Upstate New York Farm Must Allow Gay Weddings

Photo by Kelly Pfeister courtesy of the NYCLU
Jennifer, left, and Melisa McCarthy
An upstate New York farm has been fined by the state Division on Human Rights for refusing to host a wedding for a lesbian couple two years ago. Liberty Ridge Farm is located in Schaghticoke, New York, a 7,000-person town some 30 miles north of Albany. When Melisa Erwin and Jennie McCarthy decided to get married in 2012, as they told the press at the time, they thought Liberty Ridge would be the perfect place: they'd gotten engaged at an apple orchard, and getting hitched in Liberty Ridge's barn seemed like the perfect continuation to their rural theme. (According to court filings, the farm hosts blueberry-picking, pig races, and something called "pumpkin cannon shows.")

More »

Suffolk County Police Department Must Pay $200,000 For False Arrest of Video Journalist

Screenshot via.
A Suffolk County Police Sergeant approaches videographer Philip Datz to prevent him from filming on July 30, 2011.
On July 30, 2011, members of the Suffolk County Police Department were chasing two men, Ramon Rivera, 24, and Camilo Tatis, 33, around the tiny Long Island town of Bohemia. The men were eventually caught by police on Sycamore Street, and arrested on a variety of drug charges. Meanwhile, a press photographer and video journalist named Philip Datz showed up and started filming the aftermath of the chase. What happened next became the subject of a lengthy lawsuit, and, as the New York Civil Liberties Union announced today, a hefty settlement for the cameraman.

Datz worked for Stringer News Service, which sells breaking news footage to other media outlets. He had his press credentials displayed and he was standing on a public sidewalk. And even if Datz hadn't been a reporter, it's still absolutely legal to film or photograph the police in public spaces, provided you're not interfering with police activities.

Datz wasn't. Just moments after he began filming, though, a sergeant with Suffolk County's Fifth Precinct crossed the street towards him, yelling "Go away!"

More »

Orthodox Village Kiryas Joel Will Stop Sex-Segregating Public Park It Claimed Didn't Exist

Image via
An aerial view of the playground, with the red and blue areas clearly visible.
Late last year, the NYCLU, our local ACLU chapter, happened to catch a glimpse of a new playground at Kiryas Joel, the orthodox enclave in upstate New York. As photos published by Haredi news site Behadrey Haredim reveal, the park boasted blue playground equipment for boys, red for girls, and vast expanses of space in between. The town's municipal treasurer, Rabbi Gedalia Segdin, told the news outlet that the park would be watched over by the town Modesty Committee, to make sure no mixed-gender playing was going on. So did Yiddish signs distributed throughout the park making sure everyone kept to their specified color.

That, the NYCLU said, was decidedly not OK. Public parks cannot be segregated by sex. They were also concerned by Behadrey Haredim's report that non-Jews wouldn't be able to use the park: "Foreigners who do not belong to the Orthodox stream are not allowed to work out and the site is reserved for locals only."

Kiryas Joel initially responded by saying that the park didn't exist. That didn't prove to be a great strategy, and now the village has been forced to settle the suit, agreeing not to "endorse" sex-segregation in its public places.

More »

New York City Will Pay $18 Million Settlement for Unlawfully Arresting Protesters at 2004 Republican National Convention

Screenshot via NYCLU
A police officer directs protesters during the August 31, 2004 RNC march.
This is big: the New York Civil Liberties Union announced today that the city has agreed to pay an $18 million settlement in a lawsuit brought by the NYCLU after hundreds of protesters and journalists were arrested here during a single protest during the 2004 Republican National Convention. In addition to bringing an end to a ten-year lawsuit, this is a big deal for another reason: it's the largest settlement paid in connection with a civil rights protest in U.S. history.

"No lawful protester should ever be treated like a criminal in New York City, or anywhere else in the United States," said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman in a statement announcing the settlement. "This historic settlement must serve as a reminder to New York City and government across the country that the right to protest is a fundamental pillar of a fair and functioning democracy. And it is the role of government and law enforcement to not only tolerate protest, but protect and defend it."

More »

NYCLU Succeeds in Getting the NYPD to Close Down Its Stop-and-Frisk Database

Chad Griffith
Some cracks in the edifice of the stop-and-frisk fortress are starting to show. After three years of litigation, the New York Civil Liberties Union has gotten the NYPD to suspend its database of stopped-and-frisked New Yorkers. Until now, the NYPD has been able to indefinitely store biographical information on everyone it detained, even if their cases were dismissed or resolved with a civil fine.

More »

Edith Windsor, Octogenarian Lesbian Widow: Take My DOMA Case to the Supreme Court!

