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Stephen Colbert: “I’m here, they’re queer, let’s talk about something else”

Colbert weighs in on the gay marriage juggernaut, interviewing Prop 8 super-lawyers David Boies and Ted Olson.

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18
Jun
2014

Once again, marriage equality inches closer to Supreme Court

David Boies, Ted Olson, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade

David Boies and Ted Olson are leading the VIrginia lawsuit heading to the U.S. Supreme Court (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key).

Not even a year has passed since the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark decisions against the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8, but a number of cases are already lining up that would enable the high court to make a nationwide ruling in favor of marriage equality.

At least four appellate courts are set to consider the issue this spring amid five district court decisions in favor of marriage equality in Utah, Oklahoma, Ohio, Kentucky and Virginia. Once the appellate courts make their decisions, they will likely be appealed this year to the Supreme Court, which would give justices the opportunity to make a final decision in 2015.

Although the Ohio ruling was limited to death certificates for married gay couples and the Kentucky ruling only provided recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages, each of the rulings handed down since the DOMA decision were in favor of marriage equality. And in each ruling, justices invoked the decision against DOMA as part of their reasoning for determining state constitutional amendments against same-sex marriage violated the Constitution.

U.S. District Judge John Heyburn, an appointee of former President George H.W. Bush, noted last week in his decision that the words of the DOMA decision by U.S. Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy compels him to rule against Kentucky’s marriage laws.

“Ultimately, the focus of the Court’s attention must be upon Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion in Windsor,” Heyburn said. “While Justice Kennedy did not address our specific issue, he did address many others closely related. His reasoning about the legitimacy of laws excluding recognition of same-sex marriages is instructive. For the reasons that follow, the Court concludes that Kentucky’s laws are unconstitutional.”

Ted Olson, the Republican half of the legal duo arguing against Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage, during a conference call Friday noted the consistency with which district courts have struck down anti-gay marriage amendments in the aftermath of the DOMA decision.

“Federal courts are consistently, regularly now, affirming the right of gay and lesbian citizens to be a part of the population of the rest of our citizens with equal rights to the fundamental right of marriage,” Olson said.

The cases against same-sex marriage bans in Utah and Oklahoma are the furthest advanced of all the lawsuits seeking marriage equality. They’re before the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, where oral arguments are scheduled in Utah case for April 10 and the Oklahoma case for April 17. The National Center for Lesbian Rights has joined the law firm of Magleby & Greenwood, P.C., as counsel in the Utah case.

Just behind that lawsuit is the case seeking marriage equality in Nevada filed by Lambda Legal known as Sevcik v. Sandoval. After Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto declared her intent to withdraw her brief in favor of the marriage ban, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals last week acceded to her request and pledged to proceed with the lawsuit on an expedited basis, although no date has been set for oral arguments.

The Ohio case has already been appealed to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is also the destination of the Kentucky lawsuit. These cases are also in their early stages at the appellate level, and schedule hasn’t been determined.

And the court ruling against Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage, the latest to come down from a federal court, will be headed to the U.S. Fourth Circuit of Appeals. Although Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring isn’t defending the ban against same-sex marriage in court, Olson said he sees no standing issue in the case and because county clerks are participating in the lawsuit, the state continues to enforce the law.

But according to Lambda Legal, a total of 52 marriage equality lawsuits are pending in 27 states, and any of the cases at district court level could soon join those at the appellate level.

A judge will likely render a decision soon in the other lawsuit seeking marriage equality in Virginia, which was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal. A judge in Michigan has set a trial for that state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage on Feb. 25, just as a trial has been set in the Pennsylvania case for June 9.

Given the sheer number of cases making their way through the courts, David Boies, the Democratic half of the legal duo in the Virginia lawsuit, said the Supreme Court would have no shortage of cases from which to choose by the time it begins its term in the fall.

“I think they will all get to the Supreme Court at about the same time,” Boies said. “The Supreme Court can decide to take them all and consolidate them, the Supreme Court can take one or more of the cases, but not all of then. I think that is something that will be determined by the Supreme Court, and, to some extent, by the timing of the court of appeals decision.”

It’s technically possible for the Supreme Court to take up this issue this term once those cases are appealed, which would mean a nationwide ruling by June.

Jon Davidson, legal director for Lambda Legal, nonetheless said it “seems extraordinarily unlikely” the litigation would play out in that way.

“Even if an appellate decision in one of these cases were issued by May, a certiorari petition likely would not get filed until the summer, and the Supreme Court wouldn’t act on that until October,” Davidson said. “It does not have to grant cert on the first, or, even any of these cases. Even if it does, there likely wouldn’t be a decision until the spring of 2015.”

One issue to watch as these cases make their way up is whether courts apply heightened scrutiny, or a greater assumption a law is unconstitutional, to their decisions on the marriage bans. Such a determination would designate gay people with a “quasi-suspect classification” and establish precedent making other laws related to sexual orientation less likely to stand up in court.

When it ruled on the DOMA case last year, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals already set a precedent for heightened scrutiny for laws related to sexual orientation, but every state in that jurisdiction — New York, Vermont and Connecticut — already has marriage equality.

More recently, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals applied heightened scrutiny in its decision for Smith Kline v. Abbott Laboratories, which determined that jurors cannot be excluded from a trial because of sexual orientation.

Because of the application of heightened scrutiny in that case, the Nevada attorney general stopped defending her state’s marriage ban. Further, expectations are high that courts in Oregon and Arizona, which lie within that jurisdiction, will strike down bans in those states.

