Sunday Speed: 3 cases at Supreme Court

BIGGEST STORY OF THE WEEK: Two Republican-appointed judges on a three-judge panel for the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals gave prominent play Wednesday to the use of ballot measures to gain equal rights to marriage for same-sex couples. Attorneys representing same-sex couples in six lawsuits out of all four Sixth Circuit states pushed back hard against that idea but the exchanges during the three-hour proceeding in Cincinnati suggest that the decision from the panel is likely to be the marriage equality movement’s first loss since 2012 when a federal judge in Nevada ruled against same-sex couples in Sevcik v. Sandoval. Read full story.

IN THE COURTROOM, NOT THE CLASSROOM: Susan Sommer, director of constitutional litigation for Lambda Legal, was in the Sixth Circuit courtroom Wednesday to hear the judge’s comments suggesting that the “democratic process” might be the “better” path to equality for same-sex couples and their families. She said that, while the judges’ comments “may be interesting fodder for a political science seminar… they beg the constitutional question the court must answer: Does the fundamental right to marry and the right to equal protection guaranteed by the Bill of Rights forbid these states from barring same-sex couples from marriage?” “Sure, we would be thrilled if tomorrow a majority of electors in states around the nation rescinded the discriminatory marriage bans they erected in recent decades,” said Sommer. “But that is not reality, and same-sex couples should not have to wait another day for the protections for their families and dignity that come with access to marriage.”

SUPREME COURT RACE NUMBERS 3: Three petitions from three different circuit courts arrived at the U.S. Supreme Court this week, seeking the high court’s ruling on whether states can ban marriage for same-sex couples and/or deny recognition of marriage licenses that same-sex couples have obtained in other states. Utah officials filed their petition Tuesday, seeking to defend the ban; Virginia officials filed their petition Friday, seeking to have its ban declared unconstitutional. And the Alliance Defending Freedom filed a petition Wednesday, preparing to defend Oklahoma’s ban.  All three lawsuits resulted in 2 to 1 decisions from a three-judge appeals court panel that the state marriage bans for same-sex couples are unconstitutional, and all three seek to skip over the full appeals court review and go directly to the Supreme Court. 

HOUSTON BALLOT BATTLE IN COURT: Houston Mayor Annise Parker and City Attorney David Feldman announced Monday that opponents of the city’s newly enacted Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) did not turn in enough valid signatures to qualify for this November’s ballot. Feldman said petitioners came up with only 15,249 signatures of the 17,269 needed to qualify. But opponents, known as “No on Unequal Rights,” immediately filed a lawsuit challenging the rejection. They claimed to have “pre-verified” more than 31,000 of the 55,000 signatures they submitted and contend that the City Secretary verified 17,846. Their lawsuit says Parker and Feldman wrongly rejected that validation. A Harris County judge has scheduled a hearing on the lawsuit for August 15.

CHATTANOOGA VOTERS REJECT PARTNERS BILL: Voters in Chattanooga, Tennessee, voted overwhelmingly Thursday to reject a proposed ordinance to provide benefits to the domestic partners of city employees. Sixty-three percent voted against the ordinance, 37 percent for, according to Hamilton County elections data.

KANSAS LAW FACES REPEAL EFFORT: The mayor of Roeland Park, Kansas (southwest of Kansas City, Missouri) broke a tie vote Monday to pass a law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, and public service. According to Associated Press, only one other city in Kansas (Lawrence) has such a non-discrimination law. But, said AP, opponents of the measure have vowed to put a repeal effort on the November ballot.

FOUR OF FIVE GAY CANDIDATES ADVANCE: Four out of five openly LGBT candidates for public office this week advanced in their primaries to November’s general election. Michigan newcomer Jon Hoadley snared 80 percent of the vote in his race Tuesday against one Democratic opponent for the nomination to represent the Kalamazoo district. Michigan incumbent State Rep. Jeremy Ross easily won his Democratic primary, taking 70 percent of the vote over two challengers hoping to represent Oakland County. The only loss came with lesbian Garnet Lewis, who was seeking the Democratic nomination for an open state senate seat in Michigan. Lewis took in only 38 percent of the vote in a two-way primary race for a district encompassing Saginaw. In Washington State’s primary, incument State Rep. Brady Walkinshaw and former Kirkland Mayor Joan McBride won her primary for state representative.

