Lining Up To Fight “The Forces of Evil”

Salon.com has a thought-provoking article subtitled: “The religious right will mount a scorched-earth battle against the Massachusetts decision to permit same-sex marriage. And the White House may join in.” The article, which you can read here (though you’ll have to do the silly “premium” ad-viewing thing to read all of it), says:

[The religious right] are not afraid. They say they’ve got God, the president and the Republican Party on their side. While gay-rights activists hailed the Massachusetts ruling as an opportunity for gay couples to make the same commitments and enjoy the same rights as everyone else, activists on the religious right — and their allies in the Republican Party — began work to turn their defeat in Massachusetts into a victory in the presidential election next November.

With a large majority of voters opposed to gay marriage, the right sees in the issue a wedge they can use to separate Democratic candidates from voters otherwise inclined to support them. None of the major Democratic contenders actually supports gay marriage — they all back at least a state’s right to offer “civil unions” to gay partners — but the right is confident that it’s got a winning issue regardless.

I hope the Democrats will be able to counter this effectively. The religious right frames issues like this as examples of courts “creating constitutional rights,” or [edited] “endorsing” behavior they view as immoral. But that’s not what the courts are doing. What they are doing is limiting the scope of government, and restricting the realms of private life that the government can regulate and/or criminalize.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court did not “endorse” [edited] gay marriage. It simply found that it is a violation of the State’s constitution for Massachusetts to discriminate on the basis of gender when conferring the legal benefits of civil union on couples.

Nor did the U.S. Supreme Court, in Lawrence v. Texas, “endorse” [edited] sodomy. It merely said that it was not the government’s business to regulate or criminalize private sexual activity among consenting adults, especially when such regulation or criminalization was not gender-neutral.

Nor did Roe v. Wade “endorse” [edited] abortion. It just held that it was not the government’s business to dictate or regulate a woman’s reproductive health and choices.

The religious right will try to paint a picture of a liberal judiciary run amok, pushing the “gay agenda” or enabling “baby killers.” That is bullshit. What we have is a (usually) responsible judiciary properly restricting the power of the government from regulating private activity, and preventing it from imposing a “moral” agenda upon its citizens through the law.

I am a “card carrying member” of the ACLU. I despise both the neo-nazis/skinheads and the KKK. But I think the ACLU’s successful fight to allow the nazis’ 1977 march through Skokie, Illinois — a largely Jewish area with many Holocaust survivors, obviously selected to maximize the offensive impact of the march — was a great and lasting victory. The ACLU despised the nazis’ message and intent, but recognized that their right to express their opinions — their right to be free from governmental regulation or suppression of their views — was more important. The ACLU’s position, and the courts’ agreement with it, did not [edited] “endorse” the nazis’ hateful message. Rather, their position focused on the inherent limitation on the government’s power to regulate or prohibit the nazis from expressing their message, no matter how despicable the ACLU and the government found it to be.

I think this is a distinction most Americans don’t recognize. I hope the Democratic candidates can figure out how to articulate it effectively.

UPDATE: Where the word “edited” appears in brackets above, I have removed the words “condone” or “condoned” because I had misused those words. See the comments to this post for details.


Thwarting a Useful Jury Experiment?

I don’t necessarily agree with it, but here is an argument that the recent Texas court decision keeping a documentary crew from videotaping a capital jury’s deliberations was wrong. Read it here from the Washington Times.




Supreme Court: Mannequin Sex Doesn’t Equal Indecent Exposure

A Sioux Falls man caught in the Washington Pavilion having simulated sex with a mannequin didn’t commit a crime of indecent exposure, the state Supreme Court says.

In a decision released Thursday, the court reversed the conviction of Michael James Plenty Horse, who was found in the late afternoon of Nov. 14, 2005, lying on top of a mannequin in the Alumni Room of the Pavilion.

A security guard surprised Plenty Horse, the record says. He lay with his pants partially down on a mannequin which had its band uniform partially removed. He was 19 at the time.

The Supreme Court unanimously reversed a misdemeanor conviction, saying the state’s indecent exposure statute “criminalizes sexual gratification by displaying or showing one’s genitals in public.”

The evidence failed to show that Plenty Horse was trying to display himself in public. It was almost closing at the Pavilion, and no other patrons were around when the guard found the man.

The court said Plenty Horse’s action, “lewd though it may be, does not fall within the purview of the indecent exposure statute.”

Details here from the South Dakota Argus Leader. (via ObscureStore.com)


Publisher Sues Reporter Over Story

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The company that publishes the Santa Barbara News-Press has sued a reporter, claiming that a story she wrote in the American Journalism Review defamed the newspaper in a ”biased, false and misleading diatribe.”

Ampersand Publishing LLC’s lawsuit accuses Susan Paterno of libel and product disparagement and seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

Paterno, 48, declined to comment Monday but her attorney, Howard King, said the lawsuit was without merit and that he believes its intended effect was to frighten other reporters who want to write about the News-Press.

”It’s to let any reporter know that if you exercise your constitutional rights, it will cost you money, time and put them through turmoil,” he said.

King noted that AJR was not named as a defendant, and said that numerous editors and an outside law firm vetted the story.

The article, which appears in AJR’s December 2006-January 2007 issue under the title ”Santa Barbara Smackdown,” focused on the turmoil at the newspaper following the departure since July of nearly every top editor and several other employees.

Paterno, who has written for AJR about 10 years, talked with former staffers, some of whom accused News-Press owner and publisher Wendy McCaw of meddling in the newsroom.

This has been a really ugly story since day one. And it’s not getting any prettier. Details here from the AP via New York Times.


Judge: Doctors Not Required to Report Teen Sex

WICHITA, Kansas (AP) — In a victory for an abortion rights group, a federal judge ruled Tuesday that abortion clinic doctors and other professionals are not required under Kansas law to report underage sex between consenting youths.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten was a setback for moralistic prude Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline, an abortion foe.

Kline contended that a 1982 Kansas law requiring doctors, teachers and others to alert the state and law enforcement about potential child abuse covers consensual sex between minors. He argued that the law applies to abortion clinics, and later extended that to other health professionals and teachers.

The Center for Reproductive Rights challenged that interpretation in court, and the judge sided with the organization. Kline said he had not decided whether to appeal.

“It’s not unexpected,” Kline said. “It’s what we’ve been predicting.”

Details here from the AP via CNN.


ACLU Sues Volunteers for Event With Bush

DENVER Nov 22, 2005 — The American Civil Liberties Union on Monday sued volunteers for an event with President Bush, saying they violated the civil rights of two people who were tossed out because of their political views.

Leslie Weise, 40, and Alex Young, 26, were escorted from the March 21 event after they arrived in a car with a bumper sticker reading “No more blood for oil,” and wearing T-shirts saying “Stop the lies” under other clothes, the federal lawsuit said.

The suit names as defendants Michael Casper, Jay Bob Klinkerman and five unknown people who the ACLU says contributed to the decision to remove the pair.

Details here from the AP via ABC News. Or you can read the ACLU’s press release.