NEW YORK -- Using a new design to highlight the tough issues emerging in the battles for lesbian and gay civil rights and the rights of people with HIV and AIDS, the American Civil Liberties Union's Lesbian and Gay Rights and AIDS Projects recently released two new reports on the ACLU's work.
In a series of nine brief, journalistic articles including "The Trouble with Marriage," "Do We Really Need ENDA?" and "Crime, Punishment and the Public Health," the ACLU focuses on troubling issues and trends that are emerging around lesbian and gay rights and AIDS this year.
The 1998 AIDS Report and the 1998 Lesbian and Gay Rights Report also each contain a summary of legislative action in Congress and a state-by-state report on legislation and legal battles in which the ACLU was involved this year.
"We wanted to give readers more than a laundry list of what we've worked on this year," said Matthew Coles, Director of the ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights and AIDS Projects. "Since so much of our work ends up in the news, it made sense to write op-ed type pieces to highlight the tough issues and describe the philosophy behind our activities."
In "The Trouble with Marriage," for instance, the report says that opponents of gay rights are planning to use the fact that lesbians and gay men cannot marry to block adoptions, interfere with custody and visitation, and justify some forms of job discrimination.
The answer to that effort, the report says, is not to simply focus on gay marriage. "If we succeed in winning the right to marry in either Hawaii, Alaska or Vermont in the next few years, the success opponents have already had with anti-gay marriage bills means that the fight to get same-sex marriage recognized in other states will be long and hard," the report says.
The ACLU has thus pursued a three-pronged strategy of supporting the right to marry, while fighting for domestic partnership law and opposing attempts to create marriage preferences in adoption, custody and foster parenting cases.
"Do we really need ENDA?" responds to commentators such as author and journalist Andrew Sullivan, who have asserted that employment discrimination against lesbian and gay men is not common and questioned whether we really need the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, a bill before Congress that would make sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace illegal.
"These ruminations can be dismissed in part as a failure to recognize the starkly different realities existing in cities like New York and San Francisco, as opposed to the rest of America where most people live," the report says.
At the same time, recognizing that on-the-job harassment is the most serious employment problem that lesbian and gays face, the ACLU has increasingly focused its litigation resources on employment cases where the problem is not getting the job or keeping it, but on treatment in the workplace. Nationally, the Project and affiliates are involved in 16 employment cases in 12 states.
The 1998 AIDS Report minces no words in "Crime and Punishment and the Public Health," saying that laws which make it a crime to expose another person to HIV are a "moral and public health disaster."
"The outbreak of exposures these laws are aimed at is phony," the report charges. "The punishment they provide is not fair. And the message they send is a calamity."
According to the report, 29 states now have laws that make it a crime to expose another person to HIV, four of them passed in the last year.
In a report issued in March 1998, "HIV Partner Notification: Why Coercion Won't Work," the Project documented scientific research showing that partner notification that is not voluntary or that is linked to HIV surveillance through name reporting will not work. At the same time, the ACLU said, coercive partner notification diverts already scarce resources for treatment and prevention services.
On a more positive note, "A Triumph for Common Sense: Saving the Americans with Disabilities Act" sees promise in two recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions that will help to ensure that HIV is recognized as a disability under the ADA.
"Almost from the day the ADA took effect, federal courts began reading the new law as narrowly as possible, and in many cases, more narrowly than anyone had thought possible," the report says. But taken together, the High Court's decisions may bring an end to that.
If we can get lower federal courts to follow the Supreme Court and "read the ADA like a civil rights law and not an anti-trust regulation," the report says, we will have no more of decisions saying that insurance or HIV is not covered by the ADA.
The reports were written by Matthew Coles, Director of the ACLU's AIDS Project and Lesbian and Gays Rights Project, staff attorneys Michael Adams and Jennifer Middleton, with editorial contributions from Beth Barrett, Allen Drexel, Lisa Graybill.
Founded in 1920, the American Civil Liberties is a national, non-partisan organization dedicated to preserving and defending the principles set forth in the Bill of Rights. Through its Lesbian & Gay Rights Project and 53 state affiliates, the ACLU works on more lesbian and gay related litigation and legislation than any other organization in the country. The AIDS Project is a special division of the National ACLU formed 12 years ago to establish the basic civil and Constitutional rights of people with HIV and AIDS.