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Marriage advocates criticize Ind. lawmaker

Indiana State House, gay news, Washington Blade

Indiana State House (Photo by Jason82; courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

INDIANAPOLIS—Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) on Jan. 21 moved a proposed state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in the Hoosier State to another committee after it stalled.

The Indianapolis Star reported that Bosma moved the proposed amendment — House Joint Resolution 3 — from the House Judiciary Committee to the Elections and Appointment Committee. Republican leadership of the House Judiciary Committee last week declined to allow a vote on the proposal after they held a hearing on it.

“We’ve followed the legislative process with an earnest expectation that legislators truly seek to represent their constituents,” said Freedom Indiana Campaign Manager Megan Robertson in a Jan. 21 press release. “We found that to be the case with the legislators serving on the House Judiciary Committee, but House Speaker Brian Bosma broke his commitment to Hoosiers to uphold the traditional legislative process.”


Tying the knot in style

Powerhouse, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, style, gay news, Washington Blade

Give your reception an industrial vibe at Powerhouse. (Photo by Rodney Bailey; courtesy Powerhouse)

One of the toughest parts of planning a wedding is choosing the right venue. Indoor or out, it can be difficult to choose where to celebrate with family and friends. This list of 12 places includes everything from hotels and art galleries to ships and churches that are guaranteed to make your wedding day one to remember.

Powerhouse. If traditional isn’t your style, try an avant-garde reception at Powerhouse. Located in historic Georgetown, the LGBT-owned-and-operated space was once the D.C. Paper Manufacturing Company’s powerhouse. Now its been converted into a fully renovated two-story space with floor-to-ceiling windows, state-of-the-art sound system and a catering prep kitchen. A second floor mezzanine balcony and exposed brick and steel beams give your special day an unconventional touch. 3255 Grace St., N.W.;

Westin Annapolis. Want to celebrate the big day in luxury? The Westin Annapolis, located in downtown Annapolis, offers a sophisticated setting in its 6,500-square foot ballroom with chandeliers and a pre-function space with a view of Park Place from its 16-foot arched windows. The culinary staff is also available to create customized menus for all types of receptions from a brunch to an elaborate cocktail reception. 100 Westgate Circle, Annapolis, Md.;

Black Walnut Point Inn. Want to get away from it all on the big day? Black Walnut Point Inn is the perfect place to celebrate in seclusion. The gay-owned inn is tucked away on Tilghman Island in Talbot County, Maryland. The Great Lawn features unobstructed waterfront views. Their packages includes a whole weekend with a catered rehearsal dinner and reception, two night stay for couple and up to 20 guests, hors d’oeuvres on the Great Lawn at sunset and more. 4417 Black Walnut Point Rd., Tilgman, Md.;

Corcoran Gallery of Art. The Corcoran Gallery of Art provides more than art for the public to enjoy — it also rents parts of the gallery for private events, including weddings. Give a Parisian vibe to your reception in the Salon Doré room. The room seats 50 and includes Corinthian pilasters, trophy panels and mirrors all original and once part of the hôtel de Clermont, a historic private residence in Paris. The Atrium and the Bridge are also available to rent and can seat 100-900 guests. 500 17th St., N.W.; 

Metropolitan Community Churches. For couples that want an old-fashioned church wedding, Metropolitan Community Churches are a good option. Its mission states it is “a place for all people.” Locations are all across the D.C. metro area including Fairfax Va., College Park, Md., and in the District.

The Black-Eyed Susan. For a different wedding experience, try celebrating at sea. The Black-Eyed Susan allows both a ceremony and reception on board. Provide your own clergy or let the captain of the ship perform the ceremony. The reception takes place on the upper deck and a customized wedding cake is included as part of the package that includes a silver-plated cake knife set as the ship’s wedding present to the happy couple. 2775 Lighthouse Point East, Baltimore;

The Loft at 600 F. An intimate-yet-stylish celebration may be the ideal choice for some couples. The Loft at 600 F, located in the Chinatown/Penn Quarter neighborhood of the District, achieves that combination. The venue offers custom sofas that can be moved into various setups, moveable bars, up-light and accent lighting and a microwave and mini fridge. Getting the party started won’t be a problem with its surround sound receiver, HD projector, Apple TV and 55-inch HD television. 600 F St., N.W.;

