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DOMA Lawyer Mary Bonauto, Cartoonist Alison Bechdel Win MacArthur 'Genius Grants': VIDEOS

Bonauto

Mary Bonauto, the Civil Rights Project Director at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) since 1990 and a civil rights lawyer who has been battling for equality for LGBT people for decades and scored one of the first victories against DOMA, has been awarded a $625,000 'Genius Grant' from the Macarthur Foundation, offered annually and paid in quarterly installments to a select group of artists, scholars, and professionals. See the Class of 2014 here.

According to the Foundation:

Recipients may be writers, scientists, artists, social scientists, humanists, teachers, entrepreneurs, or those in other fields, with or without institutional affiliations. They may use their fellowship to advance their expertise, engage in bold new work, or, if they wish, to change fields or alter the direction of their careers.

3_bonautoBonauto could not be more deserving. From Macarthur's announcement:

Bonauto and Vermont colleagues formed a critical partnership in 1997, which is widely acknowledged as a pivotal time and place to challenge a state’s exclusion of gay and lesbian couples from marriage. The Vermont Supreme Court’s ruling in Baker v. Vermont (1999) was the first to hold that same-sex couples must be provided all of the same protections and obligations provided to married couples, and the state legislature established the first civil union law in the nation in 2000 to comply with that ruling. GLAD’s subsequent filing of Goodridge v. Department of Public Health in Massachusetts, relying again on state constitutional guarantees of equality and liberty, resulted in the 2003 landmark decision that made that state the first to extend marriage equality to same-sex couples. Bonauto’s constitutional arguments in Goodridge articulated the breadth of the practical and social harms imposed by the state’s exclusion on real families and their children. In defending the marriage ruling from attempts to substitute civil unions, she drew on painful lessons from our nation’s past, most notably the history of unjust “separate but equal” doctrines as substitutes for racial and gender equality, and the Massachusetts high court was the first to reject civil unions as a substitute for marriage. The Goodridge ruling, the transformative effect of same-sex couples marrying on the public’s views, and subsequent legal (in Connecticut), legislative (in Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire), and ballot-based (in Maine) victories all provided a solid foundation and roadmap for future strategies across the nation, including at the federal level.

In 2009, Bonauto led a team from GLAD and private law firms in the first strategic challenge to section three of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and argued that the federal government’s non-recognition of the lawful and rapidly growing number of marriages unconstitutionally denied same-sex couples more than 1,000 federal protections and obligations usually available to married persons. Her case—Gill v. Office of Personnel Management—provided the first federal court wins in challenges to DOMA (in 2010 and 2012 rulings), and served as an important model for United States v. Windsor, the landmark case that ultimately resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court striking down DOMA in 2013 and on which she served as a strategist and external coordinator of friend-of-the-court briefs. In the name of equal treatment and dignity for all people, and in concert with other litigators and advocates across the country, Bonauto is breaking down legal barriers based on sexual orientation and influencing debates about the relationship between the law and momentous social change more broadly.

Most recently Bonauto joined the fight against Utah's same-sex marriage ban.

Check out the MacArthur video on Bonauto, AFTER THE JUMP...

Also winning the grant, out cartoonist Alison Bechdel.

Bechdel

Again, from Macarthur:

Bechdel’s command of sequential narrative and her aesthetic as a visual artist was established in her long-running comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For (1983–2008), which realistically captured the lives of women in the lesbian community as they influenced and were influenced by the important cultural and political events of the day.

Garnering a devoted and diverse following, this pioneering work was a precursor to her book-length graphic memoirs. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (2006) is a nuanced depiction of a childhood spent in an artistic family in a small Pennsylvania town and of her relationship with her father, a high school English teacher and funeral home director. An impeccable observer and record keeper, Bechdel incorporates drawings of archival materials, such as diaries, letters, photographs, and news clippings, as well as a variety of literary references in deep reflections into her own past.

Check out the Macarthur videos on these wonderful women, AFTER THE JUMP...

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Pivotal Supreme Court Order Used To Defend Gay Marriage Bans Losing Support

McConnell_(l)_and_Baker_(r)_apply_for_marriage_license_19700518

A growing number of lower-court judges tasked with reviewing the Constitutionality of states’ bans on same sex marriage are reconsidering a pivotal order issued in Baker v. Nelson, a 1972 Supreme Court case. Baker, a case challenging a state’s ability to legally limit marriage to opposite sex couples, was initially heard by the Minnesota Supreme Court before being rejected and appealed to the United States Supreme Court. The Warren E. Burger-led Supreme Court dismissed the appeal, citing a “want of a substantial federal question,” effectively giving legal merit to Baker’s ruling.

Baker has been used widely by opponents of same sex marriage as a legal precedent reflecting the then-Court’s views on gay marriage. Speaking to the lawyers defending California’s gay marriage ban, Ruth Bader Ginsberg expressed her doubts about Baker, citing the ways in which society and the court have changed,

“The Supreme Court hadn’t even decided that gender-based classifications get any kind of heightened scrutiny," she said at the time. “And the same-sex intimate conduct was considered criminal in many states in 1971, so I don’t think we can extract much in Baker v. Nelson.”

When taken in account, Baker automatically guides courts to decisions affirming bans because the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear Baker’s appeal acts as an affirmation of the original Minnesotan Supreme Court’s ruling. More and more, however, the Supreme Court’s move to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act is being read as a broad consensus that Baker is a chunk of legal history that needs to be dealt with.

“These cases demonstrate that, since Baker, the Court has meaningfully altered the way it views both sex and sexual orientation through the equal protection lens,” Circuit Judge Henry Ford wrote to the Washington Post. “The Supreme Court’s willingness to decide Windsor without mentioning Baker speaks volumes regarding whether Baker remains good law.”


Lambda Legal Sues For Unconstitutional Deprivation Of Veterans Benefits To Same-Sex Spouses

VA

Lambda Legal has filed suit against the Secretary of Veterans Affairs on behalf of the American Military Partner Association, an advocacy organization dedicated to supporting partners and spouses of LGBT troops and veterans.

Lambda argues that the denial of benefits to same-sex spouses of veterans living in states that refuse to recognize their marriages violates the Supreme Court’s decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

The petition argues that the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor striking down Section 3 of DOMA specifically flagged as unconstitutional the deprivation of veterans benefits to same-sex spouses.

The petition further states:

“Having weathered the federal government’s past, longstanding discrimination against them, lesbian and gay veterans and their families find themselves once again deprived of equal rights and earned benefits by the government they served and the nation for which they sacrificed.”

Susan Sommer, Director of Constitutional Litigation at Lambda Legal, said:

“Gay and lesbian veterans have served their country and risked the ultimate sacrifice to fulfill their duty to this nation. Married veterans and their spouses, wherever they live, need critical veterans benefits, earned through years of often perilous service, to take care of their families. No member of our community should be left behind just because their home state continues to discriminate against their marriage.”

Read the petition HERE.


Eric Holder: DOJ Will File Brief in Support of Gay Marriage Should SCOTUS Take Up a Case — VIDEO

Holder

In an interview yesterday with ABC News' This Week, Attorney General Eric Holder said that should the Supreme Court take up a case challenging a state ban on gay marriage that the Department of Justice would file a brief in support of marriage equality, citing the Windsor case.

Said Holder: "I think a lot of these measures that ultimately will come before the court will not survive a heightened scrutiny examination."

Watch, AFTER THE JUMP...

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Federal Judge Strikes Down Kentucky's Marriage Discrimination Law

BY ARI EZRA WALDMAN

Kentucky-flagIn the 23rd consecutive pro-equality ruling from a federal court since the Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Windsor, Judge John G. Heyburn, a President George H.W. Bush appointee at the recommendation of now-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, struck down Kentucky's ban on gay couples marrying. Those of us following the situation in Kentucky knew this was coming: Judge Heyburn had previously ruled that Kentucky had to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples performed out of state. It was a small step to invalidate Kentucky's own ban.

The opinion in the case, aptly captioned Love v. Beshear, reviews much of the ground covered by the 22 rulings that preceded it. It also departs from the past by, in particular, both relying on Windsor and narrowing it. It explicitly declines to take the route preferred by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Kitchen v. Herbet, which was to find Utah's ban unconstitutional as a violation of a fundamental due process right, and instead relies on the Equal Protection Clause. Judge Heyburn concluded that Windsor was an equal protection ruling, not a due process one. The confusion stems from the lack of clarity in Justice Kennedy's opinion. The result is the same: the ban is unconstitutional.

AFTER THE JUMP, I review in detail Judge Heyburn's interpretation of Windsor and show how it is different than many of the cases that have come before it in the post-Windsor world.

Continue reading "Federal Judge Strikes Down Kentucky's Marriage Discrimination Law" »


Utah, Indiana, Heightened Scrutiny and Next Steps: Is Marriage Heading to the Supreme Court?

BY ARI EZRA WALDMAN

UtahOne year this week, the Supreme Court brought marriage equality back to California when it ended the Prop 8 case. It also declared Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional and, thereby, ushered in a year of unbroken marriage equality victories indebted to United States v. Windsor. The Supreme Court was equally as active today, deciding, for example, that police must get a warrant before searching cell phones upon arrest and that the Aereo streaming television service is illegal under the Copyright Act.

Unless you count the impending Hobby Lobby case, a challenge to Obamacare's requirement that employers offer their employees health plans that cover contraceptives, which raises the highly relevant question of how big of a donut hole will be carved out by so-called "religious exemptions" to equality legislation, our right to marry did not have a date at the Supreme Court this week.

But much progress was made in the lower courts.

The Ninth Circuit has refused to rehear the case in which it held that antigay discrimination merits heightened scrutiny. This means that pretty much any gay rights case out of the most populous circuit in the country -- stretching from Montana to Arizona and from Nevada to Alaska and Hawaii -- will more than likely end with a pro-equality ruling. Heightened scrutiny makes it nearly impossible to justify discrimination, which brings us closer to our goal of universal equality.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed District Judge Shelby's ruling that Utah's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. The 2-1 decision marks the first time a federal appellate court has ruled on a marriage ban in the post-DOMA world. The ruling, which included a stay pending Supreme Court review, sets the stage for several potential next steps, all of which may culminate at the Supreme Court.

And a district court judge in Indiana ruled that state's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. And there was no stay attached to the decision, so for now, gay couples can marry -- and are marrying -- already.

Judge Richard Young of Indiana was right. He remarked how he had never seen anything like this before: In the span of one year, marriage equality went from a handful of states with a loud opposition to victory after victory after victory since the Supreme Court decided the DOMA case. 

In the coming days, I will summarize and analyze these decisions (and other legal developments affecting the LGBT community, but for now, let's discuss what happens next.

CONTINUED, AFTER THE JUMP...

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