Gay What ?
Rest of site back up shortly!

AFER paid law firms more than $6.4 million in Prop 8 case

Proposition 8, Supreme Court, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade

The plaintiffs in the Proposition 8 case at the Supreme Court emerge victorious with lawyer David Boies, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin and American Foundation for Equal Rights Executive Director Adam Umhoefer. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The American Foundation for Equal Rights between 2009 and 2013 paid more than $6.4 million to two law firms that successfully argued against California’s Proposition 8.

Tax filings indicate former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson’s law firm – Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP – received $1,691,714 from AFER for “legal and ancillary legal expenses” between April 23, 2009, and March 31, 2010. The organization paid the law firm $958,655 between April 1, 2010, and March 31, 2011, and another $2,758,352 between April 1, 2011, through March 31, 2012.

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP received $537,939 from AFER between April 1, 2012, and March 31, 2013. The organization also paid David Boies’ law firm – Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP – $468,089 for “legal and ancillary legal expenses” between April 1, 2010, through March 31, 2011.

These expenses include payments to expert witnesses who testified against Prop 8, travel and living expenses for lawyers who lived in San Francisco for a month during a three-week trial over which now retired U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn Walker presided in 2010. Additional costs include the use of LexisNexis and other online research databases and photo copying documents.

Prop 8 supporters raised nearly $40 million in support of the same-sex marriage ban that California voters approved in 2008.

Walker in August 2010 struck down the gay nuptials prohibition.

A three-judge panel on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in February 2012 upheld the ruling. The U.S. Supreme Court last June struck down Prop 8.

AFER’s 2013 tax filings were not available.

“AFER’s case resulted in the return of marriage equality in California for a fraction of the cost of a ballot measure,” AFER Executive Director Adam Umhoefer told the Washington Blade on Tuesday.

Tax filings also indicate AFER raised $14,900,467 between April 23, 2009, and March 31, 2013, that Umhoefer told the Blade includes a “large amount” of contributions from Republican donors. He added his organization estimates the Prop 8 case also generated millions of dollars in earned media coverage for which it did not have to pay.

“Our donors feel very strongly about return on investment,” said Umhoefer.

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP and Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP did not return the Blade’s request for comment.

AFER, alongside Olson and Boies, is representing two same-sex couples – Tim Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk and Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Chesterfield – who are challenging Virginia’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen last month struck down the commonwealth’s gay nuptials ban that Attorney General Mark Herring in January announced he would not defend. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., in May is scheduled to hold oral arguments in the AFER case and a second lawsuit Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union filed last summer on behalf of Christy Berghoff and Victoria Kidd of Winchester and Joanne Harris and Jessica Duff of Staunton that has been certified as a class action.

American Foundation for Equal Rights, AFER, Adam Umhoefer, marriage equality, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, gay news, Washington Blade

AFER Executive Director Adam Umhoefer (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Lambda Legal and the ACLU continue to work the case pro bono.

AFER and co-counsel in the Bostic case initially questioned why the two groups petitioned the court to join their lawsuit.

Umhoefer told the Blade his organization’s costs in the Bostic case will be “significantly lower” than the amount of money it spent to challenge Prop 8 because the lawsuit against Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban has worked its way through the courts much faster. He said he expects the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will issue its ruling sometime this summer – roughly a year after Bostic and London filed their lawsuit.

20
Mar
2014

Whitman-Walker names new communications director

Shawn Jain, communications, Whitman-Walker Health, gay news, Washington Blade

Shawn Jain (Photo courtesy of Shawn Jain)

Whitman-Walker Health this week announced it has hired Shawn Jain as its new director of communications. He will lead internal and external communications and marketing efforts for the organization.

“Having worked in the communications department for the International AIDS Conference held in Washington a few years ago, I saw first-hand the impact of HIV on the local community and became familiar with the groundbreaking work being done at Whitman-Walker,” Jain said in a release. “Simply stated, Whitman-Walker is an institution in Washington. I am thrilled to be a part of an organization that has already made its mark in history as a healthcare leader and pioneer. I look forward to enhancing Whitman-Walker Health’s communications operation.”

After his work at AIDS 2012, Jain served as a media strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union. He lives in Washington.

“We are pleased to have Shawn on our team,” said Don Blanchon, executive director of WWH, in a statement. “He brings experience that will allow Whitman-Walker to increase the public’s awareness of the breadth and depth of our health center operations and ensure that WWH is reaching the community effectively and strategically.”

27
Mar
2014

Gay couples sue Utah to recognize their marriages

Elenor Heyborne, Marina Gomberg, Matt Barazza, Tony Milner, ACLU, American Civil Liberties Union, gay news, Washington Blade

Elenor Heyborne (on left) and Marina Gomberg; Matt Barazza, Tony Milner (left) and Jesse (center) are suing Utah to recognize their marriages. (Photos courtesy of the American Civil Liberties Union)

For Matt Barazza, government recognition of his marriage in Utah is important not only to him and his spouse, Tony Milner, but also to the four-year-old child whom they’ve raised since his birth.

After marrying in their home state of Utah on Dec. 20 — the first day same-sex marriage came to Utah — the couple submitted paperwork for a second-parent adoption of the child, Jesse, and received a hearing date of Jan. 10. But plans changed after Gov. Gary Herbert announced the state wouldn’t recognize Utah same-sex marriages in the wake of a stay on the weddings from the U.S. Supreme Court.

As a consequence, the judge presiding over the request for second-parent adoption pushed back the hearing to Jan. 31, and Barazza and Milner elected to join a proposed lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union to ensure Utah would recognize the more than 1,300 gay weddings performed in the state.

“That’s the primary reason for us filing the lawsuit at this point was to have the Utah courts make a decision and recognize that our marriage is legal, so that we can go forward with the second-parent adoption and try and get the protections that we can for our son,” Barazza told the Washington Blade on Monday.

While Barazza, 38, an attorney, and Milner, 33, a director of a non-profit that serves homeless families, are both raising Jesse in Salt Lake City, only Barazza is recognized as the adoptive parent because under Utah law, only one of the two was able to adopt the child. The couple also legally married in D.C. in 2010, but elected to do so again when same-sex marriage came to Utah so they could wed in their home state.

But with their marriage no longer recognized by Utah, Barazza said he lives in constant fear of what might happen because of the lack of legal recognition between his partner and their son.

“You fear the worst case scenario always,” Barazza said. “As the one who’s the legal parent, if anything were to happen to me, it would leave [Jesse] basically an orphan as far as the law is concerned…All that would be in spite of my husband Tony being there from Day One and being just as much a parent as I am.”

On Dec. 20, U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby ruled that Amendment 3, Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage, was unconstitutional as a result of a federal lawsuit seeking marriage equality, allowing gay couples to wed in the state immediately. But upon the request from the state, the U.S. Supreme Court placed a stay on the weddings on Jan. 9 pending appeal of the lawsuit. The next day, Herbert said the state wouldn’t recognize the same-sex marriages of couples that married in Utah before the stay was in place.

Although U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder would later announce the marriages would be recognized for federal purposes, as it stands now the couples will have to wait for the outcome of the federal lawsuit — which could take years — to find out whether the state will recognize their marriage.

Barazza and Milner are one of four couples seeking recognition of their marriage from Utah after having wed in the 18 days when same-sex marriages were legal there. The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in state court by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Utah and the Salt Lake City-based firm Strindberg & Scholnick, LLC.

The 32-page complaint alleges Herbert’s decision not to recognize the marriages violates both the due process clause under Utah’s  constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Additionally, it seeks relief under declaratory judgment and Rule 65B, which allows individuals in Utah to seek extraordinary relief against wrongful use of public authority.

“By placing recognition of their marriages ‘on hold,’ the State of Utah has placed the legal status of plaintiffs’ families, including their children, in legal limbo and created uncertainty as to their rights and status in virtually all areas of their lives,” the complaint states.

Joshua Block, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT project, said the goal of the lawsuit is to achieve a result similar to what the California Supreme Court decided after state voters in 2008 approved Proposition 8.

“What happened in Prop 8 is they said if you got married before the amendment went into effect, the marriages are valid and continue to be recognized in California, but no new marriages could happen,” Block said.

In addition to Barazza and Milner, the other plaintiff couples in the lawsuit are Marine Gomberg and Elenor Heyborne of Salt Lake City; JoNell Evans and Stacia Ireland of West Valley, Utah; and Donald Johnson and Fritz Schultz of Sandy, Utah.

After being together for nine years, Gomberg, 29, told the Blade she and Heyborne, 28, wanted to wed immediately on Dec. 20 upon learning that a court has instituted marriage equality in Utah. The couple held a commitment ceremony in 2009, but weren’t legally married until last month.

“There was a huge sense of immediacy because this was something we waited so long for, and we didn’t know how long the window would be,” Gomberg said.

Soon after, Heyborne, a state employee who works in communications, learned that Utah would no longer recognize their union and she sent a text message to Gomberg, who also works in communications, to inform her of the news.

“Obviously, this put all our hopes and dreams to have a kid on hold because the state of Utah doesn’t recognize same-sex adoption, so we would have to go out of state, establish residency somewhere, and then come back here,” Heyborne said. “When we got married, we kind of thought that that was a hoop we would not have to jump through now that we were legally married.”

Marty Carpenter, a Herbert spokesperson, said the governor is standing by his decision not to recognize the same-sex marriages performed in Utah.

“Gov. Herbert has said throughout this process that his responsibility is to follow the law,” Carpenter said. “That is exactly what the administration is doing and we respect the rights of those who disagree to take their grievances before a judge.”

Although state officials announced they’re not recognizing the marriage, the Utah Tax Commission issued guidance last week saying that same-sex couples married in 2013 can be recognized as such for tax purposes for that year if they filed federal returns as married.

Block said the new lawsuit is completely independent of the existing marriage equality lawsuit, known as Kitchen v. Herbert, which brought the same-sex marriages to the state and is pending before the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In the event that court or the U.S. Supreme Court rules that state bans on same-sex marriages like Amendment 3 are constitutional, Block said the outcome wouldn’t affect gay couples married in Utah if the new lawsuit succeeds because “they had vested rights that  can’t be taken away just like if Prop 8 had been upheld as constitutional.”

“But then, even if Kitchen is affirmed on appeal,” Block added, “and the marriage amendments need to stop being enforced again, that doesn’t really solve the problem of legal implications of what happens over the course of people’s lives of the course of this year and next year until the Kitchen litigation comes to an end.”

Block was unable to predict the length of time it would take for the new lawsuit to be resolved, but noted the case was filed before state district court and said he expected requests soon for summary judgment before the Utah Supreme Court.

Each of the plaintiff couples that spoke to the Blade was optimistic about the lawsuit moving forward. Barazza said he’s “really confident” the lawsuit will succeed based on growing public support for marriage equality.

“Public opinion is going in that direction, and I think the courts are recognizing that,” Barazza said. “Also, just with the fundamental fairness and equality as being recognized under the Constitution, I think that is where the country’s headed.”

Block was also optimistic because he said Utah has “a long history” of protecting vested rights under its constitution, such as when the court rebuffed the state legislature’s attempt to change a person’s right to sue under tort law.

“That’s very similar to your legal obligations and rights that come with a marriage license and recognition,” Block said. “Once you got married, you accrued vested rights and all the legal implications of that marriage. And under those principles, I think this right is more important than all the other vested rights that have been protected.”

21
Jan
2014

Lawyer: Va. marriage ban necessary for ‘procreation’

Josh Duggar, Victoria Cobb, Family Foundation of Virginia, Allison Howard, Concerned Women for America, E.W. Jackson, Norfolk, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, Virginia, gay news, Washington Blade

A lawyer with the Alliance Defending Freedom argues in a brief submitted to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban is necessary for “procreation.” (Photo courtesy of the Family Foundation of Virginia)

A lawyer for an anti-gay legal group said in a brief filed with a federal appeals court on March 28 that Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban is necessary for the “procreation” of children.

“Redefining marriage harms marriage’s ability to serve those interests by serving marriage’s inherent connection to procreation and communicating that the primary end of marriage laws is to affirm adult desires rather than serve children’s needs, and suppressing the importance of both mothers and fathers to children’s development,” wrote Byron J. Babione of the Alliance Defending Freedom in a brief he filed with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., on behalf of Prince William County Circuit Court Clerk Michèle McQuigg.

Babione argued that U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen “sought to discredit these procreation- and child-focused purposes for marriage” in her Feb. 13 ruling that struck down Virginia’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

“Plaintiffs ask this court to use the law’s power to redefine the institution of marriage,” said Babione. “That redefinition would transform marriage in the public consciousness from a gendered to a genderless institution – a conversation that would be swift and unalterable, the gendered institution having been declared unconstitutional.”

Babione also cites the Witherspoon Institute in his brief to make the argument that it is “best for a child to be reared by his or her own mother and father.” The New Jersey-based conservative think tank largely funded Mark Regnerus’ study on the issue that a federal judge earlier this month dismissed as “entirely unbelievable and not worthy of serious consideration” in his ruling that struck down Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban.

“Genderless marriage communicates that marriage exists primarily for the government to approve emotional or romantic bonds, because those sorts of bonds (and not sexual conduct of the type that creates children) would be the prominent feature shared by the couples who marry,” said Babione.

David B. Oakley, who represents Norfolk Circuit Court Clerk George Schaefer, III, in the case, said in a separate brief he filed with the federal appeals court on March 28 that Allen “began her opinion with the misconception that Virginia’s definition of marriage is solely based upon prejudice and animus towards gay and lesbian couples.” She opened her ruling with a quote from Mildred Loving, whose challenge of Virginia’s interracial marriage ban prompted the U.S. Supreme Court to issue its landmark Loving v. Virginia decision in 1967.

Oakley further argued Schaefer and others who issue marriage licenses would “face exposure to additional lawsuits” from those denied them if the 4th Circuit upholds Allen’s ruling.

“Same-sex marriage proponents want to open the door of marriage for their benefit and then slam it shut behind them,” wrote Oakley. “It will not be long before other groups come knocking.”

Court records indicate the Family Research Council on March 26 sought to file an amicus brief in the Bostic case, but the federal appeals court blocked it as “premature.” The Washington Blade was unable to immediately obtain a copy of the filing.

Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk and Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Chesterfield last year challenged the commonwealth’s marriage amendment. The American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal – who filed a separate lawsuit last summer on behalf of Victoria Kidd and Christy Berghoff of Winchester and Joanne Harris and Jessica Duff of Staunton – have been allowed to join the Bostic case.

U.S. District Judge Michael F. Urbanski in January certified the ACLU and Lambda Legal lawsuit as a class action.

The federal appeals court on May 12 is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the Bostic case.

Attorney General Mark Herring earlier this year announced he would not defend Virginia’s marriage amendment that voters in 2006 approved by a 57-43 percent margin.

Briefs from the lawyers who are representing the plaintiffs are due to the court on April 11.

“Our attorneys will review the briefs from the clerks and will respond as appropriate in the brief the commonwealth will file by the April 11 deadline,” Herring spokesperson Michael Kelly told the Blade.

31
Mar
2014

Pennsylvania couple seeks marriage rights

Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, gay news, Washington Blade

Independence Hall in Philadelphia. (Photo by Rdsmith4; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

PHILADELPHIA—A married lesbian couple from suburban Philadelphia has filed a federal lawsuit against a Pennsylvania law that prohibits the recognition of same-sex marriages legally performed in other jurisdictions.

Isabelle Barker and Cara Palladino tied the knot in Massachusetts in 2005.

The couple moved to Pennsylvania shortly after their wedding when Barker accepted a position at Bryn Mawr College. Barker gave birth to the couple’s son in 2009.

“We took on the commitment of marriage in 2005 and have supported each other through life’s ups and down,” said Palladino. “We think it is wrong for Pennsylvania to void our marriage and treat us as though we are unmarried when we are very much a loving family.”

Equality Forum, a Philadelphia-based LGBT advocacy group, initiated the lawsuit that was filed on Jan. 13 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Mary Bonauto of the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders is among those who are co-counsel in the case.

“On behalf of Cara and Isabelle and other legally married same-sex families, we will take this injustice as far as is needed to affirm the nation’s 226-year-old history of recognizing marriages from sister states,” said Equality Forum Executive Director Malcolm Lazin.

The American Civil Liberties Union last July filed a lawsuit against Pennsylvania’s statutory gay marriage ban on behalf of 11 same-sex couples and a widow. State Reps. Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia) and Steve McCarter (D-Montgomery County) and state Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery County) have introduced same-sex marriage bills in the Pennsylvania Legislature.

30
Jan
2014

Federal judge stays second Va. marriage lawsuit

Victoria Kidd, Christy Berghoff, Winchester, Virginia, ACLU, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade

Victoria Kidd and Christy Berghoff of Winchester, Va. (Photo courtesy of the ACLU)

A federal judge on Monday put on hold a lawsuit filed on behalf of two lesbian couples from the Shenandoah Valley who are seeking marriage rights in Virginia.

U.S. District Judge Michael F. Urbanski noted in his five-page ruling the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., last month allowed the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal – who brought the case on behalf of Joanne Harris and Jessica Duff of Staunton and Christy Berghoff and Victoria Kidd of Winchester – to intervene in a separate same-sex marriage lawsuit filed last year by Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk and Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Chesterfield.

Urbanski in January certified the Harris case as a class action.

“Plaintiffs indicated that their main goal was to have their day in court and to be heard on the important issues raised in this case on the same schedule as the Bostic case,” wrote Urbanski, referring to a status conference in the Harris case that took place on Feb. 19. “As a result of the 4th Circuit’s order on March 10, 2014, allowing plaintiffs to intervene in the Bostic appeal, plaintiffs have the opportunity. Because of this seismic procedural development, the constitutional issue in this case is now in the hands of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.”

U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen in February struck down Virginia’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

Norfolk Circuit Court Clerk George Schaefer and Prince William County Circuit Court Clerk Michèle McQuigg, who is represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-gay legal group, appealed Wright’s ruling to the 4th Circuit. The federal appeals court is scheduled to begin hearing oral arguments in the Bostic case on May 12.

“Redefining marriage harms marriage’s ability to serve those interests by serving marriage’s inherent connection to procreation and communicating that the primary end of marriage laws is to affirm adult desires rather than serve children’s needs, and suppressing the importance of both mothers and fathers to children’s development,” wrote Byron J. Babione of the Alliance Defending Freedom in a brief he filed with the 4th Circuit on March 28.

Attorney General Mark Herring earlier this year announced he would not defend Virginia’s marriage amendment that voters in 2006 approved by a 57-43 percent margin.

“The commonwealth of Virginia will file its response brief in the Bostic appeal by April 11, as will the Bostic plaintiffs and the Harris plaintiffs,” said Herring spokesperson Michael Kelly late on Monday.

Neighboring Maryland is among the 18 states and D.C. that have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples. Gays and lesbians in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Alabama, Florida, Arizona and other states have filed same-sex marriage lawsuits since the U.S. Supreme Court last June struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act.

A poll that Quinnipiac University released on Monday shows 50 percent of Virginia voters support marriage rights for same-sex couples, compared to 42 percent who oppose the issue. The survey further noted 69 percent of Democrats and only 23 percent of Republicans support gay nuptials.

01
Apr
2014

Virginia same-sex marriage lawsuit certified as class action

Victoria Kidd, Christy Berghoff, Winchester, Virginia, ACLU, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade

Victoria Kidd and Christy Berghoff of Winchester, Va. (Photo courtesy of the ACLU)

A federal judge on Friday certified a lawsuit that two lesbian couples from the Shenandoah Valley filed against Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban as a class action.

Judge Michael F. Urbanski of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia in Harrisonburg ruled any same-sex couple in the commonwealth who is not married or legally exchanged vows in another jurisdiction can join the women’s lawsuit.

The American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Virginia last August challenged the state’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman on behalf of Christy Berghoff and Victoria Kidd of Winchester and Joanne Harris and Jessica Duff in Staunton.

Berghoff and Kidd, who have been together for more than nine years and are raising their young daughter, married in D.C. in 2011. Harris and Duff, who have also been together for nearly a decade and are raising a 4-year-old son, tried to apply for a marriage license in Staunton Circuit Court last July.

“It’s about protecting our family,” said Kidd during a meeting she and other LGBT Virginians attended with state Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-Fauquier County)’s staffers in Richmond on Jan. 28 that coincided with Equality Virginia’s annual lobby day. “Right now we are separated from so many protections that are enjoyed by other families and we fundamentally don’t feel that the state should be defining family for us.”

Oral arguments in a second lawsuit that two same-sex couples – Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk and Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Richmond – filed against the commonwealth’s marriage amendment last year will take place in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Norfolk on Tuesday.

Urbanski excluded the plaintiffs in the Bostic case from the class action lawsuit.

“We want to be clear that we’re fighting for families across the state,” said Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia. “This marriage ban affects families in a number of different ways by denying them the many protections that come with marriage. It’s important that our case address the many ways that families are hurt by our discriminatory laws.”

Attorney General Mark Herring last week announced he will not defend the marriage amendment that Virginia voters in 2006 approved by a 57-43 percent margin.

A Virginia House of Delegates committee on Jan. 24 approved a bill state Dels. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William County) and Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah County) introduced that would allow any state lawmaker to defend a law if the governor and attorney general decline to do so. Pat Mullins, chair of the Republican Party of Virginia, is among those who have said Herring should resign if he refuses to defend the state’s gay nuptials ban.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Jan. 27 said he would not appoint a special counsel to defend the marriage amendment after Marshall and 29 other state lawmakers asked him to do so.

Herring’s spokesperson, Michael Kelly, referred the Washington Blade to the attorney general’s previous comments on the state’s same-sex marriage ban when asked about Urbanski’s order.

“This is a key issue that the [U.S.] Supreme Court is going to have to decide,” Herring told the Blade during a Jan. 23 interview. “If the facts were presented to the Supreme Court, they would strike it down. And it’s important that Virginia be on the right side of history and on the right side of the law.”

01
Feb
2014

Ted Olson: Va. gay marriage ban ‘flatly unconstitutional’

David Boies, Ted Olson, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade

Ted Olson and David Boies (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson on Friday described Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban as “blatant discrimination” that is “unjustified, un-American and flatly unconstitutional.”

“The unmistakable purpose and effect of Virginia’s marriage prohibition is to stigmatize gay men and lesbians – and them alone – and enshrine in Virginia’s constitution and statutory code that they are ‘unequal to everyone else,’” he said in a brief filed with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., that urges it to uphold a federal judge’s ruling that struck down the commonwealth’s gay nuptials ban.

Olson said the commonwealth’s marriage amendment “actually harms children” because it prevents gay men and lesbians from tying the knot. Three of the four leading plaintiff couples who are challenging the state’s same-sex marriage ban – Mary Townley and Carol Schall of Chesterfield, Joanne Harris and Jessica Duff of Staunton and Victoria Kidd and Christy Berghoff of Winchester – are raising children.

Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk, who filed a lawsuit against the state’s gay nuptials ban last July, have been together for 25 years.

“If the commonwealth’s interest truly were ensuring that children received the benefits of parents’ remaining together to rear the children they conceive, that professed objective would be advanced only by allowing same-sex couples to marry,” says Olson.

Olson also notes in the brief filed on behalf of Townley and Schall and Bostic and London that Virginia’s interracial marriage ban dated back to the colonial period. The aforementioned prohibition remained in place until 1967 when the U.S. Supreme Court struck it down in its landmark Loving v. Virginia decision.

“The history of Virginia’s marriage prohibition demonstrates that the laws were intended to oppress,” says Olson. “They were designed to exclude gay men and lesbians from marriage in Virginia on the baseless supposition that gay men and lesbians were launching an ‘attack’ on traditional families that would ‘weaken’ the institution of marriage.”

Olson filed his brief in the Bostic case on the same day Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring defended U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen’s February ruling that struck down the commonwealth’s same-sex marriage ban.

Herring announced shortly after he took office in January he will not defend the marriage amendment that voters in 2006 approved by a 57-43 percent margin. Norfolk Circuit Court Clerk George Schaefer, III, and Prince William County Circuit Court Clerk Michèle McQuigg defended the gay nuptials ban in briefs their lawyers filed with the 4th Circuit on March 28.

“The clerks’ narrow vision of marriage and expansive vision of state power to intrude on personal freedoms demean the institution of marriage and the dignity of gay people as free and equal human beings,” wrote Luke C. Platzer of Jenner and Block LLP, a D.C. law firm, in a brief he filed with the 4th Circuit on Friday on behalf of Harris and Duff and Kidd and Berghoff.

The American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal last August filed a lawsuit against the state’s marriage amendment on behalf of the women.

U.S. District Judge Michael F. Urbanski in January certified the ACLU and Lambda Legal lawsuit as a class action. The 4th Circuit last month allowed the groups to intervene in the Bostic case.

Lawyer: Defendants’ claims are ‘bizarre’

Platzer dismissed claims the marriage amendment is necessary for the procreation of children.

“The clerks’ assertion that allowing same-sex couples to marry would sever the association between marriage and raising children is bizarre,” he says.

OurServe-SLDN and the American Military Partner Association and a group of constitutional law scholars that include Deborah Hellman and John C. Jeffries, Jr., of the University of Virginia School of Law on Friday filed amicus briefs with the 4th Circuit.

“Gay and lesbian individuals have limited ability to protect themselves through the political process against continued public and private discrimination,” writes Lori Alvino McGill of the D.C. law firm Latham and Watkins LLP on behalf of the scholars, referring to the defendants in the Bostic case who argue gays and lesbians have gained political influence in recent years. “The barriers to gay and lesbian persons achieving equal respect, equal dignity, and equal rights through the political process remain daunting, and private discrimination and hostility are still often both widespread and fierce.”

Neighboring Maryland is among the 18 states and D.C. that have extended marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Gays and lesbians in North Carolina, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Florida, Alabama and other states have filed marriage lawsuits since the U.S. Supreme Court last June struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act. A three-judge panel with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday heard oral arguments in an appeal of a federal judge’s ruling late last year that found Utah’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional.

The 4th Circuit is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the Bostic case on May 13.

12
Apr
2014

Wisconsin latest state to face marriage lawsuit

Charvonne Kemp, Marie Carlson, American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU, gay news, Washington Blade, Wisconsin, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality

Charvonne Kemp (left) and Marie Carlson filed a lawsuit in Wisconsin seeking marriage rights. (Photo courtesy of the American Civil Liberties Union)

Same-sex couples in Wisconsin joined others throughout the country on Monday in filing a lawsuit seeking same-sex marriage, but efforts there are unique because of the penalties for marrying in another jurisdiction.

The litigation seeks not only to overturn the state’s 2006 constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage, but also to enjoin state official from enforcing a “marriage evasion law” prohibiting couples — gay and straight — from going elsewhere to marry if the marriage would be prohibited in the state.

The penalties of violating the marriage evasion law in Wisconsin, which is the only state to have such a statute, include up to $10,000 in fines and nine months in prison.

For Marie Carlson, one-half of one of the couples participating in the lawsuit, the marriage evasion law is of concern as she seeks recognition of her relationship with Charvonne Kemp.

“It’s illegal in the state Wisconsin to go another state and get married if you live here,” Carlson said. “I know that it’s not really all that enforced; it’s still something that hangs over your head.”

The marriage evasion law is particularly problematic for same-sex couples in Wisconsin because the Obama administration in most cases has elected to recognize same-sex marriages even if the state doesn’t recognize them — provided these couples are able to marry in a jurisdiction that allows it.

John Knight, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT project, called the marriage evasion law a “Catch-22″ for same-sex couples living in Wisconsin who want to marry.

“Wisconsin is unique in that sense, and so we think that argument particularly exemplifies the harm or the animus toward same-sex couples in some parts of the country,” Knight said.

But for Kemp, it’s not the fear of prosecution for marrying elsewhere that compels her to seek the right marry in Wisconsin, but the ability to wed in the state where she’s lived with her partner for seven years and raised two sons.

“We’re completely in love, and we’d like to be married in the state that we live in,” Kemp said. “We do have options where we could obviously leave the state and go to other states and get married, but we want to be legally recognized where we live.”

The lawsuit, Wolf and Schumacher v. Walker, was filed by the ACLU, the ACLU of Wisconsin and Mayer Brown LLP and is pending before the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin.

Like other lawsuits filed throughout the country, the 29-page complaint filed by the groups in Wisconsin alleges the state’s ban on same-sex marriage violates equal protection and due process under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“Although Wisconsin and this country have taken some steps to reduce discrimination against lesbians and gays, Wisconsin’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples is a striking and continuing vestige of the long history of discrimination toward lesbians and gay men,” the complaint says.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of four same-sex couples seeking to marry in Wisconsin. Along with Kemp and Carlson, who reside in Milwaukee, they are: Virginia Wolf and Carol Schumacher, who reside in Eau Claire, Wis.; Roy Badger and Garth Wangemann, who live in Milwaukee; and Judith “Judi” Trampf and Katharina “Katy” Heyning, who live in Madison.

Although Wisconsin offers same-sex couples the ability to join in a domestic partnership, enacted in the state in 2009, they don’t offer same the legal rights as marriages.

Carlson said the union isn’t enough because that union provides little assistance beyond certain health insurance benefits — and that’s only if the insurance company recognizes the partnership.

“It also goes along with the fact that last like year, Charvonne’s mother passed away, and we all had to go to New Jersey for a week,” Carlson said. “I had to use vacation time because…the company I work for didn’t recognize she was legally my partner, so I didn’t get bereavement to be able to go. So, I had to use a week of my vacation.”

The office of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on the lawsuit.

Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, however, pledged in a statement to the Blade that he would the defend the marriage amendment.

“This constitutional amendment was approved by a large majority of Wisconsin residents,” Van Hollen said. “I believe the amendment is constitutional, and I will vigorously defend it.”

The Wisconsin litigation is among 40 pending lawsuits in 22 states throughout the country seeking marriage rights for gay couples.

Amid expectations that one will soon reach the U.S. Supreme Court for a final ruling on marriage equality, Knight said it’s possible, but he wouldn’t bet on it.

“It’s one of the possibilities it might go to the Supreme Court, but the chance of that in light of all the other cases out there is probably fairly small,” Knight said. “But it could be.”

Nonetheless, if Walker continues to fight the lawsuit and a high court ruling doesn’t happen before the case is resolved, Kemp said she’s willing to take her case to the Supreme Court to fight for marriage rights across the country if necessary.

“I’m willing to go to the Supreme Court to fight for the right for everyone to be able to get married if that’s what they choose to do,” Kemp said. “It’s about marriage equality for all, not marriage equality for some, or for just us.”

For Kemp, the ability to marry in Wisconsin is not just about the legal rights that marriage would afford, but the dignity of having the access to the same union as other couples.

“However, I want to be married just like everyone else. I want it to be legal, not just for if one of us should get sick and having rights where we’re in the hospital with the other one, but also taxes, all the things that come with marriage, good and bad,” Kemp said.

03
Feb
2014

Groups support trans woman in lawsuit

gavel, law, court, gay news, Washington Blade

Several groups have asked the U.S. District Court for permission to file a “friend of the court” brief to support Finkle.

Last fall a lawsuit was filed against Howard County in federal court by Tomi B. Finkle, 59, a retired police sergeant, claiming discrimination based on her gender identity after she was rejected for a volunteer police mounted patrol position. According to the Baltimore Sun, six advocacy organizations have filed arguments in federal court on behalf of Finkle.

The American Civil Liberties Union, its Maryland chapter, the Free State Legal Project, Lambda Legal, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Transgender Law Center have asked the U.S. District Court for permission to file a “friend of the court” brief to support Finkle.

The groups argue against the county’s motion to dismiss the suit stating case law supports Finkle’s claim of discrimination and she does not have to prove the county knew her transgender status, as county lawyers have argued. The county stated in court filings that Finkle cannot sue for job discrimination because a voluntary position is not employment.

Finkle expressed appreciation for the support of the groups but neither she nor her lawyer had requested it. No hearing date has been set in the case.

16
Apr
2014