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Prop 8 plaintiff speaks at Education Dept. Pride event

Kris Perry, Arne Duncan, gay news, Washington Blade

Proposition 8 plaintiff Kris Perry spoke Thursday with U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan. (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan played the role of talk show host on Thursday when he interviewed famed Proposition 8 plaintiff Kris Perry on the dual topics of LGBT equality and early childhood education.

The interview took place before an audience of about 150 people assembled at the department’s headquarters in Southwest Washington as part of an LGBT Pride Month event sponsored by the department’s LGBT employees group.

“This is a really meaningful day,” Duncan told the Blade after the event. “We try to do whatever we can just to celebrate the wealth of talent and the wealth of diversity we have here,” he said in referring to the department’s employees.

Perry became a nationally recognized figure as the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit that challenged the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8, a ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage in the state.

Shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Prop 8 last year Perry and her partner of more than 10 years, Sandy Stier, married in their home state, with LGBT activists joining them and their four sons in celebrating the victory.

Although the spotlight on Perry has focused on her marriage equality efforts her career has long involved advocacy for early childhood education programs. She currently serves as executive director of the First Five Years Fund, a national advocacy organization that lobbies for federal funding for early childhood education programs.

In response to a question from Duncan at Thursday’s Pride event, Perry pointed to what she sees as similarities in the impact of marriage equality and early childhood education programs on the lives of children.

“There are so many similarities in terms of why high-quality early education is the same as kids feeling like they have a family that is equal,” she said. “When you are told by your government that your family isn’t equal it changes your self-image, your self-esteem and it creates a ceiling for you that is very hard to push through,” Perry said.

“When you aren’t allowed to get a high-quality early education a similar ceiling is placed on top of you,” she said. “It is very hard to reach your full potential. It’s very hard to compete … And I really believe that family diversity and the early education opportunity – you create opportunities or you take them away,” she said.

“And those are life-changing, life-altering decisions that we make in the society that limit potential.”

After asking Perry several questions, Duncan opened the discussion to questions from the audience of mostly DOE employees. The questions were divided almost equally between LGBT equality issues and education issues, including early childhood education.

06
Jun
2014

Hobby Lobby ruling assailed

Hobby Lobby, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo by DangApricot; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case on Monday brought criticism from LGBT rights supporters for restricting access to contraception, but advocates acknowledge the narrow scope of the ruling shouldn’t lead to companies invoking it to justify anti-LGBT workplace discrimination.

In a 5-4 decision penned by U.S. Associate Justice Samuel Alito, justices ruled in the case of Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act enables closely held for-profit corporations whose owners oppose contraception to continue to deny it for religious reasons, despite the mandate requiring employers to provide this coverage under Obamacare.

“We hold that the regulations that impose this obligation violate RFRA, which prohibits the Federal Government from taking any action that substantially burdens the exercise of religion unless that action constitutes the least restrictive means of serving a compelling government interest,” Alito writes.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, said the decision represents a “dangerous precedent” and that allowing employers to restrict access to contraception leaves women “in limbo.”

“Under the ruling, some corporations will be treated like religious institutions and these so-called ‘religious corporations’ will not have to pay for health care that they disagree with,” Carey said. “So what happens if a woman needs birth control and their employers won’t pay? What happens if a trans woman needs hormones and their bosses won’t pay? What happens if a couple needs fertility treatments and the ‘religious corporation’ they work for won’t pay? Yet again, another barrier put in the way of vital and affordable health care.”

But Alito suggests in his ruling that the Obama administration can set up for employees who seek contraception coverage and work for closely held for-profit corporations the same system already in place under Obamacare for employees who work at religious organization and seek contraception.

Moreover, Alito emphasizes the ruling is limited to contraception and doesn’t allow  closely held for-profit corporations to opt out of any law they choose.

“The principled dissent raises the possibility that discrimination in hiring, for example on the basis of race, might be cloaked as religious practice to escape legal sanction,” Alito writes. “Our decision today provides no such shield.”

In other news from the Supreme Court on Monday, justices announced they will decline to hear litigation known as Pickup v. Brown, which challenges California’s ban on “ex-gay” therapy for minors. The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals last year upheld the constitutionality of the law, which was signed by California Gov. Jerry Brown.

30
Jun
2014

Va. clerk to petition Supreme Court to hear marriage case

Josh Duggar, Victoria Cobb, Family Foundation of Virginia, Allison Howard, Concerned Women for America, E.W. Jackson, Norfolk, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, Virginia, gay news, Washington Blade

One of the defendants in a lawsuit challenging the Virginia same-sex marriage ban plans to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. (Photo courtesy of the Family Foundation of Virginia)

One of the defendants in a lawsuit challenging Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban on Friday indicated she plans to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

Byron J. Babione of the Alliance Defending Freedom filed a 13-page motion with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond on behalf of Prince William County Clerk Michèle McQuigg that indicates she will file a “petition for a writ of certiorari” no later than October 26.

