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Eric Lee, former Inouye aide, dies at 69

Eric Lee, gay news, Washington Blade

Eric Lee (Photo courtesy of the SS United States Trust)

Eric H.M. Lee, an attorney, former legislative director for the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), and most recently the principal partner in Lee and Associates, a Washington consulting firm specializing in telecommunications issues, died March 31 from complications associated with a stroke. He was 69.

Prior to founding his consulting firm, Lee worked in the 1990s in various positions with AT&T and an Internet trade association on projects credited with shaping current federal policies for the U.S. telecommunications industry.

He played a role in developing the Telecommunications Act of 1996 which, among other things, addressed and the then nascent commercial Internet.

Lee, who was gay, was a supporter of LGBT rights organizations and provided behind-the-scenes advice to many of his activist friends working on strategy for advancing LGBT rights legislation, according to friends and professional colleagues.

“He was a very active supporter and informed participant,” said Will Burrington, a former colleague at AT&T who later became president of D.C.’s Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group.

“To me, aside from his brilliance, as a person, he was just a very authentic, nonjudgmental, inclusive friend, Burrington said.

A native Hawaiian, Lee graduated from Honolulu’s Iolani college preparatory school before going to Princeton University, where he received a bachelor’s degree with honors in European and modern Asian history. He received a law degree from Harvard University School of Law.

A Lee and Associates biography says he began his career in Washington working for Inouye on issues under the jurisdiction of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. He later became staff counsel to the Senate Subcommittee on Foreign Trade and Tourism before serving as Inouye’s legislative director.

He next joined AT&T’s Regulatory Affairs Division in Basking Ridge, N.J. and later became public policy director for AT&T International before returning to Washington as a member of AT&T’s Government Relations office.

After working on issues surrounding the Telecommunications Act, Lee left AT&T to become public policy director of the Commercial Internet Exchange Association (CIX), the world’s first Internet trade association, his biography says.

Among other things, Lee played a key role organizing a coalition of companies that negotiated what became the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, considered a landmark statute that determines online copyright policy.

Brenda Lee, his sister who lives in Honolulu, described her brother as “very caring and thoughtful and generous with a great sense of humor.” She added, “He was very devoted to his family and his three nieces.”

Burrington said Lee was an active supporter of the arts and progressive political candidates, a “tireless advocate for the interests of his native Hawaii and one of the most well-read people I know.”

Lee’s work on behalf of his home state was recognized by the office of Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii).

“I was very sorry to hear of Eric Lee’s passing,” said Hirono’s chief of staff, Betsy Lin, in an April 1 statement. “His service to Hawaii; as Sen. Daniel K. Inouye’s counsel, his continued support of the delegation, and his generosity of spirit will be missed,” Lin said.

Robert Garnet, another friend and former AT&T colleague, said he was among a number of friends that Lee helped when they faced hard times, such as unemployment. He said Lee took him under his wing and invited him to stay at Lee’s Dupont Circle apartment until he got back on his feet.

“And my story, or some version of it, was repeated many times for others, both before I arrived on his doorstep and afterwards,” Garnet said.

Lee is survived by his sisters Brenda and Terri Lee; his brother Earl Lee; and his nieces Alyson, Annaliese and Katrina Kintscher – all of Honolulu.

Other survivors include his friends, many from Washington, who say they considered themselves part of Lee’s extended family. They include Will (Bill) Burrington, Craig Huffman, Bruce Lehman, Robert Garnet, Patrick Keating, John Weinfurter, Raymond Zahrobsky, John Gallagher, Hana Sakuta, Kevin Hartmann, and numerous other friends.

Family members and friends said contributions can be made in Lee’s memory online or by mail to the Daniel K. Inouye Institute Fund, c/o Hawaii Community Foundation, 827 Fort Street Mall, Honolulu, Hawaii 96813 or through:


The Mormon mean streak isn’t a bug, it’s a feature

The Mormons have adopted a new strategy for undercutting gay marriage. It's more subtle, and just as hateful.


BREAKING: Hawaii passes gay marriage bill, governor to sign in morning

Marriages of same-sex couples should begin in Hawaii on December 2. Hawaii will be the 15th state to legalize.


Trans activist Melenie Eleneke dies at 52

Melenie Mahinamalamalama Eleneke, transgender rights activist, hula dancer and devoted auntie and sister, died peacefully of natural causes in her sleep the morning of Sept. 9 at her home in Daly City, Calif., according to her friend Ricky Everett. She was 53.

“Auntie Mele” was born Christmas Day 1959 in Honolulu, becoming the youngest of Jarett Kalani Eleneke and Alene Ku’ukama’aloha Parker Eleneke-Pa’s five children, including sisters Char Thompson, Shalei Eleneke and brothers Wayne, Paul and Charles Eleneke.

One year prior to her 1977 graduation from Kailua High School in Honolulu, Eleneke transitioned to become the woman known and loved by a vast network of family, friends and colleagues. She was a lifelong spiritual healer, hula dancer and social justice advocate.

Eleneke was a long-serving community leader with the Transgender, Gender Variant & Intersex Justice Project in San Francisco, most notably for her trip to Geneva in February 2008 where she addressed the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, holding the United States accountable for its lack of economic opportunity for transgender women of color.

In addition to her parents and siblings, Eleneke is survived by Patrice Evans, nephew Tamalani Auva’a, her dogs Jimmy and Kukunaokala, and her devoted sisters, nieces and nephews from the House of Valenciaga.

A memorial service was held last week in California and another is planned in her native Hawaii.


Hawaii same-sex marriage bill signed into law

Neil Abercrombie, Hawaii, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie on Wednesday signed a bill into law that extends marriage rights to same-sex couples in his state.

“What happened in this Legislature is people… listened to what their role was in terms of upholding the constitution,” he said during the signing ceremony that took place at the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu. “It’s not a question of if its a special interest. It’s a question of if it promotes the public interest.”

Hawaii Attorney General David Louie spoke before the governor signed Senate Bill 1 into law.

“Today is a great day in Hawaii nei,” Louie said. “Today we move forward into a new era of aloha for same-sex couples who want to get married.”

Abercrombie signed the measure into law a day after the state Senate approved it by a 19-4 vote margin.

Senate Bill 1 passed in the Hawaii House of Representatives on Nov. 8 after lawmakers debated it for more than 12 hours. The chamber two days earlier approved the measure on its second reading following five days of testimony from SB1 supporters and opponents.

The state Senate on Oct. 30 overwhelmingly approved the bill, but it had to consider amendments the House added to it before Abercrombie signed it.

“Someday this world will accept all of us for who we are,” Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee Chair Clayton Hee said during the signing ceremony. “I could have never imagined that I would play a role in such a profound but in my mind a simple thing to do: bring justice and equality to all of us.”

Hawaii is among the 15 states and D.C. in which same-sex couples can now marry.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn on Nov. 20 is scheduled to sign a bill that would extend marriage rights to gays and lesbians in his state.

The Hawaii Supreme Court in 1993 ruled the denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples is unconstitutional. Then-President Clinton three years later signed the Defense of Marriage Act that prohibited the federal government from legally recognizing gay nuptials.

The U.S. Supreme Court in June found a portion of DOMA unconstitutional.

Hawaii voters in 1998 approved a state constitutional amendment that allowed the Legislature to ban same-sex marriage.

The Aloha State’s civil unions law took effect in 2012, but a federal judge in August of that year dismissed a lawsuit filed on behalf of two gay couples who sought marriage rights in Hawaii. Their case is currently pending in the U.S. Ninth Circuit alongside a second lawsuit that seeks to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in Nevada.

“By giving loving gay and lesbian couples the right to marry if they choose, Hawaii exemplifies the values we hold dear as a nation,” President Obama said in a statement on Tuesday after SB1 received final approval in the state Senate. “I’ve always been proud to have been born in Hawaii, and today’s vote makes me even prouder.”

ACLU-Hawaii Legal Director Lois Perrin, who co-founded Hawaii United for Marriage, which backed SB1, agreed.

“We join President Obama in praising our Legislature and the historic decision they made during this special session,” she said after Abercrombie signed SB1 into law. “We at Hawaii United for Marriage are proud that the majority of our lawmakers stood tall and recognized that marriage equality is simply the right thing to do.”

