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Member since: Sat May 15, 2010, 04:48 PM
Number of posts: 5,153

Journal Archives

STUNNER in Sunday's NY Times concerning Blackwater!

Before Shooting in Iraq, a Warning on Blackwater


WASHINGTON — Just weeks before Blackwater guards fatally shot 17 civilians at Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007, the State Department began investigating the security contractor’s operations in Iraq. But the inquiry was abandoned after Blackwater’s top manager there issued a threat: “that he could kill” the government’s chief investigator and “no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq,” according to department reports.

American Embassy officials in Baghdad sided with Blackwater rather than the State Department investigators as a dispute over the probe escalated in August 2007, the previously undisclosed documents show. The officials told the investigators that they had disrupted the embassy’s relationship with the security contractor and ordered them to leave the country, according to the reports.

After returning to Washington, the chief investigator wrote a scathing report to State Department officials documenting misconduct by Blackwater employees and warning that lax oversight of the company, which had a contract worth more than $1 billion to protect American diplomats, had created “an environment full of liability and negligence.”

< . . . . >

His memo and other newly disclosed State Department documents make clear that the department was alerted to serious problems involving Blackwater and its government overseers before the Nisour Square shooting, which outraged Iraqis and deepened resentment over the United States’ presence in the country.

< . . . . >

(Emphasis added.)
Posted by markpkessinger | Mon Jun 30, 2014, 03:57 AM (19 replies)

Full documentary on Aaron Swartz now available on YouTube . . . .

.Highly recommended!

Synopsis (from IMdb):

The Internet's Own Boy follows the story of programming prodigy and information activist Aaron Swartz. From Swartz's help in the development of the basic internet protocol RSS to his co-founding of Reddit, his fingerprints are all over the internet. But it was Swartz's groundbreaking work in social justice and political organizing combined with his aggressive approach to information access that ensnared him in a two-year legal nightmare. It was a battle that ended with the taking of his own life at the age of 26. Aaron's story touched a nerve with people far beyond the online communities in which he was a celebrity.

Posted by markpkessinger | Sun Jun 29, 2014, 08:46 PM (2 replies)

The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz (full documentary)

The complete documentary about the extraordinary life and tragic death of Aaron Swarts, "The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz" is now available for viewing on YouTube.

Synopsis (from IMdb):

The Internet's Own Boy follows the story of programming prodigy and information activist Aaron Swartz. From Swartz's help in the development of the basic internet protocol RSS to his co-founding of Reddit, his fingerprints are all over the internet. But it was Swartz's groundbreaking work in social justice and political organizing combined with his aggressive approach to information access that ensnared him in a two-year legal nightmare. It was a battle that ended with the taking of his own life at the age of 26. Aaron's story touched a nerve with people far beyond the online communities in which he was a celebrity.

Posted by markpkessinger | Sun Jun 29, 2014, 07:40 PM (10 replies)

A red-letter day for the Courts!

First, there was the Supreme Court's ruling against warrantless cell phone sesarches of those who are arrested. Then there was a Federal District Court's ruling that the no-fly list is unconstitutional, and finally the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has struck down Utah's ban on same-sex marriage.

Days like this give me hope!
Posted by markpkessinger | Wed Jun 25, 2014, 01:11 PM (1 replies)

James Baldwin Debates William F. Buckley (1965)

I had no idea there ever was a formal debate between one of my all-time favorite authors, James Baldwin, and William F. Buckley, let alone that there was any video of it available. This is truly great stuff!

Posted by markpkessinger | Sat Jun 21, 2014, 01:38 AM (10 replies)

David Brooks (somewhat surprisingly) gets it exactly right on Bergdahl

Can't say I'm a fan of David Brooks -- much of the time I find him clueless. But in this column in today's New York Times concerning the deal to secure the release of Sgt. Bergdahl, Brooks gets it exactly right. And even the rather mild criticism he makes of the Obama Administration is, I think, a fair one. In any case, kudos to Brooks for a much-needed injection of sanity into the discussion.

