Utah ban back in force for at least three months or more on appeal

The U.S. Supreme Court order granting a stay of the December 20 district court order that prohibited Utah from enforcing its ban on same-sex marriage allows Utah to resume enforcing the ban “pending final disposition” of the appeal of that decision to the Tenth Circuit. Given the Tenth Circuit’s briefing schedule for the appeal, that means the ban will be back in force for at least three months and likely longer, given anticipated appeals of whatever the Tenth Circuit decides.

The full U.S. Supreme Court has granted Utah a stay on a district court decision that has allowed same-sex couples to marry there since December 20.

The court issued its stay this morning, apparently after Justice Sonia Sotomayor referred the matter to the full court.  Sotomayor is the justice designated to administer requests for emergency stays for the Tenth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, but had the option to ask the full court to weigh in on the request.

It takes at least five justices to grant such a stay. The order issued today does not indicate that any justice was in dissent. It states simply that the stay is granted and that the December 20 order by U.S. District Court that prohibited Utah from enforcing its ban is “stayed pending final disposition” of the appeal of that decision to the Tenth Circuit. Given the Tenth Circuit’s briefing schedule for the appeal, that means the ban will be in force for at least three months and likely longer, given anticipated appeals of whatever the Tenth Circuit decides.

Tomsic and James Magleby, with the private law firm of Magleby & Greenwood which is representing same-sex couples in the case, issued a statement following the Supreme Court’s announcement, noting that it is “not unusual” for the court to stay a decision declaring a state law unconstitutional pending appeal and has “no bearing on who will win on appeal.”

LGBT legal activists agreed.

“No one should draw any negative inferences about where the Court is leaning. This is an unprecedented situation,” said Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which has several marriage equality lawsuits pending now, too. “Never before has a federal court struck down a state marriage law and then declined to stay it, and never before has a Court of Appeals also declined to issue a stay.  For those reasons, the chances that the Supreme Court would issue a stay until the appeal is resolved were always quite high, so the real news here is that so many marriages were able to take place. And it is significant that the Court did not rush to act. There is nothing unusual about the issuance of a stay when a federal court strikes down a state law on federal grounds.”

Bottom line,” said Minter, “[is] the prospects for this case still look very bright.  And there will never be any going back in Utah.”

The challenge to Utah’s ban (the state constitutional Amendment 3 and related statutes), Kitchen v. Herbert, now proceeds as Herbert v. Kitchen on an expedited schedule before the Tenth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. The next briefing date, according to attorney Peggy Tomsic who is part of the team representing same-sex couples, is January 27. The last brief due before oral argument is February 25. The court date has not yet been announced but the next argument session after that deadline is March 17-21.

“One important thing for people to understand is that the marriages that same-sex couples have entered in Utah are unaffected by the stay order,” said Jon Davidson, legal director for Lambda Legal, which also has marriage equality cases pending. “Those marriages remain valid unless courts in the future rule otherwise, and there are good reasons to believe that marriages entered in good faith pursuant to a court order remain valid even if that court order is subsequently reverse.”

The Deseret News reports that more than 900 same-sex couples married since December 20, when District Judge Robert Shelby, an Obama appointee, issued a 53-page opinion, striking down Utah’s ban violates the U.S. Constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process. Shelby immediately enjoined the state from enforcing its ban, then denied the state’s request for a stay of his decision pending appeal. The state took its request for an emergency stay to the Tenth Circuit, where it also filed an appeal of Shelby’s decision. Two judges of the Tenth Circuit –one an appointee of President George W. Bush, the other an appointee of President Obama– denied the request for a stay on December 24 but put the appeal on an expedited schedule.

“This stay is obviously disappointing for the families in Utah who need the protection of marriage and now have to wait to get married until the appeal is over,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Magleby. “Every day that goes by, same-sex couples and their children are being harmed by not being able to marry and be treated equally.”

Full U.S. Supreme Court grants Utah stay

The Supreme Court this morning granted Utah a stay of a decision that has allowed same-sex couples to marry there since December 20.

The full U.S. Supreme Court has granted Utah a stay on a district court decision that has allowed same-sex couples to marry there since December 20.

The court issued its stay this morning.

The challenge to Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage now proceeds on an expedited schedule before the Tenth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

Speed Read: New DOD regs publish today

The Defense Department’s new regulations on identification cards –including for same-sex spouses– goes into effect today. Justice Sonia Sotomayor may announce today whether to grant a stay of the court decision in Utah that has allowed same-sex couples to marry. Putin has reportedly eased restrictions on protests during the Olympics. And more…

DOD DEFINITIONS PROPOSAL: The Federal Register today is publishing new Defense Department regulations spelling out that the words “spouse” and “marriage” include same-sex couples. The regulations are part of an effort that began in August 2010 to standardize identification cards for service members and their dependents. But they take into account the Supreme Court’s ruling last June that the federal government may not ignore valid marriage licenses of same-sex couples. Public comment will be accepted until March 7 but the regulations are effective immediately.
SOTOMAYOR DECISION? U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor may announce as early as today her decision on whether to grant a stay of a federal court decision in Utah that has allowed same-sex couples to marry since December 20. She also has the option of asking the full court weigh in on the request. And the parties to the case, Kitchen v. Herbert, have the option of appealing Sotomayor’s lone decision to the full court.
PUTIN SOFTENS BAN: Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an executive order Saturday that amends his previous executive order concerning how his administration will handle protesters during the Olympic Games in February. Details of the order were not available on the president’s website, but the New York Times reported that Russia will require protesters to secure approval in advance. Previous orders have indicated that protests will be allowed in a park about nine miles away from the nearest Olympic event site in Sochi.
SEATTLE ARSON: Seattle officials still have no suspects in the New Year’s Eve arson attack on a crowded LGBT bar in Seattle. Local station KIRO-TV credited a U.S. Army sergeant in the club with grabbing a fire extinguisher from behind a bar and, with another service member, putting out the fire. The fire was apparently ignited after someone poured gasoline onto the club’s carpeted stairway. Bar employees found a plastic gas can at the top of the stairs. In addition to the quick action of bar patrons, the nightclub’s sprinkler system, fast-acting staff, and calm patrons are credited with avoiding what could have quickly become a catastrophic loss of life. More than 700 patrons were in the club shortly after midnight when the fire erupted.
MICHAUD OPPONENT LASHES OUT: Maine independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler has lashed out against the decision of Equality Maine to endorse openly gay U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud for governor this November. In a January 2 press release, Cutler said Equality Maine “denied its members an opportunity to hear from the candidates in a debate or forum and have a voice in their endorsement process.” He also claims Michaud has voted against equal rights for the LGBT community 19 times.
PARKER URGES NON-DISCRIM BILL: Although she’s embroiled in litigation over her effort to ensure that gay city employees obtain the same benefits as straight ones, Houston’s lesbian Mayor Annise Parker did not shy away from pointing out the city’s continued deficiencies when it comes to the LGBT community. In her third and final inauguration speech January 2 (Houston has term limits), Parker said, “To ensure the full participation of every Houstonian in the business and civic life of this great city, It is time to pass a comprehensive nondiscrimination ordinance that adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the protections most Houstonians take for granted.”

Charlie Crist: ‘I’m sorry I did that. It was a mistake…. Please forgive me.’

Florida’s former Republican governor Charlie Crist apologizes for his past opposition to same-sex marriage, says the Republican Party has gone “nuts,” and explains why the LGBT community should support his bid, as a Democrat, to become governor again.

Charlie Crist
Charlie Crist

The following are excerpts from an interview of Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist, conducted in Orlando December 17 by Tom Dyer, publisher of the Florida-based LGBT website Watermark. To read the full interview, visit watermarkonline.com.

WATERMARK:  I’ve been looking forward to this dialogue. Many members of the LGBT community are enthusiastic about your candidacy, but just as many are skeptical and some are even hostile. I want to give you an opportunity to address their concerns head on.

CHARLIE CRIST: Thank you for the opportunity.

WATERMARK: When you initially ran for Senate you were still a Republican. Then during the campaign, you left the party and became an Independent. And now, just four years later, you’re a Democrat.

CRIST: Thank god.

WATERMARK: But now here you are. In addition to convincing a majority of voters that you’re in alignment with their beliefs, you have to explain to them how you could maintain those beliefs while switching parties twice in four years. From a distance those changes appear more opportunistic than ideological.

CRIST: It was about being honest and being truthful to myself and my soul. I’ve always believed that it’s important to treat people decently, to be kind to other people, to have compassion for those who may be suffering. And I found myself in a party that was doing less and less of that and even discriminating against people. I’m talking about the leadership… there are still many, many good Republicans. Jeb Bush even acknowledged it. The Republican leadership is now perceived as being anti-women, anti-gay, anti-minority, anti-environment, anti-public education. With that many antis, the room empties out. I didn’t want to be in that room anymore, and I’m delighted to be where I am.

