Tag Archives: California

Federal Judge Orders Military to Stop Enforcing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

In 2004, the Log Cabin Republicans, a national gay and lesbian non-profit organization, brought an action against the United States and Secretary of Defense consisting of a facial challenge to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” statute (10 U.S.C. § 654) and its implementing regulations. The federal District Court for the Central District Court of California heard arguments on the case this past July.

Judge Virginia A. Phillips held that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is unconstitutional on September 9th.  Judge Phillips has now ordered that the United States military cease enforcement of this policy.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was signed into law in 1993 by President Clinton. This law allows for service members to serve in the military, regardless of their sexual orientation, providing that they do not tell others that they are homosexual and do not engage in homosexual acts.

Plaintiffs in the case argued that the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” violated the service members’ right to due process under the Fifth Amendment and restricted free speech rights under the First Amendment. Judge Phillips agreed, finding that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” infringed upon the fundamental rights of service members.

Under the heightened scrutiny test applied by Judge Phillips, the defendants failed to meet their burden of showing that the policy was necessary to significantly further important government interests of military readiness and unit cohesion.  Additionally, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” challenged as an overbroad content-based speech restriction, did not survive First Amendment scrutiny because the government could not show that the regulation survived even the deferential review applied to speech in a military context. Judge Phillips wrote that the restriction under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on speech is “more than is reasonably necessary to protect the substantial government interest.”

The facial challenge of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell law allowed Judge Phillips to invalidate the statute and provide broad injunctive relief. Although the defendants argued to keep some parts of the law in place, Judge Phillips found that the “unconstitutional nature of the Act permeates the entire statute. Thus, total invalidation is the narrowest remedy available for the relief sought here.” Judge Phillips permanently enjoined the United States and the Secretary of Defense from enforcing or applying the policy.

In addition, she ordered that any “investigation, discharge, separation, or other proceeding” executed under the policy be suspended and discontinued, immediately. Phillips has also granted the Log Cabin Republicans the right to apply for attorney’s fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2412 and to file a motion for the costs of the suit.

It is unclear whether the Justice Department will appeal the October 12th injunction or the district court’s ruling on the constitutionality of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” However, President Obama has said in the past that he opposes the policy.

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Filed under Equality, Government, LGBT, Military, Sexual orientation

A Major Win for Marriage Equality is Intertwined With the Fight for Reproductive Autonomy

This week marked an enormous step forward for LGBT rights in the United States when Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker declared Proposition 8 – California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage – unconstitutional.

In his opinion, Judge Walker emphasized the irrelevance of one’s sex or gender in terms of relationship legitimacy and the ability to sustain a family.  Marriage in the United States has not been a static tradition, especially in terms of gender equity. According to Walker, breaking down inequities between men and women in heterosexual marriage serves as a precursor to same-sex marriage:

Relative gender composition aside, same-sex couples are situated identically to opposite-sex couples in terms of their ability to perform the rights and obligations of marriage under California law. … Gender no longer forms an essential part of marriage; marriage under law is a union of equals.

The overturn of Prop 8 is a victory not just for the LGBT community, but for supporters of reproductive rights as well. As Shira Saperstein writes:

Reproductive rights are about nothing less than the ability to chart one’s own course in life—to make decisions about love, sex, and family without government interference or discrimination. That ability is central to core American values of freedom, equality, and fairness.

In terms of American marriage, charting one’s own course in life is enmeshed with the decision to have (or not to have) children. A major argument in support of Prop 8 is the inability of same-sex couples to produce children through sexual intercourse, but this is an issue that realistically affects some heterosexual marriages as well. Linking the ability to procreate with the legitimacy of a relationship would, in effect, be declaring a significant number of opposite-sex marriages meaningless (not to mention backtracking considerably in terms of women’s roles in society).

Judge Walker addresses the procreation claim, saying, “Never has the state inquired into procreative capacity or intent before issuing a marriage license; indeed, a marriage license is more than a license to have procreative sexual intercourse.”

As Jessica Arons points out, much of Judge Walker’s decision is grounded in the interrelated nature of discrimination. He discusses the necessity of sex equality and sexual orientation equality as the foundation for marriage equality. He also strikes down the notion that same-sex couples are inferior parents, stating:

The evidence does not support a finding that California has an interest in preferring opposite-sex parents over same-sex parents. Indeed, the evidence shows beyond any doubt that parents’ genders are irrelevant to children’s developmental outcomes….Proposition 8 makes it less likely that California children will be raised in stable households….the evidence shows Proposition 8 disadvantages families and their children.

Jessica Arons says it well when she writes, “reproductive and sexual rights are integrally and intimately linked. When one is undermined so is the other. But when one is affirmed, the victory is doubly sweet.” The overturn of Proposition 8 is a great win in the ongoing fight for LGBT rights and reproductive justice.

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Filed under Equality, Government, LGBT, Sexual orientation

What Does Ellen and Portia’s Marriage Mean for Same-sex Marriage in the U.S.?

Saturday’s New York Times features an article about comedian Ellen DeGeneres discussing on Oprah Winfrey’s daytime talk show her recent marriage to actress Portia de Rossi. The wedding, filled with what the article suggests “may have been the most public display of gushingly romantic affection between two gay or lesbian celebrities,” came less than a week after Maine voters rejected same-sex marriage, making America’s widespread adoration of DeGeneres all the more interesting in terms of figuring out where exactly Americans stand on the issue of gay marriage.

In the handful of states where same-sex marriage is legal, legislatures and courts — not voters — have made it so. A few polls in recent months have suggested that while a majority of Americans believe that gay couples should be able to enter into unions with some of the legal protections of marriage, a minority believe that gays and lesbians should be permitted to “marry,” per se. Same-sex marriage doesn’t fit into the kind of family that many Americans believe should be idealized; it offends many others’ deeply felt religious principles.

And yet Ms. DeGeneres, who exchanged vows with Ms. de Rossi during a span last year when same-sex marriage was legal in California, seems more popular than ever — and among audiences squarely in the mainstream.

There are various explanations for the seemingly contradictory nature of Americans rejecting same sex marriage in several states, yet fully embracing Ms. DeGeneres. Some LGBT leaders suggest that the movement’s success will soon reflect Ellen’s. Toni Broaddus, the executive director of the Equality Federation, for example, says that “The story of Ellen is, in a way, a sort of metaphor for the story of the movement.” Others, like journalist Rachel Maddow, maintain that Ellen’s status as a comedian who “danc[es] in her sneakers and mak[es] everybody else get up and dance too” makes her unthreatening by nature.

However, the article purports that she is perceived as less threatening by virtue of her gender as well. The article suggests that this may be the case because demeaning stereotypes about gay men typically don’t extend to lesbian women. The article’s author, Frank Bruni, names a whole slew of lesbian entertainers on primetime TV, but gay men are not yet as accepted in the mainstream.

The article concludes by elucidating the radical nature of DeGeneres and de Rossi’s marriage—whilst also emphasizing that they are simply two people in love. This attitude is perfectly encapsulated in this simple phrase describing the image of the couple feeding cake to each other: “They look like countless other newlyweds. Then again, not.” We would like to congratulate Ms. DeGeneres and Ms. DeRossi for their recent nuptials, and furthermore state that we are hopeful that the public’s love of Ms. DeGeneres is a sign that opinions on same-sex marriage are evolving.

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Filed under Equality, LGBT, Sexual orientation

Spotlight on Labor Secretary Hilda Solis

A recent article in the New York Times looks into the life and history of Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis, the first Hispanic woman to serve in the president’s cabinet. The article begins with a quote from the speech she gave at Hunter College’s commencement in Manhattan:

Hilda L. Solis often recalls some advice her high school guidance counselor gave her mother: “Your daughter is not college material. Maybe she should follow the career of her older sister and become a secretary.”

Telling that story recently at the Hunter College commencement in Manhattan, Ms. Solis roared into the microphone that she, the daughter of immigrants, did become a secretary — the nation’s labor secretary. The crowd thundered with applause.

Ms. Solis’s life seems to have prepared her perfectly for this position, and she is confident to take it on.

Growing up as one of seven children, the daughter of two hardworking parents, and witnessing poor working conditions and worker treatment made Solis an ally for labor from the very start. Her mother worked in a toy factory, and her father worked in a battery recycling plant where he contracted lead poisoning. Both her parents complained about conditions and worked hard to improve them.

“My father spoke to management and fought for the workers’ health and safety,” she said. “That is something I bring to the Department of Labor. Those values my father shared with me.”

