6th Circuit upholds marriage discrimination

Ruling is first at appellate level to go against equality, establishes need for SCOTUS to rule

Lisa Keen  |  Keen News Service
lisakeen@mac.com

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In a decision that will compel the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of marriage equality bans, a panel of the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled Thursday, Nov. 6, that it is not unconstitutional for a state to ban marriage licenses for same-sex couples or refuse to recognize marriage licenses such couples obtain from other states.

It is the first federal appeals court to make such a ruling, and this one reversed six lower court rulings in four states, setting it on a direct path to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Many court observers believe they know how the Supreme Court will rule: that such bans are unconstitutional. That’s because on Oct. 6, there were not even four justices willing to hear appeals in defense of such bans. And the 40-page Sixth Circuit panel decision now creates a conflict among the circuits, essentially compelling the Supreme Court to make a definitive ruling on the issue.

The 2-to-1 decision from the Sixth Circuit was what many had also predicted. The two Republican appointees — both appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush — upheld the state bans. The one Democratic appointee — a Clinton choice — voted in dissent.

Writing for the majority, Judge Jeffrey Sutton acknowledged the futility of his ruling in its second sentence: “From the vantage point of 2014, it would now seem, the question is not whether American law will allow gay couples to marry; it is when and how that will happen.”

But, echoing statements he made during oral argument in August, Sutton said the approval of same-sex marriage should be “in the hands of state voters” and that the Supreme Court’s 1972 summary dismissal of Minnesota gay couple’s appeal (in Baker v. Nelson) still binds lower courts to uphold the bans by other states.

“Respect for democratic control over this traditional area of state expertise ensures that ‘a statewide deliberative process that enable[s] its citizens to discuss and weigh arguments for and against same-sex marriage’ can have free and reasonable rein.”

As for licenses granted by other states, Sutton said, “States have always decided for themselves when to yield to laws of other states.”

Susan Sommer, Lambda Legal’s director of constitutional litigation, said her group is “extremely disappointed” and that the decision “highlights the need for the U. S. Supreme Court to right this injustice.”

Freedom to Marry President Evan Wolfson said the decision was “compeletly out of step with the Supreme Court’s clear signal last month” and “out of step with the majority of the American people.”

He also said there are at least two rational reasons for limiting marriage to heterosexual couples: One is that government “got into the business of defining marriage … to regulate sex, most especially the intended and unintended effects of male-female intercourse.”

“It is not society’s laws or for that matter any one religion’s laws, but nature’s laws [that men and women complement each other biologically], that created the policy imperative,” wrote Sutton.

“If it is constitutionally irrational to stand by the man-woman definition of marriage, it must be constitutionally irrational to stand by the monogamous definition of marriage,” Sutton wrote later in the decision.

The other reason, Sutton said, is “a state might wish to wait and see before changing a norm that our society [like all others] has accepted for centuries.” Noting that Michigan voters approved its ban just one year after same-sex marriage became possible in Massachusetts, Sutton said, “A state still assessing how this has worked, whether in 2004 or 2014, is not showing irrationality, just a sense of stability and an interest in seeing how the new definition has worked elsewhere.”

While Sutton acknowledged that there are costs to same-sex couples of denying them the right to vote, that harm “demands an answer — but from elected legislators, not life-tenured judges.”

He saw no evidence that the bans were born of animus but, rather, were motivated by “fear that the courts would seize control over an issue that people of good faith care deeply about.”

“[T]he institution of marriage arose independently of [the] record of discrimination” against gays, wrote Sutton.

Oddly, Sutton’s ruling acknowledged only 19 states and the District of Columbia as having allowed same-sex couples to marry. He did not mention that another nine states began issuing licenses to same-sex couples after the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear appeals from the Fourth, Seventh, Ninth and Tenth Circuits.

Sutton said the Supreme Court’s decision in U.S. v. Windsor, striking down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, had no impact on the panel majority’s ruling in the Sixth Circuit cases. He said Windsor hinged on DOMA’s “unprecedented intrusion into the states’ authority over domestic relations.”

Sutton said the Supreme Court’s action in denying review of the seven appeals it refused in October expressed no opinion on the constitutionality of state bans on same-sex marriage.

“A decision not to decide is a decision not to decide,” wrote Sutton.

In dissent, Judge Martha Daughtery derided the majority opinion, saying it “wholly fails to grapple with the relevant constitutional questions” and instead occupies itself with the question of “who should decide” and exhibiting a “reverence for ‘proceeding with caution’.”

“If we in the judiciary do not have the authority, and indeed the responsibility, to right fundamental wrongs left excused by a majority of the electorate,” wrote Daughtery, “our whole intricate, constitutional system of checks and balances, as well as the oaths to which we swore, prove to be nothing but shams.”

The Sixth Circuit decision and dissent was addressed in federal district court rulings in six cases involving state bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee: DeBoer v. Snyder (Michigan), Obergefell v. Hodges and Henry v. Hodges (Ohio), Bourke v. Beshear and Love v. Beshear (Kentucky), and Tanco v. Haslam (Tennessee).

The ruling represents the marriage equality movement’s second court loss since 2012 when a federal judge in Nevada ruled against same-sex couples in Sevcik v. Sandoval. The first loss was from a federal district court judge in Louisiana in Robicheaux v. Caldwell on Sept. 3.

The Fifth Circuit announced on Oct. 28 that it would hear oral arguments in the Louisiana case and one from Texas on Jan. 5.

© 2014 Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

—  Tammye Nash

2011: an ‘epic’ year for marriage equality

Gay marriage advocates saw some setbacks, but progress, especially in opinion polls, is encouraging

Wolfson.Evan

Evan Wolfson

Dana Rudolph  |  Keen News Service
lisakeen@mac.com

One leading advocate has called 2011 an “epic” year for marriage equality. But was it really?

While only one state — New York — enacted full marriage rights for same-sex couples, it was the most populous state to have done so thus far.

Five other states also moved closer to marriage equality than ever before. Public opinion shifted dramatically toward supporting equality. And the Obama administration announced that it no longer considers a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act constitutional.

On the negative side, however, three states failed to pass marriage equality bills that had been introduced in their legislatures, and two states passed bills to put measures on their ballots in 2012 that will seek to ban marriage for same-sex couples under their state constitutions.

Despite the negatives, Evan Wolfson, president of the national Freedom to Marry group, said in an interview that 2011 was “an epic year of real transformation.”

Successes
On the federal level, Attorney General Eric Holder wrote a letter to Congress in February, stating that the administration believes Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional and that the federal Justice Department will no longer defend the law in court.

Section 3 of DOMA states that the federal government will not, for any federal purposes, recognize the marriages of same-sex couples.

Holder’s letter said the administration believes laws disfavoring persons based on sexual orientation should have to pass the most stringent judicial review — heightened scrutiny. And he said the administration would argue so in two cases challenging DOMA in the 2nd Circuit.

LGBT legal advocacy group Lambda Legal, in its December “State of the Law 2011” report, called Holder’s letter “game changing.” Wolfson said it represented “an immense historical shift.”

Another sign of this shift, Wolfson said, was the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the military’s ban on openly gay servicemembers. DADT repeal will help fuel the marriage equality effort, Wolfson said, “because Americans are now going to see the women and men serving our country as openly gay members of couples and openly gay members of families.”

On the state level, the biggest win in 2011 came in New York, where lawmakers passed a marriage equality bill in June. When Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Dem., signed the bill, he doubled the percentage of same-sex couples living in states that allow them to marry.

New York is also the only state to have passed marriage equality through a Republican-led legislative chamber, its state Senate.

Cuomo.Andrew

Andrew Cuomo

Cuomo, by adding his vocal support to the bill, “put his political capital on the line,” Wolfson said. His success prompted Politico.com to call him a “national contender” and leader of the Democratic Party’s progressive base.

The Washington Post said his triumph made him “a first among equals when it comes to the jockeying for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.”
Wolfson said, “The freedom to marry went from being a perceived and presumed ‘third rail’ that politicians ran from to now being a pathway to political gain.”

Five other states came closer to marriage equality than ever before. Maryland for the first time passed a marriage equality bill out of a legislative chamber, its Senate, although the measure fell short of winning in the House. And Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois and Rhode Island each passed civil union legislation.

Setbacks
But there were disappointments, too.

In Colorado, a civil unions bill was killed on a party-line vote in the Republican-led House  Judiciary Committee, after passing the Democrat-controlled Senate.

And in Rhode Island, the civil unions bill disappointed many because a bill for full marriage equality had been on the legislature’s agenda. It was dropped after it failed to gain enough support, despite large Democratic majorities in both chambers and  Independent Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s promise to sign it.

LGBT groups were also disappointed with a provision in Rhode Island’s civil unions bill providing extensive exemptions on religious grounds for those who don’t wish to recognize those unions. Chafee himself said the civil unions law “fails to fully achieve” the goal of providing same-sex couples with equal rights.

In the courts
Two states saw progress in lawsuits that could lead to marriage equality. In New Jersey, marriage equality advocates have sued the state, claiming that the state’s existing civil unions laws do not provide them with full equality — an equality the state Supreme Court said in October 2006 is guaranteed by the state Constitution.

In California, a three-judge panel of the federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments Dec. 8 on procedural matters related to the case to determine the constitutionality of Proposition 8, the state’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples. Regardless of the outcome, the case will almost certainly be appealed to the full 9th Circuit court and/or the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ups and downs in states
Three states successfully played defense in 2011.

