civil rights

We Do

Here’s an update on the continuing destruction of traditional marriage in the United States:

BACKGROUND:  In June 2013, the Supreme Court declared the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) to be unconstitutional. That ruling compelled the federal government to recognize and treat equally all marriages considered to be legal in any one of the 50 states. At that point, there were half a dozen or so states that extended marriage equality to same-sex couples.

That ruling was a critically important step in civil rights in America, because while state laws govern who can be married, the vast majority of legal and financial benefits of marriage are bestowed by the federal government. In fact, there are 1,138 federal benefits that accrue to married couples that are not available to swinging singles. Benefits in areas such as Social Security, Taxation, Estates & Inheritance, Adoption, Immigration, Family & Medical Leave, Employee Benefits for Federal Workers, and much more. It’s not just about all that sanctimonious sanctity stuff.

That 2013 Supreme Court ruling did NOT strike down the anti-same-sex-marriage laws in any of the 40+ states still banning marriage equality. But the ruling was a seismic shift in the legal landscape. The writing was on the wall. The bigots had lost. But they kept up the fight… if only to keep those contributions flowing from America’s pews and Barcaloungers.

Dozens of lawsuits were filed by same-sex couples wishing to marry in every state which still banned marriage equality. These cases percolated up through the judicial system. In state courts rising to state supreme courts, and in federal courts rising up through the appellate levels. And you can almost feel sorry for the folks working so diligently to fight marriage equality. Almost. They tried soooo hard. They tried everything. They continued even to the point of looking absolutely ridiculous – and wasting millions of their taxpayers’ dollars. And now, they have not only lost… They have been annihilated. In fact, on more than a few occasions, they have been basically laughed out of court. As well they should be.

Since DOMA was eviscerated, there have been something like 40 court rulings in a row in favor of marriage equality. In every corner of the country. From judges known to be liberal, moderate and conservative. Appointed by Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama. The bigots always put the same question to the courts: We think it’s icky, so why can’t we prevent gay marriage in our state? And they got the same answer every time: Denying gay Americans access to marriage is a direct (obvious, flagrant) violation of their Constitutional rights to due process and equal protection. Period. Now go home. And brush up on your constitutional law. One of my favorite of these rulings came from a federal judge in Pennsylvania, who wrote:

Penna.MarriageRuling.JohnEJonesIII

In some cases, a state stopped its legal campaign to prevent marriage equality once a federal court said it could not. (That was true in Pennsylvania after Judge John E. Jones III issued his ruling, excerpted above.) The governor or attorney general knew that to pursue this to the appellate court or Supreme Court would be a pointless waste of time and money. In the reddest of the red states, though, there was no backing down. Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead! When the 4th, 7th and 10th Circuits had all ruled in favor of marriage equality, five states appealed to the Supreme Court: Utah, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Indiana and Virginia.

The Supreme Court put these five cases on the list of those they would consider taking at the end of September. But when the Court released the list of cases it would definitely be taking in the new term, none of these marriage cases were on it. Hmmm. Que pasa, Supremos?

THEN TODAY, the first day of the new term, a bombshell: The Supreme Court announced it had rejected the marriage appeals from all five states. Whaaaaaa? That was initially misconstrued as a refusal to rule on these cases, but the decision not to consider the appeals is a de facto ruling, as it lets stand all of the appellate court rulings in those cases. And all of those rulings were in favor of marriage equality. And – double bonus feature! – Circuit Court of Appeals rulings, once given the force of law, apply to ALL of the states covered by that circuit. So, in addition to the five states who challenged the rulings, an additional six states are swept up in the nuptials news. It may take a few days for their unused kansas.ybmachinery of legal equality to crank up, but you will soon be able to gay marry the gay of your dreams in Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

Kansas… looks like you’re not in Kansas anymore!

