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It’s decision day for Prop 8 & DOMA at the Supreme Court–here’s EOT’s game plan

By Jacob Combs

Well, today’s the day: after more than three roller-coaster years, it all comes down to this.  This site began as Prop8TrialTracker.com in January 2010, covering the Proposition 8 trial–then called Perry v. Schwarzenegger–in a San Francisco district court.  We were there when Prop 8 was struck down the first time; we were there when the Ninth Circuit held oral arguments; we were there when Prop 8 was struck down a second time; we were there when the Supreme Court heard arguments on Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act.  And of course, we’re here to report on whatever the Supreme Court’s decisions may be today.

As I’ve said before, it’s a privilege to be a part of this community and this movement, especially as a gay Californian.  We’re hopeful that today will bring good news, and if it doesn’t, I know that my home state and our community will rally together and continue striving for equal treatment under the law for all Americans.

Here’s the EqualityOnTrial plan for today.  We’ll be publishing a liveblog post about 10-15 minutes before 10 a.m. Eastern time, when the Supreme Court is scheduled to convene.  That post will be the place to stay tuned throughout the morning–we’ll have news of the rulings as soon as they’re announced, as well as quick analysis from me and Scottie and reactions from around the web.  We’ll also post a brief breaking news post devoted to each ruling, but the place for up-to-the-minute news will be the liveblog.

Later today, we’ll be conducting a CoveritLive chat to answer all your questions about the rulings–stay tuned for firmer details on that, which will take place late morning Pacific time/early afternoon Eastern.  After the CoveritLive chat, Scottie and I will write in-depth analysis of the two rulings.

As always, please join us in the comments sections!  And of course, you should follow the entire EOT team on Twitter: the site’s handle is @EqualityOnTrial, mine is @jacobdcombs, Scottie’s is @indiemcemopants and Adam’s is @adamjbink.  We’re looking forward to an exciting day!

Leave a Comment June 26, 2013

Whither conservative media’s opposition to marriage equality?

By Jacob CombsDaily Caller logo

Writing in Business Insider, Josh Barro points out that the conservative reaction to Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s statement of support for marriage equality this Wednesday was, essentially, to not react.  Barro did some web sleuthing to see how conservative outlets were covering the story, and his results were pretty surprising:

Nothing at National Review, the Weekly Standard, Human Events, the Washington Free Beacon, or the American Spectator. Breitbart.com ran two Associated Press stories. WorldNetDaily ran an NBC News story. The Daily Caller and RedState mentioned Murkowski in pieces about immigration reform, but nothing on gay marriage.

The only conservative outlet I found covering Murkowski was the Washington Examiner, which ran a straightforward news story about her announcement.

Even more intriguing, though, are Barro’s hypotheses for why the right-leaning media avoided the issue:

A substantial share of the staffers at these publications, especially the younger ones, are now supporters of gay marriage. National Review ran a feature piece arguing for gay marriage in 2011.

Those who oppose gay marriage are sick to death of talking about the issue. They know they are losing the fight over public opinion and that their complaints are not going to convince anybody. And making those complaints has become awkward, because opposing gay marriage has come to be seen as rude in polite society.

Timothy Kincaid has some particularly nuanced thoughts on the issue in a piece posted yesterday at Box Turtle Bulletin that is well worth reading in full.  In essence, Kincaid’s argument is that the burden of proof has shifted from marriage equality opponents to marriage equality supporters in such a way that the framing of the entire issue has changed:

[I]t seems to me that we have entered a phase in which one can be “not ready” or “not convinced” or “not yet evolved” on the issue of marriage equality. That’s simply opinion. But to be actively opposed suggests a character flaw, something with a whiff of nastiness and maybe even vile. The public – right and left – seem to have decided that you can support gay marriage or you can not support gay marriage, but you can’t oppose gay marriage any longer.

That last sentence is particularly astute.  I would argue that this is the real-world manifestation of the so-called ‘tipping point’ for marriage equality that I and others have written about before.  It’s the result of a majority of Americans going from polling consistently against equal marriage rights to polling consistently for them, and a product of the remarkable success of marriage equality ballot measures in the 2012 election.  Today, equal marriage advocates are confident and emboldened, while opponents appear cowed.

