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Mixed reaction over Verrilli’s Prop 8 arguments

U.S. gov’t attorney doesn’t call for nationwide ruling in favor of marriage



Donald Verrilli Jr, Solicitor General, gay news, Washington Blade
Donald Verrilli Jr, Solicitor General, gay news, Washington Blade

Solicitor General Donald Verrilli’s arguments before the court on marriage are receiving mixed reviews. (Photo public domain)

The U.S. solicitor general’s performance before the Supreme Court on marriage is receiving mixed reviews amid disappointment that he didn’t overtly say same-sex marriage should be institutionalized nationwide as a result of the cases.

U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli was the sole attorney who argued in both cases before the court — one on California’s Proposition 8, the other on the Defense of Marriage Act. The message was the same for both measures: Laws related to sexual orientation should be subject to heightened scrutiny, or a greater assumption they’re unconstitutional.

But the nuance in what Verrilli said should be the outcome of the Prop 8 case is noteworthy. Asked by Chief Justice John Roberts whether the administration wants a ruling that would strike down marriage bans across the country, Verrilli declined to give an affirmative answer.

“We are not taking the position that it is required throughout the country,” Verrilli said. “We think that that ought to be left open for a future adjudication in other states that don’t have the situation California has.”

Under later questioning, Verrilli said a state would have to reach a “very heavy burden” to justify a measure similar to Prop 8, but at the same time said a “caution rationale” — presumably a wait-and-see approach to same-sex marriage — would be “one place where we might leave it open.”

Suzanne Goldberg, a lesbian and co-director of Columbia University’s Center for Gender and Sexuality Law, said she was “uncomfortable” with Verrilli’s assertion that states may have justification to ban couples from marrying.

“He seemed to suggest that they might actually have a legitimate reason for maintaining the exclusion, and that did not seem necessary to me, given the arguments that he was making,” Goldberg said. “It did not feel right for the government’s attorney to suggest that their might actually be a plausible reason for a state to exclude same-sex couples from marriage.”

Goldberg drew a distinction between the arguments presented by the Justice Department in the Prop 8 and DOMA cases. For DOMA, Goldberg noted the administration hasn’t identified any instance in which the federal anti-gay law would be constitutional.

“That wasn’t the government’s position in the DOMA case even though the government said under the weakest standard of review, DOMA might be upheld,” Goldberg said. “But it did not suggest any of the rationales would be sufficient.”

It should be noted that Verrilli’s arguments in the Prop 8 case are consistent with the friend-of-the-court brief filed by the Justice Department against the California measure. The brief never explicitly says all bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional and instead focuses on Prop 8, which is the question before the court.

Richard Socarides, a gay New York-based advocate, said the presentation of that limited argument on marriage equality is not the fault of Verrilli — whom he said “did a good job” — but is the result of the White House making a political calculation on the Prop 8 case.

“I think that they made some political choices that were not the ones exactly I would have made,” Socarides said. “And I think that some of those came back to haunt them.”

Verrilli noted that California offers gay couples domestic partnerships, suggesting the court should rule that states offering some benefits to gay couples, but not marriage, should instead offer them marriage rights. Legal experts have coined this potential decision as the “nine-state solution.”

But Socarides questioned the wisdom of embracing that position, noting justices seemed disinclined to adopt a ruling saying states that offer some benefits to gay couples aren’t doing enough while leaving other jurisdictions unaffected.

“I think that argument is too clever by half,” Socarides said. “I appreciate the fact that I think the White House was trying to thread the needle there a little bit. It may have served its purpose, but I think in retrospect not the best decision.”

David Gans, civil rights director for the progressive Constitutional Accountability Center, found a positive in the limited argument presented by Verrilli: it provides another option to justices unswayed by American Foundation for Equal Rights attorney Ted Olson’s argument in favor of a fundamental right to same-sex marriage.

“In some ways, it was a very useful complement to the argument that Ted Olson made,” Gans said. “What Verrilli offered was sort of an alternative. Olson and Verrilli gave them a broader option as well as a narrow one that would decide this case, but not other cases. In light of some of the concern expressed by justices, in the end, it may prove valuable.”

Several legal experts and LGBT advocacy groups, including the Human Rights Campaign, declined to comment for this article.

Socarides emphasized the Justice Department has already stepped up to the plate in helping same-sex couples win their rights at the Supreme Court by dropping defense of DOMA and participating in the Prop 8 case.

