With AIDS funding at risk, Boehner triples budget to defend DOMA

Today I got an “action alert” email from AIDS United and AIDS Interfaith Network, urging me to call my senators and representatives today and urge them to vote against any legislation that would create drastic cuts in federal funds for “essential programs” for people with HIV/AIDS.

House Speaker John Boehner

The email noted that a special congressional committee is working right now on a plan to reduce the deficit, and that cuts to programs like Medicaid, Medicare, Ryan White CARE Act, food stamp programs and unemployment benefits could be on the chopping block. “Cutting these programs will make things worse, not better. People will be hurt and access to life-saving HIV care will be lost,” the email said.

I found the email in the inbox about the same time I found an email from the National Minority AIDS Council pointing out that less than a week after the House Appropriations Committee proposed slashing funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention‘s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention by $32.7 million, and cutting the Prevention and Public Health Fund by an amazing $1 billion, Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner has tripled the House’s budget for defending the Defense of Marriage Act, legislation that prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, even though performed in jurisdictions that do legally recognize them.

Back in March, Boehner decided that the House of Representatives, under Republican control, would hire a law firm to defend DOMA in court, originally budgeting President Obama had announced in February that he was instructing the Justice Department to no longer defend the law in court, because at least part of DOMA — the part which denies legal federal recognition and benefits to same-sex couples who have been married in jurisdictions with gay marriage is legally recognized — is unconstitutional under the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

That decision came after federal district judges had declared DOMA unconstitutional in two separate lawsuits.

It’s bad enough that Boehner and the Republicans in the House feel the need to spend up to $750,000, as per the initial agreement, to hire someone to defend such an unjust law in the first place. Doing so while at the same time threatening to force the country to default on its debts instead raising the debt ceiling was unconscionable. And now, as thebudget crunch continues and Tea Party Republicans continue to complain about the country’s debt and refuse to consider revenue increases, Boehner and his merry band have decided to up the limit they will pay Kircher to defend DOMA to $1.5 million.

Daniel C. Montoya, deputy executive director of the National Minority AIDS Council, said: “I urge Speaker Boehner to reconsider his decision. 56,000 Americans are infected with HIV each year. More than half of those were among gay and bisexual men. Spending taxpayer money to delegitimize relationships that have been shown to promote healthier lifestyles is antithetical to American values, contrary to the conservative belief in limited government and detrimental to public health. In this time of fiscal and economic strife, certainly the Speaker and his colleagues can find better ways to spend this money.”

Montoya also suggested that Boehner’s decision raises “serious questions about his purported commitment to fiscal responsibility.” Yeah, ya think? If you agree and want to express your opinion to your representatives in Congress, you can call, toll free, 1-888-907- 1485.

—  admin

DOMA under assault but still potent

Controversy over federal marriage ban creates rollercoaster ride for same-sex couples living with real-world consequences

DAVID CRARY  |  Associated Press

NEW YORK — These are frustrating, tantalizing days for many of the same-sex couples who seized the chance to marry in recent years.

The law that prohibits federal recognition of their unions in under assault in the courts. The Obama administration has repudiated it and taken piecemeal steps to weaken its effects.

Yet for now, the Defense of Marriage Act remains very much in force — provoking anger, impatience and confusion among gay couples.

Because of DOMA, some binational couples still worry about deportation of the non-citizen spouse. Survivor benefits aren’t granted after one spouse dies. And couples filing joint tax returns in the states allowing same-sex marriage must still file separately this month with the IRS.

Said Brian Sheerin, who wed his partner six years ago in Massachusetts, “There are times I feel like a third-class citizen.”

When DOMA was passed overwhelmingly by Congress in 1996, and signed by President Bill Clinton, it was a pre-emptive strike. There were no legally married same-sex couples in the United States.

Since 2004, however, thousands of gays and lesbians have married as Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Iowa and the District of Columbia legalized same-sex unions. Many others have wed in foreign countries.

“What was once theoretical now has practical effects that people can see, that can’t be explained other than as discrimination,” said Jon Davidson, legal director of the gay-rights group Lambda Legal. “There are people who’ve been married six years who are increasingly getting impatient.”

The controversy around DOMA creates an emotional rollercoaster for same-sex couples.

Last July, for example, many of them rejoiced when a federal judge in Massachusetts ruled that the act was an unconstitutional infringement on equality for same-sex couples.

There was more elation in February, when President Barack Obama ordered his administration to stop defending the law in the still-pending Massachusetts case and several other lawsuits. Yet no one knows when these cases will finally be resolved.

Last month, there was a flurry of excitement among binational gay couples when a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services spokesman indicated that cases would be “held in abeyance” while broader legal issues were reviewed. Hopes soared that this would mean a halt in deportations of foreigners married to gay Americans, but within two days the federal agency said there would be no policy change.

“It’s gut-wrenching to go through the ups and downs,” said Doug Gentry, whose Venezuelan spouse, Alex Benshimol, faces a deportation hearing in July.

They briefly hoped the case would be put on hold — but now have been notified that an application for permanent residency for Benshimol has been denied.

“I’ve had the rug pulled out from under me so many times,” Gentry said. “You’re so used to getting your hopes up, only to get them dashed, that you almost don’t want to hope.”

The couple, who married last year in Connecticut after six years as partners, run a pet grooming business in Palm Springs, Calif.

“I don’t feel we’re different from any other family,” said Gentry, 53. “I don’t want to be forced to stay with my husband by going into exile, and leaving my home, my business and my country behind.”

DOMA also complicates life for U.S. citizen Edwin Blesch and his South African husband, Tim Smulian, who married in Cape Town in 2007.

Unlike some gay binational couples, in which the foreigner overstays a visa, Smulian has abided by the terms of tourist visas which limit him to six months annually in the U.S. That means that to be together, the two retirees must uproot themselves from their comfortable home on the northeast tip of Long Island and spend half the year abroad.

“It’s a great personal, financial and medical inconvenience,” said Blesch, 70, who has had past health problems, faces surgery this spring and relies on the care that Smulian provides him.

Both men believe DOMA is doomed to be struck down by the courts or repealed by Congress, but Blesch says the endgame could take years.

“It will be a long process,” he said. “I might be sitting in a rocking chair in a nursing home by then — or dead.”

For men and women whose same-sex spouse has died, DOMA can prevent the payment of Social Security or Veterans Administration survivor benefits that would be paid out to heterosexual widows and widowers.

In California, 77-year-old Ron Wallen worries that he might be unable to afford staying in the home near Palm Springs that he and his partner of 58 years, Tom Carrollo, had shared before Carrollo’s death in March.

The two men married in June 2008, during a brief window where same-sex marriage was legal in California. But now DOMA prevents Wallen from receiving Carrollo’s Social Security survivor benefits, and he’s living only on his own $900-a-month Social Security check — about half of what Carrollo had been receiving.

“It would seem to smack the constitution in the face,” Wallen said of DOMA. “It hurts like hell.”

In Cheshire, Conn., retired school teacher Andrew Sorbo is in similar straits. His husband, Colin Atterbury, who died in May 2009, had been a federal employee at a nearby veteran’s hospital, and DOMA prevents Sorbo from receiving his VA pension.

The two men had entered into a civil union in Vermont in 2004, then married in Connecticut in January 2009 as Atterbury became ill with pancreatic cancer.

“80 percent of our household income disappeared when he died,” said Sorbo, 64. “It’s a betrayal of the ideals I used to teach my students … I know there isn’t justice for all.”

Though Connecticut is a relatively liberal state — with same-sex marriage now causing little controversy — Sorbo said many people he encounters are unfamiliar with DOMA.

“They have no idea how gay people are not getting the same rights they are,” he said. “It passes them by.”

He expects DOMA to be overturned eventually in court. “But they’ll never make it retroactive,” he said. “So for me it’s too late.”

Brian Sheerin says DOMA cost him and his husband, Ken Weissenberg, tens of thousands of dollars in extra taxes when they sold a home four years ago in order to move to Bedford, N.Y. A heterosexual married couple would have been able pocket $500,000 of the sale price before capital gains taxes kicked in, he said, but they were listed as “single” and taxed on proceeds over $250,000.

“That still sticks in my craw,” said Sheerin, 51, who married Weissenberg in Massachusetts in 2005.

He recalled returning with their two adopted daughters from a family vacation in Mexico to encounter a U.S. immigration officer who wanted Sheerin and Weissenberg to go through the entry point separately. The officer eventually relented, but the elder daughter took note.

“She asked, `Why did they do that?”’ Sheerin recalled.

DOMA’s future is uncertain. Democrats in Congress have introduced legislation to repeal it, but that effort is considered a long-shot while Republicans control the House. The pending court challenges could lead eventually to a Supreme Court decision on DOMA’s constitutionality — but that process, if it happens at all, could take several years.

DOMA’s foes are heartened by several recent opinion polls showing, for the first time, that more than half of Americans are ready to accept legal same-sex marriage. They hope this shift will reinforce the legal arguments against DOMA — notably that it creates an unwarranted exception to the historical federal policy of recognizing marriages of couples legally wed in the states.

“This exception denies thousands of legally married couples and their families the critical safety net that only marriage brings,” says Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry. “Perhaps worst of all, this is discrimination by the government itself, hurting families without helping anyone.”

One question is how DOMA will be defended in the pending court cases.

With the Obama administration now refusing to perform that task, the GOP leadership in the House says it will intervene to defend DOMA in court, but details remain sketchy. The Human Rights Campaign, a leading gay-rights group, has written to 200 of the country’s top law firms urging them not to take up the case on behalf of the House.

Joe Kapp, a Washington-based financial planner, said the uncertain status of DOMA has added to the challenges of advising his large gay clientele.

“The changes taking place are exciting, but there’s a lot of flux, and conflicting ways in which the administration is looking at relationships,” he said. “For now, couples probably should continue to assume that they will be recognized as strangers in the eyes of the law.”

Some activists are urging a more confrontational approach. A “Refuse to Lie” petition has been circulating on the Internet — promoted by various gay-rights groups — encouraging married gay couples to file joint federal tax returns in defiance of DOMA.

“The federal government’s refusal to recognize our marriages is blatant discrimination and we will not play along by lying on our tax returns and pretending we are single,” the petition says. “The government has chosen to discriminate and we choose to expose their bigotry by refusing to lie.”

At the bottom of the declaration is a disclaimer suggesting those who join the campaign consult an attorney for legal advice.

At least a half-dozen legal challenges of DOMA are pending, and the advocacy group Immigration Equality is laying the groundwork for an additional lawsuit focused on the plight of binational couples.

Meanwhile, several Democrats in Congress are urging federal immigration authorities to halt deportation cases affecting such couples.

“I recently applauded the president’s decision to order his Justice Department to stop defending DOMA in federal court,” said Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif. “In that same spirit, he should now order his Homeland Security Department to halt all deportations until we find the courage to kill this unconstitutional law.”

The administration already has taken some steps to ease DOMA’s impact, such as requiring executive branch agencies to extend benefits to same-sex domestic partners of federal employees.

On April 1, the Department of Health and Human Services advised states that they can henceforth treat gay couples — whether married or in domestic partnerships — similarly to straight couples with respect to benefit programs. For example, Medicaid has exemptions to avoid forcing a healthy spouse to give up the family home and retirement savings in order to qualify a spouse for long-term care; that protection will now be permissible for sex-same as well as heterosexual couples.

The incremental moves have been welcomed by activists, but don’t prevent impatience.

Said Jon Davidson, “Now that even the administration admits DOMA is unconstitutional, that has people wondering why it’s still there.”

—  John Wright

Tips for gay couples as tax time approaches

Tax laws weren’t written with LGBT families in mind, but there are ways to make them work for you

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

A new tax ruling in California that appears to be a first step toward federal recognition of same-sex marriage will actually cost gay and lesbian couples there more money, according to Jon Chester of Sterling Bookkeeping and Tax Service.

In that ruling, the IRS said that registered domestic partners in that state must file as married filing separately.

“Married filing separately is the worst way to file a return,” Chester said. “We’re going to recognize you, but we’re going to have you file in the worst way a married couple can file.”

Ron Allen

Married filing jointly, he said, usually saves the most money and that filing is something same-sex couples cannot do on their federal taxes.

The so-called marriage penalty has been eliminated because a married couple gets to deduct twice the amount of a single person.

“But married tax brackets are much wider and save,” he said, so married couples filing jointly enjoy a tax advantage.

Chester had some other tips for same-sex couples in filing their returns.

He said that to take anything other than a standard deduction of $5,400, you must itemize.

Those deductions include property tax, charitable donations and medical expenses.

Chester said that if you support someone, you could take a deduction for that person.

Married couples who are recognized by the federal government regularly take deductions for dependents. He said gay people often do not think of that.

The person might be a child or a domestic partner. Chester suggested deducting for a parent that you support, even if that person doesn’t live with you. A parent in assisted living whose monthly bills you pay, for example, qualifies as a dependent.

He said it’s usually better for the partner making less money to claim any investment income and for the partner making more money to take any losses. The amounts can also be allocated proportionally, as long as no more than the total is claimed between the couple.

Jon Chester

Ron Allen, a CPA who used to work for the Internal Revenue Service, said that when a same-sex couple is sharing ownership and deductions on property, do three things to make the tax return audit-proof. Make sure both names are on the deed and on the mortgage and make payments from a joint account.

He said that for an account to be considered joint for tax purposes, both partners should make deposits into the account during the year. He suggested that even couples that kept their finances separate should make common household payments from a joint account.

Allen said that tax laws were not written with same-sex families in mind, but we must fit the laws to work for our families.

For instance, Allen asked, who deducts a dependent child when Texas doesn’t recognize a second parent adoption? He said that he has seen a number of cases where the adoptive parent stays at home and the non-adoptive parent earns most of the household income.

The non-adoptive parent may take deductions for the partner and child but will bear an extra burden of proof that married couples don’t need.

Allen said that when he went into business, he saw same-sex couples that used his practice because it was a safe place to reveal their relationship status. Now, he said, many of his clients come to him because tax preparers outside the community don’t know what to do with same-sex families.

Allen said that CPAs now are included in confidentiality rules. If one partner brings him tax returns for both members of the couple, he legally cannot answer any questions about the partner’s returns unless he has a power of attorney or a signed document.

“It’s just another case of us having to do something special,” he said. “A husband and wife don’t have to do these things.”

Couples dealing with issues of joint home ownership or other joint assets, adoption and disability and dependency issues should see a CPA who is experienced in handling these issues for the LGBT community, Allen said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 25, 2011.

—  John Wright

Early voting begins today for midterm elections, with plenty at stake for the LGBT community

Many LGBT advocates and activists were thrilled two years ago when Barack Obama — a man who said he supported legal federal recognition of same-sex civil unions, passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” and who pledged to be a “fierce advocate” for the LGBT community — was elected president.

Since President Obama was taking office at a time when the Democratic Party — which tends to be, overall, more progressive on LGBT issues — controlled both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate, LGBT advocates were looking forward to seeing big progress very quickly. And in fact, Obama has included a number of LGBT and LGBT-supportive individiuals in his administration. He did issue an executive order that granted partner benefits to LGBT federal employees. He did sign into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Law (one of the top priority issues on the LGBT community’s list for several years).

But many of those same activists who were so tickled to see Obama elected have begun losing faith that the president has a real commitment to LGBT equality. ENDA continues to languish. Repeal of DADT went down in flames in the Senate and lesbian and gay servicemembers continue to be discharged. And the Department of Justice, under the Obama administration, has continued to appeal court rulings favorable to the LGBT community on issues like DADT and the Defense of Marriage Act.

Perhaps, many feel, the “fierce advocate” isn’t so fiercely on our side, after all. And yet, would a Republican-controlled Congress make it any easier to get our issues fairly addressed? Democrats warn that not only would we make no further progress with the Republicans in charge, we might also lose some of advances we have made so far.

However you feel about it, the midterm elections next month will undoubtedly have a huge impact on the future of efforts like passage of ENDA and DADT. Many pundits expect the Republicans to win control of at least the House of Representatives, if not both the House AND the Senate.

And that’s not even taking into account the importance of races from the county level on up to the state level, where Republican incumbent Rick Perry is fighting a hard battle against Democratic challenger Bill White in the race for Texas governor. And what about the Texas Legislature? Will the LGBT community have enough allies there to pass a safe schools bill that would address anti-gay bullying, or to at least fend off recurring efforts to keep same-sex couples from adopting or being foster parents?

Those are just a few of the races that will be determined in this election, and all of them impact our community in some way. And your vote can make the difference when it comes to who will represent you in county, state and federal government.

Election Day isn’t until Nov. 2. But early voting starts today. Dallas Morning News reported today that Dallas County residents appear to be voting at a higher pace than the last midterm elections four years ago, and that Dallas County Elections Administrator Bruce Sherbet is predicting an overall turnout of about 40 percent this year.

So why not go on and vote now and avoid the Election Day rush?

Do you need to know where to go to early vote? Are you wondering which precinct or district you are in? Do you know if your voter’s registration is still valid? There are online sites that can help.

If you live in Dallas County, go here for information on early voting sites and hours and for information about who represents you, specifically, at the county, state and federal levels. That same information is available for Tarrant County residents here. The state of Texas also has a site with information for voters, and you can find it here.

And if you don’t live in Dallas or Tarrant counties, just do a search online for your county’s elections site.

Remember, our government is supposed to be “of the people, by the people and for the people.” But if you want your voice to count, then you have to vote.

—  admin

Tennessee DMV refuses to give woman a driver’s license with new last name after her legal same-sex marriage in D.C.

The full faith and credit clause of the U.S. Constitution says that each state has to respect the “public acts, records and judicial proceedings” of the other states in this country. Traditionally, that has been understood to include legally contracted marriages. But, of course, Congress in 1996 passed the Defense of Marriage Act — or DOMA — which says the federal government will not recognize legal same-sex marriages and which allows individual states to refuse to  recognize legal same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions.

So, we get situations like this, documented by WUSA9.com in in Washington, D.C.:

Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) has challenged that portion of DOMA that prohibits federal recognition of legal same-sex marriages, and a decision is pending in a Massachusetts court in that case. And of course, a decision is also pending in a California federal court in the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the California constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

There are other arguments for giving federal recognition to same-sex marriages and for requiring all states to recognize a legally contracted same-sex marriage from any state. Some arguments are based on the Constitution’s equal protection clause; some involve separation of church and state. And of course, there’s the basic idea of fairness — you know, that whole “liberty and justice for all” thing?

Who knows how it’s all going to wind up. But I am pretty sure it is going to take a U.S. Supreme Court ruling to settle it one way or another. And even that might not be the final word. One thing I do know, until it is settled, we’re going to keep hearing stories like Traci Turpin’s. And that is not fair.

—  admin