GAY GAMES UNDERWAY IN CLEVELAND: Gay Games IX got underway last night in Cleveland, with the opening ceremony at a downtown arena. President Obama welcomed athletes via a videotaped message. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that the stadium gave an especially warm welcome to athletes from Russia, where the government has been attempting to quash LGBT organizations. It also noted that city police are using the Gay Games, the quadrennial LGBT sports competition and arts festival, as a sort of “practice run” for the 2016 Republican National Convention, which will also take place in Cleveland. An estimated 8,000 athletes are expected to participate in the Games. Closing ceremony takes place August 16.

THIRD AND FOURTH FLORIDA VICTORIES: For the third and fourth time in less than a month, Florida state judges have declared the state’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples to be unconstitutional. The latest rulings  came Monday from Broward County Circuit Court Judge Dale Cohen and Tuesday from Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Diana Lewis. The Broward decision emerged from a petition brought by Heather Brassner, seeking to dissolve her 2002 Vermont civil union to Megan Lade, whom she can no longer find. But Florida’s ban includes a refusal to recognize same-sex couples licensed in other states. Cohen said that, “By failing to recognize [Brassner’s] out-of-state union, her constitutional right to due process and equal protection under the law is violated.” But Cohen also said the Florida ban on allowing same-sex couples to marry in Florida also violates those rights. On July 17, a judge in Monroe County ruled the ban unconstitutional; on July 25, a judge in Miami-Dade County did so. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi filed motions Thursday with the courts in the various cases, asking that they stay any further briefing or action until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on state bans against marriage for same-sex couples.

NGLTF AND NBJC ENDORSE PUSH TO CHANGE MICHIGAN FESTIVAL:  The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Black Justice Coalition issued statements this week, endorsing a push by Equality Michigan and others to persuade organizers of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival to ban from attendance any woman who was not born a woman. “As an organization with a core value of inclusiveness,” said NGLTF’s leader Rea Carey, “the Task Force believes that the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival’s ‘womyn born womyn’ intention, to the exclusion of transgender women, must end. The Festival is out of step with the LGBTQ community and movement’s vision of diversity and inclusion.” NBJC Executive Director Sharon Lettman-Hicks said, “Our transgender sisters are simply women and deserve to be treated as such.”

OBAMA URGES SUPPORT FOR ‘HUMAN RIGHTS’: In his remarks to the U.S.-Africa Summit Wednesday, President Obama did not get specific about the United States’ concern for the treatment of LGBT people in many African countries. Instead, he urged the nations “focus on the ingredients of progress:  rule of law, open government, accountable and transparent institutions, strong civil societies, and respect for the universal human rights of all people.” The White House sent out several “Fact Sheets” on specific topics being discussed at the Summit, including one about “Advancing Gender Equality.” There was not one concerning equality for LGBT people.

BIDEN MEETS WITH NIGERIA’S PRESIDENT: During this week’s U.S.-Africa Summit in Washington, D.C., Vice President Joe Biden was given the opportunity to meet and discuss issues with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan. There was no indication in a White House “readout” or summary of the Tuesday meeting that the two men discussed Jonathan’s decision in January to sign into law a bill that carries a 14-year prison sentence for anyone advocating equal rights for gays. The summary says only that Biden reiterated to Jonathan “the need to pursue holistic approaches that respect and protect human rights.” Violence in Nigeria has escalated against LGBT people since the January law was enacted.

INDIANA FIRST-RESPONDERS BACK EQUALITY: More than 100 fire fighters, EMTs, and police officers signed onto a brief filed Tuesday in support of marriage equality. The friend-of-the-court (amicus) brief was filed in an appeal that will be heard August 26 by a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. The appeals challenge district court decisions striking down state marriage bans on same-sex couples in Indiana (Baskin v. Bogan) and Wisconsin (Wolf v. Walker).

