Category Archives: human rights

Palin Blasts Supremes’ Support Of Anti-Gay Church

The Westboro Baptist Church picketing at the m...

Image via Wikipedia

On March 2, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of Westboro Baptist Church’s right to picket funerals, espousing anti-gay rhetoric such as “God Hates Fags,” “You’re Going to Hell” and, as shown in the picture here, “Fags Are Worthy Of Death.”  In an 8-1 vote, the Justices ruled that such behavior was protected speech under the First Amendment.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote:

But under the First Amendment, he went on, “we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker.” Instead, the national commitment to free speech, he said, requires protection of “even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.

In the case at issue, the church picketed the military funeral of Matthew Snyder.  Interestingly, Matthew was not gay.  Matthew’s father sued and obtained a $5 million verdict against the church, which has now been set aside.

Surprisingly, conservative politician/commentator, Sarah Palin, initially blasted the High Court’s decision on Twitter, tweeting:

Common sense & decency absent as wacko “church” allowed hate msgs spewed@ soldiers’ funerals but we can’t invoke God’s name in public square

Subsequently, in an interview with the Daily Caller, Palin sought to “clarify” her remarks, saying:

Obviously my comment meant that when we’re told we can’t say ‘God bless you’ in graduation speeches or pray before a local football game but these wackos can invoke God’s name in their hate speech while picketing our military funerals, it shows ridiculous inconsistency.

Assuming Palin’s frustration is genuine, which I do for purposes of this article, I can understand where she is coming from.  Frankly, I am saddened that she felt the need to so quickly, sort of retract/clarify herself.  Where she seems to be coming from is quite legitimate, if you ask me.  Why is that, in certain circumstances, we cannot invoke religious verbiage or iconography – even if done so peacefully – but this rogue band of crazy, half-witted, inbred hate-mongers – pretending to be followers of Jesus Christ – get the full panoply of First Amendment freedoms?

As an attorney, I can – intellectually – comprehend the arguments on both sides.  On a personal level, I can even support the outcome, belonging as I do to a traditionally dis-enfranchised group that often needs First Amendment protection to make its own public case.  From a viewpoint based purely on political strategy, I can even see the benefit in exposing such idiots to the light of day rather than forcing them into the shadows where they fester like a stinking boil on the butt of Lady Liberty herself.

And yet, the difficulty I have – and which Palin may be trying her best to express – is that it does seem to be the case that this “church’s” hate-filled expression has received judicial imprimatur, while arguably neutral, civic expressions that merely touch upon religion are so frequently scorned or called into legal question.

What message are we sending?  Peaceful, neutral expressions of faith are a no go.  But, hateful expression is in.  In my opinion, true Christians ought to be concerned about this decision.  And, this “church” ought to be ashamed of themselves.

Furthermore, if they truly believe in Hell, they ought to be very afraid.  As my granny would have said, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”

Jesus Wept

ReBlog – Workplace and Domestic Violence – From California Family Law Paralegal

Many of you may not know this, but October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  As the month is now almost over, I am asking all my readers to take moment and read this excellent article from my friend, Lori Paul’s, blog, California Family Law Paralegal.

Here is the link:

Workplace and Domestic Violence « CALIFORNIA FAMILY LAW PARALEGAL.

If you or someone you know is suffering some form of domestic violence, encourage them to get help or get help for those unable to help themselves.  A good place to start is the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which offers resources both nationally and in your area.

Freedom from violence and abuse is a civil right we all should enjoy.  Violence at home or in the workplace is unacceptable…period.

United Arab Emirates: Man May Beat Wife, Children As Long As No Marks

The highest court in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has upheld the right of a man to beat his wife and children for the purpose of “disciplining” them, but only so long as the beating leaves no discernible bruises or marks and is not too “severe.”  In addition, a man must first exhaust admonition and abstaining from sleeping with his wife as forms of correction before resorting to a beating.

According to the court, a man who goes beyond these restrictions abuses his “right” under sharia law and is subject to a fine.  In the case at issues, a husband had “slapped and cicked” his 23 year-old daughter and “slapped his wife.”  The court found that the beating too severe because it left bruises on the wife, and concluded that the daughter was too old for such treatment.

