NCLR Responds to New York State Marriage Equality Vote

June 24, 2011

(San Francisco, CA, June 24, 2011)—Today, the New York Senate passed a bill establishing full marriage equality for same-sex couples. When Gov. Andrew Cuomo signs the bill into law, New York will become the seventh and largest jurisdiction in the country in which same-sex couples are able to legally marry. The New York Assembly passed the bill last week, marking the third time the Assembly passed marriage equality legislation.

When signed into law, New York will join five other states and Washington D.C. that provide full marriage equality for same-sex couples.

Statement by NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell:

“This is a historic day for our movement and for New Yorkers who will finally be able to enjoy the same freedom to decide whether and who to marry that other New Yorkers have long enjoyed. All couples deserve to express their love and commitment through marriage if they choose to do so, and today’s vote is one more step toward recognizing the true diversity of families and the full equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people nationwide.”

Media Contact:

NCLR Communications Director Erik Olvera | Office: 415.392.6257 x324 | EOlvera@NCLRights.org


NCLR Joins Congress in Calling on President Obama to Restore Employment Protections and Religious Freedoms

June 21, 2011

(San Francisco, CA, June 21, 2011)—Today, Representatives Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-VA), John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Barney Frank (D-MA), and Melvin L. Watt (D-NC) called on President Barack Obama to restore essential employment protections and religious freedom.

The request comes on the 70th anniversary of President Franklin D. Roosevelt issuing Executive Order 8802, which prohibited employment discrimination by defense contractors based on race, creed, color, or national origin. Following this pronouncement, subsequent presidents have expanded employment protections, adding both to the list of prohibited bases and extending these safeguards to all types of government contracts.

Executive Order 8802 was the precursor to many subsequent executive orders and laws protecting people from employment discrimination. In 2002, however, for the first time, President George W. Bush rolled back those basic protections by creating an exception that allows certain religious organizations to discriminate in hiring based on religion.

Groups are urging President Obama to correct this injustice and restore these crucial employment protections for all people seeking employment with organizations receiving federal funding. Many of the groups joining this effort, including the National Center for Lesbian Rights, are members of the Coalition Against Religious Discrimination, which is a broad and diverse coalition working with faith-based organizations and governmental agencies to ensure that religious liberty and civil rights remain protected when the government partners with communities of faith.

Statement by NCLR Federal Policy Director Maya Rupert:

“Organizations that discriminate should not receive federal money. It is wrong to use tax dollars to fund discrimination against any group—plain and simple. This is a particular concern for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people because there is an organized national anti-gay movement that is actively seeking to abuse religious teachings to justify discrimination against LGBT people. But public money simply cannot be used to discriminate.”

Media Contact:

NCLR Communications Director Erik Olvera | Office: 415.392.6257 x324 | EOlvera@NCLRights.org


NCLR Responds to Judge Ware’s Denial of the Motion to Vacate the Proposition 8 Ruling

June 14, 2011

(San Francisco, CA, June 14, 2011)— Today, Chief Judge James Ware of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California resoundingly denied Proposition 8 supporters’ motion to invalidate former U.S. District Court Chief Judge Vaughn Walker’s landmark ruling striking down Proposition 8.

After a three-week trial last year, Judge Walker ruled in a 135-page decision that Prop 8, the 2008 amendment to the California Constitution that stripped the right to marry from same-sex couples, violates the United States Constitution. In April 2011, supporters of Prop 8 filed a motion to invalidate Judge Walker’s decision, claiming that Judge Walker, who has since retired, should have declined to hear the case because he is gay and in a long-term relationship with another man. Last month, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Lambda Legal, the ACLU of Northern California and Equality California filed a friend-of-the-court brief opposing the motion. The groups argued that the Prop 8 supporters’ motion closely parallels long-discredited attempts to disqualify judges based on irrelevant characteristics such as race, sex, or religion. The brief strongly disputed the Prop 8 supporters’ claim that no gay, lesbian, or bisexual judge could ever impartially preside over a case involving the rights of same-sex couples—an offensive suggestion that courts have consistently rejected in similar cases involving race, sex, and religious discrimination.

Judge Ware denied the motion to vacate Judge Walker’s opinion, ruling that it is “unreasonable to presume that a judge is incapable of making an impartial decision about the constitutionality of a law, solely because, as a citizen, the judge could be affected by the proceedings.” Judge Ware pointed out that similar arguments with respect to characteristics like race and religion have been “categorically rejected by federal courts” and that requiring recusal on that basis would require the “recusal of minority judges in most, if not all, civil rights cases.”

