Nel's New Day

September 14, 2017

Edie Windsor: An Icon for the Ages

A great woman died this week. Thanks to Edie Windsor, my partner and I, along with hundreds of thousands of other same-gender couples, are able to have the same benefits of legal marriage that heterosexual couples have always had. Edie is even more special to me because I had the opportunity to talk with her on a cruise to Alaska before she became internationally famous. Every time I saw her on television or spotted her in a photograph, I remembered her energy, warmth, and kindness.

As Richard Socarides wrote, Edie is the Rosa Parks of the LGBT movement of the 21st century. Her legal claim to have the same rights as any other married couple personified courage as she openly declared her long-time relationship with another woman. United States v. Windsor wasn’t even specifically about marriage; it was about the rights that marriage confirms in state and federal law regarding taxes. Yet the Supreme Court case ruling that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), barring federal recognition of legally valid same-gender marriages, was unconstitutional ended in the landmark decision granting marriage equality to all same-gender couples.

Married in her early twenties, Edie divorced her husband, Saul Windsor, in less than a year after she told him that she wanted to be with a woman. In 2013, Windsor told NPR:

“I told him the truth. I said, ‘Honey, you deserve a lot more. You deserve somebody who thinks you’re the best because you are. And I need something else.’”

She took a job with IBM in 1958 after she earned a master’s in applied mathematics from New York University and became a computer programmer ad executive. Like almost all LGBT people at that time, she stayed in the closet. Earlier this year, she told Metro Weekly:

“I worked for IBM for 16 years. I lied for 16 years to people I loved. We ate lunch together, we had drinks together, we spent weekends together. Today, you don’t have to do that at IBM. You don’t do that anywhere, almost. It’s unlikely that LGBT people in the United States would have to do such a thing again.”

Edie met her love, clinical psychologist Thea Spyer (left), at the Portofino restaurant in New York’s Greenwich Village. A few years later, Thea gave Edie a diamond brooch instead of a ring for their engagement to keep their relationship secret. They loved to dance, and Edie kept dancing with Thea even after multiple sclerosis put Thea in a wheelchair (to right of Edie, above). Their remarkable relationship, which included Edie as Thea’s caregiver, is beautifully documented in the film, Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement. The title refers to the 44-year “engagement” before they could legally marry in 2007 after an arduous trip to Canada when Thea was a quadriplegic. Susan Muska and Greta Olafsdottir used almost five decades of slides for this poignant yet joyful view of this love story. [More views of Edie at her website.]

After Thea’s death two years later, Edie’s inheritance was taxed at $363,053 because DOMA prevented same-gender couples from the advantages of marital tax deductions for all heterosexual couples. She argued that existing law subjects people in same-sex marriages “to differential treatment compared to other similarly situated couples without justification in violation of the right of equal protection secured by the Fifth Amendment.” The taxes resulted from the decades-long appreciation on real estate that they had long owned. Edie found the taxes an affront to her marriage to Thea, and she sued to regain them.

WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 27: Edith Windsor, 83, acknowledges her supporters as she leaves the Supreme Court March 27, 2013 in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case ‘Edith Schlain Windsor, in Her Capacity as Executor of the Estate of Thea Clara Spyer, Petitioner v. United States,’ which challenges the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the second case about same-sex marriage this week. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Finding a lawyer was difficult because of her age and fragile health—and the fact that her sexual orientation made her appear to some lawyers as less than a compelling plaintiff. Roberta Kaplan, partner with the firm Paul, Weiss, was joined by the ACLU, and Edie’s case went before the Supreme Court on March 27, 2013 when Edie was 83. Her openness and victory were signals to all of us in the LGBT community that we might also be out to the public. Edie stayed an LGBT rights activist after the court ruling, and met her second wife, Judith Kasen (right), at a benefit. They were married a year ago.

Even a Supreme Court case two years after Edie’s victory ruling for marriage equality has not  created equal rights for LGBTQ people across the nation. The judiciary continued to struggle with questions about marital rights, adoption, and other family law in states that kept opposing same-gender marriage. The future for these rights is dimming: Dictator Donald Trump (DDT), the officials in his administration, and many other Republican leaders are virulently anti-LGBT. The Supreme Court will argue a case next month about whether businesses need to serve LGBT people, specifically if a baker has the right to not bake cakes for LGBT couples. DDT’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is supporting the baker and also arguing that the Civil Rights Act does not protect LGBT people from employment discrimination. Kaplan is fighting DOJ in these cases from her new firm, Kaplan & Company. DDT has attempted to ban transgender service members in the military.

I would like to think that my marriage is like squeezing all the toothpaste out of the tube: it’s impossible to put it back in. And I would like to think that I can’t be refused service in a restaurant because a so-called “law” allows people to deny service to anyone they personally reject. Nowhere in history have rights been taken away from people once granted. People can skirt school desegregation, mandated by Brown v. Board of Education, but the ruling is still the law of the land. In a fit of pique, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in his dissent to United States v. Windsor:

“By formally declaring anyone opposed to same-sex marriage an enemy of human decency, the majority arms well every challenger to a state law restricting marriage to its traditional definition. Henceforth those challengers will lead with this Court’s declaration that there is ‘no legitimate purpose’ served by such a law, and will claim that the traditional definition [of marriage] has ‘the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure’ the ‘personhood and dignity’ of same-sex couples.”

A public memorial will be held Friday, September. 15 at 12:30 pm at Riverside Memorial Chapel in New York City. In lieu of flowers, Windsor had requested that any donations in her memory be made to the NYC LGBT Center, Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, the Hetrick-Martin Institute, and Services & Advocacy for LGBT Elders, or SAGE.

President Obama made this touching statement after Edie’s death:

“America’s long journey towards equality has been guided by countless small acts of persistence, and fueled by the stubborn willingness of quiet heroes to speak out for what’s right. Few were as small in stature as Edie Windsor – and few made as big a difference to America.

“I had the privilege to speak with Edie a few days ago, and to tell her one more time what a difference she made to this country we love. She was engaged to her partner, Thea, for forty years. After a wedding in Canada, they were married for less than two. But federal law didn’t recognize a marriage like theirs as valid – which meant that they were denied certain federal rights and benefits that other married couples enjoyed. And when Thea passed away, Edie spoke up – not for special treatment, but for equal treatment – so that other legally married same-sex couples could enjoy the same federal rights and benefits as anyone else.

“In my second inaugural address, I said that if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. And because people like Edie stood up, my administration stopped defending the so-called Defense of Marriage Act in the courts. The day that the Supreme Court issued its 2013 ruling in United States v. Windsor was a great day for Edie, and a great day for America – a victory for human decency, equality, freedom, and justice. And I called Edie that day to congratulate her.

“Two years later, to the day, we took another step forward on our journey as the Supreme Court recognized a Constitutional guarantee of marriage equality. It was a victory for families, and for the principle that all of us should be treated equally, regardless of who we are or who we love.

“I thought about Edie that day. I thought about all the millions of quiet heroes across the decades whose countless small acts of courage slowly made an entire country realize that love is love – and who, in the process, made us all more free. They deserve our gratitude. And so does Edie.

“Michelle and I offer our condolences to her wife, Judith, and to all who loved and looked up to Edie Windsor.”

Thank you, President Obama. And thank you, Edie. And thank you, all the people who fight for equal rights.

June 12, 2017

Remembrance, Celebration

Two anniversaries make this a bitter-sweet day.

Fifty years ago, the Supreme Court made interracial marriage the law of the United States in its ruling in Loving v. Virginia. The 1967 unanimous decision came nine years after Mildred Jeter, a black woman who later identified as Native American, married Richard Loving, a white man, and the couple was threatened with prison if they didn’t leave Virginia. Justice Anthony Kennedy cited Loving v. Virginia in the Supreme Court ruling that legalized marriage equality, a case in which four of the nine justices—John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas—supported bigotry.

On the 40th anniversary of Loving v. Virginia, one year before Mildred Loving died in 2008, she talked about her support for marriage equality:

“I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people’s civil rights. I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.”

