Alaska Supreme Court rules in favor of survivor benefits for same-sex spouses

Screen shot 2014-07-25 at 3.43.56 PM

Kerry Fadely, left, and Deborah Harris

The Alaska Supreme Court, issuing its decision today in the case of Harris V. Millenium Hotel, ruled unanimously that the same-sex partner of a person killed on the job should have access to the protection of the state’s workers’ compensation law.

Lambda Legal filed the lawsuit on behalf of Deborah Harris, whose wife, Kerry Fadely, worked at the Millenium Hotel in Anchorage and who was shot and killed by a disgruntled former employee in 2011. Fadely was employed as the food and beverage manager at the Millennium Hotel in Anchorage, Alaska. An employee who had been fired days earlier returned to the hotel with a pistol, asked for Fadely, and shot her multiple times.

Alaska’s workers’ compensation law requires employers — or their insurance companies — to pay survivor benefits to the surviving spouses of workers who died from work-related injuries. Before today’s ruling, same-sex couples were categorically denied survivor benefits because Alaska does not legally recognize same-sex marriages.

Read the Alaska Supreme Court ruling here.

Read about the case here.

—  Tammye Nash

LGBT legal organizations withdraw support for ENDA

Five national LGBT legal organizations issued a joint statement today withdrawing their support for the current version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — ENDA — because it would allow religious organizations to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity.ENDA

Organizations signing onto the statement are: American Civil Liberties Union, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, Lambda Legal, National Center for Lesbian Rights and Transgender Law Center.

The statement reads:

“The provision in the current version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that allows religious organizations to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity has long been a source of significant concern to us.  Given the types of workplace discrimination we see increasingly against LGBT people, together with the calls for greater permission to discriminate on religious grounds that followed immediately upon the Supreme Court’s decision last week in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, it has become clear that the inclusion of this provision is no longer tenable.  It would prevent ENDA from providing protections that LGBT people desperately need and would make very bad law with potential further negative effects.  Therefore, we are announcing our withdrawal of support for the current version of ENDA.

“For decades, our organizations have challenged anti-LGBT workplace discrimination in the courts and worked for the passage of inclusive non-discrimination laws at the local, state and federal level.  We do this work because of the devastating toll workplace discrimination has had, and continues to have, on the lives of LGBT people.  It is unacceptable that in the year 2014, men and women are forced to hide who they are or whom they love when they go to work.

“The current patchwork of legal protections at the state and local level has left LGBT people vulnerable to discrimination. For this reason, we have supported federal legislation to explicitly protect LGBT people from discrimination in the workplace, and have urged President Obama to sign an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

“ENDA’s discriminatory provision, unprecedented in federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination, could provide religiously affiliated organizations — including hospitals, nursing homes and universities — a blank check to engage in workplace discrimination against LGBT people.  The provision essentially says that anti-LGBT discrimination is different — more acceptable and legitimate — than discrimination against individuals based on their race or sex. If ENDA were to pass and be signed into law with this provision, the most important federal law for the LGBT community in American history would leave too many jobs and too many LGBT workers, without protection. Moreover, it actually might lessen non-discrimination protections now provided for LGBT people by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and very likely would generate confusion rather than clarity in federal law. Finally, such a discrimination provision in federal law likely would invite states and municipalities to follow the unequal federal lead.  All of this is unacceptable.

“The Supreme Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby has made it all the more important that we not accept this inappropriate provision. Because opponents of LGBT equality are already misreading that decision as having broadly endorsed rights to discriminate against others, we cannot accept a bill that sanctions discrimination and declares that discrimination against LGBT people is more acceptable than other kinds of discrimination.

“Our ask is a simple one: Do not give religiously affiliated employers a license to discriminate against LGBT people when they have no such right to discriminate based on race, sex, national origin, age, disability or genetic information. Religiously affiliated organizations are allowed to make hiring decisions based on their religion, but nothing in federal law authorizes discrimination by those organizations based on any other protected characteristic, and the rule should be the same for sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. Religious organizations are free to choose their ministers or faith leaders, and adding protections for sexual orientation and gender identity or expression will not change that.

“These concerns are not hypothetical. Increasingly, this is what employment discrimination against LGBT people looks like. Take the example of Matthew Barrett.  In July 2013, Matthew was offered a job as food services director at Fontbonne Academy, a college prep high school in Milton, Massachusetts that is affiliated with the Roman Catholic Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston. Fontbonne Academy has employees and admits students of various faiths. Yet, two days after Matthew listed his husband as his emergency contact on the standard employment paperwork, and despite twenty years of work in the food services industry, his job offer was rescinded. Although nothing about the food services job involved religious rituals or teaching, Matthew was told by an administrator that the school was unable to hire him because “the Catholic religion doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage.” The current version of ENDA would authorize this sexual orientation discrimination.

