To Praise or Not To Praise Obama for the DOMA Decision?

[Updated: Joe Mirabella has an interesting take on this matter. Take a read.]

Obviously, yesterday’s announcement that the Department of Justice will no longer defend (Section 3 of) the Defense of Marriage Act is a good thing, as was making the case that sexual orientation deserves heightened scrutiny.

But this question has to be asked: Why now?

Why did we have to endure two years of the defense of DOMA? Why did we have to endure comparisons to incest and child rape?

It’s important to remember that yesterday’s decision was a change in policy. That I noticed, it did not include an apology for the previous policy.

Likewise, the Department of Justice is going to continue to defend Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell this week. Even though training has already begun to implement repeal, the Log Cabin Republicans’ case is proceeding since repeal is still months from certification. What arguments will the Department of Justice use to defend the constitutionality of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell if, at the same time, it’s suggesting heightened scrutiny for DOMA?

I want to give President Obama credit for this change, I really do. But he still opposes same-sex marriage! That’s kind of a problem.

He could have done it for political reasons. It wins him some favor from the left and puts it to the right to deal with. Many have already noted the irony and hypocrisy of Speaker Boehner’s response. Given that his first order of business as Speaker of the House was to address a controversial social issue (defunding Planned Parenthood), it’s absurd that he would complain that the President is doing the same. If he or other Congressional Republicans tried to intervene in the defense of DOMA, it would be all the more obvious how disingenuous they are about their intentions.

So, I don’t know. I don’t have some grand point to make. There are a lot of folks who complain about people like me for always putting down the President and not giving credit where credit’s due. But if my rights are just being used as a political strategy and my equality isn’t really being favored, I guess I just feel like I have to call that out.

Am I a sourpuss for being skeptical?

Obama “Evolves” a Bit and Other Tidbits on Marriage Equality

Hey ZFb readers. I’m still feeling pretty miserable today, but there’s lots of interesting news. Today is not the day you’ll read in-depth reports on ZFb, but I don’t want you to think I’m ignoring these important happenings.

1. President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have indicated today that the Department of Justice will no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court, adding that sexual orientation should be given heightened scrutiny. It’s not entirely clear yet exactly what impact this will have on the cases already proceeding. For an understanding of why they’re only not defending Section 3 of DOMA, read Adam Serwer’s post.

Of course, conservatives are up in arms, including NOM, Matt Barber, and Peter LaBarbera. Joe Jervis points out that the homocons have not yet responded.

On a related note, Senator Dianne Feinstein announced in response that she will introduce legislation to finally repeal DOMA.

2. Meanwhile, in California, the American Foundation for Equal Rights has demanded that the U.S. Court of Appeals lift the stay on Judge Walker’s decision and allow same-sex marriage to resume in California. The recent decision by the California Supreme Court to take on the question of standing adds excessive delays to the process. Said Ted Olson:

We are respectfully asking the Court to lift its stay on marriage for gay and lesbian couples because it has become apparent that the legal process is taking considerably longer than could reasonably have been anticipated. It’s important to remember that the stay was originally ordered with the understanding that the Ninth Circuit would rule swiftly on the case before it. Now that the issue of the Proponents’ standing to appeal has been referred for analysis by the California Supreme Court, substantial additional, indefinite and unanticipated delays lie ahead. It’s unreasonable and decidedly unjust to expect California’s gay and lesbian couples to put their lives on hold and suffer daily discrimination as second class citizens while their U.S. District Court victory is debated further.

3. In Maryland there is movement forward on marriage equality, as the Maryland Senate voted favorably for a second (of three) on a bill for marriage equality.

4. However, in Iowa, conservatives are tapping into every last resort to try to limit same-sex marriage there. The latest scheme is to try to use a provision in the Iowa Constitution that skips judicial review in order to prohibit county recorders from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Apparently, banning same-sex marriage is more important to some Republicans than checks and balances.

5. A marriage amendment bill has been filed in North Carolina, and Pam Spaulding says, “Game on.” Like Bil Browning is doing in Indiana, Pam is ready to expose the hypocrites by publicizing divorcees, adulterers, closet-cases, and financial benefactors among the proponents of this anti-gay bill. If you have any insights, pass them along to Pam.

