In part two of MEUSA’s three-part interview with Edie Windsor, Edie recounts the struggles of gay life before Stonewall and her persistence pursuing her eventual wife, Thea Spyer.
Part one, for those who missed it or who wish to view it again, follows:
Not every couple celebrates their first and 25th anniversaries in the same year. Then again, not every couple has navigated a roller coaster quite like the one Michael Sabatino and Robert Voorheis have – that of legal recognition of same gender relationships both as activists and a committed couple.
After a short courtship, the couple held their first nuptials in the form of a commitment ceremony in 1979. “We knew it wasn’t something that was done but it was something that was important to us,” says Robert. “Our gay friends couldn’t wrap their heads around two men having a ceremony. People in the (LGBT) community were having trouble with it.”
Friends and family also had various reactions. No one from Robert’s family attended their commitment ceremony although, he says, “Michael was accepted as a member of the family.” While Michael’s mother was open to attending, the two had kept the ceremony a secret from Michael’s father. They knew of no way for the mother to be away for so long without arousing suspicion. Michael points out, however, that some of his cousins attended, and one of his maternal aunts gave them a gift. “She accepted the ceremony as a wedding and gave us the same gift she had given to all of her nieces and nephews at their weddings,” he says.
Robert and Michael took another interim step in 2002, becoming the second couple in Westchester County (in New York State) to register as domestic partners. “Domestic partnership was a non-entity,” says Robert, “though we were thrilled it was happening. This was the first step to full marriage equality.” Never-the-less, the couple did not treat their domestic partnership as anything other than a legality and held no ceremony to mark the occasion.
Dealing with the palpable discomfort among friends within the LGBT community after their 1979 commitment ceremony would prove to be a valuable experience. The couple encountered substantial resistance among established LGBT organizations during their early participation in the movement for marriage equality.
Michael remembers the push back in the early years of campaigning for marriage equality. “All of the major organizations were against us. The first inkling that we were getting somewhere was when Massachusetts got it, or maybe when Canada approved marriage. I think that, to us, was one of the turning points,” he says, both for them and the established LGBT organizations.
“I happened to be on a business trip, that Robert had joined me on, and Robert had just gone back home,” says Michael, reflecting back on the day when Canada joined the ranks of marriage equality countries. “I remained in Canada. I called him back and asked if he wanted to get married.”
Then, in 2003, 24 years after their commitment ceremony, Michael and Robert legally married each other in Niagara Falls, Canada, in front of approximately 50 guests. This time, rather than issues pertaining to cultural acceptance, it was geographical distance that kept the event from being even larger. “My cousin who, we thought, would never accept the invitation was the first to accept,” notes Michael. “My mom gave us away.”
Their wedding in Canada added impetus to their quest for full equality at home. The couple, represented by Lambda Legal, intervened on behalf of the Westchester County Executive, who was sued by an outside party for recognizing out-of-state marriages like theirs. The case, Godfrey vs. Spano, would go to New York’s highest court and set the precedent for statewide legal recognition of gay couples married in other jurisdictions.
In addition to their early involvement as litigants, Michael and Robert were among the original founders of Marriage Equality New York, which later would merge with Marriage Equality USA. “I think we were one of only two couples among the early participants, the other being Cathy Marino Thomas and her wife, Sheila,” says Robert. “The rest were all single. There were 10 in the core group.” Although the two have partaken in more than their fair share of rallies, their emphasis has always been on education and engagement. “Education is the key — you have to make people aware of the issues,” says Robert.
Once married, the two quickly realized their work as activists and educators was far from finished. Upon returning from their wedding, the priest at their local Catholic parish ejected them from the choir. “Making people realize you cannot separate the church from this issue,” says Robert, was one of key elements the two considered critical. “LGBT groups backed away from us, characterizing it as a religious issue. But it is not just a religious issue, it is a civil rights issue. LGBT groups experienced in lobbying told us at MENY that we could not ask our legislators what their position was on marriage for same sex couples. It was too controversial.”
In spite of opposition from all sides, Robert says that, from the beginning, “We knew we were going to ask about one question -- marriage. MENY sent out a statewide questionnaire. Most legislators ignored them. Of those who returned them, there were certainly more ‘no’s’ than ‘yes’s.’” Picking up where his husband left off, Michael adds that, “within a year after Canada, they (LGBT organizations) were starting to embrace the idea. MENY coined the term ‘marriage equality.’”
The couple also lays claim to another milestone in the marriage equality movement, having been instrumental in making the connections to get Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer to Canada for their wedding. Windsor vs. U.S. would become the landmark decision requiring the federal government to recognize marriages performed in marriage equality states. The opinion cited Godfrey vs. Spano, in which Robert and Michael had been lead participants to prove their marriage was recognized in New York State.
Since Windsor, when same gender couples could finally receive all of the rights, responsibilities and privileges of marriage afforded by federal law, the couple has contemplated the reality of true marriage equality. Discussing the reality of a potentially larger federal income tax liability because of the marriage penalty, Michael notes, “That is one of the responsibilities of marriage, to pay that marriage penalty. I was happy to pay those taxes because I am now an equal citizen. It comes with the whole enchilada. You want to be treated equally, that’s part of the whole enchilada. That’s what comes with the rights and responsibilities of marriage. You can’t just take the pluses and eliminate the minuses. But you now also have the rights that we have been denied for so long.”
With equal marriage rights having been secured in New York and much of the country, Robert will be stepping down from the MEUSA board. "Each of us owes a huge debt of gratitude to Robert and Michael for their work and personal sacrifice in making both MEUSA and the entire marriage equality movement a success,” says MEUSA Executive Director Brian Silva. "Their successful lawsuit early in our struggle was critical in bringing recognition for LGBTQ New York families. And Robert's leadership on our Board as we have merged, transitioned and grown in these past few years will be sorely missed."
Twice in our lives, we’ve quit our jobs and travelled around the world for a year with whatever we could carry on our backs. So we love this year’s parade theme: Color Our World with Pride. After San Francisco Pride, we will be headed to Okinawa, Japan, to participate in the Pink Dot Okinawa pride events and speak at the very first Okinawa marriage equality rally, to be held in the center of the island’s largest city.
In Japan, we will also continue our collaboration with Japanese LGBT activists in Tokyo and Osaka. Recently, Akie Abe, the Japanese First Lady, rode in the Tokyo Pride Parade accompanied by a fabulous drag queen, and proclaimed: “I want to help build a society where anyone can lead happy, contented lives without facing discrimination.”
Across two oceans, Luxembourg Pride will celebrate the tiny country’s giant news that earlier this month it became the 19th country with marriage equality. The fact that Luxembourg’s openly gay Prime Minister Xavier Battel will implement the law makes the landslide 56-4 vote in the Chamber of Deputies all the sweeter. And as soccer fans around the globe follow the World Cup this summer, we take pride that the host country Brazil, a nation of 200 million people, boasts marriage equality. Indeed, last December the Rio de Janeiro Superior Court of Justice conducted the world’s largest LGBT wedding ever, in which 130 couples tied the knot.
However, in other parts of the world, LGBT people are marching for their basic human rights and freedom. In India, Mumbai’s Pride Parade this February drew a record crowd gathering to protest the Indian Supreme Court’s upholding “Section 377,” a British colonial era law that criminalized sexual activity of LGBT people. The Indian Supreme Court’s decision has galvanized many Indian LGBT people and allies to stand up and fight back. In a rare move, the Indian Supreme Court has agreed to rehear the case.
Sadly, there will be no pride parades this summer in many parts of the globe where LGBT people are struggling simply to survive. In nine countries, LGBT sexual activity is punishable by death. One image that remains emblazoned on our minds is a 2010 photograph of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, who were arrested and sentenced to 14 years in prison in the East African nation of Malawi for being gay and announcing their engagement to be married. The photo shows Steven and Tiwonge—alone and handcuffed together in the back of pick-up truck—being hauled off to jail, surrounded by a mocking and jeering crowd. We will hold their image in our minds as we ride down Market Street, celebrating the one-year anniversary of the US Supreme Court’s overturning DOMA and Prop 8, this past year’s historic string of marriage equality victories, and the wonderful degree of freedom we have attained in San Francisco.
