Sessions: Abortion rights, marriage equality are settled law


U.S. attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions: Abortion rights and marriage equality are settled law.

UPDATE: Sessions dodged Sen. Lindsey Graham’s questions over whether Russia tried to hack or did hack the U.S. elections, and Graham might have said the hacking changed the outcome of the election. And when questioned by Sen. Patrick Leahy, Sessions acknowledged that grabbing a woman’s genitals without consent would “clearly” be sexual assault.

UPDATE: Sessions has also said that “religious liberty” would be one of his priorities, and that he would not support a “blanket ban” on Muslims entering the U.S.

Alabama’s Sen. Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump’s controversial pick to be U.S. attorney general, is facing the Senate today in a confirmation hearing for that nomination, and he opened with a statement declaring that Roe v. Wade and Obergefell v. Hodges are both settled law, and that as AG he would respect those Supreme Court rulings.

Roe v. Wade was the 1973 Supreme Court ruling making abortion legal; Obergefell v. Hodges was the 2015 SCOTUS ruling making marriage equality the law of the land. Given Sessions’ right-wing history, many civil rights advocates have been concerned that he would not defend those decisions and would, in fact, work to overturn them.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee which is holding the hearings, said that while Democrats on the committee might find it difficult to go after a long-time colleague, it would be necessary to do so. Feinstein said, according to CNN,  “The process is going to be fair and thorough. But today, we’re not being asked to evaluate him as a senator. We’re being asked to evaluate him as the attorney general of the United States. We cannot ignore that there are deep concerns and anxieties throughout America.”

On the issue of abortion, Sessions said that although he believes the Roe v. Wade decision “violated the Constitution,” it is “law of the land; it has been settled for some time. … I will respect it and follow it.”

He had a similar response on the question of marriage equality and the Obergefell ruling: “The Supreme Court has ruled on that, the dissents dissented vigorously, but it was 5-4 and … I will follow that decision.”

In 1986, when Ronald Reagan nominated him for a federal judgeship, the Senate refused to confirm the nomination based on Sessions’ alleged racist comments and actions. Today he veered away from his prepared remarks to address the expected accusations head on: “”I abhor the Klan and its hateful ideology. I never declared the NAACP was un-American.”

He also declared that he understands the impact of discrimination based on race and on sexual orientation, and vowed to protect the civil rights not only of racial minorities but of women and the LGBT community, too.

“I deeply understand the history of civil rights and the horrendous impact that relentless and systemic discrimination and the denial of voting rights has had on our African-American brothers and sisters,” Sessions said. “I have witnessed it. We must continue to move forward and never back. I understand the demands for justice and fairness made by our LGBT community. I will ensure that the statutes protecting their civil rights and their safety are full enforced. I understand the lifelong scars born by women who are victims of assault and abuse. And if I am so fortunate to be confirmed as your attorney general, you can know that I understand the absolute necessity that all my actions must fall within the bounds of the Constitution and the laws of the United States.”

Sessions also pledged to recuse himself from any investigations involving Hillary Clinton, based on nasty and inflammatory comments he made about her during the presidential campaign.

—  Tammye Nash

Alabama hasn’t been happy this week

U.S. District Judge Callie V.S. Granade

U.S. District Judge Callie V.S. Granade

Alabama hasn’t been happy this week and its Supreme Court chief justice seems to think U.S. Supreme court rulings can be appealed. They can’t. Or don’t apply to him. They do.

U.S. District Judge Callie V.S. Granade, the judge that declared Alabama’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional, issued an order today directing all Alabama probate judges to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The order requires immediate compliance.

A violation of Granade’s order could result in a county probate judge being held liable for contempt of court, attorneys’ fees, financial penalties and any other remedies the court deems proper.

In today’s order, Judge Granade stated:

Although most of Alabama’s county probate judges are issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, some are not. The National Center for Lesbian Rights. ACLU of Alabama, Southern Poverty Law Center and Americans United who represented plaintiffs in the original case asked the judge to confirm that her order is now in effect.

—  David Taffet

What a difference a week makes

Hanson.BridgetLast week, we reported Bridget Hanson applied for her Texas driver’s license in Rockwall and was turned down when she showed her marriage license as her proof of name change. When Rockwall wouldn’t issue her license in her legal name, she tried another office in Garland.

She had been using her married name for five years.

What a difference a week makes.

On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling on marriage equality. Today Hanson returned to the Department of Public Safety and she was issued a temporary license in her legal name with no questions asked. Her permanent Texas license should be issued by mid-August. Everything went without a hitch. Funny how something so easy can be made so easy.


—  David Taffet

UPDATE: Speaker and PFLAG display banished from Tyler library


Lou Anne Smoot

The Tyler Public Library invited author Lou Anne Smoot to talk as part of the library’s summer reading program. Smoot, who’s from Tyler, wrote A Christian Coming Out: A Journal of the Darkest Period In My Life.

Tyler City Manager Edward Broussard, however, canceled the appearance and ordered the PFLAG display that Smoot and Brenda McWilliams just put up in the library removed.

“The reasons given to us for these actions were that the talk and display were political and that children might see the display or attend the talk.” McWilliams said. “I suppose taking the display down is not political.”

McWilliams pointed out in a letter to Broussard that PFLAG is a non-political 501(c)(3) organization that provides support and education, mostly to parents of LGBT children. However, the actions of a political appointee to block a library from distributing information and stopping an author — one whose book appears in the library’s collection — from speaking certainly is political.

Keeping the level of discussion appropriate shouldn’t have been very difficult for Smoot, who taught Sunday School class at Tyler’s First Baptist Church.

Tyler’s head librarian invited Smoot to speak as part of its summer reading series. In conjunction with the talk, she invited PFLAG to put up a display that consisted of pamphlets, books and other informational resources. After all, libraries are usually places where you find information.

The display was up on Monday (June 1) along with posters advertising Smoot’s appearance. By Wednesday, the display case was down along with the fliers about the author’s upcoming talk.

The librarian said one of the calls she received complained that taxpayer money shouldn’t be going to promote events like this. The librarian explained no taxpayer money was being used — Smoot was not charging for her appearance and the library would already be staffed with the lights on, whether or not Smoot spoke.

McWilliams said another complaint was that the display was too close to the children’s section.

McWilliams wondered why the display wasn’t just moved then. But she also commented that if the display caused children to ask their parents questions, that would give parents the opportunity to give their children the answer they wanted them to have. She called that “parenting.”

On Thursday, Smoot was told the talk can go on, but the library can’t promote it and the PFLAG display remains off the library floor, by order of the city manager. How does the library have an author speak without telling anyone that author is going to be there?

UPDATE: PFLAG got word this afternoon that the display can go back out.

Seems the whole thing was “a big misunderstanding.” In fact, now the city is allowing the library to give Smoot the auditorium to speak in. (That way, it’s behind closed doors).

The city’s still not a sponsor as they are for every other author coming to the library to speak.

—  David Taffet

Ireland’s Vote for Marriage Equality

by Vice President Joe Biden


Vice President Joe Biden

Last weekend, more than 1.2 million Irish voters took a courageous stand for love and family when they overwhelmingly chose marriage equality.

They recognized the fundamental truth that every person is entitled to dignity and respect, and that there can be no justification for the denigration or persecution of anyone because of who they love or who they are.

I want to thank my good friends Taoiseach Enda Kenny, and Tanaiste Joan Burton, for their forceful leadership and eloquent advocacy on this critical issue.

I cannot improve upon the perfectly Irish statements they made following this historic vote, but I can echo the Taoiseach’s words when he described the Irish as “a generous, compassionate, bold and joyful people,” and that their choice will be “heard loudly across the living world as a sound of pioneering leadership.”

In 22 years, Ireland has gone from a nation where simply being LGBT was against the law. Now, it is a nation where the people resoundingly stand for equal rights.

And here in the United States, in just the past three years we’ve gone from six states recognizing marriage equality, to 37 states, comprising 224 million Americans. It’s about love. It’s about equality. It’s about dignity. It’s about our most cherished values. That’s what this is about – it’s all it’s ever been about.

There is still work to be done. There are still too many nations that deny people even the right to be safe from violence and severe discrimination, and too many states here in America that allow a person to be fired simply for being lesbian, gay, transgender or bisexual.

But the progress is undeniable. As advocates in Ireland, the United States and around the world have proven time and again, where there’s passion and commitment, there is opportunity.

I continue to believe that in every corner of the world, people want to do the right thing. You should never underestimate the epiphanies that follow when a culture makes a breakthrough of conscience.

But it takes leadership. It takes courageous individuals who are willing to step forward, to turn adversity into positive change, and to truly live the words of the great Irish poet William Butler Yeats:

“Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot, but make it hot by striking.”

—  David Taffet

Greenland parliament votes unanimously for marriage equality


Greenland’s largest city, Nuuk

Greenland’s parliament has voted unanimously to legalize same-sex marriage. The country has had civil unions since 1996.

Greenland, the largest island in the world (Australia is a continent, not an island), is a self-governing country with a population of 57,000 within the Kingdom of Denmark. Denmark was the first country to recognize same-sex relationships when it passed a civil union law in 1989, but didn’t offer marriage equality until 2012.

The marriage equality law comes into effect Oct. 1.

This has been a good week for marriage equality. On Saturday, Ireland passed a marriage equality referendum with 62 percent of the vote in an election with heavy voter turnout.

Although there are only 16,000 people in Nuuk, they celebrate Nuuk Pride. Here’s a video from 2014 Nuuk Pride:

—  David Taffet

An Irish man describes how it felt to live in Ireland when marriage equality passed

Ollie MorganAlthough the results of the Irish election legalizing same-sex marriage on May 23 were expected, it was still an emotional day for Ollie Morgan.

