The inexorable march of justice

Another one bites the dust…

Another one bites the dust…

A federal judge struck down Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriage Tuesday, handing gay rights advocates their second legal victory in as many days and striking the last remaining ban in the Northeast.

The state’s laws, which ban same-sex marriages, were struck down as unconstitutional by U.S. District Court Judge John Jones III, who ruled in favor of the 23 plaintiffs whose lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and others.

“We are a better people than what these laws represent,” Jones wrote of same-sex marriage bans in his ruling, drawing comparisons between the civil rights movement and the modern gay marriage movement. ”It is time to discard them into the ash heap of history.”

(snip)

The ruling, from US District Judge John Jones, makes Pennsylvania the second state this week and 11th state since the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling on same-sex marriage to have its ban overturned in court.  But it’s possible the ruling will eventually be put on hold as it works through the appeals process, which would prevent future same-sex couples from marrying. (The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania is urging Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, to not appeal the ruling.)

Jones, like judges in previous same-sex marriage cases, cited the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution and deemed Pennsylvania’s statutory ban on same-sex marriages unconstitutional. Unlike many other states, the state constitution in Pennsylvania doesn’t have a provision barring same-sex marriages.

So, where do we stand?

same-sex_marriage_us_map

What’s with Montana and North Dakota?

Meet Ed Snowden, and other notes from a remarkable week in privacy and espionage‏

As they used to say on every Top 40 rock ‘n’ roll station ever, the hits just keep on comin’:


After a stunning one-two punch of secret spying revelations last week, one thing that I hadn’t really counted on happened right away: a voluntary and fairly proud confession from the guy who says he turned over the secret documents to the reporters.  Meet Ed Snowden, and read the Washington Post reporter’s sidebar describing what it was like to communicate with Snowden, who knew that he had turned himself into a marked man.


Last week someone (I forget who) noted, possibly on Twitter, the irony that we as a nation feel confident in farming out our National Security Agency work to companies like Snowden’s employer, Booz Allen Hamilton, which didn’t know that he was gathering up documents and talking to reporters, but the job of groping us in airports is so critical that only a government employee will do.  Oh, by the way, in a classic horse/barn door kinda thing, Booz Allen finally got around to firing Snowden


I also expected this sooner: the ACLU is suing the government alleging violation of its rights of free speech, association, and privacy:

As an organization that advocates for and litigates to defend the civil liberties of society’s most vulnerable, the staff at the ACLU naturally use the phone—a lot—to talk about sensitive and confidential topics with clients, legislators, whistleblowers, and ACLU members. And since the ACLU is a VBNS [Verizon] customer, we were immediately confronted with the harmful impact that such broad surveillance would have on our legal and advocacy work. So we’re acting quickly to get into court to challenge the government’s abuse of Section 215.


One of the most fun things here has been that the secret court orders forcing telephone and Internet companies to turn over information are so secret that the companies aren’t even allowed to discuss the orders, and the news has made it look like the companies have been happily cooperating with the feds in violating their customers’ privacy.  For anyone who still thinks there is no presumption of privacy anymore, consider this: Google is asking government permission to spill the beans and tell its customers what it has done, in order to “to ease public concerns about the privacy and security of users’ data.”

Google’s inability to disclose “the number of FISA national security requests that Google receives, as well as the number of accounts covered by those requests” fuels speculation that the company has given the U.S. government free access to all its users’ data. That speculation, [Google chief legal officer David] Drummond wrote, is “simply untrue.”


What about our national leaders, the men and women to whom we look for guidance and wisdom on such occasions…what do they have to say about this whole invasion of privacy/government spying on Americans thing?  Fortunately, some have been right on top of things, speaking out in favor of a national discussion about the proper balance of safety versus privacy; some have taken some time to think things over before coming to a conclusion about Snowden, and most are waiting for the polls to come in.


OK then, here’s the first poll: Americans tell the Pew Center that they’re pretty much OK with their government spying on them

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center and The Washington Post…finds no indications that last week’s revelations of the government’s collection of phone records and internet data have altered fundamental public views about the tradeoff between investigating possible terrorism and protecting personal privacy.

Currently 62% say it is more important for the federal government to investigate possible terrorist threats, even if that intrudes on personal privacy. Just 34% say it is more important for the government not to intrude on personal privacy, even if that limits its ability to investigate possible terrorist threats.

Not everyone thinks that, though, me included.  But I’ve already had my say this past week; I recommend taking a look at Emily Bazelon’s thoughts on government abuse of power

The government has admitted to unconstitutional NSA spying before—last year. The existence of these newly reported databases should be worrisome because once the information is collected, it is so much easier for the government to misuse it. The more data mining, the more it becomes routine and the more tempting to come up with more uses for it. If you trust President Obama and his people not to go too far, what about the next president, or the one after that? We have now had a Republican and a Democrat administration sign up for a broad expansion of warrantless wiretapping and other surveillance, and bipartisan support in Congress for the tradeoffs we have struck. And yes, there is more to the current revelations than we know—in particular, the rationale for the FISA court’s long-standing order for the phone data, and the rationale for PRISM. Let’s concede that a terrorist attack somewhere has probably been prevented as a result of these efforts. So how do we ever go back?

We probably don’t. And someday, the abuses will begin, in all likelihood long before we know about them. I’m not usually moved by slippery slope arguments. But this one looks so very easy to slide down.

…and Charles Cooke’s consideration of a simple historical lesson on personal privacy in a free society:

The adult truth, as ever, is that being free means accepting the negative consequences of being free. I daresay that if cameras were installed in every one of the Republic’s private bedrooms and monitored around the clock by well-meaning sentinels, then the rates of both domestic violence and spousal murder would decrease dramatically. But a free people must instinctively reject such measures as a profound threat to their liberty and, in doing so, accept the risks of unregulated home life. Alas, the story of the last century is the tale of a gradually diminishing tolerance for risk. “I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it,” wrote Thomas Jefferson. In almost all areas, our modern calculation is quite the opposite.

(snip)

The Fourth Amendment exists now for precisely the same reason that it existed in 1791: to ensure that, in the absence of extremely compelling situations, Americans are not subject to casual government scrutiny. Its authors understood that knowledge is power, and that, as there is no justification for the state to have too much power over you, there is also no justification for the state to have too much knowledge about you


I hope that as this story continues in the months to come, people will give it the serious thought that it deserves.  For those having a tough time getting a handle on what all the furor is about, try this as a starting place: would you feel the same way you do now about the actions of the U.S. government if the last president were still in the White House?

Equal justice for all: the gay rights tide has turned

The fight to keep homosexual Americans from enjoying the full rights of citizenship is over; the opposition is giving up.  A federal judge has enjoined the Pentagon from enforcing the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy anywhere in the world, and the expected reaction to that news was…nowhere to be heard.

Sure, hard-core haters had their say, but I’m struck by just how quiet it has been.  At the risk of fanning the flames, I’d say it looks like the usual suspects in the anti-gay effort have finally run out of steam, perhaps because it’s so clear that courts are going to enforce the Constitutional protections that have been denied to homosexuals.

First, the DADT (ugh!) policy is a crock and it should be repealed; it should never have been imposed.  Was anyone really in favor of a regulation that permitted gays to remain in the service unless they were discovered?  How in any important way is that any different than the old system, where gays were discharged when they were discovered?

The law’s days are clearly numbered.  Although the Justice Department asked the judge not to halt enforcement of the law while it prepares an appeal, the president has promised to get rid of the law—and Congress almost did so earlier this year!

The secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs favor repeal of DADT, but they want to go slow.   Excuse me, gents—why?  Because it would force an immediate change to benefits or buildings, or protocols for social events?  That’s why you want to wait until an internal review is completed, in a month a half?  Really?

I never understood the argument that allowing gay people in the service to be open about their sexuality would hurt morale (and hurt it even worse in time of war, or wars).  I don’t believe that most men and women in the armed forces are so closed-minded and prejudiced on this topic, because I don’t think most Americans outside the military are, either.

Think about the reality of the situation: if DADT has legally cleared the way for gays to serve since 1993, then people in the military have had at least since then to get used to the idea that gays are there: to get used to the idea that they don’t leer at you in the shower or rape you in your bed, at least not in any greater numbers than heterosexuals do those things; to get used to fighting next to them in a shooting war, and to know that they can be brave and trustworthy comrades, at least to the same extent that heterosexuals can be.

We can proclaim not to understand why people are homosexual, or embrace a religious belief that homosexual activity is a sin, but none of that matters in a tolerant, secular, civil society.  The experts can’t say why a person is sexually attracted to one gender or the other.  And it violates the rights of due process and free speech guaranteed to each American in the Constitution to treat someone differently because of their sexual orientation just as it would to treat them differently because of their gender or their ancestry. 

The tide has turned.  Homosexual activity is no longer illegal.  If you read or watch Ted Olson’s argument as presented on Fox News in August, the same argument he made in the California court case, you can see that the case for gay marriage will prevail.  States are giving up trying to stop homosexuals from adopting children.  Republican political strategists recognize that opposing gay rights is a long-term losing proposition.  One officer discharged under DADT has successfully sued to be reinstated in the Air Force.

You don’t have to “understand” gay people any more than you have to “understand” people of a different race or a different religion.  You only have to understand that these people are Americans like you, who believe in American rights like you do, who want to enjoy American freedoms like you do, who support our country with their work and their taxes like you do, and who want the opportunity to serve to protect this way of life, just like you do.