Tag Archive | supreme court

The Work is Not Over – Gay Rights

Batman (formerly Triple Threat, formerly Teddy, formerly Laura, formerly Batman, now Batman again thankfully) was the first to tell me in a text moments after the decision.  But despite being in the middle of nowhere, various media and even people i did not know spent energy getting me this message of this significant political advancement in the US.

Mass protest was part of the strategy

Mass protest was part of the strategy

There are lots of important takeaways from this win.  First it is important to look at how far we have come, and how fast.  Less than two decades ago, arguably progressive (on social issues) president Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which was basically the opposite of the current supreme court ruling, prohibiting the federal government from recognizing gay marriages.  This was a popular move in 1996.  What happened?

The arch of history is long, and bends towards justice

The arch of history is long, and bends towards justice

Certainly, demographics is one factor.  A bunch of closed minded anti-marriage-equality folks have died off in the last 20 years.  More importantly, many kids have grown up seeing that their gay uncle or lesbian guidance counselor is cool and worthy of legal protection.  But remember that social conservatives dominate both houses of congress and the current supreme court.  We did not age our way into this significant change.

The work is not yet done

The work is not yet done

At the front of the list of who gets credit for this change is the gay community itself, which prioritized same-sex marriage as an issue, deemed it winnable, and ran endless legal challenges and referenda to secure this right.  They put out a simple, understandable message (“I should get to marry the person I love”) and kept repeating it until people got it. It also helped that after Massachusetts allowed gay marriage in 2004, absolutely nothing happened, despite endless forecast the world as we knew it would end.  (Except that the Red Sox won the World Series for the first time since 1918.)  It became harder to pretend that same-sex marriage would result in increased divorces, etc.

Second in my analysis is that the mainstream media (MSM), who generally don’t get credit for doing much right in my book, actually came around on this issue.

I’ve written about how MTV was central in shifting young people’s thinking on gay rights in eastern Europe.  And despite Fox News’ endless pandering to the Religious Right’s bigoted refusal to accept marriage equality, basically the rest of the MSM began more favorable coverage of the issue.  This is partially about the way they covered the news, but it is more about the stories which got told in various TV shows which then influenced viewers’ thinking.  The villainized gay character depictions have significantly diminished in the last couple of decades and have been replaced by cooler gay characters or at least ones that straight viewers can relate to.  My son, Willow, watches the television show Modern Family in which a gay couple gets married and adopts an Asian daughter and raises her.  This is the new normal.  The idea that gay people should be denied rights because of religious works from 2,000 years ago is as stupid as 8 track tapes.   Why would you want to do that?

Television defines what is normal

Television defines what is normal

It is also important to point out that this decision barely passed.  Supreme Court Justice Scalia had a number of epic stupid things to say about the decision he opposed.

“Really? Who ever thought that intimacy and spirituality (whatever that means) were freedoms? And if intimacy is, one would think Freedom of Intimacy is abridged rather than expanded by marriage. Ask the nearest hippie. Expression, sure enough, is a freedom, but anyone in a long-lasting marriage will attest that that happy state constricts, rather than expands, what one can prudently say.”

Conservative Judge Kennedy voted in favor of the decision largely because of the thousands of children across the country who’s parents were not legally allowed to get married under existing prohibitions.  This single conservative defection enabled the court to do the right thing in its 5-4 split decision.

The good news is that their ideological blindness will likely once again bite the Republicans in the hind quarters.  Immediately after the decision, GOP Presidential hopefuls started coming out against the ruling.  Scott Walker, showing is detachment from the national reality is echoing the 2012 GOP platform in calling for a Constitutional amendment to block same sex marriages.  This strikes me as a special form of political suicide.  Former Pennsylvania senator (and GOP presidential candidate) Rick Santorum said: “Today, 5 unelected judges redefined the foundational unit of society. Now it is the people’s turn to speak.”  Clearly Santorum has no ability to read polls. The people have spoken; the judges are simply parroting them.

And as pointed out in the two rings graphic above, there is still tremendous work to do in changing unjust laws across the country.  So let’s celebrate this important win and let’s keep organizing.

The Supremes get a D

Like many progressive/radicals i was pleased that the US Supreme Court struck down parts of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)  denying federal benefits to same sex couples.   The court dodged the much bigger issue of whether same sex marriage should be legal in all 50 states.  Were this the only important Supreme Court decision this week, i would give the court a B-.  But it was not.

The Supremes also cut out one of the most important sections of the voting rights act.  This section required some states, especially southern states with terrible histories around discriminatory voting practices, to get federal approval before changing their voting requirements.   The newly-eliminated section of the VRA worked so well that it dramatically increased the number of black voters as well as enabling black members of congress hopefuls to get elected.

Civil Rights marchers Circa 1963

Civil Rights marchers Circa 1963

Also recently, the 5 conservative justices shot down much of the right to remain silent.  The court gave greater flexibility to police to question suspects and even pressure them into making confessions.  This is especially disturbing given the number of forced and false confessions which have been discovered with DNA testing in recent years.


They also recently decided a case that guts the ability of local municipalities to secure public benefits when private developers plan to cause local harm.  This is a 5th amendment case, which requires compensation from the government when private land is “taken”.  In this case, what was “taken” was permission to develop the land in an environmentally sensitive area.  We can expect developers to sue municipalities more for their rights to develop after this ruling.


