Tag Archives: Equality

California Judges barred from Boy Scouts

According to an article in today’s (26 Jan) Los Angeles Daily Journal, the California Supreme Court has voted unanimously to bar judges and justices in the state from being a part of the Boy Scouts, because of that organization’s discriminatory practices and policies.

The article (behind a paywall,of course), notes that this was first suggested some 13 years ago, but the idea went down in flames.  It has been raised several times since then, but has always had opposition from the far right. And more opposition is expected to this latest ruling. No statement or rationale accompanies the ruling.  The chair of the Ethics committee,Justice Richard Fybel of the 4th District, who recommended the measure, said it was “the right thing to do.”

The right wing, of course, has slammed the decision as ‘tyrannical’.  they are the same ones that claim this will forbid judges from being members of churches.  Purest hyperbole, though, has not won this time, and it’s about time.

Meet the Man Who Kept the Rainbow Flag Free

By Danielle Riendeau

The fight for LGBT equality in the Bay Area has faced plenty of challenges. Meet Matt Coles, who has been fighting for them from the beginning.



The rainbow flag is known all over the world as a symbol of LGBT rights and acceptance. Here in San Francisco, a huge rainbow flag waves over the Castro District. But that flag came close to being a trademarked symbol that could have kept it from public use. In 1978 Gilbert Baker, the person who created the flag, came to the Castro law office of a young LGBT civil rights attorney in private practice named Matt Coles. Baker explained that he created the flag for everyone and wanted it to remain free for public use. He needed an attorney to represent him to challenge an attempt from an advocacy organization to trademark it. He didn’t have any money, but Matt agreed to represent him. Today, the rainbow flags that symbolize Pride Month are a symbol for the people.

The flag case wasn’t Matt’s first – or last – tango in the LGBT rights community. Now our Deputy National Legal Director, Matt has built an impressive career out of opposing discrimination and fighting difficult battles – he served as counsel in the ACLU/Lambda challenge to the military’s anti-gay “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, on the case that led to our first win in the U.S. Supreme Court, the challenge to Colorado’s anti-gay amendment 2, and on several challenges to Florida’s ban on adoption by gay people. He has figuratively – and literally – written the book on how to win LGBT Civil Rights: read Try This At Home for a few tips and tricks. When it comes to slaying dragons for the community, Matt is a genuine hero.

It all started right here in San Francisco. Before he came to the ACLU, he actually wrote the city’s first comprehensive law banning anti-gay discrimination – and California’s first as well.

What people may not know about LGBT history in the Bay Area is just how tough the fight for equal rights has been. Yes, the city has long been known the world over for its tolerant views and attitudes, especially where LGBT folks are concerned. This is where Del Martin and Phyllis Lyons started the daughters of Bilitis in the 1950s; it’s the city of Harvey Milk in the 1970s, home to the Castro and one of the world’s largest LGBT populations.

Back in 1982, the Board of Supervisors passed a domestic partnership ordinance that Matt wrote – but it was swiftly vetoed by then-mayor Dianne Feinstein. Matt wrote a new version that was passed in 1989, but was repealed by voters (yes, San Francisco voters repealed a gay rights bill – and it wasn’t so long ago). It finally passed for good in 1990, after 8 years of fighting tooth and nail for equality in what is often thought of as one of the most liberal and tolerant cities in the US. In 1991, a measure to repeal it was on the ballot again, but this time the repeal efforts failed.

The fight for full equality is far from over, in California and in the rest of the country. But you can rest assured that the ACLU will remain on the front lines.

A Little Kitchen Conversation

ACLU Nor Cal’s Associate Director Kelli Evans tells the story of how she responded when her 8-year-old daughter asked if lesbians were going to be banned and what would happen to their family. The ACLU is the Community Organization Grand Marshal at SF Pride 2012 and is blogging throughout the week of Pride.

By Kelli Evans

Recently, I was at home making dinner with my eight-year-old daughter Kaden. As I cooked, she flipped through the mail on the kitchen counter with the curiosity that only eight-year-olds possess. One of the pieces of mail was from a local LGBT advocacy group, advertising an upcoming event. Although Kaden has two moms, one of whom (me) works as the Associate Director for the ACLU, she doesn’t see the word “lesbian” in print all that often in her daily life. She’s certainly heard the word plenty and because of my work is familiar with words and phrases many people don’t learn until high school or later.  Words like equal protection, constitutional rights, and fundamental fairness.

For some reason, seeing the word lesbian in large font on the mailer reminded her of Proposition 8, the ballot measure passed by California voters in 2008 that banned marriage for lesbian and gay couples. Referring to Prop 8, she became visibly agitated and asked me what would happen if voters decided to ban lesbians from California. Would we still be her parents? Would we be safe in our home? What would happen to her and to our family?

I fought back tears and swallowed my disgust and outrage at the fact that my child has to think about such things in the year 2012. I looked Kaden in the eye and told her that no one was going to pass a law outlawing lesbians or LGBT families. I also explained that no matter what laws were passed that we would always be her parents and her family. While I knew that I would die before allowing my family to be torn apart, I also knew that I wasn’t quite telling Kaden the truth.

