U.S. Supreme Court to issue rulings in marriage equality cases Wednesday

Dallas LGBT advocates march for marriage equality in a Love is Stronger rally on June 8, 2013. (David Taffet/ Dallas Voice)

Dallas LGBT advocates march for marriage equality in a Love is Stronger rally on June 8, 2013. (David Taffet/ Dallas Voice)

The U.S. Supreme Court will issue  rulings Wednesday in two marriage equality cases, California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act.

Chief Justice John Roberts announced after three rulings Tuesday morning that the court would meet for its final day Wednesday at 9 a.m. CST to read its last three decisions. Wednesday is the 10th anniversary of when the court ruled that sodomy laws nationwide were unconstitutional in Lawrence v. Texas.

Dallas’ LGBT community and allies will celebrate the marriage rulings at a Day of Decision rally Wednesday night at 7 p.m. at the Legacy of Love monument.

Roberts read the court’s ruling Tuesday in the Voting Rights Act case, Shelby County v. Holder, striking down a central part of the act, which LGBT advocates say is a step backwards in eliminating  discrimination at the polls. The decision reduces the federal government’s role in overseeing voting laws in areas with a history of racial discrimination.

“These varied and powerful voices attest to the self-evident reality that racial protections are still needed in voting in this country. As recently as last year’s elections, political partisans resorted to voter suppression laws and tactics aimed at reducing the votes of people of color,” read a joint statement from numerous LGBT groups, including the Human Rights Campaign and Lambda Legal.

“Voting rights protections, which have long served our nation’s commitment to equality and justice, should not be cast aside now. The court has done America a grave disservice, and we will work with our coalition partners to undo the damage inflicted by this retrogressive ruling.”

As for the marriage cases, justices are expected to rule narrowly. In Hollingsworth v. Perry’s challenge of California’s constitutional marriage amendment, the ruling could just affect that state, greatly increasing the number of the country’s population that lives in marriage-equality states. Most legal experts don’t expect the court to strike Prop 8 and find all marriage amendments unconstitutional in the 37 states that have such bans, as it did with sodomy laws in Lawrence.

—  Anna Waugh

‘DOMA is dead’

SupremeCourtFlash

Marriage equality supporters gather outside the U.S. Supreme Court building Wednesday as the high court hears oral arguments in a case challenging the constitutionality of the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act. (Courtesy of GLAAD)

LGBT legal experts believe majority on Supreme Court will find law unconstitutional

LISA KEEN | Keen News Service

Today’s argument in the U.S. Supreme Court over the Defense of Marriage Act sounded at times as if President Barack Obama was on trial for enforcing the law even though he considers it unconstitutional. At other times, it sounded like Congress was on trial, for attempting to cloak its moral disapproval of gay people under the guise of seeking “uniformity.” And at the end of two hours, LGBT legal activists seemed cautious but optimistic that there are five votes to find DOMA unconstitutional.

It was the second and final day of two historic sessions at the nation’s high court to hear oral arguments in cases challenging the federal law denying recognition of marriage licenses granted to same-sex couples — and challenging a state law banning same-sex couples from obtaining marriage licenses.

Wednesday’s case, U.S. v. Windsor, posed the question of whether Section 3 of DOMA violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. New York lesbian Edith Windsor filed the lawsuit with the help of the ACLU when the federal government demanded she pay more than $360,000 in estate taxes after her same-sex spouse died. Surviving spouses in male-female marriages do not have to pay estate taxes.

LGBT legal experts said after Wednesday’s arguments in the DOMA case that it’s likely the Supreme Court will strike down the law when it issues its ruling, expected sometime in late June.

“I think we’re going to win,” said Shannon Minter of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “I think the court is going to reach the merits on this case and I think they’re going to say that DOMA violates the federal constitution, probably for equal protection reasons. … I do think DOMA is dead.”

The first 50 minutes of the two-hour argument was given to a discussion of whether the case was properly before the court, given procedural questions. On the issue of DOMA’s constitutionality, former George W. Bush Solicitor General Paul Clement, an attorney hired by the Republican-led Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG), said the Congress, in passing the law in 1996, did not discriminate against gays but simply decided to define the term “marriage” “solely for federal law” in order to ensure “uniformity” in the deliverance of benefits.

“It’s rational for Congress to say it’s treating same-sex couples in New York the same as same-sex couples in Nebraska,” said Clement.

That assertion did not go unchallenged.

Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer, Anthony Kennedy, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg all questioned Clement on it.

“What gives the federal government the right to be concerned at all about the definition of marriage?” asked Sotomayor, noting that marriage has always been considered an area of state law. She suggested members of Congress appeared to create a law to disfavor a “class they don’t like.”

When Clement suggested Congress was helping the states by putting the issue on “pause” and letting the states work through the democratic process in deciding the law in each state, Kennedy noted that DOMA seemed instead to be “helping states if they do what [members of Congress] want them to do.”

