September 28, 2011 | by Chris Johnson
Obama talks DOMA, bullying at Latino roundtable

Barack Obama (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

President Obama said the courts represent the best path for bringing the Defense of Marriage Act to end in response to a question on what he’s doing to help bi-national same-sex couples stay together in the United States.

Gabriel Lerner, senior news editor for AOL Latino and Huff-Post Latino Voices, brought the question up on Thursday while moderating a roundtable called ”Open for Questions with President Obama” on issues important to the Latino community:

Lerner: Mr. President, on the Defense of Marriage Act, also called DOMA, this comes from Kevin in North Carolina. He says: I’m a gay American who fell in love with a foreigner.  As you know, due to DOMA, I’m not permitted to sponsor my foreign-born partner for residency. And as a result, we are stuck between a rock and an impossible situation. How do you intend to fix this? Waiting for DOMA to be repealed or struck down in the courts will potentially take years. What do binational couples do in the meantime?

Obama: Well, we made a decision that was a very significant decision, based on my assessment of the Constitution, that this administration would not defend DOMA in the federal courts. It’s not going to be years before this issue is settled. This is going to be settled fairly soon, because right now we have cases pending in the federal courts.

Administratively, we can’t ignore the law. DOMA is still on the books. What we have said is even as we enforce it, we don’t support it, we think it’s unconstitutional. The position that my administration has taken I think will have a significant influence on the court as it examines the constitutionality of this law. And once that law is struck down — and I don’t know what the ruling will be — then addressing these binational issues could flow from that decision, potentially.

I can’t comment on where the case is going to go. I can only say what I believe, and that is that DOMA doesn’t make sense; it’s unfair; I don’t think that it meets the demands of our Constitution. And in the meantime, if — I’ve already said that I’m also supportive of Congress repealing DOMA on it’s own and not waiting for the courts. The likelihood of us being able to get the votes in the House of Representatives for DOMA repeal are very low at this point so, truthfully, the recourse to the courts is probably going to be the best approach.

LGBT advocates working on immigration issues said in response to Obama’s comments that the president could do more to assist gay Americans in same-sex relationships with foreigners.

Lavi Soloway, founder of Stop the Deportations, said he doesn’t believe Obama’s answer was sufficient and the president should issue a moratorium to ensure foreign nationals in same-sex relationship aren’t deported because of DOMA:

“In his response, the President, a former constitutional law professor and son of a binational couple, said three times that DOMA is unconstitutional and affirmed his commitment to not to defend DOMA in court,” Soloway said. “Despite this, he believes that he must enforce this law against gay and lesbian Americans who are married to foreign nationals, until DOMA is repealed by Congress or struck down by the courts. The administration can and must do more to help binational couples now.”

Soloway continued, “First the administration must ensure that all binational couples are safe by issuing a moratorium on “DOMA deportations” and by issuing explicit written guidelines directing the exercise of prosecutorial discretion for same-sex binational couples.”

“Second, the administration must hold in abeyance decisions on all marriage-based green card applications filed by same-sex couples and stop denying those cases,” Soloway said. “This administration believes that it cannot approve such cases because of DOMA, but it does not follow that those cases must be denied. At the very least, we should wait until the fate of DOMA has been determined by Congress or the Supreme Court before decisions are rendered on any pending green card cases filed by lesbian and gay binational couples.”

Steve Ralls, spokesperson for Immigration Equality, also called on the administration can place the green card applications on hold for gay Americans seeking to sponsor their foreign partners for residency while still following the law:

“We obviously agree with the president that DOMA is unconstitutional,” Ralls said. “But we also know there are many things the president can do even before DOMA is repealed to help bi-national couples. The most significant among those is holding green card application filed by those couples until the courts have resolved DOMA’s fate. That gives legal protection to couples, it does not violate DOMA and it’s clearly within the president’s authority to do so. That should be the action that he takes until the courts intervene to end DOMA completely.”

Also during the roundtable, Obama discussed what his administration has done to combat the bullying of students, although the question was based on the bullying of students for being Latino as opposed to being LGBT.

Jose Siade, Yahoo’s editor in chief for U.S. Hispanic and Latin America, brought the question to the President during the roundtable:

Siade: This question comes from Florida:  Since bullying is increasing in an alarming way in the U.S., what can be done to avoid further discrimination or bullying within various racial groups, particularly for Hispanic kids in school?

Obama: I think it’s a really important question.  We actually had the first-ever conference on bullying here in the White House — because for young people it’s hard enough growing up without also then being subject to constant harassment. And the kind of bullying that we’re seeing now, including using the Internet and new media, can be very oppressive on young people.

So what we’ve tried to do is to provide information and tools to parents, to schools, to communities to push back and fight against these kinds of trends. And a lot of the best work has actually been done by young people themselves who start anti-bullying campaigns in their schools, showing how you have to respect everyone, regardless of race, regardless of religion, regardless of sexual orientation. And when you get a school environment in which that’s not accepted by young people themselves, where they say we’re not going to tolerate that kind of bullying, that usually ends up making the biggest difference, because kids react to their peer group more than sometimes they do adults.

And what we need to do is make sure that we’re providing tools to schools and to young people to help combat against bullying, and it’s something that we’ll continue to work on with local communities and local school districts as well.

Lerner: So you’re going to have a conference on bullying in the White House?

Obama: We already did.  We had it — it was probably four or five months ago.  And we brought in non-profit groups, religious leadership, schools, students themselves.  And they have now organized conferences regionally, around the country, so that we can prevent this kind of bullying from taking place.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

1 Comment
  • “It’s not going to be years before this issue is settled. This is going to be settled fairly soon, because right now we have cases pending in the federal courts.”

    Oh really Mr. President! So how do you explain this recent setback for the LGBT binational community?
    Congress needs to do something now. We can’t rely on judges like this to live in the present and do the right thing.

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