Judge Ware also made clear that all citizens have an equal interest in striking down unconstitutional laws:  “[E]njoining a enforcement of [an unconstitutional] law is a public good that benefits all in our society equally…all Californians have an equal interest in the outcome of the case.”  The decision also rejects the Prop 8 proponents’ underlying accusation that judge Walker could not have remained impartial in this case:  “A well-informed, thoughtful observer would recognize that the mere fact that a judge is in a relationship with another person—whether of the same or the opposite sex—does not…imply that the judge must be so interested in marrying that person that he would be unable to exhibit the impartiality which, it is presumed, all federal judges maintain.”

As a result of this order, Judge Walker’s historic decision striking down Prop 8 still stands, although the appeal of that decision continues in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Statement by NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell:

“Today’s ruling is an unequivocal vindication of Judge Walker and a resounding defense of the integrity of our judicial system. Judge Ware’s decision is a victory for everyone, because Judge Ware confirmed that all of us—not just LGBT Californians, or members of other minority groups—have an equal stake in seeing that the Constitution is upheld. Judge Ware’s opinion made clear that personal characteristics such as sexual orientation cannot be fodder for attacks on judges’ integrity. This ruling will protect all judges from similarly desperate and unwarranted attacks from parties who lose their initial case and unfairly seek a second bite at the apple.”

For more information about the status of the appeal of Judge Walker’s decision, read NCLR’s FAQ.

Read the decision.

Media Contact:

NCLR Communications Director Erik Olvera | Office: 415.392.6257 x324 | EOlvera@NCLRights.org


NCLR Responds to Hearing on Motion to Vacate Ruling in Proposition 8 Case

June 13, 2011

(San Francisco, CA, June 13, 2011)— Today, Chief Judge James Ware of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California heard arguments on a motion to invalidate former U.S. District Court Chief Judge Vaughn Walker’s landmark ruling striking down Proposition 8.

After a three-week trial last year, Judge Walker ruled in a 135-page decision that Prop 8, the 2008 amendment to the California Constitution that stripped the right to marry from same-sex couples, violates the United States Constitution. In April 2011, supporters of Prop 8 filed a motion to invalidate Judge Walker’s decision, claiming that Judge Walker, who has since retired, should have declined to hear the case because he is gay and in a long-term relationship with another man. Last month, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Lambda Legal, the ACLU of Northern California and Equality California filed a friend-of-the-court brief opposing the motion. The groups argued that the Prop 8 supporters’ motion closely parallels long-discredited attempts to disqualify judges based on irrelevant characteristics such as race, sex, or religion. The brief attacked the Prop 8 supporters’ claim that no gay, lesbian, or bisexual judge could ever impartially preside over a case involving the rights of same-sex couples—an offensive suggestion that courts have consistently rejected in similar cases involving race and sex discrimination.

Judge Ware announced at the end of the hearing that he intends to issue a written ruling in the next 24 hours. If Judge Ware finds that Judge Walker was able to rule impartially on the constitutional challenge to Prop 8, Judge Walker’s decision in Perry vs. Brown will remain valid, although the appeal of that ruling will continue.

Statement by NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell:

“Today’s hearing made it crystal clear that the Prop 8 proponents’ central claim—that Judge Walker should have recused himself from the case because he is in a same-sex relationship—is absolutely baseless. During the hearing, Judge Ware pointedly asked the attorney for the proponents whether an African-American judge would have to recuse himself from a race discrimination case because some people might view him as biased. As Judge Ware’s question artfully showed, our legal system does not assume that judges who are in the majority with respect to their race, religion, sexual orientation or any other personal characteristic are the only ones who can be unbiased. Judges take an oath to be impartial and do their job faithfully. It is outrageous and offensive to suggest that a gay judge is incapable of fulfilling that vow, or that Judge Walker did not do so in this case. We are hopeful that the ruling will dismiss this bigoted attempt to discredit Judge Walker’s eminently sound ruling that concluded correctly, after weeks of trial and months of careful consideration, that Prop 8 is unconstitutional.”

Today’s hearing also included argument on a motion by Prop 8’s supporters to force the plaintiffs’ lawyers to return their copies of the video recordings of the trial. Judge Ware announced that he intends to issue a written ruling denying that motion and permitting the lawyers to keep the tapes.

Media Contact:

NCLR Communications Director Erik Olvera | Office: 415.392.6257 x324 | EOlvera@NCLRights.org


Tennesseans Challenge Discriminatory State Law

June 13, 2011

Councilmembers, Residents, Organizations File Suit Calling HB600 Unconstitutional

(Nashville, TN, June 13, 2011)—A group of local elected officials, individuals, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights organizations filed a lawsuit today in Davidson County Chancery Court, challenging the state’s recent passage of House Bill 600, which prohibits local municipalities and counties, including local school districts, from enacting local laws or school policies that protect gay and transgender people against discrimination. The bill was passed earlier this year, just weeks after Nashville added sexual orientation and gender identity to an existing local anti-discrimination law.  The new law also prohibits localities from protecting any other group that is not already protected under state law, which would include veterans and people with disabilities, among others.

According to the complaint filed today: “HB600 embodies an animus toward gay and transgender people so strong that the Tennessee legislature was willing to repeal policies protecting students against bullying and harassment and to make other groups suffer as well, merely to prevent gay and transgender citizens from obtaining needed protections.”

“This law is contrary to core Tennessee values,” said Abby R. Rubenfeld, the suit’s lead attorney. “Tennessee is the volunteer state—we help each other, we don’t single out certain Tennesseans who are deemed unworthy of help. Our legislators abused their power by preventing localities from assisting their own citizens. Rather than considering what is best for our state, they passed a law based on disapproval of gay and transgender people, which the Tennessee and U.S. Constitutions do not permit.”

“Fifteen years ago, in fact—in a case quite similar to this one—the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that, ‘if the constitutional conception of ‘equal protection of the laws’ means anything, it must at the very least mean that a bare … desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot constitute a legitimate governmental interest’,” said Rubenfeld, citing Romer v. Evans, which struck down a Colorado constitutional amendment that barred localities or the state from passing laws to prohibit discrimination against gay people.

The suit’s plaintiffs, represented by Nashville attorney Rubenfeld, the law firm of Morrison & Foerster, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, include:

•    Lisa Howe, the extremely successful Belmont University soccer coach who made a “mutual decision” to leave her coaching position unexpectedly and despite a highly successful career, immediately after sharing with her team that she and her same-sex partner were having a baby.

•    Metro Councilmembers Erik Cole, Erica Gilmore, and Mike Jameson, representing District 7, District 19, and District 6, respectively. Councilmembers Gilmore and Jameson were co-sponsors of BL2011-838, the Metro ordinance which extended existing anti-discrimination protections to gay and transgender employees of Metro government contractors.

•    Shirit Pankowsky, a rising senior at Martin Luther King, Jr. High School (MLK) and founder and president of MLK’s Gay/Straight Alliance. By stripping Metro’s ability to protect its citizens from discrimination, HB600 also strips protections from Metro Nashville Public Schools’ LGBT students who face discrimination.

•    Dr. Marisa Richmond, president of the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition and longtime advocate for gay and transgender equality at the federal, state and local level.

•    Wesley Roberts, a teacher at Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet School and a co-sponsor of the school’s Gay/Straight Alliance.

•    The Tennessee Equality Project, a statewide non-profit organization dedicated to promoting and sustaining the equality of gay and transgender Tennesseans.

•    The Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition, a statewide organization which advocates for transgender-related legislation at the federal, state and local levels.

“I want my daughter to grow up in a state that treats everyone equally,” said Lisa Howe. “This lawsuit is necessary because the legislation is discriminatory and unconstitutional. Unfortunately, the majority of the legislature didn’t read the bill carefully and think through its consequences. But that’s why we have the Constitution and the courts to interpret it—so that the rights of everyone can be protected.”

“The state legislation was disguised as an effort to ensure consistent business regulations across Tennessee counties. But that was a Trojan horse pretext for getting this passed. Every county has unique zoning regulations, unique employment regulations, and so forth. Why is it only now, and only on the issue of discrimination, that we suddenly need uniformity? If every county now needs to be identical, should we abolish city councils across the state?” said Metro Councilmember and suit plaintiff Mike Jameson.

