Overturning Texas marriage amendment

About 50 people gathered at the Legacy of Love monument in Oak Lawn after the anti-gay marriage amendment was declared unconstitutional on Feb. 26.

—  David Taffet

While N.C. lawmakers put marriage amendment on the ballot, lesbian wins city council primary

The North Carolina General Assembly adjourned Wednesday after a three-day session during which lawmakers’ main accomplishment was to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to ban same-sex marriage in the state. The adjournment came one day after out lesbian LaWana Mayfield won the Democratic primary in her bid for a seat on the Charlotte, N.C., City Council.

LaWana Mayfield

The anti-gay-marriage amendment had been “knocking around the hallways of the Legislative Building for eight years,” according to a report at Chron.com, which also noted that Republican lawmakers “took criticism from all fronts” for spending time on the marriage amendment while accomplishing little on more pressing items on the legislative agenda.

“Democrats, gay rights advocates and dozens of business leaders slammed the GOP leadership for holding votes on the measure without public comment and putting the elimination of the rights of gays and lesbians on next May’s ballot,” Chron.com reported. And Democratic House Minority Leader Joe Hackney called the three-day session “one of the biggest wastes ever to hit the North Carolina Legislature.”

Alvin McEwen, writing for The Huffington Post, pointed out that polls show “a majority of folks in North Carolina” oppose the amendment, a fact, he said, that the people and organizations pushing the amendment chose to ignore. McEwen is blogmaster for Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters, a blog that carries the tag line, “Lies in the name of God are still lies.”

Meanwhile, LaWana Mayfield pulled in 51 percent of the vote in a three-way race for the Democratic nomination for a Charlotte City Council seat, beating out opponents Warren Turner, who got 34 percent of the vote and Svend Deal, who finished third with 15 percent, according to On Top Magazine.

On Top reports that Mayfield, a community organizer, is heavily favored to best Republican candidate Ed Toney in the Nov. 8 general election because the two are running in a majority black district that traditionally favors Democratic candidates. If Mayfield does win, she will be Charlotte’s first openly LGBT councilmember.

Mayfield is supported in the race by the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund.

—  admin

What’s Brewing: Retiring anti-gay bigot Chisum says gay marriage ban was his toughest battle

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

Wendy Davis

1. The Texas Legislature begins a special session today to try to reach an agreement on a school finance plan that currently contains $4 billion in cuts, including the first reductions in per-pupil spending since the Great Depression for a state that already ranks 44th in school spending. The special session became necessary after a heroic 75-minute filibuster of the cuts on Sunday night by State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth. Davis is an LGBT ally who was succeeded on the Fort Worth City Council by Joel Burns, whom she had appointed to the city’s Plan Commission. Although the focus of the special session is school spending, other issues are likely to come up, including a proposed ban on so-called sanctuary cities that’s backed by Gov. Rick Perry. There could also be anti-LGBT legislation, such as Sen. Tommy Williams’ bill aimed at barring transgender people from marrying people of the opposite sex.

Warren Chisum

2. State Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, a longtime anti-gay leader and one of the the architects of Texas’ constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, was honored by the House on Monday as he prepares to retire from the Legislature. In an interview with the Texas Tribune, Chisum called the marriage amendment his toughest battle in 22 years. Really? Getting a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage passed in Texas was your toughest battle in 22 years? Chisum, who’s stepping aside because his district was combined with that of another Republican incumbent, says he plans to run for railroad commissioner.

3. Lt. Dan Choi was among dozens of LGBT marchers arrested Saturday during a gay Pride demonstration in Moscow. Watch video of Choi’s arrest below.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Equality Texas issues action alert with time running out on anti-bullying bill

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. Time is running out on the anti-bullying bill that has become Equality Texas’ top priority in this year’s state legislative session. The Texas Senate must pass HB 1942 today if it is to become law this year, according to an action alert from Equality Texas this morning. The group is urging people to contact their senators immediately and urge them to bring the bill to the floor. For contact info and talking points, go here.

2. After six hours of debate, the Minnesota House voted 70-62 Saturday to place a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage on the 2012 ballot. Four Republicans voted against the amendment, and one of them was State Rep. John Kriesel, a veteran who lost both of his legs in the Iraq war. Watch Kriesel’s speech on the House floor below.

