Top 10: Trans widow continued her fight

araguz2

VOWING TO WIN | Nikki Araguz says she will appeal her case all the way to he U.S. Supreme Court if necessary. (Courtesy of Nikki Araguz)

No. 8

The Texas Constitution defines marriage as between one man and one woman, but how will the state define “man” and “woman”?

Transgender marriage cases in Dallas and Houston could force the Texas Supreme Court — or even the U.S. Supreme Court — to ultimately decide the thorny issue.

In Houston, transgender widow Nikki Araguz has appealed a district judge’s ruling denying her death benefits from her late husband, Thomas Araguz III, a volunteer firefighter who was killed in the line of duty in 2010.

The judge, Randy Clapp, granted summary judgment to Thomas Araguz’s family, which filed a lawsuit alleging the couple’s 2008 marriage is void because Nikki Araguz was born male, and Texas law prohibits same-sex marriage.

The Araguz family’s argument relies heavily on a San Antonio appeals court’s 1999 ruling in Littleton v. Prange, which found that gender is determined at birth and cannot be changed.

However, LGBT advocates say the Littleton ruling is unconstitutional, goes against medical science and isn’t binding in other parts of the state, where it has not always been followed.

In Dallas, a district judge apparently reached the opposite conclusion from Clapp this November — denying a similar motion for summary judgment.

James Allan Scott, a transgender man, is seeking a divorce settlement from his wife of 13 years, Rebecca Louise Robertson. However, Robertson wants to have the marriage declared void because Scott was born a biological female.

District Judge Lori Chrisman denied Robertson’s motion for summary judgment, which leaned heavily on Littleton. The judge provided no explanation for her ruling allowing the matter to proceed as a divorce, at least for now.

It’s unclear whether Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott plans to intervene in the Dallas case. Abbott has intervened in same-sex divorce cases in Austin and Dallas, seeking to block them. But thus far he has stayed above the fray on transgender marriage, even though it presents overlapping issues.

After a transgender woman and a cisgender woman applied for a marriage license in 2010, the El Paso County clerk requested a ruling from Abbott about whether to grant it. But Abbott opted not to weigh in, with his office saying it would instead wait for court rulings in the Araguz case. The El Paso couple was later able to marry in San Antonio, where the county clerk went by Littleton v. Prange.

In response to the Araguz case, a bill was introduced in the Texas Legislature this year to ban transgender marriage. The bill would have removed proof of a sex change from the list of documents that can be used to obtain marriage licenses. Strongly opposed by LGBT advocates, it cleared a Senate committee but never made it to the floor.

Trans advocates said the bill also would have effectively prohibited the state from recognizing their transitioned status — or, who they are — for any purpose.

The problem for socially conservative lawmakers is, they can’t have it both ways. Marriage is a fundamental right that courts have said can’t be taken away from a person completely. So no matter what, Texas will be forced to allow a version of same-sex marriage.

Which is why some believe the cases could help undo the marriage amendment.

— John Wright

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 30, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

What’s Shakin’ – ‘Our Time in Eden’ at EVO Lounge, voter turnout still weak

Our Time in Eden

It's Ava and Eve, not Adam and Eve.

1. Say “Garden of Eden” and most people will conjure an image of a naked (white) man and woman frolicking in a surprisingly well-tended arboretum,  but the people at Ultraviolet Productions envision an Eden where the strict binary of Adam and Eve is smeared across a blazing tableau of gender, sexuality and race. “Our Time in Eden,” a variety/drag show exploring what paradise means in a world free of labels, struts the stage tonight at 8 pm at EVO Lounge, 2707 Milam.  For a $5 cover you can check out the best drag kings, queens and gender performance artists Houston has to offer.

2. Early voting in Harris County continues through Nov 3 at all early voting locations. Voter turnout continues to be low. On Tuesday, 2,599 people voted in person, versus 4,206 who voted on the second day of early voting during the last municipal election in 2009.  Overall, there’s been a 24% decrease in voter turnout from 2009.  The upshot of which is that each vote is 24% more powerful. So grab three friends and get to the polls, together the four of you almost get an extra vote.