It’s always been important to me to be inclusive, to protect the environment, to fight for education, to do what’s right for working middle-class people. I did it as Attorney General, and I did it as a state senator. As a Republican governor, I vetoed a bill that would have shortchanged women in their ability to make their own decisions. And I vetoed a bill that would have punished public school teachers. I did those things—as a Republican—to remain true to my core, and to the values and principles that my mother and father instilled in me.

I haven’t changed. I’ve stayed the same. The Republican Party, on the other hand, went nuts. I’m not there anymore, and I’ve never felt more comfortable, politically, than I do now as a Democrat. I wrote a book about all this; it comes out in February. The title is The Party’s Over… and I’m not talking about Democrats.

WATERMARK: You’ve recently articulated support for marriage equality, adoption rights, employment non-discrimination protections… pretty much all the acknowledged ingredients of full LGBT equality. At the same time, I think it’s legitimate for members of the LGBT community to be skeptical. When you first ran for governor in 2006, you said that a ban on same-sex marriage was unnecessary, but then you signed a petition to place Amendment 2 [banning same-sex marriage] on the ballot…

CRIST: ?…and I’m sorry. I’m sorry I did that. It was a mistake. I was wrong. Please forgive me.

WATERMARK: I appreciate that, but I want to make sure I spell this out in full. After you signed the petition you said Amendment 2 wasn’t an issue that moved you, but then you ended up voting for it, saying you believed in it. Just three years ago, when you were running for the Senate as a Republican, you told CNN that you believed that “marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman.” And just three years ago, when talking about gay adoption, you expressed a belief that traditional families are best…

CRIST: Tom… I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

WATERMARK: Well, again, I appreciate that. But I think it’s important for you to address this. When you look back at the circumstances, one could come to the conclusion that your shifts in opinion were either politically expedient…

CRIST: They were. They were. And it was wrong. That’s what I’m telling you. And I’m sorry.

WATERMARK: … or that you were just trying to make everyone happy and had no real convictions on these matters. I appreciate the apology…

CRIST: I’m not sure you do.

WATERMARK: Well, I’m trying. But more importantly I want you to have the opportunity to address this in full; to explain where you’ve been and where you are right now.

CRIST: I was a Republican. You know why I was a Republican? Because my mom and dad were Republicans. I’ve told many people this. It’s the same reason I’m a Methodist. So I grew up as a Republican. I joined the Young Republicans, College Republicans… all that stuff. And as I got older, I got interested in politics, and I ran for office as a Republican and I tried to be a good team player. But it was an awkward fit, and on social issues it was especially awkward. I have three sisters. My mom and dad raised my three sisters and me to be decent to other people, to be kind to other people, to have compassion, empathy, sympathy when necessary…. And it became harder and harder for me to toe the Republican Party line. I tried, and I tried, and I tried… until I couldn’t any more.

The examples you cited were examples of me trying to be a good Republican. I couldn’t do it anymore, and I’m sorry I did. I made a mistake. I’m not perfect… please don’t hold me to that standard. And I’m sincerely sorry. I understand when it’s necessary to say I was wrong. That’s the journey I’m on… and I’m still on it.

As a Republican, on social issues, I always felt I was a round peg in a square hole. I just didn’t fit. But I tried, until I couldn’t do it any more… until I had to say, ‘Enough is enough.’

My mom and dad raised us to love everyone, to be nice to everyone, to be kind to everyone for as long as you possibly can. So telling women what to do with their bodies, telling people who to love or who to marry… it’s not for me. It’s not for government. It shouldn’t be for anybody. It’s between them and their god. I’ve always really felt that way, and I’m glad I don’t have to pretend anymore. As a Democrat, I don’t have to, and that’s why I’m so happy to be home… where I belong.

WATERMARK: I want to follow up, because I think this is where many LGBT voters need reassurance. You’re a Democrat now. The positions you now hold on LGBT issues are those held by most Democrats, and likely necessary for you have credibility within the party. Can you convince us that your present views aren’t once again driven by political expediency? Can you convince us that the positions you’ve recently expressed are heartfelt, and something we can count on in the future?

CRIST: I just did. There will be doubters, and they have a right to that. But I ask that they have a little faith.

WATERMARK: You’ve said that you were inspired by President Obama’s expression of support for same-sex marriage earlier this year. How so?

CRIST: The President and I had the same view: we supported civil unions. I saw the interview he did with Robin Roberts last spring [in which he expressed support for same sex marriage]. I’m sure you’ve seen it. It’s powerful, because you can tell he’s speaking from the heart.

I can’t speak for the President, but I suspect that to some degree, like me, he felt his support for civil unions was political. And so he’s finally saying, ‘Enough is enough. I’m over this. I’m not going to play the political angle anymore. I’m tired of it.’ Which is just the way I feel. You get to a point in your life where you say, ‘I’m just going to tell it.’ And here I am… I’m telling it. And I don’t care what anyone thinks.

I love everyone. [Laughs.] That probably makes me odd, but I do… until I get a reason not to. I’m one of these people… I think like the President… who wants to give everyone not only a fair shot, but the best shot… the best chance at happiness. Everybody deserves to love who they want to. Everybody deserves to marry who they want to. Even the Pope has said, ‘Who am I to judge.’

I believe, in my heart and in my soul, that we’re entering an age of enlightenment like nothing we’ve ever seen. It’s happening. And I’m delighted to confront that… it’s wonderful.

WATERMARK: What you would do to advance LGBT equality as governor? Rep. Linda Stewart just introduced a bill to create a statewide Domestic Partner Registry. Given the progress made in other states it seems like a small thing, but even that faces many hurdles in the Republican-controlled State Legislature. The Competitive Workforce Act—an employment non-discrimination bill—can’t get out of committee. Marriage Equality seems a long way off, unless through some sort of court action. What can you do?

CRIST: I want to do all those things. It’s not complicated. It comes down to one word: fairness. Everybody deserves to be treated fairly.

WATERMARK: It must be liberating to be able to speak from your heart, instead of through some political calculus…

CRIST: It’s wonderful! I wish I’d done it 20 years ago! Can’t you feel it?

WATERMARK: CharlieCrist.com makes no mention of LGBT equality right now. Will that change??

CRIST: Absolutely!

WATERMARK: It won’t be sort of a subterranean thing that you trot out for appropriate groups?

CRIST: Do I look like I’m holding back? We’re not underwater with this… we’re riding the wave!

And to your point about Linda’s legislation, she called me a month ago to tell me what she was doing in case I was asked about it. And I said, ‘Can I ask you a favor? Go for marriage. Why go half way?’ She explained that she didn’t think it was politically possible at this time, and I said, ‘You don’t know unless you try. You’ve gotta push it to make it happen. Plus,’ I said, ‘I think it could help us win the governor’s race. It might not pass right now, but if marriage equality is out there as an option we can say that Rick Scott won’t sign it and Charlie will.’ And I will! It’s my heart. It’s what I believe.

Speed Read: Mayor Parker wins a round

A federal judge in Texas refused Thursday to grant a stay of Houston Mayor Annise Parker’s policy of granting equal benefits to gay married city employees. A federal judge in Arizona has agreed to let Lambda Legal’s lawsuit for state employee benefits there proceed as a class action. Equality Maine backs Mike Michaud. And more…

PARKER WINS A ROUND IN HOUSTON: A federal judge granted Houston Mayor Annise Parker at least a temporary victory Thursday. According to Lone Star Q, a Dallas-based LGBT news site, U.S. District Court Judge Lee Rosenthal denied a request from the Houston Republican Party litigants to issue a stay against Parker’s policy of granting equal benefits to married gay city employees. A state family court judge had granted a stay when the case was in state court; but the Houston City Attorney successfully moved the case to federal court and Rosenthal refused to continue the stay. The action had not yet been docketed by deadline, but court records indicate parties will be back in court January 21 on a motion by the plaintiffs to return the case, Pidgeon v. Parker, to state court.

LAMBDA ARIZONA DEVELOPMENT: A federal court in Phoenix on December 23 certified as a class action Lambda Legal’s lawsuit on behalf of Arizona state employees seeking equal benefits. The lawsuit, Diaz v. Brewer, was originally filed on behalf of five state employees; but with class action certification, Lambda will now represent all state employees with same-sex partners. Similar to the mayor in Houston, then Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano directed the state to provide equal benefits, but the legislature, under current Governor Jan Brewer, changed the law to deny benefits to gay employees. Judge John Sedwick’s order said the class will represent “All lesbian and gay employees of the State who are now, or will in the future, be eligible …to obtain State health insurance benefits for their committed same-sex partners….”

LAMBDA PUSHES WEST VIRGINIA: Lambda Legal filed a motion for summary judgment in its marriage equality lawsuit in federal court in Huntington, West Virginia. Lambda originally filed the suit, McGee v. Cole, October 1. The summary judgment request notes that both parties in the case agree that the case can be resolved “as a matter of law,” and not requiring any findings of fact. The case is before U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers, an appointee of President Clinton. Chambers has slated a scheduling conference for January 6.

