Deportation could split up lesbian Vt. couple
By DAVE GRAM
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Frances Herbert and her wife, Takako Ueda, were looking forward to the New Year’s Eve family concert at the Baptist Church, the town fireworks on the pond and then a night at home to celebrate the arrival of 2012.But federal immigration authorities have told Ueda she needs to leave the United States for her native Japan by Dec. 31, a move that would split up a couple who have been together more than a decade and were married under Vermont law in April.
Their relatively rare case illuminates the difficulties that binational gay couples face at a time when the Obama administration has pledged not to uphold federal marriage law in courts but the rest of the executive branch – including immigration authorities – still follows the letter of the law.
Federal immigration authorities demand extensive documentation showing that a binational couple claiming to be married really are: witness statements, property records, utility and other household bills showing both names and the like often are required. Herbert said she and Ueda submitted 600 pages of such evidence with their application.
“It’s despicable,” Herbert said. “We had 600 pages of proof, and 599 of them were completely ignored. One line on one page” – the one that said they were both women – “is what they paid attention to.”
Herbert, a 51-year-old home care provider, and Ueda, a 56-year-old graphic designer, live in the southern Vermont town of Dummerston and got letters Dec. 1 from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, telling them that Ueda had to leave the country within 30 days. Ueda’s student visa expired in July.
They had applied for “relative alien” status on the basis that she was the spouse of a U.S. citizen, but the federal agency denied that petition.
The letter to Herbert, who had applied to be Ueda’s sponsor, said that under the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law saying the government would not recognize same-sex marriages, they couldn’t be considered spouses. DOMA defines marriage as “only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.”
“Your spouse is not a person of the opposite sex,” wrote Robert Cowan, a U.S. CIS official. “Therefore, under the DOMA, your petition must be denied.”
Only a handful of states recognize same-sex marriages. Experts say there are not reliable numbers on how many couples find themselves in a similar situation to that of Herbert and Ueda, but it’s believed the number is small. Many binational same-sex couples don’t seek spousal status for fear of being rejected because of DOMA.
Steve Ralls, spokesman for Immigration Equality, a nonprofit legal aid group that works on immigration and sexual orientation issues, said one San Francisco couple remained together despite getting government notices that one of the men, an Australian, needed to leave the country, while a New Jersey man’s partner had been deported to Peru.
President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. announced in February that the administration would no longer defend DOMA in court in the cases in which it is being challenged. But until the issue is resolved, executive branch agencies, including those within the Department of Homeland Security, it remains the law of the land.
But Leslie Holmans, second vice president of the American Immigration Lawyers’ Association, said that even after getting the types of letters Herbert and Ueda got, some same-sex, binational couples benefit from “prosecutorial discretion” by immigration authorities.
She said many federal prosecutors believe “our systems are so overcrowded that what we really need to be doing is concentrating on people who are a risk to our country. What’s happened is that we have seen some same-sex couples go before the immigration court and ask for prosecutorial discretion.” Government lawyers often respond by “either dismissing cases or they’re not enforcing the notice of deportation.”
Holmans said the situation is far from ideal because affected immigrants are left in “legal limbo,” still without recognized immigration status and unable to get a job or seek other government benefits.
Scott Titshaw, a professor at Mercer University Law School in Georgia who has practiced immigration law and written articles on DOMA, said Ueda and Herbert most likely shouldn’t fear Ueda’s imminent arrest but “still have plenty to worry about.” He said if Ueda traveled abroad, then she might be barred from re-entering the U.S. With local authorities in some states cracking down on illegal immigrants, Ueda might also want avoid travel to places like Arizona and Alabama, which both have strict immigration laws.
Herbert and Ueda first met as students at Aquinas College in Michigan in 1980 and stayed in touch during the next couple of decades after Ueda returned to Japan and married a man. She said that when Herbert went to visit her in Japan in 1999, she made a big decision. “I had a good marriage, but there was something missing, and that something was Frances.” Eight months later, she moved to the United States, and the two had a commitment ceremony in 2000, marrying in 2011.
Both vowed to fight any effort to break them up.
“I’m a really great law obeyer. I grew up in Japan. We follow laws,” Ueda said with a laugh. “But I have a very strong feeling, too, that I won’t go back to Japan. I don’t have a place to live in Japan. My family, my existence, is not there anymore.”
White House Responds To N.C. Marriage Amendment
September 13, 2011 | The Washington Blade
The White House today responded to efforts in the North Carolina Legislature to ban same-sex marriage via constitutional amendment, saying that President Obama opposes laws “designed to take rights away.”
Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, issued the following statement in response to the Washington Blade’s inquiry as to whether President Obama opposes the North Carolina amendment banning same-sex marriage, which will come before state voters in May 2012:
“The President has long believed that gay and lesbian couples deserve the same rights and legal protections as straight couples,” Inouye said. “That’s why he has called for repeal of the so-called ‘Defense of Marriage Act’ and determined that his Administration would no longer defend the constitutionality of DOMA in the courts. He has also said that the states should determine for themselves how best to uphold the rights of their own citizens.
Inouye continued, “While the President does not weigh in on every single action taken by legislative bodies in our country, the record is clear that the President has long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same sex couples. The President believes strongly in stopping laws designed to take rights away.”
Military leaders to certify end of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ Friday
Posted at 06:33 PM ET, 07/21/2011
By Ed O’Keefe and Craig Whitlock
Top Pentagon leaders will say Friday that the military is ready to permit gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military, allowing President Obama to formally end the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, according to a U.S. official and others familiar with the plans.
In accordance with a law passed in December that set in motion the process of ending the ban, Obama first must receive notice from Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and top uniformed brass that the military is prepared to end the policy before the government stops enforcing it. The policy will end 60 days after Obama formally certifies the repeal in writing to Congress.
If Obama signs the certification in the coming days, the ban would end in late September.
Obama met Wednesday at the White House with Panetta, who will be formally sworn in to his new job by Vice President Biden on Friday at the Pentagon. The White House isn’t planning to formally mark the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell” with any type of public event until the end of the 60-day period, sources said.
Once the almost 18-year ban ends, gays and lesbians serving in military uniform will be able to publicly reveal their sexual identity without fear of dismissal or official rebuke, openly gay men and women will be able to enlist in the military, and gay couples may be allowed to wed at military chapels or live together on military bases in states that recognize same-sex marriages.
But several unresolved issues remain regarding military spousal benefits for gay couples, including potential housing options and survivor benefits. Complicating any resolution is that the Defense of Marriage Act, which bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages, will keep same-sex military couples from enjoying full spousal benefits.
Obama announced support this week for legislation to repeal DOMA, which gay activists has said would be necessary to fully end any and all official discrimination against gays in the military.
Gay activists and top military officials also have cautioned that it may take years for gays to feel completely comfortable revealing their sexual orientation to colleagues.
On the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, gay service members contacted in recent weeks said they don’t anticipate publicly disclosing their sexual orientation right away. Soldiers stationed in Afghanistan reported that despite the completion of mandatory training programs in recent months, colleagues and commanding officers have been using gay slurs or making gay jokes.
In Iraq, training courses ended weeks ago, and troops said they don’t anticipate that the policy change would adversely affect operations.
“I don’t think there’s any issue with it whatsoever,” Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, the chief spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq, said in a recent interview. “And if there are individual issues, then people will have to either conform or make a decision to leave when they can.”
As part of a bipartisan agreement that ended the policy, the military required every active-duty and reserve service member to attend training courses outlining how a repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” would change military personnel policy and benefits. Though most service members have completed their training, military officials have said courses for the Army — the largest military service — wouldn’t be completed until early August.
The decision to certify the ban follows months of criticism by gay activists that Obama should have acted sooner to end the policy. Since December, federal courts have ordered the government to stop enforcing the policy, then allowed it to continue as the Justice Department appealed the decision.
House Republicans, most of whom voted against ending the ban on grounds that it would disrupt battlefield operations, successfully amended the House version of the annual defense authorization bill with language restricting gay weddings on military bases and other similar provisions. It is unclear whether such provisions would be included in the final version of the bill, which isn’t likely to be passed by the House and Senate until after late September.
Obama backs bill to repeal Defense of Marriage Act
By David Nakamura, Published: July 19 The Washington Post
The Obama administration announced Tuesday that it will support a congressional effort to repeal a federal law that defines marriage as a legal union between a man and woman.
White House spokesman Jay Carney denounced the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), saying the administration will back a bill introduced this year by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to remove the law from the books.
