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No DOMA repeal next year: Nadler



Rep. Jerrold Nadler said the Respect for Marriage Act, which would overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, won’t pass next year. (DC Agenda photo by Michael Key)

The sponsor of a bill that would overturn the Defense of Marriage Act said repeal won’t happen in this Congress and that efforts next year will instead be focused on building support on the issue.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said in an interview with DC Agenda that lawmakers will work on passing other pro-LGBT bills next year, and could take up legislation to repeal DOMA — known as the Respect for Marriage Act — at the end of the two-year session starting in 2011.

“The Respect for Marriage Act is a bill that we can’t pass right now; we know we can’t pass it right now,” he said.

Nadler said Congress won’t take up the DOMA repeal next year because other LGBT-related bills, including the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, legislation providing partner benefits for LGBT federal workers and a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” are taking precedence. Supporters hope to pass those measures by the end of 2010.

“The Respect for Marriage Act comes up after that, maybe at the end of the next Congress, maybe afterward,” he said.

Nadler’s legislation would overturn DOMA, allowing the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages. It also has a “certainty provision” that would allow same-sex couples to marry in one state and still receive federal benefits even if they move to another state where gay nuptials aren’t recognized.

In lieu of passage in this Congress, Nadler said the task for supporters is to find more co-sponsors for the bill. As of Tuesday, the bill had 105 co-sponsors. Nadler predicted support would grow.

“And I think if some of these other bills pass, it’ll become more — the idea becomes less avant garde,” he said.

In response to Nadler’s remarks that a DOMA repeal won’t happen next year, Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, said, “I don’t think we should begin the conversation about when it’s going to happen. I think we should begin the conversation with how do we build support and make it happen.”

“There are two ways to talk about our movement,” he said. “One is to talk about what it’s really about, to actually make the case for inclusion and fairness and freedom, to talk about why marriage matters. … The other is to spend all our time talking about the chess game or the political horse race, and we spend too much time on the latter and not enough time doing the former.”

Wolfson said supporters should begin the conversation “by each one of us calling our senators and member of Congress, asking them to sign on to the bill.”

Strategic decisions

Nadler’s prediction that a DOMA repeal won’t happen by the end of next year comes after other key potential supporters have said other LGBT legislation will be a priority.

At the time the Respect for Marriage Act was introduced in September, Drew Hammill, a spokesperson for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said the speaker is “focused on legislative items that we can enact into law now,” including ENDA.

And gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) hasn’t signed on as a co-sponsor to Nadler’s bill, saying that lawmakers will instead focus on other LGBT issues this Congress and the bill’s certainty provision could cause political problems for House members seeking re-election.

Nadler said he hasn’t “had too many conversations” with Pelosi on the proposed DOMA repeal since it was introduced, but noted that the speaker has privately encouraged House members to co-sponsor the bill.

As for Frank, Nadler also said he hasn’t spoken much with the Massachusetts lawmaker on the issue since the bill’s introduction.

“We have a disagreement on the strategy on this obviously, as we had a disagreement on the strategy over the non-inclusive ENDA last [Congress] where we no longer have that disagreement,” he said. “And, I presume, in the end, we will not have a disagreement on this.”

Although supporters have said other bills will take priority this Congress, advocates for the DOMA repeal have hoped for congressional hearings on marriage by the end of next year.

But Nadler, who chairs a House Judiciary subcommittee with jurisdiction over marriage, said he wouldn’t commit to holding hearings on the issue by the end of next year and would hear only testimony “when we think it’s advantageous to do so.”

“And that’s a strategic decision, a tactical decision you have to make,” he said. “As things go on, we’ll have to see how things go. Right now, the thing is get the idea out there to get pressure built, to get more sponsors — and that’s the way to go.”

Asked whether Democratic leadership requested that he not hold hearings on marriage, Nadler replied, “No, they did not.”

Nadler said he expects a Senate companion to the Respect for Marriage Act would be introduced early next year, noting there are a number of potential sponsors for the Senate legislation.

Advocates have named Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) as a prime target in talks because he chairs a Senate Judiciary subcommittee with jurisdiction over marriage. Nadler said Feingold would “possibly” champion the Senate legislation.

Nadler said a Senate bill has yet to emerge so many months after the House introduction in September because potential supporters have been occupied with other tasks.

“Some of the people we’re dealing with are very busy with a number of other things,” he said. “There’s not a sense of urgency, the sense that this bill has to have a Senate sponsor right now because it’s going to pass right now, because it’s not, so we’re talking.”

Even without a sense of urgency among lawmakers, Nadler said he thinks DOMA should be repealed because it’s “a stain on the national honor.”

“Even if you didn’t have a lot of practical effects, which obviously it does have, it’s wrong to keep such things on the books,” he said. “The honor of the country demands we repeal it.”

Same-sex marriage is only legal in five states throughout the country, but Nadler predicted that number would grow in coming years, and would include his home state of New York.

The Empire State was seen to be on the precipice of legalizing same-sex marriage, but the hopes of supporters were dashed last week when the state Senate killed a bill that would have granted marriage rights for same-sex couples. Nadler, who served in the New York Assembly for 16 years before being elected to Congress, said same-sex marriage will nonetheless be legalized in the state in a few years.

“I’d be very surprised if New York didn’t pass a gay marriage bill in the next two years, and I’ve been studying New York politics for 40 years,” he said. “And as long as we keep a Democratic governor and state Senate in the next election, we’ll get a gay marriage bill relatively soon in New York.”

As the number of states with same-sex marriage grow, Nadler said support for the Respect for Marriage Act also will build.
“Especially as a number of states have gay marriage, and the sky doesn’t fall in, and nobody comes in and busts up regular marriages — other than what’s busting up anyway — I think the issue will recede in the sense that people will lose their sense of the novelty,” he said.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler said of his home state that ‘as long as we keep a Democratic governor and state Senate in the next election, we’ll get a gay marriage bill relatively soon in New York.’ (DC Agenda photo by Michael Key)

Gay immigration bill could join reform debate

Another bill Nadler is championing in the House is the Uniting American Families Act, which would enable gay Americans to sponsor their foreign partners for residency. With an effort to pass comprehensive immigration reform expected in Congress next year, advocates are trying to include UAFA as a provision in the larger legislation.

Nadler said the White House seems to want to take on immigration reform in the spring and said UAFA supporters will “make a major thrust to make this part of the comprehensive immigration reform debate.”

The lawmakers drafting comprehensive immigration reform legislation are Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). Nadler said it’s “hard to say” whether those bills would include a UAFA provision upon their introduction.

“There are a lot of cross pressures and we haven’t had those — we’ve started but we haven’t finished those conversations at this point,” he said.

But Steve Ralls, a spokesperson for Immigration Equality, said he’s “optimistic” immigration reform measures will include UAFA at their debut because supporters, including other lawmakers, immigration groups and LGBT groups, have been lobbying for an inclusive bill for some time.

“I don’t know what the final comprehensive immigration reform will look like, but I remain optimistic that it will include lesbian and gay families,” he said.

In the event that comprehensive immigration reform legislation doesn’t include UAFA when it debuts, Nadler said he’s working on making sure there are votes in the House Judiciary Committee to amend the bill to include such a provision.

Nadler said he’s “hopeful” there will be enough votes for an amendment, but added “that’ll be a big fight, if necessary.”

“I haven’t taken any votes or whip counts or done any kind of that work, but certainly it will be something that we’ll have to work at and the gay community and everybody will have to be pressuring the individual members of the committee,” Nadler said. “A lot of the members of the committee, the Democratic members especially, say they’re very great friends with the gay community … and this’ll be an opportunity to show that they are, bar none.”

One major obstacle that UAFA supporters will face is opposition from Catholic leaders. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has urged lawmakers to exclude the provision from immigration reform because church leaders support reform, but oppose the LGBT-specific provision.

Nadler said opposition to UAFA from Catholic leaders will make inclusion of the measure in the bill “a very difficult fight.”

“So, there will be some who will be tempted to say, ‘Wait a minute, let’s not alienate some of our major supporters on this legislation to pass it,’” he said. “There’ll be others of us saying, ‘Hey, no, if you’re doing a comprehensive bill, it’s got to be comprehensive. You can’t just leave certain people out.”

Even with opposition from Catholic leaders, Ralls said the list of religious groups who support the inclusion of UAFA in immigration reform “is very long and diverse,” and includes Quakers and Episcopalians.

“If the Conference of Catholic Bishops decides that they’re willing to throw the immigrant community under the bus because of the inclusion of LGBT couples, I think that would be a shame because, at the end of the day, immigration reform can help millions of families — both gay and straight — and that should be Congress’ priority.”

Asked whether he would support immigration reform legislation that doesn’t include a UAFA provision, Nadler replied, “I hope it doesn’t come to that.”

“All my efforts are designed to make sure it doesn’t come to that, so I’m not going to get into what happens at that point,” he said.

‘We will see a fair amount of action’

During his Agenda interview, Nadler also addressed arguments that the Obama administration and Congress haven’t made sufficient progress on LGBT issues since the start of this year.

The lawmaker said Congress has had a significant workload this year — including the passage of two annual budgets as well as stimulus and relief legislation for financial institutions — and that advocates for LGBT issues would be better to make judgments on Congress’ work at the end of next year.

“I think it would be very fair by the time the election rolls around next October to say we haven’t done enough on these issues,” he said. “I think a lot of things have been fermenting and cooking. I think we will see a fair amount of action on these issues in next year’s session.”

Asked whether President Obama could have spoken more forcefully on LGBT issues since the start of his administration, Nadler replied, “I think he could have been more forthright on some of them.” He declined to elaborate.

In response to recent criticism that lawmakers have been putting off action on ENDA, Nadler said some key supporters of the bill have been occupied with other issues. He noted the sponsor of the bill is Frank, who, as chair of the House Financial Services Committee, is also working on the Troubled Asset Relief Program legislation.

“Why aren’t we doing ENDA right now?” he said. “But what else are some of the key people doing? They’re over their heads with the financial reform, which no one anticipated six months ago. I suspect that once that is out of the way, which it should be soon, these kind of issues can come to the fore again.”

But John Aravosis, a gay blogger who has been leading an LGBT boycott of the Democratic National Committee, criticized the notion that Congress hasn’t acted on LGBT issues because lawmakers have been busy with other issues.

He said the Obama administration has found time to take swipes at the LGBT community by defending DOMA in court and, more recently, saying it couldn’t follow a court order from the Ninth Circuit judge to provide health benefits to the partner of a lesbian federal employee.

“It’s not enough just for them to say, ‘It’s been busy,’” he said. “Well, it hasn’t been busy — or so busy that they couldn’t take swipes at us.”

Aravois commended Nadler for being outspoken on LGBT issues, but questioned whether Nadler would criticize a Democratic Congress as a Democratic lawmaker, and whether Congress would, in fact, take up LGBT issues next year.

“Good luck passing gay rights legislation right before an election,” he said. “Democrats don’t have balls in off years — they certainly don’t have them right before elections, on gay issues especially.”

With regard to the LGBT legislation that Congress would take up next year, Nadler expressed uncertainty about the prediction that Congress would repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” next year as part of the authorization bill for the fiscal year 2011 defense budget. Frank told the media last month that was the way he envisioned repeal.

But Nadler said repeal through the defense budget might not be the best way to overturn “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” With the president calling for escalation of operations in Afghanistan, Nadler said such a provision would put more liberal members of Congress in a quandary over whether to vote for repeal and military operations at the same time.

“You don’t want to put people in the position of saying, ‘You vote against Afghanistan funding, you’re voting against [repealing] “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,”’ or vice-versa,” he said. “So maybe you need a new option or something. These are tactical considerations, which you have to look at as things unfold.”

Nadler said he, for example, didn’t “like this idea of sending more troops to Afghanistan,” although he supports a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

With public approval polls showing support waning for Democrats, Nadler predicted congressional Democrats will lose seats in the 2010 election, but added a hope that the party won’t lose “too many” seats. He noted that the November results would largely depend on how well the economy is faring.

Even with Democrats potentially in danger, Nadler said he didn’t think lawmakers would avoid LGBT issues next year to reduce a perceived risk of alienating voters before the election.

“I think we’re going to face most of these issues this Congress, mostly next year,” he said. “I’m assuming that the gay community is going to keep the pressure on. I mean, don’t go to sleep because I said it as that. If the gay community keeps the pressure on, then I think that, yes, we’ll probably face most of these issues.”



6 killed in shooting at Christian school in Nashville

The shooter was identified as Audrey Hale, 28, of Nashville, according to police who identifies as transgender



Covenant School, Covenant Presbyterian Church, on Burton Hills Dr. in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo courtesy of the Nashville Metro Police Department)

In a press conference Nashville Police Chief John Drake told reporters that earlier Monday morning a 28-year-old local female armed with two “assault-type rifles and a handgun,” was killed by responding officers.

“At one point she was a student at that school,” Chief Drake told reporters hours after the shooting at The Covenant School. “But unsure what year […] but that’s what I’ve been told so far.”

The shooter was identified as Audrey Hale, 28, of Nashville, according to the chief, who identifies as transgender.

According to Drake three children and three adults were killed in the shooting at The Covenant School on Burton Hills Boulevard, a private Christian school.

Children’s Hospital Vanderbilt University Medical Center spokesperson John Howser told reporters “We can now confirm 3 children and 2 adults from the school shooting were transported to our Adult Emergency Department (The 2 adults) and (The 3 children) to the Pediatric Emergency Department at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital,” Howser said adding “All 5 patients have been pronounced dead.”

Police identified the three slain students as Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs, and William Kinney, all age 9.

The three faculty members killed were Cynthia Peak and Mike Hill, both 61, and school head Katherine Koonce, 60.

At his only scheduled public event at the White House, President Joe Biden called the shooting “sick” and renewed his call for Congress to ban assault weapons.

Chief Drake noted that the shooter was killed on the school’s second floor by his officers acknowledging that the victims were students and staff members of the school.

The school has students from preschool through sixth grade and on a normal day has about 200 students and 40 staff members on campus.

In a statement, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee tweeted: “I am closely monitoring the tragic situation at Covenant. As we continue to respond, please join us in praying for the school, congregation & Nashville community.”

NBC News reported that just days ago, a 17-year-old suspect wounded two administrators at a Denver high school before he was found dead.

In February, three students were gunned down at Michigan State University. And in January, two students were fatally shot at a charter school in Des Moines, Iowa.

The Washington Post and other media outlets reporting that Rep. Andrew Ogles (R-Tenn.), who represents the Nashville district where the Covenant School is located, said Monday in a statement that he was “utterly heartbroken” by the mass shooting.

Gun reform activists including Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jamie was killed in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 14, 2018, have called out Ogles for his hypocrisy posting tweets of Ogles posing with his children all carrying assault rifles in a 2021 family Christmas card photo:

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The White House

Vice president to visit three African countries that criminalize homosexuality

Ugandan lawmakers passed anti-homosexuality bill last week



Vice President Kamala Harris arrives in Accra, Ghana, on March 26, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Harris' Twitter page)

Vice President Kamala Harris this week will visit three countries in Africa that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.

Harris and her husband, second gentleman Douglas Emhoff, arrived in Ghana on Sunday. They will travel to Tanzania and Zambia before returning to the U.S. on April 2.

Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia are among the dozens of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

The Washington Blade last week reported LGBTQ and intersex Ghanaians remain in limbo as lawmakers continue to debate the Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill that, would among other things, further criminalize LGBTQ and intersex people and make advocacy on their behalf and allyship illegal. A Ghanaian representative who spoke during a March 20 meeting that focused on the integration of LGBTQ and intersex rights into the U.N. Security Council’s work said the body is not an appropriate venue to discuss them.

“You know that a great deal of work in my career has been to address human rights issues, equality issues across the board, including as it relates to the LGBT community,” said Harris on Monday during a press conference with Ghanaian President Nana Afuko-Addo that took place in Accra, the Ghanaian capital. “I feel very strongly about the importance of supporting the freedom and supporting and fighting for equality among all people and that all people be treated equally. This is an issue that we consider and I consider to be a human rights issue and that will not change.”

Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu, with whom Harris is scheduled to meet on Thursday, last month described LGBTQ rights as “imported cultures.” The Tanzanian government has also banned children’s books from schools because of their LGBTQ-specific content. 

The State Department in 2019 recalled then-U.S. Ambassador to Zambia Daniel Foote after the Zambian government sharply criticized him for publicly defending a gay couple who had been convicted of violating the country’s colonial-era sodomy law and sentenced to 15 years in prison. 

Then-Zambian President Edgar Lungu later pardoned the couple. Current Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema, which whom Harris will meet on March 31, last September reiteated his government does not support LGBTQ and intersex rights.

Harris arrived in Africa less than a week after Ugandan lawmakers approved a bill that would further criminalize homosexuality and LGBTQ and intersex people. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the measure if signed “would impinge upon universal human rights, jeopardize progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS, deter tourism and investment in Uganda, and damage Uganda’s international reputation.”

“The bill is one of the most extreme anti LGBTQI+ laws in the world,” she said on March 22 during her daily press briefing. “Human rights are universal — no one should be attacked, imprisoned or killed simply because of who they are or who they love.”

President Joe Biden in 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad as part of the White House’s overall foreign policy. Then-State Department spokesperson Ned Price later told the Blade the decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations is one of the Biden-Harris administration’s five priorities as it relates to LGBTQ and intersex rights overseas.

A senior administration official told reporters during a conference call that previewed Harris’ trip that she “is very much focused on opportunities in Africa and a positive message and the great things we can do in partnership with African countries. And you’re going to really see that as the theme of the trip, given Africa’s role in the world and what we think can be done with Africans, for the sake of Africans in the United States and the rest of the world.” 
“But that doesn’t mean that she would shy away from discussing difficult issues, and you know her track record on the LGBTQ issue,” added the official. “She spent her whole career fighting for rights of overlooked and marginalized people, including LGBTQ people.” 

The official further stressed the Biden-Harris administration “is very clear about the right for all people to live free of harm and discrimination and to realize their full potential and to fully participate in society.”  

“The vice president has been clear about that throughout her engagements in the United States and elsewhere in the world, and it won’t be any different when she is in Africa,” added the official. “We have said, you know, including in recent days — expressed the concerns we have about certain developments that we’ve seen on the African continent, whether it’s laws or practices that are anti-LGBTQ. And that’s not consistent with what this administration stands for.” 

The official also said they “don’t think that is a choice between taking a firm stand on that set of really important issues and the big positive opportunity that the vice president sees in Africa and she’s going to emphasize on this trip.”

The Blade will provide further updates of Harris’ trip as they become available.

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New Mexico

LGBTQ protections added to N.M. Human Rights Act

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed House Bill 207 on Friday



New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signs House Bill 7 on March 24, 2023. (Photo courtesy of the Office of the Governor of New Mexico)

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed House Bill 207 into law on Friday that expands protections for LGBTQ New Mexicans under the state’s Human Rights Act. For transgender residents, Grisham also signed House Bill 31, a measure that removes the requirement that name changes be published in a newspaper.

The Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper reported that HB 31 also lets people 14 and older petition a district court for a name change and prohibits the court from requiring notice to the applicants’ parents if it finds notice would jeopardize the applicant’s safety.

“While hundreds of bills have been introduced across the country to restrict the rights of queer and trans people, New Mexico is committed to making our state a safer place for everyone by closing a loophole to ensure our taxpayer dollars cannot be used to discriminate against our LGBTQ+ friends and neighbors,” state Rep. Kristina Ortez (D-Taos) said in a statement.

State Rep. Christine Chandler (D-Los Alamos), the sponsor of HB 31, noted that the measure will benefit trans New Mexicans seeking to change their names as well as ensure safety for victims of domestic violence who may change their names to be more secure.

“Removing this antiquated publishing requirement protects New Mexicans’ privacy and allows them to safely move on with their lives,” Chandler said.

These measures are the latest in legislation passed this session to protect LGBTQ New Mexicans as well as women’s rights.

On March 16, Grisham signed into law House Bill 7, the Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Health Care Act, which prohibits public bodies, including local municipalities, from denying, restricting, or discriminating against an individual’s right to use or refuse reproductive health care or health care related to gender.

“New Mexicans in every corner of our state deserve protections for their bodily autonomy and right to health care,” said Grisham as she signed HB 7. “I’m grateful for the hard work of the Legislature and community partners in getting this critical legislation across the finish line.”

“Trans and nonbinary individuals deserve the support and care necessary to survive and thrive,” said Ortez, who co-sponsored HB 7. “Protecting gender-affirming health care is a critical part of making sure trans and nonbinary New Mexicans can succeed in school, establish healthy relationships with their friends and family, and live authentically as themselves.”

“In New Mexico we value the freedom and dignity of making your own personal decision about reproductive and gender-affirming health care,” said Ellie Rushforth, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico managing reproductive rights and gender equity attorney. “Now more than ever it is critical that New Mexicans and our neighbors have access to the full spectrum of health care in every corner of our state. We thank the governor for supporting and signing HB 7 into law. This is lifesaving legislation.”

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