No individual businesses went on record in support of HB600, and some of Tennessee’s largest employers, including Nissan, Alcoa, FedEx, AT&T, Whirlpool and Comcast, opposed the bill. In addition, the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce issued a public statement in opposition to the bill on the day it was signed into law by Gov. Bill Haslam.

“Under the very thin guise of protecting businesses and commerce, Tennessee passed a law specifically intended to encourage discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members of the community,” said Shannon Minter, Legal Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “This law is part of a larger, national strategy to attack cities and counties that attempt to protect their citizens from discrimination based on characteristics that bear no relationship to job performance, talent, or one’s ability to contribute to society.”

Plaintiffs’ claims are based on the equal protection guarantees of the United States and Tennessee Constitutions. The lawsuit, which will proceed in state court, seeks injunctive relief to stop the enforcement of HB600 and an order from the Court declaring the law unconstitutional.

Media Contact:

NCLR Communications Director Erik Olvera | Office: 415.392.6257 x324 | EOlvera@NCLRights.org

or

Abby R. Rubenfeld of Rubenfeld Law Office | Office: 615.386.9077 | ARubenfeld@RubenfeldLaw.com


Ohio Supreme Court Holds Conviction of 12-Year-Old Boy for Statutory Rape Unconstitutional: NCLR Applauds Unanimous Ruling

June 9, 2011

(San Francisco, CA – June 9, 2011)—Yesterday, in a unanimous ruling, the Ohio Supreme Court overturned the criminal conviction of a 12-year old boy under the state’s statutory rape law for engaging in intimate conduct with an 11-year-old male friend.

The Ohio law categorically prohibits any sexual conduct with a person under the age of 13, without exception for conduct between two minors.  The prosecutor and trial court applied that law to charge one of the two boys with statutory rape—a first degree felony.  He was sentenced to indefinite probation, prohibited from any contact with his friend, and ordered to attend counseling and group therapy for sex offenders. If he violated any of these conditions, he could be incarcerated until age 21.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), the National Juvenile Defender Center, and the Juvenile Law Center filed an amicus brief in August of 2010 arguing that it was unconstitutional to apply the Ohio law to a child under 13—a member of the very class  the law was designed to protect.  The brief argued that giving prosecutors discretion to bring such charges against either participant was unfair and could be used to target youth who are perceived as gay. The brief also argued that the consequences of a conviction as a sex offender for a child are severely disproportionate, including the fact that the conviction can never be expunged from the child’s juvenile record and that the child would have to register as a sex offender if he moved to some other states. The Ohio Supreme Court agreed that the law was unconstitutional as applied to any child under 13, and reversed his conviction.

Statement from NCLR Youth Project Director Jody Marksamer:

“The law should protect young people, not punish them arbitrarily.  While only a few states still explicitly discriminate against young people depending on whether they engage in same-sex or different-sex activity, many young people who are gay or seen as gay are regularly targeted for prosecution and harsh sentences. By failing to distinguish between underage offenders and victims, Ohio’s law was wide open to abuse and selective enforcement against minors who are perceived as gay. This ruling makes it clear that laws that give prosecutors unbridled discretion to charge young people as sex offenders violate the most basic requirements of due process and equal protection under the Constitution.”

Read the ruling

Read the amicus brief


Seth’s Law Passes State Assembly: AB 9 is an important step toward creating a safer school environment for California students

June 2, 2011

(Sacramento, CA, June 2, 2011)–Yesterday the California State Assembly passed Seth’s Law (AB 9), in a 52-26 vote.   Seth’s Law is designed to address the pervasive problem of school bullying by providing California schools with tools to create a safe school environment for all students. The bill is authored by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano and co-sponsored by a coalition of organizations advancing LGBT equality, including Equality California, the ACLU of California, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Gay-Straight Alliance Network, and the Trevor Project.  The bill is named in memory of Seth Walsh, a 13 year-old gay student from Tehachapi, California, who took his life in September 2010, after facing years of relentless anti-gay harassment at school.

AB 9 would ensure that every school in California implements updated anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies that include actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, disability, and religion or association with one or more of these groups. It would also inform students and parents of their rights and how to address incidents of bullying.

During last week’s Assembly Appropriations Committee hearing, key provisions were removed due to cost considerations, including a provision that would hold students who bully accountable by working with them to understand and take responsibility for harm caused, instead of relying only on suspension and expulsion as a first response. However, when factoring in the hard-dollar costs that result from bullying such as truancy, higher drop-out rates, hate crimes, suicides, involvement with the criminal justice system, and the emotional harm to students and their families, the cost to the state to prevent bullying may be much less.

