Tag Archives: Cincinnati

Appeals court to hear 5 marriage equality cases in 1 session

A federal appeals court will hear arguments in gay marriage fights in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee in a single session, setting the stage for historic rulings in each state.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Cincinnati, scheduled arguments in five cases from the four states for Aug. 6. Though the cases are unique, each deals with whether statewide gay marriage bans violate the U.S. Constitution.

“I think the way the court’s approaching it is significant,” said Al Gerhardstein, a Cincinnati civil rights attorney who represents plaintiffs in two Ohio cases that will go before the appeals court. “They see the need to do some basic rulings on core principles cutting across all these state lines. It’s very exciting.”

Louisville attorney Dawn Elliott, who represents eight plaintiffs in the Kentucky case, said she and her co-counsel plan to make their arguments personal, focusing on the people affected by the ruling.

“Our plaintiffs are all planning on being there, because it’s harder to say no to somebody when you’re looking at them, to say, `No your marriage is not valid because you’re gay,'” said Elliott’s co-counsel, Shannon Fauver.

The 6th Circuit is the third federal appeals court to weigh recent challenges to state gay marriage bans, though the first to consider cases in so many states at the same time. Arguments were held in the 4th Circuit in Virginia concerning one case in May and the 10th Circuit in Denver concerning two cases in April. Rulings are expected soon.

In Cincinnati, a three-judge panel will hear arguments in each case one at a time. It’s unclear whether it will issue a large ruling encompassing all the cases or separate ones. Any losing side could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

More than a dozen federal and state judges have struck down part or all of state-level bans in recent months. No rulings have gone the other way.

The 6th Circuit’s decision to consolidate the cases is unusual but not unprecedented, said Carl Tobias, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Richmond.

He pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which consolidated five segregation cases, and rulings on other issues including abortion.

Although there has been a wave of rulings in favor of gay marriage across the country, Tobias said that doesn’t mean the circuit courts will uphold them.

“Appellate judges are a little more distant and different than individual district judges and they’re more willing to go against the tide,” he said.

The five cases being considered by the Cincinnati appeals court are:

• An order for Ohio to recognize all out-of-state gay marriages, currently on hold, and a narrower case that forced Ohio to recognize same-sex marriages on death certificates.

• A ruling that Kentucky recognize out-of-state gay marriages, saying a statewide ban violated the Constitution’s equal-protection clause by treating “gay and lesbian persons differently in a way that demeans them.”

• An order overturning Michigan’s statewide gay marriage ban, which followed a rare trial that focused mostly on the impact of same-sex parenting on children. More than 300 couples were married on a Saturday in March before the ruling was suspended pending appeal.

• An order for Tennessee to recognize three same-sex marriages while a lawsuit against the state works through the courts. Tennessee officials are appealing the preliminary injunction to the 6th Circuit.

Ohio’s attorney general has said the state’s voters have decided in 2004 that marriage is between a man and a woman and that he’ll continue to defend the ban.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has said his state won’t recognize the 300 marriages performed in March because the ban is still the law.

A spokesman for Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has said the governor was disappointed in the ruling, saying the state’s voters passed a statewide ban in 2006.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear hired private attorneys to appeal his state’s decision after the Attorney General Jack Conway called a tearful news conference to announce he would not appeal the ruling, saying that doing so would be “defending discrimination.”

Ohio teacher fired for remark against black president

An Ohio teacher has been fired after a black student who said he wanted to become president claimed the teacher told him the nation didn’t need another black commander in chief.

The Fairfield Board of Education voted 4-0 last week to fire science teacher Gil Voigt from Fairfield Freshman School, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer.

“The district felt that the evidence was sufficient to support the termination of Mr. Voigt’s employment,” Superintendent Paul Otten said in statement.

Voigt did not immediately return a call seeking comment Friday but has said the student misquoted him.

Voigt, who is white, told school officials that what he actually told the teen was that he doesn’t think the nation can afford another president like Barack Obama, “whether he’s black or white.”

A state referee investigating Voigt found that explanation was not credible.

The referee also found Voigt had made other offensive comments in class over the years, including an accusation that in 2008, he trained his laser pointer at a black student and said he looked like “an African-American Rudolph.”

Voigt told school officials that he was only repeating what another student had said but later acknowledged his conduct had been inappropriate.

In 2012, Voigt was accused of calling a student stupid and implying that he and some of his classmates were gay.

In that incident, Voigt denied making any insulting comments to students and told school officials that a group of students in his class were colluding against him.

The state referee found Voigt’s explanation for those two incidents to also be not credible.