Steven Thrasher
Edith Windsor, the day after a federal court first ruled in her favor
Edith Windsor, the octogenarian lesbian widow who successfully sued the federal government for over chariging her $363,000 in estate taxes, wants to take her case to the Supreme Court.

According to a press release from the New York Civil Liberties Union, which is representing Windsor along with the ACLU and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison: "Edith 'Edie' Windsor, who sued the government for failing to recognize her marriage to her late spouse, Thea Spyer, asked the U.S. Supreme Court today to hear her challenge to the so-called "'Defense of Marriage Act' (DOMA)...In the meantime, Windsor will continue to defend her victory before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which has agreed to hear her case on an expedited basis."

Last month, the Voice reported about Windsor's victory in a federal district court here in New York. Although the Obama Administration has stopped defending DOMA, believing parts are unconstitutional, House Speaker John Boehner has directed the Bipartian Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) to keep defending it in federal court.

Asked by the Voice what she'd say to Speaker Boehner for seemingly wanting her to be the only person in America he wants to pay more taxes, she replied, " I think I'd rather not talk to him."

More »

Edith Windsor, Octogenarian Widow, Beats Down DOMA (and Gives John Boehner a Piece Of Her Mind)

Steven Thrasher
Pride month has just started, and yet over the course of May and just the first few days of June, the fight for gay marriage has arguably seen more progress in the last four weeks than in any time in history. In fact, if you're a journalist on the gay marriage beat who also writes about other things, it's been very hard to get other work done lately (not that we're complaining).

In just the past five business days, there have been three major deals blown to the Defense of Marriage Act (and other legal barriers to marriage equality) in the federal judiciary. Last Thursday, the First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled DOMA was unconstitutional in Gill v. Office of Personnel Management , a case out of Boston in which a lesbian federal worker sued the U.S. government for not recognizing her legal Massachusetts marriage to her spouse; on Tuesday, the full Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals declined to rehear that court's previous ruling which found that California's Proposition 8 unconstitutional, meaning the Supreme Court will either need to hear the case or allow LGBT Californians to marry again; and, here in New York, a federal district judge ruled yesterday that DOMA was unconstitutional in causing Edith Windsor, the 82-year-old widow of Thea Spyer, to pay $363,000 in estate taxes after the death of her wife which a heterosexual spouse wouldn't have had to pay.

The Voice went to speak to Windsor in person today, at a press conference in the offices of the NYCLU.

More »

Cops Reflect on Stop-and-Frisk Pressures, Racial Profiling

Ian Culley
This week in the Voice, we talk to current and former law enforcement officers who have actually faced stop-and-frisk themselves when they are off-duty, walking home in their neighborhoods or driving around the city in their cars. These retired and active cops say that stop-and-frisk is such a common experience for young black and Latino men in New York City, that it's almost inevitable that men of color are stopped and questioned by a cop at some point -- even if they are officers.

With stop-and-frisk an increasingly hot topic in the news lately -- and an important battleground for the 2013 mayoral hopefuls trying to secure minority votes -- we thought we'd bring you some reflections on the policy and its implementation from some New York Police Department officers who actually conduct the stops.

More »

Bronx Advocates Call for Alternatives to Arrests of Students Inside Public Schools (UPDATED)

school to prison .png
From New Settlement Parent Action Committee flier.
This afternoon, parent advocates in the Bronx are organizing a march that will start at a transportation hub in the borough, move to a suspensions hearing center onward to an early care education site, and then to an elementary school and a middle school. The final destination of the rally is a juvenile justice center.

This, they say, is a reflection of the path that all too many Bronx youth take today -- from school to prison.

A South Bronx group called the New Settlement Apartments Parent Action Committee is holding a rally today to shed light on some alarming statistics around the arrests that take place inside schools and to push the Dept. of Education to make policy changes that they say would better address behavioral problems and curb the rates of youth incarceration.

More »

In Stop-and-Frisk Debate, Mayor Bloomberg and Bill de Blasio Bad-Mouth Each Other

de blasio immigration event.JPG
Sam Levin
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio at an immigration event earlier this year.
The debate over the NYPD's controversial stop-and-frisk policy is in full swing this week with a proposal from the public advocate prompting a badmouthing match between the mayor and the elected official who hopes to replace him in 2013.

Yesterday, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, an expected mayoral candidate, launched a campaign to reform stop-and-frisk, urging Mayor Bloomberg to dramatically reduce the number of unwarranted stops. That led Bloomberg, via a statement from his deputy mayor, to criticize de Blasio and dismiss his ideas as out of touch with the realities of crime in the city. De Blasio kept the momentum going this morning with a conference call with reporters to, well, respond to the mayor's response to him.

More »