After gay son’s death, a new mission | Evangelical couple seek to affirm faith, accept same-sex relationships

Linda and Rob Robertson visit the grave of their son, Ryan, in Issaquah, Wash. The couple, evangelical Christians, brought their son to “reparative therapy” when he came out to them as gay. His sexual orientation didn’t change, and he became addicted to drugs and eventually died of an overdose. The Robertsons are now dedicated to helping other evangelical parents accept their gay children.

Linda and Rob Robertson visit the grave of their son, Ryan, in Issaquah, Wash. The couple, evangelical Christians, brought their son to “reparative therapy” when he came out to them as gay. His sexual orientation didn’t change, and he became addicted to drugs and eventually died of an overdose. The Robertsons are now dedicated to helping other evangelical parents accept their gay children. Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

Rob and Linda Robertson did what they believed was expected of them as good Christians.

After his parents sent him to “reparative therapy” when he came out as gay to his evangelical parents, Ryan Robertson did not change his sexual orientation, and he became addicted to drugs and eventually died of an overdose.

After his parents sent him to “reparative therapy” when he came out as gay to his evangelical parents, Ryan Robertson did not change his sexual orientation, and he became addicted to drugs and eventually died of an overdose. Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

After his parents sent him to “reparative therapy” when he came out as gay to his evangelical parents, Ryan Robertson did not change his sexual orientation, and he became addicted to drugs and eventually died of an overdose.

When their 12-year-old son, Ryan, said he was gay, they told him they loved him, but he had to change. He entered “reparative therapy,” met regularly with his pastor and immersed himself in Bible study and his church youth group. After six years, nothing changed. A despondent Ryan, cut off from his parents and his faith, started taking drugs and in 2009, died of an overdose.

“Now we realize we were so wrongly taught,” said Rob Robertson, a firefighter for more than 30 years who lives in Redmond, Washington. “It’s a horrible, horrible mistake the church has made.”

The tragedy could have easily driven the Robertsons from the church. But instead of breaking with evangelicalism – as many parents in similar circumstances have done – the couple is taking a different approach, and they’re inspiring other Christians with gay children to do the same. They are staying in the church and, in protesting what they see as the demonization of their sons and daughters, presenting a new challenge to Christian leaders trying to hold off growing acceptance of same-sex relationships.

“Parents don’t have anyone on their journey to reconcile their faith and their love for their child,” said Linda Robertson, who with Rob attends a nondenominational evangelical church. “They either reject their child and hold onto their faith, or they reject their faith and hold onto their child. Rob and I think you can do both: be fully affirming of your faith and fully hold onto your child.”

It’s not clear how much of an impact these parents can have. Evangelicals tend to dismiss fellow believers who accept same-sex relationships as no longer Christian. The parents only recently have started finding each other online and through faith-oriented organizations for gays and lesbians such as the Gay Christian Network, The Reformation Project and The Marin Foundation.

But Linda Robertson, who blogs about her son at justbecausehebreathes.com, said a private Facebook page she started last year for evangelical mothers of gays has more than 300 members. And in the last few years, high-profile cases of prominent Christian parents embracing their gay children indicate a change is occurring beyond a few isolated families.

Advocates for acceptance

James Brownson, a New Testament scholar at Western Theological Seminary, a Michigan school affiliated with the Reformed Church in America, last year published the book Bible, Gender, Sexuality, advocating a re-examination of what Scripture says about same-sex relationships. His son came out at age 18.

Kathy Baldock, a Christian who advocates for gay acceptance through her website CanyonwalkerConnections.com, said evangelical parents are speaking out more because of the example set by their children. Gay and lesbian Christians increasingly have been making the argument they can be attracted to people of the same gender and remain faithful to God, whether that means staying celibate or having a committed same-sex relationship. The annual conference of the Gay Christian Network has grown from 40 people a decade ago to an expected 1,400 for the next event in January.

Matthew Vines, author of God and the Gay Christian, has attracted more than 810,000 views on YouTube for a 2012 lecture he gave challenging the argument that Scripture bars same-sex relationships.

“These kids are now staying in the churches. They’re not walking away like they used to,” Baldock said.

Rejecting ‘reparative therapy’

The collapse of support for “reparative therapy” also is a factor, Shopland said. In June of last year, Alan Chambers, the leader of Exodus International, a ministry that tried to help conflicted Christians repress same-sex attraction, apologized for the suffering the ministry caused and said the group would close down.

At a conference on marriage and sexuality last month, a prominent Southern Baptist leader, the Rev. Al Mohler, said he was wrong to believe that same-sex attraction could be changed. Baldock, The Marin Foundation and the Gay Christian Network all say Christian parents have ben reaching out to them for help in notably higher numbers in the last couple of years.

