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A Scalia vote for marriage equality? (Plus, updates from RI and IL)

DOMA trials Marriage equality Prop 8 trial Supreme Court

By Jacob Combs

Color me surprised: at an event yesterday at Southern Methodist University, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told SMU professor Bryan A. Garner that nobody knows his personal views on marriage equality (or gun control, for that matter).  When Garner made a comment about his and Scalia’s differing views on the two hot-button issues, Scalia replied, “I haven’t expressed my views on either of those. You’re a bleeding heart.”

Admittedly, the title of this post is completely misleading: there’s a vanishingly small chance Scalia will vote for marriage equality this term when the Supreme Court considers the constitutionality of DOMA and Prop 8.  As he put it during a talk before the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., last October, Scalia feels that issuing rulings in cases pertaining to gay rights, abortion or the death penalty are “easy”–they’re not in the Constitution, so the Constitution doesn’t protect them.

Maybe Scalia’s comment at SMU is technically true, if he means to say that his judicial opinions on gays and lesbians are completely divorced from his own personal beliefs, and thus that the public at large can’t possibly know what those personal beliefs are. But read the language in this dissent written by Scalia from the landmark 2003 case Lawrence v. Texas, in which the Supreme Court struck down sodomy laws across the United States, and it seems extremely unlikely that the author feels anything but animosity towards LGBT people:

“Many Americans do not want persons who openly engage in homosexual conduct as partners in their business, as scoutmasters for their children, as teachers in their children’s schools, or as boarders in their home. They view this as protecting themselves and their families from a lifestyle that they believe to be immoral and destructive. The Court views it as ‘discrimination’ which it is the function of our judgments to deter.”

In other news, the Democratic leadership of the Rhode Island Senate says it is in no hurry to take up the marriage equality bill that the state House of Representatives passed last week.  Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, who opposes equal marriage rights, told WPRI that the bill will be considered “in the next few months,” but said that her focus remains economic development, not the marriage bill.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairmen Michael McCaffrey, another Rhode Island Democrat who opposes marriage equality, also told WPRI that he believes the Senate is “better off…focus[ing] on business and jobs.”  The Judiciary Committee has 10 members, with four expected to back the bill and four expected to oppose it.  The other two members, Sens. Paul Jabour and William Conley, are undecided.  Jabour has said in the past that he opposes equal marriage rights, but will vote for the bill if his constituents tell him to do so.

One intriguing voice has spoken out in favor of a quick Senate vote on marriage equality: Representative Brian Newberry, a Republican who serves as House Minority Leader.  Newberry was the only Republican in the Rhode Island House to vote yes on the marriage equality bill, and he wrote the following on his Facebook page this weekend:

“Regardless of where anyone comes down on the issue of same-sex-marriage, the manner in which this may play out should be very concerning. For the past several years the House has served to block several very taxpayer unfriendly bills that the Senate has either passed or indicated they would pass.

“My fear this year is that in exchange for allowing the SSM bill to come to a vote in the Senate (where all indications are it would win on a floor vote), and knowing how much the Speaker wants it passed, the Senate leadership will try to force the House to abandon longstanding objections to some pretty terrible legislation and pass it through.

“The Senate should vote on this now – up or down – and move on to deal with the economy and other issues. I certainly hope my House colleagues do not let the House be bullied into bad decisions over this.”

In Illinois, Senate President John Cullerton expressed a very positive outlook for marriage equality legislation in a speech Monday at the City Club of Chicago. “We’re getting more support in the public every day,” he told the group. “I expect we will call it very early on in the session, if not in the first few weeks.”  Last week, Heather Steans, the bill’s top sponsor in the state Senate, told the Windy City Times she hopes to move forward with the bill shortly after the start of the new legislative session on February 5.

Unlike in Rhode Island, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in Illinois appear eager for a quick resolution to the marriage equality question, with even top Republicans in the state admitting off the record that they want a quick vote for the bill, writes Rich Miller of the Southtown Star.  As Miller puts it:

“It’s not that [Republicans are] necessarily in favor of gay marriage, mind you. Many of them are publicly and privately opposed.

“Some of them do support it, even though they don’t feel they can vote for it because it might destroy their careers in the next GOP primary.

“The reason so many Republicans would like to see the bill passed is because they know that with the huge, new Democratic majorities in both legislative chambers, that it’s eventually going to pass anyway.

“They want to get this issue out of the way and behind them as soon as possible. The issue is trending hard against the GOP’s historical opposition, and they want the thing off the table before it starts to hurt them.”

Illinois Republicans have split on the issue of equal marriage rights: Pat Brady, the chairman of the state’s Republican Party, announced his support for marriage equality early this month, for which he was criticized by state Sen. Jim Oberweis and former U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh.  One person who didn’t criticize him, though, was Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, who plans to vote no on the marriage bill but made no effort to keep Brady from announcing his support when he asked her before he did so.

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