With friends like Mike, who needs enemies?

As Rawlings continues to dig in his heels on marriage pledge, Prop 8 ruling serves as reminder of the impact one mayor can have

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NOT GOING AWAY | LGBT protesters gathered outiside Dallas City Hall on Jan. 27 to call on Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings to sign a pledge in support of same-sex marriage. This week LGBT advocates went inside City Hall, with five people speaking during public comments at the council's regular meeting. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

 

With all the jubilation this week surrounding the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision to strike down Proposition 8, I couldn’t help but take a look back at how far things have progressed in California.

Given recent events in Dallas, my thoughts tend to settle on a moment four years before Prop 8 made its way to the ballot. I think of the moment the marriage battle in California began to make national headlines.

It was 2004 when a mayor, realizing that tens of thousands of his citizens were officially discriminated against under California law, ordered the San Francisco County Clerk’s Office to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

While Mayor Gavin Newsom had no means to directly influence the law and while these marriages were eventually annulled by the state, his bold action created the environment necessary for real dialogue about equality.

What’s more, it taught our community the difference between elected leaders saying they support us and showing us their support.

Perhaps that is why Dallas’ Mike Rawlings’ refusal to join the mayors of almost every major U.S. city in signing a pledge in support of marriage equality, despite claiming to personally support it, continues to go over like a fart in a space suit.

If Rawlings were a Rick “Frothy Mix” Santorum or of similar ilk, his not signing the pledge would come as no surprise and we would have long since moved on.

But, this is a man who is supposed to be our friend. This is a man who campaigned hard for the Dallas LGBT vote. This is a man who has hosted a Pride reception at City Hall and tossed beads like an overgrown flower girl at last year’s Pride parade. For a man who claims to be so focused on making Dallas a “world class city,” signing the pledge just seems like a no-brainer.

Even more puzzling has been the way Rawlings has continued to defend his position — at first explaining that civil rights were a “partisan issue” that didn’t matter to the “lion’s share” of Dallas citizens, until that backfired magnificently, and now claiming that maintaining a position of neutrality has transformed him into some kind of weird ambassador for the queer community to the conservative religious communities of Dallas.

Apparently no one ever told Mayor Rawlings that when it comes to issues of civil rights, there is no such thing as a neutral position. To quote the Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “If you remain neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

This is where our true frustration is coming from. Mayor Rawlings claims to understand marriage as a civil rights issue. He claims to understand that our community is discriminated against in thousands of state and federal laws, creating economic, educational, familial and health hardships for thousands of people in his city. Yet he chooses a position that serves only to validate those who would strip us of our humanity.

Perhaps he could have gotten away with this a few years ago, but in today’s world the majority of Americans now support equality and the LGBT community is no longer satisfied with neutrality, compromises or indefinite waiting. We are seeing evidence of this at every level of government, from City Hall to the White House where President Barack Obama stands to lose a significant percentage of the LGBT vote amid his prolonged “evolution” on marriage equality.

We understand that there is still much work to be done before full recognition of our equality becomes a reality. We know it will take time, resources and leadership to get us there. We don’t need our mayor to be as controversial as Gavin Newsom, but there is a way he can take a simple and powerful stand starting today.

It won’t cost the taxpayers a single penny. It won’t disrupt the business of the city for even a moment. It won’t even force people to change what they believe. It will, however, send a message to our state Legislature and to Congress that the people who live and work in Dallas, Texas, deserve equal treatment under the law.

It will tell 17,440 children in the state of Texas that their mommies and daddies are the same as the mommies and daddies of their peers. It will tell more than 14,000 individuals in our city who live in committed loving relationships that they will grow old with their partners in a city that respects them and values their contributions.

All our mayor has to do is pick up a pen and sign the pledge.

Daniel Cates is North Texas regional coordinator for GetEQUAL.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 10, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Calif. court mulls appeal rights of Prop 8 backers

LISA LEFF | Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — California’s same-sex marriage ban endured its latest legal test Tuesday as the state’s high court grilled attorneys on whether Proposition 8′s backers have legal authority to appeal a federal ruling that overturned the voter-approved measure.

The tenor of the justices’ questioning during the more than hour-long hearing often leaned in favor of arguments by backers of the ban, who argue that the state Constitution gives ballot initiative proponents legal authority to defend their measures in court.

On that critical question, several justices noted that the California Supreme Court always has, as a matter of practice if not written policy, allowed the sponsors of ballot questions to appear before it when their measures were challenged.

“Never in any recorded (case) have proponents been denied the right to advance their interests,” Associate Justice Kathryn Werdegar noted during the closely watched arguments. “The present state of California law is we allow liberal intervention.”

The Supreme Court is examining the scope of the power afforded the official backers of ballot initiatives at the request of a federal appeals court that is reviewing a federal judge’s year-old ruling that Proposition 8 violates the constitutional rights of same-sex couples.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has expressed doubts about the ability of Proposition 8′s sponsors to challenge the lower court ruling absent the involvement of California’s governor or attorney general, both of whom agreed the ban was unconstitutional and refused to appeal.

But the 9th Circuit punted the question to the California Supreme Court earlier this year, saying it was a matter of state law. Although the appeals court still must decide for itself if Proposition 8′s supporters are eligible under federal court rules to appeal the ruling that struck down the ban, the state court’s input is likely to weigh heavily in its decision.

If the state Supreme Court says the ban’s proponents did not have standing to appeal, and if the 9th Circuit and ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately agree, it could clear the way for same-sex marriages to resume in California.

If the court holds the proponents were qualified to appeal and the 9th Circuit agrees, the appeals court would then weigh the broader civil rights implications of Proposition 8. A decision on the ban’s constitutionality is expected to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

While agreeing that the state Supreme Court has never refused to give initiative proponents a seat at the defense table, several justices quizzed Charles Cooper, an attorney for the coalition of religious and conservative groups that sponsored Proposition 8, on whether there was a difference between the court using its discretion to do so and issuing an opinion that would be binding on future courts.

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye observed that in the vast majority of cases in which initiative backers have been allowed to defend their measures, they have been “standing shoulder-to-shoulder” with the attorney general’s office, not acting on their own.

Cooper agreed that he was seeking to remove some of the court’s discretion, but said the justices could draft their guidance so it would only apply to situations, such as with Proposition 8, where state officials have refused to defend laws already approved by voters.

Theodore Olson, the attorney representing the two same-sex couples who successfully sued in federal court to strike down Proposition 8, argued that permitting initiative sponsors to step in under such circumstances would infringe on the authority of elected state officials.

“There is nothing in the California Constitution or the statutes that give private citizens the right to take on the attorney general’s constitutional responsibility to represent the state in litigation in which the state or its officers are a party,” Olson said.

“Is there any authority for the attorney general and the governor to second-guess a majority of the population?” Associate Justice Ming Chin interrupted.

Olson answered yes, explaining that the attorney general is obligated not to defend laws he or she judges to be unconstitutional.

Associate Justice Goodwin Liu, who was sworn in on Thursday and serving his first day on the court Tuesday, picked up the line of questioning.

“It seems to me the 9th Circuit has set up a hoop the initiative proponents must jump through to get to appeal,” Liu said. “Given the fact that initiative proponents clearly would have standing to appeal if this litigation was in state court … why can’t we read (the U.S. Constitution) to give the initiative proponents what they need to jump through that hoop?”

Associate Justice Joyce Kennard, who along with Werdegar was in the 4-3 Supreme Court majority that briefly cleared the way for same-sex marriages in California before voters passed Proposition 8, also questioned how the court could deny initiative sponsors the right to appeal in cases where state officials have refused to defend a law.

“It would appear to me that to agree with you would nullify the great power the people have reserved for themselves pertaining to proposing and adopting state Constitutional amendments,” she said.

Werdegar suggested that the court could tell the appeals court that it ordinarily grants initiative proponents the right to defend their measures, but stop short of establishing a new legal precedent.

The court has 90 days in which to issue its opinion.

—  John Wright

Calif. Supreme Court agrees to rule on whether Prop 8 supporters have standing to appeal

LISA KEEN | Keen News Service

The road to marriage equality in California just got a little longer.

The California Supreme Court said today it would make ruling on whether Yes on 8 proponents have authority, under California law, to appeal a federal court ruling that the initiative is unconstitutional.