“Voigt repeatedly engaged in conduct that is harmful to the well-being of his students,” the state referee wrote in an April 11 report given to the board of education. “He has made race-based, culturally based and insulting comments to students over a period of years. He was warned on multiple occasions that if his behavior continued that he would be subject to termination. Unfortunately, for both Voigt and his students, he did not alter his conduct.”

Voigt may appeal his firing to a Butler County court. The Ohio Department of Education will investigate to decide what to do about his teaching license.

Voigt taught in Fairfield schools since 2000. He had been on unpaid leave since December following a parent’s complaint about the Obama remark.

4 married gay couples sue Ohio for recognition

Four legally married gay couples filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on Feb. 10 seeking a court order to force Ohio to recognize same-sex marriages on birth certificates despite a statewide ban, echoing arguments in a similar successful lawsuit concerning death certificates.

The couples filed the suit in federal court in Cincinnati, arguing that the state’s practice of listing only one partner in a gay marriage as a parent on birth certificates violates the U.S. Constitution.

“We want to be afforded the same benefits and rights as every other citizen of the United States,” said one of the plaintiffs, Joe Vitale, 45, who lives in Manhattan with his husband and their adopted 10-month-old son, who was born in Ohio. The pair married in 2011 shortly after New York legalized gay marriage.

Rob Nichols, a spokesman for Republican Gov. John Kasich, said his office doesn’t comment on pending litigation, “except to say that the governor believes marriage is between a man and a woman.”

A spokesman for Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, whose office will fight the lawsuit, declined to comment.

Previously, DeWine has said he has a duty to defend Ohio’s constitution and statutes, including the statewide ban on gay marriage, passed overwhelmingly by voters in 2004. Gay marriage supporters are working to put the issue back on the Ohio ballot in November.

The other plaintiffs in Monday’s lawsuit are three lesbian couples living in the Cincinnati area who married in states that have legalized gay marriage. One woman in each of those marriages is pregnant through artificial insemination, and their babies all are due to be born this summer in Cincinnati hospitals.

The couples say they’re worried that having only one of them listed as a parent on their children’s birth certificates could lead to problems down the road, such as a denial of parental rights to the one not named should their partner die or experience a medical emergency.

“I have no legal grounds to stand on. That’s not something that should be happening in our society,” said Pam Yorksmith, who married her wife in California in 2008. The couple has a 3-year-old son and another on the way.

The couples’ attorney is the same one who represented two gay married couples in their lawsuit last year that successfully sought a court order forcing Ohio to recognize same-sex marriages on death certificates. The state is appealing the ruling, issued in December by federal Judge Timothy Black.

“At both ends of our lifespans, a marriage is a marriage. A family is a family,” said the couples’ lawyer, Cincinnati civil rights attorney Al Gerhardstein. “A family is a loving, nurturing group of people and the identification document when the children come along is the birth certificate, and it ought to be right.”

Unlike Oklahoma and Utah, where federal judges recently struck down gay marriage bans, Gerhardstein is working to slowly chip away at Ohio’s gay marriage ban through narrow lawsuits.

He referred to the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, saying he didn’t think its judges would uphold a ruling similar to the Oklahoma and Utah cases but would be more open to the argument he’s making – that a state cannot disavow a marriage that was legal in the state where it took place.

Gerhardstein’s tactic also will give the U.S. Supreme Court a wider variety of legal arguments to consider when appeals from various states reach their chambers.

Gerhardstein hopes his successful gay marriage lawsuit last year acts as a stepping stone to a victory in this week’s lawsuit.

In last year’s case, Judge Black ruled that Ohio’s ban on gay marriage demeans “the dignity of same-sex couples in the eyes of the state and the wider community.”

“Once you get married lawfully in one state, another state cannot summarily take your marriage away,” Black wrote, saying the right to remain married is recognized as a fundamental liberty in the U.S. Constitution.

Federal judge says same-sex marriage lawsuit can proceed in Ohio

A federal judge ruled Nov. 1 that a lawsuit seeking to have same-sex marriages recognized on Ohio death certificates can proceed despite a statewide ban on the nuptials.

Judge Timothy Black rejected a request from state attorneys asking to have a funeral director removed from the lawsuit, a move that essentially would have squelched it.

By allowing Cincinnati funeral director Robert Grunn to remain a plaintiff, the judge allows for his upcoming final ruling in the lawsuit to apply to potentially every gay Ohio couple who married in another state.

In his ruling, he indirectly addressed critics of the lawsuit who have called for his impeachment for encroaching on state’s rights, among other allegations.

“Despite the fact that voters may support a given law, rights protected by the U.S. Constitution can never be subordinated to the vote of the majority,” the judge wrote.

