Tag Archives: love

Federal judge stays marriage equality ruling in Alabama

A federal judge has put a temporary hold on her decision that overturned Alabama’s gay marriage ban, but indicated she will soon answer a key question: Must state probate judges issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples when the stay is lifted?

U.S. District Judge Callie V. S. Granade on Jan. 25 refused the Alabama attorney general’s request to put her ruling on hold until the U.S. Supreme Court takes up the issue of gay marriage later this year. However, Granade did issue a 14-day stay to give the state time to ask the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for a lengthier delay.

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange called the delay a “step in the right direction” because it will allow the state time to prepare appellate arguments and perhaps settle questions about the effect of the ruling. Advocates of gay marriage rights expressed disappointment but were confident they would ultimately prevail.

“While we’re disappointed that committed, loving gay and lesbian couples in Alabama will not be able to marry (Monday), we’re hopeful the final legal barriers will be overcome quite soon,” Human Rights Campaign Alabama director Ashley Jackson said.

Some hoping to get married swiftly expressed disappointment over the two-week hold.

Tori Sisson and Shante Wolfe of Tuskegee were prepared to camp outside the Montgomery courthouse all night Sunday in hopes of securing a marriage license first thing Monday from a judge who indicated he would be issuing them absent a stay.

“It’s aggravating. The judge ruled and everybody got so excited and now, this,” Sisson said.

The stay will expire Feb. 9 unless the court extends it.

Granade said within that time that she will issue a separate order clarifying the effect of her ruling on those seeking and issuing marriage licenses across Alabama.

Lawyers for the Mobile couple that brought the original suit requested the clarification after the Alabama Probate Judges’ Association advised judges that they should not issue licenses to same-sex couples.

The group maintained that ruling declaring the ban unconstitutional only applies to the parties in that case, and that it doesn’t require judges to issue marriage licenses to other same-sex couples.

“As probate judges, our duty is to issue marriage licenses in accordance with Alabama law and that means we cannot legally issue marriage licenses to same sex couples,” Monroe County Probate Judge Greg Norris said.

Some judges disagreed with that view and indicated they were prepared to issue licenses on Monday.

David Kennedy, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the case, said the judges’ association needed to “embrace reality” that the ban had been struck down.

Granade had ruled on Jan. 23 that Alabama’s statutory and constitutional bans on gay marriage were in violation of the U.S. Constitution. That ruling was the latest in a string of victories for same-sex marriage advocates around the Deep South. Still, the judge’s order reverberated in a state considered one of the Bible Belt’s most socially conservative, drawing praise and disbelief from some and scorn from others.

The ruling striking down the marriage ban came out of a case filed by Cari Searcy and Kim McKeand of Mobile. The couple said the ban prevented Alabama from recognizing their 2008 California marriage and Searcy as a parent to the son they had together. McKeand gave birth to the child in 2005, but the court’s rejected Searcy’s adoption petition because the couple was not legally married.

Strange’s office had sought to put Granade’s order on hold until the U.S. Supreme Court rules. The state argued there would be widespread confusion if couple’s got married, but the marriages were later ruled invalid.

Granade said it was inappropriate, in her view, to continue to delay.

“As long as a stay is in place, same-sex couples and their families remain in a state of limbo with respect to adoption, child care and custody, medical decisions, employment and health benefits, future tax implications, inheritance and many other rights associated with marriage,” she wrote.

Florida clerks won’t give gays marriage licenses

Most of Florida’s 67 clerks of court don’t plan to issue marriage licenses to gay couples on Jan. 6 because they are paralyzed by confusion over whether a same-sex marriage ban is being lifted across the whole state that day, according to an Associated Press survey.

The overwhelmingly majority of clerks who responded to AP’s inquiry this week said they wouldn’t offer marriage licenses to same-sex couples without further clarification from a federal judge on whether his ruling applies beyond Washington County. A lawsuit filed in the remote Panhandle county by two men seeking to be married became a key basis for U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle’s decision ruling the state’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional.

The association representing Florida’s clerks has issued an opinion that the ruling doesn’t apply to other counties, and said clerks can be prosecuted for violating the law if they issue same-sex marriage licenses. Most clerks are following that advice.

