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Weddings continue, despite congressional scare

D.C. courthouse flooded with requests for marriage licenses

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Same-sex marriages, including the March 14 union of Will Knicely and Bob Whitman, continued this week in D.C. despite efforts from one U.S. senator to stop the ceremonies. (DC Agenda photo by Michael Key)

U.S. Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) has backed off pushing an amendment aimed at overturning D.C.’s same-sex marriage law — most likely because his Republican colleagues joined Senate Democrats in opposing his plan to attach it to an aviation bill, according to Capitol Hill insiders.

The amendment, which Bennett filed with the Senate clerk March 11, would have prohibited D.C. from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples until the city allows voters to decide the issue through a referendum or initiative.

Bennett’s unsuccessful attempt to advance the amendment came as nearly 700 couples have applied for a marriage license at the city’s Marriage Bureau since the same-sex marriage law took effect March 3. Most of those couples have been same-sex couples.

And according to a spokesperson for the D.C. Superior Court, which operates the Marriage Bureau, an unprecedented number of people applying for marriage licenses are requesting to be married in civil ceremonies offered free of charge at the courthouse.

“We have probably close to 400 weddings requested,” said spokesperson Leah Gurowitz. “Between two-thirds and three-quarters [of couples applying for marriage licenses] are requesting a wedding at the Marriage Bureau.

“So we’re getting them scheduled. We’re calling everybody and we’re trying to just use our space and our time as advantageously as possible.”

Gurowitz acknowledged that late last week, the Marriage Bureau’s phone answering system became overloaded, and some callers received messages that the voicemail boxes were full and incoming messages could not be left.

“It’s taking some time — a day or two — to return calls,” she said. “But we are returning all the calls and getting the weddings set as soon as possible.”

Although Bennett filed his D.C. marriage amendment last week, he did not formally introduce it before Senate Democrats and Republicans agreed by unanimous consent to an approved list of amendments for a Federal Aviation Administration authorization bill, the measure to which Benefit intended to attach his amendment.

The bipartisan-approved list doesn’t include his amendment, preventing him from bringing it up at this time.

Bennett’s office did not return calls seeking to determine why he did not offer the amendment before the list restricting new amendments was approved.

“I doubt that he just voluntarily withdrew his amendment,” said Daniel Penchina, a lobbyist with the Raben Group, a political consulting firm that works with LGBT rights groups.

“My guess is they were trying to put together a package of amendments that could be considered and they agreed that his would not be part of it,” Penchina said. “And someone in his party leadership called and said, ‘Why don’t you save this for another day?’ That’s me speculating, but that’s probably what happened.”

Max Gleishman, press secretary for Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), the Senate’s majority whip, said Senate Republicans clearly supported a consent agreement that did not include the Bennett amendment.

“So I’m not sure why it wasn’t offered,” Gleischman said. “But it was not. And so therefore we’ve locked in, through a consent agreement, a finite list of amendments. And that’s not one of the ones on the list.”

Bennett’s proposed amendment, which was published in the March 11 Congressional Record, is identical to a freestanding bill that he and seven other Republicans introduced Feb. 2. The bill’s stated purpose is “to protect the democratic process and the right of the people of the District of Columbia to define marriage.”

According to the Congressional Record, Sens. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) joined Bennett in filing the amendment as a proposed attachment to the FAA authorization bill, which is being considered on the Senate floor. The authorization measure is being pushed by Senate Democratic leaders and is considered essential for continued operation of U.S. aviation related programs, including the nation’s air traffic control system.

Both the amendment and Bennett’s free-standing bill say, “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, including the District of Columbia Human Rights Act, the government of the District of Columbia shall not issue a marriage license to any couple of the same sex until the people of the District of Columbia have the opportunity to hold a referendum or initiative on the question of whether the District of Columbia should issue same-sex marriage licenses.”

Paul Strauss, who lobbies the U.S. Senate as an informal shadow senator on D.C.-related issues, said unconfirmed reports that Bennett was planning to introduce an amendment to block the city’s same-sex marriage law surfaced last week on Capitol Hill.

“It could potentially force an up or down vote on gay marriage,” Strauss said. “This is certainly something that Democrats and at least some Republicans want to avoid.”

D.C. gay activist Bob Summersgill, who has coordinated local efforts to persuade the city government to support same-sex marriage equality, said Bennett and other lawmakers opposed to the marriage law are likely to launch a stronger effort to overturn it later this year.

