What’s Shakin’ – Wings of Desire at MFAH, IRS to allow deductions for gender transition

Wings of Desire1. If you’re a fan of German films that are partially in French, the film oeuvre of Peter Faulk and sexy trapeze artists with existential angst then “Wings of Desire” is your kind of flick.  The 1987 Wim Wenders masterpiece tells the story of an Angel (Bruno Ganz) who, after watching humanity since the dawn of time, desires to become human so he can be with the woman he loves. “Wings of Desire” screens tonight at 7 pm at the Museum of Fine Art Houston (1001 Bissonnet).

2. Transgender Americans who undergo hormone therapy or receive gender realignment surgery may now be able to deduct the costs of those treatments on their taxes. According to GLAD, the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, the IRS has issued an “action on decision” statement saying that the agency will acquiesce to an appeals court ruling allowing the deductions. GLAD cautions that medical deductions can still be audited and encourages anyone planning to deduct cost of transition medical expenses to rigorously document the medical necessity of treatments and consult with a tax professional when preparing return

3. Election day is tomorrow. If you’re one of the 58,345 people in Harris County who voted early, then good for you.  If not, you’ll want to visit HarrisVotes.org and find out where to go to cast your ballot.  Polls open at 7 am on Tuesday and close at 7 pm sharp.

—  admin

Groups hope couples, lawyers will take the parenting pledge

New guidelines for same-sex parenting and custody aimed at stopping LGBTs from denying parental rights to ex-partners

Mary-Bonauto
GLAD’S MARY BONAUTO | (Photo courtesy InfinityPortraitDesign.com)

Dana Rudolph  |  Keen News Service
lisakeen@me.com

Some of the most contentious lawsuits involving the rights of LGBT people have occurred when the biological parent of a child uses anti-LGBT laws to try and deny the child’s non-biological parent custody or visitation.

But several LGBT legal organizations have published a revised set of standards aimed at stopping such behavior, and they’re hoping parents and attorneys will take a pledge to abide by them.

The publication is “Protecting Families: Standards for LGBT Families,” produced by Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and NCLR’s National Family Law Advisory Council. It encourages lawyers to support and respect LGBT parents even when legal rights do not, and advises parents and lawyers to honor children’s relationships with both parents, seek custody resolutions that minimize conflict, and use litigation only as a last resort.

Mary Bonauto, the director of GLAD’s Civil Rights Project, authored the original version of the standards in 1999. She said the intent of the document is to urge same-sex parents to use whatever parental protections are available in their states, “for the sake of your children.”

These protections may assist with issues such as medical decision-making, but may also help maintain both parents’ relationships with the children when the couple breaks up.

The revised document is updated to reflect new laws in several states recognizing the relationships of same-sex couples, whether through marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships. But it cautions that same-sex parents should not rely on such laws to protect their parental relationships with their children.

“[W]e still have a huge architecture of discrimination against same-sex relationships,” said Bonauto. Many states do not recognize them at all or may not treat them in the same way as opposite-sex relationships. This may jeopardize the relationships of non-biological, non-adoptive parents to their children.

Even in Massachusetts, the first state to allow same-sex couples to marry, courts may not look favorably upon a non-biological parent who has not also done a “second-parent adoption” of a spouse’s biological child, she said.

“There are still very parent-specific protections you should try to avail yourself of,” said Bonauto.

Some protections may be available even in states that have constitutional bans against marriage for same-sex couples.

If parents do break up, Bonauto said, going to court is damaging financially and emotionally. And it can destroy the couple’s ability to work together as parents.

There have been a number of recent cases across the country in which a biological or adoptive parent has tried to claim the other parent has no parental rights. Best known among them is the case of Janet Jenkins and Lisa Miller, which has grabbed headlines nationally.

Miller, the biological mother, asked courts in both Virginia and Vermont to deny Jenkins visitation and custody, and has taken issues to the U.S. Supreme Court five times, without success each time.

Miller was eventually ruled in contempt of court for defying a Vermont court order that she allow Jenkins visitation. The court then granted legal custody to Jenkins.

But Miller went into hiding with the girl at the end of 2009, and a man accused of helping her leave the U.S. was arraigned in a federal court last April.

Many similar cases exist, and the outcomes have been mixed.

The Delaware Supreme Court issued a ruling in March upholding the right of a woman to be identified as a de facto parent of a child she had been raising with her former same-sex partner — a child the partner adopted but that the woman herself did not.

The Nebraska Supreme Court in August ruled that a non-biological mom has a right, under the doctrine of in loco parentis — which recognizes a person who acts as a parent — to a custody and visitation hearing regarding the child she and her former partner were raising together.

But the North Carolina Supreme Court in December 2010 voided a lesbian mother’s second-parent adoption. The majority on the court said state statutes permit adoptions only if the existing parent gives up all parental rights or is married to the person seeking to adopt, as in the case of a stepparent.

Other cases with biological mothers trying to deny parental rights to non-biological mothers have reached the appellate or state supreme court levels in the past few years in states including Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin — again with mixed results.

In several of these cases, notably Miller v. Jenkins, attorneys from conservative legal organizations such as Liberty Counsel and the Alliance Defense Fund have represented the biological mothers.

“They are making an industry of it,” Bonauto noted of the groups. But many individual, private attorneys, including ones in the LGBT community, are also representing biological mothers against non-biological mothers in such cases.

GLAD will soon be launching an online pledge where attorneys can promise not to take these cases and to endorse the revised standards. Parents, too, can pledge to uphold them.

New Jersey attorney William Singer, a member of the Family Law Advisory Council, said he hopes attorneys will discuss the standards with parents, not just at the time of breakups, but also at the time of family creation, “to try and impress upon both parents why it’s so important to maintain continuity of relationships for their children.”

The standards are available via GLAD’s Web site, GLAD.org.

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Obama administration says it will no longer defend DOMA, calls law unconstitutional

President Barack Obama

LGBT advocates call decision historic, monumental

LISA KEEN | Keen News Service

The Obama administration made a blockbuster announcement Wednesday, Feb. 23, saying it has concluded that one part of the Defense of Marriage Act will not be able to pass constitutional muster in the 2nd Circuit and that DOJ would not defend that part of the law in two pending cases in that circuit.

It was a dramatic, unexpected, and significant move by the Obama administration and one that could trigger maneuvers by DOMA supporters to appoint an intervenor to defend the law. But beyond the eventual legal consequences of the announcement, the political impact was characterized by most LGBT leaders as historic and monumental.

“This is a monumental turning point in the history of the quest for equality for lesbian, gay and bisexual people,” said Jon Davidson, legal director for Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.

NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell put it even more strongly.

“The President’s leadership on this issue has forever changed the landscape for LGBT people in this country,” said Kendell. “For the first time, the President and the Department of Justice have recognized that laws that harm same-sex couples cannot be justified. This is the beginning of the end, not just for the mean-spirited and indefensible Defense of Marriage Act, but for the entire panoply of laws that discriminate against same-sex couples.”

Attorney General Eric Holder announced Wednesday that the Department of Justice would not defend the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA in two of the four cases where that section of the law is currently under challenge. Those two cases are Pedersen v. OPM, filed by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, and Windsor v. United States, filed by the ACLU.

Two other cases — in the 1st Circuit — also challenge Section 3, which prohibits federal recognition of any same-sex marriage, as does a more narrow case, Golinski v. OPM, in the 9th Circuit, at the district court level.

DOMA Section 2, which enables states to ignore valid marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples from other states, has not yet been challenged in court and Holder made no reference to it.

Since entering the White House, President Obama has said that DOMA should be repealed, but his administration continued to defend the law, saying, through various spokespersons, that Obama was concerned about setting a precedent that would make it easier for some future administration to pick and choose which laws it would defend.

Last summer, asked whether there isn’t a difference between enforcing existing laws and defending them in court, his Domestic Policy chief, Melody Barnes, said the president believed DOMA and “don’t ask, don’t tell” to be “discriminatory” but that he had not yet “made an argument” concerning their constitutionality.

“[W]e believe we have an obligation to defend the law if Congress had a rational basis for passing the law,” said Barnes.

In his announcement Wednesday, Attorney General Holder noted that the administration would still defend DOMA Section 3 in the two 1st Circuit cases because the 1st Circuit has ruled that rational basis is sufficient justification for treating people differently based on their sexual orientation. (He was apparently referring to the unsuccessful class action case challenging DADT). But Holder also noted that DOJ attorneys would argue that the court should, instead, apply a stricter test for DOMA.

Lambda Marriage Project Director Jenny Pizer said the 1st Circuit would make its own decision about whether to adopt Holder’s view.

“Any court is going to make its own determination about what the law requires,” said Pizer. “The government is usually given particular credence, but it is always court’s job to decide what the law requires.” But Pizer noted that the increasing volume of voices declaring the injustice of DOMA can have an influence, particularly given that the arguments made in support of DOMA “are not even coherent.”

It is possible — just as happened in California — that some other entity might attempt to mount its own defense of DOMA in the pending cases. Last October, U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, filed a motion in the two 1st Circuit cases, seeking to be named intervenor-defendant. Smith, aided by the right-wing Alliance Defense Fund, said at the time that the Justice Department was providing “no defense at all” for DOMA. He withdrew his motion a few weeks later, without comment.

Lambda’s Pizer said she thinks it is “very likely” someone will ask the 1st Circuit for permission to serve as a defendant-intervenor in the DOMA cases. And she noted Congress has the authority to appoint its own counsel to defend the law. Such was the development in the California same-sex marriage case, Perry v. Schwarzenegger. The federal district court allowed the group that sought passage of Proposition 8, Yes on 8, to defend the law at trial. The 9th Circuit recently asked the California Supreme Court to determine whether any state law gives Yes on 8 the authority to appeal that district court decision in the federal appeals court.

A three-judge panel of the First Circuit is currently receiving written briefs from both sides in the DOMA cases and, presumably, will now receive a written brief from DOJ arguing that DOMA Section 3 should meet a heightened standard of review.

NCLR’s Minter said he believes the law “can’t survive” that standard.

Mary Bonauto, lead attorney on the DOMA cases for GLAD, could not be reached for comment. But ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU, which has filed one of the 2nd Circuit cases, praised President Obama doing doing “the right thing.” Romero said President Obama’s action has “just propelled gay rights into the 21st century, where it belongs. Our government finally recognizes what we knew 14 years ago — that the so-called ‘Defense of Marriage Act’ is a gross violation of the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection before the law. DOMA betrays core American values of fairness, justice and dignity for all, and has no place in America.”

© 2011 Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

—  John Wright

2 new lawsuits challenge Defense of Marriage Act

LARRY NEUMEISTER and PAT EATON-ROBB  |  Associated Press

NEW YORK — Gay civil rights groups trying to build momentum for a possible Supreme Court showdown filed two lawsuits Tuesday, Nov. 9 that seek to strike down portions of a 1996 law that denies married gay couples federal benefits.

The lawsuits were filed in federal courts in Connecticut and New York and come just months after a federal judge in Boston struck down a key component of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

The legal actions seek judicial declarations that the law enacted by Congress in 1996, when it appeared Hawaii would soon legalize same-sex marriage, was unconstitutional because it prevents the federal government from affording pension and other benefits to same-sex couples. Since 2004, five states — Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts — and the District of Columbia have legalized gay marriage.

In Hartford, Conn., the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders sued the federal government on behalf of a Connecticut widower and married couples from Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire. The other lawsuit was filed on behalf of a New York woman, Edith Schlain Windsor, who met her late spouse, Thea Clara Spyer, nearly a half century ago at a restaurant.

“No one should have to fight with the government after losing the person she’s loved for more than four decades,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “Edie and Thea made the same lifelong commitment that other married couples make, and their marriage deserves the same dignity, respect and protection afforded other families.”

Mary Bonauto, an attorney with Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, said the Connecticut lawsuit was filed to maintain the momentum the group gained with the success of its challenge against the law in Massachusetts.

In July, U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro in Boston ruled in two separate lawsuits that the Defense of Marriage Act forces the state to discriminate against its own citizens to qualify for federal funding. He also said it violates the Constitution’s equal protection clause.

The Justice Department said in a statement that it had no response to the lawsuits, except that the government “is defending the statute, as it traditionally does when acts of Congress are challenged.”

The department said that, as a policy matter, President Obama has made clear that he believes the law is “discriminatory and should be repealed” and was working with Congress to do so.

The filing of multiple lawsuits will likely result in rulings in different federal court districts. That could increase the likelihood that the Supreme Court will eventually consider the issue.

Also, as the various lawsuits proceed, rulings by higher courts would affect wider areas. For instance, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston covers includes Rhode Island, Maine and New Hampshire.

One of the Connecticut litigants, Jerry Passaro, 45, of Milford, was denied survivor benefits after his husband, Tom Buckholz, died of lymphoma.

“It’s very hurtful,” Passaro said. “Tommy and I were a team for so many years and to have that false sense of security that you are getting married and will have the same entitlements that everyone else has, it’s very, very unhealthy.”

Raquel Ardin, of North Hartland, Vt., said she felt like she and her wife, Lynda DeForge, 54, were being treated like second-class citizens when DeForge was denied time off from the U.S. Postal Service under the Family and Medical Leave Act to take care of Ardin.

“I just don’t think it’s right,” Ardin said. The couple married in 2009 and have been together 30 years.

Bradley Kleinerman, 47, and his husband, Flint Gehre, 44, of Avon, said they lose money every year on taxes by being forced to file as single or head of household. They also have to prepare a third federal return as a couple, so they can figure out the income figures to put on their joint state return.

—  John Wright

DOMA ruling suspended pending appeal

Associated Press

BOSTON — A ruling by a judge who found a federal law defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman unconstitutional will be suspended for 60 days while the U.S. Department of Justice decides whether it will appeal the decision.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro ruled in July that the federal Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional.

An amended judgment in the case was filed in court Wednesday. The Justice Department now has 60 days to decide if it will appeal the decision to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.

Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, the Boston-based group that filed the legal challenge, said it did not oppose the government’s request for a stay pending any appeal.

—  John Wright

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