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History > 2013 > USA > Gay rights (I)



Rhode Island Senate

Passes Gay Marriage Bill


April 24, 2013
The New York Times


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island is on a path to becoming the 10th state to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry after a landmark vote in the state's Senate on Wednesday.

The Senate passed gay marriage legislation by a comfortable 26-12 margin, following a House vote of approval in January. The bill must now return to the House for a largely procedural vote, likely next week, but the celebration began Wednesday.

Hundreds of people filled the Statehouse with cheers following the vote.

"I grew up in Rhode Island and I'd like to retire in Rhode Island," said Annie Silvia, 61, who now lives with her partner of 30 years just across the border in North Attleboro, Mass. "No. 10 is a nice round number, but I'd like it to be bigger. Fifty sounds good to me."

Heavily Catholic Rhode Island is the last remaining New England state without gay marriage. Marriage legislation has been introduced in the state for nearly two decades, only to languish on the legislative agenda.

Supporters mounted a renewed push this year, and the Senate vote was seen as the critical test after the House easily passed the bill. Gov. Lincoln Chafee, an independent, called Wednesday's vote historic.

"I'm very much looking forward to signing this," he told The Associated Press as he congratulated supporters.

The first gay marriages in Rhode Island could take place Aug. 1, when the legislation would take effect. Civil unions would no longer be available to same-sex couples as of that date, though the state would continue to recognize existing civil unions. Lawmakers approved civil unions two years ago, though few couples have sought them.

Hundreds of opponents also gathered at the Statehouse for the vote, singing hymns and holding signs as the Senate deliberated. Rev. David Rodriguez, a Providence minister, said he was disappointed by the vote. He said he planned to continue to stand up for traditional marriage.

"Marriage between a man and a woman is what God wanted," he said. "We will continue to do what we know how to do: Keep praying and preaching."

The Roman Catholic Church was the bill's most significant opponent. During the Senate's emotional debate several senators said they struggled mightily, weighing their personal religious beliefs against stories they heard from gay constituents or their families.

Sen. Maryellen Goodwin, D-Providence, said she lost sleep over her vote but decided, despite opposition from the Catholic Church, to vote "on the side of love."

"I'm a practicing Catholic. I'm proud to be a Catholic," she said, adding that it was the personal stories of gays, lesbians and their families in her district who convinced her. "I struggled with this for days, for weeks. It's certainly not an easy vote."

Opponents to the bill tried unsuccessfully to send the question to the voters as a ballot referendum. After that failed, Sen. Harold Metts, D-Providence, told his colleagues that he couldn't go against his religious convictions and that residents in his community are more concerned about other matters.

"My constituents are more concerned with bread-and-butter issues," he said. "They want food on the table. They want their kids to get a good education."

The Rhode Island legislation states that religious institutions may set their own rules regarding who is eligible to marry within the faith and specifies that no religious leader is obligated to officiate at any marriage ceremony and no religious group is required to provide facilities or services related to a gay marriage.

While ministers already cannot be forced to marry anyone, the exemption helped assuage some senators' concerns and ease the bill's passage this year.

Delaware could be the next state to approve gay marriage. Legislation legalizing same-sex marriage narrowly passed the Delaware House on Tuesday and now heads to that state's Senate for consideration.

Two years after gay marriage legislation foundered in Rhode Island, supporters regrouped and this year mounted an aggressive and coordinated campaign that included organized labor, religious leaders, business owners and leaders including Chafee and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras.

The bill's chances improved further when Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed said she would allow the bill to move forward, despite her opposition to gay marriage. The Newport Democrat voted no on Wednesday.

Earlier this week, the Senate's five Republicans announced they would support the measure. Senate Minority Leader Dennis Algiere, R-Westerly, said the decision came down to core Republican principles.

"This is an issue of fairness, equality and civil rights," Algiere said. "Those are our values, and we stand by them."

House Speaker Gordon Fox, D-Providence, who is gay, had vowed to hold a vote on gay marriage early in the session. He said his chamber will hold a Tuesday hearing on the small changes made to the bill in the Senate. A final vote is tentatively scheduled for Thursday.

Rep. Frank Ferri, D-Warwick, who also is gay and lobbied for gay marriage before becoming a lawmaker himself, said it will be a vote to savor.

