LGBT issues

  • July 17, 2014

    by Paul Guequierre

    In another victory for equality, Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage was invalidated this afternoon. Monroe County Circuit Judge Luis Garcia overturned Florida’s 2008 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and ordered that two Key West residents be allowed to wed, but not before Tuesday.

    According to the Miami Herald, Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones, who met at a gay pride celebration and have been a couple for 11 years, sued Monroe County Clerk Amy Heavilin in April for a marriage license. There is a similar suit pending in Miami-Dade County, in which six same-sex couples and LGBT advocacy group Equality Florida Institute sued County Clerk Harvey Ruvin for the right to marry.

    In both cases, Florida Assistant Attorney General Adam Tanenbaum argued that Garcia and Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel should not dismiss Florida’s constitutional gay marriage ban, which passed in 2008 with the support of 62 percent of voters.

    LGBT rights advocates continue to ride a wave of success since last year’s landmark Supreme Court decisions striking down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and putting an end to California’s Prop. 8. Just last week a judge struck down Kentucky’s marriage ban. Earlier this month, Justice Samuel Alito, Jr. rejected a county official's bid to suspend a ruling that overturned Pennsylvania's same-sex marriage ban. In Colorado, a District Court judge declared the state’s ban on same-sex marriages unconstitutional and the Utah attorney general announced he would appeal a court decision in favor of marriage equality in the state to the U.S. Supreme Court. In Wisconsin, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen appealed a federal judge's ruling from June striking down the state's ban on same-sex marriages. The case now heads to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

    According to the Human Rights Campaign, there are over 70 court cases challenging discriminatory marriage bans across the country in 30 of the 31 states where such a ban exists, plus Puerto Rico. Cases from twelve states are currently pending before six federal appeals courts. The Sixth Circuit holds the distinction of being the only federal appeals court to date that will consider marriage cases from all states within its jurisdiction.  In total, 33 states either have marriage equality or have seen state marriage bans struck down as unconstitutional in court.  Since the Supreme Court’s historic marriage rulings last year, there have been 16 consecutive federal court decisions that bans on marriage equality are unconstitutional.  These rulings have come from judges appointed by both Democrat and Republican presidents.

  • July 17, 2014

    by Paul Guequierre

    Fifty-four law professors from across the country, including several ACS members and contributors penned a letter to President Obama this week urging him not to cave under pressure from anti-equality conservatives by including religious exemption language in any executive order providing nondiscrimination guarantees for LGBT employees of federal contractors.

    The letter comes on the heels of the Supreme Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby, which gave closely held corporations the freedom to discriminate by invoking religious beliefs and not offering contraceptive care to female employees, despite the fact that such coverage is mandated under the Affordable Care Act. The law professors emphasize that the Supreme Court’s opinion in Hobby Lobby and order in Wheaton College do not compel in any way the inclusion of religious exemptions language in an executive order, and that both actions were predicated on the Court’s belief that the government could fully realize its compelling goals of furthering women’s health and equality through other means.

    The signatories also note the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in no way affects the promulgation of an executive order that establishes the conditions under with taxpayer dollars can be expended to subsidize the work of a private organization and that the federal government is free to require that government contractors adhere to government standards.   

    Read the full letter here.

  • July 10, 2014

    by Paul Guequierre

    This afternoon Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen appealed a federal judge's ruling from last month striking down the state's ban on same-sex marriages, reports the Associated Press. The case now heads to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

    Van Hollen had until July 21 to file an appeal, but felt rushed in the wake of several recent marriage equality victories across the country. He said in a statement that the appeals court's decision to speed up the Indiana case led him to file the appeal sooner than his deadline.

    U.S. District Barbara Crab overturned Wisconsin’s ban on marriages by gay and lesbian couples in June. The ban, which was approved by voters in 2006, is now opposed by the majority of Wisconsin voters. A recent Marquette University Law School poll found 55 percent of registered voters statewide now favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry, while 37 percent oppose it and 6 percent say they do not know. Governor Scott Walker, a Republican with a national profile, has stayed largely quiet on the issue. Although once an ardent opponent of marriage equality, Walker has now said his position doesn't matter because the governor plays no role in changing the constitution. Walker does, however, support Van Hollen’s appeal.

    Although Van Hollen acknowledged asked Crab to immediately block her own decision, she did not stay her decision immediately, instead waiting a week to do so. In that week, more than 500 gay and lesbian couples wed in the Badger state.

    In 1982, Wisconsin became the first state in the country to enact a gay rights law, banning discrimination in employment and housing based on sexual orientation.

    LGBT rights advocates have celebrated a string of victories since last year’s landmark Supreme Court decisions striking down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and putting an end to California’s Prop. 8. Just this week Justice Samuel Alito, Jr. rejected a county official's bid to suspend a ruling that overturned Pennsylvania's same-sex marriage ban. Also this week, a District Court judge declared Colorado's ban on same-sex marriages unconstitutional and the Utah attorney general announced he would appeal a court decision in favor of marriage equality in the state to the U.S. Supreme Court.

  • July 10, 2014

    by Nicholas Alexiou

    Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes has decided not to see full en banc review of last month’s decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit which affirmed a trial court’s determination that Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. Instead, Marissa Lang at The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Utah will file a petition for a Writ of Certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court.

    At Above the Law, Matt Kaiser discusses the recent acquittal of Rengan Rajaratnam and growing confusion in the area of insider trading law.

    Dahlia Lithwick argues at Slate that while the recently completed Supreme Court Term was uncontroversial for men, it was a disaster for women.

    Neil H. Buchanan explains why the majority decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. may actually turn out to be “bad for religion in America” at Dorf on Law.

  • July 1, 2014

    by Paul Guequierre

    As LGBT Americans continue on the path to equality, the community celebrated two major victories this week. Today, U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II ruled that same-sex couples have a right to marry in Kentucky, saying, "In America, even sincere and long-held religious beliefs do not trump the constitutional rights of those who happen to have been out-voted."

    Heyburn ruled in February that Kentucky must recognize gay marriages performed in other states. Heyburn immediately stayed his ruling today.

    According the Louisville Courier-Journal, Heyburn rejected the only justification offered by lawyers for Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear—that traditional marriages contribute to a stable birth rate and the state's long-term economic stability.

    "These arguments are not those of serious people," he said.

    Today’s victory for marriage equality is one in a string of many.  Just last week, U.S. District Judge Richard L. Young ruled Indiana’s ban on marriages by gay and lesbian couples unconstitutional and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit upheld an earlier ruling that Utah’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional. The Utah ruling affects all states in the Tenth Circuit: Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming. And earlier in June, U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Crabb ruled Wisconsin’s marriage ban unconstitutional. Hundreds of marriages took place in the Badger state before Crabb stayed her ruling. Just a week before Crabb’s ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to block marriages of same-sex couples in Oregon.

    In other equality-related news, yesterday at the White House LGBT Pride Reception, President Obama announced he would be issuing an executive order to protect transgender federal employees from workplace discrimination, according to the Human Rights Campaign. The executive order will expand upon an executive order from President Bill Clinton, which banned workplace discrimination among federal employees on the basis of sexual orientation.