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Nine More States Comply With Federal Prison Rape Law, But DOJ Rejects Texas Governor's Letter

Abbott

For a brief instant, it was starting to appear as though a wave of sanity had swept over the Texas GOP. 

First, Rep. Sarah Davis became the first Republican state lawmaker in history to publicly back same-sex marriage.   

Then, it was widely reported that Republican Gov. Greg Abbott had agreed to comply with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act — unlike his predecessor, Rick Perry. 

Alas, though, it was apparently too good to be true, at least with regard to Abbott. The New York Times reports that the Justice Department has rejected the governor's assurance of compliance with PREA: 

Mr. Abbott, who took office in January, was under some pressure in the week before the deadline, during which an article in The New York Times highlighted the sexual abuse problem in Texas’ prisons, an editorial in The Dallas Morning News urged the governor to “enact the federal reforms now,” and protesters in Austin called on him to take action against prison rape.

“I can assure you that we will fully implement D.O.J.’s PREA standards wherever feasible,” he wrote to the attorney general. ... 

Mr. Abbott did not, however, provide the required written assurance that Texas would spend at least 5 percent of certain federal grants to achieve full compliance with the anti-rape standards.

“The letter we received from Texas makes no such representation and, therefore, it cannot be considered to be an assurance under PREA,” said Dena W. Iverson, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department.

All told, nine more states certified compliance with PREA this year, brining the total to 11. Texas was one of six states that had rejected the federal standards outright, foregoing federal funds rather than striving to meet them. Two of those states, Florida and Indiana, have since said they're working to comply with PREA. It was unclear whether whether the other three, Arizona, Idaho and Utah, had done so, The NYT reports. 

According to Just Detention International, which works to eliminate sexual abuse in detention facilities, LGBT inmates are 15 times more likely to be victims of prison rape than non-LGBT inmates. And Texas is home to five of the 10 facilities in the nation with the highest rates of sexual assault. 

Jael Humphrey of Lambda Legal, which is suing Texas on behalf of transgender inmate Passion Star, who's been repeatedly raped in assaulted in the state's prisons, issued this statement: 

“We are profoundly disappointed that Governor Abbott has neglected to make a meaningful commitment to meet the PREA standards set by the DOJ, and we applaud the Justice Department for demanding real commitment from Texas to use grant funds to actually enforce these standards. Governor Abbott cannot coast by paying lip service to PREA, while Passion Star and other incarcerated people remain at risk of continued sexual violence. Lambda Legal will continue to press Governor Abbott to take the necessary steps to end prison rape in his written statements and to turn his words into action.”


Texas Anti-Gay Marriage Bill On Life Support

Marriage

Democrats in the Texas House are confident they can run out the clock on a bill aimed at undermining a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage. 

The deadline for the bill to be considered by the House is midnight Thursday, and it remains buried beneath other business on the chamber's calendar. But the author of the measure, GOP Rep. Cecil Bell, says he still thinks it will come up for a vote. The Austin American Statesman reports: 

Bell said he expects Democratic efforts to derail his bill to fail. “We are cognizant of the things you can do to move it along” to a vote, he said. “I’m highly confident that we will get there.”

But Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, said Democrats are energized to deny HB 4105 a vote before Thursday’s midnight deadline, which would kill all bills that haven’t received an initial vote on the House floor.

“We’re not going to see a vote,” Canales said. “If we do, I would be pretty amazed.”

On Wednesday, two major corporations — Celanese and Dell — came out against Bell's House Bill 4105, which would prohibit state and local employees from issuing or recognizing marriage licenses, regardless of any court order. 

Screen shot 2015-05-14 at 7.35

The House convenes at 9 a.m. Central this morning and likely will go until midnight. You can watch the proceedings here

Previously, "Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton Defends Disgusting Anti-Marriage Equality Bills on CNN" [tlrd]


Texas Marriage Plaintiffs Make Wedding Plans, But GOP State Lawmakers Have Other Ideas

Holmes.Phariss

Vic Holmes and Mark Phariss are so confident the U.S. Supreme Court will rule in favor of nationwide marriage equality in June that they've already made their wedding plans. 

Phariss and Holmes, one of two couples challenging Texas' bans on same-sex marriage in federal court, were in Washington on Tuesday for oral arguments. 

The Houston Chronicle reports: 

"We put our money where our mouth is," Phariss told the Chronicle on Monday. "We have booked a site for a wedding. We have put down a deposit. We have hired a videographer. We have hired a photographer. We have the 'save the day cards' printed -- all for a November wedding near Frisco." ... 

Phariss and Holmes arrived in Washington early on Saturday. Phariss said his favorite part of the trip so far was a dinner hosted Monday night by gay rights group Freedom to Marry, to which hundreds of other gay marriage plaintiffs and their advocates from 30 states attended.

"We all have such similar stories. We've all been there in the trenches. We've all fought for marriage equality," said Phariss. "We all feel like we're all in the same boat and I mean - we feel like a little fraternity."

The Dallas Morning News reports Holmes and Phariss almost didn't get in to the courthouse on Tuesday, after someone cut in front of them in line:

Holmes was No. 49 in the line, Phariss No. 50. And yet, when the courthouse doors opened Tuesday morning, somehow they’d been pushed back one spot, leaving Phariss outside. Once inside, other members of the group figured out there had been one line-cutter and shamed her into giving up her seat to Phariss.

Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers in Texas are also trying to spoil things for Holmes and Phariss. And unlike the line-cutter, they don't appear to have any shame.

Bell.CecilLast week, a Texas House committee advanced a bill by GOP Rep. Cecil Bell (right), which would prohibit state or local funds from being used to license or recognize same-sex marriages. LGBT advocates say the bill is blatantly unconstitutional, but BuzzFeed News warns that even after a high court ruling, such legislation could be "litigated almost interminably, possibly leaving certain rights for same-sex couples in limbo":

In this context, it’s impossible to ignore the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which found abortion was a constitutional right, but a right that must be balanced with each state’s interest in regulating those abortions. Particularly in Texas, the legislature has pushed the regulatory envelope on Roe v. Wade and the laws that have followed have led to new lawsuits — with several rulings saying the state was too restrictive while several even more restrictive measures were left in place.

“We know from cases like Roe v. Wade that the power of the purse hasn’t been challenged,” said Rep. Bell, adding that the bill he is pushing will “set up an additional legal challenge.”

Dan Quinn, a spokesman for the pro-LGBT Texas Freedom Network, compared GOP Texas lawmakers' resistance to marriage equality to their fight against desegregation: 

“Ultimately the result will be almost endless litigation that will be very expensive to taxpayers and plaintiffs, and ultimately Texas will lose, just like when it tried to block desegregation,” Quinn said. “The question is: How much pain and heartburn are the state lawmakers willing to put the state through to get there?”

Both Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton issued statements Tuesday to mark oral arguments at the Supreme Court. But even Paxton, who's fought bitterly to deny rights to same-sex couples, appeared to acknowledged that the high court will have the final say: 

"At stake in this case is whether the people of the State of Texas—and people in the states across the nation—can make their own laws defining marriage," he said. 

 


Texas Prison Officials Finally Agree To Protect Trans Inmate Whose Life Was In Imminent Danger

Passion_casepage

Texas prison officials have agreed to place a transgender inmate in protective custody after Lambda Legal filed an emergency motion this week alleging her life was in imminent danger. 

Upton.KenKen Upton (right), senior counsel at Lambda Legal, told Towleroad on Saturday that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has agreed to place trans inmate Passion Star (self-portrait above) in protective custody until the state files its response to the group's motion. 

Back in October, Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Star, accusing the department of deliberate indifference to threats of sexual assault and violence against her in TDCJ’s male facilities. The lawsuit alleges Star has lodged dozens of grievances, complaints and requests to be placed in safekeeping, but instead of taking measures to protect her, prison officials have told her to “suck dick,” “fight” or to stop “acting gay” if she doesn't want to be assaulted. 

In November, rather than placing Star in safekeeping, the department transferred her to one of the state's most dangerous facilities and placed her in the general population. Prison officials also allegedly warned Star against filing additional complaints. 

Abbott.Greg“Passion’s life is in imminent danger, and twelve years after the passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act, prison officials cannot pretend that they are unaware that LGBT individuals are vulnerable to sexual abuse when incarcerated," Lambda Legal staff attorney Jael Humphrey said in announcing the emergency motion. "Rather than take Passion’s courageous requests for protection seriously, TDCJ staff have increased Passion’s vulnerability by denying her protection and threatening to confine her in isolation if she complains.”
 
On a previous occasion, when Star appealed to Texas prison officials to protect her from a gang member who said he owned her, they responded by moving her even closer to the inmate. 

The next morning, the gang member attacked Star, calling her a “snitching faggot,” and slashed her face eight times with a razor, according to Lambda Legal. Even after the attack, prison officials refused to move Star to protect her from violence in the general population.

 
Texas, one of a handful of states that have refused to comply with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act, is home to five of the 10 facilities with the highest rates of prison rape in the country. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry called PREA “ill-conceived” and decided to pass up funding that the U.S. Department of Justice had earmarked for the prevention of sexual assault in detention facilities.

Lambda Legal has launched a petition, which currently has 2,204 signatures, calling on new Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to comply with the Prison Rape Elimination Act. 

According to Just Detention International, which works to eliminate sexual abuse in detention facilities, LGBT inmates are 15 times more likely to be victims of prison rape than non-LGBT inmates.  


Republican Attorneys General In Louisiana, Texas Vow To Continue Defending 'Institution' Of Marriage In Face Of Obvious Defeat

  Caldwell

Republican attorneys general in Louisiana and Texas say they plan to keep fighting even if the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stirkes down bans on same-sex marriage in the two states. 

As we've reported, such an outcome appears likely based on oral arguments, assuming the 5th Circuit decides to rule rather than waiting for the Supreme Court to settle the issue. 

Louisiana Attorney General James D. "Buddy" Caldwell (above left) issued a statement late Friday: 

Through the democratic process, Louisiana citizens have previously voted to establish this definition of marriage and to add it to the state’s constitution.   

Louisiana's Attorney General prevailed at the trial court level and was the first attorney general in the nation to win on this issue. Today's appearance was in support of the trial court's favorable decision. 

Attorney General Caldwell said, “I was joined at counsel table today by constitutional law experts Kyle Duncan and Mike Johnson, both of whom I retained to assist my office with this important task of defending our constitution, which is the expression of the will of our Louisiana citizens.

"As I've said previously, as Louisiana’s attorney general, I will do everything in my power to uphold the will of our citizens and the right of states to manage their own affairs.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (above right), who was sworn in this week to replace GOP Gov.-elect Greg Abbott, also posted a statement

“In 2005, Texans overwhelmingly supported a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman," Paxton said. "I am committed to defending the Texas Constitution, the will of our citizens and this sacred institution.”

Mississippi's attorney general and governor have been less outspoken about defending the state's marriage ban, saying only that they believe it's their duty to defend state laws, and I was unable to find statements from them about oral arguments. Their apparent silence may reflect the growing trend of resignation to marriage equality even among conservative Republicans, who recognize it's a losing cause and no longer politically advantageous. 

Screen shot 2015-01-10 at 11.10For example, neither Texas Gov. Rick Perry nor Gov.-elect Abbott, both Republicans who've vigorously defended the state's marriage ban in court and elsewhere, had anything to say about Friday's hearing. Moreoever, there didn't appear to be any organized anti-gay presence outside the courthouse in New Orleans — the site of a historic hearing on same-sex marriage in the heart of the Deep South. Instead, the opposition was represented in the media by a smattering of well-paid anti-LGBT operatives, such as Texas Values President Jonathan Saenz (right). 

But it appeared Saenz, whose wife famously left him for a woman, was determined to compensate for the poor turnout with some over-the-top rhetoric. From Talk Radio 1190 AM in Dallas: 

Advocates call it a matter of equality, but Saenz disagrees.

