VA and SSA Benefits Now Extended to Missouri’s Married Couples of the Same Sex

October 26, 2014

ST. LOUIS  – When the Supreme Court struck down section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act last year, the federal government recognized marriages of same-sex couples for most purposes. However, the Social Security Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs were unable to provide certain benefits to married same-sex couples residing in Missouri because of Missouri’s refusal to recognize their marriages. The benefits included social security benefits for surviving spouses and VA home loans for married couples.

The ­­­­Social Security Administration and Department of Veterans Affairs will now recognize the marriages of all Missourians for all purposes of federal law, regardless of their sexual orientation.  The change is a result of a court decision earlier this month requiring Missouri to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples lawfully entered into in other jurisdictions.*

"The federal government now recognizes that Missouri treats all married couples the same regardless of their sexual orientation,” explains Tony Rothert, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri. “Today’s announcement makes clear that married persons in Missouri will no longer face government-sanction discrimination based on sexual orientation. It is rewarding to see married couples treated with equality in Missouri. However, we still have work to do to bring full marriage equality to Missouri and to put safeguards into law to protect lesbians, gay men, and transgender individuals from discrimination in the workplace, housing and public accommodations.”

The Social Security Administration's guidance about which states recognize marriages between people of the same sex is available at: https://secure.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/0200210003. The Department of Veterans Affairs maintains its list at: http://www.va.gov/opa/marriage/.

 

*On Oct. 3,  Missouri Circuit Court Judge J. Dale Youngs ruled inBarrier v. Vasterlingthat all legal same-sex marriages must be recognized, and on Oct. 6, Attorney General announced he would not appeal Judge Youngs’ decision. Then on Oct. 9, the Missouri Consolidated Health Care Plan opened coverage to same-sex spouses of Missouri employees, retirees and family members.

 

 


Category: LGBT Rights

ACLU of Missouri Issues Report on the Unchecked Use of Surveillance Cameras in St. Louis

October 23, 2014

The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri released its report “Caught in the Web of Mass Surveillance” today. It is the product of an extensive investigation into the existing web of surveillance cameras in St. Louis, where a number of entities maintain a hodgepodge of surveillance cameras governed by a variety of internal policies or, in many cases, no policies at all.

The report is authored by John Chasnoff, the ACLU’s former program director, and includes recommendations for privacy safeguards that should be incorporated into existing camera networks and any new surveillance network development. Also included is a warning for St. Louis City to proceed with caution as it decides if it should fund the Real-Time Intelligence Center (RTIC).

“Today’s laws and policies are not keeping pace with advanced technology and, government can use that technology to intrude into our private lives,” says Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. “Absent real safeguards, the loss of privacy becomes permanent.”

The report can be found online on the ACLU of Missouri’s website at: http://www.aclu-mo.org/mass-surveillance

Southeast Missouri City Agrees to Stop Harassing Homeless

October 15, 2014

On Oct. 14, U.S. District Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh, Jr. entered a consent judgment in the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri’s challenge to the City of Miner’s unconstitutional ordinances banning loitering, vagrancy and begging. The ACLU filed the lawsuit last December on behalf of a homeless couple who was threatened with arrest by Miner police officers for nothing more than peaceably standing on public property and holding a sign that read “Traveling. Anything helps. God bless.” 

In late September of 2013, Brandalyn Orchard and Edward Gillespie, who are Missouri residents, were approached by a police officer and told they must leave town. They respectfully asked if they were breaking any laws. The officer left and returned with highlighted copies of three purported ordinances against vagrancy, begging and loitering. He was later joined by another policeman who told the couple they would be arrested for violating the ordinances if they didn’t leave town in five minutes, so they complied and haven’t returned. 

“Without the ACLU’s help, nothing in Miner would have changed,” said Orchard. “Our lawyers deserve all the credit.”

“This suit is a textbook case on how to react when your rights are being violated,” explains Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. “The couple respectfully asked if they were breaking any laws, requested copies of the ordinances they were violating, obeyed the officer’s demands to leave town, and then filed a complaint with the ACLU.” The ACLU learned that Miner does not have the ordinances the police cited.

“Bullying is never good, but it is especially bad when done by our government and directed at those who might lack the resources to defend their rights,” said Jeffrey A. Mittman, the ACLU of Missouri’s executive director. “Being homeless or poor doesn’t strip you of your constitutional rights and it is the role of the ACLU to step in and be a voice for those who may feel powerless to challenge the government.” 

