Department of Housing and Urban Development Unveils LGBT Equal Access Policy

January 31, 2012

By Maya Rupert, Esq.
NCLR Federal Policy Director

In a powerful speech on Saturday, January 28th, Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan made history when he unveiled HUD’s LGBT Equal Access policy—a new rule that will protect more than 5.5 million people across the country from discrimination in public housing and Federal Housing Administration (FHA)-insured mortgages.

The new rule, announced at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s annual Creating Change conference, will improve the lives of LGBT people and families across the country—and marks the first time that any administration has extended such broad protections against housing and mortgage discrimination to the LGBT community.

This rule, which will be published this week and go into effect 30 days later, came after a proposed version of this rule was released in January 2011. In response to the proposed rule, NCLR drafted comments on behalf of over 30 other LGBT, civil rights, and fair housing organizations—many of which were incorporated into the final version of the rule.
Perhaps most significantly, this new rule, which has the effect of law, will prohibit all owners and operators of HUD-assisted or HUD-insured housing from discriminating against an applicant or occupant of a residence based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status.

This is huge.

HUD-assisted and HUD-insured housing account for a large segment of all of housing opportunities. Thanks to this rule, it is now illegal in that housing market to discriminate against our families because of who we are. The rule also prohibits all lenders offering FHA-insured mortgages from considering sexual orientation or gender identity in determining a borrower’s eligibility. FHA-insured mortgages represent a very large share—between 40% and 50% of the mortgage market.

The rule also clarifies the definition of “family” to ensure that otherwise eligible participants in any HUD programs will not be excluded based on marital status, sexual orientation, or gender identity. These programs, including crucial public housing programs like Section 8, will now be accessible to all LGBT individuals and families.

NCLR is proud to have worked closely with HUD on a series of policy changes that target and address housing discrimination against LGBT people.

In 2010, HUD announced that it would require all grant-seekers applying for funds from HUD to comply with any state and local laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. It also announced the launch of a ground-breaking national study of housing discrimination against members of the LGBT community in the sale and rental of housing.

In another historic move later that year, HUD announced that it interprets the Fair Housing Act’s prohibition against discrimination based on sex to protect transgender and gender nonconforming people. In September 2010, NCLR co-hosted a webinar with HUD that educated HUD staff and housing providers on their new obligations under this guidance.

In December, NCLR partnered with HUD and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging to hold the first-ever national summit examining housing issues for LGBT elders. The day-long event provided a forum for attendees to discuss ideas and policy proposals to support housing and long-term care designed for LGBT elders.

HUD’s new LGBT Equal Access policy will have an impact that goes beyond increased access to housing and housing services. The homelessness and housing insecurity that results from widespread housing discrimination places our community at increased risk for violence, and while the passage of hate crimes legislation was historic, we urgently need policies aimed at reducing vulnerability to violence.

This new rule will increase access to essential housing services and programs, making it easier for LGBT families to secure home loans, and keep more LGBT people in safe and affordable housing.

It will literally save lives.

We encourage you to contact HUD and thank them for their historic leadership on these important issues and the momentous impact it will have on our families and community. Feel free to email them at LGBTfairhousing@hud.gov. In addition, if you are willing to share your story, please do so by visiting the Obama Pride Facebook page for a chance to have your story featured on President Obama’s blog!

Media Contact:  

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


In Annapolis Today, Where Governor O’Malley’s Marriage Bill Is Being Heard

January 31, 2012

By Liz Seaton
NCLR State Policy Director

I head over to Annapolis, MD today to testify in favor of marriage equality in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

A little history and perspective on Maryland, where I live, and our struggle here for the freedom marry. I first testified in favor of a marriage equality bill in the Maryland State House in 1999, when progressive state legislators introduced a proactive marriage bill to counter a proposed state DOMA bill. With losses on DOMAs in so many states, legislative allies wanted to give same-sex couples the opportunity to testify in favor of a positive measure, to give same-sex couples and their children a chance to talk about why the freedom to marry was important to them. Many did, and that was important, but there was not a significant groundswell of families stepping forward at that time because 12 years ago the marriage bill stood zero chance of passage. At the time, I headed up what is now Equality Maryland.

Priority one for us on the marriage front was to beat back DOMA, to hold Maryland open for a day when we could fight hard for marriage equality AND seriously hope to win it. I testified that one reason that no matter what one’s views were on marriage for same-sex couples, a DOMA bill to block recognition of out-of-state marriages simply was not needed because, unfortunately for our families, at that moment in time there was nowhere in our country – indeed the world – where same-sex couples were permitted to marry. What a different world we live in today! That testimony was an agonizing moment that I recall perfectly, but Maryland never did adopt a DOMA law, one of a handful around the country that refused to do so.

Since then, in this state we have achieved three victories specifically to protect same-sex couples—a limited domestic partner law, domestic partner benefits for state employees’ families, and a favorable marriage recognition opinion issued by Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler in 2010. Families have begun to receive the protections that they need and many people are working hard to see that opinion fully implemented in all aspects of the law.

If you follow marriage equality news, you know that 2011 was the first serious push for marriage equality in the legislature here. The bill passed the state senate but reportedly was a few votes short in the House of Delegates and was pulled—pointing to the need for a fresh, potent strategy and a more powerful champion. More people got in the game, using lessons from successful marriage equality efforts in Washington, D.C. and New York. A broad coalition was formed, Marylanders for Marriage Equality, of which NCLR is a member organization.

And a new champion was found, whose passion for this issue is clear.

Governor Martin O’Malley has stepped up to lead the fight for marriage equality.

The Civil Marriage Protection Act, Senate Bill 241, is an Administration Bill, meaning the Governor is the lead sponsor. With him co-sponsoring the measure are 20 State Senators, including Senator Jamie Raskin, who is not only my state senator but also was one of my law professors and Senator Rich Madaleno, a long-time dear friend who is also openly gay. Many of the Senate co-sponsors have a history in Maryland of championing various measures to protect LGBT people from discrimination and to beat back hateful and discriminatory measures.

The language of the bill is very simple. It takes what was Family Law 2-201 that read: Only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid in this state.” And changes it to read “Only a marriage between two individuals who are not otherwise prohibited from marrying is valid in this state.” The bill then lists the close relatives that an individual cannot marry. The bill also includes a religious exemption. Importantly, that exemption specifically does not apply where state or federal funds are received for a program or service being supplied by a religiously-affiliated organization.

Leading off the testimony tomorrow will be Governor O’Malley. I’m told that next up will be A.G. Doug Gansler and Joseph Bryce, Chief Legislative Officer to the governor. The testimony will be long and strong in favor of marriage equality, and by agreement of the lawyers’ cadre, I’ll be batting later on in the line-up as a strategic matter.

My testimony will include several lawyerly points about equality under the law, the protections available through marriage, the fact that many states and countries permit same-sex couples to marry. It will also include this:

Marriage Is About Family, My Dad Knew That

I am a Maryland resident who has lived in this state for 22 years, and I share a home in with my spouse, Pat, and our 11 year old daughter Ryan. Pat and I married in Ontario, Canada in 2003 when we planned to be there on vacation with my parents. I am extremely glad we did, because we lost my Dad three years ago. If we had waited to marry in Maryland, he would have missed it. He wanted to see his beloved granddaughter Ryan become the child of married parents, like he and my Mom. He was extremely proud of our family, and he loved Pat and Ryan very much. Initially, my Dad was trying to figure out if we had kids if that made him a grandfather (or not), because we were not able to marry. He was a lifelong Republican and to him, marriage meant family. The denial of freedom to marry meant something too, a brand of inferiority on some families. He understood that perfectly, and what it meant when Pat and I could final marry two decades after we began living together. Hanging up in our home is the collage my Dad made and framed from pictures he took of us on our wedding day. And somewhere in our pile of family pictures are the ones Pat took of him to send to me when she took her turn and flew to Wisconsin to sleep on a cot in his hospital room for a week in the year he lay dying. Love, commitment, mutual responsibility between generations, a lifetime of caring. Family. For so many, that is what SB 241 is all about.

I will talk about the fact that I know several lesbian and gay couples who have refused to marry elsewhere, because they are determined to marry in their home state of Maryland. I have not quite finished writing my testimony – and I also will need to prepare to counter the ridiculous things our opponents are likely to say – but I will likely close with something like this:

Make a difference in the lives of Maryland families, same-sex couples and their children, and put Maryland on right side of history. Vote in favor of Senate Bill 241 and urge your colleagues in the House of Delegates to do the same.

Media Contact:  

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


Plaintiffs in Howe v. Haslam Respond to Ruling

January 30, 2012

(Nashville, TN, January 30, 2012)—On January 25, 2012, Chancellor Carol L. McCoy of the Davidson County Chancery Court in Nashville issued a preliminary order in Howe v. Haslam. Howe is the highly publicized case challenging the Tennessee Legislature’s enactment of HB 600, which overturned a Metro non-discrimination ordinance by prohibiting municipalities and counties, including local school districts, from enacting local laws or school policies that protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people against discrimination. The order gives the plaintiffs in the case 30 days to provide additional proof that they have been harmed by the law to avoid having the case dismissed.

The plaintiffs, who include Nashville local elected officials, students, teachers, and LGBT rights organizations, filed the lawsuit in June of 2011 because the law violates the equal protection guarantees of the United States and Tennessee Constitutions. The lawsuit alleges that the statute harms the plaintiffs by stripping them of existing rights and protections, putting them at risk of discrimination, and preventing them from obtaining protection from discrimination from municipal and county governments.

After filing the lawsuit, the plaintiffs asked the Court to require disclosure of  communications between the Family Action Council, an anti-gay group involved in creating the bill, and the bill’s legislative sponsors.

“We are disappointed that the Court did not simply order the legislators and the Family Action Council of Tennessee to produce the evidence being withheld from us, but we welcome this opportunity to provide even more proof of the significant harms caused by this mean-spirited and destructive law,” said Abby Rubenfeld, lead attorney for the plaintiffs. “This statute prohibits local elected officials from representing all of their constituents, makes gay and transgender students targets for constant harassment, ties the hands of teachers who want to protect all students from bullying, and attempts to overturn federal law that protects transgender Tennesseans from sex discrimination. These are real and serious harms, and these plaintiffs along with other Tennesseans deserve protection from the courts.”

“HB 600 is especially harmful to gay and transgender youth, who are already vulnerable to bullying and harassment,” said plaintiff Lisa Howe, the former soccer coach at Belmont University. “When we allow legislators to pass laws based on prejudice toward gay and transgender people, we create an environment of intolerance and hostility that fuels violence and discrimination. That is not what this state is or should be about.”

“As a transgender woman, before HB600 passed, I had the same legal protections as other women in this state, but HB600 took those away,” said Dr. Marisa Richmond, President of the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition. “By passing this mean-spirited law, the legislature has declared open season on transgender people and declared us to be non-people who are not entitled to equal protection of the laws. This is exactly why we need the courts—to ensure that laws apply equally to everyone, and not just to the majority.”

Rubenfeld said that the plaintiffs will file a response to the Court’s order emphasizing the previously stated harm to these plaintiffs and other Tennesseans and outlining why the case should not be dismissed.

“Fifteen years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a case challenging a similar law 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, referring to Romer v. Evans, which struck down a Colorado constitutional amendment that also barred localities from prohibiting discrimination against gay people. “It is readily apparent to those of us who witnessed the adoption of this challenged law that its actual purpose and intent was to harm LGBT Tennesseans, and it continues to harm them every day it remains on the books.”

“Everyone loses when governments are permitted to target certain groups for unequal treatment,” said Rubenfeld, “and we will fight with everything we have to overturn this shameful and discriminatory law.”

The plaintiffs are represented by Nashville attorney Rubenfeld, the law firm of Morrison & Foerster, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Media Contact:  

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


NCLR Applauds New HUD Rule Ensuring Equal Access to Housing for LGBT Community

January 28, 2012

(Baltimore, MD, January 28, 2012)—Today, the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced an important new rule that greatly increases protections against housing discrimination for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. HUD announced the new rule at the 24th National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change, a conference hosted by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

The new rule, which will be published next week and go into effect 30 days after that, makes several critical changes to current housing and housing-related programs including: prohibiting owners and operators of HUD-assisted or HUD-insured housing from discriminating against an applicant or occupant of a residence based on sexual orientation or gender identity; prohibiting all lenders offering Federal Housing Administration-insured mortgages from considering sexual orientation or gender identity in determining a borrower’s eligibility; and clarifying the definition of “family” to ensure that otherwise eligible participants in any HUD programs will not be excluded based on marital status, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) has been a lead partner with HUD as it works to ensure access to fair and affordable housing for the LGBT community. NCLR drafted comments on behalf of  more than 30 LGBT, civil rights, and fair housing organizations that offered feedback on this new policy when it was initially proposed. In December 2011, NCLR co-hosted the first-ever federal summit along with HUD and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on LGBT elder housing.

Statement by NCLR Federal Policy Director Maya Rupert, Esq.:

“This rule is truly historic for the LGBT community and the impact it will have on all of our lives cannot be overstated. Thanks to the remarkable efforts of the Obama administration, and especially HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan and Assistant Secretary John Trasviña and their staffs, LGBT people and their families will now enjoy critical protections from housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This will improve the lives of countless families and individuals across the country who no longer have to fear being denied housing  because of who they are. We applaud HUD for its leadership and commitment to fairness and justice.”

Media Contact:  

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


President Obama Presents Economic Blueprint

January 24, 2012

By Maya Rupert, Esq.
NCLR Federal Policy Director

(January 24, 2012)—Tonight, President Obama gave his third State of the Union address, which focused on building a lasting economic recovery.

For the first time in our nation’s history, two out lesbians—Air Force Colonel Ginger Wallace and Lorelei Kilker—were among the select group invited to attend the speech as guests of First Lady Michelle Obama.

Wallace is an Air Force intelligence officer who served in the Iraq war. When she was recently promoted to her current rank, her partner participated in her official pinning ceremony, becoming the first same-sex partner to be included in such a ceremony.  This was possible only because the long-awaited repeal of the discriminatory “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy finally allowed Wallace and other lesbian, gay, and bisexual servicemembers to serve proudly and openly.

Kilker is an environmental chemist who was part of the government’s class action suit to secure equal wages, training, and promotion opportunities for women. Kilker filed a lawsuit on behalf of herself and other women at Western Sugar Cooperative. With strong support from the Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission, the company agreed to a significant settlement on behalf of Kilker and her fellow class members.

The symbolism of having two openly lesbian women included so visibly in the President’s speech tonight speaks volumes about the unprecedented inclusiveness of this administration. Tonight’s speech also reminded us of another simple truth we must remember heading into election season. The economy is an LGBT issue. The fundamental right to work, and to make a life for ourselves and our families, must be protected, and we need leaders like President Obama who understand this.

Media Contact:  

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


In Maryland, Lies Will Not Stop Passage of Laws To Protect Transgender People

January 23, 2012

By Liz Seaton
NCLR State Policy Director

All of us who have worked long and hard for equality under the law for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people know how strangely eager some people are to twist and distort the truth about us and our lives. Their ultimate goal? To dissuade public officials from passing laws to end discrimination.  I won’t even dignify the ugliest things they like say by repeating them, but you know what I am talking about. Our opponents also make sweeping claims about what terrible things will happen if laws are changed to protect us from the bias and discrimination of others.  Often their assertions are rhetorical, but sometimes they are so direct they can be squarely disproved.

And that is exactly what happened in Maryland last week, where a police chief caught anti-lgbt activists lying, and news of same went public in The Baltimore Sun.

It all started because Baltimore County Bill No. 3-12 was introduced in early 2012 by Councilmembers Quirk, Almond, Bevins and Oliver.  This bill is a basic civil rights ordinance that, if passed, will bar discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression and sexual orientation in housing, employment, education, and places of public accommodation or financing.  It will add these categories, clearly defined, to a list of protected classes that already exist in the county code. Bill No. 3-12 is similar to ordinances already in place in Montgomery County, Baltimore City, and Howard County.  It is a precursor to a statewide bill anticipated this session that will propose to ban discrimination against transgender people; that bill would mirror legal protections already in place on the basis of other protected characteristics, including sexual orientation.

In their zeal to oppose this proposed ordinance, a few women went too far, well beyond the truth.  Religious political extremist Ruth Jacobs stated: “It opens up the bathroom to men … who may be a pedophile who may use the law to nefarious advantage.”  Anita Schatz followed Jacobs’ lead and posted this on Facebook to encourage people opposed to the proposed Baltimore County ordinance to come testify against it:  “Since Montgomery County passed a similar bill, there have been 4 rapes by men, dressing as women lying in wait for their victims in ladies rooms.” (By the way, Schatz lists her employer as Congressman Andy Harris, a Republican representing Maryland’s District 1). Another opponent forwarded the Facebook post to Gender Right Maryland in a jab that backfired—Gender Rights Maryland forwarded Schatz’ specific allegation to officials in Montgomery County.

On January 17, two things happened.

An initial hearing was held on the ordinance, with several people testifying about the very real problems of discrimination that transgender people face.  Others, including Ms. Schatz, appeared to testify against the measure, attempting to create restroom hysteria.

Thankfully, the very same day, Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger wrote directly to lead ordinance sponsor Councilmember Tom Quirk.  His letter read:

Dear Councilmember Quirk:

I am writing to clarify information that has been brought to my attention alleged sexual assaults in Montgomery County.  It was brought to my attention that there is an allegation stating that since the Transgender Law was passed in our county we have experienced four (4) rapes by men dressing as women and lying in wait for their victims in ladies restrooms.

The Transgender Bill was passed by the Montgomery County Council on Tuesday, November 13, 2007, and it became law shortly thereafter.  Since this law has been in effect, we have had no reported rapes committed in restrooms by men dressed in women’s clothing.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any additional questions.

Sincerely,

J. Thomas Manger

[Montgomery County] Chief of Police

The next day, the Baltimore Sun picked up the story about Schatz’ lie.

As we lawyers like to say, “Asked and answered.”

But it didn’t stop there.  Here, for those interested in how the story spun out, is a video of Keith Olberman naming Ruth Jacobs one of the “Worst Persons” and calling her an “idiot” for her arguments attacking trans people with regard to bathrooms in Baltimore County, Maryland.

What’s next?  Ideally we keep on track to pass the laws LGBT people need.  A full hearing on the Baltimore County ordinance will be held on February 14, 2012, where we are optimistic that accurate information will be presented and hold sway and that credible evidence will be demanded to substantiate allegations made by those who sound Schatz-ish.

In partnership with Gender Rights Maryland, PFLAG and many other national, state and local groups, I will be there for the National Center for Lesbian Rights to testify that the American Bar Association, the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association all support the passage of laws to protect transgender people as well as lesbian, gay and bisexual people from discrimination.   I will be substantiating my oral testimony with copies of the statements from all of these associations stapled to my written copy to distribute to all councilmembers.

