Love is a (human) right, not a wrong and protecting the rights of same-sex couples in the U.S. is a step towards recognizing that fact (Photo Credit: Mustafa Ozer/AFP/Getty Images).
By Emily McGranachan, Member of Amnesty International USA’s LGBT Human Rights Coordinating Group
Today the Supreme Court of the United States began hearing arguments on two pivotal cases involving lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights. The focus of today’s hearing was on California’s Proposition 8, which wrote discrimination into the California Constitution by defining marriage in the state as between one man and one woman. The state constitutional amendment has been found unconstitutional by a federal appeals courts and supporters of marriage equality hope it will be struck down entirely.
Tomorrow the court hears arguments on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which limits federal recognition of marriage to heterosexual couples. There is a great deal in the news about both cases and what they could mean for LGBT rights. The decisions made by the Supreme Court will have real impacts on individuals, children, and families, regardless of their sexual orientation.
At the local level, Americans are demonstrating a strong commitment to advancing human rights. In recent elections, voters legalized marriage equality in nine states and passed the DREAM Act to expand educational opportunities for undocumented residents in Maryland. In addition, legislators in four states abolished the death penalty. The message to the nation’s leaders seems to be this: human rights still matter, and the task of “perfecting our union” remains incomplete.
As President Obama prepares to give his second inaugural address, he should embrace an ambitious rights agenda: enhancing our security without trampling on human rights; implementing a foreign policy that hold friends and foes alike accountable for human rights violations; and ensuring human rights for all in the United States without discrimination.
Measured against international norms and his own aspirations, President Obama’s first term record on human rights merits an “incomplete.” While he made the bold move of issuing an executive order to close Guantánamo on his second day in office, he has yet to fulfill that promise. The U.S. government’s reliance on lethal drone strikes is growing steadily, but the administration has provided no clear legal justification for the program. Congress has abrogated its responsibility to exercise meaningful oversight of this most ubiquitous element of the “global war on terror,” a paradigm which is in and of itself problematic. Although President Obama has on occasion stood up for human rights defenders abroad — in China, Iran, Russia and Libya — his administration has often muted criticism when it comes to U.S. allies, in the Middle East, Africa and Europe.
Amnesty International activists take part in Gay Pride in Paris
On Tuesday, Amnesty International staff delivered the signatures of Amnesty activists and supporters to the U.S. Senate urging them to repeal DOMA and end discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
DOMA – or the “Defense of Marriage Act” – is a discriminatory law that denies lawfully married same-sex couples the right to access federal protections and benefits.
Yesterday, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the Respect for Marriage Act (RMA) which would repeal DOMA and take an important step towards ending discrimination against same-sex couples. Amnesty International submitted a letter of support for the Act and delivered the petitions directly to the Committee to show our support!
Tens of thousands of protesters came together at a rally Sunday afternoon following a march through the streets of Washington DC. The event, known as the National Equality March, was an enormous gathering of support for equal rights for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) citizens in the country. While the demand for “equal protection in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states,” seems reasonable enough, the matter of whether LGBT citizens should be granted equal rights under the law has been a huge debate in recent years. Two major points of protest are, first, for the government to put an end to the don’t ask, don’t tell (DADT) policy, which has resulted in hundreds of soldiers being discharged from the military, and, second, to put an end to The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which gives states the right to not recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states and forbids federal marriage rights from being granted to any same-sex couples, regardless of their state laws. Other issues such as legal discrimination, legal physical protection, equitable healthcare, and immigration policies were also discussed at the rally. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST
The stars appear to be aligning. Yesterday, for the first time, a state legislature voted to allow same-sex marriage. Vermont joined Connecticut, Massachusetts, and recently Iowa, in recognizing marriage equality. But unlike those states that overturned the ban on same-sex marriage through judicial establishment of constitutional protections, Vermont’s voter-elected representatives made the historic move. And they did it with enough support to overwhelm Governor Jim Douglas’ veto. All this happened while the Washington D.C. city council voted unanimously to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.
Those of us who believe in marriage equality are feeling pretty good. Just don’t turn on your television. Today, the National Organization for Marriage (don’t be confused by the name) launched a new ad campaign that “that highlights how same-sex marriage undermines the core civil rights of those who believe in the simple truth that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.” Huh? The people who don’t want to let same-sex couples get married are claiming their civil rights are at risk?
This illogical dribble is part of a larger strategy to make people who have recognized marriage rights, feel threatened by people who don’t. They have been up to it for a while. The “Defense of Marriage” Act that prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed by states was passed by Congress in 1996.
I recently listened to a radio interview, where the executive director of the National Organization for Marriage, Brian Brown, issued ominous warnings that overturning bans on same-sex marriage will “suppress, marginalize and punish” all the hetero marrieds. According to Brian, the state-by-state move to marriage equality represents a terrible threat to the country as a whole and to each marriage between a woman and a man:
I’ve tried, but I can’t see how my marital institution faces imminent threat because gay and lesbian couples are now able to get married in a handful of states. Just in case I am missing something, I took an extra hard look at my husband as we started our day. Nothing seemed amiss as I eyed him over my coffee mug. Was our union facing disintegration, brought on by allowing (gasp) gay people to have what we have? No revelations here. I can’t seem to find my way around the belief that this argument over “protecting” civil marriage is really just a mask for bigotry. Someone needs to explain it to me.
Action for Human Rights. Hope for Humanity.