The truth is that in the year 2012 laws are being passed and enforced that discriminate against LGBT individuals, couples, and families, excluding us from the same rights and protections enjoyed by everyone else.

Kaden doesn’t know, for example, that her parents’ marriage (after being together for 18 years, we hastily got married the day before Prop 8 passed) isn’t recognized by the federal government. Or, that her generally fearless moms hold their breath every time we pass through customs, worried about how the agents will react to a two mom family.

She doesn’t know about the children of thousands of same sex couples across the country who are denied legally recognized relationships with both of their parents. Or about the fact that in states across the country it’s still perfectly legal to fire someone or refuse to hire them simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. She also doesn’t know about the LGBT youth and adults who take their lives each year or who are beaten or murdered simply because of who they are.

While I usually tell my child the truth, I didn’t have the stomach to in this instance. Instead, after reassuring her about the safety and security of our family, we talked about how one day everyone will look back and wonder how there ever was a time when equal protection, constitutional rights, and fundamental fairness didn’t apply to everyone. That’s why I work at the ACLU, where every day my colleagues across the country are working hard to make this a reality.

Kelli Evans is the Associate Director at the ACLU of Northern California.

From the Folks Who Brought You the Weekend

by California Labor Federation Communications Organizer Rebecca Greenberg

Most of us are familiar with the popular bumper sticker, “Labor Unions – The folks who brought you the weekend.” And yes, unions did play a pivotal role in the creation of the five-day work week. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Over the last 170 years, labor unions have done a whole lot more than just establishing the weekend. We’ve effectively served as the first line of defense against the corporations and politicians that seek to exploit working class families. We’ve fought tirelessly for better treatment for workers from all walks of life. And we’ve won some major victories along the way on issues that affect working families every day.

From improved wages to safer working conditions to fairness and equality in the workplace, the policies championed by labor unions benefit all working families, regardless as to whether they themselves belong to a union.

Most of Labor’s major accomplishments have become so engrained in our daily lives that it’s hard to imagine a time without them. In honor of May Day, which is celebrated around the world as International Workers’ Day, here are just a few of the hard-fought victories of the labor movement that we often take for granted:

Child labor laws. Nowadays, the idea of young children working in dangerous and hazardous conditions is uniformly appalling, but as recently as the early 20th century, child labor was all too commonplace.  In 1881, the very first American Federation of Labor (AFL) national convention passed a resolution calling on states to ban children under 14 from all gainful employment, which motivated states to take action and pass child labor policies, and that led up to the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act – the first federal law in the nation to prohibit child labor.

Occupational health and safety. Prior to 1970, firefighters, mineworkers, those who work around dangerous chemicals and just about everyone else had absolutely no health and safety protections at work. But all that changed when labor unions successfully urged President Nixon — a conservative Republican — to sign the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the first comprehensive federal legislation that regulates safety in the workplace. OSHA has provided the basis for more reforms in occupational health, including mine safety laws and standards for workers who are exposed to toxic chemicals. Unions continue to work daily to enforce OSHA’s regulations, and also to expand and refine safe protections for all workers.

The eight-hour day. During the industrial revolution of the late 1800’s, workers often toiled for 14 or 16 hours at a stretch with no overtime pay. In May of 1886, a labor strike for the eight-hour day led to the now infamous Haymarket Square riot, where striking workers lost their lives standing up for the core labor ideal of “eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, and eight hours for what we will.” Workers and unions fought for decades for this basic right, and the eight-hour day finally became reality for all workers in 1938 with the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Here in California, we succeeded in securing a strong daily overtime law, and we continue every day to fight to protect this basic right.

Health care. Up until the mid-2oth century, employer-provided health care was incredibly rare, but all that changed thanks to the labor movement. In 1943, the National War Labor Board (a coalition of unions) declared employer contributions for health insurance to be tax free, which encourages companies to offer health-insurance packages to attract workers. By 1950, “half of all companies with fewer than 250 workers and two-thirds of all companies with more than 250 workers offered health insurance of one kind or another.” Today, most workers are covered under employer-provided health care, and we’re a healthier nation because of it. But the fight against greedy insurance companies is far from over. Unions are constantly advocating for more affordable and accessible health care for all, and were instrumental in the passage of the Affordable Care Act of 2009.

Minimum wage. Gone are the days of working for nothing.The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 established a minimum wage (back then it was 25 cents an hour), and unions have fought year after year to raise that minimum wage to a living wage that keeps workers out of poverty. Labor is still fighting to reform the minimum wage so that it increases at the rate of inflation. In California, labor lobbied for and succeeded in passing a two-step minimum wage increase, which bumped California’s minimum wage up to $8/hour — $1.50 higher than the federal minimum wage.

Workplace equality. Unions played a major role in the passage of the Civil Rights Act and Title VII, which prohibits discrimination by employers or unions on the basis of race, national origin, color, religion or gender. Fairness and equality in the workplace continues to be a focal issue for unions in California and around the country, who continually fight for workplace fairness and equal opportunities for minorities, immigrants, the disabled, members of the LGBT community and others who are disenfranchised and discriminated against in the workplace.

Unemployment Insurance, Social Security and the Safety Net. As early as the 1830’s, unions – not the government — first began the practice of providing unemployment assistance to jobless workers. In the early 20th century, UI legislation started cropping up in dozens of states, and served as the impetus for the Social Security Act of 1935, which established a uniform system of unemployment insurance, and also provides aid to dependent children and rehabilitation for the physically disabled. Labor is still on the front lines every day, defending Social Security and the safety net from right-wing attacks.

Family and Medical Leave. Balancing work and family has never been easy, and as more women enter the workforce, that balancing act becomes even tougher – which is why labor staunchly advocates for new family-friendly workplace policies. In 1993, we passed the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, allowing parents to take time off to care for a new baby without risking losing their jobs. Here in California, we took the notion once step further and in 2005, we became the first state in the nation to pass a Paid Family Leave law, which allows workers to take that time off without losing all of their income. Never ones to rest on our laurels, we continue to fight to pass Paid Sick Days legislation, which would allow all Californians to accrue guaranteed sick leave.

Higher wages. Unions raise the minimum wage standard for all workers, and non-union employers are compelled to offer comparable wages and benefits in order to attract the best and brightest. In fact, at the time when most Americans belonged to a union — a period of time between the 1940′s and 1950′s — income inequality in the U.S. was at its lowest point in the history of the country.  To this day, the labor movement continues to fight to raise the minimum wage so it keeps up with the rate of inflation, which helps union and non-union workers alike. when unions are strong, it forces other employers to match wages. So, they actually increase the pay and improve benefits for non-union workers too. In that way, unions help everyone…..blue collar, white collar, union and non-union.

On Canadian Cultural Imperialism, Or, I Explain Red Green


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We are again having to take a short bypass on our planned writing journey; this time to a place that’s, according to their Facebook page, about 148 beer stores north of Toronto, Ontario (which, for the benefit of the less-geographically aware reader, is in Canada).

It’s a crazy place, where duct tape is more truly the coin of the realm than loonies, but we’re going to try to explain it all today…and in the effort we may even learn about a few things that really matter, like the unimportance of importance, and the kind of quality of life that comes from having a junk pile and a sense of adventure.

So grab the bug spray, Gentle Reader, because it’s time to visit Possum Lodge.

“You want to make it two inches — or, if you’re working in centimeters, make sure it’s enough centimeters for two inches.”

–Red Green

Possum Lodge itself is in the remote north of Canada (right next to Possum Lake), but Lodge members live all over the place.

So how do you spot a Lodge member?

You’ll often find them out in the shed, sorting through the pile of junk, looking for a part…but you might find them at the auction, looking to buy a used police car, or out on the lake, fishing.

Lodge members typically have been with the spouse for long enough that passion has been replaced by realpolitik; that’s certainly true of Dalton Humphrey and his wife Anne-Marie (Dalton owns the “Everything Store”, by the way, and since it’s the only store this side of Port Asbestos, the prices are way too high).

A great way to understand the friendly cynicism of a Lodge member is to check out the Possum Lodge Word Game. In this episode, Red’s geeky nephew Harold is the timekeeper, and Edgar Montrose, the “local explosives expert”, is trying to say a certain word…

When today’s Lodge members were kids, they were the ones who would take things apart, just out of curiosity-and a true Lodge member won’t be able to put the thing back together exactly how it came apart…but that’s why they make what Red calls “the handyman’s secret weapon”, duct tape.

Today, jury-rigging things together in an effort to make something new isn’t just a matter of curiosity…it’s a lifestyle. Check out this example of Red rigging two cars together to make one all-wheel-drive car:

This next video is even better: you get to meet Winston Rothschild (he of the most necessary Rothschild’s Sewer and Septic Sucking Services), and you get to learn how to build a self-operated dog wash at the same time…which, in real life, almost never happens.

“Buzz” Sherwood is the local bush pilot-and the “Buzz” in his name does not refer to how low he flies. Matter of fact, with Buzz also being the local hippie and all, the nickname really refers to how high he flies, if you get my drift.

For these guys, camping can be…it’s…tell you what…just watch this:

Now if this was all there was to our little tale, it would be OK, but this has actually been the set-up for what Paul Harvey would have called “the rest…of the story”.

“I’m a man, but I can change, if I have to…I guess.”

–The Red Green Show’s “Man’s Prayer”

You see, I met Red Green about two weeks ago (to be more accurate, I met Steve Smith, who is one of the two co-creators of the Possum Lodge franchise, in his Red Green character), up at the ol’ True Value in West Seattle, and we had a most interesting conversation…and it won’t be at all what you think we might have talked about-sorry, aboot.

You see, I was recently notified by email that I’m gay, and the night before I was actually attending a meetup with some of my gay friends, and as it turned out, they, being a bit more the “dazzling urbanite” type than myself, had no idea who Red Green really was.

Right that minute, I figured I would put a story together that tried to explain Possum Lodge, not just to the gay community, but to anybody who doesn’t fully understand how a bit of indolence can be a beautiful thing.

