Gay-marriage campaign heads to state courts – Washington Times

Freedom to Marry has named Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey and Oregon as its immediate targets. All of these states have civil union or domestic partnership laws that can convert to same-sex marriage. In states including Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, activists are laying the groundwork to repeal amendments or laws prohibiting same-sex marriage.

Read more: Gay-marriage campaign heads to state courts – Washington Times.

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Joint Statement on Florida’s Path to Marriage Equality | Equality Florida

The historic Supreme Court rulings that struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and restored marriage equality to California have heightened the sense of inevitable victory nationwide and energized a community impatient to take action toward full marriage equality in every state as quickly as possible. National and state legal and political experts have worked together to create this analysis to help guide our shared enthusiasm and impatience for equality toward the best course to secure the freedom to marry.

The organizations that have participated in the drafting of this document are each pursuing coordinated programs and strategies to bring full marriage equality to Florida.

Growing Disparity

While we all celebrate the quantum leap forward the Supreme Court rulings represent, the disparity between the 30% of the population who live in states that afford same-sex couples full marriage protections and those who do not has become even more stark.

The urgency to take action is heightened for those who live in the 37 states that currently do not allow marriage for same-sex couples. Couples in those states will continue to be denied the respect and protections that come with marriage – including the full set of federal protections – even if they marry in another state.

Coordinated Strategy

Legal experts and community activists at the national and state level are exploring all the options for challenging those bans – legislative action, ballot referendums, and legal challenges.  There is no single approach, as each state faces a different political and legal environment.  It is also important for advocates to work with their counterparts from other states so that there is a coordinated national strategy that best serves the interests of the entire community.

Florida’s Path Forward

Florida has changed dramatically since 2008, when just over 60 percent of voters embedded marriage discrimination into the constitution. Florida is a leader in the south, with 54% of voters in support of marriage for same-sex couples, according to a Public Religion Research poll.  Another recent poll by Public Policy Polling showed 75% of Floridians now support providing all the benefits of marriage to gay couples either via marriage (37%) or civil unions (38%) while only 23% oppose same-sex couples having any legal protections at all.

Below is a summary of the potential paths to marriage equality in Florida and an assessment of the opportunities and challenges each presents.

Legislative Track

There is a general consensus that the Florida legislature, as it is currently comprised, is highly unlikely to take any action in support of marriage equality. However, we are seeing movement on other important protections for the LGBT community, including growing bipartisan support for a statewide non-discrimination bill and some form of relationship recognition. A younger group of legislators from both parties is pushing their leaders to take strong stands in support of LGBT rights, and the election of Florida’s first two out, gay legislators is also improving the climate in Tallahassee. We will continue to work in the capitol to build on that support and gain ground on both sides of the aisle.

Ballot Measure

Fundamental rights by their very nature should not be subject to a public vote. But in a state with a hostile legislature and a challenging legal path we must consider the possibility of returning to the ballot box to undo the harm.

Florida has particularly burdensome requirements to get a public referendum on a statewide ballot. Furthermore, while public opinion has shifted dramatically since the ban was added to the constitution in 2008, it has not moved sufficiently to clear the 60% favorable vote required in Florida for passage of a ballot measure.  Even in 2012’s historic ballot victories in Maryland, Maine, and Washington, the side of marriage equality obtained nowhere near 60% of the vote. Statistical wizard Nate Silver predicts that support among Florida voters will only be at 52.9% in 2016 and will be just shy of 60% by 2020. But those numbers are based on no acceleration in the shift of public opinion. Rather than a rush to the ballot in 2014 with time, resources, turnout, and polling stacked against us, it is better to invest in the tried and proven public education campaign that has helped to accelerate the shift in public opinion in states where victories have been achieved. We can reassess how significantly those numbers have shifted after a solid year, leaving ourselves ample time to prepare for 2016 or 2018 as a more favorable time for taking the issue back to the ballot.

Legal Challenge

A lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Florida’s marriage ban may be the most viable immediate option in Florida but must be pursued with care. The wrong case poorly timed could do more harm than good. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit – the federal appeals court with jurisdiction over Florida, Georgia, and Alabama – is one of the most conservative appellate courts in the federal court system.  That court has previously issued decisions that created very unfavorable precedent on the issue of LGBT discrimination.  However, the Supreme Court’s recent decision in U.S. v. Windsor may provide a path to overcoming the unfavorable rulings in the Eleventh Circuit.

The question is not if a lawsuit should be filed to overturn Florida’s discriminatory constitutional amendment – it’s when.  To maximize the chance of winning and to avoid jeopardizing lawsuits already pending in other states, a legal challenge needs to be thoughtfully timed.  The few successful lawsuits that have won marriage equality, for example in Massachusetts, Iowa and California (and a look at those that have lost), have shown that it takes more than a strong argument and justice to win.  It also takes the right legal building blocks; constitutional litigation expertise; extensive background in LGBT legal issues; and millions of dollars in attorney time, expert witness fees, and costs.

There are at least 8 such lawsuits currently pending, with more expected to be filed closer to home very soon.  Most of these cases were strategically filed in federal courts where the possibility of favorable rulings is far greater than in the Eleventh Circuit.  Because each win creates precedent that helps improve the chances of a successful case in Florida, the best strategy is to file a case that builds on good precedent (instead of filing one prematurely and creating bad precedent for other circuits to grapple with).  Wins in other jurisdictions increase the chances of a win in Florida, and, of course, the ultimate goal is for one of these winning cases to end up at the U.S. Supreme Court, where the Court will be forced to squarely answer the question of whether or not the U.S. Constitution tolerates blatant discrimination against same-sex couples and their families.  That decision will affect every state, including Florida.  A lower court ruling in our favor has a much greater chance of being accepted for review by the Supreme Court than an unfavorable one, and as the recent DOMA and Prop 8 decisions show, it’s much better to be on the winning side of a case going up to the U.S. Supreme Court on appeal than on the losing side.

We are building a team of top national and state attorneys who are monitoring the progress of these lawsuits and will be prepared to initiate a Florida lawsuit once favorable precedent has been established or changes in the legal landscape otherwise improve our prospects in the Eleventh Circuit.

Potential Plaintiffs

Equality Florida has begun soliciting stories from Florida couples who have indicated a willingness to be potential plaintiffs in the legal challenge. Stories can be shared via www.GetEngaged.org, the website for Equality Florida’s campaign in partnership with Freedom to Marry to increase public support for marriage equality.

It is important to the legal case that the representative plaintiffs are willing to be public about their lives, have compelling stories that reflect their long-term commitment, and can provide examples of current, specific injuries or harm in areas most likely to bring the court to a positive decision, as a result of being denied the right to marry or being denied recognition of their marriage.  In addition, it is helpful that plaintiff couples reflect the full diversity of LGBT Floridians.

Timing

With all of this in mind, we are asking the community work with us in implementing the best strategy and laying the necessary foundation for a successful legal challenge to Florida’s marriage ban.

Premature lawsuits filed by individuals without considering all of thesefactors could be very harmful to this effort. A federal appeals court is unlikely to revisit its own recent rulings, and an adverse decision could set the goal back for years or even decades.

Joint Statement on Florida’s Path to Marriage Equality | Equality Florida.

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Support for marriage equality lowest among blacks, Republicans in Texas | Dallas Voice

A recent poll by Public Policy Polling found that 63 percent of Texas voters believe same-sex couples should be allowed to marry or form civil unions in the Lone Star State.

The poll found that 34 percent support marriage equality, which is lower than a recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll. Support is still lagging among black and Republican voters, according to the PPP poll.

Among those who identified as very liberal, 74 percent support marriage equality and 18 percent are in favor of civil unions. As for very conservative voters, 4 percent support same-sex marriage and 45 favor civil unions. Eighteen percent of very liberal voters opposed any form of relationship recognition, compared to 48 percent of very conservative voters.

African-American Texans have the strongest opposition to same-sex relationship recognition, with 44 percent opposing any recognition, compared to 31 percent of white voters and 21 percent of Hispanic voters. Twenty-one percent of African-Americans support civil unions with 18 percent supporting same-sex marriage. White voters supported marriage by 33 percent and 31 percent favoring civil unions. Hispanics favored civil unions by 44 percent with 29 percent supporting marriage.

The poll also found that 75 percent of those surveyed believe employers shouldn’t be allowed to discriminate based on sexual orientation and 54 percent support the Voting Rights Act.

The poll surveyed 500 registered voters between June 28 and July 1. The margin of error was plus/minus 4.4 percentvia Support for marriage equality lowest among blacks, Republicans in Texas | Dallas Voice.

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Arkansas Group Submits Proposal for Marriage Equality – OzarksFirst.com

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A grassroots group of Arkansans have turned over an initiative to legalize same-sex marriage, hoping to get it on the ballot for 2016.
Arkansas Initiative for Marriage Equality (A.I.M.E.) submitted the ballot initiative to the Arkansas Attorney General Tuesday. That date happens to be the 145th anniversary of the ratification of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

The group anticipates several rounds of rejections from the Natural State’s attorney general, but it hopes to get all that cleared up so they can work on getting signatures. The group says it will likely need around 100,000 signatures to get the measure to a vote of the people in Arkansas.

“The American dream for a lot of people is a good job, a nice house, marriage, kids — the whole nine yards,” says supporter Trey Weird. “If you don’t have that one single thing — marriage — then a lot of that is just not possible.”

The ballot initiative would not only legalize same-sex marriage in Arkansas, but it would provide assurances that no church or member of the clergy would be forced to perform any marriage ceremony it didn’t want.

A.I.M.E. started the day after the 2012 elections in which Minnesota voters rejected a ban on gay marriage similar to the one put in place in Arkansas in 2004.

“We hope that LGBT equality will find its way to Arkansas and the rest of the south in the near future,” the group states in a news release. “Our success is based not only on getting this initiative passed but also on educating our fellow Arkansans on the issue. We want to start a public dialogue about marriage equality, with it brought up both at the water cooler and the dinner table. We hope that our efforts will put marriage equality and other LGBT issues on the fast track in the right direction here in Arkansas.”

via Arkansas Group Submits Proposal for Marriage Equality – OzarksFirst.com.

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Gay marriage: Pennsylvania attorney general pulls an Obama on DOMA – CSMonitor.com

Pennsylvania’s attorney general, Kathleen Kane, announced Thursday that she will not defend her state’s ban on same-sex marriage in court

In taking that step, Attorney General Kane (D) joins a select group: President Obama, US Attorney General Eric Holder, former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), and current California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) – all of whom declined to defend measures blocking recognition of same-sex marriage.

But in Pennsylvania, there’s a big difference: The state will still defend its own law. Gov. Tom Corbett (R) opposes gay marriage, and he can have his general counsel defend Pennsylvania’s anti-gay-marriage law in court.

Kane’s announcement came in response to a lawsuit filed on Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union, challenging Pennsylvania’s version of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The state law, passed in 1996, prohibits same-sex marriage and the recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states.

“I cannot ethically defend the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s version of DOMA, where I believe it to be wholly unconstitutional,” Kane told reporters at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia on Thursday.

The ACLU lawsuit, known as Whitewood v. Corbett, was filed Tuesday on behalf of 10 same-sex couples, two children, and a lesbian widow, on the grounds that the Pennsylvania law denies them the “fundamental right” to marry regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

via Gay marriage: Pennsylvania attorney general pulls an Obama on DOMA – CSMonitor.com.

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WE DO Campaign: Local couples push for marriage equality | Hattiesburg American | hattiesburgamerican.com

In the hearts and minds of Petal residents Sara and Lynn Bell, May 11 will forever be their wedding anniversary.

Recognized in Connecticut as a legally married couple, Sara Bell, 31, and Lynn Bell, 43, say they are “legal strangers” in their home state of Mississippi.

For that reason, the two women found themselves standing in line Friday morning at the Forrest County Courthouse with five other same-sex couples and their friends and families. Each couple filed into the office to be denied a marriage license.

Supporters of the Campaign for Southern Equality’s WE DO Campaign, the Bells are working with equal rights activists across the South to tell their story and take steps toward marriage equality.

The WE DO Campaign brings together same-sex couples and their supporters to call for equal rights under federal law for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. The campaign’s mission is to draw attention to “the harms created by states’ laws across the South that prohibit same-sex marriage.”

“We want couples to be able to tell their stories of why they are in loving and committed relationships,” said Aaron Sarber, Campaign for Southern Equality’scommunications director. “You have situations where parents are raising kids, and they don’t have legal rights to those kids.

“We recognize that there are folks across the South, including Mississippi, who don’t agree with same-sex marriage, and that’s fine. We want to remove this from being such a controversial political issue and talk about the couples and the realities of these families raising children.”

via WE DO Campaign: Local couples push for marriage equality | Hattiesburg American | hattiesburgamerican.com.

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Marriage equality a step to end bigotry toward gays – Other Views – MiamiHerald.com

You’d never accuse the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, of liberal activism. Not even now. This year’s decisions made it easier for states to discriminate in voting practices, harder for employees to sue their bosses for discrimination, and easier for property owners to resist government takings for public ends.

Faced with rising opposition to discrimination against gays and lesbians, though, the court struck down DOMA’s federal marriage ban in Windsor v. United States. The federal government will now treat legally married same-sex couples the same as straight couples. Same-sex couples in discrimination states like Florida face ambiguity and more litigation.

Apart from new rights for some and hope for others, Windsor reframes the public debate by conceding what anyone familiar with the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) knew: the statute was about irrational hostility towards a minority rather than the ludicrous argument that gay marriage could harm straight people.

Hostility is easy to spot with the Westboro Baptist Church — a small group in Kansas that seeks media attention by holding anti-gay protests at military funerals even when the dead soldiers are not gay. At least the Westboro group owns up to its hostility when it protests.

Legislators are wilier in their hostility. When demeaning a group, t

via Marriage equality a step to end bigotry toward gays – Other Views – MiamiHerald.com.

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Baptist Church marriage policies being tightened

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP) — Churches are beginning to add a stipulation in their bylaws that their ministers perform only traditional marriages on their premises, in response to the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decisions in late June.

Greg Erwin, a Baton Rouge attorney who represents the Louisiana Baptist Convention, the Baptist Message state paper and several Louisiana Baptist entities, said it is hard to speculate on what the decisions may mean for churches.

“The ruling means the same for Louisiana churches as for churches in all states except that in states where they have banned discrimination based upon sexual orientation, churches are more at risk than churches in states that would not pass such a law,” Erwin said.

If the Supreme Court becomes reliably liberal by losing one conservative judge to a liberal, Erwin said, the court in a future decision could require that churches marry homosexuals.

“It would seem that the law now is that churches do not have to perform marriages that violate its beliefs,” Erwin said. “However, if a church rents out its facilities for weddings to anyone but same-sex couples, then a court could find that the church is discriminating in violation of law by only refusing to rent to homosexuals.

“The free exercise of religion guaranteed by our Constitution is subject to future restriction by Congress, legislatures and the courts under the guise of balancing competing rights,” the attorney said. “We are at risk by staying true to our biblical principles.”

Stacy Morgan, a church administration strategist for the Louisiana Baptist Convention, is working with Erwin to develop a standard policy that churches may adopt regarding the use of facilities and church membership.

Morgan advised churches to start a conversation on how they will address the issue.

“Specifically, we need to examine how we can continue to be a good neighbor in the community and honor God with the resources He has entrusted to us,” Morgan said. “How can we uphold a high standard of holiness that honors God and still be integrated with the community? That is what we’ll have to deal with.”

Some churches acted before the Supreme Court rulings to include wording in their bylaws that they would recognize marriage as only between a man and a woman.

“We did it because we saw this coming several years ago,” said Tom Carlton, pastor of Grawood Baptist Church in Keithville, which made a change four years ago. “Many churches have been preparing for this for a while. It’s sad but necessary.”

Airline Baptist Church in Bossier City added a policy in May that addresses weddings, receptions and other events.

“Our culture is changing and the standards are being lowered,” said Chad Mills, Airline Baptist’s pastor. “We wanted to be proactive and address the church policies and to put something into action that would protect our church and our values.

“We don’t want to be legally forced to recognize, to allow or to host any kind of marriage that is not a marriage as defined by the Bible as one man and one woman,” Mills said.