In the case which Acorn‘s seed business is bringing against Monsanto, a lower court ruled that organic farmers couldn’t fight Monsanto patents in court.  These patents are so powerful that Monsanto employees can break into farmers land, steal their crops and test them for their GMOs.  Before this case Monsanto was successfully intimidating small farmers who had been contaminated (but had not paid Monsanto for the privilege).  The one silver lining to this case is that the Federal court interpreted Monsanto’s endless statements to the court about not suing as an actually legally binding commitment to not sue any farmer who has a 1% or less contamination level. This, combined with Japan and Korea boycotting some US wheat because of Monsanto contamination means Monsanto is not completely unstoppable.  [Separately, the Supremes can be rightly blamed for their 9-0 decision earlier this year guaranteeing Monsanto’s right to patent seeds and collect damages from all who use their seeds without paying.]

These cases combined give the highest court an unsatisfactory grade of D.

And before we all celebrate the death of DOMA and Prop 8, please remember the fact that in 33 states you can still be legally fired or kicked out of your house for being transgender – and in 29 states you can be fired or evicted for being gay. There is much work to be done.

All honest mistakes are forgivable

Rez and i were chatting about mistakes, he was mentioning business school classes which instead of focusing on the decision making process of successful business highlighted the critical mistakes made by companies which were otherwise well run and now no longer exist.  We agreed that this is where the most useful learning probably is.

My philosophy has long been to try lots of things and not fear mistakes.  Which has led me to the aphorism “All honest mistakes are forgivable.” Hoping that those negatively impacted by my choices will embrace a similar philosophy and let me off the hook while also pushing me towards being a more forgiving person.


I watch the google news.  It tracks what the mainstream media thinks is important and uses it’s artificial intelligence to connect related stories and rank them.  The story yesterday which did not make it “above the fold”  either in general news or US news was that the “ex-gay” ministry Exodus had closed and offered an apology to the LGBTQ community it had been attacking for 37 years.

The piece of the apology from Exodus leader Alan Chambers which spoke most loudly to me was:

I have heard many firsthand stories from people called ex-gay survivors. Stories of people who went to Exodus affiliated ministries or ministers for help only to experience more trauma. I have heard stories of shame, sexual misconduct, and false hope. In every case that has been brought to my attention, there has been swift action resulting in the removal of these leaders and/or their organizations. But rarely was there an apology or a public acknowledgement by me. 

hiding / solving a mistake with correcting fluid

I am unsure Exodus made an honest mistake, but i am glad they have changed their mind and hope for dominos to tumble.

Angie says- Pax asked me to chime in on this post and explain why it’s important, so I am. The remainder of the post is my own opinion, so don’t blame him (or do, if you agree with me).

“Conversion therapy” had been the name of the game in the religious community for years; it’s based around the idea that if we JUST TRIED HARD ENOUGH that we could change our desires (or at least our behaviors) and act straight.  Conversion therapy takes many forms including talk therapy to find the “root” of the issue, behavioral therapy to encourage more “gender appropriate” behavior, and negative reinforcement such as electric shocks, pubic shaming, starvation, nausea-inducing drugs.  It’s destroyed thousands of lives.  Thankfully conversion therapy (sometimes called reparative therapy) is no longer an acceptable mainstream treatment, and is gradually being seen as an unacceptable practice even in conservative circles.  It’s now even illegal to force minors into such “therapy” in some countries and states.

Exodus was a, more accurately THE, leader in the field of conversion therapy.  Alan Chambers is himself a man who is attracted to other men, and the harm his organization did other gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer people is immeasurable.  For decades Exodus was the go to organization for churches and religious families to “fix” LGBQ people (they didn’t address trans issues much, I am using a more appropriate acronym).  Exodus’s apology is akin to the pope himself apologizing for their years of sweeping sexual abuse cases under the rug, then announcing that the Catholic Church would close it’s doors.  Yes, there are other organizations out there which will pick up the banner, but they do not have the history, deep pockets, or visibility that Exodus cultivated and enjoyed.

Chambers’ public, blunt apology is almost unheard of in the modern world; apologies usually involve weaselly phrases like “I’m sorry you were offended” or “well, that’s just what I believe.”  Chambers didn’t go the “being gay is AWESOME AND I’M GAY NOW” route; he remains married to his wife and committed to Christian ministry.  He also didn’t go the “I changed my mind, the bible says it’s ok to be gay” route; he is quite clear that he believes the scriptures are clear on what is and is not acceptable sexual behavior.  It’s not a complete 180, but it’s a huge step forward from a former leader in the “ex-gay” field.  And you know what?  This queer gal is okay with that (for now, at least).  Because this is the part of his apology that mattered the most to me:

I cannot simply move on and pretend that I have always been the friend that I long to be today….

I am sorry that there were times I didn’t stand up to people publicly “on my side” who called you names like sodomite—or worse. I am sorry that I, knowing some of you so well, failed to share publicly that the gay and lesbian people I know were every bit as capable of being amazing parents as the straight people that I know. I am sorry that when I celebrated a person coming to Christ and surrendering their sexuality to Him that I callously celebrated the end of relationships that broke your heart. I am sorry that I have communicated that you and your families are less than me and mine….

But I do not have any desire to fight you on your beliefs or the rights that you seek. My beliefs about these things will never again interfere with God’s command to love my neighbor as I love myself.  

You have never been my enemy. I am very sorry that I have been yours.