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BREAKING: Arizona governor vetoes ‘turn away the gay’ bill

Jan Brewer, Republican Party, Arizona, gay news, Washington Blade

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (Photo by Gage Skidmore; courtesy Wikimedia Commons).

Following a firestorm of opposition from LGBT advocates, Republican leaders and business leaders, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer announced on Wednesday she vetoed a controversial bill that would have allowed individuals to refuse to serve prospective customers on religious grounds.

“After weighing all of the arguments, I have vetoed Senate bill 1062 moments ago,” Brewer told reporters.

Critics said the measure would have enabled businesses to individuals to refuse services to LGBT people out of religious concerns.

Brewer said she vetoed the legislation after taking “the necessary time to make the right decision,” touting her record protecting religious freedoms in the state.

“Senate bill 1062 does not address a specific or pressing concern related to religious liberty in Arizona,” Brewer said. “I have not heard one example in Arizona where business owner religious liberty has been violated. The bill is broadly worded and could result in unintended and negative consequences.”

Noting that she had called for a responsible budget and a child protections when speaking before the legislature last month, Brewer chided lawmakers for making SB 2016 “the first policy bill to cross my desk.”

“To supporters of this legislation, I want you to know that I understand long-held norms about marriage and family are being challenged as never before,” Brewer said. “Our society is undergoing many dramatic changes. However, I sincerely belief that Senate Bill 1062 has the potential to create more problems than it purports to solve.”

Following her announcement, Brewer posted a picture of her vetoing SB 1062 via her Twitter account.


The announcement made Brewer strange bed fellows with LGBT advocates, who praised her for rejecting the legislation.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said Brewer “spared her state” from a law that would have enabled discrimination.

“The bipartisan outpouring of opposition to this bill is all the proof you need that this country isn’t turning backwards,” Griffin said. “Gov. Brewer did the right thing in stopping this assault on businesses and the LGBT community and we call on her and the legislature — and governors and legislators in other states — to resist any attempt to give license to discrimination.”

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, commended Brewer for vetoing the legislation.

“We thank Gov. Brewer for her decision to veto this outrageous measure — a law that if enacted would be bad for Arizona people and the Arizona economy,” Carey said. “In doing so, she has stopped a bill that both cynically uses religion as a smokescreen to justify discrimination and insults people of faith who feel that discrimination is morally wrong. This decision sends a clear message that extremism is totally unacceptable to people of all political persuasions.”

Erin Ogletree, president of Log Cabin Republicans of Arizona, said the veto is a watershed moment that “signaling that Arizonans and all people of goodwill” don’t support discrimination.

“It is also a loud wake-up call to the Republican Party,” Ogletree said. “We do best when we champion the freedom and rights of all individuals. It is time to refocus on being the party of limited, competent, and accountable governing that welcomes everyone.”

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce, Apple and the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee are among the myriad of organizations and businesses that called upon Brewer to veto Senate Bill 1072. U.S. Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich also urged the Arizona governor not to sign the measure.

Tony Perkins, president of the anti-gay Family Research Council, nonetheless expressed disappointment that Brewer vetoed the bill, saying she “yielded to the cultural bullies.”

“This measure should have been a political no-brainer and only went down because people either chose to ignore the plain language of the bill or refused to read it altogether,” Perkins said. “Apparently, they’re graduates of the Pelosi School of Policy, where they dispose of bills before they find out what’s in them.”

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Monday the legislation sounds “pretty intolerant,” but the White House never issued a full-throated opposition to the bill. No LGBT advocates called on Obama to speak out against the legislation as some said his opposition could have in fact influenced Brewer to sign the bill into law.

As the Washington Blade previously reported, the Arizona bill is part of a national trend of movement on state bills aimed at expanding the exercise to religion to allow discrimination against LGBT people. Other bills are pending in Mississippi and Kansas and others has been defeated in Maine and South Dakota.

Michael K. Lavers contributed to this report.



Muriel Bowser, mayor, D.C. Council, Democratic Party, primary, gay news, Washington Blade

Council member Muriel Bowser defeated Mayor Vince Gray, setting up a contest with gay Council member David Catania in November. (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) won 13 out of 16 precincts believed to have high concentrations of LGBT residents in her victory over Mayor Vincent Gray and six other candidates in the city’s Democratic primary on Tuesday.

In final but unofficial returns released by the Board of Elections and Ethics, Bowser had 44 percent of the vote compared to 32 percent for Gray in one of the city’s lowest turnout elections.

Bowser’s decisive win created deep disappointment among the large number of LGBT activists supporting Gray, many of whom consider him the nation’s most LGBT supportive mayor. His initiatives on transgender equality earned him strong and loyal support from the transgender community.

Although Bowser had a strong showing in voter precincts with high concentrations of LGBT residents, some activists backing Gray said they would take a careful look at gay Council member David Catania (I-At-Large), who will be running against Bowser as an independent candidate in the November general election.

“I am still proud of our mayor, Vince Gray,” said gay Democratic activist Lane Hudson, who co-founded Gray Pride, an LGBT group that campaigned for Gray.

“I will be listening very carefully to what Muriel Bowser says and does to bring our party together and also curious of the tone and approach that David Catania brings to this race,” Hudson told the Blade.

Transgender activist Jeri Hughes, along with Hudson, were among the many LGBT supporters that attended Gray’s election night gathering at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Capitol Hill.

Like many Gray supporters, Hughes blamed Gray’s defeat on the decision by U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen to publicly disclose two weeks before the election that businessman Jeffrey Thompson implicated Gray in a scheme to raise more than $500,000 in illegal funds for Gray’s 2010 election campaign. Gray has long denied having any knowledge of the scheme, which the U.S. Attorney’s office has been investigating for four years.

“My thinking is that Ron Machen should be forced out of D.C.,” Hughes said following Gray’s concession speech. “His innuendo affected the outcome of this election, and the District of Columbia is going to have to pay for it,” she said.

Vincent Gray, Democratic Party, District of Columbia, primary, gay news, Washington Blade

Mayor Vincent Gray lost his bid for re-election, weeks after the U.S. Attorney implicated him in a scheme to raise illegal funds for his last race. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

“Vincent Gray did an excellent job as the mayor,” Hughes said.  “And it’s a sad thing that innuendo can influence an election to where someone who has done an excellent job can lose in the last stages of his campaign.”

In what political observers are calling one of the biggest upsets in this year’s City Council elections, gay four-term Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) lost his re-election bid to political newcomer Brianne Nadeau, a civic activist and vice president of a local public relations firm.

Nadeau expressed strong support for LGBT rights while criticizing Graham for an ethics charge involving a Metro development contract that led to a decision by his Council colleagues to vote 11 to 2 to officially reprimand him last year.

Saying Graham’s ethics charge followed the arrest and prosecution of two other D.C. Council members on corruption-related charges, Nadeau called on voters, including LGBT voters, to elect her to send a message that political corruption is unacceptable.

Jim Graham, gay news, Washington Blade, Democratic Party, primary

Gay Council member Jim Graham was defeated on Tuesday, ending a 16-year run on the Council. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Graham’s long record as a champion for LGBT rights and his work in fighting AIDS as the former executive director of the Whitman-Walker Clinic made him highly popular in the LGBT community. And his reputation as one of the Council’s strongest providers of constituent services made him highly popular among the ward’s highly diverse population groups, including Latino and African immigrants.

Most political observers in the ward believe the ethics issue was the key factor in Graham’s loss of support from many of his constituents, including LGBT residents.

Nadeau beat Graham decisively in four of six Ward 1 precincts believed to have large numbers of LGBT residents in Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights and the U Street, N.W. corridor. Graham won just one of the six precincts — Precinct 36 in Columbia Heights — by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent.

He lost Precinct 137 in the U Street corridor by just one vote, with Nadeau receiving 125 votes to Graham’s 124 votes. Nadeau won the others by margins of greater than 10 percent.

“We did our best to represent the great diversity of this ward, bringing together people of all backgrounds in a common purpose who deserve good representation here in Ward 1,” Graham said at his election night gathering in a restaurant in Mount Pleasant.

“Let’s give all of the people who worked so hard a round of applause because we have solid support from African Americans, solid support from Latinos, solid support from the Ethiopian community, solid support from the Vietnamese and pretty solid support from people who look like me,” he said.

In her victory speech at another restaurant at 11th and U streets, N.W., Nadeau thanked Graham for what she said were his years of service to Ward 1. But she also reiterated her campaign call for addressing ethics in government.

“Today voters embraced ethical leadership focused on making Ward 1 more affordable and improving our neighborhood schools,” she said. “Together we built a strong grassroots movement for progressive change, one that resonated far and wide with voters.”

With Nadeau and Bowser perceived as being strongly committed to LGBT rights, even though their records could not stand up to the accomplishments of Graham and Gray on those issues, many LGBT voters chose to base their vote on non-LGBT issues, according to activists following the city’s April 1 primary.

“All of the candidates are great on our issues and we are really fortunate to have an embarrassment of riches among the candidates,” said gay businessman Everett Hamilton, who is among Bowser’s leading LGBT supporters.

The six other Democratic mayoral candidates, all of whom expressed strong support for LGBT equality, finished far behind Bowser and Gray.

Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) came in third place with 13 percent of the vote. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) came in fourth with 4 percent. Busboys and Poets restaurant owner and progressive activist Andy Shallal finished fifth with 3 percent followed by Council member Vincent Orange (D-At-Large) who received 2 percent. Former State Department official Reta Lewis and businessman and singer Carlos Allen received less than 1 percent.

Similar to other D.C. residents, most LGBT voters are registered Democrats. But at least some longtime LGBT Democratic activists have said they would seriously consider backing Catania in the general election in November.

Gay Democratic activist Paul Kuntzler, a founding member of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group, supported Gray in the primary. In a letter he sent to Catania’s office on Wednesday, Kuntzler said he’s supporting Catania over Bowser in November.

“I believe David will make a great mayor,” he said. “I also believe he will win in November. I have voted for him every time he has been on the ballot.”

A poll released by the Washington Post in late March, however, showed that Bowser was favored by voters participating in the poll by a margin of 56 percent to 23 percent. Catania’s campaign manager, Ben Young, said the poll was conducted just two weeks after Catania declared his candidacy for mayor and after Bowser had been campaigning for more than a year.

Young, along with other Catania supporters, said Catania’s support would rise in the coming months as he steps up his campaign.

In other races, D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large), won his primary contest by beating Democratic challenger Calvin Gurley by a margin of 81 percent to 18 percent. A series of attack ads lodged against Mendelson by the Labor Committee of the Fraternal Order of Police, which acts as the local D.C. police union, accusing Mendelson of failing to take adequate measures to fight anti-LGBT hate crimes appears to have had no impact on the election.

Incumbent Council member Anita Bonds (D-At-Large), a longtime supporter of LGBT rights, won in a six-candidate race by capturing 53 percent of the vote. Challenger Nate Bennett-Fleming, who campaign aggressively for the LGBT vote, came in second with 22 percent. Challenger John Settles received 14 percent, with Pedro Rubio and Kevin Valentine receiving 7 percent and 3 percent.

Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) defeated two Democratic challengers in his primary contest by capturing 79 percent of the vote. In Ward 6, where the Council seat is being vacated by Tommy Wells, who ran for mayor, Wells’ former chief of staff, Charles Allen beat former U.S. Senate staffer Darrel Thompson by a margin of 58 percent to 42 percent.

In a hotly contested race for the city’s shadow U.S. Senate seat, incumbent Paul Strauss defeated challenger Pete Ross by a margin of 60 percent to 38 percent.

D.C. congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) and Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) ran unopposed in their respective races.


Michael Sam could be NFL’s first openly gay player

Michael Sam, football, Missouri, gay news, Washington Blade

MIssouri defensive lineman Michael Sam has come out as gay and could be the NFL’s first out player. (Photo by Marcus Qwertyus; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

In an announcement that will likely shake up professional sports, Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam came out as gay Sunday night and declared his intention to be the National Football League’s first out player.

Sam, 24, a potential mid-round NFL draft pick in May, announced he’s gay in multiple media outlets, including articles in The New York Times and ESPN.

“I just want to make sure I could tell my story the way I want to tell it,” Sam told the Times. “I just want to own my truth.”

According to The New York Times, Sam had previously declared his sexual orientation to teammates during a team-building exercise last year at the University of Missouri, where he played for the Mizzou Tigers in Southeastern Conference Division I football.

“I’m gay,” he reportedly recalled saying on Sunday. “I looked in their eyes, and they just started shaking their heads — like, finally, he came out.”

It’s unclear what will happen with Sam, a senior listed at 6-foot-2 and 260 pounds, in the aftermath of his decision to come out because no gay person has ever played in a major North American league while being open about their sexual orientation.

Sam, a Hitchcock, Texas, native, has won accolades from his performance as a college player. The Associated Press named him the Southeastern Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year and he was selected as one of 10 unanimous first-team All-Americans.

In a statement Sunday night, the NFL praised Sam for his decision to come out and said his performance as a college player speaks for itself. In 2011, the NFL added sexual orientation to its list of protected classes.

“We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage,” the statement says. “Michael is a football player. Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the NFL. We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014.”

LGBT advocacy groups praised Sam for making the decision to come out and said it would prove to be a milestone in sports history.

Sarah Kate Ellis, president of GLAAD, said the NFL hopeful has shown leadership that demonstrates he will be an exceptional football player.

“By rewriting the script for countless young athletes, Michael has demonstrated the leadership that, along with his impressive skills on the field, makes him a natural fit for the NFL,” Ellis said. “With acceptance of LGBT people rising across our coasts — in our schools, churches, and workplaces — it’s clear that America is ready for an openly gay football star.”

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said Sam is “making history” and has provided “essential hope to millions of LGBT young people from the South.”

“Trailblazers like Michael are tearing down barriers to equality almost daily, and I sincerely believe that the young person who will go on to become the first openly LGBT president of the United States watches today’s news somewhere in this country and is inspired,” Griffin said.

Via Twitter, Sam confirmed his decision to come out and thanked those who helped him with his decision.

Sam’s announcement is along the lines of former Washington Wizards center Jason Collins’ decision last year to come out as gay in a Sports Illustrated article. Following that announcement, despite the praise he received, including from President Obama, Collins hasn’t yet been picked up by a team and remains a free agent.

The coming out decision was coordinated by Sam’s publicist Howard Bragman, who also handled the coming out announcements for Collins, openly gay former NFL players Dave Kopay and Wade Davis Jr. as well as gay former Major League Baseball player Billy Bean. He’s the fifth professional athlete that Bragman has helped come out of the closet.

