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Holder to announce new DOJ policy on gay rights

Eric Holder, Tammy Baldwin, Melissa Etheridge, United States Department of Justice, United States Senate, Democratic Party, Wisconsin, gay news, Washington Blade, LGBT Pride

U.S. Attorney General is set to announce new DOJ policy in the wake of the Supreme Court decision against DOMA (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key).

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is set to announce a new policy today aimed at ensuring the Justice Department recognizes same-sex marriages under the law, the Washington Blade has learned.

Holder is scheduled to deliver the remarks at 7 p.m. during his speech at the Human Rights Campaign’s annual gala in New York City held at the Waldorf Astoria.

According to excerpts from his prepared remarks, Holder is set to announce the Justice Department will issue a memorandum on Monday to outline the changes, which will bring the department into compliance with the Supreme Court’s decision against the Defense of Marriage Act.

Holder is prepared to make the announcement in the same speech in which he’s set to reflect on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“And yet, as all-important as the fight against racial discrimination was then, and remains today, know this: my commitment to confronting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity runs just as deep,” Holder’s prepared remarks say. “Just like during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the stakes involved in this generation’s struggle for LGBT equality could not be higher.”

Each of the changes is related to the way the Justice Department handles recognition of married same-sex couples. They range from rights in civil and criminal cases, rights as inmates and access to benefits programs:

• The Justice Department will recognize that same-sex spouses of individuals involved in civil and criminal cases have the same legal rights as straight married couples, including the right to decline to give testimony that might incriminate a spouse.

This new rule applies in non-marriage equality states. The government won’t object to couples in same-sex marriages invoking this right if they marry in another state, but their current jurisdiction doesn’t recognize their union.

• In bankruptcy cases, the U.S. Trustee Program will take the position that same-sex married couples should be treated in the same manner as opposite-sex married couples. Consequently, same-sex married couples will be eligible to file for bankruptcy jointly; certain debts to same-sex spouses or former spouses will be excepted from discharge; and domestic support obligations should include debts, including alimony, owed to a former same-sex spouse.

• Federal inmates in same-sex marriages will be entitled to the same rights and privileges as inmates in opposite-sex marriages. These rights include spousal visitation; inmate furloughs to be present during a crisis involving a spouse; escorted trips to attend a spouse’s funeral; correspondence with a spouse; and compassionate release or reduction in sentence if an inmate’s spouse is incapacitated.

• The Justice Department will recognize same-sex couples for the purposes of a number of benefits programs it administers, such as the Radiation Exposure Compensation Program and the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.

Also among these programs is the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program, which provides death benefits to surviving spouses of public safety officers, such as law enforcement officers and firefighters, who suffer catastrophic or fatal injuries while on duty.

“When any law enforcement officer falls in the line of duty or is gravely injured, the federal government should stand by that hero’s spouse – no matter whether that spouse is straight or gay,” Holder’s prepared remarks say.

The new policy comes seven months after the U.S. Supreme Court decision against Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited federal recognition of same-sex marriage. Nothing in the excerpts of prepared remarks received by the Blade references DOMA, but a Justice Department official said the new changes are considered a step in the process to bring the Justice Department into compliance with the decision.

The Justice Department has coordinated the effort across the Obama administration to ensure married same-sex couples have the same rights and benefits under federal law as opposite sex couples in the wake of the DOMA decision. The various departments and agencies announced changes in policies since that time.

Chad Griffin, HRC president, praised Holder in a statement for changes he’s slated to announce within the Justice Department.

“This landmark announcement will change the lives of countless committed gay and lesbian couples for the better,” Griffin said. “While the immediate effect of these policy decisions is that all married gay couples will be treated equally under the law, the long-term effects are more profound. Today, our nation moves closer toward its ideals of equality and fairness for all.”

At least one of the changes that Holder is set to announce — the eligibility of married same-sex couples to file jointly for bankruptcy — was already the policy of the Justice Department. According to Reuters, following a ruling against DOMA by a bankruptcy court in Los Angeles, the Justice Department in 2011 elected to no longer dismiss bankruptcy petitions filed jointly by married same-sex debtors.

In his remarks, Holder is set invoke the memory of former U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy and his work in the civil rights movement as a reference point for the additional work the Justice Department is doing on LGBT rights.

“Then, as now, nothing less than our country’s commitment to the notion of equal protection under the law was on the line,” Holder’s prepared remarks say. “And so the Justice Department’s role in confronting discrimination must be as aggressive today as it was in Robert Kennedy’s time.  As Attorney General, I will not let this Department be simply a bystander during this important moment in history.”

Just last month, Holder announced the federal government would recognize the more than 1,300 same-sex marriages that took place in Utah following a district court ruling legalizing gay nuptials in the state — even though the state won’t recognize the unions now that the U.S. Supreme Court has placed a stay on the weddings.

