Monday, December 28, 2009

Free speech issues in Washington, DC

There's a free speech debate happening in Washington, DC right now, and some LGBT groups find that they aren't in agreement about what to do.  At issue is a media campaign orchestrated by anti-marriage equality groups.  As part of this campaign, they have bought space on public buses that urge a vote on gay marriage.  (Here's my own two cents here: I know there are pro-equality people who support referenda, but I think they are rare.  The "let the people vote" campaign -- which we saw in Massachusetts a number of years ago -- is really let the people vote to oppose same-sex marriage.)   Full Equality Now has requested the advertisements be taken down, citing that because of their location "they cannot be avoided... countless LGBT citizens are forced to stare down discrimination as they board the bus to go somewhere or are even passed by an advertisement on the street."  Other activists like Mitch Wood, president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, believe allowing the ads supports freedom of expression.  The alliance's statement in opposition to taking down the ads refers to a moment in history when LGBT advocates used buses to advertise:
As supporters of civil marriage equality, we also embrace the principle of free speech enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which makes our own advocacy possible. Indeed, the then-named Gay Activists Alliance thirty years ago won a court battle against WMATA for the right to place educational posters in Metrobuses with the message, 'Someone In Your Life Is Gay.' WMATA is a quasi-governmental body and is thus subject to the First Amendment. We, the undersigned, therefore urge you to reject the misguided censorship advocated by Full Equality Now DC.
It's a tough question.  I'll keep you posted.

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