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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

Bold brews

Denizens Brewing, gay news, Washington Blade

Jeff Ramirez, Emily Bruno and Julie Verratti (Photo courtesy of Denizens)

Julie Verratti and Emily Bruno are not professional commercial beer brewers. But for the lesbian couple, opening Denizens Brewing Co., geared toward a younger, diverse generation of craft beer aficionados, is just the latest endeavor in a string of adventures.

Denizens, a term meaning a local or regular customer, is a fitting term for the new brewery, nestled among new high-rise apartment buildings on East-West Highway, a 10-minute walk from the Silver Spring Metro stop, which former same-sex marriage activists Verratti and Bruno opened this month with Jeff Ramirez, whose sister is married to Emily’s brother giving the operation a family feel. Ramirez, who’s been developing and fine-tuning beer recipes for his entire career, came up with the flavors.

The owners of the 200-seat brewery and beer garden, about 3,000 square feet, plan to brew five core styles and five seasonal styles out of its basement. A popular gay-owned food truck, BBQ Bus, will open a brick-and-mortar location inside the brewery this summer.

“Have I ever done something this big? No,” says Verratti, who’s had a series of careers in everything from political activism to personal training. “It’s the first time — the first time for all of us.”

Che and Tadd Ruddell-Tabisola, who own BBQ Bus, knew the Denizens owners from their time as LGBT activists. Going into business together seemed like the perfect next step, building upon an old friendship.

“It was a match made in heaven,” Che says. “I think Julie and Emily are great. Their concept and their approach is really thoughtful. There’s a lot of quality behind what they’re doing.”

Ruddell-Tabisola, BBQ Bus, Denizens, food truck, gay news, Washington Blade

BBQ Bus (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Che and his husband always wanted to open a physical location ever since their first day on the road in April 2011. But the opportunity didn’t immediately present itself.

“We got turned down for two loans and a few credit cards when we were trying to get this business going,” he says. “Nobody was lending money to a startup [during the recession], let alone a restaurant. The food truck really was a way to get into this business.”

Today, the food truck is well known across the D.C. area, an asset upon which Denizens, located at 1115 East-West Highway in Silver Spring (denizensbrewingco.com), hopes to capitalize.

“Everyone wants to eat when they’re drinking beer,” says Taylor Barnes, the brewery’s director of marketing and events. “Che and Tadd loved the pairing of beer and barbecue, and so did we. It’s a new model — two businesses coexisting in the same space. So it was really important for us that we just got along as people first, and second as business partners.”

“They’re fun, they’re super welcoming, and they love diversity just as much as we do,” Verratti says. “I love the fact that if you combine the ownership structure between the brewery and BBQ Bus, four out of the five owners are gay and gay married.”

 

A long journey

Denizens, gay news, Washington Blade

Denizens (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

 

Craft beer fans tend to be well educated, city-dwelling political progressives in their 20s and 30s, making the District and the surrounding metropolitan area an optimal place to open a brewery. But as the East Coast craft beer scene continues to boom, Barnes says craft beer is often marketed toward a “narrow slice of America.”

“One of the reasons we wanted to start Denizens Brewing Co. is that craft beer is for everyone,” she says.  

But plans to open the business were stalled in part because of the restrictive Defense of Marriage Act, leading Verratti and Bruno to draw upon their roots as activists.

“Emily and I met and started dating as political organizers,” Verratti says, referring to their time in Boston working on the 2004 presidential campaign and later, on the canvass program at MassEquality, an organization that helped secure and defend same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, the first state where it became legal.

“It was a pretty unbelievable time period,” she says, reminiscing on what she jokingly calls her “past life as a professional gay.” 

“Every day, you could feel the weight of the country on you. We were being attacked constantly from the right, and we did a full-scale ground war. We knocked on hundreds of thousands of doors. We created the model for how to win these types of battles across the country.”

Veratti, born and raised in Silver Spring, married Bruno in California during the short window before Proposition 8 was temporarily struck down, and moved back home with her wife to earn a degree from George Washington University Law School. Both women had toyed with the idea of opening a business, but it was their penchant for political activism and Verratti’s fluency in legal jargon that paved the way for the opening of Denizens.

The couple encountered their fair share of roadblocks along the way, starting with the Defense of Marriage Act, which, until it was struck down last June, prohibited the couple from enjoying mutual financial benefits even though they’ve been legally married since 2008.

“We had been making steady progress on our plans to open the brewery, but the striking down of DOMA enabled us to move forward more quickly because I knew I would have full access to Julie’s benefits as a federal employee during the unstable transition to becoming an entrepreneur,” Bruno says.

Opening a business together, Bruno says, wouldn’t have been possible if the law was still on the books.

 

Changing the law

 

The fall of DOMA allowed Bruno to quit her job and devote full attention to opening the brewery. But that wasn’t the last hurdle to overcome. Restrictive laws in Silver Spring made opening a brewery nearly impossible, gay or straight.

“One of the reasons why there hadn’t been more breweries opening up, specifically in Montgomery County, is that the laws had been archaic,” Verratti says, pointing to laws prohibiting breweries from offering take-out service and forcing them to sell pints to the county as a middleman instead of directly to bars and customers.

“We looked at that and thought, ‘Why don’t we just change the laws?’ I honestly think because of our political organizing background, it gave us the savvy to figure out how to do that.”

After testifying before the Montgomery County delegation, the couple was successful in making the county’s laws more business friendly. Denizens bills itself as a “craft brewery serving European-style lagers, American-style ales, Belgian-inspired beers, sour beers and barrel-aged beers to both the craft beer aficionado and those new to high-quality brews.”

For the first round of brewing, they contracted with Beltway Brewing Company but by September plan to brew everything in house with their own 15-barrel system. They decline to say how much they invested in the business but say they’ve been planning and developing since December 2012. Both Verratti and Bruno love beer and while Verratti has done some home brewing, they say Ramirez is the expert.

Brett Robison, the bar manager at Republic, a local bar that buys beer from Denizens, predicts the change will improve conditions for Denizens and future breweries.

“What’s going to happen because of this law change is overnight, Montgomery County is going to go from being one of the least favorable places to open any kind of alcohol business to being one of the most favorable places,” Robison says. “This law change now creates incentives for entrepreneurs.”

Although the doors have only been open for a few weeks, the brewery, which Barnes calls a local “job creator,” already has a diverse group of regulars.

“Everyone who works here is really gay friendly,” says Barnes, who is straight, pointing out that the nearly 40-person staff mostly identifies as LGBT. “I’m proud to be working at a lesbian-owned establishment. Because we are all diverse, it is more welcoming to everyone.”

“This community has really embraced us, and we’re so grateful for it,” Verratti says. “There’s been a strong contingent of the LGBT community that has come out and supported us. That makes me feel really happy and proud.”

23
Jul
2014

Time for a new employee manual

manual, gay news, Washington Blade

A review of existing employment manuals is especially important when there are significant changes in the laws governing the employer/employee relationship.

By JOHN J. MATTEO

The beginning of the New Year is always a good time for companies and employers to review their existing employee manuals or employment policies to insure they are compliant with current law and with their own practices.  An old adage states that the only thing worse than not having an employment manual or written policies is to have them but not follow them. This adage reflects the need to insure that your policies comport with your company’s actual practices and that such practices are consistent with applicable law.

A review of existing employment manuals is especially important when there are significant changes in the laws governing the employer/employee relationship, as we have seen in 2013. These include the Windsor decision issued by the Supreme Court that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, the implementation of some portions of the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”), the push for mandatory sick leave by some jurisdictions, the IRS’s continued focus on properly classifying employees v. independent contractors, and the EEOC’s stated strategic goal of focusing on workplace discrimination. Any one of these issues would require a revision to most employer’s policies and manuals, but together they call for a complete revamping and review of the way policies are formed and enforced by most employers.

D.C. employers have been used to protecting gay employees from discrimination given the D.C. Human Rights Act; however, employers in Maryland and Virginia have not had a state law with the same level of protections, although Maryland has moved in that direction. Given the Windsor decision and subsequent IRS guidance, gay couples that are lawfully married in a state or jurisdiction recognizing such unions may avail themselves of the same rights as heterosexual couples when filing their tax returns. The effect on employers in the region (where two of the three major jurisdictions recognize gay marriage) is that they cannot deny certain benefits to gay employees who are legally married. Employers should be sure that these protections are clearly set forth in their employment manuals.

Much has and will continue to be written about the ACA as its provisions are implemented but employers – especially smaller employers/companies need to be prepared. The most important lesson at this juncture is that employers with fewer than 100 employees need to begin to prepare their workers for the changes that have now been delayed until 2015. This will include mandatory participation in the local health care exchanges, as well as mandatory minimum benefits that must be provided by almost all employers.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued public statements that are clear — elimination of workplace discrimination will be one of the major focuses of the commission. Accordingly, employers need to be well trained on the EEOC standards so that business owners and managers can insure adherence to EEOC rules and regulations. These standards should also be well described in the company’s employment manual and procedures so that the company has guidance, employees know their rights and if a complaint is made both parties will know the process to follow.

Another important feature that should be clearly set forth in employment manuals or procedure policies given the EEOC’s stated goals, are the rights afforded to those seeking maternity, paternity and other family leave benefits. Depending on which local jurisdiction a company is situated in and how many employees are employed, the laws will differ. It is important for the employer to know these rules, to clearly state the company policy in the manual and most importantly to consistently apply them to all employees.

These are just a few highlights of provisions that employers should make sure are part of their employment manuals or policies and are some of the most important given recent EEOC statements. Other provisions that also should be clearly defined are policies related to full time/part time distinctions, Internet use and privacy, confidentiality, termination procedures and severance benefits.

In sum, the lessons are simple — employers should be educated by a professional on the myriad laws governing the employer/employee relationship and should seek out qualified advisers to assist them in drafting consistent policy manuals to avoid the risk of employment claims.

 

John J. Matteo is president and chair, Business & Employment Practice Groups, Jackson & Campbell, P.C.

This is part of a series of articles by Jackson & Campbell on legal issues of interest to the LBGT and greater business community.  Jackson & Campbell is a full service law firm based in Washington with offices in Maryland and Virginia. If you have any questions regarding this article, contact John J. Matteo at 202-457-1678 or jmatteo@jackscamp.com. If you have any questions regarding our firm, please contact Don Uttrich, who chairs our Diversity Committee, at 202-457-4266 or duttrich@jackscamp.com.

28
Feb
2014

Tax refunds for same-sex couples

refund, gay news, Washington Blade

If an employer included the value of a spouse’s healthcare coverage as an item of income on the employee’s Form W-2, the employee should ask the employer for an amended Form W-2 excluding that amount of income.

By NANCY ORTMEYER KUHN

The Internal Revenue Service recently clarified the steps needed for same-sex spouses to claim a refund of taxes paid, if one spouse included the other spouse in a healthcare plan, and the employer’s contribution for that coverage was reported by the employer as income. The couple must be lawfully married under state or D.C. law in order to claim the refund.

In a letter from the IRS to Vermont Rep. Peter Welch, the IRS indicated that if an employer included the value of a spouse’s healthcare coverage as an item of income on the employee’s Form W-2, the employee should ask the employer for an amended Form W-2 excluding that amount of income. Spousal healthcare coverage by an employer is not taxable to the employee.  Using the amended Form W-2, an amended Form 1040 should be filed claiming a refund for the excess taxes paid.

If the employer refuses to issue an amended Form W-2, the employee can complete Form 4852 and check the box indicating the employee received an incorrect Form W-2. The employee should then subtract the value of the healthcare coverage from gross income and report the adjusted amount on Line 7 of Form 4852.  The employee can then determine the correct tax on the modified amount of taxable income, and file an amended Form 1040 requesting a refund.

If the increased wages were also subject to Social Security tax, i.e., if the increased wages were below $113,700, then a refund for excess Social Security taxes can also be claimed by filing Form 843, including all attachments listed in the instructions for Form 843.

A tax refund may be claimed if a tax form claiming the refund is filed within three years after the date the original tax return is filed or within two years after the date the tax was paid, whichever is later. Generally, April 15 of the following year is considered the payment date, regardless of when the tax return was filed. Therefore, refunds could be claimed for the 2012 through 2014 tax years if employers included the value of spousal health insurance in the employee’s income during any of those years. Copies of the relevant forms may be found at www.irs.gov.

Additionally, as highlighted in a recent case filed in District Court in Massachusetts, tax savings may be found by filing amended tax returns for prior years with the “Married Filing Joint” filing status if a “single” or “head of household” filing status had previously been used.  The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and alleges unequal treatment as compared to similarly situated opposite sex married persons. See Horowitz & Vigorito v. United States, Civil Action No. 1:14-cv-12839 (D.C. Mass. 7/2/2014). IRS Revenue Ruling 2013-17 states that for federal tax purposes, the IRS will recognize a marriage of same-sex individuals. To be valid, the marriage must have been entered  into in a domestic or foreign jurisdiction whose laws authorized same-sex marriages, even if the couple resides in a jurisdiction that does not recognize same-sex marriage. Thus, the tax refund claimed in this lawsuit should be forthcoming without the need for extended litigation.

The contents of this article are intended for general informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. This is part of a series of monthly articles by Jackson & Campbell on legal issues of interest to the LBGT community. Jackson & Campbell is a full-service law firm based in Washington with offices in Maryland and Virginia. If you have any questions regarding this article, contact Nancy O. Kuhn at 202-457-1621 or nkuhn@jackscamp.com. If you have any questions regarding our firm, please contact Don Uttrich, who chairs our Diversity Committee, at 202-457-4266 or duttrich@jackscamp.com.

01
Aug
2014

Gay marriages have begun in Michigan!

Last night a federal court struck down Michigan's gay marriage ban, the 14th such victory since US v. Windsor.

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22
Mar
2014

MLB’s support is a real game changer

MLB, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade cartoon by Ranslem)

By RYAN WAGNER

Picture this.

You’re in a ballpark. Your team is losing. Big. It’s the kind of game that would have made you leave in the fifth inning – if you were one of those fans who doesn’t believe your team will pull it out until the very last out is recorded. If you were one of those people who gives up.

All of a sudden your team gets a hit. And then another. Nothing special. A ground ball with eyes here, a dying quail there. But the buzz has started. You know the one I’m talking about. When 50,000 people all seem to begin to whisper simultaneously? The buzz.

Another hit, and this one scores a run or two. Now the buzz is a low rumble. Your team is still down, but there’s a glimmer of hope. This one ain’t over yet.

Now comes the big hit. The one that makes the sportswriters who have already written 90 percent of their game recaps stop, sigh and hit the delete button. The low rumble is now a roar. The game hasn’t been won, but the opponent is already defeated, and they’re not sure how it happened. The stars realigned, and that flighty temptress momentum changed her uniform.

In short, the narrative changed.

The fight for LGBT equality has undergone a similar change in narrative recently. For a long time, those battling in the trenches felt as though we were fighting a losing battle — always meeting with a loud, outspoken opposition that either didn’t care or simply didn’t understand. We weren’t exactly losing, but we certainly weren’t winning.

And then, all of a sudden, we got a couple of hits. Nothing big. A ground ball with eyes here, a dying quail there. Massachusetts became the first state to legalize gay marriage. Connecticut would follow, with Iowa and Vermont not far behind. The buzz started. You know the one I mean. When 100 million people all begin to whisper simultaneously? The buzz.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, Prop 8 and DOMA were all struck down. The buzz became a low rumble.

The fight began to spill over into other areas of society, including the world of sports. Jason Collins came out. In light of inflammatory anti-LGBT policies in Russia, President Obama skipped the 2014 Sochi Olympics, opting instead to appoint tennis legend and gay rights champion Billie Jean King to lead the American contingent at the Opening Ceremonies. Michael Sam announced he’s gay prior to the NFL draft and in doing so, became the first openly gay man to sign a contract with an NFL team.

The low rumble became a roar, and the narrative had changed.

As a professional stage actor who also decided to pursue a career in the world of professional sports, I’m somewhat of an anomaly.

The relationships I forged with my friends in the theater world led me to assume that the fight for LGBT equality was on the forefront of the American social agenda. I assumed this because, for those of us traveling North America with a musical, it was simply a part of the vernacular.

In 2011, I was on the road with that musical when I learned I had been hired by Major League Baseball. I would be leaving the bubble that theater had created, and would be making the long, fascinating walk to the other side of the spectrum. In a span of three days, I went from a cocoon where my most important issue was the same as everyone else’s to a world where that issue was never even discussed. It wasn’t that LGBT equality was on the back burner for Major League Baseball. It had yet to make it onto the stove. Professional sports, particularly those considered the “Big 4,” are in many ways the last great bastion of masculinity and demonstrative heterosexuality. Anything that can be deemed a weakness is a liability. Any distraction is removed as quickly and quietly as possible. Which is why the three years that have passed since I first began my career in baseball have been so remarkable.

In a span of just a few years, I have had a front row seat for one of the most astounding, and most important, ideological shifts in social history. Thanks to the immediacy of information and (seriously) the power of social media, LGBT equality has gone from an issue on the periphery of the American agenda to one that finds itself front and center. And the catalyst for that tectonic shift has been sports. When the issue of homosexuality began showing up on the football field and the basketball court, the everyday, blue-collar American sports fan was forced to deal with it. As I watched Jason Collins and Michael Sam announce their homosexuality, my immediate thought was, “When will this tidal wave reach Major League Baseball?”

Baseball is America’s pastime. As James Earl Jones once remarked in “Field of Dreams,” “Baseball…has marked the times.” It has gotten us through some of the most tumultuous times in our nation’s history: World War II, the Civil Rights Movement, 9-11. It stands to reason that baseball would take the lead in this time of great struggle. But when was that going to happen? When was baseball going to realize the opportunity it had to make a statement to not only the rest of the sports landscape, but to the country and the world as a whole?

A few weeks ago, I got my answer. On July 15, Major League Baseball officially announced its partnership with Athlete Ally, an organization dedicated to fostering an environment of acceptance and inclusion for all LGBT athletes, coaches, and fans across all sports, professional and amateur.

When MLB announced that partnership — even Commissioner Bud Selig signed a pledge to become an Athlete Ally himself — it trumpeted a major victory for the entire LGBT community and their allies. Major League Baseball is not just a professional sports league. It is an organization that is American as American gets. It represents all that we hold dear in our most patriotic of hearts, and if something that American can say that being gay is not only OK, but is something worth fighting for, who would dare say otherwise?

There may be nothing more difficult than the growing pains of a transitioning social issue. Most people who have strongly held beliefs derive those beliefs from years and years of indoctrination. Change only comes when those screaming for change outnumber those who are plugging their ears and waiting for the din to quiet. With Major League Baseball now adding its voice to the roaring winds of change, the din may finally be too much to overcome.

In short, the narrative has changed. And now, at long last, maybe, just maybe, that flighty temptress momentum has changed her uniform.

Ryan Wagner is the PA announcer for the Baltimore Orioles.

21
Aug
2014

The Defense of the History of (Gay) Marriage

A new book has the "definitive account" of the gay marriage battle over the last 5 years. And gets it all wrong.

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21
Apr
2014

Sen. Warner sees dismal future for LGBT rights in GOP Senate

Mark Warner, United States Senate, Democratic Party, Virginia, U.S. Congress, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) (Washington Blade file photo by Lee Whitman)

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) predicted Wednesday that the lingering issue of gay veterans being unable to receive benefits for their same-sex spouses in states without marriage equality would be a question for the next secretary of veterans affairs.

During a phone interview with the Washington Blade, Warner said the inability of veterans to receive same-sex benefits in certain states after the Supreme Court ruling against the Defense of Marriage Act was a violation of the principles of fairness.

“I still think we need to make sure if we’re talking about equality of rights, that ought to be around, marriage rights, civil rights, housing rights, employment rights,” Warner said.

Asked whether this issue should be a question for the secretary of veterans affairs, a position that is open following the resignation of Eric Shinseki, Warner replied, “I think this will be something that, I’m sure, will be raised with the next VA secretary.”

In June, Warner wrote to the Obama administration asking for an end to the practice of withholding veterans’ home loans from married same-sex couples who live in non-marriage equality states like Virginia. The Department of Veterans Affairs has been withholding these benefits because 103(c) of Title 38, which governs veterans benefits, looks to place of residence, not the place of celebration, in determining whether a couple is married.

In his letter, Warner used the example of a Navy veteran who applied for a veterans’ home loan in Virginia, but was denied equal benefits because the VA won’t count the income of her non-veteran spouse. The couple was married in Maryland, but the VA didn’t insure their loan request to buy a home in Fairfax County, Va., resulting in a much higher monthly mortgage payment for the couple.

Speaking with the Blade, Warner said the couple since that time has been able to secure the lower rate by going through a different agency after insufficient progress was made with the VA. Still, Warner said he would support a blanket policy change from the VA more in line with the Supreme Court’s ruling against DOMA.

Warner is currently facing re-election and running against former Republican National Committee chair Ed Gillespie for a second term representing Virginia in the U.S. Senate.

Asked how he thinks Gillespie would fare on LGBT issues if elected to represent Virginia in the U.S. Senate, Warner said he’s not familiar with his opponent’s position on those issues, but expressed skepticism based on Gillespie’s history in Republican politics.

“I do know that there seems to be kind of a cookie-cutter campaign approach coming from many of the Republican candidates this year that has not been as inclusive a message as I’ve got, or I think most folks realize is in the best interest of Virginia,” Warner said. “I’m not going to comment on him specifically other than the fact that he’ll be a double-down on gridlock since this a career paid-partisan, and I’m not sure that’s going to get us to a place where we actually get stuff done in the Senate.”

But Warner did forecast a dismal future for progress on LGBT rights in the Senate if Republicans take control of the chamber and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) or Sen. Jon Cornyn (R-Texas) is running the show.

“I think there would be more challenges,” Warner said. “I think this an issue, especially like on marriage equality, where the public has moved much quicker than the elected officials, and, again, I wouldn’t see the same kind of forward progress if the Senate would flip.”

Litigation against Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage is progressing through the courts. The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals is set to issue a ruling on the marriage equality case at any time.

Warner said he hasn’t been following the developments in that case, but took credit for recommending along with former Sen. Jim Webb the nomination of U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen, who ruled against Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage at the district court level.

“I’ve not followed the kind of weekly reports on the briefs and who’s writing amicus [briefs], but I think as you’ve seen all over the country, there clearly seems to be a growing majority if not unanimity,” Warner said. “This is an issue whose time has come.”

Warner endorsed same-sex marriage a little more than a year ago just before the Supreme Court heard arguments in the marriage cases. During his interview, Warner said he came to that support as a result of his three daughters who couldn’t understand his earlier position and said his endorsement built off earlier pro-LGBT actions.

“I fought against the amendment back in 2007, campaigned against it, gave money against it,” Warner said. “I think I had a record that was headed in that direction…I go back to the fact that our law treats people equally in terms of if you love someone, if you want to enter into a committed relationship.”

Warner’s name has been mentioned in some circles as a possible candidate for president in 2016. But the senator said he’s focused on his re-election in 2014, adding he thinks Hillary Clinton would be the “prohibitive favorite” should she run in the presidential race.

Asked whether he would pursue a run either for president or vice president, Warner maintained his focus is on winning re-election to his U.S. Senate seat.

“I’m running for re-election in 2014,” Warner said. “Good try.”

04
Jun
2014

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