Marriage Equality

Federal Judge Gives History Lesson on Anti-Gay Discrimination

The federal court ruling striking down Mississippi’s ban on same-sex couples getting married is worth reading for many reasons. Paul wrote earlier about U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves’s compelling explanation of the role of the courts in protecting Americans’ constitutional rights. The ruling is also filled with rich historical detail about the extent to which the state of Mississippi and the federal government have discriminated against LGBT citizens over the years, as well as the ways in which groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the notorious Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission used anti-gay rhetoric and innuendo in their attacks on African American civil rights leaders and institutions.

This history is an important rebuttal to bogus claims by anti-gay activists that gay people do not need to have their rights protected in law because they have never suffered from discrimination.

Quotes from the opinion, with citations removed for readability:

Any claim that Mississippians quietly accommodated gay and lesbian citizens could no longer be made in the 1960s, when prejudice against homosexuals (and other groups) became more visible during the civil rights movement. Segregationists called their opponents “racial  perverts,” while U.S. Marshals – summoned to enforce civil rights – were labeled “sadists and  perverts.” Klan propaganda tied together “Communists, homosexuals, and Jews, fornicators and liberals and angry blacks – infidels all.”

One Klan photo showed a black man touching the crotch of the white man sitting next to him, attempting to make the link between racial equality and homosexuality explicit.

Civil rights leaders had predicted the attack. In selecting the Freedom Riders, James Farmer had conducted interviews to weed out “Communists, homosexuals, [and] drug addicts.” “We had to screen them very carefully because we knew that if they found anything to throw at us, they would throw it,” he explained.

This reflected society’s notion that homosexuals were “undesirables.” It also placed civil rights leaders in the position of seeking rights for one disenfranchised group while simultaneously seeking to avoid association with another disenfranchised group. Mississippians opposed to integration harassed several civil rights leaders for their homosexuality. Bill Higgs was a prominent gay Mississippi civil rights lawyer. He was targeted for his activism, convicted in absentia of delinquency of a minor, and threatened with “unlimited  jailings” should he ever return to Mississippi.

He never did.

Reeves also discusses the case of Bayard Rustin, the openly gay African American civil rights activist who organized the 1963 March on Washington at which Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

The most interesting part of Rustin’s story, though – and the reason why he merits more discussion here – is that he was subjected to anti-gay discrimination by both white and black people, majority and minority alike. Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, a black Democrat, threatened to feed the media a false story that Rustin was having an affair with Martin Luther King, Jr., unless Dr. King canceled a protest at the Democratic National Convention.

Other persons within the civil rights movement were similarly “put off by Rustin’s homosexuality.” Roy Wilkins, an NAACP executive, “was particularly nasty to Bayard Rustin – very hostile,” in part because he “was very nervous about Bayard’s homosexuality.” Dr. King eventually had Rustin resign “because of persistent criticism of Rustin’s homosexuality and Communist ties and because of Congressman Adam Clayton Powell’s threat.”

Rustin reemerged years later as one of the principal organizers of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. A. Philip Randolph and Dr. King wanted Rustin as the march’s chief organizer, but Wilkins pushed back “because [Rustin] was gay . . . something which in particular would offend J. Edgar Hoover.” The group ultimately “decided Randolph would be in charge of the march, that Rustin would be the principal organizer, but that he would stay somewhat in the background.”

The concern about offending Hoover was prescient, as the FBI Director and other top officials soon moved to use Rustin’s homosexuality against him. In August 1963, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, and President John F. Kennedy urgently reviewed the transcript of a FBI wiretap in which Dr. King acknowledged Rustin’s homosexuality. A day later, Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina “rose in the Senate to denounce Rustin for sexual perversion, vagrancy, and lewdness.” FBI “headquarters badgered the field offices for new details” of Rustin’s sex life for months.

As Reeves makes clear, this kind of persecution was not only reserved for civil rights activists.

Rustin’s story speaks to the long tradition of Americans from all walks of life uniting to discriminate against homosexuals. It did not matter if one was liberal or conservative, segregationist or civil rights leader, Democrat or Republican; homosexuals were “the other.” Being homosexual invited scrutiny and professional consequences.

These consequences befell quite a few Mississippians. Ted Russell, the conductor of the Jackson Symphony Orchestra, lost his job and his Belhaven College faculty position after he was caught in a gay sex sting by the Jackson Police Department. In the early 1980s, Congressman Jon Hinson drew scrutiny for frequenting an X-rated gay movie theater in Washington, D.C., and although he won reelection, he resigned when he returned to Washington and was caught performing gay sex acts in a Capitol Hill bathroom. As early as 1950, the State’s flagship institution of higher learning, the University of Mississippi, “forced three homosexual students and one faculty member to leave the university” because it “did not tolerate homosexuality.” Lesbian instructors at Mississippi University for Women were pushed out of their jobs, while students at other Mississippi public universities were expelled for their homosexuality. A 1979 article on gay Jacksonians said “most” remained closeted because “they fear losing their jobs, friends and families.”

Reeves discusses the anti-gay actions of the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, which was created in 1956 to maintain racial segregation by any means necessary.

Sovereignty Commission “[i]nvestigators and local officials also targeted local blacks and outsiders involved in civil rights activities as being sexually deviant.” They singled out Rust College, a private historically black institution, on reports that instructors there were “homosexuals and racial agitators.”

Those with power took smaller, yet meaningful, actions to discourage gay organizing and association in Mississippi. The State refused to let gay rights organizations incorporate as nonprofits. The newspaper at Mississippi State University – student-led, with an elected editor – refused to print a gay organization’s advertisement notifying gay and lesbian students of an off-campus “Gay Center” offering “counseling, legal aid and a library of homosexual literature. An advisor to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights concluded that the Jackson Police Department took “a series . . . of maneuvers to harass members of Jackson’s gay community.” “As of 1985 not a single university campus in Mississippi recognized a lesbian and gay student group.”

