April 27, 2010 at 5:32 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Senate panel adopts provisions on int'l LGBT affairs

Sen. Russ Feingold (photo courtesy senate.gov)

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday adopted an amendment to help address LGBT inequality abroad as part of major State Department budget legislation.

The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), was attached to the fiscal year 2010/11 foreign affairs authorization bill. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) was a co-sponsor to the measure.

Mark Bromley, chair of the Council for Global Equality, said the measure passed by a vote of 12-7 with Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) joining 11 Democrats voting in favor of the amendment.

The language urges the State Department to task more officers in the Human Rights Bureau to keep track of violence overseas related to sexual orientation and laws criminalizing homosexuality.

Additionally, the provision calls on U.S. embassies to work to reform or repeal laws overseas criminalizing homosexuality and directs the State Department to strengthen its annual human rights report with regard to reporting on abuses against LGBT people.

In a statement, Feingold the adoption of the amendment “will help counter efforts around the world” that restrict the rights of LGBT people.

Adoption of the amendment comes on the heels of Senate approval earlier this month of a resolution condemning an anti-gay bill in the Uganda parliament that would, among other things,  institute the death penalty in some cases for homosexual acts and require citizens to report LGBT people to the police.

Feingold said in remarks to the committee that the Uganda legislation “is just one example” of actions taken abroad aimed at restricting the rights of LGBT people.

“Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered community face increasing levels of persecution and violence in Iran and Iraq, criminalization laws remain in effect in many other countries, and homosexuality is punishable by death in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Nigeria,” Feingold said.

At the time of this posting, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was still considering amendments to the foreign affairs legislation and had yet to report the bill to the floor.

Mark Bromley, chair of the Council for Global Equality, said the adoption of the amendment “is useful” because the State Department “has already, on its own accord, implemented most of these provisions.”

“This is really a recognition of the Senate and by Congress of the good work that the State Department is already doing and affirming that this work should continue to go forward,” he said.

Last year, the House passed its version of the foreign affairs authorization bill with language substantively identical to the LGBT provisions now in the Senate bill. The Senate committee’s adoption of the amendment puts the two bills in accord as the legislation makes its way to President Obama’s desk.

Jerilyn Goodman, spokesperson for Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who helped shepherd through the language in the House bill, said the lawmaker is “delighted” and “commends Sen. Feingold for his leadership.”

“She is hopeful that this will move this year,” Goodman said.

Bromley said the amendment mandates the LGBT provisions, while allowing the State Department considerable discretion in implementation.

“That is an important policy mandate and there is no discretion provided to the department, although the secretary has already clearly demonstrated her commitment to this work,” he said.

Should the legislation reach Obama, it would be an achievement not often made by Congress. Bromley said the last time Congress passed a foreign affairs authorization bill was in 2002.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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