One year ago, 49 LGBT people were slain in a hate crime at the Orlando (FL) club, Pulse. Those deaths brought the total of murdered LGBT people in the United States to 77 last year, making 2016 the deadliest year ever for that community. Even without the 49 people killed at Pulse, the number of LGBT homicides rose from 24 in 2015 to 28 in 2016, a 17 percent increase. Of the 28, 19 were transgender and gender non-conforming people—68 percent—and 17 were transgender women of color. Joining those commemorating the horrific event at the location at Pulse were 49 “angels” who formed a protective circle like they did after the slaughter.

With LGBT rights under attack from the current administration, over 50 LGBT Pride Parades in the nation came full circle last weekend back to resistance and equality marches , designed to urge politicians to support LGBT rights. It was the 54th “pride” parade since gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny organized the first one on the Fourth of July in Philadelphia. Yesterday, people gathered for the Equality March for Unity and Pride in Washington, D.C.

For pure joy, watch Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) dancing through the streets in a parade.

June is Pride Month. I would like to extend thanks to the governor of Oregon who sent this message about the tragedy in Orlando and marriage equality:

“Every year in June, the LGBTQ community and allies come together to celebrate Pride. It is a month-long public celebration of love and embracing each other for who we are — inside and out. That has been the LGBTQ community’s message from the very first Pride celebrations: love and equality.

“One year ago today, we woke up to a heartbreaking reminder that our values are not shared by everyone. As details unfolded about the tragedy at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, we were painfully reminded not only of senseless gun violence in our country, but the countless hate crimes that have targeted LGBTQ people for generations.

“What happened in Orlando was an attempt to make people afraid and ashamed of who they are. This should not happen anywhere, or for any reason. Every one of us has the right to live openly, safely, and with dignity.

“As governor, I will not tolerate acts of hatred and discrimination in the state of Oregon. We are still mourning the loss of two brave men who stood up to hate on a train in Portland. As a state, we must embrace a culture of inclusion — and celebrate our diversity — because when we open the doors of opportunity to everyone, we thrive together.

“I’m proud that Oregon continues to be a leader in policies that protect LGBTQ individuals. Our state prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, or public accommodations based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. Since I became governor, we’ve banned gay conversion therapy, and just a few weeks ago, expanded rights for transgender Oregonians.

“The LGBTQ community is stronger and more resilient today than ever before. As we remember the 49 lives cut short one year ago today in Orlando, we recommit ourselves to marching forward. We stand together, stronger than ever, with our message of love and equality.

“Be who you are. Love whom you wish. Together, we won’t let hate win.

On this day, during this month, and all through the year, I give thanks to people like the Lovings, the Supreme Court, Kate Brown, and millions of others who have paved the way for me to marry my love as we look forward to our 48th anniversary on June 25, 2017.

September 23, 2016

Misplaced Protest Can Lead to a Trump Presidency

The election is getting closer, and some millennial Bernie Sanders supporters are still opposing Hillary Clinton. They—and many others—say that they will vote for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein in a protest vote although many of them also know nothing about these two candidates. At this time, Clinton is less than three percent ahead of Donald Trump in an average of major polls while Johnson and Stein have over 11 percent between them. In browsing my LGBT file, I found a message written to Daily Kos published over six weeks ago.

“A message to the millennial LGBT’s I see on my feed bashing Hillary on a daily basis by re spewing the Republican lies and propaganda about her & vowing to vote for Jill Stein or write in Bernie….

“My husband Steve & I have been together over 26 years now, & btw it’s been less than 3 years that I’ve been able to call him that, and though it’s about so much more than the money, we’ve saved over $42,000.00 in that short of time by being able to file taxes as a married couple, and by having him on my health insurance.

“We’ve been waiting & fighting for that equality since before most of you were born.

“Your third party or write in vote only helps elect Donald Trump, check your history books, when was the last time one of those won a presidential election?

“You often quote that Hillary stated that she was against marriage equality, she did, but that was years ago when just about every other liberal politician had to say that too just to get elected, btw we’ve received more equality in just 7 years under our current president who also evolved on marriage equality.

“Though you don’t hear about it much in the so called liberal media, Trump vows to appoint Supreme Court justices that will overturn marriage equality, says he’s ok with the anti LGBT law in North Carolina & other states, & has selected the countries most hateful anti-LGBT Governor as his running mate.

“Often the younger generations thank Steve & me for helping pave the way for acceptance & equality, as we appreciate & thank the ones that came before us.

“To see you, however inadvertently it might be, help pave the way back to the 50’s is just unfathomable to me, I’m closing in on 60 years old & really don’t want to have to start over from square one.”

#lovetrumpshate Robert Hansen/Steve Schneider, Oakbrook Terrace Illinois

Tomorrow the couple celebrates its third anniversary because they couldn’t get married 27 years ago. Happy anniversary, Bob and Steve!

iowacouple

Notice in the Windy City Times: Bob Hansen (in the purple vest) and Steve Schneider (in the lime/yellow vest) recently wed in Iowa. They described it as being such an amazing and emotional moment, surrounded by family, 23 years (and four months) after meeting as next-door neighbors. They also expressed gratitude for the judges that brought this equality to Iowa and sadness for the judges’ ousters shortly afterwards.

Some of the Hillary-haters may say that LGBT rights mean nothing to them, but a Trump president will cost them in their rights and their bank accounts. Trump’s philosophy is to rip off people and put the money in his pocket. A Trump presidency means no more health care or other safety nets for low-income and middle-class people, far higher taxes for everyone except the wealthy, higher costs for college tuition instead of free higher education for the poor—and a dictatorship because Trump likes “strong leaders.”

A Trump presidency can remove rights for women, minorities, moderate Christians, atheists and agnostics, low- and middle-income people. Only wealthy white men will benefit from a Trump presidency. Electing Trump can cause the death and destruction of World War III if someone makes a rude “gesture.”

In normal times, a vote for third party candidates means supporting the voters’ ideals. In 2016, a vote for a third party candidate means that a president can be elected, like in 2000, who leads the country into unending war and economic depression. England recently voted to follow one of Trump’s ideals—to leave the European Union—because they feared immigrants. The day after that vote, many of them said that they had changed their minds or never even intended to vote for leaving the EU. The country is now considering another vote or a reversal of this one. Voting for Johnson or Stein—or Trump, for that matter—doesn’t leave voters any chance to change their minds. It’s done deal that will truly lead the United States into disaster.

People will be making the most important decision of their lives in the next 46 days. I can only hope that voters use rational thought instead of emotional responses in making this choice.

June 26, 2016

Marriage Equality Celebrates First Birthday

Happy First Anniversary

One year ago today, the Supreme Court declared marriage equality the law of the land. The last year has not seen an easy transition everywhere.  Chaos continued the day after the Supreme Court ruling:

  • Mississippi said the decision was not “effective immediately”; the state AG said that they were waiting for a lower court ruling.
  • The Alabama Supreme Court chief justice, Roy Moore, said that “the U.S. Supreme Court [has] no legal authority to redefine marriage” and that the decision may be invalid because two of the SCOTUS  justices voting for the majority opinion didn’t recuse themselves.
  • Louisiana AG said that the state would not be issuing marriage licenses to same-gender couples because there was no “mandate or order making [the] decision final and effective.”
  • Utah tried to stop the state from issuing any marriage licenses.
  • Texas AG Ken Paxton described the ruling as “a judge-based edict that is not based in the law.” He told clerks that they didn’t have to issue licenses to same-gender couples and judges didn’t have to marry them.
  • The Kentucky governor ordered marriage licenses to be immediately changed to implement the new ruling, but that didn’t stop county clerk Kim Davis to refuse to issue them to same-gender couples. Confusion reigned after the state changed from a Democratic to a Republican governor midway through the process.
  • South Dakota AG Marty Jackley ordered the state to honor the ruling “absent further direction,” but it might take a “reasonable period of time” to implement it.
  • Tennessee legislature attempted to “nullify” the Supreme Court ruling in their state.

Freedom for same-gender couples to marry has stoked the GOP presidential campaigns this year. Current “presumptive” candidate Donald Trump, who brags about how he’s the best candidate for LGBT people, has promised to overturn the Supreme Court ruling. Trump knows that without the evangelical vote, he has no chance of being elected president. His most recent pandering came from a gathering of 1,000 evangelicals where he talked about how much more religious he is than Hillary Clinton.

