Tag Archives: battle

3 states battle to keep same-sex marriage bans

Three states are continuing their legal fight against same-sex marriage, despite rulings from federal appeals courts that oversee those states that concluded gay and lesbian couples have the right to marry.

Even as officials in other states have abandoned defense of gay marriage bans, Kansas, Montana and South Carolina are refusing to allow same-sex couples to obtain marriage licenses without a court order directing them to do so. It could be another month or more before the matter is settled.

In a political campaign debate earlier this week, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback vowed to defend his state’s constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. A federal court hearing is scheduled for Friday was postponed.

There seems little doubt that U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree ultimately will set aside the state’s gay marriage ban. That’s because the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, encompassing Kansas and five other states, has said a state may not deny a marriage license to two people of the same sex.

“He is absolutely bound and has to make that decision,” said Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign.

The same requirement holds true for federal judges who are hearing same-sex marriage lawsuits in Montana and South Carolina.

John Eastman, chairman of the anti-gay marriage National Organization for Marriage, agreed with Warbelow that federal judges almost certainly will rule to allow same-sex marriages. But Eastman urged state officials to continue to put up a legal fight until the Supreme Court decides the issue one way or the other.

“Until the Supreme Court decides it, this remains a viable option,” Eastman said.

State officials in Colorado, North Carolina and West Virginia chose a different path. They helped speed the process for legalizing gay marriage in their states when they announced they would no longer defend their state laws in the aftermath of the appeals court rulings.

The latest wave of court rulings that has made same-sex marriage legal in 32 states and the District of Columbia began with the unexpected decision by the Supreme Court on Oct. 6 to reject appeals by five states hoping to keep their bans in place.

The high court’s refusal to step in affected appeals courts in Chicago, Denver and Richmond, Virginia, which in turn oversee 11 states that did not previously allow same-sex couples to marry. Since the justices’ terse order, same-sex couples have been able to marry in nine of those 11 states, with Wyoming on Tuesday becoming the latest to permit it. Only Kansas and South Carolina have not followed suit.

A day after the Supreme Court action, the federal appeals court in San Francisco struck down gay marriage bans in Idaho and Nevada in a ruling that also appeared to apply to Alaska, Arizona and Montana. Since then, federal judges in Alaska and Arizona quickly ruled on pending marriage lawsuits. But in Montana, a federal judge has set a hearing in a marriage challenge for Nov. 20.

No court date has been set for South Carolina, where Attorney General Alan Wilson has said he will continue to defend state marriage law and predicted a final ruling could be months away.

The timing of court action varies from judge to judge, depending on what other matters are before the court and how much say the judge wants each side to have, Warbelow said.

In North Carolina, U.S. District Judge Max O. Cogburn Jr. acted on his own to strike down the state ban after the Richmond-based appeals court ruling became final.

James Esseks, leader of the American Civil Liberties Union’s same-sex marriage efforts, said Wilson and other officials have no excuse to keep up their fight. “The circuit law is what it is. They need a little push and we’ll give it to them,” Esseks said.

Texas congressman to battle Paul Ryan over key post

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to take over one of the most powerful committees in Congress could hit a snag when lawmakers return after the midterm elections.

Ryan, the Republican Party’s candidate for vice president two years ago and a representative from Wisconsin, has been telling colleagues for much of the past year that he wants to chair the powerful House Ways and Means Committee in the new Congress next year. The post could provide a platform for the Wisconsin Republican to launch a possible bid for president in 2016.

But Ryan has competition from a formidable opponent – Rep. Kevin Brady, a senior Republican from Texas.

Brady said that he plans to wage a “friendly” battle with Ryan for the job.

“I want to give my colleagues two good choices,” Brady said in a telephone interview. “Paul Ryan is a terrific leader and he’s a good friend.”

The Ways and Means Committee has jurisdiction over the biggest economic issues facing the country – taxes, trade, Social Security, health care and social programs.

