Friday, December 27, 2013

Utah Attorney General To Turn To Justice Sonia Sotomayer For Help In Seeking Same Sex Marriage Stay, Lambda Legal Sues Houston Texas In Effort To Preserve Same Sex Spousal Benefits For City Employees, Houston Mayor Anise Parker Reportedly Wedding Long-Time Partner Kathy Hubbard In January, Eastside Catholic High School President Sister Mary Tracey Admits She Suggested To Fired Former Vice-President Mark Zmuda That He “Dissolve” Same Sex Marriage In Order To Maintain Position, Duck Dynasty Bigoted Homophobic Big Mouth Phil Robertson Reinstated

In Utah, the state has turned to outside counsel for help with its efforts to stop same sex marriages, a move the office said Thursday would temporarily delay its application for a stay to the U.S. Supreme Court. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the Attorney General’s Office planned to file a stay request Thursday but said the application would be made on Friday or Monday as it coordinates with the outside firm, which it has not yet identified. The AG’s office also hasn’t provided any information about how much it will spend or from where it is drawing the funds to pay the outside counsel. Once the state files, the plaintiffs will then have time to respond. The stay appeal will be made to Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who is assigned oversight of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. The state’s previous four requests for a stay were denied — once by the U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby, who ruled Dec. 20 that Utah’s ban on same sex marriage was unconstitutional, and three times by two 10th Circuit judges. If Sotomayor, appointed to the bench in 2009 by President Barack Obama, makes the decision on her own, either side could seek a different opinion from the entire court. She also could decide to refer the stay application to the entire court, said Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, who specializes in federal court issues and constitutional law. "The tradition and the practice in this kind of a case, which I would consider to be high-profile and relatively controversial, is that justices tend to refer it over to the whole court," he said. "It’s [the notion] that nine heads might be better than one on that kind of case." In his view, odds are against the state. "You’ve had one district judge and two 10th Circuit judges look at the stay question and resolve it against the state of Utah," he said. "To some extent, there may be deference from the Supreme Court on that. I think it’s hard to reverse three judges. The more stays that are denied, the more difficult it becomes." That is the case even more so if Sotomayor, 59, handles it on her own and also denies Utah’s stay application. "If she denies it, I would be shocked if the whole court reverses," Tobias said. "My reading of the order out of the 10th Circuit was that Utah’s arguments weren’t that strong. I just think it’s unlikely to be granted." In its third denial order, the 10th Circuit noted that of four required criteria for granting a stay two are "most critical:" likelihood of success on appeal and threat of irreparable harm if a stay is not granted. "They require more than a mere possibility of success and irreparable harm," the 10th Circuit said, adding that based on the parties’ arguments, "a stay is not warranted." Legal observers describe Sotomayor as one of four liberal judges on the Supreme Court. In Tobias’ opinion, Sotomayor was "favorably inclined to same sex marriage" in the two most recent cases that came before the court — Prop 8 and DOMA. "But they were not the same issues," Tobias said. She sided with the majority in the United States v. Windsor case, which overturned the federal Defense of Marriage Act. When the court declined for technical reasons to rule on the Proposition 8 case this summer — thus leaving gay marriage legal in California — Sotomayor joined Justice Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito in the dissent. That is, in her opinion the proponents of Proposition 8 who brought the suit did have standing to defend their interests even if the state chose not to act. During oral arguments she observed that, "The assumption is that there are not executive officials who want to defend the law. They don’t like it. No one’s going to do that. So how do you get the law defended in that situation?" Whether Sotomayor reviews the stay request on her own or refers it to all the justices, the decision is likely to come quickly, Tobias said. "Every day clerk’s offices in Utah are open, hundreds of people are being married," he said. "The state has always thought time was of the essence, and the justices are likely to agree and move very quickly once the papers are in." Likewise, the 10th Circuit has agreed to hear the appeal of Shelby’s decision on an expedited basis, which means the entire process likely will take "a couple months," Tobias said. And while that court’s ruling on Utah’s stay request is a "bit of a signal," it "doesn’t tell you how the merits [of the case] are going to come out."

In Texas, Lambda Legal Thursday filed a federal lawsuit against Houston Mayor Annise Parker and the City of Houston seeking to preserve spousal benefits, including health insurance, covering the same sex spouses of city employees. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas on behalf three City of Houston employees legally married to same sex spouses and follows notification these employees received recently that the City, one month after extending the employee coverage for their spouses, was being forced to withdraw these benefits and cancel the coverage. “City employees who are married to same sex spouses are doing the same work as coworkers who are married to different sex spouses at the end of the day this case is about equal pay for equal work. These employees, some who have worked for the City for many years, acted in good faith when notified the City was extending health coverage benefits to their legal spouses,” said Kenneth Upton, Senior Counsel in Lambda Legal’s South Central Regional Office in Dallas. “They enrolled for spousal benefits, including health insurance, paid the premiums, scheduled doctor visits and underwent treatments that will require ongoing care. Now, suddenly, the rug is pulled out from under them.” Houston Mayor Annise Parker on November 20, 2013 announced that all lawfully-married city employees, including those who married same sex partners in jurisdictions where such marriages are legal, would be eligible to enroll for spousal benefits, including health insurance coverage, under the City’s employee benefits health plan. The three plaintiffs named in Lambda Legal’s lawsuit enrolled their spouses as soon as they received notification of the policy change. Shortly thereafter, however, two Houston taxpayers sued the Mayor and the City in Family Law Court claiming the benefits were illegal and, without giving the Mayor or the City notice, secured a temporary restraining order blocking extension of the benefits. The City is defending against the challenge to the Mayor’s decision to ensure equal employee benefits for all workers. “The notice from the City was like a punch in the stomach,” said Noel Freeman, lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, administrative coordinator with the City of Houston Public Works & Engineering Office and a nine-year employee of the City. “Brad and I were so excited when we learned we could enroll him on my plan that we signed him up within an hour of finding out. And now, just a month later, they tell us they’re going to have to take it away, that once again I will be paid less than my married heterosexual colleagues for the same work. How is this fair?” In addition to Noel and Brad, who were married in Washington, DC, on August 1, 2010, and have been together for more than 11 years, the other plaintiffs in the lawsuit are: Yadira Estrada, a City of Houston police officer who married her partner of seven and a half years, Jennifer Flores, in Maine this past June and signed up for spousal benefits about a week after the Mayor’s announcement; and Ron Reeser, a systems administrator for the City and eight-year city employee who married his husband, Vince Olivier, in Canada in 2008 after they had been together for three years. “By refusing to recognize the legal marriage of same-sex couples for the purpose of providing employment benefits, the City deprives some Houston families of a critical safety net and financial security,” Upton added. “By stripping legally married gay and lesbian city employees of spousal benefits, including health insurance coverage, the City not only inflicts severe hardship, but sends a signal that their families are less worthy than those of their coworkers. This the Constitutional does not allow.”

Meanwhile, the Houston Chronicle reports that Mayor Annise Parker and her partner of 23 years, Houston tax preparer Kathy Hubbard, are planning to marry, a source close to the couple said Friday. The source, who spoke anonymously because of the sensitivity of the matter, said Parker and Hubbard plan to wed in Palm Springs, California, in January. "I heard it from her own lips," the source said. The mayor's wedding plans were reported earlier Friday by the website CultureMap. Parker, recently elected to her third and final term as Houston mayor, long has pledged that she and Hubbard would not marry until Texas legalized same sex marriage. In recent public statements, though, the mayor has suggested she might reconsider her position. She said developments such as the Supreme Court's striking down of the federal Defense of Marriage Act have prompted her to consider the message her inaction might be sending to the couple's two adopted children. California is one of 18 states in which same sex marriage is legal. Mayoral spokesperson Jessica Michan said in a statement via e-mail: "The mayor very much appreciates the interest in the 23-year relationship she has shared with her life partner, First Lady Kathy Hubbard. However, marriage is a private matter and she has no announcements she wishes to make at this time. If that changes, we will let you know." A native New Yorker, Hubbard has said she spent much of her childhood longing to live in a warmer climate. She achieved that goal when she followed her sister to Houston in the 1980s. In 1990, Hubbard met the future mayor when she visited Parker's Inklings book store in Montrose to see if the business needed a tax consultant. Parker hired Hubbard to handle her personal taxes, and with time affection blossomed. In 1993, Parker encountered a hungry-looking, apparently homeless youth in her neighborhood. The teenager, Jovon Tyler, told Parker that his grandparents had kicked him out of the house because he was gay. Parker gave the youth the keys to the house, then broke the news to Hubbard. Tyler, now 37, calls each woman "mom." He graduated from mortuary school in 2009. In 2003, Parker and Hubbard adopted two sisters, Marquitta, now in her late teens, and Daniela, now in her early 20s.

