The Daily Agenda for Wednesday, June 26
June 26th, 2013
U.S. Supreme Court to Issue Marriage Decisions: Washington, DC. This is the day we’ve all been waiting for, as the U.S. Supreme Court issues its verdicts on two critical marriage equality cases. The court couldn’t have picked a more auspicious date to issue its rulings: Today also happens to be the tenth anniversary of Lawrence v. Texas, which declared all remaining state sodomy laws unconstitutional (see below).
The first marriage case, with obvious national implications, is Windsor v U.S., which challenges the constitutionality of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act. Section 3 is the portion of the federal law which bars the U.S. government from recognizing same-sex marriage performed by the states. This case was brought by Edith Windsor, the widow of Thea Spyer, who is being forced to pay $363,000 in federal estate taxes because the government is barred from recognizing their marriage. The couple had been together since 1965, and they were finally able to wed in Toronto in 2007, two years before Thea’s death. A Federal District Judge ruled in Windsor’s favor and struck down DOMA’s Section 3 as unconstitutional, and the case was on its way to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals when Windsor’s attorneys, citing her age and poor health (she’s 83), asked the Supreme Court to take the case directly. (The Second Circuit ended up upholding the lower court’s ruling.) During oral arguments, justice’s expressed their frustration over the Obama Administration’s decision that the law was too unconstitutional to defend in court, but wasn’t unconstitutional enough to enforce. As for the constitutionality of the law itself, several justices appeared to believe that DOMA is an unconstitutional over-reach by the federal government into an area normally reserved to the states. We’ll find out how the court sorts it all out later this morning.
The second case is Hollingsworth v. Perry, the challenge to California’s Proposition 8 which bans marriage equality for same-sex couples. In that case, the Federal District Court ruled that Prop 8 was unconstitutional on numerous grounds. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision, but narrowed the legal arguments considerably: that a state cannot provide a right to everyone, only to turn around and it away from a minority that had just enjoyed that right. But since the State of California refused to defend Prop 8 in court and left it to Prop 8 supporters to defend it in court, the question of standing is a major point of contention. The court could conceivably rule on Prop 8’s merits, but the possibility of punting the entire question over standing may be too tempting for the court to resist.
The New York Times published a very handy flowchart detailing the possible ways in which the court’s rulings on the two cases can play out. However the court rules, there are a large number of Decision Day rallies planned across the U.S. They will either be protests or celebrations or, perhaps, some kind of a mixture of the two. To find a Decision Day rally near you, click here.
Pride Celebrations This Weekend: Albuquerque, NM; Bangor, ME; Barcelona, Spain; Cheyenne, WY; Chicago, IL; Cincinnati, OH; Cleveland, OH; Doncaster, UK; Dublin, Ireland; Finnmark, Norway; Harlem, NY; Helsinki, Finland; Houston, TX; Istanbul, Turkey; Lexington, KY; London, UK; London, UK (Black Pride); Malmö, Sweden; México, DF, México; Oslo, Norway; Paris, France; Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN; New York, NY; Oslo, Norway; St. Louis, Mo; St. Petersburg, FL; Salem, MA; San Antonio, TX; San Francisco, CA; San José, Costa Rica; Sardinia, Italy; Seattle, WA; Swansea, UK; Toronto, ON; Utrecht, Netherlands; Valencia, Spain; Västerås, Sweden.
“Homosexuality shears across the spectrum of American life — the professions, the arts, business and labor. It always has. But today, especially in big cities, homosexuals are discarding their furtive ways and openly admitting, even flaunting, their deviation. Homosexuals have their won drinking places, their special assignation streets, even their own organizations. And for every obvious homosexual, there are probably nine nearly impossible to detect. This social disorder, which society tries to suppress, has forced itself into the public eye because it does present a problem — and parents especially are concerned. The myth and misconception with which homosexuality has so long been clothed must be cleared away, not to condone it but to cope with it.”
Over the next fourteen pages, Life magazine explored what they called the “sordid world” of the gay community. The articles provide interesting vignettes and photos of gay life in the pre-Stonewall era, but reading through them today probably tells us more about society’s revulsion towards gay people than it does about gays themselves. At one point, author Paul Welch accompanies a Los Angeles police officer acting as a decoy to try entrap a gay man into propositioning him. Even if the proposition involves going to a private home for the evening — the same type of invitation being made in straight bars all across Los Angeles that very same night — it would end badly with an arrest and possible lifetime registration as a sex offender. LGBT activist Dale Jennings arrest in the privacy of his own home and the city’s embarrassing failure to secure a conviction in a well-publicized case twelve years earlier (see Jun 23) had done nothing to stem police harassment.
One education pamphlet compiled for Los Angeles police warned that what gay men really want is “a fruit world.” Welch continued: “Although the anti-homosexual stand taken by the Los Angeles police is unswervingly tough, it reflects the attitude of most U.S. law-enforcement agencies on the subject.”Three years later, gay Angelenos would reach their breaking point and the Black Cat riots would become the high water mark in police harassment in Los Angeles (see Jan 1), more than two years before the Stonewall rebellion in New York.
[Source: Paul Welch. “The Homosexual In America.” Life 26, no. 26 (June 26, 1964): 66-74. Available online via Google Books here.]
Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C. Pickets the Civil Service Commission: 1965. Picketing was a new and controversial tactic for East Coast gay rights activists, but the year 1965 saw them finally shed their reservations and, in keeping with the times, assumed a more confrontational posture in their demands for equal treatment. To test the waters for picketting, Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C. held their first gay rights protest in front of the White House in April (see Apr 17). They had decided not to publicize the hour-long protest ahead of time because they didn’t want to give the police time to invent an excuse to block their demonstration. They were so excited over how well that protest went, that they decided to do it again a month later, and this time they invited the press to cover it (see May 29).
