Dallas County JP refuses to conduct same-sex weddings

Dallas County JP Bill Metzger

Dallas County JP Bill Metzger

Dallas County Justice of the Peace Bill Metzger wrote on his Facebook page Wednesday that he will only conduct marriages between a man and woman.

“Because of my faith in God as a devout Catholic, I will only be conducting traditional marriages,” Metzger’s wrote.

He cited a nonbinding opinion by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued last June that county employees, including clerks and judges, may refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples if issuing those licenses would go against their “deeply held religious beliefs.”

But retired Dallas County district judge John Cruezot told WFAA Metzger’s position may not hold up to a legal challenge.

“You don’t have to do any marriages, nobody can compel you to do a marriage,” Cruezot said.  “However, once you take on one set of individuals, you have to do it for everyone.”

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan has also issued an opinion, following the Obergefell decision last summer, countering Paxton’s opinion.

“A judge or justice of the peace is authorized to perform a marriage but is under no obligation to do so. However, once the judge elects to undertake the performance of marriages, the service must be offered to all (including same-sex couples) in a non-discriminatory manner,” Ryan wrote in his opinion.

During the summer, some county clerks around the country initially refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples based on their religious opposition to same-sex marriage.

Hood County Clerk Katie Lang in Texas posted on the front page of her website, “I will be not be issuing same sex marriage license’s due to my religious convictions.”

Lang later relented, saying she would personally not issue licenses but that someone in her office would.

Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis, defying multiple court rulings, was jailed for refusing to issue licenses to same-sex couples based on her religious convictions.

Davis’ supporters tried to compare, wrongfully, Davis to Dallas County District Judge Tonya Parker who announced in 2012 she would not perform weddings for any couple

But as my colleague David Taffet explained, Parker is not required to perform marriages; Davis is required to issue licenses:

Tonya Parker was elected to be a judge of the 116th Civil District Court. That court hears cases involving civil rather than criminal or family matters in which damages involved are more than $200. As a perk of her office, Parker may perform marriages. Performing marriage is not a duty of her office. She was elected to hear civil cases in her court.

Kim Davis, however, was elected to issue vital documents. That’s what a county clerk does. Kentucky law doesn’t say she may issue marriage licenses. Kentucky law says that’s what a county clerk does. She doesn’t get to issue them as a perk or if she decides to issue them. To refuse is refusing to do her job.

Metzger’s decision has yet to be challenged in court.

—  James Russell

LGBT advocates take to the streets as Italian Senate prepares to debate civil union-type bill

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Photo of protest in Rome from The Daily Beast

Just days before the Italian Senate is set to begin debate over legislation that would grant legal recognition to same-sex couples, LGBT advocates took to the streets across the country to call on lawmakers to approve the bill.

Italy is the only major Western European country that doesn’t already have some sort of legal protections in place for same-sex couples, and last June, the European Court of Human Rights determined Italy to be in “breach of human rights” because of that. The court specifically cited adoption, shared pension benefits, and tax breaks as key rights that are missing, as The Daily Beast notes.

Thursday, Jan. 28, the Senate will begin examining The Cirinna Law — called that because it was introduced by Sen. Monica Cirinna — which is the first bill offering protections for same-sex couples.

The bill would give same-sex couples to option commit themselves to one another before a state official, to take each other’s names and, in certain circumstances, adopt each other’s children and inherit each other’s residual pension rights.

The Cirinna bill carefully avoids talk of “marriage,” which the Italian constitutional court has ruled may exist only between “natural” heterosexual couples. Instead it allows same-sex couples the right to be recognized the same way non-married straight couples are, as a “social formation” or life-long partnership that isn’t bound by a marriage certificate, the way France has done with its civil solidarity pacts for more than 15 years

On Saturday, Jan. 23, advocates marched in support of the legislation. Protests were planned for 90 towns and cities across the country under the slogan, “Wake up Italy! It’s time to be civil,” according to The Local.com.

According to Italian media, there were at least 7,000 demonstrators in Turin, 5,000 in Milan, thousands in Rome and Bologna, a thousand in Bari in the south, and hundreds in Naples and Venice among others.

Considering that Italy — and Rome, especially — is the heart of the Roman Catholic Church, opposition is, of course, strong. Opponents of the Cirinna bill are planning a demonstration on Jan. 30 at the Circus Maximus. Hundreds of thousands are expected to attend the “Family Day” gathering under the rallying cry of “Defend of children.”

Angelo Bagnasco, the chair of the Italian conference of bishops, has denounced the whole debate as a “grave and irresponsible distraction from the real problems of the country.” And in what many saw as papal intervention in the debate, Pope Francis on Friday, Jan. 22, ruled out any form of union except Catholic marriage.

