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Southern LGBT groups file brief in Va. marriage case

Heather Mack, Ashely Broadway-Mack, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, gay news, Washington Blade

Army Lt. Col. Heather Mack and Ashley Broadway-Mack live in Fort Bragg, N.C. (Photo courtesy of Equality North Carolina)

Two Southern LGBT advocacy groups on Friday filed an amicus brief in a federal lawsuit challenging Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban.

Equality North Carolina and the South Carolina Equality Coalition repeatedly reference the impact their respective states’ same-sex marriage bans have had on the families of gay and lesbian servicemembers in the 27-page brief they filed with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va.

Tracy Johnson legally married Donna Johnson, a staff sergeant with the North Carolina National Guard, in D.C. in February 2012.

A suicide bomber in Afghanistan killed Donna Johnson eight months. Tracy Johnson has yet to receive death benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs because North Carolina does not recognize her D.C. marriage.

The brief also cites Ashley Broadway-Mack and Army Lt. Col. Heather Mack who live in Fort Bragg, N.C.

The women – who have been together for more than 15 years and are raising two children – exchanged vows in the nation’s capital in November 2012. Broadway-Mack is unable to make medical and other decisions on behalf of her children in North Carolina because the state does not recognize their marriage and prohibits second-parent adoption for gays and lesbians.

“Broadway-Mack lacks the rights and privileges granted to all other parents,” writes Mark Kleinschmidt, who is gay and the mayor of Chapel Hill, N.C., in the brief. “Once she steps off the military base and into Cumberland County, N.C., Broadway-Mack can no longer direct the education of her children or make decisions regarding their care.”

Kleinschmidt notes in the brief that Broadway-Mack could also lose custody of her children if something were to happen to Mack while on deployment.

“This situation leaves the family vulnerable,” he says. “Because of North Carolina’s discriminatory laws, Lt. Col. Mack and Broadway-Mack’s children lose the stability of having two legal parents. This harm is aggravated in the context of a military family when a parent’s life is put at risk in service to her country.”

Broadway-Mack discussed the brief with reporters during a conference call earlier on Friday.

“I question what legal problems I would have if something were to happen to Heather,” she said, noting her wife is currently in Afghanistan. “That is something that weighs on my very heavily.”

Fort Bragg is the largest U.S. Army installation in the country. Camp Lejeune and Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point are also located in the Tar Heel State.

Parris Island and Fort Jackson are among the military installations in South Carolina.

“We believe individuals coming to the state for training purposes should receive the same protections as the state they came from,” said South Carolina Equality Coalition Executive Director Ryan Wilson.

North Carolina voters in 2012 approved a state constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage and recognition of any other gay and lesbian relationships. South Carolinians in 2006 approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina last week filed a lawsuit on behalf of three married same-sex couples who are seeking legal recognition of their unions in the Tar Heel State.

The ACLU in 2012 filed a federal lawsuit against the state’s second-parent adoption ban. The group last year amended the case to directly challenge North Carolina’s marriage amendment.

U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen in February struck down Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban.

The 4th Circuit next month is scheduled to hear oral arguments in a lawsuit against it that Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk and Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Chesterfield filed last year. The federal appeals court in March allowed the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal – who filed a separate lawsuit against the commonwealth’s gay nuptials ban last August on behalf of two lesbian couples from the Shenandoah Valley – to join the case.

North Carolina, South Carolina and West Virginia fall under the 4th Circuit’s jurisdiction.

“Our gay and lesbian service members put their lives on the line everyday for North Carolina, and it’s shameful that they and their families are treated as second-class by our present state of inequality,” said Equality North Carolina Executive Director Chris Sgro. “As these brave men and women courageously perform their duties with dignity and honor, at Equality NC we think its our duty to stand up for the freedom to marry for those who fight for the freedom for all.”

A.E. Dick Howard and Daniel R. Ortiz of the University of Virginia School of Law and Carl W. Tobias of the Richmond School of Law on Friday also filed an amicus brief with the 4th Circuit in the Bostic case. PFLAG, the Family Equality Council, the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Cato Institute are among the groups that filed briefs with the federal appeals court.


SC mayor fires lesbian police chief, says rather have drunks than gays protecting children

"I would much rather have somebody who drank than somebody whose lifestyle is questionable around children."


Fired lesbian police chief rehired

Crystal Moore, Latta, fired, gay news, Washington Blade

Crystal Moore (Image via WBTW)

LATTA, S.C. — A lesbian South Carolina police chief has been rehired after the mayor of the town in which she works fired her.

WBTW reported the Latta Town Council on June 27 voted unanimously to rehire Latta Police Chief Crystal Moore. She was sworn into office after the vote.

“Thank you for your hard work and dedication,” said Moore as WBTW reported. “I will see y’all on the streets.”

The Associated Press reported that Mayor Earl Bullard fired Moore in April after she refused to sign seven reprimands he had presented to her.

Latta residents last week approved a proposal that sought to reduce Bullard’s power in response to his decision to terminate Moore. WBTW reported the town council on June 27 also voted 6-0 to expunge the reprimands from Moore’s record that Bullard said prompted him to fire her.

The television station on its website posted a statement attributed to Bullard that reads he would “much rather have” someone “who drank and drank too much taking care of my child than I had somebody whose lifestyle is questionable around children.”

Latta, which has about 1,400 residents, is located in Dillon County near the North Carolina border.


Second N.C. marriage lawsuit filed

wedding, marriage, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade, spousal benefits, marriage lawsuit

(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

GREENSBORO, N.C. – The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina on April 9 filed a second same-sex marriage lawsuit in the Tar Heel State.

The group filed the lawsuit in federal court on behalf of three married same-sex couples who are seeking recognition of their marriages in North Carolina. They have asked the court to expedite the case because three of the six plaintiffs have serious medical conditions.

“Without the legal security that only marriage affords, these families are left vulnerable,” said Jennifer Rudinger, executive director of the ACLU of North Carolina. “If they could marry or have their marriages recognized in North Carolina, the law would protect their families in countless ways.”

The ACLU in 2012 filed a federal lawsuit against North Carolina’s second-parent adoption ban on behalf of six gay families. The group last year amended the case to directly challenge the state’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., will hear oral arguments in a case that challenges Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban.

North Carolina, South Carolina and West Virginia also fall under the 4th Circuit’s jurisdiction.


Record number of LGBT candidates in 2013 races

Annise Parker, Houston, gay news, Victory Fund, Democratic Party, Washington Blade

Houston Mayor Annise Parker is favored to win re-election to a third term. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund on Tuesday named 10 openly LGBT candidates as part of its annual “Races to Watch” list after endorsing a total of 85 LGBT candidates that it says represents an all-time high for an off-year election.

Among those on the “Races to Watch” list are lesbian Annise Parker, who’s considered the favorite to win re-election to her third term as mayor of Houston; and gay Washington State Sen. Ed Murray, who’s ahead in the polls in his race for mayor of Seattle.

“2013 isn’t an off year,” said Victory Fund Political Director Lucinda Guinn. “It’s definitely on at the Victory Fund.”

Guinn said the national LGBT advocacy group that raises money and provides campaign support for LGBT candidates for public office was focusing on candidates in places where LGBT rights have not advanced as rapidly as in other parts of the country.

“We’re working hard this year to help build up heroes in places where equality is late in arriving,” she said in a statement. “Places where these candidates can be the spark to help their own communities move toward equality.”

Of the 85 LGBT candidates the Victory Fund endorsed this year, 18 have won primaries and advanced to the general election on Nov. 5; 14 have won in general elections already held; and one emerged as the victor in a run-off election, bringing the total number of winning LGBT candidates so far to 33.

Nine Victory Fund-endorsed candidates lost their 2013 races in primaries and three have lost in a general election, bringing the total number of losses so far to 12, according to data released by the group.

One of the most prominent candidates who didn’t make it through their primary race was lesbian Democrat Christine Quinn, speaker of the New York City Council, who lost her race to become New York’s first openly gay mayor to pro-LGBT Democrat Bill de Blasio.

Also losing in a primary contest was gay State Rep. Carl Sciortino of Massachusetts, a Democrat who ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives formerly held by U.S. Sen. Edward Markey.

