Gay Rights Hub

Alabama Probate Judges Org. Backs Down, Advises Members To Issue Same-Sex Marriage Licenses If Stay Is Lifted


With Alabama poised to become the 37th state with marriage equality on Feb. 9, an association of probate judges announced Wednesday it will no longer stand in the way. 

The Alabama Probate Judges Association — whose 67 members issue marriage licenses — previously took the position that last week's federal court decision striking down the state's marriage ban applied only to plaintiffs Cari Searcy and Kimberly McKeand (above). However, after U.S. District Judge Callie V. S. Granade issued an order Wednesday clarifying that her ruling applies statewide, the association backed down. 


That means the final hope for opponents of same-sex marriage is that the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will agree to a request by the state to extend a "stay" Granade ordered delaying the ruling from taking effect until Feb. 9.

"It is the opinion of the Association, on the advice of legal counsel, that until the stay is lifted, probate judges cannot issue marriage licenses to same sex couples," Monroe County Probate Judge Greg Norris, the group's president, said in a prepared statement. "However, on the occasion that the stay is lifted, same sex couples may apply for marriage licenses."

The Washington Blade sheds light on the likely reasoning behind the group's decision to reverse course:  

Adam Romero, senior counsel and Arnold D. Kassoy scholar of law at the Williams Institute, University of California, Los Angeles, said the clarification makes clear the decision wasn’t specific to plaintiffs in the case.

“If and when that decision goes into effect, any Alabama official that enforces the state’s bans on same-sex marriage are in danger of not only being hauled into Judge Grande’s court and added to the pending lawsuit, but also getting hit with the costs of doing so,” Romero said.

Of course, it's still possible some probate judges will put their religious beliefs above the law or bow to pressure from Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who plans to send a letter advising them not to issue licenses. But depending on the outcome of Attorney General Luther Strange's appeal to the 11th Circuit, same-sex couples in Alabama could be in store for a very special Valentine's Day. 

Anti-LGBT Groups Vow To 'Fight To The Legal Death' As Trial Begins Over Houston Equal Rights Ordinance: VIDEO


Allegations of fraud and forgery took center stage as a trial over Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance began this week, according to a report from The Houston Chronicle.

After the council approved the ordinance in May, anti-LGBT groups said they turned in more than 30,000 signatures on a petition to repeal it. However, city officials rejected the petition, saying it had only 16,500 valid signatures, fewer than the 17,269 needed to force the City Council to repeal the ordinance or place it on the ballot.

That prompted a lawsuit from opponents of the ordinance, led by former Republican Party Chair Jared Woodfill and Texas Pastor Council Executive Director Dave Welch (above). In court documents, the city has accused the anti-LGBT groups of fraud, forgery and other dishonest tactics in gathering signatures. From the Chronicle

TaylorAttorneys for the city of Houston signaled in court Tuesday they intend to prove rampant fraud in a petition drive led by opponents of the equal rights ordinance who hope to force a repeal referendum. ...

In his opening argument in court Tuesday, Alex Kaplan, an attorney for the city, said the petition is "full of problems." ...

Andy Taylor (right), attorney for the plaintiffs, said any claims of fraud were untrue and the city's argument is "laughable." He said "well-intentioned voters from time to time didn't follow all the rules" but there was no fraud. 

"They're talking about ticky tacky deficiencies like we're missing a comma or our signatures are hard to read," Taylor said. "Give me a break. Did our forefathers die in battle so that commas could prevent their children from voting." 

Taylor told My Fox Houston that his clients will "fight to the legal death" to repeal the ordinance. And while the trial is focused on technical issues as opposed to the merits of the ordinance, Taylor's legal representation appears severely tainted by his bigotry. From My Fox Houston: 

"Why in the world would we create a law that confers special rights on men who just want to pretend they are women so they can go into female restrooms in Houston and take advantage of young girls?” asks Taylor. ...

Taylor claims this case is going to trial not because of an invalid petition but because Mayor Parker doesn't want the issue on the ballot.

“She just told her lawyers kill this thing. Smother this thing in the crib because she doesn't want voters to have a chance to pass on the lunacy of this bathroom ordinance. Well her day off reckoning is about to come," Taylor says. "We are very confident the jury, after it hears all the evidence, is going to say one thing, mayor you got it wrong. Let the people vote."

The city's lead attorney, Geoffrey Harrison, told that the people have already voted:

"The people elected Mayor Annise Parker and elected the members of City Council who voted for this ordinance."