—  Tammye Nash

Judge: Non-bio mom in lesbian divorce is child’s legal parent

Lauren Poole

Lauren Poole

Virginia Beach, Va. Circuit Judge Steven Frucci has ruled in a lesbian divorce case there involving custody of a child that even though she contributed no DNA, the non-biological mom is a legal parent of the child to whom her now-former wife gave birth.

To rule otherwise, Frucci said, would make “every child born in a same-sex marriage a bastard, and I’m not about to do that,” according to The Virginian-Pilot.

Lauren Poole, 29, and Karen Poole, 31, both of Virginia Beach, were married in Maryland in August 2013, before same-sex marriage was legally recognized in Virginia. They used sperm donated by a male friend to impregnate Karen, using the at-home “turkey baster” method. Lauren, Karen and the sperm donor signed an agreement before the baby — a boy — was born that released the sperm donor from any responsibility and named Lauren as the child’s second parent.

The baby was born in July 2014, but six months later — as their relationship began to fail — Laurent moved out of the family’s home. She visited the baby several times a week until she and Karen got into an altercation, after which Karen took out a protective order against Lauren that prevented her from seeing the baby.

Lauren Poole then filed for divorce, leading to the just-settled battle in Frucci’s court.

Wanting children, they enlisted a male friend to act as a sperm donor, impregnating Karen Poole with an at-home artificial insemination technique commonly known as the “turkey baster” method, according to written arguments filed by both sides.

After the pregnancy was confirmed, the three signed an agreement to release the donor from parental responsibility and name Lauren Poole as the child’s second parent.

The baby – a boy – was born in July 2014 at Sentara Princess Anne Hospital.

Six months later, the couple’s marriage was unraveling and Lauren Poole moved out of the family’s home. For the next few months, she visited the baby several times a week until an altercation led Karen Poole to take out a protective order that stopped all contact.

Lauren Poole filed for divorce and a fight for custody began. As the battle over custody continues, Frucci says one question is definitely settled: From here on out, Lauren Pool will be treated as the legal parent of a legitimate child.

—  Tammye Nash

UPDATE: Tarrant County Clerk says her office will accept common-law marriage affidavit

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Tarrant County Clerk Mary Louise Garcia

Tarrant County Clerk Mary Louise Garcia on Friday, Sept. 25, released a statement saying that her office will accept common-law marriage affidavits from same-sex couples seeking to file such affidavits dated prior to the June 26, 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling affirming marriage equality.

“As it should be,” declared Fairness Fort Worth President David Mack Henderson, after receiving a copy of the statement from Garcia. “Love wins!”

Garcia issued the statement in response to reports that an employee in the County Clerk’s satellite in Arlington refused to accept such an affidavit from a Fort Worth couple who have been together about 23 years. The employee told the men they would have to change the effective date to June 26, 2015, the date of the SCOTUS ruling.

The men declined on the advice of their attorney, Jon Nelson, who said that changing the date would be falsifying an official document, which is a criminal offense. Read David Taffet’s report on the situation here.

Garcia’s statement said:

Henderson.David

FFW President David Mack Henderson

“Today, my office reached out to DSHS to reconfirm their position on the above. However, they indicated there had been a miscommunication regarding the issue; and that applicants, regardless of gender, may apply for an informal marriage license using any date applicable to their relationship.

“Additionally, we sought an opinion from the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney on this same issue. They agree with the position of the Department of State Health Services.”

“It’s about making contacts with people and working with them to solve problems,” Henderson said of efforts to work with Garcia’s office on the issue.

“FFW thanks Jon Nelson for bringing this discrepancy in equal service to light,” Henderson continued. “We also thank Tarrant County Clerk Mary Louise Garcia and District Attorney Sharen Wilson and their teams for expediting the correct resolution in this matter. As indicated in the second paragraph, this clarification should apply throughout Texas.”

—  Tammye Nash

Hang on Kim Davis, Dwayne Stovall has a plan

Stovall.Dwayne

Dwayne Stovall

As Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis continues to fight back the hordes of homosexual infidels clamoring to defile the institution of marriage in Kentucky, Texas Republican congressional candidate Dwayne Stovall wants her to know, he’s got her back.

Davis, as you likely already know, is the four-times-married county clerk who continues to defy federal law and the federal courts — right up to and including the U.S. Supreme Court — by refusing to issue marriage licenses to anyone to avoid issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. She claims she is operating — or refusing to operate — under God’s authority in refusing to carry out the duties of the office to which she was elected and for which she is paid $80,000 a year (even though she took an oath to perform those duties). See, same-sex marriage goes against her religious beliefs, so God says she doesn’t have to issue those licenses, oath be damned.

