The Daily Agenda for Thursday, June 30
June 30th, 2011
Marriage Ballot Initiative Kick-Off: Portland Maine. Equality Maine and Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) are set to announce an initiative to collect 57,000 signatures by next January. The ballot initiative will ask Maine voters whether same-sex marriage should be legal in the state. In 2009, Maine voters rejected marriage equality 53%-47%. LGBT advocates say things will be different this time, citing recent polls saying that Mainers now support marriage equality 53% to 39%, with 7% having no opinion. That last group will undoubtedly pick up an opinion between now and election day, and when you throw in whatever the margin of error happens to be (for most polls, it’s between plus or minus 4-6%) , and that looks uncomfortably close to me.
There are added difficulties. In 2009, Maine’s Question 1 was the only one like it in the country, making LGBT advocates in that state the beneficiaries of donations from across the country. In 2012, Minnesota will also have an anti-gay ballot measure, and North Carolina may be on its way. Meanwhile, it’s not clear whether any LGBT groups campaigning for marriage equality have learned the lessons of past elections. Hard questions about tactics need to be asked — and answered. I asked those questions before, and was blasted for doing so. But I’ll ask them again because one thing is certain: doing the same thing we’ve always done will only get us the same results. All that said, it’s hard to tell anyone not to fight for equality, and so this fight deserves our support along with all the others.
TODAY IN HISTORY:
Bowers v. Hardwick: 1986. It all started in August, 1982, when Michael Hardwick threw a beer bottle into a trash can outside of an Atlanta gay bar. A police officer cited him for public drinking. When Hardwick failed to arrive for his court date, a warrant was issued for his arrest. Several weeks later — after Hardwick realized his error and paid the ticket — a police officer went to Hardwick’s apparent to serve the arrest warrant. The police officer entered the apartment (accounts differ on how he got in), and discovered Hardwick and a male companion engaged in oral sex, which Georgia defined as “sodomy” under the law. Both men were arrested, but the local district attorney decided not to press charges. Hardwick then sued Georgia attorney general Michael Bowers in federal court seeking to overturn the state’s sodomy law. The ACLU agreed to take the case on Hardwick’s behalf.
A federal judge in Atlanta dismissed the case, siding with the Attorney General. Hardwick appealed to the Eleventh Court of Appeals, which reversed the lower court’s ruling. Bowers then appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled on this date — during pride week — in 1986 that Hardwick’s right to privacy did not extend to private, consensual sexual conduct — at least as far as gay sex was concerned. Justice Byron White, writing for the majority, barely concealed his contempt for gay people. He wrote, “to claim that a right to engage in such conduct is ‘deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition’ or ‘implicit in the concept of ordered liberty’ is, at best, facetious.” Chief Justice Warren Berger, in a concurring opinion, piled on: “To hold that the act of homosexual sodomy is somehow protected as a fundamental right would be to cast aside millennia of moral teaching.”
Justice Lewis Powell was considered the deciding vote. It has been reported that he originally voted to strike down the law but changed his mind after a few days. In 1990, after Powell had retired three ears earlier, he told a group law students that he considered his opinion in Bowers was mistake. “I do think it was inconsistent in a general way with Roe. When I had the opportunity to reread the opinions a few months later I thought the dissent had the better of the arguments.” His mistake would remain the law of the land for another seventeen years, until Bowers itself was held to be “not correct” in Lawrence v. Texas.
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