Top 10: As Prop 8, DOMA cases proceeded, Texas made its own marriage news

Marriage
LANDMARK RULING | Marriage equality supporters celebrate outside San Francisco City Hall after Judge Vaughn Walker’s August ruling declaring Prop 8 unconstitutional. (Rick Gerharter)

No. 4:

View all of the Top 10

As the year began, all eyes were on California, where conservative superstar Ted Olson and liberal luminary David Bois joined forces to challenge the state’s voter-approved constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. The case is Perry v. Schwarzenegger, but both Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown declined to defend Prop 8. As a result, ProtectMarriage.com, the main group behind the initiative, filed to intervene and defend it in court. On Aug. 4, six months after the trial began, Judge Vaughn Walker issued his ruling striking down the ban as unconstitutional, prompting celebrations across the country. The state refused to appeal, but the amendment’s supporters did. In December, a three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit convened to hear oral arguments in the Prop 8 case. The judges grilled attorneys on both sides, but marriage equality advocates said they were encouraged by the hearing. A ruling is expected next year, but the case likely will end up at the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, two lawsuits challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act went to trial in Massachusetts this year, and in both cases, DOMA came out the loser. Those cases are also now on appeal.

In Texas, Attorney General Greg Abbott continued his crusade against same-sex divorce. In a Dallas case, Abbott’s office won a victory in May when a state appeals court overturned a judge’s decision to grant a same-sex divorce. Abbott’s appeal of another divorce in Austin is pending.

Meanwhile, transgender issues and LGBT marriage rights collided in July as Houston trans woman Nikki Araguz found herself going up against her in-laws, following the death of her husband, volunteer firefighter Thomas Araguz. Araguz’s family and former wife claimed his marriage to Nikki was invalid because she was born a biological male, and that all his benefits legally should go to them instead of Nikki. The case is awaiting trial.

And Texas would make big marriage news again in November, when a gay couple from Dallas announced they’d been legally married without leaving the state. Mark Reed-Walkup and Dante Walkup held their wedding ceremony at the W-Dallas hotel, but it was officiated via Skype from Washington, D.C., where same-sex marriage is legal. A few weeks later, D.C. officials declared the marriage invalid. The couple later physically traveled to D.C. and got married again. They’ve also renewed a complaint against The Dallas Morning News for refusing to publish their wedding announcement.

Elsewhere, Illinois became the sixth state to approve civil unions. In Hawaii, the legislature approved a bill allowing same-sex civil unions, but Republican Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed it. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed a bill that would have given same-sex partners control over the dispensation of their partners’ remains after death, because he supports “traditional marriage.”

Wisconsin’s Supreme Court upheld that state’s gay marriage ban.

Internationally, Portuguese President Anabel Cavaco Silva signed into law legislation that allows same-sex marriage. Argentina’s legislature approved a bill legalizing gay marriage, and President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner quickly signed it into law.

— Tammye Nash

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 31, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Prop 8 oral arguments are today, but if you’re not a lawyer it ‘might be like watching paint dry’

Ken Upton
Ken Upton

With DADT repeal all but dead, we turn our attention to California, where oral arguments are set today in the federal challenge to Proposition 8.

We’ve got a full preview and viewer’s guide over on the main page, and the two-hour proceedings will be broadcast live on the CSPAN website beginning at noon Dallas time.

But we also inquired of Ken Upton, a senior staff attorney at Lambda Legal in Dallas, as to what he’ll be looking for this afternoon. Here’s what Upton said:

I’ll be particularly interested in the panel’s questions surrounding standing (the constitutional principle that says only people actually affected or injured by the dispute have a right to litigate it, not people who merely have an opinion about it in a general sense). Courts can be willing to turn to this doctrine when appropriate to dispose of cases they aren’t ready to decide on the merits.

As for the second session, I’m interested in how the panel reacts to the evidence at trial and what weight they choose to give it. The marriage cases that were lost (e.g., NY, WA, IN, AZ) all resulted from a court willing to allow the government to speculate about the justifications for excluding same-sex couples from marriage. The victories happened when courts required the government to give real justifications that are grounded in fact, not theories made up after the fact based on rank speculation or outdated stereotypes. That will be the key here. How will the panel treat the evidence (which was overwhelmingly supportive of striking down Prop 8)?

