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Starkville, Mississippi Officials Override Mayor's Veto, Repeal Historic Gay-Rights Initiatives


One year ago today, Starkville, Mississippi, became the first city in the state to pass a resolution recognizing the dignity of its LGBT citizens. 

However, instead of celebrating the anniversary of the historic resolution, the city's LGBT community is reeling from the Board of Aldermen's decision to undo it on Tuesday night. 

Wiseman.ParkerAs expected, the board voted 5-2 to override Mayor Parker Wiseman's (right) veto of its previous vote to repeal the pro-LGBT resolution. Perhaps more importantly, the board also voted to override Wiseman's veto of its vote to repeal domestic partner benefits for city employees, which were passed in September

The votes came after hours of public comments from dozens of speakers, most of whom expressed support for the pro-LGBT policies. The LGBT community also staged a rally and launched a hashtag, #WeAreStarkville, in advance of the vote. 

Human Rights Campaign Mississippi director Rob Hill issued this statement

“Though upsetting and disappointing, the board’s vote tells us that we must do more community engagement to show the leaders of Starkville that equality is important to move the city forward. Fairness and inclusion is critical to attracting new business to Starkville, diverse students to Mississippi State and quality workers to join the city’s workforce. Mayor Parker Wiseman showed tremendous leadership, courage and confidence to represent all residents of Starkville, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBT people are our friends, neighbors, coworkers and family members, and we must ensure all people are welcomed within their communities."

Ultimately, the board's decision to override the mayor's veto won't have much practical impact. No employees had signed up for domestic partner benefits, according to Wiseman. Assuming that the U.S. Supreme Court makes marriage equality the law of the land in June, gay employees in Starkville will be eligible for spousal benefits. 

The resolution, meanwhile, was nonbinding and largely symbolic, and needless to say aldermen can never take away LGBT citizens' dignity, no matter how hard they try. 

If anything, as HRC's Hill suggested, the primary effects of the board's decision will be to hurt the city's economy and Mississippi State University's ability to recruit top students and faculty. 

So congratulations, aldermen. 

Twitter reactions to the Board's vote, AFTER THE JUMP ... 

Continue reading "Starkville, Mississippi Officials Override Mayor's Veto, Repeal Historic Gay-Rights Initiatives" »

LGBT Activists In Starkville, Mississippi, Stage Rally, Launch Hashtag In Support Of Gay-Rights Initiatives


Earlier this month, we reported that the mayor of Starkville, Mississippi, had bravely vetoed a Board of Alderman decision to repeal two historic gay-rights initiatives. 

With the Board of Alderman expected to override Mayor Parker Wiseman's veto on Tuesday night, LGBT activists launched a Twitter hashtag, #WeAreStarkville, and staged a rally Saturday outside the county courthouse. 

The Commercial Dispatch reports: 

Besides local calls, the Human Rights Campaign, a national supporter of LGBT rights, issued a notice for pro-equality advocates to attend Tuesday's 5:30 p.m. meeting at City Hall. 

"As a Mississippi State University graduate and lifelong resident of the Magnolia State, I realize this is the moment to show the world the road to advance equality in Mississippi begins in Starkville," Rob Hill, HRC Mississippi director, said. "The city has already proven once before it is on the right side of history, and what happens Tuesday will determine whether it remains the statewide leader of inclusion, fairness and opportunity." ... 

At MSU's Mitchell Memorial Library on Thursday, organizers estimated about 200 people took pictures together with signs bearing the #WeAreStarkville social media hashtag.  

On Saturday, pro-LGBT activists again spoke out publically against the city's recent action at the steps of the Oktibbeha County Chancery Courthouse. 

"We're here, and we're not going anywhere. We're going to keep fighting and speaking out," said rally organizer Melissa Grimes. "There are about 900 more days until we can elect new officials. Their time is coming, and we have their number. We're going to make sure that those who supported us are taken care of. Those aldermen who didn't, we'll show up and vote them out of office." 

Starkville, which has a population of 24,000 and sits adjacent to Mississippi State University, became the first city in the state to approve a statement of support for LGBT equality last January — and the first to extend benefits to the domestic partners of employees in September. 

However, after some members flip-flopped under pressure from anti-LGBT religious groups, the Board of Alderman voted 5-2 in a closed session earlier this month to repeal the policies — prompting Wiseman's veto. If the 5-2 majority holds, it will be enough to override the mayor's decision. 

The five aldermen who voted to repeal the measures were Lisa Wynn, Ben Carver, David Little, Roy A. Perkins and Henry Vaughn. In case you're wondering, their contact info can be found here

View more photos from the #WeAreStarkville hashtag, AFTER THE JUMP... 

