National News: September 2014
Marriage Equality Around the Nation
Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia: Supreme Court Appeals Pending
More than 1,000 couples in Utah continue to wait in limbo for a decision regarding the state’s status on marriage equality. As Living Out previously reported, Utah’s state’s same-sex marriage ban ruled unconstitutional in December and the couples rushed to get married. In May, a different federal judge ruled Utah must grant benefits—such as child custody—to those couples, but the decision was also put on hold.
Last month, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes (left) filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court asking justices to overturn lower-court rulings striking down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. The petition, which was filed seven weeks before its Sept. 23 deadline, is the first marriage equality lawsuit to be filed with the court since it struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act last year.
An Oklahoma marriage equality case was also filed with the court as lawyers for Tulsa County clerk Sally Howe Smith asked the court to review a 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling striking down that state’s ban.
Elsewhere, in Virginia, Attorney General Mark Herring formally filed a petition with the Supreme Court to hear a case challenging his state’s marriage equality ban.
Connecticut: Retroactive Rights
Connecticut’s highest court ruled that some legal rights of same-sex predate the state’s 2008 adoption of marriage equality and earlier approval of civil unions. The decision, which is the first of its kind, overturned lower court rulings.
The ruling also allows for a widow to sue a doctor for medical malpractice for the death of her wife. The alleged malpractice occurred before the state adopted marriage equality.
Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee: One Decision
A three-judge panel from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in six marriage equality cases out of Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. The three-hour oral arguments marked the first time a single court heard challenges to marriage bans in four states in one day.
The decision on the bans will likely come down to Judge Jeffrey Sutton (left), who was appointed to the bench by then-President George W. Bush, but there has been no indication of when a decision will be reached.
Colorado: One Step Closer to Marriage Equality
Adams County District Court Judge C. Scott Crabtree struck down Colorado’s marriage equality ban, determining that the ban violates the constitutional right of equal protection. Crabtree immediately stayed his ruling, meaning LGBT couples will still not be able to marry.
“The final chapter of this debate will undoubtedly have to be written either in Denver, Colorado or Washington, D.C.,” Crabtree wrote in his ruling. “While the striking down of laws banning same-sex marriages has been progressing at a rapid rate, it will take time for this issue to be finally resolved.”
Florida: Four Counties Overturns Stayed
After a Monroe County judge ruled in favor of same-sex marriage in the Florida Keys, subsequent decisions from judges in Miami-Dade County and Broward County soon followed. Each of these decisions has been stayed pending appeal.
A fourth judge, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Diana Lewis struck down the state’s ban on marriage equality. The ruling was in response to a case involving the estate of Frank Bangor, a gay man who had left his Florida property to a man that he had legally married in Delaware.
Indiana and Kentucky: No and Yes
Indiana will not recognize marriages of same-sex couples who wed following a judge’s June 25 decision striking down the state’s ban on marriage equality and before a stay was issued June 27, according to an announcement. A memo to state agencies from Mark Ahearn, chief counsel to Gov. Mike Pence (above), said Indiana’s ban on marriage equality “is in full force and effect and executive branch agencies are to execute their functions as though the U.S. District Court order of June 25 had not been issued,” The Indianapolis Star reported.
Similarly a federal judge ruled that Kentucky’s ban on marriage equality is unconstitutional, as it violates the right to equal protection. The judge also issued a stay of the ruling pending an appeal, which means that same-sex couples still cannot marry in the state.
LGBT Organizations Drop Support for ENDA
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) lost the support of several major LGBT rights groups, including Lambda Legal, the Transgender Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
ENDA, which has grown into one of the LGBT community’s top priorities, has faced criticism due to religious exemptions that could make the bill more likely to receive a vote in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
Veteran Sues Idaho State Over Spouse’s Burial Rights
Madelynn Lee Taylor, a lesbian widow and 74-year-old military veteran, is suing the state of Idaho to grant her burial rights in a veterans’ cemetery where her late spouse’s ashes have already been laid to rest.
The Washington Blade reported that Taylor, who served in the Navy from 1958 to 1964, filed a lawsuit in July challenging Idaho state laws prohibiting her from being buried in the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery with her late wife, Jean Mixner.
Mississippi Enacts Anti-LGBT Law for Religious Beliefs
A law took effect in Mississippi last month that allows business owners to cite their religious beliefs in order to refuse services to LGBT people.
Mississippi’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act was passed in April and is facing challenges from several Mississippi cities, including Jackson and Hattiesburg by passing resolutions affirming all patrons are welcome.
The Advocate also reported that Equality Mississippi is distributing stickers that proclaim, “We don’t discriminate: If you’re buying, we’re selling.”
Obama Signs Order Protecting LGBTQ Workers, No Exemptions
President Barack Obama signed executive orders prohibiting discrimination against gay and transgender workers in the federal government and its contracting agencies, without a new exemption that was requested by some religious organizations.
Obama had been under pressure by 70 civil-rights groups, including the NAACP, to leave exemptions out of the order.
California Governor Removes Gender-Specific Terms
Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday signed a bill into law to replace the words “husband” or “wife” with “spouse” in the state’s constitution.
The elimination of the phrasing is said to represent the removal of a final barrier to marriage equality since the 2013 Supreme Court ruling that declared Proposition 8’s marriage equality ban unconstitutional.
By Rachel Roth