Filed under: DOMA Repeal
By Scottie Thomaston
Outserve-SLDN is reporting that Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is extending some benefits to same-sex military families. This story was first reported on February 5, but no details were provided at the time. Outserve-SLDN notes that the Defense Department did not extend all the benefits it could – even with the Defense of Marriage Act still the law:
The package of recognition, support, and benefits – which includes the issuance of military identification cards, access to family support initiatives, and joint duty assignments – does not address the larger issues of health care, housing, and survivors’ benefits restricted by DOMA and other federal statutes. The Supreme Court is set to consider DOMA next month, and is expected to issue a ruling later this year.
“As encouraging as this step is for our military families, the passing yesterday of U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan and the needs of her family – needs in danger of going largely unmet because of the Defense of Marriage Act – reminds us of how far we still are from true equality.” said Robinson.
Freedom to Marry has also issued a statement:
“Today’s announcement by the Pentagon that it will provide same-sex spouses of active service members some of the limited protections it can, within the discriminatory constraints imposed by the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, is a positive step that will help families and align with the military’s goals of treating service members fairly, while at the same time underscoring just how great a burden DOMA imposes on families and employers,” said Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry. “All members of our armed forces provide the same service, make the same sacrifices, and take the same risks to protect our country – and the military, like many employers – would like to treat its people equally. But DOMA’s gay exception means that the federal government, including the Pentagon, may not provide family protections to families or even respect married couples as married, if they are gay. The problem is not what the military and employers would like to do; it’s that the law is tying the hands of employers and the military for no good reason. It is time to overturn DOMA and get back to the practice of federal respect for married people and families, especially those serving our country.”
“Seventeen months ago, the United States military ended the policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” We have implemented the repeal of that policy and made clear that discrimination based on sexual orientation has no place in the Department of Defense.
“At the time of repeal, I committed to reviewing benefits that had not previously been available to same-sex partners based on existing law and policy. It is a matter of fundamental equity that we provide similar benefits to all of those men and women in uniform who serve their country. The department already provides a group of benefits that are member-designated. Today, I am pleased to announce that after a thorough and deliberate review, the department will extend additional benefits to same-sex partners of service members.
“Taking care of our service members and honoring the sacrifices of all military families are two core values of this nation. Extending these benefits is an appropriate next step under current law to ensure that all service members receive equal support for what they do to protect this nation.
“One of the legal limitations to providing all benefits at this time is the Defense of Marriage Act, which is still the law of the land. There are certain benefits that can only be provided to spouses as defined by that law, which is now being reviewed by the United States Supreme Court. While it will not change during my tenure as secretary of defense, I foresee a time when the law will allow the department to grant full benefits to service members and their dependents, irrespective of sexual orientation. Until then, the department will continue to comply with current law while doing all we can to take care of all soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and their families.
“While the implementation of additional benefits will require substantial policy revisions and training, it is my expectation that these benefits will be made available as expeditiously as possible. One of the great successes at the Department of Defense has been the implementation of DADT repeal. It has been highly professional and has strengthened our military community. I am confident in the military services’ ability to effectively implement these changes over the coming months.”
Outserve-SLDN has a FAQ on the benefits extension.
The Supreme Court hears a challenge to DOMA on March 27. If the Court strikes it down, the military will be allowed to extend equal benefits to same-sex and opposite-sex families.
By Scottie Thomaston
Immigration reform is shaping up to be the next issue on the agenda for the Obama administration. Both parties in Congress say they’re working on plans, while the State of the Union address is looming. LGBT activists have long been pushing for inclusive immigration reform, most recently in the form of the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA). The bill would allow same-sex binational couples to stay together in the United States. Current immigration law is guided by the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which defines “spouse” and “marriage” for federal purposes to exclude same-sex marriages. Even if a binational couple has a valid marriage license and is legally married in their state, DOMA forbids the federal government to recognize their marriage as valid.
Through the past few years, the Obama administration has administratively taken some actions to keep some couples from being forced to split. But UAFA would keep these families together until DOMA is repealed and binational married couples are legally recognized as married.
Now, the Washington Blade has exclusively learned that a lesbian in a binational relationship will attend the State of the Union via an invitation from Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY):
Speaking with the Blade, Costello said she’s “grateful and excited” for what she called a “once-in-a-lifetime experience” — particularly in the wake of Obama’s call to include bi-national gay couples as part of comprehensive immigration reform.
“This is something that we have been fighting for a long time,” Costello said. “People before me have fought for it. I feel like, right now, we are living in an important historical moment where the president has already addressed providing equal rights for us, and I think it’s really come to forefront.”
The couple, who married in D.C. in 2011, is in danger of separation because the Defense of Marriage Act prohibits Costello from sponsoring Morales via a marriage-based green card application for residency in the United States.
Initially, Morales was able to stay in the United States via student visa, which enabled her to obtain a bachelor’s degree at Georgetown University. Following graduation, she worked at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda under temporary work authorization. When that authorization expired, Morales returned to study at Marymount University on her student visa, which is still valid.
However, that visa expires after her program concludes in May 2014, which could force her to leave the country at that time if current law remains in place.
She hopes President Obama will continue to push for LGBT-inclusive immigration reform:
“I’m hoping that he’ll continue to shed light on the fact that not everyone is included in the immigration reform unless families like ours are included as well,” Costello said. “We’re proud of him for including gay families in his proposal, and he’s already done so much, so an additional shout-out would be awesome.”
Immigration reform is currently under debate in Congress and while it remains to be seen whether the final legislative package will include language for bi-national same-sex couples, Costello said the opportunity for legal relief is exciting.
“Right now, we have a rare opportunity to fix the immigration system, and with that, I think it’s important we should fix everything to make it include all of us,” Costello said. “And so, I think, the time is right, the time is now, and people are coming around to see that we are just like every other family.”
Even if Congress doesn’t act on inclusive reform, though, the Supreme Court is hearing Edith Windsor’s constitutional challenge to Section 3 of DOMA, United States v. Windsor, in March. Though her case doesn’t deal explicitly with immigration issues, they’re implicated by the definition of “spouse” and “marriage” in federal law supplied by DOMA. And in several current challenges to DOMA in the lower courts that involve binational couples, the plaintiffs are suggesting DOMA is the sole obstacle preventing their families from being separated.
A decision in that case is expected in late June.
By Scottie Thomaston
A coalition of congresspeople in the House of Representatives has reintroduced the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), which would allow inclusion of same-sex partners in immigration laws to keep their families together. The Hill reports:
More than a dozen House lawmakers reintroduced legislation that would let immigrants in same-sex marriages sponsor their partners for legal residency.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) reintroduced the bill, the Uniting American Families Act, on Tuesday. The legislation is co-sponsored by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Reps. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Sean Maloney (D-N.Y.), Mike Honda (D-Calif.), and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).
Currently, only immigrants in heterosexual marriages can sponsor their spouses for legal residency. The Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) would include the term “permanent partner” in the Immigration and Naturalization Act in order to include immigrants in same-sex relationships. The same benefits and penalties applied to heterosexual marriages would apply to same-sex marriages under the legislation.
The report says that the LGBT Equality Caucus has not yet signed on:
Conspicuously, a number of members of the House’s LGBT Equality Caucus have not signed onto the bill, including Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.). Becerra, Gutierrez, and Lofgren are members of the House immigration reform group.
The Washington Blade has more on the Senate version of the bill:
Introduction of UAFA in the Senate isn’t expected to be concurrent with House version. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has pledged to reintroduce the legislation in that chamber. It’s unclear when the Senate companion of UAFA would be introduced.
The issues faced by bi-national same-sex couples have received renewed attention as Congress has begun debating legislation to reform U.S. immigration code. While straight Americans can sponsor their foreign spouses for a green card through a marriage-based application, gay Americans are unable to do the same because of the Defense of Marriage Act and because they cannot marry in many places within the country.
President Obama has called for inclusion of same-sex families in any immigration reform bill while Democrats and Republicans have had differing views. And Metro Weekly reports that the president has met with leaders and activists to discuss LGBT inclusion in immigration reform:
In a meeting with progressive leaders at the White House Feb. 5, Obama reaffirmed his commitment to a four-part plan for reform unveiled during a speech in Las Vegas late last month. Those who participated in the meeting described the president as upbeat and confident – and optimistic that this time will be different.
“We talked about the best possible strategy for moving this initiative forward and we’re moving quickly,” Janet Murguia, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, told reporters outside the West Wing of the White House. “We feel very strongly that there is a shared sense of urgency to move as quickly as possible and we believe the president has laid out the best possible framework to move forward.”
Previous attempts to reform the country’s immigration system have failed in recent years, with Democrats and Republicans failing to agree on key principles. Some of those differences remain today, but perhaps nowhere more visibly than on a provision supported by Obama that would allow gay Americans to sponsor their permanent partners for legal residency.
Obama’s proposal “treats same-sex families as families by giving U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents the ability to seek a visa on the basis of a permanent relationship with a same-sex partner,” according to an outline provided by the White House.
The bill would make it easier for binational same-sex families to remain together in the United States even while DOMA is still law. The Supreme Court will hear a challenge to Section 3 of DOMA, United States v. Windsor, in March. Several challenges to DOMA were brought by binational couples: Blesch v. Holder was brought by Immigration Equality, and Aranas v. Napolitano was brought by binational couples as well. Those cases seem likely to be resolved by the Supreme Court opinion expected in Windsor in late June.