ALICE PAUL – CRUSADER FOR WOMEN – JANUARY 11 BIRTHDAY

In honor of Women’s Equality Day (August 26). Alice Paul spearheaded the final long-time nationwide effort to get the 19th amendment to the US Constitution passed. And once that occurred in 1920, she wrote the Equal Rights Amendment; yet, almost a century later, it has yet to become part of the US Constitution. It’s time for women to achieve full legal equality.

King’s Dream in 2013: Interlocking Destinies

It’s been 50 years since Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. One of his colleagues at that event was the Rev. Jessie Jackson, Sr.  Rev. Jackson has continued speaking and advocating for that dream of “uniting people on common ground across race, culture, class, gender, and belief.”  This idea of interlocking destinies was presented during his plenary speech at the National NOW Conference held in Chicago on July 5, 2013.

I was in the room during Rev. Jackson’s speech and took several video clips with my smart phone.  One of them came out clear enough to post on this blog.  So after getting back home, participating in a family reunion, and then spending a week and a half looking for a replacement car for our 253,000+ mile vehicle, I was able to upload the video and present it to you.

Video of Jessie Jackson at the 2013 National NOW Conference in Chicago, IL

The following quotes, along with the time tags are some of the best comments, IMHO, that Jessie Jackson made during this speech discussing the intersection between the women’s movement and the civil rights movement, which at 13:59 into this video, Jackson calls a “sharing of interlocking destinies.” He started off by discussing these Interlocking Destinies and shared rights.

3:10 Fifty years after the “I Have a Dream” speech, we still need the ERA [Equal Rights Amendment].

3:52 The right to vote should not be a state right. It’s a constitutional right for everyone.

4:10 Every child should have access to have access to high-quality public education.

4:20 No matter if you are in Mississippi, Maine, or in California, we live under one flag; you should have equal protection under the law.

5:52 Our goal is to learn to live together.

6:20 Civil rights cannot be another word for “black” and NOW cannot be another word for “white women.”  Black women, in big numbers, should be members of NOW now!

7:00 We must pull down the walls [of cultural resistance] that leave us in the shadow of fear…. When the walls come down, we can all grow bigger, better, stronger with greater productivity.  When the walls come down.

9:00 There’s a new South today that can have the Super Bowl, CNN, high-tech universities [showing that we are] learning to live together.  Yet…

At this point, Rev. Jackson starts talking about some of the interlocking issues of racism and sexism still present that need to be addressed in the United States:

9:56 It’s interesting to me that during the Republican Primary, in my [home] state [South Carolina] with an open primary, not one candidate went to a single school or church of the black community.  Not one! 33% black.  Not only did they not go, the media did not challenge them to go.  This instance [of the] reinforcement of apartheid was natural because it’s [still] normal.

Jackson then spends a bit of time framing these interlocking destinies and the problem of economics and access to justice.  He gave several examples of this framework.  The one that resonated with me was the one about the automobile industry, considering that my car had died the weekend before the conference and knowing that I would soon be car shopping. He said,

12:38 What does it mean that there are 21,000 automobile dealerships? 200 black-owned. Almost no women. Pepsi: one black franchise. Coke: zero. When you go get educated. You get your masters and PhD degrees. Business people, you cannot buy one of these franchises, by the way, because they were sold under the laws of perpetuity. Those that got the territories [back in the day] have the territory eternally.  So it’s not about getting on the ball field.  If you get on the ball field, there are no balls left…. Even money can’t buy them.

And finally, just as the battery in my smart phone died, he ended on a high note using history to look towards the future. He said that as in the past, we have not and can never be at loss for continuing to advocate for reform.  This is what I caught on the video as it beeped “bye-bye:”

13:59 The agenda of race and gender equality are inextricably bound.  We share interlocking destinies.  African-Americans won the right to vote in 1879 – 15th Amendment. Women in 1920 – 19th Amendment. We [finally] got the right for blacks to vote in the Deep South in 1965 [with the Voting Rights Act] while women got the right to serve on juries in 1967 – 2 years later [as a result of the US Supreme Court decision in Taylor v. Louisiana]Eighteen year olds got the right to vote in 1970; [before that] those [young people] serving in Vietnam could not vote…

War on Women in Pennsylvania: At Least a 20-Year Happening

Last week, Governor Tom “Just Close Your Eyes” Corbett signed into law Act 13 of 2013, also known as HB 818.  This newest attack in the War on Women denies women the ability to use THEIR OWN FUNDS to purchase coverage for an abortion within the new healthcare exchange that Corbett decided to fob off onto the federal government.  Although the state couldn’t be “bothered” with running this exchange, they have no problem in denying women the ability to purchase coverage for an abortion even in cases in which her life is endangered.

At the time of final passage of the bill I sent out an email to several friends listservs. Here are some of the comments I received back:

What is going on in PA?  It’s beginning to sound more & more like a North Dakota or a Kansas [or a Mississippi or an Arizona or a Wisconsin or a Texas or any other state that’s been taken over by misogynists and racists].  Terrible!!

If women aren’t allowed to spend money on their healthcare the way they deem medically necessary, then it’s time to face the fact that we’re not even citizens in our own states.

I agree with all of these sentiments.  Yet, these types of legislative actions have been going on in Pennsylvania for a long time, despite Pennsylvania having an ERA in our state Constitution and having already ratified the national ERA.

Bit of history of the War on Women in Pennsylvania.  We’ve been battling this War for over two decades in our legislature.  The battles started with attacks on reproductive justice and have now spread to other areas of women’s lives.

Reproductive Justice Battles

The Pennsylvania General Assembly has basically been co-opted by the radical right-wing on both sides of the aisle.  The Democrats do have more pro-choice people than the Republicans.  The Senate is a bit better than the House of Representatives.  And this has basically been true since the late 1980’s.

  1. Which is why Governor Bob Casey, Sr. (D) pushed through Pennsylvania’s Abortion Control Act that initially mandated parental consent, spousal consent, a 24-hour waiting period, and a state-mandated script about the “detriments” to health in abortion procedures.  Planned Parenthood contested the law that went all the way to the US Supreme Court in a case called Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey. Decided on June 29, 1992, the Court threw out spousal consent as an “undue burden,” but upheld the rest of the law. This was one of the first battles partially won by the emerging War on women.  That was 21 years ago this week.
  2. Which is why Title X and state Family Planning monies are split 50/50 each year in the state budget between crisis pregnancy centers and legitimate family planning clinics.  And this has been happening for over a decade now. And in 2012, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R) proposed eliminating ALL funding for family planning for Planned Parenthood or any other clinic that provides abortion services.
  3. Which is why we are losing stand-alone abortion providers due to the TRAP (Targeted Regulations on Abortion Providers) law passed in December 2011 following “Dr.” Gosnell’s arrest and guilty verdict for murdering 9 live-born infants and one woman in a filthy, rat-infested facility that the state had not inspected despite complaints from legitimate providers for about 10 years.
  4. Which is why we almost had a transvaginal ultrasound law last year.  And for Governor Corbett’s “Just close your eyes” statement (Corbett’s comments on the ultrasound bill start at 14:28).  The main reasons I think it ultimately died in committee is thanks to the activists in VA who created the uproar there and because so many people, including doctors were outraged by the invasiveness of this bill and for Corbett’s insensitive statement (of which he is becoming more or more well-known for – he’s his own worst enemy).

Other Battles in the War on Women in Pennsylvania

And on other issues – similar actions have occurred.

Increasing Conservatism in the Legislature and Governorship

In 2010, the Tea Party and the radical right swept into office an even more anti-woman legislature and governor here in Pennsylvania.  The War on Women went into full swing.  Both houses of the General Assembly became even more heavily conservative, with the House switching from a Democratic- to a Republican-controlled majority and the state elected an anti-choice, anti-woman, and in my opinion, racist governor – Governor Tom Corbett (R).

To highlight how conservative the Pennsylvania General Assembly has become, just look at the 2012 ratings of legislators by the American Conservative Union.  They indicated that 51% of members in the combined Assembly are solid conservatives; 105 or 42% are given a score of 100 and an additional 22 or 9% are rated at 63 or higher.  The entire leadership of the majority party in both houses and thus those with the power to deny women, people of color, people with disabilities and people living in poverty their basic rights are listed in their report as so-called “Defenders of Liberty” or “Conservatives” because of their rating of, respectively, either 100 (13 of the 16 leaders) or 80 (the remaining 3 leaders).

Attack on Hate Crimes Protections

An updated hate crimes bill was initially passed in 2002 that added gender, gender identity, national origin, disability, and sexual orientation.  Because the radical right didn’t want to vote against adding sexual orientation coupled with disability and gender and thereby anger multiple constituencies within their district, a member of the House, proposed a late-night, end of session amendment in the 2001-2002 legislative session that substituted the hate crimes bill for an agricultural crimes bill.  The vote was overwhelmingly in favor, mostly because the legislators didn’t want to appear to be supporting hate crimes via a no vote (prior to this the then Republican majority had refused to bring up the bill for a committee vote). The radical right-wing appealed saying that this substitution violated the state’s constitutional mandate that any amendment has to be germane to the original intent of the bill.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed in July 23, 2008 that this procedure (but not the underlying intent) was unconstitutional and threw out the law.  It has been reintroduced every session since then with no hearing or vote in any committee in either house.

Attacks on Marriage Equality

In addition to having a state-based mini-DOMA (a state-level Defense of Marriage Act) on the books, Pennsylvania has had several attempts at adding this form of discrimination to our state constitution introduced every session for the last decade.  The major reasons they have not passed is that the House is even more conservative than the Senate and the two houses can’t agree on how extreme to make it.  There is another one that has been introduced in the General Assembly this year, but due to increasing support by the public for civil unions and marriage equality (almost 2/3 support throughout the state), they haven’t yet held any hearings.

Budgetary Attacks

One of the spears attacking women, families, and people of color since the takeover of our legislative and executive branches of government here in the state is the budget.

We have had severe cutbacks in state funding for education, health care, and human services since 2011.  According to the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, spending on these three areas in the final budget for 2012-2013 that ends this week was either flat-lined (“welfare” programs) or reduced by 0.3% (for public school education), 15.9% (for higher education), and 37% to 45% (for Medical Assistance inpatient and outpatient care).

The proposed budget plan for 2013-2014 continues these cuts. Here are a couple of examples of this budgetary war:

Attacks to Eliminate Equality for All

In the very first budget introduced by Governor Corbett, every advocacy Commission in the Executive branch was eliminated in the 2011-2012 budget – this includes the Pennsylvania Commission for Women (which I served on until it was abolished), Latino Affairs, Asian-American Affairs, and African-American Affairs.  As you will see from the links to these commissions, there is no public information on who the commissioners are nor is the any information on the services any of these commissions provide.  Prior to the elimination of these commissions in 2011, the Commission for Women, for example, had an extensive web presence which included our mission (the only thing that now remains), hotline contact information, copies of reports written by the Commission, information on the advocacy being conducted by the Commission, and links to programs and services to broadly assist women.  Transparency has disappeared; this is another spear in the attacks with the War on Women here in Pennsylvania.

Like every other state, Pennsylvania has a commission that monitors, reviews and adjudicates alleged acts of discrimination; here in Pennsylvania that is the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC). Severe budgetary cut-backs have occurred in the funding for the PHRC in every budgetary cycle since 2011.  An individual who works within the PHRC told me last month that as a result of these cuts, they are down 50% in staffing and that long-time civil rights advocates in the agency have either retired (some early) or left for other work.  And it’s not getting any better. The PHRC is flat-lined in this year’s budget.  We don’t yet know if this will still be true once the budget is passed, which theoretically must be done this week since our state constitution requires passage by June 30 of each year.

Gerrymandering

Gerrymandering is part of the War on Women due to its impact on legislation directly affecting women’s lives. Gerrymandering here in Pennsylvania, aka the “Gerrymander of the Decade,” has entrenched the right-wing Republicans in both the General Assembly and the Pennsylvania Congressional delegation.  This, despite the fact that there are many more registered Democrats than Republicans in the state.

Being a Democratic legislator, as we all know doesn’t guarantee concern for women’s rights (think Senator Bob Casey, Jr. and his father, former Governor Bob Casey, Sr.). But in these days and times, it’s less likely to cause a problem for us than do the Tea-Party dominated Republicans.

The most recent vote in the General Assembly is a clear example of what gerrymandering has done to the legislature.

Gerrymandering, combined with the elections resulted in the passage of HB 818/Act 13 this month. Tea Party Republican conservatives won many of their races in 2010 and 2012, taking control and leadership of both houses in 2011.  In the House there are 111 Republicans and 92 Democrats.  On April 24, 2013, all but 2 Republicans (98%) voted against and all but 32 Democrats (65%) voted for women’s reproductive justice. In the Senate there are 28 Republicans and 22 Democrats. On June 5, 2013, all but 2 Republicans (93%) voted against and all but 5 Democrats (77%) voted for women’s reproductive justice.

State and Federal ERA

Another comment that was made when I sent out my email was about passing the federal Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The person said,

This is the reason we need to be included in the Constitution of the United States!  One of main ways to stop bills like this is to pass the ERA and thus be admitted as full-fledged citizens of the US.

Before the War on Women started, Pennsylvania passed a state-based ERA that was voted on by the electorate and placed into Section I of the Pennsylvania Constitution in 1971.

Yet even with this state-based ERA, the War on Women is being raged here in Pennsylvania.  Sometimes the state ERA works and sometimes it doesn’t.  It worked back in the 1980’s when Pat and Twiss Butler worked with Pennsylvania NOW to get gender-based auto insurance rates eliminated.  But it didn’t work in 2008 when a woman sued her employer using the state ERA based on sexually offensive comments made by her supervisor but not stopped by the company.

Many people, in frustration have made statements or created nicknames to replace the official monikers of “City or State of Brotherly Love” and the “Cradle of Independence.”  A couple of the pejoratives include “Pennsyltuky” and “Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in the middle” (this latter one is attributed to James Carville)  The progressive parts of the state (for the citizenry, but not necessarily the full legislature) are currently Philadelphia and SE PA, the capital Harrisburg (to some minor extent) and Centre County where I live.  Pittsburgh is still itself progressive, but Allegheny County (where Pittsburgh is located) has become very, very conservative and thus more like the “T” (the term used to describe the rural part of the state outside of the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia regions).

Yes, it is frustrating.  But as a “cock-eyed optimist” (something I’ve often been called), I continue to push back and sometimes we get things that are a bit better than they would have been otherwise.  Much of our work is being done in coalition these days.  I won’t stop my push-back against this War on Women.  I will continue my multi-decade work and will continue to shout from the mountain top whenever and wherever needed.  As will others (see for example, an article in Politico about the War on Women battle for the Pennsylvania governorship gearing up here in Pennsylvania).

Be a “cock-eyed” optimist.  Get the ERA passed and stop this state and national War on Women. As Margaret Mead said,

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

The Conservative Pot of Anger

IRS Form 990 non-profit form

Form 990 – the IRS tax form used by recognized 501(c) non-profit organizations

For over a week now we have been hearing about the “scandal” within the IRS’s Tax-Exempt division.  Congress has been holding hearings, calling on current and past Commissioners to testify about the additional scrutiny given to Tea Party organizations.  A couple of days ago, I asked if this additional scrutiny was a scandal or not.

In addition to my comments that day, the Guardian has now brought up another issue that may be adding fuel to the conservative f(ire).  That fuel is a four-decade simmering anger at the IRS by the conservative religious right.  An anger fueled by both segregation and religion.

In 1954, the US Supreme Court declared in Brown v. Board of Education that segregation in education was unconstitutional. In 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act that, which among other issues makes discrimination based on race in public accommodations and employment illegal. In 1967, the US Supreme Court declared in Loving v. Virginia that bans on interracial marriage were unconstitutional.  In 1970, the IRS changed their tax-exempt regulation on private schools to reflect these policies.

Bob Jones University had, under pre-1970 regulations been granted tax-exempt status.  In 1970, as a result of the change in regulations, the IRS notified Bob Jones University that they intended to revoke the university’s tax-exempt status because of their segregationist policy of initially not admitting blacks and then, later of not admitting or expelling students who entered into, engaged in, or advocated for interracial marriage or dating.

Bob Jones University felt that they had a “biblical” right to discriminate.  So they filed case after case to overturn the IRS revocation.  Finally in 1983, in Bob Jones University v. United States, the US Supreme upheld the IRS revocation of Bob Jones University’s tax-exempt status because of its segregationist policies.

The Justices disagreed with Bob Jones’ biblical interpretation of the competing First and Fourteenth amendments to the US Constitution.  In looking at both amendments, they first declared that there is strong governmental interest in ending discrimination:

[The] Government has a fundamental, overriding interest in eradicating racial discrimination in education 29 – discrimination that prevailed, with official approval, for the first 165 years of this Nation’s constitutional history. That governmental interest substantially outweighs whatever burden denial of tax benefits places on petitioners’ exercise of their religious beliefs.

Then, citing the aforementioned cases (and others), the Court held stated:

An unbroken line of cases following Brown v. Board of Education establishes beyond doubt this Court’s view that racial discrimination in education violates a most fundamental national public policy, as well as rights of individuals.

The Court then pointed out that this IRS regulation was still constitutional even after Bob Jones University opened its doors to people of all races.  The Justices reiterated the lower court decision, stating that the University remained racially discriminatory in its policies at the university in violation of the tax-exempt regulations:

Petitioner Bob Jones University, however, contends that it is not racially discriminatory. It emphasizes that it now allows all races to enroll, subject only to its restrictions on the conduct of all students, including its prohibitions of association between men and women of different races, and of interracial marriage. 31 Although a ban on intermarriage or interracial dating applies to all races, decisions of this Court firmly establish that discrimination on the basis of racial affiliation and association is a form of racial discrimination, see, e. g., Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967); McLaughlin v. Florida, 379 U.S. 184 (1964); Tillman v. Wheaton-Haven Recreation Assn., 410 U.S. 431 (1973). We therefore find that the IRS properly applied Revenue Ruling 71-447 to Bob Jones University. 32

The judgments of the Court of Appeals are, accordingly,

Affirmed.

I think that this article in the Guardian is correct.  It might just be another reason for the current tax-exempt status furor.  It seems that pulling the tax-exempt status of a religiously-based institution for its violation of our country’s stance for equality under the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution resulted in a simmering pot of anger just waiting for a bit more fire to bring conservatives to a full boil.

What do you think?  Please comment.  I’d be interested in hearing your opinion.

Special Report: IRS Scandal Shakes Washington (OR IS IT?)

I just read this blog by Michael J. Rosen about the extra scrutiny of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. I decided to repost his blog with three sets of comments. My comments give thought to three different sets of questions:

  1. What else besides what we’ve heard about might have helped lead to this “scandal?”
  2. Is it really a “scandal?” Do we know?
  3. Is this issue likely to go away soon?

What else might be behind this scandal?

Besides a lack of training and oversight that we’ve heard about, I think another part of this whole problem is the backlog of applications in the non-profit division of the IRS. I talked to them the other day about a non-profit I work with that is attempting to get its 501(c)4 status reinstated due to the 990-N issue. The agent I talked to said that they are getting over 5,000 applications every month and are working on them on a first come, first serve basis.

The IRS website says that with the small staff they have, there is an even greater backlog on applications than what the agent told me. Here’s that IRS statement.

“All [non-profit] applications are sent to the IRS Determinations Office in Cincinnati. This office receives approximately 70,000 applications for tax-exempt status of all kinds each year [that averages out to 5,833 new applicants each month]. This includes applications from section 501(c)(3) and section 501(c)(4) organizations. This office, which includes fewer than 200 people working directly on applications, is primarily responsible for working determination applications.”

The agent helped me to figure out the current status of this VERY SMALL non-profit that I’m working with (if it brings in $400/year for this group, it’s doing well). He told me that the records show that all of the paperwork at our end is basically complete, but the application won’t be reviewed until the office gets to the applications marked as “complete” as of September 2012 (when he says my group officially completed the paperwork). And, directing me to another section of the website, he pointed out that the office is currently working on applications from early May 2012 – i.e., over a 1 year delay in processing!

The aforementioned web page also goes into more detail, from the official IRS viewpoint, of what happened with the Tea Party organizations. It says that approximately 70 Tea Party groups were put into the in-depth “centralized” review; that out of a total of, currently, about 470 organizations being given similar treatment.

Is it a Scandal? Do We Really Know?

A scandal is defined as “a circumstance or action that offends propriety or established moral conceptions or disgraces those associated with it.” A political scandal is “an instance of government wrongdoing” that offends or disgraces those directly associated with that wrongdoing.
In this case, so far, it doesn’t appear to be a scandal that rises to the level of the White House. According to the Washington Post, based on increasing evidence, the IRS issue is very bad press for the Obama administration. According to their report,

If we believe the agency inspector general’s report, a group of employees in a division called the “Determinations Unit…” started giving tea party groups extra scrutiny, were told by agency leadership to knock it off, started doing it again, and then were reined in a second time and told that any further changes to the screening criteria needed to be approved at the highest levels of the agency.

The White House fired the acting director of the agency [this week] on the theory that somebody had to be fired and he was about the only guy they had the power to fire. They’re also instructing the IRS to implement each and every one of the IG’s recommendations to make sure this never happens again.

And from all the evidence obtained so far, there is no evidence of any connection between the “Determinations Unit” and the Obama administration. So unless there is a smoking gun hidden somewhere, there is no political scandal within the White House. Time will tell.

Is this issue likely to go away anytime soon?

No, I personally doubt that the issue will “go away” anytime soon.

Three reasons:

  1. partisan politics to continue attacking Obama’s executive branch;
  2. long history of spying and intrusiveness; and
  3. free-speech issues.

The first issue is purely partisan. Issues that Republicans think will make President Obama look bad are brought up again and again even when the public, to some extent (but not the base) has moved on. Has the Benghazi issue died? How many times will the Republican-dominated House vote to revoke Obamacare before they give up?

The second issue is spying and intrusiveness that, for the first time in a long time, concerns both sides of the aisle. There has been a long history of the feds, usually the FBI, targeting non-profits. Think of the Friends (Quakers) peace-related work for example or the Communist-baiting of the 1950s. Usually it’s the more progressive, left-leaning groups that are targeted. These groups have a long memory and I think may, in this case, support the concerns raised in this non-profit scrutiny case. And since there were progressive groups in this list of targeted non-profits, both sides have some ammunition to push back against the actions of the IRS.

The third is a First Amendment issue. Combine these IRS actions with the free press concerns over the Justice Department’s review of press reporters’ phone logs; both sides have screamed NO. What you have here are two different departments of the executive branch allegedly intruding on the First Amendment: one department—the IRS—may be attacking an individual’s free speech rights and another department—the Justice Department—may be attacking freedom of the press. Both protections are contained within the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

So no, based on all three routes of concern, I don’t think this issue will go away anytime soon.

