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15 Years After Landmark Ruling In Favor Of Gay Straight Alliances, School Districts Continue To Deny Them

NPhighschool

Fifteen years after a landmark federal court ruling upholding the right of students to form Gay Straight Alliance clubs at public schools, some districts continue to violate the law by refusing to recognize GSAs.  

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against a school district in Bainbridge, Indiana — 35 miles west of Indianapolis — on behalf of three students and the GSA at North Putnam High School. 

ACLU

The students formed the GSA at North Putnam more than a year ago, but after months of stalling, the school board voted Nov. 20 not to recognize the club. 

The ACLU alleges the district's failure to recognize the GSA violates both the federal Equal Access Act and the students' First Amendment rights: 

LGBT students at the school have frequently been harassed and wanted to form the GSA to provide a place to educate the community and support vulnerable students. The school, which allows other non-school-sponsored clubs and activities to meet, such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Key Club and Best Buddies, has denied recognition of the GSA club for more than a year. The students followed all the school's required procedures outlined in its student handbook to establish the club, including securing a faculty member to supervise the group. ... 

"The law is clear in this matter," said Ken Falk, ACLU of Indiana legal director. "There is no excuse for the school district's intransigence, which is causing real harm to its students."

The ACLU of Indiana was successful in reversing a similar decision by a school in the Town of Munster in July, 2014.

"The actions of the school district in clear violation of federal law leave the most vulnerable students at North Putnam without critically needed support," Chase Strangio, Staff Attorney at the ACLU added.

In November 1999, a federal judge ruled that the Salt Lake City school district's decision to reject a GSA at East High School violated the federal Equal Access Act. The Salt Lake district said it was banning all non-curricular clubs to get around the Equal Access Act, but continued to allow other clubs to meet. 

From Lambda Legal, which served as lead counsel in the Salt Lake City lawsuit: 

This case more than any other put the issue of GSAs on the nation's radar, letting students know they could fight back and letting school districts know they might be in violation of the law.

Apparently, some districts still haven't gotten the message. 

Read the ACLU's lawsuit, and watch U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan's video in support of GSAs from 2012, AFTER THE JUMP ... 

Continue reading "15 Years After Landmark Ruling In Favor Of Gay Straight Alliances, School Districts Continue To Deny Them" »


Florida Court Clerks Association Warns Clerks Who Issue Same-Sex Marriage Licenses May Face Criminal Charges

Florida

Florida’s State Court Clerks Association has begun sending out notices to clerks throughout the state informing them that they may face legal action if they issue marriage licenses to same sex couples this upcoming January.

“Florida’s Court Clerks & Comptrollers’ duty is to act in accordance with Florida law,” warned the association in a statement. “Florida Statutes are unique in regard to prohibiting the issuance of a marriage license to a couple that is not a man and a woman, in that it provides that a Clerk who violates this prohibition is guilty of a criminal act and subject to a fine and/or imprisonment.”

BondiCurrently Florida’s ban on same sex marriage is in a state of legal limbo. Earlier this year U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle found that Florida’s ban was unconstitutional and moved to stay his decision until January 5th of 2015. Pam Bondi, Florida’s Attorney General, unsuccessfully appealed to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to have the stay extended past its current January expiration, and has since requested an extension from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

It’s expected that gay couples throughout Florida will apply for marriage licenses on the 6th of January, but the Court Clerks Association hazards that the details of Hinkle’s repeal of Florida’s ban only applies to a specific clerk explicitly named in the initial lawsuit that led to the ruling.

“When a federal judge declares a law unconstitutional, all public officials should cease enforcing that law. Period,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU in Florida. “Let’s leave the legalistic hypotheticals for the law school classroom and look at the practical reality: Are local officials seriously preparing to arrest and criminally charge Miami-Dade Clerk Harvey Ruvin for enforcing a federal judge’s order? That’s preposterous.”

In related Florida news, the ACLU has filed a response to Bondi's Supreme Court motion, with the ACLU asking the high court to reject Florida's request for further extension of the stay. 

Read the ACLU response below:


FDA Committee Inches Closer Toward Repealing Gay Blood Donor Ban

Picture 7The FDA Committee is meeting today to discuss proposals of removing the ban that prohibits gay men from donating blood reports The New Civil Rights Movement. Talks of repealing the ban appeared last month when The Health and Human Services Advisory Committee on Blood & Tissue Safety & Availability voted to drop the ban for any man who has not had sex with another man in at least a year. A Williams Institute study finds that repealing the ban would save over 1.8 million lives.

However, the one-year abstinence stipulation is still considered discriminatory, and the few gay men that are eligible to donate would yield little increase in the amount of blood donated. Ryan James Yezak, found of the National Gay Blood Drive, finds the new stipulation discriminatory and absurd.

Said Yezak:

"The policies that are in place, the lifetime ban, perpetuates negative stereotypes and stigma. It assumes that all gay and bisexual men are likely to have HIV and therefore must be blanket banned and that's just not necessary in this day and age when they have the testing and other countries have moved to deferral time period."

Although Yezak is disappointed with the methods of the new stipulation, he agrees that it's at least a step in the right direction toward repealing the ban completely. Of course, the anti-gay right wing disagrees. Anti-gay activist Peter LaBarbera, the head of Americans for Truth about Homosexuality, staunchly affirmed his position on keeping the ban.

Said LaBarbera:

"First of all, HIV rates and sexually transmitted diseases are rising among homosexual-practicing men. So why would we be talking about softening the blood ban at a time when [STDs] are on the rise among men who have sex with men?"

The ACLU disagrees, saying criteria for becoming a blood donor should be based on science, not misinformed assumptions and discriminatory stereotypes. LaBarbera and his fellow constituents choose to ignore the fact that HIV is as much an issue for heterosexual people as it is the LGBT community. Fortunately, President Obama reaffirmed his support of those living with, and affected by, HIV and AIDS in a speech the day before the observance of World AIDS Day this year. 


ACLU Files Lawsuit Against Nebraska's Same-Sex Marriage Ban

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14 years ago, Nebraska voters overwhelmingly approved a ban on gay marriage. Today, the local branch of the ACLU is filing a lawsuit for seven long-term LGBT couples seeking state recognition of their unions. Six of the couples have been married in other states where marriage is now legal, including the lead plaintiffs Sally and Susan Waters. Their case is unusually pressing as Sally Waters (pictured on the right) has been diagnosed with terminal breast cancer.

“It’s a fairly gloomy outcome that I’ve got ahead of me,” said Sally. “That made it extra clear that not having our marriage recognized in Nebraska was going to be a hardship for our family.”

When Sally dies, her partner will not be eligible for Social Security benefits to take care of their three children. Also, Nebraska's inheritance tax could cause financial stress for the family as well; it's a whooping 18% for non-relatives but just 1% for spouses. The couple, who've been together for more than 20 years, are hoping that with recent rulings across the country and at the Supreme Court, this time their effort will be successful before their time runs out.

In an interview with the Lincoln Journal Star, the couple note that even in a conservative state like Nebraska, the law is lagging far behind how their friends and neighbors have treated them. "I’m not experiencing Nebraska as anything but tolerant and welcoming to our family," said Susan. "The coolness is in the law, not the people.”  

Not surprisingly, the state's Republican governor Dave Heineman sees things a bit differently, stating he will fight any attempts to overturn the ban. “Let me also remind everybody, marriage has always been a state’s issue,” he said today in response to the ACLU filing. “We should reflect the values and beliefs of the citizens of Nebraska, which I have absolutely no doubt remains firmly committed that marriage is between a man and woman.”

The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Peter Bataillon, the same judge who heard a 2003 challenge to the law. Bataillon tossed out the ban, but Nebraska officials appealed and the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ban. 

Photo courtesy Jason M. McClaren


Nebraska ACLU Plans to Challenge Marriage Ban

6a00d8341c730253ef01a3fb6c106a970b-250wiNext Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska plans to file a lawsuit challenging the state's gay marriage ban.

Omaha.com reports that in a recent email sent to "same-sex marriage supporters," Executive Director Danielle Conrad announced the suit, and that it will ask for same-sex couples to be able to marry in Nebraska, and also that out-of-state gay marriages will be recognized within Nebraska's borders.

This would be something of a landmark moment for nationwide recognition of same-sex marriage — as of right now, Nebraska is the only state without either same-sex marriage or a federal lawsuit seeking approval of same-sex marriage. In 2000, the state's ban, Nebraska Initiative 416, was passed with a staggering 70%. The text of the initiative reads:

Only marriage between a man and a woman shall be valid or recognized in Nebraska. The uniting of two persons of the same sex in a civil union, domestic partnership, or other similar same-sex relationship shall not be valid or recognized in Nebraska.

The names of the plaintiffs in the new ACLU suit have not yet been released.

Developing... 


St. Louis Circuit Judge Hears Challenge To Missouri Same-Sex Marriage Ban

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St. Louis Circuit Judge Rex Burlison heard arguments Monday on a challenge to Missouri's gay marriage ban brought by four gay couples who were married in St. Louis by city officials in June.

The couples are Tod Martin and David Gray, Bruce Yampolsky and Terry Garrett, John Durnell and Richard Eaton, and Miranda Duschack and Karen Davis. All but Duschack and Davis attended Monday's hearings, as The St. Louis Post Dispatch reports. Then Recorder of Deeds Sharon Carpenter performed the ceremonies in Mayor Slay's office with his consent. Attorney General Chris Koster filed an injunction to stop the marriages. Though he says he supports same-sex marriage, he also commented that he felt bound to uphold Missouri law (the state has a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage passed in 2004).

Koster did not defend the state's ban in court on Monday. Instead, that duty fell to Assistant Attorney General Jeremiah Morgan. The couples were represented by St. Louis City Counselor Winston Calvert.

The AP reports:

Overturning Missouri's constitutional ban "would at least open doors for the next generation not to have the trials and tribulations that we had," Garrett [a plaintiff in the case] said after the hearing. "We should be able to decide who we love."

But Assistant Attorney General Jeremiah Morgan told [Judge] Burlison that Missouri law limits marriage to between a man and a woman. He argued that 71 percent of Missourians voted for that definition of marriage in a 2004 referendum, and the U.S. Supreme Court has time and again allowed states to define marriage.

"It is the state's, and the people's, responsibility to make that decision," Morgan said.

Calvert noted that an increasing number of states are allowing same-sex marriage, including most of the states surrounding Missouri.

"The laws forbid some people from choosing who they marry," Calvert said. "It's only gay and lesbian couples that are treated as second-class citizens by the state."

The AP also points out that this hearing comes just a week after a federal judge "in Kansas City [heard arguments] on a suit filed by 10 couples over the state's failure to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states."

The ACLU has a pending lawsuit challenging Missouri's gay marriage ban as well.

Regardless of the outcome in any of these cases, it is almost certain that each will be appealed.


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