NCLR, ACLU Welcome New Mexico Supreme Court Order Setting Hearing on Freedom to Marry for Same-sex Couples Statewide

September 6, 2013

(Albuquerque, NM, September 6, 2013)—Today, the New Mexico Supreme Court issued an order setting a hearing for October 23, 2013 to consider a request by the New Mexico Association of Counties that the court immediately decide whether New Mexico law permits same-sex couples to marry. All 33 county clerks in the state joined in the Association’s request that the Supreme Court resolve the issue.

The counties’ request to the Supreme Court was filed in response to a case brought by six same-sex couples represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico (ACLU-NM), the national ACLU, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), and local attorneys. On September 3, Judge Alan Mallot of the Second Judicial District Court in Albuquerque issued a declaratory judgment against all 33 county clerks, ruling that the New Mexico Constitution requires issuance of marriage licenses to otherwise-qualified same-sex couples.  The counties requested the Supreme Court to immediately review Judge Mallot’s order in order to resolve several pending cases around the state concerning the issue of marriage for same-sex couples.

Today’s order by the Supreme Court invited the six plaintiff couples to respond to the counties’ request by September 23 and to appear at oral argument October 23. The couples will argue that the Court should accept the counties’ request and immediately extend the freedom to marry to same-sex couples statewide.

“We welcome the Supreme Court’s order and hope that it will lead to a speedy decision establishing the freedom to marry for all same-sex couples in New Mexico,” said ACLU of New Mexico Executive Director Peter Simonson. “Now is the time for New Mexico to treat same-sex couples with the same dignity and respect as all other couples and fully respect their lifelong commitments to each other and their families. We look forward to presenting the strongest possible arguments on behalf of our clients and all New Mexico same-sex couples. We thank the Association of Counties for asking the Supreme Court to resolve these crucial issues immediately.”

Said NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter, Esq.: “Every New Mexico court that has considered the issue has concluded that New Mexico law requires that same-sex couples have the same freedom to marry as others and deserve equal protection under the law. We are grateful to the New Mexico Supreme Court for recognizing the importance of this issue and putting the case on a fast track.  We look forward to the day when all families are treated with equal dignity and respect, and all children grow up in a world where lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people have the same legal protections and freedoms as others.”

In addition to the ACLU of New Mexico, the national ACLU, and NCLR, the six same-sex couples are represented by the Sutin Law Firm, and Albuquerqueattorneys Maureen Sanders, Kate Girard,and Lynn Perls.

Media Contacts:

Erik Olvera, National Center for Lesbian Rights, (415) 365-1324, EOlvera@NCLRights.org
Micah McCoy, ACLU of New Mexico, (505) 266-5915 x1003, MMcCoy@ACLU-NM.org


NCLR Launches Campaign Calling on Top Companies Doing Business in Russia to Urge Repeal of Extreme Anti-LGBT Laws

September 5, 2013

(San Francisco, CA, September 5, 2013)— Today, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) announced the launch of a campaign—”Stop LGBT Hate in Russia”—calling on global companies doing business in Russia to demand the repeal of new laws that target and hurt lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and allies.

Over the past few months, Russia has enacted a series of extreme anti-LGBT laws that forbid any public advocacy or positive discussion of LGBT people, ban same-sex couples from adopting children, and even prevent the use of the internet to communicate about LGBT issues. Just recently a new proposed law would remove children from same-sex parents and terminate the parental rights of anyone engaging in “homosexual behavior.”

The petition urges companies that do business in Russia and have non-discrimination policies to call on the Russian government to repeal these dangerous laws, which have sparked violent attacks against people who either are or are believed to be LGBT.

Through this effort, individuals who sign onto the Stop LGBT Hate in Russia petition are asking corporate leaders who support workplace fairness for their LGBT employees to use their influence and leadership to speak out against government-sponsored discrimination in Russia and to use their unique position to help bring an end to the dangerous government scapegoating of LGBT people.

“Russia’s appalling treatment of LGBT people has taken a shocking turn with the passage of these horrific laws,” said NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell. “In the wake of these laws, discrimination and violence against the LGBT community in Russia are utterly unchecked. We cannot sit on our hands and do nothing. If we are to ever live in a world where the security and safety of our LGBT brothers and sisters are ensured no matter where they live, we must fight back in every way we can.”

Learn more about the campaign at www.StopLGBTHateRussia.com and sign the petition.
Media Contact:

NCLR Communications Director Erik Olvera | Office:415.365.1324 | EOlvera@NCLRights.org


Federal Appeals Court Allows Enforcement of California Law Prohibiting Dangerous Psychological Practices to Change Minors’ Sexual Orientation

August 29, 2013

(San Francisco, CA, August 29, 2013)–Today, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that a 2012 California law prohibiting licensed therapists from attempting to change the sexual orientation or gender expression of a patient under 18 years old may be enforced by state licensing officials. The ruling states that the plaintiffs in two legal challenges to the law cannot succeed on their claim that the law infringes the free speech rights of therapists who wish to engage in these dangerous and long-discredited practices.

