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Bi-national couples in ‘surreal’ wait for DOMA decision

150 attorneys in training to assist when ruling comes

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Heather, Mar, Immigration Equality, gay news, Washington Blade
Heather, Mar, Immigration Equality, gay news, Washington Blade

Heather (left) and Maria “Mar” del Mar have already filed their I-130 applications in anticipating of a ruling against DOMA. (Photo courtesy of Immigration Equality)

After being together for five years, Heather and Maria “Mar” del Mar are making their final preparations in anticipation of a ruling from the Supreme Court that could mean they can stay together in the United States.

Heather, a U.S. citizen, and Mar, a Spanish national, have already completed their I-130 marriage-based green card application and have sent it to the LGBT group Immigration Equality with the expectation that the high court will strike down the Defense of Marriage Act.

“We’re actually largely done with that,” Heather said. “Our intention on that front is, of course, to file that petition the first day it’s legally viable to do so.”

Although Mar has legal status because she’s living in the United States on a work visa, it expires in November. Section 3 of DOMA, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage, has blocked the New York City couple, who married in 2011, from a more permanent solution.

In March of last year, U.S. Customs & Immigration Enforcement denied Heather and Maria a marriage-based green card based on an earlier application, citing DOMA as the reason. They’re one of the estimated 28,500 bi-national same-sex couples in danger of separation.

That could change in the coming days. The Supreme Court is expected to deliver a ruling on the constitutionality of DOMA as a result of pending litigation along with ruling in a separate case challenging California’s Proposition 8.

If the court rules DOMA is unconstitutional, blocking the U.S. government from enforcing it, USCIS will have no legal reason to withhold the marriage-based green card from Heather and Mar.

Heather, a marketing director for a global non-profit organization in New York, said the wait for the decision has been “kind of surreal” and what’s been on the couple’s minds in the days heading to the ruling.

“We look at each other every night before we go to bed I would say for the last few weeks, where it’s been kind of like a month countdown, and we’ve said, “Oh my God, what is it going to really be like the day after?” she said. “How much is our life going to change when this issue isn’t a huge weight on our relationship and even on our everyday thought process.”

Mar, who works in marketing for a Spanish-language newspaper in New York, said a ruling against DOMA would lift a considerable burden because they are unable to plan for the future as they fear separation.

“We are really nervous because this would be a big change in our life,” Mar said. “We are very excited.”

As of today, the Supreme Court calendar designates only June 20 and June 24 as days on which opinions will be handed down; But with 14 cases yet to be decided, it is widely expected that they will add another day to the calendar, either June 26 or June 27 and the decisions for the marriage will be announced at that time.

And Heather and Mar, who are among the plaintiffs in Immigration Equality’s lawsuit against DOMA, already have plans. On the last Saturday of the month, they’re inviting friends and family to come to their home to celebrate the moment when the federal government will view their relationship as legally equal to others.

“We actually already have — I guess this is probably superstitious; I shouldn’t say this out loud — but we actually already have a celebration planned for family and friends — we have to be optimistic — for Saturday night on the 29th,” Heather said. “So, we’re celebrating at our place.”

And what if the Supreme Court rules in favor of DOMA? Heather said it’s not an outcome they like to consider, but in that event, they’d pursue additional litigation, find a way to renew Mar’s work visa and push for the inclusion of gay couples in comprehensive immigration reform legislation.

“To be honest, it will just be devastating; all of those things are just technically the things that we’ll do,” Heather said. “I’ll tell you what we’re going to do; we’re going to start a family anyway because we refuse to live at the effect of our circumstances. We’ve already postponed things in our life much more than is fair — and we’ll consider the option of moving to Spain where our marriage is recognized.”

But Heather and Mar are just one of many bi-national same-sex couples readying for a Supreme Court ruling that would ensure they can stay together in the United States.

Rachel Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, said she’s expecting thousands of green card applications from bi-national same-sex couples in the months following a court ruling against DOMA.

“We think that there will be over the first year many thousands,” Tiven said. “I think in the remaining five months of the year, we’ll see something between 2,000 and 10,000 applications, but that’s a guess.”

In the meantime, Tiven said her organization is already preparing some applications for same-sex bi-national couples and making plans for others to renew applications that were previously denied.

“We’re preparing some families who will file immediately if the Supreme Court will enable them to do so,” Tiven said. “Other families who filed a long time ago — either because they were plaintiffs, or because it was a step to seeking deferred action — we are asking the administration, for those who were denied, we’re asking the administration to reopen those applications so they don’t have to file all over again, and don’t have to pay the fee again.”

In order to facilitate the expected increase in couples filing marriage-based green card applications, Immigration Equality’s legal team has conducted two trainings last week for attorneys who have signed up to assist couples with their petitions following a court ruling striking down Section 3 of DOMA.

Steve Ralls, a spokesperson for Immigration Equality, said 150 lawyers from across the country to date have joined that network of attorneys and have taken part in one of those two trainings.

“As part of that training, our legal team discussed topics related to identifying issues that may arise for same-sex bi-national couples during implementation following the court’s ruling,” Ralls said. “A key goal is to ensure that attorneys working with LGBT families can also serve as watchdogs during that critical implementation period and report any issues they encounter with relevant government agencies in their processing of green card applications for affected families.”

Another couple making preparations in anticipation of a court ruling is Rachel Wilkins and Jennifer Blum, a New Jersey couple that married a year-and-a-half ago. Blum, a New Jersey native, is awaiting the opportunity to sponsor Wilkins, a British national, for residency in the United States.

The couple has never filed a marriage-based green card application before, but Blum, an attorney, said they’ve already hired an attorney to help them through the process in anticipation of a ruling against DOMA.

“We’ve hired an attorney to prepare our application for us,” Blum said. “So we’ve been really just trying to get all the paperwork together, and we’re excited for this decision to finally come to fruition, and we just want to move on with our lives.”

Wilkins, a curator who’s in the country on work visa, said she shares a sense of optimism that the Supreme Court will issue a decision that renders Section 3 of the the Defense of Marriage Act inoperable.

“I think we’re feeling optimistic,” Wilkins said. “We were watching the Supreme Court blog to see the orders handed down just waiting to see the right decision made.”

The couple came to D.C. when the oral arguments took place at the Supreme Court in March and had the opportunity to meet lesbian New Yorker Edith Windsor, who filed the lawsuit that’s currently before the court.

“We walked up on the steps and I lost it … because it’s just the culmination of so many people’s hard work, sweat, they’ve given so much to be able to get to this point where we could get this case in front of the Supreme Court, and for the Supreme Court to finally do the right thing, and for justice to be done,” Blum said.

Should the court strike down DOMA, Blum said they’ll celebrate by gathering at the Stonewall Inn in New York City, where riots began in 1969 that were considered the start of the modern gay rights movement.

“Legally, factually, I just can’t see the Supreme Court determining any other way,” Blum said. “Like I said, there’s no other option.”

Lavi Soloway, a gay immigration attorney at Masliah & Soloway and co-founder of The DOMA Project, said his firm worked for several months on preparing to file new marriage-based green card applications — some on the day the court issues a decision against DOMA — and has several filed in 2011 and 2012 that haven’t yet been denied.

“The couples have undertaken the preparation with the understanding that that the Supreme Court ruling on DOMA is not something that we can predict in advance, but it would be fair to say that their perspective, like mine, is cautiously optimistic,” Soloway said.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misattributed quotes to Jennifer Blum and Rachel Wilkins. The Blade regrets the error.

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Federal Government

EXCLUSIVE: Robert Garcia urges US officials to protect LGBTQ people during Pride Month

Gay Calif. congressman sent letter to top authorities on June 12

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Participants of the Capital Pride Festival in D.C. on June 8, 2024. Gay U.S. Congressman Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) has urged U.S. officials to ensure LGBTQ people are safe during Pride Month. (Washington Blade photo by Emily Hanna)

U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) on June 12 sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray to work to ensure LGBTQ people during Pride events.

“Over the last several weeks, your respective agencies and departments have issued stark warnings, and travel advisories to the public over potential threats from foreign terrorist organizations (FTO), and their supporters during this year’s Pride Month,” said Garcia in his letter. “I understand that these steps have come after deeply concerning increases in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, calls for targeted violence, and foiled violent plots.”

The FBI on May 10 issued an advisory that warned of potential violence at Pride events and other LGBTQ-specific events. The State Department on May 17 — the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia — announced a similar warning.

“Ensuring that people can peacefully and safely celebrate Pride and the diversity of the LGBTQ+ community is of utmost importance,” wrote Garcia, a gay man who represents California’s 42nd Congressional District that includes Long Beach.

June 12 also marked eight years since a gunman killed 49 people inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

The massacre at the time was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. The gunman pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State, even though there is no evidence that suggests the extremist group ordered him to carry out the massacre. 

“This week marks the eight (sp) anniversary of the horrific Pulse nightclub Orlando shooting — during which the attacker deliberately and viciously targeted the LGBTQ+ community,” wrote Garcia in his letter. “It is important to put the recent escalation of extremist anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda and messaging in the context the Pulse nightclub shooter who was influenced by these same forces of extremism.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Title IX protections blocked in six more states

Ruling applies to Va.

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(Bigstock photo)

BY McKENNA HORSLEY | A federal judge has blocked new Title IX rules, including those aimed at protecting LGBTQ students from discrimination in K-12 schools, and sided with Republican attorneys general in several states — including Kentucky. 

Chief Judge Danny Reeves of the U.S. District Court in Eastern Kentucky on Monday issued a ruling siding with Republican Attorney General Russell Coleman and his counterparts in five other states. The ruling prevents the U.S. Department of Education from “implementing, enacting, enforcing, or taking any action to enforce the Final Rule, Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Sex in Education Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance,” which was set to begin Aug. 1. 

Kentucky Attorney General Russell Coleman (Kentucky Lantern photo by Mathew Mueller)

Coleman and the GOP attorneys general filed the lawsuit in April. At the time, they argued the Department of Education “used rulemaking power to convert a law designed to equalize opportunities for both sexes into a far broader regime of its own making” with the new Title IX regulations. 

Reeves limited the injunction to the plaintiff states of Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Virginia and West Virginia.

The Biden administration introduced the rules to “build on the legacy of Title IX by clarifying that all our nation’s students can access schools that are safe, welcoming, and respect their rights,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement. The rules also would have rolled back Trump administration changes that narrowly defined sexual harassment and directed schools to conduct live hearings, allowing those who were accused of sexual harassment or assault to cross-examine their accusers.

President Joe Biden with U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. (Official White House photo by Adam Schultz)

In their complaint, the state attorneys general said that under the Biden rule, “Men who identify as women will, among other things, have the right to compete within programs and activities that Congress made available to women so they can fairly and fully pursue academic and athletic excellence — turning Title IX’s protections on their head … And anyone who expresses disagreement with this new status quo risks Title IX discipline for prohibited harassment.” 

Established in 1972, Title IX was created to prevent “discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance,” according to the Department of Education.

Reeves wrote in his opinion that “the Department of Education seeks to derail deeply rooted law” created by the implementation of Title IX. 

“At bottom, the department would turn Title IX on its head by redefining ‘sex’ to include ‘gender identity.’ But ‘sex’ and ‘gender identity’ do not mean the same thing,” he wrote. “The department’s interpretation conflicts with the plain language of Title IX and therefore exceeds its authority to promulgate regulations under that statute.” 

In a press release, Coleman’s office said Monday that schools that would fail to comply with the new rules would risk losing federal funding. Citing the Department of Education, the office said Kentucky’s public and private schools received a total of $1.1 billion in federal funding last year.

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“As a parent and as attorney general, I joined this effort to protect our women and girls from harm. Today’s ruling recognized the 50-plus years of educational opportunities Title IX has created for students and athletes,” Coleman said in the press release. “We’re grateful for the court’s ruling, and we will continue to fight the Biden administration’s attempts to rip away protections to advance its political agenda.”

A spokesperson for the department said it was reviewing the ruling.

“Title IX guarantees that no person experience sex discrimination in a federally-funded educational environment,” the spokesperson added. “The department crafted the final Title IX regulations following a rigorous process to realize the Title IX statutory guarantee. The department stands by the final Title IX regulations released in April 2024, and we will continue to fight for every student.”

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McKenna Horsley

McKenna Horsley covers state politics for the Kentucky Lantern. She previously worked for newspapers in Huntington, W.Va., and Frankfort, Ky. She is from northeastern Kentucky.

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The preceding story was previously published by the Kentucky Lantern and is republished with permission.

The Kentucky Lantern is an independent, nonpartisan, free news service based in Frankfort a short walk from the Capitol, but all of Kentucky is our beat.

We focus on how decisions made in the marble halls of power ripple through the lives of Kentuckians. We bring attention to injustices and hold institutions and officials accountable. We tell the stories of Kentuckians who are making a difference and shine a light on what’s working. Our journalism is aimed at building a fairer, healthier Kentucky for all. 

Kentucky Lantern is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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The White House

Press secretary reaffirms the administration’s commitment to advancing LGBTQ rights

Karine Jean-Pierre also highlighted mental health efforts

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White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre (Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre began her briefing with reporters on Monday by honoring Pride Month as a time to “reflect on the progress we have made in pursuit of equality, justice, inclusion” and “recommit ourselves to do more to support LGBTQI+ rights at home and around the world.”

She said that while the Biden-Harris administration has taken “historic action” to expand freedoms and protections for the community “since day one,” state legislatures last year filed more than 600 anti-LGBTQ bills, which disproportionately target transgender youth.

Not only are conservative state lawmakers potentially on track to surpass that number in 2024, but Republican members of Congress along with the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Donald Trump, have pledged their support for at least a dozen anti-LGBTQ policies at the federal level.

Jean-Pierre said this administration “is going to continue to speak out and stand up against these attacks,” adding, “as President Biden says, these young [transgender and queer] people are some of the bravest people he knows, but no one should have to be brave just to be themselves.”

The press secretary concluded her opener by discussing the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, which provides a “line dedicated to serving LGBTQI+ young people that can be reached by dialing nine eight and pressing three.”

Afterwards, when fielding questions from reporters, Jean-Pierre noted how many of the challenges facing LGBTQ youth have dovetailed with the ongoing mental health crisis in America.

She also addressed a ruling on Monday that blocked the administration’s newly passed LGBTQ-inclusive Title IX rules, which clarify that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is covered by the statute’s language barring sex discrimination in education programs and activities that receive federal assistance.

A Trump-appointed judge on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana had issued an injunction against the regulations on Thursday, with a handful of Republican state attorneys general promising more legal challenges.

Declining to address specific legal questions that she noted are best directed to the Justice Department, Jean-Pierre stressed the need for students to feel safe and to be treated equally.

“That is why the protections are all about making sure students have equal rights restored,” she said.

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