The trial could last two months as jurors go over more than 5,000 pages of signatures to determine how many are valid. 

Watch reports from My Fox Houston and, AFTER THE JUMP ... 

Continue reading "Anti-LGBT Groups Vow To 'Fight To The Legal Death' As Trial Begins Over Houston Equal Rights Ordinance: VIDEO" »

Bishop Hyperventilates Over Catholic Hospital Giving Equality To Gay Employees

St Louis Archdiocese

Mercy Health employs over 40,000 individuals over seven states in its Catholic health care system, so to better meet the needs of all of their employees they have announced that they "will extend benefits to all legally married spouses effective this spring." Which includes legally married gay spouses.

Bishop James V. Johnston of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau in Missouri went apoplectic over the decision and wasted no time in going forward with unrestrained hyperbole, saying:

Bishop James V JohnstonNo believing Christian worthy of the name should violate God’s law because of ‘regulations.’ Our ancestors refused to abandon the faith even when subjected to the cruelty and torture of the Roman Empire, but in our age unspecified ‘regulations,’ government funds, and fear of public ridicule is sufficient in order to secure the compliance of some.

Johnston remarkably refrained from invoking Godwin's Law. The Archdiocese of St. Louis was marginally more restrained:

It is simply inconsistent to claim to be a Catholic institution while publicly acting against Church teaching.

The Archdiocese did not mention how providing legal - not religious - recognition to same sex couples and the attendant benefits and protections is acting against Church teaching. Unless the Church teaching is to make life miserable for all nonbelievers, which seems to be sort of the opposite of the teachings of the Bible.

Anti-Gay Texas Lawmaker Wants To Undo LGBT Protections — Along With Most Other City Ordinances


Perhaps not wanting to be outdone by Oklahoma, a Texas Republican lawmaker has filed the fourth anti-LGBT bill of the state's 2015 legislative session. While Oklahoma leads the way with eight anti-LGBT bills, Texas still has several weeks before its filing deadline.   

The latest Texas proposal, SB 343 from Sen. Don Huffines (above and below), isn't anti-LGBT on its face, but among its effects would be prohibiting cities from implementing nondiscrimination ordinances protecting gay and transgender people. These ordinances have become rather unpopular among Texas Republicans of late, as evidenced by a series of repeal petitions and "license to discriminate" measures.

Huffines2But Huffines appears to be taking a somewhat novel approach. The Texas Observer reports that Huffines' bill would bar local governments from implementing ordinances that are more stringent than state law on the same subject, unless otherwise authorized by statute. In other words, since Texas doesn't have statewide LGBT protections, cities wouldn't be allowed to have them, either. 

Huffines hasn't elaborated on his reasons for filing the bill, so it's unclear whether his prime target is LGBT nondiscrimination ordinances. If so, he's certainly willing to inflict a lot of collateral damage in a creative effort to skirt Romer v. Evans.

However, it's also possible that Huffines is targeting other municipal laws that have drawn the ire of Texas Republicans — including restrictions on tree-cutting, fracking and plastic bags. Or, maybe Huffines just hates the whole idea of cities, despite the conservative principle of local control.   

But regardless of Huffines' motives, if his past statements are any indication, he wouldn't be sorry to see LGBT protections go. Huffines is a tea partier who ousted one of the few gay-friendly Republican legislators in Texas in last year's primary, and when the Boy Scouts lifted their ban on gay youth, he was none too happy about it. 

“I think it was a big mistake what the BSA did,” Huffines said at the time. “They can’t be trusted not to open the door for more infiltration from the gay agenda. Eventually we’ll have gay Scouts and gay Scoutmasters and gay troops. They’ll keep coming until their mission is fulfilled.”

Equality Texas issued the following statement on Huffines' bill: 

"Local elected officials are in the best position to know the best solutions to local problems.

"Since 1909, the State of Texas has granted cities with a population of greater than 5,000 broad discretion to make local decisions under the 'home-rule charter city' provision of the state constitution . This bill would be a significant change to over a century of Texas tradition.

"In addition to non-discrimination ordinances, any other local ordinance that deals with a subject covered by state law could be affected, including: plastic bag use, tree ordinances, fracking bans, land use restrictions, sight line and building height restrictions.

"The 31% of Texans who live in cities with some level of protections based, not only on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression, but on as race, sex, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, disability, religion, pregnancy, genetic information and student status deserve the ability to keep their locally adopted ordinances."

