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Nev. federal court rules against same-sex marriage

Jones determines heterosexuals might not marry if gay couples can

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A district judge in Nevada upheld the state’s same-sex marriage ban

A federal court in Nevada has ruled against allowing same-sex couples to marry on the basis that they can’t procreate and gay people aren’t a politically powerless class.

In a 41-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Robert Jones, an appointee of former President George W. Bush, granted summary judgment in favor of the state of Nevada against claims its prohibition of same-sex marriage violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Among the reasons why Jones, a Mormon who attended Brigham Young University, finds gay couples lack a constitutional right to marry is a rational basis for the government to preclude couples who can’t bear children from marrying:

“Human beings are created through the conjugation of one man and one woman. The percentage of human beings conceived through non-traditional methods is minuscule and adoption, the form of child-rearing in which same-sex couples may typically participate together, is not an alternative means of creating children, but rather a social backstop for when traditional biological families fail. The perpetuation of the human race depends upon traditional procreation between men and women. The institution developed in our society, its predecessor societies, and by nearly all societies on Earth throughout history to solidify, standardize, and legalize the relationship between a man, a woman, and their offspring, is civil marriage between one man and one woman.”

Moreover, Jones determines that straight couples may be disinclined to marry if same-sex couples were allowed to enter into the same institution, which would result in additional societal problems:

“Should that institution be expanded to include same-sex couples with the state’s imprimatur, it is conceivable that a meaningful percentage of heterosexual persons would cease to value the civil institution as highly as they previously had and hence enter into it less frequently, opting for purely private ceremonies, if any, whether religious or secular, but in any case without civil sanction, because they no longer wish to be associated with the civil institution as redefined, leading to an increased percentage of out-of-wedlock children, single-parent families, difficulties in property disputes after the dissolution of what amount to common law marriages in a state where such marriages are not recognized, or other unforeseen consequences.”

The ruling was made in the case of Sevick v. Sandoval, which Lambda Legal filed on behalf of eight plaintiff couples in Nevada. The lead plaintiffs are Beverly Sevcik and Mary Baranovich of Carson City, who’ve been together for nearly 41 years. The plaintiffs contend Nevada’s law is unconstitutional because excluding of same-sex couples from marriage while relegating them to domestic partnerships violates their right to equal treatment under the U.S. Constitution.

Tara Borelli, a Lambda staff attorney, said the district court decision is “not the end of this fight” and vowed to appeal the decision to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“This entire decision rests on the ridiculous premise that a ‘meaningful percentage of heterosexual persons’ will decide not to get married if same-sex couples can,” Borelli said. “Not only is this not true, but it is settled law that the government is not allowed to cater to private biases – which is all that imagining that  ‘some couples won’t join this club if those people are admitted’ amounts to. We are confident this ruling will be overturned on appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.”

The ruling was filed on Monday, but had only come to the attention to the media on Thursday because the court made no previous announcement it had issued a decision.

Notably, Jones determines that Baker v. Nelson, a 1972 case on same-sex marriage that the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear for want of federal question, should serve as precedent, even though the case is 40 years old, because it relied on a equal protection claim.

At the same time, Jones says Perry v. Brown, a more recent case against California’s Proposition 8 in which same-sex marriage was found unconstitutional, shouldn’t have bearing on Nevada because that case involved taking away marriage rights that already existed in the Golden State as opposed to the question of whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry when a domestic partnership system exists.

Doug NeJaime, who’s gay and a law professor at Loyola Law School, said the treatment of the Perry decision is the “most interesting thing” about the ruling because it shows the ramifications of the limited scope of the Ninth Circuit’s decision against Prop 8.

“The Ninth Circuit frames Perry very narrowly, partly, I think, in an attempt to convince the Supreme Court that they don’t need to get involved, and now we’re seeing the ramifications of that, which is this court within Ninth Circuit interpreting Perry so as not to apply,” he said.

It’s not the first time in recent history that a federal court has upheld a statute against same-sex marriage. In August, U.S. District Judge Alan Kay ruled Hawaii’s ban on same-sex marriage is constitutional using much of the same reasoning found in Jones’ decision.

In addition to ruling that Nevada’s law against same-sex marriage is constitutional on a rational basis standard of review, Jones also disputes the idea that laws related to sexual orientation should be subjected to heightened scrutiny, or a greater assumption they’re unconstitutional. That view has been articulated by President Obama in his decision that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional and the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals in its ruling against DOMA.

For starters, Jones dismisses the idea that gays and lesbians are politically powerless — a condition necessary for a class to be considered eligible for heightened scrutiny — because of the gains made by the LGBT community in recent years:

Homosexuals serve openly in federal and state political offices. The president of the United States has announced his personal acceptance of the concept of same-sex marriage and the announcement was widely applauded in the national media. Not only has the president expressed his moral support, he has directed the attorney general not to defend against legal challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), a federal law denying recognition to same-sex marriages at the federal level. It is exceedingly rare that a president refuses in his official capacity to defend a democratically enacted federal law in court based upon his personal political disagreements. That the homosexual-rights lobby has achieved this indicates that the group has great political power.

Jones also denies that gays and lesbians are politically powerless on the basis of the victories for same-sex marriage that were seen on Election Day:

At the state level, homosexuals recently prevailed during the 2012 general elections on same-sex marriage ballot measures in the States of Maine, Maryland and Washington, and they prevailed against a fourth ballot measure that would have prohibited same sex marriage under the Minnesota Constitution. It simply cannot be seriously maintained, in light of these and other recent democratic victories, that homosexuals do not have the ability to protect themselves from discrimination through democratic processes such that extraordinary protection from majoritarian processes is appropriate.

Not mentioned in the Jones ruling is the passage of a state constitutional amendment in North Carolina just months ago that defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

NeJaime said the rejection of heightened scrutiny is also noteworthy, although he’s skeptical about the conclusions the court reaches in this assessment.

“I think some of those conclusions strike me as a little bit shaky — the idea that now that same-sex marriage has a few ballot victories contributes to the idea that gays and lesbians have political power, and the conclusion that the history of discrimination against gays and lesbians does not rise to the level that would lead to the heightened scrutiny findings,” NeJaime said. “I think those kinds of conclusions would be susceptible to being overruled if the Ninth Circuit were to take this case.”

The ruling comes to light on the eve before the U.S. Supreme Court is set to consider whether to take up litigation challenging DOMA and Prop 8.

Nan Hunter, a lesbian law professor at Georgetown University, said the arguments against gays and lesbians being a politically powerless class may be preview of arguments to come before the Supreme Court.

“Perhaps most interesting is the extent to which this judge’s analysis focuses on the political powerlessness question, finding that gay people are too well regarded in majoritarian legislatures to justify judicial invalidation of laws that emerge from those legislatures,” Hunter said. “I think that this aspect of Equal Protection review will be a major focus in the Supreme Court, assuming that it grants review in any of the gay-related cases, and this decision provides a good preview of what the opponents of gay marriage will argue.”

NeJaime speculated the Nevada decision may encourage justices not to take up the Prop 8 case, allowing same-sex marriage to return to California.

“I don’t necessarily think it would have a direct impact, but I think the court would know the Perry has been interpreted very narrowly by another court in the Ninth Circuit, which might bolster support for the idea that they don’t have to take Perry,” NeJaime said.

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Mike Ketterman

    November 30, 2012 at 6:07 am

    This is your good Mormon, his oath to his office means nothing, only the oath to his cult does he follow. That is exactly what we would have gotten from Romney.

  2. Lanorexic

    November 30, 2012 at 8:35 am

    An unrepentant Mormon sitting on the bench in Nevada is as dangerous to a democracy as a Osama Bin Laden and RIchard Nixon combined. With his arguments he essentially contradicts himself. Gays/Lesbians aren’t powerless yet he’s denying their right marry. If that’s not powerless what is? He should be removed from the bench and shipped of to an apartheid sponsoring state in Africa. Mormons aren’t exactly mainstream and he should consider why the United States was originally populated. Persecution of gays/lesbians will end and he’ll be seen as the Church puppet that he is.

  3. David Grossman

    November 30, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    "Moreover, Jones determines that straight couples may be disinclined to marry if same-sex couples were allowed to enter into the same institution, which would result in additional societal problems."

    This is one of the most laughable (and most offensive) things I've ever read. You might as well say that same-race couples will refuse to marry if interracial couples are allowed to. This guy is an anti-gay bigot, and is an embarrassment to our legal system and our country. If possible, the citizens of Nevada should have him removed from the bench.

  4. Dave Edmondson

    November 30, 2012 at 9:01 pm

    In addition to the Princess-Clara-style rant about the supposed effect of same-sex marriage, the opinion reeks of the intellectual dishonesty that so often characterizes homophobes. The judge hand-waves away Constitutional arguments that directly refute his reasoning.

  5. Ian Leonard-Nickel

    December 1, 2012 at 12:53 am

    32-5 in favour of anti-equality advocates doesn't show the fact homosexuals are largely politically powerless? 'Hollingsworth v. Perry' findings of fact stated that no other class of citizenry has been more subjected to ballot measure (and lost nearly every time)! Not even immigrants!

  6. Dave Edmondson

    December 1, 2012 at 2:53 pm

    Let me given an example to support my comment from yesterday. The judge pretty much turns Loving v. Virginia on its head. He says that in Loving, "the elements of the disability were different as between Caucasians and non-Caucasians," whereas in reality, the Loving court explicitly refused to consider that argument and said that the anti-miscegenation statute violated equal protection "even assuming an even-handed state purpose to protect the integrity of all races."

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National

Jim Obergefell announces bid for seat in Ohio state legislature

Marriage plaintiff moves on to new endeavor

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First Amendment Defense Act, gay news, Washington Blade
Jim Obergefell has announced he'd seek a seat in the Ohio state legislature.

Jim Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in the litigation that ensured same-sex couples have the right to marry nationwide, announced on Tuesday he’d pursue a new endeavor and run for a seat in the state legislature in his home state of Ohio.

“You deserve a representative who does the right thing, no matter what. You deserve a representative who fights to make things better for everyone,” Obergefell said. “I’ve been part of a national civil rights case that made life better for millions of Americans. Simply put, I fight for what’s right and just.”

Obergefell, who claims residency in Sandusky, Ohio, is seeking a seat to represent 89th Ohio District, which comprises Erie and Ottawa Counties. A key portion of his announcement was devoted to vowing to protect the Great Lakes adjacent to Ohio.

“We need to invest in our Great Lake, protect our Great Lake, and make the nation envious that Ohio has smartly invested in one of the greatest freshwater assets in the world,” Obergefell said.

Obergefell was the named plaintiff in the consolidated litigation of plaintiffs seeking marriage rights that led the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in 2015 for same-sex marriage nationwide. Obergefell was widower to John Arthur, who died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and was seeking the right to be recognized as his spouse on his death certificate. The ruling in the consolidated cases ensured same-sex couples would enjoy the full benefits and responsibilities of marriage.

“We should all be able to participate fully in society and the economy, living in strong communities with great public schools, access to quality healthcare, and with well-paying jobs that allow us to stay in the community we love, with the family we care about,” Obergefell said in a statement on his candidacy.

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National

FDA-funded blood donation study recruiting gay, bi men

D.C.’s Whitman-Walker, L.A. LGBT Center working on study to ease restrictions

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gay blood ban, gay news, Washington Blade
A new study could make it easier for gay and bi men to donate blood.

D.C.’s Whitman-Walker Institute and the Los Angeles LGBT Center are among LGBTQ supportive organizations in eight U.S. cities working with the nation’s three largest blood donation centers on a study to find a way to significantly ease blood donation eligibility for men who have sex with men or MSM.

