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Why Marriage Equality in Florida Is a Sign of Good Things to Come


When last we spoke, the freedom to marry had just been handed a setback: the Sixth Circuit let stand marriage discrimination laws in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee. Over the holiday season, though, we took many steps forward in defiance of that egregious and wrongheaded appellate court opinion: Marriage equality officially came to Montana and South Carolina. And although she tried every trick in her book, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi could not stop the arc of justice from sweeping ashore in the Sunshine State.

The arrival of marriage freedom in Florida is particularly notable because of how it happened.

BondiIn Florida, a federal district court judge ruled in August that the state's marriage ban was unconstitutional; the judge stayed his decision until January 5, 2015. The Republicans running the state wanted to delay as much as possible as they appealed the judge's ruling to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. But neither the district court nor the circuit court would grant the state a stay beyond January 5. So, Attorney General Bondi asked the Supreme Court. The Court said no, with only Justice Scalia and Thomas willing to issue the stay.

Note the difference between South Carolina and Montana, on the one hand, and Florida on the other. South Carolina is under the jurisdiction of the Fourth Circuit, which declared Virginia's marriage ban unconstitutional some time ago. Montana is in the Ninth Circuit, which made a similar decision in Idaho's case in October. Because marriage equality was just steps away from all the other states in those jurisdictions as a result of the appellate court decisions, the Supreme Court declined to issue a stay in the South Carolina case.

Florida is in the Eleventh Circuit, which has not had occasion to rule on a gay marriage case. So the Supreme Court's refusal to grant a stay and to allow marriages to start in Florida was a stronger pro-equality signal than denying a stay in South Carolina.


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Montana Teen Arrives Home To Find Anti-gay Slur Spray Painted On His Door

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A bisexual Montana teen found a gay slur spray painted on his trailer door after spending the night at a friend's house reports Billings Gazette18-year-old Cain Stacy arrived home in the early hours of the morning to find the slur "fag," still wet, painted on the front door of his trailer. Stacy is not so much upset about being called the slur, but is moreso upset that someone had the nerve to deface his family's property with it.

Stacy's mother, Hiedi Hanna, lives next door and owns both properties. Hanna and Stacy reported the incident with police, but both are disappointed with how the case is being handled. Stacy informed the police of a potential suspect, but Billings Police Department Lt. Kevin Iffland said the suspect denied any involvement and consented to a search that yielded no evidence of their involvement. Iffland said the crime is classified as a criminal mischief with a bias motivation noted against bisexuals; the case is currently closed because police ran out of leads in the case however, should the department receive tips or other news about the case, then they will reopen it.

Until then, Stacy is stuck with the slur on his door; it's currently too cold to apply a fresh coat of paint to the door because it won't stick. For the time being Stacy is covering the slur with a plastic bag. "I just want it off my damn door," Stacy said. 

The Montana Board of Crime Control finds that overall hate crimes are decreasing over the last few years although there are occasional spikes; in the year of 2006, Montana saw a high of 154 reported hate crimes, while the last two years have only seen between 40-50 reported hate crimes. Out of 49 reported hate crimes in 2012, only 12 of them involved sexual orientation biases.

First Gay Couples Marry in Montana: PHOTOS

(image via andrea nitschke twitter)

Gay couples have begun marrying in Montana after a federal judge struck down the state's gay marriage ban yesterday afternoon. The first marriage license to a gay couple was issued in Cascade County to Tonya and Angie Rolando (above), one of four couples who were plaintiffs in the case challenging the ban.

The Missoulian reports that couples have begun marrying there as well: Burgess_early

Leslie Burgess and Serena Early have wed in the Missoula County Courthouse, the first gay couple to do so since a federal judge lifted Montana's ban on same-sex marriage.

A staff member for Montana ACLU performed the ceremony for a lively crowd shortly after 8:30 a.m. Thursday. Kileen Marshall is a license officiant, and was on hand to marry a growing line of couples.

Five minutes later, Ally Logan and Carolyn Jones became the second couple to wed. The two said they had waited 10 years for this day.