An update on a previous post: In Seattle, Washington, A student at Eastside Catholic High School released part of an interview with the school's former Vice Principal Thursday, in which he claims he did not resign, but was fired, contrary to information from administrators. KING 5 was only allowed to view one minute of the forty-five minute interview. The family who conducted the interview plans to release more soon. Zmuda left Eastside Catholic last Friday, after administrators learned he had married another man over the summer. His departure led to student protests and an online campaign to get the Catholic Church to reverse its position on gay marriage. Zmuda has not spoken publicly about the situation, but in his interview with student Caterina Crittenden said, "When I was told [about being fired], I asked why I was being terminated. They said, 'because I violated Catholic teachings.' I asked 'if it was a breach of contract.' They said 'no'. I said, 'did it have to do with my job performance or evaluations' and they also said 'no.'" Last week, school President Sister Mary Tracy said "it was a church decision, not a school decision," adding that if Zmuda had not resigned, he would have been fired. Thursday, Sister Mary Tracy would not address Zmuda's claim that he was terminated. However, she did say she made a last-minute offer to Zmuda. "I suggested to dissolve the marriage to save his job," said Sister Tracy, "I was trying to hang onto him." She said she was not proud of the offer, but "owned it." Students plan to hold another protest on Saturday at Eastside Catholic High.

A little more than a week after it suspended Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson for incendiary remarks about homosexuality, the cable channel A&E said Friday that it would include him in future tapings of the reality television show, effectively lifting the suspension amid a flurry of petitions in support of Robertson. "After discussions with the Robertson family, as well as consulting with numerous advocacy groups, A&E has decided to resume filming Duck Dynasty later this spring with the entire Robertson family," the channel said in a statement. Robertson's official page on Facebook, which is followed by over 2 million people, said in a new post on Friday afternoon: "We love our fans! Thank you so much for all of your support and love and prayers!" In an apparent gesture to the advocacy groups, A&E said that it would "also use this moment" to broadcast public service announcements "promoting unity, tolerance and acceptance among all people." The announcement arrived nine days after A&E originally suspended Robertson. At the time, A&E said it was placing Robertson "under hiatus from filming indefinitely" due to the cast member's controversial comments to a GQ magazine interviewer. When the interviewer asked Robertson what he thought was sinful, he replied, "Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men." Robertson used language that his family later described as "coarse." At one point he remarked that "it seems like, to me, a vagina -- as a man -- would be more desirable than a man's anus. That's just me. I'm just thinking: There's more there! She's got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes!" Furthermore, Robertson said that when he was growing up in Louisiana in the pre-civil rights era, "I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once." He continued, "Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I'm with the blacks, because we're white trash. We're going across the field ... They're singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, 'I tell you what: These doggone white people' -- not a word! Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues." When the comments were published by GQ, gay rights groups including GLAAD and civil rights groups including the Human Rights Campaign alerted A&E. The channel subsequently expressed disappointment in the comments and said Robertson had been suspended. One season's worth of episodes featuring Robertson had already been taped, so the suspension would only have affected future tapings in 2014. An assortment of conservative and religious groups immediately and loudly protested the suspension decision by A&E, which is jointly owned by The Walt Disney Company and Hearst. A petition on received 260,000 signatures. Speculation ensued about whether Duck Dynasty would come to an end, at least on A&E -- some advocates said they hoped that a channel with overtly religious values would rescue the show. Inside A&E, a sudden end to Duck Dynasty was never seriously contemplated. The show is enormously profitable for A&E and, executives there pointed out in private, for the Robertsons, too. (Any shopper strolling through Walmart, where the aisles are stocked with Duck Dynasty gear, would recognize that.) But A&E executives felt they had to send a message of disapproval after seeing Robertson's comments to GQ, partly because some of the channel's own staffers were offended by the interview. The suspension announced on December 18 sent that message -- and shortly thereafter, the channel and the Robertsons' representatives started to discuss a path forward. "We knew we had a great partnership with the family," said an A&E executive on condition of anonymity because the channel and the family had agreed not to say anything publicly aside from Friday's statements. Talks between the two sides took place on Christmas Eve, paused on Christmas, and resumed on Thursday, leading to Friday's announcement. It was immediately perceived as a victory by some of the conservative groups that had protested the suspension. One headline on the influential Drudge Report on Friday evening was "A&E CAVES," another read, "Gay Activists Group Delivered Stinging Defeat."

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