On Friday, hard-line anti-gay activists gathered at the National Press Club in Washington to announce the formation of a new organization to fight what they call the "global LGBT agenda." Known as the Coalition for Family Values, the group is the brainchild of two extreme anti-gay advocates: Scott Lively, a Massachusetts-based pastor who is running for governor of the Bay State, and Peter LaBarbera, the founder of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality. The coalition's aim is to spread Russian-style anti-gay legislation throughout the world. Lively kicked off the event by praising Russia’s "much needed leadership in restoring family values," and urged other countries to follow its "excellent example" by passing laws against gay-rights "propaganda" and banning adoption by gay parents. But the event did not go as planned.
About 20 minutes into the program, a young gay Russian man named SlavaRevin stood up and yelled, “Vladimir Putin is a dictator!” After that, the conference dissolved into chaos, with Revin and the speakers shouting over each other. "Stop killing us," cried a Lively supporter. "Stop killing speech. Stop killing freedom." Eventually, Lively launched into a diatribe about "homo-fascists," and Press Club staffers ushered Revin and another activist named Ellen Sturtz out of the room. Below is video of the exchange:
This kind of rhetoric is not unusual for Lively. The anti-gay crusader co-authored a book called The Pink Swastika, which argues that homosexuals were the driving force behind the Holocaust. In the United States, Lively's ideas haven't gotten much traction. But he has forged deep ties to religious and political leaders in Uganda and former Russian republics, where he has helped pave the way for anti-gay bills. Uganda's main gay-rights organization is suing him for crimes against humanity for allegedly fostering anti-gay sentiment and legislation in that country. (Last week, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda declared that he would sign a bill that makes homosexuality a crime punishable by life in prison.)
Through the Coalition for Family Values, Lively and LaBarbera intend to promote other types of legislation, including a bill to protect discrimination based on sexual orientation. (Lively casts it as a matter of religious freedom.) So far, they say, 75 pro-family organizations around the globe have signed on. Those listed in press materials are mostly obscure groups, but a few prominent social conservative outfits have joined, including Liberty Counsel Action and theAmerican Family Association. "Other nations, including the United States, could learn form Russia and stop the homosexualization of our nation," Diane Gramley, a representative of the AFA's Pennsylvania affiliate told the crowd at Friday's event. "It's time for the United States to stop using our children as lab rats to see how they react to homosexual propaganda."
Lively noted at the press conference that he considers most family-values crusaders too timid and said that he believes strong laws, such as the recently-passed Russian measure that criminalizes public support of same-sex relationships, are the only way to keep gay activists from "tearing down the fabric of society."
After the event, the crowd spilled out onto the sidewalk. Revin, the gay Russian activist, was standing in the rain, holding a rainbow banner, and reciting the speech he had intended to give inside. "Putin is corrupted thief who invents scapegoats and deflects attention from his crimes" he declared. "His latest invention is the anti-gay law, so gays in modern Russia feel like Jews back in the USSR." Then Sturtz handed Lively a miniature rainbow flag.
On Thursday night, a federal court in Virginia struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage. Although the ruling follows similar decisions in Oklahoma and Utah, it stands out for its celebratory tone and its stirring portrayal of marriage equality as a fundamental right. US District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen found that allowing same-sex marriage, like abolishing slavery and extending suffrage to women, was part of American’s ongoing expansion of constitutional rights to people who had been unjustly excluded. In her words, "We have arrived upon another moment in history when We the People becomes more inclusive, and our freedom more perfect."
Below is an excerpt from her opinion:
The plaintiffs [two same-sex couples] ask for nothing more than to exercise a right that is enjoyed by the vast majority of Virginia's adult citizens. They seek simply the same right that is currently enjoyed by heterosexual individuals: the right to make a public commitment to form an exclusive relationship and create a family with a partner with whom the person shares an intimate and sustaining emotional bond. This right is deeply rooted in the nation's history and implicit in the concept of ordered liberty because it protects an individual's ability to make deeply personal choices about love and family free from government interference.
Virginia's Marriage Laws impose a condition on this exercise. These laws limit the fundamental right to marry to only those Virginia citizens willing to choose a member of the opposite gender for a spouse. These laws interject profound government interference into one of the most personal choices a person makes…
Gay and lesbian individuals share the same capacity as heterosexual individuals to form, preserve and celebrate loving, intimate and lasting relationships. Such relationships are created through the exercise of sacred, personal choices—choices, like the choices made by every other citizen, that must be free from unwarranted government interference…
Ultimately, this is consistent with our nation's traditions of freedom. [According to United States v. Virginia:] "The history of our Constitution is the story of the extension of constitutional rights and protections to people once ignored or excluded." Our nation's uneven but dogged journey toward truer and more meaningful freedoms for our citizens has brought us continually to a deeper understanding of the first three words in our Constitution: We the people. "We the People" have become a broader, more diverse family than once imagined.
Justice has often been forged from fires of indignities and prejudices suffered. Our triumphs that celebrate the freedom of choice are hallowed. We have arrived upon another moment in history when We the People becomes more inclusive, and our freedom more perfect….
Almost one hundred and fifty four years ago, as Abraham Lincoln approached the cataclysmic rending of our nation over a struggle for other freedoms, a rending that would take his life and the lives of hundreds of thousands of others, he wrote these words: "It can not have failed to strike you that these men ask for just. . . the same thing—fairness, and fairness only. This, so far as in my power, they, and all others, shall have. "
The men and women, and the children too, whose voices join in noble harmony with Plaintiffs today, also ask for fairness, and fairness only. This, so far as it is in this Court's power, they and all others shall have.