Old Hickory Golf Club. The clubhouse at Old Hickory Golf Club is a combination of beautiful views with a gorgeous indoor space. The clubhouse includes a ballroom and dining room with a veranda that overlooks the golf course. Your guest list can include up to 250 people to enjoy lunch or dinner buffets with an optional hors d’oeuvre reception and cocktail party. 11921 Chanceford Dr. Woodbridge, Va.;

River Terra Retreat. A small wedding away from it all can be found at River Terra Retreat, tucked away on the edge of the Potomac River. The family owned home offers a cozy aesthetic with a big front porch, river view balcony, formal dining room and eat-in kitchen. Vegetables and fruits can be taken fresh from the garden depending on the season. Meeting rooms are available for an inside celebration or take the party outside for a tented event on the fenced grounds. 37 4th St., Colonial Beach, Va.;

Hotel Lombardy. If you can’t afford to take your wedding overseas, Hotel Lombardy offers an international theme to bring the world to you in downtown D.C. Feel like you’re vacationing in northern Italy with the Venetian-style rooms, imported fabrics and Oriental wool rugs. Get a taste of France with the Café Lombardy, the hotel’s French-inspired continental bistro offering breakfast, lunch, dinner and brunch for your guests. Let go of wedding planning stress by using the hotel’s professional event planning services who can help make your day special from start to finish. 2019 Pennsylvania, Ave., N.W.;

Lazy L at Willow Creek. Couples that want to bring their dogs along for the celebration should consider Lazy L at Will Creek. This quaint bed and breakfast offers dog-friendly services, such as easily accessible pet friendly beaches and restaurants to make your dog as happy as you are on the big day. The innkeeper is an ordained chaplain and can provide officiating services. 16061 Willow Creek, Rd., Del.;

Salero Ocean Front Venue. Make the ocean the focal point of your wedding day on this ocean front wedding venue. Their wedding packages include an open bar, cake service, complete room setup and a chocolate fountain. Full-course meals can also be provided. Their menus are available to view on their website. 511 N Boardwalk, Rehoboth Beach, Del.;

A few more of our favorites

Potomac View Terrace at the American Pharmacists Association

2215 Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20037

Black Walnut Point Inn

4417 Black Walnut Point Road
Tilghman, MD 21671

Glenview Mansion at Rockville Civic Center Park

603 Edmonston Drive
Rockville, MD 20851

The Henley Park Hotel

926 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001

National Press Club

529 14th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20045

Wolf Trap



A reality check from Uganda

Yoweri Museveni, Uganda, gay news, Washington Blade

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed into law a bill that imposes harsh sentences on LGBT Ugandans. (Photo by the U.K. Department for International Development; courtesy Wikimedia Commons).

Our movement for full equality for LGBT people continues to gain momentum. We’ve seen tremendous strides in terms of marriage equality (a total of 17 states now grant the freedom to marry) and most recently with the increased visibility of black LGBT public figures. But Uganda’s current crisis and the close call in Arizona remind us that we must remain vigilant—that despite the many trails being blazed, we are still very much in the heat of the battle and all is not won yet.

Basketball star Jason Collins recently made history as the first openly gay male player in a major sports league when he joined the Brooklyn Nets. Earlier this year, Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts spoke about her longtime girlfriend for the first time on national television. Trans legends-in-the-making Laverne Cox, breakout actress of the Netflix original series Orange is the New Black, hate crime survivor CeCe McDonald, and New York Times bestselling author Janet Mock are leading the national conversation around transgender equality.

On the policy front, a U.S. district judge ruled that Texas’ ban on marriage equality is unconstitutional. The Maryland State Senate recently passed the Fairness for All Marylanders Act, a bill that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity, which now heads to the House. And Washington, D.C. now requires insurance companies to provide health coverage to trans residents, including gender reassignment surgery.

Paints a pretty picture of progress, doesn’t it? Well, look a little closer.

