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Legal effort to overturn DOMA offers ‘promising path’

Attorneys prepare for May court hearing in Boston



The organization spearheading a lawsuit challenging the Defense of Marriage Act is busy with preparations for what could be a monumental court case for LGBT Americans.

Lawyers on both sides of Gill v. U.S. Office of Personnel Management will come before the Federal District Court in Boston on May 6 to argue their cases.

The litigation, filed by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, aims to overturn Section 3 of DOMA, which bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.

Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, said the GLAD litigation is “a very important, very well prepared case” and “offers a very promising path to beginning to undo the destructive and unconstitutional so-called Defense of Marriage Act.”

“GLAD thought through very carefully the best way to present the core concerns, powerful stories and a smart remedy to maximize our chances of winning in the U.S. Supreme Court,” he said.

Wolfson said he’s certain that GLAD’s attorneys will “be very forceful” in explaining why the federal government’s treatment of same-sex married couples is “unacceptable and unconstitutional.”

The plaintiffs in the case are seven married same-sex couples and three widowers, including Dean Hara, the spouse of Gerry Studds, the late Massachusetts congressman and first openly gay person to serve in Congress.

GLAD contends that as a result of DOMA, which President Bill Clinton signed in 1996, these plaintiffs have been harmed in various ways, including the denial of survivor benefits, health insurance coverage and Social Security benefits, as well as being forced to pay additional federal income taxes. The litigation contends DOMA violates plaintiffs’ rights under the Equal Protection Clause.

Gary Buseck, GLAD’s legal director, said preparations for the court appearance involve submitting several documents to the court to make their case before Judge Joseph Tauro.

The documents, he said, include memoranda of law to the court, a series of affidavits from the plaintiff couples and widowers, and expert affidavits showing why these couples should be treated as a suspect class for heightened scrutiny from the court.

“What we’re trying to think about is best arguments and how to succinctly present our best arguments,” he said. “We’re trying to think about — given what the government has put to writing — what are they likely to lead with, and are we content with the responses that we’ve written, and trying to imagine what the judge might ask.”

Representing the seven married same-sex couples and three widowers seeking federal marriage benefits in Massachusetts will be Mary Bonauto, GLAD’s civil rights project director.

Six years ago, Bonauto was the lead attorney in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, the state lawsuit that brought same-sex marriage to Massachusetts, making the Bay State the first in the country to legalize gay nuptials.

Buseck said Bonauto is working on being “as heavily as prepared as possible” so she can “answer any question.”

Buseck said the court appearance on May 6 for the GLAD case wouldn’t be the same as the trial earlier this year for Perry v. Schwarzenegger, a lawsuit in California aimed at overturning Proposition 8.

Because the U.S. government filed a motion to dismiss and GLAD filed a request for summary judgment, Buseck said he’s expecting about 45 minutes to an hour of courtroom activity May 6 instead of a trial lasting several weeks, as in the Perry case.

“We don’t know exactly how much time we’re going to have,” he said. “It’s not like an appeals court where they give you a set of block of time and that’s what you get. This is going to be a little more informal than that.”

The Justice Department didn’t respond to DC Agenda’s request to discuss the case.

Buseck said GLAD can guess how the U.S. government will present itself during the court appearance because of the briefs the Justice Department has already issued.

He noted the Obama administration has said it doesn’t agree with the findings Congress presented in 1996 when it passed DOMA and that it considers the statute is discriminatory, but will nonetheless defend the statute because it believes the statute is constitutional.

Buseck predicted that the government will argue it was rational for Congress to enact DOMA in 1996 in an effort to maintain the status quo and “wait and see how this cultural debate plays out.”

“That’s been their fundamental argument to date, and presumably that’s where they’re going to stick,” he said. “So we’re ready for that. We’ve had to respond to those arguments in writing already.”

Legal experts following the case of Gill v. OPM expect it to reach the U.S. Supreme Court and, if successful, the lawsuit would force the U.S. government to recognize same-sex marriages for federal tax purposes and for Social Security benefits.

Buseck said he thinks it’s possible a decision could come down from a trial court in the summer, but more likely a ruling will be issued this fall.

Following the decision, Buseck said the case would likely go to the First Circuit Court of Appeals at the beginning of next year with a possible decision in Spring 2012. If the case were to go to the U.S. Supreme Court, it could go on the 2012 term and be decided in June 2013.

But Buseck emphasized that those dates were a “ballpark” estimate and said “there’s a lot of things that could change those dates.”

Running concurrently with the Gill lawsuit in the Federal District Court in Boston is another case challenging DOMA last year by Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley: Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

Like the Gill case, the state lawsuit challenges the section of DOMA that prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage, but contends that it violates Massachusetts’ state right to regulate marriage under the Tenth Amendment.

The Commonwealth case will be heard in the same court and by the same judge, but the court date is scheduled for May 26.

Buseck said the Commonwealth case and the Gill case “complement each other” but “are in different boxes as far as legal theories go.”

“My sense is the judge will probably just for efficiencies’ sake somehow work on these cases together and it’s been my guess — but I’ve no reason to know that — I won’t be surprised if we get decisions on the same day,” Buseck said.


District of Columbia

Trial for man charged with assaulting gay men in D.C. park postponed for third time

Indictment says attacker squirted victims with pepper spray



Meridian Hill Park (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The trial for a 50-year-old man who was arrested July 14, 2022, on charges that he allegedly assaulted five men he believed to be gay at D.C.’s Meridian Hill Park between 2018 and 2021 was postponed for the third time last month and has now been rescheduled for Aug. 19 of this year.   

The arrest of Michael Thomas Pruden came two weeks after a federal grand jury handed down an indictment on June 29, 2022, charging him with five counts of assault on federal park land, one count of impersonating a federal officer and a hate crime designation alleging that he assaulted four of the men because of their perceived sexual orientation. 

Prosecutors with the Office of the U.S. Attorney for D.C. filed a motion in court on Jan. 10 of this year opposing a request by Pruden’s defense attorney to postpone the most recent prior trial date set for Feb. 26. 

“Following indictment in June 2022, the defendant has delayed the trial in this case several times, including by firing two prior attorneys,” the prosecutors’ motion states. “While the government has not previously objected to any continuance, no further delay is warranted,” the motion says. “This is a straightforward case that should proceed to trial as currently scheduled.”

The indictment against Pruden by a U.S. District Court for D.C. grand jury provides some of the details surrounding the case.

“After nightfall, Meridian Hill Park was informally known in the Washington, D.C., community to be a meeting location for men seeking to engage in consensual sexual encounters with other men,” the indictment says. “This practice is colloquially known as ‘cruising,’” the indictment continues. 

“Michael Thomas Pruden frequented Meridian Hill Park after nightfall and on multiple occasions, including those described below, assaulted men in Meridian Hill Park by approaching them with a flashlight, giving them police-style commands and spraying them with a chemical irritant,” the indictment states. 

Virginia court records show that the D.C. indictment against Pruden was handed down 11 months after a U.S. District Court jury in Alexandria, Va., found him not guilty of a charge of assault with a dangerous weapon for allegedly pepper spraying and hitting in the head with a large tree branch a man in Daingerfield Island Park in Alexandria, which is also known as a gay cruising site. 

Federal Public Defender A.J. Kramer, who is representing Pruden in the D.C. case, said in his own motion calling for postponing Pruden’s Feb. 26 trial date that he has at least two other unrelated trials coming up soon and what he called voluminous documents recently provided to him by prosecutors made the latest postponement necessary. 

“Firstly, while Mr. Pruden prefers to go to trial as soon as possible, counsel cannot be ready by February 26, 2024,” his motion states. “Given that the case against Mr. Pruden is actually five cases spanning a three-year period, the discovery is extremely voluminous, in excess of 7,000 pages,” he states in his motion. “Due to this as well as counsel’s other pending matters in the coming weeks, counsel is unable to effectively prepare motions and prep for trial under the current timeline.”

By the 7,000 pages of “discovery” documents, Kramer was referring to the requirement that prosecutors turn over to the defense attorney in advance of a trial details of the evidence prosecutors plan to present at a trial. U.S. District Court Judge Jia M. Cobb approved Pruden’s request for the postponement in a Feb. 5 ruling. 

Court records also show that Pruden was released on personal recognizance following his arrest into the custody of his mother, who lives in Norfolk, Va., where he has been staying since his release. Among other things, conditions for his release prohibit him from having any contact with the individuals he is charged with assaulting and require that he always remain inside his mother’s residence from sunset to sunrise. 

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Abbott tells UN to ‘pound sand’ amid criticism of anti-LGBTQ policies in Texas

Governor signed seven anti-LGBTQ laws last year



Texas Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signs the “Save Women’s Sports Act” on Aug. 7, 2023. (Photo courtesy of the Office of the Governor)

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Sunday dismissed news coverage of a letter issued last month to the United Nations that expressed alarm over the “deteriorating human rights situation” for LGBTQ people in the Lone Star State.

Signed by Equality Texas, ACLU of Texas, GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign, and the University of Texas at Austin School of Law Human Rights Clinic, the letter details how Texas legislators introduced 141 bills targeting the LGBTQ community, passing seven into law.

“The UN can go pound sand,” Abbott wrote in a post on X.

In 2023, the governor signed a ban on gender affirming care for transgender youth, a ban on diversity, equity, and inclusion programs at public universities, a ban on transgender athletes competing in college sports, a law allowing schools to use religious chaplains for counseling services, a ban on “sexually oriented performances” on public property accessible to minors (which targets drag shows), a law allowing schools to restrict LGBTQ books, and a ban on nondiscrimination ordinances by local governments.

The groups argued in their letter that these policies constitute a “systemic discriminatory policy” in violation of international human rights laws, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a multilateral treaty whose tenets are enforced by the UN Human Rights Committee.

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WATCH: Washington Post grills transphobic Libs of TikTok creator

Chaya Raichik reaffirmed anti-trans views



Chaya Raichik, founder of Libs of TikTok is interviewed by Washington Post journalist Taylor California. (Screenshot/YouTube The Washington Post)

Grilled on a range of topics during an interview with Washington Post journalist Taylor Lorenz, Chaya Raichik, spoke about the great replacement theory, the death of Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary in high school student in Oklahoma, why she won’t delete her false accusations about the Uvalde shooter and other mass-shooters, her views on gender, feminism and more.

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