TIME LGBT

Federal Judge Strikes Down Arizona’s Same-Sex Marriage Ban

Arizona is the latest state where gay marriage is legal following an earlier Supreme Court move

Arizona is now the latest state with legalized same-sex marriage after a federal judge on Friday struck down the state’s ban on the practice and ordered that his decision take effect immediately.

In a concise four-page decision, U.S. District Court Judge John Sedwick cited rulings from higher courts to dismiss Arizona’s ban as unconstitutional.

“It is clear that an appeal to the Ninth Circuit would not succeed,” Sedwick wrote, referring to the higher court that has jurisdiction over a potential appeal in the case. The judge added that the United States Supreme Court has suggested that it would not hear an appeal in the Arizona case.

Arizona is the latest in a slew of states where same-sex marriage was effectively legalized after the Supreme Court earlier this month declined to hear cases addressing the issue. The court’s move effectively brought the total number of states with same-sex marriage to 30, while paving the way for legalization in other states as well.

TIME Ukraine

Crimea’s Gay Community Moves Out as Russian Homophobia Sets In

Yegor Guskov and Bogdan Zinchenko, who owned a gay bar in Sevastopol, feared for their business — and their family

The Qbar was always an awkward fit in the nightlife of Sevastopol. It was the only place in the Ukrainian city to host the occasional drag show, and certainly the only place where the all-male waitstaff wore booty shorts beneath their aprons. In other parts of Europe, and even many cities in mainland Ukraine, the camp décor would have raised few eyebrows. But Sevastopol is a macho place. It houses the Russian Black Sea naval fleet, and its streets are studded with the homes and memorials of veterans from Russian wars going back to the 18th century. So even before Russia decided in March of this year to annex the city from Ukraine along with the rest of the Crimean peninsula, the locals, both Russian and Ukrainian, looked at the Qbar with a bit of suspicion.

“For a long time they were afraid,” says Yegor Guskov, who ran the bar along with his partner, Bogdan Zinchenko, since it opened in 2007. Mostly out of a fear of the unfamiliar, the Ukrainian officials who worked next door at City Hall were “worried at first that someone would fondle them if they came inside,” he says. “But then they realized it was safe, and the food is really good. So they started coming to eat.” By day the bar would be full of dowdy bureaucrats on their lunch breaks; by night it was packed with lithe young men and women taking Sambuca shots and dancing to Britney Spears. It filled a niche, and business prospered.

But like a lot of things about life in Sevastopol, all of that changed after the Russian annexation. In response to this year’s pro-Western revolution in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops to occupy the region of Crimea, many of them fanning out from the Russian naval base in Sevastopol. The invasion quickly helped install a new set of leaders in the region, who organized a slipshod referendum to call for Crimea to secede from Ukraine. When the vote passed with an overwhelming majority – most of Crimea’s residents are ethnic Russians – Putin signed a decree absorbing the peninsula into the Russian Federation. Its two million citizens thus found themselves living under Russian law.

For the gay community in Crimea, the most worrying piece of legislation was the Russian ban on “homosexual propaganda,” which Putin signed in 2012. Although the law is billed as an effort to protect Russian children from learning about “non-traditional sexual relationships,” its critics say the law encourages homophobia, signaling to Russians that gays are somehow inferior and should not be allowed to insist on their equality in public.

Since March, the new leaders of Crimea have embraced these principles with gusto. The head of the regional government, Sergei Aksyonov, said that the West’s liberal attitude toward gay rights would be “intolerable and unacceptable” on his peninsula during a meeting with his ministers last month. “In Crimea we don’t welcome such people, we don’t need them,” he said, referring to homosexuals. If they ever try to stage a pride parade or any other public events, Aksyonov warned that the local police and paramilitary forces would “take three minutes to clarify what [sexual] orientation is right.”

That sort of discrimination began to hit home for the Qbar in April, after Moscow appointed a retired officer of the Black Sea fleet to serve as the acting head of Sevastopol. Through their patrons from City Hall, the bar’s owners learned that “someone had whispered to the new leadership that they have a gay bar sitting right underneath them,” says Guskov. A series of fire and tax inspections followed, hitting the bar with fines and official reprimands that made its managers understand they weren’t welcome anymore.

