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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

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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

Cruz introduces bill to limit fed’l recognition of marriage

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Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has introduced the State Marriage Defense Act. (Washington Blade file photo by Lee Whitman)

Tea Party favorite Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) introduced legislation on Thursday in the U.S. Senate to prohibit the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages in states without marriage equality.

The Texas Republican said he introduced the bill, called the State Defense Marriage Act, in response to the Obama administration’s recognition of same-sex marriage in federal programs — even for gay couples living in non-marriage equality states — following the Supreme Court decision against the Defense of Marriage Act.

“I support traditional marriage,” Cruz said in a statement. “Under President Obama, the federal government has tried to re-define marriage, and to undermine the constitutional authority of each state to define marriage consistent with the values of its citizens. The Obama Administration should not be trying to force gay marriage on all 50 states.”

Known for his filibuster of health care reform legislation, Cruz is a freshman senator and hasn’t been in the Senate long enough to establish an anti-LGBT record while in Congress. However, he voted last year against an LGBT-inclusive version of the a bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.

Among the co-sponsors of the legislation is Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), another Tea Party favorite known for his opposition to same-sex marriage. Cruz and Lee are currently the only sponsors of the bill.

Lee is also chief sponsor of the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act, which would prohibit the federal government from discriminating against organizations that exercise “religious conscience” against same-sex marriage.

Cruz introduced the legislation on the heels of complaints from conservatives over U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement that the Justice Department would recognize same-sex marriages in courtrooms and federal programs — even in jurisdictions without marriage equality.

Tony Perkins, president of the anti-gay Family Research Council, praised Cruz for introducing the legislation in the wake of policy developments along the lines of Holder’s announcement.

“The Department of Justice (DOJ) is the latest agency to announce a policy of recognizing same sex couples as ‘married’ – even if they live in a state that does not,” Perkins said. “These announcements not only contradict other agency guidance, but also undermine state laws on marriage, a result directly condemned by the Windsor Court’s ruling.”

Companion legislation already exists in the House, where a bill was introduced Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Texas). Counting Forbes, the legislation has 58 sponsors.

Ian Thompson, legislative representative of the American Civil Liberties Union, called the legislation an effort “to reincarnate DOMA under a new name.”

“The bill would force the federal government to disrespect the legal marriages of same-sex couples in (currently) more than half the country,” Thompson said. “Rather than wasting time trying to, once again, enshrine anti-gay discrimination in federal law, Congress should pass the Respect for Marriage Act to provide married same-sex couples with certainty that the federal government will recognize their marriages regardless of where in the country they live in or move to.”

13
Feb
2014

Second N.C. marriage lawsuit filed

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(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

GREENSBORO, N.C. – The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina on April 9 filed a second same-sex marriage lawsuit in the Tar Heel State.

The group filed the lawsuit in federal court on behalf of three married same-sex couples who are seeking recognition of their marriages in North Carolina. They have asked the court to expedite the case because three of the six plaintiffs have serious medical conditions.

“Without the legal security that only marriage affords, these families are left vulnerable,” said Jennifer Rudinger, executive director of the ACLU of North Carolina. “If they could marry or have their marriages recognized in North Carolina, the law would protect their families in countless ways.”

The ACLU in 2012 filed a federal lawsuit against North Carolina’s second-parent adoption ban on behalf of six gay families. The group last year amended the case to directly challenge the state’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., will hear oral arguments in a case that challenges Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban.

North Carolina, South Carolina and West Virginia also fall under the 4th Circuit’s jurisdiction.

16
Apr
2014

Months after court ruling, DOMA issues remain unresolved

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U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has pledged to extend federal benefits to married gay couples to the furthest extent possible under the law. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Ever since the Supreme Court ruled against the Defense of Marriage Act last year, the Obama administration has been rolling out on a continual basis new federal benefits for married same-sex couples — but access to some benefits remains uncertain months after the decision.

While the administration has afforded a preponderance of the 1,138 federal benefits of marriage to same-sex couples, other benefits — including Social Security, veterans and family leave benefits — are still in limbo for those living in non-marriage equality states. For these benefits, federal policy looks to the place of residence, not the place of celebration, in determining whether a person is married.

The policy of the Obama administration has been to expand benefits to married same-sex couples to the furthest extend possible under the law following the court decision against DOMA. That position was formalized last week in a memo from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder extending certain federal benefits under the purview of the Justice Department to married gay couples.

“It is the Department’s policy, to the extent federal law permits, to recognize lawful same-sex marriages as broadly as possible, and to recognize valid in the jurisdiction where the marriage was celebrated,” Holder writes.

Thus far, the administration has extended numerous benefits to married same-sex couples related to taxes, immigration, federal employee benefits, employer-provided pensions and, most recently, the ability to refuse to testify against a spouse in federal court — even if these couples live in non-marriage equality states. The Justice Department has also ceased enforcement of a provision in Title 38, which governs veterans benefits, that independently defines marriage in opposite-sex terms.

But things get dicier when it comes to other benefits where the law governing them looks to the state law where a couple resides, rather than the state law where the couple was married in determining whether a marriage is legitimate. Does the spirit of the Supreme Court ruling against DOMA mean that these portions of these laws should also not be enforced, or are they so far removed from the ruling they require a legislative fix?

One such issue is with Social Security benefits. Although the Social Security Administration is processing retirement and survivor benefits for same-sex couples living in marriage-equality states, for the time being, it’s placing applications on hold for married same-sex couples living in places that don’t their recognize their union.

Kia Anderson, a Social Security spokesperson, said work coordinated with the Justice Department is still underway to determine whether her agency can recognize these same-sex marriages for benefits purposes.

“We are working with the Department of Justice to develop and implement policy and processing instructions on this issue,” Anderson said. “However, we encourage people to apply right away for benefits, even if they aren’t sure they are eligible. Applying now will protect against the loss of any potential benefits.”

Yet another benefit on hold for married same-sex couples living in non-marriage equality states is veterans benefits, which include disability benefits, survivor benefits and joint burial at a veteran’s cemetery for the spouses of former service members. As with Social Security law, a portion of veterans’ law, 103(c) of Title 38, looks to state of residence, not the state of celebration, to determine whether a couple is married.

Genevieve Billia, a spokesperson for the Department of Veterans Affairs, said her department is still reviewing the issue of these benefits with the Justice Department.

“VA is working closely with the Department of Justice to develop guidance to process cases involving same-sex spousal benefits, and to implement necessary changes swiftly and smoothly in order to deliver the best services to all our nation’s veterans,” Billia said. “Our commitment to provide all veterans and their families with their earned care and benefits will continue to be our focus as VA implements the Supreme Court’s decision in Windsor, and the president’s direction on Title 38.”

The continued enforcement of 103(c) of Title 38 to discriminate against gay couples has been a cause for concern for U.S. senators. Last month, seven senators — led by Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) — called on the Obama administration to stop enforcing the law in a way that blocks gay veterans in same-sex marriages from receiving spousal benefits.

Stephen Peters, president of the American Military Partner Association, called the issue “a top concern” among veterans belonging to the LGBT military group.

“While we understand it takes time to review existing policies and laws in light of the Windsor decision, for the sake of our veterans and their families, our hope is that the administration will take swift action in extending full and equal VA benefits no matter what state the veteran and their family live in,” Peters said. “These veterans have earned these benefits and there is no valid reason why they should continue to be denied them.”

The American Military Partner Association has launched an online petition calling on Holder to stop enforcing U.S. code governing veterans benefits in a way that discriminates against same-sex couples. According to the organization, a little more than 1,000 people had signed the petition as of Wednesday.

Ian Thompson, legislative representative for the American Civil Liberties Union, expressed confidence the administration would be able to come to a conclusion on these issues as it has done with other benefits in the aftermath of the DOMA ruling.

“Federal agencies have moved with commendable speed to extend recognition to married same-sex couples, and to do so in a way that recognizes that these marriages don’t dissolve when a couple crosses state lines,” Thompson said. “While more work remains, including with SSA and the VA, we are confident that these issues can be properly addressed.”

The Justice Department didn’t respond to the Blade’s request for comment on the pace with which these benefits are being rolled out or when these outstanding issues will be resolved.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, touted the administration’s work so far in implementing benefits as he acknowledged “some work remains.”

“Following the Supreme Court’s ruling in Windsor, the president directed the attorney general to work with the Cabinet to review federal law to ensure the decision and its implications for federal benefits and obligations are implemented swiftly and smoothly,” Inouye said. “That process is ongoing, and while some work remains, the administration has worked to affirm the principle that all couples who are legally married receive full and equal recognition, to the greatest extent possible under the law.”

Should the administration determine it must continue enforcing these laws, a legislative fix from Congress would be necessary to ensure these benefits can flow to gay couples. For the Social Security benefits, that would mean passage of the Social Security Equality Act, sponsored by Rep. Linda Sanchez in the House. For the veterans benefits, that would mean passage of the Charlie Morgan Act, sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) in the Senate.

The federal benefits of marriage across the board would be assured for married gay couples regardless of where they live after passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, which is sponsored by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) in the House and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) in the Senate.

A Senate Judiciary Committee aide told the Blade last year that a Senate hearing was in the works for fall 2013 on the legislation. Although the hearing never took place, a Senate aide told the Blade plans are still underway for a hearing.

“Chairman Leahy continues to push for timely and comprehensive implementation of the Windsor decision, including last week’s landmark announcement that the Justice Department will treat all lawfully married couples equally in federal legal matters,” the Leahy aide said. “Chairman Leahy is committed to taking discrimination out of our laws, and he is working to schedule a hearing and build support for the Respect for Marriage Act.”

Not all the outstanding issues in the aftermath of the DOMA ruling are related to law. Benefits are blocked from flowing to married same-sex couples in non-marriage equality states under the Family & Medical Leave Act not because of statute, but by regulation, which the administration could change at any time without action from Congress.

And that change is already taking place. Last last year, the Department of Labor announced it was changing the regulations for the Family & Medical Leave Act — along with regulations for a slew of other laws — to ensure those benefits flow to married same-sex couples living in non-marriage equality states. According to Thompson’s HR Compliance Expert, the change will be implemented in March.

Laura Fortman, principal deputy administrator of the Labor Department’s Wage & Hour Division, wrote about the proposed change in a little-noticed blog post at the time.

“No one should have to choose between succeeding at work and being a loving family caregiver,” Fortman said. “The FMLA’s protections help ensure that people have the opportunity to be both and our proposed rulemaking is an important step in ensuring the law keeps up with the needs of all families in this country.”

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, said her organization looks forward to the day when the DOMA decision is “fully implemented” by the federal government.

“Steady progress is being made and more is to come,” Carey said. “For example, we are working with the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure that health insurance plans offer coverage for same-sex spouses regardless of where they live. Big picture, we fully expect this landmark decision to continue to positively impact the lives of LGBT people and their families for years to come and in ways that we haven’t even imagined.”

19
Feb
2014

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, 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

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