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Robert Nugent, co-founder of LGBT Catholic ministry dead at 76

Robert Nugent, Washington Blade, Gay News

Father Robert Nugent, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, passed away on Jan. 1. (Photo courtesy of New Ways Ministry)

Father Robert Nugent, the Roman Catholic priest who in 1977 co-founded New Ways Ministry as a first-of-its-kind ministry for gay and lesbian Catholics, died of cancer on Jan. 1 at a hospice in Milwaukee. He was 76.

Nugent emerged as one of the first Catholic priests in the United States to speak out publicly for full acceptance of gays and lesbians within the church and to seek to open a dialogue with church leaders about church doctrine on homosexuality, according to Francis DeBernardo, executive director of the Mount Rainier, Md.,-based New Ways Ministry.

“When few priests would do more than whisper about homosexuality, Father Nugent was meeting with lesbian and gay people and encouraging them to claim their rightful place in the Catholic Church,” DeBernardo said in a statement. “During a time of intense homophobia in both church and society, he exhibited uncommon courage and foresight in welcoming and affirming the goodness of God’s lesbian and gay children.”

In 1999, more than 20 years after Nugent and Sister Jeannine Gramick founded New Ways Ministry and served as its lead organizers, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict XVI, issued an order on behalf of the Vatican prohibiting Nugent and Gramick from engaging in “any pastoral work involving homosexual persons.”

Ratzinger issued the order in his role at the time as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a church body that, among other things, investigates alleged breaches of church doctrine and enforces church rules related to clergy. The order came 15 years after then Cardinal James Hickey of the Archdiocese of Washington first started to raise questions about New Ways Ministry’s positions on homosexuality in 1984.

Hickey’s concerns led to a formal investigation into the actions of Nugent and Gramick launched in 1988 by Cardinal Adam Maida of the Archdiocese of Detroit, who was named head of a Vatican commission formed to examine Nugent and Gramick’s alleged breaches of church teachings.

“The ambiguities and errors of the approach of Father Nugent and Sister Gramick have caused confusion among the Catholic people and have harmed the community of the church,” Ratzinger wrote in a May 31, 1999, statement. “For these reasons, Sister Jeannine Gramick, SSND, and Father Robert Nugent, SDS, are permanently prohibited from any pastoral work involving homosexual persons and are ineligible, for an undetermined period, for any office in their respective religious institutes.”

DeBernardo said that from the time the order was handed down through 2000, Nugent and Gramick traveled throughout the country urging Catholic leaders and lay people to contact the Vatican to have the order overturned.

When that effort failed, and after deep reflection, Nugent agreed to abide by the order while Gramick declined to do so, DeBernardo said.

According to DeBernardo, Nugent returned as a parish priest in New Freedom, Penn., where he had spent most of his time since being forced to leave New Ways Ministry.

“A loyal son of the Church, he attempted to help the institution live up to its most cherished ideals of human dignity, equality and respect,” said DeBernardo.

Nugent was born and raised in Norristown, Penn., where he graduated from local Catholic elementary and high schools and entered St. Charles Seminary in Philadelphia, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1961, according to information provided by the Society of the Divine Savior, also known as the Salvatorians, the religious order to which Nugent was a member during most of his priesthood.

Nugent was ordained as a priest in 1965 after completing four years of theological studies at the Philadelphia-based St. Charles Seminary.

Prior to his collaboration with Gramick in founding New Ways Ministry, he served as a priest in parishes in Philadelphia and Levittown, Penn., and worked as a graduate assistant at Villanova University, where he received a master’s of science degree in library science. He received a master’s degree in Sacred Theology in 1983 at the Yale Divinity School.

DeBernardo and Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of the LGBT Catholic group Dignity USA, said Nugent’s more than 20 years as a leader of New Ways Ministry continues to have an impact on LGBT Catholics and Catholic clergy despite his absence from direct work on LGBT issues in recent years.

“Dignity USA gave Bob a lifetime achievement award in 2001 to recognize just how important he was as a ground-breaking figure in lesbian and gay ministry throughout the 70s and 80s,” Duddy-Burke said. “I continue to meet people who say Bob’s writings, workshops, and personal ministry were the thing that gave them hope as they were coming out in the 70s and the 80s,” she said.

“It is impossible to overestimate the impact and value of Father Nugent’s lesbian and gay ministry,” DeBernardo said. “He educated a generation of pastoral leaders who began to put into practice the inclusive ideals that he taught. A tireless researcher and writer, he produced a number of important works on pastoral care that helped to shape the movement in Catholicism of gay-friendly parishes.”

Added DeBernardo, “A sensitive counselor, he supported scores of gay priests and brothers as they worked at reconciling their spirituality with their sexuality.”

A spokesperson for the Salvatorians said arrangements were being made for a funeral for Nugent in New Freedom, Penn. DeBernardo said a memorial service for Nugent would be held in the D.C. area within the next several weeks.


Kerry says U.S. ‘deeply concerned’ about Nigeria anti-gay law

Gay News, Washington Blade, John Kerry

Secretary of State John Kerry says the United States is “deeply concerned” about the Nigeria anti-gay law (photo public domain).

Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday the United States is “deeply concerned” about a draconian anti-gay measure signed into law in Nigeria that includes punishments of up to 14 years in prison.

“The United States is deeply concerned by Nigeria’s enactment of the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act,” Kerry said. “Beyond even prohibiting same sex marriage, this law dangerously restricts freedom of assembly, association, and expression for all Nigerians.”

According to Reuters, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan signed the measure on Monday. It contains penalties of up to 14 years in prison and bans not only same-sex marriage and same-sex “amorous relationships,” but also membership in LGBT rights groups.

Kerry’s said the Nigeria law is “inconsistent” with country’s international legal obligations and “undermines” democratic reforms as well as human rights protections within Nigeria’s constitution.

“People everywhere deserve to live in freedom and equality,” Kerry concludes. “No one should face violence or discrimination for who they are or who they love. We join with those in Nigeria who appeal for the protection of their fellow citizens’ fundamental freedoms and universal human rights.”

The national assembly had passed the measure last May, but the Nigerian president reportedly had delayed signing it into law.

A White House official said Kerry’s statement on the anti-gay law “reflects our views,” but referred to the State Department for more information.

Kerry’s full statement follows:


Deep Concern with Nigeria’s Enactment of the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act


The United States is deeply concerned by Nigeria’s enactment of the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act.

Beyond even prohibiting same sex marriage, this law dangerously restricts freedom of assembly, association, and expression for all Nigerians.

Moreover, it is inconsistent with Nigeria’s international legal obligations and undermines the democratic reforms and human rights protections enshrined in its 1999 Constitution.

People everywhere deserve to live in freedom and equality.  No one should face violence or discrimination for who they are or who they love.

We join with those in Nigeria who appeal for the protection of their fellow citizens’ fundamental freedoms and universal human rights.


Same-sex marriage lawsuit filed in Florida

Catherina Pareto, Karla Arguello, Florida, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade

Catherina Pareto and Karla Arguello are among six same-sex couples challenging Florida’s gay marriage ban. (Photo courtesy of Erik Olvera/National Center for Lesbian Rights)

Six same-sex couples on Tuesday filed a lawsuit challenging Florida’s gay marriage ban.

Catherina Pareto and Karla Arguello, Dr. Juan Carlos Rodríguez and David Price, Vanessa and Melanie Alenier, Todd and Jeff Delmay, Summer Greene and Pamela Faerber and Don Price Johnston and Jorge Isaias Díaz joined their lawyers and representatives from the National Center for Lesbian Rights and Equality Florida at a press conference in Miami Beach. Each of the couples sought to apply for marriage licenses at the Miami-Dade County Courts’ clerk’s office on Jan. 17.

The Equality Florida Institute is also named in a plaintiff in the lawsuit filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court in Miami.

