By Rebecca Glenberg, ACLU of Virginia Legal Director
FB-DOMA-1Yr-CAKE-504x504-V02Almost one year ago, on June 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in the ACLU case United States v. Windsor, which struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and required the federal government to recognize the lawful marriages of same-sex couples.   The Court recognized DOMA for what it was—“a bare congressional desire to harm a politically unpopular group.”
The Windsor case dealt only with federal recognition of marriages; it did not address whether states had to provide marriage equality. But Justice Kennedy’s strong language signaled that the Court understands exactly what is at stake in the fight for marriage equality – the equal dignity of every human being.   The Court explained that DOMA was demeaning to same sex couples: “The avowed purpose and practical effect of the law here in question are to impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages.” The statute “tells those couples, and all the world, that their otherwise valid marriages are unworthy of federal recognition” and “humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples.”
In the face of this poignant description of how refusing the right to marry harms real families, it is not easy for opponents of marriage equality to continue to defend their position.   The Windsor decision spurred court challenges across the country to laws that deny marriage to same-sex couples. At last count, courts in seventeen states – including Virginia – have struck down such laws in the last year.
As we celebrate the remarkable progress we have made in just one year, it is fitting to recall the decades-long struggle of Edie Windsor and her wife, Thea Spyer, for legal recognition of their relationship. Edie and Thea were together for forty years before they were finally able to marry in Canada in 2007.   Although their home state of New York did not then allow gay couples to marry, it did recognize marriages, like theirs, from other states and countries.   But because of DOMA, the federal government did not. When Thea died, Edie was faced with a huge estate tax. Property that is inherited from one’s spouse is exempt from the tax, but the federal government did not consider Thea to be Edie’s spouse. The Supreme Court has now recognized what was obvious to Edie and Thea from the start – that their marriage is equal to any other. (More on Edie Windsor and thecourt case is here.)
Edie and Thea’s story is emblematic of the millions of LGBT Americans who have sought equality for their families.   Following in their footsteps are the thousands of plaintiffs currently challenging laws that deny legal marriage to same-sex couples. The ACLU of Virginia is privileged to represent two amazing couples in our marriage equality case.   Joanne Harris and Jessi Duff live in Staunton with their adorable son, Jabari, and would like to marry in Virginia. Christy Berghoff and Victoria Kidd live in Winchester with their lovely daughter, Lydia. They got married in Washington D.C., but Virginia still does not recognize their marriage. (More about Joanne and Jessi, Christy and Victoria is here.)   These couples have shown extraordinary courage and commitment by stepping forward to lead the fight against Virginia’s discriminatory marriage laws.   Because our case is a class action, they represent every same-sex couple in Virginia.
We are living in exciting times. With each new court decision, the momentum builds.   Thank you, Edie and Thea. Thank you, Victoria, Christy, Jessi, and Joanne.
Want to stay informed about LGBT rights?  Continue to follow our blog, and check out our Facebook and Twitter for breaking news!  And, sign up to be a grassroots advocate.

Date

Saturday, June 21, 2014 - 3:53pm

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By Kathy Greenier, ACLU of Virginia Reproductive Freedom Project Director
reprofreedom_justice scalesToday marks the 49th anniversary of Griswold v. Connecticut.  In Griswold, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the fundamental right to privacy includes a right for married couples to use birth control. Seems obvious right?  As we’ve long argued, politicians have no business interfering in our personal (and private) health care decisions.  But, the Supreme Court’s decision to recognize this right was a landmark victory.
In 1965, the year the Supreme Court decided Griswold, many states had laws prohibiting the use and distribution of birth control.  When Griswold’s case made its way up to the Supreme Court, the Court held that the right to privacy is a fundamental right, but focused on the notion of privacy in a marital relationship.  While the Supreme Court did not focus on everyone’s right to avoid pregnancy or make reproductive choices, the seeds were planted for later cases in which the Supreme Court protected access to birth control broadly and access to abortion as part of the right to privacy, thus fully enshrining our right to reproductive autonomy.
The 49th anniversary of Griswold should remind us that not long ago, extreme state laws prevented access to critical health care services.  We cannot go down that road again and let politicians pass laws that deny our reproductive freedom.  We cannot return to pre-Griswold America.  We must protect this basic right that everyone should enjoy – the right to decide whether and when to have children.  It should be a no-brainer.

Date

Friday, June 6, 2014 - 1:29pm

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By Jeffery Robinson, ACLU Deputy Legal Director and Director of the Trone Center for Justice and Equality

In Louisa County, Virginia, a Black man stands trial for his life. When he looks around to see who is presiding over his trial he will see the picture of another man besides the judge starting down at him from above— Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. 

This isn’t the post-war South of the late 19th century or even the first six decades or so of the 20th century. This is Virginia in 2018. And this is the court where the defendant, Darcel Murphy, is expected to receive justice under the portrait of a man who fought to keep his ancestors enslaved. This week, Murphy’s lawyers filed a motion asking for the trial to be held in a courtroom free of Confederate symbols, memorials, and iconography. 

Although it should not need to be stated, a man whose picture is etched on Stone Mountain, the Mount Rushmore of white supremacy, should not be on the wall in a court of law in America. The fact that the portrait is speaks volumes about how America has historically and continues to minimize its racist legacy. 

Picture of Court with Picture of Robert E. Lee

The penalty phase of any capital case involves an examination of humanity –the life story of the defendant – when his lawyers will argue why he should be spared the ultimate punishment. A symbol representing belief in the inhumanity of Blacks has no place in any courtroom, especially not a southern courtroom where the guilt or innocence, and then potentially the life or death, of a Black man will be decided. Make no mistake, Lee’s portrait stands for the inhumanity of Black people. 

Our unwillingness to confront an ugly truth about Lee and our shared history reinforces the racism of the past through silent and tacit acceptance. When someone tries to skew the story of enslaving Black Americans, you can be certain they are not promoting truth and racial justice. Basically, some people need a history lesson to open their eyes. 

A primary example of such a dishonest treatment of our history occurred a year ago this month, when Ret. Gen. John Kelly appeared on the Fox News show, “The Ingraham Angle,” and tried to justify General Lee’s leading the fight for the Confederacy as something other than defending the right of white Americans to own Black people as property. Kelly said:

Robert E. Lee was an honorable man.  He was a man that gave up his country to fight for his state, which 150 years ago was more important than country…The lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War and men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had them make their stand. 

It sounds noble, even honorable. But it’s not. It is racist and false and the devilish idea it promotes is revealed in the details that put the lie to Kelly’s claims. And, ironically, the strongest rebuttals to Kelly’s claims about Gen. Lee’s motivations for fighting are the views expressed by the very people who were enslaving Black people at the time Lee made his decision.

If Lee gave up his country to follow his state, Virginia’s secession statement leaves no doubt about why the state was leaving the Union. According to the delegates at the Richmond Convention, the federal government had violated the Constitution, “not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern slaveholding States.”

The injury and oppression concerning Virginians was the loss or profit and property. W. E. B. Du Bois speaks from the past and again puts the truth to Kelly’s lie, saying:

People do not go to war for abstract theories of government. They fight for property and privilege and that was what Virginia fought for in the Civil War. And Lee followed Virginia. He followed Virginia not because he particularly loved slavery (although he certainly did not hate it), but because he did not have the moral courage to stand against his family and his clan.

Kelly’s claim that a failure to compromise led to civil war fails to address the question of who was failing to compromise and about what. Surely Kelly was not suggesting that Black people should have “compromised” and agreed to remain enslaved until freedom was more convenient for white people. And surely Kelly did not forget about the three-fifths compromise in the Constitution, the 1820 Missouri Compromise, the 1850 Missouri Compromise, and the Kansas Nebraska Act, which all demonstrated America’s willingness to compromise about enslaving people to keep the institution of slavery alive and well.   

John C. Calhoun — two-time Vice President, senator, and representative from South Carolina — knew the importance of enslaving Blacks and stated it clearly in 1837, almost 25 years before the Civil War. He said, “Abolition and the Union cannot co-exist. … We of the South will not, cannot, surrender our institutions. To maintain the existing relations between the two races … is indispensable to the peace and happiness of both.  It cannot be subverted without drenching the country in blood.”

Lee knew what he was fighting for.  Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens was clear in his Cornerstone speech: “Our new government is founded upon… the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.” And Confederate Army Lt. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, a founder or early member of the KKK simply said, “If we ain't fightin' to keep slavery, then what the hell are we fightin' for?”

Du Bois called Lee to task:

It is ridiculous to seek to excuse Robert Lee… Either he knew what slavery meant when he helped maim and murder thousands in its defense, or he did not. If he did not he was a fool. If he did, Robert Lee was a traitor and a rebel – not just to his country, but to humanity and humanity’s God.

There are places for a portrait of Confederate general and proponent of slavery Robert E. Lee to be displayed. A court of law where the guilt and then potentially the humanity of a Black man will be weighed, and where a decision about his living and dying will be made, is not one of them. The portrait must come down.

Date

Wednesday, October 17, 2018 - 9:00am

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A black and white portrait of Robert E. Lee on a horse

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