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Marriage equality in all 50 states?

Some say Obama’s post-DOMA decisions pushing country in that direction

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Citizens Metal, Barack Obama, gay news, Washington Blade
Citizens Metal, Barack Obama, gay news, Washington Blade

President Obama is implementing the Supreme Court ruling against DOMA in a way that is speeding the pace toward national marriage equality. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

New policy decisions from the Obama administration in the wake of the Supreme Court decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act are providing benefits for gay couples in a way that some observers say is advancing the pace toward national marriage equality.

In the months after the ruling in June, the U.S. government has announced historic decisions in affording the federal benefits of marriage to same-sex couples who are legally wed. Shortly after the decision, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management granted spousal health and pension benefits to gay federal employees, and just last week, the Pentagon announced it was implementing the benefits along the same lines for gay U.S. service members.

But to receive these benefits, gay couples must be in legal marriages as opposed to any other form of legally recognized relationship, such as civil unions or domestic partnerships. OPM announced in a series of memos in July couples in these unions aren’t eligible for federal benefits. And part of its rollout for same-sex spousal benefits, the Pentagon granted up to 10 days leave to allow same-sex couples to travel to a marriage-equality state to wed as opposed to honoring domestic partnerships for the purposes of benefits — retracting a pledge earlier in the year to provide them.

These changes mean gay couples living in the seven states that only offer civil unions or domestic partnerships — Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon, Nevada, Hawaii and Wisconsin — will be left out in the cold in terms of federal benefits unless they travel to a marriage-equality state to wed and return. That doesn’t take into account rules for certain benefits — Social Security, taxes and family and medial leave — that for the time being extend only to legally married gay couples only if they currently reside in a state that recognizes their union and not to those who apply for them in non-marriage equality states.

The Obama administration’s insistence that gay couples be married to receive federal benefits is creating the policy that some observers say is leading the way toward national marriage equality by encouraging more states to adopt marriage rights for gay couples.

Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, a lesbian and director of social policy and politics for the centrist group known as Third Way, said this approach is an “organized way” to implement he Supreme Court’s decision against DOMA, but may also strategically advance marriage equality. In particular, she said it’ll demonstrate before the state courts hearing marriage equality litigation that civil unions aren’t marriage under the law.

“I think that’s pretty smart for state litigation purposes and also for ease of administration,” Erickson Hatalsky said. “The more we continue to make kind of a second-class status available at the federal level, the harder it’s going to be to take that step to what we all know is the goal. So, I think this is a pretty strategic way to kick things in that direction, whereas if you offer essentially a federal domestic partnership or civil unions, it undermines some of those arguments for why we do need marriage.”

In addition to battling for marriage equality in state courts in New Jersey, New Mexico and Illinois, LGBT advocates are pushing ahead with the legislative route for marriage equality in numerous states.

In New Jersey, advocates are seeking to overturn Gov. Chris Christie’s veto, and in Illinois, there’s a push underway to pass same-sex marriage legislation in the State House before the extended legislative session ends on Aug. 30. Lawmakers in Hawaii have also recently also met about passing marriage equality in the Aloha State. Each of these states already has civil unions.

Dan Pinello, who’s gay and a political scientist at the City University of New York, said the Obama administration’s decision to grant benefits only to legally married couples provides an incentive for lawmakers in these states to legalize same-sex marriage.

“The practical political effect of limiting federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples will be substantially to increase the pressure on states like Illinois and New Jersey to embrace marriage equality fully,” Pinello said.

But the prevailing notion among observers is that the Obama administration is extending benefits only to married gay couples  because the Windsor decision allotted for that change and any push toward national marriage equality as a result of that implementation is incidental.

Richard Socarides, a gay New York attorney who was an LGBT adviser for former President Clinton, said he thinks the Obama administration is not intending to advance same-sex marriage or to undermine civil unions through its implementation of the DOMA decision.

“Probably neither intentionally,” Socarides said. “Just doing what they think is legally appropriate.”

CUNY’s Pinello similarly said the Obama administration had little room in the way it’s implementing the decision because the majority opinion made no mention of civil unions.

“I don’t think that the Obama administration has much choice in the matter, because Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion in U.S. v. Windsor explicitly limits the Court’s decision to marriages,” Pinello said. “Civil unions and domestic partnerships aren’t within the holding of the ruling.”

Asked whether the administration had intended to advance marriage equality through its implementation of the DOMA ruling, a White House official, speaking on condition on anonymity, said the administration “is working to implement the Supreme Court’s ruling in compliance with the law.”

“The president has directed the attorney general to work with the Cabinet to review all relevant federal statutes to ensure this decision and its implications for federal benefits and obligations are implemented swiftly and smoothly,” the official added.

Still, the administration’s method of enhancing marriage rights for gay couples is a drastic change from President Obama’s declaration as a candidate in 2008 that civil unions “represent the best way to secure that equal treatment,” a position he held before evolving to embrace marriage equality last year.

And implementing the DOMA decision only for married couples doesn’t explain why the Pentagon withdrew domestic partners benefits after pledging to implement them in February. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in the memo last week announcing the implementation of the benefits that domestic partnership benefits are “no longer necessary to remedy the inequity that was caused by Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act.”

Christie says couples in civil unions should receive fed’l benefits

Chris Christie, New Jersey, Republican Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum is Chris Christie, whose recent brief in the New Jersey lawsuit seeking marriage equality, known as Garden State Equality v. Dow, contends civil unions within New Jersey should be included among the unions to which the federal government awards benefits. The argument is made in a brief arguing that the court shouldn’t grant summary judgment in favor of marriage equality in New Jersey.

“The examples are endless,” the brief states. “Suffice it to say that a sizable, but indeterminate, number of the over 1,000 benefits and responsibilities that were inapplicable to civil union couples because of DOMA are now available to them because they are spouses, husbands, wives, widows or widowers under New Jersey law.”

Arguably, his attorney’s brief is shifting the debate another way by encouraging the expansion of civil unions in its argument that states with civil unions should be rewarded with the federal benefits of marriage.

Gregory Angelo, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, refuted the assertion of his organization’s sometime ally Christie, saying says marriage equality is the way to go in New Jersey and would clear up any confusion about awarding federal benefits of marriage in the state.

“Civil unions are not the same as civil marriage,” Angelo said. “In the wake of the DOMA decision we said that the focus was going to be on the states and that’s where we’re focused. The Obama administration’s decision to grant federal marriage benefits to gay couples also shows that there are gray areas emerging since the Court overturned Section 3 of DOMA. The best, cleanest, strongest way to ensure benefits is through legislative action.”

Plans are also set for a legislative fix to ensure that couples in domestic partnerships and civil unions can receive certain federal benefits. Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) earlier this month introduced the Social Security Equality Act, which in addition to clarifying that married gay couples nationwide should receive Social Security benefits would also ensure they flow to couples in civil unions.

Additionally, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) is expected to soon reintroduce the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act — and the new version, according to a House aide in his office, is slated to provide gay federal employees in civil unions or domestic partnerships, like those in Wisconsin, with the federal benefits of marriage.

As this discussion is underway, the Human Rights Campaign is arguing that the federal benefits of marriage in some circumstances — notably Social Security benefits — should be available to gay couples in civil unions if they’re living in a state that recognizes them as spouses.

Michael Cole-Schwartz, an HRC spokesperson, said his organization is pursuing a dual track advocating for marriage equality in all 50 states as it pushes for federal recognition of civil unions for certain benefits.

“Under most federal laws, benefits are designed to flow to married couples, which is why civil unions and domestic partnerships have always been insufficient,” Cole-Schwartz said. “The issue is that marriage needs to be available to couples in every state so that no couple is denied recognition from the federal government. However there are cases where if a state recognizes a member of a civil union as a spouse under state law, federal benefits can flow to that person. We are advocating that those benefits be available to couples in civil unions and we await further guidance from federal agencies as to their plans for those situations.”

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Va. senator introduces anti-transgender student athlete bill

Democrats have vowed to thwart anti-LGBTQ measures in state Senate

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Virginia lawmaker has introduced a bill that would ban transgender students from joining school sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

Senate Bill 766, which state Sen. Jennifer Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) introduced on Friday, would require “each elementary or secondary school or a private school that competes in sponsored athletic events against such public schools to designate athletic teams, whether a school athletic team or an intramural team sponsored by such school, based on biological sex as follows: (i) ‘males,’ ‘men,’ or ‘boys’; (ii) ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; or (iii) ‘coed’ or ‘mixed.'”

“Under the bill, male students are not permitted to participate on any school athletic team or squad designated for ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; however, this provision does not apply to physical education classes at schools,” adds the bill. “The bill provides civil penalties for students and schools that suffer harm as a result of a violation of the bill. Such civil actions are required to be initiated within two years after the harm occurred.”

Kiggans introduced her bill less than a week after Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin took office.

Youngkin during his campaign said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity. Elizabeth Schultz, an anti-LGBTQ former member of the Fairfax County School Board, has been named the Virginia Department of Education’s Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Jan. 12 with Republicans in control of the state House of Delegates. Democrats still control the state Senate, and they have pledged to thwart any anti-LGBTQ bills.

“Let’s be clear: This is part of an ongoing, nationwide effort to exclude trans people from enjoying the benefits of sports like their cisgender peers,” tweeted the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia on Friday after Kiggans introduced SB 766. “We won’t tolerate this.”

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Comings & Goings

Hazen inducted into Cooperative Hall of Fame

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Paul Hazen

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected] 

The Comings & Goings column also invites LGBTQ+ college students to share their successes with us. If you have been elected to a student government position, gotten an exciting internship, or are graduating and beginning your career with a great job, let us know so we can share your success. 

Congratulations to Paul Hazen on his being inducted into the 2022 Cooperative Hall of Fame.  On receiving the honor, he said, “I am very lucky to be given the opportunity to combine my work in international development with my volunteer cooperative development work in Washington DC.”

Hazen is executive director, U.S. Overseas Cooperative Development Council (OCDC) and has devoted his career to elevating the cooperative voice domestically and internationally. U.S. co-ops include Ace Hardware, Land O’Lakes, Inc., Sunkist, REI and the Associated Press. Hazen helped establish federal legislation promoting rural co-op development.  

Prior to joining OCDC, he was CEO of Washington, D.C.-based National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International. During his 25-year tenure with the organization, he held key positions, including chief operating officer, vice president of public policy, vice president of member services and director of consumer cooperatives.

He worked for Rep. Al Baldus (Wisc.). He was executive director of Rural Housing Inc. in Madison, Wisc., where he developed co-ops and affordable housing projects in rural communities. 

As a volunteer, Hazen formed the Community Purchasing Alliance (CPA) with 12 congregations in D.C.  In 2020, CPA secured more than $18.7 million in contracts resulting in an investment of $13 million in D.C.-based small businesses owned by people of color.

Ben Finzel

Congratulations also to Ben Finzel, who was inducted into the National Capital Public Relations Hall of Fame. Upon receiving the honor, he said “To be recognized by your peers is wonderful; to be honored by them is amazing. I still can’t quite believe I have done enough to be worthy of this recognition, but I know enough to be thankful and appreciative of this high honor. Thank you PRSA National Capital Chapter for including me in such inspiring company; I will be forever grateful.”

Finzel is president of RENEWPR, a D.C.-based public affairs, communications consulting firm. In 2004, he helped launch FH Out Front, the first global LGBTQ communications practice at an international firm, Fleishman Hillard, and served as its first global chair. He started DC Family Communicators, a professional networking group for LGBTQ communications professionals. Finzel served on the Victory Campaign Board of the LGBTQ Victory Fund from 2007 to 2017.

His firm is currently celebrating its seventh year in business. To recognize that accomplishment, Finzel is launching an endowed scholarship at his alma mater, Texas Tech University. His business is certified as an LGBT Business Enterprise by the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce.

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Corte Suprema de Justicia de Honduras impide que personas LGBTQ puedan casarse y tengan derechos civiles 

Organizaciones presentan nuevos recursos de inconstitucionalidad

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Manifestaciones del 20 de enero en la Corte Suprema de Justicia por la decisión de la Corte (Foto cortesía de Reportar sin Miedo)

Reportar sin Miedo es el socio mediático del Washington Blade en Honduras. Esta nota salió en su sitio web el 20 de enero.

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — Líderes LGBTIQ+ enfrentaron un hecho de discriminación hoy al presentarse en la Corte Suprema de Justicia, donde los guardias de seguridad los reprimieron y cerraron los portones de acceso vehícular y peatonal, impidiéndoles ingresar al edificio para presentar los recursos de inconstitucionalidad sobre el matrimonio igualitario. 

En una marcha pacífica, más de 50 personas de la diversidad sexual organizadas en mesas de acceso a la justicia de Honduras salieron del bulevar las Fuerzas Armadas hacia las instalaciones del Poder Judicial para pedirles a los magistrados de la Sala de lo Constitucional que acepten un nuevo recurso tras el fallo anunciado esta semana y presentado en 2018 por las organizaciones Cattrachas y Somos CDC. 

Durante los 10 minutos en que se interrumpió el acceso al palacio judicial, lxs activistas denunciaron agresiones verbales del personal de seguridad de la Corte. Al final ingresaron por el portón vehícular. Se instalaron en las gradas de la entrada principal e hicieron un plantón pacífico, durante el cual exclamaron: “Sí se pudo”, después de lo cual se permitió que líderes LGBTIQ+ ingresaran a la sala a presentar el nuevo recurso. 

Las mesas de acceso a la justicia para población LGBTIQ+ están integradas por Arcoiris, Somos CDC, Asociación Kukulcán, colectivo feminista Ixchel, Somos Trans, Colectivo Violeta, Muñecas de Arcoiris, Grupo Lésbico y Bisexual LITOS de Honduras entre otras.

La directora de Muñecas de Arcoíris, JLo Córdova, y sus compañeras trans marcharon y exigieron a la corte respeto a los derechos civiles de las personas LGBTIQ+ en Honduras. 

“No esperamos nada de una clase política opresora”, dijo el activista de la Asociación Arcoíris, Donnis Reyes, quien recalcó que el fallo de la CSJ no es nada nuevo, ya que por más de 12 años el Partido Nacional de Honduras ha influenciado las decisiones del Poder Legislativo y Judicial. 

“Estamos pidiendo que se deroguen ciertos artículos anticonstitucionales y no están basados en derechos”, dijo la directora ejecutiva de la organización feminista Ixchel, Lucía Barrientos, quien se refiere a la opinión consultiva sobre identidad de género, igualdad y no discriminación a parejas del mismo sexo presentada por la Corte IDH. 

La Corte IDH ha indicado que existe un vínculo indisoluble entre igualdad y no discriminación y se ha establecido la dificultad de separarlos por cuanto el incumplimiento de uno (igualdad) acarrea necesariamente la verificación de la prohibición del segundo (no discriminación). 

En ese sentido, la Corte IDH ha indicado que, en función del reconocimiento de igualdad ante la ley, se prohíbe todo tratamiento discriminatorio. Este principio rector y derecho fundamental fue acertadamente introducido en nuestra Constitución en su artículo 60.

“La falta de reconocimiento jurídico de la realidad conformada por las parejas homosexuales es un atentado contra la dignidad de sus integrantes porque lesiona su autonomía y capacidad de autodeterminación al impedir que su decisión de conformar un proyecto de vida en común produzca efectos jurídico-patrimoniales, lo cual significa que, dado un régimen imperativo del derecho civil, quedan en una situación de desprotección que no están en capacidad de afrontar”, resolvió la Corte Suprema de Justicia de Honduras.

La CSJ declaró no ha lugar los recursos de Inconstitucionalidad vía acción y por razón de contenido, ambos contra el Decreto No. 176-2024, emitido por el Congreso Nacional de la República, en fecha 28 de octubre del año 2004, mediante el cual reformó el artículo 112 de la Constitución de la República y el artículo 45 del Código de Familia.

El fallo fue notificado en la tercera semana de enero, a pocos días de la culminación del gobierno nacionalista de Juan Hernández, pero la sentencia fue emitida en abril de 2021, dos meses después (28 de junio) de la sentencia histórica del caso “Vicky Hernández y otros versus Honduras” por la Corte IDH, donde condena al Estado de Honduras por el asesinato de la líder trans de San Pedro Sula y ordena una serie de reparaciones que incluye otorgar, a través de la vía administrativa, el cambio de nombre de las personas trans, así como otra serie de derechos. 

Reportar sin Miedo habló con activistas, quienes dijeron: “Hubo un retraso injustificado en la notificación de la sentencia”. 

En América Latina, 10 países reconocen algún tipo de uniones del mismo sexo. El matrimonio entre personas del mismo sexo es legal en Argentina, Brasil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, México, Uruguay y en los territorios dependientes de Guayana Francesa e islas Malvinas. Bajo una perspectiva del derecho comparado, el reconocimiento de las uniones homosexuales se ha dado a través de dos vías: la judicial (a través de sentencias de tribunales judiciales) y la legislativa.

Sin embargo, en Honduras el artículo 112 Constitucional, en su párrafo primero, literalmente dice: “Se reconoce el derecho del hombre y de la mujer, que tengan la calidad de tales naturalmente, a contraer matrimonio entre sí, así como la igualdad jurídica de los cónyuges. Solo es válido el matrimonio civil celebrado ante funcionario”.

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