Reeves’s ruling also makes clear that official discrimination is not only in the state’s past.

In 1990, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed a trial judge who declared that a mother, who was a lesbian, could not visit her children in the presence of her female partner. In Weigand v. Houghton, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed a trial judge who refused residential custody to a father in large part because he was in a long-term relationship with another man. A dissent complained that the father’s sexuality had impaired the court’s judgment, since the child would now have to live with “the unemployed stepfather [who] is a convicted felon, drinker, drug-taker, adulterer, wife-beater, and child-threatener, and . . . the mother [who] has been transitory, works two jobs, and has limited time with the child.”

 In 2002, one of Mississippi’s justice court judges, frustrated with advances in gay rights in California, Vermont, and Hawaii, “opined that homosexuals belong in mental institutions.” Although he was reprimanded and fined by the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance, the Mississippi Supreme Court vacated the sanctions. It was more important for gay citizens to know that their judge was biased and seek his recusal than to “forc[e] judges to conceal their prejudice against gays and lesbians,” it wrote. The “Commission urges us to ‘calm the waters’ when, as the guardians of this state’s judicial system, we should be helping our citizens to spot the crocodiles.”

Reeves details a number of recent complaints and lawsuits challenging discriminatory treatment by state and local governments as well as legal inequities such as the fact that Mississippi law permits a single person to adopt a child but not gay or lesbian couples.

This kind of restriction was once supported by pseudoscience. We now recognize that it actually “harms the children, by telling them they don’t have two parents, like other children, and harms the parent who is not the adoptive parent by depriving him or her of the legal status of a parent.”

Reeves concludes the historical section of the ruling this way:

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” That is as true here as anywhere else. Seven centuries of strong objections to homosexual conduct have resulted in a constellation of State laws that treat gay and lesbian Mississippians as lesser, “other” people. Thus, it is easy to conclude that they have suffered through a long and unfortunate history of discrimination.

PFAW Foundation

PFAW Activists Protest Kentucky’s Marriage Equality Ban

People For the American Way joined local activists at a park in downtown Louisville on Friday to protest Kentucky's ban on marriage equality for same-sex couples. 

The "Love Will Win" rally came in response to last week's federal appeals court decision that upheld laws against same-sex marriage in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. Currently the Commonwealth doesn't even have to recognize same-sex marriages performed legally in other states.

Protesters are hopeful this setback will pave the way for a Supreme Court reversal, bringing marriage equality to the South and the rest of the nation.

Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, said that he’s disappointed by the decision but pleased by the prospects of getting a case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

"I think we all knew the sixth circuit was going to rule against LGBT freedom to marry,” Hartman said. “The sixth circuit is the most overturned circuit at the Supreme Court in the entire nation."

Thus far, 32 states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage.

PFAW

Did a Nevada Federal Judge Let Personal Beliefs Affect His Marriage Ruling?

Why did the federal district judge who'd upheld Nevada's marriage ban remove himself from the case when the 9th Circuit ordered him to implement its pro-equality decision?
PFAW Foundation

Marriage Bans Overturned in Idaho and Nevada

Yesterday, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously in favor of equality, striking down same-sex marriage bans in Idaho and Nevada.

Judge Stephen Reinhardt delivered the ruling for the panel, which applied heightened scrutiny because the bans are applied on the basis of sexual orientation, and concluded that the state laws violate the equal protection rights of lesbians and gays who wish to marry. The court took note of the particular harm marriage bans impose on families:

“To allow same-sex couples to adopt children and then to label their families as second-class because the adoptive parents are of the same sex is cruel as well as unconstitutional. Classifying some families, and especially their children, as of lesser value should be repugnant to all those in this nation who profess to believe in ‘family values.’”  

The ruling follows the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the appeals of five states seeking to reverse similar cases in which a lower court ruled state marriage bans unconstitutional. This morning, however, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy temporarily blocked the appeals court ruling and asked for a response from the plaintiffs involved in Idaho’s marriage lawsuit by Thursday at 5 pm. 

PFAW Foundation

Another Nail in the Coffin for Baker v. Nelson

The Supreme Court's decision not to hear marriage equality appeals may have an important substantive effect on the law.
PFAW Foundation

Supreme Court Action on Marriage Cases Is No Surprise

In last month's Supreme Court Term Preview, PFAW Foundation explained why most Justices might very well want to avoid taking the then-pending marriage cases.
PFAW Foundation

7th Circuit Says Arguments Against Marriage Equality "Cannot Be Taken Seriously"

Reagan judge Richard Posner concludes that the argument against marriage equality "is so full of holes that it cannot be taken seriously."
PFAW Foundation

Louisiana's Marriage Ban Is Upheld By Judge Citing "Lifestyle Choices"

A judge nominated by Ronald Reagan in 1983 writes an opinion that is a throwback to that earlier and less equal time.
PFAW Foundation

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.

PFAW Foundation

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!

PFAW Foundation

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.
 

PFAW Foundation

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.’

PFAW Foundation

Tenth Circuit Protects Right to Marry

A federal appeals court rules that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.
PFAW Foundation

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

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

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.

PFAW Foundation

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:

 

PFAW Foundation

Marriage Equality Now Law in 19 States, Only 2 Bans Remain Unchallenged

On Monday Oregon became the 18th state added to the win column when Judge Michael McShane struck down its ban on marriage for same-sex couples. Then on Tuesday Judge John Jones issued a similar ruling in Pennsylvania, followed Wednesday by the news that Governor Tom Corbett won't appeal – make that 19! Wednesday also brought the filing of a marriage equality lawsuit in Montana.
PFAW Foundation