President Obama Was Right

JUNE 5, 2014

< . . . . >

These commitments (of soldiers not to leave any American behind), so crucial, are based on deep fraternal sentiments that have to be nurtured with action. They are based on the notion that we are members of one national community. We will not abandon each other; we will protect one another; heroic measures will be taken to leave no one behind. Even if it is just a lifeless body that we are retrieving, it is important to repatriate all Americans.

The president and vice president, the only government officials elected directly by the entire nation, have a special responsibility to nurture this national solidarity. So, of course, President Obama had to take all measures necessary to secure the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Of course, he had to do all he could do to not forsake an American citizen.

It doesn’t matter if Bergdahl had deserted his post or not. It doesn’t matter if he is a confused young man who said insulting and shameful things about his country and his Army. The debt we owe to fellow Americans is not based on individual merit. It is based on citizenship, and loyalty to the national community we all share.

< . . . . >

It is not dispositive either that the deal to release Bergdahl may put others at risk. The five prisoners released from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in a swap for Bergdahl seem like terrible men who could do harm. But their release may have been imminent anyway. And the loss of national fraternity that would result if we start abandoning Americans in the field would be a greater and more long lasting harm.

< . . . . >
Posted by markpkessinger | Sat Jun 7, 2014, 11:31 AM (3 replies)

Very powerful response to the Bergdahl nonsense by a retired US Navy Chief Warrant Officer

I have never read any of this blogger's work until today, when a friend shared it with me on Facebook. The blogger's name is Jim Wright, a retured US Navy Chief Warrant Officer who lives in Alaska and writes the Stonekettle Station blog. The utter disgust and contempt he feels towards those who suggest Sgt. Bergdahl should have been left behind is positively palpable in this piece. I've posted an excerpt below, but do yourself a favor and go to the link to read the entire piece, because a 4-paragraph excerpt doesn't begin to capture it..

Monday, June 2, 2014
Negotiating With Terrorists

< . . . . >

I didn’t think these people could dishonor the spirit of this country any more than they already had, but I was wrong.

Oh, I get it. I understand that frightened people become more and more irrational, especially when they are allowed, encouraged, to feed incestuously on each other’s fear. And I get that they are afraid. I can see it in their faces, I can hear it in their voices. I get that they’re afraid of change. I get that they’re afraid of the future. I get that they’re afraid of the past. And I get that they’re afraid of the present. I get that they’re afraid of losing power and privilege and prestige. I get that they’re afraid of their capricious and childishly vengeful god. I get that they’re afraid of different races and different cultures and different accents and different religions and different sexual orientations and different viewpoints and different politics. I get it, they’ve screamed their small fears over and over and only a dead man could possibly miss it.

I get that they are so consumed with rage and so filled with naked hate and so programmed with their diseased ideology that it poisons their minds like a computer chip submerged in acid.

I get that they are so utterly terrified of the world that they piss themselves in abject fear at the mere thought of going to the grocery store without a goddamned gun stuck in their pants like an extra oversized prick.

< . . . . >

Posted by markpkessinger | Wed Jun 4, 2014, 05:41 AM (100 replies)

The simplistic reductionism of "Is {Bergdah/Snowden/Manning} a Hero or a {Deserter, Traitor, etc.}"

I have been more than dismayed to see so many news outlets running stories with some variation of the headline, "Hero or Deserter," regarding Sgt. Bergdahl, the newly freed POW who had been held in Afghanistan. Below is the text of a comment I posted to an article on CBS's website titled, "Bowe Bergdahl: Hero or deserter?", in a fit of exasperation after seeing dozens of similar headlines in one mainstream media outlet after another.
I'm not sure, and at this point neither is anyone else, of what were the exact nature and circumstances of Sgt. Bergdahl's absence from his duties. But CBS should be ashamed of itself for reducing what is a very complex and complicated issue to a false choice between the facile categories of 'hero' and 'deserter.' There is very little in life that is so black and white, and the use of such emotionally charged labels such as 'hero' and 'deserter' are particularly unhelpful.