NOM LAUNCHES BOYCOTT AGAINST TARGET: National Organization for Marriage leader Brian Bond on Thursday announced a boycott against the department store chain Target “for insulting customers like you and me.” Bond says the friend-of-the-court brief to the Seventh Circuit in support of marriage equality that Target signed onto “insinuates that people like you and me…[are] akin to segregationists and racial bigots.”

TARGET EXPLAINS ITS POSITION: The Target company’s website explains that it signed the brief because laws banning same-sex couples from marriage have an impact on its business. “But it is more than that and we agreed that now is the right time to more directly share our views on this issue…. We believe that everyone – all of our team members and our guests – deserve to be treated equally. And at Target we are proud to support the LGBT community.” Other companies signing onto the brief include Apple, Microsoft, Google, Nike, Nordstrom, and Starbucks.

UTAH’S PETITION FILED AT HIGH COURT: Utah submitted its petition to the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday, asking whether the United States Constitution compels states to adopt “a single marriage policy that every individual is allowed ‘to marry the person of their choice’.” It’s a loaded question; everyone agrees states have the authority to adopt their own marriage laws. Another loaded question might be: Can states adopt any policy they want with regard to who can marry? They can’t. State laws must not violate U.S. Constitutional guarantees. So the real question –which Utah’s brief asks in its “Question Presented” summary is: “Whether the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits a state from defining or recognizing marriage only as the legal union between a man and a woman.” The National Center for Lesbian Rights has indicated that it supports having the Supreme Court take the case for review.

MARRIAGE AND THE RELEVANCE OF COPULATION: Utah’s petition to the Supreme Court also says the state ban on same-sex couples marrying is not about discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation; it’s about looking out for children. “A state’s interest in marriage …springs from a distinctive characteristic of opposite-sex relationships: the couple’s sexual union can create new life….[A] state has a compelling interest in ensuring the well-being of offspring, planned or unplanned.” The fact that some male-female couples do not or cannot produce offspring, says the brief, “is legally irrelevant.” Laws that suggest marriage is “more about adult emotions than rearing and raising children,” says the brief, “…leads naturally to more out-of-wedlock births….”

IN SHORT, ALL WILL BE LOST: The “greatest risk” of allowing same-sex couples to marry, says the Utah brief, is not a flood of “demands for legal recognition of polygamous unions, time-limited unions, or non-exclusive unions—though those risks are all real. The greatest danger is that the societal understanding of marriage as an institution designed primarily to connect children to their biological parents and to ensure child welfare (as opposed to primarily promoting adult happiness) will be diminished or lost.”

NEW MISSION UNDERWAY TO SOFTEN GOP: The national Freedom to Marry group, which has been focused on public education to lay the groundwork for marriage equality, is now expanding its mission to include a political party agenda. In a press release Tuesday, the group announced it was launching a $1 million campaign Wednesday that involves holding meetings in three Iowa cities –Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, and Davenport– to encourage young Republicans to run for national convention delegate seats. Once they win those seats, the organization hopes they will make a push to remove anti-gay language from the Republican National party platform. Freedom’s national campaign director Marc Solomon said the project is funded by Freedom to Marry itself and is part of the group’s effort to advance “the cause of freedom to marry through every means at our disposal.” Solomon noted that, in 2012, Freedom to Marry led the successful effort to get the Democrats to include a freedom to marry plank in its platform.”

AMBASSADOR BAER MARRIES: Openly gay ambassador Daniel Baer announced on Twitter last Saturday (August 2) that he married his partner, Brian Walsh, that morning. A native of Colorado, Baer was sworn in last August as ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. He and Walsh have been living in Vienna where the OSCE headquarters are located.

‘I’M NOT HOMOPHOBIC’: The San Francisco Chronicle quoted Corky Boozé, a member of the Richmond, California, City Council, saying this about lesbian City Council Vice President Jovanka Beckles’ sometimes dismissive response to the frequent anti-gay slurs directed at her during Council meetings by Boozé and others: “She’s got a short fuse. Some people don’t care for her lifestyle. I don’t care for it myself, but she takes that in a homophobic way. I’m not homophobic – my ex-wife is a lesbian.” relies on your support. Please chip in.

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