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Elated plaintiffs call court decisions victory for families

Gay couple in Prop 8 case invites Obama to upcoming wedding

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David Boies, Proposition 8, gay news, Washington Blade
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HRC President Chad Griffin joined plaintiffs in the Prop 8 case on the Supreme Court steps Wednesday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The lesbian and gay couples that served as the main plaintiffs in Wednesday’s historic Supreme Court decision overturning California’s Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage said the decision would have a profound positive impact on gay families in their home state and beyond.

California residents Kris Perry, after whom the case has been named, and her partner Sandy Stier told reporters and a crowd of onlookers outside the Supreme Court that the enormity of the legal ramifications of the case was for them overshadowed by its impact on their family, especially their four sons.

“Today is a great day for American children and families,” Perry told the gathering. “Sandy and I want to say how happy we are not only to be able to return to California and finally get married but to be able to say to the children in California, no matter where you live, no matter who your parents are, no matter what family you’re in, you are equal.”

Perry added, “And today we go back to California and say to our own children, all four of our boys – your family is just as good as everybody else’s family. We love you as much as anybody else’s parents love their kids. And now we’re going to be equal to every other family in California.”

Californians Jeff Zarrillo and his partner Paul Katami, the other couple that served as lead plaintiff’s in the Prop 8 case, told the gathering outside the Supreme Court that they, too, look forward to returning to their home state to get married.

“Prop 8 allowed us to turn our anger into action,” Katami told the gathering. “So although we celebrate today, we work to make sure that everyone like Jeff and I and Kris and Sandy can just get married because it’s the natural next step in our relationship,” he said.

“We want to join the institution of marriage not to take anything away but to strengthen it, to live up to its ideals.”

In a development that prompted both cheers and tears from onlookers, Katami turned to Zarrillo, his voice breaking, and said, “And today I finally get to look at the man I love and say, ‘Will you marry me?’”

With Zarrillo nodding in the affirmative, the two men kissed and embraced as news photographers TV camera crews recorded their action.

Following the two couples’ initial comments, which came at a news conference organized jointly by the Human Rights Campaign and the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER), which initiated the legal challenge to Prop 8 five years ago, the couples walked along the sidewalk outside the Supreme Court building speaking to individual television news outlets whose camera crews lined the sidewalk.

During one of those interviews, HRC President Chad Griffin, who accompanied the couples, excitedly informed them that President Obama just called Griffin’s cell phone from Air Force One, which was taking the president on a state visit to Africa.

Reporters and onlookers watched with interest as Griffin handed his cell phone to the couples, who spoke briefly with Obama.

“It’s incredible,” Griffin told reporters minutes later. “The president just called from Air Force One and he was thanking our team and the plaintiffs for their courage. And he said because of their courage thousands upon thousands of people will be able to join in the celebration of marriage very soon,” Griffin said.

Katami and Zarrillo told people standing near them that they thanked the president for calling them and invited him to their wedding.

“They’re quick,” observed attorney Theodore Boutrous, the law firm partner of lead plaintiff attorney Ted Olsen in the Prop 8 case. Olsen, who was in court on Wednesday in an unrelated case in Philadelphia, wasn’t able to attend the Supreme Court session announcing the Prop 8 decision.

“They get the president on the phone and they invite him to their wedding,” said Boutrous. “So it’s exciting. Not too many cases end with such a joyous thing, that people who want to get married can get married. This is a good one,” he said.

Perry told the Blade she, too, was excited to hear from Obama.

“When the leader of the free world tells a couple like Sandy and I that he respects our relationship and he hopes we can get married soon and show our kids that we’re a family, it says everything,” she said. “We couldn’t be prouder to have him call and tell us that.”

Fred Sainz, HRC’s vice president for communications, said Edith Windsor, 85, the lead plaintiff in the DOMA case, which bears her name, would be celebrating the decision in New York City. Windsor is a New York State resident who challenged DOMA in court following the death of her wife, whom she married in Canada, and the refusal of the IRS to waive her estate tax in the same way that tax is waived for opposite-sex married couples.

