Tag Archives: gay rights

After Illinois, Look West for the Next Same-Sex Marriage Battles

Celebrations at the Chicago Pride Parade in June 2013. Today, Illinois becomes the 16th state (plus Washington, D.C.) to legalize same-sex marriage.

When Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signs a same-sex marriage bill into law today, the Land of Lincoln will officially become the 16th state to grant recognition to same-sex spouses, just one week after Hawaii.

2013 has been a banner year for gay rights activists–in addition to the Supreme Court decisions striking down the federal Defense Of Marriage Act and permitting same-sex marriage in California, the movement has seen the legalization of same-sex marriage almost double at the state level. Nearly one year ago, when the Supreme Court first agreed to hear United States v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry, only nine states and the District of Columbia recognized same-sex marriage.

Of course, their work is still far from done. After Illinois, the focus will turn west toward New Mexico and Oregon.

Traditionally, states have legalized same-sex marriage through one of three ways: by referendum, through the state legislature, or via a ruling from the state’s judiciary.

New Mexico, the only state that has neither a constitution nor a state law explicitly addressing same-sex marriage, could become the 17th state to legalize such unions, thanks to the third route. Because of the state law’s silence on the matter, eight out of thirty-three counties began issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples after the Windsor and Hollingsworth rulings–eventually prompting all thirty-three New Mexico county clerks to ask the state supreme court for clarification on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage. The New Mexico Supreme Court heard oral argument in October 2013 and is expected to hand down a decision by the end of this year.

If the New Mexico Supreme Court rules in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage, the state will join Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, California and New Jersey as having decided the issue through a judicial ruling.

Meanwhile, advocates in Oregon are planning to overturn the state constitution’s ban on same-sex marriage through a referendum. The coalition Oregon United For Marriage is in the process of collecting the 116,284 signatures required by next July in order to place the question on the ballot in November 2014. If it succeeds (as of today, it needs only 1,204 more names), there’s cause for optimism: a December 2012 poll showed that 54% of Oregon voters would support marriage equality, versus 40% who would vote against it. Though gay and lesbian couples cannot be legally married in Oregon just yet, the state announced in October 2013 that it would start recognizing valid same-sex marriages from other states.

Should a same-sex marriage initiative pass in Oregon, the state will join Washington, Maine and Maryland as having settled the issue by popular vote.

The Human Rights Campaign anticipates that 40% of Americans will live in a state with marriage equality by the end of 2014.

Some Thoughts on DOMA on the Eve of Supreme Court’s Ruling

Edie Thea
Thea Spyer and Edie Windsor. Windsor is suing the federal government for the return of over $363,000 that it charged her in federal taxes after she inherited her late wife Spyer’s estate. Had Windsor been married to a man instead of a woman, she would have been exempt from the tax. Picture via CNN.

We are now hours away from the last rulings of the Supreme Court’s term, and we know for certain that we’ll be getting a decision in United States v. Windsor, the challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act (as well as Hollingsworth v. Perry, the California Proposition 8 case). On the eve of what will surely be a historic day for gays and lesbians across the country, it’s worth going back and reading the March oral argument for the case. A few points I’d like to make1:

  • Based on the way the other Justices were falling in line behind his questions at the oral argument and some deduction skills on the part of SCOTUSblog, there’s a decent chance that Justice Anthony Kennedy has the majority opinion in Windsor.
  • Assuming that Windsor isn’t decided on a standing issue (and I freely admit that it could be), I expect a Kennedy opinion to discuss states’ rights. Traditionally, family law has been left exclusively to the states, and Kennedy seemed quite concerned at the oral argument about the federalism issues implicated by DOMA, which orders the federal government not to recognize same-sex marriages even if they are legally recognized by the state. At one point, he reminded Paul Clement, the attorney defending the law: “[DOMA] applies to over 1,100 federal laws… when it has 1,100 laws, which in our society means that the Federal government is intertwined with the citizens’ day-to-day life, you are at real risk of running in conflict with what has always been thought to be the essence of the State police power, which is to regulate marriage, divorce, custody.”
  • Alternatively, if it does reach the merits of Windsor, the Supreme Court could strike down DOMA as a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause (i.e. the law is unconstitutional because it singles out same-sex people for unfavorable treatment versus their opposite-sex counterparts). Such a ruling would, going forward, provide heightened legal protections for gays and lesbians in the face of discriminatory laws. However, this is also a much broader and groundbreaking route, and I’m not convinced that Kennedy will take it if he can decide the case based on a narrower states’ rights argument instead.

