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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)


Obama Administration Says It Will No Longer Defend Law Barring Gay Veterans from Spousal Benefits

HolderThe Department of Justice won't enforce Title 38, a law barring gay veterans from spousal benefits, the Washington Blade reports:

In a letter dated Sept. 4, U.S. Attorney Eric Holder notifies U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) of the change in the way the Justice Department will enforce Title 38 of the U.S. code.

“[I]n light of subsequent developments and my recommendation, the President has directed the Executive Branch to cease enforcement of Sections 101(3) and 101(31) of Title 38,” Holder writes. “Decisions by the Executive Branch not to enforce federal laws are appropriately rare. Nonetheless, for the reasons described below, the unique circumstances here warrant non-enforcement.”

The HuffPost adds:

Holder said last year that the Justice Department would no longer defend Title 38 in court. But Wednesday’s announcement went even further, with DOJ finding that the legal basis laid out by the Supreme Court in the DOMA decision should nullify the marriage definition in the provision. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki said just last week that the spouses of gay veterans weren’t eligible for benefits because no court had found Title 38’s definitions to be unconstitutional.

Writes the White House in a press release:

The new policy means that the administration will no longer enforce statutory language governing the Veterans Administration (VA) and the Department of Defense (DoD) that restricts the awarding of spousal benefits to opposite-sex marriages only. The language, contained within Title 38 of the U.S. Code, has, until now, prevented the Executive Branch from providing spousal benefits to veterans—and in some instances active-duty service members and reservists—who are in same-sex marriages recognized under state law.

In a letter to Congressional leaders, Holder stated that the President’s decision was consistent with the Court’s decision in Windsor in June.

“Although the Supreme Court did not directly address the constitutionality of the Title 38 provisions in Windsor, the reasoning of the opinion strongly supports the conclusion that those provisions are unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment,” Holder wrote.

The decision not to enforce Title 38 aligns with the Obama administration’s determination last year that two provisions of Title 38 that govern benefits for veterans and their families were unconstitutional as applied to legally married same-sex couples. At that time, the Attorney General informed Congress that the Department would no longer defend the Title 38 provisions, but that the Executive Branch would continue to enforce them. Today’s announcement makes clear that enforcement of the provision in Title 38 defining marriage as between a man and a woman will now cease.

The announcement comes after the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) recently decided to stop defending the Title 38 provisions in pending cases. In addition, last week, a federal district court in California held the Title 38 provisions unconstitutional on equal protection grounds. After consideration of these developments and a recommendation by the Attorney General, the President directed the Executive Branch to cease enforcement of the Title 38 provisions.

Previously...
Federal Judge Strikes Down Law Barring Same-Sex Veteran Benefits [tlrd]


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