TEXAS MARRIAGE UPDATE: Paxton asks Texas Supreme Court to stay, overturn Herman’s ruling

Ken Paxton

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced today (Wednesday, Feb. 18) that his office has intervened in the Travis County probate case following Judge Guy Herman’s ruling that Texas’ ban on marriage equality is unconstitutional.

Paxton, representing the state, has asked the Texas Supreme Court to stay Herman’s ruling and to overturn it.

In a written statement issued by his office, Paxton said: “Texas law is clear on the definition of marriage, and I will fight to protect this sacred institution and uphold the will of Texans, who voted overwhelmingly in favor of a constitutional amendment defining the union as between one man and one woman. The probate judge’s misguided ruling does not change Texas law or allow the issuance of a marriage license to anyone other than one man and one woman.”

Paxton — referred to, by the way, as “General Paxton” in the statement released by his office — failed to note that Herman is the second judge in Texas to declare the marriage ban unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia did so a year ago, in Feburary 2014. That case is currently before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Paxton’s statement was issued about an hour and a half after Equality Texas issued a statement calling on Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir to begin issuing licenses to same-sex couples — something DeBeauvoir has said she will not do until she gets clarification from the federal courts.

But because Herman is a probate judge, his ruling will be appealed through the Texas state courts, not through the federal court system, as Garcia’s ruling.

 

—  Tammye Nash

TEXAS MARRIAGE UPDATE: Equality Texas calls on DeBeauvoir to start issuing marriage licenses

Dana DeBeauvoir

Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir

A day after a Travis County probate judge issued a ruling striking down Texas’ ban on legal recognition of same-sex marriages, Equality Texas today (Wednesday, Feb. 18) is calling on Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples immediately.

But according to a spokeswoman in DeBeauvoir’s office, the county clerk will not issue those marriage licenses until she gets the go-ahead from the federal courts.

DeBeauvoir had previously said she was ready to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples as soon as the courts would allow. After Judge Guy Herman issued his ruling Tuesday, DeBeauvoir said she needed to meet with Herman and county lawyers to “find out if there is anything I can do [in terms of issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples]. Right now, I think it’s no, but we are checking.”

Chuck-Smith

Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith

But Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith said today that Herman’s ruling makes marriage equality the law in Travis County. “The law in Travis County now allows for marriage equality. Equality Texas calls upon the county clerk to stand with us — on the right side of history,” Smith said.

The written statement issued by Equality Texas also noted: “Just as the Supreme Court may issue a marriage ruling this summer that applies to all 50 states, and just as the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals may issue a marriage ruling any day now that applies to the 5th Circuit, Judge Herman has issued a ruling that has the effect of law in Travis County.”

The spokeswoman in DeBeauvoir’s office, who identified herself as Angela Vallejo, said today that “nothing has changed” since the county clerk’s statement yesterday. “We have to wait for the federal courts” to settle the question, she said. “As soon as they approve it, I am sure we will begin issuing the licenses.”

Getting a license in Travis County

If — or rather, let’s say when — DeBeauvoir’s office begins issuing licenses to same-sex couples, here are a few rules you need to know:

• The Travis County Clerk’s Office is located at 5501 Airport Blvd. in Austin.

• The cost to get a marriage license is $81 if you pay cash, $84 if you pay with a credit card. Checks are not accepted.

• Both parties have to present a valid ID; both parties have to know their Social Security numbers, and both parties must be at least 18 years old. (Those under 18 must have a parent or guardian with them to give permission.)

• Marriage licenses expire 90 days after they are issued.

• Those obtaining marriage licenses have to wait 72 hours to get married, unless they have a waiver from the court.

The status of marriage equality in the courts

Herman’s ruling came as part of an estate fight in which Austin resident Sonemaly Phrasavath is seeking to have her eight-year relationship to Stella Powell designated as a common-law marriage. Powell died last summer of colon cancer, and after her death, her siblings attempted to step in to claim her estate.

According to the Equality Texas statement issued today, Herman’s ruling finds “that the restrictions on marriage in the Texas Family Code and in the Texas Constitution that restrict marriage to the union of a man and a woman and prohibit marriage for same-sex couples are unconstitutional because the restrictions violate the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“Contrary to [DeBeauvoir’s] position previously stated in the media, this ruling in fact allows her to immediately issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Travis County,” the statement declares.

“Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir previously stated she would be happy to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples once the law allows for it.” Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith said.

Herman’s ruling yesterday came a year, to the month, after U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia ruled in federal court that the Texas same-sex marriage ban violates the U.S. Constitution. Garcia declined plaintiffs’ request late last year to lift the stay on that order and allow same-sex marriages to begin in Texas. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on that case and two others — one from Louisiana and one from Mississippi — on Jan. 9, and could rule in that case any day. Plaintiffs in the Texas case last week asked the Fifth Circuit to lift the stay allow gay and lesbian couples to begin marrying in Texas right away.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments on four marriage equality cases out of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in April, and to issue a ruling in June. The court is widely expected, as this time, to strike down all same-sex marriage bans in the U.S.

 

 

—  Tammye Nash

Dallas City Council votes for equal pension benefits for its employees

ERF vote

ERF board members are, from left, Chair Carla Brewer, former City Councilman Chris Luna, retiree Francis Pieters, Councilman Adam Medrano, retiree John Rogers, Omar Narvaez, Councilwoman Carolyn Davis and Councilman Lee Kleinman.

Married gay and lesbian Dallas city employees now receive the same pension benefits as employees in opposite-sex marriages. The Dallas City Council voted this morning, Feb. 18, after a short discussion by a margin of 11-3. Dwaine Caraway was absent because of the death of his father.

Three council members voted against the proposal — Sheffie Kadane, Vonciel Jones Hill and Rick Callahan.

The Dallas City Council voted to amend the definition of the term “spouse.” The IRS ruling that went into effect on Jan. 1 requiring all pension funds to treat same-sex married couples equally required benefits be offered to anyone who retired, as of the United States v Windsor decision in June 2013. The Dallas rule change allows anyone who was married at retirement to apply for those equal benefits.

Retiree Frances Pieters left Dallas City Hall and headed directly to the the Employee Retirement Fund office at Plaza of the Americas to submit her request for funds. Pieters retired before Windsor but was married before her retirement date.

The Dallas Police Department and Dallas Fire and Rescue have a separate pension fund. That board last week refused to come into compliance with IRS regulations, which puts the fund in jeopardy of losing its tax-exempt status. In addition, it means a surviving spouse of a fallen police officer or firefighter would not receive benefits.

—  David Taffet

Henry Gerber: The gay rights pioneer you probably never heard of

Henry Gerber

Henry Gerber

Last week — Thursday, Feb. 12, to be exact — the National Historic Landmarks Committee, chaired by Dr. Stephen Pitti of Yale University, unanimously approved the nomination of the Henry Gerber House, located at 1710 North Crilly Court in Chicago, to move forward as a National Historic Landmark.

The nomination advances now to the National Park System Advisory Board in May and then to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell for final approval.

But here’s my question: Do you know who Henry Gerber is and while LGBT people should care about his house possibly becoming a National Historic Landmark? No? I didn’t either, I am embarrassed to admit. So I looked it up.

Henry Gerber

Henry Gerber was born June 29, 1892, as Henry Joseph (maybe Josef?) Dittmar in Bavaria. He changed his name to Henry Gerber when he emigrated to the U.S. in 1913, when he was 21. He and other members of his family located in Chicago because of the huge German immigrant community there.

Early in 1917, Gerber was committed for a short time to a mental institution because he was gay. But after the U.S. declared war on Germany on April 2, 1917 and entered World War I, Gerber — like other German immigrants — was given the choice of being declared an enemy alien and locked up (you know, like what happened to a lot of Japanese-Americans in World Word II), or enlisting in the Army. Surprise, surprise, Gerber chose to enlist in the Army.

Gerber was assigned to work as a printer/proofreader with the Allied occupation forces in Coblenz, and spent about three years serving in the military.

During that time in Germany, Gerber learned about Magnus Hirschfield and his Scientifc-Humanitarian Committee, and their efforts to repeal Germany’s Paragraph 175, the law that criminalized sex between men, and which was responsible for keeping many gay men imprisoned following World War II, even after other prisoners in the Nazi concentration camps were freed. Gerber also spent some time in Berlin while he was stationed in Germany, at a time when Berlin had a thriving gay subculture.

When he got out of the Army, Gerber returned to Chicago and went to work for the U.S. Post Office there. But he didn’t forget what he had seen and learned in Germany, and in 1924 Gerber founded the Society for Human Rights, the oldest documented LGBT organization in the country.