We must create global collaboration and community to truly color the world with rainbow pride. Perhaps no country speaks better of the potential of such collaboration than South Africa. In 2006, South Africa became the fifth country in the world to gain marriage equality—before every other state in the United States except Massachusetts—thanks to specific sexual orientation protection in their constitution. Two years ago, US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg praised the South African Constitution—a true product of international collaboration—as “a fundamental instrument of government that embrace(s) basic human rights,” and calling it “a great piece of work that was done.” This year’s Pride celebrations remind us that we have much more great work to do together.
By MEUSA National Media Director Stuart Gaffney and MEUSA Director of Legal & Policy John Lewis
This article originally appeared in SF Bay Times, June 26, 2014: http://sfbaytimes.com/color-our-world-with-rainbow-pride/ A photo of Gaffney and Lewis also served as the cover for that issue.
At the age of 81, Edie Windsor did something that would give pause to most of us who are decades younger — she took on the federal government over its refusal, for estate tax purposes, to recognize her marriage to (and 40+ year relationship with) Thea Spyer. Against the wishes and advice of most of the major LGBTQ organizations, but with the encouragement of MEUSA and a few of its members, she charged straight ahead. "They don’t know what they’re talking about,” Windsor recalls thinking of the chorus of voices concerned about the preparedness of the US Supreme Court to strike down the discriminatory statute known by the misnomer the “Defense of Marriage Act.” "There is no wrong time for justice. if you’re gonna go for it, go for it,” says Windsor. To hear more of her story, watch her interview with former MEUSA president Cathy Marino-Thomas. What follows is the first part of a multi-part interview.
I work at a military installation where traditions run high. Being proud of who we are and what we do to support our warfighters is part of everyday life. I have been a contractor for 27 years at Hill Air Force Base, UT, and never expected our base, located in conservative Utah, to take the lead in standing up for LGBT Pride.
I’ve never been more proud of where I work than when I received an email stating the following: “The Department of Defense (DoD) joins the Nation in celebrating Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month during the month of June. We recognize gay, lesbian and bisexual service members and LGBT civilians for their dedicated service to our country. The LGBT community has written a proud chapter in this fundamentally American story by reminding us that integrity and respect remain cornerstones of our military and civilian culture. Let's encourage our DoD personnel to recognize the accomplishments of all members of our workforce, and in doing so, celebrate the significance of diversity in building a brighter future for all citizens.”
The email was soliciting volunteers to head up a Hill Pride Committee. I sat alone in my office, raising my hand to volunteer to no one, as I desperately wanted to be part of this committee. When I approached my boss about getting involved, he said I was cleared to take part as long as the meetings didn’t interfere with my work. I’d also have to participate on my own time and use vacation to attend meetings and events planned. That was minor, as I was already eager to get started.
As it turns out, Hill AFB is the first military installation in the United States to stand up and support LGBT activities during the month of Pride. This couldn’t come at a more important time in our state of Utah either, as the Kitchen v. Herbert case is currently awaiting a decision from the 10th Circuit Court out of Denver.
The word is just starting to get out that Hill AFB is supporting Pride by holding activities on the Base. The Hill Pride Committee has been working on three major activities: 1) an LGBT Information Fair; 2) Pride Night event; and 3) Keynote Luncheon. All three activities will take place after the Utah Pride Festival events unfold the first full weekend in June in Salt Lake City.
The Base is holding an LGBT Information Fair where my wife and I will sponsor a booth representing Marriage Equality USA. Other organizations attending the Info Fair include Restore Our Humanity, Utah Pride Center, Human Rights Campaign, Equality Utah, PFLAG Utah, Volunteers of America, Department of Veterans Affairs LGBT Veterans Program, Family Acceptance Project, Rainbow Law, among several other noteworthy organizations within our community. The LGBT Information Fair is being held on Wednesday, 11 June.
In addition, a Pride Night is also being held on Saturday, 21 June. The evening will feature a variety of performances from people in our LGBT community to include a slam poet and several talented musicians.
The first-ever Hill Pride activities will culminate with a Keynote Luncheon on Tuesday, 24 June, where Kristin Beck, a former decorated Navy Seal and transgender woman will be the keynote speaker. She recently finished a movie called Lady Valor which chronicles her life.
The Hill Pride Committee is working hard to set the bar high and lead the way for other military installations to follow us in the years ahead. Hill AFB intends to celebrate Pride month every June so we want to ensure this first-ever occurrence is successful!
By Colleen Mewing, Local Organizer, Utah Regional Operating Committee, Marriage Equality USA.
The economy, as well as our regulation and perception of it, are in a state of flux these days. So, it’s no surprise many consumers are still in the dark when it comes to new rules dictating the credit card market in the aftermath of the Great Recession. From the notion that people under the age of 21 can’t get credit cards to the idea that household income can no longer be listed on credit card applications, there are a number of common misconceptions that still remain.
Young people can indeed open student credit cards; they just need the income or assets necessary to make monthly minimum payments – same as anyone else. Household income can also be used on credit card applications, though not necessarily by that name.
That last point is especially important in this age of social change and building momentum for both gender and marriage equality. You see, the CARD Act initially outlawed the use of shared income on credit card applications – a proposal that proved to have far-reaching social implications.
The Mistaken Abolition of Household Income?
The rationale was that shared, or household, income obscured underwriting efforts since debts were listed on the individual level. In other words, it was impossible to accurately determine an applicant’s true ability to pay, as a significant portion of the household income listed on an application could already be earmarked for debts held by applicant’s partner. And if much of the listed income is not truly available, the credit line for which the applicant is approved may end up being way out of whack with the applicant’s true ability to pay. From there, it’s easy to imagine a situation where the proud new cardholder racks up unsustainable debts and then defaults, thereby ruining his or her credit and costing the card issuer money in the process.
Accordingly, as the entire credit card market tightened underwriting standards and renewed its focus on the safety and soundness of the banking system, abolishing the household income system only seemed logical. “Credit card applications generally cannot request a consumer's 'household income' because that term is too vague to allow issuers to properly evaluate the consumer's ability to pay,” the CFPB wrote in its initially proposed rule. “Instead, issuers must consider the consumer's individual income or salary.”
The Resulting Backlash
However, in issuing this proposal, the CFPB apparently failed to consider a few important issues. What would the rule mean for stay-at-home parents who may not have individual income? Would they be restricted from obtaining credit and maximizing their credit scores? How would such an environment affect the economic balance of relationships? And what would this mean for men and women in potentially abusive relationships?
Such questions sparked fierce opposition, particularly from women’s groups like MomsRising, which amassed tens of thousands of signatures on petitions calling for the repeal of the proposed rule. Notable politicians like Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Louise Slaughter (D-NY) – two of the CARD Act’s authors – also spoke out against the rule.
“We are concerned that the Board's proposal will hamper a stay-at-home mom's ability to establish her own independent credit history by applying independently for a card,” Maloney and Slaughter wrote in a joint letter to the Federal Reserve. “Many stay-at-home moms have a strong work history, yet the proposed regulations ignore their demonstrated credit-worthiness because of their lack of current market income.”
A Final Resolution
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ultimately heard the calls of stay-at-home spouses across the country, repealing its individual income plan in favor of a final rule that “allows card issuers to consider third-party income if the applicant has a reasonable expectation of access to it,” according to a press release. This decision represents a significant victory for women’s rights, according to Elaine McCrate, professor of economics and women’s studies at the University of Vermont. “It’s a recognition that marriage is an economic partnership, in which women contribute seriously undervalued nonmarket services, and should in turn have access to the fruits of their partner’s earnings and credit.” But for this throwback underwriting environment to work, stay-at-home spouses must be careful to leverage their access to credit with care.
How to Navigate the New Landscape
Just because you’re able to open a new credit card doesn’t mean you should, just like opening a new credit card doesn’t mean you actually have to use it. Those are two very important principles to keep in mind to avoid finding ourselves deep in debt.
With that in mind, here are a few tips for safely tapping credit and building your credit score in this new-age credit landscape:
- Open a Secured Card: If credit building is your primary objective, opening a secured credit card is by far your safest option. It’s impossible to spend beyond your means with a secured card, since your credit line will be equal to the refundable security deposit you place upon account opening. That security deposit also minimizes issuer risk, which means account approval is pretty much guaranteed.
- Fill Out a Joint Application: A number of credit card issuers offer joint applications, which allow a couple to list both of their Social Security Numbers as well as both parties’ income and debt obligations. Doing so will afford credit card underwriters a clear sense of your financial situation and will result in you getting approval for a much more affordable credit line, if either you or your partner has shown a tendency to overspend.
- Cut Up Your Card: You don’t need to make purchases or maintain a balance with a credit card in order to build credit. Account information will be reported to the major credit bureaus on a monthly basis even if your physical card is locked in a drawer or cut into a million pieces. Accordingly, if you want to take advantage of the credit building capabilities that credit cards provide but you don’t trust yourself to spend within your means, just remove the temptation altogether.
Ultimately, it’s important to recognize that the ability to access credit is a privilege that must be exercised with care. Judging from the more than $73 billion in credit card debt we’ve racked up in the past two years alone, far too few people are doing so.
By Odysseas Papadimitriou, CEO of the credit card website CardHub.com
Last month in Denver, Jolene Mewing attended the Tenth Circuit's oral arguments for Kitchen v. Herbert, the Utah marriage equality case. Jolene gives us her first-person perspective on the hearing from her seat inside the courtroom.
The week leading up to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals’ hearing in the Kitchen v. Herbert case was full of excitement and anxiety. My wife and I attended a send-off rally for the plaintiffs to show the community is behind them and supports everything they have done for all of us.
Once I reached Denver, it was time to head to a rally on the steps of the Byron White United States Courthouse, where the 10th Circuit Court is located. The press was already there in full force garnering details and background information they could work into their stories. The weather was beautiful and perfect.
The rally was held the night prior to the case being heard beyond the doors to this illustrious building. The rally was put on by Why Marriage Matters Colorado. The energy level was high as a DJ cranked out music that was positive and charged. Guest speakers empowered the crowd, which started to grow in numbers.
Thursday morning (10 April 2014) I arrived at the courthouse early to ensure a place inside the actual courtroom. There was an overflow room, too; however, I had been handed number 42, which guaranteed a place inside the courtroom where history would be made.
The three judges presiding over the case, Carlos Lucero, Jerome Holmes, and Paul Kelly, loomed powerful over the courtroom. Their many years of experience was etched on each of their faces. I looked at them thinking the fate of marriage equality in Utah rests in their hands. I was nervous. The plaintiffs were sitting on a bench behind their attorneys; I could only wonder what they were feeling inside.
Peggy Tomsic commanded the room for the plaintiffs while Gene Schaerr represented the State of Utah. Both were to speak for 30 minutes each but were allotted more time due to interruptions by the judges throughout their statements.
Besides the extreme injustice of the case itself, what makes this case even more intolerable is the fact our family’s state income tax dollars are being used to pay for this case—our very own money is being used to fight against our right for marriage equality. That sickens me inside.
Once started, the courtroom was quiet except for those asking and answering the questions. Many times the judges spoke over the attorneys, cutting them off in mid-sentence. A few times, there was a little laughter, soon followed by the stark seriousness of the morning’s circumstance.
I sat in silence as I watched history happening in front of me. I was here to support the plaintiffs and to be part of something bigger than I could ever imagine. When I left the courtroom, my emotions were all over the place. The murmurs started as people were speculating which way the court would lean. In my heart, I know the judges will make the right decision. I also know that whatever way the 10th Circuit Court rules, there will be an appeal, which means more of our taxpayer dollars will be used to fight against the marriage of me to my wife.
I always felt I’d see marriage equality in my lifetime—I just didn’t think it would happen this quickly or that Utah would play such a pivotal role in marriage equality for all the states. After attending the hearing in Denver, I know marriage equality is closer than it’s ever been. I also know we are on the right side of history as we watch it unfold before us.
By Jolene Mewing, Local Organizer, Utah Regional Operating Committee, Marriage Equality USA.
As we celebrated LGBT couples getting married in Arkansas last weekend, we were packing our bags to head to my 30th college class reunion—attending together as a legally married couple. Like birthdays and anniversaries, reunions are occasions that mark the passage of time, and this one also serves as an important milestone along the road to marriage equality.
Five years ago, we were legally married in California, but we had seen marriage equality come and go as Prop 8 put a stop to the over 18,000 weddings of 2008. As we were planning whether we could attend my 25th college reunion, we needed to consult the court calendar—the California Supreme Court was about to rule on whether Prop 8 violated the state constitution in May of 2009. As it turned out, the court upheld Prop 8 right before the reunion, and I felt like I was heading to see my classmates with a heavy heart.
How wonderful it was to find that my classmates did not see this as discouraging news, but rather expressed their love, support and amazement at how far we’d come in so short a period of time. When I was in college in the 1980s, the idea of marriage equality was a distant dream, barely detectable on the radar. At the National March on Washington for LGBT Rights in 1987, the year John and I met, a symbolic wedding ceremony was held for hundreds of same-sex couples who wished to celebrate together. But, at the time, it felt more urgent to protest the US Supreme Court’s recent decision in Bowers v. Hardwick that upheld the constitutionality of laws that criminalized the physical expression of our love.
My freshman year boyfriend was a young architecture student, who would stay up late at night designing neighboring houses for us to live in discreetly, with a hidden passage connecting our two houses underground. It was a romantic image, but also a graphic rendering of the love that dare not speak its name.
Today, as I return to campus with my lawfully wedded spouse, I look forward to seeing a close friend who has been legally married in Massachusetts for ten years (bringing their two kids) and my junior year boyfriend who is now legally married in Connecticut. Another classmate will arrive with his newborn in tow as a newlywed after marrying his husband in New York the weekend before. And, who knows? We may find out that one of our classmates was among the first couples to have married in states as diverse as Arkansas, Michigan and Utah—or is waiting to wed in the many other states with lawsuits, one of which may well bring us marriage equality nationwide.
Even five years ago it would have been hard to believe we’d have come this far so fast. With our community working together to continue the momentum for full LGBT equality, we are hopeful that when we go to my 35th reunion, we will have nationwide marriage equality and so much more.
By MEUSA National Media Director Stuart Gaffney
This article originally appeared in SF Bay Times, May 15, 2014: http://sfbaytimes.com/reuninted/
The State of Utah’s stunning admissions in last week’s oral argument before the Tenth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals and in briefs filed with the court make one thing abundantly clear: the state should drop its appeal of the federal district court’s ruling last December in favor of marriage equality. We’ll never forget the joy we felt seeing over a thousand LGBT couples dash to their local clerk’s offices in Salt Lake City and other Utah environs during the winter 2013 holiday season before the district court’s order was stayed. It’s time for those weddings to begin again.
The State of Utah put forth many baseless, unpersuasive, and convoluted arguments before the court. The one that perhaps struck us most was the State’s concession that children of same-sex parents would likely be better off if their parents were able to be married. But instead of caring for those children by embracing the right of LGBT couples to marry, the State callously said that their “principal concern” in the case is “the children of heterosexual parents,” leaving the children of LGBT parents in the dust. When questioned at oral argument, Utah’s counsel matter-of-factly wrote off the needs of children of same-sex couples by saying that laws involve “tradeoffs.” Not only does their argument suggest a remarkable lack of human empathy, but it is also unsound as a matter of law.
One thing that rings loud and clear from last summer’s United States Supreme Court decision in United States v. Windsor striking down section 3 of DOMA is that Justice Kennedy and the majority of the Supreme Court are very concerned about the effects that discriminatory marriage laws have on LGBT families, especially the children on LGBT parents. The Court held that DOMA “humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples….mak[ing] it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives.” Further, the Court stated that “DOMA instructs … all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriages of others.”
The saddest aspect of Utah’s legal argument is that it fails to recognize that marriage equality is not a zero-sum game. Ending the exclusion of LGBT couples from marriage robs no one else of their freedom to marry. Far from hurting anyone else, protecting and caring for kids of LGBT parents benefits everyone, not just LGBT families. Recognizing our common humanity lies at the heart of the marriage equality movement. In an attempt to appear compassionate, Utah wrote in its brief that it “respects and values [LGBT] citizens and their children as … equal before the law ….” If that’s the case, we urge the State of Utah to drop its appeal, end the marriage ban, and pass legislation to make full LGBT equality a reality in Utah.
By MEUSA National Media Director Stuart Gaffney and MEUSA Director of Legal & Policy John Lewis
This article originally appeared in SF Bay Times, April 17, 2014: http://sfbaytimes.com/utah-should-drop-its-appeal-and-let-the-salt-lake-city-weddings-begin-again/
Last year at this time, the United States Supreme Court had just finished hearing oral arguments in two LGBT cases that resulted in landmark marriage equality rulings striking down Section 3 of DOMA and Proposition 8. Although LGBT rights are not before the high court in 2014, this year promises to be a barnburner of a year for marriage equality litigation in lower courts with a dizzying sixty cases pending in thirty states or territories of the United States. Consider what’s ahead in just the next six weeks:
On April 10, all eyes will be on the Tenth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals when they hear oral argument in the Utah marriage equality case, Kitchen v. Herbert. In December 2013, the federal district court in Salt Lake City struck down Utah’s exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage, and hundreds of LGBT couples married in Salt Lake City and other parts of the state before the decision was stayed pending appeal.
A week later, on April 17, the Tenth Circuit will also hear arguments in the Oklahoma freedom to marry case, Bishop v. Smith, where the district court in Tulsa invalidated that state’s ban of marriage for LGBT couples. On the same day, a state court in Little Rock will hear arguments in same-sex couples’ lawsuit seeking marriage equality in Arkansas, Wright v. Arkansas.
Less than a week after that, on April 23, the federal district court in Eugene, Oregon, will hear arguments in LGBT couples’ challenge to Oregon’s denial of marriage for same-sex couples. The Governor and Attorney General of Oregon have stated in court filings that they consider Oregon’s marriage ban unconstitutional and are ready to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples if the court strikes down the ban. In addition, the LGBT community and allies in Oregon have collected sufficient signatures to qualify an initiative to reverse the ban on the November 2014 ballot. The community has until July 3 to decide whether or not to pursue the measure, and if the district court strikes down the ban and marriage equality becomes the law in Oregon, the community will likely not submit the initiative for the ballot.
And three weeks after that, the action moves east to Virginia where, on May 13, the Fourth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals will hear arguments in Bostic v. Shaefer, a challenge to Virginia’s exclusion of LGBT couples from marriage. In February 2014, a federal district court in Norfolk ruled the state’s marriage ban unconstitutional. Same-sex couples in a separate class action challenge to Virginia’s ban, Harris v. Rainey, will also appear in the appeal. Virginia’s Governor and Attorney General are not defending the ban, but other state officials are pursuing the appeal.
Decisions in the district and trial courts could come immediately, or shortly after the hearings. Decisions in the federal appellate courts (the Fourth and Tenth Circuits) will likely come within months of the oral arguments. The case for LGBT equality has never been stronger. Stay tuned.
By MEUSA National Media Director Stuart Gaffney and MEUSA Director of Legal & Policy John Lewis
This article originally appeared in SF Bay Times, April 2, 2014: http://sfbaytimes.com/a-whirlwind-six-weeks-ahead-for-marriage-equality/