BREAKING: No word from SCOTUS on cases appealed from 6th Circuit

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The U.S. Supreme Court today (Friday, Jan. 9) took no action on appeals of five marriage equality cases from the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. The 6th Circuit court is the only federal appellate court since the Supreme Court’s June 2013 ruling declaring parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional to rule against marriage equality and in favor of state bans on same-sex marriage.

The Supreme Court last fall chose not to hear appeals in cases from other circuits, all of which had ruled in favor of equality. The court also chose not to extend the stay on a Florida judge’s ruling overturning the ban there, leading to the start of same-sex marriages there on Monday (Jan. 5).

Although today was the first day the court might have announced some action on the five 6th Circuit cases, it wasn’t the last. According to a report by Reuters, the justices often delay acting on cases the first time they are discussed in their private sessions. An announcement on whether the court will hear the cases could come as soon as next week.

—  Tammye Nash

Michael Sam announces engagement to Vito Cammisano

kissingTMZ is reporting that former Dallas Cowboys recruit Michael Sam, the first openly gay football player drafted by the NFL, is now engaged to his longtime boyfriend, Vito Cammisano. This could very well make him the first NFL player this year to get engaged without first being accused of assaulting his intended or their children.

Seriously, though, we are pleased as punch for our Texan of the Year honoree. If things go well at the 5th Circuit today, they might even be able to hold the ceremony here in Texas. Maybe Dale Hansen will be asked to serve as best man?

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Louisiana case wraps up, Mississippi being heard

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Louisiana plaintiffs Jon Robicheaux and Derek Pinton

The plaintiffs in the Louisiana case that was heard at 9 a.m. by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. The Mississippi case is currently being heard.

Erin Moore reports from New Orleans that the cases are running late.

—  David Taffet

PHOTOS: Lines form to get into 5th Circuit Court of Appeals

The lines formed early to get into the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals building to hear oral arguments on three same-sex marriage cases this morning. Erin Moore is outside the courthouse and took these pictures:

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Reporters asking questions as spectators line up to get a seat in the overflow rooms at the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans (Erin Moore/Dallas Voice)

 

Chuck Smith

Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith outside the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals (Erin Moore/Dallas Voice)

Omar Narvaez

Lambda Legal’s community educator Omar Narvaez waiting to get into the 5th Circuit courtroom. (Erin Moore/Dallas Voice)

 

—  David Taffet

Congrats to Amy and Kelly — and all the other Florida newlyweds

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Florida newlyweds Amy and Kelly

My friends Amy and Kelly were among the 30 Florida couples tapped to receive their marriage license immediately after midnight Jan. 5 — so, on Jan. 6 — when the stay expired on Judge Robert Hinkle’s ruling declaring the Florida marriage equality ban unconstitutional. Because of legal wrangling over to whom Hinkle’s order applied, the Orlando county clerk guaranteed only 30 marriage licenses at first.

As it turned out, the stay on a second pro-marriage-equality ruling was lifted on Jan. 5, and Hinkle issued an order making it clear that his ruling applied to everyone in every Florida county. So Amy and Kelly and the other 29 couples were not the first to get their licenses and exchange vows. But that didn’t make their ceremony any less touching and wonderful.

The CENTER — LGBT Community Center of Central Florida hosted a wedding for the 30 couples getting their licenses Jan. 6 in Orlando, and as Amy said on Facebook, she and Kelly never expected to be able to get married in such style. She has given me permission to share this photo of them, above, and this video, below, of the mass wedding. In the video, Amy and Kelly are the first couple in the procession, and they are both wearing white.

So congrats, Amy and Kelly, and all the other happy couples in Florida. I can’t wait til Texas gets on the bandwagon and my spouse and I get to make it legal.

—  Tammye Nash

Democrats introduce bill to officially repeal DOMA

marriageA bill that would officially repeal the Defense of Marriage Act was introduced yesterday (Tuesday, Jan. 6), the first day of the Republican-controlled 114th Congress.

The Respect for Marriage Act was introduced by Reps. Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Florida, in the House and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, in the Senate. 77 additional House members and 41 other senators have signed on.

The Supreme Court struck down the portion of DOMA barring federal recognition of same-sex marriage in 2013. Since that ruling, same-sex marriage is legal in 36 states and Washington, D.C. But same-sex marriage is still banned in 14 states, including Texas, and they do not have to recognize marriages performed elsewhere. (The Texas marriage case will be heard before the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans on Friday.) The Respect for Marriage Act would fix that.

