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Lincoln, Nebraska Mayor Extends City Benefits to Gay Married Couples

Same-sex spouses of city employees are set to receive medical, dental, life and vision insurance and the same retirement benefits that straight couples receive, the Lincoln Journal Star reports.

BeutlerMayor Chris Beutler approved the changes in light of new Blue Cross and Blue Shield policies prompted by the SCOTUS Windsor ruling.

The Journal Star:

Beutler’s decision to accept Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s definition of marriage, which includes same-sex marriages, opens the door to city benefits being extended to same-sex spouses of city employees. The city’s insurance carrier changed its definition of marriage following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act.

The high court’s ruling in U.S. v. Windsor invalidated the portion of the federal act that defined marriage as between a man and a woman and prohibited federal benefits from being denied to legally married same-sex couples.

“The city accepted the new definition because it doesn't make sense to deny legally married same-sex couples the same insurance benefits that we grant to other legally married couples,” said Rick Hoppe, Beutler's chief of staff.

The change became effective on November 1. Nebraska has its own Defense of Marriage Act which county officials cited last month in refusing to extend pension benefits to same-sex spouses of employees, but the county must adhere to some new federal rules following the SCOTUS ruling. The ACLU filed suit in November challenging Nebraska's ban on gay marriage.


Gay Texas Couple Was First To Obtain Marriage License 42 Years Ago, But Did They Help Or Hurt The Movement?

Marriage

Forty-two years ago, two men obtained a marriage license in Wharton County, Texas — in what was one of the nation's first government-recognized same-sex marriages. 

The Houston Chronicle reported Friday on the marriage of Antonio Molina and William "Billie" Ert (above), which took place on Oct. 5, 1972. 

Ert, who performed as a drag queen named Mr. Vicki Carr, wore a wig, make-up and a dress to the clerk's office — tricking officials into issuing the couple a license. 

Two days later, Molina and Ert held a ceremony in Houston, with the minister who founded Dallas' Metropolitan Community Church officiating. But by then their same-sex marriage made national headlines, and the clerk declined to record the couple's license.

Molina and Ert obtained their marriage license just months before the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a federal lawsuit challenging Minnesota's same-sex marriage ban, Baker v. Nelson. The high court wouldn't take up the issue again until it struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act in Windsor v. United States last year.

Based on the Baker decision, Molina and Ert ultimately lost a legal fight to have the license recorded, and the next year the Texas Legislature passed the state's first ban on same-sex marriage.  

The Houston Chronicle reports that Molina and Ert's case "set back the Texas gay marriage movement 40 years while also helping to inspire a generation of civil rights advocates": 

Much of the general public's discomfort with the idea was directly attributable to the movement's early characters, said State University of New York-Buffalo Law Professor Michael Boucai.

"In the Texas case, you have a drag queen. That's not how gay marriage advocates like to represent their current constituency," said Boucai. In Kentucky, one half of a lesbian couple who sued for marriage operated a questionable massage service. Two men in Washington State did not actually believe in the institution of marriage, but still thought they should be able to partake. "They're just not convenient."

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, told the Chronicle: 

"These early marriage cases really were reflective of the fact that gay people have always wanted it. But they also remind us it's not just about filing the case in court. You also have to make the case in the court of public opinion."

But Melissa Murray, a law professor at UC-Berkeley, said:

"What these cases did was to bring gay couples, loving couples to the forefront, out of the closet and out of the shadows. I don't think you could have a contemporary marriage movement without them."

After losing their legal fight, Molina and Ert eventually split up. Ert attempted suicide but survived. However, the Chronicle was unable to determine whether he's still alive. Molina died in 1991. 

Forty-two years after Ert and Molina obtained a marriage license, Texas same-sex couples eagerly await a federal district judge's decision on a motion that could allow it to happen again. 

Read the Houston Chronicle story about Ert and Molina here


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...

Continue reading "DOMA Lawyer Mary Bonauto, Cartoonist Alison Bechdel Win MacArthur 'Genius Grants': VIDEOS" »


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...

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


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