Law

It's a Nice Day for a Gay Wedding

flickr / soyoureengayged

Last week's oral arguments in two landmark cases involving same-sex marriage will likely not be followed by opinions until late June. In the interim, there will be a great deal of speculation about what various rulings might mean. With respect to the legal challenge to Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, speculation about the outcome will be less common because most legal observers (including me) expect a comfortable majority of the Court to strike it down. With respect to the challenge to California's Proposition 8, however, the outcome is less certain. Each outcome will lead to markedly different developments for gay and lesbian rights. For this reason it's worth teasing out the implications of the possible rulings in the challenge to Prop 8.

Obama Pleads for Empathy on Guns

Throughout his presidency, Barack Obama has portrayed himself as Washington's last reasonable man, pleading that we can find some common ground on almost any issue despite our disagreements if we just listen to each other and open our hearts a little. Republicans complain that it's all just an act—he's just trying to look like the reasonable one, to make his opponents look more intransigent and stubborn and gain the upper hand politically. That may be partly true, even though they don't need his help to look unreasonable; they do a fine job of it all by themselves.

The latest narrative on the gun issue is that the prospects for meaningful legislation are slipping away as the tragedy of Newtown fades from our ridiculously short memories and members of Congress feel little of the public pressure required for them to stand up to the NRA. So Obama has been campaigning for his favored legislation, and yesterday he gave a speech in Colorado, the centerpiece of which was a plea to both sides to cultivate some empathy. Here's an excerpt:

The Dead End That Is Public Opinion

If you want to produce change, make politicians as terrified as this sandwich. (Flickr/Sakurako Kitsa)

As the effort to enact new gun legislation hobbles along, liberals have noted over and over that in polls, 90 percent or so of the public favors universal background checks. In speaking about this yesterday, President Obama said, "Nothing is more powerful than millions of voices calling for change." Then Jonathan Bernstein explained that opinion doesn't get political results, what gets results is action. I'd take this one step farther: what gets results is not action per se, but action that produces fear. I'll explain in a moment, but here's part of Bernstein's argument:

Gay-Marriage Opponents, Left Behind

The American Prospect/Jamelle Bouie

Outside of the Supreme Court this week—where the nine justices were hearing oral arguments about the constitutionality of California's ban on same-sex marriage—a young woman and an old woman were arguing.

"If you put all the gay people on an island," began the older woman, who looked to be in her fifties.

"See, this is why people think you guys are like the KKK!" interjected the young woman. "You're talking about rounding us all up—"

"Let me finish! If you put all the gay people on an island, in a generation there would be no gay people. They would die out."

"That's not a realistic scenario. We all live in this country together."

Cops Gone Wild

Bad cops will keep sexually assaulting women they’re sworn to protect until we get stronger laws and better data on the number of victims.

flickr/brendangates

When 20-year-old Sarah Smith got into an accident with a motorcyclist in 2008, it was nothing but bad new—she was driving with a suspended license. It got worse. When police showed up, officer Adam Skweres took Smith aside and implied that he could either make it look like the accident was her fault or give the other party a ticket. It depended on whether she’d agree to perform unspecified sexual favors. Skweres also threatened that if she told anyone, he’d “make sure you never walk, talk, or speak again,” and looked at his gun.

Cops Gone Wild

Bad cops will keep sexually assaulting women they’re sworn to protect until we get stronger laws and better data on the number of victims.

flickr/brendangates

When 20-year-old Sarah Smith got into an accident with a motorcyclist in 2008, it was nothing but bad news—she was driving with a suspended license. It got worse. When police showed up, officer Adam Skweres took Smith aside and implied that he could either make it look like the accident was her fault or give the other party a ticket. It depended on whether she’d agree to perform unspecified sexual favors. Skweres also threatened that if she told anyone, he’d “make sure you never walk, talk, or speak again,” and looked at his gun.

States' Rights > Gay Rights

AP Photo/Dana Verkouteren

By now you've heard from the various news sources that, in this week’s Supreme Court arguments on California's Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act, a majority of justices expressed skepticism over both. So it's imaginable—even probable, if you believe the news—that we will find ourselves at the end of June with DOMA in the junk pile and marriage equality back on the books in California.

Oppressed Christians and Second-Class Citizenship

A gay lion prepares to set upon a group of Christians.

With all this talk of gay people marrying one another, some people on the right are starting to bleat about how they're being oppressed for their Christian beliefs — so oppressed, in fact, that they're starting to feel like "second-class citizens." Here's CBN's David Brody lamenting the sorrows of Kirk Cameron and Tim Tebow. Here's Red State's Erik Erikson predicting the coming pogrom ("Within a year or two we will see Christian schools attacked for refusing to admit students whose parents are gay. We will see churches suffer the loss of their tax exempt status for refusing to hold gay weddings. We will see private businesses shut down because they refuse to treat as legitimate that which perverts God’s own established plan."). Here's Fox News commentator Todd Starnes on the oppression that has already begun ("it’s as if we’re second-class citizens now because we support the traditional, Biblical definition of marriage"). And how is this second-class citizenship being thrust upon them back in the real world? Well, people are...strongly disagreeing with their position on an issue of public concern! It's awful, I tell ya.

Asked and Answered

Flickr/Ted Eytan

It’s a strange thing, living on the cusp of social change—miraculous and dizzying. Ten years ago to the day, on March 26, 2003, I sat in the tiny hallway that functions as the Supreme Court’s press gallery, off to the justices’ right, trying to hear the oral arguments in Lawrence v. Texas, the case in which the Supreme Court—years after the rest of the developed world—knocked down the country’s 13 remaining anti-sodomy laws. Yesterday morning, I sat there again to hear the justices consider the constitutionality of California’s ban on same-sex marriage, written into the state constitution by Proposition 8. I’ve spent my adult life writing about LGBT issues; back in the mid-1990s, I was the first lesbian to write broadly in favor of same-sex marriage, and in 1999 I published a book explaining how same-sex couples fit into marriage’s shifting historical definition.

Privacy, Property, and the Drug War

WikiMedia Commons

While it is likely to attract little attention given today's epochal same-sex marriage arguments, the Supreme Court decided an important Fourth Amendment case on Tuesday. For the second time this year, the Supreme Court issued a ruling in a case involving drug-sniffing dog. This time, however, the Court did not allow the Fourth Amendment to be trumped by the War On (Some Classes of People Who Use Some) Drugs.

The Unending Terror of the Red-State Democrat

An image from a new ad advocating universal background checks for gun purchases.

Over the weekend, we learned that New York mayor Michael Bloomberg will spend $12 million airing ads in 13 states pushing senators to support expanded background checks for gun purchases. NRA honcho Wayne LaPierre, in his usual restrained fashion, described Bloomberg's engagement as "reckless" and "insane," but what's so remarkable is that this is something you need an ad war to accomplish. After all, universal background checks (which would extend such checks to gun shows and private sales) enjoy pretty much universal support, with polls showing around 90 percent of Americans in favor, including overwhelming majorities of Republicans and gun owners.

And yet, not only are lots of Republicans still holding back, but even some Democrats are afraid to take a position on universal background checks. Greg Sargent reports that at least five Democratic senators—Mark Pryor (AR), Mary Landrieu (LA), Kay Hagen (NC), Joe Donnelly (IN) and Heidi Heitkamp (SD)—are refusing to say where they stand on the issue. There's really only one reason why: the abject, soul-gripping fear of the red state Democrat.

Gay Rights, There and Back Again

Flickr/Chris Phan

Tomorrow, I’m going to the Supreme Court to hear a bunch of lawyers debate the status of my marriage. Do I have a right to be married? Am I married just in Massachusetts, or in the United States at large? Simply attending the arguments feels like a high point in my career: I've written about and followed LGBT issues at large, and marriage in particular, for most of my adult life. I still remember sitting at my cousin’s wedding in 1993 when someone told me about the trial-court win in Baehr v. Lewin, the Hawaii marriage lawsuit that kicked off the past twenty years of marriage organizing. Before that, marriage hadn't occurred to me—or many of us, back in the day—as something I could have. By 2003, I knew that we would win it, and in my lifetime.

Another Court Nominee Down

WikiMedia Commons

Last Friday afternoon, the Obama administration surrendered on its latest attempt to fill one of four vacancies on the nation's second most-important court.

The Super-Sexy Case Against Gay Marriage

When I get that feelin', I need Supreme Court amicus briefs.

Three years ago, in a column titled "It's Not You, It's Me," I noted that a rhetorical shift had occurred among opponents of gay rights. In earlier times, there was lots of talk about the immorality of homosexuality and how depraved gay people were, but now those sentiments have become marginalized. For more mainstream spokespeople, the argument against same-sex marriage is not about gay people at all but about straight people. The problem with same-sex marriage, they say, is the effect gay people's marriages will have on straight people's marriages. What that effect will be, they can't precisely say, but they're sure it'll be bad. Similarly, when we argued (briefly) about repealing the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, their claims were not about whether gay soldiers could do their jobs, but whether their presence would make straight soldiers uncomfortable.

Next week, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on cases challenging California's Proposition 8, which outlawed gay marriage in the state, and the federal Defense of Marriage Act. There's little doubt that at least three of the justices (Scalia, Thomas, and Alito), and maybe more, will be staunch defenders of the legal status quo. But it will be interesting to hear what kinds of arguments the lawyers on their side come up with, particularly under questioning from the liberal justices. The original Prop. 8 trial was something of a farce, as the law's defenders proved unable to provide any rationale for it that could withstand a moment of cross-examination. So what are they going to say at the Supreme Court?

Pages