Fifty-four Victory Fund-endorsed candidates are running in the Nov. 5 general election for local and state offices throughout the country, according to information released this week by the Victory Fund.

Among them are at least three openly gay candidates in the D.C. metropolitan area. Gay Democrat Jay Fisette is running for re-election to a fifth term on the Arlington County Board, the county’s legislative governing body. He’s considered a strong favorite to retain his seat.

In nearby Falls Church, Va., Lawrence Webb, who lost his re-election bid for his seat on the Falls Church City Council, is running for a seat on the Falls Church School Board.

In Maryland, gay attorney Patrick Wojahn, a former board member of the state LGBT advocacy group Equality Maryland, is running for re-election to the College Park, Md., City Council. He’s considered a favorite to retain his seat.

In April, gay Mayor Jim Ireton of Salisbury, Md., won his re-election bid by a comfortable margin.

Although Quinn lost her race for mayor, seven openly gay or lesbian candidates are either seeking re-election or election to the New York City Council on Nov. 5 after winning primary elections in September. The Victory Fund has endorsed each of them.

The remaining candidates the Victory Fund announced on Tuesday as members of its “10 Races to Watch” list are Celia Israel, candidate for the Texas House of Representatives; Robert Lilligen, candidate for the Minneapolis City Council; Chris Seelbach, candidate for the Cincinnati City Council; Darden Rice, candidate for the St. Petersburg, Fla., City Council; Michael Gongora, candidate for Mayor of Miami Beach, Fla.; Tim Eustace, candidate for the New Jersey State Assembly; LaWana Mayfield, candidate for the Charlotte, N.C., City Council; and Catherine LaFond, candidate for the Charleston, S.C., Water System Commission.

The Victory Fund says it doesn’t release the names of openly LGBT candidates who seek the group’s endorsement but don’t receive it.

“We have a set of criteria for endorsing candidates,” said Victory Fund spokesperson Jeff Spitko. “We want to confirm that they are qualified, have a campaign plan and a path to victory,” he said. “We want to make sure they are viable.”

Spitko said the Victory Fund endorsed 180 openly LGBT candidates in 2012 and 124 of them won their races.

A full list of the openly LGBT candidates endorsed by the Victory Fund and appearing on the Nov. 5 election day ballot can be found here.


Same-sex couples seek Va. marriage licenses

marriage equality, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, Virginia, Alyssa Weaver, Mike McVicker, Arlington County, gay news, Washington Blade

From left; D.C. residents Alyssa Weaver and Mike McVicker, who are from South Carolina, apply for a marriage license outside the Arlington County Courthouse on Jan. 17. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

More than a dozen same-sex couples from across the South gathered outside the Arlington County Courthouse on Thursday to apply for marriage licenses.

Gays and lesbians from Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee and North and South Carolina submitted applications to Arlington Circuit Court Clerk Paul Ferguson in the complex’s plaza. A constitutional amendment that Virginia voters approved in 2006 defines marriage as between a man and a woman in the commonwealth, but those who participated in the action described their decision to take part as symbolic.

“We’re here to resist the unjust laws that label us as second class citizens and to call for full equality on the federal level,” Ivy Hill of Piedmont, S.C., told the Washington Blade after she filled out a marriage license in the complex plaza.

She and her partner of more than two years, Misha Gibson, recently became engaged.

“I’m here today to request a marriage license and knowingly being denied, but doing that to make sure that people know that we’re equal,” Gibson said. “I’m doing it to fight for my civil rights.”

Beth Schissel and Sally White of Atlanta joined four other same-sex couples who tried to apply for marriage licenses in Decatur, Ga., earlier this month.

White, who lived in Richmond for 30 years, joked with the Blade after Ferguson declined to issue them a marriage license she traveled to Virginia with her partner as a way to celebrate her birthday on Saturday.

“I’m a pediatric ER doctor,” Schissel said with tears in her eyes. “I take care of your children and take care of the sick and injured and I served my country. I went to the Air Force Academy and I served my country on active duty and yet I can’t have all the rights that are afforded me under that word marriage under federal law. So it’s a slap in the face type of feeling and it hits you deep in your core.”

