Obama ends defense of DOMA
WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Barack Obama has decided that the government will no longer defend Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The controversial law discriminates against legally married same-sex couples by refusing to recognize their marriages for any purpose, even if they are valid under the law of the states where the couples live. The decision was announced Feb. 23 in a statement from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
The statement explained that the president has concluded that laws targeting people based on sexual orientation, like laws targeting people based on race or national origin, should receive more rigorous constitutional scrutiny. Based on this conclusion, Holder said the U.S. Department of Justice will no longer defend Section 3 of DOMA in court.
There are several ongoing cases challenging DOMA. The Attorney General clarified that while the DOJ will continue to represent the government in those cases, DOJ attorneys will no longer argue that DOMA is constitutional, because the law does not withstand heightened constitutional scrutiny. Among other things, the measure prevents married same-sex couples from receiving any of the federal benefits given to other married people. Opponents argue it also sends a message that LGBT people and their families are inferior.
Lambda Legal issued the following statement from Legal Director Jon Davidson:
“This is a monumental turning point in the history of the quest for equality for lesbian, gay and bisexual people. The President and the Attorney General recognized today what we have been saying in court since the day we opened our doors: Discriminating against people on the basis of sexual orientation should be presumed to be unconstitutional and unconstitutional laws should not be defended. It is past time for DOMA to become only an ugly part of our nation’s history.
“We are proud of our part in the precedent setting cases leading to today’s announcement. Both Romer v. Evans and Lawrence v. Texas are landmark U.S. Supreme Court cases litigated by Lambda Legal that established among other things that the equal protection guarantee in the federal Constitution applies to gay people. The Attorney General expressly relied on these cases in his letter to Congress explaining why laws discriminating against people based on their sexual orientation are suspect and that the so-called DOMA is unconstitutional.
“While the so-called DOMA is very clearly crumbling it is not yet gone. The executive branch will continue to enforce it until it is repealed by Congress or struck down by the courts. We will continue our efforts to dismantle this law, along with all other laws that discriminate based on sexual orientation. Today’s action by the President and the Department of Justice hastens the day when those laws will no longer stain our nation.”
Calif. high court accepts question
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The California Supreme Court has agreed to accept the question sent to it by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in the federal court challenge to California’s Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure that overturned same-sex marriage rights in the state.
On Jan. 4, the Ninth Circuit panel asked California’s highest court to clarify whether state law gives ballot initiative sponsors the extraordinary power to override the decisions of elected state officials about how to litigate cases involving challenged state laws. The underlying question is whether the proponents of Prop 8 can force an appeal of the federal district court decision that deemed the measure unconstitutional. State officials have declined to appeal the ruling.
The California Supreme Court agreed Feb. 16 to answer the question. All briefs will be submitted by May and oral arguments could begin as soon as September.
Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, observed, “The people of California elect a governor and an attorney general to decide when and how to defend a constitutional initiative. We are confident that the California Supreme Court will conclude that initiative sponsors do not have the right to override our elected leaders and independently defend an initiative or decide whether or not to appeal a decision holding an initiative unconstitutional. The California Supreme Court should act quickly to confirm that California’s elected officials, not private groups or interested individuals, represent the state’s interests in court.”
Gay man new White House social sec.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The White House announced Feb. 25 that Jeremy Bernard has been named Special Assistant to the President and White House Social Secretary. He is the first man and first openly gay person to hold the position. He joins the White House staff from the U.S. Embassy in Paris, where he serves as Senior Advisor to the Ambassador. Prior to this role, he worked as the White House Liaison to the National Endowment for the Humanities.
In a statement, President Barack Obama said, “Jeremy shares our vision for the White House as the People’s House, one that celebrates our history and culture in dynamic and inclusive ways. We look forward to Jeremy continuing to showcase America’s arts and culture to our nation and the world through the many events at the White House.”
“I am deeply humbled to join the White House staff as Social Secretary and support President Obama and the First Lady in this role,” said Bernard, a native of San Antonio, Texas. “I have long admired the arts and education programs that have become hallmarks of the Obama White House and I am eager to continue these efforts in the years ahead.”
Civil unions legalized in Hawaii
HONOLULU, Hawaii — Gov. Neil Abercrombie has signed SB232, which establishes civil unions for same-sex and opposite-sex couples in Hawaii. The state Senate approved the bill in an 18-5 vote on Feb. 16 and Abercrombie signed it a week later. The new law takes effect Jan. 1, 2012.
Civil unions will provide a full range of state law protections and duties to unmarried couples — gay and heterosexual alike — such as access to family court to resolve disputes in an orderly way, clear duties to pay child support and alimony as appropriate, and other vital family protections. The new law will also honor same-sex couples’ marriages, civil unions and broad domestic partnerships from other states and countries.
Lambda Legal and the ACLU filed a lawsuit in July 2010 after then-Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed HB444, the previous civil unions bill. By providing the remedy sought by the lawsuit, SB232 eliminates the need to continue with that case.
Facebook adds relationship options
PALO ALTO, Calif. — LGBT rights groups applauded Facebook for adding ‘In a Civil Union’ and ‘In a Domestic Partnership’ options to user profiles. The options became available Feb. 17 for users in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., France and Australia.
“Today, Facebook sent a clear message in support of gay and lesbian couples to users across the globe,” said GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios. “By acknowledging the relationships of countless loving and committed same-sex couples in the U.S. and abroad, Facebook has set a new standard of inclusion for social media. As public support for marriage equality continues to grow, we will continue to work for the day when all couples have the opportunity to marry and have their relationship recognized by their community, both online and off.”
Last October, Facebook partnered with GLAAD and other national LGBT organizations to create “Network of Support,” an educational initiative that works to combat anti-LGBT cyberbullying. The Network of Support is comprised of LGBT advocacy organizations, including GLAAD, GLSEN, HRC, PFLAG and The Trevor Project, in conjunction with MTV’s “A Thin Line” campaign. GLAAD also worked with Facebook to reshape the way that the site responds to hateful, anti-LGBT comments posted on public pages.
Botswana gays to sue government
GABORONE, Botswana — Members of the gay community plan to take the Botswana government to court to challenge the constitutionality of the African nation’s anti-sodomy laws. Uyapo Ndadi, director of LGBT rights group BONELA, confirmed in a newspaper interview that a legal challenge to Section 164 of the Penal Code that criminalizes same-sex relationships was being prepared.
In 2005, gay leaders attempted to register an association called Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO) with the Registrar of Societies but their application was turned down on the grounds that the Constitution outlaws homosexuality.
During a recent press conference, the Deputy Director of Civil and National Registration, Michael Mohautsi, reiterated the position of his office. “Any body that is contrary to the Constitution of Botswana cannot be registered,” he said.