The study, which is funded by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, calls for recruiting a total of 2,000 gay and bisexual men in eight U.S. cities selected for the study to test the reliability of a detailed donor history questionnaire aimed at assessing the individual risk of a gay or bisexual man transmitting HIV if they donate blood.

A statement released by the study organizers says the questionnaire, which could be given to a gay or bisexual person showing up at a blood donation site, could be a replacement for the FDA’s current policy of banning men who have had sex with another man within the previous three months from donating blood.

In the early years of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, the FDA put in place a permanent ban on blood donations by men who have sex with men. In 2015, with advanced HIV testing and screening techniques readily available, the FDA lifted its permanent ban on MSM blood donations and replaced it with a 12-month restriction for sexual activity between MSM.

The FDA further reduced the time of sexual abstinence for MSM to three months in 2020.

LGBTQ rights organizations and others advocating for a change in the current FDA restriction point out that at a time when the nation is facing a severe shortage of blood donations due to the COVID pandemic, the three-month donation deferral requirement for MSM is preventing a large number of blood donations from men whose risk of HIV infection is low to nonexistent.

Under the FDA-funded and initiated study, the American Red Cross, Vitalant, and OneBlood — the nation’s three largest blood donation centers — have been conducting the questionnaire testing since the study was launched in March 2021.

“To gather the necessary data, the blood centers will partner with LGBTQ+ Centers in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Orlando, New Orleans/Baton Rouge, Miami, Memphis, Los Angeles, and Atlanta,” the study organizers say in a statement on a website launched to help recruit volunteers for the study.

“The study will enroll a total of 2,000 gay and bisexual men (250 – 300 from each area) who meet the study eligibility criteria,” the statement says.

Among the criteria for being eligible, the statement says, is the person must be between 18 and 39 years old, have expressed an interest in donating blood, must have had sex with at least one other man in the three months before joining the study, and must agree to an HIV test. A negative test result is also required for acceptance into the study.

The study is officially named ADVANCE, which stands for Assessing Donor Variability And New Concepts in Eligibility.

“The ADVANCE study is a first step in providing data that will help the FDA determine if a donor history questionnaire based on individual risk would be as effective as time-based deferral, in reducing the risk of HIV in the blood supply,” the study organizers statement says.

“If the scientific evidence supports the use of the different questions, it could mean men who have sex with men who present to donate would be assessed based upon their own individual risk for HIV infection and not according to when their last sexual contact with another man occurred,” the statement continues. “The ADVANCE study is groundbreaking because it’s the first time a study is being conducted that could result in individual risk assessment for men who have sex with men to donate blood,” the statement says.

The Whitman-Walker Institute, which is among the community-based organizations involved in helping organize and conduct the study, is an arm of Whitman-Walker Health, the LGBTQ supportive D.C. health center.

Christopher Cannon, director of Research Operations for Whitman-Walker Institute, said that since the D.C.-based part of the study was launched early last year prior to the official announcement of the study on March 20, D.C. has surpassed the original city goal of recruiting 250 participants for the study.

“We are currently at 276 as of last Friday’s report,” Cannon told the Blade in a Jan. 13 interview. “And the current goal is now 300,” he said. “So, we’re hoping to push this over that goal line in the coming days and weeks.

Cannon said that like the community organizations involved in the study in other cities, Whitman-Walker Institute’s role has been focused on recruiting gay and bisexual men to participate in the study and to send them to the American Red Cross headquarters building at 430 17th St., N.W. near the White House. That site, which serves as a blood donation center, is also serving as the site where study participants are screened, interviewed, and presented with a detailed questionnaire.

“We promote the study within Whitman-Walker,” Cannon said. “We promote it to our networks. We did social media promotions across the city.’

Although Whitman-Walker doesn’t have the final draft of the questionnaire being presented to study participants, Cannon said he has seen “bits and pieces” of it.  

“They ask very direct questions about the person’s sex life, sexual partners, sex acts, numbers of partners,” Cannon said. “There are questions about condom use, PrEP use, drug use. How recently have you had sex? Lots of related questions,” he said.

“It’s really about trying to figure out effectively which are the best questions,” according to Cannon. “The hope is by analyzing the questions and identifying maybe the best 10 to 12 questions that can be universally used…to get the best answers that identify the individuals that may have the highest risk,” he said. Doing that, he points, out can help determine which men who have sex with men should be eligible to safely donate blood.

A statement released by Whitman-Walker last March calls the study a “monumental research effort” that has the potential to lift the stigma imposed on gay and bisexual men whose ability to donate blood is currently based on their sexual orientation.

“The ADVANCE study is designed to understand if, by asking carefully crafted and research-informed research questions, blood collectors can screen potential blood donors for their individual HIV risk factors rather than applying a ban against sexually active gay and bisexual men,” the statement says.

“The goal is to move away from overly broad questions that exclude potential donors and spread stigmatizing messages about MSM and their HIV risks,” it says.

Cannon said that as of last week, study organizers had recruited a total of 879 study participants nationwide out of the goal of 2,000 participants needed to complete the study. He said issues related to the COVID pandemic created delays in the recruitment efforts, but study organizers were hopeful the study could be completed by this summer.

Information about participating in the study or learning more about it can be obtained at advancestudy.org.

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Federal Government

Veterans can now identify as transgender, nonbinary on their VA medical records

About 80 percent of trans veterans have encountered a hurtful or rejecting experience in the military because of their gender identity

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Graphic via U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough announced Wednesday that his department added the options of transgender male, transgender female, nonbinary and other, when veterans select their gender, in medical records and healthcare documentation.

“All veterans, all people, have a basic right to be identified as they define themselves,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement. “This is essential for their general well-being and overall health. Knowing the gender identity of transgender and gender-diverse veterans helps us better serve them.”

The statement also noted that the change allows health-care providers to better understand and meet the medical needs of their patients. The information also could help providers identify any stigma or discrimination that a veteran has faced that might be affecting their health.

McDonough speaking at a Pride Month event last June at the Orlando VA Healthcare System, emphasized his support for Trans and LGBQ+ vets.

McDonough said that he pledged to overcome a “dark history” of discrimination and take steps to expand access to care for transgender veterans.

With this commitment McDonough said he seeks to allow “transgender vets to go through the full gender confirmation process with VA by their side,” McDonough said. “We’re making these changes not only because they are the right thing to do, but because they can save lives,” he added.

In a survey of transgender veterans and transgender active-duty service members, transgender veterans reported several mental health diagnoses, including depression (65%), anxiety (41%), PTSD (31%), and substance abuse (16%).  In a study examining VHA patient records from 2000 to 2011 (before the 2011 VHA directive), the rate of suicide-related events among veterans with a gender identity disorder (GID) diagnoses was found to be 20 times higher than that of the general VHA patient population.

McDonough acknowledged the VA research pointing out that in addition to psychological distress, trans veterans also may experience prejudice and stigma. About 80 percent of trans veterans have encountered a hurtful or rejecting experience in the military because of their gender identity.

“LGBTQ+ veterans experience mental illness and suicidal thoughts at far higher rates than those outside their community,” McDonough said. “But they are significantly less likely to seek routine care, largely because they fear discrimination.

“At VA, we’re doing everything in our power to show veterans of all sexual orientations and gender identities that they can talk openly, honestly and comfortably with their health care providers about any issues they may be experiencing,” he added.

All VA facilities have had a local LGBTQ Veteran Care Coordinator responsible for helping those veterans connect to available services since 2016.

“We’re making these changes not only because they are the right thing to do but because they can save lives,” McDonough said. He added that the VA would also change the name of the Veterans Health Administration’s LGBT health program to the LGBTQ+ Health Program to reflect greater inclusiveness.

Much of the push for better access to healthcare and for recognition of the trans community is a result of the polices of President Joe Biden, who reversed the ban on Trans military enacted under former President Trump, expanding protections for transgender students and revived anti-bias safeguards in health care for transgender Americans.

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