A total of 62 percent of voters cast their ballots in favor of marriage equality, and that was with a 60 percent voter turnout. Irish law requires a three-month notice for civil marriages, so the first same-sex weddings won’t take place until fall and the Parliament must still pass a marriage bill that will become part of the Constitution.

But that necessary wait didn’t dampen the emotion for Morgan, who lives in Dundalk, a city on Ireland’s east coast near the border with Northern Ireland. He is a former Independent (as in no party affiliation) Dundalk town councillor.

“I never stopped crying all day here on Saturday watching TV as the results came in,” he said during an online chat with me today (May 26).

Morgan called it a great weekend for progress in Ireland. “Opinion polls were consistent from the start of the campaign that the ‘yes’ side was going to win,” he said.

The Labour Party, the junior partner in the ruling coalition, pushed for the referendum that was supported by the ruling Fine Gael party and opposition parties. Only six Independent parliamentarians opposed it.

“A lot of people voted for Labour because of this,” Morgan said. He credited young people with affecting the victory. “The amount of young people that turned out to vote and came home from abroad to vote yes had a huge impact on the outcome of the result,” he added.

Surprisingly, a number of priests defied the official position of the Catholic Church and supported equality.

The Irish Times quoted the archbishop of Dublin who the Catholic Church needs a reality check.

“It’s very clear that if this referendum is an affirmation of the views of young people, then the church has a huge task in front of it to find the language to be able to talk to and to get its message across to young people, not just on this issue, but in general,” Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said.

Morgan said he wasn’t surprised priests stood on the side of equality. He noted that he lives next to a Redemptorist community, the order where most of the supportive priests came from.

“One in fact used the occasion to come out as gay, I believe,” he said. “A former member of Parliament said that he recognized two priests in the courtyard of Dublin Castle waiting for the result to be announced.”

He said he hopes the vote has a positive effect on gays and lesbians in his country beyond the right of marriage.

“I am hoping this positive result will help gay men who are afraid to come out in the near future,” he said.

—  David Taffet

VIDEO: Harvey Milk Day celebration in Dallas

IMG_1720The LGBT community gathered at the Legacy of Love monument in May 22 to celebrate Harvey Milk’s birthday. Photos from the evening are here.

The event was sponsored by a number of LGBT groups and coordinated by Todd Whitley and Hope 4 Peace & Justice.

William Dockeray recorded the event.

—  David Taffet

Luxembourg’s prime minister marries

Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel married Gauthier Destenay today (Friday, May 15).

Bettel announced earlier this week that Destanay proposed and he accepted.He said they would have a low-key ceremony.

The ceremony was held at City Hall in Luxembourg City and was attended by the Belgian and Estonian prime ministers, who are straight.

Luxembourg became a marriage-equality country in January.

Bettel has been Prime Minister for 18 months.

Here’s a report from Wochit News:

—  David Taffet

Articles written by out of state pundits mostly show they have no idea how Texas politics works

CapitolOn my Facebook page, I asked friends to stop sending me articles written by out-of-state pundits about what’s going on in the Texas Legislature. They don’t understand how the our legislature works.

Here’s an example of a New York writer who has no clue what’s going on behind the scenes this week in the Texas Capitol:

“Any of the more than 20 anti-LGBT bills that get out of committee in either legislative chamber — and a few have — will easily pass in the Republican-dominated conservative legislature and be signed into law by GOP Gov. Greg Abbott,” Michangelo Signorile wrote in Huffington Post yesterday (Wednesday, May 13). That story was the bold banner headline in the Gay Voices section.

Actually, one bill got out of committee and onto the House agenda. Several got committee hearings. A few passed out of committee. One made it to the House floor. ONE.

The other 20 are dead. D-E-A-D.

That one bill that made it to the House floor must pass by tonight or it, too, is D-E-A-D dead. After that, we need to watch out for insidious amendments.

Rep. Celia Israel, backed by the entire Democratic caucus, is trying to kill HB 4105. Equality Texas and former Rep. Glenn Maxey are working closely with her today. They’ll use a number of maneuvers and tactics. No need to tip anyone’s hand. But the idea that any bill that gets out of committee will “easily pass in the Republican-dominated conservative legislature” is nonsense.

If that bill passes, it will only be after as much effort on the part of LGBT opponents as the work being done by LGBT advocates.

And if the law passes, it’s so unconstitutional, it will never go into effect.

The law attempts to protect Texas from having to obey a ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court. Well, if you have to throw out some red meat to the tea party, you might as well toss them this one — the most outrageous bill they could come up with, even if it’s completely illegal.

If it comes to this, the question that the Supreme Court will hear will be whether a state can opt out of a Supreme Court ruling by simply passing a law. The LGBT-rights issue behind it won’t even be a factor.

Signorile concludes his story by saying, “What we have in Texas is a five-alarm fire ready to engulf its LGBT citizens and threaten their rights for years to come.”

In Texas, we’re even more anxious about the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage than people in 37 marriage equality states — but wow. I’m about to be engulfed in flames, huh? Maybe Obama should invade the state and put us under U.S. law.

—  David Taffet