So yes, a good day for equality and for America. We went from 19 to 30 states with marriage equality. More than 60% of Americans are now living in states with marriage equality. Not “gay marriage”. Just… marriage. And the bigoted anti-gay laws in the remaining 20 states (Texas, Florida, Ohio, Georgia, etc) are now hanging by a legal thread. Stay tuned for more rainbow-colored rice being thrown, coast to coast. Click here for a great series of maps showing the status of states with marriage equality, and the states with pending appeals (i.e., the next to go).freedomtomarrylogo

Many of us are disappointed that the Court did not take on these cases and issue a definitive ruling wiping the remaining discriminatory laws off the books, just as it did in 1967 with bans on interracial marriage. That may be yet to come. Some believe the 5th Circuit offers the (sad) possibility of issuing a pro-discrimination ruling. That would be appealed to the Supreme Court – which would have no choice but to take the case, given its action today. You cannot have a country where marriage equality is the law of the land, except in a handful of states. For excellent in-depth coverage of all the legal actions and status in the battle for marriage equality, go to FreedomToMarry.org.

And if you are mourning the loss of your treasured, traditional biblical marriage, I offer you this message from Betty Bowers, America’s Best Christian. Like so many of your fellow flock, you may not really understand what kinds of marriage the bible endorses. Let Betty show you the light.

The End (so far)

I AM (NOT) MIKE BROWN

A man at a protest holds a sign expressing his solidarity – and commonality – with Mike Brown.

“I AM MIKE BROWN”

Mike Brown is dead.

Mike Brown was shot to death.

Mike Brown was 18 years old. Black. Unarmed.

Mike Brown was gunned down in the middle of the street, in the middle of the day.

By a cop.

In Ferguson, Missouri.

In the United States of America.

Ferguson, Missouri is a suburb of St Louis. Its population is 70% black.

Its mayor is white. School board is white. City council is white (except for one black member). And the Ferguson Police Department is 94% white, with only 3 black police officers.

Mike Brown was shot six times by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. Four times in the arm, twice in the head.

His crime was jaywalking.

Later it was suggested by the Ferguson Police Dept that he may have stolen a handful of cigars from a convenience store.

Because, unlike jaywalking, that is a crime punishable by death in a hail of bullets from a cop’s gun in the middle of a residential neighborhood?

Eyewitnesses have reported that Mike Brown had his hands in the air in the universal sign of surrender. And then he was murdered. 

Photo credit Scott Olson / Getty Images

Photo credit Scott Olson / Getty Images

“Hands Up. Don’t Shoot.” has become a rallying cry for the protesters in Ferguson, all over the country and around the world.

Darren Wilson and the Ferguson Police Dept left Mike Brown’s body lying in the street, uncovered, for four hours. The body of a dog that had been run over by a car would have been treated with more respect than this. How can this be?

mikebrown.deadinstreet

Ten days after killing unarmed 18-year-old Mike Brown, and Darren Wilson still has not been arrested. He has not been detained. He has not been questioned. He has not been charged with a crime. The people of Ferguson are incensed. They are marching in their streets. They are venting their anger. They are exercising their Constitutional rights to assemble and petition their government. They are demanding the same justice that anyone has a right to expect in this country. But they are not getting any measure of justice. They have been met with an absurdly overblown paramilitary response including armored vehicles, automatic weapons trained on them, and tear gas canisters fired at them. 

The US military’s rules of engagement in Iraq did not allow soldiers to point their weapons at civilians.

Automatic weapons are leveled at American civilians in Ferguson, Missouri.

Photo credit Whitney Curtis / New York Times

Photo credit Whitney Curtis / New York Times

The United States is a signatory to treaties that ban the use of tear gas in warfare.

Tear gas is being used against American civilians in Ferguson, Missouri.

Photo credit: Eric Thayer / New York Times

Photo credit Eric Thayer / New York Times

Substitute your own racial or ethnic group in place of [a black man] in the following sentence:

In the United States of America, a black man is shot to death by a cop every 28 hours.

What would you do?

I am Mike Brown.

But I am not Mike Brown.

I am a 52-year-old white man who has never experienced one moment of fear that I would be shot to death by a cop. I have lived in New York City, Boston, Washington DC, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles. I have visited Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, St Louis, Cleveland, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Denver, Baltimore… and many other cities, towns, suburbs and rural areas in this country. I have walked through downtown areas in the middle of the night. I have marched in the streets in protests.

