Story Summary

DOMA ruled unconstitutional, Prop 8 no longer

The Supreme Court struck down a federal law that defined marriage as between a man and a woman only in a landmark ruling June 26. Also, the court ruled that Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment that made it illegal for gay couples to marry in California, had no standing, making gay marriage legal again in the state.

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By Matt Pearce

Los Angeles Times

Same-sex marriage is picking up steam in the courts. A federal judge ordered Ohio on Monday to recognize gay marriages on death certificates, but used broad language that could be cited to mount a broader challenge to the law barring such unions.

Same-sex marriages continue in Utah

Becky Dustin, left, and Jennifer Rasmussen celebrate after getting a marriage certificate at the Salt Lake County clerk’s office after a federal judge rejected a state request to halt same-sex marriages in Utah. (Ravell Call / Deseret News / December 23, 2013)

It was the third judicial decision in the last week favoring same-sex marriage rights. In Utah, a federal judge struck down a gay marriage ban Friday and refused to suspend his decision Monday. A federal appellate court also rejected Utah’s plea to put his ruling on hold.

And on Thursday, the New Mexico Supreme Court formally recognized same-sex marriage, which is now legal in 17 states and the District of Columbia.

The scenarios must have sounded all too familiar to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. In June, when the court issued a landmark decision ordering the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages performed in states where they were legal, Scalia warned of what could come next.

“How easy it is, indeed how inevitable, to reach the same conclusion with regard to state laws denying same-sex couples marital status,” Scalia wrote in a scathing dissent in United States vs. Windsor, which struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act but left state laws intact. “No one should be fooled; it is just a matter of listening and waiting for the other shoe” to drop.

Now, for opponents of same-sex marriage, the other shoe is dropping.

“We’re on a roll!” said Jon Davidson, legal director of Lambda Legal, an advocacy group that has been handling cases against same-sex marriage bans across the country. “Three work days in a row, we’ve had victories,” and all of them cite the Supreme Court’s Defense of Marriage Act ruling.

In the most recent decision, U.S. District Judge Timothy S. Black ruled in Cincinnati that Ohio had to recognize a gay couple as spouses on one of the men’s death certificate. Ohio bans same-sex marriage, so the pair had flown to Maryland while one of the men was terminally ill and wed on an airport tarmac.

Although Black’s decision applied only to death certificates for couples married out of state, his ruling criticized Ohio’s same-sex marriage ban and opened a door for other couples to challenge the law more broadly.

Alphonse Gerhardstein, a civil rights lawyer in Cincinnati who handled the case, said the Defense of Marriage Act ruling was central to his attack on Ohio’s ban.

“I just took that same argument and went to Ohio and said, ‘How can you now refuse to recognize marriages from other states if the federal government can’t do it?’” Gerhardstein said. The Defense of Marriage Act ruling “is a huge engine behind this.”

At least two federal judges, in their rulings on state bans, have cited Scalia’s warning that the Supreme Court’s ruling would ripple through the U.S.

“Now it is just as Justice Scalia predicted,” Black wrote in his Ohio ruling. “The lower courts are applying the Supreme Court’s decision, as they must, and the question is presented whether a state can do what the federal government cannot — i.e., discriminate against same-sex couples. … Under the Constitution of the United States, the answer is no.”

A similar decision Friday in Utah resulted in the state’s ban on same-sex marriage being thrown out. Gay and lesbian couples flocked to wed as Utah officials scrambled to challenge U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby’s ruling, which quoted and embraced Scalia’s warning.

“The court agrees with Justice Scalia’s interpretation,” Shelby, a President Obama appointee, wrote, perhaps ironically, given that Scalia had criticized the Supreme Court’s ruling as an overreach. Shelby said worries about overriding Utah’s constitution and Legislature were “insufficient to save a state-law prohibition that denies the plaintiffs their rights to due process under the law.”

The New Mexico Supreme Court did not cite the Defense of Marriage Act ruling so heavily. But it did follow a similar argument, ruling that denying same-sex couples the right to marry violated the state’s equal-protection laws.

And in September, a New Jersey Superior Court judge said the ruling gave the state’s same-sex civil unions “new significance” now that federal agencies were granting benefits only to couples who were formally married. The judge struck down the state’s ban on gay marriage, and Republican Gov. Chris Christie withdrew his appeal of the ruling to the state’s Supreme Court.