RABID RIGHT READY FOR PUSH, TOO: While moderate Republicans have been warning that the GOP needs to put less focus on such divisive social issues as marriage for same-sex couples, the more right-wing conservative groups are reportedly convinced they’d do better by increasing their focus and money on such issues. According to a report at politico.com Monday, leaders of 25 groups, including Focus on the Family, Family Research Council, and American Values, held a closed-door summit last month, organized by the Conservative Action Project.

EQUALITY MAINE BACKS MICHAUD: Although its former leader backed independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler, Equality Maine announced this week it’s backing openly gay U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud for governor in November. Equality Maine, which led the successful effort to pass a pro-marriage equality bill on the November 2012 ballot, released a statement Thursday endorsing Michaud.  “We’ve seen incredible progress for the LGBT community in Maine in the past few years, but there is a lot more work left to do,” said Elise Johansen, Equality Maine’s current executive director. Former executive director Betsy Smith wrote an op-ed in November saying she respected Michaud but believes Cutler will make the better governor.

Opposition brief due today on Utah request for stay of marriage decision

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor gave attorneys representing same-sex couples in Utah until noon today to file a brief in opposition to Utah’s request for a stay of a federal district court decision that struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor is pondering whether to grant a stay of a federal district court’s order that the state of Utah stop enforcing its ban on marriage for same-sex couples.

The state’s new attorney general filed a petition Tuesday to the court to grant the emergency stay, after being denied a stay by both the federal district court and the Tenth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Sotomayor is the justice designated to handle such requests from the Tenth Circuit. She has given attorneys representing same-sex couples until noon today to file their brief. She can either make a decision about the stay or ask the full court to weigh in. And if she refuses to grant the stay, Utah has the option of asking the full court to consider its request.

Earlier this week, in another Tenth Circuit case, Sotomayor granted a temporary stay of a provision in the Affordable Care Act that requires employers providing health insurance, including certain religious-oriented employers, to cover birth control.

In the same-sex marriage ban case, Utah Governor Gary Herbert and Attorney General Sean Reyes rely on the Supreme Court’s two marriage decisions last June. The brief says the U.S. v. Windsor decision striking the Defense of Marriage Act’s key provision made clear that the federal government “cannot constitutionally disregard State laws allowing same-sex marriage.”

But the federal district court decision in Kitchen v. Herbert, says the state, “found no animus behind Utah’s marriage laws” and yet exercised “an outright abrogation” of the state’s definition of marriage.

The brief calls each same-sex marriage in Utah “an affront” to the state and its citizens’ ability to define marriage “through ordinary democratic channels.” It argues that a stay is necessary to “minimize the enormous disruption” that might be caused by “potentially having to ‘unwind’ thousands more same-sex marriages….”

Utah voters adopted the ban on same-sex marriage and any other form of same-sex relationship in 2004 through a ballot measure known as Amendment 3 to the state constitution. Two other statutes enforce that ban. On December 20, in a lawsuit brought by private attorneys, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby declared the ban unconstitutional.

In making its case for a stay, Utah’s brief said the question presented by Kitchen is “the same question” presented by last session’s Proposition 8 case. But unlike Hollingsworth v. Perry, said the Utah brief, the Kitchen case presents no questions concerning legal standing. Last June, the Supreme Court declined to rule on the constitutionality of California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage because the party appealing the case lacked legal standing to do so.

Meanwhile, the Utah legislature is preparing to take up yet another constitutional amendment –one to specify that churches cannot be made to host same-sex marriage ceremonies in violation of their religious views. There seems to be less controversy surrounding this new ban. Openly gay State Senator Jim Debakis told the Salt Lake City Tribune that he doesn’t know of anybody who wants to force churches to perform ceremonies against their beliefs. The legislature convenes January 27.

Local papers have reported that between 700 and 900 marriage licenses have been issued to same-sex couples since the December 20 order barring further enforcement of Amendment 3.

Speed Read: Eyes on Sotomayor

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor is pondering whether to grant Utah a stay of the federal district court decision that is allowing same-sex couples to marry in that state. Former Florida Governor Charlie Crist apologizes profusely. Arsonist sought in New Year’s Eve fire at major bar in Seattle. And more…

Sonia Sotomayor
Sonia Sotomayor

UTAH APPEALS TO THE TOP:  U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor could decide as early as this afternoon whether to grant a stay of a federal district court ruling that has allowed same-sex couples to obtain marriage licenses there since December 20. As the justice designated to handle Tenth Circuit affairs, Sotomayor has the first opportunity to respond to Utah’s request for an emergency stay, but she also has the option of asking the full bench to consider the request. Utah’s new attorney general filed the petition for stay to the Supreme Court Tuesday, and Sotomayor gave private attorneys representing same-sex couples until noon today to file a brief opposing the stay. Meanwhile, newspapers in Utah estimate between 700 and 900 same-sex couples have obtained marriage licenses in Utah so far.

LAMBDA SUES HOUSTON MAYOR: Houston’s openly gay Mayor Annise Parker is catching heat from both sides of the partner benefits debate. Lambda Legal filed a complaint December 26 in federal court against Parker and the city for denying equal benefits to three gay city employees. The three employees applied for benefits after Parker announced in November that the city would begin offering equal benefits to married gay city employees in response to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down the Defense of Marriage Act. But after the Houston Republican Party filed suit and a judge issued a stay against Parker’s plan, the city advised the employees they would not be able to receive equal benefits. The case is Freeman v.  Parker.

CRIST APOLOGIZES: Florida’s former Governor Charlie Crist apologized last month for having supported a ban on same-sex marriage approved by voters in 2008. “I’m sorry I did that. It was a mistake. I was wrong. Please forgive,” said Crist, in an interview with Watermark, an LGBT news organization in Florida. Crist was the Republican governor of Florida from 2007 to 2011. He’s currently running for the Democratic nomination for governor, saying that his former political party “went nuts.” But Watermark publisher Tom Dyer, who conducted the interview December 17, didn’t let Crist off the hook. He noted Crist also supported limiting marriage to heterosexual couples when Crist ran for senator in 2006 and that he expressed a belief that children who need to be adopted would be best off in “traditional” heterosexual homes. “When you look back at the circumstances, one could come to the conclusion that your shifts in opinion were either politically expedient…” said Dyer. “They were. They were. And it was wrong,” said Crist, interrupting. “That’s what I’m telling you. And I’m sorry.” Full story.

CATASTROPHE AVERTED: More than 700 patrons were crowded into the popular LGBT bar Neighbours New Year’s Eve when an arsonist poured gasoline on a carpeted stairway to the second floor and set it ablaze. Local television KING5 reported that the attack took place shortly after midnight and that a customer in the bar quickly discovered the fire and extinguished the flames. Video taken by one activist in the bar shows sprinklers going off and management discovering a full can of gasoline underneath a pool table on the second floor. No injuries were reported but KING5 says Seattle police are investigating the incident as a potential hate crime.  The bar remained closed New Year’s Day.

Crist apologizes for mistake on marriage ban

He’s in a tight race for governor, but in an extraordinary interview, Florida’s former Republican Governor Charlie Crist apologized for having supported efforts to ban on same-sex marriage on the ballot in that state in 2008.

Charlie Crist
Charlie Crist

In an extraordinary interview, Florida’s former Republican Governor Charlie Crist apologized last month for having supported efforts to ban on same-sex marriage on the ballot in that state in 2008. “I’m sorry I did that. It was a mistake. I was wrong. Please forgive,” said Crist, in an interview with Watermark, an LGBT news organization in Florida. Crist was the Republican governor of Florida from 2007 to 2011. Crist is currently running for the Democratic nomination for governor, saying that his former political party “went nuts.” But Watermark publisher Tom Dyer, who conducted the interview December 17, didn’t let Crist off the hook. He noted Crist also supported limiting marriage to heterosexual couples when Crist ran for senator in 2006 and that he expressed a belief that children who need to be adopted would be best off in “traditional” heterosexual homes. “When you look back at the circumstances, one could come to the conclusion that your shifts in opinion were either politically expedient…” said Dyer. “They were. They were. And it was wrong,” said Crist, interrupting. “That’s what I’m telling you. And I’m sorry.” Nadine Smith, chief executive officer of Equality Florida, said she was “glad to see someone who has done harm publicly pledge to work to repair the damage.” “My activism is based on the premise that people can and do change,” said Smith, who has been an LGBT activist for many years. “I’m particularly proud of Tom Dyer the publisher of Watermark for pulling no punches and really zeroing in on the issues. He asked the questions that needed to be asked and that we deserved to have publicly and thoroughly answered. I can’t recall the last time I’ve heard a politician say ‘I was wrong. I am sorry’.” Crist told Dyer his earlier positions were “examples of me trying to be a good Republican.” “I couldn’t do it anymore and I’m sorry I did,” said Crist. “I made a mistake. I’m not perfect…please don’t hold me to that standard. And I’m sincerely sorry. I understand when it’s necessary to say I was wrong.” “Can you convince us that your present views aren’t once again driven by political expediency?” asked Dyer. “Can you convince us that the positions you’ve recently expressed are heartfelt, and something we can count on in the future?” “I just did,” said Crist. “There will be doubters, and they have a right to that. But I ask that they have a little faith.” Crist likened his change of position on same-sex marriage to that of President Obama, who famously evolved from supporting only civil unions to supporting marriage for same-sex couples. Crist said he has urged a state representative who is sponsoring a bill to create a domestic partnership registry in Florida to “go for marriage.” A poll of 1,000 likely voters in late November showed Crist with a slight lead over incumbent Republican Governor Rick Scott, but that lead has diminished over the past from, from a high of 16 points last March, to only four points in November.

