Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Equal Marriage Loses an Ally

We lost a true friend and ally in the fight to secure lesbian and gay marriage rights when Sue Flood, former Town Clerk for the City of Attleboro, Massachusetts, recently passed away.

Sue was a courageous supporter of gay marriage, committed to issuing marriage licenses for Massachusetts and Rhode Island same-sex couples even when other Massachusetts towns became reluctant to do so.

One such couple was Wendy Becker and Mary Norton, Rhode Island residents and plaintiffs in GLAD's case Cote-Whitacre v. Dep't of Public Health, who were fortunate to have Sue shepherd them through the process of applying for a Massachusetts marriage license.

Sue will be missed by many.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Massachusetts Backs Marriages of New York Couples

New Yorkers Tanya Wexler and Amy Zimmerman married in Massachusetts in May, 2004

New York gay and lesbian couples who married in Massachusetts before July 6, 2006 - the date a New York court explicitly prohibited marriage between same-sex couples in that state - have a fully valid marriage. That was the final judgment made by a Massachusetts court on May 10.

GLAD attorney Michele Granda, who argued the case, calls the ruling "a cloud that’s been removed from these marriages. There shouldn’t be any question that those marriage licenses are worth the paper they’re printed on, and that Massachusetts fully backs the currency.”

Today's New York Times ran an article about the decision and what it means for New York couples.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Marriage Equality Press Conference

Here is a video of the press conference following last Monday's Connecticut Supreme Court hearing.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Happy Anniversary!

Today is the third anniversary of equal marriage in Massachusetts. After GLAD's landmark court victory in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, loving, committed same-sex couples in Massachusetts began legally marrying on May 17, 2004.

We don't love each other more because we can legally marry. No law or court decision can do that. But marriage does mean we have respect and recognition, and we can better protect our relationships and our families. Legal marriage means more people being treated as full and equal citizens.

Today is a day for celebration in Massachusetts. And it's also a day to remember that work must continue to gain full equality for lesbian and gay citizens throughout New England, and throughout the country.

Equal Marriage in the News

Today at 4pm NPR's All Things Considered presents a segment on civil unions, and the fact that more couples are saying "thanks, but no thanks!" to what they see as a second-class substitute for the real deal. You can listen live at wbur.org

You can also read some interesting coverage of Monday's court case in the Hartford Courant:

A Word that Also Divides Us
A Look at the Couples Challenging Connecticut's Marriage Laws
Arguing Over a Word

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Fighting for Dignity and Respect

After yesterday's oral argument at the Connecticut Supreme Court, GLAD Attorney Ben Klein and the eight plaintiff couples in the case participated in a press conference on the courthouse steps.

Ben opened by saying: "Today the plaintiffs argued for the right to the same treatment and dignity that all other families get. Under the Connecticut constitution, we believe that they are entitled to the same respect and dignity of any other couple."

Lead plaintiffs Beth Kerrigan and Jody Mock then took the microphone to explain how important it is to them and their children to be able to say that they are married, and how heartened they were to hear one of the Justices bring up that point in court. "We have five year old boys in kindergarten, and they always ask us 'are you married?' And it breaks our heart to have to say the truth, which is that we're not. But we're fighting for that."

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Couples Behind the Case

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit sat in court listening to arguments on both sides today. The couples have been together for between 9 and 31 years and are raising a total of 14 children between them; some have faced serious illness and some are now facing retirement. You can read the stories of each of these couples at GLAD's website.


Court was adjourned following Ben's (shown in photo above - front - with some of the plaintiffs) closing statements.

If you missed it live, you can view the webcast of today's court proceedings on demand now at www.ctn.state.ct.us.


In closing, Ben focused his argument on the fact that marriage is more than the sum of all the tangible rights and benefits associated with the word “marriage.” Rather, the ability to say that you are married is one of the benefits of marriage. There is no adjective or verb associated with the word “civil union” and gay and lesbian couples and families deserve a legal status that let’s them convey to the world that they have access to the same level of equality enjoyed by CT’s other citizens.

Ben also rebutted the state’s argument that the legislature could have rationally believed that civil unions are better because they are more likely to be granted recognition in other states. Ben said that the premise was all wrong. Only a few states have civil unions but all states have marriage recognition laws. No one can prejudge whether a marriage will be respected in whole or in part because the outcome of a marriage recognition analysis might turn on what aspect of marriage someone needs to have recognized, as well as potentially competing public policies. For example, a state may respect a marriage to enforce child support obligations arising from a marriage because the state policy of protecting children surmounts any competing public policy.


After Ben's return to the podium, Justice Borden revisited the issue of whether the plaintiffs should be considered a suspect class or a quasi-suspect class. Are gays and lesbians politically powerless now? Or do we look at whether they historically have been politically powerless? What lens do we look at in applying that part of the test?

Ben responded that, to answer this, the Court has to look through an historical lens, to reflect the reality that systemic discrimination does not appear in a short timeframe. And also a national lens, because Connecticut citizens are affected by what happens nationally. There have been gains, but gays and lesbians as a group are still subject to the control of the majority, and there is still inequality.


Attorney Judith Ravel, representing Dorothy Bean, the town clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to the plaintiff couples, gave a brief statement for her client. Mrs. Bean, she said, did the only thing she could do, which is to follow the instructions of the attorney general.

The Justices didn't question her.

Still, she said with emphasis, "Mrs. Bean got served, and she didn't like it."


Rosenberg rounded out her statement by saying that changing the defintion of marriage in the state of Connecticut should be a matter for the Legislature.


Rosenberg advanced several arguments about why limiting marriage to different-sex couples related to a rational state interest, including maintaining the traditional meaning of marriage, promoting consitency with the laws of other states, the possibility that the rights associated with civil union will be recognized by states prohibiting marriage for same-sex couples.

Justice Borden asked whether the state relies at all on the "responsible procreation" argument; Rosenberg responded that although amici raised that argument, the state doesn't rest on it.

Rosenberg began her conclusion by stating that marriage is not a matter of constitutional law for the court to decide; rather, it's a legislative matter that should be decided by the people.

Justice Borden wondered about the analysis applied to the Virginia Military Institute case; Justice Norcott identified it as the McLaurin analysis, which may fall somewhere in between an intermediate analysis and strict scrutiny.

Justice Borden continued to ask whether Rosenberg thought it was important for all children, including the children of same-sex couples, to say that their parents are married. He also asserted that there is a good amount of evidence pointing to the equal parenting abilities of same-sex and different-sex couples.

In response, Rosenberg revisited her idea that the plaintiffs' feelings about the word marriage - valid as they may be - didn't lend themselves to a legal argument, and that that may be an issue for the Legislature.


Rosenberg resumed her remarks by arguing that rational basis--the "model of judicial restraint"--is the appropriate standard in this case.

Justice Borden, who had a similar dialogue with Ben, asked Rosenberg how she would balance between the Glucksberg cautionary tale (against overly broad definitions of marriage) and Lawrence's cautionary tale (against overly narrow defnitions of marriage).

Rosenberg responded that this case will change the definition of marriage in a radically different way than either of those cases.

Borden led Rosenberg to a discussion of the idea that, even in Goodridge, Justice Marshall acknowledged that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court acknowledged that it was, in fact, changing the defnition of marriage.


The Justices adjourned for their morning recess.

Just before leaving, they questioned Rosenberg about the level of scrutiny required for a suspect class argument, which she identified as strict scrutiny. But she maintained that the case was not about sexual orientation discrimination, since nothing prohibits gay men and lesbians from marrying a member of the opposite sex--they just choose not to do so.

Justice Borden questioned whether that was a realistic argument, if sexual orientation is a central part of their identity. And Justice Palmer, clearly troubled by the logic, responded that he thought it was a facile approach to a suspect class claim.


The justices began their questioning of Rosenberg by asking about the harms caused by marriage inequality. How, asked Justice Palmer, does the difference between civil union and marriage not stigmatize those relagated to civil unions? Appellate Judge Harper asked about how the denial of a marriage licence does not count as a constitutional harm.

Rosenberg maintained that, although she respects the plaintiff couples' feelings that they are stigmatized by not having access to marriage, those feelings do not go to the legal question at hand, i.e., whether the Legislature is required to use the word "marriage." She continued to say that there is nothing in the civil union law that is intended as derogatory for same-sex couples, and in fact civil unions indicate a step forward.

Justice Palmer asked if this "step forward" is the reason the defendants claim the plaintiffs can't satisfy the "political powerlessness" component of a suspect class argument. Justice Norcott interjected that, "if gay and lesbian folks in Connecticut had true political power, they'd have passed the bill across the street (in the legislative building), and we wouldn't be here."


The justices continued their rigorous questioning to Ben about the standard of scrutiny required by plaintiff's claims, based on being members of a suspect class (status that makes a law that categorizes on that basis suspect, and therefore deserving of greater judicial scrutiny).

Attorney Jane Rosenberg, assistant attorney general for the state began her opening statement on behalf of two defendants, the commissioner of the Department of Public Health, and the Department of Public Health. She began by talking about how Connecticut has been a leader in promoting civil rights, and stated that, after granting the rights and benefits of marriage to same-sex couples under a different name, the question remaining for the Court is "what's left?"


Borden asked about the argument of marriage as a "fundamental right."

Judge Harper asked if the plaintiffs differentiate the fundamental right to marriage and the right to marriage for same-sex couples.

Ben responded that there is no fundamental right to same-sex marriage; the plaintiffs seek the fundamental right to marriage.

Judge Harper responded that same-sex couples are not precluded from marriage, only precluded from same-sex marriage.

Ben argued that defining marriage as only between a man and a woman simply because it's always been between a man an a woman, is circular reasoning. You determine the right to marry by the attributes of that right, not by a traditional definition. The fundamental nature of the right is not dependent upon the gender of the two parties; it's the relationship of two legal equals by mutual consent, taking responsibility for each other, and protected by the state. As in Griswold, same-sex couples have the same interests in entering into those loving bonds that different-sex couples do.


Justice Borden suggested that civil unions are inclusive, rather than exclusive, in that they grant rights and privileges of a status that did not exist before.

Ben acknowledged that civil unions are a step forward, but that they don't comport with equality under the Connecticut constitution. The Court's role, Ben argued, is to figure out whether the Legislature drew the line in the right place, cutting same-sex couples off short of full marriage.

Borden refocused his questioning on the argument that civil unions are unconstitutional. The premise of cases the plaintiff's cite, such as Plessy v. Ferguson, was based on race. Analogies to those cases have to rest on an underlying premise that there is an illegal classification.

Ben responded that the classifications in the case are both sex and sexual orientation. Since sex and race both are invidious classifications, cases like Loving are applicable.


Ben Klein opened his argument by addressing the separate and unequal status of civil unions, referencing historical cases relating primarily to race-based discrimination and stating that separate institutions for minority groups are unheard of in US jurisprudence today. He further stated that the law understands that the legal mechanism of creating separate institutions has no purpose other than to mark one group of citizens as inferior and unworthy, and to deny them a set of rights available to other citizens.

While stating clearly that he did not wish to equate the civil rights struggle of gay and lesbian citizens with that of African-Americans, Ben made the point that race discrimination cases have become the paradigm for what the constitution requires, and, relevant to the sex-based discrimination claim in this case, that race- and sex-based classifications are analyzed exaclty the same under Article 1 Section 20 of the Connecticut constitution.

Justices Norcott and Borden, and Appellate Judge Harper, began the questioning during Ben's remarks by questioning the applicability of the civil rights cases cited by GLAD, including Brown v. Board of Education and Loving v. Virginia.

Connecticut Supreme Court: 9:46 AM

Yesterday was Mother's Day for Barbara and Robin Levine-Ritterman, one of eight plaintiff couples in our Connecticut equal marriage case. The couple's daughter Maya gave Robin a pair of earrings, and wrote a poem for Barbara. And, with the excitement of an 11-year-old who has learned something new to share, she rounded things out by playing them their Mother's Day PowerPoint presentation.

It was a week of celebrations and milestones for the couple, who last Thursday had the fifteenth anniversary of what they call their committment ceremony. In the years since that ceremony, they have had two children, Barb has fought and won a hard battle with cancer, and their love and committment--and their family--has grown stronger.

Barb and Robin join our other plaintiff couples this morning, along with GLAD and cooperating attorneys.

"This really is a great day," GLAD attorney Mary Bonauto told them before they headed to the courthouse. "We're utterly changing the debate in Connecticut."

Today's the Day for Equal Marriage

Oral Arguments begin in our Connecticut equal marriage case at 10am this morning. We'll soon be bringing you live updates from the courthouse right here, and you can also watch a live webcast of the proceedings, courtesy of Connecticut Network.

While you're waiting, you can read yesterday's New York Times article on the case, or today's article in the Hartford Courant.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Separate is Not Equal

On Monday, May 14, Senior Attorney Ben Klein will present oral arguments before the Connecticut Supreme Court in GLAD's case Kerrigan and Mock v. Connecticut Dept. of Public Health. The case challenges Connecticut's exclusion of lesbian and gay couples from full marriage equality.

For the first time, GLAD will be reporting on the proceedings live from the courthouse, here at our new blog created especially for this occasion. Check in with us starting at 10am on Monday for full coverage.

Since this is our first experiment with blogging at all - not to mention live from a courthouse - we expect that things won't go completely smoothly, so bear with us. But this case is so important we couldn't pass up the opportunity to bring you play-by-play coverage, along with a little GLAD commentary.

You will also be able to view a live webcast of the proceedings at

So, join us on Monday, join in the conversation, and give us your feedback - as GLAD argues for equality for all Connecticut citizens.