Politics

ENDA Passes Senate Committee In 15 - 7 Vote

For the first time since 2002, an Employment Non-Discrimination Act including protections for lesbian and gay Americans came up for a vote in a Senate committee--and passed. The vote also made other applause-worthy history as the Washington Blade reports:

A Senate committee made history on Wednesday by approving for the first time a trans-inclusive version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and picking up key Republican support from Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

Lawmakers on the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee reported out ENDA by a 15-7 vote after a short period of discussion. No amendments were offered except for a manager’s amendment, although Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said he’ll reserve three that he planned for consideration on the Senate floor.

All 12 Democrats on the committee, including lesbian Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), are co-sponsors of the bill as well as one Republican, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.). They each voted in favor of ENDA during the final vote.

NJ Democrats Call For Vote To Override Gov. Christie's Marriage Equality Veto

The marriage equality fight is heating up in New Jersey where top Democratic lawmakers are pushing for a "conscience vote" on Gov. Chris Christie's veto of same-sex marriage. 

The NJ Star-Ledger reports:

Senate President Stephen Sweeney said he will hold a vote to override Christie’s veto of a same-sex marriage bill that passed last year, noting that thousands of gay couples in New Jersey will be ineligible for federal benefits unless lawmakers act soon.

But first, Sweeney said, at least a few Republicans have to change their no votes to yes. The Senate president said Christie has intimidated GOP lawmakers, claiming some have privately admitted they would like to change their votes to allow same-sex marriage.

It's not an easy mission for NJ dems. 

To quash Christie’s veto, Democrats have to muster three more votes in the Senate and 12 more in the Assembly to reach the required two-thirds majority.

ENDA Gets A Date With The Senate

The long-awaited Employment Non-Discrimination Act has finally received a date with a Senate Committee. 

Chris Johnson at The Washington Blade reports:

The Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee has scheduled the markup for the LGBT job anti-bias legislation two weeks to the day that the Supreme Court ruled against the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8.

Scheduling the vote is first step for Senate HELP Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-Iowa, pictured) in fulfilling the promise he announced this year to move ENDA out of the committee this year. All 12 Senate Democrats on the panel are co-sponsors of the legislation — in addition to Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) — so ENDA should have no trouble obtaining approval from the committee.

The Committee will take up ENDA on July 10. 

 

Obama Argues Over LGBT Rights With African Leader

After significantly declaring that marriage equality should cross state borders in the U.S., President Obama pressed for LGBT rights in Africa—a move that wasn't welcomed with open arms by Senegal's President Macky Sall.

Though the two didn't speak about gay rights during a private meeting at the presidential palace, Obama later said that he respects differing religious views, but finds it important for Africans to embrace equality and nondiscrimination under the law. 

President Sall didn't exactly take the message to heart. 

"We are still not ready to decriminalize homosexuality," Sall said. "This does not mean we are homophobic."

Homosexuality remains illegal in 38 African nations, four of which punish the LGBT with death. 

(Image: AP)

Barney Frank Doesn't Want Obama To Sign ENDA Order

If President Obama shattered most experts' expectations and announced that he would sign an executive order banning the workplace discrimination of the LGBT community, openly gay former Congressman Barney Frank would be the first to try to stop him. 

Why? 

"There’s a lot of attack on him for exceeding executive power and doing things by executive order," Frank told Michelangelo Signorile. "And he’s in a major fight over that about to come now, where he’s about to issue an executive order restricting emissions from power plants."

"And there’s even a danger that this right-wing [Supreme] Court would overturn that as too far," he added. "I would say this: push to take back the House from the right-wing, and if that happens, then we should push for it to be legislated, because if it’s legislated, then it’s for everybody. If we don’t take the House back, then before he goes out of office, he should do it. But I would ask him to...I would want him to hold off now and give us a chance to do this legislatively. But that will depend on the next election.”

Do you agree with Frank? Or does the immediate anti-bias action and the ripple of symbolism that would flow from it at the pen of the president matter more than the risk? 

 

 

UPDATE: President Obama Mentions LGBT Rights During G8 Speech In Berlin

Updated 2:45 p.m. est with video

In a G8 speech given by President Obama in Berlin today, LGBT rights played a prominent role. 

Transcript of the LGBT portion:

I'd suggest that peace with justice begins with the example we set here at home, for we know from our own histories that intolerance breeds injustice.  Whether it's based on race, or religion, gender or sexual orientation, we are stronger when all our people -- no matter who they are or what they look like -- are granted opportunity, and when our wives and our daughters have the same opportunities as our husbands and our sons.  (Applause.) 

"When we stand up for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters and treat their love and their rights equally under the law, we defend our own liberty as well," Obama said. "We are more free when all people can pursue their own happiness. And as long as walls exist in our hearts to separate us from those who don’t look like us, or think like us, or worship as we do, then we're going to have to work harder, together, to bring those walls of division down."

The president also spoke about nuclear reduction in the U.S. and Russia, Guantanamo Bay and climate change in the much-anticipated speech in front of Germany's storied Brandenburg Gate. 

 

 

Sen. Lisa Murkowski Is The Third Republican In The U.S. Senate To Support Marriage Equality

On the eve of a possible Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality, Sen. Lisa Murkowski has widened the pool of republican support in the Senate for LGBT couples. 

“This is a hard issue … because marriage is such a deeply personal issue," Sen. Murkowski said in an interview with KTUU. "There may be some that when they hear the position that I hold that are deeply disappointed. There may be some who embrace the decision that I have made. I recognize that it is an area that, as a Republican, I will be criticized for."

“Senator Murkowski’s courageous and principled announcement today sends a clear message that marriage equality must come to all 50 states in this country," HRC President Chad Griffin said via press release. "As the Supreme Court prepares to rule in two landmark marriage cases this month, a growing bipartisan coalition is standing up for the right of all couples to marry—and there is no turning back that tide. We hope other fair-minded conservatives like Senator Murkowski stand up and join her. Alaska may be nicknamed ‘the Last Frontier,’ but we’ve got to make sure that LGBT Alaskans don’t have to wait to find justice.”

Sen. Murkowski's office also released this statement today: 

Not too long ago, I had the honor of nominating an Alaskan family as “Angels in Adoption,” a celebration of the selflessness shown by foster care families and those who adopt children. They arrived in Washington, DC, a military family who had opened their doors to not one child but four siblings to make sure that these sisters and brother had the simplest gift you can give a child: a home together. We had lunch together, and they shared their stories with me. All the while, the children politely ate lunch and giggled as content youngsters do. Given my daily hectic Senate schedule, it’s not often that I get to sit down with such a happy family during a workday – and I think of them often, as everything our nation should encourage.

I bring them up because the partners were two women who had first made the decision to open their home to provide foster care to the eldest child in 2007. Years later – and after a deployment abroad with the Alaska National Guard for one of them – they embraced the joy and sacrifice of four adopted children living under the same roof, with smiles, laughter, movie nights, parent-teacher conferences and runny noses.

Yet despite signing up and volunteering to give themselves fully to these four adorable children, our government does not meet this family halfway and allow them to be legally recognized as spouses. After their years of sleepless nights, after-school pickups and birthday cakes, if one of them gets sick or injured and needs critical care, the other would not be allowed to visit them in the emergency room – and the children could possibly be taken away from the healthy partner. They do not get considered for household health care benefit coverage like spouses nationwide. This first-class Alaskan family still lives a second-class existence.

The Supreme Court is set to make a pair of decisions on the topic of marriage equality shortly, and the national conversation on this issue is picking back up. This is a significant moment for our nation when it comes to rethinking our society’s priorities and the role of government in Americans’ private lives and decisions, so I want to be absolutely clear with Alaskans. I am a life-long Republican because I believe in promoting freedom and limiting the reach of government. When government does act, I believe it should encourage family values. I support the right of all Americans to marry the person they love and choose because I believe doing so promotes both values: it keeps politicians out of the most private and personal aspects of peoples’ lives – while also encouraging more families to form and more adults to make a lifetime commitment to one another. While my support for same sex civil marriage is something I believe in, I am equally committed to guaranteeing that religious freedoms remain inviolate, so that churches and other religious institutions can continue to determine and practice their own definition of marriage.

With the notion of marriage – an exclusive, emotional, binding ‘til death do you part’ tie – becoming more and more an exception to the rule given a rise in cohabitation and high rates of divorce, why should the federal government be telling adults who love one another that they cannot get married, simply because they happen to be gay? I believe when there are so many forces pulling our society apart, we need more commitment to marriage, not less.

This thinking is consistent with what I hear from more and more Alaskans especially our younger generations. Like the majority of Alaskans, I supported a constitutional amendment in 1998 defining marriage as only between a man and a woman, but my thinking has evolved as America has witnessed a clear cultural shift. Fifteen years after that vote, I find that when one looks closer at the issue, you quickly realize that same sex unions or civil marriages are consistent with the independent mindset of our state – and they deserve a hands-off approach from our federal policies.

First, this is a personal liberty issue and has to do with the most important personal decision that any human makes. I believe that, as Americans, our freedoms come from God and not government, and include the rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. What could be more important to the pursuit of happiness than the right to choose your spouse without asking a Washington politician for permission? If there is one belief that unifies most Alaskans – our true north – it is less government and more freedom. We don’t want the government in our pockets or our bedrooms; we certainly don’t need it in our families.

Secondly, civil marriage also touches the foundation of our national culture: safe, healthy families and robust community life. In so many ways, sound families are the foundation of our society. Any efforts or opportunity to expand the civil bonds and rights to anyone that wants to build a stable, happy household should be promoted.

