LGBT legal organizations withdraw support for ENDA

Five national LGBT legal organizations issued a joint statement today withdrawing their support for the current version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — ENDA — because it would allow religious organizations to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity.ENDA

Organizations signing onto the statement are: American Civil Liberties Union, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, Lambda Legal, National Center for Lesbian Rights and Transgender Law Center.

The statement reads:

“The provision in the current version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that allows religious organizations to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity has long been a source of significant concern to us.  Given the types of workplace discrimination we see increasingly against LGBT people, together with the calls for greater permission to discriminate on religious grounds that followed immediately upon the Supreme Court’s decision last week in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, it has become clear that the inclusion of this provision is no longer tenable.  It would prevent ENDA from providing protections that LGBT people desperately need and would make very bad law with potential further negative effects.  Therefore, we are announcing our withdrawal of support for the current version of ENDA.

“For decades, our organizations have challenged anti-LGBT workplace discrimination in the courts and worked for the passage of inclusive non-discrimination laws at the local, state and federal level.  We do this work because of the devastating toll workplace discrimination has had, and continues to have, on the lives of LGBT people.  It is unacceptable that in the year 2014, men and women are forced to hide who they are or whom they love when they go to work.

“The current patchwork of legal protections at the state and local level has left LGBT people vulnerable to discrimination. For this reason, we have supported federal legislation to explicitly protect LGBT people from discrimination in the workplace, and have urged President Obama to sign an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

“ENDA’s discriminatory provision, unprecedented in federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination, could provide religiously affiliated organizations — including hospitals, nursing homes and universities — a blank check to engage in workplace discrimination against LGBT people.  The provision essentially says that anti-LGBT discrimination is different — more acceptable and legitimate — than discrimination against individuals based on their race or sex. If ENDA were to pass and be signed into law with this provision, the most important federal law for the LGBT community in American history would leave too many jobs and too many LGBT workers, without protection. Moreover, it actually might lessen non-discrimination protections now provided for LGBT people by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and very likely would generate confusion rather than clarity in federal law. Finally, such a discrimination provision in federal law likely would invite states and municipalities to follow the unequal federal lead.  All of this is unacceptable.

“The Supreme Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby has made it all the more important that we not accept this inappropriate provision. Because opponents of LGBT equality are already misreading that decision as having broadly endorsed rights to discriminate against others, we cannot accept a bill that sanctions discrimination and declares that discrimination against LGBT people is more acceptable than other kinds of discrimination.

“Our ask is a simple one: Do not give religiously affiliated employers a license to discriminate against LGBT people when they have no such right to discriminate based on race, sex, national origin, age, disability or genetic information. Religiously affiliated organizations are allowed to make hiring decisions based on their religion, but nothing in federal law authorizes discrimination by those organizations based on any other protected characteristic, and the rule should be the same for sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. Religious organizations are free to choose their ministers or faith leaders, and adding protections for sexual orientation and gender identity or expression will not change that.

“These concerns are not hypothetical. Increasingly, this is what employment discrimination against LGBT people looks like. Take the example of Matthew Barrett.  In July 2013, Matthew was offered a job as food services director at Fontbonne Academy, a college prep high school in Milton, Massachusetts that is affiliated with the Roman Catholic Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston. Fontbonne Academy has employees and admits students of various faiths. Yet, two days after Matthew listed his husband as his emergency contact on the standard employment paperwork, and despite twenty years of work in the food services industry, his job offer was rescinded. Although nothing about the food services job involved religious rituals or teaching, Matthew was told by an administrator that the school was unable to hire him because “the Catholic religion doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage.” The current version of ENDA would authorize this sexual orientation discrimination.

“As the national outcry against SB 1062 in Arizona (and similar proposals in numerous other states) demonstrates, the American people oppose efforts to misuse religious liberty as an excuse to discriminate against LGBT people.  It is time for ENDA (and the LGBT non-discrimination executive order for federal contractors) to reflect this reality. Until the discriminatory exemption is removed so that anti-LGBT discrimination is treated the same as race, sex, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information under federal workplace laws, we think ENDA should not move forward in Congress. In addition, we will oppose any similar provisions at the state and local level. We are hopeful that the many members of Congress who support this historic, critically important legislation will agree that singling out LGBT people for an unequal and unfair exemption from basic workplace protection falls unacceptably short of the civil rights standards that have served our nation well against other types of discrimination for fifty years. We stand ready and eager to work with them to achieve the long-sought goal of explicit, effective federal non-discrimination protections for LGBT people.”

