Remembering John Lawrence, the man behind Lawrence v. Texas

Lawrence

John Lawrence and Tyrone Gardner

Metro Weekly reports that one-time Houstonian John Geddes Lawrence, the “Lawrence” in Lawrence v. Texas, passed away last month at the age of 68:

“In the facts underlying the Supreme Court case, Lawrence v. Texas, Lawrence and Tyron Garner were arrested under Texas’s Homosexual Conduct Law after police entered Lawrence’s home on Sept. 17, 1998, and saw them “engaging in a sexual act.” The couple challenged the law as unconstitutional”

I was 22 and living in Dallas in 2003 when the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Lawrence declaring Texas’ law against “homosexual conduct” unconstitutional. A group of over 100 people gathered in the parking lot of the Resource Center of Dallas as Dennis Coleman, then with Lambda Legal, read excerpts of the decision. I remember the exuberant electricity in the air, the crowd bubbling with joy and the relief of centuries of official oppression finally coming to an end. Similar get-togethers took place across the state, as an entire community breathing a collective sigh of relief.

That relief has turn to frustration over the years. Although the Supreme Court decision rendered Penal Code Section 21.06 unconstitutional, the law remains on the books, and efforts to remove it have met with significant resistance. During a hearing this spring on finally removing the unconstitutional law, Rep. Jose Aliseda, R – Pleasanton, lamented that repeal of the law would entail removing portions of the Health Code requiring that HIV education efforts include information that “homosexual conduct is not an acceptable lifestyle and is a criminal offense under Section 21.06, Penal Code.”

Before Lawrence several attempts were made to remove the law against “homosexual conduct.” The Texas legislature voted to remove it from the penal code as part of a complete rewrite of the code in 1971, but the measure was vetoed by Gov. Preston Smith. In 1973 the Legislature again undertook a rewrite of the code, keeping “homosexual conduct” a crime but making it a class C misdemeanor. In 1981 a U.S. District Court ruled in Baker v. Wade that the law was unconstitutional, but as that case was winding its way through an unusually torturous appeals process the Supreme Court ruled in Bowers v. Hardwick that a similar law in Georgia was constitutional, making the questions in Baker moot. Similarly, in the 90′s there was hope that Texas v. Morales might finally prevail in defeating the “homosexual conduct” prohibition, but the Texas Supreme Court decided that since, in their opinion, the law was rarely enforced, there was no reason for them to rule in the matter.

Lawrence’s legacy lives on in a scholarship named after him and Garner administered by the Houston GLBT Community Center. The scholarship “recognizes outstanding leadership shown by gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Texas high school seniors and college
students by contributing to the cost of their continuing education. Selection is based upon character and need.” Tim Brookover, president of the community center, expressed sorrow at Lawrence’s passing “John was a hero, the community owes a great debt of gratitude to John and Tyrone for taking the case all the way to the Supreme Court,” said Brookover. “They could have easily allowed it to slip away, but they decided to stay and fight and that makes them heroes and role models.”

The application deadline for the John Lawrence/Tyrone Gardner Scholarship is March 2, 2012.

—  admin

Gay divorce cases before Texas Supreme Court

Panel requests briefs, indicating it may rule on whether couples married elsewhere can divorce here

CLICK HERE TO READ BRIEFS FROM THE DALLAS GAY DIVORCE CASE

JOHN WRIGHT  |  Senior Political Writer
wright@dallasvoice.com
Nearly three years after the gay Dallas resident known as J.B. filed an uncontested petition for a divorce from his husband, H.B., the couple’s matrimonial fate rests in the hands of the state’s highest court.

The Texas Supreme Court recently requested briefs from both sides as justices decide if they’ll review the issue of whether same-sex couples legally married elsewhere can divorce in Texas.

J.B. and H.B. were married in Massachusetts in 2006 before moving to Dallas. After J.B. filed his petition for divorce in January 2009, Democratic State District Judge Tena Callahan of Dallas ruled in October of that year that she had jurisdiction to hear the case — and in doing so declared Texas’ bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott immediately intervened and appealed Callahan’s decision, which the 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas overturned last year, ruling that Texas judges cannot grant same-sex divorces because the state doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage.

In February, J.B.’s attorneys at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld filed their petition for review to the Texas Supreme Court.