Speed Read: Eyes on Utah again today

Utah’s new attorney general will be sworn in today and has indicated he hopes to send a request to the U.S. Supreme Court today seeking a stay on a federal district court ruling that has allowed same-sex couples to obtain marriage licenses there since December 20. Showdown in Houston. And more…

UTAH APPEALS TO THE TOP: Utah’s new attorney general will be sworn in today and has indicated he hopes to send a request to the U.S. Supreme Court today seeking a stay on a federal district court ruling that has allowed same-sex couples to obtain marriage licenses there since December 20. As the justice designated to handle Tenth Circuit affairs, Justice Sonia Sotomayor will have the first opportunity to respond to Utah’s request, but many court observers expect she will ask the full court to weigh in. Meanwhile, newspapers in Utah estimate more than 900 same-sex couples have obtained marriage licenses in Utah so far.

NC RACE ACCELERATES: Marcus Brandon, an openly gay candidate for the Congressional House seat representing Charlotte and the Interstate 85 corridor, has to accelerate his campaign. The seat’s incumbent, Rep. Mel Watt, announced December 20 that he will resign his seat January 6 to head a federal housing agency. Brandon, who is currently a delegate to the North Carolina State House, is one of six Democrats who were planning to run in the May primary for Watt’s seat. But now that Watt is leaving in January, the governor is expected to call for a special election to fill the vacancy. The Raleigh News and Observer says Brandon has a lead in the fundraising, thus far, a lead they attribute to the endorsement of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund.

LAMBDA SUES HOUSTON MAYOR: Houston’s openly gay Mayor Annise Parker is now catching heat from both sides of the partner benefit debate in that city. Lambda Legal filed a complaint December 26 in federal court against Parker and the city for denying equal benefits to three gay city employees and their same-sex spouses. The three employees applied for benefits after Parker announced in November that the city would begin offering equal benefits to gay city employees in response to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down the Defense of Marriage Act. But after the Houston Republican Party filed suit and got a judge to issue a stay against Parker’s plan, the city advised the employees they would not be able to receive equal benefits. The case is Freeman v.  Parker.

LAMBDA ARIZONA DEVELOPMENT: A federal court in Phoenix on December 23 certified as a class action Lambda’s lawsuit on behalf of Arizona state employees seeking equal benefits. The lawsuit, Diaz v. Brewer, was originally filed on behalf of five state employees; but with class action certification, Lambda will now represent all state employees with same-sex partners. Similar to the mayor in Houston, then Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano directed the state to provide equal benefits to gay employees, but the legislature, under Governor Jan Brewer, moved to change the law to deny benefits only to gay employees. Judge John Sedwick’s order said the class will represent “All lesbian and gay employees of the State who are now, or will in the future, be eligible …to obtain State health insurance benefits for their committed same-sex partners….”

ROBIN ROBERTS COMES OUT: Robin Roberts, the ABC Good Morning America co-host who interviewed President Obama in July 2012, when he revealed he had evolved to support allowing same-sex couples to marry, revealed Sunday that she herself is in a same-sex relationship. Roberts made the acknowledgement in a low-key Facebook posting, counting her blessings for the coming new year: “I am grateful for my entire family, my long time girlfriend, Amber, and friends as we prepare to celebrate a glorious new year together.” People magazine identified Amber Laign as a massage therapist Roberts met through friends in San Francisco.

 

2013: The movement’s most successful year

Even before the year began, everyone knew what the big news story for 2013 would be. In December 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear two high-profile cases testing the right of the federal government to treat same-sex married couples as second-class citizens and the right of a state to ban same-sex couples from marrying. What no one knew then, of course, was how the court would rule. And there were a number of other unpredicted developments in a most extraordinary year.

From the U.S. Supreme Court Collection
From the U.S. Supreme Court Collection

Even before the year began, everyone knew what the big news story for 2013 would be. In December 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear two high-profile cases testing the right of the federal government to treat same-sex married couples as second-class citizens and the right of a state to ban same-sex couples from marrying.

What no one knew then, of course, was how the court would rule. Speculation in December 2012 was all over the map. Even long-time court observers who routinely cautioned against predicting how the court would rule couldn’t resist predicting how the court might rule.

There was unprecedented media attention and public interest in the oral arguments, held on successive days in March. And then, on June 26—ten years to the day after striking down sodomy laws, the court ruled on both marriage cases. The results were not everything the LGBT community wished for but they were far more than many in the community expected.

Those rulings alone made 2013 perhaps the best year ever for the LGBT movement toward equal rights in this country. But there were other breath-taking developments—some very unexpected—that secured 2013 as the most successful year in the movement’s seven decades of struggle. Here are our picks:

No. 10: The U.S. Senate gets its first openly gay member.

            U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, a seven-term representative from Madison, Wisconsin, who embodied the polite, witty, but determined temperament of the Midwest, added another “first” to her list of accomplishments. She was already the first open lesbian elected to the Wisconsin Assembly, the first openly gay person elected to the U.S. Congress, and the first woman elected to Congress from Wisconsin. Now, as Wisconsin’s first woman senator, she took her seat as the U.S. Senate’s first openly gay member.

No. 9: Congress gets its largest ever LGBT Caucus.

Not only was U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin in the Senate, at of the start of the 113th Congress in January, there were six openly LGBT members in the U.S. House, and by year’s end, there were seven. Prior to 2013, the LGBT Caucus numbered four and, with the retirement of Rep. Barney Frank, it could have dwindled to three: Baldwin and Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and David Cicilline (D-RI). Joining the returning veterans were four newcomers: Reps. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Sean Maloney (D-NY), and Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.). In November, six-term Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine), came out in an op-ed to ward off a whisper campaign by his opponents in the 2014 gubernatorial race.

No. 8: The U.S. Senate passes ENDA for the first time.

The Senate had voted on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act once before in the bill’s nearly four decades as the LGBT movement’s flagship piece of legislation. In that first vote, taken in 1996, it lost by one vote. This year, it passed 64 to 32, and only one senator spoke against it (long-time gay civil rights opponent Dan Coats, a Republican from Indiana). A Republican-dominated House gives the bill virtually no chance to even reach the floor, but the passage in the Senate signaled a new and friendlier political landscape in LGBT civil rights.

No. 7: President Obama’s second inaugural promotes equality.

He had already “evolved” to the point where he stated publicly, in July 2012, that he supported the right of same-sex couples to marry and, while LGBT leaders always hope a president will at least mention LGBT people when they recount the nation’s strength in diversity, no one had expected President Obama to go much further in his second inaugural. But he went much further: “We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall. … Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”

No. 6: NJ drops appeal of court ruling that strikes state marriage ban.

Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that the key provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional, Lambda Legal asked a state court judge in New Jersey to rule in an existing case, Garden State v. Dow, that the state ban on marriage was harming same-sex couples by preventing them from having access to federal benefits associated with marriage. The judge did that in late September and ordered the state to comply starting October 21. When Republican Governor Chris Christie sought an emergency stay of that order, the state supreme court unanimously rejected the request and New Jersey became the 14th state with marriage equality. The court’s refusal then prompted Christie to drop his appeal of the ruling, providing another powerful political sign that acceptance of the right of gay people to equal protection of the law was becoming the new expectation.

No. 5: Five state legislatures passed marriage equality laws.

Rhode Island (April), Delaware (May), Minnesota (May), Illinois (November), and Hawaii (November). In the ten years prior, only four state legislatures and the District of Columbia had approved marriage equality legislation and seen it signed into law. The debate in each of the legislature’s house and senate was marked by emotional and dramatic testimony, much of it from former opponents of same-sex marriage who had evolved on the issue. A Rhode Island senator spoke of being a life-long devout Catholic who said “I struggled with this for days and weeks and have been unable to sleep.” In the end, she said, she could not vote against friends and constituents in same-sex relationships. In Hawaii, where one of the first legal challenges was mounted by same-sex couples in the 1990s, opponents of same-sex marriage organized an unprecedented flood of citizens to public hearings –literally thousands of people expressing anger and threats of political retribution. But the resolve of legislators who were willing to stand “on the right side of history” held firm. By year’s end, 17 states and the District of Columbia had approved marriage equality and Utah, though under appeal, was fast becoming Number 18.

