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New Mexico high court rules for marriage equality

Decision makes state the 17th with same-sex marriage on the books

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New Mexico Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade, gay news
New Mexico Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade, gay news

The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled in favor marriage equality. (Photo public domain)

Capping off a year of historic victories, the New Mexico high court handed down a unanimous ruling on Thursday granting same-sex couples the ability to wed in the state.

The 5-0 decision is written by Justice Edward Chavez, who concludes the current statutory scheme of the marriage law violates the Equal Protection Clause under Article II, Section 18, of the state constitution.

“We hold that the State of New Mexico is constitutionally required to allow same-gender couples to marry and must extend to them the rights, protections, and responsibilities that derive from civil marriage under New Mexico law,” the ruling states.

The ruling, which takes effect immediately, makes New Mexico the 17th state with marriage equality on the books. It also retroactively affirms the same-sex marriages for couples who already wed after obtaining marriage licenses from county clerks in the state.

The parties in the lawsuit, Griego v. Oliver, were six same-sex couples as well as all 33 of the state’s county clerks, who sought clarification on whether the state law enabled them to deliver marriage licenses to gay couples. Representing the same-sex couples were the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, the national ACLU, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the law firm of Sutin, Thayer & Browne APC as well as New Mexico attorneys Maureen Sanders, N. Lynn Perls and J. Kate Girard.

Laura Schauer Ives, legal director for ACLU-New Mexico, said the decision represents a “historic and joyful day for New Mexico.”

“As a state, we have always strived to treat all families with dignity and respect, and today’s decision allowing loving, committed same sex couples to marry continues that tradition,” Schauer Ives said. “The more than 1,000 same-sex couples who have already married in New Mexico can now rest certain knowing their marriages will be recognized and respected by our state.”

Camilla Taylor, National Marriage Project Director for Lambda Legal, commended her colleagues in the LGBT advocacy community for leading the way to a favorable decision on marriage equality in New Mexico.

“This beautiful unanimous decision explicitly underscores the argument we and our sister organizations have long made: denying same-sex couples the ability to marry imposes significant emotional and dignitary harm and is discrimination, pure and simple,” Taylor said.

New Mexico Gov. Suzanne Martinez, who opposes same-sex marriage but didn’t actively defend the marriage law, said in a statement she’ll abide by decision, but wish it were settled differently.

“My personal views on this issue are well-known, and I’m confident that most New Mexicans believe, like I do, that it should have been settled by a vote of the people,” Martinez said. “Instead, the Supreme Court stepped in and rendered their decision. While there will surely be intense debate about this decision moving forward, I encourage New Mexicans to continue to respect one another in their discourse, as this is an important issue for many New Mexicans on both sides.”

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said immediate after the ruling he had no “official reaction,” but offered some thoughts.

“I would say that we welcome that ruling, and this is another example of the extraordinary progress that’s been made when it comes to equal rights for LGBT Americans in this country,” Carney said.

Justices make use of the June decision from the U.S. Supreme Court against Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, noting the decision leaves marriage equality as the only option for same-sex couples to receive the federal benefits and for the state to avoid a federal challenge to its state law.

“Interpreting our statutes to authorize committed same-gender couples to enter into civil marriage will grant them the rights and privileges available to opposite-gender married couples in approximately one thousand statutes and federal regulations that refer to a person’s marital status, thereby avoiding a constitutional challenge on that basis,” the decision states.

The decision is the culmination of a drawn-out process over the course of 2013. It started in March with Santa Fe Mayor David Coss introducing a resolution, later approved the city council, saying marriage equality was already legal in New Mexico because of the gender-neutral construction of some portions of state law. That’s the conclusion Judge Alan Malott reached in a decision earlier this year extending marriage equality to Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties.

Notably, the court rejects in its decision the notion that marriage is already legal under the current state statutory scheme, observing that the legislature has passed laws, such as one changing the marriage application forms in 1961, defining marriage in opposite-sex terms.

“Thus, we conclude that a mix of gender-neutral and gender-specific terminology in the domestic relations statutes does not mean that the Legislature intended to authorize marriage between same-gender couples,” the decision states. “On the contrary, we conclude that the statutory scheme reflects a legislative intent to prohibit same-gender marriages.”

LGBT groups followed up with the Santa Fe resolution by filing a lawsuit on behalf of same-sex couples seeking to wed in New Mexico. Attorney General Gary King issued an opinion saying he wouldn’t defend the marriage law against a legal challenge in court on the basis that the law was unconstitutional.

