Louisiana gay rights group sues to overturn anti-gay marriage amendment

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Louisiana's largest gay rights group and four couples are suing to overturn the state's constitutional ban barring recognizing the out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples.

The lawsuit that includes the Forum for Equality Louisiana as a plaintiff charges that the state's refusal to recognize same-sex marriages violates the U.S. constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process.

The lawsuit also asserts that state officials infringe on the couples' First Amendment rights by requiring them to claim that they are unmarried on state tax returns.

The New Orleans law firm of Stone Pigman Walther Wittmann filed the suit on behalf of the nonprofit and the couples in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. The couples are Jacqueline and Lauren Brettner from New Orleans, Nicholas Van Sickels and Andrew Bond from New Orleans, Henry Lambert and Carey Bond from New Orleans, and Havard Scott and Sergio March Prieto from Shreveport.

The defendants are Louisiana Secretary of Revenue Tim Barfield and state Registrar Devin George.

A news release said the basis for the equal protection violation claim is that Louisiana recognizes marriages legally performed elsewhere, including marriages that cannot be entered into inside the state, such as marriages between first cousins or common-law marriages. Louisiana singles out only same-sex marriages for unequal treatment, a violation of the constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process.

The couples are also forced to break Louisiana law requiring them to file their state income tax returns based on their federal returns. Instead of piggy-backing on their joint returns filed with the federal government as all other married couples, same-sex couples must go to the extra expense of creating fictitious federal returns in order to file their state return, and check of "single," a violation of their First Amendment rights of free speech.

Earlier this month, the ACLU of Wisconsin filed a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn Wisconsin's anti-gay constitutional amendment. The state bars same-sex couples from marrying in the state and refuses recognition to gay couples married out of state.

Presently, more than 40 lawsuits seeking marriage equality have been filed in 20 states.

"Louisiana's disparate treatment of same-sex and opposite-sex couples who are married outside of Louisiana demonstrates that the purpose of the Louisiana Anti-Recognition Laws is to 'impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages' that were lawfully celebrated in other states," according to the lawsuit, which frequently cites the U.S. Supreme Court's 2013 decision overturning a portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Dalton Courson, the lead attorney of the Stone Pigman team, said, "Forum for Equality Louisiana and these four couples are bringing this action to challenge the constitutionality of the 2004 Louisiana Defense of Marriage Amendment and laws which deny same-sex couples' recognition."

Courson added, "As the Louisiana DOMA neared final passage in the House of Representatives, one lawmaker compared its opponents to descendants of Judas Iscariot. In the U.S. Supreme Court's 2003 Lawrence v Texas decision, the justices said that such moral condemnation of same-sex couples and relationships is not a legitimate constitutional justification for legislation. These laws demean and harm same-sex couples and their children."

Forum for Equality Louisiana executive director SarahJane Brady said, "This is as basic as the Golden Rule. Treating others as one would want to be treated includes extending all the rights and privileges of marriage to lesbian and gay couples who are truly committed to each other. This lawsuit would uphold this very basic principle of freedom for all Louisianans."

Income tax directives issued by Barfield’s office affect all four of the couples. Two of the couples are parents of children, but the   state refuses to list both parents on official documents.

"The way these laws are written, parents live in fear of what would happen to their child if the only legally recognized parent died," Courson said. "No one should be forced by the state to lie on their tax returns, either."