No. 4: Russia passes laws outlawing “promotion” of homosexuality.

In June and July, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed laws to prohibit the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations around minors,” any public displays of affection by same-sex couples, public events related to LGBT people, and any adoptions of Russian children by couples from countries where marriage equality is law. One Russian law even allows authorities to arrest and detain anyone suspected of being gay or pro-gay. LGBT activist groups immediately pushed back, some calling for a boycott of the Winter Olympics scheduled for Sochi, Russia, in February. The boycott idea quickly faded, but many U.S. officials found ways to register their unhappiness over the draconian legislation. Obama said that countries participating in the Olympics “wouldn’t tolerate gays and lesbians being treated differently” during the 2014 Olympics. He also canceled his one-on-one meeting with Putin at a September G-20 summit, citing “human rights and civil society” issues. And he appointed a 10-person delegation to the Olympics with three openly gay members and no high office officials. Pressure on corporate sponsors of the events elicited statements in support of LGBT people. 

No. 3: Obama responds to Supreme Court rulings

In 2003, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down laws prohibiting private intimate contact between same-sex partners (in Lawrence v. Texas), then-President George W. Bush had nothing to say and his administration took no action to determine to what extent the Lawrence ruling might apply to various federal programs. Following the two landmark rulings in marriage equality cases before the Supreme Court in 2013, Obama issued an immediate statement in support of the rulings and “directed the attorney general to work with other members of my Cabinet to review all relevant federal statutes to ensure this decision, including its implications for federal benefits and obligations, is implemented swiftly and smoothly.” Two major federal departments announced that their interpretations of the U.S. v. Windsor opinion would bring benefits to married same-sex couples regardless of whether a couple’s state of residence recognizes the marriage. The Internal Revenue Service announced that legally married same-sex couples “will be treated as married for all federal tax purposes,” including for income tax filing, gift and estate taxes, individual retirement accounts, and in other tax regulations where marriage is a factor. And other agencies followed suit.

No. 2: Supreme Court leaves intact ruling that struck down Prop 8

With Chief Justice John Roberts writing for the 5 to 4 majority, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the defenders of Proposition 8, the California voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, did not have proper federal standing to appeal a district court judge’s ruling that the measure was unconstitutional. It was not, in other words, a ruling on the merits of the underlying legal issue in Hollingsworth v. Perry. But by refusing to accept the Yes on 8 appeal, the court left the district court judge’s ruling intact, and same-sex couples began obtaining marriage licenses once again in California. Reaction was understandably euphoric from LGBT legal activists and the thousands of supporters of same-sex marriage gathered outside the Supreme Court building in Washington and City Hall in San Francisco where the case began in 2009. The Perry decision, and another that struck down the key provision of DOMA, were issued on the 10th anniversary of the aforementioned Lawrence v. Texas decision. And while the Perry decision fell short of declaring all state bans on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional, it set off a tidal wave of new litigation seeking to do just that. At year’s end, Freedom to Marry Executive Director Evan Wolfson estimated there are 44 lawsuits in 19 or 20 states “moving forward.” And two of those lawsuits –a state court suit in New Mexico and a federal court suit in Utah- led to same-sex couples obtaining marriage licenses there before year’s end.

No. 1: Supreme Court strikes down key provision of DOMA.

With Justice Anthony Kennedy writing for the 5 to 4 majority, the U.S. Supreme Court declared on June 26 that the key provision of DOMA was unconstitutional. That provision, known as Section 3, had barred any federal entity from recognizing for the purpose of any benefit the valid marriage license of a same-sex couple. The majority opinion in U.S. v. Windsor said DOMA Section 3 violated the constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process. The DOMA decision, said Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders Civil Rights Director Mary Bonauto who organized the first lawsuit against Section 3, “not only strikes DOMA but makes clear what we’ve been saying all along – that DOMA is discriminatory and that it is an effort by the federal government to deprive same-sex couples of their rights and to demean them.” The decision struck like the first domino to fall in a long line of walls against marriage equality. State legislators cited it during debates over marriage equality bills; state and federal courts cited it to strike down other DOMA-like laws and regulations. “It seems fair to conclude that, until recent years, many citizens had not even considered the possibility that two persons of the same sex might aspire to occupy the same status and dignity as that of a man and woman in lawful marriage,” wrote Kennedy. “For marriage between a man and a woman no doubt had been thought of by most people as essential to the very definition of that term and to its role and function throughout the history of civilization. That belief, for many who long have held it, became even more urgent, more cherished when challenged. For others, however, came the beginnings of a new perspective, a new insight. Accordingly some States concluded that same-sex marriage ought to be given recognition and validity in the law for those same-sex couples who wish to define themselves by their commitment to each other. The limitation of lawful marriage to heterosexual couples, which for centuries had been deemed both necessary and fundamental, came to be seen in New York and certain other states as an unjust exclusion.”

Speed Read: LGBT Caucus notes

Three of the eight members of the LGBT Congressional Caucus have sponsored bills specific to the LGBT community. A bill from a fourth mentions sexual orientation discrimination. Only one of the four first-termers has an LGBT bill.

BALDWIN – WISCONSIN: The only openly gay U.S. senator, Tammy Baldwin, has introduced 16 bills in the first year of her first term in the Senate, one of which is LGBT specific. The Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act of 2013 (S. 1529) seeks to provide to gay federal employees with domestic partners the same benefits as provided to federal employees married to opposite sex spouses. Since the Supreme Court struck the key provision of DOMA in June, the federal government can no longer deny equal benefits to married gays. Her other 15 bills address a range of issues, including seeking to provide limited use of Medicare data and promoting research at the National Institutes of Health.

CICILLINE – RHODE ISLAND: Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.Is.) has introduced 10 bills in the first year of his second term, none of which relate to the LGBT community specifically. One has 126 co-sponsors and seeks to express the “sense of Congress” that the “Chained Consumer Price Index” should not be used to calculate cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security benefits. Others concern firearms, incentives to businesses that manufacture products in the United States, and a minimum tax rate fore people who’s adjusted gross income is above $1 million.

MALONEY – NEW YORK: Rep. Sean Maloney (D-NY), a first-termer, has introduced seven bills, only one of which mentions an LGBT-related matter. That bill, to promote adoption and foster care, states that “discrimination against potential foster or adoptive parents based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status is not in the best interests of children in the foster care system.” His other legislation concerns railroad rehabilitation and veterans.

MICHAUD – MAINE: Six-term Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) has introduced 20 bills thus far this year, none of which are LGBT-related. Several seek to improve transportation safety. Several concern veterans’ benefits. Others concern student loans, made-in-USA footwear for military, and Internal Revenue Service rulemaking.

POCAN – WISCONSIN: Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.) has introduced five bills during the first year of his first term. Two of the five address an LGBT issue: the companion bill (H.R. 3135) to Senator Baldwin’s Domestic Partnership bill, and H.R. 2839, which seeks to require military review boards to review and correct the discharges of anyone discharged from the military because of their sexual orientation. The latter bill has 138 co-sponsors. Pocan’s other bills concern student loans, voting rights, and defense research.

POLIS – COLORADO: Third-term Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) has introduced 30 bills this year, two of which relate to LGBT-specific issues. His most popular piece of legislation is the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), H. R. 1755, with 200 co-sponsors. The landmark LGBT legislation is expected to go nowhere, primarily because House Speaker John Boehner has vowed it will go nowhere under his reign. Polis has also introduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act (H.R. 1652), with 165 co-sponsors. That bill would prohibit public schools from excluding students because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Polis also has several bills to improve education, as well as bills addressing the legalization of marijuana, clean air, and affordable housing.

SINEMA – ARIZONA: Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) has introduced seven bills during the first year of her first term, none of which relate to an LGBT-specific issue. Four of Sinema’s bills address issues for veterans and the military, one concerns student loans, and others concern energy and cybersecurity.

TAKANO – CALIFORNIA: First-termer Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) has introduced seven bills, none LGBT specific. Three of his bills concern education, three renewable energy, and one veterans’ benefits.

Speed Read: Thursday 26 December 2013

A federal appeals court refused to grant a stay of a lower court decision requiring Utah to allow same-sex couples to obtain marriage licenses, World War II hero Alan Turing gets a posthumous pardon from the Queen. The White House criticizes the Ugandan Parliament’s new anti-gay law. And more….

TENTH CIRCUIT DENIES STAY: In yet another significant victory for marriage equality, the Tenth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on Tuesday refused to grant both an emergency stay and a temporary stay of a district court order that the state of Utah stop enforcing its ban on same-sex couples marrying. The appeals court order did agree, however, to expedite its consideration of the state’s appeal of Judge Robert Shelby’s decision, that the state ban on marriage for same-sex couples violates the federal constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection. The Utah attorney general’s office is reportedly considering taking its request for an emergency stay to the U.S. Supreme Court. That request would go to Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Associated Press reported that more than 700 gay couples have obtained marriage licenses since December 20, when Shelby issued his initial decision.

