Monday, October 13, 2008

Going To The Chapel, and We're Gonna Get Married

This past week was a big one in the ongoing struggle for equality. Yes, the Connecticut Supreme Court, by a one person majority, ruled that nothing but marriage would do to fulfill the letter of the law. Wowie zowie! Robert McFadden, in his article, Gay Marriage Is Ruled Legal in Connecticut, wrote:
A sharply divided Connecticut Supreme Court struck down the state’s civil union law on Friday and ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. Connecticut thus joins Massachusetts and California as the only states to have legalized gay marriages.

The ruling, which cannot be appealed and is to take effect on Oct. 28, held that a state law limiting marriage to heterosexual couples, and a civil union law intended to provide all the rights and privileges of marriage to same-sex couples, violated the constitutional guarantees of equal protection under the law.

Striking at the heart of discriminatory traditions in America, the court — in language that often rose above the legal landscape into realms of social justice for a new century — recalled that laws in the not-so-distant past barred interracial marriages, excluded women from occupations and official duties, and relegated blacks to separate but supposedly equal public facilities.

“Like these once prevalent views, our conventional understanding of marriage must yield to a more contemporary appreciation of the rights entitled to constitutional protection,” Justice Richard N. Palmer wrote for the majority in a 4-to-3 decision that explored the nature of homosexual identity, the history of societal views toward homosexuality and the limits of gay political power compared with that of blacks and women.

“Interpreting our state constitutional provisions in accordance with firmly established equal protection principles leads inevitably to the conclusion that gay persons are entitled to marry the otherwise qualified same-sex partner of their choice,” Justice Palmer declared. “To decide otherwise would require us to apply one set of constitutional principles to gay persons and another to all others.”

Oh dear - I sure hope Donna Brazile doesn't get word of this. We all know how she feels about equating GLBT rights with Civil Rights - she doesn't (remember that? How she didn't want to allow any of the Civil Rights slots to the Convention to be used for LGBT people? Because Gay Rights are not Civil Rights, she claimed, and it "was an affront to the whole Civil Rights Movement." Yeah. She said it. Charming.). But hey - people smarter than her (is that hard to be?) can see that Civil Rights are Human Rights, and not relegated to one group of people. Oh, wait - that sounds like something Senator Clinton would say. Ahem.

The article continues:
The ruling was groundbreaking in various respects. In addition to establishing Connecticut as the third state to sanction same-sex marriage, it was the first state high court ruling to hold that civil union statutes specifically violated the equal protection clause of a state constitution. The Massachusetts high court held in 2004 that same-sex marriages were legal, while California’s court decision in May related to domestic partnerships and not the more broadly defined civil unions.

The Connecticut decision, which elicited strong dissenting opinions from three justices, also opened the door to marriage a bit wider for gay couples in New York, where state laws do not provide for same-sex marriages or civil unions, although Gov. David A. Paterson recently issued an executive order requiring government agencies to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

The opinion in Connecticut was hailed by jubilant gay couples and their advocates as a fulfillment of years of hopes and dreams. Hugs, kisses and cheers greeted eight same-sex couples as they entered the ballroom at the Hartford Hilton, where four years ago they had announced they would file a lawsuit seeking marriage licenses.

Naturally, this decision does not affect just Connecticut:
The case was watched far beyond Hartford. Vermont, New Hampshire and New Jersey all have civil union statutes, while Maine, Washington, Oregon and Hawaii have domestic partnership laws that allow same-sex couples many of the same rights granted to those in civil unions. Advocates for same-sex couples have long argued that civil unions and domestic partnerships denied them the financial, social and emotional benefits accorded in a marriage.

The legal underpinnings for gay marriages, civil unions and statutory partnerships have all come in legislative actions and decisions in lawsuits. Next month, however, voters in California will decide whether the state Constitution should permit same-sex marriage. (More on California below.)

So what were the issues in this case? According to the article, it was this:
Arguments in the case centered on whether civil unions and marriages conferred equal rights, and on whether same-sex couples should be treated as what the court called a “suspect class” or “quasi-suspect class” — a group, like blacks or women, that has experienced a history of discrimination and was thus entitled to increased scrutiny and protection by the state in the promulgation of its laws.

Among the criteria for inclusion as a suspect class, the court said, were whether gay people could “control” their sexual orientation, whether they were “politically powerless” and whether being gay had a bearing on one’s ability to contribute to society.

Huh. I sure would have liked to be a fly on the wall when they discussed whether or not gay people "contributed to society," wouldn't you? I wonder how they came to that decision? Did their hairdressers come testify? Their interior designers? (And yes - I am being intentionally snarky.) Evidently, decide they did in the affirmative (ah, gee, thanks! I appreciate that you think GLBT people actually might contribute to society! If nothing else, we pay TAXES, never mind the numerous contributions we make on a daily basis. But hey - thanks for noticing!). And they went on to clarify why they decided as they did:
"Although marriage and civil unions do embody the same legal rights under our law, they are by no means equal,” Justice Palmer wrote in the majority opinion, joined by Justices Flemming L. Norcott Jr., Joette Katz and Lubbie Harper. “The former is an institution of transcendent historical, cultural and social significance, whereas the latter is not.”

The court said it was aware that many people held deep-seated religious, moral and ethical convictions about marriage and homosexuality, and that others believed gays should be treated no differently than heterosexuals. But it said such views did not bear on the questions before the court.

