The Daily Agenda for Tuesday, March 26
March 26th, 2013
Supreme Court to Hear Oral Arguments for Prop 8: Washington, D.C. This is the month where history will be made. Today the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case of Hollingsworth v. Perry, the challenge to California’s Proposition 8 which bans marriage equality for same-sex couples. Oral arguments will begin this morning at 10:00 a.m. and they are scheduled to last one hour. Audio recordings of the oral arguments are typically released at the end of the week, but, in an unusual move, the court will release the recordings at about 1:00 p.m. EDT. The last time the court made the recordings available on the same day was when it heard three days of arguments over the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. “Obamacare”). You can find the full docket of documents and amici briefs here.
In addition to the drama taking place inside the court room, there will be competing marches and demonstrations outside of the Supreme Court building. The anti-gay National Organization for Marriage has organized a march and rally, which will run up against the pro-equality United for Marriage Rally, both of which will take place in front of the Supreme Court. For more information on attending the United for Marriage Rally or to attend one of the other rallies in 50 states around the nation, click here.
TODAY IN HISTORY:
Boulder, CO Issues Nation’s First Same-Sex Marriage Licenses: 1975. There’s a lot I don’t know about this case, and so ordinarily I probably would have waited until I was able to gather more information before writing about it today. But with this historic event touching on same-sex marriage coinciding to the U.S. Supreme Court’s hearing of oral arguments for Prop 8 makes this story far to relevant to pass over. For example, I don’t know why Boulder, Colorado’s Assistant District Attorney William C. Wise issued a memorandum on March 26, 1975 which noted that Colorado’s marriage laws were not gender specific. “There is no statutory law prohibiting the issuance of a license, probably because the situation was simply not contemplated in the past by our legislature. The case law is strongly on the side of the public official that refuses to issue a marriage license in these situations, and a public official could not be prosecuted for violation of any criminal law by such marriage licensing,” Wise wrote.
Boulder County Clerk Clela Rorex (perhaps that same day, although the chronology isn’t entirely clear) issued the County’s first marriage license to Dave McCord and Dave Zamora, both 27, who went to Boulder County after having been refused a license in El Paso County (Colorado Springs). McCord told reporters that the El Paso County Clerks office told them, “We do not do that here in El Paso County, but if you want to, go to Boulder County, they might do it there.” Rorex however, decided to issue the license “strictly (as) an administration decision. I am not in violation of any law and it is not for me to legislate morality and not give persons a license if I so desire.” She also said she would continue to issue licenses in similar case as long as it was legal.
A month later, a guy by the name of Roswell Howard tried to protest the decision by showing up with a horse and a plethora of reporters. “a boy can marry a boy and a girl can marry a girl, why can’t a lonesome old cowboy get hitched to his favorite saddle mare?”, he said to the cameras. But Rorex as quick to deny the license, and she had solid legal backing to do so: the horse was too young to marry without written parental consent.
Six couples were married altogether before the State Attorney General stepped in to call a halt. Among them were California residents Richard Adams and Tony Sullivan, an Australian national who was trying to legally immigrate to the U.S. to be with Adams. They had married on March 20 in a ceremony officiated by the Metropolitan Community Church’s founder, Rev. Troy Perry, hoping to secure green card for Sullivan on First Amendment freedom-of-religion grounds. When they heard Johnny Carson joke about the marriage licenses being issued in Boulder, they flew to Colorado and obtained their license on April 21.
Three days later, the Colorado Attorney General declared the six marriages invalid and ordered a halt to the licenses, and the INS made it clear that it would not recognize their marriage. The INS district director wrote, “You have failed to establish that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots.” That crude ruling was quickly replaced with a more official declaration stating that the marriage was invalid because neither spouse “can perform the female functions in marriage.” The couple sued in Federal Court, but judge Irving Hill ruled against them, grounding his ruling partly on religious principles, which “could not possibly sanction any marriage between persons of the same because of the vehement condemnation in the Scriptures of both religions (Christianity and Judaism) of all homosexual relationships.” The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case.
