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LGBT Advocates In Texas May Back Marriage Bill Championed By Anti-Gay Hate Groups

Welch

In an extreme example of how politics sometimes makes for strange bedfellows, LGBT advocates in Texas say they're prepared to endorse legislation championed by two anti-gay hate groups. 

Representatives from Equality Texas and the ACLU of Texas say as long as it's narrowly written, they're likely to support a bill protecting pastors and churches from being forced to participate in same-sex weddings. 

The bill is being pushed by the Texas Pastor Council and Texas Values, two prominent anti-LGBT groups. A few weeks ago, the Pastor Council brought in dozens of religious leaders to testify in support of the bill. (Executive Director Dave Welch is shown addressing the pastors on the Capitol steps above.) 

Of course, pastors and churches are already protected from being forced to participate in same-sex weddings under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. 

The Texas Observer reports: 

Aclutx“It’s my job here at the ACLU to protect religious liberty, and if the bill is really about religious liberty, we’re going to come out in favor of it,” said Rebecca Robertson, legal and policy director for the ACLU of Texas. “There’s not a single example of any clergy being forced to perform a wedding that they don’t believe is consistent with their faith, but nevertheless we agree with the principle.”

Robertson said other states have enacted similar protections in conjunction with marriage equality legislation or nondiscrimination laws. Texas is one of only 13 states where same-sex marriage is still banned, but the U.S. Supreme Court is widely expected to change that next month.

“There’s a reason that we can all get together on this bill,” Robertson said. “It’s a principle we all agree on, and people can take comfort in the fact that their personal faith traditions are not going to be threatened. There’s room for both religious liberty and equality. We have a big Constitution.”

This same issue came to the fore this week when anti-gay U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia erroneously suggested during oral arguments that pastors could be forced to perform same-sex weddings if the court rules in favor of nationwide marriage equality. GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush later repeated Scalia's claim. 

The Texas Pastor Council's Welch told the Observer he isn't surprised LGBT groups are prepared to support the bill, acknowledging it's redundant with existing constitutional protections.

Welch said his group will continue to push other "religious freedom" legislation that would establish a license to discriminate against LGBT people. More than 20 anti-LGBT bills have been introduced in Texas this year. But most are stalled amid opposition from business leaders, including the Texas Association of Business, which is the state's powerful chamber of commerce. 

From the Observer

“Some of the Republican leadership are going to have to face the music if they don’t stand up for the principles upon which they were elected,” Welch said. “If they’re going to cater to the profit-at-all-cost corporate greed of the Texas Association of Business, which is basically standing on an empty platform of deception, they’ll ultimately lose the next election. … If Apple is going to pull out of Texas because we’re going to defend our religious freedom that has produced the same climate that brought them here to begin with, then frankly, move back to California.”


Texas Freedom Network Launches Initiative To Combat Anti-Gay Religious Discrimination Bills

Gay Texas

Some good news from the Lone Star State: the Texas Freedom Network in conjunction with the ACLU of Texas has launched an initiative to oppose laws that enable discrimination under the guise of religious freedom, like Indiana's. From their press release:

A bill under consideration in the Texas House State Affairs Committee today would give religiously affiliated entities like hospitals and child welfare organizations authority to discriminate against almost any Texas family, two of the state’s leading religious liberties organizations warn.

[...]

Supporters portray House Bill 3567 by state Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, as simply protecting clergy from performing marriages that conflict with their religious beliefs. But the Constitution and Texas law already provide that protection, said Rebecca Robertson, legal and policy director for the ACLU of Texas.

[...]

TFN and the ACLU of Texas together have launched Texans Equal Under Law, an initiative that opposes HB 3567 and other legislation that would allow individuals and organizations to use religion to discriminate: www.texansequalunderlaw.com

The press release points out that HB 3567 allows for discriminatory practices, and not just homophobic ones, in a variety of secular circumstances, all of which have religious justification behind them. Given that Texas has 20 anti-LGBT bills in the running, TFN and the ACLU are going to have their work cut out for them, so lend them all of the support you can.


Emotional Pop Culture Supercut Of Road To Marriage Equality Includes 'Golden Girls' And 'Glee': VIDEO

SSM video

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has posted a video tracking pop culture's journey towards same-sex marriage.