Iowa, New Mexico and Wyoming held firm against attempts to pass bills for ballot measures that sought to ban marriage for same-sex couples under their state constitutions. If passed, Iowa’s bill would have taken away the right to marry that same-sex couples gained in 2009.

But there were some clear setbacks in 2011 as well.

North Carolina and Minnesota passed bills for ballot measures in 2012 that seek to ban marriage for same-sex couples under the state constitutions. And Indiana and Pennsylvania started the process for such ballot measures, which could see further action in 2012.

In Maine, however, LGBT advocates gained enough signatures to place a measure in favor of marriage equality before voters on the 2012 ballot — although advocates in California and Oregon decided to postpone such attempts and continue to build support.

These ballot measures could be impacted by what was perhaps the most significant win in 2011: a shift in public opinion towards support for marriage equality.

The polls
Support for marriage equality nationwide rose about 1 percent per year between 1996 and 2009, but jumped to a rate of 5 percent per year in 2010 and 2011, according to a July analysis of over a decade’s worth of polling data by Joel Benenson, President Barack Obama’s lead pollster, and  Jan van Lohuizen, President George W. Bush’s lead pollster.

Freedom to Marry commissioned the study.

The average level of support for marriage equality was 41 percent in 2009, but 51 percent in 2011, based on four leading national polls — CNN-ORC International, Gallup, Pew and Washington Post-ABC News.

This change is driven in part by “overwhelming generational momentum,” Wolfson explained, with almost 70 percent of voters under 40 supporting marriage equality.

But the analysis also concluded that since 2006, support has risen 15 percent among seniors, 13 percent among Independents and 8 percent among Republicans.

Additionally, it found that marriage equality supporters now hold their views as strongly as opponents, which was not the case in the past.

“The politics of the freedom to marry have changed dramatically, as has public support,” said Wolfson.
All told, he said, the events of 2011 mean that “We now have real wind in our sails as we go forward.”

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 16, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Cast set for Dustin Lance Black’s ’8′

Dustin Lance Black

The American Foundation for Equal Rights & Broadway Impact have added actors to the lineup of Dustin Lance Black’s world premiere play 8. Bob Balaban, Larry Kramer, John Lithgow and Bradley Whitford are among the celebrities joining the staged reading, which takes place at a one-night-only event on Sept. 19. They join the previously announced cast that includes Anthony Edwards, Morgan Freeman, Cheyenne Jackson, Christine Lahti, Rob Reiner, Yeardley Smith and Marisa Tomei. They will play historical figures, including Judge Vaughn Walker, attorneys David Boies and Theodore Olson, and Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry.

The  play chronicles the historic trial in the federal legal challenge to Prop 8, California’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. It is based on the actual transcripts of the lawsuit. Black, who won an Oscar for his screenplay for Milk, has been widely active in gay rights causes.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Is NY the Stonewall of marriage equality?

Activists in other states look to capitalize on momentum

DANA RUDOLPH | Keen News Service

Hundreds of same-sex couples married in New York on Sunday, the first day they could legally do so. And just as the Stonewall Riots in New York City in 1969 gave a lift to the nascent movement for equal rights for gays across the country, marriage equality in the Empire State appears to be giving a boost to marriage equality efforts outside its borders.

Activists in at least two states (Maine and Colorado) are pushing for 2012 ballot measures to seek marriage equality there, a lawsuit has been launched in New Jersey for full marriage rights, and in Maryland, a Democratic governor is prepared to follow the example of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, also a Democrat, in leading the state legislature to marriage equality.

With the addition of New York, the percentage of same-sex couples living in states that allow them to marry has now more than doubled—from 6.9 percent to 14.3 percent, according to an analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2009 American Community Survey by the Williams Institute of UCLA.

And the percentage of the U.S. population living in a state that allows same-sex couples to marry has more than doubled, from 5.1 to 11.4 percent, according to Census 2010 and the Williams Institute.

“Having New York end marriage discrimination is a turning point for the country,” said Evan Wolfson, executive director of the national Freedom to Marry group, in an essay on the group’s Web site June 27, three days after Cuomo signed a marriage equality bill into law. “The world watches New York, and, as New Yorkers say, if we can make it here, we’ll make it anywhere.”

Wolfson noted that passage of the bill in New York was the first time a legislative chamber with a Republican majority — the state Senate — had “voted to advance a bill to end marriage discrimination, and Republican senators provided the winning margin.” He called the bipartisan vote “a major shift in the national political calculus for both parties” that “points the way to more victories.”

The New York Legislature was also the first to pass a marriage bill without first passing civil unions or domestic partnerships, Wolfson said.

In New Jersey, which allows same-sex couples to enter civil unions, but not marriages, Steven Goldstein, the chair of the LGBT advocacy organization Garden State Equality, said in a statement June 24 that “the victory in New York, and its choice of marriage equality over civil union inequality, set the stage for our continuing fight for marriage for same-sex couples in New York’s sister state just a mile away.”

Four days after the New York bill became law, Garden State Equality and Lambda Legal, a national LGBT legal group, filed a lawsuit in a New Jersey Superior Court in Trenton on behalf of seven same-sex couples. They argue that the state’s existing civil union laws do not provide the couples with full equality—an equality the state Supreme Court said, in October 2006, is guaranteed by the state constitution.

Garden State Equality also held a rally on July 24, the first day of the New York marriages, at a New Jersey park closest to New York, with a view of the Manhattan skyline across the Hudson River.

In Maryland, where a marriage equality bill passed the state House but failed to pass the Senate in March, Gov. Martin O’Malley seems now to be following the example of Cuomo, saying he will take a more active role in pushing for marriage equality next session.

Cuomo, whom Freedom to Marry’s Wolfson called the “indispensable champion” of the New York bill, had worked closely with marriage equality advocates and sent the initial version of the marriage bill to the Legislature. He then met with legislative leaders to work out a final version of the bill that addressed some lawmakers’ concerns about additional protections for religious groups and the charities and educational institutions they operate.

Maryland’s O’Malley announced July 22 that he would sponsor marriage equality legislation in the 2012 legislative session. He tasked his director of legislative affairs, Joseph Bryce, with coordinating efforts among a broad coalition of LGBT, civil rights, and faith-based groups, as well as people across the state.

O’Malley said at a press conference that the law provides equal protection and the free exercise of religion to all, adding “Other states have found a way to protect both of these fundamental beliefs.”

And in Maine, the executive director of Equality Maine, Betsy Smith, said in a statement June 28 that the “victory in New York generates wind in the sails of the national movement to win marriage, and more specifically, of our efforts here in Maine.”

EqualityMaine and Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) announced June 30 that they are taking steps to place a citizen’s initiative on the November 2012 ballot, asking Maine voters to approve a law giving same-sex couples the right to marry. The move comes after a referendum in November 2009 overturned a marriage equality law passed by the legislature and signed by Governor John Baldacci (D) in May 2009.

Colorado may also see a question on its 2012 ballot to approve marriage equality. The state Title Board on July 20 approved language for such a question. Supporters of marriage equality must now collect 86,105 signatures in order to place it on the ballot.

Similar measures could also appear in California and Oregon.

An exception to the trend comes in Minnesota, where the legislature has approved a ballot question that seeks to ban marriage of same-sex couples under the state constitution. It is already banned under state law. The same could happen in North Carolina, where the legislature is considering bills for such a ballot measure.

Cuomo, in a press conference after he signed the marriage equality bill, called New York “a beacon for social justice,” noting that the movements for equally for women, for protection of workers, for preservation of the environment, and for equality of gays each have roots in New York.

“New York,” he said, “made a powerful statement, not just for the people of New York, but the people all across this nation.”

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

—  John Wright

Gay-rights foes try to play the victim

Anti-LGBT groups now claim they’re the ones being bullied

DAVID CRARY  |  Associated Press

NEW YORK — As the gay-rights movement advances, there is increasing evidence of an intriguing role reversal: Today, it is the conservative opponents of that movement who seem eager to depict themselves as victims of intolerance.

To them, the gay-rights lobby has morphed into a relentless bully, pressuring companies and law firms into policy reversals, making it taboo in some circumstances to express opposition to same-sex marriage.

“They’re advocating for a lot of changes in the name of tolerance,” said Jim Campbell, an attorney with the conservative Alliance Defense Fund. “Yet ironically the tolerance is not returned, for people of faith who don’t agree with their agenda.”

Many gay activists, recalling their movement’s past struggles and mindful of remaining bias, consider such protestations by their foes to be hollow and hypocritical.

“They lost the argument on gay people, and now they are losing the argument on marriage,” said lawyer Evan Wolfson, president of the advocacy group Freedom to Marry. “Diversions, scare tactics and this playing the victim are all they have left.”

He added: “There’s been a shift in the moral understanding of people: that exclusion from marriage and anti-gay prejudice is wrong. Positions that wouldn’t have been questioned in the past are now being held up to the light.”

Among the recent incidents prompting some conservatives to complain of intolerance or political bullying:

• Olympic gold medal gymnast Peter Vidmar stepped down as chief of mission for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team in May following controversy over his opposition to gay marriage. Vidmar, a Mormon, had publicly supported Proposition 8, the voter-approved law passed in 2008 that restricted marriage in California to one man and one woman.