3. Several major corporations, including Dallas-based AT&T, have issued statements saying they don’t support a Tennessee bill aimed at stripping LGBT protections in Nashville and banning future civil rights laws for gay and transgender people. The corporations were accused of supporting the bill, which passed last week, because they have representatives on the board of the Tennessee chamber of commerce, which backed the measure. But some have issued statements clarifying their positions in response to a campaign by AMERICAblog. Below is AT&T’s statement. To sign a petition calling on the other corporations to withdraw their support for the bill, go here.

“AT&T does not support any laws or efforts that are discriminatory. AT&T does support the principals of ensuring that state and local laws are consistent, which is the stated purpose of HB 600/SB 632. However, the bill has become implicated in efforts to erode the rights of the gay community, which we do not support. AT&T has a long history and longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion, and its policies address diversity in areas including race, creed, religion, sex, and particularly sexual orientation.”

—  John Wright

‘This issue is so ’80s’: Thousands rally in support of same-sex marriage ban in N.C.

From WRAL (Watch video of the entire rally below)

GARY D. ROBERTSON  |  Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. — The chatter over a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in the state constitution rose Tuesday as thousands of conservative Christians rallied to urge the Legislature to vote on it now that its Republican leaders are open to the idea after Democrats blocked it for years.

State Capitol Police estimated about 3,500 people participated in the marriage amendment rally behind the Legislative Building and organized by the Forsyth County-based Return America group. Visitors carried placards, American and Christian flags and listened to local ministers and nationally known speakers in conservative Christian circles argue voters are restless to cast yes or no votes for the amendment.

North Carolina is the only Southeastern state that hasn’t approved an amendment restricting marriage to one man and one woman. Thirty states have voted to allow that restriction in their state constitutions.

“It’s time. It’s time, North Carolina, it’s time,” Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, told a cheering crowd on the Halifax Mall. “It’s time to protect from those in Washington and those activist judges who are willing to aid those who want to redefine and ultimate destroy marriage.”

Earlier Tuesday, several ministers and a rabbi explained their opposition to the amendment in a separate news conference. They said passing the amendment would make gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgendered people second-class citizens by siding with the religious views of what they call a minority of citizens and deny them the ability to love whom they choose.

“This extreme legislation will only cause needless pain and suffering,” said the Rev. T. Anthony Spearman of Clinton Tabernacle AME Zion Church in Hickory. “At a time when legislators should be chopping away at unemployment rates and searching for ways to build a budget that would befriend the poor and marginalized, legislators are choosing to advance this divisive social agenda.”

North Carolina state law already identifies a valid marriage as one “created by the consent of a male and female person.” However, supporters of the ban contend an amendment would better protect traditional marriage from court challenges by same-sex couples married legally in five states and the District of Columbia.

About a dozen lawmakers were introduced at the rally, including two key House Republicans who said the question would be heard in the Legislature in 2011.

“It will get done this year,” House Majority Leader Paul Stam, R-Wake, told the crowd.

Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said later he also expected the amendment to be considered soon, either in the current session or in an extra session later that would examine proposed constitutional amendments.

Return America’s recent biennial rallies had fallen on the deaf ears of Democrats who led the General Assembly in one or both chambers for more than a century. They wouldn’t consider Republican-penned amendments and were allied with gay rights groups that argue an amendment would emboss discrimination permanently into state law.

That changed when the GOP won both chambers in the Legislature last fall. Three-fifths of the members in the House and Senate would have to approve the amendment in order for it to be on the November 2012 ballot, the date for a pair of bills that have been introduced. Some Democrats would be needed in the House to meet the three-fifths threshold. Some have co-sponsored previous measures.

A simple majority would be required in the statewide referendum.

The Senate version of the constitutional amendment also could deny same-sex partners other benefits such as visitation rights in hospitals and health insurance, according to Ian Palmquist of the gay rights group Equality North Carolina.

Amendment opponents could be helped by changing attitudes about homosexuality. Supporters point to surveys showing more than 70 percent like the amendment, but a 2009 Elon University Poll showed about half of North Carolina adults oppose one. And a February Elon poll showed more than half of North Carolina residents now support some form of legal recognition of same-sex couples.

The rally came three days after thousands of people attended the first “OutRaleigh” festival, which celebrated the area’s gay and lesbian community. Another North Carolina-based group called Faith in America is paying for billboards and newspaper ads in Raleigh calling on an end to religious bigotry, and ultimately a gay marriage amendment.

“This issue is so ’80s,” said Rep. Marcus Brandon, D-Guilford, the second openly gay lawmaker elected in North Carolina history. “It’s really an extreme, extreme position.” Brandon said he’s a Christian and believes some churches can confuse the values of the Christian faith and Jesus.

“Jesus was a compassionate person, and he would not have a rally outside right now,” he said.

But rally participants who traveled to Raleigh from across the state said they believed they had the right answer to the well-known Christian motto and question, “What would Jesus do?”

“I think he would want us to stand up for what’s right,” said Cindy Sartain, 54, of Concord, who came to the rally with members of her Baptist church in Kannapolis.

Rich Wells, 44, of Garner, an engineer who took a vacation day to attend the rally, said he’s encouraged by the Legislature’s interest in the bill, but “ultimately we just pray and leave the results to God.”

—  John Wright

BREAKING: Appeals court won’t let marriages resume in California while Prop 8 case is decided

A federal appeals court has denied a request to allow same-sex marriages to resume in California while the lawsuit challenging Proposition 8 is decided. Chris Geidner at Metro Weekly reports:

In a brief order issued today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit denied the plaintiffs’ request to vacate its earlier stay order, which is keeping Proposition 8 in effect during the appeal of the Perry v. Brown challenge to the marriage amendment.

The order, from the three judges hearing the appeal:

“Having considered all of the factors set forth in Nken v. Holder, 129 S. Ct. 1749, 1756 (2009), and all of the facts and circumstances surrounding Plaintiffs’ motion to vacate the stay pending appeal, as well as the standard for vacatur set forth in Southeast Alaska Conservation Council v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 472 F.3d 1097, 1101 (9th Cir. 2006), we deny Plaintiffs’ motion at this time.”

The plaintiffs had made the request of the Ninth Circuit to lift the stay shortly after the Department of Justice announced that it would no longer be defending Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act. The lawyers for the plaintiffs wrote, “The conclusion of the United States that  heightened scrutiny applies to classifications based on sexual  orientation is unquestionably correct. Proposition 8 cannot survive the  requirements of heightened scrutiny because its invidious discrimination  against gay men and lesbians could not conceivably further an important  government interest. Indeed, proponents have made no serious attempt  to defend Proposition 8 under that exacting standard.”

The ongoing consideration by the California Supreme Court of the certified question sent to it by the Ninth Circuit in the Perry case, which is delaying final resolution of the case by the Ninth Circuit, was an additional reason why the plaintiffs had requested that the stay be lifted. The California Supreme Court is considering whether the proponents of Proposition 8 have any “particularized interest” in the case or any legal right under California law to defend the proposition in court.

—  John Wright

Hundreds rally against Ind. marriage amendment

DEANNA MARTIN | Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — Several hundred people gathered Monday at the Indiana Statehouse to rally against a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and civil unions.

The “Equality for All Hoosiers” rally Monday came two days before a Senate committee meeting that will take up the issue. The Republican-controlled House already has approved the proposal, and the Republican-led Senate also is expected to pass it.

But those at the rally said the amendment would write discrimination into Indiana’s constitution. They’re urging lawmakers to vote against the proposal and voters to pay attention to those votes during the next election cycle.

If the General Assembly approves the proposed amendment this year, it would have to pass again in 2013 or 2014 to be on the ballot in 2014.

—  John Wright

DeLay, who warned U.S. would ‘go down’ because of gay marriage, is brought down by a lesbian

Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg

If case you missed it, former House Republican Majority Leader Tom “the Hammer” DeLay was convicted Wednesday on felony charges of money laundering for illegally funneling corporate dollars into Texas state legislative races in 2002.

DeLay, who represented a Houston-area House district from 1984 to 2005, faces up to life in prison but says he will appeal the verdict.

