Dan Branch claims Facebook yanked campaign ad over anti-gay content

Rep. Dan Branch

Rep. Dan Branch

Texas attorney general candidate Dan Branch’s campaign is claiming Facebook pulled one of his ads because it includes anti-gay hate speech. That might be humorous if it were true, but a Facebook spokesperson says the decision to pull the ad was a mistake.

Branch, a Republican state representative who represents part of Dallas’ Oak Lawn gayborhood, is among those vying to replace AG Greg Abbott, who’s stepping down to run for governor in 2014. In the ad released last week, Branch vows to protect Texas’ right to trample on the rights of women and gays.

“I will fight for our state’s right to protect the unborn, and our right to define a marriage as between one man and woman, and if some in Washington want to deny us our freedom, as they said at the Battle of Gonzalez, we’ve got four words for them here in Texas: ‘Come and take it,’” Branch says in the ad.

Facebook pulled the ad last Thursday for violating “community standards,” according to The Texas Tribune. However, a day later the ad was restored, and the site apologized.

“As our team processes more than 1 million reports each week, we occasionally make a mistake,” Facebook said in a statement. “We worked to rectify the error as soon as we were notified. We apologize for the inconvenience caused due to the removal of this content, and we have already taken steps to prevent this from happening in the future. Additionally, we have removed any blocks on associated accounts.”

—  John Wright

Top 10: Trans widow continued her fight

araguz2

VOWING TO WIN | Nikki Araguz says she will appeal her case all the way to he U.S. Supreme Court if necessary. (Courtesy of Nikki Araguz)

No. 8

The Texas Constitution defines marriage as between one man and one woman, but how will the state define “man” and “woman”?

Transgender marriage cases in Dallas and Houston could force the Texas Supreme Court — or even the U.S. Supreme Court — to ultimately decide the thorny issue.

In Houston, transgender widow Nikki Araguz has appealed a district judge’s ruling denying her death benefits from her late husband, Thomas Araguz III, a volunteer firefighter who was killed in the line of duty in 2010.

The judge, Randy Clapp, granted summary judgment to Thomas Araguz’s family, which filed a lawsuit alleging the couple’s 2008 marriage is void because Nikki Araguz was born male, and Texas law prohibits same-sex marriage.

The Araguz family’s argument relies heavily on a San Antonio appeals court’s 1999 ruling in Littleton v. Prange, which found that gender is determined at birth and cannot be changed.

However, LGBT advocates say the Littleton ruling is unconstitutional, goes against medical science and isn’t binding in other parts of the state, where it has not always been followed.

In Dallas, a district judge apparently reached the opposite conclusion from Clapp this November — denying a similar motion for summary judgment.

James Allan Scott, a transgender man, is seeking a divorce settlement from his wife of 13 years, Rebecca Louise Robertson. However, Robertson wants to have the marriage declared void because Scott was born a biological female.

District Judge Lori Chrisman denied Robertson’s motion for summary judgment, which leaned heavily on Littleton. The judge provided no explanation for her ruling allowing the matter to proceed as a divorce, at least for now.

It’s unclear whether Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott plans to intervene in the Dallas case. Abbott has intervened in same-sex divorce cases in Austin and Dallas, seeking to block them. But thus far he has stayed above the fray on transgender marriage, even though it presents overlapping issues.

After a transgender woman and a cisgender woman applied for a marriage license in 2010, the El Paso County clerk requested a ruling from Abbott about whether to grant it. But Abbott opted not to weigh in, with his office saying it would instead wait for court rulings in the Araguz case. The El Paso couple was later able to marry in San Antonio, where the county clerk went by Littleton v. Prange.

In response to the Araguz case, a bill was introduced in the Texas Legislature this year to ban transgender marriage. The bill would have removed proof of a sex change from the list of documents that can be used to obtain marriage licenses. Strongly opposed by LGBT advocates, it cleared a Senate committee but never made it to the floor.

Trans advocates said the bill also would have effectively prohibited the state from recognizing their transitioned status — or, who they are — for any purpose.

The problem for socially conservative lawmakers is, they can’t have it both ways. Marriage is a fundamental right that courts have said can’t be taken away from a person completely. So no matter what, Texas will be forced to allow a version of same-sex marriage.

Which is why some believe the cases could help undo the marriage amendment.

— John Wright

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 30, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Equality Texas: Austin murders were hate crime

Jose Alfonso Aviles

When a man fatally shot his daughter’s girlfriend and the girlfriend’s mother in Austin on Monday, there’s no doubt it was an anti-gay hate crime, according to Equality Texas.

“Two women have been murdered because one of them was a lesbian,” the statewide LGBT advocacy group said in a statement about the murders today. “Equality Texas can emphatically state that these homicides were a hate crime.”