But I have never – not for one minute of my life – known the fear of being targeted by a cop. I have never worried about being shot to death for jaywalking as 18-year-old Mike Brown was. I have never worried about being put in a choke hold by a group of NYC police for the crime of selling cigarettes on a street corner. While other cops stood by. While paramedics did not come to my aid. As 43-year-old Eric Garner was. I have never worried about being shot to death in a Walmart for picking up a BB gun from a BB gun display, as 22-year-old John Crawford was in Beavercreek, Ohio. I have never worried about being shot in the back while I was lying on the ground during an “investigative stop” as 25-year-old Ezell Ford was in Los Angeles. I have never worried about being shot to death by a vigilante as I walked home to my grandmother’s house as 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was. I have never worried about being shot to death at a gas station for playing loud music as 17-year-old Jordan Davis was.

Photo credit Whitney Curtis / New York Times

Photo credit Whitney Curtis / New York Times

So no, I am not Mike Brown. I am not Eric Garner or John Crawford. I am not Ezell Ford or Trayvon Martin or Jordan Davis.

I am not a black man in America.

But I am an American. As were all of these men. Why can I walk through my neighborhood, in my city, in my country without fear of being shot to death by the police? Why can’t black men do the same? Why can’t black women in America say goodbye to their husbands, their sons, their grandsons – without wondering if they’ll ever see them again?

Why are black men (and all people of color) treated so outrageously unfairly by our law enforcement and justice systems? 

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime. Individuals of color have a disproportionate number of encounters with law enforcement, indicating that racial profiling continues to be a problem. A report by the Department of Justice found that blacks and Hispanics were approximately three times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop than white motorists. African Americans were twice as likely to be arrested and almost four times as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with the police. – read more at AmericanProgress.org

And what are we – you and I – going to do about it?

Join a protest. Raise your voice. And vote

Why vote? 

Because the citizens of Ferguson, Missouri have a voter turnout of about 12%. That is how a 70% black town gets an almost 100% white leadership. In other words, that is how people get a government that does not represent their best interests. It may not be the government they deserve, but it is the government they gave themselves.

The government of the United States of America does not currently represent the best interests of the people of this country. There is an election in ten weeks. Every member of Congress is up for re-election. Many state and local elected officials, too. So vote. Whatever your race, your creed, your color, your orientation, your issue. Vote. It is your only power. And if you don’t use it, you will find yourself powerless. Like the people of Ferguson. And then it might be too late. As it is for Mike Brown.

Voting cannot end racism in this country. But voting can remove racists from elected positions in government at every level. And no, I make no distinction between racists and those who implement racist policies. Because there is no distinction to be made there.

If you are not registered to vote, or if you’re not sure,
click here >>> REGISTER TO VOTE NOW. AND THEN VOTE.

And if you have two minutes, watch this powerful statement from Jesse Williams on CNN

“I am Mike Brown” photo credit: Monica Almeida/New York Times

Continuing coverage by New York Times

Continuing coverage at Vox.com

Happy birthday, Harvey

As the 20th century was drawing to a close, Time magazine set to work preparing its mother-of-all-lists: The Time 100 Persons of the Century. Quite an undertaking, especially when you consider how many tens of billions of people lived and died during that momentous century. How to whittle the list down to a mere one hundred? Imagine the screaming matches in the editorial meetings as Einstein-TIME-Person-of-the-Centurythat deadline neared! “How can you not include [blank]?!” “Are you out of your mind? [Blank] is worth fifty of [blank]!” “OK, you can have [blank] or [blank] – but not both.” I’m sure it wasn’t as polite as all that.

In the end, The 100 were chosen. This was not a list of the most popular or most beautiful or most loved (although many were one or more of those). The filter used to sift the 20th century was influence. These folks were named for the impact they had on the human race in the past hundred years – “for better or worse”. Given the explosive growth of mass media in that century, many of the names on the list enjoy a renown without borders. Some inhabit the mono-moniker realm: Mandela. Churchill. Gandhi. Hitler. Freud. Ali. Diana. Lindbergh. Pele. Sakharov. Che. MLK. FDR. A few founded companies that became global brands, giving them a more dynamic form of immortality: Ford. Disney. Chanel. Albert Einstein landed on the cover, first among equals – and you don’t have to be Einstein to understand… oh, never mind.

Maybe you’re surprised to learn that little more than half of the list is comprised of Americans. That may seem too high or too low, depending on where you stand. The “made in America” label was sewn into far less than 5% of the planetary population during the timeframe. But this country did have an outsized impact on the condition of the human race in the 1900s, in almost every way. For better and worse.

The list was released not all at once, but in flights across five issues of Time in 1998 and 1999. Each issue offered a different group of The 100 including “Artists & Entertainers”, “Builders & Titans”, “Scientists & Thinkers”. (There’s a link at the end of this post to the entire list.) The final portion of The 100 appeared in the Time issue dated June 14, 1999. “Heroes & Icons” includes some of the most inspiring and courageous people our species has yet produced. Anne Frank. Rosa Parks. Helen Keller. Jackie Robinson. Harvey Milk. Mother Ter––

“Harvey WHO?!”

Seems a safe bet that most earthlings, and (sadly) most Americans would see that name on the list and have no idea who Harvey Milk was. Of course, most Americans can’t name the current Vice President (Joe Biden) or the inventor of the internet (Al Gore)… but that’s Harvey_Milk_Day_logocold comfort. Harvey Milk is a hero of the gay rights movement (and of the larger struggle for civil rights) in America and around the world. He is in the upper echelon of prominence in the lgbt pantheon. In 1977 Harvey Milk became the first openly gay elected official in California, winning a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors (city council). In 1978 he was assassinated in City Hall alongside Mayor George Moscone by a deranged ex-Supervisor with a gun. But Harvey (he is one of those ‘one-namers’ to the gay community) had made his mark long before reaching SF City Hall. Here is an excellent bio from The Milk Foundation, if you’d like to know more about this man and his life so powerfully lived. I can also recommend the excellent biography by Randy Shilts, The Mayor of Castro Street (which was made into the Academy Awarded film, Milk with Sean Penn).

Today – May 22nd – is Harvey Milk Day celebrating the man and his life on his birthday. This was established by the California Legislature in 2009 as a ‘day of special significance’ for public schools, with appropriate focus in the curriculum to insure that kids learn about this important man and his place in their own history. As you can imagine, this sets certain folks’ hair on fire… but that’s all the ink I’ll waste on them here. Harvey would be 84 years old today.

harvey-milk-stamp (1)In a special acknowledgment of Harvey Milk’s place in our history, the United States Post Office has issued a commemorative stamp – to be officially dedicated in a ceremony at the White House today. It’s a very proud moment for all of us, gay and straight, who know what a powerful and positive role model this man was for his generation, and all those who followed. I was a 16-year-old kid in the closet in Connecticut in 1978. If I was even aware of the events unfolding in faraway San Francisco, I don’t recall any reaction I may have had.

Looking back now, it’s so easy to forget the context of those times. Harvey Milk was killed just ten years after MLK and RFK were gunned down. That’s less time than has passed for us since 9/11. The Stonewall Riots and the beginning of the gay pride movement were then even more recent. And it is haunting to realize that Harvey lived, and died, in a time just a few years before the onslaught of AIDS… It’s impossible not to indulge the What if? daydreams. What if Harvey had not been murdered? How would he have continued to change the world? It’s impossible not to hear the fury of his voice cracking the marble foundations in Washington – demanding the action and the funding and the leadership that Reagan’s government withheld. Others rose to take up that mantle, courageously and nobly. But there is no doubt that the bullets fired in 1978 condemned more than two good people to death. Keep that in mind the next time you see or hear some imbecile talking about “2nd Amendment solutions”. This nation has paid a hideously high price for our unwillingness to separate dangerously unstable people from their guns.

As President Obama remarked last summer at the 50th anniversary of MLK’s March on Washington and the civil rights struggle: “The arc of the universe may bend toward justice – but it doesn’t bend on its own.” Harvey Milk, as have others before him and since, reached up and grabbed hold of the arc of the universe – and pulled on it with all his might to bend it a little further toward justice. He succeeded. And as we celebrate that success we should stop looking around to see who the next leader will be, and look within. That was Harvey’s real message. And that is why those who would put us all back in the closet may win a battle here and there – but they have already lost the war. Thank you, Harvey.

burstdownthoseclosetdoors.milk

And how cool is this? The White House made a birthday cake for Harvey today. He would have loved that!

WhiteHouse.bdaycake4Harvey

The End (so far)

The Time 100 Persons of the Century

It’s Not Gay Marriage. It’s Marriage.

marriage.lunch.park

BREAKING: Illinois passes marriage equality | GLAAD

 

Yes WE DO!

BREAKING: Illinois passes marriage equality | GLAAD.