One of the big problems we have as a society is precisely this widespread tendency to view every issue through a simplistic, binary filter, in which even the most morally complex questions are reduced to two opposing choices, one of which is perfectly good (i.e., patriotic, heroic, etc.) and one of which is perfectly bad (i.e., treasonous, cowardly, etc.), when the reality of the matter is that, in almost every instance, there are an infinite number of ways to see a particular issue that fall somewhere along the continuum of good-to-bad, and thus resist such facile, binary categorizations. Politicians, political parties, and certainly military leaders have long sought to encourage this kind of simplistic, binary thinking among the general public, because the more they can force the public to perceive, say, the question of support for a particular military engagement as a choice between patriotism and treason, or between nationalism and disloyalty, the fewer hard questions the public asks about those military engagements, and the easier it becomes to portray those who ask such hard questions as being somehow disloyal or unpatriotic. This was never more on display than in the run up to the war in Iraq: those who dared to question the impending invasion were labeled as being 'anti-American, or as being part of some alleged "blame America first" crowd.

The military has a long and rather unsavory history of employing this kind of reductionism in its approach to the question of desertion. We all learned in school, for example, about Washington's concern, during the Revolutionary War, for his troops, of his importunings to the Continental Congress to allocate funds to adequately feed, clothe and compensate the soldiers in the Continental Army. Here we had soldiers, most of whom were conscripts, and many of them unwilling conscripts, and most of whom were drawn from the ranks of those who were too poor to own land or businesses and thus had little stake in the outcome of the war (which was, after all, more of an aristocratic insurrection than a genuine revolution). Having been forced to serve by the aristocrats who sat in the Continental Congress, they found themselves, in the dead of winter, having not received the pay to which they were entitled in months, hungry, ill-clothed and dying of exposure, while their commanding officers (all drawn from the landed gentry, of course) continued to wine and dine in relative comfort, to say nothing of the fact that the entitled aristocrats in the Continental Congress who had compelled them to serve continued to dig into their own pockets in order to fund a military engagement that really served only the interests of the landed gentry! Should we really wonder, then, that desertion had become a major problem for the Continental Army? And can we really blame those soldiers for refusing to allow themselves to be so exploited?

But we all heard much less in school about Washington the brutal, despotic General, who routinely ordered the summary executions of those caught attempting to flee their forced servitude. In one instance in New Jersey, when a group of soldiers was caught attempting to desert, not only did Washington order their executions, but he forced the friends of those attempting to desert to serve on the firing squads for those same soldiers. That is an example of psychological terror of the most brutal sort. Nor de we hear -- indeed, because there was nothing to hear about -- of Washington caring enough for his troops that he was willing to sacrifice his own comfort, or that of his officers, to help the conscripts who were forced to sleep in overcrowded, poorly ventiolated and disease-ridden cabins. Washington cared about his men? Well, as a means to an end, perhaps.

The military tries to foster the notion that desertion has only two possible motives: treason or cowardice (that is to say, the military reduces desertion to a choice between malicious intent and character weakness). The reality is usually a whole lot more complex. Sometimes, a soldier is simply not psychologically equipped to handle the mental and emotional stress of combat,, and in a cloud of confusion, sees his only option as being that of simply walking away. Is it really fair to characterize such a soldier as either a traitor or a moral weakling? I hardly think so. And if a soldier is, indeed, under such an absolute obligation to the military and governmenet, should there not be a corresponding obligation on the part of the military not to mischaracterize, and certainly not to romanticize, the true nature of the service a potential recruit is likely to face? And this is not even to mention the question of the government's obligation to be honest with the American people about the true motivaions and objectives of any given war. If the government, and/or the military, can cavalierly break faith with a soldier by misrepresenting the true nature of an ongoing conflict and that soldier's likely service in it, why, then, should the soldier continue to bear the burden of an obligation that was entered into in bad faith by the military and/or the government?

