Maryland Senate clears marriage bill

The Maryland Senate on Thursday gave final legislative approval to a marriage equality bill that the governor is expected to soon sign. The vote was 25 to 22.

Meanwhile, the Maine Secretary of State confirmed Thursday that activists have turned in enough valid signatures to put a pro-marriage equality measure on the ballot there in November.

The Maryland Senate on Thursday gave final legislative approval to a marriage equality bill that the governor is expected to soon sign. The vote was 25 to 22.

Meanwhile, the Maine Secretary of State confirmed Thursday that activists have turned in enough valid signatures to put a pro-marriage equality measure on the ballot there in November.

The vote marked the third time a state legislature has given final approval to marriage equality in the past two weeks. Two of the three states (in Maryland and Washington) are likely to be put the law before voters this November. The third state (New Jersey) had the legislation immediately vetoed by its governor.

The Maryland House of Delegates passed the marriage equality bill February 17 with a bare minimum of 71 votes, but there is no threat of veto here. Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, sponsored the bill and is poised to sign it.

Like the House, the Senate debated and rejected a number of hostile amendments, including efforts to censor sex education courses for students and to write into the legislation explicit statements saying that minors cannot marry other minors. One amendment sought an exemption for landlords who want to refusing housing to same-sex couples. Another sought to ensure that the state could continue to recognize “Mother’s Day” and “Father’s Day.” Any amendment would have forced the bill back to the House for a concurring vote.

Senator David Brinkley, a Republican, slowed consideration of the bill by reading a prolonged letter opposing the legislation, citing religious objections. Senate President Thomas Miller, a Democrat, interrupted at one point and encouraged Brinkley to “speed read” or wait until others had a chance to speak before attempting his apparent filibuster.

Brinkley eventually sought approval for an amendment with a broad exemption for people, businesses, and religious institutions who have religious objections to same-sex marriage.

Six states plus the District of Columbia now have full marriage equality: Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont.

Washington State Governor Chris Gregoire signed that state’s marriage equality legislation on February 13, but the law cannot take effect until June and will likely be delayed even longer by a referendum. Activists in Maine hope to establish marriage equality through a pro-active ballot measure this November.

Voters in North Carolina will be given an opportunity to establish a ban on same-sex marriage there in May. Voters in Minnesota will consider a similar ban in November. An effort to put a pro-active pro-same-sex marriage measure on the ballot in California in November recently dissolved but was never considered to be well-supported by the LGBT community.

Federal judge: DOMA unconstitutional

A federal district court judge in San Francisco ruled Tuesday (February 22) that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) violates the rights of gays and lesbians to equal protection of the law.

Jeffrey White

A federal district court judge in San Francisco ruled Tuesday (February 22) that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) violates the rights of gays and lesbians to equal protection of the law.

The ruling by Judge Jeffrey White of the U.S. District Court for Northern California was the second time a federal judge has declared unconstitutional the federal law banning recognition of same-sex marriages. A federal district court judge in Boston made a similar ruling in July 2010, in consolidated cases brought by Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

This week’s ruling came in a case, Golinski v. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), brought by Lambda Legal Defense on behalf of a lesbian attorney, Karen Golinski, who is employed by the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

Golinski married her female partner of 20-plus years in August 2008, when it was possible to do so in California. She then applied for health care coverage for her spouse through her employer, the Ninth Circuit, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski ordered the court to provide Golinski benefits but the OPM, headed by openly gay appointee John Berry, instructed the insurance company not to enroll Golinski’s spouse, noting that DOMA precluded the federal employer from recognizing Golinski’s marriage.

Golinski’s lawsuit, like that of the Massachusetts cases, challenges only Section 3 of DOMA—the section that limits the definition of marriage for federal benefits to straight couples.

Judge Jeffrey White, an appointee of President George W. Bush, said the legislative history of DOMA is “replete with expressed animus toward gay men and lesbians” but he said he was “persuaded that something short of animus may have motivated DOMA’s passage.” That “something short of animus,” he suggested, might have been a simple lack of “careful, rational reflection” or “instinctive” reaction to “people who appear to be different….”

Tara Borelli, the Lambda staff attorney who led Golinski’s challenge, said White’s decision “spells doom for DOMA.” But the decision will almost certainly be appealed given that House Speaker John Boehner has committed to funding a legal defense of the law. Boehner did so soon after the Obama administration announced, in February 2011, that it considers DOMA to be unconstitutional and would not mount a vigorous defense of it in court.

Seeming to anticipate criticisms that his opinion rendered him an “activist judge,” White noted, “The fact that the issue is socially divisive does nothing to relieve the judiciary of its obligation to examine the constitutionality of the discriminating classifications in the law.”

In his ruling, White said the appropriate level of review in scrutinizing DOMA was “heightened review,” a level of scrutiny more vigorous than mere “rational review.” If a law is subjected to heightened review, a court must find that the law treating one group of people differently is “substantially related to an important governmental objective.” White said Congress failed to justify its disparate treatment of gays and lesbians under either rational or heightened scrutiny.

In the two Massachusetts cases, Judge Joseph Tauro, an appointee of President Nixon to the U.S. District Court in Boston applied only rational review when he ruled that Section 3 of DOMA violates the equal protection principles embodied in the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment and violates the Tenth Amendment by taking from the states decisions concerning which couples can be considered married. The U.S. House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) is leading the appeal of Tauro’s ruling in the consolidated cases, known generally as Gill v. OPM. A three-judge panel of the First Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals is expected to hear oral arguments in the first week of April.

The Defense of Marriage Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton in 1996. While Section 3 is the only part under challenge at this time, the law also includes a Section 2 which stipulates that states may refuse to recognize same-sex marriages duly licensed by other states.

Prop 8 appeal heading to full circuit

Attorneys defending California’s same-sex marriage ban are filing a petition today (February 21), seeking full 9th Circuit review of an appeals panel ruling that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.

Attorneys defending California’s same-sex marriage ban are filing a petition today (February 21), seeking full 9th Circuit review of an appeals panel ruling that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.

A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled February 7 that Proposition 8 violates the federal constitution’s guarantee of equal protection and due process of the law. Many legal activists said the ruling was crafted in a way to maximize reliance on previous Supreme Court ruling and, thus, survive what many believe is an inevitable appeal to the nation’s highest court.

Attorneys defending Proposition 8 could have taken their appeal of the panel’s decision directly to the U.S. Supreme Court, but failure to exhaust all lower court appeals can diminish the probability that the high court will accept review.

The 9th Circuit has handled the case, thus far, on an expedited basis and, if the full circuit does so, it will likely hear oral arguments this year. And while a full circuit court (“en banc”) review in most circuits involves all active judges on the circuit’s bench, in the large 9th Circuit, it typically means 11 of the court’s 28 judges.

 

 

 

Maryland House passes marriage bill

The Maryland House of Delegates passed a marriage equality bill Friday evening with a bare minimum of 71 votes to 67. But it did so under the threat of a referendum, and it did so just hours after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie followed through on his promise to veto a marriage equality bill passed by that state’s legislature on Thursday.

The Maryland House of Delegates passed a marriage equality bill Friday evening with a bare minimum of 71 votes to 67. But it did so under the threat of a referendum, and it did so just hours after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie followed through on his promise to veto a marriage equality bill passed by that state’s legislature on Thursday.

Visitors crowded into the Maryland House erupted into a loud and sustained cheer as the House clerk noted that 71 delegates had voted for the bill. The vote came after hours of emotional debate that sounded, at times, like a series of sermons— with delegates declaring what they said god has ordained as marriage and warning that same-sex marriage would open the door to polygamy and marriages with children and that it would encourage children to become gay.

Delegate Kathy Afzali, a Republican, said a Democrat in the House begged her to vote against the bill because “it has caused so many churches to split and fracture.” And Republican Michael Smeigiel urged a “no” vote, saying the marriage equality bill would be divisive and that the legislature should give same-sex couples civil unions.

The Maryland Senate, which passed the bill last year and is likely to do so again this year, is expected to vote in the near future. The bill was sponsored by Maryland’s Democratic Governor Martin O’Malley.

A key vote appeared to be that of Delegate Tiffany Alston, a Democrat from suburban Washington, D.C. Alston said she supported the bill last year but that her constituents opposed it so she voted against it. She said she was supporting and voting for the bill this year because the House adopted her amendment to enable a referendum on the issue.

The Alston amendment delays implementation of the new law until any litigation surrounding a possible referendum is resolved and states that, if any part of the law is “held invalid for any reason in a court of competent jurisdiction,” the entire law shall be made null and void.

The bill also won the support of a key Republican, Delegate A. Wade Kach of Baltimore, who backed the bill after getting approval of an amendment moving the effective date of the bill back from October 1 to January 1. Kach said he wanted to ensure that the bill did not have any impact on the November elections.

The House rejected numerous other amendments, including one that would have enabled parents to opt out their children from receiving any sex education that mentioned same-sex marriages; one that prohibited a minor from marrying a person of the same sex; one that sought to require a constitutional amendment allowing same-sex partners to marry; and one that sought to allow for civil unions only.

 

The vote in the Maryland House of Delegates had been expected on Thursday, February 16, but a flood of amendments and the sudden hospitalization of one of the bill’s supporters pushed that back until Friday. The chamber, which has 141 delegates, needed 71 to pass the bill.

Many opponents of the measure warned during debate that they would seek a referendum on the measure, if passed. Referenda law in Maryland requires that opponents of laws enacted by the legislature and signed by the governor file 55,736 valid signatures by May 31.