WWII HERO GETS PARDON: The Queen of England on Tuesday gave a posthumous pardon “under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy” to computer scientist and World War II hero Alan Turing of his conviction for “gross indecency” after having acknowledged a homosexual relationship in 1952. As a result of his arrest, Turing lost his security clearance and was forced to undergo hormone treatment to eliminate his sexual drive. He died in 1954 from cyanide poisoning at age 41. But he is widely credited with having fostered computer science and having helped bring about the defeat of the Nazis by breaking their secret code. The British government formally apologized in 2009 for its prosecution of Turing. The queen’s pardon responded to a request from Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, who credited Turing’s work during the war with saving thousands of lives.  “His later life,” said Grayling, “was overshadowed by his conviction for homosexuality activity, a sentence we would now consider unjust and discriminatory and which has now been repealed.”

UGANDA STEPS BACKWARDS: The White House issued a statement December 24, saying it is “deeply concerned” by the Ugandan Parliament’s passage of anti-homosexuality legislation. The Ugandan Parliament on December 20 passed a bill that calls for life imprisonment for anyone found guilty of “aggravated homosexuality,” including marrying a person of the same sex, and imprisonment for anyone found to be “promoting” homosexuality. “As Americans,” said the White House, “we believe that people everywhere deserve to live in freedom and equality – and that no one should face violence or discrimination for who they are or whom they love. We join those in Uganda and around the world who appeal for respect for the human rights of LGBT persons and of all persons.” Several human rights groups are urging President Yoweri Museveni to veto the measure. Museveni has given mixed signals, saying, “If there are some homosexuals, we shall not kill or persecute them but there should be no promotion of homosexuality.”

LGBT STUDIES SCARCE AT NIH: A report in the December 12 American Public Health Journal estimates that only one-tenth of a percent of studies funded by the National Institutes of Health deal with LGBT-related projects. When the University of Pittsburgh study looked at the 628 NIH-funded studies concerning LGBT health, it found that 82 percent concerned HIV and sex-related matters. The study concluded that “The lack of NIH-funded research about LGBT health contributes to the perpetuation of health inequities.”

Speed Read: Tuesday 24 December 2013

Equality Maryland snubbed openly gay gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur. A federal judge in Virginia refused to dismiss a lawsuit against that state’s ban on same-sex marriages. And more victories in Utah and Ohio…

EQUALITY GROUP SNUBS MIZEUR: Equality Maryland announced Monday that it is endorsing Democratic Lt. Governor Anthony Brown and his running mate in the 2014 gubernatorial race. The group acknowledged having interviewed openly gay candidate Heather Mizeur, who recently snared the endorsement of EMILY’s List, but said “all three Democratic candidates for Governor are enthusiastically supportive of LGBT issues” and that the Brown ticket “will be the most effective.”

VIRGINIA SUIT ADVANCES: One of two lawsuits challenging Virginia’s ban on recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples advanced Monday after a federal judge denied the state’s motion to dismiss the case.  Judge Michael Urbanski of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia (Harrisonburg) issued a 17-page memorandum December 23, saying, “It is abundantly clear that plaintiffs’ alleged harm is actual, concrete, and particularized.” Harris v. McDonnell is a challenge organized by Lambda Legal and the ACLU for two lesbian couples. One couple would like to marry in Virginia; the other has married in the District of Columbia and would like their marriage recognized in Virginia. Citing sovereign immunity, the judge did dismiss the suit as it was applied to Governor Robert McDonnell. But the lawsuit will proceed with chief defendant Thomas Roberts, the clerk of the Staunton Circuit Court and Janet Rainey, the state registrar.

OHIO JUDGE ISSUES LIMITED VICTORY: U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black issued a 50-page decision Monday, saying the state constitution’s ban on recognizing same-sex married couples violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of due process and equal protection. The lawsuit was Obergefell v. Wymyslo, in which two surviving spouses sought the right to be identified as such on the death certificates of their spouses. Citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in U.S. v. Windsor, Black said, “It is beyond debate that it is constitutionally prohibited to single out and disadvantage an unpopular group.” Black issued a permanent injunction against the state from refusing to identify a deceased person’s same-sex spouse on his death certificate. “Dying with an incorrect death certificate that prohibits the deceased Plaintiffs from being buried with dignity,” wrote Black, “constitutes irreparable harm.” Ohio Attorney General Michael DeWine said the state will appeal the decision to the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

UTAH JUDGE STANDS FIRM: U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby denied Utah’s request to delay the effect of his December 20 order that stop enforcing its ban on same-sex couples marrying. The Salt Lake City Tribune reported that, shortly after Shelby denied the stay, “hundreds” of same-sex couples began applying for marriage licenses around the state. The administration of Republican Governor Gary Herbert then asked the Tenth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to issue a stay of Shelby’s order, pending the state’s appeal of Shelby’s decision that the ban on same-sex marriages is unconstitutional.

AGAINST RESEARCH ON PEDIATRIC DISEASES? Five out of seven openly gay members of the U.S. House voted against a bill this month that sought to direct more funds to research on disease affecting children. The only two who voted for the measure, Republican-sponsored “Kids First Research Act,” were first-year Reps. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Sean Maloney (D-NY). The overall House vote December 11 was 295 to 103. The Hill newspaper quoted some Democrats who opposed the bill as saying it was a “ruse” by Republicans to cover up their votes in favor of cutting funds for medical research. The bill calls for changing the option of designating $3 of income tax to financing the presidential elections and putting those funds into a “10-Year Pediatric Research Initiative Fund.”

Speed Read: Monday 23 December 2013

State officials in Utah will go before a federal judge this morning to ask that he place a stay on an order he issued Friday, enjoining the state from enforcing its ban on same-sex couples marrying. More than 100 couples have already married, since the decision was released late Friday. And more…

HEARING TODAY ON UTAH STAY: U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby, who issued Friday’s decision ordering the state to stop enforcing its ban on marriage licenses for same-sex couples, will hear arguments this morning on a request from the state, seeking a stay of his decision while the state appeals to the Tenth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. The Tenth Circuit on Sunday evening denied an emergency motion from the administration of Republican Governor Gary Herbert for a temporary stay to block Shelby’s order until Shelby can rule on the state’s request for a stay pending appeal. According to the appeals court, Utah’s motion for the emergency stay was not properly presented but that the state can resubmit its request.

MARRIAGES ALREADY UNDERWAY: The Salt Lake County clerk’s office stayed open extra hours Friday evening to accommodate more than 100 same-sex couples who rushed in to apply for marriage licenses. Calling it “a chaotic situation …that requires an expedited judicial resolution,” Republican Governor Gary Herbert vowed to appeal the December 20 decision of Judge Robert Shelby, an appointee of President Obama. Salt Lake City Tribune reported Saturday that the Weber County clerk’s office turned away “hundreds” of applicants Saturday afternoon, citing “security requirements” and legal concerns that offering extra hours would be considered making “special accommodations” for the crowds of same-sex couples.

THE EVOLUTION CONTINUES: Republican Governor Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania seems to be going through a bit of an evolution. In October, he likened the marriage of a same-sex couple to a marriage between children or between siblings. Last month, he vowed to fight a lawsuit seeking to strike down the state’s ban on allowing same-sex couples to marry. This month, he announced his support for adding sexual orientation to the state’s comprehensive non-discrimination law. Corbett told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he decided to support the measure after learning that there is no federal law prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination.

THE HEART OF AMERICA: At his last press conference before leaving for holiday vacation, President Obama was asked Friday to explain “the message you were trying to send” with his choice of delegates to the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Three of the ten delegates are openly gay athletes. “I think the delegation speaks for itself,” said Obama. “You’ve got outstanding Americans, outstanding athletes, people who will represent us extraordinarily well. And the fact that we’ve got folks like Billie Jean King or Brian Boitano, who themselves have been world-class athletes that everybody acknowledges for their excellence but also for their character, who also happen to be members of the LGBT community, you should take that for what it’s worth — that when it comes to the Olympics and athletic performance, we don’t make distinctions on the basis of sexual orientation. We judge people on how they perform, both on the court and off the court — on the field and off the field.  And that’s a value that I think is at the heart of not just America, but American sports.”

Federal judge strikes Utah’s marriage ban

A federal judge in Utah just issued a decision striking down that state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

Obama appointee Judge Robert Shelby issued a 53-page decision, in Kitchen v. Herbert, saying the state’s current definition of marriage is not permissible under the U.S. Constitution.

A federal judge in Utah just issued a decision striking down that state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

Obama appointee Judge Robert Shelby issued a 53-page decision, in Kitchen v. Herbert, saying the state’s current definition of marriage is not permissible under the U.S. Constitution.

