News Round-Up: September 14, 2020

Professional English Rugby player Levi Davis (image via Instagram)

Some news items you might have missed:

Gay Star News: Professional English Rugby player Levi Davis (above) has come out as bisexual – a first for a professional player with his career still ahead of him. The 22-year-old is also famous for his other love – music. Last year he formed a band to take part in the Celebrity X Factor competition and got through to the semi-finals.

Attitude Magazine: “I realized that being gay and growing up around people and in a culture where that wasn’t celebrated – where it was reviled, in many ways – had an impact on me. Happy as I am, I’m still working out the fear I grew up with: that by revealing who I really am, I will somehow lose the love of the people who are important to me.” – Jim Parsons in a new interview with the UK publication.

Lambda Legal: A federal district judge ruled in favor of a woman who was denied Social Security survivor benefits after her partner of more than two decades had passed away. Helen Thornton and Marge Brown lived as a couple for 27 years, purchasing a home together, and raising a child. Brown passed away in 2006 of cancer years before marriage equality came to Washington state. The Social Security Administration (SSA) refused to give Thornton survivor benefits after Brown passed away.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman

The Atlantic: “They may or may not have dirt on him (Trump), but they don’t have to use it. They have more effective and less risky ways to employ him. He has aspirations to be the kind of leader that Putin is, and so he admires him. He likes authoritarian strongmen who act with impunity, without checks and balances. So he’ll try to please Putin. In the Army we call this ‘free chicken,’ something you don’t have to work for — it just comes to you. This is what the Russians have in Trump: free chicken.” – former National Security Council official Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman.

Axios: In a new clip from an interview with Bob Woodward, Donald Trump said that his relationships with world leaders are better “the tougher and meaner they are,” naming Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as an example.

CBSN: Meeting with officials in California to discuss the wildfires that are devastating the state on Monday, Donald Trump pushed back when Wade Crowfoot, secretary of California’s Natural Resources Agency, told him the science regarding climate change needed to be looked at.

“It’ll start getting cooler. You just watch,” said Trump.

“I wish science agreed with you,” Crowfoot replied.

“I don’t think science knows actually,” Trump remarked with a smirk.

Same-Sex Spouses (Finally) Win Equal Access To Social Security Benefits

A couple kisses following a same-sex marriage ceremony
(image via Depositphotos)

A federal judge ruled on Wednesday that the Social Security Administration (SSA) can’t deny survivor benefits to same-sex couples who were unable to be married for the required nine months due to gay marriage bans.

Even though marriage equality became the law of the land in June of 2015, some same-sex couples still found a discriminatory barrier in their way when applying for spousal benefits.

Lambda Legal brought a class action lawsuit, Ely v. Saul, which included the case of Michael Ely.

Ely met James Taylor (not the famous musician) in 1971 in California. After 20 years together, the couple moved to Tucson, Arizona, where Taylor found work as a jet mechanic and Ely maintained their home.

Although same-sex marriage wouldn’t arrive in Arizona for several more years, the two men had a commitment ceremony in 2007. And when the state’s marriage laws changed in late 2014, after being together for 43 years, Ely and Taylor exchanged marriage vows and became legally married.

But six months later, Taylor would lose his battle with cancer.

SSA denied Ely survivor’s benefits for not being married for nine months, even though that was legally impossible for him in Arizona.

James Obergefell, the plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges that ultimately made same-sex marriage legal everywhere in the U.S., was also a plaintiff in Ely v. Saul.

Mr. Obergefell didn’t qualify for a lump-sum benefit from the SSA because when his husband, John Arthur, died they had only been legally married for three months due to Ohio’s marriage laws.

Even though they were together 20 years, 9 months and 22 days, their three-month marriage wasn’t enough for the SSA.

But Judge Bruce G. Macdonald’s decision in the U.S. District Court of Arizona changed all that. Macdonald wrote in his ruling:

“Because same-sex marriage is a fundamental right, and the underpinnings of the duration-of-marriage requirement has relied on the unconstitutional ban of that right, it cannot be said to be rationally related to a legitimate interest to a surviving spouse such as Mr. Ely.”

Peter Renn, one of the Lambda Legal attorneys, told NBC News that even with the Obergefell decision five years ago, the plaintiffs in the case “have been deprived the protections of marriage” and without this court victory they would have been deprived those protections for the rest of their lives.