 “We don’t know anything about Hillary in terms of religion. Now, she’s been in the public eye for years and years, and yet there’s no – there’s nothing out there.”

Trump’s accusation demonstrates that he knows as little about Hillary Clinton as he does about foreign policy, successful business practices, and universities. Clinton has spoken about her Methodist faith many times, including speeches about her views on Christianity and the Bible in Iowa. As a senator, she was also part of a Christian prayer group with several Republicans. Trump’s inaccurate statements match the comments he made about the president’s birth in Kenya and being a Muslim.

At the same meeting, Trump urged people not to pray for their leaders because they are “selling Christianity down the tubes.” Instead they should “pray to get everybody out to vote for one specific person.” This statement comes close to violating federal tax law because tax-exempt places of worship and ministries cannot legally intervene in political elections.

Trump also claims that he’s more Christian than other people. Yet he couldn’t think of a scripture important to him, saying that this is “private.” When asked whether he prefers the New or Old Testament, he said, “Both.” For several weeks, he was ridiculed for saying “Two Corinthians” instead of “Second Corinthians.”

James Dobson is trying to build Trump’s reputation among evangelicals by claiming that he is now a “born again” Christian, but Trump’s new campaign manager, Paul Manafort, refuses to talk about the recent “conversion.”

To prove his evangelical cred, Trump announced his new “executive board convened to provide advisory support to Mr. Trump on those issues important to Evangelicals and other people of faith in America.” At the top of the list is Michele Bachmann; the other 20 on the board are men. This was one week after Trump announced that he was the LGBT community’s new best friend. Those two categories mix together like oil and water. He’s also promised to require department store employees to say “Merry Christmas” and fight restrictions against public employees, such as school coaches, against leading Christian prayers on the field. He has no control over either of these areas, but evangelicals may not know this. Nor can he erase marriage equality unless he gets enough Supreme Court justices to do what he tells them.

clela rorex 1974There are many touching stories about same-gender marriages, but my favorite may be the one about the couple who waited 41 years before their Colorado marriage was declared legal by the federal government. In 1975, a young, relatively new county clerk, Clela Rorex (right), issued a marriage license to Richard Adams and Anthony Sullivan in Colorado after checking with District Attorney Alex Hunter.

 

sullivan adams met in 1971Adams and Sullivan (left) had met four years earlier when Sullivan was traveling around the world. Falling in love, Adams wanted permanent residency for Sullivan, an Australian, so they could stay together.  Colorado had no laws against same-gender marriage, but the state AG declared their marriage invalid. Nearly 40 years later, Rorex insisted that the six licenses she issued to same-gender couples in 1975 are valid despite the continued statements from the state AG that they were not. “We never felt that those licenses were invalidated,” she said. “They were never taken to court or challenged on any validity issues.” The licenses were never rescinded.

Yet the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) denying Sullivan’s appeal in a letter that stated: “You have failed to establish that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots.” A second letter stated that the green card petition was denied because neither party was able to perform female functions in a marriage. After the 9th Circuit Court refused to hear the couple’s case, they left everything behind and moved to Europe because the U.S. intended to deport Sullivan.

Fed up with living as paupers, they quietly moved to Los Angeles eleven months later, and Sullivan hid. After Adams was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2010, their lawyer advised them to go to Washington state and get married there in case the government refused to recognize the 35-year-old Colorado license. The day before they were scheduled to go to Washington in 2012, Adams died at the age of 65.

Tony Sulllivan (right)Adams and Sullivan (right) were the first gay couple to sue the government for recognition of their marriage. After DOMA was overturned, 40,000 binational same-gender couples were eligible for immigration rights. Sullivan kept fighting for recognition of their marriage so that he could receive a green card. After DOMA was struck down two years ago today, it was too late for the couple.

Yet Sullivan sees their story as a victory. “They never managed to separate us,” he said. Their story has been made immortal in the documentary, Limited Partnership: A Love Story That Defined a Movement. Anthony Sullivan received his green card as a widower on April 21, 2016—exactly 41 years after his marriage to Richard Adams. The White House also “asked” the Director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to issue a written apology to the couple.

clela 2Clela Rorex was at Out Boulder’s annual garden party to hear the announcement. At 74, Sullivan could not attend. He wrote that it was never about the green card.

“I was after being able to stay with the person I loved. It was quite a journey. Together, we made something of it rather than it just being an aberration in history. The government acknowledged we were right. It meant our lives hadn’t been wasted. We had lives that changed the world.”

Three awards were announced at the Out Boulder event.

  • The Clela Rorex “Allies in Action” award to lawyer Jean Dubofsky, who successfully argued against Colorado’s Amendment 2.
  • The Jack and Jean Hodges “Allies in Action” award to John Hoffman for his work with schools, including sharing his story with students as a “Speaking Out” panel member. Hoffman’s principal had silenced him in the 1990s for telling his students that he was gay.
  • The inaugural “Ignite and Inspire” youth award to Boulder High student Gabriela Bell—member of the Boulder Valley Safe Schools Coalition, president of Boulder High’s Gay Straight Alliance, and member of the Boulder Youth Advisory Board.

We can only hope that with people like this, we can fight the Donald Trumps and have many more anniversaries of marriage equality in the United States.

December 23, 2015

New Gov. Bevin Gives Kentucky Lumps of Coal

 

 

MinWageIncrease2016

US_minimum_wage_map.svgEighteen states are raising the minimum wage in 2016, 14 on January 1 and four others later in the year. At $10 an hour, California and Massachusetts the highest rates; Arkansas has the lowest increase, going up $7.50, $.25 over the federal rate in 21 states, last changed in 2009. Eight states are indexed to the cost of living which did not increase this year.

Of the 21 states that must follow the federal rate because they have no minimum wage or law puts it below federal rate, most are in the South.  [Map for 2015: Green – higher than federal rate; blue – same as federal rate; red – lower than federal rate; yellow – no minimum wage; Arkansas created minimum wage since map was published.]

Kentucky Governor-elect Matt Bevin responds to a question during a press conference in the Kentucky State Capitol Rotunda, Friday, Nov. 6, 2015, in Frankfort, Ky. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

 (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Kentucky and its newly elected Tea Party governor belong to the bottom 21 states. Some of the approximately 16 percent of eligible voters who elected Matt Bevin as governor, only the third Republican since World War II, will soon going to suffer from buyer’s remorse if they aren’t already doing so. Bevin’s actions show what can happen if the United States elects a Republican president.

One of five orders Bevin issued on December 22, two weeks after his inauguration, was to lower the minimum wage for state workers and contractors to $7.25. Rent on an average one-bedroom apartment in the state would require a person to work a 60-hour week. He also stated that he doesn’t believe in minimum wage, that “wage rates ideally would be established by the demands of the labor market instead of being set by the government.” The top one percent could make even more by dropping their wages to the dollar-a-day that “free market” sets in the Third World. The danger there is that people couldn’t buy their products—even food.

Tipped state workers are even worse off. Last summer, the former governor raised the hourly wage for waiters and waitresses at state parks from $2.19 to $4.90. Bevin put them back at $2.19 an hour.

In addition to declaring a moratorium on hiring state employees, Bevin reversed Beshear’s practice of requiring merit employee actions be approved by the secretary of the governor’s Executive Cabinet. Bevin’s order also requires a review of all vacant positions in any agency to determine their necessity. In addition, he eliminated the Governor’s Employee Advisory Council, which advised the governor’s office on merit employee wages and terms of employment. The council was established by Democratic Gov. Paul Patton, disbanded by his successor Republican Ernie Fletcher and re-established by Beshear.

When former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear restored voting rights to at least 140,000 with felony convictions, Kentucky was one of just three states that permanently disenfranchised all people with felony convictions. An early action by Bevin was to again disenfranchise all these people after they have paid their debt to society. Bevin had campaigned last year on restoring these people’s rights, but he reversed his earlier opinion. In Kentucky, one in five blacks lost their voting rights after conviction, compared with one in 13 nationally.

