Supreme Court Declines to Review New Mexico Rejection of Wedding Photographer Case

The U.S. Supreme Court today rejected a request to consider Elane Photography v. Willock, a case brought by a wedding photography business that had been penalized for violating a New Mexico law against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. After the New Mexico Supreme Court unanimously rejected its free speech and religious liberty claims, the company appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court on the grounds that taking pictures is expressive activity protected by the First Amendment, and that the government has no right to force a photographer to take a particular picture. The Supreme Court declined to take the case.

People For the American Way is committed to religious liberty, freedom of expression, and LGBT equality, and recognizes that people who support both religious freedom and full legal equality for LGBT people can and do disagree on where lines should be drawn in such cases.  A small business person who wants to run a business that reflects their values can be a sympathetic figure. Some believe a mom-and-pop company whose owners have religious objections to same-sex marriage should have the right to turn away a gay couple under those circumstances.  But it is hard to identify a legal principle by which a business covered by an anti-discrimination law would be allowed to ignore the law on the basis of the owner’s religious beliefs on marriage, but not on the basis of his religious beliefs on segregation or gender inequality.

The tension between the rights of a business owner and the ability of a legislature to ban discrimination as a matter of public policy finds eloquent expression in New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Bosson’s concurrence in the Elane Photography case.  The court unanimously upheld a finding by the state’s Human Rights Commission that refusing to provide services to a same-sex couple had violated anti-discrimination law. Bosson wrote that the court’s ruling means that the business owners “are compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives. Though the rule of law requires it, the result is sobering.”

More from Bosson’s opinion:

On a larger scale, this case provokes reflection on what this nation is all about, its promise of fairness, liberty, equality of opportunity, and justice. At its heart, this case teaches that at some point in our lives all of us must compromise, if only a little, to accommodate the contrasting values of others. A multicultural, pluralistic society, one of our nation’s strengths, demands no less. The Huguenins [the business owners] are free to think, to say, to believe, as they wish, they may pray to the God of their choice and follow those commandments in their personal lives wherever they lead. The Constitution protects the Huguenins in that respect and much more. But there is a price, one that we all have to pay somewhere in our civic life…In the smaller, more focused world of the marketplace, of commerce, of public accommodation, the Huguenins have to channel their conduct, not their beliefs , so as to leave space for other Americans who believe something different. That compromise is part of the glue that holds us together as a nation, the tolerance that lubricates the varied moving parts of us as a people. That sense of respect we owe others, whether or not we believe as they do, illuminates this country, setting it apart from the discord that afflicts much of the rest of the world. In short, I would say to the Huguenins, with the utmost respect: it is the price of citizenship.

Bosson’s opinion recognizes that there are competing interests at play and that can make line-drawing difficult.  He treats the religious liberty questions respectfully.

Of course, that hasn’t stopped Religious Right from portraying the decision, and Bosson’s opinion, as pure tyranny.  A lawyer for the Alliance Defending Freedom called the decision “a blow to our client and every American’s right to live free.” Cases in Colorado and Oregon involving bakery owners that declined to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple and faced punishment for violating anti-discrimination laws have generated similar rhetoric. 

Most Americans do not see tyranny in the balancing act that legislatures and courts are engaged in. They believe the principle staked out in PFAW Foundation’s Twelve Rules for Mixing Religion and Politics: it is legitimate for government to require religious organizations and individuals to abide by rules and regulations that promote the common good. A poll conducted by Third Way and HRC just before the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning the Defense of Marriage Act found that 68 percent of Americans believe that small business owners should not be allowed to refuse service to gays or lesbians, regardless of their religious beliefs. When asked specifically about wedding-related services like catering, flowers, or cakes, nearly as many – 64 percent – were opposed to laws that would allow small businesses to deny services based on their religious beliefs.

PFAW

Fair Housing for LGBT People Rejected in Louisiana

On March 31, the day before the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) marked the beginning of Fair Housing Month, Louisiana lawmakers said "no" to affording greater protections for LGBT people under state housing discrimination law.

Under current law, Louisiana protects the ability "to compete for available housing on an open, fair, and equitable basis, regardless of race, color, religion, [and] sex." House Bill 804, introduced by Representative Jared Brossett of New Orleans, would have added to the list protections for sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and marital status.

