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My two moms can beat up your eight wives: a marriage update

15 Feb

DSC_0418Since there’s a lot going on, I thought it might be time for a little update on what’s going on in the big gay world.

ILLIONOIS – Yesterday, the Illionois Senate approved marriage overwhelmingly with a vote of 34-21! Happy Valentine’s Day! Support is expected to be thinner but still winnable in the House and we don’t yet know when it will be taken up. Governor Pat Quinn has pledged to sign it into law should the House pass it. YAY!

RHODE ISLAND – About 3 weeks ago, the RI House approved marriage even more overwhelmingly with a 51-19 vote. The Senate is a bit of an uphill battle but certainly not unwinnable. They are looking at a Spring vote and again the Governor is a huge supporter.

OHIO – Currently collecting signatures for a pro-equality ballot measure in 2013

-ARIZONA, MICHIGAN & OREON – Currently collecting signatures for a pro-equality ballot measure in 2014

-MINNESOTA  – Following the beatdown of an anti-gay marriage ballot measure in 2012, and a pwnership of the house, senate and the election of awesome pro-equality Governor Mark Dayton, advocates are pushing for a pro-equality bill in the next few months.

One of these states will most likely be state #10 to (not including the unstate of DC) to approve marriage equality.

SCOTUS! (Supreme Court of the United States) March 26th, SCOTUS will be hearing oral arguments on two marriage cases. The first is on CA’s Prop 8. (Perry)

Possible outcomes of Prop 8 decisions: 

All gay marriage bans will be struck down: This is not a likely scenario, but would make me very happy. Our lawyers are arguing to make this happen by pointing out the unconstitutionality of anti-gay marriage bans and the creation of different classes of citizens federally.

Prop 8. will be overturned: This is what most pundits are thinking will happen. It will overturn the discriminatory law and once again allow gay and lesbian Californians to marry in that state only. CA is different from other states because the courts legalized marriage in May of 2008. From May through November (prior to Prop 8 passing), more than 30,000 gay and lesbian Californians were married. This means, there are three separate classes in CA. Heterosexuals who can legally marry, Gays and Lesbians who are legally married and Gays and Lesbians who are prohibited from marrying. This is a good basis for overturning the ban and some think this is the argument the court will use to do so.

Prop 8 will be upheld: Many think this is unlikely considering the proponents of Prop 8 have no legitimate argument outside of “this is how the people voted.” Every court thus far has overturned or upheld the decision of the previous ruling.

SCOTUS will punt: One of the questions presented by the court was whether or not those defending the anti-gay law had the right to defend it in court. The Brown administration and the one before him had both pulled out of defending Prop 8 because they found it to be discriminatory. After that, the anti-gay campaign began defending it in court. Some don’t believe that a biased campaign has the right to defend a state law in court. If SCOTUS punts, then two things could happen, the decisions of the earlier courts could be upheld or they could essentially issue a do-over.

On March 27th (the next day), SCOTUS will be hearing oral arguments on the constitutionality of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). As many of you know, as a side note – Obama’s DoJ stopped defending DOMA a few years ago as on 8 separate occasions now, when the government was sued over DOMA, it has been found unconstitutional – so there’s a bit of precedent here. It’s also clearly a waste of money to defend a clearly unconstitutional law. Yet John Boehner has just increased to $2 million the amount of money they will spend towards lawyers to defend DOMA…yet they keep screaming that we spend too much on frivolous things.

But I digress…

The reason most courts have found DOMA to be unconstitutional is that it violates state’s rights. Legally married gay couples in states that recognize equality are not afforded more than 1100 rights and responsibilities given to heterosexual couples granted by the federal government. This includes everything from federal tax benefits, to citizenship. If I were to marry a man from Argentina – legally, let’s say in DC – they could still be deported because of DOMA. If I (a very gay man) were to marry a woman from Argentina, that marriage would give her the opportunity to apply (and win) US citizenship.

Edie Windos, lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court DOMA cases

Edie Windos, lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court DOMA cases

Possible outcomes of DOMA decisions:

DOMA is struck down: The court could decide that Section 3 of DOMA (that which defines marriage as being only between a man and a woman) violates state’s rights and the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection for all under the law.

DOMA is upheld: The court could uphold DOMA which would enshrine two classes of citizen where one class is treated differently under federal law than the other. Legally married gay couples would continue to not receive tax and social security survivor benefits. Another side note: 17 year – Congressman Gerry Studds, the first openly-gay member of Congress, was legally married to his partner of 16 years Dean Hara. When Studds died in 2006, Hara was not elegible to receive spousal survivor benefits and pension afforded every other Congressional spouse.

SCOTUS punts: Due to the aforementioned discrepancies with who is defending this law, the court could dismiss the case on procedural grounds. It would of course, find it’s way back to the Supreme Court eventually, but this would make it so they didn’t have to make a potentially unpopular opinion.

There are actions happening all over the country for you to get involved with. Everything from vigils to lobby days to house parties. Go find out what’s going on near you or plan something and let us know about it at Light to Justice or visit the March4Marriage Facebook page.

In the meantime, might I recommend the film Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement (also available on Netflix). It’s a story about Edie Windsor and her wife, Thea. Edie is the lead plaintiff in the upcoming DOMA cases coming before the Supreme Court.

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UPDATE: Principal Assaults Pro-Gay Student, School District Lies to Protect Him

5 Oct

Sequoya HS Senior Chris Sigler

Yesterday, we shared the story of Sequoya High School senior Chris Sigler who wore a T-shirt with the words “GSA: I’ve got your back” to school and was assaulted by his principal for it. The Tennessee high school was in the news recently when that same principal threatened to suspend students for even discussing the proposed gay-straight alliance.

After my conversation with Principal Maurice Moser, Chris’ story was no surprise to me. Moser came across combative and angry when discussing his own discriminatory actions towards the GSA.

Last night, we were able to speak with a lawyer from the ACLU, who yesterday sent out a press release regarding the assault on Chris Sigler.  The ACLU is demanding that the school administration not only confirm that students’ first amendment rights are being protected, but that students also be allowed to form the GSA. Principal Moser had said to me in our conversation that the only reason the GSA is unable to form is because they cannot find a faculty sponsor. Moser has helped other clubs find sponsors in the past, but is unwilling to help the GSA.

We were told by the ACLU that there is a “disturbing trend” in this high school where several members of the faculty have expressed great interest in becoming the sponsor for the GSA. Then they have a meeting with Principal Moser to discuss and return from that meeting “suddenly uninterested.” We have reached out to some of these teachers for comment and to find out what happened in their meetings and will update you should they respond.

We were also able to speak to Chris Sigler’s mother, Linda last night who told us her version of what happened, which obviously agrees with the ACLU’s press release. She also wanted to reiterate the need for the GSA at this high school. She told me “there are at least 30 students who would like to be part of the club and in a small town, that’s a lot.”

While her son is straight, he has a sister Jessica who identifies as bisexual. “Chris saw how these kids were being treated and knew he had to stand up for them. That’s just the kind of kid he is.” Jessica was the only other person in the room when Moser attacked Chris. To date, the Sheriff has not interviewed Jessica. Yesterday, the Tennessee Equality Project started a petition for a fair investigation. That petition has since closed as Linda Sigler will be speaking with the sheriff today to find out why he hasn’t interviewed Jessica. In the meantime, they have created another petition calling for an investigation into the ongoing harassment of LGBT teens at Sequoya High School.

She went on to mention that the school currently houses at least two Christian student groups – the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and “Prayer Around the Flagpole,” where once a week, a pastor comes on to the school grounds and students are asked to go pray around the flagpole. Until very recently, there was also a prayer said before every football game.

While Christian student organizations may not initially be seen as something to compare the plight of the GSA to, according to a poster on the GSA’s facebook page, there are area Christian churches which are getting involved in the fight to stop them:

“Heard this from a friend in Madisonville: At Howard Chapel Church in Vonore, the pastor preached on QUEERS and said the ACLU may be getting involved with the GSA at Sequoyah and for no church members to sign on or be involved, etc.”

The Howard Chapel Church is less than a mile from the home of a lesbian couple that was burned to the ground allegedly by their neighbor. The word “QUEER” was spray painted in large black letters on their adjoining garage. To add insult to injury, the couple’s insurance company is refusing to pay them on their claim. GetEQUAL has started a petition to the insurance company here and to date, more than 50,000 have signed.

Local NBC affiliate, WBIR has more on the alleged assault including a statement from Tim Blankenship, Ass’t Director of Schools for Monroe County:

“The Monroe County School System is aware of the alleged accusations. We have received written statements from all eyewitnesses. Our documentation clearly indicates that there are always two sides to every story. We’ll gladly provide more information when it becomes available.”