Brady’s candidacy could force Ryan to spell out his 2016 intentions as early as November, if fellow Republicans raise concerns that a presidential bid could be a distraction to such an important committee. House committee chairmen will be named during the lame duck session of Congress following the election.

If Republicans keep control of the House, committee chairmen will be nominated by a GOP steering committee led by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. The full House Republican conference generally approves the nominees.

Brady is a nine-term incumbent and the second most senior Republican on the Ways and Means Committee. He chairs the panel’s health subcommittee.

“I’m prepared and qualified,” Brady said, adding that he wants to focus on tax reform, Medicare fraud and improving Social Security’s disability program.

Also important, Brady is part of the Texas delegation in the House, which boasts 24 Republicans, giving it a strong voice. Brady represents a solidly Republican district just north of Houston. He has a Libertarian opponent in the November election but there is no Democrat on the ballot.

Brady’s Republican-friendly district has given him time to help fellow Republicans with their campaigns this year. That will be his focus until after the election, Brady said.

Ryan is right behind Brady in seniority on the Ways and Means Committee. Ryan is now chairman of the House Budget Committee, but he must step down from the post because House Republicans impose term limits on committee chairmen.

When asked about the competition to lead the Ways and Means Committee, Ryan’s spokesman, Brian Bolduc, said, “Congressman Ryan is focused on his work at the House Budget Committee.”

As Budget chairman, Ryan has made a name for himself as the main architect of several conservative House Republican budgets.

Many of Ryan’s proposed spending cuts have never made it into law because of opposition from Senate Democrats and the Obama White House. But Ryan has gained a following, especially among conservatives, for his willingness to spell out difficult spending cuts.

On Ways and Means, the next chairman is expected to lead House Republican efforts to overhaul the nation’s tax code, which politicians of many stripes agree is too complicated. If House Republicans offer an alternative to President Barack Obama’s health law, the Ways and Means Committee could play a key role.

Also, Congress will soon have to deal with Social Security’s disability program, which is facing a potential financial crisis in 2016.

All these issues offer pitfalls as well as opportunities for the next chairman of the Ways and Means committee. And consensus will be hard to come by, especially in the current partisan atmosphere.

Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., currently chairs the committee. He is retiring at the end of the year.

Camp worked for years to build a consensus around the idea of overhauling the tax code – lowering tax rates for everyone while making up the revenue by scaling back credits, deductions and exemptions. But after Camp unveiled a comprehensive plan in February, it went nowhere, despite House Republicans claiming to champion the issue.

Brady said Camp did important groundwork on the issue, giving the next committee chairman a good head start on the issue.

Battle for U.S. Senate may be decided in the South

The South is where President Barack Obama and Democrats long have struggled, and it’s where the party’s toughest battleground will be this year in the fight for control of the U.S. Senate.

Three incumbents must face the consequences of having voted for Obama’s health care law, but Republicans first must settle primaries in several states, including a challenge to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

All but one of the potentially competitive races is in a state Obama lost in 2012, and the president remains deeply unpopular among whites in the region. Republicans are optimistic they can achieve the six-seat gain needed to retake the Senate.

Democratic Sens. Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Pryor of Arkansas are on the ballot for the first time since voting for the Affordable Care Act in 2010. The law’s wobbly start and its image as a power-grab have the incumbents on the defensive, emphasizing local issues and avoiding unnecessary mention of the second-term president who leads their party.

Obama’s Gallup job approval lingers in the low 40s, and is even lower in several states with pivotal Senate races. Republicans want to feed on that and follow the same road map that carried them to a House majority in 2010, Obama’s first midterm election.

“Democrats hope this doesn’t become a national election, but we don’t think that’s the case,” said Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Short.

Democrats want the Republican primaries to project divisions and extremism. With Congress more unpopular than the president, they seek to highlight those Republican Senate candidates who are already serving in the House.

In 2012, Democrats defied early predictions and expanded their Senate majority by winning in GOP-leaning Missouri and Indiana, where conservative candidates tripped over their own pronouncements on rape and other issues.

