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Lesbian guardsman calls on Boehner to drop DOMA defense

Cancer patient fears she may not ‘have the time to wait’

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Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan (Blade photo by Michael Key)

A lesbian guardsman suffering from cancer is calling on House Speaker John Boehner to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court.

She met with staff in his D.C. office on Thursday in an effort to convince the Ohio Republican to discontinue support for the anti-gay law.

Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan met with Katherine Haley, a policy assistant to Boehner, to ask the speaker to drop defense of DOMA so that upon her death, her spouse, Kathy Morgan, can receive federal benefits. Morgan serves in the New Hampshire National Guard and just returned from deployment in Kuwait.

In September 2011, the guardsman was diagnosed with stage-four incurable breast cancer. After being first diagnosed in 2008 and undergoing a double mastectomy and chemotherapy, Morgan was declared cancer-free and deployed to Kuwait, but was later informed her cancer had returned and has resumed chemotherapy.

“I’m very worried about the military survivor benefits for Karen if I don’t survive this bout with cancer,” Morgan said in a Washington Blade interview. “I explained to her that I wasn’t afraid to die, but I was worried that Karen would not receive the same spousal survivor benefits as our heterosexual counterparts.”

Among the benefits that Morgan is seeking for her spouse are survivor’s benefits, Social Security benefits and health insurance coverage.

Morgan said Boehner’s staffer spoke with her for about 15 to 20 minutes and was “polite” and “empathetic,” but said Boehner would probably continue to defend DOMA in court.

“I told her that I believe in miracles, but it was important for her to relate to the speaker that I need this to happen now because I don’t have the time necessarily to wait through the legislative or judicial process,” Morgan said. “If he were to not defend DOMA, that would immediately [help] my family and benefit us.”

Michael Steele, a Boehner spokesperson, confirmed “the meeting did occur,” but declined to offer any more information about the discussion or Morgan’s call for Boehner to discontinue his defense of DOMA.

The Morgans are among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit that Servicemembers Legal Defense Network filed in October on behalf of gay troops and veterans against DOMA on the basis that the anti-gay law blocks them form receiving federal benefits afforded to service members in opposite-sex marriages. Morgan attended the meeting with Boehner’s staff along with David McKean, an SLDN attorney.

During the meeting, Morgan submitted photos of herself in uniform, and with her partner and daughter as well as a letter dated Feb. 9 about her struggle with cancer, her family’s military history and how the veterans benefits her mother received upon the death of her father, who was in the Army and deployed twice to Germany, helped her keep “a roof over our heads and food on the table.”

“The military informs us that it is only as strong as the families that support it,” the letter states. “In turn, my military leadership supports my efforts to attain benefits to take care of my family. As a service member who has proven that I am willing to die for my country I am asking you not to defend DOMA for the sake of the many people whose lives it negatively impacts.”

The meeting follows a similar letter dated Dec. 23 that Morgan sent to Boehner asking him for a meeting to discuss the negative impact that DOMA has on her family.

After the Justice Department announced last year President Obama had determined DOMA was unconstitutional and would no longer defend the statute against litigation, Boehner convened the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group in the House, which voted in March along party lines to take up defense in the administration’s stead.

Congress is unlikely to repeal DOMA legislatively given its given makeup. The Senate Judiciary Committee reported out legislation to repeal the law in November, but there are no plans for a floor vote. Success on the House floor is unlikely and Boehner has indicated he won’t bring up the repeal legislation to a vote.

The Obama administration has a deadline of Feb. 28 to respond to the lawsuit in which Morgan is a plaintiff. The administration is expected to decline to take up defense of the law and for Boehner to take up defense of the law as he has with other DOMA cases.

Aubrey Sarvis, SLDN’s executive director, said in a statement Boehner should drop defense of DOMA so the courts can decide the constitutionality of the anti-gay law on their own and permit Morgan and others in same-sex relationships to receive federal benefits.

“Our message for Speaker Boehner and others today is simply this: Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan can’t wait,” Sarvis said. “She and her family deserve equal treatment, and she may not have years for this process to play out in the courts or on Capitol Hill. Speaker Boehner can make a difference here, and we respectfully ask him to take a look at this case and get to know this family. We are confident that when he does, he will see that these discriminatory laws hurt our military, harm families and are indefensible.”

The meeting with Boehner’s office isn’t the only one Morgan had on Capitol Hill. The lesbian guardsman also met with her member of Congress, Rep. Frank Guinta (R-N.H.), about her desire for Boehner to discontinue defense of DOMA. SLDN’s McKean was present during this meeting as well.

Morgan said she spoke with Guinta for close to 10 minutes. She said he was also “empathetic” to her situation and said he’d “see what he can do.”

“I also explained to him that I knew that he was pro-military because he comes from New Hampshire and the congressional delegates from New Hampshire are pro-military,” Morgan said. “But I explained to him that for me it was a military issue. It wasn’t just my issue. It was an issue for all other thousands of gay and lesbian families in the same situation across the nation.”

A spokesperson for Guinta declined to comment on the meeting, saying its was a private discussion between the lawmaker and one of his constituents. Guinta isn’t a co-sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act, legislation that would repeal DOMA.

In addition to the lawsuit, SLDN also launched an online petition at Change.org on the same day of the meeting calling on Boehner to discontinue his defense of DOMA in court. As of late afternoon on Thursday, the petition had 211 signatures.

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State Department

State Department spokesperson criticizes new Russia propaganda law

Statute ‘pushes LGBTQI+ persons further to the margins of Russian society’

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State Department spokesperson Ned Price, center, speaks at the LGBTQ Victory Fund's International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in D.C. on Dec. 3, 2022. Price, who is openly gay, has criticized an anti-LGBTQ propaganda law that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed this week. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Tuesday sharply criticized the anti-LGBTQ propaganda law that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the day before.

Price, who is openly gay, noted to reporters during a press briefing the law “further criminalizes the sharing of information about LGBTQI+ persons.”

“The law is another serious blow to freedom of expression in Russia, and a continuation of the Kremlin’s broader, long-running crackdown against marginalized persons, dissenting voices, civil society and independent media that it has intensified, as it has failed to achieve its objectives in its unconscionable war against Ukraine,” said Price. 

“The law pushes LGBTQI+ persons further to the margins of Russian society, fueling and amplifying the prejudice, discrimination, violence and stigma they face. The legislation is a clear attempt by the Kremlin to distract from its own failures by scapegoating vulnerable communities and creating phantom enemies,” he added. “We stand in solidarity with LGBTQI+ persons in Russia and around the world who seek to exercise the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognizes that all human beings are free and equal in dignity and rights.”

The law that Putin signed on Monday expands the existing “Protecting Children from Information Advocating a Denial of Traditional Family Values” statute that took effect in Russia in 2013. 

The new law will ban so-called LGBTQ propaganda and materials that discuss gender reassignment surgery and LGBTQ and intersex issues to minors, which it categorizes as the promotion of pedophilia. Russian media reports indicate the new law will apply to films, books, commercials, media outlets and computer games.

Anyone who violates the law could face a fine of up to 10 million rubles ($165,152.80.) Authorities could also force businesses and organizations to temporarily close, and foreigners who violate the law could face arrest, incarceration for up to 15 days, a fine of up to 5,000 rubles and deportation.

Putin signed the law against the backdrop of Russia’s continued war against Ukraine.

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National

Club Q suspect indicted on 305 charges

22-year-old charged with first-degree murder, bias-motivated crime

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(Photo courtesy of Club Q Facebook page)

El Paso County (Colo.) District Attorney Michael Allen announced in the first in-person hearing on Tuesday that the 22-year-old suspect in the mass shooting at the LGBTQ nightclub Club Q, which killed five and wounded dozens of others, will face 305 charges including first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and bias-motivated crime.

The Colorado Springs Gazette newspaper reported Anderson Aldrich appeared in a Colorado Springs courtroom wearing a green jumpsuit and handcuffs. Aldrich’s facial bruising had significantly healed since a video hearing two weeks ago. 

The total list of charges according to the Gazette is as follows: 

• 10 counts of first-degree murder.

• 86 counts of attempted first-degree murder.

• 86 counts of first-degree assault.

• Four counts of second-degree assault.

• 48 counts of bias-motivated crime. 

• 71 counts of violent crime causing death and using a weapon.

Allen said the prosecution may request to amend the charges in the future.

“We are not going to tolerate actions against community members based on their sexual identity,” Allen said at a news conference after the hearing. “Members of that community have been harassed and intimated and abused for too long. And that’s not going to occur in the 4th Judicial District.”

During the hearing Judge Michael McHenry, following the filing of formal charges, granted a request from Allen for the suspect’s arrest affidavit to be unsealed. The court papers should be available to the public by the end of the day Wednesday, the judge noted according to the Gazette.

Allen said that while he couldn’t talk about what is in the affidavit, he told reporters that it might contain “much less information than you might expect.”

Suspect in Club Q shooting appears in court:

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U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court hears oral arguments in 303 Creative case

Dangerous implications for LGBTQ consumers

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

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday heard oral arguments in 303 Creative v. Elenis, a case that could carry broad implications for whether and in which circumstances states may enforce certain nondiscrimination rules against purveyors of goods and services.

The case was brought by website designer Lorie Smith, who sought to include a disclaimer that her company 303 Creative would not develop wedding announcement websites for LGBTQ couples, but discovered that such a notice would violate Colorado’s anti-discrimination laws, which include sexual orientation as a protected class.

Her lawsuit against the state of Colorado, argued by counsel from the anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), reaches the Supreme Court following the ruling against Smith from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which created a circuit split with decisions from the 8th Circuit and Arizona Supreme Court. A ruling is expected to come in June.

The fact pattern in 303 Creative closely mirrors the 2018 case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, where the Supreme Court declined to rule on the broader legal questions because it found the Commission exhibited hostility toward the religious views of the bakery that refused to design a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

The high court has since moved substantially to the right, with a 6-3 conservative supermajority. Colorado is one of 20 states that enforces laws prohibiting businesses from discrimination based on sexual orientation, and a ruling that would allow for broadly construed exemptions to be carved out for firms based on their First Amendment protections would carry implications well beyond the context of same-sex marriage.

Monday’s oral arguments focused on preexisting and hypothetical cases that were presented by counsel from both parties as well as by the justices, examples whose scope and fact patterns reinforced the breadth of the legal issues at play in 303 Creative.  

Colorado Solicitor General Eric Olson and U.S. Principal Deputy Solicitor General Brian Fletcher pointed to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights, 2006, which found that the federal government may withhold funding from universities that, based on their objections to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” refuse to grant military recruiters access to their resources.

ADF CEO, President and General Counsel Kristen Waggoner cited the Supreme Court’s decision in Hurley v. Irish American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston, 1995, which upheld the right of private organizations to exclude participation by certain groups without interference by the state, even if that intervention by the government was for the purpose of preventing discrimination.

Much of the discussion during Monday’s oral arguments centered on what kinds of goods and services may be considered public accommodations and which constitute artistic speech or expression by the business provider. Also at issue were questions such as whether their refusal to accommodate certain events – i.e., same-sex weddings – are tantamount to refusing goods and services to members of a protected class of people under the state’s non-discrimination laws.

LGBTQ rights groups fear the implications of a ruling in favor of 303 Creative  

ADF is designated an anti-LGBTQ extremist group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. An amicus brief was filed in support of the government by the corporate law firm White & Case along with a coalition of LGBTQ rights groups and legal advocacy groups: the National LGBTQ Task Force, GLAD, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Lambda Legal, and the Human Rights Campaign.

“Just two weeks after a shooter killed 5 people, injured 18, and traumatized so many others at Club Q in Colorado Springs, the United States Supreme Court prepares to hear oral arguments in an anti-LGBTQ public accommodations discrimination case from Colorado,” wrote the National LGBTQ Task Force in a statement addressing Monday’s oral arguments.

Liz Seaton, the group’s policy director, highlighted the importance of public accommodations laws and condemned efforts by the opposition to legalize discrimination and segregation in the marketplace. “The brief’s most important argument lifts up the powerful amicus briefs of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law,” Seaton said. “Those two briefs by venerable civil rights organizations provide a detailed history of public accommodations discrimination against Black and Brown people in this country.”

HRC’s statement on Monday touched on similar themes:

“Granting the unprecedented ‘free speech exemption’ sought by petitioners in 303 Creative v. Elenis would be a dangerous change to long standing constitutional and civil rights law. It would inevitably lead to increased discrimination not only related to LGBTQ+ people or weddings, but also for other vulnerable populations including women, people with disabilities, and people of minority faiths. It’s crucial that justices of the Supreme Court reject discrimination and affirm the equal dignity of every American.”

Likewise, the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus released a statement exploring the broad implications that could result from the Court’s ruling on 303 Creative:

“…the Supreme Court could issue a broad ruling that not only implicates nondiscrimination laws’ applications to graphic designers but to a wide range of businesses providing goods and services that have an artistic component. A broad ruling for the graphic designer could not only provide a constitutional basis for discriminating against same-sex couples, but also for discriminating against all marginalized people currently protected by public accommodations nondiscrimination laws.”

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