Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance is Down, But Not Out

In order to bring equality to Houston, we need more education, more pressure, and a fresh push by the new city council.

On Tuesday, November 3, Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) succumbed to its opponents’ distortions and fear-mongering tactics, which managed to sway just enough voters to defeat the ballot measure. This leaves Houston as the only major city in Texas—indeed, in these United States—that does not extend equal rights protections to all its citizens.

In the most diverse city in America, that this happened is inexcusable. But we must understand how it happened if we hope to turn the tables.

The Campaign for Houston that opposed HERO was bankrolled by Steve Hotze, an unapologetic, sword-brandishing anti-LGBT crusader who is on record stating that he wants to “drive [gays] out of our city [and] send them back to San Francisco.” The opposition wisely kept Dr. Hotze away from the microphones during the campaign, but their tactics were no less reprehensible. The Campaign for Houston brandished a lie, playing on peoples’ misunderstanding of what it means to live life as a transgender person who simply wants to use the restroom to do his or her business. It was the only card they had to play, and they played it incessantly.

Unfortunately, it was enough.

We need to change the conversation about our transgender neighbors if we hope to turn the tide in Houston and elsewhere. Theirs is not an easy life. Transgender Americans are twice as likely to be unemployed or living on less than $10,000 a year. Nearly half have been fired or denied promotions, and a full 90% have been harassed or mistreated in the workplace. They are routinely evicted or denied housing and health care. Transgender folks—young people especially—are at a staggeringly high risk for bullying and suicide. And tragically, they’re also considerably more likely to be assaulted or murdered. And some of their murderers have even attempted to turn their own feelings of deceit into a legal defense. It’s called the “trans panic defense,” and it’s based on the theory that discovering someone is transgender can render you temporarily insane, if you can believe such nonsense.

And when it comes to America’s restrooms, 70% of transgender men and women report having been verbally or physically attacked while using one. Where our public bathrooms are concerned, transgender Americans aren’t the predators—they are the prey.

We also need to revisit our understanding of sexual assault. Contrary to the Campaign for Houston’s nightmare scenario—which has literally never happened—sexual predators aren’t hiding in the bushes or lurking in bathroom stalls. In fact, 90% of sexual assault victims know their attacker, and about half of all sexual assaults happen within a mile of the home. To suggest that predators are waiting for a city ordinance to pass so they can freely victimize strangers in public restrooms grossly distorts the nature of sexual assault itself and therefore endangers women.

Voters also need to be made aware of what an equal rights ordinance actually accomplishes. It’s not just an LGBT issue. In fact, HERO protects 15 distinct categories of people, and over half of the discrimination claims filed in Houston involve race. And yes, racial discrimination is federally prohibited, but making that case requires thousands of dollars and years in federal court. HERO achieves the same goal in months, for free.

Here at home, we will continue the fight. It’s too early to tell if Houston can expect the same backlash that swept Indiana when it tried to legalize discrimination last year, and we won’t wait to find out. Our next mayor and our newly elected city council members must make equality a priority the moment they are sworn into office. Our partners and volunteers who have worked to bring equality to Houston won’t back down until everyone can live fairly and equally under the law.

In the most diverse city in America, nothing could be more important.

If you’d like to help, click here to send a letter to the editor of your local paper demanding equality in Houston.

Terri Burke is the executive director of the ACLU of Texas.

Discrimination is not a Houston Value

The Most Diverse City in the Country Needs an Equal Rights Ordinance

Houston is the most diverse city in these United States. Just how diverse? We have no racial or ethnic majority. We have one of the largest—and quite frankly, one of the most architecturally breathtaking—Hindu temples in the country. Houston hosts the only livestock show and rodeo where you can hear over 100 languages spoken. We have the highest concentration of refugees in the U.S, from 78 countries around the world. And this year’s Pride Parade boasted a crowd 700,000 strong.

That’s just shy of 10 Reliant Stadiums at capacity.