The consent judgment, the complaint and a photo of the couple can be found on the legal dockets section of the ACLU of Missouri’s website.

Judge Grants Preliminary Injunction in ACLU’s Five-Second Rule Lawsuit

October 06, 2014

Law enforcement officials can no longer force peaceful protesters in Ferguson to keep moving on sidewalks when they are breaking no law. Federal Judge Catherine Perry granted a preliminary injunction this afternoon in the lawsuit Mustafa Abdullah v. Saint Louis County et al.,  regarding the “five-second rule.”

In August, law enforcement officers began enforcing a new rule in the area where demonstrators had gathered in Ferguson after the shooting death of Michael Brown. The ACLU of Missouri called it the “five-second rule” because protesters were told they could not remain still for more than five seconds, but law enforcement invoked the rule for many things including standing still for more than five seconds, just standing still, and walking back and forth over hundreds of yards in the protest area. The rule has no statutory or regulatory reference number and has not been released to the public in print.

“The rule of law is essential to our constitutional system of government, and it applies equally to law enforcement officers and to other citizens,” wrote Judge Perry in her ruling.

“Vague rules that are applied in a haphazard fashion tend to increase community tension,” said Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. “Judge Perry’s injunction is a huge win for peaceful protesters and those who believe in the rule of law.

The law firm Munger, Tolles, & Olson, LLP, is serving as cooperating counsel with the ACLU of Missouri. The original complaint for Abdullah v. Saint Louis County et al. can be found on the ACLU of Missouri website.

The ACLU of Missouri is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that defends and expands the constitutional rights and civil liberties of all Missourians guaranteed under the United States and Missouri Constitutions, through its litigation, legislative and public education programs. It is an affiliate of the national ACLU.

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Supreme Court Decision Paves Way for the Freedom to Marry Nationwide

October 06, 2014

Supreme Court Lets Stand Four Appeals Court Decisions Requiring States to Allow Same-Sex Couples to Marry

NEW YORK – The Supreme Court of the United States today denied review in all of the marriage equality cases pending before it. As a result of the Court’s action, same-sex couples in Virginia, Wisconsin, Indiana, Oklahoma and Utah will now be able to marry the partners they love. Today’s orders also mean that same-sex marriage will soon become lawful in at least 30 states.

"This is a watershed moment for the entire country. We are one big step closer to the day when all same-sex couples will have the freedom to marry regardless of where they live. The time has come and the country is ready," said James Esseks, Director of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. "This is life-saving news for same-sex couples all across the country. Marriage helps families deal with times of crisis, and the Supreme Court’s action today means more loving and committed couples will have access to the protections that marriage provides."

The ACLU was co-counsel in five of the seven petitions that were denied today, in cases from Indiana, Virginia, and Wisconsin. 

The ACLU has been working for the rights of LGBT people since 1936, when it brought its first gay rights case. The organization filed the first freedom-to-marry lawsuit for same-sex couples in 1970, represented Edie Windsor in her successful challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act in June 2013, and has filed thirteen federal marriage lawsuits on behalf of same-sex couples since then.

More information on the ACLU’s work to secure marriage equality across the country is available at:
https://www.aclu.org/out-freedom

 

Category: LGBT Rights

Missouri Must Recognize Marriages of 10 Same-Sex Couples Married Outside the State

October 03, 2014

Missouri Circuit Judge J. Dale Youngs ordered that the marriages of 10 couples must be recognized by the state of Missouri. His decision came eight days after hearing the oral arguments in Barrier v. Vasterling, Missouri’s landmark case filed in February by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri on behalf of 10 same-sex Missouri couples.

The ruling can be found on our website at: http://www.aclu-mo.org/download_file/1316 

“Missouri has finally recognized our couples’ marriages as being no different from any other marriage,” said Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. 

Married plaintiffs Janice Barrier and Sherie Schild said “Our hearts are filled with jubilation. We believe the judge made a fair and just decision recognizing marriage for same-sex couples.”

“This is a personal win for our 10 courageous couples who stepped up to represent the LGBT community,” said Jeffrey A. Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. “Even better ― this is a win for the whole state because a discriminatory law has been struck down.”   

Category: LGBT Rights

ACLU Receives FBI Report in Mueth Embezzlement

September 30, 2014

On Sept. 29, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri (ACLU of Missouri) received a copy of the FBI audit regarding the embezzlement of county funds by Edward Mueth. This report was released as a result of Judge David Lee Vincent II’s judgment in the ACLU’s Sunshine Law suit filed July 16. The FBI audit can be found on the ACLU’s website in two parts: file one and file two.

"We brought this suit to promote transparency when St. Louis County claimed that the documents were not public records subject to the Sunshine Law," said Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri.  "The Court rightly rejected the County’s interpretation of Missouri law, found the records to be public and has ordered their production." 

“We are pleased that citizens will have the opportunity to review the FBI audit," said Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. "Once again, Missouri’s Sunshine Law has succeeded in shedding light on information that our government wanted to keep hidden."

ACLU Marriage Recognition Plaintiffs Have Their Day in Court

September 25, 2014

Today was a monumental day for the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri. Seven of their 10 courageous plaintiff couples were present at the Jackson County Courthouse when legal director Tony Rothert presented oral arguments in Barrier v. Vasterling, a suit fighting for the recognition of same-sex marriages performed outside of the state of Missouri.

For 30 minutes, Rothert clearly laid out why couples, like Janice Barrier and Sherie Schild, deserve all of the benefits that opposite-sex married couples enjoy. The entire hearing lasted less than an hour and a half.

"It was an honor to give our plaintiffs their day in court," said Rothert. "We were able to highlight the many ways that discrimination against loving, committed couples ends up harming families."

"Missouri has traditionally recognized lawful marriages performed in other states. It is simply wrong to treat same-sex families differently," said Jeffrey A. Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. "Thanks to the hard work of the ACLU and our many LGBT partners, we are nearing the day when discrimination against LGBT families will end. The ACLU's historic 2013 Supreme Court decision in the Edie Windsor case paved the way as state after state removed barriers to marriage. Today, Missouri took a giant step down that path."

Judge J. Dale Youngs said he will make a decision as quickly as possible.

The ACLU of Missouri is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization dedicated to defending and expanding the constitutional rights and civil liberties of all Missourians guaranteed by the U.S. and Missouri Constitutions, and is an affiliate of the national ACLU.

ACLU of Missouri Welcomes New Director of Advocacy and Policy in Kansas City Office

September 24, 2014

KANSAS CITY, MO – Sarah Rossi assumed her new role as the director of advocacy and policy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri last week and works out of the Kansas City office. She oversees the organization’s legislative, public education and advocacy efforts.

For the past three years, Sarah was the legal and public policy director for the Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence where she lobbied, trained and presented on behalf of multiple state-wide coalitions in support of LGBT equality, women’s rights and immigrants’ rights. Previously, she provided pro-bono family law services to LGBT Montanans. “Without organizations like the ACLU of Missouri, our freedom, privacy and equal rights would often be left defenseless. I am honored to be a part of an organization that fights tirelessly to protect the civil liberties of all Missourians.”

Rossi earned her Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Colorado in Denver and her Juris Doctorate from the University of Montana School of Law.

"Sarah’s demonstrated passion for and commitment to constitutional rights and social justice, along with her legal training and legislative advocacy experience made her a natural fit for the ACLU family.  Just as important, her strategic vision for long-term change in Missouri made her the ideal candidate for the position,” says Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. 

To learn more about Sarah and the wealth of experience she brings to her new role, visit http://www.aclu-mo.org/about/staff/sarah-rossi.

The ACLU of Missouri is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization dedicated to defending and expanding the constitutional rights and civil liberties of all Missourians guaranteed by the U.S. and Missouri Constitutions, and is an affiliate of the national ACLU.

ACLU of Missouri Mourns the Loss of Former Board President Fred Epstein

September 15, 2014

The ACLU of Missouri mourns the loss of our former Board President, national board member and dear friend, Fred Epstein. A second-generation ACLU member and a long-time supporter, Fred ushered in one of the most productive periods in our affiliate’s history when he was named Board President in 1970. During his tenure, he secured our first full-time Executive Director, Joyce Armstrong, and oversaw the expansion of our legal work, which grew to include litigation with local and national impact. He continued to shepherd the organization through its many years of continued growth until 2006, when he retired from the board, though not from his position as elder statesman and resource for the affiliate.

Join us in celebrating Fred's life and the tremendous legacy he leaves behind. 

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Category: Uncategorized