NCLR Applauds Court Decision Reinstating Major Margaret Witt to the Air Force

September 24, 2010

Today, a federal district court judge in Tacoma, Washington held that the discharge of Air Force flight nurse Major Margaret Witt under the federal government’s policy barring lesbian, gay, and bisexual people from serving openly in the military violated the United States Constitution. Judge Ronald B. Leighton ruled that the government violated Major Witt’s constitutional rights by discharging her under the policy—popularly known as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The court held that the discharge of Major Witt did not advance the Air Force’s interest in military readiness, unit morale, and cohesion. To the contrary, the judge concluded, “it was Major Witt’s suspension and ultimate discharge that caused a loss of morale throughout [her] squadron.”

Judge Leighton ordered that Major Witt should be restored to her position as an Air Force flight nurse as soon as possible.

Statement by NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell:

“Today’s decision is the second within the past month to hold that the discharge of service members under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell serves no legitimate purpose and is blatantly unconstitutional. Major Witt’s victory underscores why Congress and the President must put a stop to this destructive and irrational policy. It is an outrage that the federal government continues to intentionally discriminate against thousands of dedicated service members based solely on anti-gay prejudice. We congratulate and thank Major Witt and her lawyers at the ACLU of Washington for bringing this landmark case.”


Hawaii Lawsuit Seeks Equal Rights for Gay Couples

July 29, 2010

by Mark Niesse | Associated Press

Six gay couples in Hawaii are filing a lawsuit Thursday asking for the same rights as married couples, three weeks after Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed a same-sex civil unions measure.

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Montana Same-Sex Couples Sue State For Legal Protections For Their Families

July 23, 2010

from the ACLU

Seven Couples Seek Equal Protection Mandated Under Montana’s Constitution

Seven committed same-sex couples today filed a lawsuit against the state of Montana for failing to provide legal protections to same-sex couples and their families in violation of the Montana Constitution’s rights of privacy, dignity and the pursuit of life’s basic necessities and its guarantees of equal protection and due process. The goal of this lawsuit is ensure that same-sex couples are able to protect their families with the same kind of legal protections that opposite-sex couples are offered through marriage.

Because there is a constitutional amendment in Montana barring marriage for same-sex couples, the couples in the lawsuit are seeking the protection of state-recognized domestic partnerships, similar to those in place in several other states.

“Mary Anne and I are part of a family unit, bonded by love and mutual respect and a desire to share in a close relationship that benefits not only us, as partners, but our wider family and the entire community,” said Jan Donaldson, a Helena nurse, of her 27-year relationship with her partner, pediatric neurologist Mary Anne Guggenheim. “We depend on one another, in all aspects of our life together. We want to be able to do that with grace and dignity and to feel secure that our relationship will be respected. We want our relationship to be recognized for what it clearly is – a loving commitment of responsibility worthy of security and protection by the state.”

Montana law automatically grants married opposite-sex couples safeguards upon which they can depend in times of need. But, under Montana law, it is possible for same-sex couples to be barred from visiting their partners in the hospital and to be left out of conversations about emergency medical care. Montana inheritance laws refuse to recognize same-sex couples, and can leave surviving partners with nothing if their partners die without valid wills. Today’s lawsuit seeks a mechanism such as the domestic partnership laws adopted by several other states to provide similar protections for committed same-sex couples.

“It’s unfair for same-sex couples who have made commitments and formed families to be treated by the state like legal strangers,” said Betsy Griffing, Legal Director for the ACLU of Montana. “Lesbian, gay and bisexual Montanans are valuable and productive members of society who should be treated fairly if their partner is in the hospital or dies without a will.”

“Denise has stood with me through 56 brain surgeries and over 300 spinal taps, yet to Montana we’re nothing more than strangers. Knowing we have legal protections for our family sure would make it easier on both of us the next time I have a medical crisis,” said Kellie Gibson of Laurel, who is raising two children with her partner Denise Boettcher.

Plaintiffs in the case Donaldson and Guggenheim v. State of Montana are Mary Anne Guggenheim and Jan Donaldson of Helena, Stacey Haugland and Mary Leslie of Bozeman, Mike Long and Rich Parker of Bozeman, MJ Williams and Nancy Owens of Basin, Rick Wagner and Gary Stallings of Butte, Denise Boettcher and Kellie Gibson of Laurel, and Casey Charles and David Wilson of Missoula.

