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Federal Judge Blocks Gay Workers in Four States From Taking Unpaid Leave To Care For Sick Spouses

Paxton

Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has been in office less than three months, but he's already making a name for himself as one of the nation's biggest anti-gay bigots. 

Last month, Paxton (above with Sen. Ted Cruz) sought to void the marriage of a 30-year lesbian couple, even though one of the women has ovarian cancer. And last week, he filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration over a new labor department rule extending benefits under the Family & Medical Leave Act to same-sex couples who live in states that don't recognize their marriages. 

On Thursday, Paxton — a "tea partier" who admitted to securities fraud last year — won a small, temporary victory in his ongoing war against LGBT people. 

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor, a President George W. Bush appointee, issued an order blocking the new FMLA rule from taking effect as scheduled on Friday in Texas and three other states that joined Paxton's lawsuit — Arkansas, Louisiana and Nebraska.  

“The Obama Administration’s attempt to force employers to recognize same-sex marriages would have put state agencies in the position of either violating Texas law or federal regulations,” Paxton said in a statement. “We are pleased that the Department of Labor’s effort to override our laws via federal rulemaking has been halted, and we will continue to defend our sovereignty in this case.”

Reed-OConnor_bigJudge O'Connor (right) presides over the Northern District of Texas in Wichita Falls, an extremely conservative area that has brought us, among others, the Rev. Robert Jeffress. In his 24-page decision, O'Connor wrote that if the new FMLA rule was allowed to take effect, "irreparable injury would occur." From the decision: 

“The Full Faith and Credit Statute affirms Congress’ intention to reserve the power to define marriage and accompanying rights and benefits to the states, and Windsor cabins Congress’ authority to aggrandize that power. Congress could not have delegated to the Department the power to define marriage in a way as to override the laws of states prohibiting same-sex marriages.”

The Human Rights Campaign issued this statement in response to O'Connor's ruling: 

“No legally married same-sex couple should be denied family leave simply because they happen to live in a state that fails to respect their marriage,” said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. “Because of Judge O’Connor’s decision, countless legally married same-sex couples in Texas are now unable to access to their federal FMLA benefits. With a pending Supreme Court decision on nationwide marriage equality this summer, we are confident that justice will ultimately prevail.”

In other words, if the U.S. Supreme Court issues a nationwide decision in favor of marriage equality in June, Paxton's lawsuit will quickly go away. 

Therefore, it's quite possible that the only thing Paxton has really accomplished, aside from pandering to the GOP base, is wasting taxpayer dollars on a frivolous lawsuit, which would seem contrary to the avowed principles of the tea party. Of course, Paxton has also ensured that he will go down in history as someone who sought to preserve the right of employers to legally fire gay people who want to take unpaid leave to care for ailing loved ones. Truly, this lawsuit is one of the more disgusting displays of anti-gay bigotry from any elected official in recent memory. 

View some of the responses Paxton has received on Twitter, AFTER THE JUMP ...

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Austin Man Claims W Hotel Bouncer Called Him 'Fag' Before Assaulting Him During SXSW

Beltran.Bobby

An Austin man claims a W Hotel bar bouncer called him a "fag" before throwing him to the ground — breaking his arm, dislocating two bones in his hand and possibly causing nerve damage. 

Bobby Beltran, 31 said the incident happened Sunday, March 15, during South by Southwest. KVUE-TV reports: 

According to a police report, a hotel bouncer asked him and his friends to leave because they were too drunk. Beltran and the bouncer exchanged heated words, and that's when the hotel worker called him a gay slur.

"He was walking behind me and said, 'That's right, fag,' and continued to walk me out of the building," Beltran said. "I turned to him and said 'That's not right, you can't be doing that stuff.'"

Beltran said that's when the bouncer violently threw him to the ground. Once he was outside the hotel, Beltran said he realized how injured he was and that friends took him to the hospital.

Beltran's attorney planned to file a lawsuit against the W Austin Hotel on Wednesday.

The W Austin is situated near the city's largest gay clubs, and the chain is otherwise very LGBT-friendly. Parent company Starwood Hotels & Resorts received a perfect score of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign's most recent Corporate Equality Index. The W Austin provided this statement to KVUE: 

"Providing a safe environment is the essence of our business. The hotel contacted police the night of the incident and will cooperate with law enforcement in any investigation they undertake."

Watch KVUE's report, AFTER THE JUMP ...

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Joe Biden Mocks Ben Carson's 'Ridiculous' Comments on Homosexuality Being a Choice: 'I Mean Jesus, God' - VIDEO

Biden

Speaking at the Human Rights Campaign Spring Equality Convention yesterday, Vice President Joe Biden highlighted the progress LGBT rights has made in the political landscape over the last decade using 2016 GOP hopeful Ben Carson as Exhibit A. 

Said Biden:

"Eight, ten years ago, even two years ago, homophobic statements would have been, if not embraced, not viewed as having generated any political liability. Look what's happening even in quote 'the other party' today. Seriously, don't misread the political trends in history here. Now, every ridiculous assertion from Dr. Carson on....I mean, Jesus, God...think about the universal ridicule."

Earlier this week, Carson earned derisive headlines for asserting to CNN's Chris Cuomo that homosexuality was a choice because people go into prison and "come out gay." He later apologized for the comments, saying "my choice of language does not reflect fully my heart on gay issues." He also said he wouldn't talk about gay rights moving forward.

Watch the segment and Biden's full speech, AFTER THE JUMP...

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HRC Throws Support Behind Utah Anti-Discrimination Bill Backed By Mormon Church

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 2.37.26 PMThe Human Rights Campaign today announced its support for a proposed non-discrimination bill in Utah that would extend employment and housing discrimination protections to include sexual orientation and gender identity today. HRC President Chad Griffin is pleased with the support behind the bill, including backing from the Mormon Church.

Said Griffin: 

"This is an extraordinary moment for the state of Utah, for LGBT Americans, and for the Mormon Church, which, by supporting this legislation, shows a willingness to align with others on the right side of history. The desire exhibited by the Mormon Church to work toward common ground should serve as a model for other faith traditions here in the United States."

The bill, S.B. 296, is headed to its first hearing tomorrow and contains three consequential provisions. In short, the bill states employers, landlords and property owners are prohibited from denying jobs and housing based on gender identity or sexual orientation, and no religious exemptions from non-discrimination provisions will be permitted for individuals or for-profit businesses. Should Utah legislators approve the measure, the state would join 21 other states that have explicit non-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation, and 18 other states that have explicit gender identity protections. HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow hopes Utah legislators move quickly on the matter.

Said Warbelow:

"This is a very encouraging step for all of us committed to equality. With just a short time remaining in the state legislative session, we hope for quick and positive action on this important measure."

The HRC had spurned a previously proposed non-discrimination initiative that was supported by Mormon leaders. Many critics, including the HRC, found the proposed initiative's more robust exemptions for religious organizations unacceptable.


HRC Awards ‘Orange Is The New Black’ Star Samira Wiley With Visibility Award: VIDEO

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The Human Rights Campaign awarded openly gay Orange is the New Black actress Samira Wiley with its Visibility Award last weekend during HRC’s 2015 North Carolina Gala. Known for her role as inmate Poussey Washington, Wiley reflected on her public image and coming out experience at the gala.

Said Wiley:

"I believe that our self worth and how we are taught to think about ourselves and the world around us almost always begins at home. I have two parents that not only tolerated who I am, but accepted me and embraced me. They embraced me before I came out, and they embraced me after. They told me everyday that I am enough. I am enough just of being who I am and that that alone makes me whole. 

"It’s interesting to me that tonight I am here receiving the visibility award…Over the past few years since my own public image has increased tenfold, I have been overwhelmed to witness the profound ways that I am able to make a difference simply by living my life openly and with love."

Wiley is a Juilliard School graduate and played the role of Maria in Love’s Labour’s Lost by The Public Theater in 2011. The actress is currently in a relationship with Orange is the New Black writer Lauren Morelli. You can watch the rest of Wiley’s gala speech, AFTER THE JUMP

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Conway, Arkansas Approves LGBT Rights Ordinance Despite Discriminatory New State Law

Arkansas

Following a 6-2 vote Tuesday by the city council, city employees of Conway, Arkansas can (for the time being) go to work with the assurance that they can’t be fired for their sexuality or gender identity. Conway mayor Tab Townsell threw his full support behind the decision to extend protections to the town’s LGBT population despite many of his more conservative constituents voicing concern for their religious liberties.

Mark Ledbetter and Mary Smith, the two council members who opposed the new protections, expressed their belief that the public had not been given adequate time to fully appreciate the implications of heightened job security for Conway’s queer workforce.

Conway’s move to legally protect its LGBT employees comes just days after Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson allowed SB 202 to become law - legislation that expressly forbids local town governments from enacting pro-LGBT policies like Conway’s. Specifically SB 202 requires that:

“A county, municipality, or other political subdivision of the state shall not adopt or enforce an ordinance, resolution, rule, or policy that creates a protected classification or prohibits discrimination on a basis not contained in state law.”

The law is set to go into effect 90 days after the state Legislature formally adjourns, which is currently set for May. After that, Conway's ordinance will no longer protect LGBT folks. 

One of the chief concerns raised by opponents of SB 202 was the chilling effect that sanctioning discrimination against queer workers might have on the local economy. Following Hutchinson’s decision representatives from Tyson Foods and Walmart both spoke out on behalf of their companies, expressing their disagreement with the law.

Outcry from large LGBT advocacy organizations like the HRC were conspicuously missing immediately after SB 202 went into effect, prompting Michael Signorile to claim social “malpractice.” Not seizing upon any and all opportunities to draw attention to these kinds of injustices, Signorile reasoned, was irresponsible and linked to a broader sense of gay complacency:

“And it's part of the right's plan to roll back LGBT rights while many LGBT people become complacent or apathetic, buying into this idea that full civil rights are inevitable, pointing, for example, to polling about young people being more accepting, and, well, doing pretty much what many women foolishly did in the early years of the backlash against women's liberation.”

HRC President Chad Griffin soon issued an official statement after widespread criticism for his organization's silence on the developments in Arkansas:

"I’m proud to call Arkansas my home state—the place where my entire extended family has lived for years. I know these bills do not reflect the Arkansas values.

They certainly do not reflect this state’s commitment to growing a 21st Century economy that attracts good paying jobs—and to guaranteeing a business climate that welcomes everyone who is willing to work hard and build a better future for themselves and for their community. These kinds of political attacks have been rejected by Republicans and Democrats all across this country. Let’s not let Arkansas be dragged backward by an unrepresentative minority."


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