Just this month alone, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed into law a bill that imposes harsh sentences on LGBT Ugandans; Arizona passed then vetoed a piece of legislation that would have made it legal for business owners to discriminate against LGBT customers; and the 2014 Olympics brought to light the persecution of our Russian brothers and sisters. This all happened in February, the shortest month of the year. Even worse, it happened on our watch.

Under Ugandan’s anti-gay law, anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts will be sentenced to life in prison. President Museveni has cited “science” and other unfounded claims to justify this atrocious injustice against our black LGBT family overseas. Not only is it imperative that the U.S. Department of State expedite the asylum process for all Ugandans affected by this oppressive and inhumane law, it is critical that the U.S. take responsibility for and address its ties to homophobia in African countries. The truth is that when the radical right started losing ground on American soil, they invested their anti-LGBT tactics elsewhere and capitalized on a painful legacy of colonialism and white supremacy.

Addressing what is happening in Uganda goes deeper than threatening to pull U.S. foreign aid. Furthermore, our national response to what is happening in the East African nation and in countries like Nigeria speaks to our complacency and lack of urgency around matters that are literally life and death for black and brown LGBT bodies.

After Arizona’s legislature passed the controversial SB 1062, some Ugandans pointed out our hypocrisy. Everyone from local advocates to President Obama condemned the Ugandan bill, but we could barely get our own affairs together stateside. The biggest irony was the hundreds of activists that rallied and urged Gov. Jan Brewer to veto the Arizona legislation. Where were the crowds for our Ugandan brothers and sisters who will be trying to seek asylum?

It’s time we truly treat a threat to injustice anywhere with the gravity it deserves. It’s time we recognize that progress takes full partnership. Despite of our recent advancements, we still need all hands on deck, especially when it’s the lives of black LGBT people at stake—because chances are the level of outrage and action will be utterly delayed, if present.

National campaigns launched around the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, speaking against the country’s ban on so-called “LGBT propaganda.” And rightfully so. There are laws that limit adoption by same-sex couples and Russian President Vladimir Putin has equated LGBT people to pedophiles. But where was the mass mobilization when a Ugandan tabloid printed a list of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Ugandans with their photographs—a “witch hunt” reminiscent of the 2010 paper that ran both photos and addresses with the heinous headline “Hang Them?” Where was the global outcry?

That is why here at the National Black Justice Coalition, we are revising our institutional policy to take a stand internationally. We have begun turning directly to advocates abroad and asking what is the international support that they need. Going forward, increasing acceptance and respect for black LGBT people in every corner of the globe will guide the organization’s agenda as we continue to build a safer and more inclusive nation and world.

Our movement has certainly come a long way but we have so much further to go. Uganda is our reality check. And it doesn’t get realer than that.

Sharon J. Lettman-Hicks serves as executive director and CEO of the National Black Justice Coalition, a national civil rights organization dedicated to empowering black LGBT people. For more information, visit


Utah couples ‘humble and proud’ after day in court

Derek Kitchen, Utah, marriage equality, same-sex marriage, Denver, Colorado, gay marriage, gay news, Washington Blade

Plaintiff same-sex couples in the Utah marriage equality case (Washington Blade photo by Chris Johnson)

After more than an hour of legal arguments on the constitutionality of banning same-sex marriage, the scene at the Byron White Court House took on a hopeful tone as plaintiff couples spoke to the media about their involvement in litigation seeking marriage equality in Utah.

Derek Kitchen, the namesake of the case, known as Kitchen v. Herbert, said he stands before the court “humble and proud” that the court has given so much weight to the arguments in the case, then embraced his partner, Moudi Sbeity, and gave him a kiss.

Kody Partridge, who’s also seeking the ability to marry her partner, Laurie Wood, expressed a similar sentiment when addressing reporters.

“We are hopeful that we will see a wonderful decision coming out of this court,” Partridge said.

The two were among the six same-sex plaintiff couples who were present in the courtroom as oral arguments were heard before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. Judges appeared split over whether they wanted to uphold the ban, known as Amendment 3, or overturn it as a result of the appeal.

Mark Lawrence, director of the Salt Lake City-based Restore Our Humanity, was also present outside the courthouse and was optimistic the court would rule favorably on the lawsuit he helped initiate.

“I think there’s going to be a 2-1 decision,” Lawrence told the Blade. “I think that was made pretty obvious when we heard the state, and my general impression of the whole thing is I think the state is trying very, very hard to take the humanity out of this case, or trying to make it a thing instead of a case about people, and I just don’t think they can do that.”

Speaking before reporters, Kitchen was reluctant to answer questions about the legal arguments presented during the case, nor would he venture to predict which way the judges would rule, saying, “That’s not my job.”

But he did talk more about the impact of anti-gay marriage laws on couples like him and his partner.

“We are loving and committed individuals who have committed to each other,” Kitchen said.

During the news conference, a reporter said Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes was seen talking to the plaintiffs in the aftermath of the hearing and telling them, “Sorry for putting you through this pain.”

Addressing reporters to emphasize the state’s position that the marriage issue should be resolved not through the courts, but the “democratic process,” Reyes acknowledged he spoke with plaintiffs and said something along those lines.

“I offered them my best wishes,” Reyes said. “I did express to them that I was sorry that there was feeling pain. Again, this is not an easy thing to do when you know that the people you really care about on both sides of the issue will be affected very significantly and very personally. I wanted them to know that it wasn’t personal; I wanted them to appreciate that I recognize their families are as important to them as my family is to me.”

Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which is assisting in the case, said in a statement after the arguments she was heartened by what she heard.

“As a Utah native, today was a proud moment as Utah residents poignantly brought their families’ stories to a federal appeals court and made a basic request for equal treatment under our nation’s Constitution,” Kendell said. “We are optimistic the court will agree that excluding same-sex couples from the right to marry causes harm and allowing couples to marry strengthens families and hurts no one. “


White House has no comment on Utah same-sex marriages

Jay Carney, White House, gay news, Washington Blade

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has no comment on Utah same-sex marriage litigation (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas).

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday he has no comment on the stay placed by the Supreme Court on same-sex marriages in Utah, but reiterated President Obama’s support for marriage equality.

Under questioning from the Washington Blade, Carney said the White House has nothing to say about Kitchen v. Herbert, the litigation that brought same-sex marriage to Utah before the Supreme Court halted the weddings Monday as the lawsuit continues through the courts.

“We have no comment on the specifics of this case because the United States government is not a party to this litigation, but speaking broadly, as you know, the president’s views on marriage equality are well-established,” Carney said.

Carney went into detail about the president’s support for marriage rights for gay couples — first made public by the president in 2012 during an interview with Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts — as well as Obama’s opposition to taking those rights away.

“He believes that loving, committed gay and lesbian couples that want to get married and have access to the full benefits, protections and obligations that marriage brings should be able to do so,” Carney said. “He has also long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same-sex couples, and he believes strongly that protections shouldn’t be taken away from gay and lesbian couples who want to take care of their families.”

Carney said Obama opposes efforts to take rights away from gay couples amid questions over whether couples who already married in Utah will be recognized as legally married by Utah and the federal government. On Tuesday, Dena Iveerson, a Justice Department spokesperson, said, “We are reviewing the court’s decision.”

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, at least 1,324 same-sex marriages were performed in Utah after the district court ruled in favor of marriage equality on Dec. 20, but before the Supreme Court issued its stay.

Asked whether there are any conversations happening the White House and the Justice Department about whether the federal government will consider those marriages valid, Carney referred all inquiries to the department.

“I would refer you to the Department of Justice,” Carney said. “Again, this is matter that’s in litigation now, we’re not a party to the litigation. The views of the president are well known, and when it comes to questions like that, I think, the Justice Department is the best place to ask them.”


Pennsylvania couple seeks marriage rights

Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, gay news, Washington Blade

Independence Hall in Philadelphia. (Photo by Rdsmith4; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

PHILADELPHIA—A married lesbian couple from suburban Philadelphia has filed a federal lawsuit against a Pennsylvania law that prohibits the recognition of same-sex marriages legally performed in other jurisdictions.

Isabelle Barker and Cara Palladino tied the knot in Massachusetts in 2005.

The couple moved to Pennsylvania shortly after their wedding when Barker accepted a position at Bryn Mawr College. Barker gave birth to the couple’s son in 2009.

