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Rubio wins battle against gay black judicial nominee

Marco Rubio, Florida, Republican Party, United States Senate, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) won his battle against a gay black judicial nominee. (Washington Blade file photo by Lee Whitman)

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has won his battle against the White House over the confirmation of a gay black judicial nominee to the federal bench.

At the start of the year, the White House submitted to the Senate a list of more than 200 nominations previously named by Obama. But, as first reported by The Huffington Post, William Thomas, whom Obama named for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, isn’t among the nominees.

A White House official confirmed for the Washington Blade that Thomas wasn’t resubmitted.

“The nomination of Judge William Thomas was returned by the Senate and Sen. Rubio has made his objection clear, so the president chose not to renominate him,” the official said.

Had Thomas been confirmed by the Senate, he would have been the first openly gay black male to sit on the federal bench. (Deborah Batts, confirmed to the federal bench in 1994 and the first-ever out person to sit on the federal judiciary, is also black.)

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, was among those expressing disappointment that the Thomas nomination didn’t succeed.

“We supported the Thomas nomination,” Sainz said. “We are disappointed that Judge Thomas was not re-nominated but we know that Sen. Rubio’s opposition to Thomas is unwavering and that the senator would not have let this exceptionally qualified judge move forward.”

Over the course of more than a year since Obama first nominated Thomas in November 2012, the nomination has been blocked. Rubio refused to hand in the “blue slip” to the Senate Judiciary Committee to allow the nomination to go forward, even though the Florida senator initially recommended Thomas and the nominee received a rating of “well-qualified” from the American Bar Association.

Faced with accusations that he was holding up Thomas because of his race and sexual orientation, Rubio pointed to the way Thomas as a state judge in the Miami-Dade Circuit handled two cases as reasons for holding up the nomination. The objection in one case was for being too lenient; the objection in the other was for being too harsh.

One was the case of Michael Traverso, who killed a cyclist in a hit-and-run accident while driving on a suspended license. Rubio’s office cites concerns that Thomas sentenced Traverso to the minimum sentence of 22.8 months in jail, less time served, amounting to only 364 days.

The other involves Joel Lebron, who took part in the 2002 gang rape and murder of 18-year-old Ana Maria Angel. According to Rubio’s office, Thomas twice suppressed confessions of perpetrators of the crime including the confession of Lebron, who pulled the trigger.

The reasons that Rubio’s office offered for blocking the nomination are in dispute. Attorneys involved in the cases wrote letters to Rubio last year, saying Thomas acted responsibly.

A Senate staffer confirmed for the Blade this week that Rubio had never returned his “blue slip” to allow the Thomas nomination to move forward.

LGBT advocates who had been pushing the Thomas expressed disappointment over the missed opportunity of confirming the first openly gay black male to the federal bench.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, said the fallout was troublesome because more diversity is needed on the federal bench.

“We need more diversity in the federal judiciary, not less and it’s disappointing that Judge William Thomas was not included among the nominees the White House submitted to the Senate this week,” Carey said. “Sen. Marco Rubio’s procedural maneuvering to stop this nominee was unacceptable and harmful given that the vacancy on the Southern District Court of Florida has been classified as a judicial emergency.”

Denis Dison, a spokesperson for the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, also expressed disappointment that the Thomas nomination didn’t succeed. The Presidential Appointment Project, a Victory Fund-led initiative, recommended Thomas to the White House.

“It’s hard to see how Sen. Rubio’s bizarre behavior with regard to this nomination is anything but politically motivated, and that’s a shame,” Dison said. “Judge Thomas is highly qualified and his nomination enjoyed broad support. The fact that he is openly gay should have no bearing on the Senate confirmation process.”

But Thomas wasn’t the only pending LGBT judicial nominee before the Senate. One other remains: Judith Levy, a lesbian whom Obama nominated in July for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. Her nomination is still before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Brooke Sammon, a Rubio spokesperson, pointed to a previous statement she issued on Thomas when asked if the Florida senator was satisfied his nomination didn’t succeed.

“The nomination of Judge Thomas has also been thoroughly reviewed, and Sen. Rubio has determined that Thomas’s record on the state court raises serious concerns about his fitness for a lifetime federal appointment,” Sammon said. “Those concerns include questions about his judicial temperament and his willingness to impose appropriate criminal sentences, particularly in the two high-profile cases of Michael Traverso and Joel Lebron last year. After reviewing Thomas’s record, Sen. Rubio cannot support moving forward with the nomination.”


Wisconsin latest state to face marriage lawsuit

Charvonne Kemp, Marie Carlson, American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU, gay news, Washington Blade, Wisconsin, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality

Charvonne Kemp (left) and Marie Carlson filed a lawsuit in Wisconsin seeking marriage rights. (Photo courtesy of the American Civil Liberties Union)

Same-sex couples in Wisconsin joined others throughout the country on Monday in filing a lawsuit seeking same-sex marriage, but efforts there are unique because of the penalties for marrying in another jurisdiction.

The litigation seeks not only to overturn the state’s 2006 constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage, but also to enjoin state official from enforcing a “marriage evasion law” prohibiting couples — gay and straight — from going elsewhere to marry if the marriage would be prohibited in the state.

The penalties of violating the marriage evasion law in Wisconsin, which is the only state to have such a statute, include up to $10,000 in fines and nine months in prison.

For Marie Carlson, one-half of one of the couples participating in the lawsuit, the marriage evasion law is of concern as she seeks recognition of her relationship with Charvonne Kemp.

“It’s illegal in the state Wisconsin to go another state and get married if you live here,” Carlson said. “I know that it’s not really all that enforced; it’s still something that hangs over your head.”

The marriage evasion law is particularly problematic for same-sex couples in Wisconsin because the Obama administration in most cases has elected to recognize same-sex marriages even if the state doesn’t recognize them — provided these couples are able to marry in a jurisdiction that allows it.

John Knight, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT project, called the marriage evasion law a “Catch-22″ for same-sex couples living in Wisconsin who want to marry.

“Wisconsin is unique in that sense, and so we think that argument particularly exemplifies the harm or the animus toward same-sex couples in some parts of the country,” Knight said.

But for Kemp, it’s not the fear of prosecution for marrying elsewhere that compels her to seek the right marry in Wisconsin, but the ability to wed in the state where she’s lived with her partner for seven years and raised two sons.

“We’re completely in love, and we’d like to be married in the state that we live in,” Kemp said. “We do have options where we could obviously leave the state and go to other states and get married, but we want to be legally recognized where we live.”

The lawsuit, Wolf and Schumacher v. Walker, was filed by the ACLU, the ACLU of Wisconsin and Mayer Brown LLP and is pending before the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin.

Like other lawsuits filed throughout the country, the 29-page complaint filed by the groups in Wisconsin alleges the state’s ban on same-sex marriage violates equal protection and due process under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“Although Wisconsin and this country have taken some steps to reduce discrimination against lesbians and gays, Wisconsin’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples is a striking and continuing vestige of the long history of discrimination toward lesbians and gay men,” the complaint says.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of four same-sex couples seeking to marry in Wisconsin. Along with Kemp and Carlson, who reside in Milwaukee, they are: Virginia Wolf and Carol Schumacher, who reside in Eau Claire, Wis.; Roy Badger and Garth Wangemann, who live in Milwaukee; and Judith “Judi” Trampf and Katharina “Katy” Heyning, who live in Madison.

Although Wisconsin offers same-sex couples the ability to join in a domestic partnership, enacted in the state in 2009, they don’t offer same the legal rights as marriages.

Carlson said the union isn’t enough because that union provides little assistance beyond certain health insurance benefits — and that’s only if the insurance company recognizes the partnership.

“It also goes along with the fact that last like year, Charvonne’s mother passed away, and we all had to go to New Jersey for a week,” Carlson said. “I had to use vacation time because…the company I work for didn’t recognize she was legally my partner, so I didn’t get bereavement to be able to go. So, I had to use a week of my vacation.”

The office of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on the lawsuit.

Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, however, pledged in a statement to the Blade that he would the defend the marriage amendment.

“This constitutional amendment was approved by a large majority of Wisconsin residents,” Van Hollen said. “I believe the amendment is constitutional, and I will vigorously defend it.”

The Wisconsin litigation is among 40 pending lawsuits in 22 states throughout the country seeking marriage rights for gay couples.

Amid expectations that one will soon reach the U.S. Supreme Court for a final ruling on marriage equality, Knight said it’s possible, but he wouldn’t bet on it.

“It’s one of the possibilities it might go to the Supreme Court, but the chance of that in light of all the other cases out there is probably fairly small,” Knight said. “But it could be.”

Nonetheless, if Walker continues to fight the lawsuit and a high court ruling doesn’t happen before the case is resolved, Kemp said she’s willing to take her case to the Supreme Court to fight for marriage rights across the country if necessary.

“I’m willing to go to the Supreme Court to fight for the right for everyone to be able to get married if that’s what they choose to do,” Kemp said. “It’s about marriage equality for all, not marriage equality for some, or for just us.”

For Kemp, the ability to marry in Wisconsin is not just about the legal rights that marriage would afford, but the dignity of having the access to the same union as other couples.

“However, I want to be married just like everyone else. I want it to be legal, not just for if one of us should get sick and having rights where we’re in the hospital with the other one, but also taxes, all the things that come with marriage, good and bad,” Kemp said.


Carney: Brewer ‘did the right thing’ by vetoing anti-gay bill

Jay Carney, White House, gay news, Washington Blade

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer “did the right thing” by vetoing an anti-gay bill (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas).

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Friday Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer “did the right thing” by vetoing a controversial bill that would have enabled discrimination in her state against LGBT people.

In response to question from Sirius XM Radio’s Jared Rizzi, Carney articulated Obama’s support for Brewer’s veto of SB 1062, which would have enabled individuals and businesses to refuse services to individuals — including LGBT people — if engaging in that act violated a person’s religious beliefs.

“As I have noted, we don’t weigh in as a rule on every piece of legislation, but the president does believe that Gov. Brewer did the right thing by vetoing this bill,” Carney said.

Prior to the veto, Carney said the legislation sounds “pretty intolerant,” but didn’t offer full-throated opposition to the measure as no LGBT advocates called on Obama to weigh in. However, following a national outcry, including opposition from business leaders, Republican lawmakers and LGBT advocates, Brewer vetoed the legislation on Wednesday.

