Prop 8 supporters still want judge disqualified

Lawyers file brief claiming Vaughn Walker’s ruling striking down gay marriage ban should be invalidated because he is gay and in a relationship with a man

Walker.Vaughn

JUDGING THE JUDGE | In this July 8, 2009 file photo, Judge Vaughn Walker is seen in his chambers at the Phillip Burton Federal Building in San Francisco, Calif. Lawyers for the sponsors of California’s voter-approved same-sex marriage ban have filed briefs with the appeals court asking that Walker’s ruling striking down Prop 8 be invalidated because he is gay. (San Francisco Chronicle, Paul Chinn/Associated Press)

LISA LEFF  |  Associated Press
editor@dallasvoice.com

SAN FRANCISCO — The sponsors of California’s voter-approved same-sex marriage ban have asked a federal court to invalidate the ruling of the federal judge who struck it down, saying the judge should be disqualified because he did not divulge he was in a long-term relationship with another man.

Lawyers for the Proposition 8’s backers filed their open brief on the issue late Monday, Oct. 3, with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. They claim that another federal judge erred when he concluded U.S. Chief Judge Vaughn Walker’s relationship status was irrelevant to Walker’s ability to fairly preside over the trial on the measure’s constitutionality.

In their brief, they argue that Walker’s impartiality can be questioned because he is “similarly situated” to the plaintiffs who sued to overturn Proposition 8, two same-sex couples in established relationships. They also said that while Walker has not indicated if he and his partner wish to marry, research presented as evidence in the trial found that two-thirds of unmarried same-sex couples would tie the knot if they could.

“Given that Judge Walker was in a long-term, same-sex relationship throughout this case (and
for many years before the case commenced), he was, in Plaintiffs’ own words, ‘similarly situated to (Plaintiffs) for purposes of marriage,’” the lawyers wrote. “And it is entirely possible — indeed, it is quite likely, according to Plaintiffs themselves — that Judge Walker had an interest in marrying his partner and therefore stood in precisely the same shoes as the Plaintiffs before him.”

Walker’s successor, Chief Judge James Ware, rejected similar arguments in late August, after the coalition of religious conservative groups that qualified Proposition 8 for the November 2008 ballot made the first attempt in the nation to disqualify a sitting judge based on sexual orientation.

Ware said the presumption that Walker could not be unbiased was “as warrantless as the presumption that a female judge is incapable of being impartial in a case in which women seek legal relief.”

In an apparent response, the coalition’s attorneys wrote that they were not suggesting that gay or lesbian judges could never preside over cases involving gay rights questions.

“We know of no reason to believe, for example, that Judge Walker would have any personal interest in the outcome of litigation over, say, the constitutionality of the military’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy,” they said. “Nor would there be any issue with a gay or lesbian judge hearing this case so long as a reasonable person, knowing all of the relevant facts and circumstances, would not have reason to believe that the judge has a current personal interest in marrying.”

The 9th Circuit already is reviewing whether Walker properly concluded the ban violates the rights of gay Californians and if Proposition 8’s sponsors were eligible to appeal his ruling once the state’s attorney general and governor declined to challenge it. A decision could come down at any time.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 7, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

What’s Brewing: Retiring anti-gay bigot Chisum says gay marriage ban was his toughest battle

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

Wendy Davis

1. The Texas Legislature begins a special session today to try to reach an agreement on a school finance plan that currently contains $4 billion in cuts, including the first reductions in per-pupil spending since the Great Depression for a state that already ranks 44th in school spending. The special session became necessary after a heroic 75-minute filibuster of the cuts on Sunday night by State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth. Davis is an LGBT ally who was succeeded on the Fort Worth City Council by Joel Burns, whom she had appointed to the city’s Plan Commission. Although the focus of the special session is school spending, other issues are likely to come up, including a proposed ban on so-called sanctuary cities that’s backed by Gov. Rick Perry. There could also be anti-LGBT legislation, such as Sen. Tommy Williams’ bill aimed at barring transgender people from marrying people of the opposite sex.

