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Equality news round-up: Virginia updates, and more

News from Virginia, Michigan, and more.

Continue 4 Comments January 28, 2014

Virginia Marriage Decision Could Come This Week

By Matt Baume

We have big news in Virginia this week, as AFER nears decision in the federal case there. A new ruling in Nevada could be the key to victory. Lawsuits also advance in Florida, Michigan and Oregon, and signature-gathering starts in Arkansas.

Virginia State Attorney General Mark Herring has announced that the state will no longer defend its marriage ban in court. This is a major shift in the state’s position, and it will have a big impact on AFER’s federal lawsuit. We had a hearing scheduled for Thursday of this week, but the announcement, the court ordered all parties to file new reports about whether oral argument is still warranted. Those reports were due on Friday of last week.

Now, the court could make any number of rulings at any time. They could decide to go ahead with the hearing this Thursday. Or they could skip the hearing altogether and rule right away. We could have a decision from the court at any time, so be on the lookout for major breaking news from Virginia.

Meanwhile, Virginia lawmakers have killed a marriage equality bill. House Republicans vetoed the bill in committee last week. That means that for now, AFER’s case is Virginia’s best shot at winning the freedom to marry.

The state of Nevada has filed a brief defending its marriage ban. It’s the usual language about protecting tradition and promoting biological parenting. These justifications have been soundly rejected by other courts. And more importantly, last week the Ninth Circuit ruled in a separate case that LGBTs are entitled to a higher level of judicial scrutiny. A previous court had ruled against equality in Nevada, but with this new standard of scrutiny, our chances of victory have significantly improved.

There’s a brand new lawsuit in Florida. Equality Florida and NCLR have sued the state on behalf of six couples. A survey last week shows support growing, at 47% to 44% opposed.

The legal team in Michigan is beefing up. The ACLU and GLAD have joined the case there, with a trial slated to start on February 25th. And two cases in Oregon have now been consolidated, which will hopefully expedite a decision.

A constitutional marriage ban continues to advance in Indiana. Last week a committee approved the measure. Now it heads to the full House, and from there to voters in November.

Organizers in Arkansas have launched a signature-gathering campaign to overturn that state’s marriage ban. They’ll need tens of thousands of signatures, and repeal will go before voters in 2016 at the earliest. Polling in Arkansas isn’t great. Last year, survey found just 36% support for marriage. And a new survey last week showed 22% for marriage, 24% for civil unions, and 50% for no recognition.

2 Comments January 27, 2014

Dueling Marriage Victories in the Midwest

By Matt Baume

A huge victory in Oklahoma this week, with yet another marriage ban declared unconstitutional. Now comes the appeal, in the same federal circuit as the Utah case. We’ll take a look at what to expect. Plus, more progress across the country, from Indiana to Texas to Idaho and Georgia.

We’ve won another major victory. This time it’s Oklahoma, where a federal court ruled that banning marriage equality is unconstitutional. As in other states, the court rejected the state’s arguments about encouraging responsible procreation.

For now, the decision is stayed, pending appeal to the 10th circuit. That’s the same circuit as Utah, which is also appealing a pro-equality ruling. The Utah case is moving very quickly, so it will probably be heard before Oklahoma’s appeal. Or the cases could be consolidated.

There’s also a new lawsuit to consider in Utah. The state had previously announced that it would not recognize the marriage licenses that it issued. Now the ACLU has now announced its plan to sue the state, forcing it to recognize those licenses.

And there’s new polling data in Utah. A Salt Lake Tribune Poll shows public opinion for and against equality tied at 48 percent. This reflects a slow but steady climb in support dating back over two decades of data.

Meanwhile, there are several additional states facing major decisions in the coming weeks. We’re just one week away from a hearing in AFER’s federal lawsuit in Virginia. Ohio has appealed a ruling that required the state to recognize marriages on death certificates. And a lawsuit in Texas will move ahead after a judge declined to consolidate it with two other cases. The next hearing in that case is in February.

There’s also a lawsuit in Idaho. Last week, State Attorney General Lawrence Wasden asked the court to dismiss the suit. Also last week, Idaho lawmakers approved a rule that would require married LGBT couples to file separate tax forms.

We heard testimony on a marriage ban last week in Indiana, and we could see a vote any day now. Lawmakers are expected to pass the ban, which would send it to voters for approval in November.

And organizers in Georgia have unveiled a marriage equality plan. Public support is relatively low, 32 to 60 percent in the last poll. So the plan calls for a three-to-five year, ten million dollar public education campaign. Currently, Georgia Equality is fundraising for an initial “Why Marriage Matters” outreach project.

3 Comments January 21, 2014

Support for Marriage Equality Sees Huge Jump in Utah

By Matt Baume

New polls show a dramatic shift in public opinion following marriage equality in Utah. But that’s hasn’t stopped the Supreme Court from blocking weddings — for now. We have new details about cases in Arizona, Missouri, and West Virginia. Plus, legislators introduce a new marriage ban in Indiana, but with fewer backers than expected.

Marriage equality is now on hold in Utah, but public support continues to rise. The US Supreme Court ruled that marriages must halt while the case makes its way through the appeals process. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals will receive briefs over the next few weeks, and then hear oral argument possibly as soon as March.

In the mean time, organizers are preparing to bolster their defense of last month’s pro-equality ruling. The National Center for Lesbian Rights has just joined the Utah case as a co-counsel. NCLR has successfully litigated numerous marriage suits, including the case that brought marriage equality to California in 2008.

It’s been about two years since we had an opinion poll in Utah on this issue. But a new survey shows a dramatic increase in public support, with 41 percent favoring marriage, 24 percent for civil unions, and just 31 percent opposed to any relationship recognition.

Arizona could be the next state to make marriage news. There’s a new lawsuit there, and Attorney Shawn Aiken is seeking a trial on the merits. That means providing testimony and evidence in the 10th circuit, just as AFER did in the 9th circuit with the Prop 8 case.

Legislators in Indiana have introduced a long-expected constitutional marriage ban. Although the bill has lost supporters since its last vote, it’s likely to pass and head to voters this fall.

There’s a new lawsuit in Missouri, but this time it’s from anti-gay groups. They’re suing the state over a policy that recognizes out-of-state licenses for tax purposes. Missouri’s tax laws are complicated: they’re tied to the federal government, which recognizes licenses. But the state also prohibits relationship recognition. Now it’s up to a judge to reconcile that contradiction.

Expect major news in several cases over the next few weeks. We have a conference this week in West Virginia, where three couples are suing for the freedom to marry. AFER’s case against Virginia’s marriage ban will get a hearing on January 30. And a case against Michigan’s marriage ban has a hearing coming up on February 25.

15 Comments January 13, 2014

We could still lose marriage in Utah and New Mexico

By Matt Baume

We end the year with big marriage wins in Utah and New Mexico. But those victories could still be overturned. We’ll have the latest on attempts to undo marriage in those states. We’ve also seen some major steps towards equality in Oregon, Ohio, Florida, Arkansas and Illinois. Plus, AFER has date for a hearing in its Virginia case.

Well Christmas came a little early this year, with marriage equality in Utah and New Mexico. This brings the total number of states with marriage to 18. Nearly 40% of Americans now live in a state where LGBT couples can marry.

During just the first week of marriage in Utah, clerks issued over twelve thousand marriage licenses. But this win isn’t final yet. Although state’s request for an emergency stay was denied by both the district court and an appellate court, they’re now working on an appeal to the US Supreme Court. We’re expecting that filing any day now.

As you might expect, polling in Utah is pretty grim. For now, most residents oppose relationship recognition. But as in every other state, support is steadily on the rise.

Public opinion is a bit stronger in New Mexico, where the state Supreme Court ruled this month in favor of marriage equality. And a slim majority of residents favored the freedom to marry in the most recent survey. But anti-equality activists have vowed to pursue a constitutional ban on marriage. It’s possible they could be successful, so we’ll be keeping a close eye on the situation there.

We had a few other victories over the holidays. A judge in Illinois has ruled that all couples facing terminal illness can marry immediately. Previously, they would have had to wait until the official start of marriage equality this summer. And a judge in Ohio ruled that the state must recognize marriages from out of state on death certificates. That narrow ruling could lead to further litigation to completely undo the state’s marriage ban.

The ACLU has filed a new lawsuit in Oregon. This is the second federal suit in Oregon, and the ALCU will seek to have them both combined. Organizers will also attempt to overturn the state’s marriage ban at the ballot box this November.

Equality Florida is working on a lawsuit as well, though they haven’t filed it yet. The group’s goal is to bring full marriage equality to the state by 2016.

A suit in Nevada has been slightly delayed. The next briefing deadline in Sevcik v Sandoval was just pushed back one month, to January 20. A judge in Arkansas has rejected a motion to dismiss a lawsuit there, so that suit will move ahead. And we have a hearing scheduled in AFER’s case against Virginia’s marriage ban. That’s scheduled for January 30.

36 Comments December 30, 2013

Next Steps After Australian Setback

By Matt Baume

We have a major setback this week in Australia, but there’s still a glimmer of hope. Marriage equality hearings are coming up in two unlikely states: Arkansas and Texas. An Oregon ballot measure passes a major hurdle, and organizers launch a new public outreach campaign on the east coast.

Well, it’s not the news we wanted. An Australian court has ruled that individual territories cannot enact marriage equality legislation. That ruling effectively nullifies the over two dozen marriages that happened in the Australian Capitol Territory last week.

But the good news is that the High Court of Australia also laid out a roadmap for enacting full federal marriage equality. According to the court, Parliament has the authority to allow gay couples to wed. That means that organizers can now put pressure on federal officials to bring marriage equality to a vote.

Meanwhile, England has set an official date for the start of marriage equality. Weddings in England and Wales can begin on March 29. So you’ve got about three months to plan your big British wedding.

Here in the states, the number of marriage equality lawsuits awaiting a decision continues to grow. Last week a judge in Arkansas held a hearing to determine whether he should dismiss a suit against the state’s marriage ban. Couples have also requested an injunction that would allow them to marry out-of-state to obtain recognition in Arkansas. There’s no timeline for a ruling there. It could come any day, or we could have a wait of several months.

A court in Texas has agreed to hear a suit against that state’s marriage ban. The hearing’s scheduled for February, so 2014 is already shaping up to be a very busy year for marriage.

Much of next year’s attention is likely to go to Oregon, where a repeal of the state’s marriage ban will go to voters. Last week, organizers announced that they’d gathered the required number of signatures to place the repeal on the ballot. Polling in Oregon is generally favorable, with a steady increase in support over the last few years. The most recent Public Policy Polling numbers are a year old, and show 54% support marriage equality to 40% opposed.

And finally this week, Pennsylvania has kicked off an education campaign to grow public support for marriage. The state has multiple lawsuits awaiting a ruling, so Freedom to Marry and the ACLU are capitalizing on the attention with a “Why Marriage Matters” campaign. Polling in Pennsylvania is not great. A Public Policy Polling Survey from May showed 45% support to 47% opposed. The next major legal milestone is a trial starting on June 9, so there’s lots of time to shift public opinion between now and then.

8 Comments December 17, 2013

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