Later this legislative session in Annapolis, senators and delegates will have a chance to vote on a statewide bill to ban discrimination based on gender identity, a measure that is still-needed and more than a decade overdue.

Media Contact:  

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


California Law Protects Our Families

January 20, 2012

By Cathy Sakimura, Esq.
NCLR Family Protection Project Director

There are thousands of children being raised by non-biological parents, and they deserve to be treated fairly. Yesterday, a California appeals court ruled that these families are protected under California law.

A case called E.C. v. J.V. recognized the rights of a non-biological mother who had raised a child with her same-sex partner for five years. The court rightly said that what matters is the relationship that the child and the parent have with each other, even if they aren’t biologically related. The court also said that parental rights should not be based on the parent’s sexual orientation, marital status, or gender.

The ruling in this case strengthens and reinforces California’s protections for children with non-biological parents—it gives courts more direction about how to apply this law to same-sex parents, and helps courts, attorneys, and families learn about the these protections.

Here at NCLR, we know that it doesn’t matter to a child whether her parent is biologically related to her – what matters is the love and care that child receives from her parent. California law recognizes that families can be formed in many different ways, and the law must protect the reality of their lives.

Media Contact:

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


The National Center for Lesbian Rights Celebrates 35th Anniversary

January 20, 2012

(San Francisco, CA, January 20, 2012)—The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) is proud to announce that it will honor seven heroes in the movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality at its 2012 Anniversary Celebration—which marks its 35th year—on May 5, 2012 at San Francisco’s City View at Metreon.

NCLR will honor out actress Jane Lynch, of “Glee” and “Julie & Julia,” for using her fame as a platform to further LGBT equality, and for being an outspoken advocate for creating safer, welcoming schools for LGBT children. Six students from Minnesota’s Anoka-Hennepin School District will also be honored for their courage in standing up against a district policy that prohibits staff from discussing LGBT issues, prevents staff from effectively addressing bullying, and has created a hostile environment for students who are or are perceived to be LGBT or gender non-conforming.

“This year is especially significant, as NCLR celebrates a major milestone—turning 35 years old, an opportunity for us to look back on our history-making cases, and champions who have stood up against injustice and changed the legal landscape for every member of our community,” said NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell. “We’re thrilled to celebrate how far we’ve come by honoring those who are standing up for what’s right, becoming role models for millions of people across the country.”

The Awards

  • Vanguard Award: Actress Jane LynchThe Vanguard Award honors an individual whose life and spirit exemplifies NCLR’s vision and values of equality and justice for all. This year’s award goes to famed actress Jane Lynch, of “Glee” and “Julie & Julia,” who has lived an authentic life as an out lesbian while simultaneously achieving great success and visibility in television and film. Her authenticity and integrity are blazing a path not just for the artists who follow in her footsteps, but for young people everywhere who look up to her. She lives her life with openness to the unexpected, and by doing so met her soul-mate and became a parent long past the time she thought she ever would.
  • Courage Award: Damian, Dylon, Ebonie, Kyle, Lane, Jane DoeThe Courage Award honors individuals who have shown the courage and perseverance to fight for justice and who have sacrificed to make broad social change for the LGBT community. This year’s award goes to six students from Minnesota’s Anoka-Hennepin School District who challenged a district policy that prohibits staff from discussing LGBT issues in the classroom and prevents them from effectively addressing pervasive bullying and harassment in the district. The students have taken a stand not just for themselves, but for every student across this country who has been bullied. Their courage and perseverance are a tribute to the students who have come before them, and show each of us a glimpse of the brighter and bolder future that awaits us.

Special Guest

NCLR’s special guest at the 2012 Anniversary Celebration will be out gay actor Wilson Cruz, known for roles in television’s “My So-Called Life” and the Broadway production of RENT. Cruz, an advocate for LGBT equality and LGBT youth, will present the Courage Award to the Anoka-Hennepin students.

