Are right-wing politicians in Texas starting to realize that gay-baiting no longer works?

Attorney General Greg Abbott appears to be letting the Liberty Institute's Hiram "Sassy" Sasser, shown during yesterday's press conference, do the AG's dirty work for him.
Attorney General Greg Abbott seems to be letting people like the Liberty Institute’s Hiram “Sassy” Sasser, shown during yesterday’s press conference, do his dirty work for him. (DAVID TAFFET)

During this year’s big national gathering of conservative political activists, called CPAC, a poll found that virtually none considered “stopping gay marriage” to be one of their top priorities.

Meanwhile, three consecutive polls of likely Texas voters have found that a healthy majority — about 60 percent — support some form of relationship recognition for same-sex couples, such as civil unions.

Also recently, lesbian Annise Parker overcame appeared to benefit from vicious anti-gay attacks on her way to becoming mayor of the nation’s fourth-largest city — which happens to be in Texas.

All this seems to raise the question of whether gay-baiting or gay-bashing or whatever you want to call it is still an effective political strategy, even in the reddest of big states. Indeed, there are signs that even politicians who’ve traditionally been virulently anti-gay are calling off the dogs. Take Gov. Rick Perry, for example.

When a Tarleton State University student wanted to stage a gay-themed play for his class project last month, it was Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst — and not Perry — who issued hateful statements slamming the production. While both Perry and Dewhurst are up for re-election this year, most believe the governor’s race is the only statewide contest that a Democrat has a reasonable chance of winning.

Which also helps explain why Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples doesn’t have any qualms about being an outspoken opponent of gay divorce, even as Perry has remained completely silent about the issue — at least since issuing a statement when the Dallas case was first filed in January 2009.

Where’s Rick? As far as I can tell, he hasn’t said a word about the gays in months. His opponent, Democrat Bill White, was endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay-rights group, in early March, but I haven’t heard a peep out of Perry about it. Former Eagle Forum President Cathie Adams, who’s now chairwoman of the State Republican Party, has also been strangely silent.

And even Attorney General Greg Abbott, who initiated the challenges to gay divorce, may now be backing away from the issue just a little bit.

Indeed, Abbott appears to be letting the Liberty Institute, which should be called the Oppression Institute, do his dirty work for him. When politicians can gay-bait through a third party, they still get a boost from homophobic voters, but without the backlash from fair-minded people.

Yesterday, not only was Abbott not present, but the attorney arguing the case for his office didn’t even show up for a press conference after the gay divorce hearing. Instead, it was Hiram “Sassy” Sasser from the Liberty Institute at the microphone. Surprisingly, none of the reporters on hand questioned why in the hell the AG’s office wasn’t speaking for itself.

Of course, the canned answer would have been that the AG’s office doesn’t comment on cases that are still pending. But I’ll tell you the real reason: People like Perry and Abbott are starting to worry that gay-baiting will backfire. Four years ago, both Perry and Abbott probably would have been at the press conference themselves. But not anymore, and that’s a good sign. Now we just need some pro-LGBT politicians with enough guts to go on the offensive.поддержка сайта битрикскак продавать контекстную рекламу

—  John Wright

Dallas appeals court hears oral arguments in Texas AG's challenge of gay divorce

TV crews gather around two activists from GetEQUAL outside the George Allen Courts Building in downtown Dallas on Wednesday. Inside, the 5th District Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in a same-sex divorce case.
TV crews gather around two activists from GetEQUAL outside the George Allen Courts Building in downtown Dallas on Wednesday. Inside, the 5th court of appeals heard oral arguments in a same-sex divorce case. (Photo and video by DAVID TAFFET)

By John Wright  News Editor

A Texas appeals court heard oral arguments Wednesday but made no ruling in the state attorney general’s challenge of a Dallas judge’s decision to allow a same-sex divorce.

Assistant Solicitor General James Blacklock, who argued the case for the AG’s office, told a three-judge panel of the 5th court of appeals that the gay couple shouldn’t be allowed to divorce in Texas because their marriage isn’t considered valid under state law.

The couple, identified in court documents only as J.B. and H.B., were married in Massachusetts in 2006 before moving to Dallas.

James Scheske, one of J.B.’s attorneys, countered that regardless of Texas law, the couple’s marriage is valid in the state where it was entered. To obtain a divorce in Massachusetts, the couple would have to re-establish residency there for at least six months.

“My client’s very private matter has become a public spectacle,” Scheske told the justices. “He’s not seeking to enter into a same-sex marriage. He’s seeking a divorce from a valid marriage that was entered into in another state.”

Following Wednesday’s arguments, the three justices took the case under review, and there is no timeframe for them to issue a decision.