“I’m not going to break the law,” said Paula O’Neill, the clerk for Pasco County, in the Tampa area. “I’m not going to issue licenses until it’s legal.”

Of the 53 clerks who responded to the AP survey, 46 said they wouldn’t grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples because they lack legal authority. Six said they hadn’t made up their minds. Only one clerk outside Washington County, Osceola County’s Armando Ramirez, said he would issue the licenses.

Ramirez said his office, south of Orlando, would begin issuing marriage permits for same-sex couples a minute after midnight on Jan. 6. He said it’s a matter of not discriminating against a minority group.

“We won’t waste any time,” he said.

Gay rights groups are disputing the clerk association’s interpretation of Hinkle’s ruling, and they’re threatening legal action if licenses for same-sex couples aren’t issued across the state. On Wednesday, they sent a memo to Florida’s 67 clerks of court stating the clerks are required to stop enforcing Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage in two weeks.

“We are prepared to fight,” said Sharon Kersten, a public relations consultant for Equality Florida, the gay rights group.

Some clerks said they’re hoping for clarification from a court.  Dwight Brock, clerk of Collier County in southwest Florida, said it would be “disastrous” if counties didn’t act in a uniform manner. He hasn’t decided what to do given the conflicting opinions.

“It is as clear as mud,” Brock said.

The judge may offer some clarity. Washington County’s clerk on Tuesday asked Hinkle if his ruling applied only to the couple in the lawsuit or to any same-sex couple seeking a marriage license from the county.  On Wednesday, Hinkle asked two state agencies to offer their positions by next Monday on whether his ruling “binds a Florida clerk of court.”

Several clerks who don’t plan to issue the licenses until they get further clarification said they’re conflicted, since they support gay rights.

“I’ve been with the gay community on the issue of equality, forever. I want to see this resolved,” said Pat Frank, clerk for Hillsborough County. “The only thing that concerns me are the penalties that might affect my office. It’s a first-degree misdemeanor if the State Attorney decides to prosecute me.”

At least one Florida prosecutor, State Attorney Jeff Ashton in Orlando, has said he wouldn’t prosecute any clerks for issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. His jurisdiction covers Orange and Osceola counties.

Some clerks are considering sending same-sex couples to county judges, who are also allowed to issue marriage licenses under Florida law. County judges can waive some marriage-license requirements, such as the three-day waiting period or the restriction on a minor getting married.

“Maybe, if nothing changes, we would treat it like these other cases, and send it to a county judge,” said Ken Burke, clerk of Pinellas County in the St. Petersburg area.

Meanwhile, an appellate court in Miami upheld Wednesday the dismissal of a divorce petition by a lesbian couple who had married in Iowa. The judges on the 3rd District Court of Appeal said same-sex couples don’t have standing to dissolve their marriages in Florida since the state only recognizes marriages between a man and a woman.

“We acknowledge that the nation is presently engaged in a great national conversation on the subject of same-sex marriage,” the judges said. “However, this is neither the time nor the place for this court to insert itself into that discussion.”

Gay couple sues Florida DMV for revoking drivers’ licenses

A gay couple is suing the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles revoking drivers’ licenses they said they received by showing their marriage license from New York. Their complaint is the latest challenge to Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage.

Daniel DeSousa and Scott Wall married in New York last year and legally changed their last name to Wall-DeSousa through the federal Social Security Administration.

Daniel changed his driver’s license in Brevard County, but when Scott tried there, he was told that his marriage certificate wasn’t a legal document in Florida. Scott later succeeded in changing his license in Orange County.

The couple said when they went public with their new drivers’ licenses in an interview with an Orlando television station, they received a letter from the DMV that said their licenses had been cancelled.

The lawsuit filed last week in Orlando federal court demands that the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles grant them licenses with their new names. The couple said the state agency is violating their rights to due process, equal protection and free speech.

The agency is “trying to suppress the expression that the plaintiffs, as a same-sex couple, are a family,” the lawsuit said.

An agency spokesman, John Lucas, said his office hadn’t received a copy of the lawsuit and so he couldn’t comment on it.

“It was brought to our attention that the license had been improperly issued,” Lucas said. “Under law, we were forced to recall it.”