3. Rev. Pat “God-sends-hurricanes-to-punish-gay-people” Robinson, founder of the Christian Coalition and former Republican Presidential hopeful, warned his 700 Club audience that pushing the current crop of GOP frontrunners too far to the extreme right will hurt their chances in the 2012 general election. When the man who said that the Haiti earthquake was caused because the nation made a pact with the devil thinks you’ve gotten too extreme that’s saying something!  Right Wing Watch has more.

—  admin

Ed Oakley: ‘What is [Tom Leppert] smoking?’

Ed Oakley is shown alongside Tom Leppert during a runoff debate in 2007.

Turns out we aren’t the only ones concerned about the potential negative impact of Tom Leppert’s gay-loving past on his bid for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in 2012. From a Dallas Morning News article Sunday about Leppert’s chances, which appeared under the headline, “Ex-Dallas mayor Tom Leppert faces tough odds in U.S. Senate run”:

There are photos of Leppert participating in Dallas parades celebrating gay pride, which could cause angst for conservative voters, as well. …

But Leppert says he’ll be able to convince voters that he has the tools.

“I’m a conservative Republican and I always have been,” he said. “What our issues have to be is building a tax base. What you’ve got to do is grow the economy. I want to make a difference on those national economic issues.”

Leppert said he’s guided by his faith on social issues like abortion and gay marriage. He’s a member of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. He’s against abortion and believes marriage is between a man and woman.

“On the fiscal issues, on the spending issues, you’re going to find me as conservative as anybody,” he said. “On the social issues, I view those as faith issues. I’m comfortable talking about them, but I don’t want to lose sight on what’s going to make a difference.”

Leppert, of course, never mentioned his anti-LGBT views while serving as mayor. In fact, when we asked Leppert about marriage equality in 2008, he told us he was undecided on the issue. But don’t feel bad, because the LGBT community isn’t the only thing Leppert was for before he was against it. In a separate article on Sunday, the Morning News reported that Leppert, who championed the Trinity River Project as mayor, is now suddenly opposed to funding the project with earmarks. The article quotes openly gay former City Councilman Ed Oakley, who was defeated by Leppert in the mayor’s race in 2007:

—  John Wright

New attempt to legalize gay marriage in Chile

Chilean flag

While civil unions in Uruguay and marriage in Argentina were approved by legislatures — and civil unions in Ecuador were approved by voters under a new constitution — the Chilean Supreme Court may approve same-sex marriage in that country.

According to the Santiago newspaper El Mercurio, three couples have filed a lawsuit, and the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case.

An attorney for the couples, Jaime Silva, argues that two provisions of the Marriage Act are unconstitutional. The first states that marriage is a solemn contract in which a man and woman come together. The second recognizes that a marriage concluded abroad will be recognized in Chile provided it is between a man and a woman.

Those provisions, Silva argues, violate Article 1 and other provisions in the constitution. Article 1 begins, “Men are born free and equal, in dignity and rights.”

Last summer we reported several South American countries were considering recognizing same-sex relationships.

In Chile, a civil union bill got bogged down in the legislature. Meanwhile, no movement has been reported on the issue in Bolivia, where President Evo Morales and Vice President Álvaro García Linera live together in the presidential palace.

P.S.: That is a Chilean flag. The blue stripe extends to the bottom on the Texas flag.

—  David Taffet

Will civil unions delay gay marriage in Illinois?

As state Legislature sends bill to governor’s desk, some wonder whether new legal status will make it harder to achieve full equality

CHRISTOPHER WILLS and CARLA K. JOHNSON  |  Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD, Illinois — Gay rights advocates celebrated Wednesday, Dec. 1 as the state Legislature voted to legalize civil unions, although some wondered whether the measure that the governor is expected to sign will make it easier or harder to someday win approval of same-sex marriage.

