The Curious Case of Kim Davis

At the end of June, the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that state bans on same-sex marriage violated the 14th Amendment and were thus unconstitutional. This led to same-sex marriage being legal throughout the country.

The majority of places began to make the necessary changes within the coming weeks. There was no more uncertainty where the law stood. But in Rowan County, the elected clerk Kim Davis decided to take a stand and defy the Court’s ruling. Not only has she refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, she has refused to issue any marriage license.

Davis filed a lawsuit in federal court after Kentucky Governor Steven Beshear told clerks throughout the state that they had to comply with the ruling and issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The court ruled that she had to comply with the law. So she filed an appeal to the Supreme Court which also ruled this week that she had to comply with the law to which she is still refusing to do today.

Fairness Campaign Director Chris Hartman at a protest outside the Rowen County Clerk's Office. (c) Chris Hartman

Fairness Campaign Director Chris Hartman at a protest outside the Rowan County Clerk’s Office.
(c) Chris Hartman

This ordeal has opened up the old debate of religious liberty protected under the First Amendment and equal rights for all citizens. Kim Davis has been quoted saying that she was not issuing marriage licenses “under God’s authority.” As an Apostolic Christian, she says that she cannot issue marriage licenses as it goes against her religious beliefs.

Another Kentucky clerk that is standing alongside Kim Davis is Casey Davis who has stated that they haven’t tried to prevent same-sex marriage just exercise their First Amendment rights and that same-sex couples could go to a neighboring county to get their marriage licenses.

From that it would seem, we’d be going from the patchwork of states that either legalized same-sex marriages or banned them to the counties. This would seem to be even more confusing if it came to this. Sadly, what Kim Davis is failing to recognize is that the law is the law. It has been ruled upon and even affirmed now.

Kim Davis has the right to believe what she wishes. However, she is a public servant and should do her job. The key words in that sentence are “public servant.” If she is unable to perform the tasks of her job then she either needs to be fired or resign on her own. She does not have the right to decide which laws she will follow and which she will not.

I’m sure we could all get into a huge discussion about what is actually written in the Bible about same-sex marriage, women’s rights, shellfish, slavery, and many other things but that is not the point of this. Yes, we all have the right to freely believe and practice whatever religion we wish to so long as it does not affect anyone else.

When James Madison originally proposed what would eventually become our First Amendment this is what he had written regarding our Freedom of Religion:

“The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext infringed.”

The civil rights of NONE shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship. Same-sex marriage is a civil right. It has been ruled upon and affirmed. The Supreme Court even ruled back as far as Loving v. Virginia (1967) that marriage was a civil right and therefore was protected under the Constitution.

Let’s put this into a difference scenario. How would Ms. Davis feel if someone told her that because she is a woman that she cannot voice her own opinion and was subservient to her husband? The Bible does state this in Ephesians 5:21-30, “Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.”

I’m sure Ms. Davis would be quite vocal in her objection if someone were to enforce that upon her. Just like with the law, she doesn’t get to pick which parts of her religion she is going to practice and which she will not.

Despite what her religious beliefs or objections may be, the US Constitution is still the supreme law of this country (Article 6, Clause 2) and not the Bible. One may use the Bible for their own personal well-being and for their spirituality but it ends there. If Ms. Davis cannot separate these two things then she has no business being a public servant and should probably find a job at her church.

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The Progress of Gay Rights in 2013

Last week, both Illinois and Hawai’i passed same-sex marriage making them the 15th and 16th states to do so.  Overall, 2013 has been quite a year for the LGBT community.  These last two states just seem to put the icing on the proverbial cake.  It all comes on the heals of the 2012 election where voters in three states (Maine, Maryland, and Washington) approved same-sex marriage and in the state of Minnesota, rejected a ban on it.

So what has transpired during the year?  Rhode Island, Delaware, Minnesota, and New Jersey all passed same-sex marriage.  The first three were passed by the state legislatures while New Jersey was done through the New Jersey Superior Court (Garden State Equality v. Dow).  With 14-states and DC (this excludes Illinois and Hawai’i), the total population living in the various states that have same-sex marriage is roughly 104-million (33% of the population).  This number will increase with two newest states being added into the mix.

