks—was one from Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT) that would allow U.S. citizens to seek permanent resident status, a so-called “green card,” for a foreign same-sex partner. Conservatives so viciously threatened to scuttle the entire bill if that amendment were included that several Democrats on the committee refused to support support Leahy’s amendment.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) voiced the conservatives’ relief: “To try to redefine marriage within the immigration bill would mean the bill would fall apart.” Support from evangelical churches would have, according to Graham, “made it possible for a guy like me to survive the emotional nature of this debate.” (Whatever that means.)

What gives LGBT groups stature in this conflict is that they continue to support the reform despite the fact that they are left out in the cold. Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez, co-director of Get Equal, said, “I can’t deny my outrage when I felt betrayed.” But he is ready to push for the bill in the Senate, scheduled next week.

Born in Brazil, Sousa-Rodriguez is one of the 1.7 million young immigrants brought here illegally as children who will have an accelerated five-year path to citizenship if the bill passes. If the Senate bill were to have the green cards for LGBT spouses, Sousa-Rodriguez could have immediate eligibility because he is legally married to Juan, an immigrant from Colombia who is about to become an American citizen.

Rea Carey, the executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said, “I am deeply disappointed that binational couples were not included, and we will continue to push for that. But we will remain in this fight.” Activists have estimated that at least 267,000 illegal immigrants are LGBT.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights, GLAAD, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, United We Dream and Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project, Lambda Legal, Equality Federation and the National Center for Transgender Equality provided this announcement documenting their continued support for immigration reform:

“We remain steadfast in our commitment to passing compassionate, comprehensive immigration reform that will provide a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented men, women and children living in our country, including at least 267,000 LGBT undocumented immigrants.

“We are disappointed that certain senators threatened the entire immigration reform bill simply because it affords 28,500 same-sex binational couples equal immigration rights. At the same time, we thank Senator Leahy for standing up for these families. A majority of Americans, 53 percent, believe that all consenting adults should have the right to get married and that gender should not play a role in who is considered family.

“It is unconscionable that lawmakers committed to equality and commonsense, humane immigration policy were forced to make a false choice between protecting the rights of same-sex binational couples and keeping a tenuous coalition together. This take-it-or-leave-it stance with regard to same-sex binational couples is not helpful when we all share the same goal of passing comprehensive immigration reform that provides a path to citizenship.

“Beyond the issue of same-sex binational couples, the bill addresses many issues that will particularly benefit LGBT people, such as eliminating the one-year bar on applying for asylum, providing protections for DREAMers and improving conditions for people held in detention facilities. These include important protections limiting the use of solitary confinement and explicitly prohibiting the use of this practice based solely on a detainee’s sexual orientation or gender identity. We will continue to work to improve the legislation as we fight for its passage because this bill is a historic step forward for all immigrants and the LGBT community.

“Our primary goal is to pass a commonsense, compassionate immigration reform bill that puts our nation’s undocumented men, women and children on a pathway to citizenship.

“We desperately need to reform our broken immigration system immediately because it dehumanizes, scapegoats and vilifies all immigrants, including LGBT immigrants. We will continue to advocate and support changes to the bill that will create the most accessible pathway to citizenship possible and allow all undocumented immigrants the opportunity to become citizens, and we will continue to ardently oppose draconian amendments that would make immigrants permanent second-class citizens and create undue hardships along a pathway to citizenship.

“Every day we fail to reform our system, 1,100 families are torn apart. As a nation, we pride ourselves on keeping families united, and our immigration policies should reflect our commitment to keep families together all families.”

Sharon Stapel, the executive director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project, wrote in defense of green cards for same-sex couples:

“With immigration reform, Congress has the opportunity to affirm the principle that they cannot leave any family behind. However, right now, the immigration reform bill fails to affirm that principle: the current proposal is not truly ‘comprehensive’ because it leaves LGBT families behind.

“Families who cannot sponsor their partners and spouses for immigration risk a future of uncertainly, separation and exile–and LGBT people should have the same protection against this insecurity as every other family protected by the reform bill.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer  (D-NW), one of the eight senators who wrote the legislation, has promised to build support among Republicans so the amendment could be added during the floor debate. Evangelical Christian and Catholic leaders have promised to oppose any same-sex issues in the immigration overhaul.