6. BONUS: Before the day is over, the governor of Hawaii will sign civil unions into law!

Maryland, Hawaii, DOMA… an important day of steps forward.

Indiana Conservatives Gloat Messages of Anti-Gay Tyranny

In case you get your I-states mixed up, Iowa has same-sex marriage, Illinois just got civil unions, and Indiana has nothing of the sort. Indiana is where they call themselves “Hoosiers,” which means “people from Indiana.” In Indiana, same-sex marriage is already banned AND the Indiana Supreme Court has already ruled that the ban is constitutional. And with a Republican legislature, there’s really no hope in sight.

For some reason, though, the legislature has found it necessary to go a step further, just to really rub LGBT faces in the discrimination already faced. On Tuesday, the Indiana House passed a marriage discrimination amendment with a bipartisan vote of 70-26, with many Democrats defecting to support the bill. The state equality group has very little influence; the only support for LGBT Hoosiers comes from a few public universities who don’t see too far past their campus borders.

Fed up with the incessant abuse taking place in his home state, Bil Browning has committed to using The Bilerico Project to bring the heat on Indiana legislators. I am all too happy to lend my support for Queersiers (a word I just made up, but one I hope catches on) by doing what I do best: responding to the insidious rhetoric of the religious right. Continue reading “Indiana Conservatives Gloat Messages of Anti-Gay Tyranny” »

Central Pennsylvanians Show Valentines Love for Marriage Equality

The afternoon started with a simple but depressing act of direct action. Two same-sex couples entered the Dauphin County Courthouse in Harrisburg, PA to request an application for a marriage license.

The woman working in the Register of Wills gave the couples a curt rejection, stating simply that Pennsylvania does not allow same-sex couples to apply for marriage. When asked if she would someday be able to offer an application, she dispassionately replied, “If that was the law.”

An hour later, the couples and their supporters joined up with the Unitarian Universalist Pennsylvania Legislative Advocacy Network for their annual Valentine’s Day marriage equality rally.

Flanking all four corners of the busy intersection of Front St. and Market St. in downtown Harrisburg, a crowd of 40 braved harsh winds to spread a message of love and support. Many of the passers-by, stuck in rush hour traffic, cheered, shouted their support through their car windows, and started chain reactions of raucous honking.

Though the rally is held annually, several participants commented that they had  never received so much enthusiastic support.

Others who passed by were not as enthused by the signs calling marriage a civil right and a union based on love and commitment. One driver confused the ralliers by honking and then offering his middle finger. Another woman made a cross with her fingers as if anyone who supported marriage equality was a vampire. (She had apparently not considered that the rally was occurring outside in the daylight.)

Still, despite detractors, the rally was a rousing outreach effort for marriage equality in Pennsylvania, complementing the steps taken by state legislators earlier in the day to achieve legal recognition for same-sex couples. Continue reading “Central Pennsylvanians Show Valentines Love for Marriage Equality” »

PA Legislators Kickoff LGBT Freedom Week Supporting Same-Sex Couples

Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach (D) held his annual marriage equality press conference this afternoon in the Capitol Rotunda, proclaiming that there are no rational arguments against full equality for same-sex couples.

Joined by several other state senators and representatives, Sen. Leach introduced Senate Bill 461, the Marriage Equality Act. He pointed out “a few years from now, we’ll wonder what all the fuss is.” Still, the bill faces an uphill battle as Pennsylvania recently elected a majority of Republicans to both its legislative bodies as well as a Republican governor.

State Representative Mark Cohen (D) was also on hand to introduce a bill in the House that would allow for civil unions, a bill for which he has 41 cosponsors. It’s his goal to have civil unions in Pennsylvania by the end of 2012.

In his remarks, Cohen acknowledged that “civil unions are not marriage” and “do not have the social significance of marriage and probably never will.” They do, however, provide important benefits to same-sex couples that are not currently available. According to a 2009 Muhlenberg College poll, 61% of Pennsylvanians support civil unions.

Others were on hand to offer their support for both initiatives. Ted Martin, Executive Director of Equality Pennsylvania, took time to point out the devastating reality for LGBT Pennsylvanians:

At a time when it is perfectly legal in more than three quarters of the state to fire, evict, and deny public accommodations to an LGBT person or simply dismiss their relationship as nothing official EVERYWHERE in the Commonwealth, we need to have honest discussions on how we treat real people in the 21st Century.