The state Senate approved the legislation 32-24, sending it to Gov. Pat Quinn. It passed despite complaints from some senators that civil unions threaten the sanctity of marriage or increase the cost of doing business in Illinois.

After Quinn signs the measure, gay and lesbian couples will be able to get official recognition from the state and gain many of the rights that accompany marriage — the power to decide medical treatment for an ailing partner, for instance. Illinois law will continue to limit marriage to one man and woman, and the federal government won’t recognize the civil unions at all.

Five states already allow civil unions or their equivalent, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Five other states and Washington, D.C., let gay couples marry outright.

Some supporters of civil unions in Illinois hope they’ll be a step toward full marriage.

“The ultimate goal is not to be separate but equal,” said Jacob Meister, president of The Civil Rights Agenda, a gay rights organization. Meister said civil unions are a necessary compromise because they will provide important protections for gay couples.

But even advocates acknowledge it’s possible that by accepting civil unions now, they may be delaying movement toward being able to marry. The compromise could weaken any arguments that gay people are being treated unfairly by not being allowed to marry.

The sponsors of the civil unions bill said Wednesday they don’t plan to push for legalizing same-sex marriages, which have limited support in the Legislature.

“As soon as the governor signs it, it’s the law of the state of Illinois and that’s what we’re going to live with and going to make work,” said state Sen. David Koehler.

The executive director of a gay community center in Chicago said he welcomes civil unions but worries the legislation may stall ultimate approval of same-sex marriage. Modesto Valle of the Center on Halsted said it will take “tremendous work” to turn civil unions into “a platform to move toward marriage equality” in Illinois.

Courtney Reid, 48, of Chicago said she and her partner of 12 years have decided they won’t pursue a civil union, preferring to wait until same-sex marriage is recognized by federal law and homosexual couples get all the tax benefits and other rights available to heterosexual couples.

“It’s a stand on principle for us,” Reid said.

Supporters presented the civil unions legislation as a matter of basic fairness for all Illinois residents. With civil unions, state law will treat gay and lesbian couples as if they were married. They would inherit property when a partner dies, for instance.

“It’s time for us to look history in the eye and not flinch,” said Sen. Jeffrey Schoenberg, D-Evanston.

Opponents argued it moves Illinois closer to legalizing same-sex marriages. They said civil unions are basically marriage by another name and that they could give the courts a reason to step in and order Illinois to allow full marriage to everyone.

Some senators also criticized the time being spent on civil unions at a time when the state faces a massive budget crisis.

“Here we are, forced to debate an issue that may be political payback to a small but very politically powerful special interest group,” said state Sen. Chris Lauzen. He called gay sexual activities dangerous and questioned whether the state has a role in regulating relationships that don’t produce children.

State Sen. Rickey Hendon accused some opponents of hypocrisy.

“I hear adulterers and womanizers and folks cheating on their wives and down-low brothers saying they’re going to vote against this bill. It turns my stomach,” he said. “We know what you do at night, and you know too.”

The Illinois Family Institute said legislators failed to examine the legislation clearly.

“Proponents engaged in embarrassing and maudlin displays of sentimentality intended to emotionally manipulate rather than intellectually persuade their colleagues,” said executive director David E. Smith.

Cardinal Francis George and other Catholic leaders fought civil unions vigorously. Conservative groups also lobbied to block the measure. They argued it could hurt religious institutions.

The measure wouldn’t require churches to recognize civil unions or perform any kind of ceremony, opponents acknowledge, but critics fear it would lead to other requirements, such as including same-sex couples in adoption programs run by religious groups or granting benefits to employees’ partners.

The law won’t take effect until June 1, assuming Quinn signs it. Having it take effect immediately would have required approval by three-fifths of legislators.

Some religious leaders welcomed the legislation. In Chicago, Rabbi Larry Edwards said he’s looking forward to planning celebrations for couples in his Jewish congregation who may decide to form civil unions under Illinois law.