Earlier this year, a federal judge ruled the Florida gay marriage ban was unconstitutional. But he stayed his decision while the state appealed it to the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Judges in four South Florida counties – Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach — have ruled that the state’s 2008 voter-approved constitutional amendment banning gay marriage violates gay residents’ right to equal protection under the law as guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.

In Egypt, 8 convicted for same-sex wedding ceremony

An Egyptian court over the weekend convicted eight men for “inciting debauchery” following their appearance in an alleged same-sex wedding party on a Nile boat, sentencing each of them to three years in prison.

The Internet video shows two men exchanging rings and embracing among cheering friends. The eight were detained in September when a statement from the office of Egypt’s chief prosecutor said the video clip was “shameful to God” and “offensive to public morals.”

Egypt is a conservative majority Muslim country with a sizable minority of Christians. Homosexuality is a social taboo for both communities and only in recent years have fiction and movies included gay characters. Consensual same-sex relations are not explicitly prohibited, but other laws have been used to imprison gay men in recent years, including “debauchery” or “shameless public acts.” Same-sex marriage is unheard of in Egypt.

The verdict was received with protesting screams by relatives waiting outside the Cairo courthouse court. Some of them broke down and cried while others protested that medical examinations carried out by state doctors showed the defendants were not gay.

While inside the defendants’ cage for the hearing, the eight buried their heads in their hands or hid their faces under baseball caps. They covered their faces with pieces of cloth or paper when they were led by police out of the cage after they heard the verdict.

The verdict is the latest in a crackdown by authorities against gays and atheists. The campaign also targets liberal and pro-democracy activists and violators of a draconian law on street protests.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said in September that Egyptian authorities have repeatedly arrested and tortured men suspected of consensual gay conduct.

HRW condemned Saturday’s convictions as part of a widening campaign of intolerance in Egyptian government and society.

“Egypt’s government, evidently not satisfied jailing opposition members, students, and human rights activists, has found the time to prosecute (gays),” said Graeme Reid, HRW’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights director, in a statement. Reid called the sentencing “the latest signal that the new government will prosecute anyone to try to bolster its support.”

In April, four men were convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison for “debauchery” after allegedly holding parties that involved homosexual acts and where women’s clothing and makeup were found.

In 2001, Egypt made headlines around the world when 52 men were arrested in a police raid on a Nile boat restaurant and accused of taking part in a gay sex party. After a highly publicized trial in an emergency state security court, 23 of the men were convicted and sentenced to prison terms of one to five years for immoral behavior and contempt of religion.

Egypt’s crackdown on gays and atheists is taking place as the country of nearly 90 million people appears to be steadily moving to the right, with jingoism and xenophobia dominating the media as the army and security forces battle Islamic militants waging a campaign of violence against them in the Sinai Peninsula. The media, meanwhile, is targeting civil society groups and activists, accusing them of being foreign agents on the payroll of sinister foreign organizations.

Authorities say the country’s national interests must take precedence over everything else so Egypt can be spared the fate of countries like Syria, ravaged by a three-year-old civil war, or neighboring Libya, where radical Islamic militias control large areas of the oil-rich nation.

A much harsher crackdown targets members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the now-banned Islamist group that has been labelled a terrorist organization by the state. Authorities have killed hundreds of Islamists and jailed thousands since the military last year toppled the regime of Mohammed Morsi, who hails from the Brotherhood.

Morsi’s ouster took place in July 2013 as millions of Egyptians staged street protests to demand his removal.

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.

Peace, love and potato salad: Crowdfunding beneficiary hosts PotatoStock

Remember the Ohio man who raised $55,000 in a joking crowdfunding appeal to pay for his first attempt at making potato salad?

He threw a huge public party over the weekend, promising with his invites “peace, love and potato salad.”

PotatoStock 2014 was held in downtown Columbus and featured bands, food trucks, beer vendors and, yes, plenty of potato salad. With more than 3,000 pounds of potatoes, the charity-minded party was open to people of all ages.

Zack Brown had jokingly sought $10 on Kickstarter in July to buy potato salad ingredients, but his mission drew global attention and earned tens of thousands of dollars.

The Idaho Potato Commission and corporate sponsors donated potato salad supplies for the party.

Brown is partnering with the Columbus Foundation to support charities that fight hunger and homelessness. The account started with $20,000 in post-campaign corporate donations and will grow after proceeds from PotatoStock are added.

“His fund will have potential way after this potato salad is forgotten,” Lisa Jolley, the foundation’s director of donors and development, told The Columbus Dispatch.

Brown told the newspaper that he intends to “do the most good that I can.”

ACLU asks Supreme Court to review and affirm rulings against Wisconsin, Indiana marriage bans

The American Civil Liberties Union on Sept. 9 was filing petitions asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review — and uphold — a federal appeals court ruling striking down Wisconsin and Indiana bans on same-sex marriage.

The ACLU is representing same-sex couples in both states, as well as gay and lesbian couples seeking marriage rights in other states.

In Indiana, the ACLU argued before a federal appeals court in late August on behalf of thirteen same-sex couples in Indiana and Wisconsin who either want the right to marry in one of the states or who want their home state to recognize their marriage.

The ACLU also is the co-counsel in Bostic v. Schaeffer, the case challenging Virginia’s marriage ban on behalf of a certified class of approximately 14,000 same-sex couples. That case is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, along with cases from Oklahoma and Utah.

Last week, after the federal appeals court struck down the bans in Indiana and Wisconsin, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said he would ask for a U.S. Supreme Court review. It turns out this is what parties on all sides of the issue want.

Thirty-two states — those with bans on same-sex marriage and those where gay couples can legally marry — have asked the Supreme Court for a final ruling on the issue.

Civil liberties and LGBT civil rights groups also want the high court to rule.

“Now that there are petitions before the Court in five cases, it’s crystal clear that the Court needs to take up the freedom to marry issue again. Same-sex couples from every corner of the country are affected, and the high court has the opportunity to end the harm caused by these discriminatory and unconstitutional marriage bans,” said James Esseks, director of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. “Since last June, dozens of courts around the country have ruled in favor of equality for loving and committed same-sex couples. With these filings, we hope it’s only a matter of time before all Americans in all fifty states have the freedom to marry.”  

Federal judge upholds Louisiana ban on marriage equality

A federal district judge has upheld Louisiana’s ban on marriage equality.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman in the Fifth Circuit is the first to uphold a ban against same-sex marriage since the U.S. Supreme Court decision in U.S. v. Windsor last summer. The ruling broke a streak of 21 consecutive federal court rulings for equality.

“Today a federal district court put up a roadblock on a path constructed by 21 federal court rulings over the last year — a path that inevitably leads to nationwide marriage equality,” said Sarah Warbelow, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign.

The ruling will be challenged at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, according to Dalton Courson, an attorney for the plaintiffs..

“We always anticipated it would be a difficult fight to have same-sex marriages recognized in Louisiana,” he said. “We plan to carefully present our case to the appellate court. The Constitution demands equal protection to all citizens.”

Courson continued, “We’re disappointed. We have roughly 20 decisions on our side of this issue from courts across the nation. It is time for marriage equality, even in the deep South.”

At the right-wing National Organization for Marriage, president Brian S. Brown said, “This decision by Judge Feldman in Louisiana is a great win for the cause of marriage, coming as it does on the heels of other pro-marriage court victories, that puts the lie to the claim that it is inevitable the US Supreme Court will redefine marriage. To the contrary, we believe they will leave this issue with the states.”

Feldman made his ruling in Robicheaux v. Caldwell, a case involving same-sex couples who either want to marry in the state or have their out-of-state marriages recognized.

Feldman said the marriage issue should be decided “through democratic consensus.”

He wrote that “it is not for this Court to resolve the wisdom of same-sex marriage.”

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to take up marriage equality sometime in the next year – in one or more cases. Already the high court has been asked to hear three cases.

“We firmly believe that justice will ultimately be done,” Warbelow said.

Same-sex couples can marry in 19 states and the District of Columbia.

Editor’s note: This story will be updated.

Jamaican activist ends legal challenge to anti-sodomy law

A young Jamaican gay rights activist who brought an unprecedented legal challenge to the Caribbean island’s anti-sodomy law has withdrawn the claim after growing fearful about violent backlashes, advocacy groups and colleagues said over the weekend.

Last year, Javed Jaghai made headlines after initiating a constitutional court challenge to Jamaica’s 1864 law that bans consensual sex between men. He argued that the anti-sodomy law fuels homophobia and violates a charter of human rights adopted in 2011 that guarantees people the right to privacy.

But in an affidavit, Jaghai said he has been “threatened enough times to know that I am vulnerable.” The 25-year-old man believes his “loved ones are under threat” by intolerant people and the drawn-out court challenge is causing too much stress and anxiety.

“Though the cause and the case are noble, I am no longer willing to gamble with my life or the lives of my parents and siblings,” Jaghai wrote in a statement withdrawing his Supreme Court claim.

Jamaica’s rarely used anti-sodomy law bans anal sex and sets a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment and hard labor. Anything interpreted as “gross indecency” between men can be punished by two years in prison.

Janet Burak of New York-based advocacy group AIDS-Free World said the fear that pushed Jaghai to end his court challenge is an all-too familiar fear among the LGBT community in Jamaica. It’s “the same fear that keeps gay men in Jamaica underground, away from effective HIV testing, prevention treatment, care and support interventions,” she said in a statement.

When Jaghai initiated the legal challenge last year, several church pastors led crowded revival meetings in Jamaica’s two biggest cities to oppose overturning the anti-sodomy law.

Many Jamaicans consider homosexuality to be wrong, but insist violence against gays is blown out of proportion by activists. But anti-gay epithets are heard frequently and attacks on LGBT Jamaicans or people perceived to be gay do occur from time to time. Last year, a transgender teen named Dwayne Jones was murdered by a mob at a crowded street dance and his slaying remains unsolved.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller vowed to put the anti-sodomy law to a “conscience vote” in Parliament during the leadup to 2011 elections but nothing has been accomplished.

J-FLAG, Jamaica’s biggest gay rights group, says Jaghai’s courage has inspired other young homosexuals in Jamaica who are not willing to live in the shadows.

“Javed has made history and will forever remain a hero to the Jamaican LGBT community,” said activist Brian-Paul Welsh.

Federal judge rules against Florida’s ban on gay marriage

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle on Aug. 21 ruled that Florida’s amendment banning gay and lesbian couples from marrying is unconstitutional.

In Brenner v. Scott, attorneys sued the state on behalf of same-sex couples who argue that Florida’s ban on marriage equality violates the U.S. Constitution. Florida voters approved the  state constitutional amendment in 2008.

Hinkle, appointed by Bill Clinton, said the state ban violates federal guarantees of Equal Protection and Due Process.

Hinkle said, “Liberty, tolerance, and respect are not zero-sum concepts. Those who enter opposite-sex marriages are harmed not at all when others, including these plaintiffs, are given the liberty to choose their own life partners and are shown the respect that comes with formal marriage. Tolerating views with which one disagrees is a hallmark of civilized society.”

He also wrote, “When observers look back 50 years from now, the arguments supporting Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage, though just as sincerely held, will again seem an obvious pretext for discrimination. To paraphrase a civil rights leader from the age when interracial marriage was struck down, the arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.”

The judge stayed his ruling pending appeal, but according to the Human Rights Campaign he ordered the state to immediately recognize the marriage of a woman whose wife died and who wishes to be listed as the legal spouse on her deceased wife’s death certificate.

In a news release, HRC legal director Sarah Warbelow said, “Florida’s committed and loving gay and lesbian couples deserve the right to legally marry in the state they call home. Judge Hinkle’s ruling today is consistent with 20 other consecutive federal court decisions over the last year that have said state bans on marriage equality violate the basic principles of the U.S. Constitution. These discriminatory bans only serve to harm LGBT families, and they should be erased from our nation’s laws once and for all.”

There have been multiple rulings against Florida’s ban on same-sex marriages at the state level as well.

“Today is the fifth consecutive victory in Florida and leaves no doubt that this ban serves no purpose but to harm gay couples and their children,” said Nadine Smith of Equality Florida Instituter. “We applaud Judge Hinkle for his decision and we call on Gov. (Rick) Scott to lead where Attorney General Pam Bondi has failed.”

She continued, “Florida put this discriminatory ban in place and Florida should end it. Our families have waited too long already. We call on Gov. Scott to join us in urging the Florida Supreme Court to take up this issue immediately.”

In total, 38 rulings since last year’s decision in U.S. v. Windsor have found that state bans on marriage for same-sex couples are unconstitutional.