A three-judge panel on the 4th Circuit on July 28 upheld U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen’s ruling that struck down Virginia’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

The 4th Circuit’s decision is slated to go into effect on August 18, pending the outcome of McQuigg’s motion.

Babione said Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, who announced in January he will not defend the commonwealth’s same-sex marriage ban in court, has agreed to a stay of the 4th Circuit’s decision.

Babione wrote lawyers representing two lesbian couples from the Shenandoah Valley who are challenging Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban “do not consent to the relief requested and intend to file an opposition.” He said attorneys representing the lead plaintiffs — Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk and Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Chesterfield — “did not respond with their petition on this motion.”

“Good cause supports this request to stay the mandate,” wrote Babione. “A stay will ensure the orderly resolution of the important constitutional question presented in this case while avoiding uncertainty for the public and irreparable injury to the commonwealth.”

Babione said “the absence of a stay will likely produce legal uncertainty and confusion.”

He noted hundreds of same-sex couples in Utah married after U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby late last year struck down the state’s constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

The U.S. Supreme Court a few weeks later stayed Shelby’s decision, pending the outcome of an appeal.

“Failing to stay the mandate pending the filing of a petition for writ of certiorari is likely to result in similar confusion and uncertainly in Virginia,” wrote Babione. “In the absence of a stay, same-sex couples in Virginia may obtain marriage licenses during an interim period only to have their validity become immediately questionable should the Supreme Court disagree with the panel’s resolution of this case.”

Michael Kelly, a spokesperson for Herring, told the Washington Blade on Saturday the attorney general “believes the district and appeals court got it right, but he said throughout this process that the Supreme Court will likely have the final word.”

“During this case he has defend the fundamental rights of Virginians and expedited the schedule to settle the issue as soon as possible,” said Kelly.

Adam Umhoefer, executive director of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which is representing the plaintiffs, in a statement to the Blade did not explicitly say whether his organization plans to challenge McQuigg’s motion.

“Every court to hear this issue has agreed: there is no good reason to deny gay and lesbian Virginians and Americans the freedom to marry,” said Umhoefer. “Opponents of equality may try to continue the fight, but they will fail.”

Same-sex couples in 19 states and D.C. are able to legally marry.

More than two dozen federal and state courts have ruled in support of nuptials for gays and lesbians since the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2013 struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes last month announced he would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision that upheld Shelby’s ruling that struck down his state’s marriage amendment. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati on August 6 is scheduled to hear oral arguments in five cases that challenge same-sex marriage bans in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott last week filed an appeal with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans that seeks to overturn a federal judge’s ruling earlier this year that found his state’s gay nuptials ban unconstitutional.

02
Aug
2014

Mark Herring to petition Supreme Court to hear Va. marriage case

Mark Herring, Virginia, Democratic Party, Attorney General, gay news, Washington Blade

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring on Tuesday announced he will petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a case that challenges the commonwealth’s same-sex marriage ban.

Herring’s office said in a press release that on Friday he will formally ask the justices to hear the case and “definitely settle the constitutional issues for the commonwealth and the rest of the country.”

“Throughout this case, I have fought for the fundamental rights of Virginians and the quickest possible resolution,” said Herring. “I believe the district and appeals courts ruled correctly in striking down Virginia’s discriminatory marriage ban, but it has long been clear that the Supreme Court will likely have the final word. I want that decision to come as soon as possible and I want the voices of Virginians to be heard. This case has moved forward at an incredibly swift pace, and I look forward to a final resolution that affirms the fundamental right of all Virginians to marry.”

Herring made his announcement four days after Prince William County Clerk Michèle McQuigg’s lawyers signaled she plans to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case after the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond on July 28 upheld U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen’s ruling that found Virginia’s constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman unconstitutional.

Adam Umhoefer, executive director of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which is representing Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk and Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Chesterfield in the case, welcomed Herring’s announcement.

“Our case’s plaintiffs — Tim and Tony and Carol and Mary — along with millions of Americans like them, deserve the freedom to marry,” said Umhoefer. “When and if the U.S. Supreme Court has the final say in this matter, we believe it will side with fairness, dignity and equality under the law.”