Montana Attorney General Tim Fox To Appeal Ruling Striking Down Same-Sex Marriage Ban

6a00d8341c730253ef01a3fd361ab6970b-800wiIn the wake of U.S. District Judge Brian Morris' ruling today which struck down Montana's 2004 voter approved ban on same-sex marriage, Montana's Republican Attorney General Tim Fox, who has previously voiced his opposition to marriage equality, announced his intent to appeal Morris' decision. The Washington Blade reports:

“It is the attorney general’s sworn duty to uphold and defend Montana’s constitution until such time as there is no further review or no appeal can be made in a court of law,” Fox said. “Fulfilling that duty, the state of Montana will appeal this ruling in light of the fact that there are conflicting federal court decisions and no final word from the U.S. Supreme Court.”

The reaction was somewhat different from the state's Governor, Steve Bullock, a Democrat, who praised Morris' ruling: 

“Today’s decision ensures we are closer to fulfilling our promise of freedom, dignity, and equality for all Montanans,” Bullock said. “It is a day to celebrate our progress, while recognizing the qualities that bind us as Montanans: a desire to make a good life for ourselves and our families, while providing greater opportunities to the next generation.” 

Federal Judge Strikes Down Montana's Ban on Same-Sex Marriage

6a00d8341c730253ef01b8d090c428970c-800wiU.S. District Judge Brian Morris (pictured) has ruled that Montana's ban on same-sex marriage violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, thus making it unconstitutional. Morris' order is effective immediately and is not stayed, though the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court may still intervene and stay the decision. As Think Progress reports, Morris relied heavily on the Ninth Circuit's decision which struck down marriage bans in Idaho and Nevada but also tackled head on the question of Baker v. Nelson's role in determining whether there exists a constitutional right to marriage, a subject even more in the spotlight now following the Sixth Circuit's ruling which upheld marriage bans:

Montana, like many states before it, had argued that Baker v. Nelson, a 1972 case about same-sex marriage that the Supreme Court decided not to hear, was controlling and thus the court could not challenge the precedent. Here’s how Morris handled that argument:

"Defendants contend that Plaintiffs’ complaint presents the same issue rejected in Baker: whether a constitutional right to same-sex marriage exists. The Court agrees. Defendants further argue that no sufficient doctrinal developments have occurred to render this issue a substantial federal question. The Court disagrees."

Morris also took time to opine about how Montana’s same-sex families will benefit from this ruling:

"These families want for their children what all families in Montana want. They want to provide a safe and loving home in which their children have the chance to explore the world in which they live. They want their children to have the chance to discover their place in this world. And they want their children to have the chance to fulfill their highest dreams. These families, like all of us, want their children to adventure into the world without fear of violence; to achieve all that their talent and perseverance allows without fear of discrimination; and to love themselves so that they can love others. No family wants to deprive its precious children of the chance to marry the loves of their lives. Montana no longer can deprive Plaintiffs and other same-sex couples of the chance to marry their loves."

Read the full decision below:

Montana Same-Sex Marriage Decision by jsnow489


Federal Judge Signals He is Ready to Rule on Marriage Equality in Montana

U.S. District Judge Brian Morris (pictured) canceled a hearing set for November 20 in a case challenging Montana's ban on gay marriage, signaling that he is ready to rule.

The AP reports: Morris

The four gay couples who sued to overturn the ban along with Attorney General Tim Fox, who is defending the ban, agreed that U.S. District Judge Brian Morris has enough information to decide the case without the formal hearing that had been scheduled next Thursday.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently struck down similar gay-marriage bans in Idaho and Nevada. The American Civil Liberties Union of Montana expects a favorable ruling because the 9th Circuit includes Montana.

The ACLU filed for summary judgment in the case on October 15.

Said ACLU of Montana Legal Director Jim Taylor at the time:

“We don’t think there are any material facts in dispute, and so the case can be decided without a trial. The ban on same sex marriage in the Montana Constitution is the same as the bans that were ruled unconstitutional in Idaho, and Nevada. The four couples in our case are situated the same as the couples who won in the Idaho and Nevada cases. We are raising the same issues that were raised in the Idaho and Nevada cases, and we are optimistic that the decisions of the Ninth Circuit in those cases will convince the District Court to rule in our favor.”

The lawsuit was filed in May on behalf of four same-sex couples.

State attorneys plan to continue defending the ban, according to the AP, but Governor Steve Bullock has spoken out in favor of the couples' right to marry:

"Montanans cherish our freedom and recognize the individual dignity of every one of us. The time has come for our state to recognize and celebrate - not discriminate against - two people who love one another, are committed to each other, and want to spend their lives together."


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