The problem with this claim is that according to Linda Sigler, no statement was taken by the school from her daughter Jessica – the only eyewitness to the assault. I called Tim Blankenship directly and when I attempted to ask him about the discrepancy in his statement and the truth, he hung up on me.

It’s become very clear that the school district is trying to protect Principal Moser to the point that they are silencing students and reporting untruths to the media about what is actually happening in Sequoya High School’s halls. When the bullying of LGBT students is literally coming from the top-down, something needs to change.

We’ll have more on this as it comes in.

Deportation Proceedings Dismissed in Same-Sex Marriage Immigration Case

30 Jun

Josh Vandiver (photo by Jamie McGonnigal, EqualityPhotography.com)

With marriage equality now a reality in New York, our next step is securing more state victories while at the same time – overturning the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). As we discussed here recently, there have been several challenges to the constitutionality of DOMA, including now 14 federal court cases finding the law to be unconstitutional.

Another battle which is loosening the Jenga pieces under this bigoted piece of legislation is the fight for immigration rights by bi-national couples. One such case that we’ve covered is that of Henry Valendia and Josh Vandiver, a legally married couple residing in New Jersey. Under DOMA, Valendia, a Venezuelan national, was denied legal residency.

Last month, AG Holder vacated a decision made by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). He followed up with four questions to the board:

In the exercise of my review authority under that regulation, and upon consideration of the record in this case, I direct that the order of the Board be vacated and that this matter be remanded to the Board to make such findings as may be necessary to determine whether and how the constitutionality of DOMA is presented in this case, including, but not limited to: 1) whether respondent’s same-sex partnership or civil union qualifies him to be considered a “spouse” under New Jersey law; 2) whether, absent the requirements of DOMA, respondent’s same-sex partnership or civil union would qualify him to be considered a “spouse” under the Immigration and Nationality Act; 3) what, if any, impact the timing of respondent’s civil union should have on his request for that discretionary relief; and 4) whether, if he had a “qualifying relative,” the respondent would be able to satisfy the exceptional and unusual hardship requirement for cancellation of removal.

While there is no news as to any answers received by AG Holder, some incredible news came to the Valencia-Vandiver family yesterday in the form of a dismissal by Jane H. Minichiello, the chief counsel at the Newark office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and arm of the Homeland Security Department. The judge granted the motion to close the case on June 13th and the couple’s lawyer, Lavi Soloway received official copy of the order yesterday. While the decision was confirmed, no further information on future similar immigration cases was given.

According to the New York Times, Mr. Valendia said: “I can start breathing now after so many months of fighting. I was holding my breath for fear of any moment being sent away.” he continued by saying the decision was a “big step forward” but did not address the continued problem of whether federal recognition of marriage equality would become a reality. “The fight isn’t over.” Valendia said.

Congratulations to the Valendia-Vandiver family and thank you for the work you’ve done in advancing equality.

Evan Wolfson, Founder and President of Freedom to Marry also commented on the government’s decision to dismiss these proceedings:

“Freedom to Marry applauds the U.S. government for bringing anend to this deportation process, which threatened to cruelly separate a couple who, like so many others, fell in love, made a lifetime commitment to one another, and got married – but because they are gay, were denied the normal family immigration protections afforded other married couples.  While this exercise of sound government discretion is most welcome, Josh and Henry, along with so many other families, should not be vulnerable to the unfair treatment or uncertainty caused by federal marriage discrimination against same-sex couples.  It is time for Congress to pass the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage Act and end the hardship and unfairness that burden the lives of loving and committed couples.”

Prop 8 Decision Upheld and NY Marriage Equality On The Way!

14 Jun

What a day for equality from coast-to-coast!

PROP 8 NEWS!

Judge Vaughn Walker

The history: As you may or may not know, a few months ago, Judge Walker (who had overturned Proposition 8 at the District Court level last year), came out of the closet. This of course sent the rabid anti-gay crusaders on a new mission – since Walker stood to benefit from the outcome as a gay man who could now get married in California, the bigots claimed his decision should be overturned.

The fun part: The Prop 8 proponents who fought tooth and nail for “traditional marriage,” used as their main argument that “protecting [heterosexual] marriage” would benefit straight people and straight families. So NOW their argument is that Judge Walker should have recused himself because he was gay – but apparently a straight judge would be fine because well…he wouldn’t benefit from Prop 8 (so long as you ignore their primary argument from the previous trial). Aaaaaawkwaaaard.

