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“Now you must raise your children up in a world where that union of man and box turtle is on the same legal footing as man and wife…”
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Posts for January, 2014

Congressman Randy Weber proposes DOMA redux

Timothy Kincaid

January 10th, 2014

Randy Weber (R- TX) has yet to make much of a name for himself.

Oh, in addition to his day job as an air conditioner repairman, he also was involved in local Republican committees and on the city counsel of Pearland, Texas. And that was all before being elected to the Texas House of Representatives, where he served for four years.

And when Rand Paul decided to run for Senate Ron Paul decided to retire, Weber won the Republican Party primary for Paul’s seat – after a run-off election. And while Massachusetts’ Mitt Romney did do a bit better than Weeber in his home district, he was nevertheless elected to represent Texas’ 14th Congressional District.

Now, he’s only been in office for a year so he hasn’t really had much time to find the right idea, the vehicle which will define him as a statesman.

He has written one resolution, which would “Expresses the sense of the House of Representatives that the government’s scientific and technical analysis of the potential environmental impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline have repeatedly affirmed its environmental soundness and safety”. But that resolution is currently langering in the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, where Wever is a committee member. And that can’t feel good.

And he’s helped 415 Texans through casework and guided 140 families on US Capitol tours. But doesn’t get you headlines.

However, Roddy Wegle has finally found his issue. He has finally found that one position on which he can get in on the ground floor and make a name for himself.

Werber has now sponsored HR 3829: the State Marriage Defense Act of 2014.

And it’s a real doozy. Very timely. And oh so popular among those whom Weber find a common cause.

Though the text of the bill is not yet available, what it would do is require that the Federal Government change the criteria for recognition of same-sex marriages from whether they were legally licensed, performed, and recorded and instead determine Federal recognition on where the couple lived at the moment. Weger’s bill would have the Feds only recognize a marriage if the state of residency recognized the marriage, thus allowing one state to not only invalidate another state’s contracts, but to force the Federal Government to do so as well.

Now this might be a bit tricky. A couple that moved often might find themselves to be married, unmarried, married, single, civil unioned, or completely confused. Move to New York and you’re married. Move to Nevada and you file state taxes jointly but Federal taxes as single. Move to Texas and hope to God that you don’t live near Weber.

But Ronnie Webbe now has gotten some attention. The Family Research Counsel has endorsed his bill, as has the National Organization for Marriage.

And he has co-sponsors; 27 of them (all Republicans). And while many are fellow Texans with whom you may not be familiar, he’s got some big names on his bill including Joe Pitts, Doug LaMalfa, Louie Gohmert, and even Michele Bachmann, whom we all know so well.

But, alas, it looks as though he might not have been as clever as he hoped. Because this move, as timely and hot-button as he might hope, as joyously received by the stalwart defenders of “the family”, still didn’t get his name into the papers.

Oh sure, the gay blog sites took notice. And the far right disseminators of viewpoint and opinion. But otherwise nothing.

Well, okay, not exactly nothing. It is true that the Sacramento Bee did make available on their website the press release which was issued by the FRC, but otherwise the media attention was the same as if Woober farted in the wind.

No New York Times., No Chicago Tribune. No Duluth News Tribune. Not even the wacky, Moony-owned, far right, anti-gay Washington Times ran a story.

And, sadly for Weder, it’s not likely to get better. While the good ol’ boys at the local Elks Lodge may all think his proposal is a fine idea, the Republican Party leadership will bury this dog. They know that the ship has sailed and that equality is the future and they want nothing more than to have the issue behind them. Preferable before 2016 so they can blame President Obama and the Supreme Court and move on to other issues.

Alas, poor Ricky Weevil. Your second try at establishing your legacy doesn’t seem to be panning out so well. But take heart, you have another year. Maybe you’ll find a way to make everyone remember your name.

Justice Department Did NOT Step In As BLAG Pulls Out

Jim Burroway

July 19th, 2013

Report that the Justice Department filed a brief opposing a request by gay veterans and their spouses for judgment in their favor their challenge to veterans’ benefits statutes led to some confusion as to what the Justice Department’s objections really were. One interpretation was that the Justice Department was trying to take up the work of the GOP-controlled House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) after BLAG announced that they would drop their efforts to prevent the veterans spousal and family benefits from being extended to married same-sex couples. But according to the actual filing by the Justice Department:

In light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Windsor, striking down Section 3 of DOMA, the Department of Defense will now construe the definitional provisions of “spouse” in Titles 10and 32 to include same-sex spouses See Extending Benefits to Same-Sex Domestic Partners of Military Members, Memorandum for Secretaries of the Military Departments, Feb. 11, 2013, available at http://www.defense.gov/news/Same-SexBenefitsMemo.pdf (“In the event that the Defense of Marriage Act is no longer applicable to the Department of Defense, it will be the policy of the Department to construe the words ‘spouse’ and ‘marriage’ without regard to sexualorientation, and married couples, irrespective of sexual orientation, and their dependents, will begranted full military benefits.”). The Department of Defense intends to expeditiously make available benefits provided under Titles 10 and 32 to the same-sex spouses of servicemembers. To that end, the Department of Defense is currently working to revamp its Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (“DEERS”), a computerized database of military sponsors, families and others who are entitled to various military benefits. Indeed, the central claim in the Complaint is Plaintiffs’ inability to enroll in DEERS, which in turn has prevented Plaintiffs fromfiling claims for military benefits.

Because the Supreme Court has already struck down Section 3 of DOMA in Windsor, there is no need for this Court to grant any declaratory relief with respect to Section 3 of DOMA.There is also no need for this Court to grant declaratory or injunctive relief with respect to the definitional provisions of Titles 10 and 32. As noted above, the government will apply these provisions in light of Windsor to include same-sex spouses. There is no longer any dispute with respect to Defendants’ obligations to process and consider Plaintiffs’ claims for military benefits because the government agrees that it needs to do so, and is working to do so as it implements the Supreme Court’s decision in Windsor. Given the government’s agreement, there is no longer any case or controversy with respect to Plaintiffs’ Titles 10 and 32 claims.

The Justice Department then went on to argue that, with DOMA3 out of the way and the Defense Department moving to implement the Windsor decision, the court had no jurisdiction on procedural grounds. BLAG was seeking to block veterans spouses from accessing veterans benefits altogether, which is precisely the opposite of what this motion says.

Justice Department steps in after BLAG pulls out

Timothy Kincaid

July 19th, 2013

Earlier today we learned that the House Bipartisan Legal Legal Advisory Group (BLAG), under the direction of Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner, had ceased defending any of the laws which seek to distinguish between opposite-sex and same-sex marriage. Most of us assumed that meant that there was no opposition to the judge in McLaughlin v. Panetta awarding spousal benefits.

But in an odd turn of events, the Obama Administration has stepped in to oppose the assignment of benefits. (Chris Geidner at BuzzFeed, who has been all over this story).

The Justice Department, however, goes on to claim two reasons why the court should not rule in the veterans and their same-sex spouses on their claims regarding Title 38. The first is an argument that “no plaintiff has sufficiently alleged that he or she has applied for or would be entitled to veterans’ benefits but for the definitional provisions in Title 38.”

“We disagree with that and will be addressing that with the court,” an attorney for the plaintiffs, Christopher Man with Chadbourne and Park, told BuzzFeed Thursday night.

The second reason, according to Justice Department lawyers, is that the court doesn’t have “jurisdiction to hear any claim for veterans’ benefits” because the Veterans’ Judicial Review Act “provides an exclusive review scheme for veterans to pursue benefits claims, including raising constitutional challenges to statutes and regulations that govern veterans’ benefits.”

While the second reason may have some technical merit (outweighed, I believe, by the question before the judge about the constitutionality of unequal treatment), the first is mouth-gapingly nonsense. It is difficult to fathom how suing in federal court for benefits is not sufficient evidence that Major McLaughlin would have applied for them had they been available.

Rand Paul on DOMA3

Timothy Kincaid

June 26th, 2013

Rand Paul, darling of the Tea Party, weighed in on the DOMA3 ruling: (ABC)

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., told ABC News he believes the Supreme Court ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act was appropriate, and that the issue should be left to the states. He praised Justice Anthony Kennedy for avoiding “a cultural war.”

“As a country we can agree to disagree,” Paul said today, stopping for a moment to talk as he walked through the Capitol. “As a Republican Party, that’s kind of where we are as well. The party is going to have to agree to disagree on some of these issues.”

Republicans have, on whole, been pretty muted in response. This may well indicate that the party has abandoned its desire to pass a federal marriage amendment and even its ‘litmus test’ on the issue.

Marriage update – North America

Timothy Kincaid

January 25th, 2013

It’s getting marriagey all over the place. And it’s also getting hard to keep track of what is going on where. So here is an update to help (which will probably be outdated by the time I hit “publish”).

North America:

Canada - Marriage has been equal since 2005.

Mexico - Marriage is equal in Mexico City, and marriages conducted there are recognize throughout the nation. However, in December, the Supreme Court unanimously found that an anti-gay marriage law in Oaxaca was unconstitutional. Due to Mexico’s complicated legal system, this means that marriages are highly likely to eventually be legal throughout the nation, but the process requires that five same-sex couples in each state file an amparo (civil rights claim) and that the court issue the same ruling on each. It may take some time for the legality of the state by state process to catch up, but the reality is that any Mexican couple wishing to marry probably can, either immediately or through petition.

United States - Several locales provide or have provided marriage equally:

  • Massachusetts – 2005 2003
  • California – 2008, but rescinded that year
  • Connecticut – 2008
  • Vermont – 2009
  • Iowa – 2009
  • New Hampshire – 2010
  • The District of Columbia – 2010
  • New York – 2011
  • Washington – 2012
  • Maryland – 2012
  • Maine – 2013

In addition, two Native American tribes, the Coquille in Oregon and the Suquamish in Washington provide marriage equally to their members.

Current and upcoming movement on the marriage front includes:

* DOMA3 – several federal courts have found the federal prohibition on recognition of legally married same-sex couples – the Defense of Marriage Act, Section 3 – to be unconstitutional on several grounds. The Supreme Court of the United States has agreed to hear one case, Windsor v. the United States, a case in which Edie Windsor was assessed in excess of $300,000 in inheritance tax from her wife’s estate, a tax that does not apply to heterosexuals. On Tuesday, the special counsel for the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (at the direction of House Speaker John Boehner) filed its arguments in defense of the law (I’ll try to get an analysis up soon). It argued that BLAG has standing to support the law, that only rational basis should apply to anti-gay discrimination, that the nation needs uniform recognition, and that states should be allowed to decline to offer equality if they so choose (thus, I assume, vetoing other states in the name of uniformity). Today Professor Victoria C. Jackson will, at the court’s request, filing a brief insisting that BLAG has no standing and on February 26th, Windsor’s team will present arguments as to why she should not be discriminated against. Oral arguments before SCOTUS will be on March 27th, and the Court will likely release it’s ruling in June. Whichever way it goes, it will probably only impact couples in states which allow marriage.

* Proposition 8 - this is the highest profile case, but it could end up having the least legal effect. In 2008, the California Supreme Court found the state’s law prohibiting same-sex marriage to be a violation of the state’s constitution. For several months, same-sex couples could legally marry, but in November the voters approved Proposition 8 by 52%, ending marriage equality in the Golden State. In May 2009, Ted Olson, one of the most prominent Republican attorneys and David Boies, one of the most prominent Democratic attorneys, teamed up to fight for the legal overturn of that proposition. In January 2010, though cameras were banned from the courtroom, the nation was captivated by the reporting about the case – a trial not only on the legality of the proposition but also on its merits. Federal Judge Vaughn Walker eventually found the proposition to violate the US Constitution on broad grounds. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision, but on much narrower grounds: that a state cannot provide a right to all citizens and then take it away from a select few. Last month the Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal, but added the question as to whether the proponents defending the law (the Governor and Attorney General declined to do so) have standing. On Tuesday the proponents of the law filed their brief (I’ll try to get an analysis up soon). Olson and Boies have until February 21st to respond, and oral arguments will be on March 26th with a likely result in June. While the Court could find that the US Constitution guarantees marriage equality across the land, it could also choose to narrow its ruling to the unique issues of the case and only impact Californians.

* Rhode Island - on Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the marriage bill. The full House voted in favor today 51-19. However, the Senate is less certain. Although Rhode Island is virtually a single-party state (the Senate has 32 Democrats, 5 Republicans, and 1 Independent), the Senate President, Teresa Paiva-Weed, is an opponent to equality. She has said that she will allow a committee to hear the matter, but in times past she has made certain that committees were selected to prevent equality.

I have started a petition at Change.org to request that should Paiva-Weed obstruct or block the passage of this bill, that Rhode Island State Senators remove her from power. Please go sign this petition.

* Illinois - a marriage bill was submitted during the first week of the year in a lame-duck session. Due to difficulty in corralling members returning from holiday, the vote never took place.

After the new legislature was is session, the bill was reintroduced. Currently the status is a bit in limbo as the bill is yet to be sent to committee.

However, that does not mean that there is no excitement, just that it’s happening outside the legislature and in an unexpected arena. The GOP chairman has come out in favor of marriage, which has angered social conservatives in the state. Bit though they are demanding his resignation and threatening ouster, the party insiders are lining up behind the chairman. At the moment it seem like the prevailing position may end up, “we may not support equality, but we support those who do.” In any case, this latest public squabble serves our community well.

* Minnesota - fresh off a victory in turning back an anti-marriage bill in November, Minnesotans for All Families is fighting on and will present a marriage bill to the legislature next month. The political strategist who generaled the battle is staying on to finish the war.

Polls are breaking even in the state and the DFL (Democratic) party has a slim lead in each house, so they will have their work cut out for them. But I would be surprised if the state did not take some movement towards couple recognition.

* Colorado - supporters filed an everything-but-the-name Civil Unions bill which is pretty much guaranteed to pass. More than half of each house has signed on as sponsors. This is as far as that state can go at present, as there is a state constitutional ban on equality.

* Wyoming - out of pretty much nowhere and flying way below the radar, lesbian Sen. Cathy Connolly has file both a domestic partnership bill and a marriage bill. Both have significant Republican support.

They may not be attracting much buzz on these bills due to party power; Republicans dominate both houses by overwhelming numbers. But Wyoming Republicans are traditionally pretty libertarian in their thinking and local papers are mostly quoting the bills’ Republican cosponsors. It may be early yet, but so far there doesn’t appear to be any visible organized opposition. I would not be altogether shocked if one of the bills passed or, at least, got a decent vote.

* New Jersey - the legislature of this state has already passed a marriage bill which was vetoed by the governor. However there are the paths to equality that might be achievable.

One is to take it to the people. But though a supporter brought such a bill, it was quickly dismissed due to the inherent insult of voting on a minority’s civil rights. (Personally, I’d rather win at the polls that fight over whether its an insult to do so.)

The second path, the one favored by equality leaders in the state, is to continue building support one by one until we have the numbers to override a veto. That would require substantial Republican support and this would be held off until after the next primary to minimize conservative backlash.

The third possibility doesn’t appear likely, but it shouldn’t be written off. Governor Chris Christie is a politician, and politicians are susceptible to evolution.

Christie made his mark in the Republican Party by being hard nose on fiscal issues but being more progressive on social issues. He was the poster boy for supporting civil unions, a position that made him seem ahead of the curve. As the Party moves away from anti-gay hostility, he may find it necessary to move as well. It’s not a bet I’d take, but it’s not outside the realm if possible for the Governor to hold to his views but still find some way to allow marriage to become law.

* Hawaii - I’ve no idea why marriage hasn’t already become law.

I think it can be hardest sometimes in states in which one party dominates. In mega-red states, we have little hope (though i just made a case for Wyoming). But in all-blue states, its not always much better. There’s no reason for Democrats to show the voters the difference between them and Republicans, so they fell less pressure to live up to their potential.

I’m sure I’ve missed some state in there. And, of course, you have to always expect that something completely unexpected will happen.

Tomorrow I’ll try to provide an update for Europe and South America.

UPDATE:

Yesterday, a state representative in Hawaii filed a bill for marriage equality. She had no cosponsors. Also yesterday, 15 representatives filed a bill calling for a constitutional amendment banning equality. It was also introduced in the senate. Additionally, a state senator filed a pair of ‘take it to the people’ bills which would have voters choose to either allow or ban marriage in the constitution (he’s an opponent of equality). All in all, it looks dire for marriage in Hawaii.