The announcement, at 4:20 p.m. Central time today, means the California court will soon hear arguments in the landmark Perry v. Schwarzenegger case. But the question will be a procedural one only: whether there is any authority under California law that would provide Yes on 8 proponents with standing to defend Proposition 8 in a federal appeals court.

The court’s brief announcement said it would hear arguments on an expedited schedule and asked that the first briefs be due March 14 and that oral argument take place as early as September.

Once the California Supreme Court decides whether state law provides any right to Yes on 8 to represent voters on appeal, the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals panel will then make its final determination as to whether Yes on 8 has standing to appeal. And, if the 9th Circuit says Yes on 8 does have standing, it will also rule on the constitutionality of Proposition 8.

The question before the California Supreme Court was whether there is any authority under California law that would enable Yes on 8 proponents to represent voters who approved Proposition 8. The answer mattered to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel. Without any authority under state law, the appeals panel suggested, the group might not have any “standing” at all to appeal the decision. If a party has “standing,” they are sufficiently affected by a conflict to justify having a court hear their lawsuit or appeal on the matter.

When the legal team of Ted Olson and David Boies filed a legal challenge to California’s Proposition 8 in federal district court, the state, under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown, had standing to defend the law. But neither provided a defense and, instead, the Yes on 8 coalition that campaigned for the initiative did so.

When the district court found Proposition 8 unconstitutional, the state officers said they would not appeal the decision, so Yes on 8 once again sought to defend the law, this time in the federal appeals court. But both Schwarzenegger and Brown urged the 9th Circuit not to accept the appeal, saying the best thing for California was to abide by the district court ruling.

So, when the 9th Circuit panel heard oral arguments on the appeal last December, one of the first and most pressing issues it had to wrestle with was whether Yes on 8 still had “standing” to bring the appeal when the state government had decided it wanted to honor the district court decision.

What bothered the panel was their belief that the state officers — Schwarzenegger and Brown — were acquiring veto power by simply refusing to defend a voter-approved law with which they disagreed.

The panel asked the California Supreme Court to say whether there might be some authority under state law that would provide Yes on 8 with standing to bring the appeal.

The legal team challenging Proposition 8, led by Ted Olson and David Boies, filed briefs with the California Supreme Court, saying the state court should not provide such a determination because the standing issue in a federal appeals court is essentially a matter of federal law.

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

—  John Wright

Prop 8 case sent to Calif. Supreme Court

LGBT advocates frustrated over delay

Lisa Keen  |  Keen News Service

A 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals panel surprised many Proposition 8 observers Tuesday, Jan. 4 when it suddenly issued five documents relating to the case.

But there was no decision Tuesday in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the landmark case testing whether voters in California violated the U.S. Constitution when they amended the state constitution to ban marriage licenses for same-sex couples.

The bottom line of the documents was that the three-judge panel that heard arguments in an appeal of the case punted a critical question regarding legal standing to the California Supreme Court.

The appellate panel said it would not rule on the constitutionality of Proposition 8 until it gets a ruling from the California Supreme Court as to whether Yes on 8 proponents of the initiative have an “authoritative” entitlement to represent the voters who passed the initiative in the appeal in federal court.

The announcement frustrated and disappointed many.

“It is frustrating that this will slow the case down, especially since there is nothing in California law that gives initiative proponents the power to force an appeal when the official representatives of the state have determined that doing so is not in the best interests of the state,” said Shannon Minter of the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

The development struck some as odd. It appears the federal court is asking a state court whether Yes on 8 has standing to appeal a lower federal court ruling that struck down Proposition 8.

“I don’t think it was necessary to ask the California Supreme Court to rule on that issue,” said Minter, “and I am disappointed the Ninth Circuit did so.” But Ted Olson, a lead attorney on the team challenging Proposition 8, said it’s not uncommon.

And it was not really a surprise to learn the panel is struggling with the question of standing. During oral argument on Dec. 6, all three judges seemed troubled by the idea that a state governor or attorney general could, in essence, acquire an ability to veto a measure passed by voters by simply refusing to defend a challenge to its constitutionality in court. The California constitution does not provide the governor or attorney general a right to veto voter-passed initiatives.

