This Week in Civil Rights: Mayday for Marriage, the Shepard-Byrd Act, and Westboro Baptist's Latest Targets

May 2011

New York has become the center of the battle over gay marriage, and Focus on the Family is sending in reinforcements. The Colorado Springs–based organization has joined forces with like-minded groups in a campaign called Mayday for Marriage. Their message, however, "is being mocked for sounding wartime alarms and referencing hypothetically distraught future generations at a time when opinion, especially among young people, is swinging wildly in support of gay equality" (Colorado Independent).

While data from a recent Pew Research poll supports those assertions, a number of investigations opened by the Department of Justice's civil-rights division also indicate that crimes against the LGBT community are still very much a concern. In Aurora earlier this week, federal law enforcement gathered with prosecutors and civil-rights organizations to learn how to identify a hate crime, using the Shepard-Byrd Act as their guide (Denver Post).

The law, which President Obama signed in 2009, is partly named for Matthew Shepard, whose death forever changed the life of David O'Malley, sheriff of the Wyoming county where Shepard was killed. O'Malley told the Aurora audience Monday he no longer uses antigay slurs or tells homophobic jokes, and he discussed how the Shepard-Byrd Act could have provided his department with more resources in the wake of Shepard's 1998 murder.

Shepard's funeral became the platform that "elevated the national profile" of the notorious Westboro Baptist Church (Star-Tribune), whose defaming picketers are staging three protests Thursday in the Denver area. Their stops will include Ponderosa High School graduation in Parker—and senior Ryan Wheeler in particular, after he challenged Westboro's constitutional right to protest in an essay for the Denver Post (Westword). WBC also intends to express its condemnation of Jews and Muslims at the University of Denver Hillel center and the Denver Islamic Society, respectively.