Around 6,000 anti-marriage protestors convened outside the Temple of Justice in Olympia, Washington on Tuesday, as attorneys inside prepared to debate the constitutional rationale for marriage equality before the nine justices of the state supreme court. The oral arguments were scheduled in two freedom-to-marry cases, one brought by Lambda Legal Defense and the Northwest Womenâ€™s Law Center against Seattleâ€™s King County, and another litigated by the ACLU against the state of Washington.
Patricia Novotny of the Northwest Womenâ€™s Law Center and Paul Lawrence of Preston Gates & Ellis, combined to present the arguments in favor of legalizing marriage, while attorneys for the state, the county, and for a group of conservative opponents, split the remaining time. In all, the arguments lasted roughly an hour and 20 minutes, interrupted by questions from the bench. According to Lambdaâ€™s west coast senior staff attorney Jennifer Pizer, four of the justices were responsible for most of the questions, so although the colloquy was interesting, it was impossible to marshal a sense of how the court would eventually rule.
Just as baseball players are known for superstitious quirks, constitutional lawyers are also known for never predicting premature victory. So it was not surprising that the reaction to the debate was cautious optimism.
Pizer said she thought the arguments â€śwent well,â€ť and described the majority of the justices as â€śopen-minded centrists.â€ť Whether or not they will fall on the side of the angels is anyoneâ€™s guess, however. The questions from the bench suggested to Pizer that the justices were well-informed and seemed to have a good understanding â€śof why strict scrutiny should apply to classifications that exclude gay people.â€ť She also sensed that the justices were comfortable with the whole subject, that they knew gay men and lesbians personally, and had compassion for the human side of the question.
That was a far cry, Pizer said, from the conditions in 1986, when Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell told one of his law clerks: â€śI donâ€™t believe I have ever met a homosexual.â€ť As reported by Joyce Murdoch and Deb Price in their Supreme Court history Courting Justice, the clerk Powell was talking to was gay, as were several of his closeted assistants over the years. Shortly after that exchange, Powell changed his vote in the challenge to Georgiaâ€™s sodomy law, switching the 5-4 majority to an anti-gay position. That ruling, of course, was expressly overturned by the 6-3 decision in Lawrence v. Texas two years ago, but while it stood, it weighed heavily on all those engaged in the legal fight for gay rights.
The point is, for those who believe they have never met â€śa homosexual,â€ť same-sex marriage can be imagined as a politically correct contrivance that accomplishes nothing, while risking a fundamental institution in some unforeseeable way. Why take the chance?
Others, by contrast, who have seen gay families close up, are far more likely to recognize that same-sex couples are no different from heterosexuals, save for their lack of access to the protections of civil marriage laws, and for the prejudice that keeps those protections at bay.
Busy Week For West Coast Federal Appellate Court
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit handed down two decisions for petitioners with HIV/AIDS in the last week, albeit in two very different contexts.
On Friday, a unanimous three-judge panel ruled that American Airlines (nor any other employer for that matter) may not require a prospective employee to come forward with his or her HIV status unless all non-medical investigations are over and a conditional job offer has been extended. The underlying question of whether or not HIV status should factor into a hiring decision was not directly at issue in this case. Normally, under the Americans With Disabilities Act, people with HIV or other disabilities may not be penalized in the workforce unless the disability would keep the individual from performing a particular job.
In this instance, three Bay Area men applied to be flight attendants in the late 1990s, and American gave them the green light, provided they pass medical tests and other background checks. During the medical tests, however, and before any firm jobs had been offered, the airline ran a full blood test without consent, discovering elevated â€śmean corpuscular volumes,â€ť a signpost for HIV drugs. When pressed for an explanation, the men acknowledged their HIV status, and were subsequently denied employment based on the charge that they â€śliedâ€ť during the hiring process.
After a lower court ruled in favor of the airline, the men appealed their consolidated cases to the federal appellate court. Hidden conditions like HIV may be kept secret until the last possible step in the hiring process, stated the panel. â€śApplicants may then choose whether or not to disclose their medical information once they have been assured that as long as they can perform the jobâ€™s essential tasks, they will be hired.â€ť
Not only does this timing protect the privacy of a candidate, but it also makes it more difficult for an employer to discriminate on the basis of a disability by rejecting a candidate based on a non-medical excuse. The men will now be able to pursue their case in lower court.
Then on Monday, a separate Ninth Circuit panel reversed a Board of Immigration Appeals decision, giving a new lease on life to the asylum application of a gay Lebanese man with AIDS. Nassier Mustapha Karouni was originally deported by the Board, and told that he would have no problems returning to Lebanon as long as he refrained from acting gay or having gay sex.