As we reported Tuesday night, 45-year-old Jose Alfonso Aviles is charged with capital murder for fatally shooting 24-year-old Norma Hurtado and her mother, 57-year-old Maria Hurtado, on Monday night. According to authorities, Aviles committed the murders because he was angry that his daughter was in a lesbian relationship with Norma Hurtado.

Although the incident appears to have been an anti-gay hate crime, Equality Texas says it can’t be prosecuted as one. That’s because under Texas’ hate crimes statute, there is no penalty enhancement available to prosecutors since the charges are already capital felonies. From the group’s statement:

Regardless of how this case is prosecuted, it is imperative that we acknowledge that these murders were a bias-motivated hate crime. It is important to acknowledge that the City of Austin and Travis County, in collaboration with the Anti-Defamation League, convened a Hate Crimes Task Force in December, 2010.  Equality Texas is a working member of this Task Force, which seeks to create a forum that fosters open dialogue about hate and discrimination and strengthens the bonds of our community through prevention, response and restoration.

Regardless of how this case is prosecuted, it is important that we acknowledge pending legislation that would seek to address the barriers to prosecution of hate crimes under the Texas James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Act. HB 172 by State Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth would require the Texas Attorney General to conduct a study to examine the success of our Hate Crimes Act and identify barriers to the effective use of, and prosecution under, the Act.  HB 172 is pending in the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence.

Norma Hurtado

Also, the Austin American-Statesman has a follow-up today that provides more details about the murders, including an answer to one of our biggest questions: How old was the suspect’s daughter? According to the Statesman, she had just turned 18. Note that the age of consent in Texas is 17. From the Statesman:

The daughter told police that she and Norma Hurtado had been involved in a lesbian relationship, which her father did not approve of, and that there had been disturbances between Aviles and Norma Hurtado, according to an arrest affidavit. An online records search for those incidents turned up a report of a sexual assault in September and a family disturbance in October; however, police did not release details of the incidents.

The American-Statesman is not identifying the daughter.

The affidavit said a witness told police that the daughter’s parents would send threatening text messages to Norma Hurtado. In one message, Aviles threatened to kill Hurtado and her mother, the document says.

“She stated that (the girlfriend’s) parents have sent text messages threatening Norma because of this relationship,” the witness, a friend of Norma Hurtado’s, told police. About a month ago, the witness “saw a text message from (Aviles) to Norma in which (he) threatened to kill both Norma and her mother,” police said.

Watch the Statesman’s footage of the police press conference about the case below below:

—  John Wright

Anti-gay measures filed in Texas House

Dennis Coleman

As deadline looms, Chisum files bill to give AG more time to intervene in same-sex divorce case; Workman files resolution urging Obama to defend DOMA

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Just before the Texas Legislature’s deadline for filing new bills passed last week, one anti-gay measure and one hostile resolution were filed in the House of Representatives. It was the first time in six years that anti-gay measures have been introduced.

Rep. Paul Workman, a freshman Republican who represents the southwest corner of Travis County, introduced a resolution to urge U.S. President Barack Obama to defend the Defense of Marriage Act. In February, the president directed Attorney General Eric Holder to stop defending DOMA in court.

So far the resolution, known as HCR 110, has no Senate counterpart bill.

Equality Texas Executive Director Dennis Coleman said a resolution doesn’t need a committee hearing before going to the floor. The resolution was added to the LGBT lobby group’s tracking list, but Coleman did not express concern.

“So far, we don’t see it as having any traction,” he said.

Rep. Warren Chisum, whose district covers part of the Panhandle and is known as one of the most conservative members of the House, has filed a bill to give the Texas attorney general more time to intervene in same-sex divorce cases.

The move comes after Texas AG Greg Abbott tried to intervene in the divorce of a lesbian couple in Austin but was declared ineligible by an appeals court because he had missed the deadline.

This bill would give that office up to 90 days after a divorce is settled to intervene.

Coleman laughed and said, “It was introduced because [the attorney general] missed the window. We want to give him more time so he doesn’t miss the window again.”

Coleman said that it was interesting that a legislature that was elected to get government out of people’s lives was considering bills that interfered more when it came to the lives of gays and lesbians.

Known as HB 2638, the bill has no co-sponsors and has not been referred to committee yet. A Senate counterpart was not been filed.

Now that the filing period for new bills has ended, Coleman said his organization’s main concern is amendments that could weaken pending legislation or add anti-LGBT measures to other laws.

Anti-bullying bills

Several bills addressing bullying have been introduced in both the Senate and House of Representatives. But not all those bills have gained ringing endorsements from LGBT activists, while the two that had advocates most hopeful have been stripped of language enumerating protected categories.

Sen. Wendy Davis and Rep. Mark Strama authored identical bills that have been amended and are now known as CS (Committee Substitute) SB 242 and CS HB 224. A House committee has already heard the bill. Coleman said that most of the testimony supported the bill and only two groups spoke in opposition.

Coleman said that as a result of the recent LGBT Lobby Day, Rep. Alma Allen of Houston has signed on as a new co-sponsor. He has spoken to others in both the House and Senate about adding their names.

Rep. Garnet Coleman of Houston introduced another anti-bullying bill in the House known as Asher’s Law, in memory of Asher Brown, a Houston 13-year-old who committed suicide last September.

Asher’s Law would mandate creation of suicide prevention programs for junior, middle and high schools. It requires training for counselors, teachers, nurses, administrators, social workers, other staff and school district law enforcement to recognize bullying and know what to do to stop it. A report would be submitted to the legislature by Jan. 13, 2013.

The bill also defines cyberbullying in state law for the first time.

That bill was placed in the public health committee. Dennis Coleman liked that the legislature was treating suicide as a public health issue and thought the bill had a good chance to move to the House floor from committee.

He said legislators favoring anti-bully laws have told him that they need to continue to hear from constituents, especially from teachers and principals.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 18, 2011.

—  John Wright

Gay divorce case appealed to TX Supreme Court

‘J.B.’

More than two years after he filed an uncontested petition for divorce, attorneys for the gay Dallas resident known as “J.B.” have appealed his case to the Texas Supreme Court.

J.B. and his husband, H.B., were married in 2006 in Massachusetts before moving to Dallas. After they filed for a divorce in Dallas County in January 2009, Democratic District Judge Tena Callahan ruled in October 2009 that she had jurisdiction to hear the case, calling Texas’ bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

Republican Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott promptly intervened and appealed to the 5th District court, which overturned Callahan’s decision.

On Feb. 17, attorneys at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer and Feld, which represents J.B., filed a Petition for Review of the 5th District’s ruling by the Texas Supreme Court.

“This Court should grant review because this case involves questions of great importance to Texas state law, which likely will recur with increasing frequency until this Court provides guidance,” the attorneys wrote in their Petition for Review. “Over 28% of the U.S. population lives in a jurisdiction where same-sex marriage or its equivalent is permitted. Texas is one of the nation’s fastest growing states—attracting thousands upon thousands of migrants each year, including couples from those states that permit same-sex marriage. Thus, there is an increasing likelihood that same-sex couples legally married in another state will move to Texas and eventually seek divorce in Texas. Whether Family Code section 6.204 prevents these same-sex couples who were legally married in another state from obtaining a divorce in Texas, and whether this violates the U.S. Constitution, are questions important to the state’s jurisprudence, and should be, but have not yet been, resolved by this Court.”

To read the full petition for review, go here.

—  John Wright

Bill would ease sexting penalties, but consensual gay sex can still be a felony for teens in Texas

Attorney General Greg Abbott

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is endorsing legislation that would ease criminal penalties for teens who are convicted of sexting — transmitting explicit photos of themselves or other minors using computers and mobile devices.

Currently, teens who send or receive photos of someone who is underage can be charged with third-degree felony child pornography, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, and forced to register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives.

Under SB 408, which was filed today, sexting would become a class-C misdemeanor for first-time violators who are under 18.

“Studies show that teenage students are increasingly taking, sending and receiving explicit pictures of themselves on their mobile telephones,” Abbott said in a press release. “This dangerous trend is harmful to young Texans. We are joining with Sen. Kirk Watson to address the growing problem of sexting and educate – not criminalize – young Texans who make the unwise decision to participate in it.”

For once we agree with Abbott here. This bill makes sense for both straight and LGBTQ teens, and perhaps especially for gay teens in the age of Grindr, etc.

But if our attorney general truly supports the concept of not criminalizing teens, he should also support efforts to fix the state’s discriminatory age-of-consent laws, commonly referred to as “Romeo and Juliet” provisions.

As we’ve noted before, if a 17-year-old MALE has consensual sexual contact with a 16-year-old MALE in Texas, the older individual can be charged with a second-degree felony and sentenced to up to 20 years in prison. On the other hand, if the older individual is MALE and the younger person is FEMALE (or vice versa), the older person can argue an “affirmative defense” and have the charge dismissed on that basis.

In other words, while SB 408 would make sexting a class-C misdemeanor, gay teens who have consensual sex, unlike their straight peers, have no defense against a charge of indecency with a minor.

Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, has introduced bills in previous sessions that would fix this discriminatory law, but there’s no word on whether he plans to do so this year.

Even if he does, don’t expect Abbott to support it.

UPDATE: Coleman’s office confims that he does plan to file the bill again this year.

—  John Wright

Court says Texas AG can’t block gay divorce

Angelique Naylor

Associated Press

AUSTIN — The Texas attorney general can’t block a divorce granted to two women who were legally married elsewhere, an appeals court ruled Friday, Jan. 7.

