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Start your morning with this excellent essay by Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick about instances where the wheels fell off the gay marriage opposition bus yesterday, including most notably the failure of attorneys for that side to reach the critical swing vote, Justice Anthony Kennedy, where he lives — in the world of dignity.

As Lithwick points out, Kennedy has been all about dignity — she calls him the “dignity-whisperer” — in court decisions he’s authored touching upon the institution of marriage.

So when counsel for Michigan defending that state’s ban paints marriage into some sort of biological-bonding corner, he gets Kennedy’s goat:

[T]here is a rather extraordinary moment Tuesday morning . . . when Kennedy finds himself in an argument with John Bursch, Michigan’s special assistant attorney general, about whether marriage is a dignity-conferring enterprise, or not. Bursch, defending his state’s ban on same-sex marriage, is explaining that the purpose of marriage is not to confer dignity but to keep parents bonded to their biological children.

Justice Kennedy—who opened argument Tuesday morning with the observation that this whole case is about an institution whose definition has gone unchanged for millennia—looks rather shocked. The author of the majority decision outlawing sodomy bans in Lawrence v. Texas (“Adults may choose to enter upon this relationship in the confines of their homes and their own private lives and still retain their dignity as free persons”) and the decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act in United States v. Windsor (“It seems fair to conclude that, until recent years, many citizens had not even considered the possibility that two persons of the same sex might aspire to occupy the same status and dignity as that of a man and woman in lawful marriage”) did not want to hear this. Indeed, it seems like Kennedy wanted it to be perfectly clear that he is the guy who gets to say that if marriage is nothing else, it is a dignity-stamper.

The tussle between Kennedy and Bursch doesn’t end there, with the attorney circling back to the dignity point later in the argument:

Bursch circles back to say, again, “marriage was never intended to be dignity bestowing.” At which point Kennedy almost bursts a pipe: “I don’t understand that [marriage] is not dignity bestowing. I thought that was the whole purpose of marriage. It bestows dignity on both man and woman in a traditional marriage. … It’s dignity bestowing, and these parties say they want to have that same ennoblement.”

Bursch replies that the “state is trying to figure out how do we link together these kids with their biological moms and dads when possible, the glue are benefits and burdens, but not necessarily dignity.” Anthony “Dignity” Kennedy can’t even believe it: “Well, I think many states would be surprised, with reference to traditional marriages, they are not enhancing the dignity of both the parties.” It seems to me that nobody puts Dignity Kennedy in the corner. Not even Michigan.

Read more on the argument yesterday here, and what the case might mean for North Carolina here.

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News
(Sketch: Art Lien @Courtartist)

(Sketch: Art Lien @Courtartist)

Starting at 10 a.m. , the U.S. Supreme Court begins hearing two-and-a-half hours of argument in the cases challenging state bans on same-sex marriage.

Since no cameras or other audio/video equipment is allowed in the courtroom, there will be no live feed of the argument.

The Court is, however, expediting the release of the taped argument, which should be available by 2 p.m. today.

In the meantime, we’ll be posting about the arguments here as we learn more from experts and others who are in the courtroom.

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More on audio feed at the Court:

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Images from outside the Court:

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Hillary Rodham Clinton showing support:

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From the New York Times:

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First updates from SCOTUSblog:

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Reaction so far:  “skeptical” questions from the justices:

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Attorney for challengers wrapping up initial argument (from SCOTUSblog):

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First update on challengers’ argument from NYT:

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SCOTUSblog on questions from Justice Anthony Kennedy:

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Justices “deeply divided,” says NYT’s Adam Liptak in this initial report:

The Supreme Court on Tuesday seemed deeply divided about one of the great civil rights issues of the age: whether the Constitution guarantees same-sex couples the right to marry.

The justices appeared to clash over not only what is the right answer but also over how to reach it. The questioning illuminated their conflicting views on history, tradition, biology, constitutional interpretation, the democratic process and the role of the courts in prodding social change.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said he was concerned about changing a conception of marriage that has persisted for millennia. Later, though, he expressed qualms about excluding gay families from what he called a noble and sacred institution. Chief Justice John C. Roberts Jr. worried about shutting down a fast-moving societal debate.

In the initial questioning, which lasted about 90 minutes, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. asked whether groups of four people must be allowed to marry, while Justice Antonin Scalia said a ruling for same-sex marriage might require some members of the clergy to perform the ceremonies, even if they violate their religious teaching.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer described marriage as a fundamental liberty. And Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan said that allowing same-sex marriage would do no harm to the marriages of opposite-sex couples.

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LISTEN NOW — Audio from first part of same-sex marriage cases is up and can be heard HERE

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Second part of the argument focused on the questions of whether states must recognize gay marriages legally performed elsewhere.  That argument wrapped up at 12:30 p.m. and concluded today’s session.

