Houston couple wins ACLU same-sex wedding contest

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A Texas couple is among the five winners of the national American Civil Liberties Union’s Big Gay (Il)legal Wedding contest.

Jeff Robertson and Jeremiah Pyant of Houston were one of 23 same-sex couples from the Lone Star State vying for the chance to win $5,000 toward their dream wedding. Contestants had to live in state like Texas where same-sex marriage is prohibited to be eligible to enter.

Pyant, a flight attendant, and Robertson, an ad executive, met four years ago aboard a plane that Pyant was working on. They got engaged in December and want to marry aboard a hot air balloon taking off from Texas and flying over New Mexico, where the marriage will be legal.

Winners were chosen out of the top 25 couples that received the most votes. ACLU told The Associated Press nearly 200,000 votes were cast for the 400 entries since the contest’s December launch.

After the contest began, more court rulings in favor of same-sex marriage started coming out of states, including a decision in Texas back in February.

“As soon as we entered the contest, the court decisions started coming out,” said Jeff Robertson. “We’re living a civil rights movement right before our eyes.”

James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project, said the wedding contest highlights the type of problems faced by gay couples in the nearly 30 states where marriage-equality lawsuits have been filed.

“We live in this crazy time, with a patchwork of protections, where you can go across the border and get married,” he said. “The problem is that when you turn around and go back, you’re not going to be considered married by your home states. That’s not the way it should work in America.”

—  Anna Waugh

Greg Abbott comes out for same-sex marriage in April Fool’s news story

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Greg Abbott

As if anyone would believe the Texas Attorney General and GOP gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott would back same-sex marriage, some Texans may have thought he had done just that on Tuesday.

In a post by the Burnt Orange Report, Abbott is quoted as saying he’s decided to support his old friend Mark Phariss and partner Victor Holmes. The couple is suing the state of Texas for the right to marry in the Lone Star State along with a lesbian couple form Austin.

“I had an epiphany this morning when I looked at myself in the mirror,” Abbott told The Associated Press, according to the story. “I thought, ‘Gosh, Mark (Phariss) and Victor (Holmes) make such a cute couple. They’ve been happily in love for over 16 years now. It’d be such a shame if I were the person standing between their love and the true happiness of all other LGBT couples in Texas.’

“Look, this whole governor gig thing may not play out as smoothly as I thought it would, with me seriously offending someone new every week. I just don’t want to be forever known as that guy who stood against the love of his long-time friend and the rest of the thousands of LGBT couples in Texas simply looking to be treated like everyone else. That sounds like the bad guy in a James Cameron movie.”

Abbott’s support would indeed be a surprise to say the least. He’s been a staunch defender of the state’s 2005 a same-sex marriage amendment and intervened in the divorce case of a Dallas couple, preventing them from receiving a divorce. The case, and one of a lesbian couple in which Abbott’s office intervened in after the divorce was granted, is pending a decision at the Texas Supreme Court.

Perhaps a more believable April Fool’s story would be that Gov. Rick Perry came out. But then that’s already true, according to a book by former out state Rep. Glen Maxey.

—  Anna Waugh

Overturning Texas marriage amendment

About 50 people gathered at the Legacy of Love monument in Oak Lawn after the anti-gay marriage amendment was declared unconstitutional on Feb. 26.

—  David Taffet

Judge to Kentucky: Start recognizing same-sex couples’ marriage licenses

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Judge John Heyburn

A federal judge in Kentucky on Thursday ordered the state to recognize marriage licenses obtained by same-sex couples from other states.

U.S. District Court Judge John Heyburn, a nominee of George H.W. Bush, issued the final order on a ruling he made February 12. There were two questions at issue in the Bourke v. Beshear case. Heyburn said the state’s refusal to recognize valid licenses obtained in other states violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. Today’s order instructs the state how to comply with that ruling: Start recognizing marriage licenses of same-sex couples.

Heyburn still must rule on whether the state’s refusal to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples is constitutional. Attorneys on both sides are submitting briefs on that issue, and a ruling could come in a few months.

If either or both questions are appealed, the case will go before the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Another case testing state bans, one from Ohio, is already petitioning the 6th Circuit.

Heyburn did not respond to the state’s request that he stay his order. If the state appeals to a higher court for a stay, Dan Conway, attorney for the plaintiff couples, has said he will oppose it.

LISA KEEN  |  Keen News Service

—  Steve Ramos

BREAKING: Federal judge strikes down Texas ban on gay marriage, postpones action pending appeal

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THEIR DAY IN COURT | Plano couple Vic Holmes, far left, and Mark Phariss and Austin couple Cleopatra DeLeon and Nicole Dimetman in court Feb. 12. (Photo courtesy of Randy Bear)

A federal judge declared Texas’ ban on gay marriage unconstitutional Wednesday, but left it in place until an appeals court can rule on the case, U.S. News & World Report reported.