“The vast majority of Americans live in states where same-sex couples can marry and public support for marriage equality is growing stronger by the day. We must finish the job begun by the Supreme Court by passing the Respect for Marriage Act.  The Supreme Court has ruled that Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional, but Congress still must repeal the law in its entirety,” Nadler said in a statement.

The legislation, he said, “provides a uniform rule for recognizing couples under federal law, ensuring that lawfully married couples will be recognized under federal law no matter where they live.”

According to a Department of Justice report, without legislation that repeals DOMA, married same-sex couples will continue to be denied critical federal benefits.

“Congress must repeal DOMA and ensure that married, same-sex couples are treated equally under federal law, which is what this bill will do,” said Sen. Feinstein. “Only when this bill is passed will we be able to guarantee the federal rights, benefits and responsibilities of marriage for all loving couples. I call on my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support this bill.”

—  James Russell

First Florida marriage license issued; couples marrying now

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Plaintiff couples in Pareto v. Ruvin are, from left, Todd and Jeffrey Delmay, Cathy Pareto and Karla Arguello, Vanessa and Melanie Alenier, and Don Johnston and Jorge Diaz. Pareto and Arguello received the first marriage license issued to a same-sex couple in Florida.

Karla Arguello and Cathy Pareto, one of six plaintiff couples in the marriage equality case Pareto v. Ruvin, today became the first same-sex couple to receive a marriage license in Florida.

The two applied for the license this morning (Monday, Jan. 5), as soon as Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel lifted her stay of her own ruling in the case, in which she declared the Florida marriage equality ban unconstitutional.

Judge Zabel has agreed to marry the plaintiff couples who wish to marry today, including Arguello and Pareto, and Jeff and Todd Delmay.

The plaintiffs in the case are represented by the law firm Carlton Fields Jorden Burt, Elizabeth F. Schwartz, Mary B. Meeks, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR).

—  Tammye Nash

Freedom to Marry ad featuring FWPD detectives airs

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This morning, as I was rushing to get ready for the first day back at work after the New Year holiday, an ad came on TV that made me stop and listen. Right there in the middle of the morning news hours was a commercial on marriage equality in Texas.

I didn’t catch the whole commercial, so I didn’t realize until I got to work and was reading my email that the ad I had seen on TV actually featured Fort Worth Police Officer Chris Gorrie, a gay man who talks about his partner Justin and the fact that they want to be legally married in Texas. The great part, though, is that the other three people in the commercial — Monica Jackson, Jay Doshi and Allison Fincher — are straight FWPD officers who are speaking up in support of their gay colleague and his right to marry the man he loves.

Here’s a transcript of the commercial:

Chris Gorrie:  I became a police officer in 2006.
Monica Jackson:  Chris makes a sacrifice everyday along with the rest of us.
Jay Doshi:  He puts his life on the line just like I do.
Chris Gorrie:  My partner Justin and I — we live together.  Eventually one day we’d like to get married just like everybody else.
Allison Fincher:  A lot of people think gay people shouldn’t be able to get married — that makes no sense.
Chris Gorrie:  Freedom is a big deal; the freedom to marry, the freedom to say what you want to say, and the freedom to do what you want to do.
Jay Doshi:  Texans believe in freedom and liberty and part of that is to be able to marry who you love, so Chris should be able to marry whoever he loves.

The ad is part of Texas for Marriage, a joint campaign by Freedom to Marry and Equality Texas to amplify bipartisan support for marriage across the state. It is on a two-day run in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Austin and El Paso, among other cities.

Last February, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia, in San Antonio, ruled that Texas’ ban on marriage equality violates the U.S. Constitution. Then-Attorney General/now-Gov. Greg Abbott appealed that ruling, and a three-court panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments on the case — in which Plano couple Vic Holmes and Mark Pharris are co-plaintiffs with Austin lesbian couple Nicole Dimetman and Cleo DeLeon — on Friday, Jan. 9, in New Orleans.

(Dallas Voice will have special correspondents Patti Fink and Erin Moore in New Orleans Friday to report on the hearing as it happens.)

In case you miss the ad — which I saw on CBS Channel 11 — here it is, on YouTube:

—  Tammye Nash

Judge rules all Florida county clerks must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples

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Judge Robert Hinkle

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle today issued a ruling stating that all Florida county clerks must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Hinkle ruled last August that Florida’s ban on legally recognizing same-sex marriages was unconstitutional. Hinkle was ruling in two cases — one brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida on behalf of eight couples, a Fort Myers widow, and SAVE, South Florida’s largest LGBT rights organization; the other by Jacksonville attorneys William Sheppard and Sam Jacobson on behalf of two couples.