• After coming under fire from gay-rights groups in April, the Atlanta-based law firm King & Spalding pulled out of an agreement with Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives to defend the federal ban on same-sex marriage.

• In New York, state Sen. Ruben Diaz, a Democrat from the Bronx, New York City, contends he has received death threats because he opposes legislation to legalize same-sex marriage. The alleged threats were cited last week by the New York State Catholic Conference, which also opposes gay marriage.

“We are unjustly called ‘haters’ and ‘bigots’ by those who have carefully framed their advocacy strategy,” wrote the conference’s executive director, Richard Barnes. “The entire campaign to enact same-sex marriage is conducted under a banner of acceptance. … Yet behind that banner of tolerance is another campaign — of intimidation, threats and ugliness.”

• Apple Inc. recently withdrew two iPhone apps from its App Store after complaints and petition campaigns by gay-rights supporters.

One app was intended to publicize the Manhattan Declaration, a document signed in 2009 by scores of conservative Christian leaders. It condemns same-sex marriage as immoral and suggests that legalizing it could open the door to recognition of polygamy and sibling incest.

The other app was for Exodus International, a network of ministries which depict homosexuality as a destructive condition that can be overcome through Christian faith.

In both cases, gay activists celebrated the apps’ removals, while the apps’ creators contended their freedom of expression was being unjustly curtailed.

“The gay-rights groups have shown their fangs,” wrote Chuck Colson, the Watergate figure turned born-again Christian who helped launch the Manhattan Declaration. “They want to silence, yes, destroy those who don’t agree with their agenda.”

Exodus International president Alan Chambers, who says he changed his own sexual orientation through religious counseling, said he was alarmed by the aggressive tactics of “savvy gay activists.”

“We have seen individuals, ministries and even private corporations that dare to hold to a biblical worldview on sexuality bullied into a corner,” Chambers wrote in a blog.

However, Wolfson said the Exodus app deserved to be removed. “They were peddling something that’s been repudiated as crackpot quackery.”

The campaign that pressured King & Spalding to withdraw from the Defense of Marriage Act case was criticized by a relatively wide range of commentators and legal experts, not just conservative foes of gay marriage.

“To think it’s a good idea to attack lawyers defending unpopular clients; I don’t have words for how stupid and wrong that is,” said Wendy Kaminer, a lawyer and writer who formerly served on the board of the American Civil Liberties Union.

However, the gay-rights activists involved in pressuring King & Spalding were unapologetic.

“If we made it such that no law firm would defend the indefensible, then good for us,” said Fred Sainz, the Human Rights Campaign’s vice president for communication. “When you have people talking about the fact that it’s no longer politically correct to be anti-equality, it’s a show of progress.”

Sainz said it was important for activists to pick their targets carefully.

“We understand there are goodhearted Americans in the middle who are still struggling with these issues,” he said. “Different activists have different ways of getting to the same end, and some of those are bound to make certain people feel uncomfortable.”

Though same-sex marriage is legal in only five states, it has for the first time gained the support of a majority of Americans, according to a series of recent national opinion polls. For some gay activists, this trend has fueled efforts to make their opponents’ views seem shameful.

“Their beliefs on this issue are very quickly becoming socially disgraceful, much in the way white supremacy is socially disgraceful,” wrote Evan Hurst of the advocacy group Truth Wins Out. “They are certainly entitled to cling to backwoods, uneducated, reality-rejecting views, … but their ‘religious freedom’ doesn’t call for the rest of us to somehow pretend their views aren’t disgusting and hateful.”

However, some gay-rights supporters see the public opinion shift as reason to be more magnanimous.

“The turn we now need to execute will be the hardest maneuver the movement has ever had to make, because it will require us to deliberately leave room for homophobia,” Jonathan Rauch, a writer and guest scholar at the Brookings Institution, wrote recently in The Advocate, a gay-oriented newsmagazine.

“Incidents of rage against ‘haters,’ verbal abuse of opponents, boycotts of small-business owners, absolutist enforcement of anti-discrimination laws: Those and other `zero-tolerance’ tactics play into the ‘homosexual bullies’ narrative,” Rauch wrote. “The other side, in short, is counting on us to hand them the victimhood weapon. Our task is to deny it to them.”

As ideological foes spar over these issues, the American Civil Liberties Union is confronted with a delicate balancing act. Its national gay rights project battles aggressively against anti-gay discrimination, but, as a longtime defender of free speech, the ACLU also is expected to intervene sometimes on behalf of anti-gay expression.

For example, the ACLU pressed a lawsuit on behalf of the fundamentalist Westboro Baptist Church, which has outraged mourning communities by picketing service members’ funerals with crudely worded signs condemning homosexuality. The ACLU said the Missouri state law banning such picketing infringes on religious freedom and free speech.

