Posts Tagged As: Law
May 27th, 2009
The California Supreme Court’s decision yesterday centered not on a single question, but a few. Of the challenges to Prop. 8, the most salient was the procedural question of whether the effect of Prop. 8 was “big enough” to constitute a revision of the equal protection clause. I discuss the three issues the court considered as well as some related questions.
QUESTION 1: The judges were asked to decide whether Prop. 8 modified equal protection substantively enough to constitute a revision. Basically, the state’s Supreme Court found that NO, Prop. 8 did not constitute a fundamental revision of equal protection, which requires passage by the legislature and a public referendum, and therefore could stand as an amendment.
Instead, the measure carves out a narrow and limited exception to these state constitutional rights, reserving the official designation of the term “marriage” for the union of opposite-sex couples as a matter of state constitutional law, but leaving undisturbed all of the other extremely significant substantive aspects of a same-sex couple\’s state constitutional right to establish an officially recognized and protected family relationship and the guarantee of equal protection of the laws.
The court is pointing out here that the only thing at stake here is the term “marriage.” Gays and lesbians retain all the rights granted by marriage in the state as articulated in In Re Marriage Cases, the decision which overturned the statutory ban on gay marriage last May. The court’s previous decision also elevated protections for gays and lesbians to the level offered to blacks and women; these protections, too, remain intact.
The passage of Prop. 8 has, according to the justices, “minimal effect on the governmental plan or framework of California that existed prior to the amendment” and therefore cannot be considered a revision to the state constitution. The judges relied heavily on this criteria — effect on governmental framework — in deciding that Prop. 8 was not a revision. They also considered the “qualitative” effect of Prop. 8 — how it affected the nature and credibility of the constitution — but fell back on the “qualitative” question of its concrete effects in deciding the matter.
Can rights be taken away by a simple majority vote?
The short answer is, yes. There have been many instances in which the California Supreme Court allowed a fundamental right to be altered in some way because of an amendment. For instance, after the court found in 1972 that the death penalty constituted “cruel and unusual punishment,” voters reinstated it by using a ballot measure. One point the justices brought up was that there have also been many instances in which a right was extended by amendment — why then, they reason, could it not be curtailed?
As many commentators have pointed out, the amendment process in California is liberal as compared to other states, which is part of the reason why hundreds of amendments to the state constitution (as opposed to 27 for the U.S. Constitution) have been enacted. More importantly, the justices pointed out, the California Constitution has no provision in it preventing an amendment that revises fundamental rights. Massachusetts, on the other hand, does; you can’t revise the state constitution’s Bill of Rights. It would also be another thing if we were talking about the U.S. Constitution.
It’s important to keep in mind that the constitutional structure of California government in part constrains what the judges can rule in favor of; unlike other state constitutions, California’s does little to stand in the way of majority rule. Even gay legal advocates thought this was a long shot.
Is this like “separate but equal”?
Yes and no. Many BTB readers have commented on how this decision is reminiscent of the “separate but equal” decision that allowed segregation to continue. I think it’s important to note that the right in question here is not really equivalent in scale to segregation. We are not talking about separate public accommodations — we’re talking about the right to a label, which, while culturally and politically significant, does not approach the rights in question in Plessy v. Ferguson. I am not saying I think the decision is just or fair, only that comparing it to “separate but equal” strikes me as a bit hyperbolic.
A larger question is whether we should be concentrating our efforts on the symbolic “civil unions” vs. “marriage” distinction when millions of gays and lesbians can still be legally fired for being gay, cannot adopt children, and have no rights comparable to those offered by marriage or civil unions in places like California.
QUESTION 2: The second argument the justices considered was whether Prop. 8 violated the “separation of powers” by allowing the electorate to decide on a matter already settled by the courts. The justices rejected this argument outright, saying that the California Constitution “explicitly recognizes the right of the people to amend their state Constitution.”
This argument was even more of a long shot than the first. It was basically saying that the electorate “usurped” the power of the judiciary.
QUESTION 3: The final question the judges considered was not proposed by Lambda Legal, which brought the case to the court, but by the state’s Attorney General. He argued that certain rights enshrined in the state constitution are “inalienable” and “not subject to ‘abrogation.'” Again, the justices fell back on the fact that the state constitution does not explicitly designate certain rights as such, as opposed to other constitutions that do.
The court’s decision is of course a personal regret, but I think the moral question of whether this is, in a sense, “right” is different from the legal question of whether Prop. 8 could be overturned. It is telling that the justices voted 6-1 in favor of upholding Prop. 8, though for the dissenting opinion one can look to the decision here (it’s at the end).
March 13th, 2009
Lambda Legal has filed a brief in Howard K. Stern v. Rita Cosby et al., a defamation suit in which Howard K. Stern alleges he was defamed by being falsely labeled as gay. You can read more about the case and the issue here the brief is available here. The organization’s press release follows:
Saying that someone is gay is not an insult. Being identified as gay is neither bad nor shameful – in life and under the law.
NEW YORK — Today at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Lambda Legal filed a brief arguing that the Court should reject Howard K. Stern’s claim that being called gay is defamatory per se and entitles him to collect damages.
“Saying that someone is gay is not an insult. Being identified as gay is neither bad nor shameful – in life and under the law,” said Thomas W. Ude, Jr., Senior Staff Attorney at Lambda Legal. “At its core, defamation is about disgrace. Recognition of this defamation claim would demean gay men and lesbians by giving credence to antigay biases that New York has repeatedly rejected.”
In 2007, Howard K. Stern filed a lawsuit claiming that he was defamed by passages in a book titled Blonde Ambition: The Untold Story Behind the Death of Anna Nicole Smith. Lambda Legal’s friend-of-the-court brief argues that Stern’s first two claims of defamation rest on the flawed premise that being called gay would expose someone to public hatred and shame – a premise that is disproved daily throughout New York, including through the service of New York’s many openly gay and lesbian public officials. Validation of this type of defamation claim, and its underlying premise, would have a demeaning effect toward gay men and lesbians, similar to the effect caused by state sodomy laws before they were struck down by the US Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas, Lambda Legal’s 2003 landmark victory. These claims are out of step with New York law and public policy, which has repeatedly affirmed the rights and dignity of gay men and lesbians.
Thomas W. Ude, Jr., Senior Staff Attorney at Lambda Legal is handling the matter for Lambda Legal.
In this original BTB Investigation, we unveil the tragic story of Kirk Murphy, a four-year-old boy who was treated for “cross-gender disturbance” in 1970 by a young grad student by the name of George Rekers. This story is a stark reminder that there are severe and damaging consequences when therapists try to ensure that boys will be boys.
When we first reported on three American anti-gay activists traveling to Kampala for a three-day conference, we had no idea that it would be the first report of a long string of events leading to a proposal to institute the death penalty for LGBT people. But that is exactly what happened. In this report, we review our collection of more than 500 posts to tell the story of one nation’s embrace of hatred toward gay people. This report will be updated continuously as events continue to unfold. Check here for the latest updates.
In 2005, the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote that “[Paul] Cameron’s ‘science’ echoes Nazi Germany.” What the SPLC didn”t know was Cameron doesn’t just “echo” Nazi Germany. He quoted extensively from one of the Final Solution’s architects. This puts his fascination with quarantines, mandatory tattoos, and extermination being a “plausible idea” in a whole new and deeply disturbing light.
On February 10, I attended an all-day “Love Won Out” ex-gay conference in Phoenix, put on by Focus on the Family and Exodus International. In this series of reports, I talk about what I learned there: the people who go to these conferences, the things that they hear, and what this all means for them, their families and for the rest of us.
Prologue: Why I Went To “Love Won Out”
Part 1: What’s Love Got To Do With It?
Part 2: Parents Struggle With “No Exceptions”
Part 3: A Whole New Dialect
Part 4: It Depends On How The Meaning of the Word "Change" Changes
Part 5: A Candid Explanation For "Change"
Using the same research methods employed by most anti-gay political pressure groups, we examine the statistics and the case studies that dispel many of the myths about heterosexuality. Download your copy today!
And don‘t miss our companion report, How To Write An Anti-Gay Tract In Fifteen Easy Steps.
Anti-gay activists often charge that gay men and women pose a threat to children. In this report, we explore the supposed connection between homosexuality and child sexual abuse, the conclusions reached by the most knowledgeable professionals in the field, and how anti-gay activists continue to ignore their findings. This has tremendous consequences, not just for gay men and women, but more importantly for the safety of all our children.
Anti-gay activists often cite the “Dutch Study” to claim that gay unions last only about 1½ years and that the these men have an average of eight additional partners per year outside of their steady relationship. In this report, we will take you step by step into the study to see whether the claims are true.
Tony Perkins’ Family Research Council submitted an Amicus Brief to the Maryland Court of Appeals as that court prepared to consider the issue of gay marriage. We examine just one small section of that brief to reveal the junk science and fraudulent claims of the Family “Research” Council.
The FBI’s annual Hate Crime Statistics aren’t as complete as they ought to be, and their report for 2004 was no exception. In fact, their most recent report has quite a few glaring holes. Holes big enough for Daniel Fetty to fall through.