Martin went on to point out that St. Valentine, today’s namesake, was a martyr, and “too many LGBT people have already experienced the harshest of circumstances.”

Rev. Pastor Larry Hawkins of Harrisburg’s St. Michael’s Lutheran Church also spoke out, imploring people of faith to support people these efforts:

Religion is at its best when it stands by those who have been marginalized. … I urge people of faith to be at our religious best and stand for marriage equality.

Flanked by LGBT families and allies, Sen. Jim Ferlo, Sen. Larry Farnese, Rep. Dan Frankel, Rep. Pam DeLissio, and Rep. Eugene DePasquale all added their support for the proposed bills.

Sen. Farnese echoed Martin’s concerns about the importance of protections in employment and public safety for LGBT people.

Sen. Ferlo said, “The time has come to see love between two people.”

Rep. DePasquale demanded, “Which side of history do you want to be on?”

Unfortunately, proponents of LGBT equality may soon find themselves playing defense as Republicans push for an amendment to the Pennsylvania constitution that would prohibit any legal recognition for same-sex couples. Rep. Frankel called the proposal “radical” and ‘wrong.”

Wrapping up the press conference, Sen. Leach reminded those in attendance that “”We’ll be here every year until we have marriage equality in Pennsylvania.”

Click here to see the full LGBT Freedom Week schedule.

Not Quite Justice Delayed, But Almost

Just a quick update today about good ol’ Prop 8.

The Appeals Court ruled essentially two things today.

1) Imperial County does not have standing to appeal. (Good riddance. Their case for appeal was absurd.)

2) The California Supreme Court should address the question of whether the people of the state have standing to defend a ballot initiative when the state government refuses.

This is a bit confusing. There are some legal questions that have not been answered before, and there is also the tricky interaction between the state and federal courts.

Standing in a federal court (like this Appeals Court) is different than standing in a state court. However, the matter at hand is a state ballot initiative. It’s unclear what impact a state determination of standing will have on this federal-level case; it’s only clear that the Appeals Court judges want the answer before proceeding.

Boies argued back in December that the answer doesn’t matter; his arguments against standing at the federal level won’t change. It seems, though, that we’ll simply have to wait to find out.

So, at this point, I think there are three outcomes that could happen.

1) The CA Supreme Court decides not to answer the question of standing and the Appeals Court is left to make a determination of standing without it (and the case may or may not proceed further).

2) The CA Supreme Court decides that Protect Marriage does have standing and then the Appeals Court will have to decide whether to recognize that standing at the federal level (and the case will proceed).

3) The CA Supreme Court decides that Protect Marriage does not have standing, a decision the Appeals Court will likely recognize. The appeal will be unable to proceed and Judge Walker’s ruling will stand.

It’s frustrating that this process is being stretched out, but with the murkiness of the legal territory, I suppose it’s for the best if the Appeals Court has the most information to work with.

Some Brief Thoughts on Today’s Prop 8 Oral Arguments

If you didn’t get a chance to watch today’s oral arguments for the Prop 8 appeal, you didn’t necessarily miss much. Nothing was decided, though the questions from the judges certainly gave us some interesting insight into their perspectives.

The first hour was dedicated to the questions of standing. Do the defendant-intervenors (Protect Marriage) have standing to continue defending Prop 8 since they are not named as actual defendants? Cooper argued for them essentially saying that yes, they do, because if the Attorney General will not defend them, no one can. In doing so, he misconstrued the Karcher case, in which former New Jersey legislators were not given standing (according to Professor David Cruz). Also, the passing of the initiative was a “check” by the people on the CA Supreme Court. Boies countered that the initiative was a legislative act, and that essentially, the people do not also have the executive authority to defend it if their AG won’t.

Basically, the California Ballot Initiative Process is messed up. Two of the judges on the panel seemed interested in the California Supreme Court certifying the DI’s standing, which would alleviate them of that responsibility. Boies pointed out that his arguments would be the same either way, and that awaiting such a decision would merely delay the completion of the case unnecessarily.

