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Supreme Court won’t hear anti-gay photographer case

Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade

The U.S. Supreme Court won’t hear the case of New Mexico photographer who refused to shoot a same-sex wedding ceremony (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

The U.S. Supreme Court announced on Monday it won’t take up a case in which a New Mexico photography business alleges its rights were violated when it landed in hot water for refusing to shoot a same-sex wedding ceremony.

In orders published Monday morning, the court listed the case, Elane Photography v. Willock, without comment as among the cases it won’t consider.

The case was brought to the Supreme Court by Elane Photography, which was found to have violated New Mexico’s anti-discrimination law for refusing to take a photo for the same-sex wedding ceremony for Vanessa Willock and Misti Collinsworth in 2006. (The wedding was only ceremonial because the incident took place before the state legalized same-sex marriage.)

Elane Photography filed lawsuit in state court, alleging that its refusal to photograph a same-sex wedding is protected on religious grounds. However, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled against the claims, saying the businesses service can be regulated because it’s a public accommodation. Following that decision, Elane Photography asked the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the lawsuit based on First Amendment protections under the U.S. Constitution.

The court was scheduled to consider whether to take up the case during its March 21 and March 28 conference. To grant a writ certiorari, or a take up a case, at least four of the nine justices on the court must agree to consider lawsuit. It’s unknown what the vote was on denying certiorari in this case.

Had the court taken up the case, justices could have found a constitutional right across the country for individuals to discriminate against LGBT people or refuse services for same-sex weddings ceremonies on the basis of religion.

Anti-gay groups had pointed to the incident as a reason to enact laws in various states to allow individuals and business to refuse services to gay people without fear of reprisal, such as the controversial “turn away the gay” bill recently vetoed by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and signed into law by Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant. Other bills along those lines are pending in numerous states — Kansas, Mississippi and Georgia — but have seen resistance going forward.


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As 2013 ends, remember to give back

champagne, 2013, gay news, Washington Blade

As 2013 comes to a close there is optimism in the air. Our troops are coming home; the economy is improving even if not quickly enough; and even Brian Boitano, the figure skater, and the British diver Tom Daley finally came out. (Photo by Bigstock)

Having the years seem to go by faster and faster is a sign of age I am told. December whizzed by with lots of food and drink in D.C. and a few great days seeing good friends in New York. Soon the crystal ball will drop in Times Square signaling it’s 2014 and I will be a year older, maybe not wiser, but older nonetheless.

My contemporaries who connect over the holidays naturally ask, “How are you feeling?” That usually leads to a lengthy diatribe about various aches and pains and ends with, “But isn’t it great we’re still alive?” After those conversations I’m thankful for my younger friends who haven’t yet reached the stage in their life where that discussion is the norm.

This has been a good year for me and thankfully for so many of my friends. But the holiday spirit means taking a moment to think of those less fortunate. While the economy is better, too many people are still unemployed or stuck in menial and underpaying jobs. We should celebrate that in 18 states and D.C., with the recent additions of New Mexico and Utah, same-sex couples can marry. Yet, at the same time we are making great progress in gaining LGBT rights, in Russia, India and Australia things are moving backwards. We should celebrate nearing the end of the war in Afghanistan and that young men and women who have been in harm’s way will be coming home. This year saw a real chance to end the Syrian war and stop the bloodshed and even possible openings in our relationship with Iran. But clearly vigilance will be required in both countries if we are to be successful.

This year the world lost a true hero when Nelson Mandela died. But his memorial service provided the opportunity that President Obama took to shake hands with Cuban President Raoul Castro, which could lead to a thaw in relations with Cuba. This year we learned some disturbing things about the NSA from Edward Snowden, who released information on the extent of our government’s spying operations. But while I am glad that is now in the open I think Snowden should be prosecuted to the fullest extent the law allows as a traitor for how he did what he did.

Pope Francis was named Time magazine’s man of the year for taking a much more rational position on what the church should focus on and yet Catholic schools continue to fire LGBT teachers. The Advocate also named him man of the year and to me that was like giving President Obama his Nobel Peace Prize in the hope he would do something to deserve it. Clearly Edie Windsor would have been a better choice for their person of the year.

We reached the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination and were reminded that it was 53 years ago that we elected the first Catholic president. It took us another 47 to elect the first African American and many hope it will take a lot less until we inaugurate our first woman president.

As we look toward celebrating the New Year it is also the time to think about all those charities that do good work here at home and around the world. Time to look at the bank account and determine how much you can donate to the causes or groups that need money to continue their work. Remember you still have a few days to make donations and deduct them on your 2013 taxes so the government is actually contributing a percentage of what you give.

I always start by writing checks (yes, I still write checks) to Whitman-Walker Health, MetroTeen AIDS, SMYAL, US Helping US, UNICEF, and the Southern Poverty Law Center among others. I think of my parents who escaped the Nazis and my father’s parents who I never met because they died in Auschwitz as I write my check to the Holocaust Museum. I remember my mom as I write that check to hospice, which took such good care of her when she was dying.

We all have our favorite charities that mean something to us or our loved ones. What’s important is that we give generously to those causes in which we believe. It helps to remember that they depend on us as much as they depend on our neighbors.

As 2013 comes to a close there is optimism in the air. Our troops are coming home; the economy is improving even if not quickly enough; and even Brian Boitano, the figure skater, and the British diver Tom Daley finally came out. May you all have sweet dreams into the New Year and dream about kissing that someone you love or want to love under a bough of mistletoe.