A look at Senate races across the South:

• Arkansas sets up as a proxy for the tussle between the White House and House Republicans. Pryor, whose father served as governor and U.S. senator, is the last remaining Democrat in the state’s Capitol Hill delegation. His Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, is a young conservative favorite.

Cotton and Pryor avoided primaries. Cotton voted with GOP leaders in October to end the partial federal government shutdown, but Democrats say they can paint him as extreme. They’re already pointing to his vote against the new farm bill.

Arkansas voters, who give Obama a 35 percent approval rating, have seen a barrage of ads reminding them that Pryor was “the last vote” on the health care bill.

• In Georgia, where Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss is retiring, a May primary is almost certain to lead to a runoff.

Three congressmen – Jack Kingston and doctors Phil Gingrey and Paul Broun – each says his record proves his conservative bona fides.

Kingston, chairman of a House Appropriations subcommittee, tells voters what he’s cut in the federal budget.

Gingrey’s slogan is “Repeal or go home,” and he’s banking on his opposition to the president’s health law carrying the day.

Broun, who once declared evolutionary theory “lies straight from the pit of hell,” says his colleagues are poseurs. He tried to prove his conservative credentials by holding a drawing for an AR-15 military style rifle.

Karen Handel, a former secretary of state and commission chairman in Georgia’s most populous county, says she’s got the right experience for the job, and without the blemish of serving in Congress.

Former Dollar General and Reebok CEO David Perdue, the cousin of former Gov. Sonny Perdue, says business experience should trump the lot of “career politicians,” and he’s said he’s willing to finance his own race.

The Democratic favorite is Michelle Nunn, the daughter for former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn. Democrats are confident that she can pull in just enough Mitt Romney voters – rural and small-town whites fond of her father, and suburban white women in metropolitan Atlanta – for an upset.

• In Kentucky, McConnell finds himself criticized from the left and right. Wealthy businessman Matt Bevin may be a long shot in the Republican primary, but he’s got enough organization and money to grab attention as he brands McConnell a capitulator to Obama.

Democrats back Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, a party financier’s daughter who has gotten campaign advice and help from former President Bill Clinton. Like Nunn in Georgia, Grimes wants to win big among women. Like Bevin, she is going after McConnell as part of the problem in Washington, but she also says McConnell cares more about his national party post than about Kentucky.

McConnell has plenty of money to respond. He’d already spent $10 million by the end of 2013.

• In Louisiana, Landrieu is seeking a fourth term never having topped 52.1 percent of the vote. She won twice in Democratic presidential years. She won in 2002, a midterm year, by running as a centrist who could work with a Republican White House. This time, she has to run with Obama’s negatives – a 40 percent approval rating in Louisiana, according to Gallup – without having him at the top of the ticket to excite Democrats, particularly black voters.

U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy has the backing of national Republican leaders and donors. But he once contributed to Landrieu and, as a state senator, he pushed a proposal similar to Obama’s health insurance exchanges. At least two other Republicans will be on the all-party primary ballot. Unless one primary candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two candidates go to a runoff in December. That second round of voting might be Cassidy’s best shot at winning the Senate seat.

Landrieu defends her health care vote but has clamored for changes to the law. Democrats cite her influence as head of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, saying her post is a boon for Louisiana’s oil-and-gas industry and hammering Cassidy as a rubber stamp for House Republicans. Both she and Cassidy champion flood insurance relief for coastal residents.

• Mississippi hasn’t seen Sen. Thad Cochran truly campaign in decades. That’s changing with a challenge from state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who boasts endorsements from national conservative and tea party groups. Cochran backers answered with a super political action committee organized by Henry Barbour, the nephew of the former RNC chairman and Gov. Haley Barbour.

