DOMA Ruled Unconstitutional
After s slew of state legislators voted in favor of legalizing same sex marriage, a judge has declared the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional. The Los Angeles Times reports that on Feb. 22, U.S. District Court Judge, Jeffrey S. White of San Francisco ordered the federal government to ignore the statute and provide health benefits to the wife of a lesbian federal court employee. Prior to White’s ruling, DOMA prohibited the extension of federal benefits to same-sex spouses.
In his 43-page ruling, White wrote that “tradition alone” doesn’t justify legislation that targets a vulnerable social group.
Karen Golinski, an attorney for the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, sued after her wife, Amy Cunninghis, was repeatedly denied coverage in a health benefits program offered to spouses of employees. White wrote that “DOMA, as applied to Ms. Golinski, violates her right to equal protection of the law … without substantial justification or rational basis.”
This ruling is the first of its kind since the Obama administration announced last year that it will no longer defend a law considered to be discriminatory and reflective of a long history of denying equal rights to gays and lesbians.
NJ Gov. to Veto Marriage Equality Bill
Both branches of the New Jersey State Legislature passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, but the state is unlikely to become the eighth state in the country to approve it. Republican Gov. Chris Christie has vowed to veto the bill, and while Democrats control both houses of the legislature, it is unlikely that they will have the two-thirds majority needed to override the governor’s veto.
According to The Star-Ledger, in 2006, New Jersey’s high court ruled that same-sex couples must be guaranteed the same rights as heterosexual married couples but left it up to the legislature to write the law. The legislature approved a civil unions law for same-sex couples later that year. The Star-Ledger reports that a new lawsuit challenging New Jersey’s civil union law, is pending.
DOJ Supports Benefits for LGBT Veterans’ Spouses
The Department of Justice will no longer defend a federal statute that denies spousal benefits to veterans in legal same-sex marriages. On Feb. 20, Attorney General Eric Holder announced in a letter to Congress that Title 38 of the United States Code—which defines “spouse” as a person of the opposite sex and therefore precludes the Department of Veterans Affairs from recognizing the legal marriages of same-sex couples— “contains no rationale for providing veterans’ benefits to opposite-sex couples of veterans but not to legally married same-sex spouses of veterans.”
Earlier this month, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and co-counsel Wilmer Hale filed a lawsuit on behalf of Tracey Cooper-Harris, an Army veteran who served in both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and her wife Maggie Cooper-Harris, challenging the legality of Title 38.
“We are pleased the Department of Justice has recognized that there is no justification for this statute, which treats gay and lesbian veterans and their families as second-class citizens,” said Christine P. Sun, deputy legal director for the SPLC in a press release. “This is welcome news for veterans who simply want equal treatment under the law.”
Santorum Says Gays, Lesbians with Kids are Families
After an interview with Michigan’s WKAR’s Off the Record, Santorum was asked by reporter Kyle Melinn if gay or lesbian couples with children constitute a family. Santorum replied “Yes, of course it’s a family.”
When pressed further about his opinions on federal support for LGBT familial rights, he declined to answer, saying “I think I’ve answered that question probably more than any other candidate. The preoccupation with these questions with me can be a little trying after a while.”
To see the exchange, visit: http://goo.gl/2lkPh
Gay Man Elected to Oklahoma Senate
Oklahoma has its first openly gay state senator. NewsOk reports that in a special election on Feb. 21, Democrat Al McAffrey soundly defeated his Republican opponent by 66 percent of the vote.
McAffrey, who will now represent District 46, served in the Oklahoma House of Representatives in 2006 until 2010. According to The Dallas Voice, during his time in office, he was a leader on legislation supporting senior citizens, education issues, access to affordable health care. According to his website, the father of three has also been a “tireless advocate and supporter” of HIV/AIDS awareness.
After the victory, McAffrey sent a message to supporters via his official Facebook page.
“Tonight, the people of Senate District 46 have put their faith in me to represent them in our state legislature,” he wrote. “I do not take their faith in me lightly or for granted. I am committed to fighting for the values that define our district: fairness, equality and moving Oklahoma forward.”