In another order, Bevin saved Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis from future jail terms by ordering the state to remove names of county clerks from marriage licenses. Fayette County Clerk Don Blevins, whose office serves the state’s second largest city, Lexington, said Bevin may have exceeded his authority because these licenses, a civil transaction, require clerks’ names for historical record. Another legal issues comes from the altered marriage licenses issued to couples in Rowan County since September that don’t include Davis’ name or the name of the county. Because of a question about their legality, the ACLU has asked U.S. District Judge David Bunning to order Davis to reissue the licenses, but Bunning has not yet made a ruling.

Nationally, the most controversial of Bevin’s actions comes from his declaration that he would eradicate health care for Kentucky residents. The state has been touted as an icon of improvement in health care, but Bevin pulled all ads for the state health exchange, Kynect. The earliest that he could shut down Kynect would be in 2017 because the law requires a 12-month notice to the government. Changing to the federal health care exchange, as Bevin has suggested as a possibility, would be more expensive than Kynect. Its annual budget of $28 million is funded by a one-percent assessment on health premiums. A federal exchange requires 3.5 percent in assessment, and dismantling Kynect would cost the state an estimated $23 million.

Some of the people who voted for Bevin are worried about the loss of their health care, but others think that people don’t deserve Medicaid. One of the latter is Angel Strong, an unemployed nurse, who went on Medicaid after she lost her job. “I had never had Medicaid, because I had insurance at my job,” said Strong. “Now I am out of a job and I am looking for another job, but in the meantime I had no income.” Medicaid recipient Strong doesn’t want other people to get Medicaid. She says that they need “tough love” because “[people] want everything they can get for free.” Most of Strong’s neighbors in Jackson County also need financial help for health insurance coverage, but most of these people didn’t consider their loss when they voted.

Rick Prario, 54, found he was eligible for Medicaid after losing his longtime job at a hardware store, but he’s angry because he had to pay the law’s tax penalty for going uninsured in 2014 when he was still working. During that time he skipped treatment for diabetes, high blood pressure, and arthritis, treatment that he now receives on Medicaid. His plan now is to quality for disability that he sees as a surer thing than Medicaid.

During two terms with former Gov. Beshear, the unemployment fell to a 14-year low, and the state’s uninsured rate dropped by over 40 percent. The new GOP governor was exposed as a “con man” and a “pathological liar” during his failed senatorial primary run against Mitch McConnell earlier this year. Among other actions, he failed to pay taxes, got a $200,000 federal grant for a fire in his Connecticut business, told people that he was unaware that he was actually attending a cockfight, claimed graduation from MIT—the list goes on and on. The GOP was so disenchanted with Bevin that they failed to support him for the governor’s race.

Bevin’s lies don’t end there. He’s accused Beshear of leaving Kentucky “burdened with a projected biennial budget shortfall of more than $500 million” despite the million in surplus.

The new governor won’t have an easy term. He has to deal with the only state House of Representatives in a Southern state controlled by Democrats. His first strategy was to appoint Democratic legislators to other positions that paid more, but Speaker Greg Stumbo is fighting Bevin’s takeover in all the issues that drive Kentucky backward. For example, Bevin has promised to repeal state taxes on inventory and inheritances with no plans to replace the revenue.  Bevin’s secretary of state and attorney general are both elected Democrats. AG Andy Beshear is the former governor’s son.

coalBevin may have won because he isn’t a “career politician” (although rigging the voting computers may have had some influence). Kentucky will now have a “laboratory experiment” for people who think that people with no experience and education in a profession will do a better job. By now, however, people may be learning that their Christmas stockings contain lumps of coal instead of something to make their lives better. As the website for Kentucky for Kentucky state, “Nothing says ‘I do not approve of you,’ like a real live chunk of Kentucky’s filthiest export.” It’s too late for this year, however, because they’re sold out, but there’s probably enough lying around in the state that the new governor can find.

Today, December 23, is Festivus Day, made famous by scriptwriter Dan O’Keefe, who wrote for Seinfeld. Celebrated with an aluminum Festivus pole, the holiday includes “Airing of Grievances.” People living in Kentucky will have lots to air for this year’s Festivus Day and most likely much more by Festivus Day 2016, especially those 400,000 people who may lose health care because of Matt Bevin. And the 140,000 who lose the right to vote. And the people who lose salaries and pensions. And ….

November 20, 2015

LGBT Equality Only Partial

Many same-gender couples will spend their first Thanksgiving as married couples after the U.S. Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land. Yet Obergefell v. Hodges has not made LGBT families secure throughout the nation because of a myriad of roadblocks in many states.

An early obstruction came in Rowan County (KY) last summer when the county clerk, Kim Davis, refused to issue marriage licenses to same-gender couples. After her contempt of court kept her in jail for a few days, she said that the county deputy clerks could issue the licenses but only after she changed the wording of the license forms and removed her name and that of Rowan County. She also ordered her deputies to sign the forms as “notary publics” instead of deputy county clerks.

Although Gov. Steven L. Beshear declared last month that the marriage licenses were valid, he has now submitted a brief with the U.S. District Court that states his office does not have the authority to determine whether these licenses are valid. Couples have filed a brief in U.S. District Court supporting their prior assertion that the Rowan County clerk’s office failed to comply with orders directing deputy clerks to issue marriage licenses without interference by Clerk Kim Davis.

ScaliaSupreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia angrily spoke about losing Obergefell during a speech to first-year law students at Georgetown last week. Scalia said that determining which minorities deserve protection should be made through the democratic process rather than a court decision. According to Scalia, only political and religious minorities are protected by the constitution.

Last summer’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges may have changed the perception of due process. According to Kenji Yoshino, the case may displace five decades of the high court’s substantive due process decisions. For a half century, the Court used tradition, specific definition rather than general abstraction, and the willingness to protect negative “freedom from” rights rather than positive “freedom to” rights to determine due process. Almost two decades ago, the Supreme Court ruled in Washington v. Glucksberg that due process did not cover the right to assistance in committing suicide. In Obergefell’s dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts, who declared that the majority “effectively overrule[d] Glucksberg, the leading modern case setting the bounds of substantive due process.”

The marriage equality ruling has replaced a rigid ruling on due process, according to Yoshino, with the common-law approach voiced in Justice John Harlan’s dissent for Poe v. Ullman (1961). He supported a balance of individual liberties against government interests without being “shackled to the past.” Tradition, to Harlan, was a “living thing,” a concept that Scalia despises. Instead of opposing marriage equality because of the long historical tradition against same-gender marriage, the Court majority considered the “right to marry.” The question for the future is whether Obergefell will be used to make future decisions about due process or whether the Court will revert to the past as it has many times since Roberts became chief justice.

For now, some courts and legislatures are giving same-gender couples a “partial equalty”—really an inequality—that will require the Supreme Court to take up more litigation. Custody, adoptions, fostering children, and couples’ rights after separation are most likely the next fights for same-gender couples.

Hoagland.PeirceIn Utah, Judge Scott N. Johansen ordered a nine-months-old child removed from a lesbian couple because it was “not in the best interest of children to be raised by same-sex couples.” Public outcry led to his rescinding the order, but the judge left open the possibility of removal at a December 4 hearing. Fortunately for the child, the judge has now recused himself “and refers all pending matters to be assigned by the presiding judge.”

Utah began placing children with same-gender couples after the Supreme Court decision last summer, and an infant girl was placed with married couple Rebecca A. Peirce, 34, and April M. Hoagland (above left), 38, and their two biological children in August. On November 10, 2015, the two women attended what they thought was a regular hearing, but Johansen ordered that the baby be removed within a week and given to a heterosexual couple. The Division of Child and Family Services said that it was “in the child’s best interest” to stay with the two women. Even the GOP governor joined in the protest for the judge’s decision. Gary R. Herbert said, “He may not like the law, but he should follow the law.”

As in Kentucky, the current obstacle is not necessarily the law but the attitude of government employees who discriminate against LGBT people. In the hearing, the judge said “that research has shown that children are more emotionally and mentally stable when raised by a mother and father in the same home,” but he refused to cite any sources. At this time, research is on the side of the same-gender couple with no current credible study supporting the judge’s bias.

