Speed Read: Religious bias rejected

Eighty-one percent of adults surveyed said businesses should not be allowed to refuse service to gays, not even for religious beliefs. Wyoming becomes the 25th state to face a lawsuit challenging its ban on same-sex couples marrying, Boston Mayor says he won’t march in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade that excludes gays.

AMERICANS DON’T BACK BIAS: A survey of 1,002 American adults has found that 81 percent said businesses should not be allowed to refuse service to gays. That number held steady even after the questioner asked, “What if the business says homosexuality violates its owners’ religious beliefs?” The poll, conducted by the Washington Post and ABC News, also registered a new high — 59 percent – in support of allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry.

LAWSUITS IN 25 STATES: The National Center for Lesbian Rights filed a lawsuit in state court in Wyoming Wednesday, bringing to 25 the number of states whose bans against same-sex couples marrying are under active challenge. Four couples are bringing the case, Courage v. Wyoming, in Cheyenne, along with Wyoming Equality.

EMBASSY HOSTS LGBT GAMES IN RUSSIA: While tensions were escalating between the U.S. and Russia over the Ukraine, the U.S. embassy in Moscow Sunday hosted a basketball scrimmage between a group of LGBT Russian athletes and foreign diplomats. According to the Washington Post, the LGBT Russian athletes had been repeatedly thwarted from using various venues for sporting events as part of their “Open Games” event to improve LGBT visibility. So the U.S. embassy invited them to use the embassy’s court.

COLORADO MOVING ON MARRIAGE: Colorado’s openly gay Speaker of the House Mark Ferrandino told a rally in Denver Monday that it’s time to seek marriage equality. The legislature approved a civil unions law last year. The statewide group One Colorado organized its rally to launch a campaign to build public support for a ballot measure in 2016 to repeal the state ban on same-sex couples marrying.

ELLEN’s JOKE ABOUT LIZA: There’s been some debate in various social circles about a “joke” Academy Award host Ellen DeGeneres delivered, pretending to believe that the real Liza Minnelli sitting in the front of the Oscar auditorium was a female impersonator. “Hello, to the best Liza Minnelli impersonator I’ve ever seen,” said DeGeneres, pointing to Minnelli. “Good job, sir.” Many viewers thought DeGeneres showed a lack of sensitivity for how it felt to Minnelli to be the butt of joke questioning her gender, before a global television audience. TMZ.com caught up with Minnelli outside a club the following night and asked her what she thought. “I think she went a little astray on it,” said Minnelli. She said she wished DeGeneres had acknowledged that she was the real person, “my friend Liza Minnelli,” but added, “I don’t think she meant any harm at all, and she’s a wonderful lady.”

THIRD MISS CITY SUPPORTS DIGNITY: A third city in Mississippi approved a resolution recognizing the “dignity and worth” of all citizens, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. The eight-member Oxford Board of Alderman approved a resolution Tuesday night, saying it is the policy of the city to “reject discrimination of any kind” based on various categories, including sexual orientation or gender identity. Last month, Starkville and Hattiesburg adopted similar resolutions.

BUMMED IN BOSTON: The head of Mass Equality, Kara Coredini, issued a statement Wednesday to say she was “extremely disappointed” that the Allied War Veterans group which organizes a St. Patrick’s Day Parade down the streets of Boston, has rejected allowing a gay contingent. Coredini said she had been surprised by the “abrupt and hostile” rejection issued by the War Vets Tuesday. The Allied Vets issued a press release Tuesday claiming it had been “misled” by a “ploy” attempting to enable gay veterans to march in the parade “under false pretenses.” Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said Wednesday he will not march in the parade.

 

 

 

Speed Read: ‘Bad for Mississippi’

The Mississippi House Judiciary Committee Tuesday advanced a religious bias bill to the House floor, which could vote on it as early as today. The Kentucky Attorney General announced yesterday he won’t defend the constitutionality of the state’s ban on same-sex couples marrying. Mitch McConnell catching heat for the federal judge’s ruling on the Kentucky ban.

‘BAD FOR MISSISSIPPI’ BILL ADVANCES: The Mississippi House Judiciary Committee Tuesday advanced a religious bias bill to the House floor. Committee Chairman Andy Gipson told reporters he didn’t think the original version was discriminatory but that the committee has made “sure it protects religious freedom while not discriminating against anybody.” ACLU-Mississippi Executive Director Jennifer Riley-Collins said her group believes the amended bill “still says one person’s religious beliefs get to trump another’s and get to discriminate against another.” The House could take the bill up today and has until March 12 to vote on the measure.

KENTUCKY HIRES DEFENDER: Democratic Governor Steve Beshear announced Tuesday he will hire an independent counsel to appeal a decision that Kentucky must recognize marriage licenses obtained out-of-state by same-sex couples. The announcement came just minutes after state Attorney General Jack Conway, also a Democrat, gave an emotional explanation for why he cannot defend the state’s ban. To defend the ban would be “defending discrimination,” Conway asserted, adding, “That, I will not do.” Judge John Heyburn granted Conway’s request for a stay of his order and will hear arguments soon, in Bourke v. Beshear, on whether Kentucky’s refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples is also unconstitutional. One or both issues are expected to be appealed to the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

KENTUCKY COMPLICATIONS: Conway’s decision not to defend the state’s ban against same-sex couples marrying will almost certainly become a campaign issue as he launches his bid for governor this month. And The Hill newspaper reported Tuesday it’s already an issue for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s re-election campaign. McConnell recommended President George H.W. Bush appoint John Heyburn for his position. A right-wing group released an ad Tuesday, saying McConnell “knew Judge Heyburn was not a conservative, but he promoted him anyway. Now Judge Heyburn is forcing his liberal views on Kentucky.”

MISS KENTUCKY 2010 IS OUT: In a thoughtful post on her personal website, “Life in 27,” Miss Kentucky 2010, Djuan Trent, put it clearly, “I am queer.” Trent said she decided to come out in part because of comments she heard after a federal judge ruled that the state can no longer refuse to recognize marriage licenses of same-sex couples obtained in other states. She said she was also inspired by actor Ellen Page’s recent decision to come out at an LGBT youth conference February 14.

BOSTON PARADE ORGANIZERS SAY NO: The South Boston Allied War Veterans Council issued a press release Tuesday claiming it had been “misled” by a “ploy” attempting to enable gay veterans to march in the parade “under false pretenses.” The Council officially denied the request to allow a gay group to participate. Mass Equality leader Kara Coredini rejected that offer because it prohibited participants from wearing t-shirts or carrying signs that identified them as gay. Boston’s new mayor, Marty Walsh, had led an effort to persuade the Council to allow gays to participate. His office issued a statement Tuesday, saying “There has been miscommunication by both parties in the press over this issue, and until a direct conversation with all involved parties takes place, we remain confident and hopeful but an agreement will be reached.”

GONNA RAIN ON THAT PARADE: No word yet on whether the Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade organizers have caught wind of plans by the Westboro Baptist Church to join the festivities. The group, which routinely shows up at events to carry large signs saying such things as “God Hates Fags,” posted a message on Twitter Monday night saying it will “picket-walk” in the March 16th parade.

Speed Read: Religious boycott?

As a religious bias bill dies in the Georgia legislature, supporters of the measure vow a national boycott against the major corporations that spoke out against the measure. A religious bias bill in Mississippi could die today if a House committee fails to move the bill. And a county clerk in Michigan says an email from the state attorney general last fall instructed clerks not to obey a federal court ruling if it declared the state ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

GEORGIA BILL FAILS, BOYCOTT THREATENED: A religious bias bill pending in the Georgia House and Senate appears to be dead for this legislative session. The bill failed to pass one chamber by Monday, the deadline for action this session. The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported the bill’s sponsor in the senate, Josh McKoon, said the impression many have that the bill is anti-gay has attracted negative reactions from such major business entities as Delta Air Lines. Said McKoon: “I’m not going to speculate as to the motivation, other than to say that when large businesses weigh in that make lots of campaign contributions and carry a lot of weight down here at the Capitol, they obviously are going to influence the debate.” The AJC also reported that supporters of the bill vowed to boycott Delta and four other businesses – Coca-Cola, Home Depot, UPS, and InterContinental Hotels—for publicly opposing the bill.

MISSISSIPPI DEADLINE TODAY: The Mississippi House Judiciary Committee must decide today whether to advance a religious bias bill or it will be dead for this legislative session. The Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act (SB 2681) passed the state senate January 31. Similar to the bill that was passed by the Arizona legislature and vetoed by the governor, the bill before the committee today states that “State action or an action by any person based on state action shall not burden a person’s right to exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, unless it is demonstrated that applying the burden to that person’s exercise of religion in that particular instance is both…essential to further a compelling governmental interest” and “the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.” The remaining sections of the bill call for adding “In God We Trust” to the state’s seal.

