marriage

Today's Confirmation Hearings at a Glance

In case you missed it: here’s a quick – albeit somewhat spliced – recounting of the day’s events.

From the right to choose to gay marriage, TV in the courtroom to yes, the inevitable “wise Latina” comment, Judge Sotomayor held her own, remaining composed and eloquent.

What happens next? The Judiciary Committee continues this evening to hear panels of experts from both sides on Judge Sotomayor’s qualifications for the highest court in the land. And then? A Tuesday committee vote and on to the full Senate.

PFAW

African American Ministers In Action Participate in Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on Hate Crimes

AAMIA Members Revs. Frank Dunn and Joseph Smith attended yesterday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 (S.909), where Committee Chair Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) acknowledged the work of AAMIA toward passage of this critical legislation. Witnesses included Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr., Author Janet Langhart Cohen, University of Dubuque Theological Seminary Professor Dr. Mark Achtemeier, US Commission on Civil Rights Commissioner Gail Heriot, The Heritage Foundation’s Brian W. Walsh, and the Anti-Defamation League Washington Counsel Michael Lieberman. You can view the webcast of the hearing here.

AAMIA and PFAW have submitted letters in support of the legislation, along with a fact sheet on the legislation, and myths and facts about hate crimes protections. AAMIA and PFAW have been out in front combating the lies from the right wing that this bill will silence pastors who speak out against homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

While they were at the hearing AAMIA staff and Rev. Joseph Smith caught up with author, playwright and producer Janet Langhart Cohen, a witness before the committee, and learned more about her Anne & Emmett Project, a play about a beyond-the-grave conversation between Anne Frank and Emmett Till. The play was scheduled to premiere at the US Holocaust Museum the week of the unfortunate tragedy at the museum where Officer Stephen Johns was killed in the line of duty by an avowed white supremacist.
 

PFAW

Broad Coalition Calls for Mormon Church to End Anti-Gay Policies

A broad group of current and former Mormons, non-Mormoms, gays, and heterosexuals united to call on leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to end their anti-gay policies and their involvement with anti-gay politics (California’s Prop. 8) and fundraising. Through their website, the coalition has launched a petition to “earnestly seek to create a climate for reconciliation between the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and gays and lesbians who have been affected by the policies, practices and politics of the Church.” More from the petition:

We recognize that issues surrounding sexuality and gender orientation are complex; that understanding of these matters has evolved, especially over the past several decades, and are continuing to evolve as scientists, therapists, theologians and others continue to explore and ponder their meaning and significance; We believe that people of good will may have differing views about homosexuality, while maintaining amicable relationships.

True reconciliation requires that parties on both sides of this issue be willing to honestly examine their attitudes, behaviors (including past behaviors), policies and practices—and be open to understanding, forgiveness (both asking for and accepting), and apology.

The site includes links to the church’s historical involvement in gay marriage legislation, personal testimonies from gay and lesbian Mormons and a list of gay and lesbian Mormons who have committed suicide.
 

PFAW

President Obama, Census Bureau Looking at Ways to Recognize Same-Sex Marriages in 2010 Census

Pres. Obama and the White House are now looking at ways to include same-sex marriages, unions and partnerships in 2010 Census data – another small step of what we hope will be a larger agenda toward equal justice under the law for gays and lesbians in America. Last year, PFAW launched a petition drive urging the Census Bureau to reverse its policy of ‘editing’ the data from same-sex couples who accurately report that they are legally married, and re-classifying them as “unmarried partners.” From the Wall Street Journal:

The White House said Thursday it was seeking ways to include same-sex marriages, unions and partnerships in 2010 Census data, the second time in a week the administration has signaled a policy change of interest to the gay community.

The administration has directed the Census Bureau to determine changes needed in tabulation software to allow for same-sex marriage data to be released early in 2011 with other detailed demographic information from the decennial count. The bureau historically hasn't released same-sex marriage data.

The gay community strongly supported President Barack Obama during the 2008 election. But some gay activists say they have been frustrated by what they see as his slow approach to rolling back discriminatory policies.

White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said "the administration continues to make progress on the president's longstanding commitment to promoting equality for [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] Americans."

This is a positive step forward although there’s no word on an actual policy proposal yet. In the meantime, People For the American Way is helping activists tell President Obama and Congressional leaders to “Dump DOMA.” You can find the petition here.

PFAW

Obama Takes Small Step for LGBT Equality When He Promised a Leap

Since taking office, the American people have seen a flurry of activity from the Obama administration, ranging from increased diplomatic efforts abroad to fixing the economic crisis at home. There is one area, however, where we've seen far too little movement―gay rights.

Last night, President Obama signed a presidential memorandum that will extend certain job benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees.

Over the past several months, the Director of the Office of Personnel Management and the Secretary of State have conducted internal reviews to determine whether the benefits they administer may be extended to the same-sex partners of federal employees within the confines of existing laws and statutes. Both identified a number of such benefits.

For civil service employees, domestic partners of federal employees can be added to the long-term care insurance program; supervisors can also be required to allow employees to use their sick leave to take care of domestic partners and non-biological, non-adopted children.

For foreign service employees, a number of benefits were identified, including the use of medical facilities at posts abroad, medical evacuation from posts abroad, and inclusion in family size for housing allocations. 

While it is a small step in the right direction, it is hardly the action that Senator Obama spoke of so often on the campaign trail:

I support the complete repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)– a position I have held since before arriving in the U.S. Senate. While some say we should repeal only part of the law, I believe we should get rid of that statute altogether. Federal law should not discriminate in any way against gay and lesbian couples, which is precisely what DOMA does. 

It seems that rather than take real action to repeal DOMA, the administration is offering a gesture to the LGBT community, a gesture without much weight behind it.

President Obama promised all of us that he would push to end the discrimination caused by DOMA; Let your voice be heard and tell the Obama administration that you want it repealed. Sign our petition to end DOMA now!

PFAW

Bishop Harry Jackson Challenges DC Board’s Decision to Forego Same-Sex Marriage Referendum

Not that this comes as a surprise to anyone, but Bishop Harry Jackson and other opponents of same-sex marriage have filed a lawsuit here in DC hoping to get a referendum on the ballot on whether to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.

The civil suit against the District's Board of Elections and Ethics asks Judge Judith E. Retchin to overturn an election board ruling Monday that blocked a proposal to put the issue before the voters. Citing a District election law prohibiting votes on matters covered under the 1977 Human Rights Act, which outlaws discrimination against gay men, lesbians and other minority groups, the board said that a referendum would "authorize discrimination."

The plaintiffs asked for an expedited hearing. If the court or Congress does not intervene, recognition of same-sex marriages performed elsewhere will become law early next month, at the end of the required congressional review period.

"We are not going to sit by and allow an unelected board of bureaucrats to deny voters their rightful say on this issue and, by their action, allow the institution of marriage and the entire structure of our society to be radically redefined," said Bishop Harry Jackson, senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville and one of seven District residents who are plaintiffs in the suit.

Bishop Harry Jackson is touted in the Washington Post’s article as “one of seven District residents who are plaintiffs in the suit,” but Lou Chibbarro of The Washington Blade has found evidence that suggests otherwise.

For more information about Jackson’s crusade across the country to strip LGBT people of the equal protection under the law, see People For the American Way Foundation’s report Point Man for the Wedge Strategy.


 

PFAW

Despite Promise, Obama Defends DOMA

Today, President Obama’s Justice Department, in a motion to dismiss a lawsuit against the Defense of Marriage Act, argued that DOMA is constitutional. The Administration argues that DOMA “does not impinge upon rights that have been recognized as fundamental.”

I remember the thrill I felt when candidate Obama condemned DOMA and promised to eliminate it. He even put that promise on the White House website. But several weeks ago, in lieu of eliminating DOMA, he instead eliminated the promise from the website.

And today, he argues that DOMA does not discriminate against gays and lesbians (or, to use the Administration’s language, homosexuals):

“DOMA does not discriminate against homosexuals in the provision of federal benefits. … DOMA does not distinguish among persons of different sexual orientations, but rather it limits federal benefits to those who have entered into the traditional form of marriage.” (motion to dismiss, page 30)

The Administration’s reasoning is as illogical as that used by segregationists to defend laws prohibiting interracial marriage. So it’s ironic that the brief was filed today, on the 42nd anniversary of the Loving v. Virginia decision striking down laws that would have barred President Obama’s own parents from marrying.

We need to remind President Obama of his promises. It’s long past time to Dump DOMA.

PFAW

New Hampshire Joins the Fight for Marriage Equality

As you may know, Governor John Lynch of New Hampshire signed a marriage equality bill into law yesterday. Previously, Gov. Lynch had supported civil unions, but not not same-sex marriage. In a statement released yesterday, the governor made clear that his feelings on the matter had shifted course, thanks to the case made by activists, same-sex couples, and the general public:

"Two years ago in this room, I signed civil unions into law. That law gave same-sex couples in New Hampshire the rights and protections of marriage. And while civil unions was recognized as a step forward, many same-sex couples made compelling arguments that a separate system is not an equal system.

They argued that what might appear to be a minor difference in wording to some, lessened the dignity and legitimacy of their families."

New Hampshire joins the growing list of states that have passed laws supporting full marriage equality: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and Maine, along with Iowa.

The governor signed the bill amid cheers of praise, as he was joined in the Executive Council Chamber by lawmakers and activists who had fought so hard to make marriage equality a reality.

Bishop V. Gene Robinson, an openly gay religious leader who heads the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire, spoke at a celebratory rally. He "told supporters to savor the moment so they can tell their children and grandchildren 'you were here and you made it happen.' "

Gov. Lynch didn't miss out on an opportunity to point out that same-sex couples still face unequal treatment from the federal government:

"Unfortunately, the federal government does not extend the same rights and protections that New Hampshire provides same-sex families, and that should change."

The law will take effect January 1, 2010, and by that time, hopefully, more states will have followed suit.

PFAW

Proposition 8: Open Season on Minorities?

We’re all waiting to see how the California Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of Proposition 8. Equality advocates argue that stripping lesbian and gay people of the right to marry was what California law calls a revision: a constitutional change so fundamental that it should not have been allowed on the ballot without first being approved by a constitutional convention or a legislative supermajority.

In contrast, Proposition 8’s far right supporters claim it was a constitutional amendment: a non-fundamental change that properly went directly to the voters. Supporters of Prop 8 have also loudly condemned equality advocates for going to court after the election, saying that such a move is illegitimate because the people have already spoken.

The Right is wrong on both counts.

PFAW

Maine Becomes Latest State to Make Gay Marriages Legal

Today, Maine became the latest state to affirm the freedom to marry for same-sex couples, joining Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, and Vermont when Gov. John Baldacci signed into law LD 1020, An Act to End Discrimination in Civil Marriage and Affirm Religious Freedom. People For the American Way applauds Gov. Baldacci for recognizing that this is about fairness and equal protection under the law for all citizens of Maine. In a public statement, Gov. Baldacci said:

“In the past, I opposed gay marriage while supporting the idea of civil unions. I have come to believe that this is a question of fairness and of equal protection under the law, and that a civil union is not equal to civil marriage.

“Article I in the Maine Constitution states that ‘no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor be denied the equal protection of the laws, nor be denied the enjoyment of that person’s civil rights or be discriminated against.’

“This new law does not force any religion to recognize a marriage that falls outside of its beliefs. It does not require the church to perform any ceremony with which it disagrees. Instead, it reaffirms the separation of Church and State.

“It guarantees that Maine citizens will be treated equally under Maine’s civil marriage laws, and that is the responsibility of government.”

This news comes a day after the D.C. Council voted 12-1 to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. Congratulations to the Maine Legislature and all those who are working hard to make fairness and equality for same-sex couples in Maine a reality.

PFAW

Does the Anti-Gay Movement in DC think that Congress should run the District?

As a supporter of marriage equality for all people, I'm thrilled at the almost-unanimous vote of the DC City Council to recognize marriages of same-sex couples performed elsewhere.

As a supporter of marriage equality for all people and voting rights for the residents of DC (myself included,) I'm a little concerned about the response from the anti-marriage forces on the right.

Another protester, C.T. Riley, added: "This is not over. We are going to the Hill with this issue."

. . .

Bishop Harry Jackson, senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, who opposes gay marriage, said opponents are developing a "political and legal strategy" to block same-sex marriage in the District.

Does this imply that right wing activists are going to attempt to ignore the decision of the elected representatives of the District of Columbia by asking a body in which District residents have no representation to overrule the decision?

I look forward to discovering how this jives with the right's opposition to pro-gay rulings from "unelected judges" and allegations that it's the pro-gay rights community which is "usurping" the legacy of civil rights movement.

PFAW

Springtime of Marriage Equality

Spring 2009 continues to be a historic season of equality. Earlier today, the New Hampshire Senate passed a marriage equality bill. The House passed the bill last month. However, because of a small amendment made by the Senate, the bill has to go back to the House.

According to the Manchester Union Leader:

A bill legalizing same-sex marriage in New Hampshire passed the Senate today on a 13-11 vote.

The bill, amended on the Senate floor, draws a distinction between civil and religious marriage, and says that any two individuals have a right to join together in a civil marriage.

Last week Senate Judiciary Committee chair Sen. Deborah Reynolds, D-Reynolds, opposed the bill and voted with a committee majority that it should be killed. She said voters in her district told her they favor the legislation, and urged the Senate to vote for an amendment that was drawn up Tuesday night.

She said the wording “gives everyone in the state the right to seek a civil marriage … This is a compromise that is respectful to both sides in this debate and meets our shared goals of equality in state laws for all the people of New Hampshire. The people of this sate share the core values of equality for all, tolerance and acceptance regardless of our differences”

In neither the House nor the Senate did the bill pass with anything approaching a veto-proof majority. So what will the governor do once the bill reaches his desk?

It’s not clear how Gov. John Lynch will handle the bill. He has he said thinks the word marriage should be reserved for a traditional heterosexual relationship. He has argued that the state’s civil unions law already protects the rights of gay and lesbian couples.

Nothing requires Lynch to sign the bill into law. He can let it take effect without his signature once it arrives on his desk.

If the governor is watching the polls to see what the electorate wants him to do, he should know that most support marriage equality. According to the Advocate:

The New Hampshire Freedom to Marry Coalition has released a poll showing that 55% of New Hampshire voters support marriage for lesbian and gay couples, while 39% are opposed. ...

The poll also found that 63% of Independent and 34% of Republican voters in New Hampshire support marriage for lesbian and gay couples. Only 32% responded yes to a question asking if they would be “bothered” if same-sex couples could get a marriage license.

This comes one day after marriage equality legislation in Maine won a key joint committee vote. The bill now advances to the full House and Senate, which may vote on it as soon as next week.

The history of America is one of constant improvement, as each generation reaches out to some who have been treated as a threatening “other” and at last recognizes “them” as part of “us.” It’s a beautiful thing.

PFAW

Does the National Organization for Marriage want to overthrow the government?

If the National Organization for Marriage was attempting to position itself as a respectable group, they’ve been having a rough time of it lately.

First, they created the hilariously inept “Gathering Storm” ad which generated a blizzard of mockery.

Now, via Box Turtle Bulletin, we learn that they’ve announced that science fiction writer Orson Scott Card will serve on their board.

The problem?  He’s advocated the overthrow of the government as an appropriate response to pro-marriage equality decisions.

What these dictator-judges do not seem to understand is that their authority extends only as far as people choose to obey them.

How long before married people answer the dictators thus: Regardless of law, marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down, so it can be replaced with a government that will respect and support marriage, and help me raise my children in a society where they will expect to marry in their turn.

Biological imperatives trump laws. American government cannot fight against marriage and hope to endure. If the Constitution is defined in such a way as to destroy the privileged position of marriage, it is that insane Constitution, not marriage, that will die.

One would like to believe that even NOM realizes that this kind of rhetoric is beyond the pale.  If so, they should be coming out with a statement disavowing Card’s views any minute now.  Or do they agree with him?

We’re waiting . . .

PFAW

What a Day for Marriage!

As we hope you’ve already heard, champagne corks are popping in Vermont where both houses of the state legislature successfully overrode the Governor’s veto of same-sex marriage legislation. And for those of us in DC, marriage equality is a step closer now that the District’s City Council enacted legislation to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

We’re exceptionally proud of the fact that the legislation granting marriage equality in Vermont was co-sponsored by a member of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network, Representative David Zuckerman.

And he’s just one of the YEOs doing great work for LGBT rights nationwide. You can read about other members working hard for equal rights for all in the most recent YEO Newsletter.

PFAW

More Good News from Iowa

While national Religious Right leaders have reacted with predictably apocalyptic venom to the unanimous Iowa Supreme Court ruling upholding marriage equality, there's more good news from the state's political leaders. According to the national Stonewall Democrats, the Iowa Democratic Party has long been on record supporting marriage equality, with a position clearly and unequivocally written in the state party platform.

And while state Religious Right leaders are demanding that the legislature begin the process of amending the state constitution, legislative leaders instead praised the Supreme Court's decision. Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy issued a strong statement. Here's an excerpt:

Thanks to today's decision, Iowa continues to be a leader in guaranteeing all of our citizens' equal rights.

The court has ruled today that when two Iowans promise to share their lives together, state law will respect that commitment, regardless of whether the couple is gay or straight.

When all is said and done, we believe the only lasting question about today's events will be why it took us so long. It is a tough question to answer because treating everyone fairly is really a matter of Iowa common sense and Iowa common decency.

Marriage equality is a done deal in the state for now. Even if legislative leaders were eager to amend the state constitution, it's a long and complicated process that requires action by both houses in two consecutive general assemblies to put an amendment before the voters. According to the Des Moines Register, Iowa Family Policy Center President Chuck Hurley "acknowledged that until a constitutional amendment could be placed on the ballot, there's nothing gay-marriage opponents can do to stop gay couples from marrying in Iowa. The soonest such a vote could take place would be 2012."

Congratulations and thanks, Iowa. Next up: Vermont, where marriage equality has passed both houses with large majorities in spite of a veto threat from the governor. The vote to override is expected to be a close one.

PFAW

Iowa Marriage Decision Recognizes Religious-Civil Distinction

People For the American Way Foundation's recent Right Wing Watch In Focus report documented the deceptive ways that Religious Right leaders blur the distinction between civil and religious marriage in order to convince Americans that marriage equality is a threat to religious liberty. Today's thrilling unanimous Iowa Supreme Court decision that it is unconstitutional to deny marriage to same-sex couples in the state included a powerful and respectful section on the same topic. Here's how it concludes:

In the final analysis, we give respect to the views of all Iowans on the issue of same-sex marriage—religious or otherwise—by giving respect to our constitutional principles. These principles require that the state recognize both opposite-sex and same-sex civil marriage. Religious doctrine and views contrary to this principle of law are unaffected, and people can continue to associate with the religion that best reflects their views. A religious denomination can still define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and a marriage ceremony performed by a minister, priest, rabbi, or other person ordained or designated as a leader of the person’s religious faith does not lose its meaning as a sacrament or other religious institution.

The sanctity of all religious marriages celebrated in the future will have the same meaning as those celebrated in the past. The only difference is civil marriage will now take on a new meaning that reflects a more complete understanding of equal protection of the law. This result is what our constitution requires.

PFAW

Homophobia and the Black Church Event

This week, People For Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council is co-sponsoring the Harambee* celebration at Howard Divinity School. 

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend one of the panels we sponsored, “Homophobia in the Black Church.” It was, if I do say so myself, pretty great.

The event is part of AAMLC's ongoing work to target homophobia in the Black Church.  And while it would be nice to say that everyone was in complete agreement on the subject, that would also be a little dull. That wasn’t a problem yesterday.

Instead, there was a rich and respectful conversation about homophobia, sexuality, history, theology, and the role religion to plays in our Democracy. (Which stands in stark contrast to the deception and fear mongering that the Right has used to exploit divisions on the issue.)

Harambee!

The panel was moderated by Rev. Tony Lee, Senior Pastor of Community of Hope AME Church in Temple Hills, MD, and featured:

  • Rev. Dr. Kenneth L. Samuel, Senior Pastor of Victory for the World (Stone Mountain, Ga.) and Vice Chair of the African American Ministers Leadership Council
  • Donna Payne, Associate Director of Diversity, Human Rights Campaign
  • Rev. Byron Williams, syndicated columnist and pastor of the Resurrection Community Church in Oakland, CA.
  • Rev. Dr. Ronald Hopson, psychologist and ordained minister. Dr. Hopson holds a joint appointment as a professor with the Howard University Department of Psychology and the School of Divinity.
  • Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou, Fellow in Residence at the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture

We had a sizable crowd, but if you weren’t able to attend, fear not: we’ll be releasing a transcript of the event in the near futures, and the conversation will be continuing throughout the year.

(* - "Harambee" is the Kenyan tradition of community self-help.  In case you were wondering.)

PFAW

Marriage Equality on the March

As if Ben and Jerry’s wasn’t enough reason to love Vermont, it looks like marriage equality legislation is moving forward in the state legislature:

A Vermont Senate committee voted to advance a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in the state.

The senate Judiciary Committee voted 5-0 on Friday to advance a bill that was the topic of an emotional public hearing on Wednesday that drew hundreds to the Statehouse.

Governor Douglas has said he opposes the bill, but hasn’t said that he’d actually veto it if it got to his desk.

Of course, even if same-sex couples in Vermont can get married, they’re still prevented from receiving the federal protections that marriage affords their heterosexual friends. Just another reason why we should Dump DOMA.

PFAW

Remembering Barbara Jordan

Every February, People For the American Way, along with the rest of the country, celebrates Black History Month. And this year, more than ever, it's humbling to see just how far our nation has moved. And how far we still have to go.

I'm proud that People For the American Way can point to its own history to demonstrate why Black History Month is relevant to people of all backgrounds. Barbara Jordan was the first African American woman to serve in the Texas State Senate, the first African American woman to represent a southern state in Congress, and one of the founders of People For the American Way.

In 1981, when U.S. Representative Barbara Jordan joined Norman Lear to form People For the American Way, they understood that the promise of our nation, that all men (and women) are created equal, was not just unrealized, but was under active attack. But instead of focusing on what was wrong with our country, they used their powerful, utterly unique voices to speak for America's highest ideals and to push forward towards a better America.

Rep. Jordan was an energetic advocate of our Constitution's core values of fairness and equality under law. She continues to be an inspiration in our work, and it's not an exaggeration to say that it's because of leaders like Barbara Jordan that we were all able to celebrate the inauguration of President Barack Obama last month.

But still, there are those who are intent on dragging us backwards. While the inauguration was still fresh in our minds, People For was forced to lead an aggressive campaign to help confirm President Obama's Attorney General nominee, Eric Holder -- the first African American to hold the position. After eight years spent undermining the crucial work of the Department of Justice, the Right is fighting hard to prevent the new administration from truly restoring justice at the DOJ. This is why Attorney General Holder's comments about the racism in America ring true to so many of us in this constant battle against those who would turn back the clock on civil rights. And just last week we all got an ugly reminder of this pervasive racism and racial insensitivity in America when the New York Post published an offensive cartoon depicting President Obama as a chimp getting shot by two white police officers. The cartoon literally included several layers of tastelessness: the comparison of our first African American president to an ape, what could be construed as an invitation for violence against the president AND the stirring up of racial issues with law enforcement in a city that has particularly sensitive recent history in that area.

Many have pointed out that the lack of diversity in senior management and on the editorial staff of the Post was a major contributing factor to how a cartoon like that could get published in the first place. That's why I'm proud that People For and our affiliate foundation have taken so seriously our mission to help promote diversity. It can be seen very clearly in People For the American Way Foundation's leadership development programs, the Young Elected Officials Network and Young People For, which are among the most diverse programs of their kind -- ever. And it can be seen in our groundbreaking efforts to promote equality for all, like with People For Foundation's work with African American ministers to combat homophobia in the Black Church.

We're working hard to make sure that civil rights remain a top priority for this administration, and fighting against those who are intent on erecting barriers to the ballot, not to mention advocating for a more just Supreme Court, organizing for marriage equality for all and defending religious liberty by maintaining the separation between church and state.

Barbara Jordan made clear that there are certain principles that are not negotiable, values she called "indigenous to the American idea." Opportunity. Fairness. Equality under law. Those are still the values that bind our community together, and every day we're moving closer to that nation that she envisioned.

PFAW

Hardly the End of DOMA.

Late last week, you may have seen headlines about a federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit who ruled the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. For anyone in favor of equal justice under law (and opposed to DOMA) this was good news. Unfortunately, the ruling is extremely limited. For your convenience, we’ve answers a few of the questions we've heard about the decision.

Q: What happened?

A: The case involved Brad Levenson, a public defender in the federal court system whose employer -- the Office of the Federal Public Defender -- denied his husband spousal health insurance benefits because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Rather than simply accepting this state of affairs, Levenson filed a complaint with his employer -- the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the Ninth Circuit heard the case and issued a ruling that DOMA is unconstitutional, finding no rational basis to deny benefits to some legally married spouses and not to others.

Q: So does that mean DOMA is no longer in effect, at least within the states comprising the Ninth Circuit?

A: No, DOMA is still in effect there and everywhere else throughout the country.

Q: Why is that? Doesn't a circuit court opinion bind all federal courts within that circuit?

A: Yes, a circuit court opinion usually does just that. Normally, a circuit court opinion comes either from a three-judge panel or from all of the circuit judges. But this opinion came from just one judge, and it was more like an internal, administrative employment dispute resolution opinion.

Q: Why isn't it a regular court opinion?

A: Because the married couple claiming discrimination did not go to court and sue the federal government for the spousal benefits. Instead, Levenson, in his status as an aggrieved employee of the Office of the Federal Public Defender, filed an administrative complaint with his employer.

So Judge Reinhardt did not issue his opinion in his role as a federal appellate judge deciding the appeal of a lower court's legal holding in a conflict between two parties. Instead, he was acting in his capacity as the designated administrative decision-maker for the Ninth Circuit's Standing Committee on Federal Public Defenders.

Q: Circuit Court opinions are binding on lower courts in that circuit. Who is bound by Judge Reinhardt's decision on DOMA?

A: This is an internal administrative ruling by an employer about one employee's benefits. It certainly helps Brad Levenson and his husband. But in his capacity as the administrative decision-maker who was designated to hear Levenson's case, Judge Reinhardt doesn't hold a hierarchically superior position over the next decision-maker in the next employment dispute in the Office of the Federal Public Defenders within the Ninth Circuit.

Q: There was another case last month where a Ninth Circuit judge ordered the government to provide benefits to a same-sex spouse. Will that have more of an impact?

A: Not at all. It was another case where the judge was acting as the decision-maker in an employment dispute resolution. It involved a Ninth Circuit employee covered by the employment dispute resolution plan specifically applicable to Ninth Circuit employees, as opposed to the one applicable to members of the Federal Public Defender system.

In fact, when Judge Reinhardt issued his decision last week, he explicitly said that he was not bound by the January ruling, because two different employee dispute plans were involved. That shows how these decisions have little to no value as binding precedent.

Q: Is either case going to be appealed to the Supreme Court?

A: No, because these employment dispute resolutions are not regular Circuit Court opinions released as part of a criminal or civil judicial proceeding.

Q: Has anything changed for the widow who is denied her late wife's Social Security pension benefits, or for the American man whose non-citizen husband is threatened with deportation?

A: No. DOMA still denies gays and lesbians the more than one thousand federal rights and responsibilities that come with marriage. Last week’s news doesn't change that.

Q: What about a legislative remedy instead of a judicial one? Can Congress repeal DOMA?

A: Yes, definitely. President Obama is already on board and has called for repeal of this hateful law. We all need to work hard as hard as ever to get Congress to act.

PFAW