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

Gay weddings become reality in Hawaii with new law

imagesHONOLULU (AP) — Six same-sex couples tied the knot in Hawaii early Monday, moments after a law granting them the right to do so took effect in the state often credited with starting the national gay marriage debate.

Even more couples watched and waited their turn at the Waikiki resort.

Across town, an openly gay Unitarian minister wed his partner of 15 years in a ceremony attended by clergy who pushed for the new law, plus Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who called the special legislative session that led to the law.

“It’s about making that commitment to the person that I want to spend the rest of my life with,” said Saralyn Morales, moments after cutting a small wedding cake after marrying her partner, Isajah Morales.

Hawaii’s gay marriage debate began in 1990 when two women applied for a marriage license, leading to a court battle and a 1993 state Supreme Court decision that said their rights to equal protection were violated by not letting them marry.

That helped lead Congress to pass the federal Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, which denied federal benefits to gay couples. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the act this year.

An additional 14 states and the District of Columbia also allow same-sex marriage. Illinois was the 16th state to legalize it, and the law takes effect June 1.

Hawaii’s marriage laws allow couples to register for a license and be married the same day, a process conducive for tourists only in the state a short time.

Couples can sign up for a license online, then be verified by any license agent throughout the state. Agents have set up shop throughout the islands, from resorts on Maui and the Big Island to hard-to-reach places on Kauai.

—  Steve Ramos

Mississippi judge refuses to grant gay couple a divorce

images-1JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A Mississippi judge on Monday refused to grant a divorce to a lesbian couple who got married in California, saying the marriage wasn’t recognized under state law, according to the woman who filed and her lawyer.

Lauren Beth Czekala-Chatham, who filed for the divorce in September in north Mississippi’s DeSoto County, said in a telephone interview Monday that the judge seemed sympathetic and that she plans to appeal the ruling.

Czekala-Chatham, a 51-year-old credit analyst and mother of two teenage sons from an earlier straight marriage, said she was “a little bit disappointed.”

“I would have liked to have had the divorce, but either way he ruled, it was going to be appealed,” she said.

Democrat Attorney General Jim Hood’s office had argued that Mississippi can’t grant a divorce in a marriage it doesn’t recognize. Hood’s office said in a motion to intervene on Nov. 15 that Mississippi “has no obligation to give effect to California laws that are contrary to Mississippi’s expressly stated public policy.”

—  Steve Ramos

WATCH: A 13-year-old uses his Bar Mitzvah speech to champion gay marriage

A 13-year-old Jewish boy championed for equality and same-sex marriage during his Bar Mitzvah speech recently. Duncan Sennett spoke at a synagogue in Oregon, a state that where gay marriage isn’t legal, and eloquently unravels the arguments used against equality.

Watch his video:

—  Steve Ramos

WATCH: Sen. Ted Cruz talks gay marriage, Obamacare with Jay Leno

Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz appeared on The Tonight Show Friday night, discussing his public image, Obamacare and gay marriage with host Jay Leno.

Leno jumped right in, asking Cruz during his late-night debut about his unflattering image during his 10 months in Washington.

“I’ve been reading a lot about you lately,” Leno said, “and they describe you as aggressive, arrogant and abrasive. Accurate?”

“I don’t know that you can believe everything you read,” Cruz said. “You know, what I’m trying to do is do my job. And occasionally people don’t like that.”

Leno later touched on Obamacare and how the 25 percent of uninsured Texans must want the coverage, but Cruz countered with it wouldn’t help people who have insurance keep their plans and would hurt jobs.

Asked if he’s against gay marriage, Cruz said, “I support marriage between one man and one woman. But I also think it’s a question for the states. Some states have made decisions one way on gay marriage. “Some states have made decisions the other way. And that’s the great thing about our Constitution, is different states can make different decisions depending on the values of their citizens.”

Leno then brought up Cruz’s father, Dallas-based pastor Rafael Cruz, who’s made headlines recently for saying that the goal behind gay marriage is to destroy the traditional family in order to pave the way for communism.

“My father is a pastor. He’s a man of deep integrity and you know, some folks have decided to try to go after him because they want to take some shots at me,” Cruz said. “… I think the critics are better off attacking me. My dad has been my hero my whole life.”

A University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll released last week found that 32 percent of Texas Republicans favor Cruz as the GOP presidential nominee in 2016. As for other possible nominees, 13 percent of Texas Republicans favor Jeb Bush and Chris Christie, 10 percent favor Rand Paul, 6 percent favor Bobby Jindal, and 5 percent favor Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan.

Watch the three-part interview below.

—  Dallasvoice

Additional states turn away National Guard spouses, one reverses itself

MilitaryPartnerMore states are following Texas’ lead and refusing to process ID cards for same-sex spouses of National Guard troops, American Military Partner Association reports, but one state reversed course.

Indiana and South Carolina joined Texas this week in sending same-sex spouses of National Guard troops to federal facilities to register. Both states accept applications from opposite-sex spouses.

But after further legal review, Indiana reversed itself and again began taking applications at National Guard bases.

“We applaud the Indiana National Guard for doing the right thing,” said Stephen Peters, president of AMPA. “We urge other state national guards who are refusing to comply with the Defense Department directive to process all spouses for federal benefits to immediately follow suit.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., ranking member of the House Armed Service Committee, wrote to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel asking him to intervene.

Louisiana, Oklahoma and Mississippi also began signing up all spouses but then stopped after Texas turned away applicants. In Texas, Alicia Butler was turned away from Camp Mabry on the first day same-sex spouses could sign up for IDs and is now being represented by Lambda Legal’s Dallas office.

—  David Taffet