AG INSTRUCTED DEFIANCE OF COURTS: Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette sent all county clerks in the state a memo last fall instructing them to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples even if a federal judge declared the state’s ban on same-sex couples marrying to be unconstitutional. That was the testimony in a federal courtroom in Detroit Monday by Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown. Brown is a defendant in DeBoer v. Snyder, a lawsuit challenging the law barring same-sex couples from marrying. She said a second page of the memo eventually explained that the state would ask for a stay of such a court decision. “But I think especially if you don’t look at the attachment and you just read just the body of the email, you know,” said Brown, “you open your email and that’s the part that comes up that says that same sex marriage licenses should not be issued basically — regardless of, you know, what the judge says.”

MICHIGAN OFFERS EXPERTS: The state began offering witnesses Monday to defend the state ban on same-sex couples marrying. This is week two of the trial, and the Detroit Free Press reported U.S. District Court Judge Bernard Friedman ruled that the state’s first witness, Sherif Girgis, did not qualify to serve as an expert. The state’s second witness, University of Texas sociology professor Mark Regnerus, was deemed qualified and said parenting by same-sex couples is so new, it would be “most prudent” to continue banning adoption by unmarried same-sex couples. Regnerus is back on the witness stand today for cross-examination by the attorney for a lesbian couple that wishes to marry in order to adopt the three children they have been raising together.

 

Speed Read: An Oscar dedication

Oscar winner Jared Leto dedicated his Academy Award “to those of you who have ever felt injustice because of who you are and who you love.” The Mississippi House Judiciary Committee is expected to take up a religious bias bill today or Tuesday. The organizers of an annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Boston are negotiating with the city’s new mayor over whether to let gays participate this year.

OSCAR GOLDEN MOMENT: In addition to having openly gay television host Ellen DeGeneres as emcee, the Academy Awards Sunday night also included a touching acceptance speech by Best Supporting Actor Jared Leto. Leto, who portrayed a transgender woman in Dallas Buyers Club, said his Oscar was for “the 36 million people who have lost the battle to AIDS. And to those of you who have ever felt injustice because of who you are and who you love, I stand here in front of the world with you and for you.” Matthew McConaughey won the Best Actor for his portrayal of a homophobic straight man with AIDS in Dallas Buyers Club.

MISSISSIPPI MUDSLIDE: The Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act has not been amended to the satisfaction of the Mississippi Gulf Coast LGBT community center. Group leader Jeff White said Wednesday he thought the bill had been adequately stripped of its anti-gay language in a House subcommittee action, but by Thursday, he said further research has revealed “it is clear that the language has not been changed and we are still going forth with the protest of the bill.” The House Judiciary Committee is set to take up the bill today or Tuesday.

CLOUDS HOVER OVER BOSTON PARADE: It has been almost 20 years since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that a private group that organizes an annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade down the streets of Boston could exclude an Irish gay contingent. The court, in Hurley v. GLIB, held that the Allied War Veterans Council’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech trumped a Massachusetts law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in public accommodations. But a lot has happened since 1995 and the LGBT community’s political clout has prompted the city’s new mayor, Marty Walsh, to try and convince parade organizers to let a gay contingent in. So far, the group has agreed but only if gays don’t wear t-shirts or carry signs that identify themselves as gay.

RELIGIOUS SUPPORT FOR SS MARRIAGE: A national poll released last week indicates that the general public’s support to allowing same-sex couples to marry has gone from 32 percent in 2003 (before Massachusetts started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples) to 53 percent in 2013. The survey found the most support for same-sex marriage among Jews (83 percent) and people unaffiliated with a specific religion (73 percent), and it found the least support among white evangelical Protestants (27 percent) and black Protestants (35 percent). Fifty-eight percent of those surveyed said religious groups are alienating young people by being too judgmental about gay and lesbian issues. In general, the survey found 5.1 percent of the survey group self-identified as LGBT. The telephone poll, carried out by the Princeton Survey Research Associates for the Public Religion Research Institute, surveyed 4,509 adults throughout the U.S. between November 12 and December 18 and has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 1.7 percent.

KING REACTS TO PUTIN HUG: In an interview after returning from the closing ceremony at the Winter Olympics, tennis legend Billie Jean King was asked what she thought about Russian President Vladimir Putin having hugged openly gay speed skater Ireen Wust at a party after she won a gold medal. King told AP: “It’s great. Think he knew it? Doesn’t matter, that’s the way the world should be. He should be embracing humanity.”

Speed Read: Michigan parents on trial

MICHIGAN MARRIAGE TRIAL CONTINUES: A federal judge in Detroit heard testimony Thursday that the U.S. is becoming more accepting of same-sex couples but that “There is not complete acceptance by any means.” Williams Institute scholar Gary Gates was the only witness in day three of the trial challenging Michigan’s ban on same-sex couples marrying. Testimony has largely centered around the needs of children, as the plaintiff couple makes its case to adopt three children they have been raising together. The state has a law that bans unmarried couples from adopting children and a law that bans same-sex couples from marrying.  The local LGBT paper PrideSource quoted Carol Stanyar, an attorney for April DeBoer and her partner Jayne Rowse, as saying she hopes this will be the “last trial in America where same-sex parents have to defend that they are good parents.” The trial is expected to continue another four days next week.

ARRESTS CONTINUE IN IDAHO: Forty-six LGBT demonstrators were arrested at the Idaho Statehouse Thursday for blocking legislators from meetings in protest of the legislature’s refusal to consider a non-discrimination bill. Associated Press quoted protest leader Nicole LeFavour, a former state senator, as saying the protests would continue until the House or Senate schedules a hearing on a bill to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state non-discrimination law. Capitol police have arrested more than 120 LGBT protesters at the statehouse in Boise during the past month.

FORTY UTAH LAWMAKERS LISTEN: Forty Utah legislators and state officials met with more than 300 LGBT people Wednesday night in a Capitol meeting room just to listen. Utah’s openly gay State Senator Jim Dabakis organized the meeting to give LGBT people a forum in which to tell legislators about their lives and the discrimination they have faced. The Salt Lake City Tribune reported Utah Lt. Governor Spencer Cox applauded the courage of those sharing their stories. “The courage of people to come and share their stories and how difficult that is, the least I can do is give my time,” said Cox. “I think there’s a lot of soul searching going on among legislators and everyone in our community. People are asking hard questions.” The legislature put all gay-related bills on hold this session, while the state defends its ban on same-sex marriage in a federal appeals court.

KENTUCKY JUDGE ISSUES ORDER: A federal judge in Kentucky issued an order Thursday that requires the state to recognize marriage licenses obtained by same-sex couples in other states. U.S. District Court Judge John Heyburn (a nominee of George H.W. Bush) issued the order on a ruling ruled he made February 12 on one of two questions at issue in the Bourke v. Beshear case. Attorneys are now briefing the second issue: whether Kentucky can refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. If either or both questions are appealed, the case will go before the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Another case testing state bans –one from Ohio— is already petitioning the Sixth Circuit. Heyburn did not respond to Kentucky’s request that he stay his order. If the state appeals a higher court for a stay, Dan Conway, attorney for the plaintiff couples, has said he will oppose it.

WORLD BANK WITHHOLDS LOAN TO UGANDA: The World Bank, an international cooperative bank that provides low-interest loans and grants to developing countries, announced Thursday it is holding up a $90 million loan to Uganda for health-related activities. A spokesperson for the bank told Associated Press the bank was considering whether the recently signed Anti-Homosexuality Act could wreak havoc on the economy.

Kentucky ordered to honor out-of-state marriages

A federal judge in Kentucky today ordered the state to recognize marriage licenses obtained by same-sex couples from other states.

A federal judge in Kentucky today ordered the state to recognize marriage licenses obtained by same-sex couples from other states.

U.S. District Court Judge John Heyburn (a nominee of George H.W. Bush) issued the final order on a ruling ruled he made February 12. There were two questions at issue in the Bourke v. Beshear case, Heyburn said the state’s refusal to recognize valid licenses obtained in other states violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. Today’s order instructs the state how to comply with that ruling: start recognizing marriage licenses of same-sex couples.

Heyburn still must rule on whether the state’s refusal to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples is constitutional. Attorneys on both sides are now submitting briefs on that issue and a ruling could come in a few months.

If either or both questions are appealed, the case will go before the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Another case testing state bans –one from Ohio—is already petitioning the Sixth Circuit.

