Thursday, April 24, 2014

NAACP Legal Defense Fund Files Brief In Favor Of Marriage Equality In Virginia Case

The briefs are starting to come in support of the plaintiffs in the Virginia marriage equality case Bostic v. Schaefer (previously Bostic v. Rainey) which will be heard before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals next month. In a rare example of the NAACP and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fun (LDF) working together, the two have filed a joint brief in favor of marriage equality.

The groups call for marriage equality for lesbians and gay men by invoking the principles set forth in the Supreme Court's iconic 1967 decision in Loving v. Virginia,which struck down laws that prohibited marriage for interracial couples.
"More than fifty years ago, the Supreme Court unequivocally established the right of every individual to marry the person she or he chooses," said Ria Tabacco Mar, Assistant Counsel in the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's Economic Justice Group. "It's long past time to strike down laws that deprive lesbians and gay men of their constitutional rights," Ms. Tabacco Mar added. 
In the brief, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the NAACP make clear that Lovingwas not restricted to race: the freedom to marry has long been recognized as a fundamental right "essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness."

"Marriage is a civil right under state law," stated Kim M. Keenan, NAACP General Counsel. “In furtherance of our legacy of advocacy in Loving v. Virginia, we are proud to stand with the NAACP LDF to ensure that every person is treated the same and benefits the same under law."  The NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the NAACP argue that marriage discrimination violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Furthermore, the same baseless and offensive accusations proffered by the proponents of Virginia’s marriage ban -- that prohibitions on marriage equality are necessary to protect children -- were also invoked by Virginia in 1967 in defense of its anti-miscegenation law.
The Virginia case is the one that has the involvement of Ted Olson and David Boies, who filed the federal suit that led to the demise of Proposition 8.

In other Virginia news, the senior U.S. Senator from Virginia has today published a joint editorial with his Harvard Law School classmate Evan Wolfson arguing why Virginia's ban on marriage equality needs to go.
When Thomas Jefferson wrote the words "all men are created equal" in the Declaration of Independence, he put in place a moral standard that will always challenge us to be better people. 
Our founders passionately believed in equality, but most saw no contradiction between that belief and slavery. It took 90 years and a civil war to correct that injustice.
The post-Civil War Congress that changed the Constitution to abolish slavery passionately believed in equality, but most saw no contradiction in women's inability to vote. It took nearly 70 years to remedy that injustice. 
Today, Virginians and Americans are advancing Jefferson's equality principle by re-thinking laws that limit the freedom to marry. 
The two of us first became friends in law school more than 30 years ago. Our career and personal paths have taken different directions. But we share a commitment to making people's lives better, their dreams more attainable and their families stronger. 
And we share a commitment to Jefferson's farsighted ideal. That's why we look forward to the day when all loving couples, regardless of sexual orientation, can marry. 
In recent months, 11 out of 11 federal judges have ruled against marriage discrimination. 
In February, a federal judge in Norfolk was one of them.

I think lots of people think the Virginia case is the one that the Supreme Court is going to use to decide the question of whether state bans on same-sex marriage violate the U.S. constitution.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

GODLESS WEDNESDAY: Poll Says Religion Trumps Science For Most Americans

Ugh, chalk up another reason why I am a godless heathen: I believe in science, not mysticism. These results from a recent AP poll on the science literacy of Americans is simply embarrassing:

To the public "most often values and beliefs trump science" when they conflict, said Alan Leshner, chief executive of the world's largest scientific society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Political values were closely tied to views on science in the poll, with Democrats more apt than Republicans to express confidence in evolution, the Big Bang, the age of the Earth and climate change. 
Religious values are similarly important. 
Confidence in evolution, the Big Bang, the age of the Earth and climate change decline sharply as faith in a supreme being rises, according to the poll. Likewise, those who regularly attend religious services or are evangelical Christians express much greater doubts about scientific concepts they may see as contradictory to their faith. 
"When you are putting up facts against faith, facts can't argue against faith," said 2012 Nobel Prize winning biochemistry professor Robert Lefkowitz of Duke University. "It makes sense now that science would have made no headway because faith is untestable."
The key phrase in that excerpt for me is "Confidence in evolution, the Big Bang, the age of the Earth and climate change decline sharply as faith in a supreme being rises." That is basically all I need to know to put my faith in a supreme being at zero.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

SCOTUS Upholds Michigan's Affirmative Action Ban 6-2, Sotomayor Vociferously Dissents

On Tuesday, the United States Supreme Court issued a curious 6-2 ruling upholding the constitutionality of a Michigan ballot measure which precludes the use of "race-based preferences" in public education. The majority opinion by Anthony Kennedy went out of its way to say that it was not ruling on the constitutionality of race-based affirmative action policies but on whether voters had the power to ban affirmative action policies.