And (with apologies in advance for the lack of sound) that’s what we’re talking about in this next video, where Red is preparing to autograph my roll of clear duct tape (and yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as clear duct tape):

So as you can see, we’re talking about all this, me and Red there, by the duct tape display, and he sorta leans over conspiratorially and tells me that he actually has a pretty substantial gay audience-and that in fact, Possum Lodge is the kind of place where nobody would really care if you were gay, and, as far as anyone can tell, a few of the members may very well be gay.

And that made a lot of sense to me, actually, because The Girlfriend and I play mini-golf with a woman who drives a pickup truck that’s just about the same age and size as Red’s “Possum Van”, and she’s constantly workin’ on stuff, which means when you go over to the house it’s often like attending a live segment of “Handyman’s Corner”…and to tell you the truth, she has that kind of not-in-a-particular-hurry personality that would probably fit right in at the Lodge…and, as it turns out, she’s gay.

So how about that for a bit of a story: an introduction to a way of life you may have observed from a distance but never understood, a chance to have a few laughs on Red, and-most surprising of all-a chance to discover that, even 148 beer stores north of Toronto, there’s a place for all kinds of folks to come together and do just about as little as possible for as long as they can get away with it…or at least until the wife finds out.

And if you ask me, that’s a pretty good message for the start of summer.

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Wise Words from the Reverend

(Well worth a read. Leave a comment so Kerry will come blog more. – promoted by Julia Rosen)

In “A Year Later and Where are We” on Unite the Fight, Rev. Roland Stringfellow challenges our Equality Movement if we have embraced the lessons we learned during and after the No on Prop 8 campaign:

Here we are a year later and where do we find ourselves in the fight for marriage equality in California?  Two major camps debating on whether to return to the ballot in 2010 or 2012 and we have to ask ourselves the question, “Have we learned from our mistakes?”  Are egos and attitudes being altered in order for power to be shared and different voices heard?  Has a clear strategy been created and presented?  And what about our motivation – are we still angry and humiliated from our loss a year ago that we are planning to return to the polls with revenge?

While Rev. Stringfellow suggests some answers, he more importantly calls on us to self-evaluate. We are asking voters and society to recognize the dignity of LGBT people, but are we recognizing the value and dignity of those different from us? Of those who live on the East side, over the bridge or in the middle? Of those with whom we disagree about 2010 or 2012? Even of those who do not yet recognize our inherent human dignity as LGBT people?

We politicos are strategic thinkers and implementers who focus much of our energy on winning campaigns, but to achieve permanence in our victories we must ask and answer these questions.

Our campaign-driven focus helps us to win, but our Movement will ensure the effects of that win will last. Faith traditions are powerful examples of movements surviving and persevering over time, sometimes in the face of persecution. They survive because they ask the big questions and because they know the sustaining value of gathering in community. Across denominations, the core value in faith communities is relationship – relationship with one another, with their particular tradition and with something greater than themselves. It has sustained faith communities for thousands of years.

In my Jewish tradition, one of the first songs a child learns is hineh ma tov u’mah na’im shevet ahim gam yahad, loosely translated “How good it is to be together in relationship again.” Just as our Equality Movement needs campaign-driven focus, we need again to realize how good it is to be united in our purpose: Equality for ALL people.

One year later, our Equality Movement must learn this lesson in order to persevere.

On November 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th, Keeping the Faith for Equality events throughout California give us this opportunity for relationship. One year later, CA Faith for Equality, Courage Campaign, Equality California, Marriage Equality USA, and many, many other organizations and faith communities are gathering not to dwell on our loss a year ago, but to embrace the lessons we learned from that loss. Visit www.keepingthefaithforequality.org to find an event in your area.

July 2nd Could Spell The Beginning of the End for Prop 8 – The Team Behind the Case

(Movement on the big Olson/Boies Prop 8 case – promoted by Julia Rosen)

July 2nd could mark the beginning of the end to Prop 8, the controversial initiative that stripped California’s LGBT population of the right to marry.

Why? Because on July 2nd, the first hearing of the federal case brought against Prop 8 by power team Ted Olson and David Boies will be heard in the North California U.S. District Court with the case assigned to Judge Vaughn Walker.

Even more dramatically, Olson and Boies, who have an amazing track record of winning cases, had requested a preliminary injunction against the initiative while the courts heard the merits of their case. In other words, this would have put the enforcement of Prop 8 in the Golden State on hold during the trial, consequently allowing same-sex marriages to occur again.

The hearing on July 2nd would’ve centered around the merits of the injunction, but Judge Walker had other thoughts in mind, calling recently for a move to “proceed expeditiously to trial.”

“Given that serious questions are raised in these proceedings … the court is inclined to proceed directly and expeditiously to the merits of plaintiffs’ claims,” the judge declared. “The just, speedy and inexpensive determination of these issues would appear to call for proceeding promptly to trial.”

(See Case Document and Motion for Preliminary Injunction, Judge Walker’s Order for Trial)

This can be seen as a very good sign. The arguments for an injunction mirror the arguments to end Prop 8 altogether, and as the judge stated in his order, this simply demands that a trial must begin right away. Why put a “band-aid” on the situation when you can end the pain altogether?

