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  • January 27, 2010

    Is there a President in the house?

    Posted by: Kevin


    The New York Times and the Washington Post today seem to have boiled down the meaning of President Barack Obama's State of the Union address tonight.  Or at least they've captured the national mood hanging over the event.  Assembled before him (and for some people, behind him on the dais as well) will be probably the most hated group of people in the United States today.  And given their sweeping campaign finance ruling that stunned everyone this week, that includes several justices of the Supreme Court among some folks.

    The country is in a state of boiling anger that no one person or political party can either take credit for, be blamed for entirely, or truly ride as a wave to unfettered power.  Joel Achenbach in the Post said it best when crunching the poll numbers: "The state of the union is obstreperous. Dyspepsia is the new equilibrium. All the passion in American politics is oppositional. The American people know what they don't like, which is: everything."

    Frankly, it's easy to figure out where all this started.  The U.S. economy is in the toilet.  It's as bad or worse as the most agonizing period of my lifetime, which was the 1990-92 recession, which hit just as I graduated college and saw as many as half of my friends fail to find decent employment for months on end.  The stories of wholesale collapse of businesses, careers, housing situations, marriages and even a few lives have piled up in the past few years, and I haven't escaped the dark news from friends and family even from 5,000 miles and a completely different economy away.

    When Americans feel a sense of hopelessness setting in, they don't go quiet.  They get anxious, for good reason.  And when they open a newspaper or turn on the news every day and see their government (which sends them a regular tax bill, only adding to the anxiety for many) not paying attention to what they say are their priorities, that anxiety turns to anger.  And when the leaders in government have the nerve to push back, to hector them about what their priorities should be instead, that anger turns white hot, and it blows up in the voting booth.

    And to use my native New York bluntness, when things are this bad in everyone's lives, they don't wanna hear whose fucking fault it is -- they wanna know what the hell you're gonna do about it.

    It's not rocket science.  The voters gave a mandate to the current government in 2008 on a wave of hope, the almighty Hope.  It was a hope based in the feeling that their concerns were not being addressed by the previous President, that he had been arrogant, wrong-headed, lost in a fog and incapable of humility in the face of countless disasters and mismanagement.  They were, indeed, sold a package of hope that things would be different, very different.  And immediately.

    Well - say what you will about this government, but the anger boiling out in the country across the whole political spectrum for everyone in power right now is the political equivalent to Rome on fire.  Too many Democratic hacks and pundits are basically fiddling to it -- blaming Fox News, blaming the Republicans, blaming Wall Street and even blaming the American people themselves for not being smart enough to realize what is good for them (which is, of course, what those same hacks and pundits say is good for them.)

    From the narrow perspective of the gay community, the anger is also there.  I don't know of any gay person who has a mild opinion.  They're either fuming mad at the Democrats or they're furiously trying to defend them.  (That's always telling.)  But the bottom line is that the Democrats said they needed the White House and 60 votes and they would enact our agenda.  They lied.  Indeed, they now are trying to claim that it was somehow a ridiculous notion that 60 votes meant anything.  Jeff Zeleny got this version of "I meant to do that!" from Vice President Joe Biden: "When we had 60 votes, there was the expectation left, right and center that we could do everything we wanted to do, which was never realistic. Never.”

    Oh really?  Then how is it that the Republican Congressional majority from 1995 to 2006 got almost everything they ever wanted, whether they had the White House or not, and never had 60 votes?  Indeed, remember George W. Bush and his tie-breaking Vice President in the Senate?  They exercised unrelenting power with a whisker's margin.  This gang of idiots couldn't get anything done with a supermajority.  (And that, my friends, angers a whole lot of Democrats.  So Biden's comment served no purpose other than to raise ire even further.)

    It's particularly galling that so much was promised and so little action has been taken.  Gay Americans have grown so weary of sweet words (lest I remind you, the Clinton presidency began almost 20 years ago), and patience is very thin for good reason.  The staggering lack of courage on display in the Democratic supermajority, and the blaming of others even then (!), was just too outrageous to be spun favorably.  As we say in Brazil, the Democrats "queimou o filme" - or 'exposed the film', which is to say, the damage is done and something very concrete and serious has to happen or the mood will not improve for gay Americans.

    It was also the Democrats' choice of priorities that sent a lot of Americans scattering to the barricades, not for ideological reasons, but out of sheer desperation.  When unemployment was hitting double-digits and the nation's fiscal deficit was plunging towards Hades, the Democrats chose two battlefields to die on: climate change and a massive health care reform bill.  And as of today, barring some incredible turn of political events, both initiatives appear dead in the water despite the gynormous majorities they continue to enjoy in the Congress.

    At the end of the day, the idiots of both parties in that chamber are not the focus of tonight's event.  They are just the peanut gallery, which will elicit plenty of angry scorn hurled at TV sets across the nation.  No, the one this all revolves around is someone about whom many of us are wondering - where did he go?  Where is that galvanizing figure who presides from atop a bully pulpit, with a clear, undisputed mandate to lead? 

    Indeed, where is the President of the United States?  Where is the leader amidst this spiraling disaster of unfocused time-wasting in the government?

    In that sea of loathsome characters filling the House chamber tonight, he should be easy to spot.  It would take so little lift to soar above their heads in the public eye.  The mood is so low, so sour, that should Obama manage to seriously reconnect with that anxious, fearful public out there - not only with promises, but with accountability, humility, determination and details - and even manage to inspire, it could set our hair aloft with its electricity.  But given the crater he'll be speaking from, it's a high hurdle to jump. 

    If he blows it entirely tonight, it will be as if Ronald Reagan, in the nadir of the 1982 recession, gave a speech about malaise rather than spoke confidently of a morning in America, a shining city on a hill, all the things he sold the country when they embraced him in 1980.  Had he veered off that road, Reagan's presidency would have largely ended in one term, deservedly so.  As might Obama's.