It will be fun to watch (for lawyers, at least — might be like watching paint dry for many non-lawyers).

—  John Wright

A viewer’s guide to the Proposition 8 arguments

3-judge panel from 9th Circuit appeals court takes up case challenging voter-approved amendment banning same-sex marriage in California; C-SPAN will televise proceedings

Lisa Keen  |  Keen News Service lisakeen@me.com

THE NEXT STEP | Kristin Perry, from left, and Sandra Stier, listen as attorney Theodore Olson speaks at a news conference at the Federal Building in San Francisco in July 2009. A three-judge panel from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments in the case on Monday, Dec. 6. (Jeff Chiu/Associated Press)

A federal appeals panel in San Francisco will hear oral arguments Monday, Dec. 6, in the landmark challenge to Proposition 8 — California’s voter-passed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Broadcast of the district court trial last January was disallowed due to objections by some witnesses who said they feared harassment. But only attorneys will appear before the court Monday, and the 9th Circuit has agreed to allow the proceedings to be broadcast on C-SPAN and in other venues around the country.

A three-judge panel will hear arguments regarding the appeal of a lower court decision that held Proposition 8 violates the federal Constitution’s guarantees to equal protection and due process of law.

The Aug. 4 decision from Judge Vaughn Walker was the first time a federal court had struck down a statewide same-sex marriage ban, and similar bans exist in the constitutions or statutes of 38 other states.

Another six states have interpreted existing law as excluding same-sex couples from marriage licensing. Only five states and the District of Columbia have marriage equality laws.

If the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upholds the lower court decision, the ruling would make the bans in California and eight other western states unenforceable. But the decision of the 9th Circuit — whatever it is — will almost certainly be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and a decision there could affect bans in all states.

But there are also numerous potential variations to this simple scenario.

The most prominent potential variation at the moment concerns whether the group that has been defending Proposition 8 in court has legal standing to bring its appeal to the 9th Circuit.

It is a dull question compared to the drama of the original three-week trial of witnesses who testified about how Proposition 8 had damaged their lives. But its resolution could have enormous consequences for the case and will consume one of two hours set aside for Monday’s appeal.

Here is some key information most court watchers will need to know and will want to take notice of Monday:

Case name: Perry v. Schwarzenegger is the shorthand name for the case. The full name is Perry v. Schwarzenegger and Hollingsworth et. al.

Time and Place: Monday, Dec. 6, 10 a.m. PDT (noon, CST) at the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, in San Francisco.

Where to watch: Nationally, C-SPAN will be broadcasting the proceedings live. Court enthusiasts can also go to the federal courthouse in select cities around the country to watch a live feed — in Boston; Brooklyn, N.Y.; Portland, Ore.; Seattle, Wash.; Pasadena, Calif.; and two other courthouses in San Francisco.

The Parties: Perry is Kristin Perry, one of four plaintiffs who originally filed the lawsuit challenging Proposition 8. Perry seeks to marry her partner of 10 years, Sandra Stiers. They have four children. The other two plaintiffs — also a couple — are Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo, who have been together for nine years.

The city of San Francisco was also designated as a plaintiff-intervenor in the district court, meaning the city did not bring the lawsuit but established that it had a governmental interest in the outcome.

Schwarzenegger is, of course, Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who represents the California government in the case. Neither Schwarzenegger nor California Attorney General Jerry Brown (now governor-elect) was willing to defend Proposition 8 in the appeal.

So the real appellants in the case are the original “proponents” of the ban, identified as the Yes on 8 campaign (aka ProtectMarriage.com), and include State Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth and others. In addition, the board of supervisors and clerk of Imperial County are seeking the right to serve as appellants as well.

The schedule: The first hour of the two-hour argument will be focused on the issue of whether the Yes on 8 appellants and/or Imperial County have legal standing to appeal the lower court’s decision (see below). There will be a “brief” break, and then the second hour will be focused on the merits of the appeal (see below). The entire proceeding is likely to be concluded by around 12:15 p.m. Pacific Time.

The attorneys: At least six attorneys will be involved in Monday’s argument — three on merits and three on standing.

On merits, famed conservative attorney Ted Olson will argue for the four plaintiffs, and Therese Stewart, the openly gay chief deputy city attorney for San Francisco, will present arguments for the city, which would like to see the ban struck down. Conservative attorney Charles Cooper, who led the defense of Proposition 8 at the district court trial, is expected to argue the merits for proponents.

On standing, it has not yet been announced who will argue the standing issue for plaintiffs, the Yes on 8 Proponents, or Imperial County.

Legal standing issue: Not just anybody can initiate a lawsuit and appeal the decision, but courts err on the side of allowing a party to appeal.

Nevertheless, a party or parties seeking to appeal must still show they are at least vulnerable to an “actual” injury because of the decision below. That injury can include an economic one, but it has to be an injury more “concrete” than the fact that appellants disagree with the lower court decision.

Proponents will argue that the fact they were allowed standing in the U.S. District Court should mean they should naturally have standing on appeal.

The merits: Two provisions of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment are at issue, both encompassed in this language: “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Concerning due process, a state cannot deny citizens a fundamental right, including the right to marry, unless it can show a compelling reason to do so. U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker said proponents failed to establish “any historical purpose for excluding same-sex couples from marriage, as states have never required spouses to have an ability or willingness to procreate in order to marry.”

With equal protection, the government may not treat one group of citizens with less favor than others unless it has a reason to do so. It may not treat oppressed minorities with less favor unless it has a compelling reason to do so.

Judge Walker ruled that gays and lesbians are an oppressed minority and that proponents failed to establish evidence of even a simple, rational reason to treat them differently, much less a compelling one.

The Judges: The 9th Circuit on Monday, Nov. 29, announced the three judges that will make up next Monday’s panel — and it’s a dramatic line-up.

The senior-most judge — in age and experience on the federal appeals bench — is Stephen Reinhardt, 79, a Carter nominee who has ruled favorably on gay-related cases before.

The least senior is N. Randy Smith, 69, a native of Utah, an appointee of President George W. Bush, and a graduate of Brigham Young University Law School, an entity of the Mormon Church which played an enormous role in promoting Proposition 8.

In the middle is Judge Michael Hawkins, 65, a Clinton appointee, based in Phoenix, Ariz.

Prop 8 proponents on Wednesday, Dec. 1, filed papers asking Reinhardt to recuse himself because his wife, Ramona Ripston, is executive director of the Southern California chapter of the ACLU, which has been actively involved in trying to invalidate Prop 8.

But Reinhardt on Thursday morning, Dec. 2, issued a statement refusing to step down from the trial, saying there is no legal reason to question his impartiality.

Timetable after argument: There is no deadline by which the three-judge panel must issue its opinion, however, a decision is likely to be forthcoming within a few months. The losing party then will almost certainly appeal that decision to the full 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals,which may or may not agree to hear an appeal.

The losing party at that point would then likely appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The earliest the Supreme Court would likely get such an appeal would be in the fall of 2011, and the earliest it would rule would be in the late spring of 2012.

If the proponents or Imperial County lose on the question of standing, the 9th Circuit could decide not to make a ruling on the merits. But proponents and/or Imperial County would almost certainly appeal the decision concerning standing to the Supreme Court.

Should the Supreme Court rule that either of those parties has standing, it would then send the question on the merits of the appeal back to the 9th Circuit for a decision.

That eventual decision on the merits from the 9th Circuit could then be appealed to the Supreme Court. Wild guess timetable for a decision from the Supreme Court on merits with this scenario? 2014.

© 2010 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 3, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Prop 8 backers slam trial judge in urging appeal

Marriage ban sponsors call Vaughn Walker’s consideration of evidence ‘egregiously selective and one-sided,’ accuse him of ‘willful’ disregard

LISA LEFF  |  Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — Backers of California’s same-sex marriage ban urged a federal appeals court to overturn the trial judge who struck down Proposition 8 by arguing late Friday, Sept. 17 that his consideration of evidence was “egregiously selective and one-sided.”