In Colorado, civil unions were legalized in May.  And starting in late August, several counties in New Mexico began issuing same-sex marriage licenses.  Currently, New Mexico has no statutes against gay marriage or in favor of them.  There is a case in the courts currently seeking clarification as to whether banning/denying same-sex marriage in the state would violate the state’s constitution.  The counties in New Mexico that began issuing the licenses did so after various court rulings.

gay-marriage-debate-thumb-320x240-9845

Then there is the state of California.  In 2008, the legislature passed same-sex marriage.  That was quickly overturned by the voters with Proposition 8 that same year.  Thus started a lengthy court battle.  Lower courts ruled that Prop 8 was unconstitutional.  The Supreme Court (Perry v. Schwarzenegger) ruled that the proponents didn’t have ground to bring the suit and threw out the case leaving the ruling by the lower courts.  California resumed same-sex marriages as a result.

It wasn’t just on the state level where advancement was made.  There were federal developments, as well, as another case made its way to the Supreme Court.  In June, the Supreme Court ruled that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional in United States v. Windsor.  It made it to where the federal government would recognize same-sex marriages there are performed in states where it is legal.  The federal government then stepped up even more stating that even if a couple lived in a state that did not recognize same-sex marriage, those marriages would be recognized on the federal level so long as they were performed in a state where they are legal.  Other parts of DOMA are now being argued in the courts, as well, especially where states do not have to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states where it is legal.

Internationally, most of the focus has been on Russia which passed draconian measures against the LGBT community making it a crime to display it anywhere, to discuss it, and basically allowing groups of thugs to beat and even kill LGBT people.  This comes as Sochi, Russia is preparing to host the 2014 Winter Olympics.  The Nigerian parliament also passed a law banning same-sex marriage.  But despite these set-backs, the year saw progress.  France, England and Wales, Uruguay, and New Zealand all approved same-sex marriage.  This bring the total number of nations that recognize same-sex marriage to 16.  Two nations we should be watching in 2014 are Mexico and Ireland.  Various parts of Mexico have been approving same-sex marriage.  Will it continue piece by piece (as is being done in the US) or will it go national?  And in Ireland, the people will be voting on a referendum on whether to approve of same-sex marriage or not.

Washington Post - ABC Poll

Washington Post – ABC Poll

So what should we expect in the coming year here in the US?  According to a Quinnipiac poll in September 56% of adults (57% of registered voters) approve of same-sex marriage while 36% disapprove.  Support for gay marriage has remained roughly constant through the year while those opposed have dropped slightly.  Even with these numbers, the push for equality might seem to slow down a bit especially after the speed of progress during the last two years.  Why is this?  So far, the movement has been getting same-sex marriage approved in various states that had no constitutional bans (the exception being Maine which overturned theirs in 2012).  So either courts are going to have to throw out the state bans and rule them unconstitutional or the voters are going to have to overturn them in an election.  As stated earlier, New Mexico has neither a ban in place or any laws supporting same-sex marriage.  Other states to be watching are going to include Oregon, Nevada, Colorado, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and even Virginia, and Arizona.  In each of those states, recent polls show a majority of that state’s population support same-sex marriage.  Most of these states have constitutional bans on same-sex marriage which will have to be overturned in either way mentioned above.  Only Pennsylvania does not have such a ban.  It only has a state statute which can be dealt with by the legislature.  In Oregon, there is already a movement underway to overturn its constitutional ban.  It will be interesting to see if they push for it in the 2014 midterms or wait for the 2016 presidential election.

According to Pew Research, 72% of those asked (proponents and opponents) say that same-sex marriage is inevitable.  This is up from 59% in 2004.  Even the southern state of South Carolina is starting to show some movement on this issue.  In a Winthrop University Poll, 52% state that they do not approve of same-sex marriage.  This may not seem very surprising, but the state did approve of a constitutional ban in 2006 with 78% of the vote.  Mitt Romney won the state in 2012 with 55% of the vote.  It has a Republican governor, two Republican Senators, a Republican-controlled legislature, and 6 out of 7 of its US Representatives are Republican, as well.  The state is solidly red, but yet attitudes are changing to a slight degree.  The possible cause of this is that, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, a majority of Republicans aged 18-49 do approve of same-sex marriage.  Even US Senators Mark Kirk (R-IL), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) have stated they support same-sex marriage, and several more Republican Senators just voted in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).

The progress of gay rights in 2013 has been remarkable.  There is still plenty of work to be done though.  The next couple of years (2014-2016) should still see great progress being made.

