Maryland: Will Death Penalty Repeal Follow Marriage Equality?

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley speaks ©AFP/Getty Images

Yesterday, marriage equality became the law in Maryland with Governor Martin O’Malley’s signature.  Death penalty repeal is another issue the Governor says he feels strongly about, and he should push for the chance to sign that into law too.

In 2009, Maryland legislators tried to create the perfect death penalty law, one that would not risk executing the innocent.  Of course, human beings are still running Maryland’s capital punishment system. Mistakes will be made, and that awful risk remains. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Amnesty Activism at Work: Dump DOMA!

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!


Imprisoned For Love in Malawi

ADAM-022784-0005-C003050410-026974Homosexuality is little tolerated or accepted in much of Africa. South Africa legalized gay marriage in 2006, but incidence of hate crimes towards gay and lesbian persons are not uncommon. Uganda is currently contemplating a new law allowing the death penalty for those convicted of being gay. This criminalization of homosexuality occurs in many African countries, and Malawi is no exception. So when two men pledged their love and commitment to each other last month, they were promptly arrested.

On December 26th, Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga held a traditional engagement ceremony in Blantyre’s poor township of Chirimba. Two days later, the men were arrested after the story was reported in local newspapers. The charges were “unnatural practices between males and gross public indecency.” They were reportedly beaten by police while in custody.

On January 4th the men appeared in court and were denied bail “for their own safety” and “in the interest of justice.” They are currently being held at Chichiri prison until their next scheduled court appearance on January 11th. Further, Malawian authorities have attempted to compel the men to submit to forcible medical examinations, falsely believing this will prove past sexual relations, in order to charge the men with sodomy.

Laws criminalizing homosexuality violate international human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Malawi has ratified both these documents and has an obligation to abide by their precepts. Amnesty International considers individuals imprisoned solely for their private consensual sexual relationships as prisoners of conscience and calls for their immediate and unconditional release.

Expressions of love and commitment between consenting adults can never be unnatural nor violative of public decency. Tell Malawi to release these men immediately and that love is not a crime.

Protesters March on U.S. Capital

Photo credit - Yousef Almulhem (September 2009)

Photo credit - Yousef Almulhem (September 2009)

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

It's the Morning After and My Marriage Feels Fine

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.

Why Prop 8 Impacts All of Us

Until I attended law school, my strongest exposure to court rooms came from an old “L.A. Law” addiction.  (If you don’t know what that is, do me a favor and don’t depress me by asking.  Think “Boston Legal” for the 80s.)  One of my girlfriends in grad school came from a family with a strong legal tradition and was a lot savvier than me when it came to actual courtroom experience.  For years, her father argued cases in front of the Supreme Court and I listened with interest as she shared insider’s knowledge.  Jennifer said that one of the hardest things to explain to her dad’s clients was that by the time the cases reached the Supreme Court, they were not about them.  They had become cases about the law and the way the law is interpreted for everyone.

I’ve been thinking about that lesson this morning, as the California Supreme Court is hearing a challenge to Proposition 8.  It’s been a hard thing to explain to the people of California – and the country- that Proposition 8 is not just a case about same-sex marriage.  It’s a case about the rights of all minority populations in California.

If that doesn’t seem obvious, let me explain.  The California Constitution, like all constitutions provides fundamental rights for those under its jurisdiction.  Last year, the state Supreme Court ruled that marriage was a fundamental right and must be extended to same-sex couples.  When Californians voted for Proposition 8, they voted to take away a fundamental right of a minority group.  The case is really about whether we can allow fundamental rights to be taken away from citizens by majority vote.  Do the majority of voters have the power to take away constitutional rights from any group?  The answer must be no. Otherwise, every minority group based on race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender, is vulnerable.  Without the security of equal protection under the law, all minority groups are at risk of losing fundamental rights whenever the majority decides to take them away.