Justice Anthony Kennedy clearly listed adoption among the rights associated with marriage, but he didn’t mention foster parenting. Until recently, most states prevented child placement with same-gender couples who were not married, and the law prevented many of these couples from being married. Several states permit private placement agencies to discriminate against same-gender couples, but Mississippi is the only state that flagrantly enforces a state law banning adoptions by same-gender couples.

smith and Phillips adoptionFour couples are challenging the Mississippi ban on adoptions by same-gender couples, including Janet Smith and her wife, Donna Phillips (right). The state is blocking Smith’s adoption of Donna’s eight-year-old daughter, Hannah Marie. The two married women are raising Hannah together, but Smith has no legal status in regards to their daughter. Phillips, a captain in the Mississippi Air National Guard, is “concerned about legal aspects for Jan” if she is called or activated. This lack of legal recognition puts children at risk of losing both their parents and ending up in foster care if something happens to their birth parent and their other parent is not legally recognized.

Last year, 29 percent of Mississippi’s same-gender couples were raising children younger than 18, the highest percentage of any state. A year ago, U.S. District Court Judge Carlton W. Reeves found the adoption ban to be unconstitutional, but the decision was stayed pending action by the Fifth Circuit and then the Supreme Court. Ronnie Musgrove, the governor who signed the ban into law 15 years ago, has written that he regrets his action. “As I have gotten older, I came to understand that a person’s sexual orientation has absolutely nothing to do with their ability to be a good parent.”

Another Mississippi couple, Kathryn Garner and Susan Hrostowski, has waited 15 years for a second-parent adoption of the child they raised together since he was born just six weeks before the ban went into effect. Two other couples, also plaintiffs in the case, want to adopt children from foster care. Kari Lunsford and Tinora Sweeten-Lunsford wanted to take a child with special needs who could not be matched with other foster parents. They were told that they would have to live apart for at least six months during a home study, and only one of them could adopt the child.

The U.S. Supreme Court has been asked to review an Alabama case in which judges refuse to recognize an adoption granted in another state. A lesbian known in court filings by her initials V.L. helped raise the children, now ages 10 to 12, but has no visitation rights since the couple separated. During their 16-year relationship, the two women had three children from sperm donors, and a Georgia court approved V.L.’s adoption of the children in 2007. In September 2015, the Alabama Supreme Court struck down the woman’s visitation rights and ruled the adoption invalid, saying the Georgia court was wrong under that state’s adoption laws to grant it. Earlier this year, the same court directed probate judges to refuse marriage licenses to same-gender couples even after a federal judge ruled the state’s ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional.

The case involves a constitutional provision requiring one state to respect court orders of other states: Article IV’s Full Faith and Credit Clause. Lawyers for V.L. wrote that the decision “would create a massive loophole in the Full Faith and Credit Clause.”  They added, “There is no legal or practical basis for singling out adoptions as uniquely unworthy of full faith and credit.” If states don’t recognize adoptions from other states, LGBT parents can lose their parental rights when they travel, for example the inability to make medical decisions for their children if they are in an accident. V.L.’s attorneys have also applied to the Supreme Court for a stay of the Alabama’s ruling so that she can visit the children during the appeal. Justice Clarence Thomas, the justice with jurisdiction in Alabama for emergency actions, has called for E. L., the biological mother, to respond to the stay applications by November 30.

LGBT discrimination

Despite last summer’s ruling that same-gender couples can marry, 61 percent of the LGBT population “will continue to live in states with medium or low legal protections—or that have outright hostile laws,” according to the report Mapping LGBT Equality in America, released earlier this year. Since this map was released in early October, all of Houston (TX) LGBT people lost their rights in the November election.

September 19, 2015

‘Persecution’ of Christians

“I don’t think there is any question that the Supreme Court’s decision goes against the natural law. That’s not the way nature functions. So as a result of that, I think Kim Davis and everybody else has the obligation to oppose it.” That’s GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s take on how his perception of “nature” supersedes constitutional rights for U.S. citizens.

The Rowan County (KY) clerk is now out of prison because she’s reluctantly allowing deputy clerks to issue licenses to same-gender couples. Now her lawyers can’t follow the law. The 6th Circuit Court rejected her appeal to overturn a judge’s order to issue marriage license because the lawyers did not go through U.S. District Judge David Bunning, who had ordered Davis to be detained. Lawyers maintained that they skipped that legal step because of the judge’s “extraordinary doggedness.”

Another court may be hearing another case that uses the excuse of religious belief to disobey the law. In defiance of the Supreme Court legalization of marriage equality, Washington County (AL) Probate Judge Nick Williams filed a petition to protect him and anyone else who refuses to issue marriage licenses to same-gender couples. Williams said about the Supreme Court’s ruling, “I’m quite sure they broke several constitutional amendments in that ruling.”

Before Justice Antonin Scalia decreed that the corporation Hobby Lobby is a person with religious rights in denying its women employees their lawful contraception, the ultra-conservative Scalia wrote about religious exemptions in Employment Division v. Smith (1990) that rejected a petitioner’s request to use peyote in a sacrament:

“The rule respondents favor would open the prospect of constitutionally required religious exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind—ranging from compulsory military service, to the payment of taxes, to health and safety regulation such as manslaughter and child neglect laws, compulsory vaccination laws, drug laws, and traffic laws; to social welfare legislation such as minimum wage laws, child labor laws, animal cruelty laws, environmental protection laws, and laws providing for equality of opportunity for the races.”

Smith was not about Christianity, which may be why Scalia supported the state of Oregon and not religious rights. The ruling also led to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 which “ensures that interests in religious freedom are protected” and opened up all the religious protesting of the past few years. Even so, Scalia suggested that no country would allow religious exemptions on such a grand scale.

Scalia said that he would retire before being forced to rule against his Catholic beliefs. Kim Davis is not as ethical. She refused to issue marriage licenses to same-gender couples, went to jail for a few days because she refused to follow a judge’s order to do so, and now hides in her office allowing deputies to issue licenses but claiming that they are all invalid because they lack her signature.

Twenty-five years ago, Scalia recognized the current problem, that there is no logical stopping place to “religious exemptions.” People claim the religious right not to dispense birth control, photograph same-gender weddings, bake celebratory cakes, etc.  As Jeffrey Toobin wrote in The New Yorker:

“The principle [of religious exemption is] a troubling one—that religious belief carries with it a shopping-cart approach to citizenship. You can choose some obligations but not others, while the legislators and judges figure out which ones are really mandatory. It’s a recipe for further division in an already polarized society—and the prospects, in Kentucky and elsewhere, are for more conflict, not less.”

GOP Mike Huckabee claims that God returned to Earth in the form of Kim Davis. Her compulsion to follow her bible may require her to post a list of couples (or more than couples) who can and cannot get licenses from her county:

  • No – A  license for a man with a consenting woman who doesn’t have her father’s permission – Numbers 30:1-16.
  • Yes – A license for a man and a nonconsenting woman if her father gives her in marriage or sells her to a slave master – Exodus 20:17, Exodus 21:7.
  • Yes – A license for a married man and three other women – 1 Timothy 3:2.
  • No – A license for childless widow and her husband’s reluctant brother because a man has the responsibility to seed children for his deceased brother – Matthew 22:24-28.
  • No – A license for a Christian and a Hindu because they are, according to Paul, “unequally yoked” – 2 Corinthians 6:14.
  • Yes – A license for a soldier and a virgin prisoner of war but only with written instructions on the purification ritual required before bedding her. Also if she fails to “delight,” he must set her free rather than selling her – Deuteronomy 21:10-14.
  • Yes – A license for a rapist and his victim with the father present who has been paid 50 shekels ($580) for the damage done to the father. Also no divorce – Deuteronomy 22:28-29.
  • Yes – A license for a man and his wife’s indentured/undocumented servant but only if the man is reminded that marriage is not required for sex because of community property laws apply and any offspring is owned by the man’s original wife, not the indentured woman – Genesis 30:1-22.
  • Probably not – A license for a man and his mother, sister, half-sister, mother-in-law, grandchild, or uncle’s wife although the decision changes throughout the Bible—siblings okay in Genesis but not later in the text – e.g. Lev. 18:7-8; Lev. 18:10; Lev. 20:11; Deut. 22:30; Deut. 27:20; Deut. 27:23.
  • Absolutely no – A license for a black woman and a white man, or vice versa – Gen. 28:6; Exod. 34:15-16; Num. 25:6-11; Deut. 7:1-3; Josh. 23:12-13; Judges 3:5-8; 1 Kings 11:1-2; Ezra 9:1-2, 12; Ezra 10:2-3, 10-11; Neh. 10:30; Neh. 13:25-27).
  • Also no – A license for a gentile and a Jew – Deuteronomy 7:3-4.
  • Yes – A license for a man and a sex-trafficked teen he bought from a gangster if Kentucky legalizes sex trafficking although Kentucky may not have to pass a law because, according to Davis and others, —but God is higher than the law, according to people like Davis. – Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13-17.

