Monday, February 2, 2009

Miscellaneous updates: civil rights at home and abroad

Maybe you've heard about the Maryland State Police spying scandal. Basically, in 2005-06 the state police were spying on a number of peace, anti-death penalty and other progressive grassroots groups in the state, on the pretense that they were a security threat. Turns out that among those groups was Equality Maryland - yes, a bunch of LGBT lobbyists in suits were deemed a security threat.

And speaking of witchhunty goings-on, remember U.S. Attorney Leslie Hagen, who was fired from the Bush Justice Department for being a lesbian? Well, the DOJ has finally filled her position by hiring -- Leslie Hagen. How's that for change?

Colombia's highest court has held that the South American nation must provide government benefits to same-sex couples on the same footing as heterosexual married couples. No translation of the opinion is as yet available, but hunter of justice excerpts a statement on the ruling from Colombia's leading LGBT rights group. Leonard Link - which always has excellent coverage of LGBT and HIV issues in immigration and asylum law - has a thoughtful discussion of the ramifications of this decision for asylum seekers. The issue is an interesting one because, like South Africa, Colombia has seen robust recognition of constitutional rights for sexual and gender minorities, and at the same time continues to see persistent, widespread homophobic violence. Meanwhile, Constitutional Law Prof blog notes that this is not the trailblazing decision from this court on matters of gender and sexuality; in the 1990s the court rendered a series of decisions placing limits on genital reconstruction surgeries for children born with ambiguous genitalia.
[Yes, Colombia was initially misspelled as "Columbia." You would, of course, expect this sort of thing from Columbia.]

Meanwhile, Bolivian voters have endorsed a new constitution. The new document is most notable for seeking to give more rights to indigenous people, and for allowing President Evo Morales to run for another term. But it's also notable that unlike the former constitution, the new one does not contain bans on abortion or same-sex marriage - absences which angered some Catholics. Indeed, the new constitution apparently bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, which some think could lead to rulings in favor of marriage equality. This looks like another case of LGB civil rights benefiting from broader political changes led by a coalition that happens to favor equality, even though there is far from a broad national consensus on equality issues.

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