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N.M. marriage heats up as clerks seek guidance from high court

Santa Fe, New Mexico, gay news, Washington Blade

Santa Fe County is among those in New Mexico giving marriage licenses to gay couples (Photo by Karol M. via Wikimedia Commons).

The debate over same-sex nuptials continues to heat up in New Mexico as a total of eight counties have positioned themselves to give marriage license to gay couples and officials on both sides have filed lawsuits seeking a resolution to the issue.

On Thursday, all 33 New Mexico county clerks filed a petition with the State Supreme Court asking justices for clarification on whether granting marriage licenses to gay couples is warranted under the state constitution.

“Intervenor Clerks as a group cannot issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples with confidence of the legality of their actions without an opinion from this Court as to the responsibility and obligation of the County Clerk and legal validity of the marriage licenses being issued, including direction or authority to change the statutory forms,” the petition states.

The Supreme Court had previously decided in response to a petition filed by the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union that it wouldn’t immediately hear the issue of same-sex marriage, but wanted to lower courts to decide the issue on a expedited basis for a final judgment.

Pat Davis, who’s gay and executive director of ProgressNow New Mexico, told the Washington Blade the organization welcomes the move from county clerks.

“We’ve said all along that that’s the end goal of all, or the gold-standard answer that settles this once and for all,” Davis said. “So, we applaud it. We know the clerks have been looking for this as early as 2004 when the Sandoval County Clerk originally issued marriage licenses on their own, way back when. So from our perspective, it’s long overdue.”

Clerks say resolution from the New Mexico Supreme Court is needed in the wake of a decision from District Judge Alan Mallot that the state constitution requires clerks in in Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties to give marriage licenses to gay couples.

They note Mallot’s reading of the state constitution differs from two attorneys general who say same-sex marriage is unavailable under current law. They also question Mallot’s reading of how state constitution prohibits discrimination against gay couples when it explicitly prohibits discrimination based on sex, but not sexual orientation.

Davis said ideally he’d like to see the court accept the petition “very soon” to give clerks assurances on how to act.

“We’ve seen our Supreme Court act in as little as a week, and while that’s not likely in this case, it would not be surprising to a lot of us if this were settled before the end of September,” Davis said.

Meanwhile, the number of clerks in New Mexico that have decided to give out marriage licenses to gay couples — either under their own volition or under court order — continues to grow.

District Judge Sheri Raphaelson this week ordered Los Alamos County to give marriage licenses to gay couples, making it the eighth county in New Mexico where same-sex marriage is available. According to an analysis from AMERICAblog’s John Aravosis, the decision means 58.5 percent of New Mexico’s population has marriage equality.

Davis said the number of counties issuing marriage licenses to gay couples demonstrates that marriage equality is coming to the entire state at high speed.

“So, at this point, more than half of the residents of the State of New Mexico has access to the freedom to marry,” Davis said. “The ones that remain are in places where some of the clerks have indicated they would if their district court said they could. Ultimately, they all say they will if the Supreme Court does it.”

Still, Republicans have finally gone through with their announced plans to file lawsuits in New Mexico to stop same-sex marriages from happening. They’ve filed lawsuits in Dona Ana, San Miguel and Valencia counties — the three counties that are issuing marriage licenses to gay couples on their own accord as opposed to a court order.

In the petition filed in Dona Ana County, Republicans, including anti-gay State Sen. Willam Sharer, argue that the clerk should stop issuing marriage licenses because the county is operating outside state law.

“The Legislature is explicit in its prescription of the method of issuing marriage licenses; applicants must fill our an application that is substantially identical as the uniform marriage license application form, which requires both a male and female applicant,” the petition states. “Respondent has not been granted authority to issue marriage licenses in any manner that doesn’t correspond to those instructions.”

Davis said Republicans’ decision to file the petitions only in counties giving marriage licenses to same-sex couples without court order may, in fact, affirm the actions of these county clerks.

“We think it’s going to be pretty ironic, actually, that the Republican challenge may actually work to expand the legal protection for marriage equality across the state,” Davis said. “We haven’t found a single person yet who’s following this case and has any sense in constitutional law in New Mexico that thinks they’re going to prevail.”


N.M. high court sets Oct. 23 for marriage equality arguments

National LGBT Bar Association, Gay News, Washington Blade

The New Mexico Supreme Court has set Oct. 23 for oral arguments in a marriage equality case.

The New Mexico Supreme Court has set Oct. 23 for oral arguments to hear a case seeking a final judgment on marriage equality in the Land of Enchantment.

In the three-page order, the court sets arguments for Oct. 23 in addition to inviting the six plaintiffs couples in the lawsuit filed by the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union to take part in the case. They must file a response by Sept. 23.

Peter Simonson, executive director of the ACLU New Mexico, said in a statement he hopes the hearing will “lead to a speedy decision” resulting in marriage equality for the entire state.

“Now is the time for New Mexico to treat same-sex couples with the same dignity and respect as all other couples and fully respect their lifelong commitments to each other and their families,” Simonson said.

Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, told the Washington Blade his organization welcomes the hearing, but when a final decision will be handed down is unknown.

“We don’t know when the court will rule, but clearly they recognize the importance of the issue and have set an expedited briefing and argument schedule,” Minter said. “They could issue a decision anytime after the argument.”

On Thursday, all 33 New Mexico county clerks joined together in filing a petition asking the New Mexico Supreme Court for a final judgment on marriage equality in the state after eight county clerks — some under court order, some under their own volition — started giving marriage licenses to same-sex couples.


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