Gay divorce cases before Texas Supreme Court

Panel requests briefs, indicating it may rule on whether couples married elsewhere can divorce here

CLICK HERE TO READ BRIEFS FROM THE DALLAS GAY DIVORCE CASE

JOHN WRIGHT  |  Senior Political Writer
wright@dallasvoice.com
Nearly three years after the gay Dallas resident known as J.B. filed an uncontested petition for a divorce from his husband, H.B., the couple’s matrimonial fate rests in the hands of the state’s highest court.

The Texas Supreme Court recently requested briefs from both sides as justices decide if they’ll review the issue of whether same-sex couples legally married elsewhere can divorce in Texas.

J.B. and H.B. were married in Massachusetts in 2006 before moving to Dallas. After J.B. filed his petition for divorce in January 2009, Democratic State District Judge Tena Callahan of Dallas ruled in October of that year that she had jurisdiction to hear the case — and in doing so declared Texas’ bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott immediately intervened and appealed Callahan’s decision, which the 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas overturned last year, ruling that Texas judges cannot grant same-sex divorces because the state doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage.

In February, J.B.’s attorneys at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld filed their petition for review to the Texas Supreme Court.

“They’re in limbo,” Akin Gump’s Jody Scheske said of J.B. and H.B. “They’re still married. They don’t want to be married. Texas can’t prevent them from getting married because they’re already married. All they want is the equal right to divorce that should be available to everybody.”

J.B. and H.B.’s is one of two same-sex divorce cases currently pending before the Texas Supreme Court. The panel has also requested briefs in State of Texas v. Angelique Naylor and Sabrina Daly.

In the Naylor case, the 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin upheld a Travis County district court’s decision to grant a divorce to Naylor and Daly, a lesbian couple. The appeals court ruled that Abbott intervened in the case too late, but the AG’s office has appealed the decision to the Texas Supreme Court.

Akin Gump is also representing Naylor and Daly. Scheske said the high court’s decision to request “briefs on the merits” in the two cases is part of its decision-making process about whether to review them.

“It’s actually not an indicator that they plan to take the case necessarily, but if they don’t request briefs on the merits, they will not take the case,” he said. “They only take a very small percentage of the cases that are actually petitioned.”

Scheske said he hopes the high court will accept J.B.’s case and decline the AG’s petition in Naylor. He said it’s also possible the court will consolidate the two cases. There is no timeframe for the Supreme Court to decide whether to review the cases, and at this point it’s unlikely oral arguments would be heard anytime before the spring.

“They can take as long as they want to or as short as they want to,” Scheske said. “So now we hurry up and wait.”
Asked whether he’d appeal an unfavorable ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, Scheske said he is unsure. “If we lost the cases at the

Texas Supreme Court, that would be the next and final step, but I haven’t discussed that with either client, just because we don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said.

A spokesman for the AG’s office declined to comment on the cases beyond the briefs it has already filed.

Ken Upton, a Dallas-based senior staff attorney at the LGBT civil rights group Lambda Legal, said he believes the Texas Supreme Court will take the cases.

“I think this an awful lot for them to read not to take it,” Upton said of the briefs the court has requested. “They’re looking at what happened in Austin and what happened in Dallas, and I suspect they want to have a uniform result. Let everybody guess what that will be, but I’m not terribly optimistic.”

Upton said he thinks it’s unlikely the U.S. Supreme Court would hear an appeal, meaning the impact of the cases will be limited to Texas.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 21, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

A Brit abroad in Dallas

Doug Mayo may like Dallas more than a native Texan.

The Australian-born travel writer, now living in Great Britain, has visited as part of the Tavern Guild’s international journalists’ tour on several occasions; the last time, in April, he ended up staying a week longer than anyone else.

And the entire time he was here, Mayo had a look on his face like a kid in a candy shop. And he knows it.

“I love Dallas,” he gushes on a rare break from sightseeing. “Dallas is all about the people — I’ve met the nicest people in the world here. I could actually live here quite easily.”

Even during the Texas summer? Well, for Mayo, it’s less about the weather than what it has to offer.

“It’s probably not as much of a culture shock as moving somewhere else,” he says. “[People] don’t equate Dallas with culture, but you appreciate wine, cabaret, the arts. The performing arts district is out of this world —the Wyly and the Winspear are amazing. And for me, it does seem to be a Democratic state, considering that there are some Republican presidents from here.”
So what does an Aussie by way of England find so appealing about Dallas? Just give him a second to count the ways.

“The Round-Up is just surreal because it’s such a Dallas thing — there’s something about it that is distinctively ‘Texas,’” Mayo says. “You don’t realize it, but you won’t find something like that in London.”

The Book Depository is a draw as well, as is some of our architecture: “My last tour, we toured the construction of Cowboys Stadium. It’s a phenomenal building.” He even enjoyed going a bit west to Cowtown to see the cattle drive and inspect Bass Hall before trips to Billy Bob’s and the Rainbow Lounge, all of which he loved.

And what about the food? Well, that might be the easiest sell of all.

“Central 214’s my favorite,” he says. “[Chef] Blythe Beck can work out a way of chicken-frying anything.”

That’s Texas all right.