Associate Justice Elena Kagan Investiture Ceremony

While the lion’s share of attention re: DOMA has been focused on Kennedy (including, of course, this post, which has already given him three bullet points), I also want to highlight a couple of points that Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan made at the Windsor oral argument:

        • Ginsburg drew big laughs at the argument when she compared the current state of same-sex marriage to “skim milk”i.e. not the real thing. Snappy sound bite aside, however, it’s interesting to note that Ginsburg–who by all accounts had a happy, fulfilling marriage to the late tax attorney Martin Ginsburg–was the one justice who focused the most on the everyday effects DOMA has on very real people and very real relationships. Again and again, Ginsburg steered the discussion back to the everyday hardships caused by this law–the loss of benefits, a higher tax burden, the inability to take leave to tend to a sick spouse–implicitly asking her colleagues to think about what a marriage really means. We need to strike down DOMA, she was saying, because it is unconstitutional to subject these Americans to a lower quality of life than what their heterosexual brothers and sisters expect and receive.
        • Whereas Justice Ginsburg made it a point to talk about (to put it in a cheesy way) love being love, Justice Kagan had an equally compelling observation about hate. Kagan’s strategy at oral argument was to focus on the people behind the law rather than the people the law affected. DOMA has no place in our society, Kagan suggested, because there are indications that it was motivated by “fear,” “animus” and “moral disapproval” against gays and lesbians–all constitutionally impermissible reasons for imposing differential treatment on a whole class of people. Memorably, she shut down Paul Clement when he tried to dispute this by reading aloud the House Report for DOMA: “‘Congress decided to reflect an honor of collective moral judgment and to express moral disapproval of homosexuality.'”
        • Together, Kagan and Ginsburg’s arguments about the suspect motivations and unjust results of DOMA made for a pretty good one-two punch. Assuming, again, that Kennedy actually has the majority opinion and dispatches DOMA based on a theory of states’ rights, I’m really hoping for a concurrence or two from either (or both) of these Justices, laying the intellectual groundwork for an equal protection decision somewhere down the line.
        • If that is the outcome, we can expect at least one fiery dissent as well. My money’s on Justice Scalia, who just last Friday gave a speech to the North Carolina Bar Association insisting that courts had no business deciding moral issues, which should be left to the political process. (He forgets that mixed-race marriage was also considered immoral back when Loving v. Virginia [the 1967 Supreme Court decision overturning anti-miscegenation laws] was decided, and that it was the Court that pulled public opinion along on this, not the other way around.)

Finally, it bears remembering that exactly ten years ago, the Supreme Court issued its landmark decision in Lawrence v. Texas, striking down the criminal convictions of two men who had been arrested and tried under a Texas law that prohibited certain forms of sexual conduct between members of the same sex. In overruling an earlier Supreme Court decision that had upheld the application of state sodomy bans to gay and lesbian sexual activity, majority opinion author Justice Anthony Kennedy invoked the Founding Fathers:

They knew times can blind us to certain truths and later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress. As the Constitution endures, persons in every generation can invoke its principles in their own search for greater freedom.

In a few short hours, we’ll find out just how committed Kennedy and the rest of the Supreme Court remain to this principle.