In addition to Griffing, the couples are represented by Elizabeth Gill, a staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project; James Goetz and Ben Alke of the Bozeman, MT, law firm Goetz, Gallik & Baldwin P.C.; and Ruth Borenstein, Philip Besirof and Neil Perry of the California law firm Morrison & Foerster LLP.

Additional information about the case, biographies of the plaintiffs and links to videos of the plaintiffs can be found at www.aclumontana.org and www.aclu.org/mtpartnerships.


ACLU And Civil Rights Groups File Legal Challenge To Arizona Racial Profiling Law

May 24, 2010

The American Civil Liberties Union and a coalition of civil rights groups filed a class action lawsuit today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona challenging Arizona’s new law requiring police to demand “papers” from people they stop who they suspect are not authorized to be in the U.S. The extreme law, the coalition charged, invites the racial profiling of people of color, violates the First Amendment and interferes with federal law.

The coalition filing the lawsuit includes the ACLU, MALDEF, National Immigration Law Center (NILC), theNational Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), ACLU of Arizona, National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC) – a member of the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice.

“Arizona’s law is quintessentially un-American: we are not a ‘show me your papers’ country, nor one that believes in subjecting people to harassment, investigation and arrest simply because others may perceive them as foreign,” said Omar Jadwat, a staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “This law violates the Constitution and interferes with federal law, and we are confident that we will prevent it from ever taking effect.”

The lawsuit charges that the Arizona law unlawfully interferes with federal power and authority over immigration matters in violation of the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution; invites racial profiling against people of color by law enforcement in violation of the equal protection guarantee and prohibition on unreasonable seizures under the 14th and Fourth Amendments; and infringes on the free speech rights of day laborers and others in Arizona.

“This discriminatory law pushes Arizona into a spiral of fear, increased crime and costly litigation,” said Victor Viramontes, MALDEF Senior National Counsel. “We expect that this misguided law will be enjoined before it takes effect.”

One of the individuals the coalition is representing in the case, Jim Shee, is a U.S.-born 70-year-old American citizen of Spanish and Chinese descent. Shee asserts that he will be vulnerable to racial profiling under the law, and that, although the law has not yet gone into effect, he has already been stopped twice by local law enforcement officers in Arizona and asked to produce his “papers.”

Another plaintiff, Jesus Cuauhtémoc Villa, is a resident of the state of New Mexico who is currently attending Arizona State University. The state of New Mexico does not require proof of U.S. citizenship or immigration status to obtain a driver’s license. Villa does not have a U.S. passport and does not want to risk losing his birth certificate by carrying it with him. He worries about traveling in Arizona without a valid form of identification that would prove his citizenship to police if he is pulled over. If he cannot supply proof upon demand, Arizona law enforcement is required to arrest and detain him.

Several prominent law enforcement groups, including the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police, oppose the law because it diverts limited resources from law enforcement’s primary responsibility of providing protection and promoting public safety in the community and undermines trust and cooperation between local police and immigrant communities.

“This ill-conceived law sends a clear message to communities of color that the authorities are not to be trusted, making them less likely to come forward as victims of or witnesses to crime,” said Linton Joaquin, General Counsel of NILC. “Arizona’s authorities should not allow public safety to take a back seat to racial profiling.”

“African-Americans know all too well the insidious effects of racial profiling,” said Benjamin Todd Jealous, President and Chief Executive Officer of the NAACP. “The government should be preventing police from investigating and detaining people based on color and accent, not mandating it. Laws that encourage discrimination have no place in this country anywhere for anyone.”

“This extreme law puts Arizona completely out of step with American values of fairness and equality,” said Julie Su, Litigation Director of the APALC. “In a state where U.S. citizens of Japanese descent were interned during World War II, it is deeply troubling that a law that would mandate lower-class treatment of people of color, immigrants and others seen to be outsiders would pass in 2010.”

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of labor, domestic violence, day laborer, human services and social justice organizations, including Friendly House, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), SEIU Local 5, United Food and Commercial Workers International (UFCW), Arizona South Asians for Safe Families (ASAFSF), Southside Presbyterian Church, Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Asian Chamber of Commerce of Arizona, Border Action Network, Tonatierra Community Development Institute, Muslim American Society, Japanese American Citizens League, Valle del Sol, Inc., Coalicíon De Derechos Humanos, and individual named plaintiffs who will be subject to harassment or arrest under the law and a class of similarly situated persons.

