Achieving LGBT Equality Through Litigation, Legislation, Policy, and Public Education

Issues: Marriage

“No one should be denied the opportunity to choose his or her spouse. It is a basic human right and deeply personal decision. Throughout history, we have only moved forward when society has distinguished between traditional values and valueless traditions. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is a valueless tradition that undermines the spirit of love and commitment that couples share and sends the wrong message to society. It is time for its repeal.” Representative Polis, co-sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act

The freedom to choose whether and whom to marry is a fundamental human right. Being excluded from this right not only deprives same-sex couples of critical legal protections, it also demeans and stigmatizes same-sex relationships and encourages anti-LGBT discrimination. Throughout history, governments have denied the right to marry in order to dehumanize particular groups. Today, the same is true of laws that exclude LGBT people from marriage. While not everyone in our community wishes to marry, everyone deserves the freedom to make this choice. As a community, LGBT people deserve to be treated with equal dignity and respect and to have equal protection of the laws.

NCLR is committed to assuring that LGBT couples who wish to marry are free to do so. As the past few years have dramatically illustrated, the battle to win this freedom will have a lasting impact on the pace and progress of all LGBT civil and human rights in this country—for generations. By demanding fairness and equality for our families, we have changed the terms of the debate and made unprecedented strides. NCLR is at the forefront of this historic fight.

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news & opinion

Press Release

NCLR, ACLU Welcome New Mexico Supreme Court Order Setting Hearing on Freedom to Marry for Same-sex Couples Statewide
09.06.13 (Albuquerque, NM, September 6, 2013)—Today, the New Mexico Supreme Court issued an order setting a hearing for October 23, 2013 to consider a request by the New Mexico Association of Counties that the court immediately decide whether New Mexico law permits same-sex couples to marry. All 33 county clerks in the state joined in the Association’s request that the Supreme Court resolve the issue.

Press Release

New Mexico Judge Orders Bernalillo and Santa Fe County Clerks to Issue Marriage Licenses to Same-Sex Couples
08.26.13 (Albuquerque, NM, August 26, 2013)—(Albuquerque, NM, August 26, 2013)—Today, Judge Alan Malott of the Second Judicial District Court of the State of New Mexico ordered the county clerks of Bernalillo and Santa Fe Counties to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Ruling in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of New Mexico, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), and local attorneys on behalf of same-sex couples seeking the freedom to marry in New Mexico, Judge Malott said that denying same-sex couples access to civil marriage violates the New Mexico Constitution. The court issued a judgment against the two county clerks and the State of New Mexico declaring that, to the extent New Mexico law prevents same-sex couples from marrying, “those prohibitions are unconstitutional and unenforceable.”

Press Release

New Mexico Woman Suffering from Life-Threatening Brain Cancer Asks Court to Let Her Marry Her Partner of 21 Years
08.21.13 (Santa Fe, NM, August 21, 2013)—Today, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico, the national ACLU, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) filed an emergency request with New Mexico’s Second Judicial District Court to allow a Pojoaque same-sex couple, Jen Roper and Angelique Neuman, to legally marry immediately because Jen suffers from a severe medical condition that may prove fatal in the near future. Jen suffers from a life-threatening form of brain cancer, and her health has deteriorated severely in the past few months. Today’s request seeks an emergency order from the court that would allow the couple to marry so that Angelique and their three children will be legally protected should Jen pass away.

Press Release

Federal Court Rules That Widow Is Entitled to Survivor Benefits From Deceased Wife’s Employer Plan
7.03.13 (Philadelphia, July 29, 2013)—Late Today, Judge C. Darnell Jones II of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ordered payment of death benefits to Jennifer Tobits, the widow of Sarah Ellyn Farley, under a profit-sharing plan administered by Farley’s employer, the law firm Cozen O’Conner P.C. The court held that because the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was recently struck down as unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court, federally-regulated retirement and benefit plans must recognize the legal marriages of same-sex couples for purposes of spousal benefits such as those due to Tobits.

Press Release

Same-Sex Couples Ask New Mexico Supreme Court to Protect Their Right to Marry
7.03.13 (Albuquerque, NM, July 3, 2013)—Late Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico, ACLU national, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), Albuquerque law firm Sutin, Thayer & Brown PC, and Albuquerque attorneys Maureen Sanders, Kate Girard, and Lynn Perls filed a writ of mandamus with the New Mexico State Supreme Court seeking a ruling on the issue of whether same-sex couples can marry in the State of New Mexico. The writ also asks the court to clarify that New Mexico respects the marriages of same-sex New Mexico couples who married in another state, which is necessary to ensure that those couples qualify for all of the federal programs that are now available to married same-sex couples as a result of the United States Supreme Court decision last week invalidating the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Press Release

NCLR Hails Historic Supreme Court Decisions Striking Down Federal Defense of Marriage Act and Restoring the Freedom to Marry in California
6.26.13 (San Francisco, CA, June 26, 2013)—Today, the United States Supreme Court struck down section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a 1996 law that prohibited the federal government from recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples for purposes of federal programs and benefits such as Social Security and immigration. In a separate decision today, the Court also ruled that the supporters of Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot initiative that stripped same-sex couples of the freedom to marry in California, did not have the legal right to appeal a 2010 decision by federal District Judge Vaughn Walker striking down that proposition as unconstitutional. The Supreme Court’s decision means that Judge Walker’s decision will be the final ruling in the case, clearing the way for same-sex couples to marry again in California in the near future.

Statement

NCLR Responds to U.S. Supreme Court Oral Argument in Defense of Marriage Act Case
Statement by NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell, Esq.
3.27.13—Today, the United States Supreme Court heard oral argument in a constitutional challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The Supreme Court heard 50 minutes of argument concerning the Court’s jurisdiction to hear the case and one hour of argument concerning the constitutionality of DOMA.

Statement

NCLR Responds to U.S. Supreme Court Oral Argument in Proposition 8 Case
Statement by NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell, Esq.
3.26.13—Today, the United States Supreme Court heard oral argument in the constitutional challenge to California’s Proposition 8. The Court heard one hour of arguments from attorneys supporting and opposing the constitutionality of Prop 8.

Press Release

Same-Sex Couples File Lawsuit Seeking the Freedom to Marry in New Mexico
3.21.13—Today, two same-sex couples seeking the freedom to marry filed a lawsuit in Albuquerque’s district court after they applied for and were denied marriage licenses by the Bernalillo County Clerk. The lawsuit claims that the New Mexico marriage statutes and New Mexico Constitution do not bar same-sex couples from marrying, and therefore the State of New Mexico should issue civil marriage licenses to any same-sex couple who applies for one. The couples are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of New Mexico, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), the Albuquerque law firm Sutin, Thayer & Browne, APC, and local cooperating attorneys Maureen Sanders, Lynn Perls, and Kate Girard.

Statement

NCLR Responds to U.S. Supreme Court Decision To Take Proposition 8 and Defense of Marriage Act Cases
Statement by NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell
12.7.12—Today, the United States Supreme Court announced that it will hear the challenge to California’s Proposition 8 and one challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Statement

NCLR Applauds Denial of En Banc Review of Ninth Circuit Decision Striking Down Proposition 8
Statement by NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell, Esq.
6.5.12—Today, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied review by a larger panel of judges of that Court’s February 7, 2012 decision striking down Proposition 8 as unconstitutional. Proposition 8 is the 2008 measure that stripped same-sex couples of the right to marry in California. The Ninth Circuit’s February decision held that Proposition 8 violates the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution because it "serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples."

Statement

Federal Court of Appeals Strikes Down Anti-Gay Defense of Marriage Act
Statement by NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter, Esq.
5.31.12—Today, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional. The court held that DOMA, which prevents the federal government from recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples even in states where those marriages are valid, violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws.

Press Release

Maryland Court Recognizes Out-of-State Marriage of Same-Sex Couple Represented by NCLR and Lambda Legal
5.18.12—The National Center for Lesbian Rights and Lambda Legal applaud a ruling today by the Maryland Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state, granting a divorce to a same-sex couple, Virginia Cowan and Jessica Port, who were married outside of Maryland. The 7-0 unanimous ruling declares that married same-sex couples are entitled to divorce under Maryland law.

from the docket

Victory! (California)

Hollingsworth v. Perry
On May 22, 2009, two same-sex couples filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, challenging California’s Proposition 8, which amended the California Constitution to prohibit marriage by same-sex couples.

Victory! (California)

In re Marriage Cases
NCLR was lead counsel on behalf of same-sex couples, Equality California, and Our Family Coalition in In re Marriage Cases, the marriage equality case decided favorably by the California Supreme Court on May 15, 2008. This was the first decision to hold that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry and that LGBT people are subject to the highest level of protection under the California Constitution. NCLR’s co-counsel in the case were Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe LLP; Lambda Legal; the ACLU; and the Law Office of David C. Codell.

Victory! (District of Columbia)

Jackson v. D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics 
NCLR is a member of the Campaign for All D.C. Families, a diverse coalition working to achieve marriage equality for same-sex couples in the District of Columbia. Since July 6, 2009, D.C. recognizes the marriages of same-sex couples performed in other jurisdictions. On December 15, 2009, the D.C. City Council passed “The Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009,” which permits same-sex couples to marry.

Respect for Marriage Act (DOMA Repeal Act)

The so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) was enacted in 1996 amid a wave of anti-gay sentiment and discriminates against same-sex couples by purporting to bar any federal recognition of same-sex couples or individuals who are validly married under state law. Under DOMA, the federal government denies married same-sex couples the rights and benefits provided to married heterosexual couples. DOMA also purports to provide states with the authority to refuse to give full faith and credit to the marriages of same-sex couples from other states.

On September 15, 2009, the Respect for Marriage Act was introduced in the House by Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO). The bill had 87 co-sponsors.

The bill would repeal both sections 2 and 3 of DOMA. Section 2 creates an exception to the full faith and credit clause for married same-sex couples. The Respect for Marriage Act would eliminate that provision, but it would leave each state free to decide whether to recognize marriages of same-sex couples from other states. Section 3 excludes same-sex spouses from all federal benefits and protections, including Social Security survivor benefits, the right to file joint taxes, and the right to petition for permanent residence for a foreign spouse. The Respect for Marriage Act would require that the federal government treat all married couples equally.

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