UPDATE: More on same-sex couple married in Travis County

Posted on 19 Feb 2015 at 11:09am

The two women who today became the first lesbian couple to receive a marriage license and be legally married in Texas exchanged their weddingGoodfriend and Bruant vows this morning in front of the same building where they were denied a marriage license eight years ago, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

Sarah Goodfriend is a unpaid policy advisor to Austin state Rep. Celia Israel. She advises primarily on environmental and energy issues. Suzanne Bryant is an attorney in private practice in Austin. The two have been a couple for 31 years, and they exchanged their wedding vows in front of the Travis County Clerk’s office this morning with Rabbi Kerry Baker officiating.

To read read the couple’s petition to the court and the judge’s resulting order, go here.


BREAKING: Same-sex couple married in Travis County

Posted on 19 Feb 2015 at 10:35am

Screen shot 2015-02-19 at 10.31.56 AM

Equality Texas is reporting that a lesbian couple has received a legal marriage license in Travis County and were married there this morning.

Todd Whitley, communications manager for Equality Texas, said that Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant filed suit this morning asking that Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir be compelled to issue them a license, based on a medical emergency situation. The court agreed, the license was issued and the two “are now legally married — in Texas!” Whitley said.

The order was issued by state Judge David Wahlberg.

“This ruling doesn’t apply to any one else, not yet at least,” Whitley said.”But perhaps others could file suit. That could be one tactic. Or perhaps [DeBeauvoir] will just decide, you know what, I am going to issue the licenses.”

Goodfriend and Bryant, who have been together more than 20 years, were able to marry immediately because they got a waiver from the court. Usually, couples receiving licenses are required to wait 72 hours before being married.”

The license came as a result of Travis County Probate Judge Guy Herman’s ruling on Tuesday in state court striking down Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage.


Easter in the Park in danger of cancellation; CSMA seeking donations to fund event

Posted on 18 Feb 2015 at 9:30pm

Easter in the Park

One of Oak Lawn’s longest-running traditions is in danger of being cancelled this year, unless organizers can find sponsors and other donors to help pay for the event.

Cedar Springs Merchants Association is “asking for the community’s help” in raising the funds necessary to stage the annual Easter in Lee Park event on April 5.

CSMA President Alan Pierce said: “It would be a tragedy to lose this great Easter tradition in Dallas. We must ask for help in order to continue it.”

CMSA officials noted that new requirements imposed by the city, including a fence around the perimeter of the park, security and permits, have upped the cost of staging the event to $25,000, “a level no longer sustainable by the association itself,” according to a statement released by CSMA on Wednesday evening, Feb. 18.

According to the statement, CSMA has produced Easter in Lee Park in Dallas since 2011, after the city of Dallas asked the association for help to keep the event going. CSMA shouldered responsibility for staging Easter in Lee Park after the Turtle Creek Association changed its spring event date.

CSMA has continued to fund the event, even though it has lost money each year since, the statement said.

CSMA has asked that potential sponsors and donors contribute through a new GoFundMe campaign established this week. To contribute, visit EasterInLeePark.com, where sponsorship opportunities and donor levels are listed.

Sponsorship levels for businesses and corporations include Title Sponsor, Entertainment Sponsor and Pooch Parade Sponsor. Individuals and organizations can donate at a variety of levels, all of which are listed on the website. Most donation levels include a reward. For instance, donate at least $25 — the Pal level — and have your name listed on the website as a donor.

The goal for the fundraising campaign is $20,000, and CSMA needs to reach that goal by March 4. If the goal isn’t met by that time, the funds will not be charged to donors’ accounts and the event will be cancelled. The deadline is necessary because CSMA has to have time to get the city permits necessary to hold the event, including closing the street for the pooch parade.

The Cedar Springs Merchants Association is a nonprofit organization dedicated to making “The Strip on Cedar Springs an outstanding example of what a great destination for entertainment, shopping, dining and lodging can be, to better attract tourist traffic and local patronization as well as the beautification of the neighborhood.”