Sgt. Bergdahl's actions may or may not meet the legal criteria for desertion -- that is for a court-martial, not a public opinion poll, to determine. But until those larger questions are addressed, I don't think any of us has the right to be particularly moralistic in our assessments of a particular soldier's decision to walk away from his post. And as Americans, if we are ever to be anything other than the tools of whatever politicans happen to be in power, or the tools of those who are, for the moment, not in power, then we all need to begin recognize when politicians, aided and abetted by mainstream news outlets, begin to try to frame very important yet morally ambiguous issues into a dualistic framework of good versus bad, patriot versus traitor, or hero versus deserter.
Posted by markpkessinger | Wed Jun 4, 2014, 05:04 AM (5 replies)

Response to a Gun Nutter

I posted this as a comment to an article on RawStory.com, in response to a gun enthusiast who insisted that 'part of the problem' is that there 'really are "people trying to quash our second
amendment rights," and that the real solution to our problems was a greater awareness of gun safety procedures. Here is the full text of the comment to which I was responding (my response follows below the original commwnt):


Some good points there. I've tried telling people till I am purple in the face, part of the problem here is not the guns. It's the idiots who've never handled one, never SEEN one, till they plop down a grand for their cool looking rambo machine, or buy a gun that no self respecting hunter would look twice at.

Part of what is going on IS there are people trying to quash our second amendment rights. Just read after ANY gun related news hits that "OMG WE SHOULD BAN GUNS NOW!" gets plastered all over. Responsible gun owners are trapped between the mentally ill anti gunners, so phobic over a machine they have panic attacks when they see one, and gun waving idiots who mistake their gun for a penis.

Proper education, made mandatory for all schools, yearly, can teach our kids to handle a firearm safely. Yes, this includes the best option, to stand there, don't touch it, and send someone to get an adult to handle it. Many of the gun penis crowd would slow their rolls, and decrease MANY accidental shootings with just some simple, common sense safety lessons.

And the worst part is, these are simple rules ANYONE with half a brain can follow.

Simple Safety rules.
1. The gun is to ALWAYS be treated as loaded. Just consider it loaded.
2. If you have unloaded all ammo from your firearm, opened the action, and checked to make sure there is nothing the gun can use to shoot, see #1
3. NEVER point a firearm at anyone or anything you do not wish to shoot. This includes checking what's BEHIND your target. One popular show, the Walking Dead, shows just why this is important (Season 2, Carl getting shot by accident because a deer hunter failed to check for possible targets behind the target of interest.
4. NEVER put ANYTHING in or near the trigger EXCEPT your own finger. And don't even put your finger near that trigger till you are ready to fire. Not even a trigger lock. Realize most trigger locks can be defeated with a hacksaw or screwdriver. Several gun locks can even be jarred loose, and allows the person to fire the gun without removing the lock. Use a gun safe, or if you cannot afford one of these, then use what is called an ACTION lock. This is a cut resistant lock that feeds down through the action, and physically prevents someone from loading or operating the firearm.

5 simple rules, and some simple lessons that can be easily learned, and you'll see a major reduction in this nonsense where some toddler finds Momma's boyfriend's gun under the couch and shoot themselves dead, or an adult just tossing a handgun into the console of the car and accidentally killing their son because the "unloaded" gun just happened to have one round still in it.

And here was my response:

markpkessinger Srilania

Part of what is going on IS there are people trying to quash our second amendment rights. Just read after ANY gun related news hits that "OMG WE SHOULD BAN GUNS NOW!" gets plastered all over.

This might surprise you, but believe it or not, comments made in response to an article on a web site really aren't the same thing as a serious legal effort to 'quash our second amendment rights.' Nowhere in this country has there been any legislation, or even proposed legislation, seeking to take away your guns or anyone else's. It may well be the case that there are many people out there who think we should ban guns. They are entitled to their opinion (there is no law saying anyone has to agree with any or all of the Constitution -- only that they abide by it). Banning guns outright would require a Constitutional Amendment, not merely passing a statute -- and that is a very, very tall order, and most people know this country is far from being willing to pass such an amendment, no matter how fervently it may be supported by some..

But here's the thing: if such a Constitutional Amendment overturning the Second Amendment were proposed—that is to say, if such an amendment received the approval of a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate—and then were sent on to the states for approval, and if such an amendment were then to be approved by three-fourths of the states (either by vote of the state legislatures are by vote of state ratifying conventions), then it would be perfectly within the right of the people to do so.