“We took on the commitment of marriage in 2005 and have supported each other through life’s ups and down,” said Palladino. “We think it is wrong for Pennsylvania to void our marriage and treat us as though we are unmarried when we are very much a loving family.”

Equality Forum, a Philadelphia-based LGBT advocacy group, initiated the lawsuit that was filed on Jan. 13 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Mary Bonauto of the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders is among those who are co-counsel in the case.

“On behalf of Cara and Isabelle and other legally married same-sex families, we will take this injustice as far as is needed to affirm the nation’s 226-year-old history of recognizing marriages from sister states,” said Equality Forum Executive Director Malcolm Lazin.

The American Civil Liberties Union last July filed a lawsuit against Pennsylvania’s statutory gay marriage ban on behalf of 11 same-sex couples and a widow. State Reps. Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia) and Steve McCarter (D-Montgomery County) and state Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery County) have introduced same-sex marriage bills in the Pennsylvania Legislature.


Court rules gay couples can marry now in Chicago area

Vernita Gray (left) and Patricia Ewert were the first same-sex couples in Illinois (Photo courtesy Lambda Legal).

Vernita Gray (left) and Patricia Ewert became the first gay couple to wed in Cook County.(Photo courtesy Lambda Legal).

A federal court in Illinois ruled on Friday gay couples can marry immediately in the Chicago-area Cook County without waiting for the marriage equality law to take effect in June.

Meanwhile, LGBT advocates behind the lawsuit are interpreting the decision to mean clerks across the state should begin granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

In a brief four-page order, U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman, an Obama appointee, says Cook County can no longer prohibit gay couples from marrying because the marriage ban violates the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“There is no reason to delay further when no opposition has been presented to this Court and committed gay and lesbian couples have already suffered from the denial of their fundamental right to marry,” Coleman writes.

As Coleman notes, “there is no opposition” to the ruling because Cook County Clerk David Orr and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan weren’t defending the marriage law in court. Both Orr and Madigan filed briefs in support of the plaintiff same-sex couples in the case.

Although Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in Illinois, the measure won’t take effect until June.

The class-action lawsuit, Lee v. Orr, was filed by Lambda Legal and ACLU of Illinois of behalf of same-sex couples seeking to wed before that time in Cook County. The named plaintiffs in the lawsuit — Elvie Jordan and Challis Gibbs as well as Ronald Dorfman and Ken Ilio — are facing terminal illness.

In her ruling, Coleman invokes the legacy of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., to explain her decision to allow gay couples in Cook County to wed immediately.

“Since the parties agree that marriage is a fundamental right available to all individuals and should not be denied, the focus in this case shifts from the ‘we can’t wait for the terminally ill individuals to ‘why should we wait’ for all gay and lesbian couples who want to marry,” Coleman writes. “To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the time is always ripe to do right.”

Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois, praised Coleman for a ruling that he said would bring justice to thousands of same-sex couples.

“Tens of thousands of Illinois couples have been waiting for a long time, some for decades, for their love, commitment and marriage to be recognized,” Cherkasov said. “This day – and the opportunity to finally get married – could not have come sooner. We congratulate all of the couples and their families, and the people of Illinois on this significant day.”

Orr said in a statement the Bureau of Vital Records would be open an extra two hours on Friday until 7 p.m. to accommodate couples seeking to wed in the wake of the court order.

“I’m thrilled same-sex couples who want to get married won’t have to wait any longer,” Orr said. “We are very excited to celebrate this historic milestone with every loving couple from today onward.”

According to Cook County, marriage licenses are valid from the day after issuance and for 60 days, so couples that obtain a marriage license on March 1 may get married between March 2 and April 30.

Moreover, the $60 license fee will be waived for couples already in a civil union. Couples that wish to convert their prior civil union date to a marriage will have to wait until June 1 because it was not addressed in Coleman’s order.

There are differing accounts about the scope of the opinion. Coleman writes her ruling only applies to Cook County because of the nature of the lawsuit.

“Although this court finds that the marriage ban for same-sex couples violates the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause on its face, this finding can only apply to Cook County based on the posture of the lawsuit,” Coleman said.

