Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Clout St: 'Historic' civil unions measure passes Illinois House

Clout St: 'Historic' civil unions measure passes Illinois House: "- Sent using Google Toolbar

SPRINGFIELD --- Civil unions would be allowed in Illinois beginning next year for same-sex couples under legislation the House passed today.

The 61-52 vote followed spirited debate on whether the action would be tantamount to legalizing gay marriage.
Sponsoring Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, called on his colleagues to join the arc of history that has gradually eliminated discrimination on social issues ranging from allowing women the right to vote to knocking down numerous social and legal barriers standing in the way of giving rights to people of color.

“We have a chance today to make Illinois a more fair state, a more just state, and a state which treats all of its citizens equally under the law,” Harris said. "We have a chance here, as leaders have had in previous generations, to correct injustice and to move us down the path toward liberty."

The measure now goes to the Senate, where a similar bill passed in committee today.

Rick Garcia, political director of the gay rights organization Equality Illinois, hailed the bill’s passage as historic.

“I think it was telling that as the bill was being discussed the governor came out onto the floor and got a standing ovation,” Garcia said. “We’ve taken a huge step toward fairness. We are thrilled.”

Box Turtle Bulletin » Marriage update – around the states

Box Turtle Bulletin » Marriage update – around the states: "- Sent using Google Toolbar"

Timothy Kincaid
November 29th, 2010

The 2010 election has changed the dynamic in a few states and presents both opportunities and challenges for supporters of marriage equality. Here are how I see the current landscape:

Hawaii – Neil Abercrombie, the newly elected governor of Hawaii, is a strong advocate for civil unions. Earlier this year the legislature overwhelmingly approved a civil unions bill and such a bill is likely to be presented again.

Illinois – it is expected that the state legislature will vote this week on a civil unions bill during a lame-duck session. There is adequate support in the Senate, but the House vote is uncertain. Should it pass, Governor Pat Quinn, a strong supporter who was just reelected, will sign the bill. This bill seems to be taking on the impression of a Catholic v. Protestant fight, with NOM and the Catholic Bishop serving as the public face in opposition to civil unions, while a great many Protestants ministers have endorsed the bill.

Minnesota – Mark Dayton holds a lead in the governor’s election over anti-gay Tom Emmer, but the election will not be determined until a recount is completed. Republicans took control of both houses of legislature, so no pro-equality bills are expected; but if Dayton is confirmed there also will be no anti-equality bills either.

The one concern might be that Republicans could try and put a constitutional amendment on the 2012 ballot that bans both marriage and civil unions. While that may seem like a great idea to anti-gay activists, Emmer ran a homophobic campaign designed to appeal to those who oppose marriage equality and it does not appear to have been successful. I think it likely that an anti-marriage amendment would pass, but anti-civil unions may be too much, and it is becoming increasingly more risky for anti-gays to make such assumptions. Additionally, attitudes can change dramatically in the next two years.

Meanwhile, three couples are suing the state claiming that laws restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples violate the state constitution. Today, a judge rejected the request of the Minnesota Family Counsel to intervene:

“The Council’s alleged injuries would occur solely due to its sincerely-held belief that principles rooted in its interpretations of religious texts are best for the well-being of children and families, and that marriage only between one man and one woman accords with these principles,” wrote Minnesota Fourth District Court Judge Mary S. DuFrense (PDF). “The Court certainly understands that the Council feels strongly about the social issue of same-sex marriage. Strong feelings, however, do not establish a legal interest in a lawsuit.”

Iowa – after three Supreme Court Justices were denied confirmation, anti-gay activists were celebrating. But as the Senate majority leader has committed to blocking any changes to the Iowa constitution, it is unlikely that marriage will be reversed.

New Hampshire – NOM is crowing that anti-marriage activists have taken over both houses. However, my analysis suggests that any reversal of marriage equality is unlikely. While Republicans took a veto-proof majority, a significant number have already voted against any repeal of the law.

Maine – Republican Paul LePage was elected governor, effectively eliminating any forward movement on marriage equality. However LePage supports the current domestic partnership laws so things will remain status quo for a while.