Harven Ruvin, clerk of the Miami-Dade County Courts, is named as a defendant.

“Florida is our home, it is where we are raising our child, and where we want to get married,” said Pareto, who has been with Arguello for 14 years and with whom she has 15-month-old son in a press release. “Karla and I wish for our family the same things that other families want. We want to build our lives together, provide a safe and caring home for our child, and share in the responsibilities and protections of marriage.”

Florida voters in 2008 approved a state constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

Equality Florida announced shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court last June found a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional that the organization was looking for plaintiffs to challenge the Sunshine State’s gay nuptials ban.

“Governor [Rick] Scott supports traditional marriage,” the governor’s spokesperson, John Tupps, told the Washington Blade. “Florida voters amended the State Constitution in 2008 to define marriage as between a man and a woman.”

Former Gov. Charlie Crist, who is challenging Scott as a Democrat, in 2006 signed a petition in support of the constitutional amendment. The one-time Republican who has faced persistent questions about his sexual orientation late last year said he now regrets his decision.

“I’m proud to support the lawsuit challenging Florida’s ban on marriage equality,” wrote Crist on his Twitter page on Tuesday. “It’s an issue of fairness.”

18 states and D.C. have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 6 blocked any future same-sex marriages from taking place in Utah pending the outcome of an appeal of a federal judge’s December ruling that struck down the state’s gay nuptials ban. A federal judge in Oklahoma last week struck down the Sooner State’s constitutional amendment that defined marriage as between a man and a woman.

Same-sex marriage lawsuits have also been filed in Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Arizona and other states.

“These harmful laws are outdated and out of step,” said Equality Florida CEO Nadine Smith. “It is time for all families in our state to have full equality under the law.”

The Washington Blade will have more details as they become available.


McAuliffe links marriage, LGBT rights to economic development

Terry McAuliffe, Richmond, Virginia, gay news, Washington Blade

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe

RICHMOND, Va.—Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Tuesday said extending marriage and other rights to LGBT Virginians is good for his state’s economy.

“I’ve got to grow and diversify this economy,” McAuliffe told the Washington Blade after he spoke at an Equality Virginia reception at the Library of Virginia. “This is what voters elected me to do, and in order to do that we’ve got to send a message that we’re open and welcoming to everyone.”

McAuliffe spoke to Equality Virginia supporters less than a week after Attorney General Mark Herring announced he would not defend a state constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

Pat Mullins, chair of the Republican Party of Virginia, suggested Herring should resign because he won’t defend the state’s same-sex marriage ban. National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown also said state lawmakers should impeach the attorney general over the issue.

“I’ve been in politics too long, I’m never surprised anymore,” McAuliffe told the Blade when asked whether the way Virginia Republicans and social conservatives have reacted to Herring’s announcement came as a surprise.

A federal judge in Norfolk on Thursday will hold a hearing in a lawsuit that two same-sex couples filed last year against the marriage amendment. The ACLU, Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Virginia last August filed a class action federal lawsuit on behalf of two lesbian couples from the Shenandoah Valley who are seeking marriage rights in the commonwealth.

McAuliffe on Monday told state Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William County) that he will not appoint a special counsel to defend the commonwealth’s same-sex marriage amendment after 30 lawmakers asked him to do so. A Virginia House of Delegates committee on Jan. 24 approved a bill that Marshall and state Del. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah County) introduced that would allow any state lawmaker to defend a law if the governor and attorney general decline to do so.

“Let’s get to work and do what voters want us to do and help them get jobs,” McAuliffe told the Blade, stressing Medicaid expansion and improving the state’s transportation infrastructure remain two of his administration’s top priorities. “Let’s focus on things that proactively get things done in the commonwealth and let’s stop the negative attacks.”

McAuliffe told Equality Virginia supporters before he spoke with the Blade that Democrats last year swept all three statewide offices for the first time in 24 years. His party also regained control of the state Senate after the party won two special elections that filled seats Herring and Lieutenant Gov. Ralph Northam vacated last year after they won statewide office.

“Our ticket as you know was not shy about being out front on the issues that matter to us,” said McAuliffe. “I talked every day about how Virginia needs to be open and welcoming.”

McAuliffe backed marriage rights for same-sex couples last February. He repeatedly said during his campaign against then-Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli that the first executive order he would sign as governor would be a ban on discrimination against LGBT state employees.

McAuliffe said he was “proud” to issue the aforementioned mandate shortly after he took office on Jan. 11.

“Mark and Ralph and I and the state Senate are going to continue to work to make sure that Virginia is opening and welcoming to treat everybody with equal respect,” said McAuliffe. “I need to grow and diversify the economy. We need to do that by making ourselves open and welcoming.”


Olympics open amid outrage over arrest of Russian LGBT activists

Queer Nation, New York City, New York, Russia, Sochi, homophobia, Winter Olympics, gay news, Washington Blade

Members of Queer Nation NY protested outside the Russian consulate in New York City on Feb. 6, 2014. (Photo courtesy of Queer Nation NY)

The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, officially opened on Friday amid outrage over the arrest of more than a dozen Russian LGBT rights advocates earlier in the day.

Police arrested 10 activists near Moscow’s Red Square who held rainbow flags as they sung the Russian national anthem just before the games opened. Authorities have released the advocates, but reports indicate police beat and threatened to sexually assault them while they were in custody.

Anastasia Smirnova is among the four activists whom St. Petersburg police took into custody on Friday as they tried to march across a bridge holding a banner that read “discrimination is incompatible with the Olympic movement. Principle 6. Olympic charter” in reference to a campaign in support of adding sexual orientation to the Olympic charter.

Officials later released Smirnova and the three other advocates, but they face charges of participating in an illegal public assembly. They are scheduled to appear in court on Saturday.

“Tonight’s about solidarity,” said Ty Cobb, director of global engagement for the Human Rights Campaign, as he read an e-mail from Smirnova at HRC’s Northwest Washington offices during an opening ceremony watch party his organization co-hosted with Team D.C., Capitol Pride and Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies and Pride House International that benefitted the Russian LGBT Sports Federation. “Let them know we stand in solidarity with them.”

Gay figure skater Brian Boitano and lesbian ice hockey Olympian Caitlin Cahow are among the members of the U.S. delegation to the Sochi games. Retired tennis champion Billie Jean King earlier this week dropped out because of her mother’s failing health.

“There is no doubt we wanted to make it very clear that we do not abide by discrimination,” President Obama told NBC’s Bob Costas during an interview that aired before the network broadcast the opening ceremonies.

Some of the Olympic athletes themselves appeared to show solidarity with Russian LGBT rights advocates during the opening ceremony.

Those who gathered at HRC to watch the opening ceremony applauded members of the Greek Olympic team who wore gloves with rainbow tips as they marched into Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi. Dutch snowboarder Cheryl Maas, whose wife is Norwegian, wore a helmet and gloves with a rainbow and unicorn on them during the slope style event in which she competed on Thursday.

A song from t.A.t.U, a Russian band whose members once claimed they were lesbians, played as the Russian Olympic team marched into the stadium during the opening ceremony.

Hudson Taylor, founder of Athlete Ally, unfurled a poster in support of adding sexual orientation to Principle 6 during the opening ceremony. Google on Thursday also changed its homepage to show its support of the initiative.

“It is surreal to be here in Sochi in the heart of the games and learn of the arrest of protesters using Principle 6 messaging,” wrote Taylor on his Facebook page after the Olympics officially opened. “It proves with undeniable clarity that these Russian laws contradict everything that the Olympic Movement stands for. We stand in solidarity with them.”

The International Olympic Committee has repeatedly said it has received assurances from the Kremlin that gays and lesbians will not suffer discrimination during the games. Russian President Vladimir Putin told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos last month those who protest his government’s LGBT rights record will not face prosecution under the country’s controversial law that bans gay propaganda to minors.