“As the national outcry against SB 1062 in Arizona (and similar proposals in numerous other states) demonstrates, the American people oppose efforts to misuse religious liberty as an excuse to discriminate against LGBT people.  It is time for ENDA (and the LGBT non-discrimination executive order for federal contractors) to reflect this reality. Until the discriminatory exemption is removed so that anti-LGBT discrimination is treated the same as race, sex, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information under federal workplace laws, we think ENDA should not move forward in Congress. In addition, we will oppose any similar provisions at the state and local level. We are hopeful that the many members of Congress who support this historic, critically important legislation will agree that singling out LGBT people for an unequal and unfair exemption from basic workplace protection falls unacceptably short of the civil rights standards that have served our nation well against other types of discrimination for fifty years. We stand ready and eager to work with them to achieve the long-sought goal of explicit, effective federal non-discrimination protections for LGBT people.”

 

—  Tammye Nash

BREAKING NEWS: Appeals court grants stay for Sandler and Quasney

Amy Sandler and Niki Quasney

Amy Sandler and Niki Quasney

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals issued an order today compelling the state of Indiana to recognize the marriage of Amy Sandler and Niki Quasney, even though the federal district judge that struck down the state’s same-sex marriage ban last week stayed his ruling, leaving the ban in effect while the case makes its way through the appeals process. The 7th Circuit Court issued its ruling after Lambda Legal filed an emergency motion asking that the stay be lifted for Sandler and Quasney because Quasney is battling stage 4 ovarian cancer and “the family needs the dignity, comfort and protections of marriage as they fight to be together,” according to a statement just released by Lambda Legal.

The 7th Circuit Court also set an expedited briefing schedule in the base, Baskin v. Bogan, with all briefs in the case due by Aug. 5. Arguments in the case could come as early as the end of the summer, Lambda Legal officials said.

Paul D. Castillo, staff attorney with Lambda Legal, said: “It is time for the state of Indiana to leave Niki and Amy in peace and not subject them and their marriage to any more stress and uncertainty as this case proceeds. We are thrilled that the court ruled in favor of this family … . We will continue to fight until no family in Indiana needs to worry about their marriage being stripped away from them and all Hoosiers have the freedom to marry.”

The couple filed suit challenging Indiana’s same-sex marriage ban in March in the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Indiana, and Lambda Legal later filed a motion seeking immediate relief for the two women and their two children, ages 3 and 1.

Quasney was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer nearly five years ago in 2009, when she had more than 100 tumors surgically removed. Since then she has gone through years of chemotherapy to battle the disease. Quasney and Baskin have a civil union in Illinois and were married in Massachusetts last year. But they need to have their marriage recognized in Indiana, where they live, to “receive the full protections that every other married family in Indiana receives,” according to Lambda Legal representatives.

Click here to read the 7th Circuit Court’s order lifting the stay for Baskin and Quasney. Click here to see Lambda Legal’s request for an emergency order. Click here to sign the petition urging the Indiana attorney general to abandon the appeals, and click here to read more about the families and the entire case.

—  Tammye Nash

Breaking: Indiana judge strikes down marriage ban

The wedding march continues.

A spokeswoman for Lambda Legal has just announced that U.S. District Court Judge Richard L. Young has ruled Indiana’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples is unconstitutional. Lambda Legal challenged the law on behalf of five couples seeking the freedom to marry in Indiana or recognition of a marriage from another state.

Rae Baskin, left, and Esther Fuller

Rae Baskin, left, and Esther Fuller

“It is clear that the fundamental right to marry shall not be deprived to some individuals based solely on the person they choose to love,” Young wrote in his ruling, after noting that every federal district court that has ruled regarding same-sex marriage has ruled against discriminatory bans.

Young continued, “In time, Americans will look at the marriage of couples such as plaintiffs, and refer to it simply as a marriage — not a same-sex marriage. These couples, when gender and sexual orientation are taken away, are in all respects like the family down the street. The Constitution demands that we treat them as such.”

Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Paul D. Castillo said his organization is thrilled with the ruling. “Indiana now joins the momentum for nationwide marriage equality and Hoosiers can now proclaim they are on the right side of history,” he said.

Amy Sandler, one of the plaintiffs, called Young’s ruling “an awesome day for Indiana. … We are especially happy for our children because they’ll be growing up in state that values all families equally.”