"After all these years, all these setbacks, all the hearings, we kept at it and we got closer and closer each year," he said. "I'm pumped. I'm excited. I'm thrilled. It's almost surreal."

Gay marriage is legal in nine states and Washington, D.C.

    Rhode Island Senate Passes Gay Marriage Bill, NYT, 24.4.2013,






The Indefensible Marriage Act


March 27, 2013
The New York Times


The discrimination embedded in the Defense of Marriage Act is precise yet sweeping. The 1996 statute defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman, and applies that definition to about 1,100 federal laws and programs. One of its many discriminatory results is that same-sex couples are prohibited from collecting many federal benefits available to other couples.

That now includes people legally married in nine states and the District of Columbia, plus 18,000 couples who were legally married in California before 2008 when Proposition 8 banned same-sex marriage there.

Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr., who is known for his reserve, was unhesitating before the Supreme Court on Wednesday when it heard the Defense of Marriage Act case: “I think it’s time for the court to recognize that this discrimination, excluding lawfully married gay and lesbian couples from federal benefits, cannot be reconciled with our fundamental commitment to equal treatment under law.” It appeared that a majority of the justices, including the likely swing vote, Justice Anthony Kennedy, had serious doubts as to whether the law served any legitimate purpose.

Justice Kennedy, however, seemed primarily interested in questioning the law for the wrong reasons, concerned that the Defense of Marriage Act interferes in the primary right of states to regulate marriage and its benefits. Only the four more liberal justices appeared to focus on the reality that what is at stake here is not federalism but fairness. States can regulate marriage but they cannot discriminate while doing so, and leaving gay and lesbian couples out of the equation violates the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection just as much as banning interracial marriage.

Paul Clement, who was defending the act on behalf of the House of Representatives, said its only purpose was to ensure uniformity in distributing federal marriage benefits. But Justice Elena Kagan dismissed that notion, suggesting that Congress’s judgment in passing the act was “infected by dislike, by fear, by animus.” Quoting from the House’s legislative history, she said, “Congress decided to reflect an honor of collective moral judgment and to express moral disapproval of homosexuality.”

That clear animus on the part of lawmakers explains why the court must strike down the law on equal-protection grounds, as a federal appeals court did last fall. The government needs to have an “exceptionally good” reason to justify treating gay men and lesbians differently, that court ruled, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg made a similar point today, saying that the law created “two kinds of marriage: the full marriage and then this sort of skim-milk marriage.”

Still, no matter what grounds the court eventually uses to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, getting rid of it would be a huge step forward in the national movement toward marriage equality. Once it is clear that the only thing standing between same-sex couples and federal benefits is an ideological state legislature, the pressure will accelerate on states to do the right thing, particularly in states like Virginia with large numbers of federal employees.

The Supreme Court now has an opportunity to end the federal role in this discrimination — and to do so with a ringing affirmation of the importance of basic fairness.

    The Indefensible Marriage Act, NYT, 27.3.2013,






A 50-State Ruling


March 25, 2013
The New York Times


California’s Proposition 8 rewrote the state’s Constitution so that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, for purposes of any federal law, defined the word marriage to mean “only a legal union between one man and one woman.”

The Supreme Court will hear arguments on challenges to Proposition 8 on Tuesday and Defense of Marriage on Wednesday. In both cases, the court should rule that the Constitution prohibits the federal government and every state from defining the fundamental right of marriage so narrowly and fully protects the liberty of same-sex couples.

When Proposition 8 was on the California ballot in 2008, the official pamphlet explaining the initiative said that it did not “take away any rights or benefits of gay or lesbian domestic partnerships,” which have the “ ‘same rights, protections, and benefits’ as married spouses.”

As the California Supreme Court said about legal attacks on same-sex marriage, the point of denying gay marriages was to say officially that these relationships were not of “comparable stature or equal dignity” to opposite-sex marriages. The intent was to stigmatize them, enshrine discrimination in law and encourage discrimination against gay men, lesbians and same-sex couples. The federal Defense of Marriage Act does the same, with the same effects. And in depriving same-sex couples and their children of federal recognition and benefits, it fails to meet any test under the Constitution.

