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    May 28, 2009

    Gays 'honor killings' in occupied Iraq

    Posted by: Chris

    Iraqigaysblog One of the first stories I posted on Gay News Watch, back in February 2007, concerned reports that the Iraqi government was lending its official endorsement to Shiite militias responsible for killing gay men. After two more years of American occupation and a change in U.S. administrations, the story hasn't changed and the horrific killings continue:

    Two gay men were killed in Baghdad's Sadr City slum, and police confirmed they found the bodies of four more men, all killed during a 10-day period after an unknown Shiite militia group urged a crackdown on homosexuals in the country.

    The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs believes as many as 30 people have been killed during the last three months because they were -- or were perceived to be -- gay.

    Homosexuality is prohibited almost everywhere in the Middle East, but conditions have become especially dangerous in recent years for gays and lesbians, as religious militias have become more powerful since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

    But an Iraqi military source claimed the recent killings were linked to tribal violence, not militias, and his characterization of the killings hints at how deep homophobia runs in Iraqi society.

    "Two young men were killed Thursday. They were sexual deviants. Their tribes killed them to restore their family honor," an Iraqi army member who did not want to give his name told ABC News.

    The army source said the bodies of four gay men were unearthed in Sadr City March 25, each bearing signs reading "pervert" in Arabic on their chests. All the bodies found bore signs of torture and were found fixed to poles when they were killed. The Iraqi army source also said two of the men found dead were wearing diapers and women's lingerie.

    Two gay men were found elsewhere in Sadr City, alive but bearing the scars of severe torture. They were beaten, their chests showed signs of cigarette burns, and when police found them they were rushed to the hospital. They had been sodomized with iron bars, sources said. Other men said they had had their chests slashed and their nipples cut off.

    The Bush and Obama administrations have been justifiably proud about the improved status, safety and opportunity for women as a result of the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. But where is the concerted action to put an end to these unspeakable acts of violence?

    The hypocrisy of 'religious freedom'

    Posted by: Chris

    Memphisantigay Coming home to visit family in Memphis always offers a fresh reminder of how all those headlines about the forward march of marriage equality in some parts of the country bear little resemblance to the sad reality facing gay folk who live where I grew up. This trip home, I learned that the local county commission is embroiled in a debate about whether to adopt an ordinance banning workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

    I listened (as long as I could force myself) to discussion of the proposal on the local AM conservative talk radio station, and opposition lined up mostly along the relatively new complaint we hear from anti-gay advocates that such laws discriminate against religious people. The ordinance carves out from its reach churches and other employers whose mission is faith-based, but the host and caller after caller complained that Christians who own their own businesses would nonetheless be forced to hire and not fire GLBT employees.

    The sponsor of the ordinance, Shelby County Commissioner Steve Mulroy, was the guest on the program and did an excellent job of answering the criticisms. (In fact, rarely have I heard a politician offer such an effective defense of gay rights.) He pointed out that religion was offered in the past and rejected as a defense for discriminating in the workplace based on race, gender, and -- actually -- religion.

    Yesterday the ordinance failed the first test of its support on the commission, and these defenders of "religious freedom" failed the test of seriousness along the way. That's because an amendment was adopted to limit the ordinance to Shelby County government employees, not those in the private sector. If objections to the ordinance were really about these "Christian businesses," then the amendment should have answered them.

    But, of course, this debate isn't about religious freedom at all. Because even when the proposal was limited to the government itself, it was rejected. The reason is as obvious as the coalition of conservative clergy organized to fight the ordinance and the biblical references of almost all those who spoke out against it at the commission meeting.

    This wasn't about protecting the rights of conservative Christian-owned business to fire gay workers, it was about protecting the ability of conservative Christians in positions of authority in the government to hire and fire based upon their personal biblical views. That, my friends, is a far more insidious form of religious discrimination.

    (Photo of anti-gay Commissioner Wyatt Bunker -- any relation to Archie? -- and coalition of conservative pastors via Commercial Appeal.)

    May 27, 2009

    MSNBC's Anderson Cooper in drag?

    Posted by: Chris

    You can get CNN and Fox News in Brazil, but not so MSNBC, so someone please correct me if I'm wrong on this: Does Rachel Maddow ever acknowledge on-air that she's gay, even when discussing stories about marriage and other gay rights issues?