But what the NRA—and many gun enthusiasts—do is to conflate any and all regulation of gun sales and ownership with 'taking away our guns.' It is a belief without any rational basis whatsoever. If one agrees that guns should be kept out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill, then why in God's name would that person (or that organization) then go on to oppose things like background checks? On the other hand, if an organization that purports to be about defending the Second Amendment is really about protecting the financial interests of, oh, say, gun manufacturers (despite what it has led many of its rank-and-file members to believe), well then it makes perfect sense.

I grew up in a household with many guns -- it was central Pennsylvania, where almost everybody hunted (my family included, and even I myself for a few years as a teenager). Yes, gun safety can be, and most certainly should be, drilled into any and all who come in contact with firearms. (My Dad drilled gun safety into his kids many years prior to any of us actually handling a firearm; he forbade us from pointing even an obvious toy gun (save for maybe a squirt gun) at another person And all of the safety rules you mention were likewise drilled into us over and over again. Yes, that is certainly how it should be. The problem is, it all too often is not how it is. And there is no real way to remedy that problem. Sure, you can make gun safety courses more available, or you can create safety awareness campaigns, but you cannot, under our Constitution, compel people to participate in such things. And inevitably, some will choose not to.

As to your point about not storing guns "WHERE CHILDREN, CRIMINALS, AND MENTALLY ILL PEOPLE CAN GET THEIR HANDS ON THEM," well, if only it were so simple. First, while it may seem to be a simple matter to secure guns from children, how exactly do you do that for the 'mentally ill,' given that mentally ill persons usually have perfectly normal, or sometimes even advanced, intellectual capabilities, and in many cases are not specifically identified as being 'mentally ill' unless and until they attempt some act of violence? It's not like you can go out and buy a 'mentally ill-proof lock' or something. And besides, the overwhelming majority of mentally ill people pose no threat of violence at all to anyone, so how do you identify those who should be denied access to something everybody else is granted access to? And what about those with a history of criminal or domestic violence? Those folks aren't necessarily mentally ill. Here again, background checks would make perfect sense. (And yes, I believe anybody who has a history of domestic violence incidents should be denied the right to own a gun.)

The bottom line is that although safety education can certainly help, effective regulation of gun sales and ownership is also required. Requiring universal background checks on all gun sales, public and private, is a common sense step to take in order to make it more difficult for those who should not own guns to acquire them. But the NRA opposes them. Gun safety awareness can have a dramatic impact upon the number of accidental shootings, but does little to affect the shootings and deaths resulting from intent. Banning sales of certain types of guns and gun accessories, such as high-capacity magazines and rapid-fire weapons (all such measures which are opposed by the NRA), can at least reduce how much damage a malcontent with a gun can inflict within a given amount of time, and as such would be an obvious common-sense step to take. But the NRA opposes them.

Pointing to gun safety rules as a remedy for gun violence is egregiously and woefully inadequate to the problem we face as a society. It represents a selfish, willful refusal to grapple with reality. But if gun enthusiasts continue to successfully block all reasonable efforts the wider society tries to make in order to protect itself from this scourge (which efforts are supported by a large majority of voters), then they may very well live to see the day when there really is an effort to overturn the Second Amendment and to 'take away their guns,' because the wider society will have no other alternative, what with every attempt at reasonable regulation having been blocked.

The gun lobby may, as a result of its selfish intransigence, find itself the unwitting midwife of the very opposition movement it now fears, but which currently exists mostly in the fevered imaginations of gun enthusiasts. Keep it up, NRA -- just keep it up.
Posted by markpkessinger | Wed May 28, 2014, 03:40 PM (11 replies)

The Compassion and Humanity of Judge Jones (PA Gay marriage decision - extended excerpt)

After reading the entirety of Judge Jones' decision striking down Pennsylvania's gay marriage ban, what really stood out for me was that, although the technical, legal and precedent aspects are all very solid and well worth reading, it was the depth of the Judge's understanding of, and compassion for, the plaintiffs who brought the suit, and of how their lives had been affected by the ban on gay marriage. So I've created a selective excerpt of his decision, intentionally omitting some of the more technical parts of the opinion, in order to demonstrate the depth of the judge's compassion and humanity that shines so clearly in the decision. I was particularly moved by his use of phrases from the traditional wedding vows as subheadings.

There is a particular school of thought with regard to jurisprudence―one that is especially popular among conservatives―which holds that values such as empathy and compassion, and consideration of real-world impact of laws upon the lives of those who must live under them, have no place in judicial rulings. But I would counter that true justice operates on two planes, an ethical plane and a legal/technical plane; and it is the ethical plane that informs the legal/technical plane, not the other way around. And values such as empathy and compassion are integral to any kind of ethical consideration. I think Judge Jones' ruling stands as a wonderful example of a jurist allowing his ethics to inform his technical legal scholarship. Would that we had more liike him.

Here is the excerpt. The case is Whitewood, et al. v. Wolf, Case No. 1:13-cv-186.


May 20, 2014

Today, certain citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania are not guaranteed the right to marry the person they love. Nor does Pennsylvania recognize the marriages of other couples who have wed elsewhere. Hoping to end this injustice, eleven courageous lesbian and gay couples, one widow, and two teenage children of one of the aforesaid couples have come together as plaintiffs and asked this Court to declare that all Pennsylvanians have the right to marry the person of their choice and consequently, that the Commonwealth's laws to the contrary are unconstitutional. We now join the twelve federal district courts across the country which, when confronted with these inequities in their own states, have concluded that all couples deserve equal dignity in the realm of civil marriage.

< . . . .>

B. The Plaintiffs

Plaintiffs are Deb and Susan Whitewood, and their teenage daughters, A.W. and K.W.; Maureen Hennessey; Lynn and Fredia Hurdle; Fernando Chang-Muy and Len Rieser; Julia Lobur and Marla Cattermole; Dawn Plummer and Diana Polson; Dara Raspberry and Helena Miller; Ron Gebhardtsbauer and Greg Wright;

Sandy Ferlanie and Christine Donato; Heather and Kath Poehler; Angela Gillem and Gail Lloyd; and Edwin Hill and David Palmer. Five of the couples are unmarried, seeking to wed in Pennsylvania, and six of the couples, as well as Maureen Hennessey, desire to have their valid, out-of-state marriages recognized by the Commonwealth.

As a group, they represent the great diversity of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. They hail from across the state, making their homes in Allegheny, Dauphin, Centre, Northampton, Delaware, Chester, and Philadelphia Counties. They come from all walks of life; they include a nurse, state employees, lawyers, doctors, an artist, a newspaper delivery person, a corporate executive, a dog trainer, university professors, and a stay-at-home parent. They have served our country in the Army and Navy. Plaintiffs' personal backgrounds reflect a richness and diversity: they are African-American, Caucasian, Latino, and Asian; they are Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Jewish, Quaker, Buddhist, and secular. In terms of age, they range from a couple in their 30s with young children, to retirees in their 60s. Many of the couples have been together for decades.

As plainly reflected in the way they live their lives, the plaintiff couples are spouses in every sense, except that the laws of the Commonwealth prevent them from being recognized as such.

For better, for worse

The plaintiff couples have shared in life's joys. They have purchased homes together and blended their property and finances. They have started families, welcoming children through birth and adoption. Some of them have celebrated their commitment to each other through marriage in other states, sharing their wedding day with family and friends.

Yet, with each of these joys there has been concomitant hardship resulting from the Marriage Laws. In terms of property ownership, all of the couples face the payment of Pennsylvania's inheritance tax - including on half of the value of jointly-owned homes and bank accounts - at 15 percent, the highest rate.

For those couples who have had children, like Dawn Plummer and Diana Polson, the non-biological parent has had to apply for a second-parent adoption. Dawn expresses that she and Diana are presently saving money so that she can legally adopt their second son, J.P. Until the adoption is complete, she has no legal ties to J.P., despite that, together, she and Diana dreamed of welcoming him to their family, prepared for his birth, and functioned as a married couple long before having him. Christine Donato, who together with Sandy Ferlanie completed a second-parent adoption in similar circumstances, describes the process as "long, expensive, and humiliating." The couples choosing to adopt, like Fernando Chang-Muy and Len Rieser, had to undergo a two-step process, incurring double the costs, in which one became their child's legal parent and, later, the other petitioned for a second-parent adoption. For the children of these couples, it can be difficult to understand why their parents are not married or recognized as married. In the words of Deb Whitewood, "It sends the message to our children that their family is less deserving of respect and support than other families. That's a hurtful message."