Judge Orlando Garcia issued the preliminary injunction after two gay couples challenged a state constitutional amendment and a longstanding law. He said the couples are likely to win their case, and the ban should be lifted, but said he would give the state time to appeal to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals before do so.

“Without a rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose, state-imposed inequality can find no refuge in our United States Constitution,” Garcia wrote. “These Texas laws deny plaintiffs access to the institution of marriage and its numerous rights, privileges, and responsibilities for the sole reason that Plaintiffs wish to be married to a person of the same sex.”

The ruling is the latest in a series of victories for gay rights activists following similar decisions in Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia.

But this was the first time a court in the conservative 5th Circuit has reached such a decision. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott was expected to file an expedited appeal.

“Today’s ruling by Judge Garcia is a huge victory that moves Texas one step closer to the freedom to marry,” said Equality Texas executive director Chuck Smith. “The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Windsor made it clear that animus or moral disapproval is not an acceptable justification for denying any American their constitutional right to equal protection of the law. We are gratified to see Judge Garcia uphold the Constitution of the United States and declare that Texas’ restrictions on the freedom to marry are unconstitutional and unenforceable. We anxiously await the day when the United States Supreme Court will reach the same conclusion.”

Mark Phariss and Victor Holmes filed their federal civil rights lawsuit saying Texas’ ban unconstitutionally denied them the fundamental right to marry because of their sexual orientation. Cleopatra De Leon and Nicole Dimetman filed a lawsuit saying Texas officials were violating their rights by not recognizing their marriage conducted in a state where gay marriage is legal.

“In granting today’s order, Judge Garcia’s decision relies heavily on the Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v. Windsor and is rooted in law and fairness,” Resource Center CEO Cece Cox said. “It also confirms what we in the LGBT community have known for nearly a decade; the additions to the Texas Constitution and the Texas Family Code, which many fair-minded Texans fought against when it was put to the state’s voters as Amendment 2 in 2005, are discriminatory and violate the United States Constitution.”

Attorneys for the state argued that Texas voters had imposed the ban through a referendum and that Texas officials were within their rights to defend marriage traditions.

“This is an issue on which there are good, well-meaning people on both sides,” a statement by Abbott’s office reads. “And, as the lower court acknowledged today, it’s an issue that will ultimately be resolved by a higher court. Texas will begin that process by appealing today’s ruling to the Fifth Circuit. Because the judge has stayed his own decision, his ruling has no immediate practical effect. Instead, the ultimate decision about Texas law will be made by the Court of Appeals or the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled over and over again that States have the authority to define and regulate marriage. The Texas Constitution defines marriage as between one man and one woman. If the Fifth Circuit honors those precedents, then today’s decision should be overturned and the Texas Constitution will be upheld.”

Another gay couple has filed a separate lawsuit in federal court in Austin. In that case, two men argue that the ban discriminates against them based on their gender. That case is scheduled for a hearing later this year.

Read the ruling below.

Order on Preliminary Injunction

—  Steve Ramos

BREAKING: Federal government to expand recognition of same-sex marriage

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Mark Jiminez, center, and his husband, Beau Chandler, spoke at a GetEQUAL TX marriage rally in Fort Worth on Saturday.

When Dallas LGBT activist Mark Jiminez said “hope is on the horizon” at a GetEQUAL TX marriage rally in Fort Worth on Saturday, he didn’t know how close that horizon was.

Within minutes after the rally disbanded, the Los Angeles Times reported that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. will issue a directive Monday expanding government recognition of same-sex marriages to all federal courtrooms and prisons, and some federal benefits programs.

The new policy, which Holder plans to announce Saturday night at a gay rights dinner in New York City, means the Justice Department will not object if gay or lesbian partners refuse to testify against their spouses in federal criminal and civil cases, and will push for them to be accorded the same rights in bankruptcy court as other married couples.

These privileges will be extended to same-sex couples even in states that do not recognize their marriages as long as they were legally married in another state.

FULL COVERAGE: Gay marriage in the Supreme Court

Same-sex marriages also would be recognized for some federal programs, including one that provides death benefits to surviving spouses of police officers and firefighters who are injured or killed in the line of duty, as well as the compensation fund for victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

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Cd Kirven, regional state leader for GetEQUAL TX, spoke at a marriage rally Saturday in Fort Worth.

While the changes may not affect large numbers of people, the gay advocacy community views them as another important step in the growing movement toward gender-based equality since the Supreme Court issued two rulings last June that expanded the rights of gay couples.

“While the immediate effect is that all gay married couples will be treated equally under the law, the long-term effects are more profound,” said Fred Saintz, vice president for communications at the Human Rights Campaign, which Holder will address Saturday night. “Today, our nation moves closer toward its ideals of equality and fairness for all.”