But LGBT advocates are interpreting the ruling differently and say clerks across Illinois should start affording marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Erik Roldon, a Lambda spokesperson, said no clerk in Illinois has authority to enforce the marriage ban in the aftermath of the decision.

“The law was declared facially unconstitutional,” Roldan said. “That means there are no circumstances under which it can be enforced – in Cook or elsewhere.”

Edwin Yohnka, a spokesperson for the ACLU of Illinois, shared that assessment of the ruling.

“The court found the current marriage ban to be unconstituional,” Yohnka said. “We would hope that all clerks would read that decision. If they do, we believe that they would not want to be in the position of enforcing a law that has been found unconstitutional.”

Gay couples that marry as a result of the court decision would not be the first to do so in Illinois. Vernita Gray and Patricia Ewert married in Cook County in November as a result of a federal court saying they should be afforded a marriage license immediately because Gray has been diagnosed with terminal breast cancer.


Gay R.I. House speaker steps down

Gordon Fox, Rhode Island, Democratic Party, Democratic National Convention, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay Rhode Island House Speaker Gordon Fox (D-Providence) on March 22 announced he will step down after authorities raided his office and home. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Rhode Island House Speaker Gordon Fox (D-Providence) on March 22 resigned his post a day after federal and state authorities raided his office and home as part of an undisclosed criminal investigation.

“Because of the respect I have for all members of the House of Representatives, I am resigning as speaker,” said the Providence Democrat in a statement that also announced he would not seek re-election as the Associated Press reported. “The process of governing must continue and the transition of leadership must be conducted in an orderly manner.”

Fox, 52, in 2010 became the country’s first openly gay House speaker.

He sparked controversy among some LGBT rights advocates in 2011 when he sponsored a civil unions bill after it became clear a measure that would have allowed gays and lesbians to marry did not have enough votes in the Rhode Island Senate.

Gov. Lincoln Chafee last May signed a same-sex marriage bill into law that Fox spearheaded.

Fox and his partner, Marcus LaFond, wed after the law took effect last August.

Lawmakers on Tuesday elected House Majority Leader Nick Mattielo (D-Cranston) to succeed Fox.


Virginia House subcommittee to consider marriage ban repeal bill

Ken Cucinelli, gay news, Washington Blade

Then-Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli on Jan. 10 reiterated his opposition to same-sex marriage in a non-binding opinion. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Washington Blade has learned a Virginia House of Delegates subcommittee on Jan. 20 is scheduled to consider a bill that would repeal the commonwealth’s statutory same-sex marriage ban.

The House Civil Law Subcommittee is expected to take up the measure — House Bill 939 — that state Del. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax County) introduced last week.

“This is the first time the House of Delegates will get to actually address Virginia’s statutory ban on same-sex marriage in the Code of Virginia in at least the last five years as opposed to the Constitution of Virginia,” Surovell told the Blade on Tuesday. “While marriage rights face an uphill battle in the heavily Republican Virginia House of Delegates, I am encouraged to learn that it will at least hold a hearing on the bill.”

The House Constitutional Amendments Subcommittee last year killed Surovell’s proposed resolution that sought to repeal a 2006 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

State Del. Mark Cole (R-Fredericksburg), chair of the House Privileges and Elections Committee, on Jan. 9 announced it will not consider any so-called first reference constitutional amendments during the 2014 legislative session. These include proposed resolutions that sought to repeal the state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

State Del. Rob Krupicka (D-Alexandria) last week introduced a proposed resolution that sought to amend the state constitution to allow same-sex marriage in Virginia. The proposal would have also allowed the commonwealth to recognize gay nuptials legally performed in Maryland, D.C. and other jurisdictions.

Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Norfolk on Jan. 30 is scheduled to hold a hearing in a federal lawsuit that challenges the commonwealth’s same-sex marriage ban. The American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Virginia in August filed a class action federal lawsuit on behalf of two lesbian couples from the Shenandoah Valley who lack marriage rights in the state.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Lieutenant Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring all support nuptials for gays and lesbians.

Then-Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli wrote in a non-binding opinion he sent to state Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William County) on Jan. 10 — one day before the former GOP gubernatorial candidate left office — that a governor “may not direct or require any state government agency to allow same-sex couples to receive joint marital status for state income tax returns.” The Prince William County Republican has introduced a bill that seeks to codify the policy then-Gov. Bob McDonnell announced in November that requires married same-sex couples to file their state income tax returns as single individuals because the commonwealth does not recognize their unions.

