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Boxer seeks full extension of Social Security benefits

Survivor benefits in question even with court ruling against DOMA

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Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) is calling on Social Security to implement fully benefits for married gay couples (Blade file photo by Michael Key).

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) is calling on Social Security to implement full benefits for married gay couples. (Blade file photo by Michael Key).

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) is calling on the Social Security Administration to provide survivor benefits for married same-sex couples wherever they move in the country in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act.

In a letter dated July 1, Boxer asks Social Security Administration Acting Commissioner Carolyn Colvin to use “administrative authorities” to extend benefits to the fullest extent possible following the Supreme Court decision striking down Section 3 of DOMA.

“All federal agencies should endeavor to provide swift and equal access to programs and benefits for all same-sex couples, regardless of their state of residence, using existing administrative authorities,” Boxer said.

Social Security survivor benefits are among the benefits that are in question for legally married same-sex couples post-DOMA. Social Security law looks to the state where a couple lives, not where a couple is married. That means a gay couple that marries in New York but moves to Florida may not be eligible if they apply for those benefits there.

In the event that the Social Security Administration believes it can’t offer those benefits administratively, Boxer asks the agency to notify Congress so lawmakers can advance a legislative solution to the issue.

Boxer, one of 14 U.S. senators who voted against DOMA in 1996, said she’s spoken with same-sex couples and heard about the harm caused by withholding Social Security survivor benefits.

“I have met so many surviving spouses and family members of same-sex relationships who struggle needlessly after the passing of their family members,” Boxer writes. “Access to Social Security benefits can often times mean the difference between keeping your home and losing it, or feeding your children and watching them go hungry.”

In her letter, Boxer says she understands the Social Security Administration has already taken some action. The senator says she learned the agency “took immediate steps” to prepare for changes and issued “emergency instructions” to field offices directing them to accept applications from gay couples and hold them until further guidance.

Like Boxer, LGBT advocates have been calling on the Obama administration to interpret the ruling against DOMA broadly so married gay couples will have federal benefits no matter where they move in the country.

During his trip to Africa, President Obama seemed sympathetic to calls when responding to a question about DOMA implementation during a news conference.

“It’s my personal belief — but I’m speaking now as a president as opposed to as a lawyer — that if you’ve been married in Massachusetts and you move someplace else, you’re still married, and that under federal law you should be able to obtain the benefits of any lawfully married couple,” Obama said. “But I’m speaking as a president, not a lawyer.”

After the DOMA ruling, Obama said he directed U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to work with Cabinet officials to prepare for implementing benefits for same-sex couples. Changes are expected to be made on a rolling basis as quickly as practicable.

Mark Hinkle, a Social Security spokesperson, noted the process Obama has set up in response to the Boxer letter.

“The president has directed the Attorney General to work with other members of his Cabinet to review all relevant federal statutes to ensure this decision, and its implications for federal benefits and obligations – including benefits administered by this agency – is implemented swiftly and smoothly,” Hinkle said. “We look forward to working with the Department of Justice to do so.”

Hinkle added the Social Security Administration will respond directly to Boxer with regard to the letter.

In the event that some benefits still aren’t available even in the aftermath of the court ruling, one legislative solution that is available is the Respect for Marriage Act, which was introduced last week by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). The “certainty provision” in the bill would ensure federal benefits continue to flow to married same-sex couples wherever they live in the United States.

The full letter from Boxer follows:

July 1, 2013

The Honorable Carolyn W. Colvin

Acting Commissioner

Social Security Administration

6401 Security Boulevard

Baltimore, MD 21235

Dear Acting Commissioner Colvin:

Until the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act in last week’s historic United States v. Windsor ruling, federal law prevented the recognition of same-sex marriages for purposes of Social Security family and spousal benefits, resulting in the exclusion of millions of Americans from the same critical safety net programs that are made available to the families of heterosexual couples.

I have met so many surviving spouses and family members of same-sex relationships who struggle needlessly after the passing of their family members.  Access to Social Security benefits can often times mean the difference between keeping your home and losing it, or feeding your children and watching them go hungry.  Surviving spouses and children of same-sex marriages lose thousands of dollars in earned Social Security benefits every year because of the discriminatory policy mandated by the Defense of Marriage Act.

After last week’s Supreme Court ruling, I was pleased to learn that the Social Security Administration (SSA) took immediate steps to prepare for the changes that will be necessary to extend full federal benefits to all same-sex couples and their families.  The SSA should be applauded for issuing emergency instructions to all field offices directing them to accept applications from same-sex couples and hold them until specific instructions on how the Court’s decision will be implemented are determined.

I was also encouraged by President Obama’s comments indicating that he believes all legally-married same-sex couples should have access to the same benefits, regardless of where they chose to live.

All federal agencies should endeavor to provide swift and equal access to programs and benefits for all same-sex couples, regardless of their state of residence, using existing administrative authorities.  In instances where remedies are not available through executive action and will instead require specific changes to existing law, I urge you to notify Congress immediately so that the legislative process to address these issues can begin.

While I understand the SSA’s review of its legal authorities regarding same-sex couples must be comprehensive and thorough, I encourage you to work as expeditiously as possible for the millions of Americans who await your decisions.

Sincerely,

Barbara Boxer
United States Senator

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Biden recognizes 10th anniversary of end to ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

Pete Buttigieg, Gina Ortiz Jones named in White House statement

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President Biden recognized in a statement on Monday the tenth anniversary of the end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a law that once discharged service members from the military for being openly gay or bisexual.

“Ten years ago today, a great injustice was remedied and a tremendous weight was finally lifted off the shoulders of tens of thousands of dedicated American service members,” Biden said. “The repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ which formally barred gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members from openly serving, helped move our nation closer to its foundational promise of equality, dignity, and opportunity for all.”

Biden recognized high-profile openly gay appointees in his administrations who are also veterans, naming Air Force Under Secretary Gina Ortiz Jones and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. Biden also names Shawn Skelly, assistant secretary of defense for readiness, who would have been discharged from the military under President Trump’s transgender military ban.

“On this day and every day, I am thankful for all of the LGBTQ+ service members and veterans who strengthen our military and our nation,” Biden said. “We must honor their sacrifice by continuing the fight for full equality for LGBTQ+ people, including by finally passing the Equality Act and living up to our highest values of justice and equality for all.”

Technically speaking, the anniversary of Obama signing repeal legislation was in December. Today is the anniversary of defense officials certifying the military is ready, which put an end to the policy.

Read Biden’s full statement below:

Statement by President Joe Biden on the Tenth Anniversary of the Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
Ten years ago today, a great injustice was remedied and a tremendous weight was finally lifted off the shoulders of tens of thousands of dedicated American service members. The repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which formally barred gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members from openly serving, helped move our nation closer to its foundational promise of equality, dignity, and opportunity for all. It was the right thing to do. And, it showed once again that America is at its best when we lead not by the example of our power, but by the power of our example.

Despite serving with extraordinary honor and courage throughout our history, more than 100,000 American service members have been discharged because of their sexual orientation or gender identity—including some 14,000 under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Many of these veterans received what are known as “other than honorable” discharges, excluding them and their families from the vitally important services and benefits they had sacrificed so much to earn.

As a U.S. Senator, I supported allowing service members to serve openly, and as Vice President, I was proud to champion the repeal of this policy and to stand beside President Obama as he signed the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act into law. As President, I am honored to be Commander-in-Chief of the strongest and most inclusive military in our nation’s history. Today, our military doesn’t just welcome LGBTQ+ service members—it is led at the highest levels by brave LGBTQ+ veterans, including Under Secretary of the Air Force Gina Ortiz Jones and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness Shawn Skelly, who served under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I was gratified to appoint the first openly gay Senate-confirmed Cabinet member, Secretary Pete Buttigieg, a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserve and Afghanistan veteran who joined the military under the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. And during my first week in office, I proudly delivered on my pledge to repeal the discriminatory ban on open service by patriotic transgender service members.

On this day and every day, I am thankful for all of the LGBTQ+ service members and veterans who strengthen our military and our nation. We must honor their sacrifice by continuing the fight for full equality for LGBTQ+ people, including by finally passing the Equality Act and living up to our highest values of justice and equality for all.

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HHS awards more than $48 million to HRSA centers in effort to beat HIV/AIDS

Biden campaigned on beating epidemic by 2025

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HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra hailed the contribution of more than $48 million to beat HIV/AIDS. (photo public domain)

The Biden administration has awarded more than $48 million to medical centers under Health Resources & Services Administration in localities with high incidents of HIV infection as part of the initiative to beat the disease, the Washington Blade has learned exclusively.

Xavier Becerra, secretary of health and human services, said in a statement the contributions are key component of the initiative, which is called “Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S.” and seeks to reduce new infections by 90 percent by 2030.

“HHS-supported community health centers are often a key point of entry to HIV prevention and treatment services, especially for underserved populations,” Becerra said in a statement. “I am proud of the role they play in providing critical services to 1.2 million Americans living with HIV. Today’s awards will ensure equitable access to services free from stigma and discrimination, while advancing the Biden-Harris administration’s efforts to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2025.”

The $48 million contribution went to HRSA centers 271 HRSA-supported health centers across 26 states, Puerto Rico and D.C. — areas identified with the highest rates of HIV infections — to expand HIV prevention and treatment services, including access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) as well as outreach and care coordination, according to HHS.

The Ending the HIV Epidemic was set up under the Trump administration, which made PrEP a generic drug after an accelerated effort and set a goal of beating HIV by 2030. Biden has continued the project, after campaigning on beating HIV a full five years earlier in 2025. Observers, however, are skeptical he can meet that goal.

Diana Espinosa, acting HRSA administrator, said in a statement the $48 million will go a long way in reaching goals to beat HIV/AIDS.

“We know our Health Center Program award recipients are well-positioned to advance the Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. initiative, with a particular focus on facilitating access to PrEP, because of their integrated service delivery model,” Espinosa said. “By integrating HIV services into primary care, and providing essential enabling services like language access or case management, HRSA-supported health centers increase access to care and improve health outcomes for patients living with HIV.”

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Melania Trump announced as guest for Log Cabin Republicans’ annual dinner

Former first lady Melania Trump is set to be a special guest at the annual “Spirit of Lincoln” dinner hosted by Log Cabin Republicans.

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Former first lady Melania Trump is set to be a special guest at the annual “Spirit of Lincoln” dinner hosted by Log Cabin Republicans, the organization announced on Tuesday.

The event — which will take place Nov. 6 at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., marking a change of tradition in holding the dinner in D.C. — will likely mark an attempt for Melania Trump to develop her image as an LGBTQ ally and tamp down the reputation the Trump administration was hostile to LGBTQ people.

Charles Moran, managing director for Log Cabin Republicans, hailed Melania Trump in a statement for her work as first lady and breaking barriers for the Republican Party.

“Melania Trump’s work as First Lady, from helping children reach their full potential to championing a more inclusive Republican Party, has been historic,” Moran said. “Her vocal support of Log Cabin Republicans has been a signal to Republicans everywhere that it is possible to simultaneously be conservative and support equality under the law for all Americans.”

According to the Log Cabin Republicans, Melania Trump at the dinner will be awarded with the 2021 Spirit of Lincoln Award. Other high-profile Republicans in the past who have appeared at the annual event are Carly Fiorina, Newt Gingrich, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Mary Cheney.

Moran, in response to an email inquiry from the Washington Blade, said Melania Trump will not only be an award recipient, but is set to deliver remarks at the event.

It won’t be the first time Melania Trump has collaborated with Log Cabin. During the 2020 election, she appeared in a video for Outspoken, the media arm for Log Cabin Republicans, saying “nothing could be further from the truth” her husband, former President Trump, is against LGBTQ people.

Among the anti-LGBTQ policies under Trump were a transgender military ban, religious freedom carve-out seen to enable anti-LGBTQ discrimination and the U.S. Justice Department arguing against LGBTQ inclusion under civil rights law when the issue was before the U.S. Supreme Court. Nonetheless, Trump connected with a certain faction of LGBTQ people and his administration included high-profile LGBTQ appointees, such as Richard Grenell as the first openly gay person to serve in a Cabinet role.

As first reported by the Washington Blade, Melania Trump said in 2020 she wanted to light up the White House in rainbow colors similar to the display during the Obama years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled for same-sex marriage nationwide. However, the vision never came to pass at a time when White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows had a role in quashing an symbolic support for LGBTQ people in Pride Month.

The Log Cabin announcement comes at a time when Melania Trump is facing new scrutiny over her response to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and whether she erroneously believes, like her husband, he was the winner of the 2020 election.

According to a preview in Politico, former White House press secretary and Melania Trump aide Stephanie Grisham says in her upcoming book she texted the former first lady on Jan. 6 to ask: “Do you want to tweet that peaceful protests are the right of every American, but there is no place for lawlessness and violence?”

A minute later, Melania replied with a one-word answer: “No,” Grisham reportedly writes of her account. At that moment, Grisham writes she was at the White House preparing for a photo shoot of a rug she had selected, according to Politico.

The Blade has placed a request in with the office of former President Donald Trump to confirm her appearance at the dinner and comment on what went into the Melania Trump’s decision to appear at the event.

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