Our Wildest Dreams

Julie Lobur and her wife Marla Cattermole, attend the #DecisionDayPA rally in Harrisburg (credit: Dani Fresh)

Julie Lobur and her wife Marla Cattermole (credit: Dani Fresh)

On July 9, 2013, Julie Lobur and her wife Marla Cattermole, along with 10 other same-sex couples, a widow, and two children of a same-sex couple, sued for the freedom to marry in Pennsylvania and for recognition of out-of-state marriages for same-sex couples. On May 20, 2014, they won. Read more about the lawsuit at aclupa.org/marriage.

By Julie Lobur

I’ve simply been walking on air since Judge Jones’s decision nullifying Pennsylvania’s DOMA. Little in this world meant more to Marla and me than the legitimization of our relationship. For 28 years, we fought for marriage equality. We wrote checks, went to protests, and harangued anyone who would listen. On May 20, our dreams came true with seemingly surreal abruptness.

Until recently, many of us never thought we would see this day come in Pennsylvania. When I officially came out 41 years ago, it was still illegal to be gay in Pennsylvania (under penalty of 5 years in prison!). Of course, coming “out” in those days meant only identifying oneself to the gay community. The thought of public exposure of one’s sexual orientation terrified most of us.

In the 1970s, Harrisburg’s gay community was hidden underground. We lurked in the shadows equally fearful of the gay bashers and the police—sometimes one and the same. Closeted professionals who passed themselves off for straight lived in continual fear of blackmail. People who couldn’t “pass” for straight were grateful to be able to hang onto any job long enough to pay a few bills. We were relegated to gay ghettos where “respectable” people would never set foot. (Some of these same neighborhoods became chic gayborhoods where “respectable” people now pay a fortune to live.)

Julie Lobur and her wife Marla Cattermole, attend the #DecisionDayPA rally in Harrisburg (credit: Dani Fresh)

Julie Lobur and her wife Marla Cattermole, attend the #DecisionDayPA rally in Harrisburg (credit: Dani Fresh)

In hindsight, one might say that we were too quick to accept our second-class status. But mindsets are difficult to break. At our marriage ceremony decades later, I nearly had a panic attack when after saying our vows, the judge naturally instructed me to kiss Marla. My mind raced, “Gasp! Kiss Marla? In front of a judge??? Won’t I get in trouble? Is this a set up?” I somehow regained my composure before anyone noticed. That was when I fully realized how far we had come.

The life we have now is certainly beyond anything in my wildest dreams in 1973. It is a life that we are happy to see our young people take for granted. But I will be indebted to my dying day for all of the hard work, persistence, and bravery on the part of those who made it happen. Without the contributions of thousands of supporters and sympathetic friends, none of us would have seen justice. Every little bit helped.

On the Right Side of History: October 1, 1996

By Andy Hoover, Legislative Director, ACLU of Pennsylvania

Rainbow Flag

A rainbow flag is raised outside of city hall in Philadelphia. (credit: Ben Bowens)

At the suggestion of a colleague, I pulled up the General Assembly’s archives to look at the votes and the journals from the legislature’s passage of the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996.

After the events of the past week, it was quite a read. The state Senate passed DOMA on October 1, 1996, by a vote of 43-5. The five no votes are all names that are familiar to Pennsylvania politicos- Democrats Vincent Hughes, who is now the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee; Vincent Fumo, who retired several years ago after legal troubles; Hardy Williams, who passed in 2010 and whose son, Anthony, now serves in the Senate; Allyson Schwartz, who serves in Congress and ran for governor this year; and Republican Dave Heckler, who later became a judge and is now the district attorney of Bucks County.

Reading the floor debate, which is available here, is fascinating. Here are some choice quotes:

“Our country was founded on the principles of liberty and justice for all. It is our responsibility, in fact our obligation, as elected officials to assure a society that prohibits discrimination against any class of people. It is wrong to express words of tolerance and to condemn bigotry only when it is easy and safe, only when it is in the abstract. Well, today we are faced with a choice to condemn discrimination, to end a minority group’s isolation, and to build understanding. It should not be so hard. And I ask each of my colleagues not to waste this opportunity and instead to stand up for understanding, to stand up for acceptance, to stand up for fairness, and to vote against…this legislation.”
— Senator Allyson Schwartz

 

“I am of the belief that government has no place in the bedroom, and I do not know why we have to rush to judgment on this issue right now. I recognize it as an inflammatory issue, it is one that drives some people crazy, but my plea is that these people are human beings, too, and have the right to their beliefs and the exercise of their beliefs the same as the majority of people do. They present no threat to society. In fact, they complement society and assist society by being honest, law-abiding individuals.

 

“…I do not kid myself. I know the vote today will probably be overwhelming, the same way the vote in a southern legislature years ago would have been overwhelming in discriminating against black minorities. That does not make the vote right. It is still wrong. It is no business of ours to interfere in the lives of others, in the most private and intimate way, and it is shameful that we are doing this(.)”
–Senator Vincent Fumo

Six days later, on October 7, the House passed the bill with just 13 members voting no. We’ll have a follow up post to recognize those representatives.

On October 16, Governor Ridge signed the bill and it became Act 124 of 1996.

And on May 20, 2014, Pennsylvania’s Defense of Marriage Act was swept into the ash heap of history.

On #DecisionDayPA: A letter from Vic Walczak

Vic Walczak

Vic Walczak

Dear ACLU Supporter,

I have been blessed to be a part of some pretty historic cases, whether it’s intelligent design creationism, Hazleton’s immigration fiasco, or, most recently, knocking out voter ID. But our marriage case on behalf of 25 Pennsylvanians holds a special place for me.

I was at the Pittsburgh celebration on the night of the decision with several of our clients and their children when the magnitude of what we had achieved began to hit home. People I didn’t know were hugging me, wetting my suit with their tears as they thanked me for transforming their lives. I don’t ever recall seeing so much unabashed joy, open affection, and excitement created by one of our victories.

All ACLU cases involve vital rights, but it hit me just how life-defining this case is for so many people. It is everyday existence. This decision affirms people for who they are and establishes gay men and lesbians as equal citizens. Those who fall in love with a person of the same sex now have the same rights.

Who would have thought that in less than a year we would make Pennsylvania number 19 for freedom-to-marry states? It’s amazing and just plain beautiful!

The ACLU of Pennsylvania could not have achieved this win, or any of our other victories, without the help of our supporters.

If you’re not a member, please consider joining the ACLU today.

Thank you for your unwavering faith in the ACLU! Let there be more love in the world. And let wedding bells ring!

Sincerely,

Witold ‘Vic’ Walczak, Esq.
Legal Director, ACLU of Pennsylvania

PS – What some of you may not know is that I’m a dancing legend. Bad dancing legend 🙂

Vic Walczak dancing

Vic dancing on stage at the #DecisionDayPA rally in Pittsburgh (credit: John Altdorfer)

What Happened In Oklahoma

By Marc Bookman, Director, Atlantic Center for Capital Representation

Clayton Lockett

Clayton Lockett (photo via http://www.christianpost.com/)

The number one rule of the Internet is never read the comments. If you broke this rule over the last week, you might have seen the following in relation to the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma:

  • 1) “if his lawyers were so concerned about the execution method failing perhaps they should have considered shooting him then burying him alive. it (sic) worked for his victim.”
  • 2)“I will do it for free ….I won’t use a single tax payer dollar…Drop him off and come back in 5 minutes to pick up his body ….I am scared to think of the links (sic) I would go to if that were my family member..”
  • 3) “Get a rope.”

In short, these are the folks who believe that our community should act just like the murderers we condemn. It’s enough to make you remember the penetrating question asked by that greatest and most imaginary of West Wing occupants, Jed Bartlet: “These people don’t vote, do they?” More on that in a minute. What’s important to keep in mind is that “these people” aren’t us – for the overwhelming majority in this country, the events of the past weeks in Oklahoma were horrifying in their unpredictability, their arrogance, and their outcome. Let’s take the concepts one at a time.

If there is a single word that must be included in the description of a constitutionally satisfactory execution, it is “predictable.” And yet Oklahoma authorities went to extremes to guarantee that anything might happen: they used an untested combination of drugs, they refused to reveal where they had been obtained, and they fought all efforts by the defense to find out how the drugs had been made. (And Oklahoma is far from alone in this effort – in Georgia, a law is now in place declaring all information about lethal injection a “confidential state secret.” Texas, where the next execution in the United States is scheduled for May 13th, has also recently reversed course and now maintains that the details of the killing protocol are not the condemned man’s business.) When anything can happen, eventually it will.

The Oklahoma courts struggled with this regime of secrecy. They also struggled to decide whether the state supreme court or the court of criminal appeals had jurisdiction over the issue, a strange circumstance indeed considering the fact that the state has conducted well more than 100 executions in the modern era. After spending a week acting like petulant children fighting over the portions of dessert, the Oklahoma Supreme Court eventually stayed Lockett’s execution, along with a second execution scheduled shortly thereafter, that of Charles Warner. This infuriated every other branch of the Oklahoma government. First, the state attorney general asked the Supreme Court to reconsider. When the Court quickly rejected the request, Governor Mary Fallin issued an executive order declaring that she could overrule the Supreme Court, and announced that the executions would take place two hours apart on the night of April 29th. While her authority to do so was being questioned by every law professor in the United States, a member of the Oklahoma legislature drafted a resolution to impeach the justices of the Oklahoma Supreme Court who had ordered the stay of the execution. That’s when the Court caved, dissolved its stay, and allowed the executions to proceed. As the old song goes, it doesn’t take a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing.

The night of April 29th won’t soon be forgotten by the witnesses to Clayton Lockett’s execution. Seven minutes into the execution, prison officials checked to see if Mr. Lockett was unconscious – “I’m not,” Lockett said. Three minutes later, he was declared unconscious; six minutes after that, Lockett said “man” and tried to lift himself off the gurney. All the while Lockett’s body had been writhing, his mouth twitching. 16 minutes after the execution began, a prison official stated, “We are going to lower the blinds temporarily,” a phrase that Andrew Cohen of The Atlantic aptly noted might serve as an epitaph for the entire sequence of events that had led to this debacle. Lockett’s execution was then stayed by the state officials who were present, but he died of a heart attack 30 minutes later. As the lawyer for Warner described it, he was “tortured to death.” Another lawyer called the execution a “human science experiment.” As for Charles Warner, his execution has been delayed for several weeks while Oklahoma conducts an investigation into what went wrong. Governor Fallin has already gotten the investigation off to a bad start by assigning the inquiry to the state’s public safety commissioner, who answers directly to…Governor Fallin.

What we are left with is the specter of government secrecy in our most public of government spectacles, the subversion of the rule of law by elected state officials, and the horror of an execution that would have been condemned had it occurred before our constitution was even written. At the very least, the events in Oklahoma should be yet one more reason for hesitation in Pennsylvania – indeed, two days after the botched execution, all of the candidates in the democratic primary for governor announced their support for a moratorium on the death penalty. And as to that first question: do “these people” vote? It’s not really the right question. As an old client of mine liked to say, one thing is for sure and two things are for certain – we had better vote. Because the community gets the government it deserves, and we surely deserve better than what the Oklahoma government has delivered.

Marc Bookman is the Director of Atlantic Center for Capital Representation, a non-profit death penalty resource center serving Pennsylvania and Delaware.