The lawsuit originally was filed by and would have applied only to two gay Cincinnati couples who married over the summer in other states. One spouse in each couple recently died, and the surviving spouses sought to have them recognized on death certificates as married for practical burial purposes and symbolic ones.

The judge issued temporary orders granting their requests, saying that the couples deserved to be treated with respect and that Ohio law historically has recognized out-of-state marriages as valid as long as they were legal where they took place. He cited marriages between cousins and those involving minors.

“How then can Ohio, especially given the historical status of Ohio law, single out same-sex marriages as ones it will not recognize?” the judge wrote in July. “The short answer is that Ohio cannot.”

When Grunn was added to the lawsuit as a plaintiff in September, his attorneys asked the judge for a broader ruling to require Ohio’s health department director to order all funeral directors and coroners to list gay clients as married if they were legally wed in other states.

The judge is expected to issue that decision in December.

He considered lengthy arguments earlier this week on whether to allow Grunn to remain a plaintiff.

The state’s attorneys argued that Grunn’s constitutional rights aren’t affected by the ban, that he has no standing in the matter because he doesn’t have a close relationship with future clients who could be affected and that he has no reason to believe he would be prosecuted for documenting his gay deceased clients as married.

The judge agreed in his ruling that Grunn’s constitutional rights weren’t affected but found that he could remain on the case for several reasons, including a reasonable possibility that he could face prosecution and that he can establish a close relationship with future clients.

Teacher loses job offer after school learns he’s gay

The Human Rights Campaign, Equality Cincinnati and Equality Ohio are calling on Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy not to factor one’s sexual orientation or gender identity into their hiring practices.

The groups launched the action after Jonathan Zeng, a Cincinnati music teacher, said the non-denominational school rescinded a verbal job offer after calling him and directly questioning him about his sexual orientation.

Zeng told Cincinnati.com that he asked school officials why they were asking about his sexual orientation. He said they eplied that Cincinnati Hills has a policy against employing teachers who live as homosexuals because they would be around children and the school believes in the sanctity of marriage.

“What they did was very painful,” Zeng told Cincinnati.com. “I hope that many of their school families and supporters don’t feel that way.”

The school, in a statement, said, “CHCA keeps confidential all matters discussed within a candidate’s interview. We’re looking into this matter, although the initial information we have seen contains inaccuracies. We will not be discussing individual hiring decisions or interviews.”

Cincinnati’s non-discrimination protections do cover sexual orientation and gender identity.

HRC, in a press release, said it recognizes that as a religious school, Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy is exempt and did not break any law. But notes that nearly 90 percent of Christians say they believe their faith compels them to support equal protections under the law for LGBT people, the school’s action is wrong and out-of-touch.

“Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy should be promoting an atmosphere that celebrates the diversity God created and instilled in each of us – something their mission statement claims to embrace,” said Dr. Sharon Groves, HRC’s director of Religion & Faith. “Incidents like this only harm the local community, who have just lost the opportunity to learn from a qualified educator and a person of deep faith.”

HRC, Equality Cincinnati and Equality Ohio are encouraging people to challenge the school’s decision at https://secure3.convio.net/hrc/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=1467.

Download a PDF of the current issue of Wisconsin Gazette and join our Facebook community.

Cincinnati elects first openly gay councilman

The election of Cincinnati’s first openly gay councilman represents a shift for an Ohio city that for years had a charter amendment that was unfavorable to gays.

Chris Seelbach’s election last week is a milestone for the area’s gays and lesbians. Seelbach had worked for the successful repeal in 2004 of an 11-year-old city charter amendment that banned local ordinances protecting gay people from discrimination.

“I can’t really describe what I was feeling,” Seelbach, 32, said of his election to council and the big victory celebration Nov. 8.  “It was just unbelievably amazing.”

The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that Seelbach plans to push for health benefits for same-sex partners of city employees, and that a majority of council likely will support the move.

The president of Citizens for Community Values said the election shows that Cincinnati is becoming more liberal. Phil Burress’ right-wing group, based in suburban Sharonville, had supported the charter amendment with the slogan, “Equal rights, not special rights.”

“There is a reason why fewer people live in Cincinnati now,” Burress said. “Cincinnati residents will be in for a rough ride the next two years.”

Having an openly gay person in public office helps other people feel that they can show who they really are and participate in government, said Denis Dison, a spokesman for the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund.

“If some gay or lesbian kid in Cincinnati walks into school with their head a little higher after this, that’s the important thing,” Dison said.

Seelbach said he knew of only one offensive comment during the campaign – a man at a polling place told his father: “Your son’s a queer.”

“I have witnessed that people don’t really care,” Seelbach said, adding that he regrets that the one comment was directed to his father. “But it just feels good to know the man who said that woke up the next day and saw my name in the top nine.”