The ACLU filed the first freedom-to-marry lawsuit in the United States in 1970. 45 years later they are at the Supreme Court to fight to win the freedom to marry for couples in all 50 states.

Backed by Tegan & Sara's "Closer," the video, which may bring a tear to the eye, includes clips from Thirtysomething, Longtime Companion, The Kids Are All Right, Roseanne, Glee, ER, Orange is the New Black, Will and Grace, In & Out, Transparent, The Wire, The Golden Girls, The Real World, Northern Exposure, Friends, The Simpsons, Parks and Recreation, Grey’s Anatomy, Modern Family, and The Birdcage.

Watch the video, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "Emotional Pop Culture Supercut Of Road To Marriage Equality Includes 'Golden Girls' And 'Glee': VIDEO" »


Lamba Legal, ACLU, NCAA, Tony Perkins and More React to Proposed 'Fix' to Indiana 'Religious Freedom' Law

Reactions to a proposed "fix" to Indiana's "religious freedom" bill are rolling in, with right-wingers understandably furious that the amendment now explicitly prevents the law from being used to discriminate against LGBT individuals.

LGBT organizations, meanwhile, are saying the proposal doesn't go far enough and are pushing to ensure LGBT Hoosiers are protected from discrimination statewide. 

Said Jennifer C. Pizer, National Director of Lambda Legal's Law and Policy Project:

Pizer"This bill reduces the threat but is far less than this situation requires. It recognizes there are problems, but does not fix it as LGBT Hoosiers and others urgently need. Now that there's broad public understanding that gay and transgender people in much of Indiana are terribly vulnerable to arbitrary discrimination by businesses, refusal of housing, and being fired just for being who they are--and even Gov. Pence has agreed that that is wrong--that unacceptable situation requires a full solution. We've provided multiple options of straightforward bill language. This is not a complicated or novel task. Many states have done it with only positive results economically and socially. The time is now. America is watching.

"Indiana's RFRA is an ill-conceived law that invites religiously motivated refusals to comply with laws that protect everyone. The state's elected leadership today has taken one step to reduce these refusal problems by amending the RFRA to ensure compliance with civil rights laws. Now they need to complete the fix by actually providing those basic protections that LGBT people need to be equal and safe in the Hoosier State, and by further amending RFRA to prevent it from being used to excuse any harm to other people.

"The local voices, organizations as well as national business and government leaders who have been insisting on a full and proper response in Indiana are right. This job should be finished before this legislative session ends and Governor Pence leaves on vacation if state leadership wants to show their claims about opposing discrimination are sincere.

HRC said the proposed fix "falls far short of adding non-discrimination protections for LGBT Hoosiers to the state's civil rights laws, and future legislative sessions have an obligation to return to fix both the RFRA and this glaring hole in Indiana's laws protecting their own citizens."

Said Freedom Indiana campaign manager Katie Blair:

Fi“These changes represent an important step forward. They fall short in many ways, and our work is far from over.

“Statewide nondiscrimination protections for LGBT Hoosiers still do not exist, meaning discrimination is still legal in most of the state.

“Businesses in Indiana, and many other employers looking to do business with our state, have made it clear that the state must pass a statewide nondiscrimination law that protects all Hoosiers from discrimination and ensures that Indiana is seen as a welcoming place to visit and do business.

The ACLU expressed a similar view, saying:

"The events in Indiana over the last week represent a dramatic change in the way our country reacts to discrimination hiding under the guise of religion.

The Indiana legislature and the governor made a terrible and dangerous mistake, and they were met with widespread condemnation and a backlash that has hurt their state’s reputation and its economy.

The outcry – from businesses, religious organizations, community leaders, and millions of people inside Indiana and around the country – forced a change to the law.

Because of these changes, the harm of the law has been lessened, but there remain significant problems that must be addressed.

With these amendments, the RFRA cannot be used as a defense in some kinds of discrimination cases. That’s a major improvement. But it still poses a risk that it can be used to deny rights to others, including in education, access to health care, and other aspects of people’s lives. While this is one piece of the solution, it is incomplete. Religious freedom is important, but it doesn’t give anyone the right to impose their beliefs on others, discriminate, or cause harm.

