In today's repressive, conservative political climate, it's uplifting to proponents of human rights and civil liberties to learn of some significant victories. July 2001 saw four such events.
First, seven people--Jessica Fry, Jennifer Dowell, Brandon Cruz, Daniel Vistad, Christol Lavary, William MacKay, and David Allen Jr.--were convicted in what is believed to be the first prosecution in the United States of a bias crime against a mentally retarded person. The seven pled guilty to the torture and humiliation of a twenty-three-year-old mentally impaired man in order to avoid longer sentences that the hate crime law allows. Even so, Superior Court Judge Francis P. DeStefano handed down sentences ranging from five to twenty years.
Gay rights took a major step forward when Superior Court Judge A. James Robertson II ruled that Sharon Smith could proceed with her wrongful-death suit against Robert Noel and Marjorie Knoller. Smith was the lesbian partner of Diane Whipple, the young woman who was mauled to death in San Francisco by two large Canary Island dogs in the care of Noel and Knoller. Under current California law, only surviving spouses or other relatives can bring wrongful-death claims. However, the judge agreed with Smith's attorney, Shannon Minter of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, that the rule violates the equal protection clause of the California constitution. Minter added, "This is the first decision of this kind--not just in California but anywhere in the country. It's a tremendous victory for lesbian and gay people in the United States."
Furthermore, Minnesota joined two other states this year in abandoning antiquated laws targeting gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people. In April, an Arkansas circuit court judge ruled that the state's ban on sex between adult, same-sex individuals is in violation of that state's constitution, and, in May, Arizona Governor Jane Hall signed a bill repealing that state's sodomy laws. The Minnesota ruling is in response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, in which State District Court Judge Delila F. Pierce ruled that the state sodomy law is unconstitutional. The ACLU then asked the judge to certify her decision as a class action so that it would apply to every adult, and on July 2 the judge granted the ACLU's request.
U.S. Census figures for fifteen reporting states plus the District of Columbia reveal that same-sex partner households increased dramatically in...