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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.

07
Apr
2014

New Mexico high court rules for marriage equality

New Mexico Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade, gay news

The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled in favor marriage equality. (Photo public domain)

Capping off a year of historic victories, the New Mexico high court handed down a unanimous ruling on Thursday granting same-sex couples the ability to wed in the state.

The 5-0 decision is written by Justice Edward Chavez, who concludes the current statutory scheme of the marriage law violates the Equal Protection Clause under Article II, Section 18, of the state constitution.

“We hold that the State of New Mexico is constitutionally required to allow same-gender couples to marry and must extend to them the rights, protections, and responsibilities that derive from civil marriage under New Mexico law,” the ruling states.

The ruling, which takes effect immediately, makes New Mexico the 17th state with marriage equality on the books. It also retroactively affirms the same-sex marriages for couples who already wed after obtaining marriage licenses from county clerks in the state.

The parties in the lawsuit, Griego v. Oliver, were six same-sex couples as well as all 33 of the state’s county clerks, who sought clarification on whether the state law enabled them to deliver marriage licenses to gay couples. Representing the same-sex couples were the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, the national ACLU, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the law firm of Sutin, Thayer & Browne APC as well as New Mexico attorneys Maureen Sanders, N. Lynn Perls and J. Kate Girard.

Laura Schauer Ives, legal director for ACLU-New Mexico, said the decision represents a “historic and joyful day for New Mexico.”

“As a state, we have always strived to treat all families with dignity and respect, and today’s decision allowing loving, committed same sex couples to marry continues that tradition,” Schauer Ives said. ”The more than 1,000 same-sex couples who have already married in New Mexico can now rest certain knowing their marriages will be recognized and respected by our state.”

Camilla Taylor, National Marriage Project Director for Lambda Legal, commended her colleagues in the LGBT advocacy community for leading the way to a favorable decision on marriage equality in New Mexico.

“This beautiful unanimous decision explicitly underscores the argument we and our sister organizations have long made: denying same-sex couples the ability to marry imposes significant emotional and dignitary harm and is discrimination, pure and simple,” Taylor said.

New Mexico Gov. Suzanne Martinez, who opposes same-sex marriage but didn’t actively defend the marriage law, said in a statement she’ll abide by decision, but wish it were settled differently.

“My personal views on this issue are well-known, and I’m confident that most New Mexicans believe, like I do, that it should have been settled by a vote of the people,” Martinez said. “Instead, the Supreme Court stepped in and rendered their decision. While there will surely be intense debate about this decision moving forward, I encourage New Mexicans to continue to respect one another in their discourse, as this is an important issue for many New Mexicans on both sides.”

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said immediate after the ruling he had no “official reaction,” but offered some thoughts.

“I would say that we welcome that ruling, and this is another example of the extraordinary progress that’s been made when it comes to equal rights for LGBT Americans in this country,” Carney said.

Justices make use of the June decision from the U.S. Supreme Court against Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, noting the decision leaves marriage equality as the only option for same-sex couples to receive the federal benefits and for the state to avoid a federal challenge to its state law.

“Interpreting our statutes to authorize committed same-gender couples to enter into civil marriage will grant them the rights and privileges available to opposite-gender married couples in approximately one thousand statutes and federal regulations that refer to a person’s marital status, thereby avoiding a constitutional challenge on that basis,” the decision states.

The decision is the culmination of a drawn-out process over the course of 2013. It started in March with Santa Fe Mayor David Coss introducing a resolution, later approved the city council, saying marriage equality was already legal in New Mexico because of the gender-neutral construction of some portions of state law. That’s the conclusion Judge Alan Malott reached in a decision earlier this year extending marriage equality to Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties.

Notably, the court rejects in its decision the notion that marriage is already legal under the current state statutory scheme, observing that the legislature has passed laws, such as one changing the marriage application forms in 1961, defining marriage in opposite-sex terms.

“Thus, we conclude that a mix of gender-neutral and gender-specific terminology in the domestic relations statutes does not mean that the Legislature intended to authorize marriage between same-gender couples,” the decision states. “On the contrary, we conclude that the statutory scheme reflects a legislative intent to prohibit same-gender marriages.”

LGBT groups followed up with the Santa Fe resolution by filing a lawsuit on behalf of same-sex couples seeking to wed in New Mexico. Attorney General Gary King issued an opinion saying he wouldn’t defend the marriage law against a legal challenge in court on the basis that the law was unconstitutional.

Prior to the ruling from the New Mexico Supreme Court, a total of eight county clerks were already distributing marriage licenses to same-sex couples either through court order as a result of the litigation or on their own volition based on their interpretation of state law. An estimated 58.5 percent of New Mexico’s population had access to marriage equality prior to the Supreme Court ruling.

Attorney General King and plaintiffs in the case were pushing the idea that gays and lesbians are a suspect class and laws related to sexual orientation should be subject to heightened scrutiny — a idea with which New Mexico Supreme Court concurs because of the history of persecution faced by the LGBT community.

“Therefore, we conclude that intermediate scrutiny must be applied in this case because the LGBT community is a discrete group that has been subjected to a history of purposeful discrimination, and it has not had sufficient political strength to protect itself from such discrimination,” the ruling states.

It’s possible the opponents of the decision could place a state constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2014 that would rescind the decision, but only by legislative referral, not by initiative petition. It’s unclear at this time what the legislature will do. Democrats hold strong majorities in both chambers of the New Mexico legislature.

Brian Brown, president of the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage, promised in a statement to pursue action to protect people in New Mexico who don’t support same-sex marriage.

“Once again, activists judges have thrown out the historic legal understanding of marriage in New Mexico,” Brown said. “This is a continuation of a very dangerous rush towards silencing people of faith who simply believe marriage to be the union of one man and one woman. The National Organization for Marriage will do everything in its power to protect believers of true marriage in New Mexico and around the nation from the fallout of radical judges who deny the truth of marriage.”

Marc Solomon, national campaign director of Freedom to Marry, said his organization is prepared to fight to make sure the New Mexico decision stays in place.

“We have a campaign that we played a lead role in setting up and are on the board of, New Mexico Unites for Marriage, to protect the decision and defeat any efforts to amend the constitution,” Solomon said. “We’ve hired a campaign manager and there’s a field and media team on the ground, lobbyists, and more. It’s cochaired by former Republican Gov. Gary Johnson and Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham.”

19
Dec
2013

New Mexico county issues gay marriage licenses in spite of statewide ban

Doña Ana County Clerk decides NM gay and lesbian couples have waited long enough for marriage equality.

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22
Aug
2013

Breaking: New Mexico becomes 17th gay marriage state

In a unanimous decision, New Mexico's State Supreme Court rules for gay marriage.

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19
Dec
2013

New Mexico gay marriage: State Judge rules for marriage; GOP being evil

The dam is cracking in New Mexico for marriage equality, and of course the GOP is trying to stop it.

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23
Aug
2013

In-depth look at how New Mexico won gay marriage

A detailed analysis of yesterday's blockbuster New Mexico Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage.

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20
Dec
2013

Court legalizes gay marriage in largest NM county – 3 more follow suit

A New Mexico District Court just ordered that gays be permitted to wed in the state's largest county.

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26
Aug
2013

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.

23
Dec
2013

New Mexico gay marriage legal since…2004?

New Mexico Attorney General Gary King says the Sandoval county gay marriages from 2004 are still valid.

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29
Aug
2013

GOP state senator tries to de-gay Aristotle, Alexander the Great

"Alexander may have engaged in homosexual activity, but he married a woman."

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04
Sep
2013