“Being able to access survivors benefits can make the difference for whether someone can afford the basic necessities of life, like housing, food and health care,” Renn said.

Because the court’s ruling also certified the case as a nationwide class action, same-sex spouses across the country who were similarly barred from meeting the 9-month requirement by discriminatory marriage bans will have a pathway forward to relief.

One class member, Josh Driggs, from Phoenix, Arizona, already experienced homelessness on two separate occasions after Social Security denied him survivor’s benefits based on his more than 40-year relationship with his husband, Glenn Driggs, and he fell behind in his rent without the financial protection of those benefits.

“While these monthly benefits may seem modest, they can make the life-changing difference between having enough food, medication, or a roof over one’s head,” Driggs said.

(source: Lambda Legal, NBC News)

Podcast: NFL Player Celebrates Same-Sex Marriage, Gay Widower Denied Benefits, Short Film ‘The Real Thing’

In this week’s podcast:

• A former Dallas Cowboys linebacker becomes first NFLer to celebrate same-sex marriage

• Michelle Obama snuck out of the White House to celebrate marriage equality

• Hate crime suspect in Brooklyn faces 15 years in prison after violent gay-bashing

• A gay widower is being denied benefits by the Social Security Administration

• Acclaimed short film ‘The Real Thing’ really is the real thing

All that and more in this episode of The Randy Report

If you enjoy The Randy Report podcast, please share it on your social media 🙂

Gay Widower Being Denied Survivor Benefits By Social Security Administration

Michael Ely and James Taylor (image via Metro Weekly)

James Taylor and Michael Ely of Arizona were together as a loving couple for 43 years having met in 1971 when Taylor was 20-years-old and Ely was 18-years-old.

In 1994, they moved to Tucson, Arizona. Taylor was the primary wage earner, while Ely managed their household.

In 2007, the couple celebrated their relationship with a commitment ceremony.

And they married as soon as they could when a court struck down Arizona’s ban on same-sex marriage in 2014.

Sadly, six months later, Taylor passed away of cancer.

But when Ely filed for Taylor’s Social Security benefits (which Taylor paid into his whole life), he was denied.

It turns out the Social Security Administration requires couples to be married for a minimum of 9 months before a survivor can access benefits.

It’s worth noting that the couple would have married sooner but were barred from doing because of Arizona’s marriage ban.

It would seem logical that a well-documented relationship of 43 years would somehow be able to overcome this legal snafu.

“Even though we’d been together for 43 years, I’m barred from receiving the same benefits as other widowers,” says Ely. “Even though my husband had worked hard for 40-plus years and paid into the social security system with every paycheck.”

Lambda Legal has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Social Security Administration saying the nine-month marriage requirement for social security survivor’s benefits is unconstitutional where same-sex couples were not able to be married for nine months because of discriminatory marriage laws.

“The federal government is requiring surviving same-sex spouses like Michael to pass an impossible test to access benefits earned through a lifetime of work,” said Peter Renn of Lambda Legal. “Michael and his husband got married as soon as they could, less than three weeks after Arizona ended its exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage, but they were only able to be married for six months before Michael’s husband died of cancer.”

“Now, the Social Security Administration is allowing the heartbreak of discriminatory marriage bans to persist by holding same-sex couples to a standard that many could not meet, insisting that they have been married for nine months even where it was legally impossible for them to do so.”

“These benefits are as essential to the financial security of surviving same-sex spouses in their retirement years as they are to heterosexual surviving spouses,” says Renn. “But the government is holding their benefits hostage and imposing impossible-to-satisfy terms for their release.”

Lambda Legal filed a similar lawsuit in September against the Social Security Administration on behalf of a 63-year-old lesbian in Washington state who was unable to marry her partner of 27 years due to the ban on same-sex marriage in that state.

(h/t Lambda Legal)

After Massive Tax Cuts For The Rich, GOP Senate Blames Rising Deficits On Medicare/Social Security

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

Remember when the Trump tax cuts were not only going to pay for themselves but lower the deficit?

Yeah, not so much.

From Bloomberg News:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blamed rising federal deficits and debt on a bipartisan unwillingness to contain spending on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, and said he sees little chance of a major deficit reduction deal while Republicans control Congress and the White House.

“It’s disappointing, but it’s not a Republican problem,” McConnell said Tuesday in an interview with Bloomberg News when asked about the rising deficits and debt. “It’s a bipartisan problem: unwillingness to address the real drivers of the debt by doing anything to adjust those programs to the demographics of America in the future.”

