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Court: Tenn. must recognize gay couples’ marriages

Judge predicts bans on gay nuptials will become ‘footnote’ in history

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Regnerus, gay juror, National LGBT Bar Association, Gay News, Washington Blade

A federal court has ordered Tennessee to recognize the same-sex marriages of six gay couples (Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons).

A federal judge in Tennessee issued a preliminary injunction ordering the state to recognize same-sex marriages performed out-of-state — but only for the six plaintiff couples named in the lawsuit.

In a 20-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger, a Clinton appointee, handed down the decision without making a final determination on whether the state’s anti-recognition laws are constitutional, but says they likely won’t stand up in court.

“The plaintiffs’ Motion for Preliminary Injunction will be granted, and the court will issue an injunction against the defendants, prohibiting them from enforcing the Anti-Recognition Laws against the six plaintiffs in this case,” Trauger writes.

Trauger suggests she’ll wait to issue a final determination after more courts in her circuit issue rulings on same-sex marriage, but adds the trajectory of recent decisions in other jurisdictions bodes well for same-sex couples.

“At some point in the future, likely with the benefit of additional precedent from circuit courts and, perhaps, the Supreme Court, the court will be asked to make a final ruling on the plaintiffs’ claims,” Trauger said. “At this point, all signs indicate that, in the eyes of the United States Constitution, the plaintiffs’ marriages will be placed on an equal footing with those of heterosexual couples and that proscriptions against same-sex marriage will soon become a footnote in the annals of American history.”

The lawsuit, known as Tanco v. Haslam, was filed in October by private attorneys and the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Three same-sex couples are named in the lawsuit; each lived and were legally married in another state before moving to Tennessee. The couples filed a motion for preliminary injunction in November 2013 seeking immediate protection while their case proceeds.

The three couples are Dr. Valeria Tanco and Dr. Sophy Jesty of Knoxville; Army Reserve Sergeant First Class Ijpe DeKoe and Thom Kostura of Memphis; and Matthew Mansell and Johno Espejo of Franklin. Although the case was originally filed on behalf of four couples, Erik Olvera, an NCLR spokesperson, said one couple dropped out for personal reasons.

Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said the decision “marks yet another recognition” in a string of decisions that determined laws barring same-sex couples from marriage have no reasonable justification.

“The courts’ decisions also reflect a broader societal movement toward respect for same-sex couples and their families,” Minter said. “As people have gotten to know the same-sex couples who are their neighbors, co-workers, relatives, and friends, they have come to see the unfairness of laws that deny protection to loving, stable relationships and stigmatize children being raised by same-sex parents.”

In her decision, Trauger reflects on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision against the Defense of Marriage Act, saying the overwhelming case law following the ruling has led courts to determine state laws barring same-sex marriage are unconstitutional.

“In light of this rising tide of persuasive post-Windsor federal caselaw, it is no leap to conclude that the plaintiffs here are likely to succeed in their challenge to Tennessee’s Anti- Recognition Laws,” Trauger said.

Dave Smith, a spokesperson for Gov. Bill Haslem, said the opinion is “under review” when asked if the decision will be appealed, but conveyed the sense that his boss isn’t happy with the decision.

 “The opinion is under review,” Smith said. “The governor is disappointed that the court has stepped in when Tennesseans have voted clearly on this issue. It’s inappropriate to comment further due to the continuing litigation.”

Sharon Curtis-Flair, a spokesperson for Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper, Jr., expressed a similar sentiment.

“We are reviewing the decision and intend to take all necessary steps to defend the law,” Curtis-Flair said.

Although courts in the Second Circuit and Ninth Circuit have issued rulings saying laws related to sexual orientation should be subject to heightened scrutiny, or a greater assumption they’re unconstitutional, Trauger doesn’t apply that standard because she suspects Tennessee’s marriage ban fails the lower standard of “rational basis” review.

