Election Losses of Iowa Justices Hurt Marriage Equality Efforts Nationwide

Last year the seven justices of the Iowa Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a state law that denied same sex marriage. Yesterday, three of those justices were voted out of office. The other four weren’t up for reelection.

Why the Iowa Justices Lost

Their election losses were the culmination of a campaign by out-of-state special interest groups to punish the justices for effectively making gay marriage legal in the state. Grant Shulte of the Des Moines Register reported today:

The ouster effort grew out of the April 2009 gay marriage ruling that stunned the nation, outraged social conservatives and turned Iowa into the first Midwestern state to sanction same-sex marriage. . .

Groups that wanted the justices ousted poured more than 0,000 into their effort, with heavy support from out-of-state conservative and religious groups. Campaigns that supported the justices and the current state court system spent more than 0,000.

The success of the campaign against the three justices is particularly striking considering the justices opponents: nobody. All the justices had to due was get a simple majority to vote to retain them in office, something no justice had failed to do in Iowa since that state adopted their judicial election system in 1962.

Why the Election Losses Matter

The election losses makes it less likely that elected justices in other states will declare anti-gay-marriage laws unconstitutional in their own jurisdictions.

Unlike the justices for U.S. Supreme Court, justices for 36 state supreme courts, including Iowa, are elected, not appointed. When these justices next decide gay marriage issues, they might now think twice before ruling in favor of gay marriage. The ability for out-of-state groups to fund campaigns against them could mean placing their job at risk if they issue an opinion supporting gay marriage.

In fact, that’s exactly what the opposition group set out to do, according to Vander Plaats, the group’s leader. Three months ago he said:

The ultimate goal is, hopefully, by voting these three justices off of the court on November 2, that we’ll send a message not only across Iowa but hopefully across the country about what was our founders’ intent about the separation of powers.

Plaats did send a message, but not that one. Instead, the message across the country was about what special interest groups will do to justices who vote against gay marriage bans.

[Cross-posted at the Gay Law Report, where I discuss LGBT laws and related news.]

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Obama Gave AIDS Prevention Efforts $4 Billion And all He Got Was This Lousy Heckling

Following the Democratic fundraiser heckling last month, President Obama was treated to another round of AIDS activists interrupting his prepared remarks, this time at a speech in Connecticut to drum up support for Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal. "Excuse me, excuse me young people," Obama told the zappers. "You've been appearing at every rally we've been doing. And we're funding global AIDS and the other side is not, so I don't know why you think this is a useful strategy to take." So there!, says the guy sending another four billion to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. It's like Tea Party activists who hate on Obama for his taxation, and have absolutely no idea he actually granted tax breaks to 95 percent of Americans.

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State Department Highlights Efforts to Combat LGBT Discrimination in the US

This week, the State Department submitted a report [pdf] to the United Nations Human Rights Council discussing what actions the U.S. has taken to address human rights issues in the U.S., including what it has done to address LGBT human rights issues in the U.S. The U.S. submitted this report as part of its upcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the UN Human Rights Council, which is scheduled for November 2010.

In their report, the State Department explains that “in each era of our history there tends to be a group whose experience of discrimination illustrates the continuing debate among citizens about how we can build a more fair society” and that “in this era, one such group is LGBT Americans.”

The report continues by mentioning several actions that the U.S. government has taken to work towards protecting the human rights of LGBT Americans. These actions include enactment of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, prohibiting employment discrimination in federal employment based on sexual orientation, and the extension of some benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees. Moreover, the report cites the Administration’s support of key legislative efforts, such as passage of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal legislation, the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and legislation that repeals the Defense of Marriage Act, as government actions that promote equality. Unfortunately, Administration support of these legislative efforts does not remedy any form of discrimination against LGBT people until Congress takes actions on these measures.

Prior to the release of the State Department’s report, HRC, as a member of the Council for Global Equality, submitted a report [pdf] to both the State Department and UN Human Rights Council to highlight ways in which the United States could improve LGBT human rights. We commend the State Department for recognizing the discrimination faced by LGBT Americans in their report, and we will continue to work throughout this year to ensure that the concerns of LGBT Americans will be addressed in the U.S.’s upcoming UPR.

Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  John Wright

Groups try to block GOP efforts to kill or weaken DADT legislation

Last night, The Hill reported on the SLDN/HRC lobbying effort on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” We wrote about that campaign here.

Included in the article is more background on the expected efforts by Republicans to kill DADT repeal. The danger comes from a potential amendment to expand the already complicated certification process:

Senate Republicans, backed by Armed Services ranking member John McCain (R-Ariz.), are eyeing a provision that would require all service chiefs to certify that a repeal can be implemented consistent with those military standards listed above.

The way the congressional provisions are written now, only Obama, Gates and Mullen have to provide that certification.

In letters solicited by McCain, the service chiefs in May said they wanted Congress to delay voting on the issue until Dec. 1, after the Pentagon finishes a review of how the military should carry out the changes.

One problem would be that change to the certification language. It would mean that seven people get to sign off on the certification instead of the three initially proposed by the Center for American Progress’ Winnie Stachelberg, who took full credit for developing the certification compromise. It’s our understanding that she worked with Jim Messina on that language. Of course, what we’re seeing now is that Stachelberg created an opportunity for opponents of repeal. (It’s still not clear how Winnie Stachelberg, who has no LGBT constituency, managed to insert herself into this process.) If this thing fails, she owns a lot of the blame. Imagine if the President had actually lobbied for the initial repeal language — for an actual repeal of DADT, which this proposal does not guarantee — even making one or two phone calls to key Senators could have made all the difference. But, no. Messina and Stachelberg negotiated with themselves, and came up with a proposal that doesn’t even require a full repeal to ever happen. And, the LGBT groups, including those that represent servicemembers, were presented with the compromise as a fait accompli.

This same article explains the perils that lie ahead:

Gay-rights groups argue that the Republicans’ proposal to include the service chiefs in the certification process would be “a killer amendment” that would delay a repeal of “Don’t ask” for years.

Supporters of repeal are fighting any efforts to change the existing provision in the Senate. They want to make sure it is similar to the one passed in the House so that it does not become an item of negotiation between the two chambers when they write the final defense authorization bill, Sarvis explained.

So, the potential amendment to the Stachelberg certification language will 1) either delay repeal for years, or 2) make the DADT repeal language a subject that can be debated in conference, where advocates for repeal will be outnumbered by foes of repeal.

And now there’s growing concern that the Senate won’t take up the Defense authorization bill in September, leaving it until the lame duck session. That doesn’t bode well for us, since the Democrats have a history of avoiding “controversial” legislation during lame duck sessions — DADT repeal isn’t controversial anywhere but in Washington DC, it polls around 70% in practically every poll. And if they don’t take DADT up now or during the lame duck session, there’s concern that after the mid-term elections this November Democrats won’t touch our issues for years to come.

If we’re going to get the repeal done this year — or get the current compromise, which isn’t great, but it’s all we’ve got — the President is going to have to become engaged. Very engaged.


—  John Wright