27 February 2014

State Department releases annual human rights reports; now needs to walk the talk

Today, the U.S. State Department released its annual country-by-country reports on human rights practices around the world.

Five themes were highlighted as particularly noteworthy:

• Increased crackdowns on civil society and the freedoms of association and assembly

• Restrictions on freedom of speech and press freedom

• Accountability deficits for security forces abuses

• Lack of effective labor rights protections

• The continued marginalization of vulnerable groups

It's good to see these issues exposed in detail by our government.

In some cases, however, seeing the U.S. judge other countries' human rights abuses looks somewhat like the proverbial pot calling the kettle black. (Consider, for example, our own ongoing history of extrajudicial killings.) And there is no section for the U.S. itself.

The reports show that the State Department can talk the talk. Now it needs to make an extra effort to walk the walk.

>> Browse the reports.

Yesterday was a bad day for homophobes

Yesterday, a federal judge ruled that Texas's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. This comes on the heels of a similar ruling earlier this month in Virginia.

Then, a few hours later, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed SB 1062, a highly controversial bill that would have legalized discrimination under the umbrella of "religious liberty". If this bill had become law, anyone could refuse service to any other individual(s) simply by citing religious sensitivities. And the LGBT community was widely considered to be a primary target.

While I'm generally not a big fan of Governor Brewer, I applaud her decision in this case, even though it was probably influenced by pressure from the Chamber of Commerce and other third-party groups who were concerned with the potential economic hit that the state could take if the bill became law.

The fact is that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is meant to ensure the separation of church and state. SB 1062, if enacted, would have violated that clause, in my opinion. And it would have taken much too long for the whole thing to be overturned by the courts.

So thank you, Governor Brewer, for standing up to the homophobes in Arizona.

And thank you, District Judge Orlando Garcia, for your Texas ruling in favor of love over bigotry.

26 February 2014

Texas same-sex marriage ban ruled unconstitutional; appeal pending

In another step forward for equality and fairness, a federal judge ruled today that Texas's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. This comes on the heels of a similar ruling earlier this month in Virginia.

However, as in the Virginia case, the same judge stayed the decision pending a likely appeal, meaning that same-sex marriages will not begin any time soon.

Still, it's nice to see that the momentum continues, and is spreading even to red states like Texas.

Stay tuned for updates, with fingers crossed for equality. Love between two adults should be encouraged and celebrated, not forbidden by bigotry.

24 February 2014

Ugandan president signs "Jail the Gays" bill

Bad news from Uganda: Amnesty International reports that President Museveni has signed the infamous "Jail the Gays" bill into law. Under this draconian law, homosexual behavior could carry a penalty of life in prison.

Michelle Kagari, Amnesty's Africa Deputy Director, issued the following statement about this shameful development:

"This deeply offensive piece of legislation is an affront to the human rights of all Ugandans and should never have got this far.

"This legislation will institutionalize hatred and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people in Uganda. Its passage into law signals a very grave episode in the nation's history.

"The Anti-Homosexuality Bill will further criminalize consensual sexual activity between adults of the same sex, with some offences carrying life imprisonment. It also includes offences such as 'promotion of homosexuality', which will directly impact human rights defenders and healthcare providers. It makes a mockery of the rights enshrined in the Ugandan constitution."

Stay tuned for news on how we can fight this injustice.

20 February 2014

Urgent petition: Stop Uganda's 'Jail the Gays' bill

Last month, I reported that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni planned to veto a draconian anti-gay law under which homosexual behavior would carry a penalty of life in prison.

Now, however, he appears to have changed his mind, and plans to sign the bill tomorrow.

Accordingly, the group All Out is collecting signatures on a petition in a last-minute attempt to pressure Museveni and Ugandan politicians to "stop the bill from becoming law, prevent it from being used, and protect all Ugandans from violence, arrests, and discrimination." And more.

>> Please take a stand for human rights and sign the petition here.

17 February 2014

10 years ago today, Texas executed an innocent man

February 17, 2014, marks the 10th anniversary of the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham by the state of Texas.

Given the fact that Texas is known as the execution capital of the country, another execution anniversary would normally come as no surprise. But what sets Willingham's situation apart is that he was likely innocent of the crime for which he was sentenced to death.

Willingham had been convicted of an alleged arson that claimed the lives of his three daughters in 1991. However, a later forensic review of the case led to the conclusion that "a finding of arson could not be sustained." In other words, the fire for which Willingham was executed was probably just an accident. David Grann wrote an excellent in-depth article about the case for the New Yorker, which can be found online here.

Willingham's case is not the only one in which an innocent person was likely put to death. There is evidence of at least a few more.

In addition, according to the Amnesty International, "over 130 people have been released from death rows throughout the country due to evidence of their wrongful convictions. In 2003 alone, 10 wrongfully convicted defendants were released from death row."

I cannot think of a better argument against the use of capital punishment. Death is permanent, and you cannot resurrect an executed individual if you later discover that you killed the wrong person. Would you want to be the juror or the executioner who made it happen?

Given the fallibility of the criminal justice system, the continued use of the death penalty is reckless and irresponsible. We as a nation should be above this kind of thing.

14 February 2014

Virginia's same-sex marriage ban ruled unconstitutional; appeal pending

In another step forward for equality and fairness, a federal judge ruled last night that Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

However, according to the Washington Post, the same judge "stayed her decision pending appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond, meaning same-sex marriages will be not be immediately available in the commonwealth."

Stay tuned for updates.

04 February 2014

Marriage equality goes to court in Virginia

A tourism slogan says: "Virginia is for lovers."

But is it really?

Today, a hearing was held in the Federal District Court of Eastern Virginia in a case of two couples who are challenging Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage.

The plaintiffs were represented by Ted Olson and David Boies, who had successfully argued against California's Proposition 8.

At the end of the hearing, Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen told the court: "You'll be hearing from me soon."

Stay tuned, with fingers crossed in hopes that she rules in favor of equality, not discrimination.

A victory would mean that the tourism slogan will finally speak to everyone.