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Carney on DOMA: ‘The administration had no choice’

Says legal issues required the administration to stop defending law

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White House Press Secretary Jay Carney (Blade photo by Michael Key)

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Wednesday emphasized the Obama administration “had no choice” in deciding to no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court because of legal issues surrounding new litigation against the statute.

Under questioning from the Washington Blade, Carney noted the new DOMA lawsuits — Pedersen v. Office of Personnel Management and Windsor v. United States — are unique because there’s no legal precedent for handling laws relating to sexual orientation in the Second Circuit, where the cases are pending.

“The administration had no choice,” Carney said. “It was under a court-imposed deadline to make this decision. This case in the Second Circuit was unique in that it lacked the precedent upon which to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in the way that this administration defended it in previous cases, and therefore, required this decision on its constitutionality, and we had to act because of the deadline.”

The Obama administration had until March 11 to respond in court to the Pedersen case, filed by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, and the Windsor case, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. Both lawsuits were initiated in November.

Carney maintained the president’s position on DOMA “has been consistent” and said he’s “long opposed it as unnecessary and unfair.” Full repeal of DOMA was among Obama’s campaign promises in 2008.

Still, Carney maintained the U.S. government will remain a party to the DOMA cases to allow them to proceed and help facilitate efforts from Congress to defend the statute if lawmakers desire to do so.

“The administration will do everything it can to assist Congress if it so wishes to do that,” Carney said. “We recognize and respect that there are other points of view and other opinions about this.”

Carney also emphasized the Obama administration would continue enforcement of DOMA. Asked whether there could be any outcome at the district or appellate level that would prompt the president to discontinue enforcement of the statute, Carney replied, “You’re asking me to speculate. I would also note that the president is obligated to enforce the law.”

Asked by the Associated Press whether this decision is related to the president’s position on same-sex marriage, Carney said Obama’s position on marriage rights for gay couples is “distinct from the legal decision.” Obama has said he’s “wrestling” with the idea of same-sex marriage and suggested his position could evolve, but hasn’t yet endorsed marriage equality.

“I would refer you just to his fairly recent statements on that,” Carney said. “He’s grappling with the issue, but he, again, I want to make the distinction between his personal views, which he has discussed, and the legal issue, the legal decision that was made today.”

Carney also responded to a statement from the U.S. House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) office criticizing the decision. In a statement to the Blade, Boehner spokesperson Michael Steel wrote, “While Americans want Washington to focus on creating jobs and cutting spending, the President will have to explain why he thinks now is the appropriate time to stir up a controversial issue that sharply divides the nation.”

In response, Carney said the president is indeed focused on economic growth and job creation even as he makes the new decision on defending DOMA.

“We are also absolutely focused and committed on these key issues of economic growth and job creation, and we are now anticipating that this will move to the courts and the courts will decide,” Carney said. “And meanwhile, we will continue to focus on job creation and economic growth and ‘Winning the Future.'”

Carney deferred to the Justice Department in response to a question on whether the decision applies to all present and future cases or if the administration won’t defend DOMA in only the four currently pending cases — the new litigation in the Second Circuit and Gill v. Office of Personnel Management and Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Department of Health & Human Services, which are pending before the First Circuit.

“My understanding is that because of the decision about the constitutionality of DOMA, and the position that the administration has taken, we will no longer defend DOMA going forward,” Carney said.

A partial transcript of Carney’s remarks on the DOMA announcement follows:

Associated Press: Could you walk us through on how the president’s position on the Defense of Marriage Act has evolved and how he came to the decision over at the Justice Department to no longer defend its constitutionality?

Jay Carney: Yes. The president’s position on the Defense of Marriage Act has been consistent. He has long opposed it as unnecessary and unfair.

Separate from that, or distinct from that, is the decision that was announced today, which was brought on by a court imposed deadline by the Second Circuit that required a decision by the administration about whether or not this case should require heightened scrutiny, heightened constitutional review, because this unlike the other cases in other circuits, there was no precedent, no foundation on which the administration could defend the Defense of Marriage Act in this case.

Therefore, it had to basically make a positive assertion about its constitutionality. The attorney general recommended that higher level of scrutiny be applied, and under that higher level of scrutiny, deemed or recommended it be viewed as unconstitutional.

The president reviewed that recommendation and concurred. Therefore, again because of the court-imposed deadline and the necessity that this decision be made, our announcement was made.

AP: But, in making that decision, is the president saying that he believes that marriage does not necessarily have to be between one man and one woman — that that cannot be constitutionally imposed?