    Mr. President - where are you?  Or better yet, where the hell have you been?  Here's hoping we find out tonight.
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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?

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    January 20, 2009

    From transition to clean break

    Posted by: Chris


    CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin sounded a sour note a few hours ago on Barack Obama's inaugural address, criticizing it for lacking a coherent theme or any memorable phrase or idea. I would actually agree.

    The speech surprised by being less memorable or powerful than his race speech, his acceptance speech in Denver or on election night in Chicago -- not to mention his 2004 keynote at the Democratic convention. Though with four warm-ups like that and all the world attention, it was probably impossible for Obama to live up to expectations today.

    If a central goal of his presidency -- and the inauguration -- is to u nify the country, the speech itself probably hit a sour note. I can only imagine how President Bush and Republicans reacted to hearing about "a sapping of confidence across our land -- a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable." We usually hear these sorts of broadsides from Republicans after Democratic control in Washington. Can't you imagine Ronald Reagan saying the same thing after four years of Jimmy Carner?

    Not to mention how John McCain and his supporters probably felt about Obama proclaiming, "We have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord," or "or that in national defense, "we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals."

    I agree on each and every point, but that's not my point. I wonder whether such direct attacks on Bush and the GOP, especially on such a day, will undermine the goodwill Obama has built and set the country on a more divisive course.

    On the other hand, polls show Americans overwhelmingly agree that the Bush presidency was a failure and the nation is headed in the wrong direction. Even arch-conservative Bill Bennett called the speech "muscular," and though he was talking about its few chest-thumping passage, he is right. Obama set a clear new course for the country.

    Forget talk of a transition, this was a clean break. This was change. That's what the people want, after all.

    (Photo via Washington Post)

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    Filed in: Bush , McCain , Obama

    January 15, 2009

    Wave buh-bye to the Bush legacy

    Posted by: Chris

    Georgewbushwaves Asked how his presidency will be remembered, George W. Bush famously said, “You never know what your history is going to be like until long after you’re gone.”

    We can chuckle all we want at Bush-isms like that one, but we needn’t wait “until long after we’re gone” to know that on issues important to gay and lesbian Americans, history will judge Bush unkindly.

    The Texas governor and son of an ex-president campaigned as a “compassionate conservative,” but the contested election of 2000 made it almost impossible for Bush 43 to deliver on his promise to be “a uniter, not a divider.” He would squander his second chance to unite the country, after the horrific attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

    The Iraq War again divided the country and re-election prospects were looking grim, but the landmark gay marriage ruling in Massachusetts presented Bush the perfect political opportunity to follow the cynical divide and conquer “strategery” of his political “brain,” Karl Rove. In the January 2004 State of the Union address, a speech itself mandated by the Constitution, Bush signaled his support for amending the nation’s founding document to ban gay marriage.

    In one of many cruel ironies from the Bush years, W. used the “G word” for the first time as president during that 2004 campaign, while reassuring a voter that he would do everything within his power to save “traditional marriage.”

    Sadly, the wedge politics worked even if the federal amendment never came close to passing. Across the nation, Republican politicians responded to the president’s call by proposing state constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage. The resulting ballot measures brought conservatives to the polls in November, tipping battleground states like Ohio for Bush and ensuring a second term.

    Even in the waning months of his presidency last year, Bush reached out to remind gay Americans that we were second-class citizens. His White House staff threatened to veto the most basic gay rights legislation: a hate crime bill and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

    There were some indications that ENDA amendments agreed to in the House, stripping gender identity protections and strengthening exceptions for faith-based employers, might have resulted in the president actually signing the legislation. Perhaps for that reason, as well as the divisive fight over transgender protections, the Democratic-controlled Senate never took up ENDA, and President Bush was never forced to decide whether to sign or veto.

    The stormy Bush legacy on gay issues has a few silver linings. Some controversial executive orders ping-pong between presidents of different parties, signed by one only to be repealed by the next. Bush left in place a Clinton-era order that protected federal workers against anti-gay discrimination. But Bush did little when one of his own appointee watered down the protections until they were effectively meaningless.

    Bush was the first GOP president to send openly gay nominees to the Senate for confirmation. During the Clinton years, appointees like Roberta Achtenberg and James Hormel faced stiff resistance from Republicans like Jesse Helms based solely on their sexual orientation. Although Bush made precious few out gay appointments, his willingness to do so at all marked an end to the Helms era even before Helms himself passed away.

    Another Bush highlight was his massive commitment to the fight against AIDS outside the U.S., especially in Africa. Without taking anything away from that effort, it was hard not to see it as a signal that the heterosexual population affected by AIDS in Africa was more sympathetic to the president that the largely homosexual population here at home.

    Because on the domestic AIDS front, Bush reverted to the Reagan-Bush policy of malign neglect, setting policy with almost total disregard for the health of gay and bisexual Americans, who remained at the greatest risk of contracting HIV.

    HIV prevention policy under Bush emphasized abstinence only until marriage, ignoring the cruel irony that this same administration was actively working to prevent gays from marrying. Did he really expect gay men to abstain from sex our entire lives?

    It wasn’t just in AIDS policy that W. treated us not just as second class citizens of this country, but worse even than foreigners. In yet another irony, this additional smack in the face came from a regulation that may actually mark the first time the U.S. government recognized same-sex relationships, and in immigration of all areas.

    Foreigners who come to America on work visas are permitted to bring their unmarried partners with them, and the Bush administration decided that regulation includes same-sex partners as well. The motivation was not gay rights but competitiveness, since U.S. employers would otherwise lose out on talented young Europeans who are marrying later or entering into civil unions.

    As positive as this recognition was, it only highlighted how gay and lesbian Americans now have even less rights than non-Americans to sponsor foreign same-sex partners to live in the United States.

    It will take months if not years for the incoming administration and Congress to undo the harm done in eight years of George W. Bush, not to mention his Democratic predecessor. For that reason alone, Jan. 20 can’t come soon enough.