    I couldn't help but be struck by Maddow's take last night on the Prop 8 ruling and the protests that followed. She discusses the events with her usual bright-and-funny-if-a-bit-too-smug-and-predictable manner, then winds up by sharing that she's interested in a rally this Saturday in Fresno because she's a big geography geek:

    No mention of any interest in same-sex marriage because she's a Sappho-lover herself.

    It's unfair to compare Maddow directly with CNN's resident closet-case, Anderson Cooper, because Maddow has been open for years about being gay, at least in personal interviews. But isn't it fair to expect that such a proudly liberal talking head find an appropriately cheeky way to fill-in all her viewers about her direct connection to gay rights?

    Like I said, maybe I've missed it and correct me if I'm wrong,

    A wretched ruling that also happens to be right

    Posted by: Chris

    Sfmarriageprotest The ruling yesterday by the California Supreme Court upholding Proposition 8's same-sex marriage ban sent thousands into the streets of San Francisco, Los Angeles and dozens of cities across the country to protest. Long-time activist Robin Tyler, who was a plaintiff in last year's successful suit challenging the state's gay marriage ban and the unsuccessful legal attack this year on Prop 8, didn't mince words.

    "The upholding of Proposition 8 by the court is a cowardly retreat from the pro-equality stance it took last year," said Tyler, "and makes our state a laggard behind pro-equality states like Iowa and most New England states."

    The reason for her frustration is obvious enough. A little more than one year ago, the California high court struck down a ballot initiative banning same-sex marriage as a bias-motivated measure that violated equal protection under the law and impinged on a "fundamental right" guaranteed by the state's Constitution. Six months later, an almost identical ballot initiative called Proposition 8, adopted by an even smaller margin of votes, snatched away that "fundamental right." 

    Confronted with such a naked power play -- a bare majority re-adopting the same ballot initiative found unconstitutional a year earlier -- the California Supreme Court this week just shrugged its shoulders. "There's nothing we can do," the 6-1 majority said, essentially. "It's just really easy to amend our Constitution."

    That’s really what the challenge to Prop 8 came down to -- the very same simple majority of California voters that can adopt a state statute by proposition can also amend the state’s constitution by proposition. It’s a huge flaw in the constitutional design of our most populous and influential state.

    If individual rights are to be protected from the majority abuse, then trampling on a minority should obviously require something more than a simple majority of voters. That’s why the U.S. Constitution and the founding documents of the vast majority of other states don’t let amendments go before the voters at all, or only after they are pre-approved by a legislature, usually by super-majority and often over successive sessions.

    The gay plaintiffs challenging Prop 8, backed by state Attorney General Jerry Brown, tried their best to make an end-run around the easy amendability of the California Constitution, honing in on archaic language that says “amendments” can go before voters but “revisions” have to get the legislature’s OK first.

    Parsing through the difference between an “amendment” and a “revision” is the kind of thing that earns lawyers the revulsion of right-thinking people everywhere. In this case, the court majority got the better of the argument, pointing to an uninterrupted chain of earlier court rulings about what amounts to a “revision.”  

    Despite the best pro-gay efforts of some very smart lawyers, calling Prop 8 a “revision” rather than an “amendment” would require ramming a very square peg down a very round hole.

    It’s very cold comfort, of course, to know that the justices weren’t simply cowardly fearing recall by voters -- another fundamental flaw in California’s legal system -- when they upheld Proposition 8; just like it’s pretty cold comfort that the court didn’t forcibly divorce the 18,000 same-sex couples who married before Prop 8 passed.

    Still, the news isn’t all bad. Politically speaking, it will be much better for the gay rights movement in the long haul to repeal Prop 8 at the ballot box, rather than from the bench. Equality California has already announced plans to put a pro-gay proposition -- call it Prop Anti-8 -- on the 2010 ballot, and this week’s court ruling has at least energized volunteers.

    Tedolsonblog What’s more, this temporary defeat may actually turn into the mother of all victories for same-sex marriage. Just today, two of the most prominent lawyers in the U.S., who just so happened to be on opposite sides of the Bush vs. Gore case back in 2000, have come together to file a federal lawsuit challenging Proposition 8.

