Thursday, August 1, 2013

Policy Matters: August 1, 2013


Minnesota and Rhode Island Begin Celebrating Same-Sex Marriages on August 1

In the same way that young people eagerly anticipate the arrival of their next birthday, August 1 marks the inaugural date on which same-sex couples can celebrate their love with legal marriages in Minnesota and Rhode Island.  Rhode Island, the last New England state to pass same-sex marriage and begins weddings at 8:30 a.m., and Minnesota, which has weddings scheduled to begin across the state beginning at midnight, bring the total of U.S. states with same-sex marriage to 13 (plus the District of Columbia).  Freedom to Marry estimates that 30 percent of Americans live where same-sex marriage is legal. Click here to read more about what’s planned in these two states on the historic day.  Click here to read Minnesota’s live blog.

Palm Center Launches Three-Year, $1.35 Million Study on Trans Military Service

The Palm Center, a research institute that managed research on the ‘Don’t ask, Don’t tell’ (DADT) policy that was integral to the law’s successful repeal, has received a three-year, $1.35 million grant to study transgender service in the U.S. military.  The composite study will investigate “whether and how the U.S. Armed Forces could include transgender troops without undermining readiness” and will be driven by Palm Center’s Transgender Military Initiative. It will be conducted as 11 academic research studies by 16 commissioned scholars who will probe issues including privacy, medical accommodations and the experience of foreign militaries and sports programs.   Today, U.S. military regulations call for transgender and transsexual service members to be discharged if they are discovered or disclose their status. DADT only affected gay or lesbian service members.  Click here to read the BuzzFeed report that broke this story.

Pope Francis Says “Gay” for the Second Time, Perhaps the First Pope to Say “Gay”

By the time you read this, you will likely have read many interpretations of Pope Francis’s words spoken during the impromptu news conference he held on the Papal plane en route to Rome from Rio.  While he said several sentences in response to a question about the prospect of gay priests, the quote most cited is: “If a person is gay and seeks the Lord in good will, who am I to judge?”  Click here to read an article that discusses Pope Francis’s distinction between people and their actions in The Washington Post’s Religion section.

Two Lesbian Couples Challenge Oklahoma’s Same-Sex Marriage Ban after DOMA Ruling

Since The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) struck down Section 3 of DOMA on June 26, 2013, previously dormant lawsuits and new ones are coming alive.  Among them is a challenge to Oklahoma’s state prohibition of same-sex marriage by Mary Bishop and Sharon Baldwin, and Susan Barton and Gay Phillips, the latter married in California, who are urging U.S. District Judge Terence Kern to issue rulings in Bishop’s and Barton’s 2004 suit filed in a Tulsa federal court.  The case was stayed for more than a year, pending decisions on others in queue for consideration by SCOTUS.  The couples filed a legal brief to Judge Kern, alleging that Oklahoma’s marriage ban violates their fundamental right to marry and the exercise of liberties inherent in such fundamental right.  The suit also challenges DOMA’s Section 2 (which allows states not to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states – often called portability). ACLU and Lambda Legal will file a federal lawsuit seeking to end the ban on marriage for same-sex couples in Virginia on August 1, but details are not available at presstime, pending two news conferences to outline the litigation. Click here to read about all currently pending cases regarding same-sex marriage in many states, a list compiled by constitutional law expert Nan Hunter of Georgetown University Law Center and UCLA’s The Williams Institute.

U.S. District Judge Issued Court Order Requiring Ohio to Recognize Same-Sex Couple’s Marriage

James Obergefell and his dying spouse, John Arthur, both 47, were “blown away” when a judge issued a court order mandating that the State of Ohio recognize their marriage performed in Maryland on July 11.  The Cincinnati couple, partnered for 20 years, spent $13,500 to wed there with funds mostly donated by friends and family members who wanted the couple to be able to access the needed medical equipment and services for Arthur to travel for them to be wed legally.  The couple married aboard the plane as it sat on the tarmac before returning to Cincinnati the next day. The favorable outcome following them suing to be recognized as married in their home state was matched by the global messages of support they received. Arthur is dying of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS,) also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Obergefell told a Washington Blade reporter, "We're blown away, we're thrilled and happy to show the world that we're people too. We're just like your neighbors, just like your kids. All we want is exactly what you have."  Arthur's death certificate must denote that he's legally married and Obergefell is his surviving spouse. Obergefell said the judge’s decision was "surprising, gratifying and just incredible."

Report Finds that Adding Same-Sex Marriage in Hawaii Could Generate $200,000 A Day In Revenue for the State
With states struggling to boost their revenue base as they weigh how to boost local services, University of Hawaii economics professor Sumner La Croix released a report on July 25 showing the potentially positive economic impact if marriage equality passed in The Aloha State.  The report demonstrates that if Hawaii’s legislature would pass same-sex marriage, the state could add $217 million in hospitality and tourism gains and $10.2 million in tax revenue from 2014-2016, which represents about $200,000 per day.  The study also warns that if Hawaii does not seize the window of opportunity, then it would lose that potential revenue to other states that already offer marriage equality.