 

—  Tammye Nash

Houston couple wins ACLU same-sex wedding contest

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A Texas couple is among the five winners of the national American Civil Liberties Union’s Big Gay (Il)legal Wedding contest.

Jeff Robertson and Jeremiah Pyant of Houston were one of 23 same-sex couples from the Lone Star State vying for the chance to win $5,000 toward their dream wedding. Contestants had to live in state like Texas where same-sex marriage is prohibited to be eligible to enter.

Pyant, a flight attendant, and Robertson, an ad executive, met four years ago aboard a plane that Pyant was working on. They got engaged in December and want to marry aboard a hot air balloon taking off from Texas and flying over New Mexico, where the marriage will be legal.

Winners were chosen out of the top 25 couples that received the most votes. ACLU told The Associated Press nearly 200,000 votes were cast for the 400 entries since the contest’s December launch.

After the contest began, more court rulings in favor of same-sex marriage started coming out of states, including a decision in Texas back in February.

“As soon as we entered the contest, the court decisions started coming out,” said Jeff Robertson. “We’re living a civil rights movement right before our eyes.”

James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project, said the wedding contest highlights the type of problems faced by gay couples in the nearly 30 states where marriage-equality lawsuits have been filed.

“We live in this crazy time, with a patchwork of protections, where you can go across the border and get married,” he said. “The problem is that when you turn around and go back, you’re not going to be considered married by your home states. That’s not the way it should work in America.”

—  Anna Waugh

Gay men say they were kicked out of bar for dancing to country music

aclu2The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas is supporting a gay couple after the men said they were kicked out of a South Texas nightclub for dancing together to country music.

The incident occurred Saturday night at a Victoria nightclub when Justin Meyer, 21, said he and his partner danced together to the country song “Cowboys and Angels,” the Victoria Advocate reported.

The men said a manager approached them and told them Cactus Canyon has a policy barring two men from dancing together to country music.

Meyer’s partner, James Douglas, 30, said the manager told them they could dance together to rap or hip-hop music, but not country.

“So you’re telling me it’s OK for me to bump and grind my boyfriend to the song `Bubble Butt,’ but we can’t dance a two-step?” Douglas told the newspaper.

But Cactus Canyon’s director of operations, Robert Dillender, says the men were asked to leave because they were being disruptive.

“We’ve never kicked anyone out of the club for dancing,” he said, adding the club does not have a policy barring same-sex couples from dancing together.

However, Dillender said the club does have to “maintain the peace” under its obligation to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, the agency that issues liquor licenses. Cactus Canyon is now reviewing how it interprets that policy, he said.

“We apologize for the misunderstanding,” Dillender added.

The issue has already caught the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union in Texas, and the group plans to reach out to the couple to offer assistance.

“We encourage all people to stand up for their individual rights,” said Tom Hargis, an ACLU spokesman.

—  Steve Ramos

BREAKING: Galveston man withdraws lawsuit challenging TX marriage ban

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Domenico Nuckols has decided to withdraw his lawsuit challenging Texas’ constitutional marriage amendment after talking with legal experts about his case.

Nuckols, a retired nuclear engineer, filed the case two weeks ago and as of last week was trying to find pro bono legal representation. But he said after talking with the American Civil Liberties Union and receiving a letter on Lambda Legal’s position, he withdrew the suit Monday. The judge signed the order dismissing the case yesterday.

He said the organizations explained they had picked several states like Pennsylvania and Virginia where they thought they could win the fight for same-sex marriage. Nuckols also hasn’t tried to marry in Texas and doesn’t plan to do so, so standing could have been an issue with his case.

“It’s not the time to do it in Texas,” he said. “I don’t care if you have standing or not, it’s going to be very politicized.

“I’m disappointed but when you have so many people telling you you’re beating a dead horse, you should listen,” he added. “There’s a fight out there, but you can’t pick it in Texas.”

—  Anna Waugh

Spring ISD will allow transgender teen to attend prom in women’s clothing

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Tony Zamazal

A transgender teen will be able to attend prom at Spring High School dressed as a woman after an assistant principal originally told the teen she must dress as a boy.

Tony Zamazal wanted to wear dress and heels to prom along with makeup and a wig because he feels more comfortable dressing as a woman. He was told in February that he must wear men’s attire because of the prom’s dress code. When he took his complaint to the principal, he was told the school board would have to weigh in.

The school has now reversed its decision in a letter to the American Civil Liberties Union, explaining that its position was unconstitutional.