    These two strange same-sex bedfellows include Ted Olson, a conservative hero as George W. Bush’s lawyer back in 2000 and subsequently solicitor general for W.’s first term, along with David Boies, Al Gore’s lawyer and the guy who took on Microsoft back in the ’90s for the Clinton Justice Department. Their Prop 8 suit is based on the guarantees of equal protection and due process in the U.S. Constitution, and if successful would in domino fashion strike down gay marriage bans everywhere, along with DOMA, the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

    Even with the involvement of these legal giants, this latest lawsuit is itself a risky gamble, given the conservative state of the judiciary and the precarious balance of power on the U.S. Supreme Court. But if it works, this week’s protesters can take special joy in how Proposition 8 ultimately won the great gay marriage war.

    (Protest photo via San Francisco Chronicle/AP)

    May 26, 2009

    The gay verdict on Sotomayor

    Posted by: Chris

    Soniasotomayor Little to none of the initial reaction to President Obama's nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court has focused on gay rights issues, largely because her own judicial record is apparently void on the subject. That said, there are aspects to her selection that speak to the limits of identity politics, both for the GLBT left and, in opposition, on the conservative right.

    Since the resignation announcement by Justice David Souter -- himself a lifelong bachelor long rumored to be gay -- some gay rights advocates have voiced their hopes that the president would pick the first-ever openly gay nominee to the high court. But if news accounts have been accurate, neither of two lesbian Stanford law professors -- Kathleen Sullivan and Pamela Karlan -- made Obama's list of top four possibilities.

    For many of the same reasons that the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund advocates for openly gay legislators, cabinet secretaries and the like, there would no doubt be enormous symbolism to an openly gay or lesbian justice, in addition to the inclusion of that person's unique life experiences into the mix of judicial viewpoints. But the room for influence from gay or lesbian life experiences on a jurist is a good deal more limited than for the more actively political and policy-making branches of government.

    And why I don't know much about Karlan -- except that her record had a number of political minefields -- I'm not convinced that Sullivan is the ideal "openly gay" candidate. Sullivan, a former Stanford Law dean and Harvard law prof, was deeply closeted during my years in school -- which overlapped as well with President Obama's years there.

    Despite her participation on the brief in the (failed) attempt to overturn Georgia's sodomy law, Sullivan said nothing helpful or otherwise about her own life during a time of energetic campus activism around "faculty diversity" and the absence of a single openly gay professor. All in all, it's not greatly disappointing and certainly unsurprising, that the president did not select an openly gay nominee.

    On the other hand, conservatives are already in a lather about Sotomayor as "judicial activist" who they claim will "legislate from the bench." In support they cite not to her actual record as an appeals court judge on the Second Circuit, but to a YouTube moment where she jokes offhandedly at a law school symposium about whether federal appellate judges "make policy":

    Outside the political arena, anyone half-serious as a lawyer or judicial observer will acknowledge that the circuit courts -- which are more often than the U.S. Supreme Court the venue of last resort for litigants -- unavoidably "make law" as they intepret the vagueries of legislative statutes and judicial precedents. (Sotomayor also followed up her remarks by saying she was not "promoting" or "advocating" policy-making from the bench.)

    A second example lighting up the right is a bit more troubling on its face. In prepared remarks at Berkeley, Judge Sotomayor suggested that the unique life experiences of a Latina female jurist would result in "better conclusions"

    [O]ur gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Justice O'Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am not so sure Justice O'Connor is the author of that line since Professor Resnik attributes that line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement.

    First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life.

    On the one hand, Sotomayor's suggestion that ethnicity and gender are somehow determinative of the "richness of life experiences" represents the tired, ugly side of identity politics, which forgets the rhetorical commitments to equality in favor of elevating the lives of minorities in importance (or "richness") over those in the majority.

    On the other hand, conservatives actually have little to complain about here. Those of us paying attention to the debate over gay rights, both in the legislature and the judiciary, have heard ad nauseum about how private religious values are absolutely relevant to making and interpreting law. Beyond that particular hypocrisy, Sotomayor's comments are aimed in the right direction, at least to the extent that a diversity of life experiences on any court, much less the nation's highest court, can only add to the decision-making process.