McDaniel wants to turn Cochran’s greatest asset – his experience and what it’s meant financially to Mississippi – into a liability by making the incumbent the face of the nation’s $17 trillion debt. The Cochran team attacks McDaniel’s legislative votes supporting bond debt for public projects. The comparison, McDaniel says, is intellectually dishonest. Henry Barbour counters that McDaniel casting Cochran as a “big-government liberal” is just as ludicrous.

Democrats recruited former U.S. Rep. Travis Childers and hope that move positions them for a surprise November victory if McDaniel defeats Cochran.

• North Carolina voters give Obama a 43 percent job approval rating, and some surveys put Hagan’s even lower. It’s tricky enough that she decided not to appear with Obama in January when he spoke at North Carolina State University.

Republicans have a free-for-all primary.

North Carolina’s House speaker, Thom Tillis, who led a conservative resurgence in the Statehouse, is the national Republican favorite, but he must contend with several conservative challengers. If Tillis emerges, Democrats plan to use his legislative agenda – making it harder to vote, cutting public education financing and tightening abortion regulations – against him.

• In West Virginia, U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito avoided a bruising GOP primary, enabling her to build an organization and raise money for a race in an increasingly Republican state. Secretary of State Natalie Tennant will try to hold retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller’s seat for Democrats.

• In Virginia, Democratic Sen. Mark Warner is the most popular politician, and Obama won the commonwealth twice. But in Ed Gillespie, a former national GOP chairman, Republicans found a candidate who can raise the money to compete.

Right-wing groups wrestle to control GOP agenda

Virtually unknown outside Washington, a coalition of hard-line conservative groups is fighting to seize control of the Republican agenda. Tea party allies like the Club for Growth, FreedomWorks and Heritage Action for America showed their might by insisting that the GOP embrace the government shutdown that hurt the nation’s economy and the party’s reputation.

Now emboldened, these groups are warning that their aggressive agenda-pushing tactics aren’t over — and they’re threatening retribution against Republicans who stand in their way.

“They refuse to learn,” Chris Chocola, a former Indiana congressman who leads the Club for Growth, says of lawmakers who buck the will of right-leaning groups. His group is already seeking or supporting primary challengers for 10 congressional Republican incumbents seeking re-election next fall.

Mainstream GOP groups — such as Karl Rove’s American Crossroads or the party’s formal campaign committees — question their more conservative counterparts’ role, fed up by their outsized influence in shaping the party’s current agenda.

For decades, interest groups like the National Rifle Association have shaped debates on single issues. But Republicans suggest that not since the Christian Coalition of the 1990s have outside forces played such a sweeping, integral role in guiding Republican priorities as the tea party-led fiscal conservatives have in the ongoing budget debate.

“You have a small group in Congress that has become the surrender caucus,” argues Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger. “They’ve surrendered their voting card to the wishes of these outside groups.”

Such divisions on display between the Republican Party’s pragmatic and ideological wings — and their affiliated outside groups — carry huge risk for the GOP heading into the 2014 midterm congressional elections. Republicans will seek to win power in the Senate and preserve their narrow House majority next fall.

But primaries that leave eventual nominees battered and broke for the general election could hamper that goal.

Nevertheless, tea party-aligned groups already are spending millions of dollars calling on compromise-minded Republican lawmakers from New Hampshire to Idaho to embrace more aggressive tactics against President Barack Obama’s agenda.

This is their message as Congress wrestles with health care implementation, considers immigration reform and gets ready for new rounds of debt talks: Republicans who work with the Democratic president do so at their peril.

It appears that no Republican is too large for these groups.

The Senate Conservatives Fund — founded by tea party hero and former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint — has launched television ads against Republican leaders, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who helped craft the recent budget compromise that ended the shutdown. It also has criticized Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Sen. Jonny Isakson of Georgia.

The Club for Growth also is targeting Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, despite his role as leader of the campaign committee charged with preserving the Republican House majority. The group already has launched a website entitled, “Primary My Congressman,” and so far identified 10 potential campaigns to unseat Republican incumbents.

