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Court rules gay couples can marry now in Chicago area

Vernita Gray (left) and Patricia Ewert were the first same-sex couples in Illinois (Photo courtesy Lambda Legal).

Vernita Gray (left) and Patricia Ewert became the first gay couple to wed in Cook County.(Photo courtesy Lambda Legal).

A federal court in Illinois ruled on Friday gay couples can marry immediately in the Chicago-area Cook County without waiting for the marriage equality law to take effect in June.

Meanwhile, LGBT advocates behind the lawsuit are interpreting the decision to mean clerks across the state should begin granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

In a brief four-page order, U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman, an Obama appointee, says Cook County can no longer prohibit gay couples from marrying because the marriage ban violates the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“There is no reason to delay further when no opposition has been presented to this Court and committed gay and lesbian couples have already suffered from the denial of their fundamental right to marry,” Coleman writes.

As Coleman notes, “there is no opposition” to the ruling because Cook County Clerk David Orr and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan weren’t defending the marriage law in court. Both Orr and Madigan filed briefs in support of the plaintiff same-sex couples in the case.

Although Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in Illinois, the measure won’t take effect until June.

The class-action lawsuit, Lee v. Orr, was filed by Lambda Legal and ACLU of Illinois of behalf of same-sex couples seeking to wed before that time in Cook County. The named plaintiffs in the lawsuit — Elvie Jordan and Challis Gibbs as well as Ronald Dorfman and Ken Ilio — are facing terminal illness.

In her ruling, Coleman invokes the legacy of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., to explain her decision to allow gay couples in Cook County to wed immediately.

“Since the parties agree that marriage is a fundamental right available to all individuals and should not be denied, the focus in this case shifts from the ‘we can’t wait for the terminally ill individuals to ‘why should we wait’ for all gay and lesbian couples who want to marry,” Coleman writes. “To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the time is always ripe to do right.”

Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois, praised Coleman for a ruling that he said would bring justice to thousands of same-sex couples.

“Tens of thousands of Illinois couples have been waiting for a long time, some for decades, for their love, commitment and marriage to be recognized,” Cherkasov said. “This day – and the opportunity to finally get married – could not have come sooner. We congratulate all of the couples and their families, and the people of Illinois on this significant day.”

Orr said in a statement the Bureau of Vital Records would be open an extra two hours on Friday until 7 p.m. to accommodate couples seeking to wed in the wake of the court order.

“I’m thrilled same-sex couples who want to get married won’t have to wait any longer,” Orr said. “We are very excited to celebrate this historic milestone with every loving couple from today onward.”

According to Cook County, marriage licenses are valid from the day after issuance and for 60 days, so couples that obtain a marriage license on March 1 may get married between March 2 and April 30.

Moreover, the $60 license fee will be waived for couples already in a civil union. Couples that wish to convert their prior civil union date to a marriage will have to wait until June 1 because it was not addressed in Coleman’s order.

There are differing accounts about the scope of the opinion. Coleman writes her ruling only applies to Cook County because of the nature of the lawsuit.

“Although this court finds that the marriage ban for same-sex couples violates the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause on its face, this finding can only apply to Cook County based on the posture of the lawsuit,” Coleman said.

But LGBT advocates are interpreting the ruling differently and say clerks across Illinois should start affording marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Erik Roldon, a Lambda spokesperson, said no clerk in Illinois has authority to enforce the marriage ban in the aftermath of the decision.

“The law was declared facially unconstitutional,” Roldan said. “That means there are no circumstances under which it can be enforced – in Cook or elsewhere.”

Edwin Yohnka, a spokesperson for the ACLU of Illinois, shared that assessment of the ruling.

“The court found the current marriage ban to be unconstituional,” Yohnka said. “We would hope that all clerks would read that decision. If they do, we believe that they would not want to be in the position of enforcing a law that has been found unconstitutional.”