Justice Ginsburg said DOMA appears to affect same-sex couples by turning their marriages into a sort of “skim milk,” in comparison to whole milk version enjoyed by male-female couples.

Justice Kagan perhaps hit the hardest note when she said the record of House proceedings around DOMA in 1996 seemed to indicate Congress “had something else in mind than uniformity … something that’s never been done before.” She quoted a passage of the House report that said that DOMA was intended to express “moral disapproval” of marriage for same-sex couples.

“That’s a pretty good red flag,” said Kagan.

Clement seemed to be caught off guard by the excerpt. “Does the House Report say that?” he asked.

The challengers of DOMA appeared off guard at times, too.

Chief Justice John Roberts asked both Solicitor General Donald Verilli and plaintiff’s attorney Roberta Kaplan whether it would be permissible for Congress to adopt a definition for federal purposes that included gay couples, rather than excluded them.

Verilli said the House Report excerpt “makes glaringly clear” that DOMA was intended to exclude lawfully married same-sex couples.

“Are you saying that 84 senators were motivated by animus?” asked Chief Justice Roberts in follow-up to both Verilli and Kaplan.

Both Verilli and Kaplan clearly avoided saying that think DOMA was motivated by animus.

“It could have been a lack of reflection or an instinctive response,” said Verilli. But, he added emphatically, “Section 3 discriminates and it’s time for this court to recognize that discrimination cannot be reconciled with our fundamental commitment to equal protection of the law.”

But it was during questioning about the procedural matters that Roberts and other conservative justices hammered on what came across as much as a political jousting as it was a legal matter.

Roberts wondered why President Obama didn’t have “the courage of his convictions” that DOMA was unconstitutional and “instead, wait until the Supreme Court” rules it so.
Justice Samuel Alito said he thought it odd that President Obama would continue to enforce DOMA “until the court tells him to stop.”

Justice Breyer commented that the president has an “obligation” to faithfully execute the laws, whether he likes them or not.

Jon Davidson, legal director for Lambda Legal, said he was “very encouraged” by the argument.

“When it comes to the merits, I think there are at least five justices who are prepared to strike down Section 3 of DOMA,” he said. “One of the things that Justice Ginsburg said at the end, about the beginning of the sex discrimination cases, the court did strike down laws that discriminated based on sex based on rational basis, and saw it as discrimination.”

Mary Bonauto, head of civil rights for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, said she thought the questioning was “vigorous” on the procedural issue of standing. On the issue of DOMA’s constitutionality, she said she thought Justice Kagan “called out” the discriminatory statement in the House report.

“Overall, they were asking the right questions and the right themes were in play,” said Bonauto.

Jenny Pizer, a Lambda Legal attorney who followed the case at the three-week trial in San Francisco, said she thought it was clear that the argument of “uniformity” made “no sense at all.”

“It was surprising to me the suggestion from some of the conservative justices that the administration should not enforce laws when they have questions about constitutionality or have a view of constitutionality different from previous administrations have said. That seems immensely impractical,” said Pizer.

“One thing that did seem clear yesterday and today,” said Pizer, “is that we’re witnessing a moment of recognition of anti-gay discrimination and the government trying to come to terms with how it should change. Perhaps we shouldn’t be that surprised that some justices are resistant to addressing the merits of question, but the justices are particularly well situated to address them.”

Yesterday’s argument was over the constitutionality of Proposition 8, California’s voter-approved ban on marriage licenses for same-sex couples. The court heard 80 minutes of argument in Hollingsworth v. Perry over whether it should find California’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

In both cases, both sides see Justice Anthony Kennedy as the most likely justice to provide a fifth vote for the winning side. But Tuesday’s argument in the Proposition 8 case left many speculating that the court may decide that opponents of marriage quality did not have proper legal standing to appeal the case.

Legal standing was an issue in the Windsor case, too, because the Obama administration appealed the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruling that DOMA violates the equal protection clause of the constitution. A party bringing an appeal must show it is injured by the lower court holding.

© Copyright 2013 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

—  John Wright

Congressman Marc Veasey issues statement on Prop 8, DOMA cases

Official Photo_Rep Marc Veasey

Rep. Marc Veasey

Freshman Congressman Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, reminded his North Texas constituents Tuesday that he is committed to fighting for full equality for LGBT citizens.

Veasey released the following statement today following the opening arguments in the Proposition 8 case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

“As the Supreme Court considers the constitutionality of Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act, I would like to reaffirm my commitment to the LGBT community,” the statement reads.

“It is my hope that the justices of the nation’s highest court rule that committed same-sex couples have civil and constitutional rights. The struggle for equality has taken us from Stonewall to the Supreme Court.

“As decades of progress have changed attitudes and opened hearts, I will continue to fight for members of the LGBT community until they have full equality under the law.”

—  Anna Waugh

Porn actor Wilfred Knight kills self after screed on immigration inequality

WKJust last month, we reported that gay porn actor Arpad Miklos had died of an apparent suicide — the latest in a string of deaths to hit the adult film community. Then last week, we learned that another porn legend had killed himself.

Wilfred Knight, known for his videos for Lucas Entertainment and Colt Studio, took his own life just two weeks after the suicide of his partner. He had just turned 35. What makes Knight’s death especially poignant were the reasons behind it.

See, Knight — a French citizen — had moved with his partner to Canada once his U.S. student visa expired, because even though the two were legally married in Canada in 2011, the U.S. government refused to acknowledge it, due to the Defense of Marriage Act. That meant they had to leave for the Great White North, where Knight’s partner accepted a job that included same-sex partner benefits.

Knight’s husband, however, lost his job about six months ago, and last month, took his own life. Knight found the body. The adult film actor then took his own life, angered by the unfair treatment of gay couples by the federal government.

How do we know all this? Because Knight said so. In a screed published on his blog, Knight railed against American immigration laws, blaming his partner’s death on the lack of same-sex rights. It was practically a suicide note.

Because Knight was most famous for his involvement in the porn industry, it’s unlikely the story will have much resonance outside the gay press. But isn’t this exactly what should be pointed out the U.S. Supreme Court when deciding DOMA’s constitutionality? How many couples like this much meet the tragic consequences of homophobic immigration policies?

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Equality Texas among groups to file joint brief in marriage equality cases

EqualityTexas

Equality Texas has joined more than two-dozen statewide organizations in filing a joint amicus brief in the two marriage equality cases currently before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The “Red State Brief” is a brief supported by the Utah Pride Center, Campaign for Southern Equality, Equality federation and 25 statewide advocacy groups. It calls for the court to uphold appellate court rulings that found the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8 unconstitutional. It explains the history of anti-gay legislation in many states that degrade LGBT citizens and deny them freedoms.

“This brief calls for an end to the systemic denigration of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans,” Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith said. “The U.S. Supreme Court is being asked to consider whether all Americans are entitled to equal treatment under the law regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. The Court must answer this question with a resounding, ‘Yes, ALL Americans must be treated equally.’”

Read the brief here.

—  Anna Waugh

Scalia claims he’s never expressed his views on marriage equality

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, right, reads from his new book, ‘Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts,’ alongside SMU professor and co-author Bryan Garner. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told an audience at Southern Methodist University on Monday night that he hasn’t previously “expressed [his] views” on marriage equality or gun control.

The comment came while Scalia and SMU professor Bryan Garner were lecturing on their new book, Reading Law: Interpretations of Legal Texts. Part of the lecture focused on interpreting texts in the context in which they were written.

Garner explained that someone can personally disagree with a text but can agree on its interpretation. He explained that he and Scalia differ on gun control and marriage equality because he favors both. Scalia countered that he hadn’t expressed his views on either topic and left it at that.

Scalia’s statement seems at odds with his dissenting opinion in Lawrence v. Texas, which declared state sodomy laws unconstitutional. In the opinion Scalia wrote:

“State laws against bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality, and obscenity are likewise sustainable only in light of Bowers’ validation of laws based on moral choices. Every single one of these laws is called into question by today’s decision; the Court makes no effort to cabin the scope of its decision to exclude them from its holding.”

—  Anna Waugh

Congresswoman Johnson speaks out against more spending to defend DOMA

U.S. House Republicans’ funding of the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act continued Thursday as they authorized more spending to defend it in court.

Republicans included authorization of their efforts to defend DOMA in the Rules of the House of Representatives. Spending for DOMA’s defense has reached nearly $2 million.

Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, joined several who spoke out against the continued funding.

“House Republicans continue to demand drastic cuts to government programs at all levels under the guise of reducing wasteful spending,” Johnson said in an emailed statement. “Yet, the GOP’s decision to retain a private law firm to defend the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act is both hypocritical and a waste of taxpayer funds.  It needs to be very clear to the American people that the views of the House of Representatives are not being fully represented.”

Johnson voted for DOMA in 1996, but is now a co-sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal DOMA.

Marc Solomon, national campaign director of Freedom to Marry, and the Human Rights Campaign also issued statements.

“It’s truly disheartening that, on a day of new beginnings on Capitol Hill, the leadership of the House of Representatives is advancing a measure, through its rules, to continue spending taxpayer dollars on expensive lawyers to defend the so-called Defense of Marriage Act in court,” Solomon said. “This law has been struck down as unconstitutional 10 times, with support from judges appointed by Presidents Nixon, Reagan, and both Bushes. It’s past time for the Republican leadership to listen to their constituents, a majority of whom support the freedom to marry, and stop wasting precious resources in an effort to treat fellow Americans as second-class citizens.”