That group and others also are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to support a challenge against longtime Republican Sen. Thad Cochran, of Mississippi, in hopes of persuading him to retire. And the Tea Party Patriots is going after Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois and Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.

Behind the scenes, GOP campaign officials are urging donors to fund mainstream groups to counter the conservative outfits. These officials are doing so even as they question the right-flank’s ultimate effectiveness, given that its groups, although vocal, typically have far less money compared with other organizations standing with Republicans from the establishment wing.

The most powerful Republican allies from the last election — mainstream Republican groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Crossroads and its sister organization Crossroads GPS – poured more than $212 million combined into the 2012 election. Combined, the Club for Growth, Heritage Action and the Senate Conservatives Fund spent $21 million.

National GOP officials are watching for signs of rifts among the right-leaning groups, which could dilute their power. The shutdown debate itself exposed at least one disagreement.

The Club for Growth, FreedomWorks and Heritage Action for America defiantly insisted that any deal to end the shutdown and raise the nation’s debt ceiling must dismantle or delay Obama’s health care law. Lawmakers who didn’t stand them with them risked inviting primary challenges.

But some tea party allies like Americans for Prosperity, the group funded by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch, opposed the tactics that led to the shutdown. Now that group is trying to move on, investing $2 million in a four-state ad campaign that hammers Democrats over the troubled health care law implementation.

“We’re convinced that repealing Obamacare is long-term effort,” AFP president Tim Phillips says, explaining why it didn’t sign onto the right-flank’s demands to defund the law as part of a budget compromise.

In a sign of another possible crack in the conservative coalition, a spokesman for Heritage Action for America says that in the near future, it likely will focus its health care criticism on Democrats, who stood together during the shutdown debate.

“There needs to be some breaks in that unity,” says Heritage spokesman Dan Holler. “That may happen naturally, or it may need to be forced.”

But Chocola said the Club for Growth wouldn’t stop pressuring Republicans, particularly as congressional leaders begin to debate a new budget package.

Chocola wouldn’t rule out another push to link such legislation to the president’s health care law, but said his group might shift its strategy if major shifts to entitlement programs are included.

As the possibility of a shutdown loomed large in September, the network of GOP outside groups disagreed over strategy.

Crossroads officials briefed members of Congress on internal polling that showed the shutdown strategy deeply unpopular. Given that, the group and its fellow mainstream Republican allies largely stayed silent, fearing influential talk show radio hosts and aggressive conservative activists would brand them as heretics.

Meanwhile, conservative groups grew even more vocal in pressuring House and Senate Republicans to refuse to budge from tea party demands to defund “Obamacare” as part of any budget deal.

Eventually, House Speaker John Boehner broke with the right flank and endorsed the bipartisan plan to end the 16-day shutdown and raise the debt limit. And 87 Republicans in the House and 18 in the Senate supported it.

The damage to the GOP was severe: a Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 63 percent of Americans now have a negative view of the Republican Party, the worst rating for the GOP in almost three decades.

Anti-gay extremists want to halt gay weddings in California

Opponents of same-sex marriage demanded on July 12 that the California Supreme Court immediately halt the practice that recently resumed in the nation’s largest state after a nine-year legal battle.

The group that sponsored voter-approved Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriages in 2008, launched a new, two-pronged legal attack in what one expert described as a last-ditch argument with little chance of succeeding.

In its petition, ProtectMarriage argued that state officials who began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples had incorrectly interpreted a June 24 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

The high court ruled that ProtectMarriage had no “standing” to challenge a previous ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that struck down Proposition 8.

ProtectMarriage argued in its petition that Proposition 8 remains California law because the U.S. Supreme Court didn’t rule directly on the constitutionality of same-sex marriages in what is widely called the “Perry” case.

“The Ninth Circuit’s decision in Perry has been vacated,” the petition stated, “hence there is no appellate decision holding that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.”

Therefore, the petition concluded, the Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriages is still in force.

The petition also argued that the original lawsuit filed in San Francisco named only the county clerks of Los Angeles and Alameda counties. It said the ruling doesn’t reach the 56 other county clerks, who must continue to abide by the marriage ban passed by Proposition 8.

The petition argues that county clerks are independent state officials and the state registrar – under orders from Gov. Jerry Brown and the California Attorney General Kamala Harris – had no authority to direct them on June 26 to begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses.

Late Friday Harris filed a brief urging the California Supreme Court to deny the request to stop counties from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

“Today’s filing by the proponents of Proposition 8 is yet another attempt to deny same-sex couples their constitutionally protected civil rights. It is baseless and we will continue to fight against it,” Harris said.

“The Legislature has not imbued the state registrar with supervisory authority or control over county clerks issuing marriage licenses,” the ProtectMarriage petition stated.

Ted Olson, one of several high-profile attorneys who represented same-sex couples in the courts, called the petition “utterly baseless.”

Olson said any county clerk refusing to follow the state’s orders to issue same-sex marriage licenses faced contempt of court charges and federal civil rights lawsuits.

“Proponents’ latest effort to stop loving couples from marrying in California is a desperate and frivolous act,” Olson said.

University of California, Davis law professor Vikram Amar predicted the state Supreme Court would reject the petition and keep same-sex marriages intact.

Amar said the petition’s main arguments appear to fall only under the jurisdiction of federal judges. Since the U.S. Supreme Court has already banned ProtectMarriage and its allies from defending Proposition 8 in federal court, it appears they have almost no legal recourse, he said.

“My guess is that the California Supreme Court will not be eager to wade into this because so much of this turns on federal questions,” Amar said.

A ruling is not expected until at least Aug. 1, the last day the California Supreme Court said it would accept written arguments on the matter.

The state Supreme Court in 2008 ruled 4-3 that same-sex marriages were legal, which prompted marriage foes to place Proposition 8 on the ballot. Since then, two of the justices who voted for gay marriage have retired.

LGBT, AIDS groups vow to ‘re-engage’ community in HIV fight

The executive directors from 35 LGBT and HIV/AIDS organizations on June 3 released a joint letter committing themselves and their organizations to re-engaging the LGBT community in the fight against HIV.

Despite making up an estimated 2 percent of the population, gay and bisexual men accounted for more than 63 percent of new HIV infections in 2010, and gay men are the only group in which HIV infections are increasing.

“We are at an important crossroads in our fight against HIV,” stated National Minority AIDS Council executive director Paul Kawata.  “The evidence behind treatment as prevention, and expansions in health care coverage that will accompany implementation of the Affordable Care Act, have provided a unique opportunity to end this epidemic, which has ravaged our community for more than three decades. But this will not happen without the full engagement of those most impacted by the disease, and no community has been more heavily affected than the LGBT community.  I am thrilled to be a part of this campaign to re-energize the LGBT response and work together to realize the vision of an AIDS-free generation.”

Kevin Cathcart, the executive director of Lambda Legal, said, “As an organization that has been working to combat HIV discrimination since the beginning of the epidemic we are excited to see the LGBT movement re-commit to this work. Because gay and bisexual men and transgender people are disproportionately affected by the epidemic and because we see the effects of discrimination and laws targeting people with HIV for criminalization it is incredibly important for the LGBT community to step up.”

The joint letter said, in part, “Over the last 30 years, the (LGBT) community has seen great strides in the movement for full equality. Much of this success is the result of a concerted movement, which was galvanized in response to the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s…In the decades since our movement has seen incredible victories… Unfortunately, our community hasn’t maintained the same momentum in our fight against HIV…Each day, more than 80 gay and bisexual men become infected with HIV in the United States…Despite these alarming statistics, which have galvanized our community in the past, the HIV epidemic has seemed to fall by the way side.  Many in our community have simply stopped talking about the issue.  This must change.”

To read the letter and see a video go on to www.wethelgbt.org.