The Arlington protest was the last in a series of actions organized by the Campaign for Southern Equality to highlight a lack of marriage rights for same-sex couples in the South and to urge the federal government to extend full equality to LGBT Americans.

The “We Do” campaign kicked-off in Hattiesburg, Miss., on Jan. 2 when five gay and lesbian couples applied for marriage licenses. Others followed suit in Mobile, Ala., Morristown, Tenn., Greenville, S.C., and three North Carolina cities before traveling to Virginia.

“We all live here in the South and we’re Southern folks,” Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, who is also an ordained minister with the United Church of Christ in Asheville, N.C., told the Blade in an interview earlier this month. “This is where we live and we’re working with LGBT folks in small towns and cities across the region who are ready to stand up for equality — federal equality in new ways.”

She stressed her group’s approach to highlight the lack of marriage rights for same-sex couples below the Mason-Dixon Line reflects a broader strategy.

“We do feel like because this is the region where discriminatory laws are most deeply enshrined in state law, it creates a really powerful and unique opportunity to revisit those laws by using peaceful, direct action,” Beach-Ferrara said. “What we’re doing with the ‘We Do’ campaign is folks are taking action in their local communities to resist these state laws, to show what happens when they’re actually enforced. They’re typically invisible because they’re so rarely enforced, if at all. And so the general public is sort of insulated from the reality that we live with day in and day out as LGBT folks in the South, which is these laws exist, but when they’re actually enacted and enforced there’s an opportunity to talk about what that actually means and how that hurts real people and real families.”

Matt Griffin and Raymie Wolfe of Morristown, Tenn., who have been together for more than seven years, sought a marriage license in their hometown on Jan. 9.

Wolfe told the Blade before he and his partner tried to obtain a Virginia marriage license that they were “met with good humor” when they tried to do the same in Tennessee. He noted the clerk said it was the first time a gay couple had ever applied for a marriage license in the town — she did reaffirm the Tennessee does not recognize nuptials for gays and lesbians.

“What we wanted to do was kind of illustrate for people and ourselves what happens when we do that,” Wolfe said. “That’s kind of unprecedented. That was my hometown. It’s where I grew up and as a gay kid there, I kind never imagined that i would be going to a courthouse with a partner and applying for a marriage license.”

Same-sex couples gathered in Arlington three days after a Virginia House of Delegates subcommittee voted against a proposal that would have repealed the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

Neighboring Maryland is among the nine states and D.C. that allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot. North Carolina voters last May approved a constitutional amendment that defined marriage as between a man and a woman by a 61-39 percent margin, while Minnesota voters on Election Day rejected a similar proposal.

The upcoming oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court in cases challenging the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 also weighed on the minds of the same-sex couples who applied for marriage licenses and those who witnessed them do so.

“I’m very sympathetic to what the people who came before me today are trying to do and I am happy that there’s other jurisdictions where they can go to have their marriage licenses processed,” Ferguson, who is a former member of the Arlington Board of Supervisors, told the Blade. “There’s a Supreme Court decision coming up and so that will add some clarity to a lot of these peoples’ marriages, which is what they were looking for.”

Tim Young and Mark Maxwell of Winston-Salem, N.C., legally married at the Jefferson Memorial after they and other same-sex couples who had sought Virginia marriage licenses marched from Arlington to the nation’s capital.

“We live our lives in a way where we are not denied anything and we are open to being prosperous and successful,” Young, who has been with Maxwell for 20 years and raised four boys with him, said. “We’ve educated ourselves. We run a business so we pay taxes in that state and we give our money to that state, but we don’t have the same rights as other people and we believe in equity and equality.”

Beach-Ferrara noted her group made a deliberate decision to end their latest campaign in D.C.

“It’s in a lot of ways a small, intimate group, but of folks who traveled on a journey that’s symbolic in a lot of ways in the sense that if you live in the South, you need to travel to Washington, D.C., before you can be recognized as an equal citizen,” she said. “The journey folks have taken sort of helps to illustrate the legal realities that LGBT folks live with, which is you are a second class citizen until you reach the Washington border.”

