Saturday, December 21, 2013

More about the Utah marriage decision

Listening to Rachel Maddow and her guest, an NYU law professor, I now understand why the Utah marriage decision is perhaps the most significant one thus far.

Until now, all the changes in the 17 states have been done either by state courts or state legislators or by voters.  The Utah decision was the first from a federal judge (District Court).

As Rachel explained, the 30 states with constitutional amendments on gay marriage are immune to being overturned by state courts.   And with 17 states now legalizing gay marriage, there were only three more that could by decided by state courts.  

Utah is one of those with a constitutional amendment   Thus the case was filed in federal court -- because the only recourse was to have a court say it violated the United States Constitution.

That is what happened in Utah and why it is so significant.    It is the first decision by a federal judge that says the state law violates the rights of equal protection in the 14th amendment.

Utah is also the first decision to come down of the several cases that have been filed in federal courts in those states with constitutional amendments.   One, or perhaps several, of them will undoubtedly be appealed and heard by the U. S. Supreme Court -- but probably not until there have been more decisions from other cases.

The argument will be much stronger if there have been some other decisions like this one in Utah.   Let's hope it doesn't reach SCOTUS too soon.   Another couple of years might be just about right when it will seem inevitable even to those opposing change.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Wow !! # 18

Just two days after the court ruling that made marriage equality legal in New Mexico, a U. S. District judge has ruled that Utah's marriage law passed in 2004 is also unconstitutional under the equal protection clause in the 14th amendment.


Gay rights

There was good news from New Mexico yesterday, where the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples must be granted marriage rights under the state constitution's protection of equal rights.

Even better news today, when I learned that the court's decision was unanimous.

But there was equally bad news coming from Uganda.    World activists have been working for several years now trying to prevent the Ugandan Parliament from passing the proposed anti-gay law that would include the death penalty for homosexual acts.

They did manage to get that clause struck out, but they did pass a strong anti-gay law that includes life imprisonment for "aggravated homosexuality."  Proponents of the law claimed that, even though homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda, the stronger penalty law was needed because homosexuals from the West threatened to destroy Ugandan families and are allegedly recruiting children into the gay lifestyle.

President Obama has previously called the law "odious," and it has been widely condemned by world leaders.

Back to the positive:   President Obama's choices for the official delegation to represent his administration at the Winter Olympics in Russia sends a powerful message.   No one of any high position is going, and the group includes three openly gay athletes.    Recently resigned Sec. of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano is a former cabinet member, but no current cabinet member, no VP and no POTUS or FLOTUS.

We chose not to boycott the games in protest of Russia's repressive anti-gay lawsInstead we are going and making a powerful statement.   I think that's the right decision.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

It's official: gay marriage now legal in New Mexico

The New Mexico state supreme court has ruled:   in a state whose constitution does not mention any limitations of the gender of people apply fo marriage licenses, it would be a violation of the state constitution to deprive same-sex couples of the right to a marriage license.

So that makes 17 states, plus the District of Columbia that have marriage equality.

If you look at the population of those states, 39% of the American people now live in one of those jurisdictions.

It has become legal in 9 of those 17 states in the year 2013:  Maryland, Rhode Island, Minnesota, Delaware, California, New Jersey, Illinois, Hawaii, and New Mexico.

A full sweep ordered by SCOTUS shouldn't be too much longer in coming.   I'm predicting that it will involve the consequences of eliminating DADT in the military.  We now have service men and women stationed at bases in states that do not allow gay marriage -- which leads to unequal treatment of some of our military personnel.

The walls are crumbling.   It won't be long now.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

'Safe-guarding the ballot'

Freedom to vote and freedom to choose whom to vote for -- fundamental rights of American citizens.    So we don't want anybody cheating on this right, do we?

That's why 30 states have recently voted in some kind of "voter ID" laws that require a government-issued photo ID and/or other types of documents that prove a person's legal residence in the voting district.   Or, so they say.  All but one of these are states with Republican governors and Republican-controlled legislatures.

As we well know by now, (1) there is no voter fraud problem;   and (2) the real reason Republicans are pushing these laws is that they tend to inhibit, intimidate, or otherwise discourage voting by Democratic-leaning groups.  

In short, along with lying and obfuscating, Republicans can only win by cheating or suppressing the vote of the opposition.

Now one Republican has put his money into the question.   Iowa's Secretary of State Matt Schultz (R) authorized $150,000 for an investigation into voter fraud;  another $280,000 in federal funds were diverted to this investigation.

What did they find?   After 18 months of investigation, out of more than a million voters in Iowa, they found 10 cases that might come into the category voter fraud.    After further investigation, 5 of those were dismissed.     

Of the remaining five, three were convicted felons who had completed their prison terms and mistakenly thought their voting rights had been restored.   One was a mother who filled in an absentee ballot for her daughter who had recently moved to another state and thought she had missed the registration deadline there.   But the daughter was able to register and vote in the other state;   the mother then self-reported her error.   The last of the 10 was a man with a DUI conviction who had used his dead brother's ID to obtain a new driver's license;   this was discovered when he tried to vote, using the false driver's license for ID.

So there was not one single case of a person trying to vote when they knew they were not eligible to do so.

That is the 'voter fraud' situation in Iowa.   Hardly the most pressing issue.   And when you put this up against the hardship for some people to obtain these photo IDs, and against the actual loss of large numbers of voters at the ballot box . . . . 

. . . . the Republican's pushing these laws for their own political purpose is the scandal.


Monday, December 16, 2013

Federal judge agrees with Snowden

Federal District Court judge Richard Leon today ruled that the NSA data-collecting program probably violates the U. S. Constitution's 4th amendment, which protects citizens from "unreasonable" searches or seizures.

I have been divided in my thinking about this ever since the data collecting was first revealed.   On the one hand, people I trust (Obama and his appointees) insist that it is a great help in protecting us against terrorist plots.   On the other hand, it feels like an invasion of privacy.

But so, too, does the fact that my computer is a veritable gold mine of data collecting for commercial purposes -- buy something on line, and suddenly you are flooded with ads for similar products.

The way I understand the NSA program:   No one is listening in on your phone calls.  They are merely collecting "meta data," i.e. who calls whom and when.   This is all stored in vast data banks.   If there is later some indication that someone with terrorist connections is under investigation, they can then -- with a warrant, except in rare emergencie4s -- look at the data and investigate further.

Honestly, that does not seem so bad to me.   But I also realize the potential for misuse that could lead to serious consequences in our individual rights to privacy.

So . . . we'll see how this plays out.   Undoubtedly it will be appealed and eventually wind up at SCOTUS.

By the way, Judge Leon was appointed by President George W. Bush.