This national conversation has shined a light on the fact that Indiana – as well as 27 other states – do not have statewide nondiscrimination protections for gay and transgender people, meaning that discrimination is still legal in most of the country. 

NCAA President Mark Emmert said the association is "very pleased" with the #RFRA revisions but failed to speak out on the growing push to secure state-wide LGBT non-discrimination protections.  

FRC hate leader Tony Perkins, meanwhile, is calling on Gov. Mike Pence to veto the fix:

Perkins"On the eve of Good Friday, Big Business is encouraging elected leaders to take the silver over religious freedom.This new proposal guts the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and empowers the government to impose punishing fines on people for following their beliefs about marriage. Religious freedom should not be held hostage by Big Business. Big Business is now putting religious freedom in a worse place than before RFRA was signed into law. Gutting RFRA in this manner would put people of faith in the crosshairs of government discrimination as never before. Far from being a 'clarification,' this would gut religious freedom in Indiana. Religious freedom doesn't need a 'fix.' This proposal would force religious businesses and even nonprofits deemed 'not religious enough' to participate in wedding ceremonies contrary to their owners' beliefs. If the government punishes people for living their faith, there are no limits to what government can control. We urge the governor to veto this measure that will be used by the government to bring financial ruin on people like florist Barronelle Stutzman, bakers Aaron and Melissa Klein, and wedding photographer Elaine Huguenin."

Heritage Foundation's Ryan T. Anderson, who recently duked it out with Dan Savage over #RFRA, is similarly displeased:

AndersonIt is important to note that this fix does not create new sexual orientation and gender identity privileges in Indiana; it says that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act cannot protect citizens from existing (municipal) Indiana sexual orientation and gender identity laws and ensuing coercion from government.

In other words, it eliminates any balancing test for sexual liberty and religious liberty. It says sexual orientation should trump religious liberty. That’s bad policy.

All citizens should oppose unjust discrimination, but sexual orientation and gender identity laws are not the way to achieve that goal. Sexual orientation and gender identity laws threaten fundamental First Amendment rights. These laws create new, subjective protected classes that will expose employers to unimaginable liability, and would increase government interference in labor markets in ways that could harm the economy.

Bryan Fischer is upset too:

 


Pro Bono Attorneys Handling Same-Sex Marriage Cases Slam Gay Inc. For Lack Of Financial Support

Nessel

A pro bono attorney who's challenging Michigan's same-sex marriage ban is publicly criticizing national LGBT organizations for failing to adequately support her efforts. 

Dana Nessel, co-counsel for Michigan marriage plaintiffs April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse (all three shown above), told Bloomberg Politics that attorneys from national LGBT organizations initially tried to dissuade her from filing the case because they said it didn't fit into their national strategy. When Nessel and her clients began to have success, she said organizations wanted to take over the case. After she refused, they denied requests for financial assistance, all the while using the case to raise money for themselves. 

From Bloomberg Politics

Nessel1An historic triumph for gay marriage may be within reach this spring on the biggest possible stage, but attorney Dana Nessel’s chief frustration at the moment is actually not anti-gay opponents. Rather, she’s taking aim at an unlikely target: the biggest, richest civil rights and gay rights organizations, all of which have left her team to beg and scrape for the estimated $1 million they need to litigate at the Supreme Court. “Nobody even wanted us to file this case, they all tried to stop us, and even now they’re not helping much,” she says tartly. “The great irony is, we’re the ones going to the Supreme Court.”

Private attorneys handling same-sex marriage cases in other states echoed some of Nessel's complaints, which are certainly nothing new to the movement. If you'll remember, national LGBT orgs didn't initially support the lawsuit challenging California's Prop 8, which was ultimately funded by the American Foundation For Equal Rights. 

