• December 10, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Calling balls and strikes, is that what marriage equality will come down to? Arguably one of the more conservative Supreme Court’s in modern history has chosen to wade into a major equality battle, and its Chief Justice once said that judging is akin in some ways to being a baseball umpire.

    Of course since that statement during his confirmation hearings in 2005, the Roberts Court has dealt with matters far weightier than those found on a baseball field. The Court has also shown that judging is a good bit more complicated. Have you read all the opinions, concurring opinions and dissents in the Court’s actions this year on the landmark health care reform law?

    As The New York Times’ Adam Liptak notes public opinion in favor of same-sex marriage may be ahead of where a majority of the Roberts Court is on the matter. And, he notes that the high court’s decision to review both the Ninth Circuit Proposition 8 case and Second Circuit’s DOMA case “has some gay rights advocates bracing for a split decision.” Liptak says the high court could invalidate the so-called Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA on grounds that Congress overreached and strike the Ninth Circuit’s opinion on Prop. 8, holding that the Constitution does not require states to recognize same-sex marriages.

    Janson Wu, a staff attorney for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), noted some concern, telling ACSBlog, “The fact that the Court decided to hear both a challenge to DOMA and Proposition 8 presents obvious opportunities and risks. All of us fighting for LGBT rights obviously hope for the best case scenario and realize that there is so much work to make that happen. Now is not the time to wait and see how the Court decides. Instead, it is more important than ever for use to continue to achieve victories at both the state and federal level in the next few months, before the Supreme Court decides these cases.”

    While those pushing for marriage equality are rooting for the demise of DOMA, a blatantly discriminatory law that has treated same-sex couples as second class citizens denying them scores of federal benefits that their straight counterparts enjoy or take for granted, others are concerned about a potentially disastrous ruling in the Proposition 8 case.

  • May 31, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Besides being the first federal appeals court to invalidate the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), at least one blogger says it is noteworthy because two of the federal appeals court judges are Republican appointees. The unanimous court opinion upholding a lower district court decision, found DOMA advanced disparate treatment of same-sex couples and interfered with the right of states to regulate marriage.

    In Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit found that although DOMA does not invalidate same-sex marriages recognized in a growing number of states, “its adverse consequences for such a choice are considerable. Notably, it prevents same-sex married couples from filing joint federal tax retruns, which can lessen tax burdens, and prevents the surviving spouse of a same-sex marriage from collecting Social Security survivor benefits. DOMA also leaves federal employees unable to share their health insurance and certain other medical benefits with same-sex spouses.”

    The First Circuit panel continued that the federal law, enacted by President Bill Clinton, works “to the disadvantage of same-sex married couples in the half dozen or so states that permit same-sex marriage. The number of couples thus affected is estimated at more than 100,000.” [Maryland recently joined seven other states and the District of Columbia in recognizing same-sex marriage.]

    The public interest group, GLAD brought the case, representing seven Massachusetts same-sex couples and three surviving spouses to block the federal government from enforcing DOMA, which would block the couples from benefits available to straight married couples in the state. GLAD was founded in 1978 to end discrimination based on sexual orientation, HIV status, and gender identity and expression, argued that DOMA violates the equal protection rights of same-sex couples.

    GLAD said the appeals court’s “decision reaffirms the lower court ruling that all married couples and surviving spouses deserve the same opportunities to care and provide for each other and their families.”

  • October 1, 2010
    One of the nation's leading civil rights attorneys, Mary Bonauto, covered some of the recent history of advancing equality for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender persons (LGBT community) at a recent Constitution Day celebration hosted by the ACS Boston Lawyer Chapter. Although great strides for equality have been made, much work remains to be done Bonauto told the gathering at WilmerHale LLP in Boston.

    Bonauto (pictured) was the first full time attorney for the Gay & lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), and in 1990 she recounted that a "key priority was enforcing the Massachusetts anti-discrimination law," which one of two laws in the nation banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, credit, and public accommodations.

    Bonauto, now GLAD's Civil Rights Project Director, said:

    At that time, there were plenty of people fired from their jobs the minute there was a sense that they might be gay or lesbian .... One case involved two women in Lynn who went used car shopping together. When the salesman realized they were a couple, he became irate, pulled an antenna off of a car, and went after them with it. So much for equal treatment in a place of public accommodation.

    Today, there is still discrimination, far less blatant now, and 21 states - not two - forbid it. Twelve of those states also forbid discrimination based on gender identity. We still need a national law to set a standard of fairness, but the ‘Employment Non-Discrimination Act' (ENDA) is stymied in Congress.

    Bonauto also touched upon the slightly increased acceptance of gay and lesbian relationships and the reaction it has caused among some Christian right organizations. Bonauto noted that a recent Gallup reveals that "a majority of people find ‘gay/lesbian relations' acceptable morally, whereas 43 percent do not."

    "But," she continued, "with change afoot, some would have you believe that gay people are tormenting those with religious objections to gay people, and that idea has gained some traction at the Supreme Court. How do we work out our co-existence when an interesting assortment of intellectuals, advocacy groups and faith leaders have joined the 2009 ‘Manhattan Declaration' vowing disobedience to any secular authority requiring that gay people and their relationships be treated as morally equivalent to others? How far should religious liberty exemptions go?"

  • July 8, 2010
    A federal judge ruled today that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional on a number of fronts. U.S. District Judge Joseph L. Tauro of Boston ruled that DOMA, signed into law by President Clinton, interferes with the right of states to define marriage and violates the Constitution's equal protection clause, The Associated Press reports.

    "The federal government, by enacting and enforcing DOMA, plainly encroaches upon the firmly entrenched province of the state, and in doing so, offends the Tenth Amendment. For that reason, the statute is invalid," Tauro wrote.

    Judge Tauro in Gill et al v. Office of Personnel Management et al, also concluded that the DOMA subverts the equal protection clause. Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) on behalf of seven married same-sex couples and three widowers lodged the lawsuit against the federal anti-gay marriage law.

    In a press statement, Mary Bonauto (pictured), GLAD's Civil Rights Project Director, who argued the case, said, "I'm pleased that Judge Tauro recognized that married same-sex couples and surviving spouses have been seriously harmed by DOMA and that the plaintiffs deserve the same opportunities to care and provide for each other and for their children that other families enjoy. This ruling will make a real difference for countless families in Massachusetts."

    GLAD notes that the federal government has 60 days to decide whether to appeal Tauro's decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. Judge Tauro's decision is available here.

  • June 10, 2010
    A transgender woman imprisoned by the federal government can pursue a constitutional challenge over denial of health care treatment, a U.S. District Court Judge has ruled. U.S. District Judge Joseph L. Tauro in rejecting the Federal Bureau of Prisons' (BOP) motion to dismiss Vanessa Adams' lawsuit, said that prison officials had repeatedly denied Adams' requests for treatment of gender identity disorder (GID) and that the treatment Adams has received does not render the case moot.

    Tauro wrote that prison officials "have not disavowed the policy they relied on for four years in support of their claim that Plaintiff was ineligible for hormone therapy because she was not receiving it at the time of her incarceration. Indeed, Defendants defend the policy and, for the purposes of litigation, take the position that the policy does allow the Medical Director to implement hormone treatment to those inmates who have not undergone such treatment prior to incarceration." Adams is being represented by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), Florida Institutional Legal Services (FILS), the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and Bingham McCuthchen LLP. In their lawsuit, the groups argue that BOP's continued rejection of medical treatment is cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

    Shannon Minter, NCLR legal director, lauded Tauro's June 7 ruling. "We're pleased that the judge recognized the inhumanity of the BOP policy, and that Vanessa will have her day in court," Minter said.