It was speculated the Supreme Court took up the Edith Windsor’s challenge to DOMA as opposed to others because the Second Circuit applied heightened scrutiny on that decision, although the high court never explicitly addressed the issue of heightened scrutiny in its ultimate decision. Eyes will be on the Supreme Court to see if it will take up the Ninth Circuit marriage case among others to resolve the issue of heightened scrutiny in the next go-around with marriage equality.

Doug NeJaime, who’s gay and a law professor at University of California, Irvine, nonetheless said he doesn’t think the Supreme Court has interest in resolving this issue for laws related to sexual orientation.

“The Supreme Court in Windsor didn’t explicitly reach this question, even though the lower court had based its decision on heightened scrutiny,” NeJaime said. “Given that, it doesn’t seem the Court is particularly interested in resolving that question, and I don’t think it will do much to persuade the court to take or not take a case.”

Another question is the extent to which the Obama administration will participate in the pending lawsuits. The Justice Department helped litigate against DOMA as party in the lawsuit and assisted in the lawsuit against Prop 8 as a friend of the court, although in the latter case the administration filed a brief and took part in oral arguments only when the litigation reached the Supreme Court.

A number of LGBT advocates have said they’d welcome participation from the Obama administration in the marriage equality cases without making a full-throated call for assistance. On Friday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney wouldn’t make a prediction on whether the administration will take part and deferred comment to the Justice Department, which hasn’t responded to the Blade’s request to comment.

The opportunity for the Justice Department to file a brief in the Nevada case before the Ninth Circuit has already passed, but another opportunity will come soon. The deadline for filing a friend-of-the-court brief before the Tenth Circuit in the Utah case is March 4.

Erik Olvera, spokesperson for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, echoed the sense of other advocates on the issue, saying a friend-of-the-court brief from the Obama administration would be “welcome” in the Utah case.

“We always welcome the Obama administration to express its views in cases concerning civil rights protected by the U.S. Constitution,” Olvera said.

17
Feb
2014

Behind the ‘8’ ball

joyous documentary, gay news, Washington Blade

The Prop 8 couples at the Supreme Court. (Photo courtesy HBO)

Happily, HBO’s joyous documentary “The Case Against 8” is already out of date. A title near the end of the movie mentions the number of states with marriage equality, but the count doesn’t include Pennsylvania or Wisconsin. Will the producers keep updating the title or will they leave it in place as a historic marker?

“The Cast Against 8” is finishing a local run that ends Thursday (June 19) at Washington’s West End Cinema after a June 9 D.C. premiere, but it debuts Monday night on HBO to mark the one-year anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court rulings on DOMA and Prop 8. 

At its core, “The Case Against 8” is the story of three amazing pairs: the two couples who were selected to actually file the lawsuit against Proposition 8 and the two lawyers who argued the case. Proposition 8 was the controversial ballot referendum and amendment to the California state constitution that eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry, overturning an earlier court decision that allowed gay marriages. With equal appeals to the emotion and intellect, the documentary masterfully captures the five-year legal battle with incredible behind-the scenes footage of the plaintiffs and their legal team at work.

The case starts with a casual conversation over a Hollywood lunch. Chad Griffin is meeting with fellow board members from the American Foundation for Equal Rights to discuss their response to Prop 8. Someone mentions that Ted Olson, the very high-profile very conservative right-wing lawyer, is a supporter of same-sex marriage. A shocked Griffin quickly sets up a meeting with Olson. Griffin is delighted when Olson signs on, but surprised by Olson’s choice of co-counsel: David Boies, his opponent in the historic 2000 Bush v. Gore battle. The two had become close friends despite their bitter rivalry and agree to join forces to overturn the discriminatory amendment.

The legal team then faces its most important and difficult decision: choosing the couples who will become plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenging Proposition 8. Two couples survive the intense vetting process: Kris Perry and Sandy Stier of Berkeley and Jeff Zarrillo and Paul Katami of Burbank. With the principal players in place, the battles begin, both in the courtroom and in the court of public opinion.

Documentary filmmakers Ben Cotner and Ryan White had extraordinary access to the proceedings and skillfully capture the human and legal drama of the unfolding court cases. It’s fascinating to watch Olson and Boies lead a squadron of lawyers in developing their case. Cotner and White tell the complicated story with admirable clarity, but more importantly, they capture the intellectual passion of two brilliant minds at work.

But, like Olson and Boies, Cotner and White realize that the plaintiffs are the heart of the story. As Olson tells the foursome, “You are the case. Everything else is just evidence.” The two couples turn out to be their own best advocates. They simply and eloquently explain why the right to marry is so important to them. Perry and Stier had their 2004 marriage declared invalid; Zarrillo and Katami are waiting to have children until their relationship has full legal and social recognition. In their testimony and in their interviews with the filmmakers, these brave pioneers share the intimate details of their lives, including the threatening messages left by the haters. By the time the film closes with their respective ceremonies (each couple madly rushing to their nearest city hall with a filmmaker and lawyer in tow), there will not be a dry eye in the house.

Unfortunately, Cotner and White did not have access to the defenders of Proposition 8, but they still create interesting thumbnail sketches of the opposition. They are also denied footage from the Supreme Court hearings in San Francisco and D.C. since television cameras are banned in both chambers, but they use a surprisingly effective method to work around this obstacle. The participants simply read their testimony from printed transcripts. This is a powerful and moving technique, especially when Sandy Stier puts on her reading glasses to relive the moment. They also effectively create drama by showing the preparation for the trial, including Olson being grilled by his colleagues as he readies for his Supreme Court appearance.

