Lawsuit filed against Mississippi adoption ban


Attorney Robbie Kaplan

Mississippi is the last state that has a ban on same-sex couples adopting.

Attorney Robbie Kaplan, who represented Edie Windsor in her fight against the Defense of Marriage Act and represented Mississippi couples in their fight against their state’s marriage ban, filed the lawsuit.

“We like to finish what we started,” Kaplan tweeted.

On its website, the Campaign for Southern Equality wrote:

The case, Campaign for Southern Equality v. Mississippi Department of Human Services, was filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi on behalf of four same-sex couples: Kari Lunsford and Tinora Sweeten-Lunsford, who are seeking to adopt a child; Brittany Rowell and Jessica Harbuck, also seeking to adopt; Donna Phillips and Janet Smith, parents to a young daughter; and Kathryn Garner and Susan Hrostowski, who have a 15-year-old son. Two organizations — the Campaign for Southern Equality and Family Equality Council — join the case as plaintiffs representing the LGBT families across Mississippi.

—  David Taffet

Mississippi pastor wants to marry his horse


A picture of the pastor and his fiance via Twitter.

A Mississippi pastor trotted out his horse in a wedding dress to protest the marriage equality ruling in that state proving some pastors are simply horses asses.

Edward James of Bertha Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in Jackson dressed a horse named Charlotte in a wedding dress and brought her to the federal courthouse in the state capital. He held a sign that read: “The next unnatural law … Do you take this horse to be your unnatural wedded spouse to have and to hold?”

Of course, no one, except this presumed heterosexual pastor, wants to marry a horse. No one in the Jackson media asked the pastor if he had already consummated his relationship with Charlotte.

While the pastor protested, Charlotte grazed on grass on the median in front of the courthouse. The Jackson Clarion-Ledger didn’t report if James was cited for allowing his fiance to eat public property or if animal control took Charlotte into custody to investigate James for abuse.

What’s disturbing is this horse’s ass of a pastor equates gays and lesbians with animals. He doesn’t understand the difference between a consenting relationship between two adults and marrying a horse.

He also refuses to understand that no one requires any minister to perform a wedding between any two people and ministers refuse to wed some couples for any number of reasons all the time. Any legitimate member of the clergy fully understands this.

“Next, they’ll want to marry their horse” is a disingenuous argument used as a last gasp by bigots in churches who are not promoting freedom of religion. Many faiths recognize and embrace same-sex marriage. Rather than promoting freedom of religion, pastors like James are religious Nazis who want to impose their own faith on everyone else.

Or they’re just horses asses.

And one final thought. Judging by the picture, Charlotte’s dress is on upside down. Obviously this couple would benefit from a gay wedding planner.

—  David Taffet

Pack your bags and head for Ole Miss to git hitched later this week. Maybe.

mississippi-flag-e1387132309472“Gay couples could start obtaining marriage licenses in Mississippi as early as this week if the predictions of at least six top legal scholars nationwide hold true,” according to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.

That’s Jackson, MISSISSIPPI.

Mississippi with the Confederate flag in its state flag. Yes, the state that beats Texas with worse healthcare and a worse education system. Looking at a map, it’s the one two states to the right. Mississippi might beat Texas to marriage equality by 15 states.

And Mississippi was our only real competition in the race to be last in equality. A Mississippi victory positions Texas nicely to be last.

However, the 5th Circuit, one of the most conservative courts in the country, would almost certainly stay a decision to allow marriage equality. Wouldn’t they?

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves heard the case on Monday, Nov. 17. He was appointed by President Barack Obama. No Obama or Clinton appointee has ruled against marriage equality since the Windsor decision in June 2013. A quick decision is expected. Like this week. And they just might sneak in a few marriages before the 5th Circuit stays any ruling.

The 5th Circuit is scheduled to hear appeals of Texas and Louisiana cases on Jan 5. If this ruling is issued quickly, it could be heard then as well.

—  David Taffet

This Week in Marriage Equality: Kansas poised to become No. 33


Kansas officials asked the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals to place a stay on marriage equality while its case works its way through the courts. Either Kansas officials are just dumb or they’re looking for ways to delay equality.

The 10th Circuit already ruled that marriage bans in Oklahoma and Utah violate due process and were created out of animus toward gays and lesbians. Why Kansas officials think that same court would rule the Kansas law doesn’t violate due process and there’s no animus there because, well, Dorothy is from Kansas, is anyone’s guess.