More than two dozen federal and state courts have ruled in support of nuptials for gays and lesbians since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes earlier on Tuesday petitioned the justices to overturn rulings from the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby that struck down his state’s same-sex marriage ban.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati on Wednesday will hear oral arguments in five cases that challenge same-sex marriage bans in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbot late last month filed an appeal with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans that seeks to overturn a federal judge’s ruling in February that found his state’s gay nuptials ban unconstitutional.

Herring announced shortly after taking office in January that he would not defend Virginia’s marriage amendment that voters in 2006 approved by a 57-43 percent margin.

The American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal, who are representing two lesbian couples from the Shenandoah Valley in a case against Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban that has become a class action, oppose McQuigg’s motion.

“In the last year, every federal court to consider the issue has found that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry,” said Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia. “Their rights should not be delayed any longer.”

05
Aug
2014

Mark Herring petitions Supreme Court to hear Va. marriage case

Mark Herring, Democratic Party, Virginia, gay news, Washington Blade

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring on Friday petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a case challenging his state’s same-sex marriage ban. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Virginia Attorney Mark Herring on Friday petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a case challenging the state’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

“Virginia’s ban, quite simply, denies gay people the equal protection of the law,” he wrote in a 53-page motion.

Herring also referenced the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1967 decision that struck down Virginia’s interracial marriage ban.

“In Loving v. Virginia, the court held that Virginia violated the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses by refusing to allow an interracial couple to marry,” he wrote, noting the justices in subsequent decisions said one’s ability to marry is a fundamental right. “The court has also struck down laws discriminating against gay people, finding no legitimate governmental interest that could support the laws in question.”

Herring petitioned the justices to hear the case less than two weeks after the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond upheld U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen’s ruling that struck down Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban.

Prince William County Clerk Michèle McQuigg, who continues to defend the amendment, last week signaled she plans to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

Adam Umhoefer, executive director of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which is representing Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk and Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Chesterfield in the lawsuit, told the Washington Blade earlier this week that he welcomes Herring’s decision to ask the justices to consider the issue.

The American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal, who are representing two lesbian couples from the Shenandoah Valley in a case against Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban that has become a class action, expressed opposition to McQuigg’s motion.

“Senator McEachin is pleased and appreciative of all the efforts our Attorney General has made to ensure that all Virginians receive equal opportunity, justice and fairness,” said Abbi Easter, a spokesperson for state Sen. A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico) who supports marriage rights for same-sex couples and other LGBT-specific issues in the commonwealth. “Virginians deserve to be able to marry the individual they love.”

More than two dozen federal and state courts have ruled in favor of nuptials for gays and lesbians since the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2013 struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes and attorneys representing Tulsa County (Okla.) Court Clerk Sally Howe Smith earlier this week petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear cases challenging their respective state’s same-sex marriage bans after the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld previous decisions that found them unconstitutional.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati on Wednesday heard oral arguments in lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott late last month filed an appeal with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans that seeks to overturn a federal judge’s February ruling that struck down his state’s gay nuptials ban.

“The recent unbroken string of rulings in favor of marriage for same-sex couples and the American public’s embrace of marriage equality over the past few years shows that the country is ready for a Supreme Court decision vindicating same-sex couples’ freedom to marry,” said Joshua Block of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. “If the Supreme Court decides to take one of these cases, we are hopeful that the Court will affirm the unanimous consensus of lower courts and declare that states cannot deny same-sex couples this basic freedom.”

Herring announced shortly after taking office in January he would not defend Virginia’s marriage amendment that voters in 2006 approved by a 57-43 percent margin.

He has subsequently argued against it before Allen and the 4th Circuit.

“While we are disappointed that Attorney General Herring continues to act in opposition to the Constitution of Virginia and his sworn oath, I think everyone is aware that one of the marriage cases currently being argued, perhaps Virginia’s, will end up at the Supreme Court,” said Family Foundation of Virginia President Victoria Cobb, referring to 4th Circuit Judge Paul Niemeyer’s dissenting argument that same-sex marriage is not a fundamental right. “Hopefully, the U.S. Supreme Court will make a decision based on the law and not emotion, and correct the 4th Circuit’s error. We are grateful to Clerks Michelle McQuigg and (Norfolk Circuit Clerk) George Schaefer for their steadfast defense of the laws of Virginia and their willingness to stand for the citizens of the commonwealth in this case.”

“The importance of this issue cannot be measured simply by the number of jurisdictions with active litigation,” stressed Herring in his petition to the U.S. Supreme Court. “The question presented is vital to a large population of same-sex couples, to their children, and to their fellow Americans who believe that discriminating against gay people is both unfair and unconstitutional. They may fairly call this ‘the defining civil rights issue of our time.’”

08
Aug
2014

Miss. same-sex couples hope to record marriages

Mississippi, Washington Blade

Jennifer and Jena Pierce of Biloxi, Miss., hope to record their Connecticut marriage with the Harrison County Chancery Court on Wednesday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Same-sex couples from across Mississippi on Wednesday will try to record their out-of-state marriages in eight counties across the state.

The Campaign for Southern Equality, a North Carolina-based LGBT advocacy group, is organizing the actions that will take place in Amite, Desoto, Hancock, Harrison, Hinds, Lafayette, Lamar and Pearl River Counties.

Dee Smith-Smathers, who married her wife of nearly 29 years, Charlene Smith-Smathers, in Massachusetts last year, hopes she will be able to record her marriage at Hinds County Chancery Court in Jackson, the state capital.

“We think we’ve got everything covered with powers of attorney of this sort and that sort, but you never know,” Dee Smith-Smathers, who turns 73 next week, told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview from her home outside of Terry as she discussed why she and her wife plan to take part in the campaign. “It’s important to us on a personal level and it’s important to me.”

Jennifer Pierce of Biloxi, who married her wife, Jena Pierce, in Connecticut last December, plan to try to record their marriage with the Harrison County Chancery Court in Gulfport.

“To us our marriage license is more than a piece of paper or even the state recognizing we are a legitimate couple,” Jennifer Pierce told the Blade, referring to their 6-year-old daughter Auna who began first grade last week. “It’s about the protection of the little girl who sees us as her parents and getting legally married was the first step of many we need to take towards the protection and well-being of our family.”

Mississippi voters in 2004 overwhelmingly approved a state constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage.

Waveland Mayor David Garcia last month became the first mayor in the state to publicly back nuptials for gays and lesbians.

Yazoo City Mayor Diane Delaware told the Blade during an exclusive interview on July 10 that she has “no problem” with marriage rights for same-sex couples.

“It is very important for us to show that there are couples and families here who are suffering due to the immoral laws that ban us from being recognized as citizens of this state,” Jeff White of Waveland, who is president of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Rainbow Center, a local LGBT advocacy and support group, told the Blade on Tuesday. “For these couples to be able to have their marriage recorded at their county courthouse, even in this small way, is a giant step towards full recognition.”

The Campaign for Southern Equality has conducted several actions in Mississippi as part of its ongoing efforts to raise awareness of marriage rights for same-sex couples in the South. These include gays and lesbians applying for marriage licenses in Hattiesburg and other cities across the Magnolia State.

The Campaign for Southern Equality was also involved in efforts against a state law that took effect last month that opponents contend allows businesses to discriminate against LGBT people because of their religious beliefs.

“Couples are recording their marriage licenses to create a public record of their love and commitment,” said Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality. “LGBT people in Mississippi and other Southern states simply cannot keep waiting for equality. There is an urgent need for legal protections for families and individuals in Mississippi, and so we are calling for laws to change as quickly as possible to ensure that, no matter what state you live in, you are treated as a full and equal citizen.”

The Mississippi couples will seek to record their out-of-state marriages less than a week after Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to consider a case challenging his state’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes and attorneys representing Tulsa County (Okla.) Court Clerk Sally Howe Smith earlier this month also petitioned the justices to hear cases challenging their respective state’s same-sex marriage bans after the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld previous rulings that found them unconstitutional.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati on August 6 heard oral arguments in lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott late last month filed an appeal with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans that seeks to overturn a federal judge’s February ruling that struck down his state’s gay nuptials ban.

A county judge in Tennessee on Tuesday upheld his state’s same-sex marriage ban.

Dee Smith-Smathers told the Blade she feels a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples is the only way she and other gays and lesbians in Mississippi will be able to legally exchange vows in their state.

“It’s going to have to be done through the courts,” she said.

12
Aug
2014

4th Circuit denies request to stay Va. marriage ruling

Tim Bostic, Tony London, Virginia, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, marriage equality, Equality Virginia Commonwealth Dinner, gay news, Washington Blade

On left, Timothy Bostic with partner Tony London (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Same-sex couples could begin to legally marry in Virginia as early as next week after a federal appeals court in Richmond on Wednesday denied a request to stay its ruling that found the state’s gay nuptials ban unconstitutional.

The same three judge panel with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that heard oral arguments in the case in May dismissed Prince William County Circuit Court Clerk Michèle McQuigg’s motion to delay its July 28 decision.

Judges Henry F. Floyd and Roger L. Gregory voted against McQuigg’s motion, while Judge Paul V. Niemeyer backed it.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring — who continues to argue against the constitutionality of the commonwealth’s same-sex marriage ban — last week formally petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the case that Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk initially filed in July 2013.

Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Chesterfield joined the lawsuit last September.

The American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal are representing two lesbian couples from the Shenandoah Valley who challenged the state’s same-sex marriage ban in a separate case that has become a class action.

“Virginia’s loving, committed gay and lesbian couples and their children should not be asked to wait one more day for their fundamental right to marry,” Adam Umhoefer, executive director of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which is representing Bostic and London and Schall and Townley, told the Washington Blade. “The Fourth Circuit Court’s decision is consistent with dozens of other federal and state courts throughout our country, affirming this simple principle of equality under the law.”

James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia, a statewide LGBT advocacy group, also applauded the ruling.

“There is no doubt that Virginia is ready for the freedom to marry,” he said. “We are thrilled that the 4th Circuit denied the request for a stay and hope that we will see wedding celebrations in Virginia as early as next week. Marriage validates the commitment couples make to one another and, if the Supreme Court doesn’t intervene, achieving marriage equality in Virginia will be a tremendous step forward.”

Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation of Virginia, blasted the 4th Circuit’s decision not to stay its July 28 ruling.

“It’s shocking that the Fourth Circuit has introduced chaos to Virginia where other appellate courts have recognized that the final decision will likely be made by the Supreme Court,” she said. “This decision suggests an arrogance by these judges that is simply appalling.”

Same-sex couples could begin to legally marry in Virginia on August 20, pending any request for an emergency stay from the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Washington Blade will provide further updates as they become available.

13
Aug
2014

Clerk calls on Supreme Court to block Virginia same-sex marriages

Josh Duggar, Victoria Cobb, Family Foundation of Virginia, Allison Howard, Concerned Women for America, E.W. Jackson, Norfolk, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, Virginia, gay news, Washington Blade

An anti-gay legal firm is calling on the U.S. Supreme Court to stay same-sex marriages in Virginia. (Photo courtesy of the Family Foundation of Virginia)

The court clerk defending Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage filed a petition on Thursday with the U.S. Supreme Court calling on justices to block a lower court decision allowing gay couples to wed in the Old Dominion starting next week.

Alliance Defending Freedom, which is defending the ban on behalf of Prince William County Circuit Court Clerk Michèle McQuigg, made its case in a 26-page brief for why justices should overturn a decision from the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to refuse a stay on the same-sex marriages.

“Unless this Court issues the stay requested here and makes clear that the courts of appeals should stay their mandates in these cases, it is likely that other circuits will mistakenly follow the Fourth Circuit’s lead,” the brief states. “Yet that would invite needless chaos and uncertainty rather than facilitate the orderly and dignified resolution of a constitutional question of enormous national importance.”

The brief, signed by Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Byron Babione, argues the Supreme Court should grant a stay because justices are likely to consider take up a same-sex marriage case on appeal with a fair prospect of reversing lower court decisions overturning bans on gay nuptials.

Babione also makes the case that the lack of a stay would lead to harm and uncertainty, saying that’s what happened when a district court struck down Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage. Earlier decisions from the Supreme Court to stay same-sex marriages in Utah necessitate a stay should be put in place as well in the Virginia case, Babione writes.

“Without a stay, same-sex couples in Virginia would obtain marriage licenses only to have their validity become immediately suspect should this Court determine that the Constitution does not mandate genderless marriage,” Babione writes. “The effects of this uncertainty would extend beyond the couples who obtain marriage licenses. Many private and governmental entities, from employers to business establishments, would be placed in difficult situations as they are asked to recognize marriages of doubtful validity.”

The filing of the petition before the Supreme Court follows a decision by the Fourth Circuit to reject a similar request for a stay. In a 2-1 decision, a three-judge panel on the appeals court declined to stay pending appeal its ruling that affirmed Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution. Alliance Defending Freedom pledged to take up the matter with the Supreme Court soon after the Fourth Circuit decision was handed down.

Unless the Supreme Court intervenes, same-sex couples could start obtaining marriage licenses from clerks’ offices in Virginia after the Fourth Circuit issues the mandate on its decision, which is set to occur 8 am on August 21.

The petition from Alliance Defending Freedom was delivered to Chief Justice John Roberts, who’s responsible for stay requests for the Fourth Circuit. Roberts can decide the matter on his own, or refer the request to the entire court.

It remains to be seen what action the Supreme Court will take, but justices have previously granted stays on similar decisions in favor of marriage equality.