With DOMA overturned Wednesday by the Supreme Court, Windsor’s attorneys are expected to call on the IRS to retroactively refund the estate tax she was forced to pay.

Windsor was also scheduled to serve as a grand marshal in New York City’s LGBT Pride Parade this weekend.

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Federal Government

EXCLUSIVE: Robert Garcia urges US officials to protect LGBTQ people during Pride Month

Gay Calif. congressman sent letter to top authorities on June 12

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Participants of the Capital Pride Festival in D.C. on June 8, 2024. Gay U.S. Congressman Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) has urged U.S. officials to ensure LGBTQ people are safe during Pride Month. (Washington Blade photo by Emily Hanna)

U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) on June 12 sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray to work to ensure LGBTQ people during Pride events.

“Over the last several weeks, your respective agencies and departments have issued stark warnings, and travel advisories to the public over potential threats from foreign terrorist organizations (FTO), and their supporters during this year’s Pride Month,” said Garcia in his letter. “I understand that these steps have come after deeply concerning increases in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, calls for targeted violence, and foiled violent plots.”

The FBI on May 10 issued an advisory that warned of potential violence at Pride events and other LGBTQ-specific events. The State Department on May 17 — the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia — announced a similar warning.

“Ensuring that people can peacefully and safely celebrate Pride and the diversity of the LGBTQ+ community is of utmost importance,” wrote Garcia, a gay man who represents California’s 42nd Congressional District that includes Long Beach.

June 12 also marked eight years since a gunman killed 49 people inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

The massacre at the time was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. The gunman pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State, even though there is no evidence that suggests the extremist group ordered him to carry out the massacre. 

“This week marks the eight (sp) anniversary of the horrific Pulse nightclub Orlando shooting — during which the attacker deliberately and viciously targeted the LGBTQ+ community,” wrote Garcia in his letter. “It is important to put the recent escalation of extremist anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda and messaging in the context the Pulse nightclub shooter who was influenced by these same forces of extremism.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Title IX protections blocked in six more states

Ruling applies to Va.

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(Bigstock photo)

BY McKENNA HORSLEY | A federal judge has blocked new Title IX rules, including those aimed at protecting LGBTQ students from discrimination in K-12 schools, and sided with Republican attorneys general in several states — including Kentucky. 

Chief Judge Danny Reeves of the U.S. District Court in Eastern Kentucky on Monday issued a ruling siding with Republican Attorney General Russell Coleman and his counterparts in five other states. The ruling prevents the U.S. Department of Education from “implementing, enacting, enforcing, or taking any action to enforce the Final Rule, Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Sex in Education Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance,” which was set to begin Aug. 1. 

Kentucky Attorney General Russell Coleman (Kentucky Lantern photo by Mathew Mueller)

Coleman and the GOP attorneys general filed the lawsuit in April. At the time, they argued the Department of Education “used rulemaking power to convert a law designed to equalize opportunities for both sexes into a far broader regime of its own making” with the new Title IX regulations. 

Reeves limited the injunction to the plaintiff states of Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Virginia and West Virginia.

The Biden administration introduced the rules to “build on the legacy of Title IX by clarifying that all our nation’s students can access schools that are safe, welcoming, and respect their rights,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement. The rules also would have rolled back Trump administration changes that narrowly defined sexual harassment and directed schools to conduct live hearings, allowing those who were accused of sexual harassment or assault to cross-examine their accusers.

President Joe Biden with U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. (Official White House photo by Adam Schultz)

In their complaint, the state attorneys general said that under the Biden rule, “Men who identify as women will, among other things, have the right to compete within programs and activities that Congress made available to women so they can fairly and fully pursue academic and athletic excellence — turning Title IX’s protections on their head … And anyone who expresses disagreement with this new status quo risks Title IX discipline for prohibited harassment.” 

Established in 1972, Title IX was created to prevent “discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance,” according to the Department of Education.