After living abroad, Adams and Sullivan slipped back into the U.S., where Sullivan remained as an undocumented immigrant. The couple remained together for four decades, until Adams’s death in 2012. None of the six couples married in Colorado saw their marriages formally annulled. Instead, their licenses were simply ignored, as though they didn’t exist. Two decades after Boulder’s historic step, Rorex reflected on that momentous decision to grant the licenses:
“Honestly, I was pretty young,” says Rorex, who went on to get her master’s in both public administration and legal administration and has been with the Native American Rights Fund’s Boulder office since 1992. “I had no real political background; I was not a political animal when I ran for that office. I didn’t even know any gays or lesbians. I didn’t know anything about the issue. I just operated from gut instinct.”
And her gut told her to give a license to two men who loved each other and wanted to get married. “It felt like the right thing to do,” she recalls, “but I couldn’t have articulated why in 1975.” She can today.
“Over all of these years, I’ve watched this issue, because of the place I was at that time — the accidental moment of history I was involved in — and I’ve grown to become a real staunch crusader for same-sex marriages,” Rorex says. “I’m continually surprised that it has taken so long for people to give equal rights to same-sex partnerships.
[Additional source: Joyce Murdoch & Deb Price, Courting Justice: Gay Men And Lesbians V. The Supreme Court (New York: Basic Books, 2001): 219-225.]
Gay Group Meets at White House: 1977. In a historic first, a group of gay advocates from the National Gay Task Force (later, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force) met with presidential aide Midge Costanza for the first official discussion of gay rights at the White House. Gay rights leaders, including Bruce Voeller, Jean O’Leary, Frank Kameny, Elaine Noble, Rev. Troy Perry, and five others, told reporters that the three hour meeting was “a happy milestone on the road to full equality under the law.” The meeting took place while President Jimmy Carter was away at Camp David for the weekend, but participants were assured that Carter was aware of the meeting and promised to support anti-discrimination legislation for employment in the federal government. “We had a fantastic meeting, said O’Leary, NGTF co-director, “What we got was a commitment on all the issues we brought up” for further discussion not only at the White House, but within individual executive agencies.
The next day, White House Press Secretary Jody Powell appeared in CBS’s Face the Nation and defended the meeting. “For an organized group who feel they have a grievance that they are not being treated fairly, for them to have a right to put that grievance before high officials and say ‘we want redress,’ that to me is what the essence of America is all about.” But Anita Bryant, who was then campaigning against a Miami, Florida gay rights ordinance, denounced the meeting. “Behind the high sounding appeal against discrimination in job and housing — which is not a problem to the ‘closet’ homosexual — they are really asking to be blessed in their abnormal lifestyle by the office of the President if the United States. I protest the action of the White House staff in dignifying these activists for special privilege with a serious discussion of their alleged ‘human rights’,” she said in a written statement.
US Supreme Court Overturns Oklahoma’s Gay Teacher Ban: 1986. In 1978, Oklahoma state Senator Mary Helm introduced a bill allowing public schools to fire or refuse to hire anyone who engaged in “public homosexual activity” or “public homosexual conduct.” The first was defined as violating the state’s anti-sodomy law (which also banned heterosexual sodomy, but Helms’s law only dealt with violations by gay people) and the second was defined to include “advocating, soliciting, imposing, encouraging or promoting public or private homosexual activity in a manner that creates a substantial risk that such conduct will come to the attention of schoolchildren or school employees.” That latter provision endangered heterosexual teachers who might presume to defend gay neighbors or relatives. Shortly after the bill was introduced, more than 100 teenage boys joined KKK chapters in local high schools to “declare war on homosexuals” with the full support of Klan leader David Duke (who happened to be a friend of Family Research Council’s current president Tony Perkins.) One student Klansman declared, “We are not just against blacks like the old Klan. We are against gays … because this activity is morally and socially wrong.”
