Connect with us

National

HISTORIC: Oral arguments heard in DOMA challenge

First time appeals court has considered case to overturn anti-gay law

Published

on

BOSTON — Oral arguments in a landmark legal proceeding challenging the Defense of Marriage Act unfolded Wednesday, marking the first time an appeals court has heard a challenge to the anti-gay federal law.

Lawyers squared off over the constitutionality of DOMA, amid discussion about whether the law fails a rational basis standard of scrutiny or interferes with a state’s rights under the Tenth Amendment.

Stuart Delery, who’s gay and the Justice Department’s acting assistant attorney general for the civil division, surprised many when he said the Obama administration wouldn’t defend DOMA on any basis, including under rational basis review.

Last year, the Obama administration said it would no longer defend DOMA in court, on the basis that President Obama had determined that the anti-gay law fails heightened scrutiny because it discriminates against gay couples.

Asked by Judge Juan Torruella whether the administration has a position on the rational basis test for the law, Delery replied, “We don’t.”

Delery’s position is significant because U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro in 2010 ruled in favor of plaintiffs on the basis that DOMA didn’t pass the rational basis standard review, or a rational means to a legitimate governmental end. Judges on the First Circuit will have to decide whether to affirm or overrule this decision.

Two cases challenging the constitutionality of DOMA are before the First Circuit: Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, filed by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, and Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Department of Health & Human Services, filed by Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley.

The three-judge panel hearing the cases is made up of Chief Judge Sandra Lynch as well as Torruella and Judge Michael Boudin. Lynch was appointed by a Democrat, former President Bill Clinton, while Torruella was appointed by former President Ronald Reagan and Boudin was appointed by former President George H.W. Bush.

Despite the administration’s position on rational basis review stated during the hearing, Delery said heightened scrutiny, or examining the law on the assumption that it’s discriminatory toward a group of people, is the appropriate way to handle DOMA because Congress passed DOMA in 1996 out of animus toward gay people.

Delery maintained that the name “DOMA” itself indicates that the anti-gay law was intended to discriminate against LGBT families.

“It was a defense against something, and that something was same-sex couples,” Delery said.

But the administration wasn’t willing to accept all arguments against DOMA. Delery said the administration doesn’t share the view that DOMA is unconstitutional on the basis that it interferes with a state’s Tenth Amendment right to regulate marriage, saying “that’s where we disagree” with the lawsuit.

Delery said Congress has the authority to define federal programs — even those related to marriage, where states traditionally have had jurisdiction on who can and cannot marry.

Defending DOMA in court was Paul Clement, a former U.S. solicitor general. After the Obama administration declared it would no longer defend DOMA, House Speaker John Boehner hired Clement to advocate for DOMA on behalf of the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, which voted along party lines to take up defense of the law.

Kicking off the arguments, Clement said the Obama administration is free to change its opinion on whether DOMA would pass a rational basis test, but nonetheless the administration has previously argued in a legal brief that DOMA shouldn’t be struck down on this standard.

“It’s certainly open to the president and the attorney general to change their position, and to say that heightened scrutiny should apply, but that doesn’t make their prior submission go away, and it doesn’t make the arguments in their about why there are rational bases — in addition to some that we’ve covered in our brief — to support the statute,” Clement said.

Clement offered many reasons why DOMA should be upheld — among them was an assertion that opposite-sex marriages advance governmental interests because they can produce “unplanned offspring” unlike same-sex couples.

Additionally, Clement said DOMA isn’t an attempt to “override a state’s definition” of marriage, but merely allows the federal government to “preserve the status quo” as states began legalizing same-sex marriages in 1996 to keep benefits from federal programs, like Social Security, flowing only to opposite-sex married couples as they had in the past.

But Delery blasted the notion that procreation is a necessary component for any marriage — whether the union is opposite-sex or same-sex — saying straight couples can marry even if they don’t want and can’t have children.

“On the flip side, there are many children — hundreds of thousands, I think is the best estimate — who are being raised by same-sex parents in this country, and DOMA has the effect of denying those children the stability and protection that many of the federal benefits that we’re talking about in these cases would provide,” Delery said.

Significant discussion related to heightened scrutiny was focused on the case of Cook v. Gates, a challenge to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in which the First Circuit ruled that sexual orientation shouldn’t be considered a suspect class. Clement argued that the First Circuit is bound by this precedent not to apply heightened scrutiny to laws affecting gay people. But attorneys opposed to DOMA said this case shouldn’t be applied to the anti-gay law because courts traditionally grant the military a high level of deference.

Mary Bonauto, GLAD’s civil rights project director, represented her organization during the hearing and said the law violates equal protection under the Constitution regardless of whether heightened scrutiny or rational basis review is applied to the anti-gay law.

“To this day, the federal government defers to state marital determinations where marital status is a factor for federal protections,” Bonauto said. “But for DOMA, same-sex couples who began marrying here eight years ago like our plaintiffs would have been included in those federal laws, but DOMA’s precise point was to prevent that conclusion and created an across the board exclusion.”

Massachusetts Assistant Attorney General Maura Healey argued on behalf of Massachusetts, saying that DOMA violates the state’s right under the Tenth Amendment to regulate marriage. She said an end to DOMA would return the federal government to “what it always has done” by recognizing state authority on which couples should be able to marry.

In her conclusion, Healey drew on the lifting of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and its implications for gay troops as a reason why the court should overturn DOMA.

“I’ll take you to our state veterans cemeteries because here the operations of DOMA really revives the concept of separate but equal,” Healy said. “In this day and age, when gay people can now go serve in the military, fight for our country and even die, unlike other married service members, they can’t be buried with their spouse on state land in our veterans cemetery. Instead, Massachusetts is essentially required to build on the next hillside over a cemetery for those veterans. We think that’s wrong.”

The panel has no set time to make a ruling in the cases, but advocates are hoping for a speedy decision. Once a decision is reached, it can be appealed either to the full First Circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

National

Anti-LGBTQ Colorado baker loses Trans birthday cake court case

Phillips violated Colorado’s ant-discrimination law citing the fact that at issue was a ‘product’ not freedom of speech or expression

Published

on

Jack Phillips (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

DENVER – A Colorado State District Court Judge ruled against the baker who had previously refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding and won at the U.S. Supreme Court a partial narrow victory in that case in 2018.

CBSN Denver reported that Denver District Judge A. Bruce Jones order that Jack Phillips violated Colorado’s anti discrimination law Tuesday citing the fact that at issue was a ‘product’ not freedom of speech or expression.

In court documents, Jones said that Phillips refusal to make the plantiff, Autumn Scardina a cake made with blue icing on the outside and pink on the inside to celebrate her gender transition on her birthday because of her transgender status but without a written message, was in violation of the law. Phillips was ordered to pay a $500 fine.

Jones noted in his ruling that Phillips testified during a trial in March that ‘he did not think someone could change their gender’ and he would not celebrate “somebody who thinks that they can.”

“The anti-discrimination laws are intended to ensure that members of our society who have historically been treated unfairly, who have been deprived of even the every-day right to access businesses to buy products, are no longer treated as ‘others,‘” the judge wrote.

The Scottsdale, Arizona based Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-LGBTQ legal group that has been place on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hate Watch List for spreading propaganda and lies about LGBTQ people, told CBSN that the group would appeal Jones’ ruling.

“Radical activists and government officials are targeting artists like Jack because they won’t promote messages on marriage and sexuality that violate their core convictions,” ADF’s general counsel, Kristen Waggoner, said in a media statement.

The maximum fine for each violation of Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act is $500. But it was not clear from the ruling if the fine was for the two attempts that Scardina made to order the cake or just one.

Continue Reading

National

Supreme Court rules for religious agency seeking to reject LGBTQ families

Unanimous decision bottled up to context of city contract

Published

on

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Thursday in favor of a religious-affiliated foster care agency seeking to refuse child placement into LGBTQ homes, issuing a decision with limited reach that determined the City of Philadelphia’s enforcement of a contract with non-discrimination provisions violates freedom of religion under the First Amendment.

In a surprise twist, the ruling was unanimous with nine justices on the court agreeing to the result in favor of Catholic Social Services, with Chief Justice John Roberts writing the opinion. As noted by SCOTUSblog, the court seemed much more divided in oral arguments, although inclined to rule for the foster care agency.

“The refusal of Philadelphia to contract with CSS for the provision of foster care services unless the agency agrees to certify same-sex couples as foster parents cannot survive strict scrutiny and violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment,” Roberts writes.

Although Catholic Social Services had also contended a freedom of speech right under the First Amendment to reject same-sex couples, Roberts adds the court didn’t reach a conclusion on that part of the argument.

Becket Law, which had argued in case on behalf of Catholic Social Services, crowed in a statement over its win at the Supreme Court.

“It’s a beautiful day when the highest court in the land protects foster moms and the 200-year-old religious ministry that supports them,” said Lori Windham, senior counsel at Becket. “Taking care of children, especially children who have been neglected and abused is a universal value that spans all ideological divides.

A key portion of the Roberts decision that could limit its reach is language specific to Philadelphia’s contract with the city allowing for discretion on enforcement, which he says means the measure isn’t generally applicable measure.

“Section 3.21 of the contract requires an agency to provide services defined in the contract to prospective foster parents without regard to their sexual orientation,” Roberts writes. “But section 3.21 also permits exceptions to this requirement at the ‘sole discretion’ of the Commissioner. This inclusion of a mechanism for entirely discretionary exceptions renders the non-discrimination provision not generally applicable.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, which had argued before the Supreme Court in the case and sided with the City of Philadelphia, claimed a small victory after the decision.

“The decision will not affect any foster care programs that do not have the same system for individualized exemptions that were at issue here,” Leslie Cooper, deputy director of the ACLU LGBTQ & HIV Project, said in a statement. “This is good news for the more than 400,000 children in foster care across the country, who are the ones who get hurt the most if placement decisions are made based on an agency’s religious beliefs rather than the child’s best interest. And this decision does not allow discrimination in other taxpayer-funded government programs such as homeless shelters, disaster relief programs and health care.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of the LGBTQ Catholic group DignityUSA, initially issued a statement saying the decision opened the door to discrimination against LGBTQ families, but subsequently updated it with a reaction more attune to the decision’s language.

“While we are disappointed in the specifics of today’s ruling, we are relieved that the court did not allow a broad exemption to nondiscrimination provisions in foster and adoption care,” Duddy-Burke said. “It remains deeply problematic that some religiously affiliated agencies continue to seek the ability to ban same-sex couples from opening their hearts and homes to children in need and undermine our hopes for expanding our families. The biases that lie at the heart of this case need to be eradicated.”

David Flugman, a lawyer at the New York-based Selendy & Gay PLLC whose practice includes LGBTQ rights, said in a statement the technical nature of the Fulton is “sure to invite even more litigation.

“Today the Supreme Court held, on narrow, technical grounds, that the City of Philadelphia’s attempt to ensure that Catholic Charities abide by the same non-discrimination provisions applicable to all other city contractors could not withstand Catholic Charities’ religious right to refuse to screen loving same-sex couples to act as foster parents,” Flugman writes. “The Court did not take up Catholic Charities’ invitation to scuttle the 30 year-old test for free exercise claims that was announced in Smith v. Employment Division, which held that a neutral law of general applicability could survive even if it burdens religious practice.”

The Supreme Court reversed and remanded decision of the U.S. Third Circuit of Court of Appeals, which had ruled in favor of City of Philadelphia enforcing its contract with Catholic Social Services. Both the appeals courts and the lower trial court had come to the opposite conclusion of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Notably, although the City of Philadelphia in addition to the contract it struck with Catholic Social Services has in a place LGBTQ non-discrimination ordinance, the Supreme Court determines that measure doesn’t apply in the context of foster care services because it’s limited to the services “made available to the public.”

“Certification is not ‘made available to the public’ in the usual sense of the words,” Roberts writes. “Certification as a foster parent is not readily accessible to the public; the process involves a customized and selective assessment that bears little resemblance to staying in a hotel, eating at a restaurant, or riding a bus.”

Fatima Goss Graves, CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, said in a statement the decision from the Supreme Court is a harmful loss to the children in the foster care system in Philadelphia as well as the countless LGBTQ parents.”

“Weakening the government’s ability to protect their civil rights is hardly in their best interest, and we’re committed to ensuring this loophole is not stretched to further justify hatred or prejudice,” Graves added. “We must protect the right of every person to live without fear of discrimination because of who they are or who they love, and we must hold that value particularly close when it comes to the best interest of LGBTQ youth and the families who love them.” 

Continue Reading

National

U.S. Senate to consider apology for past anti-LGBTQ discrimination

Report shows 70-year history of gov’t persecution, purges of ‘sex deviates’

Published

on

Pioneering activist Frank Kameny, who was fired from his government job for being gay, received an apology from the government decades later, but that apology did not extend to the thousands of other LGBT Americans persecuted by their government. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) are preparing to introduce a first-ever resolution calling on the Senate to acknowledge and apologize for the federal government’s discrimination against LGBTQ federal workers and members of the military over a period of at least 70 years.

The two senators have agreed to introduce the proposed resolution at the request of the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., an LGBTQ group that specializes in archival research into the federal government’s decades-long policy of banning LGBTQ people from working in federal jobs and serving in the U.S. military and purging them when found to be in those positions.

The Mattachine Society, in partnership with the international law firm McDermott Will & Emery, prepared a 28-page white paper reporting in extensive detail the U.S. government’s history of what it calls discrimination and persecution of LGBTQ federal workers and LGBTQ military service members.
The white paper is entitled, “America’s Promise of Reconciliation and Redemption: The Need for an Official Acknowledgement and Apology for the Historic Government Assault on LGBT Federal Employees and Military Personnel.”

In a statement, the Mattachine Society says the paper is the product of a two-year research project involving a team of five attorneys with the McDermott Will & Emery firm and Mattachine Society.

“Over many decades, the United States government, led by teams within the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and nearly every agency and branch of government, began the process of investigating, harassing, interrogating, court-martialing, terminating, hospitalizing, and, in some cases, criminally prosecuting LGBT Americans for no other reason than their sexual orientation or gender expression,” the paper says.

“This wholesale purging left tens of thousands in financial ruin, without jobs, with personal lives destroyed, and, in many cases, completely estranged from their own families,” the paper states.

“A straightforward acknowledgement of the mistreatment of these military and civilian employees and an official apology is overdue,” the paper continues. “Both the Congress and the Executive Branch were complicit in this pervasive mistreatment of LGBT citizens.”

The paper points out that over the past 30 years Congress has officially acknowledged and apologized on six different occasions for U.S. mistreatment of other marginalized groups.

Among the subject areas of those apologies were the enslavement of African Americans, the failure to enforce anti-lynching laws to protect African Americans, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, the mistreatment of Native Hawaiians, the mistreatment of Native Americans, and government polices of exclusion of Chinese immigrants.

The paper says the time has come for the federal government to issue its own “acknowledgement and apology” to the LGBT community by following the precedent established by Congress with respect to apologies to the other marginalized groups.

Jeff Trammell, a Mattachine Society board member who led the project to prepare the white paper, said Baldwin and Kaine were in the process of lining up other senators to sign on as co-sponsors of the resolution.

Baldwin is the Senate’s only out lesbian member. Kaine is a longtime supporter of LGBTQ rights.
Trammell said Mattachine of Washington considers the Senate resolution the first step in an ongoing effort to obtain a similar resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives and a possible similar statement of acknowledgement and apology from the executive branch, including the Biden administration.

He said he and the resolution’s supporters were hopeful that most senators, including Republicans, would view it as non-controversial and as a nonpartisan measure because it seeks only the acknowledgement of historical facts. Trammell noted that unlike other resolutions of apology pertaining to other minorities approved by Congress in the past, the LGBT apology resolution does not call for any financial reparations.

The eight-page proposed resolution addresses that question by stating, “Nothing in this resolution…authorizes or supports any claim against the United States or serves as a settlement of any claim against the United States.”

Trammell noted that under the Obama administration, John Berry, the director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, issued an official government apology for the firing of D.C. gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny from his government job in the late 1950s. But Trammell said the apology to Kameny, which was considered important and groundbreaking, did not extend to the thousands of other LGBTQ employees fired or harassed in the years before and after Kameny’s firing.

The white paper also points out that at least seven U.S. allied nations have issued apologies for past mistreatment of their own LGBTQ citizens. Among them are Spain, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, Brazil, and The Netherlands.

“We believe the time has come to understand and acknowledge the historical animus that LGBT federal employees and military personnel faced for generations from their own government to ensure it can never happen again,” Trammell said.

The white paper can be accessed here.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @washblade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Popular