Since I last wrote about the Voting Rights Amendment Act on this blog, the crucial bill has continued to make progress in Congress, as cosponsors of both parties continue to sign on in support of the bill. Advocates are hopeful that the bill’s provisions can be implemented before the midterm Congressional election in November of this year, a decisive deadline.
When Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law a bill banning gay “propaganda” last June, LGBT activists and allies around the world were rightfully outraged. The law includes bans on gay pride parades, fines for gay rights groups and a number of abhorrent discriminatory measures. When the Winter Olympic in Sochi rolled around, visitors to Sochi were subjected to the laws that forbid public demonstrations and dissemination of materials related to gay rights.
In looking at the anti-gay laws in other countries, we can be thankful that the United States is widely accepting of the LGBT community. And while we know we still have a long way to go in ensuring the rights and equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, we also know that historically, every time our country has expanded protection and banned the discrimination of different groups of Americans, we have never looked back. Read more…
Attorney General Eric Holder has made an effort in recent months to elevate key civil rights issues, especially those issues affecting our nation’s broken criminal justice system. One unexpected issue the Attorney General has chosen to highlight is the crucial problem of felon disenfranchisement. Amidst a backdrop of increasing bipartisan support for sentencing reform on Capitol Hill, increased knowledge about the racial disparities of mandatory minimum sentences, new questions about capital punishment and other significant developments in the areas of criminal justice and civil rights, the issue of felon disenfranchisement is another moral challenge of our time—and one gaining bipartisan momentum.
By Rabbi Merrill Shapiro
Ask 1,000 people around the country “Where was the largest mass arrest of Rabbis in United States history?” and the only answer will be 1,000 blank stares. Ask 1,000 people in St. Augustine, Florida and the result will be the same! The story of June 18, 1964, as 16 Rabbis and one administrator from Judaism’s Reform Movement were arrested for responding to the call of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., is (in the words of Carol Rovinsky, chair of the Justice, Justice 1964 Committee of the St. Augustine Jewish Historical Society) ”Under-told! Not as well-known as it should be!”
Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the Smarter Sentencing Act by a bipartisan 13-5 vote, sending the bill to the Senate floor. The SSA, as the ACLU put it, is the most “significant piece of criminal justice reform to make it to the Senate floor in several years.” As Reform Jews committed to humane punishment and to addressing the root causes of crime, we join with other advocates of criminal justice reform in applauding the bill and encouraging the Senate to pass it.
It’s been an exciting few weeks for marriage equality—here’s the latest on where we’ve come from, where we are today and where we’re heading!
While 2013 may have seen more victories for the LGBT community than any previous year, all the accomplishments of the last few weeks makes 2014 already look like a very promising year for gay and lesbian individuals, allies and advocates who work tirelessly for equal rights.
It’s been a long and uphill battle for gay and lesbian Americans. In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which had two major provisions: the first declared that no state, territory or possession of the United States nor Indian tribe is required to give any sort of recognition to the marriage of a gay and lesbian couple as recognized or performed in any other state. The second defined marriage for federal regulatory purposes as the union between one man and one woman as husband and wife. Yet in the last 18 years, our country has come a long way. Not only was the second provision of DOMA struck down over the summer, but the number of states recognizing same-sex marriages through legislative action and judicial rulings is increasing at such a rapid rate, it’s becoming hard to keep up with blog posts! Read more…
The death penalty is back in the news with increasing frequency —and there is, in fact, a reason. See if you can piece this together:
- In Ohio, it took Dennis B. McGuire 25 excruciatingly painful minutes, from the time he was injected with fatal drugs to the time he was declared dead. The state used a new drug combination in its execution of Mr. McGuire, and received court approval to proceed despite defense attorneys asking for a delay, “in fear of the unused drug causing ‘air hunger,’ inflicting ‘terror and agony’ upon their client.”
- In Virginia, the House of Delegates passed a bill that would mandate death by electrocution in many cases, while Missouri and Wyoming have flirted with reintroducing the firing squad.
- The Supreme Court issued a last-minute, temporary stay of the execution of a Missouri inmate, Herbert Smulls, in the hours between President Obama’s State of the Union Address Tuesday evening and the man’s scheduled execution at 12:01 Wednesday morning, following the state’s refusal to disclose where they obtained a lethal-injection drug.
- The first four executions of 2014 are being carried out by Florida, Oklahoma, Ohio, and Texas, respectively. Each is using a different lethal injection procedure.
For years, the issues of workplace protection for LGBT individuals has been of significant importance to the Reform Movement. As Reform Jews, we have strived to embody the principle of b’tselem Elohim, that all humans are created in God’s image and therefore deserve to be treated with respect and dignity (Genesis 1:27). The Senate passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in November was marked as a huge milestone for the RAC and our partners in the LGBT rights community.
Last night, President Obama’s State of the Union address focused heavily on economic inequality. LGBT advocates had been hopeful that this would have provided the President an opportunity to speak out against LGBT workplace discrimination as well. After all, prohibiting discrimination in the workplace rightfully allows LGBT people equal avenues for economic success. Read more…