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Pro Bono Attorneys Handling Same-Sex Marriage Cases Slam Gay Inc. For Lack Of Financial Support

Nessel

A pro bono attorney who's challenging Michigan's same-sex marriage ban is publicly criticizing national LGBT organizations for failing to adequately support her efforts. 

Dana Nessel, co-counsel for Michigan marriage plaintiffs April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse (all three shown above), told Bloomberg Politics that attorneys from national LGBT organizations initially tried to dissuade her from filing the case because they said it didn't fit into their national strategy. When Nessel and her clients began to have success, she said organizations wanted to take over the case. After she refused, they denied requests for financial assistance, all the while using the case to raise money for themselves. 

From Bloomberg Politics

Nessel1An historic triumph for gay marriage may be within reach this spring on the biggest possible stage, but attorney Dana Nessel’s chief frustration at the moment is actually not anti-gay opponents. Rather, she’s taking aim at an unlikely target: the biggest, richest civil rights and gay rights organizations, all of which have left her team to beg and scrape for the estimated $1 million they need to litigate at the Supreme Court. “Nobody even wanted us to file this case, they all tried to stop us, and even now they’re not helping much,” she says tartly. “The great irony is, we’re the ones going to the Supreme Court.”

Private attorneys handling same-sex marriage cases in other states echoed some of Nessel's complaints, which are certainly nothing new to the movement. If you'll remember, national LGBT orgs didn't initially support the lawsuit challenging California's Prop 8, which was ultimately funded by the American Foundation For Equal Rights. 

However, one of the attorneys serving as Nesser's co-counsel in the Michigan case, Carole Stanyar (right), painted a slightly different picture in a statement to Daily Kos' Kerry Eleveld

Stanyar"While this article is mostly accurate in detailing our experience with the civil rights and gay organizations, it grossly understates the contributions of both GLAD and Lambda Legal. Mary Bonauto (GLAD) helped us the moment we asked her and has never stopped helping us. She is our co-counsel and deserves to be acknowledged. Throughout the case, Lambda has provided a great deal of assistance to us also. They helped us -- any time we asked -- to locate trial witnesses, to garner resources and research from around the country, and to help fund one of our expert witnesses (a $13,000 contribution). I was aware of a 'national strategy' to avoid the states in the Sixth Circuit, however, I don't recall either GLAD or Lambda ever discouraging us from filing or pursuing this lawsuit." 

According to Bloomberg, Lambda Legal was the only organization that responded to requests for comment about Nessel's complaints: 

TaylorLambda’s Marriage Project director Camilla Taylor (right) rejected the criticism, insisting: “We don't ever try to take over someone’s case. To my knowledge [the Michigan attorneys] are thrilled with all of the help we have provided, including financial resources.” She would not specify what those resources were and would not respond to questions about whether the group advised various plaintiffs not to file their suits. Attorney-client privilege extends to potential clients even if they don’t end up retaining the organization, Taylor said.

Certainly there are valid points on both sides of this debate, but as gay PR guru Bob Witeck (right) suggests in the Bloomberg piece, now's not the time for bickering: 

WiteckWhile national groups pressured Nessel to back off her critique for this report, unaffiliated activists say blaming her for speaking out is yet another illustration of the problem. “This is the case of our lifetime,” said Bob Witeck, a public-relations strategist who has worked with Human Rights Campaign and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, and advises American Airlines on their gay marketing outreach. “If others are raising large chunks of money and they’re not feeding and servicing the lawyers and the litigants in these cases, what are we giving it to? There can’t be weak links. We have to have our ‘A’ game going in. There can’t be any part of this defense that isn’t fully prepared.”

On that note, you can contribute to the Michigan marriage effort here

And watch the touching video of Nessel and her clients celebrating a federal judge's decision to strike down the state's marriage ban in 2014, AFTER THE JUMP ... 

Continue reading "Pro Bono Attorneys Handling Same-Sex Marriage Cases Slam Gay Inc. For Lack Of Financial Support" »


Marriage At the Supreme Court 2.0: The Cases

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BY ARI EZRA WALDMAN

This article is one in a multipart series leading up to a future Supreme Court decision on marriage equality. The Court has granted review of four marriage cases from the Sixth Circuit and a decision may be handed down at the end of June. Between now and then, Towleroad will break down the cases step by step. Today's topic: The Cases.