Warren Chisum

2. State Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, a longtime anti-gay leader and one of the the architects of Texas’ constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, was honored by the House on Monday as he prepares to retire from the Legislature. In an interview with the Texas Tribune, Chisum called the marriage amendment his toughest battle in 22 years. Really? Getting a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage passed in Texas was your toughest battle in 22 years? Chisum, who’s stepping aside because his district was combined with that of another Republican incumbent, says he plans to run for railroad commissioner.

3. Lt. Dan Choi was among dozens of LGBT marchers arrested Saturday during a gay Pride demonstration in Moscow. Watch video of Choi’s arrest below.

—  John Wright

Anti-gay bills dead or stalled in Iowa

Newt Gingrich

It appears that Republican efforts to force a referendum to appeal that state’s same-sex marriage equality law are dead, at least for the time being — as are a couple of other anti-gay measures.

The Des Moines Register reports that one of two resolutions being considered that would have put same-sex marriage to a referendum vote has died, and the second has stalled. A resolution that had been passed by the Republican-controlled House is effectively dead after Democrats in the Senate chose not to advance it.

A bill that would have allowed businesses to deny services or public accommodations to same-sex couples based on religious beliefs has failed, as has a second measure that would have prohibited country recorders from giving marriage licenses to same-sex couples until a referendum could be held on a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages.

Three of the Iowa Supreme Court justices who were part of a unanimous ruling in 2009 that overturned the gay marriage ban in Iowa were ousted in recall election efforts last November. A small group of Iowa House Republicans is calling for the other four justices to be impeached. They have not yet filed any articles of impeachment, the Register reports, but that could happen at any time.

In related news, other sources — including TPMMuckraker.com — are reporting that Republican former Congressman Newt Gingrich, himself a veritable bastion of traditional marriage values, helped get the justice recall effort jump-started last year in Iowa by rounding up about $200,000 to help Iowa For Freedom campaign for the recall.

Gingrich, by the way, is on his third marriage. He left his first wife for his mistress when his first wife was hospitalized and fighting for her life against cancer. Then he married the mistress, only to cheat on her with another women to whom he is now married. Gingrich is also contemplating a run for the White House in 2012; he launched a website to “test the waters” Thursday.

—  admin

Iowa House votes to overturn same-sex marriage


The Iowa House voted 62-37 today to pass a resolution that would place a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage on the ballot.

The resolution now goes to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mike Gronstal has vowed to block it. Even if it passes the Senate, the resolution would have to pass again in the next session of the Legislature before being placed on the ballot in 2013.

The proposed constitutional amendment would ban not only same-sex marriage, but also civil unions and domestic partnerships.

“The actions of the Iowa House have the potential to place families at risk,” HRC President Joe Solmonese said in a statement. “The people of Iowa deserve better from their representatives. Iowa has a proud tradition of protecting the liberties of all of its citizens and we call upon the Senate to restore that tradition.”

Watch video from Monday’s public hearing on the bill above.

—  John Wright

Gilbert, Staples square off for ag commissioner

Democratic challenger supports gay civil unions; Republican incumbent sponsored Texas’ gay marriage ban

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor nash@dallasvoice.com

Todd Staples, left, and Hank Gilbert
Todd Staples, left, and Hank Gilbert

Many LGBT people in Texas may not see the race for agriculture commissioner as a top priority. It’s not an office usually associated with having much impact on LGBT issues.

But there are clear differences this year between the two candidates when it comes to LGBT issues.

Todd Staples, the Republican incumbent, is a former state senator who co-sponsored the state’s ban on same-sex marriages when he was in the Legislature.And earlier this year, the agriculture commissioner joined with State Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, to file a brief in the court case in which two gay men married in Massachusetts and had filed for divorce in Texas.

On the other hand, Hank Gilbert, the Democrat challenging Staples, has issued supportive statements on a wide range of LGBT issues, including full support for same-sex civil unions with all the rights and benefits marriage.

“Hank Gilbert has been a friend of our community for years,” said Dan Graney, president of the Texas Stonewall Democratic Caucus. “For somebody from Tyler, Texas, I am absolutely amazed at how open and supportive of our community he is.”

In a recent telephone interview, Gilbert himself said that he has never supported same-sex marriage, “but I would support it if it were put on the ballot as a constitutional amendment. I think it should be on the ballot.”

Gilbert also criticized Staples for “taking time away from the job he was hired by the people of this state to do [as agriculture commissioner] to file a brief on a case about two men who want to get divorced. That has nothing to do with his agency. He is just trying to get support from the right-wingers.”

Graney said that while the office of agriculture commissioner is “not particularly relevant to LGBT people … Hank could make a real difference in that office with his ability and willingness to hire people in his office who would be pro-equality. He is gone clearly on the record as being pro-equality himself.”

Gilbert confirmed that as ag commissioner, he would enact a nondiscrimination policy in hiring that would include LGBT people.

“Would I discriminate in hiring based on sexual orientation? Hell no! Two of my current staffers are openly gay,” Gilbert said. “I am going to hire people who are qualified and who I feel can do the job that I and the state require of them. I could care less what color or religion or political persuasion or sexual orientation you are.”

Gilbert did disagree with Graney, however, on the question of whether the agriculture commissioner’s office is important to LGBT people.

“This job is important to everyone in Texas. We are charged with making sure the food you put on your table is safe. [Staples] has been terrible at that. We have these constant outbreaks of e coli, and there was the incident in Plainview where that salmonella-tainted peanut butter got out and killed three people,” he said.

“This agency is also charged with making sure that all instruments in the state measure accurately — gas pumps, scales at the produce counter, scales at the pawn shop. This isn’t being done, either,” Gilbert added. “These are all important to consumers in Texas, no matter what your sexual orietation is, or your religion or your ethnic background.”

Neither Staples nor any spokesperson for his campaign returned calls seeking comment for this story.

Dallas County Republican Party Chair Jonathan Neerman and Log Cabin Republicans of Dallas President Rob Schlein also did not return calls seeking comment.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 01, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Court won’t force Calif. officials to defend Prop 8

Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A California court has refused to order Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown to appeal a ruling that overturned the state’s gay marriage ban.

The 3rd District Court of Appeal on Wednesday, Sept. 1 denied a conservative legal group’s request to force the officials to defend voter-approved Proposition 8.

Presiding Justice Arthur Scotland did not explain why the appeals court turned down the request filed two days earlier by the Pacific Justice Institute.

The institute now plans to take the matter to the California Supreme Court, Chief Counsel Kevin Snider said Thursday.

“We are disappointed that the appellate court showed indecisiveness in trying to prevent a constitutional crisis,” Snider said. “They didn’t want to deal with it.”

The institute maintains the attorney general and governor have the duty to uphold all laws, including those passed by voters.

Brown has said he cannot defend Proposition 8 because he thinks it is unconstitutional; Schwarzenegger has chosen to remain neutral.

Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker struck down Proposition 8 last month as a violation of gay Californians’ civil rights.

The measure approved by 52 percent of California voters in November 2008 amended the state Constitution to outlaw same-sex unions five months after the state Supreme Court legalized them.

The state has until Sept. 11 to challenge Walker’s ruling. Both Brown and Schwarzenegger have said they don’t plan an appeal.

The coalition of conservative and religious groups that sponsored the ban has appealed the ruling by Walker. But doubts have been raised about whether its members have authority to do so because as ordinary citizens they are not responsible for enforcing marriage laws.

Twenty-seven members of the California Assembly sent Schwarzenegger a letter this week urging the governor to bring an appeal if Brown will not.

—  John Wright

Pro-gay marriage attorneys may move to recover Prop. 8 court costs

Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — The lawyers who successfully sued to overturn California’s gay marriage ban are indicating they plan to recover attorney’s fees if the verdict is upheld on appeal.

In papers filed Tuesday, Aug. 17, attorneys for two same-sex couples and the city of San Francisco asked the court to extend a deadline for seeking reimbursement from the losing side. In this case, that would be the groups that put the ban on the 2008 ballot.

Sponsors of Proposition 8 defended the ban in court after California’s governor and attorney general refused to.

Lawyers familiar with scope of the case suggest the dollar amount would be in the millions.

Plaintiffs lawyer Theodore Boutrous Jr. says it makes sense to wait until the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decides on the Aug. 4 ruling that overturned the ban.

—  John Wright