With about a dozen news reporters looking on, each side was allotted 20 minutes for oral arguments during the hearing on the second floor of the George Allen Courts Building in downtown Dallas. No cameras were allowed in the courtroom, but TV crews waited downstairs where a press conference was held afterward.

The attorney general’s office granted five of its 20 minutes to a representative from the right-wing, Plano-based Liberty Institute.

Hiram Sasser, director of litigation for the Liberty Institute, made arguments on behalf of State Rep. Warren Chisum and Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, who filed a friend-of-the-court brief opposing the divorce. Chisum and Staples, both Republicans, were authors of Texas’ 2005 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Sasser noted that 76 percent of voters approved the amendment, and he said the issue of same-sex divorce shouldn’t be decided by judges. Under the federal Defense of Marriage Act, signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996, states can choose not to recognize same-sex marriages from elsewhere.

“I think President Clinton said it best when he said we have to honor the decisions of the states,” Sasser said during the press conference, which representatives from the AG’s office didn’t attend. “Instead of the courts, the people who want to overturn the constitutional amendment need to go the ballot box.”

Sasser characterized gay divorce as an attack on same-sex marriage, but Scheske noted that constitutional issues didn’t arise in the case until the AG’s office became involved.

J.B. filed for a divorce in January 2009, and a day later Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott challenged the petition. Judge Tena Callahan, a Democrat, ruled in October of last year that she had jurisdiction to hear the case, saying Texas’ bans on same-sex marriage violate the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment.

At the request of J.B.’s attorneys, Callahan later amended her ruling to say that the case doesn’t implicate Texas’ marriage bans, but instead involves the question of whether same-sex divorces can be granted under the state’s Family Code.

“Granting a divorce to a same-sex couple promotes Texas policy because it ends a same-sex marriage,” Scheske told the appeals court on Wednesday.

“We think it’s axiomatic that granting a divorce means one less same-sex marriage in Texas,” he said later at the press conference. “We’re not challenging the same-sex marriage ban. That’s not what we’re doing, because my client is already in a same-sex marriage. My client just wants a divorce.”

Scheske added that he was pleased that the appeals court had opted to hear oral arguments, a decision that went against the wishes of the AG’s office.

The attorney general’s office argues that “voidance” is the appropriate procedure for dissolving marriages that aren’t considered valid by the state, such as incestuous or bigamous marriages. But J.B.’s attorneys say voidance doesn’t provide the same remedies related to division of property. They also say voidance creates a separate status for gays and lesbians that violates equal protection. And they note that in order to grant a voidance, just as with a divorce,  Texas courts must first recognize the marriage.

J.B. attended Wednesday’s arguments but was quickly whisked away down an escalator after they ended. Scheske said J.B., who’s already appeared on “Good Morning America” and “The Daily Show,” won’t be talking to the media again until after the appeals court issues its ruling.

Experts say regardless of how the panel rules, the case is likely to be appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, and possibly to the U.S. Supreme Court after that.

While some states grant same-sex divorces even though they prohibit same-sex marriage, others do not.

Also attending Wednesday’s hearing was Angelique Naylor, a lesbian who married her ex-wife in Massachusetts and was recently granted a divorce in Austin. Abbott’s office has also filed a notice of its intent to appeal the district judge’s decision in Naylor’s case.

Security was heavy at Wednesday’s hearing, with about a dozen sheriff’s vehicles parked outside the courthouse, and a metal detector set up near the entrance to chambers. Authorities reportedly were anticipating demonstrations by anti-gay or pro-gay groups. As it turned out, only two pro-LGBT demonstrators stood outside the courthouse with signs.размещение рекламы на автомобилереклама сайта москва

—  John Wright

Lorie Burch takes on Liberty Institute's Sasser in gay marriage debate Tuesday night at SMU

Lorie Burch
Lorie Burch

Aside from the Final Four, there’s another showdown this week you may not want to miss.

Tomorrow night at SMU, local lesbian attorney Lorie Burch will face off against Hiram Sasser, director of litigation for the right-wing Liberty Institute, in a debate on marriage equality. The debate, an SMU Political Science Symposium, is at 7 p.m.. in the Hughes-Trigg Theater. It’s free and open to the public, so we should try to pack the audience to give Burch a home-field advantage.

Burch is chairwoman-elect for the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce and co-chair of the DFW Human Rights Campaign Steering Committee. I don’t know much about Sasser, but according to his bio on the Liberty Legal Web site, his military experience includes serving as headquarters commander, company executive officer and training officer in the Army Reserves. He’s also appeared on ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox News, CNN and the BBC, and has been heard on various radio stations throughout the United States, Asia, Africa and Europe, the bio states.

To be honest, though, this one sounds like a bit of a mismatch on paper: Burch has a law degree from George Washington University, while Sasser’s is from Oklahoma City University.

To view the Facebook event page, go here.сайтдешевое продвижение сайтов

—  John Wright