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Jackson petitions Supreme Court in D.C. marriage case

Local officials mum on filing opposition brief

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Attorneys for Bishop Harry Jackson, the minister who has led efforts to kill D.C.’s same-sex marriage law, filed a petition last week asking the U.S. Supreme to weigh in on whether the city should allow voters to decide whether to overturn the law.

In a filing known as a petition for a Writ of Certiorari, Jackson’s attorneys asked the high court to allow Jackson and six others to appeal a decision earlier this year by the D.C. Court of Appeals rejecting their lawsuit seeking to force the city to hold a ballot measure on the marriage law.

D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles, who has been praised for his strongly worded briefs defending the same-sex marriage law in court, has yet to say whether the city will file a brief opposing Jackson’s Supreme Court petition.

City officials, including presumptive Mayor-elect Vincent Gray, have said they remain strongly supportive of the same-sex marriage law and would martial all the needed resources to defend it if the Supreme Court agrees to take Jackson’s case.

Supreme Court rules say briefs opposing a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari are not mandatory. One gay rights attorney said opposing parties often don’t file opposition briefs if they believe the high court is unlikely to approve a certiorari petition.

“I would think Peter Nickles might still write something,” said gay rights attorney Mark Levine. “But he may choose not to.”

Spokespersons for Nickles and the mayor’s office did immediately respond to calls asking if the city plans to file an opposition brief on the case.

The city has 30 days to file an opposing brief.

Four of the nine Supreme Court justices are needed to approve a petition for certiorari, which allows a case to come before the court for consideration on its merits. The court turns down the overwhelming majority of cases that come before it through petitions of certiorari, according to information posted on the court’s website.

Should the court agree to take the case, five of the nine justices are needed to issue a ruling in Jackson’s favor by overturning the appeals court decision.

Levine said it’s unlikely that the Supreme Court would agree to take the case, although he said its past rulings on some controversial cases have surprised legal observers.

The D.C. Court of Appeals ruled earlier this year that the city’s Board of Elections and Ethics was correct in disqualifying Jackson’s proposed ballot measure seeking to overturn the same-sex marriage law. The election board cited a city law governing voter initiatives and referenda that it said prohibits the city from holding such a ballot measure because, if approved, it would violate the D.C. Human Rights Act’s ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Jackson and his attorneys argue that the law restricting ballot measures that go against provisions in the D.C. Human Rights Act is invalid because it violates the city’s Home Rule Charter, which Congress passed in the early 1970s.

The election board and a D.C. Superior Court judge rejected that claim as did the Court of Appeals. Each said the ballot measure restriction doesn’t violate the Home Rule Charter.

In March, before the appeals court issued its decision on the case, Jackson’s lawyers filed an emergency motion asking the Supreme Court to issue a stay preventing the same-sex marriage law from taking effect until the appeals court ruled on the matter.

Chief Justice John Roberts denied the request for a stay, saying Jackson and others opposed to the marriage law could not show that they could win the case on its merits, or that allowing the law to take effect would cause them irreparable harm at that time.

However, Roberts said in his three-page ruling that Jackson’s argument that the city acted improperly by denying a request for a ballot measure on grounds that it would violate the Human Rights Act “has some force.”

That comment by Roberts has led to speculation by legal experts that the Chief Justice might give at least some consideration to supporting a petition that the Supreme Court take the case, even though the court has a longstanding history of deferring to lower courts on matters that don’t relate to the U.S. constitution or to federal law.

In a comment that same-sex marriage supporters viewed as a hopeful sign, Roberts also stated in his ruling in March that Congress had full authority to prevent the city from adopting its law prohibiting ballot measures that violate the Human Rights Act, but Congress chose not to do so.

Nickles, who wrote the city’s briefs defending the same-sex marriage law against Jackson’s lawsuit, has argued that the law barring ballot measure that violate the Human Rights Act was adopted in full compliance with the Home Rule Charter. He noted that Congress’s decision not to overturn either the ballot measure law or the same-sex marriage law shows there is no federal or constitutional interest in either law and Jackson has no grounds for asking the courts to overturn it.

The Supreme Court is not expected to announce its decision on whether or not to take Jackson’s case until sometime next year.

In addition to Jackson, the individuals that signed on to the petition seeking Supreme Court intervention in the case include Ward 5 ANC Commissioner Robert King, local minister Anthony Evans, former D.C. congressional delegate Walter Fauntroy, Dale Wafer, Melvin Dupree, and Howard Butler.

The group is being represented by attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative religious-oriented litigation group that has challenged same-sex marriages laws in other states.

“Today’s petition by Bishop Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court is nothing more than a last-ditch attempt by outside interests to try to eliminate marriage equality in the District,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, in a statement last week. “Every court that has reviewed this case, including two D.C. Superior Court judges and the full Court of Appeals, has found Jackson’s arguments to be without merit,” he said. “The Council and mayor, representing District residents, overwhelmingly approved legislation providing for marriage equality. And we will remain vigilant against any efforts to take it away.”

(Jackson photo is a Blade file photo by Michael Key)

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District of Columbia

Nex Benedict honored at D.C. candlelight vigil

Upwards of 100 people paid tribute to nonbinary Okla. student at As You Are

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A candlelight vigil is held outside of the LGBTQ café and bar As You Are on Feb. 22, 2024, for 16-year-old nonbinary student Nex Benedict. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

Nearly 100 people turned out on Feb. 22 for a candlelight vigil hosted by the D.C. LGBTQ café and bar As You Are to pay tribute to 16-year-old nonbinary student Nex Benedict.

Benedict died Feb. 8 at a hospital in Owasso, Okla., one day after family members say Benedict was beaten up by three older female students in an Owasso High School bathroom after a fight broke out. Owasso police have said they are investigating the circumstances surrounding Benedict’s death but said preliminary autopsy findings do not show the death was caused by physical injuries.

Family members, including Benedict’s mother, told news media outlets that Benedict suffered severe bruises to their face and head and the family believes the injuries from an assault caused their child’s death. Family members have also said Benedict had been targeted for bullying at school because of their status as a nonbinary person.

People who spoke at the As You Are candlelight vigil said they considered the death an anti-LGBTQ hate crime.

“Today we are brought together to mourn the loss of Nex Benedict,” As You Are co-owner Rachel “Coach” Pike told the gathering, which was held on the As You Are outdoor patio and surrounding sidewalk. “Nex Benedict, your life matters. It will always matter, and more than that your life was precious,” Pike said.

“You had the right to live as you were and all parts of your identity were beautiful and should have been celebrated, supported, and safe,” Pike added.

Pike and other speakers, some of whom identified as nonbinary and transgender, pointed out that Benedict’s family are members of the Choctaw Nation, a Native American community. A speaker at the vigil who identified himself as Bo and said he identified as a two-spirit individual called on the gathering to pay tribute to Benedict’s role as one of the Choctaw people.

“When I first heard the news of Nex Benedict’s murder I was shocked,” Bo said. “I thought of how young. I thought about how much life was taken from this child.”

Another speaker, native American advocate Shiala King, whose family are members of the Sicangu Lakota Nation in South Dakota, arranged for her father, Frank John King, a faith leader and medicine man, to speak to the gathering by phone hookup from his residence in South Dakota. After greeting the gathering and expressing his condolences over the death of Benedict, Frank King further honored Benedict by singing a spiritual song in the Lakota language as part of a tradition of uplifting the spirit of beloved people who pass away.

Jo McDaniel, the other co-owner of As You Are whose also Pike’s spouse, said they were pleased with the response to their announcement of the vigil on social media. 

“To see this child taken from us this way, it’s chilling and it’s horrible and it’s not right and it’s not fair,” McDaniel told the Washington Blade after the vigil ended. “And so, we knew that the only thing we could do to help our community heal was to gather. And we wanted to do that in as honorable and wonderful a way as possible as that kid deserves,” she said.

Sue Benedict, Nex Benedict’s mother, told the British newspaper The Independent that Nex was a “courageous, smart teenager who had simply been living their true identity.” The Independent reports that Sue Benedict said Nex had been subjected to taunts, insults and bullying due to their gender fluid identity for over a year. 

Owasso police officials have said detectives were interviewing school officials and students to obtain more details on how the fight started and whether charges will be brought against those who allegedly assaulted Benedict. A police spokesperson told The Independent police were awaiting the findings of toxicology and autopsy reports from the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office to determine whether anyone will be charged with a criminal offense.

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District of Columbia

New gay bar on 14th Street to open in April

Owners say Crush to offer ‘cozy, inclusive space’

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Exterior of Crush. (Photo courtesy of Crush)

A new D.C. bar catering to the LGBTQ community called Crush is expected to open for business in April in a two-story building with a roof garden at 2007 14th St., N.W., in the center of one of the city’s bustling nightlife neighborhoods. 

A statement released by co-owners Mark Rutstein and Stephen Rutgers says the new bar will provide an atmosphere that blends “nostalgia with contemporary nightlife” in a building that once was home to a popular music store and radio supply shop.

“This new venue, catering especially to the LGBTQ+ community, offers a cozy, inclusive space that reminisces about the times of record stores and basement hangouts with friends,” the statement says. “In its past life as a music store and radio supply shop, Crush transforms its legacy into a modern-day haven,” the statement continues. “It features top-notch DJ booths, a dance floor and a summer garden, alongside a premium sound system to ensure every night is memorable.” 

Rutstein told the Washington Blade the new bar will have a capacity of accommodating 300 people on its two floors. He notes that the name ‘Crush” stems from the romantic crush that people often have for one another and his and Rutgers’ new bar is aimed at providing a friendly space for people to meet and socialize. 

“We’re looking to be inclusive to everyone,” Rutstein said. “It’s certainly going to be heavy on the LGBT community” because he and Rutgers have been part of that community for many years. But he added, “We want to be inclusive to gays and lesbians being able to bring their friends and allies in along with them and not feel weird about it.” 

Crush will be located across the street from the Reeves Center D.C. municipal building where government agencies and community groups, including the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community, has its office. 

“Crush isn’t just our name,” the statement issued by Rutstein and Rutgers says. “It’s the essence of our space. We aim to create an atmosphere where everyone can celebrate life and love.”

Editor’s note: Stephen Rutgers is the Blade’s Director of Sales and Marketing.

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Maryland

Are Md. prisons out of bounds with federal requirements for trans prisoners?

Department of Correctional Services says transgender prisoners ‘housed according to physical genitalia’

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BY BEN CONARCK | Nearly a year after formerly incarcerated transgender people testified to Maryland lawmakers about the troubling conditions they faced in state prisons and Baltimore jails, the agency in charge of their care continues to violate federal standards in how it houses trans prisoners, according to a coalition of trans rights advocates.

The Trans Rights Advocacy Coalition, bolstered by policy experts and attorneys, contends that while the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services has made some strides towards improving conditions, its policy of housing trans prisoners “according to physical genitalia” violates the federal standard that those individuals should be housed on a case-by-case basis determined by health and safety and any security problems, among other factors. The group laid out its argument in a 15-page memo presented to the department and lawmakers this week.

The rest of this article can be read on the Baltimore Banner’s website.

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