TEXAS MARRIAGE UPDATE: Paxton asks Texas Supreme Court to stay, overturn Herman’s ruling

Posted on 18 Feb 2015 at 4:29pm
Ken Paxton

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced today (Wednesday, Feb. 18) that his office has intervened in the Travis County probate case following Judge Guy Herman’s ruling that Texas’ ban on marriage equality is unconstitutional.

Paxton, representing the state, has asked the Texas Supreme Court to stay Herman’s ruling and to overturn it.

In a written statement issued by his office, Paxton said: “Texas law is clear on the definition of marriage, and I will fight to protect this sacred institution and uphold the will of Texans, who voted overwhelmingly in favor of a constitutional amendment defining the union as between one man and one woman. The probate judge’s misguided ruling does not change Texas law or allow the issuance of a marriage license to anyone other than one man and one woman.”

Paxton — referred to, by the way, as “General Paxton” in the statement released by his office — failed to note that Herman is the second judge in Texas to declare the marriage ban unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia did so a year ago, in Feburary 2014. That case is currently before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Paxton’s statement was issued about an hour and a half after Equality Texas issued a statement calling on Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir to begin issuing licenses to same-sex couples — something DeBeauvoir has said she will not do until she gets clarification from the federal courts.

But because Herman is a probate judge, his ruling will be appealed through the Texas state courts, not through the federal court system, as Garcia’s ruling.



TEXAS MARRIAGE UPDATE: Equality Texas calls on DeBeauvoir to start issuing marriage licenses

Posted on 18 Feb 2015 at 3:20pm
Dana DeBeauvoir

Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir

A day after a Travis County probate judge issued a ruling striking down Texas’ ban on legal recognition of same-sex marriages, Equality Texas today (Wednesday, Feb. 18) is calling on Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples immediately.

But according to a spokeswoman in DeBeauvoir’s office, the county clerk will not issue those marriage licenses until she gets the go-ahead from the federal courts.

DeBeauvoir had previously said she was ready to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples as soon as the courts would allow. After Judge Guy Herman issued his ruling Tuesday, DeBeauvoir said she needed to meet with Herman and county lawyers to “find out if there is anything I can do [in terms of issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples]. Right now, I think it’s no, but we are checking.”


Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith

But Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith said today that Herman’s ruling makes marriage equality the law in Travis County. “The law in Travis County now allows for marriage equality. Equality Texas calls upon the county clerk to stand with us — on the right side of history,” Smith said.

The written statement issued by Equality Texas also noted: “Just as the Supreme Court may issue a marriage ruling this summer that applies to all 50 states, and just as the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals may issue a marriage ruling any day now that applies to the 5th Circuit, Judge Herman has issued a ruling that has the effect of law in Travis County.”

The spokeswoman in DeBeauvoir’s office, who identified herself as Angela Vallejo, said today that “nothing has changed” since the county clerk’s statement yesterday. “We have to wait for the federal courts” to settle the question, she said. “As soon as they approve it, I am sure we will begin issuing the licenses.”

Getting a license in Travis County

If — or rather, let’s say when — DeBeauvoir’s office begins issuing licenses to same-sex couples, here are a few rules you need to know:

• The Travis County Clerk’s Office is located at 5501 Airport Blvd. in Austin.

• The cost to get a marriage license is $81 if you pay cash, $84 if you pay with a credit card. Checks are not accepted.

• Both parties have to present a valid ID; both parties have to know their Social Security numbers, and both parties must be at least 18 years old. (Those under 18 must have a parent or guardian with them to give permission.)

• Marriage licenses expire 90 days after they are issued.

• Those obtaining marriage licenses have to wait 72 hours to get married, unless they have a waiver from the court.

The status of marriage equality in the courts

Herman’s ruling came as part of an estate fight in which Austin resident Sonemaly Phrasavath is seeking to have her eight-year relationship to Stella Powell designated as a common-law marriage. Powell died last summer of colon cancer, and after her death, her siblings attempted to step in to claim her estate.