LGBT Rights Activists and ‘Supporters of Religious Freedom’ Face Off in Idaho Hearing on Non-Discrimination Bill: VIDEO


As we reported yesterday, an Idaho House Committee had finally agreed to hear testimony on a proposed non-discrimination bill that would add protections for Idahoans based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. The hearing, which began yesterday and continues today, saw at-times heated disagreement between LGBT rights activists who have long campaigned for legislators to "add the words" "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to the state's existing Human Rights Act and backers of so-called "religious freedom" who claim that adding protections for LGBT individuals would infringe upon the rights of the religious.

The AP reports:

"Don't make laws that protect (against) laws against nature and sexual deviant acts," said Paul Thompson of Twin Falls. "Regardless of sexual orientation, it is a law that makes a mockery of all that is created and to our creator."

State Rep. John McCrostie of Boise, currently Idaho's only openly gay state lawmaker, responded that he, too, was a Christian and asked if Thompson's beliefs were greater than his own.

"I respect an individual's desire to want to live out their lives as they feel compelled to do so," Thompson said. "But I owe myself authority to the written word of God."

Many LGBT individuals spoke up at the hearing to share their own stories of discrimination in an attempt to underscore the importance of the bill:

"I want to be valued as a human being based on the person that I am, the person that my mother raised me to be," said Julie Stratton of Post Falls. "Please include my wife and me as fully equal citizens of this state and help us to be proud of living here."

Stratton's testimony —along with many other personal stories of discrimination from lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Idahoans— was countered by the many concerns coming from pastors, small business owners and national conservative organizations afraid the bill would infringe on free speech and religious freedoms.  

Arizona-based United Families International President Laura Bunker cited cases in other states where businesses were sued for declining to serve to same-sex couples getting married. 

"In the end these non-discrimination laws are not fair to all. Someone is ultimately discriminated against," Bunker said. "Why would Utah, or Idaho, sorry, want to put that kind of wedge between its citizens?"

As KIVI News Boise reports, the hearing will resume Tuesday morning from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., and again at 5:00 pm if needed.

You can watch a livestream of the Idaho House committee's ongoing session today, HERE

And watch video on the testimony given yesterday, AFTER THE JUMP... (warning: autoplay)


Continue reading "LGBT Rights Activists and ‘Supporters of Religious Freedom’ Face Off in Idaho Hearing on Non-Discrimination Bill: VIDEO" »

Houston Equal Rights Ordinance Goes On Trial


Eight months after the Houston City Council passed an Equal Rights Ordinance prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination, a jury trial is scheduled to begin today in the lawsuit aimed at repealing the measure. 

But don't expect a verdict anytime soon: The trial could last six weeks or more as jurors go over thousands of pages of signatures on a petition to repeal the ordinance to determine how many are valid.

The trial will have little to do with the merits of the ordinance, which prohibits anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. Houston was the last major US city to pass such an ordinance, but its enforcement is on hold pending the outcome of the legal proceedings. 

After the council approved the ordinance in May, anti-LGBT groups said they turned in more than 30,000 signatures on a petition to repeal it. However, city officials rejected the petition, saying it had only 16,500 valid signatures, fewer than the 17,269 needed to force the City Council to repeal the ordinance or place it on the ballot.

Anti-LGBT groups responded by filing a lawsuit, which resulted in a right-wing media firestorm after attorneys for the city subpoenaed the sermons of pastors who led opposition to the ordinance. Mayor Annise Parker eventually withdrew the subpoenas, but that didn't stop the anti-LGBT groups from staging an "I Stand Sunday" rally featuring Mike Huckabee, Phil Robertson and the Benham brothers. 

In court documents, the city's attorneys have accused anti-LGBT groups of fraud and forgery in gathering signatures, and they've filed a motion seeking summary judgment that could end the trial before it begins

If the trial proceeds and the anti-LGBT groups prevail, the ordinance likely would appear on the ballot in November. If the city prevails, the ordinance would finally go into effect. However, knowing the opposition, we're pretty sure they'd appeal. 

Out lesbian Houston Mayor Annise Parker has said she feels sorry for jurors who must sit through the trial but added the city will do whatever's necessary to defend the ordinance.   

Jury selection was scheduled to begin this morning, with opening arguments set for Tuesday. Stay tuned to Towleroad for continuing coverage. 


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