According to Holder’s prepared remarks, the government will take the position that married same-sex couples should be eligible to file jointly for bankruptcy and receive the same protections in bankruptcy court as other married couples.

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About a dozen people gathered in Fort Worth on Saturday for a GetEQUAL TX marriage rally.

Married same-sex couples in federal prisons will receive the same visitation privileges as other married inmates under the new policy. They also may be eligible for furloughs or even compassionate release in the case of a crisis involving their spouse.

Holder will remind the audience that he is the first African-American attorney general, and that his predecessors played a key role in the civil rights movement five decades ago.

“As all-important as the fight against racial discrimination was then, and remains today, know this: My commitment to confronting discrimination based on sexual orientation runs just as deep,” Holder will say, according to the advance text.

In Dallas County, the first black district attorney also drew upon the mistreatment of minorities as a catalyst to establish an LGBT Task Force that will work to eliminate discrimination in the judicial system. Dallas County DA Craig Watkins said Friday he “was disappointed to hear that many victims of domestic violence or hate crimes were afraid to speak out because they feared lack of a law enforcement response.”

Those sentiments of working for equality boomed from Cd Kirven, regional state leader of Get EQUAL TX, during Saturday’s rally.

“This is a country founded on principles bigger than religion,” she said to the dozen people who gathered. “It’s religious slavery to say I can’t marry the person I love, by telling me who I have to marry. And we have the nerve to point our fingers at Sochi. Marriage equality is coming, but we have to keep fighting for it.”

The marriage rally was held as a show of support for a marriage lawsuit filed by a Plano and Austin couple in San Antonio federal court. A hearing for a temporary injunction to prohibit state officials from enforcing Texas’ marriage ban takes place Feb. 12.

—  Steve Ramos

Virginia gay marriage class action lawsuit gets certified by federal judge

marriage-scales-of-justiceA federal judge in western Virginia has certified as a class action a lawsuit filed by two Shenandoah Valley couples challenging the state’s ban on same-sex marriages, Reuters reported.

Friday’s order adds to growing momentum to end the state’s prohibition of same-sex marriage, with Virginia’s new attorney general saying his office will no longer defend the ban.

U.S. District Court Judge Michael Urbanski said in the order that same-sex couples seeking to marry in the state as well as those married in states where gay marriage is legal could challenge Virginia’s ban as a group.

Lawyers for the couples who filed the lawsuit estimate there are about 15,000 same-sex households in Virginia, based on U.S. Census data.

The lawsuit seeks a declaratory judgment striking down Virginia’s same-sex marriage laws and a permanent injunction barring their enforcement.

At the request of two same-sex couples involved in a parallel lawsuit in federal court in Norfolk, Urbanski’s order excludes them from the class action to avoid interfering with their case.

Attorney General Mark Herring, a Democrat, said his decision not to defend the ban was aimed at putting Virginia “on the right side of history” and ending its legacy of opposing landmark civil rights rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Republicans in Virginia’s House of Delegates, who have threatened to impeach Herring, are trying to push through a bill that would permit them to hire their own counsel to defend the marriage ban. But even if approved, the bill would probably be vetoed by the Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe.

The Virginia attorney general’s decision not to defend the ban follows two Supreme Court rulings last year.

One struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, a law that denied federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples.

The other paved the way for gay marriage to resume in California. But those rulings did not address whether state bans on same-sex marriage were constitutional.

In 2006, 57 percent of Virginians voted in favor of the state’s constitutional amendment prohibiting same sex marriages.

But a poll released last October by Virginia’s Christopher Newport University showed that 56 percent of likely voters opposed the ban, and 36 percent favored it.

Seventeen states plus the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriage, including eight states where it became legal in 2013. Thirty-three ban gay couples from marrying by state constitutional amendment, statute or both.

—  Steve Ramos

Indiana House approves same-sex marriage ban

UnknownThe Indiana House on Tuesday approved a proposal to change the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage. The vote on House Joint Resolution 3 was 57-40.

The bill now goes to the state Senate.

Marriage equality supporters scored an important victory Monday, potentially thwarting the effort to put the ban on marriage for same-sex couples on the Indiana ballot this November. But during debate on the bill Tuesday, Rep. Shelli VanDenBurgh (D-Crown Point) said she thinks the amendment to remove language that would have also banned civil unions and domestic partnerships was just a tactic to give some Republicans political cover. She predicted the state Senate would reinsert the language taken out of the House bill, and the full original bill would be ultimately passed.

The Republican-dominated House voted 52 to 43 to remove language from the proposed ban that would have prevented same-sex couples from obtaining any form of recognition for their relationships, including civil unions and domestic partnerships. Some opponents said it could even have prevented employers from offering equal benefits to employees with same-sex partners.

