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Letter from the Attorney General to Congress on Litigation Involving the Defense of Marriage Act

February 24th, 2011

The Obama Administration announced that it will not defend the discriminatory federal “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) in court.

Department of Justice

Office of Public Affairs

WASHINGTON - The Attorney General sent the following letter today to Congressional leadership to inform them of the Department’s course of action in two lawsuits, Pedersen v. OPMand Windsor v. United States, challenging Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage for federal purposes as only between a man and a woman. A copy of the letter is also attached.

The Honorable John A. Boehner
Speaker
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Re: Defense of Marriage Act

Dear Mr. Speaker:

After careful consideration, including review of a recommendation from me, the President of the United States has made the determination that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (”DOMA”), 1 U.S.C. § 7, i as applied to same-sex couples who are legally married under state law, violates the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 530D, I am writing to advise you of the Executive Branch’s determination and to inform you of the steps the Department will take in two pending DOMA cases to implement that determination.

While the Department has previously defended DOMA against legal challenges involving legally married same-sex couples, recent lawsuits that challenge the constitutionality of DOMA Section 3 have caused the President and the Department to conduct a new examination of the defense of this provision. In particular, in November 2010, plaintiffs filed two new lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA in jurisdictions without precedent on whether sexual-orientation classifications are subject to rational basis review or whether they must satisfy some form of heightened scrutiny. Windsor v. United States, No. 1:10-cv-8435 (S.D.N.Y.); Pedersen v. OPM, No. 3:10-cv-1750 (D. Conn.). Previously, the Administration has defended Section 3 in jurisdictions where circuit courts have already held that classifications based on sexual orientation are subject to rational basis review, and it has advanced arguments to defend DOMA Section 3 under the binding standard that has applied in those cases. ii

These new lawsuits, by contrast, will require the Department to take an affirmative position on the level of scrutiny that should be applied to DOMA Section 3 in a circuit without binding precedent on the issue. As described more fully below, the President and I have concluded that classifications based on sexual orientation warrant heightened scrutiny and that, as applied to same-sex couples legally married under state law, Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional.

Standard of Review

The Supreme Court has yet to rule on the appropriate level of scrutiny for classifications based on sexual orientation. It has, however, rendered a number of decisions that set forth the criteria that should inform this and any other judgment as to whether heightened scrutiny applies: (1) whether the group in question has suffered a history of discrimination; (2) whether individuals “exhibit obvious, immutable, or distinguishing characteristics that define them as a discrete group”; (3) whether the group is a minority or is politically powerless; and (4) whether the characteristics distinguishing the group have little relation to legitimate policy objectives or to an individual’s “ability to perform or contribute to society.” See Bowen v. Gilliard, 483 U.S. 587, 602-03 (1987); City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Ctr., 473 U.S. 432, 441-42 (1985).

Each of these factors counsels in favor of being suspicious of classifications based on sexual orientation. First and most importantly, there is, regrettably, a significant history of purposeful discrimination against gay and lesbian people, by governmental as well as private entities, based on prejudice and stereotypes that continue to have ramifications today. Indeed, until very recently, states have “demean[ed] the[] existence” of gays and lesbians “by making their private sexual conduct a crime.” Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558, 578 (2003). iii

Second, while sexual orientation carries no visible badge, a growing scientific consensus accepts that sexual orientation is a characteristic that is immutable, seeRichard A. Posner, Sex and Reason 101 (1992); it is undoubtedly unfair to require sexual orientation to be hidden from view to avoid discrimination, seeDon’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010, Pub. L. No. 111-321, 124 Stat. 3515 (2010).

Third, the adoption of laws like those at issue in Romer v. Evans,517 U.S. 620 (1996), and Lawrence, the longstanding ban on gays and lesbians in the military, and the absence of federal protection for employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation show the group to have limited political power and “ability to attract the [favorable] attention of the lawmakers.” Cleburne, 473 U.S. at 445. And while the enactment of the Matthew Shepard Act and pending repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell indicate that the political process is not closed entirelyto gay and lesbian people, that is not the standard by which the Court has judged “political powerlessness.” Indeed, when the Court ruled that gender-based classifications were subject to heightened scrutiny, women already had won major political victories such as the Nineteenth Amendment (right to vote) and protection under Title VII (employment discrimination).

Finally, there is a growing acknowledgment that sexual orientation “bears no relation to ability to perform or contribute to society.” Frontiero v. Richardson, 411 U.S. 677, 686 (1973) (plurality). Recent evolutions in legislation (including the pending repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell), in community practices and attitudes, in case law (including the Supreme Court’s holdings in Lawrenceand Romer), and in social science regarding sexual orientation all make clear that sexual orientation is not a characteristic that generally bears on legitimate policy objectives. See, e.g.,Statement by the President on the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010 (”It is time to recognize that sacrifice, valor and integrity are no more defined by sexual orientation than they are by race or gender, religion or creed.”)