Gay couples that marry as a result of the court decision would not be the first to do so in Illinois. Vernita Gray and Patricia Ewert married in Cook County in November as a result of a federal court saying they should be afforded a marriage license immediately because Gray has been diagnosed with terminal breast cancer.

21
Feb
2014

ACLU opposes DOMA lawyer’s intervention in marriage case

Robbie Kaplan, Roberta Kaplan, GLAD, DOMA, gay news, Washington Blade

The ACLU opposes Robbie Kaplan’s intervention in an Ohio marriage case (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

The national group that teamed up with a lesbian attorney to litigate successfully against the Defense of Marriage Act is now arguing against her participation in a lawsuit against a ban on same-sex marriage in her home state.

In a filing Friday before the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, the American Civil Liberties Union — along with the ACLU of Ohio and private attorneys at Gerhardstein & Branch — expressed opposition to Roberta Kaplan’s intervention in a case seeking recognition of same-sex marriages in Ohio for the purposes of death certificates.

The 16-page brief argues that Kaplan should be denied intervention in the Ohio case — in which she sought entry on behalf of Equality Ohio and four same-sex couples — on the basis that she wants to enter the case at too late a stage and is making arguments already stated by plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

“Plaintiffs-Appellees have the utmost respect for Equality Ohio and the four unmarried couples and their counsel and the important interests they represent,” the brief states. “However, Plaintiffs-Appellees should be entitled to continue to litigate the case that they initiated in July of last year without the disruption and prejudice that would flow from new claims and parties at this late stage.”

The ACLU contends Kaplan, who wanted to enter the case to argue that heightened scrutiny protection is warranted on the basis of sexual orientation, is making a claim that plaintiffs say they’ve already asserted. But the ACLU also objects to the new claims presented by Kaplan on the basis that they “have not been addressed by the parties or decided by the District Court.”

Further, the ACLU takes issue with the timing of her request to intervene in the case, which was made late last month.

“The motion is untimely because it was filed nine months after the case was filed in the District Court, three months after the notice of appeal was docketed and eight weeks after the appellate briefing schedule was issued,” the brief states.

Not so long ago, the ACLU and Kaplan worked side-by-side on behalf of same-sex couples. The decision against Section 3 of DOMA handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court not even a year ago was the result of the ACLU working with Kaplan on behalf of widow Edith Windsor, who was suing the U.S. government because she had to pay $363,000 in estate taxes under the law in the aftermath of the death of her spouse.

Asked to respond to the ACLU’s objection to her intervening in the lawsuit, Kaplan replied, “Our response will be in the reply brief that we file with the Court.”

Robyn Shepherd, an ACLU spokesperson, said her organization didn’t become involved in the case until “at the end of last month.”

The case, Obergefell v. Himes, was filed by private attorneys last year on a behalf of a same-sex couple that flew to Baltimore and married on the tarmac at the airport. Afterward, one half of the couple, James Obergefell, sued Ohio in federal court to ensure that his name would appear on the death certificate of his partner, John Arthur, who was terminally ill.

U.S. District Judge Timothy Black ruled in the couple’s favor before Arthur died. Afterwards, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine appealed the case, bringing it before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Kaplan — who was born in Ohio, but now lives in New York — filed a brief on April 23 to intervene in the case on behalf of  four couples and Equality Ohio, seeking to argue the state’s marriage ban is unconstitutional in ways other than with respect to death certificates.

“The Proposed Intervenors seek more than the recognition of out-of-state marriages for the limited purposes sought by plaintiffs,” Kaplan writes. “Rather, they seek equal dignity for all gay and lesbian relationships, as mandated by the Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor… and the overturning of all Ohio laws that discriminate against gay people, as provided by the Supreme Court in Romer v. Evans…Specifically, the Proposed Intervenors’ brief will demonstrate that article XV, section 11 of the Ohio Constitution, and related statutory laws, unconstitutionally discriminate against gay people.”

It’s not the first time that Kaplan has sought to intervene in a marriage case. She also filed a request to participate in Kitchen v. Herbert, the case seeking marriage equality in Utah, but the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals denied her request.

It should be noted that both sides in the case are opposing Kaplan’s intervention in the Ohio case. On the same day that ACLU voiced its objections, DeWine filed a 10-page brief against her participation, similarly making the case that Kaplan waited too long to intervene.

“Proposed Intervenors — Equality Ohio, Equality Ohio Education Fund, and four same-sex couples — ask this Court to take the unusual step of letting them intervene in this litigation after it has reached a final judgment in the trial court, after one side has appealed, after a briefing schedule has been set, after briefing has begun, and (by the time of this response) after at least two-thirds of the briefing is complete (and perhaps all briefing by the time the Court rules on the motion),” DeWine writes. “Other courts have rejected similarly belated attempts by similar proposed intervenors to join other existing cases as full parties.”

Another lawsuit challenging the Ohio ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional was filed last week by six same-sex couples. Their lawyer is the same as the attorney who successfully argued against the ban with respect to death certificates, and in a later case with respect to birth certificates and Ohio’s prohibition on recognizing same-sex marriages.

The objection to Kaplan’s intervention in the case takes place amid the perception that LGBT advocates are battling to be part of the case that makes its way to the Supreme Court in anticipation that justices will make a final, nationwide ruling in favor of marriage. Whoever is behind such a lawsuit will get credit for being part of the most significant gay rights case in history.

05
May
2014

ACLU, Lambda Legal seek to join Virginia marriage lawsuit

Virginia, Norfolk, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, gay marriage, gay news, Washington Blade

Lambda Legal and the ACLU on Wednesday petitioned a federal appeals court to intervene in a case that challenges Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban. (Photo courtesy of Casey Hartman)

The American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal on Wednesday petitioned a federal court that is poised to hear a lawsuit challenging Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban to join the case.

The two groups – which filed their own federal lawsuit against the commonwealth’s constitutional amendment that bans nuptials for same-sex couples last August on behalf of two lesbian couples from the Shenandoah Valley – submitted a brief with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond to join a separate lawsuit brought by Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk and Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Chesterfield last year.

U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen’s Feb. 13 ruling in the Bostic case was appealed to the federal appellate court earlier this week.

“From the beginning, both of these cases have proceeded on parallel tracks, and for the good of all couples in the state, we hope it will remain that way,” said Joshua Block, staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. “This motion just ensures that all affected couples have their day in court.”

U.S. Circuit Judge Michael F. Urbanski late last month certified the Lambda Legal and ACLU lawsuit filed on behalf of Victoria Kidd and Christy Berghoff of Winchester and Joanne Harris and Jessica Duff of Staunton as a class action. Urbanski earlier this month said he would not hold oral arguments in the case – and he is expected to issue his ruling in the coming weeks.

“Marriage is a fundamental right of all Virginians,” said Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia. “That’s why it’s important that all couples in both cases be represented in the appeals court at the same time.”

Former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson and David Boies, who successfully argued against California’s Proposition 8 before the U.S. Supreme Court last year, are among the lawyers representing Bostic and London and Schall and Townley.

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

“The Bostic case is extremely well positioned heading into the Fourth Circuit,” American Foundation for Equal Rights Executive Director Adam Umhoefer told the Washington Blade in a statement. “The district court issued an order that, if it is affirmed, will ensure that all gay and lesbian Virginians who wish to marry, or to have their marriage recognized, can do so.”

Herring’s spokesperson, Michael Kelly, declined to specifically comment on the Lambda Legal and ACLU request to join the Bostic case.

“Attorney General Herring’s priority remains ensuring that higher courts have an opportunity to hear this case as quickly as possible to settle the fundamental issues it presents,” said Kelly.

Matthew D. McGill, co-counsel for the plaintiffs in the Bostic case, questioned why the two groups petitioned the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to join the Bostic case.

“The addition of new parties to the case at this late stage risks delaying the proceedings, and there is not a moment to lose when gay and lesbian couples and families across Virginia – and other states in the Fourth Circuit – are experiencing real harm,” said McGill. “We hope the Harris plaintiffs and their lawyers will continue to support our shared goal of marriage equality by filing an amicus brief alongside us.”

A source involved in the legal process who asked to remain anonymous told the Blade there are “grave and serious consequences for an unwarranted ACLU intervention.” These could include the possibility that other groups from West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina that fall under the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ jurisdiction could seek to join the case if allowed.

“If intervention were granted, it could adversely slow down the current appeals process – and time is critical when it comes to attaining marriage equality for all Virginians,” said the source. “There is not a day to lose. Groups like the ACLU can be supportive by simply filing amicus briefs.”

“We are eager for the Fourth Circuit to move ahead swiftly in the Bostic case,” added Umhoefer. “Any delay in the appeals process means that gay and lesbian couples and their families will continue to suffer prolonged harm under unjust laws. We welcome the ACLU to participate as amicus curiae in the case.”

James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and AIDS Project, told the Blade the plaintiffs in the Harris case and their lawyers have been “appointed as representatives of a class of 14,000 same-sex couples in Virginia.” He added the motion to intervene in the Bostic lawsuit are to “do right” by the thousands of gays and lesbians in Virginia who are either married in another jurisdiction or want to exchange vows in the commonwealth.

“This is not about an either or thing,” Esseks told the Blade, noting the Bostic case is not a class action. “This is about an and thing.”

Greg Nevins of Lambda Legal echoed Esseks.

“There still are a lot of moving parts in this,” Nevins told the Blade. “We’ll eventually just do what we can to do the best on this particular case. No one knows where the chips are going to fall.”

27
Feb
2014

Plaintiffs in Va. marriage lawsuit ‘cautiously optimistic’

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

Victoria Kidd and Christy Berghoff join a handful of same-sex marriage supporters outside the federal courthouse in Harrisonburg, Va., on May 12, 2014. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

HARRISONBURG, Va. — One of the three lead plaintiff couples in a lawsuit challenging Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban on Monday told the Washington Blade they are “cautiously optimistic” on the eve of oral arguments in their case that will take place before a federal appeals court in Richmond.

“Cautiously optimistic I think is the best way to put it,” said Victoria Kidd of Winchester as she and her partner of 10 years, Christy Berghoff, and their 18-month-old daughter Lydia stood in front of the federal courthouse in Harrisonburg with a handful of same-sex marriage supporters from the group People of Faith for Equality in Virginia. “It’s wonderful to be able to stand up for our family.”

People of Faith for Equality in Virginia held similar gatherings in Winchester, Christiansburg and Richmond.

“Marriage should be entered into freely, deliberately, certainly seriously; but we should have the right to do that,” said Rev. Carolyn Mobley, interim pastor of Metropolitan Community Church of Richmond during an event at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church near the state Capitol. “I cannot think of anything that would help me pursue my own happiness more than the opportunity to marry the person I love.”

Virginia, Richmond, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, gay marriage, gay news, Washington Blade, Virginia

An interfaith group of same-sex marriage advocates gathered at the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va. on Monday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Mobley and more than two dozen others marched from the church to the state Capitol and then to the nearby federal courthouse where a three-judge panel with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments in the case.

“I’m excited about what’s going on,” Henry Branch of Richmond told the Blade as he and his partner of more than two years, Les Quintana, stood outside the courthouse holding signs in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples. “I never thought this would be happening at this time.”

Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk last July filed a lawsuit challenging Virginia’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Chesterfield joined their case two months later alongside former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson and David Boies, who successfully argued against California’s Proposition 8 before the U.S. Supreme Court had also agreed to represent the two couples.