“They’re in limbo,” Akin Gump’s Jody Scheske said of J.B. and H.B. “They’re still married. They don’t want to be married. Texas can’t prevent them from getting married because they’re already married. All they want is the equal right to divorce that should be available to everybody.”

J.B. and H.B.’s is one of two same-sex divorce cases currently pending before the Texas Supreme Court. The panel has also requested briefs in State of Texas v. Angelique Naylor and Sabrina Daly.

In the Naylor case, the 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin upheld a Travis County district court’s decision to grant a divorce to Naylor and Daly, a lesbian couple. The appeals court ruled that Abbott intervened in the case too late, but the AG’s office has appealed the decision to the Texas Supreme Court.

Akin Gump is also representing Naylor and Daly. Scheske said the high court’s decision to request “briefs on the merits” in the two cases is part of its decision-making process about whether to review them.

“It’s actually not an indicator that they plan to take the case necessarily, but if they don’t request briefs on the merits, they will not take the case,” he said. “They only take a very small percentage of the cases that are actually petitioned.”

Scheske said he hopes the high court will accept J.B.’s case and decline the AG’s petition in Naylor. He said it’s also possible the court will consolidate the two cases. There is no timeframe for the Supreme Court to decide whether to review the cases, and at this point it’s unlikely oral arguments would be heard anytime before the spring.

“They can take as long as they want to or as short as they want to,” Scheske said. “So now we hurry up and wait.”
Asked whether he’d appeal an unfavorable ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, Scheske said he is unsure. “If we lost the cases at the

Texas Supreme Court, that would be the next and final step, but I haven’t discussed that with either client, just because we don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said.

A spokesman for the AG’s office declined to comment on the cases beyond the briefs it has already filed.

Ken Upton, a Dallas-based senior staff attorney at the LGBT civil rights group Lambda Legal, said he believes the Texas Supreme Court will take the cases.

“I think this an awful lot for them to read not to take it,” Upton said of the briefs the court has requested. “They’re looking at what happened in Austin and what happened in Dallas, and I suspect they want to have a uniform result. Let everybody guess what that will be, but I’m not terribly optimistic.”

Upton said he thinks it’s unlikely the U.S. Supreme Court would hear an appeal, meaning the impact of the cases will be limited to Texas.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 21, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Liberty Institute, on behalf of Chisum and Staples, asks Texas’ high court to take gay divorce cases

Kelly Shackelford

The right-wing, Plano-based Liberty Institute has filed briefs asking the Texas Supreme Court to hear two same-sex divorce cases so justices can resolve allegedly conflicting opinions from state appellate courts in Austin and Dallas.

The Liberty Institute announced today that it filed the briefs on behalf of State Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, and Republican Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, a former state senator from Palestine.

In both cases, district judges ruled to allow same-sex divorces, prompting Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott to intervene. In the Dallas case, the 5th court of appeals overturned Democratic Judge Tena Callahan’s ruling. J.B., the gay Dallas resident who’s seeking a divorce from his Massachusetts marriage to H.B., appealed the decision to the Texas Supreme Court in March.

In the Austin case, State of Texas v. Angelique Naylor and Sabina Daly, the 3rd court of appeals upheld the district judge’s decision, saying Abbott’s attempt to intervene was too late.

“The district judges’ rulings granting same-sex divorces illegitimately overturned the will of more than two million Texans and their elected officials,” Liberty Institute President and CEO Kelly Shackelford said in a press release. “The debate over same-sex marriage and divorce should play out in our democratic institutions and should not be short-circuited by activist judges.”

The Liberty Institute previously filed a brief on behalf of Chisum and Staples in the Dallas case when it was before the appeals court.

Read a copy of the Liberty Institute’s brief in the Dallas case here, and the Austin case here.

Austin-based attorney Jody Scheske of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, which is representing both J.B. and Naylor/Daly, declined to comment on the briefs.

—  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

Attorney says gay Dallas man will take his battle for a divorce to the Texas Supreme Court

‘J.B.’

A court’s decision last year to deny a divorce to a gay Dallas couple is being appealed to the Texas Supreme Court.

Attorney James “Jody” Scheske confirmed Wednesday that his client, J.B., plans to appeal the August decision by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that gay couples can’t divorce in Texas because the state doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage.

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, District Judge Tena Callahan ruled in October 2009 that she had jurisdiction to hear the case, calling Texas’ bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

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

“We respectfullly disagree fundamentally with the Court of Appeals ruling that denies equal acess to divorce,” said Scheske, of Akin Gump Straus Hauer & Feld in Austin. “Thus we’ve decided to request that the Texas Supreme Court review the case.”

Scheske said his petition for review has not yet been filed and he’s requesting an extension of the deadline until February. He said once the petition is filed, the Supreme Court will decide whether to hear the case. Scheske acknowledged that the high court is considered very conservative, but he remains optimistic.

“In my business, you always believe that justice can prevail, and the justices on our Supreme Court, just like every other judge and lawyer, are bound to apply the law equally to everybody,” Scheske said. “I know people are cynical about that, but that’s actually the way our system works.”

Scheske recently scored a victory in another gay divorce case in Austin, where an appeals court ruled that Abbott could not intervene after a district judge granted a divorce to a lesbian couple. However, Scheske said the Austin ruling was based on procedural grounds and has no impact on the Dallas case.

—  John Wright

Let’s all get aboard the crazy train!

Lately the crazy train has picked up speed. I don’t know if it’s the upcoming midterm elections or people are scared by gay court victories or what, but we’re in a period of nutty.

Take David Barton. Please.

An evangelical minister, teacher at (Glenn) Beck University and former vice chairman of the Texas Republican Party, Barton — a self-styled historian — is the founder of WallBuilders, a group devoted to the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation.

On his WallBuilders radio show recently, Barton discussed with Rick Green how health-conscious America is, regulating cigarettes and trans fats and salt, yet allowing something to slip through that is such an obvious threat to the health of Americans: Jersey Shore.

Okay, he didn’t say that. Instead, Barton reeled off fanciful statistics, like, “Homosexuals die decades earlier than heterosexuals,” and “nearly one-third [of homosexuals] admit to a thousand or more sex partners in a lifetime.”

Barton said, “I mean, you go through all this stuff, sounds to me like that’s not very healthy. Why don’t we regulate homosexuality?” That’s the moment he boarded the crazy train.

Barton, the quack historian, cited a 1920s study that found nations that “rejected sexual regulation like with homosexuality” didn’t last “past the third generation from the time that they embraced it.”

Have gays been embraced? When will the third generation appear? It’s important to know when we’re supposed to make this country collapse. We have a schedule to keep.

Rick Green’s role in this production was to be properly aghast that the breathtakingly unhealthy gay lifestyle is promoted and protected.

That makes Green — recently a candidate for the Texas Supreme Court — the porter on the crazy train.

If David Barton wants the government to regulate gay sex, Andrew Shirvell’s goal is much more modest. But Shirvell is the conductor on the crazy train. For almost six months, Shirvell has railed in a blog against Chris Armstrong, the openly gay University of Michigan student assembly president.

Shirvell, a Michigan grad, accused Armstrong of so many things — including being anti-Christian, hosting a gay orgy, trying to recruit freshmen to be gay and, my favorite, sexually seducing a conservative student and influencing him to the point that he “morphed into a proponent of the radical homosexual agenda.”

Good strategy, that seduction. Armstrong should be able to convert everybody on campus by the time he’s 106.
During his anti-Armstrong crusade, Shirvell protested outside Armstrong’s house, and called him “Satan’s representative on the student assembly.”Paranoid much? All this would be plenty bad enough, but the fact that Shirvell is a Michigan assistant attorney general launches the affair into the realm of the bizarre. Rod Serling couldn’t have made this up.

Shirvell’s boss, Attorney General Mike Cox, cited the guy’s right to free speech, while also telling CNN he’s a “bully.” Cox said that Shirvell’s “immaturity and lack of judgment outside the office are clear.”

This is more than a case of bad judgment. Shirvell is obsessed with Armstrong’s homosexuality. I have to wonder if Shirvell — now on a voluntary leave of absence — is an immense closet case, or a few ties short of a railroad track.

Either explanation or both might apply to Fred Phelps, leader of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church, but it’s his daughters who recently clambered on the crazy train.