Heyburn did not respond to the state’s request that he stay his order. If the state appeals a higher court for a stay, Dan Conway, attorney for the plaintiff couples, has said he will oppose it.

 

Speed Read: Backing off bias

Arizona governor vetoes religious bias bill in that state. A House subcommittee guts the religious bias language in a similar bill in Mississippi. A federal judge in Texas says that state’s marriage bans are unconstitutional.

ARIZONA GOVERNOR VETOES BIAS BILL: Arizona Governor Jan Brewer announced at about 6 p.m. MST Wednesday that she had vetoed Senate Bill 1062, which sought to allow people to discriminate based on self-claimed religious beliefs and was targeted at LGBT people. In a letter to the Senate President, Brewer suggested she sympathized with supporters of the legislation. “As a result of actions taken by the Obama Administration, as well as some federal and out-of-state courts,” said Brewer, “I am increasingly concerned about government’s encroachment upon our religious freedoms.” But, she said, SB 1062 “does not seek to address a specific and present concern related to Arizona businesses” and its “broadly worded” language “could result in unintended and negative consequences.” In fact, the bill has already resulted in the loss of at least one major convention. The Hispanic National Bar Association’s board announced Wednesday that it voted unanimously to pull its 2015 convention – a conference of more than 2,000 lawyers– from the state. See full story.

MISSISSIPPI RECONSIDERS BIAS BILL: The Mississippi legislature was very close to passing a similar religious bias bill in the guise of a measure that sought to add the words “In God We Trust” to the state seal. The state senate unanimously passed the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act last month and the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on HB 2681 this morning. But the House subcommittee on Wednesday night voted to remove the religious bias language from the bill. Republican Governor Phil Bryant had said he supported adding to the state seal but he studiously avoided saying whether he supports the religious bias language. A vote on the House floor could come as early as today, but Jeff White, a spokesperson for the Mississippi Gulf Coast LGBT community center says his organization “no longer has any problem with” the bill.

‘IT’S NOT ABOUT CAKE’ IN GEORGIA: The Georgia House and Senate are considering a bill, similar to Arizona’s, that seeks to enable people to claim religious beliefs in order to discriminate against others. During a hearing in the House on Monday, openly gay state Rep. Simone Bell said of her objection to the measure, “It’s not about a cake. It’s not about a wedding event” but about freedom from discrimination (see Project Q Atlanta video). She also told the hearing that LGBT people are “people of faith.” “I believe in religious freedom, but I don’t believe in religious freedom being used to discriminate against anyone for any particular reason.” A second hearing for Wednesday was canceled abruptly and there is no clear picture when the next movement on the legislation will come.

TEXAS MARRIAGE BANS FALL: A federal judge in San Antonio ruled Wednesday that Texas’ bans on same-sex marriage violate the U.S. Constitution and demean the dignity of gay couples “for no legitimate reason.” Judge Orlando Garcia, a Clinton appointee, granted two plaintiff couples’ request for an injunction barring the state from enforcing the ban. But, like federal district court judges in Virginia and Utah, Garcia stayed his order pending appeal of the case to the federal appeals level. Attorney General Greg Abbott announced immediately his plans to appeal. The Garcia ruling was in DeLeon v. Texas, in which two same-sex couples challenged the state’s statutory ban and its state constitutional ban on marriages for same-sex couples. One couple had married in Massachusetts and sought recognition in Texas; the second couple sought to marry in Texas. See full story.

PUBLISHING NAMES IN UGANDA: Just one day after Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act into law, a newspaper called the Red Pepper published a list of 200 names of people it is identifying as gay.

Brewer vetoes Arizona religious bias bill

Republican Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has vetoed the religious bias bill. Nearly all political pundits were predicting she would veto the bill allowing people to discriminate based on self-claimed religious beliefs.

Jan Brewer
Jan Brewer

Republican Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has vetoed the religious bias bill.

Nearly all political pundits were predicting she would veto the bill allowing people to discriminate based on self-claimed religious beliefs. On Wednesday, former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney joined the chorus of prominent Republicans who said she should.

Brewer vetoed a similar bill last year but that was part of an overall threat to veto every bill until the legislature passed a budget.

The state is already paying a price for its legislature’s willingness to back the religious bias bill. The Hispanic National Bar Association’s board voted unanimously Wednesday to pull its 2015 convention from the state – a conference of more than 2,000 lawyers. The National Football League had warned it might pull the 2015 Superbowl.

At a press conference late Wednesday, Brewer said she spoke with lawmakers and citizens on both sides of the issue but she said little to suggest that she disagreed with the legislation – only that the issue had not been a priority for her.

“When I addressed the legislature earlier this year, I made my priorities for this session abundantly clear….Among them are passing a responsible budget that continues Arizona’s economic comeback.” She said she also wanted legislation to fix Arizona’s “broken child protection system.”

“Instead, this is the first policy bill to cross my desk,” said Brewer.

“Senate Bill 1062 does not address a specific and present concern related to religious liberty in Arizona. I have not heard of one example in Arizona where a business owner’s religious liberty has been violated. The bill is broadly worded and could result in unintended and negative consequences.”

She reassured supporters of the bill that she understands that “long-held norms about marriage and family are being challenged as never before.”

“Our society is undergoing many dramatic changes. However, I sincerely believe that Senate Bill 1062 has the potential to create more problems than it purports to solve,” said Brewer. “It could divide Arizona in ways we cannot even imagine and no one would ever want. Religious liberty is a core American and Arizona value, so is non-discrimination.

“Going forward,” said Brewer, “let’s turn the ugliness of the debate over Senate Bill 1062 into a renewed search for greater respect and understanding among ALL Arizonans and Americans.”

In a letter to the president of the Arizona Senate, Brewer said the concerns that motivated the sponsors of the religious bias bill were “not unfounded.” Without explaining, she cited “actions taken by the Obama Administration” and “some federal and out-of-state courts” for making her “increasingly concerned about government’s encroachment upon religious freedoms.” She also noted that some legislators that supported the bill’s passage “now do not want this legislation to become law.”

A Mississippi House committee is scheduled to take up a similar bill there Thursday morning. The state senate has already passed the bill.

Federal judge says Texas marriage ban ‘demeans’ gays for ‘no legitimate reason’

A federal judge in San Antonio, Texas, ruled Wednesday that Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution and demeans the dignity of gay couples “for no legitimate reason.”

texas_flagA federal judge in San Antonio, Texas, ruled Wednesday that Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution and demeans the dignity of gay couples “for no legitimate reason.” Judge Orlando Garcia then granted two plaintiff couples’ request for an injunction barring the state from enforcing the ban. But, like federal district court judges in Virginia and Utah, Garcia stayed his ruling pending appeal of the case to the federal appeals level.

The Garcia ruling was in DeLeon v. Texas, in which two same-sex couples challenged the state’s statutory ban and its state constitutional ban on marriages for same-sex couples. One couple had married in Massachusetts and sought recognition in Texas; the second couple sought to marry in Texas.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced immediately that his office would appeal the decision to the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. He expressed optimism that the bans would prevail on appeal.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled over and over again that States have the authority to define and regulate marriage,” said Abbott. “The Texas Constitution defines marriage as between one man and one woman. If the Fifth Circuit honors those precedents, then today’s decision should be overturned and the Texas Constitution will be upheld.”

Texas Republican Governor Rick Perry was more defiant, saying, “it is not the role of the federal government to overturn the will of our citizens.”

“The 10th Amendment guarantees Texas voters the freedom to make these decisions,” said Perry, “and this is yet another attempt to achieve via the courts what couldn’t be achieved at the ballot box. We will continue to fight for the rights of Texans to self-determine the laws of our state.”

Supporters of marriage equality were, naturally, happy.

“This ruling is one more step toward the inevitable end of official discrimination by the state of Texas,” said Rebecca Robertson, legal director for ACLU-Texas. “Gay and lesbian couples want the same thing as other loving couples — to stand before family and friends and declare their lifetime commitment to each other, and to enjoy the same recognition and protection for their families that only marriage can bring. We applaud the judge’s preliminary ruling, but we also recognize that there is a great deal of hard work to do to bring full equality to every Texan.”

Judge Garcia and at least five other federal judges to rule on state bans of marriage for same-sex couples in the past eight months have all cited the U.S. v. Windsor decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. In that decision, the nation’s highest court said the federal government cannot refuse to recognize a valid marriage license from a state. Garcia noted that lower courts must apply that ruling “and decide whether a state can do what the federal government cannot—discriminate against same-sex couples.”

As if anticipating Perry’s reaction, Judge Garcia said, in the conclusion of his decision, that “Today’s Court decision is not made in defiance of the great people of Texas or the Texas Legislature, but in compliance with the United State Constitution and Supreme Court precedent.”

“Without a rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose, state-imposed inequality can find no refuge in our United States Constitution. Furthermore, Supreme Court precedent prohibits states from passing legislation born out of animosity against homosexuals (Romer), has extended constitutional protection to the moral and sexual choices of homosexuals (Lawrence), and prohibits the federal government from treating state-sanctioned opposite-sex marriages and same-sex marriages differently (Windsor).”

Garcia (a Clinton appointee) ruled that the Texas bans violate the guarantees of due process and equal protection of the U.S. Constitution.

A federal judge in Michigan began hearing testimony Tuesday in a lawsuit challenging Michigan’s ban on allowing same-sex couples to marry.

Speed Read: Michigan trial begins today

MICHIGAN TRIAL STARTS TODAY: A federal judge in Detroit will begin hearing testimony today in a lesbian couple’s challenge to the state law banning same-sex couples from marrying. The case, DeBoer v. Michigan, started out as a lawsuit to challenge a state law barring unmarried couples from adopting. April DeBoer and longtime partner Jayne Rowse were seeking to adopt three children they had been raising together. But while hearing that case last year, U.S. District Court Judge Bernard Friedman suggested the plaintiffs amend their lawsuit to challenge the law barring same-sex couples from marrying. A big issue in the case is expected to be how suitable gays are for parenting.

PRESSURE BUILDS FOR ARIZONA VETO: U.S. Senator John McCain, the CEO of American Airlines, even three state senators who voted for the religious bias bill in Arizona last week now urge Republican Governor Jan Brewer to veto it, reports the Fox News TV Phoenix. Those three state senators, added to the 13 Democrats who voted “No” when the bill was before the senate, would now ensure rejection of the measure which allows people to claim a religious belief to justify discriminating against others. The bill is aimed at allowing people and businesses to discriminate against gays. Brewer must either sign or veto the bill this week. Both McCain and junior U.S. Senator Jeff Flake posted messages on Twitter saying they hope Brewer vetoes the bill.

OBAMA NOMINEE OPPOSED: The Human Rights Campaign, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, National Center for Lesbian Rights, and others have signed onto a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee to oppose President Obama’s nominee to fill a U.S. district court seat for the Northern District of Georgia. The February 20 letter states that the groups have “grave concerns” about the record of nominee Michael Boggs on LGBT equality when he was a Georgia state legislator, specifically because he voted for a bill to ban marriage for same-sex couples. The letter is signed by a large number of other groups and also raises concerns about Boggs’ record on the rights of women and racial minorities. Boggs currently serves on the Georgia Court of Appeals.

U.S. BEGINS REVIEWING UGANDA RELATIONS: Secretary of State John Kerry said yesterday the U.S. is “beginning an internal review of our relationship with the Government of Uganda to ensure that all dimensions of our engagement, including assistance programs, uphold our anti-discrimination policies and principles and reflect our values.” Kerry issued the statement following news that Uganda President Yoweri Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act Monday morning, making it a crime to be gay or “promote” homosexuality. The U.S. provides a reported $400 million in aid to Uganda.

SCHOOL PAYS UP FOR OUTING: A school district in Texas has agreed to pay a former lesbian high school student $77,000 for outing the girl to her mother. The Kilgore Independent School District announced last Friday that it had agreed to pay the amount in settlement of the lawsuit filed by Skye Wyatt, now 21. Wyatt filed suit after her softball coaches confronted her as a student in 2009 about being gay and then called her mother to tell her mother Wyatt was gay. Wyatt’s lawsuit said the actions violated Wyatt’s right to privacy under the state and federal constitution. The case was set to go to trial next month. The school district also agreed to hold a 30-minute training session annually for faculty about privacy and discrimination.

BIDEN SLATED FOR HRC DINNER: Vice President Joe Biden is slated to keynote the Human Rights Campaign fundraising dinner in Los Angeles March 22.

Speed Read: Bias bill is pro-gay?

Proponents of a stalled religious bias bill in Kansas are sending out letters claiming the bill helps LGBT people. Uganda’s president announced this morning he would sign the parliament’s Anti-Homosexuality Act this morning. Big television campaign being launched today.

UGANDAN PRESIDENT DELAYS AGAIN: President Yoweri Museveni was scheduled to sign his parliament’s Anti-Homosexuality Act Monday morning, just two days after he penned a statement suggesting he would wait for proof that homosexuality is genetic. In the independent weekly newspaper The Observer in Kampala Friday, Museveni’s op-ed said he would “encourage” the U.S. government to join with Ugandan scientists “to study whether, indeed, there are people who are born homosexual.  When that is proved, we can review this legislation.” But early Monday, Associated Press reported his office announced he would sign the bill at 11 Ugandan time Monday (3 a.m. EST). The legislation is the Anti-Homosexuality Act, passed by parliament in December. Museveni initially declined to sign it, saying he was concerned it had not been passed through proper procedures in the parliament. Then he said he would sign it, saying Ugandan scientists had convinced him that homosexuality is a choice (though some political observers said he traded his signature for an endorsement by the majority party for his re-election). The February 21 essay makes clear Museveni has hesitated at least in part in reaction to a statement from President Obama that the law would “complicate” U.S. relations with Uganda. There was no indication what brought about Museveni’s latest change of plan.

ALASKA ANTI-BIAS BILL GETS HEARING: A bill to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in Alaska will get its first hearing in a state senate committee today. The bill has seen no movement in the state house.

RELIGIOUS BIAS IS PRO-GAY? Proponents of a stalled religious bias bill in Kansas are sending out letters claiming the bill helps LGBT people. According to the Wichita Eagle, a group called Kansans for Liberty has been sending out letters to generate support for the bill by claiming it would enable LGBT business owners to refuse service to people who violate LGBT people’s beliefs. “If an LGBT couple owned a meeting space would any of us like to force them to rent it for an anti-gay rally and wedding? Should an African American and his LGBT partner be forced to lease his space or services for a KKK wedding?” The letter doesn’t indicate that the bill requires that a person identify a religious belief, not a moral or ethical one, in order to evade non-discrimination laws. Supporters of the bill are hoping to apply enough pressure on the Kansas Senate to get the bill out of the Senate Judiciary Committee where the chairman last week said he would not advance it.

NO NEED TO WAIT TIL JUNE: A U.S. district court judge in Chicago ruled Friday that Cook County can begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples immediately, rather than wait until June 1, the enactment date on legislation passed and signed last year.  The decision came in Lee v. Orr, filed by Lambda Legal and the ACLU. U.S. District Judge Sharon Coleman (an Obama appointee) said there is “no reason” to make same-sex couples wait. That decision prompted a state senator who had introduced a new bill seeking to ban marriage for same-sex couples to withdraw his legislation. And Equality Illinois called on clerks in other counties to abide by Coleman’s reasoning.

NEW MEXICO STAYS FIRM: The New Mexico legislature ended its 2014 session Friday without taking up a bill that sought to pass a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. The state supreme court ruled last year that state laws that “have the effect of precluding same-gender couples from marrying” violate the equal protection guarantee of the state constitution.

DESPERATE TAX BREAK: A Republican hopeful in the Kentucky gubernatorial race told a radio audience Friday he thinks allowing same-sex couples to marry could lead to parents attempting to marry their own children in order to reap a tax benefits. The comment came from Tea Party businessman Matt Bevins, a father of nine kids who is challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in the May 20 primary.

TALKING TO THE SOUTH: The national Freedom to Marry group will today announce the launch of a $1 million television advertising campaign in southern states to build public support for allowing same-sex couples to marry.

 

Speed Read: Arizona OKs religious bias

Arizona’s legislature yesterday became the first to clear a bill to allow people to discriminate against others by claiming to have a religious belief that requires them to do so. Maine’s House joined its Senate in killing a similar measure. The Oregon attorney general said yesterday she can find no valid reason to justify the state’s ban on same-sex couples marrying.

ARIZONA HOUSE OKS RELIGIOUS BIAS: The Arizona House voted 33 to 27 Thursday to approve a bill that allows people to claim that discriminatory treatment of others is an exercise of their religious beliefs, making it the first legislature to pass such a bill. Though some legislators argued that the measure, which passed the Arizona Senate earlier this week, is intended protect religious freedom, opponents said it is clearly aimed at allowing discrimination based on sexual orientation. The bill goes now to the desk of Republican Governor Jan Brewer. The Arizona Republic newspaper’s editorial board immediately ran an editorial urging the governor to veto the measure as harmful to the state’s economic development.

MAINE KILLS RELIGIOUS BIAS BILL: While the Arizona legislature became the first to pass a religious bias bill, the Maine House of Representatives voted 52 to 89 Thursday against a similar bill, becoming at least the fifth such legislature to kill or indefinitely stall the measure in the past month. The Maine Senate rejected the bill two days earlier. Opponents say the legislation is aimed at allowing businesses to refuse services to same-sex couples. Some say the bill is also designed to allow employers to refuse to provide health coverage that includes certain reproductive services, such as insemination, contraception, and abortion.

OREGON AG WON’T DEFEND BAN: Following a growing trend, the Oregon Attorney General announced Thursday that her office will not defend as constitutional the state ban on allowing same-sex couples to marry. Ellen Rosenblum said her office “cannot identify a valid reason for the state to prevent” same-sex couples from marrying. Rosenblum’s announcement came in regards to Geiger v. Kitzhaber, a lawsuit brought by four couples in Eugene. Oral argument in the case is set for April.

MIZEUR RUNNING THIRD IN MARYLAND: The latest Washington Post poll shows openly gay state Delegate Heather Mizeur’s campaign polling third among the Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls in Maryland. The survey of registered voters showed only nine percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents said they would vote for Mizeur, if the election were held today. Thirty-two percent said they would support current Lt. Governor Anthony Brown, 15 percent would vote for current Attorney General Doug Ganzler, and the rest were undecided or chose others.

MARRIAGE NOT MUCH OF AN ISSUE: The Washington Post poll also asked registered voters in Maryland how important “gay marriage” is to their decision on who to support for governor. Forty-four percent chose “Not too important,” 19 percent said “Fairly important,” 20 percent said “Very important,” and 15 percent said “extremely important.”

BUDGETING FOR BOOK BIAS: A budget committee in the South Carolina House Wednesday approved cutting money from the budgets of two public colleges because the schools included pro-gay textbooks as part of their curricula. Rep. Garry Smith proposed the cuts, saying the books were “purely promotion of a lifestyle with no academic debate.” One book was an autobiography by Alison Bechdel (Fun Home), used by the College of Charleston; the other book (Out Loud) was about a gay and lesbian radio show, used by the University of South Carolina.

 

Speed Read: Arizona joins a trend

The Arizona Senate on Wednesday passed a bill that allows people to claim a religious belief in order to discriminate based on sexual orientation; the state House is expected to consider the bill today. A federal judge in Virginia ponders whether to decide a second challenge to the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. HRC asks the Obama administration to withdraw its ambassadors from Uganda and Nigeria.

ARIZONA SENATE JOINS THE TREND: The Arizona Senate on Wednesday voted 17 to 13 for a bill that allows people to claim a religious belief in order to discriminate based on sexual orientation. The Arizona legislature is one of several state legislatures to take up similar bills, many of which are failing. The Arizona Republic newspaper said the House could take up the measure today.

COURT PONDERS SECOND VA. CASE: Attorneys representing same-sex couples in a second federal challenge of Virginia’s ban on same-sex couples marrying urged their judge Wednesday to issue a decision in the case or proceed quickly to trial. According to a court docket on Wednesday’s hearing, attorneys from Lambda Legal and the ACLU also urged U.S. District Court Judge Michael Urbanski not to issue a stay in Harris v. Virginia, as Judge Arenda Wright Allen did February 14 in Bostic v. Virginia. The Washington Post and Associated Press reported that Urbanski questioned whether it is necessary for him to rule on the class action suit now that the Bostic decision is heading to the appeals court.

HRC URGES AMBASSADOR RECALLS: The Human Rights Campaign Wednesday urged Secretary of State John Kerry to withdraw U.S. ambassadors out of Uganda and Nigeria. HRC President Chad Griffin said recently enacted anti-gay laws in both countries “treat their LGBT citizens like criminals cannot be accepted as business as usual by the U.S. government.”

ADD GAMBIA TO THE LIST: The president of Gambia on Tuesday likened gay people to “vermin.” Speaking to a national television audience on the anniversary of Gambia’s independence from Britain, President Yahya Jammeh said that the acronym LGBT stands for “leprosy, gonorrhea, bacteria and tuberculosis; all of which are detrimental to human existence.” Jammeh has made similarly hateful public remarks before. In 2008, he vowed to behead any gay person found in the country and urged gays to leave the country. Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement Wednesday saying the U.S. government is “deeply troubled” by Jammeh’s “hateful rhetoric.”

ANONYMOUS HATE CAMPAIGN: Rancho Mirage, California, City Council Scott Hines is running for re-election this April, and someone mailed to voters a postcard with a photo of Hines, the word “Fags,” and a message to “Send Hines Packing Back to Palm Springs, where he belongs.” Palm Springs is a heavily gay town a few miles away. The word “fags” is spelled out by aligning letters from the words “No More Fab Party Guy Scotty.” A group opposing Hines’ re-election denied sending the card and said they think Hines supporters mailed it out to blame the opposition group.

DUNN VERDICT AND GAY-BLACK SCHISM: Pulitzer Prize-winning political writer Jonathan Capehart wrote Wednesday that, for many African Americans, the gay community fails to show its solidarity with the black civil rights movement when injustice prevails against the black community. Capehart’s Washington Post columnwas inspired by openly lesbian American Idol competitor and Broadway performer Frenchie Davis, who is African American. Following the news that a jury in Florida deadlocked Saturday over a murder charge against Michael Dunn for shooting teenaged Jordan Davis for playing his music too loud. Davis posted a message on Facebook saying the gay community doesn‘t get to draw comparisons with the black civil rights movement “and then remain SILENT when the civil rights of Black teens are being violated.” Capehart wrote that the gay community has spoken out at times, but “on issues of importance to the African American community — voting rights, criminal justice and basic dignity — the gays generally speaking have been largely silent.”

Speed Read: Anti-gay bills failing

Bills attempting to provide a way for people to discriminate against gays by claiming a religious exercise failed in multiple states Tuesday. A second Mississippi town voted for “inherent worth” of gays and others. Consequences of Uganda law still playing out.

KANSAS BACKS OFF RELIGION BILL: The chairman of the Kansas Senate Judiciary Committee announced Tuesday that his committee would not advance a bill that would allow any “individual or religious entity” to withhold “any services” and “accommodations,” including “counseling, adoption, foster care” and “employment” that is “related to” any same-sex “relationship.” All a person would have to do is claim to hold a “sincerely held religious belief” against that relationship. The House approved the bill last week, but business leaders voiced strong opposition to the legislation, prompting some to say the bill couldn’t pass the House if another vote was taken. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Jeff King, a Republican, said the committee would not attempt to draft an alternative bill but that he would have a hearing.

MAINE AND TENNESSEE BACK OFF, TOO: The Maine Senate rejected a bill Tuesday that sought to provide a religious exemption to the state human rights bill there. The vote was 16 to 19.  And in Tennessee, the sponsor of a bill to allow wedding-industry businesses to refuse service to same-sex couples withdrew his proposal Tuesday. The Tennessean newspaper credited pressure from pro-gay activists, and Senator Mike Bell acknowledged hearing from people “from Johnson City to Memphis.” But Bell said he withdrew the measure because he now believes current state law already protects business owners from “lawsuit harassment” by LGBT activists.

THREE VICTORIES IN SOUTH DAKOTA: The South Dakota Senate Judiciary Committee killed a bill Tuesday that sought to provide a religious exemption to discriminate against people based on sexual orientation. The Rapid City Journal reported that a bill to allow wedding vendors to refuse same-sex couples was withdrawn and a bill to allow religious entities to refuse to perform wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples was killed in committee. South Dakota bans same-sex couples from marrying.

ANOTHER MISSISSIPPI MARVEL: The five-member Hattiesburg, Mississippi, city council approved a resolution Tuesday declaring that it is the city’s policy “to reject discrimination of any kind and to respect the inherent worth of every person, without regard to race, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender identity or expression, age, marital status, sexual orientation, family status, veteran status, disability or source of income…” Hattiesburg in the 1960s was a focus of racial tensions, with white officials blocking blacks from voting and registering to attend the local college. “When local leaders like Mayor Johnny DuPree and members of the city council affirm the inherent value of LGBT people,” said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin, “they are affecting profound change that will improve lives.” Hattiesburg becomes only the second Mississippi municipality to approve such a resolution. Last month, Starkville became the first to do so.

UGANDA DEAL-MAKING: The Kampala-based independent newspaper The Daily Monitor reported Tuesday that President Yoweri Museveni agreed to sign the parliament’s anti-homosexuality bill as part of a deal to win endorsement from the majority party for his re-election to a fifth term. That paper and others have been expressing concern that the U.S. might withdraw the current military and other assistance it gives to Uganda as a result of the anti-gay law. But it’s a complicated situation, as most international relationships are. According to the State Department, the U.S. provides treatment to more than 400,000 Ugandans with HIV. It also provides military advisers and “significant military, development, and humanitarian resources” to neutralize a terrorist group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army, responsible for widespread murders and rapes against civilians. Last month, the White House announced it would hold a first U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington August 5 and 6.

 

Olympic moments: Two roads to visibility emerge in Sochi, with different audiences and impact

The Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, have demonstrated that there are at least two distinct ways to promote equal rights for LGBT people – the classic form of direct political protest and the “I’m here, I’m queer, get used to it” visibility. In Russia for the Olympics, both types emerged this week and both were delivered by solitary figures with differing motives and intriguing impact.

russia_flagThe Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, have demonstrated that there are at least two distinct ways to promote equal rights for LGBT people — the classic form of direct political protest and the “I’m here, I’m queer, get used to it” visibility. In Russia for the Olympics, both types emerged this week and both were delivered by solitary figures with differing motives and intriguing impact.

One transgender activist (former member of the Italian parliament) staged the lone (so far) classic protest at the Olympic Village against the Russian anti-gay laws. According to Associated Press, Vladimir Luxuria, dressed in rainbow colors and wearing a hard-to-miss rainbow-colored headdress, walked in a circle around the Olympic Park for two hours Monday, shouting, “Gay is OK,” in both English and Russian. When she attempted to enter the hockey arena with a ticket, said AP, four unidentified men put her into a car with Olympic markings and drove off. Luxuria later she says they dropped her in the countryside.

It’s uncertain how many people heard Luxuria’s message, but the print-and-digital media covered it as a serious political protest.

Former Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir reached a tremendously larger audience with his visibility as a gay man, by wearing decidedly gender-bending attire on-the-air as one of two of NBC’s commentators for men’s figure skating competitions. One day he wore a dramatically large necklace of beads, a cream-colored suit that appeared more tailored for a woman, and a little more make up than usually applied to men on camera. Friday he wore a Liberace-like glitter and sparkle ensemble that stood out all the more because his co-commentator, Tara Lipinski, dressed in relatively modest attire. When the daytime anchor on Friday remarked ironically, “Johnny, next time, don’t be so understated with the outfit,” Weir didn’t miss a beat.

“I really brought it for the men’s competition,” he said, reminding viewers that, in the last two Winter Olympics, he was competing in the men’s figure skating competition, wearing trademark theatrical costumes. He also pointed out that he designed the costume worn by Yuzuru Hanyu, the Sochi gold medalist in this year’s men’s figure skating competition. Hanyu’s costume included considerable lace, a bejeweled and frilly sloping bodice, and sheer, skin-tone highlights.

Weir’s attire was picking up “a lot of buzz,” noted NBC Today Show host Matt Lauer during Tuesday’s broadcast. Reporter Billy Bush took on a less friendly tone as he introduced the segment, noting that Weir had been “taking a stand for gays in Sochi” and “thumbing his nose at Russian laws.”

“Johnny says he’s not going out of his way to make any point off the ice. He’s just being himself,” said Bush. “And that includes the fabulous wardrobe he’s been sporting in Sochi.”

The segment included Bush’s interview of Weir, and after some banter about Weir’s attire during the Olympics, Bush asked him, “What were you like as a kid? What kind of boy were you?”

“When I was growing up, it was still the late ‘80s, early ‘90s, and I knew that public opinion was kind of against gay people,” said Weir, switching to a more serious tone. “I didn’t know what being gay meant, I just knew…”

Bush interrupted him to ask, “…but you felt OK with it?”

“I felt cool. I felt fine with being different,” said Weir, “…aside from bullying and…”

Bush interrupted again and the conversation moved on to ask about how his parents felt about his being gay, and then talk turned to Weir’s husband, a Russian living in the U.S. The screen showed numerous photos of the couple together, getting married and kissing.

Weir noted that he’s spent considerable time in Russia, visiting and training, adding, “I’ve not had one bad homophobic experience in Russia.”

“I haven’t come to Russia to make a statement in any way,” said Weir. “I’ve come to Russia to do my job and to do it well.”

According to reports from the Human Rights Campaign, which has been monitoring NBC coverage of the anti-gay laws controversy during the Olympics, the network gave three minutes and nine seconds to Weir. A report on “Sochi police” detaining Luxuria after she arrived at the hockey arena got 16 seconds on an NBC sister channel, MSNBC Live.

HRC reports that NBC and its affiliated networks have spent a total of one hour, 37 minutes, and nine seconds on LGBT issues in the first 12 days of its Olympics coverage. Some of that has been devoted to airing people’s discomfort with the idea of same-sex marriage (Mitt Romney on Meet the Press last Sunday), their opinion that athletes should not speak out about “political stuff” at the Olympics (former U.S. hockey gold medalist Mike Eruzione on Weekends with Alex Witt last Saturday), or just vague and fleeting references to “tension about some of the members of the U.S. Delegation, some openly gay athletes” (CNBC’s Squawk on the Street last Friday).

And some of the NBC air time has been spent on people opposed to the Russian anti-gay laws. MSNBC News Live interviewed gay former Olympian Brian Boitano for five minutes on February 12, Andrea Mitchell Reports interviewed Boitano and then HRC official Brian Moulton about the controversy on February 11.

There have been many inspired and ironic reports concerning the anti-gay laws that have gotten only brief attention. For instance, there have been no organized demonstrations against Russia’s anti-gay laws at or even outside the Olympic venue in Sochi. The park that Russian officials designated for people wishing to stage political demonstrations has been essentially empty, according to a Boston Globe report last Wednesday. Globe reporter David Filipov visited the park on Day Five of the games and found one woman staging a pro-Putin demonstration. While Filipov was there, a city official and “half-dozen men in dark jackets” showed up, “listening in on conversations and writing down notes,” and taking pictures of the news crew. The official told Filipov she is in charge of granting permits and that only one other person had been granted a permit to protest in the park. A third applicant was turned down because he expected more than 100 people to attend his pro-environment protest. A Sochi civil rights attorney told Filipov that most potential protesters were already “behind bars on what he called trumped-up charges.” The park is located ten miles away from the Olympic village in Sochi, under a noisy highway.

None of the seven openly gay athletes have offered any visible signs of opposition to the anti-gay laws on television, and no news reports have indicated otherwise off camera.

Dutch speed skater Ireen Wust won a gold medal in the 3,000 meter women’s speedskate Sunday, and Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated her at a nearby bar. Wust told a Dutch broadcaster, “He congratulated me and asked if everything was OK in Russia…. He was happy to see me, but then he had to leave again. But I cuddled him.”

Reaction to the greeting between Wust and Putin and Wust’s remarks was mixed. ABC News commentators pondered whether Putin’s gesture indicates he’s more liberal than originally thought. Queer Nation New York issued a press release to say, “By embracing Vladimir Putin, a man who has trampled on the human rights of LGBT Russians, political dissidents, artists, undocumented immigrants, and others in Russia, Wust has endorsed his fascist agenda.”

ABC News said Wust identifies as bisexual and is currently dating a man, but the Daily Mail newspaper of the U.K. quoted her as saying nobody would be asking about her relationship at the Olympics “if I would’ve had a relationship with a guy….”

Canadian lesbian speed skater Anastasia Bucsis told the Toronto Star that she has found the Sochi games “incredibly hospitable,” despite Russia’s anti-gay laws.

“I’ve never once felt unsafe here,” she told the Star. “It’s just such a positive energy, and a real atmosphere of excitement and love.”

Although Bucsis has reportedly spoken against Russia’s anti-gay laws back home in Canada, she told Radio Free Europe she was “not going to make any fuss” about them at the Games.

“I’m here to compete as a speed skater and represent my country the best way I know how.” Bucsis finished 28 out of 34 skaters in the 500 meter long-track event Tuesday, February 11, but was upbeat, saying “I did the best I could.” She credited openly gay former Canadian Olympian and gold medalist Mark Tewksbury as one of most important mentors.

Austrian lesbian ski jumper Daniela Iraschko-Stolz won a silver medal Tuesday. A few days earlier, Iraschko-Stolz told reporters, concerning the Russian anti-gay laws, “I don’t think it’s a good idea to make protests here, no one cares. I know Russia will go and make the right steps in the future and we should give them time.”

And then there was Czech Republican cross snowboarder Eva Samkova, who is not one of the seven openly LGBT Olympic athletes, who sported a painted-on mustache during competition. An NBC commentator explained this is a longstanding ritual that she engages in for “luck.” She won gold.

In one of the more amusing reports on Russia’s anti-gay laws and how they might affect gays at the Olympics, gay actor Scott Thompson revived his role as a dramatically effeminate gay man, “Buddy Cole,” from “Kids in the Hall” to take on an assignment for Stephen Colbert’s The Colbert Report. For the Comedy Central piece, Buddy Cole interviewed the real-life openly gay U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The anti-gay laws in Russia are likely to get a little more attention from NBC on the final day of the Olympics. That’s because the White House announced last week that tennis legend Billie Jean King will join the presidential delegation to the closing ceremony. King was slated to be part of the opening ceremony delegation, but her mother was gravely ill and she withdrew from the trip. King’s mother died February 7, on the day of the opening ceremony.

The closing ceremony takes place Sunday, February 23, and there has been some speculation that some athletes might wait until then to show any visible signs of opposition to the anti-gay Russian laws, so as not to jeopardize or detract from their competitions.

Speed Read: Rice calls Uganda

White House National Security Advisor Susan Rice posted several messages on Twitter Monday, saying that she spoke “at length” with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni “to urge him not to sign” the anti-LGBT bill. Alaska warms to marriage for gay couples. And not all LGBT members of Congress are staunch liberals.

RICE CALLS UGANDAN PRESIDENT: White House National Security Advisor Susan Rice posted several messages on Twitter Monday, saying that she spoke “at length” with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni “to urge him not to sign” the anti-LGBT bill passed by the nation’s parliament in December. She said she told Museveni that the bill is a “huge step backward” for Uganda and the world and that it will “put many at risk and stain Uganda’s reputation.”

ALASKA WARMS TO MARRIAGE: A Public Policy Polling survey this month showed a nine-point increase in the number of people who support allowing same-sex couples to marry. The survey of 850 registered voters between January 30 and February 1 (margin of error plus or minus 4.7 percent) found 44 percent support allowing gay couples to marry, 27 percent support civil unions but not marriage, 26 percent said there should be no recognition of gay relationships, and three percent were unsure. By comparison, only 39 percent had a favorable opinion of former Governor Sarah Palin.

TAXING COMPLICATIONS: The Colorado House on Monday gave final clearance to a bill that will allow same-sex couples who have marriage licenses from other states and civil union registration with Colorado to file a joint state tax return. The state senate passed the measure in January over objections of Republicans who said it violates the state ban on recognition of marriages for same-sex couples.

IDAHO PROTEST GROWS: The number of demonstrators urging the Idaho legislature to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s human rights law grew dramatically Monday. From 40 who were arrested February 3, to 65 who were turned away from the capitol last Thursday, the number jumped to 200 yesterday. They are also protesting against a bill, which advanced out of committee earlier this month that would give people a right to deny services to persons by claiming to have a religious belief that prevents them from doing so.

BALDWIN AMONG TOP LIBERALS: It’s probably not a big surprise: The U.S. Senate’s only openly gay member made the National Journal’s list of “The 15 Most Liberal Senators.” The list, released earlier this month, shows Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) tied for fifth place –but because three senators were tied for first and seven were tied for seventh, it’s a crowded field.

POCAN A TOP LIBERAL IN THE HOUSE: Openly gay U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.) is the eighth most liberal member of the House, according to the National Journal’s ratings for 2013. And he’s the most liberal of the House’s seven openly LGBT members. Of others in the LGBT caucus, Pocan is followed by Mark Takano (D-Calif.) in 37th place; David Cicilline (D-RIs.) in 45th place; Jared Polis (D-Colo.) in 144th place; Mike Michaud (D-Maine) in 148th place; and Sean Maloney (D-NY) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) tied in 188th place.

Speed Read: Mob attack in Nigeria

A “mob” of about 40 people dragged 14 young men from their beds in the Nigerian capital Abuja last Thursday night and beat them with wooden clubs and iron bars. Ted Cruz tries to stem the tide of state marriage bans being overturned. Idaho protesters continue their vigil.

MOB ATTACK IN NIGERIA: Associated Press reports that human rights activists said Saturday a “mob” of about 40 people dragged 14 young men from their beds in the Nigerian capital Abuja last Thursday night and beat them with wooden clubs and iron bars. The mob indicated it was attempting to “cleanse” the area of gay people and reportedly painted “Homosexuals: Pack and Leave” on the walls of the men’s homes. Violence against gays and people believed to be gay has continued since January when President Goodluck Jonathan signed into law an act that carries a 14-year prison sentence for anyone advocating for gays to have rights.
U.S. REASSURED NIGERIA ABOUT AID: Speaking to a Nigerian audience in Abuja January 22, U.S. Ambassador James Entwistle went out of his way to reassure the country that the United States is not going to cut back its support for HIV programming in Nigeria because of the “Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act.” Instead, he said, the U.S. would “have to watch carefully how this bill is implemented and enforced with an eye towards its potential effect on HIV programs here.”
COMPLICATING RELATIONSHIPS: President Obama issued a statement Sunday saying the decision of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to sign that country’s “Anti-Homosexuality Bill” will “complicate our valued relationship with Uganda.” President Obama’s statement said he is “deeply disappointed” in Museveni’s decision, and he called the law “an affront and a danger to the gay community in Uganda” and “a step backward for all Ugandans….”
CRUZ SEEKS TO DEFEND THE STATES: U.S. Senators Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) introduced a bill Wednesday that reportedly seeks to force the federal government to abide by the one man-one woman definition of marriage in states that still define it that way. The text of the legislation is not yet available, but The Hill newspaper quotes Cruz as saying S. 2024 is to prevent the federal government’s effort to “undermine the constitutional authority of each state to define marriage consistent with the values of its citizens.”
ANOTHER EX-GAY BAN BILL: The Washington State House passed a bill last Thursday that seeks to ban the use of sexual orientation change therapy on young people under the age of 18. The vote was 94 to 4. The bill is slated for a hearing in a senate committee this Thursday. California enacted a similar law that has been upheld in the Ninth Circuit but has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
IDAHO PROTESTERS CONTINUE: Covering their mouths with their hands, and wearing black t-shirts that say “Add the 4 Words, Idaho,” an estimated 65 protesters returned to the state capital again last Thursday to pressure lawmakers to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the Idaho human rights law. The Idaho Statesman posted video showing the protesters being turned away after they refused to turn their t-shirts inside out so the message wasn’t visible. The paper says the legislature’s rules prohibit visitors to display political messages in either chamber.
FULL FIRST CIRCUIT TO CONSIDER PRISON CASE: The full First Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has agreed to hear an appeal from Massachusetts challenging a three-judge panel’s decision in favor of a transgender person seeking sex change surgery while in prison. The panel last month affirmed a district judge’s decision that a state prison violated the constitutional rights of the prisoner with severe gender disorder when it refused to provide sex reassignment surgery. Kosilek v. Spencer involves Michelle Kosilek, who is serving a life sentence for the murder of her wife while Kosilek was still living as a man.

Olson lauds Virginia judge’s ‘eloquent’ decision, expresses confidence on appeal

A federal judge in Norfolk, Virginia, today struck down the state’s ban on same-sex couples marrying but stayed the execution of her order, that the state stop enforcing the law, pending appeal to the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

The decision marks the first time a judge in a southern state has struck down a ban on same-sex couples marrying. Whatever the Fourth Circuit’s decision, it will apply to Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, and West Virginia.

virginia_sealA federal judge in Norfolk, Virginia, today struck down the state’s ban on same-sex couples marrying but stayed the execution of her order, that the state stop enforcing the law, pending appeal to the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

The decision marks the first time a judge in a southern state has struck down a ban on same-sex couples marrying. Whatever the Fourth Circuit’s decision, it will apply to Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, and West Virginia.

“Equality isn’t something that happens just up north,” said American Foundation for Equal Rights executive director Adam Umhoefer, at a press conference Friday morning.

Judge Arenda Wright Allen (an Obama appointee) opened her 41-page decision with a quote from a book by Mildred Loving, the African American woman who, with her white husband, won a lawsuit striking down bans against interracial couples marrying.

“We made a commitment to each other in our love and lives, and now had the legal commitment, called marriage, to match. Isn’t that what marriage is?” wrote Loving in Loving for All.

In an eloquent, history-laden opinion, Allen acknowledged that a “spirited and controversial debate is underway” regarding same-sex couples marrying, but added, “Our Constitution declares that ‘all men’ are created equal. Surely this means all of us.”  She said the ban violates the rights to due process and equal protection and deprives same-sex couples of the fundamental freedom to choose to marry.