Illegal Search and Seizure

Unconstitutional Acts of the NSA

I have been a Verizon Wireless customer since late 2001.  You can imagine my disdain then, not at Verizon, but at the federal government that has issued a court order for Verizon to turn over all of the data for its customers regarding phone calls and even metadata.  The story broke early on Thursday in an article in the UK’s The Guardian.  This should actually scare the American people even more than the act of terrorism itself.  The court order was issued on April 25 by the Foreign Intelligence Service Court (FISA) and orders Verizon to turn over the information on a daily basis until mid-July.  The FBI and the National Security Administration (NSA) have refused to officially comment on the situation.  The court order also explicitly tells Verizon that it cannot disclose to the public the FBI’s request or the court order itself.

fbi_wiretapIt would seem that since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, that the federal government has gone out of its way to completely abandon the Constitution and the rights of the people that are protected within it.  Only days after the attacks, Congress passed the Patriot Act which gave the President a blank check to fight global terrorism though we have never really defined what terrorism is.  Inside the Patriot Act was the legal authority for the federal government to secretly wiretap international calls and emails.  This came to light during the waning days of the Bush administration, and the public was indeed outraged.  But that outrage soon died and a new administration was elected.  Though Senator Obama objected to the secret wiretaps while running in the 2008 primary against then-Senator Hillary Clinton, he did an about-face after securing the nomination. (CNET)  And since being elected President, he has secretly expanded the program now to include all domestic calls as well which is a direct violation of Fourth and Ninth Amendments of the Constitution.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Fourth Amendment~

President Obama said he’s ready to have a discussion of secret wiretaps.  There is no discussion to be had.  It is a blatant violation of his oath of office.  As for members of Congress, they have completely dropped the ball and missed the point on this issue.  The head of the House Intelligence Committee is more alarmed about the leak of the court order rather than the court order itself.  Why is that?  Because Congress gave the President this kind of authority.  Yet, President Obama has stated that all three branches of government have approved of this program.  If that is the case, then it is our government that has become the greatest threat to our rights and freedoms; moreso, than any outside force.  And this is exactly why our Founding Fathers wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights.  Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) has stated that he is worried that that calls by members of Congress and the Supreme Court could have been included within the sweep.  Attorney General Eric Holder has said “that there was no intention to do anything of that nature.”  But Holder has also stated that it has kept Congress fully informed on these issues as they were developed.  Does that really make it acceptable or put anyone else at ease?

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) warned back in 2011 that the NSA was using a secret interpretation of the Patriot Act to basically spy on Americans.  Where was the media on this story?  For two Senators that saw this coming, this time it was the media that dropped the ball.  In a 2011 floor speech, Sen. Wyden said, “When the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned and they will be angry.”  I question how angry the American people will get or if they will even bat an eye over it.  Earlier today, when I actually had the TV on for a moment, the news was more concerned about the attempted-suicide of Michael Jackson’s daughter than the federal government’s unconstitutional wiretaps of American citizens.  This should be the largest story of the day (and following days) and heads should be rolling for anyone that has authorized this illegal action.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) released a statement on his website where he stated, “The United States should not be accumulating phone records on tens of millions of innocent Americans. That is not what democracy is about. That is not what freedom is about. Congress must address this issue and protect the constitutional rights of the American people.  While we must aggressively pursue international terrorists and all of those who would do us harm, we must do it in a way that protects the Constitution and the civil liberties which make us proud to be Americans.”

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
Ninth Amendment~

Since the court order did not target one specific person that was under investigation, but rather a blanket search over the American populace, it is easy to see how it would violated the Fourth Amendment.  It doesn’t matter if all three branches agree that the secret surveillance is allowed to protect the people from terrorism.  Common sense clearly states that it is direct violation of our rights against illegal searches and seizures.  But what about our right to privacy.  That comes from a Supreme Court ruling in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) that stated, “The Framers did not intend that the first eight amendments be construed to exhaust the basic and fundamental rights…. I do not mean to imply that the …. Ninth Amendment constitutes an independent source of rights protected from infringement by either the States or the Federal Government…”

wiretappicnikYet, the federal government says that this type of program is necessary to keep Americans safe from terrorism.  Congressman Mike Rogers (R-MI) of the House Intelligence Committee stated in an article in POLITICO that “[w]ithin the last few years, this program was used to stop a terrorist attack in the United States.”  And yet,there are those citizens that are OK with this premise.  They will allow the federal government to do whatever it takes to prevent terrorism.  This is because the federal government is ruling by fear and has them scared instead of ruling by law.  So I ask where do we draw this line if we are willing to throw away our basic fundamental rights in order to protect ourselves from the very people who attack us because of those rights?  Tyrannical governments are formed when the public becomes so afraid that they don’t care that their rights are taken away so long as they are protected.

