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Archives – December, 2012

Stay in another DOMA case, Blesch v. Holder, continued pending Supreme Court review of United States v. Windsor

By Scottie Thomaston

In an order entered on July 26, the judge in Blesch v. Holder, Immigration Equality’s lawsuit challenging Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act as it applies to immigration, stayed the case pending the outcome of the then-pending Second Circuit decision in Windsor. Since then, the Second Circuit has issued its decision and the Supreme Court has taken up the Justice Department’s petition to review that decision.

In an order entered yesterday, the judge has continued to stay the case, awaiting the Supreme Court’s resolution of the question of Section 3 of DOMA’s constitutionality in United States v. Windsor:

“Minute Entry for proceedings held before Chief Judge Carol Bagley Amon:Status Conference held on 12/18/2012. Counsel for parties present. Stay is continued pending US Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor. (Court Reporter Victoria Torres Butler.) (Fernandez, Erica) (Entered: 12/18/2012)”

This case joins several others already on hold pending the Supreme Court decision, which will likely be announced in late June.

h/t Kathleen for this order

December 19, 2012

Two Republicans announce support for Uniting America Families Act

By Jacob Combs

Two House Republicans have announced their support for the Uniting American Families Act, which would provide same-sex couples with the same immigration rights opposite-sex couples enjoy, the Huffington Post reported yesterday.  Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania and Richard Hanna of New York joined Senator Susan Collins, the only Republican to support the bill up until yesterday, and 145 Democrats as co-sponsors on the legislation.

In a statement to the Huffington Post, Rep. Hanna called his decision “pro-business”:

“Our laws force some couples to live apart rather than in the country of their choice, pressuring Americans to take their talent, innovation, and wealth elsewhere.  Businesses large and small in New York, many of them multinational corporations, are struggling to keep some of their best workers in the United States … We can keep jobs, dollars and talent right here in the United States by simply allowing financially and emotionally committed couples to live together in the same country.”

New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler introduced the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) in 2011.  Because of the Defense of Marriage Act, non-citizens in same-sex marriages in the United States are often at risk of deportation, since their American spouses cannot sponsor them for citizenship the way that opposite-sex partners can.

As speculation heats up that President Obama may push for a comprehensive immigration solution in his next term, some immigration equality advocates hope that UAFA could be included in those discussions.  As the Huffington Post reported in November, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus included immigration rights for binational same-sex couples in a press release containing their principles for immigration reform.

Of course, three Republican lawmakers is a tiny fraction of the party’s legislators, and UAFA is a long way from passage.  But these small steps are a crucial part of building a coalition for change.

6 Comments December 19, 2012

Equality news round-up: A round-up of cases unrelated to marriage equality or DOMA

By Scottie Thomaston

We have been covering a lot of marriage equality cases and the challenges to Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, and even more so since those are headed to the Supreme Court right now. But there are other LGBT rights cases working their way through the courts. Here is a round-up of some of those.

– The Sixth Circuit recently ruled that a school’s diversity officer’s firing for anti-LGBT comments was lawful. [Decision at link.]

– The Montana Supreme Court rejected a same-sex couple’s case to get equal benefits as “overly broad” in a 4-3 decision, but invited them to amend their lawsuit to specify which benefits they are seeking.

– An Iowa court has ordered an accurate death certificate for a stillborn baby with lesbian parents.

– Michigan appeals court rules in favor of second parent adoption for gay and lesbian couples.

6 Comments December 18, 2012

Rhode Island Senate President says she will allow a marriage equality vote in 2013

By Jacob Combs

Finally: Rhode Island Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed announced yesterday that she would allow a marriage equality vote in the Senate, should the House succeed in passing an equal marriage bill, the Providence Journal reported.  Paiva Weed is a long-time opponent of marriage equality, and has refused to even allow a vote on the issue in the past, so her announcement is a good sign for equality advocates in the state.

This does not in any way mean that marriage equality is a done deal in the Ocean State, but it is certainly a significant new development in a state that  remains the only one in New England to bar same-sex couples from marrying.  Rhode Island began offering civil unions in 2011, but a remarkably low number of couples have taken advantage of the provision, likely due to the wide latitude it provides for religious exemptions, which puts couples at risk of discrimination.

House Speaker Gordon Fox, who is openly gay, has consistently vowed to bring marriage equality legislation to a vote in his chamber next year.  Supporters of marriage equality did well in Rhode Island during the November election, with several new allies in the House and a few in the Senate, which will likely prove the main obstacle to a marriage equality bill’s final passage.  Gov. Lincoln Chaffee, an Independent, supports marriage equality and would sign a bill should it come to his desk.

In her Monday announcement, Paiva Weed said that she expects the Senate Judiciary Committee to vote on any bill that passes the House.  She explicitly stated that the Senate will not take any action on its own, but did say that she “anticipate[s] a vote in the Senate Judiciary committee.”  For now, that means the onus is on Fox to start the process when the legislature reconvenes in 2013.

A caveat: marriage equality legislation in Rhode Island has a long, frustrating history of stop-and-start not-quite-progress.  In February, I wrote a post titled “Will 2012 finally be the year for marriage equality in Rhode Island?”  In it, I noted that a marriage equality bill had been unsuccessfully introduced into the Rhode Island state legislature every year since 1997 without ever coming up for a vote.  2012 turned out to be no exception to that rule.

As is evident now, the answer to the titular question of that post was ‘no.’  The fate of a marriage equality bill in the Rhode Island Senate is yet unclear, but even if such a bill passes the House and fails in the Senate, it will still be a sign of progress in a state where public support for equal marriage rights is strong and where equality looks like it will be realized, with luck and hard work, at some point in the next few years.

19 Comments December 18, 2012

Last-Minute Legislation

By Matt Baume

With just days left in the year, lawmakers in two states are making last-minute bids to pass marriage equality bills. A hugely successful campaign is culminating in Oregon. And support for an anti-gay amendment in Indiana is quickly crumbling.

There may be just a few weeks left in the year, but some state legislators are still trying to make the most of what’s already been the busiest year in history for the freedom to marry.

In New Jersey, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora has started the process to put marriage equality on the ballot. This means that there are now three separate tracks for marriage in that state. There’s a lawsuit that’s proceeding through Superior Court. There’s a bill that passed the legislature before getting a veto from Governor Christie. And now there’s a ballot measure that may go before voters.

Voters may not need to weigh in marriage if legislators can shore up enough votes to override Christie’s veto. But if it does come to a vote, our chances are pretty good: A Quinnipiac survey from last February showed 57% favor marriage equality and 37% oppose.

Lawmakers are also counting the votes in Illinois. Senator Heather Steans and Representative Greg Harris plan to introduce a bill to legalize marriage before the new legislative sessions starts on January 9th. Governor Patrick Quinn says he’ll sign the bill if it makes it to his desk.

There’s no firm plan in Oregon to push for a bill or ballot measure, but new polling numbers show that public outreach over the last few years has been a huge success. Fifty four percent of voters now favor marriage equality, according to Public Policy Polling. That’s up from 46% in the same survey last July, and 43 percent in June of 2011.

There’s encouraging data in Indiana, too. Voters there will likely face an anti-gay constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2013 or 2014. But a new survey from Ball State University shows 54 percent oppose the amendment, with just 38% in favor.


December 17, 2012

Justice Department files reply brief agreeing with House Republicans’ request to stay DOMA case Cooper-Harris v. USA

By Scottie Thomaston

In Cooper-Harris v. USA (challenging Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act), House Republicans, represented by the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) who is defending the law, filed a request to stay the proceedings in the case recently in light of the DOMA case pending before the Supreme Court. At the same time, the Justice Department (who agrees the law is unconstitutional) filed a motion to dismiss the case, arguing that federal district court is not the proper place for this particular challenge. The case is a challenge brought by a military servicemember seeking spousal benefits for her wife, though Section 3 of DOMA disallows the federal government to recognize her as married. The Justice Department’s motion to dismiss had pointed out that there is a special review board for all claims seeking those types of benefits, set up by Congressional statute. Since Congress has specified how these cases should proceed, federal district court is not the correct venue.

The Justice Department has filed a response to BLAG’s request to stay the proceedings, agreeing that the stay should be issued: “Federal Defendants agree that a stay of proceedings in this case is appropriate in light of the Supreme Court’s grant of certiorari in United States v. Windsor[.]” Both challenge the same law, and although there are additional issues in this case – it also challenges the definition of ‘spouse’ as it pertains to military benefits – the outcome of the Windsor case would inform or control the outcome in this case, as both involve a challenge to the federal government’s definition of ‘spouse’.

Since the constitutionality of the laws at issue is likely to be decided by the Supreme Court, “[p]roceeding with this case now would require a significant, and potentially wasteful, expenditure of time and resources by the parties and this Court,” they write.

The Justice Department suggests, however, that were the court to proceed with this case, it should decide whether it has jurisdiction, or whether the case should be reviewed by the special board (where it is currently already pending, but was stayed in order for the plaintiff to file a case in federal court) and this case should be dismissed.

h/t Kathleen for this filing

2:12-cv-00887 #71

December 17, 2012

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