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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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National

Guatemalan LGBTQ activist granted asylum in US

Estuardo Cifuentes fled country in 2019

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Estuardo Cifuentes outside a port of entry in Brownsville, Texas, on March 3, 2021, shortly after he entered the U.S. (Photo courtesy of Estuardo Cifuentes)

The U.S. has granted asylum to a Guatemalan LGBTQ activist who fled his country in 2019.

Estuardo Cifuentes and his partner ran a digital marketing and advertising business in Guatemala City. 

He previously told the Washington Blade that gang members extorted from them. Cifuentes said they closed their business after they attacked them.

Cifuentes told the Blade that Guatemalan police officers attacked him in front of their home when he tried to kiss his partner. Cifuentes said the officers tried to kidnap him and one of them shot at him. He told the Blade that authorities placed him under surveillance after the incident and private cars drove past his home.

Cifuentes arrived in Matamoros, a Mexican border city that is across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas, in June 2019. He asked for asylum in the U.S. based on the persecution he suffered in Guatemala because of his sexual orientation.

The Trump administration forced Cifuentes to pursue his asylum case from Mexico under its Migrant Protection Protocols program that became known as the “remain in Mexico” policy.

Cifuentes while in Matamoros ran Rainbow Bridge Asylum Seekers, a program for LGBTQ asylum seekers and migrants that the Resource Center Matamoros, a group that provides assistance to asylum seekers and migrants in the Mexican border city, helped create.

The Biden-Harris administration in January 2021 suspended enrollment in MPP. Cifuentes entered the U.S. on March 3, 2021.

“We are profoundly relieved and grateful that my husband and I have been officially recognized as asylees in the United States,” Cifuentes told the Blade on Monday in an email. “This result marks the end of a long and painful fight against the persecution that we faced in Guatemala because of our sexual orientation.”

Vice President Kamala Harris is among those who have said discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation are among the root causes of migration from Guatemala and other countries in Central America.

Cifuentes is now the client services manager for Lawyers for Good Government’s Project Corazón, a campaign that works “hard to reunite and defend the rights of families impacted by inhumane immigration policies.” He told the Blade he will continue to help LGBTQ asylum seekers and migrants.

“In this new chapter of our lives, we pledge to work hard to support others in similar situations and to contribute to the broader fight for the rights and acceptance of the LGBTQ+ migrant community,” said Cifuentes. “We are hopeful that our story will serve as a call to action to confront and end persecution based on gender identity and sexual orientation.”

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U.S. Supreme Court

US Supreme Court rules Idaho to enforce gender care ban

House Bill 71 signed in 2023

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U.S. Supreme Court (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

BY MIA MALDONADO | The U.S. Supreme Court has allowed Idaho to enforce House Bill 71, a law banning Idaho youth from receiving gender-affirming care medications and surgeries.

In an opinion issued Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court granted the state of Idaho’s request to stay the preliminary injunction, which blocked the law from taking effect. This means the preliminary injunction now only applies to the plaintiffs involved in Poe v. Labrador — a lawsuit brought on by the families of two transgender teens in Idaho who seek gender-affirming care. 

Monday’s Supreme Court decision enforces the gender-affirming care ban for all other trans youth in Idaho as the lawsuit remains ongoing in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador
Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador gives a speech at the Idaho GOP election night watch party at the Grove Hotel in Boise, Idaho, on Nov. 8, 2022. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Idaho, both of whom represent the plaintiffs, said in a press release Monday that the ruling “does not touch upon the constitutionality” of HB 71. The groups called Monday’s ruling an “awful result” for trans Idaho youth and their families.

“Today’s ruling allows the state to shut down the care that thousands of families rely on while sowing further confusion and disruption,” the organizations said in the press release. “Nonetheless, today’s result only leaves us all the more determined to defeat this law in the courts entirely, making Idaho a safer state to raise every family.”

Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador in a press release said the state has a duty to protect and support all children, and that he is proud of the state’s legal stance. 

“Those suffering from gender dysphoria deserve love, support and medical care rooted in biological reality,” Labrador said. “Denying the basic truth that boys and girls are biologically different hurts our kids. No one has the right to harm children, and I’m grateful that we, as the state, have the power — and duty — to protect them.”