Some critics, such as Wendy Kaminer, have contended that the ACLU now tilts too much toward espousing gay rights, at the expense of a more vigorous defense of anti-gay free speech.

However, James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s gay rights project, said the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment protects free speech but comes into play only when a government entity is seen as curtailing speech rights, which did not occur in the Vidmar or King & Spalding cases.

“What we have there is simply the push and pull in public policy discourse … which is sometimes rough and tumble,” Esseks said. “Being stigmatized for expressing unpopular views is part of being in a free society. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Robert George, a conservative professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University and one of the co-authors of the Manhattan Declaration, shared Esseks’ view on the often sharp-elbowed nature of public debate in America.

“Democratic politics is a messy business and sometimes it’s a contact sport,” said George, a co-founder of the National Organization for Marriage, which campaigns against same-sex marriage. He suggested that those who hold cultural power, in academia, the media and elsewhere, inevitably are going to try to impose their viewpoints.

“The power to intimidate people, to make them fear they’ll be called a bigot or denied opportunities for jobs, only works if people allow themselves to be bullied,” George said. “Conservatives who make themselves out to be victims run the risk of playing into the hands of their opponents, suggesting that their opponents’ cultural power is so vast that there’s no way it can be resisted.”

To professional free-speech advocates, such as Joan Bertin, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship, the gay rights vs. free expression cases are fascinating and often difficult.

“It’s very volatile — it requires you to parse the issues very closely,” she said. “I’m of the school of thought that you should know your enemy. You need to know what people are thinking.”

—  John Wright

New York may be next to legalize gay marriage

Evan Wolfson

Rhode Island considering civil unions; efforts under way in 6 states to ban gay marriage

DANA RUDOLPH | Keen News Service
lisakeen@mac.com

The openly gay sponsor of a marriage equality bill in Rhode Island said last week he would push for a civil unions bill instead, setting off a slew of criticism from LGBT groups.

Six states are considering legislation that would ask voters to amend their state constitutions to ban recognition of any legal relationships for same-sex couples. And all this was on the heels of a dramatic loss for a marriage equality bill in Maryland in March.

Has the state legislative fight for marriage equality lost momentum?

Not according to Evan Wolfson, executive director of the national Freedom to Marry group.

“Both Rhode Island and Maryland are very much still in play,” said Wolfson. “. . . The fact that we don’t win it exactly on the day we want . . . doesn’t change the overall momentum that is strongly in our direction.”

The “highest priority” right now, said Wolfson, is New York. He said he is “very hopeful” a marriage bill that is expected to pass the New York State Assembly, which is under Democratic control, will also pass the Senate, where Republicans hold a 32-to-26 majority.

Wolfson acknowledges the Senate may be more difficult. While a marriage equality bill passed the Assembly three times in the past four years, an attempt to pass it in the Senate in 2009 failed by 14 votes.

New York Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican who opposes marriage equality, has nevertheless said he would let a marriage equality bill come to the floor.

And several recent polls show that a majority of voters in the state support marriage equality. A Siena College poll April 11 showed that 58 percent of New Yorkers support it, with 36 percent opposed. An April 14 Quinnipiac poll showed 56 percent support, with 38 percent opposed, and a New York Times estimated projection on the same date also showed 58 percent support.

Additionally, two dozen New York business leaders, including Lloyd C. Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, and John Mack, chairman of the board of Morgan Stanley, on April 28 issued an open letter arguing that legalizing marriage for same-sex couples would help the state attract talent and remain competitive.

“Winning New York would really be transformative,” said Wolfson, “because New York has enormous cultural and political leadership in the United States and in the world.”

Freedom to Marry and several other LGBT advocacy groups — the Empire State Pride Agenda, the Human Rights Campaign, the League of Women Voters, the Log Cabin Republicans and Marriage Equality New York — have formed the New Yorkers United for Marriage coalition, which is coordinating efforts to lobby for the marriage equality bill this session, which adjourns in June.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has expressed strong support for passing such a bill this year, has asked members of his staff to work with the coalition.

In Rhode Island, openly gay Democratic House Speaker Gordon Fox, a sponsor of that state’s marriage bill, said in a statement April 27 that “there is no realistic chance for passage of the bill in the Senate,” and that he will not move forward with a vote in the House.

But the Providence Journal newspaper also reported that Fox said he did not have the votes to pass the bill even in the House, where Democrats hold 65 seats to Republicans’ 10.

Fox instead introduced a bill for civil unions on Tuesday, May 3, and said he is “optimistic” that the bill could pass both chambers this session.
But Fox’s decision has not gone over well with LGBT groups.

Marriage Equality Rhode Island, which supports full marriage, held a rally at the State House to protest Fox’s decision to drop the marriage equality bill. Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, and others, issued statements criticizing Fox’s decision and calling it “completely unacceptable.”