  1. With the major caveat, of course, that I realize oral arguments are not always an accurate indicator of the eventual outcome of a case. []

“It’s a Magic Word:” Tweets from the Eminently Quotable DOMA Oral Argument

Today, the Supreme Court heard two hours of arguments in United States v. Windsor, with fifty minutes allotted on the technical question of standing–namely, whether the DOMA case should even be before the Supreme Court at all–and sixty minutes on the merits. Though the Prop 8 case on Tuesday seemed to get the lion’s share of media attention–pictures of the line and the protests outside the Courthouse this morning show a smaller audience than yesterday’s–initial reactions and reports indicate that the DOMA argument and subsequent press conference from plaintiff Edie Windsor are 10,000% more quotable. A collection of tweets recapping the day’s events:

More on same-sex marriage and Romney’s high school “pranks”

I’m having trouble embedding Daily Show videos, so just take a look at this link to see Jon Stewart saying pretty much exactly what I’d mentioned — but in a much funnier and more sarcastic way —  about how far we’ve come in our national conversation.

Secondly, it turns out that the military did not spontaneously combust or cease to exist or explode into a million pieces due to the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” after all:

WASHINGTON, May 10, 2012 – A new report shows the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law is being implemented successfully in the military, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said during a news conference today.

The repeal of the law banning gay and lesbian people from open military service took effect Sept. 20, 2011. The secretary said he received the report on repeal implementation yesterday, and it shows repeal is going “very well” and according to the department’s plans.

“It’s not impacting on morale. It’s not impacting on unit cohesion. It is not impacting on readiness,” he said.

Panetta said he credits military leaders for effective repeal planning.

“Very frankly, my view is that the military has kind of moved beyond it,” he said. “It’s become part and parcel of what they’ve accepted within the military.”

During the same conference, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he has not seen “any negative effect on good order and discipline” resulting from the repeal.

In response to a reporter’s question of what the military had been afraid of in allowing open service, the chairman said, “We didn’t know.”

Meanwhile, Jonathan Chait at New York expresses some caution (which is different than entirely ignoring it) as to Mitt Romney’s bullying high-school self:

The best way to assess a candidate is not to plumb his youth for clues to his character but to look at his positions and public record. The problem is that this is a harder exercise with Romney than almost any other national politician. He has had to run in such divergent atmospheres, and has thus had to present himself in such wildly different ways at different times, that his record becomes almost useless. There is hardly a stance Romney has taken that he has not negated at one point or another. This makes the fraught task of trying to pin down his true character more urgent, though not any easier.

My cautious, provisional take is that this portrait of the youthful Romney does suggest a man who grew up taking for granted the comforts of wealth and prestige. I don’t blame him for accepting the anti-gay assumptions of his era. The story does give the sense of a man who lacks a natural sense of compassion for the weak. His prankery seems to have invariably singled out the vulnerable — the gay classmate, the nearly blind teacher, the nervous day student racing back to campus. It’s entirely possible to grow out of that youthful mentality — to learn to step out of your own perspective, to develop an appreciation for the difficulties faced by those not born with Romney’s many blessings. I’m just not sure he ever has.

Mitt Romney: high-school gay bully?

You’ve probably heard about this by now:

Mitt Romney Steve Pearce event 057

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. — Mitt Romney returned from a three-week spring break in 1965 to resume his studies as a high school senior at the prestigious Cranbrook School. Back on the handsome campus, studded with Tudor brick buildings and manicured fields, he spotted something he thought did not belong at a school where the boys wore ties and carried briefcases. John Lauber, a soft-spoken new student one year behind Romney, was perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality. Now he was walking around the all-boys school with bleached-blond hair that draped over one eye, and Romney wasn’t having it.

“He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” an incensed Romney told Matthew Friedemann, his close friend in the Stevens Hall dorm, according to Friedemann’s recollection. Mitt, the teenaged son of Michigan Gov. George Romney, kept complaining about Lauber’s look, Friedemann recalled.