“If it doesn’t work, then parents are left with the question of ‘What is the answer?’” Shopland said. “If I can’t change my kid into being a straight Christian, then what?”

Bill Leonard, a specialist in American religious history at Wake Forest Divinity School, said church leaders should be especially concerned about parents. He said many evangelicals began to shift on divorce when the marriages of the sons and daughters of pastors and “rock-ribbed” local church members such as deacons started crumbling. While conservative Christians generally reject comparisons between the church’s response to divorce and to sexual orientation, Leonard argues the comparison is apt.

“The churches love those individuals, and because they know them, those churches may look for another way,” Leonard said.

Moving toward acceptance

Some evangelical leaders seem to recognize the need for a new approach. The head of the Southern Baptist public policy arm, the Rev. Russell Moore, addressed the issue on his blog and at the marriage conference last month, telling Christian parents they shouldn’t shun their gay children. Mohler has said he expects some evangelical churches to eventually recognize same-sex relationships, but not in significant numbers.

Linda Robertson said the mothers who contact her through her Facebook page usually aren’t ready to fully accept their gay sons or daughters. Some parents she meets believe their children can change their sexual orientation. But she said most who reach out to her are moving away from the traditional evangelical view of how parents should respond when their children come out.

“I got a lot of emails from parents who said, ‘I don’t know one other parent of a gay child. I feel like in my community, I don’t have permission to love my child,’” she said. “They have a lot of questions. But then they’re going back to their churches and speaking to their pastors, speaking to their elders and speaking to their friends, saying, ‘We have a gay child. We love them, and we don’t want to kick them out. How do we go forward?’”

Source:  The Durango Herald, “After gay son’s death, a new mission | Evangelical couple seek to affirm faith, accept same-sex relationships,” By Rachel Zoll, AP Religion Writer, Article Last Updated: Friday, December 05, 2014 8:38pm

Remembering the UpStairs Lounge: The U.S.A.’s Largest LGBT Massacre Happened 40 Years Ago Today

The 24th of June in 1973 was a Sunday. For New Orleans’ gay community, it was the last day of national Pride Weekend, as well as the fourth anniversary of 1969′s Stonewall uprising. You couldn’t really have an open celebration of those events — in ’73, anti-gay slurs, discrimination, and even violence were still as common as sin — but the revelers had few concerns. They had their own gathering spots in the sweltering city, places where people tended to leave them be, including a second-floor bar on the corner of Iberville and Chartres Street called the UpStairs Lounge.

That Sunday, dozens of members of the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), the nation’s first gay church, founded in Los Angeles in 1969, got together there for drinks and conversation. It seems to have been an amiable group. The atmosphere was welcoming enough that two gay brothers, Eddie and Jim Warren, even brought their mom, Inez, and proudly introduced her to the other patrons. Beer flowed. Laughter filled the room.

Just before 8:00p, the doorbell rang insistently. To answer it, you had to unlock a steel door that opened onto a flight of stairs leading down to the ground floor. Bartender Buddy Rasmussen, expecting a taxi driver, asked his friend Luther Boggs to let the man in. Perhaps Boggs, after he pulled the door open, had just enough time to smell the Ronsonol lighter fluid that the attacker of the UpStairs Lounge had sprayed on the steps. In the next instant, he found himself in unimaginable pain as the fireball exploded, pushing upward and into the bar.

The ensuing 15 minutes were the most horrific that any of the 65 or so customers had ever endured — full of flames, smoke, panic, breaking glass, and screams.

MCC assistant pastor George “Mitch” Mitchell escaped, but soon returned to try to rescue his boyfriend, Louis Broussard. Both died in the fire, their bodies clinging together in death, like a scene from the aftermath of Pompeii.

Metal bars on the UpStairs Lounge windows, meant to keep people from falling out, were just 14 inches apart; while some managed to squeeze through and jump, others got stuck. That’s how the MCC’s pastor, Rev. Bill Larson, died, screaming, “Oh, God, no!” as the flames charred his flesh. When police and firefighters surveyed and began clearing the scene, they left Larson fused to the window frame until the next morning.

This news photo is among the most indelible I’ve ever seen:

Thirty-two people lost their lives that Sunday 40 years ago — Luther Boggs, Inez Warren, and Warren’s sons among them.

Homophobia being what it was, several families declined to claim the bodies and one church after another refused to bury or memorialize the dead. Three victims were never identified or claimed, and were interred at the local potter’s field.

When the Rev. William Richardson, of St. George’s Episcopal Church, agreed to hold a small prayer service for the victims, about 80 people attended, but many more complained about Richardson to Iveson Noland, the Episcopalian bishop of New Orleans. Noland reportedly rebuked Richardson for his kindness, and the latter received volumes of hate mail.