Hinkle stayed his own ruling pending appeals. That stay was set to expire at midnight on Jan. 5, and when the U.S. Supreme Court last week refused to extend that stay, it cleared the way for same-sex marriages to begin in Florida on Tuesday, Jan. 6.

Some county clerks, however, said they would not issue licenses to same-sex couples because Hinkle’s ruling applied only to the Washington County clerk of court, who was named as a defendant in the case. The Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers released a legal memo earlier in December that Hinkle’s ruling only applied to marriage licenses issued by the clerk in Washington County and did not open the door for clerks in other parts of the state to issue licenses to same-sex couples and that clerks could face prosecution if they do so.

The Washington County clerk at the time the lawsuit was filed was Harold Bazzel. Bazzel was replaced by Lora Bell, elected in November, and Bell had asked Hinkle for a clarification on his ruling.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, Hinkle wrote: “Reasonable people can debate whether [his August ruling] was correct and who it binds. There should be no debate, however, on the question whether a clerk of court may follow the ruling, even for marriage-license applicants who are not parties to this case.”

Hinkle warned that clerks who refuse to issue licenses to gay couples should “take note” that they are essentially inviting lawsuits and legal fees, he said, adding, “History records no shortage of instances when state officials defied federal court orders on issues of federal constitutional law. Happily, there are many more instances when responsible officials followed the law, like it or not.”

After Hinkle issued his clarification today (Jan. 1), ACLU of Florida LGBT Rights Staff Attorney Daniel Tilley said, “Clerks who were waiting for clarification from the court as to their obligations now have that clarity and should prepare to issue marriage licenses to couples in their counties waiting to marry as soon as the stay expires.”

He added, “We expect all clerks to respect the ruling.  But if not, we are committed to ensuring marriage equality in all 67 counties in Florida and we would like to hear from any couples that are wrongfully denied a license after the stay expires.”

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who has battled marriage equality every step of the way, issued a written statement today saying that her office, which has defended the state’s same-sex marriage ban, would not “stand in the way as clerks of court determine how to proceed.”

Read Hinkle’s order issued today here.

—  Tammye Nash

Supreme Court will decide whether to hear any of 5 pending cases on Jan. 9

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Greg Bourke, plaintiff in one of the Kentucky cases, was in Dallas last year, protesting discrimination by the Boy Scouts

Marriage equality will be front and center in the news as the new year begins. On Jan. 6, Florida becomes marriage equality state No. 36. Three days later, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals hears cases from Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. The same day, the U.S. Supreme Court meets to decide whether to hear a marriage case.

The panel that will hear arguments in the 5th Circuit will be announced on Dec. 29.

In October, the high court decided not to hear a marriage case. But at the time, all the lower courts that heard marriage equality cases were in agreement. Since then, a lower court in Louisiana asserted that state’s right to discriminate and so has the 6th Circuit.

Five cases are pending before the court to consider. The justices may decide to take one or more of them. If they reject all of these cases, marriage discrimination stands in the 5th and 6th Circuits until the Supreme Court decides otherwise.

• The Tennessee case, Tanco v. Haslam, was filed on behalf of four same-sex couples by the National Center for Lesbian Rights and private attorneys after the Sixth Circuit upheld the state’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples.

• In Ohio, a joint filing of the cases Henry v. Hodges (brought by Lambda Legal and private attorneys) and Obergfell v. Hodges, (brought by ACLU and private attorneys) asked the Supreme Court to review the Sixth Circuit’s decision.

• The petition for the Michigan case, DeBoer v. Snyder, was filed by private attorneys. The case was brought on behalf of a lesbian couple challenging the state’s marriage ban so that they can jointly adopt their child. The petition asks the nine justices to rule that the state ban prohibits same-sex couples from “our nation’s most cherished and essential guarantees.”

• In Kentucky, the consolidated cases Bourke v. Beshear and Love v. Beshear, both of which were brought by private attorneys, filed a petition for cert with the U.S. Supreme Court. The cases, brought by same-sex couples challenging the state’s marriage ban, argue that the ban violates due process and equal protection guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

• In Louisiana, the case Robicheaux v. George was brought by the Forum for Equality Louisiana, with counsel from Lambda Legal, on behalf of same-sex couples challenging the state’s ban on marriage equality. In Robicheaux, a federal judge in Louisiana ruled to uphold the state’s marriage ban, the first federal district court judge to do so in the country since key portions of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court last June.

More on the strides made toward marriage equality in Friday’s Dallas Voice.

—  David Taffet