Lead plaintiff Rae Baskin said she and her partner have “waited for this moment since we decided to share our lives with each other.”

Read the decision here.

Read more about the families and the entire case here.

—  Tammye Nash

LGBT officials worry Supreme Court could rule in favor of corporations in religious exemption cases

Supreme-Court(5)No one spoke about recent efforts to circumvent laws protecting LGBT from discrimination by claiming religious motivations; no one pointed out that people with religious objections to contraception often have religious objections to alternative insemination for lesbians and condom distribution for safe sex education.

But the implications of two U.S. Supreme Court cases argued Tuesday for LGBT people and for laws that seek to prevent discrimination against LGBT people were a big part of the political discourse Tuesday afternoon.

Observers of Tuesday’s oral arguments over giving religious exemptions from the Affordable Care Act to for-profit corporations all agreed the decisions will likely come down to how Justice Anthony Kennedy votes.

Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood v. HHS are lawsuits brought by the owners of for-profit commercial enterprises (not religious institutions). One owns a furniture making enterprise; the other owns both an arts and craft store and a bookstore (the latter selling Christian-oriented books).

The company owners object to the ACA’s requirement that employer health plans cover contraception.

Jenny Pizer, director of Lambda Legal’s Law and Public Policy program, said it was “no accident” that the three female justices prodded Paul Clement, the attorney representing the companies, about how allowing for-profit corporations to take a religious exemption from ACA could lead to them seeking religious exemptions to nondiscrimination laws.

Pizer said the votes of Justice Kennedy and Justice Stephen Breyer, both frequently supportive of equal protection for LGBT people, were not really predictable from the arguments. But she said her sense of how the arguments went is “deeply worrisome.” She said her sense is that the court may give certain for-profit companies — those closely held by families or small groups of people (also known as S-corporations) — the ability to claim the same sort of religious exemption to ACA that is currently afforded to religious institutions.

“If they say any for-profit can claim religious [exemptions], obviously, that’s very bad,” said Pizer. “If they say only S-corporations can have a religious exemption, that’s less bad, but it’s still bad. There are an awful lot of family-owned businesses.”

Most of the discussion in the media on Monday focused on the possibility of a ruling in favor of the for-profit corporations that could lay the groundwork for at least two slippery slopes: one where corporations would seek exemptions from more and more medical services, and one where they would seek exemptions from more and more laws.

In a discussion on MSNBC’s Now with Alex Wagner Tuesday afternoon, California state Senate candidate Sandra Fluke said companies could try to avoid paying for such things as HIV treatments “and, beyond that, to the level of what other laws could a corporation say, ‘We don’t need to comply with that because our owners have a personal objection.’ We’ve seen owners of corporations object to a whole list of nondiscrimination laws … [protecting the] LGBTQ community [and] the civil rights movement in the past. …”

Pizer noted that one of the female justices suggested that a ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga could “open up religious objections to the entire U.S. Code.”

Edith Windsor’s attorney Roberta Kaplan, on MSNBC’s Ronan Farrow Daily, said there have been efforts in the past for corporations to argue that they “didn’t want to pay Social Security or honor minimum wage or child labor laws on the grounds of religious beliefs.”

“But the court has said they have to follow laws of general application,” said Kaplan. “The implications” of the court ruling otherwise in this case, she said, “would be profound.”

Audio and written transcripts of the arguments are expected to be available by Friday at the Supreme Court website.

LISA KEEN  |  Keen News Service

—  Steve Ramos

Lambda Legal files lawsuit against city of Houston over spousal benefits

Upton.Ken

Ken Upton

Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against Houston Mayor Annise Parker and the city of Houston to ensure spouses of legally married same-sex couples will receive health benefits.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas on behalf of three city employees after a challenge to the coverage forced them to withdraw and cancel the coverage.

Parker announced last month that the benefits would be extended in light of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the federal Defense of Marriage Act. But last week, state District Judge Lisa Millard signed a temporary restraining order prohibiting the city of Houston from offering benefits to same-sex couples after the Harris County GOP chairman filed a lawsuit.

“City employees who are married to same-sex spouses are doing the same work as coworkers who are married to different-sex spouses—at the end of the day this case is about equal pay for equal work,” Ken Upton, senior staff attorney at Lambda Legal’s South Central office in Dallas, said in a statement. “These employees, some who have worked for the City for many years, acted in good faith when notified the City was extending health coverage benefits to their legal spouses.”

Noel Freeman, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit and a president of Houston GLBT Political Caucus, is an administrative coordinator with the City of Houston Public Works & Engineering Office who has worked for the city for nine years. He and his husband, Brad, have been together for more than 11 years and were married in Washington, D.C., in 2010.

