More bad news from Election Night: 3 Iowa judges who backed marriage equality are defeated

Tena Callahan

Among the Democrats in Dallas County who hung on to their seats on Tuesday was State District Family Court Judge Tena Callahan, who in 2009 boldly declared Texas’ bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. Callahan defeated Republican opponent Julie Reedy by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent, and her landmark decision didn’t appear to have hurt her at all at the polls.

However, the news was not so good for three Supreme Court judges in Iowa who ruled in favor of marriage equality in 2009. The three were all defeated in retention elections on Tuesday, after being targeted by the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage.

NOM spent $600,000 on TV ads and a 45-county bus tour targeting the Iowa justices. Despite their defeat, though, LGBT groups noted that same-sex marriage remains legal in Iowa.

“By their own admission, NOM’s Iowa strategy was about sending a warning shot to judges nationwide,” Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said in a statement. “NOM and its secret donors will continue to target judges around the country if they rule in favor of marriage equality and will foster an anti-gay, hostile environment in the process.”

Lambda Legal, which brought the lawsuit that resulted in the Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, had this to say about the result:

“Let’s be clear about what happened in Iowa and what didn’t happen: Three skilled jurists lost their jobs, but the Court’s ruling in the case allowing same-sex couples to marry is still the law of the land, enshrined in the Iowa Constitution. Same-sex couples continue to marry in Iowa. Antigay groups have lost on the big issue — equality — and they are attacking our courts for protecting it.

“This spiteful campaign is a wake-up call to future voters who must resist attempts to politicize the courts. It is the responsibility of us all to protect the system of checks and balances that defines our democracy, and it continues to be our responsibility at Lambda Legal to make our case for equality, not just before judges, but in the court of public opinion.

“We are angry, but we also take the long view: The Iowa Supreme Court delivered justice that will outlast this political fight by upholding the Iowa Constitution’s guarantee of equality for all Iowans. Seven jurists were posed a question by people who had been denied basic fairness guaranteed by the state constitution. The judges did their jobs with integrity – as they must.

“But the result in Iowa shines a light on a dangerous agenda to undermine the democratic system of checks and balances that has served us well for over 200 years. If an embattled judiciary were to lose its ability to protect our laws and constitution with impartiality, that would be a tragic loss for our country. We can’t let that happen.”

—  John Wright

Reid: Senate will take up DADT repeal next week

John Wright  |  Online Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Monday, Sept. 13, that he plans to bring to the floor next week the 2011 defense spending bill that includes an amendment to repeal “don’t ask don’t tell.” But it remains unclear whether there are enough votes to break a possible Republican filibuster of the bill or stave off unfriendly amendments.

Reid’s plan, first reported by The Washington Blade, represents a major breakthrough for repeal advocates, who fear that if the Senate doesn’t take up DADT repeal next week, it may not happen for several years.

Anti-repeal Republicans are widely expected to pick up seats in mid-term elections, and some senators have indicated they would consider only a temporary defense spending bill during the lame-duck session at the end of this year.

“We are both pleased and relieved that Sen. Reid has decided to schedule the defense authorization bill for floor time next week,” said Alexander Nicholson, founder and executive director of Servicemembers United. “We are fairly confident that we will have the 60 votes to break a filibuster of this bill. It would be shameful for lawmakers to vote to hold up an important and expansive piece of legislation like the defense authorization bill simply because of their opposition to one or two provisions within it.”

Servicemembers United and other groups advocating for DADT repeal had launched a major push in recent weeks, pleading with people to call their senators and urge them to take up the bill. Monday’s announcement comes on the heels of a federal judge’s landmark decision last week declaring the military’s ban on open service unconstitutional, as well as some high-profile DADT repeal advocacy from the likes of Lady Gaga.

“We applaud the Senate Majority Leader’s courage and his statement to bring the defense bill to the floor. Now, we must deliver,” said Aubrey Sarvis, Army veteran and executive director for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. “Repeal proponents may well need 60 votes in the Senate to get to this important debate in September.  We are now in the final stretch and we must prevail. Repeal supporters should not stop calling their senators. Sen. John McCain has been a strong and vocal opponent from the start and it is critical that we beat back any filibuster threat, defeat attempts to strike repeal, and defeat any crippling amendments.”

The House passed the defense authorization bill, including Rep. Patrick Murphy’s DADT repeal amendment, in May. Even if the Senate passes the bill, the policy wouldn’t be repealed right away. After the Pentagon completes a study of the impacts of repeal, due Dec. 1, the president, the defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff must certify that repeal won’t hurt military readiness.


—  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