At the same time that major media outlets published the news that Sam was gay, ran its own piece about the internal deliberations leading up to the announcement.

According to the article, Sam decided the he won’t lend his name to LGBT organizations and will simply play the sport as an openly gay man.

Cyd Zeigler, a sports journalist, said Sam has a tremendous chance of success in his bid to play in the NFL following his announcement.

“Every NFL draft expert has Sam being selected in the first to fifth round of this year’s NFL draft,” Zeigler said.


Judge strikes down Virginia gay marriage ban

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 judge Thursday struck down Virginia’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman as unconstitutional.

“The court is compelled to conclude that Virginia’s marriage laws unconstitutionally deny Virginia’s gay and lesbian citizens the fundamental freedom to choose to marry,” said Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. “Government interests in perpetuating traditions, shielding state matters from federal interference, and favoring one model of parenting over others must yield to this country’s cherished protections that ensure the exercise of the private choices of the individual citizen regarding love and family.”

Allen, who President Obama nominated to the federal bench in 2010, repeatedly referenced the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1967 ruling that struck down Virginia’s interracial marriage ban in her 41-page decision. She also opened her decision with a quote from Mildred Loving, who publicly backed marriage rights for same-sex couples before her death in 2008.

“Tradition is revered in the commonwealth, and often rightly so,” said Allen. “However, tradition alone cannot justify denying same-sex couples the right to marry any more than it could justify Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage.”

Allen also dismissed arguments made by those who defend Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban that marriage rights for gays and lesbians harms children.

“Of course the welfare of our children is a legitimate state interest,” she said. “Limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples fails to further this interest. Instead, needlessly stigmatizing and humiliating children who are being raised by the loving couples targeted by Virginia’s Marriage Laws betrays that interest.”

Allen’s ruling comes less than two weeks after she heard oral arguments in a lawsuit that Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk and Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Chesterfield filed last year.

“We want to be married for the happy times, but we need to be married for the sad times,” Schall told the Washington Blade earlier this month before Wright heard oral arguments in their case. “When one of us is sick or when one of us needs surgery or when health care is an issue, we need to be there for each other. And Virginia should not be in the business of standing in the way of people wanting to care for each other and take responsibility for each other.”

Virginia voters in 2006 approved the marriage amendment by a 57-43 percent margin.

Attorney General Mark Herring last month announced he would not defend the amendment.

The Republican-controlled Virginia House of Delegates earlier this month overwhelmingly approved a bill that would allow any state lawmaker to defend a law if the governor and attorney general decline to do so. Gov. Terry McAuliffe a few days earlier denied a request from 30 state lawmakers to appoint a special counsel to defend the marriage amendment.

A federal judge in Harrisonburg on Jan. 31 certified a second lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Virginia filed on behalf of two lesbian couples from the Shenandoah Valley who are seeking marriage rights in the commonwealth as a class action.

“This decision is a victory for the Constitution and for treating everyone equally under the law,” said Herring in a statement after Allen issued her ruling in the Bostic case.

McAuliffe also applauded the decision.

“In order to grow our economy and attract the best businesses, entrepreneurs, and families to Virginia, we must be open and welcoming to all who call our commonwealth home,” he said in a statement. “As this case continues through the judicial process, I will enforce the laws currently on the books, but this decision is a significant step forward in achieving greater equality for all of our citizens.”

Former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson, who successfully argued against California’s Proposition 8 before the U.S. Supreme Court with David Boies, joined the lawsuit last September with the American Foundation for Equal Rights. Olson said in an AFER press release that Allen’s decision has “upheld the principles of equality upon which this nation was founded.”

“Virginia’s prohibition on marriage for same-sex couples relegates gay and lesbian Virginians to second-class status,” he said. “Laws excluding gay men and lesbians from marriage violate personal freedom, are an unnecessary government intrusion, and cause serious harm. That type of law cannot stand.”

Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish said Wright’s ruling “finally puts Virginia on the path toward allowing lesbian and gay couples to marry the person they love here in the place they call home.”

“This is an historic day in Virginia,” added Parrish.

National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown blasted Allen.

“This is another example of an Obama-appointed judge twisting the constitution and the rule of law to impose her own views of marriage in defiance of the people of Virginia,” said Brown in a statement.

Brown also again sharply criticized Herring for not defending the commonwealth’s marriage amendment.

“This case also leaves a particular stench because of the unconscionable decision of Attorney General Mark Herring to not only abandon his sworn duty to defend the laws of the state, but to actually join the case against the very people he is duty-bound to represent,” said Brown.

Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation of Virginia, also criticized Herring.

“Regardless of one’s stance on marriage, the people of Virginia were disenfranchised by this ruling as our voice and our vote that amended our Constitution have been rendered meaningless by a single federal judge with the assistance of our own attorney general,” she said.

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

The Southern Poverty Law Center earlier on Thursday filed a federal lawsuit against Alabama’s same-sex marriage ban on behalf of a gay widower who married his late-husband in Massachusetts in 2011.

A federal judge on Wednesday ruled Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other states.

Gays and lesbians in West Virginia, Utah, Pennsylvania, Florida, Missouri, Louisiana and other states have filed lawsuits seeking marriage rights in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision last June that found a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto earlier this week announced she will no longer defend her state’s same-sex marriage ban in court.

Attorney General Eric Holder on Feb. 10 announced the Justice Department will now recognize same-sex marriages in civil and criminal cases and extend full benefits to gay spouses of police officers and other public safety personnel. This directive applies to Virginia and the 31 other states that have yet to allow nuptials for gays and lesbians.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) earlier on Thursday introduced a bill that would ban the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages in states that ban gay nuptials.

Allen has stayed her ruling, pending the outcome of an appeal.


HISTORIC: Supreme Court strikes down DOMA, Prop 8

Supreme Court, gay marriage, same sex marriage, marriage equality, Proposition 8, Hollingsworth vs. Perry, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay marriage advocates rallying at the Supreme Court earlier this year during oral arguments for two major cases. The court struck down two anti-gay laws today, opening the door for expanded rights for same-sex couples in many jurisdictions. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In a historic development, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down two decisions on Wednesday that advanced marriage rights for gay couples and will almost certainly reshape the national debate on the issue.

In one 5-4 ruling, the court determined that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional because it violates due process and equal protection for same-sex couples under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That decision means the U.S. government must begin recognizing same-sex marriages for a broad range of benefits, including those related to federal taxes and immigration law.

Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the opinion and was joined by Associate Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

“The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity,” Kennedy said. “By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”

The dissenting justices were Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. In his opinion, Roberts says Congress acted constitutionally in passing DOMA and took issue with the authority the court granted itself in overturning the anti-gay statute.

In another 5-4 decision, the court determined anti-gay forces don’t have standing to defend California’s Proposition 8. That decision leaves in place a district court injunction that prohibits the state of California from enforcing its ban on same-sex marriage. Gay couples will be able to marry in the state once the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals lift its stay.

Roberts wrote the majority opinion for the court and was joined by Scalia, Ginsburg, Breyer and Kagan. Kennedy wrote the dissenting opinion and was joined by Thomas, Alito and Sotomayor.

“The Article III requirement that a party invoking the jurisdiction of a federal court seek relief for a personal, particularized injury serves vital interests going to the role of the Judiciary in our system of separated powers,” Roberts writes. “States cannot alter that role simply by issuing to private parties who otherwise lack standing a ticket to the federal courthouse.”

The court’s ruling in the case against Prop 8, known as Hollingsworth v. Perry, is specific only to California — meaning the justices didn’t grant the expansive ruling that supporters of marriage equality had sought to bring marriage equality to all 50 states.

Shortly after HRC President Chad Griffin walked out of the court with plaintiffs in the marriage cases, he received a call from President Obama who was aboard Air Force One. Obama congratulated Griffin for the victories as reporters and onlookers watched.

The decisions were handed down 10 years to the day that the Supreme Court announced its landmark decision in the 2003 case of Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down state sodomy laws throughout the country.

The challenge to DOMA, known as United States v. Windsor, was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and others in 2011 on behalf of lesbian New York widow Edith Windsor. Upon the death of her spouse Thea Spyer in 2009, Windsor had to pay the U.S. government $363,000 in estate taxes because of DOMA — a penalty that she wouldn’t have faced if she were married to a woman.

The decision striking down DOMA affirms the initial rulings against the federal anti-gay law last year by U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones and the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Obama administration helped in securing the ruling against DOMA. After it stopped defending DOMA in 2011, the U.S. Justice Department began filing briefs against the law and sent attorneys to litigate against it during oral arguments. U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli argued against DOMA before the Supreme Court, saying the law doesn’t hold up under the standard heightened scrutiny, or a greater assumption it’s unconstitutional.

But the Supreme Court didn’t get to the issue of heightened scrutiny in the DOMA case because it found the law was unconstitutional under the less stringent standard of rational basis review.

The case against Prop 8 was filed by the California-based American Foundation for Equal Rights in 2009 on behalf of two plaintiff couples — a lesbian couple, Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier, and a gay male couple, Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarrillo — who were unable to marry because of the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

The attorneys representing them were Theodore Olson, a former U.S. solicitor general during the Bush administration, and David Boies, a so-called “dream team” of attorneys who represented opposite sides in the 2000 case Bush v. Gore.

Because the state officials — California Gov. Jerry Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris — refused to defend Prop 8 in court, anti-gay groups that put Prop 8 on the ballot in 2008 such as took up the responsibility of defending the measure. The California Supreme Court certified the groups had standing under state law and the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed they had standing.

But the high court determined that these groups — even though attorney Charles Cooper spoke on behalf on them in oral arguments — don’t have standing because they lack any legal injury in the wake of the lower court’s determination that Prop 8 is unconstitutional.

The Obama administration had also assisted in efforts to secure a ruling against California’s Proposition 8. The Justice Department filed a friend-of-the-court brief in February saying the ban was unconstitutional and Verrilli argued in court against Prop 8, suggesting all eight states with domestic partnerships should be required to grant marriage rights to gay couples.

The issue of standing also came up in the DOMA case for two reasons. One, the court had questioned whether the U.S. Justice Department could have appealed the district court ruling to the Second Circuit because the initial ruling against DOMA was what the Obama administration wanted. Two, the court questioned whether the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, a five-member Republican-majority panel within the U.S. House, had standing to take up defense of DOMA in the administration’s stead.

But the court determined an active controversy remains in the case because the U.S. government still hasn’t refunded Windsor the $363,000 she paid in estate taxes. Once the court determined it has jurisdiction based on the Obama administration’s appeal of the lawsuit, it didn’t get to the issue of whether BLAG has standing.

In his ruling, Kennedy writes the continuation of litigation in the absence of a federal ruling on DOMA would cause uncertainty.

“[T]he costs, uncertainties, and alleged harm and injuries likely would continue for a time measured in years before the issue is resolved,” Kennedy writes in the ruling. “In these unusual and urgent circumstances, the very term ‘prudential’ counsels that it is a proper exercise of the Court’s responsibility to take jurisdiction.”


Prop 8 plaintiffs lead Calif. couples in tying the knot

Attorney General Kamala Harris marries Prop 8 plaintiffs Kris Perry and Sandy Stier (Blade screenshot by Chris Johnson)

Attorney General Kamala Harris marries Prop 8 plaintiffs Kris Perry and Sandy Stier (Blade screenshot by Chris Johnson)

The jubilation following two Supreme Court decisions in favor of marriage equality continued on Friday as plaintiffs in the lawsuit against California’s Proposition 8 became the first in the Golden State to marry after the demise of the ban on same-sex marriage.

The lesbian couple in lawsuit — Kris Perry and Sandra Stier — was first to marry in California and did so at 4:45 pm in a San Francisco City Hall ceremony officiated by California Attorney General Kamala Harris.

Shortly thereafter at 6:15 pm, the gay male couple — Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo — married in Los Angeles in a ceremony over which Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa officiated during his last day in office.

During the ceremony for Perry and Stier, Harris noted the long road on which the couple had journeyed since they filed their lawsuit in 2009 to restore marriage equality to California. Their son, Elliott Perry, served as a witness.

“Four years ago, Kris and Sandy embarked upon a journey that most couples do not experience,” Harris said. “By joining the case against Proposition 8, they represented thousands of couples like themselves in the fight for marriage equality.”

San Francisco City Hall stayed open until 8 pm to issue marriage licenses and will reopen from 9 am to 5pm Saturday and Sunday while the city celebrates June as Pride month.

Same-sex weddings resumed in California in the same city hall where nearly a decade ago then-San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom jump started the marriage equality movement by handing out marriage licenses to same-sex couples before the court ordered him to stop.

The weddings were able to commence in California thanks to the U.S. Ninth Circuit of Appeals lifting its stay on the injunction that U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker put in place in 2010 prohibiting the enforcement of Prop 8. The lifting of stay was the consequence of the U.S. Supreme Court determination that anti-gay groups lack standing to defend Prop 8 in court.

In between the ceremonies for lesbian and the gay male couple, the plaintiffs held a conference call with reporters to talk about the jubilation they felt over finally being able to marry. They were joined by Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, and American Foundation for Equal Rights attorney Ted Boutrous.

Griffin said “we are all more American” on the day marriage equality resumed in California and emphasized gay nuptials in the Golden State are here to stay.

“Marriage has finally returned to the great state of California, and no one — no judge, no election and no politician — can take it away,” Griffin said.

Asked by the Washington Blade how it feels to finally be married after the completion of the lawsuit, Perry said she needs to wait until tomorrow for it to register.

“Right now, we feel victorious and thrilled and relieved, really, to be at the end of this long journey, and now finally able to move forward as a regular married couple just like everybody else,” Perry said.

Katami said he doesn’t much more to add as he prepared for his wedding ceremony, but noted the feeling of finally being able to marry was satisfying.

“I can tell you this: equal feels different,” Katami said. “We woke up on Thursday and this morning feeling like full citizens that will be recognized by our state, and recognized by our federal government. And we know that in just a few short minutes, Jeff and I will be able to call each other husband officially.”

In response to a question on whether plaintiffs received any advanced notice that the Ninth Circuit would lift its stay, advocates said on the call they had none but were nonetheless ready to spring into action when it happened.

But amid the excitement, anti-gay forces cried foul over what they said was a breach of protocol by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in lifting the stay prematurely.

Legal observers had said they had a 25-day waiting period after the Supreme Court ruling in which proponents of Prop 8 could file for reconsideration. Even so, reconsideration is either rarely granted or never happens.

Andrew Pugno, an attorney with, posted a statement called the lifting of the stay an “outrageous act” and said the resumption of same-sex marriage has been obtained “by illegitimate means.”

“Homosexual marriage is not happening because the people changed their mind,” Pugno said. “It isn’t happening because the appellate courts declared a new constitutional right. It’s happening because enemies of the people have abused their power to manipulate the system and render the people voiceless.”

It’s unclear what recourse, if any, anti-gay forces have to fight the lifting of the stay after the Supreme Court determined they lack standing in court. Pugno said “it remains to be seen whether the fight can go on” as he said the development made for “a disgraceful day.”

LGBT advocates strongly pushed back on the notion that anti-gay forces had more options.

Asked by the Blade about this concern, Boutrous said Ninth Circuit “quite correctly” viewed itself as having the power to lift the stay and is “totally authorized by the court’s rules and by federal rules.”

“We’ve had cases where courts have lifted the stay in much more boring cases than this one,” Boutrous said. “And it makes sense here because you look at the possibility of success for the other side: it’s zero.”

Asked by another reporter if the Supreme Court or en banc panel of the Ninth Circuit could issue a stay if Prop 8 proponents asked for one during the 25-day waiting period, Boutrous said “no” because the high court determined the Ninth Circuit has no jurisdiction in the case.

Boutrous also dismissed another question on whether Prop 8 proponents could take action in state court, noting the federal injunction against Prop 8 would trump anything from state judges.

Those on the call also had no comment on what would happen if certain counties refused to hand marriage licenses to gay couples, referring a question on the matter from Reuters to the attorney general’s office.

The reaction from Stier was more mirthful in response to a question on what plans she and Perry had for a honeymoon.

“We didn’t have a lot of time to plan one, as you might well imagine, because we were at work when we found out we could get married today,” Stier said. “But next on our order of things to plan are a celebration, which means a reception, and then we need a honeymoon.”


Leahy withholds amendments for gay couples in immigration bill

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) withheld UAFA as a committee amendment (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) withheld UAFA as a committee amendment. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Tuesday withheld amendments to include gay couples as part of immigration reform in the aftermath of speeches — sometimes tearful — from Democrats on the panel who said they couldn’t support the measures.

After an extended speech on why he believes discrimination against gay couples is wrong — Leahy said “with a heavy heart” he wouldn’t introduce the amendments before the Senate Judiciary Committee. They would have made bi-national same-sex couples equal under the law to straight couples for immigration purposes.

“In the immigration context, if you’re an American and fall in love will someone of the same sex from a different country and you get married legally, your spouse will not be treated like any other immigrant spouse would be by your federal government,” Leahy said. “My amendments would change that. I don’t want to be the senator who asks Americans to choose between the love of their life and the love of their country.”

During his remarks, Leahy asked members of the “Gang of Eight” who produced the base bill and were also members of the Senate Judiciary Committee why they decided to exclude gay couples from the initial legislation.

Under current law, gay Americans are unable to sponsor their foreign partners for residency in the United States — even if they’re married — unlike straight Americans. For couples that are married, that’s because of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage. LGBT advocates had been pushing Congress to rectify this issue as part of comprehensive immigration reform.

Two amendments were proposed by Leahy. One mirrored the Uniting American Families Act, which would enable gay Americans to sponsor their foreign partners for residency in the United States. The other would have allowed for the approval of marriage-based green card applications for married same-sex couples.

Democrats who are known for being LGBT rights supporters — Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) — said they were torn on the issue, but couldn’t support the amendments out of fear they would lose Republican support and it would kill the legislative package.

Feinstein said the Supreme Court, which is currently considering the constitutionality of DOMA, may make the issue “moot” because a ruling against the anti-gay law in June would end federal discrimination against married same-sex couples.

“We now know that this is going to blow the agreement apart,” Feinstein said. “I don’t want to lose Sen. Graham’s vote because Sen. Graham’s vote can represent and be used as the rationale for dozens of other [lawmakers] who then will not vote for the immigration bill. … I am for what Sen. Leahy is proposing, I would just implore to hold off on this amendment at this time.”

Schumer, a member of the “Gang of Eight,” said he tried to persuade other senators to support the idea and believes current law is “rank discrimination,” but can’t bring himself to support the amendments because of Republican opposition.

“If we make the effort to add it to this bill, they will walk away,” Schumer said. “They’ve said it publicly, they’ve told me privately — I believe them. The result: no equality, no immigration bill. Everyone loses.”

Prior to the vote, Schumer was targeted by LGBT groups for being the only Democrat on the committee to not voice support for including UAFA as part of the larger package.

Durbin was particularly emotional and had tears in his eyes as he explained why they couldn’t support the measures. A member of the “Gang of Eight,” Durbin said he supports UAFA, but doesn’t see immigration reform as the best vehicle for the measure.

“I believe in my heart of hearts that what you’re doing is the right and just thing … but I believe this is the wrong moment, this is the wrong bill,” Durbin said. “There are approximately 250,000 LGBT undocumented immigrants in America that would benefit from passage of immigration reform. I want to make certain they have that chance.”

LGBT rights groups responded to the committee’s exclusion of same-sex couples from immigration reform with vocal disappointment.

Rachel Tiven, executive director of the LGBT group Immigration Equality, attended the markup and — while she said she’s “proud’ of Leahy for his support — expressed frustration with other Democrats.

“I’m very proud of Sen. Leahy; I’m very dismayed that his colleagues did not stand up with him to talk about the dignity of LGBT immigrant families,” Tiven said. “Only Sen. Leahy talked about the LGBT immigrants that he represents who have dreams, too, and who want to see a good bill passed that will help everyone, and who need immigration reform as badly as any other immigrant.”

Tiven named Democrats on the panel with whom she was particularly disappointed because of their previously articulated support for the LGBT community.

“To hear Sen. Durbin say, ‘Well, this is an outside issue like gun control,’ to hear that Sen. Franken didn’t speak up for families like Ginger and Ness Madeiros, whose visa runs out in August — what are they and their eight-month-old son going to do?” Tiven said. “I can’t imagine how they’re feeling right now about Sen. Franken. How could he not say these are immigrant families, too?”

With the exception of Schumer, Tiven maintained the Democrats on the panel expressed support for including same-sex couples in the reform package, which made their statements during the committee markup surprising.

But Republican members of the panel were most opposed to including the measures. They reiterated their opposition to including the measure in the package and said adopting them would break apart the coalition that helped put it together.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a Republican member of the “Gang of Eight,” said the legislation would lose support from evangelical Christians and the Catholic Church, who’ve supported the measure, if those protections were included.

“I support traditional marriage without animosity,” Graham said. “I’m not married; I guess that means maybe I shouldn’t speak at all about it, but I do believe that the people of my state, and the people of other states who have gone different ways than Vermont, believe it would throw the coalition out of balance.”

When Leahy asked Graham if anything in the amendments would require South Carolina to change its state law on marriage, Graham said no, but maintained it would be making him vote in favor of a concept he opposes.

“You got me on immigration; you don’t got me on marriage,” Graham said. “I can’t just tell any more directly; you want to keep me on immigration; let’s stay on immigration.”

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), another GOP member of the “Gang of Eight,” also said he expected the coalition that put the bill together to fall apart if same-sex couples were included.

“This is an issue that is being addressed by the courts right now, I think that it would certainly upset the coalition that we have,” Flake said. “Certainly, we in Arizona, like in South Carolina, have spoken on the issue. It would certainly mean that this bill would not move forward. That would be a real shame, given how far we’ve come and the work that’s gone into this.”

Winnie Stachelberg, vice president of external affairs at the Center for American Progress, pointed at Republicans as the reason why same-sex couples weren’t included in the legislation.

“We’re all disappointed that at this juncture in the process, a small handful of Republicans prevented the provision from being voted on, but we’ve got a long way to go in the process and we’ll continue to work hard to secure the votes on the floor if it comes up,” Stachelberg said.

Following the discussion on the Leahy amendments, the committee reported out the legislation by a 13-5 vote. Supporters of immigration reform in the room — largely members of immigrant community — chanted, “Yes we can! Yes we can!” and embraced senators who voted in favor of the legislation as they snapped photos with them.

According to a report from the Williams Institute, an estimated 275,000 undocumented LGBT Americans would have a path to citizenship as the legislation currently stands if it reaches President Obama’s desk and is signed into law.

In a statement after the vote, Obama, who called for a gay-inclusive bill as part of his vision for reform, commended the committee for completing work on the legislation and urged a floor vote as soon as possible.

“None of the committee members got everything they wanted, and neither did I , but in the end, we all owe it to the American people to get the best possible result over the finish line,” Obama said. “I encourage the full Senate to bring this bipartisan bill to the floor at the earliest possible opportunity and remain hopeful that the amendment process will lead to further improvements.”

Leahy’s announcement came after an Associated Press report saying the White House had asked the Vermont senator to hold off on offering the amendments until the measure goes before the full Senate.

It’s unclear whether Leahy will introduce the amendments once the legislation reaches the Senate floor, which is expected early in June. Passage on the Senate floor would be significantly more difficult than passage would have been in committee if a 60-vote threshold is necessary to overcome a filibuster.

After the committee reported out the bill, the Washington Blade asked Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) whether he wants to see UAFA brought up as an amendment on the Senate floor.

“You’ll have to ask Sen. Leahy about that,” Schumer replied. “As you heard, I believe strongly in UAFA. I don’t think I have to say anything more; I spoke long enough on it.”

Although the amendment for same-sex couples wasn’t included, the committee on Monday rejected an amendment that would have removed a provision supported by LGBT advocates that was included in the base bill.

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) offered two amendments that would have eliminated the repeal of the one-year filing deadline for asylum seekers. One amendment failed on a vote of 6-12 and the other failed on a vote of 9-9.

LGBT advocates had supported that provision in the base bill because LGBT asylum seekers often don’t know they have a one-year deadline to apply for asylum in the United States, or lack financial resources to make the application.


The path to winning marriage in 50 states in five years

Jeff Zarillo, Paul Katami, Sandy Stier, Kris Perry, David Boies, Chad Griffin, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, Proposition 8, Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA, Prop 8, California, Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade

Following the Supreme Court rulings, advocates are making plans to achieve marriage equality throughout the country. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key).

Amid celebration over the Supreme Court rulings against the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8, plans are already in place to extend the victories further as the Human Rights Campaign has pledged to win marriage equality in all 50 states within five years.

Following the announcement of that goal, which was made by HRC President Chad Griffin on the steps of the Supreme Court immediately after the decisions, state advocates as well as other national groups are engaged in plans to bring marriage equality to the 37 states where gay couples are still unable to wed.

Speaking with the Washington Blade at the court after he made the pledge, Griffin said achieving that goal would involve a combination of several routes, including additional litigation.

“It will take legislative work, it will take ballot work, it will take Congress and it will ultimately take the federal courts again to bring full equality to every single corner of this country,” Griffin said. “But there is no ground we will leave unturned. Today we will fight aggressively on all fronts in all states.”

Griffin said he’s basing the timeline for his plan on the length of time it took to overturn Prop 8, which took five years from the time Prop 8 passed at the ballot in 2008.

There are already new lawsuits in the works in the wake of the rulings that struck down DOMA, the anti-gay law prohibiting federal recognition of same-sex marriage, and Prop 8. Although many hoped the latter case would be the one to bring marriage equality to all 50 states, the ruling instead that came down was limited in scope to California.

Jon Davidson, legal director of Lambda Legal, told the Blade his group is planning new lawsuits to advance marriage equality, but isn’t yet ready to talk details.

“We do have plans to file additional marriage cases in federal court, and are preparing those now,” Davidson said. “We are not in a position to share which states at the moment.”

Appearing on CNN on Sunday, David Boies, one half of the legal dream team hired by the American Foundation for Equal Rights that successfully led the lawsuit against Prop 8, said, “there isn’t any state we’re giving up on” and suggested new litigation is coming.

“Our goal is to have marriage equality that’s guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, enforced in every single state in the union,” Boies said.

But Davidson also cautioned gay couples against filing additional lawsuits because of the time and cost involved as well as whether the litigation is strategically appropriate.

“The Perry case, for example, cost each side several million dollars to litigate,” Davidson said. “Often, numerous expert witnesses are required. And, if brought in the wrong place, at the wrong time or without adequate preparation, suits can set back our community’s progress by creating bad precedent that could create barriers to equality nationwide.”

Some are skeptical about HRC’s timetable. Among them is Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, who said meeting that goal is “completely unrealistic.”

“I cannot imagine same-sex marriage passing in my lifetime (plus a couple decades or more) in many southern and border states, plus some of the Rocky Mountain and Midwest states,” Sabato said. “Any state with a decent-sized GOP majority in at least one state legislative house will be enough to kill the effort. Only a handful of states have the citizen-sponsored ballot initiative option.”

Sabato said another lawsuit akin to the 1967 case of Loving v. Virginia would be the best route to achieve nationwide marriage equality — but seeing that come to fruition in five years is doubtful.

“That is a completely unrealistic schedule, given the obstacles in the states,” Sabato said. “And I doubt the Supreme Court will take up another major marriage case that quickly.”

Meanwhile, several lawsuits are already pending that have the potential to not only extend marriage equality in certain states, but advance to the Supreme Court for an ultimate resolution extending same-sex marriage nationwide.

The most high-profile among them is the challenge to Nevada’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, Sevcik v. Sandova, which was filed by Lambda Legal and is pending before the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. That case is on a parallel track with Jackson v. Abercombie, a challenge to Hawaii’s ban on same-sex marriage that was filed by private attorneys.

Judges placed a stay on the cases as the more advanced DOMA and Prop 8 cases were proceeding through the judiciary, but that stay is slated to expire on July 18.

Davidson had an ambitious outlook for the timeline for the Nevada case and said it’s teed up to potentially be the next to reach the Supreme Court.

“We will be filing our appellate brief with the Ninth Circuit in September,” Davidson said. “We expect to argue the case to that appellate court sometime in 2014 and possibly have that case in front of the Supreme Court in 2015.”

Also, as Buzzfeed reported, a U.S. district court in Michigan ruled on Monday to let a federal challenge to the state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage proceed in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision against DOMA. That challenge will be interesting to watch because the Sixth Circuit has a reputation for being a conservative court.

Eyes on legislation in Illinois, New Jersey

But the best prospects for advancing marriage equality remain in the legislative arena as advocates in two states — Illinois and New Jersey — work to muster enough votes to pass bills that would legalize gay nuptials.

In Illinois, supporters of same-sex marriage are hoping the extension of the legislative session to Aug. 31 will permit them enough time to build support after gay State Rep. Greg Harris didn’t bring the bill to a vote because he didn’t think the measure had enough support.

Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois, told the Blade he’s hoping the extension of the House session will provide enough time for a successful vote on the bill sometime this fall.

“The bill has been granted an extension in the House through Aug. 31, with the possibility of further extensions, if needed,” Cherkasov said. ”We hope that the bill will pass the full House vote during the ‘veto session’ which is scheduled to take place this fall.”

In New Jersey, lawmakers are working to build support to override Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s veto of marriage equality legislation in the wake of his comments calling the Supreme Court’s decision against DOMA “incredibly insulting” and “another example of judicial supremacy.”

Calling Christie’s remarks “insulting,” State Sen. Barbara Buono, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate challenging Christie in the upcoming election, told the Washington Blade on Friday she thinks the override is just a few votes short in the Senate.

“This governor has to release the Republicans in the Senate and the Assembly,” Buono said. “I think that we could easily get an override if he would release them. These are people who live in fear of retribution and retaliation of this governor. If the governor would release them, we would have an override easily in the Senate; all we need are three votes.”

But should the override be unsuccessful, Buono said she’ll make marriage equality in New Jersey a campaign issue and pledge to make a marriage equality bill the first one that she signs if elected.

In both Illinois and New Jersey, litigation is pending before state courts to advance marriage equality should legislative efforts fail. Another Lambda lawsuit, Darby v. Orr, is pending before the Circuit Court of Cook County. In New Jersey, Lambda is expected to file on Wednesday a motion for summary judgment in its state case, Garden State Equality v. Dow, which also includes a federal equal protection claim.

Yet another lawsuit in New Mexico state court pursuing marriage equality was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

The case, which  is pending before Albuquerque’s district court, was filed after city officials in Santa Fe issued guidance saying the state already has marriage equality because the statute governing marriage in the state is gender neutral. In response, New Mexico Attorney General Gary King said the statute is “vulnerable to challenge.”

Oregon activists seek 2014 ballot initiative

Ballot initiatives are also expected to advance marriage equality in more states as the nation prepares for mid-term elections. The foremost among those is the planned ballot initiative in Oregon to win marriage equality in the state in 2014.

Peter Zuckerman, media manager for Basic Rights Oregon, said the official date to start the necessary 116,284 signatures to place the initiative on the ballot is happening later this month.

“On July 20 we launch the campaign to collect the 116,284 signatures, which is the next step to qualify for the ballot,” Zuckerman said. “If all goes as planned, Oregonians will vote for the freedom to marry in November 2014.”

If Oregon LGBT activists win at the ballot, their efforts would institute marriage equality by reversing a state constitutional amendment that Oregon voters approved in 2004.

Meanwhile, in Nevada, the state assembly in May approved an amendment that would undo the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. The process to ratify amendments in the state requires the measure to pass in two consecutive state legislatures and at the ballot during the next election.

To assist in repealing these bans and other barriers to marriage equality, the ACLU announced last week it hired Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, a supporter of marriage equality who signed the friend-of-the-court brief against Prop 8, and former GOProud executive director Jimmy LaSalvia as part of a nationwide campaign. The ACLU has pledged to spend $10 million through 2016 as part of this effort.

LaSalvia told the Blade many states are conservative leaning, which will require supporters of marriage equality to undertake an extra effort to work with conservatives to achieve success.

“Conservatives know that marriage is a good thing, and we should encourage, protect, and promote it for everyone  including gay people,” LaSalvia said. “I am looking forward to working with the ACLU to make that case, state by state, to build consensus through the political process to legalize civil marriage for gay couples.”

Plans in other states are also underway to extend marriage equality in the wake of the Supreme Court decisions last week.

• Arizona — The new group Equal Marriage Arizona is seeking to collect 400,000 signatures to place an amendment on the 2014 ballot reversing the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage that voters put in place in 2008.

• Pennsylvania — Last week, gay State Rep. Brian Sims announced that he plans to introduce legislation that would institute marriage equality and has begun to seek additional co-sponsors for the measure. Passing the bill will be difficult because Republicans control the governor’s mansion and the Senate in Pennsylvania.

• Colorado — In the state where Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) recently signed into law a measure to legalize civil unions, efforts are underway to extend full marriage equality. Colorado House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, who’s gay, said statewide LGBT rights groups are building a coalition to repeal the ban on same-sex marriage and expecting a ballot initiative before the end of the decade.

• Ohio — National LGBT groups and local activists held a meeting last month to discuss bringing an initiative to the ballot to reverse the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. One group, Freedom Ohio, said the plan is to take the initiative to the ballot in 2014, although the groups insisted a firm date hasn’t yet been set.


Black Pride schedule and more

Black Pride, Retro Dance Party, Gay News, Washington Blade

So much to do this weekend during D.C.’s annual Black Pride festival. (Washington Blade file photo by Pete Exis)

There are several events occurring this Memorial Day. D.C. Black Pride is the official planning organizing agency but several other groups also have parties and activities planned for black LGBT people and allies.

D.C. Black Pride Official Events

Host hotel: Hyatt Regency Washington

(400 New Jersey Ave., NW)


Whitman-Walker Health (1701 14th St., NW) hosts the Washington, DC HIPAA launch event “Information is Powerful Medicine” beginning at 10 a.m.

The opening reception and community awards presentation at the Hyatt Regency Washington (400 New Jersey Ave., NW) starts at 6 p.m.

At the same time, D.C. Concerned Providers host an LGBT Prom at Metropolitan Community Church (474 Ridge St., NW). This event is for ages 16-21 and it is free. The evening will include food, HIV testing, raffles, photographer, vogue and a runway competition and a Prom King and Queen.

RainbowConnects hosts speed dating at the host hotel, Hyatt Regency Washington (400 New Jersey Ave., NW) at 7:30 p.m. Donations will be collected to support the D.C. Center.


A community town hall meeting on the topic “Are We Prepared to Address Homophobia in the Black Church,” begins at 11 a.m. at the host hotel in Congressional A room. The town hall will be facilitated by Rev. Larry Burks and will discuss the impact of homophobia on LGBT attendees at black churches.

There will be several workshops held in the host hotel in different rooms starting at noon, including “Transgender Awareness 101: Like Sands Through the Hourglass, the Days of the Trans Life,” “PReParing for an End: A Prevention Plan to End New HIV infections in Black Gay Communities,” “Old School vs. New School: An Intergenerational Discussion,” “Protected and Served: The LGBT Communities’ Attitudes & Experiences with Police,” “TransENDing Boudaries,” “ManDate: The Construction of Black Manhood and Masculinity” and “Women’s Inter-Generational Salon.” To see the full description of these events and locations, visit

The D.C. Black Pride Film Festival begins at 1 p.m. at the host hotel. The films featured include “Friend of Essex,” “Pariah,” “Noah’s Arc: Jumping the Broom,” “God Loves Uganda” and “You Are Not Alone.”

A Post Happy Hour sponsored by Barefoot Bubbly Wines starts at 5 p.m. at the Thurgood Marshall Center (1816 12th St., NW).

The D.C. Black Pride Poetry Slam hosted by ButtaflySoul begins at 7 p.m. at the host hotel and admission is $10. Performers will enter a contest that has three different cash prizes, with first place also receiving an appearance on stage at the Health & Wellness Festival.


An interfaith service is provided at the host hotel at 9 a.m.

The Health & Wellness Festival begins at noon at the Francis-Stevens Educational Campus (2425 N St., NW).

For more information on official D.C. Black Pride events, visit

Events from other groups include:


MOVA Lounge (2204 14th St., NW) hosts the Genesis III Happy Hour as a pre 5000 Men Pride Mega Party at 5 p.m.. This is open to the public with a live DJ and a light buffet with two complimentary drinks per pass holder. Cover is $35.

The annual 5000 Men Pride Mega Party starts at 9 p.m. at the Ibiza Nightclub (1222 1st St., NE). This is a favorite Friday celebration and costs $40.


The Tropical Heat Beach Mega Party starts at 2 p.m. at the Heron Shelter at Sandy Point Beach of Sandy Point State Park (1100 East College Parkway, Annapolis). The day includes a $300 hot body contest, music, free food, an open bar from 2-4 p.m. for pass holders and sexy dancers. Cover charge is $40.

The main event of Pride starts at 9 p.m. featuring R&B singer Brandy at Love (1350 Okie St., NE). There are expected to be 10,000 men in attendance. VIP cover is $60.

R&B singer Brandy plays Love on Saturday


When the party ends at 5 a.m., Pride will host a Red Eye Breakfast Club at a venue that will be announced. Cost will be $20.

Pride hosts the Annual Wet & Sexy Unity Mega Pool Party Sunday at 4 p.m. at the Accokeek Mansion. The day includes a live DJ, free food, a ticket bar, sexy dancers and rated X entertainment. Cost is $35.

Fur Nightclub (33 Patterson St., NE) hosts the Men In White event which features a surprise celebrity performance. Cover is $30.

Muse (717 6th St., NW) hosts a “sizzling hot Sunday party” featuring multiple levels and 2 DJs at 11 a.m. This is a promotional partner’s event, so it is not covered by event passes.


The annual Us Helping Us Picnic at Fort Dupont Park (3600 F St., SE) starts at noon. There will be free food and beverages for pass holders at the Omega tent.

The Layla Lounge (501 Morse St., NE) hosts Apocalypse Chapter III starting at 9 p.m. Cover is $15.

Participants can pay for these events individually or they can pay $99 for an event pass that has the value of $330. For more information, visit


Berry, four other gay nominees confirmed to high-ranking posts

John Berry, Office of Management and Budget, Obama Administration, Australia, gay news, Washington Blade

John Berry was confirmed by the Senate as U.S. ambassador to Australia along with other gay nominees. (Photo public domain).

The U.S. Senate confirmed for the first time an openly gay man as ambassador to a G-20 country with no opposition on Thursday evening along with four other out nominees.

John Berry, former head of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and the highest-ranking openly gay Obama administration official, was approved for the position of U.S. ambassador to Australia by unanimous consent en banc along with dozens of nominees, including other gay appointees.

During his confirmation hearing last month, Berry said he was inspired by the talent he saw in the federal workforce and would take that experience with him to his new post.

“Along the way, I was reminded again and again of the tremendous diversity of our great country, building lasting relationships with fellow Americans from all backgrounds as we worked together to address shared challenges,” Berry said. “If confirmed, I will carry with me these many voices of America, along with a profound commitment to strengthening the shared values that lie at the heart of our strategic relationship with Australia.”

Other openly gay men confirmed to ambassadorial posts were Daniel Baer, who was confirmed as U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security & Cooperation in Europe; Rufus Gifford, who was confirmed as U.S. ambassador to Denmark; and James Costos; who was confirmed as U.S. ambassador to Spain.

Michael Guest, who’s gay and a former U.S. ambassador to Romania, told the Washington Blade each of the ambassadorial appointees are well-qualified to serve in their new posts.

“All four of these men have the strong intellect, presence and skills needed to lead our interagency teams abroad,” Guest said. “It’s heartening that the Senate recognized that these qualities, not their sexual orientation, are what matter in service to our country. They’ll be terrific American representatives, and I wish them well in their new duties.”

Another openly gay nominee was also confirmed for a non-ambassadorial post. Stuart Delery, was confirmed as assistant attorney general for the Civil Division at the Justice Department after having served in an acting capacity in that role.

Delery had represented the Obama administration at the district and appellate court level during oral arguments and contended Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act should be struck down.

U.S. Attorney Eric Holder had kind words for Delery in a statement following the news the Senate had confirmed him for a high-level position within the Justice Department.

“I am pleased to congratulate Stuart Delery on his confirmation as Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division, an office he has held in an acting capacity for more than a year,” Holder said. “During that time, and throughout his service at the department – including his tenure as chief of staff to the deputy attorney general and senior counselor in my office – Stuart has exemplified the highest standards of integrity and professionalism.”

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, praised the Senate in a statement for confirming each of the five nominees and also said they’re well-qualified to serve.

“Today the U.S. Senate confirmed five highly qualified nominees to important posts who happen to be gay,” Griffin said. “It is a testament to President Obama and the U.S. Senate that the sexual orientation of these nominees was irrelevant to their qualifications for their posts, as it should be.  All Americans should be proud to have these fine public servants representing the interests of the United States.”

Each of the nominees has a history of commitment to public service and the Obama administration. Baer previously worked in the State Department as assistant secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights & Labor and worked to advance LGBT rights overseas as part of his portfolio.

His new post at OSCE, which is based in Vienna, comprises 57 European, Asian and North American countries that cooperate on security, terrorism, economic and human rights issues.

Daniel Baer, United States Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, gay news, Washington Blade

Daniel Baer (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

During his confirmation hearing, Baer emphasized the link between advancing human rights overseas and protecting security.

“Today, no serious observer can doubt the link between human rights and security,” Baer said. “We know that respect for human rights cannot be relegated to the ‘nice to have, but not essential’ category, because there is no genuine security in the absence of respect for human rights and adherence to the rule of law.”

Gifford and Costos gave strong support to President Obama in his election efforts and the Democratic Party in years past. Gifford raised money for Obama’s campaign in California in 2008, then served as finance director of the Democratic National Committee before becoming finance director for Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.

Costos, vice president of global licensing and retail for HBO, contributed more than $60,000 to the Democratic National Committee in the previous election and nearly $5,000 to Obama’s presidential campaign.

One pending gay nominee yet to be confirmed by the Senate is Todd Hughes, who was appointed for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. The Senate Judiciary Committee reported out his nomination last week. Upon confirmation, he’ll become the first openly gay person to serve on a federal appeals court.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, commended the Senate for the approving these openly gay nominees.

“We appreciate the Senate’s confirmation of many of the Presidents nominees on Thursday,” Inouye said. “These individuals will serve the American people well in their new roles.”

Another openly gay ambassadorial not yet confirmed by the Senate is James “Wally” Brewster, who was nominated as U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republican. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has yet to hold a confirmation hearing for him.

Religious groups are opposing his confirming in that country. In July, a high-ranking Catholic cardinal used an anti-gay slur to describe him and religious leaders organized a “Black Monday” protest to oppose him. It’s unclear if this opposition is playing a role in the Senate’s delay in confirming Brewster.