“I am NCLR … ” Campaign

See your photo displayed during the 35th Anniversary Celebration by taking part in our “I am NCLR … ” photo campaign, designed to reflect and showcase NCLR clients and supporters.

Through April 2012, NCLR would like your photos—your portraits, snapshots, and special moments—with a homemade poster or sign in which you fill in the sentence, “I am NCLR, and I am … ,” telling us how you reflect our groundbreaking work.

NCLR has already received a number of great photos. Send yours in soon!

Learn more about the campaign.

NCLR History & Anniversary Celebration

Founded in 1977, NCLR is a national legal organization devoted to advancing LGBT justice and equality through litigation, public policy, and public education. Since its start, NCLR—which helps more than 5,000 people each year—has embraced every aspect of the diverse LGBT community through its work, recognizing that LGBT people and our families and communities come from many different backgrounds and face a wide range of issues.

NCLR’s Anniversary Celebration—NCLR’s annual signature event—attracts a sell-out crowd of 1,500 people from across the country to celebrate victories in the movement for full LGBT equality, and to honor those who have become role models for millions of people through their unfailing commitment to justice.

Tickets are now available for the event, which begins at 8 p.m., with the well-known political humorist Kate Clinton returning for a command performance as emcee.

The Presenting Sponsor of the Anniversary Celebration is Wells Fargo. The Gold Sponsor is American Airlines.

Learn more about the 2012 Anniversary Celebration and buy tickets.

Media Contact:

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


Got Married in Canada? Don’t Panic, But Protect Your Relationship

January 13, 2012

By Chris Stoll, Esq.
National Center for Lesbian Rights Senior Attorney

(San Francisco, CA, January 13, 2012)—Yesterday, the thousands of American same-sex couples who have married in Canada since 2003 woke up to some shocking news:  The Canadian government had decided that all marriages of non-Canadian same-sex couples were invalid.

As details have emerged, it’s become clear that the reality is far less dramatic than early reports made it out to be.

First, let’s put to rest some misconceptions about what happened. Contrary to what some news reports have said, the Canadian government did not invalidate the marriages of the more than 5,000 non-resident couples who have married in that country.  It did not secretly divorce them or pass any law that affects them.  Couples who married in Canada are still married, and they have exactly the same rights and obligations today as the day they said “I do.”

Here is what actually happened. A non-Canadian couple recently filed for divorce in Toronto.  In that divorce case, a single lawyer for the Canadian government filed a legal brief on Wednesday arguing that the marriages of certain non-resident same-sex couples are not valid. Specifically, the lawyer argued that if the couple’s home country would not permit them to marry, they are not eligible to marry in Canada.

It is not clear whether Prime Minister Stephen Harper or Justice Minister Rob Nicholson approved, or even knew about, the filing of this brief. The government has quickly backtracked, with Justice Minister Nicholson promising to take steps to clarify the law to make sure that non-resident couples who married in Canada may also divorce there.

More importantly, the filing of a legal brief by a government lawyer does not by itself have any legal force. In Canada, just like the United States, the courts, not the government, decide what the law is. There is every reason to believe that Canada’s courts will reject the argument being made by the government lawyer and grant this couple their Toronto divorce. In fact, it appears that no one has ever before argued that non-resident marriages are invalid during the entire eight years that same-sex couples have had the freedom to marry in Canada.

So if you are a non-Canadian couple who got married in Canada, there’s no need to panic. You are still married. There’s absolutely no reason to think your marriage will end without your consent.  Not now, not ever.

At the same time, there are several steps that all U.S. same-sex couples can and should take to protect their relationships. These are steps that every couple should consider, no matter whether they are married or not, and no matter whether they married in the United States or another country.

