NCLR Applauds Maryland Marriage Equality Vote

February 23, 2012

(Annapolis, MD, February 23, 2012)—Today, the Maryland Senate voted 25 to 22 to recognize full marriage rights for same-sex couples. The Maryland House of Delegates approved the measure last Friday by a vote of 72 to 67. Gov. Martin O’Malley, the bill’s sponsor, has already committed to signing the bill into law.  Maryland will become the 11th jurisdiction in the country in which same-sex couples can marry when the law goes into effect on January 1, 2013. Opponents have pledged to try to take away the right to marry by putting the new law up for a popular vote before it takes effect. Maryland joins seven other states, Washington D.C., and two tribal nations that no longer discriminate against same-sex couples in marriage.

Statement by NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell, Esq.:

“Today, Marylanders won a key victory in the quest for equality under the law for same-sex couples and their children.  Enormous thanks are due to Governor O’Malley, our legislative champions in the House and Senate, and all those who came forward to explain why discrimination against families in Maryland’s marriage law is just plain wrong. This fight is not yet over in the Free State, but today, we celebrate this fantastic achievement.”

Media Contact:

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


A Key Step Forward in Maryland

February 21, 2012

By Liz Seaton
NCLR State Policy Director

NCLR State Policy Director Liz Seaton with Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley

Words cannot describe how I felt, sitting in the gallery at the Maryland State House as we won Governor Martin O’Malley’s Civil Marriage Equality Act by a vote of 72-67 on Friday.  Several of the lawyers were cloistered for a couple of days in preparation for what we thought would be dozens of hostile amendments, but in the end there were only about a half-dozen, and all were defeated, leading to the vote for final passage.

We watched from the State House gallery as the delegates prepared to vote. Those who sat with me included lobbyist friends who have worked to end discrimination in Maryland for 15 years or more, the lead plaintiff couple Gita and Lisa from the Maryland state constitutional case a few years ago, current and past executive directors of Equality Maryland,  couples still seeking the freedom to marry, ministers who want to marry same-sex couples in their own congregations with a state license to do so, and allies galore. Many delegates who spoke on the House eloquently voiced their support equality under the law for same-sex couples and our children. Others struggled to defend their votes against the measure – votes that I believe will be viewed as bigoted in the history books. Love, commitment and caring prevailed.

When the vote was won, we jumped to our feet and cheered, with hugs and kisses all around. Few had a dry eye.

Then we went downstairs to thank the delegates as they emerged from voting. The loudest cheers were for our seven openly gay and lesbian delegates – Environmental Matters Committee Chair Maggie McIntosh, Del. Luke Clippinger, Del. Bonnie Cullison, Del. Anne Kaiser,  Del. Heather Mizeur, Del. Peter Murphy and Del. Mary Washington.  Most were weeping with happiness.  Then Speaker Michael Busch emerged to acclaim and spoke from the heart.  Governor O’Malley swept down the marble stairs from his offices, and the crowd went wild.  There was quite a celebration at a local tavern near the State House that night!

This is one step – but a key one – on the path to win marriage all out in Maryland.  We need a Senate vote next – a strong one like last year – and that is scheduled for this week.  Then there will be the formal signing by the Governor.  Everyone expects our opponents to gather signatures in an attempt to put it on the ballot and take away the win before a single loving and committed couple can marry.  If that happens, we will need all the help we can get here.

But for now, we celebrate and prepare to take it on, step by step.

Media Contact:

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


NCLR Responds to New Jersey Marriage Equality Vote

February 16, 2012

(San Francisco, CA, February 16, 2012)—Today, the New Jersey State Assembly passed a bill establishing full marriage rights for same-sex couples. The New Jersey State Senate passed a companion bill on February 13, 2012. If Gov. Chris Christie signs the bill into law, New Jersey willbecome the 11th jurisdiction in the country in which same-sex couples can marry.

If the bill is signed, New Jersey will join seven other states, Washington D.C., and two tribal nations that no longer discriminate against same-sex couples in marriage.

Gov. Christie has publicly stated that he plans to veto the bill, and that the issue should be decided by state-wide referendum, but he has faced serious criticism for this position.

Statement by NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell, Esq.:

“It is a testament to the hard work of our New Jersey friends and the arc of justice that the New Jersey legislature has passed a marriage bill. Governor Chris Christie has said he will veto the bill, suggesting that the voters should decide the civil rights of their neighbors. This position is a thinly veiled dodge of his responsibilities as governor. We urge Gov. Christie to demonstrate the courage his office demands and sign the bill that the elected representatives of the people of New Jersey support. By doing so he will strengthen the families, culture, and future of his state.”