New York – this one is a big question mark. Incoming Governor Cuomo has promised to get marriage legalized. And after the last vote, state legislators have discovered that “things as they are” may well be the most dangerous position to hold; gay activists refused to play the “any Democrat is better than a Republican” game and set their sites on defeating anti-marriage votes.

Going by last year’s vote count, the current best case scenario is that we are three votes shy of what we need (there are still some undecided elections). However, this time our side is taking to the airwaves to drum up public support, and polls show that New Yorkers support marriage equality. What was a party-line vote last year may well be viewed this year in terms of tolerance and New York values and there may be an entirely different dynamic.

Rhode Island – Former-Republican Lincoln Chaffee, who ran as an Independent, beat both the Democrat and the Republican candidates to take governor of the tiny state. And one of his first actions was to inform NOM that their opinion on marriage was not of any value to him. Rhode Islanders support marriage equality, and with Chaffee’s backing there is a good chance that RI will be the next marriage state.

Maryland – another contender for next marriage state, Maryland did not suffer party reversal. A plurality of voter support marriage equality, and gay State Sen. Richard Madaleno is guardedly optimistic that marriage will be voted in, perhaps as early as January.

His optimism stems from a number of developments on Election Day 2010, some of which ran absolutely counter to national trends. In the Maryland Senate, Democrats actually expanded their majority to a 35-12 advantage over Republicans. And some Democrats who lost their seats did so in primary fights with more progressive challengers, many of whom vowed to be even stronger champions for marriage equality.

And, of course, all of the above could be impacted by Perry v. Schwarzenegger should the courts find that marriage laws which restrict gay people from participation are contrary to the Due Process or Equal Protections clauses of the 14th Amendement

Thursday, November 18, 2010

French court to examine legality of same-sex marriage ban - The Times of India

French court to examine legality of same-sex marriage ban - The Times of India:

PARIS: France's highest court of appeal, the Court of Cassation, on Tuesday asked the Constitutional Council to rule on whether gay marriage should remain illegal.

The request came after individuals in August asked a court in the northeastern city of Reims to look at the legality of articles of the civil code, France's law book, which ban same-sex marriages.

The unnamed individuals said the articles were unconstitutional because they "limit the personal freedom of a French citizen to marry someone of the same sex".

The Court of Cassation said that gay marriage "is today the subject of a broad debate within society, notably because of the evolution of morals and the recognition of same-sex marriages by the laws of several foreign countries".

The Constitutional Court will now have to rule on the articles' legality.

Lawyer Caroline Mecary, who has dealt with several cases involving homosexual partnerships, welcomed the move.

"This decision by the Court of Cassation is good news for the three million lesbians and gays who cannot get married," she said.

"Soon perhaps France will respect the principle of equality by opening marriage up to people of the same sex, as eight European countries have already done," she said.

In Europe, same-sex marriages are possible to different degrees in Belgium, Britain, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden.

Read more: French court to examine legality of same-sex marriage ban - The Times of India http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/europe/French-court-to-examine-legality-of-same-sex-marriage-ban/articleshow/6938061.cms#ixzz15eEfd740

Gay City News > Next Steps, in Albany and Washington

Gay City News > Next Steps, in Albany and Washington:


FROM THE EDITOR: Marriage equality advocacy groups showed something of a tin ear as they celebrated their success at converting State Senate seats from the “no” column to the “yes” list this year.

To be sure, five districts represented by senators who voted no last December — including three in Queens — have now elected representatives committed to supporting our right to marry. That is to the credit of the Empire State Pride Agenda, Marriage Equality New York, the Human Rights Campaign, and Fight Back NY.

It is also true that those pro-equality senators who lost their reelection bids were undone by factors wholly separate from their advocacy for gay marriage. The problem is that the number of such losses is at least one, perhaps as many as four, and in all likelihood three. Which means that the number of public Senate supporters of marriage equality will have risen by only two, to 26, in a 62-member chamber. The path to success on gay marriage in New York remains fraught, especially since, under the likely scenario, Republicans would retake the Senate. Only in the past month has the Senate GOP leader, Dean Skelos, signaled a willingness to consider allowing a second vote on the issue.

In Washington, the situation is considerably more depressing. A House of Representatives led by John Boehner holds out no realistic hope for progress on our issues — even as basic as an employment nondiscrimination measure — which stymied the current large Democratic majorities in Congress. Only the still-breathing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal effort, which could yet be approved by the lame duck Senate, offers opportunity for progress.

In this climate, there are several bottom lines our community must insist on.

In Washington, it is wholly unacceptable for President Barack Obama or Majority Leader Harry Reid to settle for anything less than passage of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell language already approved by the House in the Pentagon spending bill. That language was already a compromise — laying out conditions that must still be met before the policy would actually be phased out and offering no guarantee that gay and lesbian soldiers allowed to serve would enjoy nondiscrimination protection on the job.

A number of Republicans said they couldn’t vote on repeal because a special Pentagon task force studying implementation issues had not yet issued its report. That document will be available no later than December 1. There are no excuses left for anyone to dally. If this policy is not repealed, Obama, our community’s “fierce advocate,” will face LGBT voters in 2012 with only a hate crimes law and a grab bag of executive orders and actions to his credit. In a contest that will surely be hard fought, the president ought to know how risky neglecting such a key Democratic constituency is.

In Albany, we will need an all-hands strategy — that includes our friends among the Senate Democrats, those among us who are Log Cabin Republicans, and our new governor — if we are to see progress on marriage equality and transgender civil rights.

Should the three undecided races result in either a continued narrow Democratic majority or a 31-31 tie, our Senate allies, led by Tom Duane, the out gay Chelsea Democrat who is the lead sponsor on both marriage equality and the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, must press for assurances that whatever governing structure the chamber establishes allows both bills to receive floor consideration when we are confident we can prevail.

GENDA is likely at or very close to the number of votes needed for passage; its tabling by the Judiciary Committee in June was unconscionable. If Duane is to effectively lobby for more support on marriage, he must be able to assure his colleagues that their courage in stepping forward publicly will be reciprocated by a floor vote on the question.

If the Senate, as seems more likely at this moment, is led by Republicans, the onus will fall on Skelos to ensure fair treatment. When the GOP last led the Senate in 2008, leadership refused to countenance floor debate on either marriage or GENDA. At a Log Cabin Republican event on October 12, Skelos said he would take the question of holding another marriage equality debate to his conference for discussion. Though that statement has widely been misreported as a “promise” of another vote on gay marriage, Skelos made clear to Gay City News’ Duncan Osborne that he was only pledging to bring the matter up with his fellow Republicans. Clearly, advocates, especially Log Cabin, will have to work determinedly to ensure that Skelos translates a friendly cocktail party message into meaningful responsiveness to the goals of an important part of the New York State family.

Should the GOP, whose 30 members voted unanimously against marriage equality last December, take control, it will place a premium on the political capital our new governor, Andrew Cuomo, is willing to put into our battles. At the Pride Agenda Fall Dinner in Manhattan, the governor-elect said, “I don’t want to be the governor who just proposed marriage equality. I don’t want to be the governor who just lobbies for marriage equality. I don’t want to be the governor who just fights for marriage equality. I want to be the governor who signs the law that makes marriage equality a reality.”

Making something a reality in Albany is often not an easy or even pretty task. But amidst all the deal-making, often out of the public eye, the things that get done are usually what one of the major bargainers makes a priority. We must be willing to hold Governor Cuomo accountable for his priorities.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Leonard Link: New Strategy to Attack DOMA Unfolds in Federal Courts

Leonard Link: New Strategy to Attack DOMA Unfolds in Federal Courts

Early challenges to the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) were all unsuccessful. The Act, passed in 1996, provides that no state is required to recognize same-sex marriages contracted in another state (Section 2), and that no federal law may be interpreted to recognize same-sex marriages (Section 3). The new strategy focuses on Section 3, and narrowly targets its specific applications rather than launching a broadside facial challenge to the statute.

The statute does not itself state any policy justification for the federal government refusing to recognize same-sex marriages that have been lawfully contracted in those jurisdictions that authorize such marriages, but in the legislative history (committee reports), four reasons are asserted: (1) advancing the government's interest in defending and nurturing the institution of traditional heterosexual marriage; (2) advancing and defending traditional notions of morality; (3) protecting state sovereignty and democratic self-governance; and (4) preserving scarce governmental resources.

In the early tests, all raised in private litigation, mostly in the years immediately after passage of the Act, federal judges reacted dismissively, finding that the law was subject only to the most undemanding rationality test, and finding one or more of the purposes articulated in the legislative history as sufficient. Also, challenges by couples who were not actually married were tossed out on standing grounds. Significantly, those early challenges predated the Supreme Court's 2003 ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, holding that a state may not attach criminal penalties to consensual homosexual conduct between adults because such conduct falls within the sphere of liberty protected under the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment, and insinuating in dicta that it was improper for the government to place significant obstacles in the way of adult intimate familial relationships.

After Lawrence, a new strategy for challenging DOMA in the courts was devised by the LGBT rights litigation groups. Individuals who had actually married and been denied some federal right or benefit as a result of DOMA would file suit, represented by one of the public interest law firms, contesting the constitutionality of DOMA as applied to their claim.

The first fruits of this strategy were harvested in Boston over the summer in Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, 699 F.Supp.2d 374 (D. Mass. 2010), a lawsuit brought by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), and in a companion case filed by the Massachusetts Attorney General, challenging several specific instances in which the ability of Massachusetts to accord equal treatment to same-sex marriages had been curtailed by federal policies required by DOMA. In his rulings in the two cases, Judge Joseph Tauro, a veteran federal trial judge appointed to the bench by President Richard Nixon, found that the unequal treatment required by DOMA was not justified, and that the law improperly invaded the sovereignty of Massachusetts. The Justice Department has appealed that ruling to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals. The parties agreed to stay the judge's orders pending appeal.

Meanwhile, however, buoyed by the initial success of this strategy, LGBT rights organizations have filed additional lawsuits. GLAD filed suit in the U.S. District Court in Connecticut on behalf of same-sex couples who had married in Connecticut, Vermont, and New Hampshire, challenging the refusal of federal agency employers to extend family coverage to new same-sex spouses and the denial of spousal benefits under the Social Security Act. One of the plaintiffs in Pedersen v. Office of Personnel Management was also denied a survivor annuity under a private employer's benefit plan, the employer asserting that the plan would lose its preferred tax status under federal law if the benefit were to be extended, due to DOMA.

It will be interesting to see whether the Attorneys General of Connecticut, Vermont, and New Hampshire will be inspired by the example of their Massachusetts neighbor to file suits vindicating their states' authority to extend equal treatment to same-sex couples.

In the meantime, another suit was filed, this time in New York, by the ACLU's LGBT Rights Project and the NY Civil Liberties Union, on behalf of a woman seeking a refund from the federal government of the substantial estate tax payment made by the estate of her deceased same-sex spouse (they were married in Toronto) -- a payment that would not have been required had their marriage been recognized by the Internal Revenue Service, which declined to do so citing DOMA. Although New York State does not make same-sex marriages available within the state, a growing body of case law and executive decisions provides that such marriages contracted elsewhere are recognized in New York. As in the cases from Massachusetts and Connecticut, the plaintiff in Windsor v. United States is arguing that the unequal treatment mandated by DOMA with respect to her inheritance from her wife is unconstitutional and cannot be justified.

These challenges to DOMA proceed under the 5th Amendment of the Bill of Rights, commonly known as the Due Process Clause, which has been held by the Supreme Court to be binding on the federal government and to incorporate an "equal protection of the laws" requirement co-extensive with that expressly imposed on the state governments under the 14th Amendment. The argument goes that after Lawrence v. Texas, one can argue that unequal treatment on the basis of sexual orientation mandates heightened scrutiny by the court, which means the challenged policy should be struck down unless it significantly advances an important policy interest of the government.

In both of the recently-filed lawsuits, plaintiffs argue that the grounds articulated in the Congressional report are insufficient for this purpose, and that the additional arguments the Justice Department made in the Massachusetts case -- all rejected by Judge Tauro -- are equally insufficient. Those arguments center on a contention that by passing DOMA the federal government was attempting to stake out a neutral stance on the hotly contested issue of same-sex marriage, and to achieve uniformity in federal law by having the same definition of marriage apply throughout the country for purposes of federal policy. But DOMA is hardly neutral; it places the federal government on the anti-same-sex-marriage side in the debate, and it is hard to argue that achieving uniformity in federal law is an important goal, when the government now accommodates a regime under which marriage laws do vary from state to state in some particulars, so that couples who could marry in one state are barred from marrying in another yet the federal government recognizes all of those marriages that are contracted -- unless they involve same-sex couples.

In addition to these new lawsuits, another important case is pending on the West Coast, as Lambda Legal is pursuing the claim of a California woman who married her same-sex spouse in that state prior to the passage of Proposition 8 to include her spouse under her federal employer's health insurance program. Karen Golinski, an attorney on the staff of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, won a ruling in the court's internal grievance procedure from Chief Judge Alex Kozinski (appointed to the court by President Ronald Reagan), who avoided ruling on the constitutionality of DOMA by finding an alternative interpretive route involving enforcement of the 9th Circuit's internal non-discrimination policy. As the Office of Personnel Management defied the judge's ruling and instructed the insurance company not to process Golinski's application, Lambda has brought the case to the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, where oral arguments will be held on December 17. In a brief filed with the court on November 8, Lambda argues that the court can enforce Judge Kozinski's order without ruling on the constitutionality of DOMA, but in case the court decides it must confront that issue, DOMA is unconstitutional.

Lambda makes many of the same arguments that the plaintiffs make in the cases just filed on the East Coast. The telling point in all these cases is that the denial of the benefits being claimed has no rational connection with the reasons being advanced by the Justice Department for upholding the statute. Indeed, it is hard to know what important federal policy is served by denying equal treatment to married, tax-paying, lawful residents -- in some of these cases long-time federal employees -- just because they have married spouses of the same-sex.

As with the new New England litigation, it will be interesting to see whether the newly-elected New York Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, a strong supporter of same-sex marriage, might be stirred to file an amicus brief in the case, or even commence litigation on behalf of the NY State Tax Department, which has failed to line up with other N.Y. state agencies in recognizing same-sex partners because the state's tax laws are intertwined with the federal tax code. Certainly the argument could be made, as it was made in Massachusetts, that the application of DOMA to restrict recognition of same-sex couples is requiring New York to deny such recognition under its tax code in violation of state sovereignty.

DOMA was a hysterical congressional response to litigation in Hawai'i, where the state Supreme Court had ruled in 1993 that a denial of marriage to same-sex couples might violate the state constitution. DOMA was enacted in 1996 as a trial was about to be held on that claim in Hawai'i on remand from the supreme court. A few months after DOMA was enacted, the court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, but the decision was ultimately overruled when a state legislative compromise and a subsequent public referendum took away from the court the right to decide whether same-sex couples could marry while enacting a law providing a limited legal status and limited menu of rights for same-sex partners. So, ironically, at the time DOMA passed, same-sex couples could not actually marry anywhere in the world, the right to same-sex marriage was not established anywhere until after the turn of the century, in the Netherlands, then Canada, then Massachusetts. It was not based on any kind of systematic analysis of its potential impact should same-sex marriage eventually become available in some jurisdictions; the famous GAO study counting more than a thousand provisions of federal law that might be affected was not produced until after the statute was enacted, in response to a request by a member of Congress opposed to the law.

It seems past time for Congress to rethink the issue, although pending legislation to repeal DOMA does not appear to have sufficient support to move forward at present. So the matter falls to the courts, and the questions of the day are: Will the new strategy of chipping away at DOMA in narrowly focused as-applied attacks result eventually in a definitive declaration of unconstitutionality from the Supreme Court, obviating the need for heavy lifting in Congress? Or will an accumulating body of successful trial court decisions spark a congressional back-lash, putting the infamous Federal Marriage Amendment back on the legislative agenda? Only time will tell.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Hypocrisy shrouds the gay marriage debate - USATODAY.com

Hypocrisy shrouds the gay marriage debate - USATODAY.com:

The issue of same-sex marriage has receded into the background during this past election cycle, mostly because voters are overwhelmed by the state of the economy. But the recent spate of gay teen suicides has thrust the issue of anti-gay bigotry back into the spotlight.

Even some Christian leaders are re-thinking their approach to this issue. Exodus International, a Christian activist "ex-gay" group, pulled its sponsorship of the annual "Day of Truth," where high school students are encouraged to express their disapproval of homosexuality.

But why did it take multiple suicides to make a Christian group realize that heaping condemnation and judgment on others is not its job? A reading of any of the Gospels would teach you that in about two minutes.

Let's remember, Satan wasn't kicked out of heaven for being gay: It was pride. The people who really ticked off Jesus were the Pharisees, who were self-righteous and hypocritical, which could fairly describe many of today's Christians.

The Bible or the Constitution?

When novelist Anne Rice declared this year that she was quitting Christianity — though remaining dedicated to Christ — in part because she refused to be "anti-gay," it struck a nerve with many Christians.

Many complained that they weren't anti-gay, that they just opposed same-sex marriage because the Bible, they said, defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Yet, we don't live in a theocracy. The Bible is not the governing legal document of the United States. The Constitution is.

Tuesday, for the first time in Iowa's history of electing judges, voters threw out three state Supreme Court justices for invalidating an Iowa law prohibiting same-sex marriage. It was a unanimous 7-0 decision based on the law, not ideology. What a novel idea. The $800,000 campaign to unseat them was led by Bob Vander Plaats, who ran unsuccessfully as the conservative Christian option in the Iowa governor's GOP primary. When Focus on the Family's James Dobson endorsed Plaats, Dobson lauded Plaats' Bible-based crusade against gay marriage.

But if people really want to use the Bible as our governing legal document, then we need many constitutional amendments, including one that bans divorce except in the very narrow circumstances the Bible permits it. This would be a tough one for evangelicals, since their divorce rate is almost identical to that of atheists and agnostics. This might explain why you don't see evangelical leaders pumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into campaigns to keep the government from providing divorce.

Why does this double standard and selective morality matter? Because it reinforces the idea among Christians that gay people are morally inferior and don't deserve to be treated fairly. Is bullying by teens that much of a stretch when you consider the same-sex marriage rhetoric?

Evangelical superstar Rick Warren (of whom I'm a fan when he sticks to preaching the Gospel) said in an interview, "They can't accuse me of homophobia; I just don't believe in gay marriage," but then he went on to compare same-sex marriage to pedophilia and incest. So, being gay is fine, just like it's fine to be a child molester?

Come on, people.

What about heterosexuals?

If this movement isn't driven by anti-gay bigotry, then where is the outrage and "Day of Truth" over heterosexuals who are engaging in sex outside of marriage? Why aren't Christians running around confronting their sexually active heterosexual co-workers and friends about their "lifestyle"? I guess because there is no "ick factor," to borrow a phrase former presidential candidate and Southern Baptist minister Mike Huckabee used recently to describe gay men and lesbians.

This double standard might have something to do with the fact that many Christians also violate the Bible's condemnation about sex outside of marriage with impunity. (I'm still waiting for the constitutional amendment banning extramarital sex.)

A few years ago, I attended a talk on the plague of pornography in our society at a New York City evangelical church. At one point, a speaker asked the group of about 300 young Christians, "How many of you are pursuing purity?" About 10 people raised their hands.

Has anyone noticed that there is this special little area carved out where the Bible's teachings must be enshrined in U.S. law, but only when it applies to others, i.e. gay people?

It seems as if Christians have enough issues to deal with in their own community on the issue of promoting marriage.

Perhaps Christian leaders such as Warren and Dobson should spend less time trying to prevent a tiny percentage of the population from having the right to marry, and help Christians get their own house in order.

Or, as Jesus warned: Take the log out of your own eye before focusing on the speck in your neighbor's eye.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Double Dose of DOMA Challenges - Poliglot

Double Dose of DOMA Challenges - Poliglot: "- Sent using Google Toolbar"

The Defense of Marriage Act is due for a two-pronged attack on Tuesday, as two separate organizations and sets of lawyers, representing different plaintiffs, plan to file lawsuits in federal court challenging the federal definition of marriage.

The Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) plans to file a lawsuit in Connecticut challenging DOMA’s Section 3, which defines "marriage" and "spouse" in federal law as being limited only to opposite-sex couples. The plaintiffs are to include couples from several New England states with marriage equality, including Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont.

edietheamovie.jpgMeanwhile, in New York City, the American Civil Liberties Union and the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP plan to file a lawsuit on behalf of Edith Windsor, the widow of Thea Spyer. Windsor was forced to pay a $350,000 estate bill because of the federal government’s refusal to recognize Windsor's marriage to Spyer.

The GLAD case is modeled after a similar challenge the organization brought in Massachusetts, which resulted in U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Tauro ruling in July that the marriage definition was unconstitutional as applied to several same-sex couples who had been legally married in Massachusetts.

The New York City couple, whose 2007 wedding in Toronto was featured in The New York Times, were the subject of a documentary, Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement. New York recognizes same-sex marriages performed legally in other jurisdictions for limited purposes.

Roberta Kaplan, a partner at Paul Weiss who is working on the case "100 percent pro bono," spoke with Metro Weekly on Monday night about Windsor’s lawsuit, summing the case up by saying, "If Thea were Theo, she would have been able to pass her estate to Edie tax-free."

Kaplan presents the facts succinctly.

"I have an 81-year-old client, and $350,000 is a hell of a lot of money -- a huge amount of money that she paid in violation of the Constitution," Kaplan said. "My client had to pay the government, and she wants her money back.

"What we’re seeking in the case is a check back -- with interest."

Asked about the comparison between the New York case and the GLAD case in Connecticut, Kaplan said, "I think the cases complement each other very well."

The GLAD case will feature several plaintiffs, including lead plaintiffs Joanne Pedersen and Ann Meitzen of Connecticut, who the GLAD news release about the case details "have been together for 12 years, and were married in 2008."

Pedersen is retired from the Department of Naval Intelligence, according to the release and is unable to put Ann, who has serious and chronic lung conditions, on her health insurance plan. Other plaintiffs in the case challenge the inability to receive leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, Social Security death and other survivor benefits, as well as other differential treatment resulting from DOMA’s definition of marriage.

Regarding the legal theories of the cases, Kaplan said of Windsor's case, "It's about a place [New York] where the marriage is recognized, so it's similar to that theory [pursued by GLAD]."

But, "[b]ecause I think these cases come up in all sorts of different contexts," Kaplan said that Windsor's case was a "dramatic" example of the discrimination couples face from DOMA.

"I think this case really gets people in the gut," she said. "Everyone can see themselves in the position Edie found herself in" -- noting again, however, that solely because Windsor was married to a woman and not a man she faced "a $350,000 tax bill."

Kaplan, who has worked with the ACLU seeking marriage equality in New York under state law, said of this effort, "The best way, I think, to move ahead is to play on all the playing fields at the same time -- including in state and federal court."

Asked if the ACLU case figures into those efforts to gain marriage equality in the state, she said, "In the bigger picture, I think this case is really part of that -- but ... it's not a part of the state legislative battle."

When asked about the questions that have been raised regarding the Department of Justice's defense of DOMA and the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law in court, Kaplan at first demurred.

Then, of Windsor's case, she said, "What I do think is true is that in this case the Department of Justice is going to have a very hard time coming up with a reason to give a judge in the Southern District of New York why Edie and Thea should be treated differently than if they were Edie and Theo."