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Where does the LGBT movement go in 2014?

Winter Olympics, John Boehner, Sean Eldridge, Supreme Court, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade

New advancements on LGBT rights are expected in 2014 in the aftermath of a milestone year in 2013. (Photo of the Winter Olympics public domain; Washington Blade photos of John Boehner, Sean Eldridge and activists in front of the Supreme Court by Michael Key)

Although 2013 will be a tough act to follow in terms of achievements for the LGBT community, some advocates say significant new battles and potential victories are on the horizon for 2014.

Additional court rulings on marriage and the upcoming Olympic Games in Sochi will attract attention, but the focus will also be on the lead-up to the mid-term elections in November 2014. Voters are expected to decide the issue of marriage equality at the ballot and make decisions in candidate elections that would shape LGBT rights in the future.

Next month, all eyes will be on the Winter Olympics to see what impact gay athletes coming to compete in Sochi, Russia, might have on the anti-gay laws there, including the now notorious law prohibiting pro-gay propaganda. The Olympics will be held between Feb. 6 and 23.

It remains to be seen whether any of the athletes who’ll compete in the games — or any of the three openly gay members of the U.S. delegation to the Olympics — will speak out against the anti-gay policies, and whether the Russian government will subject them to punishment under the propaganda law for doing so.

In terms of the advancement of marriage equality, no one is predicting movement in the state legislatures as seen in 2013, but action is expected at the ballot and as a result of numerous court cases filed throughout the country.

In Oregon, activists are preparing for a campaign to legalize same-sex marriage at the ballot. They’re already touting 118,176 signatures, which is more than 116,284 needed by July 3 to place the measure before voters. Success at the ballot would mean Oregon would become the first state in the country to overturn a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage through a ballot initiative.

Another effort is underway in Ohio, where the group Freedom Ohio is touting a new poll showing 56 percent of Ohio residents support marriage equality as part of an effort to place a measure on the ballot in 2014. National LGBT groups, however, aren’t behind this endeavor and reportedly have said 2014 isn’t the year to bring marriage equality to the ballot in Ohio.

But 2014 may also see the return of state constitutional amendments at the ballot banning same-sex marriage. Opponents of same-sex marriage in Indiana are seeking a vote in the legislature on such an amendment, which would bring the issue before voters in the 2014 election.

It’s possible that a similar amendment may appear on the 2014 ballot in New Mexico, where anti-gay lawmakers unhappy with the state Supreme Court’s recent decision to legalize same-sex marriage have threatened to take action. However, the legislature needs to approve the amendment before it goes to voters, which is unlikely because Democrats control both the House and Senate.

Amid efforts to place the marriage issue on the ballot, courts may issue rulings in favor of marriage equality in any of the at least 23 states with pending marriage litigation. Such rulings could happen in Michigan, where a trial on the ban same-sex marriage has been set for February, or in Pennsylvania. A federal court in West Virginia may respond to a request for summary judgment filed Tuesday by Lambda Legal on behalf on same-sex couples seeking to wed in the state.

For the first time since the Supreme Court ruling against the Defense of Marriage Act, federal appeals courts will also take up the issue of marriage equality. The U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals will review the marriage lawsuit in which U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby recently instituted marriage equality in Utah, and the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will review Nevada’s ban on same-sex marriage in the case known as Sevcik v. Sandoval.

It’s possible that rulings at the appellate level could send the issue of marriage equality back to the Supreme Court as soon as next year.

Marc Solomon, national campaign director for Freedom to Marry, said the endeavors to advance marriage equality in 2014 will foster a better climate for the Supreme Court to make a “national resolution” in favor of marriage equality.

“We really don’t know, and nobody knows, which case is going to be that case that gets to the Supreme Court, when it’s going to happen, if it’s going to happen next year, if it’s going to happen in five years,” Solomon said. “Basically, we are full-steam ahead with what we call our ‘Roadmap to Victory’ to win more states, grow public support, get more unexpected allies, and demonstrate that the country is completely ready.”

Solomon said his organization also plans to participate in public education campaigns in Arizona, Ohio, Michigan, Colorado and Nevada in anticipation of going to the ballot to win marriage equality in 2016 in addition to a similar campaign in Pennsylvania to foster a climate for a court ruling in favor of marriage equality in the Keystone State.

Advancement of pro-LGBT federal legislation may also take place, although the chances such legislation will reach President Obama’s desk are low — to say the least — because Republicans control the House.

Supporters of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act are pushing for a vote in the Republican-controlled chamber following a bipartisan vote in the Senate in favor of the legislation. Although the legislation has 201 sponsors in a chamber where 218 votes are needed for passage, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has repeatedly said he opposes the legislation when asked if he’ll bring up the bill for a vote.

Issues for married same-sex couples in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act are also expected to surface. Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has pledged to hold a hearing on these outstanding issues.

Among them is the Social Security Administration’s continued hold on benefits claims for married same-sex couples in non-marriage equality states. Passage of the Respect for Marriage Act would address these issues by ensuring married same-sex couples would be able to receive federal benefits wherever they move in the country.

The Senate early this year may also take up a version of No Child Left Behind reauthorization — reported out on a party-line basis in June by the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee — that contains anti-bullying provisions along the lines of the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, said the successes of 2013 are “much to celebrate,” but said they also highlight more work is necessary at the federal level — not just on LGBT-specific issues, but other areas like immigration reform and restoration of the Voting Rights Act.

“Every victory we achieve makes clearer the inequalities that remain — the painful gap between progress and true freedom,” Carey said. “That’s why we need the House to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act; fair immigration reform legislation; and to restore the heart of the Voting Rights Act, so unceremoniously gutted by the Supreme Court this past year. We must win on these issues in 2014; we can win on these issues in 2014.”

Meanwhile, campaigns are ramping up for elections in 2014. For the first time ever, at least two openly gay candidates may appear as gubernatorial candidates representing a major party.