“Nothing short of marriage is equality for Rhode Island’s gay and lesbian citizens and their children,” said Karen Loewy, a GLAD senior staff attorney. “More to the point, civil unions tell gay people and their kids that they are second-class citizens and that their families matter less than other families.”

Wolfson called Fox’s decision a “miscalculation.” He noted that polls show a majority of support among voters, that Rhode Island already recognizes marriages of same-sex couples performed elsewhere, and that nearby Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont all began with civil unions and have moved to full equality.

Similar to Rhode Island, marriage equality supporters never had a clear majority in Maryland either, even with the support of Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat. The bill passed the Senate in Maryland, but on March 11, the House voted unanimously to send the bill back to committee.

But in Maryland, several LGBT groups, including Equality Maryland, the leading state organization behind the bill, expressed approval for the move.
Wolfson noted, however, that Maryland was “within a couple of votes” of passage. With “a little more time to make the case and organize,” he thinks achieving equality could happen in early 2012.

Meanwhile, three states have enacted civil union laws this year — Delaware, Hawaii and Illinois. Wolfson said that, while civil unions are not the true goal, they still “sometimes can be a stepping stone.”

Camilla Taylor, marriage project director for Lambda Legal, agreed, saying that civil unions “are an important step forward” in states where same-sex couples have no benefits or protections. She added that Lambda is “often very involved,” as it was in Illinois, in drafting such legislation.

But Lambda also brought a suit before the New Jersey state Supreme Court claiming the state’s civil union law did not provide full equality. The court last June refused to hear the case, saying it must first go through the trial court process.

Taylor said she could not say whether Lambda would be filing any further cases to contest civil unions, noting that it is important in each state to first “develop a record of the ways in which it harms people to deny them equal access to marriage.”

Six states — Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Washington — also have active legislation that would ask voters to amend the state constitutions to ban marriage, and in some cases, recognition of any legal relationships, such as civil unions for same-sex couples.

New Mexico and Wyoming both considered but did not pass such bills this year. Wyoming also rejected a bill that sought to prevent the state from recognizing marriages and civil unions of same-sex couples from other jurisdictions.

Washington state has seen a mish-mash of marriage-related bills. The state already allows same-sex couples to register as domestic partners and, on Feb. 14, bills were introduced in both chambers of the legislature for marriage equality.

On April 5, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, a Democrat, signed a bill to recognize legal relationships of same-sex couples from other jurisdictions as domestic partnerships. But there is also a bill in the House that would ask voters to ban marriage for same-sex couples under the state constitution.

Democrats have a majority in both chambers.

The situation in New Hampshire is also mixed. A House committee voted March 3 to table a bill that would repeal the state’s existing marriage equality law, thus postponing further consideration until January 2012.

But opponents of marriage equality have said they will also introduce a bill next year seeking to ask voters in November 2012 to approve amending the state constitution to ban marriage for same-sex couples.

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

—  John Wright

Log Cabin Republicans share the Hilton Anatole with the right-wing Heritage Foundation

A recorded message from Dallas GOP Congressman Pete Sessions is played during the Log Cabin Republicans National Convention earlier today. More pics after the jump.

It was an interesting scene over at the Hilton Anatole today. Downstairs in the massive Atrium, where I found myself lost at least once, a conservative D.C.-based think tank called the Heritage Foundation was hosting a convention featuring tables sponsored by groups like the “Alliance for School Choice” and “Online for Life.”

Meanwhile, upstairs on the mezzanine in smaller conference rooms, the gay GOP group Log Cabin Republicans was quietly holding its National Convention. And when Dallas GOP Congressman Pete Sessions creepily appeared on the projector to deliver a recorded welcome message during Log Cabin’s lunch program, I couldn’t help but wonder if I might be in the wrong room.

After all, though, these two groups would probably agree on a lot of issues — limited government, strong national defense, etc. They just happen to disagree on one rather big one — the gays — and ultimately I guess that’s what Log Cabin is all about.

“There are a lot of Republican legislators who believe like we do,” GOP Maryland Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, who’s straight, told Log Cabin during the lunch program. “We just have to convince them it’s OK. They’re scared.”

—  John Wright

Sheriff Lupe Valdez, a Democrat, on why she’s going to the Log Cabin Republicans Convention

Sheriff Lupe Valdez

The Log Cabin Republicans will hold their National Convention in Dallas this coming weekend, and we’ll have a full story in Friday’s print edition. But because the convention actually begins Thursday, we figured we’d go ahead and post the full program sent out by the group earlier this week.

Perhaps the biggest surprise on the program is a scheduled appearance by gay Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, who is of course a Democrat.