As for Imperial County, the discussion was whether the County Clerk is directly impacted by the injunction against enforcing Proposition 8. Boies argued that the role of the clerk is ministerial—that they simply carry out state law as enforced by the Attorney General. Professor David Cruz, who was in the live chat with us, made the brilliant point that San Francisco was not allowed to give same-sex couples marriage licenses in 2004, so in the wake of the injunction, clerks should also not be allowed to not give same-sex couples marriage licenses.

It is my understanding that standing will only be granted to one of these groups, if any. (If no standing is found for either Protect Marriage or Imperial County, then the merits of the case will not be addressed and Judge Walker’s decision that Prop 8 is unconstitutional will stand.)

The rest of the oral arguments were much of what we are already used to.

Cooper kept trying to say the same old arguments about preserving the institution of marriage and all its unique benefits. The judges pointed out that gays and lesbians essentially have everything marriage is defined by except the word. (Therese Stewart, attorney for San Francisco, also later pointed out that California manages all parenting and child-rearing completely separate from marriage.) Cooper offered, “The word is the institution,” trying his best to argue it is okay for the people to take away a right.

Olson countered with a very concise message that this was discrimination motivated by animus. The elimination of Prop 8 does nothing to harm heterosexual couples. He also hammered home that sexual orientation was immutable, and that the “crazy quilt” (all the different marriage statuses that exist in CA as a result of Prop 8) demonstrate just how irrational it is.

The end of the day is slightly anti-climactic, as we await the decision of the panel. If they want the CA Supreme Court to chime in on the standing of the defendant-intervenors, any real decision in the case will be delayed. If they find that neither Protect Marriage or Imperial County have standing, then the case is over and Prop 8 is overturned. If either group is found to have standing, then the case continues and the merits weighed in on.

Nonetheless, it was an important day, if for no other reason than the fact that these arguments were televised. While the first hour’s debate on standing was dry and probably of little interested, the ensuing hour and a half discussion about gay people was poignant. I encourage everyone to watch or read the transcripts and share with others. This is a discussion that everybody needs to hear.

The Prop 8 Trial is Back And… Well, The Same Discrimination As Ever

[Update: I will be participating in a live chat during the arguments through AMERICAblog Gay and Pam’s House Blend.]

Just when you thought you’d never see the Prop 8 Trial on TV, here it is!

Today (less than an hour after this post will go up), the oral arguments will take place for the appeal before the Ninth Circuit. Take the time now to catch up then tune in at 1 PM (EST) to watch live. Check back later for more discussion here at ZackFord Blogs.

If you’ve been living under a rock for the past year, you can peruse the complete archive of #Prop8 postings here at ZFb. Chris Geidner also has a great FAQ to help catch you up, especially if you’re unsure about the issue of standing and what all is being dicussed today. Karen Ocamb sets us up for what to expect, and with further legal analysis from Ari Ezra Waldman. Of course, there will be liveblogging at the Prop 8 Trial Tracker, Towleroad, and Pam’s House Blend, among other places.

Where to watch and listen online? Lots of choices: C-SPAN, ABC News, KCBS Radio, KGO Radio, and KQED News, which will also have liveblogging. If worse comes to worst and none of those feeds are working for you, you can watch the National Organization for Marriage’s feed.

After it’s over, check back here for more coverage!

Some Additional Dispatches from Harrisburg re: NOM

Just wanted to share a couple links to show some more coverage of the National Organization for Marriage rally and counterprotest last week here in central Pennsylvania.

Both the Pennsylvania Independent and Philadelphia Gay News have published stories about the goings-down last Friday. (Full disclosure: both stories quote me.) The Independent has some pictures as well.

Also, here are two videos featuring some of the folks there to support NOM. I have a cameo in the first one around the 0:31 mark as I try to cross the street! I wish some heterosexuals would come out as sodomites; given that I am technically not a sodomite (so far in my life), I’m tired of getting roped in as a sinner just because I’m gay. (I need to get back to blogging about atheism; my sense of humor is taking a weird turn.)

When we saw these guys’ approach with their red capes, my mom asked me who they are. I calmly replied “toreadors.” It was unfortunate for them that their chosen color matched ours. Check out the brilliant young Catholic mind hard at work:

Stay, Stay, Stay: Prop 8’s Ongoing Drama and Protect Marriage’s Gloating

I haven’t written about Prop 8 lately, but only because I feel like folks have been too eager to get a fix when most of what’s happening now is just standard legal procedure. If you haven’t paid attention over the last week, here’s a quick catch-up, and then below I’ll respond to some statements from Protect Marriage.

First, here’s a quick reminder of the vocab, because I know it can get confusing. The plaintiffs are the good guys (represented by Olson and Boies), the defendants are the actual government officials, and the proponents are the Protect Marriage folks who stepped in as defendant-intervenors.

» When Judge Walker first overturned Prop 8 two weeks ago, he implemented a temporary stay for his own ruling for the sole purpose of giving the defendants/proponents a window to demonstrate why the decision should be stayed until after appeal. This was a tough case to make since he said in the decision that same-sex marriage in no way harmed anybody or any marriages.

» We learned that Judge Walker would make his decision on this matter last Thursday (August 12). We waited with baited breath through a three-hour window in which we thought we would hear. Couples were waiting in line to marry and extra city officials had been deputized to help perform the marriages. Finally, sometime in the fourth hour we learned that he would be lifting the stay, but it would still be in effect until this Wednesday (tomorrow, August 18).

Many were underwhelmed by this response. Given that the original decision had been so unabashed in outlining the harm to gays and lesbians by Proposition 8, this seemed an unnecessary extension of that harm. Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry called it Justice Delayed. The extension of the stay created room for the Appeals Court to offer their own stay without there being a window of legal same-sex marriage.

» Yesterday, the appeals court did issue their stay until that round of the trial is over. This is disappointing news for most. The court did expedite the case, but that won’t necessarily appease many, as the trial date is in December, and a decision won’t come until potentially months afterward.

» There is still the question of standing, whether the proponents have the right to appeal at all since they are not the defendants. A decision in that matter could end everything else. If that were to happen, Judge Walker’s ruling would apply, but to California only. Still, it would be an important precedent for future trials in other parts of the country.

That’s where we stand now. Same-sex couples still cannot marry in California. A final decision in that matter is still at least half a year away, if that. It’s odd to recognize that we had this huge victory two weeks ago and yet we don’t have much to show for it.

In the meantime, we can still take a whack at Protect Marriage and their ugly gloating over basic procedure that is not really a victory for them at all.

Here was Charles Cooper’s reaction last Thursday when Judge Walker (kind of) lifted the stay:

We are gratified that Judge Walker has continued until August 18th the temporary stay of his decision.  We will promptly seek from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals a stay pending the final resolution of the case. On appeal, we look forward with confidence to a decision vindicating the democratic process and the basic constitutional authority of the 7 million Californians who voted to retain the traditional definition of marriage. The decision whether to redefine the institution of marriage is for the people themselves to make, not a single district court judge, especially without appellate scrutiny.

Again, this completely ignores the fact that it is Judge Walker’s job to uphold the Constitution as the law of the land. Andy Pugno then, of course, gloated yesterday when they got a stay:

This afternoon, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted a request by Prop 8 proponents to stay U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker’s ruling, thereby upholding the vote of 7 million Californians while the Perry v. Schwarzenegger case is heard on appeal. The arguments will occur in San Francisco the week of December 6, 2010.

“California voters spoke clearly on Prop 8, and we’re glad to see their votes will remain valid while the legal challenges work their way up through the courts. Invalidating the people’s vote based on just one judge’s opinion would not have been appropriate, and would have shaken the people’s confidence in our elections and the right to vote itself,” said Andy Pugno, general counsel for, the defendants in the Perry v Schwarzenegger case.

Always eager to play the victim! Enjoining Judge Walker’s decision would have validated my confidence in the judiciary to be a balanced check, but that’s just me.

Pugno went further in an email to Prop 8 supporters:

As we pointed out in our motion, Judge Walker’s decision totally ignores virtually all legal precedents, the well-recognized public interest served by fostering traditional marriage, and even common sense itself.

Of course, he has to raise the stakes so he can ask for more money two paragraphs later. He’s so appreciative of the prayers and support. Won’t you give these whiny brats a special donation so they can continue to waste the government’s time with unconstitutional, discriminatory ideas?

Or, don’t. 🙂