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.

#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.”

 

Postal Service to dedicate Harvey Milk stamp at the White House this month

This undated handout image provided by the US Postal Service shows the commemorative forever stamp featuring gay-rights activist Harvey Milk. (AP Photo/USPS)

This undated handout image provided by the U.S. Postal Service shows the commemorative forever stamp featuring gay-rights activist Harvey Milk. (AP Photo/USPS)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Postal Service will dedicate its soon-to-be-released Harvey Milk stamp during a ceremony at the White House later this month, according to a White House announcement.

The event is scheduled to take place on May 22, the first day the Postal Service plans to issue the stamp commemorating one of the nation’s gay-rights pioneers.

Another ceremony will take place on May 28 in San Francisco.

Customers can pre-order the new stamp through the USPS Web site in order to receive it on the release date.

Milk won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, becoming one of the first openly gay elected officials in the United States.

The Postal Service said in an announcement that Milk’s achievements “gave hope and confidence to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community in the United States and elsewhere at a time when the community was encountering widespread hostility and discrimination.”

A gunman assassinated Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Mascone in November 1978, less than one year after Milk took office.

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

 

 

Arkansas judge strikes down state’s ban on gay marriage

An Arkansas judge Friday invalidated the state’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, saying it violates the equal-protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

“Although marriage is not expressly identified as a fundamental right in the Constitution, the United States Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized it as such,” Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza ruled in striking down the 2004 amendment to the state’s constitution as well as a statute passed in 1997.

“This is an unconstitutional attempt to narrow the definition of equality,” he wrote. “The exclusion of a minority for no rational reason is a dangerous precedent.”

Voters overwhelmingly supported changing the constitution to define marriage as being only between a man and a woman.

Last week, state Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, a Democrat, said he personally supported same-sex marriage but would defend the ban in court.

“We respect the Court’s decision, but, in keeping with the Attorney General’s obligation to defend the state constitution, we will appeal,” McDaniel’s spokesman, Aaron Sadler, said Friday after the ruling. “We will request that Judge Piazza issue a stay of his ruling so as not to create confusion or uncertainty about the law while the Supreme Court considers the matter.”

In several other cases nationwide, judges or courts have stayed rulings striking down marriage bans while appeals are working their way through the courts.

Piazza released his decision after county clerks offices had closed for the week. Without a stay, marriage license bureaus are expected to be jammed Monday.

Piazza’s 13-page ruling in Wright vs. Arkansas rests heavily on the landmark 1967 case Loving vs. Virginia, in which the U.S. Supreme Court overturned that state’s ban on interracial marriage.

“It has been over forty years since Mildred Loving was given the right to marry the person of her choice. The hatred and fears have long since vanished and she and her husband lived full lives together; so it will be for the same-sex couples. It is time to let that beacon of freedom shine brighter on all our brothers and sisters,” Piazza wrote. “We will be stronger for it.”

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down a law forbidding the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. Since then, federal judges in Michigan, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Texas have declared marriage bans unconstitutional. In addition, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee have been ordered to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.

The nation’s biggest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organization praised Piazza’s ruling as a “historic victory for Arkansas values.”

“All across my home state, throughout the South, and around the country, LGBT people and their families are seeking basic respect and dignity,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign and an Arkansas native. “This victory is an essential step on the journey toward full equality for all.”

In 2004, Massachusetts became the first state to make same-sex marriages legal. Since then, 16 other states and the District of Columbia have followed suit, while 33 states restrict marriage to heterosexuals.

More than 70 lawsuits challenging marriage bans have been filed in 29 states and Puerto Rico, the Human Rights Campaign said. Only Alaska, Montana, and the Dakotas have not faced lawsuits.

Source: USA TODAY 8:14 p.m. EDT May 9, 2014 , by Michael Winter

Contributing: The Associated Press

UPDATE: May. 15, 2014 6:27 PM EDT, JUDGE STRIKES ALL ARKANSAS BANS ON GAY MARRIAGE

UPDATE: The Associated Press, “Judge strikes all Arkansas bans on gay marriage,” By ANDREW DeMILLO and CHRISTINA HUYNH, May. 15, 2014 6:27 PM EDT

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Gay marriages quickly resumed in Arkansas on Thursday after a state judge whose previous order had sown confusion among county clerks expanded his ruling to remove all vestiges of same-sex marriage bans from the state’s laws.

Click on link above for full article.

 

Gay Rights Push Shifts Its Focus South and West

 "We can’t allow two distinct gay Americas to exist," said Tim Gill, a Colorado philanthropist. Credit Matthew Staver for The New York Times

“We can’t allow two distinct gay Americas to exist,” said Tim Gill, a Colorado philanthropist. Credit Matthew Staver for The New York Times

The country’s leading gay rights groups and donors, after a decade focused on legalizing same-sex marriage, are embarking on a major drive to win more basic civil rights and workplace protections in Southern and Western states where the rapid progress of the movement has largely eluded millions of gay men and lesbians.

The effort will shift tens of millions of dollars in the next few years to what advocates described as the final frontier for gay rights: states like Mississippi, Georgia, Arkansas and Texas, where Republicans dominate elected office and traditional cultural views on homosexuality still prevail.

The new strategy reflects the growing worry within the movement that recent legal and political successes have formed two quickly diverging worlds for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender Americans: one centered on the coasts and major cities, and another stretching across the South and up through the Rocky Mountains, in states where gays enjoy virtually no legal protections against discrimination.

 Chad H. Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, spoke about gay rights at Mississippi’s State Capitol last year. Credit Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

Chad H. Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, spoke about gay rights at Mississippi’s State Capitol last year. Credit Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

“We can’t allow two distinct gay Americas to exist,” said Tim Gill, a Colorado philanthropist whose foundation is putting about $25 million into a handful of mostly conservative-leaning states over the next five years. “Everybody should have the same rights and protections regardless of where they were born and where they live.”

The push is likely to encounter resistance. Gay rights groups will be engaging in communities where churches and other religious institutions are tightly woven into daily life, and where efforts to expand civil rights protections to gays are sometimes viewed as an attack on people of faith.

“Mississippi has the highest church attendance per capita in the nation,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. “People have strong convictions based on faith. It’s not an opinion. It is their understanding of religious truth. And they are not going to walk away from it just because it’s unpopular.”

The shift is in part a way for leaders of the gay rights movement to reckon with their sudden success in the battle over marriage. A decade ago, just one state, Massachusetts, allowed same-sex marriage. Today it is legal in 17 states and the District of Columbia.

One early test of the new effort will come in Houston next month, when the mayor, Annise D. Parker, will seek to pass an ordinance forbidding businesses and city agencies to discriminate against residents based on sexual identity, race or gender.

“Texas doesn’t recognize gay marriage, and I don’t see that changing,” said Ms. Parker, the city’s first openly gay mayor. “But people being able to work and pay taxes — it’s a much easier discussion.”

In some states, organizations like the Human Rights Campaign, the American Civil Liberties Union and groups Mr. Gill helps fund plan to lobby for nondiscrimination ordinances in housing and employment and for legislation allowing gay parents to adopt. In other states, they are building new grass-roots organizations and pushing for the election of openly gay and lesbian officials where there are none.

In a nod to the dominant political culture in the South and West, the effort will rely heavily on outreach to Republicans and clergy, as well as to African-American civil rights organizations. Gay rights leaders are also quietly forging partnerships with major corporations based in Southern and Western cities, hoping to leverage their ties to Republican officials. That strategy proved successful last month in persuading Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona to veto a measure that would have allowed businesses there to deny services to lesbians and gay men on religious grounds.

Those involved in the planning described it as the biggest realignment of gay rights activism in a decade, one that will shift the movement’s focus into territory where there is almost no unified network of support and where gay people are more likely to hide who they are, making them more difficult to reach.

“The prevalence of the closet presents a challenge far greater than what we’ve seen in the other regions of the country,” said Chad H. Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, which is opening up field offices in Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas in an effort to build stronger ties to schools, religious institutions and political cultural leaders. “You risk being kicked out of your home. You risk discrimination on the job or being fired. You risk rejection at your place of religious celebration.”

 Carla Webb and Joce Pritchett, at home with their children in Jackson, Miss., joined the Human Rights Campaign's efforts. Credit James Patterson for The New York Times

Carla Webb and Joce Pritchett, at home with their children in Jackson, Miss., joined the Human Rights Campaign’s efforts. Credit James Patterson for The New York Times

Gay rights leaders are also worried that future court victories could leave gay men and lesbians in some states mired in a legal paradox: They might be free to marry but could still lose their jobs in the 29 states where it remains legal to fire employees for their sexual orientation.

In some of those places, gay and lesbian couples are more likely to be raising children than in places like New York or California, where same-sex-led families are less common.

The Human Rights Campaign, which is spending $8.5 million and hiring 20 people for its Project One America effort in the South, has conducted extensive research on the day-to-day experiences of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in its three focus states. Fifty-four percent of those surveyed were in committed relationships. And a quarter of gay parents surveyed had no legal relationship to their children because of state prohibitions on gay adoption, including those helping their partners raise children from a previous heterosexual marriage.

Mindful of cultural differences, the Washington-based group is also seeking to adapt to the rural South as it cultivates ties to local church leaders, N.A.A.C.P. officials and educators. That includes holding meetings at local Waffle Houses — but not on Wednesday nights, when many people are in church.

Mr. Gill’s foundation and an affiliated political advocacy group, Gill Action Fund, will engage first in states like Missouri and Texas, underwriting polling, research and lobbying costs and recruiting donors for existing state organizations. Next month, at an annual conference called OutGiving, which draws hundreds of the country’s leading gay donors, Mr. Gill will call on other donors to join the effort. He has invested more than $300 million of his own fortune on gay rights causes.

Other gay rights organizations are also moving to expand their footprint in the South. The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, a political action committee that supports lesbian and gay candidates for public office, is focusing on states like Idaho and Mississippi, which have no openly gay elected officials at any level, and those like Michigan, which have none in their state legislatures.

The A.C.L.U. has intensified efforts in legislatures across the South and in other states where conservative lawmakers are pushing “religious liberty” legislation to exempt businesses from some anti-discrimination rules. The group and other civil rights organizations persuaded lawmakers in Mississippi to strip some provisions from one such bill last month.

In many ways, the playbook for this effort was written in Colorado, where Mr. Gill, a Denver software mogul, set up his foundation two decades ago.

At the time, the state was dominated by Republicans, the home base of prominent evangelical and conservative groups like Focus on the Family. Mr. Gill and other advocates poured millions of dollars into educational initiatives and liberal nonprofit groups, splitting social conservatives from the state’s business establishment and working to elect pro-gay rights lawmakers.

Today, Democrats control both houses of the legislature and the governor’s office. Discrimination based on sexual orientation was outlawed in 2008, and lawmakers approved civil unions in 2013. Mr. Gill’s organization and other groups are now pushing for full marriage rights for gays.

Mr. Gill, who usually shuns interviews, said he was speaking out now to try to persuade others to join the less glamorous state-level advocacy, before a presidential election begins to consume a lot of activists’ time and money.

“I want them to look at the other 29 states where nothing has happened,” Mr. Gill said. “I want them to say, ‘How can we fix this?’ ”