News (USA)

Anti-gay ‘Defense of Marriage Act’ more vulnerable than ever

The Obama administration changes course in the fight to overturn the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Signature gathering is about to start in Ohio. And voters in North Carolina say they support relationship recognition — so why are they also saying they’ll vote to take it away?

This week’s Marriage News Watch report is here:

A big change in the Obama administration’s position on the Defense of Marriage Act: At a hearing on Wednesday of last week, government attorney Stuart Delery said for the first time that the Department of Justice would not defend DOMA on any basis. Previously, the administration had indicated that there were some circumstances under which the anti-gay marriage law was constitutional. Not anymore.

Meanwhile Paul Clement, the lawyer hired by House Speaker John Boehner to defend the law, put forward some particularly weak arguments. His claim was that the government needs one uniform national standard for marriage. Mary Bonauto, the attorney from Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, pointed out that a national standard for marriage isn’t at issue — what’s at issue is the irrational exclusion of LGBTs from that standard.

There was a particularly poignant moment at the end of the hearing, when an attorney for the state of Massachusetts described how the state had to create a separate cemetery to inter LGBT veterans with their spouses. Currently, gay couples can’t be buried together in federal veterans’ cemeteries.

There are now nearly two dozen lawsuits involving DOMA. Just last week, Immigration Equality filed an additional lawsuit. The plaintiffs are married bi-national couples who face exile from the U.S. because the federal government won’t recognize them.

Also this week, a federal judge in San Francisco ruled that federal courts should not withhold insurance benefits from the spouses of LGBT employees. The case was brought by a court employee, legally married in 2008, who was told that his husband was not eligible for benefits because they’re a gay couple. Despite the favorable ruling, the case is still far from over. The Defense of Marriage Act still forces the federal government to apply discriminatory rules against gay couples. So for now, the court may have to reimburse the couple for their privately-purchased insurance.

Let’s look at some news from around the states.

In North Carolina, a new survey shows that six in ten voters support relationship recognition. But a majority still says they’ll vote for Amendment One, which would ban all forms of relationship recognition except heterosexual marriage. With about a month left before the May 8th vote, it’s clear that voters still don’t understand the dire consequences of Amendment One.

In Ohio, the state Attorney General has approved a proposed measure to overturn the state’s ban on marriage equality. Supporters can now begin gathering the nearly half-million signatures required to put the measure on the November ballot. And they have an important ally: the head of the Cleveland chapter of the NAACP has endorsed the effort. Meanwhile, the National Organization for Marriage has refused to back away from their leaked memos that reveal a plan to exploit African American and Latino communities. This week NOM continued their claim that the African-American community uniformly opposes marriage equality, refusing to acknowledge the ever-increasing number of pro-equality African-Americans.

There’s likely to be major news in all of these stories very soon, from North Carolina’s vote to Ohio’s signature gathering to all of the DOMA cases. You can stay on top of them all by subscribing to this channel. At the American Foundation for Equal Rights, I’m Matt Baume.

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