Christopher Moraff

Christopher Moraff covers national politics, social justice and consumer issues for a number of publications. He writes a weekly column for Philadelphia magazine's blog “The Philly Post” and is a contributing writer for In These Times, where he serves on the Board of Editors.

 

Recent Articles

Going Rogue for Marriage Equality

AP Photo/Matt Rourke
AP Photo/Matt Rourke Tamara Davis, left, and Nicola Cucinotta kiss after obtaining a marriage license in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania despite a state law banning such unions. L ast week, Montgomery County, a sleepy suburb of Philadelphia, was thrust into the national spotlight when its elected register of wills, D. Bruce Hanes, put principle above policy and began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in defiance of Pennsylvania's long-standing ban on gay unions. Since July 24, Hanes has issued more than two dozen of the licenses. Thus far, two lesbian couples have used the licenses to tie the knot in the first officially sanctioned same-sex marriages in Pennsylvania history. Hanes's pioneering effort—which materialized over the course of a single week after a lawyer representing two women contacted his office to inquire about obtaining a marriage license—has elevated Pennsylvania's stature as a gay-rights battleground and put Governor Tom Corbett on notice that, on the...

The New Gay-Rights Frontier

Flickr/Stéfan
A s the Supreme Court prepares to take its first serious look at the issue of same-sex marriage—with oral arguments set to begin March 26 in back-to-back challenges to California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act—gay-rights activists and their supporters in the New Jersey Legislature are quietly advancing their fight for LGBT equality on a separate front, with a concerted push to undermine the practice of controversial gay conversion therapy in the state. Polls show that public support for legalizing gay marriage has hit an all-time high, with 58 percent of Americans—including a growing number of Republicans—now in favor of granting same-sex couples the rights and benefits enjoyed by their heterosexual counterparts. But even the staunchest of activists recognize that victory for marriage rights in Washington will be but an incremental step on the road to equality for a community that has been consistently denied equal protection under the law. Consider that only 18...

The Budget Prescription

Earlier this month, the European Commission launched a new round of investigations targeting the pharmaceutical industry for allegedly colluding to keep low-cost generic drugs off the market. As a result, regulators are looking into the 2005 contractual arrangements between U.S.-based pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson and the generic branches of the Swiss-based company Novartis to see whether the agreements purposely delayed the introduction of a generic version of the painkiller Fentanyl to the Dutch market. The probe is the latest round in an ongoing battle between commission trade officials and Big Pharma over quasi-legal “pay to delay” deals—settlements forged between drug manufacturers and producers of generic alternatives with the goal of extending brand-name monopolies long after patents have expired. Four days after the Europeans moved against Johnson & Johnson, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Bureau of Competition issued its annual staff report on pay-to-delay...

Latin America's Legalization Push

South of the border, where drug violence has taken a serious toll, lawmakers are weighing their decriminalization options.

A call for drug policy-reform is echoing across Latin America, where a decades-long, U.S.-sponsored battle against drug production and distribution has fostered a climate of fear, insecurity, and death. Throughout the region, former and current political leaders have allied with academics, medical professionals, and community activists to issue an appeal for a multinational dialogue on alternatives to the current drug war, including a possible end to drug prohibition. In February, the multidisciplinary Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy (co-chaired by former Presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, Cesar Gaviria of Colombia, and Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico) called the drug war a "failure" and issued a groundbreaking report urging other governments in the region--including the United States--to rethink prohibition policy. More recently, on a May 2009 trip to Atlanta, where he gave the commencement address at Emory University, former President Vicente Fox of Mexico...

A Crack in the System

For the fourth time in 20 years the U.S. Sentencing Commission has asked lawmakers to reform mandatory cocaine sentencing policy. Might this be the year Congress listens?

A flurry of recent legislative activity may finally signal an end to what critics call a blatantly racist federal sentencing policy. Now over 20 years old, the sentencing guidelines set forth in the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 mandate a minimum incarceration of five years for possession of five grams of crack cocaine -- the same penalty that is triggered for the sale of 500 grams of powder cocaine, or 100-times the minimum quantity for crack. Opposition to the so-called "crack disparity" has grown steadily through the years and today spans the political spectrum from the conservative Rand Corporation to the American Civil Liberties Union. The guidelines have also drawn the ire of more than a few federal judges, some of whom have begun testing the boundaries of the law by refusing to instate the mandatory crack minimum. The seven-member U.S. Sentencing Commission, which serves under presidential appointment, has repeatedly asked Congress to reform the law. In 1995, the Commission...

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