DOMA: What Will Congress Do?

From The Huffington Post:

Jon Davidson and Leslie Gabel-Brett
Posted: March 2, 2011

This has been a dramatic and historic week in our fight for LGBT equality. Just yesterday, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed papers in our case representing Karen Golinski, a federal judicial employee who has been denied equal medical coverage for her wife.

It was only last week that the president and attorney general announced that the federal government would no longer defend Section 3 of DOMA, the section that requires the federal government to ignore and discriminate against the marriages of same-sex couples, because they have concluded it is unconstitutional. The government was required by the judge in the Golinski case to explain how it intended to defend its decision to deny equal medical benefits covering Golinski’s wife since the government had relied upon the very law it now agrees is unconstitutional. The government’s lawyers stated that while they have concluded that Section 3 of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional, they will continue to enforce it until it is struck down or repealed. Golinski and her wife will not get equal medical coverage today.

And in two separate DOMA challenges, one brought by our colleagues at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) and the other brought by the ACLU, the DOJ sent letters to the courts indicating they would “cease defending Section 3” in those matters.

What does this all mean?

First, there is a far-reaching element of the attorney general’s announcement last week that will take us beyond DOMA: The DOJ concluded that laws that treat people differently on the basis of sexual orientation demand “heightened scrutiny” by courts, which means that such laws are presumed unconstitutional. When heightened scrutiny is required, the burden is on the government to prove that a law, at least, substantially relates to advancing an important government interest. The DOJ does not have the authority to establish this level of review in the law — only courts can do that. But the opinion of the president and attorney general carry considerable weight. Courts will take it seriously.

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Unions To Hold Preemptive Jazz Funeral in Madison for Welfare Programs

From In These Times:

Mar 3, 2011

By Lindsay Beyerstein

Wis. Gov. Walker would slash funding for Medicaid, but boost funding for program that buries destitute Wisconsinites

A coaltion of public- and private-sector unions is holding a jazz funeral for the welfare state in Wisconsin. A New Orleans-style funeral procession, complete with jazz band, will depart from the Library Mall at five o’clock on Thursday and wend its way to the Capitol.

On Tuesday, Republican Gov. Scott Walker unveiled a budget that calls for deep cuts in nearly every area of government spending, including healthcare, education, and environmental protection.

Jean Ross, a nurse and co-president of National Nurses United plans to attend today’s march. “There’s some grieving to be done for what Walker’s trying to do,” Ross told Working In These Times. The march is endorsed by National Nurses United, Madison Teachers Incorporated, the Kill the Bill Coalition, and a host of other public and private sector labor groups.

Gov. Walker wants to slash $500 million from Medicaid over the next two years. Medicaid is the joint federal-state health insurance program for the poor which covers 1.2 million Wisconsinites, or, one out of every five residents.

Ross says that the budget is a power grab. Walker sparked furious and ongoing with his earlier “budget repair” bill that called for the elimination of most collective bargaining rights for public employees. Fourteen Democratic state senators have fled to Illinois to deny the Republican majority the quorum it needs to pass the bill.

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A Little Taste of Pete Seeger

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Derence Kernek and Ed Watson

I first saw this story on Pam’s House Blend and wanted to add some specific links.

I am well aware that my giving personal priority to marriage equality over a “trans-inclusive” ENDA puts me at odds with a number of people who are putting their bodies on the line for that particular cause.

My having been transsexual is such ancient history and my being an old dyke is so immediate.

A matter brought home to me again today at my doctor’s office where we are considered family yet when it comes to legal status we are just friends.

The Courage Campaign petition

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Labor Fighting Quiet Anti-Unionization Measure In Congress While Eyes Remain On Wisconsin

From Huffington Post:

By Sam Stein and  Laura Bassett

03/ 3/11

WASHINGTON — While labor activists continue to stage a high-stakes campaign against the budget bill from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) that would strip collective bargaining rights from that state’s public employees, union backers are feverishly working to derail what they describe as an equally troubling federal proposal with a clear route to passage.

In recent days, union officials have ramped up lobbying efforts to block or remove language in the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill that would make it drastically harder for rail or aviation workers to unionize.

Sponsored by House Transportation Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) — a major recipient of campaign contributions from the airline industry, totaling more than $620,000 in his career — the controversial provision states if an eligible voter fails to vote for union representation, he or she will be tallied as an active vote against representation.

Such a policy, which puts an extra burden on union organizers to round up all voters, rather than a simple majority, existed up until last July, when the federal National Mediation Board, which adjudicates labor-management disputes, ruled that absent votes ought not be counted against unionization. Labor officials hailed that decision as one of their signature victories last year, and the proposal to strip it away has sparked an equally emotional reaction.

“This was the one advancement that you had seen in organizing rights and here they have launched an all-out effort in the House to go after unions again,” said Shane Larson, the legislative director for the Communications Workers of America. “Currently, this is the biggest issue federally right now in terms of organizing rights. There is nothing else that is on the table.”

Critics of expanded union rights appreciate the decision’s significance, too. The NMB’s July ruling was quickly followed by attempts to undo it, including a Congressional Review Act proposed by Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) that would have called for a formal evaluation of the decision.

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New Hampshire axes gay marriage repeal talks for now

From San Diego Gay and Lesbian News:

March 3rd, 2011

CONCORD, N.H. – Marriage equality is safe in New Hampshire at least through the end of 2011.

Today, the House Judiciary Committee voted 13-0 to squash two bills that would repeal the year-old law that grants gays and lesbians the right to marry.

The victory for gay rights is likely only temporary, since lawmakers vowed to return to the issue next year.

Republicans and Tea Party politicians now hold a supermajority in both branches of the legislature, meaning they could muster enough votes to overturn any veto by Democratic Gov. John Lynch. The governor has vowed to veto any bill that seeks to undo the law.

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The case that changed Obama’s mind on Defense of Marriage Act

Yeah, I know some trans-activists have attacked this as being a case of the rich and privileged, but people like Obama who have been selected by the rich are moved by the suffering of the rich and privileged not the poor and oppressed.  If you are poor and oppressed you are considered angry and responsible for your own oppression.

The focus on DOMA vs ENDA has an age factor as well.  Young people are more concerned about their employment opportunities.  Older couples about what happens if their partner gets sick or to their survivor when one or the other of them dies.

Both sides view the other as callous.

From Yahoo News:

By Liz Goodwin

Mon Feb 28, 2011

The Obama administration announced last week that it will no longer defend in court a part of the Defense of Marriage Act that forbids the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage.

One widow’s story was one of two cases pending in federal courts cited in the announcement of President Obama’s decision, Bloomberg reports.

Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer were together for more than 40 years when Spyer died in 2009. Not longer after her partner’s death, Windsor received  a $363,053 federal tax bill–a liability that she would not have faced had the federal government recognized their union.

The New York couple married in Canada in 2007 in their 70s, after they found out that Spyer’s multiple sclerosis was getting worse. Spyer was a psychologist who had become quadriplegic from the disease before her death, and Windsor worked for IBM. They met in the 1960s at a restaurant in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. “We danced so much and so intensely that she danced a hole through her stockings,” Spyer said in the New York Times’ write up of their wedding.

Windsor is suing for the tax money back from the federal government, and the Obama administration has effectively decided she’s right by dropping its defense. The administration will continue to enforce the law unless it is struck down by the courts or Congress.

The Justice Department will also drop its defense in a similar case in Connecticut federal court with seven plaintiffs. Each plaintiff in the Connecticut case is a surviving same-sex partner who is being denied benefits because the federal government doesn’t recognize the marriage.

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