Obama admin refused to work with gay lawyers to solve supposed DOMA health benefits problem

UPDATE: Surprise! Suddenly the administration is now interested in talking to gay groups about DOMA. Yeah, I bet. (And DOJ is, of course, denying the Washington Post’s original story – below.) Let the President publicly apologize for invoking incest and pedophilia, for suggesting that gay people aren’t denied benefits under DOMA since all they have to do is marry straight people, then we’ll talk about how serious the administration is about trying to make amends. And another thing: Why shouldn’t we believe this isn’t another PR photo opp with “the gays” to show how much Obama really likes us? If the administration is going to meet with gay leaders, then they’d be offering something big. Otherwise, our leaders are being used just like they let themselves be used at the White House for the “benefits” signing.
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If President Obama really wanted to give the partners of gay federal employees health benefits the other day, but truly couldn’t because the administration thought DOMA precluded the provision of such benefits, then why are two different gay legal groups claiming that the Obama administration outright refused to even talk to them about ways in which the benefits could perhaps be provided under existing law?

A very disturbing new article from Greg Sargent over at the Washington Post’s Plum Line blog:

Two prominent gay rights lawyers litigating high-profile cases against the Obama administration tell me that their requests to meet with administration lawyers to discuss the cases were rebuffed — something that will further anger gay rights activists who feel badly stiff-armed by Obama on gay rights issues.

In both cases, the lawyers are representing Federal employees whose spouses are being denied protections or benefits under the Defense of Marriage Act. The Obama administration, which is officially opposed to DOMA, is defending the act in court and claiming it precludes the granting of some benefits (like health care) to same-sex spouses of Federal employees — the topic of so much controversy this week surrounding a case in California….

Gary Buseck, the legal director for the gay rights group GLAD, tells me that he was rebuffed after asking Justice Department lawyers earlier this spring to discuss a big case he’s working on: A lawsuit in Boston on behalf of eight married couples and three surviving spouses who have been denied federal legal protections available to spouses under DOMA.

“We thought it would be a good idea to sit down with top folks at Justice to talk about this lawsuit and what it meant and to engage in more cooperative lawyering,” Busic tells me. “They told us that they didn’t want to meet with us.” The government’s response in the case is due later this month, and gay rights activists are watching closely to see if it’s similar to the one in the California case that’s generating so much controversy.

Jennifer Pizer, the marriage project director for Lambda Legal, had a similar experience on another high-profile case, also in California. She’s representing a U.S. Court of Appeals lawyer who’s fighting the federal Office of Personnel Management. The OPM is refusing benefits to her spouse under DOMA — even though two Federal appeals court judges have said employees of their court are entitled to health benefits for same-sex partners.

“We have communicated through a couple of different channels asking [OPM] to provide legal analysis to support their position,” Ms. Pizer told me. “We said, `At a minimum, give us your legal analysis so we can engage with you.’ The response was, `No, we’re not changing our position.’ That’s not what we expect from an administration whose leader speaks so emphatically about thinking discrimination is wrong.”

More on GLAD’s case and Lambda’s case.

Again, let me reiterate. Top gay lawyers simply wanted to talk with the Obama administration’s representatives at the Department of Justice and the Office of Personnel Management (which is not only run by an openly gay man, but has an openly gay general counsel). The gay lawyers wanted to know the details of the administration’s reasoning that DOMA precluded health care benefits, among other benefits, to the partners of gay employees. The Obama administration refused.

If the Obama administration were truly interested in helping the gay community get these benefits, they would gladly tell their gay friends what the details of the legal problem is, in hopes that we can all figure out a legal way around it.

But there was no such interest from Team Obama. Either the argument that DOMA precludes these benefits is a lie. Or it’s true and for some reason the Obama administration doesn’t want to give us these benefits.

Is the pattern becoming clear? It’s high time the posh $1,000 a head DNC’s gay fundraiser were canceled.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in New York City, and is the cofounder of TimeToResign.com. Bio, .

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