Nel's New Day

June 26, 2016

Marriage Equality Celebrates First Birthday

Happy First Anniversary

One year ago today, the Supreme Court declared marriage equality the law of the land. The last year has not seen an easy transition everywhere.  Chaos continued the day after the Supreme Court ruling:

  • Mississippi said the decision was not “effective immediately”; the state AG said that they were waiting for a lower court ruling.
  • The Alabama Supreme Court chief justice, Roy Moore, said that “the U.S. Supreme Court [has] no legal authority to redefine marriage” and that the decision may be invalid because two of the SCOTUS  justices voting for the majority opinion didn’t recuse themselves.
  • Louisiana AG said that the state would not be issuing marriage licenses to same-gender couples because there was no “mandate or order making [the] decision final and effective.”
  • Utah tried to stop the state from issuing any marriage licenses.
  • Texas AG Ken Paxton described the ruling as “a judge-based edict that is not based in the law.” He told clerks that they didn’t have to issue licenses to same-gender couples and judges didn’t have to marry them.
  • The Kentucky governor ordered marriage licenses to be immediately changed to implement the new ruling, but that didn’t stop county clerk Kim Davis to refuse to issue them to same-gender couples. Confusion reigned after the state changed from a Democratic to a Republican governor midway through the process.
  • South Dakota AG Marty Jackley ordered the state to honor the ruling “absent further direction,” but it might take a “reasonable period of time” to implement it.
  • Tennessee legislature attempted to “nullify” the Supreme Court ruling in their state.

Freedom for same-gender couples to marry has stoked the GOP presidential campaigns this year. Current “presumptive” candidate Donald Trump, who brags about how he’s the best candidate for LGBT people, has promised to overturn the Supreme Court ruling. Trump knows that without the evangelical vote, he has no chance of being elected president. His most recent pandering came from a gathering of 1,000 evangelicals where he talked about how much more religious he is than Hillary Clinton.

 “We don’t know anything about Hillary in terms of religion. Now, she’s been in the public eye for years and years, and yet there’s no – there’s nothing out there.”

Trump’s accusation demonstrates that he knows as little about Hillary Clinton as he does about foreign policy, successful business practices, and universities. Clinton has spoken about her Methodist faith many times, including speeches about her views on Christianity and the Bible in Iowa. As a senator, she was also part of a Christian prayer group with several Republicans. Trump’s inaccurate statements match the comments he made about the president’s birth in Kenya and being a Muslim.

At the same meeting, Trump urged people not to pray for their leaders because they are “selling Christianity down the tubes.” Instead they should “pray to get everybody out to vote for one specific person.” This statement comes close to violating federal tax law because tax-exempt places of worship and ministries cannot legally intervene in political elections.

Trump also claims that he’s more Christian than other people. Yet he couldn’t think of a scripture important to him, saying that this is “private.” When asked whether he prefers the New or Old Testament, he said, “Both.” For several weeks, he was ridiculed for saying “Two Corinthians” instead of “Second Corinthians.”

James Dobson is trying to build Trump’s reputation among evangelicals by claiming that he is now a “born again” Christian, but Trump’s new campaign manager, Paul Manafort, refuses to talk about the recent “conversion.”

To prove his evangelical cred, Trump announced his new “executive board convened to provide advisory support to Mr. Trump on those issues important to Evangelicals and other people of faith in America.” At the top of the list is Michele Bachmann; the other 20 on the board are men. This was one week after Trump announced that he was the LGBT community’s new best friend. Those two categories mix together like oil and water. He’s also promised to require department store employees to say “Merry Christmas” and fight restrictions against public employees, such as school coaches, against leading Christian prayers on the field. He has no control over either of these areas, but evangelicals may not know this. Nor can he erase marriage equality unless he gets enough Supreme Court justices to do what he tells them.

clela rorex 1974There are many touching stories about same-gender marriages, but my favorite may be the one about the couple who waited 41 years before their Colorado marriage was declared legal by the federal government. In 1975, a young, relatively new county clerk, Clela Rorex (right), issued a marriage license to Richard Adams and Anthony Sullivan in Colorado after checking with District Attorney Alex Hunter.

 

sullivan adams met in 1971Adams and Sullivan (left) had met four years earlier when Sullivan was traveling around the world. Falling in love, Adams wanted permanent residency for Sullivan, an Australian, so they could stay together.  Colorado had no laws against same-gender marriage, but the state AG declared their marriage invalid. Nearly 40 years later, Rorex insisted that the six licenses she issued to same-gender couples in 1975 are valid despite the continued statements from the state AG that they were not. “We never felt that those licenses were invalidated,” she said. “They were never taken to court or challenged on any validity issues.” The licenses were never rescinded.

Yet the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) denying Sullivan’s appeal in a letter that stated: “You have failed to establish that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots.” A second letter stated that the green card petition was denied because neither party was able to perform female functions in a marriage. After the 9th Circuit Court refused to hear the couple’s case, they left everything behind and moved to Europe because the U.S. intended to deport Sullivan.

Fed up with living as paupers, they quietly moved to Los Angeles eleven months later, and Sullivan hid. After Adams was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2010, their lawyer advised them to go to Washington state and get married there in case the government refused to recognize the 35-year-old Colorado license. The day before they were scheduled to go to Washington in 2012, Adams died at the age of 65.

Tony Sulllivan (right)Adams and Sullivan (right) were the first gay couple to sue the government for recognition of their marriage. After DOMA was overturned, 40,000 binational same-gender couples were eligible for immigration rights. Sullivan kept fighting for recognition of their marriage so that he could receive a green card. After DOMA was struck down two years ago today, it was too late for the couple.

Yet Sullivan sees their story as a victory. “They never managed to separate us,” he said. Their story has been made immortal in the documentary, Limited Partnership: A Love Story That Defined a Movement. Anthony Sullivan received his green card as a widower on April 21, 2016—exactly 41 years after his marriage to Richard Adams. The White House also “asked” the Director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to issue a written apology to the couple.

clela 2Clela Rorex was at Out Boulder’s annual garden party to hear the announcement. At 74, Sullivan could not attend. He wrote that it was never about the green card.

“I was after being able to stay with the person I loved. It was quite a journey. Together, we made something of it rather than it just being an aberration in history. The government acknowledged we were right. It meant our lives hadn’t been wasted. We had lives that changed the world.”

Three awards were announced at the Out Boulder event.

  • The Clela Rorex “Allies in Action” award to lawyer Jean Dubofsky, who successfully argued against Colorado’s Amendment 2.
  • The Jack and Jean Hodges “Allies in Action” award to John Hoffman for his work with schools, including sharing his story with students as a “Speaking Out” panel member. Hoffman’s principal had silenced him in the 1990s for telling his students that he was gay.
  • The inaugural “Ignite and Inspire” youth award to Boulder High student Gabriela Bell—member of the Boulder Valley Safe Schools Coalition, president of Boulder High’s Gay Straight Alliance, and member of the Boulder Youth Advisory Board.

We can only hope that with people like this, we can fight the Donald Trumps and have many more anniversaries of marriage equality in the United States.

April 27, 2015

Same-Sex Marriage = Equal Rights

Forty years ago, a young clerk in Boulder (CO) gave marriage licenses to six same-sex couples before the state attorney general discontinued the practice. Clela Rorex made history, and one couple, Anthony Corbett Sullivan and Richard Frank Adams, made more history when they sued the government after the U.S. government denied an application for Sullivan, an Australian, to stay in the United States although he was married to a citizen. The response on the denial read, “You have failed to establish that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots.”

The 9th Circuit Court ruled against Adams’ suit to obtain an immigrant visa for Sullivan, stating that Colorado might recognize the marriage but the federal government would not. The couple did not quit: Sullivan filed a new suit, arguing that his deportation constituted an extreme hardship because ending his relationship with Adams would “cause him personal anguish and hurt.” He also wrote that his deportation to Australia would be an undue hardship “because homosexuals are not accepted in that society and because the members of his own family who live in Australia have turned against him.”

The author of the opinion against Sullivan in the same court was Anthony Kennedy, the same Kennedy who is one of nine U.S. Supreme Court justices to hear tomorrow’s arguments on legalizing marriage equality. Kennedy justified his rejection of Sullivan’s arguments:

“Even if all of Sullivan’s arguments are accepted at face value, they do not necessarily constitute a showing of extreme hardship as the term is defined in the immigration laws. Deportation rarely occurs without personal distress and emotional hurt.”

A dissenting judge explained that this case was different: “Most deported aliens can return to their native lands with their closest companions. But Sullivan would be precluded from doing so because Adams allegedly would not be permitted to emigrate to Australia.” That judge, however, was in the minority.

The story of Adams and Sullivan is the subject of a documentary, Limited Partnership, that airs on public television’s program Independent Lens on June 15, 2015.

The U.S. Supreme Court avoided hearing any same-sex marriage cases until two of them appeared in 2013, one about California’s Prop 8 and the other connected to declaring that New York’s Edie Windsor is legally a widow after her female partner died. Although SCOTUS accepted the 1972 Baker v. Nelson case in 1975 about two Minnesota men suing to be married, it dismissed the suit “for want of a substantial federal question.”

Rorex wasn’t the first clerk to permit a marriage license for a same-sex couple when she started doing this in March 1975. The first recognized marriage license for a same-sex couple was in Maricopa County (AZ) two months earlier when the person behind the counter issued the license because Arizona had no law banning same-sex couples. An Arizona judge declared the license invalid by citing the book of Genesis, and the gay couple did not pursue it further. The Arizona legislature than banned marriage equality.

Adams and Sullivan, however, were the first same-sex couple who took the matter to the courts after their marriage was declared invalid.

Until 1973, when Maryland passed the first ban on marriage equality, no state had any restriction on gender in a marriage statute.

After Rorex started handing out marriage licenses to same-sex couples, a man showed up with his horse, Dolly, and asked for a marriage license for the two of them. Rorex asked the horse’s age and then denied the application because, at 8 years old, Dolly was too young to marry without her parents’ written consent.

Talking about giving same-sex couples marriage licenses, Rorex said:

“If I had the opportunity to do it over again, I would do it with more conviction this time. Then I knew nothing about gay and lesbian relationships. I only knew one gay man. But I knew it was the right thing to do. My only regret in this is that people with long-term loving relationships still can’t get married. I now know several gay and lesbian couples who have been together for years. They reaffirm to me that this is an issue of human rights, civil rights. All the fanatical hatemongering about it is frightening and infuriating.”

A 2011 interview with Rorex, 70, is available here.

Adams leftThe couple denied marriage rights because of Kennedy’s ruling stayed together until Adams (left) died in 2012. Sullivan, 73, still has the license and the “faggot letter.” He tells about pursuing the lawsuit until Kennedy ruled in 1985 that Sullivan could be deported, a decision that led the couple to fly to London and move to Northern Ireland. About their 41-year relationship, Sullivan said, “Not to get sloppy, but he meant everything to me, and I meant everything to him.” This statement resonates with millions of same-sex couples.

An ironic part of Kennedy’s opinion against the couple is that Kennedy went on to author the protection of LGBT citizens in Romer v. Evans (1996); the abolition of anti-homosexual sodomy laws in Lawrence v. Texas (2003); and the striking down of a vital piece of the federal DOMA in United States v. Windsor (2013).

After trying other methods of keeping Adams in the United States, the couple had gone to Rorex after the Advocate published an article about her giving a marriage license to a gay couple. The newly-hired clerk found nothing in the law to stop her, and a county attorney agreed. She said that she didn’t know anyone from the LGBT community, but she sensed the same discrimination as against women.

At their first news conference after getting married, a reporter asked Sullivan, “Oh, and what is it that either of you do in bed?” He answered, “If you tell me what you and your wife do in bed, I’ll be happy to tell you what we do in bed.”

Lonely for their home in the United States and Adams’ family, the couple moved back to the states where Sullivan lived in what he calls the “immigration closet.” He worked as the building manager and paid his taxes. Sullivan’s immigration status is still unsettled because he refused to marry Adams—again. He maintains that “Richard and I have never budged on the concept that the Boulder marriage was legitimate—it’s still in the books.” Friends persuaded the reluctant couple to go to Washington state for a wedding in December 2012, but Adams died of lung cancer the next day.

Since then, Sullivan received a work permit and later a letter from the government after he wrote President Obama. “I requested, basically for Richard, an apology for the faggot letter, because I felt that as an American citizen, he didn’t deserve to have that on his record,” Sullivan said. “Because he loved his country.” León Rodriguez, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the successor to the INS, responded:

“This agency should never treat any individual with the disrespect shown toward you and Mr. Adams. You have my sincerest apology for the years of hurt caused by the deeply offensive and hateful language used in the November 24, 1975, decision and my deepest condolences on your loss.”

Sullivan now has a widower’s petition pending before the agency. He will be in Washington, D.C. tomorrow for the Supreme Court’s marriage equality argument in a case that will decide the fate of millions of people in the United States–same-sex couples and their children. Adams and Sullivan’s story is just one that shows the inequities in marriage.

marriagemap

A patchwork collection of laws from courts, legislatures, and popular vote give rights to some same-sex couples but not all. Today, same-sex couples can be married in 37 states and Washington, D.C. with full state rights and many federal benefits. Some of the other 13 states allow them marital and federal rights if they were married in another states with marriage equality; some of them don’t. The Supreme Court will decide whether all people in same-sex marriages deserve the same rights as those given opposite-sex couples.

Clela Rorex said: “My toes and fingers are crossed,” Rorex says. “It just has to go forward. We cannot have piecemeal civil rights in our country. And to me, marriage equality is a civil rights issue. It’s a human rights issue.”

It’s time for LGBT people to get one of their constitutional rights—legal marriage.

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