A few days later, Friedemann entered Stevens Hall off the school’s collegiate quad to find Romney marching out of his own room ahead of a prep school posse shouting about their plan to cut Lauber’s hair. Friedemann followed them to a nearby room where they came upon Lauber, tackled him and pinned him to the ground. As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors.

I am conflicted about this. One of my least favorite things about contemporary American politics is how irrelevant and pathetic the public discourse has become, and how thoroughly disconnected from the everyday reality of people’s lives the online and TV chatter is. (This frustration is rather nicely captured — although I don’t necessarily endorse the Chris Christie-esque tone of the example he uses — by this piece.)

On the other hand, this 47-year-old story has an odd resonance today, given the struggle for gay rights and the very prominent and ongoing issue of the bullying of gays in schools throughout the United States. It seems to show a whole new and very ugly side to Mitt Romney, taking away what was perhaps his last remaining unequivocal positive: being a “good guy.”

And yet this all seems so primitive at the same time. (The timing is suspicious as well — this appeared in the Post the day after Obama’s announcement on same-sex marriage? Seems bizarre, to say the least.) I mean, this literally happened almost a half-century ago. I constantly rail against the idiocy and irrelevance of criticizing presidential candidates for whichever drugs they did as college kids or how much they drank at social events or who they dated or what pretentious literary criticism they wrote to their female admirers as young, heady academics.

So, as horrifying as this incident assuredly must have been for John Lauber, I’m inclined to give Mitt Romney a break on this one. We’re not dealing with 1965 Romney today. Hell, as we’ve clearly seen, the Romney of today doesn’t even bear any resemblance on major issues to the Romney of just a few years ago, never mind 47 years ago.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that my views on Mitt Romney’s gay bullying are still “evolving.”

UPDATE (5/11/2012 1:48 AM Paris time):

Dish blogger (and prominent same-sex marriage activist) Andrew Sullivan comes to this somewhat similar conclusion:

Should we judge a man today by what he did all those years ago?

Not entirely. He has apologized. But there is surely something here: the notion that being privileged and conformist requires actual punishment of the marginalized and under-privileged; that you pick on younger, weaker boys, not older ones; and that you psychologically traumatize the victim by permanently marking his body.

And this matters because today these attacks on gay kids drive many to suicide, others to despair; they wreck lives and self-esteem. It matters that we know that one candidate for president was an anti-gay bully in high school, targeting a weak and defenseless kid and humiliating and traumatizing him. Today, he does the same thing in a larger, more abstract way: targeting a small minority as a way to advance his own power. It gives me the chills.

The Republican reaction to Obama on same-sex marriage

Yesterday, I was rendered nearly speechless (nearly; come on, you didn’t really expect actual speechlessness from me, did you?) with pleasure at President Obama’s long-awaited and extremely tardy announcement of the end of his “evolution” on same-sex marriage. (Granted, this was a completely manufactured and artificial “evolution,” since he supported gay marriage as long ago as 1996 and only changed it when he became more politically prominent — but an “evolution” nonetheless, in the same Orwellian tradition of linguistic manipulation that helped make such ludicrous things possible as “enhanced interrogation techniques” being something other than torture. OK, I’m getting way off on a tangent now. Back to Planet Earth.)

Anyway, the point is that I was extremely happy — giddy, even — over the President’s remarks. But what makes me almost happier, in a less viscerally affecting way but in a calmer and more long-term perspective, is the virtual absence of strong public opposition to this. It’s incredible how muted the response has been. It really is hard to believe how far the country has moved on this in recent years. In 2004, President Bush was campaigning on his support of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage nationally. Eight years later, a sitting President just announced his support for same-sex marriage, and Republicans don’t even dare to mount a serious rebuttal. This lack of a response is, to me, even more newsworthy than the announcement itself. As the New York Times noted:

Conservative social activists and groups that oppose same-sex marriage have been vocal in their disdain for Mr. Obama’s announcement. And advisers to Mr. Romney said in television interviews on Thursday that he would campaign on the issue of his opposition to same-sex marriage.

“Sure. I think it’s an important issue for people and it engenders strong feelings on both sides,” Ed Gillespie, a senior adviser to Mr. Romney, said on MSNBC’s “Daily Rundown.” “I think it’s important to be respectful in how we talk about our differences, but the fact is that’s a significant difference in November.”

But Republican officials on Capitol Hill seemed eager to shift the conversation away from the social issue and back to blaming the nation’s economic struggles on Mr. Obama’s policies.

The House speaker, John A. Boehner of Ohio, repeatedly deflected questions about Mr. Obama’s new position on same-sex marriage at his weekly news conference. He said he believed that marriage should be limited to “one man and one woman” and then quickly flicked back to the economy.

This is notable. Same-sex marriage has, quite suddenly, become a topic that Republicans are gradually realizing they don’t want to be seen publicly and vigorously opposing. They’d rather talk about just about anything else. And that is a good sign.

Rumor mill’s going crazy

[tweet https://twitter.com/#!/WestWingReport/status/200255518864969729]

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A short blast through today’s Internetz

There are way too many funny and crazy things to see on the Internet today, so I suppose I’ll just have to link to them all. Here goes.

First off, Rush Limbaugh is launching a “Rush Babes” campaign to counterattack the National Organization for Women’s attempts to get advertisers to boycott his program:

Rush Limbaugh is fighting back against the National Organization for Women, the progressive women’s group that has been targeting local advertisers and affiliates in an effort to get the conservative talk show host off the air.

On his program today, Limbaugh announced a new National Organizaion for Rush Babes”dedicated to the millions of conservative women who know what they believe in: family, American Values, and not being told by Faux Feminist Groups how to think.”

Beyond the immediate laughter such a mental image provokes — what is a Rush babe, after all? an overweight, pale, white Midwesterner who hates Mexicans and loves Cheetos and Jim Carrey? — the comments section below the article is absolutely hilarious. See how quickly it devolves into complete insanity from its original starting point of…well, it was basically already insane when it started. I love Internet commenters.

Then, it turns out that, as soon as Michele Bachmann was out of the political limelight, she took stock of “birtherism” and decided, hell, being something other than American isn’t so bad after all. Therefore, she is now Swiss. I smell a double standard here:

Rep. Michele Bachmann is now officially a Swiss miss.

Bachmann (R-Minn.) recently became a citizen of Switzerland, making her eligible to run for office in the tiny European nation, according to a Swiss TV report Tuesday.

Best part is when they asked her if she’d consider running for Swiss public office: “Bachmann joked that the competition ‘would be very stiff because they are very good.'” And by that she means that they make more sense in English than she does.

A lot happened yesterday at the voting booth. Republican senator Dick Lugar of Indiana lost to Tea Party favorite Richard Mourdock in the Republican primaries, signaling the further polarization of the Senate. (Of course, there is really only one “pole” here, and it is the fanatical right wing, but I digress.) Meanwhile, Wisconsin Democrats chose their candidate, Tom Barrett, to challenge Republican governor Scott Walker in the special recall election next month. But in the biggest piece of news, North Carolinians chose bigotry and homophobia over normality: yes, Amendment One passed overwhelmingly, which inscribes a prohibition of gay marriage and even civil unions into the state constitution.

Meanwhile, Democrats are worried about campaign dollars and where they’ll be going. The New York Times has more interesting backstory to the Chen Guangcheng saga. And the Underwear Bomber 2.0? Turns out he was a double agent working for the CIA. Nice work, but also a good reminder that the next terrorist attack is undoubtedly a matter of when, not if.

And lastly, because this is just too weird, I was looking through the Atlantic‘s stellar collection of Hindenburg photographs (it crashed 75 years ago last Sunday) and was actually viscerally shocked to see so much Nazi imagery in connection with the United States. It’s easy to forget that the Nazi Party existed before World War II began, and that they were fully recognized and welcomed abroad in many places, including in the United States. Anyway, worth checking out.