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House GOP drops DOMA defense

‘Windsor decision resolves issue of DOMA’s Section 3 constitutionality’

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John Boehner, Speaker of the House, GOP, Republican, gay news, Washington Blade
John Boehner, Speaker of the House, GOP, Republican, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner has dropped defense of DOMA in court. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

House Republicans and the U.S. Justice Department are switching roles in a case against the Defense of Marriage Act that continues because it also challenges a statute restricting veterans’ benefits for troops with same-sex spouses.

In a move widely praised by LGBT advocates on Thursday, House Republican lawyers who had previously defended DOMA — including Paul Clement, a former U.S. solicitor general during the Bush administration — announced they would withdraw as a participant in the lawsuit in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision last month in the Windsor case striking down DOMA.

“The Windsor decision necessarily resolves the issue of DOMA’s Section 3 constitutionality in this case,” the filing states. “While the question of whether [Title 38] is constitutional remains open, the House has determined, in light of the Supreme Court’s opinion in Windsor, that it no longer will defend that statute. Accordingly, the House now seeks leave to withdraw as a party defendant.”

The lawsuit, known as McLaughlin v. Panetta, was filed on behalf of gay troops and veterans by Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and Chadbourne & Parke LLP in 2011 and challenges DOMA as well as Title 38, the law governing veterans’ benefits that also restricts the definition of spouse to opposite-sex couples.

LGBT advocates praised the move from House Republicans, who had taken up defense of DOMA after the Obama administration stopped defending it in 2011, as a decision placing them on the right side of history.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, called the move “historic,” noting that House Republicans spent an estimated $2.3 million in defense of DOMA.

“After millions of taxpayer dollars wasted defending discrimination, it’s a historic sign of the times that the House leadership is dropping its pointless quest to maintain second-class status for lesbian and gay couples,” Griffin said.

Drew Hammill, a spokesperson for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said Republican attorneys should follow suit in other lawsuits related to DOMA and file motions to exit as parties in those cases.

“The Supreme Court’s ruling is clear,” Hammill said “Rather than trying to delay justice for particular married gay and lesbian couples and their families, Speaker Boehner should immediately file motions to end House Republicans’ involvement in the remaining cases and stop spending taxpayer dollars to defend unconstitutional discrimination.”

In addition to the McLaughlin case, another DOMA lawsuit also challenging Title 38 was filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center and is known as Cooper-Harris v. United States.

Caren Short, staff attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, called on Republican attorneys to withdraw from the Cooper-Harris case as well.

“We are considering our next steps and hope BLAG will withdraw from the Cooper-Harris case and finally end their shameful crusade against veterans and their spouses,” Short said.

Boehner’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment on whether House Republicans would similarly withdraw from other lawsuits related to DOMA.

But on the same day House Republicans made the filing to withdraw from the McLaughlin case, the Justice Department made its own filing disputing the plaintiffs’ ability to challenge Title 38 in the lawsuit.

First, the Justice Department contests that any of the plaintiffs have been harmed by the statute because it says none of them have applied for and been denied  veterans benefits.

“These plaintiffs do not allege that they have applied for or been denied any veterans’ benefits (such as additional disability compensation based on a veteran’s service-connected disability, burial benefits, or dependency and indemnity compensation) that they would be eligible to receive but for their same-sex marriage,” the Justice Department states.

Second, the Obama administration maintains that the court in which the lawsuit was filed doesn’t have jurisdiction to decide veterans’ claims because the Veterans’ Judicial Review Act provides the exclusive review scheme for such challenges.

“Under this scheme, a veteran may seek administrative review of the denial of veterans’ benefits before the Board of Veterans’ Appeals and subsequent judicial review by the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, with the right to appeal that court’s decision as to legal issues to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and ultimately to the Supreme Court,” the Justice Department said.

The Justice Department makes this filing — signed by gay Acting Assistant Attorney General Stuart Delery — even though the U.S. Attorney General announced in February 2012 that it won’t defend Title 38 in court as it pertains to married same-sex couples.

Although the Justice Department objects to the Title 38 challenge in the case on procedural grounds, the filing makes clear the administration still believes Title 38 is unconstitutional “against challenges under the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause.”

Christopher Man, a gay attorney handling the case with Chadbourne & Parke LLP, said he disagrees with the arguments presented by the Obama administration, but will work with the Justice Department going forward.

“We appreciate that DOJ has agreed with us that each of the statutory provisions we challenged is unconstitutional, and are working with DOJ lawyers to find a solution that will provide our plaintiffs with all the benefits they would have received if their application for benefits had not been unconstitutionally denied,” Man said.

U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns had asked both House Republicans and the Justice Department to file by Thursday on the impact of the Windsor case on the McLaughlin case.

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Liz Cheney: ‘I was wrong’ to have opposed same-sex marriage

Trump critic reverses after public spat with lesbian sister

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Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) (Photo via Facebook)

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming), one of a handful of Republicans who have criticized President Trump in his actions to attempt to overturn his defeat in the 2020 election, has now said she “was wrong” to have opposed same-sex marriage.

Liz Cheney, whose sister Mary Cheney is a lesbian and married to a woman, made the comments during an interview on “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday night after Lesley Stahl asked the Republican about her one-time opposition to marriage rights for gay couples.

“I was wrong. I was wrong,” Liz Cheney said, whose opposition to same-sex marriage had formerly made her estranged to her sister. The two have since reconciled.

“I love my sister very much. I love her family very much, and I was wrong,” added Liz Cheney, who appeared emotional. “It’s a very personal issue and very personal for my family. I believe my dad was right, and my sister and I have had that conversation.”

Cheney makes the comments after she has been ostracized by the Republican Party over her vote to impeach former President Trump and her participation in the congressional panel on the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Liz Cheney has publicly come to regret her former opposition to same-sex marriage after a sea change in public opinion on the issue. For the first time this year, a majority of Republicans, 55 percent, are in support of marriage rights for gay couples and a record high of 70 percent of Americans are behind it, according to a Gallup poll released in June.

Blade readers remember the public spat Liz and Mary Cheney had over same-sex marriage in the 2013, which reflected the division over the issue at the time among conservatives, when the former when first considering a congressional run.

Former Vice President Richard Cheney, the father of the two and considered an early supporter of same-sex marriage, with his spouse Lynne Cheney acknowledged in a statement at the time family conflict over same-sex marriage “is an issue we have dealt with privately for many years, and we are pained to see it become public.”

“Liz has always believed in the traditional definition of marriage,” Richard and Lynne said at the time. “She has also always treated her sister and her sister’s family with love and respect.”

Since that time, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of same-sex marriage nationwide. Liz Cheney as a member of Congress never had an option to weigh in the issue of same-sex marriage, having been seated well after the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and the Federal Marriage Amendment were debated in Congress.

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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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