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Russia: Will Country Get Its Own Defense of Marriage Act?

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

RussiaOne of Russia’s political parties wants to enshrine marriage inequality in the country’s constitution. reports:

The head of the Russian Pensioners’ Party has come up with an initiative to change the Constitution and define marriage as only being between a man and a woman. Igor Zotov, who is also a Lower House MP on the ticket of the center-left Fair Russia Party has explained his move by his assertion that Russia’s traditional values were under threat from the latest modern tendencies.

“I got this idea from the members of the Pensioners’ Party branches in Chelyabinsk and Sverdlovsk [major industrial regions in the Urals]. These people were extremely concerned over the processes that are currently taking place all over the world, in particular by the fact that the laws allowing gay marriage have been passed in 15 different countries and four regions within larger nations. Granting the same status to gay and traditional couples leads to the destruction of the family institution because the community tends to perceive as natural those models approved at the state level,” the lawmaker has told the popular daily Izvestia.

Bashing the gays is a tried-and-true path to political power. And in homophobic Russia, it’s probably the closest thing to a sure bet right now.

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USA: Defense of Marriage Act 2?

Saturday, January 11th, 2014

Texas Representative Randy WeberA GOP congressman from Texas is introducing the successor to the Defense of Marriage Act – a bill that would partially reinstate DOMA’s prohibition on federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

The Huffington Post reports:

Despite the growing number of states allowing gay marriage, one Republican congressman filed legislation Thursday to limit the federal government’s power to recognize gay marriages in states. Rep. Randy Weber (R-Texas) introduced the “State Marriage Defense Act Of 2014,” which would require federal agencies to look into a person’s “legal residence” when determining marital status and how federal law would be applied. The bill would have the effect of reintroducing for gay couples some aspects of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman until the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in June. The bill also would undercut a Treasury Department decision in August requiring gay married couples in all states to be treated as married for federal tax purposes; Weber’s bill would force the federal government to treat such couples differently in states that don’t recognize gay marriage. In addition, the Social Security Administration announced in December that it would pay survivor benefits to members of gay marriages.

DOMA 2So far, 27 representatives have signed on to co-sponsor the bill, all (surprise) Republicans.

Joe.My.God reports:

Since the bill’s introduction, 27 GOP members of the House have signed on as co-sponsors. The list so far is a cavalcade of crackpottery: Michele Bachmann, Louis Gohmert, John Fleming, etc. Eleven of the 27 co-sponsors are from Texas. Weber, a freshman rep and former air conditioner repairman, has previously only authored one failed House resolution. Therefore I suspect his bill was actually written by the Family Research Council, who jointly announced its introduction yesterday with an appearance by Weber on Tony Perkins’ national radio show.

It’s a blatant assault on equality, and will go a long ways to cement the party’s reputation as the party of bigots, religious zealots, and small minded people.

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USA, New Jersey: How the DOMA Case Brought Marriage Equality to the Garden State

Saturday, September 28th, 2013

DOMA OverThe New Jersey marriage equality case provides important foreshadowing for other cases to come, in part because it relied heavily on the Supreme Court’s decision on the Defense of Marriage Act.

The National Journal reports:

Two court decisions lie at the heart of the case. The first is this summer’s Supreme Court ruling that found the Defense of Marriage Act–which prevented the federal government from extending benefits to same-sex marriages–unconstitutional. The second is Lewis v. Harris, a 2006 decision by New Jersey’s highest court that ruled civil unions must be afforded the same legal rights as other married couples. What both of the decisions have in common is that they ruled same-sex couples were entitled to certain rights and benefits afforded to opposite-sex married couples.

The case, it seems, all comes down to language. Basically, since the federal government extends rights to married same-sex couples the same way New Jersey’s state government extends rights to same-sex couples in civil unions, those unmarried individuals should have the right to marry. Otherwise, New Jersey’s civil union law is blocking citizens from receiving federal benefits.

It seems to me that the same logic applies to every state in the country that has a ban on marriage equality

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USA: LGBT Groups Issue Marriage Equality Fact Sheets for Same-Sex Couples

Friday, August 30th, 2013

After DOMA Fact SheetsIn the post-Defense of Marriage Act Section 3 environment, 11 LGBT groups have gotten together to issue a series of fact sheets for gay lesbian couples, to help navigate through the confusing current environment.

Lambda Legal reports:

After DOMA: What it Means For You” LGBT Organizations Fact Sheet Series details many of the ways federal agencies accord legal respect to married same-sex couples. The guide includes 14 factsheets on the following topics: Bankruptcy, Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), Federal Employee Benefits, Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Immigration, Medicaid, Medicare, Military Spousal Benefits, Private Employment Benefits, Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, Taxes, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and Veteran Spousal Benefits. “This is an exciting time and an historic step forward for the country. We want to make sure that same-sex couples have a guide to help them understand what it means for them,” said Susan Sommer, Director of Constitutional Litigation for Lambda Legal.

You can find the fact sheets here.

We have such a patchwork of state and federal laws right now, and it’s great to have a new resource to help same-sex couples navigate them.

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USA: Businesses Want Clarification On Defense of Marriage Act Ruling

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

DOMA OverA new study has found that the US Supreme Court’s ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act left widespread confusion in the business community.

Pink News reports:

Two-thirds of US employers are in need of clarification and guidance on the impact of a Supreme Court ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) from earlier this year, a new study has found. The survey, conducted by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, asked employers following the Supreme Court ruling which struck down a key part of DOMA, potentially opening up 1,100 employee benefits to same-sex couples married in states which legally recognise equal marriage.

The study also showed that about a quarter of employers surveyed plan to extend benefits to all married same-sex couples, regardless of which state they live in. But another 40% are waiting for some kind of guidance before taking such a step.

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USA: Justice Ginsburg Thinks the Court Struck the Right Balance on Marriage Equality

Saturday, August 24th, 2013

US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader GinsburgLiberal Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg thinks the Supreme Court got it about right with the two marriage equality decisions earlier this year. Bloomberg reports:

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the U.S. Supreme Court’s foremost champion of civil rights, said the court struck the right balance with two rulings that backed gay marriage without legalizing it across the country. Gay-rights supporters had urged the court to declare a constitutional right for same-sex marriage nationwide. Ginsburg, who has said the court was too bold in the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion-rights ruling, said in an interview that the court was right to take a more limited approach in the gay marriage decisions. “The court handled both of those cases just the way they should have,” said Ginsburg, who was a leading advocate for women’s rights before she became a judge.

Do you think the court was right to take such an incremental step? Or should they have gone all the way and ruled for marriage equality in every state?

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USA: Ninth Circuit Dismisses Appeal, Lets Stand Federal Benefits Verdict for Lesbian Couple

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

DOMA OverA case brought by a federal employee seeking health benefits for her wife is over. The Advocate reports:

The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal of a federal district court ruling in the case of Golinski v. U.S. Office of Personnel Management yesterday, citing the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling which struck down Section 3 of the so-called-Defense of Marriage Act, reports Lambda Legal… “What a wonderful day for Karen, her spouse, Amy Cunninghis, and their family,” Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Tara Borelli said in a statement.

We should see most of the rest of the current batch of DOMA cases wrapping up similarly. Next battle – DOMA’s ban on reciprocity – i.e.: our marriage is no good across state lines.

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After the Defense of Marriage Act

Friday, July 19th, 2013

DOMA OverSome more follow-ups for you in the wake of the repeal of DOMA section 3.

First off, Scottie Thompson at Equality on Trial has a nice wrap-up of the remaining DOMA cases, including:

Golinski v. Office of Personnel Management: this was the first case in which the district court had applied a heightened level of judicial scrutiny to laws that classify on the basis of sexual orientation to strike down Section 3 of DOMA. It was appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and then stayed pending the outcome of Windsor. Last Thursday, the court asked the parties to write a letter addressing Windsor.

Over at The Washington Blade, Robert Turner notes that the sky hasn’t fallen in a post-DOMA (section 3) world:

It’s been a couple of weeks since the Supreme Court ruled that not only has the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) been declared unconstitutional, but also that the defendants in California’s Proposition 8 case had no legal standing to present their arguments. Rain still comes from the clouds, the sun still lights up the sky and days still go by. With the repeal of Section 3 of DOMA, the court opens the path for the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages in the states where there is marriage equality. In doing so, it allows for the application and eligibility of more than 1,000 benefits and responsibilities that are laid out in the federal code, including health benefits, long-term care, Family and Medical Leave, and federal retirement benefits, among others. It also subjects them to the same responsibilities of straight marriages, such as anti-nepotism rules and financial disclosure requirements for federal employees.

And now that the Federal Government is starting to recognize marriages for same sex couples, the IRS has a problem… whether or not to recognize the valid marriages of same sex couples who live in non marriage equality states. Business Week reports:

To avoid confusion, a single nationwide rule makes the most sense, says Patricia Cain, a tax law professor at Santa Clara University in California. “The IRS has the power to construe the Internal Revenue Code,” she says. “So for them it’s, ‘What does the word spouse mean?’\0x2009” President Obama has weighed in, saying it’s his “personal belief” that same-sex couples should get the same federal benefits as married couples regardless of where they live. He’s asked federal agencies to research legal issues that might stand in the way. Such a ruling, though, could cause headaches for the IRS, which until now has typically followed states’ definitions of marriage, says David Herzig, a tax law professor at Valparaiso University. “You may solve this problem,” he says, “but you may open up another.”

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USA: House GOP Will No Longer Defend DOMA Cases

Friday, July 19th, 2013

DOMA OverThe House GOP decided yesterday to no longer defend the remaining cases against Defense of Marriage Act. The Washington Post reports:

In a court filing, the House’s Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, which played a lead role in attempting to force the Obama administration to enforce DOMA and is controlled by Republicans, said it is withdrawing from McLaughlin v. Panetta — a case in which gay members of the U.S. military challenged the constitutionality of the law and similar statutes when it comes to spousal benefits… “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.”

That’s good, if not unexpected, news, and hopefully means these cases can be wrapped up fairly quickly (remembering that “quickly” in legal time is not the same as “quickly” in everyday time).

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After DOMA

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

DOMA OverA couple follow-up stories on DOMA and what comes next. First of, the House GOP has to decide if it will stand in the way of married same sex service members receiving equal benefits. reports:

The House GOP faces a decision on Thursday and must answer whether it will continue to defend laws limiting veterans benefits to heterosexual married couples, Buzzfeed reports:

“We’re reviewing the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision, and don’t have any announcement to make at this time,” House Speaker John Boehner’s spokesman, Michael Steel, told BuzzFeed on Wednesday when asked if the defense of the veterans’ statutes would continue. The day after the Supreme Court ruled in Edie Windsor’s challenge to section 3 of DOMA that the federal definition of marriage that excluded gay couples in DOMA is unconstitutional, Judge Richard Stearns asked the parties in another lawsuit, filed in federal court in Massachusetts and addressing the rights of service members and veterans and their spouses, to give “any reasons why judgment should not enter for plaintiffs in this case.”

Also at, Ari Ezra Waldman looks at Kennedy’s decision in the case:

Kennedy never suggested that DOMA’s federalism problem was the source of its unconstitutionality. Nor did he ever suggest that federalism issues were irrelevant. Instead, he argued that the enormity of DOMA’s federal overreach was a cue, a hint that something fishy is going on. Because Congress went out of its way to invade state prerogatives and because it did so to place a burden on the very class that certain states had already decided to honor, Congress’s audacity was suspicious. For Kennedy, DOMA’s federalism overreach was a symptom of some disease that required further investigation. Like stomach pains, a headache, and a persistent low-grade fever: a physician does not look at those three symptoms and immediately treat for cancer or HIV or Crohn’s Disease. Instead, she sees these symptoms as cues to do more tests and perhaps determine that a common virus is the culprit.

And finally, Jamie Rubenstein at Dot429 Magazine looks at the uncertainty left in the wake of the decisions on DOMA and Prop 8. One issue:

“The question I am anticipating from clients will be ‘should we amend our prior federal tax filings?’ and this question will have to wait for guidance from the IRS,” he said. “I would expect that the IRS would allow those who were married to file amended returns from the year they were legally married including years that would have expired under statute of limitations if a protective claim for refund was filed for those years (2009 & before).” The question will be, he continued, “is whether the IRS will require married couples to go back and file as MFJ (or MFS) even if doing so would cause them to recognize an increased income tax. If they do so, then I would expect them to waive any penalty or interest since the original filings were prepared in accordance with the law at the time.”

A lot of these issues will take some time and effort to work out.

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