Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Marriage on the line in California

This message from ACLU executive director Anthony Romero was in my inbox this morning. It's long but well worth a read.
Dear ACLU Supporter,

I'm angry and heartsick about what may happen in California on November 4th.

In the most personal way possible, I'm writing to ask you for a favor: help us ensure that gay couples all across California keep their fundamental right to marriage -- the basic right to be treated just like anybody else.

I hope you will forgive the indulgence when I speak from the heart and tell you my personal story.

You see, I grew up in a loving and supportive household, where my family believed I could be anything I chose -- anything except being an openly gay man. Neither of my parents finished high school, and yet, they believed I could accomplish all I set out to do as I went off to Princeton University and Stanford Law School.

They got me through the toughest of times, scrimped and saved, and always believed that failure wasn't in the cards for me. They had more faith in me than I often had in myself. Whenever my parents visited me at Princeton, my Dad would slip a $20 bill in my pocket when my Mom wasn't looking. I never had the courage to tell him that the $20 wouldn't go very far towards my bills, books and tuition. But, it was his support and belief in me that sustained me more than the tens of thousands of dollars I received in scholarships.

When I finished college, they were hugely proud of my -- and their -- accomplishments. That was until I told them I was gay and wanted to live life as an openly gay man.

Though I always knew I was gay, I didn't come out to them for many years, as I was afraid of losing the love and support that had allowed me to succeed against all odds. When I did tell them, they cried and even shouted. I ended up leaving their home that night to spend a sleepless night on a friend's sofa. We were all heartbroken.

When my Mom and I spoke later, my Mom said, "But, Antonio (that's the name she uses with me), hasn't your life been hard enough? People will hurt you and hate you because of this." She, of course, was right -- as gay and lesbian people didn't only suffer discrimination from working class, Puerto Rican Catholics, but from the broader society. She felt that I had escaped the public housing projects in the Bronx, only to suffer another prejudice -- one that might be harder to beat -- as the law wasn't on my side. At the time, it felt like her own homophobia. Now I see there was also a mother's love and a real desire to protect her son. She was not wrong at a very fundamental level. She knew that treating gay and lesbian people like second class citizens -- people who may be worthy of "tolerance, " as Sarah Palin asserts, but not of equality -- was and still is the last socially-acceptable prejudice.

Even before I came out to them, I struggled to accept myself as a gay man. I didn't want to lose the love of my family, and I wanted a family of my own -- however I defined it. I ultimately chose to find my own way in life as a gay man. This wasn't as easy as it sounds even though it was the mid-1980s. I watched loved ones and friends die of AIDS. I was convinced I would never see my 40th birthday, much less find a partner whom I could marry.

As years passed, my Mom, Dad and I came to a peace, and they came to love and respect me for who I am. They even came to defend my right to live with equality and dignity -- often fighting against the homophobia they heard among their family and friends and in church.

The right to be equal citizens and to marry whomever we wish -- unimaginable to me when I first came out -- is now ours to lose in California unless we stand up for what's right. All of us must fight against what's wrong. In my 43 short years of life, I have seen gay and lesbian people go from pariahs and objects of legally-sanctioned discrimination to being on the cusp of full equality. The unimaginable comes true in our America if we make it happen. But, it requires effort and struggle.

One of the things I love about the ACLU is that it's an organization that understands we are all in this together. We recognize that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Given what's at stake in the outcome of this election, I am personally appealing to you for help to fight the forces of intolerance from carrying the day in California next Tuesday.

If you have friends and family in California, please contact them right now, and ask them to vote NO on Proposition 8. You can send them a message here.

We need to make sure people keep in mind that gay people are part of every family and every community -- that like everyone else, gay people want the same rights to commit to their partners, to take care of each other and to take responsibility for each other. We shouldn’t deny that, and we shouldn’t write discrimination into any constitution in any state. Certainly, we can't let that happen in California after the highest court in the state granted gay and lesbian people their full equality.

Unfortunately, due to a vicious, deceitful $30 million advertising blitz, the supporters of Prop 8 may be within days of taking that fundamental right away.

To stop the forces of discrimination from succeeding, we have to win over conflicted voters who aren't sure they're ready for gay marriage but who are also uncomfortable going into a voting booth and stripping away people's rights. With the ACLU contributing time, energy and millions of dollars to the effort, we're working hard to reach those key voters before next Tuesday.

If you have friends and family in California, please contact them right now, and ask them to vote NO on Proposition 8. Share this email with them. Call them. Direct them to our website for more information.

Don't let other young people grow up to be afraid to be who they are because of the discrimination and prejudice they might face. Let them see a future that the generation before them couldn't even dream of -- a future as full and equal citizens of the greatest democracy on earth.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." As we strive to defeat Prop 8 and the injustice it represents, the ACLU is trying to make that arc a little shorter.

On behalf of my Mom and family, and on behalf of all the people who will never face legally-sanctioned discrimination, I thank you for being part of this struggle and for doing everything you can to help.

It is a privilege and honor to have you as allies in this fight for dignity and equality.

With enormous appreciation,
Anthony D. Romero
Executive Director

P.S. All the polls show that the vote on Prop 8 could go either way. By making just a few calls or sending just a few emails, you could help make the difference. Please, don’t let this fundamental right be taken away. Send an eCard to everyone you know in California.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

And another thing....

To follow up on Chris's post from yesterday, national ACLU has an excellent "Freedom Alert" video from Matt Coles, the director of the ACLU's LGBT Project. Here it is.

