Online Extra: Wedding Bell Blues: Same-sex marriage supporters seek president's backing at Supreme Court
by Seth Hemmelgarn
Same-sex marriage advocates are calling on President Barack Obama to file an amicus brief in the Proposition 8 case set to be argued at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Remarks that Obama made during his Monday, January 21 inaugural speech spurred the requests.
Among other LGBT-supportive comments he made during his speech, Obama said, "Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well."
Organizations that have helped push for marriage equality quickly sent messages urging people to tell Obama to file an amicus brief in the Supreme Court case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, the federal lawsuit seeking to overturn California's Prop 8 same-sex marriage ban. The state's voters passed the anti-gay measure in November 2008. After a federal appeals court upheld a district court judge's ruling that the law is unconstitutional, opponents of marriage equality appealed to the high court. Oral arguments are scheduled for March 26.
In a Tuesday, January 22 email blast titled "Our journey is not complete," Equality California Executive Director John O'Connor said, "For all of us who heard those powerful words yesterday, thankful and hopeful, we can now help President Obama take the next step on our journey, a journey that is incomplete until all Americans can marry the person that they love."
O'Connor asked supporters of the statewide LGBT lobbying group to send a message to the president urging him to file an amicus brief in the Prop 8 case.
"He knows that this is the path the country must take to achieve the promise of equality; take a moment to encourage his hand to follow his heart," O'Connor said.
In an interview, EQCA spokesman Steve Roth said more than 6,600 people have responded to O'Connor's recent message and a similar note that the organization distributed in December.
An amicus brief would carry symbolic value, noted EQCA spokesman Steve Roth.
"He's the president of the United States. While the Supreme Court is impartial, it does matter what he and the Justice Department have to say on these issues," Roth said.
Roth noted Obama's remarks last week weren't the first time he's voiced his feelings for marriage equality. He announced his full support of same-sex marriage last May.
"We're really heartened by this continued support, and we're hopeful that he will take further action with the amicus brief," Roth said. For more information on EQCA's efforts, visit http://www.eqca.org.
In a similar effort, the Facebook-based advocacy group Gay Marriage USA has launched a http://www.change.org petition calling on Obama to file a brief in the case.
The online organization also wants the administration "to strongly assert the unconstitutionality" of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriages. The Supreme Court is also set to hear arguments in a lawsuit seeking to undo that law.
"Both Prop 8 and DOMA continue to cause significant distress to the lives of millions of LGBT people with the denial of equal marriage rights to same-sex couples," the petition says. "President Obama has a tremendous opportunity to act on the beautiful words he expressed" in his inaugural speech. As of Monday, January 28, more than 4,300 people had signed the petition.
Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin also weighed in on behalf of the national LGBT lobbying organization.
"In his Inaugural Address yesterday, President Barack Obama called for the equal protection of our nation's laws for gays and lesbians families," Griffin said in a statement last Tuesday. "Now, as the United States Supreme Court prepares to hear a landmark marriage equality case on this same question, it seems only logical for the White House to take yet another important step toward fulfilling that promise of equality by filing an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs in Hollingsworth v. Perry."
Before taking over at HRC, Griffin founded Americans for Equal Rights, which filed the federal lawsuit against Prop 8.
In response to an emailed question about whether Obama would file an amicus brief in the Prop 8 case, White House director of specialty media Shin Inouye said, "The administration is not a party to this case. I would point you to the Justice Department, as this is a matter pending before the Supreme Court."
Spokespeople at the Justice Department couldn't be reached Monday, January 28.
Call for immigration reform
LGBT groups are also calling for action in another area involving same-sex couples. Several organizations released a joint statement Monday indicating they want Obama to address the needs of same-sex binational couples.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights, one of the organizations issuing the statement, noted that a bipartisan group of U.S. senators released a set of immigration reform principles Monday. Obama is expected to announce his immigration plans today (Tuesday, January 29).
"Any legislation must include the ability of couples in same-sex relationships to sponsor their spouse or permanent-partner in the same way opposite-sex couples have long been able to under current immigration law," the groups stated. Besides NCLR, other organizations that signed on to the release are Human Rights Campaign, Immigration Equality Action Fund, and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund.
A White House official declined to share details of what Obama's remarks might include, but said, "the president has long believed that Americans with same-sex partners from other countries should not be faced with the painful choice between staying with the person they love or staying in the country they love."
Wyoming sees progress for LGBT families
Wyoming Equality announced some mixed news for equality advocates Monday. According to the pro-LGBT organization, state representatives passed House Bill 168, which would create a domestic partner registry for both opposite- and same-sex couples in committed relationships, by a 7-2 vote.
The statewide group also announced, however, that HB 169, which would have allowed same-sex couples to marry, failed by a vote of 5-4
The vote on HB 168 was the first hurdle faced by the bill, which Representative Cathy Connolly (D) authored. The proposal could move to the full House as early as Tuesday.
Among other provisions, the bill would ensure that couples have the ability to make emergency medical decisions for each other.
In a statement, Wyoming Equality Chair Jeran Artery said, "Today marks the first time a bill has moved forward in the Wyoming legislature which would provide essential protections for LGBT families."
Divorce workshop February 5
Local lawyers and mediators will hold a workshop designed for same-sex couples whose relationships haven't worked out.
"Separating with hearts and smarts: Consensual dispute resolution in LGBTQ divorce" is set for 6 to 8 p.m., Tuesday, February 5 at Bananas, 5232 Claremont Avenue, Oakland. Entrance is $5. Preregistration is optional.
Heba Nimr, Charles Spiegel, and Dylan Miles will facilitate the workshop, which organizers say "is appropriate for people with and without kids who are in any stage of separation, as well as the friends, family, and professionals supporting these families."
For more information, visit http://www.ourfamily.org.
Wedding Bell Blues is an online column looking at various issues related to the marriage equality fight in California and elsewhere. Please send column ideas or tips to Seth Hemmelgarn at or call (415) 861-5019. Wedding Bell Blues appears every other Tuesday.
President Barack Obama is being urged to include LGBT people in immigration reform efforts.