"Redefining marriage equals private businesses being forced to fund and participate in an issue that's not even settled by the Supreme Court," he says. 

"Redefining marriage equals men entering little girls' bathrooms, and redefining marriage equals pastors being persecuted," Saenz says referencing the battle over transgender restroom rights in Houston.

Saenz says the Sixth Circuit already upheld gay marriage bans.

"Marriage between one man and one woman has such a long tradition that it’s measured by millennia, not centuries or decades," he says.

More from Saenz in OneNewsNow:

"The tradition, until recently, had been adopted by all governments and major religions of the world," notes Jonathan Saenz of Texas Values. "That's how settled the issue of marriage has been in our country and in our world. And in Texas we dealt with this issue before and settled it at the polls the way it should, when voters voted 76 percent in 2005.

Saenz contends, "It's really a shame that all of that legitimate work could be undone by the stroke of a pen of a few federal court judges, but I think that a lot of people and a lot of legal experts believe and agree that the federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will rule in favor of state marriage laws. That will be for Texas, that will be for Louisiana and Mississippi, and that will be a significant turning point in the debate and the discussion on this issue."

Saenz adds that homosexuals claim equality as the overpowering argument, but in states where same-gender "marriage" is legal, it is used as a battering ram against Christians and Christian-owned businesses. He suggests that is hardly equality.


Lambda Legal: TX Governor-elect Greg Abbott Must Stop 'Horrific Violence and Sexual Abuse' Affecting LGBT Prisoners

Passionhz

When transgender inmate Passion Star appealed to Texas prison officials to protect her from a gang member who said he owned her, they responded by moving her even closer to the inmate.

The next morning, the gang member attacked Star, calling her a “snitching faggot,” and slashed her face eight times with a razor, according to Lambda Legal. Even after the attack, prison officials refused to move Star, who identifies as female, to protect her from violence in the general population.

Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Star in October, accusing the Texas Department of Criminal Justice of deliberate indifference to threats of sexual assault and violence against Ms. Star in TDCJ’s male facilities. 

AbbottNow, the LGBT civil rights group has launched a petition calling on Republican Gov.-elect Greg Abbott, who takes office in January, to comply with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act. 

From Lambda Legal: 

Texas is one of only seven states that has refused to comply with PREA. Texas is also home to five of the 10 prisons with the highest rates of reported rapes in the country, as documented in a 2013 report by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics. It is widely understood that sexual violence in custody disproportionately affects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) inmates.

“Gov. (Rick) Perry has refused to comply with PREA, and Texas is among the states leading the nation in rates of reported rapes in its prisons. Governor-elect Abbott needs to fix this mistake and implement PREA,” Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Jael Humphrey said. “While Texas fiddles, LGBT inmates like Passion Star endure horrific violence and sexual abuse.”

According to Just Detention International, which works to eliminate sexual abuse in detention facilities, LGBT inmates are 15 times more likely to be victims of prison rape than non-LGBT inmates. JDI says Texas is home to more facilities with high levels of inmate-on-inmate sexual abuse than any other state. The group also says it receives more letters from survivors of sexual abuse in Texas prisons than from any other state.

In filing its lawsuit on behalf of Star, Lambda Legal alleges she has been raped, forced to submit to undesired sexual acts to escape violence, and threatened with sexual assault. Star has filed dozens of grievances, complaints and requests to be placed in safekeeping, but instead of taking measures to protect her, TDCJ officials have told her to “suck dick,” “fight” or to stop “acting gay” if she doesn't want to be assaulted: 

“Somebody, somehow, needs to shed light on what is taking place here in Texas prisons,” Star said in a written statement. “TDCJ officials get away with so much and disregard so many legitimate threats to people’s safety. It needs to stop somewhere. I fight for my life every day in here. Safety from rape and assault is not a privilege; it’s a right. I hope that this lawsuit will help make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

To sign Lambda Legal's petition, which will be delivered to Abbott once he takes office, go here.  


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