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Lambda Legal Sues Veterans Affairs Over Marriage Recognition

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

Department of Veteran's Affairs logoLambda Legal has brought a new lawsuit against the Department of Veterans Affairs seeking to force the agency to recognize same sex marriages in all 50 states.

The Washington Blade reports:

Lambda Legal, along with Morrison and Foerster LLP, filed the lawsuit on Monday on behalf of the LGBT military group known as the American Military Partner Association. The defendant in the lawsuit, which was filed before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, is Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert MacDonald. The litigation alleges the Obama administration’s decision to withhold certain spousal benefits to married same-sex couples in states without marriage equality runs afoul of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision against the Defense of Marriage Act. “Having weathered the federal government’s past, longstanding discrimination against them, lesbian and gay veterans and their families find themselves once again deprived of equal rights and earned benefits by the government they served and the nation for which they sacrificed,” the complaint says.

One more piece of the Federal benefits puzzle…

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White House Clarifies What Laws Apply to Married Same Sex Couples

Friday, June 20th, 2014

White HouseThe White House has finished a year-long study of the impact of last year’s Supreme Court decisions for marriage equality on the Federal Government.

The bad news? Some benefits will not be available to couples who move to states that don’t recognize their marriages.

The Washington Blade reports:

…the administration will announce federal laws that look to the state of residence instead of the state of celebration to determine whether a couple is married “preclude the federal government from extending benefits to legally married couples regardless of where they currently live,” the official said. That means, under current law, certain Social Security and veterans benefits won’t be available to married same-sex couples if they wed in one state, but move to one of the 30 states without marriage equality and apply for the benefits there.

So if you marry in California and move to Arizona, forget the Social Security survivor benefits.

The good news?

The Department of Labor is set to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking on the Family & Medical Leave Act, clarifying an employee is eligible for leave to care for a same-sex spouse — even if the couple lives in a non-marriage equality state. The rule builds off an earlier announcement in August in which the Labor Department indicated married same-sex couples were eligible under the FMLA, but that development only applied to couples living in states with marriage equality.

Fixing the issues will likely require either congressional action (which looks extremely unlikely in the foreseeable future) or a Supreme Court decision striking down the remaining marriage equality bans.

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USA, Nebraska: County Extends Benefits to Partners of Same Sex Couples

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

NebraskaA Nebraska county took a progressive step this week for its gay and lesbian couples in county government.

LGBTQ Nation reports:

Sarpy County commissioners have decided to extend health insurance benefits to spouses of gay county employees who have legally married in another state but live in Nebraska. Sarpy-County-NEThe Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 for the change on Tuesday. Under the previous policy, same-sex couples were allowed health benefits if they were legally married in another state and lived in a state that allowed it, such as nearby Iowa. Board Chairman Jim Thompson said the old policy was, in effect, telling some employees that they had to leave their Nebraska homes and quit paying Nebraska taxes so they could live in Iowa and pay Iowa taxes. He voted for the change.

Even in Nebraska, LGBT rights are taking a step forward.

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USA, Virginia: Sore Loser Ken Cuccinelli Issued Anti-Gay Marriage Opinion in Final Days

Monday, January 13th, 2014

Virginia Attorney General Ken CuccinelliTaking one final stab at the LGBT community before leaving office, Virginia gubernatorial loser Ken Cuccinelli issued a pair of nonbonding opinions against marriage equality, benefits for gays, and restrictions on abortion.

The Pilot Online reports:

During his final days as attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli released a pair of nonbinding opinions that can be read as legal arguments against Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s campaign pledges to fight for gay rights and undo abortion restrictions.

In one, Cuccinelli, who lost to McAuliffe in the 2013 governor’s race, says a governor can’t order state officials to permit legally married gay couples to file joint Virginia tax returns because the state bans same-sex marriage and formal recognition of it. The other asserts that a governor lacks authority to “issue a policy directive to suspend a regulation that was properly adopted pursuant to a statutory mandate.” It appears to target intended protections for gay state employees and efforts to invalidate strict licensing rules for abortion clinics.

You almost have to admire Cuccinelli’s pure dickishness – he stuck with his bigotry until the bitter end.

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Lambda Legal Sues Houston to Preserve Health Benefits for Same-Sex Spouses of City Employees

Friday, December 27th, 2013
“City employees who are married to same-sex spouses are doing the same work as coworkers who are married to different-sex spouses—at the end of the day this case is about equal pay for equal work.”

 By Melanie Nathan, 12/26/2013

Screen Shot 2013-12-27 at 8.30.45 PMLambda Legal today filed a federal lawsuit against Houston Mayor Annise Parker and the City of Houston seeking to preserve spousal benefits, including health insurance, covering the same-sex spouses of city employees. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas on behalf three City of Houston employees legally married to same-sex spouses and follows notification these employees received recently that the City, one month after extending the employee coverage for their spouses, was being forced to withdraw these benefits and cancel the coverage.

“City employees who are married to same-sex spouses are doing the same work as coworkers who are married to different-sex spouses—at the end of the day this case is about equal pay for equal work.These employees, some who have worked for the City for manyyears, acted in good faith when notified the City was extending health coverage benefits to their legal spouses,” said Kenneth Upton, Senior Counsel in Lambda Legal’s South Central Regional Office in Dallas.

They enrolled for spousal benefits, including health insurance, paid the premiums, scheduled doctor visits and underwent treatments that will require ongoing care. Now, suddenly, the rug is pulled out from under them.”

Houston Mayor Annise Parker on November 20, 2013 announced that all lawfully-married city employees, including those who married same-sex partners in jurisdictions where such marriages are legal, would be eligible to enroll for spousal benefits, including health insurance coverage, under the City’s employee benefits health plan. The three plaintiffs named in Lambda Legal’s lawsuit enrolled their spouses as soon as they received notification of the policy change. Shortly thereafter, however, two Houston taxpayers sued the Mayor and the City in Family Law Court claiming the benefits were illegal and, without giving the Mayor or the City notice, secured a temporary restraining order (TRO) blocking extension of the benefits. The Cityis defending against the challenge to the Mayor’s decision to ensure equal employee benefits for all workers.

“The notice from the City was like a punch in the stomach,” said Noel Freeman, lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, administrative coordinator with the City of Houston Public Works & Engineering Office and a nine-year employee of the City. “Brad and I were so excited when we learned we could enroll him on my plan that we signed him up within an hour of finding out. And now, just a month later, they tell us they’re going to have to take it away, that once again I will be paid less than my married heterosexual colleagues for the same work. How is this fair?”

In addition to Noel and Brad, who were married in Washington, DC, on Aug. 1, 2010, and have been together for more than 11 years, the other plaintiffs in the lawsuit are: Yadira Estrada, a City of Houston police officer who married her partner of seven and a half years, Jennifer Flores, in Maine this past June and signed up for spousal benefits about a week after the Mayor’s announcement; and Ron Reeser, a systems administrator for the City and eight-year city employee who married his husband, Vince Olivier, in Canada in 2008 after they had been together for three years.

“By refusing to recognize the legal marriage of same-sex couples for the purpose of providing employment benefits, the City deprives some Houston families of a critical safety net and financial security,” Upton added. “By stripping legally married gay and lesbian city employees of spousal benefits, including health insurance coverage, the City not only inflicts severe hardship, but sends a signal that their families are less worthy than those of their coworkers. This the Constitutional does not allow.”

Read the brief: http://lambdalegal.org/in-court/legal-docs/freeman_tx_20131226_plaintiffs-original-complaint

Learn more about the case, Freeman et. al. v. Parker and City of Houstonhttp://lambdalegal.org/in-court/cases/freeman-et-al-v-parker-and-city-of-houston

USA: All 50 States Now Processing Benefits for Same-Sex National Guard Couples

Saturday, December 14th, 2013

Chuck HagelIt looks like US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has won the standoff with the rogue states who had vowed not to process benefits for same-sex couples in the National Guard.

Think Progress reports:

A statement made Friday by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel confirms that all states are now providing benefits to the same-sex spouses of National Guard service members:

HAGEL: On Oct. 31, I called on the chief of the National Guard Bureau to work with several states to fully implement Department of Defense policy by providing DoD identification cards to all eligible military spouses, regardless of sexual orientation. Following consultations between the National Guard Bureau and the adjutants general of the states, all eligible service members, dependents and retirees — including same-sex spouses — are now able to obtain ID cards in every state. All military spouses and families sacrifice on behalf of our country. They deserve our respect and the benefits they are entitled to under the law. All of DoD is committed to pursuing equal opportunities for all who serve this nation, and I will continue to work to ensure our men and women in uniform as well as their families have full and equal access to the benefits they deserve.

Mississippi was the last holdout. The key to the change? Using federal employees, even at state facilities, to process the benefit claims.

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USA, Georgia: State Agrees to Process Benefits for National Guard Same-Sex Couples

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

Georgia mapAnother state has caved on processing benefits for same-sex couples who are part of the state’s National Guard.

The Washington Blade reports:

The Georgia National Guard has become the latest state to agree to process spousal benefit applications for troops in same-sex marriages, according to two sources familiar with the decision. Maj. Jon Craig, a National Guard Bureau spokesperson, said Georgia had agreed to process applications to grant same-sex spouses military IDs last week in a decision along the lines of Texas and Louisiana. “With Georgia, what it came down to was the authorization to put some state employees on temporary federal status,” Craig said.

That means that Mississippi is the only state still standing on the issue.

SDGLN reports:

Mississippi is now the only state in the union to violate Pentagon policy to provide spousal benefits to same-gender couples… Mississippi is expected to comply with the policy, and the Pentagon is putting pressure on the state’s National Guard to provide the benefits to same-gender military couples as they do opposite-gender couples.

One by one like dominoes they fall…

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USA, Texas State Follows in Oklahoma’s Footsteps, Won’t Process Benefits For Any National Guard Couples

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

Texas Governor Rick PerryRick Perry decided to have Texas issue a giant “f*ck you” to his state’s National Guard couples.

America Blog explains:

Texas Governor Rick Perry has decided to no longer process benefits for heterosexual service members in the state, as a means of avoiding having to process such benefits for gay service members. It’s a veritable rerun of the South’s strategy during the civil rights era to shut down city schools and swimming pools, rather than let African-Americans spoil the racist fun through integration. The policy also had an added discriminatory benefit – by shutting down the pools, racist southern politicians hoped whites would blame blacks for the inconvenience.

It’s amazing the lengths these folks will go to in order to stick it to gay and lesbian couples.

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USA, Oklahoma: Governor to Deny Benefits to All National Guard Members to Spite Gays

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

Oklahoma Gov. Mary FallinOklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin thinks she’s found a work-around for GOP bigotry when it comes to same sex National Guard couples.

Think Progress reports:

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) announced earlier this month that state-owned National Guard facilities will no longer allow any married couples to apply for spousal benefits, regardless of whether they are same-sex or opposite-sex. The Supreme Court’s decision overturning the Defense of Marriage Act means that servicemembers with same-sex spouses are now eligible for federal benefits. Fallin’s unusual tactic is designed to avoid having to recognize those couples, which she asserts would violate Oklahoma’s constitutional amendment limiting marriage to one man and one woman:

FALLIN: Oklahoma law is clear. The state of Oklahoma does not recognize same-sex marriages, nor does it confer marriage benefits to same-sex couples. The decision reached today allows the National Guard to obey Oklahoma law without violating federal rules or policies. It protects the integrity of our state constitution and sends a message to the federal government that they cannot simply ignore our laws or the will of the people.

How f*cking spiteful is that? Let’s hope she just alienated a large chunk of her state’s armed forces…

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USA, Kentucky: National Guard Will Process Benefits for Married Same Sex Couples

Sunday, November 17th, 2013

Kentucky National GuardLooks like another state is going ahead and processing benefits claims from married same sex couples.

Edge Boston reports:

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear is allowing spouses of gay National Guard members to apply for federal marriage benefits. The Courier-Journal reports Kentucky Adjutant General Edward Tonini recommended the state follow Defense Department policy and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Beshear spokeswoman Kerri Richardson says the governor affirmed the recommendation.

When will the other states come around?

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