National News: March 2015
Gay Marriage Debate Still on in Nebraska Amid Appeals
United States District Judge Joseph Bataillon has declared Nebraska’s statewide ban on same sex marriages unconstitutional. However, just days before marriage licenses were set to be issued, a federal appeals court allowed the ban to stay in place. The decision came after Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson (above) filed a motion to stay Judge Bataillon’s ruling.
Peterson made the argument that the state “shouldn’t be forced to recognize gay marriages until the U.S. Supreme Court decides whether same-sex couples have the constitutional right to marry everywhere in the U.S.”
The Wall Street Journal also reports The American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska sued the state on behalf of seven same-sex couples challenging the ban, which also forbids civil unions and legalized domestic partnerships.
The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments over same-sex marriage on April 28th. A decision is expected to be reached before July of this year.
LGBT State Workers Lose Protected Status
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback rescinded an executive order that protected state employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. rownback denounced the original directive, which was issued by then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius in 2007, as something that should have been done through legislation. “Any such expansion of ‘protected classes’ should be done by the legislature and not through unilateral action,” Brownback said in a statement.
According to The Wichita Eagle, hundreds of gay rights activists marched in front of the Statehouse to protest what the called a step “Brownbackwards.”
Michigan Same-Sex Marriages are Valid
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (left) announced that the state will recognize 300 same-sex marriages that took place during a 24-hour period following a judge’s marriage equality ruling last year. “The judge has determined that same-sex couples were legally married on that day, and we will follow the law and extend state marriage benefits to those couples,” the governor said in a statement.
Senate GOP Bill to Restrict Spread of Marriage Equality
A group of Senate Republicans led by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz reintroduced a bill that would seek to prevent the federal government from enforcing its definition of marriage in states that do not recognize marriage equality. Under the bill, same-sex spouses living in states that don’t recognize their marriages would be barred from accessing federal benefits. “[W]e should reject attempts by the Obama administration to force same-sex marriage on all 50 states,” Cruz said.
The Supreme Court is set to make a final decision on the matter of marriage equality in June. President Obama recently expressed hope that the Supreme Court would rule in favor of nationwide marriage equality during its current term, putting an end to the “patchwork” of marriage recognition across the country.
Arkansas Passes LGBT Discrimination Bill
Arkansas’s legislature passed a bill preventing cities and counties from enacting their own laws to protect LGBT people. The state’s House of Representatives voted 57-20 to put the bill through and it has already cleared the state Senate. Gov. Asa Hutchinson (right), a Republican, is not expected to veto it.
The bill’s sponsor told BuzzFeed News that it was created to encourage consistent policies and attract businesses, and because he did not want cities expanding civil-rights laws to LGBT people. Rep. Clarke Tucker, a Democrat, called the bill a “proactive act of discrimination” on the House floor.
In spite of the law Eureka Springs, Ark., City Council passed an LGBT-inclusive antidiscrimination ordinance. It passed unanimously on three readings, and Mayor Robert D. “Butch” Berry signed it into law, making Eureka Springs the only municipality in Arkansas with such an ordinance.
Nondiscrimination Bill Advances in Wyoming Senate
The Wyoming Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill that would bar workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Cody Republican Hank Coe told Wyoming Public Media that; “it’s not a bill the Senate would have considered 15 years ago.”
“Time has changed. This is 2015; we need to step up and do what we need to do, and we need to pass this bill. Discrimination in the workplace — that’s what this bill is about — is just wrong,” Coe said. The bill now heads to the Wyoming House.
Social Security Spousal Benefits for Same-Sex Couples
President Barack Obama’s (left) budget for fiscal 2016 seeks a change to the Social Security Act that would allow same-sex couples to receive spousal benefits even if they live in a state that doesn’t recognize marriage equality. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., has indicated that she plans to reintroduce legislation that would amend federal code to help same-sex spouses access Social Security benefits.
Kate Brown to Make History as Next Oregon Governor
When Embattled Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber resigned amid a mounting ethics scandal involving him and his fiancée, history was made. His replacement, Secretary of State Kate Brown will become the first U.S. governor to take office who has previously identified as bisexual when she is officially sworn in. Brown has been married to her husband since 1997, but considers herself bisexual wrote about her sexuality in an essay for “Out and Elected in the USA.” In the essay she described telling her parents about her sexuality and how her gay friends called her “half-queer.”
S.D. House Looks to Reverse Nondiscrimination Policy for Trans High School Athletes
Lawmakers in South Dakota are pushing a bill that would impose a ban on transgender student-athletes. The measure, which has advanced out of a state House Committee by a vote of 10-2, would overturn a nondiscrimination policy agreed to by the South Dakota High School Activities Association (SDHSAA) last year that allows students to participate in sports in a manner that’s consistent with their gender identities.
According to ThinkProgress, the SDHSAA’s policy is among the most protective in the country, affirming of trans students wherever they may be on their journeys, relying on support from medical professionals who have experience working with the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) Standards of Care, and guaranteeing “participation for all students regardless of their gender identity or expression” so that they can “compete on a level playing field in a safe, competitive, and friendly environment, free of discrimination.”
Conversion Therapy is Fraud, Says New Jersey Judge
A New Jersey judge said that people who provide gay-to-straight conversion therapy are committing fraud. In his decision, Superior Court Judge Peter F. Bariso Jr. ruled in favor of four men and two parents suing Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing or JONAH. They are accusing the Jersey City organization of violating New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act.
In his decision, Bariso wrote: “It is a misrepresentation in violation of the Consumer Fraud Act, in advertising or selling conversion therapy services to describe homosexuality, not as being a normal variation of human sexuality, but as being a mental illness, disease (or) disorder.” The ruling also said conversion therapists could not advertise their “success rate” of turning people into heterosexuals because “there is no factual basis for calculating these statistics.”
Marriage Equality Chaos in Alabama: The Fight Continues
The status of marriage equality in Alabama remains in flux. On Feb. 9, Alabama became the 37th state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples after the Supreme Court refused state officials’ request to stay a ruling bringing marriage equality to the state. Couples began receiving marriage licenses in many counties, including those containing major cities such as Montgomery, Birmingham and Huntsville.
However, officials in 52 of the state’s 67 counties declined to process marriage requests from same-sex couples after Roy Moore, Alabama’s Chief Justice, urged probate judges not to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling. Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said he hopes the court will act quickly “to provide certainty to couples throughout the state and establish once and for all that Alabama’s same-sex couples have the freedom to marry.”
By Rachel Roth