Media Contact:

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


Update on Marriage Equality Fight in Maryland

February 16, 2012
By Liz Seaton
NCLR State Policy Director

Today I am back in Annapolis for the House of Delegates floor debate over the marriage equality bill in Maryland.   A joint committee passed it two days ago, and now it’s on the floor.  I’m there to help our champion legislators evaluate and deal with proposed amendments to the bill.  The Senate passed a marriage equality bill last year, so the House is where we expect the biggest challenge.  The papers here have been reporting that the vote is close, which matches what I am being told by Annapolis insiders.

Last Friday, testimony on the bill in the joint session of the Judiciary and Government Oversight Committees lasted for 11 hours.  Some opponents of the bill suggested civil unions as an alternative to marriage. But none did so in a way that indicated that they cared about same-sex couples and their families in any real way, so that suggestion went nowhere.   Sodom and Gomorrah were not even mentioned until about the fifth hour.   I am pleased to report that we – the Marylanders for Marriage Equality Coalition and all those who came to testify at our request – outlasted the bigots by a solid hour.  By the end, the chair called a dozen opponents one by one to come forward, but only had two had the fortitude to stay until 11 p.m.    Those of us who stayed to be “the closers” and who testified in the last hour leading up to midnight included me, an attorney from the Family Equality Council, the executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, the executive director of Equality Maryland, a few ministers, a mom who testified about being a biracial mom with a lesbian daughter, and, perhaps most compellingly,  several lesbian and gay men talking about loving and wanting to marry their partners in Maryland.  Several staff from the Human Rights Campaign were there working away until the final minutes, too.

To cap off the day, Governor O’Malley appeared near midnight to thank those who had stayed to testify.  His Chief Legislative Officer, Joe Bryce, stayed through the entire hearing.   Later that night, as I sat at the bar of a local hotel in Annapolis withanother advocate,  a straight couple bought us a second round of drinks, telling us to keep up the good work until the bill is won.  That was super nice—and a sign of the growing public support for basic equality in Maryland.

That is my update today as we’re at the House floor.  Fingers crossed!

Media Contact:  

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


NCLR Responds to Washington Gov. Signing Marriage Rights Law

February 13, 2012

(San Francisco, CA, February 13, 2012)—Today, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a bill that makes the state the tenth jurisdiction in the country in which same-sex couples can marry.

Washington joins six other states, Washington D.C., and two tribal nations that no longer discriminate against same-sex couples in marriage. The law goes into effect June 7, 2012.

Statement by NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell, Esq.:

“We are a step closer to that inevitable day when all of us enjoy the same right to marry the person they love as our neighbors and friends. We congratulate Washington citizens and legislators on their humanity and their embrace of the values of full equality and justice for all.”

Media Contact:

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


Ninth Circuit Decision Keeps the Focus on California

February 7, 2012

By Shannon Minter, Esq., and
Christopher Stoll, Esq.
National Center for Lesbian Rights

(February 7, 2012)—In a long-awaited decision, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure that stripped the right to marry from same-sex couples in California, is unconstitutional. Judge Stephen R. Reinhardt authored the majority decision, which was joined by Judge Michael Daly Hawkins. The third judge, N. Randy Smith, dissented.

The majority affirmed the August 2010 ruling by retired United States District Judge Vaughn R. Walker—but on a different legal basis. After a 12-day trial, Judge Walker ruled that Prop 8 is unconstitutional because it deprives same-sex couples of the fundamental right to marry and discriminates against them based on their sexual orientation. In its ruling today, the Ninth Circuit held that it was not reaching or ruling on either of those issues—which would apply to every state that prevents same-sex couples from marrying.

Instead, the court focused on the unique history of Prop 8. California is the only state that first recognized that same-sex couples have an equal right to marry and then permitted a majority of voters to take that right away. The court closely based its ruling on those unprecedented facts, explaining: “Proposition 8 singles out same-sex couples for unequal treatment by taking away from them alone the right to marry, and this action amounts to a distinct constitutional violation because the Equal Protection Clause protects minority groups from being targeted for the deprivation of an existing right without a legitimate reason.”

The court reasoned that there is a constitutionally significant difference between refusing to extend a right to a group in the first place and withdrawing a right that has already been extended. “Withdrawing from a disfavored group the right to obtain a designation with significant societal consequences is different from declining to extend that designation in the first place … .” While both are harmful, the court noted there is something particularly pointed, harmful, and invidious about stripping away an existing right.  “The action of changing something suggests a more deliberate purpose than does the inaction of leaving it as it is.”