At first they tried some cosmetic remedies. They removed the Ukrainian-language sign from their door and made the waiters put on trousers instead of their trademark denim shorts. They even took the letter Q out of the name of the bar, Guskov says, because the local officials said it looked like a symbol for sodomy. “We changed the format,” he says. “We tried to make it into a normal eatery.”

But none of that made them feel safe in the city they call home. Not only are the pair among the most open of Sevastopol’s chronically closeted gays, but Guskov and Zinchenko have a two-year-old son, Timur, from a surrogate mother. The chance that some technocrat could question their custody of Timur, plus their desire to have more children, convinced them that it was time to leave Crimea behind.

In August, they joined the quiet stream of émigrés – thousands of them, even by conservative estimates – who have left the peninsula and moved to mainland Ukraine since the annexation. The largest groups have been from Crimea’s ethnic minorities, primarily Muslim Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians, who have both raised alarms over repression and discrimination since their towns and cities became a part of Russia. But the region’s gay men and women have also been moving away, as much out of protest at the annexation as out of a fear of becoming the targets of a state-backed campaign of homophobia.

Guskov believes that campaign won’t be long in coming. “When it became clear that Russia needs to prepare for isolation from Europe, it needed to smear the Europeans somehow, and the simplest is to spread this idea of perverted, decadent Gayropeans,” he says, using the derogatory term for Europeans—”Gayropeytsy”—that has entered the Russian vernacular. “So this witch hunt at home is needed as a tool to smear opponents abroad,” he says.

In Crimea, adds Zinchenko, the warning signs are easy to see. If elderly neighbors were happy before to coddle Timur and offer his parents advice on how to raise him, now the Soviet tradition of the “donos” – denouncing an acquaintance to the police – has started to return, he says. “People are writing these accusations against their neighbors just to show how patriotic they are, how loyal,” he says. “These are all signals for us. They show that we can become a target.”

That suspicion is what forced Guskov and Zinchenko to give up their business in Sevastopol, pack up their things and moved to Kiev. Along the way, the New York City-based photographer Misha Friedman joined them to document their journey, which he felt was emblematic of the transformation that Crimea, and the rest of Ukraine, have undergone since the annexation. “They just struck me as a normal happy family,” the photographer says. “They just got caught up in the politics of bigotry.” As they make their new home in the capital, they’re thinking of opening up a new Qbar, which will have to deal with a lot more competition in Kiev’s vibrant gay scene. But this seems like a minor worry compared to the risks they faced in the new Sevastopol.

Read next: What the Vatican Really Said About Homosexuality

TIME LGBT

Colorado Allows Clerks to Issue Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

Same sex marriage licenses issued
Jason Woodrich (L) and Ben Hauth share a kiss after signing their marriage license at the Denver County clerk's office where they began issuing same sex marriage licenses July 10, 2014. John Leyba—Denver Post / Getty Images

County clerks who defied a state-wide ban cleared the last legal hurdle to issuing licenses

Colorado county clerks were free to issue same-sex marriage licenses on Tuesday shortly after Colorado’s Supreme Court lifted an injunction against the practice.

The Denver Post reports that three clerks challenged a state-wide ban on gay marriage in June, issuing roughly 350 same-sex marriage licenses despite cease and desist orders from the state’s Attorney General. A Colorado court placed an injunction against the clerks until their case had received a final ruling in the courts. That final decision came Monday, when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear all appeals on same-sex marriage cases, deferring to a lower court’s decision that Colorado’s clerks could rightfully defy the ban.

The removal of the injunction on Tuesday was the last legal hurdle for the clerks, several of whom jumped ahead of the decision and issued licenses as early as Monday afternoon.

[Denver Post]

TIME Supreme Court

Supreme Court Passes on Gay Marriage Debate for Now

Supreme Court of the United States
Supreme Court of the United States Phil Roeder—Getty Images

The top court could still decide to hear one of the seven gay marriage cases pending before it.

The Supreme Court skipped an early opportunity to wade back into the national debate on gay marriage Thursday.

The nation’s top court did not include the seven different pending cases regarding same-sex marriage on a list of arguments it has agreed to hear that was released Thursday, ahead of the beginning of a new term on Monday, USA Today reports.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean the Supreme Court won’t weigh in on the cases this term. The court often holds off on deciding whether to hear high-profile cases until later in its term.

The cases in question revolve around gay marriage bans in five states: Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Indiana and Wisconsin. The Supreme Court last year ruled that the federal government could not deny benefits to same-sex couples but did not take a position on whether states are constitutionally allowed to ban same-sex marriage.

According to USA Today, 31 states currently have marriage bans in place. But since last year’s Supreme Court ruling, judges in more than a dozen of those states have overturned the bans, leaving them in place pending appeals.

[USA Today]

TIME LGBT

Federal Judge Upholds Louisiana’s Same-Sex Marriage Ban

Ruling ends a string of decisions in favor of same-sex marriage after the Supreme Court struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act

A federal judge in Louisiana ruled in favor of the state’s same-sex marriage ban Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman said in his ruling that the plaintiffs failed to show the state’s ban violated the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees equal protection under the law and a right to due process. He also held that Louisiana has the authority to set its own definition of marriage.

The plaintiffs in the case included same-sex couples who were married in states outside Louisiana and want their marriage to be recognized there, an unmarried couple who wanted to tie the knot in Louisiana and the advocacy group Forum for Equality Louisiana. That latter group plans to appeal Feldman’s decision, USA Today reports.

Feldman’s decision breaks a pattern of judges ruling in favor of same-sex marriage following the Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v. Windsor, a 2013 ruling in which part of the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down. Over 20 cases involving same-sex marriage have been decided in federal courts since the highest court’s decision in Windsor.

[USA Today]

TIME Supreme Court

Supreme Court Puts Hold on Virginia Same-Sex Marriages

Supreme Court Blocks Virginia Gay Marriages
A guard stands on the steps of the Supreme Court Building, August 20, 2014 in Washington, D.C. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

Same-sex marriages could have begun as early as Thursday

The Supreme Court effectively barred same-sex couples from marrying in Virginia Wednesday after it delayed a lower court decision that would have lifted the state’s gay marriage ban. The appeals court ruling demanded that Virginia recognize out of state same-sex marriages and would have allowed same sex-couples to marry as early as Thursday morning.

Same-sex couples in Virginia must now wait until the Supreme Court decides to either decline to hear the appeal, under which the stay would be waived, or to reach a verdict of its own.

The Supreme Court did not provide an explanation for the order, which was requested by a Virginia court clerk, but it didn’t come as a surprise after it put same sex-unions on hold in Utah earlier this year.

The top plaintiff in the case, Tim Bostic, told USA Today that he preferred to hear a verdict from the Supreme Court.

“While we are disappointed that marriages will have to wait, this was not unexpected,” he said. “We feel that this case deserves to be heard by the Supreme Court and be finally decided for all Americans.”

Virginia voted in 2006 to ban gay marriage, but both of Virginia’s Democratic senators—Tim Kaine and Mark Warner—endorsed the practice last year.

 

MONEY Taxes

WATCH: One Year After DOMA Ruling, What’s Changed For Same-Sex Couples?

One year after the Supreme Court struck down parts of the Defense of Marriage Act, same-sex couples are still fighting for marriage equality.

MONEY Social Security

Social Security Keeps Some Same-Sex Claims on Hold

If a gay couple lives in a state that doesn't recognize same-sex marriage, they may not be able to claim Social Security benefits.

The White House recently announced an expansion of federal benefits to same-sex couples, which had been promised by President Barack Obama. But the expansion does not fully include Social Security, which will require legislation to significantly broaden benefits. That leaves many gay couples seeking to make claims in legal limbo for now.

The timing of the Obama administration push occurred just before the one-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s partial overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). (The ruling was issued on June 26, 2013.) The court’s decision triggered a sweeping state-by-state legal assault on bans of same-sex marriages and civil unions. Today more than half the people in the nation live in states where such unions are recognized; legal challenges have been filed in every other state.

In the wake of these changes, most federal agencies now recognize same-sex marriages as valid if they took place in a state that recognized the union, even if the couple currently lives elsewhere. But as the Attorney General noted last week, a federal statute requires the Social Security Administration to “confer certain marriage-related benefits based on the law of the state in which the married couple resides or resided, preventing the extension of benefits to same-sex married couples living in states that do not allow or recognize same-sex marriages.” (The Veterans Administration is also hampered by this law.)

Given these legal restrictions, the approval of a same-sex Social Security claim depends largely on whether the applicant whose earnings record is the basis for the claim actually lives in a state that permits same-sex unions. If you happen to live in a state that does not, your application for benefits may be put on hold. There can be exceptions if the claimants lived in a state that recognized same-sex unions when they applied for benefits but later moved to a state that did not.

After the DOMA ruling, Social Security quickly encouraged same-sex couples to file for benefits if they felt they were entitled to them and developed new and expanded rules for these claims. But because of the state residence issue, the agency has placed an unknown number of those applications on hold. Social Security did not respond to repeated requests for details about approvals and holds for same-sex benefit applications.

Social Security apparently is approving benefit applications from couples married in one of roughly 20 states (plus D.C.) where same-sex unions are recognized and who meet the residence requirements. The agency also has recently begun to recognize civil-union spouses as qualifying for benefits. Under rules that apply to all couples, people must be married for nine months to qualify for widow or widower benefits and 12 months to qualify for spousal benefits. The Program Operations Manual System that instructs agency employees has been overhauled to include new guidance and examples of how to handle same-sex benefit applications.

A marriage must last for 10 years before divorce occurs in order for an ex-spouse to qualify for divorce benefits. Massachusetts was the first state to approve same-sex marriage, in 2004, so few same-sex couples currently qualify for divorce benefits.

To date, the biggest effect of the DOMA ruling has been to educate same-sex couples about potential claims, according to Stuart H. Armstrong II, a Massachusetts financial planner at Centinel Financial Group, who advises many LGBT clients. “Because this is such a sea change in the way of thinking, it is important for people to be aware of these benefits,” says Armstrong, also a national board member of the Financial Planning Association. “A lot of us are still pinching ourselves, realizing that this has happened so fast.”

Armstrong advises same-sex couples to review any recent Social Security claiming decisions made before they were married. Such decisions, made as individuals, might be less appealing financially than decisions available to a spouse who is married. Under Social Security rules, benefit decisions less than a year old can be withdrawn and claimants can get a “fresh slate” as regards their benefits. (They would have to repay any Social Security benefits already received, including Medicare Part B premiums for hospital insurance.)

“As access to marriage equality expands state by state, the denial of [Social Security] benefits based simply on ZIP code will increase the demand and urgency for a real solution for all families,” said Robin Maril, senior legislative counsel for the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington non-profit that has led efforts to broaden legal recognition for the LGBT community.

The group supports legislation that already has been introduced to change the Social Security law. But it’s hard to envision House conservatives voting to recognize same-sex marriage. Don’t expect the legal limbo over Social Security claims to clear up anytime soon.

Philip Moeller is an expert on retirement, aging and health. He is an award-winning business journalist and a research fellow at the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College. Reach him at moeller.philip@gmail.com or @PhilMoeller on Twitter.

TIME Religion

What Affirming Same-Sex Marriage Means for the Presbyterian Church

On June 19, the denomination I love and have been privileged to serve as a pastor for eleven years became a more just, inclusive, and Christ-like place. Here's what that change does, and does not, mean

When the results flashed on the screen in the convention center—60% in favor of giving pastors the discretion to perform same-sex weddings in states where it’s legal—I didn’t cry.

When my Facebook feed lit up with celebratory posts and the Presbyterian Church (USA) logo rendered in rainbow colors, I smiled—but still I didn’t cry.

Later that day, I ran into a dear friend, a pastor from Chicago who’s been fighting for this change for years. I hugged him hard and called dibs on his wedding, whenever that blessed time should be. Again the tears didn’t come.

It was only at the end of the week, on the plane bound for home, when the full impact of the General Assembly’s decision hit me. The trigger? A song on the iPod: “Best Day of My Life” by American Authors. Yes, after the intensity of being one of 650 commissioners at our biennial meeting in Detroit and casting a historic vote, it was a bouncy pop anthem—a song with banjo, for heaven’s sake—that finally opened the floodgates.

Thursday, June 19 was not the best day of my life. But it certainly ranks in the top twenty, somewhere between getting my seminary acceptance letter and that perfect October day driving around California wine country with the top down. On that day, the Presbyterian Church (USA) became the second largest Christian denomination to affirm same-sex marriage, after the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. (The United Church of Christ has led the way on this for almost a decade, but they’re about half our size.)

With Thursday’s vote, the denomination I love and have been privileged to serve as a pastor for eleven years became a more just, inclusive, and Christ-like place. Now, members of our churches can be married by the same pastors who may have baptized and confirmed them, visited them in the hospital, and called on them to teach, to sing in the choir and to count the offering on Sunday morning.

It’s important to know what the change does and doesn’t mean. Last week’s ruling (called an Authoritative Interpretation) gives pastors and churches the latitude to perform same-sex weddings, but doesn’t require anyone to do so. This will be small comfort to some who are convinced the PC(USA) is abandoning its biblical roots and kowtowing to cultural norms. My top-twenty happy day was one of grief for a decent-sized chunk of the church, and it’s a heady thing to cast a vote that will cause pain to others. But we who celebrate this change have not abandoned the Bible. By affirming the right of committed gay couples to make life-long vows to one another, we are seeking to walk in the Way of Jesus, who stood with the outcast and proclaimed their full humanity.

The Assembly took a second action that day—we voted 71%-29% to amend our constitution’s paragraph describing marriage—an amendment that must be ratified by a majority of our regional bodies, called presbyteries, over the next year. In typical Presbyterian style, the language was a compromise: marriage is a civil contract between “two people, traditionally a man and a woman.” This wording describes the world as it is for a growing number of states, but also nods to historical realities.

The PC(USA) has lost a number of churches in the last few years since clearing the way for LGBT persons to be ordained as pastors, elders and deacons. More will undoubtedly leave, not pacified by six words in a subordinate clause. But we hope the language will give some conservative-minded folks a place to stand. The Presbyterian Church is rarely the first one to the table on matters of justice, but when we do get there, we try to bring as many people as possible with us. Whether we’re successful this time remains to be seen.

There are congregations who’ve been clamoring for these changes. Mine isn’t one of them. I serve a small congregation with folks all over the political and theological spectrum. We’re located in Virginia, a state with one of the most restrictive constitutional amendments in the country. But it’s currently on appeal, and even opponents of marriage equality acknowledge its inevitability. When the time comes for my church to confront this issue personally, we will do so with vigorous conversation, mutual forbearance, and no small measure of humor. I’m proud to be part of a denomination that trusts us to make that decision faithfully for our context.

And when my friend in Chicago ties the knot, I’ll be ready to go, with my clergy robe, Book of Common Worship… and yes, my Bible too.

MaryAnn McKibben Dana is a pastor, speaker, and the author of Sabbath in the Suburbs and a forthcoming book, Spirituality for the Smartphone Age. Connect with her at her website, The Blue Room.

TIME LGBT

America’s Same-Sex Couples Are Going to Get More Federal Benefits

And that's going to be the case even if they live in states that do not recognize their unions

Same-sex couples will be eligible for additional federal benefits, the Obama Administration will announce on Friday.

According to a White House official, several Cabinet agencies are announcing policy changes — consistent with last year’s Supreme Court striking of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) — to extend additional protections to same-sex couples, regardless of whether they live in a state that recognizes same-sex unions.

Among the announcements, the Department of Labor is proposing to make married same-sex couples eligible for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

The Department of Justice will also announce the completion of a yearlong review of federal benefits and obligations, expanding those offered to same-sex couples in a number of states where they are currently barred.

BuzzFeed’s Chris Geidner has a clear explainer of some of the benefits being made available.

The White House official added that President Barack Obama is still calling for legislation to roll back the parts of DOMA that were not struck down by the court, particularly to provide Social Security and other benefits to same-sex couples who live in states that don’t recognize their unions.

“The Administration is calling for legislation to fix those provisions that prohibit legally married same-sex couples from enjoying the federal benefits they are entitled to,” the official said.

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