Mariah Blake

Mariah Blake

Senior Reporter

Mariah Blake is a senior reporter at Mother Jones. She has also written for The Atlantic, Foreign Policy, The Nation, The New Republic, The Washington Monthly, and The Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications. E-mail her at mblake [at] motherjones [dot] com or follow her on Twitter.

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Uganda's President Signs Extreme Law That Has Led to Calls to Kill, Burn, and Beat Gays

| Mon Feb. 24, 2014 2:42 PM EST

Brushing aside protests from Western leaders and human rights organizations, on Monday Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed the country's draconian anti-gay bill into law. The measure increases the penalty for homosexuality, which was already illegal, to life in prison in some cases. It also includes a raft of other harsh provisions, as Human Rights Watch explains:

The "attempt to commit homosexuality" incurs a penalty of seven years as does "aiding and abetting" homosexuality. A person who "keeps a house, room, set of rooms, or place of any kind for purposes of homosexuality" also faces seven years' imprisonment. Because the law also criminalizes the "promotion" of homosexuality, there are far-reaching implications beyond the increase in punishments for same-sex sexual conduct…Public health promotion and prevention efforts targeting "at risk" groups might have to be curtailed, and health educators and healthcare providers could also face criminal sanction under the same provision.

During the signing ceremony at his official residence outside the capital, Kampala, Museveni blamed the rise of gay culture in Uganda on "arrogant and careless Western groups that are fond of coming into our schools and recruiting young children into homosexuality and lesbianism" and claimed that some were doing so for "mercenary reasons—to get money—in effect homosexual prostitutes."

Gay rights activists say the climate for gays in Uganda has already deteriorated drastically since the bill passed the Ugandan parliament in December. According to Frank Mugisha, the executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, the nation's primary gay rights group, police are rounding up 30 to 40 suspected homosexuals each week. In some cases, simply being unmarried and spending time in the company of people of the same gender is enough to arouse police suspicion. Mugisha also says that the bill's passage has brought a surge in anti-gay vigilantism and that religious leaders in the suburbs surrounding Kampala have been calling for gays to be killed or burned over the public address systems. "The situation is extremely worrying," Mugisha says. "We are living in fear."

Maria Burnett, a senior Africa researcher for Human Rights Watch, believes Uganda may see more anti-gay violence now that the bill is officially law. "When political leaders stir up hate, it can look like a tacit approval of this kind of mob violence," she says. Burnett also stresses that the measure's passage is part of a "broader pattern of clawing back basic human rights, such as freedom of association and freedom of expression, in Uganda."

The White House sounded a similar note in a statement late Monday morning: "As President Obama has said, this law is more than an affront and a danger to the gay community in Uganda, it reflects poorly on the country's commitment to protecting the human rights of its people and will undermine public health, including efforts to fight HIV/AIDS. We will continue to urge the Ugandan government to repeal this abhorrent law and to advocate for the protection of the universal human rights of LGBT persons in Uganda and around the world."

For more on the roots of Uganda's anti-gay law, see Mac McClelland's "The Love that Dares."

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Read the Incredibly Moving Opinion From the Judge Who Just Struck Down Virginia's Gay-Marriage Ban

| Fri Feb. 14, 2014 4:39 AM EST

On Thursday night, a federal court in Virginia struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage. The ruling follows similar decisions in Oklahoma and Utah, but 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.

Read Wright Allen's entire opinion below:

 

Dr. Drew and Nancy Grace: Why Do You Keep Booking This White Supremacist?

| Thu Feb. 13, 2014 7:00 AM EST

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 HLN at 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…

New Jersey's Largest Paper on Christie Endorsement: "We Blew This One"

| Mon Feb. 10, 2014 11:55 AM EST
Christie speaks to reporters about superstorm Sandy recovery funds.

Last fall, New Jersey’s largest paper, the Newark Star-Ledger, endorsed Gov. Chris Christie for reelection. Parts of its admittedly reluctant endorsement read more like a takedown. For instance:

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.

Fri Apr. 25, 2014 1:42 PM EDT