“Day laborers have repeatedly defended their First Amendment rights in federal courts and successfully established their undeniable right to seek work in public areas,” said Pablo Alvarado, Executive Director of NDLON. “Arizona’s effort to criminalize day laborers and migrants is an affront to the Constitution and threatens to disrupt national unity, and we are confident that federal courts will intervene to ensure the protection of our bedrock civil rights.”

Even prior to the passage of the statute, local enforcement of federal immigration law has already caused rampant racial profiling of Latinos in Arizona, most notably in Maricopa County. The ACLU, MALDEF and other members of the coalition have several pending lawsuits against government officials in Arizona because of civil rights abuses of U.S. citizens and immigrants.

Organizations and attorneys on the case, Friendly House et al. v. Whiting et al., include:

ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project: Jadwat, Lucas Guttentag, Cecillia Wang, Tanaz Moghadam and Harini P. Raghupathi;
MALDEF: Viramontes, Tom Saenz, Cynthia Valenzuela Dixon, Nina Perales, Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, Gladys Limón and Nicholás Espiritu;
NILC: Joaquin, Karen C. Tumlin, Nora A. Preciado, Melissa S. Keaney, Vivek Mittal and Ghazal Tajmiri;
ACLU Foundation of Arizona: Dan Pochoda and Annie Lai;
APALC: Su, Ronald Lee, Yungsuhn Park, Connie Choi and Carmina Ocampo;
NDLON: Chris Newman and Lisa Kung;
NAACP: Laura Blackburne;
Munger Tolles & Olson LLP: Bradley S. Phillips, Paul J. Watford, Elizabeth J. Neubauer, Joseph J. Ybarra, Susan T. Boyd and Yuval Miller; and
Roush, Mccracken, Guerrero, Miller & Ortega: Daniel R. Ortega, Jr.

READ THE COMPLAINT NOW (pdf).

More information about the Arizona law, including an ACLU video and slide show, can be found at: www.aclu.org/what-happens-arizona-stops-arizona


ACLU Complaint Takes On “Decoy” Prom For Mississippi Lesbian Student New Information Revealed In Constance McMillen Case

April 21, 2010

The American Civil Liberties Union filed legal papers today in federal court on behalf of lesbian high school student Constance McMillen regarding a cruel plan to put on a “decoy” prom for her while the rest of her classmates were at a private prom 30 miles away.  The amended complaint alleges that the district’s violation of the free speech rights of McMillen, an 18-year-old high school senior who sued her school for canceling the prom rather than let her attend with her girlfriend, have repeatedly caused McMillen to be humiliated and harassed.

“I really hoped that prom night would make all that I’ve been through worth it, then April 2 came and those hopes went out the window,” said McMillen. “All I ever wanted was to go to my school prom with my classmates and my date, like anyone else, and instead I was the target of a mean, nasty joke.”

On March 23, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi issued a preliminary ruling in McMillen’s case that school officials violated McMillen’s First Amendment rights when it canceled the high school prom rather than let McMillen attend with her girlfriend and wear a tuxedo. The court stopped short of ordering Itawamba Agricultural High School (IAHS) to put the school prom back on the calendar relying on assurances that an alternative “private” prom being planned by parents would be open to all students, including McMillen.

However, according to legal papers, at a meeting with school officials, parents then decided to cancel that private prom without notifying McMillen because they did not want to allow McMillen to attend, instead organizing a “decoy” prom for McMillen and her date and still another prom for the rest of the class. McMillen and her date then attended the event the school had told her was “the prom for juniors and seniors” on April 2, where they found only seven other students attending. Principal Trae Wiygul and several school staff members were supervising that event while most of McMillen’s classmates were at the other prom in Evergreen, Mississippi.

“Constance is a very brave young woman, and she has suffered tremendously because of the animosity and hate she’s felt coming from her classmates and her community which the school’s actions have encouraged,” said Kristy Bennett, Legal Director of the ACLU of Mississippi. “Even after a federal court found that the school violated her constitutional rights, an 18-year-old girl has been made the scapegoat and an outsider in the town where she’s lived all her life. For the school to subject Constance to this type of hostility is simply inexcusable.”

Today’s amended complaint contains new details about events that have taken place since the ACLU first filed McMillen’s case on March 11, including about the way her classmates have treated her. Most of McMillen’s classmates no longer speak to her, and some have posted Facebook messages saying they wish she were dead and sent her such text messages as, “I don’t know why you come to this school because no one likes your gay ass anyways.”  In response to the court’s March 23 order, the complaint also adds a request for compensatory damages for an amount to be determined later at trial.

“After the court ruled that IAHS acted illegally when it canceled the prom, we hoped that Constance would be able to attend the private prom without further incident,” said Christine P. Sun, Senior Counsel with the ACLU national LGBT Project, who represents McMillen along with the ACLU of Mississippi. “But instead there was a malicious plan to further ostracize and humiliate her.  It is hard to conceive of adults behaving in such a cruel way.”

McMillen is represented by Bennett and Sun, as well as by Norman C. Simon, Joshua Glick, and Jason Moff of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP, and Alysson Mills of New Orleans.

The case name is Constance McMillen v. Itawamba County School District, et al. Additional information is available at http://www.aclu.org/lgbt-rights/fulton-ms-prom-discrimination. There is also a Facebook group for people who want to support McMillen, “Let Constance Bring Her Girlfriend to the Prom,” at www.facebook.com/pages/Let-Constance-Take-Her-Girlfriend-to-Prom/357686784817.


We’ll Show You the Real Prom

April 7, 2010

By now you’ve probably heard of Constance McMillen. Constance is an 18-year-old from Mississippi who, when she tried to buy tickets for herself and her girlfriend to attend the prom, was promptly told not only that she was forbidden from attending with her girlfriend, but she could not wear a tuxedo. When Constance went to the ACLU—who took her case immediately and sent the school a letter demanding that Constance be allowed to attend the prom with her girlfriend—the school cancelled the prom, rather than allow a lesbian couple to attend.

It’s as absurd and outrageous a homophobic story as we’ve heard in a while. But that was not the end of this saga. When an “alternative” prom organized by her schoolmates’ parents was held this past weekend, Constance and her girlfriend showed up, only to discover that they and five other students—some of whom are differently-abled—were the only ones in attendance. And that the “real” prom was actually being held elsewhere, and the event they were attending was simply a ruse to keep all the so-called “outcasts” away from the “real” prom.

Now that is just beyond the pale. The parents who set Constance up to attend a “fake” prom should be deeply ashamed of themselves. With role models like that, it’s no wonder her classmates have been so cruel. As we all know, it’s Constance who will have the last laugh, however. The ACLU is working hard on their ongoing lawsuit with the school district to ensure justice for Constance. The fight is not over, and I am so glad she is in such capable hands.

When I was Constance’s age, I would never have had the courage she has to stand up for who I was and to demand basic respect and equality. Constance has sparked a remarkable and sustained outpouring of support. Her story and her truth have inspired everyone committed to justice.

When all of us at NCLR first heard about her story, we wanted to do anything we could for her. She didn’t need legal representation—she’s got that taken care of—what she needed was a prom! So I am so pleased to announce that Constance McMillen and her friend Ceara Sturgis will be at NCLR’s 33rd Anniversary Celebration, often referred to as “the lesbian prom.”

“With everything Constance has been through at her school over the past few weeks, we’re grateful for any chance to remind her that while her school violated her rights, she’s appreciated and respected all over the country for her fight to be treated equally. It’s wonderful that our friends at NCLR are giving Constance a fun, special night,” Christine Sun, Senior Attorney, ACLU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender & AIDS Project.

If ever there were a prom for her to attend, our event is it—it is attended by nearly 2,000 people of every stripe and walk of life: young and old; lesbian, gay, bi, trans, and straight; differently-abled; and so much more. We’re so glad she can make it, and we know it will be a thrill for everyone to have her there. She will be rightly surrounded by the love and support she deserves. Make no mistake: we plan to give her a weekend she’ll never forget. It will make all these other proms and fake-proms fade into distant memory.

Sincerely,



Court Rules That Mississippi School Violated First Amendment Rights Of Lesbian Student

March 23, 2010

Alternative MSSC Prom Open To All Students Will Be Held May 8

A Mississippi federal court today ruled that school officials violated a lesbian student’s First Amendment rights when it canceled the high school prom rather than let the student attend with her girlfriend. The U.S. Court for the Northern District of Mississippi stopped short of ordering Itawamba Agricultural High School to put the school prom back on the calendar because of assurances that an alternative “private” prom being planned by parents would be open to all students. The American Civil Liberties Union had requested a preliminary injunction stopping the Itawamba County School District from canceling the prom and from prohibiting Constance McMillen from bringing her girlfriend as a date and wearing a tuxedo to the event.

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