“All I wanted was to get to wear a dress to prom, because I wouldn’t have felt comfortable at all showing up in a tux,” Zamazal said. “I’m so grateful that my school has agreed to let me be myself on such an important night.”

The ACLU sent a letter to the principal on March 18, explaining that both federal law and the Constitution protect Zamazal’s right to wear a dress to prom. The district responded last week that they’d allow him to come to prom dressed as he pleases.

“Tony has the right under both federal statutes and the U.S. Constitution to express her gender identity,” Adriana Pinon, senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Texas, said in a statement. “Students’ legal rights aren’t something that public schools get to put up to a vote. We’re happy to see the school do the right thing.”

—  Anna Waugh

2 New Mexico couples sue for marriage equality

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Plaintiffs Kim Kiel, Rose Griego, Miriam Rand and Ona Lara Porter

After Sante Fe mayor David Coss called on New Mexico’s county clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, two lesbian couples filed a lawsuit against the state after their marriage licenses were denied in Bernalillo County.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of New Mexico, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and local attorneys are representing the couples.

New Mexico is the only state whose marriage laws have always been ambiguous. The constitution does not specifically ban same-sex marriage nor does it allow it.

One couple lives in Albuquerque and the other in Sante Fe, but both applied in Albuquerque, which is the county seat of Bernalillo County.

The full text of the ACLU press release is below.

—  David Taffet

Gay man’s EEOC complaint against Granbury bank heads to mediation

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Marty Edwards

Although local attorneys declined to take the case of an area bank executive fired for his sexual orientation, the ACLU has stepped in to help after seeing the story in Dallas Voice, and the case is now headed to mediation.

Amanda Goad, an ACLU attorney with the LGBT and AIDS Project based in New York, who covers a number of states including Texas, contacted Marty Edwards after our story ran. She believed Edwards, who was fired last year from First National Bank of Granbury, could file an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint under the category of sexual discrimination.

She cited an EEOC policy relating to discrimination based on marital status, political affiliation, status as a parent, sexual orientation or gender identity status in federal employment.

“The Commission has also found that claims by lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals alleging sex-stereotyping state a sex discrimination claim under Title VII. See Veretto v. U.S. Postal Service,” the EEOC policy states.

She wrote to Edwards in an email that the decision equates sexual orientation discrimination with sexual discrimination based on the perception of the assumptions of the roles of men.

“Favoring a straight man who has a wife and kids, over a gay man who doesn’t, sounds like a strong example of what they’re talking about,” Goad wrote.

Edwards was fired during a meeting with two other bank executives. One told him, “I don’t care if you are seeing Billy Graham as your counselor,” and the other said, “You obviously have some things messed up in your head.”

“They said it was not my work because I did a great job,” Edwards told Dallas Voice. “I was told that one guy who has three kids, a wife and white picket fence home was a better fit for the image we are looking for.”

Following our article that appeared in January, Edwards filed an EEOC claim based on his firing after seeking counseling. After speaking to Goad, Edwards amended the claim to include sexual discrimination.

He couldn’t file a claim simply on sexual orientation discrimination, because it is legal to fire someone based on sexual orientation under both Texas and federal law.

The bank has agreed to mediation on the counseling claim and they will meet on March 27.

—  David Taffet

ACLU fights web filtering at Missouri school

I know many gay school teachers, and in the past, several have told me that Dallas Voice cannot be read on school computers. I don’t mean they can’t download a film or the filter blocks out articles that have “offensive” wording. I mean they can’t even find DallasVoice.com on their browser.

So it was nothing new to me to hear the ACLU has filed suit against a school district in Missouri which blocks all content of a gay nature … except that which is anti-gay. That means not only are teens blocked from reading Dallas Voice, but also information about AIDS and HIV (if published on a gay-approving website), or trans issues, or coming out, or dealing with bullying … Well, you get the idea.

You can read more about the lawsuit here.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

BLAG files homophobic brief defending DOMA in Edie Windsor’s lawsuit over estate tax

The House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group this week filed briefs in federal court explaining why the Defense of Marriage Act is not unconstitutional — even though a trial court judge has said it is unconstitutional and the Obama Administration has instructed the Department not to continue to defend DOMA because the administration, also, says the law is unconstitutional.

Edie Windsor

But Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner, after the administration issues its instructions to the DOJ on DOMA, decided that the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group would go ahead and hire an outside attorney to fight for DOMA in court because, apparently, the very idea of the federal government having to recognize legally-sanctioned same-sex marriages is too horrible to even consider.