Michael Rosen Says...

This week, the US Internal Revenue Service acknowledged and apologized for behavior that had long been rumored. The IRS improperly targeted for extra scrutiny conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.

IRS logoThe IRS did not ultimately deny tax-exempt status to a single group receiving extra scrutiny. Some say this proves that the actions of the IRS were baseless.

The scandal has now shaken the nation’s capital:

President Barack Obama directed Jack Lew, Secretary of the Treasury, to request the resignation of Steven Miller, Acting IRS Commissioner.

Miller resigned and Lew accepted the resignation.

The Justice Department has initiated a criminal investigation.

Exercising its oversight responsibility, Congress has begun its own probe of the IRS scandal.

Obama addressed the nation on television saying, “It’s inexcusable and Americans are right to be angry about it and I am angry about it. I will not tolerate this kind of behavior in any agency, but particularly…

View original post 371 more words

Loving and Marriage Equality

Logo of Freedomt to Marry, Inc.

“working to win the freedom to marry in more states, grow the national majority for marriage, and end federal marriage discrimination. ” http://www.freedomtomarry.org/pages/about-us

Today at noon, the US Supreme Court wrapped up a hearing on the right of same-sex couples to marry.  The case is called Hollingsworth v. Perry. If broadly held in favor of the plaintiffs, it will prohibit states from denying lesbian and gay people the right to marry each other. If narrowly held, it would not affect cases outside California; it would only overturn Proposition 8 and allow gay and lesbian people within California to marry each other.

Tomorrow, the US Supreme Court will hear a case called Windsor v. United States. This case appeals the constitutionality of the federal Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA). DOMA denies any benefit, such as tax deductions, for married couples who are not of the opposite sex.

Jointly, these cases are, IMO, about  fairness, equality, and family. What constitutes a family?  Is it right to deny a couple the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of marriage granted all other loving adults?  Does prejudice trump the protections of due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th amendment to the US Constitution?

These questions have come up before. There are a total of 14 previous marriage-equality cases that have reached the US Supreme Court. All of these cases have declared that marriage is a fundamental right for all.  The most famous case—and one that will be part of the argument for same-sex marriage in today’s case—is Loving v. Commonwealth of Virginia.

In 1967, Chief Justice Earl Warren, in an unanimous decision, overturned Virginia’s miscegenation law that bans marriage “solely on the basis of racial classifications [because it violates] the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

When you read further into the opinion you can see that it was prejudice that was the sole basis for Virginia’s (and 15 other states) laws banning interracial marriage. The argument that the state made for keeping the miscegenation law on the books was highlighted in the Court’s opinion. Chief Justice Warren quoted the judge who had sentenced Mildred and Richard Loving to either 1 year in jail or 25 years of exile from Virginia:

“Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

Then Warren overturned the statute stating that there is no legal, “rational” basis to deny someone the constitutional right of marriage equally granted to all other heterosexual couples. And in one simple statement, he basically said that marriage is an issue of equality for all. He said,

“The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights [emphasis added] essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.” 

What happened after this decision?

Interracial Marriages

The result of this opinion was that all anti-miscegenation laws throughout the country became unenforceable. And in the case of Virginia, the state was ordered, among other things, to remove this law from their books. They did it kicking and screaming. It took them until 1971–four years after the Court’s decision–to finally comply.

And I was in the room when it happened. And as far as I can find, they made as sure as they could that the legislators’ prejudicial behavior wouldn’t appear in the history books.

I grew up in Virginia. During my senior year in high school, our Government Class took a trip to the Capitol in Richmond. It just happened to be the day that the legislature rescinded the law banning intermarriage between people of color and Caucasians. There were six of us in the class who wanted to see the vote occur. The guards at the entrance to the visitors’ gallery shut the doors and wouldn’t let anyone in. The six of us decided to question this action and held a sit-in in front of the doors. After much consternation on the part of the guards as to what to do with us, they finally opened the doors and let us in.