“There is no doubt that civil unions enjoy a lesser status in our society than marriage,” the court said. “Ultimately, the message of the civil unions law is that what same-sex couples have is not as important or as significant as real marriage.”

But all was not happy among the justices:
In one dissenting opinion, Justice David M. Bordon contended that there was no conclusive evidence that civil unions are inferior to marriages, and he argued that gay people have “unique and extraordinary” political power that does not warrant heightened constitutional protections.

Justice Peter T. Zarella, in another dissent, argued that the state marriage laws dealt with procreation, which was not a factor in gay relationships. “The ancient definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman has its basis in biology, not bigotry,” he wrote.

Um, is he really not aware that lesbian and gay couples often have children? Heck, lesbian (or bisexual) couples can have twice as many kids at the same time as heterosexual couples if you think about it! Probably not what this guy was thinking, though, I'm betting. Anywho...

There are some other folks who aren't all that happy besides these three justices, as this article opponents to this ruling highlights:
Still, local opponents of same-sex marriage blasted the ruling, saying their only chance to stop it would be to push for passage of a ballot question next month that asks voters if they want the state to convene the first constitutional convention in 40 years, potentially launching a years-long process of weighing a ban on same-sex marriage and sending it to voters for ratification.

"The decision is an outrage," said Peter J. Wolfgang, executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut, which opposes same-sex marriage. "It is essentially a handful of judges acting as if they were rogue masters usurping the democratic process in Connecticut and radically redefining marriage by judicial fiat."

Leaders of the Connecticut Catholic Conference, which represents the state's Catholic bishops, issued a statement saying they were "extremely disappointed" by the ruling, which they called, "a terribly regrettable exercise in judicial activism."

"The real battle in this court case was not about rights, since civil unions provide a vast number of legal rights to same-sex couples, but about conferring and enforcing social acceptance of a particular lifestyle, a lifestyle many people of faith and advocates of the natural law refuse to accept," the statement said.

There appeared, however, to be little appetite in the capitol to oppose the ruling. Governor M. Jodi Rell, an opponent of same-sex marriage, said she would abide by the decision even though she disagrees with it.

"The Supreme Court has spoken," Rell said. "I do not believe their voice reflects the majority of the people of Connecticut. However, I am also firmly convinced that attempts to reverse this decision - either legislatively or by amending the state Constitution - will not meet with success."

Along with opponents in CT, opponents of Same Sex Marriage in California seem to be making strides (as I mentioned above), unfortunately (IMHO, that is). In the following article, New Poll Suggests Support for Proposition 8 in Wake of Ad Campaign, things are not looking good for defeating the ballot initiative. I guess Obama's good buddy, Doug Kmiec, is making some strides in convincing people to not support equality. And since he is Obama's choice for his Faith Tour, I am sure he is dancing a little dance, and yelling "halle-damn-lujah!" There are three weeks left to go before Election Day. I wonder if Ellen and Portia will still be married AFTER Election Day is past? I surely do hope so. I mean, they already got the toaster and all...

Meanwhile, Matthew Shepard's mother is in the news as the tenth anniversary of Matthew Shepard's brutal death is upon us. Wow - that was ten years ago. Hard to believe, I have to say. My heart goes out to the Shepard Family as they deal with the anniversary of the death of their beloved son...

And even as they deal with this sad reminder of how far we have yet to come, they are not just focusing on themselves - not at all. They are speaking out for the entire community. In this article, Mrs. Shepard is decrying the lack of progress in passing hate crimes legislation, and lack of decline in anti-gay violence:
"Ten years have gone by and not that much has changed, and I think that's just really disappointing," said Shepard, who with her husband formed the Matthew Shepard Foundation to promote equality for the gay community.

"We passed up a golden opportunity to set things in motion and make a change and set an example and let it go," she said.

In a case that outraged gay activists and their advocates around the country, Matthew Shepard died October 12, 1998, five days after he was kidnapped, robbed and pistol-whipped by two men he met in a bar. Both men are serving life in prison for the murder, which police said was partly motivated by the fact that Matthew was gay.

Matthew's death after he was left in the cold -- bloodied with severe head injuries -- for 18 hours has produced an outpouring of films, books and plays, but it hasn't seemed to budge the rate of anti-gay violence.

FBI statistics show hate crimes motivated by anti-gay bias have remained at a stable level since Matthew's death. Both in 1998 and in 2006, the latest year for which data is available, roughly 1,200 such crimes were reported -- about 16 percent of all reported hate crimes.

She is also disappointed in the lack of progress across the country for same sex marriage. I'm right there with her. It seems like it is one step forward, one step backward. Things look good for a minute, then vanish, or have the very real potential to do so. Other countries keep moving forward - the entire country, not one little area at a time, which may or may not stay that way, and here we are with our fits and starts. Dear goddess, when will there be real, SUSTAINED forward movement on this?

I have to say it, even though I am painfully aware of the reality, had Hillary Clinton been the Nominee, and gotten into the White House, I would have had much more faith that something POSITIVE would be in store for the GLBT community. With either McCain or Obama, I do not have that kind of HOPE (ahem). Neither one of them has the kind of commitment to the community that Senator Clinton does, thus when we can achieve full equality seems further off still. Dammit.

But for the moment, for THIS moment, I rejoice in the decision of the four justices in Connecticut. I hope, and pray, that the people of California will be as level headed come November 4th.

I leave you with this tribute to Matthew Shepard (don't let the typos at the end diminish this piece). Again, my heart goes out to his family and friends. To his parents, thank you for your continued work for, and continued dedication to, our community.

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