The American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Virginia last August filed a lawsuit on behalf of Kidd and Berghoff and Joanne Harris and Jessica Duff of Staunton. A federal judge in Harrisonburg earlier this year classified their case as a class action.

U.S. District Court Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen in February found Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional. The 4th Circuit a few weeks later ruled the ACLU and Lambda Legal could join the Bostic case.

Same-sex couples in neighboring West Virginia and North Carolina and South Carolina are among those who have filed lawsuits seeking marriage rights since the U.S. Supreme Court last June struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act. A 4th Circuit ruling that upholds Allen’s decision could either strike down the three states’ same-sex marriage bans or allow gay advocates to mount additional legal challenges against them because they fall under the federal appellate court’s jurisdiction.

Equality North Carolina and South Carolina Equality last month filed amicus briefs with the federal appeals court in the Bostic case.

“We believe that the issue happening in the 4th Circuit has a direct impact on a large number of individuals in our state,” said South Carolina Equality Executive Director Ryan Wilson on Monday during a conference call with reporters. “The time is now we believe for the 4th Circuit to rule for marriage equality not only in Virginia, but in all the four states of the 4th Circuit.”

The Alliance Defending Freedom, the Liberty Council and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are among the groups that filed amicus briefs with the 4th Circuit on behalf of Prince William County Circuit Court Clerk Michèle McQuigg and Norfolk Circuit Court Clerk George Schaefer, III, who appealed Allen’s ruling. National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown and Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation of Virginia, and others are scheduled to attend a rally outside the federal courthouse before the oral arguments begin.

“We’re not imposing our belief on them,” Bonnie Hockaday of Glen Allen told the Blade on Monday as she stood with other same-sex marriage supporters outside the federal courthouse in Richmond. “We’re not saying they have to get married, just allow [it.]”

13
May
2014

Court allows LGBT groups to join Va. marriage lawsuit

Carol Schall, Mary Townley, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, Virginia

Carol Schall (left) with Mary Townley and their daughter Emily. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A federal appeals court on Monday said two LGBT rights groups can join a lawsuit that challenges Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., issued its motion in response to Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union’s petition to join a federal lawsuit filed by two same-sex couples from Norfolk and Chesterfield.

U.S. District Judge Michael F. Urbanski in January certified a same-sex marriage lawsuit that Lambda Legal and the ACLU filed last August on behalf of two lesbian couples from the Shenandoah Valley as a class action. U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen on Feb. 13 struck down Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban in the case that Tim Bostic and Tony London and Carol Schall and Mary Townley brought last year.

The court also said oral arguments in the case are tentatively scheduled to begin on May 12.

“We’re thrilled that all of Virginia’s same-sex couples will be before the court of appeals together, arguing for the freedom to marry and bringing their many compelling stories to the common cause,” said Joshua Block, staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project.

Adam Umhoefer, executive director of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which is representing the plaintiffs in the Bostic case alongside former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson and David Boies, welcomed the court’s decision to expedite oral arguments.

The briefing schedule begins on March 28.

“AFER is thrilled that the Fourth Circuit has granted its request to expedite the hearing schedule in our plaintiffs’ marriage equality case,” said Umhoefer. “The Fourth Circuit clearly recognizes the importance of the Bostic case to thousands of gay and lesbian Virginians and their families, and AFER looks forward to presenting our arguments before the court in May. We welcome the Harris case as interveners in support of our plaintiffs’ case.”

AFER and co-counsel in the Bostic case initially questioned why Lambda Legal and the ACLU petitioned the court to join the lawsuit.

A source involved in the case who asked to remain anonymous told the Washington Blade after the two groups filed their motion that there are “grave and serious consequences for an unwarranted ACLU intervention.” These could include the possibility that other groups from West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina that fall under the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ jurisdiction could seek to join the case if allowed.

Attorney General Mark Herring in January announced he would not defend Virginia’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage that voters approved in 2006.

11
Mar
2014

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