According to the Equality Texas statement issued today, Herman’s ruling finds “that the restrictions on marriage in the Texas Family Code and in the Texas Constitution that restrict marriage to the union of a man and a woman and prohibit marriage for same-sex couples are unconstitutional because the restrictions violate the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“Contrary to [DeBeauvoir’s] position previously stated in the media, this ruling in fact allows her to immediately issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Travis County,” the statement declares.

“Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir previously stated she would be happy to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples once the law allows for it.” Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith said.

Herman’s ruling yesterday came a year, to the month, after U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia ruled in federal court that the Texas same-sex marriage ban violates the U.S. Constitution. Garcia declined plaintiffs’ request late last year to lift the stay on that order and allow same-sex marriages to begin in Texas. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on that case and two others — one from Louisiana and one from Mississippi — on Jan. 9, and could rule in that case any day. Plaintiffs in the Texas case last week asked the Fifth Circuit to lift the stay allow gay and lesbian couples to begin marrying in Texas right away.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments on four marriage equality cases out of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in April, and to issue a ruling in June. The court is widely expected, as this time, to strike down all same-sex marriage bans in the U.S.




Dallas City Council votes for equal pension benefits for its employees

Posted on 18 Feb 2015 at 11:13am
ERF vote

ERF board members are, from left, Chair Carla Brewer, former City Councilman Chris Luna, retiree Francis Pieters, Councilman Adam Medrano, retiree John Rogers, Omar Narvaez, Councilwoman Carolyn Davis and Councilman Lee Kleinman.

Married gay and lesbian Dallas city employees now receive the same pension benefits as employees in opposite-sex marriages. The Dallas City Council voted this morning, Feb. 18, after a short discussion by a margin of 11-3. Dwaine Caraway was absent because of the death of his father.

Three council members voted against the proposal — Sheffie Kadane, Vonciel Jones Hill and Rick Callahan.

The Dallas City Council voted to amend the definition of the term “spouse.” The IRS ruling that went into effect on Jan. 1 requiring all pension funds to treat same-sex married couples equally required benefits be offered to anyone who retired, as of the United States v Windsor decision in June 2013. The Dallas rule change allows anyone who was married at retirement to apply for those equal benefits.

Retiree Frances Pieters left Dallas City Hall and headed directly to the the Employee Retirement Fund office at Plaza of the Americas to submit her request for funds. Pieters retired before Windsor but was married before her retirement date.

The Dallas Police Department and Dallas Fire and Rescue have a separate pension fund. That board last week refused to come into compliance with IRS regulations, which puts the fund in jeopardy of losing its tax-exempt status. In addition, it means a surviving spouse of a fallen police officer or firefighter would not receive benefits.


BREAKING NEWS: 2nd Texas judge strikes down marriage ban

Posted on 17 Feb 2015 at 5:10pm
Judge Herman

Judge Guy Herman

Less than a week after plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit challenging Texas’ ban on marriage equality asked the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to lift the stay on U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia’s February 2013 ruling striking down the marriage ban, Travis County Probate Judge Guy Herman ruled today (Tuesday, Feb. 17) that the Texas ban is unconstitutional.

Travis County will not, however, begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, at least not immediately, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

Herman’s ruling came as part of an estate fight in which Austin resident Sonemaly Phrasavath is seeking to have her eight-year relationship to Stella Powell designated as a common-law marriage. Powell died last summer of colon cancer.

Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir, who has said previously that she is ready to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples as soon as the courts will allow, said today she will meet with Herman and county lawyers to “find out if there is anything I can do. Right now, I think it’s no, but we are checking.” DeBeauvoir told the Austin newspaper.

The lawyer for Powell’s siblings, who opposed Phrasavath’s claim, said they have made no decision on whether to appeal Herman’s ruling.

Herman ruled after an hour-long hearing in which Phrasavath challenged the constitutionality of Texas ban on marriage equality as a first step toward establishing her relationship as a common-law marriage. Phrasavath and Powell had lived together since Phrasavath proposed in 2007. The two were joined in 2008 in a ceremony performed by a Zen priest in Driftwood southwest of Austin. The ceremony was, of course, not legally recognized.

Powell died without a valid will in June, eight months after she was diagnosed with colon cancer.

In the federal case, the state of Texas appealed Orlando’s ruling to the Fifth Circuit Court, which heard oral arguments in the case — and one case from Mississippi and one from Louisiana — on Jan. 9 in New Orleans, but has yet to rule in the case. Last week, the plaintiffs in the marriage case — Plano couple Mark Phariss and Vic Holmes and Austin couple Cleo DeLeon and Nicole Dimmetman — asked the Fifth Circuit Court to lift the stay, after marriage began in Alabama when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to extend the stay on lower court rulings overturning the marriage equality ban there.

The Supreme Court also refused to extend the stay on a lower court ruling in Florida in late December, allowing same-sex couples to begin legally marrying there on Jan. 5.

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear appeals in four cases from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, the only federal appellate court to rule against marriage equality since the Supreme Court’s June 2013 ruling in United States v Windsor, which overturned portions of the Defense of Marriage Act. The Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments on those cases sometime in April, and will likely issue a ruling in June. That ruling is widely expected to favor marriage equality.


Scalia’s same-sex marriage decision will be based on who decides

Posted on 17 Feb 2015 at 2:16pm

Justice Antonin Scalia

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia hinted at what his dissenting opinion will be in the upcoming marriage equality case that will be heard by the court, probably at the end of April. But one thing we wants everyone to understand is that he isn’t “anti-gay.”

According to the Washington Blade, Scalia and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg spoke at George Washington University.

Scalia asked the audience not to paint him as “anti-gay,” saying his opinion when the court rules this spring will not pertain to the “substance” of whether couples should have the right to marry.

“That isn’t the issue,” he said. “The issue is who decides. Should these decisions be made by the Supreme Court without any text in the Constitution or any history in the Constitution to support imposing on the whole country or is it a matter left to the people?”

Ginsburg responded by stating that a societal change had led the court to pro-equality rulings on DOMA and Proposition 8.

“We looked to see who they are,” Ginsburg said of gay people. “They turned out to be our next door neighbor of whom we’re very fond. They turned out to be our child’s best friend — perhaps even our child. I think that accounts for the very swift change.”

Ginsburg has performed at least two same-sex weddings.


Small change made to policy to discharge trans military personnel

Posted on 16 Feb 2015 at 4:37pm

ArmyWhile the repeal of don’t ask, don’t tell stopped discharges of gays, lesbians and bisexuals from the military, the policy on trans military personnel hasn’t changed.

According to a story in USA Today, a new Army policy makes removing trans troops more difficult. The decision to remove trans people must now be made by a top civilian official — the assistant secretary of the Army for personnel.

When trans people in the military are identified, they are usually given an automatic medical discharge.

According to the Palm Center, which has done research on sexual minorities in the military, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James came out in favor of a change in policy in December.

“From my point of view, anyone who is capable of accomplishing the job should be able to serve,” James said.

In another small change of policy, the Army agreed to allow Chelsea Manning to begin hormone therapy. Manning is serving a 35-year prison sentence for divulging national security secrets to WikiLeaks.

The current change in discharge policy is similar to a change that happened under “don’t ask, don’t tell” that was supposed to slow the discharge of gays and lesbians and require more proof. Discharges by top-level personnel, however, continued at a rapid pace until the law was finally repealed.


Bought and sold: mastering the electoral run-off

Posted on 16 Feb 2015 at 1:00pm

Sen. Bob Hall, R-Empower Texans.

Meet Texas Sen. Bob Hall.

Hall is a first term Republican senator who defeated incumbent Bob Deuell of Greenville in a 2014 run-off election by around 300 votes. It was one of the biggest upsets of the campaign cycle.