However, one of the attorneys serving as Nesser's co-counsel in the Michigan case, Carole Stanyar (right), painted a slightly different picture in a statement to Daily Kos' Kerry Eleveld

Stanyar"While this article is mostly accurate in detailing our experience with the civil rights and gay organizations, it grossly understates the contributions of both GLAD and Lambda Legal. Mary Bonauto (GLAD) helped us the moment we asked her and has never stopped helping us. She is our co-counsel and deserves to be acknowledged. Throughout the case, Lambda has provided a great deal of assistance to us also. They helped us -- any time we asked -- to locate trial witnesses, to garner resources and research from around the country, and to help fund one of our expert witnesses (a $13,000 contribution). I was aware of a 'national strategy' to avoid the states in the Sixth Circuit, however, I don't recall either GLAD or Lambda ever discouraging us from filing or pursuing this lawsuit." 

According to Bloomberg, Lambda Legal was the only organization that responded to requests for comment about Nessel's complaints: 

TaylorLambda’s Marriage Project director Camilla Taylor (right) rejected the criticism, insisting: “We don't ever try to take over someone’s case. To my knowledge [the Michigan attorneys] are thrilled with all of the help we have provided, including financial resources.” She would not specify what those resources were and would not respond to questions about whether the group advised various plaintiffs not to file their suits. Attorney-client privilege extends to potential clients even if they don’t end up retaining the organization, Taylor said.

Certainly there are valid points on both sides of this debate, but as gay PR guru Bob Witeck (right) suggests in the Bloomberg piece, now's not the time for bickering: 

WiteckWhile national groups pressured Nessel to back off her critique for this report, unaffiliated activists say blaming her for speaking out is yet another illustration of the problem. “This is the case of our lifetime,” said Bob Witeck, a public-relations strategist who has worked with Human Rights Campaign and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, and advises American Airlines on their gay marketing outreach. “If others are raising large chunks of money and they’re not feeding and servicing the lawyers and the litigants in these cases, what are we giving it to? There can’t be weak links. We have to have our ‘A’ game going in. There can’t be any part of this defense that isn’t fully prepared.”

On that note, you can contribute to the Michigan marriage effort here

And watch the touching video of Nessel and her clients celebrating a federal judge's decision to strike down the state's marriage ban in 2014, AFTER THE JUMP ... 

Continue reading "Pro Bono Attorneys Handling Same-Sex Marriage Cases Slam Gay Inc. For Lack Of Financial Support" »


Bigoted Mississippi School District Officials Fighting to Stop Formation of Gay-Straight Alliance

A school district in central Mississippi is pulling out all the stops in an attempt to prevent students from creating a gay-straight alliance on campus, The Clarion-Ledger reports:

Weathersby[Rankin County Superintendent Lynn] Weathersby (pictured right) brought up the issue at Wednesday's school board meeting, making clear his intentions to limit such organizations in Rankin County schools.

"I talked to (board attorney) Freddie (Harrell) and several administrators about what we could legally do to limit organizations like that on campus that we don't want to endorse and don't want," Weathersby said.

Although school board members and officials said they were not aware of any attempt to form a club in the district, Brandon High School theatre teacher Janice Weaver said she was approached by a student in December who expressed a desire to create a gay-straight alliance (GSA), or a student-led, student-organized club aimed at combating anti-gay discrimination and bullying in schools. Weaver said the student submitted the proposal for the club to school administrators. 

At the meeting, Weathersby said the best way to stop the "gay club" would be to require parents to sign a consent form allowing their children to participate in the club.

The paper continues:

School board attorney Freddie Harrell echoed Weathersby, saying a gay club might violate educational standards and principles adopted by the school district such as abstinence-only sexual education.

Newly appointed board member Ira Singleton asked Harrell what would happen if parents did consent to their children participating in such a club. Harrell responded that at that time, it would be up to the school's principal to decide whether the club meets school requirements.

In a statement, HRC Mississippi State Director Rob Hill blasted the district's actions, saying:

“The policy sends a harmful message to LGBT students in Rankin County that they are not welcomed within their classrooms, at school functions or on the bus. The board’s actions tell LGBT students that they should be ashamed of who they are and that their lives are valued less than their peers. Keeping our children safe is critical. We demand the Superintendent, and the board, reverse its decision to publicly humiliate, degrade and embarrass young LGBT people."

The ACLU of Mississippi, meanwhile, has already sent a letter to Weathersby letting him know that the district could land in legal hot water if students are blocked from forming GSA clubs. You can read the letter below:


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