Her mother, an immigrant from Nicaragua who often stood 10 hours a day at the toy factory, was so outspoken about working conditions that she would have been fired if the union had not protected her, Ms. Solis said.

She has since committed her life to advocating for immigrants, workers, minorities, and women. She was the first Latina senator in the California State Senate when she was elected in 1994. Six years later, she became the first woman to receive the Profile in Courage Award from the John F. Kennedy Foundation for her landmark environmental legislation. She had been raised in a small town outside Los Angles burdened by the smell of the eight landfills nearby and the Superfund site. She boldly sponsored a bill requiring the EPA to exercise fair treatment towards people of different races and incomes with respect to environmental laws.

Her life and her career have been marked by dedication, commitment, and hard work.  Her plans for improvements to the Labor Department include better follow up on complaints of minimum wage, overtime, and child labor violations; hiring 250 more investigators; and better outreach to workers so they are aware of their rights and employers know their obligations.

“There are so many people I knew when I was growing up who were not even paid the minimum wage,” Ms. Solis said. “People wouldn’t know where to go to lodge a complaint. And if you didn’t speak good English, forget it.”

All workers, men and women, can be hopeful that the issues that matter to them will be addressed and more effective programs will be developed during Secretary Solis’s tenure.

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Court Upholds School’s Right to Expel Students Based On Sexual Orientation

In 2005, a private California high school expelled two students because they were suspected of being lesbians. The 4th District Court of Appeals, in a decision filed last week, ruled 3-0 that the school has the right to expel students on the basis of their suspected sexual orientation. The decision is here (PDF). The court relied heavily on a 1998 decision from the California Supreme Court, which allowed the Boy Scouts to continue to discriminate against gay men and/or atheists within the organization.

“The whole purpose of sending one’s child to a religious school is to ensure that he or she learns even secular subjects within a religious framework,” Justice Betty Richli said in the 3-0 ruling, issued Monday.

The girls were juniors at the high school in Wildomar (Riverside County) when the principal, Gregory Bork, summoned them to his office in September 2005 and questioned them separately about their sexual orientation and whether they loved each other. The principal acted after another student reported postings on the girls’ MySpace pages.

Bork suspended the girls based on their answers, and the school’s directors expelled them a month later.

The girls, who later graduated from another high school, have not been identified and have not discussed their sexual orientation, Hanson said. Their suit said the school had no right to dismiss them because of its perception that they were lesbians.

The students’ lawyer, Kirk Hanson, said he is disappointed by the ruling and that it basically allows religious schools to discriminate on the basis of anything they want. He is considering appealing the decision to the California Supreme Court, pending a discussion with the students.

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Filed under Education, Equality, Girls, LGBT, Sexual orientation

San Francisco AG Files Suit Over Discriminatory Health Insurance Policies

The City of San Francisco’s Attorney General has filed suit against state health insurance regulators  because of the current regulations’ discriminatory effects on women.  The suit contends that insurance commissioner Steve Poizner and director of the Department of Managed  Health Care, Cindy Ehnes, approved a system that allows insurance companies to impose “gender rating” when pricing policies.  This system affects women who are seeking individual health care polices.  Under current regulations, women are paying as much as 39% more for the same exact coverage as men, coverage that excludes costs related to pregnancy.

Currently, ten states outlaw “gender rating” health insurance rates for individual coverage, but not California.  Since December, two bills have been introduced in the state legislature which aim to remedy the situation.  However, until the law in California changes, lawsuits like this will be the only means to end discrimination in health insurance.

Other states in the United States are dealing with the same issues regarding women’s health insurance discrimination.  The National Women’s Law Center published a report, Nowhere to Turn (PDF), detailing the many problems women encounter when dealing with current health insurance policies.  The situation, which we previously blogged about here, is exacerbated by the continuing economic downturn. As more and more women are having trouble paying for their health insurance, the fact that they already pay more than men does not help.

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Filed under Equality, Health insurance, Women's health

Thousands Rally for Marriage Equality

Across the country, thousands rallied this past weekend in support of equal marriage rights. The rallies were spurred by the passage of Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative that overturned a state Supreme Court decision that legalized gay marriage. In Philadelphia, several thousand gathered outside City Hall, and in Pittsburgh, several hundred rallied in Oakland’s Schenley Plaza.

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Filed under Equality, LGBT, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh