Forum for Equality Fights for Equal Rights in Louisiana
On Wednesday morning, news rang out from New Orleans that the Forum for Equality Louisiana and four same-sex couples filed a federal law suit that is sure to have major ramifications on the future of equality in our state. The suit contends that Louisiana’s constitutional ban on the recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states violates the Constitution of the United States, which guarantees equal protection and due process for all citizens. Later, on Wednesday afternoon, the chair of Forum for Equality gave Henry Harbor the opportunity to get a little more information on the history of the organization and what they are hoping to achieve with this landmark litigation in the new era of our country’s second wave of fighting for civil rights.
John Denison, a former anchor at KNOE-TV (CBS) Monroe who currently freelances and lends his talents to several non-profit groups around Louisiana is the Chair of the Forum for Equality Foundation, which dedicates itself to establishing a society that is both in support of good government and free from all forms of discrimination. The organization believes that the fastest and most efficient way to achieve its goals is through community organization, education, and constructive participation in the political process.
Denison explained that Forum for Equality is bringing this civil action to challenge the constitutionality of the 2004 Louisiana Defense of Marriage Amendment (DOMA) and laws which deny same-sex couples’ recognition. “Our mission is simple,” Denison stated, “advocate for full, equal rights for Louisiana’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) citizens and to be a watchdog against disparate treatment.”
According to Denison, Forum for Equality has been active since 1989 by helping to pass civil rights advancements for the LGBT community. It is comprised of three connected nonprofit organizations. Forum for Equality Louisiana is chaired by Mary Griggs of New Orleans. It is the parent organization that hosts lobbying and advocacy efforts. Forum for Equality Foundation, chaired by Denison, provides educational programming on LGBT issues and conducts comprehensive campaigns to build public support for equal rights. Finally, Forum for Equality PAC, chaired by Randy Evans is the political action committee that works to elect fair-minded candidates. Forum for Equality is a member of the Equality Federation, a nation-wide alliance of state-based LGBT advocacy organizations.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Forum for Equality Louisiana and four couples (also members of the organization) by the prestigious New Orleans law firm of Stone Pigman Walther Wittman, LLC, named state Secretary of Revenue Tim Barfield and Registrar Devin George as defendants. Filed in the US District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana, the suit asserts that Louisiana’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriages violates the United States constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process and that state officials infringe upon the couples’ First Amendment rights by requiring them to claim that they are unmarried on state tax returns.
Denison stated that all “Louisianans who believe our state’s citizens deserve equal protections under the law should support Forum for Equality.” He went on to proudly describe the various ways that the organization has advocated for both marriage equality and equal employment rights in the state of Louisiana. Forum for Equality worked in conjunction with the Shreveport-based group, PACE, on the now-historic “Be Fair Shreveport” campaign to back the city’s recently-enacted anti-discrimination ordinance giving employment, housing, and public accommodation protections to LGBT citizens.
Additional accomplishments of Forum for Equality include its work with partner organizations Louisiana Trans Advocates and BreakOUT! to enact the first LGBT policy with the New Orleans Police Department in 2013. The organization defeated a “Backdoor Bigotry Bill” in the Louisiana Legislature which sought to remove all LGBT protections at the state and local levels in 2012, and Forum for Equality also obtained executive orders to protect local public employees from discrimination in Lafayette in 2011, in Monroe in 2011, and in partnership with Shreveport’s PACE in 2009.
When asked what citizens can do to get involved and to help, Denison was emphatic. “Join Forum for Equality! Your investment helps us host town hall meetings, train equality advocates, educate communities, engage the hearts and minds through media campaigns and advance policies that improve the lives of LGBT Louisianans.” He continued with allusions of the days and weeks to come.
“As we begin to battle for equal marriage rights, Forum for Equality will also keep a sharp focus on its Louisiana Nondiscrimination Act (LANA). This omnibus measure will be introduced in the upcoming legislative session by Senator Edwin Murray and Representative Austin Badon. With LANA’s passage, all residents would be treated fairly and equally under the laws of our state regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.” Denison explains that “LANA would protect gay and transgender people from discrimination at work, when buying or renting a home and in public accommodations like hotels and libraries. All hardworking people in Louisiana should have the chance to earn a living and provide for themselves and their families without fear of discriminatory actions based solely on who they are or whom they love.”
When considering potential outcomes of the process begun with the filing of Wednesday’s lawsuit, Denison notes that this will be a wait-and-see situation such as those taking place for LGBT citizens in other states; however, he notes that “the momentum for marriage equality has spread quickly across the United States after the 2013 Supreme Court ruling in the Edith Windsor that struck down a portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The time is right for Louisiana to come into line with equal protection and due process for its LGBT citizens.“
Forum for Equality’s marriage equality lawsuit will cost tens of thousands of dollars. The organization depends on fair-minded citizens to support the mission. Join and donate at forumforequality.org.