In New Jersey, Christie issued a “conditional veto” against the marriage equality bill there, saying it would create an “Ombudsman for Civil Unions” to “ensure equal treatment under the law.”

In New Jersey, supporters of the marriage bill said they would begin the process to seek votes to overturn Governor Christie’s veto. They will need 27 in the Senate (where the bill passed with 24 votes) and 54 in the Assembly (where it passed with 42). But the legislature can take two years to overturn that veto.

There is little expectation that supporters of the marriage equality law will seek a referendum in New Jersey, as Governor Christie suggested.

Christie, in his veto statement, said “an issue of this magnitude and importance … requires a constitutional amendment [and] should be left to the people of New Jersey to decide.”

“I continue to encourage the Legislature to trust the people of New Jersey and seek their input by allowing our citizens to vote on a question that represents a profoundly significant societal change,” said Christie.  “This is the only path to amend our State Constitution and the best way to resolve the issue of same-sex marriage in our state.”

Unexpectedly, Christie also emphasized his commitment to non-discrimination through his veto statement.

“I have been just as adamant that same-sex couples in a civil union deserve the very same rights and benefits enjoyed by married couples – as well as the strict enforcement of those rights and benefits,” said Christie. “Discrimination should not be tolerated and any complaint alleging a violation of a citizen’s right should be investigated and, if appropriate, remedied. To that end, I include in my conditional veto the creation of a strong Ombudsman for Civil Unions to carry on New Jersey’s strong tradition of tolerance and fairness. The Ombudsman will be charged with increasing awareness of the law regarding civil unions, will provide a clear point of contact for those who have questions or concerns and will be required to report any evidence of the law being violated. In this way, we can ensure equal treatment under the law.”

Lambda Legal Defense still has a lawsuit pending in state court, challenging the validity of the existing civil unions law.

 

NJ Assembly clears marriage; veto pending; Maryland poised

Everyone knows Republican Governor Chris Christie has vowed to veto to the marriage equality bill in New Jersey, but the state Assembly passed it anyway on Thursday, and by a vote of 42 to 33. That’s not enough to overturn Christie’s veto, but the legislative victory—coming just three days after Washington Governor Chris Gregoire signed a marriage equality bill there—pumps an impressive momentum.

Everyone knows Republican Governor Chris Christie has vowed to veto to the marriage equality bill in New Jersey, but the state Assembly passed it anyway on Thursday, and by a vote of 42 to 33. That’s not enough to overturn Christie’s veto, but the legislative victory—coming just three days after Washington Governor Chris Gregoire signed a marriage equality bill there—pumps an impressive momentum. And Maryland may vote today (February 17).

The New Jersey Senate passed the bill on Monday, 24 to 16, despite Governor Christie’s very public goading that the legislature, instead, put the issue on the ballot and let voters decide in November. Christie’s offer is not so much a gesture of respect for direct democracy as it is a tactic to improve the Republican presidential candidate’s chances in November. Anti-gay ballot measures are notorious for attracting conservative voters to the polling booths, even when the Republican nominee is not a highly popular one.

But time may not be on Christie’s side. According to the New York Times, Democratic supporters of the marriage equality bill in the legislature have two years to muster 27 votes in the Senate and 54 in the Assembly to override a veto. That’s three more in the Senate and 12 more in the Assembly. Helping to stoke support for those additional votes are polls in New Jersey showing 54 percent of voters say same-sex couples should be able to marry. That compares to 35 percent who oppose allowing gay couples to marry, four percent want only civil unions, and seven person who have no position. (The latest poll, conducted by Rutgers, surveyed 914 adults in New Jersey February 9-11 by cell and landline phones; margin of error is plus or minus three points.) Bottom line: An eight-point jump in support of same-sex marriage over two years time.

Massachusetts became the first state to offer marriage licenses to same-sex couples in 2004, after a state supreme court ruling. It was four years before another state followed –Connecticut in 2008 in response to a court ruling. But 2009 turned out to be a watershed year: The Connecticut legislature passed its own law allowing for same-sex marriages, followed by New Hampshire, Vermont, and the District of Columbia. The Iowa Supreme Court added a fifth state, through a unanimous ruling. It was another three years before New York would join the trend, with the legislature passing a marriage equality bill in 2011.

Washington’s state legislature has passed its bill and signed it, but it’s now waiting for 90 days to tick by with the expectation that opponents will turn in enough signatures to force the new law into a referendum before it can go into effect.

Maryland is poised for action. The Baltimore Sun said a marriage equality bill there may get a vote Friday (February 17) “but the bill’s fate is uncertain,” particularly in the House. (The Senate passed the bill last year.) The Sun reported that at least one critical vote in the House of Delegates, a Republican, was receiving phone calls from former Vice President Dick Cheney and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to urge his support.

Komen controversy rattles LGBT community

As the dust settles on the flashfire controversy over a decision by the nation’s largest organization fighting breast cancer to withdraw grants from the nation’s largest provider of services regarding reproduction, the LGBT community is taking stock of the damage and the potential damage.

Nancy Brinker

As the dust settles on the flashfire controversy over a decision by the nation’s largest organization fighting breast cancer to withdraw grants from the nation’s largest provider of services regarding reproduction, the LGBT community is taking stock of the damage and the potential damage.

Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the nation’s largest organization specialized in combating breast cancer, announced January 31 that it would no longer provide grants to Planned Parenthood. Then, four days later, after being hit with a harsh public backlash, it reversed that decision. But the controversy has raised questions about the relationship between politics and philanthropy, and about whether LGBT health services could be the next to see their funds cut.

Komen’s relationships with LGBT health organizations are long-standing and extensive. The Komen website lists more than 30 grants in total for LGBT-related breast health projects between 2007 and 2011. And Komen and its local affiliates help fund many major LGBT health centers, including the Mautner Project, a national lesbian health organization; the Howard Brown Health Center (Chicago); Lyon-Martin Health Services (San Francisco); the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center (New York City); the LGBT Community Center (New York City); Fenway Health (Boston), and the Mazzoni Center (Philadelphia).

A spokesperson for the Resource Center Dallas said they have never received any Komen grants. But the Planned Parenthood chapter of North Texas is headed by an openly gay man, Ken Lambrecht. In an interview with the Dallas Voice February 9, Lambrecht noted that Komen’s national founder and CEO, Nancy Brinker, had been on his chapter’s Advisory Council.

Komen initially withdrew nearly $700,000 in grants to Planned Parenthood. That money had been used to provide nearly 170,000 clinical breast exams and more than 6,400 mammogram referrals around the country, according to Planned Parenthood. The organization also provides “sensitive, and appropriate reproductive health, general health, and sexual health services to all of our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender patients,” notes the Planned Parenthood website.

Komen said it withdrew the funding because it has a policy of not funding organizations under Congressional investigation.

Last fall, U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) began an investigation into whether Planned Parenthood has illegally used federal money to fund abortion services. Stearns has long been known for his anti-abortion views. And many suspected Komen’s decision was less motivated by the “investigation” than for the politics, and they said so, loudly. Their suspicions were made all the stronger because Komen had hired Karen Handel as its senior vice president for public policy last April. Handel, during her unsuccessful run for Georgia governor in 2010, had promised to defund Planned Parenthood in that state, if elected.

Lorri L. Jean, CEO of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, the largest LGBT community organization in the country, was one of the first to issue a statement (February 1), saying Komen “has stunningly decided to shun its mission by siding with right wing extremists rather than with low income women—including large numbers of lesbians and transgender women—at risk of breast cancer.” Many other groups and individuals criticized Komen’s decision, too, some vowing to withhold contributions and participation in Komen’s highly popular “Race for the Cure” events.

By February 7, Handel had resigned from Komen, citing the controversy.

Liz Margolies, executive director of the National LGBT Cancer Network, said her group has never received Komen funding but said the defunding of Planned Parenthood would have been “a blow to the health of the LGBT community.” LGBT people, she said, experience “increased obstacles in accessing care and difficulty finding culturally competent providers,” along with lower rates of health insurance coverage. Planned Parenthood filled this gap for many LGBT people.”

The Komen controversy raised additional concerns about future funding for LGBT health services.

The Mautner Project, a national lesbian health organization, currently has a $200,000, two-year grant from the central Komen organization’s National Capital Area Grants Program in Washington, D.C. The money forms approximately 10 percent of Mautner’s total budget.

Leslie Calman, executive director of the Mautner Project, said in an interview that Komen has been an “extremely generous donor.” Mautner received a $500,000, two-year, capacity-building grant between 2008 and 2010 that “saved the Mautner Project” when it had been in danger of going under, Calman said.

In Chicago, Howard Brown Health Center received a $75,000 grant from Komen’s local affiliate in 2010 to support its Breast Health Awareness Peer Educator Project, “designed to encourage breast health conversation and education among sexual minority women of color over 40.”

Cindi Creager, a spokesperson for New York City’s LGBT Community Center, said the Center has received “varying levels of funding” from Komen Greater NYC since 2004, most recently, an $80,000 grant in 2010. The Center has a grant application pending for 2012.

Nurit Shein, executive director of the Mazzoni Center in Philadelphia, said her center has received $30,000 this year from Komen’s Philadelphia affiliate to do “education, clinical breast exams, and referrals to mammograms,” and has received similar grants for several years.

Wendy Stark, executive director of the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center in New York City, said the Komen affiliate has funded that Center for over 10 years. Dr. Anita Radix, director of research and education at Callen-Lorde, sits on Komen’s National Multicultural Advisory Board. Among other things, Komen money supports the “very critical position” of a case manager in women’s health at Callen-Lorde. “We’ve found them to be very supportive of LGBT health,” said Stark.