Boy, women and children in the UAE can breathe a sigh of relief after this lamp of liberty was lit, can’t they?  What is, perhaps, most frightening about this decision is that the UAE is often considered by western officials to be one of the more “democratic” of the Mideast countries.  However, the State Department webpage on the UAE lists the following as continued problems for democracy in the UAE:

• no citizens’ right to change the government and no popularly elected representatives of any kind
• flogging as judicially sanctioned punishment
• arbitrary detention
• incommunicado detention permitted by law
• questionable independence of the judiciary
• restrictions on civil liberties–freedom of speech and of the press, and assembly
• restrictions on right of association, particularly for human rights groups
• restrictions on religious freedom
• domestic abuse of women, sometimes enabled by police
• trafficking in women and children
• legal and societal discrimination against women and noncitizens
• corruption and lack of government transparency
• abuse of foreign domestic servants
• restrictions on and abuses of workers’ rights

You can read more about the decision here.

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California County, Others To Pay More Than $650,000 In Same-Sex Elder Abuse Case

Late last week, representatives of Sonoma County, California agreed to settle a lawsuit filed on behalf Clay Greene and the estate of Harold Scull, Greene’s deceased partner of 20 years.  According to the suit, Greene and Scull had each executed mutual powers of attorney for medical and financial decisions and wills naming each other as beneficiaries. In April 2008, County employees in the Public Guardian’s office separated the couple after Scull fell outside their shared home. In the next three months, County officials ignored the couple’s legal documentation, unlawfully auctioned their possessions, terminated their lease, and forced Greene into an assisted living facility against his will. The County did not consult Greene in Scull’s medical care and prevented the two from seeing one another.

In August, 2008, before the partners could be reunited, Scull passed away after completing a photo album of the couple’s life for Greene.

In August, 2009, Greene and the representative of Scull’s estate filed a lawsuit against County officials and others alleging elder abuse, elder financial abuse, breach of fiduciary duty, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, and other claims.  The plaintiffs were represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR).

Under the terms of the settlement, Sonoma County will pay $600,000 to the plaintiffs, with a smaller payment of $53,000 coming from the remaining defendants.  In addition, as a result of the lawsuit, Sonoma County has changed or modified a number of important policies in its Public Guardian’s Office, including requiring County employees to follow protocols before seizing private property, preventing County employees from relocating elders or others against their will, and prohibiting County employees from backdating information in their guardianship database.

NCLR is to be commended for taking on this most egregious case and seeing it through to a favorable conclusion for the plaintiffs.  As a resident of Sonoma County, on a personal and professional level, I am deeply disturbed that it took a lawsuit to cajole the County into “modifying” policies requiring its employees to “follow protocols before seizing private property” of its residents, “relocating elders against their will,” and “prohibiting County employees from backdating information.”  It should not be necessary for anyone – regardless of sexual orientation – to resort to court action to prevent such abuses.  The monetary settlement notwithstanding, what this couple lost cannot be replaced by any court.

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IRS Issues Ruling – California Community Property Recognized For Registered Domestic Partners

As reported in the Continuing Education of the Bar (CEB) Blog, the IRS has just issued an important private letter ruling affecting California registered domestic partners. According to the ruling, California’s registered domestic partners must report half of their community earnings on their federal individual tax returns.

Under the ruling, if two partners have combined income of, say, $100,000 (partner A’s income = $75,000 and partner B’s income = $25,000), each would report $50,000 on his individual federal return. Each partner is entitled to one-half of the tax credits withheld from the partnership’s paychecks.

This ruling is particularly significant for registered partners where one is a high earner and the other is a low earner. Under the ruling, the couple could take advantage of splitting the income, thereby relieving the tax burden on the higher earner. Registered domestic partners in California will be permitted to amend their returns for the period December 31, 2006 to June 1, 2010.

This advantage is just one of the many tax advantages that have always been available to married couples, but before the ruling, it was not available to domestic partners under federal law.

You can also read more about the ruling at the CEB Blog here as well as a San Francisco Chronicle article about the development here.

I have also downloaded the private letter ruling to the Box, entitled IRS Ruling Letter, as well as IRS Legal Memorandum.

House Vote Paves Way For Gays In The Military; Fight Isn’t Over Yet

On Friday, the House of Representatives passed a defense bill signaling the beginning of the end to the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy banning openly-gay personnel from serving in the military.

The defense bill passed by a vote of 229-186 vote, a smaller margin than is typical.  Many Republicans and a few Democrats voted against it solely because of its inclusion of the gays in the military provision.

