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Texas Still Using DOMA to Attack Gay Couples

By Matt Baume

Texas has won the right to have gays and lesbians fired for taking medical leave. The state’s also working on a sneaky work-around to stop marriage equality, just in case the Supreme Court overturns the state’s ban. And Alabama officials says that maybe gays and lesbians don’t want to get married after all.

If you’re straight and you need time off to care for a sick spouse, federal law requires that you get Family and Medical Leave. If you’re gay, you could get denied that right, depending on what state you live in. A new rule was supposed to expand access to Leave for gay couples last week, but at the last minute Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued to stop it. Now a judge has put the rule-change on hold. That means that Texan LGBTs will have to choose between taking care of their family and keeping their job.

The basis for last week’s ruling was the Defense of Marriage Act. Wait, didn’t the Supreme Court overturn DOMA? Well, technically, no. The Supreme Court only ruled against the part of DOMA that blocks the federal government from recognizing marriage. There’s another part that allows one state to disregard licenses from another state. And Paxton thinks that should give him permission to withhold medical leave from gays and lesbians who married in other states.

Of course, there’s one other authority here that Texas might want to consider: The US Constitution. The Supreme Court will hopefully rule in June that the equal protection clause applies to LGBTs. But homophobic Texas lawmakers are preparing for that, too. They’re pushing a bill that would give the Secretary of State the authority to punish any clerk who issues a license to couples the state doesn’t like. That means Texas would be saying, in essence, “oh we’re letting clerks obey the Supreme Court’s ruling. We’re just punishing them for doing so.”

Meanwhile, the Alabama marriage mess is continuing. The latest update: state Attorney General Luther Strange has asked a court to reject a class-action suit filed on behalf of the state’s LGBT couples. He says that even though they can estimate how many gays and lesbians live in Alabama, there’s just no way to know how many of them want to be treated equally. The plaintiffs will respond to that on Wednesday of this week, as soon as they can find a legal way to say “pretty much all of them do.”

93 Comments March 30, 2015

Texas Sues to Stop Gays From Taking Family Leave

By Matt Baume

It’s been nearly two months since marriage was supposed to start in Alabama, and the state still doesn’t have its act together. Texas just filed a lawsuit to prevent gays and lesbians from taking family medical leave. And it’s going to take at least five different bills to overturn Michigan’s marriage ban.

Alabama’s still a mess of conflicting rulings. Right now, it looks like the only way that judges could comply with every order they’ve received is if nobody ever gets married ever again. First a federal court said judges have to issue licenses, then the State Supreme Court said they don’t have to. And then last week, Judge Callie Granade issued a new ruling that said, in essence, “yes you do.”

This leaves judges stuck in the same tug of war as before: state courts say one thing, federal courts say another. It’s like a big legal game of chicken, and neither side is willing to budge. The state court won’t back down, because they believe they’re right. And the federal court won’t back down, because they actually ARE right.

Meanwhile, anti-gay politicians have continued their desperate rhetoric. Alabama Governor Robert Bentley filed an amicus brief with the US Supreme Court last week, claiming that marriage equality harms children. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has sued the Obama administration, claiming that the state should be allowed to withhold family and medical leave from married gays and lesbians. And Idaho Republicans asked Congress to impeach all of the judges who ruled that marriage bans are unconstitutional. That is a lot of judges, what they’re really asking for is a massive gutting of federal courts.

But this limited backlash aside, most lawmakers are still moving in the direction of supporting greater equality. Michigan Democrats have proposed five bill that would repeal various marriage bans. Puerto Rico, which previously defended its marriage ban, just reversed course and will now allow it to be overturned. And Congress is considering reforms that would allow LGBT couples to access Social Security benefits that they previously couldn’t.

And public support is growing too. Last week the Presbyterian Church voted to recognize gay and lesbian couples as married. And a new survey in Wisconsin shows that 70 percent of residents say that overturning the state’s marriage ban has had no effect on their lives. Of the people who said it did have an effect, about half said it was positive.