 

18
Jun
2014

ACLU, Lambda Legal seek to join Virginia marriage lawsuit

Virginia, Norfolk, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, gay marriage, gay news, Washington Blade

Lambda Legal and the ACLU on Wednesday petitioned a federal appeals court to intervene in a case that challenges Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban. (Photo courtesy of Casey Hartman)

The American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal on Wednesday petitioned a federal court that is poised to hear a lawsuit challenging Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban to join the case.

The two groups – which filed their own federal lawsuit against the commonwealth’s constitutional amendment that bans nuptials for same-sex couples last August on behalf of two lesbian couples from the Shenandoah Valley – submitted a brief with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond to join a separate lawsuit brought by Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk and Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Chesterfield last year.

U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen’s Feb. 13 ruling in the Bostic case was appealed to the federal appellate court earlier this week.

“From the beginning, both of these cases have proceeded on parallel tracks, and for the good of all couples in the state, we hope it will remain that way,” said Joshua Block, staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. “This motion just ensures that all affected couples have their day in court.”

U.S. Circuit Judge Michael F. Urbanski late last month certified the Lambda Legal and ACLU lawsuit filed on behalf of Victoria Kidd and Christy Berghoff of Winchester and Joanne Harris and Jessica Duff of Staunton as a class action. Urbanski earlier this month said he would not hold oral arguments in the case – and he is expected to issue his ruling in the coming weeks.

“Marriage is a fundamental right of all Virginians,” said Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia. “That’s why it’s important that all couples in both cases be represented in the appeals court at the same time.”

Former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson and David Boies, who successfully argued against California’s Proposition 8 before the U.S. Supreme Court last year, are among the lawyers representing Bostic and London and Schall and Townley.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring last month announced he will not defend the commonwealth’s marriage amendment that voters in 2006 approved by a 57-43 percent margin.

“The Bostic case is extremely well positioned heading into the Fourth Circuit,” American Foundation for Equal Rights Executive Director Adam Umhoefer told the Washington Blade in a statement. “The district court issued an order that, if it is affirmed, will ensure that all gay and lesbian Virginians who wish to marry, or to have their marriage recognized, can do so.”

Herring’s spokesperson, Michael Kelly, declined to specifically comment on the Lambda Legal and ACLU request to join the Bostic case.

“Attorney General Herring’s priority remains ensuring that higher courts have an opportunity to hear this case as quickly as possible to settle the fundamental issues it presents,” said Kelly.

Matthew D. McGill, co-counsel for the plaintiffs in the Bostic case, questioned why the two groups petitioned the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to join the Bostic case.

“The addition of new parties to the case at this late stage risks delaying the proceedings, and there is not a moment to lose when gay and lesbian couples and families across Virginia – and other states in the Fourth Circuit – are experiencing real harm,” said McGill. “We hope the Harris plaintiffs and their lawyers will continue to support our shared goal of marriage equality by filing an amicus brief alongside us.”

A source involved in the legal process who asked to remain anonymous told the Blade there are “grave and serious consequences for an unwarranted ACLU intervention.” These could include the possibility that other groups from West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina that fall under the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ jurisdiction could seek to join the case if allowed.

“If intervention were granted, it could adversely slow down the current appeals process – and time is critical when it comes to attaining marriage equality for all Virginians,” said the source. “There is not a day to lose. Groups like the ACLU can be supportive by simply filing amicus briefs.”

“We are eager for the Fourth Circuit to move ahead swiftly in the Bostic case,” added Umhoefer. “Any delay in the appeals process means that gay and lesbian couples and their families will continue to suffer prolonged harm under unjust laws. We welcome the ACLU to participate as amicus curiae in the case.”

James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and AIDS Project, told the Blade the plaintiffs in the Harris case and their lawyers have been “appointed as representatives of a class of 14,000 same-sex couples in Virginia.” He added the motion to intervene in the Bostic lawsuit are to “do right” by the thousands of gays and lesbians in Virginia who are either married in another jurisdiction or want to exchange vows in the commonwealth.

“This is not about an either or thing,” Esseks told the Blade, noting the Bostic case is not a class action. “This is about an and thing.”

Greg Nevins of Lambda Legal echoed Esseks.

“There still are a lot of moving parts in this,” Nevins told the Blade. “We’ll eventually just do what we can to do the best on this particular case. No one knows where the chips are going to fall.”

27
Feb
2014

Ted Olson compares Ted Cruz’s gay marriage views to racist miscegenation laws

Olson: "Ted Cruz is just plain wrong... that is not and should not be the future of the Republican party."

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24
Jun
2014

AFER paid law firms more than $6.4 million in Prop 8 case

Proposition 8, Supreme Court, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade

The plaintiffs in the Proposition 8 case at the Supreme Court emerge victorious with lawyer David Boies, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin and American Foundation for Equal Rights Executive Director Adam Umhoefer. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The American Foundation for Equal Rights between 2009 and 2013 paid more than $6.4 million to two law firms that successfully argued against California’s Proposition 8.

Tax filings indicate former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson’s law firm – Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP – received $1,691,714 from AFER for “legal and ancillary legal expenses” between April 23, 2009, and March 31, 2010. The organization paid the law firm $958,655 between April 1, 2010, and March 31, 2011, and another $2,758,352 between April 1, 2011, through March 31, 2012.

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP received $537,939 from AFER between April 1, 2012, and March 31, 2013. The organization also paid David Boies’ law firm – Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP – $468,089 for “legal and ancillary legal expenses” between April 1, 2010, through March 31, 2011.

These expenses include payments to expert witnesses who testified against Prop 8, travel and living expenses for lawyers who lived in San Francisco for a month during a three-week trial over which now retired U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn Walker presided in 2010. Additional costs include the use of LexisNexis and other online research databases and photo copying documents.

