LGBT Rights

Same-Sex Couples Begin to Wed in New Jersey!

This past week, there has been some terrific news out of New Jersey! Last week, the New Jersey Supreme Court refused to postpone a lower court’s decision to allow a marriage equality law to go into effect. Subsequently, New Jersey Governor Chirs Christie dropped the state's case against marriage equality. As a result, today, the first same-sex couples in New Jersey have had the opportunity to get married! New Jersey has become the fourteenth state in the US to legalize civil marriage for same-sex couples. As more and more members of the American public are recognizing the importance of marriage equality for all couples, we recognize the tireless work of families and advocates over the past decade to affect this policy and culture change. With important progress in recent years, over 30% of people in the US now live in a state where there is marriage equality or recognition for out of state marriages between same-sex couples. Most importantly, we congratulate all the New Jerseyans who are now able to marry the people they love. For more information, please see Overbrook grantee Lambda Legal’s coverage here.

First Circuit Court Upholds Ruling that DOMA is Unconstitutional

Today marks another successful step towards dismantling the federal ban on marriage equality as the First Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s ruling that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional.A unanimous decision from a three-judge panel ruled that DOMA denies same-sex married couples the federal rights and privileges afforded to heterosexual couples across the United States despite the recognition of same-sex marriages in certain states. This decision responds to two cases; one brought by the state of Massachusetts and the other, Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, by Overbrook Grantee Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD).

GLAD is a New England-based organization using legal advocacy to fight discrimination against Americans based on sexual orientation, HIV status and gender identity and expression.The Overbrook Foundation specifically supports the organization for its work to challenge the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. Today’s decision is a victory for the movement to advance the freedom to marry in the United States. It is another important step as the momentum of support for same-sex marriage only continues to expand in 2011 and 2012.

While, as reporters, advocates and allies have recognized, this is only the first decision in the federal appeals process for the cases. Nevertheless, it does represent one more step towards these cases reaching the Supreme Court and the eventuality of the highest court ruling on the constitutionality of DOMA.Beyond advocacy work on the state-level to recognize and allow same-sex marriage, repealing DOMA continues to be an extremely important objective for the movement.We are proud to support GLAD as it continues with its excellent legal work and its determination to eventually eliminate this discriminatory federal law.

For more information, GLAD has published a press release and the court’s written decision after the case was decided. Mainstream media outlets, such as the New York Times, have also picked up this news of this decision and I am sure there will be more opinion and news coverage in the next few days.

New Hampshire House of Representatives Votes Against Proposed Legislation to Repeal Marriage Equality

Yesterday, New Hampshire’s House of Representatives voted against proposed legislation intended to repeal marriage equality by a margin of 211 to 116.New Hampshire’s state legislature had voted for marriage equality in 2009 when the legislature had a democratic majority, but the law has come under attack since Republicans gained control of the house in 2010. However, with strong bipartisan support, the house renewed its commitment to ensuring marriage rights to same-sex couples in New Hampshire, with both this vote and the rejection of the Bates Amendment, which would have led to a ballot measure in November proposing a return to civil unions for gay and lesbian couples instead of the current freedom of marriage.

As Overbrook grantee Freedom to Marry has reported, repealing marriage equality in New Hampshire was a top priority for anti-gay organizations this year.The excellent organizing and advocacy work by the bipartisan coalition of civic, religious and political leaders making up Standing Up For New Hampshire Families, in which Freedom to Marry participated, helped to thwart these efforts. Marc Solomon, National Campaign Director for Freedom to Marry, released the following statement: “Our opponents tried to abuse the 2010 Republican legislative sweep in New Hampshire to repeal the popular law.What they didn’t count on was the fact that the freedom to marry is becoming a bipartisan value, as resoundingly reflected in today’s vote.”He continued, “We are grateful to Governor John Lynch for his principled defense of the freedom to marry law, and to the many lawmakers—both Republican and Democrat—who listened carefully to their constituents and recognized that New Hampshire is stronger when all committed couples can share in the freedom to marry.”

Here at Overbrook, we are pleased to see a recognition of the human and civil rights of all families and couples in New Hampshire through this broad bipartisan support for marriage equality. While there will be many more battles on this issue around the United States, this vote represents the ever increasing support of Americans for marriage equality. The Overbrook Foundation congratulates to Freedom to Marry and the other members of the coalition on their hard work to ensure the decisive margin of victory in this vote and to open the hearts and minds of both politicians and constituents to the critical importance of preserving marriage equality for all.

For more information, please see the blog from Freedom to Marry and a blog post from Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), another Overbrook grantee involved with the coalition of advocates working to preserve civil marriage for same-sex couples in New Hampshire.

Major Step Forward for Marriage Equality

A federal appeals court on Tuesday declared California's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional but agreed to give sponsors of the bitterly contested, voter-approved law time to appeal the ruling before ordering the state to resume allowing gay couples to wed.

The three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that a lower court judge correctly interpretedthe U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court precedents when he declared in 2010 that Proposition 8 – a response to an earlier state court decision that legalized gay marriage – was a violation of the civil rights of gays and lesbians.

"Proposition 8 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," states the opinion written by Judge Stephen Reinhardt, one of the court's most liberal judges.

It is likely that this case will eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court. At the same time, other cases challenging the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (denying Federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples) are also working their way toward consideration by the Supreme Court. The rulings emerging from these cases; the work of Overbrook grantees to advance marriage-equality through legislative action and public referenda and the ever growing support for marriage equality from Americans are providing enormous momentum to this movement.

Freedom to Marry and Lambda Legal both issued powerful statements describing the historic significance of this ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

New York Passes Same-Sex Marriage

Last week I blogged that The Marriage Equality Act was passed by the New York State Assembly and was headed directly to the State Senate. Well, unless you spent a long-weekend away from any kind of news or social media (which we all should do from time to time), you know that late on Friday night, the State Senate did in fact approve same-sex marriage, giving the national gay-rights movement one of its largest victories to date! The bill passed in a historic 33 to 29 vote and will take effect in 30 days. Last week’s victory was the result of decades of work by gay rights activists and politicians. New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat who had pledged to support same-sex marriage, also played a key role in this victory by making same-sex marriage one of his top priorities. Cuomo had his top aides coordinate the efforts of a half-dozen local gay-rights organizations that were working tireless for this victory.

With last week’s victory, New York now becomes the largest state where LGBT couples are able to legally wed. Currently, only five other states currently permit same-sex marriage: Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont, as well as the District of Columbia.

Let us hope that what happened here in New York serves as a turning point for other states around the country. The momentum is here, but it cannot be wasted. If you want to learn more about what you can do to ensure that what happened last week in New York will be replicated across the country, please check out the recent campaign from Freedom To Marry. You can add your voice to those supporting the freedom to marry and pledge to work to enable same-sex couples and their families to share equally in the responsibilities, protections, and commitment of marriage.

You can also watch this video to learn more the strategy for legalizing same-sex marriage in other states and ending federal marriage discrimination.

Will New York Pass Same-Sex Marriage?

Yesterday, by a vote of 80-63, the New York's State Assembly approved a same-sex marriage bill, known as The Marriage Equality Act. The Act will be sent directly to the State Senate, where it will most likely face a much closer vote.

More specifically, the Marriage Equality Act if passed, would grant same-sex couples equal rights to marry "as well as hundreds of rights, benefits and protections that are currently limited to married couples of the opposite sex," according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office.

Currently, New York State does not grant same-sex marriages. In 2008 however, in an appellate court ruling, it was ruled that same-sex couples do have the rights to have their same-sex marriages recognized if they are performed elsewhere in another state where same-sex marriage is legally recognized. There are five states -Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and New Hampshire – as well as the District of Columbia that currently grant same-sex marriage licenses.

Here at The Overbrook Foundation we believe that same-sex marriage is a fundamental human right. We see this work as integral to our larger domestic human rights portfolio which focuses broadly on gender, LGBT rights and reproductive rights. Over the past decade, the Foundation has supported a variety of organizations pushing for the rights of same-sex couples, as well as working to ensure basic rights for LGBT individuals. To say that it would please us to see same-sex marriage pass here in our home state of New York is an understatement. We think it is great that Mayor Bloomberg will travel to Albany this morning to try to persuade Republican state senators to legalize same-sex marriage. But we are also realistic, recognizing that because the state legislature is scheduled to adjourn this Monday this gives the Senate only three days to take up the marriage bill.

If you are interested in learning more about the rights of same-sex couples, please check out the work of some of the Foundation’s current grantees in this area: Civil Marriage Collaborative, Freedom To Marry, and the Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund. These organizations pursue a variety of strategies, including advocacy work, policy reforms and legislation to ensure for the rights of LGBT individuals.