Dueling Iowa protests staged over gay marriage

A DIRE WARNING | Gay marriage supporters, left, look on as former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore speaks during an anti gay-marriage rally sponsored by The Family Leader March 15 at the Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa. Moore warned that gay marriage would result in child abuse and more divorces. (Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

Former Alabama  justice ousted over 10 Commandments monument claims gay marriage would increase child abuse, divorce

Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa — About 500 people rallied Tuesday, March 15, at the Iowa Capitol, urging legislators to send a constitutional amendment to voters that would ban same-sex marriage.

The rally featured former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore, who said gay marriage will result in child abuse and divorce. He asked opponents to set an example.

“What happens in Iowa, the rest of the nation watches,” Moore said.

About an hour after Moore’s rally, dozens of supporters of gay marriage rights held their own counter-rally.

Moore made national headlines in 2003 when he refused to abide by a federal court order to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from the state judicial building. He was later removed from office.

Moore praised Iowa residents for voting in November to oust three Iowa Supreme Court justices who supported a unanimous 2009 decision that found a state law limiting marriage to heterosexual couples violated the Iowa Constitution.

“I’m proud to say that the people of Iowa stood up to the justices on the Supreme Court and voted them out of office,” Moore said.

Also addressing the crowd was the Rev. Keith Ratliff, pastor at Maple Street Missionary Baptist Church in Des Moines, who charged that the gay community is hijacking the civil rights movement for its own purposes.

“In my humble opinion there is no parallel,” Ratliff said. “What an insult to the civil rights movement.”

Troy Price, the political director of One Iowa, the state’s largest gay rights organization, said Ratliff is wrong.

“There are thousands of gays and lesbians across the state that recognize this is an issue of rights, the right to be with the person you love,” Price said.

Price said supporters of same-sex marriage have been working to tell legislators, especially Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, that there is wide support for the court’s decision.

A resolution calling for a statewide vote on whether to amend the Iowa Constitution to ban gay marriages passed the Republican-controlled House in February with overwhelming support and headed to the Senate, where Democrats are in the majority and leaders have vowed to block debate.

The resolution would have to be approved by the current Legislature and the one to be elected next year to get onto the ballot.
Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, has the authority to decide which issues are debated in the full Senate, and has said he will not allow a vote on the resolution.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 18, 2011.

—  John Wright

Lesbian appointed to Supreme Court in Hawaii as civil unions bill clears Senate committee

Gov. Neil Abercrombie
Gov. Neil Abercrombie

Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie named lesbian judge Sabrina Shizue McKenna, 53, to the Hawaiian Supreme Court, according to the Honolulu Star Advertiser. McKenna is senior judge of Oahu’s Family Court.

In a press release, Abercrombie said:

“This is the most important decision I have made in my career. This appointment sets the course for the state and its legal direction for the next several years. I am completely confident that Judge McKenna’s appointment will be something I’m proud of for the rest of my life.”

Abercrombie was elected in November and McKenna is his first judicial appointment.

Also in Hawaii, a civil union bill, similar to one vetoed by Hawaiian Gov. Linda Lingle last July, passed a Senate committee. Lingle vetoed the bill, calling it same-sex marriage by a different name. Lingle was a Republican. Abercrombie, a Democrat, said he would sign the bill.

Equality Hawaii would like to see the bill extended to address health, insurance and tax codes. The bill was schedule to go to the full Senate today for a reading today and a final action on Friday. A similar bill has not been introduced to the Hawaiian House yet.

The Advertiser reports that Gary Okino, an opponent of civil unions, ran against the bill’s main House sponsor and lost. He wins the asinine reason of the week to be against civil unions award: Okino said civil unions would “rob children of happiness.”

In its reporting of the appointment of McKenna to the bench, the Advertiser called her the first lesbian appointed to the Hawaiian Supreme Court. We’re not sure, but she may be the first open lesbian appointed to a Supreme Court in any state. Anyone know for sure? (For the record, despite the insinuations, no federal Supreme Court justice, whether actually lesbian or not, is openly lesbian. And Justice Souter is officially a bachelor, certainly not openly gay).

—  David Taffet

Removal of Iowa judges may inspire similar efforts

MICHAEL J. CRUMB and NOMAAN MERCHANT | Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa — Emboldened by the success of a ballot initiative to oust Iowa judges who supported gay marriage, conservative activists are looking for new ways to use the power of the vote to strike back against the courts.

Judicial-removal campaigns have generally been difficult to sell to the public. But now some groups view them as a potential tool to influence the judiciary on gay rights, abortion and other divisive social issues.

Organizers of the Iowa campaign had several important advantages: a well-funded TV campaign, a grass-roots structure and an electorate that was receptive to their message.

“For those who impose what we perceive as an immoral agenda, we’re going to take them out,” said David Lane, executive director of AFA Action, the political arm of Mississippi-based American Family Association, which contributed about $100,000 to the Iowa campaign. He said the group would do so again wherever judges “impose their will on free people.”

Iowa was one of at least four states where groups sought to remove judges in last Tuesday’s election, but it was the only place where the effort succeeded.

The anti-abortion group Kansans For Life failed to remove four Supreme Court justices for their decisions regarding abortion clinics.

In Colorado, three high court members withstood a removal campaign focused on their tax decisions. And in Illinois, a Supreme Court justice survived an attempt to oust him because he overturned a cap on medical malpractice damages.

“There’s a very small number of extremely emotional issues that can cause voters to weigh in and take judges off the court,” said Charlie Hall, spokesman for Justice at Stake, a nonpartisan group that campaigns to keep the courts impartial. “For the most part, it’s still the rare exception.”

Hall said gay marriage rulings are likely to cause the biggest backlashes in any future elections, but that abortion also could motivate many voters.

Brian Brown, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage, said earlier referendums in California and Maine, plus the Iowa campaign, prove that gay marriage is an issue that will motivate voters to act.

In Maine, voters overturned the Legislature’s passage of a bill legalizing gay marriage. And in California, voters approved Proposition 8 banning gay marriage, but that measure is being appealed.

Brown, whose group spent $235,000 on the Iowa effort, said the effort succeeded because it involved extensive TV ads, campaign phone calls, a 20-city bus tour, and outreach at churches and other venues.

“People do care that judges are forcing their will on people,” he said.

Brown said the group may organize future campaigns to remove the other four Iowa justices involved in the same-sex marriage ruling. And they might take on judges in other states, too.

Brown said his group’s focus is now to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot in Iowa to give voters a chance to overturn the court’s decision and redefine marriage as being between one man and one woman.

Lane, of AFA Action, said the distribution by conservative churches of 200,000 voter guides was a big factor that will be effective in future judge-recall efforts.

“No question it would work,” Lane said.

Troy Newman, president of the Wichita, Kan.-based anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, said Iowa’s vote could be a model for more challenges around the nation. He said his group plans to get involved in other state judicial races but has not decided which ones to target.

Operation Rescue, which also opposes gay marriage, made phone calls and sent volunteers to lobby Iowa voters, Newman said. He predicted that judicial challenges, especially over gay rights and possibly abortion, would happen more frequently due to rising voter anger.

“2010 was the beginning of the beginning,” Newman said.

Gay rights groups and some legal experts do not expect a wave of judge removals, but they worry the Iowa case was meant to intimidate other courts.

Kevin Cathcart, executive director of New York-based Lambda Legal, which pursued the challenge of Iowa marriage laws that led to the court’s decision, said he sees the campaign as “a warning shot across the bow of judges.”

Lamda Legal will not stop pursuing its goals in the courts, Cathcart said, but the organization needs to examine what can be done to prevent more removals.

“I still believe the courts have been our community’s best avenue to extending civil rights and moving closer to equality,” he said. “While it is definitely a huge bump in the road … we need to figure out how to do better through voter education.”

Next time a removal effort begins, he added, Lamda Legal might wage a campaign to explain to voters the importance of an independent judiciary.

Rachel Paine Caufield, a law professor at Drake University in Des Moines, said the Iowa ruling could have a “really chilling” effect on judges nationwide. She speculated that some potential judicial candidates will opt against seeking jobs on the bench.

Connie Mackey, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council’s political action committee, said the group contributed $60,000 to the Iowa campaign and was eager to challenge justices in Iowa or elsewhere whose decisions are out of line with the group’s agenda.

“Where we can play a role, and where we feel we can have a shot at taking those judges out, we certainly will jump in,” she said.

—  John Wright

Texas AG Greg Abbott argues that he can’t be sued for discriminating against gay employees

Greg Abbott

Last November we reported on a lawsuit filed by Vic Gardner of Tyler, who alleges that he was forced out of his job with the state attorney general’s office for being gay.

Jason C.N. Smith of Fort Worth, who’s representing Gardner in his suit against a former supervisor and AG Greg Abbott, reports that the case is set for a hearing in an Austin district court next Tuesday.

Smith said the AG’s office has field a motion seeking to dismiss the case, on grounds that Abbott can’t be sued for damages for discriminating against people on the basis of sexual orientation.

Although Texas has no statute prohibiting anti-gay job discrimination, courts have held that gay and lesbian government employees are protected by constitutional principles such as privacy and equal protection, Smith said. Still, he said it’s possible that Abbott would appeal the case all the way to the Texas Supreme Court.

“My hope is that the Texas Supreme Court would follow the lead of the U.S. Supreme Court and hold that gays are protected under the constitution,” Smith said. “I think certainly the law is very clear. It’s just a matter of whether they’re going to play politics with the gay community.

“Greg Abbott’s record both as a Supreme Court justice and as Texas attorney general, he’s not one who’s embraced giving everyone equal rights, so it doesn’t surprise me that he doesn’t s think folks who are fired because they’re gay should be able to recover damages,” Smith added.

Garder, who’d worked for the AG’s child support division for about three years, says he resigned after repeatedly being unfairly disciplined. Despite Gardner’s above-average job performance, according to the lawsuit, Gardner’s supervisor had directed him to “not be so out.”

Gardner is seeking reinstatement to a similar position and back pay, as well as a declaration by the AG’s office that he was discriminated against and a pledge not to do so going forward.

A spokesman for Abbott’s office has declined to comment on the case.

—  John Wright