Right-wing headline of the day

We swear we don’t make this stuff up, and in this case, we can’t help but wonder whether it was intentional. Below is a screen grab of a report about last week’s gay divorce ruling from the website of the right-wing Republic Broadcasting Network. If you don’t believe us, go here. But be careful, Republic Broadcasting “received publicity in the news after one of its broadcasters was revealed to be a leader in the Guardians of the Free Republics, a Sovereign Citizen-affiliated group that had sent threatening letters to all 50 United States governors,” according to Wikipedia.

—  John Wright

Equality Texas calls gay divorce ruling ‘uninformed, outdated and homophobic’

Instant Tea is no attorney, but we can read. And having now thoroughly perused a Dallas appeals court’s gay divorce ruling from Tuesday, we’d say it doesn’t take a law degree to tell you that it’s bad — like, real bad.

The gay divorce ruling reads like an anti-thesis to U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision last month declaring Prop 8 unconstitutional. Thankfully, we can take comfort in knowing that the gay divorce ruling will have a limited impact in terms of legal precedent. And maybe, just maybe, it will serve as a helpful reminder about just how far the LGBT community has to go in places like Texas.

Anyhow, we’ll have much more about the ruling in Friday’s Dallas Voice, but for now we thought we’d share this statement sent out Tuesday afternoon by Equality Texas:

The Fifth District Court of appeals has taken the most extreme, the most conservative view possible on each issue before it. It’s not as if they wanted to just overturn the trial court’s decision, they wanted to smash it into ground and discourage anyone from ever filing a pro-LGBT suit ever again.

The ruling harkens back to a view of the world from generations past — a world where LGBT people were content to live in closets, and were afraid to demand to be treated with dignity and respect. A dignity and respect that this court goes out of its way to completely deny.

In going so far to overturn the trial court’s decision, with such an extreme opinion, the appellate court has lowered the bar for any effort to overturn its ruling:

• The Court’s view of marriage is historically inaccurate. Marriage existed in many forms, for many reasons, for many thousands of years.

• Refusal to view sexual orientation as a suspect class singled out for disparate and discriminatory treatment ignores both the entire purpose of DOMA and the anti-marriage amendment, as well as the well-documented history of discrimination, hate crimes, and statutory treatment of LGBT individuals.

• The Court’s view of same-sex relationships is uninformed, outdated and homophobic — predicating its decision upon the ability to have children naturally — thereby ignoring the thousands of Texas households raising kids with same-sex parents, or even single parent households.

• The ruling holds Texas’ laws are “rationally related to the legitimate state interest in fostering the best possible environment for procreation and child-raising.”  Evidently to the exclusion of all others, and without a shred of evidence in the record — particularly since longitudinal studies have demonstrated that same-sex parents are as good as raising kids as straight couples.

—  John Wright

Appeals court says no to gay divorce

A state appeals court in Dallas has ruled that two gay men who were married in Massachusetts cannot obtain a divorce in Texas.

The ruling came from the 5th District Court of Appeals on Tuesday in the case, In the Matter of the Marriage of J.B. and H.B.

J.B. and H.B. married in Massachusetts in 2006 and filed for a divorce in Texas in January 2009 after moving here. Massachusetts, which has allowed same-sex marriage since 2004, has a residency requirement for divorce.

In October of last year, District Judge Tena Callahan ruled that J.B. and H.B. could obtain a divorce in Texas, saying that the state’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

Callahan’s decision was immediately appealed by Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott, who argued that same-sex couples cannot divorce in Texas because the state doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage. An all-Republican, three-judge panel of the appeals court heard oral arguments in the case in April.

“We hold that Texas district courts do not have the subject-matter jurisdiction to hear a same-sex divorce case,” the panel said in Tuesday’s ruling. “Texas’s laws compelling this result do not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

Pete Schulte, a gay Dallas attorney who serves as co-counsel for J.B. in the case, issued a statement Tuesday afternoon.

“We respectfully disagree with the justices’ opinion,” Schulte said. “However, we respect the process and are evaluating our options moving forward.”

Jerry Strickland, a spokesman for the AG’s office, said in a statement: “Today’s Court of Appeals decision overruled the District Court’s improper ruling, confirmed the constitutionality of Texas’ traditional definition of marriage and correctly found that Texas courts lack the legal authority to grant divorces to same-sex couples. Because the Constitution and laws of the State of Texas define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, the Court correctly ruled that Texas courts do not have authority to grant a same-sex divorce. Further, the Court rejected the parties constitutional challenge and instead ruled that Texas’ definition of marriage is entirely consistent with the U.S. Constitution.”

Many expect case the case will be appealed to the Texas Supreme Court.

To view the full ruling, click on this link: Gay.Divorce

—  John Wright

Texas AG Greg Abbott: Judge in Prop 8 case ‘failed to do what a judge is supposed to do’

A few weeks back we wrote about how anti-gay leaders in Texas were deafeningly silent about U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker’s landmark decision declaring Proposition 8 unconstitutional. As we said at the time, this case has the potential to void gay marriage bans in all states including Texas that have passed them, so one might expect the folks who pushed through the 2005 state constitutional amendment to chime in. Our post was later picked up by Rachel Maddow. Anyhow, looks like Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who’s been fighting gay divorce tooth and nail, has finally said something about Walker’s ruling, in an interview last week with the Texas Tribune (which has seemingly become the only mainstream media outlet in the state that even pretends to care about LGBT issues). Below is a transcript of the full exchange between Abbott and the Tribune’s Evan Smith, taken directly from the first three minutes of the video. Smith asks legitimate questions but fails to follow them up and seems to let Abbott off the hook pretty darn easily. For example, Smith allows Abbott’s assertion that Baker v. Nelson is binding precedent — which is pretty far-fetched at this point — to go unchallenged. Likewise, Abbott fails to respond substantively about Ken Mehlman’s coming out or the issue of transgender marriage. Again, kudos to the Tribune for bringing up these topics, but ultimately that’s not enough — they need to do their homework and be prepared to hold people’s feet to the fire.

Smith: I want to start with a bit of news that broke yesterday afternoon, and that is about Ken Mehlman. Ken Mehlman is the former chair of the Republican National Committee. He was George W. Bush’s campaign manager in ’04, a close aide to George W. Bush over the years politically, who I think as you know announced yesterday that he’s gay, and that he intended to use that public position to campaign for gay marriage? What do you think about that?
Abbott: What do I think about Ken Mehlman?

Smith: What do you think about the Mehlman announcement and what do you think the larger significance of the Mehlman announcement is if there is any for the discourse about gay marriage in this county?
Abbott: Well it adds further discourse into the whole issue, but it doesn’t change the legal dynamics. What one person feels doesn’t change the law, doesn’t change the constitution, doesn’t change pre-existing Supreme Court precedent on the issue.

Smith: So there’s a legal issue that you addressed. Mehlman’s announcement doesn’t change that. But there’s also a political dynamic, surely you would agree, at work here?
Abbott: Well, there is a political dynamic. There’s a political dynamic that’s been in play for decades. But once again, the political dynamic is not going to rewrite the constitution. The constitution says what it says, and just because one person comes out and says, “Listen, I’m gay, I believe in same-sex marriage, doesn’t change the constitution.

Smith: And nor does necessarily the actions of a judge in California, as one did recently, holding the door open to the overturning of the proposition in California That as well is one judge’s decision and does not overall affect the issue?
Abbott: It doesn’t impact the issue. If you want to delve into the details, the reality is that that judge failed to do what a judge is supposed to do. Lower court judges are supposed to follow higher-court precedents. There is a precedent from the United States Supreme Court on this issue, in Baker v. Nelson, that is binding precedent on the lower courts unless and until the Supreme Court changes that opinion, and that binding opinion is one that doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages.

Smith: You had the opportunity recently in a case here in Texas involving a transgender individual to offer an attorney general’s opinion. This is a case where people say it may be kind of a small crack in the door, where gay marriage is actually in certain instances legal in Texas. Your office was asked to offer an opinion, and you declined to. Can you talk about that?
Abbott: First of all, we had three opportunities to weigh in legally in courts about whether or not gay marriage is legal in the state of Texas. The issue you’re talking about is the transgender issue, and that involved an issue where we got an opinion request from the county attorney in El Paso, and we rejected opining on that opinion because of current pending litigation. Now if I tell the county attorney from El Paso that I will not give them an opinion, Evan, I’m not going to give you an opinion either.

—  John Wright

If Prop 8 is really unconstitutional, you should totally be able to get a gay divorce in Texas

Pete Schulte, left, and James J. Scheske are like a gay divorce dream team.

Attorneys for a gay Dallas couple that’s seeking a divorce are citing the recent Prop 8 ruling out of California — in which a federal judge declared the state’s marriage ban unconstitutional — to bolster their case.

James J. Scheske of Akin Gump Straus Hauer & Feld, one of the attorneys representing the gay couple, filed a letter brief Aug. 18 with Dallas’ 5th District Court of Appeals. The brief cites not only the Prop 8 ruling, but also two July rulings from Massachusetts in which a federal court declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.

“Since this case was submitted, there have been significant developments in the body of law relating to the constitutional infirmity of efforts to deprive lawfully-married same-sex couples of the same benefits, responsibilities, and protections afforded all other married couples,” Scheske wrote in the brief. “This court should take heed of these decisions, which vindicate the trial court’s holding in this case that laws depriving lawfully-married same-sex couples of the right to obtain a divorce are unconstitutional.”

Scheske represents J.B. and H.B., who married in Massachusetts and are seeking a divorce in Texas.

Democratic State District Judge Tena Callahan ruled last October that J.B. and H.B. can get divorced in Texas. But Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott appealed Callahan’s decision, arguing that Texas cannot grant the divorce because the state doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage.

A three-member panel of the state appeals court heard oral arguments in the case in April. There is no deadline for the justices to rule.

Click on the link to read the full brief: J.B.’s Letter Brief-r

—  John Wright

Why haven’t these anti-gay Texas leaders said anything about Wednesday’s Prop 8 ruling?

Wednesday’s ruling in the Prop 8 case represents a potential threat to Gov. Rick Perry’s baby, 2005′s Prop 2. So why hasn’t he said anything to defend it?

Perry v. Schwarzenegger could eventually result in Texas’ same-sex marriage bans being struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. So you’d expect politicians here to be lining up to sound off about Wednesday’s watershed ruling from U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker that declared California’s Prop 8 unconstitutional. Or not.

So far, we’ve seen only two statements from Texas politicians — both in support of the ruling. Linda Chavez-Thompson, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, posted a message on Twitter on Wednesday afternoon.

“So glad to hear Prop 8 was overturned today,” Chavez-Thompson wrote. “It was discrimination at its worst. I will keep fighting for equality for all Texans.”

And Democratic State Rep. Garnet Coleman of Houston said this via-email:

“I’ve always supported marriage equality for all Americans and believe that the U.S. Constitution supports it as well. When Texas passed its constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions in 2005, I filed a constitutional amendment to let voters repeal the discriminatory amendment. I’m glad to see that our country continues to move forward. Every year, the public’s opinion on marriage equality is more supportive. The law should prohibit discrimination, not sanction it.”

Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who championed Texas’ marriage amendment, hasn’t said a word about the Prop 8 ruling other than perhaps to his wife, though he did post a statement on his website Thursday ranting about a spending bill in Congress (since when did Washington become more of a threat than the homosexuals?).

Likewise, we haven’t heard anything from Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott, who’s fighting to protect Texas from gay divorce; or Republican Ag Commish Todd Staples, who co-authored Texas’ marriage amendment and filed a brief opposing gay divorce; or Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who’s apparently more concerned about drama classes at Tarleton State University.

In fairness, we also haven’t seen statements from the likes of openly gay Houston Mayor Annise Parker, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Bill White or any of the other statewide challengers.

In the end, it appears that with a key election a few months away, most would rather simply avoid this issue altogether, which is rather telling if you ask us.

Anyhow, now that we’ve had a chance to sift through our Inboxes, we’ve posted some of the other local reactions we’ve received below.

Cece Cox, executive director, Resource Center Dallas:

“Judge Vaughn Walker’s ruling in the Perry vs. Schwarzenegger case — striking down California’s Proposition 8 as a violation of both the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment — will be remembered for its pivotal role in our march towards equality.

“In plain and direct language, Judge Walker said that “plaintiffs do not seek recognition of a new right…many of the purported interests identified by proponents [of Proposition 8] are nothing more than a fear or unarticulated dislike of same-sex couples…moral disapproval alone is an improper basis on which to deny rights to gay men and lesbians.

“But, it’s important to remember that Judge Walker’s ruling is not the last word in this fight. Forty-five states, including Texas, deny marriage to our community. The case now likely moves to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and may end up at the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Much work needs to be done. Until our relationships and families are legally recognized in all states, we are second-class citizens. Continue to have conversations with your families, friends, and co-workers about why marriage equality is important. The tide of public opinion is gradually changing in our favor, and what seemed a dream a generation ago is one major step closer to fruition.”

The Rev. Jo Hudson, senior pastor, Cathedral of Hope:

“Today [Wednesday], Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker declared the California state law that defines marriage as a union of one man and one woman unconstitutional. I applaud this ruling and believe that Judge Walker has issued a just and fair ruling that pleases God. The journey to full marriage equality for all Americans is still before us. But I have faith that the God who created each of us and called it good is with us in this journey and will see it through. As the world’s largest predominantly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender congregation, we stand with the 18,000 same-sex couples who have already been married in California and with the hundreds that have been married here at the Cathedral of Hope in our 40 years of ministry. We also stand with every gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender person who has courageously made covenant with someone they love despite the laws in our nation. This is a day of celebration and joy and we have seen the realm of God come closer to the earth and for that I give God thanks.”