New York Times reports:
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s controlling opinion for three justices took pains to say that the decision was a modest one. 
“This case is not about how the debate about racial preferences should be resolved,” he wrote, in an opinion joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. “It is about who may resolve it. There is no authority in the Constitution of the United States or in this court’s precedents for the judiciary to set aside Michigan laws that commit this policy determination to the voters.” 
His announcement of the decision from the bench was businesslike. Then Justice Sotomayor summarized her dissent, an unusual move signaling deep displeasure. She said the initiative put minorities to a burden not faced by other college applicants and so violated the Constitution’s equal protection clause. 
“The Constitution does not protect racial minorities from political defeat,” she wrote. “But neither does it give the majority free rein to erect selective barriers against racial minorities.” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined the dissent. Justice Sotomayor seemed to mock one of Chief Justice Roberts’s most memorable lines. In a 2007 decision that limited the use of race in public school systems, he wrote, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” 
Justice Sotomayor recast the line. “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race,” she wrote, “is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race, and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination.”
The result is significant for California, because the Golden State is one of 7 where voters have passed ballot measures banning affirmative action based on race (or gender) in public education. California's measure is called Proposition 209 and an attempt to place a repeal on the November 2014 ballot was abandoned earlier this year after Asian constituents expressed their displeasure with the idea of allowing UCLA and UC Berkeley to be allowed to take race into account when deciding who gets admitted to California's top state universities.

This is not surprising, because figures that came out this week show that Asians are a plurality (36.2%) of all admitted students from California to the University of California, with Latinos (28.8%) surpassing Whites (26.8) for the first time this year. Black students made up a paltry 4.2% of the total number of admitted California students.

SCOTUS blog reports on how strongly Justice Sonia Sotomayor attempted to convince her colleagues that what they were doing in allowing the majority to ban policies intended to help minorities was wrong:
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who recited orally from the bench a lengthy version of her dissenting opinion, said the ruling would make it much harder for racial minorities to defend affirmative action programs.  What had happened in Michigan, she protested, was “the last chapter of discrimination” — changing “the basic rules of the political process in that state in a manner that uniquely disadvantaged racial minorities.” 
The Sotomayor opinion, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, ran to fifty-eight pages – surpassing by more than three times the length of the lead opinion by Justice Kennedy and even exceeding the forty-four pages that all of her colleagues had written.
Viva Sonia!

India High Court To Reconsider Controversial Sodomy Ruling

Good news! The High Court of India has announced that a 5-member panel will consider its problematic December 2013 ruling that upheld India's ban on sodomy, criminalizing the sexual behavior of literally more than a hundred million people in the world's most populous democracy. The original ruling included some shockingly homophobic language, and unfortunately the two judges that signed that decision will be participating in the re-hearing.

Buzzfeed reports:
This is LGBTI rights advocates last chance to toss out the decision, which was a harsh blow after a 12-year litigation process. In January, a two-judge panel (which included one of the judges who issued the original ruling) rejected their first attempt to have the case reconsidered, what is known as a review petition. The current motion, known as a curative petition, still faces long odds, because the five-judge panel that will consider it includes the two judges who rejected the review petition. The other judges on the panel will be the three most senior judges on the court.
But the lawyers in this case got a major boost last week when a different two-judge Supreme Court panel issued a sweeping verdict recognizing broad rights for transgender people. Though the judges in the transgender rights case were careful to explicitly say they were not offering an opinion on the 377 case, their ruling reads almost like a point-by-point rebuttal to the ruling.
Recently the India High Court declared that transgender identity is a protected category.

