“The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times”

Three Supreme Court cases relating to LGBTQ rights were decided on June 26: Lawrence v. Texas in 2003, United States v. Windsor in 2013, and affirming Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015.

On June 26, 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Lawrence v. Texas that gender-based sodomy laws are unconstitutional and affirmed a right to privacy.

Police were called after a weapons disturbance was reported at a home in Houston, Texas. They entered John Lawrence’s apartment and reported seeing him and another man, Tyron Gardner in the bedroom engaged in sexual activity. They were arrested and charged under the “Homosexual Conduct,” which made it a Class C misdemeanor for “a person commits an offense if he engages in deviate sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex.”

The Supreme Court overturned its decision in Bowers v. Hardwick (1986), a similar case where Michael Hardwick was arrested by Georgia police for engaging in a consensual sex act. The Court had ruled that such laws “have ancient roots” and that “there was no constitutional protection for acts of sodomy, and that states could outlaw those practices.” In Lawrence, the Court ruled that the Texas statute “furthers no legitimate state interest which can justify its intrusion into the personal and private life of the individual.” A key factor in the decision was that, “the sexual acts happened inside a private residence, where the state and law enforcement had no right to dictate individual behavior in these deeply personal matters.”State v. Limon

The Court’s ruling was used in State v. Limon to amend Kansas’s “Romeo and Juliet” laws, which penalizes teens younger than 19 who engage in “voluntary sexual intercourse, sodomy or lewd touching with a teen between the ages of 14 and 16, provided the teens are of the opposite sex” but if the teens are of the same gender, they are penalized under the state’s criminal sodomy statute, which “prohibits sodomy with a child between 14 and 16 years of age, without regard to consent, the offender’s age, or the gender of the participants.” The Kansas Supreme Court ruled that, “the Romeo and Juliet law, which effectively mandates a substantially higher sentence for the same acts, based on whether the defendant is of the same sex as the victim, is a violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution referenced in the Lawrence decision.”

Ten years later, on June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Windsor that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional and violated the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), enacted in 1996, states that, under federal law, the words “marriage” and “spouse” refer to legal unions between one man and one woman. Edith Windsor and Thea Clara Spyer were married in Toronto, Canada in 2007.and their marriage was recognized under New York law. When Spyer died in 2009, Spyer left her estate to Windsor. But, as their marriage was not recognized by federal law, the government imposed a $363,000 tax. If the federal government had recognized the marriage, there would not have been any taxes imposed as the estate would have qualified for a marital exemption.

On November 9, 2010, Windsor filed suit in district court, to declare DOMA unconstitutional. When the suit was filed, the government stipulated that DOMA must be defended, but the President and the Attorney General declined to do so. The Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the House of Representatives filed a petition to intervene and defend DOMA and also a motion to dismiss the case. The district court denied the motion and held DOMA unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court ruled that “states have the authority to define marital relationships and that DOMA goes against legislative and historical precedent by undermining that authority.” DOMA “denies same-sex couples the rights that come from federal recognition of marriage, which are available to other couples with legal marriages under state law.” Therefore, “the purpose and effect of DOMA is to impose a “disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma” on same-sex couples in violation of the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection.”

Two years later, the Supreme Court would come to a different conclusion. In Obergefell v. Hodges, groups of same-sex couples in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee challenging the constitutionality of bans on same-sex marriage. The plaintiffs argued that the bans violated the Equal Protection Clause and Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and in one case, the Civil Rights Act. In all cases, the trial court found for the plaintiffs, but the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed and held that the states’ bans did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment, equal protection, and due process. The cases converged into Obergefell v. Hodges and went to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court considered three questions: 1. Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?; and 2. Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex that was legally licensed and performed in another state? Citing cases such as Loving v. Virginia (1967), which overturned anti-miscegenation laws, the Court concluded that the Fourteenth Amendment the “Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees the right to marry as one of the fundamental liberties it protects, and that analysis applies to same-sex couples in the same manner as it does to opposite-sex couples.” Preventing same-sex couples from marrying also violates the Equal Protection Clause, but also ruled that the “First Amendment protects the rights of religious organizations to adhere to their principles, but it does not allow states to deny same-sex couples the right to marry on the same terms as those for opposite-sex couples.”

As with the Supreme Court ruling in Loving v. Virginia, where some states refused to comply and kept such laws on their books (Alabama became the last state to repeal its law in 2000), seven counties in Alabama refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, two years later. As of early 2019, those seven counties were still not issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, prompting the Alabama legislature to abolish all marriage licenses and replacing them with affidavits.

“History has reached a turning point, here and over the world”

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Medgar Evers (July 2, 1925-June 12, 1963) was a civil rights activist, born in Decatur, Mississippi. He served in World War II from 1943 to 1945, fighting in Europe before being honorably discharged as a sergeant.

In 1951, he married Myrlie Beasley, a fellow student at the historically black Alcorn College (now Alcorn State University). After graduating in 1952, Evers became an insurance salesman. He later joined the Regional Council of Negro Leadership, his first experience as a civil rights organizer. He led the boycott against gas stations that refused to let blacks use their restrooms, and he and his older brother Charles organized local chapters on behalf of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Evers became the first NAACP Field Secretary in Mississippi in 1954. He investigated hate crimes against blacks. He filed lawsuits to end segregation beginning in 1954 when he applied to the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) Law School and was denied. His case was aided by the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision and the university was integrated in 1962. Additionally, Evers registered black people to vote, organized boycotts and sit-ins, challenging segregated seating on uses and campaigned for better education for all children.

Evers made a 17-minute speech on WLBT on May 20, 1963, describing the black community’s desire for equality. Many Mississippians called in to protest Evers’ speech being broadcast and even threatened his life.

For his efforts, Evers was beaten, jailed and eventually assassinated in Jackson, Mississippi on June 12, 1963. President Kennedy had given his speech supporting civil rights only the day before. After Evers was assassinated, Kennedy to ask Congress to pass the Civil Rights Bill, leading to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Many buildings – a post office, library, airport, and college – were named for him, as was a U.S. Navy humanitarian ship in 2011, the first vessel named for a civil rights activist. His widow Myrlie attended the christening in San Diego.

After decades of work, Myrlie Evers efforts paid off and on December 17, 19990, white supremacist Byron De la Beckwith, was as arrested for murdering Evers. The trial lasted two weeks, after which a jury of four whites and eight blacks found Beckwith guilty and in 1997, the Mississippi Supreme Court upheld the conviction.

Myrlie Evers later became the first woman to chair the NAACP Board of Directors and published her memoir Watch Me Fly: What I Learned on the Way to Becoming the Woman I Was Meant to Be and established the Evers Collection and the Medgar Evers Institute. The collected papers are being preserved and cataloged at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

On May 25, 1999, the Jackson City Council unanimously declared July 4 as Medgar Wiley Evers Day and Mississippi senators Thad Cochran and Trent Lott led a resolution that the U.S. Senate adopted, declaring June 9-16 Medgar Evers National Week of Remembrance.

The Evers’ home became a National Historic Landmark and museum in 2019. It was restored to its condition when the family lived there.

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From South Africa History Online

Rolihlahla “Nelson” Mandela (July 18 1918 – December 5, 2013) was an anti-apartheid activist who fought against segregation in South Africa.

Mandela was a member of the Madiba clan, was born in the Eastern Cape. His father Nkosi Mphakanyiswa Gadla Mandela, was a principal counselor to Jongintaba Dalindyebo the Acting King of the Thembu people. After his father died in 1930, Mandela became Dalindyebo’s ward.

Mandela matriculated to the University College of Fort Hare but was expelled for joining student protests. He became more politically active and joined the African National Congress in 1944 when he helped to form the ANC Youth League (ANCYL). His activism eventually led the ANC to became more radical and adopt the Programme of Action, in 1949.

He was chosen as the National Volunteer-in-Chief of the Defiance Campaign in 1952. The Campaign joined with the ANC and the South African Indian Congress and began a civil disobedience campaign against apartheid. The Campaign began a mass resistance movement against apartheid, which like Jim Crow laws in the United States, separated whites and blacks, with separate entrances and laws such as the Population Regulation Act and pass laws. He and 19 others were charged under the Suppression of Communism Act and sentenced to nine months of hard labour, which was suspended for two years.

Mandela was arrested on December 5, 1956 as part of a nationwide raid, leading to the 1956 Treason Trial where 28, including Mandela were accused but acquitted on March 29, 1961. During this time, on March 21, 1960, police killed 69 unarmed protesters against the laws. As a result, the ANC and Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) were banned. Mandela and his Treason Trial colleagues were among thousands detained.

A few days before the Treason Trial, Mandela spoke at the All-in Africa Conference, which resolved that he should write to Prime Minister Verwoerd requesting a national convention on a non-racial constitution, and to warn that if he did not agree there would be a national strike against South Africa becoming a republic. After he and his colleagues were acquitted, Mandela went underground and began planning a national strike from the 29th through the 31st of March.

In January 1962, using the name David Motsamayi, Mandela secretly left South Africa, traveling around Africa and visiting England to gain support for the struggle. He received military training in Morocco and Ethiopia and returned to South Africa in July 1962. He was arrested and charged with leaving the country without a permit and inciting workers to strike. He was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison.

In October 1963, Mandela and 10 others went on trial for sabotage in what would become known as the Rivonia Trial. On June 12 the following year, Mandela and seven others were convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

He was released from prison in 1990, nine days after the ban on the ANC and PAC were lifted. In 1993, he and President FW de Klerk jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize and on April 27, 1994 he voted for the first time.

On May 10, 1994, Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa’s first democratically elected President. He kept his promise of only serving one term. After he left office, he continued to work with the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund he had set up in 1995 and established the Nelson Mandela Foundation and The Mandela Rhodes Foundation.

He died at his home in Johannesburg on December 5, 2013.

Five years later, a collection of letters that Mandela sent from prison was published as The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela,” edited by South African journalist Sahm Venter. It featured 255 letters, of which roughly half had never been released to the public.

Loving v. VA

Getty Images

Loving v. Virginia

On June 12, 1967, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Loving v. Virginia that all laws prohibiting interracial marriage in the Untied States were unconstitutional. Anti-miscegenation laws had been in effect for 103 years, since Maryland enacted the first law banning marriage between black men and white women in 1664. Interestingly, Japan enacted its law allowing interracial marriage in 1873.

The trial was held on April 10, 1967, and it took two months for the decision to be handed down. In addition to the two ACLU attorneys, Bernard Cohen and Philip Hirschkop, the Supreme Court granted William Marutani, a Japanese-American lawyer to speak on behalf of the Japanese-American Citizens League (JACL) which had filed an amicus brief in support. Marutani would marry a white Virginia woman in 1975.

I created a website for a class project on the history of anti-miscegenation laws using Peggy Pascoe’s What Comes Naturally: Miscegenation Law and the Making of Race in America as a base, including links to various media, from books to songs. Please enjoy!