Federal Government Favorably Resolves Complaint Filed by CA Transgender Student
On July 24, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights and U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division announced a resolution to a complaint filed by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) on behalf of a transgender student in California’s Arcadia Unified School District. The resolution requires the school district to treat the student as male in all respects and keep his transgender status private. The school district also agreed to revise its policies to ensure that all students who do not conform to gender/sex stereotypes, including transgender students, have equal access and opportunity to participate in all of the district’s activities and programs.  District-wide training for personnel and students will support the policy revision, and a qualified, mutually agreed-upon expert will oversee implementation. The student and his family—who asked that their names not be made public--filed a complaint with OCR and DOJ in October 2011 when the school district required him to sleep in a cabin by himself instead of allowing him to room with his male peers on an overnight field trip. The DOJ and DOE’s Office of Civil Rights issued a letter, clarifying that it should not be cited or construed as a formal statement.  The letter named Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s “prohibition of sex discrimination, to discriminate against transgender individuals based on sex, including nonconformity with sex stereotypes and gender identity.”  The letter also cited Vandy Beth Glenn’s case in which she successfully challenged anti-transgender discrimination by the Georgia legislature and Mia Macy’s case favorably resolved EEOC case when it decided in April 2012 that Title VII’s sex discrimination and sex stereotyping ban includes discrimination based on gender identity.  Click here to read more on this story.

Senate’s Veterans Affairs Committee Passes Same-Sex Military Spouse Benefits Bill
The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee advanced the Charlie Morgan Military Spouse Equal Treatment Act on July 24.  The bill, introduced by Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), seeks to align The Department of Veterans Affairs with the June 26 SCOTUS ruling that struck down Section 3 of DOMA by expanding veterans’ benefits eligibility for same-sex couples who are legally married.  It is named for now-deceased veteran Charlie Morgan and seeks to provide for her family the same veterans benefits afforded opposite sex married veterans and their dependents.  

Restore Honor to Service Members Act Seeks Honorable Discharge for Gay and Lesbian Veterans Removed during DADT because of Their Sexual Orientation

On July 25, Congressmen Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Charlie Rangel (D-NY) introduced the Restore Honor to Service Members Act which has 106 cosponsors, including Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL).  The bill would streamline the process of reviewing the discharge classification of the 114,000 veterans who left the military due to and during DADT because of their sexual orientation, dating back to 1993.  Many gay service members released during DADT received general or other than honorable or dishonorable discharges.  Dishonorable discharge is considered a felony in some states.  Discharge classification can impact a veteran’s civilian employment consideration, access to vote, approval of unemployment benefits, GI Bill participation or receiving veteran benefits including healthcare, disability and ceremonial burial rights at federal or military cemeteries.  

U.S. House Appropriations Committee Makes Milestone Step: Approves Bill Amendment to Study HIV Criminalization; Next Step Would Be Vote by Full U.S. House

The U.S. House Appropriations Committee on July 17 voted to include an amendment to the FY2014 Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations Act that would direct the Department of Justice to review state and federal HIV criminalization statutes and make recommendations to Congress on its findings.  Authored by long-time HIV/AIDS legislative champion Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-TX), the action is an important step forward which would lead to the request by HIV/AIDS advocates urging the U.S. House to bring the Amendment to the Floor for a vote. The Committee-approved Amendment’s text follows:

Modernizing laws with respect to people living with HIV/AIDS. The Committee is aware of the position of the President’s Advisory Council on AIDS (PACHA) that current criminal laws require modernization, should be consistent with current medical and scientific knowledge and avoid imposition of unwarranted punishment based on health and disability status. The Committee directs the Attorney General, within 90 days following enactment of this Act, to initiate a review of Federal and State laws, policies, and regulations regarding criminal and related civil commitment cases involving people living with HIV/AIDS. The Committee further directs the Attorney General, no later than 180 days from initiating the review, to make best practice recommendations to ensure such policies do not place unique or additional burdens on individuals living with HIV/AIDS and reflect contemporary understanding of HIV transmission routes and associated benefits of treatment. 

Is it Law or Not?  U.S. Government Posts U.S. Code – Set of Current U.S. Laws – Online for All to Access

Most of us who work for workplace equality by advocating for ENDA have heard that 90 percent of people surveyed in the U.S. already believe that there is already a law that prohibits employers from discriminating against LGBT Americans based solely on their sexual orientation or gender identity.  We who work for ENDA know it’s not true.  But that makes us among 10 percent. From today forward, you can see all current and enacted U.S. laws from your computer or smart device by visiting It’s easy to verify that establishing workplace equality against discrimination is not yet in the U.S. Code as law but full inclusion against hate crimes is.  While the 51 Titles and five appendices that comprise current U.S. Code are printed by the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) every six years, updated as appendices each year by the Office of the Law Revision Counsel (OLRC) of the U.S. House of Representatives, you can right now access online the full set of in-place U.S. laws, organized into titles based on subject matter. And if you want to see past laws, those that are out-of-date, fret not: you can see previous editions of our nation’s laws here:

Passed State Bills Still Await Governor’s Signature in California and New Jersey

PFLAGers and other constituents in California and New Jersey reached out in July to Governor Jerry Brown in California and Governor Christie in New Jersey to sign into law bills that were passed strongly by both chambers of their respective legislatures, and both bills still await that signature.  California’s Assembly Bill 1266, the School Success and Opportunity Act passed on July 3.  It would afford transgender and gender non-conforming students the ability to access in accord with their gender identity or expression athletic teams and other separated accommodations in their schools.  New Jersey’s S2278/A3371, sent to Gov. Christie for signature on June 27, would prohibit discredited sexual orientation change efforts, a bill that would protect LGBT youth.


Dear Policy Matters:

I know that Obamacare is coming in 2014.  I have insurance now, but I worry that if I lose my job and need to use Obamacare, I won’t know what to do.  It seems like I hear so much about it but don’t really understand the issues...especially as it relates to the LGBT community. What do I need to know?

Insured But Curious

Dear IBC:

Yes, we encourage you to bring us any questions you have about health reform or LGBT health any time. Beginning in this issue, and moving forward at least through part of next year, we will have a section on healthcare reform or LGBT health.  This issue lays a backdrop on general important information.  In future issues of Policy Matters, look for special emphasis on LGBT Health, including that in healthcare reform or Obamacare.  

For now, let’s look generally at some key items, dates and offerings in Q & A format.

Q:  What is Obamacare, and is it the same as the Affordable Care Act?

On March 23, 2010, President Obama signed into law comprehensive health reform, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which is commonly called Obamacare. So, yes, they are the same thing. The law aims to do three things:  expand coverage, control healthcare costs, and improve healthcare delivery systems for better patient health outcomes.

Q:  In 2014, will everyone have to buy health insurance?

Effective January 2014, most people will need to have health insurance.  Some exemptions were written into the law, and for those who are not exempt, they will need to pay a penalty if they are not insured.  Insurance coverage may include employer-provided insurance, coverage someone buys on their own (including in the general marketplace called the Exchange), or Medicaid for those who qualify.
Several groups are exempt from the requirement to obtain coverage or pay the penalty, including some in low income brackets, people who qualify for religious exemptions, undocumented immigrants, people who are incarcerated, and members of Native American tribes.  Click here to see an easy-to-use chart.
Q:  How can people prove they have insurance?

Health insurance plans will provide documents to people they insure that will be used to prove that they have the minimum coverage required by law.

Q: What is a Health Insurance Marketplace, and how can I find what’s available in my state?

Health Insurance Marketplaces (also known as Exchanges) are new organizations that will be set up to create more organized and competitive markets for buying health insurance. They will offer a choice of different health plans, certifying plans that participate and providing information to help consumers better understand their options.  Beginning Oct. 1, 2013, you will find at which health insurance plans are available where you live.  You will be able to select your state at the site, explore different plans based on your personal needs and preferences and receive assistance that you’ve come to expect on websites or phone lines to guide you and help you choose what’s right for you.
Q:   Can children be on their parents’ health insurance plan in the Exchange?
Yes. The health reform law contains a provision that requires private insurers to continue dependent coverage of children until age 26 (through age 25; it ceases on the child’s 26th birthday). Department of Health and Human Services regulations specify that a young adult can qualify for this coverage even if he or she is no longer living with a parent, is not a dependent on a parent's tax return, or is no longer a student.  Both married and unmarried young adults can qualify for the dependent coverage extension, although that coverage does not extend to a young adult’s spouse or children.

Q:   What are guidelines for people with pre-existing conditions?

Starting in 2014, all health insurers must sell coverage to everyone who applies, regardless of their medical history or health status. At that time, insurers will not be allowed to charge more to individuals with pre-existing conditions, nor will they be able exclude coverage of those conditions from the insurance plans they sell.  
Since September 23, 2010, the law has provided new protections for children with pre-existing conditions. Insurers cannot deny coverage to children due to their health status, nor can they exclude coverage for pre-existing conditions.
Q:   When does the Exchange ‘open’ and by when do people without insurance need to have it?
October 1, 2013 begins what is called “Open Season,” the date on which people can access health plans available in their states at and these options will remain on the website until Open Season closes, which is March 31, 2014.  
People are expected to have selected a plan and put in place before January 1, 2014 to avoid any penalties.  This is true for anyone who is not already insured or who meets the specified exemptions listed in the related question above.
Q:   How can people receive reliable advice or ask questions to a person if they cannot or prefer not to use services online?

Right now, even today, people can call 1-800-318-2596 or (TTY: 1-855-889-4325) and receive advice and direction from qualified, trained staff.  The line is open 24/7, and assistance is available in English and Spanish.  Other languages are also available and accommodated through Language Line, but bilingual staff (English and Spanish) is available around the clock, directly at the other end of the phone.

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