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

Featured image

Show featured video/image

Hide banner image

Hide sidebar

Tweet Text

[node:title]

Related issues

Equality & Sex Discrimination LGBT Rights

Show related content

Author:
acluva

Menu parent dynamic listing

2417
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

Show featured video/image

Hide banner image

Hide sidebar

Tweet Text

[node:title]

Related issues

Equality & Sex Discrimination Privacy & Technology Reproductive Freedom Women’s Rights

Show related content

Author:
acluva

Menu parent dynamic listing

2417

Lawmakers, opinion leaders, and some in the media have characterized several proposals making their way through the Virginia legislature this year as welcome “criminal justice reform.” They are anything but.

First, there’s the proposal to make teen sexting a criminal misdemeanor (SB 607). Right now, some say, local prosecutors have no choice but to charge a teen who sends a sexually revealing selfie to a friend with a felony: possession and dissemination of child pornography.

The bill’s advocates say it would be a good idea if these teens could be charged with a misdemeanor instead. The truth is prosecutors already have absolute discretion not to charge a teen sexter with a felony or any crime at all. They can recognize, as most parents do, that stupid teen behavior should be dealt with at home and in schools, not in jails. Bottom line, teen sexting (which studies suggest is something up to 40 percent of teens do) shouldn’t be a crime at all. If SB 607 is approved, however, prosecutors will be encouraged to charge teens with a crime because of the availability of a lesser charge. This may seem harmless against the specter of slapping life-altering felonies on teens, but the reality is — misdemeanor or felony — introducing a teen to the criminal justice system is never a good thing.

And then there’s the so-called marijuana “decriminalization” or expungement bill passed overwhelmingly by the Senate (SB 954). The bill doesn’t decriminalize marijuana possession, and it doesn’t really allow a record to be expunged. Marijuana possession would still be crime subject to a $500 criminal fine although not subject to jail time. Those convicted can still have the charge deferred if they agree to conditions that include drug testing and treatment for which they have to foot the bill. What’s new is that, for another fee of $300, first-time offenders would be allowed to ask for that conviction to be stricken from their record. Except it isn’t really stricken, it’s just entered in a new database that can be called up and the charge used against them in later criminal proceedings or in the “administration of criminal justice.”

As long as it is a crime to possess marijuana, people will be arrested and charged, incurring the court costs, fines, and fees. Enforcement of outdated, racially targeted, ineffective, expensive marijuana laws needlessly exposes thousands of people to the legal system, and costs all of us taxpayers tens of millions of dollars each year. Only by making simple possession of marijuana legal can Virginia put an end to disparate enforcement against people of color and reduce the costs imposed on all of us.

Finally, there’s the so-called bipartisan compromise on raising the felony larceny threshold.

This session, with momentum on the issue gaining, more bills than you could count on both hands were introduced to increase the threshold, with new levels proposed between $500 and $1,500.

Seeing the writing on the wall, Republican House Speaker Kirk Cox and Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam came to an agreement. The House Republicans would support an increase to just $500 ifthe governor would agree to an entirely unrelated demand that Virginia make payment of restitution a term of probation and nonpayment the possible basis for modification of the terms of that probation or for a contempt charge carrying up to 60 days in jail.

What makes this a bad deal? Is it that the proposed system would impose additional scrutiny and possible jail time on those who simply cannot pay? Is it that there is nothing stopping the collection of restitution now through ordinary civil process? Is it that connecting restitution to probation and turning probation officers whose job is to help keep us safe into debt collectors is a really dumb idea? Is it that this simply is too high a price to pay in exchange for a paltry increase in the felony larceny threshold that doesn’t even keep pace with inflation?

These so-called “criminal justice reform” proposals are regressive and cannot fairly be called “reforms.” All raise serious racial justice and women’s rights issues, given the disproportionate application of the criminal law. All create an appearance of progress where none actually exists.

 

 

Date

Monday, February 19, 2018 - 1:45pm

Featured image

A picture of a weed nugget

Show featured video/image

Hide banner image

Hide sidebar

Tweet Text

[node:title]

Related issues

Criminal Justice

Show related content

Author:
Claire G. Gastañaga

Menu parent dynamic listing

2417

Pages

Stay informed

ACLU of Virginia is part of a network of affiliates

Learn more about ACLU National
Subscribe to ACLU of Virginia RSS