In Maryland, lesbian Del. Heather Mizeur is running against two other candidates in a bid for the Democratic nomination for governor. Her primary is June 24.

And in Maine, Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine), who came out as gay in 2013, is seeking to oust Republican Gov. Paul LePage. Michaud is the only declared candidate on the Democratic side.

In Congress, six openly LGB members of the U.S. House will be seeking to retain their seats. Those running in moderate districts who may face more challenging re-election bids are Reps. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.).

Sean Eldridge, an entrepreneur known for his work advocating for marriage equality in New York and also known for being married to Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, is seeking to unseat incumbent Republican Chris Gibson to represent New York’s 19th congressional district.

Other gay newcomers are on the Republican side. Former Massachusetts State Sen. Richard Tisei, who narrowly lost a challenge to Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) in 2012, is considering a rematch in 2014.

Former San Diego City Council member Carl DeMaio is seeking to represent the San Diego area in the U.S. House and University of New Hampshire administrator Dan Innis has launched a bid to unseat Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.).

Despite openly gay candidates on the Republican side, LGBT advocates will likely also work for Democratic majorities in Congress — achieving it in the House and preserving it in the Senate — to foster a better climate for passing pro-LGBT legislation.

That may be an uphill battle. A recent survey from CNN/ORC International shows Republicans have increased their edge in the race for control of Congress. Republicans lead Democrats by 49 percent to 44 percent among registered voters asked to pick between unnamed candidates from each party in their district. That’s up from a smaller two-point edge in favor of Republicans last month.

Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, said he doesn’t think the House will be in play given the abysmal state of President Obama’s polling numbers, and Republicans have a strong chance of winning the Senate.

“The Senate definitely is up for grabs,” Rothenberg said. “It’s probably close to 50-50 that Republicans will net the six seats that they will need to get to 51 seats. But there is plenty of time for events to occur that could change the current outlook.”

Whatever happens in Congress, LGBT advocates pledge to work at all levels of the government — federal, state and local — to continue to advance rights for the LGBT community.

Fred Sainz, the Human Rights Campaign’s vice president of communications, said 2014 will present “tremendous opportunities” for the LGBT community in the aftermath of 2013′s victories.

“We will continue to advance all measures of equality in the states, most importantly non-discrimination laws that affect the greatest number of LGBT people,” Sainz said. “And federally, we will continue to grow support for ENDA toward its eventual passage — as well as other bills that are part of our legislative agenda.”

01
Jan
2014

Jason Collins to attend State of the Union

Jason Collins Washington Wizards screenshot via YouTube

Jason Collins is slated to attend the State of the Union address (Screenshot via YouTube).

The professional basketball player who caused a media frenzy by coming out as gay last year is slated to attend the upcoming the State of the Union address, the Washington Blade has learned.

Jason Collins, a former center for the Washington Wizards and now a free agent, is slated to sit next to first lady Michelle Obama during the speech in her box in the House gallery. President Obama is set to deliver the remarks before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday evening.

After coming out as gay in a Sports Illustrated article in April, Collins has enjoyed a strong relationship with the Obamas. On the day the piece was published, Collins received a personal phone call from Obama, who later said during a news conference he was “very proud” of the athlete.

Collins also appeared alongside Michelle Obama during the Democratic National Committee’s annual LGBT gala in New York City in May.

Even though Collins is considered the first openly gay player in a major North American team sport, he has yet to land a contract with any sports team or play a single game after coming out. In December, he told the Washington Blade he doesn’t think his sexual orientation is a factor in why he hasn’t been signed. The deadline for teams to send their playoff rosters to the NBA is March 1.

Other guests slated to sit in the box with the first lady are Boston residents Carlos Arredondo and Jeff Bauman, who survived the Boston Marathon Bombing; Fire Chief Gary Bird of Moore, Okla.; Joey Hudy, an intern for the company Intel from Anthem, Ariz.; and D.C.’s Public School Teacher of the Year for 2013 Kathy Hollowell-Makle.

27
Jan
2014

Months after court ruling, DOMA issues remain unresolved

Eric Holder, United States Justice Department, Barack Obama Administration, Lincoln Memorial, the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, civil rights, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has pledged to extend federal benefits to married gay couples to the furthest extent possible under the law. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Ever since the Supreme Court ruled against the Defense of Marriage Act last year, the Obama administration has been rolling out on a continual basis new federal benefits for married same-sex couples — but access to some benefits remains uncertain months after the decision.

While the administration has afforded a preponderance of the 1,138 federal benefits of marriage to same-sex couples, other benefits — including Social Security, veterans and family leave benefits — are still in limbo for those living in non-marriage equality states. For these benefits, federal policy looks to the place of residence, not the place of celebration, in determining whether a person is married.

The policy of the Obama administration has been to expand benefits to married same-sex couples to the furthest extend possible under the law following the court decision against DOMA. That position was formalized last week in a memo from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder extending certain federal benefits under the purview of the Justice Department to married gay couples.

“It is the Department’s policy, to the extent federal law permits, to recognize lawful same-sex marriages as broadly as possible, and to recognize valid in the jurisdiction where the marriage was celebrated,” Holder writes.

Thus far, the administration has extended numerous benefits to married same-sex couples related to taxes, immigration, federal employee benefits, employer-provided pensions and, most recently, the ability to refuse to testify against a spouse in federal court — even if these couples live in non-marriage equality states. The Justice Department has also ceased enforcement of a provision in Title 38, which governs veterans benefits, that independently defines marriage in opposite-sex terms.

But things get dicier when it comes to other benefits where the law governing them looks to the state law where a couple resides, rather than the state law where the couple was married in determining whether a marriage is legitimate. Does the spirit of the Supreme Court ruling against DOMA mean that these portions of these laws should also not be enforced, or are they so far removed from the ruling they require a legislative fix?

One such issue is with Social Security benefits. Although the Social Security Administration is processing retirement and survivor benefits for same-sex couples living in marriage-equality states, for the time being, it’s placing applications on hold for married same-sex couples living in places that don’t their recognize their union.