“I would also emphasize that, I think at this point, we’re really quibbling around the edges and that we want to be very grateful for the work that the Justice Department did and for the president’s support,” Socarides said.

That was a sentiment shared by Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, who commended the Justice Department for its work before the bench and in the briefs that were filed.

“Briefs speak louder than arguments, and the Solicitor General effectively dismantled every argument made in defense of excluding gay couples from marriage and inflicting unequal treatment on married gay couples under so-called DOMA,” Wolfson said. “He repeatedly urged the justices to focus on what is really going on: discrimination against gay people and indefensible denial of the freedom to marry, and when they go back and read his briefs in both cases, the justices will see a strong, clear path forward toward the freedom to marry and repudiation of the impermissible discrimination we have endured for too long.”


The White House

EXCLUSIVE: Jill Biden to host White House Pride celebration

Event to take place on June 26



First lady Jill Biden (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

First lady Jill Biden will host the White House Pride Month celebration on June 26, according to a press release previewed by the Washington Blade.

The party on the South Lawn will also feature a performance by singer, songwriter, actress, and record producer Deborah Cox and musical selections by DJ Trifle.

This year’s event comes on Equality Day this year, which honors the anniversaries of three landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions that expanded rights and protections for LGBTQ Americans: Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which struck down sodomy laws, United States v. Windsor (2013), which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which made marriage equality the law of the land.

The White House highlighted some of the “historic action” taken by President Joe Biden to “advance LGBTQ+ equality for the community,” including:

  • Signing into law the landmark Respect for Marriage Act which protects the rights of same-sex and interracial couples;
  • Appointing a historic number of LGBTQI+ and transgender appointees, including the first transgender American to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate;
  • Directing all federal agencies to strengthen civil rights protections on the basis of gender identity, resulting in agencies working to strengthen protections in housing, health care, education, employment, the criminal justice system, nutrition programs, and more;
  • Reversing the ban on open service by transgender members of the military;
  • Signing an executive order focused on LGBTQI+ children and families that directs agencies to address the dangerous and discredited practice of so-called “conversion therapy” and finalized rule-making that ends disparities that LGBTQI+ children and parents face in the child welfare and foster care system and protects against disparities in health care; and
  • President Biden continues to call on Congress to pass the Equality Act to enshrine civil rights protections for LGBTQI+ Americans in federal law.

Last year, the president and the first lady hosted the celebration, which was the largest Pride event ever held at the White House.

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65% of Black Americans support Black LGBTQ rights: survey

Results show 40% have LGBTQ family member



(Logo courtesy of the NBJC)

The National Black Justice Coalition, a D.C.-based LGBTQ advocacy organization, announced on June 19 that it commissioned what it believes to be a first-of-its-kind national survey of Black people in the United States in which 65 percent said they consider themselves “supporters of Black LGBTQ+ people and rights,” with 57 percent of the supporters saying they were “churchgoers.”

In a press release describing the findings of the survey, NBJC said it commissioned the research firm HIT Strategies to conduct the survey with support from five other national LGBTQ organizations – the Human Rights Campaign, the National LGBTQ Task Force, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Family Equality, and GLSEN.

“One of the first surveys of its kind, explicitly sampling Black people (1,300 participants) on Black LGBTQ+ people and issues – including an oversampling of Black LGBTQ+ participants to provide a more representative view of this subgroup – it investigates the sentiments, stories, perceptions, and priorities around Black values and progressive policies, to better understand how they impact Black views on Black LGBTQ+ people,” the press release says.

It says the survey found, among other things, that 73 percent of Gen Z respondents, who in 2024 are between the ages of 12 and 27, “agree that the Black community should do more to support Black LGBTQ+ people.”

According to the press release, it also found that 40 percent of Black people in the survey reported having a family member who identifies as LGBTQ+ and 80 percent reported having “some proximity to gay, lesbian, bisexual, or queer people, but only 42 percent have some proximity to transgender or gender-expansive people.”

The survey includes these additional findings:

• 86% of Black people nationally report having a feeling of shared fate and connectivity with other Black people in the U.S., but this view doesn’t fully extend to the Black LGBTQ+ community. Around half — 51% — of Black people surveyed feel a shared fate with Black LGBTQ+ people.

• 34% reported the belief that Black LGBTQ+ people “lead with their sexual orientation or gender identity.” Those participants were “significantly less likely to support the Black LGBTQ+ community and most likely to report not feeling a shared fate with Black LGBTQ+ people.”

• 92% of Black people in the survey reported “concern about youth suicide after being shown statistics about the heightened rate among Black LGBTQ+ youth.” Those expressing this concern included 83% of self-reported opponents of LGBTQ+ rights.

• “Black people’s support for LGBTQ+ rights can be sorted into three major groups: 29% Active Accomplices, 25% Passive Allies (high potential to be moved), 35% Opponents. Among Opponents, ‘competing priorities’ and ‘religious beliefs’ are the two most significant barriers to supporting Black LGBTQ+ people and issues.”

• 10% of the survey participants identified as LGBTQ. Among those who identified as LGBTQ, 38% identified as bisexual, 33% identified as lesbian or gay, 28% identified as non-binary or gender non-conforming, and 6% identified as transgender.

• Also, among those who identified as LGBTQ, 89% think the Black community should do more to support Black LGBTQ+ people, 69% think Black LGBTQ+ people have fewer rights and freedoms than other Black people, 35% think non-Black LGBTQ+ people have fewer rights and freedom than other Black people, 54% “feel their vote has a lot of power,” 51% live in urban areas, and 75% rarely or never attend church.

Additional information about the survey from NBJC can be accessed here.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Club Q shooter sentenced to life in prison for federal hate crimes

Five people killed in 2022 mass shooting in Colo.



Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. (Justice Department YouTube screenshot)

Anderson Lee Aldrich, 24, formerly of Colorado Springs, Colo., was sentenced to 55 concurrent life sentences to run consecutive to 190 years in prison after pleading guilty to 74 hate crimes and firearms charges related to the Nov. 19, 2022, mass shooting at Club Q, an LGBTQ establishment in Colorado Springs.  

According to the plea agreement, Aldrich admitted to murdering five people, injuring 19, and attempting to murder 26 more in a willful, deliberate, malicious, and premeditated attack at Club Q. According to the plea, Aldrich entered Club Q armed with a loaded, privately manufactured assault weapon, and began firing. Aldrich continued firing until subdued by patrons of the club. As part of the plea, Aldrich admitted that this attack was in part motivated because of the actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity of any person.

“Fueled by hate, the defendant targeted members of the LGBTQIA+ community at a place that represented belonging, safety, and acceptance — stealing five people from their loved ones, injuring 19 others, and striking fear across the country,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland. “Today’s sentencing makes clear that the Justice Department is committed to protecting the right of every person in this country to live free from the fear that they will be targeted by hate-fueled violence or discrimination based on who they are or who they love. I am grateful to every agent, prosecutor, and staff member across the Department — from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado, to the Civil Rights Division, the ATF, and FBI — for their work on this case. The Justice Department will never stop working to defend the safety and civil rights of all people in our country.”

“The 2022 mass shooting at Club Q is one of the most violent crimes against the LGBTQIA+ community in history,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “The FBI and our partners have worked tirelessly towards this sentencing, but the true heroes are the patrons of the club who selflessly acted to subdue the defendant. This Pride Month and every month, the FBI stands with the survivors, victims, and families of homophobic violence and hate.”

“ATF will not rest until perpetrators like this defendant are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said Steven Dettelbach, director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). “I hope today’s life sentence brings at least some peace to the victims and survivors of this senseless, horrific tragedy. That this sentence should come during Pride month reinforces how far we have left to go before all communities, including all LGBTQIA+ communities, are safe here. It also shows how far ATF and all our partners will go to ensure hatred does not win.”

“The defendant’s mass shooting and heinous targeting of Club Q is one of the most devastating assaults on the LGBTQIA+ community in our nation’s history. This sentence cannot reclaim the lives lost or undo the harms inflicted. But we hope that it provides the survivors, the victims’ families, and their communities a small measure of justice,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Our message today should be loud and clear. No one should have to fear for their life or their safety because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. The Justice Department will vigorously investigate and prosecute those who perpetrate hate-fueled, bias-driven attacks.”

“Hate has no place in our country and no place in Colorado” said Acting U.S. Attorney Matt Kirsch for the District of Colorado. “I hope that today’s sentence demonstrates to the victims and those connected to this horrific event that we do not tolerate these heinous acts of violence.”

The FBI Denver Field Office, Colorado Springs Police Department, and ATF investigated the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alison Connaughty and Bryan Fields for the District of Colorado and, Maura White of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division prosecuted the case.

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