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    December 24, 2008

    Bah-humbug from George Bush

    Posted by: Chris

    RichardgrenellHis presidency winding down, rejected by most as a failure in foreign and domestic policy, President Bush remains steadfast, determined not to engender sympathy, even during his final Christmas in the White House. On two important issues just this week, the Bush administration stuck a finger in our eye and even rubbed it around a bit.

    In the United Nations, an historic declaration was introduced in the 192-member General Assembly urging countries "to take all the necessary measures, in particular legislative or administrative, to ensure that sexual orientation or gender identity may under no circumstances be the basis for criminal penalties, in particular executions, arrests or detention."

    The measure was sponsored by France and backed by 65 other countries, including every nation in the European Union and most of Latin America. But not the United States of Bush, despite a crystal clear Supreme Court ruling from 2003 that our own Constitution was on the exact same page as the U.N. proposal.

    The official American position was based on highly technical legal grounds. The text, by using terminology like “without distinction of any kind,” was too broad because it might be interpreted as an attempt by the federal government to override states’ rights on issues like gay marriage, American diplomats and legal experts said.

    It was at least refreshing to hear a powerful retort from Richard Grinell, a longtime acquaintance and gay Republican who was a spokesman for a succession of Bush U.N. ambassadors:

    "Concerns about a remote possibility (marriage) ignores the purpose of the resolution, which is to make sure that people are not killed or oppressed just because they are gay."

    A true conservative, Mr. Grenell said, is "always interested in less government involvement and more personal responsibilities."

    "If being gay is a criminal act, then the State Department has granted hundreds of criminals like me top-secret security clearance," he said. "Common sense says that we should be the leader in making sure other governments grant more freedoms to their people."

    George W Bush As if that weren't enough, the Bush health department has issued new rules intended to allow medical  professionals to provide medical care based upon "sincere religious belief or moral conviction":

    "This rule protects the right of medical providers to care for their patients in accord with their conscience," says Health and Human Services Secretary Michael O. Leavitt in a statement. That sounds relatively harmless, not to mention respectful of personal religious beliefs, except when you remember that absolutely any form of personal bigotry can be called a "sincere religious belief or moral conviction."

    That's why there's no "religious belief" or "moral conviction" exception to the Civil Rights Act, although churches and related entities are excluded as employers from the watered-down Employment Non-Discrimination Act (that was then "watered up" with gender identity protections).

    So in the guise of respecting religious freedom, doctors, nurses and pharmacists won't risk federal funding even if they refuse treatment to lesbians and gay men based on religious views about homosexuality, and transgender folk based on beliefs about gender identity. Talk about entangling church and state.

    In many cases, state law will still prohibit these types of refusals but by no means everywhere. And President-elect Obama could initiate the process to reverse the rule, but that will take months.

    Thanks, President Bush. Merry Christmas to you, too.

    (Photo of Richard Grinell via Wikipedia)

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    Filed in: Bush

    October 22, 2008

    Harvard Club hides Bush photo near bathroom

    Posted by: Andoni

    Bush_harvard_clubThis past weekend I attended a National Board meeting of the ACLU in New York.

    Our regular meeting venue was not available due to renovations, so we had to meet in a temporary new location - the Harvard Club of New York on W. 44th Street.

    This is a very nice facility. It has lounges, dining rooms, libraries, meeting rooms and overnight guest rooms. The club is peppered with notable graduates of Harvard all over the place, from the main lobby when you enter, to well, the wall down an obscure corridor next to the men's room on the second floor.

    We met in a large room on the second floor. When I visited the men's room for the first time, I noticed the above photo of President George W. Bush on the wall next to the men's room. This is not the place I would expect a picture of the current president of the United States.

    I'm wondering what kind of discussions they had before they hung the picture. Was the picture initially in this spot or did it get moved to this spot as his poll numbers tanked?

    Although this is one of the least prominent spots in the entire building, I can say this. During long meetings where they serve lots of coffee, people make many trips to the men's room. So in spite of its remote location, this 1975 graduate of "The Business School" is viewed quite often. In my case, much more often than I would have liked.

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    Filed in: Bush

    September 28, 2008

    The view from Europe

    Posted by: Andoni


    I’ve been on a Greek island (Santorini) for almost 2 weeks now and have not been keeping up with the day to day news in America. All I have to go on is what I hear here in Europe. So I thought I’d convey to you what they’re saying in the Greek tavernas about us.

    First there was quite a bit of gloating over the fact that America, the country that has spent the past 50+ years telling every other country how to run their financial affairs, appears now to be in deep financial doo-doo itself.

    However, after a few days of glee, most people realized that all our financial futures are intricately tied together, so then the talk got much more serious.

    The locals' first question for me was, "Why is Bush still in power?" They thought that the elections of 2006 were a referendum on his government and he lost. How did he survive that? Now that there is a clear financial catastrophe tied to Bush’s government, and they are even more adamant is asking why his government hasn’t fallen. They are used a parliamentary system where the elections of 2006 would have changed governments --- and if that didn’t quite do it, the current financial crisis would have triggered a no confidence vote, with a new government taking over within days.

    I tried to explain that our head of government and his team stay in power for 4 years no matter what (well almost no matter what – think Nixon), but they don’t get it.

    Putting aside their fuzziness on how our government works, they are now worried that we may not make it out of our mess. They seem to have a different (and maybe more insightful) understanding our financial situation than we do. They explained to me that we have three, not one, trillion dollar time bombs about to explode our economy.

    The first is the cost of the Iraq War, which they assure me will cost a trillion dollars by the time we are out of there. They claim this is unpaid for, off budget, and we will have to pay it back. I can’t argue against them because I honestly don’t know how much of the Iraq War we have paid for and how much of it is borrowed, and not paid for yet. But I am impressed that the ordinary person here seems to know this (or think they know this) better than the average guy in the street in our country.

