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Texas Gets Things Wrong on Marriage

By Matt Baume

Texas lawmakers are gunning for the judge who let two lesbians to get married. Meanwhile, homophobic lawmakers celebrate the 10th anniversary of the state’s marriage ban. There’s just one problem — the law will probably be overturned before it actually turns ten. Plus various native American tribes are in the process of legalizing marriage.

Two weeks ago a judge in Texas ruled that a lesbian couple facing a terminal illness could marry right away. And now State Rep Tony Tinderholt, who is by the way on his fifth marriage, wants that judge disciplined. Here’s his complaint — this is actually it, hand written on a worksheet.

Tinderholt’s complaint is that the judge failed to notify the Attorney General, when in fact he actually did send notification. Not to mention, the complaint is based on a law that applies to final judgements, and this ruling was an injunction. And finally, Tinderholt sent it to the wrong judge.

Also last week some Texas lawmakers marked the 10th anniversary of the state’s marriage ban. But it looks like they may have marked their calendars a little early. The actual 10th anniversary is in November. And depending on how the Supreme Court rules, the ban may not be around by then. So they actually might have been celebrating the ban’s final few months of life.

Two senators in Iowa have proposed constitutional amendments to ban marriage equality, Also, this proposal has zero chance of attracting enough support to pass. Like Tinderholt’s complaint in Texas, this is a final desperate, doomed act.

There’s some good news this week from tribal nations. The Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska have unanimously voted to approve marriage equality. And the Navajo Nation is headed for a presidential election in April in which all candidates support the freedom to marry.

34 Comments March 2, 2015

Texas Wants to Un-Marry Lesbian with Cancer

A few judges are still refusing to see gay and lesbian couples in Alabama. Texas has had its first lesbian marriage, and now state officials are scrambling to find a way to undo it. And some major national anti-gay figures are preparing to release a new manifesto to stop the freedom to marry.

Almost every county in Alabama is issuing marriage licenses now, but incredibly, a handful judges are still defying the federal ruling. Depending on who you ask, as of last week, there were about fifty counties finally complying with the order to let gays and lesbians marry. That leaves around seventeen where you still can’t get a license.

A few have stopped marriages altogether, but most of the remaining counties are only turning away gays and lesbians. Judge Nick Williams in Washington County said “I’m not worried about following the U.S. Constitution,” which he probably should have mentioned before being sworn in as a judge.

Meanwhile, Judge Roy Moore, the Supreme Court Justice who started all this trouble, may be in some trouble of his own now. Moore told state judges that he wouldn’t allow them to issue licenses, but he really can’t do that. The Human Rights Campaign has gathered nearly 30,000 signatures calling for an investigation into whether Moore should be removed from office.

Moore’s been down this road before. In 2003 the Court of the Judiciary kicked him out of office for making up his own rules about a Ten Commandments statue. But even if he’s removed for a second time, we might not have heard the last of him. Ordinarily, Moore couldn’t ren for office again because he’s about to pass an age limit. But a Republican Senator has introduced a new bill to raise the limit, so Moore could run for re-election again in 2018.

There is one married lesbian couple in Texas right now. Probably. Last week a judge allowed Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant to obtain a marriage license, citing urgency after Sarah was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The ruling applies only to this one couple. And according to state officials, that’s still one couple too many.

Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, and Attorney General Ken Paxton all want to take the license away from the cancer-stricken couple of 31 years who are raising two children. Paxton has declared that the is license void, and the couple is not actually married. But can he actually do that? That’s murky. He can try. Attorneys General have a lot of legal authority, but it’s kind of unheard of to step in and un-marry a couple, particularly after a judge ordered them married.

The common thread between Roy Moore’s actions and Texas’ is that they’re pretty desperate. People who oppose marriage equality are running out of options, which is why you’re seeing last-ditch attempts to do something, anything. And they might delay marriage for a bit, or force you to take a bus to the next county, or issue threats to a family facing a terminal illness. But at this point they know they’re not going to win.

And yet still they’re trying. Last week Kansas Rep Tim Huelskamp introduced a federal constitutional marriage ban in Congress. They tried this over a decade ago and it went nowhere. It’s going to go less than nowhere this time.

But according to reports, there’s a group of national anti-gay leaders working on a new proclamation to stop marriage equality. The title is “Reclaiming Marriage,” and they’ll probably release it in March. The people who have seen a copy have called it a sweeping manifesto, signed by the very people you’d expect. But even this sweeping manifesto will probably be pretty weak. The only call to action is “careful discernment” over the coming years. And even that is expecting a lot of these people.

66 Comments February 23, 2015

How Alabama Marriage Equality Got So Messy

By Matt Baume

Things are finally settling down in Alabama. We’ll take a look at just how messy it got last week, and what happens now. Plus, Justice Ginsburg makes some pretty candid predictions for the Supreme Court’s upcoming marriage decision.

Later this year is the 50th anniversary of the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1965. Fifty years ago, Alabama officials violently resisted calls for integration, and apparently, the state of Alabama is still figuring out this whole equality thing.

Last week saw a lot of back and forth on marriage, with some counties issuing licenses and others refusing. Couples had to wait in line for days at some courthouses just find out if they could get married. Now things are finally starting to stabilize. So, is marriage equality finally legal in Alabama? The answer is … kind of.

Marriage was supposed to start on Monday. There’s really no valid legal reason why it couldn’t. So Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore got creative, and found a not-quite-legally-sound way to, if not stop marriage, at least confuse everyone and delay it. He told all of the judges in the state that they weren’t allowed to let gay and lesbian couples marry, and if they did, they’d be punished. Somehow.

So that’s why the state was in a mess all last week. Some judges went ahead and issued licenses anyway. They weren’t punished. Others turned away gay and lesbian couples. And almost a third of the state’s counties just stopped issuing licenses to all couples, gay and straight, which was just a pain in the neck for everyone.

Then late in the week, District Court Judge Callie Granade issued a new ruling that basically boiled down to, “everybody stop messing around.” She ruled that judges have to issue those licenses, and now pretty much everyone is complying.

But we’re still not out of the woods yet. The Alabama case is still on appeal, so the pro-equality ruling could still potentially be reversed. And don’t forget, Judge Moore has demonstrated that he’s willing to bend the law to get his way, so he might still have some surprises in store. He might even try to defy the US Supreme Court when they rule on the issue in a few months.

Speaking of which, it’s looking better and better for a pro-equality ruling this spring. The US Supreme Court ruled 7 to 2 last week that marriage can begin in Alabama. Scalia and Thomas were the only ones who dissented. This might mean that the other 7 justices have already made up their mind that marriage should start.

And in an interview last week, Justice Ginsburg said that the country is ready for marriage equality. “I think it’s doubtful that it wouldn’t be accepted,” she said. “The change in people’s attitude has been enormous.”

Finally, let’s take a moment to appreciate District Court Judge Callie Granade, who issued the ruling that Alabama’s marriage ban is unconstitutional. And then had to issue follow-up rulings to state officials, saying, in essence, “yes, this means you.” Her grandfather was Fifth Circuit Judge Richard Rives. In 1956, Rives wrote the decision in a case that found segregated busing to be unconstitutional. Social justice just runs in their family.

88 Comments February 16, 2015

Anti-Gay Lawmakers Seek Revenge with New Laws

By Matt Baume

Marriage could be starting next week in Alabama. Anti-gay officials are saying that they don’t have to let gay couples get married, but their reasoning isn’t exactly what you would call true. Oklahoma’s marriage equality backlash is getting dangerous, with a proposed law that would hand new victims to ex-gay predators. And the National Organization for Marriage thinks they’ll have an impact on the 2016 presidential election.

There’s less than one week left until a stay expires in Alabama, at which point couples could be allowed to start getting married. The state has asked the 11th Circuit for a longer stay while they appeal, and the court could rule on that request sometime this week. They denied a similar request from Florida, but the Alabama case is a little different.

One of those differences is how creatively anti-gay officials have been fighting gay and lesbian couples. Last week Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore released a statement that he plans to defy any pro-equality ruling. Moore was removed from office in 2003 for violating the U.S. Constitution with a ten-commandments statue. But he was reinstated by voters in 2012. Now he says that the federal courts can’t tell state courts what to do.