Gays and lesbians are expected to begin to legally marry in Hawaii on Dec. 2, but SB1 opponents are expected to file a lawsuit on Thursday that would block it from taking effect.


Another ‘marriage moment’ before year’s end?

Chris Christie, New Jersey, Republican Party, Republican National Convention, gay news, Washington Blade, Neil Abercrombie, Hawaii, Democratic Party, Democratic National Convention, Greg Harris, Illinois, marriage,

Marriage equality has come to New Jersey under Gov. Chris Christie as Illinois state Rep. Greg Harris and Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie seek passage of legislation. (Washington Blade photos of Christie and Abercrombie by Michael Key; photo of Greg Harris via Livestream).

The month of October 2013 could go down in history as a milestone in the marriage equality movement.

In addition to New Jersey becoming the 14th state in the country to make same-sex marriage legal, states across the country in recent days saw developments in the legislatures and the courts on marriage equality that could expand that roster of equality states by the end of the month.

James Esseks, director of the LGBT project for the American Civil Liberties Union, predicted during a conference call with reporters last week the activity on same-sex marriage this month could create another “marriage moment.”

“I think we are approaching another marriage moment this fall with potential developments in three to four states coming soon,” Esseks said.

The action on marriage comes on the heels of the filing of new litigation both in federal and state courts as well as new legislative efforts seeking marriage equality initiated after the Supreme Court ruled on the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 in June.

Dan Pinello, a political scientist at the City University of New York, said the activity on marriage equality at this time is in part the result of the Supreme Court’s actions.

“The high court’s decision unleashed a floodgate of pent-up demand in the LGBT community that is finding true expression in a tidal wave of federal litigation,” Pinello said. “The ruling also prompted an increased awareness of newly recognized constitutional rights among federal judges in the lower courts. The outcomes of all this legal activity will emerge over the next several years.”

The Washington Blade has already provided coverage of developments on marriage equality in New Jersey and Michigan. Here are details on other states in recent weeks.

New Mexico

The New Mexico Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Wednesday in a case brought by all 33 New Mexico clerks, state district courts and a group of same-sex couples seeking a determination on whether state law permits same-sex marriage.

The arguments in the case, Griego v. Oliver, were divided into two portions. The first examined whether the current statutory scheme for marriage under New Mexico law already allows same-sex marriage because portions of it are gender-neutral. In the second, attorneys made their case on whether same-sex couples have a guaranteed right under the state constitution to marry regardless of what the statute says.

Representing Republican lawmakers seeking to prohibit same-sex marriage in New Mexico was attorney James Campbell, who argued that only the legislature has authority to legalize marriage rights for gay couples. Campbell maintained marriage under New Mexico law is reserved for opposite-sex couples because “those unions, unlike same-sex unions, have a natural ability to procreate.”

Campbell also argued that the court shouldn’t determine gay people should be considered a suspect class because they enjoy political power. The legalization of same-sex marriage through state legislatures as well as the Democratic Party and President Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage, Campbell said, is evidence of this political power.

Representing the views in court of District Judge Alan Mallot, who had previously ruled that same-sex couples can marry because of the gender-neutral language in the marriage law, was attorney Daniel Ivey-Soto.

Attorney General Gary King sent two attorneys to argue a more middle-ground argument. Assistant Attorney General Scott Fuqua argued that the current gender-neutral statute doesn’t permit same-sex marriage, but Assistant Attorney General Sean Cunniff maintained gay couples should be allowed to marry under the equal protection provisions under the state constitution.

Same-sex couples were represented by attorney Maureen Sanders, who articulated a similar view. She argued the gender-neutral law doesn’t allow gay couples to marry in New Mexico, but said “denying same-sex couples the right to marry is a violation of the New Mexico Constitution.”

Sanders also argued gay people should be considered a suspect class. The court shouldn’t look to the recent advancement in LGBT equality, she said, but the long history of discrimination the LGBT community has experienced.

Justices appeared skeptical of the idea of continuing to ban same-sex couples from marrying in New Mexico. In response to Campbell’s argument that marriage is for procreation, Chief Justice Charles Daniels noted many benefits related to marriage aren’t given to couples based on whether they’ve had children.

Despite hopes that the court would issue a ruling on marriage equality at the conclusion of the arguments, justices signaled as they began they would need more time. It’s unclear when a decision could come down, although it could be a matter of weeks.


The federal marriage equality case that is closest to the Supreme Court is also seeing movement as proponents of marriage equality — following the lead of Lambda Legal, which is responsible for the lawsuit — were set to weigh in on bringing marriage equality to Nevada.

On Oct. 18, Lambda Legal filed a 100-page brief before the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of Sevcik v. Sandoval, a lawsuit the organization filed last year. Because the case is now before an appellate court, it’s the most advanced lawsuit that’s pending before federal courts.

The opening brief makes use of the U.S. Supreme Court decision against the Defense of Marriage Act by arguing that Nevada’s ban on same-sex marriage deprives gay couples of the crucial benefits just as the anti-gay federal law had done.

“By foreclosing same-sex couples from marriage, Nevada inflicts virtually the same collection of federal harms and deprivations on unmarried same-sex couples as DOMA previously did, since nearly all federal benefits are unavailable to unmarried couples, regardless of whether they are registered domestic partners,” the brief states.

A major component of the argument that Lambda makes against the ban on same-sex marriage is the state’s domestic partnership system is inadequate for gay couples even though it provides them the legal equivalent of marriage.

“Relegating same-sex couples to registered domestic partnership is no remedy,” the brief states. “That novel, inferior status qualifies unmarried same-sex couples for virtually no federal benefits, and instead designates same-sex couples as second-class citizens and subjects them to a host of practical difficulties and vulnerabilities.”

Accompanying the opening brief is a motion to the court for permission to file another brief no longer than 26,500 words for “an adequate exposition of the plaintiff couple’s claims.”

Friend-of-the-court briefs in favor of marriage equality were also due in the case on Wednesday. That marks the opportunity for the Obama administration to weigh in on the lawsuit by filing its own friend-of-the-court brief in the case. Lambda has previously said it would “welcome” a brief from the U.S. Justice Department in the case, but as of Tuesday had no information on whether one would be forthcoming.


All eyes will be on the Illinois Legislature in the coming days as lawmakers return for a “veto session” that will likely include a vote in the State House on marriage equality.

On Tuesday, the first day of the veto session, supporters held a “March on Springfield” to urge passage of the marriage equality legislation. Speakers at a rally held near the State Capitol Building included Gov. Pat Quinn and U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.).

According to Buzzfeed, Durbin invoked the Supreme Court decision against DOMA while speaking before the estimated 2,300 attendees about passing marriage equality legislation.

“Now that the Supreme Court has ruled, I say to members of the Illinois House of Representatives, you have an awesome and historic decision,” Durbin said. “Will you offer to everyone married in our state — regardless if straight, gay, lesbian, whatever — will you offer them the same federal benefits, or will you discriminate against some.”

The regular session of the legislature concluded in May, to the dismay of supporters of same-sex marriage, without a vote on same-sex marriage legislation in the House that was earlier passed in the Senate. Gay State Rep. Greg Harris declined to bring the legislation to a vote because he believed it lacked sufficient support for passage.

Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois, expressed confidence that lawmakers would act during the veto session to pass the legislation based on recent polling data from Fako & Associates in Lisle, IL, showing a 12-point margin in support of marriage equality.

“Amongst key constituencies like African Americans, there’s a 20-point spread, amongst Latino voters, there’s a 30-point spread, amongst American Catholics, there’s a 30-point spread,” Cherkasov said. “There’s strong business support. Illinoians expect lawmakers will do their job and the pass the bill.”

Because the legislature in is in a veto session, different rules apply to passing legislation. A bill that would go into effect immediately, as the Senate-passed marriage equality legislation does, would require a supermajority of 71 votes in the House for passage. But bills that go into effect at a later date need only a simple majority of 60 votes for passage. The veto session consisted of two days this week, followed by a break, and another three days when lawmakers return on Nov. 5.

Cherkasov said the bill is “definitely within striking distance” in the House for votes to passage under the lower 60-vote threshold, which he said could be arranged by amending the House bill to go into effect on June 1 and passing that bill in the Senate.

Asked whether he wants the bill to come up for a vote during the veto session regardless of whether supporters think it has the necessary votes, Cherkasov said, “I do believe that if it came to the floor that it would pass.”

Advocates are pursuing same-sex marriage legislation in Illinois as a state lawsuit seeking marriage equality in the state, Darby v. Orr, is pending in Cook County Circuit Court.


Efforts to pass same-sex marriage legislation are also underway in Hawaii, where Gov. Neil Abercrombie has called for a special session of the legislature starting Oct. 28 for the purpose of debate and passage of marriage equality.

Donald Bentz, executive director of Equality Hawaii, said he’s “optimistic” the session will lead to marriage equality in the Aloha State because of stories of “love and commitment” heard by legislators.

“Polls indicate that the majority of Hawaii’s residents support marriage equality and are buoyed by the growing list of business, faith, political and nonprofit leaders who are standing up in support of the freedom to marry,” Bentz said.

Depending upon the length of time the legislature chooses to debate the marriage bill, the special session could go as quickly as five working days or take two full weeks.

Bentz said the marriage equality legislation enjoys “a wide margin” of support in the Senate, but not so much in House. A vote tally conducted by the Honolulu Civil Beat last month found that 26 House members support the legislation. Passage of the bill in that chamber requires 27 votes.

Since the time that article was published, Bentz said State Rep. Karen Awana has gone on record as a “no” vote, but State Rep. Mark Takai has come out as a “yes” vote. That would give the bill the 27 votes necessary for passage.

Advocates are pursuing same-sex marriage legislation in Hawaii as litigation seeking marriage equality in the state, Jackson v. Abercrombie, is pending alongside the Nevada lawsuit in the Ninth Circuit.


The most recent lawsuit seeking marriage equality in the federal court system was filed on Tuesday by the National Center for Lesbian Rights on behalf of four legally married same-sex couples seeking recognition of their unions.

The lawsuit, known as Tanco v. Haslam, was filed by the National Center for Lesbian Rights and private attorneys Abby Rubenfeld, Maureen Holland, Regina Lambert along with the firm of Sherrard & Roe and is pending before the U.S. District Court in the Middle District of Tennessee.

Shannon Minter, NCLR’s legal director, said the lawsuit is a useful addition to other cases pending in 19 other states because it helps draw attention to the lack of LGBT rights in the South.

“We think it is important to bring cases that highlight the damage that is being caused by discriminatory state marriage bans across the country, including especially in southern states,” Minter said. “I am very hopeful we will obtain a positive result in this case, which would be hugely beneficial to LGBT people in Tennessee, and also be a huge boost to creating even more positive national momentum.”

One couple in the lawsuit, Dr. Valeria Tanco and Dr. Sophy Jesty, is expecting their first child this spring and is worried state law won’t recognize them both as legal parents. Another couple, Sgt. Ijpe DeKoe and Thom Kostura, married just before DeKoe was deployed for a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

The litigation is one of two cases seeking marriage equality in federal courts lying within the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The other case is the federal litigation pending before the district court in Michigan.


Hawaii governor reflects on state’s long marriage struggle

Neil Abercrombie, Hawaii, Washington Blade, gay

Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie on Nov. 13, 2013, signs his state’s same-sex marriage bill into law. (Photo courtesy of State of Hawaii/Office of the Governor)

Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie on Thursday said yesterday’s ceremony during which he signed a bill that extends marriage rights to same-sex couples in his state was more than a celebration.

“It was more like an acknowledgement of the culmination of many years of what we call in Hawaii as part of our Aloha spirit: patient perseverance,” he told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview from Honolulu.

Abercrombie signed the measure into law at the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu one day after the state Senate approved it by a 19-4 margin.

Senate Bill 1 passed in the Hawaii House of Representatives on Nov. 8 after lawmakers debated it for more than 12 hours. The chamber two days earlier approved the measure on its second reading following five days of testimony from SB1 supporters and opponents.

Abercrombie told the Blade he initially thought the special legislative session to debate SB1 that began on Oct. 28 would have ended within a week — and not 15 days.

“It is still a reflection of the legislative process that’s undertaken so that everybody clearly has an opportunity to speak,” he said. “Much of it, of course, was repetitive and I’m sorry to say that some of it could only be called as rate, but that was more a sign of less of conspiracy than it was the intensity with which the opponents were operating.”

Lesbian state Rep. Jo Jordan, who Abercrombie appointed in 2011, sparked outrage among LGBT rights advocates when she voted against SB1.

“I wish we had had perhaps a little more opportunity to discuss the issue,” Abercrombie said. “I expect that she has her set of reasons. Whether or not I agree with all those reasons I don’t know.”

Abercrombie added that same-sex marriage supporters criticized him because he did not call a special legislative session “when they wanted me to do it.”

“My position always was and always has been I need 13 votes in the Senate and 26 votes in the House,” he said. “I don’t need rhetorical victories. I don’t need tactical advice that has nothing to do with keeping your eye on the prize, which is to get the bill passed and get a bill passed that will stand up to constitutional investigation and vetting and be able to say secure the necessary votes to get it on my desk.”

Then-Hawaii Supreme Court Justice Steven Levinson in 1993 ruled the denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples is unconstitutional. This landmark decision prompted Congress three years later to pass the Defense of Marriage Act that prohibited the federal government from legally recognizing gay nuptials.

The U.S. Supreme Court in June found a portion of DOMA unconstitutional.

Abercrombie said Levinson’s ruling “formalized a discussion” that he said had already been taking place in Hawaii about how to extend relationship recognition to same-sex couples in the state. He noted he backed civil unions for gays and lesbians before 1993.

“I was the object of a lot of criticism,” Abercrombie told the Blade. “I felt that we had to move this along in a process that would enable us to succeed politically as opposed to making what I felt would be a moral point, if you will, that was doomed to failure at that time and I felt would hold us back from achieving marriage equality.”

Hawaii voters in 1998 approved a state constitutional amendment that allowed the legislature to ban same-sex marriage.

The state’s civil unions law took effect in 2012, but a federal judge in August of that year dismissed a lawsuit filed on behalf of two gay couples who sought marriage rights in Hawaii. The plaintiffs subsequently petitioned the U.S. Ninth Circuit to hear their case alongside a second lawsuit that seeks to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in Nevada.

Abercrombie cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling against DOMA and California’s Proposition 8 in his decision not to defend Hawaii’s same-sex marriage ban in the aforementioned lawsuit.

“It was clear to me in the wake of the Supreme Court rulings that the civil unions law which I signed right after I was sworn in obviated the prohibition,” he said. “I said ‘look, I can’t defend something that I don’t think has legal validity.’”

Abercrombie gives pen used to sign SB1 to Levinson

Hawaii is among the 15 states and D.C. in which same-sex couples can now legally marry.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn on Nov. 20 is scheduled to sign a measure that will allow nuptials for gays and lesbians in his state.

A judge on Thursday refused to consider state Rep. Bob McDermott’s motion that would have blocked SB1 from taking effect on Dec. 2.

Abercrombie told the Blade one of the things about which he thought before he signed SB1 into law was seeking the Human Rights Campaign’s support during his 1986 congressional campaign. He recalled meeting two HRC staffers inside their small office near the U.S. Capitol.

“We’ve come a long, long way from an upstairs office somewhere on D Street,” Abercrombie said. “As I said yesterday, people who have been forced to be invisible all their lives are now visible to themselves and the whole world.”

Abercrombie also gave the pen he used to sign SB1 into law to Levinson.

“It was never a question in my mind of what Hawaii precipitated in 1993 would succeed,” Abercrombie told the Blade. “It was always a question in my mind [as to whether] we put together events [and] timing in such a way as to succeed. And at least as Hawaii is concerned we succeeded yesterday.”


Court asked to overturn marriage bans in Nevada, Hawaii

Martha Coakley, Beau Biden, Neil Abercrombie, Massachusetts, Delaware, Hawaii, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden and Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie signed briefs before the Ninth Circuit seeking marriage equality. (Photo of Martha Coakley by Fogster via Wikimedia Commons; Washington Blade photos of Biden and Abercrombie by Michael Key)

Five months after the U.S. Supreme Court issued two decisions in favor of marriage equality, a chorus of voices is calling on the U.S. Ninth Circuit to make a similar ruling on behalf of gay couples seeking marriage rights in Nevada and Hawaii.

