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04/19/2007


The Impact Of The Death Of DOMA For America's Schools: READ

A new report titled "The Do's And Don'ts of DOMA" has been issued by the National School Boards Association in partnership with the National Education Association and the American Association of School Administrators spelling out how the Supreme Court's ruling on DOMA in United States v. Windsor applies to school districts across the country, The Washington Post reports. A few notable excerpts on the impact the decision has on benefits for same-sex couples and what actions school districts need to take to comply with the Supreme Court's ruling can be found below:

DomaWhat school board policies and benefits are affected?

Every policy and benefit that defines or refers to marriage or spouses in the application of a federal benefit is affected. The reference to marriage may be by use of the term “husband,” “wife,” or “spouse.” Major areas could include health benefits, FMLA policies, leaves of absence under policies and collective bargaining agreements, retirement benefits, beneficiary designations, health care spending accounts, dependent care accounts, COBRA policies, nepotism rules, and ethics policies. [...]

Must school district benefit plans cover same-sex marriages?

Yes, school districts must provide federally derived benefits to same-sex spouses, if the marriage is recognized by the applicable state. [...]

What terminology should be used in referring to marriage in school district policies and plans?

It is advisable to refer simply to “marriage” and “spouse,” and let the prevailing state law determine its application. This will keep the school district’s documents current, even if a state’s law changes over time.

LogosWhat should school districts do to implement the DOMA ruling?

There are several actions school systems should take:

1. Issue amended W-2 statements reversing any income imputed to an employee because their same-sex spouse received medical or other benefits.

2. Investigate obtaining an employer refund for FICA taxes.

3. Review and revise all policies, benefit plans, summaries, and forms, etc., that apply to or affect married employees as needed.

4. Consider the need for sponsoring a limited enrollment window for benefits.

5. Notify employees of this ruling and their possible eligibility for benefits, including retroactive application.

6. Review all collective bargaining agreements and confer with association representatives to see if changes are needed.

7. Consider revising your FMLA policy to provide benefits regardless of the employee’s residence, for ease of administration.

8. Review the civil rights laws in your state and local jurisdiction for anti-discrimination or benefit provisions that apply to these issues.

9. Monitor updates to federal regulations, especially from the U.S. Department of Labor of the definition of “spouse” under the FMLA.

10. Monitor legislation and court rulings in your jurisdiction that may establish marital status, sexual orientation, or gender identity as protected classes for civil rights purposes.

You can read the entire text of the report, provided by The Washington Post, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "The Impact Of The Death Of DOMA For America's Schools: READ" »


Chuck Hagel Blasts Rogue States Over Gay Spousal Benefits, Issues Stern Order: VIDEO

Hagel

In a blistering speech delivered to the Anti-Defamation League on Thursday night, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel blasted the rogue states which are refusing to issue spousal benefits at their National Guard facilities, saying their actions are wrong, hurt the military, and further prejudice.

Defense_maddowHagel issued a stern order for those states to comply with federal law or he will take further action.

We've been covering this issue over the past couple of months. South Carolina, Texas, Indiana, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and West Virginia are the states that are not in compliance with the Pentagon orders..

Here are Hagel's remarks, via the White House:

When the Supreme Court issued its decision on the Defense of Marriage Act this summer, the Department of Defense immediately began working on providing the same benefits to all eligible spouses, regardless of sexual orientation. We did it because everyone who serves our country in uniform, everyone in this country, should receive all the benefits they deserve, and they've earned, and in accordance with the law. Everyone's rights must be protected.

This means that all spouses of service members are entitled to DoD ID cards, and the benefits that come with them. But several states today are refusing to issue these IDs to same-sex spouses at National Guard facilities. Not only does this violate the states' obligations under federal law, but their actions have created hardship and inequality by forcing couples to travel long distances to federal military bases to obtain the ID cards they're entitled to.

This is wrong. It causes division among our ranks, and it furthers prejudice, which DoD has fought to extinguish, as has the ADL.

Today, I directed the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, General Frank Grass, to take immediate action to remedy this situation. At my direction, he will meet with the Adjutants General from the states where these ID cards are being declined and denied. The Adjutants General will be expected to comply with both lawful direction and DoD policy, in line with the practices of 45 other states and jurisdictions.

Whether they are responding to natural disasters here at home, in their states, or fighting in Afghanistan, our National Guardsmen all wear the uniform of the United States of America. They are serving this country. They – and their families – are entitled to all the benefits and respect accorded to all of our military men and women.

Watch Rachel Maddow cover Hagel's order, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "Chuck Hagel Blasts Rogue States Over Gay Spousal Benefits, Issues Stern Order: VIDEO" »


Labor Department: Gay Married Couples Can Now Participate in Pension Benefits

Gay workers can now participate with their spouses in employee health care and pension benefits even if same-sex marriage is not recognized in their state, according to new guidance from the U.S. Labor Department.

WindsorWrites the Labor Dept in a press release:

The U.S. Department of Labor today announced new guidance interpreting the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor. In a technical release, the department’s Employee Benefits Security Administration provides guidance to plans, plan sponsors, fiduciaries, participants and beneficiaries on the decision’s impact on the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974.

The release states that, in general, the terms “spouse” and “marriage” in Title I of ERISA and in related department regulations should be read to include same-sex couples legally married in any state or foreign jurisdiction that recognizes such marriages, regardless of where they currently live. On June 26, 2013, the Windsor decision struck down the provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act that denied federal benefits to legally married, same-sex couples.

Said Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez: “This decision represents a historic step toward equality for all American families, and I have directed the department’s agency heads to ensure that they are implementing the decision in a way that provides maximum protection for workers and their families. The department plans to issue additional guidance in the coming months as we continue to consult with the Department of Justice and other federal agencies to implement the decision.”

Added Assistant Secretary for Employee Benefits Security Phyllis C. Borzi: "By providing greater clarity on how the Supreme Court’s decision affects one of the laws we enforce, we are contributing to greater equality and greater protection for America’s working families."

The full guidance can be found HERE.

The Washington Blade adds:

However, like other post-DOMA decisions from the administration, the guidance notes that couples in civil unions or domestic partnerships won’t be eligible for this federal benefit. They need a legal marriage.

“The terms ‘spouse’ and ‘marriage,’ however, do not include individuals in a formal relationship recognized by a state that is not denominated a marriage under state law, such as a domestic partnership or a civil union, regardless of whether the individuals who are in these relationships have the same rights and responsibilities as those individuals who are married under state law,” the guidance states.

Still, Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said his organization is happy with the guidance.

“It’s yet another positive indication of the way in which this administration is interpreting the Windsor decision,” Sainz said.


New Jersey Marriage Equality Advocates Pick Up Three New Votes

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Supporters of marriage equality in New Jersey have been hard at work to move legislators from the 'no' to the 'yes' column to override Gov. Chris Christie's 2012 veto of an equal marriage bill.  They have until the January 2014 expiration of the current legislative session to do so, but so far, Republicans have marched in near-lockstep with Christie and even some racalcitrant Democrats have held out on supporting equality marriage.  That is, until now, reports George Amick in NJ.com:

The bill Christie vetoed, S1, passed the Senate 24-16, with two Republicans, Sens. Diane Allen (R-Edgewater Park) and Jennifer Beck (R-Red Bank), voting yes and two Democrats voting no. If those four votes remain unchanged, three additional yes votes will be needed to beat the veto.

In the Assembly, the tally was 42-33, with no Republicans voting yes, two Democrats voting no, three Republicans and one Democrat not voting, and one Democratic seat temporarily vacant. A veto override will require 12 additional ayes.

At least three of those 12 — one Republican and two Democratic — are in sight right now. 

Schepisi_colorThe Republican, first-time Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, says her decision was influenced by the U.S. Supreme Court's June decision invalidating Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act.  The end of that provision in DOMA meant that New Jersey's civil unions--which were purportedly meant to provide same-sex couples the same legal rights as different-sex couples--mean that same-sex couples in New Jersey are locked out of federal marriage benefits.

As for Democrats, the two legislators who say they will back the override, Wayne DeAngelo and Gabriela Mosquera, were not available for the initial vote.  DeAngelo told Amick that he will seek his constituents' input on the issue, although he said pointedly, "I'm for equal treatment."

Amick also reported that New Jersey United for Marriage is optimistic that two Republicans who did not vote in 2012, Declan O'Scanlon and Mary Pat Angelini, will end up voting 'yes' on the override.

In his article, Amick includes an excerpt of the tough love message marriage equality advocates are presenting to state legislators in order to sway their votes:

“The Christie factor? Assume the governor is re-elected. Whether he wins big or wins small, the day he takes the oath of office he’ll be a lame duck. The pressure on you to do things his way will ease. In a couple of years, he could resign to run for president. But you’ll still be here, probably long after he’s gone. As for other concerns, we can show you evidence that only a tiny number of legislators nationwide who voted for gay marriage paid any price for it at election time.

“It’s going to be part of your legacy, one way or another. If it happens because of the courts, and not because of your vote, it will be a part of history that you can’t change. Do you really want to have to explain a few years from now — when marriage equality will be in the mainstream, not even in the discussion any longer — why you resisted it to the end?”

If the newly supportive lawmakers cited by Amick do not change their votes, marriage equality advocates would need nine more Assembly members and three more Senators to beat Christie's veto.  If that does end up happening, it'll quite likely come down to the wire.  And if the veto override doesn't occur, LGBT advocates will turn their sights back to the courts, where a state judge last month heard oral arguments as to whether civil unions violate both the New Jersey and U.S. Constitutions. 

(photo courtesy of Carmine Galasso and NJ.com)


DOMA Drama 'I Do' Gets a Full Trailer: WATCH

Ido

Last year we posted about an upcoming film about the struggle faced by a gay binational couple under DOMA, starring Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Alicia Witt, Maurice Compte, David W. Ross, Grant Bowler, Patricia Belcher, Jessica Tyler Brown and The Real World's Mike Manning. At the time it was seeking post-production funding but it's now headed for a release on DVD.

Watch the full trailer, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "DOMA Drama 'I Do' Gets a Full Trailer: WATCH" »


With You Always: A Powerful Story of Love, Courage and Quiet Advocacy

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In the wake of the Supreme Court's June decision invalidating Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, thousands of same-sex couples across the United States have gained access to the full panoply of federal marriage benefits.  Tragically, though, for some couples, that relief came just a little too late.  Linda Campbell and Nancy Lynchild of Portland, Oregon were one of those couples.

Nancy passed away in December 2012 after a 12-year fight against metastatic breast cancer, and although she and her wife Linda had wed in Canada in 2010, they were considered unmarried by the federal government.  That meant that despite the lifetime of service Linda had given to the U.S. Air Force, Nancy was ineligible for the medical care that different-sex spouses of veterans are able to access.  Even more importantly for Linda, it meant that her wife would not be allowed a burial in Willamette National Cemetery, the same cemetery where her father--an Army veteran--and mother had been laid to rest.

But thanks to Linda's tenacity and sense of justice, Nancy now holds a small but significant place in history of LGBT rights in the United States.  During the course of Nancy's battle against cancer, Campbell requested a waiver to the prohibition on burying same-sex spouses in military cemeteries from Eric Shinseki, the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Brad Avakian, the commissioner of Oregon's Bureau of Labor and Industries, whose office handles civil rights discrimination claims, told the Oregonian last February that he had prepared a civil rights complaint against Shinseki and the cemetery, in case the request was denied.  "I never wanted to have to pull the trigger," Avakian told the newspaper.  "But I was ready to use every possible tool I had to make it happen."

4aceec5016b885180a_6im6bnjrkBut Shinseki was granted the waiver in late January, and a VA mortuary official called Linda to schedule the burial.  Last week, Linda and several friends--including Avakian, his wife and Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, held a stone-setting ceremony for Nancy at Willamette.  Nancy's space in the cemetery is just two plots away from Linda's parents' spot.

To mark the stone-setting ceremony, Freedom to Marry has published a beautiful tribute to Linda and Nancy's relationship on their blog.  The post--well worth reading in full--tells the moving story of the women's life together, and Linda's experience watching the Supreme Court strike down DOMA after Nancy's passing.  In one very touching anecdote, Linda describes the way she came to know Edie Windsor:

Until December 2012, Linda wasn't that familiar with Edie Windsor's story - the story of how Edie fell in love with a woman, Thea Spyer, married her in Canada after over 40 years together, helped her through a years-long battle with multiple sclerosis, mourned her passing, and was then forced to pay $363,000 in estate taxes that she would not have had to pay if Thea were a man.

But in December 2012, Linda became very connected with Edie's story. That's when she and Nancy watched Edie and Thea: A Very Long Engagement, the 2009 documentary that chronicled Edie and Thea's life together.

"Edie and Thea reminded me so much of Nancy and me," Linda said. "The way they looked at each other. The way they loved each other. I could see in Edie's face the way she looked at Thea - I recognized the look that had surely been on my face when I looked at Nancy."

Nancy passed away just a few days after she and Linda watched A Very Long Engagement.

"It was the last movie we ever watched together," Linda said. "And after I lost Nancy, I watched that movie every night. That movie was the story of Edie and Thea - but in so many ways, it was the story of me and Nancy, too."

According to Freedom to Marry, Linda had the opportunity to watch a short segment of the oral arguments in Edie's case against the Defense of Marriage Act and watched Edie's speech outside the court.  Linda will meet her in a few months, on a cruise for which Edie is an honored guest.  "She is, to me, the hero of our time," Linda said of the New York octogenarian. "She had the courage to stand up, and she wouldn't let it go. And she won. She won for all of us. To shake her hand will be one of the great highlights of my life."

5a10678ea1da5a912d_qdm6bxfalIn 1995, Linda lived in Washington, D.C. for a month's time for a job tryout while Nancy remained at home in Oregon.  Every night, Linda would return home to a letter from Nancy--two on Monday, since the mail wasn't delivered on Sunday.  Linda shared a selection from Nancy's letters with Freedom to Marry for the organization's blog post.  Here are some of Nancy's words.

"My heart is warm today.  Wrapped in a thick, soft tapestry.  Blended from the sight of you, the sound of you, the touch of you."

"Come share this moment with me.  Close your eyes.  Feel the warm, friendly sun gently kiss your cheek. Breathe in slowly the dancing air.  Feel your body respond to the relaxing rightness of the day.  Now there are no boundaries of distance between us.  We are sharing a moment--in a perfect day.  A perfect day."

"You are the woman of my dreams.  Please hurry back to my reality as well."

"There are no boundaries.  There is no distance."

"I am with you always."

NancyLinda3
(all images courtesy of Freedom to Marry)


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