Experts: Prop 8 ruling may dodge high court

9th Circuit panel crafts its decision striking down California amendment narrowly, avoids question of whether other states can ban marriage

Prop8

DAY OF DECISION | Supporters of marriage equality react outside the courthouse after a federal appeals court declared California's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional on Tuesday, Feb. 7 in San Francisco. (AP Photo/San Francisco Chronicle, Lea Suzuki)

LISA LEFF  |  Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — Conservative critics like to point out that the federal appeals court that just declared California’s same-sex marriage ban to be unconstitutional has its decisions overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court more often than other judicial circuits, a record that could prove predictive if the high court agrees to review the gay marriage case on appeal.

Yet legal experts seemed to think the panel of the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit of Appeals that struck down the voter-approved ban on Tuesday, Feb. 7 purposefully served up its 2-1 opinion in a narrow way and seasoned it with established holdings so the Supreme Court would be less tempted to bite.

The appeals court not only limited the scope of its decision to California, even though the 9th Circuit also has jurisdiction in eight other Western states, but relied on the Supreme Court’s own 1996 decision overturning a Colorado measure that outlawed discrimination protections for gay people to argue that the voter-approved Proposition 8 violated the civil rights of gay and lesbian Californians.

That approach makes it much less likely the high court would find it necessary to step in, as it might have if the 9th Circuit panel had concluded that any state laws or amendments limiting marriage to a man and a woman run afoul of the U.S. Constitution’s promise of equal treatment, several analysts said.

“There is no reason to believe four justices on the Supreme Court, which is what it takes to grant (an appeal) petition, are champing at the bit to take this issue on,’’ University of Michigan law school professor Steve Sanders said. “The liberals on the court are going to recognize this was a sensible, sound decision that doesn’t get ahead of the national debate … and I don’t think the decision would be so objectionable to the court’s conservatives that they would see a reason to reach out and smack the 9th Circuit.’’

Lawyers for the coalition of religious conservative groups that qualified Proposition 8 for the November 2008 ballot and campaigned for its passage said they have not decided whether to ask a bigger 9th Circuit to rehear the case or to take an appeal directly to the Supreme Court.

However, they said they were optimistic that if the high court accepts an appeal, Tuesday’s ruling would be reversed.

“The 9th Circuit’s decision is completely out of step with every other federal appellate and Supreme Court decision in American history on the subject of marriage, but it really doesn’t come as a surprise, given the history of the 9th Circuit, which is often overturned,’’ Andy Pugno, the coalition’s general counsel, said in a fundraising letter to Proposition 8’s supporters. “Ever since the beginning of this case, we’ve known that the battle to preserve traditional marriage will ultimately be won or lost not here, but rather in the U.S. Supreme Court.’’

Regardless of their next steps, gay and lesbian couples were unlikely to be able to get married in California anytime soon. The 9th Circuit panel’s ruling will not take effect until after the deadline passes in two weeks for Proposition 8’s backers to appeal to a larger panel, and the earliest the Supreme Court could consider whether to take the case would be in the fall.

Judge Stephen Reinhardt, who was named to the 9th Circuit by President Jimmy Carter and has a reputation as the court’s liberal lion, wrote Tuesday’s 80-page majority ruling with concurrence from Judge Michael Daly Hawkins, an early appointee of President Bill Clinton. Judge Randy Smith, who was the last 9th Circuit judge nominated by President George W. Bush, dissented.

In tailoring the decision to apply only to California, Reinhardt cited two factors that distinguish Proposition 8 from the one-man, one-woman marriage laws and constitutional amendments in the other 9th Circuit states and that he said demonstrate that it “serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and humanity of gays and lesbians.’’

The first is that California since 2005 has granted same-sex couples all the rights and benefits of marriage if they register as domestic partners.

The second is that five months before Proposition 8 was enacted as a state constitutional amendment, the California Supreme Court’s Court had legalized same-sex marriage by striking down a pair of laws that had limited marriage to a man and a woman. California is the only state, therefore, where gays have won the right to marry and had it stripped away.

The amendment’s “singular’’ work of denying gay Californians the designation of marriage while leaving in place domestic partnerships proves that Proposition 8 deprives same-sex relationships of society’s dignity and respect, Reinhardt wrote.