In written arguments to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, lawyers for the ban’s sponsors alleged that Chief U.S. Judge Vaughn Walker “quite willfully” disregarded a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court precedent and other relevant information when he decided the voter-approved measure was an unconstitutional violation of gay Californians’ civil rights.

“The district court based its findings almost exclusively on an uncritical acceptance of the evidence submitted by Plaintiffs’ experts, and simply ignored virtually everything — judicial authority, the works of eminent scholars past and present in all relevant academic fields, extensive historical and documentary evidence — that ran counter to its conclusions,” they wrote in their 134-page opening brief.

Lawyers for the two couples who successfully sued in Walker’s court are due to file their responses next month. A three-judge 9th Circuit panel has scheduled oral arguments in the case for the first week in December and put Walker’s order requiring the state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples on hold until it renders its own decision.

The court papers filed Friday contained unbridled criticism of Walker’s handling of the first federal trial to examine if the U.S. Constitution prevents states from limiting marriage to a man and a woman.

The appealing attorneys, who called two witnesses compared to 18 for the plaintiffs, asked the 9th Circuit to ignore the trial testimony on which Walker laboriously based his opinion, calling it “unreliable and ultimately irrelevant” to whether Proposition 8 passes constitutional muster.

“Having blinded itself to the genuine animating purpose of marriage, the district court was obliged to offer a different rationale for the institution, presumably one that is entirely indifferent to the gender of the spouses,” they wrote.

They also characterized as defamatory the judge’s conclusion that “moral disapproval” of gay men and lesbians was the main reason voters passed Proposition 8 in November 2008.

“The district court decision is an attack on the many judges and lawmakers and millions of Americans who rightly and reasonably understand that marriage is the unique union of a man and a woman,” said Alliance Defense Fund attorney Brian Raum, who is part of the legal team fighting to uphold Proposition 8. “The Hollywood-funded opposition wants to impose — through a San Francisco court — an agenda that America has repeatedly rejected.”

American Foundation for Equal Rights President Chad Griffin, whose organization organized and funded the lawsuit that led to Walker’s ruling, said he remains confident that it would be upheld in the 9th Circuit and ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The fact remains that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional, as was proven conclusively and unequivocally through a full federal trial,” Griffin said. “There is no getting around the fact that the court’s decision was based on our nation’s most fundamental principles, and that the Constitution does not permit unequal treatment under the law.”

The 1972 case the Proposition 8 lawyers cited in their brief involved a gay couple who sought the right to marry in Minnesota and were rebuffed by that state’s highest court and ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to hear their appeal.

Before declaring Proposition 8 unconstitutional last month, Walker rejected arguments that he was bound by the 38-year-old case, determining that the high court’s rulings in subsequent gay rights cases were more relevant to his deliberations.

They also cited as evidence that Walker had exceeded the bounds of his authority in a 1982 decision in which the 9th Circuit ruled that a gay U.S. citizen who had obtained a marriage license in Colorado was not eligible to sponsor his foreign-born same-sex partner for immigration purposes.

The pro-Proposition 8 legal team devoted part of their filing to trying to persuade the 9th Circuit that they should be allowed to defend the ballot measure since California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown have refused to appeal the lower court ruling.

Doubts have been raised about whether the coalition of religious and conservative groups that qualified Proposition 8 for the ballot and campaigned for its passage have authority to do so because its members are not responsible for enforcing marriage laws.

Under federal court rules, appealing parties have to demonstrate they have suffered a direct, concrete and individualized harm. The same-sex marriage ban’s sponsors meet those requirements, their lawyers argued Friday, because the California Supreme Court allowed them to defend Proposition 8 in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to get the measure overturned last year and Walker allowed them to defend it again in his court.

Lawyers for a Southern California county whose residents voted overwhelming for Proposition 8 also were due to submit briefs before midnight arguing why they also should be allowed to appeal. The Imperial County Board of Supervisors and the county clerk have maintained they have the legal right to challenge Walker’s ruling even if the ban’s sponsors don’t because counties issue marriage licenses.

If the 9th Circuit dismisses the appeal after deciding that neither the county nor the measure’s proponents have legal standing, Walker’s ruling would become final unless the U.S. Supreme Court agrees to take up the case.

