Marriage Equality on Hold in Utah But Progress is Inevitable


January 6, 2014; Washington Post

On December 20, lesbian and gay Utahans got a surprise holiday gift from U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby, who ruled that the state’s ban on same-gender unions was unconstitutional. Hundreds of couples rushed to get marriage licenses, resulting in what Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker called a “thrilling pandemonium.” Within a week, close to 1,000 marriage licenses were issued to gay couples, easily shattering records and providing counties with thousands of dollars in revenue.

The ruling caught conservative Utah by surprise, and state lawyers scrambled to halt marriages, asking both Shelby and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals for an emergency stay as Shelby’s decision was being appealed. The requests were not granted, prompting the state’s Attorney General’s office to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to step in.

On Monday, the nation’s highest court took away the gift of legal unions from same-sex couples who were about to get licenses and left those who got married during the past two weeks in legal limbo. The justices gave no indication which argument convinced them to halt marriage equality in Utah or who among them dissented.

Opponents of the freedom to marry may count this as a victory, but the tide has long turned. Not counting Utah, 17 states and the District of Columbia have sanctioned unions for couples who happen to be of the same gender. A majority of Americans view marriage equality favorably. Moreover, in states all across the union, lesbian and gay couples are fighting in the courts for their right to marry. However the U.S. Supreme Court rules in Utah, there are many cases in the pipeline. It can only get messier. In time, though, all couples will be recognized, not by their biology but by their love and commitment.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly.

DOMA and the States: What are the Next Strategic Steps for LGBT Groups?


June 26, 2013; ABC News

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) organizations are celebrating Wednesday’s Supreme Court rulings on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Proposition 8, major victories in the fight for civil rights. The Court overturned DOMA’s Article 3, which prohibited the U.S. government from recognizing legal marriages of gay women and men and denied gay married couples over 1,100 benefits enjoyed by their straight counterparts. The Supreme Court justices also let stand a lower court ruling that struck down Proposition 8, a ballot initiative that defined marriage as between one woman and one man.

Because of DOMA, gay U.S. citizens were not able to petition for green cards for their foreign-born spouses. Rachel B. Tiven, Executive Director of Immigration Equality, said, “Many of our families have waited years, and in some cases decades, for the green card they need to keep their families together. Couples forced into exile will be coming home soon. Americans separated from their spouses are now able to prepare for their reunion. Today’s ruling is literally a life-changing one for those who have suffered under DOMA and our discriminatory immigration laws.”

“Antiquated laws like Proposition 8 and DOMA disproportionately harm LGBT people of color, and ultimately our nation,” said Sharon Lettman-Hicks, Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of the National Black Justice Coalition, in a statement released after the rulings were announced. “Today is a victorious day for our community, our families, and our love.”

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, also applauded the development, but pointed out “there’s much work ahead of us to ensure that every couple can fully enjoy the recognition Justice Kennedy so eloquently wrote about in the majority opinion in Windsor.”

Although gay married couples are now entitled to federal benefits, access can be an issue in states that do not have marriage equality. As NPR’s Liz Halloran explains, “Some federal agencies adhere to what is known as a ‘place of celebration’ standard. That means no matter where a couple is legally married anywhere in the world, the union is recognized for the purpose of federal benefits. But other agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service and the Social Security Administration, hew to a ‘place of residence’ standard. Marriage has to be recognized in the place the couple is living for them to be eligible for those federal spousal benefits.”

“We have an obligation to ensure every same-sex couple—whether they live in Arkansas or New York, Kansas or California, can share in today’s emotional and deserved victory,” said Griffin. “We have momentum on our side, and it’s only a matter of time until the remaining parts of DOMA are entirely repealed.”

LGBT groups are already looking ahead at what remains to be done. Aside from fully getting rid of DOMA and establishing marriage equality in all states, advocacy groups are also working at addressing the many other issues faced by the LGBT community, such as workplace discrimination, violence, and the marginalization of queer people of color.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly

What the DOMA Ruling Means for Gay Binational Couples


Image: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

After wrestling with the immigration system for 23 years, just like that, I have a clear path to citizenship, thanks to nine very human and very fallible Supreme Court justices. By ruling DOMA’s section 3 unconstitutional, legal marriages of lesbians and gays in 12 states and the District of Columbia are now recognized by the federal government. My husband can finally petition for a green card for me, just like any other American citizen or permanent resident. I am relieved, grateful, and more optimistic than ever about my family’s future in the country we love and call home.

But this is just the beginning, and there are more hurdles to overcome. We have to convince the U.S. government that ours is a marriage of love and commitment, not convenience, in order to get a provisional green card. After a couple of years, I can apply for a permanent green card. Finally, after a couple more years, I can apply for citizenship. In short, I will finally be a U.S. citizen after having been here close to three decades.

More importantly, the fight for civil rights continues for the LGBT community and its allies. Gay women and men are denied the freedom to marry in most states. Legally married lesbian and gay couples living in states that do not recognize same-gender marriages will continue to be denied state privileges and benefits bestowed straight couples. We can still be fired for who we are in a majority of states. Queer people of color are kept at the social, economic, and political margins.

Let us pause to celebrate, but tomorrow let us gird ourselves for the struggle that lies ahead.

Originally posted on the Huffington Post.

LGBT Advocates: Tide Turners Extraordinaire


March 27, 2013; Source: The Atlantic

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) civil rights group, crows, “Americans Agree: It’s Time to Strike Down DOMA.” And HRC, along with its allies and other advocates in the broader LGBT community do have cause to celebrate.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard arguments for and against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the brazenly discriminatory statute signed into law by President Bill Clinton. There appears to be consensus among the pundit class that the Supremes will most likely strike down Section 3 of DOMA, which precludes federal recognition of gay marriages and as such, denies legally married lesbian and gay couples the more than 1,100 federal benefits, rights, and privileges enjoyed by straight married couples. If the prognosticators are correct, then same-gender married couples in nine states and the District of Columbia, where marriage equality has been established, will finally be treated equally under U.S. law.

Commentators are having a harder time divining the tea leaves from the other marriage equality case heard by the Supreme Court. On Tuesday, opponents and proponents of California’s Proposition 8, which amended the state constitution to ban same-gender marriage, presented their arguments. The justices’ reactions and questions didn’t give a clear signal on how they would rule on the constitutionality of Proposition 8 and, by extension, the right of gay people to marry.

We’ll learn the outcome of both cases come June, but no matter the outcome, the gay rights movement and gay couples in particular have, in some sense, already won. Support for marriage equality is at an all-time high, especially among young Americans, which only augurs a brighter and more equal future for the LGBT community. Leaders of both parties are advocating for the freedom to marry for all. From our vantage point, it appears the tide has turned and there’s no use fighting it. And why would anyone, anyway? 

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly’s Nonprofit Newswire.

The Cost of Being Gay and Married


With my husband at the Supreme Court rally for marriage equality.

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments in two landmark gay rights cases. At issue in Hollingsworth v. Perry is the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 banning same-gender marriage, while in United States v. Windsor, at issue is whether Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) violates the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law for all citizens.

DOMA’s Section 3 limits marriages to those between a woman and a man. This means that legally married lesbians and gays are denied the 1,138 federal benefits, rights, and privileges enjoyed by married couples who happen to be of different genders. To date, marriage equality has been achieved in Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Washington, the Coquille Tribe (Oregon), the Suquamish Tribe (Washington), and the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians (Michigan), but legally married lesbian and gay couples in these states and jurisdictions are not treated equally under federal law.

In 2009, the Tax Policy Center and the Williams Institute held a panel discussion called “The Higher Cost of Being Gay: Life, Death, and Taxes.” As Howard Gleckman wrote,

when it comes to federal taxes the question is not whether you are gay or straight, but whether or not you are married. Depending on the relative income of each spouse, married couples either enjoy a marriage bonus or suffer a marriage penalty. Of course, heterosexuals can choose to marry or not and live with the tax consequences. Gays and lesbians have no such option. Even though a handful of states now recognize gay marriage, for federal tax purposes their marital status is irrelevant.

In short, it costs to be born and married gay. And it’s not just the tax code. My husband and I, for instance, are denied Social Security, inheritance (i.e., estate tax and retirement savings), and health care benefits taken for granted by our straight counterparts. A few years back, the New York Times estimated the lifetime penalty for a gay couple. In the best case scenario, it would be about $30,000. In the worst case, well over $200,000. Moreover, my American spouse is unable to sponsor me, a foreign-born individual, for immigration purposes.

The list goes on but at the end of the day, what is being argued before the Supreme Court is whether all citizens should be treated equally and have the freedom to marry whom they love.

An abridged version is posted on Urban Institute’s MetroTrends blog.

As Supreme Court to Take up Gay Marriage, Groups Rally Troops


December 8, 2012; Source: Reuters

The Supreme Court announced Friday that it will review two cases involving discrimination against same-gender couples. As early as March, the court will hear arguments for and against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which only recognizes heterosexual couples, thereby denying federal benefits to legally married lesbian and gay couples. The justices will also weigh in on California’s Proposition 8, which narrowly passed by ballot initiative in 2008 and denies gay and lesbian Californians the same right to marriage that opposite-gender couples enjoy.

It didn’t take long for advocacy groups to send out appeals and calls for action through e-mail blasts and websites. The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) membership organization, immediately sent an e-mail on behalf of its president, Chad Griffin. Griffin hails the Supreme Court’s decision to take up DOMA and Proposition 8 and stresses that “a win in either of these cases would mark an incredible, decisive point in this movement’s history.” He warns, however, that “extreme right-wing leaders are going to immediately rally their base” and claim that “the Court can’t outpace public opinion.” He thus asks people to sign a petition reminding opponents that a majority of Americans now support marriage equality.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, a LGBT civil rights group, also cautions supporters that “opponents are still as determined to keep us down” and “will continue to fight against our freedom to marry in the courts, oppose efforts in the legislative branch to repeal the so-called ‘Defense of Marriage Act’” in order “to reverse many of the gains we have worked so hard to achieve over the past few years.” She promises that her organization is “as determined as ever to fight for LGBT equality” and requests donations. Kevin Cathcart, executive of Lambda Legal, the oldest legal LGBT organization, in turn reminds e-mail recipients that this latest development “doesn’t just happen” and that it is “the result of years of strategic, impact litigation.” He asks for support to help “continue the fight.”

The American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER), the sole sponsor of the challenge to Proposition 8, blogged their appeal. The nonprofit had brought together Theodore Olson and David Boies, adversaries in the historic Bush v. Gore case that decided the 2000 presidential election, to convince the Supreme Court justices of the unconstitutionality of the ballot proposition. Arguing that their legal team has “successfully argued our case in Federal District Court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, showing that Prop. 8 violates basic constitutional principles,” they “will defend those victories before the highest court in the nation” and also request support in reaching their fundraising goal.

This movement is now expert at keeping its troops rallied and its ability to mobilize quickly is impressive.

Meanwhile, the nonprofit advocacy group leading the opposition to marriage equality, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), also responded swiftly to the news. The group issued a press release on Friday in which it applauded the Supreme Court for taking up the Proposition 8 question and predicted that the high court will uphold the California law. It also notes that NOM “was the largest contributor to qualifying Proposition 8 to the ballot and has been a major supporter of legal efforts to uphold it.”

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, December 10, 2012.

The Supreme Court Rulings and Their Effects on Immigrant Communities

Supporters of the Affordable Care Act rallied outside of the Supreme Court after the justices largely upheld the health care law. (Photo: SEIU/Flickr)

Our Supreme Court justices have been rather productive this week and their rulings will impact the lives of all of us who live in this country, including those who have chosen the United States as their adopted home, with or without proper documentation.

Yesterday the justices upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act in a 5-4 ruling.

In a statement applauding the move, the Southeast Asian Resource Action Center (SEARAC) released a statement saying the ruling will clear the way for 465,000 Southeast Asian Americans and millions of others currently living without health insurance gain access to coverage.

“Today’s decision is an opportunity for policymakers, state agencies, private insurers, community stakeholders, and consumers to put

Our Supreme Court justices have been rather productive this week and their rulings will impact the lives of all of us who live in this country, including those who have chosen the United States as their adopted home, with or without proper documentation.

Yesterday the justices upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act in a 5-4 ruling.

In a statement applauding the move, the Southeast Asian Resource Action Center (SEARAC) released a statement saying the ruling will clear the way for 465,000 Southeast Asian Americans and millions of others currently living without health insurance gain access to coverage.

“Today’s decision is an opportunity for policymakers, state agencies, private insurers, community stakeholders, and consumers to put aside differences and begin the complex and important work of implementing the Affordable Care Act,” stated Doua Thor, SEARAC’s executive director. “There are still far too many families who cannot afford care, far too many elders who must choose between life-saving prescription medication and paying rent, and far too many individuals who suffer from a health system filled with consumer pitfalls and lacking resources for culturally and linguistically appropriate care. Our communities cannot afford to wait.”

Yet the justices ruled that states can opt out of the Medicaid expansion stipulated in the law without risking their funding for their existing Medicaid programs. The expansion offers coverage to anyone with an income at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level, expanding eligibility to mainly children, pregnant women, elderly and disabled adults.

Many immigrants, particularly those who are naturalized or have permanent legal residency (green cards), could potentially benefit from the expansion of Medicaid. It remains to be seen what insurance will be offered to those who live in states that opt out of the expansion. (Read Victor Landa’s breakdown of how the ruling will impact the Latino community).

One must not forget that the ruling has absolutely no bearing on the welfare of unauthorized immigrants, who are ineligible to participate in federal programs. Even if they are willing to pay out of pocket they will not have access to the health exchanges mandated by the law.

Earlier in the week, the justices handed down a split decision on Arizona’s controversial immigration law, SB 1070. They blocked the implementation of three parts of the law, which opens the door for courts to strike down similar measures in states like Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Indiana and Utah that have endeavored to make it a state crime for undocumented immigrants to live and work in the U.S. The Court did sustain the “show me your papers” provision of SB 1070, which requires state law enforcement officials to determine the immigration status of anyone they stop or arrest if there is reason to suspect that the individual might be an undocumented immigrant.

Immigrant communities, their advocates and fair-minded Americans have decried the provision’s survival, rightfully fearing that it could lead to racial profiling. The justices did suggest that the law would be open to new challenges based on civil rights violations. The ACLU immediately took up the gauntlet and vowed to fight the “papers please” provision in the courts with its $9 million war chest.

It will take time to feel the tangible effects of the Supreme Court rulings. But it shouldn’t take much time for anyone to realize how these nine individuals make such a tremendous impact in our lives. It is likely that at least one new justice will be nominated to join the Court in the next four years. Who will be the man choosing the next Supreme Court justice? Will it be President Obama, who will try to balance the scales of the Court, which currently tilts to the right? Or will it be a President Romney, who will tilt it further to the right?

Immigrant communities can have a say on who that president will be. They need to organize, mobilize and get those who can vote to the polls.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, WNYC’s It’s a Free Country, and News Taco, June 29, 2012.