The L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center has not received grants from Komen, but Jim Key, chief public affairs officer for the Center, said that, even though Komen reversed its decision regarding Planned Parenthood, the L.A. Center still “[finds] it distressing that the foundation was so willing to play politics at the expense of vital services such as breast cancer screenings.”

“If pro-choice organizations are first, we can’t help but wonder if LGBT organizations are next,” he said.

Nurit Shein in Philadelphia, agreed, saying that Komen’s hiring of the anti-gay Handel made her wonder, “Are lesbians next?” after the defunding of Planned Parenthood.

Shein also sits on Komen’s National Multicultural Advisory Board, which addresses issues of the LGBT community, among others. She said in an interview that she has been “sharing our disappointment and concerns” with Komen officials about the controversy. But she said the situation also indicates a “disconnect” between Komen’s local affiliates and its national headquarters. The Philadelphia affiliate “has been a true partner with us,” she asserted.

In Massachusetts, the state Komen affiliate in 2011 funded the annual Audre Lorde Cancer Awareness Brunch at Boston’s Fenway Health. Audre Lorde was a lesbian activist and writer who died in 1992 from breast cancer.

Boston’s Fenway Health Center spokesperson Philip Finch said, “We’d certainly be receptive to their funding it in the future, as long as they have policies which are supportive of women and women’s health,” such as the policy to fund Planned Parenthood again.

In a statement February 3, Komen CEO Nancy Brinker said, “We have been distressed at the presumption that the changes made to our funding criteria were done for political reasons or to specifically penalize Planned Parenthood. They were not.” She added that Komen will amend its grantmaking criteria “to make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political.”

And the Maunter Project’s Calman said Komen had been “scrupulously apolitical” until the Planned Parenthood defunding, even though Brinker is a Republican and served as a presidential appointee under President George W. Bush. Calman noted that Mollie Williams, Komen’s managing director of community health programs, who resigned in protest at the defunding of Planned Parenthood, sits on the Mautner Project Technical Advisory Council and has been “a good friend to the Mautner Project.”

Calman said she had been “alarmed and dismayed” at Komen’s decision to defund Planned Parenthood, and characterized it as “a huge misstep.” But she said that, going forward, she looks forward to “continued support” from Komen.

Shein of Philadelphia said she would like to hear “a stronger statement” from Komen about “mixing politics and philanthropy,” but is “glad” the national organization reversed its decision.

In response to a request for comment, Komen’s media office said, “We are not doing media interviews at this time.”

Creager, of New York’s LGBT Community Center, said the center will continue to “pay attention to new developments,” but added, “We hope and believe Komen will continue to address the needs of LBT people with breast cancer by continuing to partner with the Center and other LGBT organizations.”

The situation with Planned Parenthood may even have made that more likely. The L.A. Center’s Key noted that, “Komen knows the world is watching—and there will be an immediate outcry over any decision that prioritizes politics over lives.”

Washington governor signs marriage bill; NJ Senate advances one

In a sometimes emotional ceremony Monday morning (February 13), Washington Governor Christine Gregoire signed the freshly passed marriage equality bill, telling a crowded gathering at the State House, saying that it means same-sex couples “will no longer be separate but equal” in Washington but simply equal.

The ceremony took place just hours after the New Jersey Senate voted 24 to 16 to pass a marriage equality law there. The New Jersey bill now goes to the Assembly, which is expected to pass it on Thursday.

In a sometimes emotional ceremony Monday morning (February 13), Washington Governor Christine Gregoire signed the freshly passed marriage equality bill, telling a crowded gathering at the State House, saying that it means same-sex couples “will no longer be separate but equal” in Washington but simply equal.

The ceremony took place just hours after the New Jersey Senate voted 24 to 16 to pass a marriage equality law there. The New Jersey bill now goes to the Assembly, which is expected to pass it on Thursday. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, has made well-known he intends to veto the bill. The legislature is not expected to muster the 27 votes in the Senate and 54 in the Assembly to overcome that veto.

The Washington State bill also has its hurdles ahead, too. Opponents are expected to mount an effort to force the bill into a referendum, an action that, if successful, could either kill or delay implementation of the new law until December.

But during Monday’s signing ceremony, the mood was determined and upbeat.

Gregoire told the audience of a 16-year-old lesbian who wrote to her recently saying she had considered suicide but had been given renewed hope by passage of the marriage equality bill.

She said she had been overwhelmed with response to the bill, both from young people and couples who had been together for many years.

“I am so proud of our young people, including my two wonderful daughters,” said Gregoire, her voice choking with emotion. Gregoire said her daughters, ages 27 and 32, told her that “this is the civil rights issue of their time.”

The Washington State legislature was the ninth state to have approved marriage equality —either through the legislature (five states), the courts (two), or both (two). Two of those states (California and Maine) had their laws reversed by voters, so Washington—if it rejects the expected repeal effort— will become the seventh state, plus the District of Columbia, to provide marriage equality. (California’s law was reversed after being in effect only six months. Enactment of Maine’s law was delayed pending the referendum vote.)

The marriage equality bill passed the Washington House February 8 on a 55 to 43 vote, overturning an existing law to ban same-sex marriage. It passed the Senate 28 to 21 on February 1.

According to the Washington Secretary of State’s office, the law is due to take effect on June 7, but opponents of the law have until June 6 to turn in more than 120,000 signatures. If they do turn in signatures, the law will be suspended until either voters can weigh in on the measure in November or until the Secretary of State certifies that too few signatures passed the validation process. If the latter occurs, the law would take effect immediately (probably sometime in July).

State Rep. Jamie Pederson, sponsor of the bill in the House, thanked the governor for taking “a significant risk” to support the legislation and for being the governor to do “the most in U.S. history” to advance the cause of equal rights for LGBT people. Gregoire also signed a state law in 2006, prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. She also signed a bill in 2007 establishing domestic partnerships and a bill in 2009 giving same-sex couples “everything but marriage.”

State Sen. Ed Murray, who sponsored the marriage equality bill in the Senate, welcomed the gathered audience to the “other side of the rainbow.” He thanked “courageous legislators, Democrat and Republican” who supported the bill despite the potential for backlash. And he, like Pederson, gave the lion’s share of credit for the bill’s passage to Governor Gregoire, who received prolonged applause and the chanting of “Thank you,” from the crowd.

A local pastor, Ken Hutcherson of the Antioch Bible Church in Redmond, has already vowed a referendum on the measure, as has the National Organization for Marriage.

NOM leader Brian Brown told CBN that “we’re going to be able to get the signatures very quickly.”

State law requires that more than 120,000 signatures be gathered to put an issue on the ballot. And while Brown and many others believe a referendum is likely this November, marriage equality supporters believe Washington voters will reject it.

But proponents of the law expressed confidence that voters would sustain the measure, if it is put to a vote in November.

“The wide margins by which the marriage equality bill passed both the House and the Senate demonstrates the rapidly growing support in the State of Washington for ending state sanctioned discrimination in the issuance of marriage licenses,” said Josh Friedes, Marriage Equality Director for the statewide gay political group, Equal Rights Washington (ERW). ERW is part of a large coalition of groups seeking marriage equality in the state, including the Human Rights Campaign, the ACLU, Planned Parenthood Northwest, NARAL, the National Organization for Women, and numerous unions, Jewish and religious groups, and groups working for the rights of minorities.

Gregoire, a Democrat, began her second term as governor in 2009 and would be up for re-election this year. But she announced last June that she would not seek re-election. She survived breast cancer (diagnosed in 2003) and said her decision was a personal one, but she added that her retirement was motivated by a desire to focus her remaining months in office on addressing the state’s recession.

The Washington bill, like marriage equality bills in other states, includes generous exceptions for religious institutions to refuse to accommodate services to same-sex couples that marry.

The Washington State marriage bill calls for “ending discrimination in marriage based on gender and sexual orientation to ensure that all persons in this state may enjoy the freedom to marry on equal terms, while also respecting the religious freedom of clergy and religious institutions to determine for whom to perform marriage ceremonies and to determine which marriages to recognize for religious purposes.”

The religious protection language in the bill stipulates that “no official of a religious denomination or non-profit institution…may be required to solemnize any marriage in violation of his or her right to free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution or by the Washington state Constitution.” It also enables religious institutions to bar use of their facilities to same-sex couples for marriage ceremonies.

Small LGBT dinner, big bucks for Obama

About 40 gay and lesbian supporters of President Obama’s re-election raised almost $1.5 million at a private fundraiser in Washington, D.C., Thursday night (February 9).

The event was co-hosted by the Chicago Cubs’ openly gay co-owner, former Ambassador James Hormel, and several other high-profile gay funders.

About 40 gay and lesbian supporters of President Obama’s re-election raised almost $1.5 million at a private fundraiser in Washington, D.C., Thursday night (February 9).

The event was co-hosted by the Chicago Cubs’ openly gay co-owner, former Ambassador James Hormel, and several other high-profile gay funders.

“The work that we’ve done with respect to the LGBT community,” said President Obama, according to a White House transcript, “I think is just profoundly American and is at the heart of who we are. And that’s why I could not be prouder of the track record that we’ve done.”

President Obama cited his administration’s track record on seeking equal rights for LGBT people, including repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” ensuring federally funded hospitals allow same-sex partners to have visitation rights, among others.

He recalled that, during a recent visit to Hawaii and a stop at a nearby Marine base gym, people thanked him for repeal of DADT.

