Reports in Review

The Public Eye Magazine - Summer 2006

Report of the Month

Blacks and Same-Sex Marriage

Jumping the Broom: A Black Perspective on Same-Gender Marriage
By the Equality Maryland Foundation, Inc. and the National Black Justice Coalition, November 2005

The Equality Maryland Foundation, Inc. and the National Black Justice Coalition have issued a reader-friendly pamphlet calling on African Americans to realize how important the Same Sex Marriage movement is to vital members of their community, Black gays and lesbians.

In Jumping The Broom: A Black Perspective On Same-Gender Marriage, the groups take on key objections to same-sex marriage, explaining: marriages don't have to be religious services; gay marriages were forced to exist behind closed doors in the past—even among well-known community activists and celebrities; nurturing families are not only for heterosexuals; and, the word "marriage" carries more tax, insurance and other legal protections for a couple than the words "civil union" or "domestic partnership."

But the main point the pamphlet wants to hammer home is that the opportunity to marry someone you love should be an individual's choice and not necessarily sanctioned by the government. This, they argue, is a civil right. The pamphlet explains that "civil rights" are "the protections and privileges of personal liberty given to all US citizens by the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights."

Unfortunately, Jumping The Broom also relies too heavily on comparing the Same-Sex Marriage Movement struggles with the African American Civil Rights Movement:

Some blacks are offended when gays and lesbians equate the same-sex marriage movement with the African American civil rights movement. When white gays and lesbians overshadow the voices of black gays and lesbians and discuss the ability to marry as a matter of "civil rights," some blacks may feel like the comparison diminishes the stain on our nation that has resulted from centuries of slavery, lynching, and segregation. We should remember, however, that many gays and lesbians are members of our community, the black community, and were an integral part of our black civil rights movement. (p.12)

As the writers themselves appear to note, the two movements are not equal—and have no need to be. If anything, the Same- Sex Marriage Movement can be inspired by the African American Civil Rights Movement without being a new version of it.

-- Karen Carillo

Other Reports in Review

Taking over the Courts

Turning Right: Judicial Selection and the Politics of Power
by Melody Barnes, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, July 2004

This report is a good primer for how the Republicans have managed to "pack" the courts in the last two decades.

The courts constantly make decisions that either strengthen or undermine the right to be free from discrimination, to organize a union, or the right to clean air and water. However, don't look to this report for an examination of the differences in ideology between Right-wing and mainstream judges. This report is about how the Right has subverted the Constitution's checks and balances in the selection of judges.

Article II of the Constitution gives the President the power to nominate federal judges, subject to the "advice and consent" of the Senate. By having the executive and legislative branches share power, the founders intended for the judiciary to be the third branch of government. Implied is the desire to nominate judges who can count on broad or bipartisan support. Over the centuries, a complex process developed to meet this mandate, including the President's consultation with the two Senators of the state where the appointment would take place, known as the "blue slip" process.

Republicans have completely subverted the balanced approach that developed over the centuries while controlling the presidency and Congress. It started in the 1980s and early ‘90s when the Reagan and Bush Sr. administrations made decidedly one-sided appointments. The Clinton Administration reverted to the old practice of nominating consensus candidates, but it was thwarted even in those efforts when the Democrats lost the majority in the Senate in 1995. Mostly through delaying tactics, the Senate Republicans managed to avoid the nomination of many judges, consensus candidates or not.

Bush Jr. took these efforts one step further by nominating candidates who were even further Right than Reagan and Bush Sr.'s nominees. Once the Republicans obtained the majority in the Senate in 2002, they began rushing nominations and sidelined the "blue slip" process in maneuvers that leave a bad taste in anyone's mouth. Only one check remained to stop the flow of right-wing ideologues: the filibuster. To eliminate this final obstacle, Senate Majority Leader Frist proposed a dramatic alteration of long-standing Senate rules to bypass the filibuster, referred to as a "nuclear option." This option was eventually avoided by a compromise, which further eroded the voice of the Democratic minority.

As a result, today the dealings between the White House and the Senate regarding judicial selections are a far cry from cooperation. The Leadership Conference report ends with an impassioned plea to take the politics out of the process again. This way we may one day realize the promise of the Constitution: a truly independent judiciary "free from political winds and popular beliefs, that blindly dispenses justice."

-- Ursula Levelt

Save the Children

Youth in the Crosshairs: The Third Wave of Ex-Gay Activism Jason Cianciotto and Sean Cahill, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute, New York and Washington, D.C., March 2006

There's a new wrinkle in the Christian Right's use of homophobia: an ex-gay movement targeted at youth. In response to teens coming out at earlier ages and finding new support in many schools and faith communities, groups like Focus on the Family and Exodus International have developed programs to "convert" gay and lesbian adolescents to heterosexuality. This 100-page report skillfully analyzes the trend.

