Marriage equality is easily the biggest news story of 2014, but other LGBT topics made headlines, too
The year started off with sad news, as officials announced in January that Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS, the long-running two-day bike ride to raise money for AIDS service organizations in North Texas was shutting down after 13 years. That same month, we learned that Union Jack, one of the oldest continuous businesses on Oak Lawn, was closing as well.
Then came February, and Judge Orlando Garcia’s ruling declaring Texas’ ban on marriage equality is unconstitutional. And the floodgates opened.
In just 12 short months, we have gone from a country with only 18 marriage equality states to a nation with 35-going-on-36 marriage equality states, not to mention decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court that seem to indicate we are on the verge of seeing full marriage equality nationwide at any time now.
Marriage wasn’t the only LGBT topic in the news in 2014. So look back with us now, as we list our top five stories of the year.
For a month-by-month recap, visit Dallas Voice.com
1. Marriage equality sweeps the nation
Marriage equality dominated the news throughout the year, which opened with 18 marriage equality states and is ending with 35 marriage equality states — plus Washington, D.C., and St. Louis, Mo. — with Florida set to become No. 36 on Jan. 6.
Florida’s marriage equality battle began earlier in the year when county courts in the state’s liberal southern counties declared the Florida marriage ban unconstitutional. A federal court heard a case and agreed with the county courts. Pam Bondi, Florida’s thrice-married attorney general, began defending “traditional marriage.”
The federal court stayed its decision, and before the stay was set to expire on Jan. 5, 2015, Bondi asked the court to extend its stay. When the lower court refused, Bondi appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Florida is in the 11th Circuit under the jurisdiction of Justice Clarence Thomas who could have issued a stay himself. Instead, he asked the court to decide and by a vote of 7–2, decided not to issue a stay. Only Thomas and Scalia said they favored a stay.
Lambda Legal Supervising Senior Staff Attorney Ken Upton said that wasn’t surprising. He said Supreme Court justices rarely act on their own, except in the case of emergency death penalty stays.
Upton also said he was not surprised Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito sided with the majority. Their vote reflected the expected court decision and a stay would simply delay the inevitable.
“You’d have to be pretty dense not to read the tea leaves,” Upton said.
The year began with a series of marriage equality wins in federal court including Arkansas and Oklahoma. In Texas, two couples, including Mark Phariss and Victor Holmes of Plano, sued for the right to marry. On Feb. 26, Judge Orlando Garcia in San Antonio ruled in their case declaring the Texas marriage amendment unconstitutional.
The turning point in marriage equality came in October. Five states had appealed rulings against their discriminatory marriage laws to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a surprise move, the court decided not to take any of the cases. That lifted the stay in each of those states and lifted the marriage ban in each of the states in those appeals court circuits.
When the court rejected an appeal from Virginia, the ruling affected other states in the 4th Circuit — West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. A rejection of two 10th Circuit cases — Utah and Oklahoma — affected Wyoming, Colorado and Kansas. New Mexico was already a marriage equality state.
And a rejection of Wisconsin and Indiana cases added those states to the marriage equality column. Illinois, the other state in the 7th Circuit, was already a marriage equality state.
The next day, the 9th Circuit struck down marriage bans in Idaho and Nevada. Without a Supreme Court stay, Arizona, Alaska and Montana also became marriage equality states. Four other states in that circuit already were — California, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii.
Not every state became marriage equality states quietly. Idaho and South Carolina are issuing marriage licenses while appealing their circuits’ decisions.
Kansas is issuing marriage licenses, as ordered by the court, but the state is not recognizing them.
Upton said state officials understand that if it’s unconstitutional to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, it’s equally unconstitutional to not offer the benefits that flow from the license.
“They’re going to have to pay a lot of damages,” Upton said.
In Missouri, a court ordered the state to recognize marriages performed in other states. In November, a court ruled the state’s marriage law was unconstitutional but the ruling only applied to St. Louis.
When the Supreme Court rejected the five appeals in October, the justices signaled there was no urgency in settling marriage equality nationwide and it was waiting for a difference of opinion among circuit courts. That happened in November when the 6th Circuit upheld discrimination in Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky.
The ruling was based on “who should decide” a state’s marriage laws and “proceeding with caution.” The decision failed to address the constitutional issues of due process, equal treatment under the law and animus in implementing marriage discrimination laws.