Ridge Memorial Baptist Church in Slidell decided in June to recognize only traditional marriage and said no one is allowed to perform a same-sex marriage on their property.

“It is a shame that we have to vote on something like this,” said Paul Dabdoub, Ridge Memorial’s pastor. “But for protection, it is a must.”

First Baptist Church in Blanchard changed its bylaws in June after reading a Baptist Press article on the need to include a traditional marriage definition.

Randy Davis, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Hammond, said he planned to meet with other pastors in his area to discuss making proper bylaws changes dealing with marriage.

“Whatever statement we make, I want to affirm human dignity, which applies even to homosexuals, who like all of mankind [are] made in the image of God,” Davis said. “Homosexuality is more than a sin; it is a degradation of the image in which we are made.”

Neil Caver, pastor of Cedarcrest Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, said the church’s bylaws already define marriage as between a man and a woman, but the church is considering adding a stipulation that no pastors affiliated with the church will be allowed to perform gay weddings.

First Baptist Church in Calhoun plans to add relevant language to its bylaws in the near future.

“Our bylaws will state the biblical teaching that marriage is between one man and one woman and that marriages outside those parameters will not be performed by church ministers or on church property,” said Neil Everett, First Baptist Calhoun’s pastor.

The current policy at First Baptist Church in Westlake requires premarital counseling with the pastor. Wayne McEntire, the church’s pastor, said they’re adding a precaution for the same reasons as other churches — “to protect ourselves from the possibility of having a possible scenario where someone joins the church and demands use of the facilities for a same-sex ceremony.”

“As it is now, our policy would prevent that because it requires premarital counseling sessions and I would deny access to an unbiblical wedding,” McEntire said. “A stated bylaw would further articulate the position of the church should it ever be challenged in a legal manner.”

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New Yorkers mob Gay Pride Parade just days after DOMA’s toss by Supreme Court – NY Daily News

Gays wore their rainbow colors with extra pride Sunday, strutting and dancing down New York’s Fifth Ave. — this time with an extra dose of equality.

The city’s 44th annual Gay Pride Parade was like no other as 84-year-old Edith Windsor led the way — just four days after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a key part of the antigay Defense of Marriage Act.

PHOTOS: NEW YORK CITY GAY PRIDE PARADE 2013

“I don’t know how to describe it. It’s everything. Everything is different,” said Windsor, the parade’s grand marshal and the principal plaintiff in the historic high court case.

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/new-yorkers-mob-gay-pride-parade-post-doma-article-1.1386744#ixzz2Xr7yTM1k

New Yorkers mob Gay Pride Parade just days after DOMA’s toss by Supreme Court – NY Daily News.

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Gay Pride Day Parades Across the U.S. Have Special Feel Because of Supreme Court Win Restoring Same-Sex Marriages; Opponents Try Last-Ditch Effort To Stop Gay Marriages | KpopStarz

Cities across the nation were gearing up Sunday for what were expected to be especially well-attended and exuberant gay pride parades following the U.S. Supreme Court decisions restoring same-sex marriages to California and granting gay couples the federal benefits of marriage they were previously denied.

The 84-year-old New York woman at the center of the U.S. Supreme Court decision granting gay couples federal marriage benefits is a grand marshal of the city’s gay pride march, according to the New York Daily News..

Edith Windsor is among those leading the march down Fifth Avenue. It’s been 44 years since the city held its first pride march. But it’s only days since the Supreme Court used Windsor’s lawsuit to strike down the provision of an act that defined marriage as only between a man and a woman.

Also serving as this year’s grand marshal is musician and activist Harry Belafonte.

The parade stepped off at noon and this year’s theme is titled “Rain to Rainbows.”

The gay pride celebrations scheduled in San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Seattle and St. Louis are annual, and in most cases decades-old events whose tones and themes have mirrored the gay rights movement’s greatest victories and defeats. This year’s parades, coming on the heels of the high court’s historic decisions, should be no exception.

via Gay Pride Day Parades Across the U.S. Have Special Feel Because of Supreme Court Win Restoring Same-Sex Marriages; Opponents Try Last-Ditch Effort To Stop Gay Marriages | KpopStarz.

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