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June 28, 2016 0

Court Warns Mississippi Legislature on Efforts to Circumvent Marriage Equality

Yes­ter­day, a fed­eral court gave Mississippi’s leg­is­la­ture a stern warn­ing about its efforts to cir­cum­vent the U.S. Supreme Court’s mar­riage equal­ity rul­ing.  The warn­ing was made in the con­text of plain­tiffs to a marriage-equality law­suit ask­ing the U.S. Dis­trict Court for North­ern Mis­sis­sippi to reopen their case in a chal­lenge to HB 1523, the State’s so-called “Pro­tect­ing Free­dom of Con­science from Gov­ern­ment Dis­crim­i­na­tion Act,” which goes into effect on July 1st.

Seal_of_Mississippi_2014.svg

Shortly after the Supreme Court’s Oberge­fell deci­sion, the Dis­trict Court issued a per­ma­nent order mak­ing the marriage-equality rul­ing bind­ing on the “… State of Mis­sis­sippi and all of its agents, offi­cers, employ­ees, and subsidiaries….”

Ear­lier this year, how­ever, the State enacted HB 1523, which broadly allows Mis­sis­sip­pi­ans to deny goods or ser­vices to their fel­low cit­i­zens based on their own “reli­gious beliefs or moral con­vic­tions” that mar­riage is lim­ited to oppo­site sex cou­ples.  One HB 1523 pro­vi­sion empow­ers clerks and their sub­or­di­nates to refuse issuance of mar­riage licenses based on this reli­gious or moral view­point pro­vided that “… mar­riage is not impeded or delayed as a result of any recusal.”  But the statute con­tains no pro­tec­tions to safe­guard against imped­i­ments or delays.

The plain­tiffs rightly argue that HB 1523 con­flicts with the Dis­trict Court’s per­ma­nent order, and are insist­ing that it be revised to fully pro­tect their 14th Amend­ment marriage-equality rights.

In grant­ing the plain­tiffs’ request to reopen the case, the Court found that HB 1523 “… may in fact amend Mississippi’s mar­riage licens­ing regime in such a way as to con­flict with Oberge­fell.”  Fur­ther­more, it warned that State leg­is­la­ture that:

[T]he mar­riage license issue will not be adju­di­cated anew every leg­isla­tive ses­sion.  And the judi­ciary will remain vig­i­lant when­ever a named party to an injunc­tion is accused of cir­cum­vent­ing that injunc­tion, directly or indirectly.

The plain­tiffs’ request to the Court is part of a broader chal­lenge to the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of HB 1523, which con­tains other pro­vi­sions favor­ing par­tic­u­lar reli­gious or moral view­points, includ­ing lim­it­ing sex­ual rela­tions to opposite-sex mar­riage and bas­ing gen­der iden­tity strictly on bio­log­i­cal sex.   The law’s pref­er­ences are clearly incon­sis­tent with the First Amendment’s free speech and estab­lish­ment clauses.  Based on this court rul­ing, with its warn­ing empha­siz­ing judi­cial vig­i­lance, there is rea­son to believe that the dis­crim­i­na­tory HB 1523 will even­tu­ally be struck in its entirety.

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June 16, 2016 0

Charleston Anniversary: We Mourn, We Act

One year ago, on June 17, 2015, a white suprema­cist mur­dered nine parish­ioners at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.   It’s ter­ri­ble – and unfair – that the quiet space in time we should have had to reflect and prop­erly mourn these mur­ders tar­get­ing African-Americans has been lit­er­ally blown apart by another tragedy – even larger in scale – involv­ing the delib­er­ate tar­get­ing of mem­bers of the LGBTQ com­mu­nity in Orlando this past weekend.

We can and must grieve for the vic­tims of the heart­less white suprema­cist who mur­dered nine peo­ple who had wel­comed him into prayer,

com­mu­nion, and fel­low­ship.   We can and must mourn the vic­tims in Orlando cel­e­brat­ing life dur­ing Pride Month and Latino Night.

And:  we can do more than stand in sol­i­dar­ity and mourn.

On this anniver­sary, after a week­end of bias-motivated may­hem, we should reded­i­cate our­selves to ensur­ing that we, as a nation, are doing all we can to fight hate and extremism.

1)     Law enforce­ment author­i­ties are now inves­ti­gat­ing what role – if any – rad­i­cal inter­pre­ta­tions of Islam played in inspir­ing the Orlando mur­derer to act — and that work is clearly jus­ti­fied.  But we must rec­og­nize and pay atten­tion to extrem­ism and hate com­ing from all sources – includ­ing white suprema­cists, like the mur­derer in Charleston.

2)     Charleston and Orlando are fur­ther evi­dence that firearms are more pop­u­lar than ever as the deadly weapons of choice for Amer­i­can extrem­ists. We must end lim­i­ta­tions on fed­eral research on gun vio­lence – and make it more dif­fi­cult to obtain firearms through increased wait­ing peri­ods, safety restric­tions, and lim­i­ta­tions on pur­chases – espe­cially of assault-style weapons.   None of these steps will cer­tainly pre­vent the next gun-toting mass mur­derer – but, as Pres­i­dent Obama said, “to actively do noth­ing is a deci­sion as well.”

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. Photo Credit: Cal Sr via Flikr

Emanuel African Methodist Epis­co­pal (AME) Church.
Photo Credit: Cal Sr via Flikr

3)     We need more inclu­sive and exten­sive laws in place to com­bat vio­lence moti­vated by hate and extrem­ism.  On the state level, though 45 states and the Dis­trict of Colum­bia have hate crime laws, a hand­ful of states – includ­ing South Car­olina – do not (the oth­ers are Arkansas, Geor­gia, Indi­ana, and Wyoming).  ADL and a broad coali­tion of three dozen national orga­ni­za­tions have formed #50 States Against Hate to improve the response to all hate crimes, with more effec­tive laws, train­ing, and policies.

And, though hate crime laws are very impor­tant, they are a blunt instru­ment – it’s much bet­ter to pre­vent these crimes in the first place.  Con­gress and the states should com­ple­ment these laws with fund­ing for inclu­sive anti-bias edu­ca­tion, hate crime pre­ven­tion, and bul­ly­ing, cyber­bul­ly­ing, and harass­ment pre­ven­tion train­ing programs.

4)     And finally, let us resolve to more fiercely resist unnec­es­sary and dis­crim­i­na­tory laws, like North Carolina’s HB 2, that deprive indi­vid­u­als of the oppor­tu­nity to live their lives in dig­nity, free from per­se­cu­tion because of their race, reli­gion, national ori­gin, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, gen­der iden­tity, or disability.

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May 23, 2016 8

Defense Authorization Act Moves Forward With Discriminatory Provision

Congress standing

Last week, the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives passed the National Defense Autho­riza­tion Act for 2017 (“NDAA”), inclu­sive of a broad, dis­crim­i­na­tory pro­vi­sion spon­sored by Rep. Steve Rus­sell (R-OK). This pro­vi­sion, offered in the name of “reli­gious free­dom,” would allow reli­giously affil­i­ated fed­eral con­trac­tors and grantees to dis­crim­i­nate against women, any reli­gious group, and LGBT peo­ple with tax­payer dollars.

Dur­ing House’s debate on the NDAA, Rep. Sean Mal­oney (D-NY) offered a nar­row­ing amend­ment which would have pro­tected the Obama Administration’s ban on LGBT dis­crim­i­na­tion in fed­eral con­tract­ing. That amend­ment failed on chaotic 212–213 vote dur­ing which Repub­li­can lead­ers took the extra­or­di­nary step of allow­ing vot­ing to con­tinue after time had expired and pres­sured a hand­ful of their Mem­bers to change their votes.

The Anti-Defamation League was one of 84 civil rights and reli­gious orga­ni­za­tions that sub­mit­ted a coali­tion let­ter to Con­gress in oppo­si­tion to the Rus­sell Amendment.

Reli­giously affil­i­ated groups his­tor­i­cally have played an impor­tant role in address­ing many of our nation’s most press­ing social needs, as a com­ple­ment to government-funded pro­grams.   How­ever, faith-based groups should not use tax­payer dol­lars to dis­crim­i­nate on the basis of reli­gion.  And no one should be dis­qual­i­fied from a job under a fed­eral con­tract or grant because of his or her sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, gen­der, gen­der iden­tity, or religion.

The Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee has approved its ver­sion of the NDAA with­out the Rus­sell Amend­ment.  Mov­ing for­ward, ADL and our coali­tion part­ners will con­tinue to oppose the Rus­sell Amend­ment and advo­cate for its exclu­sion from the final ver­sion of the NDAA.

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