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Dwayne and Kathy Stovall

But let’s get back to Dwayne here in Texas.

Dwayne Stovall is a Republican campaigning to represent Congressional District 36 in the U.S. House of Representatives. District 36 encompasses Northeast Dallas and surrounding suburbs, among them the Preston Hollow neighborhood where former President George W. Bush lives. Right now, Rep. Pete Sessions represents District 32 in Congress.

But I guess ol’ Pete isn’t conservative enough for Dwayne — lord knows, Sen. John Cornyn wasn’t conservative enough when Dwayne ran against him last year for U.S. Senate — who has just announced his intention to, as a member of Congress, introduce legislation removing marriage from “any jurisdiction of the U.S. Supreme Court.”

In a statement released today (Wednesday, Sept. 2), Stovall said: “The Constitution of the United States offers no authority to the federal Supreme Court to be involved in the issue of marriage. So why is the Supreme Court forcing a county clerk in Kentucky to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples against her religious convictions and against a State statute adopted by representatives elected by the citizens of Kentucky?

“Unfortunately, an overwhelming majority of the people we elect to represent us in Congress aren’t aware of the authority given to the Congress to control the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, as stated in Article III of the Constitution.

“Based upon that authority, when I am elected to Congress, I intend to propose” the Removal of Marriage from Federal Control Act.

That legislation, Dwayne promised, would remand the issue of marriage to the states and the federal judiciary would no longer have any standing on the issue.

That would, he said, “rightfully return all authority to regulate marriage back to the states where it belongs, allowing the citizens of each state to manage the issue of marriage according to their morals, values, and traditions, exclusively.”

Dwayne went on to say that the form of government intended by our country’s founders has been replaced by a “national system in which the government is no longer limited by the Constitution.”

But, he declared, “It doesn’t have to be this way.” And he promised to, throughout his campaign, “give explicit and easy-to-understand examples of how I intend to use the authorities conveyed to the Congress in the Constitution to actually restore States’’ Rights and limit the federal government. Proposing legislation to take authority over issues like marriage away from a few political elites and return it to the citizens of Texas is just another of many.”

Dwayne Stovall lives in Liberty County and has been married to his wife Kathy for 24 years. They have three children. I guess that means he knows all about marriage and what it is supposed to be like. (His campaign website says they have been married 22 years, but the press release we got today says 24 years. Maybe it;s just an old website; I mean, he apparently runs for some office or another in every election.)

—  Tammye Nash

SSA will apply marriage benefits retroactively, grant pending spousal benefits

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Lambda Legal plaintiff Kathy Murphy of Texas

The U.S. Department of Justice announced today (Thursday, Aug. 20), that the Social Security Administration will apply the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide retroactively and process pending spousal benefits claims for couples that lived in jurisdictions that didn’t recognize their marriages prior to the ruling.

The announcement came in a status conference with Lambda Legal in a Chicago federal court. The DOJ said the new policy will apply to previously filed claims still pending in the administrative process or litigation.

Lambda Legal filed federal lawsuits last year on behalf of widower Dave Williams, formerly of Arkansas and now living in Chicago, Texas widow Kathy Murphy, and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. Williams and Murphy were both denied benefits after the deaths of their spouses because although they were legally married, they lived in jurisdictions that did not legally recognize those marriages.

Susan Sommer, director of constitutional litigation for Lambda Legal, said today that her organization is pleased to have gotten this confirmation from the SSA, and although SSA has not announced when the policy change will be posted and implemented, “we look forward to reviewing the details and working with the agency to ensure that those who had been wrongly denied in the pas will not have to wait longer to have their relationships treated with dignity by the federal government. … We urge the SSA to move quickly to right the injustice to same-sex spouses whose marriages were unconstitutionally disrespected and who await Social Security protections.”

—  Tammye Nash

A few thoughts from last night’s Tarrant County Stonewall Democrats meeting

Texas-CountiesThe Tarrant County Stonewall Democrats hosted their monthly meeting at Tommy’s Hamburgers in Fort Worth last night (Monday, July 13) celebrating the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision.

Couples who got a license but hadn’t wed were invited to get hitched. Had a couple already gotten married, they were invited to share their stories.

Three couples stood up and shared their stories. After their humorous and touching speeches, the invaluable — and, as he noted, single —  David Mack Henderson, president of Fairness Fort Worth, shared his experiences helping local couples get hitched.