“We are encouraged that the judge wants to dispense with the preliminaries and move quickly toward a final ruling on the unconstitutionality of Proposition 8,” Olson said in a press release. “This case is about protecting people’s fundamental Constitutional rights, and we agree that it is in everyone’s best interest to resolve this matter as quickly as possible. We are prepared to move forward at as fast a pace as the court desires.”

Prop 8 may be history very soon. That’s a lot to take in. But that’s what would happen in the best of circumstances. Many different circumstances can shift the fate of this case and how Prop 8 continues its reign over California.

It can be confusing sorting out all the facts, especially given some of the controversy surrounding the case. So I decided to go straight to the source for clarification on all the different possible outcomes and ramifications and spoke to the team taking the Prop 8 to task.

But first, some background.

How the Case Began

To find out how the case came into being, I went to Chad Griffin. Chad, who is openly gay, began his political career over a decade ago as the youngest person to work on a president’s West Wing staff and now works for his own political and communications strategy firm, Griffin Schake.

Similar to the experiences of millions of LGBT across the country, Chad told me about his own on election day. “I’m a political strategist – I was devastated like everyone – such a bittersweet experience with Obama becoming president while the banning of gay marriage in California and gay adoption in my home state of Arkansas passed. It was very difficult to celebrate.”

After allowing only a few hours to be depressed, Chad and some politically progressive friends, such as movie director Rob Reiner, producer Bruce Cohen and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, began discussing what was next.

“We’re in a war, and we discussed where we could take the war. If you have a single goal in winning that war, you want to have the opposition on the defensive on all fronts,” Chad said.  By the end of their discussion, they believed a federal case against Prop 8 would be a powerful next step.

Not long after, these friends, along with Griffin’s business partner Kristina Schake, founded the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER), created with the sole purpose to support this case. Not long after, they announced the board.

But who was to fight this case?

How Ted Olson and David Boies Took Up the Case

Chad recounted to me the night that he and the future board members of the AFER discussed next steps.

“We went down this path, discussing where donors can be putting their money and activists where they could be spending their time. In our discussions, someone mention that perhaps [Ted] Olson held the same view as us on gay marriage. I responded with skepticism and doubt.”

Why such doubt? If you recall the infamous presidential election of 2000 and the historical Bush V. Gore Supreme Court case which effectively determined the final result of the contested 2000 Presidential election.  Guess who argued for Bush. Ted Olson. He was later appointed by Bush as U.S. Solicitor General and served in the position until 2004.

Chad put aside his skepticism and gave Olson a call and was pleasantly surprised. They agreed to meet in Washington DC where Olson began to inform Chad of his impassioned beliefs for the equal rights of all LGBT.

“I realized I could be sitting in the room with the most eloquent, articulate game-changing spokesperson of our movement. As the conversation went on, I was quite impressed with his analysis of the legal aspects,” Chad told Unite the Fight. “We discussed timing, on now versus wait, and the arguments that could be used for and against, and the impacts on the LGBT community – how state sanctioned discrimination leads to the real life consequences, such as rising suicide rates in LGBT youth, who are being kicked out of their homes when they come out. Ted expressed his long held personal views of support for same-sex marriage.”

By the end of the meeting, Olson was on board, but Chad believed an “equally prominent co-counsel” was needed to push the case to the forefront of the fight for equal rights.

Olson suggested another powerhouse attorney David Boies, the lawyer he faced down in the Bush V. Gore case. Equally prominent indeed.

It didn’t take long to get Boies on board, and the once opposing attorneys immediately got to work. With two sets of same-sex unmarried couples with a desire to marry acting as plaintiffs, the case was filed and immediately, the media frenzy began. (AFER press conference.)

Criticisms Against the Case

Immediately, large organizations objected to the case, calling it premature and fearing that a loss could set back the marriage equality movement years if not decades.  The ACLU told Time that “The U.S. Supreme Court typically does not get too far ahead of either public opinion or the law in the majority of states.”

“Look at the Loving vs. Virginia case – if Loving would have waited for public opinion to catch up, they would have waited years if not decades,” Chad told me. “Only 17 percent of the American public were in favor of interracial marriage.”

“We’re now approaching 50 percent of the American public [in favor of marriage equality]. We have six states with marriage equality. The Supreme Court and our court system was not designed to wait on public opinion,” Chad continued.

“We can all agree to disagree on different tactics but at the end of the day, we all have the same goal – we can all agree on winning full federal rights for all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people,” Chad told me. But in most cases, “The response to the case has been overwhelmingly positive.”

AFER has also continued to talk to the specific organizations that originally objected, and after hearing more about the case, they have reacted more positively.  Since this discussion, the ACLU has done a 180 and along with other organizations, has filed “friend of the court” briefs in support of the case, as well as California Gov. Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown.

This led me to more specific questions. Why go federal now, especially with a divided Supreme Court with a conservative makeup? What’s the grounds of the argument of the case?

Chad humbly admitted to not being a lawyer and kindly directed me to Ted Boutrous Jr., partner at Gibson, Dunn and Cruther of which Ted Olson is also a partner.

But before signing off, Chad said, “I don’t think it’s correct to say that we have a divided [Supreme] Court – we have a 4/4 with Kennedy being a swing vote. The last two gay cases winning with a 5-4 vote.”