“At least three times that I was at that gym,” said President Obama, “people came up, very quietly, to say, you know what, thank you for ending ‘Don’t ask, Don’t tell.”

Although the dinner came just one day after the Washington State legislature passed its marriage equality law and two days after a federal appeals court in California struck down Proposition 8, President Obama did not make any remarks about those developments during the portion of the event in which a pool reporter was allowed.

According to the White House pool report, provided by a Washington Times reporter, Laura Ricketts, the openly gay co-owner of the Cubs major league baseball team in Obama’s hometown of Chicago, introduced the president.

Ricketts, who is a strong backer of Obama and co-hosted the event with openly gay Ambassador Hormel, told the gathering that “the LGBT community stands strongly behind his reelection.”

The president did a Q&A with the gathering after his remarks, but the pool was ushered out for that part of the event.

The fundraiser was held at the home of Nan Schaffer and Karen Dixon, a couple who first became active in LGBT community issues in Chicago. The White House pool report did not mention it, but, according to the Advocate magazine, the event was also co-hosted by gay funders David Bohnett, Tim Gill, and Henry van Ameringen.

Washington takes big leap, but effort to repeal looms

Washington Governor Chris Gregoire issued a statement following Wednesday night’s historic vote in the state House, saying the 55 to 43 vote to pass the marriage equality bill there tells the nation “that Washington state will no longer deny our citizens the opportunity to marry the person they love.”

Chris Gregoire

Washington Governor Chris Gregoire issued a statement following Wednesday night’s historic vote in the state House, saying the 55 to 43 vote to pass the marriage equality bill there tells the nation “that Washington state will no longer deny our citizens the opportunity to marry the person they love.”

Gregoire is expected to sign the bill early next week, making Washington State the ninth state to have approved marriage equality—either through the legislature (six states), the courts (two), or both (one). Because two of those states (California and Maine) had their laws reversed by voters, Washington could become the seventh state, plus the District of Columbia, to provide marriage equality. (California’s law was reversed after being in effect only six months. Enactment of Maine’s law was delayed pending the referendum vote.)

But Governor Gregoire’s signature will not make the legislation law in Washington immediately.

According to the Seattle Times, the bill did not include an “emergency” clause and, thus, cannot take effect for 90 days. Meanwhile, opponents of marriage equality have vowed to put a referendum on the ballot for November, potentially delaying enactment.

A local pastor, Ken Hutcherson of the Antioch Bible Church in Redmond, surrounded by a crowd of supporters, vowed, “We will not take this mess any more.” He told the Christian Broadcast Network (CBN) his supporters would put up a referendum.

Brian Brown, head of the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage, told CBN that “we’re going to be able to get the signatures very quickly” to put the matter before voters. CBN noted that “African American clergy,” such as Hutcherson, seemed to be NOM’s biggest ally in fighting marriage equality around the country. It was a suggestion Brown seemed eager to affirm.

Brown said leaders of the African American community are concerned that gays are trying to “hijack the civil rights movement in an attempt to redefine marriage.”

“What we went through with slavery, what we went through with Jim Crow [laws] is not the same, has nothing to do with an attempt to redefine the very nature of what marriage is,” said Brown, who is white, speaking for African American clergy.

State law requires that more than 120,000 signatures be gathered to put an issue on the ballot. And while Brown and many others believe a referendum is likely this November, marriage equality supporters believe Washington voters will reject it.

“The wide margins by which the marriage equality bill passed both the House and the Senate demonstrates the rapidly growing support in the State of Washington for ending state sanctioned discrimination in the issuance of marriage licenses,” said Josh Friedes, Marriage Equality Director for the statewide gay political group, Equal Rights Washington (ERW). ERW is part of a large coalition of groups seeking marriage equality in the state, including the Human Rights Campaign, the ACLU, Planned Parenthood Northwest, NARAL, the National Organization for Women, and numerous unions, Jewish and religious groups, and groups working for the rights of minorities. Noticeably absent, though, is a group working specifically to protect the rights of African Americans.

Friedes said he is hopeful that, since NOM intends to push for the referendum, “We need out of state financial support to counter the bully NOM whose money comes from beyond the boarders of Washington.”

Opponents must gather the 120,000-plus signatures within 90 days after adjournment of the legislative session. Washington’s legislature is scheduled to adjourn on March 8.

“This is truly a historic day in Washington state, and one where I couldn’t be more proud,” said Governor Gregoire, who announced in January that she would support the bill. That announcement is largely cited as a reason the marriage equality bill was able to move quickly through the legislature this year.

Gregoire, a Democrat, began her second term as governor in 2009 and would be up for re-election this year. But she announced last June that she would not seek re-election. She survived breast cancer (diagnosed in 2003) and said her decision was a personal one, but she added that her retirement was motivated by a desire to focus her remaining months in office on addressing the state’s recession.

“We tell every child of same-sex couples that their family is every bit as equal and important as all other families in our state,” said Gregoire, in her statement released Wednesday night. “And we take a major step toward completing a long and important journey to end discrimination based on sexual orientation. I commend our House members and thank Rep. Jamie Pedersen for sponsoring this bill. Our legislators showed courage, respect, and professionalism. I look forward to signing this piece of legislation, and putting into law an end to an era of discrimination.”

The Washington bill, like marriage equality bills in other states, includes generous exceptions for religious institutions to refuse to accommodate services to same-sex couples that marry.

Senator Edward Murray, an openly gay legislator from Seattle who sponsored the bill in the senate, said last week that he did not believe those who voted against the bill should be “accused of bigotry.”

But animus is a big part of why efforts to overturn marriage equality laws are often overturned by the courts. The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals panel ruling February 7, which struck down Proposition 8 in California, noted that Proposition 8—like Amendment 2 in Colorado—appeared to be motivated by animus, not some legitimate governmental purpose.

“Disapproval may also be the product of longstanding, sincerely held private beliefs,” said the Ninth Circuit panel in Perry v. Brown, and Proposition 8 was a product of “disapproval of gays and lesbians.” But, citing the U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down Amendment 2 (Romer v. Evans), it said that disapproval alone, it said, cannot justify the bill.

The Washington State marriage bill calls for “ending discrimination in marriage based on gender and sexual orientation to ensure that all persons in this state may enjoy the freedom to marry on equal terms, while also respecting the religious freedom of clergy and religious institutions to determine for whom to perform marriage ceremonies and to determine which marriages to recognize for religious purposes.”

The religious protection language in the bill stipulates that “no official of a religious denomination or non-profit institution…may be required to solemnize any marriage in violation of his or her right to free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution or by the Washington state Constitution.” It also enables religious institutions to bar use of their facilities to same-sex couples for marriage ceremonies.

The governor’s office was unable to say, by deadline Thursday, when the signing ceremony would take place.

Santorum re-emerges with a sweep

The one Republican presidential candidate who gay Republicans most love to hate scored three victories on the campaign trail Tuesday, reviving his struggling, longshot bid for the party nomination.

Rick Santorum

The one Republican presidential candidate who gay Republicans most love to hate scored three victories on the campaign trail Tuesday, reviving his struggling, longshot bid for the party nomination.

Rick Santorum, who has the most hostile positions on gay-related issues of the four-man field of major candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, won the Missouri primary, and the Minnesota and Colorado caucuses.

The surprise sweep by Santorum, coupled with the news Tuesday afternoon that the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled against California’s same-sex marriage ban, gives Santorum, once again, a prominent stage on which to emphasize his opposition to same-sex marriage.

But even before the polls closed Tuesday, Santorum issued a statement, calling the Ninth Circuit ruling “another in a long line of radical activist rulings by this rogue circuit.”

“The people of California spoke clearly at the ballot box that they wanted marriage defined in the traditional manner of one man and one woman,” said Santorum. “And for a court, any court, to usurp the power and will of the people in this manner on an issue this fundamental to the foundation of our society is wrong.”

Santorum echoed a sentiment expressed by Gingrich before, saying the Ninth Circuit should be abolished and that the country needs “a President that is willing to stand up to the Judiciary.”

“We need to have a President who will fight to protect marriage once and for all with a federal marriage amendment. I am committed to being that President.”

Santorum won Missouri with 55 percent of the vote, compared to Romney’s 25 percent, Paul’s 12 percent, and 4 percent for uncommitted delegates. Gingrich, who is promoting himself vigorously as the field’s most conservative contender, was not on the ballot in Missouri, a factor that, no doubt, boosted Santorum’s take.

In Minnesota, where Gingrich was on the ballot, Santorum won with 45 percent of the vote, compared to Paul’s 27 percent, Romney’s 17 percent, and Gingrich’s 11 percent.

But the Missouri win was not necessarily a fluke: Santorum won the Colorado caucuses with 40 percent, over Romney’s 35 percent, Gingrich’s 13 percent, and Paul’s 12 percent.

Romney, who still has the lead in winning delegates toward the 1,144 needed to secure the party’s nomination, won the Nevada caucuses handily on Saturday, with 50 percent of the vote. Gingrich came in second with 21 percent, followed by Paul with 19 percent, and Santorum with 11 percent.

Romney and Gingrich also reacted to the Proposition 8 ruling.

Romney said it amounted to “unelected judges” violating the “will of the people.” He vowed that, if elected president, he would “protect traditional marriage and appoint judges who interpret the Constitution as it is written and not according to their own politics and prejudices.”

Gingrich went a step further, hammering his theme that equal rights for LGBT people equals religious bigotry. He said the ruling “exposed” Americans to the “radical overreach of federal judges,” who he said were continuing their “assault on the Judeo-Christian foundations of the United States.”