Kia Anderson, a Social Security spokesperson, said work coordinated with the Justice Department is still underway to determine whether her agency can recognize these same-sex marriages for benefits purposes.

“We are working with the Department of Justice to develop and implement policy and processing instructions on this issue,” Anderson said. “However, we encourage people to apply right away for benefits, even if they aren’t sure they are eligible. Applying now will protect against the loss of any potential benefits.”

Yet another benefit on hold for married same-sex couples living in non-marriage equality states is veterans benefits, which include disability benefits, survivor benefits and joint burial at a veteran’s cemetery for the spouses of former service members. As with Social Security law, a portion of veterans’ law, 103(c) of Title 38, looks to state of residence, not the state of celebration, to determine whether a couple is married.

Genevieve Billia, a spokesperson for the Department of Veterans Affairs, said her department is still reviewing the issue of these benefits with the Justice Department.

“VA is working closely with the Department of Justice to develop guidance to process cases involving same-sex spousal benefits, and to implement necessary changes swiftly and smoothly in order to deliver the best services to all our nation’s veterans,” Billia said. “Our commitment to provide all veterans and their families with their earned care and benefits will continue to be our focus as VA implements the Supreme Court’s decision in Windsor, and the president’s direction on Title 38.”

The continued enforcement of 103(c) of Title 38 to discriminate against gay couples has been a cause for concern for U.S. senators. Last month, seven senators — led by Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) — called on the Obama administration to stop enforcing the law in a way that blocks gay veterans in same-sex marriages from receiving spousal benefits.

Stephen Peters, president of the American Military Partner Association, called the issue “a top concern” among veterans belonging to the LGBT military group.

“While we understand it takes time to review existing policies and laws in light of the Windsor decision, for the sake of our veterans and their families, our hope is that the administration will take swift action in extending full and equal VA benefits no matter what state the veteran and their family live in,” Peters said. “These veterans have earned these benefits and there is no valid reason why they should continue to be denied them.”

The American Military Partner Association has launched an online petition calling on Holder to stop enforcing U.S. code governing veterans benefits in a way that discriminates against same-sex couples. According to the organization, a little more than 1,000 people had signed the petition as of Wednesday.

Ian Thompson, legislative representative for the American Civil Liberties Union, expressed confidence the administration would be able to come to a conclusion on these issues as it has done with other benefits in the aftermath of the DOMA ruling.

“Federal agencies have moved with commendable speed to extend recognition to married same-sex couples, and to do so in a way that recognizes that these marriages don’t dissolve when a couple crosses state lines,” Thompson said. “While more work remains, including with SSA and the VA, we are confident that these issues can be properly addressed.”

The Justice Department didn’t respond to the Blade’s request for comment on the pace with which these benefits are being rolled out or when these outstanding issues will be resolved.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, touted the administration’s work so far in implementing benefits as he acknowledged “some work remains.”

“Following the Supreme Court’s ruling in Windsor, the president directed the attorney general to work with the Cabinet to review federal law to ensure the decision and its implications for federal benefits and obligations are implemented swiftly and smoothly,” Inouye said. “That process is ongoing, and while some work remains, the administration has worked to affirm the principle that all couples who are legally married receive full and equal recognition, to the greatest extent possible under the law.”

Should the administration determine it must continue enforcing these laws, a legislative fix from Congress would be necessary to ensure these benefits can flow to gay couples. For the Social Security benefits, that would mean passage of the Social Security Equality Act, sponsored by Rep. Linda Sanchez in the House. For the veterans benefits, that would mean passage of the Charlie Morgan Act, sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) in the Senate.

The federal benefits of marriage across the board would be assured for married gay couples regardless of where they live after passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, which is sponsored by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) in the House and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) in the Senate.

A Senate Judiciary Committee aide told the Blade last year that a Senate hearing was in the works for fall 2013 on the legislation. Although the hearing never took place, a Senate aide told the Blade plans are still underway for a hearing.

“Chairman Leahy continues to push for timely and comprehensive implementation of the Windsor decision, including last week’s landmark announcement that the Justice Department will treat all lawfully married couples equally in federal legal matters,” the Leahy aide said. “Chairman Leahy is committed to taking discrimination out of our laws, and he is working to schedule a hearing and build support for the Respect for Marriage Act.”

Not all the outstanding issues in the aftermath of the DOMA ruling are related to law. Benefits are blocked from flowing to married same-sex couples in non-marriage equality states under the Family & Medical Leave Act not because of statute, but by regulation, which the administration could change at any time without action from Congress.

And that change is already taking place. Last last year, the Department of Labor announced it was changing the regulations for the Family & Medical Leave Act — along with regulations for a slew of other laws — to ensure those benefits flow to married same-sex couples living in non-marriage equality states. According to Thompson’s HR Compliance Expert, the change will be implemented in March.

Laura Fortman, principal deputy administrator of the Labor Department’s Wage & Hour Division, wrote about the proposed change in a little-noticed blog post at the time.

“No one should have to choose between succeeding at work and being a loving family caregiver,” Fortman said. “The FMLA’s protections help ensure that people have the opportunity to be both and our proposed rulemaking is an important step in ensuring the law keeps up with the needs of all families in this country.”

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, said her organization looks forward to the day when the DOMA decision is “fully implemented” by the federal government.

“Steady progress is being made and more is to come,” Carey said. “For example, we are working with the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure that health insurance plans offer coverage for same-sex spouses regardless of where they live. Big picture, we fully expect this landmark decision to continue to positively impact the lives of LGBT people and their families for years to come and in ways that we haven’t even imagined.”

19
Feb
2014

Obama admin says insurers can’t discriminate against gay unions

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, gay news, Washington Blade

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid has issued guidance clarifying insurers can’t discriminate against same-sex couples. (Image public domain)

The Obama administration clarified on Friday that insurers are prohibited from discriminating against same-sex marriages for the purposes of non-grandfathered family coverage — even if applicants are applying in non-marriage equality states.

In guidance dated March 14, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid says existing provisions in the health care reform law prohibiting discrimination by insurers on the basis of gender — which the Obama administration has interpreted to extend non-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity — also requires insurers not to refuse family coverage for married same-sex couples.

The guidance is set up as Q&A. The question is “If a health insurance issuer in the group or individual market offers coverage of an opposite-sex spouse, may the issuer refuse to offer coverage of a same-sex spouse?” The response starts off simply, “No.”

“This section prohibits an issuer from choosing to decline to offer to a plan sponsor (or individual in the individual market) the option to cover same-sex spouses under the coverage on the same terms and conditions as opposite sex-spouses,” the guidance states.

Alicia Hartinger, a CMS spokesperson, said the guidance spells out that non-discrimination is the rule for insurers — both on and off the health insurance exchanges — when selling policies.

“CMS recognizes the importance of all Americans and their families having access to quality, affordable coverage,” Hartinger said. “Today’s guidance clarifies that issuers may not choose to treat same-sex spouses differently from opposite-sex spouses. If an issuer offers opposite-sex spouse coverage, it may not choose to deny the same coverage to a same-sex spouse. We will continue to work with states and issuers to help ensure all Americans have an equal opportunity to purchase the new coverage options available to them.”

The guidance says insurers cannot refuse family coverage to married same-sex couples even if they live in — or the insurance is sold in — a non-marriage equality state that doesn’t recognize those unions.

Additionally, the guidance acknowledges insurers may not have realized this prohibition when designing their policies for the 2014 coverage year. Accordingly, while encouraging immediate compliance, CMS says insurers need not begin adhering to this policy until Jan. 1, 2015. The guidance also directs states to begin enforcing the regulations no later than Jan. 1, 2015.

The guidance doesn’t address whether it requires CMS to provide coverage to same-sex couples in domestic partnerships or civil unions. A CMS official said the guidance applies only to marriages, not these other unions.

LGBT advocates praised the new guidance as a step toward ensuring that married same-sex couples have the same access to health insurance as their opposite-sex counterparts.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, earlier said her group wanted the Obama administration to make the clarification and upon news of the guidance said it would help same-sex couples “hurting right now” because they were denied health insurance.

“Today’s important HHS announcement will help remove this type of discrimination by requiring the health insurance industry to treat us the same as straight married couples — even if the states where we live do not recognize marriage equality,” Carey said. “While insurers are not required to be in compliance with the new rules until January 2015, we urge the industry to act now — as affordable health care delayed is affordable health care denied.”

There have been reported incidents of married gay couples being unable to receive family coverage in the aftermath of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. In February, a gay couple — Alfred Cowger and Anthony Wesley of Gates Mills, Ohio — filed a federal lawsuit charging that they were unable to obtain family coverage because their state doesn’t recognize their marriage.

In January, Blue Cross and Blue Shield canceled family insurance policies it sold to same-sex couples under the Affordable Care Act in North Carolina. Following news reports about the cancellations, the insurer changed course and agreed to offer family coverage on the health insurance exchange to same-sex couples.

Kellan Baker, director of the LGBT State Exchanges Project for the Center for American Progress, said the new guidance is important because research shows LGBT families have trouble accessing health insurance.

“Research has shown that same-sex couples, as well as transgender people and other members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, or LGBT, communities, frequently face obstacles to affordable, comprehensive insurance coverage,” Baker said. “My colleagues and I look forward to working with HHS to ensure that this guidance is fully implemented in a timely manner and that similar action is taken to remove other barriers to coverage, such as discriminatory insurance exclusions that target transgender people.”

15
Mar
2014

Obama admin to recognize Utah same-sex marriages

Eric Holder, United States Justice Department, Barack Obama Administration, Lincoln Memorial, the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, civil rights, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Friday the federal government will recognize Utah same-sex marriages (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Friday that the federal government will recognize the same-sex marriages performed in Utah despite the state’s decision not to recognize them in the aftermath of a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a video announcement, Holder says the federal government will recognize the marriages of the more than 1,300 couples estimated to have wed in the state, even though Utah Gov. Gary Herbert indicated a letter to staff earlier this week the state won’t recognize the unions pending appeal.

“In the meantime, I am confirming today that, for purposes of federal law, these marriages will be recognized as lawful and considered eligible for all relevant federal benefits on the same terms as other same-sex marriages,” Holder says. “These families should not be asked to endure uncertainty regarding their status as the litigation unfolds.”

In the coming weeks, Holder pledges to coordinate with other branches of the federal government to ensure federal benefits are flowing to same-sex couples who wed in Utah.

“In the days ahead, we will continue to coordinate across the federal government to ensure the timely provision of every federal benefit to which Utah couples and couples throughout the country are entitled – regardless of whether they in same-sex or opposite-sex marriages,” Holder says. “And we will continue to provide additional information as soon as it becomes available.”

Same-sex couples began marrying in Utah starting on Dec. 20 after a ruling from U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby striking down the state’s ban on same-sex marriages, known as Amendment 3. After unsuccessful attempts with the district court and the U.S. Tenth Circuit, Herbert and Attorney General Sean Reyes obtained a stay on the marriages from the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday.

The next day, Utah announced it wouldn’t recognize the same-sex marriages that were already performed in the state prior to the stay. However, there was still a question about whether the federal government would recognize the unions. In a letter to Holder on Thursday, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said there’s “no legal reason” why the marriages shouldn’t be recognized and Utah did so out of political reasons.

In a statement following the announcement, Griffin praised Holder for deciding the Utah same-sex marriages should be recognized.

“These 1,360 Utah couples are married, plain and simple, and they should be afforded every right and responsibility of marriage,” Griffin said. “Attorney General Eric Holder has once again shown the kind of leadership that earns you a spot in the history books. This is only the beginning of this fight, and this work continues until marriage equality returns to Utah for good, and full equality reaches every American in all 50 states.”

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said during his routine news conference on Friday that President Obama “welcomes” the decision by the Justice Department.

“I can tell you the president welcomes the attorney general’s determination that the federal government, for purposes of federal law will recognize the same-sex marriages that were lawfully performed in Utah before a stay was issued,” Carney said.

Asked by the Blade about the extent to which Obama was involved in reaching the decision, Carney said he doesn’t believe the president spoke with Holder about the matter prior to the resolution.

“The president simply welcomes the decision,” Carney said. “This is action and determination taken by, and done by, the attorney general. The president obviously has expressed his views publicly about same-sex marriage, and the need for equal rights for all Americans, so I don’t know, but I don’t think they discussed this specific issue. This was a determination by the AG.”

But anti-gay advocates aren’t pleased the decision and are saying it’s an affront to Utah’s right to regulate marriage.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said the decision is “an effort to make law in the breach and shows contempt for the states, the federal courts, and Congress.”

“It only adds to the administrative chaos by flouting Utah’s marriage law and is in contrast to the U.S. Supreme Court’s cautious approach in granting a stay in the case,” Perkins said. “The Department of Justice’s announcement is doing the very thing which the Supreme Court condemned in the U.S. vs. Windsor decision — ‘creating two contradictory marriage regimes within the same State.’”

The Utah attorney general isn’t expressing any dissatisfaction with the decision from the federal government. Ryan Bruckman, a Reyes spokesperson, said the state has no objections.

“The statement put forth by Attorney General Eric Holder is consistent with previous statements from the Utah Attorney General’s Office.” Bruckman said.

The Obama administration is able to recognize the same-sex marriages in Utah in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June striking down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act. Since ruling against the law, which prohibited federal recognition of same-sex marriage, the Obama administration has been implementing federal benefits for same-sex unions.

Read Holder’s full remarks here:

Last June, the Supreme Court issued a landmark decision – in United States v. Windsor – holding that Americans in same-sex marriages are entitled to equal protection and equal treatment under the law. This ruling marked a historic step toward equality for all American families. And since the day it was handed down, the Department of Justice has been working tirelessly to implement it in both letter and spirit – moving to extend — federal benefits to married same-sex couples as swiftly and smoothly as possible.

Recently, an administrative step by the Court has cast doubt on same-sex marriages that have been performed in the state of Utah. And the governor has announced that the state will not recognize these marriages pending additional Court action.

In the meantime, I am confirming today that, for purposes of federal law, these marriages will be recognized as lawful and considered eligible for all relevant federal benefits on the same terms as other same-sex marriages. These families should not be asked to endure uncertainty regarding their status as the litigation unfolds. In the days ahead, we will continue to coordinate across the federal government to ensure the timely provision of every federal benefit to which Utah couples and couples throughout the country are entitled – regardless of whether they in same-sex or opposite-sex marriages. And we will continue to provide additional information as soon as it becomes available.

10
Jan
2014

W.H. adviser says ENDA executive order ‘under consideration’

White House adviser John Podesta says the ENDA executive order is "under consideration." (Screenshot via Bloomberg News).

White House adviser John Podesta says the ENDA executive order is “under consideration.” (Screenshot via Bloomberg News).

In a departure from previous public comments from the Obama administration, White House counselor John Podesta said on Friday an executive order barring LGBT discrimination among federal contractors is “under consideration.”

During an interview with Bloomberg News’ Al Hunt, Podesta made the remarks when asked if President Obama would issue a heavily sought-after executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

“Well, what he said in the State of the Union was he was going to require federal contractors to pay a minimum wage of $10.10,” Podesta said. “The order that you’re talking about is under consideration at the White House. We’re looking at that.”

Asked by Hunt what Obama is likely to do, Podesta said, “Well, you know, I’m not going to prejudge that.”

Podesta’s assertion the executive order is “under consideration” is consistent with an email from Democratic National Committee Treasurer Andy Tobias leaked to the Washington Blade in June in which he said a “process” is holding up the directive. It’s also consistent with a one-time statement from White House spokesperson Shin Inouye that the administration “continue[s] to study the issue.”

When questioned about Podesta’s remarks on Saturday, Inouye repeated the more familiar refrain that the administration has no updates on an executive order.

“We continue to urge Congress to pass ENDA,” Inouye said. “We have no further updates on this issue.”

While LGBT advocates continue to scratch their heads over why Obama hasn’t issued the executive order and maintain the directive is one of his campaign promises, Podesta couldn’t identify a reason to withhold the order when pressed by Hunt.

Saying the administration continues to push for passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — legislation that would bar LGBT discrimination in the workforce — Podesta maintained the White House wants to see “whether that’s possible.”

“I think the argument against doing it — there is no real argument against non-discrimination in the workplace,” Podesta said. “I think the question is we’ve been putting the forward the effort to get a comprehensive ENDA through the Congress. We’ll see whether that’s possible.”

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, welcomed the comments from Podesta, but said the time for consideration of the executive order is over.

“It’s great to hear Mr. Podesta say that the LGBT executive order is still under consideration at the White House, and I know that many LGBT organizations plan to keep pushing until this long overdue campaign promise becomes a reality,” Almeida said. “But I don’t think there’s anything left to study or consider: both Republican and Democratic presidents before President Obama have signed orders banning discrimination at federal contractors and they’ve always been upheld in the courts. This order fits perfectly with the White House plans for a ‘year of action,’ and the time to sign is now.”

Podesta, who recently joined the White House staff as counselor after serving as president for the Center for American Progress, has a reputation for supporting executive action for U.S. presidents. In a 2010 report titled, “The Power of the President: Recommendations to Advance Positive Change,” Podesta advocates for the use of executive power for Obama to advance job creation and economic competitiveness as well as to improve education, health care and security.

The assertion the executive order is “under consideration” contradicts statements from the White House that the directive is “hypothetical” in nature. On the same day Podesta made the remarks, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney characterized the directive as “hypothetical” when questioned by the Blade.

01
Feb
2014

Judge orders Kentucky to recognize married gay couples

Vicco, Kentucky, employment non-discrimination, gay news, Washington Blade

(Image by Seth Ilys via Wikimedia Commons)

A federal judge has ordered Kentucky to begin recognizing out-of-state same-sex marriages in the aftermath of his earlier ruling  against the state’s ban on gay unions.

U.S. District Judge John Heyburn issued the two-page order on Thursday, saying laws prohibiting recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages in Kentucky “violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, and they are void and unenforceable.”

Heyburn was confirmed to the federal bench by the Senate in 1992 after being recommended by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and nominated by President George H.W. Bush. On Feb. 12, he ruled against Kentucky’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, approved by Kentucky voters in 2004, but only with respect to recognition of out-of-state marriages performed in other jurisdictions.

Earlier in the day, Attorney General Jack Conway filed a  request with the judge asking for a 90-day stay to determine if an appeal will be made or what action the state must otherwise take. The judge has not yet issued a response to the request.

In a statement provided to the Washington Blade, Conway said he and Gov. Steve Beshear are reviewing whether to appeal the case to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“I received Judge Heyburn’s final order and am in the process of reviewing it,” Conway said. “I have 30 days to determine whether or not to file an appeal in this case, which is why I asked Judge Heyburn for a stay of his order this morning. I will be determining promptly, in consultation with Gov. Beshear, whether or not to file an appeal in this case.”

The lawsuit, Bourke v. Beshear, was filed on behalf of four gay and lesbian couples that legally married outside Kentucky and sought seeking recognition of the union in their state.

The judge has now also allowed two unmarried couples to intervene in the case: Timothy Love and Lawrence Ysuna as well as Maurice Blanchard and Dominique James. They’re arguing that they should be allowed to marry in Kentucky, but the judge has not yet ruled on that issue.

28
Feb
2014

Snyder suspends benefits for Michigan same-sex marriages

Rick Snyder, Michigan, gay news, Washington Blade

Gov. Rick Snyder (R-Mich.) won’t recognize same-sex marriages performed in Michigan (Photo by Major.guy2012; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder announced on Wednesday his state won’t afford benefits to the same-sex couples who married in his state over the weekend until the courts lift a stay on the weddings as litigation moves forward.

Still, Snyder acknowledged the more than 300 same-sex weddings that took place on Saturday were legally valid.

“After comprehensive legal review of state law and all recent court rulings, we have concluded that same-sex couples were legally married at county clerk offices in the time period between U.S. District Judge [Friedman’s] ruling and the Sixth U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals temporary stay of that ruling,” Snyder said in a statement.

But Snyder continued the state will suspend benefits afforded to the couples “in accordance with the law” until the stay on the weddings from the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals is lifted.

“Because the stay brings Michigan law on this issue back into effect, the rights tied to these marriages are suspended until the stay is lifted or Judge Friedman’s decision is upheld on appeal,” Snyder said.

Same-sex couples obtained marriage licenses over the weekend in Ingham, Washtenaw, Muskegon and Oakland counties after a district court ruled the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. Snyder and Michigan Attorney Bill Schuette appealed the ruling to Sixth Circuit and asked judges to halt the weddings with a stay, which was granted Tuesday.

A spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, which reportedly had threatened to sue if the Michigan doesn’t recognize the same-sex marriages, said Wednesday the organization is looking at options.

“As a matter of law and fundamental fairness, the state is obligated to extend all the rights and responsibilities that flow from marriage to the more than 300 couples married this weekend,” Rana Elmir said. “Doing anything less violates our laws, treats legally married gay and lesbian couples like second-class citizens, and adds to the confusion and instability these loving families have had to endure. We will continue to explore legal options on behalf of these couples and encourage those who have been denied the benefits of marriage to contact us.”

But Elmir said her organization is pleased that Snyder said the unions are legally valid because that “opens the door” for federal recognition of the marriages. She said the Obama adminstration should “absolutely” recognize the unions because “there is no doubt that these marriages are valid.”

The question still lingers over whether the federal government will recognize the same-sex marriages performed in Michigan. In Utah, when a district court ruling enabled 1,300 same-sex couples to wed before a stay was instituted by the U.S. Supreme Court, Gov. Gary Herbert said his state won’t recognize the unions, but U.S. Attorney General Eric Attorney said they’re valid in the eyes of the Obama administration.

Allison Price, a Justice Department spokesperson, said her earlier comment that the Obama administration is “closely monitoring the situation” still stands as of Wednesday afternoon.

Speaking with reporters on Wednesday, Snyder refused to articulate his position on same-sex marriage, saying he’s focused on jobs and the economy.

“I’m not going to go back and rehash a sentence in one debate from four years ago,” Snyder said. “I’ve been focused on jobs, it’s my main message, and I’m staying consistent with that.”

According to Crain’s Detroit Business, Snyder told reporters on Wednesday that his office had to make legal decision on whether the marriages were valid on his own because Schuette didn’t respond to a request to meet.

“We did our own research,” Snyder was quoted as saying. “We believe this is the appropriate position to take.”

Joy Yearout, a Schuette spokesperson, responded to the report to the Washington Blade by saying the governor and the attorney general often speak, but those discussions are kept under wraps.

“The Department of Attorney General and the Governor’s office talk all the time,” Yearout said. “Those conversations are confidential. The Governor’s written statement speaks for itself, and as the Attorney General has said all along, these issues will ultimately be sorted out by the courts, just as they have in other states. The sooner these questions are answered, the better.”

Yearout didn’t respond to a follow-up question on whether she denies Snyder’s comments that Schuette never followed up on a request to meet about the same-sex marriages.

Snyder makes his announcement as his pursues re-election in a 2014 gubernatorial election where Democrat Mark Schauer will be his likely challenger in the general election.

Rep. Dale Kildee (D-Mich.) was among the Democrats criticizing Schauer for his decision not to recognize the unions in the aftermath of the announcement.

“Today Governor Rick Snyder double downed on ambivalence,” Kildee said. “As a leader, you either support equality for all loving couples or you don’t. It’s that simple. This is not a complicated question. Governor, do you support equality for all Michiganders? Or is that not on your agenda?”

Emily Dievendorf, executive director of the statewide LGBT group, Equality Michigan, also took aims at Snyder, saying she finds his actions “despicable.”

“Equality Michigan finds it despicable that a Governor claiming to stand for families, children, and the economy would side with his out-of-touch Attorney General and continue this wasteful crusade to harm Michigan families,” Dievendorf said. “The DeBoer-Rowse family and their legal team will continue to defend our families in court, and the efforts by people like East Lansing Mayor Nathan Triplett and Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum to get the government to recognize these marriages will not be forgotten. Equality Michigan calls on the Governor to end the second-class treatment of LGBT families in Michigan and the executive branch’s attack on marriage equality.”

26
Mar
2014

Agema responds to criticism over anti-gay remarks

Dave Agema responds to anti-gay criticism against him on Facebook. (Screenshot provided by anonymous source).

Dave Agema responds to anti-gay criticism against him on Facebook. (Screenshot provided by anonymous source).

Dave Agema continues in his response to criticism over his anti-gay remarks (Screenshot courtesy anonymous source).

Dave Agema continues in his response to criticism over his anti-gay remarks (Screenshot courtesy anonymous source).

A member of the Republican National Committee who has been criticized for making a series of anti-gay comments has apparently responded ahead of an upcoming national party meeting in D.C.

Dave Agema, who formerly served in the Michigan State House, issued the response via Facebook posting Sunday night, according to an individual with access to his news feed and an apparent screenshot of the message.

Saying he’s been on vacation for the past eight days, Agema said his intent with his previous messages — which have riled both gay Republicans and GOP leadership — was to “encourage discourse.”

“While I was gone it seems the same people are feeding half truths to the news within the GOP, stirring up divisiveness,” Agema apparently said. “I stand on the same issues I always have — God, family and country.”

Agema, who recently called Russia’s controversial anti-gay propaganda law “common sense” via Facebook, asserts he doesn’t necessarily align himself with the views expressed in items he posted.

“There are times I have posted or linked an article to encourage discourse,” Agema apparently said. “This does not constitute endorsement of that position, but some capture a controversial snippet and allege those are my words. It is an unfortunate and uncivil tactic meant to ruin a person’s reputation.”

Further, Agema apparently takes on the mantle of the victim, saying he’s faced retaliation for his remarks, including threats and vulgar messages.

“The Party platform is clear and the State Constitution is clear,” Agema looks to have said. “I have tried to uphold them but have been threatened, sent vulgar T-shirts, called nasty names at all times of night and day. I have never used name calling. Political correctness is taking the place of free speech via fear and intimidation.”

Agema concludes his posting by calling for “supporters and friends to turn the other cheek and not show the intolerance some of the opposition have shown.”

As seen in the screenshot, Agema made the posting visible to only his friends on Facebook, so the Blade is unable to independently view it to confirm its accuracy. Agema didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment to verify the posting.

Gregory Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, dismissed the notion that his postings merely fostered discourse, saying the RNC member “needs to look in the mirror.”

“His statements go far beyond polite debate about civil marriage equality; they’re outright bigotry,” Angelo said. “When GOP leadership across your state make a point of distancing themselves or explicitly denouncing you, it’s time to rethink your role in the party.”

Further, Angelo, who previously called for Agema’s ouster from the RNC, said it’s time for the Michigan Republican to relinquish his post.

“If Mr. Agema was truly as serious about getting conservatives elected as he professes, he would do the right thing and vacate his seat at the RNC,” Angelo said.

Dennis Lennox, a Republican precinct delegate in Grand Traverse County in Michigan, expressed his continued displeasure with Agema in an email on Monday sent to all 168 members of the Republican National Committee and obtained by the Washington Blade.

“Our party should be focused on defeating Democrats, not defending Republican candidates and incumbents from a toxic committeeman who has proved himself unfit for the duties and responsibilities entrusted to him as a member of the RNC,” Lennox said.

Controversy continues to brew over Agema just before the RNC is scheduled meet in D.C. between Thursday and Saturday. Lennox said the party should take the opportunity to act against Agema.

“I know many of you will be cautious to take action for a variety of reasons,” Lennox told RNC members. “However, the time is now for the RNC to repudiate and defrock Dave Agema by word or action. Staying silent will do nothing but help Democrats.”

Asked if he shares the view that the RNC should address Agema in some capacity at the upcoming meeting, Angelo said, “We called for Agema to resign; that demand still stands.”

Over the past year, Agema has reportedly made a series of anti-gay comments and postings on Facebook. In addition to calling Russia’s propaganda law “common sense,” he reportedly made a similar anti-gay posting when oral arguments were taking place on marriage equality before the U.S. Supreme Court.

It was titled, “Everyone Should Know These Statistics on Homosexuals” and appeared under the byline Frank Joseph, M.D. According to the Detroit Free Press, it reportedly depicted gays as sexually promiscuous, rife with sexually transmitted diseases and responsible for “half the murders in large cities.”

Additionally, while expressing views in opposition to same-sex marriage at a Republican fundraiser, Agema reportedly said he’s seen gay people working for American Airlines falsely claim to have HIV-infected partners to obtain spousal health coverage. He was also the sponsor of a resolution approved in April by the RNC reaffirming the party’s opposition to same-sex marriage.

But Agema’s comments aren’t limited to anti-gay remarks. According to Mlive.com, Agema also posted an old online attack piece that questions whether Muslims have ever contributed positively to American society.

Republicans at both the state and local level have joined in the criticism against Agema, although no action has been taken against him despite repeated calls for him to step down.

In a statement provided to the Washington Blade on Monday, RNC Chair Reince Priebus repudiates Agema’s remarks, taking particular exception to the Michigan Republican’s comments about the Muslim community.

“While I have already commented on this issue before, people should be treated with grace and respect and these comments don’t reflect that principle,” Priebus said. “Additionally, the most recent comments regarding Muslim people living in America are patently wrong, lack merit and are devoid of any meaningful value. These comments don’t represent the Republican Party.”

In an interview with Detroit News, Betsy Devos, a former Republican National Committee member and former head of the Michigan Republican Party, said she’s personally called Agema to ask him to step down, and, when he didn’t respond to her messages, called on Preibus to dump Agema or marginalize him.

“He has a right to express his ideas and opinions, but he also has a responsibility to the party,” DeVos was quoted as saying. “He has damaged his position and his party. He reflects badly on Republicans and on Michigan.”

In his State of the State address last week, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder made a veiled criticism of Agema. Without mentioning the RNC member by name, Snyder said in the state of Michigan, people have made “derogatory” and “negative” comments and called for “a greater degree of civility and respect to others of different backgrounds and different views.”

20
Jan
2014

Mormons make case for Utah, Okla. marriage bans

The Mormon Church filed a brief before the Tenth Circuit in opposition to same-sex marriage (photo from wikimedia by Joe Ravi).

The Mormon Church filed a brief before the Tenth Circuit in opposition to same-sex marriage. (Photo from wikimedia by Joe Ravi)

The Mormon Church joined other major Christian groups on Monday in filing a legal brief supporting bans on same-sex marriage in Utah and Oklahoma, although they rely on a study that authors say shouldn’t be used as evidence against same-sex marriage.

The 53-page document urges the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold bans on same-sex marriage on the argument that children are better off when raised by opposite-sex parents.

“Every child has a father and a mother,” the brief states. “Procreation within a stable male-female marriage gives a child a uniquely full human context that accounts for both the child’s biology and the deeper intentions and commitments of the child’s parents. The male-female ideal in marriage and parenting provides children security and other irreplaceable benefits.”

To bolster this argument, the brief on page 24 relies on a 2002 study from the D.C.-based non-profit Child Trends, titled “Marriage from a Child’s Perspective: How Does Family Structure Affect Children and What Can We Do About It?” The study makes no explicit reference to same-sex marriage.

But anti-gay groups have cited this study before in separate briefs filed before the Supreme Court last year in favor of California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act — much to the objection of its authors who say their research says nothing about same-sex marriage.

Frank Walter, a spokesperson for Child Trends, reiterated that objection Tuesday in an email to the Washington Blade.

“Child Trends has been diligent in noting that it is inaccurate to make conclusions about the well-being of children being raised in same-sex households based on our study on heterosexual households,” Walter said. “As noted, this was not part of the study. In fact, we made this case in parliamentary hearings on this issue in Ireland when we were alerted that our information was being misrepresented.”

The study was also cited in the legal brief that the state of Utah filed last week before the Tenth Circuit in favor of its ban on same-sex marriage. The research also comes up in at least one other friend-of-the-court brief that was signed by social scientists and Mark Regenrus, who produced a discredited study against same-sex parenting.

Major psychological and family groups have disputed the notion that gay parents aren’t as fit as straight parents in raising children. Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics came out in support of same-sex marriage.

Walter encouraged experts on the issue to research the issue of same-sex parenting because of the prevalence of LGBT families.

“We do not have data on children in same-sex families but hope research will be done in this area given the significant number of gay and lesbian families raising children,” Walter said.

The brief was filed in two separate cases related to same-sex marriage: one is the case filed against Utah’s ban, known as Kitchen v. Herbert, the other is the case filed against Oklahoma’s ban, known as Bishop v. Smith.

In addition to the LDS Church, other groups listed on the filing are the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; National Association of Evangelicals; the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention; and Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

The LDS Church is joining others in filing the brief despite an earlier media report from local Salt Lake City affiliate FOX 13 saying the church wouldn’t issue a filing in the case. The church didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on why it was participating in filing despite this report.

Additionally, the brief cautions the court against striking down marriage bans on the basis that they adhere to the traditional concerns of morality, suggesting they should be upheld on the basis of freedom of religion.

“It follows that subjecting marriage laws and amendments to unusual constitutional scrutiny because they coincide with traditional morality would also raise grave First Amendment concerns,” the brief states. “Though differing religious groups may align on different sides of the marriage issue, judges cannot pronounce the religious beliefs of one set of voters progressive and another ignorant or hateful.”

The brief is along the lines of similar filings that the Mormon Church and other religious groups submitted before the U.S. Supreme Court last year when California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act were before the court.

But there’s a key difference: even though the earlier filing included other groups, the only law firm in that document was the Salt Lake City-based Kirton & McConkie, which handles legal matters for the LDS church. Now, Anthony Picarello, general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has joined that firm in signing the document before the Tenth Circuit.

Furthermore, the brief disputes the assertion often made by LGBT advocates (and courts) that bans on same-sex marriage were motivated out of animus toward LGBT people — a key consideration in determining the measures are unconstitutional.

“The accusation is false and offensive,” the brief states. “It is intended to suppress rational dialogue and democratic conversation, to win by insult and intimidation rather than by reason, experience, and fact. In truth, we support the husband-wife definition of marriage because we believe it is right and good for children, families, and society.”

John Gustav-Wrathall, senior vice president of the LGBT Mormon group Affirmation, said he concurs with the view the church isn’t motivated by animus in its opposition to same-sex marriage.

“There may be animus within the Mormon population, just as there is in the population at large,” Gustav-Wrathall said. “Some of that animus may fuel fervor for political activism against same-sex marriage. But generally we’ve seen tremendous progress in the understanding of LGBT people and of same-sex relationships in the church within recent years.”

The Mormon Church has been a key opponent of same-sex marriage after taking a lead role in passing Prop 8 in 2008. Although the church, with a few exceptions, largely stayed out the ballot fights in 2012, it was vocal against the legalization of same-sex marriage in Hawaii and has participated in legal cases to defend bans on same-sex marriage.

11
Feb
2014