Each Friday, we’ll bring you updates on the latest civil liberties news from Maine and the nation.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), an act that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or identity in hiring decisions for businesses with more than 15 employees, has been in the works in some form since 1974. With the gay rights movement racking up significant victories in the past few years, including the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”, the measure finally cleared an important procedural barrier. On Monday night, the Senate took a key vote on ENDA, assuring its passage in the upper chamber.
While it is a bill which extends discrimination protection provided by the Civil Rights Act to LGBT people, it's got significant exceptions: the protections would not apply to religious organizations (including religiously affiliated universities and hospitals), members of the armed forces, or companies with fewer than 15 employees. Read more here.
Election Day and Voting Rights
Did you exercise your right to vote this week? Did you register to vote? As I recently moved to Portland, I took advantage of Maine’s same-day voter registration. I sat at the Merrill Auditorium polling location with my hand in the air, attesting that the address I listed was truly my new address.
Maine is only one of 11 states to offer Election Day registration. For the first time on Tuesday, Connecticut also offered any eligible voter in the state the opportunity to register on Election Day, show the proper identification documents and become an official voter.
Other states introduced restrictive voting laws this year. On Tuesday, Texas unveiled its tough new voter ID law, the only state to do so this year. “Under the new Texas law, the list of acceptable identification includes a driver’s license, a passport, a military ID and a concealed gun permit, but not a student photo ID. Voters who showed up at the polls with no acceptable IDs were allowed to cast provisional ballots. Voters whose names were “significantly similar” on their IDs and the official voter rolls could sign an affidavit, which involved checking a box next to their name, then were allowed to vote normally.” The photo ID mandate is seen by opponents to suppress Democratic votes, as it impacts mostly poor, black, or Hispanic voters.
Portland made history this week as voters passed an ordinance to legalize the possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana by adults over age 21, making it the first East Coast city to pass such a law.
Marijuana supporters saw little opposition elsewhere during this election cycle. In Ferndale, Jackson, and Lansing, Michigan, a majority of voters approved ordinances legalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana.
In Colorado, voters supported a high tax on recreational marijuana, which was made legal last year. The tax will pay for regulating Colorado’s marijuana industry, as well as school construction. Governor John Hickenlooper stated, “This ballot measure gives Colorado the ability to regulate marijuana properly.”
Last week, ten out of 13 members of the D.C. Council and Mayor Vincent Gray signed on to a bill that makes marijuana possession (of less than an ounce) a civil rather than criminal offense – meaning that the punishment would be in the form of a small fine, not a drug-arrest. There are an exorbitant number of marijuana arrests in D.C. annually. According to Paul Zukerberg, champion of this policy, there are twice as many marijuana arrests in the District as there are students graduating from D.C. high schools each year. Thus, fewer people would be permanently marred by getting caught smoking a joint. This is a significant leap in the name of racial justice, too, especially as the District is known for the worst racial disparity in marijuana arrests. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/06/04/us/racial-disparity-in-arr...
D.C. Council member Tommy Wells said in a hearing: “Punishment for drug crimes disproportionately falls on the shoulders of blacks and Latinos. . . . We don’t want to accuse the police, we don’t want to accuse anybody . . . but it is a major societal justice problem, and we are going to fix it.”
A recent Gallup poll shows that for the first time, a majority of Americans favor legalizing Marijuana. 67% of Americans aged 18 to 29 back legalization. Clear majorities of Americans aged 30 to 64 also favor legalization. And, while Americans 65 and older are still largely opposed to legalizing marijuana, support among this group has increased 14 percent from 2011 to today.