Noting that a court interferes with a law adopted by voters “only under exceptional circumstances,” Shelby said, “Utah’s prohibition on same- sex marriage conflicts with the United States Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process under the law.”

“The State’s current laws deny its gay and lesbian citizens their fundamental right to marry,” wrote Shelby, “and, in so doing, demean the dignity of these same-sex couples for no rational reason.”

Shelby’s order immediately enjoined the state from enforcing its ban, but Republican Governor Gary Herbert’s administration will almost certainly seek an emergency stay of the decision from the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

In a brief statement issued Friday evening, Herbert said only, “I am very disappointed an activist federal judge is attempting to override the will of the people of Utah. I am working with my legal counsel and the acting Attorney General to determine the best course to defend traditional marriage within the borders of Utah.”

It is, nevertheless, yet another surge of momentum in the direction of marriage equality in the United States, coming just one day after the New Mexico Supreme Court said that state could no longer interpret its marriage laws to exclude same-sex couples. That decision made New Mexico the 17 state in the country, plus the District of Columbia, to provide marriage equality and putting more than one-third of states and one-third of the nation’s population in jurisdictions that treat same-sex couples the same as straight couples.

Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, called the decision “a huge win.”

“This is the first decision since the Supreme Court’s decision striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act to overturn a state marriage ban under the federal constitution,” said Minter. “To have such a historic ruling take place in Utah speaks volumes about our country’s trajectory from discrimination to acceptance and support for same-sex couples and their families.  We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the brave couples who brought this case, as well as to the superb attorney, Peggy Tomsic, who represented them.”

 

 

Speed Read: Friday 20 December 2013

New Mexico becomes the 17th marriage equality state. Figure skater Brian Boitano becomes the third openly gay person in the U.S. official delegation to the Olympic games in Russia. A judge in Houston blocks lesbian Mayor Annise Parker’s plan to extend equal benefits to married gay city employees. And more…

NEW MEXICO MAKES 17: The New Mexico Supreme Court yesterday ruled that state laws which “have the effect of precluding same-gender couples from marrying” violate the equal protection guarantee of the state constitution. “We hold that the State of New Mexico is constitutionally required to allow same-gender couples to marry,” wrote the court, “and must extend to them the rights, protections, and responsibilities that derive from civil marriage under New Mexico law.” The ruling means that now one-third of the states and more than one-third of the nation’s population lives in a marriage equality state. For full story.

NOW, THERE’S THREE: Olympic figure skating medalist Brian Boitano came out yesterday, bringing to three the number of openly gay people who are part of the U.S.’s official delegations to the Winter Olympics in Russia in February. Boitano, who has studiously declined to talk about his private life for years, issued a statement, saying he was honored to be part of the delegation, and adding, “I am many things: a son, a brother, and uncle, a friend, an athlete, a cook, an author, and being gay is just one part of who I am. … I am proud to live in a country that encourages diversity, openness and tolerance. As an athlete, I hope we can remain focused on the Olympic spirit which celebrates achievement in sport by peoples of all nations.”

HOLD UP IN HOUSTON: A family district court judge in Houston has blocked implementation of lesbian Mayor Annise Parker’s plan to provide equal benefits to the spouses of gay city employees. Parker argued the policy change was necessary to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last June, striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). But on December 17, Judge Lisa Millard granted a temporary restraining order requested by Harris County Republicans, who filed lawsuit, Pidgeon v. Parker, trying to stop the policy. Millard set January 6 for a hearing on the issue. Notably, last April, in an advisory stating that various municipalities could not recognize domestic partnerships, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott noted that the Supreme Court ruling in DOMA (which had not yet been issued) “could call into question the enforceability of” the state constitutional ban on recognition of same-sex marriages.

SENATE CLEARS DEFENSE BILL: The U.S. Senate cleared the National Defense Authorization Act Thursday night, and President Obama issued a statement indicating he is “pleased” with the final version. The bill, already passed by the House, included a number of amendments of interest to the LGBT community. While the measure will repeal a military law against consensual sodomy, it also includes potential accommodations for service members to express religious views against homosexuality.

RALLY PRESSURES RUBIO: A group of demonstrators picketed outside U.S. Senator Marco Rubio’s Miami office Tuesday, seeking to pressure the Republican to withdraw his block against the confirmation of openly gay African American judge William Thomas for a seat on the federal district court bench. President Obama nominated Thomas in November 2012, with Rubio’s support and that of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund. But Rubio withdrew his support in September, and, through a spokesman, told Huffington Post that it was because Rubio was troubled by how Thomas handled a death penalty case and a hit-and-run case. Tuesday’s rally was organized by a local Baptist Church.

New Mexico: No. 17 and over the one-third mark

The New Mexico Supreme Court unanimously ruled Thursday that the state’s interpretation of marriage laws to ban same-sex couples violates the state’s constitution. The ruling makes New Mexico the 17th marriage equality state and means that now more than one-third of the nation’s population lives in a state that provides for marriage equality.

For the eighth time this year, a state has declared that same-sex couples have the right to marry. On Thursday, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled unanimously that state laws that “have the effect of precluding same-gender couples from marrying” violate the equal protection guarantee of the state constitution.

“We hold that the State of New Mexico is constitutionally required to allow same-gender couples to marry,” wrote the court, “and must extend to them the rights, protections, and responsibilities that derive from civil marriage under New Mexico law.”

The ruling not only makes New Mexico the 17th state plus the District of Columbia to provide marriage equality for same-sex couples, it represents a new milestone: As 17th, it marks one-third of the 50 states, and its population puts more than one-third of the country’s population as living under marriage equality laws.

“Today’s decision by the New Mexico Supreme Court is a powerful affirmation that same-sex couples are equal members of New Mexico’s diverse culture and must be given the same legal protections and respect as other families,” said Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), which pressed the lawsuit with the ACLU.

Lambda Legal, which has itself pressed many such lawsuits, hailed Thursday’s ruling, saying, “This beautiful unanimous decision explicitly underscores the argument we and our sister organizations have long made: denying same-sex couples the ability to marry imposes significant emotional and dignitary harm and is discrimination, pure and simple.”

            New Mexico does not have a law explicitly banning same-sex couples from marrying. But five same-sex couples were denied licenses in Albuquerque, and the ACLU and NCLR filed the lawsuit, Greigo v. Oliver, in March. A district court judge ruled in favor of the couples in August, and clerks in several counties begun issuing marriage licenses. In its decision, the state supreme court noted that, by the time of the oral argument in October, “over 1,466 marriage licenses had been issued” to same-sex couples in the state.

The decision, penned by Justice Edward Chavez, took pains to discuss the plaintiff couples in everyday terms, mention their children, and explain how the inability to marry negatively impacted them.

“The inability to legally marry has adversely impacted several of the Plaintiff couples who have endured significant familial and medical hardships together,” wrote Chavez. “On one occasion, when Rose [Griego] was hospitalized, the hospital refused to provide Kim [Kiel] with any information about Rose’s condition or treatment until Rose’s other family members arrived, despite the fact that it was Kim who took Rose to the hospital.”

Referring to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in June, striking down the key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in U.S. v. Windsor, the opinion said, “Interpreting our statutes to authorize committed same-gender couples to enter into civil marriage will grant them the rights and privileges available to opposite-gender married couples in approximately one thousand statutes and federal regulations that refer to a person’s marital status, thereby avoiding a constitutional challenge on that basis.”

“The purpose of the New Mexico marriage laws,” wrote Chavez, “is to bring stability and order to the legal relationships of committed couples by defining their rights and responsibilities as to one another, their property, and their children, if they choose to have children.”

In reaching its decision, the court concluded that the laws preventing same-sex couples from marrying treat people differently because of their sexual orientation and that courts should examine such laws using an intermediate level of scrutiny –more than mere rational scrutiny, less than strict scrutiny. The court said “the LGBT community is a discrete group that has been subjected to a history of purposeful discrimination, and it has not had sufficient political strength to protect itself from such discrimination.”

“When fundamental rights are affected by legislation, the United States Supreme Court has applied strict scrutiny when determining whether the legislation is constitutional,” wrote the court. “However, regarding marriage, the United States Supreme Court does not demand ‘that every state regulation which relates in any way to the incidents of or prerequisites for marriage must be subjected to rigorous scrutiny.’” It also noted that the U.S. Supreme Court in U.S. v. Windsor “left unanswered the level of scrutiny it was applying to same-gender marriages.”

“We conclude from the United States Supreme Court’s equivocation in these cases that whether the right to marry is a fundamental right requiring strict scrutiny is a question that remains unanswered,” wrote Chavez. “We do not need to answer this question here because Plaintiffs prevail when we apply an intermediate scrutiny level of review under an equal protection analysis.” According to the court, under intermediate scrutiny, the state offered no sufficient reason for denying same-sex couples the right to marry.

