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HISTORIC: Federal appeals court strikes down DOMA

Judges unanimously rule 3-0 against anti-gay law

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A significant blow came to the Defense of Marriage Act on Thursday when for the first time a federal appeals court ruled the anti-gay law was unconstitutional.

In a unanimous 3-0 decision, the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals in Massachusetts ruled that Section 3 of DOMA, which prohibit federal recognition of same-sex marriage, violated married same-sex couples rights under the U.S. Constitution.

“To conclude, many Americans believe that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, and most Americans live in states where that is the law today,” the decision states. “One virtue of federalism is that it permits this diversity of governance based on local choice, but this applies as well to the states that have chosen to legalize same-sex marriage. Under current Supreme Court authority, Congress’ denial of federal benefits to same-sex couples lawfully married in Massachusetts has not been adequately supported by any permissible federal interest.”

The ruling was written U.S. Circuit Court Judge Michael Boudin, who heard the case along with Chief Circuit Judge Sandra Lynch and Circuit Judge Juan Torruella.

Lynch was appointed by a Democrat, former President Bill Clinton, but the other judges were appointed by Republicans. Torruella was appointed by former President Ronald Reagan and Boudin was appointed by former President George H.W. Bush.

The decision was brought down in two cases challenging DOMA: Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, which was filed by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders; and Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Department of Health & Human Services, which was filed by Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley.

The Gill lawsuit contends that DOMA is unconstitutional because it violates equal protection under the U.S. Constitution, while Commonwealth lawsuit argues DOMA violates a state’s right to regulate marriage under the Tenth Amendment.

In a statement, Coakley praised the ruling as evidence that DOMA violates married gay couples’ rights under the U.S. Constitution.

“Today’s landmark ruling makes clear once again that DOMA is a discriminatory law for which there is no justification,” Coakley said. “It is unconstitutional for the federal government to create a system of first- and second-class marriages, and it does harm to families in Massachusetts every day. All Massachusetts couples should be afforded the same rights and protections under the law, and we hope that this decision will be the final step toward ensuring that equality for all.”

Retiring gay Rep. Barney Frank, a Democrat who represents Massachusetts in Congress, also praised the ruling and expressed confidence the ruling against DOMA will be upheld when the case reaches the Supreme Court.

“The current situation, in which the rights of some couples married in other states are recognized, while the rights of other couples married in those states are denied, is clearly a violation of the U.S. Constitution,” Frank said. “I am confident that the U.S. Supreme Court will add its support for this decision which is so firmly grounded in long-standing American constitutional principles.”

The appeals court ruling affirms U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Tauro’s decision against DOMA in the two decisions he delivered in response to the lawsuits in July 2010. Since that time, President Obama has discontinued defending DOMA in court. Two other federal courts have also concluded that DOMA is unconstitutional.

Douglas NeJaime, who’s gay and a law professor at Loyola Law School, called the First Circuit decision “concise and relatively straightforward” and said the bigger question is whether this case or the challenge against California’s Proposition 8, Perry v. Brown, will first reach the Supreme Court.

“Whichever case makes it there first will have significant consequences for the same-sex marriage movement,” NeJaime said. “If Gill gives the Court its first bite at the same-sex marriage apple, the justices will address the more limited and potentially less controversial question of the federal rights of same-sex couples who are already married. Whereas Perry could present the Justices with broader questions of the rights of same-sex couples to marry, potentially across the nation.”

The Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, under the direction of House Speaker John Boehner, voted on a party-line basis to take up defense of DOMA in the administration’s stead. It’s likely to appeal the decision either to the full First Circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court.

Oral arguments before the First Circuit took place April 4. Mary Bonauto, GLAD’s civil rights project director, represented her organization during the hearing. Massachusetts Assistant Attorney General Maura Healey argued on behalf of Massachusetts.

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.

Stuart Delery, who’s gay and the Justice Department’s acting assistant attorney general for the civil division, also litigated against the anti-gay law in court.

NOTE: This post has been edited and updated.

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Brian Anthony Bowen

    May 31, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    HALLELJUAH!

  2. Anthony Grimes

    May 31, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    I thought I would share my story with you as we are Bi-nationals, I’m an African American and been with my White English partner for the past thirteen years. We met in the states but with pressure mounting as he was in the US illegally we had to move to England, where I have been greeted with open arms. I live here in the UK legally; we have had our civil partnership, and I also have a small job.
    I have a large family back in the US and I miss them so much my partner also misses my family so if you are reading this Mr President please sign an executive order and overturn Doma. I am an Untied States Citizen; if I was straight my wife would automatically get Citizenship, but as I’m Gay I have to live in exile. Mr President we are not wealthy just hard working class people, it just happens that I love someone of the same sex, and I have to live in exile, it’s like a prison sentence for a crime of being Gay. Please Mr President Sign an executive order so I can come Home and be the rest of my family.
    Yours
    K.A from England

  3. Steve

    May 31, 2012 at 4:52 pm

    Anthony — Your plight is real, but unfortunately U.S. Presidents cannot revoke U.S. laws by Executive Order. That’s not the way the U.S. Constitution is set up.

    DOMA’s final demise in the courts is just a matter of time. For those of us riding the wave at this particular point in history, the ride is painful. But the eventual outcome is assured.

  4. Tim

    June 1, 2012 at 8:09 am

    This is excellent news, especially in light of the fact that two of the three judges were Republican appointees. The anti-gay bigots must be freaking out right now, because they know that DOMA will ultimately be overturned. I just hope it happens sonner rather than later, and that the current Supreme Court will do the right thing and vote to overturn DOMA. I still worry that some of the justices, (can you say Scalia & Thomas) may just vote against us regardless of the laws fairness.

  5. RUkwir2

    June 3, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    Well, this article explains everything.

    I live in Bath County, Virginia, and when I came home the other night, someone had dumped a bag of horse manure on my front porch.

    My first thought was, “Damn those rascally squirrels.” But when I turned on the porch light and saw that it was horse manure, I realized that someone out there was sending me a message.

    Their message was clear: “You are no longer welcome here in Bath County. Nor in Virginia, for that matter.”

    Frankly, I was glad to have the horse manure, but I wished they had dumped it in my flower garden rather than on the welcome mat in front of my front door.

    I live alone, had planned to retire here, and I tend to keep to myself. Living in a rural part of a politically conservative state, to survive as a gay man, you keep your head down and you don’t make waves. And unlike everyone else, you certainly do not flaunt your sexuality.

    My initial thought when I saw the horse manure was that someone was ticked off about President Obama finally coming out and publicly supporting same-sex marriage. Or perhaps it was this recent federal appeals court decision.

    Whichever, the local Virginia bigots are not pleased, and they are beginning to vent their displeasure. I have a sense that it is going to get even more ugly in the coming months. Perhaps it’s time that I pull up stakes and move, before someone torches my house.

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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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LGBTQ Youth web resource gone after Texas GOP candidate complained

Removal of the LGBTQ youth resource webpage appeared to be strictly political the Houston Chronicle reported

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Anti-LGBTQ Republican Don Huffines (Screenshot via Twitter)

AUSTIN – A late August video tweet from a wealthy Dallas-based real estate development company executive and conservative Republican gubernatorial challenger, blamed fellow Republican incumbent Texas Governor Greg Abbott for endorsing an LGBTQ+ agenda, because of the existence of a state online resource webpage for LGBTQ youth.

Within hours it was pulled down by the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services, (DFPS) the agency responsible for the page.

In an article published Tuesday, the Houston Chronicle reported that Don Huffines claimed tax dollars were being used to “advocate for transgender ideology.” Huffines also went on to say that DFPS was publishing “disturbing information about our youth.”

“They’re talking about helping empower and celebrate lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, ally, non-heterosexual behavior. I mean really? This is Texas. These are not Texas values. These are not Republican Party values, but these are obviously Greg Abbott’s values,” 

A message on the website states that the previous content is now under review.

According to the Chronicle, the website for the Texas Youth Connection, a division of Family and Protective Services that steers young people to various resources, including education, housing and those on its LGBTQ page as they prepare for life after foster care. It was replaced by a message that states, “The Texas Youth Connection website has been temporarily disabled for a comprehensive review of its content. This is being done to ensure that its information, resources, and referrals are current.”

LGBTQ+ activists and advocates are furious. Among the resources on the page for LGBTQ+ youth were critical information including for housing and information for suicide prevention and crisis assistance.

GenderCool Youth Leader, Trans rights activist and University of Houston student Landon Richie told the Blade Tuesday;

“This is deplorable. To Governor Abbott, LGBTQ+ youth are nothing more than pawns on a political chessboard. Despite his cries of protection and fairness in justification of this session’s unprecedented attacks on LGBTQ+ — especially trans — youth, it has never truly been about any of those things; it has always been about his power.

Now more than ever, LGBTQ+ youth deserve safety, protection, support, and affirmation from the state — this year alone, the Trevor Project received more than 10,800 crisis contacts from LGBTQ young people in Texas looking for support, as a result of this legislative session. LGBTQ+ youth deserve better than to be treated like they are as easily discardable as a webpage,” Richie said.

Shannon Minter, the Legal Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights reacted telling the Blade in an emailed statement:

“Helping LGBTQ youth and their families prevent suicide is not a partisan issue, and any elected official who seeks to make it one has lost any sense of shame. This action by Governor Abbott is appalling and will needlessly harm vulnerable children and families who urgently need support.”

Removal of the page appeared to be strictly political the Chronicle reported.

Patrick Crimmins, the department spokesman, told the Chronicle that the review “is still ongoing” but declined to answer questions seeking more detail about why the website was removed or whether it had anything to do with Huffines.

But Family and Protective Services communications obtained through a public records request show that agency employees discussed removing the “Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation” page in response to Huffines’ tweet, shortly before taking it offline,” the paper wrote.

More telling was the events leading the page’s removal said the paper:

Thirteen minutes after Huffines’ video went up, media relations director Marissa Gonzales emailed a link to Crimmins, the agency’s communications director, under the subject line “Don Huffines video accusing Gov/DFPS of pushing liberal transgender agenda.”

FYI. This is starting to blow up on Twitter,” Gonzales wrote.

Crimmins then queried Darrell Azar, DFPS’ web and creative services director, about who oversees the page. “Darrell — please note we may need to take that page down, or somehow revise content,” he wrote.

Late Tuesday afternoon, the Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth weighed in on the Chronicle’s reporting in an emailed statement to the Blade.

LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the child welfare system — and those who have been in foster care report significantly higher rates of attempting suicide. It is unconscionable that the Texas state government would actively remove vital suicide prevention resources from its website for the sole purpose of appeasing a rival politician. Mental health and suicide prevention are nonpartisan,” said Casey Pick, Senior Fellow for Advocacy and Government Affairs. “This story sends a terrible message to LGBTQ youth in Texas and will only contribute to the internalization of stigma and shame. We should be expanding access to support services for this group, not erasing what resources LGBTQ youth have to reach out for help.” 

The Chronicle reported that the deleted webpage also included links to the Texas chapters of PFLAG, a nationwide LGBTQ organization; a “national youth talk line” to discuss gender and sexual identity and various other issues; and LGBTQ legal services.

Huffines said the page also linked to a website operated by the Human Rights Campaign, a politically active LGBTQ advocacy group that he called “the Planned Parenthood of LGBT issues.”

Data on Texas:

  • Between January 1 and August 30, 2021, The Trevor Project received more than 10,800 crisis contacts (calls, texts, and chats) from LGBTQ young people in Texas looking for support. More than 3,900 of those crisis contacts (36%) came from transgender or nonbinary youth.
  • Crisis contacts from LGBTQ young people in Texas seeking support have grown over 150% when compared to the same time period in 2020.
  • While this volume of crisis contacts can not be attributed to any one factor (or bill), a qualitative analysis of the crisis contacts found that:
    • Transgender and nonbinary youth in Texas have directly stated that they are feeling stressed, using self-harm, and considering suicide due to anti-LGBTQ laws being debated in their state.
    • Some transgender and nonbinary youth have expressed fear over losing access to sports that provide important acceptance in their lives.

Additional Research: 

  • The Trevor Project estimates that more than 1.8 million LGBTQ youth (13-24) seriously consider suicide each year in the U.S. — and at least one attempts suicide every 45 seconds.
  • The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, with more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth having seriously considered. 

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Colorado first state to require transgender care as essential health benefit

Biden officials sign off on change for state insurers

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Colorado has become the first state to require transition-related care for transgender people as essential health coverage.

Colorado has become the first state in the country to include transition-related care for transgender people as part of the requirements for essential health care in the state, the Biden administration announced on Tuesday.

As part of the change, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services approved the state’s request to provide gender-affirming care in the individual and small group health insurance markets as part of Colorado’s Essential Health Benefit benchmark.

Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra said in a statement the change is consistent with the Biden administration’s goal of eliminating barriers faced by transgender people in access in health care, including transition-related coverage.

“Health care should be in reach for everyone; by guaranteeing transgender individuals can access recommended care, we’re one step closer to making this a reality,” Becerra said in a statement. “I am proud to stand with Colorado to remove barriers that have historically made it difficult for transgender people to access health coverage and medical care.”

According to HHS, Colorado plan will require insurers to cover a wider range of services for transgender people in addition to benefits already covered, such as eye and lid modifications, face tightening, facial bone remodeling for facial feminization, breast/chest construction and reductions, and laser hair removal.

In addition to these changes, Colorado s also adding EHBs in the benchmark plan to include mental wellness exams and expanded coverage for 14 prescription drug classes, according to the HHS. These changes, per HHS, will take effect beginning on Jan. 1, 2023.

CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said in a statement health care should be “accessible, affordable and delivered equitably to all, regardless of your sexual orientation” (notably leaving out gender identity from that quote).

“To truly break down barriers to care, we must expand access to the full scope of health care, including gender-affirming surgery and other treatments, for people who rely on coverage through Medicare, Medicaid & CHIP and the Marketplaces,” Brooks-LaSure said. “Colorado’s expansion of their essential health benefits to include gender-affirming surgery and other treatments is a model for other states to follow and we invite other states to follow suit.”

According to the Washington Post, Biden administration signed off on the change before officials made the announcement Tuesday in Denver in an event with Gov, Jared Polis, the first openly gay man elected governor in the United States.

Katie Keith, a lawyer and co-founder of Out2Enroll, is quoted in the Washington Post as saying despite the change significant issues remains for transgender people in health care.

“There’s been significant progress, but we’ve seen exclusions by some health plans — it got worse under the Trump administration — and that’s why it’s important to see states like Colorado stepping up to fill those gaps,” Keith is quoted as saying.

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