The Respect for Marriage Act is law — a long way from 1996, with much further to go
Also: Oregon Gov. Kate Brown clears her state's death row. And, Oklahoma officials lose their legal fight to be able to kill John Hanson, who is in federal custody.
There is much more to be written about what this means and what comes next, and you’ll be among the first to read whatever I write about it, but I wanted to start by sharing some brief reflections with all of you about Tuesday’s Respect for Marriage Act bill-signing ceremony.
I’ve written about the legislation repeatedly here over the past six months; it’s not a perfect bill, I’ve written, but it is important.
I have a history with this. I was in DC, out for less than a year, when President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law in 1996. I covered Edie Windsor and Robbie Kaplan’s defeat of DOMA in court nearly 17 years later, with the backing of President Obama’s Justice Department. I covered Jim Obergefell’s lawsuit and Mary Bonauto’s successful arguments to end to marriage bans across the country, again with the backing of the Obama administration, in 2015. So, it felt important to be there Tuesday, as President Biden signed the repeal of DOMA and the guarantee of some marriage equality protections into federal law with the Respect for Marriage Act.
It is not — as both Biden and House Speaker Pelosi discussed — anywhere near all that needs to be done. Both raised the need for the Equality Act at the federal level, and Biden spoke forcefully about the need to protect transgender people, and children in particular, from the wave of anti-trans laws across the country.
Tuesday was a step forward in the journey that I’ve been watching and a part of since I was a college student. Throughout the day, I saw people who came to this journey long before me and, as I ponder my 45 years, long after me. For many of us, a day where the government removed DOMA from the books was both a long time coming and — because this work is hard — a moment for earned celebration.
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BIG DEATH PENALTY NEWS: Tuesday also brought two important death penalty developments.
Early Tuesday, US District Judge Reed O’Connor rejected Oklahoma’s attempt to force the federal government to turn over John Hanson, currently serving a life sentence in federal prison in Louisiana, to Oklahoma prison officials so that they could execute him for a death sentence he received in that state.
Law Dork has covered this dispute extensively this fall.
The case turned on the federal prisoner transfer statute, which only allows for such a transfer “if the Director [of the Federal Bureau of Prisons] finds that the transfer is in the public interest.” BOP officials decided in Hanson’s case that it was not, leading to Oklahoma’s lawsuit.
Here’s the key part of O’Connor’s ruling, rejecting Oklahoma’s arguments with strikethrough analysis:
O’Connor is an extremely conservative judge who Oklahoma officials sought out as providing a friendly forum for this litigation. The ruling, coming from O’Connor, signals that Oklahoma’s litigation has little to no chance of success anywhere. That, in turn, means Oklahoma is unlikely to be able to get custody of Hanson to kill him for the time being.
Later Tuesday, outgoing Oregon Gov. Kate Brown commuted the death sentences of all 17 people on Oregon’s death row to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The executive order is blunt in its purpose. Its first words:
In a statement announcing the news, Brown said of the reasons for her commutations:
It is an irreversible punishment that does not allow for correction; is wasteful of taxpayer dollars; does not make communities safer; and cannot be and never has been administered fairly and equitably.
Back in September, The Guardian reported on Brown’s “historic use” of the clemency power. Last month, she went even further, pardoning about 45,000 people for convictions of possessing a small amount of marijuana.
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All in all, a very good day.