DeLay had a decidedly anti-gay voting record in Congress, receiving the worst possible score of zero from the Human Rights Campaign in each of his last two sessions. A year before his indictment and resignation, DeLay spoke on the House floor in support of a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage:

“This nation knows that if you destroy marriage as the definition of one man and one woman, creating children so that we can transfer our values to those children and they can be raised in an ideal home, this country will go down,” DeLay said.

“So believe me, everybody in this country’s going to know how you voted today,” he said, his anger mounting with every word. “They’re going to know how you stood on the fundamental protection of marriage and the definition of marriage. And we will take it from here and we will come back, and we will come back, and we will come back. We will never give up. We will protect marriage in this country.”

Given DeLay’s record on gay rights, perhaps there’s some poetic justice to the fact that the district attorney who obtained the conviction, Rosemary Lehmberg, is an out and proud lesbian. Lehmberg, a Democrat, was elected to replace Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, who initiated DeLay’s prosecution, after Earle retired in 2008. Before that, Lehmberg served as Earle’s first assistant for 10 years in the office that’s home to the state’s Public Integrity Unity, which is charged with investigating corruption in government.

Of course, DeLay’s prosecution had no more to do with Lehmberg’s sexual orientation than it did with her party affiliation, and none of the stories we’ve seen about his conviction even mention it.

Which is why we thought we would.

“I think that I serve as an individual who demonstrates that sexual orientation is not particularly relevant, except to your personal life, and therefore a lot of the homophobia and bias is unwarranted — the fear that people have,” Lehmberg told us following her election in 2008.

—  John Wright

If one of these nutjobs defeats Joe Straus for House speaker, we could be in deep doo-doo

Rep. Joe Straus is shown alongside Rep. Senfronia Thompson after being elected speaker in 2009.

If Rep. Joe Straus is ousted as speaker of the Texas House, it’s safe to say it will not be a good thing for the LGBT community. Dennis Coleman, executive director of Equality Texas, confirmed the obvious yesterday when he told us the statewide gay-rights group is sincerely hoping Straus can hang on to his post.

One of Straus’ challengers, Rep. Warren Chisum of Pampa, is among the biggest homophobes in the Texas Legislature. Chisum was the primary author of Texas’ 2005 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, and he’s also been behind efforts to outlaw gay foster and adoptive parents.

Another candidate for speaker, Rep. Ken Paxton of McKinney, who entered the race this week, doesn’t appear to be much better than Chisum on LGBT issues. Paxton was a co-author of the marriage amendment and voted in favor of a ban on gay foster parents in 2005.

Straus, meanwhile, voted in favor of the marriage amendment — not to do so might have been political suicide  — but he did not sign on as an author. He also voted against the gay foster parent ban, which was actually killed by socially moderate Republicans like himself. Straus attends a gay-affirming synagogue that performs same-sex marriages in San Antonio. Read more about all that here.

But if you really want to know why we should be pulling for Straus to remain speaker, all you have to do is consider who’s behind the effort to oust him. It’s a who’s who of nutjobs, and they’ve all signed an open letter posted on the website of Empower Texans. Prominent signatories include people like Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of Plano-based Liberty Institute; Richard Ford, president of the Heritage Alliance; and Cathie Adams, founder of the anti-gay Texas Eagle Forum. Any of those names ring a bell? The list goes on and on, but the bottom line is that if these groups are successful in ousting Straus, we’ll be at much greater risk of anti-gay legislation in the 2011 session. And with a two-thirds Republican majority in the House, our best and only defense may be distractions like redistricting and the budget shortfall.

According to its website, Empower Texans is conducting its anti-Straus campaign under the guise of fiscal conservatism. But since Straus is pretty darn fiscally conservative, we suspect there are other motives. Surely these right-wing groups don’t like the fact that Straus was elected speaker two years ago thanks to support from Democrats, which he continues to enjoy. They also don’t like the fact that he’s socially moderate — on abortion, immigration and yes, gay rights.

The speaker of the House is arguably the most powerful position in state government, and right now, Joe Straus may be the LGBT community’s best friend in the Texas Legislature. That being said, we aren’t sure there’s much the the community can do at this point to help Straus hang on to the post, except maybe pray.

—  John Wright