Prop 8 supporters raised nearly $40 million in support of the same-sex marriage ban that California voters approved in 2008.

Walker in August 2010 struck down the gay nuptials prohibition.

A three-judge panel on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in February 2012 upheld the ruling. The U.S. Supreme Court last June struck down Prop 8.

AFER’s 2013 tax filings were not available.

“AFER’s case resulted in the return of marriage equality in California for a fraction of the cost of a ballot measure,” AFER Executive Director Adam Umhoefer told the Washington Blade on Tuesday.

Tax filings also indicate AFER raised $14,900,467 between April 23, 2009, and March 31, 2013, that Umhoefer told the Blade includes a “large amount” of contributions from Republican donors. He added his organization estimates the Prop 8 case also generated millions of dollars in earned media coverage for which it did not have to pay.

“Our donors feel very strongly about return on investment,” said Umhoefer.

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP and Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP did not return the Blade’s request for comment.

AFER, alongside Olson and Boies, is representing two same-sex couples – Tim Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk and Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Chesterfield – who are challenging Virginia’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen last month struck down the commonwealth’s gay nuptials ban that Attorney General Mark Herring in January announced he would not defend. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., in May is scheduled to hold oral arguments in the AFER case and a second lawsuit Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union filed last summer on behalf of Christy Berghoff and Victoria Kidd of Winchester and Joanne Harris and Jessica Duff of Staunton that has been certified as a class action.

American Foundation for Equal Rights, AFER, Adam Umhoefer, marriage equality, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, gay news, Washington Blade

AFER Executive Director Adam Umhoefer (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Lambda Legal and the ACLU continue to work the case pro bono.

AFER and co-counsel in the Bostic case initially questioned why the two groups petitioned the court to join their lawsuit.

Umhoefer told the Blade his organization’s costs in the Bostic case will be “significantly lower” than the amount of money it spent to challenge Prop 8 because the lawsuit against Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban has worked its way through the courts much faster. He said he expects the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will issue its ruling sometime this summer – roughly a year after Bostic and London filed their lawsuit.

20
Mar
2014

A son’s case for marriage equality

Sandy Stier, Kris Perry, David Boies, Chad Griffin, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, Proposition 8, Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA, Prop 8, California, Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade

Prop 8 plaintiffs Sandy Stier and Kris Perry addressed onlookers after a historic ruling at the U.S. Supreme Court. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The first time anyone asked me if I was disadvantaged to be raised by lesbian moms was in the first grade. A friend from my class asked what my mom and dad did for a living, and when I told him I had two moms, he told me that I wasn’t normal, that we were different.

Growing up, friends would ask questions like, “who cooks?” or, “who works?” trying to fit our puzzle piece where we just couldn’t. To me, my family was different because I had three parents; a step mom and two other moms; a twin and two step brothers; the fact that my parents were gay never made me think of them as different, until those outside my family made a point of it.

It wasn’t until my freshman year in high school that I finally saw how my family was “different.”

Elliott and I woke up early on Jan. 11, 2010, and put on our only suits. We shuffled into the back of Kris and Sandy’s SUV and the four of us drove across the Bay Bridge to a Victorian home in San Francisco. There, we met with Chad Griffin, president of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, Paul Katami, and Jeff Zarrillo (who with my moms would be the plaintiffs in the Proposition 8 case). The five of them stepped outside to meet the press, and it was Jeff who said, “We’re all Americans who simply want to get married like everybody else.”

In minutes, Elliott and I were on our way to the Federal District Courthouse. We were led through the back while our moms and a battalion of lawyers weaved their way between picket lines. It seemed that in no time Judge Walker was banging his gavel and the trial began.

One of our lawyers, David Boies, called Jeff and then Paul. The opposing lawyer, Charles Cooper, cross-examined Paul, and then, Ted Olson, our other lawyer, asked Kris to take the stand.

After a few questions, Ted asked Kris what it felt like to be discriminated against. It was the first time I had ever heard any of my moms describe what it was like to face prejudice. She told Ted about growing up in the Central Valley of California and hiding who she was. She told him how she was teased and mocked as she grew up and how that blanket of constant hate had lowered the quality of her life. She also said she had never allowed herself to be truly happy and how she didn’t want any kid to know what that felt like.

Looking around as Kris joined us again on the bench, I could see my brother, Sandy, and our friends in tears.

I had finally found my answer: Families like mine are no different than anyone else’s. We share the same love. We’re only different in that we felt the brunt of living under discriminatory laws.

When a family like mine is denied equal protection under the law, when society tells us that because you are a minority, you don’t get the rights of the majority, it hurts. It validates hate against that minority. It teaches kids in states with same-sex marriage bans that your family isn’t worthy of protection.

Perry v. Hollingsworth was appealed again and again until it reached the Supreme Court.  My first trip to D.C. was much like that drive to San Francisco three years earlier. Elliott and I woke up early to stand in line outside the courthouse. We walked behind our parents to sit behind Ted Olson and David Boies. In the midst of Charles Cooper’s oral argument, Justice Kennedy asked, “Forty thousand children in California … that live with same-sex parents, and they want their parents to have full recognition and full status. The voice of those children is important in this case, don’t you think?” Cooper responded saying there was no evidence that children, my brothers and I, would benefit from Kris and Sandy being married.

Today the same question is being asked in court cases across the country that challenge state bans on marriage equality and like Perry v. Hollingsworth have the potential to bring the battle of universal marriage equality to the Supreme Court.

Four months after the Supreme Court oral arguments, the court lifted the ban on same-sex marriages in California and I got to know exactly what that benefit is. Take it from a son –I’ve never felt prouder or more patriotic than when my moms were legally married one year ago on June 28. Every son and daughter in every state should have the right to feel that way.

Spencer M. Perry is the son of Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, plaintiffs in the Perry v. Hollingsworth case that overturned California’s ban on same-sex marriage. He studies economics and public policy at George Washington University.

Kris Perry, Sandy Stier, Spencer Perry, gay news, Washington Blade

From left, Kris Perry, Spencer Perry and Sandy Stier (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

 

25
Jun
2014

Va. plaintiffs’ daughter leads normal life in the spotlight

Emily Schall-Townley, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, Virginia, gay news, Washington Blade, daughter

Emily Schall-Townley (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

CHESTERFIELD, Va.– The forsythia shrubs behind Emily Schall-Townley’s suburban Richmond home were in full bloom on Saturday morning as she and her friend, Jordan Cramer, took pictures of each other around an abandoned house. The two teenagers joked, laughed and even teased each other as they took pictures of each other.

“You’re weirdly normal,” Cramer said to her friend.

Schall-Townley repeatedly stressed to the Washington Blade during a series of exclusive interviews at her home on April 4 and 5 that she is simply a normal teenager in spite of her parents’ decision to challenge Virginia’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

“I’m just a normal, run-of-the-mill person,” she said while siting on a couch in the living room as her parents – Mary Townley and Carol Schall – and Nicholas Graham of the American Foundation for Equal Rights listened.

Schall-Townley, who is a sophomore at Monacan High School in North Chesterfield, has played basketball since she was in third grade. The 16-year-old who obtained her learner’s permit a few months ago also enjoys reading, watching television and spending time with her friends.

“She’s an honor student,” noted Schall proudly after Schall-Townley and another friend, Haley Eiser, left to go to watch “Captain America” at a local movie theater. “Next year she’s taking four or five AP classes.”

Schall-Townley excitedly noted to the Blade while sitting in her living room that she has a “celebrity crush” on Darren Criss from “Glee.” She said she had a dream the night before that Graham received a phone call from Criss on his cell phone while he was working in her family’s home – and she was able to talk with him.

“I love him so much,” said Schall-Townley.

She also noted she would like to meet Dustin Lance Black, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “Milk” who is a founding AFER board member.

“I think the chances are high for that one,” said Schall-Townley as her parents began to laugh. “I know who Dustin Lance Black is. He’s dating Tom Daley and Tom Daley is beautiful.”

‘This is big’

Emily Schall-Townley, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, Virginia, gay news, Washington Blade

Emily Schall-Townley with her friend. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Schall-Townley’s first experience in the spotlight came last September when her parents and Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk – who two months earlier filed a lawsuit against Virginia’s marriage amendment – attended a press conference at the National Press Club in D.C. where AFER announced former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson and David Boies had joined the case.

Schall and Townley – who have been together for nearly 30 years and married in California in October 2008 – told their daughter a few weeks earlier that they were going to challenge the commonwealth’s same-sex marriage ban. Schall-Townley told the Blade the D.C. press conference was the first time she realized “OK, so this is big.”

“I felt important,” she said. “It’s not like I got asked the questions or anything like that, but it was like, ‘Wow, I’m on TV with my parents.’ I was nervous.”

Schall-Townley was with her parents inside a federal courtroom in Norfolk on Feb. 4 when U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen heard oral arguments in the case.

Schall and Townley broke down their lawyers’ arguments against the marriage amendment in an e-mail they sent to Schall-Townley before the hearing. They also wrote notes to each other during the oral arguments.

Schall-Townley said she felt “bad” for the lawyers for the defendants – Norfolk Circuit Court Clerk George Schaefer, III, and Prince William County Circuit Court Clerk Michèle McQuigg – who referred to “accidental procreation” during the proceeding. Schall-Townley also recalled Austin Nimocks of the Alliance Defending Freedom arguing that same-sex marriage is bad for children.

“That was hard to hear,” she said.

Ruling interrupts Olympic men’s figure skating finals

Schall-Townley was at home watching the men’s Olympic figure skating finals on Feb. 13 when her parents learned Allen had found Virginia’s marriage amendment unconstitutional. It snowed earlier in the day, and Schall shoveled the driveway in anticipation that she and her family would have to drive to Norfolk if the judge issued her decision.

“I was really excited to watch the men’s figure skating final and then we got the call,” she said. “All the attention was demanded there and so we never got to watch it.”

Schall-Townley’s friend Dominque joined her, her parents, Bostic and London and their lawyers at a Norfolk press conference the next morning. She also attended the annual Equality Virginia Commonwealth Dinner in Richmond on April 4 with Schall and Townley.

“At the hearing I had talked to reporters with a TV camera, so it was at least a little bit less daunting,” said Schall-Townley, referring to the reporter from a Norfolk television station with whom she spoke after Allen issued her ruling. “It wasn’t my first time doing it.”

Schall, to whom Schall-Townley refers as “mama,” then proceeded to open up an ottoman in the living room that contained clips about the case. She refers to Townley, who is her birth mother, as “mommy.”

Schall-Townley teased Schall about the six copies of a recent Richmond Times-Dispatch feature on her and her family that Schall kept in a shopping bag.

“It’s getting harder and harder to keep up,” said Schall.

Schall-Townley told the Blade the strangest question she has received thus far came from a radio host who asked her about whether she likes boys.

“I just felt really awkward answering it,” she said. “They didn’t use it, but I was still like I don’t know. It’s because people assume that maybe if you have two lesbian parents they have to have a lesbian child. That’s not true if you have two straight parents and then you have a gay kid.”