Two other marriage equality losses included a Puerto Rico case and a Louisiana case that Upton argued.
The Puerto Rico case based its decision on the 1971 Baker decision that involved a Minnesota male couple that wanted to marry. The Supreme Court turned down their request. The judge wrote the Supreme Court could overturn itself, but it has not.
In the Louisiana case, the judge wrote plaintiffs failed to prove that banning marriage violates due process or equal protection. Two weeks later, another judge in Louisiana overturned that state’s marriage ban in a separate case.
On Jan. 9, the 5th Circuit will hear arguments on cases from Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. Upton said Camilla Taylor, Lambda Legal’s Marriage Project director, will argue the appeal.
That same day, the Supreme Court meets to decide whether to take up any of the marriage cases that have been appealed since October — one of the 6th Circuit cases or the second Louisiana case that skipped the 5th Circuit and appealed directly to the high court.
Upton said the road to marriage equality didn’t take the path anyone thought it would.
“We thought the Supreme Court would take the first case sent to them,” he said.
He said despite the number of appeals coming from a variety of states, “nothing new is coming out of any of these cases.”
The year ends with a majority of Americans living in marriage equality states. Only 14 states still have legal marriage bans. The issue is expected to be settled in 2015.
2. GOP dominates on Election Day
The 2014 elections will be remembered as a GOP wave year, when Republicans gained a historic majority in the U.S. House and gained control of the Senate. Massachusetts and Maryland, otherwise reliably Democratic states, elected Republican governors, while Texas stayed red, and not even solidly blue Dallas County escaped the GOP tsunami.
Nearly every Democrat at the top of the Texas ballot, including Democratic Sens. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth and Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio, courted the LGBT community and gave interviews to the LGBT press. And almost all were unequivocally pro-LGBT rights. But come Election Day, all those candidates were handed major defeats, none more embarrassing than Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott and Sen. Dan Patrick Davis wins over Wendy Davis and Van de Putte by wide margins in the races for governor and lieutenant governor, respectively.
In red state Texas, the real contests came in the Republican primaries where Tea Party-backed challengers ousted numerous area legislators, including Reps. Linda Harper-Brown, Diane Patrick of Arlington and Bennett Ratliff of Coppell, and Sens. John Carona of Dallas and Bob Duell. The Texas Senate’s only swing district, vacated by Wendy Davis, went to Colleyville Tea Party Republican Konni Burton.
In Dallas County Republican Susan Hawk narrowly defeated incumbent Democrat District Attorney Craig Watkins, becoming the first Republican elected countywide in a decade.
But LGBT activists did make gains locally. Dallas voters overwhelmingly voted to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes in city employment into the Dallas city charter. And former Stonewall Democrats President Omar Narvaez was appointed to the Dallas County Schools Board and will run for a full-term in 2015.
Also in Dallas County in 2014, Sara Martinez won the Democratic primary for Justice of the Peace Precinct 5, Place 1 and faced no opponent in the general election, making her the first openly gay JP in the county.
3. Workplace benefits for LGBTs expand
The first local victory for LGBT activists in 2014 came in March, when the Dallas City Council passed, on a 13-2 vote, a “comprehensive statement of support” directing the city manager and staff to identify inequities including spousal recognition and benefits.
The Human Rights Campaign’s 2014 Municipal Equality Index, released in November, revealed the average score for cities in Texas is only 28 points compared to a national average of 59 points. Texas’ largest cities lead the way in LGBT protections and recognition, with Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth recognized with perfect or nearly perfect scores.
But many activists did not stop working toward equality. Resource Center Communications and Advocacy Manager Rafael McDonnell and Fairness Fort Worth President David Mack Henderson in November discovered a ruling from the Internal Revenue Service requiring that certain types of retirement and benefit plans recognize same-sex marriages. The ruling, which came out of the historic Supreme Court Windsor decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, requires governmental agencies that offer employees 401(a) retirement plans — a class which includes the more well-known 401(k) plans — and the “125 cafeteria plans” must recognize the same-sex spouses of employees participating in those plans, even though state law prohibits such recognition.
4. The changing face of Oak Lawn
In December, Out Traveler magazine named Oak Lawn the “best gayborhood in the U.S.” The brief article described Oak Lawn as “packed with nightlife and eateries, a stone’s throw from the design district and downtown … a shining star in a city soaked with money and privilege.”
But with developers gobbling up properties anywhere near downtown Dallas, Oak Lawn is losing some of its most charming buildings and much of the LGBT community seems to be moving elsewhere.
One after another, older houses, offices and apartment complexes were torn down to make room for taller, denser apartment complexes. On the list for demolition is a landmark house sitting on a lot covered in old oak trees that faces Lee Park.
Traffic has gotten worse throughout Dallas’ most densely populated zip code — Oak Lawn’s 75219. While plenty of parking is provided in parking garages in this array of new complexes, usually placed in the middle of the property with the small and expensive apartments arranged around the parking decks, no provision has been made for all of the additional traffic on Oak Lawn’s streets. Lemmon Avenue is already listed by the Texas Department of Transportation as the busiest road in the state that isn’t a state highway or interstate.
The year also brought a number of changes to the gayborhood’s retail, bar and restaurant scene. Richard Longstaff made history when he retired and closed down Union Jack the Cedar Springs clothing store he had owned for more than 40 years. Out of the Closet opened in the space.
Daily Juice replaced Buli in July and Shane Walker opened Flower Reign in August. After delays due to zoning problems, construction finally began on a Mexican restaurant on the long-vacant location at the corner of Cedar Springs and Reagan Street.
Neighborhood institution Good Eats lost its lease when Turtle Creek Village decided to redesign the center and concentrate on retail. Several restaurants opened on Oak Lawn Avenue this year, including Campuzano and Scotch and Sausage. Mattito’s moved to the Centrum from Uptown.
While no bars closed this year, three new ones opened: The owners of the Tin Room opened Marty’s on Maple Avenue, and late in the year, a space that stood vacant on Cedar Springs Road for almost two years opened as Liquid Zoo.
After a number of restaurants failed in the corner space in ilume, the Tap House opened and became the first bar to join the Dallas Tavern Guild in that property.
The Oak Lawn Library made news with the addition of 6,000 books, making the library’s LGBT collection one of the largest in the country.
In November, the city presented plans to spend more than $1 million in bond money to upgrade the Strip. Planners took input from the community and final plans should be release in July with contracts bid and work beginning later in the year
5. Ugandan president feels the power of LGBTs
A little more than a month after Uganda’s Constitutional Court ruled that country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act is invalid because did not pass with the required quorum of the Ugandan Parliament, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni found himself facing a chilly reception here in North Texas.
Although Museveni originally declined to sign the bill into law, saying he wanted to make sure first that no one was actually born gay, he eventually signed in February 2014, after declaring that a scientific study he had commissioned had determined that no one is actually born homosexual.
In September, Museveni came to the U.S. to attend a United Nations meeting, and then decided to made a side trip to North Texas to promote tourism to and economic investment in his country. Alerted by Ugandan ex-patriots who left their home country to avoid persecution, Dallas Voice on Sept. 17 posted information about Museveni’s plan to stay at the Four Seasons Hotel in Irving, then attend a morning church service at the Irving Convention Center, followed by the meeting to promote tourism and investment in the Ugandan oil and gas industry.
The Dallas Voice blog post noted that “Several members of the Ugandan community asked members of the LGBT community to join them in protesting Museveni and the genocide he has repeatedly threatened to unleash on the gay community.”
By 9 a.m. the following morning, staff writer David Taffet’s blog post had generated enough backlash that the hotel had announced that it was canceling Museveni’s reservations. After Taffet also reported that same day that Museveni was “negotiating with the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center in Grapevine” to host his stay, the Gaylord’s PR director had called Dallas Voice to that facility would be unable to accommodate Museveni or his event “because of logistics” and short notice. By 7:30 that evening, Taffet and Dallas Voice were able to report that the Irving Convention Center had canceled Museveni’s event there.
Museveni was eventually able to secure meeting space at a privately-owned facility in Allen. One Ugandan that attended that event reported that Museveni said, “I was told Dallas is full of homosexuals and lesbians. I didn’t know they were so powerful,” and added that when he got home to Uganda he would show what happens to homosexuals.
However, after he returned to Uganda, Museveni reportedly said that he was having second thoughts about his support for the Anti-Homosexuality Act because of the potential for economic repercussions against his country.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 26, 2014.