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HRC Calls on Feds to Recognize Utah Same-Sex Marriages; ACLU Prepares Lawsuit

The Human Rights Campaign today called on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to ensure that the marriages of more than 1300 gay couples who married before the SCOTUS stay are recognized by the federal government, the Salt Lake Tribune reports:

HolderIn a letter delivered to Holder Thursday, the civil rights organization said there is no "legal reason to question the validity" of marriages that occurred between Dec. 20 and Jan. 6, when the U.S. Supreme Court stayed a federal judge’s ruling overturning Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage.

The letter pointed out Utah Gov. Gary Herbert initially directed state agencies to recognize the marriages.

"Even though the governor’s office has now made a political decision to cut off this recognition, it continues to insist that it makes no pronouncement about the validity of these unions," wrote Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). "There is simply no reason for the United States government not to extend federal recognition to these more than 1,300 couples."

HRC also sent a letter to attorneys general in 17 states where same-sex marriage is legal, calling on them to recognize the Utah marriages.

The Department of Justice is reviewing Herbert's decision to put the marriages on hold.

BakerSupport for marriage equality in Utah is at a record high, the Washington Blade reports:

A recent consumer survey conducted in Utah reveals that support for same-sex marriage in the state was at an all-time high last week just before the Supreme Court halted the weddings with a stay.

The poll, conducted using Google’s digital platform polling system, found that support for same-sex marriage reached 41 percent as of last week. Although the poll shows a majority of Utah voters have yet to embrace marriage equality, the result demonstrates a 13-point increase in support over two years when compared to an earlier poll from Brigham Young University.

David Baker (pictured), a Mormon and gay D.C. activist, said he ran the poll in the aftermath of the federal district court ruling in Utah in favor of marriage equality for more updated data on the state’s support for same-sex nuptials.

UtahThe ACLU is planning a lawsuit against Utah for putting marriages on hold, TPM reports:

The ACLU called for plaintiffs on Wednesday, and got "overwhelming interest" from couples who were married before the stay was granted.

"We have a great pool and we are working through that, and plan to bring litigation that will protect all marriages, whether the couples are named plaintiffs or not," the ACLU said in a statement.

In a letter to Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes on Wednesday, ACLU of Utah legal director John Mejia called on the state to recognize the same-sex marriages performed before the stay.

"In short, these marriages are valid and have vested the married couples with rights that the state and federal governments must recognize. Utah and the federal government should thus accord same-sex couples who married in Utah all of the same protections and obligations that married couples of the opposite sex receive," he wrote. "When these couples married, they immediately obtained all of the same protections and obligations enjoyed by all of the other married couples in Utah."

Meanwhile, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes is telling county clerks to complete the paperwork for same-sex marriages performed before the SCOTUS stay, the AP reports:

Reyes' spokeswoman Missy Larsen says the office is notifying counties Thursday afternoon...Larsen says Reyes' new directive was issued to clear up some confusion and only applies to marriages that were solemnized.

And The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) announced today that it was joining the law firm of Magleby & Greenwood, P.C., as counsel for the plaintiff couples in Kitchen v. Herbert, the case which went before Judge Shelby and has been appealed to the Tenth Circuit:

The case was brought by three same-sex couples in Utah: Derek Kitchen and Moudi Sbeity; Karen Archer and Kate Call; and Laurie Wood and Kody Partridge. On December 20, 2013, U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Shelby ruled that Utah’s ban on marriage by same-sex couples violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process of law. The Tenth Circuit has ordered an expedited briefing schedule, with briefing to be completed by February 25, 2014.

Said Peggy Tomsic of Magleby & Greenwood, P.C.: “We believe it is in our clients’ best interest now that the case is on appeal, and particularly since it is on an expedited briefing schedule, to have a national organization with significant experience litigating and winning marriage equality cases to enhance our perspective and fire-power as we move forward.