HRC’s statement is below.

—  Anna Waugh

Majority of House Democrats from Texas decline to sign brief opposing Defense of Marriage Act

Dallas Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson was among four Democrats from Texas who signed the brief opposing DOMA. Five House Democrats from Texas declined to sign the brief.

With friends like these, who need enemies?

The Texas Democratic Party may have recently added marriage equality to its platform, but obviously that doesn’t mean all or even most Democratic elected officials in the Lone Star State support the plank — or have the guts to stand up for it.

In fact, a majority of U.S. House Democrats from Texas have declined to sign a court brief opposing the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act.

Five of the nine House Democrats from Texas — the most from any state — are among 60 from across the country who declined to sign the friend-of-the-court brief filed Tuesday before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. (BuzzFeed has a list of all 60 representatives who declined to sign the brief.)

The Washington Blade reports that 132 House Democrats signed the brief, which urges the federal appeals court to strike down as unconstitutional the the 1996 law prohibiting federal recognition of same-sex marriage. The brief was filed in Golinski v. Office of Personnel Management, in which federal employee Karen Golinski is seeking benefits for her partner.

Shelbi Day, a staff attorney for Lambda Legal, which represents Golinski, told the Blade that the brief filed by House Democrats “sends a powerful message” and “underscores just how problematic and unconstitutional DOMA is.”

“As the brief points out, DOMA is not the rational result of impartial lawmaking but rather was enacted in haste with no legitimate government purpose,” Day said. “We welcome this brief and applaud the members of Congress who have signed it.”

The four Democrats from Texas who signed the brief opposing DOMA are Reps. Lloyd Doggett, Charlie Gonzalez, Sheila Jackson Lee and Eddie Bernice Johnson.

The five U.S. House members from Texas who declined to sign the brief are Reps. Henry Cuellar, Al Green, Gene Green, Rubén Hinojosa and  Silvestre Reyes. (To his credit Al Green is a co-sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal DOMA.)

In case you’re wondering, contact info for these five — and the rest of Texas’ congressional delegation — can be found here.

Read the full brief here.

—  John Wright

WATCH: Same-sex couples refuse to file taxes separately, file as married to protest DOMA

The deadline to file taxes is Tuesday, but for many gay couples the deadline isn’t the problem. Instead many couples are refusing to file separately, which they are required to do because the federal government doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage because of the Defense of Marriage Act.

A group called Refuse to Lie is telling gay couples to file together in an effort to protest the need for repealing DOMA, so they no longer have to lie about being married by filing as single.

“The federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) not only denies legally married gay couples the benefits of marriage, but we are also told to disavow our spouses and file our taxes as ‘single,’” RTL states on its website. “Across the country, legally married gay couples are taking a stand. We are refusing to lie about the fact that we are married. Taking this principled stand is not without risk and each person doing so needs to carefully consider those risks before deciding if it is a stand you are willing to take.”

The Human Rights Campaign has released an issue brief on federal taxation that explains how LGBT families are denied benefits and pay significantly more in taxes.

HRC is encouraging the public to use Facebook and Twitter to spread the message using the hashtag #gaytax and to tweet to House Speaker John Boehner (@speakerboehner) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (@ericcantor) about their stories of tax inequality in an effort to get them to stop defending DOMA.

Watch a segment on the movement from MSNBC below:

—  Anna Waugh

Congressional District 33 candidates back ENDA, DOMA repeal at Stonewall Democrats forum

Six of the 11 Democratic candidates for the U.S. Congressional District 33 seat are shown at the Stonewall Democrats of Dallas forum Tuesday, March 27. From left, state Rep. Marc Veasey, former Dallas Councilman Steve Salazar, Dallas activist Jason Roberts, former state Rep. Domingo Garcia, Dallas attorney Chrysta Castaneda and Hispanic activist Carlos Quintanilla. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

Six of the 11 Democratic candidates for the new U.S. Congressional District 33 voiced support for the LGBT community at a forum Tuesday night sponsored by Stonewall Democrats of Dallas.

The forum attracted an attendance of about 100, with dozens of people coming and going throughout and standing in the back of the Vixin Lounge at Sue Ellen’s to hear the candidates.

The district begins in southeast Fort Worth area that includes the Rainbow Lounge and cuts through Arlington and Irving before ending in North Oak Cliff.

State Rep. Marc Veasey, former state Rep. Domingo Garciaand former Dallas Councilman Steve Salazar were the three frontrunners in attendance at the forum.

Three lesser-known candidates in the race also participated: local business owner and activist Jason Roberts, Dallas attorney Chrysta Castaneda and Hispanic activist Carlos Quintanilla.

All six candidates said they support repealing the Defense of Marriage Act, in addition to passing an LGBT-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act and Student Non-Discrimination Act.

—  Anna Waugh