House approval of the “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” repeal was a victory for President Obama, who has pledged to change the policy, and for gay-rights groups, which have made it their top priority this year. The bill would give the Pentagon the rest of the year to study the issue before the repeal would take effect.

The Senate is expected to take up the defense bill this summer. Supporters of an end to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy are likely to need the votes of 60 of the 100 senators to prevent opponents from blocking it.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a chief backer of changing the law, said at a news conference Friday most senators support ending the gay ban.

“I believe a majority of the Senate, just like a majority of the country … favor changing this policy,” he said. “It is a discriminatory policy.”

By ending its ban on allowing openly-gay service members, the United States would actually be joining a long list of many of our allies that already allow such service.  I have placed a PDF of a study conducted by the University of Santa Barbara’s Palm Center for Sound Public Policy in the Box which shows the countries allowing openly-gay service members.  This list is current as of June 2009, and is entitled CountriesWithoutBan.

You can also read more about the house vote here.

Civil Rights History: On This Day, Harvey Milk’s Killer Avoids Murder Charge Using “Twinkie Defense”

For the lesbian and gay communities, particularly in the San Francisco Bay Area, today marks a day in civil rights history which sparked great protests known as the “White Night Riots.” On May 21, 1979, former San Francisco City Supervisor Dan White was convicted of manslaughter for the premeditated murders of San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone.

In 1977, Harvey Milk, a prominent, gay businessman in the Castro District of San Francisco, won election to the city’s Board of Supervisors.  Milk’s election was the first time an openly-gay candidate won an office in the State of California.  Milk is pictured below in a photo taken in 1978 and courtesy of Wikipedia.

Alongside Milk served Dan White.  White was a conservative veteran and former fireman.  The relationship between the two officials was, at best, stormy.  The relationship began to sour further when White voted against a gay-rights ordinance sponsored by Milk.  The gay-rights ordinance did pass, however, despite White’s vote.

In November 1978, White resigned from the S.F. Board of Supervisors, claiming that he could not support his family on his salary.  George Moscone, the Mayor of San Francisco at the time, told White that he would reappoint him to the Board if White chose to come back.  Mayor Moscone is pictured below courtesy of Google Images.

Shortly after resigning, White did change his mind.  However, for reasons that are not entirely clear, Moscone did not reappoint White.  One argument that is proposed is that Moscone was under pressure from Milk not to reappoint White because of White’s no vote on Milk’s gay-rights ordinance.

On November 27, 1978, the day after Moscone’s refusal to reappoint him, White armed himself with a loaded pistol and went to City Hall.  He gained access to the building by entering a window in order to avoid a weapons check.  White then walked into Moscone’s office and shot the Mayor four times.  He then walked down the hall to Milk’s office, shooting Milk five times.  One gun shot was point-blank to the head and is depicted graphically in the 2008 movie, “Milk,” starring Sean Penn.

At White’s subsequent criminal trial, the defense argued that White had diminished capacity and, thus, could not have premeditated the killings.  The evidence offered for White’s depression was that he had been eating excessive amounts of junk food.  Seizing on this evidence, the media dubbed White’s defense, the “Twinkie defense.”  As a result of this defense, White escaped a murder conviction and was, instead, convicted of manslaughter.  He was sentenced to a mere five years, serving only two of them before returning to San Francisco and committing suicide.  White has been referred to as the “most hated man in San Francisco history.”

In 1982, under Proposition 8, and as a result of the negative publicity surrounding White’s case and others, the “diminished capacity” defense was abolished in the State of California.

Wikipedia has excellent articles about Harvey Milk, George Moscone, Dan White, and the “Twinkie defense.” If you are interested in this topic, I encourage you to check out those articles as a next step.  If you have not yet seen the movie “Milk,” then I most strongly encourage you to see it.  Sean Penn‘s portrayal of Harvey Milk, as well as Josh Brolin’s portrayal of the troubled Dan White, is a must see.  A word of warning, however – I personally found the end scene, the assassination of Milk quite haunting even though, from a graphics viewpoint, the scene is definitely not your typical Hollywood scene.  It is, in some ways, all the more powerful and disturbing because of that fact.

R.I.P. Harvey (May 22, 1930 – November 27, 1978).  We have not forgotten, and never will.

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