Gingrich also likened the Ninth Circuit decision to the U.S. Supreme Court decision, Dred Scott v. Sanford, in 1856 that ruled African Americans were not citizens with constitutional protection and Congress could not prohibit slavery. He also likened it to the 1973 decision Roe v. Wade, which said the constitutional promise of right to privacy includes the right of a woman to choose to have an abortion.

“Judicial solutions don’t solve contentious social issues once and for all,” said Gingrich, in his statement. “Should the Supreme Court fail to heed the disastrous lessons of its own history and attempt to impose its will on the marriage debate in this country by affirming today’s Ninth Circuit decision, it will bear the burden of igniting a constitutional crisis of the first order.”

Gingrich said that the Ninth Circuit judges, rather than reviewing law to ensure that it conforms to the constitution, were “substituting their own political views for the constitutional right of the people to make judgments about the definition of marriage.”

Ron Paul did not issue a statement about Proposition 8 but repeated his frequent theme about the importance of protecting personal liberty. But the GOP candidate reactions were predictable. All four Republican presidential candidates oppose legalizing marriage for same-sex couples, but Paul has urged that government get out of the business of licensing marriages.

R. Cooper Clarke, head of the national Log Cabin Republican group, expressed disappointment at the GOP candidates’ statements, particularly that of Romney, whom several Log Cabin chapter straw polls shows as the favorite of gay Republicans.

“In a time when conservatives agree that the institution of marriage is in need of support,” said Clarke, “Republicans should celebrate gay and lesbian Americans embracing the ideals of marriage and creating families.”

“Governor Romney’s comments attacking the court for striking down Proposition 8,” said Clarke, “ reflect an unfortunate kneejerk opposition to expanding liberty and a poorly calculated political effort to appeal to a shrinking base of primary voters opposed to marriage equality.

“These rollercoaster primaries and caucuses indicate to me that the GOP base remains fractured,” said Human Rights Campaign spokesman Michael Cole-Schwartz Wednesday. “No matter who ends up as the nominee, [Santorum’s] positions will be far out of the mainstream on LGBT issues and this is particularly true for Senator Santorum who has made a career out of opposing LGBT equality.”

A few people unhappy with the candidates’ positions on gay issues threw glitter at them this week. The StarTribune of Minnesota said a man threw glitter at Santorum as he was entering an auditorium in Blaine, Minnesota, Tuesday. Santorum told the paper he gets those kinds of greetings “at almost every event,” but some Santorum supporters reportedly chased after the protester.

CNN news coverage showed someone tossing glitter onto Romney as he was shaking hands with supporters. A CNN reporter noted that Secret Service agents jumped on the man and removed him from the room.

Romney was also hit with glitter at a rally in Minnesota earlier in the week, and quipped that it must have been a celebration of his victory in the Florida primary.

Coming out of Tuesday’s results, Romney has 115 delegates, Gingrich 38, Santorum 34, and Paul 20. Maine Republicans are holding caucuses all this week.

Next Tuesday, the primaries are in Michigan and Arizona.

Prop 8 ruling: crafted to avoid Supreme Court review

Calling Proposition 8 “remarkably similar” to Colorado’s anti-gay Amendment 2 in 1992, a divided federal appeals court panel in San Francisco ruled Tuesday (February 7) that California’s same-sex marriage ban violates the federal constitution.

Stephen Reinhardt

Calling Proposition 8 “remarkably similar” to Colorado’s anti-gay Amendment 2 in 1992, a divided federal appeals court panel in San Francisco ruled Tuesday (February 7) that California’s same-sex marriage ban violates the federal constitution.

It was, noted many attorneys working on the issue of equal rights for LGBT people, the first time a federal appeals court has issued a decision in favor of marriage equality for same-sex couples. And it was, as lead attorney Ted Olson put it, “a very significant milepost on the way to equality.”

In a 2 to 1 decision in Perry v. Brown, the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals panel noted that the rights at issue in this landmark case concerning the ability of voters to withdraw the right to marry from same-sex couples in California was essentially the same as the ability of voters in Colorado, in 1996, to withdraw from LGBT people the protection of laws prohibiting discrimination.

“Laws may be repealed and new rights taken away if they have had unintended consequences or if there is some conceivable affirmative good that revocation would produce,” noted the majority, “but new rights may not be stripped away solely because they are new.”

The California Supreme Court had ruled, in May 2008, that the state constitution required that same-sex couples be able to obtain marriage licenses the same as straight couples. But in November of that year, voters approved Proposition 8, an initiative that amended the state constitution to explicitly ban the recognition of same-sex marriage.

Quoting from the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 decision, Lawrence v. Texas, striking down laws barring sexual relations between same-sex partners, and referring to the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Loving v. Virginia, striking down bans on interracial marriage, the appeals panel noted that the “fact that the governing majority in a State has traditionally viewed a particular practice as immoral is not a sufficient reason for upholding a law prohibiting the practice; neither history nor tradition could save a law prohibiting miscegenation from constitutional attack.”

Olson and co-lead attorney David Boies said the Ninth Circuit panel’s heavy reliance on decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court makes the panel’s ruling “extremely strong.”

“There’s a high likelihood,” said Olson, in an afternoon phone conference with reports, “that the Supreme Court will find [Perry v. Brown” very hard to ignore.”

Olson and Boies made clear that they have always considered the case to be one headed for the U.S. Supreme Court. They said the Yes on 8 coalition which successfully campaigned for Proposition 8 have 14 days in which to announce whether they are appealing the decision and to where. They could ask for appeal to the full Ninth Circuit bench or go straight to the U.S. Supreme Court. Until February 28, said Olson, a stay on the Ninth Circuit’s panel decision is in effect.

Olson said that, while he expects Yes on 8 to seek an extension of the stay beyond February 28, his legal team would oppose that extension.

The highly anticipated ruling also rejected a motion from Yes on 8 proponents to vacate the district court ruling of former Chief Judge Vaughn Walker because Walker had not disclosed, prior to presiding over Perry v. Brown (known as Perry v. Schwarzenegger at the time), that he was in a relationship with a man.

And while attorneys and activists uniformly called the February 7 decision a major victory, the appeals court panel did stop short of saying that same-sex partners, like straight partners, have a “fundamental right to marry.” Instead, it said Proposition 8 deprived same-sex partners only of the “right to use the designation of ‘marriage.’”

“We therefore need not and do not consider whether same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry, or whether states that fail to afford the right to marry to gays and lesbians must do so.”

“If the Ninth Circuit had ruled that the fundamental right to marry protected by the Constitution is shared equally by same-sex couples,” said Lambda Legal Defense’s legal director Jon Davidson, “the marriage laws of 44 states would have been cast into doubt…” Such a broad ruling, he said, “in all likelihood would have resulted in Supreme Court review of the decision.”

“The fundamental right to marry, as protected by the US Constitution,” said Williams Institute legal scholar Jenny Pizer, “has to have the same contours throughout the country. So a decision concluding that same-sex couples have the same fundamental right as different-sex couples would call into question all the marriage restrictions states currently impose.”

An attorney on the Olson-Boies team said they think the Ninth Circuit majority wanted to write as narrow decision as possible and minimize the likelihood that the Supreme Court would review the decision.

And, like the U.S. Supreme Court in the Colorado case, the Ninth Circuit panel declined to examine whether it should apply the most stringent form of scrutiny —heightened scrutiny— to laws disfavoring gays and lesbians. Proposition 8, like Amendment 2, said the majority, failed to satisfy even the simplest rational level of review.

Walker, in his August 2010 decision, said Proposition 8 violated the federal Equal Protection clause because there was no rational basis for limiting the designation of marriage to straight couples. He also said it violated the federal Due Process clause because there was not compelling reason for the state to deny same-sex couples the fundamental right to marry.

The 2 to 1 majority opinion was written by Judge Stephen Reinhardt and joined by Judge Michael Hawkins. The partial dissent, by Judge Randy Smith, concerned the constitutionality of Proposition 8.

The majority said California’s Proposition 8 was more of a “surgical precision” attack than Colorado’s Amendment 2. Proposition 8, it said, attacked “one specific right: the right to use the designation of ‘marriage’ to describe a couple’s officially recognized relationship.”

The Ninth Circuit panel heard oral arguments concerning these key issues in the case in December 2010.

Yes on 8 attorneys argued during the January 2010 trial that the ban on same-sex marriage was justified because same-sex marriage would make children “prematurely preoccupied with issues of sexuality.”

Olson, arguing against Proposition 8, called that reasoning “nonsense” and said, “If believed, that would justify the banning of comic books, television, video games, and even conversations between children.” And during their 2008 campaign to pass Proposition 8, said Olson, Yes on 8 claimed the ban was justified to protect children from the idea that marriage between same-sex partners is OK.

As expected, the three-judge panel ruling agreed with a California Supreme Court ruling that Yes on 8, the coalition which successfully campaigned for the ban on same-sex marriage in 2008, did have legal standing to appeal Walker’s decision, even though state officials chose not to. The panel unanimously concluded it was “bound” by the state supreme court determination and that Yes on 8 did not “need not show that they would suffer any personal injury from the invalidation of Proposition 8” because “the State would suffer an injury….”

Kristen Perry, the lead plaintiff of the two couples challenging the law, said at a press conference today that the “dark walls of discrimination” are being dismantled. Her partner, Sandra Stier, spoke, as did one of their two sons who said, “With this ruling, in the eyes of the government, my family is finally normal.”

Plaintiff Paul Katami and his partner Jeffrey Zarrillo introduced Zarrillo’s parents, who have been married for more than 40 years.

