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Same-sex couples began applying for marriage licenses today in the
District of Columbia. The Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality
Amendment Act was passed this fall by an overwhelming majority of the
D.C. Council before Mayor Adrian Fenty signed the measure into law in
mid-December. D.C. joins Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Iowa and
New Hampshire in extending full marriage equality to same-sex couples.
Statement by Rea Carey, Executive Director
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
"This is a profoundly moving moment for many D.C. same-sex couples
and their families. To finally be able to share and celebrate one's
love and commitment both publicly and legally is a lifelong dream for
many. As a D.C. resident, I am personally proud of the council and
mayor for standing so strongly for fairness and for affirming the
common humanity that bonds each of us. We offer our sincerest thanks to
them and to the many groups and individuals who worked so hard to bring
us to this historic day, with special mention to Councilmember David
Catania, Mayor Adrian Fenty, the Campaign for All D.C. Families, Gay
and Lesbian Activists Alliance, D.C. for Marriage, and D.C. Clergy
United for Marriage Equality, who are among those who had a vision for
equality, pursued it with clarity and persistence, and won.
"We extend our heartfelt congratulations to all the couples heading
to the courthouse today to apply for their marriage licenses, and to
the many others who will follow. Until you have walked in the shoes of
someone who has been denied the right to exercise such a fundamental
freedom, it is hard to comprehend the emotional depth and significance
of this experience for so many couples in Washington, D.C."
The National LGBTQ Task Force advances full freedom, justice and equality for LGBTQ people. We are building a future where everyone can be free to be their entire selves in every aspect of their lives. Today, despite all the progress we've made to end discrimination, millions of LGBTQ people face barriers in every aspect of their lives: in housing, employment, healthcare, retirement, and basic human rights. These barriers must go. That's why the Task Force is training and mobilizing millions of activists across our nation to deliver a world where you can be you. Join us!
"The decisions being made in statehouses this year and next will help determine how the 2024 election is conducted," a new report warns.
Republican legislators in more than three dozen states have introduced nearly 200 bills this year that would make it easier for them to rig electoral outcomes, according to a report published Thursday.
A Democracy Crisis in the Making—compiled by the States United Democracy Center, Protect Democracy, and Law Forward—found that right-wing lawmakers in 38 states unveiled 185 bills from January 1 through May 3 that would enable legislatures to "politicize, criminalize, or interfere with elections." Of those proposals, 15 were enacted or adopted into law in 11 states while three others were vetoed by Arizona's new Democratic governor, Katie Hobbs.
Thursday's report—the latest update of an analysis originally published two years ago—makes clear that "the subversion threat is very much still alive." The number of "election subversion" bills introduced during the first four months of 2023 is roughly on par with the hundreds put forward in the early months of 2021 and 2022. Eventually, 56 of those anti-democratic proposals from the past two years became law in 26 states.
"Legislators are trying to make it harder for trusted election officials to do their jobs, and easier for partisan politicians to overturn the will of the voters."
Since former President Donald Trump launched his deadly coup attempt following his loss in the 2020 presidential contest, GOP-controlled states have enacted dozens of voter suppression laws and redrawn congressional and state legislative maps in ways that disenfranchise Democratic-leaning communities of color and give Republicans outsized representation, which could help the far-right secure minority rule for years to come.
In addition to impeding ballot access, Republican lawmakers are further undermining the country's procedural democracy by obstructing the administration of free and fair elections, the new report notes.
Researchers identified five forms of interference that increase the risk of "election subversion," which they defined as instances when "the declared outcome of an election does not reflect the true choice of the voters." The methods are:
"Legislators are trying to make it harder for trusted election officials to do their jobs, and easier for partisan politicians to overturn the will of the voters. While many may think this threat abated after the midterms, it most certainly did not," Maya Ingram, a senior policy development counsel at the States United Democracy Center, toldNBC News on Thursday. "In fact, legislators are coming up with new ways to interfere with elections."
Several Republican candidates who parroted Trump's incessant lies about President Joe Biden's 2020 victory lost in last year's midterms. But more than 210 others—including at least two who participated in the January 6 rally that descended into an attack on the U.S. Capitol—won congressional seats and races for governor, secretary of state, and attorney general, underscoring how election denialism is now entrenched in the GOP and poses a threat to U.S. democracy for the foreseeable future.
"The decisions being made in statehouses this year and next will help determine how the 2024 election is conducted," the report warns. "Many of these bills are designed to inject confusion and delays into the election process, which increases the likelihood of attempted subversion and can give rise to disinformation, further eroding public trust and confidence in election results."
"Although a few of the bills that we have tracked would explicitly allow state legislatures or other actors to overturn the will of voters—what we sometimes refer to as direct subversion—the vast majority do not," says the report. "Bills that indirectly make subversion more likely are far more prevalent. A more probable scenario is a relatively close election, followed by efforts to create confusion and doubt about the results. Partisan actors could then claim that the true will of the voters cannot be determined, and engineer the outcome of their choice."
Nevertheless, "this legislative session has seen an increase in bills pushed by election deniers that would nullify election results if certain conditions are met," the report continues. "These bills are closely related to some of the direct subversion bills that we've seen in the past, in that they would allow the will of the voters to be disregarded."
NBC News summarized how two pieces of recently unveiled legislation could wreak havoc:
Republican legislators in Texas proposed a bill—H.B. 5082—that would give state officials the authority to order new elections in counties whose populations exceed 1 million people if there is "good cause" to conclude that 2% of polling places ran out of ballots and did not receive replacements. Such counties—like Harris County, which includes Houston—are home to a large share of the state's Democratic voters.
Arizona Republicans introduced a bill—H.B. 2078—that would, if it is enacted, allow candidates, political party county chairs, and certain ballot measure state committees to request post-election investigations that, under the law, would result in audits by the secretary of state.
While such audits should, in theory, be straightforward affairs, critics of the Arizona bill, and bills like it, note that election deniers were on the ballot in secretary of state races last year in 12 states—including Mark Finchem in Arizona. While Finchem lost, the scenario prompted enormous concerns about how such an audit might be conducted with an election denier overseeing it.
"The decisions that states make today will determine how elections are run in 2024," Ingram told the outlet. "Even when these bills don't become law, they keep lies and conspiracy theories alive and sustain the election denier movement."
According to a survey conducted in early 2022 by the Brennan Center for Justice, one in six election officials nationwide have experienced threats related to their job, and 77% say they feel such threats have increased in recent years. This spring, the Brennan Center found that 11% of current election officials are "very or somewhat likely" to step down before November 2024.
The new report urges voters to "be awake" to the "persistent threat" of election subversion and calls on state legislatures to "focus their efforts on the nonpartisan administration of elections, protecting election officials, and respecting the will of the people."
"Until they do," it warns, "our democracy is still far too close to a crisis."
"If we don't want to see the 1.5°C goal disappearing in our rearview mirror, the world must work much harder and urgently at bringing emissions down," one scientist behind the findings said.
Despite national promises, mounting protests, and ever more extreme weather events, greenhouse gas emissions have reached an "all-time high" of 54 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide per year over the last decade, a new study has found.
The research, published in the journal Earth System Science Data Thursday, concluded that the carbon budget—the amount of carbon dioxide that human societies can emit and still have a 50% chance of limiting global heating to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels—has shrunk by half since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) last calculated it three years ago.
"This is the critical decade for climate change," Piers Forster, lead author and director of the Priestley International Centre for Climate at the University of Leeds, said in a statement. "Decisions made now will have an impact on how much temperatures will rise and the degree and severity of impacts we will see as a result."
\u201cOur climate indicator paper is out, showing unprecedented rate of global warming -over 0.2\u00b0C per decade, with maximum land temps rising faster still. https://t.co/O3el0J00pI\u201d— Piers Forster (@Piers Forster) 1686204170
The new paper was released at U.N. climate talks ongoing in Bonn, Germany, from June 5 to 15, as the Financial Times reported. The talks are part of the lead-up to the COP28 U.N. climate conference in the UAE in December, which will feature the first global stocktake of progress towards meeting the 1.5°C goal by 2050.
In crafting climate plans, negotiators and policymakers rely on authoritative reports from the IPCC, but these are only released on average every six years, as AFP noted.
"The problem with the IPCC is that it comes once a decade & is outdated when it is published!" scientist and IPCC author Glen Peters observed on Twitter.
\u201cThough, you do have to stomach some bad news...\n\nThe Remaining Carbon Budget for 1.5\u00b0C has gone from 500 GtCO\u2082 to 250 GtCO\u2082 in three years: we emitted an extra 3*40=120 GtCO\u2082 & the science was updated... Oops...\u201d— Glen Peters (@Glen Peters) 1686213279
The last major IPCC report on the physical science of climate change was released in 2021 based on data from 2019, according to the Financial Times. This information then fed into the Sixth Synthesis Report published in March, the University of Leeds noted.
The new study is part of a larger attempt to provide world leaders with the latest science through the Indicators of Global Climate Change and website, which will update important climate indicators each year.
According to Thursday's updates, the burning of fossil fuels and destruction of forests caused an average 1.14°C of warming between 2013 and 2022, an increase from the average 1.07°C of warming between 2010 and 2019.
