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Following today’s historic ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper announced that he would stop defending the state’s marriage equality ban.

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Today’s ruling applies to the entire Fourth Circuit, which includes North Carolina, Maryland, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. There are currently two cases in North Carolina challenging the state’s marriage ban.

In remarks earlier today, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said:

After reviewing the 4th Circuit decision and consulting with attorneys here, I have concluded that the State of North Carolina will not oppose the cases moving forward. In addition, the State of North Carolina will acknowledge the 4th Circuit opinion that marriage is a fundamental right and that our office believes that the judges are bound by this 4th Circuit decision.

In all these cases challenging state marriage laws, our office along with other attorneys general and state attorneys across the country have made about every legal argument imaginable. Since the US Supreme Court ruled in the Windsor case, all the federal courts have rejected these arguments each and every time. So it’s time for the State of North Carolina to stop making them.

Attorney General Cooper’s announcement follows a sweeping ruling from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that determined that strict scrutiny review dictates that marriage bans are unconstitutional on the basis of both equal protection and due process.

 

 

In a historic first, today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued a sweeping ruling affirming the February 2014 decision from U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen in Bostic v. Schaefer that the amendment to the Virginia Constitution barring marriage for same-sex couples violates the U.S. Constitution, and further determining that strict scrutiny review dictates that marriage bans are unconstitutional on the basis of both equal protection and due process.  In a 2-1 decision authored by Judge Henry F. Floyd and joined by Judge Roger L. Gregory, the court declared in its ruling that:

We recognize that same-sex marriage makes some people deeply uncomfortable. However, inertia and apprehension are not legitimate bases for denying same-sex couples due process and equal protection of the laws. Civil marriage is one of the cornerstones of our way of life. It allows individuals to celebrate and publicly declare their intentions to form lifelong partnerships, which provide unparalleled intimacy, companionship, emotional support, and security. The choice of whether and whom to marry is an intensely personal decision that alters the course of an individual’s life. Denying same-sex couples this choice prohibits them from participating fully in our society, which is precisely the type of segregation that the Fourteenth Amendment cannot countenance.  

On page 39 of the decision, the majority opinion confirmed that, “nder both the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses, interference with a fundamental right warrants the application of strict scrutiny.”

“The Fourth Circuit has affirmed that equality is not just a California value, or a New York value – it’s a fundamental American value,” said Human Rights Campaign (HRC) president Chad Griffin. “No state should have the right to enforce this type of discriminatory amendment that singles out thousands of loving couples for unfair treatment, simply because they are gay or lesbian.  As we’ve seen with an undefeated string of federal court rulings over the last year from judges appointed by both Democrats and Republicans, the U.S. Constitution is on the side of equality and justice for all Americans – not just some.”

Today’s ruling applies to the entire Fourth Circuit, which includes Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.  This is the third appeals court ruling striking down state marriage bans in just one month.  Last week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit struck down Oklahoma’s same-sex marriage ban.  The Tenth Circuit issued a similar decision on June 25th in a case out of Utah, ruling that statutes or amendments to state constitutions banning marriage equality are unconstitutional.  Both rulings were stayed and the Utah Attorney General has already indicated the state will appeal its decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The defendants in Virginia now have the option to request an enbanc appeal before the full bench of the Fourth Circuit, which decides whether or not to grant that request. They may also bypass an enbanc session and appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.In July of 2013, Tim Bostic and Tony London went to the Norfolk Circuit Court Clerk’s office to obtain a marriage license, but they were turned away because of Virginia’s ban on marriage equality.  Soon after, the couple filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. They are joined in the case by Mary Townley and Carol Schall, whose legal California marriage isn’t recognized by their home state of Virginia.  The plaintiffs are represented by attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies on behalf of the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER). Olson and Boies also successfully represented the plaintiffs in Hollingsworth v. Perry challenging California’s Proposition 8 – a case that was ultimately heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In March of 2014, attorneys from Lambda Legal and the ACLU were permitted to intervene in the Bostic case on behalf of all Virginia’s same-sex couples, including their clients in another case challenging the state’s marriage ban – Harris v. Rainey.

A three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit heard argument in this case on May 13, 2014.  Judge Paul V. Niemeyer was appointed to the Fourth Circuit by President George H.W. Bush in 1990.  Judge Roger L. Gregory was first appointed by President Bill Clinton in 2000, and later re-appointed by President George W. Bush in 2001, making him the first African-American judge to serve on the Fourth Circuit.  Judge Henry F. Floyd was appointed in 2011 by President Barack Obama.

There are over 70 court cases challenging discriminatory marriage bans across the country in 30 of the 31 states where such a ban exists, plus Puerto Rico.  Cases from ten other states are currently pending before four federal appeals courts.  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.  In total, 33 states either have marriage equality or have seen state marriage bans struck down as unconstitutional in court.  Since the Supreme Court’s historic marriage rulings last year, there have been 19 consecutive federal court decisions that bans on marriage equality are unconstitutional.  These rulings have come from judges appointed by both Democrat and Republican presidents.

The Supreme Court is under no obligation as to which case or cases – if any – it choses to hear on appeal.

Cases pending before federal appeals courts:

  • DeLeon v. Perry, Texas [Argument date at the Fifth Circuit not set]
  • Tanco v. Haslam, Tennessee [Arguments at the Sixth Circuit set for August 6]
  • Bourke vs. Beshear, Kentucky [Arguments at the Sixth Circuit set for August 6]
  • Obergefell v. Kasich, Ohio [Arguments at the Sixth Circuit set for August 6]
  • Henry v. Himes, Ohio [Arguments at the Sixth Circuit set for August 6]
  • DeBoer v. Snyder, Michigan [Arguments at the Sixth Circuit set for August 6]
  • Wolf v. Walker, Wisconsin [Arguments at the Seventh Circuit set for August 26]
  • Baskin v. Bogan, Indiana [Arguments at the Seventh Circuit set for August 26]
  • Sevcik v. Sandoval, Nevada [Argument at the Ninth Circuit set for September 8]
  • Latta v. Otter, Idaho [Argument at the Ninth Circuit set for September]
  • Jackson v. Abercrombie, Hawaii [Argument at the Ninth Circuit set for September 8]
  • Burns v. Hickenlooper, Colorado [Argument date at the Tenth Circuit not set]

Cases petitioned or likely to be petitioned to the U.S. Supreme Court:

  • Kitchen v. Herbert, Utah [Tenth Circuit struck down marriage ban June 25]
  • Bishop v. United States, Oklahoma [Tenth Circuit struck down marriage ban July 18]
  • Bostic v. Schaefer, Virginia [Fourth Circuit struck down marriage ban July 28]

Same-sex couples can legally marry in 19 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.  For more information on this and other marriage equality cases across the country, visit www.americansformarriageequality.org

GOP Rep. David Jolly (Fla.) announced his support of gay marriage Monday in a statement to the Washington Post.

While Jolly said he personally believes in traditional marriage because of his Christian faith, he thinks the government should support both traditional and same-sex marriages. He also noted his support of Monroe County Circuit Judge Luis Garcia’s decision to order the county’s officials to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples last week.

“But as a matter of Constitutional principle I believe in a form of limited government that protects personal liberty,” Jolly said. “To me, that means that the sanctity of one’s marriage should be defined by their faith and by their church, not by their state. Accordingly, I believe it is fully appropriate for a state to recognize both traditional marriage as well as same-sex marriage, and therefore I support the recent decision by a Monroe County Circuit Judge.”

Garcia refused to allow gay couples to marry on Monday, citing an appeal by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. The AP reports:

Garcia initially ruled marriage licenses could be issued in Monroe County beginning Tuesday to gay couples. But that was blocked by an automatic stay triggered when Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi immediately filed notice that the state will appeal.

Bondi’s office filed papers later Monday urging Garcia to keep the stay in place and preserve the status quo until all appeals are sorted out and Garcia agreed. That means no gay marriages can take place while Garcia’s original ruling is reviewed by the Miami-based 3rd District Court of Appeal, which could take weeks or months to issue a decision.

Jolly, who won the special election to fill the seat left vacant by the late Rep. Bill Young in March, is the eighth current Republican member of Congress to support gay marriage, according to the Washington Post.

Source:  The Huffington Post, “GOP Rep. David Jolly Comes Out In Support Of Gay Marriage,”  By Posted: 07/21/2014 6:03 pm EDT Updated: 1 hour ago

President Barack Obama signed an executive order banning workplace discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees of federal contractors. | ASSOCIATED PRESS

President Barack Obama signed an executive order banning workplace discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees of federal contractors. | ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Monday signed an executive order banning workplace discrimination against millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees of federal contractors and the federal government.

The executive order has two parts: It makes it illegal to fire or harass employees of federal contractors based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, and it explicitly bans discrimination against transgender employees of the federal government. The part targeting federal contractors affects 24,000 companies employing roughly 28 million workers, or about one-fifth of the nation’s workforce.

“America’s federal contracts should not subsidize discrimination against the American people,” Obama said during remarks at the White House just before signing the order. “I’m going to do what I can with the authority I have to act.”

The provision affecting federal employees takes effect immediately, while employees of federal contractors will have their new protections in place by early next year, according to senior administration officials.

To the relief of the LGBT community, Obama did not include a sweeping religious exemption in the executive order — something the community feared could happen in the wake of last month’s Supreme Court ruling in the Hobby Lobby case.

Instead, Obama simply added the categories of sexual orientation and gender identity to an existing executive order that protects employees of federal contractors from discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. President George W. Bush amended that executive order in 2002 to allow religiously affiliated federal contractors to prioritize hiring employees of their particular religion, however, and Obama is keeping that language intact.

Obama is fulfilling a 2008 campaign promise with his action targeting federal contractors. His action affecting federal employees, meanwhile, responds to what some have described as a shortcoming in existing governmental rules. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled in 2012 that the federal ban on sex discrimination covers transgender discrimination, but those affected by that rule change say the government hasn’t been enforcing it and that they continue to be discriminated against.

It is still legal in 32 states to fire or harass someone at work for being LGBT. Congress could remedy that by passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which already passed the Senate. But Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has refused to bring the bill up for a vote in the House.

Source:  Huffington Post, “Obama Signs Executive Order On LGBT Job Discrimination,” by Jennifer Bendery, jen.bendery@huffingtonpost.com, Posted: 07/21/2014 10:50 am EDT Updated: 18 minutes ag0

US Attorney General Eric Holder speaks during a press conference at the US Justice Department in Washington on June 30, 2014. SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

If the Supreme Court decides to hear a case on same-sex marriage, the Department of Justice will file a brief urging the court to uphold the rights of gay couples to wed, Attorney General Eric Holder said in an interview that aired Sunday.

The possibility that the high court could soon decide the controversial issue at the federal level became more likely at the end of last year when a federal appeals court struck down a ban on same-sex marriage in Utah. That decision was stayed pending an appeal, but rather than making his case before the circuit court again, Utah’s attorney general took the argument directly to the Supreme Court, asking the justices to weigh in on the issue. Several other appeals courts across the country have heard similar cases that could also make their way to the High Court.

The Supreme Court could decide not to hear the case or to postpone it, but if they take it up, Holder told ABC’s “This Week” that the Justice Department will “file something…in support of same-sex marriage.”

“I think we will file a brief that is consistent with the actions we have taken over the past couple of years,” Holder said. He noted that the government stopped defending the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law banning federal recognition of same-sex marriages that was struck down last year by the Supreme Court, and that the federal government has begun extending federal marriage benefits to same-sex couples.

“We are proud of what we have done,” Holder said. “When you have differentiations that are made on the basis of sexual orientation, they should be subject to heightened scrutiny. That being the case, I think a lot of these measures that ultimately will come before the Court will not survive a heightened scrutiny examination.”

Holder, who has been President Obama’s attorney general since the administration assumed power in 2009, recently described the fight for gay rights as the “defining civil rights challenge of our time.”

Denver Clerk and Recorder Debra Johnson was beaming as she awaited the first couple to walk through the doors.

“It’s so gratifying,” she said. “I’m so excited. I was just talking with someone on the phone, and I said, ‘I didn’t think it would ever happen in my lifetime.’ “

Johnson began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples Thursday, just hours after Boulder District Court Judge Andrew Hartman rejected a request by the state to stop the Boulder clerk from continuing to do so. Hartman’s ruling has potentially thrown open the doors as elected county clerks across the state consider whether they will begin issuing the licenses, despite the risk that they may later be declared invalid.

The ruling was the second defeat in two days in Colorado Attorney General John Suthers’ effort to defend the state’s voter-approved ban on gay marriage.

Suthers, who filed the lawsuit against the Boulder clerk’s office, issued a statement that said the issue “cries out for resolution by the state’s highest court.”

Gov. John Hickenlooper said in a statement that the decision “puts Colorado on the right side of history” and urged the attorney general not to appeal the ruling. He added that if Suthers felt he must appeal, he should go to the Colorado Supreme Court.

Boulder County Clerk and Recorder Hillary Hall’s office has issued 123 licenses to gay couples since the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a Utah ban on same-sex marriages last month. Hartman said the AG’s office failed to prove that Hall’s actions have harmed the couples or the state.

“The State makes assertions that Clerk Hall’s disobedience irreparably harms the people by causing loss of faith in the rule of law,” Hartman said. “However, the State has made nothing but assertions. An alternate public response is that the people of Colorado laud Clerk Hall for her pluck and/or condemn the Attorney General for his tenaciousness.”

Johnson welcomed Samantha Getman, 33, and Victoria Quintana, 23, at Denver’s Wellington E Webb Building. They were the first of 17 couples who obtained a license Thursday.

“Whether they say it’s invalid or not, we’re married,” Getman said.

Johnson also saw a familiar couple.