Last time, we spoke about the importance of framing the case through the Questions Presented. I argued that despite some concern, the two questions posed in the Supreme Court's order do not indicate that the justices are looking for a way out. They are ready to rule. Before we discuss the substance on which the justices will rule, let's review the four cases that will decide the marriage equality question.

CONTINUED, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "Marriage At the Supreme Court 2.0: The Cases" »


As Michigan's Republican Governor Plugs Gay Rights, GOP Lawmaker Reintroduces 'License To Discriminate' Bill

If you need evidence of the growing divide on LGBT issues within the Republican Party, look no further than Michigan. 

On the same day that Republican Gov. Rick Snyder (top right) made headlines by calling for more dialogue on LGBT protections, a GOP state lawmaker reintroduced a "license to discriminate" bill that would take the state in the opposite direction. 

From The Huffington Post

SnyderDuring a State of the State address marking his fifth year as governor, Snyder called for legislators to continue discussions on amending Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. The law prohibits discrimination based on race, age, sex, religion and more, but does not offer protections based on sexual orientation.

"Let's keep up that dialogue and let's show that we can deal with issues of discrimination in our state," he said.

Perhaps Snyder should have delivered an advance copy of his speech to Republican Sen. Mike Shirkey (bottom right), who earlier in the day reintroduced the Michigan Religious Freedom Restoration Act, according to Mlive.com:  

ShirkeyThe state RFRA, modeled after a federal version, would allow individuals or businesses to seek exemptions to government regulations they feel may substantially burden their sincerely held religious beliefs.

Critics who opposed the bill last year called it a “license to discriminate” against gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender individuals, a charge that supporters denied before a straight party-line vote in the House.

Former House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, introduced RFRA legislation last year alongside a separate bill that would have expanded the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Bolger said at the time that he wanted to “strike a balance” between protecting individual rights and defending religious liberty, but the non-discrimination bill stalled in committee due to a dispute over protecting transgender residents.

Meanwhile, the "license to discriminate" bill passed the House but died in the Senate — which is where Shirkey has reintroduced it. 

The Michigan bill joins a wave of anti-LGBT state legislation across the nation, and the Associated Press took a look at the trend on Saturday:   

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in April and could decide by June whether gay couples can marry, and national opinion polls show U.S. voters increasingly unopposed to gay rights. Yet lawmakers in a handful of states are backing longshot legislation targeting gay rights, doubling down on the culture wars. Most, if not all, of the efforts are led by Republicans. ... 

If the bills' backers manage to force a sharp debate in coming weeks, and the Supreme Court rules in favor of gay marriage a few months later, supporters of the bills would be exposed to criticism that they've been fighting for a fringe issue.

"On no issue during my 40-year career have opinions moved as rapidly as they have on the issue of the morality of gay relationships and ultimately gay marriage," said Whit Ayres, a Republican consultant for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and the National Rifle Association. "When you have conservative organizations like the U.S. military and the Boy Scouts openly accepting gay members, the debate is close to being over."


Detroit Minister Sues Michigan For The Right To Conduct Same-Sex and Polygamous Marriages

Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 2.36.41 PMA bold Detroit minister filed a lawsuit against the state of Michigan, alleging state law violates his right to religious freedom by barring him from conducting same-sex and polygamous marriages reports The Detroit NewsRev. Neil Patrick Carrick filed the lawsuit on Monday against Gov. Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette, citing that the state's ban on such unions runs counter to the First Amendment and 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Carrick issued a stoic statement on the matter Tuesday.

Said Carrick:

"Churches should have the right to marry who they want to marry. I've been told by others that 'we would love to marry (gays and lesbians) but we can't because we would be breaking the law.'

"The state of Michigan does not have the right to tell us what to do in our church."

In the lawsuit, Carrick claims the state engages in "the disparate treatment" of gays, lesbians and what he calls "plural relationships." Carrick, a former pastor with the United Church of Christ, says he turned down requests from same-sex to marry because he would be breaking state law. Michigan law states that someone who knowingly performs a marriage ceremony for same-sex couples is a punishable crime and carries a fine of up to $500. "Michigan officials create discrimination and potentially prosecution of private conduct between consenting adults without requiring law enforcement officials to show harm to society or those involved," Carrick said.

Gina Calcagno, the campaign manager for Michigan for Marriage, an advocacy group that wholeheartedly supports same-sex marriage, said many religious are eager to perform ceremonies for same-sex couples. "They are just waiting for the state to catch up," said Calcagno. The United Church of Christ filed a lawsuit last April against the state of North Carolina arguing that the state's marriage law violates the First Amendment rights of clergy to "free exercise of religion." A federal judge struck down the North Carolina law in October.