"Over the 2013–2022 period, human-induced warming has been increasing at an unprecedented rate of over 0.2 ∘C per decade," the study authors wrote.
"Even though we are not yet at 1.5°C warming, the carbon budget will likely be exhausted in only a few years as we have a triple whammy of heating from very high CO2 emissions, heating from increases in other GHG emissions, and heating from reductions in pollution."
Unfortunately, the progress that has been made in cutting down on coal use has helped boost warming in the short term by removing cooling aerosols from the atmosphere.
"This robust update shows intensifying heating of our climate driven by human activities," study co-author Dr. Valérie Masson-Delmotte, from the Université Paris Saclay, who also co-chaired Working Group 1 of the IPCC's Sixth Assessment report, said in a statement. "It is a timely wake up call for the 2023 global stocktake of the Paris Agreement—the pace and scale of climate action is not sufficient to limit the escalation of climate-related risks."
While there is some evidence that the yearly uptick in the pace of emissions is slowing down—the International Energy Agency found that energy emissions had risen less in 2022 than 2021—the increase needs to not only stall, but reverse, as The Guardianexplained:
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calculated in 2018 that the world must nearly halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, compared with 2010 levels, in order to stay within the 1.5C threshold, and reach net zero emissions by 2050. But that calculation rested on an assumption that the world would reduce emissions by about 7% a year during the 2020s.
As emissions have continued to rise, the annual rate of decline for emissions will now have to be much steeper to stay within the 1.5C limit.
The IPCC put the global carbon budget at around 500 metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2020; it is now at around 250.
"Even though we are not yet at 1.5°C warming, the carbon budget will likely be exhausted in only a few years as we have a triple whammy of heating from very high CO2 emissions, heating from increases in other GHG emissions, and heating from reductions in pollution," Forster said. "If we don't want to see the 1.5°C goal disappearing in our rearview mirror, the world must work much harder and urgently at bringing emissions down."
\u201cNEW: This week's climate graphic looks at new data from climate scientists @piersforster et al, which shows that the carbon budget remaining to limit global warming to 1.5C has halved in just 3 years.\n\nRead @CamillaHodgson's excellent report\nhttps://t.co/xTMGPZPzq5\n#dataviz\u201d— Steven Bernard (@Steven Bernard) 1686209361
The new study isn't the only alarming climate data released this week. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported Monday that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels had reached a peak of 424 parts per million in May, levels not seen in millions of years. Scientists said Tuesday that the loss of summer Arctic sea ice is now inevitable. And the EU's Copernicus Climate Change Service announced Wednesday that air and sea-surface temperatures over non-ice-covered oceans were the highest for any May on record.
At the same time, wildfire smoke from unprecedented fires in Canada has smothered the eastern U.S. while record heat bakes the Caribbean.
\u201cLife-threatening heat today in Puerto Rico so hot that some meteorologists are astonished. And more of the same to come this week. Heat index numbers as high as 115-125 today!! So what is going on? There are many factors, so let's dig in... thread 1/\u201d— Jeff Berardelli (@Jeff Berardelli) 1686016817
Climate groups are launching a week of action in the U.S. Thursday calling on the Biden administration to declare a climate emergency and reverse the approval of major fossil fuel projects. In Bonn, demonstrators greeted the arrival of COP28 president and UAE state oil company head Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber with a banner drop.
\u201cToday as oil executive and #COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber of UAE arrives at the UN #BonnClimateConference, #ClimateJustice leaders drop a banner and demand countries put an end to fossil fuels. "Keep the coal in the hole, keep the oil in the soil, keep the gas in the ground!"\u201d— Adrien Salazar (@Adrien Salazar) 1686233871
"Keep the coal in the hole, keep the oil in the soil, keep the gas in the ground!" the activists demanded.
The ACLU of Alabama's legal director said the key takeaway is the "acknowledgment that the Alabama Legislature knowingly continued its legacy of drawing illegal voting districts that disenfranchise Black voters."
In a Thursday move that shocked voting rights advocates and legal experts, two right-wing members of the U.S. Supreme Court joined the three liberal justices for a ruling that sided with Black voters challenging Alabama's latest congressional map that was racially gerrymandered by Republican legislators.
With the majority opinion—written mainly by Chief Justice John Roberts and backed by Justices Ketanji Brown Jackson, Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh, and Sonia Sotomayor—the Voting Rights Act (VRA) dodges a bullet, as a pair of Politico reporters put it.
Slate's Mark Joseph Stern tweeted that "this is a HUGE surprise and a major voting rights victory," also noting that the high court's decision in Allen v. Milligan is "a boon to Democrats' chances" of retaking the U.S. House of Representatives in 2024.
"This fight was won through generations of Black leaders who refused to be silent, and while much work is left, today we can move forward with these reaffirmed protections civil rights leaders fought and died for."
Davin Rosborough, senior staff attorney with the ACLU's Voting Rights Project, declared that "the Supreme Court rejected the Orwellian idea that it's inappropriate to consider race in determining whether racial discrimination led to the creation of illegal maps. This ruling is a huge victory for Black Alabamians."
The national ACLU, its Alabama arm, the Legal Defense Fund (LDF), Hogan Lovells LLP, and Wiggins Childs LLC sued Alabama in November 2021 on behalf of four individual voters—Evan Milligan, Shalela Dowdy, Letetia Jackson, and Khadidah Stone—along with Greater Birmingham Ministries and the NAACP of Alabama, arguing that the state's new congressional map is racially discriminatory under Section 2 of the VRA and the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Although a three-judge panel granted a preliminary injunction in January 2022 and gave Alabama an opportunity to redraw the districts before last year's election, the state then obtained a stay from the Supreme Court and the contested map was used.
The high court's new ruling in the case—previously known as Merrill v. Milligan—was celebrated by the plaintiffs, who said in a joint statement:
In 2021, Alabama lawmakers targeted Black voters by packing and cracking us so we could not have a meaningful impact on the electoral process. They attempted to redefine Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and shirk their responsibility to ensure communities of color are given an equal opportunity to elect their preferred candidates. Today, the Supreme Court reminded them of that responsibility by ordering a new map be drawn that complies with federal law—one that recognizes the diversity in our state rather than erasing it. This fight was won through generations of Black leaders who refused to be silent, and while much work is left, today we can move forward with these reaffirmed protections civil rights leaders fought and died for.
LDF senior counsel Deuel Ross, who argued the case before the court in October, explained that "Alabama attempted to rewrite federal law by saying race had no place in redistricting. But because of the state's sordid and well-documented history of racial discrimination, race must be used to remedy that past and ensure communities of color are not boxed out of the electoral process."
"While the Voting Rights Act and other key protections against discriminatory voting laws have been weakened in recent years and states continue to pass provisions to disenfranchise Black voters, today's decision is a recognition of Section 2's purpose to prevent voting discrimination and the very basic right to a fair shot," Ross continued.
\u201cBREAKING: The US Supreme Court just rejected Alabama's gerrymandered congressional map, ruling the map violates the Voting Rights Act by diluting the voting strength of Black voters. \n\nCongrats to @NAACP_LDF on this major win for voters!\u201d— Common Cause (@Common Cause) 1686236228
Tish Gotell Faulks, the ACLU of Alabama's legal director, said that "the key takeaway from today's decision is the court's acknowledgment that the Alabama Legislature knowingly continued its legacy of drawing illegal voting districts that disenfranchise Black voters."
"Though we were victorious today, history shows us that lawmakers will erect many more hurdles before every Alabamian, irrespective of their race, can vote for representatives that reflect their beliefs, values, and priorities," Jones warned. "Efforts remain underway from Montgomery to Jackson to Baton Rouge, and elsewhere across the country to minimize, marginalize, and eliminate the ability of Black and Brown people to have a voice in their communities. Our communities then—as now—understand that the fight to uphold our civil rights is a daily pursuit. We will persist."
The Campaign Legal Center (CLC), which has been involved in several lawsuits challenging rigged election maps and filed a friend-of-the-court brief for this case, also welcomed the Thursday decision while highlighting ongoing attacks on voting rights.
"When self-interested politicians draw maps that suit their own needs instead of the needs of their community, our democracy becomes less inclusive and accountable," said CLC senior vice president Paul Smith. "We are heartened that the Supreme Court upheld Section 2 of the VRA, one of the most important tools available to ensure every voter, particularly Black and Brown voters who have historically been denied the freedom to vote, has an equal voice in our democracy."
"While this ruling is a step in the right direction," Smith added, "we will continue to fight tirelessly alongside our local allies in Alabama and across the country to challenge racially discriminatory voting maps in court and develop innovative policy solutions that protect and expand the freedom to vote for every American."
Pointing to Shelby v. Holder, Kareem Crayton, senior director of the Brennan Center for Justice's Democracy Program, stressed that the new decision "still leaves us with a weakened tool of enforcement. Ten years ago, this court ended the most effective part of the legislation, preclearance, and in 2021, made it very hard to use Section 2 to challenge racially discriminatory voting rules."
"Congress can and should step in to protect fair access to voting and representation for all," according to Crayton. "Our legislators must pass the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act."