    The second trillion dollar time bomb is the amount of money that it is going to take to re-arm and rebuild our military. They seem to know we are stretched way to thin and that our personnel and equipment have been severely depleted. We will have to rebuild and that will cost big bucks. When I ask them how they know this they say they know because the US is actively strong-arming European nations to send money and troops to both Afghanistan and Iraq because the US doesn’t have the resources to send more.

    Finally, now there is the near trillion dollar bailout for the current financial mess.

    The Europeans know that 3 trillion dollars is one hell of a lot of debt to incur in such a short time. It would sink most nations and they are not so sure that even the US can dig itself out of such a deep hole without permanent harm.

    I don’t know exactly what the US press is reporting, but the Europeans see how deep in doo-doo we really are and are worrying for us now, and for themselves because they now realize that we are all tied together and they can go down with our ship too.

    Finally, they get around to asking me how is it that America elected this guy in the first place and why is it again that he still is in office?

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    Filed in: Bush

    June 18, 2008

    HRC - thinking like George Bush

    Posted by: Andoni


    President George W. Bush’s presidency has been marred by its rigid thinking with little ability to change when new circumstances on the ground dictate that new ideas, policies, or plans should be tried.

    I would argue that the Human Rights Campaign has been using the same modus operandi for the past 14 years. Their two prime priorities have been Hate Crimes legislation and the Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA). Neither has successfully become law despite year s of trying and literally millions of dollars spent.

    One would think that after 14 years of failure, some leaders of the gay movement would try to assess the situation on the ground and change priorities or strategy.

    I was on the Board of Governors of HRC when they came up with the ENDA idea in 1993. Prior to that time gays were pushing for a more comprehensive civil rights bill. In 1993 polling showed that a workplace only bill with a little education could garner the votes to pass. The philosophy was easy. Try something small and do-able, then build on that.

    The only problem with this approach was that Republicans took over Congress in 1994 and we never achieved the goal of passing that small carefully focused bill that was supposed to be easy. Here we are 14 years later pushing the very narrow rights bill, using the same strategy, unable to reassess things by looking at the bigger picture in our movement. Just like the Bush administration, we cannot admit failure and we cannot adjust and try something new.

    If ENDA had passed in 1994, it would have been noteworthy and a great step forward. In 2008, it would be laughable it that’s all we can get after all our hard work and how far the public has moved in our direction. ENDA and Hate Crimes are way too little, way too late. Yet you don’t hear anyone from our national leadership speaking about what is important today and changing direction.

    At some level I guess they realize how important it is to save and hold the marriage victory in California, but I don’t really hear the bugles sounding loudly on this to indicate what a crucial battle it is we face.

    On the federal legislative level, I would argue that we should temporarily shelve Hate Crimes and ENDA and concentrate on repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) first. DADT and DOMA are two pieces of legislation written into the federal laws of the land that say that not only can the federal government discriminate against gay and lesbian citizens, but they must discriminate. What kind of logic says that we should pass legislation (ENDA) that tells private companies that they cannot discriminate against gays (ENDA), when the government itself continues to discriminate against gays in some very big ways – the military, marriage, and 1200 federal benefits? This is like telling your child they can’t bloody people up in fist fights, when you the parent, set the wrong example by doing it all the time. Doesn’t make sense, right?

    Similarly, this is as crazy as it would have been for black people ask for their Civil Rights Law of 1964 and Voting Rights Law of 1965 if it was still federal law that they could be slaves, were only 3/5 of a person, couldn’t serve into the military, and had to endure separate but equal schools. You have to get rid of the institutionalized discrimination in the federal government before you can pass federal legislation telling the public that it can not discriminate.

    You can’t force the private sector operating in the public area to give equal rights to gays (or blacks), when the government itself has laws to discriminate against gays (or blacks) and actively does so. This is so upside down, it's crazy, illogical and hypocritical.

    It’s time for Barney Barney and Tammy Baldwin and the leaders of HRC, NGLTF, Lambda Legal and the ACLU to sit down together to discuss a new strategy and new priorities. Things really need to be shuffled because we have not had any major re evaluation of our agenda and priorities since 1993 -94.

    Things have changed so much that it's a totally new battleground out there and our leaders don't realize it. Public opinion has changed dramatically, marriage is our most important issue, and we have a presidential candidate in Barack Obama who would like to give us more than what our organizations are asking for. One such example of the new situation on the ground is that Obama has repeatedly said that he wants to give gay couples those 1200 federal benefits of marriage. This is huge, but I have not heard any of our organization pick up on how they will be ready to do this legislatively. They are still thinking about ENDA and Hate Crimes.

    Wake up, leaders, it’s 2008, not 1994. Don’t be like Bush having set a plan in motion without ever re-evaluating it.

    It’s time to reassess and make some new goals and plan new strategies. 

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    May 07, 2008

    Couldn't happen to a nicer…

    Posted by: Chris

    … right-wing ideologue.

    Blochscottlarge Scott Bloch, a Bush appointee who heads up the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, made headlines a few years back when he decided unilaterally to ignore the executive order put in place by Bill Clinton that protects federal employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Even a surprising White House rebuke did not deter him from abandoning his responsibility. (More background here.)

    Now this darling of Christian conservatives is in some deep doo-doo:

    Nearly two dozen federal agents yesterday raided the Washington headquarters of the agency that protects government whistle-blowers, as part of an intensifying criminal investigation of its leader, who is fighting allegations of improper political bias and obstruction of justice.

    Agents fanned out yesterday morning in the agency's building on M Street, where they sequestered Office of Special Counsel chief Scott J. Birch for questioning, served grand-jury subpoenas on 17 employees and shut down access to computer networks in a search lasting more than five hours.

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    Filed in: Bush

    April 10, 2008

    A DSM-IV for McCain Mania?

    Posted by: Andoni

    John_mccainListening carefully to John McCain state his position on the Iraq War over the past few months, I have have concluded there is a huge problem here that the MSM is missing.

    McCain repeatedly asserts that if he is president, America cannot and will not lose in Iraq under any circumstances -- even if we have to stay there 100 years or more. When I listen to McCain talk about the "winning the war," I wonder exactly which war McCain has in his head –- Iraq or Vietnam?

    It may well be that McCain has never gotten over what happened to the U.S. (and him personally) in the Vietnam War and is transferring his feelings to Iraq. In McCain’s mind, Iraq represents Vietnam. And McCain’s positions on Iraq are simply the emotional manifestations of his trying to achieve closure (and victory) in Vietnam.

    Georgewbush This is something that has no doubt eaten away at him for over 35 years. Now he's stuck living in the past and his intransigent view about Iraq is actually an attempt to change the result in Vietnam -- at least in his head.

    If it sounds familiar to have a president using a new conflict to re-fight a previous war, trying to change the outcome, it is.

    President George W. Bush believed  his father President George H.W. Bush blew it by not going all the way to Baghdad and finishing off Saddam during the first Gulf War. With that gnawing at him for years, W’s emotions were primed for the 2003 invasion.

    Similarly, there was a young German corporal who in 1919 could not accept the outcome of World War I for his country, and so over 20 years set himself up to lead his country to avenge that loss, trying to achieve a different outcome. The result -- Nazi Germany and World War II -- was disastrous.

    AdolfhitlerThe DSM-IV stands for the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition. That is the psychiatric medical text that began listing homosexuality as a mental illness in 1952 in its first edition. Homosexuality was removed as an illness in 1973 for the fourth edition.

    In light of my observations about Hitler, Bush and McCain, I am going to write to the American Psychiatric Association to suggest they add a new category “Paleo Guerre Disorder” (PGD): whereby a person is so distraught over the result of a previous conflict that he confuses the events and emotions of the old conflict with the current situation.

    If America is stupid enough not to see that McCain is trying to undo and avenge the result in Vietnam, then it gets what it deserves if it elects him. Getting fooled twice by a president with the same emotional mental disorder, would be quite stupid on our part, devastatingly stupid.

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    Filed in: Bush , Iraq , McCain

    January 30, 2008

    The Bush-Barney embrace

    Posted by: Chris

    Bushbarneyfox_1 The embrace between President Bush and gay Congressman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) after Monday night's State of the Union address was so warm and affectionate that Fox News anchor Brit Hume interrupted Nina Hagen's post-speech analysis to comment on it, albeit haltingly:

    Hold on a second, what we just saw there was an interesting moment, a moment of friendship and almost affection between the president and none other than Barney Frank. Who I think it's fair to say is one of the most liberal Members of Congress, also one of the smartest guys up there, but, uh...

    Hagen imagined a political reason for the playful hug, since Frank has worked closely with the Bush administration on banking regulation and the economic stimulus package agreed to by the House yesterday. In fact, the reason was much more personal, as the Boston Globe reports:

    It's a time-worn president's trick: walk up to a congressman chatting on the phone and send your regards to the astonished person on the other end of the line, charming the listener with your regular-guy credentials.

    That's what President Bush did Monday night at the State of the Union address, when he approached Newton Democrat Barney Frank, who was talking on his cell phone in the House Speaker's lobby before Bush's speech.

    What Bush didn't know was that the congressman was talking to his boyfriend.

    "Tell him I said, 'Hello,' '' Bush said to Frank, leaning in to pat the congressman's shoulder. As Bush continued into the House chamber, Frank told his skeptical boyfriend that it had been the conservative Republican president sending his good wishes. Frank's boyfriend didn't believe him, so the Massachusetts lawmaker put one of the sergeants-at-arms on the phone to back up his story.

    After the speech, Frank said, he felt he had to tell Bush what he had done. After all, the president opposes gay marriage, and gay rights groups do not see the president as an ally.

    Frank sought out the president, who put his hand on the back of the congressman's head to hear him more clearly in the noisy, crowded room.

    "Mr. President, by the way, the person I was talking to when you said to say hello was my boyfriend,'' Frank said he told the commander-in-chief.

    "Well. I hope you said how open-minded I am,'' Frank said the president replied.

    "I considered telling [the president] I wouldn't marry him,'' Frank said, "but then I thought, 'Nah.' ''

    The Globe doesn't indicate whether Frank was referring to his boyfriend or the president, but let's hope it's the latter.

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    January 22, 2008

    Economic Panic: Good or Bad for Gays?

    Posted by: Kevin

    Panic6tf_2 This morning, there is a palpable sense of panic across all the world's financial markets.  It can't be ignored by anyone.  Certainly, if you're an investor, a homeowner or you own a business, it's likely you're already hurting.  But from a purely political sense, is the economic crisis good or bad for gay issues in this election season?  Does it factor in at all?

    Strangely enough, at first glance seems that economic downturns have been good for gays in recent election campaigns, while booming economic times have been largely bad.

    It's conventional wisdom that when people are worried about their jobs or their pocketbooks, they don't really want to hear about homosexuals, abortions or the ACLU.  Blaming gays or abortionists for the loss of one's job just doesn't wash, but someone who comes across as the one who cares the most about your job loss will get room to be nice to other people, even the gays.  In boom times, when the average voter is content and fairly disinterested in voting, both sides tend to throw cultural bombs to turn out their bases in a zero-sum game.  That's when the pitchforks tend to come out for us.

    The 1992 presidential campaign was seminal for gay rights as a national campaign issue, at least where gays were at once condemned and courted.  The U.S. economy was lurching into a recession as the primaries began that year, which launched the populist campaign of Pat Buchanan through his crushing defeat of incumbent President George H.W. Bush in New Hampshire.  Polling showed that Buchanan's harsh, angry economic message pitched to those most harmed by the economic downturn helped fuel his victory there, and built a national sense of resentment against Bush.  However, when that message expanded into lurid far right cultural attacks on gays, 'feminists', immigrants and pro-choice voters, it ran out of steam with the general public.  The momentum of Buchanan's insurgency culminated at the horrendously anti-gay 1992 Republican National Convention, which the GOP never recovered from. 

    As the economy worsened, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot seized the middle ground and captured the public's concern with economic visions for change.  Clinton ultimately connected with the middle on their economic fears ("it's the economy, stupid"), which gave him room to make an unprecedented play for gays, making a list of promises unheard of by a leading presidential candidate in history.  By all accounts, Clinton won that election on the basis of earning the trust of a nation worried about its wallet.  The gays, in political terms, won along with him.

    From March 2000 to October 2002, the dot-com crash shook the world economy.  It didn't have the same impact on average Americans the way the '92 recession did (or the current mortgage meltdown has), but it hit dynamic tech sectors very hard and raised fears about the long-term solvency of Social Security as the baby boom generation began to age.  There was a budget surplus and plenty of room for the nation to maneuver.  In the end, both sides were faced with making the argument as to who was better at making those maneuvers against the looming end to good economic times. 

    It boiled down to "who do you trust?" and "who is the better leader?", factors that see-sawed all year between the two.  And it devolved into a war over the favor of independent voters.  This meant both Al Gore and George W. Bush had to blur and bland-out anything that independents would view as "sharp edges." 

    Gore boldly chose conservative (then-) Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman as his running mate.  Bush, the "compassionate conservative", took hits nationally for going too far to the right in South Carolina in his struggle to eliminate insurgent Senator John McCain; weeks later, Bush met with gay Republicans and said he was "a better person" for it.  Both parties had openly gay speakers at their conventions in prime time (Elizabeth Birch for the Democrats, Congressman Jim Kolbe (R-AZ) for the GOP).  Meanwhile, an anti-gay third-party campaign by a diminished Pat Buchanan fell completely flat.

    Critics will argue that neither the 1992 or 2000 elections resulted in a sea-change of positive federal legislation for gay Americans.  In fact, the Clinton presidency brought openly gay appointments, the first White House gay liaison (who was straight), pride day proclamations and favorable speeches, but it also brought "don't ask, don't tell" and the Defense of Marriage Act.  Bush's presidency brought the first (two) openly gay national AIDS directors at the White House, a historic global program to fight HIV/AIDS, the first federal anti-gay hate crimes prosecution case (which was later dropped for lack of evidence), as well as its own smaller list of gay appointees.   But Bush's presidency also launched the Federal Marriage Amendment to the top of the agenda, creating a cataclysmic split with gay Republicans and setting off an ugly campaign of "outing" closeted gays that (so far has) ended the political careers of two Members of Congress and soon a U.S. Senator.  Both presidents also lost majorities in Congress they enjoyed early in their terms.

    So what might the current economic crisis do for gays?  Follow the jump for more…

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    December 29, 2007

    All for naught?

    Posted by: Chris

    Bush_nov_8_2006 President Bush vetoed the massive Defense Department funding bill over a relatively obscure provision he said he fears would exposre the new Iraqi government to Americans with billions in legal claims against the previous regime of Saddam Hussein. The decision came as a surprise to Republicans and Democrats alike,  and puts at jeopardy funding for the Iraq war and a pay hike for the armed forces. Democrats are, of course, trying to score political points on the decision, only solidifying the "pox on both your houses" that already registers as public disgust with both parties on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue in public opinion polls.

    The Bush veto also puts a well-deserved exclamation point on the failed strategy of passing the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act, which would have added sexual orientation, gender identity, gender and disability to existing federal hate crime laws. Fearing a threatened veto of the Shepard Act as a freestanding measure, Senate Democrats attached it to the Defense Department bill. But when House Republicans threatened to bail on the bill, House Democrats couldn't muster enough votes, since some of their own wouldn't vote to spend additional sums on the war in Iraq.

    Now it appears that even if the Democrats could have managed to hold together, Bush would have vetoed the bill anyway, and might have even blamed the Shepard Act as well as the provision on legal claims against Iraq. Clearly, this massive bill was not the right vehicle to slip the hate crimes bill into law. The onus remains on Democrats to keep up the pressure and find another measure in January.

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    October 23, 2007

    Bush semi-threatens ENDA veto

    Posted by: Chris

    BushadvisersUPDATE: At the end of the post.

    This week's ENDA news began with a warning from fringe anti-gay leader Peter LaBarbera of Americans For Truth that White House staffers not only were advising President Bush to sign the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, they were actually bragging about their involvement in crafting the bill's religious exemption.

    The idea that White House staffers worked surreptitiously with openly gay Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank to improve the language of historic gay (and possibly transgender) rights legislation was, well, about as credible as everything else that comes out of Peter LaBarbera's mouth. But that didn't stop gay Democrat blogger John Aravosis from falling for it, in a post that begins "Time for some crow," and brags that he predicted Bush would not veto ENDA.

    The method to LaBarbera's madness, rather than speaking the "Truth" about anything, was to rally the conservative chorus to call on the White House to take a position on ENDA, since it was expected to come up for a House vote on Wednesday.  The White House responded today with a watered-down veto threat (of the same type it issued over the hate crime bill), that says, "The bill raises concerns on constitutional and policy grounds, and if H.R. 3685 were presented to the President, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill."

    First and foremost, it is politically very telling that the White House never mentions any opposition to the bill's primary purpose, protecting workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation. The president's advisers read the polls and know that the core justification for ENDA is embraced by wide majorities, including among Republicans.

    (The veto threat also makes no mention of the transgender issue, which I've already heard some claim as proof it's not such political deadweight, but H.R. 3685 (Barney's compromise ENDA bill) doesn't include any mention of "gender identity," so there was no basis to raise the issue in the veto threat.)