Given our lively, kaleidoscopic diversity, one would think non-discrimination would be prominently enshrined in municipal law. And it was, for a time, until forces opposed to Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) secured a victory in the Texas Supreme Court to force it onto the ballot in November.

The fight to keep HERO alive is about Houston values—and the principle that everyone should be treated equally and fairly under the law. In order to see that the ordinance remains on the books, we must first understand exactly what it does.

First of all, the anti-discrimination ordinance protects all Houstonians from discrimination, whether they’ve been singled out because of their sex, race, sexual orientation, religion, or gender identity. It protects veterans who don’t want to be discriminated against because they served their country. It protects pregnant women, the disabled, and the elderly. And without it, a Houston company’s best and most conscientious employee can be legally fired simply because he or she chooses to come out to co-workers.

Of course, some of these categories are protected by other laws, but HERO provides a local venue for resolving discrimination complaints that is timely, effective, and affordable. Without the benefit of HERO, those who are fired or denied housing or public accommodations simply for being who they are literally have to make a federal case out of it. More often than not this process requires a lawyer, and the time it takes to right the wrong—which is by no means a foregone conclusion—is usually measured in years.

While Houston is proud of its diversity, discrimination remains a reality: Between the day HERO was passed and the day it initially went into effect, 54% of the discrimination complaints lodged with the Office of the Inspector General related to race, 17% to gender, 15% to age, and 4% to sexual orientation or gender identity. Our gay, lesbian, and transgender neighbors need the anti-discrimination protections the ordinance brings, but it simply isn’t true that its scope is limited to them. The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance protects everyone.

HERO protects you.

This is why HERO enjoys widespread support from over 80 current or former city officials, from community organizations and non-profits, and over 70 local faith leaders. It has been endorsed by the Greater Houston Partnership, the Houston Association of Realtors, Rice University, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and the NAACP.

And no wonder. Diversity is one of Houston’s greatest strengths, and it’s essential we do everything in our power to preserve and protect that diversity. HERO promotes what Houstonians value most: fair treatment for all, no matter who you are.

Supreme Court 101: What the Marriage Equality Ruling Teaches Us About Democracy

Now that the dust has settled and the hand-wringing over the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges seems mostly to have subsided, it’s worth reflecting on what the case means. In the last month, we’ve heard from pundits and politicians of every stripe, who rushed to explain the decision’s import. For some, the recognition of same-sex marriage in all fifty states ushered in a new era of equality, while others warned that it heralded the end of the Republic.

Of course, the marriage ruling was certainly historic—no one would contest that—but it wasn’t extraordinary. You wouldn’t have known it to listen to the talking heads on TV, but the Supreme Court didn’t do anything unusual when it ruled that same-sex marriage bans violate the Constitution. To understand why, we waded through the hype and the history to get to the heart of the Supreme Court’s role in our constitutional democracy.

Did the Supreme Court ignore the will of the people?

The stakes are too high and the issue too important to simply cede the will of the people to unaccountable justices. –Rick Santorum on Obergefell v. Hodges

No matter how much the Supreme Court seeks to sugarcoat its bitter pill of tyranny, the people of the South will not swallow it.Marvin Griffin, former governor of Georgia, on Brown v. Board of Education

The Supreme Court’s job is to interpret the Constitution, and the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. At its heart, the Constitution is a series of protections that keep government from infringing core freedoms. Some freedoms every American can recite—like freedom of speech, assembly, and religion. Others like the right to be treated equally by government actors and the right not to have liberty abridged without due process may be less well known. But if the majority passes a law that violates any of those freedoms, it’s the Court’s job to strike it down.

So yes, sometimes the Supreme Court ignores the will of the majority in order to protect the constitutional rights of individuals.

This is a feature, not a bug.

But how can the Supreme Court ignore centuries of tradition?

