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

Chan.Elisa

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

Group aims to recall San Antonio councilman who sponsored city’s nondiscrimination ordinance

Councilman Diego Bernal

Councilman Diego Bernal

A group opposed to San Antonio’s new nondiscrimination ordinance are circulating a petition to recall Councilman Diego Bernal, the measure’s chief sponsor.

They claim because of the new ordinance, men are using women’s bathrooms and sexually assaulting little girls. Police have no complaints of men in women’s bathrooms and no reports of sexual assaults of little girls.

But why should facts stand in their way?

Opponents of the ordinance argued before passage that it would infringe on their religious freedom. Attorney General Greg Abbott threatened to file a lawsuit against the ordinance based on wording that was debated and removed before it passed.

San Antonio’s city’s charter allows a recall of city officials if signatures of 10 percent of registered voters in the district is collected. The group said it should have those signatures within a few weeks.

They are also threatening to begin a recall of Mayor Julian Castro. That would take 10 percent of the city’s voters.

—  David Taffet

Davis endorses SA nondiscrimination ordinance, gets Castro’s support

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Sen. Wendy Davis announcing her bid for governor

State. Sen. Wendy Davis appeared in San Antonio on Monday for a campaign stop, during which she endorsed the city’s new nondiscrimination ordinance and was endorsed by Mayor Julian Castro.

Davis said she hoped the new ordinance in San Antonio would become commonplace throughout Texas. Fort Worth has a similar ordinance, which Davis voted for when she sat on the City Council.

“I hope that it becomes something that is commonplace,” Davis said. “I look forward to a Texas where we see that in every city in the state.”

Davis later told reporters that it’s “important that people be treated equally in the workplace, plain and simple.”

Her position is the opposite of Attorney General Greg Abbott, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination. He threatened to file suit against the ordinance, claiming it violated freedom of religion. He dropped the suit when he couldn’t find any way discriminating against people was a religious right.

An Abbott spokesman reiterated his opposition to the nondiscrimination ordinance but also indicated opposition to some private companies adopting those policies.

“Both the U.S. and Texas Constitutions protect faith-based organizations from being coerced into employing persons in a way that would require them to violate their faith,” the spokesman told Texas Tribune.

Davis announced she was running for governor last week at a rally in Haltom City.

Filing for the primaries begins Nov. 9. The primary will be held in March.

—  David Taffet