A spokesman for the Michigan Attorney General's Office declined to comment about the lawsuit Tuesday. Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would review a case challenging Michigan's gay marriage ban. 


What Happens If We Lose the Supreme Court Gay Marriage Cases?

USSCOTUS

The Supreme Court's decision earlier today to hear the four gay marriage cases out of Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee sets the stage for the the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans to be decided once and for all. 

With the high court's previous DOMA ruling in place and its refusal to stay lower court rulings bringing marriage equality to a number of states, it can be tempting to think nationwide marriage equality will be a sure bet this year.  

For precautions sake though, Lambda Legal's Jon Davidson has spelled out what will happen should SCOTUS go the other way:

DavidsonIf the Supreme Court were to rule in the cases in which it today granted review that the U.S. Constitution does not protect same-sex couple's right to marry and does not require states to respect marriages same-sex couples lawfully have entered in other jurisdictions, a number of issues would arise.

With respect to same-sex couples who already have married as a result of court rulings, Lambda Legal strongly believes -- as a federal district court in Michigan ruled just yesterday with respect to marriages entered in that state before the 6th Circuit's adverse ruling -- that those marriages will remain valid and will need to continue to be respected by the states in which those marriages were entered. Nonetheless, the validity of those couples' marriages may be challenged and those couples may want to take additional steps (such as executing wills, durable health care powers of attorney, and securing second parent adoptions) to provide them and their families extra peace of mind and security.

With respect to whether same-sex couples would be able to marry and would have their marriages respected in other states, that would vary from state to state. States in which marriage equality was achieved by a ruling under the state's constitution, by legislative reform, or at the ballot box, would be unaffected. Unmarried same-sex couples in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee (the states whose marriage laws the Supreme Court today agreed to review) would be forced to seek reform through the political process. States in which a final judgment has been obtained in federal court would be required to continue to allow same-sex couples to marry and to respect out-of-state marriages entered by same-sex couples unless and until someone with standing makes a motion to reopen the judgment and that motion is granted (unless stays are properly obtained before then). In some states, there may be no one with standing interested in seeking to set aside the existing judgment. Same-sex couples in states in which a judgment is on appeal or can still be appealed whose judgments have not been stayed should be able to continue to marry and to have their out-of-state marriages honored by the state until the existing judgment is stayed or reversed.

There's no question that it would be a mess. This is one additional reason why the Supreme Court should reverse the 6th Circuit's aberrant decision and hold that same-sex couples, like all other couples, share the fundamental right to marry and that it violates federal guarantees of equality and liberty to refuse to allow them to marry or to deny recognition to the marriages they lawfully have entered in other states.

If you haven't already, be sure to check out our legal editor Ari Ezra Waldman's analysis of today's events HERE


Federal Court Rules Michigan Must Recognize 300+ Gay Marriage Licenses Issued in March

U.S. District Court Judge Mark Goldsmith ruled today that Michigan must recognize more than 300 marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples last March. Goldsmith stayed his ruling for 21 days.

Freedom to Marry reports: Snyder

Today's ruling was in the case Caspar v. Snyder, which was filed on April 14, 2014 by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan on behalf of eight same-sex couples who received marriage licenses on the first day of the freedom to marry in Michigan. More than 300 couples received marriage licenses on March 22, after a federal judge struck down the state's ban on marriage for same-sex couples. The ruling was stayed later that afternoon, and although the federal government said that it would respect the Michigan marriage licenses for all purposes, Governor Rick Snyder (pictured) said that the state would deny respect to the licenses as the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals considered arguments in the original federal lawsuit.

Judge Goldsmith wrote:

The alleged harm of impaired human dignity and denial of at least some tangible benefits have already come about, thereby establishing that the factual record is sufficiently developed, such that there is no need to await future events for adjudication of the issues in this action. And delaying judicial resolution of these issues would serve no useful purpose. To the contrary, such delay would compound the harms these Plaintiffs suffer each day that their marital status remains unrecognized.

Judge Goldsmith's ruling, which is stayed for 21 days, means that all of the same-sex couples who were married on March 22 before the ruling was stayed will soon be respected by the state.

Ruling, via Equality Case Files, below:

4:14-cv-11499 #46 by Equality Case Files


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