Category Archives: Iowa

AF Sargent Pays the Price After Police Play Peeping Tom

Tonight we have news of another vindictive third party outing to force a gay person out of the military. This time, it’s an arm of the government doing the outing. And it’s Air Force Sgt. Jené Newsome who was punished for being a lesbian.

AF Sgt. Jené Newsome
AF Sgt. Jené Newsome
The Rapid City Police Department says Newsome, an aircraft armament system craftsman who spent nine years in the Air Force, was not cooperative when they showed up at her home in November with an arrest warrant for her partner, who was wanted on theft charges in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Newsome was at work at the base at the time and refused to immediately come home and assist the officers in finding her partner, whom she married in Iowa — where gay marriage is legal — in October.

Police officers, who said they spotted the marriage license on the kitchen table through a window of Newsome’s home, alerted the base, police Chief Steve Allender said in a statement sent to the AP. The license was relevant to the investigation because it showed both the relationship and residency of the two women, he said.

“It’s an emotional issue and it’s unfortunate that Newsome lost her job, but I disagree with the notion that our department might be expected to ignore the license, or not document the license, or withhold it from the Air Force once we did know about it,” Allender said Saturday. “It was a part of the case, part of the report and the Air Force was privileged to the information.”

He said his department does not seek to expose gay military personnel or investigate the sexuality of Rapid City residents.

Allender said the department was finishing its internal investigation and has determined the officers acted appropriately. They have not been placed on leave during the investigation.

Newsome’s partner is currently out on bail on one felony and three misdemeanor counts of theft stemming from an incident last year, court officials in Fairbanks said. More information was not immediately available, and Newsome said she didn’t know the status of the case and didn’t provide more details about it.

In the complaint filed last month with the department, ACLU South Dakota said police had no legal reason to tell the military Newsome was a lesbian and that officers knew if they did, it would jeopardize her military career.

Newsome, who was discharged in January, said she didn’t know where the marriage license was in her home when police came to her house on Nov. 20 and claims the officers were retaliating because she wouldn’t help with her partner’s arrest.

“This information was intentionally turned over because of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ and to out Jené so that she would lose her military status,” said Robert Doody, executive director of ACLU South Dakota. The ACLU is focusing its complaint on the police department, not the military, and Newsome said she and her attorney have not yet decided on whether to file a lawsuit.

“The ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ piece is important and critical to this, but also it’s a police misconduct case,” Doody said.

Because of DOMA, the federal government does not recognize marriage between two people of the same gender. Even if it’s SOP to inform the Air Force when a servicemember’s spouse is charged with a crime (which I’m told is the case), the US Armed Services only recognize the federal definition of marriage, not the Iowa definition.

Therefore, for the purposes of the federal government, Sgt. Newsome has no spouse.

The local police department was not bound to notify anyone of Sgt. Newsome’s non-spouse, and in fact violated her privacy by vindictively submitting evidence that they found by peeking through her window for a witch hunt because they were mad at her.

Here’s a link to the Rapid City Police Department’s Twitter account. You know, in case you want to tell them what you think.

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Will ADF Defend the Louisiana Official Who Refuses to Marry Interracial Couples?

Remember six months ago when lesbians and gays were first allowed to marry in Iowa? One aspect I didn’t bring up here was the legal brawl started by the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), the legal arm of the Religious Right (co-founded by James Dobson).

Their position was that no county official should have to perform marriages that s/he didn’t personally approve of. Here’s a bit of the letter (pdf) they sent out to all Iowa County Recorders on April 22, 2009, five days before the new standard went into effect (emphasis from original):

One of the most foundational rights and liberties we enjoy as Iowans is the right of conscience, as evidenced by Iowa Code §146.1. This right is based upon the simple truth that it is wrong to force anyone to violate his or her conscience.

… Therefore, the Iowa Family Policy Center and the Alliance Defense Fund propose that the following language be adopted by your office and each of Iowa’s 99 County Recorders.

The Alliance Defense Fund will defend this policy language and will provide free legal review and defense if this policy is challenged on the basis of its content.
POLICY:

An individual who may lawfully perform services for or provide services to the [NAME] County Recorder’s office shall not be required to issue or process a marriage license, or to perform, assist, or participate in such procedures, against that individual’s religious beliefs or moral convictions. A person shall not discriminate against any individual in any way, including but not limited to employment, promotion, advancement, transfer, licensing, education, training, or the granting of employment privileges or conditions, because of the individual’s participation in or refusal to participate in the issuance of a marriage license.

Iowa Code § 146.1, by the way, turns out to be the Iowa law that says doctors don’t have to perform abortions if it is against their conscience (“religious beliefs or moral convictions). In fact, the wording from the ADF’s proposal is taken directly from § 146.1.

* * *

By now most people have heard of the Louisiana Justice of the Peace Keith Bardwell, who refused last Tuesday to marry an interracial straight couple because “I just don’t believe in mixing the races that way.” From the AP article via Huffington Post:

“I’m not a racist. I just don’t believe in mixing the races that way,” Bardwell told the Associated Press on Thursday. “I have piles and piles of black friends. They come to my home, I marry them, they use my bathroom. I treat them just like everyone else.”

Bardwell said he asks everyone who calls about marriage if they are a mixed race couple. If they are, he does not marry them, he said. Bardwell estimates that he has refused to marry about four couples during his career, all in the past 2 1/2 years.

Beth Humphrey, 30, and 32-year-old Terence McKay, both of Hammond, say they will consult the U.S. Justice Department about filing a discrimination complaint.

“I’ve been a justice of the peace for 34 years and I don’t think I’ve mistreated anybody,” Bardwell said. “I’ve made some mistakes, but you have to. I didn’t tell this couple they couldn’t get married. I just told them I wouldn’t do it.”

Read more at huffingtonpost.com/2009/10/15/interracial-couple-denied_n_322784.html

And a bit more from the Hammond, Louisiana local paper:

Bardwell said from his experience, “99 percent of the time” the interracial couple consists of a black man and white woman. “I find that rather confusing,” he said.

“I don’t do interracial marriages because I don’t want to put children in a situation they didn’t bring on themselves,” Bardwell said. “In my heart, I feel the children will later suffer.”

Bardwell said a justice of the peace is not required to conduct a marriage ceremony and is at liberty to recuse himself “from a marriage or anything else.” He said the state attorney general told him years ago that he would eventually get into trouble for not performing interracial marriages.

“I told him if I do, I’ll resign,” Bardwell said. “I have rights too. I’m not obligated to do that just because I’m a justice of the peace.”

Read more at: hammondstar.com/articles/2009/10/16/top_stories/8847.txt

weddingIt seems to me, based on their position in April, that the ADF is duty- and honor-bound to defend Mr. Bardwell. ADF agrees with him that his conscience should exempt him from having to perform a legal marriage.

They called this “one of the most foundational rights and liberties” in April, and though they were referencing Iowa law, Louisiana Code §1299.35.9 says exactly the same thing.

And since we know that ADF is aware of this law (they sent out an “Alliance Alert” in July celebrating the law’s expansion), I bet they’re on the phone with Mr. Bardwell as I type.

Unless, of course, they’re afraid of the backlash they’d get for defending a racist man like they have another brand of bigot in exactly the same scenario.

A New Symbol for Marriage Equality

I happened upon this new symbol a month or so ago and thought it was a fantastic idea, so much so that I’ve put it on the sidebar over there on the right. Carl Tashian, the man behind the symbol, explains:

Suffrage Protest FlagIn 1902, when the women’s suffrage movement was just getting warmed up, the American flag had 45 stars. In protest, the suffragists created their own US flag with only four stars, representing the four states that allowed women to vote.

This flag flew at the podium of the First International Womens Suffrage Conference in 1902, and it was my inspiration for a re-appropriation of the American flag. Unfortunately, all four states that were so progressive regarding women’s suffrage in 1902 have state-wide same-sex marriage bans today.

This new protest flag creates a visual history of our struggle for marriage equality. With every new law, court decision, and amendment that offers marriage equality in a state, a star will be added to reflect the new reality.

State by State
If you’re on Facebook, you can join the group here, or go to Carl’s site to read more about it.

Marriage Equality Arrives in Iowa

Beginning this morning, lesbian and gay Iowans are able to sign a marriage contract with their partners and receive all the rights, duties, and protections afforded by the state. From Radio Iowa:

Andrew Mahoney-Lamb and his partner Grant Lamb were the first in line, but didn’t plan it that way.

“No, we figured there’d be a lot of people here, so we figured we’d show up early and try to beat the rush,” Mahoney-Lamb says. Mahoney-Lamb talked his feelings about the wait. “Anxious, I just want to get it over with and have the piece of paper in my hand to show me that it’s actually true,” he says. Lamb says it’s important to them to see the license.

“Definitely once that paper is signed, it’s sealed, then the reality will hit. That’s really what we’re waiting for, the seal from the recorder that says it’s all true,” Lamb says. The two say they’ve been a “couple” for three years and had a commitment ceremony a year ago. Ingrid Olson and Reva Evans waited in line with their son Jamison.

“You know walking up the stairs today, I mean, I got a big pit in my stomach,” Olson says. “I got a big smile on my face,” Evans says, “and it was just like, like I didn’t expect it, it was pretty powerful, it was just a great feeling.” Olson and Evans had tried to get a license four years ago, and were one of the couples who challenged Iowa’s gay marriage ban after being denied.

From the Des Moines Register.

In Des Moines, Lori Blachford was among the people applying for marriage licenses. As television cameras surrounded the dozens of couples in line, she talked about how life with her partner of 25 years, Karen Utke, is going to change.

“We’re living the married life, same as our parents did, painfully and traditionally boring,” said Blachford, who is 45.

But even though they’ve been together so long, the concept of marriage didn’t seem to have fully set in. Blachford first introduced her partner as “my friend,” then stuttered and settled on “my Karen.” They have two sons, age 13 and 17, conceived with an anonymous sperm donor.

“They’ve grown up with us just acting like a married couple and in a normal family,” Blachford said. “But they understand the legal issues. They realize the inequity. They don’t understand why we should be treated any different.”

The couple plan to get married in the summer. “It’s a little anti-climactic to us,” Blachford said. “Twenty-five years of married life, it kind of seems silly to organize a ceremony. But we’re thrilled to be able to do it.”

Denny Schrock and Patrick Phillips-Schrock wore tuxedos to the recorder’s office. They’ve been together five years, and had a commitment ceremony three years ago at the Unitarian Universalist church in Des Moines.

“I didn’t think this would happen in my lifetime,” the 58-year-old Phillips-Schrock, a retired high school French teacher who is originally from Jefferson but now lives in Urbandale, said. “It’s incredible. In Iowa, of all places!”

Iowa Supreme Court UNANIMOUSLY Approves Gay Marriage

From the Des Moines Register:

The Iowa Supreme Court this morning unanimously upheld gays’ right to marry.

“The Iowa statute limiting civil marriage to a union between a man and a woman violates the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution,” the justices said in a summary of their decision.
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The court affirmed a Polk County District Court decision that would allow six gay couples to marry.

The ruling is viewed as a victory for the gay rights movement in Iowa and elsewhere, and a setback for social conservatives who wanted to protect traditional families.

The decision makes Iowa the first Midwestern state, and the fourth nationwide, to allow same-sex marriages. Lawyers for Lambda Legal, a gay rights group that financed the court battle and represented the couples, had hoped to use a court victory to demonstrate acceptance of same-sex marriage in heartland America.

The Iowa Supreme Court’s Web site was deluged with more than 350,000 visitors this morning, in anticipation of the ruling, a Judicial Branch spokesman said this morning.

Steve Davis, a court spokesman, said administrators added extra computer servers to handle the expected increase in Web traffic. But “this is unprecedented,” Davis said.

Richard Socarides, a former senior adviser to President Bill Clinton on gay civil rights, said today’s decision could set the stage for other states. Socarides was was a senior political assistant for Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin in the early 1990s.

“I think it’s significant because Iowa is considered a Midwest sate in the mainstream of American thought,” Socarides said. “Unlike states on the coasts, there’s nothing more American than Iowa. As they say during the presidential caucuses, ‘As Iowa goes, so goes the nation.’”

It’s probable that county and state governments in Iowa, as in other states that have passed gay marriage laws, will be given two or three months to put the change in place. That means that such unions won’t begin today, said Justin Uebelhor, director of communications for One Iowa, the state’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered advocacy group.

“Typically, it’s not immediate, and that’s most likely what we’d be looking at in Iowa,” Uebelhor said.

Press release from the court here (pdf).

Make no mistake, this is a HUGE win. Not just a ruling in favor of justice, but a UNANIMOUS ruling in a Midwestern swing state.

HUGE.