LGBT equality organizations are working with the Senate and Assembly to add back the critical mechanisms schools need to reduce bullying.

“We cannot put a price on the lives of youth like Seth Walsh. Thousands of other students suffer because they are tormented everyday at school,” said Jim Carroll, Interim Executive Director of Equality California. “Despite support from Assembly leadership, Seth’s Law was stripped of some of its most powerful tools because long-term cost savings resulting from a reduction in bullying were not taken into consideration. Focusing solely on the short-term costs associated with enacting this critically important legislation is not the optimal way to address our state’s budget crisis.  We look forward to working with the Senate and Assembly leadership to reinstate in Seth’s Law the critical mechanisms our schools need to substantially reduce bullying.”

Schools often do not have the tools or knowledge to adequately protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students and others from bullying, which remains a serious issue across California and the rest of the nation. Students, parents, and school employees often don’t know what the rules are or what to do if bullying occurs.

“While any step to end bullying and harassment is a positive one, this bill could do more to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth,” said Carolyn Laub, Executive Director of Gay-Straight Alliance Network.  “We hope that by passing Seth’s Law, even in this altered form, the legislature is signaling its commitment to creating safe schools and that we can work with the Senate to strengthen the law.”

GSA Network reviewed the websites of every school district in California and found that only 34% post their Student Non-Discrimination Policy. Of those, only 84% include sexual orientation and only 4% include gender identity and gender expression. Furthermore, only 24% of school district websites in California provide information for students and parents on where and how to file a complaint.

“Public schools have tremendous power and responsibility to protect students from bullying and harassment,” said Elizabeth Gill, Staff Attorney with the ACLU of California. “Schools need to hold students who bully accountable, but relying on suspension and expulsion alone is a missed opportunity to teach appropriate behavior and respect for differences. The Assembly left out an important component to making our schools safe for all students when they omitted that provision.”

In a recent national survey, 9 out of 10 LGBT students reported being harassed at school. The problem persists in California as well, with LGBT students reporting significant harassment. The California Safe Schools Coalition reported in 2010 that 42% of California students who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual and 62% who identify as transgender reported being harassed at least once based on gender non-conformity.

“The relentless bullying and harassment faced by so many children and youth in schools will continue unless schools take action to address the root causes of bullying,” said National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director Kate Kendell. “The legislature has an obligation and responsibility to make sure that school officials are doing everything possible to create a school culture of mutual respect and inclusion.”

What’s more, young people often face bullying and harassment based on what their peers perceive to be their sexual orientation or gender identity, regardless of whether they identify as being LGBT. According to the most recent California Healthy Kids Survey 12% of 7th graders and 10% of 9th graders reported being harassed based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation.

“The Trevor Project is committed to ensuring that the important provisions that promote psychological well-being and mental health are discussed in the Senate,” said David McFarland, Interim Executive Director of The Trevor Project. “Recognizing the complex nature of bullying behavior, and that bullies are often also victims, it is paramount that California’s schools have the tools they need to effectively address bullying in a way that promotes safety for all youth.”

The consequences of bullying and harassment can include falling grades, depression, and risk of suicide. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are four times more likely than their heterosexual peers to attempt suicide.  Under the current version of Seth’s Law, every school district in the state would:

  • Create strong and clear anti-harassment policies and programs, if they don’t have them already, and publish them on school websites and in student-parent handbooks.
  • Have a system in place to ensure that all reports of harassment are taken seriously, addressed quickly, and that parents and students understand the process of making these complaints.
  • Explain the harmful impact of bullying and discrimination to students and staff and work to build a school-wide culture of inclusion and respect for difference.
  • Establish a list of statewide and community-based resources that would be available to students who have experienced bullying and their families.

The key provisions that were taken out during the Assembly Appropriations Committee hearing include:

  • Provide alternatives to relying exclusively on suspension that are designed to teach students about appropriate school behavior. This approach would ensure that students who bully are held accountable and that they understand the harms bullying causes.
  •  Provide ongoing professional development for teachers, school counselors and administrators about identifying and stopping harassment and discrimination and creating a school-wide culture of inclusion and respect for differences.

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