Carney’s words mark the first time the White House itself has spoken out on the Arizona bill in the aftermath’s of Brewer’s veto, although Labor Secretary Thomas Perez talked about it Thursday during an interview on MSNBC, saying the legislature’s approval of the measure was “personally baffling” as he renewed the administration’s call for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

But as the Daily Beast’s Scott Bixby notes, anti-LGBT discrimination is still allowed in Arizona even in the aftermath of Brewer’s veto. Arizona state law affords no protection to LGBT people either in public accommodations or employment, and no federal protections exist explicitly barring employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Under questioning from the Washington Blade, Carney said he had no updates when asked if President Obama sees an opportunity to sign a heavily sought-after executive order barring anti-LGBT job bias among federal contractors following the outcry over LGBT discrimination that lead to the Arizona veto.

“I don’t have any update on that matter,” Carney said. “We, of course, hope very much that further action will be taken in Congress on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill that if it became law would be far more comprehensive in its effect. But, as a general matter — and I said this about the Arizona bill last week — the president believes that all Americans regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity should be treated fairly and equally with dignity and respect.”

Still, Carney went on to acknowledge that the national outcry over the proposed legislation was significant and said Brewer’s veto was symbolic of the country’s progress on LGBT issues.

“And it was gratifying to see Americans from all walks of life, including business leaders, faith leaders, regardless of party, speak out against this measure — and it’s further evidence that the American people fundamentally believe in equality, and it’s time to get on the right side of history,” Carney said. “And as I mentioned before, I think we all note with pride and amazement the progress that this country has made on these issues in recent years, and I think this veto reflects on that progress, and on the sentiment of the American progress.”

When the Blade pointed that an executive order would be a much quicker way to capitalize on the symbolic nature of the veto because the legislative process in Congress would take longer, Carney once again turned to ENDA.

“Again, I don’t have new information to provide to you on a hypothetical executive order,” Carney said. “When I can tell you is we do support legislation that would enshrine in law the non-discrimination approach the president believes is the right approach for the country.”


Trend watch: gay Republicans for Congress

Dan Innis, Republican Party, New Hampshire, United States House of Representatives, gay news, Washington Blade

Dan Innis is running for Congress in New Hampshire (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key).

Dan Innis is part of a new phenomenon for 2014 — the openly gay Republican candidate for Congress.

The New Hampshire Republican is one of three openly gay Republicans running in the congressional mid-terms along with Richard Tisei in Massachusetts and Carl DeMaio in San Diego.

The significance of the triumvirate of gay GOPers running for Congress at the same time isn’t lost on Innis, who spoke with the Washington Blade during a trip to D.C. last week between meetings on K Street.

“I think it’s an indicator of how far we have moved as a nation because 10 years ago, this wouldn’t be happening,” Innis said. “And we have really come a long way, and I think we will continue to move along this path. To me, it’s a real statement about our continued push for full equality.”

But it’s the Republican aspect of Innis’ candidacy that’s at the forefront of his mind as he seeks to oust incumbent Democrat Rep. Carol Shea-Porter from her seat representing New Hampshire’s 1st congressional district.

During his tenure since 2007 as dean of the College of Business and Economics at the University of New Hampshire, Innis said the young people with whom he works don’t see the world in the same way as he did when he was younger.

“I’ve been working with young people for 23 years in higher education,” Innis said. “I have three kids of my own, 13, 20 and 22. And the way that they see the world today is different from the way that I saw it. They don’t feel the same level of freedom, they don’t feel the same opportunities, they don’t feel that their future is as bright as I felt mine was.”

For Innis, the downward shift has its roots in Washington, and it’s time for New Hampshire to send representatives to Congress “who are not career politicians, who can help to turn things back around, and bring back that sense of optimism about the future.”

Innis earlier this month won an endorsement from the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which has also endorsed Tisei in his bids for Congress. The Victory Fund has yet to endorse DeMaio.

“Dan Innis is a sensible and visionary leader, two qualities New Hampshire constituents deserve in a representative,” said Torey Carter, chief operating officer at the Victory Fund. “His unique combination of corporate and academic backgrounds has allowed him to address issues that affect others with careful consideration.”

Innis said he hasn’t sought an endorsement from the Human Rights Campaign. The Log Cabin Republicans are prohibited from making endorsements in the primary.

Even with the Victory Fund endorsement, the New Hampshire Republican said he doesn’t see LGBT issues as a priority for him if elected as much as the advancement of equality in general.

“I think, for me, it’s about equality for all, and those are the issues that I’ll always champion, so any issue that relates to equality — whether it’s related to gender, race, sexual orientation — those are values that I think all Americans hold, and those are things that I would always fight for,” Innis said. “It’s a broad-based equality mission for me.”

But among the pieces of legislation at the top of his list is the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill that has languished in Congress for years that would prohibit bias against LGBT people in the workforce.

“It’s time that that come up for a vote, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t,” Innis said. “We’ve seen support for that on the Senate side, New Hampshire senators both supported it, Republican and Democrat, and I’m proud of that. And I believe the House will do the right thing.”

The legislation passed in the Senate late last year on a bipartisan vote of 64-32, but House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said he opposes it and it hasn’t yet come up for a vote in the Republican-controlled chamber.

Even though his vote first in Congress would be for Republican leadership, Innis said he sees the ability for LGBT legislation to advance under a GOP-controlled House because he’d bring a different voice to the caucus.

“When they’re not there with you, you don’t see it the same way,” Innis said. “The minute I’m sitting down next to John Boehner or somebody else, I’m there, and that bill affects me, and that affects how they perceive that bill, and I think it will really change the way the Republican Party will move forward.”

Innis isn’t alone in his bid for the Republican nomination. Also running is Frank Guinta, a former member of the U.S. House who defeated Shea-Porter in 2010, but lost to her in the 2012 election. The primary is Sept. 9.