In the Proposition 8 case, it is widely agreed that the Supreme Court has four options, if it does not, unconscionably, uphold the initiative. It could allow same-sex marriage only in California or it could dismiss the case on grounds that the initiative’s sponsors had no standing to bring the appeal (by not ruling on the merits, the result would very likely be to allow same-sex couples to marry in California).

The court could also decide that California and the seven other states that allow civil unions equivalent to marriage cannot deny same-sex couples the status of marriage. But accepting the “eight state solution” would be a half-step and would have to be revisited in the near future.

The soundest approach is to recognize same-sex marriage broadly as a matter of equality under the Constitution — and therefore compel all states as well as the federal government to recognize this right. In the 2003 case Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down a Texas sodomy law as violating constitutionally protected liberty, Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the court, said, “As the Constitution endures, persons in every generation can invoke its principles in their own search for greater freedom.”

Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people have been seeking the freedom to live openly, to be treated equally and to marry as they choose. They have helped bring about a major shift in public opinion in the past decade in favor of same-sex marriage; they are now joined by leading Republicans and many of America’s most important companies in making the powerful case for marriage equality before the court.

Support now for same-sex marriage — more than half in favor, about one-third against — is roughly the public divide on the question of public school desegregation in 1954 when the Supreme Court outlawed segregated schools in Brown v. Board of Education. But the court’s call then for states to end racial discrimination in public schools “with all deliberate speed” was a big error. It gave states far too much latitude to move slowly and gave them an excuse for resistance, which delayed desegregation in many school districts for many years.

The court should avoid that kind of error in the same-sex-marriage cases. It should broadly declare that under the Constitution the right to marry applies equally to all couples, period, and that this principle applies to the federal government and every state.


Meet The New York Times’s Editorial Board.

    A 50-State Ruling, NYT, 25.3.2013,






Young Opponents of Gay Marriage

Undaunted by Battle Ahead


March 20, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — They hear that their cause is lost, that demographics and the march of history have doomed their campaign to keep marriage only between a man and a woman. But the young conservatives who oppose same-sex marriage — unlike most of their generation — remain undaunted.

They identify themselves as part of the “pro-marriage movement” and see themselves at the beginning of a long political struggle, much like the battle over abortion. If they can begin shifting the terms of the debate away from gay rights and toward the meaning of marriage, they say, they have a chance to survive short-term defeats.

“The primary challenge that our side faces right now is the intense social pressure,” said Joseph Backholm, 34, the executive director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington. “To the extent that the other side is able to frame this as a vote for gay people to be happy, it will be challenging for us.”

To put it another way, opponents of same-sex marriage say they must argue in favor of traditional marriage, not against gay people or gay rights. “It’s really a broader defense of marriage and a stronger marriage culture,” said Will Haun, 26, a lawyer and member of the Federalist Society.

In the highest-profile effort, the National Organization for Marriage is gearing up for a march on the National Mall on Tuesday, the day the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on California’s 2008 voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage.

Last week, the Heritage Foundation released a report by Ryan T. Anderson, 31, in defense of traditional marriage, “Marriage: What It Is, Why It Matters, and the Consequences of Redefining It.” Mr. Anderson, a Heritage Foundation fellow, has also held briefings for members of Congress, their staff members and others to explain his arguments against same-sex marriage, and he and two co-authors released a book last year laying out their case in depth.

Still, the fight is shaping up to be a difficult one, with public opinion increasingly seeming to shift in favor of same-sex marriage. More than 100 high-profile Republicans recently filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to declare that gay couples have a constitutional right to marry. On Friday, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio became the only sitting Republican senator to publicly support same-sex marriage, citing his 21-year-old gay son, Will, as the catalyst.

Beyond Washington, polling has begun to show that a majority of Americans supports same-sex marriage, with even young Republicans moving in that direction.

In a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted last month, 45 percent of Republicans between 18 and 44 years old said they thought same-sex couples should be able to marry — a contrast with Republicans 45 and older, only 20 percent of whom agreed.

After repeated defeats at the ballot box in recent years, same-sex marriage went four for four in statewide votes in November, with victories in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington.

“Proponents of same-sex marriage have done a fantastic job of telling the story of same-sex marriage through music and television and film,” said Eric Teetsel, 29, the executive director of the Manhattan Declaration, which describes itself as a movement of Christians for life, marriage and religious freedom. “I think it’s really a case where once they hear the other side of the issue, and really think about it deeply, we’re going to win a lot of those folks back.”

And the other side of the issue — the case for what proponents call traditional marriage — is simple, they say.

“In redefining marriage to include same-sex couples, what you’re doing is you’re excluding the norm of sexual complementarity,” said Mr. Anderson, the Heritage Foundation fellow. “Once you exclude that norm, the three other norms — which are monogamy, sexual exclusivity and permanency — become optional as well.”

The result, proponents of traditional marriage say, would be further rises in divorce rates and out-of-wedlock births.

“When you de-link marriage from childbearing, you then have to increase the complexity of that relationship,” said Caitlin Seery, 25, the director of programs for the Love and Fidelity Network, which works with college groups to advocate traditional marriage.

Proponents of same-sex marriage respond that no evidence links it to social ills and that, in fact, divorce rates are often lower in states more accepting of it. Moreover, they say, same-sex marriage fits with this country’s long history of extending equal rights to groups once denied them.

For opponents, moving the debate away from those historical analogies is crucial.

“Most young people think if you come out with traditional marriage views, you’re a bigot,” said Thomas Peters, 27, the communications director for the National Organization for Marriage. “You can’t have that many people in the shadows.”

The issue, proponents of traditional marriage say, is one of presentation.

“These Republicans who are jumping ship are doing so because we have no way of messaging,” said Ashley Pratte, 23, the executive director of Cornerstone Policy Research and Cornerstone Action, a New Hampshire group that focuses on social issues. “Do you want to tell your friends when you’re out with them on a Friday night that they can’t get married? No, you don’t want to have that discussion, but you want to have a healthy discussion.”

Opponents of same-sex marriage say they realize they may lose the current fight, but they optimistically take the long view, pointing to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court case that legalized abortion. At the time, they say, opponents of abortion were told their cause was lost, but the fight continues 40 years later.

“If you take the longer view of history — I’m not talking just 15 years, I’m talking 40 years or even 100 years — I can’t help but think that the uniqueness of man-woman marriage will be adjudicated over time,” said Andrew T. Walker, 27, a policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation.

Either way, they are not planning on giving up any time soon.

“Even if we are doomed, and I’m totally naïve, I think it’s important that I do this work anyway,” said Mr. Teetsel, of the Manhattan Declaration. “If what I believe is true is true, then I’ve got a responsibility to be on its side for as long as I can be.”

    Young Opponents of Gay Marriage Undaunted by Battle Ahead, NYT, 20.3.2013,






U.S. Asks That Justices Reject

California Gay Marriage Ban


February 28, 2013
The New York Times


The Obama administration threw its support behind a broad claim for marriage equality on Thursday, and urged the Supreme Court to rule that voters in California were not entitled to ban same-sex marriage there.

In a forceful argument, the administration claimed that denying gay couples the right to marry violates the Constitution’s equal protection clause. It said that Proposition 8, the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, should be subjected to “heightened scrutiny” — a tough test for any law — and stated flatly that “Proposition 8 fails heightened scrutiny.”

That argument is similar to the one made in the administration’s brief in a second case before the Supreme Court concerning the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, which the administration has also asked the court to declare unconstitutional.

The latest brief, filed late Thursday, does not, however, ask the court to declare such bans unconstitutional nationwide; instead, it focused on Proposition 8, which was approved by voters in 2008 and is before the court in this case. That law was passed by a voter initiative just months after the state’s Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples could marry. The brief notes that opponents of same-sex marriage in the California case have argued that the state offers, through the equivalent of domestic partnerships, a marital state in all but the name.

The government also points out that seven other states — Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, and Rhode Island — have a similar all-but-marriage frameworks, and says that “the designation of marriage, however, confers a special validation of the relationship between two individuals and conveys a message to society that domestic partnerships or civil unions cannot match.”

While the brief does not call explicitly for the court to strike down the laws in the seven other states, the implication of its argument is clear. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. issued a statement that tied the government’s argument into the fundamental struggle against discrimination and for civil rights, saying that the brief “seeks to vindicate the defining constitutional ideal of equal treatment under the law.” He said that the court’s decisions concerning the two same-sex marriage cases “are not just important to the tens of thousands of Americans who are being denied equal benefits and rights under our laws, but to our nation as a whole.”