Gerber filed for and received nonprofit status for his new organization, and African-American clergyman John T. Graves signed on as president. Graves, Gerber and five other men were named as members of the organization’s board. The state of Illinois granted the Society for Human Rights its charter on Dec. 10, 1924. Gerber also started “Friendship and Freedom,” the SHR’s newsletter, which is the first known gay-interest publication. It only lasted for two issues, as most SHR members were afraid to have it mailed to their homes.

Gerber and Graves and the other board members decided to limit SHR membership to gay men, specifically excluding bisexuals. Unfortunately, SHR Vice President Al Weininger was married with two children. And Weninger’s wife reported SHR to a social worker in the summer of 1925, calling them “degenerates.”

Gerber was interrogated by police, who arrested him, Graves, Weininger and one other man. Even though Gerber was tried three times, charges against him were eventually dismissed. Still, it ruined his life: Defending himself cost him his life savings and he lost his job for “conduct unbecoming a postal worker.”

And the Society for Human Rights was destroyed in the process.

In 1927, Gerber traveled to New York, where a friend introduced him to an Army colonel who convinced Gerber to re-enlist. He served until 1945 when he received an honorable discharge. During that time, he ran a pen pal service called “Connections,” most of the members of which were heterosexual.

After leaving the military, Gerber lived in New York wrote for a number of publications, occasionally writing about the case for gay rights. Sometimes he used his own name; sometimes he wrote under the pen name Parisex.

Gerber also corresponded extensively with other gay men, discussing strategies for organizing and for addressing prejudices against gays.

Toward the end of his life, Gerber moved into the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home in Washington, D.C., dying there on Dec. 31, 1972, at the age of 80.

 

Remembering Gerber

Gerber was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 1992, and The Gerber House was designated as a Chicago Landmark on June 1, 2001. Chicago’s Gerber/Hart Library is named in honor of Gerber and another early defender of gay rights, attorney Pearl M. Hart.

Recognition of the Gerber house will acknowledge the extraordinary significance of 1710 North Crilly Court not only to LGBTQ citizens but to America’s own account of its civil rights struggles, according to a press release from Rainbow Heritage Network, a national association for those concerned about the recognition and preservation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer history and heritage.

The Henry Gerber House nomination was prepared by Jonathan Farr, Amanda Hendrix-Komoto, Andrea Rottmann and April Slabosheski, graduate students at the University of Michigan, as part of the University of Michigan Public History Initiative. Their advisor was Dr. Michelle McClellan.

The nomination was presented to the Landmarks Committee by Amanda Hendrix-Komoto. The nomination was written as part of the National Park Service’s LGBTQ Heritage Initiative, which was announced at Stonewall by Secretary Jewell in May 2014. Mark Meinke, co-founder of the Rainbow Heritage Network and Megan Springate, prime consultant for the LGBTQ Heritage Initiative and co-founder of the Rainbow Heritage Network, were among those who spoke in support of the nomination.

There are only six places recognized by the National Historic Landmarks and National Register of Historic Places\programs for their association with LGBTQ history: Stonewall Inn in New York (a National Historic Landmark), The National AIDS Memorial Grove in San Francisco (a National Monument), and Carrinton House in New York, Cherry Grove Community House and Theater in New York, the Dr. Franklin E. Kameny Residence in Washington, D.C., and the James Merrill House in Connecticut ( all on the National Register of Historic Places).

You can see the Gerber House nomination here.

The National Park Service LGBTQ Heritage Initiative is online here.

 

—  Tammye Nash

BREAKING: Kansas governor rescinds nondiscrimination order

Sam_Brownback_official_portrait

Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas today (Tuesday, Feb. 10) rescinded a nondiscrimination order signed by his predecessor barring discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity by most government agencies.

According to the Topeka Capital-Journal, former Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius signed the executive order in 2007 requiring “agencies under the governor’s direct control to ensure they have programs to prevent harassment against gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and people who have had surgery for sex changes.” It covered 25,000 of the 41,000 state employees, the CJ reported.

Brownback said Sebelius’ order was unilateral and should have occurred at the legislative level.

“This Executive Order ensures that state employees enjoy the same civil rights as all Kansans without creating additional ‘protected classes’ as the previous order did,” Brownback said in a statement. “Any such expansion of ‘protected classes’ should be done by the legislature and not through unilateral action. The order also reaffirms our commitment to hiring, mentoring and recognizing veterans and individuals with disabilities.”

Equality Kansas slammed the move in a statement. “This action by the governor is an outrage. Gay, lesbian, and transgender state employees across Kansas have trusted they would be safe from discrimination and harassment in their workplace but Sam Brownback has, by erasing their job protections, declared “open season” on every one of them,” said the group’s head Tom Witt.

—  James Russell

Roy Moore: Marriage equality will lead to parents marrying their children


“I don’t want to. You can’t make me. So nyah-nyah-nyah.”

That’s what Alabama state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore told the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, the U.S. Supreme Court and a bunch of same-sex couples in Alabama who just wanted to get married.

Maybe I paraphrased a little bit. But that’s basically the gist of Moore’s insistence that he does not have to abide by the mandates of the federal courts, especially when it comes to legally recognizing same-sex marriage.

And on Monday, Feb. 9, Moore explained to ABC News that he has to stop same-sex marriage, because if loving, committed adult couples of the same gender are allowed to legally marry, then all hell is gonna break loose and then “men and their daughters or women and their sons” would be insisting they be allowed to get married too. (Watch the video above.)

As of 11 a.m. my time on Tuesday, Feb. 10, probate judges in 20 Alabama counties were abiding by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to extend a stay of a lower court order striking down the Alabama marriage ban, while the other 47 were participating in Moore’s temper tantrum and refusing to issue the licenses, according to Freedom to Marry.

U.S. District Court Judge Ginny Granade issued two separate rulings in two separate marriage equality cases last month — on Jan. 23 and Jan. 26 — that struck down Alabama’s ban on legal recognition of same-sex marriage. She issued a stay, that was set to expire this past Monday, Feb. 9. The state appealed to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals which refused to extend the stay. The state then asked the U.S. Supreme Court to extend the stay, and SCOTUS  also refused. (The ruling there was 7-2).

(Just to jog your memory, Moore is the guy who was kicked out of the Alabama Chief Justice’s seat back in 2003 when he kicked and screamed and held his breath and refused to remove a 10 Commandments monument — that he had commissioned and had installed — from the state’s Supreme Court building. The good people then re-elected him as chief justice in 2012 — after his two failed bids to become governor and a presidential bid that ended before it started.)

Anyway, Sunday night, Feb. 8, after the 11th Circuit Court refused to extend the stay, Moore ordered the probate judges in the state’s 67 counties not to issue licenses to same-sex couples. His reasoning was that since he was the only person who could order the state’s probate judges to issue marriage licenses, and since he was not named in the lawsuit, the federal court’s ruling does not apply to him.

Moore told WND Faith website on Monday, Feb. 9, he’s not backing away from the state court versus federal court fight over marriage, because he believes, constitutionally, the states are allowed to define the institution.

And it will remain that way unless the U.S. Supreme Court issues a ruling on the merits, he contends.

But from what U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said on Monday, Feb. 9, in the statement he wrote noting his dissent in the court’s 7-1 decision not to stay Granade’s ruling in Alabama, Moore is just (partially) delaying the inevitable.

Thomas and Antonin Scalia were the two justices who wanted the stay extended. In his dissent, Thomas said that the ruling “may well be seen as a signal of the court’s intended resolution” on the four marriage equality cases justices agreed to hear on appeal out of the Sixth Circuit. He argued that the court’s normal practice would have been to put the Alabama case on hold until it had decided the cases it has agreed to hear.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments on the four cases in April, and likely issue a ruling sometime in June.

The Supreme Court last October refused to hear appeals on marriage equality cases in other federal appellate circuits, but all of those trial and appellate courts had ruled in favor of equality. SCOTUS also refused in to extend the stay on a Florida trial court judge’s ruling in favor of equality, allowing same-sex marriages to begin in that state on Jan. 5. But that was before the court agreed to hear appeals of the four cases from the Sixth Circuit Court, the only federal appellate court to rule against marriage equality since the Supreme Court’s June 2013 ruling that struck down parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

—  Tammye Nash

State Department to appoint special envoy for LGBT rights

The U.S. Department of State is currently vetting candidates to become a special envoy to advocate for the rights of LGBT people overseas, a StateUS Department of State seal Department official told the Boston Globe today (Thursday, Feb. 5). The official told the newspaper the person appointed to the position will be chosen from among openly LGBT current State Department officers, and the department will announce its choice by the end of February.

The new position will be an extension of the State Department’s recent initiatives to enhance and discuss LGBT rights in the U.S. and abroad.

Jessica Stern, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, called the new position “a welcome development and historic moment the U.S. government’s progress in promoting the dignity and equality of LGBT people around the world.”

Stern continued, “The creation of the special envoy position is a significant advance in the increasing institutionalization of LGBT rights in U.S. foreign policy. With opponents in both houses of Congress and in countries around the world, the potential of this position to heighten credibility and increase resources for LGBT issues in international development and cooperation comes just in time. We hope that the special envoy will act with strategy, with sensitivity and with meaningful input from grassroots LGBTI communities. The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission has long supported creation of this position, and we look forward to engaging with the State Department’s chosen nominee to make a difference in the lives of individuals by affirming their basic human rights.”

—  Tammye Nash

Indiana Senate votes for religion-based discrimination

The Indiana Senate voted yesterday (Tuesday, Feb. 3) to allow organizations such as hospitals and universities with religious affiliations to discriminate against employees who refuse to follow the employers’ religious beliefs, even if the employing organization receives state funds.

Holdman.Travis

Indiana Sen. Travis Holdman

Senate Bill 127 would allow those employers to make hiring decisions based on religious beliefs and to require employees to follow the religious tenets of the employer. The Republican-controlled Senate passed the bill on a vote of 39-11. All 10 Democrats in the Senate voted against the measure, and they were joined by one Republican: Sen. Ron Grooms of Jeffersonville.

Republican Sen. Travis Holdman, who authored the bill, said it does not grant license to discriminate, but instead follows federal law which allows similar exemptions from nondiscrimination requirements. But Democratic Sen. Karen Tallian said the part of the bill that allows such employers to require employees to adhere to employers’ religious tenets goes way beyond federal exemptions, and called the measure outrageous.

Outrageous or not, such “religious liberty” bills are definitely all the rage this year, being pushed by right-wingers furious over advances in marriage equality and LGBT civil rights try every tactic they can think of not to have to comply with court rulings striking down marriage equality bans — including an expected ruling this summer by the U.S. Supreme Court. The 2015 Texas Legislature, in session for less than a month, has already seen its share, as the Texas Observer points out here.

—  Tammye Nash

BREAKING: ExxonMobil adds sexual orientation, gender identity to EEO policy

exxonmobil.siAfter 15 years of fighting shareholder resolutions, ExxonMobil added sexual orientation and gender identity to its nondiscrimination and anti-harassment policies.

Media relations manager Alan Jeffers confirmed the policy in an email to Dallas Voice:

ExxonMobil’s U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity and Harassment in the Workplace policies have been updated to include sexual orientation and gender identity, which is consistent with ExxonMobil’s long-standing practice of listing enumerated protected classes as defined by federal law.

ExxonMobil’s policies prohibit all forms of discrimination in any company workplace, anywhere in the world.  ExxonMobil supports a work environment that values diversity and inclusion, and has numerous inclusive programs and policies that help make ExxonMobil a great place to work.

The link to the policies are available here.

—  David Taffet

Sally Kern withdraws anti-gay bill

KernSallyLoRes

Sally Kern

Oklahoma state Rep. Sally Kern, a Republican, withdrew a bill that would have allowed businesses to refuse service to LGBT people, according to Tulsa World.

Her bill, “the Business Protection Act,” read:

“No business entity shall be required to provide any services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges related to any lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person, group or association.”

She said the bill wouldn’t have done what she intended for it to do, and she’s right. Instead, it would have been declared unconstitutional and, in its ruling, any court would have said the law was based on animus and turned sexual orientation and gender identity into protected classes.

Oklahoma state Sen. Kay Floyd, a Democrat, who is lesbian, said, “This is great news. Your letters, emails, and calls are already making a difference. The sooner we defeat the rest of these divisive and unconstitutional bills, the sooner we can get back to working for everyday Oklahomans.”

Kern submitted two other anti-gay bills so far this session. One prevents taxpayer money and government salaries from licensing or supporting same-sex marriage. The other is called the “Freedom to Obtain Conversion Therapy Act.”

—  David Taffet