Monday, April 21, 2014

2014 HUGO AWARDS: The Nominations Are Announced

The nominations for the Hugo awards are out, and just like at the Nebula awards, Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice has been nominated for Best Novel.
  • Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (Orbit US / Orbit UK)
  • Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross (Ace / Orbit UK)
  • Parasite by Mira Grant (Orbit US / Orbit UK)
  • Warbound, Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles by Larry Correia (Baen Books)
  • The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (Tor Books)
I would be shocked if anything other than The Wheel of Time wins the Hugo award, since because of a quirk of the rules, if any member of a series is nominated, it is the series under consideration, not the book. The final (and 14th) Wheel of Time book A Memory of Light was published last year, with Brandon Sanderson taking over for Robert Jordan with the results an unqualified success. Sanderson has published his own highly acclaimed fantasy series, called the Mistborn series as well another called the Stormlight Archive series.

However, Ancillary Justice's appearance here makes it more likely I will buy the book and read it. It is already on my Amazon wishlist but I am trying to decide between the paperback and the Kindle version. Just because a book is nominated for a Hugo and a Nebula does not mean that I will like it.
After all, Jo Walton's Among Others won the Hugo and the Nebula and I still have not been able to get myself to read it, even for free from the library!

EYE CANDY: Sesamir Yearby (again)

Sesamir Yearby is a handsome Black model who has appeared as Eye Candy once before (March 10, 2014). He is 31-years-old, 6-foot-2-inch and 204-pounds.

Hat/tip to Funky Dineva

Sunday, April 20, 2014

QUEER QUOTE: Charles Cooper, Leading Anti-Gay Lawyer Has A Lesbian Daughter

Charles Cooper is one of the most famous and longest-serving opponents to same-sex marriage in the country. He is something like the "anti-Evan Wolfson." He represented Hawaii in the first major case where a state supreme court ruled that traditional marriage laws were discriminatory way back in 1993 and has been active in very many of the legal skirmishes around marriage equality ever since.

He is infamous for responding to U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker's question of how exactly marriage is only for procreative purposes in the Proposition 8 trial in 2010 Cooper responded: "Your Honor, my answer is I don't know. I don't know." Cooper defended California's ban on same-sex marriage all the way to the United States Supreme Court, eventually losing in Hollingsworth v. Perry.

This week came word that even this venerable opponent of marriage equality is coming around to the side of equality and justice, atleast for members of his family. Apparently his daughter is a lesbian and she is going to be marrying her female partner soon and Cooper is delighted.

This rapprochement is today's Queer Quote:

“My daughter Ashley’s path in life has led her to happiness with a lovely young woman named Casey, and our family and Casey’s family are looking forward to celebrating their marriage in just a few weeks."
And so it goes, my gentle readers, and so it goes.

2014 MONTE CARLO: Wawrinka Beats Federer in 3 Sets To Win 1st Masters Title

World #3 Stanislas Wawrinka confirmed his ascendancy into the elite of men's tennis by defeating Roger Federer 4-6 7-6(5) 6-2 in the finals of the 2014 ATP Monte Carlo Masters, becoming the first player on the ATP Tour to win 3 titles this year (Chennai and Melbourne). It was Wawrinka's 1st Masters 1000 title in 3 finals, and more importantly, his 2nd win in 15 meetings against Federer, both of which have occurred in Monte Carlo. To put this win in perspective, Wawrinka has only won 7 ATP tour titles (and is 7-9 in finals overall). Federer has won 78 (and is now 78-39 in tour finals).

Because he won (somewhat surprisingly, but Wawrinka has been surprising everyone all year) Wawrinka will retain the World #3 ranking and is actually at #1 in the ATP Emirates race to London at this moment. In other words, if he maintains this level of play all year long, he could become #1 at the end of the year. He is 6-0 against fellow Top 10 opponents this year, and 17-3 in matches played for the year.

Federer has now lost in the final of Monte Carlo four times (2006-2008 to Rafael Nadal) and has yet to win this title. He will remain at World #4 and leads the tour in number of match wins in 2004 (24-5 record).

Federer started well breaking serve in the 5th game and managing to nurse the break to a 6-4 first set win. In the second set he was broken in his first service game but broke back and held serve until a tiebreak. He fell behind 1-4 in the tiebreak and 3-6 but saved two set points before losing the tiebreaker 7-5. The third set was a disaster for Federer as his level dropped and Wawrinka's went up, going up 4-0 and 5-1 before closing out the third set 6-2. The stats tell the story.

The next big clay court Master's title is in Madrid, starting next weekend.

MAP: Spread of Marriage Equality, 2000-2014

Here's a cool map showing the spread of marriage equality since 2000. In 2000, there was only one state that had significant statewide recognition of same-sex relationships; Vermont, with civil unions. In 2014, there are 17 states with full marriage equality and another 5 whose bans have been struck down by federal judges.

Hat/tip to Mother Jones

Saturday, April 19, 2014

2014 MONTE CARLO: Federer Beats Injured Djokovic, Joins Wawrinka In Final

Roger Federer won his 34th meeting with Novak Djokovic 7-5 6-2 in the semifinals of the Monte Carlo Masters tournament, to reach the final of this tournament for the 4th time in his career. Djokovic was clearly hampered by his wrist injury and has said he will not be playing tennis for awhile:“How long, I don’t know. It’s really not in my hands anymore. I’m going to rest and see when it can heal 100 percent, then I will be back on the court."

Federer ended Djokovic's 15-match winning streak by defeating the defending Monte Carlo champion. Djokovic had two consecutive set points at 4-5 in the first set but after losing those chances the Serb never had another chance in the match again. Federer has never won this ATP Masters shield because Nadal defeated him in three consecutive finals from 2006-2008. However, Nadal suffered a shock defeat at the hands of David Ferrer in the quarterfinals. Stanislas Wawrinka destroyed Ferrer in the semifinal 6-1 7-6(3) and looks sharp.

Wawrinka is actually higher ranked than Federer right now, but he is 1-13 lifetime against his Swiss compatriot, with his sole winning result coming in Monte Carlo in 2009. Whomever wins their 15th match on Sunday will become the new World #3 and Swiss #1.

MadProfessah's prediction: Federer (in 3 sets)

SATURDAY POLITICS: New York Joins NPV Movement To Bypass Electoral College

Big news in the world of electoral politics. If you hate the idea of swing states and the idea that some state's matter more in deciding the presidency, you should like the idea of the National Popular Vote. I endorsed this idea nearly 3 years ago when California signed on in 2011.

From the website's explanation:
Under the U.S. Constitution, the states have exclusive and plenary (complete) power to allocate their electoral votes, and may change their state laws concerning the awarding of their electoral votes at any time. Under the National Popular Vote bill, all of the state's electoral votes would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes—that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538).
The big news this week was that New York has joined the compact, which means that there are now 12 states with 165 electoral votes (61% of the way to 270) that have agreed to vote with whomever wins the national popular vote.

The New Yorker reports:
On Tuesday, the State of New York took a baby step—or maybe a giant leap!—toward making the United States of America something more closely resembling a modern democracy: Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill joining up the Empire State to the National Popular Vote (N.P.V.) interstate compact. 
As I’ve explained many times (fifty-one, to be exact), N.P.V. is a way to elect our Presidents the way we elect our governors, our mayors, our senators and representatives, our state legislators, and everybody else: by totting up the voters’ votes—all of them—and awarding the job to whichever candidate gets the largest number. And it does this without changing a word of the Constitution. 
Impossible, you say? No. Quite possible—even probable—and in time for 2020, if not for 2016. 
Here’s how it works: Suppose you could get a bunch of states to pledge that once there are enough of them to possess at least two hundred and seventy electoral votes—a majority of the Electoral College—they will thenceforth cast all their electoral votes for whatever candidate gets the most popular votes in the entire country. As soon as that happens, presto change-o: the next time you go to the polls, you’ll be voting in a true national election. No more ten or so battleground states, no more forty or so spectator states, just the United States—all of them, and all of the voters who live in them.
The electoral college is an abomination of the idea that each person's vote should count equally to the result of the election. The sooner it is gone, the better for democracy.

Friday, April 18, 2014

CA AIDS Service Organizations Applaud Easier Access To Truvada For HIV Prevention With HIV-Negative Gay Men

For Immediate Release

Friday, April 18, 2014

Phil Curtis

Gil Diaz

Anne Donnelly

California Improves Access to HIV Prevention Pill
Important new tool in fighting AIDS, Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)
may be up to 99% effective in preventing new infections

Three leading California AIDS organizations -- AIDS Project Los Angeles, the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center and Project Inform in San Francisco -- today applauded California’s Medi-Cal program for easing access to a well-established AIDS medication that has been proven to prevent HIV infection in at risk individuals.

