Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Big Day in the Fight for Marriage Equality!

By David Ward

Tomorrow in Denver, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit will hear oral arguments in a case challenging Utah’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples – and it’s a case that marriage equality supporters across the country will be watching closely.

This will be the first time a federal appellate court has heard a challenge to a state’s marriage ban since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor last summer, which struck down part of the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act.”  The Supreme Court’s Windsor decision has paved the way for an amazing string of decisions by federal trial courts striking down state marriage bans across the country –  the first of which occurred in Utah on December 20.

The Tenth Circuit has fast-tracked the appeal in the Utah case, hearing oral arguments less than four months after the trial court’s decision (this amounts to warp speed in the federal appellate courts).  Legal Voice joined other women’s organizations to file an amicus brief urging the Court to strike down Utah’s ban as unconstitutional.

The arguments will be heard by a panel of three judges:  Judge Jerome Holmes, appointed by George W. Bush; Judge Paul Kelly, appointed by George H.W. Bush; and Judge Carlos Lucero, appointed by Bill Clinton.

This not a liberal panel by any means – but nonetheless, many court watchers who are familiar with the Tenth Circuit believe the panel is likely to strike down Utah’s law.  A former U.S. Attorney from Utah is predicting a 2-1 victory for marriage equality, while the website Think Progress says that gay rights advocates should be “cautiously optimistic.”

Observers generally agree that Judge Lucero is likely to find that Utah’s marriage ban is unconstitutional.  And many observers are hopeful that Judge Holmes will provide a second vote to strike down the ban.  In particular, they note that Judge Holmes joined the Tenth Circuit’s decision on December 24 to deny Utah’s request to “stay” (put on hold) the trial court’s decision striking down the Utah marriage ban pending appeal. 

In denying the stay, the Tenth Circuit’s decision reasoned:

A stay pending appeal is governed by the following factors:  (1) the likelihood of success on appeal; (2) the threat of irreparable harm if the stay is not granted; (3) the absence of harm to opposing parties if the stay is not granted; and (4) any risk of harm to the public interest.  The first two factors are the most critical, and they required more than a mere possibility of success and irreparable harm, respectively.  Having considered the district court’s decision and the parties’ arguments concerning the stay factors, we conclude that a stay is not warranted.

In other words:  in December, Judge Holmes found that Utah did not show it was likely to succeed in defending the marriage ban on appeal, nor did it make a strong showing of harm.  The Tenth Circuit’s refusal to issue a stay also allowed hundreds of LGBT couples in Utah to marry before the U.S. Supreme Court finally stayed the trial court’s ruling on January 6.

Of course, trying to predict how a court will rule is like reading tea leaves.  And any decision by the 3-judge panel could be subject to further review – either by all active judges in the Tenth Circuit, or by the U.S. Supreme Court.  But this case is one to watch - and we’ll be crossing our fingers for a ruling that moves us closer to marriage equality throughout the country!

David Ward Legal & Legislative Counsel at Legal Voice, where he worked on LGBT, family law, and gender violence issues.  Take David out for drinks and you can test him on where each state stands on winning marriage equality!

Photo by Key Foster

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Are We There Yet?

Do you remember sitting in the back seat and asking that question?  Are you now the one in the driver’s seat, with kids asking you the same question?

Some things never change.  But unlike antsy children, there are some things that really need to change – such as the wage gap.

Today, Equal Pay Day, provides an annual reminder of the wage gap; women work until this day in 2014 to be paid what men were paid for their work in 2013.  Nationally, women working full-time are paid 77 cents for every dollar paid to men, and in Washington State, 78 cents per dollar.

Even worse, the wage gaps for women of color are even greater. African-American women are paid just 64 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men – and Hispanic women, only 54 cents.  This means that for African-American women, Equal Pay Day comes in July.  For Hispanic women, it isn’t Equal Pay Day until November.

The wage gap has barely moved in the past decade.  At this rate, the wage gap will take 45 years to close.

I received a message recently saying the following: “We COULD earn higher salaries at the drop of a hat. But we decline to do that. It's our free, voluntary and very intelligent choice to NOT earn higher incomes.… When you find a man and a woman doing equal work for unequal pay, report it to the EEOC; that's what it's for. Other than that, don't imply that we are incapable of making decisions for ourselves.”

To these women, I say “more power to you.”  But many – indeed, most – women do not have those same choices. Women are disproportionately represented in low-wage sectors of the workforce – where, not coincidentally, workers are less likely to have access to paid sick leave or family or medical leave.

Further, one of the reasons workers don’t simply file discrimination claims is that workers often don’t know what their counterparts are paid.  Lilly Ledbetter, for example, who took her case to the U.S. Supreme Court, did not know she was paid less than three male managers until she received an anonymous note revealing their salaries. Many companies explicitly forbid workers from discussing pay and/or retaliate against them for doing so.

No one can eliminate the wage gap with a whisk of a magic wand, any more easily than your mom could invoke time travel to get to your travel destination sooner.  But today, we got a little closer when President Obama took two executive actions: first, he signed an Executive Order prohibiting federal contractors from retaliating against employees who discuss compensation, and second, he directed the Department of Labor to require federal contractors to report compensation data by sex and race.

Both of these policies are geared toward empowering workers by increasing wage transparency so workers can take action if there are pay discrepancies.  Congress is considering the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would strengthen the Equal Pay Act and extend similar measures as the new Executive Order to eliminate pay secrecy for all workers.

So today, the answer is “No, we’re not there yet.”  But in the meantime, we’ll keep speaking up about these issues. And we hope you will, too.

Janet Chung is Legal & Legislative Counsel at Legal Voice, where she works on economic justice and reproductive health issues.  She loves taking road trips and has never asked, “Are we there yet?”

Photo by Emlyn Stokes

I considered buying rain boots.‎

by Jamila Johnson

Last night—watching the final moments of the NCAA National Championship—I knew ‎I had won my annual March Madness office pool. And I have an unhealthy love of rain boots.  I ‎like the stories that come from the weird sources of funds that feed my addiction.‎

I considered buying rain boots, but I didn’t.‎

Instead, I just donated my winnings from March Madness to Legal Voice, an ‎organization that 35 years ago won equal access to sports facilities and programs for the women ‎of Washington State and set a national precedent. ‎

In Blair v. WSU, Legal ‎Voice represented female athletes and coaches of female athletes at Washington State ‎University. At the time, women’s athletic programs were receiving inferior funding, fundraising ‎efforts, publicity and promotions, scholarships, facilities, equipment, coaching, uniforms, practice ‎clothing, awards, and administrative staff and support.

The case went a long way to improve the ‎equity of opportunities at Washington State University for women in athletics.

And today, 35 ‎years later, Women’s basketball flourishes at ‎WSU. ‎

According to the Seattle Times, “WSU and Washington have ‎more women’s sports than men’s, and the women share state-of-the-art facilities and enjoy other ‎benefits brought by Title IX, including equal money awarded in athletic scholarships.” And while ‎rain boots would have been nice, I am instead saying thank you to Legal Voice for Blair v. WSU ‎and saying thanks for the 35 years of securing and protecting women’s rights that have followed. 

Jamila Johnson is a litigator at Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt and a board member of Legal Voice. She cannot play basketball, and actually bought a book on how to run before using a treadmill for the first time.  

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Courage to Change America’s Favorite Sport

by Marti McCaleb

“So whaddya think about that gay football player?” someone asked me recently.  “Who?” I said, a little ironically.  “David Kopay? Wade Davis? Jerry Smith?” All I got was a blank stare in return, so I laughed, and said mercifully:  “Oh, you mean Michael Sam.” 

My reputation as a football fanatic has become something of a running joke.  During my second year of law school, one interviewer asked why my grades were consistently lower in the fall than the spring.  We spent the next forty minutes talking football, and I’m still convinced that if the entire US economy hadn’t collapsed two weeks later, I’d be working there still today. 

How I came to football is pretty self-evident.  I grew up in Texas, where high school football fields are bigger than many college stadiums.  And then I went to college at the University of Alabama, a place revered for football and reviled for its history and its role in civil rights struggles, past and present

What people find more surprising is that it was also my time in Alabama that turned me into a feminist.  Early in my college career, I was lucky enough to find a mentor who encouraged me to question everything and who challenged me to stop accepting other people’s beliefs as my truths.  It never mattered what conclusions I reached, so long as they were reasoned, and so long as they were mine.  Give a girl a space to think for herself and watch her go!  But if it’s this girl, don’t ask her to go anywhere on the Third Saturday in October.  

So, now, everyone’s talking about Michael Sam.  And they should be.  When the best defensive player in the best conference in college football announces “I’m an openly proud gay man,” just days before what amounts to the biggest job interview of his life, it means a lot of people are about to have their stereotypes handed back to them on a silver platter.  Stereotypes both about what it means to be gay and what it means to be a football player.   

Sam has already disproven most of those stereotypes.  He helped lead the Missouri Tigers to a 12-2 season, in their second season in the SEC, football’s most dominating conference.  He racked up a resumé full of collegiate football honors.  He was voted MVP by his teammates, all of whom knew about his sexuality.   The sanctity of the Missouri locker room was, obviously, not compromised by the presence of a gay man in the showers.  And while Sam acknowledged there might have been some “discomfort” among some of the less-enlightened team members, the real takeway is that everyone “worked through it” to build one of the most successful football teams in Mizzou history. 

I’ve also been asked a lot in the last week why I think Sam chose to come out publicly  right before the Combine.[1]  The most likely answer is that it was going to happen anyways.   Enough people involved in the draft process already suspected, and rather than waiting to be “outed,” Sam chose to come out in his own way.   I admire the courage and integrity of that choice to take ownership of his own story, to not let anyone else dictate it for him.  He is projected to be a mid-round draft pick.  Whether the controversy causes his draft stock to fall (sadly, I think it will), he will be playing in the NFL next year.  And he’ll do it on his own terms.  The first openly gay player on the roster of any NFL team. 

But he won’t be the last.  In all likelihood, he won’t even be the only openly gay player, at least not for long.  I’m hoping that Sam’s courage and leadership will be the impetus for bringing other NFL players out of the closet.  Rookies aren’t normally known for their leadership, but in this moment, Michael Sam has chosen to lead.  In spite of the possible negative consequences it could have on his career, a very brave, very authentic 24-year-old man just did what no NFL veteran has had the courage to do.  He’s taking the glare of the media and the speculation of the blogosphere and the intense scrutiny of the recruiting process all at the same time.  And if he has the courage and strength to carry that load on his big shoulders, I can only hope by the time he takes the field, some NFL veterans will be ready to share his load. 

Marti McCaleb works in Seattle as a contract attorney and volunteers with Legal Voice.  In August, after a 21 year wait, she’ll be the flower girl in her uncle’s wedding to the man of his dreams.  She is having a difficult time finding a proper dress and welcomes suggestions.   

[1] For the uninitiated, the NFL Scouting Combine is basically a week-long audition, where athletes perform physical and mental tests—yes, there are football aptitude tests!—and interview with various NFL scouts.  It’s by invitation only, which means someone somewhere has to think you’re pretty good to even get in the door.

Photo Credit Here

Friday, February 14, 2014

So far, Four out of Five Americans Qualify for Free or Low-cost Health Coverage

by Robert Riley

What?? Free or low-cost health coverage? Can this possibly be true?

Yes. This astonishing news is buried in the 17th paragraph of an article originating from the NewYork Times, reprinted in yesterday’s Seattle Times:

About four-fifths of those choosing health plans to date qualified for financial assistance to help pay their premiums, [Obama] administration officials said.

A historic transformation took place January 1, when the Affordable Care Act took effect: hardworking Americans may qualify, depending on their income, for financial help to secure health insurance.  

Depending on your family income, you may qualify for premium assistance too. 

A family of four needing insurance and earning less than $94,000 a year will qualify for a low cost plan; a family of four making $32,499 or less will qualify for a plan at no cost. 

Meet a few Washingtonians who signed up online at: and already reap the health benefits of their new, affordable coverage:
Ingrid is a talented Seattle videographer, landscaper, and dog trainer. She qualified for no cost Apple Health coverage, and recently had a full preventive physical (her first in years) along with a Pap smear, mammogram, colonoscopy, prescription for her skin rash, plus a knee x-ray - all without any co-pays or deductibles. Yesterday she saw a dentist, thanks to her new coverage.  Her advice to others:  “I encourage you to sign up immediately!”

Claire and Jim create beautiful works of art and run an eclectic bar in the southeast Washington town of Waitsburg.  They qualified for a silver Group Health plan with a premium (for both) of $159. In January, Jim had his first checkup; and in early February, Claire had one as well, including full cancer screening.

“Thanks to our new health plan, all of this care was covered for free - no hassles, no co-pays, no fine print,” exclaimed Claire.

Kristi is a Seattle chef and small business owner.
She qualified for no cost Apple Health coverage.  Even so, she didn’t believe it would do much for her.  Then in January, she visited the doctor, learned that an IUD costing $700 would be the best solution for her ongoing medical condition, had it ordered and promptly installed, free of charge, without any co-pays. “This relieves so much anxiety,” says Kristi.  “I’m really excited and appreciative of the Affordable Care Act.  Having health care means things will be taken care of.”

Carrie and Ken manage a small organic farm near the town of Orting, in the shadow of Mount Rainier.

It's a darn good thing their new, no-cost Apple Health coverage started January 1, because in late January, as Carrie was tending the farm, a ram went on a rampage, charging and attacking her repeatedly.   She wound up scraped and bruised, with a broken leg.  Her hospital visit and follow up care were all covered, with no deductibles or fine print. 

Julie and her husband began midlife career transitions after launching their daughter from the proverbial nest.
Last fall they explored their new coverage options, and selected a bronze Group Health plan for which they receive full premium assistance.  

Though Julie doubted her new insurance card would work, she gave it a try in mid-January after she heard the scary news of this year's flu outbreak – 10 deaths already in our state.  Sure enough, she was whisked through the Seattle clinic, and given a flu shot, free of charge.

"The experience couldn't have been more seamless. I drove in and out of there in 15 minutes!" she exclaimed.

If you live in Washington State and need coverage, follow Ingrid’s advice and sign up immediately by visiting:

Don’t delay! Open enrollment ends March 31, 2014

Roberta Riley is the Communications Director for Northwest Health Law Advocates, a non-profit dedicated to health care for all. In her former role as Legal Counsel for Planned Parenthood, Ms. Riley won a groundbreaking federal court decision requiring health plan coverage of prescription contraception. She has served as a consumer advocate at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, and was appointed to the Washington State Health Reform Realization Panel by the Hon. Mike Kreidler. In recognition of her achievements on behalf of women, she was given a 2001 Ms. Magazine Women the Year Award.