According to a press release from the Human Rights Campaign, Karouni fled Lebanon in 1987 after being arrested and detained by Hezbollah on account of his sexual orientation. Another gay man â€śrepented,â€ť HRC said, while Karouniâ€™s gay cousin was killed by the terrorist group. â€śThe record demonstrates,â€ť wrote the Ninth Circuit, â€śthat militants and certain factions of the Lebanese and local governments are a credible threat to homosexuals like Karouni.â€ť Karouni will be allowed to remain in the U.S. while he pursues his asylum application.
Florida Official Calls GLBT Support Groups Pro-Pedophile
Three GLBT organizations have demanded an apology and a public retraction from Cecilia Burke, a member of the Pinellas County (Florida) Juvenile Welfare Board. Last month, Burke sent a written memo to her colleagues, describing Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays as well as the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network, as groups that â€śendorse unhealthy sexual practices among youth, including sex between underage youth and adults.â€ť According to the St. Petersburg Times, Burke later claimed she based her observations on information from the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuals. This particular association, also known as NARTH, is notorious as a repository of anti-gay propaganda posing as scientific fact.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights has written a letter on behalf of the two slandered organizations demanding that Burke read a public apology into the record of the next Juvenile Welfare Board meeting. If the matter is not resolved within ten days of the March 4 letter, the San Francisco-based legal group intends to sue.
â€śWe cannot allow such slanderous and absurd characterizations to go unchallenged,â€ť said Karen Doering, head of the National Center for Lesbian Rightsâ€™ Florida office. â€śWe are prepared to pursue every legal avenue available to hold the Juvenile Welfare Board accountable.â€ť The letter also demands that the Board â€śreaffirm its commitment to materials and training regarding health and juvenile welfare.â€ť
The Juvenile Welfare Board allocates over $40 million in public funds for programs that help local youth. According to Doering, the Board has scheduled a meeting for this Thursday morning, and she will be attending.
Foot In Mouth Disease Strikes Washington State Lobbyist
Here in Texas, we are preparing to march down the avenue on Sunday, rally in front of the Capitol, and confront our state representatives next Monday on lobby day. According to the Associated Press, a similar event in Olympia, Washington stirred up a hornetsâ€™ nest last month. Lou Novak, a landlord lobbyist from the Rental Housing Association of Puget Sound, was lounging in the halls of the state capitol on Feb. 23, when a group from the Life Long AIDS Alliance passed by. Members of the group, which included at least two young teenagers, a 16-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl, were meeting with lawmakers on AIDS Awareness Day.
â€śLooks like itâ€™s anal sex week,â€ť quipped Novak loudly enough to be heard by one and all. According to the wire service, AIDS activist Suzie Saxton followed Novak into the cafeteria and confronted him. Rather than showing remorse, Novak repeated his observation, adding that people who engage in irresponsible sex shouldnâ€™t ask for taxpayer money. When the matter was brought to the attention of security, an investigation was launched.
Since rules of decorum apply to visitors as well as members, Novak was obliged to apologize in writing. The publicity also led him to resign from the Housing Association, whose president issued a statement assuring the public that the Rental Housing Association of Puget Sound â€śdoes not endorse or condone any comments which differ from our commitment to diversity.â€ť Itâ€™s probably a good thing for the Association that Novak bowed out, since one lawmaker, Sen. Darlene Fairley of Lake Forest Park, told the press he was no longer welcome to testify before her housing committee.
â€śI am a mother,â€ť Fairley snapped. â€śAnd you do not say that kind of crap in front of children. You do NOT. I donâ€™t care what your feelings are.â€ť
Finally, the AP reports, the incident appears to have had a salutary effect on the debate over the gay rights bill that has passed the house, and awaits a senate hearing. During the debate on the house floor, opponents argued that an anti-discrimination bill was unnecessary. But Mr. Novak personified the rebuttal to that charge. â€śThe first vice president of a rental association attacking some kid,â€ť said (openly gay) Rep. Ed Murray of Seattle, â€śis Exhibit A of why we need House Bill 1515. Itâ€™s one thing to speak your mind. Itâ€™s another thing to use abusive language in front of a minor.â€ť
The Vision Thing
Hello dearest readers! Iâ€™m procrastinating because I have several regular news briefs due and Iâ€™m not in the mood to write them. Instead, I have been checking out an AOL headline called â€śgeneral medical warning signs that should not be ignored.â€ť At first, I was afraid to click. What if the list included things like â€śunexplained thirst,â€ť â€śeasily chipped fingernails,â€ť or â€śtiny, almost imperceptible, spot that might be from a penâ€¦ or might not?â€ť The last thing any of us need when trying to procrastinate is worrisome medical symptoms that AOL tells us â€śshould not be ignored.â€ť
But I feared for no reason. Indeed the warning signs included things like high blood pressure (we knew that!), bleeding, and my favorite, â€śloss of vision.â€ť Luckily I read the list before actually losing my vision. If I had lost my vision first, I would not have been able to learn that this particular calamity is not one to be ignored.
You know, about ten years ago I actually called 911 and summoned emergency medical help for just this symptom, which I had forgotten about until just now. I was procrastinating, as it so happened, and I turned on a tennis tournament, and as I watched, a jagged gaping white hole appeared in my vision turning â€śAndre Agassiâ€ť into â€śAn i.â€ť I lay down and closed my eyes, and the white hole stayed there in my brain, kind of jangling around. I wandered around and went up and down the stairs for no reason to no avail, and finally decided I was in the throes of a major health crisis. Since â€śstrokeâ€ť and â€śbrain tumorâ€ť were the only two neurological diagnoses in my repertoire at the time, I was very distressed and insisted on paramedical attention. But it turned out to be a â€śvisual migraine,â€ť which is harmless. In fact, Iâ€™ve had several others since then, and now if I ever have a stroke or a brain tumor, I will remain calm, chalk it up to a migraineâ€”â€” and probably DIE!
Just Pull The Plug For Godâ€™s Sake
Before we move on to actual news, am I the only person who is really sick of Terri Schiavo and the fawning â€śOh oh oh. Terri Terri Terriâ€ť right wing commentators that insist on treating this poor rutabaga as if she might wake up tomorrow and appear on Larry King Live next week to thank everyone who kept her alive with their prayers? According to a recent Focus on the Family newsletter, legislation was introduced in both houses of Congress â€śto help save the life of Terri Schiavo and all other disabled people unable to speak for themselves.â€ť
I gather that some other woman who was in a coma of some sort came out of it the other day, which is fine. Good for her. But, so? Terri Schiavo has no brain function! Her champions are the same people who got all bent out of shape last week when the Supreme Court ruled that teenagers who commit capital crimes at age 16 and 17 should not be eligible for the death penalty. â€śTheyâ€™ll get away with murder!â€ť whacked out far right crazy people exclaimed. Well, no. Theyâ€™ll be put in jail for decades or maybe their whole lives. These are people who donâ€™t mind seeing mothers risk their lives so that â€śpre-bornâ€ť children can live, and theyâ€™re more concerned with someone in a permanent vegetative state than a thinking, walking, breathing teenager who might possibly find redemption during a life behind bars.
Gross Me Out With A Spoon
Now hereâ€™s a headline that caught my eye. â€śCoach Accused of Licking Playersâ€™ Wounds.â€ť Unfortunately for my fantasy life, itâ€™s a male coach, and the wound in question was on someoneâ€™s knee. Still, I think I could come up with a variation on the theme that would suit my purposes. Before I indulge myself, I will report that the licker in question was a 34-year-old high school science teacher and football coach from Halsey, Oregon, named Scott Reed.
According to the Associated Press, Reed gave the team a pep talk, using the image of a coach licking playersâ€™ wounds. Although the notion was presumably a metaphor for the relationship between a coach and an athlete, team members encouraged Reed to lick a team memberâ€™s bloody knee and Coach Reed complied for reasons that elude us at present. Reportedly, Reed may have licked other injured body parts previously, but nothing overtly sexual seems to have occurred. Itâ€™s not clear why these incidents, which date from last year, are only now coming to light, but the matter is just now being brought up before the Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission, which will probably take a dim view of Coach Reedâ€™s standards and practices.
There Oughtta Be A Law!
We donâ€™t have room for state legislative news, although you should know that Connecticut is on the verge of passing that civil unions bill, while anti-marriage amendments are dead in Maryland (stalled in house judiciary committee), and in Iowa (not expected to be brought up in the state senate). So you see? The legislative news isnâ€™t always so bad. Oh, and the Alabama senate is expected to give final approval to a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage as we go to press on Thursday. But what can we expect from Alabama?
Thereâ€™s some other news on my list from New Mexico, Montana, Virginia, and New Jersey, but I believe I already mentioned that we are NOT covering state legislative news this week and nothing you say or do out there in reader land will sway me.
Oww. Stop that! Iâ€™ll do better next week.
What Happened In Vegas?
Did you hear about the mayor of Las Vegas, Oscar Goodman, who told a fourth grade class that if he were stranded on a desert island, heâ€™d want to have a bottle of gin on hand? â€śI answered the question honestly and truthfully,â€ť Hizzhoner explained later. â€śIâ€™m not going to lie to children. Iâ€™m not going to say I would like a teddy bear or a Bible or something like that.â€ť Naturally, Focus on the Family sent out the mayorâ€™s contact information so you could â€ślet Mayor Goodman know what you think of his endorsement of alcohol while talking to elementary school children.â€ť
God damn blue stockings. By the time I was ten I knew how to pour wine without spilling a drop, and I could make a pretty good dry martini if I had to. And I turned out just fine, thank you very much!