Federal Court of Appeals Strikes Down Anti-Gay Defense of Marriage Act

May 31, 2012

(San Francisco, CA, May 31, 2012)—Today, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional. The court held that DOMA, which prevents the federal government from recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples even in states where those marriages are valid, violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws.

The ruling came in a case filed in 2009 by Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders on behalf of a group of married same-sex couples who were denied federal spousal benefits such as Social Security and government employee benefits, as well as a parallel case filed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Today’s opinion upheld a 2010 decision in which U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro ruled DOMA unconstitutional. Since Judge Tauro’s decision, two other district judges and 20 federal bankruptcy judges have ruled that DOMA violates the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause, and several additional challenges to DOMA are pending in courts across the country.

Writing for a 3-judge panel, Judge Michael Boudin observed that DOMA inflicts serious harms on married same-sex couples and represents an unprecedented federal intrusion on the traditional authority of states to regulate marriage. In light of these facts, the panel held that none of the justifications offered by Congress in enacting DOMA was sufficient to uphold it. The court found that there is no “connection between DOMA’s treatment of same-sex couples and its asserted goal of strengthening the bonds and benefits to society of heterosexual marriage,” and that “Congress’ denial of federal benefits to same-sex couples lawfully married in Massachusetts has not been adequately supported by any permissible federal interest.”

The court stayed its decision to permit the parties an opportunity to request review by the United States Supreme Court. A party may either request en banc review by all five active judges of the First Circuit within 14 days, or may file a petition requesting review directly with the Supreme Court within 90 days. There is no prescribed time for the Supreme Court to decide whether to accept a case, but the Court generally does not decide to take a case until at least 30 days after a petition for review is filed.

Statement by NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter, Esq.:

“Today’s decision, authored by one of the most well-respected conservative federal judges in the country, sounds the death knell for this discriminatory law. Every day that DOMA remains on the books, it is causing serious harm to same-sex couples and their children and branding all lesbian, gay, and bisexual people as inferior. The Supreme Court should affirm this decision so that we can put this shameful period in our nation’s history behind us. The federal government has no interest in treating people differently because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Media Contact:

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


An NAACP Announcement for Equality

May 21, 2012

By Shannon Minter, Esq.
NCLR Legal Director

Here at NCLR, we know that LGBT people of color face some of the greatest injustices our movement strives to address. Racial and economic oppression mean that LGBT people of color are often poorer, have worse health outcomes, and are more vulnerable to hate crimes than their white counterparts. LGBT youth of color face harsh and unfair discipline in schools.

This weekend, the nation’s leading civil rights organization made it clear that they too understand that reality.

On Saturday, the NAACP announced their official support for marriage equality. The organization’s Board of Directors—a pantheon of influential policy-makers, business leaders, clergy, and civil rights luminaries—voted to take yet another stand for equality in their long and historic legacy of championing civil rights.

The truth is, the NAACP has been our ally in this fight for years now. Back in 2009, the NAACP’s then-Chairman, Julian Bond, gave a rousing speech at the National Equality March in Washington, DC. He had this to say:

“We know that good things can come, and they don’t come to those who wait—but they come to those who agitate. Forty-six years ago, I was in another march, at the other end of this mall. Marching with me then were a quarter of a million others—white and black and brown, women and men, gay and straight. And standing at the podium, at the feet of the statue of Abraham Lincoln, right beside Martin Luther King Jr., was the gay man who brought us all here that day, who organized the march, Bayard Rustin. It doesn’t matter the rational—religious, cultural, pseudoscientific—no people of good will should oppose marriage equality. When my neighbor enjoys protection from discrimination, he or she becomes my ally in defending the rights we all share.”

Today at NCLR, we’re celebrating this historic announcement. Black leaders have been among our staunchest defenders in fight after fight for full equality, and, with this weekend’s historic announcement, that partnership got a little stronger.

Likewise, as LGBT advocates, we must be allies ourselves. We must recognize that racial justice is an LGBT issue both because of its importance to LGBT people of color and because of its centrality in the broader fight for equality in which we are all engaged. When we join with others to stand up for the dignity and equality of all people, we are immeasurably stronger. We salute the NAACP for its historic leadership and for once again blazing a trail that will make it easier for many others to follow.

Media Contact:

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


Maryland Court Recognizes Out-of-State Marriage of Same-Sex Couple Represented by NCLR and Lambda Legal

May 18, 2012

(Annapolis, MD May 18, 2012)—The National Center for Lesbian Rights and Lambda Legal applaud a ruling today by the Maryland Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state, granting a divorce to a same-sex couple, Virginia Cowan and Jessica Port, who were married outside of Maryland. The 7-0 unanimous ruling declares that married same-sex couples are entitled to divorce under Maryland law.

“There are many same-sex spouses who married elsewhere who now live in Maryland,” said National Center for Lesbian Rights Legal Director Shannon Minter. “This ruling ensures that they have all the same rights as any other married couple in Maryland. This is a powerful decision that will provide enormous security and protection to thousands of families.”

Susan Sommer, Director of Constitutional Litigation at Lambda Legal, added: “The high court of Maryland confirmed today in this divorce case that out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples are entitled to legal recognition under longstanding principles of comity, allowing this couple the same access to a divorce as other married couples whose relationships have ended. The Court of Appeals’ ruling establishes that Maryland law respects marriages of same-sex couples entered elsewhere, bringing clarity to the legal recognition due these marriages.”

Jessica Port and Virginia Anne Cowan met in Maryland and then married in San Francisco, California in 2008. Unfortunately, their relationship broke down and they made the difficult decision to separate and seek a divorce. In July 2010, after they had been separated for a year, Cowan filed a petition for divorce. The trial court found that although Port and Cowan met all the requirements for divorce under Maryland law and both wished to divorce, it would not grant a divorce because, according to the court, it would be against public policy to do so. In April 2012, National Center for Lesbian Rights, on behalf of Ms. Port, and Lambda Legal, on Ms. Cowan’s behalf, argued their case before the Maryland Court of Appeals.

Ruling that the divorce should be granted, the court cited to the 2010 opinion of Attorney General Douglas Gansler confirming that, under longstanding Maryland law, out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples receive legal respect and should be treated like any other marriage. The court also discussed the many ways in which the state government already recognized these marriages.  The court relied on longstanding legal precedent that says couples who have been legally married in another state are treated under Maryland law as validly married, even if the marriages could not be performed in Maryland.

Earlier this year, the Maryland legislature passed a law permitting same-sex couples to marry. That legislation is scheduled to go into effect January 1, 2013, subject to the outcome of a possible referendum. The Court of Appeals ruled that, regardless of whether same-sex couples are allowed to marry in Maryland, independent legal principles require out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples to be respected in the state.

Jessica Port is represented on appeal by Michele Zavos, Zavos Juncker Law Group PLLC and Shannon Minter of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Virginia Anne Cowan is represented by Mark Scurti and Leslie Stellman, Pessin, Katz Law, P.A. and Susan Sommer, Director of Constitutional Litigation at Lambda Legal.

Read the decision online.

Media Contact:

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


Family Acceptance Project Publishes Pioneering Resource for Youth Suicide Prevention

May 17, 2012

For the past decade, Dr. Caitlin Ryan of the Family Acceptance Project (FAP) at SF State University has been studying the impact of family acceptance and rejection on suicide risk among LGBT youth. Today we’d like to take this moment to congratulate FAP and Dr. Ryan on their truly groundbreaking work.

Because youth suicide is typically the result of many complex interacting factors, our community needs comprehensive suicide prevention strategies and interventions to reduce the risk to LGBT youth. FAP’s multi-disciplinary team develops resources, interventions and strategies to help diverse families reduce risk and to promote their LGBT children’s well-being.

The first of these resources—a multi-lingual, multi-cultural series of family education booklets—Supportive Families, Healthy Children: Helping Families Support their LGBT Children—has just this week been designated as the first ever “Best Practice” resource for suicide prevention for LGBT youth and young adults by the national Best Practices Registry for Suicide Prevention.

The booklets help ethnically and religiously diverse families understand how specific reactions to their children’s LGBT identity both contribute to and protect against risk for suicide and related health problems. Guidance for families is depicted non-judgmentally using personal stories, lists of behaviors that both protect against and are related to high risk for suicide and other serious health problems, and approaches to decrease family conflict and to increase support. As only the best resources are, these booklets were developed based on extensive research and direct feedback from families, LGBT youth, and the providers who serve them.

As our movement for full justice equality grows and changes, initiatives like these remind us how powerful the work of small groups of dedicated individuals can be. Kudos to the Family Acceptance Project, and to all those who work tirelessly to improve the lives of LGBT youth.

Supportive Families, Healthy Children is available for download on the FAP website at: http://familyproject.sfsu.edu/publications

Media Contact:

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

 


New Obama Initiative for LGBT Prisoners

May 17, 2012

Today, the Obama administration announced new rules designed to launch a major offensive to help stop the epidemic of sexual violence in the nation’s prison system and youth detention system. The rules, released by the Department of Justice (DOJ), aim to “prevent, detect, and respond to sexual abuse in confinement facilities.” The new rules—and a new report from DOJ that was also released today—recognize that sexual violence is an especially urgent issue for LGBT youth in juvenile justice facilities and LGBT adults in prisons and jails. In response to this alarming reality, the rules include a mandate to “incorporate [the] unique vulnerabilities of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and gender nonconforming inmates into training and screening protocols”—in addition to a number of other provisions to protect LGBT people.

DOJ is enacting the rules pursuant to the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), which was passed in 2003. The new rules provide much-needed guidance to combat sexual violence in prisons and youth detention centers, particularly for the LGBT population. The new rules are accompanied by a presidential memorandum directing all agencies with Federal confinement facilities that are not already subject to this rule to propose their own rules within 120 days.

This is the second time this week that the Obama administration has taken a strong public stand against sexual violence against the LGBT community. Earlier this week, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 4970, a so-called version of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), that guts important VAWA protections found in the Senate version of the bill, including provisions that would protect high-risk victims including Native Americans, immigrants, and victims in LGBT communities. In response, the president issued a threat to veto the watered down version of the bill.

Read a story about the rule.

Read the executive summary.

Media Contact:

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


NCLR Applauds President’s Support of Marriage Equality

May 9, 2012

(San Francisco, CA, May 9, 2012)—Today, President Barack Obama told ABC News that he supports marriage equality, becoming the first president in the nation’s history to endorse marriage for same-sex couples.

Said President Obama: “I have to tell you that over the course of several years, as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors, when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.”

Statement by NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter, Esq.:

“President Obama has once again proven himself to be the strongest and most principled supporter of full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people ever to occupy the Oval Office. As he has done on so many other issues facing our community, the President showed his great depth of compassion and respect for the struggles faced by same-sex couples and their families and his commitment to genuine equality and justice for all people. This is an unforgettable day in our nation’s history, and one that will bring enormous comfort and hope to millions of Americans.”

Media Contact:

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


More than 1,500 People Honor Seven Heroes of LGBT Equality at NCLR’s 35th Anniversary Celebration

May 5, 2012

(San Francisco, CA, May 5, 2012)—Tonight, more than 1,500 people honored seven heroes in the movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality at the National Center for Lesbian Rights’ 35th Anniversary Celebration.

The sell-out event—held at the City View at Metreon—is often called the party of the year, celebrating the strides made in the LGBT movement and recognizing the trailblazers who have stood up for equality, becoming role models for millions of people in the process.

“This year is especially significant, as NCLR celebrates turning 35 years old—an opportunity for us to look back on our history-making cases, while recognizing those who continue to speak out against injustice and are helping change the legal landscape for every member of our community,” said NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell. “The seven people we recognized this year truly embody what it is to be a hero, and we are honored to stand beside them in the march toward equality.”

NCLR honored famed “Glee” star Jane Lynch with the Vanguard Award 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. Lynch 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.

“I am honored and proud to be recognized by NCLR, which has given LGBT people and their families hope through its tireless work to gain dignity, respect, and, above all else, equality for all,” Lynch said. “I love the selflessness and generosity of the organization, which stepped up and successfully represented my wife in her custody battle. I feel like I should be honoring them.”

NCLR also presented the Courage Award to its six, young Minnesota clients—Brittany Geldert, Damian McGee-Backes, Dylon Frei, Ebonie Richardson, Kyle Rooker, and Kyrstin Schuette—who last year filed a federal sexual-orientation and gender discrimination lawsuit against the Anoka-Hennepin School District, challenging a policy that prevented staff from protecting them from anti-LGBT bullying. After months of discussions, on March 5, 2012, Anoka-Hennepin leaders agreed to major new protections to prevent harassment of students who are or are perceived to be LGBT and gender non-conforming, as well as those who have friends or parents who are LGBT.