If the high court refuses to intervene, gay couples would be able to marry in California again. An estimated 18,000 couples were married in California before Proposition passed.

—  John Wright

Appeals court says no to gay divorce

A state appeals court in Dallas has ruled that two gay men who were married in Massachusetts cannot obtain a divorce in Texas.

The ruling came from the 5th District Court of Appeals on Tuesday in the case, In the Matter of the Marriage of J.B. and H.B.

J.B. and H.B. married in Massachusetts in 2006 and filed for a divorce in Texas in January 2009 after moving here. Massachusetts, which has allowed same-sex marriage since 2004, has a residency requirement for divorce.

In October of last year, District Judge Tena Callahan ruled that J.B. and H.B. could obtain a divorce in Texas, saying that the state’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

Callahan’s decision was immediately appealed by Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott, who argued that same-sex couples cannot divorce in Texas because the state doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage. An all-Republican, three-judge panel of the appeals court heard oral arguments in the case in April.

“We hold that Texas district courts do not have the subject-matter jurisdiction to hear a same-sex divorce case,” the panel said in Tuesday’s ruling. “Texas’s laws compelling this result do not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

Pete Schulte, a gay Dallas attorney who serves as co-counsel for J.B. in the case, issued a statement Tuesday afternoon.

“We respectfully disagree with the justices’ opinion,” Schulte said. “However, we respect the process and are evaluating our options moving forward.”

Jerry Strickland, a spokesman for the AG’s office, said in a statement: “Today’s Court of Appeals decision overruled the District Court’s improper ruling, confirmed the constitutionality of Texas’ traditional definition of marriage and correctly found that Texas courts lack the legal authority to grant divorces to same-sex couples. Because the Constitution and laws of the State of Texas define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, the Court correctly ruled that Texas courts do not have authority to grant a same-sex divorce. Further, the Court rejected the parties constitutional challenge and instead ruled that Texas’ definition of marriage is entirely consistent with the U.S. Constitution.”

Many expect case the case will be appealed to the Texas Supreme Court.

To view the full ruling, click on this link: Gay.Divorce

—  John Wright

Arkansas officials, right-wing group appeal judge’s ruling striking down gay adoption ban

Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The state Department of Human Services and a conservative group have appealed a judge’s ruling that struck down Arkansas’ voter-approved ban on unmarried couples serving as foster or adoptive parents.

The case is now before the Arkansas Supreme Court, after Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza ruled in April that the ban is unconstitutional. The high court set a Sept. 21 deadline for legal briefs in the case after the state and the Family Action Council Committee appealed the ruling.

Voters approved the ban in November 2008. It bars unmarried couples from fostering or adopting children, and effectively prohibits gays and lesbians from doing so because same-sex marriage is illegal in Arkansas.

The high court could hear oral arguments in the case as soon as this fall.

—  John Wright

NJ Supreme Court rejects gay marriage case

ANGELA DELLI SANTI  |  Associated Press Writer

TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey’s Supreme Court won’t consider whether the state’s civil union law provides equal rights to gay couples before the case is heard in a lower court.

The court announced Monday, July 26 it cannot consider the merits of the claim by six same-sex couples that New Jersey’s civil union law is unconstitutional until there is a trial record.

Gay couples unsuccessfully sued New Jersey four years ago for the right to marry. They claim that by creating civil unions, the state has not fulfilled a court order to treat them the same as heterosexual couples seeking to marry.

The justices were split 3-3, one vote shy of the four needed for a motion to be granted.

Justice Virginia Long, who wrote the dissenting opinion, agreed there is an insufficient record for debating the merits of the claim, but she said hearing oral arguments would have helped guide the justices on how best to go about creating a judicial record.

Steven Goldstein, who leads the state’s largest gay rights group, Garden State Equality, said the decision perpetuates the unequal legal status of same-sex couples and their children.

“Same-sex couples will continue to be denied the consistent right to visit one another in the hospital, to make medical decisions for one another, and to receive equal health benefits from employers, all because of the deprivation of the equality and dignity that uniquely comes with the word marriage,” he said in a statement.

—  John Wright