— A.W.J.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 17, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

A Texas-sized legislative closet

As another legislative session gets under way in Austin, GayPolitics.com reports today that Texas is now one of only 18 states with no openly LGBT state lawmakers. California and Maryland are tied for the most openly LGBT lawmakers, with seven each. Four states have no openly LGBT elected officials at any level of government — Alaska, Kansas, Mississippi and South Dakota.

Texas has had only one openly LGBT state lawmaker in its history — Democratic Rep. Glen Maxey of Austin, who served from 1991 until 2003.

Of course, with 150 people in the House and 31 in the Senate, it’s all but certain that a few Texas lawmakers are LGBT.

The reason we have no seat at the table is that the chairs are all stacked in the closet.

Anyone wanna help us get them out?

—  John Wright

Houston legislators Coleman, Farrar announce plan to re-introduce Dignity for All Students Act

State Reps. Garnet Coleman of Houston, left, and Mark Strama of Austin

State Reps. Garnet Coleman and Jessica Farrar, both Houston Democrats, on Friday released a joint statement announcing their intention to once again file the Dignity for All Students Act when the 2011 Texas Legislature comes into session, saying that “recent news reports have highlighted the necessity for such legislation.”

The news reports the statement references revolve around the recent suicides of teens who had been bullied and harassed because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation, including 13-year-old Asher Brown of Houston, who shot himself to death on Thursday, Sept. 23.

The Dignity for All Students Act would prohibit discrimination and harassment in public schools on the basis of ethnicity, color, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, disability, religion or national origin.  It would also prohibit discrimination based on association with a person, and protects both the parents of students and whistleblowers who may report incidents of discrimination or harassment.

Chuck Smith, deputy director of Equality Texas, said that Coleman has been filing the Dignity for All Students Act since 2003, but the bill itself has been filed in Texas legislative sessions since 1997 when then-State Rep. Harryette Ehrhardt of Dallas introduced the measure.

Smith said the Dignity for All Students Act introduced in the 2009 legislative session, authored by Coleman and co-authored by El Paso Democratic State Rep. Marissa Marquez, was sent to the Public Education Committee but did not get a hearing that session.

Another measure, the Safe Schools for All Youth Act introduced in 2009 by Austin Democratic Rep. Mark Strama, is also likely to be refiled in 2011, Smith said. The 2009 version of Strama’s bill, which expanded and clarified the definition of bullying to include cyber-bullying and bullying that occurs off-campus, did pass out of the Public Education Committee and the Calendar Committee and was “in line for floor debate when everything died in the House in the stall that occurred in an effort to avoid dealing with voter ID bills,” he said.

Strama’s bill, Smith said, “uses language that teachers and administrators can relate to. It would create a definition of what bullying is and what cyber-bullying is, what to do when bullying or cyber-bullying occurs and strategies to reduce incidents of bullying and cyber-bullying. It adds those definitions into existing laws about what triggers some sort of disciplinary action.”

He said that the 2011 version of Strama’s bill — which had four joint authors and 13 co-authors — will include even more than was included in the 2009 version. He also said that Coleman and Farrar’s Dignity for All Students Act and Strama’s Safe Schools for All Students Act aren’t redundant.

“The two bills would both be part of the Texas Education Code, but they would be in different parts of the Texas Education Code. Coleman’s bill would be in Chapter 11, and Strama’s bill would be in Chapter 37. They don’t overlap,” Smith said.

He added that these two might not be the only two bills bullying and harassment in public schools to be filed in the 2011 legislative session.

“There is certainly the possibility that there will be additional bills filed,” And if there could be anything good to come out of recent events, maybe it’s that it could help us reach the tipping point where something will actually get done this year.”

The 82nd Texas Legislature convenes in January.

—  admin

Utah GOP taps gay man for state Senate race

Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Republican Party has chosen the head of the Utah Log Cabin Republicans, a gay and lesbian political organization, to run in a state Senate race.

The Deseret News reported Thursday, Sept. 2 that Melvin Nimer will replace Republican Nancie Lee Davis for the District 2 seat in heavily Democratic Salt Lake City. Davis was disqualified for failing to file a campaign finance disclosure statement with the lieutenant governor’s office.

Choosing Nimer could help Republicans’ chances against Democratic State Sen. Ben McAdams. The person who previously held McAdams’ seat was the only openly gay member of the Senate, although Scott McCoy was also a Democrat.

A 60-year-old accountant, Nimer, said he offers voters “a voice at the Republican table” in a GOP-dominated Legislature. He did not, however, take issue with the way the district has been represented.

“As good as Sen. McCoy was and Sen. McAdams is, being Democrats, they don’t have as much influence as a Republican would have,” Nimer said.

Nimer has been openly gay for 15 years, but said it’s not clear whether that will give him an edge with voters.

“Definitely, I’ll have that card to play, if you will,” Nimer said. “Luckily, it’s a fairly liberal district.”

McAdams said Nimer’s entry into the race doesn’t change his campaign plans. Recent campaign finance reports shows McAdams has raised $47,000.

McAdams said his track record on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues speaks for itself. He has already secured endorsements from McCoy, Equality Utah and others in the LGBT community.

—  John Wright