We then watched an all-white, male legislature grudgingly vote to rescind this law. In Virginia, the House voted using a board of red and green lights – red for a no vote and green for a yes vote. The question on the floor was basically, “Should we remove the two statutes in our code that prohibit and punish interracial marriages?” 

The speaker put the question to a vote. The board started lighting up. All but a couple of lights were red, meaning that they almost all wanted to keep this prejudiced law on the books. About 30 seconds prior to recording the vote, the speaker again said that he would be closing the vote and asked everyone once again to vote. Just before he closed the vote for the record, all but a couple of the red lights turned green. What got recorded was a grudging acknowledgement that loving someone and getting married is a right that could no longer be denied because of animus towards the couple.

Same-Sex Marriages

In the case of gay and lesbian couples, we once again have an issue of animus towards the freedom to marry in some but not all states. Thirty-nine states limit marriage to heterosexual couples only via statute or state constitutional amendment.

Ten states and three Native American tribes believe otherwise. The states supporting marriage equality are Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia. The tribes supporting marriage equality are the Coquille Tribe in Oregon, the Suquamish tribe in Washington, and the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians in Michigan.

New Mexico and Rhode Island recognize marriages that occur in other states and countries, but don’t allow them to be performed within the state.  And California, unless Proposition 8 is overturned, currently and will continue to recognize only the same-sex marriages that occurred between the May 2008 CA State Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage and the November 4, 2008 passage of Proposition 8.

Polls also tell a story as does Mildred Loving

At the time of the Loving decision, 80% of the country felt that it was wrong for interracial couple to marry. In 2011 (the most recent poll I could find), a record 86% of the public supported interracial marriage.

According to FreedomToMarry.org, popular opinion on gay marriage has also dramatically shifted in the last nine years. A poll addressing the issues being argued in the Proposition 8 case was released on March 18, 2013; it indicates that 58% of respondents support same-sex marriage; only 36% say they are opposed. A poll addressing the issues being argued in the DOMA case was released on March 7, 2013; it shows that 59% of respondents oppose the “denial of equal benefits and protections for legally married same-sex couples.”  And regardless of support for same-sex marriage in either federal or state law, even more people—83 percent—believe that there is a constitutional right to marriage (poll released on February 19, 2013).

I agree. And so did Mildred Loving in one of her few public statements on marriage equality. On the 40th anniversary of the Loving v. Commonwealth of Virginia decision (June 12, 2007), she linked the freedom to marry for same-sex couples to the freedom to marry for interracial couples:

I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry.

I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight, seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.

Let’s listen to Mildred. Let’s listen to the public. Let’s stand up to the animus similar to that expressed by those all-white legislators in the 1971 Virginia General Assembly.

Like Chief Justice Warren and all of his colleagues did back in 1967, the current US Supreme court needs to stand for freedom, fairness, and the family.  They should  broadly rule for marriage equality as suggested by People for the American Way Foundation by supporting the freedom to marry for all. Overturn Prop 8, DOMA, and all the restrictive marriage laws across the country.

As Mildred said,

That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.

In honor of Black History Month (February), Women’s History Month (March), Asian Pacific American History Month (May), National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 – October 15), Muslim American Heritage month (October), and Native American Heritage Month (November), etc., let’s celebrate and honor people’s heritage and experiences throughout the year. This blog gives some ideas for focusing on Black History Month,but calls for honoring one’s heritage year round, no matter what heritage that might be. I agree.

History Tech

To be honest, I’m a bit torn about the whole idea of Black History Month. The concept started way back in 1926 when historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History announced the second week of February to be “Negro History Week.” That particular week was chosen because it marked the birthday of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.

The hope was that the week would eventually be eliminated when black history became fundamental to American history teaching. In 1976, the federal government followed the lead of the Black United Students at Kent State and established the entire month as Black History Month. President Ford urged Americans, and especially teachers and schools, to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

The hope was that essential people, events, and places, routinely ignored…

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