Continue reading "LGBT Activists In Starkville, Mississippi, Stage Rally, Launch Hashtag In Support Of Gay-Rights Initiatives" »

Bigoted Mississippi School District Officials Fighting to Stop Formation of Gay-Straight Alliance

A school district in central Mississippi is pulling out all the stops in an attempt to prevent students from creating a gay-straight alliance on campus, The Clarion-Ledger reports:

Weathersby[Rankin County Superintendent Lynn] Weathersby (pictured right) brought up the issue at Wednesday's school board meeting, making clear his intentions to limit such organizations in Rankin County schools.

"I talked to (board attorney) Freddie (Harrell) and several administrators about what we could legally do to limit organizations like that on campus that we don't want to endorse and don't want," Weathersby said.

Although school board members and officials said they were not aware of any attempt to form a club in the district, Brandon High School theatre teacher Janice Weaver said she was approached by a student in December who expressed a desire to create a gay-straight alliance (GSA), or a student-led, student-organized club aimed at combating anti-gay discrimination and bullying in schools. Weaver said the student submitted the proposal for the club to school administrators. 

At the meeting, Weathersby said the best way to stop the "gay club" would be to require parents to sign a consent form allowing their children to participate in the club.

The paper continues:

School board attorney Freddie Harrell echoed Weathersby, saying a gay club might violate educational standards and principles adopted by the school district such as abstinence-only sexual education.

Newly appointed board member Ira Singleton asked Harrell what would happen if parents did consent to their children participating in such a club. Harrell responded that at that time, it would be up to the school's principal to decide whether the club meets school requirements.

In a statement, HRC Mississippi State Director Rob Hill blasted the district's actions, saying:

“The policy sends a harmful message to LGBT students in Rankin County that they are not welcomed within their classrooms, at school functions or on the bus. The board’s actions tell LGBT students that they should be ashamed of who they are and that their lives are valued less than their peers. Keeping our children safe is critical. We demand the Superintendent, and the board, reverse its decision to publicly humiliate, degrade and embarrass young LGBT people."

The ACLU of Mississippi, meanwhile, has already sent a letter to Weathersby letting him know that the district could land in legal hot water if students are blocked from forming GSA clubs. You can read the letter below:

Starkville, Mississippi Mayor Makes Brave Stand For LGBT Equality, Vetoes Repeal Of Gay-Rights Measures: VIDEO


Starkville, Mississippi Mayor Parker Wiseman is standing up to bigoted and spineless members of the city's Board of Aldermen who are intent on repealing historic gay-rights initiatives approved last year. 

Starkville, which has a population of 24,000 and sits adjacent to Mississippi State University, became the first city in the state to approve a statement of support for LGBT equality in January — and the first to extend benefits to the domestic partners of employees in September. 

WynnBut those policies have been under fire ever since from anti-LGBT members of the city's Board of Aldermen, who initially voted to repeal domestic partner benefits two weeks later — claiming they didn't realize the new insurance policy they approved had included them. After Wiseman vetoed the repeal, Alderman Lisa Wynn (right) walked out of a meeting, leaving the anti-LGBT coalition one member short of the five-vote supermajority needed to override the mayor's decision. 

Now Wynn reportedly has flip-flopped again — joining a 5-2 majority that voted last Tuesday to repeal both policies during a three-hour closed door meeting with no public input, scrutiny or record of how members voted. In a letter vetoing the latest repeal effort on Friday, Wiseman called out the aldermen, listing how they voted and eloquently defending the policies. 

From Wiseman's letter vetoing the repeal of the statement of support for LGBT equality: 

"On January 6, 2015, the Starkville Board of Aldermen went behind closed doors and without notice or explanation repealed its nondiscrimination resolution. To date, the Board has offered no explanation as to why it repealed a resolution against discrimination. 

"I believe mistreating a person because of his or her ... LGBT status is wrong. I believe in the dignity and worth of all people, and I believe that in a just society, all people must be equal in the eyes of the law," Wiseman wrote in his veto of the board's repeal of the non-discrimination language. "The equality resolution is about one simple thing, and that is how we treat each other. And I believe that our community is one that fosters love and respect for all, including our LGBT citizens. Accordingly, I veto the Board's action to repeal its resolution supporting equality."

And from his letter vetoing the repeal of domestic partner benefits: 

"The sole purpose of the amendment on January 6, 2015 was to exclude domestic partners from coverage eligibility. I cannot abide a decision to deny any of our employees the opportunity to see to it that their loved ones can receive medical care when they are sick," Wiseman wrote in his insurance amendment veto. Furthermore, the Board took up the issue behind closed doors without any prior notice to the public. I find this action to be in direct conflict with our responsibility to be open and transparent with the public. 