“The notice from the City was like a punch in the stomach. Brad and I were so excited when we learned we could enroll him on my plan that we signed him up within an hour of finding out,” Freeman said. “And now, just a month later, they tell us they’re going to have to take it away, that once again I will be paid less than my married heterosexual colleagues for the same work. How is this fair?”

The other plaintiffs in the suit are Yadira Estrada, a Houston police officer who married her partner of seven and a half years, Jennifer Flores, in Maine in June, and Ron Reeser, a systems administrator who married his husband, Vince Olivier, in Canada in 2008 after they had been together for three years.

Upton said the city’s refusal to implement the health benefits change and offer the benefits to same-sex spouses after they signed up for coverage is unfair.

“By refusing to recognize the legal marriage of same-sex couples for the purpose of providing employment benefits, the City deprives some Houston families of a critical safety net and financial security,” Upton said. “By stripping legally married gay and lesbian city employees of spousal benefits, including health insurance coverage, the City not only inflicts severe hardship, but sends a signal that their families are less worthy than those of their coworkers. This the Constitution does not allow.”

—  Anna Waugh

Defense Secretary Hagel to Texas Guard: Process same-sex benefits

Chuck Hagel

Chuck Hagel

It’s been two months since Alicia Butler was denied federal benefits at Camp Mabry in Austin because the Texas National Guard refused to issue them to same-sex partners.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced late Thursday that he would direct national guards in every state to process benefits applications of same-sex spouses, reiterating his directive from August that spousal benefits for gay troops should be available across the country after the U.S. Supreme Court June decision against the Defense of Marriage Act.

“But several states today are refusing to issue these ID cards to same-sex spouses at National Guard facilities,” Hagel said during a speech before the Anti-Defamation League’s centennial meeting in New York City. “Not only does this violate the states’ obligations under federal law, their actions have created hardship and inequality by forcing couples to travel long distances to federal military bases to obtain the ID cards they’re entitled to.”

—  Anna Waugh

UTSA decides to give military wife in-state tuition without changing policy

UTSA

Officials at the University of Texas at San Antonio have decided to offer the wife of an Air Force captain in-state tuition after previously denying her the rate.

Officials wouldn’t discuss the reasoning behind their original decision last week, only saying they were looking into it. While the state doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage, the federal government does, and Lambda Legal said public universities that receive federal funding were required to offer military members and their families in-state tuition.

UTSA spokesman Joe Izbrand emailed Dallas Voice late last week to explain the spouse would be given in-state tuition.

“After carefully reviewing this matter, it has been determined that the student will be charged resident tuition,” he wrote in an email. “Our university is enriched through inclusiveness and diversity. We honor the service of our military personnel and recognize the sacrifices made by their families.

“Because of the complexities involved and the potential conflict between the federal statute and state law, the university will seek additional legal guidance on this issue.”

The spouse told Dallas Voice that while the policy hasn’t changed, she was informed on Friday that she would be given a $1,000 scholarship. Since students who are offered scholarships of at least $1,000 are given in-state tuition, she will now receive in-state tuition.

She said while she’s glad the issue was resolved, she hopes the policy is changed to be inclusive, so other same-sex military spouses can receive in-state tuition and she won’t worry about not receiving the rate next year if she doesn’t receive a scholarship.

“I’m bothered about it personally,” she said of the situation. “I’m bothered because it hasn’t changed the problem in the future or for next year.”

—  Anna Waugh

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

BREAKING: Galveston man withdraws lawsuit challenging TX marriage ban

gay-marriage

Domenico Nuckols has decided to withdraw his lawsuit challenging Texas’ constitutional marriage amendment after talking with legal experts about his case.

Nuckols, a retired nuclear engineer, filed the case two weeks ago and as of last week was trying to find pro bono legal representation. But he said after talking with the American Civil Liberties Union and receiving a letter on Lambda Legal’s position, he withdrew the suit Monday. The judge signed the order dismissing the case yesterday.

He said the organizations explained they had picked several states like Pennsylvania and Virginia where they thought they could win the fight for same-sex marriage. Nuckols also hasn’t tried to marry in Texas and doesn’t plan to do so, so standing could have been an issue with his case.

“It’s not the time to do it in Texas,” he said. “I don’t care if you have standing or not, it’s going to be very politicized.

“I’m disappointed but when you have so many people telling you you’re beating a dead horse, you should listen,” he added. “There’s a fight out there, but you can’t pick it in Texas.”

—  Anna Waugh