LGBT issues

  • November 7, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    State court judges in Iowa and Florida remain on the bench despite the fevered and well-funded efforts to remove them because of their involvement in rulings that rankled conservatives.

    In Iowa, State Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins, who was part of the majority in the 2009 Varnum v. Brien decision that supported marriage equality, retained his seat with about 55 percent of the vote. In Iowa 50 percent of the vote is needed to hold judicial seats. Some of the same organizations and individuals who successfully removed three other Iowa Supreme Court justices in 2010 – again for their involvement in advancing marriage equality – were targeting Wiggins. Typically judicial retention votes are intended for removing judges from the bench because of ethical breaches, corruption or incompetence. But religious right groups such as the National Organization for Marriage, the American Family Association and the so-called Iowans for Freedom committee abused the retention vote to go after judges for doing their jobs. But their efforts this time faltered.  

    Religious right activist Bob Vander Plaats, also involved with the Iowans freedom group, told the Des Moines Register that Wiggins’ retention vote of nearly 55 percent was “not a great validation for Justice Wiggins.”

    The newspaper noted that the other judges up for retention votes, but not targeted by the religious groups, retained their high court seats with vote “totals of more than 74 percent.” The Register surmises that the lower vote for Wiggins (pictured) might fuel another effort by religious right groups to target the other justices involved in the Varnum majority when they face retention votes in 2016. Plaats refused to speculate on those justices.

    In Florida an effort funded by a Super Pac of the billionaire rightwing Koch brothers also flopped. The brothers’ Super Pac had urged voters to remove three Florida Supreme Court justices, primarily for their involvement in scuttling a 2010 ballot measure declaring that Affordable Care Act would not the law in the Florida. (This summer, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the law’s integral provision, the one requiring most Americans starting carrying a minimum amount of health care insurance in 2014.)

    But Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince “easily” survived the retention votes, The Miami Heraldreports. As in Iowa, the justices only need a 50 percent vote to retain their seats. Despite “an unprecedented campaign” to dislodge the justices, The Herald reported that all three received “about two-thirds of the vote, with most votes counted.”

  • October 18, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    In helping to advance equality, a second federal appeals court today invalidated on equal protection grounds the so-called Defense of Marriage Act.

    A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit found a provision of the act a violation of the Constitution’s equal protection clause. In May, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit also invalidated DOMA as a violation of the equal protection clause. Sec. 3 of DOMA states that the federal government only recognizes marriages between men and women.

    In Windsor v. U.S., the Second Circuit panel took a different route to invalidating Sec. 3 of DOMA, saying it could not survive “intermediate scrutiny,” meaning the discriminatory treatment of Sec. 3 of DOMA must surive a stricter test of whether a law violates constitutional rights. The government in this case had the burden of explaining why a grouping of people – lesbians and gay men – for discriminatory treatment did not violate the Constitution’s equal protection clause.

    In this matter Edith “Edie” Windsor and her partner Thea Spyer were married in Canada in 2007. The married couple lived in New York and when Spyer died in 2009, Edie was forced to pay taxes on Spyer’s estate, something she would not have had to do if her marriage were treated by the government like straight couples’ marriages.

    “The class affected by Section 3 of DOMA is composed entirely of persons of the same sex who have married each other,” and same-sex couples like Windsor and her partner  “are the population most visible to the law, and they are foremost in mind when reviewing DOMA’s constitutionality,” the appeals court ruled.

  • October 15, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Leave it to the American Family Association to freak out – and try to raise money – over an effort to promote equality and dissuade bullying in schools by tarring it as a nefarious plot to promote a gay agenda. Unless you’re a regular -- or even occasional follower -- of the machinations of the nation’s Christianist Right, you may wonder what AFA is all about. There are not too many things to know, it was founded in the late 1970s by an evangelical pastor, in part, to demonize the LGBT community and promote the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation.

    For decades the group has been pounding away at those themes with varying degrees of success. Its “philosophical statement,” declares that “God has communicated absolute truth to mankind, and that all people are subject to the authority of God’s Word at all times. Therefore AFA believes that a culture based on biblical truth best serves the well-being of our nation and our families, in accordance with the vision of our founding documents; and that personal transformation through the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the greatest biblical change in any culture.”

    AFA, as noted by The New York Times, is now going ballistic over a program “started 11 years ago by the Southern Poverty Law Center,” dubbed “Mix It Up at Lunch Day.” The SPLC, a civil rights groups launched in 1971, devoted to “fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society,” operates an array of programs aimed at fostering inclusive and nurturing school environments.

    One way to do that is helping educators teach acceptance of their peers, regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity. One of the SPLC’s “teaching tolerance,” programs is a nationwide campaign to encourage students to share their lunchtime with different students, those they normally don’t have lunch with. “In our surveys, students have identified the cafeteria as the place where divisions are most clearly drawn. So on one day – Oct. 30 this school year – we ask students to move out of their comfort zones and connect with someone new over lunch,” SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance project states. “It’s a simple act with profound implications. Studies have shown that interactions across group lines can help reduce prejudice.”

    But efforts to eradicate prejudices mean something radically different to many Christianists. And in a recent statement by AFA, it attacks SPLC as a “fanatical pro-homosexual group,” and its “Mix it Up,” program as “gay indoctrination.”

  • October 1, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    A longstanding meme is that conservatives are concerned about the makeup of the Supreme Court, while progressives, not so much. A paper released by ACS on the opening of the Court’s new term, spells out why progressives should be really concerned about the Supreme Court, if they are not already.

    The paper, “Courts Matter: Justice on the Line,” notes the current high court is typically divided 5-4 along ideology on a host of matters that progressives should be concerned about, such as corporate funding of elections, abortion rights, voting rights, privacy rights and equality. The paper speculates on how a more conservative or progressive high court might address some of the nation’s most pressing legal concerns.

    For example, the document says a “more conservative Supreme Court might uphold onerous restrictions on a woman’s right to choose and otherwise limit her reproductive freedom – and perhaps even overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.” There are two cases decided by a conservative Supreme Court that have already revealed a desire to limit, if not overturn, Roe.

    The high court’s 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey created a new standard for deciding when limits on reproductive freedoms pass constitutional muster. For example, waiting periods, parental consent and informed consent are no limits on women’s freedom to a medical procedure. For that matter states have also mandated that physicians give women lectures on abortion or force them to under ultrasounds to view sonograms. And in a 2007 opinion, the Court upheld as constitutional a state law banning late-term abortions.

    The advancement of marriage equality might also be slowed by a more conservative Supreme Court, the paper notes. In 2003, the high court by a 6-3 vote invalidated as unconstitutional a Texas law banning sodomy. The ACS paper maintains that today Lawrence v. Texas would likely be a 5-4 opinion.

    Let’s note here too that early next year, Jan. 18-19, ACS will host, along with the UCLA School of Law, the Williams Institute, the Yale Information Society, and the Program for the Study of Reproductive Justice, a conference focusing on the impact of Roe and Lawrence and contemplating the future of both equality and liberty concerns. See here for more information about the conference called “Liberty/Equality: The View from Roe’s 40th and Lawrence’s 10th Anniversaries.”

  • September 25, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.). Join Senator Shaheen on Facebook at and Twitter @SenatorShaheen

    Serving as a juror is one of our most basic civic responsibilities, and one of the few obligations every citizen shares. Unfortunately, members of the LGBT community are not protected from discrimination during jury selection. I have introduced a bill to change that.

    The Jury ACCESS Act (Access for Capable Citizens and Equality in Service Selection) would make it illegal to eliminate a potential juror during federal jury selection based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  I’m pleased to be introducing this important bill with my colleagues Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). 

    As we look back at history, women were systemically excluded from jury service until the 20th century as were racial minorities and the working poor. 

    We now have explicit protections in place to prevent striking jurors on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin and economic status. The question really is: how is it that in 2012 members of the LGBT community are not included on this list? 

    Unfortunately, we cannot legislate away the prejudices that people hold. But we must always look for ways to advance equality in our own lives. Often this means talking with our friends, our families, our neighbors who might disagree with us. Acceptance and understanding are learned traits, and we can all lead by example.