Marriage equality, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, Virginia, Misha Gibson, Ivy Hill, Arlington County, gay news, Washington Blade

Ivy Hill of Piedmont, S.C., fills out a marriage license outside the Arlington County Courthouse on Jan. 17. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)


S.C. lawmaker introduces pro-gay bill

James Smith, gay news, Washington Blade, South Carolina, Richland County, Democratic Party

State Rep. James Smith (D-Richland County) (Photo courtesy of the James Smith Campaign)

COLUMBIA, S.C.—State Rep. James Smith (D-Richland County) on Tuesday introduced a bill that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to South Carolina’s employment anti-discrimination law.

“All hardworking people in our state should have the chance to earn a living and provide for themselves and their families,” Ryan Wilson, executive director of South Carolina Equality, said. “Nobody should have to live in fear that they can be legally fired for reasons that have nothing to do with their job performance.”

“The Workplace Fairness Act is really about protecting South Carolina’s diverse workforce to make it competitive for businesses that are looking to relocate to South Carolina,” added Smith.


S.C. gay advocates to marry in Md. on Jan. 1

Gay News, Washington Blade, Gay Marriage, Maryland, South Carolina

Ryan Wilson and Shehan Welihindha (Photo courtesy of Ryan Wilson)

The head of South Carolina’s statewide LGBT advocacy group will marry his partner of nearly five years at Baltimore City Hall shortly after midnight on Jan. 1.

“It has been a long-time coming for us as a couple,” Ryan Wilson, executive director of South Carolina Equality, told the Washington Blade on Thursday. “Having the legal recognition for us as a couple is really important to us.”

Wilson, who grew up in Fallston in Harford County, met Shehan Welihindha in Detroit in 2008 during the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s annual Creating Change conference.

Welihindha, who is from Sri Lanka, is studying for a Ph.D. in public health at the University of South Carolina. He is the part-time coordinator for the Harriet Hancock LGBT Center’s program that seeks to prevent HIV among young gay and bisexual men in Columbia, S.C., and the surrounding area.

Wilson proposed to Welihindha in 2009 on-stage during the annual South Carolina Pride as former “American Idol” contestant Frenchie Davis and thousands of others watched.

South Carolina will not recognize the couple’s Maryland marriage because voters in 2006 approved a constitutional amendment that bans nuptials between same-sex couples. The Defense of Marriage Act also prohibits Wilson from sponsoring Welihindha for his green card — he has been able to remain in the United States through a series of work and student visas.

“We feel now’s the time,” Welihindha told the Blade. “We’ve been together for five years and even though it’s not recognized in South Carolina, we feel [as] though getting married in a place that recognizes us as being equal as everyone else and coming back to South Carolina would be inspiring to the community there. It’s still something we feel is going to have a symbolic meaning to us because of that.”

Wilson and Welihindha are among the dozens of same-sex couples who are expected to marry across Maryland on the first day gays and lesbians can legally marry in the state.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake will attend same-sex weddings that will begin at Baltimore City Hall at 12:30 a.m. on Jan. 1. Several gay and lesbian couples are also expected to tie the knot in Cumberland just after midnight on New Year’s Day.

More than a dozen same-sex couples are expected to get married at the gay-owned Black Walnut Point Inn on Tilghman Island in Talbot County on the Eastern Shore on Jan. 1. Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church in Adelphi will host what it describes as a “wedding reception” on Jan. 6 that will celebrate the same-sex marriage law.

As for Wilson and Welihindha, they said they are both excited and nervous as their wedding day approaches.

The couple had considered tying the knot in D.C. after same-sex marriage became legal in the nation’s capital in 2010, but Welihindha noted “Ryan and I got really excited” about the prospect of nuptials for gays and lesbians in Maryland “because that’s Ryan’s home state.”

“For us, immigration equality is kind of an important issue because my partner is from Sri Lanka originally and came over here to study and has not been able to get a green card. And living in South Carolina our relationship isn’t recognized at all,” Wilson added. “So getting a marriage license from a place like Maryland where I grew up is the first step along a path towards really recognizing our relationship. Of course we want to sort of be ready in case the courts rule in favor of marriage equality. We’ve been looking for the place to do it [and] when Maryland finally decided in favor of equality we decided this was the right time and the right place.”