Tag Archives: DOMA

The First Openly-Gay Congressman

9 May

This Thursday would have been the 74th birthday of the first openly-gay federal politician. Congressman Gerry Studds of Massachusetts was my Congressman growing up and I can proudly say that both my mother and my aunt took a major part in getting Gerry elected.

When he was first elected in 1972, he was not out of the closet. It wasn’t until a scandal outed Gerry, that he admitted publicly to being gay. Gerry was censured by Congress for having a sexual relationship with 17 year-old page Dean Hara. He fought to avoid a hearing so as to avoid outing young Hara. But instead of abandoning his post, like many outed politicians do, Gerry was re-elected six more times, until he retired in 1997 after serving the country for 25 years. He fought for many issues, including environmental and maritime issues, same-sex marriage, AIDS funding, and civil rights, particularly for gays and lesbians.

Following his retirement, Gerry continued to lobby for the fishing industry – one of the primary industries of his constituents in Massachusetts.

Gerry Studds and his husband Dean Hara

Gerry defended himself regarding the scandal by saying that he was in a consensual relationship with the the young man. In 2004, one week after Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage, my aunt got a call from Gerry inviting her to his wedding. Gerry was marrying his partner of 25+ years, Dean Hara. Two years later, Gerry passed away following a pulmonary embolism. Due to the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act, Dean was not eligible to receive the pension provided to surviving spouses of former members of Congress.

UPDATE: Is DOMA Sinking? AG Holder Vacates Gay Deportation Case

5 May

While Organizations like ALL OUT and GetEQUAL are pushing to stop tomorrow’s deportation of Henry Valendia, thus tearing him away from his legal marriage with Joshua Vandiver, it seems Attorney General Eric Holder is taking further steps to discredit the ant-gay Defense of Marriage Act.

According to Chris Geidner at Metroweekly, AG Holder has vacated a decision made by a Board of Immigration Appeals decision.

Holder writes:

“Pursuant to my authority set forth in 8 C.F.R. § 1003.1(h)(1)(i), I order that the decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals (“Board”) in this case applying Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), 1 U.S.C. § 7, be vacated, and that this matter be referred to me for review.”

Geidner continues:

Saying the attorney general “has taken [an] extraordinary step” with the decision, attorney Eric Berndt — the supervising attorney for the National Asylum Partnership on Sexual Minorities at the National Immigrant Justice Center — told Metro Weekly, “It adds some heft to our requests for prosecutorial discretion in individual cases in which the foreign partner” of a same-sex bi-national couple is seeking a green card because of his or her citizen same-sex partner.

Holder goes on to state four questions that he directs the BIA to consider:

In the exercise of my review authority under that regulation, and upon consideration of the record in this case, I direct that the order of the Board be vacated and that this matter be remanded to the Board to make such findings as may be necessary to determine whether and how the constitutionality of DOMA is presented in this case, including, but not limited to: 1) whether respondent’s same-sex partnership or civil union qualifies him to be considered a “spouse” under New Jersey law; 2) whether, absent the requirements of DOMA, respondent’s same-sex partnership or civil union would qualify him to be considered a “spouse” under the Immigration and Nationality Act; 3) what, if any, impact the timing of respondent’s civil union should have on his request for that discretionary relief; and 4) whether, if he had a “qualifying relative,” the respondent would be able to satisfy the exceptional and unusual hardship requirement for cancellation of removal.

This could be extraordinary news, considering Holder’s specific questions. It’s apparent from his requests to the BIA that state’s rights may be violated by DOMA, considering his mention of “New Jersey law.” Let us hope this is good news for Joshua and Henry (who is set for deportation tomorrow).

There is a rally scheduled for tomorrow in Newark from 11-12am – Department of Homeland Security/Newark Immigration Court – Peter Rodino Federal Building, 970 Broad Street, Newark, NJ. Please attend if you can and also please visit ALL OUT’s Petition to help stop this cruel punishment for a couple whose only crime was getting married.

***************UPDATE********************

According to Metroweekly’s Chris Geidner:

Attorney Lavi Soloway tells Metro Weekly that Henry Velandia’s deportation proceedings have been adjourned, in part, because of Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to vacate the Board of Immigration Appeals decision in another case involving a same-sex couple on Thursday. Moreover, Soloway says, “The government attorney agreed to adjourn the case.”

This is excellent news and proves that when we rally and get people to join together around something, we can win. Please keep this in mind and kep working hard when we ware called to action. We CAN make a difference!

Refuse to Lie! New Campaign Tells the Truth to the IRS

31 Mar

An exciting new campaign which could have real consequence and promote real change, has been launched.

As dreaded tax day is fast approaching, we LGBT people have frequently sought ways to protest via the IRS. Some people have simply refused to pay taxes as we do not have equal protection under the laws. The Refuse to Lie campaign is shedding light on another way we can protest our unequal status with the Federal Government.

From the Refuse to Lie website:

Each year the federal government demands that thousands of married couples lie.

The federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) not only denies legally married gay couples the benefits of heterosexual marriage, but we are also told to disavow our spouses and file our taxes as “single.”

The Federal Government must stop requiring legally married gay couples to deny the existence of our families and hide our marriages.

It is dehumanizing and it is wrong.

Across the country, legally married gay couples are taking a stand. We are refusing to lie about the fact that we are married.

The federal government’s refusal to recognize our marriages is blatant discrimination and we will not play along by lying on our tax returns and pretending we are single. The government has chosen to discriminate and we choose to expose their bigotry by refusing to lie.

Taking this principled stand is not without risk and each person doing so needs to carefully consider those risks before deciding if it is a stand you are willing to take.

While tax time forces legally married gay couples to decide whether to comply or resist the government’s requirement that we lie, it is not the only circumstance where we face this dilemma. We are married and our commitment is to tell the truth every time we are asked to fill out a form or respond to a question about our marital status.

This website is intended to be a resource to all who decide to refuse to lie. And it is a place for everyone who believes in marriage equality to show your support and stand with us by adding your name to this effort.

Not everyone will commit to filing as married but everyone can take a stand in solidarity.

Please sign the petiton and help send the message to the federal government that gay married couples should not be compelled to lie. Share this link of Facebook and help spread the word.

Of course this is not for everyone and you are certainly risking something, but the protest and the reasons behind it are completely legitimate. The very idea that we have to lie on our tax returns if we are legally married, is ludicrous. The site gives detailed information on how to go about taking part in the action, with options on how to do so safely and within the rules of filing.

How can you affirm your marital status, object to DOMA, file a joint return, and not be subject to penalties? Here are two possibilities:

  1. File two single returns (including the attachment affirming the marriage) and then file an amended return, filing jointly. The amended return is a 1040X. This is what the plaintiffs in the GLAD case did. Once the IRS rejects the amended return, or if six months passes and they do nothing, the taxpayers who file an amended return have the right to file suit in federal district court claiming the refund.The basis of the claim for refund by a Florida same-sex couple would be that they were married, that under the U.S. Constitution that marriage should be recognized, that it would be perjury to claim otherwise, and that DOMA itself is unconstitutional. This option would avoid penalties because your original return would be filed according to the statute.
  2. Submit two returns to the IRS, one filed jointly, showing the tax due on a joint return, and one filed as a single taxpayer, showing the tax due on a single return. Explain your constitutional and moral theory entitling you to file a joint return. Pay whatever amount is due on the single return and ask the IRS to choose which return to accept.If you have paid the amount due on the basis of a single return, then you have not made an underpayment as a result of disregarding a statute. Penalties are only due if there is an underpayment. If the IRS accepts your single return and accepts your tax payment on that basis, there is no penalty. Of course if the IRS accepts your joint return and that results in a refund to you, there is no way to know what will happen if you are later audited. That would be a new case.

    In many cases, of course, you will actually pay a higher tax if you file jointly. In that case, you should not owe a penalty.

Please check out the site, share your story and support this incredible action.

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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BREAKING: US District Judge Opens Door for DOMA Challenge

19 Jan

More and more challenges to the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) have been hitting the courts and getting shafted by Federal Judges.

Today, we have a new ruling out of California, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, US District Judge Claudia Wilken of Oakland ruled that state employees can sue the federal government over their same-sex partners’ exclusion from long-term health care benefits. The judge denied a request from Obama’s Department of Justice to dismiss the case, opening the floodgates for lawsuits from gay federal employees around the country.

Currently, federal employees can enroll in federally-approved long-term health care plans. Employees of the state can buy coverage at below-market rates, use untaxed income to pay premiums and deduct future benefits from their taxes. The California agency has refused to sign up same-sex spouses because the Defense of Marriage Act denies federal tax benefits to any state that covers them.

Judge Wilken claimed that DOMA is “robbing states of the power to allow same-sex civil marriages that will be recognized under federal law” and made it clear she would be challenging parts of the law.

While this story doesn’t specifically address our personal stories, we thought it important to share the fact that a major decision was made today, that is in line with the decision of Judge Vaughn Walker’s which overturned California’s Proposition 8. With more and more judicial challenges to the bigoted Defense of Marriage Act, it’s only a matter of time before we see it overturned in US Courts.

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.

BREAKING: GLAD, ACLU File New Federal Challenges to DOMA

8 Nov

Our friends at Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) are at it again.

Joanne Pedersen and Ann Meitzen, photo: Christopher Capozziello for The New York Times

Tomorrow, they will be filing another lawsuit against 1996’s so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Earlier this year on behalf of couples from Massachusetts who were legally married, GLAD filed it’s first federal suit against DOMA and was successful with a Boston federal judge. Obama’s Department of Justice is in the process of appealing that decision.

In today’s New York Times article, plaintiff Joanne Pedersen tried to add her spouse Ann Meitzen to her federal health insurance and was denied, again. Currently legally married in Connecticut, Pedersen and Meitzen are being represented by GLAD in their challenge to DOMA.

Tomorrow their will be two federal lawsuits filed against DOMA, one by GLAD and the other by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The ACLU is representing Edith C. Windsor, whose spouse died last year of aortic stenosis. Windsor

Thea Spyer and Edith Windsor in their NY Times wedding announcement

and her wife Thea C. Spyer were married in Toronto in 2007 but the couple lived in New York (which recognizes marriages performed elsewhere). Windsor was responsible for a $350,000 estate tax that were she and Spyer heterosexual, she would not have had to pay.

Edith and Thea were also the subjects of the recent film, “Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement.” Having met in 1965 in New York’s West Village, Edie recalled dancing so much on the night they met, that she wore a hole in her stocking. This incredible story spans an incredible half-century where they would go from having to keep their relationship a secret to getting married in Toronto in 2007.

As is outlined in the New York Times article, these cases represent the way LGBT couples are falling through the cracks in the system. Even though legally married in their states, the federal government is failing to recognize individual states freedoms because of the discriminatory and unconstitutional DOMA.

Many thanks to GLAD the ACLU and our brave plaintiffs for bringing your stories forward.