A recent WMUR Granite State Poll showed Guinta ahead of Shea-Porter, but Innis behind her. He attributed that discrepancy to name recognition, saying that would change as the campaign gets underway and Super PACs come to his aid.

Although significant gains for LGBT equality have been made under the Obama administration, Innis insisted credit for progress should be given to all who contributed.

“You know, we’ve seen previous presidents, the one before Obama, put an awful lot of money into AIDS research,” Innis said, “And I think that deserves credit. George W. Bush was phenomenal on that. He deserves credit. Any leader who’s taken a stand on these issues deserves credit regardless of party. To me, this is not a partisan issue; this is a human issue.”

Despite his support for LGBT rights, Innis stopped short of endorsing the idea of an executive order barring LGBT workplace bias against federal contractors. No Republican lawmaker or candidate has yet to endorse the order.

“I have some issues with executive orders,” Innis said. “I’m not a big fan of executive orders generally speaking, and I will say I haven’t given this one an awful lot of thought, but I think equality is always a good thing.”

Asked whether he was leaning in favor of supporting the executive order, Innis said he’d like to see an end to LGBT discrimination “done in a more open and participative way.”

Coming from a state where same-sex marriage was made legal in 2009 through the legislative process, Innis had a role in helping resist an effort from a Republican supermajority in the legislature to repeal the statute.

Innis acknowledged he didn’t have an active role in the legalization of same-sex marriage at that time because he had recently come out as gay and was still in his position at the university, but said he lent his voice as a Republican when the law was under threat.

“I guess I was on a brochure that went to all the legislators with my story,” Innis said. “I gave a couple of talks, some things in newspapers, and really I think represented equality in the state in that battle. It became very visible for me. I was featured in the Portsmith Herald on the front page the day after. It was a little more public than I wanted to be, but so be it.”

Innis said he faced criticism for his role in convincing the Republicans to drop efforts to repeal the law, but wouldn’t identify who was unhappy with him.

“I think it’s important to note that that was a Republican legislature that had a veto-proof majority in both houses. Think about that and equality was supported,” Innis said. “That’s New Hampshire. And we believe in equality and freedom for all.”

Innis said he hasn’t yet spoken to the other two gay Republican candidates running for Congress, but said he expects to talk to them soon. He’s also not a member of the joint fundraising committee formed by Tisei and DeMaio called the Equality Leadership Fund. Innis said he’s aware of the fund but remains focused on his campaign.

It should be noted all three openly gay Republicans seeking seats in the U.S. House are trying to oust incumbent Democrats.

Ray Buckley, who’s gay and chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, said Shea-Porter is the best candidate because New Hampshire voters expect elected officials “to stand up against injustice and support families of all varieties.”

“Instead, Dan Innis failed to fight for LGBT rights in New Hampshire as the legislature debated marriage equality,” Buckley said. “He failed them again during the fight for the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, in which strong Republican voices could have helped turn the tide, ending the ability to discriminate against someone in the workplace for simply being who they are. Meanwhile, Congresswoman Shea-Porter has consistently been on the right side of history, defending LGBT families and advancing civil rights. Dan Innis is the wrong candidate for families of all kinds in the state of New Hampshire.”

But Innis insisted that he’s the right candidate for the LGBT community because, unlike Shea-Porter, he’s lived the experience of being openly gay.

“I live it and understand it more thoroughly than she ever will. I’m LGBT; Carol Shea-Porter is not,” Innis said. “And though I appreciate her support of the community, I think the support coming from me is genuine and it’s part of me.”

It’s the new voices the gay Republican candidates are bringing to the fore that Innis said are making the campaigns valuable in and of themselves.

“I think we have three historic races,” Innis said. “Races that wouldn’t have taken place not that many years ago. And I think that in and of itself adds value for our community, and if we’re going to move equality forward, we’ve got to do it in every way possible – Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, independent, doesn’t matter — I think that if one or all of us wins, we’re that much closer to equality.”

CORRECTION: An initial version of this article incorrectly stated the Victory Fund endorsed Carl DeMaio. The Blade regrets the error.


Gay couples sue Utah to recognize their marriages

Elenor Heyborne, Marina Gomberg, Matt Barazza, Tony Milner, ACLU, American Civil Liberties Union, gay news, Washington Blade

Elenor Heyborne (on left) and Marina Gomberg; Matt Barazza, Tony Milner (left) and Jesse (center) are suing Utah to recognize their marriages. (Photos courtesy of the American Civil Liberties Union)

For Matt Barazza, government recognition of his marriage in Utah is important not only to him and his spouse, Tony Milner, but also to the four-year-old child whom they’ve raised since his birth.

After marrying in their home state of Utah on Dec. 20 — the first day same-sex marriage came to Utah — the couple submitted paperwork for a second-parent adoption of the child, Jesse, and received a hearing date of Jan. 10. But plans changed after Gov. Gary Herbert announced the state wouldn’t recognize Utah same-sex marriages in the wake of a stay on the weddings from the U.S. Supreme Court.

As a consequence, the judge presiding over the request for second-parent adoption pushed back the hearing to Jan. 31, and Barazza and Milner elected to join a proposed lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union to ensure Utah would recognize the more than 1,300 gay weddings performed in the state.

