On Tuesday, the Michigan Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday on the question of whether the Mitten Stateâ€™s 2004 anti-gay constitutional amendment should be interpreted to ban domestic partner benefits for public employees. The appellate court, amazingly, said yes last year. So now itâ€™s up to the justices to do justice.
The case is pretty critical, given that 27 states have similar amendments in place, and Michiganâ€™s is the only top court to take a clear look at their scope so far. Itâ€™s not as if other states have to follow Michiganâ€™s lead, of course. Itâ€™s just that a decision to uphold the appalling lower court ruling would send a frightening message to the rest of the country and embolden those who wish us ill.
And you recall that as we went to press last week, a Maryland jury awarded nearly $3 million to the man who sued Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church for invasion of privacy and emotional distress. Phelps and company protested the funeral of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder last year, based on the theory that God is killing American soldiers because our country supports gays and lesbians. Or something like that. Snyderâ€™s father sued and won, eventually winning a total of almost $11 million in various damages when the entire verdict was established.
But much as we would like to see Mr. Phelps down to his last dime, the verdict will most likely be overturned on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. The seven protesters were over 1,000 feet from the funeral, which itself took place on public grounds. Protesting, assembling, and waving obnoxious signs is a Constitutional right last time we checked.
Finally, the other legal news that weâ€™re keeping an eye on is the outcome of the Connecticut marriage case, which was argued before the state supreme court some time ago. Whereâ€™s the decision, one wonders? The Connecticut case, much like the litigation in California, turns on the question of whether a state can offer all the rights of marriage to same-sex couples without the name. Connecticut does so via civil unions, while California offers registered domestic partnerships. But is there an essential, albeit intangible, quality to the status of marriage itself that cannot be constitutionally withheld? Answer, yes. Â
Florida Showdown Ahead
In state news, it looks as if Floridaâ€™s anti-marriage amendment will definitely reach voters next year. Petitioners have been slogging away collecting names for years, and are on the verge of hitting the magic number, whatever that might be. Meanwhile, GLBT and civil rights allies have used the time well, putting together a powerful bipartisan gay and straight coalition to fight the measure. Unlike most states, Florida requires that amendments be ratified by a 60 percent majority, so we have an extra ten points to play with in the Sunshine State.
And it was nice to see the Rhode Island legislature override Governor Don Carcieriâ€™s veto the other day, and enact the law mandating domestic partner benefits for state employees. Nicer still to see a Democrat take over the Kentucky statehouse last Tuesday, and to watch the Virginia state senate switch to a Democratic majority for the first time in a decade.
Robertson Backs Rudy?
Have you been following the continuing confusion from the far right as their various evangelical poobahs struggle to find a presidential candidate? Just this week Pat Robertson endorsed Giuliani, Sam Brownback endorsed McCain, and Paul Weyrich endorsed Romney. Mike Huckabee is still the most overtly devout Christian in the pack and Fred Thompson is still calling himself the true conservative, so the options are all over the place. I suppose weâ€™ll see Dobson and other head honchos lining up behind their favorites pretty soon, and one hopes they end up fracturing the base of the GOP party into splintery shards with no political influence whatsoever.
By the way, a Pew research center poll this week indicated that over half of white evangelical Republicans would vote for a third party candidate rather than cast a ballot for the former Mayor of New York. According to the Associated Press, the faction represents about a third of the GOP electorate and is currently split between Giuliani, Thompson and McCain.
The ENDA debate is taking so long that I have to wait around and write about it at the last minute. The sluggish development of my lead story leaves me with the following news items:
Two boys were elected homecoming couple at Davis High School outside of Sacramento. (Yay!)
A Virginia man has been told to turn in his vanity plates, which read â€śPoofter,â€ť after someone apparently decided that â€śPoofterâ€ť is an unacceptable slur against gay men. (Heâ€™s gonna fight it!)
A newspaper in Warrensburg, Missouri has lost three advertisers and several subscribers after printing a same-sex commitment ceremony announcement. (Who needs â€™em?)
And a bunch of thuggish Burger King employees beat up a couple of gay customers in an alley outside a Union City franchise in New Jersey.Â
(McDonaldâ€™s it is.)
I also have some Episcopal Church news (the Pittsburgh Diocese has taken a preliminary vote in favor of seceding from the U.S. church and joining one of those conservative African Anglican groups).
Plus, there are more sting victims in the news, this time a bunch of guys snagged at a Sears bathroom in Daytona Beach. Undercover cops picked up nine men, a roguesâ€™ gallery from the look of them in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, including former city commissioner and mayoral candidate Mike Shallow. (Mr. Shallow, naturally, is married.)
I donâ€™t know about you, but I think these items need no further elaboration.