The briefs filed by BLAG attorney Paul Clement came in connection with Edie Windsor’s lawsuit against the federal government over the $350,000 estate tax she had to pay when her wife, Thea Spyer, died. Windsor and Spyer had been together for 44 years when Spyer died in 2009, and the two women were legally married in Canada in 2007. Even though New York state, where they lived, did not allow legal same-sex marriages to be performed in the state at that time, the state did recognize same-sex marriages performed in jurisdictions where it was legal.

Had Spyer been a man, Windsor would have owed no estate tax when Spyer died. (Windsor is being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union. For more information on the case, go here.)

Windsor and her attorneys claim in court that she should win her suit by default, without the need for a trial, because she is right on the legal arguments and there are no factual disputes. The BLAG briefs filed this week dispute that claim, laying out reasons laws that discriminate against the LGBT community — like DOMA — should not be subject to more thorough review, legally known as “heightened scrutiny.”

According to the Human Rights Campaign, when deciding whether to apply heightened scrutiny, courts typically consider two factors: whether there is a history of discrimination based on the characteristic and whether the characteristic is relevant to one’s ability to participate in or contribute to society.  They sometimes also consider whether the characteristic is immutable and whether the group is particularly vulnerable politically.

The BLAG brief addresses all these factors.

Among their arguments, the most notable have been their claim that gays have not historically faced discrimination; they still believe that sexual orientation is a choice, not an identity; due to the recent victories in the LGBT community, they think gays have plenty of political power; despite the findings of an American Psychological Association study saying otherwise, they think same-sex couples make bad parents; and, the ever-popular crutch of the anti-gay marriage fanatics, that they need to protect the institution of marriage from being extended to same-sex couples.

You can go here to read what Zack Ford at Think Progress has to say about BLAG’s claims. And if you want to know more about Edie and Thea and their 44-year love story, watch the video below.

—  admin

BREAKING: President certifies DADT repeal

President Barack Obama is shown signing the law repealing ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ on Dec. 22, 2010. After a delay of more than six months during which the U.S. military branches received training on DADT repeal and dealing with openly gay and lesbian servicemembers, the president today certified repeal of the gay ban. DADT will officially be lifted in 60 days.

 

TAMMYE NASH  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

President Barack Obama has put his signature to certification of the repeal of the military’s anti-gay “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which means that the ban on openly gay and lesbian members of the U.S. military officially ends in 60 days, or on Sept. 20.

“Today, we have taken the final major step toward ending the discriminatory ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ law that undermines our military readiness and violates American principles of fairness and equality,” the president said today after signing the repeal certification, adding that he had indeed “certified and notified Congress that the requirements for repeal have been met.”

The president continued, “As Commander in Chief, I have always been confident that our dedicated men and women in uniform would transition to a new policy in an orderly manner that preserves unit cohesion, recruitment, retention and military effectiveness. … Our military will no longer be deprived of the talents and skills of patriotic Americans just because they happen to be gay or lesbian.”

Obama also praised “our civilian and military leadership for moving forward in the careful and deliberate manner that this change requires, especially with our nation at war.”

Word came last night that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Adm. Mike Mullen would be certifying the repeal today, but there had been no confirmation then that the president would also certify repeal today.

“The days of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ are quite literally numbered,” Laura W. Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Washington Legislative Office, said in a press release announcing that Obama had signed the certification. Murphy then went on to say that many other statutes that discriminate against LGBT people are still on the books, at the state and federal levels, and that the ACLU would “continue to seek justice” for gay and lesbian servicemembers discharged under DADT, and that the organization would continue to push for repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act that denies federal recognition to legally married same-sex couples.

“The countdown to repeal begins today!” Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network declared in a statement released by his organization. But Sarvis also warned gays and lesbians in the military that they are still at risk and that it is unsafe for them to come out until the ban is lifted in 60 days.

And Alexander Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United and himself a former Army intelligence collector who was discharged under DADT, called certification of repeal “nothing short of historic,” adding that “gay and lesbian servicemembers can and will breathe a huge sigh of relief” now.

But even as many LGBT rights advocates were exulting over certification of repeal of DADT, Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, earlier today issued a statement reminding advocates that the battle is not yet over: transgender and transsexual servicemembers still have to stay closeted or risk discharge.

“NCTE rejoices whenever discriminatory laws end, and ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ was a discriminatory law and it needed to go,” Keisling said. “However, as repeal is certified, transgender servicemembers continue serving in silence. NCTE looks forward to the day when the U.S. Armed Forces ends discrimination in all its forms,” Keisling said, adding a call for the Pentagon and the Obama administration to “address the gap” in DADT repeal.

—  admin