Anyone watching the high level of dysfunction existing in the Senate at this time knows that an amendment supporting same-sex couples cannot pass that chamber. It takes only one senator to keep the amendment—in fact, the entire immigration bill— from a vote.

Reflecting on the lack of legislative support, Richard J. Rosendall wrote that the LGBT community needs “well-placed allies”:

“Leaders in several sports are making strides to ensure a greater welcome for gay and lesbian athletes. Employers increasingly make the case for pro-LGBT policies. Sri Srinivasan, the Principal Deputy Solicitor General of the United States, was unanimously confirmed by the Senate on May 23 to become the nation’s first circuit court judge of South Asian descent. He assisted in arguing for the United States before the Supreme Court in the Windsor case on March 27. Former Acting Solicitor General Walter Dellinger, who has worked with him in both public and private law practice, notes his ‘extraordinary personal touch.’ His mixture of brilliance and warmth gives Srinivasan rare across-the-aisle appeal. He is widely touted as one of the top choices to fill the next vacancy on the high court. The need for friends in high places is all too evident as we await the decisions in Windsor and Perry.”

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prevents United States citizens from petitioning for their foreign same-sex partners even if they are legally married  in a jurisdiction permitting marriage equality. Either same-sex couples live apart and travel to see one another or one of them stays in the United States without legal status.

At this time, the Supreme Court could change DOMA if it were to override the law blocking marriage equality. The court’s decision regarding marriage equality in specific situations will be made later this month, but there is very little likelihood that they will decide to make marriage equality the law of the land.

Despite the ignorant exclusion of same-sex couples from the proposed immigration reform—the arrogant assumption that LGBT spouses are not family–the LGBT community shows its support for its larger family of those who will benefit from an immigration reform bill. Despite the sadness and loss of those who suffer because they must be separated from the ones they love, the LGBT community supports the family of humanity.

March 28, 2013

DOMA = ‘Skim-Milk Marriage’

Exchanges during the Supreme Court during the last two days demonstrate the dinosaur opposition toward marriage equality of conservatives and the understanding regarding discrimination of  banning same-sex marriage with the middle ground between these two extremes.

No one is likely to know rulings on these two cases about allowing same-sex couples to marry in this country until June when SCOTUS contemplates recessing, but most people interested in the issue are guessing. I’m going with the majority of the media: couples in California will most likely be able to get married, and DOMA will be overturned. No more, no less. These decisions will result in a multitude of lawsuits while governments try to sort out this chaos.

Five justices–Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan—appeared to support the position that the group of citizens who sponsored and voted for Proposition 8 had no legal standing to bring the case to the Supreme Court. If the five agree to dismiss the case, Prop 8 would probably still be overturned in California, but there would be no precedent on the issue for the rest of the country.

Meanwhile, I love the statements, clueless or otherwise, made within the arguments. My absolute favorite came from Justice Ginsberg when she said that DOMA provided “two kinds of marriage; the full marriage, and then this sort of skim-milk marriage.”

Ginsberg said this to Paul Clement, the lawyer that my tax dollars are paying to enshrine discrimination against me personally as he argues the continuance of DOMA: “Mr. Clement, if we are totally for the States’ decision that there is a marriage between two people, for the federal government then to come in to say no joint return, no marital deduction, no Social Security benefits; your spouse is very sick but you can’t get leave; people—if that set of attributes, one might well ask, What kind of marriage is this?”

Clement tried to explain that DOMA was not intended to exclude same-sex couples but was just enacted to define marriage for federal purposes. Justice Kagan didn’t accept his argument, however, saying that Congress’s passing was “infected by dislike, by fear, by animus.”  She said, “Well, is what happened in 1996—and I’m going to quote from the House report here—is that ‘Congress decided to reflect an honor of collective moral judgment and to express moral disapproval of homosexuality.”’

Solicitor General Donald Verrilli disagreed with Clement: “There are no genuine administrative benefits to DOMA. If anything, Section 3 of DOMA makes federal administration more difficult [because of a patchwork of state laws]. And the fundamental reality of it is, and I think the House report makes this glaringly clear, is that DOMA was not enacted for any purpose of uniformity, administration, caution, pausing, any of that.”