In addition, for the couples who have chosen to marry out-of-state, they are acutely sensitive that their marital status changes when they cross state lines. Edwin Hill describes driving home to Pennsylvania after wedding David Palmer in Maine in 2013, elated to be traveling through all of the northeastern states that recognize their marriage. "And then we crossed the Delaware River into Pennsylvania," he recalls, "and we looked at each other and said, 'We're not married anymore.' And that hurt." Further, the married couples must still identify themselves as single in Pennsylvania, for example, on their state income taxes. Many have remarked on the pain this causes them, describing that it feels "terrible," "wrong," and "like a denial of relationship" to tick the box marked "single."

For richer, for poorer

The plaintiff couples share their resources and support each other financially. But Plaintiffs commonly echo a sense of legal and economic vulnerability because of Pennsylvania's Marriage Laws. Many of them have paid lawyers to draft protective documents, like wills and powers of attorney, in efforts to emulate some of the protections afforded to couples recognized as married. Susan Whitewood estimates that her family has spent over $10,000 in legal fees for the preparation and maintenance of such documents, which would not have been necessary if the Commonwealth acknowledged their marriage.

Angela Gillem and Gail Lloyd describe feeling particularly insecure. Angela is a clinical psychologist and the primary bread-winner, while Gail is an artist who does not draw a steady paycheck or contribute to Social Security. Angela expresses that she has "taken every step can to ensure financial security" but that they still cannot duplicate all of the protections married couples receive, and she "live every day with the fear that the steps taken will not be enough to protect Gail if something should happen to ."

In sickness and in health

The plaintiff couples have supported each other through illness and medical emergencies. Yet, because Pennsylvania considers them legal strangers, they may be left vulnerable in times of crisis. Various of the plaintiffs express anxiety at the possibility that they would not be allowed to comfort or gain information about their partner's condition in the event of an emergency, despite the fact that they have prepared powers of attorney. Lynn Hurdle remembers feelings of fear and helplessness when her partner, Fredia, was admitted to the hospital for unexpected surgery. Doctors began operating earlier than planned, and when Lynn discovered Fredia's hospital room to be empty, staff would not tell her why Fredia had been taken early or where she was.

Until death do us part

The plaintiff couples demonstrate an intention to live out their lives together. Plaintiff Maureen Hennessey and her partner of 29 years, Mary Beth McIntyre, present a powerful example. When Mary Beth was diagnosed with inoperable Stage 4 lung cancer, Maureen left her job to care for her and to help run Mary Beth's business until her death. Towards the end of her life, Mary Beth required Maureen's help to get out of bed and to the bathroom, and to assist in self-care and administer medications. They were married in Massachusetts after Mary Beth fell ill, but because Pennsylvania does not recognize their marriage, the line for "surviving spouse" was left blank and Mary Beth was identified as "never married" on her death certificate. Maureen was listed as the "informant."

Wishing to have their relationships recognized for what they are in the state they call home, and by doing so to transcend the pain, uncertainty, and injustice visited by the Marriage Laws, Plaintiffs brought this suit.

< . . . . >

The issue we resolve today is a divisive one. Some of our citizens are made deeply uncomfortable by the notion of same-sex marriage. However, that same-sex marriage causes discomfort in some does not make its prohibition constitutional. Nor can past tradition trump the bedrock constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection. Were that not so, ours would still be a racially segregated nation according to the now rightfully discarded doctrine of "separate but equal." See Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), overruling Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896). In the sixty years since Brown was decided, "separate" has thankfully faded into history, and only "equal" remains. Similarly, in future generations the label same-sex marriage will be abandoned, to be replaced simply by marriage.

We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history.
Posted by markpkessinger | Wed May 21, 2014, 03:23 PM (5 replies)
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