Before the run-off, Hall was a relative unknown. Just eight days before the March primary according to campaign finance records, the Canton Area Tea Party leader’s campaign spent $1,514.94 and received $16,005.10 in contributions. Expenditures included graphics and push cards.

After forcing Deuell into a run-off, which occurs if no one candidate receives at least 50 percent of votes in the primary, Hall’s campaign was curiously replete with cash, staffers and all the mechanisms necessary to guarantee his victory.

Between Feb. 23 and May 17, 2014, Hall’s campaign reported $298,029.78 in contributions and $160,710.42 in expenditures. The political novice suddenly got a political consultant and campaign staff. Key contributors include the Tim Dunn-funded Empower Texans PAC ($49,990.50), Accountability First PAC ($3,000 in-kind), North Texas Conservative Coalition ($190,000) and Midland oil and gas mogul Kyle Stallings ($10,000).

Hall’s victory shows how a fringe candidate can become a victor with a little help from new friends.

Target on his back

In the 2013 legislative session Deuell, a physician, authored SB 303, which would allow doctors and families to make personal, critical decisions about end-of-life care. It was endorsed by a wide variety of groups and bipartisan coalition of legislators. The Texas Catholic Conference conference endorsed it. So did Texas Alliance for Life.

But Texas Right to Life, a staunchly conservative affiliate of National Right to Life and common ally of Empower Texans and others, went on the attack. They yelled and screamed and got coverage in the New York Times. The Deuell v. Hall run-off was a perfect place to exact revenge. Deuell already had a target on his back from Empower Texans; since 2007, the group has released its Fiscal Responsibility Index, which grades legislators like high school students on an A to F scale. Deuell failed every session despite being seen as one of the most conservative legislators in recent memory.

The incumbent who was first elected in 1989 ultimately lost for being a perceived “moderate.”

In right-wing Texas-speak that means Tim Dunn couldn’t control the arch-conservative, anti-LGBT Deuell.

Thankfully Dunn and his ilk can control Hall. The freshman senator recently filed SB 445, which would make sure Texas doesn’t implement Agenda 21. That’s the non-binding agreement passed by the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development calling for sustainability and responsible usage of resources. Its detractors believe policies linked to the Document of the Illuminati will cripple American freedom and liberty by taking away our golf courses.

Thusly Agenda 21, like the United Nations, FEMA camps, gay marriage, Muslims and President Obama, is another right-wing boogeyman used to fuel rampant conspiracy theories promoting paranoia and racism that ensures conservative political consultants will rake in cash, meaning it’s another piece of great fodder in a Republican Primary.

Hall isn’t the only one who fears foreign control. Perhaps unsurprisingly, another conservative firebrand beat him to filing an equally paranoid bill.

Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, filed the Protect the Alamo Act to ensure that the Alamo, which is in her district, could not be taken over by the United Nations. According to the Texas Tribune, she filed the legislation after learning the Alamo was nominated as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage site.

Campbell is no friend to the LGBT community. For a second time, she filed SJR 10, a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow Texans to discriminate based on their religious convictions. Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, filed the companion HJR 55 in the House.

But like Hall, Campbell’s an expert in besting incumbents with backing from conservative big money groups. In 2012, she ran to the right of and defeated longtime Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, in a contentious and expensive run-off. Wentworth, like Deuell, had a target on his back for being too moderate. Also like Deuell, Empower Texans’ Index failed Wentworth all three sessions.

I can’t say if Empower Texans and others are actually concerned with the threat of a United Nations takeover of golf courses or the Alamo. I highly doubt it. I also doubt that Hall’s and Campbell’s donors are frankly at all concerned with a foreign takeover of Texas.

However, as I’ve previously pointed out, one thing is clear: who cares about the issues or mental state of your sock puppet? When you’re rich, wealthy and white and looking to oust an insufficiently conservative incumbent, just unwrap the tin foil on the red meat and feed it to the grassroots Republican voter.  Then make a nice new tin foil hat for the new hand-picked legislator. They’ll need it to avoid reality as much as they’ll need it to make sure they only hear voices from folks like Dunn in their head.