A judge in Austin granted a divorce last February to Angelique Naylor and Sabina Daly, who were married in Massachusetts in 2004 and then returned home to Texas.

A day after the divorce was granted, Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott filed a motion to intervene in the case, arguing the judge didn’t have the jurisdiction to grant the divorce because Texas has a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. The judge ruled that the attorney general’s motion wasn’t timely, a decision Abbott then appealed.

In Friday’s ruling, a three-judge panel of 3rd Texas Court of Appeals in Austin said the state was not a party of record in the divorce case and Abbott therefore did not have standing to appeal.

The ruling, however, does not settle the debate over whether same-sex couples should be allowed to divorce in Texas, where a different appeals court has ruled against a gay couple seeking a divorce in the state.

The 5th Texas Court of Appeals in Dallas ruled in August that gay couples legally married in other states can’t get a divorce in Texas. In that case, Abbott had appealed after a Dallas judge said she did have jurisdiction to grant a divorce — though had not yet granted one — and dismissed the state’s attempt to intervene.

The ruling by the Dallas appeals court’s three-judge panel also affirmed the state’s same-sex marriage ban was constitutional. Texas voters in 2005 passed, by a 3-to-1 margin, a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage even though state law already prohibited it.

Austin attorney Jody Scheske, who handled the appeals in both divorce cases, acknowledged the divergent rulings far from settle the issue of gay couples seeking a divorce in Texas.

“It’s complicated and to some extent remains unsettled and that’s unfortunate,” he said. “If you have a legal marriage you should have the same equal right to divorce as all other married people have.”

But for his client in the Austin case, the Friday ruling means she will remain divorced, Scheske said.

“For the larger issue, what it means is the state of Texas can’t intervene in private lawsuits just because it doesn’t like one of the trial court’s rulings,” he said. “The state was not a party, so they couldn’t intervene after the fact.”

The attorney general can choose to ask the entire Austin appeals court to hear the case there or can appeal the Friday ruling to the Texas Supreme Court.

Abbott spokeswoman Lauren Bean said their office “will weigh all options to ensure that the will of Texas voters and their elected representatives is upheld.”

“The Texas Constitution and statutes are clear: only the union of a man and a woman can be treated as a marriage in Texas. The court’s decision undermines unambiguous Texas law,” Bean said.

Unlike the Dallas case, the Austin case did not examine whether the judge had jurisdiction to grant the divorce. Ken Upton, a staff attorney for Lambda Legal, a national legal organization that promotes equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, noted the Austin appeals court decision was in fact quite narrow.

“Basically, the only rule that comes out of it is that (Abbott) waited too long,” he said.

He said the predicament of gay couples seeking divorce in Texas highlights what happens when states adopt “such different views about marriage and relationships.”

“The more we have this patchwork of marriage laws, the more difficult it is for people who don’t have access to the same orderly dissolution,” he said.

—  John Wright

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

City asks AG’s office whether records related to raid of The Club-Dallas should be released

The city of Dallas has requested an opinion from the Office of the Attorney General of Texas as to whether the city must release records related to the Police Department’s Oct. 8 raid on The Club-Dallas, a gay bathhouse in Deep Ellum.

Dallas Voice has requested, under the Texas Public Information Act, all records related to the 11 arrests that occurred during the raid, as well as all documents related to a complaint DPD says was filed against The Club-Dallas by a citizen that led to the raid.

In a Nov. 2 letter to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott responding to the Voice’s request, Assistant City Attorney J. Middlebrooks wrote that parts of the requested information are protected from public disclosure. A full copy of the letter is below. The AG’s office has 45 days to issue a decision.

—  John Wright

Is Greg Abbott going to sit idly by while a federal court throws out Texas’ gay marriage ban?

Greg Abbott

Ten states have submitted a brief opposing same-sex marriage to the federal appeals court that will decide whether California’s Proposition 8 violates the U.S. Constitution, The Associated Press reports. But guess what? Texas isn’t one of them.

Anti-gay Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who’s fought to prevent Texas courts from recognizing same-sex marriage even for the limited purpose of divorce, has failed to get involved in a case that could ultimately result in the state’s marriage ban being thrown out:

Former Utah Sen. Scott McCoy, the first openly gay state senator, said Saturday he is not surprised Utah signed on to the opposition brief. If the California ruling against Proposition 8 is upheld, it would follow that Utah’s Amendment 3, which defines marriage as a union exclusively between a man and a woman, is unconstitutional, he said.

Abbott’s failure to get involved is even more surprising given that the brief filed Friday specifically argues that states, and not federal courts, should determine whether to allow same-sex marriage. As you may know, Abbott is all about states’ rights and protecting us from Washington and the evil federal government. So what gives?

We’ve contacted spokesman Jerry Strickland to find out why the Texas AG’s office has chosen to sit this one out, but thus far no response. Stay tuned.

—  John Wright