Civil Rights

Friday, January 16, 2015

U.S. Supreme Court to take up same-sex marriage cases

Posted By on Fri, Jan 16, 2015 at 4:15 PM

Plaintiffs in a suit against Louisiana's sex marriage ban leaving the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Jan. 9. - ALEX WOODWARD
  • ALEX WOODWARD
  • Plaintiffs in a suit against Louisiana's sex marriage ban leaving the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Jan. 9.

The U.S. Supreme Court could finally settle whether same-sex couples have the right to marry, as protected by the U.S. Constitution. The Supreme Court justices announced Jan. 16 they will review federal appellate court decisions that upheld bans in four states — Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. Those states are among 14, including Louisiana, where same-sex marriages are banned. Louisiana is the only state where a federal judge has ruled in favor of the state's ban. The Supreme Court hearings (which will likely begin in April with a ruling in June) will determine the constitutionality of same-same marriage bans, which could affect every state in the country.

The Supreme Court justices will focus on two points: "Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?" and "Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?"

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court declined to take up the Louisiana case, in which the plaintiffs asked the court to take the case out of the appellate court's hands. That case — along with cases in Mississippi and Texas — was heard in the U.S. 5th District Court of Appeals in New Orleans last week. (The decision from that three-judge panel is pending, though supporters and court-watchers are confident it will rule in its favor.) 

Forum For Equality Louisiana spokesman John Hill said the 5th District appeals court won't likely wait for the Supreme Court to make a decision before it rules in that case, though if it did, it would likely come with "some sort of public announcement." 

Last week, Florida became the first state in the Deep South to recognize same-sex marriages, bringing the total to 36 states where same-sex couples can marry. Freedom To Marry president Evan Wolfson wrote in a statement that the court's decision "begins what we hope will be the last chapter in our campaign to win marriage nationwide — and it's time."

"It looks like to me we will have marriage equality in June," Hill said. "It's hard to see tea leaves any other way."

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Friday, January 9, 2015

Same-sex marriage supporters in the South remain optimistic

Posted By on Fri, Jan 9, 2015 at 4:45 PM

Plaintiffs in a suit against Louisiana's sex marriage ban leaving the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. - ALEX WOODWARD
  • ALEX WOODWARD
  • Plaintiffs in a suit against Louisiana's sex marriage ban leaving the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Standing outside the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, Helen Barnes posed for photographs with a T-shirt reading "Str8 Mom for Marriage Equality." Barnes, who lives in Mississippi, held a sign that she also brought to same-sex marriage rallies in Washington D.C. in 2009 and 2013. Her son made the sign when he was 14 years old. He is now 20.

Barnes was among dozens of supporters filling courtrooms and huddling outside in 40 degree weather as the federal appeals court heard oral arguments from same-sex couples from Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas against those states' laws banning gay marriage. In 2004, Louisiana voters approved a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages. In September 2014, U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman upheld that ban in the case of Robicheaux v. Caldwell, in which six Louisiana couples along with Forum For Equality challenged that ban. (Oral arguments in that case were heard in June 2014.) The plaintiffs appealed to the 5th District and to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could bypass the appellate court.

Crowds lined up for a space inside the court before 7 a.m. to hear the arguments in front of a three-judge panel — made up Ronald Reagan appointees Jerry E. Smith and Patrick Higginbotham and Barack Obama appointee James Graves. Hearings ended around 1 p.m. 

"We asked the 5th Circuit in the state of Louisiana to recognize the dignity and respect and equality of our marriage, and the marriage of all same-sex couples in Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi," said Louisiana's L. Havard Scott III, who has been with his partner Sergio March Prieto for 18 years. "If we don’t get what we’re seeking here, we’ll get it from the U.S. Supreme Court. ... We simply love our partners, and we want our love to be respected to the same extent other peoples’ marriages are respected, and we see no reason why the state of Louisiana can’t respect our marriage like it does the marriages of other people."

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Federal judges ask attorneys: What’s the purpose of marriage, anyway?

Posted By on Fri, Jan 9, 2015 at 4:36 PM

Plaintiffs and supporters in today's hearing on same-sex marriage gather on the steps of the U.S. Court of Appeals in downtown New Orleans. - ALEX WOODWARD
  • ALEX WOODWARD
  • Plaintiffs and supporters in today's hearing on same-sex marriage gather on the steps of the U.S. Court of Appeals in downtown New Orleans.

As expected, the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals made no decision on same-sex marriage in Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi after hearing arguments Friday morning from attorneys on both sides of the issue in each state. Likewise, the U.S. Supreme Court has yet to reveal whether it will take issue up in its spring session, which would likely supercede any decision by the appeals court.

But the three judges — Judge Jerry E. Smith and Patrick Higginbotham, two appointees of President Ronald Reagan, and Judge James Graves, appointed by President Barack Obama — did each seem to focus on different issues in their questions during Friday’s hearings, shedding some light on which issues they felt needed more elucidation.

In the Louisiana hearing, Kyle Duncan of the Louisiana Attorney General’s office had barely begun his presentation when Higginbotham asked if the U.S. Constitution provided a fundamental right to marry.

“Probably,” Duncan replied, but said that same-sex unions would be a “brand new perspective” on marriage in the history of the institution. Throughout history, Duncan said, marriage has been considered a normal part of the procreation process, and the state has an interest in promoting strong families.

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Thursday, January 8, 2015

What’s at stake for same-sex marriage Friday in New Orleans

Posted By on Thu, Jan 8, 2015 at 10:44 PM

John Denison of the Forum for Equality introduces attorneys and plaintiffs in gay-marriage cases from Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi that will be heard Jan. 9 by the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. - ROBERT MORRIS | UPTOWN MESSENGER
  • ROBERT MORRIS | UPTOWN MESSENGER
  • John Denison of the Forum for Equality introduces attorneys and plaintiffs in gay-marriage cases from Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi that will be heard Jan. 9 by the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

The fight for same-sex marriage in three of the deepest Deep South states – Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas – will have a crucial moment on the battlefield Friday before the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, although even the most optimistic scenarios for legal same-sex marriage still place it weeks or months away.

Starting at 9 a.m., a three-judge panel in the federal court will hear oral arguments challenging bans on same-sex marriage in separate cases from each state. Each state’s case is allotted an hour of discussion, with the hearing expected to be finished by noon.

The underlying issues in each states’ cases are the same, attorneys and advocates said in a Thursday night briefing for supporters at Cathedral Creative in the Central Business District, about two blocks from the federal courthouse. Each case focuses on whether the 14th Amendment of the Constitution allows the state to deny marriage to some couples based on their gender – whether in the case of issuing licenses in-state or recognizing marriage licenses issued out of state – and all three states are expected to have the same decision, whichever way it goes.

“If Texas’s ban violates equal protection, so does Louisiana’s,” said Chris Otten, chair-elect of the Louisiana-based Forum for Equality. “If that ban is valid, then almost certainly Louisiana’s would be.”

Joce Pritchett, a plaintiff in the Mississippi case, framed the cases in terms of the question her young daughter Grace recently posed as to why Pritchett and partner Carla Webb aren’t married like other parents.

“It seems so simple to Grace that laws that hurt people should be changed,” Pritchett said. “It’s simple to us, too.”

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Monday, December 29, 2014

Scalise seems to acknowledge he spoke to white supremacist conference in Metairie in 2002

Posted By on Mon, Dec 29, 2014 at 4:48 PM

The May 7, 2002 edition of Gambit carried information about the white-supremacist meeting held in Metairie at the Best Western Landmark Hotel. After Louisiana blogger Lamar White Jr. reported this weekend that Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Metairie, was in attendance and spoke to the group, Scalise's office put out a statement that seemed to acknowledge the fact, but insisted Scalise had "never been affiliated with the abhorrent group in question."
  • The May 7, 2002 edition of Gambit carried information about the white-supremacist meeting held in Metairie at the Best Western Landmark Hotel. After Louisiana blogger Lamar White Jr. reported this weekend that Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Metairie, was in attendance and spoke to the group, Scalise's office put out a statement that seemed to acknowledge the fact, but insisted Scalise had "never been affiliated with the abhorrent group in question."

Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Metairie — the newly minted Majority Whip and the third highest-ranking Republican in Congress — seemed to confirm to The Washington Post today that he spoke to the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO), a white supremacist organization, in 2002.

In a statement, Scalise aide Moira Bagley Smith wrote, "He has never been affiliated with the abhorrent group in question":
Throughout his career in public service, Mr. Scalise has spoken to hundreds of different groups with a broad range of viewpoints. In every case, he was building support for his policies, not the other way around. In 2002, he made himself available to anyone who wanted to hear his proposal to eliminate slush funds that wasted millions of taxpayer dollars as well as his opposition to a proposed tax increase on middle-class families. He has never been affiliated with the abhorrent group in question. The hate-fueled ignorance and intolerance that group projects is in stark contradiction to what Mr. Scalise believes and practices as a father, a husband, and a devoted Catholic.
The news of Scalise's 2002 speech was first broken over the weekend by Lamar White Jr., whose CenLamar website covers Louisiana politics. 

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Friday, December 26, 2014

A quiet, joyful hero

Posted By on Fri, Dec 26, 2014 at 9:38 AM

Rudy Lombard was an early leader in the local Civil Rights Movement.
  • Courtesy Lombard Family
  • Rudy Lombard was an early leader in the local Civil Rights Movement.

In more than 40 years of covering politics I’ve encountered countless poseurs who take credit for things that others make happen. Only rarely have I met someone who lives by the old wisdom that there’s no limit to what can be accomplished if you don’t care who gets the credit. Rudy Lombard was one of those rare individuals who never sought credit for the many great things he did.

Rudy was one of the early leaders of the modern Civil Rights Movement in New Orleans. He was a national vice president of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). While still in college at Xavier University, he was arrested for leading New Orleans’ first lunch counter sit-in at McCrory’s on Canal Street. He took his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and won.

Rudy earned a Ph.D. in urban planning from Syracuse University and ran for mayor of New Orleans in 1986. He finished a distant fourth, but he made public housing a major issue in that race. In his spare time, he co-authored the first Black Creole cookbook (Creole Feast), and in his later years he was a leading researcher and advocate for educating African-American men about the dangers of prostate cancer, which he contracted a decade ago.

Rudy died Dec. 13 at the age of 75 after a brave battle against pancreatic cancer, surrounded by his younger brother, Louisiana 4th Circuit Court of Appeal Judge Edwin Lombard, and other family members. At the visitation and in conversations afterward, Judge Lombard and Rudy’s friends remembered him the same way I do — as a quiet, joyful hero.

“The most amazing thing about Rudy was that he was so reluctant to talk about himself and his contribution to the Movement,” Judge Lombard said. “I used to be angry about the fact that Rudy paid his dues and never got any note for it. He would just shrug it off and say, ‘Don’t worry about it. There’s plenty to go around — plus you know it. That’s enough.’ It bothered me, but it never bothered him.”

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

"Sex workers are human."

Posted By on Thu, Dec 18, 2014 at 5:13 PM

Yesterday, approximately 40 people marched down Bourbon Street in observance of International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. Wearing red petticoats and carrying red parasols, the group paid tribute to the 174 women who were murdered while engaging in sex work this year. Of these victims, a disproportionate number were black.

Supporters of sex workers' rights observe the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. - HELLENA HANDBASKET
  • HELLENA HANDBASKET
  • Supporters of sex workers' rights observe the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.

"In the U.S., more than half of the victims have been African-American consistently, which is totally disproportionate," says Katherine Koster, communications director for the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP). "There's a strong connection between violence against sex workers and police brutality and the criminalization of people of color. This really is an intersectional issue."

Twenty-three percent of GBLT homicides recorded in the 2012 Anti-Violence Report were connected to sex work. The stigma and cultural hatred toward sex workers is a second motivator in these murders, Koster says, making them hate crimes.

SWOP-NOLA member Hellena Handbasket says minority and trans women sex workers are targeted by police in New Orleans. "When Nola.com reports on prostitution stings, it's always a lineup of trans women of color," she says. "There is a reason why they are targeting minority and trans women — racism and trans phobia. Sex workers are targeted by violent criminals and law enforcement alike."

The New Orleans Police Department was recently investigated by the Office of Inspector General for failing to investigate 86 percent of 1,290 sex crime-related calls. "This is a testament to how we see sexual violence and how we deal with it in this city, not just for sex workers, but even in the most noncontroversial cases," Handbasket says. "Think about what happens when the target is not the perfect victim."

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Monday, December 8, 2014

Y@ Speak: throwing punches

Posted By on Mon, Dec 8, 2014 at 12:31 PM


Even the New Orleans Saints channeled a bit of rage (albeit during a ruthless loss) that New Orleans had stored up all week, from protest marches to elections and everything in between. Also this week: New Orleans remembers Jonah Bascle, and Lil Wayne is now a figurative prisoner.

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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Mayor Landrieu on Eric Garner case: "we are all responsible" for reconciliation

Posted By on Thu, Dec 4, 2014 at 2:15 PM

Mayor Mitch Landrieu. - CHERYL GERBER
  • CHERYL GERBER
  • Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

Following yesterday's grand jury decision not to indict white New York Police Department officer Daniel Pantaleo in the July chokehold death of black, unarmed Staten Island man Eric Garner, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said "we are all responsible" for reconciliation and to "convert this painful moment" into positive change. Landrieu offered the following statement:

“America's promise pledges indivisibility and justice for all, yet we are divided by race, class and inequity. The most challenging issues on the streets of our cities are now on display. Instead of looking away, we must agree to face the problems in our justice system head on. We must ask ourselves why this country’s value of African American men and boys is not the same as their counterparts. In order to move forward and to have peace, we must agree that while we are not all at fault, we are all responsible for creating the reconciliation that is required. Together, we must convert this painful moment in our history into a beginning for meaningful change. In New Orleans and in cities across the country, this must happen in word and in deed.”

The grand jury decision followed a week after a grand jury's decision not to indict white Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson for the August shooting death of unarmed black teen Michael Brown. Following that decision, Landrieu said, "In the United States we remain divided. Divided by race. Divided by poverty. We live a block away from one another, but are often a world apart. It is time for each of us, every American, to accept the fact that we must begin to acknowledge and discuss the most difficult issues we face. And we must agree to face them together."

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Monday, December 1, 2014

Y@ Speak: tipping the scales

Posted By on Mon, Dec 1, 2014 at 2:50 PM

Y@ Speak looks at a week of too much football, too much oyster dressing, and a whole lot of protests and calls to action. Also: Brennan's reopens and Parker the raccoon terrorizes City Park.

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