David Cruz, professor of law at the USC Gould School of Law, said judges now seemed more likely to expand upon the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of same-sex marriage.

“Part of what we’re seeing is that, culturally, the judiciary — both federal and state judges — are more receptive to the logical, principle-based arguments that same-sex couples have been seeking for the right to marry since the very beginning of the 1970s,” Cruz said.

In doing so, judges have overridden legislators and voters who had approved the bans before national popular opinion began to tilt in favor of same-sex marriage.

“It is patently wrong and unjust that the people of Utah should lose their right to define marriage because of the ruling of a single Obama appointee to the federal bench,” said Brian S. Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, which opposes same-sex marriage.

“It roils the body politic and does great damage to the people’s confidence in the judicial system itself as a lone federal judge attempts to usurp the sovereignty of the state,” Brown added in a statement, calling for the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals to halt same-sex marriages in Utah while the state appeals. The 10th Circuit has twice denied the state’s emergency requests.

But the idea that a judge should not settle such a controversial question resonated with Gerhardstein, the Ohio lawyer.

“In the end, social change is best generated with public support,” he said, which is why the Ohio lawsuit addressed only death certificates rather than the right to same-sex marriage.

“That would be wonderful if Ohio would take that opportunity to go ahead and repeal [the ban], because then you would have a stronger and more robust protection for the minority,” he said.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn today signed a historic measure into law making Illinois the 16th state in the nation to allow gay marriage.

The Democratic governor put pens to paper at a desk brought up from Springfield that his administration says President Abraham Lincoln used to write his first inaugural address. That speech, delivered on March 4, 1861 as the Civil War was unfolding, called on Americans to heed “the better angels of our nature.”

“Love never fails and I’m going to sign this bill right now,” said Quinn, who used many pens to sign his name to the bill so that those who helped pass the measure could have a souvenir.


Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn appears on stage at the UIC Forum before signing the gay marriage bill into law, making Illinois the 16th state to legalize same-sex marriage. (Chris Sweda, Chicago Tribune /November 20, 2013)

The bill signing capped a gay rights push in Illinois that’s gained major momentum since 2005. That year, then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed a gay rights measure into law — a bill that had failed to pass since 1974. In January 2011, Quinn signed a civil unions measure.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and several statewide elected officials were on hand.

“It’s time to stop planning rallies and start planning weddings,” said Democratic Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon.

Republican Judy Baar Topinka said it took both parties to get the bill passed. One Republican voted for the bill in the Senate and three in the House. “They were there,” said Topinka, who went on to add she’s available to be a “flower girl” at gay weddings and “will even waive the fee.”

More than 2,000 people packed into the University of Illinois-Chicago Forum to watch the signing ceremony.

Casey Cameron, 38, traveled from Downstate St. Elmo, saying it represents a huge step forward for the gay rights movement given the intense fight that took place just years ago to ensure gays and lesbians had equal access to housing and employment opportunities on Illinois.

“It took a long time and a very tall mountain to get that, and to finally see this is quite an amazing bit of accomplishment for the state,” Cameron said.

Cameron also noted the significance of same-sex marriage begging legalized in Lincoln’s home state.

“The whole vision of Lincoln was setting free an entire group of oppressed people, and that’s what’s happening today in his state, which is also my state.”

Seth Hannen, 20, of Downstate Tremont, said he hoped the new law would give hope to gay teenagers facing adversity by demonstrating they are equal to their peers.

“I grew up in a very small, conservative school district. I was he first out kid in my school district and I was teased a lot for who I was,” Hannen said. “If we make this legal, it normalizes it, it makes it more of an accepted thing and that will filter into the rest of society so in ten years that boy who was like me in high school won’t have an issue.”

The stage was decorated in several dozen flags, alternating between the U.S. flag, the state flag and rainbow flags representing the GLBT community. Seats are adorned with programs and miniature rainbow flags featuring the outline of the state of Illinois.

The celebratory tone is a marked departure from late May, when the legislation stalled in the House to the bitter disappointment of advocates who had been pressing for a vote on gay marriage since shortly after Illinois legalized civil unions in 2011.


By Soumya Karlamangla

Los Angeles Times

With Gov. Neil Abercrombie expected to sign a same-sex marriage bill as early as Wednesday morning, Hawaii is poised to become the 15th state to legalize gay weddings.

SB 1 has been awaiting Abercrombie’s signature since the Hawaii Senate passed the bill Tuesday afternoon in a 19-4 vote. If he gives the bill his OK, couples would be able to marry as soon as Dec. 2.


Hundreds of people gathered outside the state House on November 6, 2013, to demand lawmakers let the people vote on the legalization of gay marriage. (Photo credit: Mel Ah Ching/Hawaii

The legislation in the Aloha State is just the latest in a recent flurry of activity regarding same-sex marriage rights. The Illinois Legislature passed a same-sex marriage bill last week, though Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has said he will not sign his state’s bill until Nov. 20.

Illinois and Hawaii will bring the total number of states permitting gay marriage to 16. The District of Columbia also permits same-sex couples to wed.

“By giving loving gay and lesbian couples the right to marry if they choose, Hawaii exemplifies the values we hold dear as a nation,” President Obama, a native of Hawaii, said in a statement after the vote. “I’ve always been proud to have been born in Hawaii, and today’s vote makes me even prouder.”

Abercrombie, who has been a vocal proponent of same-sex marriage, had called Hawaii’s Legislature into special session to consider the same-sex marriage legislation.

“I look forward to signing this significant piece of legislation, which provides marriage equity and fully recognizes and protects religious freedoms,” he said in a statement after the Senate vote.

The House passed the bill 30-19 Friday night after a session that lasted nearly 12 hours. The bill, which had initially passed the Senate late last month, returned to accommodate changes made in the House.

Abercrombie noted the more than 50 hours of public testimony from thousands of citizens on both sides of the issue during the debate in the House, which he said resulted in “this significant bill, which directly creates a balance between marriage equity for same-sex couples and protects our 1st Amendment freedoms for religious organizations.”

The Honolulu Capitol rotunda has been filled with both supporters and detractors of the bill. When the House passed the measure in the late hours of the night, both cheers and chants of “Let the people vote!” broke out.

Opponents cite a 1998 constitutional amendment that they claim prohibits the Legislature from allowing same-sex marriage. Supporters of the bill believe that the amendment gave the legislature

the power to ban same-sex marriage, but did not declare an outright prohibition.

In anticipation of the bill’s passage, opponents of the law went to court to seek a temporary restraining order to block Abercrombie from signing any such measure, but Hawaii Circuit Court Judge Karl Sakamoto ruled Thursday that the action would be premature.

The judge has said he is willing to hear the case at a later date, and attorney Jack Dwyer said the group will seek an order to prevent any government official from issuing a marriage license until the question of the law’s constitutionality is decided.

Atty. Gen. David Louie has said he believes the Legislature had the authority to approve same-sex marriage regardless of the amendment.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June to void a key section of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that denied federal benefits to gay and lesbian couples who were married under state law has opened the door to a number of lawsuits and new legislation on the issue.

In 2013, Delaware, Minnesota and Rhode Island began allowing such nuptials. New Jersey began allowing same-sex weddings in October after that state’s supreme court ruled that the law now allowed it and Gov. Chris Christie dropped his opposition.

In Idaho on Friday, four couples filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court seeking a similar right. The lawsuit covers those who were married elsewhere and want their nuptials to be legally recognized in Idaho, as well as those seeking to wed within the state.


Local News

VIDEO: Seattle’s 2013 Pride parade

SEATTLE — Hundreds took part in Seattle’s Pride parade Sunday, as a marriage equality flag flew above the Space Needle. Watch the video.

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Gays and lesbians celebrated historic gains Wednesday in their fight against laws limiting same-sex marriages, saying Supreme Court rulings overturning the federal Defense of Marriage Act and rejecting the appeal of a California marriage ban represent a “joyous milestone.”


Kirsty Hood, left, and Nora Tavitian celebrate the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings in West Hollywood, Calif. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times)

But they acknowledged much work remains after the Supreme Court declined to make a sweeping statement on same-sex marriage rights by not ruling on the issues in California’s Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriages.

“Today’s historic decisions put two giant cracks in the dark wall of discrimination that separates committed gay and lesbian couples from full equality,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Commission. He called the rulings “a joyous milestone.”

“While we celebrate the victory for Californians today, tomorrow we turn our attention to the millions of LGBT people who don’t feel the reach of these decisions,” he said.

The court rulings, delivered in separate cases, mean that same-sex couples who marry in states where it’s legal for them to do so will be treated the same as heterosexual married couples by the federal government when it comes to things like retirement benefits and taxes.

And while the ruling clears the way for same-sex marriages to resume in California, it will have no impact on bans in 35 other states where such marriages are illegal.

The mixed feelings about Wednesday’s rulings extended to critics of efforts to extend marriage rights to gays and lesbians.

“We’re disappointed in the short-term results and the short-term questions that remain unsettled, but the public conversation continues and that’s a good thing,” said the Rev. Rob Schenck, president of the Evangelical Church Alliance, which opposes same-sex marriage.

“The ruling is a victory for couples who have long fought for equal treatment under the law; for children whose parents’ marriages will now be recognized, rightly, as legitimate; for families that, at long last, will get the respect and protection they deserve; and for friends and supporters who have wanted nothing more than to see their loved ones treated fairly and have worked hard to persuade their nation to change for the better,” Obama said.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D- WA, called the Wednesday a “historic day for equal rights.”

“Our state was a trailblazer in recognizing the right of same-sex couples to marry and helped in setting the stage for this historic ruling,” she said.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn also issued a statement on the DOMA ruling, saying “love and equality prevail.”

“I thank the Supreme Court for overturning the clearly unconstitutional and unjust Defense of Marriage Act,” McGinn said. King County Executive Dow Constantine also applauded the rulings.

Here is the full release of the DOMA ruling:

Here is the full release from the Proposition 8 ruling:

SEATTLE — Harley Broe has been an accountant for the past 40 years, and many of her clients are same-sex couples.


Celebrations held at the federal courthouse in Seattle Wednesday over the decision to throw out the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act.

“They’ve been asking me this whole past year about what to expect for tax planning, estate planning, and I’ve had to say to them, I don’t know,” Broe said.

Now she has more answers for them.  The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Wednesday to overturn the federal Defense of Marriage Act means big changes for gay couples who are married in Washington state.

“If I’m married to my spouse and my spouse dies, I can get survivor’s Social Security benefits, which has not been the case. If I die, my spouse can inherit my estate without paying a huge amount of estate tax,” Broe said.

She added that these couples should now be able to file a joint tax return, and won’t have to pay income tax for their spouse’s health care benefits.

For Nancy Woods and Jana Simpson, that is huge.  Woods is taxed on $7,200 a year for her wife, Simpson, to be covered under her health insurance.

“With three small kids, that’s a lot of money. That’s another trip to Disneyland,” Woods said.

Simpson will now also have guaranteed rights to her wife’s retirement benefits through the Navy.

Ken Thompson and his partner, Otts Bolisay, have been together 11 years. Bolisay came to the United States 25 years ago from the Bahamas.

“At any moment, if he lost his current job, that would also end his visa and within 30 days he would have to leave the U.S. You make a permanent commitment to someone and you don’t know if you can really stay together here and it’s hard,” Thompson said.

They no longer have to worry about that and say they are looking forward to getting married for that very reason.

It’s a good idea for same-sex couples to contact their accountants and attorneys to make sure they complete any necessary paperwork, experts said.  Also, employees can check in with human resource managers at work on changes to health insurance income tax.

WASHINGTON — With a victory in the Supreme Court now behind them, backers of same-sex marriage declared a new goal Wednesday — a five-year campaign to strike down the laws in the remaining states that prohibit such unions.

The legal trail that led from the passage of California’s Proposition 8 to its invalidation took five years, Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, told a cheering group of supporters massed on the sidewalk outside the Supreme Court.

“Within five years, we will bring marriage equality to all 50 states,” he pledged.

Achieving that goal would require a return trip to the high court. First, however, the campaign will unfold in legislatures and ballot initiatives, said Evan Wolfson, head of Freedom to Marry and a leading strategist in the marriage-equality campaign. Gay-rights groups hope that if enough states adopt laws allowing same-sex marriages, the Supreme Court will be willing to overturn the remaining statutes, much as it did in 1967 when it struck down laws that banned interracial marriages.


Supporters of same sex marriage celebrate outside the Supreme Court after hearing that the Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, Wednesday, June 26, 2013, in Washington, D.C. (Pete Marovich/MCT/Courtesy LA Times)

“The strategy has always been to secure a critical mass of states and a critical mass of public opinion” in favor of same-sex marriages, “and with that climate, engage the Supreme Court,” Wolfson said.

Opponents of same-sex marriage will try to fight state-by-state and argue that the issue should be settled locally, not nationally. Public opinion nationally has been moving rapidly in favor of same-sex marriage, but that shift has been notably uneven, with less support for gay unions in the South and parts of the Midwest. Thirty-seven states currently allow marriages only for opposite-sex couples.

Wednesday’s rulings from the high court indicate that a majority of the justices sympathize with the legal arguments in favor of same-sex marriage. But strategists for the marriage-equality movement believe that the justices will be reluctant to put those arguments into effect so long as the great majority of states continue to reject such unions.

With the likely resumption of same-sex marriages in California, about one-third of the nation’s population will be living in states that allow gay couples to wed.

The next targets for gay-rights groups will be Illinois, where the Legislature came close to legalizing same-sex marriages earlier this spring and may consider the issue again later this year, and New Jersey, where a same-sex marriage bill already passed the Legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie.

Next year, backers of same-sex marriage are expected to push for ballot measures in Oregon and Nevada and legislative action in Hawaii. A lawsuit is pending in New Mexico, where state law is unclear about whether same-sex marriages are allowed.

Even if supporters of same-sex marriage were to win all those battles, however, that would still leave 31 states with bans, many of them written into state constitutions. Strategists are also eyeing some more conservative states in which they hope a concerted campaign could win approval of same-sex marriage laws, but they concede that in many, only a court ruling will lead to victory for their cause.

From the LA Times 


VIDEO: Equal rights advocate discusses marriage rulings

Josh Friedes of Equal Rights Washington discusses the Supreme Court’s rulings on gay marriage.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage and Proposition 8 is being eagerly awaited this morning by both sides.

The court could resolve the case in a variety of ways.

It could uphold or reject Proposition 8, dismiss the case as improvidently granted, return the case to an appeals court for reconsideration or rule that ProtectMarriage, the sponsors of the marriage ban, did not have legal standing to bring the appeal.

“I’m pretty confident we are going to get a decision from this court that is going to move us forward,” said Susan Russell, a leading gay rights activist and a pastor at All Saints Church in Pasadena.


Still, she added, waiting for the court’s ruling has been nerve-wracking. Until Tuesday, activists had no idea when the decision would come. Many were up every morning, checking their Twitter feeds, newspaper websites and a blog devoted to the Supreme Court, braced for news of the historic ruling.

“Being part of making that history is extraordinary, and it’s exhausting,” Russell said.

“I’ve been waking up at 6:30 in the morning for weeks,” said Whitney Weddell, a high school teacher who chairs an LGBTQ rights group in Kern County. “Every Monday, every Thursday, I’m awake, waiting, waiting, waiting, and then I text everyone in Bakersfield.”

The National Organization for Marriage released a statement late Tuesday saying it believes it will prevail before the court.

But the statement added that “no matter what the Supreme Court does tomorrow, the battle to preserve marriage as God designed it will continue.”

It also asked supporters to “pray … for the success of our position before the Supreme Court, for the attorneys and their families who have sacrificed so much to fight for the truth of marriage, and for those of us who will be in the media firestorm tomorrow reacting to whatever the decision may be.”

In communities up and down the state, activists planned public rallies either to celebrate or decry the court’s ruling. More than 25 had been posted on Facebook by Tuesday, from a large rally in West Hollywood to a smaller celebration in the Central Valley town of Hanford.

Assuming the court allows marriages to begin again in California, San Francisco officials have said they would begin holding weddings as early as possible.

In Los Angeles, the county clerk’s office said it was “prepared to accommodate any potential volume increases” in couples seeking marriage licenses.

At the Abbey Food and Bar, a landmark gay bar in West Hollywood, servers plan to offer wedding cake all day.

Many couples said they were just happy that the long, suspenseful wait for a ruling is finally over.

“It’s kind of like waking up on Christmas morning. You wonder if the presents are going to be there,” said Jeff Aguero, 28, of San Francisco.

For the past couple of weeks, Aguero said he has been checking for updates every morning the second he woke up.

“Not today,” he texted his partner, Sebastian Tonkin, each time.

Now that the decision is finally here, Aguero, who held a wedding ceremony with his partner last June in Lake Tahoe, said he’s nervous but “very, very hopeful” that the court will at least hand down a narrow ruling allowing gays in California to marry.

Just in case, Aguero has already picked out a bakery and begun to search in earnest for a two-groom cake topper.

From the LA Times