In the lawsuit seeking marriage equality in Utah, Kitchen v. Herbert, the U.S. Supreme Court in January issued a stay on same-sex weddings already taking place in the state as a result of a district court ruling striking down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. Additionally, in the case of Evans v. Utah, the Supreme Court issued a stay on state recognition of these 1,300 marriages after the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals deemed Utah for the time being should consider them valid.

Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, nonetheless said he sees room for the Supreme Court to deny a stay this time around in the Virginia case.

“A lot has changed since the Court issued a stay in Kitchen, which was the first district court decision in the entire country striking down a state marriage ban after Windsor,” Minter said. “There are now many other such decisions, in every corner of the nation. The Court could decide that a stay is no longer warranted.”

In the event the Supreme Court declines to issue a stay, the Virginia decision would become binding precedent in the Fourth Circuit. Minter said whether clerks in other Fourth Circuit states — West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina — would then have the authority to distribute marriage licenses to same-sex couples “would depend on the specifics of state law.”

“But whether immediately or with some short delay to get implementing orders, I expect that marriages would commence in those states very quickly,” Minter said.

The litigation seeking same-sex marriage in Virginia itself has already been appealed to the Supreme Court. Last week, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, who has refused to defend Virginia’s marriage law in court, filed an appeal on behalf of Janet Rainey, the Virginia Registrar of Vital Records, who was a defendant at the trial court. Alliance Defending Freedom has already pledged to file a similar appeal seeking to uphold the ban.

Brian Brown, president of the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage, is urging the Supreme Court to grant the stay while the litigation is under appeal.

“The 4th Circuit has wrongly rejected the request for a stay, and now it lies with the justices in Washington to ensure that this case can be appealed in an orderly and reasonable fashion without the spectacle of premature same-sex ‘marriages’ filling the news as an affront to the people of Virginia who voted overwhelmingly to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman,” Brown said.

14
Aug
2014

Kennedy Library showcases Kameny letters to JFK

Frank Kameny, gay news, Washington Blade, letters

‘In 1961, it has, ironically, become necessary for me to fight my own government, with words,’ Frank Kameny wrote to President Kennedy. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston is taking steps this month to publicize the dozens of letters, pamphlets and press releases that D.C. gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny sent to President Kennedy from 1961 to 1963.

In a prominent write-up on the Kennedy Library website, library official Stacey Chandler, a reference archives specialist, said the letters poignantly document Kameny’s role as one of the nation’s first advocates for the rights of gay people before the highest levels of the U.S. government.

Chandler said the letters and other documents from Kameny are part of the library’s archives and are available for viewing online. Kameny died at the age of 86 in 2011.

“In World War II, I willingly fought the Germans, with bullets, in order to preserve and secure my rights, freedoms, and liberties, and those of my fellow citizens,” Kameny told Kennedy in a letter dated May 15, 1961 that’s part of the archive collection.

“In 1961, it has, ironically, become necessary for me to fight my own government, with words, in order to achieve some of the very same rights, freedoms, and liberties for which I placed my life in jeopardy in 1945,” wrote Kameny. “This letter is part of that fight.”

In a letter dated Aug. 28, 1962 Kameny told Kennedy, “You have said: ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.’ We know what we can do for our country; we wish to do it; we ask only that our country allow us to do it.”

Kameny wrote the letters in his role as president of the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., the city’s first gay rights organization that Kameny co-founded in 1961 and led through the 1960s and early 1970s.

Chandler noted in her article that the Mattachine Society of Washington came into being shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take the case of a legal challenge that Kameny filed against the then U.S. Civil Service Commission.

In a first-of-its-kind action, Kameny contested the Civil Service Commission’s decision in 1958 to fire him from his job as an astronomer with the Army Map Service in Washington following an investigation into alleged homosexual activity by Kameny.

Among other things, the Commission cited a 1953 executive order by President Dwight Eisenhower that barred from the federal workforce anyone with a history of “sexual perversion” and other “immoral or notoriously disgraceful conduct.” Homosexual acts between consenting adults were considered among the prohibited conduct.

“Kameny wrote an astounding number of letters throughout his lifetime of advocacy, most of which are now in the Library of Congress,” Chandler wrote in her Kennedy Library article. “The huge volume of his correspondence makes the personal nature of his letters to President Kennedy especially surprising for archivists here,” she said.

“In these letters, he tenaciously argued for the right of gay Americans to work as civil servants,” she said.

In the same May 15, 1961 letter in which he told of his combat service in World War II, Kameny told Kennedy, “Yours is an administration that has openly disavowed blind conformity…You yourself have said, in your recent address at George Washington University, “…that (people) desire to develop their own personalities and their own potential, that democracy permits them to do so.’