The government’s brief concludes with a ringing denunciation of the California ban on same-sex marriage, which it said is based in “impermissible prejudice.”

It then cited a concurrence in a 2001 Supreme Court case that said prejudice might not rise “from malice or hostile animus,” and might well be the result of “insensitivity caused by simple want of careful, rational reflection or from some instinctive mechanism to guard against people who appear to be different in some respects from ourselves.”

No matter, the brief said. “Prejudice may not, however, be the basis for differential treatment under the law.”

The author of that concurrence is Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who is expected to be a crucial voice within the court in both of the current cases.

Andrew P. Pugno, the general counsel for supporters of Proposition 8, called the administration’s brief very disappointing. “By arguing that Proposition 8 is rooted only in irrational prejudice, the president has impugned the motives of millions of Californians, turned his back on society’s longstanding interest in both mothers and fathers raising the next generation, and disregarded the rights of each state to decide for itself whether to redefine marriage,” he said.

The federal government is not a party to the California case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, No. 12-144, and was not required to take a position in it. But the lawyers who filed the challenge to Proposition 8, Theodore B. Olson and David Boies, along with gay rights groups, lobbied for the brief, saying the administration could not stay silent on the issue.

The broad outlines of the administration’s position in the California case are similar to those it filed in a brief last week in a same-sex marriage case in which it is a party, United States v. Windsor, No. 12-307. But that case presents only the narrower question of the constitutionality of part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman for the purposes of more than 1,000 federal laws and regulations.

The Supreme Court’s ruling in the Defense of Marriage Act case will at most decide whether the federal government can discriminate against same-sex couples even if they married in states that allow such unions. Nine states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage.

The case from California presents the broader question of whether there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage in the states that do not allow it, which is why the brief is significant. It is uncertain, however, that the Supreme Court will end up deciding that broad question. The court may well avoid the issue on technical grounds or rule in a way that applies only to California.

Until not long ago, the administration was thought likely to stay out of the California case, partly as a matter of historical practice and partly to be true to President Obama’s public position on same-sex marriage. The federal government took no position in 1967 in Loving v. Virginia, the case in which the Supreme Court struck down bans on interracial marriage, or in 2003 in the last major gay rights case, Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down state laws making gay sex a crime.

Moreover, when Mr. Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage, he said the matter was for the states to decide.

On the other hand, Mr. Obama has long opposed Proposition 8.

“I am not in favor of gay marriage,” Mr. Obama told MTV News in 2008. “But when you start playing around with constitutions, just to prohibit somebody who cares about another person, it just seems to me that’s not what America’s about. Usually, our constitutions expand liberties, they don’t contract them.”

But Mr. Obama has since embraced a more sweeping view of marriage equality. “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law,” he said in his Inaugural Address, “for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal, as well.”

Supporters of marriage rights for same-sex couples applauded the brief. Chad Griffin, who founded the organization that filed the legal challenge to Proposition 8 and now heads the Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group in Washington, called it “another historic step forward consistent with the great civil rights battles of our nation’s history.” He said President Obama had “turned the inspirational words of his second Inaugural Address into concrete action.”

Both briefs argue that courts should subject laws making distinctions between straight and gay people to “heightened scrutiny,” requiring a showing that such laws are “substantially related to an important government objective.”

The administration argues that the factors, including a history of discrimination, that led courts to require heightened scrutiny for laws on gender and illegitimacy should also require it for those addressing sexual orientation.

The California case is scheduled to be argued March 26 and the one concerning the federal law March 27. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. will probably present the federal government’s position in both cases, and he is likely to be questioned closely about changes and possible inconsistencies in the administration’s position.


Michael D. Shear contributed reporting.

    U.S. Asks That Justices Reject California Gay Marriage Ban, NYT, 28.2.2013,






John Kerr,

Star of ‘Tea and Sympathy,’

Dies at 81


February 8, 2013
The New York Times


John Kerr, a Tony Award-winning actor who was best known for roles that challenged bigotry in the 1950s in films like “Tea and Sympathy” and “South Pacific,” and who turned down a starring movie role because of ideological differences with its subject, Charles Lindbergh, died on Feb. 2 in Los Angeles. He was 81.

The cause was congestive heart failure, said his son, Michael.

