The nomination of Judge Samuel Alito to the High Court was greeted with a now-familiar chorus of concerned rhetoric and calls from the GLBT community for tough confirmation hearings. But there was a deeper sense of outrage and frustration in the tone of the communityâ€™s response.
â€śPresident Bush chose to placate the far right instead of appealing to the fair-minded values of the American people,â€ť said Joe Solmonese at the Human Rights Campaign. Over at Lambda Legal, legal director Jon Davidson said Alitoâ€™s â€śtrack record on reproductive freedom, enforcement of civil rights and federalismâ€¦ raises red flags.â€ť Stonewall Democrats charged George Bush with appeasing â€śthe socially conservative political activists who control the Republican party and this White House.â€ť And National Gay and Lesbian Task Force executive director Matt Foreman characteristically declined to mince words:
â€śPresident Bush capitulated to the howling from the extreme, evangelical right and threw them red meat in the form of U.S. Circuit Court Judge Samuel Alito,â€ť he wrote. â€śThe country will now be put through a wrenching, divisive and damaging confirmation process. One more travesty inflicted on this nation by the president and his right wing allies.â€ť
In an article Wednesday, the New York Times reviewed 15 of Alitoâ€™s abortion decisions, noting that a strong concept of marriage informed his legal thinking. â€śPeople on both sides of the gay marriage debate will be reading many of Judge Alitoâ€™s abortion opinions with intense interest,â€ť wrote the Timesâ€™ Adam Liptak, who also said that Judge Alito has not been involved in any significant gay rights cases in his 15 years on the appellate bench.
In one widely reported case, however, Alito struck a New Jersey school districtâ€™s anti-harassment policy on Free Speech grounds. However, the Times took note of another case in which Alito joined the majority on the side of a high school student who had been gay baited and bullied.
Finally, to add to the early confusion, the Boston Globe reports that Alito chaired a student task force on privacy rights during his senior year at Princeton that recommended an end to hiring discrimination based on sexual orientation, and the repeal of sodomy laws.
Alaskaâ€™s Top Court Mandates Partner Benefits
The Alaska Supreme Court has issued a unanimous ruling ordering the state to institute equal benefits for gay and straight employees. The decision states that the denial of domestic partner insurance and other job perks to partnered gay state workers violates the stateâ€™s equal protection clause.
â€śDenying benefits to the same-sex domestic partners who are absolutely ineligible to become spouses has no demonstrated relationship to the interest of promoting marriage,â€ť wrote the court.
Filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in 1999, the suit sought to mitigate the damage done by the passage of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in November 1998. Alaska was one of two states to pave the way for the current spate of anti-marriage amendments. Both Hawaii and Alaska amended their constitutions in response to court rulings in favor of same-sex couples.
Governor Frank Murkowski said he was â€śoutragedâ€ť by the decision and pledged to help pass yet another constitutional amendment that would ban domestic partner benefits. The ruling reversed a lower court decision against the ACLUâ€™s plaintiffs, nine gay and lesbian couples with state jobs. Both sides will now submit briefs advising the court on how best to eradicate the discrimination.
Seal of approval
So, it appears on first examination that we are stuck with Sam Alito on the Supreme Court for the next few decades, doesnâ€™t it? Heâ€™s charming and unassuming. He has a Roberts-esque grasp of constitutional law. He has a paper trail the size of an interstate highway, and he has picture perfect credentials, from Princeton on down the line. He even has the photogenic family. Unless he tells the judiciary committee that the Constitution should be redrafted from scratch, heâ€™ll slide through the Senate like a seal in syrup.
Normally I try to avoid bizarre and distracting metaphors, but I like that image so Iâ€™m keeping it. I envision a baby seal, golden colored with whiskers and small flippers. Heâ€™s at a water park. Itâ€™s like a dream sequence because it doesnâ€™t make sense. The chute is filled with maple syrup, but itâ€™s the runny kind not the sticky kind. The seal is poised at the top in a giddy moment of trepidation. Then, in one brief moment of courage, he flops backwards and lets go, carried smoothly down the slick tube into a clear pool, its surface marred only by the oily residue of the syrup. Back in his element, he barks and splashes with delight. He dives, and cavorts away, seeking playmates and cooler waters. The metaphor descends with him into complete irrelevance.
