Showing posts with label Colorado. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Colorado. Show all posts

April 22, 2014

3 Gay Couples Got married in Boulder, Co. 1975

Nearly four decades before the nation’s highest court ruled in favor of gay rights activist Edie Windsor, clearing the way for federal agencies to begin recognizing same-sex marriages, another arm of the U.S. government had this to say about a lesser-known pioneering couple:
“You have failed to establish that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots.” 
That was all the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) wrote in a single-sentence green card denial to Richard Adams, a U.S. citizen, who had requested permanent residency for his Australian spouse, Anthony Sullivan. The two were among a half-dozen same-sex couples to obtain marriage licenses from the Boulder County clerk’s office in 1975, well before Colorado enacted its ban on such unions. They went on to sue (and lose) in the first federal case against the U.S. government seeking recognition of a same-sex marriage – something that would not be won until the Windsor ruling of 2013. Adams did not get to see that landmark decision, however, having lost another battle – this time, to cancer – six months before.
On Monday, 39 years to the day after the two were married, Anthony Sullivan asked the Los Angeles Field Office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to reopen his late-husband’s petition for a marriage-based green card. The 72-year-old has lived in the shadows without lawful status for years – unable to travel outside the country, and always with the threat of deportation hanging over his head. But now, Sullivan is requesting that USCIS retroactively approve his green card application and automatically convert it to a widower’s petition, allowing him the opportunity to live out the rest of his life legally in the place he calls home.
“We want what I consider to be a dark chapter in the history of immigration services to be corrected,” said Lavi Soloway, Sullivan’s attorney and cofounder of The DOMA Project, to msnbc. In denying Adams and Sullivan’s request for a green card, “INS used an epithet that most of us would never imagine saying,” he continued. “Anthony and Richard, who were together as a couple for 41 years, didn’t deserve that. Nobody deserves to be treated that way.”
Should Sullivan be successful, it would mark a major victory to his decades-long quest for permanent residency in the United States. But it would also bring much longed-for validation to his relationship with Adams and to thousands of other same-sex couples cast aside by years of anti-gay policies, now fading into history.
“This was the first time that a gay couple walked into federal court and demanded to be treated equally under the law,” said Michael Sisitzky, staff attorney at Immigration Equality, to msnbc. “It was a really groundbreaking case. Unfortunately at the time, it did not end as well as the Windsor case did.”
Richard Adams and Anthony Sullivan, 1975. 
Photo by Pat Rocco
Last June, in United States v. Windsor, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a central provision of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which limited nuptials to unions between one man and one woman. Since then, eight federal judges have overturned part, or all of similar bans at the state level based on the high court’s legal reasoning. Additionally, federal agencies – including the State, Defense, Treasury, and Homeland Security Departments – have all updated their policies to begin treating every marriage equally, including those between gay couples. Public opinion has shifted dramatically, too, with a majority of Americans now in favor of the idea, according to a recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute.
Based on these trends, Sullivan’s legal team is confident their motion to reopen his green card application will be successful.
“We’re in a different time,” said Soloway. “The Supreme Court ruling last year established that the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection extends to married same-sex couples. What that means is that the constitutional rights of Richard and Anthony in 1975 were violated. Our motion today gives the administration and the country an opportunity to repudiate that denial, and those words, and the idea that you could belittle and diminish people that way.”
Still, current immigration law may continue to pose challenges for Sullivan. In the Immigration and Nationality Act, as Sisitzky explained, a surviving spouse of a U.S. citizen can proceed with their petition for permanent residency as long as that petition was pending at the time of death. In this case, the petition had already been denied when Adams passed away, meaning Sullivan’s team would first have to get it reopened before moving forward – a process that invites added discretion on part of the USCIS.
“Richard and Anthony’s case is a very clear example of what kind of impact timing has,” said Sisitzky. “Had the DOMA decision come down while Richard was still with us, he could have filed the standard kind of petition, and there wouldn’t be the uncertainty with the widower process. There are countless other families who completely uprooted themselves because they couldn’t see a future. Many families left the country, went into exile, and are now facing the prospect of having to apply for really complex waivers.”
Additionally, because less than half of the U.S. has legalized same-sex nuptials, gay binational couples face the added challenge of having to travel in order to obtain the necessary marriage certificate for a green card application. In these situations, health concerns and interior checkpoints become a problem.
“This issue is not over yet,” said Tom Miller, director of “Limited Partnership,” the forthcoming documentary about Sullivan and Adams. “In certain states, foreign partners can come in, marry, and get a green card. But in all those other states [where marriage is limited to heterosexual couples,] it’s still illegal. When the U.S. Supreme Court rules that all states should have recognition of gay marriage, then this issue will go away. That hasn’t happened yet.”

January 22, 2014

Gay marriage in Utah but What’s up in Colorado?

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    More than two years ago, Colorado was at the leading edge of the societal shift on same-sex marriage, when its moderate, conflict-adverse Democratic governor called a special legislative session that shamed Republicans for holding up a civil unions bill. It was a rare example of Democrats going on the offensive on the issue.
    Now polls find a solid majority nationwide favoring gay marriage, and a series of new laws and court victories has led to 17 states permitting it. But in Colorado this year, the discussion at the statehouse revolves around a proposal to allow couples in civil unions to file state taxes jointly, as if they were married.
    The deliberate pace stems from an irony in the struggle for gay marriage -- the careful, incremental approach to the issue in places like Colorado paved the groundwork for the dramatic changes elsewhere. Indeed, Colorado gay rights supporters are not even committing yet to putting a measure on the 2016 ballot to legalize same-sex marriage.
    "We should have a good run at it and not get into something so important so quickly," state Sen. Pat Steadman, a Democrat and the author of the civil unions law, said of a ballot measure for gay marriage.
    The gay rights debate in Colorado dates back to 1992, when voters passed a measure barring any city or town from passing laws protecting gay rights. The state Supreme Court overturned that measure, but the state became nationally known as a place unfriendly to gay people. By 2006, however, it had a Democratic governor and legislature as social mores changed and coastal immigrants transformed its politics. Still, gay rights groups were unable to defeat a same-sex marriage ban initiative or pass a competing measure to legalize civil unions.
    Kenneth Upton, the Dallas-based senior counsel for Lambda Legal, said there was skepticism about a court-based challenge to Colorado's marriage ban at the time. "No one thought these cases were going to win in the middle of the country," Upton said.
    Instead, supporters spent years organizing and helping Democrats win state legislative races. Finally, last year the legislature passed the civil unions law and Gov. John Hickenlooper signed it.
    Only on Oct. 31 did a gay couple file a lawsuit challenging the 2006 ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage. The existence of the civil unions law will buttress their case because they can argue they have marriage in all but name, Upton said. "It's not as heavy a lift," he said.
    The legal fate of Colorado's ban could hinge instead on recent cases in Oklahoma and Utah, where federal judges struck down similar laws, though not before more than 1,000 couples married in Utah ahead of the U.S. Supreme Court staying the ruling pending appeal. The appeals of those two cases will be heard by the 10th Circuit here, and what it rules will effectively be law in Colorado.
    Same-sex marriage supporters and detractors alike say the judicial system is more likely than the Colorado Legislature to change marriage policy in the near term. Democrats control both chambers, but a two-thirds majority is required to change the state constitution.
    "I can count votes as well as the next legislator, and I know that's not going to get through," Steadman said.
    Republicans needled him Tuesday on that point, saying the tax-filing measure Steadman sponsored belies a larger interest in changing marriage law.
    "If you have the votes to change the state constitution, then do it. But you don't," said Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch.
    Republicans fell a vote short of defeating the tax measure, which awaits a final Senate vote.
    Dave Montez, executive director of the gay rights group One Colorado, said more than marriage is at stake. It's important to have elected officials who support gay people and laws that protect the community. "There's a difference between having a marriage license and feeling comfortable enough to put a picture of your spouse on your desk," he said.
    Nicolle Martin is an attorney who argued against the civil unions law and represented a Denver baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex couple who were married in Massachussetts. She is no fan of Colorado's law, but prefers the way it came about to what courts are doing elsewhere.
    "I think it's a bad policy," Martin said. "But I at least respect the process."

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