Filed under: DOMA Repeal
By Jacob Combs
In an opinion piece published yesterday in the Columbus Dispatch, Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio announced his support for marriage equality, writing, “if two people are prepared to make a lifetime commitment to love and care for each other in good times and in bad, the government shouldn’t deny them the opportunity to get married.”
In his piece, Portman specifically cited his gay son, Will, as one of the central reasons he had changed his position:
“Two years ago, my son Will, then a college freshman, told my wife, Jane, and me that he is gay. He said he’d known for some time, and that his sexual orientation wasn’t something he chose; it was simply a part of who he is. Jane and I were proud of him for his honesty and courage. We were surprised to learn he is gay but knew he was still the same person he’d always been. The only difference was that now we had a more complete picture of the son we love.…
“I’ve thought a great deal about this issue, and like millions of Americans in recent years, I’ve changed my mind on the question of marriage for same-sex couples. As we strive as a nation to form a more perfect union, I believe all of our sons and daughters ought to have the same opportunity to experience the joy and stability of marriage.”
Portman, the first sitting Republican Senator to endorse marriage equality and speak out against the Defense of Marriage Act, has been a steady opponent of equal marriage rights in the past. He was a co-sponsor of DOMA in 1996 and supported the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would have written a ban on marriages for same-sex couples into the U.S. Constitution. In 1999, he supported a bill that would have prohibited same-sex couples from adopting.
According to the Columbus Dispatch, Portman chose to announce his new position at this time because the Supreme Court will consider oral arguments in the Prop 8 and Windsor DOMA cases later this month and he anticipated being asked questions regarding the court cases.
He has no plans to sign onto legal briefs in the cases, including the one that more than 100 prominent Republicans filed in the Prop 8 case arguing for nationwide marriage equality. Among the signatories to that brief were Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Rep. Richard Hanna of New York, both of whom support the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal DOMA.
Portman’s announcement means that there is now bipartisan support for marriage equality and against DOMA in both houses of Congress. What remains to be seen is whether the senator will endorse other LGBT-related legislation. According to the Columbus Dispatch, Portman is unlikely to take a “leadership role” if Ohio moves to overturn its 2004 constitutional ban on marriage equality.
It is also unclear at this point whether he will join the Respect for Marriage Act as a co-sponsor, or if he will endorse ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would protect LGBT Americans from being fired on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. As recently as last summer, Portman reiterated his opposition to ENDA in response to a question from ThinkProgress:
“What I’m concerned about in Paycheck Fairness and other legislation like that is the fact that it will spawn a lot of litigation the way the legislation is written…. A lot of them would create a lot of legal rights of action that would make it more difficult for employers to feel comfortable, to be able to hire, and to keep this economy moving.”
During that interview, Portman did say that “no one should discriminate.”
You can watch a video below of an interview between Sen. Portman and CNN’s Dana Bash on the senator’s new support for marriage equality.
By Jacob Combs
In a significant first that may presage future opportunities for LGBT service members, an Oregon Air Force veteran has received a waiver from the Department of Veterans Affairs allowing her wife’s remains to be interred in Willamette National Cemetary, the Oregonian reported yesterday.
The Oregonian‘s coverage features a moving profile of retired Air Force Lt. Col. Linda Campbell and her time in the closet during her service in the late 1960s and early 70s. Campbell’s decision to come out to her parents in 1972 didn’t go well (her father, also a veteran, told her he no longer had a daughter), and following her active duty service, Campbell went on to a long career in the Oregon Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserves until her retirement in 1994. She later worked for the Housing Authority of Portland and then the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department as a subdirector in the agency’s Portland branch.
When Campbell met Nancy Jean Lynchild, a former electrician who worked at the Housing Authority of Eugene, both women were already in committed relationships. When those relationships ran their course, though, Campbell and Lynchild formed an enduring bond, registering as domestic partners when Eugene first allowed couples to do so (the registration was largely a formality and provided no legal rights), and later in 2004 when Multnomah County briefly announced it would allow same-sex couples to marry. After a time living in Washington, D.C., where Campbell had taken a job at HUD headquarters, the couple moved back to Portland to be closer to Campbell’s parents. They wed in Vancouver in November 2010.