“That’s the primary reason for us filing the lawsuit at this point was to have the Utah courts make a decision and recognize that our marriage is legal, so that we can go forward with the second-parent adoption and try and get the protections that we can for our son,” Barazza told the Washington Blade on Monday.

While Barazza, 38, an attorney, and Milner, 33, a director of a non-profit that serves homeless families, are both raising Jesse in Salt Lake City, only Barazza is recognized as the adoptive parent because under Utah law, only one of the two was able to adopt the child. The couple also legally married in D.C. in 2010, but elected to do so again when same-sex marriage came to Utah so they could wed in their home state.

But with their marriage no longer recognized by Utah, Barazza said he lives in constant fear of what might happen because of the lack of legal recognition between his partner and their son.

“You fear the worst case scenario always,” Barazza said. “As the one who’s the legal parent, if anything were to happen to me, it would leave [Jesse] basically an orphan as far as the law is concerned…All that would be in spite of my husband Tony being there from Day One and being just as much a parent as I am.”

On Dec. 20, U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby ruled that Amendment 3, Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage, was unconstitutional as a result of a federal lawsuit seeking marriage equality, allowing gay couples to wed in the state immediately. But upon the request from the state, the U.S. Supreme Court placed a stay on the weddings on Jan. 9 pending appeal of the lawsuit. The next day, Herbert said the state wouldn’t recognize the same-sex marriages of couples that married in Utah before the stay was in place.

Although U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder would later announce the marriages would be recognized for federal purposes, as it stands now the couples will have to wait for the outcome of the federal lawsuit — which could take years — to find out whether the state will recognize their marriage.

Barazza and Milner are one of four couples seeking recognition of their marriage from Utah after having wed in the 18 days when same-sex marriages were legal there. The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in state court by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Utah and the Salt Lake City-based firm Strindberg & Scholnick, LLC.

The 32-page complaint alleges Herbert’s decision not to recognize the marriages violates both the due process clause under Utah’s  constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Additionally, it seeks relief under declaratory judgment and Rule 65B, which allows individuals in Utah to seek extraordinary relief against wrongful use of public authority.

“By placing recognition of their marriages ‘on hold,’ the State of Utah has placed the legal status of plaintiffs’ families, including their children, in legal limbo and created uncertainty as to their rights and status in virtually all areas of their lives,” the complaint states.

Joshua Block, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT project, said the goal of the lawsuit is to achieve a result similar to what the California Supreme Court decided after state voters in 2008 approved Proposition 8.

“What happened in Prop 8 is they said if you got married before the amendment went into effect, the marriages are valid and continue to be recognized in California, but no new marriages could happen,” Block said.

In addition to Barazza and Milner, the other plaintiff couples in the lawsuit are Marine Gomberg and Elenor Heyborne of Salt Lake City; JoNell Evans and Stacia Ireland of West Valley, Utah; and Donald Johnson and Fritz Schultz of Sandy, Utah.

After being together for nine years, Gomberg, 29, told the Blade she and Heyborne, 28, wanted to wed immediately on Dec. 20 upon learning that a court has instituted marriage equality in Utah. The couple held a commitment ceremony in 2009, but weren’t legally married until last month.

“There was a huge sense of immediacy because this was something we waited so long for, and we didn’t know how long the window would be,” Gomberg said.

Soon after, Heyborne, a state employee who works in communications, learned that Utah would no longer recognize their union and she sent a text message to Gomberg, who also works in communications, to inform her of the news.

“Obviously, this put all our hopes and dreams to have a kid on hold because the state of Utah doesn’t recognize same-sex adoption, so we would have to go out of state, establish residency somewhere, and then come back here,” Heyborne said. “When we got married, we kind of thought that that was a hoop we would not have to jump through now that we were legally married.”

Marty Carpenter, a Herbert spokesperson, said the governor is standing by his decision not to recognize the same-sex marriages performed in Utah.

“Gov. Herbert has said throughout this process that his responsibility is to follow the law,” Carpenter said. “That is exactly what the administration is doing and we respect the rights of those who disagree to take their grievances before a judge.”

Although state officials announced they’re not recognizing the marriage, the Utah Tax Commission issued guidance last week saying that same-sex couples married in 2013 can be recognized as such for tax purposes for that year if they filed federal returns as married.

Block said the new lawsuit is completely independent of the existing marriage equality lawsuit, known as Kitchen v. Herbert, which brought the same-sex marriages to the state and is pending before the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In the event that court or the U.S. Supreme Court rules that state bans on same-sex marriages like Amendment 3 are constitutional, Block said the outcome wouldn’t affect gay couples married in Utah if the new lawsuit succeeds because “they had vested rights that  can’t be taken away just like if Prop 8 had been upheld as constitutional.”

“But then, even if Kitchen is affirmed on appeal,” Block added, “and the marriage amendments need to stop being enforced again, that doesn’t really solve the problem of legal implications of what happens over the course of people’s lives of the course of this year and next year until the Kitchen litigation comes to an end.”

Block was unable to predict the length of time it would take for the new lawsuit to be resolved, but noted the case was filed before state district court and said he expected requests soon for summary judgment before the Utah Supreme Court.

Each of the plaintiff couples that spoke to the Blade was optimistic about the lawsuit moving forward. Barazza said he’s “really confident” the lawsuit will succeed based on growing public support for marriage equality.

“Public opinion is going in that direction, and I think the courts are recognizing that,” Barazza said. “Also, just with the fundamental fairness and equality as being recognized under the Constitution, I think that is where the country’s headed.”

Block was also optimistic because he said Utah has “a long history” of protecting vested rights under its constitution, such as when the court rebuffed the state legislature’s attempt to change a person’s right to sue under tort law.

“That’s very similar to your legal obligations and rights that come with a marriage license and recognition,” Block said. “Once you got married, you accrued vested rights and all the legal implications of that marriage. And under those principles, I think this right is more important than all the other vested rights that have been protected.”


Perez says ENDA executive order under consideration

Labor Thomas Perez said the administration continues to "contemplate" the issue of an ENDA executive order (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

Labor Thomas Perez said the administration continues to “contemplate” the issue of an ENDA executive order. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said Wednesday the issue of an executive order prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination among federal contractors is something ”we continue to contemplate and work on” as he declined to comment on whether his department could implement the order.

Under questioning by the Washington Blade, Perez said during a surprise appearance at the regular White House news briefing that he’s aware of the long-sought directive to protect workers on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

“I can’t get into what ifs,” Perez said. “I’m certainly aware of the executive order that was proposed that you’re talking about, and the president takes a back seat to no one in his commitment for equal access to opportunity for people regardless of race, religious, sexual orientation or gender identity. And it’s an issue that we continue to contemplate and work on.”

Sources close to the administration have already told the Washington Blade the Labor Department, as well as the Justice Department, have already green-lighted the executive order for the White House.

Also during the briefing, Perez was asked by the Blade whether the Labor Department would apply Executive Order 11246 — the existing directive that prohibits gender discrimination among federal contractors — to transgender workers in the wake of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s decision two years ago in Macy v. Holder.

“That issue is under review in the aftermath of the Macy decision,” Perez said. “I’ve asked my staff to expedite that review so that we can bring that issue to a conclusion at the Department of Labor.”

Asked when the process of review would come to an end, Perez said, “I’m hoping it will to come to an end as soon as possible.”

As Buzzfeed notes, his comments indicate the Labor Department isn’t currently implementing the existing executive order to protect transgender workers in the same way that Title VII is enforced — even though that law governs the enforcement of the executive order.

Ever since the decision two years ago in Macy v. Holder, which interpreted Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to protect transgender workers from discrimination, the Labor Department previously hasn’t responded to requests for comment on whether it will implement Executive Order 11246 to protect transgender workers.

Buzzfeed published a series of reports saying the Labor Department has refused to comment on whether it would extend the protections via executive order. Most recently, a Buzzfeed reporter was blocked from accessing a news conference with Perez on Monday reportedly because officials didn’t believe he would ask questions relevant to the veterans event.

With regard to a new executive order for both sexual orientation and gender identity, Perez’s remarks that the administration continues to “contemplate” the issue is consistent with White House counselor John Podesta’s remarks that the directive is “under consideration” as well as other hints the order is coming.

But when Reuters’ Jeff Mason followed up during the same briefing on Perez’ “contemplate” comments, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney attempted to tamp them down and reiterated support for legislation known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. However, Carney spoke generally about discussions taking place.

“I think what I can say is what I’ve said in the past is that I don’t have updates for you on obviously the discussion in Washington and beyond about that kind of executive action,” Carney said. “What our position is and has been is that we strongly support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. We note the progress made in the Senate, there’s been movement in the Senate, against some of the conventional wisdom, we’ve seen movement on this.”

Carney concluded, “I just don’t have any update on the discussion around other hypothetical EOs, and I think that’s what Secretary Perez has indicated.”

Asked by Reuters for clarification about whether the media should read any shift from the administration in Perez’s remarks, Carney spoke broadly about “opportunities” under examination.

“I think broadly speaking, the administration looks at all opportunities to advance an agenda that expands opportunity that levels the playing field that sustains the equal opportunity for all that is part of the president’s vision,” Carney said. “That’s a broad matter. On specific, would the president do this executive action or that executive action? That list could be endless, and I don’t have any update for you that kind of proposition.”

Workplace protections issues weren’t the only LGBT matter that came up during the briefing. CBS News’ Major Garrett asked for an update from the White House on Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam, who recently came out as gay, seeking placement on a team in the NFL.

Carney said since the last White House briefing he talked to President Obama about the development, but didn’t convey whether Obama called Sam as he did with NBA player Jason Collins.

“I don’t have any details on the president’s conversations or phone calls,” Carney said. “I can tell you that I have spoken about this with him and he, like the first lady, like so many others, admires Michael Sam’s courage and believes that the action he’s taken is an important step and looks forward to seeing him playing in the NFL.”

A transcript of the exchanges on workplace issues follow:

Washington Blade: Speaking of executive orders, there’s been a lot of discussion recently about a potential executive order that would bar federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. If the President were to sign such an executive order, could the Labor Department implement it?

Secretary Tom Perez: Well, I can’t get into what-ifs. I’m certainly aware of the executive order that was proposed that you’re talking about. And the President takes a backseat to no one in his commitment for equal access to opportunity for people regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity. And it’s an issue that we continue to contemplate and work on.

Blade: On a related note, there’s also been talk about implementing existing order — Executive Order 11246, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender, and apply that to transgender workers to prohibit discrimination against them in the wake of Macy v. Holder. Will the Labor Department take that step?

Perez: That issue is under review in the aftermath of the Macy decision. And I’ve asked my staff to expedite that review so that we can bring that issue to conclusion at the Department of Labor.

Washington Blade: When will the review come to an end?