Thirdly, by focusing on civil marriage — but also reserving to religious institutions the right to define marriage as they see fit — this approach respects religious liberty by stopping at the church door. As a Catholic, I see marriage as a valued sacrament that exists exclusively between a man and a woman. Other faiths and belief systems feel differently about this issue – and they have every right to. Churches must be allowed to define marriage and conduct ceremonies according to their rules, but the government should not tell people who they have a right to marry through a civil ceremony.

I recently read an interview where Ronald Reagan’s daughter said that she believes he would have supported same-sex marriage, that he would think “What difference does it make to anybody else’s life? I also think because he wanted government out of peoples’ lives, he would not understand the intrusion of government banning such a thing. This is not what he would have thought government should be doing.”

Like Reagan, Alaskans believe that government works best when it gets out of the way. Countless Alaskans and Americans want to give themselves to one another and create a home together. I support marriage equality and support the government getting out of the way to let that happen.

Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) were the first two Senate republicans to back marriage equality.

Whatever SCOTUS Rules, Full Federal Equality Has To Start With Obama

The Supreme Court is likely to rule this month on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. Though most legal scholars assume that the oral proceedings back in March signal the court will rule against DOMA, analysts and political experts say that the Obama Administration has its work cut out to make federal marriage rights for same-sex couples a reality. 

The New York Times reports:

Whether gay couples actually get those benefits would depend on where they live — and how vigorously President Obama seeks to change the legal language that determines whether a couple is married in the eyes of the federal government.

For Mr. Obama, who appears eager to have his legacy defined in part by the advancement of civil rights for gay Americans, his administration’s actions after the ruling may be as important as the ruling itself. A spokesman for the president declined to comment on the issue but hinted that the administration might be preparing to act.

“As the court has not yet ruled, it would be premature to speculate about what may happen after a decision is issued,” said Matt Lehrich, a White House spokesman. “The administration will, of course, be prepared to address any implications of the court’s decision.”

Activists, however, are warning gay couples not to expect that federal benefits would arrive immediately, because government agencies vary widely in how they determine whether a couple is legally married.

Some federal agencies, like the I.R.S. and the Social Security Administration, make that determination by looking to the state where a couple lives. Even with the 1996 law overturned, those agencies would deny benefits to gay couples who live in one of the 38 states that do not allow same-sex marriage.

In such cases, the administration would have to change its standard — for example, by defining marriage based on whether a couple is legally married in any state — in order to extend benefits to same-sex couples.

As we all unfortunately know by now, there are 1,100 benefits ascribed to federal marriage that same-sex couples currently can't access (but opposite sex couples can). If SCOTUS makes us proud sometime this month, it will just be another bold-weighted bullet point in our long, winding road to full equality. 

Sen. Marco Rubio Will Vote Against Immigration If It Includes Gays

Republican Sen. (and rumored 2016 presidential candidate) has announced that he will vote no on immigration reform if it includes any LGBT provision. 

Yahoo! News reports:

"If this bill has something in it that gives gay couples immigration rights and so forth, it kills the bill. I'm done," Rubio said Thursday during an interview on the Andrea Tantaros Show. "I'm off it, and I've said that repeatedly. I don't think that's going to happen and it shouldn't happen. This is already a difficult enough issue as it is."  

The amendment, introduced by Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, would grant green cards to foreign partners of gay unauthorized immigrants who seek legal status under new rules in the bill. Leahy originally introduced the measure during the Senate Judiciary Committee markup of the bill, but he withdrew it under pressure from Republican lawmakers who said it would reduce the chance of the bill passing."

Sec. John Kerry Praises LGBT Pride Month In State Department Proclamation

Sec. of State John Kerry doesn't skip a beat from former Sec. Hillary Clinton's State Department departure in his first Pride Month proclamation. 

Reads a release from Sec. Kerry's office:

The Department of State joins people around the world in celebrating Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month. Forty-four years after Stonewall, we see incredible progress in the fight to advance the human rights and fundamental freedoms of LGBT people, both here in the United States and globally. Protecting universal human rights is at the very heart of our diplomacy, and we remain committed to advancing human rights for all, including LGBT individuals.

Unfortunately, recent events underscore that we can’t be content with the progress we’ve made. We still have a long way to go. All over the world, people continue to be killed, arrested, and harassed simply because of who they are, or who they love. There are LGBT people of all ages, all races and all faiths, citizens of every country on Earth. In too many places, LGBT people and their supporters are still attacked if they just attempt to stand up for their rights and participate in peaceful rallies or marches, or simply for being who they are.

The United States condemns this violence and harassment. LGBT persons must be free to exercise their human rights—including freedom of expression, freedom of religion and freedom of assembly and association—without fear of reprisal. Human rights and fundamental freedoms belong to all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

The United States will continue to stand up for the human rights of all people, during this month and every month throughout the year, and we are proud to do so. 

 

Pages