Writing for the court, Circuit Judge Susan Graber ruled that the California law is a “regulation of professional conduct” and therefore “does not violate the free speech rights of [mental health] practitioners or minor patients, is neither vague nor overbroad, and does not violate parents’ fundamental rights.”

The constitutionality of the California law was challenged in October 2012 in two lawsuits filed by anti-LGBT groups, primarily representing therapists who engage in the prohibited practices. The cases were assigned to two federal district judges in Sacramento, who in December 2012 reached differing conclusions about the plaintiffs’ chances of success. Judge William Shubb ruled that the plaintiffs’ First Amendment claims likely had merit and ordered that the State of California temporarily refrain from enforcing the law against the three plaintiffs in the case before him. Judge Kimberly Mueller ruled that the plaintiffs in the case before her likely could not succeed in their constitutional challenge because the law did not violate their free speech rights. Both rulings were appealed and heard by the same three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit in April 2013.

Today’s ruling upheld Judge Mueller’s decision and overturned Judge Shubb’s decision. In addition to rejecting the plaintiffs’ free speech claims, the Ninth Circuit ordered the two cases sent back to their respective district judges for resolution of the plaintiffs’ other legal challenges to the law.

In the fall of 2012, Equality California filed a successful motion to intervene in one of the lawsuits to defend the law alongside California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who represents the State of California defendants. Equality California is represented in the cases by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and the law firm of Munger Tolles & Olson LLP.

NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter, who argued the case on behalf of Equality California in the Ninth Circuit, said: “This decision clears the way for this life-saving law to protect California youth from cruel and damaging practices that have been rejected by all leading medical and mental health professional organizations. The court of appeals ruled in very clear terms that state-licensed therapists do not have a constitutional right to engage in discredited practices that offer no health benefits and put LGBT youth at risk of severe harm, including depression and suicide. We thank Attorney General Kamala Harris, Deputy Attorney General Alexandra Robert Gordon, and the entire legal team at the California Department of Justice for their brilliant and tireless advocacy in defense of these vital new protections for LGBT youth.”

“The court’s decision today on Senate Bill 1172 is a major victory for anyone who cares about the well-being of our youth. It will directly impact the lives of thousands of young people by protecting them from this horrific practice,” said John O’Connor, Equality California executive director. “We thank Sen. Ted Lieu for authoring this bill and Speaker John A. Perez for his bold leadership in getting the law passed.”

The California law, known as Senate Bill 1172, was authored by Senator Ted Lieu and sponsored by Equality California, NCLR, Gaylesta, Courage Campaign, Lambda Legal, and Mental Health America of Northern California, and supported by dozens of organizations including the California Psychological Association, the California Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, and the California Division of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. California Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill into law on September 29, 2012.

Media Contacts:
Erik Olvera, National Center for Lesbian Rights, 415.365.1324, EOlvera@NCLRights.org
Jesse Melgar, Equality California, 323.848.9801, Jesse@EQCA.org


NM Judge Orders Bernalillo and Santa Fe County Clerks to Issue Marriage Licenses to Same-Sex Couples

August 26, 2013

(Albuquerque, NM, August 26, 2013)—Today, Judge Alan Malott of the Second Judicial District Court of the State of New Mexico ordered the county clerks of Bernalillo and Santa Fe Counties to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Ruling in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of New Mexico, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), and local attorneys on behalf of same-sex couples seeking the freedom to marry in New Mexico, Judge Malott said that denying same-sex couples access to civil marriage violates the New Mexico Constitution. The court issued a judgment against the two county clerks and the State of New Mexico declaring that, to the extent New Mexico law prevents same-sex couples from marrying, “those prohibitions are unconstitutional and unenforceable.”

“Today was yet another powerful reminder that the march to justice is unstoppable and gaining momentum,” said NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell. “We are joyful for our client couples and for every same-sex couple in New Mexico. The freedom to marry is about love, commitment, family and security. These are universal values and they are center stage today.”

Said ACLU-NM Executive Director Peter Simonson: “This is a great day to be a resident of New Mexico.  Our state is now on the brink of joining the growing list of states who live and honor the values of family, liberty and love.  Every family in this state is made richer by this step toward justice for all.”

The plaintiff couples were represented by ALCU, ACLU-NM, NCLR, and the Sutin Law Firm, and Albuquerque attorneys Maureen Sanders, Kate Girard, and Lynn Perls.