The court also discussed the serious injury inflicted on same-sex couples by being excluded from an institution with so much personal and social significance. As the court put it, “marriage is the name that society gives to the relationship that matters most between two adults. A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but to the couple desiring to enter into a committed lifelong relationship, a marriage by the name of ‘registered domestic partnership’ does not.”

The court ruled that when the voters enacted Prop 8 in 2008, they did so not for any substantive reason, but rather simply to preserve the esteemed institution of marriage only for heterosexual people. Although some supporters of Prop 8 argued that its purpose was to promote parenting by heterosexual parents, Prop 8 did not change the substance of California law dealing with same-sex couples or parents in any way—other than preventing them from enjoying the benefits of being married.  Both before and after Prop 8, California law provides that same-sex parents must be given exactly the same rights, responsibilities, and protections as heterosexual parents.  As the court noted, “Proposition 8 had absolutely no effect on the ability of same-sex couples to become parents or the manner in which children are raised in California … and in no way modified the state’s laws governing parentage.”   

Judge Smith’s dissent acknowledged that those supporting Prop 8 assume that permitting same-sex couples to marry would devalue the institution of marriage in the eyes of straight people who disapprove of gay people. Remarkably, however, despite acknowledging that Prop 8 rests on anti-gay animus and “private biases,” Judge Smith concluded that “a measure is [not] invalid under rational basis review simply because the means by which its purpose is accomplished rests on such biases.” This may be the first time a federal judge has voted to affirm an anti-gay marriage law despite acknowledging that it is rooted in irrational bias. That even a judge who voted to uphold Prop 8 conceded that it was based in part on hostility toward gay people speaks volumes about the success of LGBT advocates in exposing the lies and stereotypes that underlie Prop 8 and similar measures.

Judge Reinhardt’s careful, tightly reasoned opinion puts the plaintiffs in the strongest possible position as the supporters of Prop 8 consider their next steps.  The Prop 8 supporters can now ask a larger panel of Ninth Circuit judges to reconsider the decision, or they can go directly to the Supreme Court and ask the justices to consider the case. In the meantime, California same-sex couples who want to get married will need to keep waiting. The Ninth Circuit panel decided to temporarily keep its decision from going into effect, and it is likely the Prop 8 supporters will ask for that temporary hold to continue while they decide on their next move after losing their appeal.

Given the reasoning of the Ninth Circuit’s decision and its focus on the specific circumstances that led to the enactment of Prop 8 in California, it may be a tall order for the supporters of Prop 8 to persuade the Supreme Court to take the case.  The Supreme Court normally only accepts cases when different federal appellate courts have reached opposite conclusions on the same legal issues, or where a decision has broad national implications.  The Ninth Circuit’s California-focused decision presents neither of those circumstances.  Unless the Supreme Court breaks with its own tradition and intervenes in the case, it’s possible that wedding bells will be ringing in California again before the end of the year.

Shannon Minter is the Legal Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights; and Christopher Stoll is a Senior Staff Attorney for the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Media Contact:

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


NCLR Applauds Appeals Court Decision in Federal Challenge to Proposition 8

February 7, 2012

(San Francisco, CA, February 7, 2012)—Today, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the August 2010 decision of the U.S. District Court in San Francisco striking down Proposition 8, the 2008 measure that stripped same-sex couples of the right to marry in California. The Court affirmed the ruling of former Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker that Prop 8 discriminates against same-sex couples in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The court also rejected Prop 8 supporters’ offensive argument that Judge Walker should have refused to preside over the case because he is gay and in a relationship with a man.

The court ruled that Proposition 8 violates the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution because it “serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples.”

The supporters of Prop 8 have 15 days to ask the Ninth Circuit panel to reconsider its decision or to ask for reconsideration by a larger panel of judges on that court. Alternatively, they have 90 days to request that the Supreme Court of the United States review the case.
NCLR, Lambda Legal, ACLU of Northern California, and Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders filed an amicus brief urging the court to affirm Judge Walker’s decision.

Statement by NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell, Esq.:

“It is a unique and honored position to be an eyewitness to history. The Ninth Circuit’s ruling finding that Proposition 8 violates the Constitution of this nation marks the first time a federal appellate court has held that a law excluding same-sex couples from the right to marry runs counter to our highest ideals of equality and fairness.  With today’s ruling we are a giant step closer to the day when the promise of our Constitution squares with the lived reality of LGBT people.”

Media Contact:

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


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 52 other followers