“A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but to the couple desiring to enter into a committed lifelong relationship, a marriage by the name of ‘registered domestic partnership’ does not,’’ he said. “We are excited to see someone ask, ‘Will you marry me?’, whether on bended knee in a restaurant or in text splashed across a stadium Jumbotron. Certainly, it would not have the same effect to see, ‘Will you enter into a registered domestic partnership with me?’”

The opinion goes on to draw parallels between California’s same-sex marriage ban and the Colorado opinion the Supreme Court struck down on a 6-3 vote after concluding that it was based on moral disapproval of gays. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion in that case, known as Romer v. Evans, and if the court agrees to take up Proposition 8, the similarities could hit the “sweet spot’’ that might persuade him to side with four other justices in upholding the 9th Circuit, said Douglas NeJaime, an associate professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

“Everyone is looking to Justice Kennedy, assuming that Justice Kennedy would not issue a sweepingly bad decision for gay rights, and yet people don’t know if he is ready to go so far as to say nationwide same-sex couples can get married,’’ NeJaime said. “I think the opinion evidences a real savviness about the posture of this case and its position in the trajectory of a national movement for marriage for same sex couples.’’

Smith, the lone dissenting judge, disagreed that Proposition 8 necessarily served no purpose other than to treat gays and lesbians as second-class citizens. He pointed out that its backers claimed it could serve to promote responsible child-rearing among opposite-sex couples, and said courts were obligated to uphold laws in the face of civil rights challenges unless they were “clearly wrong, a display of arbitrary power (or) not an exercise of judgment.’’

“There is good reason for this restraint,’’ Smith said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 10, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

10th Circuit Court rules Oklahoma ban on Sharia Law unconstitutional

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has declared Oklahoma’s ban on Sharia Law unconstitutional.

In November, U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange threw out the state constitutional amendment.

Today, that ruling was upheld on appeal.

In Nov. 2010, voters approved a constitutional amendment banning Sharia Law in Oklahoma. The appeals court noted that even supporters of the amendment couldn’t find even a single example of Sharia Law being used or even cited in any court case or legislation.

In its decision, the court agreed that the law violated the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause. They said the law’s aim was to single out Muslims for discrimination and had no basis in reality. They did stop short of calling voters in Oklahoma dumbasses.

The judges wrote:

“Given the lack of evidence of any concrete problem, any harm Appellants seek to remedy with the proposed amendment is speculative at best and cannot support a compelling interest.”

In defending the law, Oklahoma lawmakers who proposed the amendment and attorneys defending it in court called it a defensive move. They see Sharia Law as discriminatory and allowing practices such as marital rape.

Rape, however, is already illegal in Oklahoma under civil law.

And what is interesting is that Oklahomans who see Sharia Law as infringing on civil rights have no interest in protecting the civil rights of their LGBT neighbors — who are treated extremely harshly under Sharia Law, incidentally. Just this week, lawmakers introduced discriminatory legislation to reinstitute “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the Oklahoma National Guard.

And by the way included in Sharia Law are the 10 Commandments, so in banning Sharia Law, the dumbasses who voted for this law were also banning the 10 Commandments.

—  David Taffet

Appeals court rules in favor of fired transgender woman

Conservative 11th Circuit panel overturns trial court decision, says firing violated her right to equal protection

Lisa Keen  |  Keen News Service
lisakeen@me.com

A three-judge panel of the conservative 11th Circuit U.S. Supreme Court of Appeals on Tuesday, Dec. 6, ruled in favor of an employee of the Georgia General Assembly who was fired after telling a supervisor that she was undergoing male-to-female sex change treatment.

The supervisor, Sewell Brumby, told the employee, then known as Glenn Morrison, that the gender transition would be “disruptive” to the workplace, that it would make some co-workers “uncomfortable” and that “some people would view it as a moral issue.”

The employee, now known as Vandiver Elizabeth Glenn, filed suit with the aid of Lambda Legal Defense saying the firing violated Glenn’s constitutional right to equal protection.

The firing, argued Lambda, was both discrimination based on sex and based on a medical condition. A district court ruled for the supervisor.

But the panel said the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution “requires the state to treat all persons similarly situated alike or, conversely, to avoid all classifications that are ‘arbitrary or irrational’ and those that reflect ‘a bare … desire to harm a politically unpopular group.’

“The question here is whether discriminating against someone on the basis of his or her gender non-conformity constitutes sex-based discrimination under the Equal Protection Clause,” said the panel, in Glenn v. Sewell Brumby. “… we hold that it does.”

Those reasons included a 1989 decision in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it was sex discrimination for a law firm to deny a promotion to a female lawyer because she was perceived as “macho.”

“All persons, whether transgender or not, are protected from discrimination on the basis of gender stereotype,” said the panel. “… The nature of the discrimination is the same; it may differ in degree but not in kind, and discrimination on this basis is a form of sex-based discrimination that is subject to heightened scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause. Ever since the Supreme Court began to apply heightened scrutiny to sex-based classifications, its consistent purpose has been to eliminate discrimination on the basis of gender stereotypes.”

The panel took note that supervisor Brumby had expressed concern that other female employees at the General Assembly “might object” to Glenn’s use of the women’s restroom. But it said Brumby presented “insufficient evidence” to show this was the deciding motivation in firing Glenn.

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Teacher accuses TC College of discrimination

Gill says English Department chair at Northeast Campus told her the state and the school ‘do not like homosexuals’

Jacqueline “Jackie” Gill
Jacqueline “Jackie” Gill

TAMMYE NASH  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

HURST — Jacqueline “Jackie” Gill filed suit Wednesday, Sept. 7, against a professor and a dean at Northeast Campus of Tarrant County College in Hurst, claiming that she was denied the opportunity to apply for a permanent, full- time teaching position there because of the English Department chair’s bias against what he perceived her sexual orientation to be.

Tarrant County College adopted a nondiscrimination policy prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation on March 9 of this year.

Frank Griffis, director of public relations and marketing for Tarrant County College, said it “would not be appropriate” for school officials to comment on pending litigation. He also said school officials had not yet been served with papers and therefore had not read the complaint.

Gill said she had worked as a full-time temporary English professor for about a year at the Northeast Campus. But when the position was to be made permanent, English Department Chair Eric Devlin refused to allow her to apply for the permanent position.

Gill said when she complained about Devlin to Northeast Campus Humanities Division Dean Antonio R. Howell, he initially seemed to side with her, but after speaking to Devlin, Howell refused to communicate further with her. Gill said although she is a lesbian and has never tried to hide that fact, she had never talked about her orientation with Devlin or anyone else at the school.

Both Devlin and Howell are named as co-defendants in the lawsuit.

Gill is represented in the lawsuit by Lambda Legal South Central Region staff attorney Ken Upton, joined by pro bono counsel Benjamin D. Williams from the law firm of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher.

Gill and Upton held a press conference Wednesday to announce that the lawsuit had been filed earlier that morning in U.S. district court in Fort Worth. The press conference was held at a Hurst hotel located just a few blocks from the Tarrant County College campus where Gill had taught.

According to the complaint filed Wednesday, and statements Gill made during the press conference, Gill was first hired on a full time, temporary basis as an English professor on Aug. 21, 2009. A little more than a month later, at the end of October, a female “dual-enrollment” student — a high school student who was also taking college classes — in Gill’s distance learning class cheated by stealing an exam and skipped some classes.

The student’s high school counselor told Gill that the student has a history of disruptive behavior, and when the student dropped the class, Gill was told the situation was closed.

On Nov. 9, however, Devlin called Gill into his office and told her the student had accused Gill of “flirting” with female students. Gill denied the accusations, noting that there was always another teacher in the class at the same time.

That’s when Devlin responded with “a lengthy diatribe about homosexuals and how the Texas public views them,” according to the complaint. Gill said Devlin went on to say that Texas is a conservative state and TCC is a conservative school, and that “Texas and Tarrant County College do not like homosexuals.”

Gill continued to teach at TCC, receiving high praise and compliments from students and staff alike, including from Devlin. Then in May 2010, she and other full-time temporary professors were told by Howell that all seven temporary full- time positions were being made permanent, and that they were being re-designated as adjunct faculty until the permanent positions were filled.

Gill said Howell also encouraged her and the other temporary professors to apply for the permanent jobs. Gill applied for all seven but was the only one of the seven temporary professors not hired for the permanent positions. Gill said that she was, in fact, not even allowed to interview for any of the positions, even though her experience and credentials were as good as or better than those who were hired.

Gill said she met with Howell and told him about Devlin’s anti-gay comments and refusal to allow her to interview for the permanent positions. She said Howell promised her to discuss the situation with Devlin immediately, but that he never got back in touch with her.

She said she also got no response when she tried to discuss the situation with the vice president and president of Tarrant County College.

Gill continued to teach as an adjunct professor at the campus through December 2010, although, she said, Devlin’s attitude toward her became “even more hostile.”

And she said that although she was originally assigned classes for the 2011 spring term, as she was preparing for those classes she discovered she had been removed as the professor. When she inquired about the status of the class, Gill said, she was told that Devlin had specifically instructed that those classes be taken away from her.

Upton said that Devlin and Howell violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution by refusing to allow Gill to apply for the permanent teaching position. He said Gill’s suit is asking that she be allowed to complete the application process and that she be compensated for the time she has been unemployed.

Gill, who is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Texas at Arlington, said she would love to get a teaching job with TCC, and while she would prefer to work at another campus, she is willing to go back to the Northeast Campus and work again in Devlin’s department.

“I worked hard. I earned it,” Gill said of the permanent position. “I have nothing to be ashamed of. If it [her working in Devlin’s department again] would be awkward for anyone, I think it would be awkward for him [Devlin] because he is the one who was in the wrong.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 9, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

We don’t all have the luxury of time

The American Foundation for Equal Rights, the organization behind the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8, has asked the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to lift its injunction and allow legal same-sex marriages to resume in California as the lawsuit moves through the appeals process.

As you probably remember, early last year federal District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that Prop 8 — an amendment to the California Constitution approved in a 2008 voter referendum — violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection. California state officials said they would not appeal the ruling because they, too, believed Prop 8 to be unconstitutional. But the folks who backed the amendment in the first place and who were the only ones to try to defend it in Walker’s court, did appeal the decision to the 9th Circuit, which issued an injunction that is keeping same-sex marriages from resuming under Walker’s ruling. But in addition, the 9th Circuit, unsure whether the Prop 8 supporters even have legal standing to appeal, have asked the California Supreme Court to weigh in on the question of standing.

And therein lies the problem. The California Supreme Court justices have said they will issue an opinion on standing, but they aren’t in any hurry to do it. In fact, they don’t plan to issue any decisions until sometime after the summer.

And that just isn’t soon enough for some people, and that’s why AFER is asking the 9th Circuit to lift the injunction.  We don’t all have the luxury of time, and that includes 78-year-old Ed Watson of Palm Springs.

Watson has joined in Courage Campaign’s efforts to get the injunction lifted by writing this letter and making the video above. I think he says it all:

“Yesterday, I found out the California Supreme Court denied a motion to speed up the Prop 8 trial. They’re going to take their summer recess and come back in around 6 months or so. It must be nice for them.

“The thing is, I am 78 years old, and I have Alzheimer’s disease. I have been with my partner, Derence, for over 40 years. And if the courts drag this out for months and months, I fear I will, God forbid, lose the ability to recognize my beloved Derence when he gets on his knee to propose to me.

“I can’t afford that, and Derence deserves better. That’s why I agreed to be named in Courage Campaign’s amicus curiae letter to the 9th Circuit, asking that the stay be lifted so I can at least have my dignity on our wedding day.

“Please watch this video of my and my partner Derence, then co-sign our letter to the 9th Circuit, begging them to lift the stay while the California Supreme Court drags its feet.

“If the California Supreme Court is going to take its time, then we deserve the dignity of marriage … before I can’t remember what marriage is.”

“Humbly, Ed Watson, Palm Springs, CA.”

—  admin

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

DA Craig Watkins says Club Dallas charges were dismissed based on U.S. Constitution

On Wednesday we reported that charges have now been dismissed or rejected against all 11 men arrested in the Dallas Police Department’s October raid of The Club Dallas, a gay bathhouse in Deep Ellum.

Today, Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins for the first time publicly addressed the reasons behind his office’s dismissal of the charges, issuing a one-sentence statement.

“Based upon the U. S. Constitution and the applicable Texas statute, the elements of the offense were unprovable,” Watkins said.

Watkins didn’t specify which portion of the Constitution he was referring to, but undoubtedly it’s the right to privacy.

Seven of the men were charged with public lewdness, which is defined as sexual intercourse or sexual contact in a public place. However, defense attorneys have raised questions about whether the confines of the Club Dallas are considered a public place under the law.

Three of the men were charged with indecent exposure, which is defined as exposing one’s genitals with the intent to arouse or gratify and in a manner that is “reckless about whether another is present who will be offended or alarmed …” But defense attorneys say it’s difficult to argue that sex in a bathhouse is recklessly offensive when all members typically sign waivers saying they acknowledge it takes place.

—  John Wright

Updates from California and Hawaii

The California Supreme Court justices announced today that they will be issuing an opinion on whether YesOn8.com, the group that successfully pushed for Proposition 8 amending the state’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage there, has standing to appeal Federal District Judge Vaughn Walker’s ruling that Prop 8 violates the U.S. Constitution.

That announcement further delays the 9th Court of Appeals’ consideration of the appeal in the case that could ultimately end up in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Further west, news coming out of Hawaii was much more positive, as a bill creating civil unions for same-sex couples  cleared its final legislative hurdle and is headed to the governor’s desk.

Although Republican then-Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed essentially the same bill last July. But current Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie has said he will sign it into law.

—  admin

Texas legislator seeks ban on Sharia law

State Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler

This just in from the Twitters: Looks like right-wing State Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, has filed a proposed constitutional amendment that would bar state courts from enforcing, considering or applying any religious or cultural law. Berman appears to be seeking something similar to the constitutional amendment passed by Oklahoma voters last year outlawing Sharia law, or Islamic law. A federal judge has blocked enforcement of the Oklahoma amendment — which passed overwhelmingly — while she determines whether it’s in line with the U.S. Constitution. Of course, the irony here is that if religious-based law were banned in Texas or Oklahoma, you’d have to throw out half the books, including the bans on same-sex marriage. People like Berman don’t want a ban on religious law; they want a ban on non-fundamentalist Christian law.

—  John Wright

Va. legislator wants to ban gays from state National Guard

DENA POTTER  |  Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. — A conservative Virginia legislator says he is drafting a bill to ban gays from serving in the Virginia National Guard following the vote by Congress to allow them to serve openly in the United States military.

Del. Bob Marshall said the repeal of the 17-year-old “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy would weaken military recruitment and retention and increase pressure for a military draft. The White House said Monday, Dec. 20 that President Obama plans to sign the repeal Wednesday, four days after the U.S. Senate approved it.

“He can’t tell us that we have to adopt his mission policy,” Marshall, R-Manassas, said in an interview Monday.

Opponents say a ban would be moot because the Guard is a subset of the military, and federal law would trump any state action. But Marshall argues the U.S. Constitution reserves the right to appoint a militia for the states.

Marshall said the policy of banning gays in the military dates back to the American Revolution, when Gen. George Washington discharged a soldier for attempted sodomy and perjury.

“He was more hard-up for troops than anybody,” Marshall said of Washington. “He did not relax his standards to allow behavior that is incompatible with military service.”

Sen. Donald McEachin, D-Henrico, called Marshall’s proposal mean-spirited and “absolutely abhorrent.”

“These brave men and women ensure our safety and security without regard to the color of our skin, our religion, our age or our sexual orientation,” McEachin said. “We owe them, at a minimum, the same respect.”

Both McEachin and Claire Guthrie Gastanaga, an attorney for the gay rights organization Equality Virginia, said even if Virginia passed such a bill it would be nullified because the National Guard is a federal military unit that is subject to federal rules.

“It is a shame that Delegate Marshall would dishonor the brave men and women serving in our National Guard by seeking to make political points at their expense and waste the time of his colleagues in the Virginia General Assembly,” Gastanaga said.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” has allowed gays and lesbians to serve, but only if they were silent about their sexual orientation. Before it was implemented in 1993, recruits who stated that they were gay on a questionnaire were denied entry into the military. More than 13,500 service members were dismissed under the law.

Marshall called the repeal a “social experiment with our troops and our national security” while America is at war.

“In countries where religions and cultures find homosexual acts immoral, the Obama Administration’s repeal policy will work to the detriment of all American troops in securing local cooperation with our nation’s foreign policy goals,” Marshall said in comments first reported by The Washington Times.

Marshall said the Constitution never would have been ratified if states were not reserved unqualified control of the militia. He also pointed out that sodomy was forbidden by the laws of the original 13 states that ratified the Bill of Rights.

Marshall, one of Virginia’s most conservative legislators, was the author of the 2006 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage that was approved by voters. He is considering another run for the U.S. Senate.

Marshall said attorneys were examining his proposal and that he would file it as soon as they are finished. The legislature resumes Jan. 12.

—  John Wright