Tomorrow is the first Monday in October, a time of year I like to think of as the opening of Scalia Season. The court has promised to keep us on the edge of our seats in the coming months, while we wait to see if the justices will prohibit prayer at government meetings, scale back the immunity that they have given to corporations that commit human rights abuses, and whether they will allow individuals to buy candidates by approving unlimited donations from a private citizen to the candidate of his choice. That’s going to be a doozie. The case is being brought by the RNC and in addition to the lawyers, Mitch McConnell is going to be given time to make an argument.
There have been no LGBT discrimination cases announced for the session, but there is a case with an unexpected gay connection for us to keep an eye on. It’s an abortion case known as McCullen V Coakley.
“McCullen” is Eleanor McCullen, a woman so churchy her official biography is written in Latin. She is one of seven plaintiffs representing organizations that think it is their duty to harass women entering clinics where abortion services are offered. I could not find a photo of Ms. McCullen we could legally use, but Melanie Rieders has a wonderful photo spread showing her in action. I suppose everyone needs a hobby. The “Coakley” is Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley. Attorney General Coakley, (right) will be forever remembered as the candidate who lost Teddy Kennedy’s senate seat to Scott Brown. None of those people are the gay connection.
That would be Carl Sciortino.
If the name sounds familiar, it’s probably because you saw the video of Carl “coming out” as liberal to his Tea Party Dad, (right) that went viral last month. Carl has been a Massachusetts State Representative since 2004, and that “coming out” video kicked off his campaign to fill the U.S. House seat vacated by Congressman Ed Markey. Markey (Below right, with the flag) is running for Secretary of State John Kerry’s empty senate seat.
October portends to be a huge month in the life of Carl Sciortino. First and foremost, he was married last evening at Boston’s historic Old South Meeting House to his partner, Pem Brown, (bottom right) a campaign strategist with M+R Strategies. October 15 is the Democratic Primary, and since the 5th District is so heavily Democratic, a primary win pretty much assures the victor of a trip to Washington. And tomorrow, October 6, the Supreme Court will gavel in the court session that will decide the fate of a bill Rep. Carl Sciortino wrote, shepherded through the State House, and is now the law in Massachusetts.
Known as the Selective Exclusion Law, it is Rep. Sciortino’s bill that is being challenged by Eleanor McCullen et al in McCullen V Coakley now before the Supreme Court. The Selective Exclusion Law establishes a “buffer zone” of 35 feet around entrances to women’s clinics and makes it a crime to approach a woman entering or exiting a clinic. Under the law, no one can speak to patients, or slip them a pamphlet, or hold up pictures of bloody fetuses for their viewing pleasure. As recently as 1999, the Supreme Court has allowed such buffer zones, upholding a Colorado law that demands protesters stay 100 feet away from clinic patrons. But McCullen is using a new argument: Citizens United. They plan to argue that the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision means free speech cannot be limited.
So far, the lower courts have sided with Carl Sciortino and the State of Massachusetts. In January, the U.S. 1st District Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court ruling declaring the Selective Exclusion Law constitutional. In his decision appellate Judge Bruce Selya wrote:
Few subjects have proven more controversial in modern times than the issue of abortion. The nation is sharply divided about the morality of the practice and its place in a caring society. But the right of the state to take reasonable steps to ensure the safe passage of persons wishing to enter healthcare facilities cannot seriously be questioned. The Massachusetts statute at issue here is a content-neutral, narrowly tailored time-place-manner regulation that protects the rights of prospective patients and clinic employees without offending the First Amendment rights of others. We therefore affirm the judgment …
Now we will see if the Supremes agree, or if Citizen’s United changes everything.
Earlier this year, gay Pennsylvania State Rep. Brian Sims proved himself a front line ally of women, when he argued eloquently against a Pennsylvania bill that sought to bar any insurance company from offering a policy that included abortion coverage on its Obamacare exchanges. Now Rep. Carl Sciortino, another sympathetic gay legislator, has also chosen to take up the cause of women’s reproductive rights. I have to admit, before Representatives Sims and Sciortino, it never occurred to me that gay men would make a natural political ally on women’s issues. (Don’t leave me nasty comments, it’s not that I thought they would be in opposition, just that gay men are not directly affected by the choice issue.) I am now rethinking that conclusion.
I know I am rooting for Carl Sciortino to have a hell of an October.
Jean Ann Esselink is a straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Closet writer of political fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat from a conservative Catholic family. Living in Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle.