Lambda Legal Hub




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...

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


Gay Chicago Couple Kicked Out Of Taxi For Kissing Files New Lawsuit: VIDEO

CHI

Last June, Chicago couple Steven White and Matt McCrea were kicked out of a taxi for sharing a closed-mouth second-long kiss. In October, Lambda Legal stepped in to file a complaint on behalf of the couple with the Illinois Department of Human Rights. Christopher Clark, Senior Staff Attorney for Lambda Legal, then commented, "A taxi-cab company, like any other business in Illinois that offers services to the public, is bound by the Illinois Human Rights Act to not discriminate based on sexual orientation, among other protected categories." However, as NBC 5 Chicago reports, that complaint was rejected "because the department said it had no jurisdiction over corporate entities." The couple has now filed a lawsuit against the taxi cab company: 

"It's ludicrous to suggest that a cab company is not responsible for the discrimination enacted by its drivers," the couple's lawyer, Christopher Clark, said. "They should be liable under the law for the conduct of their agents."

The suit claims the driver, who is not named in the suit, complained the men were "making sex" in the cab in May 2013. McCrea and White, who were heading into the city from O'Hare, say the driver began flashing the interior lights of the vehicle and then swerved on to the shoulder of the Kennedy Expressway and demanded they get out miles before their intended destination.

Meanwhile, the driver was issued several violations and fined close to $2,000 because of the incident. 

Watch a news report on the couple's latest legal action, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "Gay Chicago Couple Kicked Out Of Taxi For Kissing Files New Lawsuit: VIDEO" »


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.


ACLU and Lambda Legal Ask Supreme Court to Reject Motion To Delay Same-Sex Marriage In Virginia

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Late last week, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts agreed to review a request from Virginia county clerk Michèle McQuigg to stay a ruling from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. Yesterday, prompted by Chief Justice Roberts’ intervention, the ACLU and Lambda Legal asked that the Fourth Circuit’s ruling not be stayed so that same-sex marriage can begin at last in Virginia:

"We will do everything we can to ensure that same-sex couples do not have to wait a day longer than necessary to finally receive the dignity and protection that only comes with marriage," said James Esseks, director of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project, who argued the case for the class before the federal appeals court. "The historic Supreme Court case that affirmed the right of people of different races to marry started in in Virginia. In the 47 years since then, committed same-sex couples in the commonwealth have been patiently waiting for the freedom to marry the person they love."

The organizations also will request that, if the Court decides to grant the stay, it should accept the case for full review as quickly as possible in order to minimize the harm that would be caused by the delay of the Fourth Circuit decision.

As WVEC notes, same-sex couples will be allowed to wed in Virginia starting August 21 unless the Supreme Court grants a stay of the Fourth Circuit’s decision. 


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