Marriage Licenses Issued to Same-Sex Couples in Nation’s Capital

On Tuesday, March 9, 2010, the District of Columbia issued the first marriage licenses to same-sex couples under a recently passed law.  The District of Columbia joins five other states in recognizing the right of same-sex couples to wed, including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Iowa.  Same-sex couples who get married in D.C. will also have their marriages recognized in California, New York, and Maryland.

According to the Washington Post Blog, approximately 150 couples from District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia applied for marriage licenses last Wednesday, the first day that applications were accepted from same-sex couples under the new law.

As reported by the Washington Post Blog:

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), who signed the legalization measure in December, invoked his parents’ interracial marriage as he congratulated the newlyweds at a news conference. The weddings, he said, “were a great step forward for equality and for our city that has always been a standard-bearer for treating people equally and justly.”

Among the more than 100 guests, friends and relatives of the three couples at the HRC were council members David A. Catania (I-At Large) and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who are gay.

Catania, the leading sponsor of the bill, which passed the D.C. Council 11 to 2, called the moment “the most profoundly rewarding day. . . . I could not be prouder of this city.”

The couples were also joined by Frank Kameny, one of the founders of the gay rights movement, who was fired from his federal government job in 1957 for being gay. He hailed the event as a “major victory” but cautioned the crowd not to lose sight of the work ahead in other states and with the federal government, which is prevented by the Defense of Marriage Act from recognizing same-sex marriages.

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Maryland Attorney General Announces Recognition of Same-Sex Marriages Performed Out-of-State

As reported in an excellent article by Aaron C. Davis and John Wager for the Washington Post on Thursday, February 5, 2010, Maryland’s Attorney General Douglas Gansler declared in a 50-page opinion that Maryland would recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.
Gansler’s opinion directs all state agencies immediately to begin providing all married same-sex couples the same rights, benefits, and services which it provides on a daily basis throughout the state of Maryland to opposite-sex couples.

Republicans, socially conservative Democrats and several African American lawmakers from Prince George’s County to Baltimore blasted the decision. One Republican lawmaker vowed to bring articles of impeachment against Gansler for trying to usurp Maryland law, which defines marriage within the state as between a man and a woman. The Roman Catholic archbishops of Washington and Baltimore and the bishop of Wilmington said in a statement that they take “strong exception” to the decision.

The exact practical implications of Gansler’s decision were unclear. David Rocah, a staff lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, said he thought that the opinion could have “hundreds, if not thousands,” of implications for same-sex couples married elsewhere. Rocah said the opinion could ensure same-sex spouses’ rights to health benefits, inheritances, child support and even divorce.

Gansler said state laws have more than 1,000 references to spouses or marriage, and the opinion goes on to state that:

the starting principle in state law is that a marriage that is valid in the place of celebration remains valid in Maryland. And even though the state narrowly defines marriages performed within its borders as between a man and a woman, Gansler says, such restrictions don’t amount to a strong public policy argument that would override recognizing unions from elsewhere.

In recognizing same-sex marriages validly performed in other jurisdictions, Maryland joins the states of California and New York (and perhaps Washington D.C. as of next week) in that, although they refuse to perform same-sex marriages, they will recognize valid same-sex marriages performed in other states or countries.

Thus far, only the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Iowa recognize full marriage equality.  Of note, the federal government does not recognize same-sex relationships of any kind, regardless of any state law.

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Texas Attorney General Intervenes in Massachusetts Couple’s Plea for Same-Sex Divorce

TRAVIS COUNTY, TX – In a case of first impression in Travis County, a same-sex couple who married in Massachusetts has filed for divorce in Texas (American-Statesman).  Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has intervened in the same-sex divorce case, arguing that because the two women were married in another state, Texas may not legally grant them a divorce since state law defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

Angelique Naylor, 39, and Sabina Daly, 41, married in 2004 in Massachusetts, where gay marriage is legal. They returned to their home in Austin and together adopted a son, who is now 4. They have been separated for more than a year.

Last week, at the close of a two-day hearing before state District Judge Scott Jenkins on how they should divide their property and share custody of their son, the two reached an agreement that in part called for them to divorce.  According to Naylor’s lawyer, Jennifer Cochran, Jenkins granted the divorce orally and ordered the parties to put their agreement in writing and return to court next month for his signature.

“This is the first time in over a year that our family has been at peace,” said Naylor, who still lives in Austin. Daly has moved to San Antonio with their son.  “We never asked them to grant us a same-sex marriage. We only asked them to legally recognize that we needed a divorce,” Naylor said.

Abbott spokesman Jerry Strickland said in a statement, “The State maintains that the Court has no legal authority to grant this divorce, and as a result, the State must intervene in this case to defend the Texas Constitution.”

Abbott’s petition in intervention was filed Thursday after the agreement was reached in court. In it, Abbott notes that after Naylor filed for divorce in December, Daly argued that divorce was the wrong legal remedy for the couple and that the court should instead declare the marriage void.

“Petitioner (Naylor) is asking the court to recognize and enforce a marriage between two persons of the same sex which is contrary to the law and public policy of the state,” wrote Luther, Daly’s lawyer.

This is not the first time that Abbott’s office has sought to intervene in a Texas same-sex divorce case.  He did so before state District Judge Tena Callahan in Dallas County ruled in October that two men could divorce in Texas.Callahan ruled in that case that the prohibition of same-sex marriage violates the right to equal protection under the U.S. Constitution.  Abbott has appealed the ruling. It is pending in the state’s 5th Court of Appeals.

Texas is one of numerous states that have passed constitutional amendments banning gay marriage. The Texas amendment, passed by the Legislature in 2005 and approved by 76 percent of voters, defines marriage as between one man and one woman.

It is essential that couples meet with an attorney to discuss the ramifications of marriage prior to tying the knot in a state that recognizes marriage equality.  A marriage here in Massachusetts can affect the parties rights with respect to child custody, property,  inheritance, government benefits, military services, etc.

Secondly, after obtaining a marriage license here in Massachusetts, many couples find themselves completely unable to obtain a divorce after returning or moving to a state that refuses to recognize their marriage.  Because Massachusetts (like many states ) imposes a residency requirement on divorce petitioners, one spouse would technically be forced to establish residency here in Massachusetts in order for the couple to obtain a divorce.  As a result, couples all over the country find themselves in matrimonial purgatory.

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An Act of Civil Obedience: Lesbian Marries Complete Male Stranger in Buffalo

Buffalo, NY-  According to an article appearing on the website Irish Central, Irish-American lesbian Kitty Lambert successfully married a complete stranger after she and her longtime partner were denied a marriage license by Buffalo city clerks.

When her request was denied, Lambert turned to the crowd that had gathered.

With news cameras rolling, Kitty asked for any male who would be willing to get married to her. A gay man named Ed, a total stranger to her, stepped forward and volunteered. They briefly exchanged information and presented the appropriate documents along with $40.

City staff verified the information, and proceeded to give them a marriage license. Kitty’s point in approaching the City Clerk for a marriage license is that there is no religious basis for marriage, and it serves only as a legally binding contract in our society.

Instead of being offered the ability to receive a license with her long-term partner, she was able to secure a license with a total stranger, strictly based on their gender.

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The HRC Announces its 2010 list of “Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality”

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation has released its annual list of “Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality” with 305 companies receiving the distinction based on their employment policies and practices that include GLBT workers and their families.

A complete list of businesses and workplaces is available on-line at hrc.org/placestowork

Many of the companies topping the list are located here in Massachusetts, including Raytheon (Waltham), TJX Companies (Framingham), State Street Corp. (Boston) and many more!

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Send a Message to the Federal Census Bureau in 2010: We Count!

Later this year, the United States Census Bureau will be mailing questionnaires to every single household in America.  Not surprisingly, the federal government will not be collecting any data on the number of American citizens who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.

The U.S. Census creates an essential portrait of our nation, every ten years.  This data is used to determine the appropriate number of seats in the House of Representatives.  It provides key population numbers for Congress and the Administration to determine how federal dollars flow to the states and the data is used by researchers, advocates and policy makers to develop reports, social service programs, and make critical policy decisions.  Accordingly, the census has a big impact on the political power and economic security of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. Since 1990, when the census added the “unmarried partner” designation on its form, people in same-sex relationships have provided the first visible record of our partnerships in the history of our nation. This data has been very important in countering misconceptions about the LGBT community.  For instance, the 2000 census showed that same-sex couples live in nearly every county in the nation, and that Black and Latino same-sex couples are raising children at nearly the rates of their heterosexual peers, while earning lower incomes.  [from queerthecensus.org]

Some helpful Questions and Answers from Queer the Census:

How will LGBT same-sex unmarried partners and married couples be counted by the census?

For the first time in history, the Census will count both unmarried same-sex partners and legally married same sex spouses in its survey! This advancement is due in great part to advocacy by the Task Force, and our members and supporters.

If you have legally married your same-sex spouse in any state, you may choose the “husband or wife” option, and the Census will record and report on these figures in its official Census tables on married couples in the U.S.

While many people in our community are uncomfortable with these terms, we have to remember that the Census is slow to respond to changing language and social realities. For example, for many years, the Census provided no way for people of multiracial origins to accurately record their race. At the Task Force, we believe that now is not the time to refuse to check the “husband or wife” box because it doesn’t fit our political or linguistic views of ourselves. Having a count of LGBT married couples will be an historic, important first step in changing the way the entire country understands LGBT partnership. If you are legally married, don’t miss out on being counted!

Many, many more of us will check the “unmarried partner” box in this year’s Census and this is equally important. Last year, the annual Census survey, the American Community Survey (ACS), reported a significant decline in same sex couples. This is partly because the ACS had been improperly recording some opposite-couples as same sex, due to poor survey design. Regardless, any drop in our numbers is not good for our community.

The reality is, few federal surveys record any information whatsoever about LGBT people. The Census recording of same sex unmarried partners and married couples gives a rare glimpse at our community: where we live, how we create family, and whether we own or rent our homes.

A note for bi-racial couples: It is not widely known that the race of the household member who fills out the Census form determines the racial designation of a family in one of the Census’ major statistical tables. Given that people of color are often undercounted by the Census, couples or families may want to consider having a person of color identify as household member #1 when filling out the form for a family.

If I am transgender, do I check the sex I was assigned at birth or my gender identity/expression?  What if neither of these options fit my identity?

The census asks each of us to tell the truth as we understand it.  Check the box on the census form that most closely reflects your current gender expression.  The census only provides male and female options to check, so you must choose one of these boxes.

If I am transgender, how do I record my relationship?

If you are married and consider your spouse to be your “husband or wife”, check that option on your census form. If you are in a relationship with an “unmarried partner,” check the corresponding option on your form.

When will Census 2010 Begin?

The Census Bureau will begin mailing census forms in March 2010 and the collection period will continue for several months.

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Trans Couple Settles Housing Discrimination Lawsuit

As reported on Friday, January 8, 2010, in Bay Windows, a transgender couple has settled their housing discrimination lawsuit against landlords and the real estate agent for a rental property in Oxford, Massachusetts.  Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 151B prohibits discrimination against certain protected classes in areas of employment, education, and housing.  The article goes on to report:

Samantha J. Cornell, a transgender woman, and her spouse Andrea V. Boisseau, who was born with an intersex condition, were awarded $6,000 in damages and attorney’s fees, even though the defendants did not admit any wrongdoing in the spring 2008 incident.  Along with the $6,000 settlement, the real estate agent in question has been ordered to undergo fair housing training.

Cornell and Boisseau began the search for a new apartment after their landlord lost his building in foreclosure. They found a rental property in Oxford, MA, and viewed the apartment with a real estate agent. The agent then called them a few days later to inform the couple that the apartment had been rented to a “straight, single male.”  A subsequent investigation conducted by the Worcester Fair Housing Project at the Legal Assistance Corporation of Central Massachusetts (LACCM) found evidence that suggested the couple had been illegally discriminated against on the basis of their gender identity, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, and disability.  Cornell and Boisseau also became homeless for a significant period of time after being refused the rental property.

Massachusetts’ 1989 anti-discrimination law protects lesbian, gay, and bisexual people (and people perceived as such) from discrimination in education, employment, services, credit, places of public accommodation, and housing. The law does not, however, include gender identity or expression.  “Advocates are working to amend the state’s anti-discrimination laws to explicitly add gender identity and expression as a protected category, but people should realize that the existing law’s prohibition of sex and disability discrimination may offer protection for transgender individuals,” Jane L. Edmonstone, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said.

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