To be sure, there is substantial circuit court authority applying rational basis review to sexual-orientation classifications. We have carefully examined each of those decisions. Many of them reason only that if consensual same-sex sodomy may be criminalized under Bowers v. Hardwick, then it follows that no heightened review is appropriate - a line of reasoning that does not survive the overruling of Bowersin Lawrence v. Texas, 538 U.S. 558 (2003). iv Others rely on claims regarding “procreational responsibility” that the Department has disavowed already in litigation as unreasonable, or claims regarding the immutability of sexual orientation that we do not believe can be reconciled with more recent social science understandings. v And none engages in an examination of all the factors that the Supreme Court has identified as relevant to a decision about the appropriate level of scrutiny. Finally, many of the more recent decisions have relied on the fact that the Supreme Court has not recognized that gays and lesbians constitute a suspect class or the fact that the Court has applied rational basis review in its most recent decisions addressing classifications based on sexual orientation, Lawrenceand Romer. vi But neither of those decisions reached, let alone resolved, the level of scrutiny issue because in both the Court concluded that the laws could not even survive the more deferential rational basis standard.

Application to Section 3 of DOMA

In reviewing a legislative classification under heightened scrutiny, the government must establish that the classification is “substantially related to an important government objective.” Clark v. Jeter, 486 U.S. 456, 461 (1988). Under heightened scrutiny, “a tenable justification must describe actual state purposes, not rationalizations for actions in fact differently grounded.” United States v. Virginia, 518 U.S. 515, 535-36 (1996). “The justification must be genuine, not hypothesized or invented post hoc in response to litigation.” Id. at 533.

In other words, under heightened scrutiny, the United States cannot defend Section 3 by advancing hypothetical rationales, independent of the legislative record, as it has done in circuits where precedent mandates application of rational basis review. Instead, the United States can defend Section 3 only by invoking Congress’ actual justifications for the law.

Moreover, the legislative record underlying DOMA’s passage contains discussion and debate that undermines any defense under heightened scrutiny. The record contains numerous expressions reflecting moral disapproval of gays and lesbians and their intimate and family relationships - precisely the kind of stereotype-based thinking and animus the Equal Protection Clause is designed to guard against. vii See Cleburne, 473 U.S. at 448 (”mere negative attitudes, or fear” are not permissible bases for discriminatory treatment); see also Romer, 517 U.S. at 635 (rejecting rationale that law was supported by “the liberties of landlords or employers who have personal or religious objections to homosexuality”); Palmore v. Sidotti, 466 U.S. 429, 433 (1984) (”Private biases may be outside the reach of the law, but the law cannot, directly or indirectly, give them effect.”).

Application to Second Circuit Cases

After careful consideration, including a review of my recommendation, the President has concluded that given a number of factors, including a documented history of discrimination, classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to a heightened standard of scrutiny. The President has also concluded that Section 3 of DOMA, as applied to legally married same-sex couples, fails to meet that standard and is therefore unconstitutional. Given that conclusion, the President has instructed the Department not to defend the statute in Windsorand Pedersen, now pending in the Southern District of New York and the District of Connecticut. I concur in this determination.

Notwithstanding this determination, the President has informed me that Section 3 will continue to be enforced by the Executive Branch. To that end, the President has instructed Executive agencies to continue to comply with Section 3 of DOMA, consistent with the Executive’s obligation to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, unless and until Congress repeals Section 3 or the judicial branch renders a definitive verdict against the law’s constitutionality. This course of action respects the actions of the prior Congress that enacted DOMA, and it recognizes the judiciary as the final arbiter of the constitutional claims raised.

As you know, the Department has a longstanding practice of defending the constitutionality of duly-enacted statutes if reasonable arguments can be made in their defense, a practice that accords the respect appropriately due to a coequal branch of government. However, the Department in the past has declined to defend statutes despite the availability of professionally responsible arguments, in part because the Department does not consider every plausible argument to be a “reasonable” one. “[D]ifferent cases can raise very different issues with respect to statutes of doubtful constitutional validity,” and thus there are “a variety of factors that bear on whether the Department will defend the constitutionality of a statute.” Letter to Hon. Orrin G. Hatch from Assistant Attorney General Andrew Fois at 7 (Mar. 22, 1996). This is the rare case where the proper course is to forgo the defense of this statute. Moreover, the Department has declined to defend a statute “in cases in which it is manifest that the President has concluded that the statute is unconstitutional,” as is the case here. Seth P. Waxman, Defending Congress, 79 N.C. L.Rev. 1073, 1083 (2001).