Feinstein’s bill, called the Respect for Marriage Act, would “uphold the principle that the federal government should not deny gay and lesbian couples” the same rights as others, according to Carney.
The Senate is scheduled to hold an initial hearing on Feinstein’s proposal on Wednesday.
“The policy was wrong then and it is wrong today, and I believe it should be repealed,” Feinstein said Tuesday morning during remarks at the National Press Club.
Obama’s decision came five months after his administration instructed U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to stop defending DOMA and represents a continuing evolution in Obama’s views on same-sex marriage. In February,Holder said parts of DOMA were unconstitutional because of “classifications based on sexual orientation.”
The issue has become politically dicey for Obama as he and his Republican rivals ramp up for the 2012 campaign season. The president was booed last month during an appearance in New York, when he told a gay audience that “traditionally, marriage has been decided by the states.” Forty-one states currently ban same-sex marriage.
Opponents of gay marriage have decried the Justice Department’s refusal to defend the law as an unjustified political move.
Daniel Blomberg, an attorney for the conservative Alliance Defense Fund, denounced the administration’s decision.
“Our perspective is that it’s not only incorrect, but deeply disappointing, to have a politician claim support for marriage between one man and one woman on the campaign trail, then actively undermine that once in office,” said Blomberg, whose organization will testify in support of DOMA during Wednesday’s Senate hearing. “We are confident Congress will make the right decision here.”
Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese hailed Obama’s decision to back the congressional push.
“We thank the President for his support of the Respect of Marriage Act,” Solmonese said in a statement. “By supporting this legislation, the President continues to demonstrate his commitment to ending federal discrimination against tens of thousands of lawfully married same-sex couples.”
Watch the Senate Judiciary Hearing on DOMA live: http://judiciary.senate.gov/hearings/hearing.cfm?id=3d9031b47812de2592c3baeba620f0e6
First-Ever DOMA Hearing This Wednesday
By Dan Rafter, Human Rights Campaign
July 18th, 2011 at 2:53 pm
This Wednesday, 15 years after passage of the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold the first-ever hearing on the bill that relegates loving, committed same-sex couples to second-class status. HRC President Joe Solmonese will be on the Hill to testify. He’ll be sharing stories of those who have had their lives adversely impacted by DOMA. Share your story now.
A May Gallup poll found that 53 percent of Americans supported full marriage equality. As momentum for equality grows, fair-minded leaders in the House and Senate have introduced the Respect for Marriage Act. The bill repeals DOMA and restores the rights of lawfully married couples to receive all the benefits of marriage. Learn more about the Respect for Marriage Act.
DOMA denies same-sex couples more than 1,100 federal rights, benefits, and responsibilities of marriage. As more states support marriage equality, DOMA’s archaic roots are increasingly seen for what they really are – blatant discrimination against same-sex couples.
Military Gay Couples Won’t Enjoy Benefits
By JULIE WATSON 07/17/11 03:35 PM ET
SAN DIEGO — Gay service members from Army soldiers to Air Force officers are planning to celebrate the official end of the military’s 17-year policy that forced them to hide their sexual orientation with another official act – marriage.
A 27-year-old Air Force officer from Ohio said he can’t wait to wed his partner of two years and slip on a ring that he won’t have to take off or lie about when he goes to work each day once “don’t ask, don’t tell” is repealed. He plans to wed his boyfriend, a federal employee, in Washington D.C. where same-sex marriages are legal.
He asked not to be identified, following the advice of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a national organization representing gay troops, including the Air Force officer, that has cautioned those on active duty from coming out until the ban is off the books.
“I owe it to him and myself,” the officer said of getting married. “I don’t want to do it in the dark. I think that taints what it’s supposed to be about – which is us, our families, and our government.”
But in the eyes of the military the marriage will not be recognized and the couple will still be denied most of the benefits the Defense Department gives to heterosexual couples to ease the costs of medical care, travel, housing and other living expenses.
The Pentagon says the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act – which defines marriage for federal program purposes as a legal union between a man and woman – prohibits the Defense Department from extending those benefits to gay couples, even if they are married legally in certain states.
That means housing allowances and off-base living space for gay service members with partners could be decided as if they were living alone. Base transfers would not take into account their spouses. If two gay service members are married to each other they may be transferred to two different states or regions of the world. For heterosexual couples, the military tries to avoid that from happening.
Gay activists and even some commanders say the discrepancy will create a two-tier system in an institution built on uniformity.
“It’s not going to work,” said Army Reserve Capt. R. Clarke Cooper, who heads up the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay rights group that sued the Justice Department to stop the enforcement of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. “Taking care of our soldiers is necessary to ensure morale and unit cohesion. This creates a glaring stratification in the disbursement of support services and benefits.”
Cooper said he also plans to marry his boyfriend, a former Navy officer, in a post-repeal era.
The Obama administration has said it believes the ban could be fully lifted within weeks. A federal appeals court ruling July 6 ordered the government to immediately cease its enforcement. After the Department of Justice filed an emergency motion asking the court to reconsider its order, the court on Friday reinstated the law but with a caveat that prevents the government from investigating or penalizing anyone who is openly gay.
The Justice Department in its motion argued ending the ban abruptly now would pre-empt the “orderly process” for rolling back the policy as outlined in the law passed and signed by the president in December.
The military’s staunchly traditional, tight-knit society, meanwhile, has been quickly adapting to the social revolution: Many gay officers say they have already come out to their commanders and fellow troops, and now discuss their weekend plans without a worry.
The Air Force officer says he has dropped the code words “Red Solo Cups” – the red plastic cups used at parties – that he slipped into conversations for years to tell his partner he loved him when troops were within earshot. He now feels comfortable saying “I love you” on the phone, no longer fearful he will be interrogated by peers.
One male soldier, who also asked not to be identified, said after Congress approved repealing the law, he listed his boyfriend on his Army forms as his emergency contact and primary beneficiary of his military life insurance in case he dies in Afghanistan.
He said when he was transferred to South Korea, he and his partner had to pay for his partner’s move.
“But we were able to stay together,” the soldier wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press from Afghanistan. “During the move, I realized I needed to make sure my partner in life was taken care of if something, the worst, ever happened to me, especially knowing I was about to deploy.”
The soldier said when he added his boyfriend’s name to the paperwork as a primary beneficiary and identified him as a friend, the non-commissioned officer in charge shut his office door and told him: “Unlike the inherent benefits to being married in the Army, such as housing and sustenance allowances, our life insurance and will don’t discriminate.”
Same-sex partners can be listed as the person to be notified in case a service member is killed, injured, or missing, but current regulations prevent anyone other than immediate family – not same-sex spouses – from learning the details of the death. Same-sex spouses also will not be eligible for travel allowances to attend repatriation ceremonies if their military spouses are killed in action.
Gay spouses also will be denied military ID cards. That means they will not be allowed on bases unless they are accompanied by a service member and they cannot shop at commissaries or exchanges that have reduced prices for groceries and clothing, nor can they be treated at military medical facilities. They also will be excluded from base programs providing recreation and other such kinds of support.
Military officials say some hardship cases may be handled on an individual basis. Activists warn such an approach will create an administrative nightmare and leave the military vulnerable to accusations of making inconsistent decisions that favor some and not others.
Military families enjoy assistance from the Defense Department to compensate for the hardship of having a mother or father or both deployed to war zones and moved frequently.
“It strains a relationship when you’re gone for over a year,” said Navy medical corpsman Andrew James, 27, who lived two years apart from his same-sex partner, who could not afford to move with him when he was transferred from San Diego to Washington. “But straight couples have support so their spouses are able to be taken care of, with financial issues, and also they are able to talk to the chain of command, whereas gays can’t. They don’t have any support at all financially or emotionally, and that is really devastating.”
He said he was lucky that his relationship survived and now that he is in the Reserves, they are together again in San Diego.
The benefits issue came up repeatedly during training sessions to prepare troops for the policy change.
“There are inconsistencies,” Maj. Daryl Desimone told a class of Marines at Camp Pendleton, north of San Diego, after being asked about benefits for gay military personnel. “Anyone who looks at it logically will see there are some things that need to be worked out in the future.”
The military’s policy denying benefits to same-sex couples could change if legal challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act prove successful. The Obama administration has said it will not defend DOMA in court.
Earlier this month, the Justice Department filed a legal brief in federal court in San Francisco in support of a lesbian federal employee’s lawsuit claiming the government wrongly denied health coverage to her same-sex spouse. The brief said the lawsuit should not be dismissed because DOMA violates the constitution’s guarantee of equal protection and was motivated by hostility toward gays and lesbians.