The UpStairs Lounge arson was the deadliest fire in New Orleans history and the largest massacre of gay people ever in the U.S. Yet it didn’t make much of an impact news-wise. The few respectable news organizations that deigned to cover the tragedy made little of the fact that the majority of the victims had been gay, while talk-radio hosts tended to take a jocular or sneering tone: What do we bury them in? Fruit jars, sniggered one, on the air, only a day after the massacre.

Other, smaller disasters resulted in City Hall press conferences or statements of condolence from the governor, but no civil authorities publicly spoke out about the fire, other than to mumble about needed improvements to the city’s fire code.

Continuing this pattern of neglect, the New Orleans police department appeared lackluster about the investigation (the officers involved denied it). The detectives wouldn’t even acknowledge that it was an arson case, saying the cause of the fire was of “undetermined origin.” No one was ever charged with the crime, although an itinerant troublemaker with known mental problems, Rogder Dale Nunez, is said to have claimed responsibility multiple times. Nunez, a sometime visitor to the UpStairs Lounge, committed suicide in 1974.

Watch the trailer for Royd Anderson’s new documentary about the UpStairs Lounge.

 

Source:  Patheos Blog, “Remembering the UpStairs Lounge: The U.S.A.’s Largest LGBT Massacre Happened 40 Years Ago Today,” June 24, 2013 By

 

For more information on the massacre, check out these sources:

About Terry Firma
Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder and Main Mischief Maker of Moral Compass, a site that pokes fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards.

In Historic Vote, Presbyterian Church Passes Measure Opening Doors to Marriage Equality

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), a church with nearly two million members, made history today by affirming the marriages of same-sex couples. By a 71-29% vote (429-175) the General Assembly passed an amendment to change the description of marriage in the PCUSA church constitution from a relationship between “a man and a woman” to that between “two people.” This amendment will only become church law when approved by a majority of the church’s 172 presbyteries.  At that time, all couples can be married in their home congregations. In another measure, by a 61-39% vote (371-238) the General Assembly passed an amendment now allowing clergy in marriage equality states to perform marriages.

“This is a giant step forward for the PCUSA Church and for people of faith everywhere.  Presbyterian LGBT couples are now one step closer to being able to get married in the church of their choice,” said Sharon Groves, Director of HRC’s Religion and Faith Program. “Perhaps even more significantly, young people and their families can go into a Presbyterian church and know that their denomination has not turned a blind eye to them but has instead taken a giant step toward becoming a more loving and more welcoming place for all people to worship.  We at HRC congratulate the Presbyterian Church (USA) on a job well done and thank the good people at More Light Presbyterian, The Covenant Network, So We May Freely Serve and Presbyterian Welcome for their years of dedication that got us to this point.”

The PCUSA General Assembly meets biennially and consists of commissioners elected by each of its 172 presbyteries nationwide. The proposal voted on today was originally submitted to the Assembly by the Oregon-based Presbytery of the Cascades. The written proposal explained:

“We believe that God created each of us with many differences, including sexual preferences, and that those differences are to be celebrated as part of the creative plan of God.”

The final vote took place after days of testimony and reflection, question and answer, and thoughtful meditation from the members of the General Assembly. HRC congratulates the Presbyterian Church USA on opening its doors to LGBT individuals, couples and families.

Groves added, “HRC remains committed to doing all we can to help the Presbyterian (USA) reach the finish line as it moves into the next phase of seeking approval from presbyteries around the country.” The Presbyterian Church (USA) joins other mainline churches in sanctioning same-sex marriage. In a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in February, 62% of mainline Protestants said they favor of marriage equality.

Source:  HRC Blog, “In Historic Vote, Presbyterian Church Passes Measure Opening Doors to Marriage Equality,” June 19, 2014 by HRC staff

Colorado judge considering two lawsuits skeptical of same-sex marriage ban

BRIGHTON, Colo. — Colorado’s same-sex marriage ban appeared to be on thin ice Monday after a judge considering two lawsuits against the law pointed out that 15 other judges have recently struck down similar bans in other states.

Those rulings followed the U.S. Supreme Court decision last year ordering the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages approved by states, District Court Judge C. Scott Crabtree said at a hearing.

A lawyer from the Colorado attorney general’s office, which is defending the ban, argued that the justices’ ruling has been misread, to which Crabtree replied, “They got it all wrong?”

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Crabtree was openly skeptical of the state’s arguments that the 2006 voter-approved ban protects the procreative nature of marriage. He mentioned two of his friends who are marrying this summer at age 65.

“Their marriage is not about having any more kids,” he quipped.

Crabtree heard arguments in lawsuits filed by one couple in Adams County and eight in Denver who are seeking to be recognized as married couples in Colorado. He said he would issue a written decision rather than rule from the bench and noted that his decision will likely be appealed all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court.

Several of the rulings striking down same-sex marriage bans in other states have been put on hold, Crabtree said, suggesting the judge might prevent any ruling from going into effect until appeals are exhausted.

Attorney General John Suthers’ office defied calls by some activists to follow the examples of attorneys general in seven other states who have declined to defend their state prohibitions.

Assistant Solicitor General Michael Francisco warned the judge that no one knows what the true impact could be of overturning the Colorado’s ban.

“It will have real-world consequences,” Francisco said, comparing it to state laws passed 40 years ago making divorce easier.

Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office did not take a side in the case. The governor’s chief lawyer, Jack Finlaw, said in court that the governor upholds the law but opposed the ban when it was on the ballot in 2006. He urged a ruling “respectful of the rights of all Coloradans.”

Ralph Ogden, an attorney representing one of the couples, said the ban “has created two classes of citizens: One can be married, the other cannot.”

But Francisco said Colorado voters have the ability to make that distinction. He told Crabtree that the judges who have struck down gay marriage bans elsewhere are guessing that the U.S. Supreme Court will declare gay marriage a constitutional right, but it is not the job of lower court judges to predict such a ruling.

The two cases are: McDaniel-Miccio v. Colorado and Brinkman v. Long.

Source:  LGBTQ Nation, “Colorado judge considering two lawsuits skeptical of same-sex marriage ban,” by Nicholas Riccardi, Associated Press, Monday, June 16, 2014

With Federal Court Ruling, Wisconsin’s Marriage Ban Becomes the Latest to Fall

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Today U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled against Wisconsin’s constitutional amendment banning marriage equality, making Wisconsin the twelfth state to see such a ban struck down in federal court since the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its historic marriage rulings last June.  In Wolf v. Walker, the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Wisconsin and the law firm of Mayer Brown LLP sued the state on behalf of four couples seeking to marry, arguing that the Wisconsin’s ban on marriage equality violates the couples’ due process and equal protection rights under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  Recently Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker began distancing himself from the state’s marriage ban, saying he didn’t know if it violated the U.S. Constitution or if voters in his state would approve it today.  However, state attorney general J.B. Van Hollen filed a motion in court earlier this month asking the judge to stay her decision if she rules in favor of the plaintiffs.

“Where you live should never limit your ability to marry the person you love,” said Human Rights Campaign (HRC) president Chad Griffin.  “All across the country, from coast to coast and everywhere in between, judges are striking marriage discrimination from the books using the U.S. Constitution as their guide.  Because of the couples who brought this case, their attorneys with the ACLU and Mayer Brown LLP, and the hundreds of plaintiffs challenging marriage bans across the country, we as a nation are closer than ever before to full equality under the law.”

A May 2014 Marquette University Law School poll showed 55 percent of registered Wisconsin voters favor allowing same-sex couples to legally marry. Today’s ruling in Wisconsin coincides with the release of new poll results by the Washington Post and ABC News which show that 50 percent of Americans believe that gay and lesbian couples have a constitutional right to marry guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection clause. Additionally, 56 percent of Americans and 77 percent of those under the age of thirty support marriage rights for same-sex couples.  Today’s results are the latest in an ever-expanding trend showing Americans moving inexorably in the direction of supporting equality for same-sex couples.

There are at least 70 court cases challenging discriminatory marriage bans across the country in 30 states and Puerto Rico.  So far five federal appeals courts are presiding over 10 marriage equality cases over the coming weeks and months. The Sixth Circuit holds the distinction of being the only federal appeals court to date that will consider marriage cases from all states within its jurisdiction.  Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic marriage rulings last year, no state marriage ban has survived a court challenge.

Same-sex couples can legally marry in nineteen states and the District of Columbia, while 31 states have a law or constitutional amendment restricting marriage to the union of one man and one woman.

Same-sex marriages officially begin in Illinois

Couples attend a beach-front marriage equality ceremony at the Kathy Osterman Beach in Chicago, Sunday, June 1, 2014. Dozens of people attended the event. June 1 marked the first day all of Illinois’ 102 counties could begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples after a piecemeal start where some county officials began granting licenses months ago following a federal court ruling. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)

County clerks in the Metro East will open their doors this morning prepared to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

“We are good to go,” said Madison County Clerk Debra D. Ming-Mendoza.

She and most of the clerks in Illinois’ 102 counties have had nearly seven months to prepare.

Illinois became the 16th state to legalize same-sex marriage when Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill into law last November.

But the action came with a caveat: The new law would go into effect June 1. Because the bill did not pass with a large enough majority in the House, it could not be implemented immediately.

That condition sparked a lawsuit by couples in Cook County, where a judge ruled in February that there was no reason to delay issuing marriage licenses. As a result, 15 other counties agreed not to wait, including St. Clair County, where 20 licenses have been issued.

County Clerk Tom Holbrook said he is not expecting a long line of same-sex couples this morning in Belleville. But the unknown is how many of the 200 couples who were issued civil union licenses since June 2011 will want to come in and convert them to marriage licenses, the first day they will be able to do so.

Ming-Mendoza said her office has reprogrammed its computers so that couples can convert their civil unions to marriages and changed marriage forms to give couples choices on how they want to be referred: bride and groom; bride and bride; groom and groom; or partner and partner.

The law officially went into effect on Sunday, and at least five counties were expected to open their offices to issue marriage licenses. But most counties, including Madison and Monroe, will begin today. Holbrook said there was no need to hold special hours in St. Clair County since his office has been issuing them for nearly three months.

Illinois joins 18 other states and Washington, D.C., in legalizing same-sex marriage. Ten years ago – May 17, 2004 — Massachusetts became the first state to begin marrying same-sex couples.

The shift in the political landscape surrounding same-sex marriage has been most pronounced in the past year.

Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act, stating that the federal government must recognize legal marriages between those of same-sex couples. That decision stopped short of saying gay marriage should be legal in every state. However, in a separate ruling the same day, the high court cleared the way for same-sex marriages to continue in California, after a lengthy legal battle.

Since then, 14 federal judges have declared same-sex marriage bans illegal. While most of those decisions have been appealed, the judgments last month in Oregon and Pennsylvania were not.

Now, nearly 44 percent of Americans are living in states that offer same-sex marriage.

Throughout the country, there are 70 active lawsuits challenging same-sex marriage laws in 30 states, including one in Missouri.

On Feb. 12, a lawsuit was filed asking a circuit judge in Kansas City to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples in Missouri who were wed in other states and countries where the unions are legal. The suit filed by the ACLU of Missouri on behalf of eight couples is not asking the judge to declare unconstitutional the ban voters approved in 2004.

With suits filed in Montana and South Dakota last month, North Dakota stands alone as the only state with a ban that has not been challenged.

Tony Rothert, legal director for the ACLU of Missouri, said the next step in the Kansas City case comes Sept. 25, when a motion for summary judgment — a decision without a trial — will be heard. Since the suit was filed, two more gay couples have joined as plaintiffs, he said.

Of the 19 lawsuits that have been ruled on in the last year across the country, all have been in favor of those fighting the marriage bans.

“I certainly don’t want Missouri to be the case that goes the wrong way,” Rothert said. “I don’t think it will be.”

Marc Solomon, national campaign director for Freedom to Marry, said that with so many cases working their way through the legal system, “ultimately the Supreme Court will finish the job. We think the country is ready for a nationwide ruling.”

And he thinks based on the growing support across the country for same-sex marriage, the decision will be one that his organization has been fighting for for years.

“As it is now, it makes no sense. You can live in Belleville and be legally married but commute to downtown St. Louis and be treated as legal strangers,” Solomon said. “The patchwork of laws is unsustainable, it’s wrong and it doesn’t make sense.”

Even those who have long fought to keep marriage between one woman and one man are conceding that marriage for same-sex couples will ultimately be recognized nationwide. Last week, Orrin Hatch, a longtime U.S. Senator from Utah, joined the ranks.

“Let’s face it: anybody who does not believe that gay marriage is going to be the law of the land just hasn’t been observing what’s going on,” Hatch said.

Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois, said those against it are finally realizing that “none of those doomsday scenarios are coming true. All that fear-mongering was just that.”

That said, 28 states still have constitutional bans and the results of a Washington Post/ABC News poll released in March show that 50 percent of Americans say the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection gives gays the right to marry, while 41 percent say it does not.

Source:  St. Louis Dispatch, “Same-sex marriages officially begin in Illinois,”

#RuralPride Campaign

RuralPrideLandingPageImageUpdate

LGBT people and their families are part of every single geographic region in this country, including rural communities and small towns across the U.S. Contrary to myths that the LGBT community lives exclusively in metropolitan areas, members of our community are proudly living, working, raising children, going to school, and making homes for themselves and their families in rural America.

The #RuralPride campaign is a partnership between NCLR and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) aimed at increasing visibility of the LGBT community in rural America and identifying ways we can use federal advocacy to increase access to crucial services and resources for LGBT rural people and families.

The centerpiece of the campaign is a series of Rural Summits that will provide an opportunity to discuss the unique needs and vulnerabilities of the LGBT rural community with federal policymakers. Join us in this campaign and show your #RuralPride.

 

LEARN MORE  

ruralPrideoverviewOVERVIEW
In an effort to elevate the voices of the LGBT community living in rural America, USDA and the National Center for Lesbian Rights launched the #RuralPride campaign.
Learn more.

 

CalendarFinal LGBT SUMMIT SERIES CALENDAR
The centerpiece of the #RuralPride campaign is a series of day-long summits hosted by USDA, NCLR, the True Colors Fund, and a number of partners organizations in rural communities across the country.
Learn more.

 

RuralPride_storiesSHARE YOUR STORY
Are you LGBT and living in a rural community? Show us your #RuralPride! Share your story and you’ll help us to put a real face on the rural LGBT community across the country and shape the conversation.
Learn more.

 

ToolkitResourcesFinalREPORTS, RESOURCES & LINKS
Explore reports and learn more about the needs of the LGBT community in rural America.

Learn more.

 

 

Source: NCLR, #RuralPride Campaign, May 2014

Judge Strikes Down Pennsylvania Ban on Gay Marriage

Continuing a rush of rulings that have struck down marriage limits across the country, a federal judge in Pennsylvania on Tuesday declared the state’s ban on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional.

“We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history,” wrote Judge John E. Jones III of Federal District Court in a decision posted on Tuesday afternoon.

Judge Jones, who is based in Harrisburg, Pa., was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2002.

Judge Jones did not issue a stay, writing, “By virtue of this ruling, same-sex couples who seek to marry in Pennsylvania may do so, and already married same-sex couples will be recognized as such in the Commonwealth.”

Pennsylvania is the last of the Northeast states with a ban on same-sex marriage. Gov. Tom Corbett did not immediately say whether he would ask the Federal Circuit Court in Philadelphia to delay enforcement pending an appeal, and gay rights advocates said they hoped that marriages would start as early as Tuesday afternoon.

Ashley Wilson, left, and Lindsay Vandermay, right, kiss after getting their marriage license on Tuesday. Credit Matt Slocum/Associated Press

 

Couples began rushing to obtain marriage licenses soon after the ruling was announced, according to media reports.

In the last several months, judges have struck down marriage limits in seven states: Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Texas, Arkansas, Idaho and, on Monday, Oregon. Courts in several more have said that states must recognize same-sex marriages performed outside their borders.

In most of the cases, courts have delayed implementation until appeals can be argued in federal circuit courts and, perhaps, the Supreme Court. But in Oregon, state officials said they would not appeal, and for now, Oregon becomes the 18th state, plus the District of Columbia, to authorize the marriage of gay and lesbian couples.

The lawsuit in Pennsylvania, brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of 11 couples, a widow and two teenage children of one couple, is one of more than 70 cases filed around the country since the Supreme Court struck down parts of the Defense of Marriage Act last June.

“It’s kind of overwhelming, and wonderful at the same time,” said James D. Esseks, director of the union’s gay rights programs, who is involved in 11 marriage cases at once. Mr. Esseks said he expected decisions within the next few weeks on similar challenges in Wisconsin and Florida.

After the Pennsylvania case was filed last summer, state’s attorney general, Kathleen Kane, announced that she would not defend the restrictive marriage law, which was adopted by the legislature in 2006. Mr. Corbett, a Republican, hired private lawyers to argue on behalf of state officials named in the suit.

The state put forth arguments that have repeatedly been rejected by the courts. It argued that the legislature had chosen to protect traditional heterosexual marriage and that nothing in the Constitution established a fundamental right to same-sex marriage, which is not rooted in history and tradition.

The state also argued that a 1972 decision, Baker v. Nelson, in which the Supreme Court declined to review a challenge to a state gay-marriage ban, remains the guiding legal case and that last year’s ruling in Windsor v. United States, holding that the federal government must recognize same-sex marriages performed legally in the states, was actually an endorsement of states’ rights.

But a succession of federal judges, now including Judge Jones in Pennsylvania, have instead relied on the Supreme Court’s finding last year that same-sex marriage bans were fueled by animus and inflicted stigma on gay and lesbian families.

“The plaintiff couples have shared in life’s joys,” Judge Jones wrote in Tuesday’s decision, one of several in federal courts recently that have elicited soaring prose from the judges. But the couples have also shared financial, legal and personal hardships resulting from state discrimination, he went on to say.

He quoted one plaintiff, Deb Whitewood, who told the court: “It sends the message to our children that their family is less deserving of respect and support than other families. That’s a hurtful message.”

Judge Jones, in his ruling, said: “We now join the 12 federal district courts across the country, which, when confronted with these inequities in their own states, have concluded that all couples deserve equal dignity in the realm of civil marriage.”

 

Federal judge strikes down Oregon’s ban on same-sex marriage

Oregon state officials have said they’d be prepared to issue same-sex marriage licenses almost immediately; couples are lined up outside the county clerk’s office in Portland

EUGENE, Ore. — A federal judge on Monday struck down Oregon’s voter-approved ban on gay marriage, saying it is unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Michael McShane said the ban unconstitutionally discriminates against same-sex couples and ordered the state not to enforce it. State officials earlier refused to defend the constitutional ban in court.

McShane joined judges in seven other states who have struck down gay marriage bans, though appeals are underway.

Oregon state officials have said they’d be prepared to carry out same-sex marriages almost immediately, and couples lined up outside the county clerk’s office in Portland in anticipation of the McShane’s decision.

Laurie Brown and Julie Engbloom arrived early Monday at the Multnomah County Building to form the line for marriage licenses. The two have been a couple for 10 years. Engbloom proposed in April, when they celebrated their anniversary by climbing Smith Rock in Cen tral Oregon.

“We always knew we wanted to spend our whole life together,” Brown said. “This opportunity has come, it feels right, everything has fallen into place.”

Four gay and lesbian couples brought the Oregon cases, arguing the state’s marriage laws unconstitutionally discriminate against them and exclude them from a fundamental right to marriage.

Democratic Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum refused to defend the ban, saying there are no legal arguments that could support it in light of decisions last year by the U.S. Supreme Court. She sided with the couples, asking the judge to overturn the ban, and says she won’t appeal.

The judge denied a request by the National Organization for Marriage to defend the law on behalf of its Oregon members. A panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday refused the group’s request for an emergency stay of that decision, allowing same-sex marriages to proceed.

Gay rights groups previously said they’ve collected enough signatures to force a statewide vote on gay marriage in November. But they said they would discard the signatures and drop their campaign if the court rules in their favor by May 23.

The U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage. It determined the law improperly deprived gay couples of due process.

In addition to Oregon, federal or state judges in Idaho, Oklahoma, Virginia, Michigan, Texas, Utah and Arkansas recently have found state same-sex marriage bans to be unconstitutional. Judges also have ordered Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.

But opposition remains stiff in many places. Critics note most states still do not allow gay marriage and that in most of those that do, it was the work of courts or legislatures, not the will of the people.

Oregon law has long prohibited same-sex marriage, and voters added the ban to the state constitution in 2004. The decision, approved by 57 percent of voters, came months after Multnomah County briefly issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Multnomah is the state’s largest county and includes Portland.

About 3,000 gay couples were allowed to marry before a judge halted the practice. The Oregon Supreme Court later invalidated the marriages.

Oregon joins the growing list of states where federal or state judges have ruled that same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional; among them: Idaho, Oklahoma, Virginia, Michigan, Texas, Utah and Arkansas. Judges also have ordered Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.

The decision is here.

Source:  LGBTQ Nation, “Federal judge strikes down Oregon’s ban on same-sex marriage,” by , May 19, 2014

Dismantling Costa Rica’s lesbian and gay closet

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Luis Guillermo Solís has barely begun his presidency and already the LGBTI communities have much to celebrate. For one, Solís is the first president of Costa Rica who has familiarity with the gay nightlife of San José. Or at least he is the first president willing to publicly admit it.

In January on Costa Rica’s Channel 9 program “¿Como Está la Vara?”, TV personality and host Choché Romano asked Solís if he invited him to Bochinche or La Avispa (two of San Jose’s oldest gay bars) to celebrate his birthday, would Solís go? Then-candidate Solís revealed that he had been to gay bars before and would have no problem attending such an occasion. In the same interview he opined that gay domestic partnerships should be treated under the law the same as common-law marriages, granting partners all civil and inheritance rights enjoyed by any marriage or common-law marriage. Solís stated that homophobia and the violation of a gay person’s rights was incompatible with a democratic regime.

Incompatible too, one might argue, is a state religion. And the absence of a public prayer from the inaugural ceremony could be suggestive of Solís’ belief in separation of church and state, even as he personally evoked God in his inaugural address and took the oath of office with his hand on a Christian Bible. Such actions are consistent with his April 8 statement that, “A secular state isn’t a state without God, but rather a state that guarantees the religious freedom of all citizens.”

Extreme right homophobia is often rooted in misinterpretations of biblical scripture, and attempts to base public policy on religious texts far removed from their original context is a fool’s errand under the best of circumstances. Solís’ conception of a state that protects religious freedom for all is consistent with a state that protects the individual’s practice of any religion, or no religion, as one of many individual rights that the state should guarantee to everyone. Making all forms of discrimination illegal and guaranteeing equal access for all to state benefits and recognitions is one of the guiding principles of Solís’ governing vision, and in this case should mean significant legal advances for the LGBTI communities.

In the parade of newly appointed officials in attendance at the May 8 inauguration was the presence of Tourism Minister Wilhelm von Breymann and his gay partner of 19 years, Mauricio Alfaro, marching together in the inaugural procession. Largely lost on the many Costa Ricans in attendance, Breymann’s inclusion of his gay partner was later reported widely through social media and in the press.

The importance of Breymann’s participation is not that it is the first time a gay government minister has been in attendance at the inauguration – this no doubt has occurred on many occasions. Rather, this moment is different because it is the first time in history that a Cost Rican government minister has felt free to include a same-sex partner in such an official procession. On May 8, 2014, President Luis Guillermo Solís and his tourism minister have taken the symbolic first steps toward the dismantling of Costa Rica’s lesbian and gay closet.

Symbolism in politics is important, and the most effective presidents often use this power to change public opinion before they take steps to change public policy. On Dec. 31, 1963, Lyndon Johnson put the full symbolic clout of the U.S. presidency behind the cause of civil rights during his visit to the Forty Acres Club, a “whites only” club in Austin, Texas, when he arrived with Gerri Whittington, one of his African American secretaries as his “plus one.” She had asked him beforehand if he knew what he was doing, and Johnson replied, “I sure do. Half of them are going to think you’re my wife, and that’s just fine with me.”

Understanding well the power of symbolic politics, Johnson’s de facto integration of a “whites only” club surprised, shocked, and most importantly, demonstrated presidential leadership without waiting for Congress to act on civil rights. When asked the next day if blacks were now permitted to enter the club, the management responded, “Yes, the president of the United States integrated us on New Year’s Eve.”

While a symbolic gesture can never take the place of legal recognition and protection (Johnson’s symbolism was later followed by the passage and signing of the historic 1964 Civil Rights Act), it can help to change minds – even those long set against greater equality for all. The inclusion of Minister Breymann’s partner in the inauguration and the president’s easy admission of his own visits to gay bars with friends sends a message that Costa Rica under President Solís intends to be a part of the progressive pink Zeitgeist sweeping the world.

In recent years, gay marriage has become legal in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and in the state of Quintano Roo, Mexico, and in Mexico City, one of the world’s most populous cities. French Guiana, Ecuador and Colombia all recognize civil unions between same-sex partners. Missing from this growing list is any state in Central America, and Costa Rica is the place in the region where such legal recognitions would likely next occur.

As the region’s leader in democracy, an extension of the legal protection of the rights of lesbian and gay couples would be a natural next step. A poll conducted by the daily La Nación in January 2012 indicated that 55 percent of Cost Ricans supported the statement that “same-sex couples should have the same rights as heterosexual couples.” The number increases to 60 percent among those aged 18-34. At the official level, the Costa Rican government has recognized gay marriages from other countries in its diplomatic relations, granting longer term and special visas to members of the diplomatic corps who bring same-sex spouses to Costa Rica.

Further, every survey of voters’ opinions on same-sex marriage in Latin America has shown that those most likely to support equal rights for same-sex relationships are younger, better educated city dwellers. With 80 percent of Costa Rica’s population living in the Central Valley, with 40 percent of the population under 25 years of age, and with the often touted “well educated” Tico workforce continuing to grow, support for same-sex equality can only rise in Costa Rica, suggesting that politicians of all stripes would do well to pay attention or risk sentencing their party to the dustbin of history.

Despite its appearance to many to be happening at the speed of light, social change never happens overnight, and Costa Rica has had a vibrant political gay movement for decades. Through the Herculean labors of gay activists like Marco Castillo, a lawyer and president of Movimiento Diversidad, and Francisco Madrigal, founder and director of internationally renowned Centro de Investigación y Promoción para América Central en Derechos Humanos (CIPAC), Costa Ricans now enjoy greater protection from sexual diversity-based discrimination than any of their Central American neighbors. CIPAC’s work has yielded presidential decrees setting up national days of recognition against homophobia in the last two National Liberation Party administrations. And this week, the Social Security System is considering a change that would allow gays and lesbians to insure their partners, and same-sex partners to be listed as emergency contacts, and it would guarantee hospital visitation rights to gay partners.

Solís’ new president of the Caja, María del Rocío Sáenz, using almost identical language to Solís’ January interview with Choché Romano, has already said that the proposal to extend insurance coverage to same-sex couples is tantamount to a human right.

Enormous progress has been made and will continue to advance in Costa Rica, and Solís’ strategy of a democratization of the state makes it clear he is willing to do whatever he can to advance the equal treatment of lesbians and gays, even if the legislature fails to act to pass a civil union bill.

In 1998, Nobel Laureate author Toni Morrison called U.S. President Bill Clinton the first “black” president of the United States based on Clinton’s empathy and affinity with the African American communities. It was a title of honor Clinton has long embraced. Although only in the first days of a four-year term, several indicators suggest that the administration of Luis Guillermo Solís will be the most progressive in the history of gay rights in Costa Rica. Could he be vying for the title of Costa Rica’s first “gay” president?

Gary L. Lehring is a professor of government at Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts. He is on sabbatical in Costa Rica. 

 Source: The Tico Times, “Dismantling Costa Rica’s Lesbian and Gay Closet,” May 12, 2014