    Ironically, given LaBarbera's wild claim about White House collaboration on ENDA's religious exemption, the veto "threat" cites that very exemption as the bill's primary problem:

    H.R. 3685 is inconsistent with the right to the free exercise of religion as codified by Congress in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).  The Act prohibits the Federal Government from substantially burdening the free exercise of religion except for compelling reasons, and then only in the least restrictive manner possible.  H.R. 3685 does not meet this standard.  For instance, schools that are owned by or directed toward a particular religion are exempted by the bill; but those that emphasize religious principles broadly will find their religious liberties burdened by H.R. 3685.

    The claim is overwrought, given that Barney's revised compromise ENDA actually broadened the religious exemption to include those schools "owned by or directed toward a particular religion."  To also include schools that "emphasize religious principles broadly" would lead to litigation over the importance of religion in a school's operation.  That's exactly the sort of judicial "entanglement" in religion that courts have made clear for decades that the First Amendment does not allow.

    The veto threat lists three other justifications:

    1. "H.R. 3685’s authorization of Federal civil damage actions against State  entities, which may violate States’ immunity under the Eleventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
      Since when has this White House been concerned about whether a statute "may violate" the Constitution? Regardless, this provision even if unconstitutional is not central to the bill and would be struck down by the courts, leaving the rest operational.
    2. "The bill turns on imprecise and subjective terms that would make interpretation, compliance, and enforcement extremely difficult.  For instance, the bill establishes liability for acting on 'perceived' sexual orientation, or 'association' with individuals of a particular sexual orientation.
      State gay rights bills have long include "perceived" sexual orientation, which simply closes a loophole that would allow employers to force fired workers from proving they are, in fact, gay, lesbian or bisexual (or straight in cases of anti-hetero bias).  I'm aware of no bruising litigation over the meaning of that term, much less "association," which is included in dozens of statutes.
    3. "Provisions of this bill purport to give Federal statutory significance to same-sex marriage rights under State law. These provisions conflict with the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as the legal union between one man and one woman.  The Administration strongly opposes any attempt to weaken this law, which is vital to defending the sanctity of marriage.
      Silliness.  The bill's only mention of marriage prevents employers in states where gays cannot marry from using "eligibility to marry" as a pretext for anti-gay discrimination.  To be honest, I have never understood the need for this particular provision, since even gays are "eligible to marry" so long as their spouse is of the opposite sex.  If I were Barney, I would ditch it.

    Hours after the veto threat, House Democratic leaders said they were postponing an ENDA vote, not because of the White House but either because they were still counting up support for Tammy Baldwin's transgender amendment or because Speaker Nancy Pelosi puts a higher priority on voting for a health insurance bill the president has actually already vetoed.

    Either way, the delay is a reminder that Democratic Party leaders have a limited attention span on our issues, and now that Pelosi has taken home her HRC profiles in courage award, she's on to the next constituency group.

    I continue to believe there is a strong likelihood the president will not veto either the (trans-inclusive) hate crimes bill or ENDA (so long as it's not trans-inclusive), should either reach his desk -- whether solo or attached to some larger piece of legislation.  The veto threat was an easy political move to satisfy conservative rabble rousers, and in ENDA's case seemed a direct response to the LaBarbera rally cry.

    Of course, the United ENDA trans-first'ers still have a chance to beat President Bush's advisers to the punch, and derail historic gay rights legislation because it doesn't also expressly protect transsexuals, cross-dressers and transvestites as well.  If they succeed, whether in the House or by scaring the Senate away from the legislation, the president will owe them a debt of gratitude.

    UPDATE:  Dale Carpenter, who has weighed in before with insightful legal analysis of the transg-ENDA flap, offers a more thorough legal analysis of the excuses used by the White House to threaten a veto of the the compromise ENDA.

    For a complete news summary on ENDA, click or bookmark: gaynewswatch.com/enda

    For a complete news summary on transgender rights, click or bookmark: gaynewswatch.com/transgender

    For a complete news summary on gay rights, click or bookmark: gaynewswatch.com/legalcivilrights

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    July 28, 2007

    Another victim in the war on terror

    Posted by: Chris

    180pxgay_terrorist Beware the gay terrorist! Is the looming pink menace so threatening that the White House has taken note?

    Please tell me the exigent circumstances under which the United States might need to know if  airline passenger arriving into the country from Europe might be…gay. And yet there it is, in today's Washington Post.

    In yet the latest example of colossal overreach in the name of our "war on terror," the Bush administration has cajoled European Union officials and the airline industry into dramatically expanding the range of information the U.S. will receive 72 hours before each American-bound jet leaves Europe.

    Under the agreement, airlines flying from Europe to the United States are required to provide data related to these matters to U.S. authorities if it exists in their reservation systems. The deal allows Washington to retain and use it only "where the life of a data subject or of others could be imperiled or seriously impaired," such as in a counterterrorism investigation. According to the deal, the information that can be used in such exceptional circumstances includes "racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, trade union membership" and data about an individual's health, traveling partners and sexual orientation.

    The article is a bit vague about how it is, in the first place, that an airline might have gathered information so personal as to include a passenger's sexual orientation. But given all the bits of data gathered about every aspect of our lives these days, it's not too paranoid a stretch. The Post reports:

    Airlines do not usually gather such data, but officials say it could wind up in passenger files as a result of requests for special services such as wheelchairs, or through routine questioning by airline personnel and travel agents about contacts, lodging, next of kin and traveling companions. Even a request for a king-size bed at a hotel could be noted in the database.

    So maybe there's not a field marked "sexual orientation" in the airline's database, just the fact that you booked an airline ticket in conjunction with an Atlantis cruise, or typically traveled with the same same-sex passenger and booked a king-size bed, etc.

    Like most Americans, I understand that the "war on terror" can cause all manner of inconvenience and minor invasion of privacy. But the Bush administration has proven, time and again, that the end will always justify the means. And the Cheney-led penchant for secrecy means we only know a small fragment of the measures actually being taken.

    So if things look this bad from what's visible, we can only imagine the data mining that goes on in reality. It's not necessarily a gay-specific issue for the 2008 election, but it would be refreshing and reassuring to hear some presidential candidates talk more about the need to balance the "war on terror" with the civil rights of those being protected.

    I won't hold my breath. The leading Democrats are already terrorized — of being "soft on terror." And the least right-wing Republican in the White House race already proved as mayor of New York that he has zero respect for civil liberties in the fight against crime.

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    December 16, 2006

    Bush avoids getting Keye'd

    Posted by: Chris

    Cheneypoe President Bush narrowly avoided getting "Keye'd" this week when People magazine asked him about news that Mary Cheney, the vice president's daughter, his expecting a baby along with her partner Heather Poe.  In a 2005 interview with the New York Times, the president said, "I believe children can receive love from gay couples, but the ideal is — and studies have shown that the ideal is where a child is raised in a married family with a man and a woman."

    Asked by People about whether the news from Cheney, who managed her father's re-election campaign in 2004, had changed that view, Bush sidestepped.  "Mary Cheney is going to make a fine mom, and she's going to love this child a lot," he said, according to a transcript of the interview. "And I'm happy for her."

    The mere fact of Cheney's 15-year relationship with Poe has wreacked havoc on social conservatives for years now, because their abstract rhetoric about gay people takes on an especially harsh tone when applied to a living, breathing gay person — especially one with whom they have such close ties.

    Mayakeyes Just ask Allen Keyes, the erstwhile GOP presidential candidate who jumped in the 2004 Illinois Senate race against Democrat Barack Obama.  In an interview during the Republican National Convention that year with Sirius OutQ, Keyes called homosexuality a form of "selfish hedonism."  Asked whether that meant Mary Cheney is a "selfish hedonist," Keyes fatally failed to sidestep. "Of course she is," he replied.  "That goes by definition. Of course she is."

    In the ensuing media furor about calling the veep's daughter such a name, Keyes only stepped deeper into the doo-doo, telling the Chicago Tribune that if his own daughter were a lesbian, he would tell her that she was sinning and should pray.  That came across harsh even in the abstract, but made Keyes look even more heartless a few months later, when his "own daughter," Maya Marcel-Keyes, came out publicly — at a Valentine's Day rally for Equality Maryland, a gay rights group.

    Of course, Keyes gets integrity points for at least being consistent in applying his abstract views to even his own flesh and blood.  But the larger point about self-righteous divisiveness isn't lost on many people in the "mushy middle" on gay rights, even when someone like George W. tries to distances himself from his own rhetoric.

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    December 07, 2006

    W's nightmare same-sex marriage

    Posted by: Chris

    Bushclinton This tidbit from CNN's story about George H.W. Bush breaking down while praising his other son, Jeb. After the sob session, H.W. took questions, including about his budding friendship with Bill Clinton:

    He talked about his recent friendship with former President Clinton. He recalled a political cartoon showing his son, the president, opposing gay marriage and then walking into a room and finding his father on a sofa with Clinton's arm around him, prompting him to shout, "Dad! What are you doing?"

    "(Clinton) cut it out of the paper and said, 'Don't you think we ought to cool it, George?"' Bush said.

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    October 27, 2006

    There he goes again…

    Posted by: Chris

    Georgebush It took about 24 hours before Karl Rove had President Bush distorting Wednesday's New Jersey Supreme Court ruling, which ordered the state to provide gay couples all the rights and benefits of marriage but left to the Legislature whether to open up "traditional marriage" to same-sex couples.  In a half-hour speech in Des Moines that mostly focused on Iraq and taxes, Bush briefly addressed the decision, according to this Radio Iowa report:

    Bush told the crowd in Des Moines that traditional marriage is a "fundamental institution" of civilization. "We had another activist court issue a ruling that raises doubts about the institution of marriage. I believe that marriage is a union between a man and a woman," Bush said.

    Bush in the past has said he believes states have the authory to enact laws creating so-called "civil unions" which extend some legal rights to gay couples, but Bush supports passage of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution which would declare the only legal marriages in America are those between a man and a woman. "I believe it's a sacred institution that is critical to the health of our society and the well-being of families and it must be defended," Bush said. The crowd applauded, and then Bush moved on to another topic.

    It's easy to see how the New Jersey opinion is a weak substitute for the landmark Massachusetts decision when it comes to riling up evangelical conservatives; more like a bland chicken marsala than the red meat they were thrown during the 2004 campaign.  The New Jersey ruling "raises doubts about the institution of marriage"? Not particularly effective, as fear-mongering goes, especially considering the court refused to order the state to marry gay couples, instead leaving the issue to the democratically elected Legislature.

    It's also ironic that Bush would call marriage a "fundamental institution," since it was the three dissenters in the New Jersey case who agreed, arguing that all Americans (yes, including gay and lesbian Americans) have a "fundamental right to marry," making any limitations on marriage subject to higher scrutiny than ordinary rights and freedoms. They went on to conclude that they would have ordered the state to begin marrying gay couples.

    It was the New Jersey court majority, on the other hand, that argued — rather circularly — that the right sought by the seven gay couples who sued there was the "right to same-sex marriage," effectively concluding at the beginning what they decided at the end: that "gay marriage"  is an entirely different institution from heterosexual marriage.  Since "only rights that are deeply rooted in the traditions, history, and conscience of the people are deemed to be fundamental," it was easy work for the 4-3 court majority to conclude the "right to same-sex marriage" is not fundamental.

    That's one of the ways the court majority was wrong on the law: by concluding there is somehow a fundamental right to heterosexual marry but no fundamental right to gay marry.

    Follow the jump for what how the U.S. Supreme Court feels about this:

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