Valdez, who’ll be one of the featured speakers at a Saturday luncheon, contacted us this week to explain her decision to accept the invitation from Log Cabin (not that we necessarily felt it warranted an explanation). Here’s what she said: 

“We have more things in common than we have differences, but it seems like in politics we constantly dwell on our differences,” Valdez said. “If we continue to dwell on our differences, all we’re going to do is fight. If we try to work on our common issues, we’ll be able to accomplish some things.”

On that note, below is the full program. For more information or to register, go here.

—  John Wright

Appeals court grants stay of Prop 8 ruling

LISA KEEN  |  Keen News Service

A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals issued an order Monday granting Yes on 8’s request for a stay of Judge Vaughn Walker’s ruling that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional. The appeals court panel also ordered, without being asked, that Yes on 8’s appeal of Walker’s ruling in Perry v. Schwarzenegger be addressed by the court on an expedited basis.

The panel said it would hear arguments on appeal during the week of Dec. 6, as well as arguments concerning whether Yes on 8 has legal standing to press the appeal.

The two-page order is a disappointment to many same-sex couples in California who were hoping that they would be able to obtain marriage licenses as soon as Judge Walker’s stay expired — at 5 p.m. Pacific time on Wednesday.

“We are very gratified that the Ninth Circuit has recognized the importance and pressing nature of this case and the need to resolve it as quickly as possible by issuing this extremely expedited briefing schedule,” said Ted Olson, one of the lead attorneys for plaintiffs challenging Proposition 8.

Olson, one of the most prominent conservative attorneys in the country, launched the high-profile challenge of California’s voter-approved constitutional ban on same-sex marriage with liberal attorney icon David Boies. Walker, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for Northern California (San Francisco), heard three weeks of testimony by the plaintiffs and Proposition 8 supporters in January.

In a dramatic 136-page ruling on Aug. 4, Walker declared the same-sex marriage ban in the state constitution violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process. Walker agreed to stay — or delay enforcement — of his decision until Aug. 18, giving the 9th Circuit time to decide whether to grant a more extended appeal.

Evan Wolfson, who was a lead attorney on the first same-sex marriage case — in Hawaii in 1996 — called the 9th Circuit panel’s decision to continue Walker’s stay “disappointing.”

“But there are many twists in the road to justice,” said Wolfson, “and we are encouraged by the court’s setting a fast pace for the appeal, revealing that the judges understand how important a quick end to the exclusion from marriage is to gay couples, their loved ones, and all Americans who believe in equality under the law.”

The 9th Circuit panel includes two Clinton appointees — Judges Sidney Thomas and Michael Hawkins — and one Reagan appointee, Edward Leavey.

The panel set Sept. 17 as the date Yes on 8’s initial argument brief is due.

The response brief from the Ted Olson-David Boies legal team challenging Proposition 8 is due Oct. 18. And Yes on 8 may reply to plaintiffs’ brief by Nov. 1.

Monday’s order means the same-sex marriage ban will stay intact at least until December, when the 9th Circuit will hear arguments on both the issue of Yes on 8’s standing to appeal and, perhaps, on the merits of Walker’s decision.

Meanwhile, on the East Coast, where U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Tauro ruled — in two separate cases — July 9 that the ban on federal benefits to same-sex couples is unconstitutional, the clock is still ticking down the 60 days the U.S. Department of Justice has to appeal the decisions to the 1st Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

© 2010 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

—  John Wright

Argentina legalizes gay marriage

Argentinian president supports bill that passed the Senate

Rex Wockner  |  Wockner News Service wockner@panix.com

PROTESTING THE INEVITABLE | Members of Catholic groups protest outside Argentina’s Congress against a same-sex marriage bill in Buenos Aires on Tuesday, July 13. On Thursday, July 15, senators voted to pass the measure, making Argentina the first Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriage. (Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press)

Argentina legalized same-sex marriage in the early morning hours of Thursday July 15, with a 33-27 vote in the Senate, with three abstentions. The vote came at 4:05 a.m.

The Chamber of Deputies had approved the bill in May, and President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner strongly supports it.

“The bill has passed. It is law. The executive power will be notified,” the Senate president said as the vote was displayed on an electronic board in the chamber.

The debate lasted nearly 15 hours.

“The result sparked euphoria among the [LGBT] activists who, despite the polar wave that grips the city, held a vigil in the Plaza of the Two Congresses,” said Buenos Aires’ Clarín newspaper after the vote.

The website of Argentina’s main gay political group, la Federación Argentina LGBT, was kicked off the Internet and replaced with a “Bandwidth Limit Exceeded” notice.

Evan Wolfson, head of the U.S. group Freedom to Marry, applauded the vote. “Today’s historic vote shows how far Catholic Argentina has come, from dictatorship to true democratic values, and how far the freedom to marry movement has come, as 12 countries on four continents now embrace marriage equality,” he said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 16, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas