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Two new lawsuits target DOMA

GLAD, ACLU argue no ‘legitimate reason’ for statute

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LGBT rights groups are continuing efforts to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act with two new federal lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the statute.

On Tuesday, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders and the American Civil Liberties Union filed two separate lawsuits against Section 3 of DOMA, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage.

Mary Bonauto, GLAD’s civil rights project director, said Tuesday in a conference call with reporters that the federal government has no valid reason to engage in the regulation of marriage.

“We think there’s no legitimate reason whatsoever for the federal government to take one group of people who are already married and treat them differently from every other married couple,” she said.

Bonauto added that the authority to determine who can marry in the United States has traditionally been left to the states and said DOMA is the only federal law in U.S. history “that puts the federal government in the marriage business.”

The cases contend that DOMA violates the equal protection rights of same-sex couples under the U.S. Constitution.

James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender and AIDS project, said DOMA is unconstitutional because the U.S. government “defers to state’s determination of whether a couple is married in every single context except when the couple is a same-sex married couple.”

“In that case, the federal government pretends that the couple isn’t married, but instead are strangers one to the other,” Esseks said. “That’s discrimination, and it violates the Constitution’s equal protection guarantee.”

The GLAD lawsuit, known as Pedersen v. Office of Personnel Management, is pending before the U.S. District Court of Connecticut and was filed on behalf of five married same-sex couples and a widower who reside in Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire.

Each of the plaintiffs was denied the federal benefits of marriage in one respect or another, such as Social Security or the right to care for a spouse under the Family Medical Leave Act.

Joanne Pedersen, 57 and a Waterford, Conn., resident, said she’s participating in the lawsuit because although she’s a retiree of the Department of Naval Intelligence, DOMA prohibits her from insuring her spouse and partner of 12 years, who has a chronic lung condition.

“The naval community treated Ann just like other spouses, except when it came to sharing my benefits,” Pedersen said. “We both have some serious health challenges, and Ann has chronic health issues that make working stressful and draining for her. But Ann can’t hope to retire because DOMA prevents us from sharing health benefits.”

The ACLU lawsuit, known as Windsor v. United States, is pending before the U.S. District Court of Southern District of New York and was filed on behalf of a New York resident who had to pay $350,000 in federal estate taxes to receive her spouse’s inheritance.

Edith Windsor was partnered with Thea Spyer for 44 years before Spyer died last year after a battle with multiple sclerosis. The two married in Canada in 2007 and their marriage was recognized by the state of New York.

“After Thea died, the fact that the federal government refused to recognize our marriage was devastating,” Windsor said in a statement. “In the midst of my grief at the loss of the love of my life, I had to deal with my own government saying that we weren’t a family.”

Now that the organizations have filed the suits, the U.S. government has 60 days to respond. The Justice Department didn’t immediately respond to the Blade’s request for comment, but has previously defended DOMA against other lawsuits.

Esseks noted the Justice Department has a few months to answer. With regard to the ACLU lawsuit, he said “it’s too early to talk in any meaningful way” about the timeline for the case.

For the GLAD lawsuit, Bonauto said she hopes the case would be resolved at the district court level within 12 to 15 months. She said she doesn’t think the litigation would go to the U.S. Supreme Court before 2013.

The two new lawsuits come on the heels of other rulings by the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts in July determining that Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional.

U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Tauro made the decisions in case of Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, which was also filed by GLAD, and Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

Following the district court’s decision to rule that part of DOMA is unconstitutional, the U.S. government appealed the cases to the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals, where the litigation is pending.

Bonauto said the additional GLAD lawsuit is necessary to continue to educate people about the “harms imposed by DOMA.” Additionally, she noted many of the plaintiffs in the Pedersen live in Vermont and Connecticut, which is in the Second Circuit, and wouldn’t be affected by a ruling in the First Circuit as a result of the Gill case.

“We are in a different federal judicial circuit here, so we have a chance to press once again the basic claim that DOMA is legally unconstitutional in terms of having a double-standard imposed only on gay and lesbian married couples,” Bonauto said.

If both the Gill and the Commonwealth cases reach the Supreme Court at the same time as justices take up the Pedersen case, Bonauto said she thinks the newer lawsuits could be combined with the older ones.

The filing of the lawsuits has inspired different reactions among advocacy groups that work on marriage. In a statement to the Blade, Maggie Gallagher, chair of the National Organization for Marriage, chided LGBT groups for continuing to challenge DOMA in the wake of Election Day results.

“After Tuesday’s election, in which gay marriage lost big, it’s pretty clear gay marriage advocates have failed to win the majority of Americans and so are turning once again to courts to impose views and values they’ve failed to persuade their friends, neighbors and fellow citizens to support,” she said.

But Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement that the litigation provides further evidence that DOMA is “not simply an abstract insult to the dignity of same-sex couples and their families — although it is indeed a deeply offensive law.”

“DOMA causes real harm to people like Joanne Pedersen, Ann Meitzen and Edie Windsor, denying them economic security, health coverage and other critical federal rights and benefits that other married couples take for granted,” Solmonese said.

One legal expert praised the GLAD and ACLU lawsuits for their potential in striking down DOMA. Nan Hunter, a lesbian and law professor at Georgetown University, said forecasting the outcome of any particular lawsuit is difficult, but said the way DOMA is challenged in these cases is “quite promising.”

“It allows the courts to rule on a law that changed the status quo by singling out only gays and reversing — only for that one group — the federal government position of recognizing all marriages that were valid under state law,” she said.

Hunter said the litigation strategy is similar to what was presented in Romer v. Evans, a 1996 case before the U.S. Supreme Court that overturned a Colorado ban on making gays a protected class in the state. Hunter recalled that in the Romer case, the high court “invalidated a state provision that singled out gays for having to meet a higher barrier in order to enact a civil rights law.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of the name of James Esseks. The Blade regrets the error.

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State Department

State Department hosts intersex activists from around the world

Group met with policy makers, health officials, NGOs

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The State Department last week hosted a group of intersex activists from around the world. (Courtesy photo)

The State Department last week hosted five intersex activists from around the world.

Kimberly Zieselman, a prominent intersex activist who advises Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad, brought the activists to D.C.

• Morgan Carpenter, co-founder and executive director of Intersex Human Rights Australia

• Natasha Jiménez, an intersex activist from Costa Rica who is the general coordinator of Mulabi, the Latin American Space for Sexualities and Rights

• Julius Kaggwa, founder of the Support Initiative for People with Atypical Sex Development Uganda

• Magda Rakita, co-founder and executive director of Fujdacja Interakcja in Poland and co-founder of Interconnected UK

• Esan Regmi, co-founder and executive director of the Campaign for Change in Nepal.

Special U.S. Envoy for Global Youth Issues Abby Finkenauer and Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine are among the officials with whom the activists met.

Zieselman told the Washington Blade on Sept. 21 the activists offered State Department officials an “intersex 101” overview during a virtual briefing.

More than 60 Save the Children staffers from around the world participated in another virtual briefing. Zieselman noted the activists also met with Stern, U.N. and Organization of American States officials, funders and NGO representatives while in D.C.

“The people we met were genuinely interested,” Rakita told the Blade.

Stern in an exclusive statement to the Blade said “the visiting intersex activists clearly had an impact here at State, sharing their expertise and lived experience highlighting the urgency to end human rights abuses, including those involving harmful medical practices against intersex persons globally.” Andrew Gleason, senior director for gender equality and social justice at Save the Children US, in a LinkedIn post he wrote after attending his organization’s meeting with the activists echoed Stern.

“There are many learnings to recount from today’s discussion, but one thing is clear, this is unequivocally a child rights issue, and one that demands attention and action at the intersection of LGBTQI+ rights, reproductive rights and justice, disability justice and more,” wrote Gleason. “Gratitude to the panelists for sharing such poignant testimonies and providing insights into what organizations like ours can do to contribute to the broader intersex movement; and thank you to Kimberly for your leadership and bringing this group together.”

The activists’ trip to D.C. coincided with efforts to end so-called sex “normalization” surgeries on intersex children.

Greek lawmakers in July passed a law that bans such procedures on children under 15 unless they offer their consent or a court allows them to happen. Doctors who violate the statute face fines and prison.

Germany Iceland, Malta, Portugal and Spain have also enacted laws that seek to protect intersex youth. 

A law that grants equal rights and legal recognition to intersex people in Kenya took effect in July 2022. Lawmakers in the Australian Capital Territory earlier this year passed the Variation in Sex Characteristics (Restricted Medical Treatment) Bill 2023.

Intersex Human Rights Australia notes the law implements “mechanisms to regulate non-urgent medical care to encourage child participation in medical decisions, establish groundbreaking oversight mechanisms and provide transparency on medical practices and decision making.” It further points out the statute “will criminalize some deferrable procedures that permanently alter the sex characteristics of children” and provides “funding for necessary psychosocial supports for families and children.”

“It’s amazing,” Carpenter told the Blade when discussing the law and resistance to it. “It’s not perfect. There was some big gaps, but physicians are resisting every step of the way.”

The State Department in April 2022 began to issue passports with an “X” gender marker.

Dana Zzyym, an intersex U.S. Navy veteran who identifies as non-binary, in 2015 filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department after it denied their application for a passport with an “X” gender marker. Zzyym in October 2021 received the first gender-neutral American passport.

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Federal Government

Federal government prepares for looming shutdown

White House warns of ‘damaging impacts across the country’

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U.S. Capitol Building (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

However remote they were on Monday, odds of avoiding a government shutdown were narrowed by Thursday evening as House Republicans continued debate over their hyper-partisan appropriations bills that stand no chance of passage by the Upper Chamber.

As lawmakers in the Democratic controlled Senate forged ahead with a bipartisan stop-gap spending measure that House GOP leadership had vowed to reject, the federal government began bracing for operations to grind to a halt on October 1.

This would mean hundreds of thousands of workers are furloughed as more than 100 agencies from the State Department to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation roll out contingency plans maintained by the White House Office of Management and Budget. On Thursday the Office of Personnel Management sent out memos to all agencies instructing them to ready for a shutdown on Sunday.

Before 1980, operations would continue per usual in cases where Congress failed to break an impasse over spending, as lapses in funding tended to last only a few days before lawmakers brokered a deal.

Since then, the government has shut down more than a dozen times and the duration has tended to become longer and longer.

“Across the United States, local news outlets are reporting on the harmful impacts a potential government shutdown would have on American families,” the White House wrote in a release on Thursday featuring a roundup of reporting on how the public might be affected.

“With just days left before the end of the fiscal year, extreme House Republicans are playing partisan games with peoples’ lives and marching our country toward a government shutdown that would have damaging impacts across the country,” the White House said.

The nature and extent of that damage will depend on factors including how long the impasse lasts, but the Biden-Harris administration has warned of some consequences the American public is likely to face.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, for example, warned: “There is no good time for a government shutdown, but this is a particularly bad time for a government shutdown, especially when it comes to transportation.”

Amid the shortage of air traffic controllers and efforts to modernize aviation technology to mitigate flight delays and cancellations, a government shutdown threatens to “make air travel even worse,” as Business Insider wrote in a headline Thursday.

Democratic lawmakers including California Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Maxine Waters, meanwhile, have sounded the alarm in recent weeks over the consequences for the global fight against AIDS amid the looming expiration, on Oct. 1, of funding for PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

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Federal Government

QAnon follower pleads guilty to threatening member of Congress

Conspiracy movement claims Satan-worshipping pedophiles secretly rule the world

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QAnon banner at a pro-gun rally in Richmond, Va., in 2020. (YouTube screenshot from Anthony Crider)

A New Mexico man has entered a plea deal after being charged with a federal criminal complaint of making threats through interstate communications directed at a member of Congress.

Federal prosecutors charged Michael David Fox, a resident of Doña Ana County, for calling the Houston district office of an unnamed member of Congress on or about May 18, 2023, and uttering threats that included knowingly threatening to kill an active member of Congress.

The plea agreement was brought before U.S. Magistrate Judge Damian L. Martinez of U.S. District Court in New Mexico in the Las Cruces by Fox’s attorney from the Federal Public Defender’s Office in August.

According to the criminal complaint as outlined by a Federal Bureau of Investigation criminal investigator for the Albuquerque Field Office, Las Cruces Resident Agency, on May 18 at approximately 9:04 p.m. Fox called the office of a congresswoman for the District of Texas, U.S. House of Representatives (Victim One/”V1″), who is from Houston. The call was received by V1’s office.

In the phone call Fox stated “Hey [Vl], you’re a man. It’s official. You’re literally a tranny and a pedophile, and I’m going to put a bullet in your fucking face. You mother fucking satanic cock smoking son of a whore. You understand me you fucker?” 

Law enforcement was able to trace the call back to Las Cruces, N.M., and it was believed that Fox was the user of cell phone account used to make the call. According to the FBI agents who interviewed Fox, he admitted to making the call.

Fox acknowledged that the threat was direct but claimed that he did not own any guns. Fox
claimed to be a member of the Q2 Truth Movement, the Q Movement. Fox explained these
movements believe all over the world there were transgender individuals running
governments, kingdoms and corporations. 

Fox told the FBI that there is a plan called “Q the Plan to Save the World” which he learned about from an online video. Fox claimed that he believed Q was going to engage in the “eradication” of the people who were causing all the world’s misery. He believed that part of the eradication had already happened.

Fox explained that he had run Vl’s skull features through forensic analysis and determined
that Vl was born male and is now trans. Fox discussed his military service with the
U.S. Air Force, “Q the Plan to Save the World,” and how God communicates using
numbers. 

Fox continued to reiterate several different types of conspiracy theories indicating
extreme far right ideologies as his explanation for why he conducted the phone call to
threaten V1.

According to the FBI, Fox rescinded his threat against Vl and apologized. Fox claimed he was not intoxicated or under the influence of drugs when he made the call. Fox stated he understood how Vl would feel threatened by his phone call, and he acknowledged that anyone he knew or cared about would also be concerned with such a threat.

The charge of interstate threatening communications carries a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison.

QAnon began in 2017, when a mysterious figure named “Q” started posting on the online message board 4chan, claiming to have inside access to government secrets. Since then, QAnon has grown into a conspiracy movement that claims Satan-worshipping pedophiles secretly rule the world. It is claimed by QAnon adherents that former President Donald Trump is the only person who can defeat them. 

Brooklyn, N.Y.-based journalist Ana Valens, a reporter specializing in queer internet culture, online censorship and sex workers’ rights noted that Fox appears to be a “transvestigator.” Valens noted that the transvestigation conspiracy theory is a fringe movement within QAnon that claims the world is primarily run by trans people. Phrenological analysis is common among transvestigators, with a prominent focus on analyzing celebrities for proof that they are trans.

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