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.”


Washington Gay Partnership Signature Case Back in Court

August 11, 2010

from the Associated Press

Opponents of the state’s expanded domestic partnerships for gay couples are heading back to federal court, hoping to block the release of signed referendum petitions.

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U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Open Government Laws

June 24, 2010

Court rejects claim by anti-gay groups that disclosure laws violate the First Amendment

Today, in an 8-1 decision authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, the United States Supreme Court decisively rejected a First Amendment challenge to a Washington statute requiring public disclosure of the names of individuals who sign petitions to place referendums or initiatives on state ballots. The case arose when anti-gay groups sued to block disclosure of the names of individuals who signed a petition supporting an ultimately unsuccessful referendum to block Washington’s domestic partnership law. In Doe v. Reed, the Court held:

“Public disclosure thus helps ensure that the only signatures counted are those that should be, and that the only referenda placed on the ballot are those that garner enough valid signatures. Public disclosure also promotes transparency and accountability in the electoral process to an extent other measures cannot. In light of the foregoing, we reject plaintiffs’ argument and conclude that public disclosure of referendum petitions in general is substantially related to the important interest of preserving the integrity of the electoral process.”

On April 1, 2010, three of the nation’s leading lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) legal organizations, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), and Lambda Legal—together with the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force—joined Washington Families Standing Together and the State of Washington in filing an amicus brief defending open government laws requiring public disclosure of the names of voters who sign petitions supporting state ballot initiatives. The brief refuted the false claims presented to the Supreme Court in this and other cases that individuals who support anti-gay initiatives have been subjected to “systematic intimidation” by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

A statement by NCLR Legal Director Shannon Price Minter:

“Today’s decision is a serious defeat for groups who seek to abuse the democratic process to strip rights from vulnerable minorities, and who now wish to do so in secrecy, without even the minimal accountability imposed by laws designed to prevent fraud and abuse. This is one of a series of cases in which anti-gay groups are resisting compliance with open government laws. Thankfully, the Court recognized that the arguments presented by the anti-gay groups in this case had no merit, and that states must be permitted to protect the integrity of the political process.”


Supreme Court Rules Petition Signatures Public; Ref. 71 Names Not Immediately Available

June 24, 2010

by Janet I. Tu | Seattle Times

The names and addresses of those who sign ballot-measure petitions, such as Referendum 71, can be made public, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today in a decision that upholds the constitutionality of Washington state’s Public Records Act.

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Court Hears Dispute on Petition Signers’ Names

April 28, 2010

from the Associated Press

Gay rights opponents are asking the Supreme Court to protect the anonymity of the signers of a petition that sought a vote to overturn Washington state’s domestic partnership rights.

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Supreme Court Hears Argument in Case in Which LGBT Legal Groupds Filed Brief Disputing False Claims of Harrassment and Defending Open Government Requirements

April 28, 2010

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Doe v Reed, in which anti-gay groups present the false claim that they have been subjected to “systematic intimidation” by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. Anti-gay groups that placed a measure on the ballot to keep Washington State’s comprehensive domestic partnership law from going into effect are seeking to prevent the state of Washington from disclosing the names of voters who sign petitions supporting state ballot initiatives.

Three of the nation’s leading LGBT legal organizations, Lambda Legal, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) together with the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force have filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, vigorously and thoroughly refuting the false claims presented to the Court in this and other cases.

Some of the instances of supposed “intimidation” cited by opponents and noted in the amicus brief include:

  • A country club member in California, a supporter of Proposition 8, noted that “the openly gay members of the country club have changed their attitudes toward me. They used to greet me warmly; now, they give me looks of disdain and do not greet me as I pass.”
  • A person with a yard sign supporting Proposition 8 was disturbed on Halloween that some people “pointed and whispered to one another in disapproval” during trick-or-treating.
  • A woman was upset that her brother, who is gay, would no longer speak to her after she told him she might vote for Proposition 8.

As the amicus brief says, these complaints “are not only trivial, they reflect a fundamental refusal to accept the legitimacy of speech that disagrees with the complainants’ viewpoints, deeming it ‘hateful’ or ‘harassing’ simply because they do not like hearing it.”

“There’s nothing to see here, folks,” said Jon Davidson, Legal Director of Lambda Legal. “There’s no comparison between a few scattered instances of whispers and disapproving glares and the very real discrimination, harassment and even violence LGBT people experience every day all over the country. After all, more hate crimes are reported against gay people than any other group per capita in the United States.”

“The Petitioners are attempting to create a through-the-looking-glass world in which the aggressors are the victims and the victims the aggressors,” said Gary Buseck, Legal Director of GLAD.

“This is an outrageous attempt by anti-gay groups to use false claims of persecution to undermine laws that protect the integrity of the democratic process,” said Shannon Price Minter, NCLR Legal Director.

The brief in Doe v. Reed (Case No. 09-559) was prepared by Luke Platzer and William Hohengarten of Jenner & Block, Jon Davidson and Susan Sommer of Lambda Legal, Gary Buseck and Mary Bonauto of GLAD, and Shannon Minter and Christopher Stoll of NCLR. It is available at www.glad.org/doe-v-reed, www.lambdalegal.org/our-work/in-court/briefs/doe-v-reed_us_20100401_amicus-lambda-legal-et-al.html, and www.nclrights.org/Doe_v_Reed_amicus_brief.

A ruling in the case is expected later this year.


Supreme Court Takes up Washington Case Involving Disclosure of Petition Signatures

April 26, 2010

by Janet I. Tu | Seattle Times

The U.S. Supreme Court this week will hear a Washington state case that could decide whether signing a petition for a ballot measure is a private, political act or whether the names of those signers can be made public.

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