Wright Allen, whose ruling is stayed pending appeal, also addressed arguments from Virginia officials that gay marriage broke with tradition. "Tradition is revered in the Commonwealth, and often rightly so," she wrote. "However, tradition alone cannot justify denying same-sex couples the right to marry any more than it could justify Virginia's ban on interracial marriage."
The Virginia case now joins the Oklahoma and Utah cases in the race to the Supreme Court, which may have the final word on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans.
During George Zimmerman's trial for the alleged murder of Trayvon Martin, the media relied mostly on one man for pro-Zimmerman commentary: his friend and fellow neighborhood watch volunteer, Frank Taaffe. It has since come to light that Taaffe is an ex-con and fervent white supremacist who believes that whites and blacks have no business mingling and claims that"the only time a black life is validated is when a white person kills them." He also hosts a white-power podcast. On one episode last fall he argued that all women who married black men would probably meet the same fate as Nicole Brown Simpson. ("I always say, you lie down with dogs you're going to get fleas—especially if they're black dogs.")
Nevertheless, the cable news networks have continued to give Taaffe airtime. Most recently, CNN's sister network, HLN, has been tapping him for commentary on the case of Michael Dunn, who, like Zimmerman, stands accused of murdering a black teenager in Florida. In the last few days, Taaffe has appeared on HLNat least six times, and he says on his Facebook page that he's slated to make nightly appearances on two HLN shows, Nancy Grace and Dr. Crew on Call, for the remainder of the week.
Taaffe's task is defending Dunn, who shot 17-year-old Jordan Davis outside of a Jacksonville gas station after arguing with the teen and his friends over loud music. Dunn claims he saw Davis holding what looked like a shotgun and that he fired at the boys in self-defense, but witnesses maintain that Davis was unarmed. On air, Taaffe has argued that the killing was justified, even if Davis wasn't pointing a firearm, because young black men are prone to violence. Here's a snippet from his exchange with an African American guest on Dr. Drew on Call last week:
You talk about the white man being the devil—well, here's a fact…According to the FBI, and the US Department of Justice, African Americans make up 12 percent of the population, yet they commit the most disproportionate amount of violent crimes. Over 60 percent of the murders were convicted by African Americans. And 32 percent were under the age of 18. So, when Michael Dunn pulled into that gas station, you know, you wonder why we have these premonitions…
The property tax burden has grown sharply on his watch. He is hostile to low-income families, raising their tax burden and sabotaging efforts to build affordable housing. He’s been a catastrophe on the environment….The governor’s claim to have fixed the state’s budget is fraudulent. New Jersey’s credit rating has dropped during his term, reflecting Wall Street’s judgment that he has dug the hole even deeper.
The peculiar statement left many people scratching their heads (including Rachel Maddow, who mocked it at length on her MSNBC show). Why, they wondered, would the paper endorse a candidate it held in such low esteem? Now, following the Christie administration's George Washington Bridge scandal and other damning accusations, the paper is backing away from its choice. Editorial page editor Tom Moran and the editorial board admitted in Sunday's Star-Ledger that they made a mistake by endorsing Christie. In their words:
An endorsement is not a love embrace. It is a choice between two flawed human beings. And the winner is often the less bad option.
But yes, we blew this one…We knew Christie was a bully. But we didn’t know his crew was crazy enough to put people’s lives at risk in Fort Lee as a means to pressure the mayor. We didn’t know he would use Hurricane Sandy aid as a political slush fund. And we certainly didn’t know that Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer was sitting on a credible charge of extortion by Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno.
Interestingly, despite his flaws, the authors won't rule out endorsing him again one day.
Last election season, a shadowy nonprofit pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into a campaign to change how electoral votes are counted. The group didn't disclose who was funding its efforts—a fact that Mother Jones highlighted in a story titled "Who's Paying for the GOP's Plan to Hijack the 2012 Election?" But now, thanks to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a nonpartisan government watchdog, it's clear that organizations with ties to billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch footed at least some of the bill.
Each state and the District of Columbia has a certain number of electoral votes, based on their population, and they get to decide for themselves how those votes should be allotted. Currently, every state except Maine and Nebraska gives all of their electoral votes to the candidate who wins the statewide popular vote. But in 2011, GOP lawmakers in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin introduced bills that would divide electoral votes among candidates based on how many congressional districts they won. Because Republicans drew the boundaries of the districts in those states, this scheme would be almost certain to hand Republican presidential candidates the majority of their electoral votes—even if more voters cast ballots for Democrats. (Read more about how the plan would work here.) Presuming the race is close enough, this could decide the nationwide outcome.
In the case of Pennsylvania, a mysterious nonprofit called All Votes Matter spent large sums lobbying for these changes. Local officials wondered about its funding sources. "They raised an awful lot of money very quickly—$300,000 in just a few days," Democratic Pennsylvania state Sen. Daylin Leach told Mother Jones at the time. "We're all curious where that level of funding comes from." But All Votes Matter didn't disclose its donors, nor did it have to. The group is organized as a 501(c)4 "social welfare" nonprofit, which means that it can spend money on politics while keeping its donors secret. (Such groups are not supposed to spend more than half of their budget on political causes, but IRS enforcement is slack.) Thus the public knew little about the agendas behind this effort to upend the mechanics of presidential elections.