Justice Sotomayor said, “So they can create a class they don’t like—here, homosexuals—or a class that they consider is suspect in the marriage category, and they can create that class and decide benefits on that basis when they themselves have no interest in the actual institution of marriage as married?”

In the argument that SCOTUS should let the states decide a definition of marriage, lawyer Roberta Kaplan said, “You’re not taking it one step at a time, you’re not promoting caution, you’re putting a stop button on it, and you’re having discrimination for the first time in our country’s history against a class of married couples.”

The above statements were all made during the DOMA argument. Prop 8 arguments the day before sometimes got a bit saltier.

In an exchange with the pro-Prop 8, anti-marriage equality lawyer, Charles Cooper, Justice Kagan asked him how letting gay couples marry harmed traditional marriages. “How does this cause and effect work?”

Cooper answered, “It will refocus the purpose of marriage and the definition of marriage away from the raising of children and to the emotional needs and desires of adults, of adult couples.” According to Cooper, the key to marriage is procreation. [One-third of the Supreme Court’s sitting justices, married at one time, did not procreate. In fact, George and Martha Washington didn’t procreate.]

Justice Stephen Breyer responded, “I mean, there are lots of people who get married who can’t have children. To take a state that does allow adoption and say—there, what is the justification for saying no gay marriage? Certainly not the one you said, is it?” [Breyer’s statement was followed by Justice Samuel Alito awkwardly trying to make a joke about Strom Thurmond having a child in his seventies.]

Kagan agreed: “I can just assure you, if both the woman and the man are over the age of fifty-five, there are not a lot of children coming out of that marriage.”

In questioning discrimination against LGBT people , Chief Justice John Roberts tried to point out powerful the LGBT lobby: “As far as I can tell, political figures are falling over themselves to endorse your side of the case.” [Endorse maybe, but 31 states will have constitutional amendments declaring that marriage is “between one man and one woman,” and only nine states have legalized marriage equality.]

Justice Alito tried to point out that the court shouldn’t rule in favor of marriage equality because it is so new: “But you want us to step in and render a decision based on an assessment of the effects of this institution which is newer than cell phones or the Internet? I mean we—we are not—we do not have the ability to see the future.” [The first same-sex couple came to SCOTUS over 40 years ago in Baker v. Nelson. Marriage equality is not an institution in the United States because the Supreme Court and Congress prevented it.]

“Same-sex marriage is very new,” Justice Alito complained. “It may turn out to be a good thing; it may turn out not to be a good thing.” [Maureen Dowd asked, “If the standard is that marriage always has to be ‘a good thing,’ would heterosexuals pass?]

“Same-sex couples have every other right,” Roberts said, “It’s just about the label in this case.” [This piece of wisdom came from the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court?!]

Verrilli reminded the justices that the argument by opponents of interracial marriage in Loving v. Virginia was to delay because “the social science is still uncertain about how biracial children will fare in this world.” [The court’s rationale is exceptionally ironic when one considers that a biracial person born before Loving now sits in the White House.]

Justice Kennedy demonstrated that he understood the plight of many families: “There are some forty thousand children in California, according to the red brief, that live with same-sex parents, and they want their parents to have full recognition and full status. The voice of those children is important in this case, don’t you think?”

Justices spent time during the Prop 8 trying to figure out how they got into the situation of arguing the case.  “I just wonder if the case was properly granted,” said Justice Kennedy.

Justice Sotomayor seemed to agree: “If the issue is letting the states experiment and letting the society have more time to figure out its direction, why is taking a case now the answer?”

Theodore B. Olson, lawyer for the two couples fighting for marriage equality, said about Prop 8, “It walls off gays and lesbians from marriage, the most important relation in life thus stigmatizing a class of Californians based upon their status and labeling their most cherished relationships as second-rate, different, unequal and not O.K.”

When Cooper rose to give his rebuttal at the end of the session, Justice Kennedy asked the first question. “You might address,” the justice said, “why you think we should take and decide this case.”

Justice Sotomayor said it all in her question for Prop 8’s lawyer, Cooper: “Outside of the marriage context, can you think of any other rational basis, reason, for a state using sexual orientation as a factor in denying homosexuals benefits?”