“We aren’t banning anything, we aren’t rounding up anyone, we have no criminal punishment for such relations unlike many other countries,” said Putin during a Jan. 17 meeting with Olympic volunteers in Sochi. “We have a ban on propaganda of homosexuality and pedophilia, I want to underline that, on propaganda among minors.”

IOC President Thomas Bach said during his speech at the opening ceremony that people should “have the courage to address your disagreements in a peaceful” way and “not on the back of these athletes.”

“Olympic games are always about building bridges about bringing people together,” said Bach before Putin officially opened the games. “Please respect the Olympic message of good will, of tolerance, of excellence, of peace.”

Human Rights Campaign, HRC, Sochi, Russia, gay news, Washington Blade, Winter Olympics

Hundreds attended a opening ceremony watch party at the Human Rights Campaign headquarters in Northwest D.C. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Those who gathered at HRC to watch the opening ceremony said they wanted to show their support for LGBT Russians.

“It shows our love and support towards our Russian friends,” Team D.C. President Les Johnson told the Blade.

Jessica Strother of Northern Virginia had a similar message as she watched the opening ceremony while holding Russian and U.S. flags.

“I’m here with the flag to promote good will,” she told the Blade. “I came down here to support gay rights for Americans and Russians.”

LGBT rights advocates in New York, Philadelphia and nearly 40 other cities around the world held similar events during the opening ceremony.


Once again, marriage equality inches closer to Supreme Court

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

David Boies and Ted Olson are leading the VIrginia lawsuit heading to the U.S. Supreme Court (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key).

Not even a year has passed since the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark decisions against the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8, but a number of cases are already lining up that would enable the high court to make a nationwide ruling in favor of marriage equality.

At least four appellate courts are set to consider the issue this spring amid five district court decisions in favor of marriage equality in Utah, Oklahoma, Ohio, Kentucky and Virginia. Once the appellate courts make their decisions, they will likely be appealed this year to the Supreme Court, which would give justices the opportunity to make a final decision in 2015.

Although the Ohio ruling was limited to death certificates for married gay couples and the Kentucky ruling only provided recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages, each of the rulings handed down since the DOMA decision were in favor of marriage equality. And in each ruling, justices invoked the decision against DOMA as part of their reasoning for determining state constitutional amendments against same-sex marriage violated the Constitution.

U.S. District Judge John Heyburn, an appointee of former President George H.W. Bush, noted last week in his decision that the words of the DOMA decision by U.S. Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy compels him to rule against Kentucky’s marriage laws.

“Ultimately, the focus of the Court’s attention must be upon Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion in Windsor,” Heyburn said. “While Justice Kennedy did not address our specific issue, he did address many others closely related. His reasoning about the legitimacy of laws excluding recognition of same-sex marriages is instructive. For the reasons that follow, the Court concludes that Kentucky’s laws are unconstitutional.”

Ted Olson, the Republican half of the legal duo arguing against Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage, during a conference call Friday noted the consistency with which district courts have struck down anti-gay marriage amendments in the aftermath of the DOMA decision.

“Federal courts are consistently, regularly now, affirming the right of gay and lesbian citizens to be a part of the population of the rest of our citizens with equal rights to the fundamental right of marriage,” Olson said.

The cases against same-sex marriage bans in Utah and Oklahoma are the furthest advanced of all the lawsuits seeking marriage equality. They’re before the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, where oral arguments are scheduled in Utah case for April 10 and the Oklahoma case for April 17. The National Center for Lesbian Rights has joined the law firm of Magleby & Greenwood, P.C., as counsel in the Utah case.

Just behind that lawsuit is the case seeking marriage equality in Nevada filed by Lambda Legal known as Sevcik v. Sandoval. After Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto declared her intent to withdraw her brief in favor of the marriage ban, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals last week acceded to her request and pledged to proceed with the lawsuit on an expedited basis, although no date has been set for oral arguments.