In 2000, Lynchild was diagnosed with breast cancer, which she fought for 12 years until her death in Eugene last December. Campbell was deeply saddened by Lynchild’s illness, and by an injustice that she knew she would face as a married gay woman: because of the Defense of Marriage Act, Lynchild would not be allowed to be buried in a national cemetery like Campbell would, even though Campbell’s mother, like many opposite-sex spouses of veterans, had been buried with her father in Willamette National Cemetary.
During the course of Lynchild’s battle against breast cancer, Campbell received a phone call from Brad Avakian, the commissioner of Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries whose office enforced the state’s workplace laws and handled civil rights discrimination claims. After Campbell told Avakian about Lynchild and her frustration surrounding the burial rights situation, the commissioner looked into the federal code regarding veterans’ benefits and found an exception to the restrictions of DOMA. According to the rules, Avakian determined, interment in a national cemetary was allowed for “such other persons or classes of persons as may be designated by the Secretary.”
Avakian helped Campbell request a waiver from Eric Shinseki, the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, last May. Avakian sent his own letter of support, arguing his belief that Campbell’s request involved “what is required under the civil rights of our state,” and also contacted his friend, U.S. Senator Jeff Merkely, who wrote another letter of support. After Lynchild’s death, Campbell renewed the request and Merkely spoke with Shinseki personally. Avakian prepared a civil rights complaint against Shinseki and Willamette National Cemetary that argued the VA’s refusal to bury same-sex spouses constituted an equal rights violation. ”I never wanted to have to pull the trigger,” Avakian told the Oregonian. “But I was ready to use every possible tool I had to make it happen.”
He didn’t have to. Shinseki granted the waiver on January 29, and a VA mortuary official called Campbell to schedule a burial. ”It was just surreal,” she told the Oregonian. ”I cried, I shook, I got on my knees, I thanked her.”
Campbell’s story illustrates the injustices faced by military spouses in a post-Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell world in which they are finally able to speak openly about their relationships but barred from the full legal recognition the military offers to opposite-sex married couples. It also underscores an argument made by the state of Massachusetts in the DOMA case (Massachusetts v. Health and Human Services) filed in 2009 by Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley. During the consideration of that case by U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Tauro, Maura Healey, the state’s assistant AG, highlighted the effects of DOMA in terms of veterans’ burial rights. DOMA, Massachusetts argued, essentially forces a state to choose between implementing its own civil rights policies and forfeiting federal funding for violating DOMA. This argument parallels the civil rights complaint that Oregon’s Brad Avakian prepared against the VA.
Shinseki’s approval of Campbell’s waiver would seem to open the door for other gay and lesbian veterans to seek similar rights for their non-military spouses. Nevertheless, a substantial effort–including seeking the support of a U.S. senator and high ranking state official–was required of Campbell to secure a basic right and expression of dignity offered automatically to opposite-sex military couples. Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s directive this week extending many military benefits to same-sex partners was welcomed as a significant step forward for the rights of LGBT service members. Until the repeal of DOMA, however, they will remain second-class members of the military, barred from accessing such benefits as health care, on-base housing and–with one exception–having their spouses buried in our national cemeteries.
In addition to its profile of Linda Campbell, the Oregonian has a great slideshow of photos from her relationship with Nancy Lynchild as well as a video of Campbell’s story produced by Basic Rights Oregon and the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries.
By Scottie Thomaston
Here are some updates on the legislative/executive front:
- Yesterday the Senate passed the LGBT-inclusive Violence Against Women Act.
- Senator Leahy and Senator Collins reintroduced the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) to allow same-sex binational families to stay together. Last week the bill was introduced in the House.
- LGBT advocates are continuing to push for an executive order barring anti-LGBT discrimination against federal contractors.
- Senator Tom Harkin recently promised Senate movement on the Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA), and last night Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) backed him up on that.
- And last night during the State of the Union Address there were some references to LGBT issues: ENDA: “It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country – the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, what you look like, or who you love.”
DOMA/DADT and military family benefits: “We will ensure equal treatment for all service members, and equal benefits for their families – gay and straight.”
And a mention of fighting AIDS globally: “So the United States will join with our allies to eradicate such extreme poverty in the next two decades: by connecting more people to the global economy and empowering women; by giving our young and brightest minds new opportunities to serve and helping communities to feed, power, and educate themselves; by saving the world’s children from preventable deaths; and by realizing the promise of an AIDS-free generation.”