There is an old axiom that states that justice is blind.  Maybe it’s not so much justice but rather the people who right our laws.  Since 2001, there seems to have been a constant attack on our founding principles and our basic rights by the people who are sworn to uphold and protect them.  Our legislators (and the President) are sworn to uphold and protect the Constitution not to protect us from terrorism.  Yes, we, the people, must make sure that we protect our nation, but it cannot be at the sacrifice of our rights.  If we do, then we cease to be Americans.  For any member that has voted in favor of the Patriot Act and the NDAA, who does not see why this type of activity is wrong and illegal, they should be removed from office for violation of their oath and their duty.  To quote President Lincoln, this is a country “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”  It is time that we, the people, step up and hold these elected officials accountable for their illegal actions.

SIDENOTE:
According to The Hill, the court order was to be declassified in 2038.

The Right To Vote

Last week, the United States Supreme Court heard a case involving the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  The case, Shelby County v. Holder, challenges the constitutionality of Section 5 of the law which requires states with a history of voting discrimination to get pre-clearance from the federal government before making any voting changes.  The states in particular involve southern states where Jim Crow laws were in place in the 1960s.  The law can apply to local jurisdictions, and it can apply to an entire state.

The case comes from Shelby County in Alabama, and they challenge that voting discrimination isn’t as prevalent in the South as it once was and there is more evidence of voter discrimination in other parts of the country where Section 5 does not apply.  Liberals are up in arms as this is one of the landmark civil rights bills signed during the Johnson administration and claim that there are still cases of voter discrimination in the south and that without these laws, reports of such discrimination would increase again.  Conservatives use the argument that voter discrimination is not just in the south and that if the law remains, it should be in effect everywhere , but overall the law isn’t needed anymore and that areas that require pre-clearance to make changes should not be required to do so.

supreme-courtThe reason for the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is quite important here.  The law targeted localities and states that had laws that were aimed at keeping African-Americans from voting.  In its wording, it is similar to the 15th Amendment to the US Constitution which gave African-Americans the right to vote.  Southern states found ways around the amendment by not making it illegal for African-Americans to vote.  They wrote voting laws that targeted the African-American community more than others, such as literacy tests.  The law was last renewed in 2006 for another 25-years though Republicans then argued that the pre-clearance part of the legislation should be allowed to expire since the states had done away with the practices that that section had been written to eradicate.

According to website for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, there have been approximately 195 cases filed under the Voting Rights Act from 1978-2013 with 15 of those having a settlement…not including the Shelby case.  Of those cases, a vast majority of them came from non-southern states.  For the sake of writing this, states that were part of the old Confederacy or had Jim Crow laws are considered southern states.  Yes, there are more non-southern states than southern states, so proportionally, the number would be higher.  The numbers aren’t in proportion, though.  It does indeed make the claim the Shelby case is trying to make in that there are more violations (cases) involving the Voting Rights Act from non-southern states; therefore, Section 5 should apply to them as well.

The talk today is of Voter ID laws which some say are discriminatory and are unconstitutional under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as it disenfranchises those that are young and poor.  It’s a conservative-led effort that liberals claim is designed to undermine their voting demographics in large urban areas… which is usually where the poor tend to live and is usually made up of minority groups such as African-Americans and Latino voters.  In essence, the Voter ID debate has become the new voting rights debate.  Is it possible to have Voter ID laws without disenfranchising minority voters?  Some of the bigger states that are debating these Voter ID laws fall outside the South… with the exception of Virginia.  These states include Pennsylvania, Ohio, and even Missouri.  As a result, they don’t fall under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and wouldn’t need pre-clearance for such things.  It doesn’t take a fortune-teller to know that if any state passes a Voter ID law that it will end up in the courts before the ink is even dry.  The state of Texas already had its Voter ID law struck down by a federal court in 2012.

The Shelby case does bring up the question as to whether the Voting Rights Act of 1965 along with Section 5 is still relevant in today’s times.  With the deep political divides that currently engulf our country, the two main parties look for any opportunity to give themselves an advantage, and this could come in the form of disenfranchising the other side’s voting block.  With the current Voter ID debate taking place, it does show a need for the Voting Rights Act.  It even shows the necessity of Section 5; however, it also proves that the law needs to be upgraded for today’s time.  It’s not 1965 anymore.  If Section 5 is to remain, it should be in place for every state as the evidence has shown that the cases brought up in violation of the law aren’t confined to the South only.  There should never be any effort to disenfranchise any citizen from exercising their right to vote no matter which state they reside in.  Voting is a right and not just a privilege.

LINKS:
Voter Fraud – ABC News
Civil Rights Division Voting Cases List

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