To me, the central point that Kincaid picks up on is that, for a majority of Americans today, support for marriage equality seems like an obvious position, and opposition seems like something that has to be justified.  With that in mind, it might be wise for the conservative media to keep quiet about marriage equality–they really don’t have much to add to the conversation these days.

Leave a Comment June 21, 2013

Florida county commission unanimously repeals gay pride ban

By Jacob CombsScreen Shot 2013-06-06 at 10.22.19 AM

By a 7-0 vote, the Hillsborough County Commission voted yesterday to repeal a policy that prohibited the county from recognizing gay pride, the Tampa Bay Times reported:

For years, Hillsborough County stood firm, refusing to protect gays from discrimination as other governments approved domestic partnerships and even gay marriage.

But Hillsborough County commissioners reversed course Wednesday, overturning a local policy many gay rights activists saw as the ultimate insult. They voted 7-0 to repeal a ban on county government recognition of gay pride, a movement the ban’s instigator once dismissed with a “little g, little p.”

“And repealed should be capitalized,” said Commissioner Kevin Beckner, who led the reversal. “Capital ‘R.’”

During the commission’s meeting regarding the bill, one pastor said that the county risked losing the “favor of God” if it repealed the gay pride ban.  Another clergyman, Tony Smart, said that government “should not endorse or promote any sexual preference.”

The ban, passed in 2005, was the brainchild of conservative then-Commissioner Ronda Storms, who proposed the measure in response to what she believed was an inappropriate flier for gay pride she saw in a county library.  The commission voted 5-1 in favor of her proposal and added an extra requirement saying it could only be appealed by a supermajority vote after a public hearing.

One of the commissioners, Republican Mark Sharpe, teared up as he expressed regret for voting in favor of the ban in 2005.  ”I teach my kids that when you make a mistake, you correct it yourself,” he said, “to not be afraid when you make a mistake and to fight like hell to stick up for the weak and the people who are different than you and people looking for help.”

Early this year, the Hillsborough County Commission voted 4-3 against a proposal to establish a domestic partner registry that would have provided same-sex couples with modest protections in terms of healthcare and child rearing.  Several other Florida jurisdictions, including Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Pinellas County, currently have such registries.

After the jump, you can watch two videos from the commission’s meeting: one of Equality Florida Executive Director Nadine Smith, and another of out Democratic County Commissioner Kevin Beckner.  (h/t Towleroad for these videos) (more…)

2 Comments June 6, 2013

Equality news round-up: Support for marriage equality climbs among older Americans, and more

By Scottie Thomaston

Bisbee, Arizona
Bisbee, Arizona

- On DOMA and immigration.

- “In Tennessee, gay marriage has young doubting Republicans.”

- Former Congressman Charles Bass calls on Republicans to support full marriage equality.

- A new Gallup poll shows that people over the age of 55 now support marriage equality.

- The town of Bisbee, AZ has approved its civil unions measure that EqualityOnTrial has covered several times. The measure was amended after objections and threats of a lawsuit, and the new version passed.

A new Pew poll surveys acceptance of homosexuality in other countries.

Leave a Comment June 5, 2013

Where is the White House study on LGBT employment discrimination?

By Jacob Combs

President Obama speakng at Second Inaugural Address

In a piece published yesterday, Metro Weekly‘s Justin Snow examines the Obama administration’s sclerotic approach to LGBT employment discrimination protections:

It was more than a year ago, in April 2012, that leaders from some of the nation’s largest LGBT-rights organizations sat down for a meeting at the White House. In attendance was White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, who told them that President Barack Obama would not sign an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from LGBT workplace discrimination

The news was a major and unexpected blow that came after weeks of speculation that the president would make good on his 2008 campaign promise to sign such an executive order, which would protect about 20 percent of the civilian workforce.

Among the consolations made to advocates in the room that day was news that a study would be conducted on LGBT workplace discrimination, possibly led by the Council of Economic Advisors, and released with the White House’s seal of approval. Advocates insisted the study was unnecessary and that plenty of data already existed. Winnie Stachelberg, executive vice president for external affairs at the Center for American Progress, was among those in the meeting and described announcement of the study as “confounding and disappointing.”