The action lifts a requirement that doctors complete an authorization request when prescribing PrEP for HIV negative individuals.  PrEP is the brand drug Truvada, an AIDS drug manufactured by Gilead Sciences in Foster City, CA.  The action is effective immediately and will be published in Medi-Cal’s June Provider Bulletin.

Many in the HIV/AIDS community consider PrEP a groundbreaking HIV prevention tool.  The authorization request is considered an obstacle for both doctors and patients. With Medi-Cal’s action, doctors will now be able to prescribe the drug for men and women who test HIV negative and indicate that they are “at risk” of infection through HIV exposure.

“The Medi-Cal ruling is a game changer in HIV prevention,” said AIDS Project Los Angeles Executive Director Craig E. Thompson. “Appropriate access to PrEP through Medi-Cal provides us with another intervention – along with safer sex and condom use – to reduce the number of new HIV infections.”

“Medi-Cal’s action also brings an element of health equity to the program’s low-income beneficiaries,” Thompson said. “Private insurance plans have been covering PrEP for some time, often without prior authorization.”

"Project Inform and other organizations working directly with people at risk of acquiring HIV have conjectured that the slow uptake of PrEP may be more attributable to clinicians' reluctance to provide sexual health services of this type than to patients' lack of knowledge of PrEP or willingness to take it,” said Project Inform’s Executive Director Dana Van Gorder. “Lifting the TAR removes a potential obstacle that may have contributed to providers’ reluctance to prescribe PrEP."

Research modeling shows Truvada may be up to 99 percent effective in preventing new infections, depending on adherence and whether the drug is used in conjunction with safer sex counseling, provision of condoms and other prevention services.

“By making it easier for people at-risk of HIV infection to get access to medicine that has been proven to prevent HIV infection, California has set an important precedent for the rest of the nation,” said L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center Chief of Staff Darrel Cummings. “This collaboration between Medi-Cal and community advocates will move California closer to the comprehensive response that is needed to help end the HIV epidemic.”

The policy change resulted from discussions with Medi-Cal’s Pharmacy Policy Branch Chief, Mike Wofford, his staff and representatives from APLA, the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center and Project Inform. The discussions focused on provider knowledge of PrEP, possible side effects associated with long-term use of Truvada, and community acceptance of the intervention.

Previously, Medi-Cal patients asking for Truvada could have been asked to meet several conditions outlined in the TAR for “high risk” individuals. Some of these conditions could have required the provision of condoms and monthly HIV testing – not necessarily real world conditions.

“There is a reason the AIDS community is talking about ending the epidemic,” Thompson said.  “We have three successful medical interventions to reduce new infections, including PrEP. What we need now is broad community and provider education on these interventions to increase acceptance and utilization.”

The three interventions include: PrEP for at risk HIV negative individuals, post-exposure prophylaxis or PEP for people who know or suspect they have been exposed to HIV, and HIV anti-retroviral treatment as prevention (TasP) for those living with HIV (HIV/AIDS drugs can bring viral load -- the amount of virus in the body -- down to undetectable levels in people who are HIV positive, reducing the likelihood that they will be able to transmit the virus to sexual partners).

# # #

2014 MONTE CARLO: Ferrer Hands Nadal A Rare Clay Defeat!

David Ferrer scored a stunning upset at the ATP Monte Carlo Masters today when he beat 8-time champion Rafael Nadal in straight sets 7-6(1) 6-4 in the quarterfinals. This was  a surprise because Nadal rarely loses on clay, and defeated Ferrer in the men's final of Roland Garros last year. Nadal had lead their head-to-head 21-5 and had not lost on clay to Ferrer since 2004.

Nadal had won the ATP Monte Carlo Masters an unprecedented 8 consecutive years (2005-2012) but lost in the final to Novak Djokovic last year.

The semifinals will be Roger Federer versus Novak Djokovic and Stanislas Wawrinka versus David Ferrer. Federer leads Djokovic 17-16 in their overall head-to-head but the two are tied 3-all in their clay court matches. My prediction would be a Djokovic-Ferrer final, but I would not be surprised to see a Djokovic-Wawrinka final instead, since I imagine his win over Nadal was very emotional for Ferrer. An All-Swiss final would be my druthers!


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