"Anna Simon (L) and Fran Simon share a kiss as son Jeremy stands in the middle,  at the counter to get their license at the Denver County clerk's office where they began issuing same sex marriage licenses July 10, 2014. They are the first official married couple  as they self solomized at the office. They are the first to go on record with the Denver County clerk's office. (Photo by John Leyba/The Denver Post)"

“Anna Simon (L) and Fran Simon share a kiss as son Jeremy stands in the middle, at the counter to get their license at the Denver County clerk’s office where they began issuing same sex marriage licenses July 10, 2014. They are the first official married couple as they self solomized at the office. They are the first to go on record with the Denver County clerk’s office. (Photo by John Leyba/The Denver Post)”

Fran and Anna Simon, who have been together for 11 years, arrived with their 7-year-old son, Jeremy. They were the first couple to get their civil union and had a ceremony at the building May 1, 2013.

On Thursday Fran and Anna were first again, as they exchanged vows and signed their certificate, becoming the first same-sex couple to be married and recorded in Denver.

“I’ll love, honor and respect you … be your wife for the rest of my days,” Anna vowed to Fran.

Hall acknowledged that her court battle continues.

 

Source: The Denver Post, “Boulder ruling opens doors for same-sex marriage licenses,” By Jordan Steffen, Jon Murray and Kieran Nicholson, Posted:   07/10/2014 10:55:37 AM MDT | Updated:   about 4 hours ago

 

20140710__Denversamesexmarriage~p1

First same-sex couple to obtain a marriage license in Denver, Colorado on Thursday, July 10, 2014. (Kieran Nicholson, The Denver Post)

The Denver County clerk’s office on Thursday began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, just hours after a Boulder judge rejected a bid by the state to block a similar move there.

The first couple, Samantha Getman, 33, and Victoria Quintana, 23, got their license shortly before 2 p.m. They were far outnumbered by reporters, photographers and activists.

Clerk and Recorder Debra Johnson’s decision came after a Boulder County judge said he would allow Boulder’s clerk to continue issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, rejecting a request from Attorney General John Suthers to issue an injunction.

Johnson said on her Twitter account: “FINALLY! We can issue marriage licenses to ALL loving couples here in CO. Our Office will be issuing licenses till 4:30 pm today.”

Earlier Thursday, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock told Post journalists during a meeting that he would back any decision Johnson made about issuing licenses to same-sex couples.

“As a city, we have stood together against injustice and for the rights of all people,” Hancock said in a statement. “Today, I fully support Clerk and Recorder Debra Johnson in her issuing of marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples who simply want the freedom to be united with the ones they love. I stand proudly with her as we take another step toward marriage equality for every single resident of this great city.”

Just after noon, Denver clerk’s spokesman William Porter said no same-sex couple had yet arrived to apply for a license.

When Boulder County Clerk and Recorder Hillary Hall began issuing same-sex marriage licenses on June 25, Johnson had said Denver would hold off until officials felt they had the legal authority to follow suit.

On Thursday, though, Porter said Johnson decided on a change in course in consultation with city attorneys, following the new Boulder ruling and the outcome of another lawsuit naming Johnson. Couples in Denver and Adams counties challenged the state’s same-sex marriage ban in Adams County court, and a judge ruled Wednesday that the ban is unconstitutional.

But in that case, Judge C. Scott Crabtree issued an immediate stay in his ruling, pending the state’s expected appeal.

The Boulder ruling Thursday gave Denver legal cover, in officials’ view.

“Now, thanks to Clerk Hall’s bravery, we can issue licenses today,” Porter said.

He added: “We view this not only as the legal green light, but we’re thankful that we can finally provide this fundamental right. We’re one step closer to marriage equality, but this is not the end of the journey.”

In the Boulder ruling on a temporary restraining order request, Judge Andrew Hartman wrote that the validity of any marriage licenses issued by the Boulder clerk’s office to same-sex couples was conditional ultimately upon courts finding Hall had the proper authority.

That likely leaves any marriage license issued to same-sex couples in some legal limbo until higher courts rule on the validity of Colorado’s gay marriage ban.

The Denver clerk’s office is on the first floor of the Wellington E. Webb Municipal Office Building, 201 W. Colfax Ave.

Denver Clerk and Recorder Debra Johnson is ready to hand out marriage license to same sex couples on Thursday, July 10, 2014. (Katie Wood, The Denver Post)

Denver Clerk and Recorder Debra Johnson is ready to hand out marriage license to same sex couples on Thursday, July 10, 2014. (Katie Wood, The Denver Post)

Source:  Denver Post, “Denver clerk begins issuing same-sex marriage licenses,” by Jon Murray and Kieran Nicholson, Posted:   07/10/2014 12:12:18 PM MDT | Updated:   24 min. ago

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