“But your government, by its policies certainly does not permit the homosexual to develop his personality and his potential,” Kameny wrote.

In a Feb. 28, 1963 letter, Kameny told Kennedy about his fledgling effort to persuade the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders.

“Homosexuality is neither a sickness, disease, neurosis, psychosis, disorder, defect, nor other disturbance, but merely a matter of the predisposition of a significantly large minority of our citizens.”

Chandler said the Kennedy Library’s archivists could find no response from Kennedy or anyone else at the White House to Kameny’s letters.

“In fact, the only response we’ve found in our archives is a brief note from John W. Macy, Chairman of the U.S. Civil Service Commission, to Bruce Schuyler, Secretary of the Mattachine Society, who requested a meeting,” Chandler wrote.

In his note to Schuyler, Macy said, “It is the established policy of the Civil Service Commission that homosexuals are not suitable for appointment to or retention in positions in the Federal service. There would be no useful purpose served in meeting with representatives of your Society.”

Chandler said that in a March 6, 1963 letter to Kennedy, Kameny appeared to be referring to the government’s lack of response to his and the Mattachine Society of Washington’s overtures to the Kennedy administration.

“We wish to cooperate in any way possible, if the chance for friendly, constructive cooperation is offered to us by you,” Kameny wrote, “but if it continues to be refused us, then we will have to seek out and to use any lawful means whatever, which seem to us appropriate, in order to achieve our lawful ends, just as the Negro has done in the South when he was refused cooperation.”

In 1975, after several court rulings against the Civil Service ban on gay employees that Kameny played a role in organizing, the Civil Service Commission ended its prohibition on gay federal workers. In 2009, John Berry, the gay director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the successor to the Civil Service Commission, presented Kameny with an official government apology for his 1958 firing.

“Things have changed,” Chandler quoted Kameny as saying around the time Berry issued the apology with the full backing of President Obama. “How they have changed. I am honored and proud that it is so.”

The Kennedy Library, which is part of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, highlighted its collection of Kameny correspondence this month as a follow-up to a video that the NARA released in support of the It Gets Better Project, Chandler said.

LGBT rights advocates led by gay author and syndicated columnist Dan Savage created the It Gets Better Project to draw attention to bullying targeting LGBT youth. With President Obama among the political leaders and celebrities who have spoken in an “It Gets Better” video, organizers say the project has helped lift the spirits of many LGBT youth that have suffered from taunts and physical violence.

NARA director David S. Ferriero, who holds the title of Archivist of the United States, recorded a recent “It Gets Better” video that is available for viewing on the NARA website.

“It is so exciting that the Kennedy Library is highlighting Kameny’s letters to President Kennedy,” said Charles Francis, founder of the Kameny Papers Project, which arranged for Kameny’s voluminous correspondence and writings to be given to the Library of Congress.

Francis noted that copies of the Kameny letters to President Kennedy are among the collection at the Library of Congress but that the letters at the Kennedy Library are the originals.

“This was done on Frank’s typewriter from Frank’s living room,” Francis said.

“It’s progress. It’s real progress,” he said of the prominent treatment the Kennedy Library is giving to the Kameny letters.

See the Kennedy Library article on Kameny letters here.

 

20
Jan
2014

Supreme Court blocks Virginia same-sex marriages

Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade

The U.S. Supreme Court has blocked same-sex marriage from taking place this week in Virginia. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to a stay Wednesday on a federal appeals court’s ruling against Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage, blocking same-sex marriages from taking place this week in the Old Dominion.

Without explanation, the court announced in a single-page order it has stayed the ruling by the U.S. Fourth Circuit of Appeals in Schaefer v. Bostic, which affirmed Virginia’s prohibition on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

Although Chief Justice John Roberts is responsible for stay requests in the Fourth Circuit, the order indicates he referred the matter to the entire court. The vote by the Supreme Court on the decision isn’t included in the order.

The court adds that if the court ends up declining a writ of certiorari to hear the case, the stay will terminate automatically. But if the court decides to hear the case, the stay will continue until judgment is issued.

Had the court declined to issue a stay, clerks’ offices in Virginia could have started distributing marriage licenses to same-sex couples at 8 am on Thursday. That’s when the Fourth Circuit was set to issue the mandate on its decision.

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, said the stay decision from the Supreme Court “underscores of the urgency” of a national resolution in favor of marriage equality.

“Americans across the country are being deprived of the freedom to marry and respect for their lawful marriages, as well as the tangible protections and precious dignity and happiness that marriage brings,” Wolfson said. “It is time for the Supreme Court to affirm what more than thirty courts have held in the past year: marriage discrimination violates the Constitution, harms families, and is unworthy of America.”