Mike Huckabee is making similar claims. Last week he started talking about overriding pro-equality rulings through a process known as nullification, whereby a state nullifies any federal law or ruling that it doesn’t like. That sounds fine, except it isn’t really a thing. Nullification has been floated as a theory for over 200 years, most recently as a way to maintain segregated schools, but it’s never been upheld. The law’s totally clear: when it comes to the U.S. Constitution, federal courts are in charge. Huckabee and Moore know this, and they don’t seriously believe their claims can pass constitutional muster. These are just more tactics to try to intimidate gay and lesbian couples.

In the mean time, two cases in Alabama are moving forward. The state has appealed the a pro-equality ruling from two weeks ago. And now a judge has ruled in a second case that the state’s marriage ban is unconstitutional. Meanwhile, Alabama’s only openly gay legislator, Representative Patricia Todd, has said that if elected officials continue to speak out against marriage equality, she’ll reveal which ones of them are having extramarital affairs. It’s hard to say whether that would be a good move or a bad move. It sure would drive a wedge even deeper between the two sides. But it’s also a handy reminder that while their side can engage in intimidation tactics, our side can too.

Speaking of intimidation, Oklahoma state Rep Sally Kern has withdrawn a bill that would have allowed businesses to punish gay and lesbian couples by preventing them from receiving services. In part, that’s because there are multiple other bills already in the works that would do the same thing. But Kern is continuing to promote something much worse: a bill that would give “ex-gay” predators access to more victims. Numerous states have banned ex-gay abuse, but Kern’s bill would be the first to protect it. Not only has every major medical organization in the country warned that these practices are harmful, we’ve seen that much of this so-called “therapy” is actually just sexual assault, sometimes of children. Kern’s bill would not only protect these predators, it would deliver new victims to them.

This won’t be the last we see of that anti-gay backlash to marriage equality. Cases are continuing to move ahead in multiple states. Just in the last week, lawsuits have advanced in Puerto Rico, Nebraska, Kansas, and Louisiana. And the National Organization for Marriage managed to get some attention momentarily when they announced that they’ll ask the 2016 presidential candidates to sign a pledge to oppose the freedom to marry. They were able to get a handful of signatures in 2012, but with the group’s ever-dwindling clout, they may have more trouble getting an audience with serious candidates this time around. That is, if the organization even still exists by this time next year.

7 Comments February 2, 2015

Politician Wants Arrests After Gays Marry

There’s a big fight underway right now in Alabama, with a Judge overturning a marriage ban and state officials refusing to obey his order to issue licenses. Anti-gay politicians are threatening to ban all marriage licenses if the Supreme Court rules in favor of equality. And one lawmaker even wants to send clerks to jail if they issue licenses to anyone — gay or straight.

Late on Friday, a Federal judge in Alabama ruled that the state’s marriage ban is unconstitutional, and that the state must begin issuing licenses right away. Attorney General Luther Strange didn’t care for that, and has asked for an indefinite stay. Meanwhile, a state association of judges has advised their members that they can just disregard the ruling. This is almost certainly dead wrong, and I’ll talk about why in a minute. But as of this week, gay and lesbian couples are attempting to obtain marriage licenses in Alabama, so expect a tense standoff to play out over the next few days.

It’s worth pointing out that last week President Obama made history by endorsing marriage equality in the State of the Union, saying that gay and lesbian couples getting married represents “America at its best.” The last time anyone talked about marriage in a State of the Union was George W. Bush, calling for a federal constitutional ban, so this is a little better.

It makes good political sense to endorse marriage equality right now, because a new survey from Zogby shows that by 5 percentage points, voters are now less likely to vote for a candidate who opposes the freedom to marry. This puts some anti-equality Republicans in a tough spot. They can either admit they were wrong, and come out for marriage. Or they can double-down and get even more anti-gay.

That’s what Mike Huckabee did last week. He said that if the Supreme Court rules in favor of equality, states don’t have to obey the decision, and could still refuse to provide licenses. Obviously, that’s not true at all, thanks to a litte-known document called the U.S. Constitution. Maybe Huckabee has just never read it as far as Article 6, which says “The Laws of the United States … shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby.” In fact, Huckabee’s argument is identical to the one used in 1957 by another Arkansas Governor, Orval Faubus. He said the state didn’t have to abide by the school desegregation ordered in Brown v. Board of Education, and President Eisenhauer had to send the National Guard to force him to comply. So Huckabee’s great company here.