Never mind the fact–as underscored by HRC Vice President Fred Sainz in an email to Snow–that there was plenty of data on the issue and that further research was seen by LGBT advocates as unnecessary.

But as Snow points out, there has been no news from the White House on any such study, nor any course of action on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit companies from firing employees on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity, nor the issuing of an executive order banning such discrimination amongst federal contractors.  At yesterday’s White House press briefing, press secretary Jay Carney responded to a Metro Weekly question on ENDA with, “I don’t have any updated status on that for you.”

There’s something remarkable about the fact that President Obama–and the Democratic Party at large–have so thoroughly rallied to the cause of marriage equality, an issue on which public opinion is shifting rapidly in favor but which remains an issue of marked contention amongst the American people.  Employment discrimination provisions, on the other hand, enjoy overwhelming public support (favored by more than 70 percent of Americans), yet the president and other politicians have seemed to drag their feet on the issue.  What makes this even more remarkable is the fact that ENDA has already been considered by the House and failed by a single vote, 49-50, in 1996–17 years ago!

Of course, it is possible (and likely) that the president and his allies are waiting until the Supreme Court acts on DOMA and Prop 8 to decide how to proceed with ENDA.  Although the two issues are substantially unrelated, the Court’s decisions on marriage equality later this month are undoubtedly going to be huge news that will dominate the media’s coverage of LGBT rights for a while.  It may be advisable to hold off an ENDA EO until after the decisions in order to maximize the political significance of the move.

Still, the end goal remains a legislative ENDA that would protect all workers, not just those who work for federal contractors.  Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, is planning on holding a markup of ENDA this summer, and the chances for a full Senate vote look good for later this year.  But while the timing of these events remains murky, the White House’s position does not have to be.  Once the Supreme Court has issued its rulings, the White House should announce clearly and specifically how it plans to make ENDA law.

4 Comments June 5, 2013

American Bar Association may ban gay and trans panic defenses

By Scottie Thomaston

Marco McMillian, whose murderer floated 'gay panic' defense. Attribution: The New Civil Rights Movement
Marco McMillian, whose murderer floated ‘gay panic’ defense. Attribution: The New Civil Rights Movement

In August, the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates will consider a resolution that would minimize or eliminate use of the “gay panic” and “trans panic” defenses by defense attorneys. That legal strategy is most prominently associated with the murder of Matthew Shepard, and it was used in the trial of the murderer of Lawrence King. Essentially, perpetrators of violent crimes against LGBT people are defended under the theory that they committed the crime because of the victim’s LGBT identity, so they’re not responsible for their crimes. In the trial of Matthew Shepard’s killer, the defense team asserted that the murder was caused by Shepard, because, they said, he made a pass at the murderer, making him uncomfortable. (The “gay panic” defense was eventually barred by the judge in that trial.) In the Lawrence King trial, the defense team made the same basic argument: King was flamboyant and that caused McInerney his killer to shoot him in class. The trans panic defense asserts that a transgender person’s identity is so shocking it can lead someone to commit violent crimes against them, such as in the case of Angie Zapata’s killer.

Gay and trans panic defenses were popular in past decades but less successful in recent years. Still, they promote the idea that a LGBT person’s identity is a threat, and is responsible for crimes committed against them.

The resolution, if passed, would disallow the defense in court; the resolution also requires training for judges and lawyers, and jury instruction.

The proposal was submitted by the National LGBT Bar Association, and the ABA’s Criminal Justice Section will take it up at their annual August meeting. The National LGBT Bar Association’s executive director commented on the importance of their resolution:

“This resolution puts an end to a longstanding injustice in our legal system and gives a voice to countless lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender victims of violence, a voice we never hear because they are no longer here to speak for themselves,” said D’Arcy Kemnitz, executive director of the LGBT Bar.
[...]
“We have been fighting against gay and trans panic defenses for more than 15 years,” said Kemnitz. “We must protect the LGBT community by refusing to allow defendants to use a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity to justify their heinous crimes.”

As recently as this year, after the murder of a gay, black mayoral candidate in Mississippi, lawyers for the defense floated the idea of saying the murder was committed because of gay panic.

6 Comments June 4, 2013

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