Perez: I’m hoping it will come to an end as soon as possible.

Reuters: Jay, two questions. One, I’d like to follow up on something that Secretary Perez said in response to Chris’s question. Is the administration contemplating executive action on LGBT workplace non-discrimination? That was the word that he used.

Jay Carney: Well, I think what I can say to that is what I’ve said in the past, is that I don’t have any updates for you on obviously the discussion in Washington and beyond about that kind of executive action. What our position is and has been is that we strongly support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. We note the progress made in the Senate, the fact that there’s been movement in the Senate on this, and I think against some of the conventional wisdom we’ve seen movement on this.

On the broader range of issues around LGBT rights, we’ve seen dramatic progress, and we’re going to keep pressing Congress to catch up with the country on these issues. Turning the Employment Non-Discrimination Act into law would be a huge step forward by Congress, and the President looks forward to that happening. But I just don’t have any update on the discussion around other hypothetical EOs, and I think that’s what Secretary Perez was indicating.

Reuters: It wasn’t a hypothetical, so I just wanted to clarify, should we read into that any sort of a shift in the position of maybe going away from just a congressional push back to the possibility of an executive order?

Jay Carney: I think broadly speaking, the administration looks at all opportunities to advance an agenda that expands opportunity, that levels the playing field, that sustains equal opportunity for all that is part of the President’s vision. That’s as a broad matter. On specific — would the President do this executive action or that executive action, I mean, that list could be endless, and I don’t have any update for you on that kind of proposition.

What I can tell you is that it is our policy position that the House ought to and the Congress ought to send the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to the President’s desk so he can sign it into law.


Carson: Gay people ‘don’t get to redefine marriage’

Ben Carson says gay people "don't get redefine marriage" at CPAC (Screenshot via YouTube).

Ben Carson says gay people “don’t get redefine marriage” at CPAC (Screenshot via YouTube).

A rising Republican star doubled-down Saturday on his opposition to same-sex marriage, saying gay people “don’t get to redefine marriage.”

Ben Carson, a conservative commentator and former neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins University, made the comments on stage during the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference.

“Of course gay people should have the same rights as everyone else,” Carson said. “But they don’t get extra rights, they don’t get to redefine marriage.”

Carson has a history of making inflammatory statements against gay people. Last year, he gave up his speaking role at a commencement ceremony for Johns Hopkins under pressure following controversial remarks he made on Fox News comparing gay people to advocates for bestiality and pedophilia.

On stage at CPAC, Carson denied he ever made such a comparison and said reporting on his televised remarks was a fabrication of the media, although he said to applause he still believes “marriage is between a man and a woman.”

“Of course they’re not the same thing,” Carson continued. “Anybody who believes that is a dummy, but anybody who believes somebody who says that somebody said that is a dummy, that’s the problem.”

Carson made the controversial remarks last year when speaking to conservative commentator Sean Hannity about restricting marriage to unions betweens one man and one woman.

“It’s a well-established fundamental pillar of society,” Carson said. “And no group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA (North American Man/Boy Love Association,) be they people who believe in bestiality — it doesn’t matter what they are. They don’t get to change the definition.”

Carson makes some of the extensive comments against same-sex marriage during an iteration of CPAC where Republican elected officials shied away from LGBT issues and conflict emerged among the conservative speakers on marriage equality.

Watch the video of Carson here (via Right Wing Watch):


Supreme Court urged to deny stay on Utah same-sex marriages

Proposition 8, Prop 8, DOMA, Defense of Marriage Act, Supreme Court, gay rights, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade

Attorneys for gay couples are urging the Supreme Court to reject a stay on Utah same-sex marriages (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key).

Gay couples should be able to continue to wed to Utah because the imposition of stay on their marriages would cause them “undisputed, irreparable harm,” attorneys for three same-sex couples wrote Friday in a filing to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The 40-page brief, which was filed in response to the stay request from Utah state officials to the Supreme Court, lays out the case for why halting same-sex marriages as litigation proceeds through the courts would cause harm.

“Forcing same-sex couples and their families to wait and hope for the best during the pendency of this appeal imposes an intolerable and dehumanizing burden that no family should have to endure,” the filing states.

The brief is signed by James Magleby, one of the attorneys at Magleby & Greenwood PC representing the three same-sex couples who are either seeking to marry in Utah or have the state recognize their marriage.

Gay couples have been able to wed in Utah since Dec. 20, when U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby ruled the state’s 2004 ban on same-sex marriage, known as Amendment 3, was unconstitutional. State officials didn’t make a stay request until after the ruling was handed down, and afterward both the district court and the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected requests for a stay.

After their stay requests were denied by lower courts attorneys for Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Attorney General Sean Reyes issued a stay request this week before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Although the high court is expected to take up on the issue of marriage equality at some point in the future, Magleby writes that the Supreme Court may not necessarily take up this case once the Tenth Circuit issues its ruling.

“The constitutional issues presented in this case plainly are of great importance; however, currently there are more than twenty-five state and federal lawsuits, in at least 15 states, challenging state laws barring marriage by same-sex couples on federal constitutional grounds,” Magleby writes. “Therefore, while it is certainly possible the court ‘could’ grant certiorari in this case, Applicants cannot show that it ‘very likely would’ do so.”

The stay request is pending before U.S. Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who has jurisdiction for stay requests over the Tenth Circuit. She has the option of referring the request to all of her colleagues on the bench, who would provide the final word on whether a stay would be granted on same-sex marriages.

