Posts Tagged ‘equality’

Love Wins

Sunday, June 28th, 2015

Adam Flanders

I joined millions of Americans yesterday in celebrating the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. For those of us at Pride, there was even more reason for celebration. The timing of the court’s ruling was perfect, falling within the National LGBT Pride Month and precisely on the anniversary of Lawrence v. Texas (2003, striking down sodomy laws) and United States v. Windsor (2013, invalidating DOMA and giving federal recognition to same-sex marriages).

My company led the parade in Bangor as a co-sponsor of the event. We had beautiful weather and a great turnout. In addition to the usual rainbows and glitter, I saw many #lovewins banners celebrating the Obergefell decision. It was a day for our community to truly come together and reflect on our achievements and consider what next steps are needed, such as prohibiting employment discrimination across the nation.

Mary Bonauto on her SCOTUS victory on behalf of marriage equality

I had time today to read the full 103-page decision and take notes. There is a lot of rhetoric on both sides of the argument and it can be difficult to discern the central issue. To me, the core question seems to revolve around whether marriage is a right or privilege, and whether access to marriage is guaranteed by the US Constitution. Even more fundamentally, and perhaps most clearly stated in Justice Clarence Thomas’s dissent, does granting access to same-sex marriage, as considered in light of the Fourteenth Amendment, offer freedom (liberty) from government intrusion or freedom to a government privilege?

“Since well before 1787, liberty has been understood as freedom from government action, not entitlement to government benefits.”

~Justice Clarence Thomas, dissenting

The majority opinion and dissents appear to be divided primarily along this distinction and I felt they both made reasonable arguments, although I believe the majority correctly found that prohibiting bans on same-sex marriage represents a freedom from government intrusion rather than establishing a new right.

“States have contributed to the fundamental character of marriage by placing it at the center of many facets of the legal and social order. There is no difference between same- and opposite-sex couples with respect to this principle…The right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty.”

~Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority

Over the past decade or longer, a majority of states have made targeted efforts toward excluding same-sex couples from the civil institution of marriage. At the level of the legislature and popular vote, most of them succeeded. These actions represented a course of action that included identifying a minority class of Americans and choosing to write discrimination into state laws. Many of these laws contained within them true examples of animus, sometimes even being accompanied by laws forbidding the creation of any anti-discrimination laws based on sexual orientation. Such actions were ultimately their undoing in Obergefell because they expanded into the realm of government intrusion. State prohibitions against same-sex marriage were no longer passive obstructions to gay and lesbian couples. Instead, they became discriminatory statutes written into the law with a very specific intent.

Marriage has become so central to our society, with all its associated benefits and rights, it is hard to see how the respondents could make any argument as to why it should be restricted to heterosexual couples. The majority opinion found, “The respondents have not shown a foundation for the conclusion that allowing same-sex marriage will cause the harmful outcomes they describe.” The two main “harms” the respondents wish to avoid are the undermining of procreation and child-rearing, and threats to religious freedom. I find the former arguments to be implausible, even absurd. The oral arguments do well to dispel any suggestion that same-sex marriage would somehow cause harm to children or traditional family structure, so I won’t address them here.

As for religious freedom, it’s true that individuals representing government institutions and other civil organizations will be required to acknowledge and, where appropriate, participate in same-sex marriages and the associated rights of married same-sex couples. It is the nature of this country and our Constitution that we do not pass laws respecting any religion, nor do we abridge the free exercise thereof. The only exception is where fundamental civil rights and protections conflict with the practice of religion. We would not, for example, allow a fundamentalist Christian to sell his daughter into slavery (Exodus 21:7), even though he may say that such prohibitions violate his religious liberty. That may be an extreme example, but we have already seen modern examples of religious leaders attempting to circumvent other civil rights by asserting their would-be religious liberty. I had hoped the majority opinion would clearly establish heightened scrutiny for sexual orientation, but it was somewhat ambiguous in that respect. It nonetheless provides a strong precedent for future litigation and states in no uncertain terms that “sexual orientation is both a normal expression of human sexuality and immutable.”

Granted, no purely religious leader or organization should be forced to recognize or participate in a ceremony or other action that would violate their beliefs. That said, there is a distinction between the Church (religious) and State (civil) that the respondents often fail to recognize. That distinction is too often blurred, usually by opponents of LGBT rights. I myself have seen local churches in Maine use their congregations, church property, and even their billboards to explicitly encourage a certain result in civil law. By interfering with civil discourse, churches and religious organizations violate the separation of Church and State and by their own hand, make themselves vulnerable to state interference.

The reality is that protections for sexual orientation, just as with race, gender, ethnicity, and so on, trump those of religious freedom. All protected classifications are immutable and are not subject to choice, with the exception of one – religion. Religion is always a choice, it can represent any belief or position imaginable, and can change any time at the whim of the individual. The recent conflicts concerning marriage equality should be viewed as a coincidence of the times and the current demographic of the US.

“The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times.”

~Obergefell v. Hodges, majority opinion

Our laws are secular and any freedoms, even those contained within the First Amendment, come with limitations. The respondents in Obergefell expressed concerns about religious freedom and the majority opinion even offers some relief in that respect, the latter to which I do not object. However, I’m not going to pander to the respondent’s arguments; those who oppose equal rights under the law should be worried. I’m sure slave owners worried when African Americans began realizing new freedoms, as did some men when women began asserting their rights as equal persons. Just as we see today, religion at that time was used to justify unequal treatment under the law. And just as then, modern claims to “religious freedom” cannot suffice to maintain such practices. Most rational Americans no longer tolerate those religious justifications, so why should we tolerate similar justifications used to discriminate against gay and lesbian people? The highest power in this nation has declared that we won’t tolerate discrimination and offers us a clear path going forward. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority:

“These new insights have strengthened, not weakened, the institution of marriage. Indeed, changed understandings of marriage are characteristic of a Nation where new dimensions of freedom become apparent to new generations, often through perspectives that begin in pleas or protests and then are considered in the political sphere and the judicial process.