Carney: The president’s personal view on same-sex marriage I think you all have heard him discuss as recently as the press conference at the end of last year. That is distinct from this legal decision and he — again, the attorney general and the president — were under a court-imposed deadline to make a decision in this case, and they did.

And the president — let me make a couple of points about it — the decision is that we will — the administration will not defend the Defense of Marriage Act in the Second Circuit. Furthermore, the president directed the attorney general not to defend — because of the decision that it is not constitutional — defend the Defense of Marriage Act in any other circuit in any other case.

Let me also make clear, however, that the administration that the United States government will still be a party to those cases in order to allow those cases to proceed, so that the courts can make a final determination about its constitutionality and also so that other interested parties are able to take up the defense of the Defense of Marriage Act if they so wish, in particular, Congress or members of Congress who want to proceed and defend the law in these cases. The administration will do everything it can to assist Congress if it so wishes to do that. We recognize and respect that there are other points of view and other opinions about this.

It is also important to note that the enforcement of the Defense of Marriage Act continues. The president is constitutionally bound to enforce the laws and enforcement of the DOMA will continue.

AP: This raises questions given the president has said his own personal position is evolving. Can you tell us where his position on gay marriage stands at this point?

Carney: I would refer you just to his fairly recent statements on that. He’s grappling with the issue, but he, again, I want to make the distinction between his personal views, which he has discussed, and the legal issue, the legal decision that was made today.

Let me move on.

Washington Blade: Jay, I got a few questions for you on the DOMA decision. Just — what kind of reaction are you expecting from Congress as a result of this decision and what is the administration doing to prepare for that?

Carney: Tell me again, I’m sorry, what kind of reaction?

Blade: — are you expecting from Congress. Any sort of backlash from Congress — what are doing to prepare for that?

Carney: I don’t want to speculate about how members of Congress might react. We have, I believe, and if you haven’t seen these,  you should, the attorney general has both put out a statement and there’s a notification or a letter to Congress that explains the course of action that’s being taken, but beyond that I don’t — I wouldn’t want to speculate.

Blade: I got a statement from Speaker Boehner’s office on this issue. This is from their press office: “While Americans want Washington to focus on creating jobs and cutting spending, the president will have to explain why he thinks now is the appropriate time to stir up a controversial issue that sharply divides the nation.” What’s your response to that?

Carney: Well, I would say simply as I said in the beginning. The administration had no choice. It was under a court-imposed deadline to make this decision. This case in the Second Circuit was unique in that it lacked the precedent upon which to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in the way that this administration defended it in previous cases, and therefore, required this decision on its constitutionality, and we had to act because of the deadline.

We are also absolutely focused and committed on these key issues of economic growth and job creation, and we are now anticipating that this will move to the courts and the courts will decide. And meanwhile, we will continue to focus on job creation and economic growth and “Winning the Future.”

Blade: Just to be clear, just to be clear — will this decision — does it just apply to the four pending lawsuits on DOMA or does it apply to any and every lawsuit for DOMA in the future?

Carney: I would refer you — I’m not a lawyer — but I would refer you to the Justice Department. My understanding is that because of the decision about the constitutionality of DOMA, and the position that the administration has taken, we will no longer defend DOMA going forward. We will, however, continue to enforce it and we will continue to be participants in the cases to allow those cases to continue and be resolved, and so that Congress or members of Congress can pursue the defense if they so desire.

Blade: One last question. One last question. Is there any outcome at the district or appellate level that would persuade the Obama administration to volunteer discontinuing enforcement of DOMA throughout the nation?

Carney: You’re asking me to speculate. I would also note that the president is obligated to enforce the law.

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Bill to ban conversion therapy dies in Puerto Rico Senate committee

Advocacy group describes lawmakers as cowards

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Puerto Rico Pulse nightclub victims, gay news, Washington Blade

 

A Puerto Rico Senate committee on Thursday killed a bill that would have banned so-called conversion therapy on the island.

Members of the Senate Community Initiatives, Mental Health and Addiction Committee voted against Senate Bill 184 by an 8-7 vote margin. Three senators abstained.

Amárilis Pagán Jiménez, a spokesperson for Comité Amplio para la Búsqueda de la Equidad, a coalition of Puerto Rican human rights groups, in a statement sharply criticized the senators who opposed the measure.

“If they publicly recognize that conversion therapies are abuse, if they even voted for a similar bill in the past, if the hearings clearly established that the bill was well-written and was supported by more than 78 professional and civil entities and that it did not interfere with freedom of religion or with the right of fathers and mothers to raise their children, voting against it is therefore one of two things: You are either a hopeless coward or you have the same homophobic and abusive mentality of the hate groups that oppose the bill,” said Pagán in a statement.

Thursday’s vote comes against the backdrop of continued anti-LGBTQ discrimination and violence in Puerto Rico.

Six of the 44 transgender and gender non-conforming people who were reported murdered in the U.S. in 2020 were from Puerto Rico.

A state of emergency over gender-based violence that Gov. Pedro Pierluisi declared earlier this year is LGBTQ-inclusive. Then-Gov. Ricardo Rosselló in 2019 signed an executive order that banned conversion therapy for minors in Puerto Rico.

“These therapies lack scientific basis,” he said. “They cause pain and unnecessary suffering.”

Rosselló issued the order less than two weeks after members of the New Progressive Party, a pro-statehood party  he chaired at the time, blocked a vote in the Puerto Rico House of Representatives on a bill that would have banned conversion therapy for minors in the U.S. commonwealth. Seven out of the 11 New Progressive Party members who are on the Senate Community Initiatives, Mental Health and Addiction Committee voted against SB 184.

“It’s appalling. It’s shameful that the senators didn’t have the strength and the courage that our LGBTQ youth have, and it’s to be brave and to defend our dignity and our humanity as people who live on this island,” said Pedro Julio Serrano, founder of Puerto Rico Para [email protected], a Puerto Rican LGBTQ rights group, in a video. “It’s disgraceful that the senators decided to vote down this measure that would prevent child abuse.”

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Undocumented LGBTQ immigrants turn to Fla. group for support

Survivors Pathway is based in Miami

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Survivors Pathway works with undocumented LGBTQ immigrants and other vulnerable groups in South Florida. (Photo courtesy of Francesco Duberli)

 

MIAMI – The CEO of an organization that provides support to undocumented LGBTQ immigrants says the Biden administration has given many of his clients a renewed sense of hope.

“People definitely feel much more relaxed,” Survivors Pathway CEO Francesco Duberli told the Washington Blade on March 5 during an interview at his Miami office. “There’s much hope. You can tell … the conversation’s shifted.”

Duberli — a gay man from Colombia who received asylum in the U.S. because of anti-gay persecution he suffered in his homeland — founded Survivors Pathway in 2011. The Miami-based organization currently has 23 employees.

Survivors Pathway CEO Francesco Duberli at his office in Miami on March 5, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

Duberli said upwards of 50 percent of Survivors Pathway’s clients are undocumented. Duberli told the Blade that many of them are survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking and victims of hate crimes based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Part of the work that we have done for years is for us to become the bridge between the communities and law enforcement or the justice system in the United States,” said Duberli. “We have focused on creating a language that helps us to create this communication between the undocumented immigrant community and law enforcement, the state attorney’s office and the court.”

“The fear is not only about immigration,” he added. “There are many other factors that immigrants bring with them that became barriers in terms of wanting to or trying to access the justice system in the United States.”

Duberli spoke with the Blade roughly a week after the Biden administration began to allow into the U.S. asylum seekers who had been forced to pursue their cases in Mexico under the previous White House’s “Remain in Mexico” policy.

The administration this week began to reunite migrant children who the Trump administration separated from their parents. Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the coronavirus pandemic, remains in place.

Duberli told the Blade that Survivors Pathway advised some of their clients not to apply for asylum or seek visa renewals until after the election. Duberli conceded “the truth of the matter is that the laws haven’t changed that much” since Biden became president.

Survivors Pathway has worked with LGBTQ people in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody in South Florida. American Civil Liberties Union National Political Director Ronald Newman in an April 28 letter it sent to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas called for the closure of the Krome North Service Processing Center in Miami, the Glades County Detention Center near Lake Okeechobee and 37 other ICE detention centers across the country.

The road leading to the Krome North Service Processing Center in Miami on June 7, 2020. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Survivors Pathway responded to trans woman’s murder in 2020

Survivors Pathway has created a project specifically for trans Latina women who Duberli told the Blade don’t know they can access the judicial system.

Duberli said Survivors Pathway works with local judges and police departments to ensure crime victims don’t feel “discriminated, or outed or mistreated or revictimized” because of their gender identity. Survivors Pathway also works with Marytrini, a drag queen from Cuba who is the artistic producer at Azúcar, a gay nightclub near Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood.

Marytrini and Duberli are among those who responded to the case of Yunieski “Yuni” Carey Herrera, a trans woman and well-known activist and performer from Cuba who was murdered inside her downtown Miami apartment last November. Carey’s boyfriend, who had previously been charged with domestic violence, has been charged with murder.

“That was an ongoing situation,” noted Duberli. “It’s not the only case. There are lots of cases like that.”

Duberli noted a gay man in Miami Beach was killed by his partner the same week.

“There are lots of crimes that happen to our community that never gets to the news,” he said. “We got those cases here because of what we do.”

Yunieski “Yuni” Carey Herrera was murdered in her downtown Miami apartment in November 2020. (Photo courtesy of social media)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Patrick O’Connell, acclaimed AIDS activist, dies at 67

Played key role in creating red ribbon for awareness

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Activist Patrick O’Connell was instrumental in creating the red ribbon to promote AIDS awareness. (Photo courtesy of Allen Frame; courtesy Visual AIDS)

Patrick O’Connell, a founding director of the New York City-based AIDS advocacy group Visual AIDS who played a lead role in developing the internationally recognized display of an inverted, V-shaped red ribbon as a symbol of AIDS advocacy, died on March 23 at a Manhattan hospital from AIDS-related causes, according to the New York Times. He was 67.

Visual AIDS said in a statement that O’Connell held the title of founding director of the organization from 1980 to 1995.

During those years, according to the statement and others who knew him, O’Connell was involved in the group’s widely recognized and supported efforts to use art and artist’s works to advocate in support of people with HIV/AIDS and efforts to curtail the epidemic that had a devastating impact on the art world.

Thanks to a grant from the Art Matters foundation, Visual AIDS was able to retain O’Connell as its first paid staff member in 1990, the group said in its statement.

“Armed with a fax machine and an early Macintosh computer, Patrick helped Visual AIDS grow from a volunteer group to a sustainable non-profit organization,” the statement says. “A passionate spokesperson for the organization, he helped projects like Day Without Art, Night Without Light, and the Red Ribbon reach thousands of people and organizations across the world,” the group says in its statement.

“We were living in a war zone,” the statement quoted O’Connell as saying in a 2011 interview with the Long Island newspaper Newsday. “But it was like a war that was some kind of deep secret only we knew about,” O’Connell said in the interview. “Thousands were dying of AIDS. We felt we had to respond with a visible expression,” he told the newspaper.

With O’Connell’s help, Visual AIDS in 1989 organized the first annual Day Without Art in which dozens of galleries and museums in New York and other cities covered art works with black cloths to symbolize the mourning of those who died of AIDS. Among those participating were the Brooklyn Museum, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which replaced a Picasso painting with a “somber informational placard,” according to the New York Times.

In 1990 O’Connell helped Visual AIDS organize the first Night Without Light, which was held at the time of World AIDS Day. New York City’s skyscraper buildings, bridges, monuments, and Broadway theaters turned off their lights for 15 minutes to commemorate people who lost their lives to AIDS, the New York Times reported.

In the kickoff of its Red Ribbon Project in 1991, McConnell helped organize volunteers to join “ribbon bees” in which thousands of the ribbons were cut and folded for distribution around the city, the Times reports. Those who knew McConnell said he also arranged for his team of volunteers to call Broadway theaters and producers of the upcoming Tony Awards television broadcast to have participants and theater goers display the red ribbons on their clothes.

Among those displaying a red ribbon on his label at the Tony Awards broadcast was actor Jeremy Irons, who was one of the hosts. In later years, large numbers of celebrities followed the practice of wearing the red ribbon, and in 1993 the U.S. Postal Service issued a red ribbon stamp.

The Times reports that O’Connell was born and raised in Manhattan, where he attended Fordham Preparatory School and later graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in history. According to Visual AIDS, O’Connell served as director of the Hallwalls arts center in Buffalo, N.Y. from 1977 to 1978 before returning to New York City to work for a gallery called Artists Space.

The Times reports that O’Connell learned in the middle 1980s that he had contracted AIDS and began a regimen of early AIDS treatment with a cocktail of over 30 pills a day. His involvement with Visual AIDS, which began in 1989, ended on an active basis in 1995 when his health worsened, the Times reports.

As one of the last remaining survivors of his New York contemporaries who had HIV beginning in the 1980s, O’Connell continued in his strong support for AIDS-related causes through 2000s and beyond, people who knew him said.
Visual AIDS says it is gathering remembrances and photos for a tribute post for O’Connell on its website. It has invited people to share their memories of him by sending written contributions and images via email to: [email protected].

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