Texas lesbian widow is plaintiff in Lambda Legal suit against Social Security Administration

Posted on 22 Oct 2014 at 2:53pm
Murphy and Barker

Kathy Murphy and Sara Barker

Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit today (Wednesday, Oct. 22) against the Social Security Administration on behalf of Kathy Murphy of Austin and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, claiming that the SSA’s decision to deny spousal benefits to Murphy after the death of her wife violates the U.S. Constitution. Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year in United States v. Windsor, in which the court struck down portions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that denied federal recognition to legally married same-sex couples, Lambda Legal attorneys argue that “SSA cannot perpetuate the same kind of discrimination now and leave lesbian and gay spouses without the financial protections of social security as they age,” according to a press statement the organization released this afternoon.

Murphy, 62, and Sara Barker had been together 30 years when they were legally married in Massachusetts in 2010, although they lived in Texas, a non-marriage-equality state. Barker died of cancer in March, 2012 at age 62. But because they lived in Texas, which does not legally recognize their marriage, SSA has refused to legally recognize their marriage, denying Murphy the spousal survivor benefits Barker had earned during her lifetime of work.

Following the SCOTUS ruling in the Windsor case last year, President Obama ordered the U.S. Attorney General’s office to work with other federal agencies and officials to implement the Windsor decision. In implementing that decision, the Department of Justice and most federal agencies depended on the law where a couple’s marriage took place — the “place of celebration” to determine whether the marriage was legal, rather then place where they lived. Under that standard, Murphy’s and Barker’s marriage should be legally recognized by the federal government.

Murphy applied to the SSA for surviving spouse benefits last year after the Windsor decision. But in June of this year, with Murphy’s application for benefits still pending, the Department of Justice announced that the SSA and the Department of Veterans Affairs viewed themselves as being prohibited by statute from using the “place of celebration” rule for certain programs, including the surviving spouse benefits program.

“SSA should not be telling widowed lesbians and gay men already grieving the loss of a spouse, ‘You live in the wrong state so you don’t get Social Security spousal benefits,’” said Susan Sommer, director of constitutional litigation for Lambda Legal. Sommer noted that the SSA is “relying on discriminatory state marriage bans declared unconstitutional by an avalanche of courts around the country” in denying spousal benefits to gay and lesbian widows and widowers.

Murphy noted that she and Barker “were blessed with nearly 32 years together,” and that they had taken care of each other “in all the ways any committed couple does — physically, emotionally and financially.”

“Sara wouldn’t have wanted me to be in a position like this. We promised to support each other as a couple and if one of us should pass away,” Murphy said. “We worked hard to close all the gaps before she died and now the federal government won’t do its part.”

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare is a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy organization dedicated to protecting Social Security for all generations and communities. Murphy is a member.

Max Richtman, the National Committee’s president and CEO, said, “There is no rational reason why a couple living in Texas or any other state should continue to face this type of discrimination, including the denial of Social Security spousal benefits they have earned through their working lifetimes. It’s past time to right this wrong.”

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Federal judge upholds Puerto Rico’s gay marriage ban

Posted on 22 Oct 2014 at 1:23pm

131024100102-puerto-rican-bonds-620xaA federal judge upheld Puerto Rico’s ban on same-sex marriage on Tuesday, Oct. 21.

According to the Los Angeles Times, U.S. District Judge Juan M. Pérez-Giménez based his decision on the dismissal of appeal in Baker v. Nelson, a 1971 case in which two men sought to marry in Minnesota. By dismissing the appeal, wrote Pérez-Giménez, ”the Supreme Court bound all lower courts to assume bans on same-sex marriage do not violate the Constitution. The high court could choose to overrule itself but has not.”

Evoking his inner Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.), he wrote legalizing same-sex marriage will lead to bestiality and to polyamorous and incestuous marriages.

“Ultimately,” he wrote, “the very survival of the political order depends upon the procreative potential embodied in traditional marriage.”

Talk about activist judges.

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Biking to City Hall with the City Council

Posted on 22 Oct 2014 at 10:26am

Five members of the Dallas City Council led a bike ride from Main Street Garden to Dallas City Hall this morning to highlight the city’s commitment to continuing construction of bike paths and bike lanes throughout the city.

Plans call for more than 1,000 miles of lanes and paths for bikes, with about 35 miles of that is currently under construction. Money has already been approved to extend the Trinity Strand Trail into Oak Lawn from Infomart to the Medical District.

More than 50 people rode with council members Dwaine Caraway, Jennifer Staubach Gates, Philip Kingston, Lee Kleinman and Adam Medrano. Councilman Scott Griggs — who was supposed to bring the doughnuts and coffee — joined the group for a press conference at City Hall. Thanks Scott.

Kleinman rode the farthest, coming from his Far North Dallas district. Kingston rode in a suit. Gates showed off her helmet hair and Caraway said his butt was still too big for his bike seat, but he has lost 35 pounds recently from bike riding.

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Jon Buice again denied parole in 1991 gay bashing murder

Posted on 21 Oct 2014 at 4:25pm
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Jon Christopher Buice

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted today, Tuesday, Oct. 21, to once again deny convicted killer Jon Christopher Buice’s request for parole.Buice, now 40 years old, was one of 10 men — ranging in age at the time from 16 to 22 — convicted of the 1991 murder of Paul Broussard, a Houston gay man who was beaten and stabbed to death after leaving a gay bar in the Montrose neighborhood on July 4.

It was Broussard’s murder that prompted then-Texas Gov. Ann Richards to call a special session of the Texas Legislature to pass the state’s first hate crimes law in 1993.

Andy Kahan, a victim advocate for the city of Houson, said Tuesday, “Since Jon made the deliberate conscious effort to deprive Paul of his life, all we can do in return is to deprive him of his liberty and today we at least accomplished that for another year.”

Dallas Voice is waiting for comments from Broussard’s mother, Nancy Rodriguez, who was worked diligently since her son’s death to see his killers convicted, and to keep Buice in jail.

Buice, who admitted at trial that he was the one that inflicted the stab wound that actually killed Broussard, was sentenced to 45 years in prison. He was denied parole in 2007 and in 2009. In 2011, the Board of Pardons and Parole initially granted Buice’s request for parole but then reversed its decision following an outcry by the LGBT community and Rodriguez.

Buice’s was denied parole again in 2012, 2013 and today. Raymond Estrada, spokesman for the Board of Pardons and Paroles, said the reason given for denying parole was “the nature of the offense.” He said Buice is up for review again on Oct. 1, 2015.

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BREAKING: Cowboys waive Michael Sam

Posted on 21 Oct 2014 at 2:39pm

michaelsam1From DallasCowboys.com:

The Cowboys have decided to waive defensive end Michael Sam.

The practice squad player who joined the team on Sept. 3, spent the first seven weeks of the season on the 10-man squad and never made it to the 53-man roster.

Sam, the first openly-gay player in the NFL, was a seventh-round draft pick of the Rams. He spent all of the offseason and training camp with the St. Louis before being released and signed to the Cowboys’ practice squad.

The move opens a spot for linebacker Troy Davis, a second-year pro from Central Florida who worked out with the team on Monday.

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Leticia Van de Putte visits Dallas tomorrow for rally

Posted on 20 Oct 2014 at 4:46pm

Leticia Van de PutteState Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, the Democrat running for lieutenant governor, will visit Dallas tomorrow, Tuesday, Oct. 21, at CWA Union Hall Local 6215, 1408 N. Washington from 6–9 p.m..

Van de Putte will be joined by Democratic candidates Carol Donovan and  Leigh Bailey, who are running competitive campaigns for two Dallas County Texas House seats, and by Dallas County Democratic Party Chair Darlene Ewing. The event is sponsored by the Dallas County Democratic Party and Dallas AFL-CIO.

Van de Putte, a staunch LGBT ally, was recently endorsed by every major newspaper editorial board in the state. She is running against Republican state Sen. Dan Patrick.

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Once and for all, the city of Dallas is not in a state of panic and has no reason to be

Posted on 20 Oct 2014 at 4:44pm
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Mayor Mike Rawlings, left, and County Judge Clay Jenkins

To hear Good Morning America tell it, “The city of Dallas is in a state of panic.” That piece of stupidity was how the show started one morning at the beginning of the media-driven Ebola panic and is the reason I no longer watch the show.

Here’s some of the things that went on in the city in a state of panic.

The State Fair of Texas —  which this weekend ended its run, roughly corresponding to the 21-day quarantine period for the family and neighbors of Thomas Duncan — set a record. Coupon sales were estimated at $41 million, up from last year’s $37.

Sounds like the city’s in a state of panic to me.

During the last three weeks, Southwest Airlines increased the number of cities it flies to from Love Field by 15 and increased daily flights to the city by 30. At the same time, Virgin America began flying from both coasts to Love Field.

That’s what happens during a panic — businesses expand and travel to the city increases.

Another good thing that happened over the past three weeks was just as an Ebola case was reported in Dallas, Gov. Rick Perry left the country. He spent the “Ebola crisis” in Europe, but that’s good news. Instead of having to deal with stupidity coming from the governor’s mansion, Mayor Mike Rawlings, County Judge Clay Jenkins and Dallas County HHS Director Zach Thompson only had to deal with stupidity and misquotes coming from national and local broadcast media.

The Dallas Morning News has done a good job covering Ebola. They’ve devoted quite a bit of space to getting out actual facts. Jacquielynn Floyd’s column on Ebolaphobia is brilliant.

But here’s something they did that seemed, well, peculiar: “Dr. Seema Yasmin answers Ebola questions on Twitter.”

If people have questions about Ebola — how you can catch it, how to prevent it, what precautions to take, why we should or shouldn’t panic while taking this dangerous and deadly virus seriously — how can anyone answer in 140 characters? If pages of articles don’t answer the questions, a tweet certainly won’t.

But I guess her column served a purpose. If people won’t read an article, maybe at least they’ll read a tweet — like this one: Hey, @MarkDavis, a travel ban won’t work. Happy to explain to you in person why it won’t work & how bad it would be for public health.

I guess her tweets do serve a good purpose — she’s using them to call out stupid. (Mark Davis is a local right-wing shock jock).

Here’s Rawlings’ message telling the rest of the world Dallas in not in a state of panic.

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Equality comes to the Equality State tomorrow

Posted on 20 Oct 2014 at 1:30pm

safe_imageEquality comes to Wyoming, whose nickname is The Equality State, on Tuesday, Oct. 21.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights brought suit against Wyoming to come into line with the rest of the Tenth Circuit after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear appeals from Utah and Oklahoma, also in that circuit.

The state announced that it would not appeal, clearing the way for marriages to begin at 10 a.m. on Tuesday.

Wyoming becomes marriage equality state No. 32 after AK, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DE, HI, ID, IA, IL, IN, ME, MD, MA, MN, NC, NH, NJ, NM, NV, NY, OK, OR, PA, RI, UT, VA, VT, WA, WV and WI, plus DC.

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Voting early with and nearly falling on Wendy Davis

Posted on 20 Oct 2014 at 12:13pm

I nearly fell on Sen. Wendy Davis at a press event this morning (see: second photo, sixth row). I was taking photos for the gallery below of the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, who was in Fort Worth to cast her vote on the first day of early voting. Of all the reporters, photojournalists and broadcast journalists there, clearly the staff writer at the LGBT publication would be the one to cause a scene.

I’d also like to apologize the Fox 4 News cameraman for bumping him multiple times.

Here are some photos of the rally in front of the Griffin Sub-Courthouse in southeast Fort Worth and from the press conference after she voted. Reporters were not allowed into the polling site.

If you see me at your voting location in the next few weeks, beware. I may fall on you.

Photos and text by James Russell.

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Elections 2014: Get ready, early voting begins today

Posted on 20 Oct 2014 at 10:45am

VOTEEarly voting begins today, Monday, Oct. 20, and runs through Friday, Oct. 31. There’s a whole lot on the ballot locally and statewide from contested races at the top of the ballot all the way down to local bond packages. Watch for coverage here at Instant Tea until Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 4.

But before I get to coverage, learn what you need below to vote per the Texas Secretary of State’s VoteTexas.gov, a clearinghouse of information on voting.

The deadline to register to vote in Texas has expired. But if you are registered, you must present one of seven valid forms of identification.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s  Saturday, Oct. 18 upheld the state’s voter ID law. This means Texas voters will be required to present one of seven types of photo identification to be eligible to vote.

The seven forms of identification permitted are:

  • Texas driver license—unexpired or expired no longer than 60 days at the time of voting
  • Texas personal identification card—unexpired or expired no longer than 60 days at the time of voting
  • Texas concealed handgun license—unexpired or expired no longer than 60 days at the time of voting
  • U.S. passport book or card—unexpired or expired no longer than 60 days at the time of voting
  • U.S. Military identification with photo—unexpired or expired no longer than 60 days at the time of voting
  • U.S. Citizenship Certificate or Certificate of Naturalization with photo
  • Election Identification Certificate (E.I.C.)

According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, if you do not have one of the first six forms of identification only then may you apply for the E.I.C. at no charge. (Getting to a D.P.S. location and standing in line is a whole different story, however.)

Learn more about the getting an E.I.C. here.

During the early voting period, you may vote at any designated voting site in your county.

On Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 4. you must vote at your precinct’s designated voting site.

Need more information?

Collin County 1-800-687-8546 co.collin.tx.us/elections

Dallas County 214-819-6300 dallascountyvotes.org

Denton County 940-349-3200 votedenton.com

Tarrant County 817-831-8683 tarrantcounty.com/eVote

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