Margie Phelps recently represented Westboro at the Supreme Court in the dispute over protests at military funerals, and after, while addressing the press, she and sister Shirley Phelps-Roper broke into song. They warbled a few lines of a variation on Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train.” Osbourne declared his displeasure that they used his music to advance “despicable beliefs.”

When the Prince of Darkness looks civilized compared to you, your caboose is loose.

Leslie Robinson assumes the Phelps daughters will never sing Indigo Girls.  E-mail Robinson at lesarobinson@gmail.com, and visit her blog at GeneralGayety.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 15, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas

Motion for rehearing filed in Texas gay divorce case

Attorneys for plaintiff ask that full 5th District appeals court rehear case after 3-judge panel overturned trial court ruling granting divorce

John Wright  |  Online Editor wright@dallasvoice.com

Attorneys for a gay Dallas man who’s seeking a divorce from his husband filed a motion this week requesting a re-hearing of the case by the full 5th District Court of Appeals.

An all-Republican, three-judge panel of the Dallas appeals court ruled Aug. 31 that the man, identified in court documents as J.B., cannot obtain a divorce in Texas because the state doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage.

J.B. and his attorneys had the option of dropping the matter, appealing the decision to the Texas Supreme Court, or requesting a re-hearing by the 13-justice 5th District Court en banc. They filed their motion seeking the rehearing on Wednesday, Sept. 15.

“We believe adequate grounds exist for the entire court of appeals to reconsider the panel’s opinion, and we hope the entire Dallas court of appeals will do that,” said James J. “Jody” Scheske of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, the Austin firm representing J.B.

Scheske said for the request to be granted, a majority of the 13 justices would have to agree to rehear the case.

Depending on the outcome, Scheske said he’s unsure whether they’ll appeal the decision to the Texas Supreme Court.

“We’re taking it one step at a time,” Scheske said. “We’re hopeful the entire court of appeals will issue an opinion we can live with, in which case further appeal won’t be necessary.”

J.B. and his partner, H.B., were married in Massachusetts in 2006. After they moved to Dallas, J.B. filed for a divorce in 2008.

In October 2009, Democratic District Judge Tena Callahan ruled she had jurisdiction to hear J.B.’s divorce petition, saying Texas’ bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional.
Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott appealed Callahan’s decision, and the appeals court panel ruled in Abbott’s favor.

For a full copy of the motion seeking the rehearing, go to http://tinyurl.com/3x6u4mt.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

BREAKING: Re-hearing sought in gay divorce

Attorneys for a gay Dallas man who’s seeking a divorce from his husband have filed a motion requesting a re-hearing of the case by the full 5th District Court of Appeals.

An all-Republican, three-judge panel of the Dallas appeals court ruled in August that the man, identified in court documents as J.B., cannot obtain a divorce in Texas because the state doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage.

J.B. and his attorneys had the option of dropping the matter, appealing the decision to the Texas Supreme Court, or requesting a re-hearing by the 13-justice 5th District Court en banc.

“We believe adequate grounds exist for the entire Court of Appeals to reconsider the panel’s opinion, and we hope the entire Dallas court of appeals will do that,” said attorney James J. “Jody” Scheske of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, the Austin firm representing J.B.

Scheske said for the request to be granted, a majority of the 13 justices would have to agree to rehear the case. There is no timeframe for the court to rule on the request, he said. Depending on the outcome, Scheske said he’s unsure whether his client will appeal the decision to the Texas Supreme Court.

“We’re taking it one step at a time,” Scheske said. “We’re hopeful the entire court of appeals will issue an opinion we can live with, in which case further appeal won’t be necessary.”

J.B. and his partner, H.B., were married in Massachusetts in 2006. After they moved to Dallas, J.B. filed for a divorce in 2008.

In October of last year, Democratic District Judge Tena Callahan ruled she had jurisdiction to hear J.B.’s divorce petition, saying Texas’ bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional.

Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott appealed Callahan’s decision, and the appeals court ruled on Aug. 31 in Abbott’s favor.

To read the full text of the motion seeking a re-hearing, go here.

—  John Wright

Vowels custody case returned to trial court for hearing

Supreme Court refuses to hear appeal; appellate court ruled that non-bio mother has standing to sue

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Kristie Vowels
Kristie Vowels

The Texas Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal by a lesbian mother seeking to block her former partner from seeing their daughter. The case now returns to District Judge Teena Callahan’s court for trial.

