Friday, February 21, 2014

The Courage to Change America’s Favorite Sport

by Marti McCaleb

“So whaddya think about that gay football player?” someone asked me recently.  “Who?” I said, a little ironically.  “David Kopay? Wade Davis? Jerry Smith?” All I got was a blank stare in return, so I laughed, and said mercifully:  “Oh, you mean Michael Sam.” 

My reputation as a football fanatic has become something of a running joke.  During my second year of law school, one interviewer asked why my grades were consistently lower in the fall than the spring.  We spent the next forty minutes talking football, and I’m still convinced that if the entire US economy hadn’t collapsed two weeks later, I’d be working there still today. 

How I came to football is pretty self-evident.  I grew up in Texas, where high school football fields are bigger than many college stadiums.  And then I went to college at the University of Alabama, a place revered for football and reviled for its history and its role in civil rights struggles, past and present

What people find more surprising is that it was also my time in Alabama that turned me into a feminist.  Early in my college career, I was lucky enough to find a mentor who encouraged me to question everything and who challenged me to stop accepting other people’s beliefs as my truths.  It never mattered what conclusions I reached, so long as they were reasoned, and so long as they were mine.  Give a girl a space to think for herself and watch her go!  But if it’s this girl, don’t ask her to go anywhere on the Third Saturday in October.  

So, now, everyone’s talking about Michael Sam.  And they should be.  When the best defensive player in the best conference in college football announces “I’m an openly proud gay man,” just days before what amounts to the biggest job interview of his life, it means a lot of people are about to have their stereotypes handed back to them on a silver platter.  Stereotypes both about what it means to be gay and what it means to be a football player.   

Sam has already disproven most of those stereotypes.  He helped lead the Missouri Tigers to a 12-2 season, in their second season in the SEC, football’s most dominating conference.  He racked up a resumé full of collegiate football honors.  He was voted MVP by his teammates, all of whom knew about his sexuality.   The sanctity of the Missouri locker room was, obviously, not compromised by the presence of a gay man in the showers.  And while Sam acknowledged there might have been some “discomfort” among some of the less-enlightened team members, the real takeway is that everyone “worked through it” to build one of the most successful football teams in Mizzou history. 

I’ve also been asked a lot in the last week why I think Sam chose to come out publicly  right before the Combine.[1]  The most likely answer is that it was going to happen anyways.   Enough people involved in the draft process already suspected, and rather than waiting to be “outed,” Sam chose to come out in his own way.   I admire the courage and integrity of that choice to take ownership of his own story, to not let anyone else dictate it for him.  He is projected to be a mid-round draft pick.  Whether the controversy causes his draft stock to fall (sadly, I think it will), he will be playing in the NFL next year.  And he’ll do it on his own terms.  The first openly gay player on the roster of any NFL team. 

But he won’t be the last.  In all likelihood, he won’t even be the only openly gay player, at least not for long.  I’m hoping that Sam’s courage and leadership will be the impetus for bringing other NFL players out of the closet.  Rookies aren’t normally known for their leadership, but in this moment, Michael Sam has chosen to lead.  In spite of the possible negative consequences it could have on his career, a very brave, very authentic 24-year-old man just did what no NFL veteran has had the courage to do.  He’s taking the glare of the media and the speculation of the blogosphere and the intense scrutiny of the recruiting process all at the same time.  And if he has the courage and strength to carry that load on his big shoulders, I can only hope by the time he takes the field, some NFL veterans will be ready to share his load. 


Marti McCaleb works in Seattle as a contract attorney and volunteers with Legal Voice.  In August, after a 21 year wait, she’ll be the flower girl in her uncle’s wedding to the man of his dreams.  She is having a difficult time finding a proper dress and welcomes suggestions.   


[1] For the uninitiated, the NFL Scouting Combine is basically a week-long audition, where athletes perform physical and mental tests—yes, there are football aptitude tests!—and interview with various NFL scouts.  It’s by invitation only, which means someone somewhere has to think you’re pretty good to even get in the door.

Photo Credit Here

Friday, February 14, 2014

So far, Four out of Five Americans Qualify for Free or Low-cost Health Coverage

by Robert Riley

What?? Free or low-cost health coverage? Can this possibly be true?

Yes. This astonishing news is buried in the 17th paragraph of an article originating from the NewYork Times, reprinted in yesterday’s Seattle Times:

About four-fifths of those choosing health plans to date qualified for financial assistance to help pay their premiums, [Obama] administration officials said.

A historic transformation took place January 1, when the Affordable Care Act took effect: hardworking Americans may qualify, depending on their income, for financial help to secure health insurance.  

Depending on your family income, you may qualify for premium assistance too. 

A family of four needing insurance and earning less than $94,000 a year will qualify for a low cost plan; a family of four making $32,499 or less will qualify for a plan at no cost. 

Meet a few Washingtonians who signed up online at: www.wahealthplanfinder.org and already reap the health benefits of their new, affordable coverage:
Ingrid is a talented Seattle videographer, landscaper, and dog trainer. She qualified for no cost Apple Health coverage, and recently had a full preventive physical (her first in years) along with a Pap smear, mammogram, colonoscopy, prescription for her skin rash, plus a knee x-ray - all without any co-pays or deductibles. Yesterday she saw a dentist, thanks to her new coverage.  Her advice to others:  “I encourage you to sign up immediately!”



Claire and Jim create beautiful works of art and run an eclectic bar in the southeast Washington town of Waitsburg.  They qualified for a silver Group Health plan with a premium (for both) of $159. In January, Jim had his first checkup; and in early February, Claire had one as well, including full cancer screening.