“This dynamic can be seen in the Nation’s experiences with the rights of gays and lesbians. Until the mid-20th century, same-sex intimacy long had been condemned as immoral by the state itself in most Western nations, a belief often embodied in the criminal law. For this reason, among others, many persons did not deem homosexuals to have dignity in their own distinct identity. A truthful declaration by same-sex couples of what was in their hearts had to remain unspoken. Even when a greater awareness of the humanity and integrity of homosexual persons came in the period after World War II, the argument that gays and lesbians had a just claim to dignity was in conflict with both law and widespread social conventions. Same-sex intimacy remained a crime in many States. Gays and lesbians were prohibited from most government employment, barred from military service, excluded under immigration laws, targeted by police, and burdened in their rights to associate…Only in more recent years have psychiatrists and others recognized that sexual orientation is both a normal expression of human sexuality and immutable.”

Thank you to the plaintiffs, their attorneys, especially Mary Bonauto, and all the other individuals who came together to ensure our nation started on the right path and achieved the dream of marriage equality. Although there is still work to be done, I am so proud of how far we have come and so grateful to be a part of this movement at a time in our history when we are realizing new freedoms and where a majority of Americans support those freedoms. Congratulations and Happy Pride!

Obergefell v. Hodges

Sunday, April 26th, 2015

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case for marriage equality for all Americans. The historical decision, likely to come in June, will determine whether the nation will remain a patchwork of equality and discrimination, or make equal treatment the law of the land. I’m hoping and betting for the latter.

Our progress has developed faster than I could have ever imagined. A decade ago, I was a senior in high school fighting with a homophobic school administration. The 2003 case Lawrence v. Texas, had just struck down the remaining sodomy laws in the U.S. and the following year, Massachusetts had become the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. The idea of basic anti-discrimination laws, let alone nationwide marriage equality, seemed part of a distant future, one that may never be actualized.

We’ve come so far, so fast since that time. Leading up to 2005, EqualityMaine and GLAD worked together to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This change was codified in Maine law later that year and I am grateful to have been a part of that effort. I could not have imagined that only 7 years later, Maine would make history as the first state to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote.

We are set to make history on the national stage yet again as Maine lawyer Mary Bonauto prepares to represent the plaintiffs in Obergefell v. Hodges. As Maine goes, so goes the nation. I had the privilege of meeting and briefly working with Mary in 2005 and I cannot think of a more capable attorney to represent this case. She has consistently fought for equality and won.

“She’s the mastermind,” said Portland attorney Pat Peard, who has worked on gay rights cases with Bonauto going back to the 1980s. “I mean, Mary Bonauto is going to be in every legal textbook talking about civil rights in the United States. There’s not a doubt in my mind.”

Despite the excitement and (unnecessary) controversy surrounding equal rights, I believe that once the dust settles, marriage equality will be a non-issue and part of every day life. Ultimately, the goal is normalization; same-sex couples want the same recognition and legal respect given to opposite-sex couples. Recent attempts to legalize discrimination under the guise of “religious freedom,” notably in Indiana and Arkansas, and most recently here in Maine, have all been quickly extinguished. A majority of Americans support equal rights, including same-sex marriage, and the courts and corporate America have joined that sentiment, making it clear that Obergefell v. Hodges will not become a modern-day Roe v. Wade.

Those who oppose LGBT equality are rapidly becoming irrelevant. The discriminatory attitude of conservatives, not to mention the explicit opposition to marriage equality embodied in the Republican Party platform, will pose significant challenges to those who would seek office in 2016. As LGBT Americans join their peers in equal treatment under law, so too are conservatives further marginalizing themselves to a past characterized by prejudice. We must move forward and leave that past behind. This Tuesday will be a watershed in that continuing progress toward realizing the American dream.



YES on 1

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

Voting is coming up soon, with only a couple weeks left to make a decision. I already voted by absentee ballot because I’m currently away on vacation with my family. Before leaving, we reconstructed and repainted our giant marriage equality sign from 2009. Look for it on route 1 in Belfast, near Dairy Queen / EBS / Circle K / Pizza Hut.

The consensus from last night’s debate seems to be that Obama won, which gives him 2 out of 3. For the first time in history we have a president who is openly in favor of marriage equality. Three other states besides Maine will be voting on this issue in November. Prop 8 and DOMA are both in the high courts and I expect the US Supreme Court will rule on nationwide / Federal marriage rights within the next year or two. That will no doubt have a blanket effect akin to Loving v. Virginia, but it would still be symbolic if Maine were the first state to legalize same-sex marriage via popular vote.

If you are a Mainer or live in one of other three states that will be voting on this issue next month, I hope you will vote in favor of equality. Marriage equality will not affect anyone except the already existing families that wish to have civil recognition under state law. This won’t have any impact on churches or other individual freedoms – in fact, the law actually protects religious freedom by specifically stating that no organization, entity, or individual will ever be forced to perform a marriage ceremony if such a ceremony would conflict with their religious beliefs. Please Vote YES on 1.