Tag Archives: Barack Obama

BREAKING: Obama endorses Respect for Marriage Act to repeal DOMA

19 Jul

The so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is on its last legs. The legislation, signed into law in 1993 by President Bill Clinton, has caused the breakup of hundreds of LGBT families across the country. Bi-national couples have faced deportation over DOMA, Federal courts have stripped legally married couples of their rights over DOMA and due to 14 recent federal court challenges, DOMA is crumbling.

The Respect for Marriage Act, the act that would repeal DOMA goes into Senate Judiciary Committee hearings tomorrow, and now that I live ten blocks from the Capitol, I’m very excited to be attending. I’ll be reporting on the happenings via twitter if you follow us @TalkEquality.

The exciting news today, via Adam Bink at Prop8TrialTracker with the Courage Campaign is that President Barack Obama has endorsed the Respect for Marriage Act. Adam outlines why this move is so historic:

“Why is this a big deal? Because the White House rarely, if ever, endorses legislation that hasn’t passed a house of Congress… and this one hasn’t even passed committee yet. It underscores the urgency of this issue, and it also generates huge momentum to our efforts to bring more Senators on board. How many pro-LGBT Senators are going to let President Obama be ahead of them on this?”

Obama campaigned on the idea that DOMA should be repealed, but his support for the repeal over the course of his term has been less-than lukewarm. His Department of Justice on several occasions defended the unconstitutional law. The first time it went to court during his presidency, the DoJ’s brief on the case offensively compared lesbian and gay relationships to incest and pedophilia. The LGBT community lashed back and since that time, Obama’s administration has done a 180 on the issue and has ended it’s defense of the homophobic law.

The fight over DOMA is going to be long and costly. House Republicans needlessly voted last week to re-affirm DOMA as the law of the land (a symbolic show of support they decided to spend time on instead of working to stop the economy from going into free-fall).

LGBT Immigrants Abused in US Custody

13 Apr

13 complaints were filed today alleging human rights abuses against LGBT immigrants in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers. The Heartland Alliance National Immigrant Justice Center is asking the Department of Homeland Security to investigate the treatment of LGBT people in DHS custody, craft policies to address violations and oversee implementation.

Some of the people being held are legal residents who were previously convicted of a crime – in some cases, just a misdemeanor. Some are felons who are transferred to ICE custody after longer prison sentences. Others may be undocumented aliens or people who have overstayed their visas. Regardless, all are held based on civil and not criminal offenses.

The alleged abuses against LGBT individuals include denial of medical care, discrimination and sexual assault. Steve, a gay Peruvian asylum seeker was held in solitary confinement for six weeks “on the sole basis that he is HIV-positive” according to the report. “Officers frequently prohibited Steve from leaving his cell to get his HIV medication. Steve was traumatized when he sought medical treatment and an officer refused to remove the shackles from his feet, waist, and hands despite pleas from his doctor.”

The report goes on to describe sexual assaults by fellow inmates followed by repeated denials for transfer from the victim as well as a transgender inmate being denied her hormone treatment, despite her use of hormones for ten years prior to detainment.

Heartland Alliance has set up a letter campaign to President Obama and DHS. Please take action by signing the letter and tell the President that LGBT immigrants cannot be treated like this in our country.

Don’t Deport My Husband: An Update!

27 Mar

As many of you know, a few weeks ago, President Obama made the surprisingly exciting announcement that his Department of Justice would no longer be defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in the courts. This decision was made after many lower courts had found DOMA to be unconstitutional. Obama framed his change of tactics around the amount of money the administration would spend on defending a law which judges were ruling against. Obama made sure to say that he would continue enforcing the law until it was overturned, but the court battles would no longer be defended by his administration.

The religious right and the National Organization for Marriage were in an uproar. They lied and claimed that Obama had overturned the law, or that he was no longer enforcing it. And the usual rigamarole ensued.

Now, we’re happy to find that despite the fact that DOMA has not yet been overturned, in at least one instance, it is no longer being used to attack gay and lesbian families. One of the rights we are fighting so hard for, which heterosexual married people frequently take for granted, is that married bi-national couples can stay in this country and that foreign-born citizens married to US citizens will gain citizenship through that marriage.

Joshua Vandiver and Henry Valendia

A few months ago, we told you the story of Josh Vandiver, a graduate student at Princeton, and Henry Velandia, a Venezuelan dance instructor who was facing deportation despite their 2010 marriage in Connecticut.

Now, Newsweek/The Daily Beast has learned that the heads of two USCIS districts—Washington, D.C. and Baltimore—informed attorneys from the advocacy group American Immigration Lawyers Association that cases in their districts involving married gay and lesbian couples would be put on hold. The news could have far-reaching effects. People like Velandia might be safe from deportation while their cases are on hold.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed that Henry and Josh will be together in the US permanently.

CA Sen. Dianne Feinstein to Introduce DOMA Repeal Bill

23 Feb

Hours after today’s announcement that Obama’s Dept of Justice would no longer be defending the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act, California Senator Dianne Feinstein announced plans to introduce a bill that would repeal DOMA once and for all.

“My own belief is that when two people love each other and enter the contract of marriage, the federal government should honor that,” she said. “I opposed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. It was the wrong law then; it is the wrong law now, and it should be repealed.”

This could potentially move things forward with respect to states currently recognizing equality for all citizens. There are currently several cases in the courts where equality states are representing citizens who are not equally represented by the federal government. While same-sex couples legally married in one of the five states which currently recognize marriage equality (or the District of Columbia) benefit from state privileges, there are still more than 1100 federal rights and responsibilities denied same-sex couples because of DOMA.

This effort would mirror previous efforts by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (NY), Rep. Tammy Baldwin (WI) and Rep. Jared Polis (CO) who, in 2009, introduced the Respect for Marriage Act (which had 91 original co-sponsors in 2009).

While the repeal of a discriminatory policy such as Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, (which banned openly gay and lesbian servicemembers) benefited from widespread popular support, the pursuit of a repeal of DOMA takes a larger leap of faith for political leaders. Let’s hope other legislators join Feinstein in her progressive move in the interest of equality.

BREAKING: Obama’s Dept. of Justice Will No Longer Defend DOMA

23 Feb

Big News, Folks!

While in the past, the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) under the direction of President Obama, has defended the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the DoJ has announced it will no longer defend the unconstitutional law.

Freedom to Marry’s Evan Wolfson had this to say about the breaking news:

“Freedom to Marry applauds the President and the Attorney General for acknowledging that sexual orientation discrimination has no place in American life and must be presumed unconstitutional, recognizing that discriminatory laws like so-called DOMA must be looked at with skeptical eyes, not rubber stamped.

“The Administration today acknowledges that there is no legitimate reason for this discrimination and therefore it cannot be defended under the Constitution.  This a momentous step forward toward Freedom to Marry’s goal of ending federal marriage discrimination and fully protecting all loving and committed couples.”

Following is the press release from the Department of Justice:

STATEMENT OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL ON LITIGATION INVOLVING THE DEFENSE OF MARRIAGE ACT

WASHINGTON – The Attorney General made the following statement today about the Department’s course of action in two lawsuits, Pedersen v. OPM and Windsor v. United States, challenging Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage for federal purposes as only between a man and a woman:

In the two years since this Administration took office, the Department of Justice has defended Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act on several occasions in federal court.  Each of those cases evaluating Section 3 was considered in jurisdictions in which binding circuit court precedents hold that laws singling out people based on sexual orientation, as DOMA does, are constitutional if there is a rational basis for their enactment.  While the President opposes DOMA and believes it should be repealed, the Department has defended it in court because we were able to advance reasonable arguments under that rational basis standard.

Section 3 of DOMA has now been challenged in the Second Circuit, however, which has no established or binding standard for how laws concerning sexual orientation should be treated.  In these cases, the Administration faces for the first time the question of whether laws regarding sexual orientation are subject to the more permissive standard of review or whether a more rigorous standard, under which laws targeting minority groups with a history of discrimination are viewed with suspicion by the courts, should apply.

After careful consideration, including a review of my recommendation, the President has concluded that given a number of factors, including a documented history of discrimination, classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to a more heightened standard of scrutiny.  The President has also concluded that Section 3 of DOMA, as applied to legally married same-sex couples, fails to meet that standard and is therefore unconstitutional.  Given that conclusion, the President has instructed the Department not to defend the statute in such cases.  I fully concur with the President’s determination.

Consequently, the Department will not defend the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA as applied to same-sex married couples in the two cases filed in the Second Circuit.  We will, however, remain parties to the cases and continue to represent the interests of the United States throughout the litigation.  I have informed Members of Congress of this decision, so Members who wish to defend the statute may pursue that option.  The Department will also work closely with the courts to ensure that Congress has a full and fair opportunity to participate in pending litigation.

Furthermore, pursuant to the President’s instructions, and upon further notification to Congress, I will instruct Department attorneys to advise courts in other pending DOMA litigation of the President’s and my conclusions that a heightened standard should apply, that Section 3 is unconstitutional under that standard and that the Department will cease defense of Section 3.

The Department has a longstanding practice of defending the constitutionality of duly-enacted statutes if reasonable arguments can be made in their defense.  At the same time, the Department in the past has declined to defend statutes despite the availability of professionally responsible arguments, in part because – as here – the Department does not consider every such argument to be a “reasonable” one.  Moreover, the Department has declined to defend a statute in cases, like this one, where the President has concluded that the statute is unconstitutional.

Much of the legal landscape has changed in the 15 years since Congress passed DOMA.  The Supreme Court has ruled that laws criminalizing homosexual conduct are unconstitutional.  Congress has repealed the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.  Several lower courts have ruled DOMA itself to be unconstitutional.  Section 3 of DOMA will continue to remain in effect unless Congress repeals it or there is a final judicial finding that strikes it down, and the President has informed me that the Executive Branch will continue to enforce the law.  But while both the wisdom and the legality of Section 3 of DOMA will continue to be the subject of both extensive litigation and public debate, this Administration will no longer assert its constitutionality in court.

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DOMA Separates Families

5 Jan

Every day before he left for work, Richard Dennis would kiss his partner on the forehead as he slept, knowing each kiss could be their last.

Let that sink in.

That line comes from an AOL news article about Richard and his partner Jair Izquierdo, who was just deported back to Peru after immigrating to the US legally five years ago.  Every day the couple lived in fear that that day might come despite their having obtained a civil union in New York state. When the day finally came they hauled Jair off in handcuffs like a criminal.

You see, there simply is no civil protection for bi-national same-sex couples. Even in the six states that currently recognize same-sex marriage, for them, the threat of deportation looms large.

Take the story of Joshua Vandiver and Henry Velandia, a married couple in New Jersey fighting to stay together.

These Americans face the most blatant and cruel aspects of a federal government that refuses to recognize their relationships and callously rips them apart, all in the name of “protecting family values”.  For Richard and Jair the Defense of Marriage Act is no abstract concept. Jair might never be coming back to America.  No legitimate path exists under current law to bring them back together on American soil and that tragedy is all due to DOMA.

For many, Marriage Equality is a social justice issue. Many couples desperately need protections under the law such as the right to Immigration Equality.

The next time you have a conversation with anyone, gay or straight, that doesn’t support Marriage Equality tell them these stories. Ask them if their family deserves to be torn apart because of who they are.

Intro to Direct Action 101.

22 Oct

Meet Tonei Glavinic, a collegiate LGBT organizer. Below is a guest post about Tonei’s introduction to Direct Action:

Last week, I participated in a direct action with a national grassroots LGBT rights organization called GetEQUAL. GetEQUAL isn’t much like other nonprofits I’ve worked with in the past. They don’t write policy or file lawsuits. Instead, they take to the streets, the White House, and Congressional offices to put pressure on Democrats who have been getting elected and funded for years on a platform of achieving civil equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, but have failed to deliver.

Until this weekend, I thought GetEQUAL was kind of obnoxious.

One major source of this feeling was that some of GetEQUAL’s supporters have in the past been extremely critical and dismissive of the work that national organizations do, which frustrated me because I was working with these groups and was directly involved in a lot of important efforts that are leading to or have already led to positive change. I reacted to this by in turning dismissing GetEQUAL as a bunch of misguided activists who weren’t actually doing anything productive to make a difference, and were perhaps actually damaging our efforts by angering people who were supposed to be our champions on Capitol Hill.

But when a friend of mine gave me the opportunity to travel to Miami to participate in an action, I jumped at it. I’d never been to Florida before, and it sounded like it could be fun.

The action itself was rather elaborate (you can read the plans and the AP article), but my role was simple: go with a team holding banners outside the entrance to the estate where Obama was holding a massive fundraiser for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and take pictures and video.

You wouldn’t think that this would be a particularly empowering experience, but when I captured President Obama on film directly acknowledging us (I was at that point holding up the center of a banner, while my camera sat on top of a police car), I realized the important purpose that GetEQUAL serves.

All of our policy work is incredibly important, and change couldn’t happen in our government without it, but somebody has to keep our issues at the forefront of the President’s mind – and GetEQUAL can let Obama and the Democrats know that we’re not going away anytime soon in ways that policy organizations can’t.

This by itself wouldn’t have been enough to change my mind about the organization. It was the conversations I had with other activists and GetEQUAL co-founder Robin McGehee that made me realize that the organization itself was very supportive of the work of many other national advocacy groups.

While I still have a few unresolved qualms about the organization itself (specifically the recent sudden firing of a friend of mine without notice), that weekend definitely changed my opinion of GetEQUAL’s work – and direct action in general – as an important piece of the larger movement for LGBT civil rights and social justice.

Tonei Glavinic is an Alaskan queer activist at American University in Washington, DC. For more information or to contact Tonei, visit frozenactivist.net.

Obama Says “It Gets Better”

22 Oct

On the heels of some unpopular decisions and for a community that sees him as not living up to the “Fierce Advocate” label he gave himself during the campaign, President Obama has taken a step forward by addressing anti-gay bullying in this “It Gets Better” video.

He may not be the superhero we all hoped he would be, but it’s encouraging to see him addressing this vital issue…and he’s even wearing a purple tie.