January 2009 Archives

January 30, 2009

Christian School Can Expel Students It Believes Are Lesbians

I wrote the headline that way on purpose, because all the other headlines say something like "Christian School Can Expel Lesbian Students," while in fact, the girls involved in this case don't say one way or the other what their sexual orientation is. They were expelled because the school, California Lutheran High School in Riverside, California, believed they were lesbians and didn't like the way the girls liked each other. The school said the girls had "a bond of intimacy" that was "characteristic of a lesbian relationship". Hmmm...

Notwithstanding the conjecture factor, the Fourth Appellate District held that the school has a right to expel students who violate its "Christian Conduct" rules. The primary ruling in the opinion (PDF) is that the school isn't a business under California's Unruh Act, which prohibits businesses from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, among other things.

The girls' lawyer says they will appeal to the California Supreme Court.

January 28, 2009

Same-Sex Spouses Can't Go It Alone in the Lone Star State

In the bad old days before no-fault, judges could deny a spouse's request for a divorce if the judge didn't think the grounds were sufficient. Now every state allows no-fault divorce, and a divorce can be granted on the basis of "irreconcilable differences" or the like. This means that anyone who wants a divorce can get one, right?

Well, not exactly. If you're a same-sex couple with a legally recognized marriage, domestic partnership, or civil union from one of the states that allows such relationships, you may not be able to untie the knot if you're living in a state that doesn't recognize same-sex relationships -- say, for example, Texas.

Two men who married in Massachusetts have filed for divorce in Texas, but the state's attorney general says that he will intervene in the case and seek to prevent the court from entering a divorce decree, because according to Texas law, the two men aren't actually married -- Texas voters passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in the state. 

This isn't the first case of its kind -- a Rhode Island judge refused to allow two women married in Massachusetts to divorce in Rhode Island on the same basis, and couples have struggled in other states to obtain enough recognition of their relationship to allow them to end it. If the state of residence won't grant a divorce, the only option is for one or both partners to return to the state where they were married (or joined in domestic partnership or civil union) and re-establish residency there. Every state has a residency requirement, and Massachusetts' requires that a spouse must have lived there a full year before filing for divorce. (California domestic partners can use the California courts for their divorce regardless of where they're living when they break up, but this is an unusual rule.)

So... make your choices carefully, people! Yes, the choice of who you marry is the most important, but we're not qualified to comment on that. But before you sign on the dotted line, consider whether you might be moving to another state, learn that state's laws, and consider the possibilities. Otherwise you may get more than you bargained for.   

January 7, 2009

Louisiana Birth Certificate Must Recognize Gay Dads

A gay couple in San Diego won a court fight in Louisiana over the birth certificate of a child they adopted in New York. Huh? It's not as complicated as it sounds, and it doesn't really matter where the gay dads live -- the issue is whether the state of Louisiana, where the child was born, should be required to change the child's birth certificate to identify his legal parents when those parents are both men.

The answer is, obviously, yes -- but when it comes to same-sex couples and parenting, nothing is obvious. Getting amended birth certificates after adoptions are completed has been a nuisance for many years in conservative states. The problem is that while LGBT parents may live in states that permit same-sex adoptions, a birth certificate is connected to the state where a child is born, and that state has control of the official document forever.

In this case, the two dads adopted a child who was born in Louisiana. The adoption took place in April 2006 in New York, where the men lived. After the adoption was completed, they wrote to the Louisiana Vital Records Registry and asked for an amended birth certificate showing their names as parents. All of this was standard operating procedure. But the director of the vital records office wrote back to them, saying that she could not issue a birth certificate that listed unmarried adoptive parents, as doing so would violate Louisiana's state public policy.

The men sued, and the federal district court agreed with them, citing the constitutional doctrine of "full faith and credit," which requires states to give full effect to judgments rendered in other states. The court concluded that there was no public policy exception to the full faith and credit clause, and ordered the state to issue the new birth certificate.

The state says it will appeal the decision.