“Although steeped in a rich, tradition- and faith-based legacy, Virginia’s Marriage Laws are an exercise of governmental power,” wrote Allen. “For those who choose to marry, and for their children, Virginia’s laws ensure that marriage provides profound legal, financial, and social benefits, and exacts serious legal, financial, and social obligations. The government’s involvement in defining marriage, and in attaching benefits that accompany the institution, must withstand constitutional scrutiny. Laws that fail that scrutiny must fall despite the depth and legitimacy of the laws’ religious heritage.”

The case, Bostic v. Virginia, was argued by Ted Olson, David Boies, and a team supported by the American Foundation for Equal Rights which pressed the successful challenge against California’s statewide ban, Proposition 8.

The decision was dated 9 p.m. Thursday but entered into the record Friday, February 14, Valentine’s Day. At a press conference in Norfolk Friday morning, plaintiff Tim Bostic read from the decision an excerpt from a letter by President Lincoln in 1860 regarding the need to end slavery: “It can not have failed to strike you that these men ask for just. . . the same thing—fairness, and fairness only. This, so far as in my power, they, and all others, shall have.”

Casey Mattox, senior counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom which represented a northern Virginia county clerk who intervened in the case to defend the ban, was out of the office today and could not be reached for comment.

Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Byron Babione said the court’s ruling “interferes with the right of Virginians to determine the future of marriage in their state and raises serious constitutional issues.” He said the Alliance is discussing “our next steps” with their client.

And Family Research Council leader Tony Perkins called the decision “another example of an arrogant judge substituting her person preferences for the judgment of the General Assembly and 57 percent of Virginia voters.”

Interestingly, however, judges have struck down only eight of the 21 state and D.C. bans since 2004. Nine of the reversals were done by legislatures, three by voters, and one by a combination of court and legislature. Three of the eight court decisions finding state bans unconstitutional are pending review by federal appeals courts and, along with many other lawsuits, are expected to find their way to the U.S. Supreme Court for a final decision.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, who took office in early January and decided the ban was unconstitutional and that his office would not attempt to defend it, called the decision “a victory for the Constitution and for treating everyone equally under the law.”

Judge Allen examined the Virginia ban using “strict scrutiny,” the highest level of judicial review, because it infringed upon the fundamental right to marry. Laws violating fundamental rights can pass constitutional muster only if they are narrowly drawn to serve a compelling state interest.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe released a statement Friday morning, applauding the decision. And while he said he would continue to enforce the ban as long as it is “on the books,” he considers the decision “a significant step forward in achieving greater equality for all of our citizens.”

In a telephone call with reporters Friday morning, attorney Ted Olson praised the “eloquent” and “beautiful” decision written by Judge Allen, saying it should be read by every American.

“Judge after judge after judge has determined we cannot any longer withhold the fundamental right to marriage and the right to be treated equally,” said Olson. “We feel confident in outcome of this case” on appeal, ultimately to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Olson said he thinks the Supreme Court was constrained by the Proposition 8 case because of an issue involving standing. But he said the high court could take up the merits on any of the several dozen cases percolating through the federal court system now as soon as next session.

Tim Bostic and Tony London have been together for 24 years; Mary Townley and Carol Schall have been together for nearly 30 years, and have a teenage daughter Emily.

Schall remarked that the decision being issued on Valentine’s Day has many special meanings for her. She noted that Virginia’s marketing motto has for many years been, “Virginia is for Lovers,” and that she and Townley celebrated their 29th anniversary this week.”

“The steady march toward equality continues today with this historic decision,” said Joshua Block, staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. “Support for the freedom to marry has seen an amazing increase in the past few years, and we will continue to work to ensure that all couples have access to the dignity and protection that only comes with marriage.”

The ACLU and Lambda Legal have teamed up in another federal court challenge to Virginia’s ban. That case, Harris v. Virginia, is in the Western District federal court in Harrisonburg and is proceeding as a class action suit on behalf of all same-sex couples in Virginia who wish to marry.

Judge strikes Virginia’s marriage ban

A federal judge in Norfolk, Virginia, struck down the state’s ban on same-sex couples marrying but stayed the execution of her order that it stop enforcing the law, pending appeal to the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

A federal judge in Norfolk, Virginia, struck down the state’s ban on same-sex couples marrying but stayed the execution of her order that it stop enforcing the law, pending appeal to the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

Judge Arenda Wright Allen (an Obama appointee) opened her 41-page decision with a quote from a book by Mildred Loving, the African American woman who won a lawsuit striking down bans against interracial couples marrying.

“We made a commitment to each other in our love and lives, and now had the legal commitment, called marriage, to match. Isn’t that what marriage is?” wrote Loving in Loving for All.

In an eloquent, history-laden opinion, Allen acknowledged that a “spirited and controversial debate is underway” regarding same-sex couples marrying, but added, “Our Constitution declares that ‘all men’ are created equal. Surely this means all of us.”  She said the ban violates the rights to due process and equal protection and deprives same-sex couples of the fundamental freedom to choose to marry.

“Although steeped in a rich, tradition- and faith-based legacy, Virginia’s Marriage Laws are an exercise of governmental power,” wrote Allen. “For those who choose to marry, and for their children, Virginia’s laws ensure that marriage provides profound legal, financial, and social benefits, and exacts serious legal, financial, and social obligations. The government’s involvement in defining marriage, and in attaching benefits that accompany the institution, must withstand constitutional scrutiny. Laws that fail that scrutiny must fall despite the depth and legitimacy of the laws’ religious heritage.”

The case, Bostic v. Virginia, was argued by Ted Olson, David Boies, and a team supported by the American Foundation for Equal Rights which pressed the successful challenge against California’s statewide ban, Proposition 8.

Speed Read: Wyoming nixes two bills

The Wyoming House rejected two marriage-related bills Thursday. The Indiana Senate on Thursday voted to agree to a ban on same-sex marriage passed by the House, meaning the issue can’t reach voters before 2016. Missouri’s Democratic Governor Jay Nixon said Thursday he would like to see voters repeal the state’s ban on same-sex couples marrying.

WYOMING DEFEATS TWO MARRIAGE BILLS: The Wyoming House rejected two marriage-related bills Thursday. One, introduced by openly gay State Rep. Cathy Connolly (D-Laramie), sought to allow same-sex couples to marry. That was defeated 17 to 41. The second, introduced by Rep. Gerald Gay (R-Natrona), sought to ensure the state would not recognize the marriage licenses of same-sex couples who married in other states. That was defeated 29 to 31.

INDIANA SENATE SLOWS BAN DOWN: The Indiana Senate on Thursday voted to agree to a ban on same-sex marriage that was approved by the House—a ban that does not include civil unions or domestic partnerships. The vote means that the proposed constitutional amendment must go through the legislature once again, next session, and cannot reach the ballot before 2016. Evan Wolfson, head of the national Freedom to Marry group, called the vote a “welcome step back from the brink.” Megan Robertson, head of Freedom Indiana, said her group “continues to oppose the amendment in any form, but make no mistake: This is a huge victory.” Had the senate approved the same bill the legislature approved last year –with the civil union/domestic partnership language intact—the House would likely have gone along and the measure would have been before voters this November.

MISSOURI GOV SAYS DROP BAN: Missouri’s Democratic Governor Jay Nixon said Thursday he would like to see voters repeal the state’s ban on same-sex couples marrying. Nixon was appearing before an event sponsored by the state press association. “My personal belief is that we shouldn’t treat folks differently because of who they are and who they love. If folks want to get married, they should be able to get married,” said Nixon, according to the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch.

WENDY DAVIS SUPPORTS MARRIAGE EQUALITY: It’s hard to say how much it will help or hurt her chances for election, but Texas’ Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Wendy Davis told the editorial board of the San Antonio News-Express Thursday that she supports the right of same-sex couples to marry. Her likely Republican opponent, the current attorney general, is defending the state’s ban against three lawsuits in federal court. Davis hedged a little when asked if she would push to repeal the state’s existing definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman. Davis said, “I would certainly open up that conversation with the legislature.”

TEXAS JUDGE HEARS MARRIAGE CASE: U.S. District Court Judge Orlando Garcia heard two hours of arguments Wednesday in lawsuits brought by two same-sex couples. Orlando (a Clinton nominee) gave no indication of how soon he will rule on the constitutionality of Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage, but he said the ultimate decision would not be made by him but by “five people” –an obvious reference to a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court. There are at least 38 lawsuits in 24 states challenging state bans on same-sex couples marrying.

BILLIE JEAN MAY BE BACK: Openly gay former Olympic medalist Brian Boitano told MSNBC Wednesday that tennis legend Billie Jean King may be able to join the presidential delegation to the closing ceremony. King was slated to join Boitano at the opening ceremony, but her mother was gravely ill and she withdrew from the trip. King’s mother died February 7, on the day of the opening ceremony. She was 91.