Speed Read: Thursday 19 December 2013

The Supreme Court refused this week to take up a case to determine if a state has liability when it fails to protect a student from a bully. A report says an official under President George W. Bush deliberately target gay employees for removal from their jobs. And more…

SUPREME COURT PRECEDENT: A federal judge in Ohio asked a tough question yesterday of Ohio state’s attorney Bridget Coontz, in a hearing challenging the state’s ban on recognition of marriage licenses to same-sex couples: “Politicians say, ‘I’ll leave this to the states,’” said Judge Timothy Black, according to an Associated Press report. “[B]ut if the United States Supreme Court said the federal government cannot fail to recognize valid same-sex marriages, why can the states?”

SUPREME COURT PASSES: In a development bound to disappoint activists working against bullying in schools, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up an appeal (Morrow v. Balaski) brought by the parents of a Pennsylvania student who was bullied, assaulted, and subjected to acts of racial intimidation at her high school. In refusing to take up the case, the high court left intact a Third Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruling that said public school officials had no liability for their inability to protect the student from the bully. At least four Supreme Court justices must agree to review a lower court decision in order for the case to proceed at the Supreme Court.

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED: The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) announced Monday that it completed its three-year mission to distribute a “Safe Space Kit” to every middle and high school in the country to ensure school staff have the information and resources they need to address anti-gay bullying and other behaviors that create hardships for LGBT students. The organization’s press release notes that more than 100,000 kits were distributed to 63,000 schools around the country. The work was accomplished with the sponsorship of eight corporations (including PepsiCo., McDonald’s, WellsFargo, and Verizon), several foundations (including Gill, Blue Cross, and State Farm), and five educational organizations (including American School Counselor Association and National Association of School Nurses).

BUSH OFFICIAL FAULTED: A report issued last week by the Office of Personnel Management’s inspector general says the head of the U. S. Office of Special Counsel under President George W. Bush  “reorganized” his office in January 2005 “to specifically target the removal” of two “homosexual employees” for “nonmerit” reasons. According to the report, Special Counsel Scott Bloch openly explained to a federal contractor that the OSC had a number of gay employees who Bloch intended to get rid of by creating a new OSC field office in Detroit and assigning the gay employees to it. News reports during Bloch’s tenure indicated he had reversed an existing non-discrimination policy of the OSC that prohibited sexual orientation discrimination.

VIRGINIA AG RACE OVER: Republican Virginia attorney general candidate Mark Obershain conceded his loss to Democrat Mark Herring Wednesday. The result is a good one for LGBT people as it means that, in January, right-wing Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli will be replaced with Herring, who supports marriage equality. The difference could be seen soon, as the state attorney general’s office is currently defending the state’s laws banning same-sex couples from marrying.

Speed Read: Wednesday 18 December 2013

The White House has named two openly gay athletes as part of its delegations to the opening and closing ceremonies for the Olympics in Sochi in February. A Texas Republican group has filed suit against Houston’s openly lesbian mayor. The Senate is taking two important votes today on budget matters. And more…

DELEGATION TO SOCHI DECIDED: The White House announced yesterday the two five-person delegations to represent the United States at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, in February. Two of the 10 are openly gay athletes –tennis legend Billie Jean King and women’s Olympic hockey medalist Caitlin Cahow. The White House press release announcing the delegations made no mention of any of the delegates’ sexual orientation, but LGBT and human rights activists have lobbied the Obama administration to include openly gay members in reaction to Russia’s new anti-gay laws. Joining King to the opening ceremonies will be former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Robert Nabors, and Olympic figure skating gold medalist Brian Boitano. Joining Cahow to the closing ceremonies will be Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, Olympic speed skating gold medalists Bonnie Blair and Eric Heiden. U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, will be part of both delegations. Neither President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, or Vice President Biden plan to attend the events.

‘WE ARE HOUSTON, NOT SAN FRANCISCO’: The Republican Party of Harris County, Texas, filed suit Tuesday (Dec. 17) against the administration of openly lesbian Houston Mayor Annise Parker over her decision last month to extend health and insurance benefits to the spouses of legally married gay city employees. Harris County Republican Party Chairman Jared Woodfill warned on the party’s website last month that, “Mayor Parker will be taken to court and defeated.” “We are Houston, not San Franscisco. We are Texas, not New York. We hold the values of marriage being a sacred institution between one man and one woman.”

SENATE ADVANCES BUDGET: The U.S. Senate voted 67 to 33 Tuesday to send a House-passed two-year budget agreement to the Senate floor today for a vote. If approved, the bill will replace automatic across-the-board cuts that many expected would be damaging to many programs and organizations that rely on significant federal funding to provide services to the community. Cuts are still likely, but not expected to be as drastic as the sequestration cuts would have been.

DEFENSE FUNDING BILL UP: The U.S. Senate is set to hold a procedural vote today to send the House-approved National Defense Authorization Act to the floor Thursday. The NDAA passed by the House was a version agreed upon by a House-Senate committee and included a number of amendments of interest to the LGBT community. While the measure will repeal a military law against consensual sodomy, it also includes potential accommodations for service members to express religious views against homosexuality.

MIZEUR GETS EMILY BOOST: Lesbian Maryland gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur scored the backing Friday of EMILY’s List, a major player in the backing of pro-choice Democratic women candidates for office. EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock called Mizeur a “progressive powerhouse,” saying she is “poised to be the first elected openly gay governor in the country and the first woman to serve as governor in The Free State.”

A TOP TEN ACCOMPLISHMENT: The Hill newspaper, which specializes in coverage of all things in Congress, published a “Top Ten Lobbying Victories of 2013,” including efforts by three groups in supporting the first ever passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) through the U.S. Senate. The paper singled out the Human Rights Campaign, Freedom to Marry, and Freedom to Work.

Speed Read: Tuesday 17 December 2013

The Senate votes today on the House-Senate budget agreement but the nation’s largest LGBT community center says it still leaves community groups underfunded. Post-DOMA regulation changes may make it more difficult for students who have same-sex spouses or same-sex parents to qualify for federal student aid. A report finds funding to LGBT “issues” was down slightly in 2012, compared to 2011, but almost four times more than what was given 10 years ago. And more…

SENATE BUDGET VOTE TODAY: The U.S. Senate will vote at 10 EST today on whether to proceed to the budget agreement approved by the House last Thursday. LGBT community and health centers are still assessing the deal, but the initial reaction of the nation’s largest LGBT community center is that it’s better than sequester but not good enough. Darryl Cummings, chief of staff of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, put it this way: “Clearly, this is not the budget we would have crafted but it is an improvement to sequester level funding. Still, it leaves health care centers, implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and the National AIDS Strategy chronically underfunded. Time will tell how organizations like the Center will be impacted. While this may have been the only deal possible to reach given the political circumstances in Washington, it hardly speaks to the needs of the LGBT community and general population who have been so hard hit by the Great Recession, or to the values of social services providers like the L. A. Center.”

SOCIAL SECURITY PROCESS: The U.S. Social Security Administration announced yesterday that it is now processing claims for benefits of surviving spouses’ of same-sex marriages. A SSA press release quoted SSA Acting Commissioner Carolyn Colvin as urging, “If you believe you may be eligible for Social Security, I encourage you to apply now to protect against the loss of any potential benefits.” SSA spokesman William Jarrett explained: “We don’t want an individual to delay filing an application because he or she is uncertain of the rules. A person is typically protected back to the date the application is originally filed.” For more details, read full story.

NOT ALL CHANGE INCREASES BENEFITS: The U.S. Department of Education on Friday announced a new policy related to federal student loan applications. The change is in response to the U. S. Supreme Court striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). A December 13 press release says DOE will consider a student to be married if he or she “was legally married in any jurisdiction that recognizes the marriage, regardless of whether the marriage is between a couple of the same sex or opposite sex, and regardless of where the student or couple lives or the student is attending school.” This is one of those changes that may not benefit married gays and lesbians or the children of same-sex couples. For more details, read full story.

LGBT ISSUE FUNDING: A group that monitors and promotes contributions to LGBT groups issued a report yesterday saying domestic foundations directed more than $121 million in 2012 to “LGBTQ issues,” “while overall LGBTQ funding was largely stable.” The report, issued by Funders for LGBTQ Issues, counted 4,068 grants by 399 foundations and noted that the $121 million in 2012 represented a “slight decrease” from $123 million in 2011. But the amount is almost four times what was given ten years ago, and 75 percent of the recipient organizations were exclusively LGBT focused. The report identified the top five foundations which gave the most to LGBT issues in 2012 as: “Anonymous, Ford Foundation, Gill Foundation, Arcus Foundation, and the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund.”

GAY CANDIDATE CONFIDANT: Openly gay candidate for a U.S. House seat from San Diego next year is Republican City Councilmember Carl DeMaio. In an interview with The Hill newspaper last week, DeMaio said, “I don’t think the biggest unique thing about my candidacy is that I’m the gay guy…. I think the uniqueness in my candidacy is I get things done.”