In light of the foregoing, I will instruct the Department’s lawyers to immediately inform the district courts in Windsorand Pedersenof the Executive Branch’s view that heightened scrutiny is the appropriate standard of review and that, consistent with that standard, Section 3 of DOMA may not be constitutionally applied to same-sex couples whose marriages are legally recognized under state law. If asked by the district courts in the Second Circuit for the position of the United States in the event those courts determine that the applicable standard is rational basis, the Department will state that, consistent with the position it has taken in prior cases, a reasonable argument for Section 3’s constitutionality may be proffered under that permissive standard. Our attorneys will also notify the courts of our interest in providing Congress a full and fair opportunity to participate in the litigation in those cases. We will remain parties to the case and continue to represent the interests of the United States throughout the litigation.

Furthermore, pursuant to the President’s instructions, and upon further notification to Congress, I will instruct Department attorneys to advise courts in other pending DOMA litigation of the President’s and my conclusions that a heightened standard should apply, that Section 3 is unconstitutional under that standard and that the Department will cease defense of Section 3.

A motion to dismiss in the Windsorand Pedersencases would be due on March 11, 2011. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.

Sincerely yours,

Eric H. Holder, Jr.
Attorney General

______________________________________

iDOMA Section 3 states: “In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.”

ii See, e.g., Dragovich v. U.S. Department of the Treasury, 2011 WL 175502 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 18, 2011); Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, 699 F. Supp. 2d 374 (D. Mass. 2010); Smelt v. County of Orange, 374 F. Supp. 2d 861, 880 (C.D. Cal.,2005); Wilson v. Ake, 354 F.Supp.2d 1298, 1308 (M.D. Fla. 2005); In re Kandu, 315 B.R. 123, 145 (Bkrtcy. W.D. Wash. 2004); In re Levenson, 587 F.3d 925, 931 (9th Cir. E.D.R. Plan Administrative Ruling 2009).

iiiWhile significant, that history of discrimination is different in some respects from the discrimination that burdened African-Americans and women. See Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Pena, 515 U.S. 200, 216 (1995) (classifications based on race “must be viewed in light of the historical fact that the central purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment was to eliminate racial discrimination emanating from official sources in the States,” and “[t]his strong policy renders racial classifications ‘constitutionally suspect.’”); United States v. Virginia, 518 U.S. 515, 531 (1996) (observing that “‘our Nation has had a long and unfortunate history of sex discrimination’” and pointing out the denial of the right to vote to women until 1920). In the case of sexual orientation, some of the discrimination has been based on the incorrect belief that sexual orientation is a behavioral characteristic that can be changed or subject to moral approbation. Cf. Cleburne, 473 U.S. at 441 (heightened scrutiny may be warranted for characteristics “beyond the individual’s control” and that “very likely reflect outmoded notions of the relative capabilities of” the group at issue); Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, 530 U.S. 640 (2000) (Stevens, J., dissenting) (”Unfavorable opinions about homosexuals ‘have ancient roots.’” (quoting Bowers, 478 U.S. at 192)).

iv See Equality Foundation v. City of Cincinnati, 54 F.3d 261, 266-67 & n. 2. (6th Cir. 1995); Steffan v. Perry, 41 F.3d 677, 685 (D.C. Cir. 1994); Woodward v. United States, 871 F.2d 1068, 1076 (Fed. Cir. 1989); Ben-Shalom v. Marsh, 881 F.2d 454, 464 (7th Cir. 1989); Padula v. Webster, 822 F.2d 97, 103 (D.C. Cir. 1987).

v See, e.g., Lofton v. Secretary of the Dep’t of Children & Family Servs., 358 F.3d 804, 818 (11th Cir. 2004) (discussing child-rearing rationale ); High Tech Gays v. Defense Indust. Sec. Clearance Office, 895 F.2d 563, 571 (9th Cir. 1990) (discussing immutability). As noted, this Administration has already disavowed in litigation the argument that DOMA serves a governmental interest in “responsible procreation and child-rearing.” H.R. Rep. No. 104-664, at 13. As the Department has explained in numerous filings, since the enactment of DOMA, many leading medical, psychological, and social welfare organizations have concluded, based on numerous studies, that children raised by gay and lesbian parents are as likely to be well-adjusted as children raised by heterosexual parents.

vi See Cook v. Gates, 528 F.3d 42, 61 (1st Cir. 2008); Citizens for Equal Prot. v. Bruning, 455 F.3d 859, 866 (8th Cir. 2006); Johnson v. Johnson, 385 F.3d 503, 532 (5th Cir. 2004); Veney v. Wyche, 293 F.3d 726, 732 (4th Cir. 2002); Equality Foundation of Greater Cincinnati, Inc. v. City of Cincinnati, 128 F.3d 289, 292-94 (6th Cir. 1997).

vii See, e.g.,H.R. Rep. at 15-16 (judgment [opposing same-sex marriage] entails both moral disapproval of homosexuality and a moral conviction that heterosexuality better comports with traditional (especially Judeo-Christian) morality”); id. at 16 (same-sex marriage “legitimates a public union, a legal status that most people . . . feel ought to be illegitimate” and “put[s] a stamp of approval . . . on a union that many people . . . think is immoral”); id. at 15 (”Civil laws that permit only heterosexual marriage reflect and honor a collective moral judgment about human sexuality”); id. (reasons behind heterosexual marriage-procreation and child-rearing-are “in accord with nature and hence have a moral component”); id. at 31 (favorably citing the holding in Bowersthat an “anti-sodomy law served the rational purpose of expressing the presumed belief . . . that homosexual sodomy is immoral and unacceptable”); id. at 17 n.56 (favorably citing statement in dissenting opinion in Romerthat “[t]his Court has no business . . . pronouncing that ‘animosity’ toward homosexuality is evil”).

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Protecting Your Wishes: Importance of Preparing Legal Documents

July 2nd, 2010

The LGBT community has seen great strides in equality the past couple of years, with certain states passing marriage equality laws for same-sex couples. However, there is still a federal ban, Defense of Marriage Act, (DOMA), that restricts about 1,138 benefits from same-sex couples and many states do not recognize any form of same-sex couple marriage benefits.

For example, did you know that unless otherwise specified in many states, only legal spouses or family members - not lifelong partners - can visit you in the hospital should you be unconscious? Or that vital decisions like power of attorney can default to a biological family member who doesn’t even know what you wishes are or they may not “agree with” your sexual orientation.

Marriage laws for same-sex couples vary from state to state, county by county, without any legal documents it will be harder to protect your wishes such as direct who you want to visit you in the hospital in case of an emergency; name a specific person to make health care decisions for you when you can’t make them for yourself or state the medical treatments you desire in times of a crisis.

family

Advance legal planning protects an individual’s right to make their own health care and financial choices and prevents unnecessary suffering for families who may struggle with these decisions later on. It is a proactive process that enables the individual to make decisions about their future, along with family members, health care providers and counsel, prior to their physical and cognitive decline.
If you are in a committed relationship, you may want your significant other to be able to make medical and legal decisions for you, should you unable to make them yourself. You would like to plan for the future of your family to ensure they are taken care of when you are gone.

Even if you are not in a committed relationship, you want to make decisions about your own life and future without unwanted intrusions from others. By planning now you can feel comfortable that you, your family and your future are taken care of exactly the way you envision. Because, unfortunately, LGBT individuals cannot rely state and/or federal laws to take care of them.

At a minimum, any basic estate plan should include the following documents: Hospital Visitation Authorization, Living Will, Health Care Power of Attorney, Last Will and Testament, Power of Attorney, and Domestic Partnership Agreement.

Often times, people put off creating legal documents, we know we need to do something, but we wait. We defer making a decision. Why do we wait? Our reasons are different. Some reasons are:

  • lack of time
  • budget concerns
  • not knowing exactly what we need
  • we don’t want think about death or crisis situations
  • we don’t want to have the conversation.

But such planning is essential for gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgender individuals and couples, whose basic civil rights, depending on state legislation, can be severely restricted. LGBT individuals need to be proactive to ensure that their plans for the future reflect their own wishes and are not dictated by laws that do not fit your life and relationships or individuals who are not involved in your life and relationships. Legal documents can provide you legal and emotional security in the event that something unexpected occurs.

Once you have prepared legal documents, there’s one more essential step that many people don’t think about until there’s an emergency - you need to keep those documents somewhere safe, yet easily accessible. Make sure to give copies to your health care agent, trusted family member, your partner or anyone you trust that should have your directives. It’s also vital to carry them with you, especially if you are traveling throughout the United States or going abroad. In case of an emergency you want to make sure you have your documents on hand to show hospital staff or any other person that may need to see proof of your wishes.

Marriage Recognition:
• State issues marriage licenses to same-sex couples (5 states and the District of Columbia). Connecticut (2008), District of Columbia (2010), Iowa (2009), Massachusetts (2004), New Hampshire (2010) and Vermont (2009).

• State recognizes marriages by same-sex couples legally entered into in another jurisdiction (2 states) Maryland (2010) and New York (2008).

• California had legal same-sex marriage for about five months in 2008.

LegalOut provides you with affordable solutions to start your estate plan - get started now for a piece of mind!

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From the Irish Times: “Civil to One Another”

July 2nd, 2010

Civil to one another

Fri, Jul 02, 2010

As the Civil Partnership Bill goes through the Dáil, Fiona McCann talks to three couples about how it will affect their relationships

‘We consider ourselves to be as good as married, so we consider this to be almost ticking a box’

Michael Walsh, partner in the law firm BryneWallace, and Des Crowley, doctor, have been together for 12 and a half years. They plan to become civil partners, and have a civil partnership ceremony already organised for later this month, with a blessing in the Unitarian Church followed by a meal and celebration for friends, family, colleagues and business associates.

Ceremony already organised for this month: Des Crowley (left) and Michael Walsh. Photograph: Alan Betson

Des Crowley (left) and Michael Walsh. Photograph: Alan Betson

MICHAEL : We consider ourselves to be as good as married, we consider ourselves to be family . . . so in some respects we consider this to be almost ticking a box. But going through a process of preparing for the Civil Partnership ceremony has been an enlightening experience for us because it actually has brought new definition to our relationship, and brought about a renewed commitment.

DES : Initially, for me anyway, it was about just protecting the legality of the relationship . . . but I have been really surprised how the experience of the last month or six weeks has actually changed that and how much more important it has become to me.

MICHAEL : There have been certain elements of the LGB community who might have rejected the whole notion of civil partnership because it’s not full marriage. And whereas I agree in part with the sentiment that what will be provided for in law doesn’t go far enough, it certainly goes far enough for us to be acceptable, particularly in our own individual circumstances.

DES : Ultimately it is down to the practical issue of our home together, the tax situation, the pension situation, and what is really important for us is our next of kin. Because it’s extraordinary that . . . even though you may be living with a person for 12 years, if anything was to happen to you and you were unable to make your own decision, that the people that they turn to is your parents.

MICHAEL : For me the ceremonial aspect of it is really important, and although we are together 12 years, we haven’t yet stood in front of our nearest and dearest and said ‘this is it’. And to have the opportunity now to do this and for it to also mean something from a legal point of view is fundamental.

DES : While it would have been preferable if the legislation had included the rights for gay parents to adopt, there is an expediency about it as well. If you continue the next five or 10 years fighting for that right, in the meantime so many other situations are not regularised, and some people do not have the luxury of time. They’re unwell, or they’re elderly, and there are a lot of complicated legal issues that need to be sorted out for these couples.

MICHAEL : I’ve been writing to the Minister every fortnight, explaining to him the date of our blessing and how important it is that the Bill would have cleared through the main house of the Oireachtas before our date . . .What is important to us is the certainty that it will happen, so we decided to press the button with the sense that it was effectively a done deal . . .

I’m sure we’ll look back in years to come and wonder why it took so long for the State to finally recognise that it isn’t a bad thing to recognise love between consenting adults and a love that’s about long-term commitment and the creation of family.

‘This Bill is not going to do anything for us, for our family. And legally, our family doesn’t exist’

Orla Egan-Morley and Catherine Egan-Morley have been together for more than eight years, and have a four-year-old son called Jacob. Catherine is director of Southside Travellers Action Group, and Orla is training and development officer with BeLonG To youth services.

ORLA : It should be a day for celebration and I just feel really disappointed that the politicians haven’t had the courage to legislate for equality and take a child-centred approach to the legislation. [This Bill] is not going to do anything for us, for our family. And legally, our family doesn’t exist.

CATHERINE : I feel let down for my son because it doesn’t acknowledge his place; It doesn’t make any reference to his rights to have two parents, which he has . . . It hits me very deeply because I am his non-biological parent. It hits me on an equality level, but it also hits me on a gut level.

ORLA : Jacob asked me recently, “What’s marriage? What’s a wedding?”. And I said, “Sometimes when people love one another very much it’s a ceremony they do to mark that love.” He looked at me and Catherine and said “We all love one another, why can’t we get married?” How do you explain to a four-year-old that there are some people who think your family is not worth protecting? . . . I don’t care about the money stuff; I care about the rights of my child. I could get up in the morning and take him away from one of his parents and neither he nor she would have any right to fight back.

CATHERINE : We’ve been living together for almost eight years. We own our home together. . . it only takes one person to look at the letter of the law, and if I have him in the hospital and he has a broken leg, I won’t be allowed to make any decisions because I’m not his legal parent or guardian. Right now in the eyes of the country we live in, in the place that we’re committed to, where we bought our home and live our lives, Orla is a lone parent and I’m a single woman . . . The most public commitment we could ever make to each other is have a child together.

ORLA : We spent a long time planning to have Jacob . . . we changed our names by deed poll so that we all shared the same surname, Egan-Morley. We made sure we had our wills in order, we took as many legal steps as we could, but the bottom line is that there is no legal relationship there between Jacob and one of his parents . . . We don’t want to go somewhere else to get married and not have that marriage recognised here.

I want to be able to get married, and have Jacob have a formal legal relationship with both of his parents in the country where he lives.

‘The ritual, the declaration, it’s an affirmation. People forget that. Everyone should be entitled to that’

Don McClave and Wil Matthews have been together for seven years. Don is an Apple Mac specialist and technical support operative and Wil is a public servant. They had a Civil Partnership ceremony in Belfast earlier this year.

DON : It was pretty much love at first sight - we moved in together after about six months. We’d both been aware of marriage and civil partnership as a political issue, but around the time we were five years together, we said we’d really like to do this. We decided that if we waited for the pace of legislative progress here, we’d all be dead and buried.

We could have gone to Spain or Canada and gone for a full marriage, but that wasn’t practical for economic reasons, and since such marriages weren’t going to be recognised here - we’d been following the Zappone-Gilligan case - we thought we’d be more realistic about it. Civil partnership in Belfast was doable.

WIL : We went up to lodge our petition to have our Civil Partnership in December, and we had it on the 17th of April . . . We had some family members who were not getting any younger and we wanted them to have the day out, and we wanted to be able to get up in front of our loved ones and make a declaration of love for one another . . . It was a really joyous occasion. And even though we’ve been together seven years, our relationship feels different now.

Even though we’re not recognised here, we’ve no legal standing, to us it just feels different. The ritual, the declaration, it’s an affirmation. People forget that. Everyone should be entitled to that and everyone should be entitled to having that celebration with family and friends. It’s not a gay right; it’s just a fundamental human right.

DON : Every step is progress, and we welcome this Civil Partnership Bill, but even so, it’s not enough. We want marriage: not gay marriage, just marriage for all . . . [with this new Bill] presumably when we can present our certificate and have it recorded and acknowledged, we can look at practical things.

There have been some situations where Wil’s been in hospital and I haven’t been able to go through with him to the A&E procedures. So having that kind of recognition, that would give some measure of protection with a hospital official . . . And in the areas of social welfare, inheritance, next-of-kin rights, immediately we have some kind of status.

WIL : While this bill is fantastic and we do welcome it, we will gain some rights and entitlements, but not all, and we’re very clear about that: there’ll be many that we won’t be entitled to.

DON : They’re picking and choosing where they confer equality, but you can’t have equality where you are creating a separate legal classification for same-sex couples.

© 2010 The Irish Times

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How Relationship Coaching Can Help You

March 24th, 2010

coach_sappho_logoLGBT Spotlight: Coach Sappho

Are you a single individual looking for a meaningful relationship but dread dating? Are you in a relationship looking to enhance your connection with your partner? Relationship coaching will help you find the answers and provide the tools to spruce up your current relationship or attract your life partner.

LegalOut is pleased to feature expert relationship coach, Barb Elgin, MSW, LCSW, (AKA ‘Coach Sappho’) a Certified Singles Coach, dating and relationship coach, with over 20 years of professional experience. In addition to practicing independently for over 15 years, and earning bachelors and master’s degrees in psychology and social work, she has received specialized training in relationship coaching with the Relationship Coaching Institute, as well as personal, corporate and business coach training with Coachville.

Barb founded Coach Sappho in 2001, and was one of the first ‘out’ lesbian coaches, specializing in helping lesbian women find, grow and sustain ever more amazing love relationships. Coach Sappho has inspired hundreds of lesbians through her transformational coaching.

Barb Elgin comments on relationship coaching, “Great coaches help clients create grand visions, achieve satisfaction and savor the journey, from conception to fruition to harvesting! Great coaching inspires clients to both feed their souls and their real world needs and desires, by aligning purpose with action, and challenging clients to make real decisions and commitments to who they will be and what they will achieve in this lifetime.”

Whether you are…

  • single and looking
  • happily single, not looking for romance now, but seeking friendship or networking, personally and/or professionally
  • dating
  • in a relationship of one year or many years and you aren’t happy (or, even if you are)

Coach Sappho’s coaching services will help:

  • You learn secrets to creating a more satisfying LIFE, which is vital to attracting a more satisfying love life
  • Single individuals learn secrets to attracting the relationship one desires
  • Couples discover keys to enhancing their relationship satisfaction and longevity

Get connected with Coach Sappho:

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Visit Coach Sappho

Looking for Advice?
Check out Coach Sappho’s Blog - updated frequently with information and tips specifically for women-who-love-women. A must read for great relationship tips.

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- Real, live, lively talk about lesbian dating, mating and relating.

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Advance Legal Planning for Single LGBT Individuals

March 24th, 2010

No matter where you are in life, you’ll always benefit from taking control and being proactive about advance legal planning. Plus, there’s never a wrong time to start planning your estate. Even if you don’t have a partner, you can designate the person you trust most to be your beneficiary and act as your agent in times of crisis.

Christine, a single lesbian started thinking about the importance of preparing a will and other estate planning legal documents after a frightening accident that left her briefly unconscious. Up until the accident, like many, Christine never thought about planning for times of personal crisis such as illness, accidents, or even death. As a single person, with minimal possessions and did not own property, Christine did not think there was a need for any legal documents.

Christine caught a bad case of the flu, she became weak and dehydrated which led to Christine passing out in her bathroom. Before she fell to the floor, she unfortunately hit her head on the washer, dryer and wall. Christine briefly passed out and when she woke up found that she cut herself above her eye.

Christine went to the emergency room and fortunately only sustained a few bruises and was released the same day. During this time, Christine wondered, what would have happened had she remained unconscious:

  • who would know what type of medical decisions she desired?
  • would her family know what type of medical treatment she wanted?
  • would her favorite possessions be distributed to the people she cared for in case she passed away?
  • would people know her favorite charity to donate money?

Christine knew that in order for all these questions to be answered and ensure her wishes would be carried out in case something happened to her she needed legal documents.

LegalOut thanks Christine for sharing her story.

If you die without a will, your State’s law will determine what happens to your property in a process called intestate succession. Without health care legal documents your medical wishes will be determined by some one else.

Learn how a basic estate plan can help you take control of your wishes.

Basic Estate Planning will help you:

  • Remember friends. If you’re single, you may wish to leave property who have rewarded you with friendship.
  • Name a specific person to make health care decisions for you when you can’t make them for yourself.
  • Plan for surgery or hospitalization.
  • Assist your loved ones with difficult decisions.
  • State your wishes so that it is more likely that they will be carried out.

Estate planning is an opportunity to protect your wishes and loved ones - LegalOut provides you with affordable solutions to start your estate plan - get started now for a piece of mind!

Create a Basic Estate Plan:

At a minimum, any basic estate plan should include the following documents (click the link to learn more about the document):

Safeguard your relationship, secure your financial, property and health care rights by taking action now with LegalOut’s estate planning legal documents.

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The Story of Joy & Beth

February 12th, 2010

Joy and her partner, Beth, were together for six years living in Decatur, Georgia sharing everything from home, a business and expenses. In a tragic accident Beth passed away.

Beth fell off a ladder and was unconscious by the time she made it to the hospital, unable to communicate her wishes to family members. Joy was told to leave the hospital room because it was time for family members to make decisions about Beth’s care.

Since Joy and her partner did not have any legal documents, Joy had no legal rights to make any decisions on behalf of her partner. Joy was not allowed to visit Beth, since many states only allow legal spouses or family members - not lifelong partners. Beth’s family highly disapproved of her relationship with Joy and told the hospital staff not to admit Joy.

Joy was finally able to visit Beth after she pleaded with Beth’s family for a chance to see her partner of six years. Joy was not allowed to be part of any decision-making regarding Beth’s treatments even though Joy knew Beth’s preference for life-saving procedures, she could not instruct the medical staff, as she had no legal authority.

After Beth passed away, Joy was kicked out of her home. Without a will and Joy’s name was not on the deed, Beth’s family took everything.

If you die without making a valid will, you leave what is known as” intestacy”. Each state has different laws, but follow the same general pattern of how your estate is distributed, first to a legal spouse, children and biological family. The state of Georgia bans same-sex couple marriage. According to Georgia’s law, Joy’s relationship to Beth was not recognized.

Joy’s message to the LGBT community, “Please get legal documentation to protect your wishes. Families can be the worse and you never know until something bad happens. Losing your partner is hard enough to deal with but not being able to be there in her time of need was devastating. Do not keep putting off preparing legal documents.”

LegalOut, thanks Joy for her courage in talking to us about her experience. Joy is determined to share her experiences with the LGBT community in hopes she can help others avoid the similar situation she faced without legal documents.

If you anticipate a will challenge or hostile family members, you need to take even greater precautions in drafting your will. It is far less expensive, financially and emotionally; to plan now to make sure that your property goes to the people or charities you choose. At a minimum, any basic estate plan should include the following documents: Hospital Visitation Authorization, Living Will, Health Care Power of Attorney, Last Will and Testament, and Power of Attorney.

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Catch Liveblogging Prop 8 Trial Friday Morning

January 22nd, 2010

Keep updated with the Prop 8 Trial.

Liveblogging from Firedoglake: Click here to read more about the Prop 8 Trial.

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Special Offer: $49.95 for Domestic Partnership Agreement

October 27th, 2009

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Start your legal document now.

If you are part of a legally unmarried couple, you lack many of the protections and benefits the law extends to married couples. You must create your own safeguards by preparing legal documents.

A smart way to protect your rights is to prepare a Domestic Partnership Agreement, along with other estate planning legal documents.

And now LegalOut is offering members of the LGBT community affordable online do-it-yourself Domestic Partnership Agreement for only $49.95 or FREE with Easy Legal Care Proâ„¢ Free Trial. Take advantage of the deal today! >>

Click here to learn more about the online do-it-yourself Domestic Partnership Agreement.

Check Out Other Estate Planning Documents

A domestic partnership agreement primarily covers the sharing of income, expenses, and property, it doesn’t address other areas requiring protection. You should supplement your domestic partnership agreement with: Living Will, Will, Advance Health Care Directives, Hospital Visitation, Power of Attorney. Find more estate planning documents >>


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Rubyfruit Radio Playing the Best in Podsafe Female Artists

October 2nd, 2009

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Searching for new female artists? Tired of corporate radio stations playing the same few artists? Look no further than Rubyfruit Radio a music podcast devoted to playing only the best in female indie artists.

Heather Smith is a 30 something lesbian living in Atlanta, created Rubyfruit Radio with the mission to showcase female indie artists who are not getting the recognition they deserve on corporate radio.

Heather has a background in radio as a dj and a producer and used the podcast to get back into music broadcasting. The first episode of Rubyfruit Radio was in November of 2005 and has aired over 175 shows since.

“I have a great love of music and in particular female artists. Female artists don’t typically get as much exposure as their male counterparts even among podcasts and internet radio,” said RubyFruit Radio Founder Heather Smith. “When I decided to do a podcast, I chose to feature only female artists and female fronted bands because there was not another show doing that at the time. Many of the artists I play say that the show has helped them increase their fan base and sell more of their music. The bottom line is that there are a lot of great artists out there and they deserve to be heard.”

Rubyfruit Radio is a wonderful resource to learn about artists from all around the world and a great way to support indie artists. Check it out now, visit: www.rubyfruitradio.com

Get Connected
Click here to learn more about Rubyfruit.
Become a Facebook Fan
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Artists to reach out to get your song put onto an episode, email: rubyfruitradio@gmail.com

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Adoption Resources for LGBT Couples and Individuals

July 22nd, 2009

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Guest Blogger: LegalOut welcomes Independent Adoption Center (IAC) as a guest blogger to provide resources to LGBT families with their quest to adopt. IAC, founded in 1982, is a caring, open and supportive agency that understands the unique issues LGBT families face and has a long and proud tradition of working with gay and lesbian families in their pursuit to adopt.

LGBT families face some unique challenges when pursuing adoption. The biggest challenges are discriminatory laws and outdated, and unintentionally discriminatory, adoption agency practices.

Although adoption by LGBT families is outlawed in some states, and is difficult, though not illegal, in other states, in the vast majority of states LGBT adoptions are legal. The Independent Adoption Center (IAC) works with LGBT families to navigate the complexity of each state’s adoption laws to ensure that every adoption is done safely and legally.

The IAC is also committed to best practices in adoption, including practices that ensure the equal treatment of LGBT families. For example, a long standing practice at many adoption agencies is to ask birthparents if they are open to considering LGBT families before presenting family profiles.

This question implies that there would be some acceptable reason to consider excluding LGBT families.

The IAC has always taken the position that all families are equal and we do not ask birthparents if they are open to certain families. We assume they want to see all the families that are open to their situation so they can decide for themselves what is the best placement for their baby. As a result IAC has never had a longer wait time for LGBT families than for heterosexual families. In fact LGBT families have a shorter wait on average.

Although discriminatory laws are a problem in some states the IAC will work with LGBT families to ensure they adopt legally. We also are committed to ensuring best practices in adoption, and continually evaluate our program to ensure it serving all families equally.

Interested in learning more about adoption? Contact the IAC:  send an email or visit IAC Gay & Lesbians Families Web site.

Have an adoption question? Ask the Adoption Experts - Answers to All Your Adoption Questions.

Adoption Experts is a project by the Independent Adoption Center with the goal of spreading reliable information about domestic adoption, open adoption, and other adoption topics. Our experts have the answers to all your adoption questions. Ask your question now>>

Check out adoption stories written by some gay and lesbian families that have adopted through the IAC. Each of these families’ stories is as unique and incredible as the individuals who make up all of our open adoptive families. Read more>>

LegalOut Note:
If you are planning to start a family, in a long-term committed relationship, ensure your interests are followed should something unexpected occur.  Protect your wishes and family  by preparing legal documents. At minimum, any basic estate plan should include the following documents: Hospital Visitation Authorization, Living Will, Health Care Power of Attorney, Shared Parenting Agreement, Last Will and Testament, Power of Attorney. Protect yourself now - create legal documents.

Visit Legalout’s LGBT Issues section to learn more about adoption laws and terms.

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