The news: The federal judge who heard yesterday’s case claiming that Judge Walker should have opted out of the trial just found that Walker had “no legal obligation” to recuse himself from the case. No word yet on when gay and lesbian Californians can again start saying “I do,” but it’s great to hear that once again, this homophobic law has been found unconstitutional.

 

-NEW YORK MARRIAGE EQUALITY NEWS –

The history: In 2009, the Marriage Equality Bill was defeated in New York after many Democratic senators betrayed their parties, their constituents and their colleagues after breaking promises made and voting against equality for all New Yorkers. Several of these senators then faced primary challenges for seats they had held for many years.

NY Sen. Carl Kruger

The fun part: One of these Democrats that voted against equality was protested at his home, when activist Corey Johnson demanded that he come out of the closet. Sen. Carl Kruger was then investigated by the FBI on a bribery sting and arrested in February for allegedly pocketing close to $1 million in bribes for he and his live-in boyfriend. His boyfriend was also charged, as he was not only a beneficiary but he’d set up several shell companies to help hide the money.

The news: Kruger, though STILL not admitting he’s gay, had this to say about his change of mind on the upcoming marriage equality bill:

“My vote comes not as an outgrowth of media attacks or picketing outside my home or political pressure, but due to a better understanding of the impact that this bill will have on the rights to countless New Yorkers”

Wondering where that “better understanding” came from?

NY Governor Andrew Cuomo, photo by Jamie McGonnigal, EqualityPhotography.com

Okay, the real news: The Marriage Equality Bill was introduced today by Governor Cuomo. In earlier reports, Cuomo said that he would absolutely not introduce the bill unless he was certain he had the votes in the Senate to pass it. According to reports from pretty much every marriage equality organization, after 4 previously anti-equality Democrats (including the aforementioned Kruger) and one previously anti-equality Republican announced today that they would be voting for marriage equality, we now have 31 of the 32 votes necessary to pass the bill. If what Cuomo had promised before remains true though, he’s certain there is at least one other Republican vote. So…keep your fingers crossed as the vote has to happen in the coming few days before the end of their session. And if you live in New York, CALL YOUR SENATOR! New Yorkers for Marriage Equality/HRC has set up a very easy to use site which will connect you directly with your state senator. Just click here to make it happen now! AND SPREAD THE WORD!

 

 

Texas Judge to Void Marriage of Deceased Firefighter and Transgender Woman

26 May

Thomas & Nikki Araguz

This is one of those stories that not only explains precisely why we need equal protections on the Federal level, but it is also one of those stories that many of our friends, relatives and co-workers wouldn’t believe if they heard it.

Texas firefighter Thomas Araguz died on July 3rd, 2010 while fighting a fire on an egg farm in Boling, Texas. His wife, a transgender woman named Nikki Araguz – who changed her name legally in 1996, was devastated. Nikki was out of town when it happened and sadly, not one person in her husband’s family called Nikki to tell her of the tragedy. She learned about her own husband’s death from a posting on a social networking site. When she arrived home, she was treated like a stranger by her husband’s family, blocked from seeing her stepchildren and outcast from what she thought was a loving relationship with her husband’s family.

The day after her husband’s funeral, Nikki learned that there were two separate lawsuits filed against her in attempts to stop her from receiving the benefits a firefighter’s spouse usually receives. Her husband mentioned her in one instance, by name as the beneficiary should anything happen to him. This ensured that she and his two children would be taken care of. Still, Thomas’ mother and ex-wife filed these suits to grab at the money due to Nikki.

The most disgusting part of this whole situation is that the primary argument being used against Nikki is that her marriage should be voided because she was born a man. And a Houston judge is about to do just that. So on top of all the other challenges a transgender woman faces each day in a place like Texas, on top of losing her husband and a family with whom she thought she had a loving and supportive relationship, on top of losing funds which are rightfully due to her following her husband’s death, these shameful bigots are now going to void the marriage she had with Thomas.

Thomas’ ex-wife, Heather Delgado, his mother and the judges who are allowing this horrendous miscarriage of justice – District Judge Randy Clapp and Delgado’s lawyer, Edward Burwell should ALL be ashamed of themselves. This kind of hateful odious treatment of another human being should be reviled. Our thoughts are with Nikki at this tremendously difficult time.