Reeves wrote in his opinion that “the Department of Education seeks to derail deeply rooted law” created by the implementation of Title IX. 

“At bottom, the department would turn Title IX on its head by redefining ‘sex’ to include ‘gender identity.’ But ‘sex’ and ‘gender identity’ do not mean the same thing,” he wrote. “The department’s interpretation conflicts with the plain language of Title IX and therefore exceeds its authority to promulgate regulations under that statute.” 

In a press release, Coleman’s office said Monday that schools that would fail to comply with the new rules would risk losing federal funding. Citing the Department of Education, the office said Kentucky’s public and private schools received a total of $1.1 billion in federal funding last year.

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“As a parent and as attorney general, I joined this effort to protect our women and girls from harm. Today’s ruling recognized the 50-plus years of educational opportunities Title IX has created for students and athletes,” Coleman said in the press release. “We’re grateful for the court’s ruling, and we will continue to fight the Biden administration’s attempts to rip away protections to advance its political agenda.”

A spokesperson for the department said it was reviewing the ruling.

“Title IX guarantees that no person experience sex discrimination in a federally-funded educational environment,” the spokesperson added. “The department crafted the final Title IX regulations following a rigorous process to realize the Title IX statutory guarantee. The department stands by the final Title IX regulations released in April 2024, and we will continue to fight for every student.”

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McKenna Horsley

McKenna Horsley covers state politics for the Kentucky Lantern. She previously worked for newspapers in Huntington, W.Va., and Frankfort, Ky. She is from northeastern Kentucky.

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The preceding story was previously published by the Kentucky Lantern and is republished with permission.

The Kentucky Lantern is an independent, nonpartisan, free news service based in Frankfort a short walk from the Capitol, but all of Kentucky is our beat.

We focus on how decisions made in the marble halls of power ripple through the lives of Kentuckians. We bring attention to injustices and hold institutions and officials accountable. We tell the stories of Kentuckians who are making a difference and shine a light on what’s working. Our journalism is aimed at building a fairer, healthier Kentucky for all. 

Kentucky Lantern is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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The White House

Press secretary reaffirms the administration’s commitment to advancing LGBTQ rights

Karine Jean-Pierre also highlighted mental health efforts

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White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre (Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre began her briefing with reporters on Monday by honoring Pride Month as a time to “reflect on the progress we have made in pursuit of equality, justice, inclusion” and “recommit ourselves to do more to support LGBTQI+ rights at home and around the world.”

She said that while the Biden-Harris administration has taken “historic action” to expand freedoms and protections for the community “since day one,” state legislatures last year filed more than 600 anti-LGBTQ bills, which disproportionately target transgender youth.

Not only are conservative state lawmakers potentially on track to surpass that number in 2024, but Republican members of Congress along with the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Donald Trump, have pledged their support for at least a dozen anti-LGBTQ policies at the federal level.

Jean-Pierre said this administration “is going to continue to speak out and stand up against these attacks,” adding, “as President Biden says, these young [transgender and queer] people are some of the bravest people he knows, but no one should have to be brave just to be themselves.”

The press secretary concluded her opener by discussing the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, which provides a “line dedicated to serving LGBTQI+ young people that can be reached by dialing nine eight and pressing three.”

Afterwards, when fielding questions from reporters, Jean-Pierre noted how many of the challenges facing LGBTQ youth have dovetailed with the ongoing mental health crisis in America.

She also addressed a ruling on Monday that blocked the administration’s newly passed LGBTQ-inclusive Title IX rules, which clarify that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is covered by the statute’s language barring sex discrimination in education programs and activities that receive federal assistance.

A Trump-appointed judge on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana had issued an injunction against the regulations on Thursday, with a handful of Republican state attorneys general promising more legal challenges.

Declining to address specific legal questions that she noted are best directed to the Justice Department, Jean-Pierre stressed the need for students to feel safe and to be treated equally.

“That is why the protections are all about making sure students have equal rights restored,” she said.

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