BREAKING: Obama administration will no longer defend key provision of DOMA

President Barack Obama

U.S Attorney General Eric Holder has issued a statement saying the Obama admistration will no longer defend Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act because it believes the provision is unconstitutional.

Section 3, which defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman for federal purposes, was declared unconstitutional by a U.S. district judge last year, but the Justice Department appealed the decision. Holder’s statement means the Justice Department will no longer defend Section 3 of DOMA.

DOMA, passed in 1996, denies married same-sex couples more than 1,000 rights, benefits and responsibilities tied to marriage under federal law. These include Social Security survivors’ benefits, family and medical leave, equal compensation as federal employees, and immigration rights, among many others.

“This is a monumental decision for the thousands of same-sex couples and their families who want nothing more than the same rights and dignity afforded to other married couples,” Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said in a statement Wednesday. “As the President has stated previously, DOMA unfairly discriminates against Americans and we applaud him for fulfilling his oath to defend critical constitutional principles.”

HRC goes on to note that under federal law, the Obama administration must report its decision to Congress, where anti-gay lawmakers are likely to take up the defense of DOMA.

“Congressional leaders must not waste another taxpayer dollar defending this patently unconstitutional law,” Solmonese said. “The federal government has no business picking and choosing which legal marriages they want to recognize. Instead Congress should take this opportunity to wipe the stain of marriage discrimination from our laws.”

Today’s decision doesn’t mean Section 3 of DOMA has been repealed or will no longer be enforced. That would take a court ruling or an act of Congress. However, the announcement is consistent with Obama’s statements during his campaign, when he said he favored a full repeal of DOMA: “I support the full and unqualified repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act,” Obama said in 2007. “While some say we should repeal only part of the law, I believe we should get rid of that statute altogether.”

The full text of Holder’s statement is after the jump.

—  John Wright

Obama again mentions ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ in State of the Union, but not gay marriage

HRC welcomes comments; GetEQUAL sees missed opportunity

LISA KEEN | Keen News Service

President Barack Obama once again brought up the issue of gays in the military during his annual State of the Union address. Last year, he called for repeal of the federal law barring openly gay people from serving. This year, just a month after having signed a bill to repeal that law, the president urged universities which have barred military recruiters over the gay ban now allow recruiters back on campus.

“Our troops come from every corner of this country — they are black, white, Latino, Asian and Native American. They are Christian and Hindu, Jewish and Muslim. And, yes, we know that some of them are gay. Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love.”

That drew applause.

“And with that change,” continued Obama, “I call on all of our college campuses to open their doors to our military recruiters and the ROTC. It is time to leave behind the divisive battles of the past. It is time to move forward as one nation.”

That drew a brief standing ovation.

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese welcomed President Obama’s words concerning the repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell,” but added that “there remain a number of pressing issues for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community when it comes to economic security.”

“The President and Congress can do much more to ensure the economic empowerment of LGBT people including ending the unfair taxation of partner health benefits, prohibiting workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and ensuring that all married couples have access to the same federal benefits and protections for their families,” said Solmonese, in a statement released before the president delivered his address to Congress. “We look forward to working with this President and allies in Congress on the challenges ahead.”

But Robin McGehee, director of the activist group GetEQUAL, expressed disappointment.

“Tonight, President Obama missed an opportunity to lay out an agenda and strategy that continues progress made toward LGBT equality – removing the burden of being second-class citizens and acknowledging our families,” said McGehee, in a statement.

“Sadly, while national hero Daniel Hernandez sat with the First Lady to witness this historic speech, he did not have the luxury of sitting there as an equal – for that, our elected officials should be ashamed. It is time for the President to put the power of the White House behind the passage of legislation that would give the right of full federal equality to LGBT Americans. As a community, it is our promise and our obligation to continue the work of holding both the President and Congress accountable for the inalienable human rights, dignities, and freedoms we all deserve.”

He did not, as some LGBT activists had urged, set a new goal for Congress — repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act.

President Obama did include an openly gay man as one of his special guests in the House visitors’ gallery Tuesday night.

The man was Daniel Hernandez Jr., who was singled out by many news accounts as one of the heroes to take action during the Jan. 8 shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson. Hernandez, who was serving as an intern in Giffords’ Tucson office, rushed to her side and provided first aid that many have said saved the congresswoman’s life.

A number of Twitter messages from various people noted that Tuesday was also Hernandez’s 21st birthday. One Twitter message was from the account of Rep. Giffords, saying: “From the entire Giffords team: Happy 21st Birthday Daniel Hernandez! Sounds like you have fun plans tonight.”

CNN indicated it was the first Twitter message from Rep. Giffords’ account since she was critically injured in a shooting January 8. Giffords is still recovering from her wounds and is at a rehabilitation hospital in Houston.

Cameras scanning the gallery showed Hernandez early during the broadcast of the State of the Union. But Hernandez appeared to be standing near the back of the gallery, not seated near First Lady Michelle Obama, as expected.

In response to concerns about the hostile political environment, many members of Congress eschewed the usual seating arrangement of Republicans on one side and Democrats on the other, and sat together.

Three of the nine U.S. Supreme Court justices chose not to take seats at all and did not attend the State of the Union address. They were the three most conservative — Justices Antonin Scalia, Sam Alito, and Clarence Thomas.

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

—  John Wright

Reactions to DADT repeal signing

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese:

“Today gay and lesbian patriots serving their country in silence, and thousands more who wish to serve the country they love, can breathe a sigh of relief that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is on its way out. Soon, all service members will be able to serve with the full honesty and integrity the uniform demands.  No more careers will come to an end because of an unjust law.  ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ has weakened our military readiness and is now on its way to the dustbin of history.

“After 17 years of this failed and discriminatory law, a stain has been removed from our nation.  This historic day would not be possible without the leadership of President Obama, Defense Secretary Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen.  In the U.S. House of Representatives, we are grateful to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and Rep. Patrick Murphy for their dogged determination. And in the U.S. Senate, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Sens. Joe Lieberman, Susan Collins, Kirsten Gillibrand and Mark Udall will go down in history as champions of this national security measure. Through their leadership, they have made our nation more secure and restored honesty and integrity as core values of our military.

“It’s now incumbent on the president and the Pentagon to act expeditiously so that the final nail can be put in the coffin of this unjust and discriminatory law.”

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey:

“We celebrate this historic day, when our country has honored the principles of fairness and justice it holds so dearly. This is a tremendous victory. We thank all those who fought for and supported an end to the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy — they truly are on the right side of history. Seventeen years of witch hunts under this policy have cost thousands of exemplary service members their careers, once again proving there are very personal and costly consequences of discrimination. This cannot end fast enough. Our entire country benefits when fairness prevails, when qualified and patriotic service members no longer have to fear being targeted by their own government, when courageous men and women are able to serve openly and honestly. We thank President Obama for signing this critical legislation and now call upon him as commander in chief, and his top military leaders, to swiftly lead us through to full implementation.”

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis:

“In signing this bill today, President Obama delivered on a defining civil rights measure for our country and for gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members who have been silenced for far too long. Clearly, this is President Obama’s Lyndon Johnson moment in history. A measure of dignity has been restored to thousands of service members on active duty, and to over a million gay veterans who served in silence. This historic moment is about those service members and their service.

“President Obama was decisive and forceful in steering the course as he brought along critical stakeholders, including the Defense Department. Now, it’s on to finishing the job at the Pentagon. Troops remain at risk under the law. We respectfully renew our call for Secretary Gates to use his authority to suspend all ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ investigations and discharges during this limbo period. Until there is certification and until the 60-day implementation period must be wrapped up no later than the first quarter of 2011.

“This victory would not have been possible without several tenacious Congressional leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy. In the Senate we saw remarkable determination by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Chairman Carl Levin and Senators Lieberman, Mark Udall, Gillibrand, Collins and so many others.”

—  John Wright

Reax to Pentagon report on ‘don’t ask don’t tell’

Here are some reactions to the Pentagon study on “don’t ask don’t tell” released this afternoon. We’ve posted the full text of the study below.

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese:

“This issue has been studied for fifty years, including by the military itself, and the results from over twenty-two studies are uniform: open service does not harm effectiveness. The small handful of Senators blocking repeal no longer have any fig leaves behind which to hide. The time for repeal is now. …

“America’s men and women in uniform are professionals who already serve with gays and lesbians and repeal will do nothing to change their dedication to protecting our nation,” said Solmonese. “Senators who said they want to hear from military leaders and troops now have their answers.  Repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ will allow every qualified man and woman to serve without sacrificing the high standards that have made our military great.”

Servicemembers United Executive Director Alex Nicholson:

“This thorough and comprehensive report makes clear to lawmakers and the American people once and for all that the U.S. military is capable of handling the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ The questions are now answered and the debate is now settled. It’s now up to the Senate to bring the defense authorization bill back to the floor, allow 10 to 20 amendments to be debated on each side, and get this bill passed. We have the votes now if the process is fair.”

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis:

“This exhaustive report is overwhelmingly positive and constructive. The Pentagon validated what repeal advocates and social scientists have been saying about open service for over a decade. Still, some initial resistance may come from one or more of the service chiefs — the very leaders who will be charged with  implementing this change. Those chiefs will need to salute and lead in bringing about this needed change. Fortunately, the chiefs have already made it clear they will do precisely that if Congress acts. Now, it’s up to the Senate to make repeal happen this year.”

—  John Wright

More bad news from Election Night: 3 Iowa judges who backed marriage equality are defeated

Tena Callahan

Among the Democrats in Dallas County who hung on to their seats on Tuesday was State District Family Court Judge Tena Callahan, who in 2009 boldly declared Texas’ bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. Callahan defeated Republican opponent Julie Reedy by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent, and her landmark decision didn’t appear to have hurt her at all at the polls.

However, the news was not so good for three Supreme Court judges in Iowa who ruled in favor of marriage equality in 2009. The three were all defeated in retention elections on Tuesday, after being targeted by the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage.

NOM spent $600,000 on TV ads and a 45-county bus tour targeting the Iowa justices. Despite their defeat, though, LGBT groups noted that same-sex marriage remains legal in Iowa.

“By their own admission, NOM’s Iowa strategy was about sending a warning shot to judges nationwide,” Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said in a statement. “NOM and its secret donors will continue to target judges around the country if they rule in favor of marriage equality and will foster an anti-gay, hostile environment in the process.”

Lambda Legal, which brought the lawsuit that resulted in the Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, had this to say about the result:

“Let’s be clear about what happened in Iowa and what didn’t happen: Three skilled jurists lost their jobs, but the Court’s ruling in the case allowing same-sex couples to marry is still the law of the land, enshrined in the Iowa Constitution. Same-sex couples continue to marry in Iowa. Antigay groups have lost on the big issue — equality — and they are attacking our courts for protecting it.

“This spiteful campaign is a wake-up call to future voters who must resist attempts to politicize the courts. It is the responsibility of us all to protect the system of checks and balances that defines our democracy, and it continues to be our responsibility at Lambda Legal to make our case for equality, not just before judges, but in the court of public opinion.

“We are angry, but we also take the long view: The Iowa Supreme Court delivered justice that will outlast this political fight by upholding the Iowa Constitution’s guarantee of equality for all Iowans. Seven jurists were posed a question by people who had been denied basic fairness guaranteed by the state constitution. The judges did their jobs with integrity – as they must.

“But the result in Iowa shines a light on a dangerous agenda to undermine the democratic system of checks and balances that has served us well for over 200 years. If an embattled judiciary were to lose its ability to protect our laws and constitution with impartiality, that would be a tragic loss for our country. We can’t let that happen.”

—  John Wright

HRC releases statement on Asher Brown’s suicide; bullied gay teen in California dies

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese issued the following statement Wednesday morning on the suicide of Asher Brown, the 13-year-old from Houston who took his life after enduring months of anti-gay bullying at his middle school:

“We feel for Asher’s family during this sad time. This young man had a wonderful life ahead of him, but he was ‘bullied to death’ because he was gay. This tragedy was preventable. School officials must act when kids are tormented and bullied. All students deserve to be treated with dignity and respect which is why HRC urges school districts and state legislatures everywhere to implement enumerated anti-bullying policies and laws that that protect all students.”

Equality Texas has issued an action alert calling on people to contact their state legislators and urge them to pass safe schools legislation that protects LGBT youth. Also, Change.org has posted a petition addressed to officials in the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District.

Also, a gay 13-year-old in California has died after nine days on life support, after attempting suicide in response to years of anti-gay bullying. Seth Walsh, 13, who hung himself from a tree in his back yard on Sept. 19, died Tuesday afternoon. No charges have been filed.

—  John Wright

HRC counters Target money in Minn.

MARTIGA LOHN  |  Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. — A Democratic-backed political fund, a Minnesota gay rights organization and Democratic candidates will split a $150,000 donation as part of a push to elect gay marriage supporters in the state, after Target Corp. donated the same amount to a Republican-friendly group.

Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese told The Associated Press in an interview Friday, Sept. 10 that the donation is partly a response to Target’s donation to a group helping Republican Tom Emmer in the governor’s race. Emmer opposes gay marriage, and the Target contribution set off a national backlash among liberals and the retailer’s gay employees and customers.

The Washington-based gay rights organization may spend more in Minnesota, which Solmonese said he views as one of the next states that could legalize gay marriage. Solmonese was set to deliver the keynote speech at the Human Rights Campaign’s annual Twin Cities dinner in Minneapolis on Saturday.

“We’ve understood long before the Target situation that Minnesota was poised, as is New York, to be the next state to win marriage equality,” Solmonese said.

He added: “The scope of our work here is certainly going to move beyond the $150,000.”

The Human Rights Campaign will give $100,000 to WIN Minnesota, a political fund backing Democrat Mark Dayton; $20,000 to the gay rights group OutFront Minnesota to mobilize voters; and $30,000 to state candidates, including Dayton. The group announced its plans to give the money last month after Target declined to match its initial donation with another donation to help candidates who support gay rights.

Solmonese said the Minnesota donation excludes funds given separately to Democratic congressional candidates from the state, including Rep. Tim Walz and Tarryl Clark, who is challenging GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann.

—  John Wright

If Senate doesn’t vote on DADT repeal in September, it may not happen for several years

Both the Human Rights Campaign and the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network issued action alerts Thursday warning that if the Senate doesn’t take up the National Defense Authorization Act soon, the repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell” will be in serious danger.

“If the defense budget bill doesn’t move to the Senate floor by the end of this month, DADT repeal may not happen for several more years,” SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis said.

HRC on Thursday announced a National Call-In Day for DADT Repeal on Friday:

“While many believe repeal of this odious law is a foregone conclusion, the real truth is that this is not yet a done deal,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “If the more than 75 percent of fair-minded Americans who recognize this as a failed law do not speak up, a small group of Senators with their own narrow political agendas could win out.”

Congress returns Monday from their August recess and will have only several weeks of work before breaking again for the upcoming November elections.  Senate leaders have indicated that the defense bill — to which “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal is attached — is on a list of possible bills on which they may vote.

“We’ve had to fight to the end for every victory we’ve won, and this is no different,” added Solmonese. “If we don’t speak up now, our window for repeal could close.”

HRC will launch a full national action alert tomorrow encouraging members and supporters to contact their Senators immediately and ask that they push for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the next four weeks.

Here in Texas, we know that calling our senators is futile. As an alternative, SLDN suggests for everyone to call these key senators:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV)
(202) 224-3542

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
(202) 224-2541

Senator John McCain (R-AZ)
(202) 224-2235

—  John Wright

HRC calls on RNC’s Steele to repudiate anti-gay language in Texas GOP platform

Well the original story may not have been news, but the fact that it’s making such big news is arguably news, and the fact that people are trying to do something about it is definitely news. Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese sent out an e-mail earlier today asking people to sign a petition calling on Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele to repudiate anti-gay language in the Texas GOP platform. Here’s what the petition says:

Chairman Steele, I urge you to publicly reject the anti-LGBT language in the Texas Republican Party Platform. This kind of hateful rhetoric has no place in our political discourse. Unless the RNC endorses the Texas GOP’s positions, it is up to you to repudiate them.

The other news here, of course, is that HRC sent out a mass e-mail that appears to be accurate.

Read DV columnist Hardy Haberman’s piece on the GOP platform from tomorrow’s paper by going here.

—  Dallasvoice