Connect with us

News

Udall seeks action on benefits for gay veterans

Asks Obama to stop enforcing place of residence statute for married couples

Published

on

Mark Udall, Democratic Party, United States Senate, Colorado, gay news, Washington Bladea
Mark Udall, Democratic Party, United States Senate, Colorado, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) is calling on the Obama administration to stop enforcing portions of Title 38. (Photo public domain)

Months after the Obama administration announced it would no longer enforce a portion of U.S. code barring married gay veterans from receiving certain spousal benefits, one Colorado Democrat is calling for further action to ensure former troops receive these benefits no matter where they live.

In a letter dated Nov. 11, Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) calls on President Obama to cease enforcement of Section 103(c) of Title 38 of the U.S. Code, which looks to the state of residency, not the state of celebration, in determining whether a veteran is married.

“You have been a tremendous leader in working to end discrimination against the LGBT community during your presidency, and I know you would agree that there is no military interest or other governmental purpose met in continuing to apply the law in a way that disadvantages same sex couples,” Udall writes. “In this spirit, I ask that this discriminatory action cease while efforts to change the statute proceed through Congress.”

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision against the Defense of Marriage Act, U.S. Attorney General had announced in September the administration wouldn’t enforce the portions of Title 38 that define marriage for veterans in opposite-sex terms. But other portions of the law remain under enforcement.

As noted in the Udall letter, Section 103(c) of Title 38 of the U.S. code prohibits the recognition of a veteran’s same-sex marriage if the couple apply for benefits in a state that doesn’t recognize their marriage.

“In determining whether or not a person is or was the spouse of a veteran, their marriage shall be proven as valid for the purposes of all laws administered by the Secretary according to the law of the place where the parties resided at the time of the marriage or the law of the place where the parties resided when the right to benefits accrued,” the law states.

According to an accompanying statement from Udall’s office, this section of the law has caused continued issues. Two Colorado residents, one of whom served in the Air Force for 10 years and was deployed four times, were denied federal VA benefits because Colorado doesn’t recognize their marriage. The couple lives in Colorado, but married in another state earlier this year.

Udall writes that Obama should apply the same standard to the section of Title 38 prohibiting recognition of gay veterans’ marriage in non-marriage equality states as he did for other sections of the law.

“Addressing this particular section of the law in Title 38 and ensuring that other veterans around the country do not suffer the same injustice my constituents have endured is important, is just and is urgent,” Udall said. “Therefore I ask you to work with the Attorney General and the VA to take immediate action.”

Some of the spousal benefits allocated under Title 38 are disability benefits, survivor benefits and joint burial at a veteran’s cemetery.

Veterans’ benefits are but one portion of U.S. code preventing benefits from flowing to married same-sex couples in non-marriage equality states even after the court decision against DOMA. The Social Security Administration has yet to announce whether it will award spousal benefits to married gay couples living in states that don’t recognize their unions because of a similar statute under Social Security law.

The White House deferred to the Department of Veterans Affairs for comment, which said the situation is currently under review.

“VA is working closely with the Department of Justice to develop guidance to process cases involving same-sex spousal benefits, and to implement necessary changes swiftly and smoothly in order to deliver the best services to all our nation’s Veterans,” said VA spokesperson Drew Brookie. “Our commitment to provide all Veterans and their families with their earned care and benefits will continue to be our focus as VA implements the President’s decision.”

Advocates who work on issues for LGBT service members and post-DOMA implementation say they share the concerns that Udall expresses in the letter.

Stephen Peters, president of the American Military Partners Association, called for clarity from the administration.

“It was previously assumed that the announcement by the Justice Department concerning Title 38 meant that the Veterans Administration (VA) was moving toward equal recognition and support for all veterans and their families, regardless of their orientation or gender of their spouse,” Peters said. “However, there is much confusion on why veterans with same-gender spouses are still being denied equal benefits. We need a clear answer from the administration.”

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, also said the Obama administration needs to articulate a clear path forward.

“We certainly need and want clarity just as soon as possible from the VA as to how they will apply the place of residence statute,” Sainz said.

Udall’s full letter follows:

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

I write today about a critical issue affecting our nation’s veterans and their families. As you know, earlier this year the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act. Since that time the Department of Justice has been working with federal departments and agencies to align their rules and restrictions to conform with the court’s finding in United States v. Windsor, No. 12-307, 133 S. Ct. 2675 (June 26, 2013).

It is in that context that I am requesting that you direct the Executive Branch to cease enforcement of Section 103(c) of Title 38 of the United States Code. Section 103(c) reads as follows:

“In determining whether or not a person is or was the spouse of a veteran, their marriage shall be proven as valid for the purposes of all laws administered by the Secretary according to the law of the place where the parties resided at the time of the marriage or the law of the place where the parties resided when the right to benefits accrued.”

In Colorado, the effect of this section of the law has been to discriminate and deny appropriate Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits to veterans and their spouses. You have been a tremendous leader in working to end discrimination against the LGBT community during your presidency, and I know you would agree that there is no military interest or other governmental purpose met in continuing to apply the law in a way that disadvantages same sex couples. In this spirit, I ask that this discriminatory action cease while efforts to change the statute proceed through Congress.

As you know, on September 4, 2013, Attorney General Holder notified Congress that, as President, you directed the Executive Branch to no longer enforce Sections 101(3) and 101(31) of Title 38 because those sections of law appear unconstitutional in light of Windsor. For the same reason, I believe it is consistent to expand the suspension of enforcement to Section 103(c).

There is a universal feeling in this country that our servicemembers, veterans and their families deserve respect and support during and after their service and the kind of discriminatory treatment this law furthers is simply unacceptable. Addressing this particular section of the law in Title 38 and ensuring that other veterans around the country do not suffer the same injustice my constituents have endured is important, is just and is urgent. Therefore I ask you to work with the Attorney General and the VA to take immediate action.

Thank you for your consideration of this request. We, as a nation, have made historic progress over the past year in furthering LGBT equality, due in large part to your leadership.

I look forward to your response and stand ready to work with you to fix this issue for all of our nation’s veterans.

Advertisement
FUND LGBTQ JOURNALISM
SIGN UP FOR E-BLAST

Africa

Cameroon president’s daughter comes out

Brenda Biya acknowledges relationship with Brazilian model

Published

on

Brenda Biya (Photo via Instagram)

The daughter of Cameroonian President Paul Biya has come out as a lesbian.

Brenda Biya, 26, on June 30 posted to her Instagram page a picture of her kissing Brazilian model Layyons Valença.

“I’m crazy about you and I want the world to know,” said Brenda Biya.

Her father has been Cameroon’s president since 1982.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in the Central African country that borders Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, the Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, and Chad. The State Department’s 2023 human rights report notes harassment, discrimination, violence, and arbitrary arrests of LGBTQ people are commonplace in the country.

Brenda Biya is a musician who does not live in Cameroon.

The BBC reported she told Le Parisien, a French newspaper, in an exclusive interview published on Tuesday that she and Valença have been together for eight months. The women have also traveled to Cameroon together three times, but Brenda Biya did not tell her family they were in a relationship.

Brenda Biya said she did not tell her family that she planned to come out, and they were upset when she did. Brenda Biya told Le Parisien that her mother, Cameroonian first lady Chantale Biya, asked her to delete her Instagram post.

The Washington Blade on Thursday did not see the picture of Brenda Biya and Valença on her Instagram account.

“Coming out is an opportunity to send a strong message,” Brenda Biya told Le Parisien.

Brenda Biya described Cameroon’s criminalization law as “unfair, and I hope that my story will change it.”

Activists applauded Brenda Biya for coming out. The BBC reported the DDHP Movement, which supports Cameroon’s anti-LGBTQ laws, filed a complaint against her with the country’s public prosecutor.

Continue Reading

District of Columbia

D.C. Public Schools’ LGBTQ+ program helps ensure students feel safe

More than half of queer students experience bullying, harassment

Published

on

According a study from Theirworld of LBGTQ+ Gen-Z youth, students feel unsafe in schools. D.C. Public Schools is trying to combat the problem in the District. 

“Research shows that the way schools and families respond to LGBTQ+ youth can affect their physical health, mental health outcomes, academic outcomes, and their decision-making later in life,” said DCPS’ LGBTQ+ Programming Specialist, Adalphie Johnson. 

DCPS’ LGBTQ+ Program started in 2011 after a 2009 survey from GLSEN revealed that 9 out of 10 queer students reported in-school harassment. 

In response, they have created extensive programming to ensure students feel safe at D.C. Public Schools. In 2015 they created a trans and non-binary policy that included guidance on LGBTQ+ terms, locker room accommodations, gender-neutral dress codes, and more. 

In addition, they host an annual conference for queer and trans DCPS students. 

“The “Leading With Pride” conference increases networking, and builds the leadership capacity of our students and faculty advisers to implement school-level LGBTQ programming,” Johnson said. 

In 2023, more than 500 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced in state legislatures according to HRC. This year, Theirworld’s survey found that more than half of LGBTQ students experienced bullying and harassment at school.

Johnson said that students feeling safe in school requires creating an environment where all students can thrive. 

“We encourage students to report incidents without fear of retaliation and ensure that reports are taken seriously and investigated promptly,” she said. 

Johnson also pointed out that as a result of discrimination, students are more likely to miss school, which can lead to low grades, along with impairing cognitive responses. So, she said, it is best for schools to respond with action swiftly. 

However, Johnson and the LGBTQ+ programming team acknowledge that not all students come from supportive backgrounds. 

As a part of their trans and gender-nonconforming policy, staff are expected to work closely with students to determine how involved parents are with the transitioning student, before contacting parents. 

Johnson gave parents eight steps to ensure the safety of their child, if they are in the LGBTQ community.  

8 Steps For Parents

1. Educate Yourself. Learn about LGBTQ+ identities, issues, and terminology. Understanding the basics can help you provide better support and avoid misunderstandings.

2. Listen and Communicate. Create an open and non-judgmental space for your child to express themselves. Listen to their experiences and feelings without interrupting or offering unsolicited advice.

3. Advocate for Them. Stand up for your child in situations where they may face discrimination or misunderstanding. Become actively involved in the PTA and other parent groups within the school.

4. Seek Support. Lead or organize programming with/for other parents of LGBTQ+ children can provide  valuable insights and emotional support.

5. Respect Their Privacy. Allow your child to determine their own level of outness at school. Don’t share their identity without their permission.

6. Create a Safe Environment. Inform the school of any homophobic or transphobic remarks or behavior from others.

7. Inform school about their needs. Recognize that each LGBTQ+ person’s experience is unique. Ask your child what they need from you and how you can best support them. Communicate those needs to the school. This would be a great opportunity to develop and share a Safety Plan for the student while at school. 

8. Promote Inclusivity. Encourage, support and inform inclusive policies and practices in your child’s school community. 

Continue Reading

Caribbean

Dutch Supreme Court rules Aruba, Curaçao must allow same-sex couples to marry

Ruling likely also applicable to St. Maarten

Published

on

Curaçao is one of the constituent countries in the Caribbean that are part of the Netherlands. The Dutch Supreme Court on July 12, 2024, ruled Curaçao and Aruba must extend marriage rights to same-sex couples. The ruling will also apply to Sint Maarten. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Dutch Supreme Court on Friday ruled Aruba and Curaçao must extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The Joint Court of Justice of Aruba, Curaçao, St. Maarten and of Bonaire, St. Eustatius, and Saba in 2022 ruled in favor of marriage equality in two cases that Fundacion Orguyo Aruba and Human Rights Caribbean in Curaçao filed.

The governments of the two islands appealed the ruling.

The Joint Court of Justice of Aruba, Curaçao, St. Maarten and of Bonaire, St. Eustatius, and Saba has jurisdiction over Aruba, Curaçao, and St. Maarten —three constituent countries within the Netherlands — and Bonaire, St. Eustatius, and Saba — which are special municipalities within the kingdom. 

Same-sex couples have been able to legally marry and adopt children in Bonaire, St. Eustatius, and Saba since 2012.

Aruba, Curaçao, and St. Maarten must recognize same-sex marriages from the Netherlands, Bonaire, St. Eustatius, and Saba. Aruba’s registered partnership law took effect in 2021.

“Today, we celebrate a historic victory for the dignity and rights of LGBT individuals in Curaçao and Aruba,” said Human Rights Caribbean President Janice Tjon Sien Kie on Friday in a statement.

Aruban Sen. Miguel Mansur, who is gay, on Friday described the ruling to the Washington Blade as “an amazing victory which applies to Aruba, Curaçao, and by implication St. Maarten.”

“Aruba progresses into a society with less discrimination, more tolerance, and acceptance,” he said.

Melissa Gumbs, a lesbian St. Maarten MP, told the Blade the ruling “could very well have some bearing on our situation here.” 

“I’m definitely looking into it,” she said. “We’re researching it to see what is the possibility, and also in touch with our friends in Aruba who are, of course, overjoyed with this ruling.”

Cuba, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Martin, St. Barts, Martinique, and Guadeloupe, are the other jurisdictions in the Caribbean in which same-sex couples can legally marry. 

Mansur said the first same-sex marriages in Aruba will happen “very soon.”

“There are two couples ready to wed,” he told the Blade.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Follow Us @washblade

Advertisement

Popular