“This is a very special day for us,” said Dylon Frei. “It wasn’t too long ago that I was extremely unhappy, and decided to be home schooled rather than face constant taunts from classmates. But it was through the lawsuit that I really found myself—someone who is young, someone who is proud to be out, and someone who is unafraid to speak up. I learned that one voice is enough to create change, and six voices can make a lasting impact that will benefit thousands of other students now and in the future.”

Out gay actor Wilson Cruz, known for roles in television’s “My So-Called Life” and his fierce advocacy for LGBT youth, presented the Courage Award to the Anoka-Hennepin student plaintiffs.

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.

The Anniversary Celebration—NCLR’s annual signature event—attracts a sell-out crowd of 1,500 people each year. This year’s Premiere Sponsor was Wells Fargo. The Gold Sponsor was American Airlines.

Media Contact:

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


California Court of Appeal Rules for Same-Sex Partner in Inheritance Dispute

May 4, 2012

Court Recognizes New Legal Claim for Unmarried Partners Intentionally Deprived of Expected Inheritance

(Santa Ana, CA, May 4, 2012)—Yesterday, the California Court of Appeal established an important new legal protection for unmarried partners who are wrongfully prevented from inheriting property from each other when one partner dies.  The Court of Appeal ruled in favor of the surviving same-sex partner of a deceased Southern California man in a lawsuit alleging that the deceased partner’s sister had intentionally prevented him from signing a will that would have left a share of his property to the surviving partner. The two men were not married and were not registered domestic partners, but had been in a committed relationship for nearly ten years.

The surviving partner, Brent Beckwith, filed the suit against his deceased partner’s sister, Susan Dahl, after the Los Angeles Superior Court ruled in a probate proceeding that Beckwith had no right to any share of his partner’s property because he had died without leaving a will and the couple were neither married nor registered as domestic partners.  California law allows registered same-sex partners to inherit property in the same way as spouses, but provides no inheritance rights to couples who have not registered as domestic partners if one of them dies without a will.

The probate court awarded the entire estate to Dahl, who was his closest living relative other than Beckwith. Beckwith then filed a lawsuit against Dahl in Orange County Superior Court, alleging that Dahl had interfered with his late partner’s plan to sign a will leaving half of his property to each of them.

Beckwith’s complaint alleged that while in the hospital, his partner had asked him to print a will that he had previously written on his computer and bring it to him to sign, but that Dahl had interfered with that plan, promising to contact a lawyer to set up a trust instead. Beckwith alleged that Dahl did not follow through on her offer to arrange a trust, and shortly thereafter his partner died without leaving either a will or a trust.

Beckwith asked the court to recognize a new legal claim for intentional interference with an expected inheritance—a claim recognized in a majority of states but not previously addressed by the California courts. The Orange County court dismissed Beckwith’s case, saying that it was up to the appellate courts to decide whether to recognize this claim.

The California Court of Appeal then took up the case and requested amicus curiae briefs from the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and other groups discussing whether California should recognize the new claim. NCLR filed a brief supporting Beckwith and asking the court to recognize the claim because of its special importance to unmarried lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender couples.

The appellate court agreed with NCLR’s position and ruled that “it is time to officially recognize this tort claim.” The decision cited the maxim that “for every wrong there is a remedy.” The court held that Beckwith could proceed on his claim that Dahl defrauded him, and also sent the case back to the trial court to determine whether Beckwith could establish a claim for intentional interference with an expected inheritance.

“Committed couples deserve legal protections, whether or not they are married or in a registered domestic partnership,” said NCLR Senior Staff Attorney Christopher F. Stoll. “Unfortunately, many same-sex couples have family members who are hostile to their relationships, or become hostile to the surviving partner after one of them dies. Wills, trusts, advance healthcare directives, and powers of attorney remain the most secure protections for couples, and everyone should have them, whether or not they are married or registered as domestic partners. This decision creates important new protections for surviving partners in California who are unfairly prevented from inheriting property when there is no will.”

Representing NCLR on its amicus brief were Legal Director Shannon P. Minter and SeniorStaff Attorney Christopher F. Stoll, along with Trenton H. Norris and Jeremy M. McLaughlin of Arnold & Porter LLP.

Media Contact:

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


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