By Arielle P. Schwartz, Holley Law Fellow, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
Since the Supreme Court of the United States overturned Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act in United States v. Windsor, and restored marriage equality in California by invalidating Proposition 8, the judicial system is no stranger to the longstanding debate surrounding marriage equality. New Jersey, Hawaii, Illinois, and New Mexico have subsequently joined the right side of history and we continue to see the Courts interpreting the law in favor of love.
- In Utah, the United States District Court for the District of Utah held that Amendment 3 of the Constitution of Utah and similar statutes are unconstitutional because they deny same-sex couples their rights to due process and equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
- In Nevada, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the ban on marriage equality is no longer justifiable—resulting from the recent decision that ruled sexual orientation cannot be a basis for discrimination during jury selection. What does this mean if Nevada still does not perform same-sex marriages? The Ninth Circuit has appellate jurisdiction over Alaska, Montana, Arizona and Oregon—all who have prohibitions limiting marriage to one man and one woman. This may be the push those states need to challenge marriage equality bans and Nevada may have set a precedent for their cases.
- On Wednesday, Feb. 12 (also the day that same-sex couples in Louisiana and Missouri filed lawsuits challenging marriage equality bans in their own state), a Kentucky court struck down Kentucky’s law that refused to recognize valid same-sex marriages performed in other states, saying it violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. Judge Heyburn concluded:
For years, many states had a tradition of segregation and even articulated reasons why it created a better, more stable society…many states deprived women of their equal rights under the law, believing this to properly preserve our traditions. In time, even the most strident supporters of these views understood that they could not enforce their particular moral views to the detriment of another’s constitutional rights…It is clear that Kentucky’s laws treat gay and lesbian persons differently in a way that demeans them. Here as well, sometime in the not too distant future, the same understanding will come to pass.
Yesterday, Federal Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia held in Bostic v. Rainey that Virginia’s statutory and constitutional prohibitions against same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, confirming that Virginia must recognize same-sex marriages that were carried out legally in other states. She continued by rejecting the defendant’s arguments around the notion of “tradition” as a reason to uphold the same-sex marriage ban, stating, “Tradition alone cannot justify denying same-sex couples the right to marry any more than it could justify Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage.” The ruling was accompanied by a stay, meaning that same-sex couples cannot yet begin marrying in Virginia until the case can be heard by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
While the Supreme Court skirted the issue as to what level of judicial review they used when deciding Windsor, Virginia used strict scrutiny—the most stringent standard of judicial review used by United States courts. For a law banning same-sex marriage to pass strict scrutiny, the legislature must have passed the law to further a “compelling governmental interest,” and must have narrowly tailored the law to achieve that interest. For a court to review the law under strict scrutiny, the legislature must have either notably curtailed a fundamental right with passing the law, or passed a law that involves a suspect classification. Suspect classifications generally include race, national origin, religion, and alienage.
The inconsistencies afforded to cases litigated around sexual orientation discrimination and what basis of review sexual orientation is afforded, may make this issue head to the Supreme Court of the United States in the not too distant future.
Judge Allen included a quote in her Virginia opinion from an address Mildred Loving delivered on June 27, 2007, the 40th anniversary of the landmark case Loving v. Virginia:
I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others…I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.
Love truly is in the air and we wish you much love this Valentine’s Day.
(In other (breaking) news, the Colorado Senate passed the first bill which would align state tax filing procedures with federal filing procedures, allowing some same-sex couples to file joint state income tax returns).
Statement by Rea Carey, Executive Director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund:
At a time when many people (including a disproportionately high number of LGBT people) and their families face poverty, we are pleased that the President is signing today’s executive order to increase the minimum wage for federal contract workers. But to further help LGBT individuals and families, the President also needs to sign an executive order that bans discrimination against the same contract workers who are LGBT. Congress must pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and legislation to raise the minimum wage but the President must act when the American people want this change and Congress flatly refuses to do so.
Although the House bill that would have cut $40 billion from the Food Stamp budget was defeated, the farm bill signed into law by President Obama on February 7, 2014 still hits the pockets of SNAP recipients hard. Approximately 850,000 low-income households will see an average of $90 per month cut from their monthly food stamp allowance. A new report from the Williams Institute shows just how devastating these cuts are to our community.
Key findings include:
- More than 1 in 4 LGBT adults (29%), approximately 2.4 million people, experienced a time in the last year when they did not have enough money to feed themselves or their family
- More than one 1 in 5 LGB adults aged 18-44 (21%), approximately 1.1 million people, participated in the SNAP program through receipt of food stamps in the past year
- Same-sex couples raising children under age 18 are 2.1 times more likely than comparable different-sex couples to receive food stamps
- Approximately 1 in 4 bisexuals (25%) receive food stamps, compared to 14% of lesbians and gay men
- While nearly 1 in 4 White LGBT adults (23%) experienced food insecurity at some point last year, the figure was more than 1 in 3 for African-American LGBT adults (37%), more than 1 in 2 for LGBT Native Americans (55%), and more than 3 in 4 for Native Hawaiians (78%)
On Saturday Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Department of Justice will give same-sex marriages sweeping equal protection under the law in every program it administers. In a new policy memo today, the department will spell out the rights of same-sex couples. Update: Here’s the memo released today.
Rea Carey, executive director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force:
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their families experience discrimination in every part and at every step of the judicial process — from law enforcement, to courts, to prisons. This very significant announcement means that same-sex married couples and their families must be treated equally in every program administered by the federal Department of Justice across the entire country. This is a very good day for the advancement of equality. We applaud Attorney General Holder for his bold leadership for loving couples and for LGBT people on a range of issues.
Post by Jason Cianciotto, MPA Director, Public Policy, GMHC
Our movement for LGBT equality has lost a fierce and dedicated advocate. Alain Dang, a former Policy Analyst at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute and a fierce leader in the Asian and Pacific-Islander (API) community, has passed away at age 37.
After earning his Masters Degree in Urban Planning from UCLA, Alain joined the team at National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute as a Policy Analyst from 2003 to 2007. His commitment to equality and social justice contributed to the production of historic and groundbreaking research and policy analysis.
With Vaid Fellow Somjen Fraser, Alain coauthored the first-ever analysis of Census data on Black same-sex couple families. Released in October, 2004, the study quantitatively demonstrated how anti-LGBT policies disproportionately affect Black people in same-sex couples and their children. In addition to a national report, Alain coauthored fact sheets that described these couples in cities with large Black populations across the US, including Chicago, DC, Detroit, Atlanta Houston, and many others.
This study was critical to countering the strategy of anti-LGBT organizations, which used anti-gay sentiment in the Black church to divide traditionally progressive populations and support anti-marriage state constitutional amendments across the country. Because of Alain’s work, activists and political leaders could show that same-sex marriage, nondiscrimination, and family protections for LGBT people were not just “White” issues that harmed the civil rights of people of color. They are in fact extremely important to the health and well-being of Black people and their families across the country.
You can read Alain and Somjen’s historic report here: Same-sex Couple Households in the United States: A Report from the 2000 Census.
In addition to his work advocating for LGBT equality overall, Alain was a leading advocate for the Asian and Pacific Islander (API) LGBT community. In 2004, with Vaid Fellow Mandy Hu, he co-authored a report based on a pilot study of API LGBT people that assessed their experience of discrimination in general and within LGBT communities. Based on those preliminary data, he developed and led an historic, nationwide study.
Living in the margins: A national survey of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Asian and Pacific Islander Americans was released in May 2007, based on a survey of nearly 900 LGBT API people across the country. In addition to English, the survey instrument, along with the executive summary of the full report, was available in Chinese, Hindi, Korean, and Vietnamese, just one example of Alain’s commitment to inclusion. Alain also authored fact sheets based on the report, in Chinese and English, for states with large API populations, including California, Washington, and New York.
Alain also brought his leadership and vision to the Board of Directors of National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA) when the organization was in its start-up phase.
Today we join our collective movements for equality and social justice to mourn the loss of Alain, but even more importantly, to carry forward his historic contributions.
Statement by Sean Cahill, Director of Health Policy Research at The Fenway Institute:
Alain was a brilliant policy analyst committed especially to documenting the experiences and priorities of LGBT people of color. His analysis of the demographics of Black same-sex couple households from the 2000 Census showed that Black same-sex couple families, and especially Black lesbian couples, had the most to gain from family recognition and the most to lose from anti-gay marriage laws. The ground-breaking survey of Asian Pacific Islander LGBT people that Alain led for the Task Force documented the experiences and priorities of API LGBT communities who had been largely marginalized by the mostly White LGBT community and the mostly straight API community. Alain’s hard work and vision made the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s commitment to anti-racist, intersection work real, and improved our understanding of LGBT Black and Asian communities. This is a huge loss for the LGBT community.
Today at the National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change, Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey delivered the annual State of the Movement Address. You can watch video here and read the full text below:
Hello Texas! I’m loving it here in the Lone Star state!
If you’re from Texas, make some noise! If you’re from Houston, make some noise! If you’re excited about being here at Creating Change, let’s hear it! If you like my boots, make some noise! I’m from Colorado, I know about boots, and how to ride a horse.
You know, I love Texas because it has long been the home to some seriously strong and inspirational women like Governor Ann Richards; congressional legends Barbara Jordan and Sheila Jackson Lee; extraordinary State Legislators Wendy Davis and fierce Latina and LGBT advocate, Leticia Van De Putte, who famously demanded that her voice be heard by her male colleagues. And there’s State Legislator from El Paso, Mary Gonzalez, who happens to be the first openly pansexual elected official in the United States. And, of course, Houston’s dynamic Mayor Annise Parker who we heard from last night.
So, here we are at Creating Change—the biggest, most inclusive, LGBT family reunion in the country. This conference is passionate, it’s powerful and it is more than a conference. There are 4,000 of you here at Creating Change. It wasn’t that many years ago that we consistently had 2,000 people we thought that was big. And now, it has doubled in size. Why? Yes, it is about being in Texas and having an amazing Host Committee. And, this has become the progressive town square where people from many movements come to do their work at the intersections, strategize together, learn from each other and, let’s be real–to have some fun!
We draw our energy this week from the inclusion of so many perspectives and the firm knowledge that together our collective power can change everything. I am telling you, there is really no collection of letters in the alphabet that can truly capture the beauty of each of our amazing lives. If you care about immigrant rights, reproductive rights and justice, racial and economic justice, international issues, youth power, senior power, HIV/AIDS, and progressive social change, you are here and you are home! We are here, in all of our identities as whole, dynamic, diverse and fabulous human beings and we resist the notion that we must be a lesbian on Thursday, a professor on Friday, Black on Saturday, and a woman on Sunday! We are whole people!
We are here to build power, take action and create change and if I know one thing about the 4,000 people here at Creating Change and the tens of thousands following on social media, we are not shy about insisting that our voices are heard across the world, in the streets, in the media, in the White House, in every statehouse, in every school, in places of worship and in the places we work.
We certainly made sure our voices were heard last year. 2013 showed us—and this country—that the wins of 2012 were not a fluke. The momentum of the movement is in favor of progressive change. We are here to stay, our progress continues and we will not allow this country to turn back.
Last year, was one of the biggest years yet in the history of the LGBT movement when it comes to legal equality. Our movement has the best legal minds in the country and when matched with brave people like Edie Windsor, with strong advocacy, and our grassroots mobilization, we can’t be stopped! And we showed that those who are not for equality and freedom are quickly finding themselves in the dustbin of the past.
The state of our movement is, in fact, strong. Issue number one for the Task Force and for the movement in this last year was ending discrimination—from employment discrimination to marriage discrimination; from bullying in schools to the lack of support in assisted living programs; from discrimination against undocumented immigrants to transgender people, who face horrific discrimination in literally every single area of their lives. Read more…
This year’s conference is the largest ever National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change with over 4,000 people in attendance. Houston Mayor Annise Parker, an out lesbian who recently married her partner Kathy Hubbard welcomed the standing room only crowd to Houston.
Laverne Cox delivered a powerful, personal and moving opening keynote to kickoff the conference. The crowd went wild as she took the stage and she was clearly moved by the standing ovation, commenting “Getting all this love tonight, feels like the change I need to see more of in this country.” Laverne discussed the hardships that transgender people, specifically transgender women of color face. Including violence, discrimination and barriers to accessing health care. Laverne spoke specifically about CeCe McDonald’s refusal to become a statistic, the challenges she faced in prison and her recent release from prison. And she expressed hope for the future, citing the changes that many of the people in the audience have worked hard to create. She left the audience with a message of love and community. Watch the full keynote: