U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s recent comment that her 2010 agenda wouldn’t include controversial votes unless the Senate acts first has disappointed some LGBT lobbyists on Capitol Hill.
There are several LGBT-related bills pending at the federal level, including repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the enactment of employment non-discrimination and extending benefits to the same-sex partners of federal workers.
But the closest to a sure thing will be Congress permitting D.C.’s recently passed same-sex marriage law to stand. Lobbyists on both sides of the issue have said it’s unlikely that the Democratic-controlled Congress would move to derail the law.
Meanwhile, action could come on the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act for federal workers with same-sex partners, a priority for Reps. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Barney Frank (D-Mass.).
The bill was reported out of a Senate committee with support from ranking Republican Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), which lobbyists saw as a sign it would get the necessary support to pass in the Senate if allowed a vote. The bill has 26 Senate co-sponsors. U.S. Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry is expected to provide offset savings in his department early this year, a necessary precursor to the bill’s Senate floor vote.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, meanwhile, has been subject to significant lobbying with high expectations in 2010. Frank previously told the Washington Blade that he expected a vote on the issue “no later than February.”
One gay Republican group said those plans might have hit a snag, however, after Pelosi told freshmen members that House-initiated controversial votes wouldn’t happen in 2010.
“This shows the Democratic leadership has no interest in fulfilling the commitments they made to the LGBT community,” said Charles Moran, a Log Cabin Republicans spokesperson.
The Republican group’s highest priority is repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and Moran said members have become increasingly frustrated with President Obama over the issue. Moran said Log Cabin’s supporters in 2010 will lobby for the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal to be included in the 2011 defense authorization bill.
Separately, Moran said Log Cabin members are hoping that a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will succeed. The case, which argues that declaring sexual orientation is a protected form of free speech, will see its next hearing in April.
Another effort to overturn “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, currently has 186 co-sponsors in the House and has been referred to the Subcommittee on Military Personnel. The bill would repeal the ban on openly gay service members and replace it with a non-discrimination policy.
Major federal bills making their way through the legislative process this year are poised to include some LGBT-related provisions.
At DC Agenda deadline, a pending health care reform package was expected to extend recognition of LGBT health issues in several areas, such as research categories. And efforts are ongoing to make LGBT concerns a part of immigration reform, despite the lack of such language in the initial bill.
The Uniting American Families Act, which would recognize same-sex partners for immigration purposes, has 118 co-sponsors in the House and 23 co-sponsors in the Senate. It has stalled in a House subcommittee and Senate committee; it’s unclear how prominently the bill will figure into this year’s immigration debate.
Also unclear is how much closer federal officials will come this year to recognizing the rights of same-sex couples. The Respect for
Marriage Act, an effort to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act that was introduced by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), has 107 House co-sponsors. Nadler recently told DC Agenda he doesn’t expect the bill to pass this year.
Meanwhile, LGBT advocacy organizations have started looking at the November elections to advance their priorities and politicians of choice.
State and local elections of interest include the governor’s races in Maryland, California and New York. Also, all 62 state Senate seats in New York will be up for grabs, and last year’s failed same-sex marriage vote could figure into some of the races.
“Stonewall Democrats’ hope for 2010 is that the LGBT community now understands acutely — after stinging defeats like the one in the New York Senate and in the governor’s mansions in New Jersey and Virginia — that electing pro-equality Democrats is an essential part of fighting for equal rights,” said Michael Mitchell, executive director of Stonewall Democrats.
“We need more people in office who refuse to engage in the politics of fear and instead govern from a place where equality means everyone, and we hope that in 2010, more LGBT people will join the fight to put them there.”
The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund was upbeat about the role that LGBT voices would play in the 2010 elections, noting that more than 100 openly LGBT candidates are slated for endorsement and assistance.
“The bulk of our candidates will be at the state level, but we’ve already endorsed one candidate for Congress: Steve Pougnet, who is running against [Republican U.S. Rep.] Mary Bono Mack,” said Denis Dison, a Victory Fund vice president.