Schall-Townley said her classmates, friends and their parents have been supportive of her and her parents as the case works its way through the courts. She noted she thought the same-sex marriage opponents who gathered outside the Norfolk courthouse on Feb. 4 were “funny.”

“I just kind of laughed it off,” said Schall-Townley. “It didn’t bother me.”

“We’re never going to win them over,” added Schall. “If somebody has the strength and puts the effort into making a sign to stand out in front of a courthouse, they’re not the people that we want to win over. We want to win over the people who are sitting in their living rooms and looking at us and saying, ‘well they look normal, maybe it’s OK.’ It’s the middle we want to move, not the end. And those are the wing nuts.”

Friend: Parents ‘deserve the right’ to marry

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Emily Schall-Townley with a friend. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Oral arguments in the case are scheduled to begin in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond on May 13.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, the Liberty Counsel and other anti-LGBT groups have filed briefs with the federal appeals court that argue marriage between a man and a woman is necessary for procreation.

“They actually brushed over our story as if it didn’t exist,” said Townley. “They never mentioned Emily, I mean purposely I think. They don’t mention there have been actual harms that have happened to us.”

Staff at a Richmond hospital admitted Townley when she had pregnancy-related complications, but they refused to allow Schall to see her for several hours. Schall has joint and legal custody of her daughter, but Virginia law does not allow second-parent adoptions for same-sex couples.

A clerk at a local post office in 2012 told Schall she is “nobody, you don’t matter” when she and Townley tried to renew Townley-Schall’s passport.

“They don’t even mention that we have a daughter because it’s so counter to their entire argument,” said Schall, referring to the Alliance Defending Freedom and other groups that continue to defend Virginia’s marriage amendment. “It’s their game.”

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From left, Mary Townley, Emily Schall-Townley and Carol Schall attended the 2014 Equality Virginia Commonwealth Dinner on April 5. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Schall-Townley’s friends repeatedly told the Blade they “love” her parents.

“It’s great what they’re doing,” said Eiser, discussing how she feels her friend has handled the attention around the case. “Emily’s handled it perfectly.”

“They deserve the right to be married,” added Cramer. “Somebody’s always going to find somebody to be prejudiced against. It’s ridiculous. They’re still human beings; they have the right to do that and they’re not different just because they like the same sex.”

Schall-Townley and her parents feel hopeful ahead of next month’s oral arguments in the 4th Circuit. She described the prospect of the lawsuit reaching the U.S. Supreme Court as “so cool.”

“Any of the cases could be the one that was making [same-sex marriage] for the entire nation legal,” said Schall-Townley. “The fact we could be the case would be cool.”

09
Apr
2014

Ted Olson: Va. gay marriage ban ‘flatly unconstitutional’

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Ted Olson and David Boies (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson on Friday described Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban as “blatant discrimination” that is “unjustified, un-American and flatly unconstitutional.”

“The unmistakable purpose and effect of Virginia’s marriage prohibition is to stigmatize gay men and lesbians – and them alone – and enshrine in Virginia’s constitution and statutory code that they are ‘unequal to everyone else,’” he said in a brief filed with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., that urges it to uphold a federal judge’s ruling that struck down the commonwealth’s gay nuptials ban.

Olson said the commonwealth’s marriage amendment “actually harms children” because it prevents gay men and lesbians from tying the knot. Three of the four leading plaintiff couples who are challenging the state’s same-sex marriage ban – Mary Townley and Carol Schall of Chesterfield, Joanne Harris and Jessica Duff of Staunton and Victoria Kidd and Christy Berghoff of Winchester – are raising children.

Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk, who filed a lawsuit against the state’s gay nuptials ban last July, have been together for 25 years.

“If the commonwealth’s interest truly were ensuring that children received the benefits of parents’ remaining together to rear the children they conceive, that professed objective would be advanced only by allowing same-sex couples to marry,” says Olson.

Olson also notes in the brief filed on behalf of Townley and Schall and Bostic and London that Virginia’s interracial marriage ban dated back to the colonial period. The aforementioned prohibition remained in place until 1967 when the U.S. Supreme Court struck it down in its landmark Loving v. Virginia decision.

“The history of Virginia’s marriage prohibition demonstrates that the laws were intended to oppress,” says Olson. “They were designed to exclude gay men and lesbians from marriage in Virginia on the baseless supposition that gay men and lesbians were launching an ‘attack’ on traditional families that would ‘weaken’ the institution of marriage.”

Olson filed his brief in the Bostic case on the same day Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring defended U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen’s February ruling that struck down the commonwealth’s same-sex marriage ban.

Herring announced shortly after he took office in January he will not defend the marriage amendment that voters in 2006 approved by a 57-43 percent margin. Norfolk Circuit Court Clerk George Schaefer, III, and Prince William County Circuit Court Clerk Michèle McQuigg defended the gay nuptials ban in briefs their lawyers filed with the 4th Circuit on March 28.

“The clerks’ narrow vision of marriage and expansive vision of state power to intrude on personal freedoms demean the institution of marriage and the dignity of gay people as free and equal human beings,” wrote Luke C. Platzer of Jenner and Block LLP, a D.C. law firm, in a brief he filed with the 4th Circuit on Friday on behalf of Harris and Duff and Kidd and Berghoff.

The American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal last August filed a lawsuit against the state’s marriage amendment on behalf of the women.

U.S. District Judge Michael F. Urbanski in January certified the ACLU and Lambda Legal lawsuit as a class action. The 4th Circuit last month allowed the groups to intervene in the Bostic case.

Lawyer: Defendants’ claims are ‘bizarre’

Platzer dismissed claims the marriage amendment is necessary for the procreation of children.