And Cooper responded, “Your Honor. I cannot.”

Justice Clarence Thomas said the same thing both days: nothing.

edie

The case challenging DOMA was brought by Edith Windsor, an 83-year-old New York widow who inherited a large estate when her spouse died. Because her spouse was a woman, she faced a federal estate tax of $363,000. Justice Ginsberg’s “skim-milk” argument came from Clement’s argument that DOMA prevents states from “opening up an additional class of beneficiaries,” i.e. married gay couples “that get additional federal benefits.” The 80-year-old justice took exception to the term “additional benefits” immediately following Kennedy’s statement that there are at least 1,100 federal statutes that affect married couples. Every same-sex couple prevented from a partner’s Social Security benefits, tax-free health benefits, freedom from estate tax, etc. etc.

[During your leisure time, check out these 60 best anti-DOMA signs.]

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March 26, 2013

Scalia Needs to Resign

In the past, no one knew how many of the Supreme Court justices would vote in many decisions. They didn’t even consistently follow follows the politics of the presidents who appointed them. For example, the progressive ruling on Roe v. Wade to legalize abortion in the United States was supported by justices appointed by Richard Nixon.

For the past few decades, however, SCOTUS decisions have rarely been surprising. Perhaps now people can more accurately guess who justices will vote on almost any issues because of the rapid increase of communication about justices’ backgrounds and perspectives that contributes general understanding about their opinions or separate takes on constitutional issues. Or maybe the lines are so delineated that people can guess the decisions.

This year, people interested in the marriage equality are wondering how several justices will rule on the two cases being heard today and tomorrow, one regarding Proposition 8 in California and and the other DOMA (Defense of Marriage).  Both Prop 8 and DOMA ban same-sex marriage. Six justices are in play for the decision, which will probably be issued in June. Justice Samuel Alito is almost certainly a vote for the status quo of no marriage equality, but there is no question about two justices, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia.

Scalia has been more open than any other justice in his opposition to marriage equality. Some of his offensive comments have been made in connection with earlier cases regarding homosexuality.

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In response to Romer v. Evans when SCOTUS held that Colorado could not have a constitutional amendment motivated completely by animus towards LGBT people, he said, “I had thought that one could consider certain conduct reprehensible–murder, for example, or polygamy, or cruelty to animals–and could exhibit even ‘animus’ toward such conduct.” He also said that giving LGBT people second-class status is like any other law “disfavoring certain conduct,” such laws disfavoring “drug addicts, or smokers, or gun owners, or motorcyclists.”

In Lawrence v. Texas, Scalia agreed that an outright ban on “sodomy” “undoubtedly imposes constraints on liberty,” but “so do laws prohibiting prostitution” or “recreational use of heroin.” Also in rejecting the Lawrence majority’s conclusion that private sexuality between consenting adults receives “substantial protection” under the Constitution, he responded “[s]tates continue to prosecute all sorts of crimes by adults ‘in matters pertaining to sex’: prostitution, adult incest, adultery, obscenity, and child pornography.” Later in his decision, he compared gay sex to bestiality.

Scalia also suggested that the bond between two men or two women in a committed relationship is no greater than the bond between two “roommates.” After all animosity, he concluded his Lawrence dissent with this assertion: “Let me be clear that I have nothing against homosexuals.”

One of Scalia’s arguments when he wrote the minority dissent for the 6-3 decision in Lawrence, was that this case set the scene for legalized marriage equality. “Today’s opinion dismantles the structure of constitutional law that has permitted a distinction to be made between heterosexual and homosexual unions, insofar as formal recognition in marriage is concerned,” Scalia wrote.

Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion said the Court’s ruling against anti-sodomy laws “does not involve whether the government must give formal recognition to any relationship that homosexual persons seek to enter.”

Scalia’s retort: “Do not believe it.”

“This case ‘does not involve’ the issue of homosexual marriage only if one entertains the belief that principle and logic have nothing to do with the decisions of this Court,” he wrote.

The Reagan-appointed justice accused the majority on the Court of having “taken sides in the culture war” and having signed on to the “homosexual agenda.”