The sad reality for U.S couples is that recognition of same-sex relationships varies widely from state to state.  Even if a couple has made the ultimate commitment and gotten married in Canada or a state that offers same-sex couples the freedom to marry, their home state may still treat them as legal strangers, refusing to recognize their marriage for any reason. If you are living in one of these states (or even just traveling there), your marriage certificate may be a legally meaningless piece of paper. This can lead to tragic consequences. Imagine being denied the right to see your spouse in the hospital because the state doesn’t recognize your marriage, or losing the home you shared together on the death of a partner who is not recognized as your legal spouse.

Because even a legal marriage is often no guarantee of protection, it is essential for every same-sex couple to have legal documents to make sure that their relationship is respected.  At a minimum, every couple needs wills, durable powers of attorney for healthcare (also called a “healthcare proxy”), and durable powers of attorney for financial decisions. For more information about these documents, see NCLR’s publication Lifelines: Documents to Protect You and Your Family.

Couples with children should have additional documents to make sure that their wishes concerning their children’s care and custody are respected in the event a parent dies or becomes disabled.  In addition, same-sex couples who are raising children together should obtain adoptions or legal parentage decrees to ensure that both spouses are legally recognized as parents.

Finally, it may be appropriate for some same-sex couples who have already married in Canada, the U.S., or any other country to marry or register as domestic partners in their state of residence.  Although many states that have comprehensive domestic partnership laws also have laws requiring out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples to be treated as domestic partnerships, in practice many people are unaware of these laws, and married same-sex couples often encounter resistance to legal recognition of their relationships.

If you run into any difficulties with recognition of your marriage or domestic partnership, or if you have more questions, please feel free to contact NCLR’s Help Line.

Media Contact:

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


LGBT Legal Groups: Canadian Marriages of Same-Sex Couples Are Not in Jeopardy

January 12, 2012

(San Francisco, CA, January 12, 2012)—The following is a joint statement from Lambda Legal, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, and Freedom to Marry:

We write to respond to a news report from Canada that a lawyer in the current government has taken a position in a trial-level divorce proceeding that a same-sex couple’s marriage is not valid because the members of the couple were not Canada residents at the time that they married, and the law of their home jurisdiction did not permit them to marry at the time.

No one’s marriage has been invalidated or is likely to be invalidated. The position taken by one government lawyer in a divorce is not itself precedential.  No court has accepted this view and there is no reason to believe that either Canada’s courts or its Parliament would agree with this position, which no one has asserted before during the eight years that same-sex couples have had the freedom to marry in Canada.

Canada permits non-residents to marry and thousands of non-resident same-sex couples have married there since Canada first began recognizing the freedom to marry for same-sex couples in 2003. Indeed, Canada’s Parliament codified the equal right to marry for same-sex couples in 2005.

The message for same-sex couples married in Canada remains the same as it is for same-sex couples validly married here in the United States: take every precaution you can to protect your relationship with legal documents such as powers of attorney and adoptions, as you may travel to jurisdictions that don’t respect your legal relationship. There is no reason to suggest that Canadian marriages of same-sex couples are in jeopardy, or to advocate that people try to marry again elsewhere, as that could cause these couples unnecessary complications, anxiety, and expense.

Media Contacts:

Erik Olvera
Communications Director
NCLR
Office: 415.392.6257 x324
Mobile: 415.994.3242
EOlvera@NCLRights.org

Jonathan  Adams
Public Information Officer
Lambda Legal
Office: 212.809.8585 X267
Mobile: 646.752.3251
JAdams@LambdaLegal.org

Carisa Cunningham
Director of Public Affairs and Education
GLAD
Office: 617.426.1350
Mobile: 617.447.6500
ccunningham.glad.org

Robyn Shepherd
Media Relations Associate
American Civil Liberties Union
Office: 212.519-7829
Media@ACLU.org

Angela Dallara
Communications Associate
Freedom to Marry
Office: 212.851.8418
Mobile: 646-430-3925
Angela@FreedomtoMarry.org


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