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Supreme Court won’t hear Brewer challenge to DP benefits

Health coverage will continue for gay state employees as litigation proceeds

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Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (photo by Gage Skidmore via wikimedia)

One day after it issued major decisions in marriage equality cases, the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday announced it won’t hear an appeal from Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) asking the justices to allow to her bar state employees from receiving benefits for same-sex partners.

In an orders list published Thursday, the court indicated it won’t take up Brewer’s petition, which sought to overturn a district court injunction barring her from enforcing a portion of 2009 budget law that stripped away health benefits for state employees with same-sex partners.

Tara Borelli, staff attorney for Lambda Legal, said the decision means Arizona state employees with same-sex partners can rest assured their health coverage will continue as the case proceeds.

“Arizona has tried everything it can to eliminate this coverage,” Borelli said. “But it has no more cards to play in this round. It’s time to go back to the trial court so that we can get a final ruling to assure these employees that they will not be denied the equal pay for equal work they deserve.”

After Brewer signed the budget in 2009, Lambda Legal filed a complaint on behalf of seven plaintiff couples contesting the removal of benefits on the basis that it violates equal protections and due process protections under the 14th Amendment.

U.S. District Court Judge Sedwick issued a preliminary injunction barring Arizona from taking away these benefits, which Brewer appealed to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court.

The decision by the Supreme Court on Thursday not to hear the case means the litigation will continue to proceed through judicial process, starting again with the district court.

Brewer in a statement decried the court’s decision not to take up the appeal as a breach of state authority that undercuts officials in making decisions regarding the state budget.

“In terminating domestic-partner benefits for state employees of every sexual orientation, the action I took with the Legislature was driven by financial necessity rather than a social agenda,” Brewer said. “This was a common sense step to get a grasp on Arizona’s tattered State finances.”

Considering straight state employees would receive health benefits through marriage as opposed to domestic partnerships, the move against domestic partner benefits is seen as targeting gay employees.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the court’s decisions are serving as a reminder that equal marriage rights still aren’t available to many same-sex couples throughout the nation.

“Today’s order brings Arizonans a step closer to enjoying the equality that all Americans deserve and that we are all committed to ensuring for everyone, everywhere,” Griffin said.

Also on Thursday, the Supreme Court announced it wouldn’t hear an early appeal of a U.S. district court ruling in Nevada against same-sex marriage in the case of Sevcik v. Sandoval, which was also filed by Lambda Legal.

Anti-gay groups had appealed the case to the Supreme Court when it was considering whether to take up marriage equality. Now that the Supreme Court has declined to hear the case, it will proceed to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

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Politics

New York Gender Recognition Act passes heads to Governor Cuomo

“We are protected by a constitution. Nowhere does it say that these rights don’t apply to one group of people.”

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New York Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell marching in the 2019 NYC Pride (Photo courtesy of Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell)

ALBANY, NY. – With a final push shepherded by openly gay New York State Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell, (D), the New York State Assembly passed New York Senate Bill S4402 and its Assembly companion bill A5465, the Gender Recognition Act. The legislation now heads to New York’s Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo who is expected to sign the measure.

The legislation allows for an “x” designation on the state’s driver’s licenses. The measure would also help waive an outdated rule requiring people to publish a notification in a newspaper when they change their name in the state. 

“Today is a proud day for New York State, as we secure our standing as a leader in LGBTQ rights and ensure that transgender, non-binary, and intersex New Yorkers have the equality and dignity they deserve,” O’Donnell said. “No one should face overwhelming financial, medical, and bureaucratic barriers simply to have their existence officially recognized. These obstacles only serve to make people’s lives harder and more dangerous, particularly for trans New Yorkers of color who too often have limited resources, face disproportionate rates of violence, and are already marginalized by our legal system. I am deeply honored to carry this important bill and thank all of the trans, non-binary, and intersex advocates who have worked tirelessly to shape and support it.”

On Tuesday, June 8, the State Senate passed S4402, which was co-sponsored by openly gay State Senator Brad Hoylman. In an interview published the same day by The Hill, when asked about the GRA, O’Donnell noted that transgender rights is one of his life pursuits, and that there is still much work to be done. 

“When marriage equality was passed, I knew there would be a backlash. I didn’t know the backlash would be directed at trans people, or involve bathrooms. So, there’s work to be done. Last year, we passed a bill that said if a bathroom only has one toilet, anyone is allowed to use it, to prevent people from being threatened or beaten up for using the wrong bathroom,” he said. “We are supposed to be free, and we’re all living in America where we are protected by a constitution. Nowhere does it say that these rights don’t apply to one group of people,” he added.

Gay City News reported that the legislation drew praise from LGBTQ legal advocates who have long fought for reform. Andy Marra, who is the executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF), said TLDEF worked to secure key elements of the bill, including waiving the requirement for medical documentation as well as the removal of the publication requirement in newspapers.

“Along with our colleagues at the Empire Justice Center and the Gender Recognition Act Coalition, TLDEF worked closely with state lawmakers to craft some of the most inclusive legislation to date,” Marra said in an email to GCN. “This bill can now serve as a model for other states across the country.”

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Gallup Poll shows 70% approval for same-sex marriage

The issue has been less prominent in U.S. politics, and public support for same-sex marriage has continued to increase

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“I Do.” A mass wedding was held in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 21, 2013. Participants were bussed in from states that banned same-sex marriage to legally wed in D.C., a jurisdiction that enacted marriage equality years before the 2015 Supreme Court ruling. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – New polling released by Gallup Tuesday showed that 70% of those Americans surveyed approved of same-sex marriage, a new milestone in the trend of approval since 1996 when Gallup first polled Americans on recognition of same-sex marriages, which then only registered a 27% approval.

According to the data kept by the firm, the upward trend steadily increased with a majority approval in 2011, followed by a 60% rating at the time of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges decision in 2015.

Gallup noted; “Since then, the issue has been less prominent in U.S. politics, and public support for same-sex marriage has continued to increase. Gallup has recorded other shifts in Americans’ ideas on marriage over time, historically, including expanded support for interracial marriage, which had 87% approval as of Gallup’s 2013 update.”

Republicans, who have consistently been the party group least in favor of same-sex marriage, show majority support in 2021 for the first time (55%). The latest increase in support among all Americans is driven largely by changes in Republicans’ views, Gallup reported.

Democrats have consistently been among the biggest supporters of legal same-sex marriage. The current 83% among Democrats is on par with the level of support Gallup has recorded over the past few years.

This could suggest that support for gay marriage has reached a ceiling for this group, at least for now. Meanwhile, support among political independents, now at 73%, is slightly higher than the 68% to 71% range recorded from 2017 to 2020.

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Politics

First gay Black man elected in Texas; Beats anti-LGBTQ incumbent

“Jalen shattered a lavender ceiling in Texas, and it came as right-wing state legislators target LGBTQ people.”

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Jalen McKee-Rodriguez campaign poster

SAN ANTONIO, TX. – Jalen McKee-Rodriguez, a high school math teacher and graduate student who has lived in San Antonio since 2013, beat his former boss and incumbent in the runoff race for the San Antonio City Council. With his victory, McKee-Rodriguez became the first out gay Black man ever elected in the state of Texas.

McKee-Rodriguez once worked for his opponent, incumbent City Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan, but left her office in 2019 after facing retaliation for reporting anti-gay discrimination and harassment. Just last week, poll watchers heard two pastors who endorsed Andrews-Sullivan tell congregants voting for McKee-Rodriguez would be a “sin.”

“Jalen shattered a lavender ceiling in Texas, and it came as right-wing state legislators target LGBTQ people and people of color with bigoted policies aimed at rallying their extremist political base,” said former Houston Mayor Annise Parker, President & CEO of LGBTQ Victory Fund. “We need more people of color, young people and LGBTQ people in state and local government who will ensure politicians look to improve the lives of Texans, not further marginalize them. Jalen’s victory is a rejection of the homophobic and racist politicking so fashionable in Austin and it will inspire more LGBTQ Black leaders to run and win.”

McKee-Rodriguez graduated from the University of Texas at San Antonio, (UTSA) with a BA in Communication in 2017 and will graduate with a Masters of Education in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies this year. McKee-Rodriguez married his husband Nathan, a pharmacy technician, in 2018, and the couple owns a home in the suburban San Antonio Northeast Crossing neighborhood.

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