Zarrillo’s father told the press conference that he was very proud of his son and his “soon-to-be son-in-law.”

Chad Griffin, head of American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER), which has been funding the litigation against Proposition 8, dodged a question, asking him to comment on an effort underway, by a pro-marriage equality group, to overturn Proposition 8 through a ballot measure. But drew attention to attempts by opponents of same-sex marriage around the country who are trying such strategies as ballot measures and removing judges from office to overcome judicial rulings such as this one.

“We’re not at the end of the line yet,” said Olson, later in the press conference, “but I cannot overstate the importance of the decision today.”

Federal appeals court says Prop 8 unconstitutional, says no to vacate

Proposition 8 is unconstitutional, said a divided federal appeals court panel in San Francisco Tuesday (February 7).

Proposition 8 is unconstitutional, said a divided federal appeals court panel in San Francisco Tuesday (February 7).

The highly anticipated ruling also rejected a motion from Proposition 8 proponents to vacate the district court ruling of former Chief Judge Vaughn Walker because he had not disclosed, prior to presiding over Perry v. Schwarzenegger, that he was in a relationship with a man.

And, as expected, the three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals agreed with a California Supreme Court ruling that Yes on 8, the coalition which successfully campaigned for the ban on same-sex marriage in 2008, did have legal standing to appeal Walker’s decision, even though state officials chose not to.

The 2 to 1 majority opinion was written by Judge Stephen Reinhardt and joined by Judge Michael Hawkins. A partial dissent was registered by Judge Randy Smith.

The court will almost certainly be asked to issue a stay on its ruling, pending further appeal. In the meantime, the ruling is a relatively narrow one, said an attorney on the American Foundation for Equal Rights’ legal team—one that would affect only same-sex couples in California, not the entire Ninth Circuit.

The majority opinion upheld Judge Walker found Proposition 8 to violate the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection and due process.

The Ninth Circuit panel heard oral arguments concerning these key issues in the case in December 2010.

Yes on 8 attorneys argued during the January 2010 trial that the ban on same-sex marriage was justified because same-sex marriage would make children “prematurely preoccupied with issues of sexuality.”

Conservative icon Ted Olson, arguing against Proposition 8 at the oral argument before the panel called the reasoning “nonsense” and said, “If believed, that would justify the banning of comic books, television, video games, and even conversations between children.” And during their 2008 campaign to pass Proposition 8, said Olson, Yes on 8 claimed the ban was justified to protect children from the idea that marriage between same-sex partners is OK.

Children with LGB parents: youthful perspectives on marriage

A first-ever study of how teens and young adults with LGB parents feel about marriage equality was published this month in the peer-reviewed Journal of Marriage and Family.

Abbie Goldberg

A first-ever study of how teens and young adults with LGB parents feel about marriage equality was published this month in the peer-reviewed Journal of Marriage and Family. And while it is a study of only a small number of young people, it found that such young people see their parents’ ability or inability to marry affects the children in a wide variety of ways—from college aid applications to their perceptions of feeling “different” from their peers.

The article, “Marriage (In)equality: The Perspectives of Adolescents and Emerging Adults With Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Parents,” was authored by Dr. Abbie Goldberg, assistant professor of psychology at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., and Katherine Kuvalanka, assistant professor of family studies at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and appears in the February 2012 issue.

Not surprisingly, 34 of the 49 participants—nearly 70 percent—expressed “unequivocal support” for marriage equality. And most of those felt civil unions and domestic partnerships were not sufficient replacements.

But the remaining participants expressed support for marriage equality in more qualified ways. For instance, 12 of the participants were more critical of marriage as an institution or of marriage equality as the “lead issue” for LGBT activism. But they still said that, short of overhauling the entire institution, marriage equality is “worth supporting.”

Three participants expressed more tentative support for marriage equality, but these three also had parents who came out only after the participants were teenagers. The three indicated they were still struggling with “complex feelings” about their parents’ divorce and subsequent relationships.

Goldberg and Kuvalanka said their findings should caution us “against thinking of or referring to young adults with LGB parents as a monolithic group.”

The researchers conducted the study through written questionnaires and one-hour phone interviews of the individuals, aged 14 to 29, who have LGB parents and responded to calls for participation.

Of the 49 participants, 22 had been born to heterosexual parents, one or both of whom later came out as LGB; 20 had been born to two mothers who used donor insemination; and, seven had been either adopted, born to single mothers, or co-parented by LGB parents. Ten of the 49 had parents who were able to obtain civil marriages.

Eighty percent of the participating young people self-identified as heterosexual, and the remainder as LGB or “queer.”

Although some previous studies had asked LGB parents and prospective parents how they felt marriage equality would impact their children, no study had, prior to this one, asked the children themselves.

Goldberg and Kuvalanka wrote that such young people may have “a unique vantage point” because marriage equality has implications for their well-being.

“Defining and asserting their family relationships in the absence of societal or legal recognition (e.g., marriage),” noted the article, “may require a certain amount of work that, over time, can be stressful.”

Additionally, they said, teens and young adults with LGB parents today may be a “unique” group, because “the marriage equality debate grew in intensity during their formative years.”

The participants as a whole identified benefits of marriage in three areas: legal, symbolic, and as a stabilizing influence.

Many spoke of legal benefits such as inheritance, insurance, and hospital visitation rights. Marriage equality would also make second-parent adoptions by a (currently) non-legal parent unnecessary, they said, and could help protect the relationship between children and non-legal parents in custody cases. And full marriage equality would resolve dilemmas such as those created by college financial aid applications, which often require students to indicate only their legal parents.

Participants who had grown up with LGB parents often spoke emotionally about their personal experiences with the lack of these benefits. They indicated that marriage would “eliminate many of the emotional and financial strains” their parents faced, and would thus reduce the stress upon their families, noted the article.

More than half the participants also spoke of symbolic benefits. To them, the researchers explained, “marriage marks relationships as intelligible and legitimate and would thus encourage other people to recognize their parents’ relationships, and their families, as “real.’”

Many also said their parents’ marriage helped them feel “less different” and “more secure and validated.”

And many saw marriage equality as a stabilizing influence, “by fostering greater commitment and investment.” That sentiment, the researchers said, “speaks to the vulnerability that these individuals may feel in the absence of marriage.”

At the same time, over one quarter of participants who were most strongly in favor of marriage equality expressed that their parents did not “need” marriage to show their love and commitment.

The researchers acknowledged that their research was based on a small, self-selected sample and is not representative of all individuals with LGB parents. All but six of the participants identified as white. They grew up in 17 different states, but 18 of the 49 (more than a third) were living in California. Most were middle-class.

Goldberg told Keen News Service that she and Kuvalanka nevertheless believe their findings are “fairly illustrative” of the “everyday stresses and anxieties” that legal inequities create for children of LGB parents. She explained that if even participants in California, a fairly progressive state that offers some legal protections for LGB families, feel stress from marriage inequality, then marriage inequality is likely to be causing at least that much stress, if not more, in other, less progressive regions.

She noted, however, that the degree of marriage-related stress on people with LGB parents is likely affected by many factors, including “geographic location; educational and financial resources; relative support from friends, family, and immediate community; community and neighborhood climate.”

While their work begins to explore some of these factors, Goldberg and Kuvalanka urge future research that is more inclusive of racial/ethnic minorities, low-income families, and individuals with transgender parents.

Their current study, they said, “provides a springboard for future studies on this topic,” and also “highlight[s] the resourcefulness and resilience of these individuals, who construct their family relationships as meaningful in spite of legal nonrecognition.”

Federal appeals panel rules Prop 8 videos stay under seal

Most gay legal activists issued a subtle yawn in reaction to the 22-page decision Thursday by a federal appeals panel to keep the Proposition 8 trial videotapes under seal.

James Ware

Most gay legal activists issued a subtle yawn in reaction to the 22-page decision Thursday by a federal appeals panel to keep the Proposition 8 trial videotapes under seal.

A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled February 2 that U.S. District Court Chief Judge James Ware abused his discretion last September when he ruled that the videotapes were part of the trial record and should be released.

Ware’s decision, said the panel, revoked promises made by former Chief Judge Vaughn Walker, the federal district court judge who presided over Perry v. Schwarzenegger (now called Perry v. Brown). And in revoking those promises, said the panel, Chief Judge Ware failed to recognize that he was inflicting “a grave threat to the integrity of the judicial system.”

“The court had tipped its hand on this issue at oral argument, so today’s ruling is not surprising,” said Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “The bad news is that the public will be denied the right to see this historic trial, which is painfully disappointing.  The good news is that the court based its decision on a very narrow basis that has no negative implications for how it will rule on the underlying issue of whether Prop 8 is unconstitutional.  The sole basis for the ruling is the court’s determination that Judge Walker made a commitment to the parties that the recording would not be released and that disregarding that commitment would undermine the integrity of the judicial process.”

“I can’t get very excited, frankly, about whether these tapes are released,” said lesbian legal scholar Nan Hunter in her blog, hunterforjustice.com, even before the decision was released. While the video excerpts might have provided “lots of terrific quickies on YouTube,” Hunter said she was “dubious about how many people’s minds will be changed by seeing them.”

Williams Institute legal scholar Jenny Pizer said she thinks it is a “real shame that the public won’t be able to view the tapes.” But she sees the videotape issue as “completely separate legally from other issues still awaiting decision” by the Ninth Circuit.

NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell said she worries an appeal of the videotape decision would delay final resolution of the litigation’s main issue, whether Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.

The American Foundation for Equal Rights attorneys, including Ted Olson and David Boies, are said to be mulling over whether to appeal the videotape decision. But AFER’s statement following release of the decision stopped short of promising appeal.

In a press release, AFER attorney Ted Boutrous Jr. said Thursday that the legal team is “looking at the big picture and hoping for a ruling soon on the merits affirming the district court’s judgment that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.”

The videotape decision could also be appealed by the City of San Francisco and a “Media Coalition” that intervened on the matter, hoping to see the videotapes made public. No word yet on whether they intend to appeal.

The Ninth Circuit panel decision, written by Judge Stephen Reinhardt, instructed the Ware to keep the videotapes under seal, including a copy that Ware had gifted to Walker when Walker retired from the bench last January.

“The trial judge on several occasions unequivocally promised that the recording of the trial would be used only in chambers and not publicly broadcast,” noted the panel decision. When Chief Judge James Ware ruled last September that the videotapes are part of the trial record and thus should be made publicly available, said the court, the judge “abused his discretion.”

“The integrity of our judicial system depends in no small part on the ability of litigants and members of the public to rely on a judge’s word,” wrote Reinhardt for the unanimous panel. “The record compels the finding that the trial judge’s representations to the parties were solemn commitments.”

“[The] interest in preserving the sanctity of the judicial process,” said the panel, “ is a compelling reason to override the presumption in favor of the recording’s release.”

Yes on 8 attorneys sued to sequester the videotapes after learning that Judge Walker, who retired from the bench in January 2011, had shown a clip from the videotapes at a public lecture on the merits of broadcasting trials. Yes on 8 noted that, at the start of the Perry trial in January 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court had ordered Walker not to “broadcast” the trial. Walker did not broadcast the trial, but he had a videotape of the proceedings made, saying he intended to use it when preparing his decision.

In argument last December, Ted Olson, the high-profile conservative attorney who helped stage the challenge to Proposition 8, argued that Walker had also told attorneys he would include the videotapes in the trial record –a public record— and that Yes on 8 attorneys did not object.

But the panel noted that, in making the videotape part of the trial record, Walker directed the court clerk to “file the trial recording under seal” and ordered the legal teams to “retain their copies of the trial recording pursuant to the terms of the protective order.”

“We conclude that there is a compelling reason in this case for overriding the common-law right [to access to a trial record] and that, in failing to identify that reason on the basis of the record before it, the district court abused its discretion,” said the panel. “The reason is that Proponents [of Proposition 8] reasonably relied on Chief Judge Walker’s specific assurances—compelled by the Supreme Court’s just-issued opinion—that the recording would not be broadcast to the public, at least in the foreseeable future.”

In separate action, Yes on 8 also challenged Judge Walker’s ruling that Proposition 8 violated the federal constitution and it asked the panel to vacate Walker’s decision because he was in a gay relationship at the time he presided over the trial. The panel is expected to rule those matters, as well as whether Yes on 8 has legal standing to press its appeal of the Walker decision, given that state officials chose not to appeal it. Those decisions could come any day.

The full transcript of the January 2010 trial is a public document and is available for viewing on AFER’s website www.afer.org.

Wash. marriage bill clears Senate

The Washington State bill for marriage equality cleared a crucial hurdle Wednesday night (February 1), passing the state senate on a vote of 28 to 21 after it first rejected an attempt to put the issue to a statewide referendum in November.

Washington State is now well-poised to become the seventh state in the nation to provide marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The Washington State bill for marriage equality cleared a crucial hurdle Wednesday night (February 1), passing the state senate on a vote of 28 to 21 after it first rejected an attempt to put the issue to a statewide referendum in November.

The bill now goes to the full House, where headcounts gives it a clear margin for victory. Washington United for Marriage, a coalition of groups working for passage of the legislation, said the vote in the House could come as early as next week.

The Senate dealt quickly Wednesday night with 11 amendments, most dealing with proposed religious exemptions. It adopted seven of the amendments but, on a 26 to 23 vote, rejected an attempt to put the issue before voters in November.

Senator Brian Hatfield (D-Olympia), who proposed the referendum, announced before the debate that he would vote for the bill. But during debate, he warned his colleagues that groups opposed to same-sex marriage are already preparing to gather signatures to force a referendum on the measure this November. Such opponents will likely have until early June to collect more than 120,000 signatures.

Senator Edward Murray, an openly gay legislator from Seattle and a 15-year veteran of the legislature, sponsored the bill. It calls for “ending discrimination in marriage based on gender and sexual orientation to ensure that all persons in this state may enjoy the freedom to marry on equal terms, while also respecting the religious freedom of clergy and religious institutions to determine for whom to perform marriage ceremonies and to determine which marriages to recognize for religious purposes.”

The religious protection language in the bill stipulates that “no official of a religious denomination or non-profit institution…may be required to solemnize any marriage in violation of his or her right to free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution or by the Washington state Constitution.” It also enables religious institutions to bar use of their facilities to same-sex couples for marriage ceremonies.

Many of the amendments approved Wednesday night sought to add to the religious exemptions. One particularly ominous amendment sought to add that no state or local government can “base a decision” to do business with “any religious organization” based on the organization’s refusal to accommodate same-sex marriage ceremonies. That amendment failed.

The Senate also rejected, by 27 to 22, an attempt to enable individual judges, justices, and commissioners to refuse solemnize a same-sex ceremony by stating that their personal religious beliefs. And it rejected an amendment seeking to allow individuals and businesses, including wedding planners, photographers, and florists to provide services and accommodations for same-sex ceremonies.

Washington Governor Chris Gregoire (D), a long-time supporter of rights for same-sex couples but not always a strong supporter of equal marriage rights, announced January 4 that she would support the bill. Local news media reported that the governor was in the Senate for the debate and she issued a statement immediately after the vote.

“Tonight the Washington State Senate stood up for what is right and told all families in our state that they are equal and that the state cannot be in the business of discrimination,” said Gregoire. “I believe that this decision should be made by our state Legislature, and I’m proud our elected leaders recognized that responsibility.”

Gregoire thanked Senator Murray for his leadership on the bill.

A live feed of the debate provided by the state-run cable network malfunctioned during most of the session, apparently due to the number of people attempting to watch the debate. The network, TVW, reported that “record numbers” were watching the debate. But TVW and The Seattle Times provided timely updates through their blogs, as did the Senate website.

Senator Murray has been a key mover behind much of Washington State’s legislation to prohibit discrimination against LGBT people. He led the successful effort in 2006 to pass a statewide non-discrimination law to protect LGBT people and, in 2007, led the fight for passage of a domestic partnership law. In 2009, he sought passage of an “Everything but Marriage” bill.

According to the Seattle Times, Murray urged his colleagues to support the bill, saying that marriage “is how society says you are a family—the way the community knows a couple loves each other.

Lambda Legal National Marriage Project Director Camilla

Taylor issued a statement saying same-sex couples in Washington State are now “one step closer to enjoying the freedom to marry, thanks to the impressive efforts of Washington United for Marriage, and the bravery of supporters of equality in the State Senate.”

GOP gays and Florida back Romney

R. Clarke Cooper (Photo provided by R. Clarke Cooper, Log Cabin Republicans)

R. Clarke Cooper, head of the national Log Cabin Republicans group, said Mitt Romney won an “informal vote” among the leaders of Florida’s three chapters on the Saturday before Tuesday’s primary.

And voters in Florida’s Republican primary on Tuesday gave Romney a victory, too, albeit a less resounding one than did Log Cabin Florida leaders. In the Log Cabin Florida straw poll, Romney won 24 votes to Newt Gingrich’s 6, Ron Paul’s 4, and Rick Santorum’s zero.

Among voters participating in Tuesday’s Republican primary in Florida, Romney won 46 percent of the vote, compared to Gingrich’s 32 percent, Santorum’s 13 percent, and Paul’s 7 percent.

A week out from the January 31 primary, Log Cabin leaders in Florida suggested their members were pretty evenly split between Romney and Gingrich.

But in trying to catch up with Romney in the polls in the days leading up to the Florida voting, Gingrich began hammering Romney for being “pro-abortion, pro-gun control, pro-tax increase, and pro-gay rights.” He described the former governor as a “Massachusetts moderate—a liberal by Republican terms.”

Romney had acknowledged to one debate audience that, as governor of Massachusetts, he had a policy of not discriminating based on sexual orientation but he opposed same-sex marriage.

Cooper said he thought Gingrich’s attempt to use Romney’s support for “gay rights” against him probably back-fired.

“Any candidate attempting to use gays as a dividing rod in the 2012 election is bucking public trends of inclusion and will find themselves unable to win a general election,” said Cooper. “Politics is about addition and the long term gains are made through building coalitions, not employing wedge issues.” The Log Cabin national board has not yet made an endorsement in the primary.

While “gay rights,” abortion, gun control, and taxes are very significant to many voters, there is evidence to suggest that voters are giving heavier consideration to other issues. The CNN exit polls Tuesday night showed the majority (62 percent) of voters surveyed identified the economy as their most important issue, followed by the budget deficit (23 percent), abortion (7 percent), and illegal immigration (3 percent).

CNN did not ask exit poll participants to identify their sexual orientation, but it did ask about marital status. Eleven percent of voters were unmarried men; 50 percent voted for Romney, 24 percent for Gingrich, 13 percent for Paul, 11 percent for Santorum, and 2 percent for others. Fifteen percent of voters were unmarried women; 47 percent voted for Romney, 28 percent for Gingrich, 11 percent for Santorum, 7 percent for Paul, and 7 percent for others.

The Republican primary campaign in Florida made considerable issue of how much the contenders have paid in taxes. A week prior to the Florida vote, when Romney released his tax returns for 2010 and 2011, there was a flood of attention over the discovery that the multi-millionaire is paying only about 15 percent in taxes on his enormous earnings.

But there was something specific for the LGBT community to scrutinize, too. It wasn’t on Romney’s regular returns, but rather on the returns he files for his private Tyler Charitable Foundation.

Romney pours a million or so dollars into the foundation every year and the foundation contributes the money to other charitable groups, including ones to help kids, to fight certain diseases, to help a homeless shelter for veterans, the United Way and the Red Cross. But CNN found, and other returns this reporter discovered online, show the Romney foundation also gave money to such virulently anti-gay groups as the Massachusetts Family Institute, the Salvation Army, and the Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty.

“The biggest part of this money,” said CNN reporter Tom Foreman, has been the Mormon Church. Foreman didn’t mention it, but the Mormon Church was heavily involved in funding the successful campaign to pass California’s ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8.

According to a report in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the Romney family made its largest annual donation to the Mormon Church—$1.8 million—in 2008. That is the same year the Mormon Church gave heavy financial support to Proposition 8.

The Huffington Post reported last week that the family foundation has also given to the Boy Scouts of America, and gave $10,000 to the Massachusetts Family Institute.

Asked whether he thinks Romney’s contributions to groups like the Massachusetts Family Institute, which has opposed nearly every effort to secure equal rights for gays in Massachusetts, would push away gay voters who might otherwise support Romney, Cooper said Log Cabin members are “not single issue voters.”

“Like most Republicans,” he said, “they take a macro view of each candidate running for office.  Domestic bread and butter issues are showing to be prime interest in the 2012 election cycle for voters, including the LGBT community.”

The 2010 returns for the Gingrich Foundation showed modest contributions to the Catholic Church, some small historic associations, a couple of disease research groups, and some small colleges. His personal returns show just $9,000 to the Catholic Church and other “miscellaneous” contributions.

Both the Catholic Church and the Mormon Church have contributed heavily to political efforts to ban same-sex marriage, and neither Romney nor Gingrich has been supportive of full equality for LGBT citizens. But Romney’s funding presented the most trouble for his prospects of securing 27 percent of the LGB vote in the general election this year, as Republican nominee John McCain did in 2008.

“The donations by the Romney family to these far right groups,” said Michael Cole-Schwartz, communications director for the Human Rights Campaign, “only proves the point that Mitt Romney has had every position imaginable on LGBT issues, from first saying he’d be better on gay rights than Ted Kennedy to funding the groups that want to turn back the clock on marriage in Massachusetts.”

Drumbeat builds for new executive order

LGBT activists put together a long wish list when President Obama came into office in January 2009. On that list was a wish for the president to issue an executive order to require companies with contracts to do work for the federal government to promise they would not discriminate against their employees based on sexual orientation or gender.

LGBT activists put together a long wish list when President Obama came into office in January 2009. On that list was a wish for the president to issue an executive order to require companies with contracts to do work for the federal government to promise they would not discriminate against their employees based on sexual orientation or gender.

The Obama administration has delivered on many things that were part of that original list, but it has not yet come through with the federal contractors’ executive order.

It’s not a particularly risky move for the Obama administration. Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney has said multiple times on the campaign trail that he is opposed to discrimination against gays. And many of the government’s largest contractors already have non-discrimination policies that include gays.

But some groups are growing concerned that this November’s presidential election could bring a change at the White House and they are starting the drumbeat to prod this one forward.

Metro Weekly, a Washington DC gay newspaper, reported Tuesday that former Human Rights Campaign official Winnie Stachelberg, who was involved in negotiations that led to repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, said there have been “conversations” among White House officials about such an executive order.

But Stachelberg didn’t say whether she’s been part of those conversations and the White House would not confirm anything.

Prop 8 videotape decision coming Thursday

A 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals panel announced Wednesday that it will release a decision Thursday (February 2) regarding whether a videotape of the historic Perry v. Schwarzenegger trial should be available to the public.

A 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals panel announced Wednesday that it will release a decision Thursday (February 2) regarding whether a videotape of the historic Perry v. Schwarzenegger trial should be available to the public.

The panel made a point of underscoring that Thursday’s decision will not encompass the “main” appeals issue —whether California’s ban on same-sex marriages violates the federal constitution. It apparently will also not include a decision on two other matters pending in the case, now known as Perry v. Brown —whether to vacate the federal district court decision and whether the Yes on 8 coalition has standing to appeal the district court decision.

The videotape decision will be posted on the court’s website by 1 p.m. EDT at www.ca9.uscourts.gov/opinions.

This videotape appeal, pressed by Yes on 8 attorneys, challenges the September 19 ruling by U.S. District Court Chief Judge James Ware that a videotape of the January 2010 Perry v. Schwarzenegger case is part of the official record and, thus, should be made available to the public.

During oral arguments on the issue in December, the three-judge panel seemed to warm up to Yes on 8’s arguments for keeping the videotape sequestered.

Yes on 8 attorneys argued the videotape should be sequestered because, at the start of the Perry trial in January 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court had ordered the presiding judge, Chief Judge Vaughn Walker, not to “broadcast” the trial. Walker did not broadcast the trial, but he had a videotape of the proceedings made to use when preparing his decision.

A few months after issuing his decision —that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional— Walker retired from the bench and gave a lecture about the merits of broadcasting trials. In that lecture, Walker showed an audience an excerpt from the videotape.

That prompted Yes on 8 to cry foul and seek an order preventing further use of the videotape publicly.

Yes on 8 attorney David Thompson argued that there were four potential injuries to allowing the videotape to be “broadcast” to the public or made available on the court’s website. The only argument the judges seemed interested in was one claiming that release of the videotapes would diminish judicial credibility. Thompson said Walker had assured Yes on 8 attorneys that he was videotaping the trial for his own use in chamber in preparing his decision. Releasing the tapes to the public contradicts that assurance, Thompson said.

But Ted Olson, the high-profile conservative attorney who helped stage the challenge to Proposition 8, argued that Walker also told attorneys he would include the videotapes in the trial record –a public record—and that Yes on 8 attorneys did not object.

NJ gov wants referendum on marriage

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie apologized Tuesday night for suggesting that blacks would have “been happy” to put their civil rights up for a vote rather than “fighting and dying” for those rights in the South.

Christie made his remark on January 24 to explain why he was advocating that New Jersey include a referendum on marriage licenses for same-sex couples on this November’s ballot.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie apologized Tuesday night for suggesting that blacks would have “been happy” to put their civil rights up for a vote rather than “fighting and dying” for those rights in the South.

Christie made his remark on January 24 to explain why he was advocating that New Jersey include a referendum on marriage licenses for same-sex couples on this November’s ballot.

“People would have been happy with a referendum on civil rights rather than fighting and dying in the streets of the South,” he told reporters, according to a number of news reports.

Former U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a prominent civil rights activist working for equality for African Americans, chastised Christie, saying, “Apparently, the governor of this state has not read his recent history books.”

Others complained, too, including the openly gay State Assemblyman, Reed Gusciora, who is the chief sponsor of the bill currently in the legislature seeking to enable gay couples to obtain marriage licenses.

Christie shot back, calling Gusciora a “numb nut” and refusing to apologize for that. Christie also reiterated he plans to veto any marriage equality bill that the legislature sends to his desk. But he said he would abide by the results if voters supported same-sex marriage.

A Senate committee has approved a marriage equality bill and an Assembly committee is expected to do so February 2, according to Bloomberg.com.

Three-fifths of the state legislature would have to agree to put a referendum on the ballot.

Just one day before proposing the referendum and making his controversial remark, Christie appointed an openly gay man, Bruce A. Harris, to the New Jersey Supreme Court. Christie told reporters Harris said he would recuse himself from hearing any cases related to same-sex marriage because he has supported allowing gay couples to marry.

NJ gov wants referendum on marriage

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie apologized Tuesday night for suggesting that blacks would have “been happy” to put their civil rights up for a vote rather than “fighting and dying” for those rights in the South.

Christie made his remark on January 24 to explain why he was advocating that New Jersey include a referendum on marriage licenses for same-sex couples on this November’s ballot.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie apologized Tuesday night for suggesting that blacks would have “been happy” to put their civil rights up for a vote rather than “fighting and dying” for those rights in the South.

Christie made his remark on January 24 to explain why he was advocating that New Jersey include a referendum on marriage licenses for same-sex couples on this November’s ballot.

“People would have been happy with a referendum on civil rights rather than fighting and dying in the streets of the South,” he told reporters, according to a number of news reports.

Former U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a prominent civil rights activist working for equality for African Americans, chastised Christie, saying, “Apparently, the governor of this state has not read his recent history books.”

Others complained, too, including the openly gay State Assemblyman, Reed Gusciora, who is the chief sponsor of the bill currently in the legislature seeking to enable gay couples to obtain marriage licenses.

Christie shot back, calling Gusciora a “numb nut” and refusing to apologize for that.             Christie also reiterated he plans to vote any marriage equality bill that the legislature sends to his desk. But he said he would abide by the results if voters supported same-sex marriage.

A Senate committee has approved a marriage equality bill and an Assembly committee is expected to do so February 2, according to Bloomberg.com.

Three-fifths of the state legislature would have to agree to put such a measure on the ballot

Just a week earlier, Christie appointed any openly gay man, Bruce Harris, to the New Jersey Supreme Court.