Lawsuit Filed: Meet the Plaintiffs
Forum for Equality Louisiana, together with four couples, filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s constitutional ban on recognizing same-sex marriages legally performed outside the state.
The lawsuit charges that Louisiana’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriages violates the US constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process. The lawsuit also asserts that state officials infringe the couples’ First Amendment rights by requiring them to claim that they are unmarried on state tax returns.
The prestigious New Orleans law firm of Stone Pigman Walther Wittmann filed the suit in US District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana, on behalf of Forum for Equality Louisiana and four couples who are members of the organization. Named as defendants are state Secretary of Revenue Tim Barfield and Registrar Devin George.
The couples are Jacqueline and Lauren Brettner from New Orleans, Nicholas Van Sickels and Andrew Bond from New Orleans, Henry Lambert and Carey Bond from New Orleans, and Havard Scott and Sergio March Prieto from Shreveport.
The basis of the equal protection violation claim is that Louisiana recognizes marriages legally performed elsewhere, including marriages that cannot be entered into inside the state, such as marriages between first cousins or common-law marriages. Louisiana singles out only same-sex marriages for unequal treatment, a violation of the constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process.
The couples are also forced to break Louisiana law requiring them to file their state income tax returns based on their federal returns. Instead of piggy-backing on their joint returns filed with the federal government as all other married couples, same-sex couples must go to the extra expense of creating fictitious federal returns in order to file their state return, a violation of their First Amendment rights of free speech.
“Louisiana’s disparate treatment of same-sex and opposite-sex couples who are married outside of Louisiana demonstrates that the purpose of the Louisiana Anti-Recognition Laws is to ‘impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages’ that were lawfully celebrated in other states,” according to the lawsuit, which frequently cites the US Supreme Court’s 2013 decision overturning a portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. (United States v. Windsor, 570 U.S. 12)
Now in its 25th year, Forum for Equality is dedicated to establishing a society free from discrimination and to support good government. The bipartisan organization works to defeat those who would deny basic equal rights and human dignity to anyone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Stone Pigman Walther Wittmann L.L.C. has one of the preeminent litigation practices in Louisiana and the Gulf South. The firm regularly handles challenging legal issues and intricate litigation matters on behalf of its clients. It also has a long history of public service and pro bono efforts and regularly assists nonprofits and individuals in need of legal services. The Stone Pigman team assisting Forum for Equality includes Dalton Courson, Lesli Harris, John Landis, Brooke Tigchelaar and Maurine Wall.