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North Carolina Poised to Pass “Turn Away the Gays” Bill

By Matt Baume

A bill to allow North Carolina officials to refuse to serve any couple they don’t like is several steps closer to passing, even after the governor vetoed it. Texas is coming up with new excuses for refusing to issue marriage licenses. And with a federal ruling on marriage due any day now, Judge Roy Moore continues to speak out against the Supreme Court.

North Carolina’s close to passing a bill that would allow state officials to refuse to serve gay couples. Governor Pat McCrory vetoed the bill two weeks ago, but last week the Senate overrode his veto. The House could do the same any day now, which would present a huge problem — not just for gay couples, but for everyone.

This law essentially allows state employees to disregard their oath of office, and choose which citizens they do and don’t want to serve. And it doesn’t just apply to LGBTs — straight couples, divorced couples, interracial or interfaith couples could all be denied access to public services. That’s because anti-gay legislators know that they’re not allowed to single out LGBTs for discrimination. So what they’ve done written a law that just makes everyone’s life unpleasant, which is both clever and a real pain in the neck.

Couples in Texas could be looking at similar problems. State officials there are pointing fingers to explain why they might refuse to issue licenses even if the Supreme Court orders them to. According to local officials, they can’t issue licenses until they get updated forms from the state. State officials say they’re waiting for the Attorney General. And Attorney General Ken Paxton refuses to say if he’d obey a Supreme Court ruling requiring marriage equality. All of this could leave gay couples unable to marry, with nobody in Texas taking responsibility.

Meanwhile, Alabama legislators have failed to pass a bill that would take the state out of the marriage business. The law would have stopped the state from issuing licenses to any couple, gay or straight. But legislators voted it down by an overwhelming margin in committee, which means it’s off the table. For now.

Marriage equality starts this week in Guam, after a few weeks of arguing about whether or not a ruling from a US District Court requires the territory to issue licenses. It turns out that it does. Also last week Judge Roy Moore gave an interview in which he said that marriage equality will “destroy our country.” Moore, who currently faces an ethics complaint by the Southern Poverty Law Center, is the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama. For now.

37 Comments June 8, 2015

Anti-Gay Bills Fail in Texas, but Could Resurface in North Carolina

By Matt Baume

An NBC station in Tennessee is refusing to broadcast footage of a gay soldier who wants to get married. The governor of North Carolina vetoed a bill that would let state officials turn gay couples away from marriage counters — but the bill’s not dead yet. And Alabama is actually going through with a threat to stop issuing marriage licenses state-wide — but that might not have the effect they want.

Here’s the ad that a Tennessee TV station refused to air. It features a soldier talking about putting his life on the line as a military physician, and how he would like to marry his boyfriend, a state judge. So why did NBC affiliate WRCB reject the ad? Too controversial, they said. Marriage equality crosses the line.

Meanwhile, another ad just started running this week in Georgia. And even though it features various gay couples and their kids talking about marriage equality, somehow multiple TV stations deemed them appropriate to broadcast. Hopefully Georgia will survive seeing these highly controversial images.

Meanwhile in Texas, multiple anti-gay bills have gone down in flames. Many of the proposed new laws would have caused drastic harm, and several probably weren’t even constitutionally valid. The most the Senate was able to pass was a non-binding declaration in opposition to LGBT couples. That’s still not great, but it could have been a lot worse.

Speaking of worse, a proposed bill in North Carolina to stop LGBTs from marrying came very close to passing last week. The law would have allowed state officials to choose which citizens they want to serve or turn away, in effect using personal preference to ignore their oath of office. Governor Pat McCrory vetoed the bill after it passed the legislature, but there are still enough votes to override the veto if legislators really want to push for it.

Lawmakers in Alabama have been threatening for a while to do away with marriage licenses altogether, and now it looks like they may actually be making good on the threat. The Senate has passed a bill that stops the state from issuing licenses to any couple, gay or straight. The impact of that is actually pretty minimal: anyone still get married, they just don’t need to fill as much paperwork from the state. So, okay.

33 Comments June 1, 2015

Minister Jailed for Stand on Marriage Equality

By Matt Baume

Alabama has sent a minister to jail for 30 days for defying a local judge and marrying a lesbian couple. Irish voters support marriage equality in a landslide, but marriage could still start in America before they start in Ireland. And one more study shows support for equality on the rise.

Anti-equality groups love to claim that religious officials will be punished for speaking out against marriage equality. But for some reason, they don’t seem to want to talk about Anne DePrizio, a Unitarian minister in Alabama who was sentenced to 30 days in jail last month for her stance on marriage.

After a federal court ruled that Alabama’s marriage ban was unconstitutional, Anne conducted a marriage for two women at a probate office. A local judge ordered her to stop, but she defied him and obeyed for the federal ruling. Her punishment for refusing to vacate the office: thirty days in jail, sixth months probation, and a $250 fine.

Just to be clear: this is an actual example of a religious official who has been sent to jail for exercising her religious beliefs. It is the very thing that the opposition has been claiming will happen to them. And yet none of them are coming to Anne’s defense. Weird.

Meanwhile, across the globe: Congratulations to Ireland, the first country in the world to legalize marriage equality by a popular vote. Well, kind of — it hasn’t been legalized yet. Voters overwhelming supported marriage equality in a referendum last week, but now legislators have to draft a constitutional amendment to reflect the vote. That should happen sometime this summer, and then the order will be signed before the end of the year.

So, what does that mean for the U.S.? Well, it means that now Ireland and America are in a race for marriage to start. We’ll get a ruling from the Supreme Court in June, and if it’s favorable, then marriage could start sometime in the next few months. But if it’s unfavorable, it could take a decade or more to undo.

Finally this week, a new survey from Gallup shows marriage support continuing to rise. No big surprises here, though the jump is big: we’re up seven percentage points in the last year. This is about where Ireland was just a few years ago.

230 Comments May 26, 2015

Supreme Court vs. Texas

By Matt Baume

Texas is setting itself up for a showdown with the Supreme Court. A bill to defy the court’s rulings died in the House last week, but anti-gay politicians could find a sneaky way to revive it. Meanwhile, the Attorney General of Texas refuses to say if he’ll obey the Supreme Court’s ruling in June.

Legislators in Texas nearly passed a bill that would have forced the state to defy the Supreme Court last week. But the deadline passed before they could hold a vote, which means the bill’s off the table, for now. If it had passed, it would have withheld funding from government offices that obeyed a pro-equality ruling from the Supreme Court.

That could never have withstood a lawsuit. States simply don’t get to decide which Supreme Court rulings they want to follow. What’s scary is that it an obviously unconstitutional bill even made it this far — and may still come back. Bill sponsor Cecil Bell says that he might find a way to attach it to some other bill that’s still alive. So we’re not out of the woods yet.

And there’s another dangerous bill that DID pass, but it’s getting less attention. That’s SB2065, which contains a hidden trojan horse for discrimination. Supporters claim that the bill lets members of the clergy refuse to conduct marriages that violate their conscience. But if that were true, there would be no need for the bill. Religious officials already have the freedom to refuse certain marriages. What the bill actually does is extend that exemption to public officials who have religious affiliations.

So for example, if a city was the hire a minister as justice of the peace, even though he’s serving in a government role, he’d be allowed to let his religious rules override the rules of his job. Couples could be turned away from government offices with no recourse. The bill passed the Senate last week, and missed its chance for a vote in the House, but like the other bill could always come back as an amendment.

There are nearly two dozen anti-gay bills working their way through the Texas legislature right now. Many, like Cecil Bell’s attempt to defy the Supreme Court, are clearly illegal. But Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton says he’ll defend them anyway. What’s more, Paxton refused to say whether he would obey Supreme Court orders to allow marriage equality in the state. That could be setting up a showdown between the Supreme Court’s orders and the State of Texas’s refusal, and it’s hard to say who would win. Just kidding, the Supreme Court would win. Eventually. But the last time there was a showdown like this, it took some unpleasant work to sort it out.

19 Comments May 18, 2015

Texas Preparing to Defy Supreme Court on Marriage

By Matt Baume

Texas lawmakers vote this week on whether the state should officially defy the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage. Alabama and Minnesota are debating bills to undermine marriage equality. At least one presidential candidate seems to think that if elected he could veto the Supreme Court. But a new survey shows that Americans are getting tired of these anti-gay shenanigans.

When the Supreme Court rules on marriage this June, everyone in the country will be bound by the decision. Everyone. Even Texas. And yet, this week Texas lawmakers will vote on a bill that would order state employees to defy the anticipated pro-equality ruling from the the Supreme Court.

Just to be clear: this is definitely not allowed. When the Supreme Court says you have to do something, you can’t just pass a “no I don’t” bill, no matter how big your cowboy hat is. But the bad news is that this bill, which is clearly not constitutional, will probably pass. It has a ton of co-authors in the House, plenty of support in the Senate, and Governor Greg Abbott says that marriage equality causes unplanned pregnancies so he’s probably going to sign it.

Eventually, the law will be overturned, but it could take years and millions of dollars. And in the mean time, LGBTs will continue to suffer: denied the equal dignity of marrying the people they love, under a law that should never have been passed in the first place.

And it’s not just Texas that’s doing this. Last week Alabama debated HB56, which would allow judges to refuse to marry gay couples. And in Minnesota, where marriage has been legal for three years, Republicans are pushing a bill that would poke holes in the state’s nondiscrimination laws, allowing private companies to penalize gay and lesbian couples.

Presidential candidates are jumping on the bandwagon as well. Candidate Ben Carson says that if he was elected president, he’d simply overrule the Supreme Court’s decision. That statement is so completely divorced from how things work that it’s hard to understand what Carson thinks the President even is.

The good news is that most Americans want marriage equality, and they want it from the Supreme Court. A new survey shows that 58% of Americans want the LGBT couples bringing suit before the court to win. For now, those politicians passing anti-gay laws may be popular with their local base. But the more people learn that the bills are unnecessary — and aren’t even legal — the less popular they get.

65 Comments May 11, 2015

NOM Reveals Their 2016 Plans

By Matt Baume

Oral argument is done, and now we can make a few predictions about how the Supreme Court might rule in June. Texas lawmakers have a plan to stop marriage equality, and they don’t seem to care that their plan isn’t actually legal. And the National Organization for Marriage is insisting that they’ll still exist a year from now.

Last week we had oral argument in the four marriage cases before the Supreme Court, and it went pretty much as expected. Four justices seem ready to rule in favor of marriage equality, four seem opposed, and Kennedy seems to be somewhere in between. That means the court’s ultimate decision is probably going to rest with Kennedy, and he’s a hard one to predict.

But one of the most promising moments came when John Bursch, the lawyer representing the states that want to keep their marriage bans, tried to claim that the dignity of married couples doesn’t matter. That was probably a mistake, since affording dignity on an equal basis has always been a big deal for Kennedy — especially in cases involving LGBTs. It possible that with that one argument, Bursch lost the case. He’ll find out at the end of June just how badly he screwed up.

Meanwhile, some lawmakers in Texas have concocted a bizarre scheme just in case the Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage. If the court orders Texas to issue licenses to LGBT couples, a proposed bill by Representative Cecil Bell would bar the state from spending any money to implement the decision. That would be a clever maneuver, if it weren’t for the fact that it’s outright unconstitutional. No matter how many bills Texas passes, it doesn’t get to short-circuit the Supreme Court. Bell knows that, and he knows that if the bill passes, it’ll be overturned. But he’s going for it anyway.

And finally this week, the National Organization for Marriage has hinted at its future plans. They include lobbying for bills that would allow businesses to opt out of nondiscrimination laws; pushing for a federal constitutional marriage ban; and pressuring presidential candidates to oppose marriage equality.

Of these plans, the threat to undermine nondiscrimination laws, as recently happened in Indiana, is the most credible. Those “turn-away-the-gays” bills have been popping up for years and we’re likely to see more after the Supreme Court rules. Passing a constitutional amendment, on the other hand, is flat-out impossible at this point, like so many of NOM’s goals. And they might be able to pressure presidential candidates in 2016. But that’s assuming that NOM will exist at that point. Considering that their funding’s dried up, their supporters are evaporating, and they’re millions of dollars in debt, NOM may not even be worth worrying about a year from now.

24 Comments May 4, 2015

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