The Timing and Specifics of the Case

“We think we can win and can win now,” Ted Boutrous told me. “Based on the Supreme Court decisions in the Lawrence vs. Texas and Romer vs. Evans [gay rights] cases, the arguments are extremely strong.”

“Olson and Boies believe we can win now, and to win, you have to go in and give the arguments,” Boutrous continued. “It’s been the Supreme Court that has really been the change agent when it comes down to striking down discriminatory laws.”

Olson has a 75% win for his cases with Boies having an equally impressive track record, and both have argued numerous cases in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. If they believe we can win, that’s not something you take in lightly.

In talking with Boutrous and reading the AFER website, I learned of the core arguments supporting the federal case against Prop 8.

According to the suit, Prop 8:

-Violates the Due Process Clause by impinging on fundamental liberties.

-Violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Singles out gays and lesbians for a disfavored legal status, thereby creating a category of “secondclass citizens.”

-Discriminates on the basis of gender.

-Discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation.

There’s been a lot of talk about the case reaching the U.S. Supreme Court, but I wanted to know what had to happen first before it got there. Boutrous helped break it down for me.

First, the case must be heard in the  North California U.S. District Court by Judge Vaughn Walker. As mentioned, the hearing begins on July 2nd, and on this day, Judge Walker and the attorneys on both sides of the issue will determine how to “proceed expeditiously to trial.”

Second, most likely either side will appeal the ruling if it goes against their liking. In this case, it will then reach the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

It will only be after that ruling will either side appeal to go to the U.S. Supreme Court. But even then, the high court may not hear it. They will have to decide whether or not to take the case certiorari, which is the decision of the court to review a lower court’s opinion by “rule of four.” This means, four Supreme Court justices have to agree to hear the case.

Though one could never predict how the Supreme Court justices will decide, one major deciding factor tends to be whether or not the lower courts have made opposing decisions favoring one side or the other.

Either way you look at it, it could be awhile before the U.S. Supreme Court hears any case on Prop 8.

But I still had questions about the ramifications of the case going through the court system. What if the case wins? What if it loses? What effect, if any, will it have on a new initiative to repeal Prop 8 in either 2010 or 2012?



Ramifications of the Federal Case Against Prop 8

“First, we strongly believe we’re going to win,” Boutrous reiterated. “Second, whatever the court rules, it will be a crucial and necessary step to ultimate victory in equality for all. It’s not an all or nothing case.”

When I asked him what he meant, he explained, “This case will lay the foundation and create building blocks for future cases. Unless the courts begin now to examine these federal constitutional issues, it could be decades before progress is made.”

But isn’t it still a big risk for the movement?

“When you file a lawsuit like this, lawyers and clients need to do an analysis, and we determined now is the time do raise these challenges,” Boutrous said, again pointing to the phenomenal expertise of Olson and Boies.  “You do have to factor in the inherent challenges – We expect to win.”

“You’re not going to be able to gain your constitutional rights unless you go into court and argue for them,” he noted. “We think either way its crucial to get this issue before the Supreme Court now, or it can take 10, 20 30 years before we gain equality for all.  We think this is the time to raise these claims, we think we’re going to win.”

So what will it do for our rights if the case gains final victory?

“It could lead to the elimination of barriers across the country by the way the ruling is framed,” Boutrous answered.

But specific rights gained either just in California or nationwide lie in the details of the Supreme Court ruling itself, which no one can predict.

“With the Supreme Court, it could rule broadly [for all of the nation] or a targeted way against Prop 8, but we believe either way, the ruling would have signification ramifications across the country,” Boutrous told me.

In other words, California LGBT residents may earn back their right to marry, but the state-by-state battle would still continue. Or, the Supreme Court can say to hell with all the laws in the nation banning same-sex marriage, and the whole U.S. LGBT population will finally be allowed to legally marry and gain federal recognition.

How will this case affect a repeal Prop 8 effort in California in either 2010 or 2012?

Boutrous echoed Chad’s earlier words about fighting for LGBT rights on all fronts, both at the local level and at the federal level. If Prop 8 is overturned through a voter referendum, it could in fact render their case “moot.”

“We could very likely be geared to file a lawsuit in another state that continue to ban same-sex marriage. If Prop 8 were overturned at the ballot box, we would likely take everything that we have done in California and fight the battle there.”

“Olson and Boies are on opposite sides of the political aisle.  We think, to the public, this could help enhance the likelihood of success at the ballot box,” Boutrous continued. “If the worst news we get is that the voters have wiped Prop 8 off the books at the ballot box, then we will reevaluate our case with smiles on our faces.”

After talking to the very helpful Ted Boutrous Jr. and Chad Giffin, I was ready to type up everything I learned and share it to the Unite the Fight leadership.

But then the horrible and offensive Department of Justice (DOJ) brief defending DOMA was released under the watch of Obama’s Administration in reaction to another federal case. As I got caught up in reporting on the brief, I kept thinking, “What bearing at all does this have on the Prop 8 case?”



The Consequences of the DOMA Brief for the Federal Case Against Prop 8

Armed with new questions, I was directed to to speak to Gibson Dunn and Crutcher partner Matthew McGill, who is on the Prop 8 litigation team at the firm.