Samâ€™s Silver Lining
Breaking news! Hereâ€™s an e-mail from the Human Right Campaign telling us that the Boston Globe has unearthed an encouraging piece of information about our newest justice-to-be. It seems that Alito chaired a task force at Princeton that recommended ending sodomy laws and banning sexual orientation discrimination in hiring. The 17-member panel was assigned to study â€śthe boundaries of privacy in American society.â€ť
â€śWe all believe that privacy is too often sacrificed to other values,â€ť wrote the 21-year-old Alito in the introduction. â€śWe all believe that the threat to privacy is steadily and rapidly mounting; we all believe that action must be taken on many fronts now to preserve privacy.â€ť
Letâ€™s Get Sealious
Yes, he was just a kid. But so far, Iâ€™m not too discouraged about this guy. Like Roberts, he has no anti-gay record that weâ€™ve seen so far. He doesnâ€™t seem to be a Krazy Kristian. His abortion rulings are based on law, not created out of thin air. Wednesdayâ€™s New York Times had an article describing his commitment to the institution of marriage as a gateway to rights and responsibilities, and implied to some degree that this attitude would not serve the cause of same-sex marriage advocates in the future.
Bay Times legal analysts disagree. All the arguments in favor of same-sex marriage are grounded in the idea that marriage is a unique and irreplaceable institution, and that the right to marry the person of your choice is fundamental. A justice who takes the status of marriage that seriously, who harbors no animus against gays and lesbians, and who respects the constitution, is probably going to vote our way. But itâ€™s essential that the Court avoid the question of marriage equality for another few years at least. Every year that passes brings the American center closer to understanding and respecting same-sex families, and makes a High Court victory immeasurably more likely. To jump the gun and lose would be disastrous.
It would be as if the seal I was mentioning before went down the chute before the maple syrup was in there. Letâ€™s say the chute was filled with a heavy black tar and the seal didnâ€™t realize it. He was so eager to reach the Pool of Equal Marriage Rights below that he threw himself down the chute before the tar had been cleaned out. In an instant his little body was stuck to the side, his struggles useless, his dreams dashed. I see him slumped against the tar in resignation, crying softly.
That was such a sad image. My heart is heavy as I turn to the rest of the news, which I must jam into my rapidly diminishing column inches.
In Michigan, the state appellate court has put a stay on last monthâ€™s state court ruling in favor of domestic partner rights. Iâ€™m sure you remember the details of that ACLU case that challenged the Attorney Generalâ€™s interpretation of the newly passed anti-gay constitutional amendment. Am I right? No? Well the bottom line is that no one knows whether the anti-marriage amendment prevents state authorities from authorizing domestic partner rights. The court of appeals will review the question. Whatever that court decides will be appealed to the state supreme court. And in the meantime, domestic partner programs will continue in some places and be stalled in others, depending on the whim of whoever makes such decisions.
That wasnâ€™t so hard. Learning about the fits and starts of our vibrant civil rights movement can be fun. Letâ€™s continue! Lambda Legal convinced an administrative law judge in Arizona that the state Medicaid program must pay for a liver transplant for an HIV-positive woman. Mr. Sulu from Star Trek has come out of the closet at the age of 68. And the bad guys in Florida are behind in their anti-marriage petition gathering, having certified only 101,800 of the 611,009 names they need by Feb. 1.
Moving on, the ACLU filed written briefs before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in their case against the Nebraska marriage amendment, and Troy Perry has passed the helm of the Metropolitan Community Church over to a woman named Nancy Wilson. Wilson and company are trying to launch a new mission called â€śFocus on the Human Family,â€ť much to the distress of James Dobson, et. al., over at Focus on the Family. I think Dobsonâ€™s minions have called their lawyers over this development, but I lost the printout and canâ€™t say for sure. Personally, I donâ€™t think we need to be stealing jargon from the Other Side, but what the hell. They stole Parents and Friends of Ex-lesbians and gays. I just hope we can all identify which missions and organizations are ours so that we donâ€™t start sending checks to Colorado Springs by accident.
Lights, Camera, Action
Thereâ€™s some other stuff, but those last three paragraphs tired me out. Oh. Speaking of Focus on the Family, did you know that â€śPornography Awareness Weekâ€ť began Sunday, Oct. 30? Focus on the Family gave me the scoop in their newsletter, and I, for one, plan to mark the occasion with diligence. â€śBy increasing awareness,â€ť writes Focus, â€śpeople have the chance to impact their own families, their churches and their communities.â€ť
Checking my calendar, I see that I have already allowed three and a half precious days to elapse without doing my part to increase awareness of pornography among my friends, family and community. If Iâ€™m going to make an impact, I must get, um, rolling.