But it was the federal government’s ban on employment of gay people that really stuck in the Mattachine Society’s president and co-founder Frank Kameny’s crawl. Eight years earlier, Kamany had been fired from his civilian job by the U.S. Army map service over his homosexuality (see Dec 20), and after he exhausted his appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court, Kameny turned his attention to organizing local activists to confront the Civil Service Commission over its discriminatory ban. Their earlier efforts to sit down with the Commission to discuss the matter were curtly rebuffed (see Sep 28: “It is the established policy of the civil Service commission that homosexuals are not suitable for appointment to or retention in positions in the Federal service. There would be no useful purpose served in meeting with representatives of your Society.”), and all further requests for meetings were stonewalled.
So the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C. decided to take it to the streets once again, as eighteen men and seven women, all conservatively dressed — “If you’re asking for equal employment rights, look employable!”, Kameny ordered — carrying picket signs demanding and end to the employment ban. The two-hour protest in front of the Civil Service Commission headquarters generated just enough publicity for the CSC to request a meeting in September. Nothing much came from that meeting, but for the first time in history, Federal officials were forced to justify their policies directly to the very group that was most affected by them. That meeting was followed by another ten years of letters, phone calls and meetings before the CSC finally capitulated, in a phone call to Frank Kameny personally, in 1975 (see Jul 3). Times continued to change, and in 2009, Frank Kameny received a formal apology from the openly gay director of the Office of Personnel Management, the modern-day successor to the Civil Service Commission.
[Source: Unsigned. “Homosexuals Picket in Nation’s Capital.” The Ladder 9, no. 10-11 (July-August 1965): 23-25.]
10 YEARS AGO: Lawrence v. Texas: 2003. One of the most important gay rights cases to reach the Supreme Court had its beginnings under very unusual circumstances. In 1998, Houston police were called to the apartment of John Geddes Lawrence over what was supposed to be some kind of a”weapons disturbance.” As the story went, police arrived and caught Lawrence and Tyrone Garner having oral sex, or anal sex, or no sex at all, depending on which eyewitness you want to believe. If they were having sex, then that meant that they were breaking Texas’s anti-sodomy law. They were held overnight in jail and charged with violating Chapter 21, Sec. 21.06 of the Texas Penal code, a class C misdemeanor for engaging “in deviate sexual intercourse with an individual of the same sex.”
But in reality, Lawrence and Garner hadn’t had a sexual relationship, as author Dale Carpenter revealed in his 2012 book, Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas. But gay rights advocates were looking for a test case to try to overturn the state’s sodomy law. This case wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough. They convinced Lawrence and Garner to plead no contest. After they were convicted by a Justice of the Peace, they exercised their right to a full trial before the Texas Criminal Court, where they also asked for the case to be dismissed on Fourteenth Amendment grounds. When the court rejected that argument, they pleaded no contest again and were fined $200 each. Lawyers appealed on their behalf to a three-judge panel of the Texas Fourteenth Court of Appeals, which ruled in their favor. That decision was then overturned by the full Appeals court, and The case was appealed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which operates as the state’s supreme court for criminal matters. After that court declined to hear the case, it went to the U.S. Supreme Court.
On June 23, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark ruling striking down Texas’s sodomy law, and laws like it in thirteen other states. In the 6-3 decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority that the decision specifically overruled the 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick decision which upheld Georgia’s sodomy law. “Bowers was not correct when it was decided, and it is not correct today. It ought not to remain binding precedent. Bowers v. Hardwick should be and now is overruled.” Antonin Scalia wrote a scathing dissent, one part of which is very prescient given current court challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act:
If moral disapprobation of homosexual conduct is “no legitimate state interest” for purposes of proscribing that conduct…what justification could there possibly be for denying the benefits of marriage to homosexual couples exercising “the liberty protected by the Constitution”? Surely not the encouragement of procreation, since the sterile and the elderly are allowed to marry.
Lance Loud: 1951. PBS aired the groundbreaking documentary series An American Family in 1973 which would become the first reality television series in history. Millions of Americans were glued to their television sets watching the Loud family of Santa Barbara, California, go about their daily lives with film cameras in tow. Lance Loud, the family’s eldest twenty-year-old son who was living in New York City, quickly became the star of the program. He came out to America in the second episode when his mother went to visit him at the Chelsea Hotel, and his daring nonconformity became an inspiration for young Americans, gay and straight.
Loud had returned to California by the time the series aired, so he decided to move back to New York City to take advantage of his new-found fame. He formed a band called the Mumps, which played New York’s famed CBGB and Mix, and toured with the Talking Heads, Television, Ramones, Cheap Trick and Van Halen. But after five years and a loyal following, they failed to attract a major recording contract. After the band broke up, Loud returned to Los Angeles and became a writer. His articles were published in Interview, Details, Vanity Fair, among others. He also had a regular column, “Out Loud,” in The Advocate.
Loud found the fame he earned from An American Family to be hollow. Americans had watched as his parents’ relationship careened toward divorce, leading Loud to say, “Television ate my family.” Loud himself went through years of substance abuse. When he was diagnosed with AIDS and hepatitis C, Loud agreed to appear in one final cinema verité documentary for PBS. But this time he made the decision to perform as a role model for what not to do with one’s life. Lance Loud! A Death in An American Family aired in 2003, two years after he died of liver failure.
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And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?