“To those who say it’s a slippery slope and eventually will lead to marriage, I say, ‘I hope so,”’ said Edwards of Or Chadash synagogue. “I would like to be on a slippery slope that slides in the direction of justice.”

The Rev. Vernice Thorn, associate pastor of Broadway United Methodist Church in Chicago said she considers the vote a hopeful sign. “Same-sex legalized marriage is going to happen. It’s just a matter of when.”

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Illinois lawmakers have approved civil unions for gay and lesbian couples, and Gov. Pat Quinn says he’ll sign the measure into law. Civil unions would provide many of the benefits of marriage but not all of them. The chief difference is that the federal government doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages or civil unions, so federal programs treat gay partners as if they are completely unrelated.

Here are some examples of how different types of couples would generally be treated under the law, based on interviews with the Illinois chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal, a gay rights group.

Ability to visit partner in the hospital and make medical decisions

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: Yes

• Civil Unions: Yes

Joint filing of federal taxes

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: No

• Civil Unions: No

Joint filing of state taxes

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: Varies

• Civil Unions: Not in Illinois (But Illinois’ flat-rate tax removes any advantage of joint filing.)

Right to sue over partner’s death

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: Yes

• Civil Unions: Yes

Receive Social Security payments upon partner’s death

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: No

• Civil Unions: No

Immigration rights for foreign partner

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: No

• Civil Unions: No

Inherit partner’s property without paying federal estate taxes

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: No

• Civil Unions: No

Employer provides health insurance to worker’s partner

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: Yes

• Civil Unions: Unclear

Right to live together in nursing homes

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: Yes

• Civil Unions: Yes

Religious institution required to recognize relationship

• Heterosexual marriage: No

• Same-sex marriage: No

• Civil Unions: No

Right to officially dissolve relationship in court

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: Yes

• Civil Unions: Yes

Pension benefits for surviving partner

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: Yes

• Civil unions: Yes

Federal benefits for partner of military veteran

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: No

• Civil unions: No

State benefits for partner of military veteran

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: Yes

• Civil unions: Yes

Both partners automatically considered legal parents of children in the relationship

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: Yes

• Civil unions: Yes

Other states automatically recognize relationship as official

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: No

• Civil unions: No

—  John Wright

Reax to Pentagon report on ‘don’t ask don’t tell’

Here are some reactions to the Pentagon study on “don’t ask don’t tell” released this afternoon. We’ve posted the full text of the study below.

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese:

“This issue has been studied for fifty years, including by the military itself, and the results from over twenty-two studies are uniform: open service does not harm effectiveness. The small handful of Senators blocking repeal no longer have any fig leaves behind which to hide. The time for repeal is now. …

“America’s men and women in uniform are professionals who already serve with gays and lesbians and repeal will do nothing to change their dedication to protecting our nation,” said Solmonese. “Senators who said they want to hear from military leaders and troops now have their answers.  Repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ will allow every qualified man and woman to serve without sacrificing the high standards that have made our military great.”

Servicemembers United Executive Director Alex Nicholson:

“This thorough and comprehensive report makes clear to lawmakers and the American people once and for all that the U.S. military is capable of handling the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ The questions are now answered and the debate is now settled. It’s now up to the Senate to bring the defense authorization bill back to the floor, allow 10 to 20 amendments to be debated on each side, and get this bill passed. We have the votes now if the process is fair.”

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis:

“This exhaustive report is overwhelmingly positive and constructive. The Pentagon validated what repeal advocates and social scientists have been saying about open service for over a decade. Still, some initial resistance may come from one or more of the service chiefs — the very leaders who will be charged with  implementing this change. Those chiefs will need to salute and lead in bringing about this needed change. Fortunately, the chiefs have already made it clear they will do precisely that if Congress acts. Now, it’s up to the Senate to make repeal happen this year.”

—  John Wright