    Doubters should recall the difference between Justice Byron White, who suggested for the court's majority in Bowers vs. Hardwick that it was "facetious at best" to compare gay relationships to heterosexual-led families, with the contrary language of Justice Anthony Kennedy in Lawrence vs. Texas, which overruled Bowers and struck down the nation's sodomy laws. Reading Justice White's opinion, it was abundantly clear that he had no personal relationships with same-sex couples. The swing vote in that 5-4 decision, Justice Lewis Powell, said later that the Bowers vote was his biggest regret, and one of Powell's law clerks was closeted. Kennedy's familiarity with the lives of gay people and same-sex relationships similarly came through in his Lawrence opinion.

    We will no doubt all be learning more about Judge Sotomayor in the days and weeks to come, including the context of her most incendiary comments, and whether they are in fact reflected in her actual judicial philosophy, the votes she has cast from the bench, and the opinions she has authored. In the meantime, she appears to be an impressive selection destined for confirmation.

    Back to blogging

    Posted by: Chris

    Blogging I'm baaaaaack.

    It's been about 100 days since the last time I put fingers to keyboard here on the blog, an absence much longer than I ever anticipated. In fact, back in February when I wrote that last past, I had absolutely no plan to take a break of one day or one week, much less three months. That long break came more organically, I would say, though that makes it sound more healthy than it deserves.

    I may write more about the why's for my break at some later date, but the short version is that my partner and I suffered a setback in our hope to bring him to the U.S., and for some time I simply withdrew -- in disgust, in exhaustion and in impatience -- from the politics and law of my home country.

    For the last few weeks, I've begun re-engaging and now I feel ready to begin re-blogging. And what better day to begin than the day when President Obama names his first nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the day that the California Supreme Court announces its decision on the constitutionality of Prop 8.

    More on those topic later today, but for now -- let me just say a very special thank you to Andoni for filling in the gaps when he was able, and to all of you who continued to read and who offered encouragement to me, as well.

    Now… back to blogging!

    May 05, 2009

    Greek court annuls gay weddings

    Posted by: Andoni

    Remember those same sex civil weddings on the Greek island of Tilos that I reported a while back? Well, a Greek court, under strong pressure from the Greek Orthodox Church, ruled yesterday that those marriages were illegal.

    One of the married couples said they are going to appeal -- that it's a human rights violation.

    I believe this one will eventually end up in the European Union Court of Human Rights. Then we will find out if in the new Europe (the EU) the church is still stronger than the state.

    As an aside, I just happen to be in Greece (on the island of Corfu). I have been planning to take a break from posting, but this is a story I had been following, so I felt obligated to report on it.

    Although Corfu is not off the beaten path, my intention is to see many of the off the beaten path Greek islands (traveling as a local) over the next 8 weeks. On the list are Tilos (the island where the marriages took place), Amorgos, Folegandros, Symi, Patmos, Kefalonia, Paxi and Skopelos. That means I won't be visiting my favorite one, Santorini (or Thira, as it's called in Greek). Hmm..... Santorini, Corfu...how did so many Greek islands end up with Italian names?

    As you have noticed, Chris is taking a break, and now I am too. So this site is going to get even quieter.

    I will occasionally do a post if the news warrants, like if President Obama nominates an openly lesbian person to the Supreme Court. Short of that, not too many posts from me for a while.

    May 01, 2009

    After 100 days, still 0% LGBT Equality

    Posted by: Andoni


    eQualityGiving, an organization of major LGBT donors and activists, is keeping track of President Obama's progress on LGBT rights. To date, the meter is still at 0%, although the Hate Crimes bill is making its way through Congress and may be on the president's desk soon.

    I don't think eQualityGiving believes Obama should ignore the other major problems facing the country in favor of LGBT rights. They just believe that the president should not forget about LGBT rights. And to make sure, they will keep score with the above Waiting for LGBT Equality Index. To the best of my knowledge, no other LGBT organization is looking at the entire spectrum of LGBT rights and publicizing the progress the way eQualityGiving is.

    eQualityGiving has proposed an Omnibus Gay Rights Bill called the Equality and Religious Freedom Act that would achieve all of the above rights in one bill. Whether this is possible or not is debatable, but the Omnibus bill certainly is the gold standard against which all other legislation can be measured. And the above chart represents all the components of the Omnibus Bill. Thus our progress toward equality can be measured.

    Right now, folks, we are 0% equal.

    These are exciting times. We have a conducive Congress and a willing president. But in order to get things done, it is we who have to get into action. There is a lot of work to do.

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