Local same sex couple sues state

Local same sex couple sues state

Credit: Chris Heller / Houma Courier Staff

Nadine (left) and Courtney Blanchard pose with their son Cade, 14 months, Saturday at their home in Raceland.

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Posted on February 17, 2014 at 1:46 PM

Xerxes Wilson / Houma Courier

RACELAND, La. -- The Blanchards are a gay couple, married in Iowa last year, who live in Lafourche. They, along with two other gay couples, have sued the state claiming Louisiana’s refusal to recognize their marriage violates their constitutional freedoms.

The suit is among a flood of similar challenges nationwide. It was filed prior to one by four couples and the New Orleans-based Forum for Equality filed this past week.

Their goal, they say, is equal recognition for their families. The Blanchards grew up in central Lafourche and graduated from the local high school.

Driving through their Raceland subdivision past the single story, cookie cutter red brick homes, the Blanchards’ home would be difficult to distinguish from those of most bayou families. Courtney works for a Lockport shipbuilder; Nadine for a Houma oilfield fabricator.

Their focus in life is providing a home for 1-year-old Cade, who was born from Courtney’s embryo and carried by Nadine.

“She has a part in him and I have a part in him,” Courtney said as the bubbly blue-eyed blond toddler alternated between tilling their living room floor with a plastic John Deere tractor and playing games on their iPad.

Cade was baptized in the local Catholic church. Although a somewhat puzzled priest allowed Courtney to participate, her name won’t be found on the baptismal certificate.

Courtney’s name isn’t on his birth certificate either.

A 2004 amendment to the state’s constitution defines marriage exclusively as a union between members of the opposite sex.

Unmarried gay couples are denied a marriage license, and Louisiana gay couples, married elsewhere, do not enjoy the legal benefits of heterosexual couples.

Those legal benefits include the ability to file a traditional will and claim the “married” status on tax documents said Brandon Robb, of Delaney and Robb, a New Orleans-based law firm that specializes in helping gay, lesbian and transgender individuals navigate the state’s legal system.

The Blanchards’ original suit, filed last summer, sought recognition for gay couples married elsewhere, according to filing attorney Scott Spivey of New Orleans.

Robert Welles and Garth Beauregard, an unmarried couple from New Orleans, were added upon being refused a marriage license in January in New Orleans.

The suit names state Registrar Devin George, state Revenue Secretary Tim Barfield and Health and Hospitals Secretary Kathy Kliebert as defendants. The amended complaint awaits for response from the defendants. It has been assigned to federal Judge Martin Feldman.

The suit alleges the state’s strict definition of marriage violates the due process and equal protection provisions of the 14th Amendment.

Spivey said he expects it will be heard alongside the Forum for Equality suit and noted it’s modeled after challenges in other states that have recently seen success.

On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Arenda Wright Allen struck down Virginia’s ban on same-sex unions, a first for the historically change-resistant South.

The day before, a judge struck down Kentucky’s refusal to recognize same-sex couples married elsewhere, but stopped short of addressing the question of gay marriages being performed in the state.

In June, the Supreme Court ruled same-sex couples must be given equal treatment in some specific situations. That set the stage for the current siege of state challenges, Robb said. In the months since, laws banning same-sex marriages were struck down in Oklahoma, Utah and Virginia.

Spivey and Robb agree that the question will likely be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.

“It’s exciting. Everything has been positive up till now,” Courtney said. “Things could really change.”

She noted there is already evidence of that change. The health insurance provider for Nadine’s employer allows them to be on the same plan.

Co-plaintiffs in the Blanchards’ suit are Jon Robicheaux and Derek Penton. Robicheaux is from Houma and said he’s seen plenty of change on the bayou.

“It’s come a long way since I left. There is still resistance,” Robicheaux said. “It’s a slow progression. Education and generational changes will weed that out. Those ideas are going out with time.”

Courtney argued that those still resisting will be remembered in the same light as those who resisted civil rights for blacks. She added the couple feel nothing but love from their neighbors and others.

“We are accepted around here,” Courtney said. “My grandma knows, and she understands it. I would never imagine that kind of stuff.” “Our family is here. We could move away, but moving isn’t an option,” Nadine said. “This is where our home is. We shouldn’t have to leave to fully enjoy our life.”

Staff Writer Xerxes Wilson can be reached at 857-2204 or xerxes.wilson@houmatoday.com.

 

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