In striking down DOMA, Supreme Court does the right thing


by John Zangas

SCOTUS did the right thing today when it struck down DOMA, finding it unconstitutional. The decision gives citizens like plaintiff Edith Windsor equal access under the law. After all, she is a tax-paying American and should have full the privileges and benefits which are bestowed on others.

Other countries such as France and Spain already recognize marriage rights for gays. There are 11 countries that recognize gay marriage. People will look back on it decades from now and wonder what took us so long for us Americans to change the law.

The SCOTUS decision in effect recognizes the LGBT community as a class. It is an evolutionary decision in the history of our country. Still, I find it strange that any Justice would dissent from the overall decision.

SCOTUS also punted on Prop 8–they found that the plaintiffs had “no standing” and declined to rule on the larger issue of gay marriage as a right. That means the right to marry has been restored in California, but other states don’t have to recognize gay marriages.

Every state should follow suit in allowing gay marriage, because it is the inevitable conclusion to a protracted struggle for gay rights. LGBT activists will be unable to retreat from the marriage issue, until this last momentous task is complete.

Fortunately, the mountain to climb to equal rights in marriage may not be as hard to ascend as it used to be. The Department of Defense, one of the most conservative power structures in our society, has already moved in the right direction by removing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) from its regulations, thus allowing gays to come out of hiding. They also recognize gay married couples for benefits, and most recently, endorsed open Pride festivities.

Overall, I see the Supreme Court’s decisions as a huge step forward for the LGBT community. I feel a sense of relief for all of my gay activist friends who fought for years for this decision. Now other branches of the government should finish the work of implementing the rights of everyone.

Gay or straight, a historic Supreme Court moment

On March 26 and 27, the Supreme Court hears arguments on cases banning same-sex marriage. The hearings have become a flashpoint for opposing social movements, whose members clashed outside the Court this morning in a highly charged atmosphere. John Zangas of DC Media Group live-tweeted the events.

View the story “Gay or straight, a historic Supreme Court moment” on Storify

The Modern Corporation: “Pirates Incorporated”

The Supreme Court heard important arguments today regarding what crimes corporations can and can’t be held liable for. In Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, Shell Oil is being sued for teaming up with the Nigerian military in perpetrating terrible human rights abuses against the Ogoni people–rape, torture and murder–all in the pursuit of massive resource extraction. And all at great cost to the environment.

The lawsuit will test a legal strategy which has been used by human rights advocates for the past several years, the Alien Tort Statute (ATS):

In Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum (Shell), the court will consider whether any lawsuits under the ATS can be brought against corporations, or for any abuses that happen in other countries.

Where do pirates come into the picture? The Alien Tort Statute is international law established centuries ago to govern the high seas. It’s been used to sue companies incorporated in the United States which commit or are complicit in egregious human rights abuses abroad.

Some lawsuits, such as the landmark Doe v. Unocal, have been successful in forcing corporations to settle, even after years of litigation. Now an ATS case has finally made its way to the Supreme Court, and it’s one of the biggest human rights cases in years.

We’ll see if one of the few legal tools to hold corporations accountable stands up when the court makes it ruling.