I jumped right in, asking, “The DOJ just issued a brief defending DOMA, and stated that ‘DOMA Is Consistent with Equal Protection and Due Process Principles.’ Though your case is against Prop 8 and not DOMA, doesn’t this still cut down the core of your argument against it? How will this affect your case?”

McGill didn’t skip a beat.

“We don’t think it affects it very much if at all,” he said. “The analysis is quite different as to whether a federal statute violates the [Equal Protection] principles as opposed to this particular state provision. We think it’s an entirely different analysis.”

“We think that the government’s defense of DOMA is quite wrong and wrong-headed. It’s not a defensible position for any number of independent reasons,” he continued. “When the government discriminates, it has to have a reason. For certain forms of discrimination, it has to have a really powerful reason.”

“Some of the interests that the government might use to defend DOMA arise out of the fact that the federal government uniquely has to deal with 50 states plus DC and Puerto Rico and other territories and all of these state regimes at the same time,” McGill said. “The federal government argues this allows it to apply the lowest common denominator when it comes to marriage equality. It only need recognize as valid marriages the stingiest state view of marriage.”

So where does Prop 8 fit into this?

“That argument is simply not available to defend Prop 8,” McGill answered. “[California] is not in the position of the federal government having to contend with 50 different legal regimes.”

“When you’re taking on a federal statute like DOMA, you’re taking on the United States,” McGill told me. “I think part of the reason we’ve chosen at this point to limit our challenge to Prop 8 is to take things one step at a time. When people heard that a federal lawsuit had been filed, they assumed it was an all or nothing gambit for those seeking marriage equality. And that’s simply not true. We’d be very satisfied to establish marriage equality in California, and then work from that precedent to move and take on the next battle in a position of strength.”



Thursday, July 2nd

So, with my questions having been answered by the helpful team fighting Prop 8, I now wait with bated breath for Thursday, July 2nd, to watch them in action as the hearings for the case begin, leading hopefully to a speedy trial, and ultimately, the end of Prop 8.

No one said this was going to be an easy fight, nor did they claim there was one path to victory.  But in my humble opinion, it can’t hurt to be fighting on all fronts, including the extremely difficult federal front. But with the amazing Olson and Boies on our side, a team that Chad beautifully described as our movement’s “grandest of coups,” how can we not support it?

Let’s Not Forget Our Pledge of Allegiance

I pledge allegiance

To the Flag

Of the United States of America

And to the Republic

For which it stands

One nation

Under God

Indivisible

With liberty and justice

For all

When was the last time you really thought about the words that you had to speak everyday at the beginning of class throughout your childhood?  At that time, after awhile, you spoke it by rote while barely placing your hand over your heart, not really paying attention to what you were saying, giggling with your friend at the next desk over about some joke on the playground.  So over time, it lost all meaning.

But suddenly, your rights are stripped away, and you think, “How the hell did this happen?”  And then you remember.  “Didn’t I pledge something, about a Republic?”  And suddenly, that droning recital you gave every morning at school has a whole lot of meaning.

I pledge allegiance

Those of us fighting for our equal rights have been accused of being non-American, of trying to thwart the very foundation of our country.  Yet, if I remember right, my history teacher told me that the very reason our country exists was because the colonists who worked their hands to the bone to establish this country (or worked their slaves’ hands to the bone), believed they didn’t have a voice in how they were governed.  “Taxation without representation,” became their motto.  And if I’m not confused, am I not paying taxes NOW for numerous benefits I’m being denied?  Where’s my representation?  So fighting for my rights, my equal rights, to those benefits, is in the exact nature of how our country even began!  I’m standing by my allegiance!



To the Flag

Of the United States of America

. . . 48, 49, 50.  Yep, there’s still fifty stars on that flag.  Meaning, all states make up the Union.  Oh, wait, there’s thirteen stripes, representing the original thirteen colonies that fought for their voices to be heard.  So if I’m interpreting the flag correctly, those fifty stars stand in solidarity with the intent of the colonies to have equal representation.

So why is it that each state can decide for itself whether or not to allow some people marry?  Why is that I can get married in Connecticut, but then drive to North Carolina and suddenly not be married?  That doesn’t sound like a Union to me.

And speaking of the Union as a whole – the federal government doesn’t recognize some marriages while it does others?  Even going as far as to discriminate against its employees?  Doesn’t that go against the very essence of equal representation that its creation was based upon?

And to the Republic

For which it stands. . .

A republic.  A republic?  What’s that?

A Republic is representative government ruled by law (the Constitution). Then what’s a democracy?  A democracy is direct government ruled by the majority (mob rule). A Republic recognizes the inalienable rights of individuals while democracies are only concerned with group wants or needs (the public good).  Of course, if everyone remembered this, or agreed with said definitions, maybe I would still have my rights.  Hopefully, President Obama will remember.

One Nation

Under God

“Under God” was an addition first introduced by the Knights of Columbus.  Need I say more?  Their version of God is not quite mine.  I do believe in a higher power, but I don’t believe that the higher power is condemning me to hell for loving another person, whether or not they are of the same sex as I.