The court gave the state a one-week stay. That stay ends on Tuesday, Nov. 11, unless Justice Sonia Sotomayor grants a stay. However, even though the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the 8th Circuit’s Utah and Oklahoma rulings, they’ve already said they didn’t want to hear those cases. There’s no reason to stay the Oklahoma and Utah rulings for Kansas.


U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves will hear a challenge to Mississippi’s marriage ban on Wednesday, Nov. 12. Reeves was nominated to the court by President Barack Obama. Bye bye Mississippi marriage ban.

A decision would be appealed to the 5th Circuit, which also includes Texas and Louisiana and which has not yet weighed in on marriage equality. That court is considered among the most conservative and could come down on the side of discrimination. The 5th Circuit will hear the Louisiana and Texas appeals in January.

Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky

Plaintiffs in the cases in the four states in the 6th Circuit — Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky — whose marriage bans were upheld last week will all appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In any of the cases, plaintiffs could have asked for an en banc hearing in which all of the 6th Circuit judges would have heard the case. Instead, rather than delaying the case and hoping for a nationwide resolution of the issue by the end of June 2015, they each decided for a direct appeal.

Because of the split among circuits, the U.S. Supreme Court is compelled to take a marriage case, but could delay hearing a case until next session. Since the 6th Circuit issued just one decision for all four states, the court could decide to hear from all states or could choose just one appeal.

—  David Taffet

Nondiscrimination ordinance passes in Mississippi city

map_of_bay_st.louis_ms“As an elected official, we should not and must not discriminate against anyone,” said Joey Boudin before voting for a nondiscrimination resolution that passed unanimously Tuesday.

Boudin is a city councilman. From New York? L.A.? No, he’s the Ward 5 Councilman from Bay St. Louis, Miss.

This is the sixth Mississippi city to pass a similar ordinance this year after Starkville, Hattiesburg, Greenville, Magnolia and Oxford, according to the Biloxi Gulfport Sun Herald.

Bay St. Louis resident Pat Robinson said, “It sends a very clear-cut message to everyone — particularly the gay youth — that everyone is valued in the Bay. We don’t discriminate against gender identity and expression and sexual orientation.”

The ordinance follows the recent signing of the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which bans the state from doing anything to limit the practice of religion. Apparently, in Mississippi, religious groups were being prevented from fully practicing their religious beliefs.

Like 150-year-old Beth Israel Congregation, the large Reform synagogue in Jackson that some of my relatives attend. Rabbi Valerie Cohen has been prevented from performing same-sex weddings. I’m sure the “restoration” of her “religious freedom” will allow her to freely practice her Judaism and perform same-sex weddings at her temple.

—  David Taffet

Mississippi passes anti-gay hate law

mississippi-flag-e1387132309472The Mississippi Legislature passed an anti-gay “religious freedom” bill on Tuesday  similar to the one vetoed in Arizona. The law legalizes anti-gay discrimination as long as it’s done in the name of religion.

The bill that passed was rewritten after the Arizona bill was vetoed. The blatant anti-gay animus was removed. The new bill is simply written ambiguously so that there’s nothing unconstitutional about its wording. However, if anyone tries to use the law to justify discrimination, courts could strike it down as written only because of extreme animus against the LGBT community.

“The language still exposes virtually every branch, office and agency of the government to litigation, which will require taxpayer funds to defend,” the American Civil Liberties Union’s Eunice Rho told MSNBC.

Wording of the bill is modeled after the Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed into law by President Bill Clinton. That law, though, passed by a bipartisan coalition, was not intended to encourage discrimination or limit anyone’s civil rights.

The bill awaits the governor’s signature.

—  David Taffet

Miss. House passes anti-gay ‘religious freedom bill’

mississippi-flag-e1387132309472The Mississippi House voted 80 to 37 Wednesday evening to approve a dramatically altered “religious freedom” bill that simply calls for a joint House-Senate Judiciary committee to prepare a report “regarding proposed legislation that protects the religious freedoms of the citizens of the State of Mississippi.” The report is due Dec. 31.

The amended bill averted a vote on the bill originally sent to the House floor that would have allowed a person to discriminate against others by asserting he or she has a religious motivation for doing so. The Mississippi Senate had already passed a religious bias bill that went even further than the House version.

Now, the House and Senate conference committee must reconcile the two very different bills.

Mississippi’s Republican Gov. Phil Bryant has expressed support for one section contained in each bill — putting “In God We Trust” into the state seal. But he has not been clear on whether he would sign a bill that allowed discrimination.

As the House bill came to the floor Wednesday, rumors began circulating there were not enough votes to pass it in the form in which it came to the floor. Rep. Andy Gipson, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, proposed replacing the language concerning “religious freedom” in the bill with language forming a study committee to hold three hearings starting June 1. That amendment passed by voice vote. He then urged his colleagues that a “yes” vote on the newly amended bill would keep the original SB 2681 legislation “alive” for this session.

The Mississippi bill and others like it in other states are the latest sign that the clash between the freedom of religion and nondiscrimination laws continues to expand across the country.

There was considerable media attention last month when Arizona’s Legislature passed a similar measure, but Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed it. At least five other state legislatures still have similar measures pending, but at least 12 other state legislatures have already killed, withdrawn or rejected similar measures.

Debate over the bills in various legislatures suggests they are largely motivated by a desire to allow an individual to express opposition to same-sex marriages by refusing to bake a wedding cake or provide wedding photography, but the bills are written in such a way that they create a gaping hole in human rights laws, enabling people to circumvent laws banning discrimination based on race, ethnic origin, sex and every other classification, including sexual orientation and gender identity. They also could enable a person to cite religious motivations in a wide range of activities, such as withholding medical care, refusing to pay back interest on a loan or denying service in a hotel or restaurant.

Supporters of the religious bias bills have repeatedly characterized them as being nearly identical to the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act and various state bills that have already been enacted.

But they’re not the same, and many lawmakers in most states appear to have grasped the difference.

The federal law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, said, “The government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability” unless “it is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest” and represents “the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.” The Act states “the term ‘exercise of religion’ means exercise of religion under the first article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States.” In 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in Boerne v. Flores, that the act was “a considerable congressional intrusion into the states’ traditional prerogatives and general authority to regulate the health and welfare of their citizens.”

A law enacted last year by the Kentucky legislature following an override of the governor’s veto is very similar to the federal law except that it adds the government may not burden a person’s religious beliefs indirectly through such means as “withholding benefits, assessing penalties or an exclusion from programs or access to facilities.” That additional language would appear to be useful to a religiously run hospital that wanted to refuse same-sex partner visitation and still collect federal governmental support.

And there was considerable opposition to the Kentucky bill, opposition that expresses many of the same objections being heard to this year’s bills. The Kentucky County Judge/Executive Association said the bill could enable public employees to refuse certain assignments and “open the door to spurious claims by inmates” regarding their food, medical treatment and worship needs. The Kentucky League of Cities warned it could jeopardize the enforcement of laws of general applicability regarding health, safety and welfare. The Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs said religious beliefs often have been used by family members to justify abuse of women and children and that this new law would make that easier. The Kentucky Human Rights Commission said the law could be used by members of one religion to deny housing to members of another religion, that a restaurant owner of one race could use it to deny service to a patron of another race. The Jefferson County Teachers Association said the bill would undermine public education because it could enable teachers to “refuse to teach important concepts.” And on and on. At least 13 other states adopted similar bills last year.

This year’s crop of “religious freedom” bills has gone quite a bit further. They have sought to make it possible for individuals or entities to claim their religious freedoms were being infringed upon by the government or by other individuals or businesses. And, by making such a claim, the proposed religious freedom law would give them an exemption to a wide range of laws and a cause of action to sue. In Arizona and Georgia, major corporations have spoken out against the proposals, saying they would make employment issues much more difficult.

In an apparent effort to avoid some of the controversy Arizona and Georgia faced from the business community, the Mississippi bill added that, “Nothing in this act shall create any rights by an employee against an employer if the employer is not a governmental agency.” And it limits “appropriate relief” for the person claiming religious burden to be sought only from “the state or a political subdivision of the state.” But the Mississippi bill also provides relief to a “person whose exercise of religion has been substantially burdened or is likely to be substantially burdened … .

Meanwhile, fallout continues in states that have dropped the bills. The Kansas Senate Judiciary Committee held a marathon public hearing on why existing state law does or doesn’t provide adequate protection for religious freedom. In Georgia, where a religious freedom bill died in committee, supporters of the measure have vowed to mount a national boycott against major corporations — like Coca-Cola, Home Depot and UPS — for having expressed opposition to the measures.

In addition to Mississippi, there are still bills pending in Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Oregon, and there are school-specific variations still afloat in at least seven legislatures, including Oklahoma where one passed the House unanimously.

In other words, the fight against religious bias bills has the potential to continue for some time to come.

LISA KEEN  |  Keen News Service

—  Steve Ramos

Mississippi judge refuses to grant gay couple a divorce

images-1JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A Mississippi judge on Monday refused to grant a divorce to a lesbian couple who got married in California, saying the marriage wasn’t recognized under state law, according to the woman who filed and her lawyer.

Lauren Beth Czekala-Chatham, who filed for the divorce in September in north Mississippi’s DeSoto County, said in a telephone interview Monday that the judge seemed sympathetic and that she plans to appeal the ruling.

Czekala-Chatham, a 51-year-old credit analyst and mother of two teenage sons from an earlier straight marriage, said she was “a little bit disappointed.”

“I would have liked to have had the divorce, but either way he ruled, it was going to be appealed,” she said.

Democrat Attorney General Jim Hood’s office had argued that Mississippi can’t grant a divorce in a marriage it doesn’t recognize. Hood’s office said in a motion to intervene on Nov. 15 that Mississippi “has no obligation to give effect to California laws that are contrary to Mississippi’s expressly stated public policy.”

—  Steve Ramos

Is marriage equality coming to Mississippi?

The opinion page in one newspaper called February the gayest month in history. Its writer, Patrick Young, a graduate student in public policy and administration, said it best:

Whitney, a Madonna Superbowl, Mardi Gras, the return of “American Idol” and “The Voice.” Don’t forget the addition of another musical TV show, “Smash.” The Oscars, Grammys and about 2,304 other award shows made it to the airwaves.

Throw in any Adele song (What did radio ever play before we had her?) and that Kelly Clarkson car commercial that plays non-stop.

Is it safe to say February 2012 may have been the gayest month ever for the U.S.?

But that’s not why he believes that this month was the gayest month ever. He notes that three states passed marriage equality. He celebrates that his uncle and his partner who live in Maryland and have been together 40 years might soon get married.

What’s surprising about this editorial is that it appeared in the The Reflector — “the official online grind of Mississippi State University.”

He argues, “More people from both sides of the political spectrum are beginning to see marriage between two consenting adults has little effect on anyone but those involved in the nuptials.”

And he asks, “Is traditional marriage becoming queer? Yes. And it’s about damn time, Mississippi.”

—  David Taffet

PHOTOS: Response to ‘The Response’ begins

Riki Miller, Zombie McZee and Britney Miranda.

The responses to “The Response” are under way in Houston. First out of the gate was Friday night’s LGBT Texans Against Hate Rally.  Despite temperatures that had barely come down from the triple digits, Houstonians thronged to Tranquility Park in downtown. Beyond commenting on the temperature, the common theme of most of the speakers was that the American Family Association and Gov. Perry’s rally is not representative of Houston and is not welcomed.

Robert Shipman, president of the Houston Stonewall Young Democrats, said: “I kinda think Rick Perry chose the wrong city!”

He continued “They are the bigots, we are not … we are Houston.”

“I guess we should take comfort in the fact that, except for some of his staffers, [Gov. Perry] couldn’t find enough homegrown bigotry in the state of Texas to put on the event himself,” said Mike Craig, co-chair of Out & Equal Houston. “He had to bus them in from Tupulo, Miss., and Colorado Springs, Colo.” Craig was referring to American Family Association (based in Tupulo) and Focus on the Family (based in Colorado Springs), both co-sponsors of “The Response.”

State Rep.  Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, provided the closing address. He criticized Gov. Perry for using divisive religious rhetoric for political gain. “Being here today I’m proud that we are fighting back against a narrow, theocratic view of the world that we live in and of our country that says that people are not welcomed — that says that people are bad because of who they are. That is not America,” said Coleman. “That is what is dividing our city, our state and our country.”

Stay tuned to Instant Tea for more coverage of the LGBT community’s response to “The Response.” More photos from the LGBT Texans Against Hate Rally below (click to enlarge):

—  admin