There’s no set time for when the court needs to render a decision, although an order is expected soon.

If Sotomayor goes it alone and decides against the stay, Utah officials may select any justice on the Supreme Court — such as a justice with an anti-gay reputation like U.S. Associate Justice Antonin Scalia — and make a final attempt to request a stay.


Carney won’t say if ENDA will come up in State of the Union

Jay Carney, White House, gay news, Washington Blade

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney won’t say if Obama include LGBT workers in the State of the Union (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas).

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney held his cards close to his vest Monday on what President Obama will say during his upcoming State of the Union speech, including whether it’ll include any reference to non-discrimination protections for LGBT workers.

Amid expectations President Obama will make an effort to mobilize the nation against income inequality during the speech, Carney wouldn’t draw a direct connection when asked by Washington Blade if the president sees the lack of federal protections for LGBT workers as an income inequality issue.

“The president believes that we ought to pass an Employment Non-Discrimination Act because it’s the right thing to do for LGBT Americans, and it’s the right thing to do for our economy, full stop,” Carney said. “So, I don’t have a particular analysis behind that because the sentiment is pretty clear.”

But when asked if that response rules out the possibility of ENDA or a heavily sought executive order barring LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors from coming up during the State of the Union, Carney refused to say.

“I really have no more details to provide on the content of the State of the Union address,” Carney said.

Carney declined during the news briefing to divulge details about Obama’s speech with respect to any issue. The White House spokesperson refused to comment on whether the president will talk about gun control, the pipeline Keystone XL, NSA surveillance or certain foreign policy issues.

LGBT advocates are pressing Obama to call for ENDA passage, pledge to sign an executive order barring LGBT workplace discrimination and bring up the word “transgender” for the first time in a State of the Union address.


White House silent on judicial nominee with anti-gay record

Josh Earnest, White House, Barack Obama Administration, press, gay news, Washington Blade

White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest has no comment on a judicial nominee with an anti-gay record. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest had no comment on Thursday regarding a controversial judicial nominee with an anti-gay record — despite calls from progressive groups on President Obama to take back the selection.

Under questioning from The Huffington Post’s Jennifer Bendery, Earnest professed to have no knowledge of calls to remove Michael Boggs, whom President Obama tapped in December for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

“I haven’t seen the statements from the groups that you mentioned,” Earnest said. “I’ll see if we can collect some more information and get back to you with a specific reaction.”

Earnest declined comment during the briefing after the White House for more than a week hasn’t responded to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on calls to remove Boggs.

Progressive groups say they’re troubled by Boggs because of his record as a state legislator in Georgia. Among his votes were against removing the Confederate emblem from Georgia’s state flag; in favor of a “Choose Life” license plate that helped fund anti-abortion groups; and in favor of strengthening parental consent laws to require a photo ID and for parents to accompany daughters under the age of 18 to abortion clinics — with no exception for rape or incest.

More relevant to the LGBT rights movement, Boggs in 2004 voted for legislation authorizing the referendum on the constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in Georgia. It’s unclear whether he still holds that position, or, like many other lawmakers, he has since evolved to support marriage equality.

On Thursday, a group of 27 progressive groups — including a trio of LGBT groups, the Human Rights Campaign, GetEQUAL Action, and the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force — wrote to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to urge them to reject Boggs.

“We believe that Boggs’s record on reproductive rights, civil rights, and LGBT rights is especially troubling in a nominee to the federal bench,” the letter states. “Litigants in Georgia, and the nation as a whole, deserve a judge whose commitment to equal justice is clear.”

A Senate aide said the committee doesn’t have all of the paperwork in for Boggs and hasn’t yet scheduled a confirmation hearing.

Boggs, who received his law degree in 1990 from Mercer University’s Walter F. George School of Law, has since 2012 served as a judge on the Georgia Court of Appeals.

In 2000, Boggs was elected as a Democrat to the Georgia State House, where he held office until 2004. From 2004 to 2012, he was a Superior Court Judge of the Waycross Judicial Circuit of the First Judicial Administrative District of Georgia of the Georgia Superior Court, where he established and presided over the court’s felony drug court program.

Although the Task Force has already called on Obama to recall the nomination, the presence of HRC on the letter is notable because the organization had previously said it was awaiting Boggs’ hearing before making a judgment on the nominee.

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said he had no comment Thursday on the White House’s continued silence and deferred questions about HRC’s change in position to the letter.

According to The Huffington Post, Obama’s choice of Boggs is part of a package deal struck between the president and Georgia’s two Republican senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson. Four of the six nominees are GOP picks, and just one is black, but the trade-off is that other Georgia nominees in the package will now move forward after years of going nowhere.

Obama faces requests to remove Boggs as he met with black civil rights leaders on Tuesday to discuss issues including criminal justice reform and income inequality.

Asked whether Boggs came up during these discussions, Earnest referred to a White House blog posting on the event without mentioning in the controversial judicial nominee.

“I think there’s a blog post available at about the conversations that the president had with those leaders,” Earnest said. “They talked about the Affordable Care Act, and work in communicating to the American public, and particularly to individuals in the African-American community, the potential benefits that are available to them at, and some of the protections that were put in place for consumers because of the Affordable Care Act. I know they had conversations about some of the ideas to criminal justice reform that the president and the attorney general both discussed. In terms of specifics, I can’t go beyond that, in terms of whether or not a specific judicial nominee came up.”