The authors identify three waves of the Christian Right's ex-gay activism: early attempts to "cure" adult homosexuals, appeals to gay men and lesbians to make lifestyle changes themselves in a Christian context, and now a focus on Christian youth (and their parents). Challenging the concept of a "cure," the authors' review of the available research on the ex-gay movement's "conversion therapy" and other tactics shows these strategies do not accomplish their intended goal. A key 2002 study by Shidlo and Schroeder instead found people suffered even greater depression, suicidal thoughts, sexual dysfunction, and rejection of religion after the "therapy."

The report focuses on several of the groups that have proliferated in recent years. Focus on the Family runs a traveling ex-gay roadshow called Love Won Out. Exodus International now hosts Exodus Youth. Love in Action, the oldest program, runs Refuge, a substance abuse and "sexual addiction" treatment program for teens. And PFOX, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays, modeled directly from PFLAG, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, provides advocacy for family members worried about what they see as dangerous cultural influences.

They are all closely networked and heavily influenced by strict Biblical interpretations of homosexuality as a sin and discredited psychological theories on its causes. The report chronicles the history of the ex-gay movement from its beginnings in 1973, the same year the American Psychiatric Association stopped describing homosexuality as a mental disorder. The report also notes that the waves of ex-gay activism were crafted in response to the gains of the LGBT movement.

Their discussion of an ex-gay conference illustrates the movements' tactics: targeting Christian families and church communities, presenting testimony of conversion and redemption in a highly charged religious atmosphere, and promoting the pseudoscience of anti-gay research. Among them: clients will feel better after conversion; homosexuality is caused by dominant mothers, passive, unemotional fathers, and sexual abuse; and homosexuality is linked to alcoholism, drug addiction, and suicide.

-- Pam Chamberlain

Still Fighting for the Vote in Louisiana

Voting Rights in Louisiana 1982-2006: A Report of
By Debo P. Adegbile, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund, Washington, D.C., March 2006

Louisiana's failure to help displaced voters from New Orleans vote after Katrina only highlights a longstanding scandal: it is harder for African Americans in Louisiana to exert political power today than it was 125 years ago. Although almost one-third of Louisiana's population is African American, no African American has ever been elected to a Louisiana state court or the U.S. Congress, or joined the bench of the Louisiana Supreme Court.

First enacted under Lyndon Johnson in 1965, the Voting Rights Act is the primary lever for whatever political power African Americans have achieved in the state; it is scheduled to expire in 2007. By revealing how officials with stubborn supremacist attitudes sought to block Black voting power, this report shows why it is vital to renew the Voting Rights Act.

Among the stealth tactics Louisiana whites use to maintain power are exclusionary back room decision-making and gerrymandering that dilutes or concentrates black's voter strength, whichever is most damaging. Both are considered discriminatory by the Voting Rights Act, and, according to the report, the US Department of Justice has issued objections to Louisiana voting changes 96 times since 1982.

The examples of whites pouring "old poison into new bottles" to preserve power— drawn primarily from court records—are shocking. For instance, then-Governor Treen resisted any redistricting plan in the 1980s that included a majority Black district for New Orleans, arguing a hypocritical race-neutral position: "districting schemes motivated by racial considerations, however benign, smacked of racism."

Similar reports are available for Florida, Alaska, and New York.

-- Pam Chamberlain

Bush without Warrant

Presidential Authority to Conduct Warrantless Electronic Surveillance to Gather Foreign Intelligence Information
Elizabeth B. Bazan and Jennifer K. Elsea, Congressional Research Service, Washington, D.C., January 5, 2006

J. Edgar Hoover and other government spies rarely made any pretense to legality. They just did what they wanted. But Bush and Co. seem to enjoy sprinkling legal justifications here and there for such misdeeds as warrantless spying on Americans and mistreatment of Guantanamo prisoners. They create a quasi-legality that thumbs its nose at the law and dares the courts to answer back.

This was a brief written at the request of a Congressperson about whether President Bush could bypass the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and spy on people in the US without a warrant. They patiently expose the cynical legal ploys of the Bush Administration, including the claim that it can bypass the court because of Congress' "declaration of war" (legal permission for Bush to use force). No, they say, Congress revised the act that created the court right after September 11th and made no such exception. The Bushites also refer to court cases decided before the law was enacted to justify their scheme. The staff lawyers strip away such legal fig leaves shrouding Bush's lawlessness but it remains to be seen whether Congress heeds this report.

-- Abby Scher

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