Antia Bryant lobbied the Senate for the bill’s passage, saying that it would curb “the flaunting of homosexuality.” The Helm’s Bill sailed through the House and Senate, passing the upper chamber unanimously. Stan Easter, a gay man licensed to teach in Oklahoma, sued the Oklahoma City Board of Education in Federal Court with the backing of the National Gay Task Force. But Easter backed out over the backlash. Fortunately, Federal Judge Luther Eubanks said NGTF had standing to sue based on sworn affidavits stating that the group’s gay members included Oklahoma teachers who feared that having their names made public would result in their immediate firing. But Eubanks then went on to uphold the law’s constitutionality. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals largely reversed his decision, saying that while a teacher could be fired for violating Oklahoma’s sodomy law, the rest of the law violated teachers’ free speech rights under the First Amendment. The State of Oklahoma appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which deadlocked 4-4 (Justice Lewis Powell, seriously ill with prostate cancer, was absent during oral arguments and didn’t vote). That meant that the lower court’s ruling stood and the gag rule against Oklahoma teachers was lifted.
Tennessee Williams: 1911. If you were to ask who was the most celebrated gay playwright in history, most people, gay or straight, may point to Tennessee Williams. Which is ironic because if the gay themes in his his work is any indication, he appears to have been rather conflicted by his homosexuality. Blanche’s first husband in the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Streetcar Named Desire killed himself. So did Skipper in the Pulitzer Prize winning Cat on the Hot Tin Roof, and his death threatened to out his pro football buddy and severe alcoholic Brick. In Suddenly, Last Summer, Sebastian was torn apart and eaten by the boys whose sexual favors he sought. For the most part, gay characters are dead and don’t appear on the stage in Williams’s plays; Brick remained closeted, with just enough deniability for straight audience members who didn’t want to see it.
As for Williams himself, he was certainly not closeted, socializing in gay circles and taking a string of lovers. His most enduring relationship with Frank Merlo lasted sixteen years; they remained together until Merlo’s death in 1963. That plunged Williams into a severe depressions, for which he turned to Dr. Max Jacobson for help. Jacobson, nicknamed “Dr. Feelgood,” prescribed amphetamines for this depression and Seconal for his insomnia. Unsurprisingly, Williams appeared incoherent in several interviews, and his reputation suffered. He died in a Paris hotel room in 1983, having chocked to death on the cap from an eye drops bottle, surrounded by prescription drugs including barbiturates.
Scotty Joe Weaver: 1986. He should have turned twenty-seven today, but he only managed to see his eighteenth birthday. On July 22, 2004, his badly burned body was found at the side of a rural Alabama road. He had been beaten, strangled, cut, burned and robbed of between $65 and $80. While robbery was first thought to be the main motivation, Baldwin County District Attorney David Whetstone quickly determined that Weaver’s sexuality was the reason he was killed. “We have very specific evidence that indicates part of the motive involved his sexual orientation,” he said, noting that the wounds on Scotty Joe’s body indicated “overkill,” a common feature of anti-gay hate crimes.
Robert Porter, 18, Nichole Bryars Kelsay, 18, and Christopher Gaines, 20 were arrested and charged with capital murder. Gaines and Kelsay had been Scotty Joe’s roommates, and Gaines’ lawyer at that time said that Gaines told him that Porter “spoke openly of wanting to kill the guy because he was gay.” Gaines pleaded guilty to avoid the death penalty, and was sentenced to life without parole. Porter pleaded guilty and received two consecutive life sentences. Kelsay pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder and was sentenced to 20 years. Alabama doesn’t have a hate crime law covering sexual orientation. And despite the District Attorney’s findings, Scotty Joe Weaver’s murder was not included in the FBI’s hate crime statistics for 2004, representing another example of the gaps in the FBI’s hate crime reporting program. The crime was featured in the 2006 documentary, Small Town Gay Bar.
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This your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?