HRC’s Griffin said the actions that Holder is preparing to undertake are right in line with Kennedy’s legacy as civil rights icon.

“Attorney General Holder continues to show incredible leadership, and this latest action cements his place in history alongside Robert F. Kennedy, another attorney general who crusaded for civil rights,” Griffin said.

08
Feb
2014

Justice Department launches transgender training program

Ruby Corado, Casa Ruby, gay news, Washington Blade

Ruby Corado, executive director of Casa Ruby, is among those who took part in a U.S. Justice Department training on Thursday. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

In a conference room at its headquarters in Washington, the U.S. Justice Department on Thursday held a first-of-its-kind training session for law enforcement officials on how they can better serve the transgender community.

Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole, in opening remarks, said Thursday’s session represented the launching of an ongoing nationwide series of similar training sessions designed to educate the nation’s law enforcement establishment about problems and needs of trans people.

“At its most basic level, the new training will provide tools to enhance an officer’s ability to build partnerships with community members and to work with fellow citizens, who share a commitment to public safety,” Cole told the gathering.

Cole and other DOJ officials said the department’s Community Relations Service, which was established under the famed U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964, developed the trans training program with input from representatives of the LGBT community.

LGBT community members, including D.C. trans activist Ruby Corado, were among those attending the March 27 session.

“We heard you when you told us that we needed to establish a foundation of trust between those who serve and protect the public and those in the LGBT communities – particularly the transgender community – who are disproportionately the victims of hate violence,” said Cole.

Among those who helped develop the training program and who were scheduled to give a presentation at the session were Major Irene A. Burks of the Prince George’s County, Md., Police Department; and Diego Miguel Sanchez, a veteran trans advocate, legislative assistant to former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and current National Director of Policy for Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).

Also scheduled to give a presentation at the session was Harper Jean Tobin, an attorney and Director of Policy at the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Sgt. Brett Parson of the Metropolitan Police Department of D.C., who formerly headed the division that oversees the department’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit, assisted in developing the trans training program. Parson was scheduled to be one of the instructors at the March 27 training session but had to cancel his appearance due to a scheduling conflict, people familiar with the event said.

Also attending the training were D.C. police Sgt. Matthew Mahl, the current supervisor of the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit, and Officer Justin Markiewicz, a member of the unit.

DOJ officials limited news media attendance of the event to the introductory remarks by DOJ officials. DOJ spokesperson Emily Pierce said the training itself was closed to the media because it involved role-playing exercises that could make participants uncomfortable under the glare of the press.

A statement released by the DOJ says the trans training program will become an important component of the DOJ’s Community Relations Service, which, among other things, helps communities develop strategies to prevent and respond to violent hate crimes committed on the basis of a victim’s sexual orientation and gender identity as well as other factors such as race, religion, and national origin.

The trans training program “will hereafter be facilitated around the country by CRS (Community Relations Service) regional personnel and local volunteer experts in communities that are experiencing hate violence and wish to better respond and prevent such incidents against transgender persons,” the statement says.

It says that in addition to its D.C. headquarters, the Community Relations Service has 10 regional offices and four smaller field offices that serve all 50 states and U.S. territories.

“The training resources that CRS (Community Relations Service) has created (with input from law enforcement leaders and transgender advocates) is intended to assist communities across the country and law enforcement agencies wishing to improve their understanding of and work with the transgender communities they serve,” according to the statement.

Trans activists across the country, including those in D.C., have reported widespread incidents of police mistreatment of trans people. D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier has been credited with putting in place policies and procedures for officers to treat transgender residents with respect and sensitivity.

Despite these policies, trans advocates says incidents of insensitivity by officers, while declining, continues to surface.

“We understand when you shared the worst possible – and frankly unacceptable – outcome that the transgender community could face,” said Cole at the training session in Washington. “Based on the community’s fears about law enforcement’s support and perceptions, too many of you in the transgender community simply didn’t report incidents of crime brought to bear against you,” he said.

“This is not a result that can or will be tolerated by the Justice Department, and it runs counter to the very role your community public safety officials want to promote,” said Cole.

Cole acknowledged, however, that the trans training program would likely be utilized mostly by “forward-thinking chiefs of police, sheriffs, and other public safety professionals who opt to participate” in the program.

Tony West, DOJ’s associate attorney general, and Grande H. Lum, national director of the department’s Community Relations Service, also spoke at the training.

28
Mar
2014

DOJ faces renewed call to provide benefits to gay veterans

Mark Udall, Democratic Party, United States Senate, Colorado, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) is renewing his call for the Obama administration to stop enforcing portions of Title 38 (Photo public domain).

Pressure is increasing on the Obama administration to ensure gay veterans have access to spousal benefits everywhere they go in the country as additional U.S. senators are joining others in a call for action.

In a letter dated Jan. 16 to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, seven senators — led by Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) — call on the Obama administration to stop enforcing 103(c) of Title 38 to ensure gay veterans in same-sex marriages can receive spousal benefits.

“We believe taking this action is an important part of DOJ’s responsibility to implement and enforce the legal doctrine created in Windsor,” the senators writes. “Further, if the VA is able to apply 103(c) so that all marriages legally entered into will be recognized, it will provide continuity with the Department of Defense policy that applies to active duty service members and avoid a situation where the federal government is recognizing a person’s marriage one day and ignoring it the next.”

Joining Udall is signing the letter are Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Colo.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) as well as lesbian Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).

A portion of the law governing veterans’ benefits, 103(c) of Title 38, looks to the state of residence, not the state of celebration, in determining whether a couple is married. That means if a gay couple in which one partner is a veteran weds in a marriage-equality state like New York, but moves to non-marriage equality state like Colorado, the couple won’t be able to apply for these benefits.

The letter emphasizes that the place of residence rule for spousal benefits isn’t a hypothetical problem for gay couples because many have already been denied benefits under this statute. Some of the spousal benefits allocated under Title 38 are disability benefits, survivor benefits and joint burial at a veteran’s cemetery.

“Over the last few months, there have been specific instances of legally married couples who were denied VA spousal benefits solely because of their gender and place of residence,” the letter states.

The Obama administration has already taken some action on this issue. In the wake of the Supreme Court decision against DOMA, the Justice Department had announced in September the Obama administration wouldn’t enforce a portion of Title 38 that independently defines marriage in opposite-sex terms.

But no decision has been made on the place of residence rule of Title 38. The Obama administration has said it’s still reviewing whether it can stop enforcing 103(c) of the statute.

In the letter, the senators are critical about the length of time it’s taking to resolve this issue in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision against DOMA in June.

“Unfortunately, nearly six months after that decision we continue to see specific cases where the federal government is withholding federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples,” the letter states. “This appears to be in conflict with the central principle of the Windsor decision, that the federal government should respect the lawful marriages of same-sex couples.”

Dena Iverson, a Justice Department, said in response to the missive, “We’re reviewing the letter.”

The continued enforcement of this 103(c) of Title 38 to deny benefits to gay couples has concerned lawmakers for some time.

In November, Udall wrote a letter on his own to the Justice Department calling on the Obama administration to stop enforcing the place of residence rule to discriminate against gay veterans. Earlier this month, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) wrote a similar letter asking the Obama administration to cease enforcement, citing issues that gay veterans are having with obtaining VA loans.

LGBT groups, including the Human Rights Campaign and American Military Partners Association, have said they share the concerns about the place of residence rule under Title 38. HRC has previously called for clarity from the administration on whether or not it can cease enforcing that section of the law to discriminate against gay couples.

Stephen Peters, AMPA president, reiterated his previous call for the Obama administration to take action in a statement.

“No veteran should be treated differently by the federal government just because he or she is married to someone of the same-gender or lives in a state that does not value the diversity of his or her family,” Peters said.

Alex Nicholson, who’s gay and legislative director of Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America, said his organization “absolutely” shares the concerns expressed in the letter.

“IAVA strongly believes that all veterans are entitled to fair and equal treatment with respect to benefits and services provided by the VA,” Nicholson said. “The Supreme Court has been clear that legally married same-sex couples are entitled to federal recognition and benefits, so the administration must proactively resolve the lingering technicalities that have thus far prevented the VA from complying.”

It remains to be seen whether Holder will address this issue — as well as other post-DOMA issues, such as granting Social Security survivor and pension benefits to married same-sex couples in non-marriage equality states — in any of his upcoming public appearances. He’s set to deliver testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Jan. 29 and is scheduled as the keynote speaker at HRC’s Greater New York Gala on Feb. 8.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article was incorrect about the date on which Holder would deliver testimony before the Senate. The Blade regrets the error.

19
Jan
2014

Baldwin delivers stirring Pride speech

Melissa Etheridge, United States Department of Justice, gay news, Washington Blade, LGBT Pride, Tammy Baldwin, United States Senate, Wisconsin, Democratic Party

Sen. Tammy Baldwin speaks at a DOJ Pride event. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) delivered a stirring keynote address Tuesday on advancing LGBT rights as the nation awaits Supreme Court decisions that could potentially advance marriage equality throughout the country.

In an address in the Great Hall of the U.S. Justice Department where employees commemorated June as the month of Pride, the first out lesbian elected to the U.S. Senate spoke about the importance of continuing to advance LGBT rights.

Recalling her attendance for oral arguments on DOMA before the Supreme Court, Baldwin said much attention was devoted to federalism and standing, but the debate on marriage equality “isn’t really about any of those things.”

“It’s about fairness, it’s about whether gay and lesbian Americans deserve to be treated just like our family members, our friends and our neighbors,” Baldwin said. “It’s about opportunity, about whether every American gets to dream the same dreams, choose the same ambitions and have the same shot … And it’s about freedom: the freedom to love, the freedom to commit, the freedom to build a family.”

Baldwin spoke on stage at a podium next to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who delivered opening remarks prior to her speech, and lesbian signer Melissa Ethridge. Baldwin’s office said her complete remarks weren’t available.

Invoking former Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s work in diversifying the Justice Department as the black civil rights movement unfolded in the 1960s, Baldwin said the LGBT movement is the current battle for equality and noted the importance of pending court cases on marriage.

“Of course, as much progress as that generation made in fulfilling the promises America makes about fairness and equality, there was plenty left to do for generations that followed,” Baldwin said. “But we gather today, at another moment of great progress in the area of civil rights — this time for LGBT Americans.”

She also reflected on the progress on LGBT issues in recent years, which she said has taken place because more Americans “have decided that they want to leave to the next generation a country that is more equal, not less.”

“That, along with the hard work of so many champions of equality — from the president to the activists in all our 50 states — that is why we have so many firsts to celebrate today,” Baldwin said. “And that’s why the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act is on the books — and ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ isn’t.”

Baldwin also ticked off numerous pending LGBT bills — saying she’s “even more excited about the progress that’s in our reach” with President Obama in the White House — even progress on legislation that often isn’t given considerable attention.

“Progress like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, so that we don’t have to contend with the … reality that in more than two dozen states, it’s to legal to discriminate against LGBT employees,” Baldwin said. “And progress like the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act, so that LGBT students can go to school worried about math tests and swim meets, and not about bullying and harassment. Progress like the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act, so that LGBT Americans who work to support their families in the civil service can be rest assured that their partners can enjoy benefits like health insurance and retirement.”

But Baldwin concluded by saying the LGBT rights movement is actually about working toward a cultural change to ensure LGBT people are treated fairly.

“But we don’t want to just live in a country where our rights our respected under the law, we want to live in a country where we are respected for who were are, where we enjoy the freedom and opportunity not because the Supreme Court gave us permission, but because we’re Americans, and that’s all there is to it,” Baldwin said.

The speech elicited considerable excitement from the audience. After she spoke, Holder stood up on stage and said, “Wow!” and “That was good!”

Chris Hook, a Justice Department attorney and secretary for the LGBT affinity group DOJ Pride, said Baldwin struck an emotional chord with the audience.

“Part of it is, she’s achieved so much within our own community, and it’s really great to see her supporting and championing causes not only for the LGBT community, but as Americans writ large,” Hook said.

18
Jun
2013

Memorial planned for slain trans woman

Deoni Jones, gay news, gay politics dc

Over 200 people attended a candlelight vigil held for murdered trans woman Deoni Jones. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The stepfather and sister of a transgender woman stabbed to death at a Northeast D.C. bus stop last February are inviting members of the LGBT community to participate in a memorial remembrance for Deoni Jones on Saturday, Feb. 2, to commemorate the anniversary of her death.

The memorial was scheduled to take place four days after a D.C. Superior Court judge ordered a 56-year-old man arrested for the murder last Feb. 10 transferred from jail, where he was awaiting trial, to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital for mental observation.

Jones’ family members, who refer to her by her birth name JaParker, told more than 200 people who turned out for a vigil at the site of the murder days after the incident took place that they fully accepted her as a transgender woman and treated her as a cherished member of the family.

“We want to have this event to not only honor JaParker, but to also shine light on the fact that so often members of our society who are GLBT face violence in their daily lives simply because of who they are, and that as a civilized society we will not tolerate violence against the GLBT community,” said Alvin Bethea, Jones’ stepfather.

“At this memorial we will have prayer, songs, and statements from the community,” Bethea said in an email to the Blade.

He said Jones’ sister, JuDean Jones, and other family members and friends were helping to organize the memorial.

The event is scheduled to take place at 4:30 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 2, at East Capitol Street and Sycamore Street, N.E., at the site of the Metro bus stop where police say Jones was stabbed while sitting on a bench waiting for a bus.

Through the help of witnesses and nearby residents, D.C. police charged then 55-year-old Gary Niles Montgomery with second-degree murder while armed in connection with Jones’ death eight days after the murder took place. In November, a D.C. Superior Court grand jury indicted Montgomery on a charge of first-degree murder while armed.

Until the time of his transfer this week to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, he had been held in jail without bond since the time of his arrest in February 2012.

A police arrest affidavit says a video surveillance camera that recorded the murder shows a male assailant taking Jones’ purse immediately after stabbing her in the face. The affidavit says witnesses identified the person in the video as Montgomery.

Although the taking of the purse indicates the motive of the attack was robbery, police said they have not ruled out the possibility that Jones was targeted because of her status as a transgender person.

However, Bethea told the Blade that he and his family believe Jones’ murder was a hate crime and that police and prosecutors should have classified it as a hate crime, which would give a judge authority to hand down a more stringent or “enhanced” sentence if Montgomery is convicted.

“We believe that it is clear in the video footage of this murder that the elements of a hate crime are present and that hate crime enhancement papers should be served upon this individual,” Bethea said in an email.

He said the family has urged the U.S. Attorney’s office, which is prosecuting the case, to list the murder as a hate crime.

“[W]e are considering filing a complaint with the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division seeking redress of [this] error,” Bethea said in his email.

According to court records, on March 23, Montgomery was declared competent to stand trial following a court-ordered mental evaluation. He pleaded not guilty on Nov. 9, two days after the grand jury indicted him on the first-degree murder while armed charge. During a court hearing on Nov. 30, Superior Court Judge Robert E. Morin scheduled a trial date for June 10.

Court records show that questions surrounding Montgomery’s mental health surfaced in January, prompting Morin to order “24 hour forensic screening” for Montgomery “based on the representations of defense counsel.”

During a court hearing on Tuesday, Morin ordered that Montgomery be transferred to St. Elizabeth’s to undergo a “full competency examination” at the recommendation of a psychiatrist, court records show. The records show Morin vacated the June 10 trial date and scheduled a follow-up mental observation hearing for April 5 to assess Montgomery’s ability to stand trial.

Court records show that at a previous hearing Morin denied at least two requests by Montgomery’s attorneys that he be released from jail while awaiting trial. Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s office opposed the requests for Montgomery’s release.

William Miller, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office, said the office doesn’t comment on pending criminal cases.

This is an update of a story published earlier this week, here.

30
Jan
2013

Mayor, city officials attend memorial for slain trans woman

Vince Gray, Democratic Party, Washington D.C., District of Columbia, Anacostia, JaParker Deoni Jones, gay news, Washington Blade, transgender

Mayor Vince Gray attended the memorial for slain trans woman Deoni Jones, along with several other D.C. officials. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe, and Deputy Police Chief Diane Groomes were among a contingent of city officials who joined about 100 participants Saturday night in a memorial remembrance for slain trans woman Deoni Jones.

Jones, 23, was stabbed to death Feb. 2, 2012 while sitting at a bus stop near her home at East Capitol Street and Sycamore Road, N.E. A 56-year-old District man was indicted on a charge of first-degree murder while armed in connection with Jones’ murder.

As participants in Saturday’s memorial assembled next to the bus stop where the murder occurred exactly one year earlier, Earl Fowlkes, president of the gay rights group Center for Black Equity, introduced Jones’ family members, who organized the event.

“First of all, they could have stayed private, which would be understandable to heal, to seek justice, and to grieve,” Fowlkes said. “But instead, they joined with the LGBT community and stayed with the LGBT community in their time of pain to show that we cannot tolerate violence in our community.”

Alvin Bethea, Jones’ stepfather, told the gathering he and his family were deeply moved by the support they have received from the LGBT community as well as from Mayor Gray and the police and fire departments, which he said responded quickly to the scene where Deoni Jones was attacked.

“President Obama put the country on notice that discrimination against the GLBT community is wrong,” he said, adding that many in the D.C. community were following Obama’s message of equality for all citizens.

But Bethea said he and his family were troubled that the U.S. Attorney’s office has declined their repeated calls for classifying Jones’ murder as a hate crime. He called on the city and the LGBT community to join his family’s efforts to persuade the prosecutor in charge of the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Gorman, to add a hate crime designation to the charge against defendant Gary Montgomery, whom D.C. police arrested eight days after the murder.

Bethea said the family plans to file a complaint with the U.S. Justice Department’s criminal and civil rights divisions requesting an investigation into the handling of the case by the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s office.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office said the office has a policy of not commenting on criminal cases currently before the courts.

In charging documents, police and prosecutors said that a video recording of the incident obtained from a nearby video surveillance camera shows that the person who stabbed Jones took her purse immediately after the stabbing and walked from the scene with the purse in his possession.

The charging documents say the assailant shown on the video recording, which witnesses have identified as Montgomery, dropped the purse after a witness shouted and chased after him. A police arrest affidavit says that the suspect escaped from the scene and remained at large until D.C. police apprehended him eight days later.

Deoni Jones, gay news, Washington Blade

Remembrance of Deoni Jones. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Jones’ friends and family members have said they believe the true motive was hatred toward a transgender person rather than robbery. At the time of Montgomery’s arrest, a police investigator said police were considering the possibility that the incident was a hate crime.

When asked about the family’s and community’s concerns over the lack of a hate crime designation to the case, Gray told reporters after the memorial ended that he would ask the D.C. Attorney General’s office to look into the matter.

“I think there ought to be a clear indication of why or why not this is viewed or not viewed as a hate crime,” Gray said. “The family clearly is not satisfied. And I think we all owe it to them to give a clear explanation over why the direction of the case is proceeding the way it is.”

Gray added, “We can get our attorney general to make a statement to the U.S. Attorney’s office to say we want a clear determination on this situation. And let the family have peace on this because they clearly are still very restive about this whole situation.”

Others who spoke at the memorial included D.C. Council members David Catania (I-At-Large) and Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7); Groomes and Ellerbe; Sterling Washington, director of the Mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs; Hassan Naveed, co-chair of Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence; and Brian Watson of Transgender Health Empowerment.

In the closing prayer, Rev. Dyan Abena McGray, pastor of the LGBT supportive congregation Unity Fellowship, urged members of the LGBT community to be vigilant and supportive in the wake of Deoni Jones’ death.
“I ask you to support one another,” she said. “Stay close to one another. Travel in twos. Protect each other, because there are people outside our group that don’t like us. They don’t understand us,” she said. “But we understand each other so we have to support each other.”
As participants held lit candles and snow began to fall, McGray added, “Just look around. Look at the family here. We are family.”
04
Feb
2013

Senate GOP urges Supreme Court to uphold DOMA

United States Senate, Republican Party, Utah, Kentucky, Iowa, Orrin Hatch, Mitch McConnell, Chuck Grassley, gay news, Washington Blade

(from left) Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) are among the Republicans urging the Supreme Court to uphold DOMA (Photos public domain)

Senate Republicans are arguing the Defense of Marriage Act should be upheld as constitutional because withholding federal benefits from gay couples discourages states from legalizing same-sex marriage.

The 30-page friend-of-the-court brief, filed before the U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 29, argues that Section 3 of DOMA promotes the restriction of marriage to one man, one man while by “removing an incentive” to change state law.

“The prospect of obtaining numerous federal benefits for same-sex couples could be a tremendous weapon in the arsenal of those who would seek to gain recognition of same-sex marriage at the state level,” the brief states. “It would be particularly tempting for courts to recognize same-sex marriage in order to award federal benefits to sympathetic plaintiffs.”

The brief was filed in the case of Windsor v. United States on behalf of 10 Senate Republicans: Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Dan Coats (R-Ind.), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).

Grassley’s participation in the brief is notable because the state he represents in the U.S. Senate, Iowa, is among the nine where same-sex marriage is legal. Also of note are the scant 10 signatures on the brief, which falls short of even one-fourth of the 45 members of the Senate GOP caucus.

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said the brief’s argument that DOMA should be upheld to discourage efforts to legalize same-sex marriage at the state level demonstrates how “arguments made by our opponents get more tortured with every passing day.”

“This is a great example of how far down the rabbit hole they have to go to find justifications for discrimination,” Sainz said. “In essence, the senators are arguing that committed and loving gay and lesbian couples want to get married just for the benefits. Not only is it a ridiculous argument, it’s an affront to our humanity and any reasonable American would see it as such.”

The brief has three main arguments for why DOMA should be upheld: 1) DOMA didn’t change federal law, but reaffirmed the existing definition of marriage; 2) DOMA promotes a government interest in ensuring uniformity in existing law on marriage; and 3) DOMA ensures federal benefits won’t be used to “undermine traditional marriage” at the state level.

Additionally, the brief notes that one of the friends of the court, Hatch, was chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time DOMA was signed into law and received assurances from the Justice Department the measure would be constitutional. The Obama administration has since said the law violates the U.S. Constitution, and won’t defend the law in court.

“If the Department believed that there was an inadequate federal interest to justify DOMA, the time to speak was in 1996, when Congress gave careful consideration to the need for DOMA,” the brief states. “Rather than urging the courts to give appropriate deference to an Act of Congress, as befits its proper role in our system of government, the Department now groundlessly impugns the motives of the overwhelming bipartisan majority that supported DOMA.”

The brief also disputes the notion that Congress passed DOMA in 1996 out of animus of the basis of the bipartisan support the measure enjoyed at the time, including from then-President Bill Clinton, who signed the measure into law. Clinton has since called for repeal of DOMA.

“The fact that DOMA passed both houses of Congress with overwhelming support across the political spectrum, and was signed by into law by President Clinton, further undercuts any attempt to characterize it as the result of unconstitutional ‘animus,’” the brief states. “Many DOMA supporters were on record as opposing discrimination against gays and lesbians.”

The attorney who signed the brief is Michael Stern, an attorney based in Fairfax, Va., who’s contributed to Republican political campaigns.

[h/t] Equality on Trial

08
Feb
2013

DOJ calls on Supreme Court to strike down DOMA

Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade

DOJ filed a brief before the Supreme Court arguing DOMA is unconstitutional. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Obama administration on Friday argued that the Defense of Marriage Act  should be struck down by the Supreme Court because it “inflicts a vast array of…severe harms” on married same-sex couples.

In a 54-page legal brief, the U.S. Justice Department lays out its case for why it believes Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional — noting the harm the law causes married same-sex couples and the history of discrimination against gay and lesbian people — while arguing that DOMA should be subjected to heightened scrutiny, or a greater assumption it’s unconstitutional.

“The law denies to tens of thousands of same-sex couples who are legally married under state law an array of important federal benefits that are available to legally married opposite-sex couples,” the brief states. “Because this discrimination cannot be justified as substantially furthering any important governmental interest, Section 3 is unconstitutional.”

The brief is signed by Solicitor General Donald Verrilli as well as Stuart Delery, the gay principal deputy attorney general who’s litigated against DOMA in oral arguments in lower courts. The lawsuit before the Supreme Court is known as Windsor v. United States, which was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The brief enumerates several benefits that are withheld from married same-sex couples under DOMA, such as the denial of certain housing benefits for service members, the lack of Social Security survivor benefits and the inability of gay Americans to sponsor their foreign-born same-sex spouses for residency in the United States. It also notes plaintiff and New York widower Edith Windsor was forced to pay $363,000 in estate taxes upon the death of her spouse, Thea Spyer.

But the Justice Department also makes the case that laws related to sexual orientation should be subjected to heightened scrutiny because gay people have been subjected to a history of discrimination, citing bias in employment and immigration as well as vulnerability to hate crimes and police harassment.

Additionally, the brief contends DOMA merits heightened scrutiny because sexual orientation bears no relation on an individual’s ability to contribute to society and gays are a minority with limited political power.

“Historically, discrimination against gay and lesbian people had nothing to do with ability or performance, but rested instead on the view that they are, for example, sexual deviants, mentally ill, or immoral,” the brief states. ”Like gender, race,or religion, sexual orientation bears no inherent relation to a person’s ability to participate in or contribute to society.”

While asserting DOMA fails the test of heightened scrutiny, the Justice Department says it doesn’t challenge the law if a lower standard of rational basis review were applied. However, even under this standard, the brief maintains the law would fail under a more searching form of that review.

“To the extent sexual orientation may be considered to fall short in some dimension, the history of discrimination and the absence of relation to one’s capabilities associated with this particular classification would uniquely qualify it for scrutiny under an approach that calls for a measure of added focus to guard against giving effect to a desire to harm an ‘unpopular group,’” the brief states. “Section 3 would fail to satisfy any such analysis, largely for the reasons it fails heightened scrutiny.”

In addition to the merits brief, the Justice Department filed on the same day another brief addressing jurisdictional questions in the case. That brief responds to questions over whether the executive branch agrees DOMA is unconstitutional and whether the House Republican-led Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group has standing to participate. BLAG, following a party-line vote of 3-2, has taken up defense of DOMA in the administration’s stead.

In that 38-page brief, the Justice Department contends the Supreme Court has jurisdiction, but BLAG lacks standing to seek review of lower court decisions striking down DOMA.

“BLAG is an entity located within the Legislative Branch,” the brief states. “The Constitution assigns to that Branch only specifically enumerated ‘legislative powers.’ … Although Congress (and the individual Houses) may create offices to assist with legislative tasks, the authority of such an office may not include the ‘discretionary power to seek judicial relief’ on behalf of the United States.”

Also on Friday, other briefs were filed by the ACLU and BLAG in response to the jurisdictional questions in the case. In its brief, BLAG argues it can participate in the lawsuit, but the Justice Department doesn’t have standing to take part.

LGBT advocates have been calling on the Obama administration to file a similar brief in the lawsuit pending before the Supreme Court challenging California’s Proposition 8. As of Thursday, the White House hasn’t said whether the administration will file a brief, although President Obama said the solicitor general is “looking” at such action. The deadline for the Obama administration to file a brief in the case is Thursday.

In the DOMA case, the next step is for the ACLU to file its brief on the merits, which is expected on Tuesday. Oral arguments in the case are set for March 27 and justices are expected to render a decision before their term ends in June.

23
Feb
2013

Obama to file brief against Prop 8: report

Citizens Metal, Barack Obama, gay news, Washington Blade

NBC News is reporting President Obama will file a brief in the Prop 8 case. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Obama administration will take part in the lawsuit challenging California’s Proposition 8 by filing a friend-of-the-court brief before the Supreme Court, according to a report on Thursday by NBC News’ Pete Williams,

The report comes on the deadline day for submitting friend-of-the-court briefs in favor of the same-sex couples challenging Prop 8 in the lawsuit filed by the American Foundation for Equal Rights.

LGBT advocates have been pushing for the Obama administration to take part in the Prop 8 lawsuit amid uncertainty over whether the court will decide to uphold the same-sex marriage ban or strike it down.

Rick Jacobs, co-founder of the Courage Campaign, issued a statement commending President Obama for “standing-up for millions of Californians who simply want to marry the person they love.”

“The two Supreme Court cases this summer will be a watershed moment for equality and President Obama has put his Administration squarely on the right side of history,” Jacobs said. “Discrimination and hatred have no place in a country founded on the principles of liberty, justice and equality.”

The Justice Department has already taken part in the case against the Defense of Marriage Act before the Supreme Court. Just last week, the Obama administration filed a brief contesting DOMA on the basis that laws related to sexual orientation should be subjected to heightened scrutiny.

But it remains unclear what the scope of the Prop 8 brief will be. The most sweeping argument the Justice Department could make is that state bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional and marriage equality should be instituted across the nation.

That argument would be consistent with the administration’s position on DOMA that laws related to sexual orientation should be subject to heightened scrutiny.

The Obama administration could also ask for a narrow ruling along the lines of the ruling in the case from the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. That argument — which would only affect California — would be that Prop 8 is unconstitutional on the basis that the right to marry can’t be taken away once it’s granted to same-sex couples.

Another option for the brief is to argue that proponents of Prop 8, such as ProtectMarriage.com, don’t have standing to defend the measure before the Supreme Court. That would be the most narrow argument because it wouldn’t broach the issue of Prop 8′s constitutionality.

Despite calls from LGBT advocates, the White House has been tight-lipped about whether it would file a friend-of-the-court brief for months and had no comment on the deadline day for filing the brief.

On Thursday during the White House news briefing, press secretary Jay Carney deferred all questions related to Prop 8 to the Justice Department.

Asked at the top of the briefing by the Associated Press whether the administration will file a brief, Carney said  he won’t talk legal issues from the podium.

“As I’ve said in the past, decisions about filing briefs are legal and constitutional matters, so it’s best to address those questions to the Department of Justice,” Carney said.

Later in the briefing, the Chicago Tribune’s Christi Parsons asked Carney to talk about the deliberative process by which Obama was considering participating in the Prop 8 case. Again, Carney had nothing to say.

“I really don’t have anything for you on it, the president obviously has expressed an opinion in the past on this issue as a matter of policy, but when it comes to a legal and constitutional issues around it, that’s a jurisdiction that resides with the Department of Justice, so I dont have anything for you on it,” Carney said.

In response to the Washington Blade’s request for comment, Nanda Chitre, a Justice Department spokesperson, said Thursday said she had “no update” on whether Obama would file a brief. The White House also had no comment.

28
Feb
2013

Court grants extended time for DOMA arguments

Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday set up speaking time for oral arguments in the DOMA case (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Supreme Court announced on Monday it would grant extended time for oral arguments in a lawsuit challenging the Defense of Marriage Act.

In its order list, the court granted a total of 110 minutes in arguments before the court — set for March 27 — with 50 minutes devoted to jurisdictional issues and 60 minutes devoted to the merits. That’s significantly longer than the standard 60 minutes for oral arguments before the court.

Time is further broken down as follows:

“On the jurisdiction issues, the Court-appointed amicus curiae is allotted 20 minutes, the Solicitor General is allotted 15 minutes, and respondent Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the U.S. House of Representatives is allotted 15 minutes,” the orders state. “On the merits, respondent Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the U.S. House of Representatives is allotted 30 minutes, the Solicitor General is allotted 15 minutes, and respondent Edith Windsor is allotted 15 minutes.”

The Court-appointed amicus curiae is Harvard law professor Vicki Jackson, who has argued that the Supreme Court doesn’t have jurisdiction to hear the DOMA case, nor does the House Republican-led Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group have standing to participate in the lawsuit.

The announcement responds to a request filed last week from U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, reported by SCOTUSBlog, for extended speaking time during the oral arguments. Notably, even though attorneys for plaintiff Edith Windsor sought time to speak on the jurisdictional question, they are not granted time during oral arguments to address that issue.

While setting time allocations for the DOMA arguments, the court orders on Monday make no mention of whether the Supreme Court has agreed to another request from the Solicitor General Donald Verrilli to participate in oral arguments in the case against California’s Proposition 8. The issue apparently remains to be decided.

Last week, Verrilli filed a motion with the Supreme Court noting the Justice Department’s recently filed friend-of-the-court brief in the case and saying the government has a similar interest in Prop 8 as it does with DOMA.

“This case, like Windsor, presents the Court with the opportunity to address the question whether laws that target gay and lesbian people for discriminatory treatment should be subject to heightened scrutiny,” the motion states. “Certain interests articulated in support of Proposition 8 in this case have also been raised in Windsor in support of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, and the Court’s approach when examining those interests therefore is of significance to the United States.”

Verrilli adds Justice Department participation in oral argument will provide the court with the government’s “unique perspective” on Prop 8 and will be of material assistance to the Court.

04
Mar
2013