Most of these directions are in the Old Testament, but so are the Ten Commandments, commonly posted inside and in front of public buildings when Christians have their way.

A billboard posted in Davis’ town also tries to be helpful in explaining marriage and the Bible.

billboard

Religion in health care also causes a serious problem for women after the Catholic Church has taken over large numbers of hospitals in the U.S. Just one example is 33-year-old Jessica Mann, who is pregnant with her third child and needs a Caesarean for the birth. She also needs a tubal ligation to prevent further pregnancies because she has pilocytic astrocytomas, a brain tumor which can cause blindness and paralysis. At least 30 percent of women choose this procedure, but Genesys Hospital in Grand Blanc Township (MI) refuses to do the contraceptive procedure, calling it “intrinsically evil.” Of the nation’s 25 largest healthcare systems, ten of them are funded by Catholics and receive public dollars while denying some reproductive healthcare. More than 50 percent of obstetrician-gynecologists who work in Catholic Hospitals say that hospital religious policies have directly conflicted with their ability to provide patient care.

Many Christians, primarily those who are fundamentalists, bitterly complain about the persecution that they suffer. The law forces them to serve LGBT people, same-gender couples can legally get married across the United States (if they can get served!), and people want to keep religion out of government. Persecuted Christians can check the following questions to see how severe their persecution is, how much liberty they have lost. Anyone who answers “no” to one of these questions should go the ACLU for help. Otherwise ….

  1. Can you choose to go to any religious service?
  2. Are you allowed to pray in the privacy of your own home? Without worrying about being arrested?
  3. Can you read, buy, and/or own religious books or materials with no threat of imprisonment or death?
  4. Can your religious group build a house of worship in your community? Without protests or denial of building permits based on religion?
  5. Can you teach your children about your faith at home?
  6. Is your religious group allowed equal protection under the establishment clause without giving another religion preferential treatment?
  7. Do you suffer violence or injury or death because of your beliefs?

Christians in the United States can answer “no” to the above questions, but many people of other faiths cannot, both in other countries and within the United States. More and more, political candidates are leading people in the belief that the Christian god is higher than the law of the land. Freedom of religion should be freedom for all, not just for “freedom” to have Christianity rule every person’s life.

My Favorite Religious Story of the Week: Giovanna Sforza shipped 20 pagan books from Arizona to North Carolina. When she opened the box, the pagan books had been replaced by a Baptist hymnal—presumably in a post office.

September 8, 2015

Davis’ Rejection of LGBT Rights Not Unique

Chuck Todd celebrated his first year’s anniversary on Meet the Press last Sunday with more misinformation. In the interview with Colin Powell, one of George W. Bush’s Secretaries of State, cogently explained why the United States needs to follow through with the proposed Iran agreement. At the show’s end, however, came a discussion about U.S. cause célèbre, Kim Davis, the county clerk who become famous for her refusal to follow the land of the law.

Once again Todd showed his inability to do his research:

“This is the only place in the country that we’ve had this. Meaning that I think a lot of people thought there would be more clerks that wouldn’t do this.”

Doris Kearns Goodwin followed Todd’s lead and said, “All of our country, and other registrars, in other counties, people have gone issuing marriage licenses. And that’s the important thing to understand, that that social movement created an acceptance.” Even revered television journalist Tom Brokaw expressed ignorance about marriage-equality problems since the decision:

“I think acceptance of same-sex marriage is so outrunning the opposition that it’s game over, quite honestly. This was an exception down there.”

What makes Kim Davis unique is that she is the only person who went to jail because of her refusal, contempt of court for not following a judge’s order. Across the nation, however, government officials are refusing marriage services to same-gender couples. Both North Carolina and Utah allow judges to not perform any marriages if same-gender ceremonies violate the judges’ “religious beliefs.” An Oregon judge, Vance Day, is also refusing to perform marriages. He is not required to do so by state law, but he clearly stated that he had stopped marrying people because of his “religious” opposition to same-sex marriages.

Alabama Probate Judge Nick Williams ordered his deputies in Washington County not to issue any licenses at all since the court’s June decision. In Pike County (AL), Probate Judge Wes Allen said that the law does not require county officials to issue marriage licenses.

Immediately after the Supreme Court ruling, Texas AG Ken Paxton told government officials that they could refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-gender couples on religious grounds. Granbury (TX) lost $43,872.10 in attorney’s fees because Hood County Clerk Katie Lang refused to issue a license to residents Joe Stapleton and Jim Cato, partners for 27 years. A federal court judge forced Lang to issue the license, but the settlement of the case cost the taxpayers. Lang’s website states that she doesn’t agree with same-sex marriage, but she is now allowing deputies in her office to issue the licenses.

In Texas, two counties have not confirmed that they will issue marriage licenses to same-gender couples. “We are not going to discuss marriage policy over the phone. If a couple comes in to apply, we will discuss it at that time,” said Molly Criner, a clerk in Irion County, 200 miles northwest of Austin.

Several Kentucky clerks initially refused to issue any marriage license, included the president of the Kentucky County Clerks Association. By now the number is probably down to two clerks—both named Davis. Casey County Casey Davis said that he might be willing to die to avoid issuing a marriage license to a same-gender couple. Kentucky considers it a Class A misdemeanor, a first-degree official misconduct, if “a public servant … refrains from performing a duty imposed upon him by law or clearly inherent in the nature of his office.”

Fifty years ago, white people dominated the media, and black issues were largely underrepresented. On Meet the Press, three straight people decided that discrimination against LGBT people is “game over.” Same-gender couples face discrimination across the nation, and the mainstream media doesn’t report it because journalists are ignorant.

Several GOP presidential candidates have rushed to support Kim Davis. Yet a Supreme Court decision in Garcetti v. Ceballo (2006) limited free speech protections for government employees when they are on the job. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that a public official is only protected only when engaged in an issue as a private citizen, not if it is expressed as part of the official’s public duties. Government employers must comply with the central duties of their jobs. As for the states with laws that permit judges their choices of whether to comply with their responsibilities, Katherine Franke, a Columbia University law professor, said that government officials “don’t have a First Amendment right to pick and choose which parts of the job they are going to do.”

cruzDetermined to out-perform Donald Trump, both GOP presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz rushed to Grayson (KY) when the judge announced he was releasing Davis if she performed her job. Huckabee was front and center while one of his aides blocked Cruz from speaking to the media. (A video of the encounter is available here.)

In releasing Davis, the judge mandated that she “not interfere in any way, directly or indirectly, with the efforts of her deputy clerks to issue marriage licenses to all legally eligible couples.” According to Davis’ lawyer, Davis would go back to work on tomorrow or the next day and “would not violate her conscience.”

More legal problems may come from the rally. Composers for rock band Survivor were offended by the use of “Eye of the Tiger” in the Grayson circus without permission. Jim Peterik wrote:

“I was very surprised and dismayed at the misuse of the song I co-wrote with Frankie Sullivan for Rocky lll. The song has motivated thousands through the years to reach beyond their limits. Its use for the release of Kim Davis does not support my views or my politics. I have contacted my publishers to make sure this usage is stopped immediately.”

Sullivan was more blunt in his Facebook post: “NO! We did not grant Kim Davis any rights to use ‘My Tune — The Eye Of The Tiger.’ I would not grant her the rights to use Charmin!” In 2012, Sullivan sued Newt Gingrich for using the piece during campaign events.

Even Fox network disagrees with Kim Davis’ position. A panel of legal experts agreed that Davis’ attorney, Mat Staver, is “ridiculously stupid” for his claim that the Supreme Court cannot legally strike down same-sex marriage bans. Trial attorney Chip Merlin said that anyone who violates a judge’s order should “expect to be thrown in jail.” Criminal defense attorney Sharon Liko added, “She’s applying for the job of a martyr. She wants to practice her faith by not issuing marriage licenses. Yet, she will not agree to let the deputy county clerks issue marriage licenses even if it’s okay with their faith.”

Fox News host Gregg Jarrett explained:

“When she took the job she swore to uphold the law. We rely on government officials to do that. They can’t just pick and choose what laws they like, which ones they don’t. If they were allowed to do that, wouldn’t that lead to chaos, anarchy and so forth?”

The consensus was that Davis “can either follow the law—she can do her job—or she can get out.”

Staver went on Wallbuilders.com to rile his followers and said that marriage licenses for same-gender couples will “grant a license to engage in pornography, to grant a license to sodomize children or something of that nature.”

Kim Davis is not paying fines or legal fees, and she’s getting her usual salary. Yet the conservative anti-marriage equality group National Organization for Marriage (NOM) is using her name for fund-raising. The group’s statement began, “I am writing you today with a more personal request, something unrelated to NOM. Kim and her family face a very uncertain future.” It goes on to explain that NOM has joined ActRight.com  “to create a special crowdsourcing fund whose proceeds will go directly to Kim Davis” and asks for “a generous contribution to the Kim Davis Fund.” It promises to make funds “available” to her and “to support her family while she sits in jail.” [And continues to draw her salary for not doing her job.

During live coverage of Davis’ release from jail, anchor Shephard Smith spoke up with an amazingly rational assessment of those who support her refusal to issue marriage licenses:

“They set this up as a religious play again. This is the same crowd that says, ‘We don’t want Sharia law, don’t let them tell us what to do, keep their religion out of our lives and out of our government.’ Well, here we go again.”

Discussing the Supreme Court decision legalizing marriage equality, he said, “This is not unprecedented. They did it when they said black and white people couldn’t marry.”

He concluded, “Haters are going to hate. We thought what this woman wanted was an accommodation, which they’ve granted her, something that worked for everybody. But it’s not what they want.”

 

Amazing!

September 6, 2015

The United States, Going Crazy over Religion

Filed under: Religion — trp2011 @ 10:48 PM
Tags: , ,

Would a Christian symbol on a gun keep a Muslim from buying it?  Florida gun manufacturer Spike’s Tactical hopes so. One side of the AR-15 Crusader rifle selling for $1,395 has a bible verse, Psalms 144:1, and the other side shows a Knights Templar symbol of a cross inside a shield. During the Crusades, Knights of the Templar became extremely rich, controlling huge tracts of land and creating a financial lending system. The rifle’s safety selector has three settings: Peace, War, and God Wills It. Thus far, of the over 250 mass killings in the United States thus far in 2015, one involved a self-proclaimed Muslim.

Bakers and government officials aren’t the only people to refuse service on the basis of “religious beliefs.” The TD Bank in Cranford (NJ) denied notarization services last year to American Atheists, a charitable organization. The group’s president, Dave Silverman, and managing director, Amanda Knief, were asked to describe the documents that they wanted notarized and were then told that the employee could not complete the transaction. As a notary, the employee represents the state and deemed to be a “public servant.” The law requires notaries to be impartial witnesses to the signing of documents and the acknowledgement of signatures on documents. The American Association of Notaries states:

“The Notary shall not refuse to perform a lawful and proper notarial act because of the signer’s race, nationality, ethnicity, citizenship, religion, politics, lifestyle, age, disability, gender or sexual orientation, or because of disagreement with the statements or purpose of a lawful document.”

The prejudice evidenced by religious officials has escalated within the past year. After Oregon legalized marriage equality, Marion County Circuit Judge Vance Day (Salem) declared that he would no longer perform marriages because his religion would not allow marrying same-gender couples. To be clear, judges are not required to perform marriages, but Day deliberately said he would deny same-gender couples because of his “deeply held religious beliefs.” According to Patrick Korten, previously public affairs representative for the U.S. Justice Department and chair of the Oregon Republican Party, Day “has a right to those beliefs under the United States Constitution.”

An ethics investigation of Day was announced after he asked for permission to create a legal funding for expenses to defend himself. The investigating group is the state Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability, separate from the ethics commission. One question about Day is whether his beliefs would influence any cases involving LGBT people and/or issues.

Officials claim that they can deny people services because someone else will do it. Yet this “cherry-picking” of duties creates a “conscience creep.” Ultimately, if no one is available or willing when the services are needed, people are denied their legal rights. Short of that, they are humiliated by the refusals.

As more states subsidize Christian schools with public taxes, the students become subjected to more ignorance and bigotry. An example is this statement from an American history textbook published by Bob Jones University Press and purchased by taxpayer funds that is used in many schools.

“The [Ku Klux] Klan in some areas of the country tried to be a means of reform, fighting the decline in morality and using the symbol of the cross… In some communities it achieved a certain respectability as it worked with politicians.”

More examples are here, including the statement that President Bill Clinton won in 1992 because of “an imaginary economic crisis created by the media.” Also children are taught that “science proves homosexuality is a learned behavior” and, of course, humans lived at the same time as dinosaurs. One I hadn’t heard is that a Japanese fishing boat captured a dinosaur.

school baptismHigh school football practice started last month, and the First Baptist Church of Villa Rica (GA) performed a mass baptism for the football coach and several players before a school-sanctioned practice session on school grounds. The church posted a video to YouTube with the message that “God is STILL in our schools!” The video is gone, but the Carroll County School District is investigating the violation of church and state. (The pastor said that the baptism didn’t violate any laws because it was before practice.) Another Georgia school was investigated last year after it daily forced Christian prayers on elementary school students.

The Gilbert Public School District (AZ) decided not to cut pages out of the Advanced Placement biology textbooks that taught biological information. Now teachers are ordering students to put stickers with this information into the books:

“The Gilbert Public School District supports the state of Arizona’s strong interest in promoting childbirth and adoption over elective abortion. The District is also in support of promoting abstinence as the most effective way to eliminate the potential for unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. If you have questions concerning sexual intercourse, contraceptives, pregnancy, or abortion, we encourage you to speak with your parents.”

While fundamentalist Christians are forcing their belief on others, they oppose education about other cultures. For 15 years, Sharon Peters had used Muslim clothing for women such as an abaya and a burka, to teach students in the town of Lumberton, 100 miles east of Houston, how wearing these items restrict the ability to see. Texas requires schools to teach about religions as part of world geography and world history, but In 2013 people attacked the teacher of 39 years, accusing her of corrupting children. The 63-year-old woman retired. Lumberton is a “white flight” town where the KKK has been active and people openly admit they don’t want “to live near blacks.”

Even students are declaring that they don’t want to learn about anyone different. Duke University freshman David Grasso has announced that he won’t read Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, recommended reading for incoming students. In this graphic memoir, the lesbian author describes her life with her closeted gay father. Grasso calls the book pornographic and claims that reading it would violate his Christian beliefs. He patterns his complaints on many other statements from students: a book, class, teacher, speaker, whatever threatens identity and beliefs.

Grasso’s refusal to follow guidelines set down by the university follows the insistence from some GOP presidential candidates that people should not follow the law if they don’t like it. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) used David Barton’s Wallbuilders email list to tell thousands of pastors that they should preach against Planned Parenthood and push Congress to shut down the government is PP is not defunded. The sermon uses lies to manipulate congregations to pressure Congress. Far beyond the false belief that Christianity is running the country, the message that leaders of congregations should do political lobbying violates religious groups’ IRS tax-exempt status:

“An organization will be regarded as attempting to influence legislation if it contacts, or urges the public to contact, members or employees of a legislative body for the purpose of proposing, supporting, or opposing legislation, or if the organization advocates the adoption or rejection of legislation.”

Preaching sermons to pressure the Congress is a violation of churches’ 501(c)3 rules. They need to make a decision: either pay taxes as required for lobbying groups or stop its involvement in the political process. Groups that want to avoid paying taxes need to stop stumping for candidates and legislation.

Mike Huckabee is telling all and sundry that Kim Davis doesn’t need to obey the law because the Supreme Court cannot make laws. The Supreme Court, however, has judicial review, the power to strike down laws passed by federal and state legislatures, if these violate basic principles in the Constitution. The history of the Supreme Court’s striking down state laws goes back to 1796, and the only way that the federal government can override a Supreme Court decision is through a constitutional amendment, as in the case of the Dred Scott decision. Basically, Huckabee is telling Davis to break the law of the land.

One useful piece of religion—if it works—comes from Jackson (MS) where Mayor Tony Yarber claims that prayer can fix the town’s potholes. Steve Williams (Huntington, WV) used prayer in an attempt to solve the heroin use epidemic a year ago but apparently with little success. No report from Yarber yet, but it’s been only two weeks.

September 5, 2015

Kim Davis Denies Dignity to LGBT Couples

Filed under: Discrimination — trp2011 @ 7:37 PM
Tags: , , ,

When the Supreme Court legalized marriage equality throughout the United States, I was one of those millions of people naive enough to think that government officials would obey the law. Not so. In several counties and other municipalities across the nation, same-gender couples cannot get married because the law means nothing to some elected officials. One of them, Rowan County’s clerk, Kim Davis has become a cause célèbre since her refusal to issue marriage licenses put her first in front of a judge and now in jail. One of three Kentucky county clerks refusing to issue licenses to same-sex couples, she maintains that she cannot because of her “religious beliefs.”

After Federal District Court Judge David L. Bunning ordered Davis to issue licenses, both the 6th Circuit Court and the Supreme Court refused to delay the order while she appealed. Bunning ordered her to jail, saying, “The court cannot condone the willful disobedience of its lawfully issued order.” In short, Davis is paid by taxpayers to issue marriage licenses but refuses to issue licenses to couples she finds morally objectionable, citing “God’s authority.” She could get another job which doesn’t violate her religious beliefs, but she chooses not to do so. Davis was jailed, not because she is opposed to marriage equality but because she ignored a court order. She refused to follow the law and is now in contempt of court.

Davis’ support includes a white supremacist group who plans to rally in her favor and most of the GOP presidential candidates. Only Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Carly Fiorina said that she should do her job. As usual, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) played both sides:

“While the clerk’s office has a governmental duty to carry out the law, there should be a way to protect the religious freedom and conscience rights of individuals working in the office.”

Rubio is right that Davis is required to carry out the law. She swore an oath that she would follow the U.S. Constitution and the law. [I provided the entire Kentucky oath below because it’s a bit bizarre.]

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm, as the case may be) that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of this Commonwealth, and be faithful and true to the Commonwealth of Kentucky so long as I continue a citizen thereof, and that I will faithfully execute, to the best of my ability, the office of County Clerk according to law; and I do further solemnly swear (or affirm) that since the adoption of the present Constitution, I, being a citizen of this State, have not fought a duel with deadly weapons within this State nor out of it, nor have I sent or accepted a challenge to fight a duel with deadly weapons, nor have I acted as second in carrying a challenge, nor aided or assisted any person thus offending, so help me God.”

Rowan County deputy clerks said Davis “terrorized” them and they were afraid to issue licenses. A question, however, is whether the licenses are valid. Mathew Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel that is affiliated with Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, says that the licenses are void because they lack Davis’ authorization. The form states that is must contain “an authorization statement of the county clerk issuing the license,” but state law requires only “the signature of the county clerk or deputy clerk issuing the license” to be valid. Rowan County attorney, Cecil Watkins, said that these licenses are valid. The deputy clerks are issuing marriage license on the order of a federal court judge.

Staver compares Davis’ imprisonment to the boycotting of Jews in Germany during the Nazi regime. He said, “This is the new persecution of Christians here in this country.” Staver thinks Davis is doing her job. He said, “She has a right to this employment and you don’t lose your constitutional liberties just because you are employed by the government.” Members of Kentucky’s legal community think that Staver and his partners “may have violated their duty to tell her she had no case.”

Davis’ current husband, Joe, demonstrated outside the courthouse with a sign that read, “Welcome to Sodom and Gomorrah.” About the judge who jailed his wife, Joe Davis said, “He’s a butt.” And “a bully.” The governor of Kentucky? “No backbone.” He also said, “Just because five Supreme Court judges make a ruling, it’s not a law.”

Rowan County LGBT supporters

Other protesters  opposed Davis’ actions. [Photo by Maddie McGarvey for The New York Times]  Matt Bevin, GOP candidate for governor, suggested changing the state law for issuing license, perhaps to a form that couples could get online, to end the standoff. Gov. Beshear said he doesn’t want to call a special legislative session; thatleaves the situation unsettled until next year.

A tweet from best-selling Christian author Rachel Held Evans describes the hypocrisy of Davis and her supporters:

Evans tweet about Kim Davis

Even former vice-president Dick Cheney and his daughter Liz think that Davis should do her job. Appearing on Newsmax, Dick Cheney pointed out that “it’s the law of the land.” Steve Malzberg tried the argument that forcing Davis to do her job would lead to forcing churches to perform same-sex weddings, Liz Cheney snapped:

“As my dad said, it is the law of the land. The court has ruled. And she’s not an employee of a church or synagogue, she’s a government employee. So, she has an obligation to uphold the law.”

Davis has a very good reason for not resigning her job—actually 80,000 of them. That’s what she gets paid. In rural Kentucky, $80,000 plus benefits is a hefty annual salary for a 9-to-5 job where she can terrify the people who work for her. She’s used to a good salary: for 24 years she worked as county’s chief deputy clerk for her mother who established her compensation—common practice in Kentucky. In 2011, county residents complained about her salary of over $63,000, far more than the $38,000 that the Chief Deputy Sheriff was paid. The county clerk’s salary budget was cut for 2012.

When Davis’ mother didn’t run for re-election in 2014, Davis ran for county clerk and won the general election by about 500 votes. After she was elected she said, “I promise [that I will] follow the statutes of this office to the letter.” Her four-year term began in January 2015.

The Lexington-Herald Leader editorial board wrote:

“We’ve never heard of a clerk denying a license to a divorced person, a philanderer, someone who’s abused a partner or neglected children. It’s easy to imagine the outrage and chaos that would ensue if clerks began morality-testing prospective opposite-gender spouses. But that’s exactly the right that Davis is demanding. She wants to pick and choose, based on her beliefs, which legally qualified couples will get marriage licenses….

“Davis can resign if she’s morally unable to issue the marriage licenses while the appeal is pending. Law-abiding, taxpaying Rowan County citizens have been denied their constitutional rights for almost two months while Davis has kept her job.”

Davis is now married for the fourth time. Her first three marriages ended in divorce in 1994, 2006, and 2008. Her twins, fathered by her third husband, were born five months after her divorce from her first husband and have been adopted by her second husband who is also her fourth husband.

When the issue is resolved, Kim Davis will very likely become a star on the Christian lecture circuit like the bakers in Oregon who didn’t want to “participate” in a same-sex wedding by making a cake. Unconfirmed reports indicate that she will appear at two different family values-themed rallies with Donald Trump and that Sarah Palin wants her to be the next interview subject for an upcoming On Point television broadcast. Someone should ask her about biblical verses mandating that people obey the government.

One person rejected for a marriage license in Rowan County said:

“When you’re gay and you grow up in Kentucky, you kind of get used to hiding who you are, accommodating other people and making them feel comfortable. You don’t realize how much of your own dignity you’ve given away. It catches up to you.”

In his opinion legalizing marriage equality across the United States, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, “[Same-sex couples] ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.” Some day Kentucky may do the same.

Next Page »

Civil Rights Advocacy

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. -- Margaret Mead

AGR Daily 60 Second News

Transformational News; What Works For Seven Future Generations Without Causing Harm?

JONATHAN TURLEY

Res ipsa loquitur - The thing itself speaks

Jennifer Hofmann

Inspiration for soul-divers, seekers, and activists.

Occupy Democrats

Progressive political commentary/book reviews for youth and adults

V e t P o l i t i c s

politics from a liberal veteran's perspective

Margaret and Helen

Best Friends for Sixty Years and Counting...

GLBT News

Official news outlet for the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table of ALA

The Extinction Protocol

Geologic and Earthchange News events

Central Oregon Coast NOW

The Central Oregon Coast Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW)

Social Justice For All

Working towards global equity and equality

Over the Rainbow Books

A Book List from Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table of the American Library Association

The WordPress.com Blog

The latest news on WordPress.com and the WordPress community.

%d bloggers like this: