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Obama continues to defend DOMA in court

Justice Dept. files brief with First Circuit

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The U.S. Justice Department continued to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court late Thursday by filing a brief in a U.S. appellate court affirming the constitutionality of the statute.

“Congress’ decision to enact DOMA was not unconstitutional under the Court’s binding precedent,” states the brief. “With respect to the Gill plaintiffs’ equal protection challenge and Massachusetts’ Spending Clause unconstitutional condition challenge, DOMA is rationally related to legitimate governmental interests.”

The 39-page brief was issued in response to two lawsuits against DOMA pending before the First Circuit Court of Appeals: Gill v. Office of Personnel Management and Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Department of Health & Human Services.

The Gill case was filed by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders while the Commonwealth case was filed by Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley. In July, U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro ruled in favor of plaintiffs and the Justice Department appealed the decisions to the First Circuit.

In the brief, the Justice Department brief disputes the arguments in the lawsuits that DOMA violates the Equal Protection Clause under the U.S. Constitution or a state’s right under the Tenth Amendment to regulate marriage.

“The Constitution permitted Congress to enact DOMA as a means to preserve the status quo, ensure consistency in the distribution of federal marriage-based benefits and respect policy developments in the states without implicating other states or the United States, pending the resolution of the debate taking place in the states over whether to permit same-sex marriage,” the brief states.

Passed in 1996, DOMA prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages and allows states not to recognize same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions. The lawsuits pending before the First Circuit specifically target the section of DOMA prohibiting federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

Mary Bonauto, who’s leading the DOMA team for GLAD, said she finds “nothing really new in this brief, which reiterates many of the same arguments the government made in the District Court.”

“We’re prepared to meet these arguments head-on, and bring to an end the discrimination that is suffered by married same-sex couples like our plaintiffs and that DOJ has admitted is caused by DOMA,” Bonauto said.

The next step in the case is for GLAD and Coakley to file their response briefs, which are due March 1.

Many gay rights supporters have expressed frustration with the Obama administration’s continued to defense of DOMA in court. President Obama has called DOMA discriminatory and said it should be repealed legislatively, but his Justice Department has defended the statute against litigation.

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, called on Obama to support same-sex marriage and for his Justice Department to acknowledge that DOMA is unconstitutional.

“It’s time for him to help lead the American public toward full equality for all Americans,” Solmonese said. “We ask him to fully recognize the dignity of LGBT Americans and their families by supporting marriage equality.”

Obama opposes marriage rights for gay couples, but has suggested that his position on the issue could change. In a news conference in December, the president said he’s “wrestling” with the idea of same-sex marriage.

Download a copy of the Justice Department brief here.

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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

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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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Texas

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

Governor signed seven anti-LGBTQ laws last year

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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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National

WATCH: Washington Post grills transphobic Libs of TikTok creator

Chaya Raichik reaffirmed anti-trans views

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Chaya Raichik, founder of Libs of TikTok is interviewed by Washington Post journalist Taylor Lorenz.in 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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