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DOMA ruling to have ‘huge’ impact on D.C. region

Attorneys tell same-sex couples: Talk to your employer about benefits



Adam Ebbin, Virginia, gay news, Washington Blade
Adam Ebbin, Alexandria, Virginia, Senate, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade, DOMA

‘The state’s hands are tied until we change the constitution,’ said Virginia Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) of efforts to extend marriage rights to couples in the commonwealth, following a momentous ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court striking down DOMA. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The large number of federal government employees in the D.C. metropolitan area will ensure that many same-sex married couples living in the region, including those living in Virginia, will soon receive full federal benefits and rights that come with marriage in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision last week to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act.

According to local attorneys familiar with family law, the Obama administration has taken immediate steps to direct the U.S. Office of Personnel Management to provide all federal marriage benefits to government workers and their same-sex spouses.

“Certainly for federal civil servants there will be a clear effort from the administration to allow people who marry anywhere to take advantage of their federal civil service benefits regardless of where they currently live,” said Takoma Park, Md., attorney Susan Silber, whose law firm has represented lesbian and gay couples on matters pertaining to family law.

“So that’s huge for our metropolitan area,” she said. “And it will be huge for people who live in places like Virginia and West Virginia and Pennsylvania” where many federal workers live.

Silber and local attorney Michelle Zavos, who, like Silber, represents LGBT clients in the D.C. metro area, said following the DOMA decision, same-sex couples can expect support in their quest to obtain both state and federal marriage benefits from state officials in D.C., Maryland and Delaware, where same-sex marriage is legal.

But the two attorneys said most of those benefits won’t come automatically and same-sex married couples in the three jurisdictions must come forward to apply for the benefits.

“This is something they have to do proactively,” Zavos told the Blade. “And what I would say is federal workers, especially, need to contact their Human Resources Department immediately to find out what they need to do. They cannot sit on this.”

Zavos noted that similar to any married employee, both federal and private sector employees need to inform their employer through the personnel or human resources department that they are married and will qualify for benefits such as health insurance for their spouse.

In the case of the federal government, enrollment in such benefits often becomes available only during an “open enrollment” period once a year. However, OPM officials have said the federal personnel agency was expected to schedule another open enrollment period in the coming weeks in light of the Supreme Court’s decision overturning DOMA.

Silber, Zavos and other attorneys familiar with Virginia said they were watching closely as Obama administration officials assess ways to extend federal marriage benefits to same-sex couples who legally marry in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage but live in states that do not recognize such marriages.

In the week since the Supreme Court ruling on DOMA, legal experts have said some federal benefits linked to marriage, such as Social Security survivor benefits, are tied to the state where a couple lives rather than the state where the couple married.

Claire Gastanaga, an attorney who serves as general legislative counsel for the statewide LGBT group Equality Virginia, said the question of whether a federal marriage benefit is available to same-sex married couples living in Virginia must be decided by the federal government, not by Virginia state officials.

“It’s really a question of how they choose to interpret the federal law,” Gastanaga said. “There are a thousand different federal laws. Some of them refer to the place of celebration [of the marriage] and some refer to the domicile of the couple,” she said.

“Some of those requirements are statutory, some are regulatory and some are policy,” she added. “So there’s lots to be ironed out at the federal level before we know the answer to that question.”

Adam Ebbin, the gay Virginia state senator representing a district in the Alexandria area, said that while Virginia’s current governor and attorney general are unsympathetic to LGBT issues and oppose marriage equality, any state elected official would be restricted in taking steps to extend benefits to married same-sex couples under an anti-gay marriage amendment passed by voters in 2006, despite the DOMA decision.

“The Virginia marriage amendment, which is part of our state constitution, says the state can’t recognize or grant benefits of marriage for same-sex couples,” Ebbin said. “So the state’s hands are tied until we change the constitution.”

Ebbin said the momentum in support of marriage equality generated by the Supreme Court decision overturning DOMA would have a “major” impact on efforts in Virginia to repeal the same-sex marriage ban.



Prince George’s County library system launches banned book club

First discussion to take place in Hyattsville on June 14



(Bigstock photo)

The Prince George’s County Memorial Library System has launched its Rock Banned Book Club.

The club will feature monthly discussions of the 13 top banned books from 2022, most of which focus on LGBTQ-specific themes. 

The club’s first discussion, which will take place at the Hyattsville Branch Library on June 14, will be on “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe. 

Kobabe’s memoir won the 2020 American Library Association Alex Award and recounts Kobabe’s exploration of gender identity and sexuality through adolescence and adulthood. According to the American Library Association, the book faced the most censorship challenges of any novel at 151.

“We’re seeing nationally the highest rate of challenges to books in libraries since the data has been collected by the American Library Association,” Nicholas Brown, acting co-chief executive officer of the library, said. “I think what happens with all of the discourse around book banning is that, oftentimes, not everyone participating in that discourse is actually taking the time to read the full works and discuss them and understand where the author might be coming from and whose stories are being reflected in these books.”

Along with the book club, the library system is hosting a Pride celebration at the Hyattsville branch on Saturday from 12 – 4 p.m. It will feature a panel discussion, vogue and runway workshops, free HIV testing and more. 

The library system will host its second annual Rainbow Festival on June 24 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Bowie Branch Library with family-friendly events like craft stations, story time and a live DJ. In April, the library system won a Top Innovator Award from the Urban Libraries Council for its banned books campaign.

“I think a lot of folks don’t always realize that your local public library is kind of the front line of democracy and we always have been,” Brown said. “Public libraries across the country are very united on this and if the right to read continues to be under threat like it’s been, it is not a good time for the state of our democracy.”

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District of Columbia

Bowser: No credible threats to D.C. Pride events

Mayor spoke with the Blade after flag-raising ceremony at the Wilson Building



D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser at the flag-raising of the Progress Pride flag at the Wilson Building in D.C. on June 1, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Thursday said authorities have not received any credible threats to upcoming Pride events.

“We don’t have any to report,” she told the Washington Blade.

“MPD is constantly working with all of our agencies to make sure we have safe special events and we’re going to keep going with our planning, like we do every year,” added Bowser. “There’s always a scan for any threats to the District.”

Bowser spoke with the Blade after she joined D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson, Council members Anita Bonds, Charles Allen, Kenyon McDuffie and Zachary Parker, D.C. Attorney General Brian Schwalb, D.C. Mayor’s LGBTQ Affairs Office Director Japer Bowles and other officials and activists in raising the Progress Pride flag in front of the Wilson Building.

The Blade last month reported D.C. police are investigating a bomb threat a Twitter user made against the annual District Pride concert that will take place at the Lincoln Theater on June 29. Bowles in a May 19 statement said his office reported the tweet, but further stressed that “no credible threat at this time has been made.”

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Moore issues Pride month proclamation

Governor on May 3 signed Trans Health Equity Act



Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (Public domain photo/Twitter)

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore on Thursday proclaimed June as Pride month in recognition of  “the contributions, resilience, courage and joy of LGBTQIA+ Marylanders,” according to a press release.

“In Maryland, we lead with love and inclusion. I want everyone in our LGBTQIA+ community to know that they deserve to be seen for who they are, and our administration will stand with them in the fight for equality and equity,” Moore said. “We need to elevate the stories, embrace the courage, and celebrate the humanity of our LGBTQIA+ community — and as long as I am governor, we will take the steps forward to protect and celebrate all Marylanders.”

Moore on March 31 became the first governor in Maryland history to recognize the Transgender Day of Visibility and last month he signed into law the Trans Health Equity Act into law, which requires Maryland Medicaid to provide coverage for gender-affirming care beginning next year.

“This month is a celebration of the beauty and uniqueness of the queer community, but it’s also a time to reaffirm our commitment to uplifting LGBTQIA+ Marylanders and continuing to fight against hatred, discrimination, and bigotry,” Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller said in the same press release that Moore’s office released. “LGBTQIA+ Marylanders deserve to be who they are, to live their pride — without fear or having to hide. This administration will always stand alongside and protect the rights of all Marylanders.”

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