San Antonio City Council appoints new interim mayor

ivytaylorThe San Antonio City Council appointed Councilwoman Ivy R. Taylor as its interim mayor today following Julian Castro’s resignation in the wake of his appointment as the new U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Taylor was one of the three “no” votes against amending the city’s non-discrimination ordinance to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

According to the San Antonio News-Express, she voted no over concerns that it would stifle religious freedom.

At her swearing in today, however, Taylor said she looks forward to working with the entire community.

Chuck Smith of Equality Texas said in a statement he looks forward to working with Taylor “to ensure that the equal opportunities envisioned by the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance (NDO) can become a reality for the 1.3 million people who make San Antonio their home.”

Taylor, who has been on the council since 2009, will be the city’s first African-American mayor. She will serve until the May 2015 elections and has said in the past she would not run for the open position.

—  James Russell

Another Texas judge rules state’s marriage law unconstitutional

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Judge Barbara Nellermoe

Another Texas judge ruled that Texas, marriage amendment is unconstitutional.

While the Texas Supreme Court continues to delay ruling on two same-sex divorces, Judge Barbara Nellermoe in San Antonio ruled today that the marriage law is unconstitutional, and she can proceed hearing a couple’s divorce and custody case.

In one of the divorce cases before the Texas Supreme Court, Dallas Judge Teena Callahan ruled the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional and proceeded to grant the divorce. Earlier this year, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year declaring DOMA unconstitutional and ruled the Texas marriage law also unconstitutional.

Today’s ruling in the San Antonio case involves a lesbian couple who married in Washington, D.C. in 2010.

Kristi Lesh became pregnant and gave birth last year, and the couple split up later in the year.

Lesh argues that since she’s the biological mother, she should retain full custody, since Texas doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage. Allison Flood Lesh says a straight couple would generally be granted joint custody or visitation, and she should be awarded the same privilege.

So Kristi believes she had the right to take advantage of marriage when it suited her, but for the purposes of divorce, she’s acting like Greg Abbott, pleading the marriage doesn’t exist.

The judge agreed with Allison and called for a hearing.

—  David Taffet

Lesbian couple files for divorce in Bexar County

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A San Antonio couple has filed to dissolve their 2010 D.C. marriage.

The couple, Allison Leona Flood Lesh and Kristi Lyn Lesh, filed for divorce on Feb. 18 after separating in July. Their case is the first divorce sought by a same-sex couple in Bexar County, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

Eight days after they filed, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia ruled that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage and its refusal to recognize out-of-state marriages is unconstitutional. But Garcia stayed his ruling pending appeal. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott later appealed the ruling to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The case may be put on hold until the Texas Supreme Court decides whether to allow same-sex couples to divorce in Texas. The court heard arguments for same-sex divorce in the state back in November, when lawyers for an Austin couple, who were granted a divorce, and a Dallas couple, who were still trying to obtain one, argued that the state didn’t need to recognize the marriages to dissolve the unions since the state where they were married already recognized their unions as legal.

The court has yet to rule in the cases, but a decision is expected by summer before the court’s recess.

But the San Antonio couple wants the case to move forward because they are also battling for custody of their 13-month-old daughter. Flood, who hasn’t seen the child in six months,  wants to share custody, while Lesh doesn’t because her wife isn’t the girl’s biological or adoptive parent. The Austin couple also has a child, but the case didn’t deal with custody.

“This illustrates what Judge Garcia identified as (what) same-sex couples are deprived of,” Neel Lane, one of the San Antonio lawyers for the gay couples who sued the state over the same-sex marriage ban, told the San Antonio Express-News. “First, they are deprived of the benefits of an orderly dissolution of a marriage. Second, their children are denied the benefit of the many laws to protect their interests in the event of a divorce.”

The couple has a hearing on Thursday.

—  Anna Waugh

Formal opposition to San Antonio nondiscrimination ordinance ends

Councilman Diego Bernal

Councilman Diego Bernal

After the San Antonio City Council passed a nondiscrimination ordinance last September, opponents tried to force a repeal election. To do so they had 40 days to collect signatures from 10 percent of the city’s voters. They managed to get only about a third of the signatures needed.

The group’s next target was Councilman Diego Bernal, author of the nondiscrimination ordinance.

To recall the councilman, opponents needed signatures of 10 percent of the registered voters in the district. Although they promoted the idea that the ordinance allowed men to use women’s bathrooms where they would assault little girls, the group was unable to collect the needed signatures by the March deadline. They were 1,000 signatures short of the 5,800 needed.

The new strategy is to support an opponent of Bernal in the 2015 election. He ran unopposed in the previous election.

Bernal thanked his staff for acting professionally despite the amount of hate mail they received.

Gina Casteneda, organizer of the opposition to the ordinance, has taken the position of Texas field organizer for Americans for Prosperity, the conservative group funded by the Koch brothers.

—  David Taffet

Bexar County Commissioners Court extends benefits to same-sex partners

Bexar County commissioners

The Bexar County Commissioners Court

The Bexar County Commissioners Court voted unanimously Tuesday to extend health benefits to county employees’ same-sex spouses.

The “plus-one” plan allows an employee to add an additional adult to their health plans, Equality Texas announced. The plan is similar to ones passed by Austin Independent School District and offered by other municipalities and agencies like Dallas Area Rapid Transit.

Bexar County is the fourth county in Texas to offer the benefits after Travis County, Dallas County and El Paso County.

After Attorney General Greg Abbott’s opinion last year that DP benefits violate the state’s constitutional marriage amendment, municipalities and agencies have refereed to DP benefits as “plus one” plans, even though the opinion isn’t legally binding. And El Paso County changed its benefits plan last year to remove domestic partner language.

But a Houston lawsuit challenging same-sex spousal benefits is contesting offering benefits to same-sex couples with the state’s marriage amendment. The suit was filed after Mayor Annise Parker announced that spousal benefits would be extended to all legally married city employees in same-sex marriages.

To sign Equality Texas’ thank you letter to the Bexar County commissioners, go here.

—  Anna Waugh

Chan and incumbent Campbell say gays shouldn’t be allowed to adopt

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Elisa Chan

At a candidate screening by the San Antonio Express-News for state Senate District 25, two candidates, Elisa Chan and incumbent Sen. Donna Campbell, made their anti-gay views apparent. The third was noncommittal, according to Texas Freedom Network.

Chan made a name for herself last summer when she served on the San Antonio City Council, and an aide recorded an office meeting about how she could vote “no” on the city’s proposed nondiscrimination ordinance without incurring political fallout. Chan never apologized. Instead she blamed the ex-staffer for recording the conversation, resigned from the council and announced a run for the state Senate.

The question was, “Should gay couples be allowed to adopt?”

Chan: No.

Campbell: No.

Bexar County Commissioner Mike Novak: I’m not the judge.

Every time the Texas Legislature has broached the subject of gay couples adopting, Texas Child Protective Services has quietly but forcefully intervened to let legislators know that without the LGBT community, there’s no way CPS could handle the number of children in foster care each year.

Campbell, who has four adoptive children, is proposing reforms to the state’s adoption laws to make it easier to adopt children — apparently unless you’re gay.

 

—  David Taffet

Gay, lesbian couples sue to challenge Texas’ same-sex marriage ban

san-antonio-visitor-bureauSAN ANTONIO — A lawsuit filed Monday challenges Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage, claiming the Texas constitution violates protections of the United States constitution, such as the right to equal protection under the law.

The report from mysanantonio.com says the plaintiffs, gay couple Mark Pharris and Vic Holmes, and lesbian couple Cleopatra De Leon and Nicole Dimetman, seek a court order barring Texas officials from enforcing the same-sex marriage ban.

“In Texas, plaintiffs cannot legally marry their partner before family, friends and society — a right enjoyed by citizens who wish to marry a person of the opposite sex, and should they become married in a state that has established marriage equality, Texas explicitly voids their marriage,” said Barry Chasnoff, the attorney who filed the suit.

A spokesman for Gov. Rick Perry said the governor supports Texans who have decided they do not accept same-sex marriage, according to the report.

—  Steve Ramos

San Antonio judge leaves GOP over Republican anti-gay ‘hate speech’

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Judge Carlo Key

The fight over a nondiscrimination ordinance in San Antonio has lost the Republican Party one of its members.

Bexar County Court-at-Law No. 11 Judge Carlo Key switched his party affiliation to the Democratic Party, saying in a YouTube video Monday that he didn’t leave the Republican Party but it left him. He was referring to the nasty debate over a city ordinance that covers sexual orientation and gender identity in the city.

“I cannot tolerate a political party that demeans Texans based on their sexual orientation, the color of their skin or their economic status,” he said. “I will not be a member of a party in which hate speech elevates candidates for higher office rather than disqualifying them.”

Among other things he was referring to was Councilwoman Elisa Chan’s homophobic rants. She has since resigned the council to run for the legislature.

Key is up for reelection in 2014.

Watch the video of his announcement below.

—  David Taffet

Dallas Stonewall Dems targeted by tea party PAC, but complaint dismissed

Stonewall

A tea party political action committee that has filed three complaints with the state ethics commission against the San Antonio Stonewall chapter also filed a complaint against the Dallas chapter.

The Texas Ethics Advisory Board, which has no affiliation with the state ethics commission, reviewed the San Antonio chapter’s campaign finance report because its an LGBT organization.

Omar Narvaez, president of the Dallas chapter, said he thought the man behind the PAC targeted Stonewall chapters because they are LGBT groups. He said the complaint against the Dallas group centered around a wrong address. The group received a letter Tuesday from the state ethics commission dismissing the claim for a lack of sufficient information in the PAC’s complaint.

“Basically this organization — and it’s one guy — has decided that he has nothing better to do in the world than look for any organization that has supported anything to do with LGBT equality,” Narvaez said. “I guess he saw the name Stonewall and is trying [to look into every group with that name].”

—  Anna Waugh

Petition to repeal San Antonio nondiscrimination ordinance fails

Councilman Diego Bernal

Councilman Diego Bernal

A petition drive to repeal San Antonio’s new nondiscrimination ordinance has failed.

The drive was led by a megachurch pastor who claimed 50 churches launched petition drives to overturn the law. The group had 40 days from the time the ordinance passed to collect signatures from 10 percent of the city’s voters. They needed more than 60,000 signers and got about 20,000.

Some churches were worried about their nonprofit statuses. Federal law prevents a nonprofit from actively participating in political campaigns or endorsing candidates.

The church is still working on a recall petition against Councilman Diego Bernal, who sponsored the ordinance. Most churches are staying even farther away from that petition effort, which comes even closer to endorsing or opposing a political candidate and jeopardizing their nonprofit status.

A recall election would occur if 10 percent of voters in the council member’s district signed the petition.

—  David Taffet