Although it’s been years since Scalia equated laws banning sodomy with those barring bestiality and murder, he still supports this position. Speaking at Princeton University late last year, he explained his statement by saying, “I don’t think it’s necessary, but I think it’s effective.” He also repeated his earlier argument: “If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against murder? Can we have it against these other things?” 

Earlier last year, he again compared homosexuality to abortion and murder. At a speech before an audience at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. last October, he said, “The death penalty? Give me a break. It’s easy. Abortion? Absolutely easy. Nobody ever thought the Constitution prevented restrictions on abortion. Homosexual sodomy? Come on. For 200 years, it was criminal in every state.”

As Bill Press wrote, there was a time when Supreme Court justices were “seen and not heard,” but now a few of them are “spouting off all the time.” He added that it is “pretty scary to have someone like this on the Supreme Court” and that Chief Justice John Roberts should force Scalia to recuse himself from the two marriage equality cases facing the Supreme Court.

Yet Scalia claimed at the Southern Methodist University earlier this year that he never expressed personal views on gay marriage in public or in his rulings. He also said that a crucial part of his post as Supreme Court justice is reaching decisions, even if they contradict one’s personal beliefs. After SMU professor Bryan A. Garner pointed out that he and Scalia had differing opinions on some issues such as marriage equality and gun control, Scalia retorted, “I haven’t expressed my views on either of those. You’re a bleeding heart.”

Scalia has admitted to a fear of and possible loathing for gays and lesbians but insisted in a Fox News interview that he leaves personal feelings at the door of the courtroom . . . or possibly the university lecture hall.

Because Scalia believes that the U.S. Constitution is not a living document, that it’s “dead, dead, dead,” he is bound to vote against marriage equality because gay rights are not specifically protected by that document, drafted in the eighteenth century.

As a Supreme Court justice, Scalia isn’t legally bound by the rules of judicial conduct that apply to judges in all other U.S. courts. He has the legal—if not ethical—right to say anything he wants regarding cases before the court. He doesn’t have to obey the rules of conduct that require judges to avoid the appearance of impropriety, defined as “when reasonable minds, with knowledge of all the relevant circumstances disclosed by a reasonable inquiry, would conclude that the judge’s … impartiality … is impaired.”

The only way that Scalia can be removed from the Supreme Court bench is for the House of Representatives to indict him for “high crimes and misdemeanors” and the Senate to convict him of such lack of “good behavior.” Technically, Scalia has done nothing illegal; he just behaves in an unethical manner. Only one Supreme Court justice has been impeached, Samuel Chase, and that was over 200 years ago.  Although the House indicted him, the Senate found him not guilty.

When Scalia became a judge, he said that he would retire at the age of 65 because that was the age necessary for full salary in retirement. He loves the power and won’t quit, but it’s far past time for the 77-year-old justice to hang up his robe.

December 9, 2012

Christians Support Violence, Theocracy

It’s another Sunday and time for a roundup of religious oddities.

The word of God must not be enough to bring people to worship in the 21st century: several churches are now offering concealed firearms training. Pastor James Miller of Heights Baptist in San Angelo (TX) explained, “We’re about 150 miles from the border with Mexico and we’re very unsure about our insecure borders–about what’s coming into our cities. Personally, I feel more secure that should our worship time be interrupted by a life-threatening intrusion, that we would at least stand some kind of a chance in stopping either a mass killing or terrorizing experience.” Miller added, “Jesus advises his disciples to sell their cloak and buy a sword. He instructed his people to be prepared to defend themselves.”

Not everyone agrees with the gun approach as shown by this sign next to the church in Marengo (OH) that teaches classes necessary to get a concealed weapons permit.

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While churches provide secular training,  South Dakota’s legislature advocates Bible study in public schools. One supporter said it was a tiny step toward “taking back the heritage of our country.” The minority said, “It sends the message that other religious texts are not as important as the Bible, which I think is probably a dangerous path for us to start down.” A Republican added that the state should let “the church regulate church things.”

The federal government has been regulating “church things” in marriage for almost two decades. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is so intent on keeping same-sex couples from marrying that he’s paying lawyers to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that defends marriage only for heterosexual couples. Having spent over $1.5 million of taxpayer money, he’s planning more expenditures in the Supreme Court. Now he’ll have to explain how he has “standing” and show how he’s been personally hurt by marriage equality.

Taxpayer money continues to promote Christianity in the military. Last week Blake Page quit West Point five months before graduation, citing mandated Christian involvement at the military academy in New York state. “I do not wish to be in any way associated with an institution which willfully disregards the Constitution of the United States of America by enforcing policies which run counter to the same,” he wrote in his letter of resignation. He described routine prayers at mandatory events and awarding off-campus passes and credit to students who take part in religious retreats and chapel choirs, activities which foster “open disrespect of non-religious new cadets.”

Christian requirements at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs were criticized in 2005 when evangelical cadets received preferential treatment. and the promotion of religious proselytizing. In 2010 people raised concerns that the war in Afghanistan would be viewed as a Christian crusade because the the Pentagon used gun sights engraved with Bible verses.

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council (FRC) showed Christianity at its worst when he praised Uganda’s commitment to Christian faith and “national repentance” in that country’s determination to kill LGBT people. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill introduced in Ugandan Parliament in 2009 included a provision of the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality.”  The Speaker of Parliament has promised the bill’s passage as a “Christmas gift” to the people of Uganda.

The praise of the FRC for dictator Yoweri Museveni’s dedication of his nation to God shows FRC’s desire for theocracy in America. FRC states that it does not support the death penalty for homosexuality but does oppose “the suggestion that gay and lesbian acts are universal human rights.” They have said nothing about other provisions in the proposed legislation including long prison sentences and punishment for people who don’t report people who engage in same-sex relations to government officials.

Tomorrow is International Human Rights Day. Eleanor Roosevelt, civil rights leader, helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted on December 10, 1948. She wrote:

“Where after all do universal human rights begin? In small places close to home. So close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world.”

Each one of us occupies one of these “small places.” It is our choice to lead the world toward human rights awareness and action.

 

 

September 29, 2012

Edie Windsor Fights for LGBT Rights

Last week I had the opportunity to see Edie and Thea: A Very Long Engagement and meet one of the subjects of the film, Edith Windsor. Now 83, Edie met her beloved Thea Spyer in 1965. They got engaged in 1967 and lived together in Greenwich Village until Thea’s death in 2009. The film shows them through the best of times and the most difficult. Thea was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1977, and Edie spent much of the next 30 years caring for her as her health deteriorated.

When Thea was told in 2007 that she might have only a year to live, the couple decided to stop waiting for legalized marriage in New York and settling on a Canadian civil ceremony. Filmmakers Susan Muska and Greta Olafsdottir directed this intimate documentary about two women who stayed in love and maintained their relationship despite legal, societal, and health barriers.

The film touched me even more, perhaps, because my partner and I have been together over 43 years, meeting and beginning our relationship just two years after Edie and Thea did. We experienced discrimination and struggles throughout the same four decades until the more liberal times of the 21st century that still refuses us legalized federal marriage benefits.

Receiving little attention from the world outside the LGBT community, the film might not have gained greater visibility if the U.S. government had not taxed Edie a whopping $363,000 in estate taxes after Thea’s death. The amount of taxes makes the couple sound wealthy; they weren’t. In the 1960s they bought a home in Manhattan and a cottage in the Hamptons, the latter for only $35,000. Inflation increased the value of Edie’s home, drastically increasing the “death tax.” The only reason that she had to pay this federal estate tax is that she and Thea weren’t married in the United States; they couldn’t get married because federal law didn’t allow them to marry. Legally married husbands and wives would not have to pay any of this money.

So Edie sued. In June, a federal district judge in New York decided in Edie’s favor, ruling that section three of DOMA unconstitutionally discriminates against married same-sex couples. Over 18 months ago, President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder had determined that DOMA was unconstitutional and that they would no longer defend this misguided Congressional act in court. Yet Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) begs to differ; under his guidance, a House committee with a Republican majority has used tax-payer money to employed Paul Clement for a minimum of $1.5 million to defend DOMA and prevent marriage equality.

Two days ago the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in the case. In his opening statements, Clement admitted that he didn’t have a good argument: “There’s no way to preserve the definition of marriage [as one man and one woman] other than by preserving the definition. It becomes somewhat circular.”

