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Finishing the job of the LGBT movement

mass wedding, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, Supreme Court, Proposition 8, Defense of Marriage Act, Prop 8, DOMA, gay news, LGBT, Washington Blade, marriage equality

(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The nature of LGBT activism is changing fast in this post-DOMA/Prop 8/DADT world. As LGBT acceptance grows and anti-gay laws continue to fall, it’s easy to forget where we came from, how we got here and what’s left to accomplish.

Pride week seems a good time to reflect on some of that.

One recent story illustrates just how dramatically different the world is today: Michael Sam’s NFL draft and kiss with his boyfriend broadcast live on ESPN. The “ick” factor remains a potent enemy of LGBT equality, from straight men tweeting their horror at the kiss, to opponents of Maryland’s recently approved trans rights law trying to scare voters into thinking men dressed as women will flock to bathrooms and locker rooms. That’s why spontaneous displays of affection like Sam’s are important — such visibility will slowly ease the discomfort some feel at the sight of two men or two women together.

Although Sam’s coming out is a courageous step, some won’t recognize his process as particularly pioneering. When Martina Navratilova came out in the early 1980s, she lost untold millions in endorsement deals and endured the homophobic and misogynistic barbs of commentators and tennis fans the world over. Contrast that with Sam’s carefully choreographed announcement, Visa endorsement deal and the NFL’s aggressive moves to shield him from criticism.

Indeed, much has changed. From the days when activism meant taking to the streets, as chronicled in HBO’s “Normal Heart,” which debuted last month, to our modern view of activists as lawyers and lobbyists.

As things get better, it’s important to remember that not everyone is benefitting from all the positive change. The Blade in January embarked on a special yearlong series focusing on poverty in the LGBT community. We’ve told many stories of those in our community struggling with chronic unemployment, discrimination and health care dilemmas. There’s much more to come this year in the series.

Poverty isn’t the only problem facing the LGBT community. From transgender people who face disproportionately high rates of violence and discrimination to prison inmates coping with discriminatory laws behind bars to LGBT youth living on the streets to the stubbornly high rates of HIV infection among MSM, there is much work ahead.

And as we remember those less fortunate at home, let’s also look abroad to those LGBT people struggling to overcome hate in countries around the world like Russia, Uganda and elsewhere where being LGBT can mean imprisonment and even death.

The Blade is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year and our Pride float will reflect the changes in both the LGBT community as well as at the paper itself — from our early days as a black-and-white one-sheet newsletter featuring stories about police harassment to our modern incarnation complete with social media platforms and mobile app.

If there’s one common thread in all the thousands of stories the Blade has published over the years it’s our focus on telling the stories of LGBT people. Some readers still occasionally question why we disclose the sexual orientation of sources in our stories. The reason speaks to our core mission of chronicling our own history and overcoming hate and bias through visibility. Encouraging visibility is also why Pride celebrations remain important. Not everyone lives in LGBT-friendly places like D.C. They come from rural Virginia, Pennsylvania, Western Maryland and other locales that seem close by but for some can feel a world away from a city like Washington with its pro-LGBT politicians, an openly gay candidate running for mayor, marriage equality law and progressive laws protecting transgender residents.

So as we celebrate Pride this weekend in D.C., let’s be mindful that marriage equality isn’t the only goal of the movement and that when the weekend’s revelry ends we need to recommit ourselves to finishing the job.

Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at knaff@washblade.com.

05
Jun
2014

Marriage lawsuit filed in N.D.

North Dakota, gay news, Washington Blade

State Seal of North Dakota

BISMARCK, N.D. — Seven gay and lesbian couples on June 6 filed a federal lawsuit challenging North Dakota’s same-sex marriage ban.

The Associated Press reported the couples filed the lawsuit with the U.S. District Court in Fargo that challenges the state’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman and its refusal to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other states.

North Dakota had been the last state without gay nuptials in which same-sex couples had not filed a lawsuit seeking marriage rights since the U.S. Supreme Court last June struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act.