“What we have to be most worried about is the D.C. appropriations bill,” he said, which usually comes up before Congress in late summer or fall.

Summersgill noted that while many lawmakers object to attaching a D.C. gay marriage amendment to an aviation measure or other unrelated bills, they would likely go along with attaching such an amendment to the city’s annual appropriations bill, which specifically addresses D.C. issues.

“It will be germane on that bill,” he said.

But as Bennett backed down on his marriage amendment, the National Organization for Marriage, which campaigns against same-sex marriage laws throughout the country, appeared to inject the gay marriage issue into the city’s upcoming mayoral election campaign.

Several local activists reported being contacted by an automated telephone poll on the D.C. gay marriage law that identified NOM as its sponsor. The activists said a recorded message stated that Mayor Adrian Fenty supports “gay marriage” and at least one of his lesser-known opponents in the 2010 mayoral race, former D.C. television news reporter Leo Alexander, opposes it.

D.C. resident Kevin Keller, who was among the people contacted for the phone poll, said it was obvious to him that the call was intended to stir up opposition to same-sex marriage rather than obtain an impartial assessment of how residents feel about the issue.

“I called Alexander’s campaign office, and we spoke,” Keller told DC Agenda. “He told me he opposes gay marriage on religious grounds, but he said he is not directly associated with the NOM.”

NOM executive director Brian Brown did not immediately return DC Agenda’s call on the matter. Local same-sex marriage opponents have vowed to work to defeat Fenty, who signed the same-sex marriage bill, and 11 of the 13-member City Council who voted for the bill when it passed in December.

But political observers say no serious candidates opposing gay marriage have surfaced so far to run against Fenty. And just a few people, whose chances are viewed as questionable, have emerged to run against Council members who voted for the marriage measure.

Alexander, who announced his candidacy in September, has raised less than $4,000 for his mayoral campaign, according to records filed with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance. Records from the office also show that Fenty has raised more than $3 million for his re-election campaign.

D.C. Council Chair Vincent Gray (D-At Large), who has said he is considering running for mayor and is considered a viable candidate, voted for the marriage bill and, like Fenty, has been an outspoken supporter of same-sex marriage equality.

Another possible candidate for mayor, millionaire developer R. Donahue Peebles, has vowed to spend $5 million of his own money should he enter the mayoral race, making him a potentially serious contender. A Peebles spokesperson did not immediately return a DC Agenda call seeking to learn Peebles’ position on same-sex marriage.

Some reports have surfaced that he supports same-sex marriage but also favors a referendum or initiative to allow voters to decide the issue, but the reports could not be confirmed.

As developments surrounding the D.C. marriage law continue to unfold, many activists have said the joy experienced by the dozens of same-sex couples who have married or obtained marriage licenses so far has overshadowed the controversial aspects of the law.

Rev. Dwayne Johnson, pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, which has a mostly gay congregation, said the church’s first same-sex wedding held March 14 had a profound impact on the more than 250 people in attendance.

Will Knicely and Bob Whitman, who have been together for more than 10 years and are MCC members, exchanged wedding vows as the church’s highly acclaimed chorus sang “Oh Happy Day,” said Johnson, who co-performed the wedding.

“I don’t think any of us were prepared for the emotion we witnessed,” he said. “It was like 39 years of hope culminating at that moment. People were applauding and applauding. We just let it go.”

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Federal Government

Trump indicted in classified document mishandling case

Former president to appear in federal court in Miami on Tuesday

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Former President Donald Trump (Photo by shganti1777 via Bigstock)

A federal grand jury has indicted former President Donald Trump on seven criminal counts in connection with his mishandling of more than 100 classified documents.

In a series of posts to his Truth Social account Thursday, Trump said that he has been indicted related to his mishandling of the classified documents taken to his estate at Mar-a-Lago after his term of office ended in January 2021.

The unprecedented decision comes after a more than yearlong investigation by special counsel Jack Smith into whether Trump knowingly retained classified and top secret government records when he left office and then disregarded a subpoena to return all classified documents in his possession and whether he and his staff obstructed Federal Bureau of Investigation efforts to ensure all documents had been returned.

A person familiar with the situation who was not authorized to discuss it publicly said Trump’s lawyers were contacted by prosecutors shortly before he announced on his Truth Social platform that he had been indicted, the Associated Press reported.

In the first of a series of posts Trump wrote:

“Page 1: The corrupt Biden administration has informed my attorneys that I have been Indicted, seemingly over the Boxes Hoax, even though Joe Biden has 1850 boxes at the University of Delaware, additional Boxes in Chinatown, D.C., with even more boxes at the University of Pennsylvania, and documents strewn all over his garage floor where he parks his Corvette, and which is ‘secured’ by only a garage door that is paper thin, and open much of the time.”

“Page 2: I have been summoned to appear at the federal courthouse in Miami on Tuesday at 3 p.m. I never thought it possible that such a thing could happen to a former president of the United States, who received far more votes than any sitting president in the history of our country, and is currently leading, by far, all candidates, both Democrat and Republican, in Polls of the 2024 presidential election. I AM AN INNOCENT MAN!”

“Page 3: This is indeed a DARK DAY for the United States of America. We are a country in serious and rapid decline, but together we will Make America Great Again!”

The Justice Department didn’t respond to a request for a comment.

The AP also noted it remains unclear what the immediate and long-term political consequences will be for Trump. His first indictment spurred millions of dollars in contributions from angry supporters and didn’t damage Trump in the polls.

No matter what, the indictment — and the legal fight that follows — will throw Trump back into the spotlight, sucking attention away from the other candidates who are trying to build momentum in the 2024 presidential race, the AP pointed out.

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The White House

White House debuts new actions to protect the LGBTQ community

The administration is coordinating efforts across different federal agencies

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The White House was lit in rainbow colors following the Respect for Marriage Act signing ceremony (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

White House Domestic Policy Advisor Neera Tanden, during a call with reporters on Wednesday, announced a slate of new actions the administration will undertake to better protect the LGBTQ community.

These will focus on three major areas, she said: safety and security, issues for LGBTQ youth like mental health and housing insecurity, and combatting book bans.

President Joe Biden has “already developed a historic record of supporting the LGBTQ community,” Tanden said, noting that he and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden are also prepared to “host the largest Pride celebration in White House history” on Thursday evening.

At the same time, she said, LGBTQ Americans are now experiencing “a whole range of attacks” from “hateful, un-American legislation” to “a disturbing surge in violent threats.”

Administered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the administration’s “community safety partnership” will “work hand in hand with LGBTQ community organizations” to provide safety training and resources, Tanden said.

For example, she said, “and it’s so unfortunate to have to say this,” but the partnership will help LGBTQ community centers “prepare for the worst” – including “bomb threats, active shooters, and cybersecurity threats – while also protecting “healthcare providers who serve the community by working with doctors and medical associations.”

Actions for LGBTQ kids that Tanden previewed on Wednesday include HHS’s development of a behavioral health care advisory for transgender and gender diverse youth, to help ensure young people are given the best evidence-based care.

On Thursday, she said, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will launch federal initiatives to combat LGBTQ youth homelessness and new regulations to “protect LGBTQ kids in foster care.”

Finally, Tanden said, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights “will appoint a new coordinator” to combat book bans, which disproportionately target, for exclusion, materials with LGBTQ characters or themes, or communities of color.

DoE’s coordinator will “offer trainings and resources to schools to help them understand that students have a right to learn free from discrimination, and that book bands may violate federal civil rights laws if they create a hostile environment for students,” Tanden said.

A senior administration official, responding to a question from the Washington Blade following Tanden’s remarks, elaborated on the scope of the community safety partnership.

Community organizations, they said, will include “health clinics, community centers, and organizations that are planning Pride celebrations, but it also includes small businesses like restaurants and bars that have been targeted because they’re run by LGBTQI+ Americans or because they host events that support that community.”

“We’ll be encouraging and reaching out directly to organizations that have been impacted by these violent threats to help make sure that they have the training and the resources they need to stay safe,” the official said.

They added that DHS and DoJ, in anticipation of the possibility that threats will increase in June, “have both been working proactively over many months leading up to Pride to communicate with state and local law enforcement about the threats that the community may face and to help local pride organizers get access to any federal safety resources they may need to help keep the community safe.”

Asked to explain how HHS’s healthcare focused initiatives will be reconciled with restrictions targeting medical interventions for trans youth in conservative states, the official noted ongoing efforts to fight back – including by federal rulemaking and litigated challenges of policies that violate Americans’ rights.

When it comes to the actions previewed by Tanden, the official said, “Almost half of LGBTQI+ youth say they seriously considered committing suicide in the past year, and that attacks on their rights have made their mental health worse. That’s a serious crisis that we want to take on and this advisory will help.”

Additionally, they said, “HHS is announcing that they’re going to release new guidance to states to help them use federal funds to offer dedicated mental health services to the LGBTQI+ community,” while “the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMSA, is releasing $1.7 million in new federal funding for programs that support the health and mental health of LGBTQI+ youth by investing in programs that are focused on family affirmation.”

Responding to other questions about anti-LGBTQ legislation and the rising transphobic and anti-LGBTQ sentiment in America, the official offered some insight into the Biden-Harris administration’s positions on these matters more broadly.

“Part of our role here is to lift up the stories of transgender kids and their families to help the American people understand what is happening to families who, as the President says aren’t hurting anyone but are being hurt by these laws,” said the official.

“These aren’t just attacks on the rights of LGBTQI+{ Americans, they are part and parcel of a coordinated attack on our democracy,” they said. “We’re not just talking about laws that target transgender kids. These are really laws that get at the heart of our basic freedoms and values: the right to free expression, the right to make decisions about your own body, the right to parent and raise your children.”

The official added, “Opponents of LGBTQI+ Americans are leading a pretty significant campaign of disinformation,” which have included “the same types of hateful lies and stereotypes that have been used against our community really for decades and for generations.”

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California

Calif. school district meeting over LGBTQ studies turns violent

Police officers and protestors clashed outside Glendale Unified School Board meeting

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(YouTube screenshot from KCAL)

Police officers and protestors clashed outside a meeting of the Glendale Unified School Board over LGBTQ studies and the GUSD polices on addressing LGBTQ related issues.

News footage from CBS Los Angeles KCAL showed approximately 50 Glendale police officers attempting to keep the two groups separated and then fists were thrown as both sides engaged in physical assaults. A Glendale police spokesperson confirmed that some arrests had been made but wouldn’t comment further.

Witnesses and news crews noted that many of those protesting against the LGBTQ community were from the same group that had protested at Saticoy Elementary School in North Hollywood, angered over a Pride month assembly. Officers from the LAPD’s North Hollywood Community Station responded and there were physical assaults as well.

The situation in Glendale has become increasingly acrimonious. Last year during Pride month, a third grade teacher at Thomas Jefferson Elementary, Tammy Tiber, had enraged some parents after speaking to her students about LGBTQ topics on Zoom. The GUSD officials later transferred her because Tiber had told them she no longer felt safe.

A spokesperson for the district said that all materials are vetted by the GUSD, and are in full compliance with curriculum that deals with LGBTQ history, mandated under California’s FAIR Education Act, which was signed into law on July 14, 2011, and went into effect on Jan. 1, 2012.

It amends the California Education Code to include the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful reference to contributions by people with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ community in history and social studies curriculum.

Last month on May 18, a man who is not the parent of a child in the district, accused GUSD school board vice president Jennifer Freemon of concealing consistent attempts to “indoctrinate” students on LGBTQ issues.

“They are saying boys can be girls and girls can be boys,” Henry said during the board meeting. “If you believe in that, that is your opinion, and if that is your official policy, Jennifer, that is indoctrination because it offends a lot of people’s actual doctrine.”

As an example of instructing students to “behave inappropriately,” Henry referenced an alleged recent incident involving a student with special needs. GUSD student Thelma Gonzalez, who spoke later in the meeting, was allegedly asked to provide the definition of “scissoring” during a health lesson, despite her mother requesting that she be excused.

“A violation of their doctrine, their Christian doctrine,” Henry said, referring to Gonzalez and her mother. “Regardless of what you think, what I think, what the community thinks about any faith, you violated that. And if you don’t condemn that today, Jennifer, you are a hypocrite and a liar.”

He then mounted an attack on district polices regarding its transgender students.

“If you think they value your children, you’re more than entitled to think that,” Henry said. “They will not lie to you about your child, they will lie to these parents. They will conceal that private information from parents. You have enshrined that into doctrine, into policy, which is a misinterpretation of the law.”

It is not immediately clear what policy Henry was referring to. However, GUSD’s anti-discrimination policy states the district will only disclose a student’s “transgender or gender-nonconforming status” with their consent. It also mandates that a district official may discuss with that same student “any need” to confide in their parents or guardians.

Inside the Tuesday GUSD board meeting, pro- and anti-LGBTQ protesters faced off over how schools teach gender and sexuality, attendees were suddenly told to shelter in place as the violence outside escalated. The interruption came after about an hour of public comments, most of them in defense of the LGBTQ community and the district’s handling of materials and policies.

Protesters fight outside Glendale school district meeting about LGBTQ studies:

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