“Thanks to our new health plan, all of this care was covered for free - no hassles, no co-pays, no fine print,” exclaimed Claire.




Kristi is a Seattle chef and small business owner.
She qualified for no cost Apple Health coverage.  Even so, she didn’t believe it would do much for her.  Then in January, she visited the doctor, learned that an IUD costing $700 would be the best solution for her ongoing medical condition, had it ordered and promptly installed, free of charge, without any co-pays. “This relieves so much anxiety,” says Kristi.  “I’m really excited and appreciative of the Affordable Care Act.  Having health care means things will be taken care of.”



Carrie and Ken manage a small organic farm near the town of Orting, in the shadow of Mount Rainier.

It's a darn good thing their new, no-cost Apple Health coverage started January 1, because in late January, as Carrie was tending the farm, a ram went on a rampage, charging and attacking her repeatedly.   She wound up scraped and bruised, with a broken leg.  Her hospital visit and follow up care were all covered, with no deductibles or fine print. 



Julie and her husband began midlife career transitions after launching their daughter from the proverbial nest.
Last fall they explored their new coverage options, and selected a bronze Group Health plan for which they receive full premium assistance.  

Though Julie doubted her new insurance card would work, she gave it a try in mid-January after she heard the scary news of this year's flu outbreak – 10 deaths already in our state.  Sure enough, she was whisked through the Seattle clinic, and given a flu shot, free of charge.

"The experience couldn't have been more seamless. I drove in and out of there in 15 minutes!" she exclaimed.


If you live in Washington State and need coverage, follow Ingrid’s advice and sign up immediately by visiting: www.wahealthplanfinder.org

Don’t delay! Open enrollment ends March 31, 2014




Roberta Riley is the Communications Director for Northwest Health Law Advocates, a non-profit dedicated to health care for all. In her former role as Legal Counsel for Planned Parenthood, Ms. Riley won a groundbreaking federal court decision requiring health plan coverage of prescription contraception. She has served as a consumer advocate at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, and was appointed to the Washington State Health Reform Realization Panel by the Hon. Mike Kreidler. In recognition of her achievements on behalf of women, she was given a 2001 Ms. Magazine Women the Year Award.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A Super January for Law Geeks – and for Equality!


If you’re a law geek who cares about LGBT equality, the past few weeks have been almost as exciting as the Super Bowl was for Seahawks fans!

The fight for marriage equality is surging across the country, even the reddest states.  Legal challenges to state bans on marriage for same-sex couples are now pending in more than 20 states – and new lawsuits are being filed every week.

This is producing headlines in some surprising places.  For example:

  • On December 20, a federal judge struck down Utah’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples.  And in a welcome but unexpected step, both the judge and the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the state’s requests to put the ruling on hold pending appeal.  That meant that nearly 1,000 lesbian and gay couples were able to marry in Utah, until the U.S. Supreme Court finally granted the state’s request to stay the ruling on January 6.  
  • Then on January 14, a federal judge in Oklahoma issued a ruling overturning that state’s anti-marriage law.  Remarkably, the Oklahoma case had been pending in the federal court system for nearly ten years – an incredible display of persistence by the plaintiffs and their attorneys.
  • A challenge to Virginia’s ban on marriage equality will be argued in February - and this week, Virginia’s new Attorney General announced that he would not defend the state’s ban because he views it as unconstitutional.

And with less press attention, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision recently that may have an even greater impact.  In its ruling in GlaxoSmithKline v. Abbott Laboratories, the Ninth Circuit held that a person cannot be excluded from a jury based on sexual orientation. Significantly, the court held that state discrimination against gays and lesbians must be subject to heightened judicial scrutiny under the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause - a standard that is very difficult for a state to overcome.

So what’s next?   Because so many lawsuits are pending across the country, we can’t know which court will be the next to issue a ruling in a marriage case.  But here are some things to watch in the coming months: 

All eyes on the Tenth Circuit

Both Utah and Oklahoma are in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, a federal appellate court that covers many of the Mountain West and Plains states.  That means the appeals in both the Utah and Oklahoma marriage cases will be heard by the court.  The Tenth Circuit has announced that it will hear appeals in both cases on a very fast track, with arguments to be held in April.
   
As a result, the Tenth Circuit will likely be the first federal appellate court to rule on the constitutionality of state marriage bans since the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision last June in United States v. Windsor, which struck down part of the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act.” 

And while the Tenth Circuit is not regarded as the most progressive appellate court in the country, the fact that the court refused to put the Utah marriage ruling on hold seems like an encouraging sign.

Don’t forget about the Ninth Circuit

There’s another marriage equality case pending in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers most of the western United States.  The case challenges Nevada’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples.  The case has been pending in the Ninth Circuit for more than a year – but it looks like arguments in the Tenth Circuit’s cases will be heard before the Ninth Circuit’s case.

Importantly, the Ninth Circuit’s ruling last week in the GlaxoSmithKline case means that the court should apply heightened judicial scrutiny to Nevada’s ban – a standard that will be very difficult for opponents of marriage equality to overcome.  

Indeed, one of the parties defending Nevada’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples just dropped its defense of the law earlier this week, based on the GlaxoSmithKline ruing.  And Nevada’s Attorney General is now pondering whether to continue the state’s defense of the law as well.

And then there’s the Supreme Court

Of course, it’s nearly inevitable that the Supreme Court will have the final word on the constitutionality of laws that ban same-sex couples from marrying.  And because the Tenth Circuit is “fast-tracking” the Utah and Oklahoma cases, this could happen even more quickly than expected.  

So keep your seat belts fastened!  If the rest of 2014 is as exciting as January, this is shaping up to be an incredible year for law geeks – and for equality.