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Lambda Legal Asks U.S. Supreme Court to Review Federal Judge's Ruling Upholding Louisiana Gay Marriage Ban

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Hoping to bypass the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, Lambda Legal and the lawyers representing Forum for Equality Louisiana and seven same-sex Louisiana couples have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman's August ruling upholding the state's same-sex marriage ban. 

The filing, called a Writ of Certiorari before Judgment can be granted in cases that show there is imperative public importance as to justify bypassing the normal appeals process in the Circuit Court of Appeal.

Said Lambda Legal Senior Counsel Kenneth D. Upton, Jr. via statement:

LouisianaThe ruling from the lower court in this case is a time-warped reading of the Constitution and neglects developments in the law, including since the Supreme Court’s decision in Windsor. We have seen a blizzard of well-reasoned rulings in recent months holding similarly discriminatory bans unconstitutional, including rulings out of the Fourth, Seventh, Ninth and Tenth Circuits Courts of Appeal. We are asking for the Supreme Court’s review now while it is considering the Sixth Circuit decision because together these cases present the full gamut of aberrant arguments supporting these discriminatory bans, and, in Louisiana specifically, present in one state a case covering both the right of same-sex couples to marry, and for legally married same-sex couples to have those marriages recognized. The longer same-sex couples are forced to live in a country divided by where their families are respected and where they aren’t the more apparent the injustice will become—and that clarity will come at a price for thousands of families.

Added Forum for Equality Louisiana Executive Director SarahJane Brady:

Dozens of federal courts have been nearly unanimous: these hateful, politically motivated marriage bans have no place in our country – and they will soon end up in the dustbin of history where they belong.  After the Sixth Circuit’s ruling upholding state bans on same sex marriages, we determined there is too much at stake in Louisiana and other states without marriage equality to wait on the appeals process to play out, potentially delaying justice for same-sex couples.

The Fifth Circuit has scheduled arguments in challenges to same-sex marriage bans from Louisiana and Texas for January 9. 

Read the petition below via Equality Case Files:

 


ACLU and Lambda Legal Ask Supreme Court to Review 6th Circuit Ruling Upholding Gay Marriage Bans

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As expected, the ACLU and Lambda Legal have filed a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the Sixth Circuit's anti-equality ruling that upheld gay marriage bans in Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee, and Kentucky. 

Said Susan Sommer, Director of Constitutional Litigation for Lambda Legal via press release:

We have reached a tipping point, and the lives of thousands of same-sex spouses and their families hang in the balance. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling shines a spotlight on our divided country, where married same-sex couples are either respected or discriminated against, depending on where they live or even where they travel. As we have learned from other historic cases like Loving v. Virginia and Lawrence v. Texas, there comes a time when the U.S. Supreme Court weighs in, and provides the answer,--on the question of marriage for same-sex couples we believe that time has come.

Read the petition below via Equality Case Files:


GOP Texas Lawmaker Wants To Enshrine 'License To Discriminate' Against Gays In State Constitution

A Tea Party Republican in Texas wants to enshrine a "license to discriminate" against LGBT people into the state Constitution.

CampbellState Sen. Donna Campbell filed a proposed constitutional amendment Monday that could allow business owners and government contractors to turn away gay people, or fire LGBT employees, under the guise of religious liberty. The amendment could also undermine LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances that have passed in all of Texas' major cities.

Campbell's proposed constitutional amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 10, states that government "may not burden an individual’s or religious organization’s freedom of religion or right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief unless the government proves that the burden is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest."

SJR 10 goes on to say that a "burden" includes "indirect burdens such as withholding benefits, assessing penalties, and denying access to facilities or programs."

PizerJenny Pizer (right), senior counsel at Lambda Legal, told Towleroad that in addition to undermining local nondiscrimination laws, she believes Campbell's proposal would open up government to all sorts of litigation from people who have religious objections to a wide variety of regulations.

"What it probably means is that the government's ability to challenge discrimination would be limited," Pizer said. "While she wants to permit religiously motivated discrimination against gay people, what about religiously motivated discrimination by one religion against another? What if the Jewish doctors decided to stop providing medical services to Christian fundamentalists? 

"It blows a hole in your nondiscrimination protections if people can ignore them for religious reasons," Pizer added. "It may be designed to trump local nondiscrimination protections, and that's a serious problem, but the bigger problem for government is the fact that it then becomes prohibitively expensive to enforce things like food safety law. What if somebody has a religious belief that requires them to make large bonfires in the backyard as part of a religious tradition, and you have dry, dangerous fire conditions? There are basic safety regulations. ... This is far-right grandstanding, but it's grandstanding with very serious potential implications for government."

Campbell, who's from the San Antonio area, strongly opposed that city's passage of an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance last year. In a letter to then-Mayor Julian Castro, Campbell wrote:

"San Antonio is an exceptional city in which every individual should feel welcome, and I believe that's the intent of the authors of the ordinance. However, by alienating a majority of Texans who believe in traditional marriage and values, it is having the opposite effect. San Antonio churches, families and businesses feel less welcome in their hometown as a result of this proposed ordinance, fearful that they may now be penalized or face costly lawsuits just for practicing their faith or expressing their opinion."

Campbell later told the Houston Chronicle

“Our Judeo-Christian values are under assault and I’m not going to let that stand. We have the right and religious freedom to express ourselves. When the government moves outside the proper bounds of the primary role, especially in order to legislate societal norms, they’re on shaky ground. Really it’s a few, just a few advocates, of tolerance. They are trying to criminalize faith and traditional values of the majority of Texans. Tolerance is going too far in this instance.”

Campbell introduced a similar measure two years ago, but it died in committee amid concerns that it would expand the right of Westboro Baptist Church to protest military funerals or even create a religious right to an abortion, according to Texas Monthly. Campbell's 2013 measure was backed by the anti-LGBT group Texas Values and opposed by Equality Texas. Daniel Williams, legislative specialist at Equality Texas, said Monday that Campbell's proposal would go far beyond an existing state statute.

“In 1999 Texas set the gold standard for protecting religious liberty with the passage of the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” Williams said. “SJR 10 would gut the existing legislation.”

Earlier this year, amid national outcry, Republican Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a bill that would have allowed businesses to discriminate against gays based on religious beliefs, but a similar law later passed in Mississippi.

Texas cities with nondiscrimination ordinances that could be affected by Campbell's amendment include Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth and San Antonio. Last year, the Houston City Council passed an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance, but the ordinance is on hold pending a lawsuit from opponents.

At a recent anti-LGBT rally in Houston, opponents of the city's Equal Rights Ordinance donned T-shirts saying, "We reserve the right to refuse service to homosexuals."

In an online press release about the bill, Campbell tied it to the city of Houston's decision to subpoena pastor sermons as part of its defense against the lawsuit challenging the ordinance. From Campbell's press release:

The Restoring Religious Freedom Amendment reflects a swift and measured response after controversy erupted in Houston last month when the City attempted to subpoena pastors' sermons. Those subpoenas stirred protest from Texas churches and elicited strongly worded statements from Governor-Elect Greg Abbott, Attorney General-Elect Ken Paxton, and Senator Campbell.

"The resolution I filed today provides a necessary layer of protection from overreaching governments that engage in acts of prejudice meant to intimidate Texans of faith from expressing their deeply held religious beliefs," Senator Campbell said.


Lambda Legal Brings Challenge to Puerto Rico's Same-Sex Marriage Ban To First Circuit Court of Appeals

6a00d8341c730253ef01b7c6f833ff970b-800wiAs promised, Lambda Legal has filed an appeal of Federal Judge Perez-Gimenez’s ruling that upheld Puerto Rico’s ban on same-sex marriage. The case will now be heard by the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston. The Washington Blade reports:

“Puerto Rico has many loving, committed couples who need the dignity and respect of marriage as soon as possible, and we won’t stop fighting on their behalf,” said Omar Gonzalez-Pagan of Lambda Legal. Ada Conde Vidal and Ivonne Álvarez Vélez of San Juan filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in March. Four additional gay and lesbian couples along with Lambda Legal and Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, a Puerto Rican LGBT advocacy group, joined the case three months later. 

Puerto Rico's ban on same-sex marriage was enacted in 1999 after lawmakers amended the U.S. commonwealth’s civil code to ban recognition of same-sex marriages. The decision out of Puerto Rico contradicts the larger trend we have been witnessing whereby federal and appellate court judges have been striking down bans on same-sex marriage:

“The district’s court ruling is not only out of step with the rest of the country, it leaves Puerto Rico as the only jurisdiction within the First Circuit to ban marriage for same-sex couples,” said Gonzalez-Pagan. “During the past year reasoned rulings by district courts throughout the nation and the Courts of Appeals for the 4th, 7th, 9th and 10th Circuits, as well as the U.S. Supreme Court’s actions to let stand some of those rulings, clearly demonstrate that marriage bans, such as Puerto Rico’s, are unconstitutional.” 

Gov. Alejandro García Padilla, who is among the defendants in the case, publicly supports civil unions for gays and lesbians. He reiterated his opposition to marriage rights for same-sex couples last week after Pérez-Giménez announced his ruling. “The government should not be in the business of discriminating against its people,” said Gonzalez-Pagan. “It is disappointing that Puerto Rico continues to perpetuate the harms it causes to loving, committed Puerto Rican same-sex couples.”

Now that the issue of same-sex marriage in Puerto Rico is headed to the 1st Circuit, SCOTUS Blog considers the impact its decision will have on the larger issue of same-sex marriage in the United States:

6a00d8341c730253ef01b8d08243b2970c-800wiTwo years ago, the First Circuit said flatly that it was still required to follow the Supreme Court’s summary, one-sentence ruling in 1972, in the case of Baker v. Nelson.  That ruling, it said, is “binding precedent” which bars an argument that there is “a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.”  And, it noted, the Supreme Court has not overturned that ruling in more recent gay rights decisions.  The Baker decision said without elaboration that a plea for a right to marry a same-sex partner did not raise “a substantial federal question.”

The question now is whether the First Circuit will continue to adhere to that view, in the face of a broad wave of federal court decisions indicating that Baker v. Nelson no longer remained an obstacle to striking down state laws against same-sex marriage.   If the First Circuit holds fast, it could set up a split on this issue that could lead the Supreme Court to step into the same-sex marriage controversy in a way that it has so far avoided.

In his ruling on October 21 rejecting the couples’ challenge to Puerto Rico’s ban, U.S. District Judge Juan M. Perez-Gimenez said that he had no choice because of the 1972 precedent and because of the First Circuit’s comments about Baker v. Nelson‘s continued validity.  The Baker decision, he said, is still controlling, “even when other cases would seem to undermine the Supreme Court’s holdings….The Supreme Court is perfectly capable of stating its intention to overrule a prior case.”


Lambda Legal Sues South Carolina For Marriage Equality

6a00d8341c730253ef01b8d07a63dd970c-250wiFollowing obstinate and obstructionist moves from South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and Attorney General Alan Wilson in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to let stand a 4th Circuit ruling striking down Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban, a decision that effects South Carolina as the state falls within the 4th Circuit’s jurisdiction, Lambda Legal along with South Carolina Equality has filed suit against the Palmetto State arguing that South Carolina is “obligated to allow same-sex couples to marry.” From Lambda Legal:

"The Fourth Circuit's decision means that same-sex couples in South Carolina should be shopping for a caterer, not a lawyer. Governor Haley and Attorney General Wilson cannot continue to ignore the rule of law. Fortunately, they have run out of cards to play - we're urging the court to allow same-sex couples in South Carolina to marry without any further delay," said Beth Littrell, Senior Attorney in Lambda Legal's Southern Regional Office based in Atlanta. "The state doesn't have any credible arguments for a court in South Carolina to entertain."

Sc"The Governor and Attorney General are playing politics with our families and it's shameful," said South Carolina Equality lawyer Nekki Shutt, partner at Callison Tighe & Robinson. "Instead of celebrating and planning weddings, same-sex couples all over South Carolina are holding their collective breath - and they have been waiting long enough."

Lambda Legal represents Colleen Condon and Nichols Bleckley who applied and paid for a marriage license in Charleston County last week before the Attorney General asked the South Carolina State Supreme Court to step in and put a halt to the issuances of marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The South Carolina Supreme Court effectively stopped state court judges from issuing marriage licenses or weighing in on marriage equality pending an order from federal court. Another federal case, Bradacs v. Haley, remains pending - it involves couples already legally married seeking recognition in South Carolina of their marriage, while the Condon suit seeks the issuance of a marriage license.

SCMeanwhile, The State reports that a separate pending case challenging South Carolina’s marriage ban, currently before a federal judge, is still awaiting a hearing: 

Judge Michelle Childs said Tuesday she will decide later, most likely in November, whether she will hear oral arguments in the ongoing same sex marriage case that will determine whether bans on same sex marriage in existing South Carolina law and the state constitution will be overturned.

After the Supreme Court’s decision last week, Probate Judge Irvin Condon decided to accept nineteen same-sex couples requests for marriage licenses. AG Wilson asked the Supreme Court to halt the issuing of marriage licenses to gay couples, a request it granted. Wilson has said of his actions in opposing marriage equality in South Carolina, “My job is to represent the state’s interest in every venue that exists until there are no more venues to represent the state. I’m not opposed to anything I’m only for the rule of law.” No comment yet from Wilson on why the state is willfully ignoring the ruling from the 4th Circuit which the U.S. Supreme Court let stand. 


Lambda Legal Asks Court for Swift Ruling to End Discriminatory Marriage Ban in Puerto Rico: READ

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Lambda Legal is officially seeking a summary judgment from the District Court of Puerto Rico that would effectively put an end to the district’s same sex marriage ban. In June, Lambda Legal joined Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, an LGBT non-profit organization, in supporting the Conde v. Rius Armendariz class action lawsuit

Following a ceremony performed in Massachusetts Ivonne Álvarez Velez and Ada Conde Vidal became Puerto Rico’s first married lesbian couple. Since 1999, a Puerto Rican amendment to the commonwealth’s civil code has made it so that Puerto Rico does not recognize same sex marriages--even those performed in other jurisdictions. Conde, a lawyer by training, filed the suit after realizing that she would be barred from making medical decisions on behalf of her ailing daughter.

“If she dies, I want my marriage legally recognized,” Conde explained to the Washington Blade this past March. “If I am not recognized, I will not have any rights to request her estate.”

Conde and her partner are joined by four other gay and lesbian couples, two of whom are looking to actually be married within Puerto Rico, while the others seek to have their pre-existing marriages recognized.

“All families deserve to have their love and commitment recognized in Puerto Rico,” said Omar Gonzalez-Pagan Lambda Legal’s staff attorney working with Puerto Rico Para Tod@s. “They need the protections only marriage can provide as soon as possible, without discrimination.”

Read Conde v. Rius Armendariz's full legal brief, AFTER THE JUMP...

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