Legal briefs were submitted to the Ninth Circuit by numerous public figures who’ve previously articulated their support for marriage equality, ranging from Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie to Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden. However, the Obama administration didn’t submit a brief to the court by the deadline articulating its views of favor of same-sex marriage.

The cases before the court are Sevick v. Sandoval, a federal lawsuit filed by Lambda Legal last year seeking marriage equality in Nevada, and Jackson v. Abercrombie, a similar lawsuit filed by private attorneys seeking to overturn the ban on same-sex marriage in Hawaii. Both are on appeal before the Ninth Circuit after district courts in those states affirmed that the bans on same-sex marriage were constitutional.

Abercrombie, who previously said he wouldn’t defend the ban on same-sex marriage in court, submitted an opening brief from his lawyers on Oct. 18 that seeks permission to file an additional, more lengthy document because the lawsuit a “landmark civil rights case.”

But the 112-page brief makes initial arguments about why the ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, arguing that it fails any rational basis test and laws related to sexual orientation should be subject to heightened scrutiny.

“Only legalization of same-sex marriage would allow plaintiffs, and tens of thousands of other same-sex couples in Hawaii, to ‘pursue the happiness’ and assume the mutual responsibilities — important to human ‘existence and survival’ — that are at the heart of the fundamental right to marry,” the brief states. “And only legalization will give plaintiffs the equality they so justly deserve.”

On Friday, friend-of-the-court briefs were also due before the Ninth Circuit. One high-profile brief was signed by 14 attorneys general who had previously signed a brief before the Supreme Court arguing in favor of marriage equality. Signers of the brief include Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, who’s running for governor, California Attorney General Kamala Harris and Biden.

The 32-page argues that the bans on same-sex marriage in Hawaii and Nevada are unconstitutional, among other reasons, because including same-sex couples into the institution of marriage enhances state interest and the current laws aren’t rationally related to interests in procreation or child-rearing.

“Since the founding, states have sanctioned marriages to support families, strengthen communities, and facilitate governance,” the brief states. “Because same-sex couples form families, raise children, and avail themselves of the benefits and abide by the obligations of marriage in the same manner as different-sex couples, the states’ interest in marriage are furthered by allowing same-sex couples to marry.”

The 14 states represented in the brief are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. D.C. Attorney General Irving Nathan also signed.

Because the cases are before the Ninth Circuit, they are the most advanced federal lawsuits on marriage equality and the closest to the Supreme Court. However, the lawsuits may not be the ones to reach the high court first because the Ninth Circuit is notoriously slow in reviewing litigation.

Both briefs from the attorneys general and Abercrombie make use the Supreme Court’s decision against the Defense of Marriage Act.

The brief filed by the attorneys generals says in a footnote that the DOMA decision has particular impact on gay couples in Hawaii and Nevada because marriage laws in those states are now preventing them from accessing the federal benefits of marriage.

“Nevada and Hawaii marriage laws now prevent same-sex couples and their families from obtaining important federal benefits and protections otherwise available to married couples,” the brief states. “This works significant and practical harm to those families and further undercuts the rationality of state laws that create two classes of state-sanctioned relationships.”

The attorneys general filed a brief before the Ninth Circuit even though they had previously articulated their views on marriage before the Supreme Court, but one party that didn’t follow suit is the Obama administration.

The Justice Department filed a friend-of-the-court brief when California’s Proposition 8 had come before the Supreme Court, arguing the ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional and suggesting states with domestic partnerships must allow marriage rights for gay couples.

Although Nevada and Hawaii similarly have domestic partnership registries, the Obama administration didn’t make a filing in the Nevada or Hawaii cases. The Justice Department didn’t respond to a request to comment on why no brief was filed.

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, nonetheless said the lack of a brief from the Obama administration isn’t of concern.

“It is not disappointing and not a problem; the Department of Justice’s conclusion that the denial if the freedom to marry violates the Constitution is clear and a matter of record,” Wolfson said.

Lambda Legal had previously said it would “welcome” a brief from the Obama administration in the Nevada case for the Ninth Circuit. In response to an inquiry about the absence of input from the Justice Department, Lambda Staff Attorney Peter Renn pointed to the friend-of-the-court briefs filed by other parties in the lawsuit.

“A total of 17 amicus briefs were filed, in support of ending the unconstitutional exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage and the real harm it does to same-sex couples and their families,” Renn said. “The Obama Administration’s support for marriage equality is already well-established, and there may be future opportunities to file amicus briefs in this case as it proceeds further.”

A number of other parties submitted friend-of-the-court briefs before the Ninth Circuit in favor of overturning the bans on same-sex marriage.

* A group of 13 political scientists filed a 39-page brief arguing the marriage bans should be overturned because laws related to sexual orientation should be subject to heightened scrutiny. Gay people, the political scientists say, should be considered a suspect class because they continue to lack political power.

“Gay men and lesbians lack political power,” the brief states. “They are underrepresented in political office; they are viewed negatively by a majority of Americans; their interests are opposed by powerful, well-funded interest groups that use ballot initiatives to try to undo the limited political successes that gay men and lesbians have achieved; and they have limited influence over their political allies.”

* Another brief was filed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which argues that the 1967 Supreme Court decision overturning state bans on interracial marriage in Loving v. Virginia applies to prohibitions on same-sex marriage.

“The basic 14th Amendment principles addressed in Loving are not limited to race,” the brief states. “To the contrary, they govern any state action that denies two consenting adults – including those of the same sex – the right to marry. While the nature of discrimination against lesbians and gay men differs fundamentally from the de jure racial segregation at issue in Loving, the legal issues addressed by Loving are analogous to the legal issues raised in these appeals.”

Other briefs were filed by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, the American Psychological Association, the Columbia Law School Sexuality & Gender Law Clinic and the Gay & Lesbian Medical Association.

UPDATE: This article has been updated with a comment from Lambda Legal and a listing on the states that signed the brief from the attorneys general.


Hawaii Senate approves same-sex marriage bill

Hawaii, gay news, Washington Blade

Hawaii on Thursday became one step closer to extending marriage to same-sex couples when the state Senate overwhelmingly approved a gay nuptials bill. (Photo by Omar A. via Creative Commons)

The Hawaii Senate on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a bill that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The 20-4 vote took place a day after the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee backed the measure after it heard testimony from supporters and opponents of nuptials for gays and lesbians for nearly 12 hours.

“This is a defining moment in all of our careers and we should embrace it,” state Sen. Clayton Hee (D-Kaneohe) said as the Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported.

The state Senate approved the same-sex marriage bill two days after a special legislative session that Gov. Neil Abercrombie called to consider the issue began.

Gays and lesbians are currently able to legally marry in 14 states and D.C.

Hawaii voters in 1998 approved a state constitutional amendment that allowed the Legislature to ban same-sex marriage.

The Aloha State’s civil unions law took effect in 2012, but a federal judge in August of that year dismissed a lawsuit on behalf of two same-sex couples who sought marriage rights in Hawaii.

The plaintiffs appealed the ruling, and it is pending in the U.S. Ninth Circuit alongside a lawsuit that seeks marriage rights for same-sex couples in Nevada. Abercrombie and 14 state attorneys general on Oct. 26 filed briefs with the court that urge it to rule in support of nuptials for gays and lesbians in the two states.

LGBT rights advocates have also filed same-sex marriage lawsuits in Pennsylvania, Virginia, New Mexico, Ohio, West Virginia and other states since the U.S. Supreme Court in June found a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and struck down California’s Proposition 8.

The Hawaii House of Representatives on Thursday is expected to refer the same-sex marriage bill to a joint committee.

The Associated Press reported House Majority Leader Scott Saiki (D-Honolulu) said lawmakers will likely amend the measure to add non-profit businesses to the list of those that would fall under its religious exemption provision. The bill’s supporters remain confident it has enough votes to pass in the chamber, but observers expect the hearing will likely take two days because of the amount of people who have signed up to testify for and against it.

Hawaii Family Advocates President Jim Hochberg is among those who have called for a referendum on nuptials for gays and lesbians in the Aloha State.

Abercrombie has said he will sign a same-sex marriage bill if lawmakers approve it.


It was a good night for sodomy in America

From Virginia to Illinois to Seattle, gay rights, and really sex more generally, was on the ballot, and won.