“The clerks’ assertion that allowing same-sex couples to marry would sever the association between marriage and raising children is bizarre,” he says.

OurServe-SLDN and the American Military Partner Association and a group of constitutional law scholars that include Deborah Hellman and John C. Jeffries, Jr., of the University of Virginia School of Law on Friday filed amicus briefs with the 4th Circuit.

“Gay and lesbian individuals have limited ability to protect themselves through the political process against continued public and private discrimination,” writes Lori Alvino McGill of the D.C. law firm Latham and Watkins LLP on behalf of the scholars, referring to the defendants in the Bostic case who argue gays and lesbians have gained political influence in recent years. “The barriers to gay and lesbian persons achieving equal respect, equal dignity, and equal rights through the political process remain daunting, and private discrimination and hostility are still often both widespread and fierce.”

Neighboring Maryland is among the 18 states and D.C. that have extended marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Gays and lesbians in North Carolina, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Florida, Alabama and other states have filed marriage lawsuits since the U.S. Supreme Court last June struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act. A three-judge panel with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday heard oral arguments in an appeal of a federal judge’s ruling late last year that found Utah’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional.

The 4th Circuit is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the Bostic case on May 13.

12
Apr
2014

New book on marriage equality assailed as ‘travesty’

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Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin is lionized in “Forcing the Spring” for his role in the marriage movement. (Blade file by Michael Key)

A new book on the advancement of marriage equality and the lawsuit that overturned Proposition 8 is stirring controversy over its lionization of HRC President Chad Griffin and its depiction of the federal lawsuit he helped initiate against the California ban.

The book, “Forcing the Spring,” was written by Jo Becker, a New York Times journalist who was embedded with Griffin and the Prop 8 team as their lawsuit moved forward. The book hit shelves on Tuesday, but has already incurred the ire of many in the LGBT movement who say it heaps too much praise on Griffin and ignores others who led the marriage equality effort for decades.

The notion that Griffin, a board member of American Foundation for Equal Rights, is the hero who saved the marriage equality movement pervades the 437-page work.

One part of the book that addresses his move to D.C. in 2012 to become head of the Human Rights Campaign includes a farewell discussion in which fellow AFER board member Rob Reiner says of Griffin, “If there ever is going to be — and there will be at some point — the first gay president, you’re looking at him.”

As noted by gay blogger Andrew Sullivan in his tirade against the book, “Forcing the Spring” opens with a comparison of Griffin and civil rights icon Rosa Parks, saying a revolution begins when someone “grows tired of standing idly by” against the tide of injustice.

“It begins when a black seamstress named Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat on a bus to white man in the segregated South,” Becker writes. “And in this story, it begins with a handsome, bespectacled thirty-five-year old political consultant named Chad Griffin, in a spacious suite at the Westin St. Francis hotel in San Francisco on election night 2008.”

It’s this comparison between Griffin and the iconic figure of the black civil rights movement that Sullivan, who helped pioneer the idea of same-sex marriage in the 1990s, says is only the start of “jaw-dropping distortion” throughout the book.

Andrew Lane, a prominent New York-based gay donor, called the book a “travesty” and said Becker knew that was the case as she was putting the book together.

“She chose to give us a shallow and incomplete history that fetishizes the role of celebrities and PR hacks and either trashes or ignores the real heroes who fought for years to help make the moment possible,” Lane said. “That vapid gay men are attempting to re-write history by centering themselves is not news. That they conscripted a New York Times reporter to do the heavy lifting for them certainly is.”

HRC didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment on the perception that Griffin and the Prop 8 case are given undue credit in the book for their role in the marriage equality movement.

A significant portion of the book is devoted to the behind-the-scenes action leading to President Obama’s announcement in favor of marriage equality in 2012. Although Obama campaigned in 2008 in opposition to same-sex marriage (despite supporting it in 1996), he later said he could evolve on the issue, leading to his announcement in favor of same-sex marriage during his re-election campaign.

According to the book, when Vice President Joseph Biden appeared to endorse same-sex marriage on NBC’s “Meet the Press” just days before Obama’s announcement, the White House reacted furiously. In a chain of emails sent through the White House, senior adviser to the president Valerie Jarrett through an intermediary accused Biden of “downright disloyalty.”

Griffin gets credit as a key voice for moving these evolutions forward. A passage in the book recounts Griffin briefly asking the president during a fundraiser, “How can we help you evolve more quickly?” Obama gave a non-committed response, but pointed to his work on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and the Defense of Marriage Act as evidence of his commitment to LGBT rights.

Further, it recounts Griffin attending a Los Angeles fundraiser with Biden prior to his appearance on “Meet the Press.” After Griffin asked Biden what he really thinks about marriage equality, the vice president said being against it in the future will be a “political liability.” A top Biden aide is quoted as saying it was a moment when “his hard drive got erased.”

John Aravosis, editor of AMERICAblog, criticized the depiction of Griffin as being a driving factor in Obama’s evolution, especially because others who contributed to the effort — like his own blogger who got Obama to say he could evolve on marriage — are absent from the book.

“I had high hopes for Chad taking over HRC, and said so publicly, but I don’t honestly know what Chad did to get the president to evolve on marriage,” Aravosis said. “You wouldn’t know it from Jo Becker’s self-proclaimed ‘definitive account’ of the gay marriage battle these past five years, but the president used that word in response to a question from then-AMERICAblog deputy editor Joe Sudbay, who questioned the president in the White House in October of 2010. Becker gives neither Joe, nor AMERICAblog, any credit, for the now-famous answer.”

Also depicted as contributing to Obama’s evolution on marriage is Ken Mehlman, the former head of the Republican National  Committee who came out as gay in 2010. Mehlman attended Harvard with Obama, so the two had known each other for decades.