“The court finds that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their equal protection challenge, even under a ‘rational basis’ standard of review,” Trauger writes. “For this reason, the court need not address at this stage whether sexual orientation discrimination merits a heightened standard of constitutional review or whether the plaintiffs are likely to prevail on their additional due process and right to travel challenges.”

Jesty, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said she and her spouse are “overjoyed with the ruling” because it will enable them to receive protections afforded to other opposite-sex couples in similar situations.

“As a result of this order, our daughter will never know a time when her bonds with her loving parents were not protected or the state saw her family as less worthy than other families,” Jesty said. “We look forward to the resolution of this case so that all married same-sex couples in Tennessee can have the protections that we were granted today.”

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Gay attorney’s plans to run for Del. Senate foiled by redistricting

Activists say move will ‘dilute’ LGBTQ vote

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Mitch Crane, gay news, Washington Blade
Gay Democratic activist Mitch Crane. (Photo courtesy Crane)

Plans by Delaware gay attorney and Democratic Party activist Mitch Crane to run for a seat in the Delaware State Senate in a district that included areas surrounding the town of Lewes, where Crane lives, and Rehoboth Beach ended abruptly this week when state officials approved a redistricting plan that removes Crane’s residence from the district.

The seat for which Crane planned to run is in Delaware’s 6th Senate District which, in addition to Lewes and Rehoboth, includes the towns of Dewey Beach, Harbeson, Milton, and surrounding areas, according to the state Senate’s website. 

The seat is currently held by Ernesto “Ernie” Lopez, a moderate Republican who became the first Hispanic American elected to the Delaware Senate in 2012. Lopez announced in July that he would not seek re-election in 2022. 

The redistricting plan, which was approved by leaders of the Democratic-controlled Delaware General Assembly, places the section of the Lewes postal district where Crane lives into the 19th Senate District. Crane said that district is in a heavily Republican and conservative part of the state dominated by supporters of President Donald Trump who remain Trump supporters.

Under Delaware law, changes in the district lines of state Senate and House districts, which takes place every 10 years following the U.S. Census count, are decided by the Delaware General Assembly, which is the state legislative body.

Crane told the Washington Blade that neither he nor any other Democrat would have a realistic chance of winning the State Senate seat next year in the 19th District.

“Jesus could not win in that district if he was a Democrat,” said Crane.

Crane said a Democratic candidate could win next year in the reconfigured 6th Senate District now that incumbent Lopez will not be seeking re-election.

The Cape Gazette, the Delaware newspaper, reported in an Oct. 22 story that Crane was one of at least two witnesses that testified at a two-day virtual hearing held Oct. 18-19 by a State Senate committee, that the proposed redistricting would dilute the LGBTQ vote in the 6th District and the draft proposal should be changed.

 “The proposed lines remove a significant percentage of the LGBTQ residents from the current 6th District where most of such residents of southern Delaware live and place them in the 19th District which has a smaller such population,” the Cape Gazette quoted Crane telling the committee. “By doing so, it dilutes the impact of the gay community which shares political beliefs,” the newspaper quoted him as saying.

“The proposed lines dilute the voting power of the LGBTQ community in addition to others who respect diversity,” the Cape Gazette quoted 6th District resident Sandy Spence as telling the committee. 

In an Oct. 10 email sent to potential supporters before the redistricting plan was approved, Crane said he believes he has the experience and record that make him a strong candidate for the state Senate seat. He is a former chair of the Sussex County Democratic Party, where Rehoboth and Lewes are located; and he currently serves as an adjunct professor at Delaware State University’s graduate school, where he teaches American Governance and Administration.

He is a past president of the Delaware Stonewall PAC, a statewide LGBTQ advocacy group, and he’s the state’s former Deputy Insurance Commissioner.

 “I intend to focus on smart growth in Sussex County; work on the problems of homelessness and the need for affordable housing; and assuring that this district receives its fair portion of tax dollars,” he said in his Oct. 10 email message announcing his candidacy.