While my intent was to share photos from the meeting, my camera card unfortunately thought otherwise. But I do have a few takeaways worth noting.

First, it turned out for the best I couldn’t get photos. One man approached me after the meeting adjourned requesting their photos not appear on the site. His husband is “insecure in the workplace,” he said. Whether because he fears losing his job or for some other reason, I don’t know. But I know LGBT Texans can still be fired from their jobs simply because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. Texas is, in fact, one of 28 states that doesn’t protect LGBT employees from workplace discrimination aside from a few federal protections.

Texas is also among the 29 states without laws protecting LGBT individuals in public accommodations. Cities like Dallas and Fort Worth have made strides to protect their citizens from being denied service, or face harassment, from the grocery store to the doctor’s office. But I’d avoid going to any bakery owned by Rep. Molly White, R-Belton.

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David Mack Henderson, president of Fairness Fort Worth

As the saying goes, you can get married at night but still be fired from your job the next morning.

This past legislative session, legislators filed or sponsored nearly 40 anti-LGBT bills. Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, filed two bills  criminalizing transgender individuals for using a bathroom. Rep. Gilbert Pena, R-Pasadena, filed similar bills. Rep. White, as we learned, won a gold star for filing legislation legalizing discrimination against any groups not straight, white, Protestant and Republican — so, like, everyone.

After the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, the statements started pouring in. Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia,  author of numerous bills barring state recognition of same-sex marriages, lead the crusade. He announced the “Pact for Constitutional Restoration of State Sovereignty” on Monday, July 6 in response to the ruling.

David Simpson, a Longview Republican running for an open state senate seat, denounced the ruling and called for a special session abolishing government issuance of marriage licenses altogether. I don’t oppose the latter idea, though I prefer that decision not come following the Supreme Court ruling. Unfortunately, yesterday (Monday, July 13), he went even further, calling on the state’s Republican leadership to address the consequences of the ruling. He was furious state employee benefits were now extended to same-sex spouses.

For the record, Simpson has yet to be endorsed by a single socially conservative group. His primary opponent in the senate race, Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, has received those honors.

Not all Republicans denounced the decision of course. But if it helps with fundraising, why not throw shade at two individuals of the same gender in love?

During the meeting, Henderson told a harrowing and touching story about a local couple just wanting to get married. The situation wasn’t easy though. As far as I remember it, a HIV-positive, 60 percent deaf undocumented man was jailed. His partner wanted to avoid deportation. David helped them find an avenue to get married. (Knowing Henderson, he’ll chime in the comments below, which I would prefer he do. The story is at once tragic and beautiful.)

Before I left, a straight ally approached two friends and I. He was thrilled by the decision, he said, but the fight isn’t over yet.

I’ve harped on this before but he’s right. Until we’re all equal, the rainbow is frankly just one color.

—  James Russell

Alabama Senate OKs bill scrapping marriage completely

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore

Alabama State Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore

Ever heard the expression “Cutting off your nose to spite your face”? That’s exactly what Alabama legislators are doing when it comes to the issue of marriage equality.

The Alabama Senate passed, on a 22-3 vote, SB 377 that eliminates marriage licenses all together in the state, instead requiring folks who might previously have gone to a probate judge to get a marriage license to enter into a contract basically stating they would have gotten a marriage license if they could have and then file that contract with the probate judge.

Attorney Jake Watson explained to WHNT 19 News: “[SB377] really does away with the traditional sense of a marriage certificate and what we’ve been dealing with in Alabama as far as marriage certificates for more than a hundred years, I believe.”

The problem, Watson added, is that SB 377 creates all kinds of confusion for those who rely on marriage to prove the connection between to the federal government, insurance companies and anyone else that might require them to be legally married. And, he said, it would put up another barrier for same-sex marriage.

“A statement that the parties are legally authorized to be married, that’s going to be the catch. What is legally authorized to be married? Under the State of Alabama Law, that would not include same-sex marriage,” he said.

SB 377 is, of course, Alabama’s way of saying, once again, “can’t make me! Nyahh, nyahh, nyahh” to the federal government, in the shadow of a looming U.S. Supreme Court decision that is expected to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide later this month. It is Alabama Legislature’s way of crawling along in the footsteps of right-wing-nut state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, who ignored federal trial court rulings upholding marriage equality by Judge Callie Granade in his own state, who got the Alabama Supreme Court to follow along and has since pledged to fight equality to the bitter end.

SB 377 is making its way through the Alabama House right now. You can read the full text of the bill here.

—  Tammye Nash

Jindal’s end run around fairness and equality

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Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal

Just hours after a so-called “religious freedom” bill died in the Louisiana Legislature on Tuesday, May 19, Gov. Bobby Jindal had issued an executive order allowing businesses to discriminate based on owners’/operators’ religious beliefs on marriage.

“We are disappointed by the committee’s action to return the Louisiana Marriage and Conscience Act to the calendar,” Jindal said in a statement Tuesday afternoon, according to a New Orleans Times-Picayune report. “We will be issuing an Executive Order shortly that will … prevent the state from discriminating against persons or entities with deeply held religious beliefs that marriage is between one man and one woman.”

The Times-Picayune notes Jindal told reporters the order was issued Tuesday afternoon and went into effect immediately. The order will remain in effect until 60 days after the end of the next legislative session. The next governor, however, can repeal it upon entering office in January, if he or she chooses.

The New Orleans newspaper also quoted state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, who criticized the timing of the order, as well as Jindal’s decision to buck the will of the Legislature.

“It’s a sinful attempt to deflect from the failures of what should be the top legislative priority, what we’re dealing with every day, which is a bogus state budget,” she said from the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon.

The Washington Post today (Wednesday, May 20), noted that Jindal’s executive order nearly mirrors the content and intent of the failed “Marriage and Conscience Act,” which itself closely resembles Religious Freedom Restoration Acts like the one that was vetoed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson after an outcry from businesses, led by Wal-Mart, and the one recently enacted in Indiana, throwing that whole state into an uproar and hitting the Hoosier pocketbook hard and fast.

A similar measure died last week in the Texas Legislature.

The Post notes that one of the main reasons the Marriage and Conscience Act died in the Louisiana Legislature is because lawmakers feared it would impact the state’s economy, and would be especially harmful to tourism in a state that thrives on its visitors:

New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau Chief Executive Stephen Perry called the bill “a radioactive, poisonous message,” saying it could cost the state $65 million per year.

But Jindal, in New York Times op-ed last month, said money doesn’t matter: “As the fight for religious liberty moves to Louisiana, I have a clear message for any corporation that contemplates bullying our state: Save your breath,” he wrote.

Louisiana Democratic Party Executive Director Stephen Handwerk predicted that the executive order will substantially harm the tourism industry in the state. “Gov. Jindal’s stunt today once again underlines his disregard for Louisiana families, his disdain for the state legislature and his apparent contempt for the state’s tourism industry — the only segment of our economy his failed policies haven’t crippled,” Handwerk said.

The Post also pointed out that Jindal’s decision to stage an end run around the Legislature seems especially hypocritical, considering his attacks on President Barack Obama’s use of executive orders in connection with immigration reform.

—  Tammye Nash

Really? People are surprised Barry Manilow is gay?

ManilowWhy the stupid headlines?

People: Surprise! Barry Manilow Has Married His Manager Garry Kief

National Enquirer: WORLD EXCLUSIVE: BARRY MANILOW SECRET GAY WEDDING

And this from the story in the U.K.’s Daily Mail: Apparently, the star who has millions of female fans around the world, was worried that if they made their union official, word would leak out about his sexuality and that his fans wouldn’t approve of him being gay.

Yes, because a gay male star can’t have millions of female fans. Right Ricky Martin? Liberace? Elton John? Adam Lambert? Clay Aiken?

And those headlines — really?!

Surprise?!

No, Barry Manilow, 71, never came out officially with a big public pronouncement. No one did that in the late ’60s, early ’70s. He never did the big Advocate coming out cover story interview.

He didn’t have to. He was gay. There was never any secret since his 1971 hit, “You deserve a break today, so get up and get away to McDonalds.” Really. “I am stuck on Band-Aid brand cause Band-Aid’s stuck on me” is his, too.

But if anyone needed clues that the man who made the whole world sing was gay, he dropped a few along the way.

He wrote the Broadway musical Copacabana. Gee, I hate to stereotype, but name a straight Broadway composer — later than Oscar Hammerstein — off the top of your head.

Here’s another:

He got his start as Bette Midler’s piano player. At the Continental Baths. With gay men dressed only in towels watching him perform. Night after night. Especially every Saturday night. With the Divine Miss M. At the baths. The really sleazy Continental Baths.

Anyone who didn’t catch on with that clue wouldn’t have gotten the hint had he said, “Yep, I’m gay” on the cover of Time. With some people, it just doesn’t sink in.

And “secret gay wedding” as the Daily Mail claimed? They got married at their home with about 30 friends there. Just because they didn’t make a big announcement to the press doesn’t make it a secret wedding.

Maybe it just bothers some straight people that “The Greatest Love Songs of All Time” was by a gay man.

—  David Taffet