Kristie Vowels and Tracy Scourfield were partners for four years. Together they had a daughter, with Scourfield as the birth mother. After they split up, Vowels saw the child on a regular visitation schedule for about a year, but then Scourfield cut off contact between Vowels and the child.

Vowels sued for visitation rights based on Texas law that allows someone who provided six months of care, control and possession ending within the last 90 days to file for custody.

Callahan originally ruled that Vowels did not meet legal standing to sue. Michelle May O’Neil, Vowels attorney, said Callahan gave no reason for her ruling.
Vowels appealed that ruling. The appeals court initially sided with Scourfield but later reversed itself to side with Vowels.

The Supreme Court returned the case to the appeals court, which then returned the case to district court.

O’Neil explained that non-biological parents in custody and visitation cases have to meet what is called the Troxel standard, named after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a child custody case.

“The presumption is that parents act in the best interest of their children,” O’Neil said.

Vowels said her former partner is a good mother. But whether or not Vowels gains custody could revolve on whether she and her attorneys can show any flawed decision-making on the part of her former partner.

“The flaw is that she unilaterally ripped the child from someone the child called mom,” O’Neil said.

O’Neil said that the case is being cited around the state and will affect heterosexual stepparents, grandparents and other caregivers as well.
“It’s legally the same question,” O’Neil said.

Callahan is the same judge who later ruled in a same-sex divorce case last October that the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutionally denies equal protection to same-sex partners.

O’Neil said she knows the judge will approach the case without some of the prejudices others might have, but the ruling in the divorce case won’t change her approach to the Vowels trial.

Vowels said her commitment to her daughter is unwavering.

Although she has had no access to the child for the last three years, she said her daughter has a college account that she has continued to fund.

“That’s my daughter and I’m going to do what I can to fully support her,” Vowels said.

A hearing is scheduled for September. At that time a trial date could be set and O’Neil said she will ask for a temporary visitation order.

O’Neil said that Vowels and Scourfield had talked about completing adoption papers before they split up. She said that had the adoption been completed, this would have been a very different case.

Once an adoption is completed, there is no question of parental rights. The burden of proof would have been on the biological mother to show some cause to prevent the adoptive parent from seeing the child.

“Headline to parents out there,” O’Neil said, “Get the adoption done.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 6, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Texas AG Greg Abbott argues that he can’t be sued for discriminating against gay employees

Greg Abbott

Last November we reported on a lawsuit filed by Vic Gardner of Tyler, who alleges that he was forced out of his job with the state attorney general’s office for being gay.

Jason C.N. Smith of Fort Worth, who’s representing Gardner in his suit against a former supervisor and AG Greg Abbott, reports that the case is set for a hearing in an Austin district court next Tuesday.

Smith said the AG’s office has field a motion seeking to dismiss the case, on grounds that Abbott can’t be sued for damages for discriminating against people on the basis of sexual orientation.

Although Texas has no statute prohibiting anti-gay job discrimination, courts have held that gay and lesbian government employees are protected by constitutional principles such as privacy and equal protection, Smith said. Still, he said it’s possible that Abbott would appeal the case all the way to the Texas Supreme Court.

“My hope is that the Texas Supreme Court would follow the lead of the U.S. Supreme Court and hold that gays are protected under the constitution,” Smith said. “I think certainly the law is very clear. It’s just a matter of whether they’re going to play politics with the gay community.

“Greg Abbott’s record both as a Supreme Court justice and as Texas attorney general, he’s not one who’s embraced giving everyone equal rights, so it doesn’t surprise me that he doesn’t s think folks who are fired because they’re gay should be able to recover damages,” Smith added.

Garder, who’d worked for the AG’s child support division for about three years, says he resigned after repeatedly being unfairly disciplined. Despite Gardner’s above-average job performance, according to the lawsuit, Gardner’s supervisor had directed him to “not be so out.”

Gardner is seeking reinstatement to a similar position and back pay, as well as a declaration by the AG’s office that he was discriminated against and a pledge not to do so going forward.

A spokesman for Abbott’s office has declined to comment on the case.

—  John Wright