The Supreme Court halted same-sex marriages in Virginia after Prince William County Circuit Court Clerk Michèle McQuigg, who’s defending the state’s ban on same-sex marriage in court, requested the stay from justices. Attorneys representing same-sex couples in the lawsuit — both the Bostic and the Harris plaintiffs — had asked the court to decline the stay, but the Commonwealth of Virginia on behalf of Virginia Registrar of Deeds Janet Rainey filed a brief agreeing that a stay should be put in place.

Prior to the announcement from the Supreme Court, the anti-gay legal firm Alliance Defending Freedom, which is defending Virginia’s marriage ban on behalf of McQuigg, followed up with a response insisting that a stay on the Fourth Circuit decision is necessary to prevent harm to the state.

“The balance of the harms thus reduces to this: the Bostic and Harris Respondents have identified potential harms (e.g., a delay in obtaining state recognition of their relationships) that will result only if they ultimately prevail in this case, whereas Clerk McQuigg and Registrar Rainey have identified certain harms (e.g., enjoining a duly enacted state constitutional provision) that will result as soon as the Fourth Circuit issues its mandate,” writes senior counsel Byron Babione. “That balance tips sharply in favor of staying the Fourth Circuit’s mandate.”

The litigation seeking same-sex marriage in Virginia itself has already been appealed to the Supreme Court. Earlier this month, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, who has refused to defend Virginia’s marriage law in court, filed an appeal on behalf of the state. Alliance Defending Freedom has already pledged to file a similar appeal seeking to uphold the ban.

Following the decision from the Supreme Court, Herring said in a conference call with reporters he wants an expedited resolution to the case, which is why he already petitioned the Supreme Court to review the Fourth Circuit’s decision against the marriage law.

“It’s still difficult to expect Virginian folk to wait to exercise what I believe is a fundamental right, especially when we are so close to our goal, and that is why I’ve been pushing to expedite and get a ruling from the Supreme Court that will definitively answer the constitutional questions about marriage equality and permanently protect the families of Virginia’s same-sex couples,” Herring said.

Asked by the Washington Blade to respond to critics who would say it’s disingenuous to call Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional on one hand, but support a stay on a ruling against it on the other, Herring emphasized he’s pushing for a speedy resolution to the case in favor of same-sex couples.

“I support and will continue to fight for equal treatment under the law, and I’m going to continue to do that,” Herring said. “But at the same, I recognize that until the Supreme Court makes its decision that outcome is not certain. So, to those who are tired of their state not treating them fairly and equally, I am working as hard as I can to fight for equality. I worked for it in the district court, I fought for it in the Fourth Circuit and I’ll fight for it in the Supreme Court.”

The American Foundation for Equal Rights announced after the stay decision was announced that it’ll file a brief in support of the petition already filed by Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring calling on the Supreme Court to take up the case.

“The federal court system agrees, the majority of Americans agree, and the President of the United States agrees that it is time this country treats its same-sex couples and their children just the same as all other loving families,” said plaintiffs’ lead co-counsel David Boies of Boies, Schiller & Flexner, LLP. “We are confident that when the Supreme Court reviews the Bostic case, it too will agree and end the flagrant injustice of segregating Americans based on sexual orientation.”

The decision to block the same-sex marriages from occurring overturns a decision from the Fourth Circuit, which refused to grant a stay on its decision striking down Virginia’s marriage ban.

But the high court’s decision to stay same-sex marriages in Virginia is consistent with other stay decisions it has issued in other states following rulings in favor of marriage equality.

In January, the court issued a stay on same-sex marriages taking place in Utah as a result of a district court ruling in the case of Kitchen v. Herbert striking down the state’s ban on gay nuptials. Additionally, the court halted state recognition of these 1,300 marriages in Evans v. Utah after the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals deemed the state for the time being should consider them valid.

Chris Gasek, senior fellow at the anti-gay Family Research Council, claimed the Supreme Court’s decision to stay same-sex marriages in Virginia as a victory for opponents of marriage equality.

“Today, the Supreme Court put a hold on the Fourth Circuit ruling, allowing Virginia’s law to continue to be enforced while the Fourth Circuit’s opinion is appealed,” Gasek said. “We are glad that the Court saw the wisdom of slowing down the judicial process in this instance so that marriages will not be entered into that would later have to be nullified. Such irresponsible mayhem has been witnessed in Utah, and it resulted in legal chaos for state residents and state officials.”

20
Aug
2014