Polygamy And Marriage Equality — Are They The Same Fight?

Posted By on December 21, 2013

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**This article originally appeared on The New Civil Rights Movement

Are polygamy and marriage equality the same fight? Since my article a few days ago about a Utah federal judge decriminalizing the majority of that state’s ban on polygamy, my inbox has been flooded with passionate and varying opinions. So let’s dive deeper into this.

First some background. In Utah Judge Clark Waddoups’ ruling, it’s important to note that he did not completely legalize polygamy, the plaintiffs weren’t even asking him to. What was struck down as unconstitutional were Utah’s laws criminalizing cohabitation between married couples and other single individuals. It is still illegal for polygamous families in Utah to seek multiple marriage certificates.

The well-known attorney representing the polygamous family in the case, Jonathan Turley, based his arguments heavily on the historic 2003 ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, where the Supreme Court struck down state bans on sodomy. That ruling had nothing to do with marriage or relationships, but rather drew upon the notion of Americans’ right to privacy—that governments had no right to regulate what goes on between consenting adults in the privacy of their homes.

So on privacy grounds the fight to legalize polygamy and the overarching fight for LGBT equality are unquestionably linked. Just as in the Lawrence v. Texas decision, when intimate relations between LGBT persons were decriminalized, intimate relations between polygamous families has been decriminalized (in Utah, at least). Whether it be the intimacy between two men, two women, or plural families, a nation founded upon the principles of freedom cannot impede upon the private lives of its citizens.

But the similarities between the two struggles do, perhaps, diverge legally at that point. In the case of marriage equality, LGBT families are fighting for equal access to the same protections and laws that benefit straight couples. In the case of plural families, the fight is not for equal access to existing laws, but rather the creation and formation of a new kind of marriage—requiring the creation of not only new marriage laws, but also estate, tax, death and all other related areas of code. (I say “new” in that plural marriage laws do not currently exist in the United States.)

One of the primary points of interest in the feedback I have received was my use of the word “choice,” in describing polygamous relationships. Believe me, I did not choose the word lightly. LGBT people around the world have struggled for decades to help our neighbors understand that we do not choose our sexual orientations or gender identities, just as no one chooses to be heterosexual or cisgender. But do innate characteristics such as orientation, gender identity, or race also apply to polygamous communities? I don’t see it. True, we do not choose the people we fall in love with, nor does the fact that we may already be in a relationship preclude the possibility of falling for someone else. But choosing to form a relationship with multiple people is just that, a choice—just as the decision two men or two women or a man and a woman make to form a relationship is a choice.

Some may believe, and certainly many who have contacted me believe, that plural marriage is a civil right. Honestly, I don’t have the answers there, and not knowing anyone personally in a polygamous family likely holds me back from understanding the movement better.

But regardless of personal feelings, or the debate over whether polygamous marriages are a legitimate civil rights struggle, the fight is different from marriage equality. There is certainly crossover around the issues of privacy, and the right to do what you please at home. But at the end of the day, polygamy is not pushing for equal access to existing laws. Which fight is more important is up to you (or perhaps neither are more important), but I have yet to see any arguments convincing me that they are the same.

I am not unsympathetic to the plight of plural families seeking simply to be left alone. We all deserve to be able to live the way we choose. But directly correlating the fight for marriage equality to the fight to legalize plural marriage is a legal and logical leap I cannot make in my own mind.

Follow author Eric Ethington on Twitter @EricEthington

Federal Judge Strikes Down Utah’s Anti-Polygamy Law

Posted By on December 16, 2013

sister wives

**Originally posted to The New Civil Rights MovementPart 2, “Polygamy and Marriage Equality: Are They the Same Fight?” can be seen here.

There could not be a stranger moment in time. Amidst the excitement and celebration of the fifteenth and sixteenth states to pass marriage equality, and the historic passing of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) through the U.S. Senate, in the remote Western state of Utah, a federal District Court judge has just ruled part of that state’s ban on polygamy is unconstitutional.

Jonathan Turley, lead counsel in the case brought forward by the stars of the TLC show “Sister Wives,” announced the ruling Friday in a blog post, calling it a victory equivalent toBrown v. Board of Education, andLawrence v. Texas.

And here I am, left wondering if the comparisons between polygamy and the hard-fought freedoms the LGBT community has recently achieved are actually comparable.

We’ve heard the comparisons for years, “Gay Marriage leads to polygamy, bestiality and pedophilia!” How many times have those words dripped from the mouths of people like Brian Brown, Tony Perkins, Peter LaBarbera, and Rick Warren?

The potential legalization of polygamy calls into question everything we know and think of in marriage. The very thought of polygamy is rank with images of 55-year old men marrying 12-year old girls, of trapped teenagers beaten and killed for trying to escape polygamist compounds in the deserts of Utah and Texas.

So what are the implications of this ruling? Is it going to become the latest sideshow for those culture warriors against equality to hold up as supposed proof that they were right?

To put it plainly, yes it is.

What’s important to remember are the simple and fundamental truths. The struggle for same-sex marriage has only been, and will continue to only be about one thing: equality—that joyful little word that fills our hearts and keeps us pushing. It’s about leveling the playing field and being able to say without any doubt that no other human being in our country has rights that we do not. We were born Gay, or Lesbian, or Bisexual, or Trans*, and we will always be so. We have every bit the same right to marry the person we fall in love with that our neighbors have.

Polygamy? It’s not an innate characteristic, it’s a choice. The struggle for polygamy is not about equality, but about privacy. It’s a fight to keep government away from the choices of consenting adults. It’s an important distinction to make.

Honestly, I don’t know how I feel about polygamy. On one hand I’ve always felt that the government shouldn’t be in the business of legitimizing or sanctifying any marriages. On the other hand, polygamy actually is a redefinition of marriage, and frequently used as an excuse for abuse and persecution of women and children.

But however you feel about it, as the nation no-doubt erupts in Utah/Mormon/Polygamy jokes over the next few days, it’s important to speak out about the differences between equality and privacy.

We only want what everyone else already has. Nothing more, and certainly nothing less.

INFOGRAPHIC: Yeah, that’s right people. Keep thinking Unions are the ones who are out to get you.

Posted By on December 11, 2013

Yeah, that’s right people. Keep thinking Unions are the ones who are out to get you.

Organized labor is what created the American Dream in the first place. Every step we take to dismantle unions is another step towards losing all of our rights as workers.

H/T The Moderate Voice


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Utah Senator Highlights the Calculated Destruction of Public Education

Posted By on December 3, 2013

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Across the country, public schools are under a constant barrage of attacks, usually from conservatives who have an interest in pushing for school-privatization where they can make a profit. Over in deep-red Utah, one state senator is proposing a shiny new example of the latest attempt to empty public schools.

Back in August, Utah State Senator Aaron Osmond (fun fact: he’s Donny’s nephew) proposed doing away completely with mandatory education laws, arguing that kids and parents should take responsibility for their education rather than being forced by the state to be in a classroom. The idea received a lot of criticism (rightly so), and even earned the young senator a couple of jokes pointed his way on the Conan O’Brien Show.

Osmond is a very candid fellow and to his credit he made the media rounds, took the criticism, and discussed his idea with anyone who wanted to talk. On one radio show, he even admitted that eliminating compulsory education would likely damage his state’s business prospects, as companies aren’t likely to move to a state actively decreasing their educated workforce numbers.

Retreating from the heat, Osmond then said he was going to take a few months to speak with parents, teachers, stakeholders and other interested parties to refine his proposal.

Late yesterday, Mr. Osmond came back with his new packet of three proposed laws he intends to put forward during Utah’s upcoming legislative session.

Bill #1 – Creates new legal liabilities for parents, requiring that once their kids turn six they sign an affidavit declaring whether their children will attend public school, private school, or home school. It also exempts private schools and home schools from all measurement standards, testing, classroom time, reporting, and curriculum standards.

Bill #2 – If parents sign the affidavit and send their children to public schools, they will now have to sign additional contracts—legally agreeing to attend all parent teacher conferences, support any and all disciplinary measures taken by teachers, and to pay for all remediation or tutoring their children might need. Should students fail to meet academic standards, summer school or remediation will be mandatory (payed for by parents, remember). Should parents fail to meet their obligations as laid out in the contract they sign (ie.. if parents miss a parent teacher conference, or cannot afford to pay for remediation), the child could find themselves removed from the public school system.

Bill #3 – Parents and school districts can now choose the number of classroom hours they deem appropriate for children to attend.

So let’s break this down. First, there are zero requirements or levels of standards for private schools or home schools. In other words, the state is removing any and all interest in whether or not children outside the public education system are receiving a proper education. They’re being taught for only two hours per week, and the curriculum teaches the Pilgrims were fleeing Sweden to avoid King Shakespeare’s communist book The Art of War? Doesn’t matter. They’re outside the public school system so the state will no longer have any authority over what or how kids are taught.

Also, notice the massive amounts of new paperwork and legal obligations now in the way for parents who want to send their kids to neighborhood schools. While the idea of getting parents more involved with their children’s education is laudable, this is a barely-masked attempt to put so many barriers in front of public education that parents simply give up. Some students are going to do poorly, that’s inevitable and a result of a variety of factors. What happens when the single parent working two jobs can’t attend parent teacher conferences? Will their kids be simply kicked out of school, forcing home school (which they don’t have time for) or private school (which they can’t afford)? What happens if that same single parent working two jobs now has to come up with money to pay for remedial coursework?

Not all parents have their children’s best interests at heart. I think it’s inevitable that you’ll find quite a few parents who select a home school option simply out of convenience. Perhaps they have a five year old at home, so they pull the 13 year old out of school for a year to act as a babysitter. With no testing, standards, or measurement of how those kids are doing, their future can fly right out the window just because their parents needed a babysitter.

Utah is one of the top states for national conservative legislation to receive testing. With conservatives controlling over 80 percent of the state legislature, almost anything—no matter how radical—can be passed into law in order to gauge public reaction and emotional responses. If it flies through easily, it can begin to spread to other states. If it meets heavy resistance in Utah, conservatives know things need to be reworked before tried out again. It’s why organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council exists, to promote these model bills which will further their own business interests. In this instance, Osmond is working closely with the Sutherland Institute, one of two local affiliates of the Heritage Foundation’s State Policy Network. There are a lot of educational software companies in Utah (and more than one Utah lawmaker who owns stakes in them) who would love to see more kids get pushed into private or home schooling so they can sell more programs.

Back in 2007, Utah voters passed a statewide referendum to repeal the legislature’s recently-passed school voucher program. Since then, vouchers have become a (mostly) nonstarter conversation in the state. Since then, however, lawmakers have put heavy restrictions on citizen referendums—making it almost impossible for citizens to repeal a law they pass. Will Utahns muster up enough outrage to stop this new push for school privatization when the session starts in January? We’ll find out.

Immigration Policies: From Kids to Adults

Posted By on December 3, 2013

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The Dangers of Junk-Polling: Libertas Institute’s Phony LGBT Poll

Posted By on November 27, 2013

**Originally published on UtahPoliticalCapitol.com

Libertas Institute Logo“Should it be illegal for the government to fine you or put you in jail just because you fire an employee who doesn’t fit in with your other employees or who will likely need a lot of time off in the future?”

I’d be willing to bet if you polled the right group of people in Utah, you could easily get 8 out of 10 to agree with that question. But what if we wrote the same question another way?

“Should it be legal for employers to fire people of color for not being white, or women because they might get pregnant?”

Phrased that way, the same 8 out of 10 Utahns would probably saying ‘No way!’

Two polls, same question, different phrasing, opposite outcomes. That’s the danger of junk-polls, that feature questions written in just the right way so as to illicit a predetermined answer and desired outcome.

I saw a great example of a junk-poll earlier this week, when the Libertas Institute (one of two Utah affiliates of Heritage Foundation’s State Policy Network), and their president Connor Boyack, released a “poll” showing roughly 8 out of 10 Utahns saying “no way” to a non-discrimination law—a law being proposed in the Utah Legislature which would make it illegal to fire someone or evict them from their home just because they happen to be gay or transgender.

Like many, I found Boyack’s results shocking, considering multiple other polls have all shown consistent results of Utahns being vastly in favor of such laws (despite the Utah Legislature’s stubborn opposition to passing them). A poll commissioned by Equality Utah (conducted by professional polling firm Dan Jones & Associates) found 73 percent of Utahns in favor of a non-discrimination law. A poll conducted by the Human Rights Campaign found 77 percent in favor. And yet another poll by the Salt Lake Tribune showed 67 percent in favor.

How could three polls show identical results of an overwhelming majority in favor of a non-discrimination law, while Libertas Institute’s poll shows the exact opposite?

Well, the three polls showing massive support all asked roughly the same question: Should it be illegal for employers to fire someone just because they’re gay or transgender?

The poll question from Libertas Institute asked whether respondents supported fines or jail time for employers who choose not to associate with people they disagree with.

As BYU polling expert Quin Monson said in his article shredding Libertas’ poll, “The questions are unbalanced and inaccurate.. The methodology isn’t methodologically sound. .. The survey also also has some serious ethical and legal problems.

Boyack’s questions are pre-designed to fit the outcome he was hoping for, and used deceptive tactics like adding in the threat of jail time for violators—the proposed law in no way proposes jail time—and heavily weighting the sample with older age brackets. We also have no idea who was actually polled or their geographic location. Were they all from Provo?

There’s also the obvious question of bias. The Heritage Foundation’s State Policy Network (which includes both Libertas Institute and Sutherland Institute) has a set policy of opposing non-discrimination laws. Trusting Libertas Institute on non-discrimination laws is akin to trusting John Swallow’s opinion on ethical behavior.

True, Equality Utah has an obvious bias of hoping Utahns will favor of non-discrimination laws. But Equality Utah’s poll was conducted by an independent and reputable polling firm—the results of which were duplicated by the Salt Lake Tribune, again using a professional polling firm.

But let’s boil this all down to brass tacks. Allowing discrimination against hard working Utahns just because of their sexual orientation or gender identity is simply evil. Tens of thousands of LGBT people live in Utah, and half have experienced discrimination. The status of your employment and housing should be about your ability to do your job and pay your rent, nothing more.

Sharone Belt: The Obamacare Story You Won’t See In the News

Posted By on November 19, 2013

**Originally published on PoliticalResearch.org

If you watch cable news, you’ve probably seen story after story about Americans losing their insurance plans thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or “Obamacare.” Despite the passage of the ACA into law in 2010, and despite the Supreme Court’s decision in 2012 to uphold the legislation, and even despite the failed attempt to use a government shutdown as a bargaining chip—Right-Wing Republicans in Congress, governors’ mansions, and state legislatures are continuing their push to blame Obamacare for Americans losing health coverage.

But what about the Americans who didn’t have any health insurance to begin with, and are now being denied acceptance into Medicaid by those same conservatives? There are five million of them, people who have jobs but aren’t paid enough for private health insurance, being left out in the cold by the Right-Wing. On cable news, you don’t hear about people like Sharone Belt in North Carolina, who is being denied healthcare thanks to conservatives.

These are the stories we cannot in good conscience ignore.

Sharone Belt, 47, can’t get health insurance to cover her diabetic neuropathy because her state refused to expand Medicaid

Sharone Belt, 47, can’t get health insurance to cover her diabetic neuropathy because her state refused to expand Medicaid

Sharone Belt is 47 years old and lives in Hickory, North Carolina. She’s a deacon candidate at her church, collects donations for the local homeless shelter, and volunteers for the Special Olympics and Make-a-Wish Foundation. Sharone took some college classes when she was younger, but even with help from grants and student loans, she was priced out of her education pretty quickly. She now works as a balloon twister at children’s parties and restaurants to make ends meet.

“It’s not a job that pays very well,” says Sharone, “but I love working with the kids.”

Picking up as many gigs as she can, Sharone has managed to get herself just above the poverty line, making a little too much to qualify for Medicaid under the old system, but far too little to be able to afford private health insurance. Sharone also suffers from diabetes, which has led to diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage) because she can’t afford the medications she needs. It’s a particularly difficult thing for her to work with, given her profession.

“I tried to use the free clinic in town,” says Sharone, “it took me six months just to get an appointment, and when I did get in, the medications I need are so expensive the free clinic wasn’t even able to get them for me.”

When the Affordable Care Act was passed, Sharone thought maybe there was finally some light at the end of the tunnel. “I was so excited, I thought maybe I could finally get my health back on track.”

Last week, Sharone found out that North Carolina is one of the 25 states refusing to expand Medicaid to cover people, like her, who are just above the poverty line. Back in March, conservative Governor Pat McCrory signed legislation that blocked Medicaid expansion for 500,000 North Carolinians, like Sharone, who don’t make enough money to purchase healthcare on their own, but don’t qualify for Medicaid, either. According to a report from the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, Medicaid expansion in North Carolina would have not only provided coverage for 500,000 low-income Tar Heelers but would also have added tens of thousands of jobs thanks to the injection of federal dollars. McCrory’s decision also caused a hospital in Belhaven to close, after it couldn’t keep up with unpaid medical bills from low-income patients.

Conservatives argue participation in Medicaid expansion, allowing those who make up to 133 percent of the federal poverty limit access to the healthcare program, would bankrupt states. The claim has been repeated in media outlets around the country, despite policy experts debunking it as a conservative myth being perpetuated by ideological beliefs rather than facts. The ACA actually covers the cost of expanding Medicaid 100 percent for the first three years states participate, after which federal dollars slightly curtail over the next decade. Even at the lowest point of federal funding, states would only be liable for 10 percent of the cost of the expansion in their state, but still reap 100 percent of the benefits of not having a populace burdened by the under-insured.

To add to Sharone’s woes, she was also just notified that Congress has made significant cuts to Food Stamps, which is going to make it even harder for her to put food on the table—another instance of the Right-Wing’s assault on the poor under the pretext of “fiscal responsibility” and “small government.”

“I’m just not sure what I’m going to do next,” says Sharone. Even with all the hardship she’s facing, still manages to keep a sense of humor and giggle as she asks, “Think there’s any chance Congress will pass a single-payer system soon?”

Sharone’s story is only one of 5 million from across the country. From the 500,000 people being denied coverage in North Carolina, to the 133,000 in Utah, to the 40,000 in Alaska, the stories of the working poor being denied healthcare are everywhere. Why don’t we hear about them on the nightly news?