Prior to the ruling from the New Mexico Supreme Court, a total of eight county clerks were already distributing marriage licenses to same-sex couples either through court order as a result of the litigation or on their own volition based on their interpretation of state law. An estimated 58.5 percent of New Mexico’s population had access to marriage equality prior to the Supreme Court ruling.

Attorney General King and plaintiffs in the case were pushing the idea that gays and lesbians are a suspect class and laws related to sexual orientation should be subject to heightened scrutiny — a idea with which New Mexico Supreme Court concurs because of the history of persecution faced by the LGBT community.

“Therefore, we conclude that intermediate scrutiny must be applied in this case because the LGBT community is a discrete group that has been subjected to a history of purposeful discrimination, and it has not had sufficient political strength to protect itself from such discrimination,” the ruling states.

It’s possible the opponents of the decision could place a state constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2014 that would rescind the decision, but only by legislative referral, not by initiative petition. It’s unclear at this time what the legislature will do. Democrats hold strong majorities in both chambers of the New Mexico legislature.

Brian Brown, president of the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage, promised in a statement to pursue action to protect people in New Mexico who don’t support same-sex marriage.

“Once again, activists judges have thrown out the historic legal understanding of marriage in New Mexico,” Brown said. “This is a continuation of a very dangerous rush towards silencing people of faith who simply believe marriage to be the union of one man and one woman. The National Organization for Marriage will do everything in its power to protect believers of true marriage in New Mexico and around the nation from the fallout of radical judges who deny the truth of marriage.”

Marc Solomon, national campaign director of Freedom to Marry, said his organization is prepared to fight to make sure the New Mexico decision stays in place.

“We have a campaign that we played a lead role in setting up and are on the board of, New Mexico Unites for Marriage, to protect the decision and defeat any efforts to amend the constitution,” Solomon said. “We’ve hired a campaign manager and there’s a field and media team on the ground, lobbyists, and more. It’s cochaired by former Republican Gov. Gary Johnson and Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham.”

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District of Columbia

Accused drug dealer charged with fentanyl distribution leading to deaths of two D.C. gay men

June 13 indictment links previously arrested suspect to deaths

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(Bigstock photo)

The Office of the U.S. Attorney for D.C. has announced that federal prosecutors on June 13 obtained an indictment against one of two D.C. brothers previously charged with multiple counts of illegal drug distribution that now charges him with “distributing cocaine and fentanyl” on Dec. 26, 2023, that resulted in the deaths of D.C. gay men Brandon Roman and Robert “Robbie” Barletta.

In a June 13 press release, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Jevaughn ‘Ledo’ Mark, 32, is charged in a new “secondary superseding indictment” linked to the Roman and Barletta deaths. It says he and his brother, Angelo Mark, 30, “previously were charged on April 9 in a 17-count superseding indictment for participating in a conspiracy that distributed large amounts of fentanyl and cocaine in the metropolitan area.”

The press release says Jevaughn Mark is currently being held without bond on charges that include eight counts of unlawful distribution of fentanyl, cocaine, and heroin and distributing 40 grams or more of fentanyl between Jan. 10, 2024, and March 13, 2024. According to the press release, the charges were based on six illegal drug purchases from Jevaughn Mark by undercover U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and undercover D.C. police officers.

Court records show that Angelo Mark was charged in a criminal complaint on March 22 with multiple counts of conspiracy to distribute narcotics and is also being held without bond.

D.C. police and Fire and Emergency Medical Services reports show that Roman, 38, a prominent D.C. attorney and LGBTQ rights advocate, and Barletta, 28, a historic preservation expert and home renovation business owner, were found unconscious when police and emergency medical personnel responded to a 911 call and arrived at Barletta’s home on Dec. 27. The reports show that Roman was declared deceased at the scene and Barletta was taken to Washington Hospital Center where he died on Dec. 29.

A police spokesperson told the Washington  Blade in February that police were investigating the Roman and Barletta deaths, but investigators had to wait for the D.C. Medical Examiner’s official determination of the cause and manner of death before the investigation could fully proceed.

Both men were patrons at D.C. gay bars and their passing prompted many in the LGBTQ community to call for stepped up prevention services related to drug overdose cases, even though the cause and manner of death for the two men was not officially determined until early April.

In April, the D.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner disclosed that the cause of death for both men was an accidental consumption of several drugs that created a fatal “toxic” effect. The Medical Examiner’s office said Barletta’s death was linked to the consumption of at least four different drugs and Roman’s death was caused by the “combined toxic effect” of six drugs. The Medical Examiner’s office disclosed that cocaine and fentanyl were among the drugs found in the bodies of both men. And for both men, the manner of death was listed as “Accident/Intoxication.”

When the cause and manner of death were disclosed by the Medical Examiner, D.C. police spokesperson Tom Lynch said the police investigation into the deaths remained open but said, “There are no updates on the investigation that we are ready to release to the public.”

But the Medical Examiner’s findings prompted Johnny Bailey, the community outreach coordinator for HIPS D.C., an LGBTQ supportive organization that provides services and support for those who use recreational drugs, to say he strongly believed that Barletta and Roman did not intentionally consume some of the drugs found in their system.

“I’m going to say I do believe this was a poisoning,” Bailey told the Blade. “I think it is unfair to call some things an overdose because an overdose is when you do too much of a drug and you die from that drug,” he said. “This is like if you have a few glasses of wine every night and someone puts arsenic in your wine, no one would be like, ‘oh, they drank themselves to death.’ They were poisoned. And that’s what I think is happening here,” he said in referring to Barletta and Roman.

In announcing the new charges against Jevaughn Mark that link him to Barletta and Roman’s deaths, the U.S. Attorney’s press release discloses that he supplied fentanyl in the drugs he sold unknowingly to the undercover DEA and D.C. police officers when one of the officers, posing as a drug buyer, did not ask for fentanyl.

“In each instance, the DEA/MPD agents requested to buy ‘Special K’ or Ketamine from Jevaughn Mark,” the press release says. “In every instance, Jevaughn Mark supplied a mixture of fentanyl and other substances, including heroin, but not ketamine,” it says.

The release says that after the earlier indictment against Jevaughn Mark was issued, law enforcement agents conducted a search of his Southeast D.C. home and “recovered two firearms, cocaine, fentanyl, about $38,000 in cash, body armor vests, and drug trafficking paraphernalia.” It says on that same day authorities executed another search for a second residence linked to Jevaughn Mark, where they located a bedroom used by his brother Angelo Mark.

“From Angelo Mark’s bedroom, law enforcement recovered seven firearms, 900 rounds of ammunition, dozens of pills, cocaine, fentanyl, drug trafficking paraphernalia, and about $50,000 in cash,” the press release says, adding, “Based on the evidence, both brothers were indicted in the first superseding indictment.” 

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal court blocks Title IX transgender protections

Ruling applies to Idaho, La., Miss., and Mont.

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(Bigstock photo)

BY GREG LAROSE | A federal judge has temporarily halted enforcement of new rules from the Biden administration that would prevent discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty of Louisiana issued a temporary injunction Thursday that blocks updated Title IX policy from taking effect Aug. 1 in Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Montana. 

In April, the U.S. Department of Education announced it would expand Title IX to protect LGBTQ students, and the four aforementioned states challenged the policy in federal court.

Doughty said in his order that Title IX, the 52-year-old civil rights law that prohibits sex-based discrimination, only applies to biological women. The judge also called out the Biden administration for overstepping its authority. 

“This case demonstrates the abuse of power by executive federal agencies in the rule-making process,” Doughty wrote. “The separation of powers and system of checks and balances exist in this country for a reason.”

The order from Doughty, a federal court appointee of President Donald Trump, keeps the updated Title IX regulations from taking effect until the court case is resolved or a higher court throws out the order.

Opponents of the Title IX rule changes have said conflating gender identity with sex would undermine protections in federal law and ultimately harm biological women. Gender identity refers to the gender an individual identifies as, which might differ from the sex they were assigned at birth.

Louisiana Attorney General Liz Murrill, who filed the suit in the state’s Western District federal court, had called the new regulations “dangerous and unlawful.” In a statement Thursday evening, she said the rules would have placed an unfair burden on every school, college and university in the country.

“This (is) a victory for women and girls,” Murrill said in the statement. “When Joe Biden forced his illegal and radical gender ideology on America, Louisiana said NO! Along with Idaho, Mississippi, and Montana, states are fighting back in defense of the law, the safety and prosperity of women and girls, and basic American values.”

Title IX is considered a landmark policy that provided for equal access for women in educational settings and has been applied to academic and athletic pursuits. 

Related

Doughty’s order comes a day after a similar development in Texas, where Judge Reed O’Connor, an appointee of President George W. Bush, declared that the Biden administration exceeded its authority, the Texas Tribune reported. 

Texas filed its own lawsuit against the federal government to block enforcement of the new rules, which Gov. Greg Abbott had instructed schools to ignore. Texas is one of several states to approve laws that prohibit transgender student-athletes from participating on sports teams that align with their gender identity.

Attorney generals in 26 states have originated or joined federal lawsuits to stop the new Title IX regulations from taking effect. 

Earlier Thursday, Republicans in Congress moved ahead with their effort to undo the revised Biden Title IX policy. Nearly 70 GOP lawmakers have signed onto legislation to reverse the education department’s final rule through the Congressional Review Act, which Congress can use to overturn certain federal agency actions.

Biden is expected to veto the legislation if it advances to his desk.

“Title IX has paved the way for our girls to access new opportunities in education, scholarships and athletics. Unfortunately, (President) Joe Biden is destroying all that progress,” U.S. Rep. Mary Miller (R-Ill.), author of the legislation, said Thursday.

States Newsroom Reporter Shauneen Miranda in D.C. contributed to this report.

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Greg LaRose

Greg LaRose has covered news for more than 30 years in Louisiana. Before coming to the Louisiana Illuminator, he was the chief investigative reporter for WDSU-TV in New Orleans. He previously led the government and politics team for The Times-Picayune | NOLA.com, and was editor in chief at New Orleans CityBusiness. Greg’s other career stops include Tiger Rag, South Baton Rouge Journal, the Covington News Banner, Louisiana Radio Network and multiple radio stations.

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The preceding article was previously published by the Louisiana Illuminator and is republished with permission.

The Louisiana Illuminator is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization with a mission to cast light on how decisions in Baton Rouge are made and how they affect the lives of everyday Louisianians. Our in-depth investigations and news stories, news briefs and commentary help residents make sense of how state policies help or hurt them and their neighbors statewide.

We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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Congress

Garcia slams effort to ban drag shows as GOP passes NDAA with anti-LGBTQ riders

Equality Caucus denounces anti-LGBTQ amendments

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U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) during the debate on Thursday over the National Defense Authorization Act (Screen capture via C-Span)

U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) slammed Republican U.S. Rep. Josh Brecheen’s (Okla.) effort to ban drag shows on American military bases during a debate over the annual National Defense Authorization Act spending bill on Thursday.

The appropriations package, which contains five anti-LGBTQ riders pushed by House GOP members, was passed on Friday.

“We know there are a lot of threats to the health and well-being of our service members and their families: poisoned water, toxic mold in military housing, PTSD, and suicide,” said Garcia, who is gay and a co-chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus.

“So I’m stunned to see that the Republican idea to protect our troops is to ban drag shows,” he said. “Mr. Speaker, my Republican colleagues want us to believe that ‘these gays are trying to murder us.’ They want us to believe that drag is harmful, or immoral and wrong. This is ridiculous.”

“We can document and celebrate drag shows on military bases since the late 1800s, and through both world wars,” Garcia continued. “The USO and the Red Cross supported drag during World War II. That’s right: the Army that defeated Hitler and saved the world included drag queens.” 

“Ronald Regan starred in a movie called ‘This Is the Army!’ — a movie about World War II that featured four drag performances,” he said. “And he’s not the only Republican president who knew that drag can be fun and sometimes silly.”

Garcia displayed a photo of former president and presumptive 2024 GOP nominee Donald Trump alongside former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was dressed in drag.

“Mr. Speaker,” the congressman said, “drag is Art. Drag is Culture. Drag is Creativity. Drag is Comedy. And no, drag is Not a Crime. It’s not pornography. The real obscenity is when one of our colleagues, the gentlewoman from Georgia, shows literal posters of revenge porn in our Oversight Committee! If we want to end porn in government facilities, let’s ban that.”

In a statement on Friday, the Equality Caucus called out House Republicans’ politicization of the military appropriations bill.

“Like last year, House Republicans voted to add poison pill, anti-LGBTQI+ provisions to the NDAA that discriminate against our LGTBQI+ servicemembers and their families,” said Caucus Chair U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) “The Equality Caucus remains committed to preventing these discriminatory provisions from becoming law.”

Along with Brecheen’s drag show ban, the caucus highlighted four of these riders from this year’s NDAA:

  • Amendment 46 by U.S. Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.), which would “prohibit funds for the Department of Defense Education Activity from being used to purchase, maintain, or display in a school library or classroom books that include transgender and intersex characters or touch on topics related to gender identity or variations in sex characteristics,”
  • Amendment 49 by U.S. Rep. Cory Mills (R-Fla.), which would “ban Pride flags from any workplace, common access area, or public area of the Department of Defense,” and
  • Amendments 52 and 53 by U.S. Reps. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) and Ralph Norman (S.C.), which would, respectively, “ban TRICARE from covering and furnishing gender-affirming surgeries and hormone treatments,” and “prohibit the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) from covering or providing referrals for “gender transition procedures”—including puberty blockers, hormone therapy, and surgeries—for servicemembers’ dependent minor children.”
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