Mr. Kerr won the Tony in 1954 for his role in the Broadway production of Robert Anderson’s “Tea and Sympathy.” He played a sensitive teenager whose prep school classmates torment him because they assume he is gay. When he starred in the 1956 film version, MGM avoided mention of homosexuality by having his tormentors harass him for being a sissified “sister boy.”

The character, who turns out to be neither, falls in love with the schoolmaster’s wife, played by Deborah Kerr (who was no relation) in both versions.

In 1957 Mr. Kerr appeared in the film version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “South Pacific” playing Lt. Joseph Cable, whose racial prejudice keeps him from marrying the girl he loves.

Mr. Kerr had stage, film and television roles throughout the 1950s. He played opposite Leslie Caron in “Gaby” (1956), a movie about a doomed love affair in London during World War II, and appeared on television series like “The Alcoa Hour” and “Playhouse 90.”

He was offered the Lindbergh role in 1956 for the Warner Brothers film “The Spirit of St. Louis,” about Lindbergh’s historic trans-Atlantic flight. His decision to turn it down was widely publicized.

“I don’t admire the ideals of the hero,” Mr. Kerr told The New York Post, referring to statements Lindbergh had made sympathetic to Nazi Germany before America’s entry in World War II. The part went to James Stewart, despite studio concerns that he was too old for the part. (Mr. Stewart was 23 years older than Mr. Kerr.)

“My father was no radical, but Lindbergh was a Nazi sympathizer,” Michael Kerr said.

The decision roughly coincided with the zenith of Mr. Kerr’s film stardom, and he was never sure if it had hurt his career. His enthusiasm for the work began to wane around that time, too. “He never loved Hollywood — the waiting around and the boredom,” his son said.

Mr. Kerr had roles in other movies, notably in “The Pit and the Pendulum,” Roger Corman’s 1961 adaptation of the Edgar Allan Poe story; it starred Vincent Price. But he worked mainly in television in the ’60s, including a recurring role as a district attorney on “Peyton Place.”

John Grinham Kerr was born on Nov. 15, 1931, in Manhattan. His parents, Geoffrey Kerr, a British playwright, and June Walker, an American actress, divorced when he was 8. He graduated from Harvard College in 1952.

Besides his son, Mr. Kerr is survived by his wife, Barbara Chu; two stepchildren, Sharon and Chris Chu; two daughters from his first marriage, Rebecca Kerr and Jocelyn Kerr-Thantrakul; and seven grandchildren.

In 1966, while continuing to work in television, Mr. Kerr became a full-time law student at the University of California, Los Angeles.. He graduated in 1969 and was admitted to the California bar in 1970. He maintained a successful private practice in Los Angeles until his retirement in 2000, specializing in personal injury and medical malpractice cases.

“My dad originally intended to become a novelist,” Michael Kerr said. “He saw acting as a way to support himself in the meantime. Then he won the Tony. Then he went to Hollywood.”

    John Kerr, Star of ‘Tea and Sympathy,’ Dies at 81, NYT, 8.2.2013,






Beyond Selma-to-Stonewall


January 27, 2013
The New York Times


By including gay rights in the arc of the struggle for civil rights — the road “through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall” — President Obama linked his presidency to ending antigay discrimination and underscored the legal wrong of denying gay people the freedom to marry.

“Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law,” Mr. Obama famously said in his second Inaugural Address, “for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”

Now that Mr. Obama has declared that he believes denying gay people the right to wed is not only unfair and morally wrong but also legally unsupportable, the urgent question is how he will translate his words into action. To start, he should have his solicitor general file a brief in the Proposition 8 case being argued before the Supreme Court in March, saying that California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

Just a day after the inauguration, Mr. Obama’s spokesman, Jay Carney, said that while Mr. Obama supports same-sex marriage as a policy matter, the president still believes it is an issue for individual states to decide. That was Mr. Obama’s formulation when he first announced his support for same-sex marriage in May, and even then it made no sense, except perhaps as political cover approaching the general election campaign.

Marriage is traditionally regulated by the states, but there are constitutional limits on what states may do. The Supreme Court’s 1967 ruling in Loving v. Virginia prevented states from forbidding marriages between interracial couples like Mr. Obama’s own parents.