McConnell’s remarks came a day after the Treasury Department said the U.S. budget deficit grew to $779 billion in Donald Trump’s first full fiscal year as president, the result of the GOP’s tax cuts, bipartisan spending increases and rising interest payments on the national debt. That’s a 77 percent increase from the $439 billion deficit in fiscal 2015, when McConnell became majority leader.

News Round-Up: April 18, 2015

News items you may have missed:

• At this point we all know to act right when sitting in the audience of a Patti LuPone performance. Well, everyone except this woman.

• Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the first gay protest. Bow in respect, please.

• Hollywood legend Rock Hudson’s former boyfriend recently spoke on how the couple kept their gay life secret.

• Jonathan Groff, star of HBO’s LOOKING, admits there was a time he was so closeted he couldn’t be in public with his boyfriend. Not even when he was nominated for a Tony Award.

• Jeb Bush and NJ Gov. Christ Christie want to raise the retirement age for Social Security

• Conan shows you how Hillary Clinton is just like the rest of us

U.S. Senate Republicans Vote With Dems On Equal Federal Benefits For Same-Sex Married Couples

Eleven Senate Republicans crossed the aisle to vote with all of the Democrats last night in approving an amendment to guarantee equal Social Security and veterans benefits to married same-sex couples based on where the marriage was GRANTED, not the state of residence.

Via Buzzfeed:

The amendment, proposed by Sen. Brian Schatz, addressed the fact that both Social Security and some provisions of veterans’ benefits are, by statute, provided to spouses on the basis of whether a couple’s marriage is recognized by the state in which they live. The amendment would provide for benefits for spouses for all married same-sex couples, regardless of where they live.

Schatz praised the bipartisan support the measure received.

“Tonight, eleven Republicans joined Democrats in recognizing that gay couples deserve equal treatment, regardless of where they live,” he said. “We still have work to do to, but this is progress and a win for equal rights.”

Six of the 11 Republicans voting for the measure are up for re-election in 2016. They know where the arc of history will bend.

The 11 Republicans were Ayotte (NH), Burr (NC), Collins (ME), Heller (NV), Johnson (WI), Kirk (IL), Moore Capito (WV), Murkowski (AL), Portman (OH), and Tillis (NC).

Social Security benefits to be extended to LGBT married couples in marriage equality states only

We finally get clarity on one of the big benefits of marriage equality – Social Security benefits. But pay attention – the federal government has decided to limit Social Security benefits to couples who live in states where marriage equality is legal. Married in Massachusetts but live in Pennsylvania? You’re out of luck.

The Social Security Administration had tried to trumpet the fact that it was starting to make benefits available to same-sex married couples. But the fine print is that eligibility for federal benefits depends upon the state in which you live. This was an issue identified immediately in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling in June.

This isn’t the case regarding ALL federal benefits of marriage. The State Department doesn’t care where you live if you and your spouse apply for a visa, and the Pentagon is actually considering leave for gay and lesbian military personnel to travel to get married so that they will be entitled to military spouse benefits no matter where they live. The Labor Department just extended Family and Medical Leave rights to same-sex married couples.

However, the Social Security Administration is hampered by a statute that prevents it from unilaterally offering benefits to all couples. The only way to change the policy would be a legislative solution. And with the House currently in the hands of the GOP folks, that’s a “no-go.”

So, pick where you live carefully. In the case of your Social Security benefits, geography is destiny.

(via Queerty)

Social Security Administration announces new policies for married same-sex couples

The Social Security Administration announced on Friday that since the Supreme Court’s historic rulings, which on June 26 struck down a key section of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act,  processes will soon be in place to treat same-sex married couples equally:

“I am pleased to announce that Social Security is now processing some retirement spouse claims for same-sex couples and paying benefits where they are due,” said Carolyn W. Colvin, acting commissioner of Social Security, in a statement released Friday. “We continue to work closely with the Department of Justice. In the coming weeks and months, we will develop and implement additional policy and processing instructions. We appreciate the public’s patience as we work through the legal issues to ensure that our policy is legally sound and clear. I encourage individuals who believe they may be eligible for Social Security benefits to apply now, to protect against the loss of any potential benefits. We will process claims as soon as additional instructions become finalized.”

(via Advocate)