Equality Texas Executive Director Dennis Coleman:

“As we stand in solidarity with Californians, we must remember that our work is far from over. The laws in Texas are not similar to California. Existing law here allows for systematic discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Texans every single day. There is much work to be done legislatively to change the laws in Texas. And in order to change the laws, we must elect public officials who will support equal treatment under the law for every Texan.”

—  John Wright

Dallas court hears gay divorce

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—  Dallasvoice

As Prop 8 trial wraps up, we're turning our attention back to Dallas' gay divorce case

Pete Schulte
Pete Schulte

With closing arguments under way in the federal Prop 8 trial today, I thought it might be a good time to check in with Pete Schulte, the attorney in Dallas’ own version of Perry v. Schwarzenegger.

After all, it’s been damn near two months since a state appeals court heard oral arguments in Schulte’s gay divorce case, known as J.B. v. H.B. And those of us who’ve signed up for the opinion notification service from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals are getting tired of scanning through the e-mails every morning. But Schulte says it could be a while before the court issues its ruling.

“Once the case is submitted to the court, we have no idea when they’re going to rule,” Schulte told me this afternoon.

—  John Wright

'That's Gay' takes on gay divorce in Texas

We’re a few days late with this one, but in case you missed it, Bryan Safi and “That’s Gay” took on the topic of same-sex divorce in Texas last week. Safi mentions how Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is fighting gay divorce for political reasons, and how attorneys for a Dallas couple that’s seeking a divorce are using the state’s marriage ban to bolster their argument. In doing so, are they throwing the marriage equality movement under the bus?

—  John Wright

Are right-wing politicians in Texas starting to realize that gay-baiting no longer works?

Attorney General Greg Abbott appears to be letting the Liberty Institute's Hiram "Sassy" Sasser, shown during yesterday's press conference, do the AG's dirty work for him.
Attorney General Greg Abbott seems to be letting people like the Liberty Institute’s Hiram “Sassy” Sasser, shown during yesterday’s press conference, do his dirty work for him. (DAVID TAFFET)

During this year’s big national gathering of conservative political activists, called CPAC, a poll found that virtually none considered “stopping gay marriage” to be one of their top priorities.

Meanwhile, three consecutive polls of likely Texas voters have found that a healthy majority — about 60 percent — support some form of relationship recognition for same-sex couples, such as civil unions.

Also recently, lesbian Annise Parker overcame appeared to benefit from vicious anti-gay attacks on her way to becoming mayor of the nation’s fourth-largest city — which happens to be in Texas.

All this seems to raise the question of whether gay-baiting or gay-bashing or whatever you want to call it is still an effective political strategy, even in the reddest of big states. Indeed, there are signs that even politicians who’ve traditionally been virulently anti-gay are calling off the dogs. Take Gov. Rick Perry, for example.

When a Tarleton State University student wanted to stage a gay-themed play for his class project last month, it was Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst — and not Perry — who issued hateful statements slamming the production. While both Perry and Dewhurst are up for re-election this year, most believe the governor’s race is the only statewide contest that a Democrat has a reasonable chance of winning.

Which also helps explain why Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples doesn’t have any qualms about being an outspoken opponent of gay divorce, even as Perry has remained completely silent about the issue — at least since issuing a statement when the Dallas case was first filed in January 2009.

Where’s Rick? As far as I can tell, he hasn’t said a word about the gays in months. His opponent, Democrat Bill White, was endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay-rights group, in early March, but I haven’t heard a peep out of Perry about it. Former Eagle Forum President Cathie Adams, who’s now chairwoman of the State Republican Party, has also been strangely silent.

And even Attorney General Greg Abbott, who initiated the challenges to gay divorce, may now be backing away from the issue just a little bit.

Indeed, Abbott appears to be letting the Liberty Institute, which should be called the Oppression Institute, do his dirty work for him. When politicians can gay-bait through a third party, they still get a boost from homophobic voters, but without the backlash from fair-minded people.

Yesterday, not only was Abbott not present, but the attorney arguing the case for his office didn’t even show up for a press conference after the gay divorce hearing. Instead, it was Hiram “Sassy” Sasser from the Liberty Institute at the microphone. Surprisingly, none of the reporters on hand questioned why in the hell the AG’s office wasn’t speaking for itself.

Of course, the canned answer would have been that the AG’s office doesn’t comment on cases that are still pending. But I’ll tell you the real reason: People like Perry and Abbott are starting to worry that gay-baiting will backfire. Four years ago, both Perry and Abbott probably would have been at the press conference themselves. But not anymore, and that’s a good sign. Now we just need some pro-LGBT politicians with enough guts to go on the offensive.

—  John Wright