This week in a San Francisco Federal District Court, a legal odd couple will be on display. Attorney David Boies, who represented Al Gore before the U.S. Supreme Court in the infamous 2000 case ofBush v. Gore, and conservative attorney Ted Olson, who represented George W. Bush, are joining forces to overturn California's Proposition 8. It will be their contention that the initiative passed by voters in 2008 banning same-sex marriage in the Golden State violates the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the U.S. Constitution, singles out gays and lesbians for a disfavored legal status, and discriminates on the basis of gender and sexual orientation.
Regardless of which side prevails, experts agree the case is likely to be appealed all the way to the highest court in the land.
Uganda, like most of the countries in Africa, is full of contradictions.
While everyone we met in Uganda was friendly and helpful, going out of their way to assist us when we needed directions, a Wifi hotspot, or a place to find vegetarian food, the country also has some of the most restrictive laws against human rights on the continent. While we were there, the "Bahati Bill" was introduced in parliament. The Bahati called for life in prison -- and in some case the death penalty -- for people found “guilty” of homosexual activity.
As gay marriage laws are passed around the world, including most recently in Mexico City, it's hard to believe that lawmakers would punish people for being gay or having HIV/AIDS. The Bahati bill also punishes anyone who fails to report a homosexual act committed by others with up to three years in jail, and a prison sentence of up to seven years for anyone who defends the rights of gays and lesbians.
Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, due to mounting pressure from governments such as the United States, across Europe, and in Canada, said that he opposes the measure, and would attempt to try and soften the bill. According to a recent story in Reuters, “the president has been quoted in local media saying homosexuality is a Western import, joining continental religious leaders who believe it is un-African.” With a national election looming in 2012, politicians seem to be using hatred against gays as a scapegoat for rising corruption and the weakening of civil liberties and freedom of the press.
Yet, even the possibility that a watered-down version of the proposed law could be passed, is an alarming sign of a dangerous trend of prejudice all over Africa. In Blantyre, Malawi, for example, a gay couple was arrested last week after having a traditional engagement ceremony. Homosexuality is punishable by 14 years in jail in Malawi
However, human rights advocates continue to fight. In Latin America, they hope that the success of legalized marriage in Mexico City will spread to Argentina, Venezuela, Chile, and other places. Uruguay permits gay parents to adopt and Columbia grants social security rights to same sex couples.
In the United States, gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgender rights is one of the most import civil and human rights battles we currently face. Despite recent setbacks in California, New York, and Maine -- recent success in places like Iowa, DC, and New Hampshire -- means that during next decade the battlefield for LGBT rights is not only in Africa but also right here at home.
On May 6, 2009, the Governor of Maine signed the law ending discrimination in marriage for same-sex couples, but it is already being threatened. Our fight to protect civil rights through marriage equality is just beginning out here in Maine. Almost immediately, national opponents of equality declared they wanted to turn back the clock and are working tirelessly to place a measure on this November's ballot - modeled after California's Prop 8 - to take away the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry in Maine.
The national movement for civil rights is at a critical juncture on the issue of marriage equality. The phrase as Maine goes, so goes the nation has been used to describe Maine's bell weather potential and we expect it to ring true on national battleground for marriage equality. When this referendum goes to the ballot in November, Maine could become the first state to successfully defend marriage equality by a popular vote.
GLBTQ rights in Uganda have sucked for years, with open persecution by of gay, lesbians and other queers being propagated by hateful and ignorant people in positions of power. The country has instilled oppressive laws against homosexuality and court cases have challenged these. The police and mobs have taken to routinely beating, torturing and killing gays, ostensibly to protect the population from immorality. (Apparently, killing unarmed people who love each other is not immoral in Uganda. Lucky break, there.)