7 Comments March 23, 2015

Laws to Stop Marriage Equality Grow Increasingly Weird

By Matt Baume

Texas is pushing a proposed law that would let the state overrule the Supreme Court. There’s just one problem: they can’t actually do that. Alabama judges have decided that they don’t have to obey federal courts either, except that in reality, they do. And Oklahoma politician wants to switch from marriage licenses to marriage certificates, which would accomplish … not very much.

Let’s start in Texas this week, where first time State Rep Molly White has introduced a bill that would require the state to ignore any Supreme Court ruling that legalized marriage.

Can she do that? Nope, that’s not how laws work. Or the Supreme Court. Or America in general. For better or for worse, Texas is still part of the United States, so Texas can’t just say “no thanks” when the Supreme Court tells them to do something. White’s only been in office for two months, so hopefully she’ll get the hang of it soon.

Over in Alabama, the state Supreme Court is experiencing similar confusion. They’ve ordered probate judges to ignore the federal ruling that they have to issue marriage licenses. So now it’s state law versus federal law, and nobody knows who will win. Just kidding! Federal law will win. That’s the basis of our entire legal system.

Then there’s South Carolina, where a couple of politicians want to amend the US Constitution to ban marriage equality. This has no chance of happening. But State Senator Larry Grooms says that it’s necessary for “the propagation of our species.” Contrary to what Grooms seems to think, reproduction does not, in fact, originate in the U.S. Constitution.

And in Oklahoma, State Rep Todd Ross has solved the marriage debate with a new bill that stops the state from issuing marriage licenses, and instead requires marriage certificates. And this is different because … well, it’s actually pretty much the same, it’s just slightly less paperwork. So, okay.

Finally this week a new national survey shows support for marriage soaring to 59 percent, with just 33 percent opposed. This means that the freedom to marry is slightly more popular than the Pope.

Those are the headlines, subscribe here on YouTube for more on all these stories. For the American Foundation for Equal Right Rights, I’m Matt Baume. See you next week.

41 Comments March 16, 2015

Alabama Goes Rogue on Marriage

By Matt Baume

The Alabama Supreme Court just went rogue on marriage, and that has George Takei pretty annoyed. Hundreds of Republicans just asked the U.S. Supreme Court to enact full federal equality. And the National Organization for Marriage’s losing streak continues with yet another slapdown in court.

Well, it seemed like marriage was safe in Alabama, but the state Supreme Court still had a one weird trick up its sleeve. Even though a federal court ordered marriage to begin, the Alabama Supreme Court has now ordered it to stop. The state justices claim that their interpretation of federal law trumps a federal judge’s.

Can they do that? Not really, no. This breaks all kinds of rules about jurisdiction and authority. The legal term for this is … well, there isn’t one, because it really isn’t a thing that’s done. It’s basically the state giving the finger to the country. Which is why George Takei has flipped it around by encouraging folks to show the state their wedding finger.

What happens next? Lawyers rack up a ton of hours filing motions, and and maybe marriage can start back up again sometime soon. Or we might just have to wait until the U.S. Supreme Court resolves things once and for all.

Speaking of the Supreme Court, last week was the deadline for amicus briefs in the marriage cases. Almost 400 companies submitted briefs in favor of marriage equality, including Coke, Delta, Apple, Nike, Amazon, GE, and many many more. Also of note: a pro-equality brief from over 300 Republicans. That includes several current and past senators, governors, mayors, White House officials, and even a Koch brother. This is more than double the number of Republicans who signed a similar brief for the DOMA case in 2013.

The Supreme Court won’t rule on marriage until sometime after oral argument on April 28. But they did just deliver some more bad news to the National Organization for Marriage. For years, NOM has been fighting to keep their donor identities secret, and last week the Supreme Court denied their request for a hearing, which puts an end to the case once and for all. It is weird that NOM stalled for this long, since the donor names have been available through the state since 2008. Essentially NOM just spent seven years and a ton of money on a fight that they lost a long time ago.

24 Comments March 9, 2015

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

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