Thursday, March 10, 2011

Masliah & Soloway: Dueling with DOMA

Full story here.

"Two New York attorneys have taken up arms in the battle for immigration reform and gay marriage equality. US Immigration lawyers Noemi Masliah and Lavi Soloway are committed to fixing what they see as a broken country.

These high-profile attorneys, who are fighting to keep gay couples and families together, are prominently operating at the nexus of two of the most politically charged issues on the American public agenda: immigration reform and gay marriage equality. Their New York based firm is prominent in the US on issues affecting the unification of gay and lesbian binational couples and in handling sexual orientation and gender identity-based asylum claims.

Last summer, they decided that the time was right to launch an attack on US immigration laws and the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), in an attempt to keep binational lesbian and gay couples together. Passed in 1996, DOMA defines marriage as the legal union between one man and one woman.

Masliah and Soloway say they expect to bring a suit against agencies of the federal government within two years.

Masliah & Soloway were among the founders of Immigration Equality, a non-profit organization begun in 1994 to provide protection and advocacy for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) immigrants. “When Noemi and Lavi created the organization, they committed themselves to filling a void. There were scarce resources and virtually no identifiable advocates in this area. They were pioneers and they continue to do crucial work,” Joseph Landau, an associate professor at Fordham University School of Law and the current board chairman of Immigration Equality and the Immigration Equality Action Fund, tells The Report."

Immigration Equality continues to grow in response to the legal needs of LGBT asylum seekers, although homosexuality and HIV-positive status are no longer grounds for barring individuals from entering the US. Masliah and Soloway are no longer directly involved with the organization, but in founding it, “they identified a cohort of attorneys who could represent this underserved population. Then they helped shape the legal fabric by drafting and consolidating critical materials, training other lawyers and promoting the issue generally,” Landau says."

Two judicial decisions convinced them that “the time was right to act,” explains Soloway.

The first was by District Judge Joseph Tauro in Massachusetts, in which he ruled that Section 3 of DOMA, which denied federal benefits to same-sex couples, is unconstitutional. Tauro’s opinion regarding the motive behind DOMA was the most relevant: “Indeed, Congress undertook this classification for the one purpose that lies entirely outside of legislative bounds, to disadvantage a group of which it disapproves. And such a classification, the Constitution will not permit,” the judge wrote.

In the second case, District Judge Vaughn Walker in California handed a victory to the opponents of California’s Proposition 8, which had amended the California state constitution to define marriage as being solely between a man and a woman, and ruled that it was unconstitutional under both the due process and equal protection clauses." See more here.

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