The Ohio case has already been appealed to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is also the destination of the Kentucky lawsuit. These cases are also in their early stages at the appellate level, and schedule hasn’t been determined.

And the court ruling against Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage, the latest to come down from a federal court, will be headed to the U.S. Fourth Circuit of Appeals. Although Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring isn’t defending the ban against same-sex marriage in court, Olson said he sees no standing issue in the case and because county clerks are participating in the lawsuit, the state continues to enforce the law.

But according to Lambda Legal, a total of 52 marriage equality lawsuits are pending in 27 states, and any of the cases at district court level could soon join those at the appellate level.

A judge will likely render a decision soon in the other lawsuit seeking marriage equality in Virginia, which was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal. A judge in Michigan has set a trial for that state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage on Feb. 25, just as a trial has been set in the Pennsylvania case for June 9.

Given the sheer number of cases making their way through the courts, David Boies, the Democratic half of the legal duo in the Virginia lawsuit, said the Supreme Court would have no shortage of cases from which to choose by the time it begins its term in the fall.

“I think they will all get to the Supreme Court at about the same time,” Boies said. “The Supreme Court can decide to take them all and consolidate them, the Supreme Court can take one or more of the cases, but not all of then. I think that is something that will be determined by the Supreme Court, and, to some extent, by the timing of the court of appeals decision.”

It’s technically possible for the Supreme Court to take up this issue this term once those cases are appealed, which would mean a nationwide ruling by June.

Jon Davidson, legal director for Lambda Legal, nonetheless said it “seems extraordinarily unlikely” the litigation would play out in that way.

“Even if an appellate decision in one of these cases were issued by May, a certiorari petition likely would not get filed until the summer, and the Supreme Court wouldn’t act on that until October,” Davidson said. “It does not have to grant cert on the first, or, even any of these cases. Even if it does, there likely wouldn’t be a decision until the spring of 2015.”

One issue to watch as these cases make their way up is whether courts apply heightened scrutiny, or a greater assumption a law is unconstitutional, to their decisions on the marriage bans. Such a determination would designate gay people with a “quasi-suspect classification” and establish precedent making other laws related to sexual orientation less likely to stand up in court.

When it ruled on the DOMA case last year, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals already set a precedent for heightened scrutiny for laws related to sexual orientation, but every state in that jurisdiction — New York, Vermont and Connecticut — already has marriage equality.

More recently, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals applied heightened scrutiny in its decision for Smith Kline v. Abbott Laboratories, which determined that jurors cannot be excluded from a trial because of sexual orientation.

Because of the application of heightened scrutiny in that case, the Nevada attorney general stopped defending her state’s marriage ban. Further, expectations are high that courts in Oregon and Arizona, which lie within that jurisdiction, will strike down bans in those states.

It was speculated the Supreme Court took up the Edith Windsor’s challenge to DOMA as opposed to others because the Second Circuit applied heightened scrutiny on that decision, although the high court never explicitly addressed the issue of heightened scrutiny in its ultimate decision. Eyes will be on the Supreme Court to see if it will take up the Ninth Circuit marriage case among others to resolve the issue of heightened scrutiny in the next go-around with marriage equality.

Doug NeJaime, who’s gay and a law professor at University of California, Irvine, nonetheless said he doesn’t think the Supreme Court has interest in resolving this issue for laws related to sexual orientation.

“The Supreme Court in Windsor didn’t explicitly reach this question, even though the lower court had based its decision on heightened scrutiny,” NeJaime said. “Given that, it doesn’t seem the Court is particularly interested in resolving that question, and I don’t think it will do much to persuade the court to take or not take a case.”

Another question is the extent to which the Obama administration will participate in the pending lawsuits. The Justice Department helped litigate against DOMA as party in the lawsuit and assisted in the lawsuit against Prop 8 as a friend of the court, although in the latter case the administration filed a brief and took part in oral arguments only when the litigation reached the Supreme Court.