Unfortunately, Monday's House committee vote ended in a 13-5 defeat of Representative Brossett's bill.

Equality Louisiana has shown that Louisianans strongly support on the side of housing fairness:

Equality Louisiana polls shows 93.7% oppose LGBT housing discrimination

But the opposition didn't miss a beat. The Times-Picayune's Laura McGaughy reported:

Kathleen Benfield, from the conservative Christian organization the American Family Association of New Orleans, also testified against the bill on behalf of the Louisiana Family Forum's Gene Mills, who she said could not make the hearing.

She said the issue presented by the bill was "to protect certain sexual practices outside of marriage" and said this isn't a civil rights issue since sexual identity and gender expression are not "immutable" like race and "can change over time." She also said Brossett didn't present proof that homosexuals are being discriminated against in Louisiana.

"In my opinion, this legislation is a solution in search of a problem -- that there is not a problem," said Benfield.

Right Wing Watch has more on the American Family Association.

In other news on the fight for LGBT equality, Illinois moves toward banning sexual orientation conversion therapy while Minnesota falters on that front, and marriage equality developments continue to unfold in Michigan and Wisconsin.

Check out PFAW’s website for more LGBT equality updates.

PFAW

Judge Strikes Michigan’s Ban on Marriage for Same-Sex Couples

A federal judge ruled today that Michigan’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples is unconstitutional, the latest in a string of state marriage equality victories.

The Associated Press reports:

U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman announced his ruling after a rare two-week trial that mostly focused on the impact of same-sex parenting on children.

There was no indication that the judge was suspending his decision. Attorney General Bill Schuette said he was immediately filing a request with a federal appeals court to suspend Friedman's decision and prevent same-sex couples from immediately marrying. The decision was released shortly after 5 p.m., when most county clerk offices in Michigan were closed.


PFAW Foundation

Young People Are Leading the Way on Marriage and Family Equality

Last week's Washington Post-ABC News poll revealed that a supermajority now supports marriage equality, and half believe it's a constitutional right.

This week the Pew Research Center released its own numbers. 54 percent of respondents to the Pew poll, conducted in February, support a legal right to marry for gays and lesbians. Ten years ago, that number was just 32 percent. And in June 1996, the earliest available data, it was 27 percent.

Then Pew dug a bit deeper into the generation gap.

18- to 29-year-olds are leading the way overall (69 percent), both among Democrats (77 percent) and Republicans (61 percent). It's in the Republican Party where the generation gap is widest, with 30- to 49-year-olds 18 points behind at 43 percent, 50- to 64-year-olds 31 points behind at 30 percent, and those 65 and older 39 points behind at 22 percent.

The numbers on family equality tell a similar story.

PFAW will continue to support not only the freedom to marry nationwide and but also a definition of family that doesn't rest on parents' sexual orientation or gender identity.

In other LGBT news, new marriage equality litigation continues to pop up in the states, and Michigan has its first openly LGBT federal judge.

Check out even more news from our friends at GLAAD, the Victory Fund, and the Washington Blade.

PFAW

From "Right to Discriminate" to "Don't Say Gay," Standing up in Tennessee

With "right to discriminate" bills making news across the country, Tennessee's "don't say gay" battle continues to have a lasting – and inspiring – impact.

In 2011, Tennessee made national headlines for its effort to pass a "don't say gay" bill that would have prohibited educators from discussing any sexual orientation other than heterosexuality with students in kindergarten through eighth grade. This not only applied to lessons in classrooms, but to all discussions between educators and students. Any acknowledgement that LGBT people exist was officially prohibited, a cruel effort to isolate and declare as abnormal any children who were LGBT or who had LGBT family members (including parents).

It's come back in various forms since then, but it has yet to become law – thanks in part to courageous young people like Marcel Neergaard, who has consistently spoken out against the legislation and its chief sponsor, John Ragan, and who has also advocated for policies to protect LGBT students in the Volunteer State.

This week, Marcel wrote for the Huffington Post:

I know I am not alone in my struggles. I know I have to be happy with the progress LGBTQ people have made. I also know that it's not okay to be called out for being different. I know I can be helped by Tennessee's Dignity for All Students Act (HB927). It is important to say students cannot be harassed, intimidated or bullied because they are gay or perceived to be gay. The Dignity for All Students Act specifies many other groups, like kids who are bullied because of their religion, race, gender, gender identity or gender expression. It even helps the kids who are brave enough to be friends with students who are "different."

I'm not the only gay youth in Tennessee. I'm not the only gay kid in Oak Ridge. I'm not even the only gay student in my school [–] I'm just someone who is standing up. I know I have written about bullying many times, but this is still happening to kids like me everywhere and I refuse to let it continue. I will go on educating my school system, and the people around me who believe the gay stereotypes, but we [cannot] do this alone . . . We need . . . to convince legislators that students everywhere deserve safe places to learn. We also need people to encourage our representatives, who are supposed to represent us, to pass bills like the Dignity for All Students Act and federal legislation such as the Safe Schools Improvement Act. I want to make sure other kids do not have to go through what I have. This week I will be in Nashville for Advancing Equality on the Hill Day talking to my senator and (hopefully) representative about making schools safer for kids like me. What will you do?

Marcel's words ring especially true in the month leading up to the Day of Silence, an annual event organized by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) that is meant to draw attention to the "silencing effects" of anti-gay harassment and name-calling in schools and to be a way for students to show their solidarity with students who have been bullied.

As we approach April 11, this year's Day of Silence, PFAW will be doing its part to spread Marcel's message – the idea that all students deserve far better than what they're getting when it comes to bullying and harassment in schools.

In the meantime, check out Big Bullies: How the Religious Right is Trying to Make Schools Safe for Bullies and Dangerous for Gay Kids and its 2012 update.

In other LGBT news, Wisconsin marriage equality advocates are trying to get their litigation on the fast track.

Check out even more news from our friends at GLAAD, the Victory Fund, and the Washington Blade.

PFAW

Behind the Scenes with the Right-Wing on Arizona's "Right to Discriminate" Bill

At the end of February, Right Wing Watch introduced us to the Center for Arizona Policy's Cathi Herrod, who helped lead the effort to pass a "right to discriminate" bill in Arizona.

Cathi Herrod of the Center for Arizona Policy accused the bill’s opponents of “incredible hostility to religion.”

“Our first freedom, our ability to live out our religious belief as our founders intended, as wars have been fought for our right to live out our religious belief, that is what is very much under attack,” Herrod said, adding that she is shocked that people would oppose the right-to-discriminate bill. “This was non-controversial until the last four or five days.”

She told Perkins that listeners should “pray for a miracle and to pray for an intervention” for the governor to sign the legislation.

Now that SB 1062 has been vetoed, we're learning more about the Center's involvement.

Documents recently obtained by Capitol Media Services detail meetings between the Center and Governor Jan Brewer's office.

“But the intent of the meetings, the purpose of the meetings, was to thoroughly vet the language, address their concerns, and make changes in the language pursuant to their concerns,” Herrod said. She said her organization addressed every concern raised by Hunter and Sciarrotta with the idea that this year’s version would not meet the same fate as a similar bill Brewer vetoed last year.

What led to this year’s veto, Herrod insisted, had nothing to do with the wording of SB 1062.

“Opponents made the bill about something it was not,” she said, with Brewer reacting to the highly vocal opposition, particularly from the LGBT community, rather than the language of SB 1062. “The governor vetoed a bill that didn’t exist.”

People For the American Way President Michael Keegan spoke earlier about the Right's influence:

In Arizona and across the country, Americans can see through the Right’s continued attempts to cloak anti-gay bigotry in the language of First Amendment rights. We hope that the pushback Arizona received this week will be a message, loud and clear, to the states with similar bills pending. Americans don’t want to live in a country where businesses have free rein to post a ‘No Gays’ sign.

In other LGBT news, Illinois continues implementing marriage equality; court cases progress in the Michigan and Virginia marriage battles; and Oregon Republicans stand up for the freedom to marry.

Check out even more news from our friends at GLAAD, the Victory Fund, and the Washington Blade.

PFAW

Supermajority now supports marriage equality; half believe it's a constitutional right

The march toward marriage equality is gaining momentum at a rate that not many of us predicted, with 17 states and DC having legalized marriage for same-sex couples, and litigation underway in 26 others. Seven to go!

It's also clear that the American people are standing more firmly on behalf of fairness for all couples than ever before. A Washington Post-ABC News poll released yesterday shows not only that a supermajority (59%) favors marriage equality, but also that half (50%) believe it's a constitutional right.

As you can see, the margin for marriage equality has essentially reversed over the last ten years.

Marc Solomon, Freedom to Marry:

Bipartisan momentum is overwhelmingly on our side. A supermajority of Americans believe in freedom and fairness, and support is growing at an unprecedented speed. Overwhelmingly, Americans – no matter where they live, how old they are, or what party they belong to – believe in treating their gay and lesbian family members and friends with dignity and respect by supporting their freedom to marry. It’s the right thing to do on both moral and constitutional grounds.

PFAW will continue to support the freedom to marry nationwide and will remain vigilant against backlash like that in the Grand Canyon State.

PFAW

Texas Ban on Same-Sex Marriage Struck Down

In another win for the marriage equality movement, today U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia struck down Texas’ ban on marriage for same-sex couples.  The judge wrote that "Texas' current marriage laws deny homosexual couples the right to marry, and in doing so, demean their dignity for no legitimate reason.”

The Washington Post reports:

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia did not say gay marriages could be performed immediately. Instead, he stayed the decision, citing a likely appeal.

"Without a rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose, state-imposed inequality can find no refuge in our United States Constitution," Garcia wrote in his decision. "These Texas laws deny Plaintiffs access to the institution of marriage and its numerous rights, privileges, and responsibilities for the sole reason that Plaintiffs wish to be married to a person of the same sex."

Similar bans have been struck down in states across the country – most recently in Virginia less than two weeks ago. Today’s victory in a state with a whopping 26 million residents brings us one important step closer to nationwide marriage equality.

PFAW Foundation

New Mexicans unite for marriage

December 2013 marked a southwestern step toward marriage equality nationwide when the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the state is required by its constitution to allow same-sex couples to marry.

Today the state said no to dismantling that progress when its legislative session ended without any consideration of a proposed constitutional amendment. With bipartisan support, SJR 6 is dead, and New Mexico still represents the seventeenth state (plus DC) to have legalized marriage for same-sex couples.

New Mexicans United for Marriage:

When the Supreme Court ruled that our state constitution guarantees all New Mexicans the rights and responsibilities of marriage, we expected there would be some who would seek to overturn the decision. But the Legislature listened to the citizens of New Mexico and stood strong against attempts to deny New Mexicans their constitutional right of marriage equality. This should prove once and for all that marriage equality is here to stay in New Mexico and that all families in our state are valued and secure.

Freedom to Marry:

In the end, as we’re finding in so many other states, the freedom to marry was protected by bipartisan support. We’re indebted to the leadership of our co-chairs, including former Gov. Gary Johnson, a libertarian who speaks directly to many New Mexicans who believe that freedom means freedom for everyone.

The timing of today’s victory bodes well as two important federal court challenges to marriage bans are headed to the 10th Circuit Court in Denver. New Mexico is one of the six states served by that court and we hope the resounding silence by its political and legislative leaders to challenge the freedom to marry resonates with the justices.

PFAW stood with Freedom to Marry and other NMUM partners in asking members to make calls on behalf of fairness for all couples. We will continue to support the freedom to marry nationwide and will remain vigilant against backlash in the Land of Enchantment.

PFAW

Virginia Ban on Same-Sex Marriage Struck Down

On Thursday evening a federal judge ruled that Virginia’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples is unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen stayed the decision pending appeal, meaning that while the ban has been struck down, the ruling will not immediately take effect.

Close on the heels of a federal judge’s decision earlier this week directing Kentucky to recognize same-sex marriages from other states, Judge Wright Allen’s decision makes Virginia the first state in the South where a statewide ban has been entirely struck down.

In the South and across the country, it’s clear that Americans increasingly believe it is wrong to block committed couples from the protections and responsibilities that only marriage can provide. As Judge Wright Allen wrote in her decision:

Our nation's uneven but dogged journey toward truer and more meaningful freedoms for our citizens has brought us continually to a deeper understanding of the first three words in our Constitution: we the people. "We the People" have become a broader, more diverse family than once imagined.

PFAW Foundation