Clement tried to support DOMA with 1972’s Baker v. Nelson, in which two men tried to strike down Minnesota’s ban on same-sex marriage. In this case, the Supreme Court let stand a state law that limited marriage to different sexes, and Clement argued that the appeals court should abide by that precedent in upholding DOMA. Baker was a summary decision without written briefs and oral argument and contained no explanation other than that the constitutional claim of Baker and McConnell did not raise a “substantial federal question.”

Clement acknowledged that times may have changed during the past 40 years but added, “The only thing that hasn’t changed is this court’s obligation to follow Supreme Court precedent.” There is precedent for overturning past Supreme Court decisions during that time. For example, during the 40 years since Baker, 1986’s Bowers v. Hardwick ruling that upheld laws against sodomy was overturned in 2003 by Lawrence v. Texas. Also the Roberts court does not have a reputation “to follow Supreme Court precedent.”

In his rebuttal at the end of the oral arguments, Clements said that saving money is a good reason to preserve DOMA and Congress was “preserving the scope of the benefits programs the way they’ve always been.” He also went back to 1885’s Murphy v. Ramsay that required Utah to declare marriage between a man and a woman as a provision of statehood.

In its 1885 ruling, the Supreme Court wrote that “no legislation can be supposed more wholesome and necessary in the founding of a free, self-governing commonwealth … than that which seeks to establish it on the basis of the idea of the family [is] consisting in and springing from the union for life of one man and one woman in the holy estate of matrimony.” That definition of marriage is “the sure foundation of all that is stable and noble in our civilization; the best guaranty of that reverent morality which is the source of all beneficent progress in social and political improvement.”

Murphy relied on the Dred Scott case, that decided in 1857 that slaves are not citizens of the United States, to reference the “traditional understanding” of marriage.

To summarize Clement’s arguments to preserve DOMA:

  • Supreme Court rulings should not be overturned, no matter how times change;
  • The definition of marriage comes from rulings that prevented polygamy and ensured slavery;
  • All matrimony is “holy” and not civil;
  • Saving money is a good reason to deny rights to LGBT people.

Louisiana’s governor Bobby Jindal has an even stronger reason for opposing marriage equality. He thinks that legalizing same-sex marriage will overturn the Second Amendment: “The reality is today we’re talking about redefining marriage. If the court is allowed to impose and write their own laws and their own views, and overturn those that are done by our duly-elected representatives, what’s to stop today’s [indistinguishable]. Tomorrow it may be property rights, maybe it’s Second Amendment rights. We have got to take a stand against judicial activism.”

While the government can’t prove that it will lose money if marriage equality is legalized, LGBT people can prove that they lose money without it. After a gay, lesbian or bisexual senior dies, the surviving partner is denied Social Security survivor benefits, taxed heavily on any retirement plans inherited from their partners that legal husbands or wives don’t pay, and charged estate tax on inheriting a home even if it is jointly owned.

Surviving partners will probably be forced out of their homes if their names are not on the title, a situation that would not occur if they were legally married. The same thing happens if partners enter nursing homes: federal Medicaid law permits a married spouse to remain in the couple’s home when a husband or wife enters a nursing home but does not grant unmarried couples the same right. These are only a few of the 1000+ federal laws that discriminate against the LGBT community.

Despite a serious heart condition and her grief after the loss of Thea, Edie exudes a positive attitude, displaying an amazing joy for life and enthusiasm for people. Meeting her will continue to be one of the highlights of my life. Thank you for fighting for our rights, Edie!

May 10, 2012

House Republicans Waste Taxpayers’ Monday

The United States is poor, right? We want limited government instead of providing a safety net for the people who live in this nation, right? We’re badly in debt and need to cut back on the budget, right? That’s the view from the Republican side of Congress. So what are they doing?

This week the U.S. House of Representatives Defense Appropriations Subcommittee approved over $948 million in funding for Israel’s various anti-missile defense programs. That’s almost $1 billion. Over two-thirds of the money goes to the anti-missile initiative, Iron Dome, and the rest to the short-range David’s Sling ($149.7 million), and the current long-range Arrow anti-ballistic missile system and its successor the Arrow 3 ($119.3 million).  The $948 million is $169 million more than President Obama requested, an increase of almost 20 percent, and would bring military aid to Israel to over $4 billion.

Today 218 Republicans in the House voted to override steep cuts to the Pentagon’s budget mandated by last summer’s debt deal, adding $72 billion to the Pentagon budget and covering that funding with massive spending reductions to food stamps and other social programs. The Republicans say that these cuts would reduce the deficit by $243 billion which shows how badly the safety net will be damaged.

In addition, the House Armed Services Committee voted for a $642 billion defense bill that calls for construction of a missile defense site on the East Coast at a cost of $5 billion, restores aircraft and ships slated for early retirement, and ignores the Pentagon’s cost-saving request for another round of domestic base closings. The committee rejected the Pentagon’s call to mothball 18 Air Force Global Hawk drones, and it restored four Navy cruisers slated for early retirement in next year’s budget.

Republicans insisted that the East Coast site is necessary in case Iran or North Korea develops an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of attacking the East Coast. Since the mid-1980s, the Pentagon has spent nearly $150 billion on missile defense programs (some people say $274 billion) and envisions another $44 billion over the next five years. The problem with all their work is that they have consistently failed in successfully creating any way to shoot down ballistic missiles.

Scientists had endeavored to equip a 747 with a powerful laser system that could knock ballistic threats out of the sky, but the Missile Defense Agency officially announced last February that it would abandon the study, citing scientists’ failure in trials to ever shoot down a missile. During testing of the laser technology in 2010, scientists failed to demonstrate that the defense system was effective at knocking out ballistic technologies. The failed testing also cost the federal government more than $100,000 per hour.  Just last month, the nation’s test of a new ballistic technology failed and crashed in the Sea of South Korea. No matter—lawmakers want to keep going because the government has already spent its billions of dollars on the program.

Republicans refused to permit Democrats to submit their alternative plan as an amendment. That proposal would have cut $24 billion in farm subsidies, saved $5 billion by reforming the National Flood Insurance Program reform, and raised $84 billion by imposing a “Buffet Rule” tax on the wealthy and increasing taxes on the five biggest oil and gas companies. Notice that just the last recommendation would more than cover the $72 billion Republicans want for the Pentagon, despite the constant conservative cry that the “Buffet Rule” tax is useless because it doesn’t raise any money.

Even the Pentagon knows that the House Republicans are wrong. Hours after the Armed Services Committee added money for the East Coast missile defense site and aircraft that the Pentagon didn’t propose, Leon Panetta told Congress that their actions were jeopardizing national security. Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also said that the committee’s addition of up to $5 billion for a new East Coast missile defense site is not needed.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the House budget would leave 1.8 million people without food stamps and take away money for vaccinations, prenatal care, and nursing homes for seniors. Hundreds of thousands of children would lose health insurance and school lunches.

President Obama’s budget plan includes job-creation initiatives for infrastructure, job-training, and innovation. The cost is offset by raising $1.5 trillion over 10 years from the wealthiest taxpayers and closing some corporate tax breaks, chiefly for oil and gas companies. He also proposed a higher tax on dividend income of the wealthiest taxpayers, which would raise about $206 billion over 10 years.

Last March, all except ten House Republicans passed a budget that cuts deeply into domestic spending, transforms the tax code (translate as more tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations), and transform (translates as beginning to eliminate) Medicare and Medicaid.

House Speaker John Boehner and presidential wannabe Mitt Romney continue to claim that they are interested only in the economy and jobs. Perhaps true because their approach destroys the economy and eliminates jobs. Add to that the concept of Congress trying to tell the military what to do, and this country could be in a world of hurt if the nation takes the wrong turn six months.

Oh yes, that jobs’ approach for the House? Last night, the House voted 245-171 to stop the Justice Department from using taxpayer funds to actively oppose the Defense of Marriage Act, preventing marriage equality, as part of Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations legislation. Of course, the House is spending its own money to fight court cases and protect DOMA. Sixteen Democrats voted with the GOP for the amendment, while seven Republicans opposed it. The conservatives are playing for the vote: although the Justice Department is no longer defending DOMA in court, the Obama administration is still enforcing it.

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