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Supreme Court stops gay marriages in Utah pending court case outcome

After over 1,000 gay weddings have already taken place, the cat's a bit out of the bag on that one.

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06
Jan
2014

Arizona gay marriage ban challenged

Jan Brewer, Republican Party, Arizona, gay news, Washington Blade

Gov. Jan Brewer (R-Ariz.) (Photo by Gage Skidmore; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

PHOENIX—Four gay couples on Jan. 6 filed a federal class-action lawsuit that seeks to overturn Arizona’s same-sex marriage ban.

“We are asking for relief on behalf of all married and unmarried same-sex couples in Arizona,” attorney Shawn Aiken told the Arizona Republic. “Now is the time to take up this issue.”

The lawsuit names Gov. Jan Brewer and Attorney General Tom Horne as defendants.

Arizona voters in 2008 approved a state constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. The U.S. Supreme Court in June declined to hear Brewer’s appeal that asked the justices to allow her to ban state employees from receiving benefits for same-sex partners.

Neighboring New Mexico is among the 18 states and D.C. that have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 6 issued a stay on same-sex marriages in Utah pending the outcome of an appeal of U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby’s decision last month that struck down the Beehive State’s constitutional amendment that bans gay nuptials.

08
Jan
2014

Gray says D.C. should recognize Utah marriages

Vincent Gray, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray told a meeting of the Stein Club that the city should recognize same-sex marriages performed in Utah before the Supreme Court issued a stay and halted the weddings. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray told a meeting of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club Monday night that he believes the city should recognize same-sex marriages performed in Utah.

Gray said he would consult with D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan on the matter. But he said he sees no reason why the city shouldn’t recognize the Utah marriages performed prior to a Supreme Court decision putting same-sex nuptials on hold in the state until the courts resolve the issue.

“I’ll talk to Irv Nathan about it,” Gray said. “But my position would be unequivocally that we ought to do that.”

Gray’s statement on the Utah marriage issue came in response to a question by Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance President Rick Rosendall.

Gray’s response came three days after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Jan. 10 that the federal government would recognize the Utah same-sex marriages. On that same day, Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler told the Blade that Maryland would also recognize the Utah same-sex marriages.

A spokesperson for Nathan told the Blade on Monday that Nathan and his legal team were reviewing the Utah marriage question and would likely develop a position for the District to take on the matter shortly.

A U.S. District Court Judge in Utah startled the state’s conservative political establishment on Dec. 20 when he ruled that Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution and refused to put a stay on his ruling while state officials appealed his decision. The Tenth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals also refused to place a stay on the right of gay and lesbian couples to obtain marriage licenses in the state.

During the period between the District Court judge’s Dec. 20 ruling and the Supreme Court’s decision to issue the stay on Jan. 6, more than 1,300 gay and lesbian couples married in Utah. Utah’s Republican governor, Gary Herbert, responded to the Supreme Court stay order by declaring the same-sex marriages invalid.

Gay rights attorneys quickly disputed Herbert’s assertion, saying the marriages were performed at a time when the District Court ruled they were legal under the federal Constitution.

Stein Club President Angela Peoples said the club invited Gray to speak before its regularly scheduled monthly meeting Monday night as part of a series of appearances the club has arranged for mayoral and City Council candidates competing in the city’s April 1 Democratic primary.

She said other mayoral candidates, including City Council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 1), Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) have already appeared before the club.

Others who spoke at the Stein Club meeting on Monday were Council members Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who’s running for re-election; Anita Bonds (D-At-Large), who is also up for re-election; and Vincent Orange (D-At-Large), who is running for mayor.  Also speaking was shadow U.S. House member Nate Bennett-Fleming, who is one of four candidates running against Bonds, and Shadow U.S. Senator Paul Strauss, who is running for re-election.

Gray, who spoke for about 20 minutes before answering questions from club members, acknowledged that several of the eight candidates challenging him in the primary have strong records of support on LGBT issues.

“But the fact of the matter is I’m the only one who’s actually been in the seat where you really implement and have the ability to influence policy as the mayor,” he said. “And as a result, while I think they have done some good things, I don’t think they have come near matching what I have done and I don’t think they will.”

Gray said his support for the LGBT community dates back to his days as a student at D.C.’s Dunbar High School when he observed firsthand how his class valedictorian, who was gay and later realized he was transgender, was subjected to hostility.

“It was painful to me watching what he had to go through, what he had to endure as a human being,” Gray said. “And I said to myself if I ever had the chance I’m going to do something to be able to ensure equality for people who should have the opportunity to be themselves.”

Years later, when he was chair of the D.C. Council at the time the city’s same-sex marriage law came up for a vote in 2009, Gray said he experienced hostility and rejection from same-sex marriage opponents in response to his support for marriage equality.

“Frankly, what I went through as chairman nobody hopefully will ever have to go through,” he told Stein Club members. “I had people screaming at me. There were some ministers that supported me for Ward 7 Council member and then for Chair. And they don’t speak to me anymore,” he said.

“And I said fine. If that’s the way you want to row, that’s all right with me. I know who I am. I know what I stand for and I am not flinching. I am not blinking. This is the right thing to do and we’re going to continue to do the right thing in the District of Columbia. And you all let me know when you get on board, OK?”

The latter comment drew applause from club members, many of whom are supporting Gray’s re-election.

The Stein Club’s former president and current vice president for political affairs, Martin Garcia, announced at the meeting that the club will hold a joint candidate forum and endorsement meeting for City Council candidates on Feb. 26 and a combined mayoral candidate forum and endorsement meeting on March 5.

Garcia said the club has yet to decide whether to make endorsements in other races, including  the congressional delegate seat current held by Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton; the races for “shadow” U.S. senator and U.S. representative; and Advisory Neighborhood Commission races.

14
Jan
2014

India`s Supreme Court stands by ruling re-criminalizing homosexuality

India's Supreme Court refused to reconsider its highly-controversial re-criminalization of homosexuality.

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29
Jan
2014

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

Once again, marriage equality inches closer to Supreme Court

David Boies, Ted Olson, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade

David Boies and Ted Olson are leading the VIrginia lawsuit heading to the U.S. Supreme Court (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key).

Not even a year has passed since the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark decisions against the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8, but a number of cases are already lining up that would enable the high court to make a nationwide ruling in favor of marriage equality.

At least four appellate courts are set to consider the issue this spring amid five district court decisions in favor of marriage equality in Utah, Oklahoma, Ohio, Kentucky and Virginia. Once the appellate courts make their decisions, they will likely be appealed this year to the Supreme Court, which would give justices the opportunity to make a final decision in 2015.

Although the Ohio ruling was limited to death certificates for married gay couples and the Kentucky ruling only provided recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages, each of the rulings handed down since the DOMA decision were in favor of marriage equality. And in each ruling, justices invoked the decision against DOMA as part of their reasoning for determining state constitutional amendments against same-sex marriage violated the Constitution.

U.S. District Judge John Heyburn, an appointee of former President George H.W. Bush, noted last week in his decision that the words of the DOMA decision by U.S. Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy compels him to rule against Kentucky’s marriage laws.

“Ultimately, the focus of the Court’s attention must be upon Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion in Windsor,” Heyburn said. “While Justice Kennedy did not address our specific issue, he did address many others closely related. His reasoning about the legitimacy of laws excluding recognition of same-sex marriages is instructive. For the reasons that follow, the Court concludes that Kentucky’s laws are unconstitutional.”

Ted Olson, the Republican half of the legal duo arguing against Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage, during a conference call Friday noted the consistency with which district courts have struck down anti-gay marriage amendments in the aftermath of the DOMA decision.

“Federal courts are consistently, regularly now, affirming the right of gay and lesbian citizens to be a part of the population of the rest of our citizens with equal rights to the fundamental right of marriage,” Olson said.

The cases against same-sex marriage bans in Utah and Oklahoma are the furthest advanced of all the lawsuits seeking marriage equality. They’re before the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, where oral arguments are scheduled in Utah case for April 10 and the Oklahoma case for April 17. The National Center for Lesbian Rights has joined the law firm of Magleby & Greenwood, P.C., as counsel in the Utah case.

Just behind that lawsuit is the case seeking marriage equality in Nevada filed by Lambda Legal known as Sevcik v. Sandoval. After Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto declared her intent to withdraw her brief in favor of the marriage ban, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals last week acceded to her request and pledged to proceed with the lawsuit on an expedited basis, although no date has been set for oral arguments.

The Ohio case has already been appealed to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is also the destination of the Kentucky lawsuit. These cases are also in their early stages at the appellate level, and schedule hasn’t been determined.

And the court ruling against Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage, the latest to come down from a federal court, will be headed to the U.S. Fourth Circuit of Appeals. Although Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring isn’t defending the ban against same-sex marriage in court, Olson said he sees no standing issue in the case and because county clerks are participating in the lawsuit, the state continues to enforce the law.

But according to Lambda Legal, a total of 52 marriage equality lawsuits are pending in 27 states, and any of the cases at district court level could soon join those at the appellate level.

A judge will likely render a decision soon in the other lawsuit seeking marriage equality in Virginia, which was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal. A judge in Michigan has set a trial for that state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage on Feb. 25, just as a trial has been set in the Pennsylvania case for June 9.

Given the sheer number of cases making their way through the courts, David Boies, the Democratic half of the legal duo in the Virginia lawsuit, said the Supreme Court would have no shortage of cases from which to choose by the time it begins its term in the fall.

“I think they will all get to the Supreme Court at about the same time,” Boies said. “The Supreme Court can decide to take them all and consolidate them, the Supreme Court can take one or more of the cases, but not all of then. I think that is something that will be determined by the Supreme Court, and, to some extent, by the timing of the court of appeals decision.”

It’s technically possible for the Supreme Court to take up this issue this term once those cases are appealed, which would mean a nationwide ruling by June.

Jon Davidson, legal director for Lambda Legal, nonetheless said it “seems extraordinarily unlikely” the litigation would play out in that way.

“Even if an appellate decision in one of these cases were issued by May, a certiorari petition likely would not get filed until the summer, and the Supreme Court wouldn’t act on that until October,” Davidson said. “It does not have to grant cert on the first, or, even any of these cases. Even if it does, there likely wouldn’t be a decision until the spring of 2015.”

One issue to watch as these cases make their way up is whether courts apply heightened scrutiny, or a greater assumption a law is unconstitutional, to their decisions on the marriage bans. Such a determination would designate gay people with a “quasi-suspect classification” and establish precedent making other laws related to sexual orientation less likely to stand up in court.

When it ruled on the DOMA case last year, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals already set a precedent for heightened scrutiny for laws related to sexual orientation, but every state in that jurisdiction — New York, Vermont and Connecticut — already has marriage equality.

More recently, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals applied heightened scrutiny in its decision for Smith Kline v. Abbott Laboratories, which determined that jurors cannot be excluded from a trial because of sexual orientation.

Because of the application of heightened scrutiny in that case, the Nevada attorney general stopped defending her state’s marriage ban. Further, expectations are high that courts in Oregon and Arizona, which lie within that jurisdiction, will strike down bans in those states.

It was speculated the Supreme Court took up the Edith Windsor’s challenge to DOMA as opposed to others because the Second Circuit applied heightened scrutiny on that decision, although the high court never explicitly addressed the issue of heightened scrutiny in its ultimate decision. Eyes will be on the Supreme Court to see if it will take up the Ninth Circuit marriage case among others to resolve the issue of heightened scrutiny in the next go-around with marriage equality.

Doug NeJaime, who’s gay and a law professor at University of California, Irvine, nonetheless said he doesn’t think the Supreme Court has interest in resolving this issue for laws related to sexual orientation.

“The Supreme Court in Windsor didn’t explicitly reach this question, even though the lower court had based its decision on heightened scrutiny,” NeJaime said. “Given that, it doesn’t seem the Court is particularly interested in resolving that question, and I don’t think it will do much to persuade the court to take or not take a case.”

Another question is the extent to which the Obama administration will participate in the pending lawsuits. The Justice Department helped litigate against DOMA as party in the lawsuit and assisted in the lawsuit against Prop 8 as a friend of the court, although in the latter case the administration filed a brief and took part in oral arguments only when the litigation reached the Supreme Court.

A number of LGBT advocates have said they’d welcome participation from the Obama administration in the marriage equality cases without making a full-throated call for assistance. On Friday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney wouldn’t make a prediction on whether the administration will take part and deferred comment to the Justice Department, which hasn’t responded to the Blade’s request to comment.

The opportunity for the Justice Department to file a brief in the Nevada case before the Ninth Circuit has already passed, but another opportunity will come soon. The deadline for filing a friend-of-the-court brief before the Tenth Circuit in the Utah case is March 4.

Erik Olvera, spokesperson for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, echoed the sense of other advocates on the issue, saying a friend-of-the-court brief from the Obama administration would be “welcome” in the Utah case.

“We always welcome the Obama administration to express its views in cases concerning civil rights protected by the U.S. Constitution,” Olvera said.

17
Feb
2014

From Stonewall to marriage equality at lightning speed

Stonewall to marriage, gay news, Washington Blade, National Equality March

Even those of us involved in the fight for women’s rights and civil rights would never have believed the speed at which things are changing for the LGBT community. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The progress from Stonewall to marriage equality in my lifetime is amazing. My accepting who I am mirrored the evolving LGBT movement. Coming of age at 21 in New York City, a gay man deep in the closet, hiding my sexual orientation to become a teacher. At 25, starting a political career and working for the most gay-friendly politician in the nation, the congresswoman who introduced the first ENDA bill in Congress, yet still deep in the closet.

Then moving to Washington, D.C. at 31, a city that just elected a mayor who credited the LGBT community and the Stein Democratic Club with making the difference in his election. Pride events were gaining in strength and visibility and my first in Dupont Circle had me hiding behind a tree to make sure my picture wouldn’t end up in a newspaper. Then life started moving faster for me and the LGBT community. By the time I was 34, we were beginning to hear about AIDS and that coincided with my coming out to friends. Then began the process of my morphing into an LGBT activist joining in the fight against HIV/AIDS and openly participating in marches for LGBT rights, openly attending Pride events on a muddy field in Dupont, and being a regular at Rascals, the bar of the moment.

Over the ensuing years the organized LGBT community would get stronger and stand up for our rights and I would find that being “out” still had its consequences. Being rejected for a job for being gay was one of them. As the community turned to more activism, my role in politics was becoming more identified with being gay. First becoming a columnist for the Washington Blade and then finding my picture on the front page of the Washington Post supporting a mayoral candidate and being identified as among other things a gay activist.

As the fight for marriage equality heated up in D.C., GLAA activist Rick Rosendall and I met at a little outdoor lunch place on 17th Street and set the plans in motion to form the Foundation for All DC Families, which begat the Campaign for All DC Families, which helped coordinate the fight for marriage equality in the District.

For so many who grew up in the Baby Boomer generation, life continues to hold many surprises. But even those of us involved in the fight for women’s rights and civil rights would never have believed the speed at which things are changing for the LGBT community.

The courts are moving at a much faster pace than anyone could have predicted even a year ago, striking down bans on gay marriage enacted by state legislatures. State constitutional amendments banning marriage equality are being declared unconstitutional by a raft of federal judges. From Oklahoma to Kentucky, Utah to Virginia, federal judges are saying that states must recognize these marriages. While the cases are being appealed there is a clear path for one or more of them to reach the Supreme Court in its next term. While they weren’t ready to make a decision when they rejected the Prop 8 case in 2013, they will now probably have to decide the fate of marriage equality nationwide and determine whether it is constitutional to discriminate against gay and lesbian citizens.

Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen in her decision in Virginia added to the so-far unanimous group of federal judges who have thrown out these bans. Judge Allen quoted from Mildred Loving, who was at the center of the 1967 Supreme Court case that struck down laws banning interracial marriage. At the time that case was decided only 14 states had laws allowing interracial marriage and already there are 17 states and the District of Columbia that allow gay marriage. While people are hailing her decision she clearly had to be embarrassed when she had to amend her written opinion because she confused the U. S. Constitution with the Declaration of Independence. She isn’t the first and won’t be the last to do that.

Clearly the time has come in our country for full equality. The decisions made by these federal judges have been based on the Supreme Court’s decision in Windsor. Then Attorney General Eric Holder announced “the federal government would recognize legal same-sex marriages in federal matters including bankruptcies, prison visits and survivor benefits.” He stated that, “It is the [Justice Department's] policy to recognize lawful same-sex marriages as broadly as possible, to ensure equal treatment for all members of society regardless of sexual orientation.”

In what seems like lightning speed, the LGBT community is moving toward full civil and human rights.

18
Feb
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

2013: The year in quotes

Edith Windsor, Edie Windsor, gay news, marriage equality, same sex marriage, gay marriage, Washington Blade, quotes

Edith Windsor (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

“The gay community is my ‘person of the year’ and I look forward to continuing to fight for equal rights and educate the public about our lives alongside my gay brothers and sisters and our allies … Thea would be thrilled, proud and so happy to see what we have all accomplished together.” Edith Windsor, the plaintiff in the Supreme Court case that overturned the Defense of Marriage Act, reacting to be named one of the Top 3 individuals for “Person of the Year.” (Joe.My.God, Dec. 11)

 

“There is no way I could ever stand here without acknowledging one of the deepest loves of my life, my heroic co-parent, my ex-partner in love but righteous soul sister in life. My confessor, ski buddy, consigliere, most-beloved BFF of 20 years, Cydney Bernard. “

Jodie Foster during her Jan. 13 acceptance speech for the Cecil B. Demille Award during the 70th annual Golden Globe Awards (ABC News, Jan. 14)

 

Cory Booker, United States Senate, New Jersey, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

“Well, it didn’t take me long to realize that the root of my hatred did not lie with gays but with myself. It was my problem. A problem I dealt with by ceasing to tolerate gays and instead seeking to embrace them.”

Newark, N.J., Mayor Corey Booker in a 1992 op-ed where he wrote about coming to terms with his negative feelings toward homosexuals. (Stanford Daily, Jan. 9)

 

“Just letting you know… that using ‘your gay’ as a way to put someone down ain’t ok! #notcool delete that out ur vocab”

NBA star Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers, responding via Twitter to someone using “you’re gay” as an insult. In 2011, Bryant was fined $100,000 for calling an NBA official a fag. (CBS Sports, Feb. 11)

 

“I don’t think it’s very controversial to suggest that a candidate who favors gay marriage and free contraception might have more appeal to a younger demographic. Does anyone want to argue … that there are more gay rights organizations on college campuses than in VFW halls?

— Stuart Stevens, Mitt Romney’s lead presidential campaign strategist, in an op-ed about what caused Romney to lose to President Obama. (Washington Post, Feb. 24)

 

President Bill Clinton (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

President Bill Clinton (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

“As the president who signed the act into law, I have come to believe that DOMA is … incompatible with our Constitution.”

Former President Bill Clinton, in a column against the Defense of Marriage Act, which he signed in 1996. The law, which the Supreme Court will take up on March 27, denies federal recognition to same-sex marriages and allows states to ignore same-sex marriages from other states. (Washington Post, March 7)

 

“Bob is 15 years old, and the only openly gay Scout in a Boy Scout troop. Is it acceptable or unacceptable for the troop leader to allow Bob to tent with a heterosexual boy on an overnight camping trip?”

One of several scenarios included in a Boy Scouts of America survey sent to members and their parents as the BSA considers whether to relax its ban on gay Scouts, volunteers and leaders. The BSA board may consider the policy in May. (Dallas Voice, March 11)

 

“If you feel, respectfully, that you can get a higher return than the 38 percent you got last year, it’s a free country. You can sell your shares of Starbucks and buy shares in another company. Thank you very much.”

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, responding at the company’s annual shareholder meeting to a stock owner who questioned whether the coffee chain was being hurt by its support for same-sex marriage. (NPR.org, March 20)

 

“Life is life and love is love, and I’m just trying to be a better me, you know what I’m saying?”

Rapper Snoop Lion, asked by paparazzi his stand on gay marriage. “I don’t have a problem with gay people. I got some gay homies,” he also said. (TMZ.com, April 7)

 

“I think this is going to be good for a lot of black young people who want to come out. E.J. is going to be that symbol — a symbol of hope that they can now come and tell their parents, tell their friends.”

Basketball legend Magic Johnson, who came out as HIV-positive in 1992, on his support for his son, Ervin “E.J.” Johnson III, coming out as gay after being photographed by TMZ holding hands with his boyfriend. (Denver Post, April 7)

 

Jason Collins, Washington Wizards, NBA, gay news, Washington Blade, Sports Illustrated

Jason Collins (Image courtesy of Sports Illustrated)

“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay. … If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand.”

NBA veteran Jason Collins of the Washington Wizards, coming out in the May 6 issue of Sports Illustrated. Collins becomes the first gay athlete in major U.S. men’s professional sports to come out during his career. (Sports Illustrated, released online April 29)

 

“In making the film, the socio-political aspect of it was not really in my mind but I was focused on … trying to make this relationship as believable and realistic as we could. When this issue comes up, of equal rights for gays, I am hoping 50 years from now we will look back on this and wonder why this was even a debate and why it took so long.”

Director Steven Soderbergh discussing his latest film, Liberace biopic “Behind the Candlebra,” which made its Cannes debut May 21 (Reuters, May 21)

 

Robbie Rogers, soccer, sports, gay news, Washington Blade

Robbie Rogers (Photo by Noah Salzman via Wikimedia Commons)

“I’ve been on this huge journey to figure out my life, and now I am back here I think where I am supposed to be.”

Professional soccer player Robbie Rogers in a May 26 post-game press conference after his debut with the LA Galaxy made him the first openly gay athlete to compete in U.S. men’s professional team sports. Rogers, a former national team player, came out in April and announced his retirement. (YouTube, May 27)

 

“Our community has been targets of bigotry, bias, profiling and violence. We have experienced the heart-breaking despair of young people targeted for who they are, who they are presumed to be, or who they love … Every person, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity, must be able to walk the streets without fear for their safety.”

Open letter from national LGBT organizations supporting a federal investigation into Trayvon Martin’s death after his accused killer was found not guilty. (Press release, July 15)

 

“We welcome all individuals regardless of sexual orientation into our ballparks, along with those of different races, religions, genders and national origins. Both on the field and away from it, Major League Baseball has a zero-tolerance policy for harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation.”

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, announcing new code of conduct that will be distributed individually to professional baseball players at every level of the game. (New York Attorney General’s Office press release, July 16)

 

“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”

Pope Francis, head of the Roman Catholic Church, telling reporters that he would not judge priests for their sexual orientation. The former pope, Benedict XVI, had said gay men should not be priests. (New York Times, July 29)

 

“If you take men and lock them in a house for five years and tell them to come up with two children and they fail to do that, then we will chop off their heads.”

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, stating at a rally that homosexuality “seeks to destroy our lineage” and Zimbabwe will not “accept the homosexuality practice” even if it costs the country U.S. aid. (News Day, July 25)

 

“As an openly gay African American, Mr. Rustin stood at the intersection of several of the fights for equal rights.”

White House press release announcing that Bayard Rustin, who helped organize the 1963 March on Washington, will be posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Sally Ride, the first female American astronaut in space, will also receive the Medal of Freedom; she became known publicly as gay when her obituary listed her longtime partner. (Aug. 8)

 

“I was excited to hear today that more states legalized gay marriage. I, however, am not currently getting married, but it is great to know I can now, should I wish to.”

Actress Raven-Symone, who gained fame as a child on “The Cosby Show,” coming out in a statement after tweeting, “I can finally get married! Yay government! So proud of you.” (Washington Times, Aug. 4)

 

“Dude, lesbians love me. I’m tall, I have a deep voice, I’m like, ‘Hello, catnip!’ Now that this show’s out I’m curious what happens from here because whenever I go out lesbians try to, y’know, turn me.”

Actress Laura Prepon, discussing playing lesbian drug dealer Alex Vaus on “Orange is the New Black.” (Canada.com, Aug. 1)

Vladimir Putin, Russia, gay news, Washington Blade

Russian President Vladimir Putin (Photo public domain)

“Putin, end your war on Russian gays!” a shout by an unidentified man at the Metropolitan Opera’s opening night of Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin.” Gay activists protested the opera to bring awareness to Russia’s law banning “propaganda on nontraditional sexual relationships” that President Vladimir Putin signed into law in June. (Sept. 23, The New York Times)

 

“I am usually a very strong and confident person, but I have my moments too. Although there was positive feedback, there was a lot of negative too, and the negative affected me more than it ever has before. I recorded this because I didn’t know how else to vent, I didn’t want to talk to anybody.” – Cassidy Lynn Campbell, a transgender teen who was named Huntington Beach high school homecoming queen, in a YouTube post where she was visibly upset by negative reactions. (Sept. 23, Los Angeles Times)

 

“Liz — this isn’t just an issue on which we disagree you’re just wrong — and on the wrong side of history.” Mary Cheney responding on Facebook on Nov. 17 to her sister’s response on “Fox New Sunday” saying she opposed same-sex marriage and that was an area where she and her sister disagreed. Liz Cheney is running for U.S. Senate in Wyoming.

Compiled by Georgia Voice

 

01
Jan
2014

Supreme Court won’t hear anti-gay photographer case

Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade

The U.S. Supreme Court won’t hear the case of New Mexico photographer who refused to shoot a same-sex wedding ceremony (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

The U.S. Supreme Court announced on Monday it won’t take up a case in which a New Mexico photography business alleges its rights were violated when it landed in hot water for refusing to shoot a same-sex wedding ceremony.

In orders published Monday morning, the court listed the case, Elane Photography v. Willock, without comment as among the cases it won’t consider.

The case was brought to the Supreme Court by Elane Photography, which was found to have violated New Mexico’s anti-discrimination law for refusing to take a photo for the same-sex wedding ceremony for Vanessa Willock and Misti Collinsworth in 2006. (The wedding was only ceremonial because the incident took place before the state legalized same-sex marriage.)

Elane Photography filed lawsuit in state court, alleging that its refusal to photograph a same-sex wedding is protected on religious grounds. However, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled against the claims, saying the businesses service can be regulated because it’s a public accommodation. Following that decision, Elane Photography asked the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the lawsuit based on First Amendment protections under the U.S. Constitution.

The court was scheduled to consider whether to take up the case during its March 21 and March 28 conference. To grant a writ certiorari, or a take up a case, at least four of the nine justices on the court must agree to consider lawsuit. It’s unknown what the vote was on denying certiorari in this case.

Had the court taken up the case, justices could have found a constitutional right across the country for individuals to discriminate against LGBT people or refuse services for same-sex weddings ceremonies on the basis of religion.

Anti-gay groups had pointed to the incident as a reason to enact laws in various states to allow individuals and business to refuse services to gay people without fear of reprisal, such as the controversial “turn away the gay” bill recently vetoed by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and signed into law by Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant. Other bills along those lines are pending in numerous states — Kansas, Mississippi and Georgia — but have seen resistance going forward.

07
Apr
2014