A number of LGBT advocates have said they’d welcome participation from the Obama administration in the marriage equality cases without making a full-throated call for assistance. On Friday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney wouldn’t make a prediction on whether the administration will take part and deferred comment to the Justice Department, which hasn’t responded to the Blade’s request to comment.

The opportunity for the Justice Department to file a brief in the Nevada case before the Ninth Circuit has already passed, but another opportunity will come soon. The deadline for filing a friend-of-the-court brief before the Tenth Circuit in the Utah case is March 4.

Erik Olvera, spokesperson for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, echoed the sense of other advocates on the issue, saying a friend-of-the-court brief from the Obama administration would be “welcome” in the Utah case.

“We always welcome the Obama administration to express its views in cases concerning civil rights protected by the U.S. Constitution,” Olvera said.


ACLU, Lambda Legal seek to join Virginia marriage lawsuit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greg Nevins of Lambda Legal echoed Esseks.

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


Carney reiterates support for ENDA

Jay Carney, White House, gay news, Washington Blade

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney had no comment when asked about an ENDA executive order. (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas)

Amid continued calls for administrative action on behalf of LGBT federal workers, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney reiterated President Obama’s support for ENDA but didn’t directly address the proposed executive order barring LGBT workplace discrimination.

Asked by the Washington Blade about the letter lawmakers are circulating on Capitol Hill urging Obama to sign the directive, Carney suggested Congress should focus on passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

“Our view is that Congress ought to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act,” Carney said. “I don’t have any updates for you on possible executive orders, what we’re focused on is on a legislative remedy that would be more comprehensive and has already seen progress in Congress. So, I don’t have a view to express on that particular issue.”

The LGBT Equality Caucus and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) are circulating a missive on Capitol Hill urging Obama to sign the order as part of his proposed “Year of Action” in 2014. A source familiar with the letter said the opportunity to sign onto the letter would close out at the end of Monday.

Here’s the Q&A:

Washington Blade: The LGBT Equality Caucus and Sen. Jeff Merkley are circulating a letter on Capitol Hill calling on President Obama to sign an executive order protecting LGBT workers from discrimination. Does the president want to see supporters of that action like the lawmakers behind this letter to continue encouraging him to sign it?

Jay Carney: Our view is that Congress ought to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. I don’t have any updates for you on possible executive orders, what we’re focused on is on a legislative remedy that would be more comprehensive and has already seen progress in Congress. So, I don’t have a view to express on that particular issue.


BREAKING: Fred Phelps dies

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Fred Phelps, Sr., the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, passed away on Thursday. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The founder of a Kansas church that stages anti-LGBT pickets across the country has died.

Shirley Phelps-Roper, daughter of Fred Phelps, confirmed to the Topeka Capital-Journal that her father passed away earlier on Thursday. The founder of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., had been in a local hospice for several days.

Nathan Phelps, the estranged son of Fred Phelps, wrote on his Facebook page on March 15 that his father was “on the edge of the death.”

Fred Phelps, 84, became the pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church shortly after its founding in 1955.

The small congregation gained national notoriety in 1998 after members picketed the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student who was beaten to death outside Laramie, Wyo.

Westboro Baptist Church members protested gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson’s 2003 consecration.

They picketed outside the U.S. Supreme Court last March as the justices heard oral arguments in cases challenging the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8. Members of the Westboro Baptist Church last July also gathered outside the New Castle County offices in Wilmington, Del., before state Sen. Karen Peterson and her partner, Vikki Bandy, exchanged vows on the first day same-sex couples could legally marry in Delaware.

A Maryland man, Albert Snyder, in 2006 sued Fred Phelps and other Westboro Baptist Church members after they protested the funeral of his son, U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Matthew A. Snyder, who died in a non-combat car accident in Iraq. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2008 cited the right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment in their ruling in favor of the church.

“MCC members do not celebrate the coming death of Fred Phelps,” said Rev. Nancy Wilson, moderator of the Metropolitan Community Churches, on Wednesday before Fred Phelps passed away. “We have lived under the shadow of his hateful messages, and we will not follow in his footsteps. Today, we pray for his soul and for his whole family.”

The Washington Blade will have more information on this story as it becomes available.


Obama admin to recognize Michigan same-sex marriages

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U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has announced the federal government will recognize Michigan same-sex marriages (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

The marriages of same-sex couples who wed in Michigan when marriage equality was briefly allowed in the state will be recognized for federal purposes, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Friday.

“I have determined that the same-sex marriages performed last Saturday in Michigan will be recognized by the federal government,” Holder said. “These families will be eligible for all relevant federal benefits on the same terms as other same-sex marriages.”

More than 300 same-sex couples wed in Michigan on Saturday after U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman struck down the state’s 2004 ban on same-sex marriages. But after Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette appealed the decision and requested a stay, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals indefinitely halted the weddings pending appeal of the lawsuit.

Snyder announced the marriages were legal under state law, but couples will receive no state benefits until the stay is lifted. As they criticized Snyder for withholding the state benefits, Democratic members of Michigan’s federal delegation to Congress called on the Obama administration to deem the marriages valid for the purposes of federal recognition.

In his statement announcing the decision, Holder noted a similar situation in which he deemed same-sex marriages performed in Utah were valid in the eyes of the Obama administration.

“For purposes of federal law, as I announced in January with respect to similarly situated same-sex couples in Utah, these Michigan couples will not be asked to wait for further resolution in the courts before they may seek federal benefits to which they are entitled,” Holder said.

After a federal court struck down Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage, an estimated 1,300 same-sex couples wed in the state before the U.S. Supreme Court halted the weddings with stay pending appeal. Gov. Gary Herbert announced he wouldn’t recognize the weddings, but Holder announced they would be valid at the federal level.

The Human Rights Campaign, which had also called for federal recognition of the Michigan same-sex marriages, praised Holder in an organizational statement.

“Last week 300 committed and loving same-sex couples were legally wed in Michigan,” the statement says. “As such they deserve the recognition and treatment that all other married couples receive. Attorney General Eric Holder has once again demonstrated his steadfast commitment to equality and upholding the core values of the U.S. Constitution by affirming federal recognition of these marriages.”

Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), who organized a letter to Holder seeking federal benefits for married same-sex couples, called the development “welcome news” and turned to Snyder for additional action.

“These legally married and loving couples shouldn’t have to wait any longer for the recognition and benefits they are entitled to under the U.S. Constitution,” Kildee said. “It’s my hope that Governor Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette will also drop their appeals in this matter and recognize the inherent rights of these Michiganders to love and marry one another.”

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision against the Defense of Marriage Act, Holder said the Justice Department continues to work to ensure same-sex marriages are recognized under federal law.

“Last June’s decision by the Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor was a victory for equal protection under the law and a historic step toward equality for all American families,” Holder said. “The Department of Justice continues to work with its federal partners to implement this decision across the government. And we will remain steadfast in our commitment to realizing our country’s founding ideals of equality, opportunity, and justice for all.”

Holder’s full statement follows:

WASHINGTON—Attorney General Eric Holder issued the following statement today on the status of same-sex marriages performed in the state of Michigan:
“I have determined that the same-sex marriages performed last Saturday in Michigan will be recognized by the federal government.  These families will be eligible for all relevant federal benefits on the same terms as other same-sex marriages. The Governor of Michigan has made clear that the marriages that took place on Saturday were lawful and valid when entered into, although Michigan will not extend state rights and benefits tied to these marriages pending further legal proceedings.  For purposes of federal law, as I announced in January with respect to similarly situated same-sex couples in Utah, these Michigan couples will not be asked to wait for further resolution in the courts before they may seek federal benefits to which they are entitled.
“Last June’s decision by the Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor was a victory for equal protection under the law and a historic step toward equality for all American families.  The Department of Justice continues to work with its federal partners to implement this decision across the government.  And we will remain steadfast in our commitment to realizing our country’s founding ideals of equality, opportunity, and justice for all.”