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Napolitano: DOMA prohibits action to help bi-national couples

Cites ‘legal advice’ stipulating DHS can’t place marriage-based green cards on hold

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United States Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, gay news, Washington Blade
United States Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, gay news, Washington Blade

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said DOMA precludes placing marriage-based green cards in abeyance for gay couples (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano continues to say the Obama administration is unable to place on hold marriage-based green card applications for bi-national same-sex couples as long as the Defense of Marriage Act remains on the books.

When asked by the Washington Blade on Monday during a White House news conference, Napolitano asserted DHS can’t take such action, which could protect bi-national gay couples from separation stop the deportation process in some extreme cases.

“The legal advice we have received is that we can’t put them in abeyance because DOMA remains the law,” Napolitano said. “We’d like to see that law overturned. In practical terms, however, most of those cases fall within very, very low priority in terms of what we’ve done over the last years, which is to build priorities into immigration enforcement, so we’re not seeing, in practicality, those deportations occur.”

In 2009, DHS took such action for the widows of U.S. citizens when Napolitano ordered U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services to grant deferred action widows who are foreign nationals and suspend adjudication of their visa petitions and adjustment applications.

Asked why her department couldn’t take similar action for bi-national same-sex couples, Napolitano replied, “Well, because of DOMA.”

LGBT advocates — most recently Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and other senators in a letter to the Obama administration — have been calling on the Obama administration to place on hold the marriage-based green card applications for bi-national couples, especially because a final determination from the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of DOMA seems imminent. But each time, DHS has responded that it’ll continue to enforce DOMA as long as it remains on the books.

The Obama administration has taken steps to address this issue. For example, in October, the Department of Homeland Security issued guidance stipulating immigration officers should consider “long-term, same-sex partners” as families when considering whether to exercise prosecutorial discretion in the potential deportation of an undocumented immigrant.

Steve Ralls, a spokesperson for Immigration Equality, said though his organization appreciates the efforts DHS has undertaken to protect bi-national gay couples, “there is clear legal precedent” to place their marriage-based green card applications in abeyance.

“By not doing so, the Administration has instead forced some couples to fall out of legal status, or to consider exile abroad,” Ralls added. “While not actively pursuing the partners of LGBT Americans for deportation is a welcome step forward, giving those couples the legal status abeyance would confer is a critical part of ensuring they have the legal stability they need to protect their families.”

The Board of Immigration Appeals — an agency under the Justice Department — has also taken action for certain married bi-national same-sex couples seeking relief apparently in anticipation of a ruling from the Supreme Court against DOMA. The agency has issued remands in at least 10 cases involving denied card petitions filed on behalf of same-sex couples, according to The DOMA Project.

Lavi Soloway, an immigration attorney and co-founder of the DOMA Project, denied the legal reasoning offered by Napolitano, saying DOMA prevents DHS from approving marriage-based green card applications, but says nothing about holding them in abeyance, nor would such a move “violate the spirit or letter of DOMA.”

“Is it regrettable that the administration continues to cite the questionable ‘legal advice’ that DOMA prohibits any remedies to would protect married binational gay and lesbian couples,” Soloway said. “Furthermore, this interpretation of DOMA is contradicted by their own action in the deportation context, where after two years of telling us that they could not issue a moratorium to stop ‘DOMA deportations’ for that very reason, the administration finally issued guidance in October 2012 to prevent deportations of the same-sex partners and spouses of American citizens who would be otherwise eligible for green cards if not for DOMA.”

Soloway maintained the Obama administration can do three things to help bi-national same-sex couples: 1) place their marriage-based green card applications in abeyance; 2) extend humanitarian parole to all foreign partners who are stuck abroad and end the exile of gay Americans caused by DOMA; and 3) offer deferred action to the foreign partners of gay Americans who are currently in the U.S. without lawful status.

“The Obama administration’s lack of movement on these interim remedies cannot be blamed on DOMA, and is inconsistent with President’s recent statements championing equality for lesbian and gay couples,” Soloway concluded.

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U.S. Federal Courts

N.Y. AG joins multi-state brief in Colo. anti-trans discrimination case

Letitia James and 18 other attorneys general support plaintiff

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trans health care, gay news, Washington Blade
New York Attorney General Letitia James (Photo public domain)

New York Attorney General Letitia James on Wednesday joined a brief by 18 other Democratic state attorneys general urging the Colorado Supreme Court to uphold a lower court ruling against Masterpiece Cakeshop for anti-trans discrimination.

A customer, Autumn Scardina, sued the business over claims that it refused to provide her a cake upon learning that it was for a celebration of her transition. The case is not the first in which owner Jack Smith has faced claims of anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

In 2012, Masterpiece Cakeshop refused to fulfill an order for a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, which led to the 2018 U.S. Supreme Court case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission — and a narrow ruling that did not address core legal questions weighing the constitutionality of First Amendment claims vis-a-vis the government’s enforcement of LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination laws.

“Denying service to someone simply because of who they are is illegal discrimination, plain and simple,” James said in a press release. “Allowing this kind of behavior would undermine our nation’s fundamental values of freedom and equality and set a dangerous precedent.”

She added, “I am proud to stand with my fellow attorneys general against this blatant transphobic discrimination.”

The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Scardina, noting that Smith objected to fulfilling her cake order only after learning about her intended use for it “and that Phillips did not believe the cake itself expressed any inherent message.”

The fact pattern in both cases against Masterpiece Cakeshop resembles that of another case that originated in Colorado and was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court last year, 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis.

This time, the justices did not sidestep the question of whether the state’s anti-discrimination law can be enforced against a business owner, Lorie Smith, a website designer who claimed religious protections for her refusal to provide services to a same-sex couple for their nuptials.

The court’s conservative supermajority ruled in favor of Smith, which was widely seen as a blow to LGBTQ rights.

Joining James in her brief are the attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, Hawai’i, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and D.C.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Fla. man found guilty of threatening George Santos

Gay former NY congressman expelled in December

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Former U.S. Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) (Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)

On Feb. 22, following a two-day trial, a federal jury in Ft. Lauderdale convicted a man for calling the office of former U.S. Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) in D.C. and threatening to kill the member of Congress and another person. 

On Jan. 29, 2023, Frank Stanzione, 53, of Boynton Beach, Fla., made a telephone call from his residence in Boynton Beach to the office of a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Stanzione left a voice message for the member that stated the following:

“[Victim 1 former Rep. Santos] you fat fucking piece of shit fucker. You better watch your mother fucking back because I’m gonna bash your mother fucking fucker head in with a bat until your brains are splattered across the fucking wall. You lying, disgusting, disgraceful, mother fucking fucker. You mother fucking piece of shit. You’re gonna get fucking murdered you goddamn lying piece of garbage. Watch your back you fat, ugly, piece of shit. You and [Victim 2 Redacted] are dead.”

The congressman’s chief of staff reported the message to the U.S. Capitol Police the next morning. The USCP began investigating the voice message as a threat and determined that it was made from a telephone number assigned to Stanzione. 

On Jan. 31, 2023, USCP special agents went to the address associated with the telephone number and interviewed Stanzione. USCP confirmed that Stanzione had left the voice message for the congressman. Stanzione found the telephone number on an online search engine. 

In a motion to dismiss, lawyers for Stanzione noted in the interview he told federal agents that “he feels offended by Santos and does not want him in his (gay) community.” He said he left the message to make Santos “feel like a piece of shit.”

The court filing described Stanzione as “a long-standing, active advocate for gay rights.”

In the motion to dismiss, Stanzione claimed his prosecution was “retaliatory and vindictive” and “based upon his exercise of political speech related to gay rights.”

“Others who have allegedly committed similar acts,” his attorneys stated in the motion, “have not been prosecuted.” 

U.S. Attorney Markenzy Lapointe for the Southern District of Florida and USCP Chief J. Thomas Manger announced the guilty verdict. The USCP – Threat Assessment Section investigated the case. 

Stanzione will be sentenced in May and faces penalties including up to five years in federal prison, a fine of up to $250,000, or both.

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State Department

State Department criticizes passage of anti-LGBTQ bill in Ghanaian Parliament

‘Limiting the rights of one group in a society undermines the rights of all’

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(Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

The State Department on Wednesday criticized the passage of a bill in Ghana that would further criminalize LGBTQ people and make advocacy on their behalf illegal.

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller in a statement said the U.S. “is deeply troubled by the Ghanaian Parliament’s passage of legislation, officially called the Human Sexual Rights and Family Values Bill, which would threaten all Ghanaians’ constitutionally protected freedoms of speech, press and assembly.” 

“The bill seeks to criminalize any person who simply identifies as LGBTQI+, as well as any friend, family, or member of the community who does not report them,” said Miller. “Limiting the rights of one group in a society undermines the rights of all. The United States echoes the call by those Ghanaians who have urged a review of the constitutionality of the bill to protect the rights of all individuals in Ghana.”

Miller noted the bill “would also undermine Ghana’s valuable public health, media and civic spaces and economy” and stressed “international business coalitions have already stated that such discrimination in Ghana would harm business and economic growth in the country.”

“Ghana’s tradition of tolerance, peace and respect for human rights is a source of stability and prosperity that has long served as a model for countries around the globe,” he added. “This legislation is inconsistent with these values and will, if it becomes law, undermine this laudable tradition.” 

Ghanaian MPs approved the bill on Wednesday, and it awaits President Nana Akufo-Addo’s signature.

“I am saddened because of some of the smartest, most creative, most decent people I know are LGBT,” said U.S. Ambassador to Ghana Virginia Palmer in a post on the embassy’s X account. “The bill Parliament passed takes away not only their basic human rights but those of all Ghanaians because it undermines their constitutional rights to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of the press.” 

“It will be bad for public order and public health,” she added. “If enacted, it will also hurt Ghana’s international reputation and Ghana’s economy.”

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