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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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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. reddragon696

    February 24, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    Considering that not so long ago President Obama’s marriage was illegal in the U.S. it really makes me wonder why he personally would continue to endorse the discrimination against Gays by denying them the Right to Marry. Doesn’t he feel that the Laws of this country should be enforced the same way towards ALL citizens and not just the ones Congress endorses at the moment? How can he, in all good conscience, allow himself or the Country he represents to discriminate against a significant segment of the population? If President Obama continues to practice such bigotry and homophobia himself, how can he ask the rest of Society to do something different?

  2. Theresa

    February 24, 2011 at 7:39 pm

    I know the Republicans in Congress are going to want to defend DOMA in court, but really do they want to? Do they want to go against an 81 year old widow? Spend the resources of the government to defend something that won’t make any difference to the average American who needs a job? Really? Why would they do such a thing when it can so easily be thrown in their faces in the next election? Instead of working on getting middle class and poor families on their feet, they’d be spending their time and tax payer’s money on a lawsuit against a little old lady! NOT a good position to take. Better to let everyone in a LEGAL relationship marry if they want to, as they aren’t breaking any laws, and let the states collect the marriage revenue!

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National

Rachel Levine on becoming four-star admiral: ‘It comes from my desire to serve’

Trans official sworn-in to U.S. Public Health Service

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For Rachel Levine, the appointment to her new role as a four-star admiral complementing her existing duties as assistant secretary for health is another way for the first openly transgender Senate-confirmed presidential appointee to serve.

“I think that this just really comes from my desire to serve in all capacities,” Levine said in an interview Tuesday with the Washington Blade. “To serve the first day in my field of academic medicine and pediatrics, but then in Pennsylvania and now in the federal government, and it furthers my ability to do that.”

Levine, 63, also recognized the importance of the appointment as a transgender person within the U.S. Public Health Service, for which she was ceremonially sworn in on Tuesday

“I think for the LGBTQ+ community, it is a further sign of progress and our president’s commitment to equity, to inclusion and diversity,” Levine said. “So I think that it is a very important milestone, and I’m pleased to serve.”

As part of her duties, Levine will lead an estimated 6,000 public health service officers serving vulnerable populations, including deployments inside and outside the country for communities beleaguered with the coronavirus, according to the Department of Health & Human Services. The role involves working closely with U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murphy, whom Levine called her “friend and colleague.”

The U.S. Public Health Service, Levine said, has deployed “many, many times,” including its greatest number ever of deployments to vulnerable populations during the coronavirus pandemic. Among the places the service has deployed, Levine said, was in her home state of Pennsylvania, where she recently served as secretary of health.

Not only is Levine the first openly transgender person to serve in the uniformed health service as a four-star general, but she’s also the first woman to serve in that capacity.

“We have 6,000 dedicated committed public servants really all focused on our nation’s health, and they serve in details to the CDC and the FDA and the NIH, but also clinically with the Indian Health Service, and the federal prison system,” Levine said. “They’re also detailed and deployed throughout the country, and they deployed like never before for COVID-19 as well as the border, as well as dealing with floods and hurricanes and tornadoes.”

Although the Public Health Service is primarily focused on addressing public health disasters within the United States, Levine said it has a record of deployments overseas, including years ago when it was deployed to Africa under the threat of Ebola.

Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra had high praise for Levine in a statement upon news of taking on a leadership position in the service.

“This is a proud moment for us at HHS,” Becerra said. “Adm. Levine — a highly accomplished pediatrician who helps drive our agency’s agenda to boost health access and equity and to strengthen behavioral health — is a cherished and critical partner in our work to build a healthier America.”

Levine, however, was careful to draw a distinction between her appointment within the Public Health Service and being a service member within the U.S. armed forces.

“It is not a military branch, it’s not the armed forces: It’s a uniformed force, so it’s different,” Levine said. “For example, the Army, the Navy, our military, there are two other uniformed branches, and that is ours, the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and NOAA.”

The new role, Levine said, would complement her duties as assistant secretary for health. Although not only secretaries of health have been commissioned to take the uniform, Levine said she wanted to undertake that as part of her role in the Biden administration.

The two appointments were not simultaneous, Levine said, because of a general process she undertook, which was completed just this week.

It hasn’t been an easy road for Levine. During her Senate confirmation process, when she was hounded by anti-transgender attacks in conservative media and rude, invasive questioning by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on her gender identity.

Levine, however, said she hasn’t encountered any hostility regarding her new role (as of now) and shrugged off any potential attacks in the future and said the move is about her career “to serve and to help people.”

“I’ve continued that for our nation as the assistant secretary for health and this is just a further demonstration of my commitment to service,” Levine said. “I don’t know what others will say, but that’s the genesis of my wanting to serve in the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, and to place on the uniform.”

Levine’s new appointment comes shortly after a group of Democratic senators led by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) sent her a letter dated Sept. 30 calling on her and Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, assistant secretary for mental health and substance use, to issue new guidance for hospital or residential care on mental health needs of transgender people.

Asked about the letter, Levine said mental health issues are under the authority of Delphin-Rittmon and the two “will work together and we will respond.”

Specifically, the senators in the letter call on the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council, or BHCC, and experts in the field of adolescent trans care to offer guidance on best practices for inpatient mental health care among these youth.

Asked what the response will look like, Levine said, “We’re going to work on that.”

“We will be looking at what they’re asking for and the requirements, and we’ll talk with them and the stakeholders and we’ll look to issue appropriate guidance,” Levine said.

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National

Colin Powell, leaving mixed legacy on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ dies at 84

Key figure once opposed gays in military, then backed review

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gay news, Washington Blade, Colin Powell, gay marriage
Colin Powell leaves behind a mixed legacy on 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Colin Powell, the first ever Black secretary of state who served in top diplomatic and military roles in U.S. administrations, died Monday of coronavirus at age 84, leaving behind a mixed record on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

The world continues to grapple with the pandemic and the public grows increasingly frustrated with its persistence as many remain unvaccinated despite the wide availability of vaccines. Powell was fully vaccinated, according to a statement released upon his death. Powell reportedly suffered from multiple myeloma, a condition that hampers an individual’s ability to combat blood infections.

Rising to the top of the military as chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Powell supported in 1993 Congress moving forward with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a law that barred openly gay people from serving in the U.S. military.

During a key moment congressional testimony, Powell and other top military officials were asked whether or not allowing gay people in the military would be compatible with military readiness. Each official, including Powell,” responded “incompatible.” Congress would enact “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” that year.

Things changed when President Obama took office 15 years later and advocates for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” were eager to claim Powell’s voice among their ranks. After all, Powell was highly respected as a bipartisan voice after having served as secretary of state in the administration of George W. Bush and endorsing Obama in the 2008 election.

After the Obama administration in 2010 announced it would conduct a review of the idea of allowing gay people to serve openly in the military, Powell came out in support of that process. Advocates of repeal called that a declaration of reversal, although the statement fell short of a full support for gay people serving openly in the military.

“In the almost 17 years since the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ legislation was passed, attitudes and circumstances have changed,” General Powell said in a statement issued by his office, adding, “I fully support the new approach presented to the Senate Armed Services Committee this week by Secretary of Defense Gates and Admiral Mullen.”

Congress acted to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the policy was lifted in 2011. At the time, Powell was widely considered a supporter of ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and publicly counted among supporters of repeal, although the Blade couldn’t immediately find any statements from him to that effect.

In 2012, Powell had similar vaguely supportive words on same-sex marriage, saying he had “no problem with it” when asked about the issue.

“As I’ve thought about gay marriage, I know a lot of friends who are individually gay but are in partnerships with loved ones, and they are as stable a family as my family is, and they raise children,” Powell said. “And so I don’t see any reason not to say that they should be able to get married.”

The Blade also couldn’t immediately find any statement from Powell on transgender people serving in the military. After the Obama administration in 2016 lifted decades-old regulations against transgender service, former President Trump issued a ban by tweet the following year. President Biden reversed that ban and allowed transgender people to serve and enlist in the military in his first year in office.

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Texas

Texas House approves anti-trans youth sports bill

HB 25 now heads to state Senate

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GenderCool Project leader and Trans activist Landon Richie (Photo courtesy of Landon Richie)

Texas House Republicans were able to push through the anti-trans youth sports measure Thursday evening after hours of emotional and at times rancorous debate, passing the bill in a 76-54 vote along party lines.

Under the provisions of Texas House Bill 25, all trans student athletes in grades K-12 will be prohibited from competing on sports teams aligned with their gender identity. The bill will now head to the Senate, where it is expected to pass.

The Texas Tribune reported that the University Interscholastic League, which governs school sports in Texas, already requires that an athlete’s gender be determined by the sex listed on their birth certificate. Republican Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, the author of HB 25 has said the bill would simply “codify” existing UIL rules.

However, UIL recognizes any legally modified birth certificates. That policy could accommodate someone who may have had their birth certificate changed to match their gender identity, which can sometimes be an arduous process.

HB 25 would not allow recognition of these legally modified birth certificates unless changes were made because of a clerical error. It’s not clear though how it will be determined if a birth certificate has been legally modified or not. According to the UIL, the process for checking student birth certificates is left up to schools and districts, not the UIL the Tribune reported.

“To say that tonight’s passage of HB 25 is devastating is an understatement. For the past 10 grueling, exhausting, and deeply traumatic months, trans youth have been forced to debate their very existence—only to be met by the deaf ears and averted eyes of our state’s leaders,” Landon Richie, a GenderCool Project leader, University of Houston student and Transactivist told the Washington Blade after the vote.

“Make no mistake: This bill will not only have detrimental impacts on trans youth, who already suffer immense levels of harassment and bullying in schools, but also on cisgender youth who don’t conform to Texas’s idea of ‘male’ or ‘female.’ To trans kids everywhere: you belong, you are loved, you are valued, you are deserving of dignity, respect, care and the ability to live freely as your true and authentic selves, no matter where you are. We will never stop fighting for trans lives and a future where trans kids are unequivocally and unwaveringly celebrated for who they are,” Richie said.

“The cruelty of this bill is breathtaking, and the legislators who are pushing it forward are doing irreparable harm to our state. Texas is a place where people value freedom and respect for diversity. This bill is a betrayal of those cherished values, and future generations will look back on this moment in disbelief that elected officials supported such an absurd and hateful measure,” Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights told the Blade. “The families of these kids deserve better, and the burden is now on the rest of us to do everything in our power to stop this dangerous bill now,” he added.

During the debate on the measure, state Rep. James Talarico, (D-Round Rock), a former middle school teacher, began his remarks by apologizing to the trans kids and families who have gone to the Capitol time and time again this year. He tells the chamber he speaks now as a legislator, and educator, and a Christian.

He quoted Republican Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, the author of HB 25 who said “if one girl wins a game, it’s worth it.” He says he has a different moral yardstick. “If one trans kid dies for a trophy, this bill is grotesque.”

He ended speaking to his “fellow believers” in the chamber. “The worst part in these hearings have been in hearing the Bible used against trans kids to support these bills. Even tonight, ‘God’s law’ was used to present an amendment.” He then quoted the first two lines of the Bible, where God is referred to with two different Hebrew words, one masculine/one feminine. “God is non-binary.” He then prevented an interruption in the chamber and continued telling trans kids that he loves them.

Fellow Democratic state Rep. Jessica González, (D-Dallas County), vice-chair of the Texas House LGBTQ Caucus asked the chamber how many trans Texas kids they are willing to hurt. She reminded her fellow representatives that cisgender women and girls will also be hurt by the bill. She shared a personal story about being outed in high school by a friend, having her locker, home, and car vandalized and losing all of her friends. “Kids are cruel.”

González told lawmakers that her brother encouraged her to try out for soccer, and she was bullied with comments like “shouldn’t she be trying out for the boys’ team.” She went from feeling a bit accepted to being an outsider again. She then reflected on carrying those feelings into adulthood and said that this bill will have long-term affects on trans kids. She asked legislators to listen to the stories of the trans kids who have bravely testified, saying kids will contemplate suicide or complete suicide.

Representative Diego Bernal, (D-San Antonio), told the chamber that some representatives can’t wrap their heads around knowing that there is no problem but there is *real* harm to trans kids, and for whatever reason, that’s not enough it seems to stop moving these bills.

He said that he has heard “if they already have mental health issues and suicide ideation, this can’t make it worse” and “if the debate is harming them, let’s just vote.” The he breaks down the Texas statute’s definition of bullying, telling lawmakers, “The bullying statute doesn’t have an intent requirement. It doesn’t matter if you don’t mean to cause them harm. We are bullying these students. Know that by law … our own definitions and our own words, we are. And we don’t have to.”

“Texas lawmakers voted today to deliberately discriminate against transgender children. Excluding transgender students from participating in sports with their peers violates the Constitution and puts already vulnerable youth at serious risk of mental and emotional harm,” Adri Perez, policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas said in a statement to the Blade.

“There is no evidence that transgender kids pose any threat. It is indefensible that legislators would force transgender youth and their families to travel to Austin to defend their own humanity, then blatantly ignore hours of testimony about the real damage this bill causes. Trans kids and their families deserve our love and support—they’ve been fighting this legislation for months. Texans will hold lawmakers accountable for their cruelty,” she added.

The statewide LGBTQ+ advocacy group Equality Texas in a tweet after the vote said; ” We will not stop fighting to protect transgender children.” Then added “We’ll continue to educate lawmakers—replacing misinformation with real stories—and demand the statewide and federal nondiscrimination protections we need to prevent further harms.”

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