According to the book, Mehlman e-mailed Obama senior adviser David Plouffe some talking points and suggested soft lighting for the interview and that it be conducted by a female reporter (it ended up being Robin Roberts of “Good Morning America,” who was closeted at the time).

It’s not the first time the events leading up to Obama’s announcement in favor of same-sex marriage have been reported. The 2013 book “Double Down,” which chronicles Obama’s re-election campaign, also discusses the lead-up to the endorsement. The book similarly recounts the fervor in the White House after Biden’s words on “Meet the Press” and Mehlman’s advice to Obama for his interview, although Griffin makes no appearance in that narrative.

While praising Griffin, the book doesn’t present as favorable an image of other leaders in the marriage equality movement. Among them is Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, who spoke out on marriage equality when it was much less popular — even among LGBT rights groups — in the 1990s.

One portion of the book disparages Wolfson for having unkind words for “Milk” screenwriter and AFER board member Dustin Lance Black after he pledged in his Oscar acceptance speech that equal rights will come very soon for gay people across America.

“Wolfson had berated the younger man over his Oscar speech, explaining as though to a willing but ignorant child his ongoing, twenty-five year plan to build support for marriage equality,” Becker writes. “Twenty-five years? Black had practically gasped. But he had said little; it was intimidating, to say the least, to be dressed down by a pioneer of the marriage equality movement.”

In response to a Blade inquiry on whether he’s given a fair shake in the book, Wolfson spoke in holistic terms on progress made on marriage equality and future goals to advance it further.

“As a movement, we have secured a strong majority of public support for the freedom to marry and a critical mass of Americans living in marriage states,” Wolfson said. “Together, we gutted the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, and, as we again head toward the Supreme Court, have built irrefutable momentum showing America is ready. But we are not done. Freedom to Marry is going to stay focused on finishing the job and achieving the goal we’ve long been aiming toward: winning marriage nationwide.”

Another person whose role is minimized in the book is Mary Bonauto, the civil rights director at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, who successfully argued the case almost 11 years ago that brought marriage equality to Massachusetts, making it the first state in the country with same-sex marriage. She has also led efforts against the Defense of Marriage Act.

Her role in “Forcing the Spring” is reduced to commending the Prop 8 lawsuit for enabling a trial of the issue of marriage equality. “They turned that trial into a truth commission,” Bonauto is quoted as saying of the attorneys behind the lawsuit.

Carisa Cunningham, a GLAD spokesperson, dismissed the omission of Bonauto’s work on marriage equality by saying the book was meant to capture the narrative of another effort to advance the cause.

“This book wasn’t Mary’s story, and it’s clearly not a history of the movement,” Cunningham said. ”Someday someone will write a book about Mary, and in the meantime, Mary’s story has been told in plenty of public ways and she and GLAD get a lot of well-deserved credit. We’re in it for the work – on principle and how it makes a difference in people’s lives.”

Cunningham also criticized the depiction of Griffin in the book, saying although he offered significant contributions to advancing marriage equality, the book “may do a disservice to those contributions by portraying him as a savior of the movement.”

But the crux of the book is that the lawsuit against Prop 8 litigated by Ted Olson and David Boies restructured the marriage movement. The title itself, “Forcing the Spring,” suggests the Prop 8 case was responsible for bringing marriage equality to the entire country — or at least getting the ball rolling for successes in other states besides California.

But it was the decision in the DOMA case — not the Prop 8 case — that established legal precedent enabling courts since that ruling to rule in favor of marriage equality in now 10 states. The U.S. Supreme Court on the Prop 8 case sidestepped the merits of whether a state can ban same-sex marriage, ruling that proponents of the law had no standing to defend the ban in court after California state officials declined to do so.

The conclusion of Becker’s account gives credit to the lawsuit against DOMA, but says the arguments in the Prop 8 case influenced U.S. Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy’s decision in striking down the federal law.

“By intertwining arguments from both cases, Kennedy gave the Windsor decision a heft and precedential value it might not otherwise have had, providing powerful legal ammunition for a slew of future challenges to state bans on same-sex marriage,” Becker writes.

It should be noted, as previously reported by the Blade, that Olson and Boies’ assistance in the Prop 8 lawsuit came with a hefty $6.4 million price tag. Moreover, HRC, now headed by Griffin, was among the nine signatories of a letter that came out the day before the Prop 8 lawsuit was filed and urged restraint in taking the case to court.

“It is by no means clear that a federal challenge to Prop. 8 can win now,” the letter says. “And an unsuccessful challenge may delay marriage even longer, not only in California but in other states, and seriously damage the rights of LGBT people on many other important issues.”

Nonetheless, HRC in the past week has been promoting the book and its depiction of the Prop 8 case in various blog postings on the organization’s website. One March 26 posting in the weeks prior to the publication of the book calls it “an unparalleled testament to the last five years in the American civil rights movement.”

Suzanne Goldberg, co-director for Columbia University’s Center for Gender & Sexuality Law, said she’s read the Becker book and faulted Becker for not telling the Prop 8 story in a way that better shows its place among other contributions to the marriage movement.

“I think the Perry case was, along with other cases, legislative and community-based advocacy, influential in shaping the marriage equality movement,” Goldberg said. ”The problem with Jo Becker’s book is not the up-close story she tells about the Prop 8 case and media work, which in itself is interesting, but rather the uncritical telling of that story as an account of the marriage equality movement. There are numerous places where she gives both the case and the media advocates far more credit for inventing advocacy strategies and changing the landscape than either deserves.”

22
Apr
2014