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Lieberman says ‘Don’t Ask’ to return after election

Conn. senator says he received assurances from leadership about future repeal effort

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U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman said 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' will come back if it's unsuccessful today. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) said he’s received assurances from Democratic leadership that major defense legislation containing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal would come again after Election Day if cloture isn’t invoked Tuesday.

“If for some reason, we don’t get the 60 votes to proceed, this ain’t over,” Lieberman said. “We’re going to come back into session in November or December. I spoke to Sen. Reid today. He’s very clear and strong that he’s going to bring this bill to the floor in November or December.”

Lieberman said he’s “not optimistic” about the upcoming cloture vote. Still, he urged other senators to come on board today and said the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill is a “critical piece of legislation.”

“The fact that our colleagues would be having on the Senate floor this debate about to vote to proceed to take up the National Defense Authorization Act, to me, is unbelievable,” Lieberman said.

Lieberman said moving forward with the defense legislation should be a “no-brainer” because of the funding provided in the bill for U.S. service members.

He also defended the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” language in the bill and said he doesn’t think opponents of repeal have the votes to strip it out if the legislation comes to the floor.

“I don’t believe that the opponents of the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ have enough votes to take that repeal out of this legislation,” he said. “Maybe that’s why they’re fighting so hard to stop this legislation from coming up.”

Provided all 59 Democrats vote in favor of moving forward with the defense legislation, at least one Republican vote is necessary to reach the 60-vote threshold to end the filibuster on the legislation.

However, GOP leaders are reportedly telling its caucus to vote against cloture because of limitations on amendments that Democratic leadership will allow on the floor.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said three amendments would be allowed on the defense authorization bill: a measure stripping the legislation of its “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal language; a measure attaching the DREAM Act, an immigration-related bill, to the legislation; and a measure addressing the “secret holds” senators can place on presidential nominees.

During a news conference, Assistant Majority Leader Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) also said the Republicans would be at fault if cloture isn’t invoked on the defense authorization bill on Tuesday.

“What would be unprecedented is if Republicans block the Senate from passing the defense authorization bill for the first time since 1952,” Durbin said.

Asked by the Blade about what Democratic leadership is doing to negotiate with Republicans over the cloture vote, Durbin replied, “We’re trying.”

Durbin said the initial three amendments would come up on the defense authorization bill first, which would be followed by a “discussion as to what further amendments would be considered.”

“I don’t think Sen. Reid has ruled that out,” Durbin said. “What he has said is that the first three amendments are the first amendments. … Beyond that, Sen. Reid would be open for negotiation for a unanimous consent request.”

Pressed on whether he thinks any GOP senators would vote for cloture on Tuesday as a result of negotiations with Republicans, Durbin replied, “I don’t know at this point.”

Lieberman expressed confidence in Reid’s negotiations on the legislation. Asked by the Blade whether he thinks Reid is doing everything he can to bring Republicans on board for the cloture vote, the senator replied, “I do.”

The Connecticut senator said finishing work on the defense authorization bill would require another cloture vote and Republicans would have the opportunity to offer amendments before that motion to proceed.

“If, for some reason, Sen. Reid decides to bring the defense bill to a final vote before any other amendments are put in, our Republican colleagues — and I would guess, some Democrats — would not vote for cloture at that point,” Lieberman said. “So, they have the final say.”

During a news conference, Joe Solmonese, Human Rights Campaign president, praised Reid for leading the way on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“I can think of no elected official who has the tenacity, and, quite frankly, the quiet determination of Sen. Reid,” Solmonese said. “His tremendous leadership is the reason that we are here today going to this historic vote. And it is his resolve and his persistence that will be the reason that I am confident that we ultimately succeed in repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.'”

Chances for a successful vote for cloture seemed to fade when Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) issued a statement that he was reluctant to support a vote for cloture on the defense authorization bill.

“If the Democrats are serious about getting this bill passed, Leader Reid should sit down with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and work out the amendment process,” Voinovich said. “Unless that is done, I will not support cloture on the motion to proceed to this bill.”

Regarding “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, Voinovich said it would be “logical” to wait for the Pentagon working group to complete its study on implementing repeal, which is due Dec. 1.

“At this point there is no reason to rush to judgment for political expediency until we hear from our military leaders as to whether they think it is a good idea to change this policy,” he said. “I will carefully study this determination when it is completed.”

Also present at the news conference to promote “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal was Eric Alva, who’s gay and the first U.S. service member wounded in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Mike Almy, a gay former Air Force communications officer discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was also at the conference and said he was representing the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

In a related development, the White House today issued a Statement of Administration Policy on the Senate version of the bill approving of provisions in the legislation and calling for its passage.

The statements are intended to provide guidance to members of Congress on how to vote and how to handle major pieces of legislation.

According to a copy of the statement obtained in advance by the Blade, the Obama administration “supports Senate passage of S. 3454, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011.”

“The Administration appreciates the Senate Armed Services Committee’s continued support of our national defense, including, among other things, its support for the Department’s topline budget requests for both the base budget requests for both the base budget and for overseas contingency operations,” the statement reads.

The statement makes special note of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal language in the legislation under the heading, “Policy Concerning Homosexuality in the Armed Forces.”

“The Administration supports section 591 as it would allow for completion of the Comprehensive Review, enable the Department of Defense to assess the results of the review, and ensure that the implementation of the repeal is consistent with the standards of military readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion, recruiting and retention,” the statements reads.

The White House adds the repeal provision “recognizes the critical need to allow our military and their families the full opportunity to inform and shape the implementation process through a thorough understanding of their concerns, insights and suggestions.”

The statement also makes note that the Senate version of the defense authorization doesn’t have funding for the alternative engine program for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a next-generation military aircraft.

The House version of the defense authorization bill provides for $485 million in funds for the second engine for the aircraft. The White House has issued a veto threat over the defense authorization bill as a result of this provision.

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National

Senate passes Respect for Marriage Act

Bill approved by 61-36 vote margin

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(Public domain photo)

The U.S. Senate voted 61-36 on Tuesday to officially pass the Respect for Marriage Act, a historic piece of legislation that is expected to soon become law after members in the U.S. House of Representatives sign off on a bipartisan amendment added by their Senate colleagues.

Designed as a vehicle to mitigate the fallout if the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority guts the constitutional protections for marriage equality, the bill was narrowly construed — in part to help guarantee that it withstands potential challenges from conservative legal actors.

Nevertheless, the Respect for Marriage Act is a landmark bill that has been backed by virtually every LGBTQ advocacy organization in the country. The legislation repeals the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act while enshrining into law substantive protections for same-sex couples.

Regardless of whether or how the high court might decide to revisit the marriage question, the Respect for Marriage Act will protect the federally ordained rights and benefits that have long been enjoyed by married gay and lesbian couples. And should the court pave the way for conservative states like Texas to renew their bans on same-sex marriage, the law will require them to officially recognize and honor those that are performed in jurisdictions where they remain legal.

Despite earning broad bipartisan support from lawmakers in the House, which passed its version of the bill this summer with an overwhelming majority — including votes from 47 Republican members — the Respect for Marriage Act faced an uncertain future in the Senate.

Conservative members in the chamber’s Republican caucus argued the bill would jeopardize religious freedoms, concerns that a group of five bipartisan senators sought to allay with an amendment that, among other provisions, clarifies the right of religious nonprofit organizations to refuse “any services, facilities, or goods for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage.”

Writing the amendment were Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who was considered the driving force behind the bill’s passage through the Senate.

Several Republican senators proposed additional amendments that — per a narrow procedural vote before and another shortly after the Thanksgiving break — were not put up for debate, thereby allowing the Respect for Marriage Act to clear the Senate with Tuesday’s vote.

Barely surpassing the 60-vote filibuster-proof majority with one extra “yea,” the Senate’s passage of the bill came despite the best efforts of conservative opponents who had run coordinated campaigns to erode support among GOP members.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris each issued statements shortly after Tuesday’s vote.

The president celebrated the “bipartisan achievement” by Congress, writing: “For millions of Americans, this legislation will safeguard the rights and protections to which LGBTQI+ and interracial couples and their children are entitled. It will also ensure that, for generations to follow, LGBTQI+ youth will grow up knowing that they, too, can lead full, happy lives and build families of their own.”

Harris wrote: “The Respect for Marriage Act ultimately stands for a simple principle: all Americans are equal and their government should treat them that way. Today, we are one step closer to achieving that ideal with pride.”

The Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus also praised the victory.

“Today, a bipartisan group of 61 Senators made clear that this country will not roll back the clock on marriage equality,” said Congressman David Cicilline (D-R.I.), chair of the Equality Caucus. “The Respect for Marriage Act is a crucial safeguard for LGBTQ+ people whose lives have been forever changed by Obergefell v. Hodges and Americans who are in interracial marriages thanks to Loving v. Virginia. On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court declared marriage equality as the law of the land. Today, the Senate ensured those marriages will continue to be protected.”

LGBTQ groups celebrate the win

“Diverse faith traditions across the nation came together to demand respect for LGBTQ+ Americans – we staked our ground and refused to let this opportunity slip away, ” said Rev. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, president of the Interfaith Alliance, in a statement Tuesday.

“The  LGBTQ+ community has faced ongoing deadly violence, legislative assaults and constant threats — including the deadly shooting in Colorado Springs barely one week ago,” said Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign, in a statement from the organization.

“Today, with the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act in the Senate — a historic moment that marks the first federal legislative win for LGBTQ+ equality in over 10 years, since the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell — the 568,000 same-sex married couples in this country can breathe a sigh of relief that their marriages will be protected from future attacks,” said Robinson, who yesterday began her tenure as the first Black queer woman to lead America’s largest LGBTQ organization.

GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis responded on Twitter and in a statement, writing: “As so many LGBTQ people face uncertainty and harm on the state level and extremists on the Supreme Court vow to reconsider the landmark Obergefell decision, this victory will provide comfort and security to millions of people and their families.”

“Today’s bipartisan vote in the Senate to pass the Respect for Marriage Act is a proud moment for our country and an affirmation that, notwithstanding our differences, we share a profound commitment to the principle of equality and justice for all,” reads a statement from National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director Imani Rupert-Gordon.

LGBTQ Victory Institute President Annise Parker said, “This landmark piece of legislation protects the marriages of millions of LGBTQ Americans who have not slept well for months, wondering if our marriages would be dissolved by an activist court. While the Respect for Marriage Act is undoubtedly one of the most important pro-LGBTQ laws ever passed, it does not require states to grant marriages to LGBTQ couples. Until then, our fight is not over.”

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District of Columbia

D.C. Rainbow History Project launches Trans History Initiative

$15,000 D.C. government grant funded project

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C.’s Rainbow History Project announced it has launched a new project called the Trans History Initiative “to better integrate the often-under-represented histories of trans people into RHP’s existing programming.”

In a statement announcing the new initiative, the LGBTQ history group says it has been awarded a $15,000 grant from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs to fund the project.

“The Trans History Initiative will help RHP deepen its connections with the Trans community through expanded efforts to preserve the history and cultural contributions of Washington-area trans communities,” the statement says. “The Initiative was developed with RHP’s trans members, trans community pioneers and trans board members,” it says.

The statement says the grant will enable Rainbow History Project to hire one or more coordinators to “build on four exiting RHP programs: collecting oral histories; preserving archival documents; tracking timelines and historic places; and hosting public education panels.”

According to the statement, the new trans initiative is in keeping with Rainbow History Project’s long-standing mission.

“Since its founding in 2000, RHP’s mission is to collect, preserve and promote an active knowledge of the history, arts and culture of metropolitan Washington, D.C.’s diverse LGBTQ communities,” the statement says. “RHP strives to ensure that its collection, volunteer corps and programming reflect and represent the full diversity of those communities.”

The statement also points out that due to longstanding bias and discrimination faced by transgender people it has been difficult to obtain information about their lives and accomplishments.

“Unfortunately, many trans people often left behind little record of their lives — and personal histories that do exist are often scrubbed of an individual’s trans identity by society or even their own families,” said Jeffrey Donahoe, RHP’s director of oral history.

“This revisionism, both unintentional and intentional, makes it difficult for the broader community to understand and empathize with the struggles and successes of the Trans community,” Donahoe said in the statement.

“The Trans History Initiative will counter this revisionism by giving another platform for trans people to tell their stories to the broader public,” he said. “We need to ensure that trans narratives are not lost to the ravages of time but preserved as part of the historical record.”

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State Department

U.S. diplomat says negotiations to release Brittney Griner have stalled

WNBA star remains in Russian penal colony

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In remarks published Monday, Elizabeth Rood, the U.S. chargée d’affaires in Moscow, told Russia’s state-owned RIA news agency that talks to free jailed Americans Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan were continuing through the “designated channel.”

During the long ranging interview covering a variety of subjects, Rood was asked if she intended to visit the imprisoned WNBA star who is serving time in a Mordovian prison.

“Of course, we are going to do this as soon as the Russian authorities give us permission to visit Brittney Griner in the new colony where she was recently transferred,” the American diplomat responded and in answer to a follow-up question regarding Griner’s status. “As far as we understood from talking to her, she is healthy and doing as well as can be expected in her difficult circumstances.”

RIA then focused on the negotiations asking for some of the details including the possibility of convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout being included in the “exchange list” in the potential prisoner swap deal between the Russian and American authorities.

“I can say that the United States continues to discuss with the Russian authorities through special channels the issue of the release of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.  As we have already said, the United States has submitted a serious proposal for consideration. We finalized this proposal and offered alternatives. Unfortunately, the Russian Federation has so far received no serious response to these proposals, ” the U.S. chargée d’affaires answered.

“However, I would like to emphasize that the main concern and the first priority of the U.S. Embassy is to ensure the well-being of the American citizens who are here. And the situation is not limited to the names of those who are mentioned in the media headlines — a number of American citizens are kept in Russian prisons. We are extremely concerned about the condition of each of them, and we continue to follow their affairs very closely and support them in every possible way,” she added.

RIA then asked: “What did you mean by ‘serious response’ from Russia? Moscow has repeatedly stressed that the negotiations are being conducted through professional channels … What does the American side mean by “serious response”?

Rood answered telling RIA; “I mean, we have made a serious proposal that reflects our intention to take action to free American prisoners. We did not see a serious response from the Russian side to our proposal.”

“By ‘serious answer’ do you mean consent?” RIA asked in a follow-up question.

“I mean an answer that would help us come to an agreement,” she answered.

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