Media Contacts:

Erik Olvera, National Center for Lesbian Rights, (415) 365-1324, EOlvera@NCLRights.org Micah McCoy, ACLU of New Mexico, (505) 266-5915 x1003, MMcCoy@ACLU-NM.org Robyn Shepherd, ACLU National, (212) 519-7829 or 549-2666, Media@ACLU.org


New Mexico Woman Suffering from Life-Threatening Brain Cancer Asks Court to Let Her Marry Her Partner of 21 Years

August 21, 2013

(Santa Fe, NM, August 21, 2013)—Today, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico, the national ACLU, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) filed an emergency request with New Mexico’s Second Judicial District Court to allow a Pojoaque same-sex couple, Jen Roper and Angelique Neuman, to legally marry immediately because Jen suffers from a severe medical condition that may prove fatal in the near future.  Jen suffers from a life-threatening form of brain cancer, and her health has deteriorated severely in the past few months. Today’s request seeks an emergency order from the court that would allow the couple to marry so that Angelique and their three children will be legally protected should Jen pass away.

“I want to know that my family will be protected if I pass away,” said Jen Roper. “Angelique and I have been married in our hearts for 21 years and raised three wonderful children together. Because of my illness, we do not have the luxury of waiting years for the courts to decide whether loving, committed same-sex couples can marry in New Mexico. For us, the time is now.”

Jen and Angelique met in Socorro, NM during their first semester at New Mexico Tech, and fell in love almost immediately. Although the State of New Mexico does not recognize their relationship, the couple considers themselves married for the 21 years they have been together. The couple settled in Northern New Mexico after the Los Alamos Labs hired Angelique to work as an engineer. Later, they adopted three siblings from the New Mexico foster care system. Their oldest child is enlisted in the U.S. Army and is currently in basic training.

Due to Jen’s sudden and severe illness, the couple cannot travel out of state to marry in a place that does not discriminate against same-sex couples. The only way they can hope to protect their family in this time of crisis and realize their dream of being legally married is for the New Mexico courts to grant emergency relief that would allow the County of Santa Fe to issue them a marriage license now, while the case proceeds.

“Even when I was a little kid, I always dreamed of growing up and getting married,” said Angelique Neuman. “I knew Jen was the one almost as soon as we met, and I don’t want to lose the opportunity to marry her. It is very important to us that our relationship is recognized as what it is: a marriage.”

The plaintiffs are represented by the ACLU of New Mexico, the national ACLU, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Sutin Law Firm, and Albuquerque attorneys Maureen Sanders, Kate Girard, and Lynn Perls.

Media Contacts:

Erik Olvera, National Center for Lesbian Rights, (415) 365-1324, EOlvera@NCLRights.org
Micah McCoy, ACLU of New Mexico, (505) 266-5915 x1003, MMcCoy@ACLU-NM.org
Robyn Shepherd, ACLU National, (212) 519-7829 or 549-2666, Media@ACLU.org


CA Governor Brown Signs Historic Transgender Student Bill into Law

August 12, 2013

(San Francisco, CA, August 12, 2013)—Today, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the historic School Success and Opportunity Act into law, ensuring that transgender youth have the opportunity to fully participate and succeed in schools across the state. Assembly Bill 1266—which goes into effect on January 1, 2014—was authored by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano and passed the California State Senate and Assembly earlier this summer. The law is the first of its kind in the country. It requires that California public schools respect students’ gender identity and makes sure that students can have equal access to all school activities, sports teams, programs, and facilities.

“I’m so excited that California is making sure transgender students have a fair chance to graduate and succeed,” said Calen Valencia, an 18-year-old transgender student from Tulare. “I should have graduated this year, but my school refused to give me the same opportunity to succeed as other boys. Now other transgender youth won’t have to choose between being themselves and graduating high school.”

Co-authored by Senators Mark Leno and Ricardo Lara and Assemblymember Toni Atkins, the bill is backed by a coalition of leading organizations, including National Center for Lesbian Rights, ACLU of California, Gay-Straight Alliance Network, Equality California, Gender Spectrum, Transgender Law Center, statewide teacher and parent organizations, and dozens of other organizations.

The new law builds on a national movement to end discriminatory practices and ensure transgender youth have the same opportunity to succeed as other students. Massachusetts and Colorado have statewide policies in line with AB 1266, and the Colorado and Maine state human rights commissions have held that state law requires schools to respect students’ gender identity. Additionally, many school districts across the country have adopted policies that ensure no student is left out, including the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second largest school district.

California law already prohibits discrimination in education, but transgender students have been often discriminated against and unfairly excluded from school facilities and physical education, athletic teams, and other school activities. This exclusion negatively impacts students’ ability to succeed in school and graduate with their class. For example, physical education credits are required to graduate, but transgender students often do not have the support they need to fully participate in the courses.

The supporting organizations are truly appreciative of Gov. Brown’s efforts to protect LGBT Californians and ensure all students have the opportunity to excel in our public education system.  From his support to ban harmful sexual orientation change efforts to his leadership on marriage equality to his signing of AB 1266, Gov. Brown has sent a powerful message to LGBT youth letting them know their state and their government fully support them.  In so doing, he is not only changing, but also saving lives.

Said NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter: “We are grateful to Governor Brown for his longstanding commitment to ensuring that all California students are able to attend school without discrimination or harassment. By signing AB 1266, he has made that commitment real for transgender students, who will now have the same opportunities to participate and to succeed as other students.”

Media contacts:

Erik Olvera, National Center for Lesbian Rights, 415.365.1324, EOlvera@NCLRights.org
Rebecca Farmer, ACLU of California, 415.621.2493, x374, RFarmer@ACLUNC.org
Jesse Melgar, Equality California, 323.848.9801, Jesse@EQCA.org
Jill Marcellus, GSA Network, 516.313.9659, Jill@GSANetwork.org
Mark Snyder, Transgender Law Center, 415.865.0176, x310, Mark@TransgenderLawCenter.org

 


Federal Court Rules That Widow Is Entitled to Survivor Benefits From Deceased Wife’s Employer Plan

July 29, 2013

(Philadelphia, July 29, 2013)—Today, Judge C. Darnell Jones II of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ordered payment of death benefits to Jennifer Tobits, the widow of Sarah Ellyn Farley, under a profit-sharing plan administered by Farley’s employer, the law firm Cozen O’Conner P.C. The court held that because the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was recently struck down as unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court, federally-regulated retirement and benefit plans must recognize the legal marriages of same-sex couples for purposes of spousal benefits such as those due to Tobits.

The court’s decision relied on the Supreme Court’s June 26, 2013, decision in United States v. Windsor, which struck down the portion of DOMA that prohibited federal laws from recognizing the legal marriages of same-sex couples. Referring to the DOMA decision, Judge Jones said: “Following the Court’s ruling, the term ‘Spouse’ is no longer unconstitutionally restricted to members of the opposite sex, but now rightfully includes those same-sex spouses in ‘otherwise valid marriages.’”

Judge Jones further ruled that federal laws “establish a floor for privately sponsored employee benefit plans with respect to spousal benefits. … Today’s holding makes clear … that Windsor leveled the floor.”

“I am overjoyed that the court has said my marriage to Ellyn deserves the same respect as everyone else’s,” said Tobits. “Nothing can ever replace Ellyn, but it’s a great tribute to her that the courts have rejected these challenges to our marriage and recognized our commitment to each other and the life we built together.”

The couple married in Toronto in 2006 and lived in Chicago. Two weeks after their wedding, Farley was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer. The couple fought the disease together for four years until September 2010, when Farley passed away. She was 37.

Shortly after her death, Farley’s parents told her employer, Cozen O’Connor, that they should receive their daughter’s death benefits under the firm’s profit-sharing plan. Tobits also requested that she receive the benefits because she was the surviving spouse. In January 2011, Cozen O’Connor filed an action in the federal district court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to determine whether Tobits or Farley’s parents should receive the benefits.

Cozen O’Connor argued in the lawsuit that DOMA prevented the firm from recognizing Farley’s marriage and treating Tobits as a surviving spouse. Farley’s parents also claimed that the Cozen O’Connor profit sharing plan was prohibited from recognizing Tobits as a surviving spouse. Today, the court rejected both of those arguments and ruled that federal law requires the plan to recognize Tobits as the surviving spouse.

National Center for Lesbian Rights Legal Director Shannon Minter, who is representing Tobits, said: “Today’s decision is not only a victory for Jennifer and Ellyn, it is a victory for every married same-sex couple in the country. No longer can employers hide behind DOMA to deny equal benefits to some employees solely because their spouse is a person of the same sex.”

Attorney Teresa Renaker, who also represents Tobits, added: “This decision makes clear that federal pension law protects same-sex spouses just as it does opposite-sex spouses. Under the rationale of this decision, employees can be confident that their hard-earned retirement benefits will be there for their spouses. Protecting the retirement security of spouses is an important part of ensuring that employees get equal benefits from their retirement plans.”

NCLR and co-counsel Benjamin L. Jerner and Tiffany Palmer of Jerner & Palmer, P.C. and Teresa Renaker and Nina Wasow of Lewis, Feinberg, Lee, Renaker and Jackson, represent Tobits in the case.

Read the decision.

Media Contact:

NCLR Communications Director Erik Olvera | Office:415.365.1324 | EOlvera@NCLRights.org

 


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