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Court asked to overturn marriage bans in Nevada, Hawaii

14 attorneys general and Hawaii governor among those to file briefs.

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Martha Coakley, Beau Biden, Neil Abercrombie, Massachusetts, Delaware, Hawaii, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden and Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie signed briefs before the Ninth Circuit seeking marriage equality. (Photo of Martha Coakley by Fogster via Wikimedia Commons; Washington Blade photos of Biden and Abercrombie by Michael Key)

Five months after the U.S. Supreme Court issued two decisions in favor of marriage equality, a chorus of voices is calling on the U.S. Ninth Circuit to make a similar ruling on behalf of gay couples seeking marriage rights in Nevada and Hawaii.

Legal briefs were submitted to the Ninth Circuit by numerous public figures who’ve previously articulated their support for marriage equality, ranging from Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie to Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden. However, the Obama administration didn’t submit a brief to the court by the deadline articulating its views of favor of same-sex marriage.

The cases before the court are Sevick v. Sandoval, a federal lawsuit filed by Lambda Legal last year seeking marriage equality in Nevada, and Jackson v. Abercrombie, a similar lawsuit filed by private attorneys seeking to overturn the ban on same-sex marriage in Hawaii. Both are on appeal before the Ninth Circuit after district courts in those states affirmed that the bans on same-sex marriage were constitutional.

Abercrombie, who previously said he wouldn’t defend the ban on same-sex marriage in court, submitted an opening brief from his lawyers on Oct. 18 that seeks permission to file an additional, more lengthy document because the lawsuit a “landmark civil rights case.”

But the 112-page brief makes initial arguments about why the ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, arguing that it fails any rational basis test and laws related to sexual orientation should be subject to heightened scrutiny.

“Only legalization of same-sex marriage would allow plaintiffs, and tens of thousands of other same-sex couples in Hawaii, to ‘pursue the happiness’ and assume the mutual responsibilities — important to human ‘existence and survival’ — that are at the heart of the fundamental right to marry,” the brief states. “And only legalization will give plaintiffs the equality they so justly deserve.”

On Friday, friend-of-the-court briefs were also due before the Ninth Circuit. One high-profile brief was signed by 14 attorneys general who had previously signed a brief before the Supreme Court arguing in favor of marriage equality. Signers of the brief include Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, who’s running for governor, California Attorney General Kamala Harris and Biden.

The 32-page argues that the bans on same-sex marriage in Hawaii and Nevada are unconstitutional, among other reasons, because including same-sex couples into the institution of marriage enhances state interest and the current laws aren’t rationally related to interests in procreation or child-rearing.

“Since the founding, states have sanctioned marriages to support families, strengthen communities, and facilitate governance,” the brief states. “Because same-sex couples form families, raise children, and avail themselves of the benefits and abide by the obligations of marriage in the same manner as different-sex couples, the states’ interest in marriage are furthered by allowing same-sex couples to marry.”

The 14 states represented in the brief are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. D.C. Attorney General Irving Nathan also signed.

Because the cases are before the Ninth Circuit, they are the most advanced federal lawsuits on marriage equality and the closest to the Supreme Court. However, the lawsuits may not be the ones to reach the high court first because the Ninth Circuit is notoriously slow in reviewing litigation.

Both briefs from the attorneys general and Abercrombie make use the Supreme Court’s decision against the Defense of Marriage Act.

The brief filed by the attorneys generals says in a footnote that the DOMA decision has particular impact on gay couples in Hawaii and Nevada because marriage laws in those states are now preventing them from accessing the federal benefits of marriage.

“Nevada and Hawaii marriage laws now prevent same-sex couples and their families from obtaining important federal benefits and protections otherwise available to married couples,” the brief states. “This works significant and practical harm to those families and further undercuts the rationality of state laws that create two classes of state-sanctioned relationships.”

The attorneys general filed a brief before the Ninth Circuit even though they had previously articulated their views on marriage before the Supreme Court, but one party that didn’t follow suit is the Obama administration.

The Justice Department filed a friend-of-the-court brief when California’s Proposition 8 had come before the Supreme Court, arguing the ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional and suggesting states with domestic partnerships must allow marriage rights for gay couples.

Although Nevada and Hawaii similarly have domestic partnership registries, the Obama administration didn’t make a filing in the Nevada or Hawaii cases. The Justice Department didn’t respond to a request to comment on why no brief was filed.

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, nonetheless said the lack of a brief from the Obama administration isn’t of concern.

“It is not disappointing and not a problem; the Department of Justice’s conclusion that the denial if the freedom to marry violates the Constitution is clear and a matter of record,” Wolfson said.

Lambda Legal had previously said it would “welcome” a brief from the Obama administration in the Nevada case for the Ninth Circuit. In response to an inquiry about the absence of input from the Justice Department, Lambda Staff Attorney Peter Renn pointed to the friend-of-the-court briefs filed by other parties in the lawsuit.

“A total of 17 amicus briefs were filed, in support of ending the unconstitutional exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage and the real harm it does to same-sex couples and their families,” Renn said. “The Obama Administration’s support for marriage equality is already well-established, and there may be future opportunities to file amicus briefs in this case as it proceeds further.”

A number of other parties submitted friend-of-the-court briefs before the Ninth Circuit in favor of overturning the bans on same-sex marriage.

* A group of 13 political scientists filed a 39-page brief arguing the marriage bans should be overturned because laws related to sexual orientation should be subject to heightened scrutiny. Gay people, the political scientists say, should be considered a suspect class because they continue to lack political power.

“Gay men and lesbians lack political power,” the brief states. “They are underrepresented in political office; they are viewed negatively by a majority of Americans; their interests are opposed by powerful, well-funded interest groups that use ballot initiatives to try to undo the limited political successes that gay men and lesbians have achieved; and they have limited influence over their political allies.”

* Another brief was filed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which argues that the 1967 Supreme Court decision overturning state bans on interracial marriage in Loving v. Virginia applies to prohibitions on same-sex marriage.

“The basic 14th Amendment principles addressed in Loving are not limited to race,” the brief states. “To the contrary, they govern any state action that denies two consenting adults – including those of the same sex – the right to marry. While the nature of discrimination against lesbians and gay men differs fundamentally from the de jure racial segregation at issue in Loving, the legal issues addressed by Loving are analogous to the legal issues raised in these appeals.”

Other briefs were filed by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, the American Psychological Association, the Columbia Law School Sexuality & Gender Law Clinic and the Gay & Lesbian Medical Association.

UPDATE: This article has been updated with a comment from Lambda Legal and a listing on the states that signed the brief from the attorneys general.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Greg Taylor

    October 28, 2013 at 3:35 pm

    Why didn't Rhode Island sign?

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Comings & Goings

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Troy Cline, gay news, Washington Blade
The 'Comings & Goings' column chronicles important life changes of Blade readers.

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected]

The Comings & Goings column also invites LGBTQ+ college students to share their successes with us. If you have been elected to a student government position, gotten an exciting internship, or are graduating and beginning your career with a great job, let us know so we can share your success. 

Shin Inouye, gay news, Washington Blade
Steven McCarty

Congratulations to Steven McCarty on being named president of the Kiwanis Club of Washington, D.C. He said, “I’m honored to be installed as the president of the Kiwanis Club of Washington, D.C. and to be able to shepherd our programs and volunteers to impact youth where they are needed most. Our club’s new partnership with SMYAL has already turned a portion of their Youth Center in Southeast D.C. into the first Clinical Services Department in the District that offers free and affirming mental healthcare to LGBTQ Youth. As an openly gay man, I’m proud to further our club’s mission with radical empathy and inclusion.” McCarty has also recently been awarded Kiwanis’ highest honor, the George Hixson award.

McCarty is a Technical Program Specialist at stac labs in D.C. He is also founder and campaign manager at Abolish Racism 2020. He worked as a Senior Customer Success Manager,  Crowdskout. He was a workplace equality intern at Human Rights Campaign and a summer fellow at Michigan State AFL-CIO, in Lansing, Mich. 

McCarty earned his bachelor’s in Political Science and Communications Studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Congratulations also to Shin Inouye on his appointment as Executive Vice President of Communications, The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and Human Rights, The Leadership Conference Education Fund. 

Wade Henderson, interim president and CEO of The Leadership Conference and The Education Fund said, “We are thrilled Shin Inouye will be taking on even greater responsibilities on our senior leadership team. His incredible talent and commitment to this organization and our work are truly outstanding, and his strategic leadership will no doubt continue moving us forward in the fight to protect and advance civil and human rights.”

Inouye has held a number of positions with the organization including Managing Director of Communications. Inouye also held a number of high-level positions in the Obama administration, including Press Secretary and Acting Senior Adviser for Intergovernmental and External Affairs, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; Adviser for Intergovernmental and External Affairs, Executive Office of the President; White House Office of Communications: Director of Specialty Media; and served as an authorized spokesperson for the Obama Inaugural Committee, with a focus on specialty media outlets, including LGBTQ, AAPI, Native American, Youth/College, Faith, and Jewish press. Prior to that Inouye was Communications Director in the Office of Congressman Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.) and has also worked for the ACLU and as a summer intern with the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan. 

Inouye received a number of honors including being named One of 25 “LGBTI next generation leaders to watch” by Out in National Security and the Atlantic Council; and One of “40 Asian American Pacific Islander National Security & Foreign Policy Next Generation Leaders” by New America and the Diversity in National Security Network.

Shin Inouye
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World

Petition urges White House to develop plan to protect LGBTQ Afghans

Taliban regained control of country on Aug. 15

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Two men in Kabul, Afghanistan, in July 2021 (Photo courtesy of Dr. Ahmad Qais Munzahim)

More than 10,000 people have signed a petition that urges the Biden administration to do more to help LGBTQ Afghans who remain in Afghanistan after the Taliban regained control of the country.

The Human Rights Campaign; the Council for Global Equality; Immigration Equality; Rainbow Railroad; the Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration and the International Refugee Assistance Project on Friday presented to the White House the petition that urges the administration to adopt “a 10-point action plan … to expedite and ease the refugee and asylum process for LGBTQI Afghans.”

The same six groups last month urged the Biden administration to adopt a plan that would “prioritize the evacuation and resettlement of vulnerable refugee populations, including LGBTQI people, and ensure that any transitory stay in a third country is indeed temporary by expediting refugee processing.” The groups, among other things, asked the White House to “speak out forcefully against human rights abuses by the new Taliban regime and any increased targeting of vulnerable communities, including LGBTQI people, and use existing mechanisms to sanction and hold accountable perpetrators of human rights abuse.”

The Taliban entered Kabul, the Afghan capital, on Aug. 15 and regained control of the country.

A Taliban judge in July said the group would once again execute people if it were to return to power in Afghanistan.

Rainbow Railroad and Immigration Equality are among the other groups that have continued their efforts to evacuate LGBTQ Afghans since American troops completed their withdrawal from the country on Aug. 30. Some of the 50 Afghan human rights activists who Taylor Hirschberg, a researcher at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health who is also a Hearst Foundation scholar, has been able to help leave the country are LGBTQ.

“We reiterate our call for President Biden to adopt the 10-point policy plan which will expedite and ease the refugee process for LGBTQI Afghans,” said Human Rights Campaign Senior Vice President for Policy and Political Affairs JoDee Winterhof in a press release. “The 10,000+ people who signed our petition have demonstrated that they want the United States, long a beacon of refuge for those fleeing persecution, to take action to protect LGBTQI Afghans—a vulnerable group who risk oppression, even death, simply for who they are or who they love. Now is the time for action.”

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Utah

VIDEO: Utah deal promoted as national model for LGBTQ rights, religious liberty

Data finds state has 2nd highest support for LGBTQ rights

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(Screen capture via YouTube)

A new video from the premier LGBTQ group in Utah, challenging the idea LGBTQ rights must be at odds with religious liberty, promotes an agreement reached in the state as a potential model to achieve a long sought-after update to civil rights law at the federal level.

The video, published Friday by Equality Utah, focuses on a 2015 agreement in Utah between the supporters of LGBTQ rights and the Mormon Church to enact a compromise acceptable to both sides. The agreement by those two sides led to an LGBTQ civil rights law in the state, which has Republican control of the state legislature and the governor’s mansion.

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, says in the video dialogue is key to achieving meaningful success, whether its among the people of Utah, a state legislature or lawmakers in Congress.

“When you are working with LGBT rights in a state like Utah, and you want to advance legal equality, you can’t do it without working with Republicans, with conservative, with people of faith,” Williams says.

Williams, speaking with the Washington Blade over a Zoom call, said the main audience for the video is people on “the center right and the center left” willing to listen to other side when it comes to LGBTQ rights and religious liberty.

“People that have the courage to reach out to each other, and sit down across from each other and say, ‘Hey look, let’s hammer this out,” Williams said. “That’s who my audience is.”

Not only did Utah enact non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people, but the state under a Republican governor administratively banned widely discredited conversion therapy for youth. When lawmakers proposed legislation that would ban transgender youth from competing in school sports, the proposal was scuttled when Gov. Spencer Cox (whom Williams called a “super Mormon”) said he’d veto it after it came to his desk.

Marina Gomberg, a former board for Equality Utah, is another voice in the video seeking dispel the narrative religious liberty and LGBTQ rights are in conflict.

“in order to protect LGBTQ people, we don have to deny religious liberty, and in order to provide protections for religious liberties, we don’t have to deny LGBTQ people,” Gomberg says. “The idea that we do is a fallacy that Utah has dismantled.”

In July, new polling demonstrated the surprisingly the Utah, despite being a conservative state, has the second highest percentage of state population in support for non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. The data Public Religion Research Institute from 77 percent of Utah residents support LGBTQ people, which is just behind New Hampshire at 81 percent.

Tyler Deaton, senior adviser for the pro-LGBTQ American Unity Fund, said the Utah agreement demonstrates the possibility of reaching an agreement at the federal level once “second order” issues are put into perspective.

“The first order question has to be how are we winning the culture,” Deaton said. “Do people even want to pass the bill? And if they do, you then figure out the details.”

The American Unity Fund has helped promote as a path forward for LGBTQ non-discrimination at the federal level the Fairness for For All Act, legislation seeking to reach a middle ground on LGBTQ rights and religious freedom. Polling earlier this year found 57 percent of the American public back a bipartisan solution in Congress to advance LGBTQ civil rights.

Supporters of the Equality Act, the more established vehicle for LGBTQ rights before Congress, say the Fairness for For All Act would give too many carve-out for LGBTQ rights in the name of religious freedom. The Equality Act, however, is all but dead in Congress and has shown no movement in the U.S. Senate.

Skeptics of the Utah law would point out the law doesn’t address public accommodations, one of the more challenging aspects in the fight for LGBTQ rights and one or remaining gaps in civil rights protections for LGBTQ people in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year in Bostock v. Clayton County. As a result, it’s perfectly legal in Utah for a business owner to discriminate against LGBTQ coming as patrons.

Williams, however, shrugged off the idea the lack of public accommodations protections in Utah make the agreement in the state makes it any less of a model, making the case the spirit behind the deal is what matters.

“I think copying and pasting Utah’s law doesn’t work for lots of reasons,” Wililams said. “What’s most important is a model of collaboration because when you are sitting around the table with each other — Democrats and Republicans, LGBTQ people and people of faith — that’s when the transformation happens. That is when the mutual respect is really forged.”

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