During Tuesday’s debate, Rep. Woody Burton (R-Whiteland), who described himself as a “person of faith,” said gay couples can live together but “where does it stop?”

“These people want to live a lifestyle, that’s their right,” said Burton, “but when they force some type of an object on us, then people have a right” to vote.

VanDenBurgh (D-Crown Point) responded to that later by noting that the proposed ban was singling out one group of people. “Where does that stop?” she asked.

Rep. Linda Lawson (D-Hammond) recounted the discrimination she experienced when she sought to become the first woman on her local police force. She said she was forced to wear a man’s police uniform because her supervisor told her that her trying to be on the police force was “trying to be a man.”

“Discrimination is an ugly, mean thing,” said Lawson.

If the Senate passes the version of the bill approved by the House, then the proposal will have to be approved by the next legislative session before going to voters.

The state’s constitution requires that, before a proposed constitutional change can be put before voters, it must pass two consecutive sessions of the Legislature.

If the senate restores the original language, the House would have to agree to that original version in order to put the measure on the ballot this year.

LISA KEEN  |  Keen News Service

—  Steve Ramos

Gay son of Indiana GOP lawmaker ‘terribly disappointed’ father voted for marriage equality ban

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Milo Smith

Indiana’s House Elections and Apportionment Committee advanced a constitutional ban on marriage equality last week, voting 9-3 along party lines. Now, the gay son of the Republican committee chair who successfully pushed the measure through, state Rep. Milo Smith, is speaking out, saying he’s “terribly disappointed” by what his father did, The Huffington Post reported.

Chris Smith first posted his thoughts on the Facebook page of the LGBT advocacy group Indiana Equality on Saturday, three days after his father’s committee passed the ban.

“I’m not here to badmouth my dad,” he wrote. “I’m terribly disappointed in his decision and beliefs, but he’s not going to change them now if he hasn’t after all these years of knowing I am gay. I am here to support you and my friends who remain in Indiana. They are my extended family.”

On Sunday, he wrote another post on his own Facebook page that read, “My stand puts me in clear conflict with my own father, who is a state legislator and has voted to pass the resolution out of his committee and onto the full House for a vote.”

In an interview with Nuvo, an alternatively weekly publication in Indianapolis, Chris Smith said he resides in California and is in a domestic partnership. He said overall, he felt “really sad.”

“I’m embarrassed. I’m really disgusted by the whole thing. I’m confused as to what I should do,” he said, noting his father had not given him a heads up about the legislation or how he would vote.

When asked for comment, Tory Flynn, a spokeswoman for Indiana state House Republicans, said she spoke with Milo Smith after his son’s post went up.

“He stated that he loves his son very much, and this is a personal issue,” she said.

The House Elections and Apportionment Committee was never even supposed to vote on HJR-3, which would amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage. The measure was originally set to receive a vote in the House Judiciary Committee, but after backers realized there weren’t enough votes for it to pass — several Republicans had expressed concerns — House Speaker Brian Bosma (R) moved the measure at the last minute to Smith’s committee, which was considered more conservative.

HJR-3 is now in the hands of the full chamber, and a vote could come as soon as Monday. The Indianapolis Star polled the 100 members of the state House on where they stand on the legislation and found the body is now evenly split between supporters and opponents, with a quarter of the chamber still undecided.

Same-sex marriage is already illegal in Indiana; HJR-3 would simply enshrine the ban in the state constitution. Once the bill passes out of the House, it would need to clear the Senate before going before the public as a ballot measure.

—  Steve Ramos

Same-sex marriage begins in Australia but may end by this weekend

Canberra mapSame-sex couples began to marry in Australia on Saturday, but those marriages may not last more than a week.

The Australian Capital Territory that includes the capital city Canberra legalized same-sex marriage. The federal government is challenging the law.

The High Court is scheduled to rule on the legality of the law on Dec. 12. Even if the court allows the marriages to stand, the Parliament could then pass legislation making the marriages illegal. The current prime minister was elected on an anti-marriage platform.

Despite that, couples traveled from around the country to the capital to marry.

One of the arguments against same-sex marriage is one that hasn’t been used by opponents in the U.S. and is one of the most logical. They argue that making marriage legal in one state and not others is confusing.

Opponents in Parliament argue that same-sex marriage will mean same-sex parenting that will involve taking a child from its biological parents to give to same-sex couples.

“Same-sex marriage means same-sex parenting,” said Australian Christian Lobby spokesman Lyle Shelton. “That means necessarily taking a child from its biological mother or father and giving it to someone else.”

They don’t explain why those perfect heterosexual parents will be losing or giving up their children just so same-sex couples can be parents.

A marriage equality bill came up twice in Parliament last year but didn’t pass.

—  David Taffet