Tuesday, April 17, 2012

DOMA makes an already taxing day even more taxing

Melba Abreu and Beatrice Hernandez are hurt by DOMA at tax time

It’s Tax Day in America, which is “among the most stressful days of the year for procrastinators across the country,” as this article from the Christian Science Monitor appropriately notes. It also details a list of Tax Day food freebies being offered to all of the stress eaters out there, because free Arby’s and a couple of Cinnabon Bites will surely make things easier on your wallet, if not your waistline.

Seriously though, there’s probably no other day in which the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) hits home harder for the average married same-sex couple, because the law prohibits those couples from filing their federal taxes jointly. This creates extra headaches in the form of additional paperwork that must be completed to account for the differences in state returns -- wherein couples can file jointly -- and federal returns. There’s also the prospect of being penalized for lying on a federal return -- because DOMA forces a spouse to check the “unmarried” box on their return. Couples with kids must decide which parent will claim the children on their federal tax return, an awkward prospect for some because it creates a paper trail that doesn’t reflect the reality of the family. As Suzanne Artis, a plaintiff with her wife Geraldine in our Pedersen DOMA lawsuit, says of having to choose who will claim parentage of their children at tax time, “I don’t like having to divide them up. They’re not property, they’re my family.”

The Artises story is detailed in a new report from our friends at the Movement Advancement Project (MAP), an LGBT think tank, called “Unequal Taxation and Undue Burdens for LGBT Families.” The report documents the numerous disadvantages married same-sex couples face because DOMA does not treat their marriages the same as other marriages under federal tax law. The bottom line is that same-sex married couples wind up paying thousands more in taxes than opposite sex couples as a result of DOMA. The Artis family, for instance, paid an extra $1490 to the federal government on their taxes in 2009, the year they married. Three years later, the extra taxes continue to accumulate. As the parents of three boys, that’s money they could use to pay household expenses or put into college funds.

Then there are folks like Melba Abreu and Beatrice Hernandez, who have paid a whopping $25,359 (and counting) in extra taxes over the life of their marriage thanks to DOMA. In these uncertain times, that’s money Beatrice and Melba, who are both in their fifties, could be setting aside for their retirement years. That’s more cause for heartburn than any Arby’s Bacon Beef 'n Cheddar could ever inflict.

Pass the Pepto.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

UPDATED! Media Watch: Great Coverage of Our Gill DOMA Arguments!

GLAD attorney Mary Bonauto talks to press following yesterday's
Gill v OPM hearing in the First Circuit Court of Appeals

We’re still digesting the mountain of media coverage of yesterday’s historic First Circuit Court of Appeals arguments in our Gill DOMA lawsuit, but we already know the tidbit that makes us most proud – it’s the last line of WBUR reporter Fred Thys’ story: “[Mary] Bonauto and GLAD changed the country in 2003 when the won the lawsuit that legalized gay marriage in Massachusetts,” Thys intones. “Now they’re hoping to change the country again by getting DOMA struck down.”

Now that’s change you can believe in! We do, anyway.

Here’s a sampling of some of the other coverage. This isn’t an exhaustive round-up so if you come across some other article or blog post that you enjoyed, please share it with us.

The New York Times did some nice coverage and the Wall Street Journal ran a piece by the Associated Press.

The Chicago Tribune ran a great piece by Reuters, in which Attorney General Martha Coakley, whose DOMA challenge was also heard yesterday, predicts “we will be victorious,” while Kris Mineau of the anti-LGBT Mass. Family Institute frets that DOMA’s death would force “a radical social agenda on the rest of the 50 states…” Well, maybe someday. But for now, our lawsuit only seeks to ensure that same-sex couples who are already legally married are treated the same as other married couples by the federal government. If we win, it would not mean that other states will be forced to perform or recognize a same-sex marriage. Have we not been making that clear?

Thankfully, attorney Janson Wu pointed this out during his appearance with Mineau on Jim Braude’s Broadside last night. At least Braude seemed to get it. Perhaps Mr. Mineau should take a peek at the Los Angeles Times’ coverage, where they made it pretty clear as well: “At issue is not whether gays and lesbians have a right to marry, but whether the federal government can deny tax, health and pension benefits to same-sex couples in states where they can marry.” Really, this case is not complicated – as is rocket science, or, say, cooking up race-baiting, divide-and-conquer strategies and fabricating lies to prevent same-sex marriage. But I’m really digressing here.

Julie Bolcer of the Advocate magazine gives a thorough play-by-play of the arguments and includes some nice comments from Mary and plaintiffs Bette Jo Green and Jo Ann Whitehead from our post-hearing press conference.

Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, detailed the arguments at On Liberty, her Boston.com blog. Rose zeroed in on the final moments of the proceedings, when Justice Torruella asked BLAG attorney Paul Clement whether Congress could pass a law recognizing marriages only between people of the same race without violating the Constitution. “It's a good question,” Rose observed, “and one that wasn't adequately answered by Clement, and can never adequately be answered by Congress or anyone else who thinks that it's okay to deny equal protection of the law.”

And last, but certainly not least, plaintiff Dean Hara, the widower of the late Congressman Gerry Studds, shares his reflections in an op-ed published on the Boston Globe’s blog The Podium.

“We are all pro-family. We all came from families. Our families share the same concerns. Economic issues and life’s uncertainties impact us all,” Dean writes. “My co-plaintiffs Mary Ritchie and Kathy Bush worry about having less money to put away for their boys’ college education because they cannot file their federal taxes jointly, or what happens if Mary, a State Police lieutenant, is killed in the line of duty. Al Koski, a retired employee of the Social Security administration, cannot qualify for a family health insurance plan to cover his spouse Jim Fitzgerald. All other married employees and retirees have that security.”

That’s exactly what we’re fighting for here at GLAD – the right to protect our families in the same ways that other Americans can. That’d be a great change for our country, indeed.

UPDATE: National Law Journal also has a great piece with a lot of backstory and even discussion of the amici filed on both sides of the case (Who does that? We love it.)

Mass. Lawyer's Weekly also covered the arguments on their blog, The Docket.

And, in case you missed our posts from yesterday, Chris Geidner at D.C.'s Metroweekly did a whole slew of Gill coverage that you must check out. You can get to it all from here.

ANOTHER UPDATE (so much great coverage, we can't help ourselves): The Washington Blade's Chris Johnson also did some must-read coverage of the arguments and the aftermath, including reflections from Mary and plaintiffs like Nancy Gill, who summed up the fight against DOMA very succintly with this quote: "We can't fathom how anybody can make an argument against a relationship that's 31 years old. We've been married for eight, have two children. We add to society, and we just want to make sure that we have the same rights and protections that our other married friends have." Check it out.

The Courage Campaign, the great folks who brought you ringside for the Perry Prop. 8 trial, gave the Gill arguments the full treatment via their blog, Prop8 Trial Tracker. They followed up with some interesting big-picture analysis of the DOJ's evolving stance on DOMA.

Without a doubt, the most detailed report of the proceedings came from veteran reporters Chuck Colbert and Lisa Keen, published in The Rainbow Times. From details about Chief Judge Sandra Lynch's history adjudicating gay-related cases and Mary's "fashionable glasses" to which of the four lawyers that argued is gay (hint: Paul Clement isn't one of them), you'll feel like you were sitting on the bench yourself. Then there was their observation that Gill is "the case everybody knows is heading to the U.S. Supreme Court and, perhaps, for the history books, along with the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas which struck down laws against same-sex sexual relations." Another proud moment for GLAD to be sure, although we really don't know how or where this case will end. But we like where Chuck and Lisa are going with this.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Promise of Equal Protection

What a great day.

Our arguments at the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Gill v. OPM, one of our two DOMA lawsuits, wrapped up at 11:00 a.m. this morning, and we’re very confident we got a fair hearing.

The three justices who heard our case listened attentively – and with few interruptions – to arguments by GLAD’s Mary Bonauto as to why DOMA is unconstitutional.

As Chief Justice Sandra Lynch said at the close of the hearing – after praising the “superb arguments” delivered by both sides: “We’ve learned a lot.”

The 7th floor En Banc courtroom at the Joseph Moakley Courthouse was packed to overflowing by about 8:00 a.m., and our arguments didn’t even start until 10:00.

Our plaintiffs in the case, who came from as far away as Sandisfield – way, way out in Western Mass. – and Cape Cod, were all there, and their excitement was palpable.

Joining them in the courtroom were notables such as Attorney General Martha Coakley, whose own challenge to DOMA, Commonwealth v. U.S. Office of Health and Human Services, was being argued by Maura Healey, the AG’s Division of Civil Rights chief; retired Supreme Judicial Court Justice Judith Cowin (who joined the majority in our historic Goodridge case); and LGBT historian George Chauncey.

The highlight of the morning, of course, was hearing Mary make the case for our plaintiffs – and for all of the married same-sex couples in this country who are being denied a critical safety net because the federal government refuses to recognize their marriages. She argued that to this day, the federal government defers to the state marriage laws when distributing federal marriage protections and responsibilities. “But for DOMA,” she said, “same-sex couples who began marrying here eight years ago would have been included in those federal laws. DOMA’s precise point was to prevent that inclusion and create an across the board exclusion in the U.S. Code. The promise of equal protection is that likes are to be treated alike – but DOMA treats married same-sex couples differently from all other married persons making gay people and our marriages unequal to all others.”

Mary skillfully rebutted every argument made by attorney Paul Clement, who is defending DOMA on behalf of the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the U.S. House of Representatives (BLAG) now that the Obama Administration has dropped its defense of the law. GLAD attorney Janson Wu, a member of our expert DOMA legal team, said Mary “could not have done better in her arguments. She was spot on.” But yes, we’re all biased here at GLAD. But judge for yourself – you can hear audio of Mary’s arguments at the court’s website (unfortunately, due to a technical error Paul Clement’s opening arguments weren’t recorded, so you won’t hear those). Metroweekly reporter Chris Geidner also has an excellent play-by-play of the arguments that makes things pretty clear.

Following the hearing, Mary and our plaintiffs headed outside for a press conference where they continued to make the case for why the court needs to dump DOMA. Check it out here. We’ll keep making the case in the courts, in the media, and just about anywhere else we can, until DOMA is pitched into history’s dustbin. Stay tuned!

See more photos from today on GLAD's Facebook page.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

DOMA's Day in Court

The Massachusetts married couples and widowers challenging
the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in Gill v. OPM

It’s been a busy and exciting couple of weeks here at GLAD as we finish preparing for appellate arguments in Gill v. OPM, one of our two lawsuits challenging the notorious federal Defense of Marriage Act, better known as DOMA. The Boston Globe has a great front-page story today that’s a nice refresher about our case, Attorney General Martha Coakley’s DOMA challenge, and the history of this discriminatory law.

Wednesday, April 4 is a big day at the John Joseph Moakley Courthouse – the arguments start at 10:00 a.m., but if you’re going, plan to be there early because you’re not the only one who doesn’t want to miss this big day. The arguments will take place in the En Banc Courtroom on the 7th floor, which opens at 8:00 a.m.

In case you’ve forgotten, Gill was the lawsuit that prompted federal Judge Joseph Tauro to declare Section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional back in July 2010 – the very first time a federal court had issued such an opinion.

Defending that victory on behalf of our plaintiffs – seven married couples and three widowers – is our very own Mary L. Bonauto, the director of GLAD’s Civil Rights Project. There’s probably not a more skilled, passionate litigator when it comes to arguing for LGBT equality. As the New York Times once observed of her, “Bonauto’s patient, quietly passionate yet self-effacing advocacy may have as far-reaching an effect on America as did that of Thurgood Marshall.”

To be sure, she’s a good match for Paul Clement, the high-profile attorney who will be arguing in favor of DOMA’s constitutionality for the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the U.S. House of Representatives (BLAG), which intervened to defend DOMA after President Obama declared he would no longer defend the law, believing it to be unconstitutional. Clement is fresh from arguing at the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of 26 states that believe the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s signature healthcare reform law, should be struck down.

Forget The Good Wife, Law & Order, and Damages. This is the real thing, people.

The attorneys will make their arguments before a three-judge panel comprised of 1st Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Sandra Lynch, Judge Michael Boudin and Judge Juan Torruella.

But Gill isn’t the only game in town that day. Maura Healey, the openly gay chief of AG Coakley’s Division of Civil Rights, will also argue that DOMA unconstitutionally forces the state to discriminate against legally married same-sex couples in the case Commonwealth of Mass. v. U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. Coakley’s case also delivered a blow to DOMA when Judge Tauro ruled in the state’s favor back in 2010.

We hope to see you there! But if you can’t make it, be sure to check out our regular Facebook and Twitter updates throughout the day. We don't want you to miss a thing.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Federal Court to Hear First Appellate Arguments Challenging DOMA Wednesday

Attorney Mary L. Bonauto talks with reporters following District Court arguments in
GLAD's case Gill v. OPM in May 2010. District Court Judge Joseph L. Tauro ruled
Section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional in July 2010.

For the first time this Wednesday, a Federal Appeals Court will hear arguments about the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Seven married same-sex couples and three widowers, plaintiffs in GLAD’s case Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, will go to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit to hear appellate arguments in their challenge to the law, which prevents them from accessing federal spousal protections as other married couples can.

GLAD Civil Rights Project Director Mary L. Bonauto will be arguing on behalf of the plaintiffs before a three-member Court of Appeals panel comprised of Chief Judge Sandra Lynch, Judge Michael Boudin and Judge Juan Torruella.

In a July 2010 ruling in Gill - the first strategic, multi-plaintiff challenge to DOMA - District Court Judge Joseph L. Tauro ruled Section 3 of the federal law unconstitutional. Republican leadership in Congress intervened to appeal that ruling, after President Obama declared he would no longer defend DOMA.

We will be posting updates on the hearing throughout the day on Twitter and Facebook, and will provide a complete wrap up – including a link to audio from the argument provided by the court – here and at www.glad.org after the hearing concludes.

For more information about the case and the plaintiffs, visit www.glad.org/DOMA

Associated Press: Battle over federal Defense of Marriage Act heads to appeals court in Mass.

Metro Weekly: Stage Is Set for April 4th Arguments in First Circuit DOMA Challenge Appeal

Hearing Details
Gill et al. v. Office of Personnel Management et al.
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
10:00 a.m. EST
John Joseph Moakley U.S. Courthouse, Boston

The Gill legal team is led by Bonauto and GLAD Legal Director Gary Buseck, with staff attorneys Vickie Henry and Janson Wu. Co-operating counsel on the case include Foley Hoag LLP (Boston), Sullivan & Worcester LLP (Boston), Jenner & Block LLP (Washington, DC) and Kator, Parks & Weiser, PLLC (Washington, DC).