It remains unclear whether McAuliffe and Herring will defend Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban.


Nevada AG will no longer defend marriage ban in court

Nevada, Catherine Cortez Masto, gay news, Washington Blade

Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto withdrew her brief in favor of the ban on same-sex marriage (Photo public domain).

Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto announced on Monday she has sought to withdraw her earlier legal brief that argued against marriage equality — an action one advocate says indicates she’ll no longer defend in court her state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

Masto, a Democrat, said she wants to withdraw her brief — which stirred controversy because it invoked bigamy and incest while defending Nevada’s ban on same-sex marriage — based on a related case decided by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that determined jurors should not face discrimination based on sexual orientation.

“After thoughtful review and analysis, the State has determined that its arguments grounded upon equal protection and due process are no longer sustainable,” Masto said. “Additionally, the legal evolution referenced by SmithKline is undeniably a ‘doctrinal development’ that vitiates the State’s position. Thus not only is the State’s equal protection argument undermined, so is its Baker v. Nelson argument.”

Masto had previously indicated that he was reconsidering her position on the Nevada marriage lawsuit, which is currently before the Ninth Circuit, in the days after her initial filing based on the SmithKline ruling.

She had filed her brief before the court on the same day it rendered its decision in SmithKline v. Abbott, which determined laws in the Ninth Circuit related to sexual orientation should be subject to heightened scrutiny, or a greater assumption they’re unconstitutional. That ruling established precedent in the Ninth Circuit that will likely lead to marriage bans being struck down within that jurisdiction.

The case in which Masto withdrew her filing is known as Sevcik v. Sandoval, which was filed in 2012 by Lambda Legal and other legal firms on behalf of eight same-sex couples.

Jon Davidson, legal director for Lambda Legal, said the decision means that Masto will no longer defend the marriage ban in court in the same way that Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring is not defending a similar ban in his state.

An LGBT advocate, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Masto’s position isn’t quite the same as Herring’s, but, in practice, it ends up being about the same position.

In the nine-page motion to withdraw, Masto walks through her logic in why the brief she previously submitted no longer holds up.

“SmithKline’s holding sets a new standard of review for cases in the Ninth Circuit,” Masto writes. “Because the State’s argument was grounded upon equal protection and relied on High Tech, and thus was constructed upon the premise that only rational basis review applied to laws categorizing on the basis of sexual orientation, the State’s argument cannot withstand legal scrutiny.”

The earlier brief cited as precedent Baker v. Nelson, a marriage case in the 1970′s that the U.S. Supreme Court refuse to hear for lack of federal question, and an earlier ruling by a federal judge in Nevada upholding the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. But with the more recent ruling in the gay juror case, Masto writes “both of these holdings have been vitiated.”

Masto’s request to withdraw her brief follows the earlier decision by Carson City Clerk-Recorder Alan Glover to withdraw his brief, which was also motivated by the Ninth Circuit ruling in SmithKline.

Tara Borelli, a staff attorney at Lambda Lambda, praised Masto and Gov. Brian Sandoval for withdrawing their earlier brief in favor of the ban on same-sex marriage.

“In the wake of the Ninth Circuit ruling in SmithKline Beecham v. Abbott Laboratories, the Governor has recognized that the writing is on the wall, and that arguments seeking to perpetuate discrimination are becoming extremely difficult to justify,” Borelli said. “Denying marriage to same-sex couples serves no legitimate state interest and is intended solely to perpetuate discrimination.”

Derek Washington, lead organizer for GetEQUAL Nevada, said more action is needed from Masto after her initial brief invoking bigamy and incest.

“While we applaud the Attorney General for hearing the voices of Nevadans who let her know — loud and clear — that hatred and disrespect would not be tolerated in our state, we stand firm in demanding an apology for her past comments and have requested a face-to-face meeting between the Attorney General and LGBTQ community leaders immediately,” Washington said.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this posting indicated Masto has withdrawn from the case. She cannot do so without the court’s permission.