Both Judge Stephen Reinhardt, widely perceived to be the most liberal of the panel, and Judge Randy Smith, the most conservative, seemed concerned that the governor and attorney general’s refusal to appeal the district court decision “does not seem to be consistent” with the state’s initiative system. Judge Michael Hawkins expressed frustration during arguments that the panel might be prevented from rendering a decision about the constitutionality of Proposition 8 “so it’s clear, in California, who has the right to marry and who doesn’t.” The panel seemed prepared, on Dec. 6, to ask the California Supreme Court to weigh in on the issue — and it’s somewhat curious that they waited one month before actually doing so.

In its 21-page order to the California Supreme Court, the three-judge panel asked the state court to determine whether Yes on 8 proponents have “rights under California law … to defend the constitutionality of [Proposition 8] … when the state officers charged with the laws’ enforcement … refuse to provide such a defense.”

Olson, in a telephone conference call with reporters soon after the court released its order, said that, if the California Supreme Court determines that there is no authority under state law for Yes on 8 to have standing to represent voters in the appeal, the 9th Circuit would be bound to accept that determination. However, the ruling on standing could still be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, he said.

If the California Supreme Court determines Yes on 8 does not have standing and the 9th Circuit rules accordingly, then the decision of U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker on Aug. 4 will become the law throughout California, making it possible for same-sex couples to obtain marriage licenses.

Judge Walker ruled that Proposition 8 violates the U.S. Constitutional guarantees to equal protection and due process. Although neither the attorney general nor the governor provided any defense for the initiative during the trial last January, Walker did allow Yes on 8 proponents to intervene in the trial as defenders of the measure. But the appeals panel indicated that standing in the district court does not necessarily mean Yes on 8 has standing to appeal.

If Yes on 8 does appeal a loss on the issue of standing to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the high court rules in its favor, it would then most likely send the case back to the 9th Circuit for a ruling on constitutionality.

Meanwhile, among its other documents Tuesday, the 9th Circuit panel issued a 16-page opinion that Imperial County, Calif., does not have standing to appeal the district court decision itself. The panel said it was denying the county’s claim for standing on different grounds than did Judge Walker. The panel held that, because the county simply administers the state’s marriage law, it does not have any “interest on its own” to defend. The county has 14 days in which to appeal the panel’s ruling on standing.

The panel’s formal question to the California Supreme Court is: “Whether under Article II, Section 8 of the California Constitution, or otherwise under California law, the official proponents of an initiative measure possess either a particularized interest in the initiative’s validity or the authority to assert the State’s interest in the initiative’s validity, which would enable them to defend the constitutionality of the initiative upon its adoption or appeal a judgment invalidating the initiative, when the public officials charged with that duty refuse to do so.

“If California does grant the official proponents of an initiative the authority to represent the State’s interest in defending a voter-approved initiative when public officials have declined to do so or to appeal a judgment invalidating the initiative,” states the order, “then Proponents would also have standing to appeal on behalf of the State.

“This court is obligated to ensure that it has jurisdiction over this appeal before proceeding to the important constitutional questions it presents,” says the order, “and we must dismiss the appeal if we lack jurisdiction. The certified question therefore is dispositive of our very ability to hear this case.

“It is not sufficiently clear to us, however, whether California law does so,” said the panel. “In the absence of controlling authority from the highest court of California on these important questions of an initiative proponent’s rights and interests in the particular circumstances before us, we believe we are compelled to seek such an authoritative statement of California law.”

Today’s development will, of course, delay the 9th Circuit panel’s decision on the merits of the case — whether voters can withhold marriage licenses from gay couples while granting them to straight couples.

“Further delay in restoring the freedom to marry in California is a lamentable hardship on couples,” said Evan Wolfson, head of the national Freedom to Marry group. “But I am confident that we will regain the freedom to marry in California soon.”

NCLR’s Minter agreed.

“I am confident the California Supreme Court will hold that California law does not give initiative proponents any special power to override the decisions of the state’s elected representatives,” said Minter. “In the meantime, however, Proposition 8 remains on the books, and every day that goes by, LGBT people in California are denied the freedom to protect their families and express their love and commitment through marriage. This will delay,” he said, “but not deny, the day that Proposition 8 is gone for good.”

The full text of the order is below.

© 2011 Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

CA9Doc 292

—  John Wright