We also wanted a national organization that has a real connection with Utah. Kate Kendell, NCLR’s Executive Director, was raised in Utah, worked here as a lawyer for many years, and has a daughter living here who finally had the opportunity to marry the love of her life when Judge Shelby issued his ruling.

I have known Kate for years. I know she and NCLR are committed to bringing equality to every gay and lesbian citizen in this country, and I know that Kate will work tirelessly to bring equality to her home state.”

Sexual History of Plaintiffs Challenging Pennsylvania's Gay Marriage Ban Sought by Lawyers

The lawyers defending Pennsylvania's ban on same-sex marriage from a court challenge brought by the ACLU are seeking ridiculous and undue requests for information on the sexual histories and relationship background of the plaintiffs in the case, Think Progress reports:

Vic_walczakAmong the requests, said [Witold] Walczak (pictured), are whether any of the plaintiffs were ever in a relationship with a person of the opposite sex and names and contact information for every person with whom they resided over the last 10 years. The state is also seeking the identity of all health care providers from whom the plaintiffs sought treatment or counseling for harm they allegedly suffered as a result of allegations in the lawsuit, Walczak wrote. [...]

Other information requests by the state’s lawyers are unduly burdensome, including correspondence, letters, notes, records, reports, diaries or any other writings that pertain to the subject or events on which the lawsuit is based, Walczak wrote.

Adds Think Progress:

It’s unclear how this kind of personal information about the plaintiffs would be pertinent in a case about whether it’s constitutional for Pennsylvania to not recognize the marriages of same-sex couples. Details such as when they came out, whether they identify as exclusively gay (as opposed to bi), or whether or not they’ve ever struggled because of the impact of homophobia do not impact the validity of their current families. It’s possible that the $400/hour lawyers are planning to argue that the court should not consider sexual orientation with heightened scrutiny, which would require demonstrating that sexual orientation is not “immutable.” If any of the plaintiffs did, in fact, have opposite-sex partners at a previous point in life, they could try to argue that this is evidence of “change.”

ACLU Paying for 5 Gay Couples to Have Outrageous Weddings Across State Lines: VIDEO


Today, the ACLU is launching a campaign and contest fronted by Project Runway's Tim Gunn meant to draw attention to the patchwork of unequal state laws regarding same-sex marriage. They're giving $5,000 to couples with the best ideas for how they'll cross state lines to get married.

Watch the video, AFTER THE JUMP...

The ACLU writes: 2_aclu

Friends, family, and supporters can vote for their favorite couple to win the Big, Gay (Il)legal Wedding of their dreams. The ACLU will help five, same-sex couples go the extra mile down the aisle—whether it’s kayaking across a river or riding a hot air balloon—into a state where it is legal to marry. The campaign will capture the stories and struggles each couple faces, highlighting the current inequalities that exist between neighboring states.

"This campaign is about basic fairness and ensuring that same-sex couples can protect their families and care for one another like other married couples," said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. "The ACLU will not rest until all 50 states allow everyone to marry the person they love."

StatesAfter the winning couples are announced, allies and proponents of this freedom to marry initiative can also enter the "Wedding Crashers Sweepstakes" for the chance to win a VIP trip to "crash" the marquee "My Big Gay (Il)legal Wedding” reception in New York City in the Spring of 2014.  Participants enter the sweepstakes by signing the winning couples’ wedding “guestbook," which will then be delivered to the governor of the couples’ home state as a petition calling for the freedom to marry.

Watch the video, AFTER THE JUMP...

And find out more about the campaign HERE.

Continue reading "ACLU Paying for 5 Gay Couples to Have Outrageous Weddings Across State Lines: VIDEO" »

Supporter of New Mexico Couple at Center of SCOTUS Challenge Buys Website, Attacks 'Queers'

6a00d8341c730253ef01901ef3deb8970b-800wiRecently, the debate over marriage equality--at least in the realm of state legislatures--has included lots of talk about religious exemptions, or which individuals and organizations are allowed to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages because of their religious beliefs.  

For example, while houses of worship and clergy members are free to refuse to solemnize a gay union--protected, of course, by the First Amendment--businesses such as wedding planners are bakers are not.  In most states, this is because of already-existing public accommodations laws which prohibit any business that is open to the public from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.

6a00d8341c730253ef0192acb2d4d9970d-300wiOne such state with a public accomodations law is New Mexico, where Elaine Huguenin, a photographer and opponent of marriage equality, last month suffered a unanimous defeat at the hands of the state supreme court, which ruled that "[W]hen Elane Photography refused to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony, it violated the [New Mexico Human Rights Act] in the same way as if it had refused to photograph a wedding between people of different races." Huguenin, along with her husband John, are taking their case to the Supreme Court.

The Huguenin case is bound to be an interesting one, since the New Mexico couple is in fact basing its challenge not on grounds of religious liberty, but rather on free speech protections, arguing that the taking and arranging of photographs is a form of artistic and personal expression protected by the First Amendment.  As Adam Liptak, the Supreme Court reporter for the New York Times, wrote today, that makes the case a difficult one for both sides:

There are constitutional values on both sides of the case: the couple’s right to equal treatment and Ms. Huguenin’s right to free speech. I asked Louise Melling, a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union, which has a storied history of championing free speech, how the group had evaluated the case.

Ms. Melling said it had required difficult choices. Photography is expression protected by the Constitution, she said, and Ms. Huguenin acted from “heartfelt convictions.”

But the equal treatment of gay and lesbian couples is more important than the free speech rights of commercial photographers, she said, explaining why the A.C.L.U. filed a brief in the New Mexico Supreme Court supporting the couple whose commitment ceremony Ms. Huguenin had refused to photograph.

“This is a business,” Ms. Melling said. “At the end of the day, it sells services for photographing weddings. This is like putting up a sign that says ‘Heterosexual Couples Only.’”

The Huegenins have some unlikely allies, of sorts: the libertarian Cato Institute, along with law professors Eugene Volokh and Dale Carpenter--all supports of marriage equality--told the New Mexico Supreme Court to side with the photographers, writing, "Photographers, writers, singers, actors, painters and others who create First Amendment-protected speech must have the right to decide which commissions to take and which to reject."

It would seem, however, that not all of Elane Photography's supporters are quite so well-spoken.  Jeremy Hooper reported yesterday that "an enterprising supporter of the business'[s] right to discriminate went rogue and created his own site on the domain."  The results aren't too pretty:









It would be a big step for the U.S. Supreme Court to take up a case where a state high court had unanimously ruled on an issue of state law, and would almost certainly mean a majority of justices was leaning towards reversing the New Mexico ruling.  If they choose to do so, though, we can only hope that whoever's behind the page doesn't suddenly decide to submit a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the photographers. Then again, maybe we should hope they do just that.

Macklemore Carries the Only Card That 'Lets His Gay Friends Marry the Hell Out of Each Other': VIDEO


If only it were that simple.

Watch Macklemore pitch for the ACLU, AFTER THE JUMP...

(via jmg)

Continue reading "Macklemore Carries the Only Card That 'Lets His Gay Friends Marry the Hell Out of Each Other': VIDEO" »

Federal Judge Hears Arguments in ACLU Class Action Suit Challenging Virginia Gay Marriage Ban

A federal judge in Harrisonburg, Virginia heard arguments yesterday on the certification of a class action suit challenging the state's ban on same-sex marriage, the AP reports:

Aclu_virginiaU.S. District Judge Michael Urbanski heard arguments Tuesday. According to court records and the ACLU of Virginia, which is representing the plaintiffs, he did not immediately rule.

He also took under advisement motions to dismiss Gov. Bob McDonnell and Staunton Circuit Court Clerk Thomas E. Roberts as defendants. The other defendant is Janet Rainey, the state registrar of vital records.

The lawsuit, which is one of two high-profile marriage cases in Virginia, was filed on August 1. The other case was filed by the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which recently took the Prop. 8 case to the Supreme Court.


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