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Kennedy Library showcases Kameny letters to JFK

Frank Kameny, gay news, Washington Blade, letters

‘In 1961, it has, ironically, become necessary for me to fight my own government, with words,’ Frank Kameny wrote to President Kennedy. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston is taking steps this month to publicize the dozens of letters, pamphlets and press releases that D.C. gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny sent to President Kennedy from 1961 to 1963.

In a prominent write-up on the Kennedy Library website, library official Stacey Chandler, a reference archives specialist, said the letters poignantly document Kameny’s role as one of the nation’s first advocates for the rights of gay people before the highest levels of the U.S. government.

Chandler said the letters and other documents from Kameny are part of the library’s archives and are available for viewing online. Kameny died at the age of 86 in 2011.

“In World War II, I willingly fought the Germans, with bullets, in order to preserve and secure my rights, freedoms, and liberties, and those of my fellow citizens,” Kameny told Kennedy in a letter dated May 15, 1961 that’s part of the archive collection.

“In 1961, it has, ironically, become necessary for me to fight my own government, with words, in order to achieve some of the very same rights, freedoms, and liberties for which I placed my life in jeopardy in 1945,” wrote Kameny. “This letter is part of that fight.”

In a letter dated Aug. 28, 1962 Kameny told Kennedy, “You have said: ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.’ We know what we can do for our country; we wish to do it; we ask only that our country allow us to do it.”

Kameny wrote the letters in his role as president of the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., the city’s first gay rights organization that Kameny co-founded in 1961 and led through the 1960s and early 1970s.

Chandler noted in her article that the Mattachine Society of Washington came into being shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take the case of a legal challenge that Kameny filed against the then U.S. Civil Service Commission.

In a first-of-its-kind action, Kameny contested the Civil Service Commission’s decision in 1958 to fire him from his job as an astronomer with the Army Map Service in Washington following an investigation into alleged homosexual activity by Kameny.

Among other things, the Commission cited a 1953 executive order by President Dwight Eisenhower that barred from the federal workforce anyone with a history of “sexual perversion” and other “immoral or notoriously disgraceful conduct.” Homosexual acts between consenting adults were considered among the prohibited conduct.

“Kameny wrote an astounding number of letters throughout his lifetime of advocacy, most of which are now in the Library of Congress,” Chandler wrote in her Kennedy Library article. “The huge volume of his correspondence makes the personal nature of his letters to President Kennedy especially surprising for archivists here,” she said.

“In these letters, he tenaciously argued for the right of gay Americans to work as civil servants,” she said.

In the same May 15, 1961 letter in which he told of his combat service in World War II, Kameny told Kennedy, “Yours is an administration that has openly disavowed blind conformity…You yourself have said, in your recent address at George Washington University, “…that (people) desire to develop their own personalities and their own potential, that democracy permits them to do so.’

“But your government, by its policies certainly does not permit the homosexual to develop his personality and his potential,” Kameny wrote.

In a Feb. 28, 1963 letter, Kameny told Kennedy about his fledgling effort to persuade the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders.

“Homosexuality is neither a sickness, disease, neurosis, psychosis, disorder, defect, nor other disturbance, but merely a matter of the predisposition of a significantly large minority of our citizens.”

Chandler said the Kennedy Library’s archivists could find no response from Kennedy or anyone else at the White House to Kameny’s letters.

“In fact, the only response we’ve found in our archives is a brief note from John W. Macy, Chairman of the U.S. Civil Service Commission, to Bruce Schuyler, Secretary of the Mattachine Society, who requested a meeting,” Chandler wrote.

In his note to Schuyler, Macy said, “It is the established policy of the Civil Service Commission that homosexuals are not suitable for appointment to or retention in positions in the Federal service. There would be no useful purpose served in meeting with representatives of your Society.”

Chandler said that in a March 6, 1963 letter to Kennedy, Kameny appeared to be referring to the government’s lack of response to his and the Mattachine Society of Washington’s overtures to the Kennedy administration.

“We wish to cooperate in any way possible, if the chance for friendly, constructive cooperation is offered to us by you,” Kameny wrote, “but if it continues to be refused us, then we will have to seek out and to use any lawful means whatever, which seem to us appropriate, in order to achieve our lawful ends, just as the Negro has done in the South when he was refused cooperation.”

In 1975, after several court rulings against the Civil Service ban on gay employees that Kameny played a role in organizing, the Civil Service Commission ended its prohibition on gay federal workers. In 2009, John Berry, the gay director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the successor to the Civil Service Commission, presented Kameny with an official government apology for his 1958 firing.

“Things have changed,” Chandler quoted Kameny as saying around the time Berry issued the apology with the full backing of President Obama. “How they have changed. I am honored and proud that it is so.”

The Kennedy Library, which is part of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, highlighted its collection of Kameny correspondence this month as a follow-up to a video that the NARA released in support of the It Gets Better Project, Chandler said.

LGBT rights advocates led by gay author and syndicated columnist Dan Savage created the It Gets Better Project to draw attention to bullying targeting LGBT youth. With President Obama among the political leaders and celebrities who have spoken in an “It Gets Better” video, organizers say the project has helped lift the spirits of many LGBT youth that have suffered from taunts and physical violence.

NARA director David S. Ferriero, who holds the title of Archivist of the United States, recorded a recent “It Gets Better” video that is available for viewing on the NARA website.

“It is so exciting that the Kennedy Library is highlighting Kameny’s letters to President Kennedy,” said Charles Francis, founder of the Kameny Papers Project, which arranged for Kameny’s voluminous correspondence and writings to be given to the Library of Congress.

Francis noted that copies of the Kameny letters to President Kennedy are among the collection at the Library of Congress but that the letters at the Kennedy Library are the originals.

“This was done on Frank’s typewriter from Frank’s living room,” Francis said.

“It’s progress. It’s real progress,” he said of the prominent treatment the Kennedy Library is giving to the Kameny letters.

See the Kennedy Library article on Kameny letters here.

 

20
Jan
2014

At last, signs of progress in Michigan

Chris Johnson, gay news, Washington Blade, Michigan

Washington Blade political reporter Chris Johnson. (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

It was finally my turn: After years of covering LGBT politics at the Washington Blade and the advancement of marriage equality across the nation, my home state of Michigan became the latest place (albeit briefly) to grant same-sex couples the right to marry.

U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman’s ruling striking down Michigan’s 2004 ban on same-sex marriage last week is on hold as the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals considers the case, but the ruling marks the first time I’m aware of that gay people in Michigan, which doesn’t have a single major pro-LGBT law, were told they’re equal to their fellow Michiganders.

Without a doubt, I was beaming with pride for Michigan, where I was born and raised in Lansing and attended college at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. My home state became the latest ember the torch of marriage equality lit up in anticipation of a nationwide U.S. Supreme Court ruling next year. The ruling was a signal that when I return to the place where I grew up to see my parents and friends, I should expect to bring with me equal protection under the law for my (eventual) family.

That view is in line with a majority of Michigan residents. According to a poll last year from the Michigan firm Epic MRA, 55 percent of Michigan voters are behind same-sex marriage, and that number inches up to 57 percent when respondents were told a change in law wouldn’t mean religious organizations would have to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies.

But my excitement is tempered because Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette are appealing the decision and ensured no gay couple can marry in the state as the litigation moves forward by obtaining a stay from the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In an op-ed for the Detroit Free Press, Schuette writes that it’s “fundamentally wrong” to treat people differently based on the color of skin, gender, race or ethnicity, but apparently has a different view on sexual orientation.

“The notion that marriage would be anything else has only emerged in the last few decades,” Schuette writes. “It is not irrational for voters to support the belief that a mom and a dad are not interchangeable.”

It’s the latest in a string of anti-gay actions from an administration that bills itself as moderate in nature. I suppose we must give Snyder some credit for distancing himself from the anti-gay views spewing from Republican National Committee member Dave Agema, but the governor also signed into law a bill stripping Michigan public employees of same-sex partner benefits — an action that was eventually overturned by the courts.

That hostility toward gay people, unfortunately, is much of the Michigan I remember growing up — at least in school. Just recently, I saw a study on the bullying of youth that found body type and sexual orientation are two of the most common reasons why kids are harassed at school. I had both going for me.

As a teen short of stature growing up in a blue-collar area who, for some reason, was not into girls like my classmates, I would often cry in my dad’s car before being dropped off for middle school in the morning and not want to go. Thankfully, I was never physically assaulted, but my fellow students intimidated me, excluded me from activities and spewed vitriolic comments about me (sometimes cloaked in religious proselytization) that made me and my education suffer.

But, as I and so many others who had a similar experience found, it gets better. That kid grew up to move to D.C. and join the White House press corps as political reporter for the Washington Blade. Someone who’d want to psychoanalyze me might see a link between my troubled youth and why I question sources so fiercely when the administration isn’t doing enough on LGBT rights.

I look forward to the day when the lawsuit is settled and marriage equality is the law in my home state. Until then, my feelings about the situation are as conflicted as I feel about Michigan, which, even though I had troubled experience growing up, is the place in many ways I consider still home.

27
Mar
2014

Watch members of Congress’ LGBT Equality Caucus react to Supreme Court rulings

Watch as members of the LGBT Caucus in the U.S. Congress react to today’s Supreme Court rulings.

Representatives Polis, Cicilline, Malone and more share their feelings immediately after marriage decisions come down.

26
Jun
2013

DOMA is dead and the sky is not falling

Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade

It’s been a couple of weeks since the Supreme Court ruled DOMA unconstitutional. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

It’s been a couple of weeks since the Supreme Court ruled that not only has the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) been declared unconstitutional, but also that the defendants in California’s Proposition 8 case had no legal standing to present their arguments. Rain still comes from the clouds, the sun still lights up the sky and days still go by.

With the repeal of Section 3 of DOMA, the court opens the path for the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages in the states where there is marriage equality. In doing so, it allows for the application and eligibility of more than 1,000 benefits and responsibilities that are laid out in the federal code, including health benefits, long-term care, Family and Medical Leave, and federal retirement benefits, among others. It also subjects them to the same responsibilities of straight marriages, such as anti-nepotism rules and financial disclosure requirements for federal employees.

In the case of Prop 8, the state of California has already begun issuing licenses to gay and lesbian couples. And the Golden State will join 12 other states and the District of Columbia in allowing same-sex marriage.

It had only been a few days, with the players on both sides still trying to discern all of the ramifications of these two decisions. To be expected, the California Family Council asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday to immediately lift the stay on same-sex “marriage” in California. That request was denied. It then submitted an emergency motion, requesting from the U.S. Supreme Court a reinstatement of the stay. Less than 24 hours later, Justice Kennedy denied the motion without comment.

In a press statement, CFC says that the Ninth Circuit, as well as Justice Anthony Kennedy, ignored Rule 45 of the Supreme Court, which states that “the Supreme Court’s decision becomes mandate no less than 25 days after its judgment is released, allowing time for the losing party to file a petition for rehearing.”

Ron Prentice, CFC’s CEO goes on to say, “the actions of the Ninth Circuit and Justice Kennedy deny us that legal right.”

One cannot ignore the irony of that last sentence. While CFC tries to circumvent one group’s rights, it complains that its rights are being denied.

While we celebrate this milestone, we’re not done yet.

There are some that still say that marriage equality will undermine the basic family unit and hurt the economy. We still have to show these Chicken Littles that the sky is not falling. Civil marriage strengthens families, supports stability and allows greater opportunity for couples to live without the crutch of government assistance.

We still must fight to bring marriage equality to the entire nation. We must bring liberty and justice to all.

Robert Turner is executive director of the District of Columbia Republican Party and former president of the D.C. chapter of Log Cabin Republicans. Reach him at robert.turner@dcgop.com or @RobertTurnerDC.

18
Jul
2013

Anti-prostitution pledge for AIDS groups nixed

Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade

 (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional this week a Bush-era law that compelled AIDS services organizations to sign a pledge opposing prostitution and human trafficking in order to receive funding for international work.

In a 6-2 decision, the majority opinion, authored by Justice Roberts, said the federal government violated the First Amendment in forcing organizations to sign the pledge as a condition of funding, according to NBC News.

“According to UNAIDS, sex workers are roughly eight times more likely to be infected with HIV than other adults,” read a statement from AIDS services organization amFAR, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the suit. “However, targeted efforts to provide HIV prevention services for sex workers have been shown to help bring national epidemics under control.

26
Jun
2013

Men arrested under Louisiana sodomy law

Sid Gautreaux, Baton Rouge, gay news, Washington Blade, sodomy

Sheriff Sid Gautreaux apologized on July 29 for the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office charging at least a dozen men under the state’s sodomy law over the last two years. (Photo by christmasinbr via Flickr)

BATON ROUGE, La.— A local newspaper on July 28 reported the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office has charged at least a dozen men under the state’s sodomy law over the last two years.

The Advocate reported authorities used the statute to entrap men at a local park who agreed to have consensual sex with an undercover officer at a nearby apartment. The newspaper said the July 18 arrest of a 65-year-old man is among at least a dozen such cases since 2011.

East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux on July 29 apologized.

“Our agency made mistakes,” he said in a statement, according to the Advocate. “We will learn from them and we will take measures to ensure it does not happen again.”

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 struck down the country’s remaining anti-sodomy laws in its landmark Lawrence v. Texas decision, but Louisiana is among the states that have yet to formally repeal them.

Gautreaux said he plans to meet with a Baton Rouge LGBT advocacy group to “further the dialogue between law enforcement and the LGBT community.” The Advocate on July 30 reported East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Councilman John Delgado has called for a local ordinance that would ban discrimination against the parish’s gay and lesbian residents.

31
Jul
2013

What’s next for gay couples after court decisions on marriage?

Jeff Zarillo, Paul Katami, Sandy Stier, Kris Perry, David Boies, Chad Griffin, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, Proposition 8, Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA, Prop 8, California, Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade

Jeff Zarillo speaking to the press following the Supreme Court’s ruling on DOMA and Proposition 8. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Supreme Court rulings against the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 are providing new momentum to the LGBT rights movement as advocates are pushing for officials to interpret the decisions as broadly as possible.

The court ruling against DOMA is complex because it means that new benefits will be available to same-sex couples if they’re married. But there still is an issue with some of these benefits even with DOMA gone.

Some of these benefits, like Social Security survivor benefits and tax benefits, are in question because federal law governing these issues looks at a state where a couple lives as opposed to whether they were legally married. That means a gay couple that marries in a state like New York, but moves to Florida, won’t be able to apply for these benefits while living there.

James Esseks, director of the American Civil Liberties Union LGBT Project, said while explaining the decision that the Obama administration can interpret the rulings in a broad manner to ensure all federal benefits flow to married same-sex couples regardless of the state in which they live.

In almost all contexts, the Obama administration has the ability and the flexibility to move to a rule where they look to the law of the state in which you got married, not the state in which you live,” Esseks said. “So we expect and hope that the federal government is going to update those rules … and that would mean that once you get married, you’re married for federal purposes forever. That’s what we think the right rule is, and that’s the rule we think the administration can get to.”

Esseks added there “are a small number of contexts” in which the administration can’t do it alone and Congress has a statute prohibiting certain benefits from flowing to married same-sex couples so passage of the Respect for Marriage Act is necessary to address those issues.

That sentiment was expressed by Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin, who in a statement called on the administration to interpret the DOMA ruling broadly.

“Federal recognition for lesbian and gay couples is a massive turning point for equality, but it is not enough until every family is guaranteed complete access to the protections they need regardless of state borders,” Griffin said. “The administration must take every possible step to ensure this landmark ruling treats every lawfully married couple across the country with the equality our Constitution guarantees.”

Following the court decision against DOMA, Holder issued a statement saying he’ll “work expeditiously with other Executive Branch agencies” to ensure they comply with the court decision. President Obama issued a statement earlier in the day indicating he had given Holder this task.

“As we move forward in a manner consistent with the Court’s ruling, the Department of Justice is committed to continuing this work, and using every tool and legal authority available to us to combat discrimination and to safeguard the rights of all Americans,” Holder said.

In a subsequent statement, Griffin said he spoke with Holder over the phone about the DOMA decision and was told the administration would go through a thoughtful and deliberative process to implement the ruling.

A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Obama himself also held a call on Wednesday with “a group of marriage equality advocates, faith leaders, elected officials, and allies” on the rulings in the DOMA and Prop 8 cases.

With the court ruling, one change is certain. Bi-national same-sex couples will now be able to apply for visas through the I-130 marriage-based green card application. Immigration law looks to the state in which a couple was married as opposed to the state in which a couple lives in determining whether a couple is eligible for a visa.

Rachel Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, said in a statement praising the court ruling that no barrier remains precluding the granting of visas to ensure bi-national same-sex couples can remain together in the United States.

“At long last, we can now tell our families that yes, they are eligible to apply for green cards,” Tiven said. “Many of our families have waited years, and in some cases decades, for the green card they need to keep their families together. Couples forced into exile will be coming home soon. Americans separated from their spouses are now able to prepare for their reunion.”

Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano applauded the ruling.

“This discriminatory law denied thousands of legally married same-sex couples many important federal benefits, including immigration benefits,” she said. “ … Working with our federal partners, including the Department of Justice, we will implement today’s decision so that all married couples will be treated equally and fairly in the administration of our immigration laws.”

The ruling also means the issue of whether bi-national same-sex couples should be included as part of comprehensive immigration reform pending before the Senate is off the table. Senate Judiciary Committee Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) had filed the amendment in the event of a Supreme Court ruling against same-sex couples in the DOMA case.

Calling the Supreme Court ruling against DOMA “a major step toward full equality,” Leahy announced that he would no longer pursue the amendment for bi-national same-sex couples.

“With the Supreme Court’s decision today, however, it appears that the anti-discrimination principle that I have long advocated will apply to our immigration laws and binational couples and their families can now be united under the law,” Leahy said. “As a result of this welcome decision, I will not be seeking a floor vote on my amendment.”

Also expected to come to an end is the preclusion of major benefits — such as health and pension benefits — from flowing to gay employees with same-sex spouses.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a statement following the court decisions that the Pentagon “welcomes” the ruling on DOMA and is prepared to offer these benefits to troops with same-sex partners.

“The department will immediately begin the process of implementing the Supreme Court’s decision in consultation with the Department of Justice and other executive branch agencies,” Hagel said. “The Department of Defense intends to make the same benefits available to all military spouses — regardless of sexual orientation — as soon as possible. That is now the law and it is the right thing to do.”

The Pentagon was already in the process of granting additional spousal benefits to gay troops available under current law, such as military IDs, which was expected to come to an end this year. It remains to be seen what impact the court decision will have on this process.

Elaine Kaplan, a lesbian and acting director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, said her agency is beginning to examine the issue of benefits that will be afforded to federal employees for same-sex couples, but additional waiting time is necessary.

“While we recognize that our married gay and lesbian employees have already waited too long for this day, we ask for their continued patience as we take the steps necessary to review the Supreme Court’s decision and implement it,” Kaplan said.

The situation resulting from the ruling in the Proposition 8 case is less complex because it only involves whether the State of California can resume granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples. But California officials say they’re prepared to recognize marriage equality in the state.

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D-Calif.) said in a statement he’s prepared to allow clerks to distribute marriage licenses to same-sex couples as soon as the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals lifts its stay.

“After years of struggle, the U.S. Supreme Court today has made same-sex marriage a reality in California,” Brown said. “In light of the decision, I have directed the California Department of Public Health to advise the state’s counties that they must begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in California as soon as the Ninth Circuit confirms the stay is lifted.”

Both rulings have stirred calls for the expansion of marriage equality into additional states. Speaking before the Supreme Court, HRC President Chad Griffin cried out those who came to celebrate, “Let’s set a new goal: within five years, we will bring marriage equality to all 50 states in the U.S.”

Considering some states would need at least four years to lift their bans on same-sex marriage through the legislative process, Griffin’s call would likely require another lawsuit that would spread marriage equality throughout the country much like the 1967 case of Loving v. Virginia brought to an end all state bans on interracial marriage.

ACLU’s Esseks said the ruling in the case against DOMA might have an impact on new litigation seeking marriage equality in all 50 states, but said Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the opinion in a way that was restrictive in its implications.

“It certainly won’t hurt, but Kennedy was careful to write it in a way that doesn’t directly address the broader freedom to marry issue,” Esseks said.

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, said he thinks the decisions would make an additional lawsuit more likely to succeed.

“The best way to win is not ‘just’ to file a lawsuit, it’s to bring that lawsuit on the strength of having won more states and more support, setting the stage for victory,” Wolfson said. “That’s the winning strategy that has brought us this far, and it is the winning Freedom to Marry strategy that will bring us to victory nationwide — if we keep doing the work.”

26
Jun
2013

Ginsburg officiates same-sex wedding

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, gay news,  Washington Blade

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg became the first sitting justice to officiate a same-sex wedding at the nuptials of Kennedy Center President Michael M. Kaiser and his partner John Roberts. (Photo public domain)

WASHINGTON —Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Saturday presided over the Washington, D.C. wedding of her longtime friend and Kennedy Center President Michael M. Kaiser and his partner, economist John Roberts.

Ginsburg is the first Supreme Court justice to officiate same-sex nuptials, according to the Washington Post, just short of four months after the court struck down key provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law that prevented the United States government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in states that have legalized them.

“I think it will be one more statement that people who love each other and want to live together should be able to enjoy the blessings and the strife in the marriage relationship,” Ginsburg told the Post.

Ginsburg — who was joined by justices Kennedy, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan in the 5-4 decision striking down DOMA — is a longtime supporter of the arts. Ginsburg also plans to officiate the Sep. 22 wedding of Washington Post food critic David Hagedorn and National Weather Service communications director, Michael Widomski, a promise she’d made to the pair on the day the court released its DOMA decision.

04
Sep
2013

Elated plaintiffs call court decisions victory for families

Proposition_8_plaintiffs_victory_with_David_Boies_and_Chad_Griffin_insert_c_Washington_Blade_by_Michael_Key

HRC President Chad Griffin joined plaintiffs in the Prop 8 case on the Supreme Court steps Wednesday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The lesbian and gay couples that served as the main plaintiffs in Wednesday’s historic Supreme Court decision overturning California’s Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage said the decision would have a profound positive impact on gay families in their home state and beyond.

California residents Kris Perry, after whom the case has been named, and her partner Sandy Stier told reporters and a crowd of onlookers outside the Supreme Court that the enormity of the legal ramifications of the case was for them overshadowed by its impact on their family, especially their four sons.

“Today is a great day for American children and families,” Perry told the gathering. “Sandy and I want to say how happy we are not only to be able to return to California and finally get married but to be able to say to the children in California, no matter where you live, no matter who your parents are, no matter what family you’re in, you are equal.”

Perry added, “And today we go back to California and say to our own children, all four of our boys – your family is just as good as everybody else’s family. We love you as much as anybody else’s parents love their kids. And now we’re going to be equal to every other family in California.”

Californians Jeff Zarrillo and his partner Paul Katami, the other couple that served as lead plaintiff’s in the Prop 8 case, told the gathering outside the Supreme Court that they, too, look forward to returning to their home state to get married.

“Prop 8 allowed us to turn our anger into action,” Katami told the gathering. “So although we celebrate today, we work to make sure that everyone like Jeff and I and Kris and Sandy can just get married because it’s the natural next step in our relationship,” he said.

“We want to join the institution of marriage not to take anything away but to strengthen it, to live up to its ideals.”

In a development that prompted both cheers and tears from onlookers, Katami turned to Zarrillo, his voice breaking, and said, “And today I final get to look at the man I love and say, ‘Will you marry me?’”

With Zarrillo nodding in the affirmative, the two men kissed and embraced as news photographers TV camera crews recorded their action.

Following the two couples’ initial comments, which came at a news conference organized jointly by the Human Rights Campaign and the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER), which initiated the legal challenge to Prop 8 five years ago, the couples walked along the sidewalk outside the Supreme Court building speaking to individual television news outlets whose camera crews lined the sidewalk.

During one of those interviews, HRC President Chad Griffin, who accompanied the couples, excitedly informed them that President Obama just called Griffin’s cell phone from Air Force One, which was taking the president on a state visit to Africa.

Reporters and onlookers watched with interest as Griffin handed his cell phone to the couples, who spoke briefly with Obama.

“It’s incredible,” Griffin told reporters minutes later. “The president just called from Air Force One and he was thanking our team and the plaintiffs for their courage. And he said because of their courage thousands upon thousands of people will be able to join in the celebration of marriage very soon,” Griffin said.

Katami and Zarrillo told people standing near them that they thanked the president for calling them and invited him to their wedding.

“They’re quick,” observed attorney Theodore Boutrous, the law firm partner of lead plaintiff attorney Ted Olsen in the Prop 8 case. Olsen, who was in court on Wednesday in an unrelated case in Philadelphia, wasn’t able to attend the Supreme Court session announcing the Prop 8 decision.

“They get the president on the phone and they invite him to their wedding,” said Boutrous. “So it’s exciting. Not too many cases end with such a joyous thing, that people who want to get married can get married. This is a good one,” he said.

Perry told the Blade she, too, was excited to hear from Obama.

“When the leader of the free world tells a couple like Sandy and I that he respects our relationship and he hopes we can get married soon and show our kids that we’re a family, it says everything,” she said. “We couldn’t be prouder to have him call and tell us that.”

Fred Sainz, HRC’s vice president for communications, said Edith Windsor, 85, the lead plaintiff in the DOMA case, which bears her name, would be celebrating the decision in New York City. Windsor is a New York State resident who challenged DOMA in court following the death of her wife, whom she married in Canada, and the refusal of the IRS to waive her estate tax in the same way that tax is waived for opposite-sex married couples.

With DOMA overturned Wednesday by the Supreme Court, Windsor’s attorneys are expected to call on the IRS to retroactively refund the estate tax she was forced to pay.

Windsor was also scheduled to serve as a grand marshal in New York City’s LGBT Pride Parade this weekend.

26
Jun
2013

Long lines, frayed tempers for couples seeking to wed

David Kero-Mentz, Ken Kero-Mentz, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, District of Columbia, gay news, Washington Blade

Ken Kero-Mentz and his new husband David Kero-Mentz waited two hours for their marriage license to be processed in July. Despite the delay, the couple praised D.C. courthouse staff on the rush of gay marriage license applications following the death of DOMA. (Photo courtesy of the couple)

The number of people applying for a marriage license in D.C. each month has nearly tripled since the Supreme Court issued its landmark ruling on June 26 overturning the Defense of Marriage Act’s provision barring the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.

The D.C. Superior Court’s Marriage Bureau doesn’t keep track of the gender or sexual orientation of the couples applying for a marriage license. But court observers say gay and lesbian couples make up the overwhelming majority of the additional couples going to the Marriage Bureau on most days at the courthouse at 500 Indiana Ave., N.W.

“We were sitting there and there were so many same-sex couples,” said veteran lesbian activist and businesswoman Eva Freund in describing the scene in the waiting room at the Marriage Bureau last week as she and her partner of 21 years, Elke Martin, waited to be called to file their application for a marriage license.

The two women, who live in Vienna, Va., are among the large number of same-sex couples from states that don’t recognize gay marriage that are now getting married in D.C., which doesn’t have a residency requirement for obtaining a marriage license.

“We just kind of overwhelmed the place,” Freund told the Blade. “And then they called a name and it was a heterosexual couple. And Elke and I looked at one another and said, ‘What are they doing here?’ And then we said, ‘Oh yeah, they need papers, too.”

According to courthouse observers, Freund’s humorous anecdote may be the exception to the disposition of many of the couples – both gay and straight – who become irritable after waiting two hours or longer while the Marriage Bureau staff struggles to process the seeming explosion of applications since late June.

Ken Kero-Mentz, a U.S. Foreign Service officer, and his new husband, David Kero-Mentz, a German national, described their experience with the D.C. Superior Court’s Marriage Bureau as favorable, even though the two waited close to two hours in early July to have their license application processed. The couple also had to wait about eight weeks for an appointment to be married in a civil ceremony at the courthouse, a service the court began providing long before same-sex marriage became legal in D.C.

“Everyone was so nice to us,” said David Kero-Mentz, who is applying for U.S. permanent residency status now that the longstanding prohibition of immigration rights for gay bi-national couples ended with the Supreme Court ruling on DOMA.

Ken Kero-Mentz said he and David, while thrilled to be legally married, didn’t view their D.C. ceremony as that big a deal because they were joined as a couple in an official “registered life partner” ceremony in Berlin in 2008, with 95 friends and family members in attendance. Under German law, registered life partners have all the rights and benefits of a marriage, including immigration rights for foreign national partners.

The D.C. Superior Court has processed same-sex couple applications for marriage licenses since March of 2010, when the city’s marriage equality law took effect.

Court spokesperson Leah Gurowitz said that prior to the Supreme Court’s DOMA decision in late June, the court received on average between 300 and 400 license applications a month. But in July the number of couples applying for a license jumped to 977 and in August the number of couples applying totaled 908 – more than double the average, Gurowitz told the Blade.

“The D.C. Superior Court is committed to addressing the needs of those seeking our services as promptly as possible,” she said in a statement. “In order to meet the increased demand, additional staff have been detailed to the Marriage Bureau.”

Gurowitz added, “In addition, we are working to locate additional office space to help handle the number of applicants we are currently seeing each day, as well as evaluating work processes to improve our customer service.”

Gay rights attorneys have said they expected more same-sex couples to marry following the Supreme Court ruling, which cleared the way for married same-sex couples to obtain most if not all of the federal rights and benefits of marriage.

The Obama administration’s aggressive effort to quickly implement the DOMA ruling by directing federal agencies, including all the branches of the military, to provide marital benefits to same-sex spouses of federal workers, civilian and active duty military, has also boosted the number of lesbian and gay couples deciding to tie the knot, experts have said.

D.C. gay activist Christopher Dyer, who last year obtained a license to perform marriages as a court-approved officiant, said the number of same-sex couples seeking him out to perform their marriage has doubled since the Supreme Court decision.

“I’m getting more military people than ever before,” he said. “Many of them are from Virginia.”

Local gay rights attorney Michele Zavos, who practices family law in the D.C. metro area, said she and other attorneys familiar with the marriage laws of D.C. and Maryland are advising out-of-state clients to choose D.C. over Maryland as the preferred place to marry.

Although same-sex marriage became legal in Maryland earlier this year, Zavos points out that unlike D.C., Maryland has a residency requirement for couples seeking to get a divorce. This means that if a same-sex couple from Virginia or other states that don’t recognize gay marriage decide to marry in Maryland, they could not obtain a divorce in Maryland unless they become a Maryland resident for a year, Zavos said.

She noted that they couldn’t obtain a divorce in their home state if that state doesn’t recognize their marriage, especially if the state has a law or constitutional amendment specifically banning same-sex nuptials as Virginia does.

“Nobody wants to hear this, of course,” Zavos said. “They’re about to be married. They don’t want you to be talking to them about getting divorced.”

Nevertheless, Zavos said many same-sex couples knowledgeable about the residency rules for divorce are choosing D.C. and Delaware, which also allows out-of-state couples to file for a divorce without a residency requirement.

Among those encountering the brunt of the delays at the D.C. Superior Court’s Marriage Bureau are the private marriage officiants who, among other things, file marriage license applications at the courthouse for their same-sex couple clients.

Deborah Cummings-Thomas and her wife, lesbian activist Sheila Alexander-Reid, co-owners of Marry Me In D.C., Inc., specialize in marrying same-sex couples and taking care of the couples’ marriage-related paperwork.

“It’s a nightmare down there right now,” Cummings-Thomas said. “It often takes two hours, sometimes longer” to file a marriage license application, she said. “I’ve been there when people waiting have gotten very upset.”
She said 95 percent of the couples she marries are from jurisdictions outside D.C. and at least 95 percent or more of her clients arrange for her to go to the courthouse to deal with the application.

“The employees are very nice,” said Rev. Starlene Joyner Burns, another D.C. marriage officiant who reaches out to same-sex couples. “But they realize the office needs more help. It’s not a system that is broken. It’s just that the demand is greater than what it was in the past.”

One marriage officiant criticized Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, claiming she should be doing more to secure funds to hire staff at D.C.’s marriage bureau.(Washington Blade file photo by Jeff Surprenant)

One marriage officiant criticized Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, claiming she should be doing more to secure funds to hire staff at D.C.’s marriage bureau.(Washington Blade file photo by Jeff Surprenant)

Another marriage officiant, who spoke on condition of not being identified, criticized D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton for not pushing for more funds from Congress to hire additional staff at the courthouse to handle the greater demand for marriage licenses.

Congress and various federal agencies control the D.C. court system rather than the city government under the city’s limited home rule charter. Norton spokesperson Daniel Van Hoogstraten said he would look into the matter.

Others familiar with the Marriage Bureau noted that the D.C. City Council could help the situation by changing the wording in the city’s marriage law that requires a three-day waiting period between the time a marriage license application is submitted and the time a marriage can take place. Marriage laws in most other states have a similar waiting period but those states, like Maryland, issue the license during the applicants’ first visit to the state marriage bureau and post-date it to prevent the marriage from taking place until after the waiting period expires.

Critics of the D.C. Marriage Bureau say it requires applicants or officiants working on their behalf to return to the bureau a second time to pick up the license following the waiting period, a process that causes further delays.

But according to people familiar with the D.C. marriage law, the law prevents the Marriage Bureau from postdating a marriage license because it states explicitly that a license “shall not be issued until three days have elapsed” from the time the application is filed.

“They have two people handling 50 or 60 people at any given time,” said the marriage officiant who asked not to be identified. “They told me please do what you can to get out the word and help us get more staff.”

11
Sep
2013