"I cannot abide a decision to deny any of our employees the opportunity to see to it that their loved ones can receive medical care when they are sick. It is an opportunity that the city is fully capable of providing and it costs the city nothing. Additionally, I am disturbed that the Board hid its action on the matter from the public until it was done. Accordingly, I veto the Board's order to amend the +1 coverage under the city's medical insurance plan."

The Dispatch reports that if the 5-2 anti-LGBT coalition holds it will be enough to override Wiseman's veto: 

Starkville gained national attention with its LGBT-friendly policies -- passed by the same board members who voted against them Tuesday -- this year, but Wiseman said perception issues from Tuesday's closed-door meeting's results could tarnish the city's reputation. 

"There's no question in my mind that this sends the worst possible message to the outside world about our community," Wiseman said Wednesday. "My biggest worry right now is the message it sends in our city and to our workforce. It says members of the LGBT community are not worthy of discrimination protections. 

"I believe that's wrong in every sense of the word," he added. "I want members of the LGBT community to know that I will not give up the fight to ensure that discrimination will not be tolerated. 

The five alderman who voted to repeal the measures were Wynn, Ben Carver, David Little, Roy A. Perkins and Henry Vaughn. In case you're wondering, their contact info can be found here

Read Wiseman's letters vetoing the repeals, and watch a report from WCBI-TV, AFTER THE JUMP ...

Continue reading "Starkville, Mississippi Mayor Makes Brave Stand For LGBT Equality, Vetoes Repeal Of Gay-Rights Measures: VIDEO" »

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


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.

Robbie Kaplan Argues for the Freedom to Marry at 5th Circuit Today: What To Watch For


KaplanRoberta Kaplan, the Paul Weiss attorney who was Edie Windsor's attorney, is in New Orleans to argue for marriage equality at the Fifth Circuit. The cases on appeal come from Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana, the last of which, by the way, has a case under simultaneous consideration for Supreme Court review. In Texas and Mississippi, federal judges struck down marriage discrimination laws as unconstitutional; in Louisiana, a startlingly wrongheaded and overtly antigay opinion upheld that state's ban. The Fifth Circuit is the next stop.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers just the three states involved in these marriage equality cases, is a conservative court: it has more judges appointed by Republican presidents than Democrats. But, as we know, that does not always signal an anti-gay opinion. Judge Posner, who wrote a breathtaking pro-equality decision at the Seventh Circuit, was appointed by President Reagan.

President Reagan also appointed two of the judges on the Fifth Circuit panel: Patrick Higginbotham and Jerry Smith. The third judge, James Graves, is an Obama appointee. I must admit that I don't know much about his background. Judge Graves was the only African-American judge to serve on the Mississippi Supreme Court during his tenure and he spent most of career in public service in Mississippi. A short review of some of his decisions in Mississippi reveal few controversial views. His opinions are well-reasoned.

Judge Smith has been a reliable conservative -- read: right wing conservative -- for much of his time on the federal bench. Judge Higginbotham, however, is a bit of a wild card. In fact, he reminds me, in certain ways, of Judge Posner.

Both are well-respect in the judiciary and among court watchers and lawyers. I never argued in front of him, but several colleagues did and they spoke of him as fair and not always an automatic supporter of our corporate clients. Judge Higginbotham's name was floated as a possible alternative that Senate Democrats would be willing to confirm if President Reagan withdrew Judge Robert Bork's nomination to the Supreme Court (the seat would ultimately go to Justice Kennedy). More recently, he upheld the University of Texas's affirmative action plan. His opinions may not offer the same doctrinal coherence as Judge Posner's: Judge Posner is a brilliant economic mind whose decisions focus on efficiency, practicality, and individual freedom. But he is not beholden to one political party.

Also, they have both said similar things about the conservative tilt of the judiciary. Posner is famously frustrated with Republicans in politics and Republican judges on the bench, many of whom he says are too radical on the right. Judge Higginbotham also gave an interview suggesting that the court has moved away from him since he arrived: he was once considered a conservative; now, compared to others, he isn't.

Judge Higginbotham is the swing vote. He is a moderate and his opinions appear reasonable. I would watch his questions.

Stay tuned to Towleroad for more analysis. Good luck, Robbie!


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Ari Ezra Waldman is a professor of law and the Director of the Institute for Information Law and Policy at New York Law School and is concurrently getting his PhD at Columbia University in New York City. He is a 2002 graduate of Harvard College and a 2005 graduate of Harvard Law School. Ari writes weekly posts on law and various LGBT issues.


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