The AP reported that Josh Newville, a Minneapolis lawyer, is representing the North Dakota couples. He filed a federal lawsuit last month on behalf of six same-sex couples in neighboring South Dakota who are seeking marriage rights in their state.

11
Jun
2014


Study finds LGBT health care improving

LGBT Health, gay news, Washington Blade, health care, improving

(Public domain image)

WASHINGTON — A new report finds that things are improving for LGBT people because of better access to health care, Benefitspro.com, a Summit Professional Network publication, reports.

Citing a new study called “Health and Access to Care and Coverage for LGBT Individuals in the U.S.” from the Kaiser Family Foundation, the site reports findings that say that while LGBT people still tend to have more physical and mental health challenges than their straight counterparts, their needs are being increasingly recognized and met.

Researchers evaluated data from the U.S. Census Bureau, various state agencies, the Institute of Medicine, the National Center for Transgender Equality, the Centers for Disease Control and more to issue the report. Recent factors such as the Affordable Care Act’s implementation and the Supreme Court’s DOMA ruling were also considered, the article said.

The report credits the Affordable Care Act and the rejection of DOMA with “reshaping the health care and coverage landscape for (LGBT) individuals and their families.”

15
Jan
2014

Electing more out women to public office

Tammy Baldwin, women, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

By STEPHANIE SCHRIOCK

There is a big difference between being a topic of conversation and being a part of the conversation. If we want a truly representative democracy, we need to elect a government that actually looks like our nation of individuals – of every gender, race, religion and orientation.

EMILY’s List works on making that vision a reality by supporting diverse Democratic women candidates for every level of office. And we have work to do: We elected an historic number of women in 2012, but women are still only 19 percent of Congress. That’s one of the reasons we’ll fight for the underdog candidate when we know she is the right one.

In 2011, when everyone told us that Tammy Baldwin couldn’t win a Senate race in Wisconsin, we put everything we had behind her and made it happen. We’d been standing with Tammy for years and knew she was a champion for every Wisconsinite. And, in 2012, Baldwin made history when she was elected as our nation’s first openly gay United States Senator.

Having her voice in the Senate makes a difference. Having Kyrsten Sinema’s voice in the House of Representatives makes a difference. Having Annise Parker as mayor of Houston makes a difference.

Having LGBT voices in the halls of power is not just important, it’s essential. It’s something we need to work on every month, not just Pride Month, because the work these women do has a lasting impact.

Women like current candidate for governor of Maryland, Del. Heather Mizeur, who has done incredible work to bring marriage equality to her state. As a city councilor she helped Takoma Park become the first municipality to pass a resolution in support of same-sex marriage and as a state delegate, her passionate floor speech helped secure final passage for statewide marriage equality. And women like candidate for Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey who, as assistant attorney general took on the federal government and worked working tirelessly to challenge DOMA and see it overturned.

In Houston, Mayor Annise Parker championed an ordinance that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Despite threats of a recall, Parker refuses to put political games ahead of the rights of the people of Houston. In Nevada, state Sen. Pat Spearman, an advocate for LGBT people of color, ensured gender identity protections were included in hate crimes prevention laws. Oregon’s House Speaker Tina Kotek played a large role in the passage of the Oregon Family Fairness Act, the Oregon Equality Act and strengthening laws to protect students from bullying in schools.

Elections matter. Electing these women has changed their towns and states and our country. Electing more LGBT women and more women LGBT allies will make ours a more inclusive country.

Right now, the EMILY’s List women in the Senate have a 100 percent record on supporting the overturning of DOMA, backing an LGBT-inclusive Violence Against Women Act, voting for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and publicly backing marriage equality. That’s a record I am proud of.

One of the bravest things you can do in a democracy is put your name on the ballot. Especially when you may not meet the stereotypes of a candidate, or be the most obvious person to run for office.

We need to stand with the women brave enough to do just that. This is a nation of individuals, and it should be a nation where everyone can be proud of what makes them unique, and have their voices heard.

Stephanie Schriock is president of EMILY’s List.