Below are few more snippets from the day:

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Commentary

Mooresville writer John Deem is not impressed with state House Speaker Tim Moore’s recent statements about the so-called “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” and its potential impact on North Carolina’s “brand”:

Speaker Moore: “I’m all about the brand, ’bout that brand, no trouble …”

N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore’s promise of a pragmatic approach in deliberations over the proposed Religious Freedom Restoration Act is all the confirmation we need that the issue has little to do with the protection of faith-guided principles, and everything to do with pure, partisan politics.

Moore’s explanation that he and his colleagues should be guided by how passage of any such legislation could potentially “harm North Carolina’s brand” also is an egregious display of political cowardliness in the face of right-handed flamethrowers from of his own party.

Either the “religious freedom” of North Carolinians is being threatened, or it isn’t. If Speaker Moore believes that it is, then pragmatism be damned. He should push ahead with the legislation at full speed. Protecting the inalienable rights of North Carolinians should always trump concerns about how the state looks to outsiders, after all.

If Moore disagrees with the proposed legislation’s dire warnings of religious oppression, then he should say so (as Gov. McCrory and other influential Republicans already have) and expose the conservative mavericks in the House as extremists bent on using Christianity – a faith rooted in grace – as a tool to separate themselves from their neighbors who might not look, think or love exactly as they do.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act is either a battle cry of freedom or a sacrilegious sham. I look forward to hearing what “brand” of legislation Speaker Moore thinks it is.

– John Deem is an award-winning writer and editor living in Mooresville.

Commentary

No, hell has not frozen over and the following excerpt from a story in Upstart Business Journal does not appear to be an April Fools’ joke. Rather, it is the latest sure sign that troubled souls on the American religious right are, blessedly, losing the fight for the hearts and minds of the nation:

“Facing opposition from the world’s largest retailer and his state’s biggest business, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson today backed away from signing a ‘religious freedom’ bill many said would be an open invitation to discriminate against gays and lesbians.

Hutchinson, a Republican who had previously said he would sign the bill passed Tuesday by the Arkansas House, instead asked legislators to revisit the bill and make it more like a federal law signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993. ‘I’ve asked them to recall it and change the language,’ Hutchinson said at a news conference….

‘Every day, in our stores, we see firsthand the benefits diversity and inclusion have on our associates, customers and communities we serve,’ McMillan said in a statement posted on Twitter. ‘It all starts with our core basic belief of respect for the individual. Today’s passage of HB1228 threatens to undermine the spirit of inclusion present throughout the state of Arkansas and does not reflect the values we proudly uphold. For these reasons, we’re asking Governor Hutchinson to veto this legislation.’

Other states including North Carolina and Georgia had been considering similar bills. But politicians in those states have slowed down the process since the Indiana firestorm, with N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory, of North Carolina saying, “What is the problem they’re trying to solve?”

Read the entire story by clicking here.

Commentary

It’s looking more and more like the the pro-discrimination bills in the North Carolina General Assembly masquerading as “religious freedom” proposals are — thank goodness — going nowhere. This morning, you can add the Greensboro News & Record and the Winston-Salem Journal to the list of major news outlets issuing condemnations.

Here’s the N&R in an editorial entitled: “Don’t follow Indiana”:

A Religious Freedom Restoration Act has been introduced in both the N.C. House and Senate, and our state’s Republican governor says he won’t support it.

We urge the North Carolina sponsors to look at Indiana, listen to McCrory and withdraw their bills before any harm is done here….

Large corporations are making it clear they expect their employees and partners — all of them — to be treated fairly in Indiana. Some already are saying the same about North Carolina. The politicians who claim to be ushering in business-friendly policies should be careful that some of their actions aren’t seen as hostile to 21st century corporations.

Indiana Republicans now say they’ll “clarify” their new law, which they insist has been misinterpreted. Actually, it’s seen very clearly for what it is.

We hope and trust McCrory will veto a similar bill in North Carolina, but it will be shameful enough if such a measure even reaches his desk.

And this is from a Journal editorial entitled “‘Religious freedom’ bills would open door to discrimination”:

“State Sen. Joyce Krawiec of Kernersville, a sponsor of the bill, told the Journal’s Arika Herron in an email that ‘…we have an obligation to make sure that North Carolinians’ religious rights are protected.’

But the Constitution already guarantees that. What it most certainly doesn’t guarantee is the right to discriminate against others.

Given our history in the South, we have a healthy fear of any law that might be used to bar members of certain groups from businesses. Blacks rightly won that fight.

Opening the door now to legalized discrimination against any group would take us back toward an uncomfortable and unjust past. As we’ve written before, a separatist society is a greater threat to North Carolina than same-sex marriage ever could be. Inclusion enriches our state, allowing commerce to flow more freely, allowing contributions to society from more quarters and promoting individual freedom.

If our legislature continues on this destructive path, it had best be ready for the backlash.”