Friday, October 02, 2009

Naming the Gays in TX Marriage Case;
Judge's $10K Democratic Donations

The Dallas Morning News today reports on an unprecedented and welcome development for gay marriage in the Lone Star state. Excerpted from the article:

In a first for Texas, a judge ruled Thursday that two men married in another state can divorce here and that the state's ban on gay marriage violates the U.S. Constitution. [...]

Although the case is far from settled, and the state's constitutional ban on gay marriage is a long way from being thrown out, Dallas state District Judge Tena Callahan's ruling says the state prohibition of same-sex marriage violates the federal constitutional right to equal protection. [...]

Callahan, a Democrat, denied the attorney general's intervention and said her court "has jurisdiction to hear a suit for divorce filed by persons legally married in another jurisdiction."

"This is huge news. We're ecstatic," said Dallas attorney Peter Schulte, who represents the man who filed the divorce. The man, identified in court documents as J.B., asked that he and his former partner not be identified. [...]

The reference to court documents piqued my curiosity, so I quickly found an online record from the Dallas court's web site, and the Morning News is wrong about how the petitioner is identified. Both his name and that of his male partner are listed in full. From the court's site:

Register of Actions
Case No. DF-09-01074

Case Type: DIVORCE
Date Filed: 01/21/2009
Location: 302nd District Court


The divorcing gay couple may desire to have their names omitted from news stories, a request the Morning News grants them, but I'm naming both men because their public lawsuit in a public court is part of the public record and I see no reason to withhold their identities.

In my view, withholding Jeffrey Buck and Henry Buck's names in news accounts about their high-profile and controversial case strongly reinforces the stigma surrounding gay men. It sends a terrible message in 2009 if gay petitioners can't be named. Omitting their names contributes to societal homophobia that holds us back from increased liberation and legal equality.

I also searched for any Federal Election Commission files on Judge Callahan, and found that since 2006 she has donated a total of $10,360 to the Dallas County Democratic Party.

Do the donations make her an activist judge? Sure, in the eyes of conservatives who oppose gay rights, and I'm surprised the rightwing hasn't deplored Callahan's Democratic Party donations.

Back in 2005, lawyers for disgraced Texas Congressman Tom DeLay succeeded in having a judge hearing his criminal case removed from handling the lawsuit because he'd made donations to Democratic Party candidates such as Sen. John Kerry. This shows GOP activists know how to make hay out of a judge's political contributions.

Expect conservative Texans to soon enough use Callahan's five-figure donations to disparage her ruling. And expect gay leaders in Texas and at the national level to defend Callahan's decision and the validity of her judicial thinking.


Michael Ginsborg said...

Litigants in the case have asked that the media not disclose their names for fear of reprisal from an employer. I have since removed identifying content from my site. I don't know whether the need for privacy trumps keen public interest in the case, so I don't know that I am right to recommend that you do likewise.

Anonymous said...

I have normally respected such requests when writing on my blog, in my newsletter, and for Gay City News - at least in cases where there was a credible threat, such as where I was reporting on a gay person's loss of an asylum case. In my initial writing about this case, I used initials because of the news reports that one of the men was not "out" at work and feared losing his job. I don't see how it advances the story to name these guys publicly.

Anonymous said...

The problem with the stories in The Dallas Morning News and the Dallas Voice is that they leave the impression that the petition was filed anonmyously. That's not what happened. These men put their names on same-sex marriage licenses in Massachusetts , and now they've filed for a divorce in Texas. This is a landmark case, and they are no longer "average citizens" as a news editor suggested to me today. There's every reason to name them and not to name them, but the end result is that they are not going to be able to maintain their privacy, given the high-profile nature of the case. If they wanted to keep their names out of the media, they should have handled it some other way — even if it meant returning to live in Massachusetts. I don't see how they could possibly have expected any other sort of development. It is certainly inappropriate for the Texas media to allow any married gay or lesbian couples to think they can file for divorce in Texas anonymously. It just ain't gonna happen.

Anonymous said...

Texas has partisan judicial elections. Callahan ran as a democrat, and it's only natural that she gave money to the democrats. Republicans won't make any traction on that point -- all the republican judges give to the GOP. This isn't like DeLay's case, where the prosecution was political in nature. In fact, in Dallas, the judges flip parties with the changing of the breeze, and correspondingly switch which party organization they're giving to.