Recap of Idaho’s HB 71, and what led to SCOTUS opinion

Monday’s Supreme Court decision traces back to when HB 71 was signed into law in April 2023.

The law makes it a felony punishable for up to 10 years for doctors to provide surgeries, puberty-blockers and hormones to trans people under the age of 18. However, gender-affirming surgeries are not and were not performed among Idaho adults or youth before the bill was signed into law, the Idaho Capital Sun previously reported

One month after it was signed into law, the families of two trans teens sued the state in a lawsuit alleging the bill violates the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law.

In late December, just days before the law was set to take effect in the new year, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill blocked the law from taking effect under a preliminary injunction. In his decision, he said he found the families likely to succeed in their challenge.

The state of Idaho responded by appealing the district court’s preliminary injunction decision to the Ninth Circuit, to which the Ninth Circuit denied. The state of Idaho argued the court should at least enforce the ban for everyone except for the plaintiffs. 

After the Ninth Circuit’s denial, the Idaho Attorney General’s Office in February sent an emergency motion to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Idaho Press reported. Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision agrees with the state’s request to enforce its ban on trans health care for minors, except for the two plaintiffs.

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Mia Maldonado

Mia Maldonado joined the Idaho Capital Sun after working as a breaking news reporter at the Idaho Statesman covering stories related to crime, education, growth and politics. She previously interned at the Idaho Capital Sun through the Voces Internship of Idaho, an equity-driven program for young Latinos to work in Idaho news. Born and raised in Coeur d’Alene, Mia moved to the Treasure Valley for college where she graduated from the College of Idaho with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and international political economy.

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The preceding piece was previously published by the Idaho Capital Sun and is republished with permission.

The Idaho Capital Sun is the Gem State’s newest nonprofit news organization delivering accountability journalism on state politics, health care, tax policy, the environment and more.

We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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Kansas

Kansas governor vetoes ban on health care for transgender youth

Republican lawmakers have vowed to override veto

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Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed two abortion bills and a measure criminalizing transgender health care for minors. House and Senate Republican leaders responded with promises to seek veto overrides when the full Legislature returned to Topeka on April 26. (Photo by Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

BY TIM CARPENTER | Gov. Laura Kelly flexed a veto pen to reject bills Friday prohibiting gender identity health care for transgender youth, introducing a vague crime of coercing someone to have an abortion and implementing a broader survey of women seeking abortion that was certain to trigger veto override attempts in the Republican-led House and Senate.

The decisions by the Democratic governor to use her authority to reject these health and abortion rights bills didn’t come as a surprise given her previous opposition to lawmakers intervening in personal decisions that she believed ought to remain the domain of families and physicians.

Kelly said Senate Bill 233, which would ban gender-affirming care for trans minors in Kansas, was an unwarranted attack on a small number of Kansans under 18. She said the bill was based on a politically distorted belief the Legislature knew better than parents how to raise their children.

She said it was neither a conservative nor Kansas value to block medical professionals from performing surgery or prescribing puberty blockers for their patients. She said stripping doctors of their licenses for serving health interests of patients was wrong. Under the bill, offending physicians could be face lawsuits and their professional liability insurance couldn’t be relied on to defend themselves in court.

“To be clear, this legislation tramples parental rights,” Kelly said. “The last place that I would want to be as a politician is between a parent and a child who needed medical care of any kind. And, yet, that is exactly what this legislation does.”

Senate President Ty Masterson (R-Andover) and House Speaker Dan Hawkins (R-Wichita) responded to the governor by denouncing the vetoes and pledging to seek overrides when legislators returned to the Capitol on April 26. The trans bill was passed 27-13 in the Senate and 82-39 in the House, suggesting both chambers were in striking distance of a two-thirds majority necessary to thwart the governor.

“The governor has made it clear yet again that the radical left controls her veto pen,” Masterson said. “This devotion to extremism will not stand, and we look forward to overriding her vetoes when we return in two weeks.”

Cathryn Oakley, senior director of the Human Rights Campaign, said the ban on crucial, medically necessary health care for trans youth was discriminatory, designed to spread dangerous misinformation and timed to rile up anti-LGBTQ activists.

“Every credible medical organization — representing over 1.3 million doctors in the United States — calls for age-appropriate, gender-affirming care for transgender and nonbinary people,” Oakley said. “This is why majorities of Americans oppose criminalizing or banning gender-affirming care.”

Abortion coercion

Kelly also vetoed House Bill 2436 that would create the felony crime of engaging in physical, financial or documentary coercion to compel a girl or woman to end a pregnancy despite an expressed desire to carry the fetus to term. It was approved 27-11 in the Senate and 82-37 in the House, again potentially on the cusp of achieving a veto override.

The legislation would establish sentences of one year in jail and $5,000 fine for those guilty of abortion coercion. The fine could be elevated to $10,000 if the adult applying the pressure was the fetuses’ father and the pregnant female was under 18. If the coercion was accompanied by crimes of stalking, domestic battery, kidnapping or about 20 other offenses the prison sentence could be elevated to 25 years behind bars.

Kelly said no one should be forced to undergo a medical procedure against their will. She said threatening violence against another individual was already a crime in Kansas.

“Additionally, I am concerned with the vague language in this bill and its potential to intrude upon private, often difficult, conversations between a person and their family, friends and health care providers,” the governor said. “This overly broad language risks criminalizing Kansans who are being confided in by their loved ones or simply sharing their expertise as a health care provider.”

Hawkins, the House Republican leader, said coercion was wrong regardless of the circumstances and Kelly’s veto of the bill was a step too far to the left.

“It’s a sad day for Kansas when the governor’s uncompromising support for abortion won’t even allow her to advocate for trafficking and abuse victims who are coerced into the procedure,” Hawkins said.

Emily Wales, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, said HB 2436 sought to equate abortion with crime, perpetuate false narratives and erode a fundamental constitutional right to bodily autonomy. The bill did nothing to protect Kansas from reproductive coercion, including forced pregnancy or tampering with birth control.

“Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes trusts patients and stands firmly against any legislation that seeks to undermine reproductive rights or limit access to essential health care services,” Wales said.

Danielle Underwood, spokeswoman for Kansas for Life, said “Coercion Kelly” demonstrated with this veto a lack of compassion for women pushed into an abortion.

The abortion survey

The House and Senate approved a bill requiring more than a dozen questions be added to surveys of women attempting to terminate a pregnancy in Kansas. Colorful debate in the House included consideration of public health benefits of requiring interviews of men about reasons they sought a vasectomy birth control procedure or why individuals turned to health professionals for treatment of erectile dysfunction.

House Bill 2749 adopted 81-39 in the House and 27-13 in the Senate would require the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to produce twice-a-year reports on responses to the expanded abortion survey. The state of Kansas cannot require women to answer questions on the survey.

Kelly said in her veto message the bill was “invasive and unnecessary” and legislators should have taken into account rejection in August 2022 of a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution that would have set the stage for legislation further limiting or ending access to abortion.

“There is no valid medical reason to force a woman to disclose to the Legislature if they have been a victim of abuse, rape or incest prior to obtaining an abortion,” Kelly said. “There is also no valid reason to force a woman to disclose to the Legislature why she is seeking an abortion. I refuse to sign legislation that goes against the will of the majority of Kansans who spoke loudly on Aug. 2, 2022. Kansans don’t want politicians involved in their private medical decisions.”

Wales, of Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, said the bill would have compelled health care providers to “interrogate patients seeking abortion care” and to engage in violations of patient privacy while inflicting undue emotional distress.

Hawkins, the Republican House speaker, said the record numbers of Kansas abortions — the increase has been driven by bans or restrictions imposed in other states — was sufficient to warrant scrutiny of KDHE reporting on abortion. He also said the governor had no business suppressing reporting on abortion and criticized her for tapping into “irrational fears of offending the for-profit pro-abortion lobby.”

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Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International.

The preceding story was previously published by the Kansas Reflector and is republished with permission.

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The Kansas Reflector is a nonprofit news operation providing in-depth reporting, diverse opinions and daily coverage of state government and politics. This public service is free to readers and other news outlets. We are part of States Newsroom: the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization, with reporting from every capital.

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