17
Jun
2014

DOMA lawyer seeks to join Utah marriage lawsuit

gay marriage, same sex marriage, marriage equality, Roberta Kaplan, Defense of Marriage Act, Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade

DOMA attorney Roberta Kaplan is seeking to part in the Utah marriage case. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The lawyer who successfully argued against the Defense of Marriage Act before the U.S. Supreme Court filed paperwork on Friday to take part in the federal litigation seeking marriage equality in Utah.

Roberta Kaplan, a private attorney at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, asked the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, where the litigation is pending, to allow her to join the case as a representative of three same-sex couples either seeking recognition of their marriages or the ability to marry in Utah.

In the 14-page filing, Kaplan writes that she should be able to join as an intervenor in Kitchen v. Herbert because of the nature of the litigation as an “extraordinary case.”

“[I]n a case of this significance and importance, which has the potential to shape the trajectory of the quest of gay people for full civil equality, having greater participation by affected parties and greater airing of the issues can only benefit this Court by providing the widest range of arguments and perspectives available,” Kaplan writes in the filing.

The couples that Kaplan represents are Douglas Wortham and Nicholas Nero, an unmarried gay couple who have been in a relationship for thirty years; Lynn Beltran and Claudia O’Grady, a lesbian couple who have been together fourteen years and who married on Dec. 23 in Salt Lake County; and Stanford Rovig and Charles Fluke, a gay couple who have been together for about eight years and married on Dec. 31 in Salt Lake County.

Joining the lawsuit would mean having the ability to file intervenor briefs and participate in oral arguments, which are scheduled for April 10. If the court denies her the opportunity to take part as an intervenor, the brief indicates Kaplan will participate in the case as a friend of the court.

Kaplan, who herself is in a same-sex marriage, gained notoriety last year when she successfully argued on behalf of lesbian widow Edith Windsor the case of United States v. Windsor, which led to the U.S. Supreme Court striking down Section 3 of DOMA.

01
Feb
2014

Behind the ‘8’ ball

joyous documentary, gay news, Washington Blade

The Prop 8 couples at the Supreme Court. (Photo courtesy HBO)

Happily, HBO’s joyous documentary “The Case Against 8” is already out of date. A title near the end of the movie mentions the number of states with marriage equality, but the count doesn’t include Pennsylvania or Wisconsin. Will the producers keep updating the title or will they leave it in place as a historic marker?

“The Cast Against 8” is finishing a local run that ends Thursday (June 19) at Washington’s West End Cinema after a June 9 D.C. premiere, but it debuts Monday night on HBO to mark the one-year anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court rulings on DOMA and Prop 8. 

At its core, “The Case Against 8” is the story of three amazing pairs: the two couples who were selected to actually file the lawsuit against Proposition 8 and the two lawyers who argued the case. Proposition 8 was the controversial ballot referendum and amendment to the California state constitution that eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry, overturning an earlier court decision that allowed gay marriages. With equal appeals to the emotion and intellect, the documentary masterfully captures the five-year legal battle with incredible behind-the scenes footage of the plaintiffs and their legal team at work.

The case starts with a casual conversation over a Hollywood lunch. Chad Griffin is meeting with fellow board members from the American Foundation for Equal Rights to discuss their response to Prop 8. Someone mentions that Ted Olson, the very high-profile very conservative right-wing lawyer, is a supporter of same-sex marriage. A shocked Griffin quickly sets up a meeting with Olson. Griffin is delighted when Olson signs on, but surprised by Olson’s choice of co-counsel: David Boies, his opponent in the historic 2000 Bush v. Gore battle. The two had become close friends despite their bitter rivalry and agree to join forces to overturn the discriminatory amendment.

The legal team then faces its most important and difficult decision: choosing the couples who will become plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenging Proposition 8. Two couples survive the intense vetting process: Kris Perry and Sandy Stier of Berkeley and Jeff Zarrillo and Paul Katami of Burbank. With the principal players in place, the battles begin, both in the courtroom and in the court of public opinion.

Documentary filmmakers Ben Cotner and Ryan White had extraordinary access to the proceedings and skillfully capture the human and legal drama of the unfolding court cases. It’s fascinating to watch Olson and Boies lead a squadron of lawyers in developing their case. Cotner and White tell the complicated story with admirable clarity, but more importantly, they capture the intellectual passion of two brilliant minds at work.

But, like Olson and Boies, Cotner and White realize that the plaintiffs are the heart of the story. As Olson tells the foursome, “You are the case. Everything else is just evidence.” The two couples turn out to be their own best advocates. They simply and eloquently explain why the right to marry is so important to them. Perry and Stier had their 2004 marriage declared invalid; Zarrillo and Katami are waiting to have children until their relationship has full legal and social recognition. In their testimony and in their interviews with the filmmakers, these brave pioneers share the intimate details of their lives, including the threatening messages left by the haters. By the time the film closes with their respective ceremonies (each couple madly rushing to their nearest city hall with a filmmaker and lawyer in tow), there will not be a dry eye in the house.

Unfortunately, Cotner and White did not have access to the defenders of Proposition 8, but they still create interesting thumbnail sketches of the opposition. They are also denied footage from the Supreme Court hearings in San Francisco and D.C. since television cameras are banned in both chambers, but they use a surprisingly effective method to work around this obstacle. The participants simply read their testimony from printed transcripts. This is a powerful and moving technique, especially when Sandy Stier puts on her reading glasses to relive the moment. They also effectively create drama by showing the preparation for the trial, including Olson being grilled by his colleagues as he readies for his Supreme Court appearance.

 

18
Jun
2014

Doin’ it our way

Lou Ann Sandstrom, Kathleen Kutschenreuter, Foundry United Methodist Church, same-sex weddings, wedding, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade

Lou Ann Sandstrom, left, and Kathleen Kutschenreuter at their wedding recessional at Foundry United Methodist Church on Sept. 28, 2013. (Photo by Paul Morse Photography; courtesy the couple)

Like the couples themselves, same-sex weddings come in all shapes and sizes.

We got to know three local couples that each went about it in different ways.

Kevin Anthony Rowe, 31, married Will Shreve, 28, last Sept. 19 at the Jefferson Memorial. They kept it “small and quick” so they could tie the knot before Shreve left for the Middle East on Christmas Day for his deployment with the U.S. Navy.

Greg Alexander, 43, married his partner of 13 years, Paul K. Williams, 47, on Jan. 31 at the Baltimore City Circuit Courthouse.

Kathleen Kutschenreuter, 43, and Lou Ann Sandstrom, 54, did the more traditional “big church wedding.” They had about 130 guests when they wed last Sept. 28 at Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, an event that was also the day of their then-6-month-old daughter, Ava Kae’s, baptism.

For myriad reasons, each couple’s decision, they say, made the most sense for them.

David Lett, Kevin Anthony Rowe, Will Shreve, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade, wedding

Kevin Anthony Rowe, left, with husband Will Shreve, right. They were married Sept. 19 by Rev. David Lett, center. (Photo by John Ellis)

Rowe and Shreve met on a Sunday evening at Nellie’s Sports Bar in January 2012.

“It sounds cliché, but I knew from the minute I met him, this is the guy I was going to end up with,” says Rowe, a budget analyst at National Geographic who also tends bar on weekends at Town Danceboutique. “I’d had long relationships before … but I never had been so sure about something. …. In my mind, it was only a matter of time.”

He says they might have done a destination wedding had time not been so pressing, but they’re happy with how things worked out. They chose the Jefferson Memorial because it’s Shreve’s favorite D.C. memorial.

Rowe says it was all pretty easy to arrange. After downloading a form from the National Park Service website and sending $100, the permit was e-mailed back to them within about three days.

“It was super easy,” he says. “Once you get there, there are only certain areas you can have it, but you just ask at the little guard spot and they tell you where you can and can’t go.”

The ceremony lasted about 15-20 minutes and Rev. David Lett, a friend of the couple, officiated. They were at the site about an hour.

On the Thursday of their wedding, they had dinner beforehand and an after party at Number Nine, a gay bar on P Street, with balloons and Champagne.

Rowe says the separation is hard but he’s making do with Skype, texts and the like. They video chat every couple days and are planning a few trips throughout the year to see each other. Rowe says he keeps busy working two jobs and has great friends around to help fill the void.

Because they had lived together near Columbia Heights about a year before getting married, Rowe says the wedding itself didn’t change how their relationship felt.

“It kind of just felt like another day together,” he says. “We fit so well on every level and it’s so comfortable that just because the label was there now didn’t change anything.”

Greg Alexander, a magazine editor, thought he would feel pretty much the same way. He and Williams had lived together for about 10 years by the time they wed last month.

“It’s hard to describe it,” he says. “We’d been together 13 years and I didn’t expect it to feel any different. We’d exchanged rings on our 10th anniversary, just the two of us in the garden. But something about it, after it was done, not to sound cheesy, but it feels more real. When I look at my ring, it’s not just, ‘Oh, those are the rings we gave each other because we love each other.’ Now it’s more like, ‘Yes, we are married.’”

The couple thought about getting married when same-sex marriage became legal in Maryland in January last year, but decided to wait. When key parts of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) were repealed by the Supreme Court later in the year, Alexander says, “That was kind of the final push we needed.” They waited until 2014 for tax purposes.

“We were pretty sure this is what we wanted,” says Williams, who is president of Congressional Cemetery. “I think we were more concerned we might offend some family members or friends by not doing something bigger, but we talked about it with them and decided to do some nice dinners with our two families a few months later. That’s just kind of the way it worked out best for us, especially for our families and their schedules.”

Alexander says in early discussions that, “luckily we were on the same page about this.” They’d had large parties with family, friends, banquet halls, private chefs and that type of thing for each other on their respective 40th birthdays, so when it came time to tie the knot, they agreed simpler was the way to go.

Paul K. Williams, Greg Alexander, wedding, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade

Paul K. Williams, left, with husband Greg Alexander the day they married at the Baltimore City Circuit Courthouse. (Photo courtesy the couple)

He says there was some initial concern that doing it so low key might feel anticlimactic, but he says the courthouse didn’t have the bare bones feel he thought it might.

“I thought it might be a little two-second thing like going to jury duty or something, but we were pleasantly surprised,” Alexander says. “It’s actually pretty nice. The people were amazing, which kind of caught us a little off guard. … You go into a little room that’s decorated and they have an officiant do your vows. … We couldn’t get over how excited the city employees were. We had total strangers hugging us and telling us they were so happy two gay men could get married. We didn’t expect that from the Baltimore City Courthouse.”

The license was about $85 and there was an additional $25 charge for the civil ceremony. Three couples joined them for dinner afterward.

“I think the couple needs to really ask themselves how they want to remember the occasion,” Williams says. “I know when we had the big [birthday] party, it went so fast and it was so involved and complex, I barely remember the conversations we had. I think it’s just something that’s very individual and each couple needs to look at themselves and how they like to entertain and decide how they want to do it.”

Kutschenreuter and Sandstrom were struck by Rev. Dean Snyder’s homily when they visited Foundry United Methodist Church in November 2012. As he shared a story of a same-sex couple whose wedding he had officiated the previous day and Kutschenreuter and Sandstrom discovered the church’s social justice, community and LGBT advocacy work, it hit a nerve.

“We really knew we wanted a sacred space to really honor our desire to express our commitment in front of family and friends and we didn’t want to do it on our own, we wanted witnesses,” says Kutschenreuter, who works for the Environmental Protection Agency. “We had a desire to do it in front of a higher power … . To us, we felt for our marriage to have the best chance and to be the most grounded, we wanted it to be grounded in a spiritual context.”

They say the cost of the church was a “drop in the bucket,” considering what they spent on their reception. They said it was “less than $2,000” for the church, clergy and a team of musicians who performed. Foundry offers a discount to members.

“It’s between about $500 and $2,000 depending on how lean or heavy you want to go,” Kutschenreuter says. A reception was held that evening at the Hay-Adams Hotel.

“We have absolutely no regrets about it,” says Sandstrom, who works for the FBI. “We saw it as an investment and everyone had a fantastic time.”

“We did think along the way, ‘Oh my gosh, what are we doing, this is so stressful,’” Kutschenreuter says. “But we weren’t being elaborate just to be elaborate. We were trying to honor the fact that we’re older people, we have a daughter, it was Lou Ann’s Dad’s 90th birthday and both our dads walked us down the aisle, we had people coming from all over; there was just so much more to it than there would have been for a younger couple. But we knew this group of people would never be together any other time so we wanted it to be special. It was definitely worth it.”

13
Feb
2014

White House: Need legislation to extend certain benefits to gay couples

The White House

The White House held a a meeting Thursday with LGBT advocates (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

After making new benefits available to married same-sex couples throughout the course of the year following the U.S. Supreme Court decision against the Defense of Marriage Act, the Obama administration made clear on Friday that a change in law is needed to recognize these unions for the purposes of certain Social Security and veterans spousal benefits.

A White House official told the Washington Blade that the Justice Department will announce on Friday it has concluded its year-long review of the historic decision.

Further, the administration will announce federal laws that look to the state of residence instead of the state of celebration to determine whether a couple is married “preclude the federal government from extending benefits to legally married couples regardless of where they currently live,” the official said.

That means, under current law, certain Social Security and veterans benefits won’t be available to married same-sex couples if they wed in one state, but move to one of the 30 states without marriage equality and apply for the benefits there.

The administration’s determination that it must withhold these benefits despite the Supreme Court’s decision against DOMA stands in contrast to the numerous other benefits it has afforded to married same-sex couples regardless of whether or not they live in states that recognize their marriage.

These benefits include recognition of same-sex married couples for federal tax purposes; the ability of bi-national same-sex couples to apply for marriage-based green cards; spousal employee benefits for federal workers and U.S. service members; and requiring insurers to recognize same-sex marriages if they offer spousal coverage.

One more change is set to be announced on Friday. The Department of Labor is set to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking on the Family & Medical Leave Act, clarifying an employee is eligible for leave to care for a same-sex spouse — even if the couple lives in a non-marriage equality state.

The rule builds off an earlier announcement in August in which the Labor Department indicated married same-sex couples were eligible under the FMLA, but that development only applied to couples living in states with marriage equality.

And even though the administration is set to announce it won’t be able to enact similar policy for Social Security and veterans benefits, there will be some limited workaround.

For veterans benefits, one administration official said veterans in same-sex marriages who live in a non-marriage equality state will be able to 1) transfer GI-Bill education benefits to dependents; 2) access group life insurance and family insurance group life insurance programs; 3) be eligible for spousal survivor education benefits.

Earlier this month, the Department of Veterans Affairs issued a new rule that will provide burial benefits to same-sex couples in domestic partnerships or civil unions. It may have been the first time the federal government has recognized these unions for the purposes of federal benefits.

For Social Security, the administration official said if a married same-sex couple applies for benefits in a marriage-equality state, but moves to another state that doesn’t recognize the marriage, the agency won’t withhold benefits based on the place of residence standard during or after the application process.

Further, the official said same-sex couples living in states with domestic partnerships or civil unions, but not marriage equality, would be eligible for Social Security benefits. For the time being, that would impact couples in Colorado, Wisconsin and Nevada.

But for anything further, Congress would need to pass legislation. The administration is calling on Congress to pass legislation along these lines to address the issue, the White House official said.

The Respect for Marriage Act, sponsored by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) in the House and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) in the Senate, has a “certainty” principle that would ensure the federal benefits of marriage would flow to married same-sex couples regardless of where they live.

The Social Security & Marriage Equality Act, introduced by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), would affects issues related to Social Security benefits, while an amendment introduced by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) along the lines of the Charlie Morgan Act would address veterans benefits.

One other solution to the problem could be another ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court instituting marriage equality throughout the country. As litigation continues to percolate through the judiciary, a final ruling from the Supreme Court on the marriage issue is expected by the middle of next year.

The administration is announcing these developments just after a meeting at the White House on Thursday in which LGBT advocates were invited to discuss the planned executive order barring anti-LGBT discrimination among federal contractors and the implementation of the Supreme Court decision against DOMA.

[UPDATE: The Justice Department formally announced in the form of a memo from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to President Obama it has concluded its review of the DOMA ruling. Download the memo here.

“The implementation of the Windsor decision across the entire federal government is an accomplishment that reflects countless hours of hard work, cooperation, and coordination across agencies," Holder said in a statement. "As additional issues arise, we will continue to work together to uphold this Administration’s fundamental commitment to equal treatment for all Americans, and to extend this fundamental equality to all Americans.”]

20
Jun
2014

Marriage: It’s more (and less) than you think

will, gay news, Washington Blade

In most states, if you die without a Will and you are married and that marriage is recognized, your spouse will inherit a share of your estate.

By LAWRENCE S. JACOBS

In the eight months since the fall of the Defense of Marriage Act, I have witnessed a huge rush to marriage among friends, clients and our community at large. Many of those people dramatically underestimate the changes that marriage might bring to their lives, while at the same time being lulled into a false sense of security that marriage will solve every potential legal issue that comes along. Of course, it won’t.

Hundreds and hundreds of benefits accrue to married couples. Yet, many of those benefits are misunderstood and do not come automatically. For example, the right to own real estate as a married couple does not and cannot happen unless the deed to that property includes that right. Many of my clients own their homes as joint with right of survivorship. But married couples can hold real estate as tenants by the entirety, which is much better. Far too many of my clients live in a home that is only owned by one of them. If something happens to that homeowner, the other one may be literally out on the street. Not surprisingly, we re-deed many of our clients’ homes, which is neither difficult nor expensive. Where the transfer of title may be impractical or undesirable, we create Revocable Trusts for the purpose of owning real estate.

Wills are another area where marriage has unexpected impacts. In most states, if you die without a Will and you are married and that marriage is recognized, your spouse will inherit a share of your estate. The amount of that share varies and can be as low as one-third. A properly drafted and signed Will can override those rules. For couples with children, the default rules can be even more problematic because minors cannot inherit money directly, either under a Will or because they were named as the beneficiary of a life insurance or retirement account. Worse yet, no matter how much money you leave, they will likely get it all in a single payment on their 18th birthday. Wills can and frequently do establish distribution schemes that make much more sense.

Marriage only solves problems for couples when both of them are healthy and alive.  If either of those should become untrue, then the marriage may count for little or nothing. If your spouse becomes incapacitated, you may have medical decision-making rights, but not the right to manage their separate assets.  That is usually accomplished by general durable power of attorney. Otherwise a guardianship petition will be required, which are typically expensive and time-consuming.  If your spouse dies before you, and you die later without a will, your assets will all be distributed to certain family members with parents typically first in line, regardless of whether that makes sense.

Marriage equality also brings with it the trials and tribulations that our straight counterparts have endured for generations. If you break up in the future, the only way to end that legal relationship is through a divorce. While you are still married, you cannot change your Will to completely disinherit your spouse. If you get divorced, the court will determine how to divide your assets. The court may also order you to pay alimony to your former spouse.  However, all of these potentially adverse outcomes can be changed in a properly drafted prenuptial (and sometimes post-nuptial) agreement. A word of caution: do not call a lawyer the week before your marriage for a pre-nup. I typically advise my clients to allow six to eight weeks.

None of this is intended to discourage anyone from getting married. I am a firm believer in that institution and took the plunge myself in 2009. Rather, I view my job as educating people on the issues, so that they can then make good decisions.

Larry Jacobs has helped hundreds of same-sex couples in the Washington area protect their assets and loved ones through partnership planning. He is a partner at McMillan Metro, P.C. and has practiced law for 39 years. He is admitted to the bar in Maryland, Virginia and D.C. You can learn more about Larry and his practice at PartnerPlanning.com.

28
Feb
2014