Indivisible

One nation.  I pledged that.  I’m not trying to tear us apart. I’m trying to regain my rights and fight for the rights that my fellow citizens already enjoy.  If anything, that’s unifying our nation. But I believe if someone is actively trying to take someone’s rights away, they’re trying to divide.  So in effect, are they not breaking their pledge?

With Liberty

I don’t have the liberty to marry whom I want.  I did.  At least in California.  But that was taken away.  But a bare majority.  (Re-read what a Republic is)

. . . and Justice for all.

Ah.  Justice.  I’m still waiting to see if the California Supreme Court will issue justice here.  During the Proposition 8 arguments, they kept referring to the will of the people, almost as if they had the final say.  But in a republic, “people” is singular.   Each individual has a say.   Each.  And their say is protected.  In a democracy, “people” is plural, and the majority rule.

I believe I am a “people.”  I believe my LGBT community is a “people.”   And my will, along with theirs, is to have the same rights as my fellow citizens.

Having those rights is justice.

Sources:

Citizens for Constitutional Government, “Republic vs. Democracy”

Wikipedia, “Addition of the words ‘Under God'”

Utah Think Tank Challenges “Common Ground” with “Sacred Ground”

As a response to post Prop 8 comments from local LDS Church leaders and a supportive poll of Utah voters on an openness to equal rights for the LGBT community, several Utah legislators — working with Equality Utah — put together the Common Ground Initiative, in an attempt to create a dialog, and encourage Mormon leaders (who have undoubtedly large influence over legislative policy in the state) to make good on their statements.

In response, The Sutherland Institute, Utah’s leading (only) think tank and Heritage Foundation offspring — infamous here for holding an “Earth Day” event hosted by Roy Innis and other energy industry hacks — has pieced together their own campaign to counter the adult discussions with petty divisiveness titled Sacred Ground. (pdf)  They’ve scheduled several “State of the Union – Stand Up for Marriage” events here locally (targeting bloggers, legislators, and local media) hosted by Utah’s worst Wing-nut (and believe me that’s saying a lot) LaVar Christensen (Direct Quote: “Tolerance is the religion of people who no longer believe in anything.”) , and completing the campaign with a published book and YouTube campaign.

What is notable about this vindictive effort to oppose a rational dialog between Utah legislators and religious leaders before it even begins is not the content, or the fact that Sutherland is aggressively campaigning against equality. Their fear of change is to be expected.  What stands out is the creativity and thoroughness of their campaign, which involves complete media outreach — which I’ve been subjected to almost daily as a local radio host and blogger — and a full (and also first time, for the state) embrace of “new media.”  Their efforts to target bloggers glares especially, as it surpasses the outreach seen so far from either the minority Democratic Party, or the near super-majority state Republican Party.

Sutherland’s campaign not only poses a threat to any meaningful discussion and inclusive legislation here in Utah, but it also stands to circumvent the (admittedly tepid) efforts of the Utah Democratic Party and other activist groups to build online outreach and a coalition behind the “Common Ground” Senators and other progressive policies.

In essence, despite recent polling that shows Utahn’s are open to equality based legislation, Sutherland stands a real chance of winning this one within the state simply by getting their irresponsible message out further and faster.

Watch Sutherland’s “Sacred Ground” video here

UPDATE: We’ll host an on air discussion today with Michael Mueller of Utahns for Marriage Equality. Live stream/chat begins at 4pm (MST).  Click to join in. Podcast will also be available after the show.

Los Angeles Marches against Prop H8

As I headed toward downtown Los Angeles this morning on a bus packed with people carrying ‘No on H8 signs’ I felt like a true movement toward equality was  solidifying. Los Angeles in not a city to embrace public transportation, but folks of all shapes and sizes left their cars at home and packed together to raise their voices at L.A.’s ‘Join The Impact’ rally and march. Once we streamed off the bus we flooded into the crowd of thousands of others chanting and carrying signs- in the name of equal rights.

 

I met up with a group of volunteers from the Courage Campaign to help collect signatures to repeal Prop. 8. If you haven’t signed yet, check out the pledge here http://www.couragecampaign.org/page/s/repealprop8. The pledge was such a hit that one of my clipboards was literally carried away by a crowd of people who kept asking there neighbor to sign-on.

A moving line-up of speakers kicked-off the day.  Mayor Antonio  Villaraigosa helicoptered in leaving the worst fires the city has seen in years to speak with the crowd of 12,000. Reverend Lee from the SCLC who marched with Martin Luther King  gave an amazing speech about how far we’ve come and how far we have to travel for true equal rights. The vibe in the streets was a rare one for LA- it truly felt like a city of neighbors coming together to support one another.   To me, the most amazing stories were the ones told on signs like in the photos below- like those held by a couple who before Prop. 8 passed was scheduled to be married today and the ones two fathers were holding showing images of them and their kids with the words ‘un-marry this.’

 

 

I left today’s march feeling hopeful about marriage equality and the movement growing. We’ve got a lot of  work to do, but awareness and action are building. Hopefully the pictures and the images in this blog convey that for those who weren’t at today’s march. If you were there and you see that clipboard with the Courage Campaign petition that sailed away in the crowd- please send in the signatures to the address listed!