Marriage Equality

No Reason for DOMA, Says Appeals Court

 A federal appeals court in Boston today upheld a lower court ruling that called the key section of the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” unconstitutional. Section 3 of DOMA bans the federal government from recognizing legal marriages between people of the same sex, meaning that it willfully discriminates against a set of married people when it comes to Social Security benefits, joint-filing tax breaks, military spousal benefits and immigration. When DOMA was passed in 1996 no states allowed gay and lesbian couple to marry – its provisions were purely theoretical. Today, marriage equality exists in six states and the District of Columbia, and DOMA actively harms thousands of married Americans – 100,000 couples, according to the court.

In its decision concluding that DOMA violates the Constitution, the unanimous First Circuit panel – two out of three of whom were nominated by Republican presidents – was cautious. The panel said that under First Circuit precedent DOMA doesn’t trigger “heightened scrutiny” – a tougher standard for the federal government to meet. It also declined to address any arguments based on the premise that lesbians and gays have a constitutional right to marry (as opposed to having their existing marriages recognized by the federal government).

But the court was clear that Section 3 of DOMA does not meet the “rational basis” test for upholding a federal law that denies equal protection to a group long subject to discrimination – in other words, there’s just no good reason for DOMA to do the harm that it does.

The court looked at several justificiations offered for the law by DOMA’s supporters and found that each comes up short. Supporters say DOMA will save the federal government money (reports say that it actually costs the government money…and saving money isn’t a good enough reason for legal discrimination in the first place); that allowing lesbians and gays to marry harms children (it doesn’t, and Section 3 of DOMA doesn’t affect these couples’ rights to raise children anyway); and just plain moral disapproval (Supreme Court precedent says this isn’t enough of a reason). And finally, the court takes on the constant argument of opponents of same-sex marriage: that somehow gay couples getting married will harm the institution of marriage for everyone else:

Although the House Report is filled with encomia to heterosexual marriage, DOMA does not increase benefits to opposite-sex couples--whose marriages may in any event be childless, unstable or both--or explain how denying benefits to same-sex couples will reinforce heterosexual marriage. Certainly, the denial will not affect the gender choices of those seeking marriage. This is not merely a matter of poor fit of remedy to perceived problem, but a lack of any demonstrated connection between DOMA's treatment of same-sex couples and its asserted goal of strengthening the bonds and benefits to society of heterosexual marriage.

This is the crux of any number of court decisions that have struck down barriers to marriage equality. The main reason given for many laws that seek to deny marriage rights to gays and lesbians is that same-sex marriage will somehow weaken marriage for everybody else. It’s a claim that just doesn’t hold water.

The First Circuit panel did, however, go out of its way to defend DOMA’s supporters even while rejecting the law.

The District Court judge whose ruling the appeals court upheld declared that DOMA was motivated by “irrational prejudice” toward gays and lesbians. The First Circuit explicitly refuses to go there, instead stating that while that may have been true for some supporters, others were motivated instead by what it characterizes as the non-biased wish to “preserve the heritage of marriage as traditionally defined over centuries of Western civilization.” Under recent Supreme Court precedent, they write, the wish to uphold tradition isn’t a good enough one for denying equal protection. But the Supreme Court can change that if it wants:

In reaching our judgment, we do not rely upon the charge that DOMA's hidden but dominant purpose was hostility to homosexuality. The many legislators who supported DOMA acted from a variety of motives, one central and expressed aim being to preserve the heritage of marriage as traditionally defined over centuries of Western civilization. Preserving this institution is not the same as "mere moral disapproval of an excluded group," and that is singularly so in this case given the range of bipartisan support for the statute.

The opponents of section 3 point to selected comments from a few individual legislators; but the motives of a small group cannot taint a statute supported by large majorities in both Houses and signed by President Clinton. Traditions are the glue that holds society together, and many of our own traditions rest largely on belief and familiarity--not on benefits firmly provable in court. The desire to retain them is strong and can be honestly held. For 150 years, this desire to maintain tradition would alone have been justification enough for almost any statute. This judicial deference has a distinguished lineage, including such figures as Justice Holmes, the second Justice Harlan, and Judges Learned Hand and Henry Friendly. But Supreme Court decisions in the last fifty years call for closer scrutiny of government action touching upon minority group interests and of federal action in areas of traditional state concern.

Recognizing that the Supreme Court will likely review its reasoning, the court stayed the decision, so it will not go into effect yet.

PFAW Foundation

President Obama recognizes LGBT families

It’s clear that, for the President, this isn’t just about couples getting married. It’s also about couples raising children with the sense of security that comes from family equality.
PFAW

Obama Endorses Marriage Equality

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Today’s announcement marks a proud day for our country and for the President. For those of us who have been working towards marriage equality for many years, the impact of having the support of the President of the United States is incredibly powerful. As President Obama made clear in his comments today, marriage equality for all people is an idea whose time has come. Despite setbacks like the results from North Carolina last night, it’s more obvious than ever that the momentum is on our side.

In recent years, more and more Americans have come to understand that preventing loving same-sex couples from getting married causes real harm to the people they care about. In families and communities across the country, Americans are coming to the same conclusion as the President: when two people make a public commitment to love and care for each other, that’s a marriage no matter what the gender of the people involved.

Today the President did the right thing. For thousands of supporters who donated, canvassed and phone banked to help elect Barack Obama in 2008, this is a powerful reminder of why we felt so passionately about this President in the first place.

Now, we must redouble our efforts to knock down one of the biggest barriers to full legal equality nationwide: the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

With your continued dedication to core American values like Equality, and your support of our work expand the promise of our country and our Constitution to all families, together, we’ll Dump DOMA and achieve basic fairness for all: the American Way.

PFAW

As President Obama Supports Marriage Equality, a Look Back

Today, President Obama at last acknowledged that he personally supports the right to marry for gay and lesbian Americans. Although the president maintains his position that marriage laws should be decided on a state-by-state basis, his personal statement provides a huge boost to the marriage equality movement. At a time when over half of Americans want full marriage rights for gays and lesbians, the endorsement of a sitting president is a meaningful signal of progress.

Sixteen years ago, in May 1996, People For the American Way became one of the first national groups to endorse marriage equality and vow to work toward it. In a note to members of the organization’s board, which was to vote on the issue, PFAW’s staff wrote that the Right had started to use the “marriage issue” to “polarize Americans” – a strategy that had its first major victory in the passage of DOMA later that year.

Despite all the progress that has been made for LGBT equality in the past sixteen years, the 1996 memo could have been written yesterday:

In recent years, People For the American Way has come to be a very important voice in the ongoing effort to rid America of discrimination and prejudice against gay men and lesbians.

We have done that over the years for the simple reason that it’s the right thing to do. Opposing discrimination and fostering respect and appreciation for diversity are core values for People For the American Way. These are precisely the values under attack in this latest campaign.

Of course, the marriage issue has very real implications for the everyday lives of millions of Americans. In the area of health care for example, existing marriage laws allow a spouse to make critical decisions for an incapacitated spouse; not so for unmarried couples wou haven’t gone through the necessary legal steps. In many hospitals, the right to visit patients in an intensive care unit is limited to immediate family; gay and lesbian partners – lacking the legal status of family – are often excluded, to the great detriment of both partners. In addition, enormous economic consequences flow from the inability of gay men and lesbians to marry, including significant tax and inheritance benefits.

The lack of legal recognition of gay and lesbian families is of particular concern when children are involved, since the children are deprived of the protection of a legal relationship with the non-biological parent and the ability of that parent to make important decisions for them in any number of settings, including schools and hospitals. And if the biological parent dies, the children may well be taken away from their other parent, who has no legal relationship with them.

Sixteen years later, marriage discrimination continues to hurt gay and lesbian American and their families. That a sitting president has publicly acknowledged the impact of that discrimination is very powerful. We hope that soon the injustice we outlined in 1996 will be hopelessly out of date.
 

PFAW

Marriage Equality: A State-By-State Guide

As North Carolinians go to the polls today to cast their ballot on an anti-gay constitutional amendment which would write discrimination into the state’s constitution and potentially harm all unmarried couples regardless of orientation, The Guardian put together an interactive feature summarizing the state of LGBT equality across America.

The infographic examines each state’s laws pertaining to LGBT persons’ right to marry, visit loved ones in the hospital or adopt a child, as well as protections from hate crimes and from discrimination in employment, housing and schools. While progress has been made, there is much work to be done.

Regardless of today’s vote, North Carolina will not be adding a dark red section to the outer ring, since state law already prohibits same-sex marriage. The proposed amendment simply inscribes discrimination into the state constitution.

Unfortunately, not all Americans have access to the all the protections and responsibilities that only marriage can provide, and this map demonstrates striking differences from state to state and region to region. That’s why we need the federal Respect for Marriage Act more than ever – to ensure that all Americans, straight and gay, are treated equally under the law.

PFAW

North Carolinians Voting Today on Anti-Gay Constitutional Amendment

North Carolina voters today are casting their ballots on Amendment One, an extreme measure that would write discrimination into the state’s consitution and potentially take away important protections for all unmarried couples, gay and straight.

The amendment states that “marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic union that shall be valid or recognized” in North Carolina. It would not only deal another blow to gay and lesbian couples in the state, who are already prohibited by law from marrying, but endangers protections for all unmarried couples, including domestic violence protections and health insurance coverage.

The Coalition to Protect North Carolina Families is running a handful of powerful ads showing Amendment One’s potential devastating impact. Here are a couple:

President Bill Clinton also recorded a robocall on behalf of the anti-Amendment One campaign. You can listen to it here.

North Carolina voters can find your polling place here.
 

PFAW

Dolores Huerta: My Message to the National Organization for Marriage

 

By Dolores Huerta

I am a proud Latina and a proud supporter of LGBT rights.

The National Organization for Marriage seems to think I can’t be both.
In a 2009 strategy document that was made public last month, NOM outlines a “wedge” strategy to drive black and Latino Americans away from supporting gay rights. About Latinos, NOM writes, “Will the process of assimilation to the dominant Anglo culture lead Hispanics to abandon traditional family values? We can interrupt this process of assimilation by making support for marriage a key badge of Latino identity.”

There are many great values that can be put forward as “key badges of Latino identity.” Opposition to gay rights should not be one of them. In fact, if NOM wants to keep Latinos from embracing LGBT equality, they’re already falling behind. A poll late last year found that a majority of Latinos – like a majority of all Americans – support legal recognition of same-sex unions. Opposition to LGBT rights is no more a hallmark of Latino culture than it is of American culture as a whole.

This is the deep cynicism of NOM and other groups that devote themselves to stopping equality for gay and lesbian Americans. They will attempt to exploit and inflame existing prejudices and fears in order to reach the ends they desire. They forget that the people they attempt to exploit have our own thoughts, opinions and experiences. We have our own relationships with God. We have gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender friends and family members. And we know when we’re being used. Nom should learn what Latinos live by, the words of the great Mexican President Benito Juarez, “Respecting the rights of others is Peace.”

NOM’s attempt to stir up mutual resentment between African Americans, Latinos and the gay community echoes some of the most destructive politics of our past. That they are resorting to this kind of dangerous and divisive tactic shows just how desperate the anti-gay movement has become.

NOM’s mistake is to think that our cultural identity is a definition of who we are not and whom we are against. But of course, our identities are definitions of who we are and what we love. Latinos across America are embracing equal rights for our gay and lesbian friends and family. Those of us who support LGBT equality haven’t abandoned our Latino identity. We’re embracing the values that define who we are as individuals, as Latinos and as Americans.

Dolores Huerta is a member of the board of People For the American Way.

PFAW

Minnesotans Soul Search on Marriage Equality

On a hunch that voters are more influenced by their own experience rather than a birrage of big-budget advertising on the issue of marriage equality, Minnesota Public Radio put together an excellent miniseries asking Minnesotans to share their stories about how they came to their decision – or are still struggling to decide – how they will vote on marriage equality in November.

The stories are striking for their sincerity and level of introspection. While each story was unique, there were common themes among those who stand on the side of equality for all: Love. Commitment. Family. Freedom. Equality for All.

Enjoy these videos below, and you can view the full set here.

 

“True love is not about self, it’s about the other person. It’s about mankind, it’s about the world around you. It’s about loving and loving and loving. And I think marriage is the perfect embodiment of expressing that love.”

 

“As long as they’re not harming me…who has a right to challenge their right to their choices?”

 

“[My father’s second marriage, to a man] has been infinitely more fulfilling, more harmonious, more authentic, more of a model to all of us kids of what marriage should really be.”

 

“Now that I am legally married, all the benefits and wonderful things that have happened in my life around marriage, not just the ceremony but all the legal things that I get to participate in. I want that to happen for everybody.”

PFAW Foundation

Marriage Equality Advances in Maryland

Last night the Maryland State Senate approved legislation ending the prohibition against marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples. Governor Martin O’Malley has promised to sign the bill into law.
PFAW

Marriage Equality in New Jersey: With or Without Chris Christie

Yesterday, the New Jersey Assembly joined with the State Senate and passed a bill endorsing same-sex marriage in a 42 to 33 vote. If marriage equality becomes law, New Jersey will become the eighth state to destroy what the Assembly speaker called one of the “last legalized barriers to equal rights.”

In a pivotal moment, New Jersey lawmakers did more than stand up for the institution of marriage; they chose to begin legally recognizing and protecting the civil rights of every resident of their state. They showed that no matter who one loves, the state should not limit the ability to fully commit to that person. As Newark Assemblywoman Cleopatra G. Tucker put it, “I came to the conclusion that the people sent me here from my district, here to protect what’s right…To protect the rights of everyone.”

Unfortunately, Governor Chris Christie has sworn to veto the new legislation, insisting that the legislature subject the basic civil rights of their fellow citizens to a referendum.

Proponents of marriage equality are not accepting this alternative, and are preparing to form even stronger coalitions to override Gov. Christie’s impending veto. Polls indicate growing support for same-sex marriage among voters, a trend that will likely continue over the next two years, providing the support the legislature needs to override the veto.

New Jersey’s legislature made history by passing a marriage equality bill. Governor Christie should do the same by signing it into law.

PFAW

New York Couple Denied Marriage Rights; PFAW Foundation Helps them Fight Back

When Katie Carmichael and Deirdre DiBiaggio went to their town clerk in Ledyard, New York recently to obtain a marriage license, they were met with an unwelcome surprise. The town clerk, Rose Marie Belforti, refused to grant them a license because she objected to New York’s new law legalizing same-sex marriages. She told Carmichael and DiBiaggio to come back on another day to obtain a license from a subordinate officer.

Marriage equality loses some of its “equality” when same-sex couples are forced to jump through hoops that weren’t there before in order to obtain a marriage license. Carmichael and DiBiaggio contacted People For the American Way Foundation to help them fight back against this clear instance of discrimination. PFAW Foundation recruited the law firm Proskauer Rose, LLP to provide pro bono counsel to the couple, and the firm sent a letter to town officials urging the town clerk to follow the laws of the state or resign her position.

In a town meeting on Monday night, the issue of the clerk’s refusal to do her job was not addressed. In response, PFAW Foundation launched a petition demanding that Belforti to perform her job duties, follow the laws of New York and grant same-sex marriage licenses or resign her post.

You can sign the petition here.
 

PFAW

North Carolina Puts Anti-Equality Amendment on the Ballot

North Carolina’s Senate today passed a measure to put an anti-marriage equality constitutional amendment on next year’s ballot. North Carolina is currently the only Southeast state that hasn’t amended its constitution to ban same-sex marriage, although it already has a statutory ban.

State anti-marriage amendments like North Carolina's are often put on the ballot to boost turnout for other elections – the Bush administration, for instance, was active in getting 11 anti-marriage amendments on state ballots in 2004.

What is remarkable about these amendments is that they change state constitutions to take away rights from citizens, while the traditional role of state and federal constitutions has been to guarantee rights for citizens, especially those who may not be popular among the majority.

It’s sad to see yet another state putting the rights of a minority at the mercy of a majority vote.

 

PFAW

NY's Rogue Clerks Shirk Official Duties

Despite the hard-fought, passionate campaign in New York in which the people’s representatives ultimately voted to extend marriage equality to all New Yorkers, several city or county clerks responsible for signing marriage licenses have chosen not to certify same-sex marriages, citing personal religious objections.

Everyone is entitled to their religious beliefs, but as government officials, our public employees have a responsibility to uphold the law. Town clerks are charged with enforcing the law, not writing it – and they certainly do not have the power to disregard their official responsibilities because of personal prejudice.

Even Justice Scalia recognizes that the First Amendment does not allow a person to cite his or her own religious beliefs as a reason not to obey generally applicable laws. "To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself."

New York’s marriage equality bill passed, in part, because of the last-minute passage of an amendment that made very clear that the law would not require religious institutions, private businesses or non-profits to recognize same-sex marriages. But if state employees were allowed to ignore laws on the job, those laws wouldn’t exactly be effective.

We expect our public officials to faithfully uphold the law. Anything less is an affront to the people they serve.

PFAW

How Exactly Does Focus on the Family Plan to Help the Gay Couples Whose Marriages They Are Trying To Invalidate?

Yesterday’s Senate hearing on the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act was a case study in the contrasts between pro-marriage equality and anti-marriage equality arguments. Democrats on the Judiciary Committee called as witnesses gay citizens who had been actively hurt by DOMA, including two widowers who were left with no federal protections when their husbands died. Republicans, presumably unable to come up with any straight couples to testify that their marriages had been helped by DOMA, instead called a number of “experts” from right-wing think tanks to tell the gay witnesses that their second-class status is actually for the best.

This made for some jarring exchanges, most notably this one:

Ron Wallen, a 77-year-old Californian told the heartwrenching story of nursing his husband and partner of 58 years through leukemia…only to be left when he died in both emotional and financial turmoil. Because of DOMA, Wallen was unable to receive the protections that the federal government provides to widowed spouses, including Social Security survivor benefits. Because he does not have access to the financial safety net provided to all other widows, he is being forced to sell his home “even while I am still answering the condolence cards that come in the mail.”

The Survivor’s Benefit would have done for me what it does for every other surviving spouse in America -- ease the pain of the loss, help during a very difficult transition, and allow time to make decisions and plan for my future alone. It is devastating to know that any married couple in the U.S. regardless of how long they were married, can depend on the Survivor’s Benefit. Yet, I could not --after 58 years with my spouse-- simply because we were two married men. This is unfair and unjust.

After a lifetime of being a productive citizen, I am now facing financial chaos. Tom and I worked hard, and together we tried to live out our own version of the American dream. We served our country; we paid our taxes; we volunteered in the community; we bought a home and maintained it properly; and got married as soon as we were legally able to do so. And yet, as I face a future alone without my spouse of 58 years, it is hard to believe that it is the American government that is throwing me out of my family home.

Wallen’s heartfelt testimony was immediately followed by that of DOMA proponent Thomas Minnery of Focus on the Family, who, recognizing that his anti-equality testimony might seem callous coming directly after Wallen’s story, decided to try to save face by offering Wallen his organization’s help:

Mr. Wallen, my heart goes out to you. My organization is very large and we do a lot of counseling of families to help them thrive in a difficult and complex society, and we have resources for couples to build healthy marriages that reflect God’s design and for parents to raise their children according to morals and values grounded in biblical principles….Mr. Wallen, we have resources that I believe will help you even in your current situation, and if you’d permit us, we’d love to try to be helpful to you.

Minnery’s offer came off as slightly less than sincere when it was followed by five minutes of testimony about how giving Wallen’s marriage full federal benefits would lead to the destruction of American society.

The Advocate caught up with Wallen after the hearing, and asked him if he planned on taking Minnery up on his offer. Wallen responded: “I was shocked when he offered condolences, and was in disbelief when he was offering his services. If I were looking for help, his [organization] would be the last place I would go to.”

Someone should have told Minnery that it’s really hard to truly show your love for someone while you’re simultaneously lobbying for a law that’s specifically designed to hurt them.

 

 

PFAW