Furthermore, the day after the Proposition 8 case is argued, the Justice Department will be asking the Supreme Court to invalidate the Defense of Marriage Act, the atrocious 1996 statute that denies federal benefits to lawfully married same-sex couples. The government will be arguing that discrimination against gay people, a vulnerable minority group, is presumptively unconstitutional. It is hard to see how the marriage act’s discrimination is presumptively invalid but not California’s wiping out of existing marriage rights for gay people that were mandated by the state’s top court.

The outcome of the Proposition 8 case is likely to affect the lives of gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans for years to come, even if the final disposition is not sweeping enough to wipe out all state laws currently banning same-sex marriage. A strong filing by the Justice Department, forthrightly declaring that denying the freedom to marry violates the Constitution, would put the full weight of the federal government on the side of justice and could influence the shape of the ruling.

For the administration to be missing in action in this showdown risks conveying a message to the justices that it lacks confidence in the constitutional claims for ending gay people’s exclusion from marriage or that it believes Americans are not ready for a high court ruling making marriage equality the law of the land — impressions strikingly contradicted by legal precedent, the lessons of history and by the president’s own very powerful words.

Mr. Obama’s Inaugural Address appeared to reflect a deepened understanding that the right to marry the person of one’s choice is a fundamental right “under the law.” He needs to make sure his solicitor general conveys that sound legal view loud and clear in the Proposition 8 case.

    Beyond Selma-to-Stonewall, NYT, 27.1.2013,






Same-Sex Marriage Ceremonies

Begin in Maryland


January 1, 2013
The New York Times


BALTIMORE (AP) — Same-sex couples in Maryland were greeted with cheers and noisemakers held over from New Year's Eve parties, as gay marriage became legal in the first state south of the Mason-Dixon Line on New Year's Day.

James Scales, 68, was married to William Tasker, 60, on Tuesday shortly after midnight by Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake inside City Hall.

"It's just so hard to believe it's happening," Scales said shortly before marrying his partner of 35 years.

Six other same-sex couples also were being married at City Hall. Ceremonies were taking place in other parts of the state as well.

The ceremonies follow a legislative fight that pitted Gov. Martin O'Malley against leaders of his Catholic faith. Voters in the state, founded by Catholics in the 17th century, sealed the change by approving a November ballot question.

"There is no human institution more sacred than that of the one that you are about to form," Rawlings-Blake said during the brief ceremony. "True marriage, true marriage, is the dearest of all earthly relationships."

Brigitte Ronnett, who also was married, said she hopes one day to see full federal recognition of same-sex marriage. Maryland, Maine and Washington state were the first states to approve same-sex marriage by popular vote, in November, a development Ronnett said was significant.

"I think it's a great sign when you see that popular opinion is now in favor of this," said Ronnett, 51, who married Lisa Walther, 51, at City Hall.

Same-sex couples in Maryland have been able to get marriage licenses since Dec. 6, but they did not take effect until Tuesday.

In 2011, same-sex marriage legislation passed in the state Senate but stalled in the House of Delegates. O'Malley hadn't made the issue a key part of his 2011 legislative agenda, but indicated that summer that he was considering backing a measure similar to New York's law, which includes exemptions for religious organizations.

Shortly after, Archbishop Edwin O'Brien of Baltimore wrote to O'Malley that same-sex marriage went against the governor's faith.

"As advocates for the truths we are compelled to uphold, we speak with equal intensity and urgency in opposition to your promoting a goal that so deeply conflicts with your faith, not to mention the best interests of our society," wrote O'Brien, who served as archbishop of the nation's first diocese from October 2007 to August 2011.

The governor was not persuaded. He held a news conference in July 2011 to announce that he would make same-sex marriage a priority in the 2012 legislative session. He wrote back to the archbishop that "when shortcomings in our laws bring about a result that is unjust, I have a public obligation to try to change that injustice."

The measure, with exemptions for religious organizations that choose not to marry gay couples, passed the House of Delegates in February in a close vote. O'Malley signed it in March. Opponents then gathered enough signatures to put the bill to a statewide vote, and it passed with 52 percent in favor.

In total, nine states and the District of Columbia have approved same-sex marriage. The other states are Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont.

    Same-Sex Marriage Ceremonies Begin in Maryland, NYT, 1.1.2013,




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