The Victims of the Religious Right

This post was originally published at the Huffington Post. 

Yesterday's marriage equality ruling from a federal district court in Florida, like so many before it, strikes down laws preventing same-sex couples from marrying. And like all the ones before it, this ruling isn't a theoretical treatise on the law, but a legal opinion affecting real people.

All of the people suing to vindicate the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution have a story to tell. All of them are important. The judge briefly describes them, such as this lesbian couple:

Arlene Goldberg married Carol Goldwasser in New York in 2011. Ms. Goldwasser died in March 2014. The couple had been together for 47 years. Ms. Goldwasser was the toll-facilities director for Lee County, Florida, for 17 years. Ms. Goldberg is retired but works part time at a major retailer. The couple had been living with and taking care of Ms. Goldwasser's elderly parents, but now Ms. Goldberg cares for them alone. Social-security benefits are Ms. Goldberg's primary income. Florida's refusal to recognize the marriage has precluded Ms. Goldberg from obtaining social-security survivor benefits. Ms. Goldberg says that for that reason only, she will have to sell her house, and Ms. Goldwasser's parents are looking for another place to live.

Think about it: If the grieving Arlene Goldberg loses her house just because she couldn't get married, that is what victory for the Religious Right looks like.

Recall that the Religious Right has not only spent the past thirty or forty years fighting to prevent gays and lesbians from marrying. They have also fought tooth and nail against every advance in civil rights that has come during that time, affecting employment discrimination, child custody, healthcare decisionmaking ... you name it. Victory for them has meant forcibly separating parents from their children, firing gay teachers, making grieving mourners lose their homes, and much, much more.

Fortunately, most Americans don't side with the Religious Right. More and more Americans are recognizing that whatever negative assumptions they may have once had about lesbians and gays were simply not true. And they're realizing that discriminatory policies cause real harm to real people and should be changed. Most Americans don't like the idea of gratuitously hurting completely innocent people.

As for the Religious Right, hurting innocent people isn't just an infrequent or accidental byproduct of the movement's policies. They have been dedicated for decades to denying LGBT people as many legal rights as possible. The harms caused by the absence of those rights is what victory looks like for them.

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BREAKING: Florida Marriage Ban Struck Down

Finally, some good news: today a federal judge in Florida struck down the state’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples.

U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle, nominated by President Clinton in the 1990s, ruled the 2008 ban unconstitutional on equal protection and due process grounds and predicted that future generations will look back with shock at the views of those who supported the ban:

'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,' Hinkle wrote. 'Observers who are not now of age will wonder just how those views could have been held.'

While the decision has been stayed — meaning that couples cannot immediately begin getting married — it is a significant step forward for equality. Congratulations, Florida!

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Appeals Court Strikes Down Marriage Ban in Virginia, Ruling Will Also Affect Carolinas and West Virginia

Today the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Virginia’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples.

This is a historic step forward for equality in the South. Beyond Virginia, the ruling will also affect the other states covered by the 4th Circuit, including North Carolina, South Carolina, and West Virginia, which have similar bans in place. In West Virginia, the district judge considering the challenge to the state’s ban said last month that he would not proceed until the federal appeals court had ruled.

In the majority opinion, the judges noted that bigotry and fear cannot be the basis for the denial of equal rights under the law:

We recognize that same-sex marriage makes some people deeply uncomfortable. However, inertia and apprehension are not legitimate bases for denying same-sex couples due process and equal protection of the laws.

…The choice of whether and whom to marry is an intensely personal decision that alters the course of an individual's life. Denying same-sex couples this choice prohibits them from participating fully in our society, which is precisely the type of segregation that the Fourteenth Amendment cannot countenance.

For those who claim that marriage bans are legitimate because they were adopted by popular vote, the court quoted a Supreme Court case from 1964:

A citizen’s constitutional rights can hardly be infringed simply because a majority of the people choose that it be.

That one sentence perfectly encapsulates why courts matter.
 

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Will Anti-Gay Groups Learn from Florida Court Ruling for Marriage Equality?

A Florida state court today became the latest in recent months to rule that prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying violates the U.S. Constitution. (As Freedom to Marry notes, the ruling applies only in Monroe County.)

One interesting part of the Equal Protection portion of the ruling discusses whether proponents of Florida's ban have anti-gay animus. Circuit Judge Luis Garcia discusses the arguments of two parties who had submitted amicus briefs in support of the ban: Florida Family Action (which is affiliated with the Florida Family Policy Council) and People United to Lead the Struggle for Equality. Perhaps not surprisingly, he finds the animus in the types of arguments they choose to make:

The court finds that despite the Amici Curiae assertion that there is no evidence of animus towards homosexuals by the proponents of the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment (FMPA), there is ample evidence not only historically but within the very memorandum of law filed by the Amici Curiae. ... [It] paints a picture of homosexuals as HIV infected, alcohol and drug abusers, who are promiscuous and psychologically damaged and incapable of long term relationships or of raising children. They contend, "the personal, social and financial costs of these homosexual-specific health problems concern not just those who engage in homosexual activity, but also the larger community of citizens who help provide services and who must bear part of the burden imposed by the health challenges. It is eminently rational for the voters of Florida to seek to minimize the deleterious effect of these conditions on public health, safety and welfare by affirming that marriage in Florida remains the union of one man and one woman."

The judge concluded that there was animus behind the Florida ban, such that the law is subject to a somewhat higher level of scrutiny than the ordinary law for Equal Protection purposes. Not surprisingly, the ban fails that scrutiny.

It is not a good day for right-wing groups that peddle in vicious anti-gay stereotypes.

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When Will Marriage Equality Head Back to the Supreme Court?

As state and federal courts continue to issue marriage rulings, one question remains – when will marriage equality head back to the Supreme Court?

We're getting closer to the answer.

Late last month, a ruling by a three-judge panel of the Tenth Circuit concluded that Utah's ban on same-sex marriage violates the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause (by denying a fundamental right to marry) and Equal Protection Clause (by making that right depend on a classification – the sex of the couple – that bears little if any relation to the state's purported goals).

Then yesterday we heard from the Utah Attorney General's office that the state will forego an appeal to the full Tenth Circuit and instead proceed to the US Supreme Court:

The U.S. Supreme Court is not obligated to hear Utah’s appeal — or any case regarding state same-sex marriage bans.

Should the justices decline to hear such a case, the rulings of lower courts, like that of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, would stand as the law of the land.

"We don’t really know if the Supreme Court will take this up or they won’t," said Equality Utah Executive Director Brandie Balken, who attended Wednesday’s march. "Unfortunately, today we have families, couples, children who are living in legal limbo."

Check out our website for more LGBT equality updates.

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Judge Strikes Colorado Marriage Ban

If you’re having trouble keeping track of the rapidly falling state marriage bans, you’re likely not the only one. In the latest of a dizzying streak of pro-equality decisions, a judge in Colorado struck down the state’s same-sex marriage ban yesterday.

District Court Judge C. Scott Crabtree stayed the ruling, which means that same-sex couples in Colorado cannot yet begin to marry.

In his decision, Judge Crabtree plainly noted that the ban “bears no rational relationship to any conceivable government interest.” He also underscored the discrimination faced by same-sex couples in the absence of marriage equality:

‘The Court holds that the Marriage Bans violate plaintiffs' due process and equal protection guarantees under the Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution,’ Crabtree said in his ruling.

‘The existence of civil unions is further evidence of discrimination against same-sex couples and does not ameliorate the discriminatory effect of the Marriage Bans.’

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Tenth Circuit Protects Right to Marry

Since last year's Windsor decision striking down DOMA, one federal district court after another has struck down bans against marriage equality. Many of those rulings are being appealed. Today, for the first time, a federal appeals court has entered the national conversation, with a powerful opinion upholding the right of same-sex couples to marry.

The ruling by a three-judge panel of the Tenth Circuit concludes that denying gays and lesbians the right to marry violates the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause (by denying a fundamental right to marry) and Equal Protection Clause (by making that right depend on a classification – the sex of the couple – that bears little if any relation to the state's purported goals).

Under Due Process, a law denying a fundamental constitutional right is subject to strict scrutiny: It can survive only if it's narrowly tailored to serve a compelling government interest. Similarly strict scrutiny is required under Equal Protection for a classification that impinges on a fundamental right. (The court doesn't address one of the law's unanswered questions, which is whether any law discriminating against lesbians and gays should be subject to heightened scrutiny.)

The state of Utah put forth several arguments relating to reproduction and child-rearing, but the court pointed out that:

each of the appellants' justifications rests fundamentally on a sleight of hand in which same-sex marriage is used as a proxy for a different characteristic shared by both same-sex and some opposite-sex couples. Same-sex marriage must be banned, appellants argue, because same-sex couples are not naturally procreative. But the state permits many other types of non-procreative couples to wed. ... Same-sex marriage cannot be allowed, appellants assert, because it is better for children to be raised by biological parents. Yet adoptive parents, who have the full panoply of rights and duties of biological parents, are free to marry. As are opposite-sex couples who choose assisted reproduction.

...

[A] state may not satisfy the narrow tailoring requirement by pointing to a trait shared by those on both sides of a challenged classification.

For those who argue that the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment never intended for it to guarantee the rights of gays and lesbians, the court says:

Although courts may be tempted to suppose that the Due Process Clause protects only those practices, defined at the most specific level, that were protected against government interference by other rules of law when the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified ... such a view would be inconsistent with our law. A prime part of the history of our Constitution ... is the story of the extension of constitutional rights and protections to people once ignored or excluded. (internal quotations and citations omitted)

The opinion elaborates:

A generation ago, recognition of the fundamental right to marry as applying to persons of the same sex might have been unimaginable. A generation ago, the declaration by gay and lesbian couples of what may have been in their hearts would have had to remain unspoken. Not until contemporary times have laws stigmatizing or even criminalizing gay men and women been felled, allowing their relationships to surface to an open society. As the district court eloquently explained, "it is not the Constitution that has changed, but the knowledge of what it means to be gay or lesbian."

The three-judge panel stayed today's ruling until the Supreme Court can resolve the expected appeal, so the right to marry won't automatically be coming immediately to the other states in the Tenth Circuit (Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Wyoming). In fact, the same three-judge panel is still considering a constitutional challenge to a marriage ban in one of those states, Oklahoma. Oral arguments in the two cases were held just a week apart.

Utah could appeal today's panel decision to the entire Tenth Circuit, or it could instead go directly to the Supreme Court (which would decide for itself whether to hear the case).

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Dakotans File Suit, All Fifty States Now Have Either Marriage Equality or a Legal Challenge in Progress

In May, when we last updated our numbers on the fight for marriage equality, there were just two states left with unchallenged bans on same-sex marriage.

Today that number is zero – every state now either has marriage equality (19 and DC) or a legal challenge in progress (the other 31).

First we heard from South Dakota on May 22, where Rosenbrahn v. Daugaard has been filed on behalf of six couples.

Attorney Josh Newville in the Argus Leader:

With the filing of this lawsuit, South Dakota will join the many other states in the nation who are engaged in a historic and very important discussion about it what means to treat each other equally under the law.

Two weeks later, on June 6, Newville was back in court putting the last state on the board by filing Ramsay v. Dalrymple on behalf of seven North Dakota couples.

Plaintiff Bernie Erickson on Valley News Live:

We are simply looking for the same recognition that every other couple has, every other loving couple[].

Onward!

Check out our website for more LGBT equality updates.

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Same-Sex Marriages Continue in Wisconsin After Federal Judge Denies Motion to Stay

Since last Friday’s ruling by Federal Judge Barbara Crabb that Wisconsin’s ban on same-sex marriages is unconstitutional, hundreds of same-sex couples have lined up to get marriage licenses across the Badger State. Immediately after receiving the ruling, clerks in Dane and Milwaukee counties began issuing marriage licenses, and in both areas, facilities stayed open late on Friday and continued issuing licenses on Saturday. Officiants, including judges, ministers, and commissioners, married couples on-site at their respective county courthouses.

Similar to actions in other states where courts have struck down same-sex marriage bans, Wisconsin’s right-leaning GOP Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen filed multiple motions to “preserve the status quo” attempting to stop same-sex marriages from happening.

As of Tuesday afternoon, 48 of the state’s 72 counties were issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, despite the ongoing legal battle. Wisconsin’s Vital Records Office is accepting the licenses, but holding them until they receive further guidance from Van Hollen.

For its part, the ACLU filed a proposal of how to implement same-sex marriage in the state. If approved, the plan would force Governor Scott Walker, Attorney General Van Hollen, and county clerks across the state to treat all same-sex and opposite-sex couples equally under the law.

Judge Crabb is set to have another hearing on June 19th.

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BREAKING: Wisconsin Marriage Ban Ruled Unconstitutional

A District Court judge ruled today that Wisconsin’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples is unconstitutional.  Judge Barbara Crabb relied on equal protection law to strike down the ban:

"My task under federal law is to decide the claims presented by the plaintiffs in this case now, applying the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment as interpreted by the Supreme Court," she said. "Because my review of that law convinces me that plaintiffs are entitled to the same treatment as any heterosexual couple, I conclude that the Wisconsin laws banning marriage between same-sex couples are unconstitutional."

Congratulate Wisconsinites by sharing our graphic below:

 

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