In fact, in 1958, Governor Faubus closed all Little Rock high schools for a year, for white and black students, so they wouldn’t have to be integrated. And now, that’s exactly the same strategy that anti-gay officials are pursuing with marriage. In Florida, several counties have canceled all courthouse weddings, for straight and gay couples. A South Carolina bill would revoke the salary government employees who allow a gay or lesbian couple to marry. And a crazy proposal by Representative Todd Russ in Oklahoma would prohibit state officials from issuing marriage licenses altogether. Under his proposal, state officials who issue a marriage license to any couple, gay or straight, would go to jail for up to a year.

Obviously, judges refusing to obey federal rulings, and ludicrous bills Oklahoma’s have no chance of passing constitutional muster. But they don’t have to — they’re not supposed to pass, their only purpose is to intimidate. To let us know we’re not welcome. Huckabee and Ross and officials like them are on the same page as segregationists like Orval Faubus. And that’s how history will remember them. By the way Faubus ran for governor again, 30 years later, but he was defeated by a kid named Bill Clinton.

48 Comments January 26, 2015

Florida Legalizes Driving While Gay

By Matt Baume

Florida has finally legalized driving while gay. Bills to discriminate against gay couples are rapidly multiplying in Texas. And multiple states are still wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars to try to reverse marriage equality.

Last fall, Scott and Daniel Wall-DeSousa got new driver’s licenses after they married in New York and hyphenated their name. But the state of Florida said that it wouldn’t recognize their new names — even though it was a legal name change — and canceled the licenses, which effectively meant that they couldn’t drive. But now that couples can marry in Florida, the Wall-DeSousas finally have their new licenses. So, there you go, Florida, you wasted everyone’s time and accomplished nothing, congratulations.

Last week I reported on a proposed bill in Texas that would force state officials to disobey federal courts that uphold marriage equality. Now Texas has two more proposed anti-gay laws. One would give businesses permission to deny service to LGBTs. The other would prevent towns from passing nondiscrimination laws, and overturn any laws that already exist. Anti-gay activists know that they’re about to lose on marriage, and so this is going to be their response: passing laws that let them take away our jobs, or our homes, our access to education and basic services. A proposed bill in Virginia would even let hospitals turn away gay patients. We’re going to see a lot more of these in the next year, as a form of dangerous, petty backlash against marriage equality.

Of course, there’s still one big wild card when it comes to national marriage equality: the Supreme Court. Late last week they announced that they’ll take up four marriage cases. We’ll probably see oral argument in late April, and a decision around the end of June. There’s no way to know how they’ll rule. If it’s in our favor, great — we’ll have national marriage equality this year. If they rule against us, then that means several more years of work to overturn the last few marriage bans.

But in the mean time, we keep racking up victories at lower courts. A South Dakota judge has ruled against that state’s marriage ban. A judge in Michigan ruled last week that the state must honor the 300 licenses that it issued during a one-day window last year. A judge in Kentucky has granted the state’s first divorce for a gay couples, which is a little depressing but that’s just how it goes sometimes. And the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has refused to reconsider marriage cases in Idaho and Nevada, despite the continuing attempts by state officials to halt marriages.

Those Idaho and Nevada cases should have been over long ago. And by dragging them out this long, the states are running up huge legal bills. The current tally in Idaho is now close to a half million dollars — that means they’ve blown about a quarter of the state’s entire budget for Constitutional defense cases. And they’re not the only state wasting hundreds of thousands on marriage litigation. The legal bill in Wisconsin could top $1.2 million. In West Virginia, parties have run up $350,000 in fees. Oregon and Alaska are both $260,000 apiece.

And just like in Florida, these states are accomplishing nothing, other than making work for lawyers. At this point, anti-gay legislators seem to be mostly focused on just making life inconvenient for gay couples, whether it’s by delaying the start of marriage, removing other legal protections, or creating areas where we can’t do business. That’s their reaction to marriage equality — if they can’t stop us from getting married, they’re just going to annoy us instead. Well, it’s working. They’re annoying. Good job.

18 Comments January 20, 2015

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