I am disappointed the Supreme Court today chose to change the centuries-old definition of marriage as between one man and one woman. –Rick Perry, on Obergefell v. Hodges

To many people this decision is contrary to a way of life and violates the way in which they have thought since 1619.Cavalier Daily (University of Virginia newspaper) on Brown v. Board of Education

Actually, the Supreme Court does this all the time, once we all realize that what we’ve been doing for centuries violates those rights the Supreme Court is entrusted to protect. Societies evolve, the authors of the Constitution knew that, and they composed a document that would allow for that development. For example, the Constitution forbids “cruel and unusual punishment”. Once upon a time that did not include pillorying, flogging, branding, and chopping people’s ears off.

Okay, fine…but where can I find marriage equality in the Constitution?

[The Court] fabricated a new constitutional right in 2015. –Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, on Obergefell v. Hodges

The justices produced a non-text-based and generalized right.Catholic Education Resource Center, on Griswold v. Connecticut (recognizing a constitutional right to decide whether and when to have a child and striking down a ban on contraception)

You can’t. But what you will find in the Constitution are the rights to equal protection and due process, which Justice Kennedy cited in his opinion on marriage equality. The Supreme Court didn’t pluck a brand new right out of thin air that allows same-sex couples to marry, but instead applied the rights already guaranteed by the Constitution to marriage bans that were passed in just the last two decades.

I’m fed up with these activist judges. How do you know they didn’t get it wrong?

This is judicial activism at its worst. –Ted Cruz, on Obergefell v. Hodges

[This case] encourages Americans to bypass the ballot and seek to press their political agenda in the courts.J. Jarvie Wilkinson III, on D.C. v. Heller

“Judicial activism” is a term people generally use when they don’t agree with a Supreme Court decision, while “judicial restraint” is the one they use when they do.

But the fact of the matter is that whether they’re exercising “activism” or “restraint”, the Supreme Court does get it wrong sometimes. They got it wrong in Korematsu v. U.S. when they decided that rounding up Japanese Americans for being Japanese was perfectly constitutional. They got it wrong in Minor v. Happersett when they denied women the right to vote. And they got it unanimously wrong in Schenck v. U.S. when they decided that the peaceful distribution of anti-war leaflets was a crime. (A bit of trivia: Schenck brought us the now-famous refrain of “shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater”, which refers to that peaceful distribution of anti-war leaflets and not, as one might think, to shouting “fire” in a crowded theater.)

Aha! I knew it! Since they sometimes get it wrong, can’t we just ignore them?

One thing I am angry about is this notion of judicial supremacy, where if the court makes a decision, I hear governors and even some aspirants to the presidency say, ‘Well, that’s settled, it’s the law of the land.’ No, it’s not the law of the land. –Mike Huckabee, on Obergefell v. Hodges

I do not recognize, I have never recognized, I cannot recognize that what the Supreme Court says is the law of the land. –Virginia Gov. Lindsay Almond on Brown v. Board of Education

No, you can’t. The Constitution is uncontestably the supreme law of the land, and since the Supreme Court is tasked with interpreting what the Constitution says, Supreme Court decisions are in fact the law of the land.

That doesn’t mean that debate ceases or that the political process is at an end. Sometimes, as debate continues, the Court changes its mind. This can take some time. In Plessy v. Ferguson, for example, the Court decided in 1896 that “separate but equal” racial segregation was constitutional, and only changed its mind sixty years later when it handed down Brown v. Board of Education.

In other cases, we amend the Constitution itself. This is intentionally very hard to do, and requires that just about everybody agree to it. This is how women gained the right to vote in the U.S., incidentally. The Court decided in Minor v. Happersett that it was constitutional to deny women the right to vote, which was the law of the land until the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920.

Balderdash! Can’t we just get rid of the Supreme Court and save some money?

If we want to save some money, lets just get rid of the court! –Bobby Jindal, on Obergefell v. Hodges.

First of all, the Supreme Court doesn’t cost that much money, and this year they even volunteered to cut their own budget, which isn’t something you see all that often in Washington. (Charmingly, last year’s budget included the replacement of an air conditioning system that was over seventy five years old, and the only person who knew how to repair it was a retiree in West Virginia.)

Secondly, getting rid of the Supreme Court would mean shredding the Constitution into itty bitty bits.

Third…do you really want to get rid of the Supreme Court? Really? Are you sure there’s nothing you might need the Court’s protection for? What if a judge decides to throw you in jail for filming on a public sidewalk? What if someone sues you over your Yelp review? What if the cops decide to arrest you just for knowing what your rights are? What if the town you live in decides to ban all guns?

The system isn’t perfect, certainly. But sometimes all that’s standing between you and oppression are those “five unelected judges.”

Paxton’s Disastrous Doubling Down

Hot on the heels of Governor Abbott’s disingenuous lead, last Sunday Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a statement regarding the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that is functionally incoherent, willfully misleading, and legally wrong. Were this merely more bluster from an extremist state official unsettled by Friday’s happy turn in the course of American history, we could comfortably ignore him. However, Paxton’s recklessness could lead to ruinous consequences for public officials who might heed his bad advice. For now, it appears as though they will not.

According to Paxton, county clerks in Texas may refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples—and judges and justices of the peace may refuse to conduct marriage ceremonies—if doing so would violate their sincerely held religious beliefs. To support that position, Paxton surgically excises the one line in the Obergefell ruling that—at a first and very perfunctory glance—seems to give him cover: “It must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned.”

Of course, that’s not all the ruling says; that’s not even all that particular paragraph of the ruling says, and Paxton seems to place all his hopes in the possibility that we might not bother to read the rest: “The Constitution, however, does not permit the State to bar same-sex couples from marriage on the same terms as accorded to couples of the opposite sex.” In other words, Americans everywhere still enjoy their fundamental and inviolable right to religious liberty, and may exercise that right to express objections to same-sex marriages as loudly and as often as they like. The first duty of those who serve the State, however—including county clerks, judges, and justices of the peace—is to uphold the law.

And Obergefell is the law.

Paxton’s willful misreading of the Obergefell decision allows him to manufacture a “fundamental dilemma” and a “tension” between the right to equal protection and the right to religious freedom, and then uses that specious analysis to provide clerks and judges with irresponsibly erroneous legal advice. Paxton informs local officials that they may shirk their duties, admits that doing so exposes them to civil litigation, but promises that legions of attorneys stand ready to defend them should they choose to go the distance in the courts.

What Paxton fails to say is that that distance will be both very short and very costly, once those cases are inevitably lost and damages are due. State officials might briefly take comfort in the fact that the Attorney General will do “everything [he] can” to be a “public voice” for those involved in litigation, at least until they realize that Paxton has set them up to stand in front of a target his own office will skillfully avoid.

Thus far, few have been duped by Paxton’s bombast. Legal analysts are seeing the Attorney General’s statement for the untenable temper tantrum that it is, and for the most part local officials have decided to uphold the law, even over their own personal objections. In fact, most Texas counties are doing the right thing, and we are confident that the rest will inevitably understand where their duty lies.

But we’re still in the early days of post-Obergefell America, and Texas state officials have made it clear that they will continue to use trumped-up religious freedom arguments to sustain their own anti-LGBT bigotry. Ultimately they will fail. Texans have already made it quite clear that they don’t share Abbott’s and Paxton’s appetite for discrimination, and we are smart enough to know that religious liberty and human equality need never be at odds with one another.

Our Constitution is big enough for everyone.

Marriage Equality Comes to Texas, But There is Still Much to Do

Today’s historic Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges represents a major breakthrough in the fight against LGBT discrimination in America.  At long last, loving couples throughout the nation can delight in the dignity of a marriage fully recognized by the state and fully protected by the law.

Unfortunately, John Arthur did not live long enough to witness the extraordinary transformation his marriage to Jim Obergefell has wrought upon our country.  Arthur and Obergefell had already lived together in a committed relationship for two decades when the Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, at which point the two decided to marry.  At the time, the marriages of same-sex couples were not recognized in the state of Ohio, and so the two flew to Maryland to wed.  By then, however, Arthur’s amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) had deteriorated to the point to where he was too weak to leave the plane, and thus he and his lifelong partner celebrated their nuptials while still aboard, on the tarmac.  Tragically, John Arthur passed away on October 22nd, 2013.

The ACLU is proud to have participated in the dismantling of DOMA, and just as proud to have represented Jim Obergefell in his momentous quest to bring marriage equality to every state in the nation.

Here in Texas, however, there remains much to do.

While the Supreme Court ruling means that LGBT couples may both marry in Texas and enjoy all of the rights, responsibilities and privileges of being married in Texas, we fully expect Attorney General Ken Paxton and a number of the state’s county clerks to resist the Court’s decision for as long as they are able to do so.  They will not be able to hold out forever, of course, but in the meantime, the ACLU of Texas has set up a website and a toll free number (1-888-503-6838) that will provide LGBT couples with information concerning their rights and a forum for reporting any acts of state discrimination they might endure.

And of course, we must recognize that the fight against LGBT discrimination does not end with today’s victory for marriage equality.  While an overwhelming majority of Texans oppose LGBT discrimination, throughout most of the state, LGBT Texans can still be fired, evicted, and denied services simply for being who they are.  We will continue to work towards introducing non-discrimination ordinances city by city, in the hopes of ultimately passing a statewide NDO.

For now, however, we toast all LGBT couples who plan to celebrate their weddings over the coming weeks.  And if you have questions about your rights, or feel you have been discriminated against, do not hesitate to visit our site or call us at 1-888-503-6838.

The Best and Worst of the 84th

Governor Abbott spent the weekend clearing his desk of all pending legislation, and thus we can finally close the book on Texas’s 84th legislative session. This year’s session wasn’t especially unusual, in that it saw its fair share of “chubbing,” glad-handing, horse-trading, and fist fights. Also typical was the sheer volume of threats leveled against Texans’ civil liberties. Thankfully, most of the worst proposals failed to make it onto the books—while some of the better ones did.

Here’s a rundown of some of the issues that mattered for civil liberties:

LGBT Rights:  The Texas legislature faced a serious quandary this year. On the one hand, some of our politicians really, really despise the idea of LGBT equality—more now than ever, with the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision due any day—and are terrified of the possibility that it will become a reality. On the other, Indiana’s “religious refusal” debacle demonstrated just how catastrophic state-sponsored discrimination is for business.

Against that backdrop, LGBT rights fared well this session. Our LGBT Equality Coalition rose to the challenge, and Texas business leaders spoke out against discriminatory laws. Legislators introduced more than 20 bills and two constitutional amendments designed to enshrine discrimination into state law, but in the end none of them passed.  The only LGBT-related bill to become law (signed by Abbott with great fanfare) merely reaffirms that clergy can refuse to perform marriages that violate their religious beliefs, a right already guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Reproductive Rights: Not satisfied with passing the infamous HB 2 in 2013 (now before the Supreme Court) and the closure of more than half the states abortion clinics, extremist legislators tried to double down.  They introduced measures to eliminate an exception to the state’s 20-week abortion ban for severe fetal abnormalities and to block insurance from being used to pay for the termination of a pregnancy. While both of those measures failed, others did not.

In a particularly mean-spirited attack, the legislature revamped the “judicial bypass” process, making it even more difficult for young women who are victims of neglect, abuse, or sex trafficking to access abortion services. To add insult to injury, politicians also blocked access to breast and cervical cancer screenings for patients of Planned Parenthood, and diverted more state funding to discredited “crisis pregnancy centers,” whose literature has been described by the Texas Medical Association as “needlessly graphic” and “factually inaccurate.”

Criminal Justice:  Groups from every segment of the political spectrum united to reform the state’s criminal justice system. The Smart-on-Crime coalition helped enact a series of measures designed to streamline the penal code, reduce recidivism, improve the reintegration process, and give former convicts a better chance for success in life after prison. Disadvantaged school children need no longer fear a fast track to the prison system, now that truancy is no longer a crime. School police officers will receive specialized training to help them better meet the needs of the students they serve and protect. Prisoners destined for solitary will now undergo mental health screenings.

Immigration: The rights of the undocumented fared better than one might have expected in the current political climate.  For one, the fact that Texas DREAMers will continue to have access to in-state university tuition was welcome news. Additionally, two attempts to wrest immigration enforcement from the federal government were thwarted: the Interstate Border Enforcement Compact, designed to allow member states to coordinate border control efforts independent of the federal government, and the Sanctuary Cities bill, which would have required local law enforcement entities to enforce immigration law at the expense of their own local priorities.

However, one immigration measure that enjoyed broad support in the legislature was passed into law. A sweeping border protection bill that costs hundreds of millions of dollars, HB 11 shows that our legislature only embraces small government and fiscal conservatism when it concerns tax rates and deregulation, but not so much when civil rights, police overreach, mission creep, and government surveillance are on the table. The law sets up a centralized surveillance center, allows for southbound checkpoints of American citizens still in the U.S., and implements a hiring surge of officers, which has proven a reliable method for fomenting corruption and abuse in law enforcement.

The bottom line: In spite of some victories for civil liberties this legislative session, lesbian, gay and transgender Texans can still be fired, evicted, or denied services in much of the state, regardless of whether the Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage equality. Texas women seeking abortion access find ever more obstacles in their path, with many more clinics forced to close if the Supreme Court refuse to step in. We still have one of the highest rates of solitary confinement in the country. Private prisons continue to clamor for more inmates, and the state still has heavy incentives to provide them. And legislators continue to push for proposals that would punish immigrants for seeking a better life.

The legislature reconvenes in 2017, and until then there is much work to do.

Will Texas State Officials Defy the Supreme Court?

“The oath of office I take says I support the laws and Constitution of the United States; it says that first.”

Dallas County Clerk John Warren
Dallas County Clerk John Warren
Thus spoke Dallas County Clerk John Warren when he announced that his office would begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in the event of a favorable Supreme Court ruling later this month. Warren likewise indicated that he would be prepared to act within an hour and a half of the ruling, and that he had already approved overtime for his staff in order to accommodate what would surely be unprecedented demand.

Other counties are following suit. Bexar County clerk Gerry Rickhoff has not only redesigned the license itself so that it does not address gender, but has also indicated that he is prepared to keep his office open 24 hours a day if necessary. And Travis County clerk Dana DeBeauvoir will be prepared to issue marriage licenses promptly, as she has done before.

Stan Stanart1
Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart

So we know Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio will be prepared to comply with a favorable Supreme Court decision on marriage equality the day it’s rendered. Unfortunately, however, same sex-couples who live in Houston—the state’s largest city and the most diverse in the country—might have to wait. Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart has stated that he will seek “guidance” from the state’s Attorney General before issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples—and he’s made it perfectly and disturbingly clear that his reasons for preventing same-sex marriages are personal: “They’re destroying an institution, the institution of marriage.”

On the state level, politicians are reacting about as well as one would expect from a group of people who celebrate their opposition to marriage equality with slices of hate cake. The fact that their statements are predictable, however, doesn’t make them any less alarming. Representative Cecil Bell, who authored several retrograde anti-LGBT measures in the last legislative session, has stated that it would be “disappointing” to see county clerks “acting outside of Texas law,” suggesting that compliance with a Supreme Court ruling were somehow illegal. Naturally Bell added that such a ruling “is not an edict that sweeps across the land,” although that is precisely what a Supreme Court ruling does.

Ken Paxton
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton

Like Bell, Attorney General Ken Paxton, whose “guidance” Stan Stanart and other clerks may seek on decision day, has stated publicly that he is “committed to defending the Texas Constitution and self-government by Texans”—the subtext being that he intends to pursue bureaucratic obstructionism if he finds the Supreme Court decision unacceptable to him and, apparently, “the will of the people of Texas.” This is in spite of the fact that polls clearly show that a strong majority of Texas voters believe that discrimination against the LGBT community is a problem.

Let the Attorney General and county clerks throughout the state know that you want them to do what their oaths and their duties already bind them to do: to obey and uphold the law of the land.

Recap: Compilation of #HOUequality tweets

At a special City Council hearing on Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance that took place Wed., April 29, most residents who testified voiced their unequivocal support for the ordinance. Just 19 people spoke against.

Attend the public meetings on the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. To sign up to speak at the Public Session on Tuesday, May 6, you must do so before 1 p.m. the day of the meeting by:

  • Calling the City Secretary’s office at 832.393.1100
  • Sending an email to citysecretary@houstontx.gov
  • Coming by the office on the public level of the City Hall Annex, 900 Bagby, Houston 77002 by 1:30 p.m. that

Before you testify please download our guide (PDF), which is full of helpful tips for giving public testimony. If you can’t make it in person, tell your story online. You can submit text or a video link.

Show your support on social media!

June 12, “Loving Day,” May Be Joined by “Windsor Day”

Terri Burke
Executive Director

Romeo and Juliet weren’t the first, nor will they be the last, lovers to pursue their relationships in secret. Throughout the centuries, people have loved in the shadows, sometimes because of their ages, often because of parental objections, sometimes because they are married to someone else.

For the past 46 years, though, men and women of different races have been able to love – and importantly, to marry – in the daylight.

On June 12, 1967, “Loving Day,” the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ended the laws in the states of the Old South that made it a crime for whites and non-whites to marry. The Earl Warren Court declared miscegenation laws unconstitutional. “There can be no doubt that restricting the freedom to marry solely because of racial classifications violates the central meaning of the equal protection clause,” declared the majority opinion.

Mildred and Richard Loving married in Washington, D.C. in 1959 and returned to northeastern Virginia to make a home and raise a family. Mildred, an 18-year-old black woman, had no idea that she had committed a crime when she married Richard, a white man.

Arrested in their home – local police barged in late at night hoping to catch them having sex – they pleaded guilty to “cohabiting as a man and wife” and avoided jail time by moving to the District of Columbia. They wrote then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy who referred them to the ACLU (times have changed!).

Sometime in the next few weeks, the court will once again have the chance to bring love out of the shadows, when it releases its ruling in Windsor v. United States, a challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act. It’s entirely possible that another June date, this one in 2013, will go down in history because the John Roberts Court echoes that earlier opinion: “There can be no doubt that restricting the freedom to marry solely because of sexual orientation violates the central meaning of the equal protection clause.”

June is the month we associate with love and marriage. Because of the work of the ACLU, for 46 years it has been a month for brides and grooms of all colors. We can only hope that, because of Edie Windsor and the ACLU, Loving Day will soon be joined by Windsor Day and June will be known as the month of brides and brides and grooms and grooms.

Equal Access to Prom

By Dotty Griffith
Public Education Director

Jarrell High School senior, Allison Brawley, got to take the date of her choice to the prom as reported by Texas News Service. Although Allison first ran into roadblocks, she—with the help of the ACLU of Texas—was able to negotiate a resolution that allowed her to share a special night of celebration with friends and classmates.

The ACLU applauds the decision by Jarrell High School administrators to adopt a fair policy that treated all students the same, regardless of sexual orientation or gender.

Often doing the right thing isn’t easy or without controversy. By standing up for Allison’s rights in a measured and reasonable way, Allison and her mother set an example for other students and their parents to follow.

The ACLU of Texas is gratified that we were able to facilitate a positive outcome that showed respect for all parties involved.