Tag Archives: federal benefits

Official word: Feds to recognize same-sex marriages in Wisconsin and more

The federal government will recognize same-sex marriages in Wisconsin and six more states and extend federal benefits to those couples, the Justice Department said on Oct. 17.

The announcement comes one week after the U.S. Supreme Court let stand rulings from three appeals courts that struck down bans on gay and lesbian marriages. That order meant same-sex couples in those states could get married immediately.

The states covered by the announcement are Wisconsin, Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, Colorado and Nevada.

The move brings the total number of states where gay and lesbian weddings have federal recognition to 26, plus the District of Columbia.

“With their long-awaited unions, we are slowly drawing closer to full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans nationwide,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a video message.

He said the federal government would work to extend benefits to gay and lesbian couples “to the fullest extent allowed by federal law.” If the Supreme Court decides to take up same-sex marriage directly, the Justice Department will “file a brief consistent with its past support for marriage equality,” Holder said.

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Reactions to the Supreme Court rulings on marriage

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on California’s Proposition 8, the voter-approved constitutional amendment banning same-sex couples from marrying in that state, and the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act, which for federal purposes defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

The high court, in the rulings released today (June 26) said there was a lack of standing for the Prop 8 case to be decided at the appeals court or the Supreme Court levels. This means that same-sex couples can begin to marry again in California, because the trial court overturned Prop 8.

In DOMA, the court struck down the federal government’s refusal to recognize legal same-sex marriages.

The following are reactions to the court’s decisions:

Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., the first and only openly LGBT member of the U.S. Senate: “The nation’s highest court reaffirmed our founding belief that all Americans are created equal under the law. The court made a strong statement for equality and freedom, overturning discrimination against gay and lesbian American citizens simply because of who they love.”

Mark Pocan, D-Wis., the only married gay member of the U.S. House: “I am overjoyed that the Supreme Court has come down on the side of equality, justice and love by striking down the Defense of Marriage Act. No more will thousands of loving gay and lesbian couples see their marriage ignored by the federal government, leaving them without the protections opposite-sex married couples enjoy. With 93 million Americans now living in states that recognize same-sex marriages, and 58 percent of the country in favor of marriage equality, we now have the public, the courts and the Constitution on our side.”

Katie Belanger, executive director of Fair Wisconsin, a state LGBT civil rights group: “This is an enormous victory and a joyous day for loving, married couples and their families – and for equal justice under the law.  Today, the Supreme Court affirmed that all loving and committed couples who marry deserve equal legal respect and treatment.”

Jason Burns, outgoing executive director of Equality Wisconsin, a state LGBT civil rights group: “This is another victory for the LGBT Community that has seen unprecedented gains in acceptance over the last several months. While we appear to be heading in the right direction, it is important to know that currently we don’t know exactly what this means for LGBT Wisconsinites, especially given our constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.”

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, “Today’s historic decisions put two giant cracks in the dark wall of discrimination that separates committed gay and lesbian couples from full equality. While we celebrate the victory for Californians today, tomorrow we turn our attention to the millions of LGBT people who don’t feel the reach of these decisions. From the Rocky Mountains to the heart of the South, it’s time to push equality forward until every American can marry the person they love and all LGBT people are guaranteed equal protection under the law.”

Evan Wolfson, president and founder of Freedom to Marry, an LGBT civil rights group: “No question about it, today’s decisions add to the momentum for marriage.”

Chuck Wolfe, CEO of the Victory Fund, which works to elect openly LGBT lawmakers, “Now we must begin to change the hearts and minds of voters, lawmakers and political leaders in the 38 states that still forbid gays and lesbians to marry. That will take the work of the fantastic coalitions that have seen much success in recent years, and it will require electing more LGBT people to change legislatures from the inside.”

Steven Levinson, board member of Hawaii United for Marriage: “Now that DOMA has been struck down, all married couples living in the 12 states and the District of Columbia that recognize marriages for same-sex couples will be included in the federal safety net. What does this mean in Hawaii? Not much – because Hawaii does not recognize marriage equality.”

Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality: “While we had hoped for a more expansive ruling that would immediately affect the legal status of couples here in Georgia, this is an important step towards the full legal recognition of our relationship. We can celebrate for our colleagues and loved ones in California and the twelve other states affected by this ruling today. Tomorrow we begin the process of building a movement to recognize our own marriages here in Georgia.” 

Betsy Smith, executive director of Equality Maine, a state LGBT civil rights group: “The repeal of DOMA wouldn’t impact so many Mainers so directly had we not won the freedom to marry here last year. For that victory – and your support that made it possible – we will be forever grateful.”

Nadine Smith, executive director, Equality Florida, an LGBT civil rights group: “Today’s rulings are a major step forward for the country, but for Floridians they fall far short of justice and are more than anything a call to action.

“For those of us who live in state’s like Florida where our marriages are still not recognized, today’s rulings are a reminder that we cannot wait for justice to be handed to us, we are going to have to get engaged and fight.

“A majority of Floridians support the freedom to marry, and this is our moment to stand up and get engaged on the right side of history.”

Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois, an LGBT civil rights group: “The Supreme Court today affirmed America’s promise of equality by ruling that the federal government cannot ignore constitutional principles when it comes to gay and lesbian couples and their marriages, and it is a moment to celebrate.  But today’s historic victory overturning the Defense of Marriage Act is bittersweet in the states like Illinois where couples are still denied the right and recognition of marriage.”

Fergus Tuohy, chair of Equality Alabama, an LGBT civil rights group: “The fact remains that there is still much work to be done. As long as LGBT youth face bullying in schools and LGBT workers fear job loss simply because of who they love, we will continue to stand up for them. Equality Alabama will continue our work until all of our LGBT bothers and sisters truly have equal protection under the law.”

Wilson Cruz, spokesperson for GLAAD, an LGBT civil rights group: “Fairness has finally been restored in California. A majority of Americans, and now the highest court in the land, agree that it’s wrong to strip loving and committed gay and lesbian couples of the fundamental opportunity to marry the person you love. Today, we stand in solidarity with millions of Californians, who can finally say ‘I do’ to the person they love.”

Cathy Marino-Thomas, co-president of Marriage Equality USA, an LGBT civil rights group: “My wife Sheila, our daughter Jacqueline, and I are overjoyed that we will now have full federal protections for our family, just as any other married family does.”

Allyson Robinson, executive director of OutServeSLDN, which represents LGBT servicemembers: “This victory is especially sweet for our nation’s lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members, who can now not only serve openly, but can serve knowing that their loving, committed, and legal marriages will be recognized by the military they serve and the nation they protect.”

Zach Wahls, of Outspoken Genration: “This is an incredible victory for families like mine. Children of LGBT parents deserve to have our voices heard, and today we know that we were. The Supreme Court has finally recognized that our parents and our families deserve to be treated with dignity and respect under the law.”

Carrie Evans, executive director of Equality Maryland: “Today is an enormous victory and a joyous day for same-sex married couples and their families – and for equal justice under the law. Today, the Supreme Court affirmed that all loving and committed couples who marry deserve equal legal respect and treatment.”

Troy Stevenson of Garden State Equality, an LGBT civil rights group in New Jersey: “The decisions do not extend marriage equality to New Jersey, and New Jersey’s couples in civil unions will continue to be shut out of federal marriage rights even as our brothers and sisters in Connecticut, Delaware, New York and elsewhere have achieved full equality. The fight must go on, and we will continue to fight it until we win.”

Equal Rights Washington: “The Court’s ruling today reflects what the majority of Americans already know: When gay people share in the freedom to marry, families are helped and no one is hurt. With the joys and responsibilities of marriage, couples have committed to taking care of each other in a way that society and government respects. This makes families stronger, which makes communities, states, and our nation stronger.”

Kevin Cathcart, executive director of Lambda Legal, an LGBT civil rights group: “The core of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) has been struck down, and the freedom to marry will soon be restored in California. An ugly chapter in our nation’s history is over.”

Jeana Frazzini of Oregon United for Marriage: “Thousands of Oregon families are still stuck with registered domestic partnerships that won’t be recognized by the federal government, and the state is still barred by its constitution from granting the freedom to marry to loving, committed same-sex couples.”

Amber Royster, executive director of Equality New Mexico: “DOMA forced the federal government to pick and choose among marriages and families, causing pain, uncertainty, and financial harm, and Prop 8 served no purpose other than to discriminate against same-gender couples—both of which violated our Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection.”

Editor’s note: WiG will update this story as reactions are collected.

Massachusetts asks Supreme Court to overturn anti-gay DOMA

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley on July 24 filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court asking the Justices to overturn the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act.

Coakley, in a statement from her office, said, “The Defense of Marriage Act is a discriminatory and unconstitutional law that harms thousands of families in Massachusetts and takes away our state’s right to extend marriage equality to all couples. It is our firm conviction that in order to truly achieve marriage equality all couples must enjoy the same rights and protections under both state and federal law.  If the Supreme Court chooses to examine this case, we will look forward to once again making clear that DOMA and its pervasive discrimination is unconstitutional and should be ended.”

Massachusetts was the first state to legalize same-sex marriage.

The next stage in the marriage equality push in the state was to challenge DOMA, a law that, in one provision, allows states to ignore same-sex marriages from other states and, in another, federally defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

The federal definition means that same-sex couples married in Massachusetts and other states, as well as the District of Columbia, are denied the more than 1,000 federal benefits associated with marriage.

Coakley’s office filed the Supreme Court brief in connection with a federal case from Boston.

In that case, a U.S. District Court judge ruled against DOMA in 2010 and a federal appeals court panel recently upheld the ruling, prompting proponents and opponents of DOMA to turn to the High Court for the final say.

Under Coakley’s direction in 2009, Massachusetts became the first state to file a complaint alleging that DOMA violates the U.S. Constitution by interfering with the commonwealth’s sovereign authority to define and regulate the marital status of its residents.

The complaint also alleged that DOMA exceeds Congress’ authority under the Spending Clause because Congress does not have a valid reason for requiring Massachusetts to treat married same-sex couples differently from all other married couples, and that it unlawfully requires Massachusetts to disregard valid marriages in its implementation of federally funded programs.

The Supreme Court’s next term, which begins in the fall, likely will involve at least one case on marriage equality and perhaps as many as four.

White House silent on state gay marriage ruling

BOSTON (AP) — A key part of a law denying married gay couples federal benefits has been thrown out the window in Massachusetts, the first state to legalize gay marriage. The ball now lies in the White House’s court, which must carefully calculate the next move by an administration that has faced accusations it has not vigorously defended the law of the land.

President Barack Obama has said repeatedly that he would like to see the federal Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA, repealed. But the Justice Department has defended the constitutionality of the law, which it is required to do.

The administration was silent Friday on whether it would appeal rulings by U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro. Spokespeople for the White House and the Justice Department said officials are still reviewing the rulings.

DOMA defines marriage as between a man and a woman, prevents the federal government from recognizing gay marriages and allows states to deny recognition of same-sex unions performed elsewhere. Since the law passed in 1996, many states have instituted their own bans on gay marriage, and a handful have allowed the practice.

Tauro ruled Thursday in two separate cases that DOMA is unconstitutional because it interferes with the right of a state to define marriage and denies married gay couples an array of federal benefits given to heterosexual married couples, including health insurance and the benefits of filing joint tax returns.

The rulings apply only to Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage has been legal since 2004. But gay marriage supporters are hoping the rulings could prompt other states to file their own challenges to DOMA and could also give momentum to a bill pending in Congress that would repeal the law.

Many opponents and proponents expect the Obama administration to appeal the rulings to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, and that the question of whether the law is unconstitutional will eventually be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Many Obama voters, particularly among gays, will push for the administration not to appeal Tauro’s rulings, said former Assistant Attorney General Robert Raben. But the administration could set a dangerous precedent if it does not continue to defend the law, he said.

“You want the Department of Justice to stop because you won a case; I understand that,” said Raben, who worked at the department during the administration of President Bill Clinton, who signed DOMA into law.

“But you could have a conservative Department of Justice that won’t enforce hate crimes, that won’t enforce employment nondiscrimination acts, that won’t enforce the Ryan White Act, that won’t enforce all kinds of new protections for gays and lesbians because the attorney general doesn’t agree with them. That’s not a regime you want to live in.”

DOMA was enacted when it appeared Hawaii would soon legalize same-sex marriage and opponents worried that other states would be forced to recognize such marriages. Since 2004, five states — Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire and Vermont, in addition to Massachusetts — and the District of Columbia have legalized gay marriage.

Some gay marriage opponents say that despite the Justice Department’s legal obligations, it has purposely mounted a weak defense of the law.

“It’s not surprising that this judge got it wrong, because a sham defense was put up by the Obama Justice Department,” said Maggie Gallagher, chairman of the National Organization for Marriage.

But state Attorney General Martha Coakley, who filed one of the legal challenges to DOMA, said the Justice Department “made their best arguments.”

“We didn’t think that this was anything other than a legitimate adversarial proceeding,” Coakley said.

During court hearings, a Justice Department lawyer argued before Tauro that the federal government has the right to set eligibility requirements for federal benefits, including requiring that those benefits go only to couples in marriages between a man and a woman. Another lawyer said the federal law does not interfere with the rights of individual states to “experiment in the area of marriage.”

Under federal rules, there is an automatic 14-day stay of judgments in civil cases, so same-sex couples in Massachusetts won’t be able to file for benefits immediately, said Gary Buseck, legal director of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders. If the Justice Department appeals Tauro’s rulings, the court would likely grant a stay while the appeal is pending, he said.

Buseck said he knows of only one other pending legal challenge to DOMA, in Oklahoma, where two gay couples are challenging both DOMA and the state’s constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage.

Susan Barton and Gay Phillips, one of the couples in the case, were joined in a civil union in Vermont and have marriage licenses from California and Canada. Same-sex marriage was legal in California for several months until a ban was approved by voters in 2008.

Barton said she was encouraged by the Massachusetts ruling.

“We want to have the same benefits, rights and responsibilities of every other married couple that are citizens of the United States,” Barton said.