And there's another ballot initiative out there that attacks civil liberties- Measure 11 in South Dakota. This is yet another attempt to enact a law that can ultimately challenge Roe v. Wade. Check out national's blog for info about what's happening in SD, including a Freedom Alert video.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Liberty is on the ballot November 4

No, this is not about a candidate. The ACLU is a steadfast non-partisan organization. We have never endorsed any candidate or any party and we never will. This year, however, essential liberty itself is on the ballot in at least two states. They may not be official Pennsylvania issues, but we Pennsylvanians can stand up and do something.

California's Proposition 8

In California, voters will decide whether to strip gay and lesbian Californians of the right to marry. In case you missed it, the California Supreme Court ruled in May that the state's ban on same-sex marriage violated the California state constitution. Since then gay men and lesbians have had the same rights as their heterosexual neighbors, but now a ballot initiative (Proposition 8) would allow a simple majority to deny those fundamental rights.

Early polling showed that most Californians didn't like the idea of voting to take away rights from anyone, but supporters of Proposition 8 have gained ground by using the oldest of political techniques: outright lies. Last I checked, the polls showed liberty losing to lies.

This is a huge fight. Huge. California is super-influential around the rest of the country. Think of it as a REALLY big domino. The victory in May was a gigantic leap forward for equal marriage rights in the United States. If Prop 8 passes, it will be two gigantic leaps back.

If you don't live in California you can't vote against Proposition 8, but no matter where you live there is lots that you can do to help in the fight. You can phone bank voters in California, you can help raise exposure for the issue, you can even make your own commercial urging voters to vote NO on Prop 8. Most importantly, you can GIVE MONEY. This fight is being lost on dollars alone, and right now the bad guys have more. Go to to contribute, or to join the fight in other ways.

Florida's Proposition 2

Prop 2 in Florida is scarier than Prop 8 in California, but it is less likely to pass. Unlike California, which requires a simple majority, Florida requires 60% of the voting public to amend the state constitution. Prop 2 would outlaw gay marriage AND any form of civil union, and has a neat little "no takebacks, no reversies" clause that bars any judge from overturning the law once passed.

Polls say that Prop 2 is unlikely to pass - only 55% of Floridians oppose civil liberties - but we must take nothing for granted. Visit to learn more about Florida's Proposition 2.

Chris in Philly

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Save Troy Davis. Impeach Antonin Scalia.

Over the last eight years, as the legislative and executive branches of the federal government have been melting down, I've always felt like we could rely on the courts to be the last bastion of freedom and justice.

I'm not sure that I can say that now.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear the case of Troy Davis of Georgia. In 1991, Davis was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1989 shooting death of Savannah police officer Mark McPhail.

No physical evidence linked Davis to the crime. No DNA. No murder weapon. No blood. Nothing. He was convicted on the testimony of nine witnesses. Seven of those nine witnesses have since recanted, and some of them have said that they were coerced into testifying against Davis. Of the two who have not recanted, one is the other person suspected of killing Officer McPhail, and the other could not initially identify Davis as the shooter.

And yet SCOTUS won't even give him a hearing. All of those people who tell us that the appeals process will catch the innocent people on death row should shut their damn mouths.

The Star Ledger of Newark called the plight of Troy Davis "a terrible injustice":
Killing him in the face of evidence that he may be innocent is unacceptable for a civilized society. Even proponents of the death penalty should demand that no one be executed if there is a chance he is innocent.

Andrew Cohen, a legal analyst for CBS News, says that the anti-appeals movement has reached its "gruesome but inevitable conclusion":
When Davis’ appeal on these issues made it to the Georgia Supreme Court the judges there denied him any relief and declared in a 4-3 vote that there must be “no doubt of any kind” but that the trial testimony was of the “purest fabrication” in order to warrant interceding on Davis’ behalf. Got that? It takes only the absence of “reasonable doubt” to convict someone of murder but in Georgia to properly investigate a condemned man’s strong claim of innocence judges have to have “no doubt” at the outset of the inquiry that the inquiry will prove his innocence. How, one dissenting Georgia justice asked, can anyone ever meet such a standard?

It’s a game that Davis can’t win; and that’s precisely how leaders of the anti-appeal movement have wanted it.


Having lost in Georgia, and at the lower federal court level, the defense then asked the United States Supreme Court to declare that the State violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment when it executes an innocent man (or doesn’t even hold a full hearing on his strong claims of innocence). At a minimum, the defense believed, the Justices would look closely at the stringent, new “pure fabrication” rule the Georgia High Court came up with in the Davis appeal.

But it isn’t going to happen. The same Supreme Court in Washington, which delayed Davis’ execution last month, announced on Tuesday that it would not, after all, take the case on its merits. This virtually guarantees that Davis will be executed despite the grave doubts about his guilt. There will be no evaluation of the Eighth Amendment in these circumstances; no considered review of the new Georgia rule; no ardent discussion between Justices Scalia and Stevens about when, if ever, a defendant like Davis can ever get that meaningful new look from the courts.

This isn't just a Georgia problem. Here in Pennsylvania, six people have been exonerated after being sentenced to death. Nick Yarris lived on PA's death row for 21 years for a crime he didn't commit. And it wasn't the appeals process that saved him. It was only the existence of DNA that stopped the commonwealth from executing an innocent man.

With 221 people on PA's death row, there's no telling how many more innocent people are awaiting execution in here.

Troy Davis is probably going to die. His newest death warrant has been signed, and he can be executed sometime between October 27 and November 3. The ultimate irony is that this overzealous, blood-thirsty pursuit of death will ultimately be the undoing of capital punishment in the United States.

UPDATE: 9:45am: Amnesty International USA has numerous actions that you can take to raise awareness of the case of Troy Davis.

Andy in Harrisburg

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