Crane said he posted a Facebook message on Oct. 26 informing supporters that the redrawn district lines removed him from the district, and he is no longer a candidate.

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MSNBC’s Capehart to host SMYAL’s Fall Brunch Nov. 6

Ashland Johnson to serve as keynote speaker

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Gay journalist Jonathan Capehart will host SMYAL’s Fall Brunch. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Pulitzer Prizing-winning gay journalist Jonathan Capehart, the anchor of MSNBC’s “Sunday Show with Jonathan Capehart,” will serve as host for the 24th Annual SMYAL Fall Brunch scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 6, at D.C.’s Marriott Marquis Hotel.

The annual Fall Brunch serves as one of the largest fundraising events for SMYAL, which advocates and provides services for LGBTQ youth in the D.C. metropolitan area. 

“Each year, a community of advocates, changemakers, and supporters comes together at the Fall Brunch to raise much-needed funds to support and expand critical programs and services for queer and trans youth in the DMV area,” a statement released by the organization says.

The statement says attorney and former Division I women’s collegiate basketball athlete Ashland Johnson will be the keynote speaker at the SMYAL Fall Brunch. Johnson founded the sports project called The Inclusion Playbook, which advocates for racial justice and LGBTQ inclusion in sports.

Other speakers include Zahra Wardrick, a SMYAL program participant and youth poet; and Leandra Nichola, a parent of attendees of Little SMYALs, a program that SMYAL says provides support for “the youngest members of the LGBTQ community” at ages 6-12. The SMYAL statement says Nichola is the owner and general manager of the Takoma Park, Md., based café, bar, retail, and bubble tea shop called Main Street Pearl.

According to the statement, the SMYAL Fall Brunch, including a planned silent auction, will be live streamed through SMYAL’s Facebook page for participants who may not be able to attend in person. For those attending the event in person, proof of COVID-19 vaccination will be required, and masks will also be required for all attendees when not actively eating or drinking, the statement says.

The statement says that for attendees and supporters, the Fall Brunch is “a community celebration of how your support has not only made it possible for SMYAL to continue to serve LGBTQ youth through these challenging times, it’s allowed our programs to grow and deepen.”

Adds the statement, “From affirming mental health support and housing to fostering community spaces and youth leadership training, we will continue to be there for queer and trans youth together.”

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Politics

State Department acknowledges Intersex Awareness Day

Special LGBTQ rights envoy moderated activist roundtable

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State Department (public domain photo)

The State Department on Tuesday acknowledged the annual Intersex Awareness Day.

“We proudly recognize the voices and human rights of intersex people around the world,” said State Department spokesperson Ned Price in a statement. “The Department of State is committed to promoting and protecting the rights, dignity, and equality of all individuals, including intersex persons.”

Price in his statement said U.S. foreign policy seeks to “pursue an end to violence and discrimination on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and sex characteristics, while acknowledging the intersections with disability, race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, or other status.” Price also acknowledged intersex people “are subject to violence, discrimination, and abuse on the basis of their sex characteristics” and “many intersex persons, including children, experience invasive, unnecessary, and sometimes irreversible medical procedures.” 

“The department supports the empowerment of movements and organizations advancing the human rights of intersex persons and the inclusion of intersex persons in the development of policies that impact their enjoyment of human rights,” he said.

Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ rights abroad, on Tuesday moderated a virtual panel with intersex activists from around the world.

Intersex Awareness Day commemorates the world’s first-ever intersex protest that took place in Boston on Oct. 26, 1996.

Dana Zzyym, an intersex U.S. Navy veteran who identifies as non-binary, in 2015 filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department after it denied their application for a passport with their sex listed as “X.” The State Department in June announced it would begin to issue gender-neutral passports and documents for American citizens who were born overseas.

The U.S. and more than 50 other countries earlier this month signed a statement that urges the U.N. Human Rights Council to protect the rights of intersex people.

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